I didn’t discover that I liked rollercoasters until Mr O insisted that we go to an amusement park for his birthday when I was already in my 30s. My parents were not fans of any of that kind of daredevil adventures and my dad certainly wasn’t a fan of spending money on anything he considering frivolous so it just wasn’t something I experienced as a child. Since that visit though I have been a little hooked on adrenaline boosting adventures and Mr O knows this, which is why I was ecstatic when he booked us a ride down the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide as one of my Christmas presents.Read more…
My job sometimes lands me with some random perks. On Monday I got to visit the top of the BT Tower and take some photos. For those who don’t know, the BT Tower is one of the features of the London skyline and has variously been known as the GPO Tower, The Post Office Tower and the Telecom Tower.
It was built in 1965 and until 1980 was the tallest building in London and has a revolving restaurant at the top. It used to be open to the public but this ended in 1981 after various security concerns. It still acts as a major communications hub.Read more…
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…
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…
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!
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
Noughts and Crosses by Oliver Dean
Usborne’s that’s not my bench by Rachel Wells (original illustrations) Jenny Hillborne (design) Painted by Sarah Jane Richards
Jacqueline Wilson by Nick Sharratt (original illustrations) created by Jane Headford
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Paula Bressel
Mary Poppins by Darel Seow
Peter Pan by Laura Elizabeth Bolton
Dickens in Liverpool by Hillside School
Brick Lane by Charlotte Brown
Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack by Trevor Skempton
The Laura Marlin Mysteries by David Dean (original illustrations) created by Jane Headford
Alex Rider by Kanako and Yuzuru (original illustrations) created by Mike Snowdon
The Wind in the Willows by Mik Richardson
A Brief History of Time by Paraig O’Driscoll
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
The lion, the witch and the wardrobe by Quad Digital Mandii Pope
Sherlock Holmes Stories by Valerie Osment
Mrs Dalloway by One Red Shoe
Earnest by Trevor Skempton
Rest Your Stalks by Oliver Dean
Pride and Prejudice by Charlotte Brown
Always Try to be a Little Kinder Than is Necessary by Sian Storey
James Bond Stories by Freya Dean
Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly by Tom Adams (artwork) created by Mandii Pope
Around the World in 80 Days by Valerie Osment
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).
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…
The look I got from the twelve year old girl in line behind me to be photographed with Bieber was not pretty. She must have been a real Belieber. I was really keen to defile the One Direction area but we could barely get into the room for all the teenage girls.
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!
Those who live in London will know that yesterday was not the warmest spring day in the history of spring (*cough* real feel minus eight *cough*). But if there was ever going to be a reason to get out your big coat, snood, hat gloves, balaclava, thermals… and brave the freeze The Chocolate Festival was definitely it. Set out behind the Southbank Centre within sight of the Thames, this three day celebration of all things chocolate featured a dizzying array of treats to sample, from fudge to beer and even mole flavoured chilli (mole being the chocolate based sauce, not the small furry animal).
For those who were feeling rich and creative, there was a Chocolate Cookery Theatre available offering paid workshops, tastings, cookery demonstrations and even high tea.
Jen and I decided to focus on snuffling out free samples and gawking at the incredible artistry on display.
Our first encounter was with the Purbeck Ice Cream stand, unsurprisingly deserted considering the weather but offering delicious samples of chocolate orange and chocolate brownie ice-cream. Heaven.
We were immediately drawn to the Crumbs and Doilies stand, offering all manner of gorgeous cupcakes. Although we had claimed we weren’t going to buy anything, we quickly cracked. Here I am about to inhale a salted caramel mudslide mini cupcake… and yes, it was every bit as delicious as it sounds, if not better.
The exhibitors at The Chocolate Festival certainly take their chocolate seriously and there were several more unusual flavours and textures available, including a fascinating cocoa nib and salt combo from Pacari, straight from Ecaudor.
For those who are keen to do some of their own more unusual baking, Cocoa Pod was selling a variety of flavours of chocolate drops to jazz up your cookies and cakes along with their personalised treats. I am still slightly embarrassed that I incorrectly identified the mystery flavour as lime rather than lemon. Greg and John would not be impressed.
Creating both beautiful and delicious handmade chocolates in London is the impressive Kokopelli’s, fronted by chocolatier, Steph Saffer. I was particularly enamoured with the shiny blue ones (that’s a technical term).
It wasn’t just about flavour though and we couldn’t help but be amazed at the incredibly beautiful things that some of the chocolate “artists” exhibiting had created. My favourite has to be the leopard and orange eggs from The Cocoa Mistress – totes amaze, babes!
My biggest surprise of the day was coming across Amisqi, selling homemade alfajores, a type of Latin American biscuit sandwiched together with dulche leche. Dulche leche is very present in South African cooking and the alfajores tasted just like the caramel tartlets I grew up with so I ended up having a long chat to the stallholder. Might just email him my recipe for peppermint crisp tart.
