29 June 2016

Blogger City Swap: Birmingham

It’s time for me to tell you all about part two of the megabus blogger city swap!  Last week you will have seen where I took Hayley when she came to visit London, well this time it was her chance to show me around her city of Birmingham.

After a very decent nap on the megabus I arrived at Birmingham to meet Hayley and we headed straight for a train to Bournville.  Sound familiar?  That’s because this is where the famous Cadbury’s factory is, and we had arrived to check out Carbury's World.  The attraction includes a tour round the factory, the history of chocolate itself and the Cadbury’s brand, and a couple of rides to boot.  While this is mainly pitched at children, there is still plenty of fun for adults.  I was handed six bars of chocolate when we first entered, and got to eat a cup of melted chocolate, it was delicious!  The history part is interesting and the rides are ok, although this is the part where we most felt the most out of place as adults.  I had been here before as a child and was a bit disappointed to find that a lot of the touring of the actual factory can no longer be seen, but it is still a great place to visit and the village itself is very cute.
After this we headed back to Birmingham where we did a spot of window shopping before heading to the Handmade Burger Company for food.  I had a rather unique offering because of its addition of Yorkshire puddings instead of burger buns, trust me it tasted better than you think!

After this we had a lovely walk through Birmingham and Hayley pointed the different sights, history and architecture as we walked towards my Premier Inn Hotel, which I have to say is one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in a while.
The next day we headed towards the canals to visit the Sealife Center.  Last time I went to a Sealife Center they had some of the same attractions but this time there was also a 4D show too.  As ever I was most attracted to the Penguins, I sould watch them for hours!
Before heading home we had a quick stop over at Yo Sushi for some yummyness before heading for the coach.  I hate fish but there are always plenty of options if you aren't a fan like me, the chicken terriaki in particular was amazing!

Once again thanks to Hayley for showing me around and megabus for making this swap possible!
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23 June 2016

Haul post- vintage carboot

A couple of weeks ago I attended a special car boot sale near Kings Cross Station, the Vintage Car Boot sale.  This is an event that happens twice a year and combines vintage stalls, cars, and entertainment to make a shopping trip like no other.  This was my first time at the event, and although I was trying not to buy anything ahead of me moving house, I did pick up a couple of bits and thought I’d share them with you.  (Trust me I could have picked up so much more, there were some homeware bits I fell in love with!)
The first things I spotted were these cute clip-on earrings from a stall near the entrance.  I have plugs in my ears and I’m still stretching them up, so I thought these would be perfect for clipping over the top of them when I want a more classic look.  All together these three pairs cost me £5, and I love that I found a range of sizes and colours.

Just before I left I got found these blue beads for just £1 which remind me of the ones my grandma used to have, they match the earrings I bought together so well, it’s crazy that they came from different stalls - don't you think?
I picked up these two dresses from a stall near the end of the day.  I got the red dress for £25, which my sister describes as ‘Mad Men style' and I can kind of see what she means.  It's not quite a wiggle dress but it has that sort of feel.  It’s a bit of a confidence needing power suit, but with some spanks and some bravery I think I can pull it off.

From the same stall I got this blue dress for just £5 from a bargain bin.  It’s a bit old fashioned and could do with taking in, but it’s light and great for the summer (plus I love the collar).

What’s your favourite car boot bargain?
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21 June 2016

5 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer for Pride in London

It's four days 'til Pride in London and although I would always recommend you register to volunteer as soon as possible, there is still time to pick a role if you decide between now and Saturday.  Pride in London is one of the biggest days in the city's calendar, and it takes a whole lot of help to make it possible.  So why should you help out?  Well it's my fifth year volunteering for Pride, so here are five reasons why:

1. This year it feels really important

With recent events, especially those in Orlando, it seems more important then ever to bring the community together and support love.  We will combat hate and fear with fun and openness.

2. You get the best view

Chances are if you register between now and Saturday you'll be given the role of parade steward.  This means you get to stand along the parade, helping the public with gates and information etc.  This means you get the best view of the parade, as you will be right along side it.  No one stood in front of you, no jostling for space.  You'll see it all!

3. You will make some amazing friends!

I've done Pride for over five years now, and I've never come away without making great friends.  Everyone is there for the same reason, and even though there's a lot of people at Pride, you get put into small groups and rely on each other a lot, so friendships form fast!
My first year volunteering in 2011

4. You get to be on some of London's most famous streets when it's closed to the public.

Standing in the middle of a street that's usually one of the busiest in the world before the parade starts is always one of my favourite parts.

