Marina (Love + Fear Tour Part 1) – Royal Albert Hall

Marina gig

Marina might have rebranded from her Marina and the Diamonds days, but she’s still the same person and still making good music. I went to see her live for the first time, at the Royal Albert Hall as part of her Love + Fear tour.
I was surprised at how good she sounded live – for some reason I’d thought she might be one of those singers who couldn’t sing live, which couldn’t be further from the truth! Most of the songs were from her most recent record Love + Fear, but there were plenty of tracks from her Marina and the Diamonds days, too. ‘Primadonna’ went down very well, as did ‘Hollywood’. My favourite, though, was ‘Happy’.

Setlist

LOVE

  • Handmade Heaven
  • Hollywood
  • Primadonna
  • Enjoy Your Life
  • I Am Not a Robot
  • To Be Human
  • Superstar
  • Froot
  • Orange Trees
  • Happy

FEAR

  • Believe in Love
  • Life Is Strange
  • Soft to Be Strong
  • I’m a Ruin
  • Are You Satisfied?
  • Karma
  • Savages
  • Immortal

Encore

  • End of the Earth
  • How to Be a Heartbreaker

Robyn (Honey Tour) – Alexandra Palace

Robyn gig

I’ve been a fan of Swedish singer Robyn for many years, and managed to get a ticket to see her perform live at Alexandra Palace. I went with a friend and we both had a great time. The atmosphere was amazing and Robyn was so good live. The best moment, naturally enough, was when she sang ‘Dancing On My Own’.

Setlist

  • Send to Robin Immediately
  • Honey
  • Indestructible
  • Hang With Me
  • Beach2k20
  • Ever Again
  • Be Mine!
  • Because It’s in the Music
  • Between the Lines
  • Love Is Free
  • Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do
  • Dancing on My Own
  • Missing U
  • Call Your Girlfriend

Encore:

  • Trust Me
  • Stars 4-Ever
  • With Every Heartbeat

Encore 2:

  • Human Being
  • Who Do You Love?

Halloween 2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – no, not Christmas, Halloween. I’ve been distracted by work and my friend’s wedding recently, so I hadn’t planned as much as I would have liked, but I managed to squeeze in a few fun things to mark the occasion.
First up was a trip to the Royal Academy to check out the PsychoBarn, Cornelia Parker’s amazing creation inspired by the house in Psycho. I wore my Odd and the Sparkly brooch to visit, just because.

PsychoBarn

PsychoBarn

On Tuesday I attended a screening of a classic silent film Der Golem (it’s German) at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, complete with live musical soundtrack. Considering the film is almost one hundred years old I thought the special effects were pretty impressive. Sadly, they didn’t provide English translations of the text displayed between the scenes, so I had no idea what was going on.

On Halloween itself I went to see a play about a Victorian séance. It was promising but ultimately unsatisfying, and I began to wonder if I would have been better off having a night in with a horror film or a book of ghost stories.

Lord Halifaxs Ghost Book

Speaking of which, I spied a book on a friend’s Instagram with the most amazing cover that I immediately decided to track down myself. The book was Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book and was full of apparently true stories of ghostly experiences in houses all around the country. I might take these claims with a pinch of salt, but they were entertaining nevertheless.

VA Day of the Dead VA Day of the Dead

As well as Halloween, it was also Dias De Los Muertos – the Mexican Day of the Dead. The V&A held a late to mark the occasion and I went along with a friend. We made a beeline for the crafting area where I made a mask – now displayed on the wall at work – and painted a skull necklace. Despite my known lack of artistic talent, it wasn’t too bad.

Skull crafts

A weekend with Mam

As the title suggests, my mam came down to London for the weekend and we did a few exciting things. Well, they were all exciting for me. A couple of them weren’t too exciting for my mam. Sorry, Mam.

Entrance to Cahoots

Entrance to Cahoots

So the first place we went was Cahoots, the 1940s London Underground-themed bar near Carnaby Street. This was fun and we got some cool cocktails.

St Martin-in-the-Fields

The next day we popped into the National Gallery first – we haven’t been there for ages. I was surprised at how badly it was all signposted compared to, say, the V&A, but there was some interesting stuff. We also had a wander around St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Bomber Command memorial

We also went down to the Bomber Command Memorial, near Green Park, before going for tea at Enzo’s Kitchen – where we went because we are both Inspector Montalbano fans and I was able to get MONTALBANO’S ACTUAL FAVE PASTA. Yum. Sardine pasta, and the nicest bread I have ever had.

