Warhol in Edinburgh

As per my previous post, I was in Edinburgh this week. Mainly this was to see a show – Cora Bissett’s excellent What Girls Are Made of – but it also provided a great chance to catch up with friends.

My friend A and her husband moved back to Scotland a few years ago, and I hadn’t seen their new place since, so A & I met for drinks and dinner before the show (an OK-but not-stellar chips and halloumi burger at Red Squirrel, mostly because it was handy for the theatre, though it was a perfectly fine stopping point: friendly staff, very decent selection of veggie options). I stayed the night at their gorgeous house, which gave me major home envy: my room (just one of their guest rooms!) had an en suite, and the whole place was just so lovely and elegantly fitted out, I am now planning to secretly move in and see how long till they notice (it’s a big house – could be a while)…

A and I stayed up chatting till the early hours, so I admit I was more than a little hungover when I went back into town the next day to meet my friend D, through from Glasgow. Still, we didn’t let that deter us from taking in some culture, and decided to head to the Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art.

It’s been years since I have been – I’ve never even set foot in Modern Two – but we started there, keen to see I want to be a machine, an exhibition of Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi pieces that included many of the famous Warhol prints and movie posters. I’m less familiar with Paolozzi, but his work was a fascinating counterpoint, and the exhibit is well laid out across five rooms, with plenty of explanation as to what’s what and why it matters. It’s also free, which is always a bonus.

NOW at Modern One was more of a mixed bag. A selection of works by Monster Chetwynd, Henry Coombes, Moyna Flannigan, Betye Saar, and Wael Shawky, it covered most of the ground floor, and some bits took me more than others, though as again it was free, I was happy to have a mooch.

D and I then had lunch and a wander, before he had to head back to Glasgow, so before my evening train I met A again for a few drinks in a pub off the Royal Mile (we powered bravely through our hangovers). The pub had a sign on the bar that said ‘those that drink langest live langest’ and at this rate A and I will be around till our 80s…

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Da Vinci drawings at Sunderland Museum

Took a trip to Sunderland today to see the Da Vinci drawings – selections of which are on display around the country. It was the first time I had been to the Museum and I was impressed – there were a number of good exhibits, including some drawings from the archives, some LS Lowry and a series of drawings of local pensioners by Andrew Tift called One Day You’ll be Older Too.

The Da Vinci exhibit was astoundingly good value – £2.50 a ticket! – and showcased some beautiful pieces. We rounded off our trip with coffee and a scone in the cafe (also not bad value) and a wander round the winter gardens. Definitely worth a visit.

Baltic, cocktails and Us

After a busy and slightly frustrating week, where I had my biggest deadline of the year and, not coincidentally, my immune system finally gave in after several months of pretty much non-stop work, I was both delighted and slightly wary to play host to my friend T this weekend. Delighted, because she is always good company, wary because I had developed a hacking cough, almost lost my voice and wanted nothing more than to lie in bed with the covers over my head, so feared I wouldn’t exactly be the hostess with the mostess.

Luckily, T is both very low maintenance and very good company, so we actually had a fab weekend. Our plans were thwarted on more than one occasion – I’d wanted to do cocktails at Six in Baltic on early evening Saturday, but when we turned up the venue was booked for a private party, and the weather scuppered some of our more ambitious plans.

In the end, though, our weekend turned out pleasantly laid back. Having been to the Backyard Bike Shop several times for food, I finally got to try their cocktails, which were very nice. We had a delicious veggie brunch at the Tyneside downstairs cafe, and some seriously good Indian food at Dabbawal. And though the Baltic was a no for cocktails, we did see some art. I admit a lot of it went a bit over my head – art isn’t an area I am particularly knowledgeable about – but it’s always a space worth visiting. I was particularly taken with a couple of the shows in the Artists’ Award exhibitions: Ingrid Pollard’s examination of the figure of the ‘black boy’ in English architecture and culture – primarily through pub signs which use black figures – was fascinating, and Aaron Hughes piece on war was moving.

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We also watched a lot of films – it was a bit of a feminist film fest! T hadn’t seen Fury Road or the new Halloween so we watched those, then went to the Tyneside to see Us, where it was also nice to introduce her to the beauties of the classic screen, and rounding off our Strong Women weekend, we watched Widows, which I hadn’t seen either.