5. You will increase your chance of getting a bigger role next year

If you come and love it (which you will) you will have the chance opened up to you for loads more roles next year.  There are so many roles you could do something different every time, this year I've had a promotion to Parade Section Supervisor.  Basically I have my own section of the parade, along with 1000's of people, to look after.  It's a lot of responsibility but it's also an incredible experience.

If possible sign up now and you can attend the last training session on Thursday but even if you can't do this there will be a condensed training session on the day.  Can't do Saturday?  You can still volunteer for Pride Picnic on Sunday, or sign up ready for next year!  Pride is your oyster, get involved!  Want to see more, check out my post on London Pride 2014.

I dedicate the post to Jason, one of the greatest senior stewards I will ever work with, gone too soon.

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19 June 2016

Giveaway: Buyagift Action Adventure Box

Happy Father's Day!  Hope you didn't forget?  If you did, better run to the shop for a card quick!  At least you can sweeten him up by sharing one of 300 amazing experiences with him, another loved one, or maybe just yourself.

Up for grabs I have the Action Adventures box from Buyagift worth £49.99!  This gives you the opportunity to pick from one of over 300 action-adventure experiences around the UK.  From surfing, to zorbing, to supercar driving and so much more!  Release your inner adrenaline junky and enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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16 June 2016

Blogger City Swap: London

Let’s face it, train travel is bloody expensive!  It’s a constant drain on me and I travel quite a bit. However, I never really think about travelling by coach, so when megabus reached out to see if I wanted to take part in a blogger city swap, I thought it might be time to put them to the test.

I was paired with Hayley of Strangeness & Charm to do a London - Birmingham swap.  I happen to already know Hayley through our mutual friend Amy of Cocktails in Teacups, and we had already met a couple of times.  In fact all three of us are going to Walt Disney World in October!

I was first to host so I put my brain in gear.  Trying to work out what I could show Hayley in London that she might never have seen before.
We met up near an iconic London location, Tower Bridge, and had a quick wander around the area, including the famous Borough Market.  This food market is known for its fresh ingredients and pop-up restaurants that deliver flavours from all around the world.
Left: Knockturn Alley.  Right:  Diagon Alley
I know Hayley is a big Harry Potter fan so I decided to do a bit of searching for something Harry Potter related in London.  Of course there’s the Studio Tour nearby, but it's expensive and has to be booked far in advance.  A bit of googling brought my attention to Muggle Tours, a two and a half hour walking tour that takes you to some of the filming locations for the Harry Potter films, and some of the areas of London that served as inspiration for both the books and films.

Our tour guide was the very enthusiastic Stef Black.  She was really friendly, animated and really knew her stuff - basically the perfect tour guide!  I challenge anyone to try and outdo her on Harry Potter knowledge!  As I work for Bloomsbury (the publisher of Harry Potter) I did find her knowledge of members of staff here (people I work with no less!) pretty spot on!  My favourite places on the tour were the real life inspirations for Knockturn Alley and Diagon Alley, both of which are beautifully unique streets in the city.
After this we stumbled across the British Heart Foundations pop-up shop, curated by Victoria of In the Frow.  It’s always heart-warming to see other bloggers doing so well, and this was a fantastic opportunity for an amazing cause.  The shop looked beautiful, definitely different from your average charity shop, and she had chosen some gorgeous clothing.  I managed to resist but Hayley picked up a few pieces.
To end the day we decided to get a taste of the West End, and headed to Covent Garden to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I go to the theatre a fair bit so here’s a tip: don’t be afraid of restricted viewing seats!  I got both our tickets for less than £50 and even through we were up at the back, we had pretty descent seats, there were only a few times we struggled to see the action.

The musical was fun and light hearted, and we both treated our sweet-tooths while we watched this performance, it totally reminded me of my youth.  Give me a Wonka bar!

Check back next week to find out what Hayley had in store for me in Birmingham!  Thank you again to megabus for making this possible.  What is your favourite thing to do with friends in London?
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10 June 2016

Giveaway: Wet Head Game


The sun is out so its time for a giveaway that’s perfect for Summer Days (if they stay sunny that is!)

Today I’m giving away Wet Head (keep your dirty minds out of this) the new water roulette game. Grab some friends, fill the Wet Head with water, strap yourself in and give it a spin. You’ll either be home and dry or get a soaking! It’s kind of like ike Kerplunk if there was water instead of marbles and it was on top of your head….

Ready for more than one twist? You have the option to play with the spinner included or download the free Wet Head Challenge app and ask each other trivia questions. Any way you play, you might just get soaked!

