jofuller

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Life: Epidemics, Kate Tempest & Piercings

Chickenpox is generally a good gauge that Spring is on its way, as is the macabre tradition of hosting a chickenpox party. Should you be unlucky enough to get an invite to such a gathering, all you need to bring is a pox free child. Once the horrid mingle has come to an end, instead of a party bag the little ones hopefully all leave with a harrowing childhood disease and their immune systems boosted. As I don’t have children this is the one party invite I never get, bothered? Most definitely not.

Brighton Festival Fever has nothing to do with contagious childhood diseases, but it is contagious to those with an interest in arts and culture, regardless of age, and it also starts to slowly sweep across the city in February. I became a member this year – is that an age thing? – and accepted the invite to the member’s preview show.

It was a surreal evening, the curator of this year’s extravaganza, spoken word idol Kate Tempest, was live but not live on a pre-recorded VT from her holiday in Sri Lanka bizarrely interviewing herself. You had to be there. I have a great respect for Kate Tempest and her talent, but her words don’t really resonate with me. At one of her recent gigs, I was most upset by her obvious disapproval of people who like new shoes and drink coffee. That night I was wearing fabulous new shoes and had just had a coffee. I stood amongst Kate’s crowd as they worshipped her every word. I felt as if there were a flashing neon arrow above my head, highlighting me and my frivolous spending on heels and caffeine instead of giving it away to dis-enfranchised millennials in a bid to stop them spiralling into drugs and prostitution.

If you’re reading this Ms. Tempest, just for the record I’ve done my time as a screwed up twenty something and frankly, I’m proud to have made it this far without being sectioned or forced into rehab. So please don’t make me feel guilty for sorting myself out aka “growing up’, buying shoes and drinking coffee. I thank you.

Not sure what Kate would have made of the “Exclusive” members evening full of people with a disposable income drinking free wine and coffee, but she actively encouraged us to spend money, book tickets and not give to worthier causes other than our own enjoyment – which personally I think is a very worthy cause. I left 100 quid lighter, several events in the bag and a fun filled, guilt free May to look forward to.

As I am clearly well beyond my twenty-somethings, it must have been a subconscious midlife backlash that took me to a get my helix pierced. A totally pain-free experience and the delightful girl, that took a very large needle to my upper ear, obviously thought that this was the start of my piercing journey. She handed me a loyalty card, “have six piercings, get the seventh free”, she said. Personally, I can’t imagine having anything other than my ears pierced but I loved the way she tried to up-sell me to have my nipples lanced. I politely declined.

I love a loyalty card and get great satisfaction when I complete one, the usual reward being a free coffee. Not sure a free intimate piercing would give me the same kind of buzz, but it would defiantly make me feel more at home amongst the kids should I ever decide to go to a Kate Tempest gig again.

These words also appeared in The Huffington Post and the Brighton & Hove Independent

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Travels: Palma, Puerto Pollenca and a Philistine

I recently survived a terrifying and turbulent take off from Gatwick airport. For fear of sounding dramatic, I seriously thought I was going to die and bring up my recently ingested Pret falafel wrap. I prayed that the God I had stopped believing in many years ago would take pity on me and spare my dying on an Easyjet flight because I couldn’t remember the Hail Mary and amongst other carnal sins stole pick ’n’ mix from Woolworths. But my Catholic guilt and pathetic attempt to rekindle my relationship with God dwindled when it occurred to me that the pilot would not risk his own life to take me to the Mediterranean. He would only have taken off if he was certain the conditions were conducive to our, and ultimately his safe passage.

Three hours later, I was still alive – and I’m assuming so was the pilot – soaking up the sunshine and restoring my tattered nerves with a coffee and a suitably calorific sweet treat. Much was my relief to have arrived safely in Palma, the capital of the Balearic island of Majorca.

The purpose of my trip was to celebrate a significant birthday and the marriage blessing of two very special friends who live in the north of the island. But first I gave myself a couple of nights to explore the lovely city of Palma. Roughly two hours from the UK and a very easy 20 min bus ride from the airport to the Plaza España, makes this a perfect yet underrated destination for a weekend break.

What I love about Palma is that there isn’t really anything to see. It is a very beautiful city on a very beautiful island. Culturally you have the magnificent Gothic Cathedral Le Seu and Es Baluard the museum of modern art, but refreshingly there isn’t a long list of sights to tick off and this, in my book, makes it very relaxing. In fact on the days I was there, both the Cathedral and the Museum were shut, and the philistine in me was quite delighted, it freed up more time for mooching, and that is what Palma is great for, mooching, browsing and eating.

