Touring without Starbucks

I tour all over the UK  and I go to so many brilliant train station (and a few other) cafes that I thought I’d start a little list for anyone who, like me, would rather give their well-earned cash to a small business rather a millionaire coffee chain when they’re travelling.

So these are my favourite places to go grab a drink or some food after I’ve finished the packed lunch I thought would last longer on the train. To be honest, sometimes I choose cities to tour in because I want to go back to these places!

I love train stations and I love trains and I love eating. So this ties it all in. I’ll keep adding as I tour. Also, the station names are in alphabetical order. x

Ely Train Station
Ely Food Station
I have to change at Ely all the time for trains between South and North England and this wee cafe is at the end of the station. To be honest, I like it cos it does crumpets and jam. I’ve never tried anything else there but there’s sandwiches and toasties and stuff. Also, there’s lots of nice alcohol. They have good mugs for tea. I hate drinking out of those massive fucking costa mugs. But yeah, I go their for a cup of tea and a crumpet mostly. I never eat breakfast if i know I’ve got a fifteen minute hangover at Ely!

Hull (Quayside)
Thieving Harry’s
I love Hull. I’ve done loads of gigs in Hull and it was one of the first cities to keep asking me back, so I’ve got a soft spot for it perhaps. This cafe isn’t in the train station, it’s by the sea, but I love it a lot and the area is a really interesting one to go to.  I always get an earlier train to a Hull gig if I can so I can go and work from this cafe and have one of their grilled sandwiches . I think there’s a bit of a theme here. I like a toastie. Not sure if they still do those but the whole menu is really fucking delicious. And it overlooks the water. Good kid’s menu too.

Newcastle Train Station
Darceys Grilled Cheese
This place is right next to the Cafe Nero / Costa Coffee (I can’t remember which is which cos they’ve blurred into one for me) in the main entrance to Newcastle station. They have a sit down area with fake grass which I like and do hot drinks and all that standard stuff to but the toasties are fucking delicious. I’m vegetarian so I’ve only tried the macaroni cheese toastie and three cheese toastie. There’s a vegan one too. In case you’re vegan. And there’s meat too. In case you’re not vegetarian. I love gigging in Newcastle anyway but this place makes it even better. Also – my Newcastle gig venue is The Cluny and the food there is also fucking amazing, really good. The nachos especially, so if you want a day of eating in Newcastle I’d say, get a grilled cheese sandwich, go for a walk across the bridges, then go eat and watch a band (or a poet) at The Cluny.

York Train Station
Hilda and Janes pop up cake stall
I bought a toblerone brownie and it was lush. It’s not cheap but they’re big and filling and well, Starbuck’s not cheap either is it. It’s not at the station every day but three days a week so if you’re lucky, great! The cheesecakes and oreo brownies and crunchy brownies also looked like I could run them all over my face for pleasure. If that’s your thing.


when i was a teenage girl

when i was a teenage girl
the newspapers printed
stories about the monsters
they called paedophiles

when i was a teenage girl
a special assembly was called
which told us all to watch out
for a man flashing his penis
in the park near the school
we all thought it was funny
looked out for the long coat
pointed with our friends

when i was a teenage girl
one newspaper printed
a list of home addresses
of the people they called
paedophiles’, vigilante
justice and one count
of linguistic ignorance
graffiti-ing the walls of
a paediatrician’s home

when i was a teenage girl
i bought the top ten record
by another teenage girl
dancing in school uniform
called hit me baby one more time
please hit me baby one more time
please hit me baby one more time

when I was a teenage girl
my friend was called a slut
for owning three vibrators

when i was a teenage girl
the front cover of this album
had britney spears in pigtails
looking at the camera
as little angel as could be

when i was a teenage girl
my friend told everyone
he fingered me in the garden
at a house party when really
he was crying about a
problem in his family
he apologised to me at school
I agreed not to tell the truth
we stayed close friends

when I was a teenage girl
I opened the cd in my bedroom
there was a poster folded up inside
to put up on my wall
it had Britney dressed in
a perfect white vest top
sat astride a chair
legs parted for the camera
camera zoomed onto her crotch