So, let’s get wet! (yes I went there)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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9 June 2016

Theatre Review: Minefield


Watching Minefield at The Royal Court sometimes felt more like a live documentary more than a theatrical performance.  As theatre lovers we dream seeing a show where we come back moved and with our world opened a little more, this stunning and heart-wrenching show ticks all the boxes.

The stage for this multimedia performers is basic.  A stripped-back space with musical instruments, a live video camera, and a large video screen.  The video screen almost looks like an open book, most fitting as it reveals the performers stories, almost like chapters of the book, using the backdrop to signify a new part of their journey.

All the actors in this performance are veterans of the Falklands War and are not so much playing their parts as reliving their experiences. They speaking to each other and directly to the audience in a way which is powerful, thought provoking and at times, uncomfortable to hear.
The performers come from both sides or the war, so the performance is dual language, using live transcribing to translate. The fear of this being distracting, or taking away from the performers seems to have been considered thoroughly, and in the end it is a necessary and important tool at bring these once opposing forces together in a way which keeps the dialogue authentic.

Despite the serious, and sometimes very upsetting nature of the subject matter, they aren’t afraid to use comedy, and this dark humour shows just how they've managed to cope since the war.  There are more laugh out loud moments here than in a lot of comedy shows I've seen recently.  Yet when the personal accounts are more disturbing they don't hold back. It’s amazing that some of these accounts can be told at all, and it sometimes feels like therapy.  Performing in a room with people they swore to kill years earlier.

These incredible true storeys, and how they interlink here, prove for one of the most unstoppably powerful pieces of theatre I’ve seen this year.  If you don’t want to give a standing ovation for the performance, then you must for their service.  This show is one of a kind.

I was invited to review this performance by the London Theatre Bloggers, you can catch this show at until the 11th of June as part of the Lift Festival. 
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7 June 2016

