Spider-Man and the Botanist

It was the final day of my friend T’s visit so we decided to have a chill day – she is returning to a packed Edinburgh Fringe schedule. A lazy morning (for me, anyway – she was working on Fringe stuff) was followed by a trip to the Vue in Gateshead to see Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Earlier in the weekend we had watched Into the Spiderverse, which was an utter delight – visually inventive and packed with loads of pleasing comics references and plenty of heart – so I was keen to see how she thought the film compared. Plus I have been dying to try the Vue – since it’s £4.99 a ticket! We both enjoyed it a lot, though I felt a bit like the Marvel Whisperer – having seen it already in Brighton I was on hand to stop patrons leaving before the end scenes, many clearly wondering if Endgame had marked Marvel abandoning their post-credits scenes. (Half the people around me were googling “Far from Home end credits” as the credits themselves were running!)

Afterwards we nipped over the river for a quick drink at The Botanist, as I wanted T to see one of the best interiors in the city, and though I dislike the place when it’s busy – it gets rammed – at 5 on a Sunday it was pretty civilised.

Finally, the night was rounded out by another North East institution: Indian takeaway from Saleem’s, thereby ensuring she returns to Edinburgh full for about a week (as well as being delicious, Saleem’s is not stingy with the portions!)

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Dramatic Cocktails at Lola Jeans

My first time revisiting Lola Jeans in almost a year – and this time I got to try the cocktail that I wanted to try that first visit, but that they had run out of. The Fog on The Tyne features a Newcastle Brown Ale reduction and is delivered in a smoky bell-jar – so looks *very* dramatic. (I was pleased to see it actually just came in a glass, though). My friend had the 5 Shades of Earl Grey, which she also enjoyed (though she envied my glass). I wasn’t keen on their overuse of plastic straws – I think these should always be available, as some people need them, and the ban is ridiculous, but I also think they should be offered, not just supplied with the assumption everyone wants one – but other than that, it was a great stop off for the start of an evening.

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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…

The Town Mouse Ale House

I’ve spent so much time at Northern Stage recently that I had forgotten there are other places to go in that part of the city. So after our jaunt to the Hancock Gallery, my friend S and I decided to have a bit of a wander. First up was a coffee and a scone at Quilliam Brothers, one of my favourite spots in the city, where S had tea, which enabled me to admire their lovely branded tea cups.

We had planned a bit of a walk but the inclement weather gave me an excuse to try a place I had walked past a few times and been keen on: The Town Mouse. Based minutes away from Haymarket in a basement on St Mary’s Place, it’s surprisingly light and airy for an underground space, aided by quirky but uncluttered decor. (As with so many of the spots round there – my old stamping ground – I spent half my time trying to figure out what it used to be. Veggies restaurant, maybe? I definitely recall there being a basement vegetarian restaurant on that street when I worked at Thorne’s – now Blackwells – as my friend C would sometimes meet me from work and we would have lunch there. The chip shop my friend S and I would pop into on our way home from clubbing before walking back to our flat in Jesmond still seems to be going strong, mind…)

It was surprisingly busy – though not crowded – given it wasn’t even 5pm (but hey, we were there, so who am I to judge). I’m not sure how much I would love it on a Saturday night, but then I rarely love anywhere but my sofa on a Saturday night, so that can’t be held against it. Certainly, on our visit it had much to recommend it.

A charming and friendly barman was happy to let us taste a few things before choosing – and struck just the right note for a pub like this, informed and interested (he patiently answered some of my questions about some of the drinks) without making you feel like a loser if you’re not an expert on rare brews. The stock was impressive (not that I’m an expert!) and it looks like the kind of place where ale aficionados will find plenty to love.

S likes IPA, I prefer lager, so I went for Northern Helles and he had a one of the barman’s recs, and we both enjoyed the place’s laid back afternoon vibe so much we could have happily stayed for more…

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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Elevator Festival and BalletBoyz

Two shows in two nights for me this week. First off was my first trip to this year’s Elevator Festival at Live Theatre. Offering a mix of “new plays by rising talent” and talks about the state of the industry (including the future of playwrighting, and the role of women and the state working class representation on stage) – most of it very reasonably priced – it unfortunately runs the two weeks I am busiest in the year, so I’ve had to limit my attendance to a couple of shows.

One of these was Matthew Greenhough’s solo show about two young men whose friendship is torn apart by their opposing political beliefs over Brexit, It’ll Be Alt-Right on the Night. A sharp and funny piece, I enjoyed it, though it needed a little more polish in its performance.

Second up was Them/Us at Northern Stage, which was the epitome of polished, and which even I enjoyed, newbie to dance as I am. A performance that was particularly strong on the idea of male-on-male tenderness – something you don’t often see on stage – it was actually very moving even if I only had the vaguest idea of what was going on.

Since I was out with Young People (we met one of my companion’s friends at Northern Stage), we even went for drinks afterwards – at 10pm! on a Friday! Who even am I? – and ended up at a bar that is new to me, Alvinos. Apparently they do good cocktails, though I was sticking to wine as I was already pretty squooshed, and with 3 floors it’s deceptively large. We scored a place on the outside terrace upstairs and enjoyed some serious putting the world to rights before I staggered into a taxi outside and made my way home.

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Cocktails and Captain Marvel

Thursday, my friend M and I went to see Captain Marvel. It was my first trip to a mainstream cinema since I moved back – the Gate, in Newcastle – since unlike the Picturehouses I was used to in Brighton (where I saw pretty much all my movies) the Tyneside Cinema doesn’t show all the big films. I liked the Gate – the neon decor makes you feel a bit like you are in Tron, and when it’s quiet it feels a bit post-apocalyptic, but the seats were comfy and the screen was huge. (So much so that I had misjudged and booked seats far too close to the screen – we were both a bit woozy by the end.)

The film was also great – like most of the Marvel origin movies, it took too long to get going, but once it hit its stride it was enormous fun. Goose the cat rules!

Before the film, we had cocktails in Bealim House, on Gallowgate. An old stationers, so close to my heart already, they specialise in gin, though of course I had to try their espresso martinis, my usual drink, and they did a decent job of that (plus, there was a two-for-a-tenner offer on. Bargain!)

Walking to the film, though, I realised there was another pub I should have tried…

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