 

 

 

 

 

Once you’ve ticked the cultural sights off your list – or not – have a wander around the bustling Plaza Major in the centre of Palma. It is teeming with shops, cafes and street entertainers. The Passeig des Born, is a tree lined paseo, perfect for people watching, and is also the upmarket shopping area – Uterqüe and Mulberry have just opened their doors. The La Llonga district is the area to head for nightlife and it is here you will find the Teatre Principal, home to the theatre and the opera. Santa Catalina is the boho area, the slightly shabby little streets are filled with bars, restaurants and interesting shops and in stark contrast a few minutes south you have the modern and busy Port de Mallorca.

Mooching makes you surprisingly hungry and Palma is fully equipped to offer you frequent and satisfying refreshment. Head to one of the many patisseries for a standard, but exceptional Majorcan breakfast of coffee and croissant. Get a spot in the sun and relish this simple but wonderful start to your day.

For lunch, I can highly recommend the indoor market in Santa Catalina. Filled with fresh produce, meat and fish, many of the stalls have the option for you to pull up a stool and eat. The fish and seafood is amazing, fresh off the boats, onto the grill and onto your plate for around €10 including a glass of wine. It’s not salubrious it’s a working market, but the atmosphere, the smells and the noises are memorable.

A little afternoon pick me up is generally necessary and coffee and cake are everywhere. Many of the cafes encourage you to have a glass of cava as well, which I think is very civilised.

Considering its size, Majorca has an impressive nine Michelin-starred restaurants totalling ten stars between them. Two of the nine restaurants are in Palma and Restaurant Marc Fosh with its one star is located in the contemporary Hotel Convent de la Missó. Fosh is English and offers a 10-course degustation menu and wine flight in this quiet and relaxing venue, booking essential.

If you want to experience a more lively and less intimate dinner then head to one of Palmas hippest places to eat, Vermuteria La Rosa. Don’t be put off by the queue, it’s so worth the wait. Vermouth is their speciality and their simple tapas are mouthwatering, the staff are charming (and very handsome) and the atmosphere unbeatable.

 

 

 

 

 

If the queue for La Rosa defeats you, then head north to the Avenida Comte de Sallent to the acclaimed Casa Gallega, pintxo bar and restaurant. Go hungry! You may have to wait for a table, but watching the theatre of this busy restaurant ensures that the wait is most enjoyable and the generous pintxos are deceptively filling.

Like most Mediterranean cities, Palma doesn’t sleep and there are many late night bars to keep you entertained till the early hours. But, if like me, you are done after a late dinner, head home, get up early and make the most of that coffee and croissant in the morning sunshine.

After two days my time in the city came to an end and I jumped on the bus for the 75 minute, €6 ride to Puerto Pollenca in the very north of the island.

Puerto Pollenca is an idyllic spot and deservedly a Unesco world heritage site. A gorgeous bay filled with boats its dramatic backdrop is provided by the Tramuntana mountains. Pine Walk is a tree-lined promenade along the shore, home to some beautiful houses – many of them available to rent – and one very swanky hotel, the Illa D’Or . There are 10 secluded beaches in the area, some only accessible by foot or a quick tack around the bay if you are lucky enough to get there by boat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This little pocket of Spain brought together my gorgeous and intrepid school friend Katy and her handsome German suitor, Thomas. Their celebration was fabulous, drumming, dancing and food, a simple but effective combination to bring together their friends from England, Germany, Spain, Italy and Senegal.

The following day I found myself out on the water and back on the Love Boat where international relations continued with more food, more music and more singing. I spent the day basking in the warmth of not only the sun but the love of two very special friends who met each other whilst bobbing around on the water in this pretty perfect part of the Med. Sometimes you just can’t help but believe that maybe there is a God.

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Life: Valentines Love Story or  Horror Story?

 

It’s February the month of L.O.V.E. The cynical ones amongst you will say its commercial nonsense and perhaps it is, but I’ll admit, I wouldn’t be averse to a secret admirer popping out of the woodwork and declaring his undying love for me. Struggling up the steps to my front door under the weight of a vulgar, padded, satin Care Bear card the size of a single mattress, filled with enough schmultzy words to make you want to dry retch, but equally enough to make you feel loved on this most romantic, albeit commercial of days.

