Horror films for cold nights…

I am not really much of a horror film viewer, but I have been strangely addicted to the horror section on Netflix over the past couple of months. The wintery weather just makes me want to hide inside in the dark and watch something engrossing. There are some truly, utterly terrible films on there, but also a few hidden gems. Here are my top 3, so you can go straight to them without having to dig through 85785 Paranormal Activity sequels first:

Green Room


Green Room tells the story of a punk band, who get a late booking to play a show at an isolated club, deep in the woods. Unfortunately, the audience turns out to be a load of neo-Nazi skinheads. Discomfort turns to horror as the band accidentally witness a dead body in the green room, and things escalate quickly into a fight for survival. There are no ghosts or monsters here: the main threat is pure inhumanity, and the remote setting creates a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere where normal societal rules do not apply. Patrick Stewart also features as the sadistic owner of the bar and is brilliantly unsettling.

It’s an utterly brutal, hyper-stylised, ultra-violent gore-fest. Pure joy.

It Follows

it follows

I put off watching this for ages because, to be honest, the premise sounded a bit rubbish. A fatal curse is passed on from victim to victim through sexual encounters. When you are cursed, you are relentlessly pursued (at a gentle walking pace) by a ‘thing’ that wants to kill you, and which takes different human forms: maybe an old lady in a crowd, a girl at the beach, or even, and most troublingly, someone you know.

Actually, despite the premise, this is a pretty good film. You never find out what the ‘thing’ is or entirely how it works, so the suspense stays at jaw-clenching level throughout. It’s also quite cleverly made, in that there are all sorts of elements which unsettle you without you realising it at the time: the seasons seem all mixed up, the time period is baffling (modern cars mingle with classic models, there are mobile devices but no phones, and all TVs seem to show is weird black-and-white era films.

There’s also more to it than just horror: It Follows is also a really great film about teenage life and the power of friendship. Well worth a couple of hours of clawing the skin off your hands in terror and spending the next week panicking whenever someone starts walking towards you.

The Babadook


The Babadook is just proper good, classic psychological horror. A strange children’s book appears in the house of a single mother, Amelia, and her 6 year old son Sam, telling the creepy tale of a mysterious tormentor dressed in a long black robe, Mister Babadook. Sam’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and difficult to manage as he starts to claim the Babadook is real, and as events progress, Amelia too begins to suffer strange visions, eventually reaching a traumatic peak.

The psychological aspect adds some great depth to this film. We know that the pair have suffered a devastating family tragedy, and both Sam and Amelia contribute increasingly to each other’s mental decline: Sam’s behaviour causes Amelia to stop sleeping, while her increasing stress levels and short temper leads her to push him away.  It’s not really clear which of the characters’ perspectives is driving the film and which of them starts to unravel first,  and the little twist in the final scene only serves to increase the debate over what exactly it is that you have just watched.


The Coffee Awards 2017

This year’s edition of the STWFW Coffee Awards (formerly the Weimar Republic Coffee Awards) has many tempting potential subtitles: ‘the USA edition’, ‘the dairy-free edition’, ‘the macchiato edition’ or ‘the year I was briefly forced to give up coffee on medical grounds edition’ to name but a few strong contenders. But let’s not confuse things. Let’s stick to what we know. So here is 2017’s Coffee Awards run-down:

Cartwheel Cafe and Roastery, 16 Low Pavement, Nottingham

Cartwheel sort-of won last year’s Coffee Awards (there are no winners, it’s the taking part that counts) and here they are again in this year’s line up. I just love this place. Amazing food (you will basically die of smashed avo), excellent service and super coffee, all done by people who really know what they are doing. In my efforts to be a better vegan this year I drank a lot of black coffee, and you cannot get better black coffee than one of these beautiful, rich, velvety pour-overs. I love you, Cartwheel. Never leave me.

The Specialty Coffee Shop, 50 Friar Lane, Nottingham

Another returning star from last year’s awards, and pictured is a lovely, creamy flat white with oat milk. Oat milk is probably my favourite dairy alternative, and although I have grown to love the nuttiness of soy I will always take oat if it’s available. Specialty have introduced new menus this year and it’s a great place to drop into for a a light brunch or lunch.

Society Cafe, Narrow Quay, Bristol (also in Bath and Oxford)

Newsflash!!! Society is now in Bristol!!! The devoted followers of the Coffee Awards amongst you may recall that Society ‘won’ (there are no winners) the inaugural 2013 edition of the Coffee Awards, back when we were the Weimar Republic. Since then, Society has opened up in Bristol so you don’t even need to get a train to enjoy one of their beautiful, tangy coffees. This is an almond milk flat white. It may not be able to win the Coffee Awards, but it won at life.

