Feasting, Friends and Fabulous Frocks: Adventures in the South West

After trips to both the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Wight, I couldn't possibly be in need of another holiday... or could I? Well dear readers, it turns out I'm very spoilt indeed, as Pip and I have just returned from our trip down to the West Country for the Bank Holiday weekend.

And my, what a trip it was. I feel I may soon be imposing a strict exercise regime upon myself, as I scoffed a delicious plethora of foods (and in such vast quantities!) Pip and I have both returned laden with books and records, and I also picked up some sewing bits and bobs to be incorporated into The Constellation Quilt, and three pretty Sixties frocks bought for me by my lovely boyfriend (I told you I was spoilt).

I took plenty of pictures, and shall now regale you with my pick of the best places to eat, shop, and soak up the atmosphere in Totnes, Bristol, and Bath.

We arrived in Totnes, Devon, on Friday morning and headed straight to Dartington, my old home and place of study. Due to a dispute with the Dartington Trust, Dartington College of Arts no longer exists, and was amalgamated into University College Falmouth in 2010 (and thus I spent the second and third years of my degree in Falmouth... but it was never quite the same as dear old Darty!)

Predictably, I found that a lot had changed since my time there, though some things were the same; wandering minstrels were playing in the gardens, and made a lovely accompaniment  to our lunch at The White Hart, the pub to which my tutors occasionally deigned to take their students (well, until the wasps scared us inside!)

The White Hart itself, however, was almost unrecognisable; a curvy spaceship style neon bar was installed, there was now only one kind of cider on tap (sort it out, White Hart!), and the restaurant now served what purported to be "British tapas".

Dubious though this sounded, our tapas transpired to be absolutely scrumptious. I opted for masala chicken and a lemon, chilli and crab pasta, both of which came to the table topped with ominously nouveau cuisine bubbling substances. The crab pasta in particular was mouth-watering... I could eat it all over again.

Being veggie, Pip's healthy choices put me to shame. He had a trio of peppers filled with giant couscous, and a leafy bean salad.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the gardens of Dartington Hall. When I studied there, my coursemates and I would walk through these gardens every day to our lectures or the library... such an idyllic time.

I'd stocked up on Polaroid film ahead of the trip, and demanded a snap of my favourite Dartington tree and I (we share a very special connection as my final project of first year occurred inside its trunk). Unfortunately we didn't realise the flash had been left on, and I came out looking very ghostly indeed; quite appropriate, as during the entire day we spent at Dartington I was quite convinced the place was haunted with ghosts of art students past...

From the gardens (which you really must visit if you ever get the chance, they're so inspiring) we wandered up to take a look at my old halls, Foxhole, passing my beloved local cornfield on the way.

Unexpectedly, one of the doors to the halls was left ajar, and so we crept inside and I got a chance to show Pip the inside of the building where I'd studied, slept, and drank far too much all those years ago (alright, only three or four, but it seems much longer!)

 This was the most emotional aspect of the trip. Though there were summer school students staying in some of the rooms, Foxhole was eerily deserted. Hedges were overgrown, and the buildings, dilapidated when I was there, were yet more run down.

The pink walls of the buildings facing the courtyard, once red, pink in my time, had faded to blush.

I couldn't spend too much time there, it was too unnerving; it was never that quiet when I lived there.

Safely outside and away from the Dartington ghouls, I did what I've done on every holiday recently, and collected a pine cone to add to the shrine in my bedroom. This one was rather wonky, even a bit drunk (how fitting that I collected it from Dartington!)

After a quick nap back at the hotel (I know, we're amateurs), Pip and I ventured into Totnes and caught dinner at Rumour, a fantastic little wine bar where you can build your own pizza. And that is precisely what we did! Mine consisted of spinach, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and goat's cheese. As you can see, neither of our pizzas lasted very long...

After a refreshing round of passion fruit fool (heavenly) for me and peanut butter chocolate ice cream and raspberry sorbet for Pip, we headed back to our hotel, The Seven Stars, for a night cap. Champagne cocktails were on offer in one of the bars, but being as neither of us drink champagne or have an extensive budget, we opted for the more moderately priced cocktails in the bar facing the street, below our bedroom window. Considering the look of horror on the bartender's face when we asked for cocktails, they weren't bad (though my sloe gin fizz certainly wasn't a sloe gin fizz). Very respectable whisky sours.

