Category Archives: Everyday Life

FAQ: What Did You Do For Valentine’s Day?

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been asked the question:

What did you do for Valentine’s day? Erm

Did you give a gift? Err, I’d say so, yes.
Did you go anywhere special? I guess!
What did you wear? Loose clothing.
Did you get a card? Does a donor card count?

I don’t do Valentine’s Day. I can’t help you when it comes to giving heart shaped gifts, I’ve not sent a Valentine’s card in years, and I’m not going to judge you on how many cuddly toys/red roses/boxes of chocolates/marriage proposals (delete as appropriate) you received on February 14th. Half dead petrol station flowers aren’t just for Valentine’s day, crap gifts are for life, and dogs aren’t just for Christmas (I saw someone on Instagram got a Jack Russell puppy as a Valentine’s gift. I like Jack Russells).

This year Adam and I decided to do something, by fluke it happened to coincide with Valentine’s day. We made a ‘#date2donate’ and gave some blood to a stranger. In a totally legit way, I must add.

If you’re like me and have been putting off giving blood for years, don’t. Just get on and do it. Signing up online was such a simple process, finding somewhere local to donate was easy, and I was able to book a time slot, so I knew I wouldn’t be waiting long.

The NHS needs around 200,000 new donors each year. That’s a lot of Iife changing/life saving blood. Between us we can actually make a difference.

Radar Love played on the radio as I was lowered back into my seat. I hide my veins well and often get poked about a lot by nurses, but this was fine, pin prick, easy and in. What with clenching my bum cheeks at intervals and squeezing my hand to help keep the circulation going, I didn’t have much time to think about what was happening. My lap time was 10 minutes 3 seconds. Winner! Such a harmless experience. Also, fascinating.

Afterwards I drank lemon squash and ate an orange Club biscuit. Dub Be Good To Me came on the radio, I turned to the man next to me, ‘I love this song!’ He looked at me, smiled, and got up to leave. ‘Aren’t you going to stay and listen to me do the rap?’ I called after him. He didn’t look back.

It’s quick and easy to register to become a blood donor. Visit call the Donor Line on 0300 123 23 23 or download the app by searching ‘NHSGiveBlood’ in the app store. 

In the pictures:

Portable charger: Juice Powerstation (gift).
Notebook: Moleskine Classic (gift).
Felt tip pens: Pentel.
Laptop: Macbook Pro.
Watch: Nisshoku Eclipse (gift).
Rich Tea biscuits: Lidl’s.

This is not a sponsored post. 

Tel Aviv – 5 Nights In The 24/7 City (GIRL TOWN Launch Edition)

“Are you sure this is it?” the driver asked, as he hesitantly dropped us off in the street outside our Airbnb. It was it, but it was not what I’d expected.

Up four flights of stairs, through a steel door, and into a dank dark misery hole/apartment. I wasn’t sure what to say. I watched the small lady wrestle Rachel’s duvet into its cover, leaving it twisted and bulbous, like a mangled pork product from a malfunctioning sausage extruder. She patted it down, told us to leave the key outside in the cupboard when we left, and shot off on her push along scooter.

I didn’t notice at first the words ‘Putas Israelianos’ (Israeli whores) scrawled across the front door. Turns out the last Airbnb Rachel booked was an outbuilding in someone’s back yard. She’s not been allowed to book one since!

We sat, ate hummus and crisps that we’d bought from the corner shop, listened to Pat Benatar on my phone, and waited as darkness fell. Then we got lost for an hour whilst trying to find the gallery (where later that week we’d be launching the GIRL TOWN* exhibition).

We wandered back alleys, back and forth, the waft of weed on the air. I asked for directions from a man who was eating noodles off the boot of his car. I started counting cats, I lost count quite quickly and spotted a dog wearing a shell necklace. We realised we were back where we’d started when I spotted the same cat twice. Turns out he was the gallery cat.

There are thousands of cats patrolling the streets of Tel Aviv, posing for photographs, all looking vaguely related, occasionally letting our high-pitched screams and rubbing round legs.

