Monday, 28 July 2014

Secret Garden Party 2014

I've just got back from my first visit to Secret Garden Party, where I had a lovely weekend with my girlfriend Emily. We met up with a few friends over the weekend, but it was nice to have a fun weekend away together, where we were enjoying a festival and not working! Secret Garden Party is held in Abbots Ripton, Cambridgeshire and is a vibrant and creative festival, held in beautiful grounds. The festival put a huge amount of effort into making the site look visually impressive, with a giant Emerald City being the centrepiece this year, in the middle of the lake that the festival is set around. 

The festival theme this year was 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'. Although you would think this was a homage to Wizard of Oz, the pretentious theme explanation on the SGP website seemed to confuse a lot of people. I even e-mailed the SGP info address for clarification and bizarrely they said "think Alice in Wonderland". From what I gather, the theme was meant to be something along the lines of saying goodbye to the norm, or even music? Anyway, it had me confused and the fact that very few people dressed up speaks volumes. They should make it simple and have a clear main day for fancy dress. On the Saturday at Bestival, EVERYONE dresses up in the festival theme. 

emerald city wizard of oz
The Emerald City in the centre of the lake at Secret Garden Party

You can queue up to use boats on the lake and even board the Emerald City, which is pretty cool! A friend of friend was involved in cleaning the lake before the festival, where they skim off the worst of the algae and pump it over to one side of the lake. There was also an almighty queue all weekend to bathe in the safe swimming area within the lake. This did look tempting, although there were a very small number of showers on site, which I would have wanted to use if I had taken a dip! My friend went for a swim on Sunday, after the lake had been showered with fireworks on the Saturday night and came up in horrible bumps all over her body. I don't think dirty lakes are the best place to swim at the best of times, so probably best that I gave it a miss.

All over the site are lovely art installations created by different artists. Emily had met a girl at NASS Festival a couple of weeks ago [in the queue for the showers!] who was telling her all about an installation she was creating with her dad for SGP. Having been told the festival theme was music [I'm glad they got a clear explanation!] they created a huge cloud, which was suspended from a tree. You could step inside it and view the Emerald City through a perspex pane, with lyrics written on it from Lou Reed's Perfect Day. There were so many clever and quirky installations - I'd love to have a go at creating one myself one day. 

art installation secret garden party

We'd heard about some funny games going on in the Colli-silly-um, presented by Bearded Kitten. We arrived just in time to watch two hairy volunteers from the crowd, being clipped into harnesses, covered in wax strips and suspended several feet off the ground. They had two minutes to rip as many wax strips off each other as possible. It all got pretty aggressive and they were both covered in blood by the end of it! This was probably the weirdest thing I've ever seen, but kind of a can't look away, but you don't know why you're watching it type of thing! This truly bizarre spectacle was followed by the stage floor being removed, to expose a jelly wrestling put dug into the ground. Lots of nakedness ensued and it all got a bit seedy. Nakedness was a bit of a running theme at the festival, which more than a few ladies walking around topless, with or without painted boobs and various other displays of flesh!

bearded kitten secret garden party
Mid-air hair waxing

bearded kitten secret garden party
Jelly wrestling

After a more hectic start to the festival and deciding we wanted to spend a bit more time chilling out, we found loads of really lovely and much more relaxing areas of the festival. We spent lots of time sheltering from the beautiful, but everso hot weather and enjoyed chilling on a hammock on Friday afternoon. 

We also found a nice little stage called The Living Room, where most of the music is quite stripped back and a great place to chill out during the day. There are lots of sofas in this quilted material marquee and the whole tent is decorated like a lounge. We checked out Joe Summers on Friday, who I've seen play many times before, as we were in the same year at Uni. I've not seen him live for a long time, and it was really very lovely to see him play again. We also checked out Meadowlark here later in the weekend, but we weren't overly impressed.

festival hammock
Hammock chilling

acoustic music
Joe Summers in The Living Room

Our highlight of the whole festival was The Village Hall area, which was a collection of quirky activities, placed around the main Village Hall tent, which hosted a wide range of crazy and entertaining performances. You could try 'Knitting Naked' if you fancied it and it was most strange to see a couple actually knitting in the buff! During the weekend we kept going back to this area, as without fail there was always something fun going on. 

