Category Archives: London life

Mr O and I go on a venture

Today is Mr O’s birthday. He is officially 34 and continues to be younger than me out of pure spite. As Wednesday is a work day for me and not one of the days that Little O can stay with Mrs O Senior (who also works), we decided to celebrate on the weekend. Read more…

Madame Tussauds goes wrong… again

As some of you with long memories might recall Mr O and I took a trip to Madame Tussauds with his family about a year and a half ago for my brother-in-law’s birthday… and behaved badly. While Madame Tussauds is one of London’s most famous attractions it’s also one of its cheesiest and I still maintain that very few of the waxworks actually look like who they are supposed to.

Anyway, Mr O now works for the same company that owns Madame Tussauds which means that we get to go there for free and I like anything that is free (something I learned from both of my parents). At the moment the attraction has a special exhibition on the go featuring characters from Star Wars. As you’ll know from my recent Film Fridays, I love a bit of Star Wars as does Mr O, so we decided to go and investigate. In order to get to the Star Wars bit we had to go through the rest of the exhibits and we might once again have been a little bit bad…

Thought this might be Jennifer Lopez but we weren't sure

Thought this might be Jennifer Lopez but we weren’t sure

Read more…

A trip to Hampton Court Palace

It’s not often Mr O and I have whole days off at the same time. He mostly has to work at the weekend and I have a 9 -5 weekday type job. When we do have weekends off together they often end up being more about Netflix and less about adventures because we’re in our 30’s and we’re tired. Last weekend we decided to buck the trend, get our asses off the couch and go to Hampton Court Palace. Read more…

London from above – a trip on The London Eye

When you live in a major city it becomes a rare thing to check out the major tourist attractions. When it comes to the weekend most of the time you just want to chill out locally rather than taking on a gaggle of new visitors – especially in a city as vast as London. However, it’s definitely worth setting off on a touristy adventure on the odd occasion so you never forget just what an exciting and dynamic place you live in.

Last night I joined Mr O and Mr and Mrs O Senior for a trip on the London Eye. I have actually been on the Eye before when my dad made his first trip to London but that was almost nine years ago so I was excited to experience it again. Mr O works for the company manages the Eye so one of his key perks is getting a set number of annual free tickets.

The London Eye is a giant ferris wheel set on London’s South Bank and is currently the largest of its type in Europe. Interestingly it was supposed to be a temporary installation to celebrate the millennium but it proved so popular that it has become a permanent fixture of the London skyline. It’s no surprise because the view as you make a 40 minute journey around the wheel in a little glass pod, is unsurpassed. Like many European cities London is built on its largest river (The Thames) and the view from the Eye allows you to see up and down river as well providing a 360 view that goes as far as Wembley.

We were lucky enough to make our trip on a particularly bright evening which meant we could see for miles… and witness a rainstorm happening distantly in West London. I was excited not only by the fact that I could see major landmarks like The Shard, St Paul’s and Westminster but also that I could see my office building.

Whether you’re a local or a visitor I would highly recommend taking the time to see the city from above… so you can take cool pictures like this!

wpid-img_20150331_213013.jpg Read more…

Books About Town – City Trail

I hit the final and biggest trail on the National Literacy Trust Books About Town tour on my own today to pick up the last fifteen benches (minus the 1984 one, which isn’t back from repair yet) and the upcoming 51st book which is still being voted on by book lovers. The City is one of the most interesting parts of London, being technically made up of only a square mile. The rest of London is actually the City of Westminster… but I digress. The City is the heart of London’s financial district as well as some of its most iconic sights including St Paul’s Cathedral and The Tower of London, which means the super modern stands shoulder to shoulder with the truly historic. If you are going to do any of the trails and want to be awed by London, this is definitely the one for you… plus it’s the easiest to navigate. Here are the benches I snapped.

Katie in London by James Mayhew

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Noughts and Crosses by Oliver Dean

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Usborne’s that’s not my bench by Rachel Wells (original illustrations) Jenny Hillborne (design) Painted by Sarah Jane Richards

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Jacqueline Wilson by Nick Sharratt (original illustrations) created by Jane Headford

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Bridget Jones’s Diary by Paula Bressel

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Mary Poppins by Darel Seow

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Peter Pan by Laura Elizabeth Bolton

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Dickens in Liverpool by Hillside School

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Fever Pitch by Sophie Green
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Brick Lane by Charlotte Brown

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Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack by Trevor Skempton

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The Laura Marlin Mysteries by David Dean (original illustrations) created by Jane Headford

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Alex Rider by Kanako and Yuzuru (original illustrations) created by Mike Snowdon

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The Wind in the Willows by Mik Richardson

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A Brief History of Time by Paraig O’Driscoll

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Books About Town – Bloomsbury Trail

Em and my  National Literacy Trust Books About Town adventure continued on Sunday with the Bloomsbury Trail. Bloomsbury is an area of London with a rich publishing history so it made a lot of sense that it was a core part of the trail. It is also home to the British Museum and the British Library where we met Em’s friend, Donna, who joined us for this leg. There were so many awesome familiar books on this trail with cool little flourishes that I started to realise that I should also be taking photos of the backs and sides of some of them, which is why there are multiple snaps of some of the benches. The only disappointment was that the 1984  bench had been removed for repair. We heard a rumour that it had been stolen but apparently it’s going to be back soon… fingers crossed. I’d hate to have an incomplete set.

