Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Blissful Bristol, part three

We fed ourselves silly again on the breakfast and then packed our suitcases to go home. The hotel was kind enough to hold our luggage while we gallivanted about town.

We went to the Bristol museum and art gallery and spent a lovely morning. it was a real  eclectic experience because they had dinosaurs, Egyptian stuff, rocks and minerals, local history as well well as art. We went there primarily to see one of my favourite paintings La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Frank Dicksee. 
It was glorious to see it in person. Frank Dicksee was not a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) but was considered to paint in their style. You could see by the subject matter that this was certainly true. He chose the poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Keats as his subject. Don't know this poem? Then shame on you, you uneducated baboon. Just kidding. You can read it here and help the painting make more sense.


He has clearly chosen to illustrate the following lines as well as allude to the Knight's fate:

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful--a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

His choice of Victorian poem (Keats to him would have been a contemporary author, actually) is very like the Pre-Raphaelites, but his impressionistic flowers and foliage in the bottom left corner just doesn't cut the mustard. A true Pre-Raphaelite would have painted every single blade of grass individually.

Still it was glorious to see. His people were very well rendered making up for the sloppy flora. We also saw this great painting called The Fisherman and the Syren by Frederic Leighton who was another contemporary of the PRB who was influenced by their ideas.

Again, clearly showing the PRB influence in subject matter and nudity for the sake of art. Victorians may have been prudes when it came to sex, but slap on some fairy wings or make the naked lady a mythological creature and it becomes art not pornography.Not that there wasn't Victorian pornography. I own a few Victorian and Edwardian erotic nude postcards because they show the human body with natural body hair.  But the PRB got away with a whole lot by sticking to literary subjects.

We enjoyed the museum and then toddled along to Wok to Walk --basically a "build your own stir fry" kind of place. Their website was cool--you could click a vegan button and all the meat and egg noodles disappear from the menu leaving you with your suitable choices. Basically you choose your base (rice, noodles, extra veg) then choose up to 4 toppings (like veg if you got noodles or rice or tofu) and then a sauce. They stir fry it up before your eyes and presto--delicious fast food. We decided on the extra veg instead of rice or noodles and got tofu and garlic and peanut sauce. it was yum-although we both agreed we liked my peanut sauce better!

Then it was back into city centre. We still had a bit of time to kill before our 3:00 train so we stopped off at the Asian grocery (which was full of stuff we didn't want to think about like dried cuttlefish crackers--blech) but they had these Mochi ice creams made with coconut milk and covered in a sweet dough made from tapioca flour. Vegan and gluten free! woohoo!

We bought the chocolate ones and sat outside the hotel on the steps and ate them all. To be fair, there were only three apiece. They were like little bon-bon ice creams and so delicious.

Then we picked up our luggage and headed back to the train station. It was a leisurely three hour return with a change in Newport not Cardiff (who knows why) but soon we were back in our crooked pink house.

It was a wonderful mini-break and we felt thoroughly rested and revived. We were full of culture from the theatre and the museum, full of mischief from the night with Joe Hill and full of good food.

I can't wait to do it again.

And yet, i feel satisfied. it makes the rest of our ordinary lives have just a little bit of sparkle.

So until next time--adieu.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Blissful Bristol, part two

We woke up reasonably early and went down for the enormous hotel breakfast. One of the reasons we chose the Travelodge was for their breakfasts. There were *plenty* of hot choices like cowboy beans, mushrooms and hash browns as well as Linda McCartney vegetarian sausage (sadly not the gluten free ones) as well as cold items like cereal and fruit. You could get soya milk on request so that made cereal an option as well. The bread was clearly labelled vegan too so Spiderman had toast. I brought my own bread and just toasted that and so got some hot bread products with non dairy spread and jam as well. In the end we were stuffed and fortified for a day of fun.
Saint Nicholas Market

So much of Bristol was vegan friendly. Everywhere we went there were signs saying Suitable for vegans or Vegan options--just ask. We had a wander around the lovely St Nicholas Market (not Christmas themed as my Mum thought--just named after the saint.) We found a vegan chocolate shop where we bought several bars of posh chocs in flavours like dark chocolate, lime and sea salt. Yum! There was a cute haberdashery shop called Sew and Sew that I bought several things in--beads, hot glue sticks, jewellery tools--all stuff I can't get locally.

