Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Reading List #41

A couple of the books in this week’s reading list were much-hyped when they first came out, which I think sometimes makes me judge them more harshly. When I’m told a book is fantastic, I set such high expectations that sometimes it’s easy to be let down.

This week’s list was a bit of a mixture – some I loved, and others just didn’t wow me.

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

This is the diary of Nao, which has been transported via a tsunami, and will change the life of its reader. The only way I can describe this book is stunning. It calls into question things like what it means to be human, to be alive, and to live in the moment. It’s a story of loss, growing up, and family, and stories which have been left behind. I’d call this a must-read: it’s beautiful.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler

Set against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties, this is a story of a woman trying to find her own identity from behind her husband’s shadow. The jazz and indulgence throughout perfectly capture the era, and the book spans the entirety of the Fitzgeralds’ relationship. It’s moving, insightful, and an interesting fictional perspective on the life of someone whose name is well-known.

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

The key question of this novel is: if you had a chance to keep re-living your life in order to make changes, would you be able to get it ‘right’? The dates, chapters and incidents are all repeated, each time with slight tweaks. It was certainly unusual, and I can see why it was so acclaimed when released, but it just wasn’t for me. I found it very hard to connect to anything in the book, and although it was technically very interesting and well-written, and the concept was interesting, I just wasn’t a fan.

I Let You Go, Clare Mackintosh

Jenna Gray has moved away to start afresh, but something happened years ago she cannot forget. There was great suspense throughout this novel, and the sections on grief were incredibly moving. The narrative flits between the third person and first person voices of Jenna and one other character from her past. From the very beginning you know there’s something sinister going on, but from the beginning of the second half I had already guessed the ‘big twist’/ It was still a page-turner with fascinating characters, but slightly predictable and clichéd in the second half. Some things, like finding the right house, the love story etc. were too ‘just right’ to be believable.

Let me know any recommendations for what needs to come next.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Titanic the Musical, Charing Cross Theatre

Titanic the musical has made a triumphant return to the West End, taking up residence at the Charing Cross Theatre. A beautiful venue seating up to 265, you feel close to the action wherever you’re seated, which is helped by the fact the actors use the aisle space around the theatre throughout the show.

I’ve seen an amateur production of the show before which I absolutely loved, and while I expected a professional production to wow me even more it honestly went above and beyond anything I expected.

Let me start by saying Titanic has one of the most stunning scores of any musical I have seen. A bold statement, considering how often I’m at the theatre, but this music really is phenomenal. Entirely sung with only a few moments of spoken dialogue, it’s a rich tapestry of work which builds to create the extremes of emotion necessary when telling such a tale.

This cast do that music justice. I will talk about some individuals and songs in more depth, but overall the sound the cast made was excellent. It’s a real ensemble show, with the stories of many characters woven together, and as such takes a cast which is strong in its entirety as well as having those key soloists. ‘There She Is’ showcased this well, as did the strong finale ‘In Every Age/Godspeed, Titanic’.

The stage is very simple, featuring only a raised level with steps leading up to it – the steps could be detached and moved around – and a trapdoor at the front of the stage. In terms of props, there were tables, desks and chairs, and luggage, which quickly transitioned us between areas of the ship. 

The costumes, too, effectively built up the hierarchy of those on stage. Featuring crew of all levels, as well as first, second and third class passengers, it was immediately clear to audiences exactly who we were watching at any point, and never confusing when it came to figuring out which character was which. Many of the cast assumed multiple roles, and this was effectively done.

I’m going to focus on a few personal favourites now, as otherwise I could write at length about every single character and bore any reader.

If I was pushed to choose an overall favourite it would be Andrews, the builder of the ship, played by Sion Lloyd. His voice was captivating, and he played the character incredibly well, especially throughout the second half. A standout moment of Act Two was ‘The Blame’, in which Andrews was joined by Ismay (David Bardsley) and Captain Smith (Philip Rham). The standard of their rendition of this song was just incredible, and the three men build the tension and anger so well.

