Festival No.6: a review

Every single person I know who had been to Festival No.6 had unwavering opinions of it being an incredible weekend. Based in the Italian-style tourist village of Portmeirion on the north Wales coast,  organisers promised it to be the best festival location on earth. I’d somehow neglected to visit in my 24 years of living fairly locally I and was very, very excited.

Anyway, back to the beginning. The shuttle service from Bangor was £10 EACH WAY. Y’what mate? We split a taxi with several other savvy party people, which at £70 still worked out cheaper, and the driver happily stopped off at Maccies. Belter.

On arrival at Portmeirion I was blown away. These photos really don’t do the view justice:

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‘I am not a number’ – Portmeirion served as the location of 1960s TV show The Prisoner.

It was all a bit downhill from there, really.

The rain!

By Welsh standards, the rain wasn’t that bad. “Adverse”, No.6 later called it. Usually I’m pretty well prepared for festivals. I had glitter, wings and fairy lights (why aren’t Pimp My Tent competitions a thing?) but I’d forgotten wellies and waterproofs. Big, BIG mistake.

There’s a general consensus among bloggers that you should only say nice things, because who will risk inviting you to review events or beauty products for free otherwise?! But basically I’m not a kiss arse, so there.

Festival organisers treated this wet thing falling from the sky as if they had never encountered it before. Every single festival I have ever been to has laid down hay, gravel, bark chippings or steel sheets to ease walking, but inexplicably, they failed to do this.

The campsite in particular became a swamp, as did the main arena. I fell down several times, and as har har lol as it was the first and fifth time, wading through mud that deep is exhausting and also dangerous.

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How it was supposed to look.

Word came that the park & ride had flooded, leaving vehicles submerged. Local farmers – apparently not “employed” as No.6 claimed, but voluntarily – used their tractors to drag cars out, many of which were later written off.

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Did I mention that organisers inexplicably chose a flood plain as the location of the park & ride? In a statement, they claimed that ‘although showers were forecast, there were no advance or flood warnings…’  Did you not just use your noggins?

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Unhappy campers even created a Facebook page to air their grievances.

By Saturday, I was cold, wet and on the verge of abandoning ship and swimming home. To make matters worse, Lucy made me watch the Kaiser Chiefs.

But then a guardian angel in the form of a family friend showed up with fancy woolly socks, wellies, AND waterproofs for me. But oh no, she did one better. She drove us to her mother’s house, where we showered and dried our clothes and I wore Nain’s dressing gown. I felt like a new woman!

Back at the festival I remembered that the world record for cracker-eating is two in one minute, and because we just happened to have access to crackers we attempted this record, and failed. Unfortunately there are no photos for your viewing pleasure, but here’s me blowing up Lucy’s mattress instead.

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Wandering between the late-night tents alone, I met who I came to think of as my “festival boyfriend” during a Craig Charles Funk & Soul set. I asked whether he fancied a snog, and the rest is history.

Unfortunately, another criticism is that there were too many damn people, with an additional 5000 tickets reportedly sold. We became lodged at a key entry point between the main arena and Portmeirion village for 20 minutes. How much would a metal barrier to separate those going in and out have cost?! Meanwhile, the village itself was so rammed, we didn’t actually go inside any of the venues because it was such a faff.

The best area of the festival for me was the woods, with its various folk and dance oriented stages such as Audio Farm and Gottwood. Popular with the younger crowd, it was unfortunately closed at 8pm each night supposedly to stop people drowning in the lake and whatnot.

The woods are the best part of festivals – there’s nothing better than sitting under a tree with your new mate and sharing a bottle of straight vodka to minimise the need for toilet breaks – and I reckon closing before dark is a right mistake. If organisers invested in staff to keep everybody safe and lights to make the place snazzy, it’d be spectacular.

Wander through the woods long enough and you’ll  access the cliffs. I’ve always thought Porthmadog was a bit of a dump but we spent a long time just taking in the views. In the forest we bumped into one of the London poshos from the taxi, high as a kite, who told the festival boyfriend that I was a wonderful woman who he should treasure forever.

The highlight of my weekend was watching Noel Gallagher with the boy, singing our hearts out to Half the World Away in the pouring rain. I’ve always been team Blur, but it was honestly a magical experience destined for the memory bank. Oh, and he was joined by Paul Weller.

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As a boutique festival, I had expected portaloos to be of a decent standard. They were pink, to be fair, but the decent standards stopped there. These were amongst the worst toilets I’ve ever experienced. Cleaners weren’t hired, as is custom at many festivals. Or maybe they were, but it was only the glamper wankers privileged to hand sanitizer?

I actually ended up missing a lot of the acts I’d planned to see – Blossoms, Bastille, Dr. John Cooper Clarke and so on – because there didn’t appear to be any programs on sale. Download the app, everybody told me. But my phone is the kind that lasts 20 years with the enviable features of a flashlight and Snake.

As a result everybody needed their smartphones recharged after two hours, and No.6 had conveniently supplied an extortionately priced phone charging stall. Sly.

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La Compagnie des Quidams and their herd of creepy luminous horses at the Central Piazza on Sunday eve.

In their greed, over-selling and corner cutting, No.6 have lost credibility with many fans. Instead of spending all that money on a legion of shiny No.6-emblazoned 4x4s, organisers should maybe invest in a bale of hay and other luxuries for 2017.

They seem so concerned with reaching their ideal demographic through the “glamping” bollocks, they’ve forgotten that the majority of people who go to festivals are young, skint and just want a boogie. We don’t care about the Michelin-starred 7-course Dinner At Clough’s, or the fact that our tent comes with a doormat/sauna/personal stylist and has only ironically been named the Titanic.

It’s unfortunate that the weather put such a damper on the weekend, but I still had an amazing time. The festival boyfriend is now my real-life boyfriend!

Because of the location, and the hope that organisers have well and truly learned their lesson, I would definitely recommend Festival Number 6. Let’s just hope that next year it falls on that one day a year when summer occurs in Wales, eh?

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Green Man festival: a review

Last weekend me and my pal Jonny went to Green Man festival in the Brecon Beacons, the ticket for which I’d bought purely to see Warpaint (again).

We didn’t leave Liverpool until around 8pm on Thursday, when I was already drunk as a skunk. I puked twice on the way down and it tasted exactly like the BBQ Pringles I’d just eaten. And we almost killed fox.