The gallery was a fascinating place. It was, back in the day, a print works producing communist publications, and since then many things, but I felt it had come almost full circle to now being such a socialist space. We ate dinner with some of the team, 11pm at A’la rampa, under the shadow of a multi-storey building, it’s side wall painted with a large black horse.

Back in the hovel box/apartment it got noisier as the night went on. Car alarms, sirens, shouting, revving engines, doors banging, stereos pumping out Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran, until gone 4am. I had a feeling of despair, a fear that I had just signed up for five nights of sleep deprivation and shit music.

We were up and out of the pit of doom/apartment fairly early. It was hanging day at the gallery. I looked like I was hanging. My face was swollen, eyes puffed up like prawn crackers. Listening to Justin Bieber and breathing in damp, mouldy air for hours will do that to you.

The exhibition hang went well, it was relatively simple and we had free rein. Later in the afternoon we were able to meet up with my friend Moran and she toured us round Jaffa. The sea front, the wishing bridge, to Victory for ice cream (where I was able to put into use my only word of Hebrew, ‘fistuk’) up past the mosque and the catholic church, through the flea market, and back again.

We met another friend, Gali (who I’ve known for 12 years now) up at Habima Square and ate mushroom quiche at Lachmanina, probably the most expensive quiche I’ve ever eaten.

Notes from Thursday: Day off to explore. Cockroach in the hallway. Lunch omelette. Chocolate cake wedge. Cat with crossed eyes. Cat attempting to teleport whilst also attempting telepathy. Statue of the Predator in a shopping mall. Cemetery. Walked to the sea. Sent Rachel into the sea. Found a tiny plastic spanner and a piece of sea glass. Walked back through Carmel Market. Met a little dog in a cute jacket. Drank pomegranate juice (that tasted like beetroot soup). Generally explored.

When I woke up I felt less like I was wearing an inflatable mask, slightly more human. I think I had been revitalised by all those cats and their cat power, or maybe the damp was going because we’d breathed most of the moisture into our lungs.

We wondered if anyone would come to the exhibition launch, but we needn’t have worried. The exhibition had been featured in the Haaretz newspaper. There was a buzz about it, lots of people came – not only because they’d seen it in the national news but they’d also heard about the exhibition from friends all over the world.

Someone told me that my name meant ‘horn’ in Hebrew. Someone else told me it meant ‘ray of light’.

It was a relief to get the exhibition launched, and for it to go so well. On Saturday morning we stayed in bed late then wandered down to Rothschild Boulevard, to Benedict, and ate celebratory brunch.

Moran took us to the port, to the park, to Sarona market. Malls and gardens. Then to dinner. We walked back across the city and came across a protest against the government – thousands of people, flags and banners, police.

We’d been encouraged to try two Israeli snack favourites – Bissli, a kind of crispy crunchy baked pasta-like corn snack, and Bamba, a peanut butter flavoured Wotsit.

I liked the Bamba. The Bamba didn’t like me. After eating a couple of handfuls and marvelling at their amazing peanuttyness (50% peanut apparently) I started to feel sick, and dizzy, my head hurt and my neck started to swell up. I had to go and lie down. I wasn’t sure what would happen. My top lip swelled up. My sleep was filled with nightmares, punctuated by cold sweats and shakes. Then I was woken by the neighbours music at 4am. I listened, a tune that sounded so familiar to me, but one that I’d not heard for years. I concentrated, tuned in to the rhythm  and waited for the chorus.  It was La Bamba. The irony.

Favourite things from Tel Aviv: Our exhibition. Meeting lovely artists. Seeing friends. Every day sunshine. Cats everywhere. Clementines growing on trees in the street. That little dog in a jacket. The beach. Finding a piece of sea glass. The Bauhaus architecture. Seeing the Predator in a shopping mall. My new pouty top lip which, although much smaller, is still refusing to go back to normal. That Ripndip Lord Nermal shop window (top image). Why didn’t I go in and buy these slides?

*Find out more about GIRL TOWN, see  launch event photos, and read why we took the exhibition  from London Photomonth to Tel Aviv, here.

From Eindhoven to Antwerp – & Inbetween (2/2)

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new city? Check out the door furniture, sneak peeks through windows, hunt down pub carpets, look for a chip shop? Me too!

