Friday, July 29, 2016

London West End | Kinky Boots

I spent a vast majority of this week entering into a lottery for tickets to see Kinky Boots in the West End. Every day my hopes would rise and then be drastically dashed when my notification beeped and I read the message ‘better luck next time.’

On a desperate whim I signed my mum up in hopes of increasing our chances and a few hours later we were sat in the front row of the Adelphi Theatre enjoying the greatest show on earth.

Based on the 2005 film, inspired by true events, the production tells the story of Charlie Price and the shoe factory he inherits from his father. Charlie joins forces with drag queen, Lola, to produce a line of kinky boots for men who want to wear heels – all in a bid to save the factory.

My mum was a huge fan of the film and I loved it too, but I didn’t expect the production to be quite as good as it was.

The music had me shimmying in my seat, holding back the desire to jump on stage and join in. Each cast member played their role perfectly and every single one of them had a hell of a voice. Not to mention, I fell utterly in love with Lola, played by the insanely talented Matt Henry. 

For the first time, I sat through a three-hour production without concern for numb bums and itchy feet. The evening went by in a flash and at the end I would have happily sat back down and watched the whole thing again. 

The feel good music, impressive dance moves and sparkly outfits had my head spinning - and let’s take a moment to talk about the drag queens. They took sassy to a whole new level and every wink, nod and smile in my direction made me feel like part of the performance.

If I haven’t sold the show enough, you should know I left with achy cheeks after three hours of smiling non-stop.
So ladies, gentlemen and those who are yet to make up your mind… I strongly recommend you head to the Adelphi Theatre for a night of pure bliss.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Guide Dogs UK

Just before Christmas I got in touch with Guide Dogs UK to find out if they had any volunteering opportunities. My motivations were simple, great for my karma and hopefully cuddle lots of cute puppies in the process.

In all seriousness, losing my sight has always been a big fear. I remember heading for my annual eye test and finding out that my eyes had deteriorated (as they had done every year for the previous five years). I asked if I was going to lose my sight completely and the optician said: ‘you’ve got a long way to go yet’. Granted, I had asked in jest, but it did get me thinking. 

My great grandmother went blind at 50 and struggled to cope. I would often hear stories about her, chatting away to herself unaware that she had locked my mum out of the house. She sounded brave and wonderful, but it was clear that losing her sight meant losing her freedom too. 

One person in the UK goes blind every minute, which is a terrifying thought. So as much as I love the idea of cuddling cute puppies, I’m more in love with the idea of giving non-sighted people their independence back. Giving them a dog isn’t just giving them a new family member, but a life companion to aid them in their daily lives. 

When I was a child, guide dogs used to upset me, simply because they were working and I was never allowed to pet them. As I grew older there was something so impressive about seeing one work. Stopping at the roadside, signalling that it was safe to walk and carefully manoeuvring their owner around obstacles. 

Even now, it still blows my mind how clever they are. 

So when I sat across the table in the pub from Tina (a full-time community fundraiser for Guide Dogs UK) I asked how. How on earth did they train the dogs to do what they do? 

The answer was simple, a huge amount of hard-work by dedicated volunteers and an even larger amount of money. 

It costs £50,000 to breed, raise, train and care for a Guide Dog throughout its entire life. It’s not just a case of teaching a dog the basics and handing it over, they’re responsible for vet bills after dog attacks (which sadly happen often considering guide dogs are chosen for being docile). They undertake annual checks on the dog to make sure it is being cared for, as well as relocate the dog if needed when it reaches retirement. It’s a hard graft. 

Second mind-blowing fact. Guide Dogs UK are not government funded, meaning 100% of the money used to run the charity comes from donations made by you and me. 

A few weeks ago I spent a day helping out at a Flag Day fundraiser (see photo below of the beautiful Flora, who I had the pleasure of babysitting). I spoke to some very lovely humans about all the great work Guide Dogs are doing, and all of them nodded in agreement. The sad truth is however, none of us will truly understand the value of their work until we’re on the receiving end. 

So I will continue to marvel at the wonders of dogs who lead the blind, while cheekily placing a link at the bottom. If you have a few pennies to spare, it’s a pretty worthy cause.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Switch House | Through the eyes of a philistine

