Sunday, 31 January 2016

#xaxphotoaday Days 16-31

January felt like a seriously long month, and I've got to admit to feeling a bit down in the dumps on more than one occasion.

I think the Photo a Day challenge saved my Instagram from being bare and bleak this month, and enjoyed having to think about the prompts every day.

My round-up of the first half of the month is HERE, and here are days 16 to 31:

Day 16: New love


Day 17: Comfort food


Day 18: My mood


Day 19: Cosy clothes


Day 20: On my table


Day 21: New me


Day 22: Winter wonderland




































Day 23: Where I slept



































Day 24: Together





































Day 25: A resolution





































Day 26: To do





































Day 27: Guilty pleasure





































Day 28: Me today





































Day 29: Looking up





































Day 30: Reflection





































Day 31: From where I stand




































Let me know your Instagram name if you took part!

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Lessons on commuting to Oxford Street

When I moved to London in August, it was for a new job.

My office is just off Oxford Street.

I like to think that was me throwing myself in at the deep end, ‘doing London properly’. To be right in the centre of the city, on one of the busiest shopping streets around, was me entering into the heart of this exciting, busy city.

Commuting to and from Oxford Street has taught me a few lessons over the last few months.

Here are my top five:
  • People can be really rude. And apparently have zero awareness that there are any other people anywhere near them. Either that or they just don’t care about anyone else, and believe themselves to be the most important people in the universe.
  • Oxford Street at around 7am can be pretty great. Especially if there’s a nice sunrise that day. It’s quiet, it’s open and the world is waking up.
  • Oxford Street at around 5pm is horrible. My walk from the office to the tube is downright unbearable, which is not what you want after a day in the office. Let me get home!
  • London is a bit busy. There’s a lot of people. All of the time. This is simultaneously exciting and downright annoying.
  • You will get angry at a 2 minute tube wait, even though you swore you’d never be that person. Because once I’ve battled my way down the road itself, through the barriers and down the escalators, I just want to step onto that tube carriage and get home.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

No spoilers, please

Today on Twitter I saw a major spoiler for the new episode of Pretty Little Liars.

My first reaction was extreme annoyance – it was released on UK Netflix today so those of us that work during the day can’t watch it until at least this evening.

And it was a big plot spoiler, too, complete with screenshots.

Ironically, it was from someone who always complains about other people tweeting spoilers but that’s another discussion…

And then what did I do?

I got over it.


Just because I haven’t had a chance to watch something yet doesn’t mean I can stop the rest of the world from talking about it.

Yes, people who go out of their way to spoil tv shows and films are NOT NICE PEOPLE, but if someone is tweeting an opinion on something they’ve seen, they have every right to do that.

When I see people ranting and raving on twitter about people ‘giving away’ results on things like X Factor or the Bake Off, it just makes me laugh.

You can’t expect the world to go silent and wait until you personally have caught up on something.

At the end of the day, if a show or event is on at a specific time, and you didn’t watch it then and there, that’s no one else’s problem.

Yes it’s annoying to stumble across a spoiler.

But surely people should realise if you’re trying to avoid a spoiler and wait until you’ve watched something, Twitter isn’t the ideal place to go.

I guess what I’m trying to say is there are bigger things to worry about.

If you can’t watch something live, just avoid places like Twitter for a bit, like you’d ignore the sports channels or newspaper sports pages if you were waiting until Match of the Day to find out the football scores (my dad does this).

The world doesn’t revolve around your tv viewing habits.

If you’re that passionate, plan your evening around it and watch the show live.

If you can’t, a spoiler might just happen.


As a little end-note, please don’t be that person who berates everyone else for tweeting a spoiler, then do it yourself (complete with screenshots) when you do watch things live…

And with that, I'm off to catch up on PLL!

Monday, 25 January 2016

Doubletree by Hilton, Docklands Riverside

January is a long month.

It can also be a pretty miserable one – payday was ages ago, the weather isn’t summery, and people are struggling to stick to their resolutions.

So when Hotels.com offered up an amazing January sale, it seemed rude to ignore the opportunity for a bit of luxury to help the journey to the end of the month.

