Showing posts from April, 2016

Paradise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire

We stumbled across Paradise Wildlife Park by accident.

A brown sign at the side of the road en route to a weekend getaway said it was only a couple of hours away.

Reviews online told us it was a great day out.

We booked tickets online, and headed towards the park on a sunny Saturday morning.

It's a trip to the zoo, but on a smaller scale. It has animals from big cats to wolves, zebras to snakes, and you feel so close to all of them. The way the enclosures were built meant many didn't seem like 'enclosures' at all, and the staff all over the park were clearly so passionate about the animals they looked after.

The first thing we went to was a talk on red pandas, who were just beautiful and the keeper seemed almost giddy with excitement as he told us about the species, their lives in the wild, and what is being done to protect them.

The big cats were so regal-looking, and high up walkways allowed you to walk around and look down into the enclosures. There were so many tal…

The Reading List #39

Where do you get your inspiration for which books to pick up next? I’m in need of new ideas!
Here's the latest round-up of things I've been reading:-

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese

Twins Marion and Shiva are born in 1950s Ethiopia to an Indian nun and a British doctor, and grow up in a country on the brink of revolution. This is a family epic, set against an interesting, complex history. When their father is in surgery, there are some stunning descriptions of the physicality and mortality of the human body, and using the biology of the body as metaphors for life. You can feel Marion’s pain sharply throughout, and there were some heart-breaking moments. Worth a read.

Burial Rites, Hannah Kent

In Iceland, in 1829, a woman is condemned to death for murdering her husband. A family take the woman in, and a priest is tasked with absolving her. This was a good story, but I didn’t enjoy the tone and voice at all. I couldn’t connect to any of the central characters, either to like or d…

The Making of Harry Potter: Warner Bros Studio Tour

Where do I even start?

This visit really was one of the most magical ways to spend a Friday evening.

I've been meaning to visit the Happy Potter Studio Tour for years, and my excitement levels leading up to the day were huge. The first book came out when I was about 7, so I well and truly grew up with the world of the Harry Potter books and then films.

The ticket was £35, which is more than reasonable when the average visit takes about 3 hours...

When we were told people tended to take 3 or more hours to look round I was a little dubious, but I had no idea quite how much was actually there!

The tour begins with a short film about the making of Harry Potter, after which the doors to the Great Hall at Hogwarts are revealed. Walking through the Great Hall was just incredible, and the Studio Tour houses lots of sets just like this one. There's the Gryffindor dormitory, the potions classroom, the Weasleys' house, and many more.

Costumes were displayed throughout, with little ex…

The Jungle Book

I knew I was excited about seeing The Jungle Book.

It surpassed all my expectations.

Last night, I went to see the new film of The Jungle Book, both excited and apprehensive. The Jungle Book was THE film for me when I was younger. I watched it again and again. The new version could have been incredible or a disappointment.

It was incredible.

Visually, the film is just stunning. The shots of the jungle landscape, the animals, the huge expanses of land and tiny details of the jungle are beautiful. I loved the camera angles, pulling together sweeping shots of the landscape and jumpier shots, sometimes seen through the eyes of Mowgli, which built the moments of tension.

The way the animals have been done is phenomenal. I have no idea how the CGI techniques work but they were all so convincing, and the way their mouths moved when speaking fit perfectly with the rest of the animal. Every face had a personality, and the movements of each animal were so majestic. Clearly a lot of work had gon…

De Vere Theobalds Park Hotel

A few weeks ago, I had one of my very favourite weekends in a long time. The setting was Hertfordshire, activities included the Harry Potter Studio Tour and a wildlife park, and the sun had got its hat on.

The venue was De Vere Theobalds Park Hotel, in Cheshunt, and that's what I'm writing about today.

The approach was beautiful, with a long tree-lined drive leading up to a building which looked almost castle-like. It was a beautiful building, and set in lush, green grounds.
The one thing I will say, which was a recurring theme, is the whole hotel needs a little bit of love. It was one of those places which feels like it maybe looked incredible 10 years ago, but little details are being ignored.
Take the room, for example. The bed was big and comfy, it had all the usual comforts, but there were marks on the bedhead and around the TV that just made it all look a bit worn. There was also a tear in one of the towels in the bathroom, which I wasn't too impressed about!
It was …

The Reading List #38

This list is a real mixture of old classics and newer discoveries, along with things that have been on my ‘to read’ list for years.

The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins

This was a really gripping ghost / mystery tale, narrated through journal accounts of multiple characters. I had been meaning to read it for a while, after hearing years ago there was also a musical version of the story, but it sat waiting on my shelf for so long I’d almost forgotten. The book built up the suspense well through the delivery of all of the separate accounts, some of which had more to say than others, and some who were a lot more certain of what they had seen than others. I can’t think of anything else I’ve read that’s quite like it, and it’s worth a try.

Flight Behaviour, Barbara Kingsolver

Dellarobia makes a life-changing discovery on the failing Appalachian Farm… and I can’t really say much more than that without revealing too much. This novel contains themes of nature, climate change, class and poverty, and…

48 Doughty Street: The Charles Dickens Museum

When hunting for places to visit with my mum on her visit last month, I stumbled across 48 Doughty Street: The Charles Dickens Museum.

This Georgian terrace is one of Dickens' old London homes, and is laid out to reflect what it would have looked like during his time living there. Covering 4 floors, it was full of fascinating little insights and facts into this particular period of Dickens' life.