when i was a teenage girl
i was told not to use a tampon
when I was bleeding playing sport
because that would be like
losing my virginity to a tampon
before I’d had a dick in me

when i was a teenage girl
i was told not to put a dick in me

when i was a teenage girl
i was told that the only sex
real sex was a dick in me

when i was a teenage girl
i was told how great a dick
in me would be

when I was a teenage girl
two teenage girls in a
Russian pop video
snogged each other
in school uniform
looking sexy at the camera
all the things you said
all the things you said
running through my head
running through my head

when i was a teenage girl
i was told off for wearing
a skirt too short at school
i rolled it down each lesson
and rolled it up each break

when i was a teenage girl
i was told not to take the short cut
I was told not to walk alone
i was told not to stay out late
i was told not to masturbate
i was told not to get pregnant
I was told not to get fingered
i was told not to be too sexy
i was told to be really sexy
i was told not to have sex
i was told to sing hit me baby
one more time in uniform like hers
i was told all the things you said
running through my head
running through my head

when i was in my twenties
i had a baby
i breastfed in the toilets
for fear of looking
like i was sort of trying
to look sexy
i’m still not sure
exactly why i was
embarrassed to feed my baby

when i was thirty
i was recommended botox
before i went on holiday
to look sexier on holiday

when i was thirty five
i was told not to wear a vest top
because women my age don’t show
our arms now for fear of bats
landing on the skin below
and letting all the world know
our arms are not sexy now

when i was fifty
i was told my sex drive would
go down with my bleeding
but no-one talks about the menopause

when i was sixty
i was told

when i was seventy
i was told

when i was eighty
i was told

I am hoping this will stop

but my grandma is ninety-two
and she is on a diet because
in our family, as I’ve been told
my entire life long
the women in our family
have bad stomachs

hold it in, hollie
hold it in, hollie

when i am dead
i am hoping
i can stretch out
in my coffin

wearing what
the fuck I want

New sketch: YOU WIN

Quick sketch of thoughts on the advertising industry after reading another article blaming mothers’ at work for children’s issues…


take her! go on just take her!
i can’t do this any more!
you are too rich
you are too big
i am too tired
i am too small

put up your billboards!
sell her all those dreams
too high for her
to ever reach!

then highlight all her flaws
until she’s certain
she’s the ugliest

go on and tell her she’s too fat!
go on! then tell her she’s too thin
til she is petrified
of any life that
creeps across
her skin

go on just take her! i can’t fight you!
i’m so fucking tired of trying
david did not beat goliath
i don’t believe it anymore

so come pour
all your fucking sweeties
at each checkout
where we’re standing
coat your cereals in cartoons
your happy meals
in shit free toys
your fizzy drinks
endorsed by all
her favourite kid

til she’s begging me
and begging me
and begging me
and begging me again

i know this is your strategy
so well done you, it works

i’m so tired of saying no
– so go ahead, she’s yours

make another fucking million
feeding her your shit
then telling her she’s shit
for eating all your shit
then selling her your fix

I’m told
mothers are to blame
for obesity and body shame

I’m standing at the checkout
She’s begging. I say no again

She tells me I’m the worst mum
She’s grumpy. I’m no fun at all.

I feel the advertising team
betting on my fall.

