Christmas food and frolics at the Nordic Yule Festival

Sheepskin nooks and tree

I’m one of those really annoying people who gets excited for Christmas far too early. This is usually the day after Christmas when I’m weighed down on the sofa stuffed with turkey and guilt from the ungodly amount of port I consumed the night before, mourning the end of Christmas cheer and already anticipating the next.

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That’s why the early arrival of the Nordic Yule Fest didn’t result in a grumble and a moan from me, excluding of course the grumbling in my belly, and why I was already determined to whip out my Rudolph Christmas jumper for the event. As you can see from the image below though, I think this would have slightly cramped this guys style.

That's one satisfied diner...

“Hey, ladies…”

"More drink here, my good man!"

“More drink here, my good man!”

After walking up a candlelit staircase you will enter a breathtakingly beautiful winter wonderland dining room that could give Elsa a run for her money. Naughty deer that have been sacked by Santa for their rowdy drinking in the North Pole lurk round every nook and cranny and evergreen sprites can even be spotted whizzing around in a flurry of glitter and dust.

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The food is prepared by talented chef Daniel Cohan, who has worked for Gordon Ramsay Holdings restaurants, and includes gravlax with smoked beetroot and orange, venison sausages wrapped in smoked bacon (yum!) and ham hock topped with wholegrain mustard and chevron.

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Nordic Yule Fest was created by Meredith O’shaughnessy, founder of events specialists Meredith Bespoke which has previously worked with Lambourghini and Vivienne Westwood, who says that she wanted the “food and the surroundings at the festival to be as memorable as each other.”

Helpings of pate...

Helpings of pate…

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If any readers fancy indulging in a little Christmas cheer this year the the Nordic Yule fest will certainly deliver a sack full of glorious treats and goodies. Book your seat now at £55 a head for lunch and £75 for dinner. This will include a welcome cocktail or glass of sparkling wine, a four course Nordic inspired festive feast and plenty of fun and games. Just steer clear of the rowdy reindeer towards the end of the night, they’ll be hoofing you up and trying to talk you in to a drunk flying sesh in the sleigh out back.

Saucy git.

Saucy git.

Follow Nordic Yule Fest on twitter @nordicyulefestor or visit their website here: http://www.nordicyulefest.com/

Follow me on twitter @HelenVaud

The Phantom Pig at Balfron Tower

View from Balfron Tower

View from Balfron Tower

A staggeringly tall block of ex-council flats looms before my boyfriend and me as we stand in front of Balfron Tower on a chilly autumn evening. We exchange a glance and I check the address on my phone for the third time.
“It’s definitely the right place. The message says wait outside the tower and somebody will come down to collect us.” As we were 15 minutes late to the event – transport links to the east on weekends being as much use as a bikini in a Balkan winter – I wasn’t even sure we would be able to enter the communist prison before us without scaling the walls.
Luckily, our head chef for the evening, the charming Vix Rathour, had received my frantic email and ran out to greet us. After a series of apologies and gesticulations we eventually stepped out of the lift on the top floor of the Balfron Tower and were greeted with an unparalleled view from Canary Wharf all the way to Westminster. Vix then ushered us into one of the nearby flats where sound of laughter and the clinking of glasses travelled down to us as we ascended the stairs to the makeshift restaurant space.
It really was charming. A waiter was waiting for us at the top of the stairs, between the doors to the apartment kitchen and living space, armed with flutes of champagne. The main room was sparsely decorated but welcoming; three dining tables had been set-up comfortably in the room, each seating about six or seven guests respectively; candles flickered from every available nook and cranny and the show-stopping view over London dominated the entire back wall.

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I was reminded of, and humbled by, the old adage not to judge a book by its cover but then, I suppose, that is the joy of pop-ups. Talented young chefs in the city with a creative vision, Vix Rathour being a prime example, have the task of transforming ostensibly austere surroundings into dining rooms which once seen are never forgotten.
We sat down with our champagne and were quickly lulled into a relaxed, heady state as Frank Sinatra was played idly in the background. Unlike at most other supper-clubs, the diners on our table didn’t seem wholly interested in sharing conversation with anyone around them. We muttered a few awkward hellos before falling into quiet conversation with our respective partners – particularly irritating when the two tables around us descended into joyous laughter, making us feel like we were sitting at the table in class reserved for with the kids with questionable personal hygiene and penchants for compass-related violence.
Vix had prepared a five course tasting menu for our enjoyment. To start, he presented us with homemade bread and maple bacon butter, which was rather like eating a bacon sandwich on brioche; rather unexpected but absolutely delicious. Then came a sort of deconstructed Waldorf Salad; celery three ways with shavings of apple on rye bread, the sweetness of which was accentuated by a thin layer of cream cheese. Proving his devotion to local sourcing, Vix announced that he had harvested the rocks on which these were presented from local rubble mounds. A strange addition to the palate you may say, and one which had me eyeing up my slab of stone warily for added insect nutrition.

