Breakfast In Bed

Friday, December 03, 2010

Ten Years in Brighton: A Retrospective

On Monday I am moving back to Eastbourne, after a decade of living in Brighton. Most people, when I tell them this, look at me in a puzzled way and ask "why would you want to do that?". Or politely lament my departure whilst clearly thinking the same thing. There are many reasons for the move, not least the desire to live in a bigger place with an upstairs and the prohibitively expensive housing market that makes doing this in Brighton impossible. It's also about family and friends, many of whom are there. 

Brighton has been so much fun and I have absolutely loved every moment of living here - even the dramas, fallouts, bust-ups and hangovers. I've met some truly inspirational characters who I hope will be friends for life. I have lived it up and indulged in all the cultural and hedonistic pursuits that this brilliantly bohemian city has to offer. And I don't plan on giving those things up, but I do find myself increasingly craving the peace and quiet of home. 

To be able to walk all the way along the seafront - from the marina to the beautiful Italian gardens at Holywell, even on a Saturday - without having to fight my way through hoardes of holidaymakers, merrymakers and troublemakers. To walk through town without being bombarded by f**king hipsters at every turn. To be able to walk round to Mum's or my sister's and to help out more with my gorgeous nephew, who is growing up so quickly.

As I sit here surrounded by boxes, getting ready to move, I can't help but look back on all the events and happenings of the last ten years in Brighton and all the wonderful things about living here. Here are a few classic memories and Brighton traditions that spring to mind.

New Year's Eve 1999/2000, aka The Millennium Party

Although I wasn't officially living in Brighton at this point, Ant was, and we were in the first heady days of our courtship - the beginning of our Brighton adventure together. Pedants may say that strictly speaking the millennium was the following year, but everyone knows that we partied like it was 1999 in, well, 1999. Both of us had stinking colds that day, but after dosing up on Day Nurse, Red Wine, Cava and some unknown substance scored from a bus driver, we managed to scare the germs out of our bodies and have the night of our lives. After fireworks and other entertainments in Victoria Gardens, we gatecrashed the Hobgoblin festivities via the back door and ended the night with some legendary table dancing (sorry James).

Moulin Rouge Party, 2002

There have been many fabulous theatrical parties over the years, but none  quite compare to the Moulin Rouge party we threw at our first Brighton flat together in Bedford Place, not long after the film had come out. There was Absinthe, debauchery, campery and misbehaviour - well it's not a real party if you haven't thrown someone out by the end of the night. As I handed round a bowl of skittles mixed with M&Ms (a sure fire way to confuse drunkards), I remember someone saying "this is the best party ever". I think they were right.

Big Beach Boutique, 2002 

It was one of the 'were you there?' events that has gone down in Brighton history for both good and bad reasons. 250,000 revellers (twice the population of the city) hit Brighton  beach to catch Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) and friends do their thing. Many had come from out of town and were stranded at the end of the night as public transport struggled to cope. Luckily we only lived a couple of minutes walk from the sea and were able to saunter home easily and provide sanctuary to friends who could not get home. Ant couldn't cope with the crowds and made a bid for freedom before Fatboy Slim's epic finale, but I had a brilliant time bouncing up and down on the pebbles, making friends and chastising boys with whistles. I'm not sure I could cope with such a night these days, but I'll always remember it as the epitome of Brighton hedonism.

"What Noise Does the Tardis Make?" 200?

Ant and I were on a night out, we'd been for dinner at Blind Lemon Alley I think, and were in high spirits. In the tradition of the "did you ever have a poodle?" Eastbourne episode (which is another story entirely), we decided to start asking people in the street to demonstrate the noise that the Tardis makes. Some people just looked at us with puzzled expressions and scuttled past, others gave it a shot, then wandered off red-faced as they reasiesd that it's trickier than you'd think. But one group of guys embraced the challenge with gusto, spontaneously breaking out into a symphony of sounds and accompanying movements that had Ant and me in stitches. It always sticks in my mind as one of those 'very Brighton' happenings.

Kneel Before Ming, 2003, 2004, 2008 & 2009

Of all the Brighton fancy dress get-ups Ant and I have concoted during our time in Brighton, Ant's Ming the Merciless was without doubt the most impressive and frequently revisited. First created for our Bitches & Baddies party at the Sanctuary, it was also trotted out for Halloween later that same year, the Greatest Hits party I had with Neel and as a camped up 'Ging the Merciless' variation for our Spaced Out party. But the first outing was the most memorable, mostly due to the reaction it got when we arrived on-mass for a post-party boogie at the Gap Club. I had arranged guest list for our motley crew of scoundrels and villains, and Ant led the way as we paraded past the queue outside, proclaiming "kneel before Ming" - which everyone did without hesitation. Inside, he continued to steal the show, with some excellent podium dancing and shape-throwing. Only the Ring Wraith falling down the stairs that night was funnier (sorry Mark).

Getting Married, 2004

Our wedding was unconventional in that we didn't spend two years planning it, or a small fortune paying for it. 20 of our nearest and dearest witnessed us tie the knot at Brighton Town Hall, where my mum recited The Owl and the Pussycat and Natalie sang a moving rendition of Let It Be Me, which made even the registrar shed a tear. We had lunch at the (sadly now no more) Strand restaurant and a big party for all our friends in the evening, upstairs at the Freemasons. We didn't hire cars - I walked to the Town Hall along the seafront with Neel fussing with my hair along the way and a trail of assorted family behind me, and walked back with my new husband, getting whoops and cheers from people along the way. The most expensive thing about the day was the Choccywoccydoodah cake, followed I think, by Ant's boots. How very us.

Poppet & Marcel, 2005-2010

I suppose I could have listed 'buying our first home' as a top memory, but truthfully, the most exciting thing about moving into our flat was being able to make it a home to a pair of rescued cats, Poppet and Marcel. And one of the most emotional things about moving out is the feeling of leaving behind Poppet, who we sadly lost earlier this year. In between all the parties and socialising and eating and drinking, my mogs were always here at home to keep me company and keep me grounded. I hope that dear Marcel will not mind too much being an Eastbourne cat.

Pub Quiz, 2005-2010

The tradition of Thursday nights at the Barley Mow is one I shall miss greatly. In our glory days (before Jo got pregnant and Tim moved to Lewes Road), we rocked the quiz on a weekly basis, even sometimes when it was just Ant and me on the team. In the last year or so, the prevalence of smartphones and people blatantly using them to cheat has made it less appealing, but it didn't stop us form going to one final quiz last night. And missing out on victory by half a point. Gah.

La Clique, Brighton Festival 2006

Every Brighton Festival has brought its thrills and merriments, but one year in particular stands out. It was when the Spiegeltent first came to town and was pitched down on the Steine gardens. Damien, Natalie, Ant and I went to see La Clique, where we also bumped into and ended up sitting with Sham and James and their friends. It still stands up as the best cabaret entertainment I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot), not to mention one of the most fun nights out. I wrote about the show here if you want to know exactly why.


