Friday, 29 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 talks going on throughout the day, and we listened to ones on big cats, penguins, the red pandas and wolves. There was also a reptile house and a small farmyard on the site.

The cheetah talk was fascinating, as they explained she is partially tame to allow them to carry out routine procedures like immunisations without putting the animal to sleep, as this can be dangerous for big cats.

Throughout the day, though, there was very strong emphasis on the fact there has to be SOME human contact for reasons like these, but that they are still wild animals, and this human time is minimised as much as possible.

The talks went into exactly how the park operated and exactly what the conservation processes were for each species, giving an insight into the landscape as a whole rather than just listing facts about each animal.

If you have children, this day out could go on even longer. There were huge play areas, with activities and slides of every kind to keep children of all ages entertained, as well as multiple food outlets and the opportunity to feed the farm animals. 

Even without touching these elements of the park, we spent a good three or four hours strolling round the park, taking in as much as we could. 

The beautiful weather finished the day off perfectly, and I'm so pleased we stumbled across this gem of a day out.

I've spoken to other people since who live nearby and just love it, so it's definitely worth considering if you're in the Hertfordshire area.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

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 dislike them, which meant I struggled to keep engaged. This book was hugely hyped when first released, but for me personally it was a bit of a let-down.

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

I’ve wanted to read this ever since I fell in love with the musical, especially once I heard it was actually very different from the popular musical. Eponine, for example, does not exist in Hugo’s novel. It’s an incredibly detailed novel, at times maybe a little too much so – the bishop’s tale at the beginning takes up over 100 pages – but it was beautifully written. Marius’ character is much more developed in the novel when compared with the musical, and is a much more likable character, with a real backstory and reasons for his actions throughout. There are very long battle scenes from Waterloo onwards and it is a long, heavy read, but I’m very glad I’ve now read it.

12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup

In 1841, Solomon, a violinist, is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Taken from a family in New York to the cotton plantations of the Deep South, he spends 12 years in captivity, and tells the story of living under his various masters. This is a personal tale which also gives an overview of the period and condition of slaves. He can view some of the wider issues, and see some of his masters as men he respects. He maintains the constant conviction he can be free once again. This was a fantastic read, and a real insight into slave narratives like many I studied at university.

Any ideas on what I should pick up next?

Monday, 25 April 2016

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 explanations and anecdotes about how certain sets, props and costumes were used or created. There was the opportunity to fly a broom in front of a green screen, and information on the hugely talented teams behind every stage of the production of the films.

We walked through the Hogwarts Express, each compartment kitted out to represent a different film. We used screens to make the magical household tasks happen in the Weasleys' kitchen. We saw a board describing all the different animals who played Hedwig, Fang and Crookshanks.

It's truly amazing to see so many sets and costumes up close, and to be able to admire the incredible detail of every one. I loved little quirky facts, such as that the wand boxes in Ollivander's shop all feature the names of people working on the films, and each box was hand-painted.

There was then a section all about the creation of the many different creatures of Harry Potter. There were explanations on how the mechanical elements worked, on how concepts were developed, and you could examine close up the 'creatures' that were brought to life on camera.

We walked down Diagon Alley, we admired tiny models of every set and architectural drawings of how they would come to life. We saw the work of the incredible artists who helped to create the visual spectacles Rowling had written about.

And then the final masterpiece.

This huge model of Hogwarts was used to shoot external scenes, and watching on screens as this model transformed into scenes from film after film was truly breath-taking - I've never seen anything like it.

This visit honestly surpassed every expectation. There is so much to see, and I have so much admiration for every single person who was involved in bringing these incredible stories to life.

Since my visit, I've re-read all seven books, and now intend to re-watch all eight films  - is there really any other way to spend your time post-tour?

Saturday, 23 April 2016

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 gone into the way each creature was portrayed.

Neel Sethi as Mowgli is a complete shining star. He captures the cheekiness of the young boy so well, and moved at one with the animals. Bill Murray's Baloo was as lovable as the original animated character, and Ben Kingsley's protective Bagheera was beautifully played.

Idris Elba as Shere Khan was brilliant casting - that rich, deep voice in combination with the tiger itself built a great villain. The wolf pack was well done too, with the cute cubs, the strong protection from Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and the fierce mother's love from Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o).

'The Bare Necessities' and 'I Wanna be Like You' featured in the new film as well. I have to admit that King Louie's song felt a little forced, but I really enjoyed Baloo and Mowgli's fun, casual rendition of 'The Bare Necessities'.

Overall, I was so impressed by this remake, and thought the way it had all been put together was breath-taking. I would gladly watch it again right now, and may well have shed a teeny tiny tear at the end (if you've seen it, think of the moment on the baby elephant...).

