Kopparberg Urban Forest

Much as I like South West London, it has a couple of big downsides. Primarily the lack of proximity to East London, which is where all the good stuff is. If you want some third rate DJ playing chart cheese while people in salmon trousers do non-ironic mumdancing, S Dubz is definitely the place for you. That isn’t to say we don’t have some good stuff over this way, but it all tends to fit a bit more into my ‘that was an absolute SCREAM’ category than the ‘that was a really chilled night’ one. Maggie’s is a scream. Beaver Lodge is a scream. Bunga Bunga is the screamiest. IMG_20150703_193320

But you catch my drift – if you want somewhere that isn’t quite so…well, so ‘hair n’heels’, then you’re going to have to venture further afield. Kopparberg Urban Forest was top of my hit list last Summer but I never quite made it along, so I made it top priority this time around. As with last year, they’ve created a sort of Scandinavian/East London composite, full of food stalls and wooden light fixtures decked out with foliage. Jam jars full of flowers hang near fairy lights, and there’s a little bandstand type thing in the centre that reminded me irresistibly of Groundhog Day.IMG_20150703_185805IMG_20150703_191345IMG_20150703_183807

The frozen strawberry & lime cider hit the spot after a long hot day and crammed Overground journey, and once we’d got hold of some sweetcorn fritter wraps, we started to unwind and enjoy our surroundings. DJs for the night were the awesome ‘Rock the Belles’, a kind of collective of female DJs, bands and artists, and they were playing an excellent selection of both old school and…new school (is that a thing?) hip hop. Now, being white middle class girls who went to private school in Sussex, my friend Sophie and I are quite obviously PRO hip hop dancers, so we really went for it. I mean, REALLY went for it. IMG_20150703_194437 IMG_20150703_200929 IMG_20150703_210529 IMG_20150703_211141

Emily Rawson, founder of Rock the Belles, got on the decks for the last few hours of the evening, and played a bit of everything from Roots Manuva to Kendrick, plus an awful lot of stuff that I’d never heard before but danced like a loon to anyway. She was EXCELLENT and I highly recommend you looking her up if you live in London. The whole thing had an enjoyably 90s vibe, and to our delight we happened to see an actual, honest to god dance off unfold. Very relaxed at first, everything turned up a notch as it started to get dark, and the place really came into its own.

IMG_20150703_225046The Urban Forest finishes this weekend, and entry is FREE, so I strongly recommend you get yourself down there for the closing events. Just make sure you wear shoes you can dance in. IMG_20150703_225054IMG_20150703_225139

Huawei G7 & the Ultimate Lifehacking Workshop

I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Ham Yard for a ‘Lifehacker’ workshop, to celebrate the launch of the new Huawei G7 phone, where a rather excellent evening was had by all.

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Let’s get straight into it and discuss the phone, shall we? I am far from a tech blogger, but I knows what I likes, and I, uh, likes what I sees – for want of a better phrase. It’s a nice weighty thing, about the size of my old Samsung Galaxy Note: light enough to carry around, big enough that you can actually watch things on it, and type. Much as I’ve been having an full blown love affair with my Sony Xperia Z3, I’d never watch anything on it. This baby has a 5.5 inch display!

A few tech specs: download speeds are up to 150Mbps, which I believe translates into ‘hella fast’. The whole thing feels incredible slick, very speedy and terrific if you’re a multi-tasking, mega-distracted, slightly hyper phone user like me. It features a 3000 mAh battery, which means that you can use it for a couple of days at a time without charging. Do you remember in the 00s when your phone lasted for a few days? Before your iPhones came along and begged to be charged every hour or so? Well, that. Perfect if you work in social media but hate plug sockets, like me.

Negative points? The resolution is a little lower than I’d like at 267ppi, vs 319ppi for my Xperia Z3, but it’s still bright and clear. Cosmetically speaking, the casing is nice enough but looks more expensive in the white version. Functionality-wise, I’ve only played around with social apps and Spotify, but I’ve heard rumours of lag in game play. I’ll have to report back when I’ve had it a bit longer!

