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.

Kate Jackson: the second coming

Back from the brink of indie obscurity

‘INTRIGUED’ is how I approached Kate Jackson’s performance at last month’s Secret Garden Party.

I’ll admit, I once had a girl-crush on the Long Blondes’ front woman. She’s filed under ‘People I Wish I’d Been In 2005′ alongside The Duke Spirit’s Leila Moss.

To be honest the love affair isn’t over. Last month I bought Once and Never Again for 50p at a record sale just for sentiment’s sake.

This lingering romance is not unusual among an era of Sheffield graduates whose university nights were spent dancing to the city’s most underrated indie band of the noughties.

The five piece – whose short tenure came to an end in 2008 when songwriter Dorian Cox suffered a brain haemorrhage – regularly thrilled crowd upon Leadmill crowd with rebellion-rife lyrics about failed romances, escapism and the double-edged sword of love.

As the band’s star, Jackson counselled the pissed off youth of the mid-2000s like an older, wiser, way cooler sister. For many, Secret Garden Party was the first glimpse of Jackson since those gin-fuelled days.

She marched on stage still looking the part – knee-high boots, neck-scarf, and a wedge of kohl lining her eyes. But at 32, Jackson has moved on from the monochrome-clad caricature she played four years ago.

Granted, debut single Wonder Feeling fails to live up to its name with a slightly second-hand feel for all its references to motorways and railway stations, but the flicks and quirks of Jackson’s unique voice are still unmistakeable and songs like The Atlantic show off her powerful range.

The post-punk aggression of her formative work has been traded in for fuzzy guitars and glam-tinged melodies owing more to Stevie Nicks than say Chrissie Hynde.

Evidently, this is new territory for the singer, so those hoping for a blast from the past may be disappointed. On the plus side, she’s never looked more comfortable in her own skin.

To read more about Kate Jackson, go to superior music blog A Negative Narrative for her photo intraview.

…and then I saw STARS

I WOKE up one day and realised my hiatus from exercise had hit the five year mark.

That’s half a decade of sitting on the sofa eating a box of Quality Street and not giving a second thought to the solidity of my thighs.

For at least half that time I had good reason to abstain from jumping around, but the last two years? No reason.

Just run-of-the-mill laziness and a begrudging acknowledgement that running up the stairs shouldn’t cause cardiac arrhythmia.

So I invested in a pair of children’s Asics (the silver lining to having freakishly small feet) and found a cheap monthly deal at a new gym minutes from home.

Even I had to admit my long over-used excuses – it’s too far away, it’s too expensive, etc – were no longer valid.

I decided to ease myself in gently, or so I thought, by joining a Thursday night Pilates class.

Lying around on a mat seemingly doing very little seemed an ideal place to start given that my muscles resembled something like blancmange.

My gym-buddy-in-shame Emily joined me and for the first 60 minutes we puffed our way through a series of deceptively painful contortions I am still convinced should not be performed by the average human.

Even now, some months later, there’s still no greater instruction than the sweet relief of Child Pose after a 30-second plank.

In the meantime I was interspersing the toning sessions with pushing myself to hit the mile mark on the treadmill.

Some may scoff at so short a distance but let me tell you, the Potts family were not built for long distance running.

For the first month I dragged my feet and watched with hatred as the numbers of the timer move with planetary slowness.

After four weeks I hit a mile without feeling like my lungs were on fire and decided to expand my cardio repertoire to Boxercise.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me now but once-upon-a-time I earned a black belt in Kickboxing and could deliver a swift roundhouse to the head of a six foot man.

In my mind I could still perform these moves with a semblance of grace so surely my body would follow suit?

Well for starters, the instructor is an Eastern-Eurpoean maniac whose routines are impossible to keep up with.

As luck would have it, my ability to perform a half-decent jab-cross-uppercut is surprisingly still passable.

Unfortunately, the other 50 people taking the class aren’t masters of co-ordination and after bobbing around to a Eurotrash remix of ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ for 45 minutes, the likelihood of leaving with a black eye was high.

So, with a new opening in my cardio workout, it was after some bullying on Emily’s part that I attended Boot Camp last weekend.

I made the mistake of reading a boot camp blog entitled “Then My Legs Stopped Working” shortly before attending the class which tempted me to wuss out.

Sadly for my sciatic nerve, I went.

A bird-like Asian lady –a deceptive appearance given that she turned out to be Satan incarnate – told us to jog around the room in a circle while she set up a circuit.

Then there was jumping onto a box and jumping off a box, then lunging while holding free weights, then attempting to lift dumbbells heavier than my entire body.

I quickly went bright pink, then chalk white, then a blotchy combination of the two. At one point I actually saw STARS – a phrase I never truly appreciated until that moment.

At the same time as appreciating the cheap lightheaded kick, I wondered as I gulped for air whether I may in fact, actually stack it.

Incidentally, I didn’t. But for the rest of the day my heart did strange spasms and on Sunday I was walking like John Wayne.

So yes, I am back at the gym, and undoubtedly, I must – or at least I chuffing hope so – be getting fitter with every session.

But the second someone invents a pill that mimics the effect of a thrice-weekly gym session, I’ll be chucking them back like a Valium-popping housewife.