Boston Tea Party, 293 Gloucester Road, Bristol (also multiple locations across Bristol and the West Country, with forays into the West Midlands)

Oh Boston Tea Party, one of my most long-standing cafe loves. You have been a teenage hangout (Park Street branch), the scene of many happy brunches with family and friends (Gloucester Road and Cheltenham Road branches), and a retreat when times were hard (Exeter branch, which provided an hour of comfort and familiarity after an arduous work trip, and Gloucester Road, again, where I sat alone and stared for two hours into an empty coffee cup on a Sunday morning, the day after Mark’s dad died). Every branch does a consistently good coffee, pictured is a soy flat white. Also some of the best brunches in the UK (objective fact) and top-notch lemonade and green smoothies. I also feel compelled to mention that Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians is probably one of the great works of modern literature. Probably the greatest modern novel there is. Read it now. If you can read it in a branch of Boston Tea Party, even better.

Toby’s Estate (West Village), 44 Charles Street, New York (other locations across New York)

Across the pond now. Toby’s Estate served us well as we marauded through New York. For some reason I started drinking a lot of soy macchiatos while we were away, and the above was our order for a Sunday afternoon in the West Village, after a lunch of Chinese pancakes at Smorgasburg Manhattan.  After this we walked the High Line. The sun was shining and I was so happy I thought my heart might stop.

Blue Bottle, Westfield World Trade Centre, New York (other locations across New York)

Blue Bottle has a branch just by the 9/11 Memorial in downtown New York. At this point I need to give a huge shout out to the guy that served us soy macchiatos twice in this branch, for giving us all sorts of insider knowledge about how to best get free tickets for the MOMA and what to look for in the current exhibitions, and what day was best to go to the Frick collection. We followed all his advice and it was spot on. Also, the soy macchiatos were very welcome, particularly on our first visit on a bitterly cold day (hereafter known as ‘The Day it was Minus 3 Degrees Centigrade’), after an emotionally gruelling visit to the memorial.

Little Skips, 941 Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn

And finally. If there were a winner of the Coffee Awards 2017 (there isn’t), this would perhaps be it. Little Skips was probably one of my favourite places in the whole of New York. Reached from our apartment in Bed-Stuy via a slightly mental bus ride and somewhat dubious walk into Bushwick (what my mother would refer to as a ‘slice of life’), Little Skips is like a creative mecca of brain-stimulating amazingness.  Great coffee, great toasted sandwiches (I had a vegan BLT. YES, a VEGAN BLT. I know, I know. I might cry with joy), super-fun people watching (serious punks and hipster heaven) and generally just a total delight. If I was living my dream of living in a Brooklyn brownstone and being a writer, this is where the magic would happen.


Fly like paper, get high like planes

I didn’t think it was possible to love a city more than I loved Sydney. But maybe it is.

I am still working that one out.


Mark was a visiting academic at New York University this past semester, and spent most of September to December living in Brooklyn. I managed to get over to see him for a couple of weeks in November, my first trip to New York City.

About half way through my stay, Mark asked me what I thought of the city. I said that it feels like the centre of the world. And it really does.


After New York, nowhere else feels like it really matters.


It is immense and multi-dimensional. Everything everywhere is loud and moving and bright and fast. But if you get tired of that you can find peace and quiet: you can go to Greenpoint and sit on the wharf and look across the water to a gleaming view of Manhattan, you can go to a dark little bar in Bed-Stuy and drink bourbon, you can find a bench in Central Park and watch the squirrels rummage through the carpet of red leaves, you can wander the industrial streets of Bushwick admiring the huge graffiti murals, you can go to the Frick collection and find the little Vermeers, hung unassumingly in the hallway, opposite an eye-catching Renoir.


There is always a surprise in New York. Even when you think you know what you are getting into, there is always a surprise. Brooklyn’s beautiful brownstones, strolling unexpectedly across that iconic view of the Manhattan Bridge, rye whisky flavoured with rosemary in a Williamsburg bar, Hans Holbein’s portraits of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell, hung staring across at each other on either side of the fireplace at the Frick collection, looking back part way across the Brooklyn Bridge to the stunning Manhattan skyline, a singalong to Hey Jude at the Imagine mosaic at Strawberry Fields, the memorial garden Yoko Ono created for John Lennon after his death, the incredible beauty and grandeur of Grand Central, and, perhaps best of all, the moment in the MOMA when we came around the corner to find Van Gogh’s The Starry Night hanging before us, brighter and more glorious than anything else in the room (I might have cried just a little bit).