It's a running joke with some of my friends that I've wanted to put on a barn dance for ages and I was hugely excited to discover that they were having one at The Village Hall! The band were called the Ceilidh Liberation Front, who did a fun take on the traditional barn dance. It was total bedlam taking part, as most people were pretty boozy, but this only added to fun! 

We also took part in Indeedy Musical Bingo at The Village Hall over the weekend, where instead of numbers being called, the DJ plays songs that you cross off, with prizes won for one line, two lines and so on. This was the Hip Hop Edition, which I admit is not really my strong point, but Emily and I had a laugh trying to work out if we had some of the songs we didn't know on our card! 

On the Sunday we went to the very busy Village Hall Dog Show, which was won by a huge Great Dane dog called Techno, dressed up as the Lion from the Wizard of Oz, accompanied by his owners and friends dressed as the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Dorothy! The dog show was followed by a human fashion show, which was hilarious, especially as it was hosted by 'the local Vicar' Ian, who made lots of dead-pan and mostly inappropriate jokes!

barn dance festival
Ceilidh at the Secret Garden Party Village Hall 

musical bingo
Hip Hop Musical Bingo card

We'd seen a group of people doing Lindyhop and Swing dancing to bands in The Village Hall and discovered that they were running Swing lessons in the Ampitheatre each afternoon. We went to the Saturday afternoon Swing lesson and learnt lots of moves, which was awesome, but absolutely sweltering in the sunshine! Emily and I are really keen to do more lessons in the future, when we settle down again after travelling this year.

swing dancing lesson
Swing lesson in the Ampitheatre 

There's a lovely big area on site called The Sanctuary, which is set around a much smaller lake and lots of chilled out activities to do during the day. This includes trapeze lessons, massages, yoga lessons, a big hot tub area and lots more relaxing ways to fill your day. This area was also host to the Remedy Bar and Kitchen, which was basically a proper restaurant, with a delicious and well presented menu and not overly expensive either. We enjoyed a really tasty cheese board and some gin and elderflower cocktails. It felt strange having such a posh dinner at a festival!

cheese board
Cheese board at The Remedy Bar and Kitchen at Secret Garden Party

where the wild things are

On Sunday morning, we were really excited to go and see Beans On Toast on the Where The Wild Things Are Stage. These is the prettiest of all the stages at Secret Garden Party, beautifully decorated with tree branches, with four huge dragonfly sculptures on the front of it. We've seen Beans On Toast perform several times before, but not for quite a long time, so it was great to hear some of his older songs and a few ones we hadn't heard before too. Beans quickly sound checked and went on 10-minutes early, so he could make the most of what he said was his eighth or ninth outing at SGP.

Beans plays songs about sex, drugs and politics with his trademark hoarse voice and guitar and has very funny and charming banter between songs that has you in stitches. I could listen to him sing and ramble on all day! I was wondering recently if he was still with his girlfriend who he used to talk about lots at his shows, so it was lovely to hear him dedicate his last song of the set to his girlfriend Lizzie B, who he said he was "f**king marrying" soon!

Later on the Sunday we saw a huge paint fight, which was really spectacular compared to the much smaller one we saw at Truck Festival last weekend. We decided not to take part, but it was impressive to watch from a little distance away. Apparently Secret Garden Party was the first festival to host a paint fight, first doing one seven years ago.

festival paint fight
Paint fight at The Great Stage

I'd been massively looking forward to seeing Martha Reeves and the Vandellas all weekend. Dancing in the Street came out 50 years ago this year, so I thought it was incredible that Martha and her band were still touring. We sat up on the hill overlooking The Great Stage and watched the end of Alabama 3's set, which we found very boring. With 15-minutes to go until Martha et al, we spotted some space at the barrier, so decided to watch the show from the very front. 

