Edinburgh at Christmas

Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities, and it’s even more special when it’s covered in Christmas lights.  I had daydreamed about visiting this year with Husband but ran out of time before Christmas.  And then out of nowhere, I was called to the Scottish capital for a work event which would require an overnight stay.  I only got a couple of hours to wander around, but it was enough to tide me over until my next visit.  Just.  

The flight to Edinburgh was easy, albeit a little delayed.  From the airport, I jumped on the tram which deposited me very close to my hotel on Princes Street.  I had an amazing view from my room, but wanted to go straight out to see the lights on George Street.  I’d seen the Street of Light in 2016 and they’re just as magical now, surrounded by other beautiful buildings that have been covered in decorations.  

After a quick burger from the Boozy Cow, I messed about taking photos through my open hotel room window, and then had to take a long hot shower – it was incredibly cold and I was struggling to warm myself up!  

The following day after a very constructive morning, I had a couple of hours to kill before my flight back so marched around the beautiful city to absorb as much as I could.  Of course, I had to visit Hannah Zakari as I do each time I’m in Edinburgh, but decided not to buy myself anything as I had very limited luggage space.  I visited the Christmas market which had so many amazing stalls, all the food so tempting.  But with the cold getting to my bones, I jumped back on the tram to get to the airport (which was lucky as security at the airport was chaos).

My time in Edinburgh was fleeting but just as enjoyable as my other trips.  I’ll definitely be back in 2019.  

Museums and Cakes

London has a lot of excellent exhibitions going on in various museums at the moment.  I’ve recently had two trips in to the city, and saw a couple of very different shows, enjoyable for very different reasons.

A couple of weekends ago, I met up with a friend to go to the Museum of London.  I’ve been passed it a few times and a) didn’t appreciate what it was; and b) could never figure out how to get into it as it’s seemingly in the middle of a roundabout.  I’m so glad I’ve finally visited as it’s now possibly one of my favourite museums.

We had gone specifically to see the London Nights show – beautiful photographs of London at night from late 19th century to more modern images.  The photos were stunning and as I wandered around the exhibition, I wished that I could take better night time photography.  I loved the photos where you can’t place when they were taken – the ones which look like they could have been taken yesterday.  The exhibition is on for the next couple of weeks, so go see it if you can.

We then went on to explore the rest of the museum, which is where I quickly fell in love.  There is such a huge range of items on display, all related to London through the ages.  One of the most wonderful permanent exhibitions is the Victorian Walk – a parade of beautiful shop fronts set out like a winding street.  And the shop – oh my goodness, the shop.  What a fitting way to end our visit; I could have spent a great deal of money in there.

After our trip, we walked through the quiet City of London and found ourselves in the vicinity of the insane Doughnut Time.  Their creations are out of this world – the doughnut I had was covered in glitter, and the one I bought for Husband was a white chocolate cheesecake flavour with Oreos.  Truly epic.

Museums and baked goods was the theme of this weekend as well.  There were three exhibitions Husband wanted to see at the V&A  all with a nerdy theme – one on videogames, one on computer art, and one vaguely futuristic.

This trip wasn’t for me, so I allowed him to geek out whilst having a quick look at the displays.  Husband was amused that he found me reading about feminism in video games after temporarily losing me – where else would I be?  It was also fun to see the computer art exhibition as it was in an area of the museum I hadn’t been in before – every time I go to the V&A I find something new.

I loved the arcade games at the end of Design/Play/Disrupt.  I was pretty good at the three Line Wobbler LED games by Robin Baumgarten, and desperately wanted to play a game called Breakup Squad but some kid wouldn’t get off the machine.  I also got to play Queers in Love at the End of the Worlda beautifully poetic game by Anna Anthropy.  It was a crowded gallery though, and the rest of the games all had queues of people waiting to play.

And the baked goods?  Well you can’t visit South Kensington without a trip to the Hummingbird Bakery, especially because they had their halloween cupcakes in at the moment.  HOW CUTE?!?!

Museums and cakes – the two best things about London.

