Bolton Abbey in Summer

I've been in Ben Rhydding, Ilkley for the past few days, working on my essays and eating my Granny's famous trifle. After mushing my brain (and theirs too) with far too much Hunter S. Thompson trivia, my family and I decided to go on a stroll in the sunshine. We clambered into the car, put on Dad's David Bowie C.D. and sped to Bolton Abbey. Only ten minutes out of Ilkley, and 45 minutes out of Leeds, it's well worth the trip.

I'd been really wanting to gaze upon some bluebells after seeing people's lovely photos on Facebook. We didn't know whether we'd encounter any on our ramble to the Strid --- but lo and behold, fields and fields worth greeted us.

A little too excited. . . 

We felt like any second we were bound to see fairies fluttering through the lilac carpet.

Sam, feeling desolate, walking to the Valley of Desolation

We wandered past the Strid, or the River Wharfe. There were many benches dotted along the way to sit, recharge, and take heaps of photos. All in aid, no doubt, of photographers or iPhone enthusiasts like myself. We saw lots along the way, and a little dog that looked like at any moment it was set to bound off and plunge down the canyon. Yikes. 

A really lovely place for a potter in the Dales. The only down side was that the fee for the car park was 7 quid! Alright, I suppose, if there's five of you in the car willing to chip in, but for our poor old pa, he had three stingy kids to contend with. However, it was definitely worth the cost for the scenery --- priceless, you might say. 

Ode to The Road

The baking red sun hangs loosely overhead and the wind melts through your hair as your hands clench the wheel and you feel like you’re flying. High-waisted Levis perched on a smooth seat. Dust whirlwinds out of control as your tires whizz through the calm and you leave behind a trail of what looks like yellow smoke. It’s exciting; it’s dangerous. And the best thing about it is the freedom to keep on truckin’— to keep on conquering this pioneer’s cradle — to keep on the road.

I can’t drive. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. I lived in Texas for two years and paid a sum of money to go to Driver’s Ed for two weeks, watch instructional videos from the 80’s, and then spend seven hours observing and seven hours driving in a car with a man from Louisiana named Pierre. On the first day, we navigated car parks. The thrill of sliding over speed bumps. On the final day, I was on a five-lane highway, fearing for my life. Six months after getting my permit, I stood in line for a long time and finally procured a license, no test necessary.

But really, I can’t drive.

Despite this, I have a wild, unadulterated fascination with The Road. And, I don’t mean the Cormac McCarthy novel.  I mean that long yellow-brick-lane that sprawls forth into the sunset. It’s a firm fixture in the American cultural canon – a literalisation of the American Dream. It’s not so much about the destination — not about the white-picket fence or the 9-5 job that enables economic security — but about the long and winding road to that place. In Thelma & Louise, it’s the protagonists’ vessel for their transformation from dowdy housewives to gun-toting outlaws. In Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, it’s the symbol of unity for the fictional band Stillwater and their entourage. As their fame rises, the band discard their bus and their groupies, only to fall apart. Being back on the road returns them to their roots – the music. ‘Hold me closer, Tiny Dancer,’ those on board sing as a chorus, counting the headlights on the highway.

In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Raoul Duke – the Jekyll to Hunter S. Thompson’s Hyde – and his ‘Attorney’ ride The Road to the capital of capitalism. Las Vegas: the great gambler’s mirage in the middle of the Nevada desert. Thompson is like a counterculture cowboy driving through the modern Wild West, whacked off his face on a moonshine cocktail of illicit drugs. About the journey, Duke exclaims that “it was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country —but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.”

In Alexander Payne’s 2013 film Nebraska, white-haired Woody Grant (played expertly by Bruce Dern) seeks out said possibilities after receiving and implicitly believing a letter from a company claiming that he’s won $1,000,000. Finally accepting his father’s fantasy, David, his son, drives them both from Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, in a bid to stop Woody from wandering off into the unknown. The ride cements their relationship, even after disheartening pitstops along the way. In the end, The Road allows Woody to transcend the emotional and physical restrictions a static life can manifest in a person; in the final scenes, his ‘true grit’ is realised. It’s beautiful and heartwarming and poetic. Small-town America shines bright in black-and-white.

The Road, then, in fiction and in films, is the quintessential symbol of freedom. There’s a kind of lawlessness inherent in the narrative of the wide open pathway that coalesces with the vision of the driver as outlaw. It’s hard to think of highways without picturing the Hell’s Angels cruising through California in fleets, or long-haired Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper flouting conventions astride their patriotic motorbikes in Easy Rider.

And of course, how could I speak about this topic without mentioning the male-centric universe of Jack Kerouac’s On the road? The Beat classic in which Sal Paradise and Neal Cassady, famed front-seat heroes, revel in the homosocial euphoria of the bip-bopping, chip-chopping pursuit of America’s spirit.  Fifty years on and the romanticisation of The Road lingers on in the hearts of adolescents, driving licenses in hand, craving the ability to carve their own frontier.

I can’t drive. But in moments when university work looms like a large, grey cloud, blocking the baking red sun hanging loosely overhead, I can’t help but wish I could emulate the catharsis-cool of Thelma or Louise. Tie denim ribbons around my neck, wrack my nails on the steering wheel, and hit the gas. Destination: unknown.

Grand Budapest Hotel @ Secret Cinema

Secret Cinema

Next month marks London's live cinema specialists' 21st endeavour. "Tell No One," the advert exclaims.

The title of the flick is shrouded in a haze of utmost secrecy. Saturday Night Fever, The Shawshank Redemption, Bladerunner, and Ghostbusters are only a handful that have already received the Secret Cinema treatment. And it hasn't just been films, either. 'The Grand Eagle Ball' treated ticket holders to an 1920's themed intimate soiree with Laura Marling and other musical guests.

For their 20th venture, Wes Anderson's latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel was brought to life. Both huge fans of Wes's work, Milly & I bought tickets for this extravaganza months in advance. Of course, the date arrived in a flash. 

When the time came, we boarded the Circle line tube from Whitechapel and found ourselves - feet, furcoats and all - in Zubrowka, following the hoards of 1930s patrons to the secret destination.

I won't tell you too much about our special night within the Grand Budapest. After all, to give you every last juicy detail removes from the magic of the evening. I will though tell you that, during the two hours before the film screening, we were taught to waltz (turns out I'm not too much of a natural), we went wine-tasting and guzzled gin cocktails, we clambered inside the regal elevator and descended to the spa where we dipped our feet in the cold gooeyness of its treatment room, and I met a very charming lobby boy. 

Most incredibly though, there were NO phones in the vicinity; they were confiscated before entry. 

Imagine this: looking around the beautifully furnished mocked-up hotel to see hundreds of wide-eyed gals & guys taking in the scenery with open-mouthed wonder. No glowing of iPhone screens, or relentless selfie-taking, just pure, unadulterated fun. 

Truly grand.