All the Hotel Is A Stage: The Townhouse, Stratford-upon-Avon

churchstreet__OH_003 [TIF 18942190804]In an archived statement from Shakespeare and Company, the scribe states: ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.’ And so we’re greeted as angels at The Townhouse in Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon.

It ticks all the right notes from the off: it’s accessible by both train and car (with easy and discounted parking); the lighting is not electrifyingly bright; and the receptionist is friendly.

Located in the town centre, it’s a two minutes’ walk from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, five minutes’ walk to Shakespeare’s birthplace on Henley Street and five minutes in the other direction to the Holy Trinity Church. Shakespeare’s school, which is still open to young students today, rests beneath the hotel’s typically white façade.

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My partner and I recently stay over in one of twelve bedrooms, each offering super king sized beds, en-suite bathrooms, Nespresso machines, and complementary WiFi.

We’re not newbies to Stratford-upon-Avon – we’ve both visited as children with our schools. We know where to go and head to Shakespeare’s birthplace on nearby Henley Street maintained by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust (shakespeare.org.uk).

Here, on a beautiful spring afternoon we watch short outtakes from Hamlet played out by local actors (a man and a woman) in Shakespeare’s verdant garden. It’s camp. And fun, and witty too.

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That evening we take dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. We’re told that all food is freshly prepared in the kitchen and the chefs work closely with local suppliers to source the best produce where possible.

Lunch is also available 12pm – 3pm in the restaurant, and dinner starts early for the pre-theatre crowd. There’s a pre-theatre set menu every day 12pm – 3pm & 5pm – 7pm with 2 courses for £12.50 and 3 courses for £14.50, too.

We take dinner at 8pm. I go with the Cotswold Mozzarella with Honey, Balsamic Figs & Prosciutto (£7) and the Cotswold Lamb Rump, Cream & Garlic Cannellini Beans, Red Wine & Anchovy Crumb (£17.50). The Cannellini beans are a highlight. My partner’s Todenham 10oz steak (£28) is very succulent, too.

There’s a great terrace out the back for a cigarette afterwards and a thin slice of coutyard with enough room for several tables and chairs.

Bed beckons, and we both sleep well.

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The following morning I am smoking in the terrace and see the fresh produce waiting outside for the kitchen.

After we have breakfast at 8am – my partner has homemade bread with butter and I take a full-English.

From arrival to departure, The Townhouse is delightful in that it brings to life some of the wit, charm and romance of Shakespeare. The view from the third floor where we stayed overlooks other Tudor cottages in their white with black striped get-ups. It’s hard not to feel some of the magic of a great writer of times gone by here.

The Townhouse is located at 16 Church Street, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6HB. For more information or to book visit www.stratfordtownhouse.co.uk

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13 things you need to spice up your sex life in Metro!

Read my piece in Metro now...

‘I’ve got the toys to turn your body out,’ cooed New Power Generation vocalist Elisa Fiorillo on Love Machine, a track from Prince’s 12th album, Graffiti Bridge.

Of course, Prince was a veteran of the vagina and a master in the bedroom so we’d all do well to take note – sex toys take things to another level of multiple orgasms.

For example, a butt plug can fulfill a woman’s fantasy of being taken by two men simultaneously. and, at the same time, tightening the vagina for him.

And a dog collar can be decorative or the source of humiliation.

My personal favourite is the feather tickler – it has me bouncing off the ceiling in an insatiable frenzy of sexy fun.

If you haven’t tried a toy before, use lashings of lubricant, don’t be shy and don’t play the part of a shadow – let your inhibitions go and let it drink you till dawn.

1. Erotic literature

Get in the mood with some seductive literature.

Forget 50 Shades and go with something classic, such as Georges Bataille’s ‘Story of the eye’ – a study of human desire.

Story of the Eye
(Picture: Penguin)

2. Dog collar

Make sure it has a ring on the front to lead you to the bedroom and don’t forget to get on your hands and knees.

collar
(Picture: Coco de Mer)

3. Molecule 1

Use fragrance that works with your pheromones like Escentric Molecules’ Molecule 1, which is now widely available.

Tribute 8 do a wonderful homage version for a fraction of the price.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BODWjWOAZhw/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=7

4. Dildo

Get back to basics with a classic dildo.

We all know and love the Rampant Rabbit for its added clit stimulation and if you haven’t tried it yet head to Ann Summers.

rampant-rabbit
(Picture: Ann Summers)

5. Vibrating butt plug

Slightly less known but profound nonetheless.

vibrating-butt-plug
(Picture: Bondara)

6. Gagging ball

Give in to humiliation with a ball strapped to your mouth – the ultimate in dom/sub role play.