Mood Music, Crafty Fox, and North Korean Art

Over the first May Bank Holiday, I managed to fit in a good amount of fun (I’ll be getting over jet lag for the second May Bank Holiday so I’m pleased I made the most of the first).

My weekend started on the Friday night with a classic date night – theatre followed by dinner.  Husband bought some last minute tickets to Mood Music at the Old Vic and he managed to get us pretty good seats.  All the better for me as the play featured one of my teenage crushes, Ben Chaplin.  I was obsessed with the sitcom Game On at the age of 15, and Ben was quite a large part of my obsession.  I lost track of him over the years, so was great to catch up with him in one of my favourite theatre venues.

The play itself was interesting, although it did leave me wanting more.  For a story about music, there was surprisingly minimal actual music.  It did feel very ‘placed’ and choreographed – everyone had to stick to set movements around the stage so at times, it came across as  a little forced.

Very much enjoyed it though, and it was nice to do something different on a Friday night.  We then had a late dinner and checked into a the Hilton Bankside so we didn’t have to rush for the last train home.  We’ll definitely be doing that again.

Saturday morning came – we checked out of the hotel, had a leisurely coffee, and I made my way over to the Mercato Metropolitano for my third Crafty Fox (Husband spent the day shopping for a new holiday outfit).  I love this venue and I wish I had more of a reason to visit!

I met up with a fellow Crafty Fox aficionado (my friend Alana) and we wandered the stalls whilst gossiping and analysing our shared love of Matthew Rhys.  I didn’t spend a great deal of money this time, but managed to get myself some more Rosa Pietsch necklaces, and a very cute glittery bow from Pup Tart.  I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I couldn’t leave it behind.

I then collected Husband from his shopping spree to meet up with Tim for some Saturday afternoon art appreciation.  We went to the House of Illustration in Kings Cross – a small but perfectly formed space which was showing three exhibitions.  We were there to see Made in North Korea which was fascinating (but we had a quick look at the other exhibitions too, including Quentin Blake).  We were there to see the North Korean ‘found objects’ though, and it’s honestly something I have never seen before.  I just don’t understand how he manages to have so much of this stuff!

A catch-up over Ruby Violet ice cream followed (although it was more me grilling Tim on the exact details of his recent trip to New York) and then dinner at Caravan.  Kings Cross has changed a lot since I was there last!

And we were home in time for an episode of Riverdale.  What a perfect start to my Bank Holiday.

Touring the South Bank

Two years ago, almost to the day, we went on the most amazing tour of the Southbank Centre.  It involved donning high vis vests to visit closed off spaces and I loved it – an absolute highlight of 2015.  I can’t even remember why I was on the Southbank Centre website a few weeks back, but I noticed that they were advertising more tours and being the efficient nerds we are, Tim and I decided to combine this with a backstage tour of the National Theatre.  What an excellent Saturday.

We met our guide in a very peaceful National Theatre foyer where we were immediately given high vis vests again.  YES!  I now know this to be the hallmark of a brilliant tour.  There were about 10/15 people on the tour, a mixture of ages, quite a few Americans, but a nice respectful bunch who asked (mostly) sensible questions.  After hearing a bit about the history, we were taken into the back of the Olivier theatre, where crew members were going through a tech rehearsal.  I did try to make an effort in listening to the wonderful tour guide as she talked about the drum revolve and the fly tower, but it was so fascinating seeing the action on the stage.

It’s a beautiful theatre and brought back great memories of seeing Everyman there a few years ago.  From the Olivier, we went over to the Lyttelton theatre which was all set up for Jane Eyre.  It’s really odd being in a brightly lit and empty theatre, but you really get to experience the venue, rather than the performance.  We were taken around the back of the stage (where the photo at the top was taken from), saw the props all laid out, costumes hanging up, and a Henry Hoover ready to go. 
From there, we walked down the main ‘road’ behind the stages, visited the carpenters shop, and peered down into the props department from the walkway.  Even though it was a Saturday, staff were still busy at work creating amazing sets and props, including very realistic looking pizza.

