On the rink: Curling in Kent

‘Random’ can be an overused word – particularly by teenage ‘guyz’ who think everything is weird – but a trip to England’s only dedicated curling rink could justifiably be called random.

Did any of us ‘need’ to try curling that weekend? No. But a brilliant friend had a weird birthday wish that just needed to be fulfilled. Afterwards all of us were richer individuals for having shared the experience at Fenton’s Rink in Kent.

England's only curling rink

England’s only curling rink

Curling is an odd sport (but no odder than any other when you think about it). Its quirkiness and Team GB’s success adds up to the fascination it generates. It turns out curling should also not be underestimated – tiring on the thighs (and the mind) and you even have to watch a safety video.

Curling stones are ONLY made in Scotland, out of granite

Curling stones are ONLY made in Scotland, out of granite

Once everyone has the proper training, you are let lose on the ice, with groups getting full use of the rink and two coaches for support. Most people start off cautious and it is lovely to see everyone’s confidence and competitiveness grow.

Picture of people curling

The flags definitely fuel the competition

Kind of like bowling on ice, you have to get the shoes right. This aint no fashion show folks…

Image of black curling shoes

Ice shoes

To add to the quirks and charm of Fentons, it is set right in the heart of the Kent countryside and with a retro feel that transports you back to the time of Torvil and Dean. As they say, a change is as good as a rest, so while a trip curling might feel random, it might just make your weekend

The farm yard frontage adds to the mystery

The farm yard frontage adds to the mystery

So retro. So random.

So retro. So random.

Fentons Ice rink is open seven days a week and can be booked for two hour group sessions.

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18 ways to survive autumn in London

Summer is ending. Raspberries are out of season and the nights and the spiders are drawing in.

OH WELL. I’ve already moved on to my new boyfriend – Autumn – season of opaque tights, stained red wine lips and double helpings of carbs.

London by David Holt

You do need a survival plan for this time of year in London though – or it gets depressing, in a ‘being soaked by a massive bus splash and then questioning the meaning of life’ kind of way – so here is my list of 18 things I plan to do in London in Autumn to *BASICALLY STAY SANE*. (Please note I make no apology that 80% of these things involve eating).

  1. Dinner at The Dairy in Clapham – supposed to be an incredible restaurant – and autumn is the  time to eat in incredible restaurants so you can order desert with custard with the excuse we need the ‘nutritional value/warmth to SURVIVE THE WEATHER’
  2.  Noodles at the newly reopened Pepper Tree in Clapham –  my secret restaurant when I lived in Clapham. Except everyone loved it too. I had a minor stroke when I thought it had closed down. But they were just renovating it. PAD THAI I’M COMING BACK FOR YOU.
  3. See Gone Girl at the cinema – remember the cinema? I know I haven’t been for months either. Gone Girl is blatantly going to be  insane.
  4. Buy a leather jacket and maybe a big tartan scarf and definitely also an aggressive new eyeliner – October needs confronting with a strong look
  5. Make a vat of chicken casserole and eat it whilst watching Homeland and Downton Abbey – Lady Mary and Carrie Mathison are survivors and inspirations
  6. An autumn walk to pick sloe berries and make sloe gin – sounds idyllic, probably will descend into stealing berries from bushes outside people’s houses in SW London and making some kind of weird poison but I DON’T CARE I WANT TO DO IT
  7. See the Constable exhibition at the V&A – because I’m embarrassed I’ve been living in London for 8 years and never been to the V&A
  8. Book to go to Harry Potter Land and see the snow scene – I make no excuses
  9. Plant spring flowers – I’m thinking bluebells? Keep meaning to get down to Battersea Flower Station for some ideas
  10. See Live at the Apollo – tickets aren’t for general sale but you can apply and potentially go for free *how amazing is that*
  11. Plan a firework party/trip to Battersea Park or Ally Pally – honestly one of the best things about living in London in November, love the feeling of layering up for some communal pyrotechnics
  12. Make a roast dinner for friends. With cauliflower cheese as a focal ingredient…Oh and crumble
  13. Brixton Vilage for dinner – because I haven’t been for months and I’m getting withdrawal
  14. Shopping at Bicester Village which is definitely a bad idea but so what…
  15. A night at The Dogs at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium – I mean it sounds kind of scary, but also I DO own a sheepskin coat
  16. Drink beer/tour at a London brewery – like Meantime in Greenwich or By the Horns in Earlsfield (see the nice write up on ‘Go Earlsfield‘).
  17. Curry in Tooting Broadway – the South West Brick Lane
  18. Book a winter holiday – I mean…all of this is great, but I’m not Jesus – there is only so long you can go without summer

The photograph in this post is London October 13 2013 015 Conkers Clissold Park Hackney by David Holt.

