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I’m doing the Machynlleth Comedy Festival

You should come, if you like. It’s on Sunday 3rd May at The Royal House, at 2.3pm and will be lots of fun. All the details and tickets HERE.

I tried gymnastics for The Guardian

Goodness me, but isn’t Do Something brilliant? Last month they let me go to Bristol to try my hand (and legs) at gymnastics. You can read the online version HERE. Or the original below…

Ever since I attempted to clear a horse vault in Year 4 PE and ended up crashing, genitals-first, into a leather-upholstered block of wood, I have been rather wary of gymnastics. I avoided parallel bars and swerved crash mats as often and as tenaciously as I could. Of course, it didn’t help that my every attempt was watched over in horror by a PE teacher who wore loose-fitting peach tracksuits that made her look like a naked Shar Pei on hind legs.

So it was with a less-than-light heart that I approached the South West Gymnastic Centre, deep in suburban Portishead. The sight of all those wall-mounted wooden bars and dangling ropes did little to ease my panic. And yet, wonderful things were about to happen. By which I mean, the leotard wardrobe was about to happen. This was a gateway to a lyrca wonderland; a portal to drag queen Narnia; all velvet, sequins and go-faster flame shapes. (Continued)

I wrote about being a beauty slacker for The Guardian

I’m not sure that tampons really count as beauty products, but I was very pleased when The Guardian asked me to write this. Read it online here or the unedited version below…

A small, wrinkled sandwich bag containing a toothbrush, one mascara, a small bottle of cocoa butter and some 69p deodorant from Wilkinsons – my ‘sponge bag’ is more the sort of thing you’d expect to find in the suitcase of a recently-divorced pen salesman from Redditch who’s living in the back of his Ford Mondeo while disputing the terms of his custody settlement than a 30-year-old metropolitan woman. And yet, I’m really not sure what else I need.

Never one to spend a lot of money on make up (I used to share a lipstick with my 92-year-old grandmother and have bought blusher exactly once) and utterly unconvinced by the idea of an antiwrinkle cream, over the last year I have found myself simply forgetting to replace things as they run out. Liquid eyeliner? Ran dry in January. Foundation? I haven’t bought any since May last year. Eye cream? I wouldn’t know where to start. Lipstick? Not while this indelible family heirloom is still rattling around the bottom of my handbag.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not allergic to washing. Water doesn’t, gecko-like, jump from my self-cleaning skin. In fact, I’ll say here that the old self-cleaning argument has always reeked slightly of well-meaning bullshit to me. But there is definitely a whole sea shelf of beauty products, ‘treats’ and treatments from which I will merrily abstain, without a second glance. (Continued)

I wrote about fermented lamb for VICE

In probably the most exciting moment of my career to date, The Guardian sent me to The Faroe Islands to write about knitting. While I was there I ate some pretty remarkable things, so took the chance to write about them for MUNCHIES. Read it online here, or the unedited version below…

It’s not often I start my day with a slice of wind-blown, semi-fermented lamb on toast with a sprinkling of salt. Call me a cultural stereotype but I’m more of a cup of tea and bowl of porridge kind of a girl.

And yet last week, just minutes before jogging through the small, grass-verged streets of Fuglafjørður to swim in the churning grey sea, surrounded by snow-tipped mountains, I could be found in the kitchen of my host and friend Jastrid, tucking into just such a breakfast. I was in the Faroe Islands – a collection of 18 islands, soaring out of the sea halfway between Scotland, Norway and Iceland. Imagine the population of Scarborough spread across 16 rocky, grass-covered, snow-sprinkled, mountainous, wind-blasted islands far out in the Atlantic Sea; the other two are bird sanctuaries.

The reason a dish like Skerpikjøt comes into existence, of course, is less about the delicious tang of air-dried meat and more about environmental necessity. The air in the Faroes is saltier than a mother’s tears, thanks to the strong wind coming off the surrounding sea. In this kind of climate it is very hard to grow trees, vegetables – any kind of plant. But it is the perfect place in which to preserve meat – all you need to do to make you own Skerpikjøt, Jastrid’s strapping young son explains to me, is hang the sheep’s leg in a well-ventilated outdoor shed or hjallur, with slatted, half-open sides and wait for the cold, the salt and the wind to do the rest. I saw several of these sheds by people’s houses and the supermarket in Tórshavn had a special cabinet full of hanging shanks. (Continued)

I tried bike polo for The Metro

As part of my ongoing series called Nell Does Things In Lycra for Newspapers, I had a go at bike polo for The Metro. It was fun! You can read it below…

“It’s 99% confidence,” the man tells me, leaning against the chicken wire, his denim shorts ripped, tattoos across his giant forearms, a mallet swinging in his right hand. “If you’ve got the bottle, get involved and persevere, then you can do it,” he adds, pushing off to join the scrum.