Huawei are positioning the G7 as a phone that will improve your day to day life. It’s speedy, it has that gorgeous big screen, it has an 13MP camera, the battery life is extremely appealing, and it comes in at under £200. The ‘Phone Manager’ feature is ace, as it scans your device and helps you clean up battery draining apps etc. OS is Android KitKat, so existing Android users should get on perfectly fine, but iFans may find the transition a little harder.

Generally speaking, the Huawei G7 is a good, solid mid-range phone, and I’m looking forward to exploring it properly.

Lifehacker Talk

The evening kicked off with a talk by two chaps from Lifehacker, a sort of real life version of Reddit’s LifeProTips. They talk us through how to make the most of each part of our day, thanks to our ever present mobiles. Tragically and also ironically, I was fielding some important work emails for almost the entire duration of their talk, which meant I think means I will now live a very unproductive, flabby and ultimately unhacked life. HOWEVER, I would like to share with you their greatest tip of the night, which was about the app If This Then That. In short, it allows you to create ‘recipes’ for your phone functions. E.g. ‘If I post a picture to Instagram, then post it to Twitter’. The app will then post the photo as a native pic to Twitter automatically. It’s a great way to streamline the way you use your phone. I’ve given a fairly rubbish example, but check it out and create as many recipes as…well, this guy below.

Cookery Masterclass with Sam Stern

Sam Stern is one of my all time food heroes, especially as my mum adores him. We’ve been consulting his excellent ‘Eat Vegetarian‘ book for years, and he’s your man for easy, please-y eats. He’s about to launch a book on cooking for one, which is going to be a million times sexier than this:

Sadly I couldn’t make anything as the recipe was mackerel & horseradish pate – which looked amazing. i just stood back and observed – but from general reactions it was a top notch recipe! I’m very excited about his next book, as I like cooking for myself and myself alone very much, and I think this book is an excellent concept.

Cocktail Masterclass with Iain Griffiths of White Lyan

When I spotted that Iain was going to be hosting this particular segment of the evening, I got terrifically overexcited. If you haven’t heard of Mr Lyan, then you need to sort your life out, son. Iain works with Ryan Chetiyawardana, founder of White Lyan, and one of my newly discovered impress-your-date venues, the Dandelyan Bar at Sea Containers. That’s a lot of names to digest, but if you care at all about drinking, I recommend that you commit them to memory. I’m going to be writing a separate review of Dandelyan soon, so hold your horses, ok?

Both venues have a unique approach to cocktail making: a refreshing change in a city where I am endlessly having pitchers of Porn Star Martinis slopped over me in every. Single. Venue. Instead, we had a table full of fresh fruit and herbs, salt, Mr Lyan’s own blends, San Pellegrino, tequila…I could go on. Iain guided us through the creation of three distinct and delicious cocktails: a clean G&T with the Mr Lyan Diamond Rickey blend and grapefruit, a zesty Pamela with tequila and pomelo juice, and my personal favourite, a Bloody Mary with yellow Isle of Wight tomatoes and green Tabasco.

A big thank you to Iain, and you all need to take my word for it and check out White Lyan and Dandelyan. 

Memory Masterclass with Dominic O’Brien

Just a quick note on the final speech as I’m running out of room, but we had a session from memory champion Dominic O’Brien. He was engaging and delightfully mustachioed, and his talk was a perfect blend of useful tips and party pieces. For example, he gave two people a copy of The Sun and asked them to pick pages – he then recited phone numbers, stocks, or any information found on the page. I obviously chose Page 3. Dominic also taught us some useful ways to remember numbers, and I will share my favourite: he assigns each number to an image. A ‘2’ becomes a swan, a ‘3’ is a heart, a ‘0’ is a football etc. Start with that, and you can build your own story using the numbers. As someone who forgot my own phone number the other day, I’m looking forward to utilising these tips.