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The next dish, a tasting of Lee Valley carrots, was a delightful throwback to Nouvelle Cuisine – and a wonderful reminder of how little we all used to eat at those overpriced temples to gastronomic OCD. Honey and truffle glazed, smoked, and pickled, perched in a splodge of carrot emulsion; the carrots occupied precisely one eighth of the plate, the autumn shoot and black of garnish perhaps one eighth more. The depth of flavour was astonishing, each variation standing out individually yet working with the others in perfect harmony. Who would’ve thought the humble carrot capable of such heights?
The Jackson Pollock-inspired fish course; all splodges of ink and chicken emulsion with a fish sandwich of pollock, onion ash and white chocolate puree, celeriac and more pollock on top, scored highly for innovation and presentation – but there was perhaps a little too much going on for the dish to cohere perfectly.
Undeniably, the pièce de résistance was the Goosnargh duck breast, cooked sou vide at 57º (the menu overstates by three degrees for poetic effect). It was meltingly tender; never has duck tasted so rich yet so delightfully light, too, something you must eat to appreciate. Blanched broccoli brought freshness, whilst the confit duck flakes which adorned the pile of silky-smooth mash were an inspired touch, adding yet more ducky goodness to this already wonderful dish. A beetroot and blackberry jus was the perfect accompaniment. Where gravy would have been too heavy, this cut through the richness to just the right degree, highlighting the earthiness of the dish and its sweetness too.

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A sorbet of white peach lemonade, Pale Fire beer froth (from the local Pressure Drop brewery) and homegrown pansies was like a blast of mountain air after all that autumnal indulgence. Sharp yet sweet, it was most welcome indeed. Finally, pudding. And what a pudding. Chocolate orange sponge, so light it was in danger of floating off the plate but packed with enough flavour to stun a buffalo at thirty paces; a dusting of dark chocolate which, unlike most garnishes, served far more than merely aesthetic purposes, reinforcing the depth of the sponge; slithers of Seville orange, almost marmalade, exquisitely sharp and utterly wonderful; a wild flower garnish which normally I would turn my nose up at but which here seemed absolutely integral to the dish.
Overall, Vix and his kitchen team, all of whom study at the University of West London, treated diners to an eventful evening of elegant dining in the most unlikely of venues. Despite my initial trepidation’s when stood outside Balfron Tower, I am pleased to report that no communist detainees actually did ambush our party and the Goosnargh duck was not offered up for the good of the people: were it a prison, I would happily sign up for a ten year sentence.
To keep up to date with The Phantom Pig visit the website at http://www.thephantompig.com or follow mobile.twitter.com/_ThePhantomPig

Pop goes tequila! An evening at Breddos Tacos

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I WASN’T sure what to expect when visiting my first pop-up restaurant. Pop-ups have risen in popularity in London over the last few years and attract all kinds of people to their unmarked doors. Bearded men perching on the edge of overturned boxes dissecting double decker burgers sprung to my mind; but Breddos Tacos harboured none of the above, minus the bearded men.
The pop-up is currently being staged underneath the arches at Trip Space Kitchen in Haggerston. It’s difficult to find and if, like me, your Google map decides to break when you hop off at Haggerston Overground, then you may well find yourself wandering down piss-stained alleyways searching for some sign of life, or perhaps a discarded taco or two.
Breddos Tacos is nestled under an archway in a charming wide open space five minutes’ walk from the station. The decor is low-key and intimate; the atmosphere heady and lively. It’s not the kind of place you go for a quiet, intimate dinner, more a food celebration with your friends that’s supposed to be enjoyed and shared with a healthy sampling of Breddos’ own alternative cocktail menu.

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The front-of-house manager, JP, greets his customers as though they were old friends coming over for dinner. He took time to chat to us as we perused the cocktail menu before deciding on a Mexican take on the negroni, which replaces the gin with tequila. While refreshing and pallet cleansing, I wouldn’t recommend drinking more than one unless you want to be carted home on the back of a taco wagon.
The varied small-plate menu features old ‘shack favourites’ from their street food kitchen. After much deliberation, my guest and I decided to go the whole hog, and in that vein, ordered the cochinita pork to start.
Each dish comes out separately, which can sometimes be irritating when you find yourself with nothing but a plate of salad for ten minutes. But otherwise it is a good premiss: each dish is so flavoursome and spicy that you need a short break to chug on the water, which that has slithers of cucumber throughout the bottle to cool your palate – particularly effective with some of the more fiery dishes on the menu.

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The ten hour slow-roasted beef rib tacos were exquisite. Tender strands of beef were dense and smoky, wrapped in a wheat flour taco which worked perfectly with the earthiness of the dried porcini and spicy jalapeño.
Next came the cochinita pork pibil tostadas packed so full I thought I might burst before the next courses arrived. The moist threads of pork were sweet and juicy and complimented perfectly by banana ketchup, a novel but ideal accompaniment. Shards of crackling brought textural variety to a dish that could easily have become stodgy.
As mentioned above, the fact that the dishes arrive when they are ready can sometimes slow down the enjoyment of the meal. We were left staring at a bowl of salad for quite a while whilst waiting for the squid and patatas bravas to make an appearance. When the dishes did arrive however, they were well worth the wait.
The succulent baby squid was served on a bed of shredded lettuce, offset pleasingly with peanuts and fresh chilli whilst the triple cooked patatas bravas was a welcome dish to cool down the pallet slightly after the zesty main courses.
To finish, we ordered a cooling, feather-light and creamy key lime pie with a delicate buttery biscuit base. Before we took our leave, the friendly maître d’, JP, suggested we opt a few shots of tequila followed by chilli water for one last Mexican kick before staggering out into the alleyway giggling and fanning our sizzling throats as we made our way to the train.
In short, for a first visit to a pop up I think this was the ideal introduction. It was informal and relaxed as you would expect yet the food was the equal of any restaurant in taste, imagination, presentation and variety. Make sure you pay it a visit before it closes its doors in November.