The final part of the tour took us through the offices and dressing rooms, where we saw Bryan Cranston’s name on a door, reminding Tim that he has tickets to see Network, and enabling me to snag his spare ticket.  Back to the Olivier I will go in January.
The second tour of the day was the architecture tour of the Southbank Centre, sadly without high vis jacket.  The tour mainly took us around the public areas so it didn’t really add much to the one we did a couple of years ago although we did get to go into the empty Royal Festival Hall where some musicians were hauling instruments on stage for that night’s performance.  What a treat.

I was able to boast about my stay at A Room for London which I am always happy to do for a willing audience (can’t do it enough to be honest) but the rest of the tour wasn’t ‘backstagey’ enough for me.  They do have a bunch more tours scheduled for the rest of the year, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to go on the actual behind the scenes tour.

After we said goodbye to our tour guide, we went back to the National Theatre to try to catch a glimpse of something referenced on our tour.  We were told that the dressing rooms have windows that overlook a private courtyard and on press night, the actors all stand at their windows banged on the glass as part of a longstanding tradition.  According to the guide, you can just about see the courtyard from one of the outdoor terraces.

Off we scampered, and whilst we didn’t find the courtyard, we did find a secluded garden, great views over the south bank (and also people trying to work with two idiots running around outside).  Every time I visit the Southbank, I discover something new.

Relaxation Rooms, Guildford

Relaxation Rooms1After a fairly stressful couple of weeks at work, I found myself in desperate need for some me-time.  With Husband off in Texas for work and nothing much else going on, I booked a last minute evening ESPA Serene Scalp Soother massage at the Relaxation Rooms in Guildford.

The day spa is situated at the top of town in a lovely three storey house behind a very unassuming front door.  It’s much the same as the other salons I go to, but the main difference is the incredibly cosy room at the top of the house solely for relaxing.  It makes the place quite distinctive and a real treat.

I visited at about 7pm on a Thursday for my massage, and after slipping into a robe and flip flops, was shown to the relaxation room to wait for my treatment.  I had lovely fruity water, and snuggled into the chair to wait.  There were several beds as well which I was tempted to get into, but I didn’t want to risk getting too cosy.  The only negative I could find was the selection of magazines which all seemed to be Surrey advertorials.  All my stuff was in my bag in the lockers downstairs so I didn’t have my kindle with me – I wish I was a bit more prepared.

Relaxation Rooms2My massage was glorious – a 40 minute head, neck, and shoulder massage in addition to a conditioning treatment which left my hair super soft.  I could have easily fallen asleep and really had to wake myself up before driving home.  I could have done with another several hours of treatments but I think they were closing up so it was only fair that I left.

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Luckily, I had another treatment booked with my Mum the following weekend.  I had promised her a manicure last Christmas but with everything that’s been going on this year, we haven’t really had the opportunity to book it.  The luxury manicure that the Relaxation Rooms has comes with a scalp and shoulder massage so seemed like a good option.

My manicure was great, although the massage was with my dress on still (and shoes – it felt weird getting on  the bed with shoes on) so wasn’t quite as good as the one a couple of nights before.  The varnish they use is Morgan Taylor, and I’m not a huge fan of that brand but my mani came out well, and still has minimal chips a week later.

Even though we had the same treatment booked, my Mum’s was slightly different as she got her hands wrapped in a hot towel (jealous) and a sit down massage, and although she enjoyed the treatment as a whole, the vanish just didn’t stick to her nails, smudging instantly, some of it coming completely off.  She was a bit disappointed.

We’re now on the lookout for another place to go.  I already have a couple of ideas, and I know they won’t be as relaxing as this place but hopefully we can find somewhere where we can both leave with good nails.

Switch House, Tate Modern

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If you have a thing for over-processed photos of concrete, then boy you are in for a treat.

Holy crap, I love the Switch House – the new addition to the Tate Modern building.  I’ve watched it spring up at the back of the Tate Modern over the last couple of years but could never imagine that it would turn out as beautiful as it has.

