Hilton London Bankside

My second hotel visit of the month – the non-refundable stay.

A few months ago, my Mum and I discovered the Hilton London Bankside – it was perfectly located for our impromptu shopping trip, exceptionally well appointed, and not stupidly expensive.  So when Husband and I decided to stay overnight after the Flight of the Conchords gig at the O2, I figured the Hilton would be perfect as it’s just a couple of stops down the Jubilee Line.  Sure, it was non-refundable but of course there wouldn’t be any problems

And then the Flight of the Conchords gig got cancelled.  Sigh.

Rather than waste the room, we went up to London anyway and had a touristy afternoon.  A grey, very rainy, touristy afternoon – classic London.

We managed to check in early which was a relief as we got soaked in the short 15 minute walk from Waterloo.  Once again, the service we received was fantastic – I’ve never come across anything like it in the UK before.  Hilton allows you to select a room online the day before, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a good one so we did end up with a view of a wall.  I still loved the room though – the decor is so minimalist and understated, the bathroom has beautiful tiles and concrete floor, and the Peter Thomas Roth toiletries are great.

Husband had never been to the Switch House at the Tate Modern (which is apparently now called the Blavatnik Building) so we spent most of the afternoon in there.  Although a tip for tourists – never visit on a bank holiday because it was hellish.  It was especially bad in the Turbine Hall with the Superflex exhibition which is basically just free childcare.  We did manage to get to the viewing platform without losing our minds, and because of the weather, it was very peaceful up there.  We also saw part of the Joan Jonas exhibition which was most enjoyable.

After the Tate Modern, we wandered down the South Bank, visited Mr Jones Watches (I suspect another watch post is needed), and a few more of the shops alongside the river.  It was still very wet, but this meant there were less people around.  After the scrum at the Tate, a bit of peace and quiet was needed.

After a quick drying-off back at the hotel, we went for a very sophisticated dinner at Sea Containers House in the Mondrian hotel.  We decided to go in through the hotel entrance rather than the entrance on the Thames – it is a very beautiful hotel and I have this noted for any future stays.  Dinner itself was really lovely, although we ate three courses so by the time I got to my caramelised banana dessert, I was so full.  We were lucky enough to sit by the window, so we people watched as we ate.  It was a great meal.

After a little bit of a restless night – the bed wasn’t particularly comfortable this time round – we met up with Tim for brunch at the Refinery where we all had excellent eggs, before we headed back home and Tim visited a significantly quieter Tate Modern.

As we fiddled about with our bags and coats after checking out, I took the opportunity to take in the Hilton’s lovely Easter display.  They really make such an effort here, and we’ll definitely be back.  It’s such a great hotel.

It was fun to be a London tourist for the day, and did mitigate somewhat against the disappointment of not seeing Flight of the Conchords.  Fingers crossed the re-scheduled gigs go ahead as planned.

A Room for London

OK, where did February go?  I had all these posts planned in my head, but none appeared to have made it to my blog.  Normal service will resume, but first I want to reminisce for a bit.

I noticed on Twitter this week that the Room for London had reached the end of it’s life on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall.  Regular Southbank visitors will know this as the boat on the roof, but it holds a special place in my heart as we spent a night there during it’s first year.

Although it changed to a ballot system in subsequent years, I managed to wangle our stay by manically refreshing the webpage when the nights were released online (whilst simultaneously screaming at everyone in my office to STOP DISTRACTING ME).  I was phenomenally lucky, and Husband was so excited when I revealed to him where we’d be spending our wedding anniversary.

We picked up our key, were taken through a bright yellow door to get to the secret lift, and then we were on the roof!  I loved how temporary everything felt on the outside along the ramshackle walkway, but the inside was beautiful.

We spent the afternoon taking photos and watching the world go by (with a quick visit to a James Bond exhibition at the Barbican in the afternoon), before popping down to the Wahaca below for dinner.  As the sun set, we practised our night photography on the balcony, wrote our entry in the log book, had a wonderful shower with Ren products, and snuggled up in the comfy bed.  Despite being such a small space, it had everything we needed – I could easily have locked myself in, refused to leave, and lived there forever.