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You can find Breddos Tacos on their website at breddostacos.com and follow them on Twitter @breddostacos

Foraging for fine dining

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FOR a woman who ventures only so far as Waitrose to bring home the bacon on a weekly basis (well, ready meals of lamb moussaka and paella, to be more precise), being invited to go foraging for a wild banquet was an opportunity I could not turn down.
The Foragers are a team of hunters and gatherers based at their wild food pub, The Verulam Arms, in St Albans. The founders are a former City high flyer turned mushroom gatherer and bear wrestler, George Fredenham, and his business partner Gerald Waldeck, a retired master baker, now Chief Hunter-Gatherer.
Upon arriving at St Albans City station from St Pancras – a surprisingly short journey of but 20 minutes – George was waiting for me in his blue Subaru and not at all who or what I expect. I imagined I’d be meeting an elderly, stooping man dressed in rustic attire, perhaps sporting a berry or two in his thick white beard. Instead, I’m greeted by a young guy in his late twenties wearing a black band hoodie, with spikey hair and a ginger beard – except there were no berries protruding from his.

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I clambered into the passenger seat of the car which I was soon to learn had been affectionately dubbed the ‘foraging mobile’. “Sorry about all the rubbish in here,” he said with an absent-minded wave behind him. I turned around and was startled by the materials he’d accumulated in the back; two large bags of assorted materials, grass and leaves scattered around the floor and a machete, delicately balanced on the parcel shelf.
On the dashboard, a copy of the menu for the wild banquet tonight. After the briefest glance, I can feel my mouth starting to water slightly. This increases to Victoria Falls as George tells me about some of the prep work he’s been doing for the evening ahead.

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There is no pretence with George; he enjoys hunting, brewing berry-induced liquors and spirits in his bedroom over the bar of The Verulam Arms and, of course, foraging
“Most of the ingredients you see on there have been foraged by myself and the team. Everything from the crab apple syrup on the rabbit, to the root vegetable gratin baked in an alexander seed. The game is all locally shot, too. I know exactly where all the ingredients have come from, which field the game has been shot in, and who has foraged the ingredients you see there.”
It really is refreshing to hear someone speak so assuredly about food. There is no pretence with George; he enjoys hunting, brewing berry-induced liquors and spirits in his bedroom over the bar of The Verulam Arms and, of course, foraging.

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“We had a girl working for us once who didn’t tell us during the interview that she was a vegan. Can you believe that? A vegan in a game restaurant, surrounded by animal carcasses! She didn’t last long. I remember one of my friends walking in with a brace of huge, dead pheasant and she looked like she was genuinely going to faint.”
George is light-hearted and easy-going, with a very clear passion for what he does – not only the food and drink he serves, but also for the city he grew up in. He takes a detour and shows me the beautiful cathedral, completed in 1877 and the second-longest cathedral in Britain, after Westminster Abbey.
“There’s so much to see and do here. It’s right on London’s doorstep but I don’t think a lot of people in the city venture out this far. The Londoners who come on my excursions always comment on how beautiful St Albans is, though. It really makes the excursions that little bit more worthwhile.”
When we finally arrive at the pub, George pours me a hearty glass of wine and sits down with a Sierra Nevada pale ale. The Verulam Arms is tucked away off the beaten track from the city and is of a rustic, yet oddly nautical, appearance. The saloon bar swings around the centre of the room, there’s a roaring fire in the corner, stuffed stags’ heads and paintings of hunting scenes line the walls. All the furniture has been recycled then spruced up. The lights hang low from the ceiling, casting a warm glow throughout the room.

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The Verulam Arms is tucked away off the beaten track from the city and is of a rustic, yet oddly nautical, appearance
“I bought this as soon as I heard that the original owner was selling up,” says George between sips of his ale. “It was after I left my job in the City. I always knew I wanted to work in food; I’d been working hard on market stalls, selling everything from chutney to sour dough, just so I could do what I love.
“I even held secret supper clubs from the kitchen of my old home whenever I got the chance. It really gave me the bug. That was before I had to rent it out, though. The jobs on the market didn’t pay well and I had to move back in with my parents.”
Before founding The Foragers with Gerald, George once worked as a management consultant. He spent most of his time jetting off to countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa and Sudan to sell products to international clients, before deciding that he wanted to pursue a career in food.
“It all got a little too much in the end. I was spending all my time travelling and totally lost interest in the job I was doing. All I really cared about was the food culture in each new city I travelled to, and I used to love leaving the office to sample all the wonderful and diverse street foods each new place had to offer.
“One evening, on a business trip to New York, I found myself with absolutely no passion left for the job I was doing and decided to hand in my notice. Before I left, my boss warned me that I would miss the money of the job and he’s right, I do. But I’m doing something I love now and am finally starting to see the rewards from all those years of hard work getting the business to where it is today.”

