Apollo 11 at Tyneside Cinema

The good thing about knowing a film critic is you get inside tips on the good movies. So having seen Caution Spoilers’ review of Apollo 11 when it was at Sundance London, I decided to go see it when it hit the Tyneside.

It’s a fascinating documentary, using archive footage of the launch, landing and recovery, most of which I had never seen before, and impressively for a story we all know, manages to cram in quite a lot of tension. My one caveat is that, by focusing again on what the camera focused on at the time, it reinforces the erasure of the people the space programme didn’t acknowledge at the time – no ‘hidden figures’ brought to life here, it’s all white guys with military haircuts. (I’m not saying of course that wasn’t most of the people involved – and I don’t know enough to know who else was involved in this particular mission – it’s just a shame that now we’ve had a glimpse at the people behind the scenes, they’ve vanished again here).

But that quibble aside, it’s a vivid and gripping film that also reinforces a message of peace, solidarity and science for the good of mankind that we could do with a bit more of today…

You can read a Good Housekeeping article about some of the women involved in the moon landing here (one of whom, Jo-Ann Morgan, is glimpsed in the film), and of course the book and film Hidden Figures are worth checking out to see the contribution African-American women made to the programme. You can also read Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan and Katherine Johnson’s official NASA bios here.

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Back to Brighton

This week, almost a year after I left, I went back to Brighton. I’d deliberately left it this long – I thought that going back too soon after the move might give me ‘buyer’s remorse’ and wanted to be sure I felt settled in my new life before I revisited my old one.

It turned out to be a good decision. Leaving a big enough gap meant that I could enjoy all of the things I loved about Brighton – the sea, the city, my friends – without wondering if I’d made a huge mistake in leaving. Brighton will always have a place in my heart, but it’s no longer my home, and I’m not at all sad about that.

Desperate for a holiday and with the excuse of a pending theatre visit to London – which we’ll come back to – I decided to tag on a couple of days and stay with my friends R&A (and their gorgeous cat who, yeah, I miss more than I miss most other things) and spend a little time in the city.

My timing couldn’t have been better. A few overcast moments aside, the weather was gorgeous – so nice, in fact, that I decided to cancel my theatre trip so I could spend longer in Brighton, hanging out with an old friend from Scotland and her daughter who I haven’t seen in 16 years and who just happened to be in town the same week. Not all my friends were around – which was fine, as I couldn’t have fitted them all into a 3-day trip, especially since 2 of those 3 days were mostly spent on trains – but I managed to squeeze a lot in.

Day 1 I arrived late afternoon, so just chilled in the garden with R&A and the cat, before R cooked one of her magnificent meals.

Day 2 I met my friend M for lunch in Hove, in a restaurant called Billies and styled, with a degree of cheek, after the more famous Brighton institution Bill’s. Not sure why they felt they needed to, since I actually preferred it: we both had a delicious veggie breakfast, served in the style of a hash and smothered in cheese, that made me feel better for all the alcohol I had consumed the night before.

After that, A and I went to see Spider-Man: Far from Home, which I have been dying to see. A and I used to go to all the superhero movies together (R not being a fan), so it was a fun thing to do, and I was glad to get a chance to go back to Duke’s at Komedia, which is one of my favourite cinemas.

We then went to another one of my old stomping grounds, The Plotting Parlour, where we met R for drinks and I revisited one of my old tipples, the chilli and ginger margarita. For dinner, we went to VIP (Very Italian Pizza), a Brighton institution at the bottom of St James Street that serves some of the best pizza in town. (Pro-tip: if you can, sit downstairs – it feels more spacious than the oft-crammed upstairs, and you are less at the mercy of the constant stream of people coming in to collect their takeaway orders).

Best of all? I walked down my old street and didn’t even feel a pang. Though maybe as it was covered in scaffolding and full of workmen – the noisy bane of my existence when I lived there – that helped.

Day 3: My theatre plans abandoned, I had a much more leisurely and relaxing trip than I’d planned. My friend S’s daughter wanted to see the Upside Down House, so we met there. It’s a fun idea, though a fiver seems a little steep to enter what is basically one big selfie set, and it didn’t help that I was slightly hungover and S has vertigo, so neither of us were particularly good at handling the strangely disorientating, sloped interior. Still, we got some fun photos.

We then decided to try Compass Point Eatery. Run by a lovely Anglo-American couple, Compass Point was one of my Kemptown stalwarts when I lived in Brighton, but they have now relocated to nearer the seafront and a short walk from both the Upside Down House and the 306i.

Though it’s much larger inside and out, the place retained much of its quirky charm. Unfortunately by the time we arrived they’d run out of pancakes – the house speciality, and so popular you need to get there early to guarantee you can get them – but we had a very generous lunch anyway, and the staff (much extended from the Kemptown days) were lovey: my friends made plans to return.A wander round the Laines then I was back into London, for a quick drink in Vinoteca with another friend before getting the train home – feeling happy I went, but not sad that I left, which is the best of all feelings. Plus I got to see the cat.

