Monday, 12 September 2016

Kraków City Break


I recently went on a four day city break to Kraków, Poland - one of the most beautiful European cities I've had the pleasure of visiting. It was a none stop weekend to the point where I racked up a total of 46km of walking! I thought it would be nice to write something about the trip and give some tips. Despite the wealth of TripAdvisor information I still really enjoy picking up a guide book to give me some ideas of things to do, places to go and what to eat (VERY IMPORTANT).

What struck me most about Kraków was how much you can get for so little despite its' growing tourism. We arrived on the Friday evening and headed straight for the main square. There is a plethora of restaurants and bars with something to suit anyone sitting right on the square, most of which are veggie friendly! Sitting outside of a restaurant called Chopin whilst horse and carts passed us by carrying enthusiastic tourists I had my first taste of Polish culture - literally. I'd read about the dumplings before going - they arrived looking fairly bland, I guess I assumed they would be in a sauce, I was wrong they tasted great without, nicely washed down with some wine. A meal for two, a bottle of  wine, gorgeous scenery and a good relax for under £20 - thank you Kraków.

I've got a bit of history of getting lost so I sorted out offline maps which successfully got me from the airport to my hotel but I was more wary of using them to find all of the highlights in my guidebook on a pretty hot day. The main square is littered with people selling tours which I would ordinarily respond "no thank you" to but this day we took someone up on the offer. Off we hopped on a golf buggy tour, despite being a bumpy, cling onto the seat ride I'd definitely recommend it as a fast way to see around the city. The tour pointed out beautiful and historic sites which I probably would have missed if I had been walking myself, you also had the option to get off and have a look around sites. We jumped off at the Gothic Corpus Christi Church in Kazimierz, a neighbourhood where, pre-war Jewish and Christian cultures coexisted, it's clear now that this continues to experience rebirth. Whilst in Kazimierz we picked up a zapiekanka, which is a part pizza, part toastie situation I believe the standard is mushroom, onion and cheese with ketchup but the assortment of street food stands ensure you can top it with whatever you fancy - best £1.50 lunch going!

Gothic Corpus Christi Church


At the airport on my way home I heard some women talking about how visiting Auschwitz and The Wieliczka Salt Mine in one day wouldn't be a good idea. I beg to differ, when time is limited such as visiting for along weekend I would recommend doing both in one day purely as a means of using your time better. We booked through who I would recommend, they pick up outside your hotel in a comfortable, air-conditioned mini bus. The morning and early afternoon are spent on a guided tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau which I will write about at a later date when I've had the time to process things. I suggest if you are going you should book onto a guided tour, I feel it's the only way to begin to understand what has happened. We then went off to see the salt mine which was way more beautiful than I could have ever imagined, I mean a mine with over 40 chapels and the most impressive of them being completely carved out of salt, chandelier included. I also licked a salt wall that I'm guessing thousands of other tourists have licked too. For the record I don't think I'll ever un-taste that salt. The modern day mine also boasts a health spa to help those with respiratory problems, I don't think it could get much cooler to the point where I feel like you need to see the billions of photos I took...

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Wieliczka Salt Mine

Speaking of never being able to un-taste something, I guess the trip wouldn't have been complete without a spot of vodka tasting. I'd recommend a trip to Wódka Cafe-Bar, I'm not going to lie it looks like a bit of a cupboard featuring two tables but the flavours were great. Go for the tray of six to try, ours featured chill-chocolate and earl grey! I don't think I can quite prepare you for how strong they were, my throat was not ready for it.

What I found most striking about Kraków was the way life has moved on. It's difficult to explain what I mean, there is evidence everywhere of the absolute atrocities committed by the Nazis in world war two but minutes away from these is modern life, life that has moved on despite complete destruction. I guess I just found it difficult to comprehend how a nation goes about rebuilding after everything that happened there but somehow they did. About a five minute walk outside of the hustle and bustle of the market square in Kazimierz exists The New Jewish Cemetery, which was all but destroyed in world war two, although it's had restoration work many of the graves barely stand and it truly pained my heart to look at the sorrowful state. I guess it stands as a reminder to us all, a way to make sure no one forgets - the city does that so well.
New Jewish Cemetery 
New Jewish Cemetery World War Two Memorial

Kraków is a beautiful city with something to suit you whatever the break you fancy. If it's to explore the history, to have a time out from life back home or to run about in a non-stop frenzy to see everything I'm sure you will love it just as I did.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

5 Out of 10 Men


5 Out of 10 Men
Written by Roland Reynolds
theSpace at Niddry Street, Edinburgh Fringe

“Women and men must deal with: human issues, female issues and male issues – not in that order, not in any order, but equally.”

