Have you ever been in a town on fashion week without any tickets? More precisely Milan, whose charms are evident but finite? Yeah, it’s definitely my fault but last minute niggles over tour plans meant I applied for tickets about half an hour before Milan Fashion Week started, then some work stuff got cancelled so I was sort of at a loose end for three whole days.
So what’s a gal to do? I did some work, watched Pitch Perfect which was a laugh -but SO many bootcut jeans, I couldn’t take it- and did a bit of lazy tourism. I was kind of in a grump at myself and my ticket situation and really exhausted so I probably didn’t make the most of it. There’s some weird adrenalin thing, that if you have a break from touring you just crash and get the most intense fatigue. I sort of hung around my airbnb like a bad smell, making friends with the most adorable cat and eating lovely healthy food at the brilliant Radicetonda.
Apart from the Duomo I wasn’t really in the mood for much sightseeing (can you tell how grumpy I was? I’m making myself feel grumpy just reading this!) Turning that frown upside down is a very essential lifeskill and I did go for some nice wanders around town but I don’t think fate was on my side. A distinct highlight at the end of the stay was a meal just down the road at the highly recommended L’Angolo D’Abruzzo, a classic, check tablecloth, neighbourhood restaurant that served up specialities from the Abruzzo region of Italy. If you find yourself in Milan, I can’t recommend their cheap, plentiful and delicious home cooking enough. I waddled home, happy, slightly drunk, ready to catch the train to Turin the next morning.
This is what I’m calling my fancy outfit, aka vaguely more dressed up than usual. I’m really really into how my Nike Frees go with anything, I’d usually wear this outfit with smarter shoes, like my silver ones, but it totally works with the trainers and gives it a more modern look.
Uniqlo knitwear is The One, so when I knew I was after a poloneck I went straight there and bought this lovely navy merino number. I’m wearing it with my number one all time bargain, my leather mini which cost me £1.50 from Chiswick car boot sale. I’ve sort of worn it to death but it’s the gift that keeps on giving, even though the box is all tatty and the warranty has long expired. Wearing these two lads with another favourite, my Falke cottonsoft tights. These were a birthday present and I love them because they’re the king of tights, they have a really fine knit and they last for years.
Like the gif? Everyone who’s seen it thinks I’m sniffing my hand. I’m not a stranger to discreet tour sniffs to gauge personal smell, but no, I’m just taking a picture, soz.
I owned a Heidelberg sweatshirt in college, it was a brilliant child-sized thing that I wore with tech fabric combats because it was the 90s. That was pretty much my sum of knowledge of Heidelberg, the real first ‘foreign’ stop on the trip. When we a arrived at the venue, a big glass-fronted building that looked over the river Necker I was in awe. Spooky looking houses, tree-covered hills and , I could understand why all those German philosophers and poets would sit in the woods thinking marvellous things.
I walked into town with the promoter, feeling like an American in London with my regular exclamations of ‘Wow! It’s so old!’ looking at houses with spires and decoratives rooftiles, little cobbled streets and old-fashioned squares. We huffed up to Heidelberg Schloss, a castle embedded in a hill which has incredible views over Heidelberg. It always feels great to make the break and leave venue to go explore, after the walk I carried on working in the amazing office with a view. Before the gig we walked back into town to have an Italian meal, not so traditional I know, but having carried my two-day hangover from Paris, seafood linguine was exactly what I needed.
We were parked so close to the venue in Zurich I sort of tumbled straight into the backstage area and right into catering where I stuffed my face with cheese and cold cuts (mental note – stop eating cheese and cold cuts). I did manage to make it outside, to walk to the lake which had lovely Alpine views and my first taste of real mountain landscapes.
After the Zurich gig I caught a train in the morning, down to Milan for a few days off. The whole way I was glued to the window, these amazing giant mountains and crisp white snowy views. The rest of the train didn’t seem too bothered but I was glued to my window, it was a journey I don’t think I’ll forget. I was listening to Bill Callahan’s latest album and when I got to Winter Road, the snowy scenes were too much and I felt all emotional. Totally didn’t cry though, it was just a bit of pretzel in my eye. Honest.
