Review: The Same Deep Water As Me

I reviewed The Same Deep Water As Me at The Guildhall School with Colette Allen, for SAVAGE Journal. You can read the original review here.

Nick Payne’s The Same Deep Water as Me tackles issues of morality, trust and personal history within the modest Luton-based office of a two-man personal injury firm, ‘Scorpion Claims’. The set and scenario are simple: aspiring solicitor Andrew (Martin Quinn) is reluctantly reacquainted with his working class upbringing through his old friend Kevin’s (Jacob Coleman) scheme to join the underworld of fraudulent claims. Despite the cluttered desks on stage, there is ample room for the actors to indulge in the quick-fire banter that fuels Payne’s sharp observations about social class and the workplace.

The Guildhall School’s final year students were set the task of striking a fine balance between comedy and reality. There are several brilliant moments in this social comedy where the subtlety and reflectiveness of Payne’s writing shine through. In particular, Barry’s (Jake Burgum) pride in his collection of exotic teas – at one point, he draws out an array of Twinings’ Special Infusions – powerfully encapsulates his desire to get ahead. Andrew and Barry are both good, hard-working local boys. Kevin is more rough around the edges,  with his fuck-boy haircut and his constant teasing of Barry and his tea (“Barry? With the tea? Barry-with-the-tea!”). Yet as Payne’s title suggests, all these characters spring from the same pool, and they all eventually land in the same deep water, tainted by the manipulation involved in their fraud.

Amelia Strohm’s performance is a particular stand-out. She perfectly captures Jennifer’s limbo between the two men in her life, Andrew and Kevin. Building a life with Andrew may have provided the opportunity for her to move forward. The regret she feels for choosing Kevin – a man who does all he can to remain back in school with the likes of ‘Karate John’ – is exquisite. Whereas Jennifer has a taste for Japanese popcorn-infused green tea, Kevin has committed to the builders’ brew.

But Guildhall didn’t always quite grasp the subtlety of the task at hand. Small inconsistencies like the questionable Luton accents, or Judge Jessup (Caleb Roberts) seeming far too young for the anecdotes he pontificates, can be excused by the understanding that these are students. The small-fry fraudsters, armed with cheap coffee from Greggs, taking on Tesco’s caramel Frappuccino-drinking “ball-buster” lawyer was a neat point (and credit is certainly due to their costume designer Jane Hankin). But then they explicitly point this out – ‘this is a caramel Frappuccino’, ‘have you ever been to Greggs?’ – and the sophisticated high-street café comparison is ruined. Payne’s script is partly to blame here, but the overemphasis put on the lines by the actors themselves doesn’t help. These small discrepancies grow into more fundamental holes in the plot. The underdevelopment of Andrew’s relationship with his dad, as well as Kevin’s unexplained past with Barry, become somewhat frustrating. Quinn and Coleman should have put more emphasis on making the relevance of these subplots clear, rather than how their characters are supposed to get their caffeine hit.

Some potentially interesting directorial choices prove more distracting  than illuminating. There is an atypically heavy presence of the stage crew, which are used to represent the class conflict the production deals with. The removal of the back wall exposes the inner workings of theatre in a way that seems to mimic the clumsy cover-up of the fraudulent claim in the play. But the message is not clear enough: to attempt to construct an interpretation around these aspects feels bizarre, if not desperate. Though the haphazard nature seemed to be part of the intended effect, this may have been the production’s undoing.

The impact of the play’s realism rests on language: a stark contrast between Kevin and Andrew’s slangy banter and the starched technical formalities of the courtroom is all the audience needs to appreciate Payne’s scabrous social commentary. But director Jo McInnes’s additions to Payne’s script confuse and detract from his words, which should remain the prime focus of the audience as well as the actor. Green tea has its perks, but sometimes you just want a simple brew.

Guildhall School final years’ production of The Same Deep Water as Me is playing 13th – 18th Feb at the Barbican’s Milton Court Theatre. Find more information here

UFO Baby Presents: SAVAGE Sounds 2.0

UFO Baby Presents: SAVAGE Sounds 2.0
Tuesday 21st February 2017, The Lock Tavern

The second gig I organised in my role as Treasurer & Events Manager of SAVAGE Journal (2016-17), in collaboration with UFO Baby Promotions. Hosted by a leading Camden music haunt, The Lock Tavern. More information about the bands can be found on SAVAGE Journal.