In Antwerp it’s not just any ol’ chips you’ll want to find, it’s designer fries by Sergio Herman at Frites Atelier. We settled in for the Bacon and Bearnaise seasonal special. The chips, cooked skin-on, were fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. That’s some good potato action there, (and I am speaking as an expert).

The rain started to fall heavily. Our guide was adamant that we’d survive, but I wasn’t so sure. I double wrapped my scarf round my head and hoped for the best.

We skipped from doorway to overhang, turning our faces from the driving rain to peer into the warm lit shops full of beautiful design, apparel and chocolates. Everywhere there were hands – little hand door knockers, little hand biscuits, little chocolate hands, little symbols of Antwerp.

Rushing through the streets, dodging puddles, we made our way to the Museum Plantin Moretus, a UNESCO world heritage site, housed in the 16th century mansion home and printing establishment of Christophe Plantin.

Dark oak panels and ceilings, walls hung with Rubens paintings on golden satin flocked wallpaper, dimly lit by large three-tiered brass chandeliers. The floors creaked, wood ground against wood under heavy foot, as we passed through the many rooms, saw the world’s oldest printing presses and wondered at the anatomical illustrations of Andrea Vesalius.

Back, out into the light, the rain gave break as we made our way to another UNESCO world heritage site, the seven aisled gothic beauty, the Cathedral of Our Lady.

Outside the cathedral is a sculpture of a boy and his dog, made of white marble, tucked under a paving stone blanket. The work, by Batist Vermeulen, pays homage to the characters Nello and Patrasche from the 19th century English novel, ‘A Dog of Flanders’. This is a tale of great sadness, so, I am going to share it with you.

Nello, an orphan, rescues a dog that was beaten close to death. They become inseparable friends, all they have is each other. After a series of desperately upsetting events Nello, a very talented artist, decides he wants to see Rubens’ paintings in Antwerp cathedral, but he can’t afford the exhibition entry fee. On Christmas Eve they find the church door open, by chance they can go in and see the paintings after all. The next morning Nello and Patrasche are found, cuddled together and frozen to death, in front of ‘The Descent from the Cross’. Apparently, the universal message here is that ‘friendship conquers all, even beyond death’. Let’s see what we can do with the living, shall we?

We took the multiple escalators to the rooftop of MAS, a warehouse-like museum, like a Tetris stack of red-brown sandstone with glass infills, set between two docks. We looked over the city, across the lights, watched trains and cars pass by, then took the multiple escalators back down, crossing the road to Restaurant Lux for a fabulous dinner (and a lovely tiled floor).

It was dark when I arrived in my room at the Hotel Rubens. Cool marble tables, nice lighting, huge bed that lured me with its soft white cotton and many pillows. I was asleep in no time at all.

My delight in the morning when I pulled back the curtains, opened the window wide and revelled in the beauty of it all – the crisp morning air, the peace and quiet, the years of buildings all layered together like the most magical cake.

We were up early, plodding across the city to The Rubens House. It’s actually a palace and his front room had gold leather covered walls. Rubens also owned a couple of castles.

Other things I learnt at The Rubens House: Pets in paintings were a thing in the 16th and 17th century. Some of Rubens work had the value of two houses, while he was alive. His studio was pretty much a factory, 3000 paintings were made there by ‘him’. Aside from being an artist, Rubens was a business man, a diplomat, and some say, genius. However enthralling a tour guide is, I still can’t help but wander off.

Fully Rubens’d up, we headed to our last stop in Antwerp, RAS, a delightful and calm restaurant, on one side overlooking the river Scheldt, and the other looking back at the varied architecture of the city.

The amber coloured beer, De Koninck, is brewed in the city of Antwerp, the goblet shaped glass it is traditionally served in is called a ‘Bolleke’.

After a delicious lunch and one final toast to a great trip, we were back on the road, heading down to Dunkirk for our ferry crossing home.

As we left the city we got a glimpse of the Port House from a distance, designed by Zaha Hadid, a century-old ex fire station sits beneath a new extension of epic proportions. An incredible diamond-like spaceship that needs to be seen to be believed.

My only question now is, when are we going back?