Here are the eleven we did find.

Jeeves and Wooster Stories by Gordon Allum

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The lion, the witch and the wardrobe by Quad Digital Mandii Pope

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Sherlock Holmes Stories by Valerie Osment

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Mrs Dalloway by One Red Shoe

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Earnest by Trevor Skempton

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Rest Your Stalks by Oliver Dean

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Pride and Prejudice by Charlotte Brown

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Always Try to be a Little Kinder Than is Necessary by Sian Storey

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James Bond Stories by Freya Dean

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Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly by Tom Adams (artwork) created by Mandii Pope

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Around the World in 80 Days by Valerie Osment

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Books About Town – Riverside Trail

Regular readers might remember that I sent off on a mission last week to complete the National Literacy Trust Books About Town trails with my friend, Em. We started with the Greenwich Trail last Sunday and this weekend did the Riverside Trail which runs along the South Bank alongside the Thames River. It’s one of the most exciting parts of the city where super modern meets ancient London in a vibrant swirl of business and leisure.

I was extra excited to venture out because my company will be moving offices to the South Bank in a couple of months’ time and I’m looking forward to really getting to know this part of town and what secrets it has to hide. We certainly weren’t disappointed when we came across the Hays Galleria, which houses a cute collection of bars, restaurants, boutiques and market stalls surrounding a crazy fountain.

Although Em and I had to do part of the trail during a downpour we still had a whale of a time and snapped 10 benches (plus the one I accidentally found in Waterloo Station).

The World’s Biggest Flipbook by Jeremy Banx
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Shakespeare’s London by Lucy Dalzell
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Please look after this bear. Thank you. by Michelle Heron (featuring Em in the background)
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Great Expectations by Ivan Liotchev
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From the Gruffalo to Scarecrows: The World of Alex Scheffler and Julia Donaldson by Alex Scheffler
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The Librarian by Paul Kidby
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Clarice Bean by Lauren Child (original illustrations) created by Jane Headford
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Dr Seuss by Theodore Seuss Griesel
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How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (original illustrations) created by Gerard Strong
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Through the Looking Glass by Ralph Steadman
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War Horse by Rae Smith (original illustration) created by Gerard Strong
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Books About Town – Greenwich Trail

There’s no question that London loves an art installation project. In the past five years we’ve had elephants, eggs, Olympic Mascots and telephone boxes dotted around the city. And every time I have adventured around the city collecting them by taking photos. I’m not sure what it is about me that loves the kind of combined concept of art and a treasure hunt and collecting but I simply cannot resist the urge to capture every one.

So when my friend, Em, told me the National Literacy Trust had scattered 50 park benches around the city in four trails each one depicting a British literary classic I was immediately intrigued.

On Sunday Em and I decided to take advantage of the lovely weather and hit the Greenwich trail. Greenwich is one of my favourite parts of the London. Not only is it home of the amazing Cutty Sark but it’s also where you’ll find the beautiful Greenwich University campus, the National Maritime Museum and the Meridian Line inside the breath taking Greenwich Park. And it’s where Mr O and I had our wedding reception. Fun fact: If you watch Thor: The Dark World you can see the pub where we spent our first evening as a married couple for just a few seconds.

Collecting the twelve benches on the trail was both fun and a challenge. As it was a lovely Sunday quite a few benches were being used as actual benches and we had to kindly ask them to move out of the way. Everyone was really friendly but we had some really entertaining confusion when a couple of Spanish teenagers thought we wanted to take a photo of them on one of the benches.

The best part about following this trail was really exploring the park in its entirety. I’ve been to Greenwich Park loads of times but this was the first time I made my way all the way to the back of the park where we discovered the most incredibly beautiful flower garden. It’s got to be one of the most perfect, captivating picnic spots I have ever seen and if you head down one of its tree-lined trails it feels like you’re miles away from the city.

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Here are the 12 benches we snapped.

The Railway Children by One Red Shoe

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Samuel Pepys’ Diary by Michel Petit-Jean

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The Canterbury Tales by Beth Quinton

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The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Girl Engrossed)

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Frozen in Time (Captain Scott’s Autobiography) by Charles Bezzina

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On the Origin of Species by Jane Veveris Callan

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The Jungle Book by Ruth Green

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Elmer the Elephant by David McKee (original illustrations) Created by Giles Boardman

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Samuel Johnson’s Wild World (A Dictionary of the English Language) by Scriberia

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Deven Bhurke

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The Time Machine by Di Ralston

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury (design) Created by Gerard Strong

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Which is your favourite?
Have you read any of these books?