(Picture: Coco de Mer)
(Picture: Coco de Mer)

7. Feather tickler

Be a tease after the strip with a feather tickler to drive your partner to the brink of ecstasy.

(Picture: Coco de Mer)
(Picture: Coco de Mer)

8. Nipple and clit clamps

Pinch the nipples and clitoris for some pleasurable pain.

clamps
(Picture: Bondara)

9. Leather paddle

If you’ve been a terribly naughty girl or boy and insist on being punished, try a leather paddle to teach you a lesson.

(Picture: Coco de Mer)
(Picture: Coco de Mer)

10. Latex mittens

For some fetish couture, try some black latex gloves and go fingerless to allow full ‘Roman fingers’ (or finger’s that roam).

(Picture: Coco de Mer)
(Picture: Coco de Mer)

11. Hand cuffs

For BDSM pleasure after hours, try some hand cuffs.

If you’re wearing them, try to wriggle out.

12. Mask

Stimulate your senses of touch by going all the way with a blindfold on.

13. Prostate massager

And finally, I’m delighted to introduce you, gents, to the Aneros Helix Syn – a massager that caresses the prostate.

(Picture: Harmony)

Sip Sip Hoorah – it’s the luxury liquor from Yorkshire!

Ay up! It’s a ‘boot time for a winter tipple…. from the back growths of Northern Yorkshire!

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Yes, that’s right. The proud Yorkshire business, Raisthorpe Manor, has produced a gorgeous Gooseberry Gin Liqueur that bagged a gold star in the Great Taste Awards last year – made with love from scrumping in nearby hedges.

The drink boasts the flavour of gooseberries and the character of the fruit, and it also comes through with little bursts of green acidity – adding a splash of colour and tutty fruity to the bleak winter landscapes.

Movers and makers (and cocktail shakers?) Raisthorpe Manor Fine Foods is run by husband and wife Julia and David Medforth in deepest darkest North Yorkshire. The conception of their food and wine venture started out with humble (or crumble?) beginnings: with Julia foraging for fruit in nearby hedges.

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Raisthorpe’s Damson Port was one of 125 British products out of nearly 10,000, that picked up a trio of Gold awards at the as ‘the Oscars of the food world’ last year.

The Gooseberry Gin makes a good after drink for a roast dinner and a more luxurious and knowing nod to the North than your average Yorkshire pud.

Happy winter everybody!

 raisthorpemanor.com

Down on the ‘free-for-all’ farm that offers a spiritual twist in Positively Scottish

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“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus.

For me, the invincible summer can be found in Lesmahagow, some 25 minutes south-east of Glasgow, just off the M74, writes ERICA CROMPTON, in Positively Scottish.

Here I discovered a spiritual eco-farm retreat through Worldwide Opportunities for Organic Farming (WWOOF), a global collection of farms where you can work the land in exchange for accommodation and food.

The Krishna Eco Farm in Lesmahagow, or Karuna Bhavan, is home to a community of over 30 people, made up Hare Krishna monks, families, volunteers and the wider Krishna community.

It sits atop a steep hill. If you’re coming by bus and walking here, expect to feel the burn as you reach the entrance. To begin with, you’ll find a navy and white sign letting you know you’re in the right place and acting as a gate to the women’s ‘ashram’ (ashram meaning home in Indian, where the Krishna religion originates). It’s in front of the men’s ashram (the two houses are divided as that sort of thing isn’t allowed here on the sacred grounds).

thumb_img_0997_1024Accommodation is basic, and shared, but often there aren’t many travellers stopping over so you may find you have a room to yourself like me. The heating is on, and my abode for the next five nights is stencilled with elephants and peacocks with plenty of floral fabrics in a rainbow of pastel and primary colours. I could be in India with all this 1970s wicker furniture and wooden floors…although a glance outside at the plump and heavy Scottish rainclouds reminds me I’m not.

You don’t have to be devout or don the tangerine robes to reap the spiritual benefits here, though many do after escaping the rat race or leaving behind troubled pasts. The WWOOF scheme means you can help harvest crops for six hours a day, five days a week in exchange for a bed, and the meals (much of which are made from the crops here).

13423885_10154315812036907_5156835934155131328_nVolunteers are a staple in the running of the temple. Head gardener Bhakti Vinode (above) says: “Labour on the farm has helped us in a big way and we couldn’t cultivate the amount of land without the volunteers – we’ve been depending on them and they bring life to the farm.

“Personally I feel enthused when I see things growing. I work hard to cultivate the land then plant the seeds, so it’s nice to see the seeds germinate after all the hard work. I feel I’m doing something for the world, like I’m contributing. Everyone needs food so I like to grow food and teach others how to grow food. We can feed the hungry but we also have to educate people how to grow food. Growing food gives me a purpose in life.”