We'd devoted the whole of the next day to exploring Totnes and shopping. Number one on our list was Revival, which, three years later, is still my favourite vintage boutique of all time. You could almost miss the shop; it looks like it's collapsing in on itself, and its name can barely be made out amongst the plants trailing from baskets above.

But peek inside the windows and you get a glimpse of the treasures within...

Revival is stocked with everything from tissue paper thin 1920s evening gowns to 1980s ugly jumpers (two aesthetics I appreciate almost equally). Thanks to Pip, I came out with a green atomic print wiggle dress which wouldn't have looked out of place on Joan Holloway, an adorable Peter Pan collared mod number, and a romantic ditzy print sundress decorated with floral hearts and embroidery.

After nipping into a succession of fabric shops (incredibly well stocked, and almost everything is incredibly covetable), second hand book shops, and Drift, the friendliest record shop I've ever walked into (even if the records themselves are a touch on the obscure side; but hey, this is Totnes!), we were hankering after a good veggie lunch.

After a bit of aimless wandering, Pip spotted a sign advertising the Fat Lemons cafe, and as he so rightly observed, any cafe which advertises itself in Chiller font has got to be good. I'd always wanted to try the Fat Lemons, but any time I'd ventured near it in first year it seemed to be closed. This time, however, we were in luck. After a bit of dithering over where we were least likely to be beleaguered by wasps (seriously, they were terrible in Totnes), we ordered a pot of chai tea and seated ourselves upstairs among the bright and (appropriately) yellow surroundings.

I decided on spanakopita with tabbouleh, and Pip had  bean kofta with hummus. Both our meals came with a moreish sprouting salad and pitta bread.

I think I lucked out on the main event of the meal, however; my tabbouleh was light and zingy just as it should be, and my spanakopita was crunchy and flakey on the outside, moist on the inside. Pip assured me that his kofta was lovely, but the hummus lacked a certain something (my guess is garlic).

After our lunch we did a spot more people watching and dithering over fabric fripperies (that would be me), and then it was time to catch our train.

I'd brought Big Teeth along with me in an attempt to finish off the buttonholes, and couldn't resist having a quick stitch.

After a Magic Roll, a Bristolian Greek-inspired wrap version of a Subway, only several hundred times better, we set off to my old housemate Mark's flat, where we would be staying for two nights (first, of course, picking up a couple of bottles of wine as all good house guests should). Mark and I then proceeded to bore Pip and Mark's boyfriend Jake senseless reminiscing about Dartington and bemoaning all that had changed. What Pip and I hadn't realised was that the boys already had a very well stocked alcohol cupboard, and the four of us proceeded to spend the evening getting drunk and giggling over Adventure Time (mine and Pip's weakness) and Portlandia (which was scarily reminiscent of Dartington students).

After a gentle Sunday morning start (owing to our sore heads) we headed to Start The Bus, where, Pip assured us, a mean Sunday roast was to be had.

Regrettably, this was not the case. No veggie option meant, well, no option for Pip or Jake. But all was not lost; Start The Bus now offered diner style American classics, with more than a hint of a soul food influence. And if there's one thing I love, it's soul food, specifically: fried chicken. 

Foolishly I also ordered onion rings, and a basket of these arrived, as well as my bucket of chicken and chips. I enjoyed every last painful mouthful, and remain undefeated by fried foodstuffs.

Groaning under the weight of our late lunch, we set off to pick up our friend and fellow Dartington Writer Natt and her housemates for a drink. This was a good chance to take in some of the famed Bristolian graffiti. I particularly liked this hipster wolf; he looked as if he was about to spring to life and leap off the side of the tower block.

As my good friend Hannah observed to me yesterday, Bristol is full of foxes. And if there's one thing I love more than soul food or narwhals, it's possibly foxes. We found an interesting street art and zine shop that was selling adorable fox bonnets; here I am modelling one (and one of my new dresses):

Truly, I had found my brethren.