Frites Atelier Korte Gasthuisstraat 32, 2000 Antwerp

Museum Plantin Moretus Vrijdagmarkt 22, 2000 Antwerpen

Cathedral of Our Lady Handschoenmarkt 3, 2000 Antwerpen

Restaurant Lux Adriaan Brouwerstraat 13, 2000 Antwerpen

Hotel Rubens Oude Beurs 29 , 2000 , Antwerp

The Rubens House Wapper 9-11, 2000 Antwerp

RAS Ernest Van Dijckkaai 37, 2000 Antwerpen

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way.

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of Visit Holland and Visit Flanders for inviting me to join them on such an excellent adventure. 

From Eindhoven to Antwerp – & Inbetween (1/2)

I quite like a ferry crossing, although I don’t think I’ve been on one since the Hull to Zeebrugge over-nighter of 2014 where everyone was drunk before we even left the port and I ended up on a winning streak in the casino.

This trip was different though, this was DFDS Dover to Dunkirk, with peaceful Premium Lounge passes and excellent eggs benedict. It seemed to be over in a flash, and then we were on the road. It feels like everyone I know gets on the ferry and then heads south through France, but we were going against the norm, turning left, and heading to the ‘city of light’, Eindhoven.

I was excited to get a tour of the city, to look at the beautiful tiled floor in the station, to see the public art, to wander through the Downtown Gourmet Market (I will come back for you delicious foods of the world!)  and, to see the spots where the famous Philips factories had been.

Eindhoven was the home of Philips from 1891. They were there so long that when they left, 100 years later, the city had to totally regenerate. Many of the iconic factory buildings were repurposed, filled with creative people, new technology and innovation.

Eindhoven is hip. They’ve got a logo called ‘the vibe’, a building called ‘The Blob’, and their motto is ‘if you choose, you get chosen’.

They’ve also got a building called ‘The Brown Lord’.

We went to Vane Skybar, drank speciality cocktails called ‘The Homer’ (as in, homing pigeon. I love pigeons), overlooking the city lights.

Finally we arrived at Kazerne for dinner. Beautiful
Alex De Witte lights hung above the bar like balloons in perpetual motion. Plants and dark walls, fantastic Dutch Invertuals exhibition on display, and someone had parked a phat AMG C63 outside. I was in my element, then they cranked it up a notch with the most delicious dinner.

The tour of the city was so good I even got my guide book signed.

Later that night in the Lumen Bar I learnt the saying ‘as dark as a dick’. Apparently, it’s a Dutch thing.

The old Philips Light Tower, Eindhoven.

We stayed at the Inntel hotel Art Eindhoven. In the morning I pulled open the curtains and looked up at the Light Tower. This fabulous industrial monument, now part of the hotel, was built between 1909 – 1921. Inside it hundreds of thousands of filament bulbs were tested – the tower was lit day and night. Sounds quite magical to me. I like lightbulbs.

In the hotel lobby there was an exhibition, not what I was expecting from such a modern space – cottages, cart horses, boobies and a portrait of Princess Diana.

After breakfast we headed straight to Nuenen, the countryside village where Vincent Van Gogh lived for two years and produced a quarter of all his works, including The Potato Eaters. I like potatoes.

We visited the Vincentre and watched a short film about Van Gogh. Read from his diary, the words ‘Winter is snow with black trimmings,stuck with me, a vision through his eyes.

We walked around Neunen, treading in his footsteps. I picked up an oak leaf from the pavement outside Nune Ville Parsonage. For a year Van Gogh lived and worked in the washhouse, here at his parents’ house. He must have seen that same tree, for a full year of seasons.

We took turns to stand on a step, to peer through a gap in a hedge, to look at the church from the same spot that Van Gogh painted it. I caught a glimpse of more modern buildings. ‘Don’t cross the road,’ said Nigel, our tour guide, as I crossed the road.

I was interested to see the things that weren’t related to Van Gogh. For such a small town, with such prominent association, I wanted to see the things that weren’t luring the tourists. Such modernist suburban delight. The lamp posts were beautiful, simple designs and good paint colours, in front of modern, pale toned houses with dorma roofs. Someone had a Vauxhall Cavalier.