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Nottingham days

Anna Jam cafe 1

I feel like I get so down on Nottingham sometimes. I’ve lived here on and off since I was 18, and a total of 12 years, but I still don’t really think of it as home. I grew up in Bristol and spent 3 years in Sydney in my 20s, so it just feels a bit small really.

But Nottingham isn’t a bad place, really. There’s a lot of cool, independent shops and cafes and restaurants and it’s pretty creative. At the weekend I reminded myself of this by spending an afternoon and evening marauding around, starting with an amazing crepe in Aubrey’s Traditional Creperie (in the West End Arcade).


This is one of their current specials – dark chocolate, salted caramel, vanilla ice cream and a pour-over espresso shot. Later, we investigated the new cocktail bar, Lost Property, hidden away down an alley in Hockley and accessed by pulling the correct handle on a certain red briefcase… it’s a pretty crazy place, done out just like an old fashioned lost property office, piled high with suitcases, birdcages, books and all manner of bizarre objects.

Lost Property

After sushi for dinner, we eventually finished the night in Jam Cafe on Heathcote Street, with a bottle of red wine at their monthly ‘Tropical Beats’ club night (basically calypso – basically amazing). Nottingham isn’t so bad sometimes!



The Book Pile


I don’t like to plan ahead too much when it comes to reading: I prefer to just pick up whatever I’m in the mood for when I finish the previous book. But I do usually have a small handful of books that I am quite keen to get to, and this little pile represents the current shape of things to come.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

I bought a copy of this off eBay last month after reading about it in the last issue of my favourite magazine, Oh Comely. It was included in a list of banned books, and although I had never heard of it before the review grabbed my attention. I am not sure it will be a very cheery read(!) but I am looking forward to it all the same.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride 

I read McBride’s second novel, The Lesser Bohemians, whilst on holiday in Cornwall last month and absolutely loved it. It was about the most alive I had ever felt reading a novel. This is her first novel, and if it’s anything like The Lesser Bohemians then I can’t wait.

Autumn by Ali Smith

I actually got this as a Christmas present last year and intended to devote the Christmas break to it. I always think Ali Smith’s writing benefits from reading in a state of intense devotion. I never got to it in the end though, having picked up The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry on a whim the week before and getting entirely engrossed in that. It seemed seasonally wrong to then pick this up on my subsequent holiday, in warm Spring weather, so I am waiting for this autumn to kick in so I can spend some evenings in with this.


Book Review: Hot Milk by Deborah Levy


In the opening pages of Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, the novel’s protagonist Sofia describes being stung by medusa jellyfish whilst swimming in the sea off the coast of Almeria in southern Spain. She heads across the beach to the injury hut, where she is asked to complete her details on a form that looked like a petition, “to keep the injury hut open in the Spanish recession”.

He handed me a pencil stub and asked me to please fill in the form.

Name: Sofia Papastergiadis

Age: 25

Country of origin: UK


The jellyfish don’t care about my occupation, so what is the point? It is a sore point, more painful than my sting and more of a problem than my surname which no one can say or spell. I told him I have a degree in anthropology but for the time being I work in a cafe in West London – it’s called the Coffee House and it’s got free Wi-Fi and renovated church pews. We roast our own beans and make three types of artisan espresso…so I don’t know what to put under ‘Occupation’.

Any other purpose Sofia may have in life has been overridden by her role as carer to her mother, Rose, who suffers from a mysterious illness affecting her feet and legs. But she is not just carer, she is also the “main witness” to her mother’s condition and carries out a kind of ongoing study of her inconsistent symptoms.

They are in Spain for Rose to receive treatment from the Gomez Clinic, an institution of unusual and unorthodox medical practice, run by Mr Gomez, a doctor of unclear medical training and specialty.  Rose and Sofia’s experiences at the clinic take on an almost dreamlike experience, with a series of strange consultations in strange surroundings. Occasionally escaping her mother’s oppression, the rest of Sofia’s life in Spain takes a similarly unsettling, dreamlike course. She meets Ingrid Bauer, an unconventional German ex-pat living locally with her boyfriend Matthew, and who earns money by re-modelling and embroidering vintage clothes to sell. Ingrid is mysterious, threatening and exciting, and Sofia struggles to establish her place in their relationship, just as in the rest of her life. She ultimately finds herself in an arrangement which is part love affair, part power struggle, and which remains unpredictable to the end.

Even the most grounded section of the novel, in which Sofia travels to Athens to visit her estranged father and his new young family, caught up in the midst of the greek financial crisis, has its sense of otherworldliness. Her father’s new wife is just four years older than herself, their apartment is covered in framed posters of Donald Duck, and her father seems fixated on ensuring his family is frequently asleep. He is “the anaesthetist of their household”.

