Queer and Now

On Saturday, Tate Britain held an event called Queer and Now, launching Pride in London for 2017. They’ve also currently got an exhibition called Queer British Art 1861-1967, which is on until 1st October. All in all, it promised to be a fantastic day, and me and Beth headed down to London.


Right queer, right now

A note on the use of Queer: Tate Britain outlined in the Queer and Now programme that ‘the word queer has been used both as a term of abuse and by LGBTQ+ people to refer to themselves from the end of the 19th century onwards. Queer and Now is inspired by its usage as an inclusive, fluid term for people of different sexualites and gender identities, and as a way of expressing ways of being in the world that don’t conform to the established norms’. Please be aware that I use queer throughout this post to refer to the LGBTQ+ community, as I both use it to refer to my identity as a bisexual woman in a relationship with a woman and it was part of an event called Queer and Now. However, I feel it’s important to acknowledge that while queer has been reclaimed by some members of the community but not every member of the LGBTQ+ community is happy to use queer, so it’s always worth talking to members of the community about how they would like to be referred to.


The size of a giant wall this was

First thing we did was go round Queer British Art 1861-1967. Starting, as you might expect, in 1861 it chronicles art created by people confirmed or believed to be queer, which was often of people confirmed or believed to be queer. My favourite rooms were Blooomsbury And Beyond, which focused on the Bloomsbury group – a set of artists and writers whose gender identities and sexualities spanned the full LGBTQ+ spectrum, and the Defying Convention room, which focused on how gender norms were challenged in the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly by women* and non binary people.

These rooms in particular, but also the rooms before them, tried to be representative past white gay cisgender men, including several women, trans men and nonbinary individuals. Most notably, the self portrait used in the promtional material for the exhibit is of Gluck, whose name, as stated by the artist, is to be used with “no prefix, suffix, or quotes” and resigned from an art society when this wasn’t followed. However, there was little racial diversity throughout the exhibit, and the final three rooms, as far as I saw, focused on cis men, as if the rest of the queer community stopped produing art in the early 20th century. The exhibition also had a real problem with deadnaming trans and nonbinary people. (Deadnaming is when when a trans person’s birth name is referred to either in addition to or instead of their chosen name.)

As exhibits go, it was so great to see myself represented in art, and to have this representation explicitly referred to in the signs next to the art. Some of the pieces in the exhibit were on loan from Birmingham Art Gallery, and I have seen them several times, never knowing they were part of queer art history. However, while I could see myself represented, there was still huge swathes of the community who were not. As I said earlier, the racial diversity in the displayed art was poor, women disappeared from the exhibit past the early 20th century and I imagine it must be upsetting for trans and non binary people to see themselves in the art, only for the artists identities to be disrepected in the contextual writing. I’d still recommend the exhibit, as the sheer joy of being in a space where queer artists were allowed to be queer was exhilirating, but as a white woman, I do speak from a position of relative privilege in being able to see myself in the art shown.


Solid sign this is. To the point, I like it

While we were in Queer British Art,  Queer and Now got off to a swinging start, and when we came out of the exhibit the gallery was busy. All the activites were free, some were explicitly family friendly, and the variety on offer was incredible. From LGBTQ+ vendors at the pop up esty store, to performance art to make up workshops to talks about queer history, there really was something for everyone.

We learnt about queer convicts in Australia before we headed to The O Show on female masculinity. Hosted by Oriana Fox, this was a chat show style talk about the expression of female masculinity. Guests included Lucy Hutson, a performance artist, Temi Wilkey, actor and drag king who co-runs Pecs, a Drag King collective, and Del LaGrace Volcano, an international photographer who has referred to themselves as a ‘part-time gender terrorist’.

Drag King Cole (Temi Wilkey) and Thrustin Limbersnake (Lauren Steele), two Drag Kings of the Pecs collective, performed a lip sync, which was incredible. The discussion on female masculinity was really interesting, and two days later I’m still thinking about issues discussed. But, in all honesty, the thing that has most stuck with me was Temi’s solo performance as Drag King Cole, which was about police brutality against the black community in Britain and the USA. I’d never realised how political drag could be and how it could be used to make such a powerful statement. The room was silent when she’d finished, as well it should have been.