Anyway.

Despite kipping in the car and pitching on the Friday morning, we still ended up 20 seconds from the festival site. We were woken from our power naps by the unfortunately named Deep Throat Choir.

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Mountain Stage

The first thing we noticed was the kids. Kids, everywhere. Oh God, we thought. The clientele appeared to be made up of old hippies, young hippies, and hippies with kids.

A medium sized festival, it is known for being one of the cleanest and most peaceful in the UK. The festival places a large emphasis on recycling, so every attendee paid £1 for a plastic cup with their first drink purchase and carried it around for the weekend.

Wandering about the grounds, I found the Fairylove stall I’ve raved about in a previous post. By day two I’d caved and bought this amazing rainbow bra. You’ll never wear it again, you say? Already have around Liverpool 🙂

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Because they cost £30 – £5 less than I’d originally thought – I figured I could afford to finish the look off with some £60 wings. Here’s Jonny modelling them, along with his new wizard hat and pants which I glimpsed a silhouette of his bollocks through:

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There were lots of lamas. I’m not sure why.

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The festival grounds provided plenty of nooks and crannies to get up to no good, and we found this LED cube whilst exploring.

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Toilets are always a festival talking point, but these were the best I’ve ever experienced. Not sure if that’s down to cleaners or half the festival being made up of mums. We salute you!

It also rained a lot, but what would a Welsh festival be without rain? Pointless, that’s what.

The biggest crowd of the weekend seemed to be for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. I wasn’t familiar with them, apart from that song off the advert, but I had so much fun. Such a great live band!

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Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon were on in the Walled Garden, comprising of unusual covers and mash ups. Charlotte Church! Sequins!! Operatic Happy Together!!! So much fun and not even in an ironic way.

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The act I was most looking for was Meilyr Jones, member of Welsh band Race Horses (formerly Radio Luxembourg).

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My Maths teacher gave our whole class Radio Lux singles when I was 13 because his son was a member, and it’s still under my bed many years later. I caught both of Meilyr’s sets, one of which was the worst kept secret and Green Man and went on until 3am.

Not only is Meilyr a pleasure to listen to, he’s a wonderful entertainer. He’s bashful and smiley and makes polo necks work. He first addresses the audience in Welsh instead of pandering the the non-19%. Here’s a clip of him on the Mountain Stage. Wela’i chi yn Lerpwl mis Hydref!

Considering I literally came to Green Man to see Warpaint, I was disappointed. Although they were phenomenal live, as always, their performances are wearing thin. If I just wanted phenomenal music I would listen to it on Spotify. But the point of live music, for me, is the performance. I never thought I was bothered about audience interaction, but Warpaint bummed me out to the point that I became quite bored. Not one smile, too much pouting. Bah!

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Green Man hosts the Chai Wallahs, the largest independent music venue touring the UK festival circuit. Giving insight into the UK’s alternative and underground music scene, we spent a good deal of time here. It’s a place you can dance like a lunatic or perch on the floor and rest your muddy feet.

On the last night we observed a group of teens, all of whom looked no older than 16 but more likely 14. One girl had scribbled ‘look into my eyes’ on her t-shirt, cutting out eye holes where  to expose boobage. We were disturbed.

Anyway. Highlights included Will Varley, who had a lot to say for himself. My favourite lyric was ‘If you know where you are when you wake up, something’s wrong,’

Rews, meanwhile, were are an alternative all-girl rock band from Dublin. Great to see girls rocking AND smiling!

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The last act of the weekend were Belle & Sebastian. I was reluctant to watch because they’ve never done it for me, but Jonny was adamant that they’re an amazing live band. And what a show it was. Great visuals, great performers, great stage presence. I didn’t stop dancing.

Fans were invited onstage, to the point a stage manager appeared and scolded the band. Cue mutters of “Hillsborough” from the audience.

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The end of the night was marked by the ritual burning of the Green Man, which everybody had tagged with wishes during weekend (Jonny wished it could be Christmas every day. I wished for ‘peace, love and lemons,’ obv). I was bursting with a wee and nobody joined us for the national anthem – mainly because we only knew the first couple of lines – but it was a magical moment. Top fireworks, too.

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How a Flirty Photoshoot Improved my Confidence

A couple of years ago, never would I have considered getting my kit off onstage or in front of a camera. I would literally rather make love to a cactus.

I’ve become somewhat desensitised to topless women over the past couple of years thanks to having them shoved in my face whether I like it or not.

I felt pretty having had my hair and makeup done professionally – that was, until my friend Rachael emerged after her makeover looking a right bird.

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As an actress, Rachael knows how to rock the camera. I wasn’t nervous about getting my kit off, but I was bricking it about the actual posing. I HATE photos. I don’t do seductive or sensual, it’s either smiling or no photo. I was literally shaking with nerves despite the glass of fizz and the photographer had to help me fasten my suspender belt.

The shoot was less terrifying than I’d expected. The photographer told me exactly where to place each limb, so I slowly relaxed.

Going back to view the 40 or so photos a week later was nerve racking. What if I was the exception to the rule and they really couldn’t make me look attractive/thinner/etc etc?

Some were terrible. Of the 11 I chose, I still wasn’t keen on them all. But I blown away by these two in particular:

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A few others were nice too, although they have a vague brothel vibe.

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I was so, so excited to get home and post the photos onto Facebook. I never thought I could look so nice.

For the most part, comments were positive. It was a huge confidence boost hearing how lovely I looked.

But by the next morning, I was contemplating taking them all down because of messages like ‘I just wanna take those god damn tassels off your nipples and lick them crazy!!’

Maybe I was asking for it by posting them. Becoming interested in burlesque has made me very liberal towards bare skin, but despite that I’m actually a right prude and too polite to tell anyone they’ve offended me in case I hurt their feelings.

People can appreciate my photos, but that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to me.

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People also commented that they were unprofessional and I would never be able to write for children’s television. My answer to that is: right now, I do not write for children’s television. Maybe I’ll get there someday, but I’m not going to avoid doing things I want to do now on the off-chance I’ll do something else great in the future.

An old (male) friend unintentionally upset me by asking what I got out of posting the photos online. Wouldn’t keeping them for myself have “fulfilled” my hobby?

