All posts by Polly

Book Review: How to Be Human: The Manual, by Ruby Wax

How to Be Human: The Manual, book cover by Penguin, seen with collage art by Maurizio Anzeri and Nkiru Oparah.

Do you want to explore the human condition, without heavy academic textbooks and bland philosophising? Then you need How to Be Human: The Manual, Ruby Wax’s new book for deep thinkers who like a side-order of laughter with their psychological revelations. This is the kind of book you could take on holiday and binge-read on a plane, or dip into as you try and fail to settle into ‘holiday mode’, because How to Be Human will explain why you can’t fully switch off, and why you’re struggling to feel compassion for the champion seat kicker who ruined your flight. read more

Best Independent Edinburgh Cafes and Coffee Shops

Edinburgh independent cafes interior and exterior shots including Thomas J Walls, Peter's Yard and Black Medicine Coffee.

If I owned a second home (not that I even own a first home, but let’s overlook that for a second), it would be in Edinburgh: the city of excellent bookshops, raw history and, as you’ll soon see, some of the best independent cafes.

I spend time here every summer, grabbing as many Festival Fringe and Book Festival experiences as I can, like the cultural equivalent of the cash-in-a-wind-tunnel finale frenzy in The Crystal Maze. It’s an exhausting but essential part of my year, and a chance to see new plays and shows with family and friends. read more

Paperback Books to Travel with Right Now

Paperback books out now in UK bookshops including Lullaby by Leila Slimani and Dark Pines by Will Dean

Unfortunately, this post is a mammoth one, because the more I thought about the paperback books you should travel with right now, the more I remembered why I liked each one so much. I mulled over favourite lines and clever themes, and it became harder to cull the synopsis for each of these tantalising reads.

I chose paperback books because, not being an e-reader fan, this is the way I like to read on holiday – preferably no hardbacks, unless they’re lightweight. A decent paperback copes much better than a hardback with being flung in a handbag or rucksack for an adventure, possibly covered in sun cream or snacks, and these four key paperback recommendations (along with four more titles for further reading) will keep you gripped until the very last page, wherever you are in the world. read more

Against Blue Monday Marketing and the Trivialisation of Mental Health Issues

Ignorance sign in blue and white metal to signify ignorant behaviour. Displayed on white wall

Blue Monday, essentially the grimmest recurring day in the entire calendar, is nearly upon us. It’s a time when we’re supposed to be at our lowest, according to academic and merchant of doom, Cliff Arnall, whose dubious findings were based on calculations of average weather for the time of year, low motivation and high levels of debt.

The science behind it seems sketchy, but Blue Monday is basically an annual excuse for press release mayhem, when companies try to flog us things to cheer us up before our bank statements arrive. It thrives on the notion of low mood being permitted just once a year – if it helps, perhaps imagine it preceded by the word ‘cheeky’ – before normal service is resumed and we all just stop being so ungrateful. Yet the idea of low mood being self-indulgent, temporary or quickly diffused doesn’t gel with the one in four of us who will experience genuine mental health problems in our lifetime, especially the one in five of us who will have a depressive episode. read more

Pantone Ultra Violet Locations: Places That Nail the Colour of 2018

Lavender fields in Provence iconic view with purple lavender: example of Ultra Violet Pantone colour in nature

Pantone 18-3838 Ultra Violet is the official colour of the year, set to appear on many of the things we buy, like and consume in 2018 – in a travel sense, everything from new suitcases and toiletries to hotel artwork.

The colour has already influenced some fashion designers’ Spring/Summer 2018 collections (shown in September and October 2017), and it will inspire many more designers in the collections yet to come. You’ll also spot Ultra Violet in homeware, stationery, food, jewellery and marketing materials, as brands look to jump on the bandwagon. read more

Sustainable Travel Explored: Meet Huw from TravelLocal

Raja Ampat Indonesia as seen in Blue Planet II with green scenery and trees edged by sand and bright blue sea - a destination covered by TravelLocal

Huw Owen is the co-founder of TravelLocal, with nearly 15 years’ experience in the travel industry under his belt, including stints mentoring travel entrepreneurs for the UN. He was the perfect person to kick-start my new blog series on sustainable travel.

Do you know a sustainable travel pioneer I should talk to for this blog series? Shout about them in the comments, or by tagging me on Instagram (Instagram.com/pollyallen), and let’s help spread the word about travelling more sustainably and ethically. read more

Bristol Harbourside Market and Tobacco Factory Sunday Market at Christmas

Bristol Markets and market stalls in Harbourside, including cactus plants for sale, and gifts at the Tobacco Factory, such as t-shirts

There’s nothing like a good outdoor market, whether it’s the Christmas season or not, and Bristol has plenty to choose from.

I’ve often blathered on about Bristol in blog posts: firstly, it’s one of the UK’s best and most vibrant cities, particularly for anyone interested in arts and culture; secondly, both sides of my family have history there, so I think of it as a home-from-home. From Bristol’s coffee shops to its street art, there’s always something quirky to see.

My sister and I were lucky enough to visit our Bristol-based cousin last weekend, and she is as much of a culture vulture as we are (when she lived in London, she introduced me to a fabulously-named café, Tina We Salute You, and countless art exhibitions). Going to a market was a no-brainer for us. read more

Exhibition Review: Dalí Duchamp at the Royal Academy

Dalí Duchamp exhibition poster at the Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London, featuring lobster phone and Fountain

Dalí Duchamp is the perfect injection of humour and zaniness towards the end of an ever-increasingly doom-laden year. Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp are both major names in the art world, but together they’re magnetic.

Some of you may have seen previous blockbuster conceptual art exhibitions in London – I loved the Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia epic at Tate Modern (21st February – 26th May 2008) – and others will be looking at these artists with fresh eyes. Whether you’re an aficionado of Surrealist art and conceptual art, or you’re just looking for a distraction from idiotic political games, you’ll welcome this Royal Academy exhibition. read more

The Word Forest in Estonia: Why it Matters

Word Forest Estonia Independence Project with Name Labels on Pine Trees in Lahemaa National Park

Nearly half of Estonia is covered in forests (49%, to be precise), so it’s hardly surprising one of the big celebrations of Estonia’s centenary involves a newly created Word Forest (Sõn Mets) in Oandu, part of Lahemaa National Park. This project sees individually labelled trees dedicated to journalists who have written about Estonia and its legacy, spreading support around the world.

In fact, when Estonian independence was regained in 1991, the country saw international journalism as a key factor in securing its new-found freedom and keeping its name in the media. The first named trees acknowledge those early visitors to newly independent Estonia, then the names mark key journalists who have visited between 1991 and 2017. read more

The Best Independent London Cafes and Coffee Shops

Independent London Cafes Le Cordon Bleu London Bloomsbury coffee shop and lunch venue

Back in September, the BBC reported that the UK is heading towards its coffee shop saturation point. Even in small towns, you’ll find several different coffee chains and some independent cafes within 100 yards of each other. As for London, you can barely move for baristas, but finding independent London cafes is trickier.

We all like a trip to Costa (the UK’s most visible coffee chain) now and again, yet independent cafes are far more fun to explore: the mystery of a new menu, a different blend of coffee or tea, and finding out if there are books, board games or artwork to enjoy. This is definitely the case in London, though I do realise some independents can take the biscuit when it comes to prices and pretentiousness. With this in mind, here are the best unpretentious and independent London cafes you should try. read more