Walking holiday in Brighton’s South Downs

I’ve got many happy memories of exploring Brighton – throwing stones into the sea, eating chips on the pier and shopping in The Lanes. Brighton is one of my favourite towns, but I’d never strayed far beyond its centre. So I packed up my car, Bella the dog on the backseat and my walking boots at the ready. We were staying in the town centre, but looking forward to embracing the South Downs and Brighton’s local walks.

Arriving late on Friday, we drop off our bags and head to the beach, keen to make the most of the warm spring evening. Dogs are welcome on the beaches in Brighton & Hove from October until the end of April, and only in certain areas for the rest of the year. Walking along the promenade, chips in hand, with Bella running down to the sea is such a treat. We follow the coast along to the marina and back past the historic Volk’s Railway, meeting local walkers and enjoying the evening air.

National Trust’s Devil’s Dyke

The following morning, we decide to explore the South Downs at the National Trust’s Devil’s Dyke in West Sussex. You can take the number 77 bus from in front of the pier, directly to Devil’s Dyke, but we choose the easy 20-minute drive. Arriving in the South Downs I feel the calmness wash over me – the landscape is a patchwork of fields, stretching for miles and undulating with the shape of the land.

At nearly a mile long, the Dyke valley is the longest, deepest and widest ‘dry valley’ in the UK. From here you can see as far as Ashdown Forest, Kent and even the Isle of Wight. Local myths believed that this valley was formed by the devil digging a trench to try and flood the area. After lunch at the charming, and dog friendly, Devil’s Dyke Hotel, we head out across the Downs. There’s a number of trails you can walk on the National Trust website and we decide to follow the top of the valley, passing through fields of calves and fresh rapeseed. From the peak you can see the lights of Brighton beyond – surprisingly close and yet up here it’s so quiet.

Dog friendly pub

That evening, back in Brighton, we enjoy dinner at the cosy gastropub The Ginger Dog. Located in the Kemptown area of Brighton (an easy walk from the centre) the pub is dog friendly and boasts real ales, fine wines, friendly staff and delicious interpretations of traditional pub food; even Bella gets a treat before snoring on the floor for the evening.

We try their sourdough with wild garlic butter followed by the creamy feta, spinach and courgette pie for my guest and I enjoy the tasty miso roasted aubergine. As a vegetarian it’s a delight to have more than just mushrooms on offer and I’d really recommend a visit.

To finish our trip, we go for an early morning walk along the beach and spot some brave swimmers venturing out into the waves. As Bella chases stones and paddles in the water, I sit on the beach watching the ocean wash in and out, making the most of the fresh sea air. What better way to wake up on a Sunday?

Other walks near Brighton:

The Stanmer Park estate in the South Downs (about 20 minutes outside of Brighton) covers approximately 5,000 acres with a pretty village, manor house, farm, church and café.

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Find out more and find inspiration on Visit Brighton’s website, here.

Images: Adam Bronkhorst/Visit Brighton. 

Piece taken from my review for Psychologies.

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Vegetarian delights at Food For Friends in Brighton

As a vegetarian, eating out can often become an inevitably dull round of mushroom soups. Whilst in Brighton, I enjoyed dinner at the award-winning vegetarian and vegan restaurant, Food For Friends.

Set in the heart of The Lanes, Food For Friends offers exciting and artfully presented dishes with fresh ingredients served in imaginative combinations. The atmosphere is welcoming and there isn’t a dry vegetable in sight. I haven’t eaten meat for over ten years, so a menu packed full of original veggie options is a delight.

I start with the beautiful sweet tofu pockets, stuffed with stir-fried shiitake, spring onions and brown rice. It’s so refreshing to be served a vegetarian dish that’s both beautiful and tasty – an inventive twist that even meat-eaters would enjoy. The starter is served with marinated pak choi, pickled ginger, wakame and hot Gochujang pepper sauce.

The menu is all so inviting, but I choose the king oyster mushroom Katsu curry to follow. It’s beautifully served with pickled daikon and ginger, fresh red radish, a sugar snap pea salad, kimchi and sticky rice. The dish is also delicious and, although mushroom based (I eat my words), it’s flavoursome and filling. We also enjoy the restaurant’s signature cocktails – pieces of art in themselves.

I couldn’t resist dessert and choose the molten chocolate pudding, accompanied by salted caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream and crushed pistachios. It’s honestly the best desert that I, and my guest, have ever tasted – warm, chocolaty bliss!

I’ll definitely be returning to Food For Friends and truly recommend their creative and delicious menu – a treat for any vegetarian, vegan or meat eater.

Find out more about Food For Friends here.

Find out more and find inspiration on Visit Brighton’s website, here.

Piece taken from my review for Psychologies. 

Gifted film review

gifted film review

From Marc Webb, the director of (500) Days of Summer, Gifted is a beautiful and inspiring story of love and finding the strength to speak up.