The only bum note of the day came when we succumbed to the cold and bought hot chocolate from Jaz and Jules. My caramel and lime combo was weird at best and Jen’s ginger flavoured one didn’t hit the mark either, with both being a bit tasteless. Maybe we were spoiled by Hungarian hot chocolate in Budapest.
You can check out a full list of exhibitors here.
We were lucky to be joined on our last day of Egg Hunting by Paul’s family, who were, as always, extremely tolerant of my bonkers enthusiasm. We managed to find all but two of our missing eggs, with David partly to thank for spotting three in an area that Jen and I had just avoided because it was overrun by tourists. Fortunately we didn’t miss this awesome blown glass egg from Berengo Studios in Italy.
We also managed to find Eggbert, who had been on the move and hidden in a secret location. I won’t spoil the fun by telling you where he was when since he might come back to the same home when the eggs return to London on 22 March.
Our final egg for the day was the supposedly very lonely, Alann, who looks a little bit like a muff under a blanket. If you like the look of Alann you can watch this video about helping him find a new home.
We couldn’t find our last two eggs before they started to make their way to Birmingham for the next leg of the tour, so we’ll be back to snap them up at the end of March. The full album is here.
Lucky for us our hunt ended with a delicious meal in China Town in celebration of the Chinese New Year. Yum!
After our initial Covent Garden market egg frenzy, Jen and I headed back to do some more hunting in the surrounding areas. I know initially people thought this year’s hunt might not be challenging with all the eggs being in one place, but with zero clues or listings, the challenge is definitely still there, just without all the trekking around.
Our adventures took us into several rather posh shops, including one that was selling shoes that cost more than our rent. The sales assistant seemed baffled by our presence but it did turn out to be one of the best eggs.
Special shout out also to the security guard in the office building that was housing a couple of eggs, for pulling faces in the background as we snapped pics through the windows.
Here are a couple more of the top eggs of the day.
All remaining eggs here. Just 10 more to find!
I am glad to say that yesterday’s phone misfortune turned out to have a happy ending, as a bike courier named Adam (who is officially my hero) found my phone and returned it to me yesterday morning. I’m not sure exactly what happened to it, but it’s back in service and I got all of my photos back!
So with that stroke of luck, I have added the remaining Covent Garden snaps to my Big Egg Hunt gallery. The tally now stands at approximately 77 of the 101 eggs found. There were a couple without plinths that we’re not 100% sure about.
The remaining 24 or so are apparently all within a 1 mile radius of Covent Garden, so we’ll be back on the hunt later this week to see what we can find on the side roads and definitely sharing tips with fellow hunters.
To celebrate the newly recovered phone, here are some pics of a few of the more unusual eggs. Click here for the full gallery.
The Big Egg Hunt is back – this time in conjunction with Lindt and Action for Children. Unlike last year, the 2013 eggs are on the move and will visit 5 major cities around the UK including London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.
Right now the 101 eggs on display are chilling out in London, all within a one mile radius of Covent Garden – good for quick hunting but just a little bit disappointing if the hunting is the bit you find exciting.
Jen and I couldn’t resist getting stuck in quickly and snapped loads of eggs in our lunch break today. Unfortunately my phone got stolen halfway through by a pick pocket so I lost half my photos and will have to back for the rest. In the meantime here are a few of my favourites:
You can see the full album here.
One of the things that’s often claimed as a negative about London is that its inhabitants are unfriendly. As a Londoner, I’d like to say that this is a load of old bollocks. We’re not unfriendly, we’re just busy and very focused.
The reason we don’t stop to exchange random pleasantries with strangers (and tourists, *shudder*) is because we’re on a mission… whether it be getting to work or school, getting home, getting drunk, getting the shopping done or getting to the next glamorous event, there simply isn’t time to stop unless it’s mission critical.
We don’t talk on the tube because, despite the fact that we’re nose to pit (or crotch) with a slew of other commuters, the journey to and from work is a respite from all the activity around us. It’s our alone time in our cocoons where we psych ourselves up for another crazy day at the office or dial ourselves down ready to connect with the people waiting for us at home. We have so little time that we save ourselves for the friends, family and lovers that make our lives worth living.
Does that make us unfriendly? I don’t think it does. Some of the best friends I’ve made in London come from chance encounters on nights out, in queues… from house shares formed by necessity. I think if you find the city unfriendly, it’s because you’re just not playing by the rules. Obstruct a Londoner’s mission, whatever it is, and you’ll be at worst removed from their path and at best ignored… but join or aid the mission and you’ll find a world of opportunity under the city’s skin.