 

Love Letters to the Home Office

Although it might seem like all of my life is taken up with movie watching, outfit picking, cooking and general mischief and nostalgia, I do occasionally involve myself in something a little bit more serious.

Almost two months ago a colleague of mine approached me about getting involved in a project he was working on. He (Jason) and I are both British Citizens who started our lives elsewhere. Me in South Africa and him in the United States. Over the years we have shared our immigration and visa woes and given each other tips on the best ways to jump through the UKBA’s (as it was then) various hoops. Jason’s friend, Katharine, was recently affected by the Family Migration Law of 2012, which specifies a minimum income of £18,600 p.a. for a British citizen in order for them to sponsor a non-EU spouse (increasing with every child where there are children). She has been married to her partner, Raco for over 18 months but he has only been allowed to live with her in the UK very recently.

Before I go into the project, I want to explain how unfair this law is in practice. First of all, 47% of all British citizens would not be able to meet this criteria and even worse, 61% of women would not be able to. Secondly the non-EU partner’s income is in no way considered. So even if the non-EU partner earns a gazillion pounds they would not be able to live with their partner and family. Thirdly it says in the EU Human Rights convention that you have the right to marry whomever you want and to have a family life. Deciding who gets to have human rights depending on their income is flat out wrong.

To make people aware of how British families are being affected, Katharine came up with the idea of getting people who have been separated from their families by the law to send in their love letters to be collated and published in a book called Love Letters to the Home Office. As someone who feels really passionate about Human Rights I was really excited to get involved and started out by doing some ghost writing and helping out with the social media, especially around our first petition urging for a change in the law.

The book, which you can and should buy here, has now been published and will officially be launched tomorrow night. While we were gathering stories of those who have been affected by the unfair Family Migration law of 2012, we realised that no one we encountered, including ourselves, had had a positive experience of dealing with the Home Office Visas and Immigration Section. So as part of the launch we decided to write a manifesto of how the Home Office should operate it’s visas and immigration section and that’s the second part of what I’ve been working on. Tomorrow night I will read out the manifesto that I have written with the help of Jason and Katharine and which is also available as a petition.

If this is something you also care about you can read the stories here, sign the petitions here and here, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter and even attend the launch if you’re based in London… and you can buy the book no matter where you live.

lovelettersbook

 

100 Days of Happiness: Day 1 – 10

There’s nothing I like more than a bandwagon to jump on and this time, it’s 100 Days of Happiness. The concept is simple: in order to be happy in life you have to actively seek out things that make you happy and acknowledge them… from big epic things, to tiny things that it might be easy to take for granted. By taking one photo each day for 100 days of something that made you happy on that day, you not only celebrate what makes you happy but you also start living a life that actively seeks out more happiness. Fun, right? I’ve decided to group my photos together every 10 days and share them with you lovely people. So far I am learning that working out makes me really happy.

Day 1

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On the Thursday before Easter our CEO walked around the office handing out cupcakes from The Hummingbird Bakery to everyone. There are 300 of us. He is kind of awesome.

Day 2

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We went around to our friends’ Justin and Alex’s place and had dinner with them and Justin’s brother, Nick. Alex made three amazing curries and it was great just to spend time with friends.

Day 3

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On Saturday Mr Osbiston’s band, The Recklings played at Jamm in Brixton. He always looks really sexy on stage.

Day 4

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I spent the day appreciating art with my family and, as you know, inappropriately captioning things.

Day 5

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Our lovely friend, Karen, recently moved into a new flat and didn’t have space for her shelving unit so she gave it to us and it’s perfect for our lounge.

Day 6

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I have been working on a project called Love Letters to the Home Office about how some of the Immigration laws in the UK breach human rights. On Tuesday I met up with the team to work on our manifesto, which is coming together nicely.

Day 7

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I went to Zumba and got sweaty. It’s my favourite class.

Day 8

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Mr Osbiston brought me a cup of tea and a biscuit and it was lovely. It’s the little things.

Day 9

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I worked from home on Friday, which meant I got to go to the gym at lunchtime, something I never get to do.

Day 10

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I got together with my book club for our monthly meet up. This time we went for a 5km run around Richmond Park where we got to check out some deer and then have brunch, which involved some really colorful fresh juices and a salmon bagel for me. I struggled a bit during the run for reasons unknown but everything is fun with these awesome girls!

A Trip to the Tate Britain

This Easter weekend Mr Osbiston’s family came to stay with us, which is always loads of fun. We were expecting really good weather on Sunday and so we planned to visit Kew Garden to see all the lovely spring flowers… but then it poured and we had to quickly come up with a new plan. That’s where a trip to The Tate Britain, which houses 500 years of British art came in.

I really enjoy art but I find it hard to take anything seriously, which is how I ended up photographing in inappropriately captioning several pieces of art… enjoy…

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I will call it "booby fish"

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Sorry darlings, I appear to have forgotten my trousers

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The invitation SAID fancy dress!