As the day turned into evening, there were several DJ sets beginning, but after so much to think about (how much do I subscribe to traditional gendered dressing, if I have kids how do I raise them in this society while being aware that the gender binary is a harmful contruct, where is my closest drag king night), we headed home for Birmingham.

It was glorious to be in such a queer coded space. It felt more queer coded than Pride, and that’s saying something. Coming back into the real world was a bit of a shock, especially when a stag do took over our train carriage on the way home, but I feel buoyed up by my queer Saturday in London. We have always existed. We produce art, we form academic theory, we hold hands and kiss in art galleries. We exist.


Love happens here

*To confirm, whenever I say women, I include trans women.


A Gardener’s Paradise

Last weekend, me and Beth spent the day in glorious sunshine in Malvern. And this was no ordinary day out – this was the RHS Malvern Spring Festival. A paradise for all those with plant growning inclinations.

We bought quite a lot of plants. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen work in progress on our garden. There’s a post planned eventually when it’s all finished, but in the mean time, let me show you things other people grew.

1. Community Farms

The first place we checked out were the community farms. Growing huge amounts of crops flowers in small raised beds to show off what you can do with a bit of faith and work, this was really interesting.

We’re trying our hand at gorwing all kinds of veg and bee friendly plants this year, so it was really hopeful to see so many different kinds of vegetables and wildflowers thriving together.

2. The National Sweet Pea Society

I love sweet peas. They’re my grandma’s favourite flower and they remind me of summer. So I was thrilled to discover that a) there’s a national society of sweet pea and b) that they had a fantastic stand in the Floral Marquee.


I’m hoping mine end up looking like this

I ended up buying one of the displays and they’ve looked glorious in the house. Here’s hoping the one’s in our front garden grow to be half as lovely as these.

3. School Show Gardens

Malvern has show gardens that attract various famous names to try their hand at creating. But they also run a school show garden competition, and as the theme was space, I was so more intriuged by these.

All of the entries were great, each of them with a different take on the space theme. I was kind of hoping one of them would just be rows and rows of potatoes a la The Martian, but thankfully, kids are more inventive than I am

4. My Visible Object

I discovered My Visible Object at the Malvern Autumn Show last year, where I bought a leaf that read ‘Tis now the very witching hour of night’. I’ve been planning to hang it up outside ever since. I’ve finally picked a place for it (in the honeysuckle) and am just waiting for the rain to stop so I can go hang it up.


I’m a big be-leaf-er in garden art

This year, I was determined. I was going to buy some art for the garden. It didn’t have to be from My Visible Object, but I was going to get something. I ended up walking away with another leaf as well as a blossoming cow parsley.


Cow parsley in the rain

I love My Visible Object. While Beth loves putting plants in the garden, I’m more into the design aspect, putting art in the garden that complements and enhances. And My Visible Object creates art that helps me do just that – and at very reasonable prices too


The Malvern Show was a fantastic day out. Plants, sun and ice cream. What could be better?


Barcelona -Such Sights To See

Last February it was Madrid. This February it was time for Barcelona. Me and Beth spent most of our time eating or sightseeing, so rather than give you one long account of the holiday, I’m splitting it up. This week it’s the turn of the stuff we went to see. Next week will be the food. To be honest, I’m not sure which of these posts has my favourite things in it.

  1. Sagrada Familia

The big tourist trap of Barcleona is Gaudi’s cathedral. As yet unfinished, I had great hopes for this monument to sheer tenacity of a city’s dream. It turns out that about half of the outside of famous cathedral is Gaudi and the other half is another architect, who…as it turns out, I appreciate much more than Gaudi.


Picturesque view of a construction site

The inside of the Sagrada Familia looks like the entrance hall of an organic, futuristic spaceship and that was very cool. It didn’t really feel like a cathedral, mostly because a) it was so different to every other cathedral ever and b) you could hear all the construction work the entire time you were there.


This view was worth all the queuing

It’s worth going, even if it’s just to feel like you’re standing in the midst of a spaceship. I’d suggest booking your tickets online thought. That ticket queue can be super huge.