I love the fact that I live in a city where I can be totally anonymous. Where I can be surrounded by people but choose to be invisible… at peace in my own little world. I like that fact that no one asks me how I am or where I’m going, cos it’s none of their damned business. Maybe one day if that feeling every wears off I’ll escape to the country but for now can you get out of my fucking way please, I’m late.
On Friday night I managed to successfully treat Paul to a surprise. This is no mean feat since Paul likes the concept but not the reality of surprises and will harass you endlessly for clues… or just guess within seconds… take the Noel Fielding incident.
Anyway, this time I managed to keep him at bay and dazzle him at the same time with a trip up the Millbank Tower, which is a 118-metre high skyscraper in the City of Westminster. Those who know London will know that she don’t have all that many skyscrapers so those that do exist are a bit special. I’ve been up the tower before for a conference so when I found out that they’d opened the Altitude 360 viewing gallery on the 29th floor to the public for a couple of weeks, I knew just how incredible an excursion it would be.
Even after 6 years here and much experience of tour guiding anyone and everyone who shows up in the city, I’m glad to say my heart swelled with joy walking from massive window to massive window to view almost the whole of this breathtaking higgledy piggledy city in panorama. Apparently on a clear day you can see up to 40km. We were up there at dusk on a cloudy day and I’m a fairly rubbish photographer but you can still get an idea of just how special the view is.
Unfortunately the gallery closed to the public yesterday but keep an eye on the website because they have indicated that they might do more evenings if the demand is there. For £17 including a free glass of champers and a tour by a truly charming comedian, it really is a steal!
I know this blog is not going to make me look good but it has to be written…
The fact is, I bloody HATE tourists and in the summer months London is positively lousy with them. If you work in central London, like I do, you can’t move without tripping over a gaggle of Italian teenagers slapping each other with their tour guides and attempting to race each other up and down the tube escalators, families of fannypack wearing Americans loudly discussing Liechester Square while blocking the entire road and baffled Eastern European couples standing in front of the ticket gates on any form of public transport at rush hour while streams of angry commuters try to get around them.
I know we’re supposed to love the tourists and all the money they bring to our city but I sometimes wish there were some “guidelines” we could implement to allow them to live in harmony with the locals (and mostly to prevent me from starting to carry a baseball bat in my lunch bag). These are my suggestions:
- There should be a short presentation on ticket barriers at all international airports, followed by a practical test. If you can’t master Oyster cards then you have to get back on the plane.
- Tourists are issued special Oyster cards that don’t allow them to travel at rush hour… particularly if they are made up of tour groups of 15 or more kids with only one teacher
- On the spot fines for tourists that “pause” in the middle of the road to consult their maps or just chat
- General demarcated “no congregation” zones tops of escalators, entrances to tube stations, around pedestrian crossings that you have no intention of crossing over and the ends of train platforms when the entire rest of the platform is empty
- Redeploying Big Issue sales people as “tour guides for tips”. They know where everything is in the city
- A blanket ban on tourists using self checkouts. If you can’t speak English you’re never going to make it through the cryptic instructions of the machines in Boots.
So come on Londoners, who’s with me? I say it’s time we lobby Bojo for a tourist charter? And just before anyone attempts to point out that I was a tourist once in London… I’ve never been a tourist here… or a nuisance anywhere else!
Yesterday I headed out with some of the London NaNoWriMo crew… and Emily, who is the perfect companion for most things on the first ever *drum roll* NANORILLA! To give you some context, Nanorilla was conceptualised by Jenn and Claire as a guerrilla (hence the rilla) writing event where we would go around central London, visiting some iconic spots and then sit down to write in short bursts, someone mentioned the idea of doing it for charity, I jumped on the bandwagon and suggested we added it to my Barnardo’s effort, Frank named it Nanorilla, everyone tweeted themselves stupid and voila… joyful chaos.
We started on the steps of St Paul’s, which was pretty awesome, since, although I have lived in London for five and a half years now, I’ve never been there. The twitter crew was very lucky since Jenn and Claire had made us signs. This is mine. It has a cello on it because the protagonist in my novel plays the cello.
And this is Ian’s. How fricking awesome is his hat?
From there we thought we might just pop into Starbucks, because it was so cold and windy that everyone’s typing/scribbling hands were seizing up. It was clearly a place of creativity because this is where Frank invented the concept of stick novels: a whole plot handily written on the back of a wooden coffee stirrer. Mine were intensely crap but some of the group were awesome at it, Mai’s Nabokov inspired controversial stick novel being particularly impressive. Look how excited Sarah is about the stick novel she’s reading!
By the time we got to the Tate Modern, Emily, Mai and I were so cold that we bought hats. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m a bit hat phobic, not only because of hair destruction but because hats make me feel claustrophobic, but in this situation it was absolutely essential. Mine has earflaps and a bobble. I might even wear it again. We went to see Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is, which was very cool and very strange… and no I did not cheat by lighting my path with my sonic screwdriver… okay maybe a little bit.