A signature feature of Brighton life, and one I'm not sure we'll be able to replicate to the same extent in Eastbourne. Bar Koba and Bar Valentino have been the main sources of our obsession with Cocktails, though there have been plenty of experiments at home, including the notorious Sicilian Martinis evening of which we do not speak. At Koba, the chocolate martini was always a big hit with everyone we took there and Valentino's Bonzo Dog concoction has tipped me over the edge on many a late night session.

I could go on, but these are the sort of things that have made living in Brighton a pleasure and an adventure. If you're reading this and have been one of the people with whom I've shared the ride over the last ten years, thank you. And please leave your own memories of our escapades and special moments in the comments below - I am sure I've forgotten some classic ones.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Legally Blonde the Musical, Starring Sheridan Smith

I have never seen Legally Blonde the film, nor do I have any particular desire to do so, but when I heard the hype around Legally Blonde the Musical, I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. In fact it was Ant who first suggested we go and see it in the West End, having read Stephen Fry's enthusastic Twitter review. Of course I couldn't even consider going to such a thing without my dear pal and fellow lover of musicals, Damien. It took us the best part of year to get our arses in gear to get tickets and go up to Town, but last night we finally made it. 

After all the months of anticipation, the three of us were giddy to the point of hysteria when we met up at Brighton station yesterday lunchtime. Our excitement continued throughout the day as we made the most of the trip by taking in the René Gruau exhibition at Somerset House and indulging in a spot of window shopping around Covent Garden. After a bite to eat at my favourite little Moroccan haunt and drinks next door at the wondferfully rustic Beaujolais, we were just about fit to burst.

One of the most lauded things about the West End production of Legally Blonde the Musical is its current leading lady, Sheridan Smith. Having never seen Two Pints of Lager...  or indeed any of her other noted TV or stage performances, I had no expectations either way, but was duly impressed by her sparkling performance as Elle Woods. The rest of the cast were equally outstanding, giving it their all from start to finish and clearly relishing every bonkers minute of it. Someone else whose musical career has so far evaded me is Denise van Outen, who recently joined Legally Blonde as the hapless hairdresser Paulette. She, too, was surprisingly accomplished; I had no idea she could sing so well.

Of course I'd anticipated high camp and energetic dance numbers, but wasn't quite prepared for the bizarre, almost magical-realism dimension to the production (Riverdance? Talking dogs? WTF?). It was unashamedly and zealously inhabiting the World of Musicals and all the insane poetic license it allows. It was also genuinely very funny (think Glee/Sondheim-esque New York-Jewish humour) and at even  at times, moving. And I LOVED it. As I glanced either side of me at Damien and Ant's beaming faces, I could tell they did too. Feeling thoroughly entertained, we giggled and grinned all the way home (via a nightcap at my old student hang out the Retro Bar).

I defy anyone but the most cynical anti-musicalites not to enjoy Legally Blonde the Musical, and would especially recommended  it to anyone in need of a pick-me-up. The charming Sheridan Smith will only be in it for another few months, so hurry.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Brighton White Night 2010

Brightonians don't exactly take much persuading to dress up and stay out all night at the best of times, but for the last few years White Night has given us an offical excuse to celebrate the art of noctural recreation. A free festival that takes place across the city, White Night marks the clocks going back and celebrates the extra hour we get, by encouraging people to stay up and participate in all sorts of activities throughout the night.

I've been away for White Night the last few years and so this year's was my first one. The city was buzzing anyway with Halloween antics, and the massive Beach of the Dead walk that also happens every year got everyone into the spirit early in the day. By nightfall there was an amusing mix of ordinary punters, gruesome zombies and other ghoulish Halloweenites lining the streets. My first glimpse of White Night activity was as I turned into the North Laine to spy an opera singer belting out from the balcony above the betting shop on the corner of Bond Street. Unfortunately I missed a later performance in that same spot, reported by SessionLeopard on Twitter: "Brighton... where else can you watch a black drag queen dressed as a cloud singing barbara streisand above a betting shop?". Shame, but there was so much else to do.

My first proper stop-off was at the Brighton museum, which involved wending my way through the Pavilion Gardens, where little pockets of action were afoot all over the place. Inside the museum it was pretty much business as usual, apart from a few crafty making sessions and the presence of some willowy ladies in period clothing draped about the place. It did make me giggle to see zombies wandering about soaking up culture, but I drew the line at a man dressed as a spiderman clown and escaped to go and meet Steve and Linda at the Pavilion garden gates.

From there we decided to head for the Sealife centre, where I was utterly enchanted by the huge turtles and tiny seashorses. Not so endearing were the drunken youths flagrantly ignoring the 'please don't touch the fish' signs and whose behaviour was later reported to have started a riot. Things were altogether more civilised at the Library and though outside on Jubilee Square was heaving, the live spray paint artists there were well worth a stop. Inside, we had a play on a big dance mat that was wired up to a percussion loop programme, and enjoyed the relative calm before heading back out into the throng.

Kensington Street was another hive of activity, with both the Lighthouse and the Basement open for business and a  multimedia installation called the Epiphany Dome outside. After a heavy dose of art, we were ready for some music, but not before swinging by Infinity cafe to re-fuel with soup hearty soup in a roll. At the Corn Exchange, a French music showcase was in full swing, but surprisingly there were no queues for the venue. Amiens in France also has a White Night (or Nuit Blanche as they call it) and our towns do a musical exchange for the night. When we arrived, a band called Oregone were playing. I had a little dance around and then spotted Ewan (aka Euzie) at the bar.  It transpired that he and Linda both grew up in Wolverhampton and used to hang out in the same pub. Much disbelief and delighted cries of "you know so-and-so? No way!" ensued.

Next door in the Dome there was nothing much happening other than some pumping dance music and a couple of interactive installations. The night was flying by already and by the time we got down to the beach, the Bandstand happenings were dying down, with only a few half marathon runners straggling about. Walking back along the prom, we gained another cohort in the shape of Rob, who accompanied us up through the Lanes and eventually up to the Phoenix Gallery, which was one of the only places still going. By then the clocks had officially gone back, we'd gained our extra hour and I had completely lost track of what time it actually was.

A quick hot chocolate at the buzzy Cafe Moksha - where live music was still going  on - made a very civilised end to the evening (or should I say, morning). My first White Night had been a riot (though thankfully not in the Sealife centre sense), but it was time for bed.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Robyn at the Concorde 2

I go to a lot of gigs, mostly in seedy pub function rooms or muddy fields at festivals and that's the way I like it. The last time I went to a genuine pop concert was back in 2008, when Neel persuaded me to go and see Kylie at the O2. It was certainly an experience and a brilliant night out with one of my favourite people, but I can't imagine ever wanting to go back to that particular venue. I do really like a fix of uncomplicated, energetic electro-pop, though, so when I saw that Swedish popstrel Robyn was coming to the Concorde 2 (and not the awful Brighton Centre), I was quick to snap up tickets.