 We poked around bookshops and generally had a good ole meander. round the city. I wanted to go to a little shop called Bamba Beads on Gloucester Road and i was not disappointed. The owner was this lovely bloke who was trying to care for his three year old who had gotten out of school early as it was half term. She had her face painted up like a tiger and was absolutely adorable. i got some nice wooden beads as well as some silver plated findings. He also gave me advice on bead making and i would highly recommend going there.  You can shop online as well at www.bambabeads.co.uk

Since we were already on Gloucester Road we ventured further down it to a place called Planet Pizza for a late lunch. Their website said they did a vegan pizza called Plan-It Vegan as well as a gluten free crust. Win-win!  We got the GF crust with mushrooms, olives and red onions and vegan cheese and it did not disappoint. Whoa mama, it was good. It was a posh pizza as the mushrooms were portabellas and the olives kalamata and the vegan cheese was gooey and stretchy and yum. We don't normally have that kind of cheese on a pizza as it is processed, but it made for a nice treat. Thanks again Mum for sending us the dosh to be able to get some food out in restaurants!
Doesn't he look like his dad--Stephen King? 

In the evening we ventured out to waterstones to see our favourite author Joe Hill. He has written many amazing books (Twentieth Century Ghosts, Heart Shaped Box, Horns and our all time favourite graphic novel Locke and Key!) and he is always worth hearing from when he comes to this side of the pond. We saw him two other times in London and this time was just as good...maybe better. he was reading from his new book The Firefighter that will be out next year. He always spends a lot of time with each person who queues up for an autograph and this time we came prepared. We brought our replica head key from Locke and Key and asked him to take a picture of him opening my head with the key. I actually have a keyhole tattooed on the back of my neck just like in the comic so it was delightfully easy.  Spiderman took a few snaps and then Joe Hill said, "Do you mind if I take a picture and put it up on twitter?" Do i mind????? Hells no!  So he tweeted it to all his fans! Squeal!

We are *so* thankful he wanted a picture because for some reason we had a camera fail and the pictures didn't come out. *Sob* I am told our picture would have been cooler and gotten the whole of Joe Hill and not just his hand--but oh well. What can you do? We were both bitterly disappointed, but got over it quickly. At least we have the memory and the tweet! 

We returned back to our hotel and feasted on Chili Heatwave Doritos and hummus and posh chocs.

Stay tuned for Blissful Bristol, part three!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Blissful Bristol, part one

Oh my stars. A person doesn't know they need a holiday until they get one and the  tensions of everyday life just melt away. It has been a roller coaster of a year living in Cymru. Mostly good, but with a few rocky elements to it. There were those very slow first months where I was I was unemployed and life was harsh and cold and I was dreadfully homesick, but it has picked up considerably from there.

Even so, when we realised we had enough money from my hours working  in the shop saved up to take a mini-break to Bristol--we ran with it. Then my lovely Mum wired us a bit of extra cash so we could eat out for a few meals rather than PB&J it in the hotel every meal. Thanks Mum!

Bristol by train is an easy 3 hour journey with a change in Cardiff. We left on Tuesday at 11:00 and by 2:30 we were nestled into our budget hotel. We chose Travelodge as they have really good prices, are a clean well lighted place and they had plenty of vegan breakfast options. We chose them in spite of their slightly creepy adverts where a person has a doppelganger puppet who does everything they do.

We quickly unpacked and went to explore the city. A funny thing struck us--we really missed all the bilingual signs. I genuinely felt Welsh and proud of my country and felt like a part of me was missing without the Cymraeg. 

Bristol itself is a bustling, multi-cultural city with graffiti everywhere and students whizzing down the cycle paths on their bikes. It was quite big and we walked about 8-9 miles a day just in and around the city centre. 

We scoped out the places we were planning to go as well as the supermarkets and then headed down to the Eat a Pitta. This little food kiosk was recommended by the son of a vegan friend and it did not disappoint. There were gluten free options (don't get the pitta bread or couscous)  as well as vegan ones (only the yogurt dressing was not vegan) so we had an *enormous* box of salad with picked red cabbage, shredded carrots, pico de gallo, banana peppers and gherkins and 6 amazing gluten free falafel with a blop of hummus. Yummus! We ate it al fresco and watched the beautiful city then got ready to go see  Arthur Miller's play The Crucible at the Bristol Old Vic. 