Hardcourt Bike Polo is, as the name suggests, a version of polo played on fixed gear bikes, on a hard court surface – the kind you often find in city parks – where the aim is to thwack a small, hard ball into the goal. Less Pretty Woman and Prince Charles, more cycle couriers and sweaty helmets. (Continued)

I interviewed Charli XCX for Miss Vogue

Buy the April issue of Miss Vogue to read my interview with Charli XCX. We chatted about fried chicken, pink rinses, the power of women and she even told me about her first car crash of a bikini wax.

I wrote about mothers and daughters for The Guardian

This probably isn’t the birthday present my mother either wanted or expected. But when The Guardian got in touch asking if I had any ideas, this immediately sprung to mind. Read it online HERE. Or the unedited version below. Happy Birthday Mum.

‘Darling, since you’ve turned 30 and cut all your hair off, I really think it’s time you started wearing lipstick.”

My mother isn’t known for mincing her words. Or sparing her portions. Indeed, the wonderful woman who turned the twinkle in my father’s somewhat dilated eye into the person who stands before you now is, without doubt, my harshest critic. My most anxious judge. And also my greatest supporter. When I told her I might join Guardian Soulmates she warned, ‘Oh do be careful you don’t come across as arrogant.’ She scans my work for grammatical errors, warns that ‘I got the menopause at 40 so you might want to hurry up,’ and once politely suggested I stopped wearing ‘all those big, unflattering jumpers’.

Of course, she’s far from alone. The bond of Tough Love that pulls like a blood-pumping rope between mother and daughter is clear across thousands of front rooms, Weight Watchers meetings, narrow parking spaces and steam-hissing cafes in this small island I call home. According to a survey carried out by Netmums a couple of years ago, mothers are twice as likely to be critical of their daughters than their sons (21% compared to 11.5%); over a fifth said they let their sons get away with more; and more than one in four said they loved their sons in a different way to their daughters. By ‘different way’ I assume we mean the kind of maternal instinct that spares sons from clearing up, goes to the effort to pick them up from the station and saves them the biggest slice of cake. Their daughters, on the other hand, must learn to be tough, to be independent, to not make the same mistakes that their mothers did. (Continued)

I went to Bedlam for VICE

Last weekend I went to Bethlem Hospital – formerly known as ‘Bedlam’ – for the Influx Press launch of a brilliant new poetry collection called The Luxury of the Dispossessed by the poet, artist and former patient Dan Duggan. You can read the article online HERE.

Or the unedited version is below…

The grey, mock-Tudor suburbs of Beckenham collect to an unexpected halt at the red brick gates of Bethlem Hospital. Behind the rhododendron bushes is Europe’s oldest hospital specialising in mental health. This is Bedlam, or it was, several buildings ago. (Continued)

I went kayak surfing for The Metro

I love a good outdoors adventure, I do. So I was very pleased to be asked by The Metro to try my arm at kayak surfing down in Wales. You can read all about it in the paper today, or the unedited version below…

“The good thing about open kayaks is that you can get a suntan on your legs.” It is February. I am in Wales. And yet, with the light glinting off the waves, the long sandy beach on the horizon and the soft swell of the ocean under my thighs, you could almost believe it’s summer. My instructor, Nigel Jones, certainly does. (Continued)

I wrote about the milk crisis for MUNCHIES

Last weekend I went to Wensleydale to write about dairy farming. You can read my report online here.

Or the unedited version below…

My grandmother was crowned Dairy Queen of Cockshutt in 1938. My mother grew up under the udders of her neighbour’s dairy farm. My father used to drink a cold pint of milk every Friday night with his dinner. In short, my family feel about dairy the way the yakuza feel about tattoos and sake, or the mafia feel about garlic and respect.

So it was inevitable, while running over the hills and along the rivers of the Yorkshire Dales this week, that my thoughts would turn to dairy. More specifically, to our danger of losing it.

According to the Harrogate Advertiser, 48% of dairy farmers in North Yorkshire have left the industry completely. The combination of ferocious price cuts, fluctuating commodity prices, a Russian import ban, the drop in demand from China, payment delays (up to four weeks in the case of First Milk) and some less-than-brilliant British weather means that many dairy farms are running at a loss, unable to pay back the money they’ve borrowed from the bank. And all the while, Tescos and Morrisons are selling a pint of milk for just 49p, ASDA for just 45p. As the NFU dairy board chairman Rob Harrison said in an interview earlier this year, “Being a dairy farmer at the moment is like being a boxer – on the ropes and taking body blow after body blow – there’s only so much you can take before throwing in the towel.” (Continued)