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Get a load of those melons!

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Get out of that tree, you bellend!

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Matt Lucas presents his cock

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Now I'M the queen, bitches!

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Live on a farm, they said. It'll be fun they said.

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Man finally gets control of his... err... snake

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Outside the Clapham Grand on bsnk holiday Monday

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I don't know what happened. One minute I was walking down the road and the next thing my cock was out

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Stop splashing me, bitch!

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Darling... are you bored with the cat? Because I'm TERRIBLY bored with the cat

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Shoes, you're doing it wrong?

Birthday shenanigans

On Wednesday I turned thirty-three (or 23 +10, as I’ve been telling people) so  decided to take the rest of the week off work and just spend time with Mr Osbiston. He of course took this a challenge to fill my day with excitement, which he did rather impressively.

I did put a bit of a spanner in the works straight off the bat because he wanted to make me breakfast in bed and I wanted to go for a run. I don’t like to eat much before I work out because it makes me feel a bit sick so I convinced him to get my breakfast ready for my return. Here I am with my beautiful birthday flowers… in my running gear. I couldn’t let myself get behind on the Fall into Fitness Challenge.

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It was my best 5km run ever and I finished in 32 minutes exactly. I think it would have been even faster if I hadn’t have had to wait to cross the road. Maybe the universe gives you extra energy on your birthday!

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After a delicious breakfast, Mr Osbiston, told me we were going to Spitalfields City Farm to visit the pig he sponsored for me for my birthday. (My other amazing present was Sigur Ros tickets!!!)

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Despite the fact that it was a very grim and rainy day, I was ridiculously excited about going to the farm and about meeting my pig.

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The farm is a stone’s throw from the East End and has all kinds of interesting animals, including donkeys, a Shetland pony, pygmy goats, a calf, rabbits, ferrets, geese, guinea pigs and chickens. The farm is free to visit and you can pop in and chat to, and even pet in some cases, the animals whenever you want. They also have a cafe and a shop where you can buy all kinds of food grown and produced at the farm.

Paul investigates some sheep

Paul investigates some sheep

Almost all the animals are available for sponsorship, including my pig, Watson, who is on the left of this picture. He is a rare breed of pig from New Zealand called a Kune Kune. I think he is very, very handsome. His pen-mate is called Holmes, which is very fitting. I decided that Watson was the pig for me because he took a brief break from eating to look up at me when I arrived.

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In the next 12 months I will get to visit Watson four times and help to take care of him. I can’t wait.

After we had finished communing with the animals it was time for a (veggie) lunch at The Real Greek in Spitalfields market. Delicious!

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Om nom nom

Om nom nom

After that it was time for some culture so we went for my first ever trip to the V&A, one of London’s many free museums.

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The V&A is considered to be the world’s greatest museum of art and design and contains amazing ceramics, architecture, fashion, metalwork, books and more from multiple time periods all over the world. It really has to be seen to be believed. I have to admit that the fashion section was my absolute favourite and I became utterly lost in the gowns from the past… as well as this front room, which Mr Osbiston and I are adamant we are going to recreate when we own our own house one day.

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Our last outing for the day was a trip to the movies to see Thor: The Dark World in 3D… but you’ll have to wait until next week’s Film Friday to hear about that!

Madame Tussauds… it’s not just for kids

Last weekend I made my first trip to Madame Tussauds in almost ten years as an early birthday outing for my brother-in-law. For those who don’t know, Madame Tussauds is a wax work museum, which was founded by wax sculptor, Marie Tussaud in 1835. The museum features wax works of famous actors, musicians, world leaders, historical figures and film characters, which change regularly according to who is popular at the time.

I can’t remember much of my first trip to the museum in 2004 so it was much like a brand new experience. I have to admit that I kind of wasn’t getting it that much on first entering the museum… because I don’t personally think that most of the figures look anything like who they’re supposed to be… so I spent a fair amount of time asking who half of them were and driving my family mad. Oops.

But then we realised that there was nothing to stop us from taking inappropriate pictures with the figures… and this happened…

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We decided to skip the long wait to go into the house of horrors section. None of us were really in the mood to have people jumping out at us but we did decide to queue for the 4D cinema experience, mostly because we got stuck in the crush and it was kind of hard to get out. It was totally worth it though.

Madame Tussauds used to house a planetarium, which has now been converted into a Marvel themed cinema. It shows one particular ten minute film that barely has a storyline, but this isn’t really the point. The point is that it’s a 4D experienced. This means not only is the film shown in 3D but the seats move, water sprays out of air, little shots of air shoot past your head. It’s all wildly gleeful in a very childlike way and we all had a whale of a time.

The final bit of the museum is a ride in little black cabs through the history of Britain that manages to be breathtaking and ridiculously cheesy at the same time.

I’m not sure if I would go back to Madame Tussauds any time soon but overall it was an absolutely awesome day. If you’re visiting London, check it out and make sure you take your camera. I would love to see your inappropriate pics!