Moments: May

Oh May!  You should mean the start of the Summer, and yet as I write this it's raining and freezing cold, good old British weather!  There's a reason that I'm dressed like it's autumn!  So in the nature of making the most of it, let' dive right in:
I’ve Visited
The V&A for the Undressed Exhibition...-
You might remember this from my Birthday post, the undressed exhibition is about the history of underwear from the 18th century to the present day.  It was fascinating and while some of the underwear was beautiful, some looked like it was designed by a madman!  It’s on until March next year so there's plenty of time to swing by if you fancy it.
and the 'Curtain Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Theatre in London and New York' exhibition
I went back to the V&A a week later to see the theatre exhibition and unfortunately this seems more of an extension to the theatre area that is already there then anything brand new (and I’d already seen it).  It’s worth a trip if you’ve not been before, but not if you’ve seen the old exhibition.
Thorpe Park-
After spending my birthday alone I spent the weekend after in Thorpe Park with my other half and some of his family.  It was so much fun, I’d forgotten just how much I love Rollercoasters! Unfortunately the new Darren Brown Ghost Train ride wasn’t open yet, but we managed to get round all the headliners.
So many Fetes!-
London might not be the place you would think would have many fetes, but I actually managed to attend three in one day!  First up I stumbled across our local Vauxhall village fete, before heading up to the oh so beautiful vintage steam fete, and then finishing the day off at the Urban Fete. My favourite was the steam fete, they just don’t make them like they used to!
Goose Bumps Alive!-
This was an event ran by Yelp where not only did we get to do the experience, but we got to do a backstage tour afterwards.  This is without a doubt the best Yelp event I’ve attended!  If you think this is for kids, you're wrong, it’s scary and oh so much fun!  Make sure you check out my full review here.
Wembley Stadium-again!
I think this is the third time in three months I’ve been here or something crazy, and this was by far the best. I met my family and watched Barnsley FC smash a 3-1 victory to take us into the championship. So proud of our team this season.  Bottom of the league to promotion in five months!
I’ve read
The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World 2nd Edition by Susan Veness-
This book is a gem of Disney facts and secrets.  I consider myself a WDW obsessive and there were still things in here I didn’t know, so it’s well worth picking up.  I would say that unless you are familiar with WDW well, I would take this with you instead of reading it at home so you can look at the things she is talking about while you're at the parks!
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
This is a beautiful, sorrowful tale sent in Europe in World War Two.  It’s a hard story of woes, family and desperation.
Alice in the Kingdom of Hearts Volume 3 by QuinRose-
The last in this manga series, and it was another enjoyable trip into the madness!  The ending was a bit disappointing as…well, there wasn’t really one!  But it was still an enjoyable read nevertheless.
I’ve seen
People, Places and Things: Theatre-
Another birthday treat and one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen this year.  It tells the story of a woman going through rehab, with fantastic staging, acting and writing throughout.  It’s dark, yet funny.  Catch it while it’s still on over the next few weeks.
Showboat: Theatre-
I’m not normally a big one for musicals unless they are something really spectacular (I’m looking at you Wicked).  However, Showboat is such a classic I thought it was something I should see once while it was in town, so I got a cheap mid-week ticket and took myself out.  The musical was ok, but I wouldn’t rush to see it a second time.  The cast are very talented however, even if the age of this musical does show.
Virgin Extravaganza-
This legendary drag queen and her friends sure know how to put on a show!  Between the fire breather, and the drag queen pooing themselves (!), this was a night I won’t be forgetting anytime soon!
Busted!-
Oh yes, I’ve been reliving my youth this month with some good old fashioned jumping along to my favourite teenage band!  I headed back up north to see this with my old school friends and I had such a blast!
Funeral For a Friend, for the very last time-
Where do I even start with this one, if you follow me on Twitter you probably saw some of my grief play out.  This band have been my favourite since I was about 15, and I am truly heartbroken to see them go.  I managed to trade my seated tickets for standing and was at the front for both of their last shows and it was worth it.  It was an amazing, incredible experience and predictably I cried throughout.  At the end it wasn’t just a little cry either, it was full on shaking/can’t breathe/ugly crying.  I am going to miss this band so much.  Read this post if you want to find out why they mean so much.
Having my skin measured…-
Yes you read that right!  I headed off to the Dorchester Hotel (swanky!) to meet with the representatives of Nourella skincare.  They have some new products which are actually meant to reverse the signs of ageing by up to 20 years!  I know, it sounds too good to be true!  I am a bit younger then the people they normally work with, so I’ll be interested to see if it does anything for me.  They measured my skin for thickness/ collagen levels etc, and gave me a 4 month supply of their cream and supplements.  I am going back in four months to be re-tested so I am interested to see if anything will have changed.
I’ve been up to
Having a Good Hour at the Lush Spa Oxford Street-
My big birthday treat to myself was a massage at the Lush spa.  I went with the Good Hour as this is a bit of a more hardcore massage and I thought that was just what my muscles needed.  It was magical, a mix between relaxing, therapeutic and just plain surreal . I think I will do a full review of this soon.
Trying to get fit-
I’ve got a Fitbit so I’ve been counting my steps and I’ve started the couch to 5k.  It’s definitely not something that comes naturally to me, but Harry and I are trying to support each other to get our butts in shape!  I want to lose some pounds before Florida so here’s hoping!
Moving!-
This month has been crazy!  Harry got offered a job, so he moved into my sisters with me, we choose a flat, then had to wait patiently for a month to move in!  Our moving date was the 31st of May so as you are reading this I'm probably surrounded by boxes!  Due to some craziness involving Barnsley FC getting into the playoffs, I can’t get any of my belongings from back at home until Mid-July. That’s right, because of a football match, I am moving into a flat with just clothes.  Harry also only has one bag of clothes with him at the moment, so it will be a lot of noodles and paper plates for the next month or so!  But at least I’ll finally be moving in with Harry, almost exactly three years after we got together.  So glad I don't need the long distance dating tips anymore.
Attending my first Pride in London Meeting-
You may know that I have volunteered as a steward for London Pride parade for the last four or so years.  However, now that I’ve moved to London I’ve decided to take on a much bigger role.  I managed to pass through all the interviews so this year I am going to be a Parade Section Supervisor.  This basically means I get my own section of the parade to manage and this month I had my first official meeting.  I really enjoyed talking to people about pride and I can’t wait for the real work to start! 
I’ve eaten
CAKE!-
Harry made me a gorgeous (and humongous) cake for my birthday that I lived off for over a week.  It was his own creation including lots of my favourite elements like chocolate, orange and cream!
At an Alice in Wonderland Tea party
This was an event organised by some Yelp friends.  It was run by experts in tea so each course had its own dedicated drink, including some incredibly rare varieties!  The food and tea were all fun and delicious, and I even won a prize for best dressed in my Alice cosplay!
Meat Liquor- I know, yet again, I can’t help myself! I signed up to their mailing list now too so this could be a dangerous friendship!
Bodeans-
Bodeans is one of my Brother-in-laws favourite place in London to eat so I was over the moon when I was asked to attend their press launch for their newest location in Coven Garden.  We were treated to an amazing five-course meal and ale pairings.  Check out my full review here.
Franco Manca Pizza-
My lovely friend Gemma was nice enough to donate me some pans for when I moved, so we went out to lunch.  The pizza was good but unfortunately we had the rudest staff member I’ve ever come across!  It would seriously put me off going back!