Doubletree by Hilton, Docklands Riverside is a beautiful hotel. I’ve stayed at the London Ealing Doubletree before, and have to say my second visit to the hotel group was no disappointment.

The hotel comprises of two of three separate buildings, right by the river, joined by tunnels that feel like you’re on a luxury cruise ship. The communal areas are huge, with enormous windows letting in natural light, complete with exposed brick walls and wooden details.

My reservation was for a Queen room, and I have to admit I was unimpressed to find a bed you’d barely call a double in the room. On returning to the check-in desk, it was confirmed the booking had been downgraded to a double because the hotel was over-booked.

I had no problem at all with the room itself, but was a little fed up I’d been downgraded without being told about it. Breakfast was then added to the booking as an apology, which I was more than happy with, and the member of staff who sorted this was friendly and helpful.


Another bonus on checking in at a Doubletree by Hilton is the freshly baked chocolate and walnut cookies. It’s the little details that make the difference!

The room itself was spacious, and had a little balcony running alongside it. There was plenty of storage, and a bright, pretty bathroom.


There’s something so special about a night in a hotel in the city you call home. It feels like a real escape even if you’ve travelled no distance and got a good deal.

It was the most relaxing stay, aided by a check-out time of 12noon, which is later than at many places.

The breakfast is well worth a mention, with the biggest buffet spread I’ve seen for a while, including omelettes made to order and huge fresh muffins.


If you’re travelling to London and need a place to stay, this hotel combines luxury and accessibility. 

The nearest tube stop is Canada Water, on the Jubilee Line, and a stay at the hotel includes unlimited ferry travel to and from Canary Wharf, from right outside the hotel building.


It was a truly lovely place to spend the weekend, and I got home feeling refreshed and relaxed.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Woman in Black

Let me start by saying that yesterday’s trip to see The Woman in Black wasn’t my first. Or my second. Or my third.

According to my last count I think it was viewing number six.

But I've never seen it in its West End home, never before sat three rows back from the stage, and not been for the last three years, so managed to justify another trip.

The Woman in Black is one of those shows many people have seen; it’s got a (well-deserved) fantastic reputation, and is celebrating 25 years in the West End.


Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s wonderful novel manages to maintain the tension and atmosphere of the original tale and delight and terrify audience after audience.

I feel like it’s one of those shows you have to see to understand its impact. When I tell people it’s effectively two men and a wicker basket, and really scary, I can see why some just look a little confused.

But the way this script is put together, and the way that combines with slick lighting, clever sound effects, and actors of the highest pedigree, ensure it’s a show to be amazed at.

Because I think a lot of the power of the show lies in some of this simplicity, in the fact that it’s superb actors and a brilliant script. The way the language and tension build isn’t down to an all-singing all-dancing performance; it’s down to the skill and expertise of those who are involved.

Currently playing the leads in the London production are father and son duo Tom and Christopher Godwin, who were my favourite pair I’ve seen in the roles so far.

Tom Godwin’s enthusiasm as The Actor and sensitivity in the role of Arthur were spot on, and he moved between the two parts well. Christopher Godwin played the emotion of Arthur Kipps beautifully, and his multiple other characters were a delight to watch. Both men moved between characters seamlessly, and the transitions between the Actor/Arthur scenes and the scenes of the ‘performance’ were well-executed.

The staging of The Woman in Black is clever, and again effective in its simplicity. The hanging gauze creates a perfect effect in front of the scenes played out behind it, and the ramp at the front of the stage allowed for levels and movement enhancing the outside scenes, again cleverly improved with dry ice as the all-encompassing sea mists.

Sound, too, plays a huge part in the show, exemplified best in the fantastic dream sequence of Act Two. The sounds of the letters, the horse and trap, and the rocking chair are ones that haunt for hours after the show has ended.

Timing is key in The Woman in Black, and there’s not much room for error. Whether it’s in the clever scripting, or in the way the lighting and sound pull together, everything has to hit its mark for the tension to not be broken. Moments such as the open door and the blowing out of the candle, or the movement of the spotlights, add to the rising suspense well.