A whole new Casa de Osbiston

Many of you will know that Mr Osbiston and I recently went through the trauma of moving house. The flat that we have been living in in Wandsworth for the last two-ish years has been sold by our incredibly lovely landlord, meaning that we’ve had to find a new Casa de Osbiston to inhabit.

Mr Osbiston and I shared out the flat hunting between us with me doing the Rightmove shuffle and him doing the hard part of attending most of the actual flat viewings as a first round veto. Initially it seemed like we might never find somewhere decent to live in our price range. Many landlords seem to have gotten the impression that they can charge absolutely anything for a complete shithole… funny that you’ll see so many “reduced” flags on Rightmove if you search the listings. All I can say is that I thought we were a bit untidy with a bit of clutter until I saw how other people live… let’s just say that if you can’t actually get into the second bedroom or you’ve piled up boxes of stuff across the windows  it might be time for a clear out.

Eventually Paul found a two bedroom flat ten minutes walk from Earlsfield Station in our price range that seemed almost too good to be true… so good that he had to agree to take it before I had even seen it. You snooze, you lose.

The move in last weekend was not without challenges. Our previous landlord gifted us all the furniture from our previous flat… which was awesome but getting the bed up to the first floor… not so awesome. With the help of my wonderful in-laws, four van loads later we were all in, if not a bit sweaty and exhausted.

We have had to give up our outside space to have a second bedroom for ra ra Retro to run out of (and the occasional guest to stay over) but I’m sure you’ll agree from the (slightly blurry) pictures (note to self: remove the protective sticker from new phone camera lens before taking photos) that the extra space is definitely worth it! They’re not great photos… trying to get a whole room in is always tricky but hopefully the general vibe will come across.

Pivot!!

Pivot!!

Lounge

Lounge

Main bedroom

Main bedroom

ra ra Retro HQ... very hard to get in here to show the actual bedroom

ra ra Retro HQ… very hard to get in here to show the actual bedroom

Great big separate kitchen!

Great big separate kitchen!

Bathroom

Bathroom

Great British Tours: Cupcake & Macaron Tour of London

There are few things I love more that cake, London and bargains (maybe Mr Osbiston, but that’s a different kind of love). So you can imagine that I jumped at the chance to take up a recent Time Out London deal to go on a guided Cupcake & Macaron walking tour around Soho and surrounds by Great British Tours. And it wasn’t particularly difficult to convince Jen to come along.

The tour kicks off outside the M&S in Covent Garden and is led by (in our case) a very handsome young Scottish gentleman named John. I am not sure if he is the only guide doing this particular tour and his, er, aesthetic appeal is hardly relevant to his ability to shepherd a group through Covent Garden market (challenging at any time but especially in summer) but I feel I must mention it in case anyone is considering this as a hen party option.

Our first stop on this decadent adventure was the Cupcake Bakehouse, which is former model and TV baker, Lorraine Pascal’s bakery.  En route John explained the origins of the market and the area and how it influenced the surrounding areas. Who knew it was once all arable land? We were each offered a mini-cupcake to taste, with Jen going for red velvet and me trying out cherry crumble. Both were light, moist and absolutely delicious.

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From there we crossed the market, learning about Punch & Judy shows, to sample macarons at Ladurée, a stunning French tea house. Apparently in order to check the freshness of a macaron, you should hold it between thumb and forefinger and press gently on it. If it springs back it’s at optimal freshness. Ladurée takes macarons very seriously and insists on maturing them for 8 days. Their flavours tend to be traditional and mine was a delicate pink rose water. Really, I shouldn’t eat macarons because I am allergic to nuts but I survived the post indulgence migraine and itching so I figure it was all worth it.

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Our next cupcake stop was Sweet Couture on New Row, a cute compact shop, where we were able to pick out our own full-sized cupcake. I went for Oreo, which not only had Oreo icing and a mini Oreo on top but also crushed Oreos in the actual cake!! Cookie/cupcake heaven! Probably the lightest cupcake of the day. All cupcakes at Sweet Couture are baked on the day for the same day so some flavours are not always available but the freshness really shows. Will definitely be back!

Dim Sum and cake are not usually two things you would put together but Yauatcha on Broadwick Street pulls together the concept of a dim sum teahouse with contemporary patisserie. It is an absolute feast for the eyes, never mind the belly and I would love to go back and sample some of the gorgeous things that were on display.

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This time we were sampling macarons with some more unique flavours available. I went for an intensely yellow popcorn one, which I ate later at home because I was feeling a little bit stuffed after my giant Oreo cupcake. I was surprised by just how much the popcorn flavour came through.

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By this point everyone was ready for a drink and little sit down, so we were grateful to get both at Patisserie Valerie on Old Compton Street. Contrary to popular belief, Patisserie Valerie is Belgian rather than French and operates cafes all over the UK. This time I went for the ultimate classic macaron – vanilla. Simple and satisfying, although possibly without the wow factor of some of the cuter independent places we visited.