I am personally not that interested in seeing them, therefore I’m not that arsed. You’re free to do as you please with your own Facebook. I appreciate that it’s part of what make you a more “free” spirit than most women… you seem to give the impression that you want other people to validate what you do, and am curious as to why.

Wasn’t it enough for me to know in my heart of hearts that I looked good? He was like a dog with a bone and I felt terrible about myself. Was everybody secretly calling me a slut? Or snickering about the airbrushing and how disappointing I looked in person?

After a pep talk from a friend, I decided: screw them. They weren’t there to see the 30 photos where I looked like a beached whale and wanted to die of shame.

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I am proud of my photos. I did something that scared me and felt empowered. I am 24 years old and probably not going to look this good again, so why should I hide my body? Why are women – who make up 50% of the global population – made to feel like their bodies are something to be ashamed of?

Showing off my figure doesn’t mean that I’m promiscuous and welcome creepy comments. It means that I can celebrate myself despite my flaws, and the only thing I would go back and change is to put a smile on my face – because regardless of spots, stretchmarks or cellulite – everybody is beautiful with a smile.

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Another Wednesday, another explore

Plan A was a convent in Lancashire, which had been knocked down by the time we got there and replaced with fancy houses that stood empty because nobody could afford them.

Plan B was St Joseph’s seminary down the road. Opened in 1883, its grounds boast a large greenhouse, cemetery and gorgeous lake.

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The building itself is riddled with cameras and alarms, and we staked it out for a long time.

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Can you spot the guard?

There appeared to only be one security guard…

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We crept up on him. Notice how he’s no longer in his chair. He’d somehow managed to creep up on us – literally about 25 ft away – without even spotting us. Amazing.

Eventually we just risked it and walking right past the cameras. Still nothing. All previous entries had been boarded up. It’s such a stunning building and we were desperate to get inside, but my climbing skills weren’t up to scratch. Here’s a report from someone who did make it in.

From then on, we were on the lookout for some TOADS (Temporary, Obsolete, Abandoned and Derelict Spaces).

We found an abandoned cottage near the car and went to investigate. The view was phenomenal and I got the obligatory corn field shot.

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I even saw my first swede field! A swede, growing out of the ground! Day = made.

We scrambled across the overgrown garden to have a gander through the windows. What we saw was mostly furnished, which is my favourite kind of discovery. At first we wondered whether it was actually abandoned. Maybe someone just really hated gardening? No photos exist of the back garden, but the brambles were taller than us.

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An adorable old lady came to greet us, excited at the porspect of someone finally moving in. She explained how many people had stopped to ask about the cottage over the years, which had once been owned by an old man with a “strange son” who died approximately 20 years ago.

Onwards!

On our way to an abandoned garden centre or Camelot we passed an abandoned mansion. Searching for a parking place, we were distracted by a high-walled bridge, and on peeking over the edge on our tippy-toas because we’re both short stuff, spotted an abandoned mill.

Upon further inspection it appeared impossible to reach, so we embarked on a mission to find an alternative route.

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After half an hour’s clambering through plants taller than us and plenty of brambles (just for a change), as well as completing other obstacles, we were there. The mill looked beautiful alongside the river.

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Although the door was wide open, our guards were up in case we encountered squatters. A poster suggested the place had been out of action for around a decade.

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There was roll upon roll of herbal supplement stickers unravelling all over the floor, leading us to gather that the place had most recently been used as a factory.

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We’re pretty sure we were the first people to rediscover this place. Although some buildings had suffered the general deterioration that occurs with lack of central heating and whatnot, there was no vandalism or graffiti and even the copper pipes remained intact. Exploring always gives me the heebie jeebies, so it was easier to relax knowing there was no security or anyone else here.

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We found a pair of overalls and a cute woolly jumper on our travels…

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We sat up here, listening to the river and watching the rain for a long time.

Then we found a dead pigeon.

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We figured that this path was to keep visitors out of harm’s way.

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This was labelled the printing room and had yet more stickers.

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*Someone* couldn’t resist giving the fire extinguishers a go.

Although it was a brilliant find, despite the brambles, trying to find a way in is often the best part. Not so much out though. What I learned: it’s really scary climbing over a spiky fence that is alarmingly close to your vagina.

Back at the car it was getting dark, but we decided to quickly check out the abandoned mansion which we’d all but forgotten about. Unfortunately the phone had died we didn’t get photos.

On a huge plot of land, there was a winding driveway with an overgrown garden which was probably gorgeous way back when. The home’s architecture gave the place an Addams Family vibe.

Inside was  little disappointing, having suffered extensive fire damage and vandalism. Most of the floors had collapsed.

However, some period features remained including arched windows, stone pillars and a carved staircase. What made the visit worthwhile, though, was a huge antique fireplace adorned with a carving depicting a ship at sea. Such a tragedy that only a cartoon enjoying a biffter was there to appreciate it full time.

Images by Phill Gaffney.

Girl, Interrupted

I spent my 24th birthday cutting myself in my room, curled up in a corner as I rocked back and forth and hummed the tune to Teddy Bear’s Picnic. That marked the beginning of my twelve days on a psychiatric unit.

Generally I’m an open book and will write about all my experiences, but until now it’s been too difficult to even speak about. But, after an afternoon surrounded by Scousers celebrating humankind in all its forms at Pride, I’m feeling brave.

I have borderline personality disorder, and I’d stopped taking my anti depressant and anti psychotic medication. This was a regular occurrence. I would either feel frustrated because my emotions were dampened down, or think I was cured and no longer needed the pills. It seems so obvious, but at the time you absolutely believe these thoughts. I’d also just broken up with my boyfriend.

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My friend Amy found me in my room, hiding under a black fringed cardigan. I wouldn’t let her turn on the light. She’d brought me a bag of birthday presents: ethically sourced earrings, a decorative heart-shaped rock printed with the words YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, and a book about feminism in an attempt to educate me. She read the book aloud while I hid under the cardigan, whiling away the hours it took for the ambulance to arrive.

A night at the Royal was by far the worst night of my life.

We waited along a corridor with all the other ambulance intakes, me convinced everybody was thinking ‘she doesn’t look ill’.

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After many hours I was seen by the mental health team. It was around 1am, and the tiny windowless room was packed with ladders and tins of paint. Amy stayed. My voice is high and childlike at the best of times and the mental health lady told me to stop talking like a little girl. It stank of paint fumes.

