Love Underlined: Our trip to the French Riviera

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One does not dream of the French Riviera in October, unless it is already October. Suddenly you’re desperate for a holiday; whether clinging onto the final remnants of summer, wanting to utilise half term, or you just need to “get away from it all,” whatever “it” may be. In any case, I actually had a different reason for going. Philippa, my better half, adores Antibes in particular, having been many times before with her father. This was an ideal incident for bringing us closer together.

The only issue, for me anyway, was that we would fly out a few hours after the last in a run of night shifts. This didn’t seem like such a big deal when we booked the flights, but as the night finally approached I began to anticipate (and dread) how tired I would be. Never have I been more jealous of leaving my bed, knowing Philippa would get a full night’s kip and I would just have to power through. But amazingly, despite only getting three hours kip, I had fully recovered by the time we arrived at Gatwick. It was certainly one way of getting me back to a normal sleeping pattern: just FORCE myself into it!

I can only put my alertness down to adrenaline from the excitement of the holiday, which heightened throughout the flight until we arrived at Nice. Once we were at our hotel, we spent the rest of our first day exploring the streets of Antibes. This was equally exciting for both of us, me taking in all the sights and Philippa becoming reacquainted with her favourite haunts. Cruising through the harbour,was particularly entertaining, ogling the bombastic yachts that were almost formidable in their over the top splendour; I suppose you have to find humour in a situation so depressing with its intimidating wealth.

We began the morning of Day 2 with a brief tour of the town’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, marveling at its awe-inspiring architecture, before heading up to the Picasso Museum. The renowned artist lived in Antibes for quite a while, and there’s an extensive collection of his work available, interspersed with facts about his life. The old fort that houses his work was small, but it was paced well over several floors, with an ideally placed terrace offering stunning views of the western Riviera coastline; it wasn’t difficult to see why Picasso found the place so inspiring.

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Eager to experience as many of the key locations in the region, we spent the afternoon wandering through Cannes, eating crepes on the back streets and fitting our palms into the various movie star hands along the red carpet at the Palais. When you only have an afternoon to get to know a city, to feel like you truly understand it, knowing where to start can be as frustrating as it is daunting. We found it best to choose one stand-out attraction and wind our way towards it; sure, you want some kind of direction, but a holiday is meant to be relaxing!

Day 3 began in one of Philippa’s favourite breakfasting hideaways: a garden café, with a gorgeous outdoor area full of plants and oddball figurines. The tranquil setting was just we needed before our trip to Monte Carlo, across the border in Monoco. It’s allure lies in its ambition; almost smelling of money, it bustles with a brisk pace that would make London proud. With that in mind, we simply had to pay a visit to its renowned casino. Before our holiday, I had no prior interest in the venue, but who doesn’t want to feel like James Bond for a day?

I felt it was cheeky that you had to pay ten euros to get into the main gaming rooms (along with showing your passport, as they don’t actually allow the locals in!), seeing as it’s not exactly a place that’s a bit short of the money front, but gazing over the games it was still easy to embrace the elegance of it all. We went in the middle of the afternoon, so it was clearly a more relaxed slot, with no strict dress code being enforced (one guy sat at the most popular roulette table was in a hoodie and jeans) but it still offers a window into a different kind of living. If you don’t find it repulsive, then it’s worth looking in.

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With the prospect of our evening flight looming over our final day, we opted for a relaxing ramble around the coastline of Antibes to Juan Les Pins, making the most of the best weather we’d had all week to take in the Riviera at a leisurely pace. We had intended to drop into a five star hotel and bask in the glory of its glitz and glamour with a drink or two, but sadly it was closed for off season! This was the latest in a series of fruitless ventures thwarting us for being so late in the year. Still, we got some lovely purchases from Antibes market, and if anything it gave us a reason to return in the summer.

On the food front, the best meal of the trip was on the second night at a kooky intimate venue down one of the town’s many backstreets. I’d love to pretend we stumbled across it, and sing praise to Sir Spontaneity and Lady Luck, but in actual fact we found it on TripAdvisor. Not so much taking a chance as going in with high expectations! I had the most delicious sole with a goats cheese and white wine sauce, but what was also intriguing was the use of edible flowers; not just for decoration, our host went as far as explaining what each one was and why it had been chosen.