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Poster design by me
Featured image by Nick Mastrini

 

Chips’n’Gravy: Seeking Peace in the Big City

Finding moments of quiet in London can be difficult, but wholly necessary. Read more in my most recent blog for Northern Soul.

There are certain things I wish I’d known before I started university.

I wish someone had told me that a gap year is not just a fall-back plan for when you don’t make your grades or decide to reapply to Oxbridge. It may actually help you ‘find yourself’, whether you’re trekking in the Andes or working in your local Tesco. I wish I’d known that when people tell you university will be the best three years of your life, they are probably looking back at it through rose-tinted glasses and forgetting – either through nostalgia or alcohol-induced amnesia – that they’re also the worst. Teenage hormones and struggles with self-identity are never more rife than when thousands of young adults flock to the same clubs and cram into the same libraries every week for three intense years.

In case you hadn’t already realised this from the existential crisis above, second year has hit me like a tonne of bricks, so please excuse the profound lack of regular blogs. I wasn’t expecting university to suddenly become so hard or all consuming and it’s left me little time – or perhaps more importantly, energy – to reflect and write. This year, London has taken on a different energy.

When I first moved here, the non-stop pulse of the city felt life-affirming and exciting and I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. But sometimes, as I’ve discovered this year, London is just too much. Despite this, I’ve managed to discover a few tricks to help me find a bit of balance when the capital knocks me off kilter.

It’s easy to live your entire life indoors in London, venturing out only to take the tube. But the capital is almost 50 per cent green space. A walk in the park can work wonders for clearing your head. One particular perk of living in Camden is that Primrose Hill is pretty much my back garden. You may have to elbow a few tourists out of the way to see the view, but it’s well worth the guilty conscience.

A slightly niche happy place for me is the subway that takes you from South Kensington tube station to the Victoria & Albert Museum. The destination is lovely, of course, but so is the walk, in its own way. There’s something dream-like about a tube subway filled with the sound of buskers. It reminds me of that scene in About Time where Rachel McAdams falls in love with Domhnall Gleeson.

London has so many amazing galleries, and most of them let you stroll in for free. If you manage to free up a whole afternoon, the V&A is well worth a trip. Its current exhibition You Say You Want A Revolution? is an absolute joy, complete with a magical 60s playlist and a whole room dedicated to Woodstock, where you can lie back on beanbags and fake grass.

If you fancy venturing south of the river, take the tube to St Paul’s, wander across the Millennium Bridge and take in the smell of sugared almonds on your way to Tate Modern. Even if modern art isn’t your thing, there’s something really special about the architecture of the Tate; Turbine Hall is a rare case of plain, open space in the city and the views from the café are among the best you’ll get without paying a hefty entrance fee.

Columbia Road flower market is a wistful way to pass a Sunday morning. The street fills with a procession of people delighting in the market sellers’ cockney cries. Also, nothing is quite so effective (or underrated) as living plants and flowers to cheer up your room. I have some succulents from Columbia Road that I’ve managed to keep alive since June (they even came back to Manchester with me over summer). They may be the easiest plants to maintain, but I’m proud of it all the same.

I’ve also taken to carrying a book with me on the tube. As a history student, my bag is always full of books and I would forgive myself for reading no more than is necessary, considering it’s the bulk of my degree. But there’s an element of escapism to reading and it’s a great way to distract yourself from the fact that the tube turns half of London into sardines twice a day. I’ve just finished Alexandra Shulman’s Inside Vogue, which I absolutely adored, and I’m now moving onto The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry.

Admittedly, parks, galleries and books are not specific to London, but they are present here, and anything that offers some respite and peace of mind is worth a mention.

When a city offers as much to do as London, sitting still and doing nothing gets pushed to the bottom of your list of priorities. There’s this sense that you have to be doing something all the time and making the most out of living in the capital.

But, if this year has taught me anything, it’s that London will always offer a million things to do, but no one could possibly do all of them, so it’s okay not to try. And sometimes I just crave the comparative quiet of Manchester.

Turns out, that’s okay too.