I've heard Robyn described as Sweden's answer to Britney before now, presumably because she too was a child star. Certainly both share a history of catchy pop tunes and a massive gay following, but somehow Robyn's Swedishness makes her quirkier and more interesting by default. In the flesh she is less kooky and more unabashedly Euro-pop than you might expect, which endeared her to us even more. It made a pleasant change to be at the Concorde amongst a bouncy crowd of excitable gaylords and giggly girls, as opposed to the usual hipster chin-stroking contingent - although interestingly there were a few of those around too.

There's nothing surprising or challenging about Robyn's material, but it is bloody good pop music. I like to think of it as a cleansing of the musical palette - a sort of sorbet gig, if you will. And she puts on a great show: energetic, enthusiastic and emotive. I couldn't help but dance. Lots. Particular highlights were 'Dancing on my Own' (my favourite track from Body Talk Pt.1) and 'Hang with Me', a more stripped back almost-ballad which showed off her true vocal abilities. The best thing was being so up close and personal with such a big personality and an even bigger sound in an intimate venue. It could only have been better if dear Neel had been here to enjoy it with me instead of thousands of miles away in Melbourne.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Middle Farm Apple Festival 2010

You know autumn's arrived when Apple Festival rolls around. It always seems to be the event for which everyone finally relents and digs out their winter coats and hats and sturdy boots for a stomp around Middle Farm. And even though the sun does tend to shine on Firle for the weekend, the temperature has definitely taken a dive since those last days of summer just a few weeks ago, at the end of September. This year was no exception, with a definite nip in the air and even the faintest hint of dragon breath on Apple Festival revellers. I wished I'd worn more layers, but thankfully inside the tents it was cosy, and a dance around to some of the energetic bands soon got the blood circulating.

This year Apple Festival was extra special because it was my nephew Nat's first festival and a delight to introduce him to the joys of dancing along to live music amongst a rosy cheeked, gently cider fuelled crowd. He seemed to love it - as you can see from the above video - and I'm hoping this will have been the first of many festival outings we'll have together. The grown ups had fun too, especially appreciating the extra food stalls and hot spicy apple juice for those of us who were driving. I went home armed with cheese and biscuits from the food hall and numb fingers from holding my dandelion and burdock ice cream float; what a silly idea on a cold autumn day. But oh, so tasty.

Middle Farm Apple Festival 2007

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Waving at Strangers from Trains and Other Childhood Joys Rediscovered

I was travelling back from a meeting in Guildford today, getting frustrated by technology (Macs. Argh.) and staring out of the window, when suddenly I was seized by a compulsion to wave at passengers on a passing train. I can only assume that my inner child was fighting its way out, urging me to break free from the shackles of work responsibilities, if only for a moment. And what a moment it was when after 30 seconds of bemused looks and uncomfortable shifting in seats, someone finally waved back.

From the grin on his face and enthusiastic flailing of arms, it was clear that my fellow waver had also been possessed by, and was utterly embracing, his inner child. It was a good feeling to have passed along a little joy and shared an uncomplicated interaction with a stranger, and to know that there are others out there who still want to act like kids occasionally, too.

It got me thinking about other little things we do that recapture the simple pleasures of childhood. Like the other morning when I arrived at work to observe a colleague slowly collecting and contemplating conkers from the path up to the office. He's six foot four and beardy, but for those few minutes he projected all the calm simplicity of a five year old enthralled by the wonders of nature and the possibilities of conkers. It was heartwarming, truly.

Intrigued by the notion of simple childhood joys, I asked some friends* how they like to release their  own inner child; the responses were prolific and most entertaining. Here are my favourite suggestions, which I encourage you to try (go on, let go a little. You'll feel better for it, I promise). Feel free to add your own.

Top Ten Ways to Stir Your Inner Child

  1. Waving at strangers on a passing train
  2. Collecting conkers
  3. Eating cake mix
  4. Shouting really, really loudly
  5. Writing 'BOOBIES' into a calculator
  6. Turning down the TV and making up dialogue for the actors
  7. Asking "why?" repeatedly
  8. Running (or even better, doing roly-polies) down a steep hill
  9. Splashing in puddles
  10. Making up stupid poems or song lyrics (and saying them loudly)

*Thanks to Nick, Ben, Roger, Katie, Karen and others for their contributions.

Photo by Minusbaby on Flickr

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Very Lovely End of the Road Festival 2010

Ever since I arrived back from last year's End of the Road Festival, I have been trying to persuade Ant that he would have enjoyed it, despite his professed hatred of festivals in general. It's unfortunate that to date his only festival experiences have involved excessive rain and mud (Green Man, Fleadh, Roskilde) or boring mainstream music (Isle of Wight), which meant that it was a bit of an effort to convince him that End of the Road is brilliantly different and much more up his street. I couldn't promise no mud, but based on 2009's experience, it seemed there'd be a fair chance of sunshine and I could confidently promise great music and a charming atmosphere. When I also mentioned the on-site therapies, real ale and abundant use of camping chairs, he agreed to give it a try.

Arriving on site on Thursday evening, there was a definite feeling of trepidation on my part as I sensed his misgivings about the whole proceedings. But by Sunday evening, wine-fuelled, music-soaked and massaged to within an inch of his life, a grinning Ant gracefully admitted that End of the Road had restored his jaded faith in festivals. Phew. I'd had a wonderful time too - there were so many good bands it'd be impossible to review them all, but highlights included Wolf People, Mountain Goats, Three Trapped Tigers, Citay, Ben Ottewell and Mountain Man. Aside from much musical enjoyment, we indulged in plenty of people watching, dancing, bantering, cake eating, curry eating, pizza eating, pie eating, chilli eating, tea drinking, stargazing and laid back bimbling. Once again, the sparkly woods provided much magic, especially the spontaneous late night jams and secret acoustic gigs on the woodland stage.

A game of Kubb on Sunday was a new experience for us both and something we'll definitely be looking to make or purchase for our own back garden. A Swedish skittles-chess hybrid, Kubb involves throwing large blocks of wood to knock out an opposing team's pieces; shins beware. The things that have grated at previous festivals - shouty teens, grotty toilets, epic walks between stages and back to camp, conspicuous security and bag searching, the sound of nitrous oxdide balloons emptying every few seconds - didn't really factor at End of the Road. The only thing I wanted for was a shower (there is only one block on site), but apart from that it really was a very very lovely festival and I shall definitely be going back next year. Based on his reaction, hopefully so will Ant.