Natt took us to a quirky little cafe at the bottom of her road called The Arts House; it did a lovely glass full of elderflower cordial and floating summer berries. Unfortunately, Pip and I left just before the others were invited to a free face painting workshop; the resulting photographs were mightily impressive. We'd run off to visit our friend Ros and her boyfriend Toby in their new flat, and were treated to stew, and, er, Nineties boyband videos...

Early next morning we left for Bath, where I was convinced all my Jane Austen fantasies were about to come true. But I was brutally rebuffed when we discovered that it was the Pump Room, and not the Assembly Rooms, where one could take afternoon tea in the true Austen style.

While we were at the Assembly Rooms, however, we decided to take a gander at the Fashion Museum (I felt very sorry for Pip by this point).

The current exhibition was of Laura Ashley's famous Seventies frocks. Unfortunately, "famous Seventies frocks" conjures up one thing in my mind; unbearably ugly. Here are a few of the dresses I felt more favourably towards:

Plus some I didn't:

And an exceedingly cute ragdoll made entirely of Laura Ashley fabrics:

Had this been the extent of what the Museum had to offer, I might have been disappointed. However, a more exciting exhibit lay just around the corner; Fifty Fabulous Frocks! Dresses from across the ages, in every conceivable fabric, colour, and pattern.

This champagne bottle dress was a 1910s or 1920s homemade fancy dress costume

I fell in love with this early Twentieth Century dress; it looks so current

Now if only Disney branded garments were this adorable now, I might actually wear them!

This dress was an absolute vision and none of my photographs did it justice

So stately

I believe this coat was 1940s; doesn't it have a 70s vibe?

I was bowled over by the elegance of the 1930s dress on the left, and the unbelievably miniscule corset!

This Twenties number was divine; oh to swish those skirts!

As well as gawping at all the gorgeous dresses, I got to try my hand at designing one myself; it came out looking remarkably like my GCSE Textiles project (with exactly the same colour scheme!)

The next corridor revealed yet more drop-dead-gorgeous dresses; I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Only a candy shop in which no candy would be sold to me. Ever.

Isn't this Betty Draper worthy? It also reminds me of Trudy Campbell's bedwear collection

The flapper dress on the right was perhaps my favourite in the Museum; so many tassels...

This was the look Spring/Summer 2013; Pip quipped: "I didn't know the look for Spring/Summer 2013 was Kate Elisabeth Rolison"
 After we left the Museum we marched, suitcases in tow, down to the Pump Room for our afternoon tea. There'd been a run on vegetarian sandwiches, and so we were lucky enough to be offered a slice of Victoria sponge as an appetiser... well, how could we refuse? It was the lightest Victoria sponge I have ever eaten, and crammed full of cherries. This was followed by delectable finger sandwiches, Devonshire (only the best) cream tea, and petit fours including a raspberry macaroon and passion fruit tartlet, all washed down with a pot of English breakfast tea. As you might have gathered, it was a dream.

We spent our last few hours in Bath wandering around the Crescent, before taking a quick nap on the green in the centre of the Circus. All that walking and eating had worn us out (it's a hard life)!

As we were preparing to leave, Pip turned to me and said "I don't want to go home"; the mark of a good holiday if ever I heard one.

Button Holes and Weekend Breaks

I have but six button holes to sew of Big Teeth left, and the deadline is on Wednesday (see, I really am the Tailor of Gloucester!), so I'm whisking the project away with me for a long weekend (Pip and I are off to the South West tomorrow; first Devon, then Bristol, then Bath, visiting friends and old university haunts and generally pretending we're in Jane Austen).

In the mean time, here are some phone snaps of Big Teeth in progress:

My dear friend Katrina came over yesterday for an arts and crafts date; she painted all day, and I stitched (and we squeezed in a little Adventure Time viewing; I think my outfit was very Princess Bubblegum inspired).

Today I put the finishing touches to the contents of the third pocket of the book; based on the tale of the Princess and the Pea, and ideas of spinning yarns and old wives' tales, it's stacked with many mattresses and proclaims that the story is "Heavily embroidered".

I will return with lots of photographs to share, both digital and Polaroids, and, I would imagine, pining for my old Dartington home!

