Writing longhand seems like a guilty pleasure these days, but one stationery shop in Bristol makes it unashamedly cool again: Papersmiths.
This Clifton store offers a carefully curated selection of pens, notebooks, cards and accessories, not to mention a vast range of fashion and lifestyle magazines to rival those stocked by London’s best newsagents. I popped in during a quick trip to the city and, being a self-confessed stationery addict, I was quickly won over by most of the stock.
Brands in store range from the minimalist design-centric (Hay) to the infinitely quirky (Herb Lester travel guides). Visual merchandising is simple but effective, with pencils arranged in colour order, and copies of The Gentlewoman slotted between thick woollen rugs and bowls full of chunky erasers in the window, so you start to picture your own home gradually being transformed into a Papersmiths palace.
People may rave about the award-winning art scene in Manchester and the street art in London or Bristol, but I want to add another city into the mix. With weird and wonderful architecture in Sheffield, not to mention the artists and creatives seemingly around every corner, ignore the Steel City at your peril.
Eye-Catching Architecture in Sheffield
The Park Hill estate is a concrete hulk of Brutalist architecture, inspired by Le Corbusier. Completed in 1961 as a rejuvenation project for one of the city’s poorest areas, Park Hill was initially a success but gradually fell into disrepair as it mirrored the declining steel industry in the 1980s.
It had me at ‘free tea and biscuits’. I’ve been to more museums than I can count in my 26 and 3/4 years, but never have I been offered a free cuppa and snacks as part of the deal… until now. Evidently, the Museum of Comedy isn’t your average tourist attraction, but the promise of a good old-fashioned English treat, alongside decades of authentic comedy memorabilia, worked wonders.
Based in a church undercroft between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn, this small but mighty two room venue covers the history of British comedy, from variety acts to TV sketch shows and stadium tours, and all that’s in between.
I’ve unashamedly had Christmas songs stuck in my head since July, and I contemplated buying decorations in September, so let’s just say compiling this Christmas gift guide wasn’t a daunting challenge.
Each item is practical but fun (because, no matter how many times it’s suggested by retailers, it is not exciting to receive a water filter or anti-wrinkle cream), and should stand out amongst the other presents around the Christmas tree. Happy shopping!
Up to £10
The Unusual Notebook (£3)
If you already love Herb Lester’s colourful maps (£4 each), you’ll enjoy the brand’s new notepads (£3 each, or £12 for six) based on fictional hotels, including the Great Northern Hotel from Twin Peaks. The tribute to Agatha Christie’s novel, At Bertram’s Hotel, is similarly tempting. Other Herb Lester products to add to your cart include a set of menu reading phrasebooks (£8), and a guide to visiting New York on your own (£4), which I agree is a good idea! See my solo guide to New York for details.
I’ve seen couples posing for romantic photos at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and children use it as a playground, leaving sweet wrappers behind; I’ve seen bored teenagers struggling to feign interest at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In those cases it was the visitors, not the attractions, lacking emotional intelligence and leaving me speechless.
London’s Jack the Ripper Museum, in the heart of Whitechapel, has gone one step further in terms of emotional intelligence failures, by actively encouraging tourists to mock murder victims. The appalling serial killings of Victorian prostitutes are offered as the perfect subject for a selfie or two this Halloween weekend. A recent press release, publicising the museum as a Halloween attraction, suggests visitors take “a selfie with the serial killer” (or, at least, a mysterious bloke in a top hat). Fancy “a picture with Jack in Mitre Square together with the body of Catherine Eddowes”? Go ahead. It’s not like Eddowes can complain, right?
“Ah – it seems you’ve found a bit of old sewage pipe,” says Fiona. Perhaps not what you want to hear when you’re seeking buried treasure along the Thames foreshore. Luckily this doesn’t come after hours of searching – Fiona, an inter-tidal archaeologist, is talking to an amateur mudlark, who laughs and heads off to continue scouring the shoreline for more unknown treasures (or unsavoury bits of piping) during the last few minutes of a Thames Beachcombing Walk. This is their idea of fun on a Saturday morning, and it’s contagious, so I’ve come to find out more.
A Louis Vuitton trunk at the airport speaks volumes about its owner. For one thing, they’re probably not bothered about excess baggage charges (no fear of Ryanair restrictions here). For another, they probably won’t buy three copies of The Daily Telegraph in WHSmith just to get the free giant bottles of Buxton water for the flight and the onward journey. And they won’t have a dilemma about whether it’s ok to nick the blankets from the plane on long haul flights or not, because they don’t fly economy.
Dovecot is a pretty well-hidden venue. Tucked at the end of Edinburgh’s Infirmary Street, in what used to be a public bathhouse, the Dovecot Studio produces tapestries and rugs for worldwide clients. It also maintains its own creative foundation, and the Dovecot Gallery shows contemporary art exhibitions, which drew me in to visit.
The Dovecot Gallery’s leading current exhibitions are striking in their own right, but together they make a formidable pair, and they’ll be running until late September to give you a serious culture injection.
When I’m busy writing about far-flung city breaks or adventures abroad, I forget to shout about the sights on my doorstep here in Sussex. It’s high time this was resolved, especially as East and West Sussex have some really unusual attractions that need to be in the spotlight. From an Indian-inspired pavilion to a 15th century Chaucer text, these unique locations are certainly worth your time.
It started life as a small Saxon village, but today Arundel is a busy town, dwarfed by a cathedral and a huge castle that’s nearly 1,000 years old. Just along from the castle, you can hire a rowing boat at Swanbourne Lake, before checking out the Blackfriars ruins as you head back to the main streets.
Back in the early days of visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I’d always look forward to the long train ride up north and watching the world go by from my window seat. However, after a fraught train journey last year, involving delays, confusion and crouching in a packed corridor for several hours, I decided to try the Caledonian Sleeper for this year’s trip home.
Would it be worth swapping a hotel room, or an early evening train and a night in my own bed, for a night on the tracks in a Standard Sleeper Twin Berth? There was only one way to find out…