SAVAGE Showcase & ‘Free Speech’ Print Launch

SAVAGE Showcase & Free Speech Print Edition Launch
Monday 5th December 2016, Waterstones Tottenham Court Road

As part of my role as Treasurer & Events Manager for SAVAGE Journal (2016-17), I hugely expanded the events programme, to supplement the magazine’s publication. Part of this was the introduction of biannual launch events to coincide with the print editions. The first event of this kind was held at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road. The event explored the theme of ‘Free Speech’ through various mediums from spoken word to original films, and garnered over 200 guests.

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Photo by Net Botwood & poster design by me

Programme

Sophia Compton (Editor-in-Chief, SAVAGE Journal) in conversation with 21 year-old documentary filmmaker and free speech activist, Tarquin Ramsay. This follows the worldwide release of his film, Free Speech Fear Free, which he has been working on since the age of 16. 

Free Speech: an original short film by SAVAGE Broadcast (Nick Mastrini).

The Oil Adventure: With the help of the UCL Expedition Grant, Flora Murphy, Mizu Nishikawa-Toomey and Lotte Ludekens cycled 480km around northwest Norway, speaking to those affected by the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Red: A film about an argument between two artists. Written and directed by Camille Beglin and Thomas Rebour.
Artworks by Zura Ibrahim Wafir (from her series ‘Archipelago In Anonymity’) and Richard Magee (collages exploring the nature of producing art freely).

Spoken word and poetry from Georgie Hurst, Sophie Nevrkla and Sabeera Dar.

Extracts from Out of Silence – International Debut: ‘Dear Harriet’, ‘Dumb’ and ‘No Time’.

Live music from Dat Brass and DJ Henry Browning.

 

Trailer and featured photo by Nick Mastrini

Chips’n’Gravy: Keeping app with the capital

We live in an age where there’s an app for everything, and London life is no exception. Despite the constant struggle with phone storage, these are a few essential apps. I suppose it must be the thrifty Northerner in me but here are some useful – and good value – apps which make life in the capital easier.

Culture & Events

If you can look past the click-bait titles, Secret London is a great website to check when you’re short of something to do. It functions pretty similarly to Time Out, but since there are a million and one things happening on any given night, it’s worth checking both. Recent highlights include a virtual reality experience as part of the BFI London Film Festival, a dance class inspired by Just Dance, and a pop-up restaurant inspired by après-ski (see The Lodge).

Food

One of the best new apps I’ve seen is Too Good To Go,. This offers users the chance to buy food from top restaurants for as little as £2 and a maximum of £3.80. The only catch (if you could even call it a catch) is that the food would otherwise be thrown away. So you’re doing your bit for the environment while eating top-notch food.

My email inbox is choc-a-bloc with offers and discounts from London restaurants, so much so that I set up a separate email address for the money-saving coupon queen within me (think Caroline in Two Broke Girls circa season one). From free burgers at Ed’s Easy Diner to buy-one-get-one-free at Byron (I like burgers, OK?), it’s worth signing up for a bit of spam if you consider yourself a foodie.

I’ve also been made aware of an app called Urbanologie, which notifies its members (yes, it’s members only – more on this later) of pop-ups, new restaurants and all the ‘hot’ places to be/be seen. If I was a 20-something yuppie with a well-paid job in a high-rise building and a bit of money to spend, I’d love it. But I’m not, so it simply serves as a reminder of all the cool things happening in London that I can’t afford. It reminds me of that episode of Friends where they go for a fancy dinner and Rachel orders tap water and side salad. Having recently become a part-time waitress, my views on this are pretty conflicted. The amount I earn in tips is minimal. Service charge is 10 per cent of the bill and because the restaurant works a trunk system (where the manager has the rather amusing title of ‘trunk master’ and therefore gets to dole out the cash as he pleases) we only get a share of half of the total amount. So when someone orders tap water, it puts a cap on my earnings. And when they come in with a Tastecard (which affords 50 per cent off food but drinks are full price) and order tap water, its even worse. Nevertheless, as a student, I can fully empathise with why people do this, not least in London, In the capital, the cost of living is as high as the Gherkin and it sometimes feel like you’d be charged for the air you breathe if that were possible. So, having said that, I’d fully recommend that London students embrace the paradox and get a Tastecard. It gives you 2-for-1 at most participating restaurants. And the best bit? You can obtain them for £1.