There were no beds available on the ward or at the psychiatric hospital, so I was left there all night. I became more and more hysterical in my exhaustion, hiding behind chairs because I felt like a monkey in a zoo as nurses peeped through the glass in the door periodically.

At 6am, they wheeled in an ambulance trolley for me to sleep on. I managed maybe an hour.

The day shift doctors photographed the room because they were so appalled I had been left in there.

Until midday, I didn’t do anything but cry my heart out. The ward was packed, loud, and claustrophobic. I became more and more desperate to just leave. They said I could leave soon, soon, and if I escaped the police would be after me.

Once a bed became available at the psychiatric unit in Walton, a doctor escorted me there in a taxi. I was upset the taxi driver would know I was crazy. I was terrified and had no idea what to expect.

Compared to the Royal, this was like entering an Oasis. Tip: if you’re going to lose the plot, don’t lose it on a Friday night.

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I hadn’t showered or eaten for five days and still wore a party dress.

The fifteen rooms on the ward surrounded a pretty landscaped garden. My bedroom was lovely, with yellow walls and lilac bedding. It overlooked the car park and a big Sainsbury’s.

In these places, the doors have windows so nurses are able to keep an eye on you. The en-suite doesn’t have a door, so there’s a chance they might catch you on the toilet. The mirrors are made of plastic.

One by one, the staff came to introduce themselves. They all made an effort to remember my name.

By now I was exhausted and still hadn’t seen a doctor who could prescribe me medication. A nurse scanned me with a metal detector and I volunteered the scissors stashed in my knickers. She weighed me, took my blood pressure, and watched me pee before testing the urine for drugs. It was a deep dehydrated yellow.

My only possessions were my phone, keys and Amy’s rock, which I hadn’t let go of. They confiscated the key and rock in case I hurt myself.

I wouldn’t leave my room to eat, but the staff brought me a cheese sandwich and orange juice. Someone checked on me every fifteen minutes, twenty-four hours a day.

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I concocted an elaborate lie for my parents, telling them I’d gone down South to visit a friend. I stopped answering texts and drew the curtains so I could curl into a ball and pretend the outside world didn’t exist. I just wanted to be alone, while also wanting someone to hold me and say it would all be alright.

The night staff were less friendly. In my exhaustion and paranoia I became aggressive, chucking things around the room. I hid in the doorless wardrobe so the night staff couldn’t spot me through the slatted window, and screamed that they were stalking me when asked what was wrong.

The bedroom light was switched on from outside every fifteen minutes so staff could watch me. One member of the night team was a lovely religious lady who said ‘God bless you’ and shone a torch through the glass instead. The other night staff  had no passion for their jobs and switched on the main light as if out of spite.

As it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be able to just walk out of here, I tried to break the grilled windows. I was told that I would have to be sectioned if I attempted to escape. Still no medication, because there would be no doctor on the ward until Monday.

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With absolutely no distraction, I was becoming increasingly agitated. Late into the night I called my friend Kairi. I was inconsolable and have no idea what I said, but she was the only person I felt I could talk to and I will always be eternally grateful.

I still wouldn’t shower because I had no clothes to change into, and I didn’t want anyone watching me.

Realising I couldn’t be here alone, I also called my parents who promised to come first thing in the morning.

I was given something to curb my agitation. I was so tired from all the rocking. The suffocation-proof pillow felt hollow and inflated beneath my head.

The next morning, I heard the cries of a girl out in the corridor. She’d been locked out of her room for self harming. I ventured out and held her hand, both of us perched on the floor outside her door. I told her I was scared.

My parents brought books, the only thing that can distract me when I’m unwell. They brought a note pad so I could write, and my childhood soft toy. Mum cried and fed me fruit from Sainsbury’s.

I began to eat the cheese sandwiches and drink the orange juice the nurses brought, and one even donated her favourite book trilogy.

Over those two weeks my parents drove the four hour round trip from Anglesey every single day, bar one, despite my lashing out at them or barely reacting when they did come. Every day there were new magazines, books, snacks, pyjamas, even a dress. There were countless pairs of underwear because Mum is obsessed with buying knickers; my favourite pair were covered in little neon flamingos.

I still kept my curtain closed. My parents took me to the hospital cafe and I became agitated upon leaving the ward.

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However, I began venturing out of my room to sit on the sunny window ledges overlooking the garden. I ate a cheese sandwich every day without fail. I read obsessively to occupy my mind.

Dad brought me a magazine for writers, which encouraged me to write non-stop. I have always been a comedy writer, and laughing at my situation was the only thing that kept me sane. I wrote a script about the characters I had encountered called The Good, the Bad and the Bonkers.

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My mood began to stabilise. The nurses didn’t recognise me after a wash, wearing my new dress. I wrote incessantly.

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Marie* was in her sixties, and said she was getting married to a monk at the Wigwam cathedral that coming Saturday (I still didn’t twig). She showed me samples of the fabric which would make up the brown bridesmaid’s dresses. We organised a hen party, which was shut down by staff because we were supposedly making fun of her memory loss (I’ve always been gullible). We played pin the tail on the donkey anyway.

Sheree* was a teenager who wore nappies and carried a blanket and dummy. She was referred to as the piggy bank because she swallowed coins and batteries.

Mary* took a shine to me and would follow me wherever I went. Though patients weren’t allowed in each other’s rooms, at one point she insisted on tucking me into bed at 8pm. I humoured her; sixty seconds later she burst in, insisting I follow her to the cafeteria and also that I was going to die.

She once caught me picking the scabs on my arms and said, ‘Don’t do that, darlin’.

My Welsh neighbour Vicky* was feeling low because she was missing her little boy’s birthday. The Drugs Don’t Work by The Verve carried through the wall.

Rita* was a prostitute whose dad looked younger than she did. She was a known thief on the ward and had previously been caught with Vicky’s lipsticks falling out of her bra. I left my brick phone and belongings out to test her, but nothing moved. Nobody ever bothers stealing my phone but I preferred to pretend she liked me because I smiled at her.

Martha* had learning difficulties and cried hysterically all the time, to the point none of us could stand to be in the same room as her. She wanted to know when we’d first had sex. Shrieking with laughter, she announced that she’d been seven; an uncle, and three cousins.