When the band started and Martha took to the stage, there weren't a huge crowd, but it very quickly filled up and we couldn't believe that we'd managed to get ourselves space right at the front! Martha and her backing singers, who are two of her 10 sisters, were such incredible performers and looked like they were really enjoying themselves. The backing band were also very talented, making the whole performance really exciting. Martha's sisters threw flowers out into the crowd during the show and Emily managed to catch one [which she later threw back at Martha during the encore!] The whole show was such an amazing experience and something I'll never forget.

martha reeves festival
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas on The Great Stage

We'd been looking forward to 'the big burn' all weekend, when the centrepiece of the festival is spectacularly set alight. We had a great spot at the side of the lake, just in time to watch the Emerald City get remotely set alight. I've seen pictures of last years' pirate ship set ablaze and it was great to see this years big burn myself. There's something so mesmerising about a huge fire. 

To finish our first visit to Secret Garden Party, we went for one last visit to The Village Hall. There's a smaller Christmas Bar next door, where there was a folky four-piece rock band called The Dimmocks playing singalong covers. Singing and dancing here was the perfect way to end a really lovely weekend.

secret garden party burn
The big burn on the Sunday night at Secret Garden Party. Goodbye Emerald City

The festival was absolutely fantastic overall and I'd definitely recommend checking it out. The only main negative thing at the festival for me was the very poor quality of the toilets, along with them not being emptied very often and the sheer lack of them. They really need to have way more loos and book a much better company as the design of these loos was really bad. It seemed a shame that they had spent so much time, effort and money on most aspects of the site, but really skimped on the loos. There was also a shortage of water points, with long queues at many times of the day, not helped by people using them to have a cold shower [due to shortage of showers on site also!]

The age limit was also a bit of a weird one. I overheard some families talking to each other, saying they had been approached by lots of people over the weekend, asking why they had bought their kids to the festival. The families said that the free ticket offer to under 12s made the festival seem very kid friendly, but they had found it very difficult to avoid all of the stuff going on around the site, which really wasn't kid friendly. The kids area itself was very small and would not entertain a family for a whole afternoon, let alone four days. More festivals should have an 18+ policy in my opinion, including this one.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A few days in Brixham, Devon

Emily and I have just got back from a lovely three days spent in Brixham, Devon. We were staying with Emily's Auntie Lisa and cousin Jack, in their lovely holiday home overlooking the stunning English Riviera. The photo below is the view from our bedroom window. It was so nice to wake up in the morning and look out at that view, especially as the weather has been so incredible this week!

On Monday we walked into Brixham Town Centre and to the harbourside, where we had a tasty lunch at the Old Market House. I admit I was a little scared that we might get mobbed by seagulls, especially after seeing some people have their lunch stolen by seagulls in Brighton, which you can read about here. Thankfully they kept well away and we enjoyed sitting in the sun, whilst passers by made a fuss of Roxy dog - Lisa, her partner Simon and Jack's beautiful six-month old Labrador. 

Jack was keen to go on the Golden Hind, a pirate ship attraction moored in the harbour. Jack is a HUGE fan of all things pirates and loves to go on the Golden Hind as often as possible. It was really lovely to have a guided tour of this impressive pirate ship, with Jack as our enthusiastic tour guide.  

Jack in the stocks on the Golden Hind

Ice creams and pirate ships in Brixham Harbour

The whole area is really well kept, which is great to see, especially as this is still a working harbour. My parents reminded me that I had visited Brixham many years ago, to stay with friends and I remembered many parts of it when we were there. I love all of the different coloured houses surrounding the harbour, which is a pretty backdrop to the hustle and bustle of the area.

We went to a small beach on Tuesday, which you can only access by walking through a woodland path, then through a meadow and down a small set of concrete steps! It was reasonably busy on the beach, but it did still feel like we were on a secret beach. Roxy dog made friends with another six-month old puppy called Oscar and Jack had lots of fun climbing on the rocks and playing in the rock pools. I just enjoyed being very lazy and sitting in a chair, soaking up the sunshine! We had a lovely dinner at the Breakwater Coffee Shop and Bistro on Tuesday night, where the food was delicious, the staff were brilliant and the sea view was fantastic. 

We had lots of fun with Lisa and Jack while we were away, including lots of singing and dancing to Disney songs. It's good to know that Jack enjoys Frozen as much as we do! We did lots of pirate dressing up and sword fighting, along with having lots of fun with Lego. I hope Jack still loves Lego as much as I do, when he's 26!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Sarah and Max's Stag and Hen Party at Truck Festival 2014

Last weekend a big group of around 30 of us went to Truck Festival in Oxford for a joint Stag and Hen party for my sister Sarah and her fiance Max. This is the third year in a row we've been to Truck and it's always a lovely weekend. This year was especially fun, with such a big group and with great fancy dress on both nights of the festival! 