Alice Beane was played superbly by Claire Machin, providing many of the comedy moments of the show. I loved every aspect of this character, and she was supported well by her poor husband Edgar (Peter Prentice).

Isidor and Ida Straus (Dudley Rogers and Judith Street) need to accept the blame for a large proportion of my tears during Act Two (I have to admit I was a sobbing wreck through a lot of the second half). This couple were cast to perfection, and I was utterly swept along in their life and story. ‘Still’ absolutely broke my heart while at the same time reminding us all of the hope that love and companionship can bring, and Rogers and Street performed this beautifully.

Titanic is a musical which feels like it’s about to end a few times over. It could end at any point after each of the last four or five songs, although I have to admit I’d miss anything that was cut out! We discussed the ending a lot of the way home from the show, torn between where we wished it had ended. Personally, I love the final scene. I won’t explain why in case you’ve not yet seen it, but for me it emphasises the tragedy of the whole story perfectly.

There was a standing ovation to round off the show, and it was completely deserved. Fantastic work by all the cast and crew, and a show I will be urging many other people to go and see.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

DoubleTree by Hilton London Excel

Last weekend, my dad came to London for our trip to Funny Girl, and we stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton London Excel.

The weekend started with confusion as we actually went to the wrong hotel first (DoubleTree by Hilton London Docklands) - apparently the two hotels are often confused as they both have Docklands in the name or address. After a cab ride with a pretty rude driver, we made it to the right hotel, in the Docklands area near the Excel exhibition centre.

It's a pretty handy location tube-wise, taking about 30 minutes to get into central London.

However, I've stayed in this area a couple of times and it's worth being aware that although the area is 'accessible' time-wise, you actually are a bit out on a limb. When we got back from the theatre at gone 11pm, the short route back to our hotel from Prince Regent DLR station was closed, so we had to walk all the way around the Excel which is extremely poorly lit and doesn't feel safe.

At night, the area is a ghost town so do be aware of this if booking to stay in one of the many hotels clustered around here.

As for the hotel itself, it was exactly what I've come to expect from the chain, having stayed at three or four of their hotels in the last year: clean and comfortable, with great staff.

A little DoubleTree trademark are the fresh walnut cookies on arrival, which are often still warm. The room was big and bright, with twin beds that were both big and comfortable. I did find it frustrating that the bedside lights couldn't be operated separately: they were either both on, or both off.

I slept so, so well and the bathroom was clean and warm with all the usual toiletries and soft towels.

Breakfast the next morning was wonderful, in traditional buffet style, with tea, coffee and toast brought to your table.

There was a huge selection of hot and cold foods, including about six different juices as well as a range of smoothies and yoghurt and granola mixes. Our breakfasts were £10 each on top of our room, which isn't too bad in comparison to other, similar London hotels.

Overall, I had a great stay at the hotel, and would recommend it in terms of comfort and distance into central, but do be aware of the the points I made on location if you're staying alone!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Funny Girl, The Savoy Theatre

How do you revive a classic musical with wit, flair and a feeling of originality?

Just ask the creative team of Funny Girl, at the Savoy Theatre.

I was blown away.

Funny Girl was a show I knew little about, which makes a pleasant change for me as I know most musicals I see inside out before I take my seat. All I knew was the iconic 'Don't Rain on my Parade' - nothing else of the story, the songs or the themes.

I went expecting a fantastic show, but was unprepared for just how much I would fall in love with Fanny Brice and her story.

I've tried to play it cool and not launch in with my praise for Natasha J Barnes but my goodness, what a star. Effortlessly funny, likeable, charming and with one of the best voices I've heard in a long time, I couldn't imagine a more perfect role for her.

I was with her every second, every sideways glance to the audience, every stunning note, every happiness and every heartbreak.

In 'Don't Rain on my Parade' and its reprise I was sobbing, and I felt so overwhelmed at the audience reaction to her bows. She too seemed completely overcome, and it just made me leave loving her even more.