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I met so many interesting people, and the staff were just fantastic despite the long shifts with too many patients, and too few nursers.  I was actually sad to leave and I am very grateful to everybody who cared for me.

I was apprehensive about leaving, and spent a fair while back in Wales with my parents. I felt guilty for worrying and hurting so many people.

Since then, I’ve been doing well. I’m taking my medication properly, and I eat well. I’ve started going back to the gym. Cheese sandwiches still comfort me. I’m going to be OK.

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A date to Denbigh asylum

Denbighshire asylum is an abandoned psychiatric hospital nestled in the north Wales countryside. Regarded as one of the great Victorian institutions, building began in 1844 and at its height was home to 1500 patients.

Its treatment of psychiatric disorders was often regarded as barbaric and the controversial hospital was designated for closure in 1960. It would take until 1995 to close its doors for good.

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With an Ouija board in tow, this was hands down the best date I’ve been on. I developed an interest in urbexing (urban exploration) last year and was excited to make a pal with similar interests.

The gorgeous grade 2 listed building with its Gothic architecture is soon to be flattened in favour of a shopping complex, so I was desperate to finally see it.

I was particularly excited because my dad actually worked at “Denbigh Mental” as a trainee social worker. Wonder what he’ll think of our photos?

I was unprepared for its sheer scale. Here’s an aerial view:

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Image by David Gaskell

One of the first things you notice when you step inside is the total lack of sound. Despite window panes being long hollowed, the noise from outdoors doesn’t carry.

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It wasn’t all bad at Denbigh. The first annual ball for patients was held in December 1852, whilst in 1867 the first hospital band was formed. Here’s the asylum in its heyday: 

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Denbigh-Postcard

…and here it is now:

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We encountered multiple groups of kids creating their own summer fun, and were joined for a sit-down around a table with a gang on 12 year olds. They offered a hit of their bong before spilling beer over our backpacks. We politely declined but hung around the building, taking great delight in scaring the bejesus out of them.

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My urbex buddy had been there previously and swore he’d heard a girl scream. Although I consider myself an open minded skeptic, I pretty much thought someone had been having him on.

After yesterday, I am well and truly a believer.

Denbigh is a huge place, and we took a breather on a stairwell that led to a basement. I actually found this image online of exactly where the incident happened. The stairs are on the first left.

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Suddenly, footsteps down the corridor. Coming closer and closer.

The supernatural didn’t cross my mind. I was more concerned with encountering infamous self-appointed security guard Elwyn and his rumoured nine dogs, whose favoured phrase is, ‘If I catch you in the asylum I will get my dog to bite your bollocks off!’ Here is his Facebook appreciation page. I particularly enjoyed this recorded encounter.

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Elwyn. Source: Google

We dashed further down into the pitch dark basement. I grabbed the boy’s hand, ’cause this was a date, after all…

The footsteps were so close. We held our breaths and it seemed like they would hear my heart thumping. I didn’t even bother turning around to look at the security guard’s pissy face, that’s how certain I was that we’d been busted.

We shivered in the darkness waiting for something to happen.

My chivalrous date left me in the basement and headed back upstairs to investigate the source of the footsteps.

He scoured the building and its exterior to no avail – there was nowhere outside in the wide open space for anyone to hide. There was no wind, nothing inside the building that could have made such a consistent sound.

I was relieved to still have my balls intact.

Not long after that we really did get busted by Elwyn, although our genitals remained in full form.

Going back was initially a no-no. However, having driven all that way we took a chance and clambered inside the nurses’ quarters. 

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Nurses’ Quarters

I can imagine that at one point the nurses’ quarters had been warm and welcoming. Compared to the metal doors of the institution, care had been taken to paint these rooms in bright colours. Each was of a comfortable size with its own wardrobe and floral wallpaper. I was surprised by how much effort had gone into individualising each personal space.

One of my favourite finds was the on-site creche…

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…which had teeny tiny toilets and murals on the walls. I was particularly taken with Jemima Puddleduck because of a soft toy my dad had given me:

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More than architecture, for me urbexing is all in the detail. Hand drawn murals, terrible 70s wallpaper, stickers, carpets. Details are where personality shines through, a reminder that people really did live here at one point. Imagining someone painting Jemima really gave me goosebumps.

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Gorgeous countryside views from a nurse’s room

Still debating whether to risk sneaking back into the actual asylum, we took some time to whip out the Ouija board.

When asked what name we should call the supposed spirit by, it SORT OF pointed the planchette towards Y-V. ‘Is your name Yvonne?’, we asked. it SORT OF agreed. Then it buggered off and we lost interest.

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Accidental photo – Yvonne having a laugh at my expense?

Upstairs, the attic spanned the entire length of the entire building.

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Back in the asylum, meanwhile, we climbed up onto the mechanism for a lift. We found the tiniest cells which made me feel cold to look at, and tunnels that appeared to span the entire complex.

All in all, we spent around seven hours at the asylum and still didn’t see everything.  As sunset approached, having combed through most of the buildings, we finally found the morgue (six freezer spaces, if you were wondering).

But for me, the crème de la crème was the abandoned chapel of rest. Inside had been gutted, but it was still so beautiful. We lay on our backs staring up at the ceiling with its gorgeous wooden beams. If you didn’t look down, you wouldn’t realise the place was derelict.

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Source: Google

This seemed like as good a place as any to give the Ouija board one last go. I wished I’d brought candles to really up the ambience. Nothing really happened, much to my dismay. I’m now inclined to believe that Ouija boards rely on the power of suggestion.

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Despite the asylum’s controversial history, I was overwhelmed with regret that such a grand building would soon be flattened for the sake of commercialism. Unfortunately the site is in such disrepair that it makes sense to knock it down and start again, but it’s a terrible shame.

Driving home, meanwhile, it finally clicked – if there was nobody in the building when we hid from those footsteps, who WAS in there?

If you’re interested in learning about the controversial practices inflicted on former psychiatric patients, check out the BBC documentary Mental: A Hystery of the Madhouse.

Images by Phill Gaffney. For more of his work follow urbanxplor.

 

 

 

 

Burlesque & Bubbly

Burlesque & Bubbly is your tasteful alternative to the conventional hen party, all powder pink and rosé champagne to match your lipstick. Rather than just getting trashed, it’s an opportunity to learn flirty techniques, shake your tail feathers and become a strong empowered woman who don’t need no man (unless you’re the bride to be – don’t dump him on my account).