Enzo's Kitchen

The next day I dragged Mam to a sonnet event at the Globe – I loved it but I’m not sure she was too keen! Next time she comes down I promise not to take her to things she feels dubious about…

Sonnet Sunday

My veganuary experience; or, confessions of an ice cream fiend

In January, for some unknown reason, I decided to give Veganuary a go. I’m already pescatarian, but eat a vegetarian diet most of the time, so I decided to try giving up all dairy and all other animal-derived products. Here’s my verdict:

The Good

I enjoyed making interesting vegan meals. I used Cooking on a Bootstrap pretty much as a Bible and in particular grew addicted to the black bean and peanut stew. Lots of the meals I ate as a vegetarian were suitable for vegans too. Price-wise, I didn’t find my vegan diet any more expensive than my veggie one, and in some ways it was cheaper as I wasn’t buying cheese.

I loved exploring the range of plant milks. Almond milk is yummy on cereal. Coconut milk is handy for curries and other meals. In general, plant milks and non-dairy spreads last longer than dairy ones, and in the case of spreads are often cheaper. I discovered that many of the foods I love are acidentally vegan – Hobnobs, Oreos, and Tesco Value garlic bread, among others.

I have a sweet tooth and was very happy to discover this brand of Tesco dark chocolate – which I often heated up with coconut milk to make an amazing hot chocolate.

Tesco Ivory Coast 74% Cocoa Plain Chocolate

I also found Alpro chocolate and hazelnut desserts, which are amazing.

Alpro Chocolate & Hazelnut Desserts

Tesco has recently brought out a range of vegan cheeses, which are reasonably priced and taste good – I really liked the one with jalapeños.

Tesco Free From Jalapeño and Chilli Cheddar

The Bad

I seriously missed regular cheese. And ice cream. I stalked Tesco daily to see if they had any dairy-free Ben and Jerry’s, but it was never in stock. Milk chocolate was out, too. In fact, sweet snack foods were notoriously difficult to find (savoury snack foods were easier, owing to the huge variety of crisps that happen to be vegan).

Constantly checking labels for hidden dairy ingredients became a bore. I know that this becomes less of an issue as you learn to know which foods are suitable and which not, but I grew very grumpy thinking about all the foods I could no longer eat. I felt cross and deprived, and that’s not a good thing.

The Indifferent

Health-wise, I felt no different on a vegan diet. I did feel a bit fatigued at first, but after upping my quota of beans and pulses, I felt fine. I’m convinced that a vegan diet can be just as healthy as a vegetarian or omnivorous one, for the average person anyway.

I had heard that a vegan diet can help clear up eczema, which can be triggered by dairy – this happened to one of my friends. Sadly it didn’t happen to me.

To conclude…

After January was over, I went out and bought a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, and I ate the entire thing.

I believe that a vegan diet can be healthy, cheap, exciting and practical. I also believe that it’s not for me. I’m afraid that I love ice cream, cheese, and chocolate way too much. Having said that, I’m happy to incorporate more dairy alternatives into my life – plant milks, for example. So the month hasn’t been completely wasted.

Hetton Historical Walk (Heritage Open Days)

Hetton-le-Hole Walking Map
Hetton-le-Hole Walking Map

With the onset of September it was time once again for the national Heritage Open Days, which take place each year up and down the country. This year I happened to be at home, but being too lazy to get myself to Newcastle or Durham to check out what was on offer, I ended up only attending one event. This was a historic walk around Hetton-le-Hole, where several members of my family live, grew up and are otherwise associated with.

1872 school house
1872 school house

We met at Hetton Centre, a fairly recent building that happens to be on the site of the old Hetton Hall. The exact date of the Hall’s construction is uncertain but it was built in the classical style. It had become dilapidated by the end of the nineteenth century and was demolished in 1923. We headed to the centre of Hetton, passing the old school house (opened in 1872), before stopping off at the point where the first moving locomotives ran, taking coal from Lyons Colliery to the River Wear.

Signpost towards the Wear
Signpost towards the Wear

The street is still named Railway Street, and just beyond there are still sleepers from the Hetton Railway. The line was surveyed by George Stephenson in 1822 and was supervised by his brother Robert. Our guide took us to nearby Fairy Street, and explained that it was so-called because of the large hillock here nicknamed the Fairy Cradle, which supposedly dated from the Iron Age.

Fairy Street
Fairy Street

We stopped off at the Primitive Methodist Chapel. Primitive Methodism reached Hetton in 1823 and this chapel was opened in 1858. I’ve been here plenty of times over the years for weddings and funerals, but this was the first time I had the chance to look around and take things in from a historical point of view. The church was built entirely by the miners. Interestingly, there used to be a public house attached to the church – not owned by it, just next door – somewhat ironic as Methodists are teetotal!

Primitive Methodist Chapel
Primitive Methodist Chapel

Inside the Chapel
Inside the Chapel

Heading beyond down the road we ended up in a part of town I’d never seen before, and a beautiful though rather run-down building, the former Pavilion Theatre and Cinema, built by Ralph Barton in 1909. The first manager was Linden Travers, father of the actor Bill Travers.