Thursday, 21 April 2016

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 still a nice room, but I just expected a little more having stayed in other De Vere hotels and been blown away by the standard.

It was also absolutely boiling hot in the room, meaning we needed the desk fan turned on at all times.

 Breakfast was tasty, a very standard hotel buffet breakfast, and the room service dinner we had was delicious. However, again attention to detail let the hotel down a little. A drink was brought, then the wrong drink arrived, then there was no salt in the salt cellar... I did request that the tray charge be knocked off the bill, which was done as an apology for these problems.

As you can see, the grounds were beautiful, and it felt like a true escape from the city. Since living in London, I've learned just how important it is to escape for some proper fresh air every now and then!

Strolling round the grounds was a lovely way to spend Sunday morning - it was quiet, the sun was out, and there was nobody else around. The weather made the whole weekend feel even more like a holiday.

I started this post by saying this was one of my favourite weekends ever, and it was, but that wasn't because of the hotel. It was because of everything else that made up the weekend, including the beautiful weather.

The hotel did give us a nice setting to stay in, but it was in need of some real TLC which did let it down.

It by no means ruined the weekend - the bed was comfy and the grounds were quiet, which are probably two of the most important things - but the hotel could have pushed itself over the edge into being fantastic had a little more attention been paid to the details.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

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 each of these are incredibly well handled, especially the class angle. Overall, I thought the book was a little too long and drawn out for the amount of plot within it, but it was a careful and intricately woven read, with moments of real beauty.

The White Queen, Philippa Gregory

It is 1464, and the houses of York and Lancaster are at war. Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian widow, marries warrior king Edward IV of York. This was a brilliant portrayal of the Wars of the Roses as a backdrop to a tale of betrayal and loyalty, with a fascinating main character. I got completely swept away in it.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

I was a real latecomer with this one, and had actually seen the film before I read the book. I enjoyed the book 100% more than the film. So who is Gatsby? There’s not much I can say about the story, both because I don’t want to reveal anything, and because so many people already know and love it! This is a stunning love story, and the tempting question hovers of what is behind the beauty of the glittering parties. This novel captures an era of glamour and mystery, and I can see why it’s heralded as such a classic.

What should be next on my list?

Sunday, 17 April 2016

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 reminded us just how relevant and popular Dickens' works and characters still are, today.

Situated only a 5-10 minute walk from Holborn station, the Charles Dickens museum couldn't be much easier to get to, and is a real hidden gem - I certainly had no idea it existed. An adult ticket was £9, and there is also a tea room if you need to re-fuel during your visit.

This afternoon trip was a great addition to our day out, and one to consider if you're into literature or history. Having both studied English Literature at university, it reminded mum and me of lots of little Dickensian details we had forgotten, or filled in the blanks of what we had not previously known.

I've not yet come across anyone else who has visited, so do let me know what you thought if you have!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

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 work of both women, and they exceeded those high expectations many times over.

Laura Carmichael, too, did not disappoint. The mistress is only in a small part of the play, but Carmichael's confidence was clear, and her accent spot on. I loved the slightly ridiculous elements of her character, and her extremes of emotion. Her first entrance, with the thumping music and bright lights, was fantastically done.

The show was performed with an audience seated in front and behind the box stage, and the staging worked well here, although I did feel the main focus was out to the front, where the largest portion or seats were.

The stage was bare, and set into the floor were a variety of trapdoors which housed the props and the stairs down to the kitchen. The small stage space added to the tension of the scenes with more violent undertones, and the trapdoor set-up was a clever one. As well as being a good place to store the props, the noise of the trapdoors shutting and the movement between trapdoors in scenes with multiple props added to the musical, dance-like elements of the staging.

The flower petals were a great, simple way to add interest to the scene. The at once represented luxury and mess, and the scene where the maids are sweeping them up gave a real sense of the monotony of their routine.

So what was it that left me underwhelmed?

I'm not quite sure.

I wanted more, but I don't know what from.

As I've already said, the acting was some of the best I've ever seen. The staging was clever, and the lighting and sound, too. The moments of bright light were stunning, and the fade of the final spotlight was so precise. The thumping dance music which punctuated certain moments of the play served the tension well.

I think the root of my disappointment could well be the story and script itself. While many scenes were great and full of tension, but some parts really slowed the pace. The opening scene I felt went on for far too long. One of the maids is playing the mistress, as they imagine how they could kill her. The scene overall was good, but it went on for a long, long time before it was even revealed the true identity of each woman.

Then, towards the end, Aduba's character has a long monologue, imagining the aftermath of a death. Bearing in mind the play is an hour and forty minutes straight through with no interval, this seemed a very strange time to place a long monologue. Aduba delivered it superbly, but it was at that point where concentration spans are running out, and could have benefited from losing even a few minutes of length.