Chilling is definitely a word to be used to describe the show, and the ‘horror’ element comes from the tension. I’m someone who can’t deal with suspense and anticipation, which is why I sit terrified throughout the show, but even if you’re not a wimp like me, you’d struggle to not be affected by the suspense. It is built and maintained so masterfully, and is never ‘cliché’.

The final brilliant element of the show is down to the Susan Hill’s original work: the story. It’s clever and complex, and every moment of the time spent telling it is used to full capacity.

The two hours in the theatre absolutely flew by, and I left as impressed as ever by the skill of all of those involved. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I see the show, and I’m also pretty sure the tension affects me more every single time!


A brilliant production, deserving of all the praise it receives.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

A Quick Post-Work Dinner Trip: Zizzi, O2 branch

Italian food is always a good idea.

Anyone who knows me knows to suggest an Italian if we're going out for dinner, and there are so many chain restaurants that do it pretty well.


Zizzi is a personal favourite, and after a long work day last week, we headed there for some much-needed comfort food.

It was my first trip to the O2 branch, and I was impressed. Zizzi restaurants have a really distinctive decorative style, and this one is no exception. They always fill the space really well without it feeling crowded.

The open kitchens are always a feature, and I always enjoy being able to see the chefs doing their work.


We started with the garlic and rosemary bread, which I've got to say was much more crunchy than I would have liked, but the flavour was delicious.

The mains we ordered were a classic Margherita pizza (I'm always the simple, predictable one), and a calzone with chicken and spinach.


The food was delicious, and the service efficient and friendly.


When you're heading for an early dinner after work, all you want is food that tastes good, and that comes quickly, and Zizzi more than delivered.

Where's your favourite place for a quick dinner?


Friday, 22 January 2016

When your Baby Sister turns 20

Today, my baby sister turns 20.

TWENTY.

Not a baby any more, is she?

That sounds like a 'proper' adult, not a teenager any more.

So, because 20 is a nice, round number and a list is always a good thing, here are 20 things that make her great:

  1. She's strong-minded. 
  2. She's a hard worker.
  3. She 's the best dancer I know (by miles).
  4. She wanted to become better at Spanish, so she moved there for a year.
  5. She throws herself into everything.
  6. She arranged a huge show for Childline yearly from the ages of 11-16.
  7. She's loyal to her friends (even when they're not being the best friends).
  8. She worked hard all summer, sometimes 7 days a week, to save up for a month-long trip to Peru.
  9. She's a great cook.
  10. She's one of the funniest people I know.
  11. She's got her head screwed on and knows how the world works.
  12. She doesn't give up.
  13. She adapts: her situation in Madrid at first wasn't deal, so she changed it.
  14. She goes into schools, running assemblies and workshops for Childline.
  15. She's ambitious.
  16. She does things she's scared of (like crazy adrenaline-filled activities in Peru).
  17. She's fiercely independent.
  18. She's a thoughtful gift-giver.
  19. She's talented at doing make-up, and does it for all her uni friends before a night out.
  20. She's a good driver (even though passing her test took a bit of perseverance at first!)


Happy birthday, little Kitty.

Welcome to your twenties!




Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Reading List #34

How do you choose which book to read next?

I read such a wide range of ‘types’ of books, both novels and non-fiction, that it can sometimes seem pretty overwhelming settling on the one book you’re going to read next.



Below are my latest mini-reviews.


What’s Stopping You? Robert Kelsey


A book about understanding your fears, accepting who you are and negotiating obstacles, this reads like a white paper. It pulls together years of research and theories, with Kelsey providing his own highlights and tips. The main focus is on overcoming fear of failure, and the book outlines seven key steps to attempting this. This was an interesting read, and pulled together a whole collection of books of this nature, so provides a nice little overview of ideas in the field.


How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran


Although this is a work of fiction, it has the same distinctive tone as Moran’s other books. It’s a story of growing up and of self-discovery. Though claiming to be the story of many teenage girls of a particular period in particular, I struggled to relate to many aspects of the main character at all. I did enjoy the work-related parts, where she was working her way up through the music writing business, and her determination was admirable. This doesn’t rank in any favourites list of mine, but I did read it in one sitting, and am glad I gave it a look.