It had been open for about a month when Tim and I visited a couple of weeks ago.  We assumed it would be rammed so got there for just after opening time, but we had most of the space to ourselves – it was amazing.

We couldn’t have picked a better day to visit as the sun poured in through the windows.  We did look at the art – the Marina Abramović exhibit sticks in my mind for many reasons – but this visit was all about the building.  The concrete, the sharp lines, the sweeping curves.  It feels very deliberate and unapologetic, completely unpretentious, and like it’s always been there.

The floors become narrower as you get closer to the top, before it opens out to amazing views of London from the roof.  And an opportunity to be nosy on the neighbouring buildings.  I don’t necessarily recommend taking the stairs all the way to the top floor as it does get a bit constricted towards the top.  Also, it’s 10 floors.  Oof.

At the top, I of course had to take a few tilt shift photos.

Switch House

But my absolute favourite thing of the whole building was the staircase.  The smoothness of the concrete was just so satisfyingly touchable.  I’ve decided that any future house I own will have to have an epic formidable staircase.  I think that might mean I need to buy a huge Brutalist mansion, but it’d be worth it.

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Just looking at that shiny concrete floor is giving me all the feels.

It’s French, he said. From M’aidez.

IMG_20160501_112721I had a damn fine couple of days over the May Day weekend.  After an entire season of enforced hibernation, it was just what I needed to kick start the rest of my 2016.

I had Friday afternoon off so sped down the A3 to Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth.  I wasn’t really intending to buy a lot, but the Cosmetics Company Store was closed so I overreacted by splurging in Lulu Guinness.  It’s my second fancy bag purchase in two months and I need to calm the heck down, but the magenta Small Edie was calling my name (and with 20% off, who was I to turn her down).  Good god, I love her.

Saturday was spent fending off knuckle chilblains (no really) in the Tatty Devine sample sale already documented.  And once I was home, sitting in a pile of plastic jewellery on my bed trying to figure out where the hell to put it all.

Fortunately, Sunday weather was blissfully warm and allowed me to wander from Somerset House to the Tate Modern with my BFF.  We haven’t seen each other for months, so I feel really bad for all the art we ignored as we caught up.

We had tickets for the Pick Me Up Festival which we went to last year, but nothing grabbed me as much this time around.  That might have been because of our constant chatting or because it was towards the end of the festival, but there didn’t seem to be as many ‘collectives’ in residence for us to explore.  I did really like the Clay Collective‘s pottery though and the big typographical glittery prints from Best Brighton.

IMG_20160501_115801I really want that Adequate print!

After Somerset House, I forced Tim into the funicular railway over by the Millennium Bridge, mainly because Husband is far too responsible and will never let me in it.  Across the bridge and into the Tate which was rammed with children where we conversed our way around the Media Networks exhibition.

Lunch was at the Refinery where we confused the hostess, elbowed a waitress in the legs (mainly me), and ate breakfast food.  I think I nearly broke Tim’s brain with his birthday present as for a moment, he couldn’t quite comprehend what he was looking at.  I hope he loves it!

It was a pretty perfect Sunday, despite the 3 hour round trip (I may have whinged about this on a couple of occasions) but I think next time, we’ll just forego the art and have a solid 5.5 hours of talking.  And breakfast food.  And funicular rides.  IMG_20160501_123744

Soul of an artist, hands of a master craftsman

Brutal Utopia 11

My beloved Southbank Centre is having a little rest over the next two years.  Parts of it anyway – The Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the Purcell Room are being modernised in an ambitious project.  Tim, Husband, and I thought we’d take advantage of it being closed to sneak in and do a bit of urban exploration

By that, I mean go on an organised tour wearing flash jackets, and guided by two people from the National Trust.

I had managed to snag 3 tickets for the Brutal Utopia tour for the quite inconvenient time of 6pm on a Sunday (inconvenient for me, as I was in the middle of an insane 7 days at work) but it worked out quite well as the sun went down midway through the tour, giving the end of the tour a bit of a mystical quality.