Five favourite things about Bellevue Village

I first stumbled upon the Bellevue Village Fair in 2012 and I’ve been going back ever since.

Its a funny place, this road. Despite being cornered by gridlocked city traffic, it has an ‘out of London’ feeling.

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Village life in the big city

The fair is just one of my favourite things – mostly because you can pretend you are in the Cotswolds for the day, buying local beer (from the exciting Belleville Brewery), and everything from art and jewelry to flowers (I was *thrilled* to see the Battersea Flower Station, as have always wanted to visit). It goes without saying that the fair attracts a very well-heeled crowd which makes for great people watching – lots of beautiful parents, with beautiful kids and immaculately groomed dogs (there was a dogs show this time) – I was half expecting David Cameron to show up.

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The food is always a particular highlight – I stuck my face in an amazing hot dog and eyed up about 572 cakes before settling on a chocolate, orange and almond number from Dee Light Bakery. I also bought some marmalade from an incredible woman wearing an apron calling her a ‘Jam Tart’.

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The Bellevue Village Fair sadly only happens twice a year (the next one should be  Christmas *fingers crossed*) but they best things about Bellevue road are here all year round:

  1. The Althorp – amazing local gastropub looking out on the Common. Plays live music. Does a lush chicken burger.
  2. Jo Partridge – lovely hairdressers with the best shellac deal known to man – £35 for a manipedi – WTF?! They did my hair for the first time and for once it looks nice.
  3. The Good Earth – amazing Chinese restaurant. So good I wrote a blog about it.
  4. The Hope – another great pub (there’s a theme here). Iconic corner pub. The place to be on summer nights.
  5. Wandsworth Common – way classier than Clapham Common (i.e.s not full of gangs of 23year olds drinking cans and applying tanning oil like its Benidorm beach)
Dogs on wandsworth common

This year there was the first dog show on the Common at the village fair

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Oliver – the gallery – always does creative games for kids that I have genuinely joined in with

Which festival is better – Latitude or Wilderness?

You haven’t been to a festival until you’ve been to a festival with a severe weather warning. And this summer I went to two.

Latitude had blistering heat followed by nightly electric storms; while Hurricane Bertha woke me up at Wilderness at 5am and we evacuated four hours later.

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I’d imagined these festivals to be too luxe to be ‘real’. I don’t know what I expected – some super on-it event organiser with a headset sprinkling the ground with mud-resistant fairy dust, or that everyone would be too posh to shit in the loos.

Despite the crashing reality that a festival once attended by Sam Cam didn’t magic me into a self-cleaning Glasto-esque Cressida Bona,  both were great fun and its hard to call which was better. But if I had to rank them…

Music – Latitude – Lily Allen beat my expectations and I danced to Damon Albarn in a rain storm so intense a passing stranger thought I was on speed. I also discovered George Ezra and got a little crush on him.

Food – Wilderness, obvs – we had a banquet table at Angella Hartnett’s lunch –  five courses of her favourite Italian family food in a room that looked just magical, with the added excitement of Angela bobbing around saying hi. And other restaurants included a Hix tent and a J Sheekey fish and chip van- so it was basically Soho in a field in a really good way.

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Angela’s Boozy peaches and amaretto cream. If I could recreate this I think I could handle anything in life.

Arts – Latitude – (but only because I mainly boozed at Wilderness). I discovered Josie Long who I am now obsessed with – what a FUNNY woman -and surprised myself by enjoying the poetry tent – it might have been to do with the hot poet Raymond Antrobus whose nostalgic poems about his Nan – set to MUSIC – made me well up. I loved Peter Hayhoe too.

Booze – Wilderness – had actual bars where you could dance and a disco in the forest. But Latitude also had a piano bar in the woods which attracted kids that looked like fairies.

Camping – Latitude –  let’s be honest campsites for 10,000 always have the sense of the worst ever long haul flight – all sleepy haired, strangers sweating and spitting out toothpaste. Latitude’s campsite was best, as it had lots of space to camp (and even cartwheel). But Wilderness was surprisingly overcrowded – some friends were forced to pitch up at the side of the tracks next to the loos. But there WAS a breakfast club brunch van right opposite. Its the only time I’ve managed to get my hands on one of their sausage baps. Score.