Here's a little video I made of some of the bands we saw and the other activities in between. The sound quality is a bit rubbish on a few of the clips, but hopefully it gives you a flavour for the event.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beirut Live in Eastbourne

One of my favourite bands, Beirut, played to a sell out crowd at Eastbourne's Winter Gardens last night, and it was a very special gig. Being best known for its blue rinses and tea dances, it's rare that Eastbourne attracts such hip artists, unless they have a connection to the town. I've no idea why Melting Vinyl chose the Winter Gardens, perhaps it was cheaper than the Corn Exchange in Brighton (which is probably the equivalent in terms of capacity), or maybe the band fancied doing something a bit different. Either way, they managed to pull it off, drawing fans from all over the country for Beirut's only English gig on this tour.

I've wanted to see Beirut live ever since I was introduced to them back in 2007. They rarely play the UK and I missed their last London gig because I was poorly, so when I read that they were coming to my home town, I was doubly chuffed. I have a strong personal connection to the Winter Gardens - my first ever am-dram show was in the Gold Room, I have sung in many music festivals there and even worked backstage during my time on the Eastbourne Theatres' crew. I was stunned to see a queue snaking around the corner when we arrived last night and even more taken aback when we got inside and it was bursting at the seams with hipsters.

Beirut were on good form, complimenting the 'classy venue' (perhaps they were being sarcastic?) and generally crowd-pleasing with their energetic klezmeriachi (I just made that up). I was plagued with annoying shouty people on all sides, but managed to wangle my way down into a less garrulous section of the audience for the last few songs, even finding enough room for a little waltz with Ant. Afterwards the streets outside were teeming and confused looking drivers struggled to navigate their way past the skinny-jeaned swarm; I'm pretty sure Compton Street has never seen anything like it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sussex Gastro Pub Series: The Ginger Dog in Kemp Town, Brighton

On those rare Saturdays when we haven't got anything much on, Ant and I will usually find ourselves a-wandering down the hill to Kemp Town for a mooch - perhaps picking up a paper and grabbing a coffee in Spinelli's, indulging in a haircut and some people-watching at Barber Blacksheep, browsing the shelves of the Kemp Town Bookshop or picking up indulgent foodie supplies from Bona Foodie or Kemp Town Deli. More often than not, we'll end up still knocking about at lunch time and grabbing a meal at one of the many pubs or cafes in the village. 

On our last one of these perambulations a week or so ago, we discovered a new addition to the Kemp Town gastronomical circuit, which has popped up where the not-so-glamorous Wellington pub once was. The latest addition to the 'Gingerman' local restaurant chain (which includes the original Gingerman restaurant, The Ginger Pig and The Ginger Fox), The Ginger Dog is tucked away on College Place, sat between The Golden Cannon and (our favourite local) The Barley Mow on the Kemp Town pub trail. Having heard good things about the other Gingerman restaurants, we were chuffed to find one practically on our doorstep and decided to give it a try.

With its muted buff walls, rustic mis-matched chairs and funky artwork, the newly decorated interior certainly looked the part of a trendy gastro pub and the friendly staff were a vast improvement on the pub's previous incarnation. Not wanting to spoil our afternoon by being over-stuffed, and still having a big hill up which to scamper, we both decided on sticking to starters, along with an extra portion of chips (just in case). I had a goats cheese and baby onion gratin, which came with a slab of griddled bread (ciabatta I think) and a salad garnish, Ant went for the salmon tartare - something he'd never sampled before. Both of us were happy with our choices, which were nicely presented and beautifully cooked. The chips were the icing on the cake, perhaps the most perfect pub chips I've had - lightly crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, not too greasy - and a vast improvement on the awful ones we'd been served at the Open House the week before.

All in all it was a delightful, if rather indulgent, Saturday lunch and I'm looking forward to going back for the full three-course experience one evening before too long.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Morris Dancing, Moonlit Swimming & Getting Away from it All

Lately I've been working my butt off (hence the lack of blog posts) and though most of the time it's fun, every now and then I need a break from the constant demands and responsibilities that my job now entails. So when a business meeting down in Devon found its way into my diary, I seized the opportunity to combine it with a picobreak, staying with the lovely Harriet (who I miss terribly) in Slapton. It so happened that she had arranged a shindig that night at the local pub with her Morris dancing side, Beltane Border. And yes, they are those scary looking blacked-up variety - though it's not a racist thing I'm told.

As I arrived at Harry's, the sun was shining and I was feeling blissfully detached from the office, being so many miles away from Brighton on the beautiful South Devon coast. As Harry and Linda donned their costumery and prepared for the dancing, I sat soaking up the sunset and drinking cider, my brow swiftly un-furrowing as I watched the world go by. The pub was buzzing with tourists and locals, all intrigued by the gathering swarm of imposing black-clad figures. The sound of a lone fiddle and accompanying Celtic drums signalled the start of the show and everyone nodded and bobbed along as the various energetic dances unfolded, each introduced with an anecdote, myth or theme to add a splash of colour.

Fuelled with cider and pagan magic, I helped Harry get a fire on the beach started and kicked back with her fellow dancers and other assembled groupies for a classic evening of bonfire bantering, ale swigging and moonlit swimming. I hadn't felt so relaxed since our holiday in France and was sad when the night came to a natural conclusion just before dawn and it was time to say goodbye to new found friends and start thinking about the long drive back in the morning. A final swig of chai and a quick didgeridoo jam in the back of a campervan (thanks Amy, Jon & Lee), followed by toast and marmite back at Harriet's and it was time to place my happy head on the pillow and dream of future adventures.

This little video has some highlights of Beltane's dances (plus a bonus feature at the end) and you can see some of our beach antics via this Flickr set of mine. Fellow camera geek (and excellent chap) Jon, who I met on the night, also has this brilliant set of pics on Facebook which is well worth a look.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

UNKLE Live at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill

Last weekend I was dog-sitting in Eastbourne while my mother escaped to her annual spiritual retreat at Walsingham cathedral; I was glad of a change of scenery after what had been a gruelling and emotional week and am always happy to spend time with the lovely Pascha. It so happened that some friends of mine were off to the De La Warr Pavilion - just up the road from Eastbourne in Bexhill - for a gig on Saturday night and suggested that Ant and I should come along, since we were in the neighbourhood. I didn't know much about the band that was playing, though Ant seemed excited when I mentioned it to him, so we booked tickets and tagged along.

The band was UNKLE, aka James Lavelle and Pablo Clements, who were being accompanied by the De La Warr's own Heritage Orchestra for a special performance as part of their current album tour. What had been a scorchingly sunny day turned into a beautiful evening on Bexhill seafront and as always, the DLWP crowd was buzzing with arty types from all across Sussex. I bumped into several old childhood friends from Eastbourne and spotted mates from Brighton including the couple who used to live upstairs from us. It was a great convivial atmosphere in which to soak up what turned out to be a magical gig.