We met outside the Concrete Cafe (which does not sell coffee) where we met our guides – Liz and Eleanor – and put on our hideously yellow high vis jackets.  We had a quick health a safety briefing from the Southbank Centre advisor who instantly struck fear to Husband’s heart by saying we’d be walking over high walkways.  It made the tour a little tense for him, but he still managed to get better photos that I did. Curse him.

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The tour started on the balcony of the Hayward Gallery where Liz gave us a bit of background on the surrounding concrete.  I haven’t ever appreciated the differences in the concrete in the different buildings, but I can see now that they really all very distinct.  The pyramids on the roof that you can just see in the above photo are actually hidden by a false ceiling inside as they’re a bit leaky, but part of the Let the Light in project is going to restore them to their intended glory.  I recently bought an Inca Starzinsky necklace, profits of which go to the refurbishment project which I think means I can claim part of the pyramid as my own.

From the gallery, we went underground to one of the tunnels underneath the whole centre.  It’s hard to explain why being in a dimly lit, narrow tunnel filled me with such joy, but I was insanely giddy.

Brutal Utopia 2Everything got a bit blurry with my photos as we were marching along briskly.  How I wish I had time to set up my camera properly.

Brutal Utopia 3There is so much empty space underneath the halls in order to provide a noise barrier.  And also to give atmospheric photos.

From the very bottom of the halls, we then trekked up to the top and into the ventilation room.  More than anything else, this room shows why they desperately need to renovate – their air conditioning system is at least 50 years ago.

Brutal Utopia 4The centre takes air from the outside in a crazy room full of filters where it gets pumped downwards – not very efficient.  I loved all the old pieces of equipment, the random buttons, and the straw-covered concrete walls.

From the ventilation room, we snaked through another dark corridor and over a metal walkway high in the ceiling of the Queen Elizabeth Hall.  There were holes in the floor that looked directly down into the seats in the auditorium which I didn’t get a photo of. Biggest regret.

This was where Husband started to freak out, as we descended a  narrow spiral staircase to the projection room filled with more old bits of machinery.  Yet more upgrade needed here, but it was amazing to see the big old projectors.

Brutal Utopia 5We didn’t spend much time in this room which was sad for Husband because the next part of the tour was the rest of the spiral staircase.  I really did think Tim and I would have to carry him down.

We sat on the old leather seats of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and found out a bit more about the hall like how the walls could be adapted for different acoustics.  We also heard a very creepy squeaking noise from the tunnels beneath us.  Animal or ghost?  We didn’t stick around to find out and made our way out into the foyer.

Brutal Utopia 9I’ve walked passed this foyer so many times and didn’t ever know what was inside.  At the moment, it’s filled with awful plastic furniture (I say this as someone who loves plastic furniture) but the Brutal Utopias guide book has some photos from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  If they can recapture some of the amazing style from the 60s, they could make this space very special.

We then went down to the green room and dressing rooms.  We were left to explore for a few minutes, but most of the doors were closed so not much time was spent here.  It was very reminiscent of our ITV studios tour, so a bit run down and, well, crappy.

Brutal Utopia 10We finished the tour outside the lift for A Room for London, and for a brief moment I was overjoyed at the thought of seeing my boat again (after staying there three years ago) but we stayed at the bottom.  We wouldn’t have all fit in the lift, so of course we weren’t going up.

Annoyingly, I don’t think we got the full tour as there was some kind of performance art group going on at the same time, so we didn’t go into the Purcell Room and it felt as though we were rushed through some of it.  We did get a good 80 minutes of wandering around all these non-public spaces though, and it’s amazing that Husband and I have been both above and below the Southbank Centre.

I can’t wait to see it in two years time.

More photos on my Flickr.

You are applauding the unravelling of a man’s mind

Greenwich Comedy Fesitval

I’ve had a very funny weekend. Fortunately, it was intentionally funny, starting with Bill Bailey on Friday night. The tickets found their way into my possession very last minute and completely by chance, but I am so glad we said yes because Bill was hilarious. So hilarious that the woman sat next to me couldn’t control herself.