We ate lunch at the Opwetten Watermill, situated on the Kleine Dommel river. Van Gogh painted a lot here, I ate croquettes. We are both artists in our own right.

Continuing on to Den Bosch, at the Het Noordbrabants Museum we were each welcomed with an oversized Bossche Bol. A sweet treat worth travelling for. So good I’m sure they even chose the decor to complement its beauty.

We saw Van Gogh paintings – portraits of workers, in dark greens, blues, greys – he found beauty in everyday people.

We saw the exhibition devoted to the film ‘Loving Vincent’, a unique glimpse behind the scenes of the making of the painted animation, the first film of its kind in the world (65000 paintings, 12 canvases per second, 94 minutes long – all painted by hand!).

And then we saw, with mouths open and eyes bulging in awe, Tim Walker’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. The exhibition space was vast, but the images perfectly scaled, dark in tone and larger than life. Shona Heath’s magical props displayed with plenty of space to enjoy, but close enough to be able to inspect the details. Everything was perfect.

That evening we dined in Den Bosch’s most famous street, Korte Putstraat – restaurant hopping from starter, to main course, to dessert (served in a lightbulb!). LUX, Zoetelief, then Breton – all different, all delicious, all complimentary to each other.

I slept so well that night. Dreams filled with magical puddings and ethereal figures. The thoughts of the candlelit breakfast to come. The desire to wake up early and photograph the carpets passed me by as I fell deep into slumber. Cool air, heavy duvet.

Shout out to Huize Bergen for the comfiest bed, and for controllable room temperatures. Boo ya!

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way.

Vane Skybar Vestdijk 5, 5611 CA Eindhoven

Kazerne Paradijslaan 2-8, 5611 KN Eindhoven

Inntel hotel Art Eindhoven Mathildelaan 1 (GPS), 5611 BJ Eindhoven

Vincentre Berg 29, 5671 CA Nuenen

Opwetten Watermill Opwettenseweg 203, 5674 AC Nuenen

Het Noordbrabants Museum Verwersstraat 41, ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Korte Putstraat Korte Putstraat, 5211 KP, ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Huize Bergen Glorieuxlaan 1, 5261 SG Vught

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of Visit Holland and Visit Flanders for inviting me to join them on such an excellent adventure. 

Supercar Driving Experience at Blyton Park with Bose & PSR Automotive

As a child there were two cars I wanted, a Marcos Mantis and anything with a Lamborghini badge on it. Possibly even the ‘Countach’ that was blatantly an MR2 and always parked on the road outside my friend John’s house.

I also wanted a motorbike, an Aprilia Replica (I had a poster of one on my wall). And a helicopter. And a pig. I digress.

I was invited to join Bose for a day of supercar goodness at Blyton Park with PSR Automotive. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, I’d stopped listening when I heard the word ‘Lamborghini’.

Lamborghini. Heart eyes.

The Red Arrows were practicing in the sky as I drove up through Lincolnshire, smoke trailing from their tails, I hoped they were going to write something. They wrote ‘O’ and it dragged down in the sky into nothing but a blur.

Whilst everyone tucked into their bacon sarnies and hot tea the rumours started to circulate, ‘That’s Dan from HQ, he’s a racing driver, but so modest!’ and, as the briefing began, ‘That’s Ben, he does track days!’ said the man next to me. There was a sense of nervousness, awe and excitement in the air.

I spoke to Ben ‘he does trackdays’ later. It was he who’d organised the event for Bose, using it as a sales incentive to drive business in stores across the UK, he also knew the joy and positivity that would come from such an experience and be carried forward in performance long after. Bose have sponsored Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 for the past three years, so there’s an obvious motorsport affiliation there, but it’s not every day the sales team get to drive a fleet of supercars, without limits!

We were split into groups of six, I was in the green team. We headed off to our first activity, the Autotest. Green team were excited, so excited that one of us had to go for a pee behind a shed. (Not me, this time).

The Autotest was a challenge of car control (in a BMW 130i) through a short course of cones – flat out, braking, turning, zigzagging, reversing into a ‘garage’ and slamming the brakes on at the finish line. The rest of green team talked about their cars and their abilities, one of the lads felt he’d suck at reversing as he wouldn’t be able to see through his own bicep. I was last to go, we were running out of time so I didn’t get to take all of the practice runs, but I still managed to be 2nd, much to my team’s surprise!

