Elle Talent Competition 2015: Runner-up!

ellepic

So I’m finally allowed to reveal that I was a runner up in Elle magazine’s annual writing competition.

I say ‘finally’ because I’ve known since October and was asked to keep shtum, which by the way, is really quite difficult when you’re really pleased and want to tell everyone.

Even though I’m a journalist by trade and therefore write for a living, I’ve never particularly shared any of my more creative work with anyone, least of all put it forward for scrutiny by a panel of judges, which has made the accolade all the more special.

But when I saw the brief – to write 500 words on ‘Relationship Goals – I knew exactly who to write about and why.

No, not the obvious – though I’m sure plenty of people did – no, I decided to write an ode to my grandfather, who by all accounts is one of the coolest people I know.

My story will be up on the Elle website sometime this month, so keep checking there and here, where I will post a link.

In the meantime, I await the arrival of my super fancy monogrammed Smythson notebook, which I have no doubt I’ll be too scared to write in for fear of ruining one of its (surely) gold-plated pages.

It’ll look pretty on the shelf though and I might just start carrying around for effect.

 

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Budapest: a tale of two cities

A room with a view – Art’otel, Budapest

ITS reputation precedes it as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – rivalling the likes of Paris and Prague with its promise of romance and bohemia.

But from the rolling hills of Buda in the west to the vibrant nightlife of Pest in the east, this former Soviet city has far more to offer than passionate embraces on the banks of the River Danube.

My boyfriend and I booked our Jet2 flights from Leeds to Budapest – mindful of its agreeable September weather – and flew just two hours before checking into the four-star Art’otel for a three-night escape, a mere stone’s throw from the water’s edge.

A quick sweep of our stylish double room revealed a picture-perfect view of Matyas Church, its landscape backed by cyan skies and terracotta roofs, so we clambered up the sprawling streets of the medieval district to explore the city’s former seat of royalty.

From the summit of Varhegy (Castle Hill) are striking views of Pest’s skyline which are dominated by the towering spires of its grand parliament building. We dodged the tourists posing for pictures in archways and strolled through the castle district for a visual history lesson.

Castle Hill, Budapest

At the heart of Buda’s enchanting courtyards and passage ways is Szentharomsag Ter (Holy Trinity Square), its most prominent feature being the colourful church.

An amble to the southern side of the hill took us past Baroque houses in dusty shades of orange to the city’s palace and castle complex – demolished and rebuilt in the wake of several battles.

Retiring to our hotel after an exhausting trek through Buda’s winding hills it was lights out once my head hit the super-comfy, foam-topped mattress, but an eight-hour kip and superb buffet breakfast later, we were back on track.

The Danube, Budapest

Leaving the leafy ‘utcas’ of Buda behind for the day, we ventured towards Margaret Island via one of the many bridges straddling the Danube.

Sitting pretty between Buda and Pest, this peaceful island is home to verdant parks made all the more striking by the golden autumn leaves crumbling underfoot.

Luscious stretches of green space are peppered with flower gardens and a musical fountain, making Margaret Island a quiet retreat in the midst of the city.

From there it was a short amble into Pest to take in one of its most famous attractions – the thermal baths.

Szechenyi’s numerous pools are housed in an elegant Baroque building and it’s clear tourists and residents alike enjoy wallowing in its toasty waters. A dip in the outside pool – at a steamy 37 degrees – was a thoroughly relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

Szechenyi Baths, Budapest
Photo credit: Seeuinhungary.com

But it’s the indoor saunas and herbal baths which provide the real entertainment as gnarled Hungarian men play water chess.

Sufficiently shrivelled after an afternoon splashing around, we strolled into the centre of Pest down its iconic boulevard, Andrassy Utca, which is topped and tailed by the monuments at Hősök Tere (Heroes Square) and the city’s infamous ‘ruin bars’.

The 1.5 mile stretch is lined with Neo-Renaissance mansions, cafes, restaurants, theatres, and luxury boutiques, but a meander through the side streets will take you to one of Pest’s most famous bars, Instant.

The venue is a maze of surreally decorated rooms featuring taxidermy owls and the drinks are generously poured. The same can be said for the neighbouring waterholes serving cheap wheat beer and strong cocktails.

But a word of warning to unsuspecting tourists after a tipple or two – check your change. Somewhere in Pest we were slipped an old Romanian note instead of Forints (Ft), meaning we lost the equivalent of £27.

Ditto taxis. We had heard horror stories of shady street cabs but we learnt a hard lesson when a 90 second ride cost us £30.

Esceri flea market, Budapest

The safest – and most economical – way to cover large distances is to pre-book taxis through hotel reception, which was no trouble for the super helpful staff at Art’otel. A 9,000 Ft ride took us 20 minutes out of town to the Esceri flea market with an hour’s wait and return journey.

Budapest is not without its dark side –its history is etched with communism, revolution and unrest, and its legacy is for sale on the market’s stalls. An unnerving selection of gas masks, Nazi memorabilia and muskets were readily available for the right price, nestled alongside austere looking teddy bears and discarded dolls.

Back in Pest we followed the sound of our growling stomachs to a street fair selling Hungarian grub.

Pay-by-the-kilo street-food, Budapest

The country’s cuisine does not cater much for the vegetarian palette with its traditional menu of goulash and veal or pork stew. But I for one enjoyed tucking into a hearty portion of unidentified gamey meat spiked with Hungary’s signature spice, paprika.