In my head, I shot the woman

Just been sketching memories on the train…here’s one
In my head, I shot the woman.
It was the same journey we always did. Great Gran’s house to Glasgow Queen Street train station. Queen’s Street station to Edinburgh Waverley. Edinburgh Waverley to London King’s Cross. London King’s Cross to London Paddington. London Paddington to home.
It was difficult with a one month old. Then a one year old. Then a toddler.
How long left, mummy?
Only six hours now
Can we play eye spy?
Of course.
So we do. We play eye spy. I spy something with my little eye beginning with, and she stares out of the train window until inspiration strikes. No, not a sheep. Sheep begins with s. My word begins with a b. Buh. B. No, not an elephant. That begins with an e and there are no elephants I can see. She giggles. Plays up to it. Tiger? No. Gorilla? No. Tractor? No. Bird? No, but that does begin with a b. Good guess, honey. We carry on till she guesses. Bushes.
Her turn.
She spies something with her little eye beginning with. She thinks. Beginning with cloud.
Is it a cloud? I say
Yes! She is over-joyed. Thinks I am a genius. Wants another go.
She spies something with her little eye beginning with…cloud.
Is it a sheep? I say.
No, she laughs.
This is difficult, I say.
She claps her hands.
Is it a field? I say.
No, mummy. She looks up out of the window, hinting.
I look up. She watches my eyes scan the sky. Fiddles on her seat.
Is it a plane? I say.
No! She bursts out laughing again.
Is it…a cloud? I say.
Yes! She hugs me. Wants to go again. She starts again:
I spy with my little eye something beginning with cloud.
I look around, thinking what it could be.
The first journey lasts almost one hour. I spot thirty clouds. The change of trains is easy. Twenty minutes. No stairs.
The second journey lasts four and a half hours. My bag is loaded with hard-to-peel fruit and bits of bread and cheese for her to build sandwiches from. I hope there’s a tea trolley soon.
After an hour, we spot the sea. We spot the caravans on top of the cliffs. We talk about going to one of them. We spot an elephant swimming further out in the waves. She giggles.
By Newcastle, she’s hungry. I pass her one lychee. She takes two minutes to peel and eat it and I close my eyes to ease the sting of tiredness a little, holding her hand as I do, just to be sure. She asks for another. I pass her one. Close my eyes again. I ask if she wants to put the peelings in the bin. She does. We go to the bin together and she jumps around in the vestibule for a few minutes.
We play snap. Quietly, I say. I show her how not to bang her hands so loudly on the table. The man opposite looks up again without smiling. I change the game.
We play eye spy again. I try to remember the names of clouds. I can only remember cirrus. She asks me if she can count the sheep instead. I thank the lord, as she stares out of the window and reaches thirty seven before the fields become barer again
She smiles at the man opposite. His response is so forced I think his lips must be constipated. The thought of this makes me laugh a little. I imagine his lips squeezing. I’d like to share the joke but I don’t have anyone to share it with.
By York, she’s hungry again. I lay a dishcloth out with slices of bread and cheese and she makes us both a picnic. She says she’s tired and sits on my lap and I read her four books and feel a bit queasy reading.
She asks for the chocolate. I remind her the pudding is for the last train. This one, then the underground, then the last train.
How long will it be till the last train?
Just three hours left poppet.
And then we share the chocolate?
Yes, I say.
Yes, she says, smiling.
She starts to fidget. I apologise to the new couple opposite us when she sings gently. They say it’s fine and I love them. She starts to fidget a bit more. We walk up and down the corridor ten times. I take my bag with me just in case.
She needs a wee. I carry her over the drips on the floor of the toilet cubicle, hold her on my hip while I wipe the seat clean of the previous man’s piss, make ugh noises to mimic hers and turn her disgust into a game not a struggle. She likes the voiceover about not putting jumpers and fish into the bin.
We sit again. I draw fifty dots on a piece of plain paper and she draws lines between them. We fill five pages of paper. We share some carrot sticks and pretend they are peoples’ legs walking into our mouths. She giggles and eats.
We change trains.
The lift is hard to find at Paddington. I have to put her in the pram because I can’t carry it and carry her and carry the bags. I balance her pram on the escalators with her in it and imagine us tumbling to the bottom, both dead, me to blame.
She falls alseep in the pram. We get to the next train and I have to fold the pram down because there is no space for it on the train. I wake her and grapple with the pram folding and she stands sobbing slightly into my leg because she’s tired and I can’t lift her and do the pushchair at the same time. It’s nearly evening now. I wonder if bedtime will be better or worse because of her tiredness. We find our seat. I soothe her crankiness with head strokes and a story. She points to the pictures and looks at me.
She asks if this is the chocolate train. I say it is. She waits. I pretend I can’t wait for the train to start moving to eat the chocolate. She scolds me to be patient. Says it’s our rules, remember. She feels the first jolt. I break the bar in half and we eat slowly and silently. I stare out of the window. Close my eyes. Taste the sweetness.
The woman opposite us looks up from her book. She smiles at me, head tilted a touch. I smile back. She looks at my daughter, mouth painted with chocolate and crumbs. Eyes heavy. She tells my daughter that they didn’t have snacks in her day. Advises me of the health effects of giving children too much sugar. Says it’s a shame for the kids is all. Smiles again, a little less this time. Goes back to her book.