Drinks

Alcohol presents one of the biggest disparities in price between London and the North, aside from rent. The standard price for a pint down here equals the hefty price tag of a boutique beer in Spinningfields, so any saving helps. I mentioned an app called Drinki in my last blog about nightlife but I thought I’d mention it again as there have been some updates since then. You no longer have to check in on Facebook (thankfully) and you have access to offers and discounts as well as the occasional free drink.

Travel

When I started uni, I set myself a challenge of committing the whole tube map to memory within the first term. As Christmas approached, I extended my self-set deadline to summer. And when summer finally rolled around, I could only manage to name about 50 out of 270 tube stations (it’s the taking part that counts, right?). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’d be lost (literally) without CityMapper. Google Maps is fine, but if you want reliable information about tube times, walking distance and general A-to-B know-how, you need this app. It even gives you an estimated Uber time. And they have it in Manchester – the dream!

Shopping

Shopping is my weakness, so Unidays has long been a favourite for making my student loan stretch further. Gone are the days of flashing your student bus pass and hoping the sales assistant takes pity on you; Unidays gives you codes for 10 to 20 per cent off, and occasionally even more. They ran an offer back in September for a discount in Morrisons including alcohol – the student dream.

UFO Baby Presents: SAVAGE Sounds

UFO Baby Presents: SAVAGE Sounds
Monday 24th October 2016, The Old Blue Last

In my capacity as Treasurer & Events Manager for SAVAGE Journal (2016-17) I organised multiple gigs, showcasing the latest bands and musical talent from UCL‘s student community. This event was organised in collaboration with UFO Baby Promotions. Held at a leading London music venue, The Old Blue Last, this was a sold out event and the start of an ongoing partnership with UFO Baby.

 

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Poster design by Max K
Featured photo: Dylan Trenouth by Nick Mastrini

 

Chips’n’Gravy: Student life in London after dark

New Year’s resolutions for the students among us are made, not in January as you’d expect, but in September. Stationery is fawned over and purchased with last Christmas’s WHSmith gift cards, library books are checked out only to remain unread, and promises made on the assumption that we’ll have to remake them in January.

Sat on a three-hour coach to Bristol recently and looking to a Sainsbury’s ham sandwich to bring me back to life, I realised the tragic truth of my house party hangover situation: this is my second year at University College London. And so one of my resolutions this year, which will undoubtedly meet the same end as all of my previous private promises, is to get my nightlife in order. And, given the uproar surrounding the recent closures of fabric, Dance Tunnel and Passing Clouds, it seems like a good time to talk about the capital’s nightlife.

Second year is made for house parties and I’m welcoming that with open arms, as well as the fact that chilled nights now involve an actual sofa and TV in addition to copious amounts of red wine.

However, when it comes to going out, I’ve decided to be more selective. No more “I’ll just come to pre-drinks” and end up being dragged to Sports Night at Loop, shouting “sod it” to my 9am lecture. Contrary to what my friends from home think, we do have rubbish nights out in London. Not every club is world-renowned or world-class; London students are just as likely to leave a club bitterly disappointed and in search of chips as consolation. The only difference is this: what we pay for a rubbish night out, others would pay for a good one. So, instead of three regrettable nights out each week, I’m shifting my focus and choosing one (or maybe, realistically, two) good ones.

A potential UCL fresher messaged me recently, voicing concerns over whether or not people went out in London.  The answer is, we do, but unless you’re organised, it generally goes a little like this.

You buy tickets to events at least two weeks in advance but still miss the first three ticket releases, meaning you pay an arm and a leg to stand in a queue for an hour having overdone it at pre-drinks, only to be told that ticket-holders had to be in by midnight. Now you have to fork out a further £25 to gain entry. Outraged and determined to make a point, you turn on the heels of your trainers and head for The Roxy, only to realise an hour later that this was – and always is – a terrible decision because The Roxy is (and always will be) a terrible night out. Unlike Manchester, where the cloakroom costs the same as entry and is therefore an unthinkable option, you wouldn’t dream of going out in London without your coat, which you now wrap gratefully around your shivering body. Deprived of kebab shops and devoid of a chippy, you brace yourself for the walk to McDonald’s, arriving just in time for the closed sign to jeer at your drunken and disappointed face. Spirits broken, you head home for hummus, pitta and the Tesco’s chicken curry that might just (about) still be in date.