Earn your keep, take a working holiday, or stay as long as you want while you get back on your feet if unemployed or homeless. It can even help those with mental health problems, says Bhakti. “We do some horticultural therapy here too. People with mental health problems come along and we encourage them to grow food as it makes them feel more positive.”

For those who don’t want to do the farming, you can pay £10 a night for the same deal and explore the surrounding areas. However you’ll be still be expected to observe the house rules, such as no alcohol, no meat, and no sex.

thumb_img_1060_1024Those rules are keenly observed by the monks and you can’t miss them dotted around the grounds in their orange robes, sometimes chanting “Hare Krishna”. They mostly cut lithe, warm figures with their shaven heads fully focused on their work. The farming is also known as ‘Bhakti yoga’. It’s done with devotion for the Hindu God Krishna and forms a crucial part of the devotees’ lifestyle.

Bhakti takes his spiritual name from Bhakti yoga. Of the practice, he says: “Working on the land keeps me fit and it helps regulate my life. I have to be there every morning to water, feed, and weed the seedlings. Most important is I love what I do. Practising Bhakti yoga means I grow food with love and whoever eats the food feels the love while eating.”

You’ll often find Bhakti working in one of two large greenhouses that sit aside the women’s ashram, a little further up the hill and framed by a winding path to the temple right at the top.

Chanting, meditation and yoga take place in this colourful and diminutive temple with intricate carved deities covered in garlands which are made on-site with the marigolds that Bhakti and the volunteers’ harvest.

The marigolds only add to the colour to the site. I also visited this summer for the Hindi Festival of Lights. With monks and friends, we threw coloured paint at each other while singing and dancing. The best part was sitting in the farm grounds around a campfire with sheep until late. But it’s not uncommon for a devotee to rise at 2am to start their mantra rituals.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner follow the early birds at 8.30am, 1.30pm and 7.30pm. The food is all vegetarian and much produced on site, such as the spinach and the potatoes. They call it ‘Prasadam’ and it tastes a little like curry – think saag paneer rather than vindaloo, as it’s all very mild.

Of the food, Bhakti says: “Prasadam means everything to me. It’s spiritual food, and when I eat it, I feel the love! I like to serve Prasadam to others. The Beatle George Harrison said he hopes in the future there will be Prasadam restaurants and takeaways on every corner and I can see that happening in the future, because it’s great food.

“Everyone that comes to the Krishna eco farm gets Prasadam and it’s always such a nice occasion sitting and eating it together – it’s enthusing to see after growing the crops and makes me feel happy and peaceful while bringing the love out in my heart. It’s so easy and everyone can take part.”

I, too, took part. Healthy eating was welcome on my stay and after five days without coffee, booze, and meat I do feel energised and not a little lighter (it must be all that bending and stretching over the spinach).

Sanctuary and peace don’t cost the earth on the Krishna eco farm. So free-loving, colourful summer vibes can live on through the wildest of winters.

For more information on the Krishna eco farm, go here.

 

14 reasons you need to visit the Lake District… now!

 

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The floating clouds and canary yellow daffodils of the Lake District inspired William Wordsworth and any number of poets in the day.

Cumbria continues to please and attract, bringing in scores of tourists from as far as Japan.

Inhale the fresh air, walk beneath the emerald hairpin hills, or take it all in from a high by flying in a plane.

There are so many reasons to visit the Lake District, here are just fourteen…

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  1. Wordsworth’s old haunt, Grasmere

Visit Dove Cottage, home to William Wordsworth during the most productive period of his life. It’s the only place in the world where you’ll glimpse his original belongings! https://wordsworth.org.uk/visit/dove-cottage.html

  1. Theatre on the Lake, Keswick

 

Visit one of two intimate stages and watch the drama of the Lakes unfold.

 

  1. Kendal Mint Cake

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These saccharine sweets pack a punch – except freshness like that of a wind machine and breathe fresher that the country air!

 

  1. Grasmere Gingerbread Shop 

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If the mint cake doesn’t give you the sugar kick you need try Sarah Nelson’s ginger bread made in Grasmere! It’s spicy and sweet with biscuit meets cake texture, and is said to be some of the best gingerbread in the world. https://www.grasmeregingerbread.co.uk/

  1. Windermere Lake Cruises

Cruise between 45 minutes to 3 hours on the largest lake in the UK, in one of Cumbria’s most popular attractions.