Leaving Time, Jodi Picoult


Another great novel from Picoult – I’m a huge fan. Jenna’s mother, an elephant expert, went missing years ago and the case has now run cold. Young Jenna enlists the help of a detective and a once-famous psychic to try and hunt for her mum. This took the usual multi-narrator style of many of Picoult’s books, and contained her usual depth of research. Every topic that Picoult writes about, she ensures her research is so thorough it’s utterly convincing – I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoy and respect her books so much. I found the writing on the elephants really interesting, focusing on their traits and habits, particularly the parallels with the mother-daughter relationship in the novel. There were huge twists throughout, and this kept me guessing until the end.


A Song for Issy Bradley, Carys Bray


This is the story of a Mormon family following the loss of their young child. The mother of the family had converted to Mormonism after falling in love with her husband, and any doubts she had are now called into question even more. The devout father of the family has to field many questions from his wife and especially his other children, such as why would God do this? The whole novel and topic was beautifully handled, in terms of the grief, a mother’s depression and family bonds, within a context of deep faith that has been called into question.




What needs to be read next?


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

One Year Ago: A Daunting Trip

Storytime today! Because one year ago today was potentially one of the most nerve-wracking days of my life.

At the beginning of January, I had started a new job based just south of Manchester. I knew I would be working with both my office and colleagues in the London office, but I don’t think it had quite registered that that would involve trips to London.

You see, at that point, the only trains I had managed post-anxiety were 5 minute local-stopping trains. I had never travelled to London alone. I’d only been there a handful of times in my life. I’d never stayed alone in a hotel, apart from trips with family where I was maybe in a room next door to my parents.

I was doing pretty well in terms of my anxiety, but those were still big hurdles.

Anyway, when it was dropped into conversation that I’d be making my first trip to the London office in a couple of weeks, I replied just as casually that yes, of course that was fine.

It would have to be! I knew I would find a way to make it ok, because I wasn’t going to let my panicking get in the way of these new opportunities.

Fast-forward to the night before the trip, the 19th January, and my nerves were through the roof. I’d been trying to talk myself down for hours, and the latest ‘what-if’ I’d arrived at was ‘What if my first train is delayed and I miss my connection to London?’

I called my dad, who suggested I book a cab to Stockport for peace of mind, so I called and booked it then finally managed to fall asleep.

I woke the next morning and immediately flew into a blind panic: I had forgotten to set my alarm. 

This is so unusual for me, and I’m usually awake so early it wouldn’t matter anyway.

I guess all the panicking had worn me out so much I’d forgotten to set the alarm and slept like a baby.

My taxi was to arrive in ten minutes. And I hadn’t packed my overnight bag.

I have no idea how I did it, but I got dressed, packed my bags, and flew out of the house ten minutes after waking, and spent the taxi ride trying to calm down.

The train journey itself was uneventful as a journey, but inside I was petrified!

Just under two hours later, I arrived at Euston. I’d been told ‘oh, it’s easy. Just walk to King’s Cross then the office is up on the right’. Having been to London only a couple of times before, even this small walk was a huge magical mystery tour.

I made it to the office in time for a 10am meeting, immediately surrounded by people who I’d exchanged emails with but never met.

Meeting new people was of course another thing which raised my panic levels.

The two days in the office were a whirlwind, and I spent about an hour each with various members of the London team, learning about their job roles and the company as a whole.

That night, I stayed in the hotel, ringing my parents in the evening to do a little celebratory jig that I was doing it, I was halfway through!

I hadn’t realised people often start work a little later in London, so was at my desk promptly at 8.45 for a 9am start… and was alone for a good hour!

Another whirlwind of a day followed, before it was time to brave the train again.

When I got home on the 21st, I was so relieved, proud and exhausted.

To some people, a work trip like that is second nature.

To me, last January, it was an enormous test.

But I did it.

And I’m reliably informed that no one could tell I was absolutely petrified.

And now look at me: I’ve moved here!

I live in the place that that trip to terrified me.

And I’m loving it.


Sometimes, it’s worth pushing yourself to do something you’re convinced you’ll struggle with. 


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Something has clicked

Just a quick post today, but one to say: I think I've cracked it.