We both love this play about the Salem Witch Trials which was a thinly veiled attack on McCarthyism and this production did not disappoint. It starred Dean Lennox Kelly as John Proctor (you might remember his as Shakespeare in an episode of Doctor Who) and Neve McIntosh as Elizabeth Proctor whom you will definitely remember from Doctor Who where she normally looks like this:

We opted for the cheap but unusual seats on the stage. Seriously, ON THE STAGE! We sat in pew-like rows behind the actors and it was performed like it was theatre in the round. It was such an intimate performance as the actors were there--close enough to touch (I was *desperate* to pull some loose bits of thread off of the back of the Reverend Parris). I honestly don't know what the audience on the other side of the proscenium saw as so much of it was directed our way. We saw faces and expressions UP CLOSE and Reverend Hale interacted with us several times. We got to see costumes and how they were made and distressed (because costume design is an interest of mine this was fascinating to see how clothes had been altered and aged). It was clear to see up close how much finer the Putnam's clothes were to everyone elses--their wealth and their sense of entitlement went hand in hand. 

There was a real sense of being a part of the production, particularly during the trial scenes. Spiderman said, "Do we sit in judgement or are we the condemned?"   It was powerful stuff.

 The whole sense of the play was powerful with many scenes having all the actors on stage at the same time, sitting on benches around the action in the middle. The cast would quietly sing hymns to frame the action and add atmosphere. In the opening scene where everyone was praying for Betty Parris to wake, every actor was on stage mumbling prayers or singing hymns and rocking back and forth--except John Proctor who had his back to the audience and stared directly at us, without saying a word. i don't know what the audience saw, but but his face was wondrous to behold--a kaleidoscope of emotions.

With very little furniture--a few benches and some tables--the story was told through the powerful writing and first rate acting. At the end (spoiler alert) where John Proctor decides to die with honour--to lose his life and be hanged for a witch rather than save himself by a false confession and damn his soul--I thought my heart might leap out of my chest. The cast was onstage, everyone singing a hymn that rose higher and higher. It grew louder and more intense as he walked toward the gallows--an actual gallows. A noose appeared above a platform and the trees were littered with bodies hung as a warning to others. Slowly he walked towards the gallows--the acapella hymn swelling, a drum beating (which i thought was actually my heart) and Elizabeth Proctor says the line about He has his goodness now but all eyes were on John Proctor as he mounted the scaffold. He put the noose around his neck, the drum was pounding, the hymn was so intense as it was right there all round us and BOOM! He stepped off the platform into darkness.

I was just left stunned, opened mouthed like a fish. It really was made more intense to be part of the show not just an observer in the audience. As we were walking out I was remarking to Spiderman how well directed the show was and how i was so glad we had opted for the stage tickets. An older gentleman turned around and said, "Oh, were you on the stage?" and i proceeded to tell him what a powerful, intimate experience it was. After he walked away Spiderman told me that he was actually the director! ha!

If you want to know more about the production--click here for some videos about the show and interviews with the cast.

We walked back by the moonlit river to our hotel and snuggled up for some telly and some crisps and salsa before falling into a  blissful sleep. Did I mention that Travelodge uses the same brand of really posh mattress that we do with the pocketed coils? oh yes they do and unlike some hotels with a lumpy, springs-poke-you mattress where i sleep all wonky and wake up crooked--I slept like the dead (to quote another Arthur miller play Death of a Salesman).

Stay tuned for day 2 of Blissful Bristol!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

We can all agree that plastic bags are evil, right? They are not biodegradable and can remain in landfills for hundreds if not thousands of years. They litter our landscapes.  They find their way into our oceans and are swallowed by animals such as turtles who die a slow and painful death as it prevents them from eating. But there is a solution, right?

BYOB. Bring your own bag. Simple as that. You can have a string bag or a heavy duty bag for life from your local shop or a jute bag or a beautiful bag up-cycled from a pair of old curtains (my personal favourite) --the point is JUST BRING A BAG.

How about charging 5p per plastic bag as an incentive to bring your own?

I am proud to say that Wales was the first country in the UK to do so. We have been charging 5p per plastic bag since 2011, thank you very much.  And what was the result? a 71% drop in plastic bag usage in the first year alone.

Northern Ireland and Scotland followed suit in 2013 and 2014, respectively. And what happened? The same as Wales. They saw a significant drop in plastic bag usage.

So what in the hell has happened to the people of England?

They've gone mad, the lot of them.