This is also where we took on A Day In Hand for Sshh! A Day In Hand looks at the fact that it’s still socially unacceptable in some places for gay couples to hold hands in public and so on a Day In Hand, people like us, who believe this is absolutely ridiculous show our protest by holding hands with people of the same sex, no matter if we’re gay or straight. Em and I held hands for a while. I didn’t think anyone would notice or care, so I was pretty shocked by some of the looks we got. Made me very sad, but anyway, here is a fabulous shot of Ben and Frank’s hand holding efforts.
This was followed by possibly the best guerrilla writing spot we found, an alcove on a bridge that fitted all of us perfectly. Sadly, I don’t know which bridge it was, but it was a nice one. Several tourists stopped to wave, stare… and take pictures. One lady, in particular, insisted that we all look up and pose and became annoyed when we got distracted by actual writing.
A drink in Covent Garden was followed by the pub, where much rubbish was spoken, more stick novels were written, Jay wore Lindsey’s coat, I tried unsuccessfully to keep my Bowie’s out of Ian’s face, many people tried on Sarah’s hat, Frank failed to stop us from touching him and the dance-off was discussed at length but never happened.
And in all that we raised just over £70 for Barnardo’s… RAWK!!!! Thank-you so much, guys! If anyone from Nanorilla wants the log in for my blog, please message me and I’ll send it to you and if anyone else still wants to donate, you can do so here.
This evening my mum is going back to South Africa and I have the feeling I’m going to be a little lonesome for a while after she leaves. The time that she has been here has reminded me very much of when I lived in South Africa since we used to spend huge amounts of time together. I will be going back to work tomorrow though so I suppose I’ll have all that chaos to keep me busy!
We’ve spent the last couple of days shopping… my mum is often more excited by the bags than what she’s actually bought… and chilling. We managed to find, what I think were the trainers of her dreams as well as a bunch of weird and wonderful music. Everyone who comes to visit is always amazed at how cheap our CDs and DVDs here are. That is definitely one way in which we’re spoilt.
We were also treated to a delicious brunch courtesy of Dom and Lucy. Lucy and I quietly ate all the ham when no one was looking and struggled under Dom’s instructions not to burst into song as his dad was working in the study. Probably not a massive struggle for most people but for the two of us it was like being put in a chokehold.
And our final big social event was the customary family, friends and other visitors’ dinner at The Olive Garden, where an impressively large group of my (and Hilton’s) friends showed up to meet my mum.
I have managed to get my mum addicted to The Mighty Boosh and Come Dine With Me (which Lucy will be impressed by). She keeps asking me when that show “where the nasty people cook” is coming on… lol!
It’s Friday… hallelujah! It’s been an eventful week. I’ve been insanely busy at work My team is one smaller and we had someone away on first aid training so there has been a lot to get through. I am relatively patient outside of work but I tend to turn into a bit of a homicidal maniac in the office and with too much to do at once, I have a tendency to rant. I have been ranting hardcore this week.
It also happened to be the week of my five year anniversary of arriving in London. I am not going to go into another wistful, poetic rambling about how desperately in love with the city I am and how I found my soul’s home when I arrived here… the sentiment is there though.
Of course, the city celebrated our great love affair with a strike by RMT workers. I was fortunately, relatively unaffected (you see the city loves me back). The only part of my journey that takes place on the tube is on the Northern Line and the Northern Line is staffed by workers who are members of ASLEF (sounds like a fantasy character… and as the mighty King Aslef ascended his throne…) so things were running as normal. While I have respect for the right to strike and the right of workers to stand against employers who are treating them unfairly, I am not entirely sure their demands are reasonable in the current economic climate. The guarantees and increases they are asking for are not reflected by what the rest of London workers face… but I won’t wax political. As inconvenient as it was… we all just got on with it.
We did get to see Lyndon, who was stopping by in London, before continuing on to a four month holiday is South Africa, after which he will move to London for good in October. Our dinner consisted of a lot of arm-waving and everyone talking at once with stories half-told and then interrupted by bigger and better stories. We had relationship philosophy, lemur accents and probably way too much food. I can’t wait till we have all of our surrogate big brother around for good.
The weather has been a mixed bag but today it’s sunny. This means the summer sandals are out in full-force. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big sandal fan. I, myself am sporting a fab pair of brown leather gladiators I bought at Office earlier this week… but ladies… ladies please… if you’re going to have your feet out you have to trim and buff or paint your toenails. No matter how hot the shoes are if you’re sporting long yellowed toenails with half chipped off polish, people will be staring at your troll feet not your sparkly, strappy wedges.