The story is a great one, telling of Fanny's rise to fame having been told she'd never make it as a chorus girl as she just wasn't pretty enough.

The other chorus girls and her mother and friends build up the most wonderful supporting cast, and I definitely want to attend one of the parties on her street because those women know how to have a good time!

It felt at once very classic and 'old-school' yet fresh and bright and new. The comedy of the script and songs is timeless, and this production showed that with the right casting it can continue to delight day after day.

The other surprise of the night was Darius Campbell, as the charming Nick Arnstein. I hadn't realised he was in the show but the second he walked on the stage and opened his mouth I recognised that voice. He was brilliantly cast as the man who you weren't sure whether to love or hate. Arnstein is such an interesting character, because his flaws are so human, and you spend the whole show deciding whether you want to root for him or not.

Campbell played both the suave gentleman and the broken man beautifully, and his voice blended so well with Barnes in 'I Want to be Seen With You Tonight' and 'You Are Woman'.

If you can get to the Savoy during Funny Girl's run, you really must. It was so funny, heartwarming and inspiring, and I had a magical evening.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Where have I been?

I could write a lot here, but a lot of the thoughts in my head don't really have much structure yet.

So really all I'm going to say is it's ok to struggle.

I've spoken on here about my anxiety a number of times, and over the past few years I've been learning to deal with it and control it.

But sometimes you can't control everything.

Sometimes, your thoughts can take themselves a little too far, and the struggle feels a bit too much.

I've spent two weeks doing nothing but attending appointments, reading, writing, and trying to look after myself a bit.

I had become so good at putting on that mask of pretending everything was fine that I had neglected the fact there were still issues there I really needed to work through and couldn't keep ignoring.

About two weeks ago, the anxiety reared its head with full force, and it was a blow to hear that has now been joined by depression.

A blow, but also an explanation, because those I'm close to will know the mixture of the two words is actually a pretty accurate description of what I've been going through.

So there we have it. My mind and my body decided to knock me sideways and tell me I couldn't keep up the act of telling myself I was totally fine.

I've had the days of panic attacks and crying, the days where I've barely managed to eat a couple of hundred calories, and I'm now getting a handle on exactly what I need to do next.

In two weeks, with the support of the most incredible people around me, things have started to turn around. I'm back on the path to doing the right things, to looking after myself and to just letting myself accept that I'm human, and that's ok.

I suppose all I'm trying to say is that it's ok to struggle.

It's ok to need help.

It's ok to ask for that help.

It's ok to look after yourself.

There's a long journey ahead but it's one I'm making knowing I've overcome periods like this one before, and one I'm making knowing I have the support of some amazing people.

So here we go...

Sunday, 19 June 2016

When you work with your dad...

It seems an appropriate day to share a story about my dad.

Soon, I'll fill you in a bit on why there's been two weeks of silence... but right now it's a space for a story about my dad.

Or rather, a story about my dad and me.

Of both of us, of a period of 15 months where we were both father and daughter, and boss and employee.

When I first graduated, I worked for my dad for just under a year and a half, and in that period we learned a lot about each other and about ourselves.

Not only were there new boundaries to navigate, and the need to establish that line between work time and family time, but I was in a period where I was struggling.

Towards the end of university was when my anxiety first decided to properly rear its head, and the Sophie that was working with dad then was not the Sophie of now or the Sophie of six months before.

I was cautious. I was apologetic, I had forgotten what my talents were, where my strengths lay and how strong I could be.

We were trying to figure out how to negotiate this period as a family and as a business, and trying to learn where on earth the turning point could be.

At one point during this period, he did a bit of a fatherly 'coaching' chat, and told me to write down ten positive adjectives to describe myself and my abilities.

I struggled to come up with even a few.

He turned a page to show me his own list. I was ambitious, hard-working, intelligent... ten words that sounded like a person I wanted to be. I had forgotten I was that person.

Fast forward a few months, and we were at an exhibition in Liverpool.

My counselling sessions were starting to have an effect, and as a family we were continuing to work through both my anxiety and our working relationship.