“I never knew men killed themselves” that line alone speaks a thousand minds, it represents the very first stumbling block men face and is essentially the central point to the play. 5 Out of 10 Men fearlessly explores what it’s like to be a struggling man within the overpowering culture of masculinity, whatever that may be. Men don’t talk about their feelings. Men are strong. Men don’t cry. Men hold it together. Men also contribute to the majority of completed suicides. Men need to start talking, but how?

I’m not going to lie at times I really hated Mike at times, or should I say I hated the things he did but the true artistry of Reynolds’ writing made me truly feel for him. I feel so strongly about violence against women in any shape or form yet there I was feeling truly empathic towards such a misogynist. That right there is evidence of an incredible play write. Mike’s back story is so intricately woven into his present struggles it’s impossible to not feel a cocktail of emotions, enraged to empathic, disgusted to saddened, horrified to genuinely wanting to put my hand out to him and in the end doing just that. Inviting members of the audience onto the stage for the final moments of the piece felt like the only end there could have been and the goosebumps covering my body was proof of that.

The words “I don’t hate women but I sure as hell hated the women around me when I was 10” are some of the truest I’ve heard in a while and they most definitely translate into the opposite gender. We actively construct our futures as a direct consequence of the past. We form these core beliefs which at times can be completely nonsensical, in a simplified version: my Mam was a bitch she treated me in a way no one should be treated and forced me into her expectations therefore women are bitches and I’m gonna make sure they know it because I couldn’t before. In this Reynolds makes such a specific life experience globally relatable, I challenge you to find someone who couldn’t relate on some level.

I could probably write thousands of words on 5 Out of 10 Men, using up all of the positive adjectives in the language before moving on to French so I’ll wrap it up. Reynolds’ brave, fierce and at times crude approach to the barriers societies view of masculinity has on men being able to access support was admirable. I urge all to see or read in an effort to truly understand.


HOPELineUK is a confidential support and advice service for:

Young people under the age of 35 who may be having thoughts of suicideAnyone concerned a young person may be having thoughts of suicide. 

A HOPELineUK advisor will hear about the things that are happening in your life that are contributing to your thoughts of suicide and provide advice about how you can cope with your thoughts of suicide, or where you can access help. You can also speak to our HOPELineUK advisors to get advice about how to start a conversation about suicide with someone you are concerned about, and how to best support them.

Call: 0800 068 41 41

Text: 07786209697


Opening hours are 10am-10pm weekdays, 2pm-10pm weekends, and 2pm-5pm Bank Holidays. 

Lemons Lemons Lemons Leomons FRINGE REVIEW


Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons
By Sam Stenier
At Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Quirky and cute at times, Lemons explores our use of language more specifically the function of it and the impact limiting this would have on our world.

As play structures go, Lemons is enviably genius to say the least. I started off thinking “eh, am I supposed to get this, what did I miss”. Until about half way through at which point it shifted to “man I would never have thought of that”. Everything falls so perfectly into place in this language jigsaw. It brought us full circle in a way I’ve not seen before, it was bizarrely satisfying.

Lemons made me the woman watching a show by herself who laughs out loud, thankfully Obwas in good company with the whole theatre in giggles. Lemons is a perfect balance of hilarious and serious, if there is such a thing.

Lemons fits perfectly into a world where face to face communication is constantly reducing, that is unless you count the one line splatter across your face on Snapchat which you then ping around to your friends. Do we cease the opportunities to tell people what we’re really thinking – be that good or bad. Lemons made me think if things were to change tomorrow would I be happy with what I’d said to date when freedom existed, who knows? Lemons takes a serious matter and mixes in the perfect amount of humour!, such as with our constant “we’ll talk about it later” saga. When is later, what if there is no later? Would we be like Oliver and Bernadette, starting off on the good “I love you” foot but rapidly spiralling down the here are the bits I don’t like and could you please stop doing X in bed...”I want to feel sexy and powerful and like we could be in Basic Instinct or Brokeback Mountain...”. Either way it made for hilarious viewing.

Steiner puts an interesting spin on the matter of who needs more words. It dawned on me that I’d never really thought about things in this way before and I’m not sure why. This was perfectly summed up when Oliver goes into full blown rant for the working class needing more words: “the powerful stay powerful because nobody’s got enough words to challenge then, nepotism multiplies exponentially and becomes basically the only way of getting jobs because well, who’s got enough words for interviews?”