Living in a small town on Florida’s coast, Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is left to raise and home-school his seven-year-old niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) alone. But, determined to give her as normal a childhood as possible, he insists, despite her protests, that she goes to school.

Able to master complex sums and equations, Mary soon stands out among her peers, attracting the (often ill-intentioned) attention of her teachers and otherwise disinterested grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan).

As the film unfolds, we witness Mary’s battle over following an academic path or finding what’s really right for her and makes her happy.

Gifted will make you laugh and cry – a must-see.

Watch the Gifted trailer here:

Film review: The Sense of an Ending

Directed by Ritesh Batra.

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This is a film about life and how we routinely stroll through it without stopping to really look at our story. Tony (Jim Broadbent), retired and living alone, is doing just that until a diary, left to him by an old acquaintance, knocks him from this cycle and forces him to look back.

Journeying through old love, childhood friendships, long-lost memories and regrets, Tony realises that ‘what you end up remembering isn’t always what you actually witnessed.’ He’s stuck between choosing to live in the present and retracing, trying to understand, the paths he followed, the impact of his actions and what really happened almost 50 years ago.

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Based on the award-winning novel by Julian Barnes, this psychological drama is beautifully reflective, touching and real.

Review taken from my piece for Psychologies.

Interview with street artist Harriet Wood, aka Miss Hazard

Harriet Wood has been voted by The Guardian as one of the top five female graffiti artists in the UK and The Huffington Post as one of the top 25 female street artists worldwide. I spoke to Harriet, know as Miss Hazard, about her crowdfunding community arts project.

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How and why were you inspired become a graffiti artist and illustrator?

I have been spray painting for 11 years – I have always drawn and my favourite thing has always been art. My dad is an amazing designer and illustrator, so for as long as I can remember I have pursued a creative career. The first time I saw big artwork on walls and graffiti I wanted to try it – there’s something about giant art on a wall in a public space that totally transforms an environment.

What is the Ajo Street Art Project and how did you get involved?

I’ve started this fundraiser to gather the amount needed to travel to Ajo in the border regions of Arizona-Mexico and take part in the Street Art Mural Project. The project, which lost funding this year, is a coming together of artists, diverse in culture, disciplines and practice – started on the intersection of three nations – the United States, the Tohono O’odham Nation and Mexico.

The aim is to provide Ajo with artists to occupy and decorate the buildings in this unique place in the Sonoran Desert. The project is a framework for larger national and international dialogue to promote socially engaged practice and community based arts.

Why is public art so important for communities, in particular Ajo?

I believe street art enhances its own surroundings and provides an opportunity for public interaction and community conversation. I think street art is one of the most effective ways of projecting a voice. Not only do the border regions of the USA and Mexico really need this right now politically, but Ajo itself has been struggling for some time.

Ajo is a tiny, hopeful town in which nearly all of its residents (for generations) worked in the enormous copper mine up until 1985. The sudden closure of the mine threw the majority of the town into unemployment. Ajo’s hope lies in the arts, with a series of arts events being funded over previous years, igniting the revival of the town. The Ajo Street Art Project is an event that brings the community together, celebrates its history and brings artists of all practices together.

What will the project involve?

The project will involve me heading out to Ajo and spending a week or so helping to prepare the walls so artists can paint their murals on them. I will then get to paint a mural of my own. The mural project invites artists of all ages, cultures and experience. The idea is to brighten the walls of Ajo whilst hosting an event – inviting the community to come together and enjoy the experience over a weekend in March.

Have you taken part in similar community arts projects?

I previously took part in a huge community-led street art project over three months. A rundown neighbourhood of a town outside of Bristol was selected as a community area in need of redesign – to reduce antisocial behaviour, strengthen intergenerational bonds and bring the community back together.

I was selected to take on the lead role in the redesign of the high street, which housed a butchers, take-away, café and a mindfulness centre. I interacted with people of all ages to ensure that all of the community would appreciate my design. Workshops with the local schools, art classes with the local youth club, communications with the business owners and feedback from the local church and retirement home determined the final designs for the mural which covered the shutters of the entire high street’s shutters.

My passion is creating large, public art that involves working with people and creating an impact in the community.

I was also a graffiti art tutor for The Prince’s Trust providing an Urban Arts Award to young people who weren’t in education, employment or training. I also taught art to over-50-year-olds and graffiti workshops for teenagers in Pupil Referral Units.

What do you have in mind for this project?

My favourite thing to paint is human characters and I definitely want this piece to have really strong native, historical and geographical elements to make it unique to its location. I think it’s important for street art to have a situational awareness.

Harriet aims to raise £3000 in support of this project. This will cover all logistics and equipment costs to create a huge hand painted mural in and take part in the project in Ajo, Arizona in March.

You can find out more and pledge to the project here.

Learn more about the project in this video:

Pictures: Harriet Wood

Interview taken from my piece for Psychologies.