Taken by Taco Den Outer

Taken by Taco Den Outer

As I ask what people can expect from attending one of the monthly foraging excursions with George, the door swings open and in stride two people wearing sturdy walking boots and lightweight macs. “You’re about to find out,” he says before getting up to change into his green shooting jacket.
I glance doubtfully down at my outfit and groan: I’m wearing riding boots that were clearly never intended to go anywhere near a horse, a short brown skirt and roll-neck cashmere sweater. I clearly missed the memo on appropriate clothing for foraging.
I clearly missed the memo on appropriate clothing for foraging – then again, any idiot could have figured that out
Then again, any idiot could have figured that out. Deciding that my boots weren’t actually that special to me anyway – whilst quietly dying inside – I hopped in to the car with my new-found foraging friends and headed to a local organic farm for the excursion.

Taken by Taco Dan Outer

Taken by Taco Dan Outer

“There’re a few health and safety announcements before we get started,” says experienced forager Richard Osmond upon arrival at the farm. A group of about twelve people are huddled together, all of them dressed in appropriate country attire – not the type we prance around in for a jaunt to Richmond Park – ready to begin the walk.
“Do not eat anything unless George and I have expressly said it’s safe. Foraging can be very dangerous if you’re not familiar with all the foods out there and you may get poisoned, perhaps fatally, if you’re not careful. Be especially wary of mushrooms. There won’t be many around at this time of season but they can very often be poisonous if not identified professionally. I once heard about a man who killed his whole family by accident when he served up mushrooms he’d foraged to make a soup.” He pauses here for dramatic effect; the group shares a morbid look with each other.
“But apart from that we’re fine! Just pay close attention to us and enjoy the walk.” We set off at a robust pace and I feel a wave of contentment pass over me as I look around and take in the gently undulating fields of the Hertfordshire countryside. Whilst not so dramatic as Yorkshire, nor so strikingly picturesque as the Cotswolds, this is perhaps the English country at its most typically enchanting.
The acres of scrub, all that remains of the wheat harvest, glow golden in the early autumn sun. We pick our way through bluebell woods and ancient hedges – hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, ash, hornbeam, holly, oak and elder, intertwined and solid as the strongest wall – as we listen to Richard’s talk.

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Using a spindly branch to point at an assortment of plants, Richard darts from one field to the next, teaching us about the astonishingly huge variety of food available on our doorstep. We crowd around him, holding out our hands to try an assortment of different plants and berries on offer.
We crowd around, holding out our hands to try an assortment of different plants and berries on offer; it’s like being at school again when one of your classmates is handing out Minstrels
It’s like being at school again when one of your classmates is handing out Minstrels, something you never really cared about before, till you’re offered them for free and you figure that you want all the Minstrels in the world. Well, this was how I reacted when Richard offered me a garlic mustard leaf. Yes, a garlic mustard leaf. I was infinitely jealous of the woman next to me who was favoured by being given a lavish fistful of scrumptious leaves to munch.
Every now and again, Richard came to a halt while George furrowed round in the hedgerows to reveal his carefully concealed bottles of infused liquor, ready for the group to sample. Glass jars were passed round to each person from a wicker basket before the sumptuous shots of liquor were deposited.
Nothing could possibly be more inviting on a crisp autumn night than one of George’s fabulous concoctions. I particularly recommend Mars Silvanus: liquor infused with a secret blend of the forest’s finest wild aromatic herbs, roots and bark, which leaves you light-headed as you amble from the farm and back to the bar.

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The excursion, which lasts about an hour and a half, is rounded off with a wild banquet in the pub. A crackling log fire greeted us on our return to The Verulam Arms – which is a warm welcome indeed after eating my body weight in bay leaves on a country walk.
Complimentary drinks were prepared by the superbly garrulous bar staff and brought over to the group, who sat chatting happily about chicken mushrooms, nettle soup and the much anticipated banquet ahead.
The bar boasts an original cocktail menu packed full with foraging influences; I recommend the Sloe Gin Martini which is made with the bar’s own foraged sloes, mixed with vermouth and a twist of citrus-spicy douglas fir syrup. If you’re feeling more adventurous then why not try the Sylvanian Negroni? The usual Campari is swapped with their own wild cherry and forest liquor, Mars Silvanus, which creates a sweet and aromatic aperitif.
Once we were all finally seated at the table and George had amused the congregation by showing us The Foragers’ video diaries on his iPad, the feast began.
Succulent rabbit lollipops doused in a sticky-sweet crab apple syrup were the resounding favourite
The food is crafted with a sure eye for aesthetics: elegantly presented in an array of dishes that are promptly popped in front of you by the attentive staff as soon as your plate seems in danger of emptying.
For starters we gorged on beech gin cured salmon en croute; horseradish and pickled sea purslane; nettle parcels with butterbean hummus in a wild marjoram dressing; and wood pigeon and ramson kiev in a hawthorn ketchup. Not to mention the resounding favourite amongst the guests: succulent rabbit lollipops doused in a sticky-sweet crab apple syrup.
I feel close to hibernating for the winter and the table seems seconds away from keeling under all of the weight of the starters before they are swept away and replaced with the main course. What’s that, you say? Locally shot game wellington with wild garlic potatoes? I suppose I can make room for a little more. Oh, and is that a hen of the woods puff ball and tarragon tart? And root vegetable gratin baked in an alexander seed cream? Oh, go on then, if I must. You might as well pass me some of those chantenay carrots in honey and hogweed dressing while you’re at it too. I’m getting too old for this.