Of course, not all nights out are quite so tragic. London has a wealth of good clubs and even more good club nights, you just have to know where to find them and be switched-on enough to get yourself there. The beauty of fabric was that it was still an option at 2am after all other routes had been exhausted.

As for when we go out, it tends to be during the week. Weekends are when the yuppies (read: young urban professionals) come out to play. Come Friday night, cocktail bars are filled with suits literally sweating post-work ecstasy, and entry fees to clubs skyrocket beyond the £20 mark. The closest us mere students come to clubbing at the back end of the week is £1 entry to the University of London Union, or ‘ULU’ as it is more commonly – and perhaps even fondly – known. But what about the other days? Unless there’s a night actually worth getting excited about, this is where you’ll find UCL students clubbing: Tuesdays are spent supporting friends who DJ at XOYO; Wednesdays sees us falling into (and later out of) Loop for Sports Night (my flatmate has a bar tab for his football team, which is probably the only tempting part of this); Thursdays are spent at Nest; and I’ve already mentioned the Friday fall-back.

About half-way through the year, I stumbled across an app called Drinki, which gives you a free cocktail everyday – the perfect pre-pre-drinks pick-me-up. It’s a trait of most London students that we’re somewhat thrifty and alcohol is one thing we love getting for free. This may be about me sharing a tip or two for London drinking, but it’s also a public explanation of the times I’ve cringely ‘checked-in’ at bars on Facebook and not been tech-savvy enough to hide them.

As much as it pains me to admit that life exists south of the river, this is where the best nights out happen. Phonox, Prince of Wales (my favourite place and home to not one but two roof bars) and the Bussey Building (worth the trek for the South London Soul Train) are all in the lower boroughs. Loop may have a walk down Oxford Street (adorned with lights for the best part of Winter, since Christmas apparently starts in October) as its route home, but as a night out it has nothing on the clubs down south. Thank God the Victoria line is part of the new night tube service.

Some clever internet-person (probably with too much time on their hands, but this works out well for us) made a tube map showing where London nightclubs lie on the new night tube routes. It turns out that a night out in London isn’t quite as easy as hopping on a £1 Manchester bus from Didsbury to Piccadilly Gardens back home. So, yes, we’re the idiots who drink on the tube; journey juice is never more necessary than en route to Peckham. At least we have Citymapper, though. I’m not sure TFGM’s journey planner (Manchester’s best offering for navigation) is quite as helpful. I can’t count how many times I’ve stood on Oxford Road with a friend playing the lottery of whose bus comes first (sorry Mum).

Chips’n’Gravy: Reflections on the referendum

I don’t often talk about politics online, so the fact it’s the theme of this month’s blog is testament to how shocked and angry I am.

Having spent the duration of the referendum campaign in London, I was (naively) optimistic about the outcome. It was only as first year ended and friends started to drift home, realising one by one that their neighbours and former schoolmates held different views to those in the capital, that I saw the light at the end of the tunnel begin to flicker.

This last academic year, 29 per cent of students at UCL were from the European Union (excluding the UK). It is a ‘global university’ in the truest sense. The wonderfully diverse and intelligent people I have met there show how successful inclusivity can be. So many of my friends now face uncertain futures as the country which once offered them such hope has instead heralded instability and exclusivity.

This blog is a personal response to the Brexit result. My only reassurance is the news that Manchester and London – the two cities in which I choose to live my life – voted in such a way that I can still feel a part of them.

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On Thursday June 23,  2016, 51.9 per cent of Britain voted to leave the European Union. Remember the date, because it has already made history.

The value of the pound has dropped significantly (at one point reaching a 31-year-low) and the result has triggered waves of Euroscepticism across the continent. It may be fair to say that the UK has signed the European community’s death warrant, a community painstakingly built over the past 43 years, but in truth I don’t know. And that’s why I’m so shocked: more than half of the population eligible to vote came to the conclusion yesterday that to choose ‘leave’ – to take a leap into the dark – was a logical decision. How can that many people in a country claiming to be educated and progressive still put an ‘x’ in a box that signalled only uncertainty and insecurity?