2. Miro Museum

Me and Beth discovered Miro in the Caxia Forum in Madrid, so it was great to find out that there was a whole museum dedicated to him in Barcelona. A modernist,surrealist artist who favoured big canvases, odd sculptures and burning paintings, he’s really interesting.


The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona aka MACBA is (shockingly) the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona. It’s a modernist piece of architecture that’s beautiful, and is also beloved by the city’s skaters. A fact which MACBA have not only accepted but encouraged.


Photo by Beth

A really incredible space

On the inside, the space is all clean lines and excellent art. We saw an exhibition about Antoni Miralda, who, among projects with brightly coloured bread, started an art project that saw the Statue of Liberty and the Barcelona statue of Colombus get married, with wedding gifts from artists and art institutions from all around the world – including Birmingham, UK. It was very odd to be in the middle of an art exhibition in Spain and suddenly realise you were looking at art made in the town you live in.

4. CosmoCaxia

The science museum has a many cool attractions, including a planetarium and more interactive exhibits than you can shake a stick at, but the coolest of the cool, is the square kilometer of rainforest that they’ve lovingly recreated, complete with piranhas and tropical storms.


Rainforest in the outskirts of Barcelona



Magnificent Madrid

February in the UK is cold and wet and often miserable. Which is why it’s the perfect time for adventuring abroad. At the end of Feb, me and Beth went to Madrid, in search of tapas, art and a blue, blue sky. It did not disappoint.


Look at that sky.

Flying at a reasonable time from Gatwick meant we could travel down to London on the day of our flight, which was awesome, though getting up at 4am was not fun. It meant that we got into Madrid at 2pm, giving us plenty of time to struggle with huge suitcases on the metro and to find our hostel before it went dark.

Our hostel was TOC Madrid and it was a like a good hotel. Quirky, polished and having rooms with balconies, we were really impressed with TOC. Because we’re adults now with shiny paychecks to blow, we stayed in a private room at the hostel (Which was still cheaper than staying at an actual hotel), rather than in a dorm, and it was so cool to be able to eat our lunch on a teeny tiny balcony.


Balcony, balcony, balcony

When we’d siesta’d (4am is too early to be up, guys), we headed out into central Madrid to have a wander round. We headed to the Puente de Toledo aka the Bridge of Toledo. Very pretty, surrounded by gardens that’ll probably be better when it’s not February and dark. Then we ended up at Las Bravas  for tapas, which involved two different kinds of squid. Tapas is pretty great though it helps when you know what is you’re eating.


Points for you if you can guess which two things are made of squid.

On Saturday we headed to the Musuem of Romanticism for breakfast, where it became apparent to us how little Spanish we know. Breakfast was delicious, but we decided not to go round the museum in favour of finding Caxia Forum. It was a great decision.


Caxia is pronounced Kai-sha by the way.

Caxia Forum is an art gallery that looks like it’s floating and has a four storey wall of greenery next to it. It was a gorgeous day and the living wall was very impressive. Of course we went into Caxia Forum, which had an exhibition of Joan Miró’s work. He was modernist or post modernist – either way it was a lot of fun coming up with faux artistic reasons for the art.


Four storeys. Four whole storeys.

After stopping off in the excellent shop at Caxia Forum, we headed across the road to the El Retiro Park, which is a public garden with a couple of art galleries. Madrid loves its art. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours with baguettes and beer in the sunshine. We eventually wandered to the Palacio de Cristal which is a beautiful art space in the park before we headed back for a quick siesta and then headed out for food.


The Crystal Palace of Madrid is gorgeous.

We went for paella, because when in Rome. The restaurant was called La Paella de la Reina and Lonely Plant (my go to guide book) recommended it. The paella was great, though we struggled for half an hour to get the bill, because every time I caught the waiter’s eye, he’d smile and walk off.

The next day was Sunday, and according to all the literature, the thing to do on Sundays in Madrid is to go to the flea markets. So we did. Streets full of old paintings, second hand clothes and general tat/antiques. As always, the weather was glorious and it was lovely if a little crowded.