Pavilion Theatre and Cinema
Pavilion Theatre and Cinema

We then stopped at the site of the former Anglican church, now sadly reduced to rubble. A nearby house (Laburnum House) has a blue plaque with details about Nicholas Wood, friend and colleague of George Stephenson, co-founder of the Institute of Mining, and partner in the Hetton Coal Company from 1844, whose grave is in the nearby churchyard.

Site of Anglican Church
Site of Anglican Church

Nicholas Wood's blue plaque
Nicholas Wood’s blue plaque

Nicholas Wood's grave
Nicholas Wood’s grave

Crossing the road, we passed the Wesleyan Chapel in Front Street (built in 1824) then ventured towards the oldest part of town, taking in Hetton House, one of the oldest houses in the town, dating from approximately the 1720s and bought by the Lyon family (the Earls of Strathmore) in 1746. The house has two extensions, one dating from the 19th century and one from the 20th. It was most recently used as council offices and closed in 2010. Nearby is the former Standard Theatre, built in 1874. It was converted to a bus garage in 1916.

Wesleyan Chapel
Wesleyan Chapel

Hetton House
Hetton House

The tour ended in style as we stopped at the 18th-century Old Smithy which has recently opened up for occasional open days once again. I really enjoyed the tour and I learned a lot.

Old Smithy
Old Smithy

Old Smithy
Old Smithy

Inside the smithy
Inside the smithy

What I did on my holidays (trip up north, to be precise)

North
North

My week mainly consisted of naps, to be honest. However, during my week at home I also did the following:

Read books
I read War and Peace and the whole of the Enid Blyton ‘Adventure’ series. A bit of a contrast there. W&P was the Maude’s translation in a cute little three-volume edition by Collector’s Library. The Blyton series is the one starring Kiki the parrot, who was always one of my favourite characters, and inspired me with the desire to own a pet parrot (as well as somewhat unrealistic expectations of what parrots are actually capable of).

I also reread a book I discovered a few years ago, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which is wonderful.

The Haunting of Hill House
The Haunting of Hill House

Dieted
Thanks to my mam, who was on a health kick. In fairness it wasn’t too bad, and we discovered one recipe for macaroni cheese made from Primula Light cheese and mustard, which was amazing. I also ate much more fruit than I usually do, and enough miniature chocolate bars to form several whole ones.

Attended pub quizzes
Two, to be precise. One was my dad’s quiz, which we won, no thanks to me. My dad’s quizzes are HARD. The other was at a pub near to where my parents live. My mam and I went with one of her friends from the estate and said friend’s mother, who was eighty-nine, had never been to a pub quiz before, and was very excited about it. We did fairly well on this one, and I don’t think the three bottles of wine we consumed had too much of a negative effect.

Popped down to Seaham
My mam and I drove down to Seaham to go for a walk and check out the shops. The highlight was undoubtedly a trip to Lickety Split. They do GINGER NUT ICE CREAM.

Seaham harbour
Seaham harbour

Visited some new bars in Newcastle
Newcastle has really changed since I was last there. I went for a friend’s birthday and we started off in The Alchemist which does amazing cocktails.

Me at the Alchemist
Me at The Alchemist

Between us we had one that looked like a miniature bubble bath, one that resembled a science experiment and one that looked like water but which tasted of different things as you drank it. We then moved on to The Botanist which is simply gorgeous.

The Botanist, Newcastle
The Botanist, Newcastle

Celebrated Heritage Open Days
With a tour around Hetton-le-Hole, on which more in my next blog post…

Wreck This Journal – a review

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who fill pages and pages of journals with intelligent drawings and pretty pictures. However, I am hampered in this desire by the unmistakable fact that I simply cannot draw. My people have never progressed beyond stick men and my animals all look like the children’s drawings IKEA turned into soft toys a few years ago. My brother got all the artistic talent in my family.

Anyway, I decided to give Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal a go. Smith is an author, illustrator and artist who created this ‘alternative journal’ to help people “engage with the creative process”. It’s full of suggestions that invite you to mess up or destroy the journal in various ways: tearing out pages, immersing it in water, rolling it down a hill. As someone who won’t even bend the spines of her books, the thought of all this made me shudder: but perhaps it would be liberating?

Short answer: no. Some of the prompts were ones I rather enjoyed. Generally these were the ones involving less destruction and more colour: painting a page with nail varnish or lipstick or some such.

Some of the prompts require you to tear pages out of the book. It seemed a bit wasteful to me, but I duly complied.

I cringed when requested to mark a page with dirt, especially when said dirt had to come from a dusty car. Standing on a pavement next to a random car, looking carefully to make sure no one was around before surreptitiously rubbing my book on the side, was possibly my most embarrassing moment of the project.