All in all Lemons truly fascinated me, it challenged my perception of language use in a hilarious way I didn’t think possible.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Royal Northern Sinfonia Heroes of Hollywood


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Royal Northern Sinfonia
Heroes of Hollywood
Sage Gateshead
Monday 28th March 2016 18:00

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The Royal Northern Sinfonia took us on a magical journey spanning 78 years of cinematic brilliance. The music of John Williams filled the majority of the line up showcasing some of his finest work, by the end of the night there was no question that he deserved each and every one of the ten Oscars he has to his name. The evening was beautifully pulled together by conductor Stephen Bell, known for conducting BBC Proms in the Park from 2005 to 2010, Stephen was described by International Record Review in 2011 as "one of the most gifted younger British Conductors" and that he is. His breadth of knowledge is enviable, all presented to the audience with true charisma.

The first piece came from the  the 1981 Indiana Jones classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of Williams' many collaborations with Steven Spielberg. The Raiders March was executed with immense energy and was a captivating start to what would become a brilliant night of music.

Head of The Royal Northern Sinfonia, violinist Bradley Creswick lead a solo in the main theme from Schindler's List. The piece is evidence of William's versatility, over the course of the concert his music was able to evoke all sorts of emotions in the audience however this above all almost brought me to tears. Creswick had the hearts of the whole hall within his grasp, his performance truly breathtaking. 

The evening would not have been complete for me without an element of Harry Potter and we definitely got that, with a member of the orchestra dressed as Hagrid and another as Dumbledore however the true star for me was Kate Thompson on celeste. She performed the iconic Hedwig's Theme with the absolute magic it deserves and took me right back to my childhood the first time I heard it. Following this the wind section had their time to shine with Nimbus 2000, another magical and elegant performance.

Ending the show was Throne Room and the End Titled from Star Wars follwoing the sucess of their first Star Wars concert this year will see The Royal Northern Sinfonia return with music from all seven Star Wars films, an evening not to be missed for fans of music and Star Wars alike.  

All in all, Heroes of Hollywood was a delightful evening showcasing an eclectic range of the music of John Willaims. Yet again The Royal Northern Sinfonia have reminded us of their true brilliance and fabulous centre for music we have right on our doorstep in the North East. 

Monday, 19 October 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Shop Girl by Mary Portas


Mary Portas is famed for transforming Harvey Nichols into the fashion force that it is today as the creative director, hosting television shows Mary the Queen of Shops and, more recently, Mary Portas: Secret Shopper and writing a column for The Telegraph. Now, Portas is unveiling a difficult upbringing that led to her love of fashion and art in her latest book Shop Girl, A Memoir.

Shop Girl, A Memoir has a certain characterising rhythm to it, as we are given access to the soundtrack of Portas’ youth. It stretches from her first love, Marc Bolan, to the infamous Ziggy Stardust and the moment Blondie tore into the music scene. It also expresses Portas’ anger and frustration at Making Your Mind Up topping the charts, while she was listening to Spandau Ballet and Simple Minds. The moment Portas realised it was perfectly okay to cry at work was following the death of John Lennon, where colleagues shared memories over wine in a candle lit studio – crying.

The expectation of what women should be and how they should behave is littered through the book. This starts with Portas as a young girl, envying her brothers as they took up their positions as alter-boys in church, a place where women had a very little role. The traditional family that Portas grew up in, comprised of a stay-at-home mother and a father who was responsible for bringing in the money, had very little space for affection. Also, the expectation of Portas to assume the same role as her mother came around a lot earlier than expected with her mother’s untimely death. The picture painted of life in the Newton household as a place of unity, cluttered with children and home-baking makes the silence brought by her mother’s death even more destroying.

No matter what age you grew up in, Portas’ accounts of her childhood can resonate with all of us. It’s the fear of a maths teacher picking on you to recite your times tables that you still haven’t learned and the envy you have towards your sibling that gets the rollerblades you’ve always wanted. It’s the naivety of being a child, when not getting the right ribbons in your hair for school is the closest you can come to hating your mother.

Over everything else, it’s Portas’ growing love for art and fashion that is the most fascinating element of the book. Portas turned down a place at RADA to study drama. However, this is the perfect example of everything happening for a reason. This saw her go to a local college and pursue window dressing, which would lead her to the fame she has today. The book takes us on her journey of understanding the power of fashion.

“It’s not just what they wear. It’s the way their clothes are used to express something that I don’t fully understand. It’s the first time I’ve realised clothes can say something about you, tell the world what you want to know.”

Shop Girl: A Memoir is a light, engaging read which details the struggles and triumphs of Mary Portas’ life, especially those that led her to become the woman we know her as today.

Reviewed as part of Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence Programme. 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Ruby Wax: Sane New World Review


Sane New World
Ruby Wax
Durham Gala Theatre
Saturday 12th September 2015


Having thoroughly enjoyed Ruby Wax’s book Sane New World, to say I was looking forward to her show of the same name would be an understatement. What I saw, however, was a witty and intellectual show that was laced with cheap mental illness jokes that made me want to scream.