And then we had the best brunch ever. La Central is a bookshop who not only have an excellent selection of books, but had the one of the best meals I’ve ever had. For €23 euros you get, mini pastries, juice, tea or coffee, a main and a pudding. Of brunch. I had eggs benedict for the first time and a chocolate crepe (not at the same time), and the juice wasn’t bog standard orange or apple. No, it was fancy with over three ingredients and tasted fantastic. Simply incredible.

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After a relatively lazy day, that evening we went out looking for drinks. After some seriously great burritos, we wound up in a down at heel bar for cocktails before we went in search of another watering hole.

We sucked at finding places to drink. But it all worked out when we found a swish looking bar who had local beer. They also had a band playing who were American metal folk. It sounded pretty much like you’re imagining.

Monday was our last full day in Madrid and we began in the district of Chueca, where we found some amazing niche shops, some fabulously expensive clothes and some really lovely people. We ended up at a café called La Linda where they have their own juice and some pretty great toasties.


Chicken, brie, mustard and honey.

Later that day, we tried to go to the palace but it was closed for an official event. So we wound up in Costa surrounded by a lot of English speakers before we headed to the Reina Sofia, one of Madrid’s most famous art galleries. On certain days, you can go for two hours in the evening for free, and me and Beth love us some free art galleries. And so we ended up at the Reina Sofia after dark.

Being in an art gallery in the evening was quite exciting. I was less impressed with the actual art gallery. From having interactive art that you weren’t allowed to interact with to endless rooms of paintings with no context other than the name of the piece and the name of the artist, it wasn’t super fun. So we left.

Our hunt to find food using the guidebook didn’t work very well, with all three places we headed for being closed. So we went to MacDonalds. They have a big mac but with chicken burgers. It was so good. So good.


Much chicken, so good. 

On Tuesday we packed up and bade the hostel farewell, before heading back to the palace. This time it was actually open and we got to go round the very impressive building. Built to show off wealth and power, it’s still achieving those goals. Particularly the room where the wall paper is made out of porcelain.


So impressive. 

Eventually we had to leave, after having the best burger at Bacoa, we took the metro back to the airport and the plane back to England. Our flight was delayed and then cancelled so we got an extra few hours in Madrid but in the airport wasn’t an ideal way of spending them.

Madrid was an incredible city and I’d go back. The art was great, the food was amazing and it has a constantly blue sky. What more could you want?


Bucharest, Brasov and Bears – oh my.

With my degree done and proper adult life on the horizon, I went in search of adventure. And like all good adventurers I needed a companion. Enter Maddie stage right. Long time readers will recognise Maddie as my frequent partner in crime from posts such as Prague, Berlin and London. This time we were off to Romania. Land of Dracula and… Well, that’s pretty much all I knew before I went.

On Wednesday night, we flew into Bucharest and went straight to the hostel we were staying at. Before we went out we’d been warned by various sources from our guidebooks to the hostel not to get ripped off by the taxi driver. Guess what. We got ripped off by the taxi driver. A journey that should have cost us between 30 and 40 lei (£5-6) cost us 190 lei (£30). Which for a half hour journey in a capital city still doesn’t feel ridiculously priced. But, I can’t lie, it wasn’t the best introduction to Romania.

Still, the hostel was great. The Umbrella Hostel  was pretty awesome, from the staff who were always excellent help to the rooms, which were not only clean and comfortable but also had air conditioning. My only slight quibble is that the spiral staircase upstairs isn’t exactly the easiest to traverse, but I mean, that is the only thing I would change.

Our first day in Bucharest, we headed out into the city with a map and a vague sense of purpose. Our first stop was the National Museum of Art of Romania. In the former royal palace, located on Revolution Square, it’s seen a good deal of history. Now the palace houses a collection of medieval, modern and European art. We went into the medieval collection first, which was very impressive and then wandered round the European collection which was less impressive. Some of the medieval pieces were incredible, including fragments of a church that was once considered a place of huge historical importance. Not that that stopped the communist leader tearing it down.


The entrance was all metal work and cool.