He was playing at the Princes Hall in Aldershot – not a venue I’m familiar with despite the fact it’s about 10 minutes away from my house. The best thing about this was the fact it was local – Bill started off asking whether Aldershot had recently gone through some kind of nuclear accident, and then mocked a story in the local paper. Within 10 minutes, I had cried my eye make-up off.

It was listed as a warm-up gig, however it was a solid two hours of brilliant absurdity – it felt like a ‘proper’ gig. He skipped from subject to subject, from almost killing his father-in-law in Norway to Skyping in Estonia, peppered with his trademark songs.

And with it being so nearby, we were home in time for an early night, ready for more comedy the following day at the Greenwich Comedy Festival.

Greenwich Comedy Fesitval2The comedy festival market has been seriously lacking since Laughs in the Parks folded a few years ago (I say this with no evidence, other than I haven’t seen a festival lately…). We had tickets for Saturday afternoon, but the festival itself ran for 5 days in the grounds of the National Maritime Museum, conveniently on the same road as Tim who we collected on the way from North Greenwich station.

Husband and I headed straight for the food stalls as we were starving, ignoring the demands to “GET A MAGNERS NOW” – we feasted on venison burger and really nice chips (they were frustratingly out of sweet potato fries. Middle class problems). The tent itself was oddly dark and initially insanely warm. I felt quite bad for not listening to the first two acts – compere John Robins and Richard Herring – as the heat was making me feel so sleepy.

Both John and Richard seemed to talk about genitals in quite a bit of detail, but I was amused by Richard’s exponential mathematic problems. It was perhaps a little too early for Richard’s brand of comedy but it did make me giggle.

Sara Pascoe was up next, and I LOVED HER. Her comedy ticked all of my boxes, especially equating people telling her to have a baby to her telling them they should go on QI (“you should really go on QI before it’s too late and they stop showing it”). I definitely want to see in her own show. I also knew where she got her dress and shoes from – she is me, in comedian form.

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Finally, Adam Buxton bounded on stage (although we had already seen him setting up his laptop, which I was mesmerised by). I haven’t seen Adam doing his stand-up for a while, and he has a noticeably different energy to when we see him at the BFI. Most of the things were saw were new to us, so that was a bonus. His videos, keynote presentations, and YouTube comments were insanely haphazard. I love Dr Buckles.

The festival itself could have done with a touch less branding. It was bordering on the ridiculous and needed to be dialled down a bit. It was a very pleasant afternoon though, and I’m sad I didn’t see more acts. Maybe next year. If it doesn’t go under like Laughs in the Park.

Will milk be made available to us?

Fernygrove1This weekend has been a weekend of food, well deserved after a quite stressful week at work.

On Friday, I attended a workshop at the lovely London South Bank University, so took advantage of being up in the city by going for dinner at Wahaca in Westfield.  The rain was horrendous, and in hindsight, Westfield on a wet Friday night wasn’t the most relaxing places to be, but their Vue was one of the only places left to see Jurassic World which was the other objective of the evening.

The less said about Jurassic World from me, the better.  I am not a fan. But Wahaca was as good as always, even if they have changed the sauce on my chicken tostada.

We had arranged to meet my parents for breakfast early on Saturday morning, but only got in from Westfield at 1am.  Again, hindsight is a wonderful thing.  We had to drag ourselves out of bed for the 40 minute drive but it was definitely worth it.

Fernygrove3My parents have got into a routine of treating themselves to breakfast on Saturdays, so have been travelling around various cafes and restaurants in Berkshire.  Their most recent find is Fernygrove Farm in Warfield, a working farm with shop and cafe in the grounds, and the photo at the top is the glorious view we had as we ate our breakfast.

I can see why Mum and Dad have gone back to Fernygrove on several occasions, as this was probably the best breakfast I’ve had.  It was perfect, and I think we have to make this a more regular occurrence.  We’ll just make sure we have an early night on the Friday next time

They also have two pygmy goats in the garden.  SO ADORABLE!

Fernygrove2And today, we braved the rain to go for lunch with my in-laws at our local.  I had a very yummy fish and chips, followed by a mini-brownie, so I hope this marks the start of a better week.