I woke up this morning to messages from friends whose plans for the future have been shattered overnight. Plans to study abroad, either for a whole degree or a year. Plans to go travelling this summer, which may now be unaffordable because of the effect of Brexit on exchange rates. Plans to be part of a united and inclusive European society in which bigotry and xenophobia have no place.

The reasons for remaining in the European Union were many; they’ve been shared so much over the last few weeks that to repeat them here almost seems futile. If scores of world leaders and masses of companies, unions and NGOs in favour cannot persuade you, then I doubt I can.

By contrast, the reasons to leave were founded on warped figures and mis-communicated claims. The supporters were the likes of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. Neither campaign was particularly well run, but at least ‘remain’ had evidence and stability on its side.

The EU has many faults, that much is undeniable, but, by voting ‘leave’, Britain has closed the door on any hope of reconciliation or amendment. Once David Cameron triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (assuming he chooses to do so before he steps down as Prime Minister), Britain will not be able to rejoin without the consent of all 27 remaining member states. This is an irrevocable decision and many of those who voted in favour of it will not be around to see the consequences. That is, perhaps, my main grievance with this referendum; the people who voted are not necessarily representative of the people the decision will affect. Bob Geldof had the right idea allowing his children to decide how he voted, as did my brother’s school teacher who asked his class. Had the voting age been lowered to 16 and – dare I suggest it – capped at 60, remain would almost certainly have emerged victorious.

Ultimately, this referendum became representative of the (largely, though not entirely) generational divides in Britain. It became a vote between those clinging on to traditional imperial views of independence and those who believe in a global community valuing free movement, trade and progress. To the Daily Mail voters whose arguments were based on fears over immigration, words are inadequate to express how selfish you have been. Your outdated views have jeopardised the steps we had made towards European unity – steps towards an inclusive (and essentially better) future. Nigel Farage may have deemed the victorious camp ‘decent’ people but, in my eyes at least, there is nothing ‘decent’ about this decision.

The EU has secured the rights of women, disabled people and workers, to name but a few. We are fundamentally stronger IN. I used to be proud to be British. Today I’m not so sure.

Image by Chris Payne

Chips’n’Gravy: One year down, two to go

I’ve officially finished my first year of university. The initial exams are behind me and the results are a looming source of anxiety that I’m pushing firmly to the back of my mind. First year has gone by at a ridiculous pace so it seems right to reflect a little, especially since I now have four months of free time to fill.

London’s population far exceeds the eight million mark and is continuing to grow. To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of four Manchesters.

Change the wording a little and you change the perspective – you see what attracted me to London in the first place, and what makes it feel homely enough to stay. London is made up of four Manchesters, each one containing as many boroughs and identities as my home city. When you live in London, you have a million Londons to choose from. Put Dalston or Shoreditch next to Chelsea or Marylebone and on the surface the only similar quality is the street signs. The city has too many characters and paths to count or follow, so you simply carve out your own.

It’s tempting to walk past people on the street and forget that, as you’re rushing off to catch an exhibition at the V&A, they’re rushing in the opposite direction to a restaurant opening in Hoxton. The person sat next to you on the tube is on their way to work where they’ll serve duck and waffle at 40 floors up. Across the skyline, someone is teaching yoga in the Sky Garden and someone else is signing a multi-million pound deal in Canary Wharf. Of course any city could claim to be a microcosm of this, but when you live in the capital you get a sense of being one tiny cog in a very large and well-oiled machine.

Each day, there are enough events in London to fill a week in Manchester, which makes keeping up with the capital a full-time occupation. I recently went to the launch event for the upcoming Spirit Show, which – while niche and wonderful – is a perfect example of something that could have all too easily passed me by. Having just finished first year, I now have more than a month and half left to make the most of all that the capital has to offer. I’ve set myself the task of going to as many clubs as possible (so expect a blog on nightlife soon) and filling my brain with as much culture as London can throw at me. Oh, and as much food as my stomach can…well, stomach.

In other news, I’ve spent the last few weeks (besides the sizeable chunk spent on revision and exams) house-hunting. This is the main disparity between London universities and those in the rest of the country. While my friends from home were nervously choosing future flatmates and handing over a little too much of their student loan to landlords back in winter, I’ve only just found a place for second year in May. And, by London standards, even that is considered early.