Sarah and Max are both changing their surname to Dragon when they get married next month. To celebrate, we surprised them on the Friday by all dressing up as Knights and giving them Dragon outfits to wear. It was loads of fun and attracted loads of attention around the festival! There was a great selection of knight outfits and a damsel in distress too. 

We gave Sarah and Max each a list of tasks to complete on the Friday while dressed as knights, which you can check out below. I admit that these tasks are pretty tame for a stag or hen do, but it was loads of fun! The girls and boys split off to do the tasks separately for around an hour. You'd be surprised how many strangers were really keen on getting a Sharpie moustache drawn on them, or just generally wanting to get involved in the madness. Highlights of the evening include the boys being ambushed by the girls whilst having their photo taken by an official photographer and Max topping a human/Dragon pyramid! 

Max getting slayed by the local Constabulary

Max topping a human/Dragon pyramid!

Sarah and Max had arranged a wedding cross-dressing theme for the Saturday. The boys all dressed as bridesmaids, with Max being the blushing bride, whilst the girls were groomsmen, with Sarah being the groom. Most of the boys admitted to actually quite enjoying wearing the dresses! Check out the video below of Max the blushing bride throwing the bouquet, with a crazy scrum to catch it by the boys. I got bashed in the eye and lost my wig...

Truck had organised a Paint Fight for the Saturday afternoon, which most of our group were really keen to get involved with. The Truck crew threw out loads of bags of powder paint to the huge crowd that had formed, then madness ensued as everyone tried to get covered and cover each other in as much paint as possible! Check out the great photo below of our group in their wedding gear, covered in paint after the paint fight.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Tivoli Wines and Yo! Sushi

Our lovely friend Alison recently invited Emily and I to a Chase Distillery Gin and Vodka tasting evening at Tivoli Wines, a boutique wines shop in Cheltenham. Alison had been to some similar tasting events at Tivoli Wines previously and highly recommended it. 

The evening was hosted by a chap called Fred from the Chase Distillery, with help from Guy serving the samples throughout the evening. There were about 30 guests at the event, sampling around a dozen spirits in total. Fred began the evening by telling the interesting story about how the Chase Distillery started out, by a potato farmer who also created the Tyrrell's crisp brand in local Herefordshire. As each sample was distributed to the guests, Fred talked through how each spirit was created, how it is best served and so on. 

I'm not a big fan of Vodka, so I only really came for the Gin side of the evening. I admit I was a little disappointed at first, when I discovered that the majority of the samples were Vodka. By the end of the evening I was definitely a convert to good quality Vodka, with the Marmalade Vodka being my favourite sample of the evening.

The evening was good value at £20 per ticket. The only improvement I would have liked would have been a good selection of spirits. Gin and Vodka aren't the type of spirits that a lot of people drink straight, so although it was good to taste the flavour without mixers, it would have been great to try the samples in a way that I would drink them at home.

Earlier in the evening we had dinner at Yo! Sushi in Cheltenham, which opened a few months ago. I went for lunch on the day it opened and was quoted in the local Gloucestershire Echo [you can read the article here]. I just wanted to mention that although Yo! Sushi is best known for it's selection of raw and cooked fish dishes, they have a great selection of vegetarian dishes too. I've been a vegetarian for a number of years and I definitely think that Yo! Sushi is one of the tastiest places to enjoy a meat and fish free meal on the high street. 

My top vegetarian dishes at Yo! Sushi are the Aubergine Salad, Vegetable Tempura, Edame Peas, Tofu Katsu Curry and finally my favourite, the Pumpkin Korroke. Although my iPhone snaps may not make it look like the most appealing cuisine, it's absolutely delicious and full of lots of different and exciting flavours.