All in all, it was a fun and informative night, and an ingenious idea for a press night. Thanks for inviting me down, I had a terrific time! (And not just because of the yellow Bloody Marys and macaroons…)

Lima Floral

I wasn’t sure what to write up from the weekend, because I was fortunate enough to go a variety of excellent places over the weekend: Dandelyan and the Rumpus Room at Sea Containers, Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, Plum + Spilt Milk…but I opted to jot down a few notes on Lima, where I went for brunch on Sunday. I am still without proper DSLR, so please forgive the phone pics…

Lima is a Peruvian restaurant tucked away on Floral Street, just away from the surging crowds of Covent Garden. Known for delicate and well-balanced dishes, they’ve just launched a new brunch menu, for which I was a very willing guinea pig. The restaurant itself is light and airy, and the staff kindly accommodated our request to be seated upstairs in the sunshine, as opposed to our original spot downstairs in the Pisco Bar. The decor is inviting and fairly eclectic, full of blue hues and tapestries, and some envy-inducing china plates. My companion opted for a latte, and I decided to try one of the plum and rosemary ’emolientes’, a refreshing drink that is served warm. It was delicately flavoured, sweet without being saccharine, and entirely delightful. There are two different categories for brunch: a lighter Andean breakfast, and a long lunch. We were busy agonising over what to choose from the Andean menu, when our waitress told us we got EVERYTHING on that menu. I’m pretty sure I heard the Hallelujah chorus from some distant place.

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The menu seems fairly unassuming, descriptions are simply put and don’t try to hard. This is often my favourite kind of food experience. I’d much rather be delighted and surprised, than work through a load of tortured descriptions including the words ‘foam’, ‘scorched’, ‘dusted’, and other examples of gastrolinguistic engineering. For our first course, we had sharing bowls of warm, creamy quinoa porridge with apricot; yogurt with eucalyptus and mint, and a bowl of fruit with maca root, honey and bee pollen. This was possibly some of the finest yogurt I’ve ever tasted, like eating a creamy cloud. I usually avoid ordering fruit in a restaurant as it seems like a waste, but this was fresh and full of flavour, and the quinoa porridge had all the comfort of your mum’s most reassuring rice pudding.

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For the ‘main’ course, we were served potato pancakes with a perfectly savoury sauce, and an egg frittata with delicately cooked carrots and spring onions. As a vegetarian, I got an extra serving of pancakes, and my friend had a suckling pig brioche bun, an arrangement that we were both very happy with. I was initially skeptical about the small portion sizes, wondering if we should have chosen a ‘pile ’em high’ brunch venue, but we were so stuffed after this course that we nearly didn’t have room for pudding.

Yes, pudding. Every good brunch deserves fine puddings, and this was quite something. An quenelle of coffee ice cream with cacao crumble, two tiny bright meringues, raisins in a sugar syrup, and alfajores with dulce de leche. I want you to remember the word ‘alfajores’, because they are truly the most glorious biscuits in the entire world. Imagine a flattened down Viennese whirl: melt in the mouth, clouds of icing sugar, but with a caramel filling instead of jam and cream. I cannot impress upon you enough how pleasing they are.

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The whole thing was £18 a head, which I think is very reasonable for a three course meal. You can also tack on unlimited Prosecco for £10 each, but after a Saturday morning of bottomless Bloody Marys at the Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings (try saying THAT while drunk), I gave it a miss. We went for 11am, but I would recommend kicking off a little later as the pudding course makes it feel a lot more like a proper lunch. That would be my one bit of feedback: the pudding was quite astonishingly sweet, and I left with something of a sugar headache – but it was worth it for the alfajores.

Thank you to Lima for a uniquely delicious brunch, and in particular to the charming staff for making it such an enjoyable experience.

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Hotbox & Columbia Road

I apologise for the amount of ‘lifestyle blog’ cliches about to be unleashed on you, but I’m afraid I’m going to do it anyway.