I was anxious on the car journey, but when we arrived the event started to remind me what I'm good at. That exhibition atmosphere, busy and crowded and intense and long - all things I had been so carefully avoiding - is also an atmosphere in which I thrive.

My previous experience in similar settings was shining through and I was happily manning the stand, approaching anyone and everyone and chatting easily about our work.

My dad spent the time attending talks and networking, safe in the knowledge I was overseeing the stand. When we got back to the office, we realised our roles and our strengths.

That couple of days had shaken us up and distributed us into our positions. It was a moment of clarity for both of us.

More important to me than that journey, though, were the things I learned about my dad while working for and alongside him.

Here are the five which were the biggest and best, in my eyes:

1. He will always get the job done. However long he has to work or however many people he has to get to step in and help or however boring the brief may be, he will always deliver work of the highest quality.

2. He might work last minute, but the adrenaline works. My dad is the man who you will find on his laptop at 5am because he's decided to get up early and finish that presentation he's giving at 10. For me, that sounds stressful, but for him it works. Bonkers as I sometimes think he is, there's something about that pressure of the deadline that makes him work.

3. Running your own company is hard. I always knew this, but during this period I SAW it. There's no one but you to chase those invoices, keep those jobs rolling in, make sure work is done to the best standard. It gave me such a deep understanding of exactly what my dad deals with daily, and has done for over twenty years. I can share his pain and celebrate his successes even more, because I know what went into getting there.

4. Clients (and fellow workers) can be a nightmare. Really, this is true everywhere, but I learned it here. Sometimes, you have to work with people or clients who are downright tricky. I could use more colourful language but I won't. The point is, it's a life lesson, and one that dad of mine copes with well.

5. He's the best dad in the universe. Whether work was going well or badly, whether we were at work or home, whether things in my personal life were making me happy or sad, and when my anxiety was making me an absolute pain in the bum, he was there. Always has been and still is now. I think since working together our relationship has just got even better.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Fitness via YouTube

I've never been great at the whole fitness thing.

I used to swim when  was younger, and that was then replaced by dancing.

My parents weren't the kind of parents to let us just laze around in front of the tv all weekend so we would go for walks and be out in the fresh air.

I'm happy walking to and from places where that's an option. In fact, in my first job out of university, I used to walk to work, which was 3.5 miles each way!

Anyway, I think what I'm trying to say is I've always had some kind of activity going on, but I've never had a 'regime' of my own, where  self-motivate and actually do the work myself.

When I left school and university and the dancing stopped, I realised no one was going to tell me what to do any more, but that in itself didn't push me to change too far.

When I lived in Darlington, there was a pay-as-you-go gym and I think I went a grand total of three times in the two years I lived there.

I went through a phase of thinking I was going to be a runner, but  just find it so boring and can't get into that 'zone' people who enjoy running talk about.

About 18 months ago, I started exploring the world of exercise videos on YouTube, and things began to change.

I could do it at home.

I could so it whenever suited me.

There's SO MUCH content on there you can't get bored.

And - possibly best of all in my current situation - it's free.

It's absolutely incredible how much inspiration, knowledge and advice is available on YouTube which is free for us to access.

I was still using these fairly sporadically though, with videos from the likes of Blogilates and Tone It Up, who I do still follow today.

About 6 months ago, everything shifted again as 3 channels I love completely changed my outlook on fitness and made it something I wanted to actually make time for.

I now tend to do videos about two to four mornings a week, and am trying to improve my consistency and up that to four to five a week.

For the first time, it's something I make time for and I'm beginning to feel a difference and enjoy what I'm doing.

Here are those three channels:

Lucy Wyndham-Read

I honestly cannot praise Lucy's channel enough. She has now started doing monthly challenges which are amazing to follow along with. A couple of months ago was a 4 minute HIIT routine 6 days a week, last month were 100 rep workouts, and the theme this month is 'Tone Every Zone'. Her videos are usually between 4 and 10 minutes long, but my goodness you can feel them work. Her years of experience and expertise are clear, and I love reading the comments, especially from young girls, for whom she is teaching a positive message of fitness and strength.