July Birchbox

July’s Birchbox is the prettiest yet – a gleaming silver box adorned with ‘Born Unicorn’ that I sort of wished hadn’t got the Birchbox logo on it, as it would make a good gift box. Inside the contents were pretty good, too: a travel sized mascara and This Works pillow spray (which I have been dying to try, but was too pricey for me to justify), another make up brush (the second in three boxes, which seems excessive, though I suppose they never go to waste), a hair fragrance spray and an eyeshadow – this arrived broken, though not unusably so, which is a bit disappointing. Overall, I’d say this box for me was good value, since I’ll use most of the stuff.

*gender not included and Curious Festival at Alphabetti

Newcastle is currently hosting the Curious Festival, a celebration of LGBTQ+ art and culture that is being held across multiple venues in the region and runs till July 9th. Unfortunately, I’m away for most of it, so will miss most of the shows – it’s a strong programme, so definitely worth checking out.But I did manage to see *gender not included at Alphabetti the other night, and really enjoyed it. Alphabetti is the perfect venue for such a show: it’s intimate enough that a smaller show doesn’t feel drowned, it attracts a much broader (and queerer) spectrum of audience than your mainstream theatres, and its ramshackle charm never fails to feel welcoming.It felt like a perfect venue for *gender. The show itself was enormous fun – a lip synch look at gender and identity by a young non-binary performer, Melody Sproates. It felt very much what it was, a first-time show by a relatively untested creative, so for all its energy, it lacked polish, but sometimes there’s a joy in that in itself: in seeing something a little rough round the edges at the start of its journey, rather than smoothed out and slick. The fact that it was such a well-disposed audience gave the whole thing a lovely, party atmosphere, and there’s definitely a different vibe in the room when it feels like the audience is coming from a place of recognition and empathy, rather than difference and distance.It was such a hit it’s coming back for another night, and at just an hour long it’s more than worth your time. My full review is here: or you can buy tickets for the next performance (Saturday 13th July) here.

Reading in Heels July Box

My second Reading in Heels box arrived when I was away. The book is a Norwegian novel I have heard good things about, and the rest of the goodies were nice enough: candles, a lip gloss, vegan wine gum and some tea. Again, probably not so amazing I’ll renew my subscription after my 3-box purchase runs out – there’s been nothing in either box I’ve received so far that’s made me squeal in delight – but certainly a nice thing to get in the post.

Keith Haring at Tate Liverpool

I’d decided to tie my Liverpool visit into not just theatre but the Keith Haring exhibition at the Tate Liverpool, a gallery I have never been to. The show itself was fantastic – a huge range of material curated with real care. It was of course heart-breaking to revisit his work: an activist in the fight against HIV/Aids, Haring died of the disease at just 31 – but it was great to see such a major retrospective of his work.

Also at the Tate was Constellations, a fascinating collection that included pieces by Warhol, Miro and Kandinsky, though the pop art floor did little for my hangover.

Luckily an avocado and halloumi brioche at Peabody Kitchen sorted that out, allowing me to have a wander around the docks in the sunshine before taking a slow stroll back into town for my train.

All in all, Liverpool quite won me over – can’t wait to go back.

A trip to Liverpool

It’s been decades since I last set foot in Liverpool, so was delighted to have an excuse to visit when one of my friends relocated there recently.

Certainly, the city decided to show off its wares at its finest. It gorgeously sunny for my trip, and I managed to squeeze an awful lot into a short visit (aided by the fact the city is both very friendly and well sign-posted, so my usual ‘getting lost’ time was significantly reduced.

Day one I had a wander round the Walker gallery, which is just across from Lime Street station and was hosting a small but interesting exhibition called As Seen on Screen, besides housing an impressive array of art and sculpture.

I then wandered towards the Everyman Theatre, where my friend works, stopping for some much-needed food at the café next to the cathedral and a sit in the sunshine looking at the impressive structure and reading my book.

(This was also one of my favourite Liverpool exchanges: I went in as the café had finished its post-lunch rush so was winding down. Not wanting to hassle the man, I said he needn’t bother giving me a side salad to go with my lunch. “Oh, have a Tunnock’s tea cake instead, then,” he said, which is the kind of substitution I can get behind…)

A quick drink in the pleasant (though slightly dated) surroundings of the Everyman bar (all that black wood makes it look a bit 80s), my friend and I went along to another theatre – The Unity – to see a show she’d suggested, Wild Card Theatre’s Electrolyte.

Although it was well-performed and energetic, neither of us *loved* it – the story felt disjointed and unconvincing, and though it was clearly well-meaning in its efforts to highlight mental health issues, it could have done with a much tighter hand on the script. Still, the Unity is a great space, the staff were lovely and the drinks cheap – I’ll definitely return.

It was such a lovely evening that we decided to drink outside, so went to Kazimier for wine and chips, which we polished off in no short order before heading back to my friend’s place for… um, more wine and whisky. Day 2 was gonna be fun…