My very favourite was the one that asks you to fill a page with one word written over and over. I found this quite enjoyable, suggesting my heart really does belong to writing.

Well, I’ve completed the book, and I’m not too sure what to do with it now. It’s far too messy to put it in a drawer with my old diaries. I’ll probably just chuck it out, to be honest.

What have I learned from wrecking my journal? Mainly it’s reinforced that destruction really isn’t for me. I’m not an artist and I don’t want to be. Give me words any day.

If you think this book sounds brilliant, you’re probably right: lots of people love it. If not, you might be like me, and that’s also okay. Honest.

Wedding up North(umberland)

I love weddings. I really do. A chance to get dressed up in an over-the-top outfit and enjoy yourself, surrounded by people you (hopefully) know and who are in the mood to celebrate. Of course, not every wedding is a positive experience, but happily the wedding of a family friend I went to last week was lovely.

The wedding took place in Newton Hall in Northumberland. The venue was gorgeous, but it was a shame about the weather, which prevented the photos being taken outside in front of the Hall. Still, a great deal of fun was had by all.
I got this bargainous dress from Collectif a few weeks ago: it’s the Maria Bloom Swing Dress. My mam made me do it: I had a different dress planned to wear, but she persuaded me to get this one. Well, it was in the sale.

Me wearing my new Collectif dress
Awkward mirror selfie

My shoes are ones that I’ve had a long time. They’re lovely and relatively comfortable, but it’s so long since I’ve worn heels that they started to kill me. The bride had thoughtfully provided flip-flops for all the ladies, but I’ve never been able to wear them (toe posts kill me). So I took my own Rollasoles instead. My bag was a charity shop bargain. I did have a jacket to wear but I ended up leaving it in the house, which meant I was absolutely freezing when we got there. Luckily once we made it inside the building it was nice and warm.

The wedding was beautiful, lots of speeches were made and plenty of wine was drunk (mainly by me). I got to see people I haven’t seen for ages, and I may also have had a bit of a dance. Perhaps.

Happy (belated) New Year!

Happy New Year!

Table set
New Year’s Day meal

This sounds rather late considering we’re well into January by now. In my defence, I’ve been busy and 2017 sort of crept up. I spent the few days between Christmas and New Year in a bit of a stupor, like I always do – even more so given I didn’t have to head back down to London on the 30th like I usually do. I spent New Year with my brother, because I don’t really see him much these days. It was just a small house party with me, him, his girlfriend and a couple of friends, one of whom fell asleep at 10pm and duly had a moustache drawn on his face (not by me!). We mainly played a lot of Jackbox Games, and had Jägerbombs at midnight instead of champagne. The next day my parents had their usual New Year’s Day party and we played a game called Coggle, which involves writing down as many things as you can think of in a particular category beginning with a certain letter. It’s really frustrating when you’re writing a list of “vegetables beginning with the letter P” and the time runs out and you realise you’ve forgotten something really obvious like potato.

Food and drink
Midnight Jägerbombs. Classy.

On the second of January – a bank holiday – I travelled back to London, in time for a four-day week at work, during which I tried to settle back in to office routine and helped to finish the last of the Christmas chocolates. In a bid to get more exercise, I decided to try and walk to the theatre: I’ve worked out that most of the off-West End theatres I visit are around an hours walk from work, which is totally doable, so long as it’s not pouring down with rain. This week I walked to the Southwark Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre, which I’m sure has done me some good.

This weekend I’ve taken the chance to have a proper rest – technically, it’s still Christmas, anyway – but I’ve also been more productive than I expected, as I have:

1. Seen Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. I hardly ever go to the cinema these days; I think I only went once last year, and that was only because my mam wanted to go. However, I really wanted to see this film, so off I went. I loved it – and the ending surprised me. I can’t wait for the next instalment.

2. Finally seen The Sound of Music. I put off watching this film for years, mainly because Mary Poppins had put me off Julie Andrews (I Can. Not. Stand. Mary Poppins. The character, more than the film. Arrogant, smug and stuck-up). This proved to be unfair as she really is rather good in this. Actually, the whole thing is wonderful and I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to find this out. And I call myself a musicals fan.

3. Changed my room around. For some unknown reason I’ve had my bed in the middle of the room ever since I moved in. Having to walk round the bed every time I wanted something from the other side of the room was a tad annoying, and so I decided to spend the first weekend of the new year productively, and sort it all out. So I pulled everything out from under the bed and moved the bedside table onto the landing and hoovered the other side of the room and pushed the bed over to the side and shoved everything back under the bed again. Phew. That was my exercise for the day sorted.

What have you been up to at the beginning of the year?