It wasn’t just the feeling of peace and tranquility that stood out to me while we were on the French Riviera; it was also its sense of optimism, that something better was worth yearning for because it could be achieved. As Autumn sets in at home and the weather becomes moody at best and downright depressing at worst, that feeling of elation that envelops you from all across the area can be just the right tipple. Antibes, a beautiful town bursting with culture, is a superb spot to start.

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I Can’t Give Everything Away: The Art Collection of David Bowie

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Musician, actor, curator.  Artist, icon, Bowie. There is no one word that defines him other than his name; such was the broadness of his interests, his pursuits, his (sound and) vision. Certainly, he will be mostly remembered for his music, and not everyone will have fond memories of the Goblin King, but to encapsulate what a pioneering, influential figure he was, there really is no other option in terms of providing an explanation.

It’s half a year since he’s gone and there’s no sign of his spirit disappearing. The Aladdin Sane lightning bolt atop the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury; a box set “Who Can I Be Now?” featuring songs from his “American phase,” out this Autumn; even a musical based on “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” coming to London in October (although admittedly Bowie co-wrote the show before his death). But his art collection? That truly is a new side to him, one that has only been hinted at before.

This November, Sotheby’s will be auctioning over 400 pieces of work from Bowie’s collection, many by some of the most celebrated British artists of the twentieth century. Before that, it will tour Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong before a full exhibition in London in the week leading up to the grand sale, which is expected to bring in a cool £10 million- and that’s just the value of the paintings, before you take into account the previous owner.

For now, a preview of the exhibition has opened in the art business’s Mayfair branch, and with the luck of the draw giving me a day off on its opening morning, me and my housemate decided to head down. Thankfully, it wasn’t too packed- this is after all, only a preview, with just over two dozen pieces on display from the full collection- but there was still an excitable buzz as we meandered the halls checking out the pieces.

Not surprisingly, one of the highlights is Damien Hurst’s “Beautiful, shattering, slashing, violent, pinky, hacking, sphincter painting,” what I now know to be one of his trademark “spin” paintings. The vibrancy of so many colours, twisting around the circle in such a wild, enigmatic manner, made it impossible to miss this piece, an explosion of unrestrained creativity.

I also greatly enjoyed Ettore Sottsass’s ‘Casablanca’ Sideboard, another piece that refuses to blend into the background- except that this was a piece of furniture. So often now we pick out sets of matching chest of drawers, bedside tables and the like, almost for want of uniformity and order, but the jutting shapes and bold colours of this piece are entertaining to behold.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the most astonishing revelation that Bowie had an unusual record player, but the sleek, insatiably stylish Brionvega Radiophonograph by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni was something to behold. Accompanying it was a list of “25 Albums that could “Change Your Reputation,” according to David Bowie,” originally from a Vanity Fair article in 2013. I’m ashamed (but also not surprised, if I’m honest) that I did not have any on the list, but that will also make for interesting listening at some point in the future.

And there, in among the displays, are striking poses of the man himself- constantly reminding you that these particular pieces of art will forever be embedded with a unique context. Why did he buy them? How did they fit into his collection, his style, and his overall outlook on life? The further you look into these things, the more they befuddle you; at its simplest, it offers another definition of Bowie for us to ponder over.

Bowie me

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My Glastonbury 2016 Food Roundup

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If there’s one thing about Glastonbury that you can’t appreciate on the telly, it’s the food. Granted, festivals can be cruel on the bank balance, as your rumbling stomach forces you to part with astonishing amounts for a meal, but the right stalls reward a ramble. I really admire those who endeavor to cook pot noodles and Ainsley Harriot’s couscous on the campsite stoves, as a fair few of my festival mates did. However, if you’re willing to put some money aside, you can treat your taste buds for several days if you pick the right stalls. And the choice! It’s like a small sample from every corner of world cuisine convenes on Worthy Farm.