From the art museum, we wandered on to the Old Town. I always forget that Old Towns are essentially there for you to wander round and go, ooh how pretty. I always expect there to be something else there. Thankfully, Bucharest Old Town is quite pretty in a crumbly sort of way. It also has Caru’ Cu Bere, which our guidebooks and the staff at the hostel recommended. Our waiter was excellent, and kept making Dad jokes. The best one was definitely when we asked for the bill and he went ‘Oh I’m sorry. Bill’s not working today. You’ll have to make do with me.’


Traditional meat platter that included sausages with cheese in them.

Afterwards we walked down to the Palace of Parliament. Built by Ceaușescu (that communist leader I mentioned), it’s a sprawling testament to an attempt to impose dominance on a landscape via architecture. Aside from the Pentagon, it’s the largest administrative building in the world and only half of it is in use today simply because it is so big. It also now houses an art museum as well as being where the Romanian parliament sits. We did not go round it, mostly because something that huge is definitely going to kill your feet. So instead we took photos from a distance and then headed back up to explore the rest of the Old Town.


That’s up a hill. I don’t think photos can really show just how imposing and impressive a building it is.

The rest of Old Town was mostly bars and clubs. You could go around the world in 80 bars, with the ubiquitous Irish pubs, Finnish cocktail bars and even a German bar called Oktoberfest. We didn’t end up sampling the delights of Old Town, because we went back to the hostel exhausted by the heat and how much we’d walked. There was a nautical-esque restaurant called The Harbour which did great food and had the added benefit of being five minutes from our hostel. And again, the waiters did a great line in Dad jokes.

The second day we had learnt our lesson about trying to walk everywhere and we used the metro instead. You can buy a 10 ride ticket which we did, which ended up being super useful later in the week as we ended up using the metro a few more times. We went to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, which turned out to be super interesting despite the lack of English signage. Filled with objects from peasant’s everyday life, it had everything from crosses to clothing to a fully built house.


A full house. In a museum room. What. 

Behind the peasant museum was a market that I think was aimed at tourists considering how many souvenirs they sold. Particularly peasant blouses. Peasant blouses are definitely one of the traditional souvenirs to buy, and we even saw actual Romanians wearing them, rather than just tourists. After we’d perused the market fully, we headed back to the hostel to pick up our bags and head to the railway station. After paying way too much for a taxi on our first night, we were wiser and paid the right amount this time.

Getting train tickets was a bit of a mission, given that every rail company has its own ticket office and we didn’t know which rail company we needed. We eventually found the right booth and made our train, with only the most minor of hoo-has. The train was fine, and seeing as I was sat next to a group of British boys fresh from their first year of university, it could have been much worse. By which I mean, they weren’t lads and banter was kept to a minimum.


Hollywood letters were not what I was expecting from Transylvania. 

Our final destination was Brasov – a medieval fortified town that is relatively near quite a lot of places of interest in Transylvania. Getting a taxi to our hostel was super easy and did not involve us getting ripped off. Yay! It might seem like we got a lot of taxis. That’s because a) we did, and b) when you’re paying proper prices for them, they’re really cheap in pounds. And it’s so much easier than trying to figure out public transport in a foreign language.


The Black Church is right next to the main square and was therefore right next to a our hostel.

We stayed at the Boemia Hostel in Brasov, and it was nice. Really close to the centre of town – it was a three minute walk to the town square. And Alex, the guy who worked there, was really helpful when it came to figuring out how to use the public transport. Though pretty much everyone else there was doing a round the world trip and thought we were very odd for just coming to Romania. And for having emergency biscuits. But everyone needs emergency biscuits right?

Our first night in Brasov had us walking the ramparts and wall that still remain in parts around the town and wandering through the main square. Brasov is very pretty. Very medieval. We had tea at Gustari where I tried polenta for the first time. It wasn’t awful. But I’m not sure I can say it was good either.

The next day we were up at 6am because we were going to Bran Castle. Or more famously, the castle that Bram Stoker based Dracula’s castle on. Yes, we were going on a search for vampires. We took two buses to get there, but we made it before the castle even opened. It was a misty morning and it definitely felt like Dracula was a possibility. Because we were so early and it was so cold, we went for a drink and in the twenty minutes that took, two coach tours went up to the castle. So we thought we’d better get our skates on before it was completely overrun.