UNKLE's dreamy, symphonic trip-hop sounds were beautifully interpreted by the 30 piece classical orchestra and two vocalists, and for the first half of the set I was totally swept away. After a good start, it all got a bit self indulgent towards the end when Lavelle took to the mic and started gushing and that combined with the sweltering temperatures up on the balcony was enough to make me lose my appetite for an encore. Even so, it was a fantastic evening, topped off nicely with a nightcap on the refreshingly breezy balcony of the De La Warr, chatting to friends old and new. 

If you want to hear more about the gig itself, there's an excellent write-up on XYZ magazine's blog, and this YouTube video from a recent gig at the Union Chapel will also give you a flavour. For a bit more background on UNKLE in general and the Heritage Orchestra collaboration in particular, pick up a copy of the latest East magazine, where you'll find an interview with James Lavelle on page 35. For details of other upcoming performances at the De La Warr Pavilion, have a read of their Live Music Blog or the Events & Performances page of the website.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Ode to Poppet

Poppet came into our lives five years ago when we liberated her from the Raystede animal rescue centre near Ringmer. Out of all the beautiful and charming cats needing new homes at that place, I was drawn to her intense one-eyed stare which seemed to say "take me away from this place and I will reward you with love". She came as a pair with Marcel, who, it soon transpired, was her nemesis rather than her companion; they were a classic double act in the Tom and Jerry sense. She would chase him down and beat him up daily, but I do think he eventually came it enjoy it and would even occasionally venture a retaliation. 

When we first arrived back at our flat with the two furry beasts, Poppet strutted straight in and staked her claim on the place, while poor timid Marcel hid under the bed and various other bits of furniture for two weeks before being gradually coaxed out. A creature of many moods, Poppet was by turns the most affectionate, spirited, cross and characterful cat I have ever known. She'd sit on you and purr for an entire evening and be most put out if you needed to get up - and heaven help anyone who tried to move her when she didn't want to be moved; the memory of that rage-fuelled "leave me alone" hiss still sends shivers down my spine. Her voluminous ginger fur seemed to change colour with her temperament and could be anything from deep amber to bright strawberry blonde. She was magnificently beautiful, and she knew it.

At the risk of sounding like a mad cat lady (and honestly, I don't care if I do), I have loved my mogs as if they were my children. When you get to my age and have yet to breed, your maternal instincts have to transfer somewhere - and I am not ashamed to admit that mine have been poured wholeheartedly into the two dear creatures with whom I have shared my home, my bed, my heart these past few years. They have been my constant companions, providing warmth, comfort and entertainment throughout happy times and bad. Poppet in particular would always be waiting behind the door for me when I got back from work, looking up with that "where do you think you've been?" glare, demanding attention - which I was only too happy to give.

When a lump on Poppet's neck was diagnosed as an inoperable tumour a few weeks ago, I was devastated. At first she soldiered on as normal, but gradually the growth in her mouth made it more difficult to eat, and last weekend we had to make that most awful decision to have her put to sleep. I have lost many family pets over the years, but this was the first time I'd been responsible for making that choice and to have been present while it was carried out. I held her in my arms as she slipped away, felt her heartbeat fading under my fingers and her so familiar body go limp; It was the saddest, hardest, most heartbreakingly harrowing thing I have ever done.

Losing Poppet has left a massive hole in my life, but I have no regrets about bringing her into it. She gave back as much, if not more, than I put in and though I'll never get to stroke her soft fluffy coat or watch her chase an excited Marcel down the garden ever again, I know she'll always be around. Thank you, darling Poppet, for all that you were and are to me.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Ash Cloud or No Ash Cloud, I'm Having a Holiday and Just You Try and Stop Me

Ant and I were due to go on holiday to Sicily back in May, but thanks to the Icelandic volcano and its pesky ash cloud, our flight was cancelled and our carefully constructed travel plans scuppered. Determined to find adventure regardless, we threw some camping gear in the back of our ancient Nissan Micra, and hopped on a ferry to the continent from Newhaven, praying that the old jalopy could survive another long haul jaunt.

We'd booked ahead for one night's accommodation in Orleans, but the rest of the trip was a complete fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants mystery tour. My GCSE French was tested to its limits, frantically reserving hotels over the phone and ordering dinner in the remote rural non-English speaking villages in which we found ourselves. The camping thing didn't really work out (we're getting separate air mattresses next time), so we ended up bimbling between B&Bs as we made our way down towards the South coast, taking in Montpellier, Le Grau du Roi and Sete along the way. A visit to the beautiful hillop town of St Guilhem le Desert - with its picture postcard perfect winding streets and rustic monastery - was a highlight of the Languedoc stretch of the trip.

From the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean we swung a right and ventured into the majestic surroundings of the midi-Pyrennes and by pure luck and some garbled Franglais, found ourselves a delightful farmhouse gite in which to kick back and wind down for a few days. The village of Bourieges has nothing but a church, a (lovely) cafe, post office (only open on the Third Thursday of every month) and a handful of rustic houses. We were welcomed by Mr & Mrs Pous, who also left us several bottles of locally brewed plonk, including some from their own vineyard and an excellent Limoux bubbly, alleged to be better (and cheaper) than Champagne. I'd have to agree, it was super.

Having fond memories of cave paintings from a childhood family holiday in France, I was keen to explore the famous Niaux, just a short drive from where we were staying. Poor Ant came along too, despite his fear of small spaces and caves in particular. It was a magical experience, a small group of us trekking into the darkness with only handheld torches to light the way and mind-blowing underground landscapes all around. I have been known to get spooked in very dark outside spaces, but the womb-like surroundings felt somehow comforting as I imagined men and women making the same journey some 13,000 years before into what archeologists believe to have been some kind of spiritual sanctuary.

The paintings themselves were fascinating and surprisingly accomplished - considering the tools with which they would have been working back then. On the way back out of the caves, I asked if anyone in the group minded us all switching off our torches to experience complete darkness. It's an amazing sensation being in such pitch black that you can't seen your own hand in front of your face, or even the faintest outline of a person next to you.

Another adventure in these parts was to Carcassonne - the fortified town that inspired the game of the same name (now available as an iPhone app, FFS). Much like the famous Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, Carcassonne is overtly touristy, packed full off naff souvenir shops selling everything from frdieg magnets to medieval costumery. But it was a pleasant place to wander around and the castle itself was most interesting and well presented. We drove back from Carcasonne to Bourieges via the quaint little cloistered town of Mirepoix, which I shall always remember as the place where I received news of our dear old family cat Go-Tabs having to be put to sleep. The disproportionately large and rather pretty catherdral there made a perfect sanctuary in which to reflect and have a little cry.