However, not all Glastonbury food is created equal. Last year, at the end of one night, our drunken eyes were allured by the 24 hour food marquee near our campsite. Even with our alcohol-soaked senses, it was still one of the worst cheeseburgers we’d ever eaten. This year, we arrived at a different campsite at around midnight, shattered from hiking the final three miles to the site with our entire luggage. There was nowhere else to go; even so, I hoped this 24 hour outlet would be different. Sadly no luck; our only hope was to douse it in ketchup. The fact is, there are too many burgers in the world for you to waste your time forcing down a sub-standard one.

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Thursday went a lot better. Any trip to the Park Stage around lunchtime deserves a stop off at the Lebanese Mezze stand. Along with the standards of falafel, olives and hummus, there were also vine leaves stuffed with feta, sumptuous bean and potato dishes. Over at William’s Green for dinner meant an obligatory visit to the BEST cheesy chips you will have; just the right level of crispiness, and melted mature cheddar that doesn’t overpower the whole product. I also tried a stone-baked pizza from a nearby stand, proudly proclaiming it was courtesy of one of the Great British Bake Off finalists; spicy lamb with onions, on a nice crispy base. If they told me he was Italian, I would have believed them.

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On Friday, we were caught in an almighty grime shutdown on the Pyramid Stage, which meant one thing for lunch… Oli’s deep fried halloumi, served in a crispy flatbread cone with salad and sweet chilli sauce. Even writing this makes my mouth water. Granted, a lot of things taste good deep fried, but the combination of textures is what makes this. The soft, chewy flatbread with the rubbery halloumi and the crisp salad leaves… it has to be one of your “must have Glastonbury lunches.”  That evening, as me Tom and Lavie made our way to Foals, I took a chance on Chapati Man; my masala chicken wrap had just the right level of spice, with a good portion of chicken breast in there among the veg.

SATURDAY

Saturday took us back to the Park area, but as much as I loved my mezze, there was too much on offer to go for anything else. I stumbled upon a Carribean stall serving delicious jerk chicken, with a whole charcoaled chicken wing and a large dollop of sauce amongst the rice and peas. Granted, it was a little bit black on the outside, but otherwise the meat was succulent and very good value. That night, waiting for the wonder of Adele, I stumbled across one of several Le Grande Bouffe stands dotted around the site. There’s a reason there’s a few of them; they’re too good to have just one! I went for a sausage in white wine with a potato tartiflette; honestly, one of the nicest things I’ve ever tasted. Probably the only time I debated going back for a second meal!

SUNDAY

On Sunday, I was determined to round off a weekend of good food (and some decent music besides). This was to be a day of past tradition; round the corner from the Other Stage, I banished my hangover with a “Growler”; a deep filled baguette with bacon, chips and melted cheese, described as a “tribute to Pauline Fowler.” Not sure about the link, but it hit the spot. A late afternoon visit to the old favourite Goan Fish Curries was too good to miss; their mackerel masala dahl, with a whole smoked fish atop it, would make the entire ocean proud, and the fresh herbs made it as fragrant as it was tasty. Finally, right before LCD Soundsystem, so I treated myself to Square Pie- a spot-on steak and Guinness, with gravy full of tang and delicious flaky pastry.

Festival food can be hard to get right- not just because there’s so much of it, but if you’re in a group it can be hard not to just go for what’s in front of you- but there are plenty of decent options among the bland. As a rough guide, try anywhere where they’ve made an effort with the name, appearance, that sort of thing. It sounds trivial but often the generic names that just describe the origin of the food (e.g. Mexican) are often below par, as my friends Tom and Lavie sadly found out with some much maligned nachos and a pessimist’s burrito. I couldn’t help but feel bad as I sat there in curry heaven thanks to Chapati Man. Of course, the headliners will always get the most attention, but if you can feast for five days, why turn down the option?

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My belated Glastonbury 2016 review

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Here’s an important question that needs to be answered: how long can you keep talking about Glastonbury after the event has been and passed? It’s an issue as thought-provoking as how long it is reasonably acceptable to keep your wristband on after the event, considering all the mud you embrace during your five days on the farm. But hey, leaving it a few weeks gives you plenty of time to reflect (plus life’s been pretty manic recently), so here are some of my thoughts on this year’s action on Worthy Farm…

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Who would have thought that London to Glastonbury would take 10 hours? No crazy detours either- our coach troupe set off at half 1 on Wednesday,  and we were just over 4 miles away by half 4. Fast forward three hours and we were only a mile closer. In the end, it was just before midnight that we reached the campsite having abandoned the coach just before 10 with three miles to go. This was my 3rd year at Glastonbury, and the queuing has never been as bad as this.