I attended the press viewing of the new Tate Modern last month.
When the director, Nick Serota, said in his speech that the project was not just an extension but ‘a new Tate Modern’ he hit the nail on the head.
Filled with live performances aimed solely to make you uncomfortable, abstract pieces that make you question whether the artist was a child, and live parrots in a desert scene… it was a drastic change from the Tate Modern I visited a few years back.
Walking into the brown Lego building (I have no other words to describe the exterior, unless I go for hideous, but I’m trying not to begin with too much negativity), you have to appreciate the architecture on the inside. Some of the original structure of the engine turbine rooms’ remains, and the big open spaces, with marble winding staircases is enough to make anybody think they’re inside a palace.
Level 10 is undeniably the best thing Switch House has to offer. A full 360 degree view of the London skyline with a balcony that goes all the way around the top floor. Overlooking all the best buildings in the city, it offers one of the best views I’ve seen in a while (and it’s free)!
You can’t argue with the message, aiming to show pieces from around the world, because of course art is global. They’re also showing more exhibitions than ever before displaying the work of female artists – another noteworthy cause.
But when standing in a half empty room, staring up in the air to see what appears to be stuffed material in the shape of a hanging body, I have to ask myself ‘is that really art?’
Live performers walk around at various intervals, pushing into your personal space and repeatedly asking you to move. I missed the message at the start, but I imagine it was something powerful and the uncomfortableness was completely intentional.
I can appreciate beautiful photography, or hand-painted canvas’ that leave your mind wandering over what it could be, I even took a moment to stare at the big oak tree that comprised 77 different types of tree branch from around China. But even I have to draw the line over 10 planks of wood placed on top of each other, with litter filling the spaces.
With cages laid out as beds, live performers lying against the wall, Lego spilled all over the floor and two attendees holding each end of a bunting all morning (I hope they were paid well), I left with my head spinning.
My heart was split over enjoying the space and being completely disenchanted with the pieces on display… I suppose I’ve had that feeling in most of the art museums I have been to.
If you’re interested in abstract art and the ‘find the meaning’ craziness of art museums, you should definitely check it out. But beware, it gets weird… 
The lobby dividing the new Switch House from the existing gallery

The view from the 10th floor

Live performers doing strange things

One of the many pieces of "art"

Staircase leading from the turbine hall to the first floor


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

48 hours in Cardiff

After what can only be described as a stressful few weeks, a girly weekend away couldn’t have come at a better time.

Destination: Cardiff
Plan of action: Wing it

After grabbing cheap Megabus tickets online and booking to stay in a strangers house (also known as Airbnb) we headed to Wales on a Friday evening unsure of what to expect.

The four hour bus journey was certainly an experience. On the way there we were feeling rather optimistic about the whole ordeal and it turned out to be quite fun. We made a few friends, heard some extremely pessimistic views of Cardiff from the locals, but on the whole it made the journey go fairly quickly. The bus back to London however, slowly made me regret being such a cheapskate. We had the pleasure of children running around the bus and throwing up in the aisle, which was enough to make anybody never want to ride the bus again. Costing £10 for a round trip… your bank account would thank you for the sacrifice.

Luckily, the bus trip was made worth it by the beauty of Cardiff. We spent the weekend being the luckiest girls in town. Firstly by the fact that our Airbnb host was laid back and absolutely wonderful (plus she had a beautiful doggie named Pip who I wanted to sneak home in my suitcase). And secondly, because the weather forecast predicted rain for the entire weekend – yet we missed every downpour and seemed to be outside for every spot of sunshine… just call me Frano Selak.

Cardiff city centre has every shop your heart could desire but was a vast contrast to the hustle and bustle of London. Its calmer, slower pace was the perfect break from the intense pressure to run to work every morning alongside the London commuters. The locals are insanely friendly, smiling to strangers in the street doesn’t make you look like a crazy person and chatting on public transport is perfectly acceptable… who knew that was possible?

The people of Cardiff however, know how to party, and sadly we just weren’t up to the challenge. We had a great night in Missoula (the music was on point, though sadly no T-Swizzle) but I headed home at 1am and still spent the following morning nursing a hangover – I have never felt so old!

I’d love to go back, I feel like the city has so much more to offer. With a car in tow next time, it would be nice to visit the lands of Brecon Beacon and climb the Pen y Fan.

The next year is going to be filled with trips to beautiful cities in the UK. There is just so much the country has to offer and yet I have explored so little of it.

Live music and markets | Cardiff Bay had some great live music on Saturday, it definitely seemed like the busiest place in the city but the atmosphere was perfect for a sunny afternoon. You can wander the markets, grab a beer and sit and people watch – my favourite past time.
Time and Beef | My favourite spot of the weekend! A burger joint where you make your own meal by ticking all the boxes. No need to feel like a fusspot for requesting a meal without specific ingredients. The price is reasonable and Steve who owns the place is the nicest guy on the planet – we told him we were from out of town and he drew us a map with a list of recommendations. The hot chocolate comes in jars and they serve breakfast. What’s not to love?
Treetop adventure golf | I’m not a fan of golf, I never normally find it fun… but this turned out to be a great way to kill a couple of hours before our bus home. I was basically playing with two professionals so it felt a little like I was a toddler on a day trip with the parents… but I like to think for a second-timer I wasn’t too terrible. N.B. There are singing toads halfway round the course…
they’re great.
Speedboat around Cardiff Bay | We did the boat blast for 15 minutes and it was great fun. I also gave the driver my GoPro and he kindly filmed our trip for me. If you don’t like water maybe give this one a miss, the girl next to me was on the verge of having a panic attack. It’s super-fast, and you will get soaked.

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