The last Valentines I received was my from Godson, he never fails to tell me he loves me, he’s at that tender age, where it’s not embarrassing for a boy to show his feelings, this will soon change – hopefully only temporarily. Prior to receiving regular romantic fixes from an 8-year-old, my previous Valentine card was from a stalker.
I
handed the cheap card to the police along with all the other creepy notes he had kindly sent me. They were written on A4 lined paper and stuffed into used envelopes, the previous addressees/victims details scrubbed out and replaced with my name, tardily scribbled on the front. Had he bothered to pay attention to his handwriting, spent more than £1 on a card and harangued me with good quality stationery, he might have stood a chance.

I can’t say I have ever had a particularly romantic gesture bestowed upon me for Valentine’s day. For years I used to receive an anonymous card with a Worthing postmark on the envelope. It was terribly exciting and I always wondered if he would ever make himself known to me, only to find out that the cards were actually from my parents. Yes, they actually thought it would be a good idea – WTF? – to drive to Worthing and post their emotionally vulnerable teenage daughter a fictitious Valentines card six years in a row. And my dad wonders why I had therapy?

As for Valentine’s dates, there are two that come to mind, and not for the right reasons. Number one was a very unromantic curry with an ex. We were on the brink of breaking up and we should have just broken up or gotten a takeaway. We most definitely shouldn’t have marked the occasion by going through the motions in public and putting ourselves through the agony of a King Prawn Shaslik for two.

The second memorable Valentines was a first date with a guy I met one Saturday afternoon in the pub watching the rugby. It wasn’t a particularly sober afternoon and so giving him my number was a mistake in itself. When I got a text a couple of days later saying it was cheesy and predictable but did I fancy going out that evening, even though it was Valentines night, I should have listened to my intuition and just said no. I didn’t, he could have been the love of my life. He wasn’t, and the date was as awful as one might have expected. I turned down the chance to go and watch Brighton and Hove Albion play that night, I’m not a huge football fan, but looking back on it, even if I’d have had to have spent 90 minutes standing outside in the lashing rain naked, forced to chant support for the opposition amongst the home crowd and then gotten Arsenal tattooed across my face, it would have been a better evening. Needless to say, we are not in touch.

Contrary to what you and even I now believe, my life has not been completely devoid of romance, it just does seem that Valentines is somewhat doomed for me. This is just a short list, there are some other memorable Valentines tales I could have relayed, but I think I could labour the point and start to sound cynical [sic].
So what now? The big day is looming, what will this Valentine’s day bring for me, a horror story or a love story? An old flame from my school days has just made contact with me, when I say old flame, I mean I followed him around admiring the curvature of his bottom in his tight Stapress. He went out with all my friends and I prattled around in the background trying to get his attention. But thanks to social media we are enjoying a little flirtation and who knows if he reads this he might just rock up at my front door with a Care Bear card…..
S.W.A.L.K Xx

This article also appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent and The Huffington Post

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Life: January, Baileys & Adult Toys

Christmas is over, the decorations are down and so is the general mood. It’s that time of year when not much happens in my world, apart from procrastinating over my tax return and trying to lose the two kilos I acquired drinking Baileys and eating festive food. It’s a well-known fact that it’s much harder to lose that bottle of Baileys than it is to drink it, and FYI a bottle of Baileys equates to a kilo of wobbly body fat. How do I know this? It’s not scientifically proven, but, a client of mine once put on a staggering 10 kgs over Christmas, which by her own admission, was mainly due to the fact that she drank ten bottles of Baileys over a two month period. I’m reminded of this every time I pour myself a generous half pint on the rocks and I’ve never quite gotten my head around whether or not I think it was admirable of her to be so indulgent.  Surely drinking one of Ireland’s best exports with such abandon would have resulted in a mild case of diabetes?

Another observation that I’ve made over the years having watched my friends get married and have children is how their Christmases have evolved. Few have little enough time for themselves, but at Christmas, this seems exacerbated by their commitments to school activities, the social whirl of their offspring, and keeping both sets of in-laws happy. But once they have stopped dashing round the country seeing family, shouting out at pantos and cleaning up bloody wounds after ice skating, the time finally comes when they can enjoy their presents and the “adult toys” can come out to play.