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When the feast was finished and rounded off with a slab of sticky toffee pudding and vanilla ice cream in rosehip syrup, it was certainly time to call it a night. I half considered calling an ambulance to take me back to Fulham, but compromised and accepted the offer to share a cab to the station with a friendly couple from the feast. I left The Verulam Arms with a very satisfied stomach and slightly compromised vision: always a good indicator of an evening well spent.
Quite simply, if you’re looking for a dining experience with a difference then make the journey to St Albans and take advantage of The Foragers. Take in the wonderful local sights and treat yourself to a night of banqueting with a difference whilst meeting a whole host of different people in the process.
Friends are made and memories created after an evening with George and his team in the wild and – if you’ve paid attention – you may be able to start serving up your own simple foraging dishes to your family once you’re home. Though I would advise you to steer clear of mushroom soup
Visit The Foragers website at http://the-foragers.com/ and follow them on Twitter @WeForagers

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Scantily clad schoolgirls, spankings and flying bicycles: just another evening at Glyndebourne

David and I on the lawn at Glyndebourne

David and I on the lawn at Glyndebourne

THERE are three things to consider when preparing your trip to Glyndebourne in the summer. Firstly, your clothes. The website clearly states that guests should show up in evening attire. It’s a tradition that dates back to the first days of Glyndebourne when founder Sir John Christie said it was the audience’s way of showing respect to the performers. Yet, inevitably, there’s always one Old Etonian affecting a Jafaican accent and draped in clothes so shabby he could pass for a groundsman.
Secondly, the weather. As the opera I was to see was staged at the end of August, no chances could be taken with the unpredictable British climate. Umbrellas and shawls were carted on to the Tube and the train in the midday heat – which was no doubt teasing us before the dark clouds rolled in.
And thirdly,the food. “Just put it in a plastic bag.” “No.” “We don’t have time to trek to Fortnum’s for a bloody hamper on the day of the opera.” “We’re not taking a Sainsbury’s bag to Glyndebourne.”
True to form, my boyfriend and I had prepared little more than our livers for the opera. I was now having a meltdown in the living room, surveying all the food we’d panic bought at the last minute.
In the end, after much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, we compromised on a discreet ice bag which somehow, mercifully, managed to hold two bottles of bin-end Pouilly-Fume and two of granny’s vintage Taittinger, with food rammed on top and down the sides, before boarding the tube at Fulham Broadway in black tie and a ball gown respectively.
If ever you’ve been to Glyndebourne, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the acute “walk of shame” sensation when boarding public transport in evening attire at the stroke of noon.
People stared at me with a look somewhere between warped interest and contempt as I gathered my dress above my ankles, hopping from one platform to the next, while my boyfriend shouted obscenities at the ticket machine that clearly detected foul play with the library card he’d accidentally whipped out of his pocket in the rush to catch our connecting train.
“Are you going to some posh do?” asked a man carrying the pungent aroma of week-old Special Brew. “We’re going to Glyndebourne,” said David grandly, giving the bedraggled man in La Coq Sportif a knowing look. The vagrant gazed at him as if he had declaimed the Odyssey in Esperanto.
Interest in David’s stale conversation clearly lost, the smelly chap merely grunted and replaced his earphones, no doubt listening to Christina Landshamer’s much anticipated rendition of Lascia ch’io Pianga.
We cracked open the first bottle of Taittinger to make ourselves feel better once the rain began softly pelting the windows of the carriage. A little girl behind me, who clearly had developed a premature hatred of bourgeois pursuits, decided to kick my chair incessantly for the remainder of the journey, apparently determined to knock the champagne out of my hand before merely leaning over me to blow a raspberry in my face. I bet Sybil Colefax didn’t have to put up with this shit.
Upon arrival, do be careful not to try to barge your way on to the first minibus you see with ‘Glyndebourne’ emblazoned across the side: this is solely for the musicians’ use and an angry violinist brandishing a bow will tell you to get off. You will then be demoted to a coach with an array of passengers you’d certainly not encounter on a typical Megabus journey.
Once you enter the grounds, the first thing that will strike you is the sheer beauty of the estate. The verdant splendour of Sussex’s rolling hills is a refreshing sight after the dull, grey urbanity of central London. The lake winks at you in the afternoon sunshine, almost inviting the soon-to-be-inebriated guests to tarnish the lawns with spilt champagne and discarded smoked salmon parcels.
If you’re one of the lucky few to arrive at the grounds first, then you will be able to collect a limited number of tables and chairs from the Circle and Upper Circle levels and look down on the mere peasants scattered across the lawn atop blankets and coats around you. If, like the coach contingency, you are a mere peasant, then the ground certainly suffices very well. You will then scoff at the table-cloth and candles the picnic table assemblage had the foresight to bring – while you secretly wish you were their friends instead and not trying to balance your wine glass in a shoe.
After the merrymaking is complete and you’ve demolished all of the food and wine that you sensibly suggested saving for the second (and long…) interval, it’s time to make your way over to the opera house for the performance.
Rinaldo, a baroque opera written by George Frederik Handel in 1711, is supposed to be a serious (if magical) opera seria. Instead, it became a second-rate opera buffa, apparently in an attempt to appeal to the audience of mostly under-30s. Scantily clad schoolgirls, spankings, and flying bicycles were incorporated into the set, which resulted in a faint yet distinct rumbling from the Handelian tomb in Westminster Abbey.
Set in a St Trinian’s-esque backdrop, Rinaldo and his band of merry schoolboys set out to save his love interest Almirena from the evil Armida – who seemed to all appearances to be a dominatrix in patent leather boots presiding over a class of sex crazed vixens.
The lead male parts were originally written for castrati, male singers who had been castrated in childhood in order to stop their voices from breaking; a practice that continued well into the 19th century despite being illegal under both criminal and canon laws. In this production the parts were taken by countertenors Iestyn Davies and Tim Mead.
During the long interval it is customary to go back into the grounds and polish off the rest of your reserves, assuming that you didn’t get carried away nourishing yourself beforehand, or to head to the newly renovated dining room: Middle and Over Wallop.
It is advisable to book a table at the restaurant to get some much needed time away from the poor souls huddled up in coats on the lawn, as night starts to fall and temperatures drops substantially. Food orders are placed online beforehand so that the six hundred diners can be seated and served as soon as possible and nobody misses the start of the last act. Braised beef, pork ribs, confit duck leg and red mullet fillet are taken out to the happy diners with a flurry and a flourish by attentive waiters under a cloud of Swarovski crystal chandeliers. I gauged all this by staring in to the restaurant from the window like a wild animal.
When the last note is sung and the last reveller has stumbled out of the concert hall, so closes another evening of success and extravagance at glorious Glyndebourne. The journey to the opera, which was quite sedate apart from the passive-aggressive child behind me, might as well have been first class travel compared to the trip back to Victoria. The well-dressed congregation that arrived at the estate were replaced by swaying, hiccupping carousers singing O Sole Mio at the top of their voices while waiting for the last train home. I felt a pang of sympathy for the ticket inspector who mysteriously decided to lock himself in the control room for the entirety of the journey home.