From the train
Paris, just over the channel, I speak the language and one of my best friends lives there. So it’s kind of foreign but not, it still marked the first stop on the European leg of the journey. After dumping my stuff in our hotel, we walked a little while to Mum In Her Little Kitchen, aka Milk, a cute little restaurant that does little crumbles, cakes and treats all served on ultra colourful vintage plates.
My boyfriend came to visit for the weekend, with some awesome packages. I took him to Chartier, my favourite restaurant which I first came to this celebrated place as an art student. Our tutor recommended this place that had served Toulouse Lautrec and had sort of stayed the same since it opened in 1896. It’s not fancy, but you get real French food, amazing ambiance and it’s dirt cheap. After that we wandered up to the Sacré Coeur for a few more drinks, all lit up at night, I think it’s even nicer than in the day because there’s no crowds and you can see all of Paris, incandescent. On my actual birthday, with a raging hangover I met up with my cousin for lunch and we all walked through Paris for the rest of the afternoon, because I’ve been a few times I couldn’t really be bothered to go to the Eiffel Tower and all that, it’s nicer to just wander and get lost a bit. That night, even though I was mortally hungover, Women’s Hour, Anna’s support band knew someone who owned a bar down the road. Felipe closed the bar and welcomed all assorted band members, crew and friends offering us grasshoppers and mezcal and he even cracked open a bottle of champagne for me. Hangover, what hangover?!
No word of a lie, I’ve been wearing this outfit pretty much permanently for the last two weeks. With obvious underneath layer changes for hygiene reasons bien sur. Finding an outfit that works and sticking to it is so much easier than rifling through bags and trying to out something new together every day, just not happening.
I bought the Nike Frees just before I left and I have been wearing them EVERY DAY, they’re so comfy and they look kinda smart enough to go with a ton of things. The Cos jumper is the love of my life, a fluffy, warm mixed colours thing with side slits that add a bit of fun. On a bargain tip, I got the John Lewis bag (it’s actually an ipad case) for £30 in the January sales, it’s the perfect size for phone, camera, passport.
The awesome leggings are from Baukjen, their Aldridge trousers are a mix of supersoft stretchy leather and ponte, party in the front, party in the back. The leather is amazing, really buttery and and it pings back to shape without sagging. I’ve hunted around for leather leggings for a while and these are the best price for the quality, Baukjen also do the Liv, a full leather version for not much more money. The rose gold ankle zips provide a bit of glamour, much needed when you’re stumbling out of a tour bus. Also: leather, wipe clean. SO good for being on tour. Another daily favourite, my camel coat was a ridiculously cheap eBay find, it’s been my comfort blanket for the whole trip, I’ve even chucked it over my onesie for a quick hotel dash – so chic!
As soon as I stepped off the tour bus in Birmingham is started to rain. Really rain. Big fat drops that ran grossly into my topknot, onto my scalp and trickled down my face. I spent a good few minutes in M&S just tissuing off the wet from my head and face before buying an umbrella. I sometimes teach in Birmingham, the people are lovely but it’s a funny old place. The Bullring, built just on the outside of the centre siphons off most of the people so that the real centre kind of feels a little lost. It’s still packed full of shops but there’s an melancholy air of ghostliness.
The paragraph above serves to explain why I ended up having a chile con carne in a Wetherspoons and it’s pretty much all I did. In my defence I had tried to go to a vegetarian café that was shut that day, so wet-footed and with a still dripping face I went for the lowest common denominator and made the most of the wifi. No pictures survive of this blah day, it came just after a lovely three-day break in London so I think I just moped around the venue for the rest of the afternoon.
Parked up in Brighton a day later, or more accurately Hove, I jumped at the chance to go to my spiritual home, George Street charity shops. When I was an art student in Brighton I would regularly spend the generous amounts of free time we had visiting the charity shops in the area. After showering in some duff hotel by the sea I went to check out the good ol’ chazzas. This time it was a bit of a bittersweet outing, as charity shops just don’t have the same exciting feel now the rails are bursting with H&M and Primark instead of old ladies’ cast offs. Also, the Wimpy where I once saw a woman packet after packet of sugar down her throat has now been turned into a Chicken Cottage; end of an era.