There were no curtains to close, so we woke up to beautiful sunshine and went back up to the balcony for a memorable breakfast.

Husband and I have stayed at many incredible places during our relationship, but this was definitely one of my favourites.  I did try my luck again in the ballot on a couple of occasions, but we were destined to only have one night at the Roi des Belges.  I will miss seeing the happy wind turbines on the skyline, and I hope they find somewhere else for it to live.  Maybe once it’s settled, we’ll get the chance to stay again.


See my full photo set on my Flickr account.
Find out more about the A Room for London at living-architecture.co.uk.

January 2018 Things

Husband persuaded me to use some of my precious leave for the first week of January so I had a very quiet start to 2018.  Still managed a couple of things to get me out of the house though!

Celtic Manor – again
The Celtic Manor has rapidly become our hotel of choice for last minute breaks.  We managed to fit in afternoon tea and I had an incredibly relaxing Elemis facial where I managed to suppress my ongoing cough for a whole hour.  I was quite impressed with myself.  On the way home from Cardiff, we managed to fit in a visit to the McArthur Glen Outlet in Swindon (of course) but also Ikea – it was a breeze as everyone else had gone back to work.

Everyman Esher
I love an Everyman.  When Husband demands I see a Star Wars or a Bond with him, I will only go if he can promise it’s going to be an Everyman.  Esher is our fifth different branch – to be honest, it’s not really that close to us, but we felt like a change and couldn’t be bothered to go all the way into London.  We had an excellent hot dog and fries, I bought a bucket of popcorn, and we settled into the sofa in their beautiful art deco screen.  I was a little worried as there were a bunch of children scattered around the auditorium, but Husband actually enjoyed listening to their animated chatter about his favourite franchise.

As for the film – eh, it was ok.

Sara Pascoe – LadsLadsLads
I love her.

Network at the National Theatre
An astonishing piece of work which I have yet to write about (I need to get on that).

Coffee and fries in Brighton
Someone in my team went to Brighton for the weekend and I recommended she visit BeFries because it’s just the best.  I told Husband that we were talking about those beautiful Belgian fries at work, and the next thing I knew, we’d booked a weekend away at The Grand.

An entire weekend break just to eat fries.  I can’t think of a better reason.

Sara Pascoe – LadsLadsLads

On Friday, I dragged myself out of my self-imposed winter hibernation for a trip into London.  On the agenda – dinner, Sara Pascoe at the Wyndhams Theatre, and light installations.

This is the third time I’ve seen Sara, and further continuation of realising how much I identify with her which I first realised after seeing her in 2016.  Admittedly there was slightly less for me to hook into in LadsLadsLads as the show started with the break-up of her last relationship but there was still plenty of “THAT’S ME!” moments even down to her pre-gig/interval music which was basically my Spotify playlist).

There was such an intimacy to her show which I can imagine some people would feel uncomfortable with, and there was certainly some awkward laughter from some of the audience.  At one point, she said there was only two reasons to stand up in front of people – if you make them laugh, that’s comedy but if you don’t, it’s a TED talk but I really felt like Sara’s show was both – when she wasn’t offering funny insights, she was giving us thoughtful comments, all interwoven into a story with multiple call backs.  I adore a comedian that gives me a fully-fleshed story alongside the giggles.

I also want to commend her spectacular heckler management.  I despise idiots who make unsolicited noises in gigs whether positive or negative, and I cringed every time this idiot woman whooped.  It’s so selfish and I will never understand it.  Sara has perfected the art of a perfect withering look though.

An interesting angle for me (and probably loads of others as well), is that I’ll be hearing the other side of the break-up when I see her ex-boyfriend in a couple of weeks.  Based on the fact that I almost cried on a number of occasions in Sara’s set, I’m already preparing myself emotionally for that.