So that's May guys, hope you had a good one!
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4 June 2016

Theatre Review: Stella

Entering the old music hall for this performance, you can tell why this location was chosen to host the story of the Ernest, one-half of the famous Victorian cross-dressing duo, Fanny and Stella.  This play delves into the dark depths of this unique character's inner world, his emotions, his despair and heartbreak, and his most fascinating life based on a true story.

Stella is set during two intimate periods of Ernest's life: his cross-dressing youth, and his later years.  There’s something of a ‘Waiting for Godot’ element at present here, both Stella and the older Ernest are waiting for something or someone, not sure if they actually want it to arrive.  Both thrive on their fantasy lives, for Stella this exists in the future, for Ernest it's held in the past.  There are intricate layers of storytelling present here, operating in a conceal and reveal approach, both emotionally and physically.  Information shared about Ernest's past is deliberately inconsistent, and the truth fluctuates, with his tale constantly retold under a different light.  Lighting, after all, is very important to performers!

Both actors playing Ernest/Stella do a great job of showing the vulnerability and insecurities of the character, but Richard Cant's performance as Ernest really shines through.  His portrayal of the character transforms throughout the performance, starting as an old, listless man and becoming increasingly more animated as he talks about his past life and experiences.  It’s at these times the similarities and mannerisms of both performers can be seen; they are in some way, a reflection of each other, and this is played well by both performers.  The third silent character played by David Carr displayed great physical control as he moved through scenes.  However the role of this character was confusing at times.

This is a performance stripped bare, a script which relies on its dialogue, and although it sometimes hits home, at other times it sadly misses. The wit and humorous elements are written and performed fantastically and do much to break up the often serious tone to this performance.  The writer has also cleverly made the characters speak about their lives in a way which seems stage-managed, fitting in perfectly with their need to be on stage.  The idea of a once great performer losing his voice is a point which can’t be missed.  Unfortunately there is something important missing from this performance, it loses momentum from time to time and lacks a certain power and emotional connectivity that could have made it something special.

I was invited to review this performance by the London Theatre Bloggers, you can catch this show at Hoxton Hall until the 18th of June as part of the Lift Festival. 
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1 June 2016

London Eats: Bodean's

This week I was kindly invited to the Press launch of Bodean’s newest restaurant in Covent Garden. For those of you that don’t know, Bodean's is a BBQ restaurant that was one of the first to bring this American classic to the UK.  It also happens to be one of my brother-in-law’s favourite restaurants, so you can imagine the jealousy when I told him!
For this event we were given a 5-course taster menu, all paired with different ales so we could try out a selection of Bodean's favourites.

We started off with Mexican Chicken Salad and Big Wave Golden Ale.  Now, trust me when I say I am not normally a salad person, but this was pretty good as far as salads go!  It had a medley of different textures and the chicken was delicious and went well with the light, fruity ale.
Next up we had a Bodean’s Classic, pulled pork with homemade coleslaw and Tank 7 Farmhouse ale. Predictably the pulled pork was delicious, I believe they were one of the first to bring it over to the UK and their knowledge of this American classic shines through.  The coleslaw proved it was nothing to be sniffed at either, and is easily some of the nicest I’ve ever tried.  Even the non-coleslaw lovers on the table admitted they enjoyed this crunch variety.  The ale wasn’t to everyone's taste, I think the bitter aftertaste was a bit much for some, but I personally really enjoyed it and could see how it complemented the dish well.
Soon it was onto round 3, which was a plate full of new experiences for me.  It consisted of  Cajun swordfish, mango salsa and pan fried okra. I am not normally a fish eater, but the light, meaty flavour here surprised me, and along with the mango salsa it proved to be quite a refreshing dish!  I’ve never even seen okra before but I enjoyed it, a tasty vegetable to add to my repertoire! This Sierra Nevada Tropical IPA was similar to the first ale of the evening in that it was light and tropical, a favourite around the table.
Next up was the famous baby back ribs with seasoned fried and Single Wide IPA. There’s a reason, of course, their ribs are famous.  This dish was a feast, with the meat basically melting off the bones! The fries were more like chips but were delicious, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t really a potato person! 
Lastly we finished off with a classic brownie and vanilla ice cream and Black Cab Stout.  The brownie was soft and delicious and was lightened up perfectly by the ice cream.  The stout wasn’t as heavy as I was worried it would be, and the caramel notes went really well with the chocolate flavours.

Have you been to Bodeans? What’s your favourite BBQ Joint?
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