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Hosted by professional dancer/nutcase Rachael Mellor and based in Fonseca’s at the heart of Liverpool’s gay town on Stanley St, it’s apt that her sessions should be sign posted with rainbows.

Guests are encouraged to dress up in all their Ann Summers finery (not the crotchless pants) and will inevitably flap about tightening corsets (‘TIGHTER!!!’) and applying more of just about everything. It felt a bit like the girly sleepover I never had because nobody wanted to be my mate, and many bosoms were squeezed in admiration._DSC9721 copyThe event is tucked away in a cosy curtained basement away from prying eyes. After being greeted with a glass of fizz the hens prepare a special sentimental keepsake for the bride. Then it’s on to an activity to devise your own sassy burlesque persona involving the name of a first pet (mine was a cat called Ben so it didn’t really work).

cerdiau.jpgThe dance lesson involves learning five key burlesque techniques which are incorporated into a routine in which the bride takes centre stage. The song comes from the film Burlesque and the routine is simple, but champagne makes most people tipsy so they won’t notice you being rubbish anyway.

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Rachael and our gorgeous Aussie bride Barbie Von Possum who definitely should have been named Kylie Down Under.

Afterwards hens receive three glasses of wine each, and the opportunity to play with Rachael’s box of props so Facebook can see just how fit you can be and why on earth didn’t they see it before?

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I’d never been to a hen party before and literally lower my voice to utter the word ‘penis’, so the thought of willy straws, willy piñatas and probably an actual well-oiled willy had me a bit scared. However, this was a lovely alternative to the traditional last night as a free woman.

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received_10156532930965374It’s a safe environment to explore your sexuality away from the prying eyes of strange men, except for barman Niall who’s a bit strange in that he wasn’t paying any of us attention. Gobshite.

It also isn’t strictly for hen parties. Finally turning 18 or 80? Just want to get together with the girls? Divorce finalised? It’s all good – various styles and themes are adaptable to your shindig.

Regular readers already know my take on burlesque; it’s not about what flesh you’re flashing, but what you aren’t. It’s about expressing another side to your personality through narrative and costume, and propping other women up with admiration and encouragement. It’s about being proud to expose your vulnerabilities.

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Rachael also runs weekly Jazz-Esque classes which fuse jazz routines and burlesque techniques. She’s a boss teacher and I’ve grown to consider her a close pal. She recognises that it’s all in good fun; we aren’t trained dancers and some of us aren’t comfortable getting our knockers out (as you can tell, I am!). Beginners classes start in March.

kairiEasy going and an all-round good egg, Rachael is supportive even when you’re rubbish and always has a massive grin. I know we’re biased, but Burlesque & Bubbly is a genuinely great event. There’s no penis paraphernalia in sight, and you might even learn a few moves to impress potential roosters. You’re guaranteed a clucking good time (sorry).

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Photography by Mina Bihi

Why I Would Never go Elephant Trekking Again

Grief-stricken back in 2012 after a breakup with who I thought was the love of my life, I impulsively spent a lot of money on a last-minute flight to Thailand. It was in the middle of nowhere a couple of hours from Bangkok that I fell in love with elephants. Trekking through the jungle towards a river, we splashed each other and it dunked us into the cold water where we’d fall off and climb back on. It was a magical experience I would do anything to relive.

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The rest of our trip was organised by tour group Contiki, and the first of our island-hopping stops was Koh Samui. To kick off our stay we were taken on a pre-paid elephant trek.

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Samui elephants are not native to the island and are there purely to fuel the demands of the tourist trade. I could tell instantly the elephants weren’t well cared for and the experience was dismal. Chains hung from their necks and ankles, and their ears were damaged from the bull-hooks used to force them along the track when they hesitated. I found myself with a bad taste in my mouth in a country referred to as ‘The Land of Smiles’.

I so clearly recall thinking it wasn’t right and to this day am ashamed I didn’t refuse to get on. Although I should have listened to my gut, I didn’t know what I know now about the treatment of captive elephants.

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The Land of Smiles

But the fact is that wild elephants need to be tamed before they can be ridden. The taming process is brutal, and accomplished when the elephants are very young. In a process called phajaan, or “the crush”, the baby elephant is snatched from its mother and tortured to completely break its spirit. Beaten into submission with clubs and pieced with sharp bull-hooks, they are simultaneously starved and deprived of sleep for several days.

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Photojournalist Brent Lewin won a Science/Natural History Award of Excellence for this image at the Pictures of the Year competition, exposing how the babies are prepared for elephant trekking.

A British tourist was recently killed whilst elephant trekking on Samui in front of his teenage daughter. When the elephant’s mahout – handler – climbed down to take photos he was attacked by the elephant’s tusk, leaving the elephant free to go on the rampage. It threw the tourists of its back, trampling the man and stabbing him in the chest with a tusk and killing him instantly.

Now aged 23 and wiser, I would have made a point of refusing to get on and letting everybody know about it. The industry thrives because tourists all want to ride elephants or watch them do tricks, paying good money for the privilege.

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Likewise, through research I would have learned the Tiger Temple had long been accused by animal rights activists of mistreating the tigers for commercial gain and even trafficking some of its animals. I should have wondered whether a wild animal, even one the size of a dog like a monkey should be kept on a leash.

I learned about an elephant named Tyke, kept in captivity for many years before finally killing her trainer and escaping from a circus in Hawaii. Bolting down the streets of Honolulu, police fired 86 shots until she eventually collapsed from her wounds and died. Her bid for freedom and disturbing final minutes can be seen here, whilst the documentary Tyke: Elephant Outlaw  elaborates on the correlation between wild animals treated as entertainment and them paying the ultimate price.

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Tyke

If you’re determined to interact with an elephant, there are a select few sanctuaries where they are are treated with respect and free to behave as they would in the wild. The Elephant Nature Park sanctuary is tucked away in the beautiful jungles outside of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, with a mission to protect & care for mistreated elephants rescued from the tourism and logging industries. You can feed them fresh fruit out of the palm of your hand, watch them play in the mud, accompany them on walks and even help give them a bath – which in my opinion sounds brilliant!

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Taking a bath at the ENP looks just as satisfying as elephant trekking (source).