Google Glass gears up to revolutionise sport

Runner uses Google Glass during workout

Runner uses Google Glass during workout

Watching athletics will never be the same again if Google’s latest venture takes off the ground. Google Glass is a revolutionary technology that is specifically designed for people that are constantly on the run – quite literally – with active lifestyles.

The invention is a hands-free, head-mounted eye-computer that is generating a lot of interest in the sporting world. Its benefits are two-fold: advanced sport reporting and improved training regimes for anybody from the average cyclist in the park to an Olympic marathon runner.

Athletes and teams have been steadily experimenting with the innovative technology over the past few months and with the products consumer launch expected to come into effect imminently – speculation over Google Glass’s role in sports reporting is rife.

Imagine sitting down on your comfy sofa to watch Eilidh Child take on the hurdles during the European Championships and suddenly being transformed into to the stadium right into the mix of athletes. Switching camera angles to player point of views will bring you even closer to the action. Every nudge, stretch and stumble could be captured in minute detail as you munch on your Nachos from the comfort of your own home.

Of course, it’s very unlikely this technology will be utilised on such a large scale so soon after its completion, but the potential for future sporting events is vast. NBA commentators and players have already experimented with the equipment, and the high-tech eyewear even cropped up at Wimbledon last year where American player Mattek-Sands used it as a training aid. She is one of few “explorers” chosen by Google to test the product before release and says sports fans will eventually be able to see stats, videotape points to share on social media sites and tune in to watch a player from that player’s point of view.

Aside from the interactive benefits, Google Glass also provides the possibility to enforce more efficient match officiating. How many times have dreams been shattered and Nachos thrown at the TV in disgust over poor decisions in sports? Glass could provide constant streams of footage right in the heart of the action and speed up complicated decision making.

Communication between athletes and coaches could also be improved with the new technology. Runners and cyclists will be able to track their routes with GPS, analyse their performance and compare their stats and stamina with other competitors instantly without sabotaging their place in a race. The headset will also include a LynxFit option that acts as a personal real time coach – a feature that could go some way towards justifying the steep $1500 retail price of the Glass for the average gym bunny.

There are however deep-rooted concerns about the unfair advantage Glass may give to athletes if incorporated at all – though many cynics argue that the software would be more of a distraction than an advantage for focussed athletes in the first place.

American journalist and commentator Larry Magid is one of many critics who has added his voice to the debate. “I have better things to do with $1500 than invest in this,” he said in a report for Mercury News. “There are some who worry about distracted driving and walking. There is the temptation to look at the screen at inappropriate times, just as some are tempted to look at or touch their phones when they shouldn’t.

“For some, Google Glass is simply symbolic of the growing number of well-heeled techies who are flaunting technology many can’t afford. There is even a pejorative term that starts with “glass” and ends with “hole.” The word in the middle is a synonym for donkey.”

Despite these set-backs, many sporting organisations are still willing to back the radical eyewear in due course. WWE have already given the Glass their support and an NFL spokesman said that the network would be looking to incorporate it into game telecasts and training.