Lake – Wilderness – both unquestionably beautiful lakes, but Wilderness had a Lakeside spa and I go to go and sit in a toasty barrel of heated water whilst it rained, sipping champagne. OH MEMORIES.

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Spot Angella


People – DRAW – Everyone was nice, didn’t get any trouble. Latitude had the highest concentration of Guardian readers – it was like a freaking Birkenstock convention – while Wilderness had a funny mix of pissed posh folk and pagans. Both festivals had way too many kids in my opinion. Far be it for me to judge parents, but waking up to the sound of children wailing as the storm hit made me want to join in and steal their calpol.

So would I do either festival again? Probably not. What tolerance I had left for camping died this summer. Plus all of the red bull I drank to survive gave me a week long skin disorder and an eye twitch. But that said, never say never. I’ve never been to Glastonbury and I am due a mid-life crisis.

10 reasons to love the Northcote road

One of my favourite places to spend a Saturday is the Northcote Road.

Most of South West London seems to agree with me, as the place is always packed with that diverse, yet stereotypical mix of people which sums up Clapham Junction. Families with kids strolling around the markets, set against groups of twenty-somethings starting all-day benders in superhero costumes, while the rest of us are having brunch, either with a smoothie…or with a wine. Anything goes.

I find a stroll down Northcote Road can affirm why I choose to live in London, and particularly, this corner of South West London.  Although sometimes I wonder if this is because it gives a false sense of lifestyle akin to starring in your own feel-good London film like  ‘Notting Hill’ or ‘Love Actually’…(which would be a worrying uncoupling from reality). ‘Oh HEY! Just buying some artisan bread on the Northcote road and bumping into my friend!’

It is an established fact that Northcote Road gets buzzier and more ‘high street’ (read skankier) the further you travel down towards Clapham Junction station. This is perhaps why a place with so many high-end baby shops can also be attacked by mass rioters

My favourite things about Northcote Road (in a classified order):

The Weekend Market

  1. The bread stall – It is nice to be able to buy sausage rolls and feel somehow that this is a sophisticated and authentic choice. You just don’t get the same buzz from going into Greggs.

Northcote Road bakery

2. The flower stall – Beautiful flowers and good options for buying plants if you can’t go to a garden centre. (Watch out for bees though. It is very awkward if you are buying a plant with a bee on it and you are afraid of bees).

Northcote road flower stall

Gift Stores

  1. TWO Oliver Bonas stores – I spend a disproportionate amount of my life buying greetings cards and gifts from Oliver Bonas. But its great fun browsing cookery books in there.

Restaurants

  1. So many brunch/lunch places – Byron (which I have waxed lyrical on before), Brew (which is amazing for brunch) and loads of Italian restaurants – my favourite of which is Franco Manca

Shops

  1. TK Maxx – FULL of bargains (and, as you may have guessed is towards the ‘station side of town’). I have spent way too many rainy Saturdays in TK Maxx getting overexcited about reduced price Le Cruset for someone of my age
  2. Space NK – No explanation needed. Always fun. Always makes you feel glamorous

Gourmet food shopping

  1. Jamie Oliver’s Recipease – you can get cookery lessons there AND buy a ‘ready to roast” lamb. But I haven’t been able to justify this (yet)
  2. The kitchen shop (La Cuisiniere) – I like going in there as it makes me feel like a grown up, as I want all the things. That is until I realise I can’t really afford anything and need to leave
  3. The two butchers – there is nothing like buying freshly hacked meat to feel truly human and middle class.  I was once shamed by a butcher in Dove & Sons for buying meat in supermarkets, which did teach me a lot

Bars

  1. Northcote Records this is really a list of things I like to do in the DAY but NSR is a great bar and has fantastic live music. You just probably can’t go at 11am.

Things I would change about the Northcote Road:

  1. The kids – without wanting to sound like King Herod, there are a lot of children. Perhaps too many on little scooters to watch out for. Don’t get me wrong, I think kids are lovely and all…but they make me feel old and trip me up.
  2. The outfits men wear – why does every man on the Northcoat Road have to wear brightly coloured trousers and boating shoes. You can only pull this off in ‘The talented Mr Ripley’ in my opinion.
  3. Why isn’t there a Zara? Why isn’t there a H&M?? There is a New Look, there is a Clarks, there is a Debenhams, there is even a Jack Wills for Chrissakes…