Saving a bee

This is just a short and sweet post about how to save a bee! I had seen a viral post a while back about how to revive a tired bee. I admit I was quite excited when I saw a sleepy looking bee struggling to fly, buzzing around on the floor in the conservatory recently. Bees are an important part of our eco-system and they're constantly being harmed through various human and natural factors. Although they may be small, I think it's worth taking the time to give bees a new lease of life, even one at a time!

To save the bee I found, I quickly put some sugar on a dessert spoon, mixed with a little water and put the spoon down gently next to the bee. The bee immediately crawled onto the spoon and started drinking the sugary water. It had a nice long drink, before starting to fly, very slowly at first, hovering above the spoon. A few seconds later, the bee was fully energised and flew straight out the door! You can't beat the warm fuzzy feeling of helping a bee go on it's merry way, it's the bees knees! (sorry).

I've since been told that you need to ensure the sugar is completely dissolved before allowing the bee to drink the water. This bee was only drinking from the water, in which the sugar had dissolved. I guess I should have put a little less sugar or a bit more water on the spoon, so that the whole lot was mixed in, but I did do this quite hastily. 

Give it a go if you ever see a bee in need. Happy bee saving!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

NASS Festival 2014

I've just got back from NASS Festival and I'm feeling pretty shattered! The weather was really lovely for most of the weekend, but that did mean getting into bed very late and being woken up very early by the sun beating down on our tent. It feels like you're being cooked alive when you wake up in a stuffy tent!

We were there for the weekend running the Headphone Disco show on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights on the Slammer Stage. Last year we only did the Thursday night, when we were the only main entertainment on, before the festival fully opened. I had been looking forward to going back and seeing a bit more of the festival as last year I literally drove in, unloaded, did the show and left again. I had Wireless Festival the very next day, so drove straight down to London for that. 

Repeating the format that worked so well last year, I played mainly Indie tunes on one of the Headphone Disco channels and I had a selection of awesome DJ friends of mine playing more specialist music on the other channel, including Drum and Bass, Dubstep, House and Hip Hop. It was great to DJ alongside the lovely DJ Elle B, Tiger Lightning, TiKi and Fringe and to have my friend Kishi MCing over one of the sets to close the festival too.

I recruited and managed an enthusiastic team guys and girls to run the distribution, who worked hard to ensure the all-round Headphone Disco experience was good for the festivalgoers who came to party with us.

NASS Festival is promoted as a celebration of the lifestyle of BMXers and skaters and hosts a series of competitions over the weekend with cash prizes. The main music programming doesn't start until late afternoon, with the focus on the action sports during the day. We checked out the amazing skills of athletes in the Pro Park during the day and enjoyed watching the Parkour final on Sunday afternoon too. There's also a big dirt jump track on site, which was great to sit and watch the daring BMXers do their thing on that too. 

One of my highlights of festival was watching the motorbike stunt show on the Saturday afternoon, which was simply incredible to watch. The run up and landing area seems so short and every jump had me amazed! I ended up taking hundreds of pictures, but I really like this photo of two riders in mid air at the same time. They also did backflips, tricks where they have their legs in front of the handle bars and tricks where they're hanging off the back of the saddle in mid air. Incredible.

Motorbike stunt show

NASS put a lot of effort into the visuals and imagery at the festival, with the creative team headed up by a guy called Ben, who I know through friends in Cheltenham from a few years back. He'd got two artists, called Paul Monsters and Loch Ness Art, to do some big graffiti pieces on the sides of two warehouses on site. Check out one of the pieces in the photo below. There was loads of other cool creative stuff on site, including loads of spray-painted scrap cars made into crazy artistic pieces and some great signage too. I took a photo of a couple of the signs that were advertising or leading people to the silent disco.

Graffiti artwork by Paul Monsters and Loch Ness Art

Creative signpost at NASS

Silent Disco set times at NASS

It's nice to be able to wander around  a festival site before it opens. We had some fun posting for photos on the winners podium on the Friday morning before the gates opened to the public! 

Born a winner!

On Friday afternoon, Emily and I spent ages chatting to a nice chap from Howl London, a clothing brand who were selling stuff and promoting their brand at the festival. We originally went over to check out the stand as they had a really nice display made out of old wooden pallets and they had an amazing surf pong table out the front that you could play on! They're using the surf pong table at two festivals this summer, then it'll be given as a prize to a lucky winner of their competition that you can enter by signing up to their mailing list. I hope we win as it's such a great idea and it was so well made! They have some great t-shirts, hats and other nice stuff, so check them out.