The athletics sporting body however could well be the pioneer that takes full advantage of this revolutionary technology. With the launch of Google Glass only a hop, skip and a jump away, the success of this project into our much loved sport is uncertain. Whether it turns out to be a record-breaker or a false start; Google Glass should be given the opportunity to perform.

Best Job in the World competition entry

Hey y’all. If you have the time, please take a look at my entry for the Titan Bet Best Job in the World competition – a chance to report on the World Cup 2014 in Brazil! Won’t say no to that…

 

Who knew a RAH in red trousers and Zadok the Priest would work so well in a footballing video?

Find out for yourself here:

Like and share if you find the time and keep an eye out for more posts in the coming weeks. Good luck to everyone that enters!

H

 

 

Neknomination: A craze gone too far…

 

 
 
Monday 17 February 2014
 

A young Geordie man grins into the camera as he twists open a bottle of Listerine for his neknomination challenge. “I’m going to show you a proper drink now with no alcohol included”, he says as he deposits a large helping of mouthwash into a pint glass. “This is gonna keep you fresh as it goes down, see? Keep you nice and minty inside.” The mixture is then augmented with a dash of Mr Muscle, a splash of fake tan – perhaps not surprising for a Tyneside bacchanologist  – and a splattering of Tango Shower Gel and absinthe before being “necked” in less than five seconds.

Whilst watching this video, it’s hard not to marvel at the man’s ability to string two sentences together before drinking the stomach-churning concoction, let alone afterwards. Yet the video was buoyed and championed by hundreds of Facebook users, which in turn transformed the young man into a viral sensation overnight.

Neknomination is an online drinking game believed to have originated in Australia early last year. The premise was simple: drink a pint of an alcoholic beverage in one go and share the footage on the web. However as the game gained popularity, the objectives became increasingly extreme. The Australians approach neknomination with their customary, irreverent jocundity, a harmless dare for the blokes; the British have yet again lived up to their binge drinking culture and taken the game too far. What started as a pub game for the digital age has instead degraded and become a voyeuristic challenge with social media users finding amusement in the potentially lethal antics of an inane few.

READ MORE: POLICE TO TALK TO THE PERSON WHO DARED ISAAC RICHARDSON TO CONSUME ALCOHOLIC CONCOCTION
RSPCA HITS OUT AT ‘AWFUL’ CRAZE AFTER MAN IN KENT DOWNS DRINK BLENDED WITH MICE, LIVE GRASSHOPPERS AND A SPIDER
POLICE INVESTIGATE SECOND DEATH FROM ONLINE DRINKING CRAZE

The more outrageous the feat, the more shares it gets. And yet despite the tragedies that have ensued from this recklessness over the past month, students across the UK continue to embrace the drinking game, with popular student website The Tab recently publishing a list of some of the “best” neknominations from universities up and down the country.

Jason Boardman, a first year student at Chester University, says, “I’ve seen quite a few people from my university do the neknominations and I don’t see the point in it. I was nominated a few weeks back but didn’t do it. People are adding things like dog food to it and I just think it’s pointless.”

Emily Paterson, a second year student at the University of Salford, also refused to take part in the online drinking craze. “A lot of students are nominating each other, and while some of the challenges are just good fun, others are taking it too far, which in turn puts pressure on whoever is challenged to out-do their performance.

“I didn’t do my nomination and I got quite a bit of criticism for it, but I’m not going to be pressured into it. I enjoy a drink at the weekend, like the majority of students do, but I want to drink on my terms and on my level, not because someone has challenged me to drink silly amounts for a Facebook game.”

Whilst some users do adhere to the “Don’t be an idiot. Drink responsibly,” motto adopted – apparently without irony – by neknomination advocates, others seem hell bent on encouraging participants to be as outrageous and extreme as possible in the pursuit of such gutter entertainment.

Four deaths in Britain and Ireland have been linked to the drinking game in the past month, but this has not deterred the craze. Last week, a man from Kent achieved Internet notoriety after blending dead mice, stinging nettles, spiders and grasshoppers into his pint glass. Another man in Newcastle filmed himself drinking the blood of an elk, and a pallbearer at Lady Thatcher’s funeral was criticised by the press for downing two live goldfish for his challenge. And only Sunday, the drinking craze claimed a fifth life with 20 year old Bradley Eames drinking two pints of gin after proudly proclaiming to the camera; “This is how you drink.”

Whilst the majority of us will quite happily hold our hands up to being inebriated during fresher’s week – and will all readily point the finger at Ring of Fire as the catalyst of such intoxication – this new age online drinking game desensitizes social networkers and encourages crass irresponsibility amongst the vulnerable, idiotic and foolish. More than that, it is costing human lives.

Job losses feared as Manchester student union deficit reaches half a million pounds

My original article can be found at The Independent;  http://goo.gl/n0c7q9

Manchester University students’ union has been forced to make drastic cut-backs after it was revealed that they have built up a deficit of over half a million pounds.

During a recent staff meeting, employees were informed that their jobs “may be at risk” and that staff redundancy could be an “eventuality” as union executives agreed £400,821 of budget cuts in light of the crippling deficit, still leaving £130,000 worth of savings to be made.