This is the first novel by Deborah Levy that I have read, and I absolutely loved the writing style. Told from the point of view of Sofia, the writing tracks the inner workings of her mind as she makes her way through this strange world so simply and so beautifully. Sofia is self-centred but perceptive, and her narration only adds to the somewhat hallucinatory feel of the novel. I very much recommend Hot Milk as a truly immersive read, and I will definitely be looking out for Levy’s other novels in future.


Spring in Amsterdam

Back in May, Mark had a work trip to the Netherlands. Fancying a short break, I decided to go over with him for the first long weekend, before leaving him to knuckle down for the rest of the week.

I strongly believe in avoiding air travel wherever possible. There is no excuse for that level of environmental impact when you can take the train, and Amsterdam is perfectly accessible by train from the UK if you are not too far from London and not in too much of a rush. We headed into London early on a Thursday morning and a Eurostar with a change in Brussels later, we were soon pulling into Amsterdam just in time for cocktail hour.


We headed into De Pijp for dinner, my favourite area of Amsterdam and full of all manner of bars and restaurants. We decided on pizza at De Pizzakamer, followed by a gander into the central red-light area of the city for some beers at Brouwerij de Prael, a chilled out bar and microbrewery, despite its location. I tend to find the centre of the city, with its raucous groups of tourists, stag and hen parties a bit much, but it’s fun to dip in every now and again.


On Friday we were up early for a train ride to Utrecht, a smaller university city about 30 minutes from Amsterdam. Mark gave a lunchtime seminar at the philosophy faculty, but before and after we took some time to look round the city.

Utrecht is a little like a smaller, quieter Amsterdam, and had lots of lovely canal-lined streets, interesting shops and lovely cafes. Unfortunately, it was rubbish weather: a bit moist and really dark and cloudy all day. So we spent a lot of time hopping in and out of the cafes, such as the lovely Gys, in the photo below.


Back to Amsterdam that evening, for Italian food and cocktails back in De Pijp. It was at least warm, so we sat out on the pavement of a cafe and watched the bicycles racing past.

I absolutely love how bicycle-orientated Amsterdam is. The great thing about the Amsterdam story is that it wasn’t always like it is now. Amsterdam was a very car orientated city until the 1960s, when a rising number of road deaths sparked a huge overhaul in public opinion. The cycling culture feels like it has been that way forever, but is actually the fairly recent result of mass human intervention to change the way they live. It is like a glimpse of how life could be everywhere, although sadly I feel we are a very long way off that much mental adjustment in the UK at the moment.

Saturday saw a bit of sun in between a few showers, so we headed for a walk around the Vondelpark, which is huge and lustrous.





I am just about to sneeze in that photo, not posing.


We headed to Koffie Academie for lunch: delicious goats cheese toasted sandwich and a little flat white to keep me going for our next stop, which was the Van Gogh Museum.



Sunflowers in the flowerbeds around the museum! The museum is excellent and very much worth a visit. It traces the whole history of Van Goghs’s career, including one of the famous ‘sunflowers’ paintings, and gives lots of information about his life, family, friends and of course his illness. It was a really inspiring, engrossing couple of hours.

We emerged into beautiful sunshine, so headed back into De Pijp for a glass of wine, followed by a lazy walk along the canals before it was time to head for dinner with friends.



On Sunday, it was time for me to head for home, but not before a delightful kiwi-brazilian style brunch at Bakers and Roasters. Eggs and toast and coffee and juice…mmmm. Until next time, Amsterdam!


Norfolk discoveries


Back in April we spent a week in North Norfolk with family. Although I’m quite familiar with various parts of the North Norfolk coastline, I didn’t really know the area we stayed in, near Holt and a few miles inland of Sheringham. I didn’t manage to do a great deal of research before we set off, so our days were rather on the spontaneous side. Holt itself proved to be a lovely little town, full of interesting cafes, antique and vintage shops, independent grocers and even a record shop!

On our way to Pensthorpe Nature Reserve (which is also well worth a visit) one day, we drive past a sign for Binham Priory. Out of interest, we pulled in and discovered this fascinating English Heritage site. The extensive ruins of a Benedictine Priory, founded in 1091, are a brooding presence on the gentle, rolling landscape and are well worth a visit. The ruins also have a sign stating my favourite ever opening hours: “any reasonable time”. This prompted a lengthy discussion on what would not be a reasonable time to be found at Binham Priory…







Weekend in the smoke

Mark and I went to London for a couple of days over the May bank holiday weekend. After a super-busy week I was so looking forward to getting away on an adventure.