After having Louie Spence’s house pointed out to us, we headed to the most well-known Soho cupcake bakery, Hummingbird. I will admit to being a bit of a fangirl of this American inspired cupcake bakery. I have the original cookbook and I swear by a lot of the recipes in it, including the brownies and the best chocolate icing in the world, ever! I am obviously not the only one and the funky pink shop was packed with people trying out a wide variety of treats. We were each presented with a red velvet cupcake in the iconic hummingbird box. As you can see, I was very impressed.

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The cupcake itself was an absolute beauty and I hesitated for a whole ten seconds before devouring it at home. The cream cheese icing was absolutely delicious and you can definitely see why everyone wants a nibble.

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Our very last stop was the iconic Fortnum & Mason, traditional home of fine foods and teas for over 300 years. Right now the store has an amazing topiary on top of it in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the coronation of her maj. It’s so irresistibly British in the way that Americans imagine British things are.

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We were able to choose our own macarons from a range of traditional and more unusual flavours on display at the impressive cake counter. I went for passion fruit and chocolate, which I also saved for home. In hindsight it was a bit of an odd flavour combination and although the macaron was beautifully made, it wasn’t a patch on Yauatcha or Laduree.

By the end of the tour we were knackered and full of cake, historical information and a list of places to revisit. If you are a fan of baked goods, this is an excellent way to spend an afternoon and get even the most reluctant of ramblers to go for a wander through Soho.

Tours take place from Thursday – Saturday for 2 ½ hours starting at 3pm and must be advanced booked. Tours normally cost £40 but we bought ours on a deal for £19.

A return to the days when the wild things were actually wild

It’s been some time since I did a journal type blog about my weekend. Mostly because these days I generally spend my weekend pottering around in my PJs, but every now and then my inner twenty-four year old comes out and I end up having a couple of nights out that are worthy of the early years of Where The Wild Things Are – back when it was all stolen traffic cones and snogging… kind of like this weekend.

On Friday night Jen V and I were supposed to go to book club and go home. I am not going to pretend that our book club is something that it’s not. I mean we do all read the same book and talk about it but we do also drink a silly amount of wine and Friday was no exception. We had set up camp in The Porterhouse in Covent Garden, which is always very busy but perfectly pleasant – especially if you decamp to the basement. It was going well until a band of middle aged men set up and started doing David Grey covers (kill me now!). Laura and Emily sensibly decided to go home but Jen V, Jen P and I had the Friday feeling and Steve from work was sending Jen V cryptic messages that indicated that he and some others might be in the Endurance on Berwick Street.

Unfortunately our sojourn in the Endurance was short-lived, since they called last rounds just after we’d swiftly sunk our third (fourth?) bottle of cheap red. Jen P and I were (un)lucky enough though to find ourselves outside having a smoke with one of those South African guys who has decided not to give up a millimetre of his Jo’burg Northern Suburbs schtick and made a point out of calling us both bru and telling us that he still hadn’t acclimatised to London after eight years here and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live here. I think I might have told him just to go back and stop whining. Oops. There’s nothing I hate more than an ex-pat with a chip on their shoulder. If you want to go home… just go.

After being booted out of the Endurance we surveyed the nearby gay bars – Soho is Soho – but everyone was charging way too much entrance, leading to my cunning plan of heading to Crobar and waiting from Jen P’s boyfriend, Rob, to meet us. Crobar only charges £2.

When Rob found us we were squashed into a very damp corner with Jen P being chatted up by Thor. Well, chatted up is possibly too strong a description. He was just sitting next to her with a longing stare on his pretty Nordic face. He was way too drunk for actual words. He was so smitten that even the arrival of Rob failed to oust him and his friend and to come and gently shepherd him away.

By the time I eventually stumbled into the night, I was a bit sick of metal (although I was still recovering from the fact that they played Bad Medicine by Bon Jovi at one point) and came up with the genius idea of streaming Call Me Maybe on my iPad and dancing to it on the night bus… I am the coolest person that ever lived.

After all that you’d expect a quiet Saturday night in, but Jen, Karen and I had promised ourselves a girls night out and dutifully chucked some slap on and headed back to Soho for an impressively odd night at Thirst.

The first thing that struck us was that there wasn’t a single man in the whole place. In the (somewhat inappropriate) words of Gary from Geordie Shore, “wall to wall clunge.” I have never seen anything quite like it. Of course, I am married, so lack of men has no impact on my night, but it was weird. We went as far as checking the bar’s website to see if we had missed a memo on it being lesbian night but at about midnight, we realised we hadn’t – as a sudden horde of “men” magically appeared from wherever else they’d been warming up.