Last Sunday we headed out to Shoreditch for brunch at Hotbox on Commercial Street. Renowned for top notch barbecue food, the venue opened in late 2014, and has just expanded the menu to include an absolutely stonking brunch. This also involves a bottomless option: all the Bloody Marys, Prosecco and Mimosas you can hack for 25 quid.

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We got there on time to avoid longer queues – I even missed The Archers to haul myself out East, but I regret nothing. From the second we arrived, the staff were a delight, calmly and politely handling the jostling queues. The waiter we had was an absolute peach; chatty and attentive without being disruptive. The venue itself is dark and cosy, with long tables and benches, high stools and ledges. Everything has been designed with precision: tiny glasses are topped up from an industrial steel jug, lightbulbs are bare, black frames abound. The music is excellent: from Sly & the Family Stone to Roxy Music within a track, ideal for a Sunday.

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The brunch menu is instantly appealing – we opted for Huevos Rancheros, avocado and roasted corn on sourdough, and smoked mac & cheese. To turn down the opportunity for macaroni cheese at what is ultimately a breakfast hour is criminal, and I question anyone’s motives for doing so. We shared all our dishes (particularly difficult on said mac & cheese…there was nearly a fight) which was a strategic move designed to give us as much of the menu to try as possible.

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Dipping a spoon into the Huevos Rancheros was a glorious experience thanks to eggs with exactly the right amount of runniness, a green coriander sauce, and a reassuring dollop of chunky guacamole. The sourdough dish was an excellent balance of sweetness from the roast corn, spice from paprika, and the creaminess of the avocado. I’ve been let down by so many macaroni cheeses in my life, and joyfully this was not so at Hotbox. Oozy and smoky with a crispy topping, I could happily have eaten a whole panful. The Bloody Marys were pleasing but perhaps a little watery, although the spicing, celery AND lemon wedge were spot on. I cannot recommend Hotbox enough – just make sure you get there as close to 11.30 as possible. After all, you can listen to The Archers on iPlayer.

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Barely able to move, we somehow manouevred ourselves down Brick Lane and through the market, on a floral mission. I used to keep flowers in my room as a matter of course, but when I started trying to cut down my expenditure, they were the first to go. I forgot how cheering heading home with armfuls of fresh flowers was, and meandering down the market was a joy. We took our time (we didn’t have much choice, given how stacked the place was), and enjoyed the sunshine and a coffee from one of the little wall cafes that appear all over the area.

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By the time I headed home, I felt like I’d been on holiday. I’m often staunchly anti-East, just because I’m a big fan of South West. But on a Sunday, there was a special atmosphere. There’s not really anything like it on my side of London – the energy, the people, the architecture of the place. I’m determined to explore more of this city, instead of just sticking to my little corner, so stay posted!

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Secret Mondays

Firstly, apologies for this very long post! I wrote it straight after the session and was quite inspired…

I’ve become aware recently that I need to take a bit of time to address the way I think, the way I work, and even just the way I spend my time away from the office. Working long hours in social media has fried my brain. The constant switching from task to task has shortened my attention span, broken up my thought patterns, and left me with this insistent tugging feeling at the corners of my brain, like there’s always something I’ve just forgotten to do. I have a screen in front of my face for most of the day, I’ll sit in front of the TV with my laptop out, balancing a phone in my hand and skipping from app to window to remote. I’m in so many different places at once, and yet not really in any of them. My thoughts are half-formed, always about to turn to the next thing to deal with.2015-02-09 09.26.26 1

I read a while ago that while you think you may be multi-tasking by constantly switching between what you’re working on, your brain actually stops and has to restart again to address the next thing. It’s harder to get anything finished, you’re overloading your brain with too much information, and you end up feeling overwhelmed. Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside or reading books. I could retreat into my own head for hours. These days, I watch as notifications pile up on my phone, emails flood into my inboxes, and I am further trapped behind screens. I’ve been trying to implement two hours without any screens every weekend, and the first time I tried it, it felt like days. Then it suddenly started feeling lovely, and I was conscious of everything I was doing, not numbing myself with a phone.

