Saturday, 28 August 2010


So as this great festival draws to a close I look back on my last day and think "Whatever happened to the 'Edinburgh International Festival?'", which of course is what started all this back in 1947. It's a bit like the Murray brothers, in that big brother was good for a while but now is completely eclipsed by the young upstart.

I spent the day pottering around and chanced upon James Sherwood, comedy with the aid of a piano, he kindly pointed out some quite serious grammatical errors in a number of popular songs including 'And I stiiiill haven't found, THAT FOR WHICH I'M LOOKING', thanks James, what a funny man with a piano and a beard, no really!

Next I chanced upon a medley show 'F***ing funny for a fiver', now I'm sure that on occasions they are rather good but I have never had the chance to see a whole show die quite so spectacularly. It was rather entertaining to watch, a bit like snuff movie. There was also an element of the masochistic about it all, comedians began their sets with such amusing and prophetic lines as 'well, this is probably going to be the worst gig I've ever done', and 'this audience is s**t', and then continued to force through their act in some sort of misguided attempt at valor. By far the worst thing, which was surprising, was that there was no heckling, no booing, no tomato throwing, just a uniform half smile on the face of the audience which seemed like a rag to a bull to some of the performers, in hindsight, extremely funny!

Laura Solon is very good, but then I suppose you're meant to be with a Perrier award. Comic monologue with some brilliant characters set to the tune of an owl on an island. Spiffing.

Evening entertainment was musical in nature and took the form of an exclusive Masters performance by a group of sound artists. If you have never had the aural experience of being taken into the inner workings of a drum whilst it is dismantled around you or gone for a qudraphonic trip on a piano as it tunefully tumbles down the side of a mountain then you are surely missing out, the soundscapes created here were truly impressive, and who would have thought the noises of an empty office building could be so intimidating and alive?

Yes, Edinburgh festival has delivered and I have been entertained. Good!

Thursday, 26 August 2010


The Sun was out yesterday, at times I was even able to take my jumper off when indoors, Hooray! The day began with a curious show of schizoid nature, a lady on a bike presenting a monologue on her superman's split personality, then changing herself at the toll of a bell and performing such feats as drinking an entire bottle of champagne or eating a whole packet of biscuits, in superfast time. Rather beautiful. Next to the screening of The Tunnel ( A flowing and well worked documentary which gives an insight into the alternative alternative comedy club of the 80's. The film itself is a prelude to a homage to Malcolm Hardee, the great unknown of British comedy, due out in the near future.

We were then lucky enough to see one of NMs own... Sarah Campbell who is debuting her first debut Fringe show, 27 up, itself a prelude to 54 up, to be screened in 27 years. Managing to cram in the essential details of her first 27 years on this earth into 30 minutes, yes, including those lonely moments with a party popper. We are also invited to communicate with our future selves via the medium of a cheapy videocamera, can't wait! Her relaxed style and engaging material surely mean that this is the last time will will see her on the free fringe, boo!

Kunt and the Gang, The complete Kunt, sort of introduces itself. Imagine, if you can, the most inappropriate lyrics, set to music which surely is from the demo tracks of an 80's casio keyboard, aided by the medium of dance and you can almost hear those classics such as 'Wanking over a pornographic polaroid of an ex-girlfriend who died'. The show was lifted by the crowd, who clearly knew his material; it is a little disconcerting seeing a room full of people singing along to 'Use my Arsehole as a Cunt'. It was funny at the time...maybe you had to be there.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Whereas the vast majority of places in the northern hemisphere, when asked if August counts as Summer, would reply '(chortle) but of course!', Edinburgh would disagree. As I disembarked from the train I instantly understood what the Fringe Festival was all about, how clever these Burghians are, it is a con to bring in vast crowds from the world over to open up every shack in the town for them so that they can spend their time flitting from one to the next pretending that Summer does exist but they're just too busy to see it.

Bravely I put on my duffle coat and dived into the first place I could find. 'AAAaand now for something completely improvised' is one of those shows that is awkward to watch as you know the protagonists are getting more from your being there than you are. Something about Wigan and Pies when I saw them but can't remember too much as I was too busy thawing.

Having sufficiently staved off frostbite I ventured out once more, yes dear readers the things I do for you, and chanced upon 'Sara Pascoe Vs Her Ego'. Much better, I love the feeling of actually wanting to be somewhere. This is her first show at the fringe but she has a good pedigree as an actor and comic and writer and she wooed us with 'Jokes from the 80's' and philosophy puns 'Jung Kant Hegel the truth!', also gets the prize for the worst joke on the fringe (no, seriously it was on the news!), 'Why did the chicken commit suicide? To get to the other side'.