The most amusing example of the rather pathetic specimens on show, were a group of guys who had obviously been watching too much Made in Chelsea. One was clearly supposed to be a cut price Spencer, the other a bargain basement Hugo and the third… maybe their butler. They immediately marched into the bar and pitched up in front of the mirror fixing their hair, before congratulating themselves on their obviously amazing looks. We imagined the conversation to go a bit like this:

Tesco Spencer: I want to jizz on you.
Asda Hugo: No, I want to jizz on you
Tesco Spencer: No, I want to jizz on you.
Asda Hugo: No, I want to jizz on you
Tesco Spencer: No, I want to jizz on you.
Asda Hugo: No, I want to jizz on you
Tesco Spencer: Or maybe we could jizz on this stupid looking blonde girls
Asda Hugo: You are so smart. I really want to jizz on you…
Butler (to himself): I wish one of you would look at me. I want to jizz on both of you

While these two rejects tried to charm the girls sitting next to us, a group of very drunk teenage boys wearing sunglasses and letting their Primark labels hang out, arrived and alternated between trying to make eye contact with us and dazzle us with their brilliant dance moves.

As more and more posers rolled in, there was a moment of tension when a second round of MIC wannabes turned up and threatened to usurp Tesco Spencer and Asda Hugo through the power of better suits, but everyone stayed in their own territory and no one’s hair came unslicked. However, the threat of unwanted male attention became so present that we had to resort to tag team smoke breaks out of fear of leaving any one “team” member alone and open to threat.

This backfired on me, when I headed out alone, only to be propositioned by a fifty year old Frenchman, with a jones for tattoos. He seemed completely affronted when I told him I was married and acted as if I had made an advance on him. Sigh.

We left not long after that. Despite the fact that we had had rather a lot of cocktails, we were not drunk enough for the rigors of late night Thirst. This was probably a good thing, since  we needs or wits about us to get home. There were no night buses and we weren’t able to get a cab until Karen reserved one using her Addison Lee account. We later found out that there was a massive accident on Aldwych, which had closed the roads for two hours. When we zipped past the bus stop on The Strand next to Trafalgar Square in our taxi there were still about 300 people waiting for a bus. I do home they all managed to eventually get home.

So after feeling like I was twenty-four over the weekend, today I feel like I am seventy-four. To think I did this every weekend for about four years…

Applying for a British Passport: Step 7: The final chapter in the “Diaries of an Immigrant”

Today, just three weeks after making my application, this baby arrived.

The Holy Grail: promising visa free travel to almost everywhere, something it’s hard to appreciate if you’ve had all your life but incredible if you haven’t.

And with that… my nine year immigration story along with the thousands of pounds I have spent on administration fees is only a memory.

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But I will end with the gripe that after making a massive song and dance about not returning my supporting documents to me without an ID, the person the IPS employed to return these documents handed them over to our receptionist at work when I wasn’t even in the building. This includes two South African passports, my marriage certificate and my naturalisation certificate. Wondering if I can get a refund on the £3 I paid for “secure” delivery.

Applying for a British Passport: Step 6: Another chapter in the “Diaries of an Immigrant”

The passport interview is a relatively new process, brought in in 2007 to try and cut identity theft and passport fraud. Unlike all the other fun hoops I’ve had to jump through, this particular pleasure is not just reserved for immigrants but for anyone applying for a first adult passport.

After submitting your passport application, you will receive a letter that asks you to attend an interview. This doesn’t happen in every circumstance but it is relatively common. I received my letter two weeks after submitting my application and managed to make an appointment within a week of that.

My interview took place at the Passport Office in London, which is very close to Victoria Station. On arrival I went through am airport style security scan and then received a number, which first gets called for you to register at the information desk and then to a booth for your interview. Oddly the numbers are not called in sequence so you have to pay attention.

My interview was with a lady called Carla, who asked me an array of expected and totally unexpected questions. These are the ones I can remember, not in any particular order:

  • How did you get here?
  • What tube line did you take?
  • Did you have to change trains?
  • What is your full name? Spell it.
  • What is your date of birth?
  • Where were you born?
  • What is your full address?
  • How long have you lived there?
  • Who do you live with?
  • Do you know who lived in your house before you?
  • What were their names?
  • Do you live in a house or flat?
  • What storey do you live on?
  • Are the walls very thin?
  • Can you hear the neighbours?
  • Are you on the electoral roll at your address?
  • Where is your local electoral office?
  • Have you ever voted?
  • How long does it take to walk there?
  • Where did you live before?
  • How long have you been in the UK?
  • What was your route to citizenship?
  • Did you have to write a test for your citizenship?
  • When did you have your citizenship ceremony?
  • Where was it held?
  • Was it a private or group ceremony?
  • What job did you do when you first got here?
  • Who do you work for now?
  • Where is your office?
  • How do you get to work every day?
  • Have you ever changed your name?
  • What was your name before?
  • Are you married?
  • What is your husband’s name?
  • Where did you meet your husband?
  • When did you get married?
  • Is your husband British?
  • What is his date of birth?
  • Did you get married in the UK?
  • Is your family in the UK?
  • What are your parents and siblings names?
  • Where were they born?
  • Where did your parents meet?
  • Do you have a bank account?
  • Do you have any credit cards or loans?
  • What bank accounts do you have?
  • What credit card do you have?
  • Where did you get your passport form?
  • How did you submit your application?
  • Which post office did you submit your application at?
  • Have your documents been returned to you?
  • What is your counter signatory’s name?
  • How do you know him?
  • What is his job?