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I’ve been questioning the way I do things for a while, and looking for a better path, but it was by pure coincidence that I stumbled across Calmworks. Last week, I’d just tried a Vivid Matcha drink, and was dancing around with giddy joy at how delicious the Pear & Rhubarb juice was, and how I couldn’t taste the unbearably grassy classic matcha taste. I took to Twitter to share my delight, and on the Vivid page I spotted something about mindfulness. I’d heard about it, vaguely, and admired the principles of slowing down and being in the moment. A few clicks later and I’d signed up for a very mysterious #SecretMonday event with Calmworks. This is due to be a monthly event at secret locations across London, features a talk and various exercises, plus a perfect opportunity for networking. Tonight we were at the House of St Barnabas, and the crowd included journos, techies, PR types, captains of industry etc.

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Despite a childhood spent barefoot wandering around fields, reading poetry and whatnot, I’ve traditionally been very dubious about things like meditation and yoga. I’ll be the first person to yell BORING, running off to my fast paced cardio or my loud music. I’ve never had any inclination to look introspectively, and if anyone has forced me to meditate, I’ve spent the entire time thinking about what to have for dinner. Lifestyle improvement programmes, self-help and general surrounding jargon freak me out. The tiniest hint of patchouli oil and you won’t see me for dust. So let me be clear – mindfulness is not the same traditional meditation, and encourages you to pay close attention to what’s happening in the present moment. It’s more like an exercise for your mind, training yourself to think in a certain way, and taking a step back to reflect. The Calmworks website reassured my hardened, cynical heart, looking as it does like the beautifully designed homepage of some tech startup.

Even so, I was worried we’d be greeted by some tie-dyed, brain-fried old dude, telling us to imagine invisible threads and clear our minds. Thankfully not – there was wine on arrival, and two excellent chaps (Malcolm Scovil and Alexis John Bicat) to welcome us in. No one had the sheeny light of the born again in their eyes, no one was talking about chakras, and there was absolutely no incense. Instead, we were told to choose a coloured envelope, which contained a handwritten, uplifting quote, and a question to ask at least three people by the end of the evening. In case you were wondering, my question was ‘Growing up, what was your favourite toy?’

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The atmosphere was inviting, friendly, and accessible, and Malcolm was a wonderful and entertaining host. I cringed at precisely zero moments. We had a talk from neuroscientist Dr. Tamara Russell, which was absolutely excellent, and dispelled any remaining fears I might have had about the hippieishness of the night. In short, she talked a LOT of sense, both in scientific and emotional terms. Alexis then took us through some mindfulness exercises, which were a million times better than normal meditation. For one thing, he explained that getting distracted was perfectly normal, and that the aim was just to try and slow your thoughts down. This got easier with each exercise, and I found myself getting surprisingly emotional at one point as I filtered through thoughts. It’s alarming how rarely most of us pause. Alexis was a brilliant teacher, not least because his final exercise involved eating chocolate. I can see why he’d be the ideal person to lead mindfulness sessions at various high profile companies.

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I don’t want to reveal too much about the night, as I think it’s something everyone should experience for themselves – and after all, it is called *Secret* Mondays. But it’s so important to develop techniques like this to become stronger, happier and more capable in life, and to understand how to live in the moment.

A huge thank you to Calmworks, to Malcolm, Tamara and Alexis for a truly incredible experience. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it. IMG_20150209_214008

Last Days: Camden Beach

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a loss for what to do, and fancied a bit of beach action. Home home is 20 minutes from Brighton, but as anyone who’s faced that pebbly megahulk before knows, it’s not the place to get sand between your toes and lie back contemplating the marvels of existence on a sunny day. In fact, you’re more likely to stumble across some druggy teen and sit there getting sad about the burnt down pier and the increasing shabbiness of the place as much as anything. Oh, and have you tried going through East Croydon on a sunny day? Forget it.