Heading North back in the direction of Dieppe, we'd arranged to stay with friends in the Dordogne for a couple of days. After a quick pit-stop in charming Albi (where we just missed the opening hours for the Toulouse Lautrec museum), we arrived at Bellevue, near Bergerac, where we were thoroughly spoiled with wonderful food, stunning surroundings and exceedingly good company. We were even introduced to 'Click', a Carn family favourite after dinner game involving dice, paper and in this case, a generous helping of Alan's hearty homebrew. The Sunday market in Issigeac was one of the loveliest markets I think I've ever been to and Ant even managed to find a sunhat to fit his massive head there.

Our final stop off was in the little town of Azay-le-Rideau along the Loire, where we found a very cute B&B just around the corner from a spectacular Chateau - which proved a lovely place to bimble around on a sunny day. As we got behind the wheel once more for the final stretch of the trip home, I was frankly amazed that poor old Lottie was still going. It may not have been the highly-planned Sicily trip we'd hoped for, but we'd certainly managed to pack in a decent amount of adventure and a whole huge helping of stunning scenery to boot. And we discovered pear jaffa cakes, which really was the icing on the cake.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's All Happening Now - The New Thomas Truax Video

Back in January I wrote about a rather peculiar Sunday at the end of the Christmas holidays when Ant, James and I were involved in a zombie music video shoot with Thomas Truax at the Under Ground Theatre in Eastbourne. I've been eagerly awaiting the outcome ever since and was thrilled when last week, the video was finally released onto YouTube. Unfortunately Ant's sterling zombie performance didn't make it into the final cut, but I am clearly visible as one of the dancing magpies and you can spot James in a blink-or-you'll-miss-it moment around 3:10.

The video was timed to coincide with the release of Truax's new album, Sonic Dreamer, described in this Drowned in Sound review as "different...knowingly funny, and...very very special". I have yet to get hold of a copy myself, but am very much looking forward to giving it a spin and wish the lovely Thomas all the best with his current album tour and promotional junket - do catch him at one of these live dates if you can.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Fifth Great Escape Festival, Brighton 2010

We've been going to Brighton's own Great Escape festival ever since it started back in 2006. It's been a brilliant way to keep up with all the latest breakthrough bands and pack in a load of gigs early on in the year without having to rough it in a tent. Not that I mind roughing it in a tent one bit, but the prospect of sleeping in his own bed means that Ant will join me a lot more willingly. Some of the excellent bands that we first discovered at previous Great Escapes include Foals, GaBLĂ©, zZz, The Low Anthem (wow, that was an amazing gig), John & Jehn, Black Mountain and Benni Hemm Hemm to name but a few.

This year's Great Escape festival was, I am sad to report, something of a disappointment. Our overall enjoyment was somewhat hindered by Ant's unfortunately timed man-flu attack, but regardless of that, I felt it was a less than inspiring line-up. After an excellent start with so-French-it-hurts electro-cheese-meisters Chateau Marmont, we seemed to wander from gig to gig, struggling to tell the difference between a string of identikit babyfaced Sixth Form Indie bands with only a single melody between them. It wasn't until Saturday that things started to improve and the festival really redeemed itself for me.

An Emerald City

Braving the seedy environs of the Freebutt to see The Bewitched Hands on the Top of Our Heads on Saturday afternoon, I finally felt like I was onto something a bit different. Jangly psychedelic retro-pop with the occasional touch of Arcade Fire urgency, it was a breath of fresh air after all the bland Indie crap. Later that evening in the atmospheric setting of the Basement, we swayed along appreciatively to the pleasing Bolly-prog sounds of Kiwi newbies An Emerald City; I must give a special mention to the bassist whose multipurpose cape-come-guitar-strap was a visual highlight of the festival. These were followed on stage by the equally esoteric but slightly less versatile antipodeans Bridezilla, who took a while to get going but really rocked out towards the end when the free-jazz style fiddle and sax element really came into its own.

Trembling Bells

From the Basement we strolled over to the Pavilion Theatre (why is it always so hot in there?) to catch the excellent Trembling Bells (who I first discovered on Freakzone) and couldn't help but smile at the conspicuous absence of hipsters in attendance - a most unusual situation for the UK's most skinny-jeaned, wayfarered festival. Presumably it's not cool to like Folk music and Trembling Bells are undeniably Folk, carrying on the tradition of bands like Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band, but with an intriguing 21st Century flourish. It felt somehow fitting to finish the festival in the more familiar company of middle aged men and floaty hippy chicks, so we called it a night after that and left the clubbing and after-parties to the young-uns.

Although I shan't be living in Brighton come next May (more on that later), I expect I'll still come over for Great Escape 2011. 2010's offerings may not have been the best compared to previous years, but at £35 for the three days (with the early-bird ticket price), getting even four or five decent gigs out of it seems like a bargain. And it'll be an excuse to stay in a groovy Brighton B&B, which is not something I've ever done. If you were at the Great Escape this year and had a better experience, let me know - what brilliant bands did I miss? where was all the action? And most importantly, who had the pointiest shoes?

Most of the bands I really liked at the Great Escape Festival don't have commercial recordings available as yet, so you'll have to explore their MySpace pages to get a listen. I've made a little playlist here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Little Sis Gets Hitched

Last weekend, my little sister got married. The same little sister with whom I spent hours and days playing epic games of Sindys and doll-dressing-dolls (as we called them); darling cute Megan got all growed up and tied the knot. Somehow this seemed more grown up even than her buying a house or having a baby (which she did in 2008). Why? Because, I suppose, it's a conscious choice one makes to get married, you have to make arrangements and send invites, whereas a baby can come along and be a complete surprise (not that this was the case with hers, I should emphasise). The decision to get married is a public statement of settling down that somehow propells you into adulthood like nothing else.

And for a big sister, watching her youngest sibling walk down the aisle and being her Matron of Honour (yes, I think I am too old to be called a bridesmaid) is an emotional business. But also a wonderful one. Megan and Nick's wedding was an utterly joyful occasion, filled with smiles, laughter, music, friendship and love. My own contribution to the day, apart from aforementioned duties, was to sing them through their register-signing with a rendition of 'Now I've Seen You' from the musical Honk. I also threw in a spontaneous chorus of '(I've Had) the Time of My Life' at the end of the night, aided and abetted by Natalie (well, if someone would leave a live mic switched on in the room with us two there, what do they expect?). It was a day (and night) to remember in so many ways and I am so very happy for both bride and groom.

Some of the highlights, including both my rehearsed and impromptu performances, are captured in this video/slideshow. The embarrassing bit is right at the end, so I'm counting on noone having the patience to watch it all the way through.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Grand Glee Finale: End of Act One

Warning: Luvvie Alert (if you have have an aversion to campery or showbiz of any kind, you may as well stop reading right now. If however you are fond of a showtune or two, or like me, are a fan of Glee, welcome to the party...)

Since I first raved about it back in January, Glee has become my only must-watch TV show (oh, OK, there's Mad Men too), providing wry satire and sparkling musical entertainment every Monday night, which, I think you'll agree, is just what Mondays needed. Like any long-running series, it's had its occasional 'nothing much is happening this week' episodes and a few ill-conceived or just plain vomit-inducing musical numbers. But on the whole it's been first-rate.