London properties pop up all the time, and often disappear off the market just as quickly. Our main challenge wasn’t finding a flat, it was finding one big enough for six people. Fallowfield, the stomping ground of choice for Manchester’s student population, has far more houses on offer than Camden, its London equivalent. You wouldn’t struggle to find a six-bed house on Egerton Road for around £90 a week. But Camden Road? There aren’t many begin with and, if you find one, you’re likely to pay at least twice as much as your Northern counterparts. It’s the sad truth that the price you pay for slightly grotty student digs in central London could get you a mansion a few miles out. The fact that our government loans are almost £3,000 short of covering a year’s rent doesn’t bear thinking about.

I still feel far too young to be thinking about guarantors and tenancy agreements and all the estate-agent jargon that gets thrown around when you rent a flat. It’s the same odd mixture of being completely ready and completely unprepared for the brink of adulthood that engulfed me when I left sixth form. Coincidentally, Facebook presented me with a time-hop of my last day of school the same day we handed over our deposits. Funny how things work out.

Tattu’s First Anniversary Menu, Spinningfields

Manchester’s Spinningfields is a great place to just be, especially in summer. Live music floats away from the Oast House and chatty – generally tipsy – people while away the evenings over cocktails and good food. On the cusp of this youthful, sophisticated bubble sits the blacked-out home of Tattu, almost inconspicuous to passers-by.

Step inside and the exterior’s minimalism fades away in an instant. This is a restaurant with a clear concept and complete dedication to it. The walls are adorned with scantily clad – but heavily tattooed – models, giant anchors dangle from the ceiling, and a cherry blossom tree sits proudly in the corner. Even the cocktails are served with pinch of salt and an ode to body art by the likes of Everlasting Regret and Brewed, Screwed and Tattu’d. I start to wonder if it’s a prerequisite of working here that even the arms swooping in to retrieve dishes and refill glasses are adorned with ink.

This Saturday marks a year since Tattu first opened its doors to fill the mouths of Manchester with its contemporary Chinese cuisine. To celebrate, the restaurant is launching a brand new menu, designed by executive chef Clifton Muil.

Given that Muil only joined the Tattu team two months after launch, this is the first chance he’s had to imprint his vision on the menu. Boasting around 27 new dishes from dim sum to dessert and a new cocktail menu to boot, the South-African born chef hasn’t held back.

The menu promises to fuse celebrated Chinese flavours with contemporary influences and cooking methods to create a dynamic and unique set of dishes. Diners can expect a range from traditional fillet of beef ho fun noodles to rich sweet potato gau and king crab salad. Muil says of the dishes, “our aim is to demonstrate the restaurant’s progression and the diversity that can be found within Chinese cuisine”. A reasonable aim, but was it met?

The mixed dim sum basket, while exquisite in appearance, offered little in the way of diversity. Bold ingredients like wagyu beef and black cod were lost in a sea of heavy parcels. Given the excitement conjured up by spying wasabi scallop and truffle chicken on the menu, the product itself was a little disappointing.

I sometimes question whether I would enjoy a meal more if I weren’t there to review it. As the man sat opposite me said, if it tastes good, why does it matter that you can’t tell what you’re eating? But for a restaurant promising unique flavours and a price point that only seems moderate in Spinningfields, you would hope for more distinction.

This failure to let natural flavours shine continued into the small plates. A beautiful tray of tuna ceviche was drowned in a chipotle, lime and coriander dressing – each wonderful tastes in their own right, but put together they formed an unfortunate imbalance.

Thankfully, the following dishes swooped in with a new wave of potential. The salt and pepper aubergine – part of a move to make the restaurant more accessible to vegetarians – was one of the standout dishes. Similarly, the whole seabass – served head, tail and all for maximum visual impact – was in a league of its own. The heat underpinning the Szechuan pepper and Shaoxing wine sauce woke up my taste buds after the mediocre starters. If the other dishes can be tweaked to match the balance achieved here, then Tattu is onto a winner.

A tattoo at its finest looks good and lasts forever – this Tattu has the first part down, and the basis for the second, but if it wants to leave a lasting impression on Manchester’s culinary scene, it needs to make the substance match the show. That said, you’re unlikely to regret a visit the next day.