Bran is nothing like what I’d expected from Dracula’s castle. It’s quite a small castle, not overly high in the mountains and inside it’s very plain. Not gothic in the slightest. The inner courtyard and loggia that surrounds it is beautiful, especially when the sun comes out. It is also full of tourists. When we came out, we had to fight our way through a mob of people waiting to be allowed in. If you’re going to go, you’re going to have to get up early.


Look how pretty.

Surrounding the foot of the hill that the castle is set on, is a huge souvenir market, filled with peasant blouses and tacky t-shirts as far as the eye can see. Of course, we went all round it. When Maddie had bought an excellent peasant blouse, we headed back to Brasov to get lunch, before we then went on to Sinaia.

We were headed for Peles Castle, the castle of the first monarchs of Romania. A castle which no less than two people had told me I should go and see rather than Bran. Because it was a little late in the day when our train arrived in Sinaia, we jumped in a taxi (yes, another one) and he sped us far into the hills to the castle. Thankfully we made the last tour.


This is one small section of the outside.

You can only go round Peles on guided tour, and I’m not a guided tour fan. But this one was definitely worth it. Completely over the top, Peles is a joy to discover and I only wish I was allowed to show you my photos of it, because from Murano glass chandeliers to a ceiling made of 24 carat gold to a cinema decorated by Gustav Klimt, it’s incredible. Unfortunately, you have to have permission to put photos of Peles on the internet, and I don’t…

Peles was beautiful and next door is another castle called Pelisor. There was also a classic car exhibition the day we went and the weather was glorious. I can see why I was told to go to Peles not Bran. I am glad I went to Bran though. You can’t go to Transylvania and not go to Dracula’s castle. Even if it looks nothing like what you expected.


Pelisor was rather smaller than Peles.

We probably could have spent more time in Sinaia, especially considering they have a monastery that is simply gorgeous. But with everything closing, we headed back to the railway station and back to Brasov, for a relatively reasonable night. Because in the morning we were going bear hunting.


The monastery was gorgeous but we didn’t go in.

Before you leave an angry comment and vow never to read my blog again, we weren’t actually hunting bears. We were metaphorically hunting. Figure of speech hunting. We were headed to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary near Zarnesti to see bears without harming them in any fashion. We actually started the day in Rasnov, because that was as close as we could get by public transport and then we had to take a taxi. Bless that taxi driver for taking us up a very bumpy farm type road.



The bear sanctuary was incredible. They take in mistreated bears and look after them. They’re still wild animals and I wouldn’t like to end up on the wrong side of the enclosure fences but the bears are also happy to come up to the fence to say hello. You can only go round by guided tour which they do in English and Romanian, and our guide was so lovely.



It was a really great experience. Our only problem was then getting back to Rasnov or Brasnov. The sanctuary didn’t have a taxi number and neither did we. Thankfully, a helpful gentleman there with his family rang a taxi for us, haggled on our behalf and then waited to make sure the taxi turned up. He was outstanding, and we were very grateful for his help.

Once we’d got back to Brasnov, we went to pick up our bags as we were headed back to Bucharest for one final night. We stayed at the Umbrella Hostel again, this time in their super duper private room. It was nice and had a private bathroom. Luxury. We headed out to try and go to the Dimitrie Gustie National Village Museum, but alas, when we reached it, it was closed. But we had a lovely wander through a park and got ice cream. What could be better?

We went back to Ceru’ cu Bere for our final meal in Bucharest, and it was delicious. Although the service wasn’t as good, but that could maybe because it was now the weekend and the evening. Who knows. I’d still recommend it. And that was the end of the Romanian adventure.

We packed an awful lot into four days and it was great. I don’t know if I’d hurry back to Bucharest. It’s lovely but I much preferred Brasov and the surrounding area, even if Transylvania doesn’t feel very Transylvania-y in brilliant sunshine. There’s still a lot of Romania left to explore, but that’s an adventure for another time.


Great hair, cool bears, don’t care.