Now feeling optimistic I took a punt on a comic who I probably should have heard of before, Simon Evans. Now this was seriously funny stuff, his rhythm, delivery and feel for the mood of the crowd was perfectly professional. It's a strange sensation being toyed with and made to laugh at whim, quite impressive that he hasn't hit the really big stages, let's keep him to ourselves... 'Obesicles', what a great name for mobility scooters!

I like this fringe business, more tomorrow please, I'm starting to lose sensation in my toes.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Exploring new café Drink, Shop & Do - just sprouted in the heart of Kings Cross

Guess what we found tucked away between a rip-off hair salon and a bad novelty mug shop? A bright, huge, quiet hideaway called quite aptly and unpretentiously Drink, Shop & Do where you can have a variety of teas and coffees - and a beer too if you want - buy anything in sight, and do pretty much whatever you like, knit, scrabble, read, write, bring your own Lego and build a spaceship, hold an event, have a party, et cetera.

Working in King's Cross I am very aware that the area is developing into something quite pretty, the new glow-sticks coloured path over the canal, Kings Place, the new college of fashion... a lot is happening round here but with all the Costa, Nando's and McDos it's really good to know there is also a quiet, bright place to just ... relax - a word only recently discovered by the King's Cross community.

So we decided to make drink, Shop & Do our next pilgrimage destination to see whether we should recommend it to our Nutshell readers or warn them to stay away. The result is a big thumbs up and a wee chat with the hostesses, Kristie & Coralie.

Pilgrim: Drink, Shop & Do is the result of a pop up shop experiment, right? Pop up shops are terribly modern and exciting and give small businesses a chance to make a name for themselves, tell us about your experience.

Kristie & Coralie: The pop-up shop was more a result of the business plan, it gave us a chance to test our idea, see if it worked, see if people liked it, see if we could do it and see if we liked doing it!It then gave us some proof and figures to help us make it a reality.

P: Kings cross used to be fairly bare and dodgy but now it’s being completely renovated, new businesses pop up at every corner but they tend to be chains like Costa and Nando’s. It’s good to have a cute, independent hideaway to go and have coffee but we wonder: why here and, most importantly, how did you get that spot? the space is enormous and really grand, did you have to physically fight Pizza Express to secure it?

C&K: We already knew the space when we planned the business. Coralie used to work at a gallery and had used the space for a one month show so we knew it was sitting empty. About 5 minutes after having the idea we knew the space was perfect for it. We did almost come to fisticuffs with an Indian restaurant but luckily the landlord likes having interesting businesses in his properties.

P: With the yarns, fabrics, teacups and comfy cushions crowding your shelves and tables D,S&D looks like the place where people could just come and knit a jumper over a coffee, or read a book over a cocktail, or just have endless catch ups with friends over a pot of tea. Other café owners get annoyed if the time to money ratio is askew and constantly nag customers to have another drink or leave, what is your policy on ‘stayers’?

C&K: Hum... being brand new we're flattered that people like us enough to want to spend all afternoon here. We're friendly kind of people and so far we have attracted nice people who have wanted to support us so haven't taken advantage.

P: D,S&D is fairly new but you’re already mixing the ingredients for some tasty courses and events. What’s cooking? Will you have any literary events? Poetry and knitting go hand in hand these days, just think of the Poetry Society’s knitted poem.

C&K: A couple of people have asked about literary events and we'd love to hold one, we just need to find the right person to run one. Ideas on a postcard to needs a good name and a one line explanation and preferably a nice person to run it.

P: You have many items on sale, a lot of them handmade, many vintage. How do you choose what to sell?

C&K: We sell all things we love and we would like to buy!

P: Finally, what’s D,S&D’s favourite book?

C&K: Reader's Digest Cookery, Year 1973.

P: Thank you.

C&K: No, thank you!

Aw.... such lovely people. Make sure you pop round and have an ice cream when you're next in the area!

9 Caledonian Road
Kings Cross

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Some Positive Ramblings about The Not-So-Secret Garden Party

First of all, I think I owe my fellow gardeners an apology... for I fear I may have been slightly responsible for the epic queue that hindered the start of this year's festivities. You see last year's edition of the party was just so good that I couldn't possibly keep it a secret! And because I recounted my tales of adventure and intrigue to just about everyone and anyone over the course of the year I think the world and his dog (for yes there were many fine four-legged friends gardening around) came along to see what the fuss was all about.