I absolutely love visiting homes of historic figures as it's such an interesting way to immerse yourself in the context in which they were living. The small details made all the difference, and the little guide book contained facts both about the period and about Dickens' life and works.

The museum also contains an exhibition about the making of BBC series Dickensian, and the costumes from the series are displayed in the rooms of the house. This provided a unique blend of a 'museum' house tour and a look at how a TV series was devised and made, from start to finish. It…

The Maids

I've taken a while to get my thoughts down on The Maids, because I was left with a very strange mixture of being both absolutely amazed and slightly let down. I've taken time to reflect on that in the hope that my review can now help me sort through those two feelings.

The acting: flawless.

The overall show? It left me feeling a bit flat.

The Maids has a phenomenal cast. Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton, as maids Claire and Solange, delivered a masterclass in acting. The characters show vulnerability, strength, comedy and anger, and the relationship between the two women is at times touching at at times very odd, menacing and twisted. I thought this relationship was portrayed beautifully, and multiple times throughout the show I was on the edge of my seat, completely unsure which way their actions would swing.

There were also an awful lot of long monologues, which both Aduba and Ashton delivered flawlessly. I'd been expecting great things based on how much I've loved the TV w…

Solving problems

I had a conversation recently about solving problems.
My aunt and uncle were visiting London and we met in my lunchbreak, then somehow ended up on the topic of problem-solving.
I can’t remember how it came up, but we were talking about how important it can be to just change one element of your approach or thinking and amazing things can happen.
It’s so easy to get frustrated and stuck in a rut, especially when the problems you’re trying to sort out are big ones, or you feel like you’re in someone else’s hands.
I’ve got two examples connected to pretty big life changes.

Getting a new job
In early 2015, I made the decision my next step would be moving to London. I left the job I was in, because I knew interviews in London would mean taking whole days off work, so wanted to give myself the time to job hunt properly and avoid the awkward questions of requesting whole days of work with little explanation. I was looking and applying, but role after role wasn’t quite right.
I spoke to recruiters, …

Avenue Q - The UK Tour

A few weeks ago, the New Wimbledon Theatre played host to my second viewing of Avenue Q. Currently touring the UK, the quirky, lively and hilarious show is as memorable as when I first saw it four or five years ago.

It has a very distinctive style, and is so different to anything else mainly down to the innovative use of puppets. The actors, in blacks, are clearly visible - indeed, some characters have no puppet - but the puppetry and story are so fantastic you completely lose sight of the people operating them.

The story follows Princeton, a fresh graduate with big dreams, and the people who live around him in his new home on Avenue Q. Touching on love, sex, racism, alcohol, homophobia and discovering who you are, the show leaves no stone unturned.

With songs such as 'Everyone's a Little Bit Racist' and 'You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You're Making Love)', Avenue Q is daring, outrageous, and has the audience in stitches. I felt the shock value w…

When one of your your best friends decides to run the London Marathon...

Before Christmas, one of my very favourite people Laura announced she was going to run the London Marathon. 
It's maybe worth mentioning that after her half marathon she informed me she would never run ever again as the experience had been so dreadful!
I find anyone who runs a marathon pretty amazing - it's such a mental challenge as well as a physical one, so I thought I'd ask her some questions in the lead-up to the big day.

What on EARTH made you decide to run a marathon?
I was contacted by one of the fundraising team at Francis House Children’s Hospice about 8 months ago, asking if I’d be interested in applying to take part in the London Marathon in April. I’m really not sure why, but I said yes!  I’m always up for a challenge and thought it would be a fantastic way for me to get fit, and tick something off my bucket-list, whilst raising money for a really good cause. 

Have you always been the sporty / runner type? 
Not at all!  I never really committed to a sports team at sc…

The Lodge Hotel, Putney

A couple of weeks ago, we headed for a weekend stay at The Lodge Hotel, Putney. Booked in December as part of a Christmas gift, there had been plenty of time to get excited about it!

The hotel is only a 5 minute walk from South Putney tube station, and near to plenty of nice restaurants and bars if you want an evening out. There's a red telephone box by the entrance, which certainly makes it stand out as you walk down the road, and the entrance is clean, fresh and the look is polished and woody.

The bedroom was fairly small, but roomy enough for the bed, a small table and armchair, a desk, television and wardrobe, Everything was clean and inviting, although there were no features to make it feel extra special - it very much did as it said on the tin. The bed was comfortable, and there was a simple, clean en suite bathroom.

The hotel itself looks like it has been created from a couple of houses, and this feeling is consistent as you walk through to the bedrooms. There were lovely w…

Hello, April

I'm glad you're here, April.

March seemed to last a really, really long time.

I've had a little blog break, just because I felt like I needed it. One of the most recent posts I did, Sticks and Stones, took a bit of courage to publish.

It had been ready, waiting, for months but pressing publish meant telling people, including those close to me, how much that event had affected me.

I'm glad I pressed 'go'. I think I needed to get it out. To make it clear how important it is to think before you speak.

After that, I stepped back a bit. I wasn't feeling particularly motivated to write, so rather than force anything I just took some time to breathe. That's the luxury of having a space that is all mine.

March was busy, as ever. Work has been busy, and theatre trips have featured, of course. The Maids was pretty spectacular, and Avenue Q was the delight I remembered from first seeing it about four or five years ago (reviews on both to come...).

There was a hote…