And so the perfect day arrives, a drizzly Sunday at the beginning of January. All that remains of Christmas are a few stubborn pine needles that refuse to be vacuumed up and the stale remains of a panettone – that may or may not get made into a bread and butter pudding. The children are huddled over their devices plugged into the matrix, no human interaction is required. And there they are, unwrapped, but still in their boxes, untouched since the chaotic present opening on Christmas Day, the latest speakers, the drone and the watch that is akin to wearing mission control on your wrist, so vast is its functionality. All the toys come with the re-assuring instructions  ‘easy to set up.’ But as aware as we are of how hard it is to lose the Baileys weight, we are also aware that nothing is ‘easy to set up’ unless you have a degree in engineering, are still at school, or designed the product yourself.

The pleasurable anticipation of playing with the adult toys rapidly dissipates. You quickly realise that the manufacturer’s promise of ‘easy to set up’ is a lie and it’s triggering your insecurities about being out of touch and technologically inadequate. In total frustration and to avoid the humiliation of having to ask your eight-year-old for help, you turn to Google. This only adds to your overwhelming sense of failure, as it quickly becomes apparent that nobody else in the world has ever typed in the questions you are asking regarding the set up of your toys. So you put them back into their boxes, pour yourself a large Baileys, dunk in a chunk of stale panettone and decide a) to wait for another rainy Sunday before you try again, or b) ask your eight-year-old.

 

This article also appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent and The Huffington Post

 

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Vienna: Two Days, Two Nights & A Lot Of Twinkly Lights

I am SO full of Christmas cheer, it’s ridiculous. If you are reading this and lacking in cheer, please get in touch, I’m sure we can arrange some by osmosis. One of the reasons I am so incredibly festive is due to a recent girls’ weekend in Vienna for the Christmas markets.

Why Vienna you may ask? Why not Berlin or Cologne? Is Germany not the place to go for an authentic Christmas market experience? There was no science involved, it was purely for the dates. Vienna kicks off early, they open the shutters to their faux wooden huts filled with trinkets in mid-November, compared with the rest of Europe opening up at least a week later.

Our journey was easy, just short of a two-hour flight from Gatwick, and at the Austrian end a very efficient – obvs – 16-minute journey on the CityExpress from the airport. A quick change, onto the metro and in less than 30 minutes we emerged from the underground opposite the splendid Opera House. We were greeted by an abundance of twinkly lights and our ears filled with piped music. The Viennese are rightly, very proud of Mozart, and his music is something we would be very familiar with by the time we left.

Upon arrival, we discovered that there are seven Christmas markets in Vienna, and not just one big one. It didn’t take us long to realise that we would probably be over the initial excitement quite quickly and so the reality of visiting all seven was quite slim. We sought advice and decided to visit three; The Royal Place at Schönbrunn, The Adventmarkt Am HoF and the Altwiener Christkindlmarkt.

If there is such a thing as a handicraft Christmas heaven then we visited it, three times. The markets are filled with stalls mostly selling the same bits and bobs. Christmas decorations fashioned from all sorts of materials, candles, toys, and edible seasonal goodies. The air was filled with tummy rumbling smells of food. If you like your food cheesy, sausagey and sugary, Austrian Christmas market fare is right up your Strasse. If you have quit sugar, off carbs and are a vegan, take a picnic. I’m not a huge sausage fan – stop it – but I did very much enjoy my enormous spicy bratwurst with sauerkraut, washed down with a ‘hot apple wine’ aka hot cider. To avoid filling Vienna up with plastic cups, each market has their own specially designed ceramic mug on which you pay a deposit. It gets filled up with hot booze at regular intervals and when you are sated, you hand it back in and get your deposit back. Zero waste and much nicer than drinking out of a plastic cup. Although open from 10:00, the evening is much more conducive to the market experience. At night, the pretty lights come on, the markets are busier, the atmosphere increases and everyone are merrily knocking back glugwein and chomping on gingerbread.

The other items on our tourist tick list were; eat a Wiener Schnitzel, eat Sachertorte and go to the Opera. Opera was out of the question, tickets are booked months, if not years in advance, so in our quest for cultural fulfilment, we booked seats for a classic ensemble at the incredibly beautiful St Peter’s Church. It was an hour of ‘classic’ classical hits played out by a string quartet. Serene and magical, it was the first time I had spent an evening with Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, and they were surprisingly good company.