New Poem on Mourning

Just wrote this after walking by the graveyard I walk past each day. Not sure a title yet:


when I die

please fling my ashes

somewhere nice and warm

i pass the graveyard everyday

the headstones look so cold


don’t bother with a patch of ground

for flowers plucked to wilt upon

as people pass and count my years

leave earth’s well-formed rocks alone


don’t shove me in another urn

a golden box atop a shelf

so bored I’d be up there alone

save your cash, enjoy yourself


go mourn me – if you want to mourn –

somewhere we have loved to be

get two pornstar martinis

down both prosecco shots for me

cup the floating passion fruits

lick the juices greedily


go snuggle in the cinema

read a whole book on the couch

get your arse up on a dancefloor

move your bones about


buy niger seeds and birdfeeders

and watch the goldfinch flock

climb up to the Campsie fells

flash the whole world far below

yours tits or arse or cock


I promise I’ll be there with you

Can’t promise I won’t watch


by Hollie McNish


Breastfeeding for Geeks

Breastfeeding for Geeks

I get sent a LOT of articles and books and notes and emails and personal stories about breastfeeding. I have never studied infant health. I have never worked in maternity services. I studied economics. And from this point of view, in my humble and mathematic-loving opinion, I wish policy-makers would get over their fear of approaching infant feeding as a personal choice each mother is free to make for herself.

The UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Some may say this is because we are lucky, free, and can choose not to undertake this mammoth task. Mathematically, this view seems not to hold up. More likely, it seems, being able to ‘choose’ to breastfeed in the UK is a massive privilege that most women cannot or do not want to partake in due to cultural, social, economic and political reasons.

For those mothers who, with all the body confidence and knowledge and support they could ever wish for, do not choose to breastfeed, this is not about you. We need to stop arguing about these totally acceptable choices. I don’t care (I mean I care, but not in this specific situation) about those mothers in the UK who have the total freedom to decide how to feed their child. I care about those mothers who would have liked to, but couldn’t or didn’t or didn’t feel able, and who are constantly made to feel shit about it because of the whole ‘mother’s choice’ bollocks.

If UK breastfeeding rates were purely a case of random personal choice by each new mother, then, if plotted onto a graph, there would be no correlation between those mothers who ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding and any specific social, cultural, economic or political factors which affect different people across the UK. The graph would be randomly scattered across graph paper the way my floor is scattered with dirty socks and pants.

This is not the case. There are clear correlations between a number of fairly obvious factors outside any mother’s control . To name a few:

  1. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding who live in areas of the country where maternal support services are under-funded.
  2. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding who are from working class and / or low income backgrounds, in particular those on zero hour contracts or other insecure employment.
  3. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding whose jobs do not offer flexible working patterns or who work for employers they do not feel comfortable talking to about possible options which may allow them to continue breastfeeding or expressing during work hours.
  4. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfed / continue breastfeeding who live in neighbourhoods with higher violent crime rates.
  5. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed who have previously suffered or suffer body image issues.
  6. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding if their family and friends are not knowledgeable or supportive about breastfeeding
  7. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding who have been exposed to little or no examples of breastfeeding in their lives previous to giving birth.
  8. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed if they become mothers under the age of 20.
  9. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding if they suffer pain while breastfeeding. BUT fewer women suffer pain or complications while breastfeeding in areas where maternity support services are well-funded and local support is available. (Maternity support services are not really ‘well-funded’ anywhere).
  10. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding if they feel uncomfortable, nervous or embarrassed breastfeeding in public but want to actually leave their house without worrying about feeding. BUT The reasons mothers might feel uncomfortable, nervous or embarassed breastfeeding in public are correlated highly to points 1,4,5,6,7. Again, it is not a personal choice to feel able and comfortable to have a baby sucking on your breast in public spaces.