We've followed the ever more complicated fates of a group of High School misfits and their equally troubled teachers as they prepare for Glee Club sectionals, an inter-school musical performance competition traditional in America. We've wondered who will end up with who, whether the club will survive its many slapstick bust-ups and whether they will make it through to the next stage of the competition.

There's decent eye-candy in the form of mohicaned bad-boy Noah 'Puck' Puckerman (or pretty boy Finn Hudson if that's your thing), but the undisputed comedy star of the show is cranky sports teacher and cheerleader coach Sue Sylvester, whose cutting one-liner comebacks are legendary. My favourite from this week's episode: "You'll be adding revenge to the long list of things you're no good at, right next to being married, running a high school glee club and finding a hairstyle that doesn't look like a lesbian." Genius.

The highlight of each episode for me is invariably the big showstopper number, generally performed by the group or two main characters in the midst of a poignant storyline. The episodes that fall flat are always those in which they get the showstopper wrong. Thankfully for the mid season finale this week, they got it very very right with a magical rendition of 'Don't Rain on My Parade' from Funny Girl:

As someone who performed in many musicals as a youngster and harboured aspirations towards professional singing, I was right there with (the talented but irritatingly fame-obsessed) Rachel as she stole the show at the Glee Club competition sectionals. Her heartfelt performance perfectly encapsulated the hunger and drive I so vividly remember experiencing as a teenager treading the boards; it was thrilling, infectious and rousing - bringing back a rush of teenage yearnings.

Both Ant and I have been humming the tune ever since and going back to watch this video of said performance to re-experience the tingling sensation all over again. It was so powerful that I can't even recall what the other songs in the episode were. Now that's what I call showbiz.

If you are still reading and have yet to experience Glee for yourself, you can catch up on the last few episodes via 4oD, or order the DVD from Amazon.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Twestival Strikes Again

Have you heard about Twestival? It's a global Twitter meet-up that happens every six months or so in hundreds of cities around the world.

At the first Twestival a year ago, I didn't really know anyone except my other half (aka @meeware) and my then brand new boss (aka @rogerwarner) - whose presence ensured that I remained sober and sensible for the duration. It all felt a little cliquey but I met a couple of cool people and it led to some fruitful online conversations in the following months. I did a little write-up of Twestival 1 on the Content & Motion blog if you're interested.

Twestival 2 was a whole different kettle of fish. @meeware was away and I'd ditched the 'no drinking in front of the boss' policy. There were quite a few more familiar faces, if only recognisable from their Twitter avatars. There was role play and murder mystery which really broke the ice and got everyone out of their cliques. 

After an excellent night of non-stop ranting and a fair bit of dancing, I ended up at the infamous Bulldog pub (of all places) until four in the morning with a gaggle of hardcore Twitter reprobates. Classy. The picture on the right (by Clive Flint) shows me pulling a classic "I'm not at all drunk, oh no, not me" face, about half way into the evening. Thank goodness there are none from later in the night.

Tomorrow night (Thursday 25th) it's time for Brightwest 3, I'm going with a whole crew of recently converted Twitter cohorts and am all set to DJ - I just hope the Brighton Twitterati are ready for my eclectic selection. This time there's a Speakeasy theme and we're being encouraged to dress up, as if I needed persuading.

As always, the proceeds all go to charity and loads of fabulous goodies have been donated for an auction and  'Twombola'. So if you're a Brighton Twitter person, or even a Brighton non-Twitter person who'd like to see what all the fuss is about, you should definitely come along. Tickets are available online or at the door. Here's a map, too, just in case you get lost. If you're a non Brightonian reading this, you can find your nearest Twestival via the official website. Come on, it'll be fun.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Thomas Truax Gig in Brighton

Ever since I discovered him at a Freebutt gig around this time last year, I've been raving about Thomas Truax, the eccentric one-man band with a penchant for weird homemade instruments. If you read my Great Escape 2009 write up or a recent post on the zombie music video shoot, you might be forgiven for thinking I was stalking him. You might even be right. He's one of those performers who taps right into my own personal madness and throws something even stranger back. Here's a little taster:

If, like me, you're game for a bit of oddball entertainment, you should get yourself down to the Freebutt in Brighton on Friday night, where Thomas Truax is playing again, along with Woodpecker Wooliams and Dug Champion. I'll be there, come and say hello. Londoners can also catch Thomas at the next White Mischief event on 27th March.

Watch this space for more gig recommendations coming soon.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Tunng Live and Acoustic At Resident Records

One of the nicest things about living in Brighton is that there's never a shortage of happenings, even on a Monday night. Admittedly it's rare that I make the most of Mondays, being content to crawl under a blanket on the sofa and watch a DVD after a hard day at work. But this week I broke the mold and accepted an invitation (thanks Steve) to see Tunng do an acoustic set at Resident Records in honour of their latest album release, And Then We Saw Land.

If you've never been to Resident, picture a small shop with a big shelving unit right down the middle and space at either side filled with Brighton hipsters, music lovers and middle class culture junkies (I won't tell you which cliche I consider myself to be). A pared down version of the band, minus drummer and usual array of percussive accoutrements, shuffles into the narrow space in front of the till and warns the excited crowd: "this might be a bit quiet". In fact it is the perfect volume - thanks to the fact that it's one of those polite occasions where people refrain from talking during the set; if only the same could be said for all Brighton gigs.

Having seen the full Tunng line-up live at Green Man Festival in 2007, I wondered how they'd come across without the trademark twiddly electro tinges, but actually the softer folkier sound of an unplugged performance suited them. I found myself swaying along and drifting away as they played mostly songs from the new album. Even the little tiny baby next to me (who, I should point out, was accompanied by its mother) seemed rapt throughout and hardly even squeaked. It was a jolly lovely start to the week and a pleasant change from the usual Monday night torpor. I must remember to make the most of Mondays more often.

Find Tunng on MySpace or buy the new album on Amazon:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Doing Our Bit: A Haiti Fundraiser Event

Last Thursday I dusted off the camera kit for my first photography gig of 2010, a charity fundraising night organised by a gang of Brighton music promoters and community groups in aid of the Haiti earthquake emergency appeal

Despite the torrential weather, hoardes of revellers showed up to support this great cause and dance the night away to some of Brighton's grooviest bands. The performers, who all donated their time for free, included Manouchska, The Fat 45, Pollito Boogaloo, Kalakuta Millionaires, Fanfara and Nhasitafara.

There was a real festival atmosphere in the air as the packed venue buzzed with frantic dancing and feelgood factor from 8pm til 2am (and on a school night, too).  When bands weren't playing, there were DJs in every room, spinning everything from the Star Wars cantina theme to swinging Rock n Roll. I was in my element, capturing the action both on stage and on the dancefloor and throwing a few moves of my own at the same time. You can see the results of my efforts here in this slideshow, which is also available on Flickr.