  1. Ulverston Lantern Festival

Trains, ships, flights of aeroplanes, dragons, puppets, flowers, faeries and hobgoblins can all be seen lighting up the Lakes this September 17th. See 600 candle-lit lanterns made from willow and paper from 7.30pm.

 

  1. Sir John Barrow Monument, Ulverston

Be in awe of the 100 feet tall replica Eddystone lighthouse built in memory of Sir John Barrow one of the Lakes District’s most famous sons. Climb to the tower to learn his story and for stunning views of Morecambe Bay.

  1. Castle Green Hotel

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Easy to access and the perfect spot for exploring, stay at this comfortable expanded Victoria mansion and Cumbria Tourism’s ‘Large Hotel of the Year’.

  1. The Lakes Distillery

Both England’s newest and largest whisky distillery has welcomed over 90K visitors since it opened to the public 2014 and is conveniently located 150m from the eye-wateringly beautiful Bassenthwaite Lake.

  1. Beatrix Potter’s House
In the garden of Beatrix Potter's Hill Top cottage, a familiar sight...
In the garden of Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top cottage, a familiar sight…

Enjoy a tale or two or a tall story? Beatrix Potter’s 17th Century farmhouse in Hill Top is for you. It’s filled with all her favourite things, with each room containing a reference to a picture.

  1. The Daffodil Hotel & Spa, Grasmere

 

Stay here for special reopening rates of £99 per room including breakfast throughout August.

 

  1. The Punch Bowl Inn & Restaurant at Crosthwaite

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Tucked away in a picturesque village between Kendal and Windermere, this 5-star 2AA rosette pub was voted Cumbria’s Best Dining Pub for the last two consecutive years by the Good Pub Guide. In a former life, the inn was an old Blacksmiths shop, too.

 

  1. The Ullswater Way

A 20-mile route circular route around Ullswater Way opened this spring. It’s a scenic walk that can be completed in a day or broken up over a few days.

 

  1. Lake District Gyroplanes

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If you haven’t found enough uplifting reasons to visit the Lake District, here’s a final pitch – fly in a plane from £125 and take it all in from a bird’s eye view.

Top Ten Festival Buys Published in TNT Magazine

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Summer has arrived, and with it a myriad of muddy festivals. There are some things you simply can’t turn up without – think wellies and dry hair spray. And then there are others that can leave at home in your bathroom like towels, and a hairdryer. Here Erica Crompton rounds up her top five festival buys…

Travel Perfume
Oh boy can it get smelly in festivals! You may recall an insane lack of toilet tissue, and no space for a shower other than your friend shaking a can of Carling open, over your head. Freshen up morning and night with a budget and travel friendly version of Molecule 01 fragrance from Escentric Molecules. It blends with your natural pheromones to create an individual scent that is unique to you – helping your lost mates spot where you are a mile off. £27, cultbeauty.co.uk

Dry Hair Spray
With Mark Hill’s new Big Night Out range you’ll never need to resort to pulling all your hair up in your hat. For festivals try Dirty Little Stop Out! Volumising Dry Shampoo which will zap greasy roots without having to wash, shampoo and condition. All you need to worry about, is what colour you do your hair now. Pink? Green? Or maybe a “hairs stood on their ends after a night of electro punk” do? From £6.29 for 200ml at Boots.com

Umbrella Hat
Whacky wear works at festivals and will win you points with your friends for providing a talking paint around the campfire. With so many beards, facial tattoos and sometimes even stilts and Penny Farthings to compete with, I say go for broke! Try a novelty umbrella hat that operates like a bright idea bulb hovering over your head – it’ll keep rain at bay and your now coiffured hair intact, too. £3.12 from novelties-direct.co.uk

Wellies

My cherry red Hunter wellies work well for every sundress I own – yes, the lace, floral, nautical and even tribal smocks. They also look great with jeans and, if I was Kate Moss, hotpants. The hardest part of my purchasing these this spring is not succumbing to Hipsterville and wearing them on the High Street. Try the tall red classics for a modern stamp in the mud! Buy today for a reduced price of £74.99 at cloggs.co.uk

Sleeping Bag Onesie
Your camping partner will never be able to nick the sleeping bag again with a sleeping bag onesie. Keep the warmth to yourself and cosy up with a SelkBag Classic Sleep Suit in a selection of “Get off my duvet!” primary colours. You can run around in it all night and, because it’s built for the outdoors, it willl keep you warm. Features include extra leg ventilation to keep you cool at night, an insulated collar and cord lock for extra warmth and even a little check storage pocket so that you can literally keep your valuables close to your heart. Priced at £98.99 from planetcamping.co.uk