Small things like this maybe become more clear when everything else about a production is so great, and that could be why I left feeling slightly flat. The acting was phenomenal and the staging innovative, but it just didn't quite all pull together to create an overall performance that took my breath away.

Monday, 11 April 2016

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, having had good experiences with them in the past, but was let down by just how poor some recruiters can be; calls would be missed, or recruiters would match me with jobs completely irrelevant to my skillset. I was starting to get really frustrated, as I was ready to move and just get started. After one particularly cross rant on the phone to my parents, I decided to call just one more recruitment company.

They specialised in the field I was looking to work in, and the initial conversation just felt different. They were finally asking the right questions, and I felt that they had a real sense of who I was and what my skills were. I felt like they were actually listening to me. Over the next couple of days, they started to send me job descriptions, and sending my CV to those that looked promising.

Within days, I had a day of interviews lined up and booked my train to London. One particular company was one I have followed for a long time, and didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to work there. After a promising telephone interview, I headed to their offices on this day in London for another interview and a test.

The next day, I was offered the job.

I had been so ready to give up and moan for a few weeks before wondering whether to change my plans, but that one last push to approach a different recruiter worked.

Finding somewhere to live

For the first month I was in London, a family friend had a room spare in his house, as his long-term lodger was away for the month of August. This gave me a month of living and working in the city to find myself a room to rent. With the speed things move in London, it sounded doable.

After seeing horrible rooms, and speaking to plenty of dodgy-sounding landlords, with time running out, I began to hit that same wall of frustration and despair. London prices are mad, some rooms are just awful, and some landlords don’t exactly make you feel like you’d be comfortable living in their homes.

I had been hunting through lists of rooms advertised and approaching potential places myself, but after this frustration set in, I took another route and put up an ad myself on EasyRoommate, not sure what would come of it. Within an hour I’d had a few responses, and by the next morning I had had 10. Some looked terrible, but there were potentials and I started to line up viewings.

A couple of hours later, I received a phone call from Renee, a woman looking for someone to rent a room in her house. After a quick chat, I arranged to see the room that evening. By the time I got back home that night, I had agreed a move in date.

Again, I had reached the point where I almost wanted to give up, then tweaked my strategy a little and things clicked into place.

I think what that period taught me was that you need to just keep trying. I was so close to giving up and dramatically declaring I was going to stay up north, or live off my parents forever, but realistically I didn’t want those things. I wanted to be in London, doing a role I enjoyed and in which I could grow.

So I kept going.

And it paid off.

Next time I’m getting frustrated about something, I’ll remind myself of these two stories, because things can be achieved if you just stick at them, or change your approach.

I’ve solved these problems, and I will be able to solve others in the future.

Use frustration as a tool to spur you on and make you reassess then try harder.

You’ll find a solution, somehow.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

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 was a little lessened this time around - over the years, shows such as The Book of Mormon have continued to push boundaries so far it's potentially not as controversial as it was ten years ago. However, the lyrics are still so clever, and there are elements of the story any audience member would be able to relate to.

Sarah Harlington (Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut) was an absolutely phenomenal part of the cast. The way she played each character was so spot on, and her voice blew me away. 'There's a Fine, Fine Line' is one of my absolute favourite songs and her performance was the best I've ever heard it. Richard Lowe (Princeton/Rod) was also a great character actor, although I much preferred him as Rod - one of Princeton's songs, 'Purpose', did feel a little underwhelming.

Stephen Arden was by far my favourite male cast member. Playing both Nicky and Trekkie Monster his vocals were flawless, and he got huge laughs from the audience. The skill of all those cast members operating the puppets is undeniable, and those who play and voice multiple characters seem to do it with such ease that it really is incredible. At one point, Harlington was having a conversation with herself, playing both Kate and Lucy! She didn't miss a beat.

The 'human' (i.e. non-puppet) characters didn't leave me with anything to rave about, although that is partially down to the fact I just don't enjoy the stories of their characters as much. Arina II did play a great Christmas Eve, but I felt Brian and Gary were just there to support everyone else, rather than being real stand-outs themselves.

All in all, my second experience of Avenue Q was a good one. I still adore the songs, and the puppetry and skill of the actors is so wonderful to watch. Did it feel a little dated? Yes, it did, but I don't think that takes anything away from the performance itself, it only shows how far musicals have continued pushing boundaries since Avenue Q first appeared on the scene.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

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 school, flitting between netball, hockey, rounders and even football and rugby!
After I’d graduated from university in 2013, I went to Honduras on a government funded volunteering scheme. In order to get my place with the charity Progressio, I had to raise £1,500. I decided to take on a half marathon (13.1 miles), having never been out for a run in my life. I only trained for about 6 weeks prior to the event and it was so tough that I said I would never wear a pair of running shoes again -  I didn’t till I started training for the marathon.