For a more glamorous culinary experience head to Gerbeaud – a lavish tea room serving delicious cake and sundaes near to the tourist trap of Vaci Utca. Try the sublime dark hot chocolate or the apple strudel topped with cinnamon ice cream for complete indulgence.

Memento Park, Budapest

Finally, if you have any energy left, take a trip to Memento Park and see the ghosts of communist dictatorship. The venue is filled with Soviet statues which were removed from the city after citizens revolted in 1956.

These gigantic monoliths of oppression are both fascinating and creepy but are well worth the short journey and admission fee for a glimpse into Budapest’s chequered past.

Taking that ride to nowhere

And on the Sixth day, we sang Road to Nowhere

UNLESS you’re in the cast of Glee, it’s not often in life you get chance to make a literal song and dance, unless you’re a) in a band, or b) at a karaoke bar.

For the majority of us, it’s the latter. So it was  on a windy weekend in April that a rather large group of us gathered in Victoria Park to sing Talking Heads’ Road to Nowhere, led by a tiger-clad dancer and boasting a finale punctuated with confetti canons.

The original plan to film at the bandstand was thwarted by a toddler’s birthday party. We couldn’t kindly ask a three-year-old to move along so we sat stuffing our faces with cured meats while our director wandered around hunting for an epiphany.

Plan B became apparent and we gathered for a vocal run through. Talented musical types produced instruments – drums, strings, clarinet, etc, while others bust out pitch perfect harmonies, leaving the lesser rehearsed among us mumbling the chorus at the back.

Groups of bemused onlookers stopped and stared. Luckily we weren’t pelted with rocks, but rewarded with a smattering of applause.  Who says London is heartless? Then it was onto the deceptively difficult task of singing and dancing simultaneously, which for the record, pop stars make look easy. It’s not.  

The final take was the product of an hour spent snaking across the grass in formation and trying to punch the air at the appropriate times.

By the time we’d filmed the final take, the sun was going down and we were all in desperate need of a pint. Even now, any mention of Road to Nowhere (understandably) tips some of us over the edge. 

But looking back on the video only prompts a rose-tinted ‘aw’.

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Dir: Gregory Davenport
Cue cards: Harry Manley
Willing victims: Alice Flanagan, Cecilia Fage, Charlie Venables, Freddie Powys, Hannah Cartwright, Nick George, Huw John Sam, Jessica Moncrieff, John Patterson, Kim Jarrett, Licia Shirin Conn, Matthew Taylor, Owain Rees, Sami Fitz, Stef Davenport, Tabitha Wrathall, Lauren Potts

Addicted to info

It's all very Working Girl, she said...

I LIKE Thursdays – it’s the day Stylist lands at the office.

Despite my best intentions, I never get around to reading it cover to cover on said day. I dip in and out at lunchtime and savour it for a weekend binge of magazine reading.

This week however, retiring to bed at 8pm full of cold afforded me an unusual time slot in which to indulge my habit.

As I settled under the covers I was thrown from my cosy reverie by the diagnosis of a problem I didn’t know I had: a lack of mindfulness.

Helen Foster and Alix Walker’s feature –Tweet Freedom- sent me into a shame spiral, cowering behind the pages at the spot-on accusation that I am a routinely “two-screening” – an activity which includes watching TV while faffing on a computer.

I thought back to the night before when I had six internet tabs open streaming music, a headphone clamped to one ear and the other half-listening to the billionth re-run of Scrubs.
Instead of congratulating myself for being a 21st Century woman, multi-tasking my way through cyber-world, according to Foster and Walker I am nothing more than a statistic spiralling towards a life of Divided Attention Disorder – an inability to concentrate on more than one thing at once.

True, maybe. But in my defence, having been introduced to the internet at the age of ten, my generation is guilty because this lifestyle is the norm.

Take a typical morning.  The first 20 minutes of my average day is spent reading Metro to catch up on national news. Then I get out my iPhone, check the BBC app for up-to-date info, Daily Mail for gratuitous show-biz gossip and round off with a few flicks through Facebook’s mini-feed.

As a journalist, it’s easy to justify my obsessive compulsive news checking as dedication to current affairs but in fact, it’s more to do with an habitual need to be constantly up-to-date with everyone and everything.

Even as I read the Freedom feature, at the point where it suggested I couldn’t concentrate on one thing at once, the sound of my phone vibrating literally made me flinch.  With a Herculean effort, I told myself I must not read it before the end of the article but the mere fact I had to chastise my inner info-junkie speaks volumes in itself.

Life is supposed to be about experience but I characterise an age-group guilty of an addiction to MePhones and Crackberrys, who are too busy updating their Facebook status.

According to research, we spend eight hours and 48 minutes a day absorbing media. It’s impossible to keep track of everything, so why are we wasting so much time trying to do so?

Despite working in an industry where internet use is mandatory, I don’t want to be ruled by various technological appendages, because there’s something to be said for going home, not sitting at yet another computer screen, and reading that book that’s been collecting dust on my nightstand for eight (eight!) months.

Oh – and the text message I received? It was an MMS from my best friend, who was out at a craft night in London, interacting with people and playing with glitter and glue.

I would rather be there than on Facebook any day.