Rest Cure

As much as I do love London, occasionally I need to escape it for a little while. I've been feeling a little disenchanted recently; I think from constantly working so hard on projects, from the long summer which I've been failing to fill effectively, and from spending too much time staring at screens (she says, staring at one!)

So a two week rest cure at my parents' house in the North West Highlands was just what the doctor ordered. I brought my current project, Big Teeth, along with me (and got a surprising amount sewn on the train!) My aim for the holiday was to sit and sew and look out at the sea.

So far it has also included rather a lot of staring at screens (surprise surprise), fine food (and wine!), and the odd walk around the hills and down to the beach. The wild landscape is the perfect setting for constructing a book about fairytales (many of which, of course, had fairly savage beginnings).

First of all, here are some holiday snaps:

An old friend adorning a stone shed on the walk down to the beach (painted by a family friend).

Giant daisies growing against the shed in my parents' garden.

The first bushel of gooseberries grown in the garden; there's almost enough for a crumble!

An entirely unintentional shot of me wandering around in the garden in a lovely dress.
Of course, most of my time has been given over to sewing, and this current project isn't an easy one (but then I'm always one to bite off more than I can chew!)

Someone else who hasn't been finding my sewing easy is our dog, Rosie. A few days ago, the phone started ringing whilst I was mid-stitch; thinking it might be my boyfriend, I got up in a rush, thrusting the embroidery aside. It landed on the dog.

Poor pet!

My reading material for the holiday has been fairly light; I desperately wanted to read The Little White Horse, but couldn't find it at home or at my Grannie's (hers is the house next door to my parents'). Instead, Grannie lent me Linnets and Valerians, also by Elizabeth Goudge. I must admit, so far I haven't touched it; I've been too engrossed in Issue Five of Magpie Magazine, which, as well as being full of beautiful photographs and articles, has quite a number of the best poems I've read in recent years. They've inspired me to write some of my own (not quite ready to share yet, though). My final "reading material" is my previous artist's book, On Being Soft, which is sob-inducingly superior to my current efforts, but acts as a good source of inspiration nonetheless.

And on to those poor efforts! I think my real problem is that the story/poem that runs through the book is rather text-heavy, and my pages are rather tiny!

The first few pages are charmingly off-kilter, but the last couple are so dense the text is almost illegible! The second to last page in particular is just not gelling for me; I think the blanket stitch around the text is too bright. I may unpick it and start again. Also, the last line of the first page is missing and I can't for the life of me find where it's gone! Typical me!

I do like the soft tones of the scanned and cloth-printed Polaroids against the clumsy blanket stitch and the hand sewn text, though, and I am (more or less) happy with every page other than that pesky second to last one. Perhaps I should have stuck to using the same fabric for each page, as I did with On Being Soft. Oh well, I'm sure the contents of the Polaroid pockets will be more impressive. And speaking of, I'd better crack on with them. No rest for the wicked!

Fox in the snow, where do you go?