Howl London surf pong table 

Vision Nine, the company who run NASS Festival also operate Boardmasters Festival, which we're heading to with Headphone Disco next month. I'm told it's much bigger and with a completely different vibe and I'm really looking forward to heading down. I hope the weather is as good there as it has been this weekend. It'll be great to spend a few days on the beach and visit Newquay town. We're planning to have a surf lesson too, so all in all it should be a great few days away!

UPDATE: I've just had some great shots sent over by Sean Delahay Photography...

Monday, 14 July 2014

Day trip to Brighton

After a pleasant weekend at Love Supreme Festival [which you can read about here] we decided we'd go for a day out in Brighton, to make the most of our trip to the area last week.

Some friends recommended we go for breakfast or brunch at Bill's, which is a lovely restaurant in the middle of Brighton. They serve food all day and have a selection of alcohol available too, but their main focus is on breakfast. The vegetarian breakfast included two pieces of ciabatta bread, one topped with houmous and one with guacamole. This came with mushrooms, two poached eggs, tomato and salad and I paid a bit extra for the grated potato and baked beans. I have to say that it was literally the best breakfast I've ever had in my entire life! Now I've had a lot of great breakfasts, but this was simply incredible, with so many delicious flavours and a refreshing twist on conventional cooked breakfasts. The food came out quite quickly and the service was friendly and professional too, so Bill's was an all-round ten out of ten experience! 

Vegetarian breakfast at Bill's

Emily and I had a lovely day wandering around all the interesting and quirky shops and even planned super far ahead by getting some Christmas presents for family! We're going away travelling again soon and returning three days before Christmas, so we're trying to get a bit organised. As you may know, many of the coolest and quirkiest shops are in the laines in Brighton, which is a labyrinth of shops on tiny cobbled streets. 

Having watched the programme on many a lazy Sunday afternoon in front of the telly, we looked up the location of the Choccywoccydoodah shop, which is in the laines and headed there to be amazed by all the intricate chocolate creations. It was a lovely place to have a little wander round and we would have stopped for a hot chocolate in their little cafe if we hadn't have just had lunch. It's definitely worth popping in here if you're in the area, even if you haven't seen the TV series.

Emily being a tourist outside Choccywoccydoodah

After lots of window shopping we headed to the seafront and it was lovely to have a little walk along the beach in the sunshine. The seagulls are a real pest in Brighton and we saw two seagulls attacking two very young children to steal their fish and chips! The mother was watching and was too scared to come and help her kids, which was frustrating to watch, but luckily two people nearby were close enough to be able to chase the seagulls away. I definitely wouldn't eat anything outside anywhere near the seafront as the seagulls are so vicious and such a nuisance.

Despite the seagulls, Brighton seafront is a very pleasant and quintessentially English place to spend the afternoon and it's all very well kept too. So many seaside resorts are being left to rot these days, so it's nice to see Brighton so well looked after. The Carousel on the beach was very pretty and traditional, so I had to stop and Instragram it, as ya do!

Carousel on Brighton seafront

No trip to the seaside would be complete without a visit to the pier and wasting some money on the tacky amusement arcades. Emily absolutely thrashed me at air hockey [8-3] and I gambled my life away on the horse racing game too! That game has always been my favourite, closely followed by the 2p tipping machines. 

Emily thrashing me at air hockey

Gambling my life away at the amusement arcade

Whilst enjoying all the weird and wonderful shops in Brighton, we discovered lots of awesome street art. Check out some photos of my favourite areas I found on the day below. In the right places and done properly, I think street art is fantastic and really brightens up otherwise run-down and unpleasant looking places. I don't understand why people spend money on spray paint to only spray crappy tags on walls. I love seeing well planned works of art on urban walls. I bought some spray paint recently for a DIY job and it costs loads. Amusingly, despite finishing school ten years ago, I got asked for ID to buy it too! I find it quite fascinating to see that people have spent a fortune on materials to paint this artwork, which is for the free enjoyment of the general public.