After the show, Tim and I searched out some light installations from Lumiere London.  I’ve missed it on previous years, and only saw a small bit of this year but it’s better than nothing!  We down the South Bank and saw OSC-L, Light on Their Feet, and possibly others too but my favourite was Vertigo by Danish Company The Wave.

I didn’t have my camera on me so all my shots are appalling, but I loved walking through the triangular tunnel.  It’s a real shame Lumiere is only on for the weekend as it would have been great to see it in daylight as well.

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.

Happy (belated) birthday, Mr Jones Watches

For someone with only two wrists, I sure do have a lot of Mr Jones Watches.

I wrote about number one here.

And numbers two and three here.

Covered off four, five, and six on one busy day last year.

Quickly followed up with number seven.

It seems very fitting that 2017 has been the year where I’ve reached number ten as it is also the year of their 10th birthday.  I sadly wasn’t able to make it to their exhibition and birthday party as I was in New York, so I decided to celebrate in my own way – by cracking out the debit card.

Number eight was acquired a few months ago as Husband treated me to a limited edition Dog watch.  I got number 15 (I can’t resist a numbered watch), and I love the super cute strap.  More pink stitching please, Mr Jones!

Number nine was another gift from Husband.  The beautiful Nuage designed by Marion Labbaz is another limited edition which sold really quickly – whilst I was debating whether or not to buy it, Husband visited the shop and picked up number 38 for me.  Nuage has now made it to the permanent collection, but I’m so pleased to have one of the originals.

And ta-da – number ten!  I’ve had my eye on Colour Venn since it was released, and snapped it up in recent 24 hour sale without a second thought.  It’s my current favourite, although the yellow ‘second’ hand is very distracting in meetings.

So happy birthday Mr Jones Watches.  Can’t wait to see what you create next.

May Things

Wow, it has been a while.

For a bit of a kick in the butt, I’ve decided to follow a lot of other bloggers and post a monthly review, because then I’ll at least have one post a month.  Hopefully, this will get me back in the habit of regularly writing though.

No real format here – I’m just going to pick five things of note each month which I might have already blogged about or not, but definitely memorable for good (or not so good) reasons.  Let’s get started with May 2017.

Miami Trip
This deserves it’s own post, and is definitely my highlight of the month.  After a series of events and conversations, my Mum decided to take me and Husband, and my baby brother and his family to Miami, specifically my beautiful Surfside and I cannot emphasise enough how much relaxing we did.  It was perhaps a smidge too warm for some of us, but I spent most of the time lying in the palm garden not doing anything.  And the rest of the time shopping, which brings me to…

Sephora
What is a holiday without a trip to Sephora?  This isn’t everything that I bought – I also picked up some essentials like a million sheet masks – but I was really happy to find this Summer Hair Saviours kit – the Sephora at Aventura Mall has actually moved since I went last year, and is now much bigger so has more of these sets in stock.  The photo missing a couple of items that I’ve already used, but I’m excited to try the rest.  I love miniatures!

Eurovision
Once again, I failed to pick the popular songs.  I actually hated the twee-ness from the winning song – Eurovision for me needs high energy, bouncy, Europop and the Portuguese winner was the absolute antithesis of this.  Never mind.  My favourite was I Feel Alive by IMRI, and it has not left my playlist all month.

BFF Dinner
I have been an entirely crap friend of late, but I couldn’t miss celebrating the BFF‘s birthday, so we met for dinner at the National Theatre Terrace – what a great restaurant.  Once we’d actually found each other – for some reason, we both got to the table from entirely different entrances – and once we’d realised it was tapas and not just an odd menu.  I had deep fried veg with aioli which were so moreish, and delicious patatas bravas.  After dinner, we went for coffee and I had some very much needed chatty time.