The only thing worse was the mud. The draining, soul-destroying mud. It doubled the length of every journey across the site, and made it impossible to sit down anywhere, meaning there were deep staring battles for chairs and the one patch of grass left in front of the Pyramid. Granted, it did lead to a few entertaining encounters as the luckless lost their wellies in the mud- followed by admirable demonstrations of camaraderie as we rushed in to help, embracing the true festival spirit. But even so, it was a relief to get back on solid ground once the weekend was over.

Why do I start on such negatives? Well, despite the queues, mud, and queues IN mud, Glastonbury still remains the highlight of my year, unchallenged in its celebration of contemporary music and art. Maybe it’s the sheer variety of bands, comedians and artists on offer that keeps me coming back; maybe it’s the sprawling variety of areas that after three years in a row I have still yet to explore entirely. Or maybe now it’s become a post-university tradition that nostalgia forbids me to break. In any case, Glastonbury amazed and delighted in equal measure once again.

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For musical highlights, there were plenty of well-chosen last minute decisions, such as the Syrian Orchestra, first on the Pyramid on Friday morning, with Damon Albarn leading a brilliant cover of Blur’s “Out Of Time”. Also on The Hell Stage at 2am on Sunday morning, we decided on The Apples, an Israeli funk nine piece who finished with a rousing cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of.” Unexpected surprises such as Gentleman’s Dub Club in the Glade, and firm favourites exceeding expectations (Ezra Furman and The Last Shadow Puppets I’m looking at you)… too many bands to name!

However, I do have to mention my headliners. Firstly, Underworld on West Holts were the perfect frenzy for a Friday, an explosion of dance and light that set a commendable pace for the days ahead. I saw them at BBC 6 Music Festival earlier this year, but far from dissuading me that I had already experienced this set it only encouraged me to return. Then, Adele on Saturday was an unforeseen joy- or at least, I thought I would enjoy it, but I was surprised by just how much I did. It was just the right mix of banter to lift your spirits from the emotional depths that her songs plunged to.

Finally, we had LCD Soundsystem on The Other Stage, bringing us down with the curtain call. I knew this would be the one band I would kick myself the most for missing. It wasn’t just the gaiety of their sharp electronic rock; it was in the way James Murphy and his band performed that made it such an enjoyable experience.  From the pounding chants of “Us V Them,” the dance-punk ferocity of “Losing My Edge” to the final number of “All My Friends,” the piano chords refusing to relent, I felt suitably satisfied at the set and only just missing my friends in a few fields away, most of which opted for Earth, Wind & Fire.

 

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Overall, Saturday night was the maddest of the lot. Somehow, on a high after Adele finished with “Someone Like You,” several of our group made it to the fabled South East Corner, famed for its late night mind boggling madness. Shangri La in particular spins popular culture and the role of the media on its head; the twists to convention enveloping you, particularly after a few bevvies. It was here we saw The Apples, along with Dub Pistols and a DJ set from Mark Ronson and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, before I conceded defeat and made my way home along the railway line (which, I hasten to add, is covered over).

However, halfway along to home, I realized sunrise was just around the corner (or in this case, just over the horizon), and I was caught up with a few other enthusiastic night owls who were making their way to the Stone Circle at the top of the festival site. We arrived to a chorus of drums, percussion and otherworldly chants as the first rays leapt over the horizon. It was a site to behold, a new day at the festival… and then it was half five, and I realised how  truly tired I was, and I struggled back to camp. Even at six, as I finally got into my tent, there was still so much going on, refusing to give in to tiredness.