And this year did not disappoint; quite the opposite. Whilst it grew in quantity it also grew in quality and along with a repeat of last year's wonderfully weird attractions there was a much improved standard of music. In preparation for the festival I spent a lot of time warning my music snob friends that it wasn't about the big name DJs but the experience- and so not to be disappointed when they found themselves do si do-ing atop a bale of hay to the beats of a banjo instead of the usual stomping in the depths of a throbbing AVB crowd.. But alas, much to their delight the Pagoda stage was graced with some rather impressive "guest DJs"; who turned out to be the likes of Annie Mac, Alex Metric and Adam Freeland! Bonus.

My favourite parts, however, remained the smaller attractions. The Village Hall for example; sitting in my Victorian dress in the sunshine whilst drinking a cup of herbal and knitting most certainly goes down as one of the happiest moments of my life (call me a girl of simple tastes if you will). In fact tea featured rather prominently in my festival antics. A quintessentially British concoction of gin, cold fruity herbal and a dash of lemonade, supped from a tea pot, perfectly complemented the laid-back vibe of the Living Room. This was a cosy tent adorned with mantle pieces, bookcases, cushions and Grandma's old sofas all facing a small television-esque stage. Relaxing here in front of a live band on the Sunday afternoon was better entertainment than the Eastenders omnibus, and that is high praise indeed.

Another highlight of this festival is that a health freak such as myself can indulge themselves till their healthy hearts are content- God bless you Weirdigans cafe! Night or day you were there to feed me and my insatiable appetite for healthy inebriation; with vegan chocolate energy balls, guava punch and oodles of my beloved houmous. Bravo.
I'd also like to propose a toast to the Hendrick's gin troupers. Their task for us gardeners was to write a story in exchange for a free gin and tonic (albeit a thimble full) and our task for them was to listen to them all. After our initial surprise that the fine gintlemen weren't as enthused as we were over our tall tales the realisation dawned on us that they had probably endured four whole days of drunken revellers' incoherent ramblings. For this reason (I can only assume) they had sneakily hidden electrodes in two giant cucumbers, and thrust them into the palms of unsuspecting gardeners! Our friend Jon succeeded in enduring the most electric cucumber of all SGP revellers; well done to him. He really was determined to win that Little Book of Gentlemen's Etiquette.

Secret Garden is definitely the festival for extroverts, and offers the perfect opportunity to show off that long-lost school hobby you thought you'd bid farewell to at the age of eleven. I, for example, had a lot of fun reliving my days as a ballerina; pirouetting between the tents in long flowing gown (a costume that was likened more to Little Bo Peep than that of the intended Lydia from Pride and Prejudice) until I managed to fall spectacularly on my face straight into a bin. We also enjoyed (rather less dangerously) playing the ocarina, and cucumber and rose petal draughts; for which my rusty skills won a grow-your-own cucumber set! This now sits on my desk and serves to remind me of happier, fruitier times.

The festivities in fact culminated in a giant sing-song on the Sunday evening. Once all other sources of music had been thoroughly exhausted one charitable fellow, with some rather impressive musical skills, took to a randomly placed piano and bellowed out pop classics- in true primary school assembly style! Admittedly, this wasn't exactly the kind of vibe we were going for after exiting the pagoda and its filthy electro beats but once Queen's Bohemian Rhapsidy had finished (I detest this song) we were completely won over... The enthusiasm and genuine guffaw of the singing around this tiny old piano epitomises beautifully the vibe of Secret Garden; and was akin both to some sort of war time sing-along and that scene in Titanic where the orchestra plays on till the bitter end.

I think the only real downside to SGP was that upon leaving I felt that I hadn't made the most of it- there was just so much to explore in so little time. Thanks to a giant power nap Saturday night we missed the likes of Eliza Doolittle (the only artist I had actually committed to seeing) and the majority of the fireworks. The fireworks did still look spectacular from our tents (I believe the explosions actually woke us up) but we couldn't really see the burning of the mid-lake boat stage in all its glory which is a shame. Aside from this I think SGP might have been a little bit perfect and probably the best festival I've been to (although I might be guilty of saying this after every festival I go to). To be honest I even enjoyed the 4-hour queue- eased along of course by the gallons of cider/wine consumed in it- for it was yet another opportunity to meet like-minded gardeners. I made a great friend whilst hunting for a spot to pee in the bushes, for example. I didn't catch her name unfortunately but I shall call her "the girl with the really large mac who shielded me from the crowds"- thanks for that one, you know who you are...

So now back to normality- it's been a tough few weeks but we're nearly there. The Garden has become a mere glimmer in our eyes; Jon is a little bit more of a gentleman, I have a miniature vegetable patch on my desk and we all have a slight addiction to cucumber-based gin.
From our special agent Laura Hitchman