We all know the ivory trade is illegal, but many of us are still ignorant about the socially accepted abuse of elephants. Keeping such a majestic creature alive for monetary gain is equally as cruel, and need to spread awareness of elephant trekking to eradicate this treatment.

If an elephant camp in south east Asia claims to be “responsible” with its animals, you should still be sceptical. Remember the process used to train them is often the same, and even if they’re now treated with kindness it’s the fear of being stabbed used to motivate them to work.

The elephant has been a cultural icon of Thailand since ancient days, a symbol of fortune renowned for its intelligence. It’s easy for me to say this being from a prosperous country, but what Thailand doesn’t see is the good fortune it has in being able to share its land with such incredible animals.

Everybody has the right to make their own decision on whether animal trekking is an essential Thai activity, but neither should they be under any illusions: tourists who pay to ride elephants support the continued exploitation of wildlife.

I don’t know whether that elephant in the river really was enjoying itself, as I do recall a bull-hook, but I often find myself hoping so. I could tell the elephant on Samui wasn’t happy, and I wish it could know how sorry I am.  I will never forget either of them.

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Meet my Jazzesque sisters!

I’ve been part of the Liverpool-based Jazzesque troupe for around a year now. A fusion of jazz and burlesque dance, we have performed at various variety and burlesque events.

Now there’s little more than a week to go until we give our take on the Postmodern Jukebox cover of Seven Nation Army, and most of us go down to tassels for the first time! We’ll kick off the Valentine’s festivities at The Secret Circus on February 13th and the Richmond hotel the next day.

Then in March there’s not one but TWO performances at Threshold Festival, and in June a showcase of all our work including debut solos.

Time you found out who the birds behind the boobs are, no?

 Scarlett Adelaide

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Meet Scarlett Adelaide, AKA Mandy. Scarlett represents her most notable, asset whilst Adelaide was the Christian name of her great aunt, also a dancer in the 40s.

An optical assistant, Mandy is the one who makes you stare at the hot air balloon then blows in your face like the monster she is and has heard her fair share of jokes about blowing old geezers in the dark.

Mandy is also an experienced alt model and has done shoots ranging from latex to pin-up for the likes of Lindy’s Boutique.

She has the sweetest, softest Scouse accent I’ve ever heard and almost makes wools sound sexy.

She loves a good rabbit (not that kind, ya filthy animal) and her big-eared baby is called Heisenberg. Her confidence has grown so much over the past months and I can’t wait for her Jessica Rabbit inspired act!

 

Zoe LaSparkle 

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Meet our little French Fancy! Justine, i.e. Zoe LaSparkle studied English at the University of Leeds, and was so good at it she never left the country.

Now a background actress, her latest project was Peaky Blinders.

Animal lover Justine also dabbles in photography and probably enjoys the Eiffel Tower (not to be confused with being Eiffel Towered) and baguettes.

 

Little Peaches 

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Meet Little Peaches, all the way from Down Under.

Model and burlesque performer Kairi trained and competed as an Irish dancer after seeing a display on St Paddy’s Day when she was five (Aus has a decent scene – who knew?)
This talented possum has designed and made costumes, sets and props for theatre and film since the age of 16 and a film she made costumes for was actually short listed for the Cannes Film Festival.

She even makes steel-boned corsets, so no worries if she ever loses the model bod!

A serious medical diagnosis encouraged her to grip life by the bollocks and sign up for burlesque classes.

She got her start in the The Silk Stockings, an Aussie burlesque troupe. She was known as the clumsy awkward one and once kicked a shoe into someone’s dinner – they thought it was part of the act and lapped it up.

One of her most notable career moments involves being the support act for world renowned DJ Freq Nasty; she and a fellow dancer performed a duo in mud from a nearby croc infested swamp – our Kairi is dead exotic.

In her spare time you’ll find her scouring Camden market, often wearing her own reworked vintage outfits.

She’s allergic to practically everything, including latex (soz boys).

No, she doesn’t know Kylie.

Kairi is cute as a button and I’m happy she’s my neighbour (practically), and life will be a little less peachy when she goes away to become a henna artist and wife-to-be in Brighton after a whirlwind romance. Phew!

 Sassy Violette

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Sassy Violette is a long time party girl and can-can queen. The phrase YOLO was probably invented for Teena, an ex punk rocker who had a full mohawk before shaving it off entirely and still wears a Levi’s 501 jacket she’s owned since 1981.

She started playing rugby aged 47 and loves her snowboarding but has yet to gain a certificate because she’s not so good at it. She’s set her house on fire twice and now has her eye on learning to fire dance. Her greatest ambition is to see the Aurora Borealis and she’ll never leave the house without factor 50 on her face (ginger person probs).

Our Teena has seen it all so is a wise but young at heart owl, although if any of us were gonna end up in jail I reckon it would still be her. However, she’s a right good egg and recently popped down to Calais to help those folks in need – nice one Teena!

 

Venus Von Trix

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Venus Von Trix AKA Lydia is an actor, dancer and performance artist who loves to create and devise new material, collaborating recently with Paperwork Theatre company to create Shortcut to Bliss.

A free spirit with a chaotic past, she’s ‘just tumbling through this amazing and overwhelming journey of self discovery’.

She has a long haired ginger Chihuahua called Coco and thinks men look fabulous in guyliner and glitter. She has a rubber fetish and loves latex.

In March she’ll be running 10k obstacle race Chain Runner whilst chained to another runner and then to work American summer camp.

When there’s time she loves to bake and make jams/pickles.

She loves nature and being outdoors away from the madness, it soothes the introvert in her.

She doesn’t really sit still and is a member of fight club, shhhh.

Venus has an intergalactic feel, living with captain Kronos somewhere between a black hole and the Andromeda galaxy. Venus is forever shaking her pulsar nipple tassels, bringing a little sparkle to dark matter!

Alex Spragg

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Alex, or Spraggs, is like Courtney Love’s better looking sister and from BOLTON!!! Yay!! (Nope there’s no way to make that sound good, sorry.)

A politics student who now hates politics, she did a year at the University of Bristol but wasn’t impressed by the cast of Made in Chelsea swanning about.

She loves cheese, punk and thinks 2pm in an early morning. My favourite memory involves us trying to awaken the spirits with an ouija board and Spraggs being quite socially awkward with it.