The last time it snowed on my birthday, I was a toddler. I have vague memories of my dad lifting me up to see the snow on the window sill (and letting me have a surreptitious lick of it). This year, it once again snowed on my birthday; only in Berlin, rather than London!
My boyfriend Pip and I escaped to the German capital for a long weekend. The snow was there when we arrived, but fell thickest on my birthday, our last full day in the city.
We were staying in Prenzlauer Berg, a hip former East German district filled with bars, vegetarian restaurants, independent galleries and er, sex shops.
For the majority of the trip I was decked out in a vintage Windsmoor coat and my trusty (fake) fox hat.
Perhaps consequently, we spotted countless foxes around the city, and Pip even made me a lovely birthday present of a lino print of a fox from Supalife Kiosk, a gallery and shop showcasing locally made art and zines.
Gettin’ my pose on with a fellow fox.
After familiarising ourselves with the local area (including Netto supermarket, and, perhaps more importantly, the vintage shops), our first evening’s entertainment was provided by the ladies of Kleine Nachtrevue, in a decadent Weimar-style cabaret show. I had serious wardrobe envy, and Pip and I were both particularly tickled by a Yorkshire lass who sang and danced with great gusto (although she did stop halfway through one number to have a breather and mop her forehead with a hanky!) It was at Kleine Nachtrevue that we came across the Berlin peculiarity Berliner Weisse. This young beer is brewed exclusively in Berlin, and served with a shot of either raspberry or woodruff syrup (the colours of which certainly added to the decadent feel of the evening!)
We are convinced that the young chap featured on this Berliner Kindl Weisse glass is Pip (especially given his tousled locks).
Being a politics nerd, Pip had booked an English tour of the Bundestag, the German parliament, for our second day in Berlin. However, there was plenty to satisfy this art nerd, too; once we had heard all about the plenary chamber, we were taken on what was essentially a gallery tour, and learnt that 1% of the budget of German public buildings goes towards art. I was particularly impressed to spot a Jenny Holzer installation acting as the symbolic pillar holding up the building. Holzer’s piece, Historical Speeches, displays speeches given in the Reichstag and Bundestag, and runs these messages for twelve days without repeating itself.
From messages from the great and the good to messages from a conquering army; in an upstairs room, walls of Russian graffiti from 1945 have been preserved to commemorate the time when the Soviet army overran the city.
In fact, the Russians got it wrong; Hitler’s seat of power was across town on Kaiser Wilhelmstrasse. Still, the capture of the Reichstag became a symbol of Soviet victory over Germany. The messages of graffiti, however, are rather mundane; most consist of name, rank, serial number and date. Only one soldier committed a message of love for his girlfriend to stone (she was named Galina, which, coincidentally, is the name of the lady who runs my favourite Walthamstow-based vintage shop).
The tour concluded with a trip to the  top of the dome Norman Foster designed for the Bundestag. We were very chilly by this point and soon were off in search of hotdogs!
Speaking of sausages, I came to Berlin determined to try currywurst, a less-than-appetising-sounding combination of sausage, ketchup and curry powder. In fact it was rather delicious (although this may have had a lot to do with how hungry I was at the time). Pip was very disappointed not to find a vegetarian version at one of the many street food venues dotted throughout the city.
When Pip and I went to see Swedish darling Jens Lekman play back in September, Jens recounted a story about tucking into some nice German vegetarian food (“I know; German vegetarian food?!”) Actually, on the whole, we found Jens Lekman to be right; when we got ourselves hopelessly lost one night, we stumbled across Dolores Burritos, which served up gorgeously fresh Mexican food, with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options. Just around the corner from us, on Gaudystrasse, was the St. Gaudy Cafe, a German-English exchange serving exclusively vegetarian food. On the morning of our visit to the Bundestag we prepared ourselves for our day of culture with a hearty brunch at the cafe, leading Pip to declare that he would always put sun-dried tomatoes in his scrambled eggs from this day forth. My brunch consisted of balsamic button mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and avocado, with home-made sweet potato hash browns and toasted rye bread. As you can tell, I’m still fantasising about it now…
We spent the next morning at the Mauerpark Flohmarkt, where I picked up a few little presents for friends, and we got chatting to an ex-Kentish Town resident who guessed straight off the bat that Pip was from Stratford (after we assured him that we were from the un-trendy end of East London). This ex-pat was also an artist named Mical Noelson who produced many scribbled, scanned, and doctored prints of nature illustrations with hiscollaborative partner. He was such a nice bloke and his prints had such a sense of mischief and quirky charm that I came away with quite a few postcards; I particularly like these two (especially the censored ducklings!):
It was Mical who turned us on to Supalife Kiosk. From my limited experience of the contemporary Berlin art scene, it seemed that many artists favour a combination of sketchy drawing and layering of antique and found images, to create incongruous yet appealing collages and prints. I certainly dig it, and will be seeking out London-based zine distros in the near future.
Art was everywhere in Berlin, from the public buildings to the perhaps even more public art of graffiti. This was plentiful at one of the more unusual visits of our trip; after checking out the flea market it was off to another park; Spreepark, an abandoned GDR era amusement park. Unfortunately our German is abysmal, and so the (apparently very funny) guided tour was lost on us, but we amused ourselves (and attempted to keep warm) by exploring the dilapidated attractions.
One tagger had graffitied “Spooks was here“, and the park certainly was a little eery, although in quite a beautiful way, I think. The frozen swan boats in the lake particularly captivated me (and I have to hand it to the witty tagger who drew the steps of making an origami swan on one of the boats).