A month ago I was working in the shop when a holiday-maker from England regaled me of her outrage that a shop dared to try and swindle her out of 5p for a bag. When I asked if she would like a bag for her purchase she said:

Her: Are you going to charge me for it?"
Me:  We use environmentally friendly paper bags and so we don't need to charge.
Her: Well I was just at Debenhams and I was buying a pair of shoes for £45 and they had the *nerve* to expect me to pay 5p for a bag. (by now she was practically foaming at the mouth like a mad dog and shouting much to her husband's embarrassment) I told them that I wasn't going to pay 5p on top of £45 so they could get stuffed. I wanted a refund immediately for the shoes. 
Me: So you didn't buy the shoes?
Her: Hell no! They weren't going to swindle me out of 5p. How dare they! 
Me: (thinking) Don't go mad--whoops, too late.

I tried to explain that it was the law here, but she was having none of it. I thought it was a one-off crazy reaction, but apparently not.

October saw the 5p plastic bag charge hit England and the shit hit the fan. People went mental. They didn't care that the number of plastic bags at the 7 major supermarkets rose by 200 million in 2014 exceeding the previous year's unbelievable figure of  7.6 billion bags. This is equal to 140 bags per person  or 61,000 tonnes of waste. 

They didn't care. They just weren't going to part with their 5p.

Now instead of making people outraged about the 5p charge and spurring it on to bring their own, it had the opposite effect.

People stole trolleys.
People got banned from shops for effing and blinding and swearing over paying for a bag.
People were stealing bags by the handful and now some shops have had to electronically tag their plastic bags and trolleys.
People got into a fist fight with shop security in a car park when trying to make off with a trolley.


Seriously? This is England? Losing their mind over 5p? You would spend more than that on a lottery ticket and a packet of fags (cigarettes to my American peeps) but you won't spend 5p on a bag because you can't be arsed to bring your own bag.

I am *so* glad I live in Wales where things are more civilized.

Grow up England and stop being such a  titty-baby.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Last of the Summer Wine

We had our annual Llansteffan Castle picnic a week or so ago. It’s called Last of the Summer Wine just because it is the last bit of warm summer before the cold and rains of autumn rear their heads. This picnic was one of the first outings we did with Carmarthen vegans last year and it was extra thrilling to be doing it again. We got to be firm members of the group, welcoming new people unlike last year when we were the newbies.

Also, after the hike in the Brecon Beacons where is was clear I needed more sturdy shoes a blessing occurred. I was all set to cough up the £45 I needed to buy a pair of waterproof hiking boots from Charlie’s when lo and behold my beloved discount German grocer Lidl had pairs on sale for £15. That’s right. I bought one, Spiderman bought one, I went and back and bought another pair for when the first ones wear out because I hate shoe shopping. I told all my vegan peeps and Kathryn, Peter and Susie bought some. So now we’re all twinkies (twins!)

Anyway, I had mine on for this walk and you might can catch a glimpse of them.

 It starts down below by the River Tywi estuary. This is the view from the car park where we wait for everyone to arrive.


There were many little friends out and about.

can you see his little eyestalks?

lots of little friends

 Then we all walked together up the steep road.

heigh ho, heigh ho! It's up the hill we go!

We saw at least one little eight legged friend on the way up.

can you see her hiding in her web?

An artistic view of the castle we were headed up to complete with spooky old gnarled tree.

Then we arrived at the top of the ruined castle. This is the view looking outward.

Then we all sat down in a circle and ate ourselves silly with delicious vegan food.

This is what the ruined castle looks like.

This is the view out to sea.

This is the view if you climb to the top of the ruined castle.

Or if you look through an arch.

Here is me by the old well holding the well key pretending to be the evil Dodge in the form of the dark lady from our favourite graphic novel Locke and Key by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. I am putting on my evil face which Spiderman says is less effective due to the wee flower in my hair. Go figure.

scarier than me

 Here’s another little fuzzy friend found on the castle walls.

Not sure what was happening here. I was standing up to avoid sitting on the rocky wall but it somehow looks like I am the teacher and they are my pupils. However you do get a great view of my new teal and black hiking boots.

click to enlarge and admire my new boots

 Yes I go hiking in a dress. No I don't care if it looks dumb with hiking boots. Any other questions?

It was a little chilly, but we still had a blast. A new young lady called Rosie brought some watercolour pencils and some bristol board and we happily sketched the view together and chatted.

A big thanks to the Amazing Spiderman for all the lovely photography. Didn't he do a great job?
It was a lovely day and just goes to show you can make your own fun.

Good food, good friends, fresh air and exercise. What more do you really need?