Bath is a wonderful bubble of middle class cosiness, it’s sort of the town equivalent of a front room, with branches of Bang and Olufsen and Space NK instead of rumpled couches and killim rugs. I walked around admiring the Georgian architecture and biscuity Bath limestone, plotting my future as a manager of the local branch of Hampstead Bazaar. Just imagine. Floating around in loose linens and speaking to Judi Dench on the phone about a custom order, before retiring home to ‘supper’ and Book at Bedtime. Brilliant. It rained and then hailed at which point I wandered past a glowing, warm pub window. Pies! The Raven in Bath was a recommendation, but I sort of stumbled upon it. They took me in and took my order, a steak and ale Pieminster pie with fluffy mash and Guinness gravy that restored my faith in humanity.
Can I also add that in Bath, the final outpost before Europe, I posted a HMRC document just before the bus left for Paris and I’m really proud of myself? I hate posting things and paper forms so, there you go.
Its probably not very rock and roll, but the first thing we did when we got to Leeds was walk through the park to Leeds campus and go for a swim. When you’re festering on a tour bus there’s nothing nicer than going for a few lengths in a pool. The wholesome feeling of exercise with the refreshing feeling of being in water. It’s like being reborn. After my swim I walked through to the town centre, I never really knew how lovely Leeds was until I went there for a wedding last year, but I really like it.
This former industrial hub is a town with a real structure, like Sheffield. Lovely, large, slightly dark, majestic buildings, with a sense of history wherever you walk. When you’re walking around on your own, you end up fixated on buildings and architectural details. I didn’t realise how much of a legal centre Leeds is, I walked through it as people in suits went on their lunch breaks and felt like I was watching Silk, one of my fave programmes FYI. The venue that night was the Brudenell Social Club, a lovely little place that I’ve heard of many a time but never been to. If we could get a little social club like that in London I’d be most chuffed.
We woke up under some dank arches in Glasgow, I pulled open the bunk’s hatch and it was just as dark outside as inside. Glittering and grey is how I’d describe Glasgow, sort of magical and drab at the same time. It definitely has more of a spark than cosy Edinburgh. I had a very quick shower in the venue, which wasn’t quite the Trainspotting toilet but had shades of grim nonetheless. My boyfriend had recommended the lovely Café Gandolfi, where I had a beautiful swiss cheese, mushroom and pastrami sandwich. They were so lovely in there I wanted to take refuge and never leave! I jumped on the Clockwork Orange -the colourful subway line that runs in a ring round the city- to Kelvinbridge and walked the long way up to the Art University, past streets with lovely huge brick houses. The art university was deigned by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, high up on a hill with amazing views. Oh and also this happened which was obviously the best thing ever.
Manchester was another swim day, at the Aquatic centre, a -now slightly shabby- pool built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, before eating a totally delicious stew at 8th Day vegetarian restaurant. This was the day that I met up with ALL THE PALS. Mof took me round all the cool places in the Northern Quarter and showed me the Frank Sidebottom stencil (RIP). The lovely Ellie treated me to a slap up meal at Almost Famous, where I burgered my face off and Eliza came to check out the Albert Hall, the awesome venue. I met up with Rob, who told me about the history of the Free Trade Hall an amazing building where the Sex Pistols played their legendary gig in 1977, where Christabel Pankhurst knocked off a policemen’s hat, where Bob Dylan played his ‘Judas’ gig and where Nye Bevan started a campaign that would lead to the formation of the NHS. It’s now a Radisson Hotel which is equally brilliant and note-worthy.
The tour kicked off in Dublin, a town that I’ve visited over many summers, as all my Irish family are still there.
At the Holyhead ferry port I opened my bunk window to rain and high winds, the bus swayed, a sign of things to come. I optimistically had a cooked breakfast on the ferry, which came with a tomato that tasted of fish, how novel. Half an hour later, thanks to storm force 10 conditions, I was bringing it back up again. I’ve never had seasickness before but this was epic, with waves crashing onto the windows, glasses smashing off the bar and people staggering to the toilets it all felt kinda biblical. We saw pretty much nothing of Dublin, with late timings and torrential rain.
Once in Belfast, showered and washed, I headed into town to have beautiful example of the Ulster Fry at Metz, which erased any memory of the god-awful fish-flavoured breakfast I had on the Stena ferry over. Belfast is a lovely city that has a beautifully dour appearance, with gothic, religious buildings inspire awe and fear. Last time I was in Belfast -years ago visiting a friend at Queens- the bit of the stay I loved the most was the visit up to Cave Hill, an amazing, horseshoe shaped-mound that hugs the city. Without a whole day to go up and wonder, I settled for second best, a trip up to the Dome shopping centre where you can see the whole of Belfast for free. Total winner.