Reflection
I didn’t really know how to title this.  Part of the reason for the time away is that May has become a tough month for us.  It was the first anniversary of my Dad’s death which is obviously something none of us will ever get over, so I took the day off work and had some time to myself to reflect.  I feel really close to my Dad when I’m outside as he loved nature, so I went for a long walk around the Pond on my own.  I felt it was the best way to mark the day.

Baby, you are going to miss that plane

BFIThe BFI is brilliant.  As part of their Love season, they showed Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight one after the other and I think I ended up paying about £5 for each film.  Ace!

The Trilogy are three of my favourite films, but I haven’t ever seen them all in one go.  I absolutely want to do this every week now, as it’s the best way to see them – Jesse and Céline aging 18 years in a matter of hours, their relationship developing.  I completely fell in love with them both again, any cynicism I have over “romantic” films just melting away.

1995 Ethan Hawke is a dreamboat.  I was only a teenager back then, but he was definitely the type of man that awkward, spotty, teenage-me would have a mad crush over.  The leather jacket, the floppy hair, the silly beard – I can feel myself swooning just typing those words.  And the way he looked at Julie Delpy.  Holy crap!  There is such an intensity in his eyes and it’s effortlessly easy to suspend your disbelief, to actually believe that Ethan and Julie are a couple.

I’m swooning again.

Although I have a soft spot in my heart for Before Sunrise, Before Sunset was always my favourite and for two moments in particular.

  • When Jesse sees Céline in the bookstore at the beginning.  His shock, joy, relief, pain – it’s all there in a brief second and it’s glorious.
  • When Jesse says “I know” at the end.  Hands down, my favourite line in cinema EVER.  He knew from the moment he saw Céline.  He knew.

I’m fangirling all over Ethan Hawke here, but Julie Delpy has just as much of my love.  She plays Céline with just the right amount of anger and passion, and I feel everything she does in Before Midnight.  If Husband and I ever lose our minds have children, I am sure we’d be having the same conversations that they have, from the car to the dinner table to the hotel.  It’s reassuring, and so comforting to see what I think of as a real relationship in film.

The BFI showed them just right as well – I was bemoaning the fact that there were gaps between the three films, and that we got booted out of the screen at the end of each, but it gave me and Tim a chance to get out, grab some coffee, and dissect our favourite scenes with contented little sighs at the beautiful love story that was unfolding on screen.

It was a perfect Saturday evening on the South Bank.

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.

Brutal Utopia1
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.

They’d Better Be Building a Kitchen – Bug 48

Bug48

Another photo of Dr Buckles on his bike signals another Bug review. I’ll need to think of more creative ways to photograph his lovely cycling pre-credits sequence.

As with the last Bug, I didn’t love all of the songs, but I have become obsessed with one of them at least:

Robin Schulz’s Sugar is insanely catchy. I cannot get it out of my head. The video is a cute take-off of the Taylor Swift cop video and amused me for a few minutes, but it’s the song that’s most memorable. I was worried Robin Schulz was a douchey DJ dude, but he’s European so that’s impossible. I’ve just discovered that Nathan Barnatt who stars in this video was also in a Yelle video for Que Veux-Tu which is one of the best songs ever.

Data Ft Benny Sings – Don’t Sing is a good concept for a video. I loved the moment when I suddenly understood what was going on.

The video for Darwin Deez’s Kill Your Attitude had me rolling my eyes a bit – a female video character lead and all she’s concerned about is the washing up and dirty laundry? Really? But it’s a catchy song – I hadn’t heard of Darwin Deez before so I think I’m going to investigate further.

I loved the video for Lights by Hurts, mainly because it reminded me a little of a club I used to go to when I was younger. The choreography is great, and I’m just a teensiest bit in love with Theo Hutchcraft because of it. I’ve heard their song “Wonderful Life” on XFM and Lights continues along the same vein, so another band for the list.

Bug was the first of two shows that we’ll see Adam at this month – we’re off to the Greenwich Comedy Festival next weekend to see him again. He ended Bug with a very funny Bob Dylan video which I would guess he’ll show again at the festival, but we shall see.