Glastonbury is full of experiences like that- maybe not all quite so draining- and even waking up late on Friday morning to the news we were leaving the EU did little to affect the festival spirit. Sure, it was mentioned plenty of times- Damon Albarn strolled onto the Pyramid stage a few hours after the result, and proclaimed “reasons to be cheerful? It’s not raining!” But Worthy Farm is one of those places you stride into, and suddenly all of your problems and woes ebb out of you. All I can say is, if you think the Pyramid looks one heck of a site on the telly, just wait till you glimpse it in the Somerset fields.

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The highs and lows of Bestival 2015

With the Reverend of Bestival's Inflatable Church of Rubber Love.

With the Reverend of Bestival’s Inflatable Church of Rubber Love.

After years of asking, I finally said yes to my friend James’s hand in marriage in Bestival’s Church of Rubber Love. I know it might seem sudden, but we were both drunk, it was a one-time offer, and it was a giant inflatable church. In fact, we were actually there for another ceremony; not for anyone that we knew though. Like many other party-goers, we were just gatecrashing one of the numerous services that took place across the weekend. As our arms formed an arch and we toasted the newlyweds to Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love,” I felt myself fully embracing Bestival’s summer of love theme. It’s safe to say it was a wild weekend.

It’s been twelve years since Bestival began welcoming indie and dance lovers to its site at Robin Hill Country Park on the Isle of Wight, and this year was as good as any. The fact you have to get a ferry across to the site even makes it feel like a holiday of sorts! Considering Glastonbury has been my go-to festival for the last couple of years, the first thing that hit me upon arriving is how small the festival seemed to me; I was truly shocked that it didn’t take over an hour to walk from one side of the side to the other.

World's biggest mirrorball. Official and that.

World’s biggest mirrorball. Official and that.

But as you’d expect with an event of this kind, there was more than enough to keep me and my friend James occupied over the weekend. Once into the main arena, you wander across different themed areas, such as the manic dance oriented Port and Bollywood Field, opposite the more chilled out vibes of Slow Motion. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you suddenly stumble across something different on the umpteenth visit. On the Saturday we stumbled across a cosy psychedelic salon fresh out of the 19th century called The People’s Frontroom; it was so welcoming we spent most of that night and the next in its quarters.

Considering the plethora of dance, guitar and hip hop talent that permeated the line up, the biggest crowd I saw were the masses that squeezed into the Big Top for… the Chuckle Brothers. Over a brisk ten minute set (half of which was splitting the crowd in half so that we could volley “to me” and “to you” back at each other), there was a song focused around their phrase “no slacking,” a dance number featured Paul and Barry miming on keyboards and drums, and their Tinchy Stryder collaboration from last year, featuring the man himself… or at least the music video playing over the track. Like a bubbling pot of surreal and nostalgia, I just didn’t know what to think.

Tame Impala, letting it happen.

Tame Impala, letting it happen.

Overall, the weekend went without any unusual incidents, until I was backstage on Sunday. My friend James’s sister, Sarah, was managing a few of the acts on that day, and had managed to nab us a few backstage passes, giving us some exciting side of stage views and access to the VIP bar. All very enjoyable, but it became a nightmare for me when later on, as I dashed into The People’s Frontroom out of the rain as the heavens opened, I realised I had left my jacket in the VIP bar. What then followed was half an hour of frantic negotiations and exasperated searching, as security had stepped up and I was told I had to use a different entry route, which proved a nightmare to find.

However, I eventually made my way into the VIP bar, and my frantic efforts were rewarded. As I stumbled across the seating area looking highly frustrated, two kind ladies produced my jacket from under the seat next to them. Judging from my reaction, you would think they had offered me piles of gold. My mood was beyond jubilant; it was euphoria of the most blissful kind. So blissful in fact, that I moved off at such a pace that I promptly slipped over and splashed into the thick mud just outside the Big Top. Of course I was wearing jet black skinny jeans! I still haven’t got all of the mud off.

But looking back on it, when I think about how much fun I had across the whole weekend, Bestival was definitely worth the frantic washing session on the following Monday. The fancy dress costume only adds to the sense of making it feel completely separate from normal life, and the world would be worse off if there wasn’t a place where you could wear bright floral shirts, cover yourself in peace symbols and dance away to Tame Impala, The Chemical Brothers and the Chucklevision theme tune as the summer comes to a close.