I thought both Us and Widows were flawed but fascinating, powered by smart ideas and strong performances. Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis were both incredible. I am also *very* here for Winston Duke playing a dorky dad, which was such a difference from his usual roles.

So, all in all – just the tonic I needed!

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Barluga and Boulevard

It’s Restaurant Week in Newcastle, so I used that as an excuse to try out Barluga (and, um, not order anything from the Restaurant Week menu). It’s a place I have walked past many times so it was nice to actually see inside – the decor is lush and warm for such a spacious place.

The menu had a decent mix of vegetarian and gluten free meals – important as one of my friends is GF – and though I plumped for a fairly basic option (grilled halloumi burger and chips) it was very tasty and my friends M and C professed themselves pleased with their respective roast chicken and salmon, though M felt her Bailey’s cheesecake dessert was singularly lacking in the taste of Bailey’s!

After that we headed to one of Newcastle’s most raucous nights out, Boulevard, to see this year’s “adult panto”.

It’s obvious a show called Jack off the Beanstalk isn’t for the easily offended, and I admit there were a few moments that jarred against my Brighton-honed, theatre-tailored PC sensibilities. But Boulevard stalwart Miss Rory runs a tight ship, there were plenty of outrageous laughs, and the staff were pleasant and efficient – I love a place that does table service and is actually on the ball about it.

The night was almost marred by the loudest hen party in the world, who were ejected at the interval after multiple warnings (imagine being so loud you get thrown out of a Geordie club!), with Miss Rory wishing them them the worst of weddings (“I hope it rains on your wedding day – acid rain!”), while someone foolish enough to be on the phone in the second act got a severe dressing down from the stage. I kinda wish more theatres adopted that policy…

Small Town Inertia at the Side

A day off today, which I used to catch up with my old friend Simon, the photographer. Given our mutual interest in photography (his expert, mine… less so) we decided to check out the new exhibition at The Side Gallery, Small Town Inertia by J A Mortram.

Running till March – and free – it’s an incredibly powerful show. Mortram’s pictures show the brutalising effects of austerity on the disabled, the poor, the vulnerable – and, crucially, his subjects get to speak. Most of the photos are captioned with quotes by their subjects, which makes it feel like they have some agency in this: we are not just poverty tourists, peering at their misery. And it is, for the most part, misery, with both loneliness and the abuse and cruelty of strangers a common theme, especially for those who are mentally or physically disabled. They are often insightful and eloquent about their situations – one quote in particular stuck with me, from “David”, who compares the poor to chickens, pecking at the weakest in their midst, instead of uniting against the farmer who will be cutting off their heads.

It’s not an easy show – I found myself on the verge of tears a few times – but it is an important one.

Exposed and the Last Ships at the Laing

Yesterday, I went to the Laing Art Gallery for the first time in decades – another old haunt that I hadn’t yet got round to revisiting. But, spurred on by having a guest, I decided to check out the Exposed exhibition that is running at the moment. Titled Exposed: The Naked Portrait, this is a well curated show that includes a number of familiar images and many less well-known ones, and smartly considers the different ways of being naked or nude (as well as the differences between those two states), and different power dynamics between the viewer, artist and subject. Definitely worth checking out, it runs till March and full price tickets are £8.

As well as a wander round the rest of the gallery – which is a perfect size to pop in and wander without feeling overwhelmed by not being able to do everything, as you can easily cover it all in one visit – I went to the Chris Killip exhibition, The Last Ships. This free show (which is on their site as running till 2020) is worth checking out if you have any interest in the local region or industrial photography. A one-room exhibit, it features evocative black and white pictures of Wallsend and the last big ships built at Swan Hunters, and includes some stunning images of the giant ships dominating the landscape, capturing the influence they had over people’s lives, as well as the impact of their departure.

Quayside market and Ouseburn Open

Terrible weather didn’t deter me from taking a wander around Ouseburn open weekend, where lots of the local studios – including The Biscuit Factory and Lime Street Studios – throw open their doors and you get a chance to meet the artists.

It was a lovely event – I could have spent a fortune, but limited myself to a picture and a couple of greeting cards. We also stopped for coffee in Hotel du Vin, which is a great pit stop in the area, in a beautifully repurposed building.

The biggest surprise of all though was the Quayside market. When I was growing up this was mainly somewhere packed with cheap shell suits and (probably) knock off DVDs, but now it is a foodie paradise with a range of great stalls. Definitely one for a return visit!