After we’d warmed up a bit and had some lunch we spent a few hours in the DDR Museum, where an impressive amount of  (highly interactive) history was packed into a small space. Pip was particularly enamoured with a computer programme which allowed you to design the perfect communist.
That evening we made the first of two visits to Becketts Kopf, an incredible smoky little bar with an exquisite cocktail menu, which for reasons I still don’t fully understand, is Samuel Beckett themed (“Becketts Kopf” translates as “Beckett’s Head”, and indeed the writer’s visage stares mournfully down at you from the bar’s frontage). Still, it seemed a very appropriate place for a Performance Writing graduate to have a tipple. As it was still bitterly cold, I opted for the Hot Buttered Rum, which was d i v i n e.
Pip went for the mouthwateringly potent Penicillin, a combination of Scotch Whisky, honey, lime and ginger, which claims to “work for everything”. That may be true; it definitely had to be administered in small doses.
The next morning was my birthday, and just as I hoped, the snow was falling thick and fast. We’d set aside our last full day to go hunting for vintage frocks, but firstly we took in just a little more graffiti at the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery, a stretch of the wall which remains intact, though transformed by graffiti and mural artists. Most of this was a little too “We Are the World” for my liking, but some was quite thought-provoking and displayed a storm of imagination.

After finding a full-length velvet evening dress for a snip, we concluded my birthday with a meal at Bangkok Thai restaurant in Prenzlauer Berg, and then nipped ’round the corner for a couple more cocktails at Becketts Kopf.
The drinks were possibly even more delicious than those of the previous night; Pip started with a Monkey’s Land, which claimed to be “an insane drug of the 20s, made with gin, homemade grenadine, orange juice, absinthe, and English marmalade”. Despite this potent combination, the cocktail was light and very drinkable, with just a hint of aniseed from the absinthe. Pip followed this with a gloriously fruity West Indian Planter’s Punch which was similarly delectable. My first drink was a BK’s Pick Me Up, composed of chocolate brandy, mandarin, herbs, and a hint of champagne, but the real star for me was my second cocktail, a Lusitanian; a tawny port and cherry brandy based mix finished off with a dusting of cinnamon. I’m developing rather a fondness for red wine based cocktails…
Unfortunately, the next morning brought our final day in the snowy city. We returned to St. Gaudy Cafe for a tofu schnitzel burger lunch, and did perhaps the most touristy thing of our entire holiday; we had ourselves preserved for posterity in black and white at a Fotoautomat.
As well as taking this permanent record of our trip, we left behind a transitory message, similar to the message of love the Russian soldier left “Galina” in the Bundestag; Pip und Pinecone Liebe Berlin. I can’t wait to go back!

Stitchin' and Sloe Gin

No, not the product of a boozy stitchery sesh I'm afraid, rather my  Highland frolics in pictures (although I am currently working on a slightly ambitious piece which will be revealed in the near future... or whenever I finish it, it is quite labour intensive and I start my new internship on Wednesday!)

So, last Sunday Pip arrived and we did things such as climb the local mountain and swim in the (not particularly warm) river, which was filled with young trout.

Atop Ben Hiant
J.G. Mallard came with us and caught some rays by the pond (it was so hot I even incurred some sunburn!)

Look at his widdle face... you'd never think he was the author of controversial dystopian literature.
Sans duck, we took a trip to Tobermory, scene of faintly unsettling British childrens' television program Balamory, ate posh chips, and discovered an honesty shop which was filled to the rafters with Mills & Boons. This proved to be most convenient, as the photograph below demonstrates:

HOW convenient.
The final night was spent sippin' homemade alcoholic concoctions... sloe gin for me, potent French apple brandy for Pip. I indulged in some sneaky stitchery of the aforementioned soon-to-be-revealed piece, too.

In fact, we managed to get through a nigh-on obscene amount of booze  during our three weeks in Branault... in the two weeks before Pip arrived, my parents and I seemingly drank seventeen bottles of  wine... definitely time to switch into life post-uni, methinks!