Thursday, 13 September 2012

Wonderland: Allo Darlin' @ the Fleece

The setlist - I've left it as long as I could to avoid spoilers!
Allo Darlin' have worked their way deep into my heart as one of my favourite live (and otherwise) bands. I first saw them only a few months ago, in February. I was still living in Newcastle and saw them at the Star and Shadow Cinema, my favourite music venue in the Northeast. With no raised stage, we were all on the same level and the setting was wonderfully intimate.

When they announced their autumn tour I was initially sad that I'd not be able to return to that setting to see them again, but brightened when I realised that they were also playing Bristol. I stuck it out 'til payday to buy my ticket, and before then I managed to get a place on the cheaplist as Twitter pal Andy's band Cassette Culture were supporting. Another Twitter buddy mentioned she was going too and a quick half in the Apple calmed my jittery excitement before we burst in to the sounds of Bristol-based band An Axe. They put the same itch in my bones that the Rakes do, with a little more drama and a touch of something else. Very different from Allo Darlin', but deliciously so. Listen/brood/twitch to them here (and if you're in Bristol, they're playing the Croft in a couple of weeks).

Next was a trip to the bar for Crabbie's alcoholic ginger beer before Cassette Culture's set. I hadn't had time to check them out before the gig (I felt a bit guilty about this) and was pleasantly surprised. Different again, and it's always nice to have a bit of variety on the bill. A bit poppier than I had expected, probably because their website describes them very bluntly as "lo-fi indie rock music" and that leaves a lot to the imagination. A favourite for me was The Negative Song (more upbeat than it sounds, but if you don't believe me, check out Cassette Culture here).

Last, of course, was the reason I'd trekked across Bristol to meet a stranger: Allo Darlin'. As with the last time I saw them, I've drifted into a post-gig fog of smiles and humming under my breath all day. It's been a week and I've become utterly besotted with Europe, their latest album. I think I'm a little bit in love with Elizabeth Morris (and she wrote on the back of a setlist that it was nice to meet me so she obviously loves me back) and my stats are showing just how deep a dent last Tuesday left on me. As with the last time I saw them, I was lucky enough to chat with the band for a while after the show and they were all absolutely lovely. This time, I'd spent all my money on ginger beer so I nabbed a setlist off the stage and Paul  illustrated it for me with cute little pictures for each song, before the rest of the band signed it.

I want to assume that everyone has heard their music because it feels like I've been listening to them forever now (in reality it's probably little over a year) but, if you haven't, take a listen now. They're the sweetest thing (especially if you like ukuleles).

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Tea by Post #1

My mother went to university before the advent of Skype, text messages and BBM. While she was ensconced in the Midlands, filling her head with languages and meeting my dad, her best friend had travelled further afield, to Bristol in fact. They kept in touch by letter, and I remember my mum once mentioning posting digestive biscuits along with letters. They arrived crumbled, but you had something to dunk in your tea as you read the letter.

I've done it myself before. Once I posted my friend some bourbon biscuits wrapped in foil, notepaper and words (unfortunately for her, her dog managed to get through the wrappings before she did!). Recently, however, I was discussing fruit tea flavours with a friend and struck upon the idea of posting teabags. That way, you get the cup of tea. You might not want to dunk your Hobnobs in lemon and ginger Twining's, though.

And so, a couple of weeks ago, I parcelled up my first Tea by Post and sent it to Adam. My Bristol tea collection is pretty limited, but I managed a selection and added my own labels and a couple of other bits and pieces (Mo Farah meeting David Cameron plus washi tape equals fun, right? Right?!).