Carly Rowena

I just adore Carly. She's that girl you want to be friends with (her weekly vlogs are some of my favourites), and her message is so real and so accessible. I've followed her channel since before she took her qualifications to become a personal trainer and seeing her do what she loves and transform into an even happier person has been so inspiring. Carly's exercise videos follow a similar model of short bursts which deliver big results, and it's clear that she caters to all abilities. She also does a lot of content about health, motivation, mindset and eating which are informative and realistic - she's a big champion of the fact you can still enjoy your life and your food whilst making positive changes.

Anna Saccone-Joly

Although not a fitness channel, Anna has been one of the YouTubers most responsible for my changed outlook on fitness over the last 6 months. She works out with Lucy, which is how I discovered Lucy's channel, and has gone through that journey of being someone who never particularly found a routine she could stick at, to being someone who loves exercise and feels amazing for the changes she has made. Listening to the way she speaks about fitness and health made me realise the changes she was making were so doable, and as someone whose videos I love in general, hers is an example I want to follow.

So there you have it. Let me know if there are any more great channels I'm missing out on!

Friday, 3 June 2016

On having excess 'stuff'

I’ve got a bit of an issue with ‘stuff’.

I like having stuff.

Then I feel overcrowded and want it out.

I go through phases of collecting things, then feel the need to purge and get them all out.
It happens with everything.

I used to buy so many magazines you wouldn’t believe. When I had no room to keep them, I’d keep a folder of the front covers. One day, I recycled them all.

I went through a phase of buying loads of (fairly cheap) clothes, then had a day where I needed to sort through everything and keep only the things that were flattering and that I loved.

I bought so much makeup and so many toiletries there’s no way one person could use it all and I was running out of space to store it. Then I suddenly couldn’t bear how many products were crowding me out. I’ve been using everything up, so I can get to the point where I have one of everything, plus a backup if said item is close to running out.

I’ve always been like it.

I feel such an urge to collect or buy a certain thing, which is followed weeks or months or years later by a feeling of everything being too crowded, and of needing to get rid of it all.

When I was younger and living at home I used to have ruthless clear-outs all the time. Ruthless to the point that my parents would sometimes have to question what I was throwing out or giving away.

I’ve now reached a turning point and realised three things:

It’s a waste of money. 
It’s a waste of energy. 
It’s a waste of space.

I’m teaching myself to change my spending habits, to avoid the obsessive buying of whatever I’m ‘into’ at the time. 

I’ve realised I care more about experiences than things. I’d so much rather see a show or have a weekend away than add three things to my wardrobe.

I’m trying to work on a ‘one in, one out’ policy, not buying things until something else has run out or broken.

Of course there will be slip-ups, but I’m determined to stop crowding myself out with ‘stuff’ I attach little feeling to.

I want to surround myself with things I love, with things which have meaning, and with things that make me feel great.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Hello, June

May was about realising when I need a break.

The week in Kent was a bit of a wake up call, reminding me how important it is sometimes to switch off from everything.

The month ended with a beautiful evening at Lambeth Palace for a masquerade ball.

And what about this month?

The theatre trips are back, for a start, which is good because I'm having withdrawal symptoms! My dad's coming to visit so we can head to Funny Girl, and I'm also seeing Titanic the Musical later in the month. I saw an amateur production of it a few years ago and was really impressed, so I'm looking forward to seeing it in the West End, complete with one of my sister's friends as a cast member.

There are films lined up that I want to see, including the new X Men and Race, plus the excitement of looking forward to my birthday month in July.

I want June to be about enjoying the things I have lined up whilst remembering what I took away from Kent: the need to slow my mind down and try and actually relax in a way that's not just zoning out in front of the tv.

Hopefully the weather will realise that June is supposed to be nice, rather than the storms from yesterday which were just miserable!

June, let's make it a good one.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...