Other cost saving measures will include campaign budget and society grant budget cuts, reducing staff training and travel budgets, replacing student staff with permanent staff and the closure of the popular Biko’s North Cafe on North Campus.

In a statement posted on the union’s website, Grace Skelton, the general secretary, said that the situation was regrettable but necessary.

She said: “Following a review of the first two months of trading activity, the board have confirmed concerns over a deficit, and a restructure of the business has now become necessary due to financial pressures.

“During our meeting, staff were consulted with and asked to come forward with any suggestions or ideas that could help bridge the gap. Short of that, we may have to concede that job losses will be an eventuality and the union will be in the regrettable position of initially having to implement a voluntarily redundancy programme.

“This is a measure that has been considered very carefully and is something we may have to do in order to support the student union’s ongoing viability.”

It is not yet clear what caused the significant deficit, but an investigation is underway.

“The Trustee Board is in the process of investigating the causes of the financial situation however at this stage our priority is to deal with the ongoing consultation process,” said Skelton.

Tension amongst students is running high, with many claiming that the deficit has come as a direct consequence of the union’s spending in its own department.

William Marlow, studying second year pharmacy, said: “I think it’s unfair that there will be reduced opportunities for students, both extracurricular and educational, when it is completely out of our control. Maybe if senior staff took voluntary pay cuts themselves they could save a few thousand pounds and some jobs in the process.”

Georgie Callé, an NUS delegate candidate studying at Manchester University, said: “It is appalling that this has been allowed to take place. When you take into account the union’s extensive business assets such as the academy venues and the direct payment every student has to give the union each year, there appears to be no excuse for this situation. The union needs to take drastic steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

The union could not be reached for comment.

How to spend Valentine’s Day on a tight budget…

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My original article can be found here at The Independent; http://goo.gl/5fBCKM

Few things strike as much trepidation into a man’s heart as the prospect of Valentine’s Day on a tight budget. For students, the issue is a sticky one – both literally and figuratively – but one that can be solved.

Any annual occasion that requires the splashing of cash is easily side-stepped by students. At Christmas, Secret Santa eliminates the predicament of actually having to buy thoughtful gifts for all your friends, and on birthdays a pint at the local is usually a sufficient substitute for an expensive present. Attempt to buy your significant other a pint of bitter for Valentine’s Day however and it may well be the last drink you ever buy them.

But fear not: lacking deep enough pockets for that dream date in a top restaurant doesn’t mean you have to fret. There are plenty of other ways to show your crush that you care about them without breaking the bank.

Create a floor picnic

While sitting on your beer-stained carpet might not seem like the obvious choice, don’t write it off just yet. When planned correctly, an intimate floor picnic can be just as meaningful to your partner as an evening spent in a lavish restaurant.

Spread a blanket on the floor, switch on a romantic playlist, light a handful of tea lights – although try not to burn down your flat – and impress them with your array of pre-packed Tesco sandwiches. Preparing your own selection of food is of course more conducive to the ‘perfect date’ scenario, if you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort. Incorporate all their favourite sweet treats and chocolates into the mix, coupled maybe with a selection of mini pizzas and delicious wraps, and you’re on to a winner.

A tantalising treasure trail

Although this idea may work perfectly in the movies, be wary of prying housemates when arranging an assortment of presents throughout your place. The idea is to purchase lots of small tokens of affection: tiny teddy bears, flower petals and Cadbury Roses will all work perfectly. For the true romantics amongst you, incorporate mementos from your time together with things such as concert tickets, the receipt from your fist date and photographs of the happy couple.

But tread carefully, for just as all roads lead to Rome, all rose petals must lead to the bedroom – you wouldn’t want an unsuspecting housemate following the trail up to your door and ruining the mood for all parties involved. To avoid this, simply pull your friends aside beforehand to explain your innovative plan.

But what about the gift?

Valentine’s gifts conjure up images of expensive jewellery, tickets to shows, chocolates and the habitual teddy bear clutching a love heart to its chest. But why not go a different route? Novelty gifts are far more engaging and often require a personal touch that adds a little more sentimental value.

Prezzybox.com is packed full of quirky gift ideas. The “We First Met Here Postcode Jigsaw” is sure to impress your partner, primarily because they will be entirely taken aback at the fact that you managed to remember such trivial information in the first place. If, however, you are not dating someone three times your age, you may wish to consider a present that could equate to an altogether more exciting evening; aphrodisiac massage oil, adult board games and “romantic rewards” gift boxes are but a click away on the website.

Still out of your price range? Then go for the simple but heartfelt notion of creating a slide show crammed full of your favourite pictures together overlaid with some romantic music. Put this on a USB stick and gallantly press play just as their face drops when you tell them you couldn’t afford an expensive gift. Do make sure they haven’t spent a ton of money on you in advance; otherwise your loving presentation will look slightly tragic in comparison.

Whether you’re luring your loved one to bed with a trail of treats, offering them a feast fit for a glam camper or gearing yourself up to be a cut-price Casanova; they’ll simply be glad you’ve made the effort. Because let’s face it, nothing says “I woke up in a blind panic” more than petrol station flowers and a bottle of Lambrini. And that’s hardly going to lead to a night of passion…