The journey back to the UK was happily event-free, but I did spend the whole of the time waiting for the worst. Oh and taking selfies too. My ferry tips? Go to sleep, don’t eat the food and take some extra strong mints. Next up, Leeds and Glasgow…
I’m doing a bit of a pre-tour sort of my room, packing away the things I wont need and getting rid of a few bits while I’m at it. I’ve obviously been planning my ‘tour essentials’ in my head for a few weeks. Don’t even get my started on my ‘capsule essential must-have beauty items’. I’ve been obsessively pinning chic outfits, denim-based looks and sexy trainers.
Everything I’ll pack has to be a versatile as possible. Versatile is a word bandied about a little too much, really I mean every single item I bring has to work with as many other pieces as possible. So I’ve picked a neutral-ish palette and as many multi-duty pieces that I can cram into a suitcase. Oh yeah, I need a suitcase.
My full-length camel coat is definitely coming, it’s like a massive blanket and goes with everything. I’ve also just bought some black Nike Free Runs as they look good with smart outfits but I can also go running in them. A few skinny jeans in black, blue and white will be easy to sling on as I arrive in a new city, bleary-eyed and tour bus sleeped. A couple of cosy jumpers and some great shirts to wear underneath them, as well as a few brief skirts when I want to make an effort. A pair of loafers, a roll neck and tailored trousers will work for chic days in Paris, esp with my Cambridge Satchel clutch. Slap in a trusty jumper dress and maybe some easy shifts, my rockabilly ankle boots and a pair of heels in case I make it to Milan fashion week and I’m pretty much done, right?
From left: River Island beanie, £6, Asos. Equipment leopard shirt, £171.55, Saks Fifth Avenue. Cambridge Satchel clutch, £165. Baukjen leather leggings, £299. Brushed mohair jumper, £70, Topshop. Nike Free, £97.90, Sarenza. Sunglasses £19.99, Zara. Dries Van Noten camel coat, now £566, My Theresa.
This recipe is from wa-aay back at Christmas, but this fairly balanced brunch could work anytime. My sister left some panko breadcrumbs at my house over the festive period and they found their way into pretty much everything. One morning I decided to use these crunchy little lads to add a bit of extra speshness to a bleary brunch. Chrimbo leftovers of roast potatoes and cavolo nero are ripe for some bubble and squeak type potato cakes, but you could use any old greens and spuds. The egg and panko coating are a crunchy dream just waiting for an oozy poached egg so that’s what I did. It went lovely with some ham scraps I fried up, for something a bit healthier you could go for fried mushroom, chopped and salted tomato or a mix of salad leaves. I finished it all with chopped parsley for an extra bit of green. Oh and I also had some bread and butter because yolo.
Ingredients (serves 2)
bowl of leftover roast potatoes (or boiled)
two fistfuls of cooked, chopped cavolo nero or cabbage
one egg, beaten
one or two eggs per person for poaching
leftover roast meat or veggies
Start by mashing up your potatoes a bit, if you’re using roasties you want to leave a few crispy edges. Mix up with half the beaten egg, season and add and the cavolo nero and form into little cakes. Pour a handful of breadcrumbs onto a saucer. Dip the cakes into the egg and into the breadcrumbs. In a frying pan, heat up your meat scraps if you’re using, to let the fat flavour the potato. While they’re frying on one side, time to get poaching. In a pan of bubbling water chuck in a dash of vinegar -cider works best because it has a mild flavour- and then turn the heat right down. One by one, crack your eggs into a teacup and gently pour them into the water. My tip to get a good shape, is to make a barrier with a spoon with each egg to try and keep the white contained. Once they’ve got their shape you can turn the heat up a bit so it bubbles gently. Flip the potato cakes to brown on the other side and check the eggs by gently poking the yolk with a slotted spoon. You want to turn the heat off when the white is totally cooked but the yolk is still taking a poke. Serve up the golden cakes with the ham scraps and gently drain off the water on the eggs before placing on top of the cakes.