Miniature: size does matter

Tiny liquids

WHENEVER I go on holiday I get a quiet thrill at the thought of going into the toiletries aisle in Boots to stock up on tiny bottles of products I already own in regular size which, if I had any sense, I could just decant into empty bottles and save myself about £20.My adoration knows no sense: I once paid about four quid for a copy of a well-known sex-rag masquerading as a women’s glossy just so I could get a tiny tube of Lancome mascara.

I’m always reminded on these bi-annual shopping trips of that scene in Scrubs where JD tells Turk he likes to collect miniature items because it makes him feel like a giant.

But I think the simple fact is that – at the risk of sounding sexist – girls in particular find small stuff is just, well, CUTER.

Tiny pup

Take today’s token quirky news story about baby Beyonce the Dachshund puppy who is so tiny she’s actually smaller than an iPhone.

One can only imagine how many hearts across the nation simultaneously broke watching the poor little pup squeak from the inside of a paper coffee cup.

Two weeks old and only three inches long from top to tip the petite pooch is possibly the media darling of the day with reporters everywhere scrambling to see who can come up with the cutest comparison – for me, “she was so small she could fit into a spoon” is a winner, but more so if it’s a teaspoon, which sadly was not specified.

Speaking of small things, I’ve recently discovered that not all babies are awful.

Tiny hand

In recent months I have been rather taken by an adorable six month old baby who at every occasion I can, I snaffle onto my lap.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of infants, but LOOK HOW TINY HER HAND IS IN MY HAND.

Trying to Draw Something, anything…

Can't draw / won't draw

I AM Tweeting about replacing sugar in my coffee with honey when my friend Claire erroneously replies: “You have to get Draw Something – it’s AMAZING!”

No-one in my family possesses a shred of artistic talent  – though I have been known to dabble in bunting – so the thought of going screen-to-screen in a doodle-off with my friend-with-an-art-degree was met with a wimpy “I can’t draw” and we went on with our days: me congratulating myself for switching to decaf beverages laced with bee juice, and Claire with her index finger glued to the screen of her iPhone waiting for someone to “draw something.”

The following week – around the time that Pinterest failed to raise more than a grunt out of me – I noticed a few friends LOLing and ROFLing in my Facebook mini-feed over what appeared to be a series of scribbles penned by toddlers.

Catherine says to Liz… “I apologise for that last drawing. Bag of shit.”

Meanwhile, Dan taps his cyber fingers impatiently at Rebecca: “UM it’s your turn,” he gripes, uploading an incriminating screen shot entitled, “Waiting, their move.”

In my sidebar there are five app requests from mates inviting me to show them just how horrific I am with a virtual paint brush.

I groan at the thought of yet another app clogging up my iPhone and close down Facebook. I should be writing about dead dogs anyway.

A week later, and in the process of attempting to remain abreast of media trends, I relented and Googled Pinterest (I still don’t see the attraction – I’ll let you know if I do), read about various social networking sites banning pro-anno and “thinspiration” pages and stumbled across an article telling me why Draw Something is better than Words With Friends.

As a frequent WWF winner (no, I do not moonlight as a wrestler or champion the plight of animals), I remained sceptical any app would tip my fave off the top spot – especially when the author sounded more like a social worker when they said Draw Something is better because it’s “co-operative, not competitive”.

I relent and download the free version to see what the fuss is about.

I blink at the screen blankly for a few seconds before fumbling my way into creating a game with Claire.

It tells me I can draw one of three things: mask, tail, lion king.

An image of Simba addressing the herd is probably beyond my meagre talents at this early stage so I settle for “mask”, tentatively jabbing the screen.

I submit what I consider to roughly pass for a masquerade ball mask and wait.

I stare at the screen for a second time and wonder what happens next.

The phone bleeps!

The app loads and asks if I want to watch Claire trying to guess my image. This is a much more high-tech operation in my head than in real life – I imagine it to be a video of my friend’s scrunched up face trying to fathom my piss-poor paint skills.

To my horror it’s actually a replay of me attempting to draw the mask, complete with action shots of me erasing several bits and attaching thin wonky lines to some chunkier wonky lines.

Incredibly she guesses correctly and I am invited to guess her picture. Clearly a connoisseur of the game already, she goes for an eight letter word.

I watch as she draws what I first believe to be a blue blancmange attached to a grey pole turn into a wholly recognisable depiction of “dandruff”.

Now in the swing of things, I take my next turn. I’m disappointed to find I only have access to the colours blue, red, yellow and black but I make do with my attempt at “kick” – a yellow leg with a red sock kicking a blue ball.

Perhaps if I become the latest Draw Something advocate I’ll trade in some coins for crayons and expand my paint palette.

Until then, if someone can tell me what the “bombs” are for I’d be grateful.

P/R/I/N/Z/H/O/R/N D/A/N/C/E S/C/H/O/O/L

Getting up close with Suzi Horn and Tobin Prinz

 

Sometimes I write for other folks too – like the lovely A Negative Narrative.

Click the link above for words and snaps from dystopic DFA power duo PRINZHORN DANCE SCHOOL