Leather Lacey 

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Pint-sized Jemima is the youngest member of our troop. The name Leather Lacey is inspired by a Stevie Nicks song, so she has pretty good taste considering she’d be forgiven for still liking 1D.

She loves mod fashion and Fred Perry, funk, every kind of tea and fringes, so her fave pinup is obv Bette Paige.

Her entire house is pinup themed with a rockabilly style kitchen diner.

She says ‘fabulous’ and ‘snazzy’ far too much, although she is both fabulous and snazzy so gets away with it.

Her modelling alter ego is Jacky Daniels.

She loves a drop of gin, probably because she hasn’t had enough time for a bad experience.

 

Alluring Alice

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Ally the model by day, Alluring Alice who’ll take you to Wonderland by night.

You’ll often find Ally strutting about on stilts and covered from head to toe in body paint at events.

 

Ruby Von Strudel

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Nicola is one of our newest recruits. She studied Creative & Performing Arts at university and it was there she began researching burlesque purely for her own needs as opposed to an assignment set by a subject tutor/lecturer after coming across it while studying dance and choreography in my first unit.
More interested in researching burlesque than an assignment set by a tutor, she became fascinated having watched Dita Von Teese’s martini glass routine online.
She watched a burlesque show at the Bluecoat staged as part of Dadafest, a festival run by those with disabilities. It included Diva Hollywood who began performing 10 years ago after being diagnosed with MS, and she became well & truly bitten by the burlesque bug.
She came across Jazz-Esque and Ruby Von Strudel was born. Dealing with issues about body confidence and self-esteem via counselling, she credits Jazzesque for making a significant contribution. She herself is the Group Facilitator for a self-injury support group.
Her burlesque inspirations include Barbara Stanwyck in ‘Lady of Burlesque’ and Marilyn Monroe in ‘Ladies of the Chorus’.

 

Meg McFarlane

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Meg LOVES the forties when all that good stuff like Slinkys and WW2 happened.

On the subject of the forties, did you know rationing laws ordered the trimming of beachwear fabric by 10 percent, so designers introduced two-piece suits that exposed the midriff but covered the navel. Although the shrinking swimsuits were controversial among mainstream Americans, starlets and beach vacationing teenagers embraced the original version of the bikini.

Meg is an actor but prefers directing because she’s really quite bossy (her words not mine). She swears like a sailor but only because she’s so passionate about things/lacks self control.

She’s a film geek with a quote for every situation, especially Tarantino’s because most of them are full of swearing.

She loves dancing although her body disagrees.

‘In my head I’m like ginger Rogers. ..the outside just isn’t the case.’ Shut up Meg.

Ferrero Rochelle

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Rachael is our teacher and reminds me of a demented fairy.

Graduating with a degree in Dance Drama and Physical Theatre, she pursued a career in all three arts forms; ranging from touring pantomimes, dance shows covering a range of styles, and educational children’s theatre.

Ferrero Rochelle is both a performer and a choreographer. She runs her own company Rachael Mellor Dance, first and foremost teaching Jazz-Esque to “a wonderful and inspiring group of women” (aw, we know).

She has big plans for the dance troop this year as well as beginners classes for anyone who wants to be part of the fabulous Jazz-Esque gang. 

Then there’s the contemporary dance where girls probably let out their inner Bush (Kate! You are just filthy today!), first wedding dances and hen parties.

Besides all that, she’s a film and television background actress and hosts princess parties as Elsa and was an entertainment host on the Disney Cruise Line. WHY wasn’t Elsa around to drown yet?

She also cooks a mean breakfast at 81 Renshaw (please only stalk if you plan on killing Elsa).

She loves a good flapper dress, Audrey and Marilyn.

 

And here are some retired sisters that we all miss…

Naffrodite

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Nobody quite knows who Naffrodite is. Reverse drag queen? Oedepian Freudian Frankenstein? Hostess of Romantic Horrors?

I tend to think of Frankii as one of the “movers and shakers” of Liverpool who has her mitts in many pots. She’s a compère and singer, hair stylist and performance artist, life model and event organiser.

Last year she shaved her head in aid of CALM in memory of a pal.

Jacqui Bevington

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What I love most about Jacqui is she’ll try absolutely everything once, be it burlesque or drum circles or fire dancing. It just isn’t the same without her.

Kayleigh Jayde

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It was short lived but we still consider her a sister. Good luck with your contemporary dancing!

Selina Dunne

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Selina is a proud mumma but also a twin, and I still hold out hope they’ll do a Cheeky Girls duet.

And finally, it’s me!

Lula Limonada

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It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that my solo ‘When Life Gives You Lemons’ involves a cross between my fave fruit and that Katy Perry bra.

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Yeehaw!

My Friend was Diagnosed with Cancer and I Ignored Her

After Christmas I learned second-hand that an old school friend has cancer again. An optician first suspected a brain tumour during our first year at uni because her vision was blurred; she dropped out to receive treatment and wasn’t allowed to drive a car even when she recovered.

I went to send a message of condolence, but I was ashamed. I had made a vague effort when she was sick, but over the years it gradually petered out. I didn’t know what to say because we weren’t equal any more; she had looked death in the face and kicked its arse, whilst I was playing hide and seek in the dark with knives in Liverpool. Was it wrong to only make an effort when you were at risk of losing someone?

I’m the kind of person who lets friends come to me, otherwise they’re forgotten. I assume everybody knows I care – no need to shout it from the rooftops.  It didn’t quite click in my mind that relationships are a two-way street; maybe the reason people weren’t asking me to hang out was because I wasn’t asking them. So, I decided that in 2016 I wouldn’t take friends for granted.

I wrote a list of every single person I consider a friend or potential friend. It’s going up on the wall, and when I’m bored (or preferably just out of the goodness of my heart) I’ll mail my pal Matt who I met in Thailand because I’m still in awe of ginger Aussies, or tell Alex from college how jellyfish surviving 500 million years without brains gives me enormous hope for him.

I was going to leave flowers on the doorstep, but grew some balls and asked if she was in – and I’m so glad I did. It would have been incredibly stupid to let pride get in the way whilst I had a chance to redeem myself. I’m sorry for being self-centered, and for expressing guilt through my own blog post.

One NYE a couple of years ago, my pal said whilst watching fireworks in the town square, ‘I’m just happy to still be here’. This year I’ll make sure my friends know I’m happy they’re still here.