Film review: Miss Sloane

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Fierce, determined and undefeated, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is a powerful American lobbyist – described by her colleagues as an ice cube personified. ‘I was hired to win,’ she states. ‘And I use whatever resources I have.’

But when she abandons a high profile client to fight the side of a small campaign to improve gun legislation, Elizabeth sees it as her personal duty to overthrow the current laws, regardless of the price.

Talented, but isolated, Miss Sloane struggles against the opposition, the courts and her own anxieties in her unwavering need to win.

This political thriller is rich in twists and, although fictional, gives a poignant look inside policymaking through the eyes of Chastain’s ruthlessly brave character – a role you might typically expect from a male character.

A must-watch for fans of House of Cards.

Watch the Miss Sloane film trailer here:

Theatre review: BIANCO

BIANCO is a spellbinding circus experience like no other. Ellen Tout reviews the show at Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival.

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We’re stood in Southbank London’s Big Top tent, anticipation floating in the air. It’s bitterly cold outside, but the warmth of the crowd fills the tent as they nurse cups of mulled wine. Performers begin to appear, circling the tent – expectation building.

This is an intimate circus experience like no other and as the show progresses the audience and performers move around the Big Top in unison. Acts spin and dance around you with their unique blend of theatre, circus and dance, accompanied by a moody live band and shifting set.

The performances take place largely in the centre of the tent, so be prepared to stand during the two hours – but don’t let this put you off. There’s plenty of space and you’re free to move to enjoy the best view of each act.

The BIANCO experience is brilliantly bizarre – there’s no linear narrative, but each performer brings their own character, making you laugh and gasp in equal measures. Francois Bouvier effortlessly flips along the tight wire and Ella Rose shows her incredible handbalance skills.

The show captures the ethos and excitement of being transported to a traditional travelling circus – fuelled purely by the strength and talent of the performers. The acrobatics are breathtaking and, at times working without support or harness, the skills of the performers are captivating.

As the show closes, snow rains from the top of the tent and showers the crowd – a nod to the show’s festive run. Embrace the curious world of BIACNO and you’ll be mesmerised throughout.

BIANCO from NoFit State Circus runs as part of Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival until 22 January.

Watch the BIANCO preview video here:

Theatre review: LOVE at the National Theatre

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Directed by Alexander Zeldin, this new play is a moving representation of life for two struggling families.

In the run up to Christmas, a young family find themselves evicted and desperate. With a baby on the way they move into a cramped room in temporary accommodation – sharing one bedroom between the four.

Their neighbours? A middle-aged man living with his elderly mum, a woman from Sudan and former Syrian teacher with his possessions in just two bags. The strangers are forced together, nothing is private – they share a small bathroom, a kitchen and a communal room with stained walls and murky windows.

Set around this room, the audience intimately witness the families’ daily lives and struggles for survival. It’s bleak, tense and exposing.

Colin (Nick Holder) washes his elderly, ill and lonely mother’s (Anna Calder-Marshall) hair in the kitchen sink using Fairy Liquid. Her only dream is to visit the ocean.

The young family share a microwaved sachet of rice for their dinner, with Dad (Luke Clarke) forgoing his portion. ‘I’ve already eaten’, he says, passing it to his pregnant girlfriend (Janet Etuk) and children.

These could be real stories. LOVE brutally captures the monotony of living in temporary accommodation – the residents only leaving to go to the food bank or queue for help at the council’s offices. The families are all desperate and lost in a system that doesn’t seem to care.

This play leaves you feeling grateful for the home and love that you have, and angered that, through no fault of their own, people are living in similar circumstances. LOVE doesn’t push you to this conclusion and you don’t feel like you’re watching play, but that you’re witnessing events and life playing out before you.

The National Theatre’s LOVE is a humbling and potent reminder of what many people face this Christmas.

You can see LOVE at the National Theatre, London, until 10 January and at Birmingham Rep, 26 January – 11 February.

This review is taken from my piece for Psychologies magazine.

Film review: Collateral Beauty

‘Love. Time. Death. These three things connect every human,’ says Howard, a New York advertising executive – but he feels cheated.

After the death of his six-year-old daughter, Olivia, Howard (Will Smith) retreats from life; lost, despondent, bitter and living alone.

This beautiful film follows Howard’s existential journey as he seeks answers from the universe, sharing his pain in handwritten letters to those who have wronged him: love, time and death.

While his friends struggle to find a way to reconnect with him, Howard’s notes receive unexpected responses in the form of visits from the personified addressees.

Death, (Helen Mirren), Love (Keira Knightley) and Time (Jacob Latimore) work together to help Howard rediscover life. The trio coax him to realise that, even amid the deepest loss, we can find moments of meaning and beauty.

An unconventional festive film, the touching story leaves you heartened and uplifted.

Watch the trailer for Collateral Beauty here:

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