The whole 'being healthy' thing.

As in, I've not changed my life, but the willpower and motivation I've been lacking have made an appearance.

For a while now, the last 6 to 12 months in particular, I've not been feeling great.

I've defaulted to foods I know aren't good for me, my only exercise has been walking to and from the tube, and I wasn't really doing anything about it.

But I was sad about it.

I was complaining about it. Maybe internally, but I knew I wasn't happy.

I felt lethargic, heavy, unfit. My clothes all felt just a tiny bit too tight.

But in the last couple of weeks, something has clicked,

Rather than moaning and making half-hearted attempts to change, I've committed.

I know changing my bad habits will take time, but the willpower is there.

Something inside me has said 'enough is enough'.

Last week, I was turning down cake, biscuits and cookies. And I didn't even really mind.

The days exercise is scheduled in, I've done it without (much) complaint.

Climbing the four flights of stairs to my office, instead of taking the lift, has become second nature.

And the times I've eaten out, I've really enjoyed my meal, because it was a treat. A real treat, because I'm no longer having 'treat' foods day in, day out.

I don't quite know what has made this time different, and why I've not given up on day two, like with other 'health kicks'.

But I'm embracing that change, and the differences I'm already feeling.

The stairs don't seem as hard. Turning down that chocolate is getting easier. I'm looking forward to my workouts in the morning.

So long may it continue.

I'm working really hard just to get back on track. To think about the foods I'm putting in my body. To exercise for fitness and also to get some body confidence back.

So far, it's going well.

Do you have any tips that will help me out?


Monday, 18 January 2016

The Finishing Touches

Before moving to London I had my own flat. A whole flat of my own things, and a space that was fully my own. Now I’m in London, rent costs mean I’m in a shared house, and there’s a lot of adjusting that’s had to be done!

The main differences / difficulties I’ve found are in another post, but I wanted to show some of the ways I’ve tried to make my new space homely, and personal to me.

When you’ve got limited space, it can be difficult to avoid feeling crowded and cluttered. I’m lucky in that my room is spacious, but it’s still only one room.

I tried to make sure I brought enough things with me to give my room those personal touches, without displaying everything I’d had in my flat and ending up drowning in ‘stuff’ there was no room for.

I had a pretty ruthless clearout before moving, so was quite restrained with the amount of decorative ‘bits and bobs’ I brought with me. One reason was car and room space, and the other was that I didn’t know how much storage space I would have in my new place, so I tried to be picky, and honest with myself about what I loved.

So here we go, a few pictures of those ‘finishing touches’ to make my 4 month-old room as homely as possible.






Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Homecoming

Today’s theatre review moves away from the world of musicals and into some classic Harold Pinter. I bought tickets for the 50th anniversary production of The Homecoming for my dad for his birthday, and yesterday was the day we took our seats at Trafalgar Studio One.

Produced by the Jamie Lloyd Theatre Company, directed by Lloyd himself, this production is a masterpiece. Pinter’s style is so distinctive, and his characters so precise, that it’s easy to do wrong, but phenomenal when ‘done right’.




































This production has a cast of the highest calibre, and I believe we saw them doing some of their very best work. Ron Cook’s Max was just perfect, bristling with tension and complaining like a man who has lived his life hard-done-to. His monologues in particular were superb, and his heavy breathing after a particularly violent moment was eerie. Sam, played by Keith Allen, juxtaposed his brother excellently, providing light relief and a depth of character hinting at years of moments like the ones shown here.

John Simm, in the role of Lenny, blew me away. His timing was impeccable, and the character had a look in his eyes that made you always uncertain as to how he would act next, or which way his emotions would move. Macmillan embodied the youngest brother Joey well, and I found his final moments with Ruth touching.

Taking on the role of Ruth was the exquisite Gemma Chan, and I can’t think of anyone who could have done the role better. Her measured performance and calm exterior only made her character’s actions more incredible. Her husband Teddy (Gary Kemp) was a well-suited partner, with his reactions of disbelief as the show went on very convincing.