The main purpose of the trip was actually to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Old Vic, which I bought tickets to after seeing Daniel Radcliffe (Rosencrantz) and Joshua McGuire (Guildenstern) on Graham Norton a couple of months ago. It really was excellent: so funny and well done. I love the humour in Tom Stoppard’s plays, it’s so clever.


After the play, we ambled over the bridge to Embankment for a half-bottle of wine at Gordon’s Wine Bar, before heading just a couple of minutes further up to Charing Cross for dinner at Barrafina, one of my absolute favourite restaurants. We had amazing monkfish tail from the specials board, and a glass of pedro ximenez sherry over dessert. After dinner, we travelled up to Camden to watch a band at the Lock Tavern before heading back south of the river for slumber. Perfect day.


Sunday morning was beautiful, sunny and peaceful. We wandered over to Bermondsey Street and had a spot of brunch at the Garrison, before continuing on up to the river.


We were due to meet my parents and sister at the Tate Modern, but we stopped off to see so many things on the way: Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral, the Golden Hinde, Winchester Palace… When we eventually got to the Tate we had a good nose round, and I spent a long time in the Rothko room for old times’ sake (and because it is soothing).




From the Tate we went for pancakes and all-day veggie breakfasts with the family at the Breakfast Club, then headed for our train home, back to the provinces. It pains me sometimes that I can’t wake up in London every day, but perhaps it’s better to just visit regularly and so always experience the best of it? That way it can never be harmed by the fog of real life…


Libraries gave us power


In Wells-Next-The-Sea, on the north Norfolk coast, in the sunny courtyard of a cafe called Bang!, which is rather lovely and serves a decent coffee.  I am reading this week’s Big Issue, bought from the lady on the High Street in Wells rather than our usual chap on Bridlesmith Gate in Nottingham (unavoidable disloyalty).

The Big Issue has been running a big literacy campaign recently and as part of that have focused on the importance of libraries in improving access both to books and to other essential services that many people would otherwise be left without.

At the very end of 2016, Nottingham City Council approved plans to sell the site of the Nottingham Central Library to developers. To be turned into new, shiny things but almost certainly not to remain as a library or any other kind of public service. There had been a vocal campaign to save it, with many concerned about the impact the loss of such large resource of help, joy and information would have, not only on the city’s most marginalised and vulnerable people, but on all the library’s users.

This all got me thinking about my own relationship with libraries and why they are so important to me. My local library as a child was Henleaze Library in Bristol, which remains open at present. My mother would take me and my sister on a Saturday, before food shopping at the Waitrose over the road. Many of the books I remember from this age were library books borrowed from Henleaze, and some of them became life-long favourites, such as Lucy Boston’s ‘Green Knowe’ series, which, having never owned them, I have had to buy copies of as an adult. I was also rather partial to the Doctor Who spin-off novelisations, although I recall some of these being better than others!

The best part of two decades later, I found myself back amongst the bookshelves at Henleaze, although this time in the grown-up section. I had just moved back to the UK after three years in Australia, and passed a bewildering seven months trying to rebuild a life in a country which seemed no longer familiar. I worked the same part time job I had had as a student and stayed in my old bedroom in my parents’ house. A steady supply of books kept me feeling like I was moving forward, finding new experiences when the real world felt a little like it was moving backwards.

A year or so later, I found myself in Nottingham and Beeston Library became my local. Unemployed, isolated and feeling more than a little bit lost, the library became like a lifeline. It was somewhere that I could go and be a part of despite having no money, and, like Henleaze a year earlier, it gave me the chance to have experiences through reading that were otherwise closed to me. Having access to the latest books despite my sorry state made me feel like I was still living.

Libraries are also great for readers or all ages as they allow you to read outside your usual habits and comfort zone without worrying about having to enjoy it because you have paid eight or nine pounds (or more) for a book. I think carefully about the books I buy, but will borrow books from the library on the basis of cover art or a review quote on the back alone. If it turns out it’s not your thing, you can just take it back for somebody else to try. Because of this, I have had the joy of discovering a wide range of books, their different voices and perspectives, that it is otherwise unlikely I would ever have picked up.

Bromley House

I am now lucky enough to be a member of a beautiful private library in Nottingham (Bromley House, in the photo above), but I still visit my fantastic new local library in West Bridgford. It makes me feel so happy to see how busy it is, particularly with families at the weekend, and seeing children getting the same experience that I did as a child. I hope a library will always be there for them as they become adults, and for their own children, however they use it and whatever role it takes in their lives.