As well as snapping away all night, I was also playing the part of intrepid reporter, interviewing unsuspecting punters, promoters and artists for the official video of the night (currently being edited together by filmmaker, Scott Lawson). All in all it was a super night, which raised nearly £3,000 for the Disasters Emergency Committee Haiti Appeal. A big slap on the back to all the performers and organisers who made it happen, not to mention the punters who dug deep and partied hard to make it go off with a bang.

If you couldn't make it along last Thursday, but would like to do your bit for Haiti, you can donate online here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Top Five All Time Worst Hangovers

When you're in the midst of one, it's not even remotely amusing, but the great thing about hangovers is that you can look back and laugh... Laugh at the mortifying memory of pressing your face against the tiled bathroom floor and praying for death, laugh at the preposterous excuses with which you tried to palm off your boss to avoid having to work on the Morning After, laugh at the person you shared it with who was even worse than you. Let's face it, hangovers are funny.

These days my hangovers tend to be more easily acquired but less intense  in nature - perhaps a symptom of my reduced capacity for alcohol combined with an increased sense of moderation. The last Hangover Horriblis - and possibly the worst ever - was almost a year ago, but still strong enough in my memory to curb my propensity to over-indulge. That particular one was so bad that it has become a regular subject of rueful reminiscence between me and my better half, with whom I shared the whole sorrowful experience. 

The other evening we were discussing that very day and started comparing it to other epic hangovers of the past. As a result, I came up with this list of my top five worst ever hangovers, which I present now for your enjoyment. Please feel free to laugh, I did.

In reverse order of severity:

Eastbourne, 1993

A fairly typical case of teenage intemperance, this one is memorable for its humorous Morning After scenario. At the time, my boyfriend Chris and I were house-sitting for my dad and step-mum, who were away sailing round Europe. We used to have friends over to stay quite often, most notably Natalie and Craig, who lived in Hailsham and could save on taxi fares after a night out by crashing on our sofa bed. On one such occasion, we'd all been out with the usual theatre crowd, most probably to TJ's (still going strong), I imagine it would have been a Thursday. I remember Carlo being there on the walk back to Longstone Road and he, Natalie and me all rolling down what felt like a never-ending hill side but turned out the next day to be merely a small grassy bank. 

The next morning I couldn't face going into work, not least because my workplace (the now defunct Torq the jeweller) was a small glass box on a sunny corner and not the most pleasant place in which to endure a hangover. Feeling too feeble and scared to do it myself, I asked Natalie to call in sick for me. She was happy to do so, but neither of us had thought to come up with a plausible story before she dialled. My boss picked up and Nat calmly informed her "Rowan won't be in today, she's got a stomach upset". "Who is this?" asked my boss. A look of panic struck Natalie's already bloodhsot eyes "It's ....[long pause].... her.... auntie" she said, entirely unconvicingly. My boss never exactly confronted me about this flagrant truancy, but the arched eyebrow that greeted me on my next shift was enough to ensure I never attempted such a stunt again.

Exeter, 2007

The occasion was Brian's 30th, the venue was a pub in Exeter town centre and then back to Brian's student digs (he was studying for his PCGE at the time). I had been suffering from 'flu and necking Benylin like it was going out of fashion. That and the bottle of Captain Morgan's that I polished off (with a little help from Nick, pictured right - this was the point at which the hangover became inevitable) proved to be a savage combination.

Ant and I were staying in a B&B but didn't make it back there until the wee small hours and had to check out again soon after. God knows how Ant, who was in a bad way too, managed to chauffer the whole Brighton gang home again later that day. I was supposed to be sharing the driving, but could barely function enough to help with directions. Ant said it was like driving an ambulance, or a Hearse, as the rest of us slumped silently in our seats for the entire five hour trip home.

Brighton and Eastbourne, 1999

I have an excuse for this one, other than the usual wanton self-indulgence. It was the funeral of one of my oldest and dearest friend's mother, just months after the death of another close friend and contemporary. The only way to get through it was to drink. A lot. I was living back at home in Eastbourne after uni and working at Brighton Waterstone's at the time. 

After drowning my sorrows right through from the afternoon wake through to some ungodly hour in the morning, I dragged myself into work after very little sleep and proceeded to hide at the back of the ground floor, in what was then the travel section. It quite quickly became too much though, and I told my very kind and understanding boss that I needed to go home. She called my mum to come and collect me because by then I was too sickly to negotiate public transport. Noone explicitly mention the H word, but everyone clearly knew the reason for my green gills and fevered brow. Bless my mum for not as much as tutting when I asked her to pull over so I could throw up in the gutter at Peacehaven.

Harrogate, 2005

It happened whilst working on an HR exhibition during my time at Wiley. Somehow after dinner, my colleagues and I managed to blag our way into a Guardian party at the hotel where we were staying, at which the free booze was flowing. I don't remember much about the evening except for singing Joni Mitchell songs in the lobby, accompanied by Darren (who just happened to have his guitar in his car) and desperately guzzling pints and pints of water before bed at 5am, hoping that I'd sober up by 8 when I had to be up again. It didn't work.

By the time the hangover kicked in, I was on the stand at the exhibition, the glaring halogens burning through my tattered soul. It quickly became apparent that I would be of no use to anyone and one of my colleagues took pity and gave me his car keys so that I could go and lie down on the back seat. I never thought I could feel that awful again, but four years later, I did.

San Francisco, 2009

Nobody wants to spend the last day of their holiday asleep in bed, but that's nearly how we finished our time in San Francisco last Spring, when the mother of all hangovers consumed us both. I blame the guys at the PWN Depot, who had plied us with punch at their party the night before, on top of a whole load of cocktails we'd guzzled at the Elbo Room en-route. There's a detailed account of the night's proceedings and its painful consequences here, but for the purposes of this post, I shall reiterate the worst bits.

The first thing I knew about the post PWN Depot hangover was when the sun came up and straight through the flimsy drapery that passed for a curtain in our room the next morning. After several hours of fending off daylight with T-shirts slung over our aching eyes, we  eventually braved the outside world in search of sustenance and found ourselves in the amazing Boogaloo cafe (pictured left). Once fed and marginally repaired, we wandered over to Dolores Park hoping for a quiet lie down under a tree, little expecting to be confronted by a full-blown Mexican festival. Not the most obvious hangover cure, but actually surprisingly soothing, the Marichi band was a welcome distraction from the persistent nauseau and regret, and at least made us feel that we had done something cultured with the day.


Tell Me About Your Hangover and Win Free Stuff

Now it's your turn. Share your worst ever hangover and why it was so awful - gory details and embarrassing facts included, please. Whichever one makes me laugh the most will win a hangover survival kit. Closing date for comments, Feb 28th 2010.