The tension beneath every line was palpable, and there was so much power behind what was being left unsaid. Silence was their other powerful tool, and the marked moments of silence added to the atmosphere excellently. The ‘choreographed’ moments, such as when all moved or drank at once, were well-timed, whilst still managing to stay realistic.

Soutra Gilmour’s design complimented the script and direction beautifully, with the simplicity of the set offering the perfect backdrop for the characters. The sound design from George Dennis worked fantastically, with music that enhanced moments of tension and had a very distinctive sound.



The lighting, designed by Richard Howell, was breath-taking. The flashes of red and impeccable timings of blackouts were like nothing I’ve ever seen, and elevated an already fantastic production to one of absolute excellence. The superb control over the very final lighting fade was stunning.

The show continues until the middle of February, and I strongly urge you to try and get a ticket. I was truly, truly impressed, and it’s one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time.



Saturday, 16 January 2016

My Favourite Musicals

I’m a theatre-lover, especially when it comes to musicals. One outcome of that is that I regularly get asked by friends and family for recommendations, and what my favourites are.

I think I’ve now done it. I’ve come up with my top five. Well, I was aiming for five and ended up with five plus two 'special mentions', but that’s close enough. Three are, in fact, shows which I only saw for the first time within the past six months, which quickly cemented their place in my favourites.

These aren’t in any particular order as ranking them is too hard, but here is my list:

Wicked

Of course. I love, love, love this show. This potentially wins out in my favourite soundtrack award, and I just love the story. It’s an intricate storyline and so cleverly tells the prequel of The Wizard of Oz. I went with my mum when it first came to London. I went with my friend Rosie and her housemate back in April, and I went in Manchester when it was on tour with my dad only a month or so later. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I’m back very soon.


Matilda

Roald Dahl + Tim Minchin + and incredible cast = pure brilliance. The musical of Matilda has all the heart and greatness of the original book, but with even more depth and a soundtrack to rival any. I’m heading for a second viewing early in 2016, as I just need to relive the fantastic production I first saw a few years ago.

The Book of Mormon

A new addition to my list, and you can read my review HERE. It’s hilarious, the music is fantastic, and the cast are one of the most talented bunches I’ve ever seen. Go.


Miss Saigon

After years wishing I could see this on stage, I finally went towards the end of last year and was not disappointed. The songs are stunning and the staging fantastic. It's certainly a more 'classic' musical, full of big ballads, but is a beautiful and heartbreaking story. Read my review HERE.



Les Miserables

An absolute classic, and one I’ve always loved, even more so since performing in it when I was 16. The music is just stunning, and I’m very excited to be going to see this again early next year with my lovely friend Lissie, who I met at the theatre group where we performed it!



Special mention: Memphis

I’m gutted that has come to the end of its London run, and really hope it’s going to tour, or return. You can read what I thought HERE, but a vibrant soundtrack paired with a story that evokes every emotion it’s possible to feel create a fantastic show. Set in 1950s Memphis, Matt Cardle wowed us as an aspiring radio DJ just trying to make his way in life, and fight for the woman he loves.


Special mention: Beautiful

The Carole King musical is a fascinating tale of the song-writing industry and filled me with so much admiration for the woman at the heart of said tale. Song after song is fantastic, and the cast were unbelievable. You can read my thoughts on it HERE.




So there you have it, my top seven.


I’d love to know what would rank among your favourites?

Friday, 15 January 2016

#xaxphotoaday Days 1-15

I was fairly late to the Instagram game and am still getting in the swing of things, so Amelia's (x Amelia x) Photo a Day January Challenge seemed a great idea.

There's a daily prompt, and so far I've only been late on one day, which I don't think is too bad...

If you're taking part, leave me your Instagram name so I can have a nosy!

Here's my photo round-up of days 1 to 15:-

Day One: New Year's Morning

Day Two: Mirror Image

Day Three: My Inspiration

Day Four: White

Day Five: Outside

Day Six: A Winter Favourite

Day Seven: Smile

Day Eight: New Year's Focus

Day Nine: Important People

Day Ten: In My Bag

Day Eleven: Blue

Day Twelve: My World Today
Day Thirteen: A New Year Treat

Day Fourteen: 3.35PM

Day Fifteen: Warmth


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