Instead, I opted for Time Out’s number one attraction of the week, Camden Beach. My friend later told me he was extreeeemely sceptical about going to the most popular place in T.O. on a sunny Sunday, but we trekked out to Chalk Farm tube and joined the queue. As my friends/colleagues (frolleagues) will tell you, I *hate* queuing. I turn into my dad, loudly tutting and getting increasingly irate, swaggering around declaiming ‘I just DON’T queue, I don’t do it. I refuse’. Well, on this day, I dealt with it and we only waited about 15-20 minutes to get in. You’ll actually be grateful for the queuing system once you’re in, because it ensures the place doesn’t get overcrowded.

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We found a spot, grabbed some drinks from the Tiki bar, and settled down for a couple of hours in the sunshine. They’ve got music playing, deckchairs, little beach huts, a volleyball net, a champagne & hot dog stand, and all sorts of other delights for city-dwelling beach lovers. I had a ridiculously good time – while it’s never quite going to match up to a glorious Cornish beach, there’s something pleasing on a deep level about getting covered in sand and lolling about with a cider. We even made sandcastles! It took a while to work out the optimum sand:water ratio, but once we had it, there was no turning back. We spotted a nearby girl getting jealous and attempting to emulate us with little success…she was a bottle of Prosecco worse for wear though, so I should be more generous.

I can strongly recommend it as a day out. It’s free to get in, and I made a pint of cider last a very long time, so you can do the whole thing on a minimal budget if you so choose. Bear in mind you can’t take any bottles in yourself though, so if you were considering beating the system, you should think again, sunshine. Take a few friends, take a bucket and spade, and enjoy the slightly disconcerting experience of seeing the Camden skyline while surrounded by sand and beach huts. To quote their tagline: you’ve got 99 problems, but a beach ain’t one.

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St Ives Day Seven

The final days whizzed by in a flurry of confusing weather and…well, more food. The town started to hum and buzz with talk of the oncoming storm. Hatches were beginning to be battened down, town-dwellers told us how lucky we were to be heading home before it hit.

That said, Friday was one of the most glorious days of the week, and I set out to make the most of it with a walk around the headland, where I always like to pretend I’m a tragic Thomas Hardy heroine roaming the rugged countryside. A Thomas Hardy heroine with a DSLR and sunglasses, that is.

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Not far into my walk, however, I spotted one of the most terrifying scarecrows I’ve ever seen. I thought they were just supposed to scare birds, not people?

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By a stroke of luck, some of my lovely family were also down in the Wall of Corn for the week, and we all united for lunch at Porthminster.

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I wore a dress for the first time this week. It felt really weird.

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I started lunch with a cocktail and found myself dizzying somewhat after a single sip: whisky, cider with ginger, tonka bean and chilli syrup…

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I had the most incredible vegetable curry – savoury but aromatic, full of fresh veg and coconut milk.

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If you go for one thing at Porthminster, make it a dessert. While the language of the menu may put you off (all ‘deconstructions’, ‘foam’ and ‘naked brulee’), the puds are where the chefs display phenomenal skill. I had the aforementioned “naked brulee”, essentially a square of chocolate crème with the finest crispy brulee layer, plus peppermint honeycomb, vanilla milk sorbet and brownie dust.

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My uncle had caramelised bananas with a pistachio aero mousse, whisky cream and salted caramel, and Mummy Simmons had petit fours, displayed a la rock.

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Followed by a short stroll along the beach.

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And finally, I visited the Tate, who do free entry on Friday evenings. I’ve never had much success with the place as I’m not a huge modern art appreciator. The only exhibition I’ve enjoyed in the past was one by Simon Fujiwara. This time, however, the exhibition Aquatopia combines modern pieces with paintings by J.M.W Turner and Stanhope Forbes. It was immersive, atmospheric, and only made me roll my eyes once or twice – quite an achievement for the Tate.

Bye bye St Ives!

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