Lipton apple and cinnamon, Health & Heather lemon and ginger and the Mystery Tea (Clipper raspberry leaf, my favourite fruit tea)

Pop a letter in with the tea!
The following day, the fruity treats fell onto Adam's doormat and not long after that I received more tea in return, including cherry and cinnamon, which I'd dropped hints about (it's Twining's and is now a serious contender for favourite tea. Raspberry leaf had better watch its back). I took some to work and sat out in the sunshine at lunchtime, slurping warm, fruity tea with my sunglasses on. It was a delight. I'm about to try the orange, mango and cinnamon and I also received camomile and spiced apple (about which I am dubious but I'm hoping it will convert me into a camomile lover) and a Mystery Tea, which I have yet to taste. Exciting! Of course, there was also an owl postcard because no-one dares to post me anything without an owl involved somewhere.

A week or so later, I collected a parcel from the sorting office: my mum had sent me down some of my felts and embroidery yarns. In the package, she'd included some more of my tea collection. She was getting in on Tea by Post without realising! And now I have a few more treats to send to Adam. It is my turn, after all.

Yours over a cup of tea,

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Picnic for one: exploring the Downs

I'd spent weeks brushing off disbelief that I'd never been to the Downs, and the weather was glorious last weekend, with azure skies stretching beyond the hilly streets, so I packed a picnic and took myself off on an adventure.

I trekked through the grass, drinking in the scenery, until I reached the cliffs and could see out over the Avon Gorge across to Clifton Suspension Bridge in one direction and blue haze and wind turbines in the other. Above my head, birds wheeled and dived.

The Observatory

I had hoped to go in the observatory, which houses a camera obscura, but alas it is undergoing maintenance at the moment. I hope I don't have long to wait before I can venture inside. Years ago, I was involved in a few youth film projects and the couple who ran some of the events had built a camera obscura in the attic of the building they rented as their studio. I'll never forget the magical, almost slow-mo feel as I watched passers-by, tiny as pinpricks, drift along, upside down on the sheet that hung on the back wall of the attic room.

Of course, this being Bristol, I saw a whole family of hot air balloons, floating out above the city. I followed them up to the observatory and then out across the suspension bridge. I had to avoid looking directly out over the Avon Gorge as I crossed the bridge, giddy with the height and the void beneath me.

Overlooking Clifton Suspension Bridge from Clifton Downs

Picnic for one: a pasty from Joe's Bakery

Sitting above the bridge, the breeze cooling my prickling skin and a gasp catching in my throat - partly at the views over the Gorge and city and partly because I'm probably not in the best of shapes - I pulled out my picnic: a spicy vegetable pasty from Joe's Bakery on Gloucester Road, a carton of Rubicon Passion (my favourite, I've a can of it sitting next to me as I type this) and an apple picked from the tree in my garden. I took in the views - and the pasty - before making my way down the hill into Clifton for the first time.

I wended my way through the streets, constantly a little bit lost and referring to my A-Z, until I stumbled upon a place I remembered: back in April, I made a fleeting visit to this beautiful city; my first. I was here for an interview: the one that got me the job I'm now in, and a friend of mine who studies here showed me a few of the sites, limited by time and the fact that his patch doesn't stretch far from the Bristol University buildings. He eagerly showed me what I call the "mirrored garden", which some hasty Googling informs me is actually Royal Fort Gardens, owned by the university.

I hurried in towards the glistening maze, but was halted in my tracks by a city fox. We gazed at eachother for what felt like a million forevers, until it startled and sprang away into the undergrowth.

Royal Fort Gardens

My sturdiest, comfiest shoes for adventures

By now, I had been walking for four hours and it was almost time to wind down for the night. The sun was just beginning to slip out of reach as I dragged my Doc Marten'd feet down into town and boarded the bus with a weary sigh. I have so much more of the Downs to explore. Perhaps next time I'll take a friend, or a flask. I hope that I'll be able to get inside the observatory soon, or venture down to St. Vincent's cave. Maybe I'll follow one of the nature trails. There's so much to discover.

What are your favourite patches of wilderness tucked away in the city? Is a park enough greenery for you? I'm sure the Downs will serve me well when I hunger for the lush, rolling fields I grew up amongst.