Wax graduated from Oxford University with a masters degree in cognitive based mindfulness and there is no doubt that she is a very intelligent women. She explained the role of hormones in the development of mental illness with ease, but it was her knowledge and experience with mindfulness that exceeded it. Mindfulness opens up the opportunity to stop your internal monologue running your life – it gives you a time out. However, Wax explained that “you don’t get a six-pack with one sit-up”. It is the daily practice of mindfulness that brings mental peace. She conducted a mindfulness exercise with the entire theatre and, from what I overheard at the interval, the audience were sold on the concept.

The comedian proposed that we are all in a plague of business and that there is too much of an expectation to always be busy. Even if busy just means managing to go to multiple exercise classes and coffee dates in a day, we must be busy. “What is the point in being able to kiss your own ass in each direction?” Maybe the point is to prove we can achieve more and more as we strive to be better.

By the time we reached the interval, I was over the “psychotic people want to kill you” and “bipolar people laugh then cry” jokes. Then we were back again, and a member of the audience asked what the difference is between bipolar and depression. This was the perfect opportunity for Wax to raise some awareness but, instead, I found myself being informed that if one of my relatives were to try and set fire to my house I would know they have bipolar. No, I would know that they were an arsonist.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

48 Hours of Fringe


48 Hours of Fringe
Edinburgh Fringe
Hannah Morpeth & Beth Allison
Monday 24th August

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There aren't many places where you will see Shakespeare reincarnated as an unhinged 21st century woman; have the opportunity to flashmob unsuspecting diners at Pizza Express; and witness what can only be described as plugged-in, partying ballet.

To quote 10x10x10's final performer "being on stage makes you a God" - they have the power to make an audience laugh, cry and believe all within a few minutes if they wish. Open Clasp Theatre's Key Change throws the audience into life in a female prison and their quests to feel safe whilst trapped in lives of domestic violence, fear and poverty. It is a vicious circle. The four women serving prison sentences have ended up inside because of a chain of events started by the witting or unwitting actions of others. A man beats his wife, physically and mentally, way past the point of breaking; a young girl struggles with the ghosts of her past, is offered drugs, and enters a destructive relationship with them that she cannot escape. Key Change is a harrowing portrayal of exploitation at its most extreme.

Despite only being 21 ourselves, we're getting ever more detached from the experiences of today's teenagers. Everyone is quick to tell youngsters that their school years are the best years of their lives: Broken Windows challenges that. Are we really teaching young girls that the biggest display of strength and success you can possibly exhibit is an eating disorder? Are we giving the message that the celebrity whose "perfect life" constantly clogs up your continuously refreshed Instagram feed is the best role model you can find? When objectified in the street, is the best response really 'thank you' rather than 'fuck you'? Not to mention the race to lose your virginity and the fact that 'you've lost weight' is the biggest compliment. Maybe it's the most important lessons that we're forgetting to teach young girls. That their worth is not defined by their number of followers, the dress sizes they are able to drop or a constant flow of male attention. If only “there was some sort of armour that could protect us from the bullshit.”

That's enough of the doom and gloom! Since the 2011 release of Friends with Benefits we've had this fantasy of either joining a flashmob or someone arranging it for us. On Sunday, it finally happened! We were let lose into a flashmob organised by Guru Dudu - what a fella. We waltzed (we use the term loosely), broke free from our dignity and brought Uptown Funk to the cobbles.

Do you ever see a show and think, where the hell did the idea for that come from? Enter Mrs Shakespeare, a one woman show of Shakespeare reincarnated 400 years later as a woman - because coming back as a "baldy old man with a goatee" would be too obvious. It came as no surprise to learn that William was undergoing psychiatric evaluation whilst working on his/her new 'modernised' masterpieces: Hitler the First, and a rewrite of Hamlet to be titled Ophelia.

Now for people who can really dance. Balletronic was pure strength and elegance wrapped up in an electric musical atmosphere. The fusion of modern dance and ballet was honestly like nothing we have ever seen before. Both male and female were in complete ownership of the dance space; the fantastic orchestra played with such passion that their instruments broke (literally - the bow strings of the lead violinist were crying in protest). Balletronic was a beautiful reminder that that dance has the ability to tell stories, and take you on an emotional rollercoaster.

All in all, a brilliant 48 hours spent in fantastic company. Edinburgh Fringe is the most crazy, eclectic, unique, reality suspended of events . Where else would you find yourself (the most sparkly woman sitting on a bale of hay) in a cowshed at 2am, listening to some pretty awesome live music?