There are many more correlations it seems. So, so many correlations that the idea of real and free ‘choice’ in terms of infant feeding ‘choices’ is a mathematical farce. Every time I see articles about a mother’s choice, or articles pointing blame at mothers in the UK for these low rates, or even supposedly positive articles trying to convince mothers to ‘choose’ to breastfeed whilst offering no support regarding any of these outside factors, it makes me want to be sick all over the graph paper.

Finally, what makes me want to be doubly sick is that, in the UK, the lowest ‘choosing to breastfeed’ rates are most often amongst mothers and families on the lowest incomes. This statistic is infuriating because, firstly, as I’ve said five hundred times now, this ‘choice’ is much more difficult for these mothers to make. Secondly, because feeding a baby is not like riding a bike. If you stop breastfeeding, you cannot get back on it with a bit of practice in 6 months time. You have to buy formula for a long time and formula is fucking expense for those mothers and families on the lowest income. Especially compared to the free alternative.

It’s shite I think

To finish up. I think breastfeeding rates are little to do with a mother’s choice. This does not mean that we must not say well done and congratulations to those mothers who have possibly gone through cramps and mastitis and stress and loneliness and all that other jazz to continue feeding. Or to thank the support networks – the partners or grandparents or carers or health practitioners –  who may have helped them. It just means that we should not make it too personal. A bit like getting good marks at school. Yes, you worked hard and yes, I’m not saying it isn’t partly because of all your effort. But you also didn’t have to share a room with two siblings, have the electricity cut once a month, have a parent you were caring for, go to a school with no textbooks etc etc. There are always other factors at play in what we can and can’t achieve.

Basically, stop pointing fingers at mothers and point it at those who make the decisions. If we want to ‘encourage’ higher breastfeeding rates in the UK, we have to make it easier for mothers to ‘choose’ to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding and to be happy doing so.


It is a very personal experience to feed a baby. But it is definitely not a purely personal choice.

Infant Feeding Report

I wish infant feeding wasn’t seen as such a personal choice, otherwise I think support for it would be on every international agenda that included environmental and health issues. Whenever people ask me about breastfeeding and the importance of it, the main thing I always want to say is that it is not a personal choice made by a mother or a family in private – it is a huge political, social and cultural issue.

Last month, I did a gig in Cape Town. There’s a drought. Water is scarce and diminishing. This is the sort of situation in which formal milk is a total fuckry for parents. It’s not about personal choice, it’s much, much bigger than that. I’m sick of hearing how breastmilk increases a baby’s IQ. I think this is the least important thing about supporting breastfeeding but strangely the one that is talked about so much in the promotion of it.

Anyhows – I thought this was a really interesting article, in particular how formula companies target poor mother’s more. There is so much disparity in who does and does not ‘choose’ to breastfeed. If it was just a personal choice, the rates amongst working class women would be roughly the same as middle class women for example. Or younger versus older mothers. They’re not though. From the embarrassment some women feel, to the inability to balance work and feeding, to the inability to feed comfortably, it is all due to lack of economic, cultural and political support.

As politicians worldwide discuss plastic waste, healthcare, environmental damage and climate change, I’m still shocked how little support for infant feeding is mentioned and I think it’s mainly because it’s still seen as a personal choice which we cannot possibly touch with a bargepole rather than something which politics and economics needs to support if we’re ever gonna ‘choose’ to do it more again. Women don’t need to be ‘told’ to breastfeed. For me, that makes fuck all difference if all of the environment around them makes breastfeeding costly, uncomfortable and hard to live normally whilst doing.

Anyways, ranting! x

Hope you enjoy the read!

Please also take a look at the article in The Guardian published this morning.