Later on we’d each have six cars to drive, three short laps per car, with the same instructor all day so that they could complete an assessment sheet on our lines, pace, progress etc.

There was a buffet lunch and a hot lap in an Aston Martin. As I got out of the car Marc, the driver (who also races a KTM X-BOW in Europe) handed me a USB stick containing footage of the lap. You’ve seen these things, where people scream with fear and joy, and try to grab on to things that aren’t there? Not me. When I watched mine back I was embarrassed. What is a ‘flappy paddle doo dah’, and why was I basically interviewing him about his life and telling him where I was born?

Then we had to go against the clock on a driving simulator. I was most terrible at this activity. All I did was shout ‘Jesus’ and ‘someone help me!’ No one helped me.

But let me tell you about the real cars.

Lotus Evora (3.5l V6, 300bhp, 0-60 in 4.9sec, max speed 170mph). Of all the cars this is the one I was most familiar with and I felt quite pleased it was the first supercar I’d be driving. Actually, I felt quite pleased that a Lotus was classed as a supercar! I’m a big fan of all things Lotus, and I love that they hail from the depths of Norfolk. I found it very comforting to drive, a real joy, but the gear change was lagging. This Evora had one of the earlier boxes, and apparently, the new ones are awesome – but how will I know until Lotus send me one to drive, hey?!

Porsche 911 turbo (3.8l Flat 6, 530bhp, 0-60 in 3.2sec, max speed 205mph). I have never had any interest in Porsches. I lie. The Le Mans ones are wicked, and in my first job (at Britain’s oldest newspaper!) I did photograph a lot of Porsches, mostly in trees and walls. I was so surprised to enjoy driving this car as much as I did. Whilst I still struggled with the flappy paddle gearbox (my fault, not the cars, I am used to driving a manual £150 Golf!) I loved the smoothness of the drive and felt immediately at ease driving it. So much at ease that I made the instructor /car guardian squeal and grab the steering wheel!

Audi R8 (5.2l V10, 532bhp, 0-60 in 3.4sec, max speed 196mph).
This car felt like a super-fast heavy weight. It didn’t feel as easy to drive as I thought it would, but that might be because I’d just stepped out of the more dainty engined 911 and this thing had way more grunt, felt more responsive and gave much more feedback than the Porsche. The R8 also sounded magnificent!

Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 ( 5.0l V10, 552bhp, 0-60 3.2sec, max speed 205mph). What was that, a choir of angels singing? I thought so. I never thought it would be possible to fall in love with a car, but, wow! When can I get one? Driving the Gallardo was like reaching another plane of understanding, like some kind of ethereal out-of-body experience. It was such a beautiful experience that I could barely concentrate on anything else, to the point that I didn’t even hear the instructor when he told me to go in, so I accidentally took four laps instead of three. Oopsie!

Ford Mustang GT (4.6l V8, 315bhp, 0-60 in 4.9sec, max speed 150mph). I would have actually been happy to only drive one lap in this car. It made a great sound, but it wasn’t for me. I like to be able to go round corners and not feel like I’m sitting in a massive box. Of course it was left hand drive, but after my death trap driving experience (now there’s a concept for you!) in Rwanda the other month, this was not something that fazed me. But, that red leather interior, I’m still not over that!

Aston Martin Vantage (4.7l V8, 430 bhp, 0-60 in 4.0sec, max speed 180mph). After the Mustang, this was the car that least interested me, so I was surprised to enjoy it much more than I thought I  would. It certainly wasn’t a track car, but I can see why people would love this on the road. It was very comfortable, and fun to drive. It could have been more fun if the instructor hadn’t grabbed at the wheel as I got the back end out on the last corner though!

All in all, a very enjoyable day. There was one major disappointment for me though, I didn’t get to bring the Lamborghini home.

Lamborghini. Heart eyes!

I was a guest of Bose and PSR Automotive. I did all my own driving, wowing and wooing, and as always, my opinions are my own.