As per usual when I go away, I find I rarely eat green food. Why is holiday food so yellow? Our Weiner Schnitzel didn’t disappoint. We had reservations at Plachutta and I was expecting a very traditional, dark, wooden, cave-like restaurant – which wouldn’t have been a problem – but Plauchutta was modern, airy and buzzy and, like the majority of eateries in Vienna, stylish, efficient and laid with the most fabulous tableware. Yes, it’s the little things which, for someone like me who likes to drink out of nice glass and eat off a nice plate, make the whole dining out experience even more pleasurable. We went totally traditional at Plachutta, two glasses of the luscious sparkling Schlumberger and two Weiner Schnitzel straight up with potato salad. The only bit of green was some cress, something I haven’t seen as a garnish for years, pointless, but amusing.

Mooching around Vienna – and it is a very easy city to mooch around – it is apparent that the Viennese like the finer things in life. We delighted ourselves by playing Vienna Bingo. Every time we saw a jewellers, a fur shop, or a cashmere and silk shop, we mentally ticked it off on our bingo card. It didn’t take long to get a full house. There are no pound shops in Vienna.

The other establishments that had a clear presence were coffee and cake shops. Why are the Viennese not fat?  All they seem to eat is cake and massive sausages. When we checked into our hotel there was cake in the fridge and on two occasions we bought cake to go as we couldn’t resist. Sadly we picked the wrong place for coffee and Sachertorte. We went touristy and queued unnecessarily to get a shabby table with rotten service, stale cake and dated tableware at the Cafe Central. Disappointing when there are SO many places to have coffee and cake. But we put it behind us and soldiered on.

In our eagerness to blot out the experience at Cafe Central, karma had us stumble on Sum Schwarzen Kameel. A local bar in the upmarket Am Hof area of the city, it was one of the few bars at street level and it was uncharacteristically busy, which is why we ventured in.  On entering we were greeted by a glass cabinet full of open finger sandwiches, and a packed bar of people standing at tall tables, drinking, eating said sandwiches and SMOKING! – the Viennese have a blatant disregard for the European non-smoking rule.

We gingerly pointed at the morsels in the cabinet as we didn’t really know what the toppings were but that was all part of the fun, and we interpreted that the waiter behind the glass cabinet was telling us to find somewhere to stand, he’d bring over the nibbles and someone would take our drinks order. We squeezed in amongst the crowd and found our pitch, ordered the house white at less than €2 a glass and had one of those fab, impromptu evenings, off the tourist trail that makes a trip so memorable. FYI the toppings were mainly tuna fish or carrot based, which although quite random were delicious.

Our decision to visit the Albertina museum was not necessarily a cultural one, but somewhat based on the fact that the shops are, refreshingly, closed on a Sunday, and after almost 48 hours we really were over looking around Christmas markets. However, it was a worthwhile cultural fix. It amazes me at how many Warhols, Picassos’s, Monets etc there dotted all over the world in various different museums. They must have painted relentlessly to enable us in this age to have so many in circulation.

I have to mention our hotel, The GuestHouse. Located right behind the Opera House, and opposite the Albertina Museum, not only is it in the perfect location I think it is probably the perfect hotel.  Modern and stylish without being too modern and stylish, and a reception and concierge that couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful. The Brasserie and Bakery were amazing – Eggs Benedict with artichokes a standout –  and obviously one of the places to eat and drink in Vienna, especially for brunch. Each day we had FOUR bottles of complimentary wine in the room, and the room only slept two, you do the math. We had the most wonderful window seat with a view of the Opera house, an abundance of Molton Brown toiletries, a bath big enough to swim in, the most flattering mirror in the world,  and a top of the range coffee machine. It’s a wonder that we actually left the hotel and did any sightseeing.

At the end of our two-night stay, I was uplifted. I can now see why Vienna is consistently voted as the world’s most livable city, it’s friendly, safe, beautiful and luxurious. The only downside for me was the smoking. But it was not only the city that uplifted me, it was the company of my friend. We giggled incessantly about all manner of things, especially the frequent mentions of ‘sausage’ its size and the amount consumed. School girl humour that would have been lost on many others. It’s proof that it doesn’t matter where you go, what you see, what you eat, but it really does matter who you share it with.

Dedicated to my top chum and sausage guzzler MM Xxxx

 

 

This article also published in The Huffington Post on 21st December 2016

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