Read more: Top five festival buys – TNT Magazine

Sure of you: book review in the Lancet

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If home is where the heart is, it makes sense that Pretend Friends is set in a home with a verdant garden, furnished with a picket fence, where conversations take place. It’s a book born of love by author Alice Hoyle and illustrator Lauren Reis. Collaborators include Katy Gray, who has schizophrenia and has consulted on the book. Sale proceeds go to the Rethink Mental Illness campaign to help with their work in reducing stigma and raising awareness of disorders such as schizophrenia among people of all ages. The power of metaphor is used to describe the schizophrenia experienced by Big Jay, an adult, and the imaginary friends of Little Bea, a child. Little Bea wants to make her pretend friends big so Big Jay’s pretend friends—that is to say, distressing hallucinations and delusions—can’t hurt or scare him anymore.

As someone with schizophrenia, who is an auntie to two-year-old Archie, I wonder if he’s old enough to understand the story when he reaches four. Yet a children’s book using metaphor to introduce them to the different experiences people have is a worthwhile concept. It’s been observed that Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh has symptoms of depression, yet his friends still love him irrespective. That’s a very important message to drive home for children. Pretend Friends projects AA Milne’s philosophy further, and says that Big Jay needs “special medication” for his pretend friends. But in my own childhood, the very notion of this as a reality for a loved one would have been terrifying. However, there’s a section for adults at the back of the book that address any fears a child might have. It gives example questions about Big Jay with thoughtful responses that foster greater understanding and compassion. Causation and cure (or lack of it) are all covered, and the message is conveyed that, with the right help and support, Big Jay is going to be okay. It’s also stated that psychosis is no-one’s fault and not the child’s responsibility.

Conversations such as this one are very important. Once over dinner with two adults and their 15-year-old son, I brought up my schizophrenia and the 15-year-old laughed in my face. It illustrates how we must tackle misconceptions early and bring such a stigmatised illness in the open, rather than pretending that it doesn’t exist. Regarding my relationship with Archie, I’m keeping the book to give him when he’s just about tall enough to have a conversation over the beautifully illustrated brown picket fence.

Published source: Lancet Psychiatry online

Nineties Nostaglia at Stafford’s Swoon

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It’s 11pm and a swarm of neon yellow-jackets are manning the door to Stafford’s Couture night club. They could be having a party of their own. But as myself and my partner reach the doors, it’s clear tonight’s party is the reserve of Lyrca, hairspray and 40-something men in red tartan pants. Yes, it’s as compelling as it sounds – we’re  here reliving our youth.

Tonight at Couture it’s the 1st anniversary of Swoon, and Roger Sanchez is headlining. Swoon, in its heyday some twenty years ago was a haven for high-heels and discernible yoots. Friday nights saw revellers travelling from the far reaches of the UK for a glimpse Boy George et al spinning a set of pounding yet euphoric house music.

Swoon back then, was awarded Mixmag’s best Friday night in the country and filmed for Channel 4 BPM show. Regulars saw it as a mecca for friendly faces, feather bowers, and flights of fancy with the girl next door.

Today Swoon nights at Couture are part of a series of reunions, very much in tune with the zeitgeist for all things nineties (and yes, I keep a scrunchy in my jacket pocket tonight for when it all gets too sweaty). The familiar DJs are back behind the decks to aid us clubbers in stepping back in time. And it is as magical as it sounds.

There are two rooms in the club and the main room fills quickly, by 10.30pm. The second room downstairs, is more of a chill out space. A heavy haze from the smoke machine fills a near-empty dancefloor – not a melting clubber gurning in sight!

Rested downstairs, we venture back up to the main room and it’s clear why this is the drawcord of the night with what we used to call “anthems” or “toons” being played back to back to an audience with their hands reaching for a ceiling that’s almost entirely eclipsed with a glitter ball. No finer point can be put on how friendly the crowd are – some faces are clearly recognisable, others not so much. But all of them adorning smiles. People spotting and garb dissemination are all part of the fun (Where did you get that dress from?)

These nights at Swoon are memories to be cherished and the reunions are no different. As the lurid green laser beams of good times swoop across the dance floor in my final moments of the evening, we have world class DJs and a vibe that tailgates the Madchester era right here in the Midlands. Then and now, putting Stafford on the map and defying the expensive Virgin train to an even more expensive London as the sole route of a really great night out (and the only place to find the lesser-spotted red tartan pants and their happy inhabitants).

Swoon nights are held at Couture, Stafford, just a stone’s throw from the train station (and a kebab shop!) The next reunion is on 31st July with Jon Pleased Wimmin, Allister Whitehead, headlining. Tickets in advance, from £15. For more information visit www.facebook.com/swoonfanpage.

Published in Fused.