What has a typical week of training looked like?

Since Christmas, my training has really stepped up. I try to get out for a run three times a week.
Mid-week, I tend to do two short, fast runs after work with a maximum distance of 6 miles, normally on a Tuesday and Thursday. I also try to get to the gym on a Monday or a Wednesday, to strengthen my legs with high resistance interval training and squats.
My main training takes place at the weekend, which are the long distance runs. I reached 13 miles around New Year, and since then, I have been adding a mile to my longest distance every weekend. I’m currently up to 18 miles, with the aim of getting to 22miles two weeks before the actual marathon at the end of April. Training for over 3 hours in one go can be pretty tough, so I have started listening to podcasts which help take my mind off the running. They really help!

How have you had to change what you're eating, or any other lifestyle changes?

Initially, I didn’t change my diet and as a result lost a considerable amount of weight. I was burning about 1,000 calories whenever I went out for a run, which I wasn’t compensating! Now I tend to just eat whenever I’m hungry. As someone that’s quite conscious about what I eat, this is completely backwards and has taken some getting used to – being able to eat 4 meals a day has been surprisingly difficult! 
A typical day's diet consists of: porridge for breakfast, a bacon sandwich at about 10am, pasta for lunch and something like fish, potatoes and vegetables for dinner. After a training run, I have a protein shake too, to help with muscle recovery. 

How do you feel about the day itself?

I’m pretty nervous about the Marathon. Although I will have done more than enough training, it’s such a daunting distance! Also, I tend to run alone or with just one other person, so I’m a bit anxious about having to run with thousands of other people. I just need to focus on my own running and not get carried away with other people’s pace. 
I’ve got lots of friends and family who are all travelling down to London to cheer me on which will be amazing. When I did the half marathon, my mum and brother were in the crowd. I saw them 4 times on the route, and it definitely helped me keep going and not give up! 

How will you celebrate once it's all over?
If the end of my half marathon is anything to go by, I’ll probably cry as I cross the finish line, go straight for a sports massage followed by a hot bath and early night, which doesn’t sound like a bad post-marathon celebration to me! 

Are you going to carry on running after the marathon?
I’m definitely going to keep up running after the marathon, I’d really like to join a running club and enter more half marathons and marathons in the future.  I’ve actually signed up to the Manchester 10km in May with a few colleagues from work! 

If you want to know more about the charity Laura is running for, her fundraising page is HERE.

I'm so proud of her already, and can't wait to be able to say congratulations once she's completed the marathon itself. 

Good luck, Laura <3

Sunday, 3 April 2016

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 wide staircases as large windows, but it all felt very homely, and each corner you turned felt like walking down the corridor of someone's house.

We ate in the evening at the hotel restaurant, where the food was beautiful. The service, however, was very slow, which was unexpected seeing as we were the only ones in there! It was a stunning setting though, in a dining room with plush chairs and a huge bookshelf covering a whole wall, filled with old leather-bound books.

Breakfast was served in the same area, and although the selection on the buffet was much more limited than many other hotels I've been to, the cooked breakfast elements were clearly of very high quality, which could definitely be tasted and was very much appreciated.

All in all, The Lodge Hotel was a lovely setting for an overnight stay, but there was nothing that gave it that real 'wow' factor. It did seem very quiet the whole time we were there, which did make me wonder if previous visitors have felt the same.

If you're looking to stay somewhere in the area though, and you want to be sure you'll be comfortable, relaxed, and enjoy a good night's sleep at a reasonable price (by London standards!), it's one to consider.

Friday, 1 April 2016

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 hotel stay mid-month which was a lovely treat, and some long overdue catch-ups with some of my very favourite people. Those people include my mum, who came for a wonderful day trip at the beginning of the month.

I've also been continuing to see a counsellor, sorting through some of the anxiety issues I still have battles with, and tiring as the sessions are they're slowly sinking in.

Looking ahead, April seems to be starting with a bout of nice weather, which I'm very happy about! I'm away this weekend for a trip I've been looking forward to for MONTHS, and next week am off down a bit further South to visit my aunt and uncle.

The end of the month brings with it the London Marathon. This year, one of my closest friends Laura is running (more to come on that, watch this space...) and I don't think I could be much more proud of her if I tried.

Baby sister is currently in Indonesia, the past week or so has been spent in Bali so I can't deny the thought of that is making me slightly jealous!

So that's where I'm up to. I'm ready for a new month and a move towards the brighter, warmer months (hooray!).

When I think back to this time last year, SO much has changed, and it's certainly been a pretty amazing, action-packed 12 months. I hope this April will be as happy as last year's was - or better!

Time to pack for the weekend, because packing is the one thing I never seem to be organised about...

Happy April x

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