I think I managed to competently answer all of the questions, although I think Carla let herself down a little by giving me quite a few clues along the way. Apparently know I should receive my passport in the next ten days, following a few more background checks. I’ll keep you posted.

FINALLY, Home Secretary Theresa May declares the UKBA “unfit for purpose”

After my immigration rant yesterday, it seems I am not the only one who has realised that the UKBA is a complete joke. Only five years after its creation Home Secretary Theresa May, has announced that the Border Agency will be scrapped as it is, “not fit for purpose.”  It will now be split into two different arms – one dealing with visas, immigration and citizenship and the other focused on law enforcement.

Surely this can only come as a relief to those who are concerned about the millions of asylum seekers that the UKBA has managed to lose track of along with all the illegal immigrants they have failed to eject, as well as those who are personally stuck in its Brazil-esq processing hell.

Whether you wish everyone would just fuck off to their own country or you wish someone… anyone… would just tell you if your application has been successful and give you your fucking passport back, the UKBA is not doing what it was intended to do.

What this will mean for people who currently have pending applications or for the obscene backlog of cases, it is hard to tell. As it stands, the change is supposed to start next week but in real terms there doesn’t seem to be any time line for actual daily operational changes.

I am no longer at the mercy of the whims of the UKBA (or whatever it becomes), but I will be watching this very closely as I have several friends and colleagues whose daily lives will be deeply impacted by the changes. I want to believe things will be better, but the cynic in me who has personally had to deal with the UKBA can’t help but worry that we haven’t seen rock bottom yet.

Applying for a British Passport: Step 5: Another chapter in the “Diaries of an Immigrant”

So it appears that David Cameron is on his usual tack of blaming immigrants for everything, with the latest plan for luring voters away from UKIP being to put a time frame on how long migrants must be on the housing waiting list to receive a council house. Commenters around the web are filled with positive excitement with added enthusiasm around not letting anyone in who can‘t support themselves in in the first place. What it appears most of the population has not realised is that non-EU immigrants are already subject to stringent controls around entering the country – including having a job already and earning enough –  and are not entitled to any benefits. And EU immigrants are entitled to whatever the EU says they are. That’s what being part of the EU means. What a load of hate mongering, meaningless hot air, Dave.

The best comment I saw out of everything was one bloke who suggested sending everyone who had at least one parent born outside the UK “back to where they came from.” Wouldn’t that be an amazing, family destroying, human rights violating joy? I guess some people honestly believe that immigration is a new thing that the previous Labour government invented out of spite and that British people only marry and have children with other British people.

But I digress… as this is actually supposed to be about my immigration woes and the latest step in my ultimate goal of obtaining a British passport.

Having finally received my corrected naturalisation certificate last month, I held off on making an immediate application in order to keep my South African passport for my trip to Budapest.

Yes, that’s right; in order to make an application for a British passport you have to send off your current nationality passport yet again.

An application for a first adult passport can take up to six weeks, with the possibility that you might be called in for an interview to prove that you are a real person. Kind of like when you apply for a Natural Insurance number.

The form is a relatively standard affair asking for information similar to that which you would supply for citizenship, minus the number of days in and out of the country. You can get this from your local Post Office. It also requires a counter signatory. This person must hold a British passport, must have known you for over 2 years and must be a professional e.g. a teacher or solicitor. They must also be prepared to be contacted to verify that you are who you say you are and that they really do know you. They must also sign one of your photos along with a small statement. Unlike all other applications, the passport one comes with a handy little booklet that tells you what to fill in where… because you know, now you’re British and they care.

In terms of documentation, you must supply any current passports in your possession that have not been cancelled. In my case this was both my current passport and my most recent one in my maiden name. If you have ever changed your name you also need to supply evidence of this – for me my marriage certificate. Obviously you also need to include your naturalisation certificate if you are a naturalised citizen. And two passport photos, one signed as mentioned above. There are very strict rules around passport photos so make sure you check this in advance. If your application is on the basis of something other than naturalisation there are other documents you need to supply so please do read the booklet. There is even a document matching table.

With no added extras a passport costs £72.50… yikes! You can however pay an extra £7 to have your passport application checked by the Post Office to make sure you have filled it in correctly, supplied the correct documents and that your picture is acceptable. I decided to go for this option since it’s supposed to make it go a bit quicker. My picture was the source of some debate since part of my fringe touched one of my eyebrows but ultimately my application was fine. I also paid an additional £3 to have my documents returned by secure mail considering that I have sent them every piece of valuable paper I have.

And now we wait. Paul and I are supposed to go to Lithuania on 12 May so we are crossing fingers and toes that it will come back in time and that my nine year immigration saga will finally be over.