Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Out and about: The Soho Hotel

I'm feeling very proud of myself today. I had an "out and about" post published on Florence Finds and I'm rather pleased with it, if I do say so myself.

Check out my review of the Soho Hotel afternoon tea here: http://www.florencefinds.com/the-soho-hotel-afternoon-tea/

Yay me.

I only wish that I could do lovely things like this and review them for lifestyle blogs all day, every day... hmmmm.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Dear Santa...

As it’s one month until Christmas I thought I’d write you this little letter about my Christmas present wish list. I’ve been a very good girl this year. I’ve done nice things for people, I’ve helped people out, I’ve admitted it when I’ve been wrong and I’ve done (almost) my fair share of the household chores.

I kept my bedroom tidy for most of the time, I’ve been nice to my little brother, I’ve done all my homework (and most of my work-work) and I say my prayers every night.
So please be kind and leave me some goodies under my tree this year
I know that the recession has meant that production has slowed down in your North Pole factory due to elf job cuts and fairy dust being scarce at the moment, but if possible I’d love:
  • a Chanel 2.55 flap bag – I know I ask every year, but I just like to give you a little reminder. I’ll take it in cream, nude, white, or at a push, black. I’m not fussy. I’m really not. But I’d prefer not to have the blue…
  • A pair of Jimmy Choo Glenys sandals, if you could magically make them metallic and sparkly that would also be amazing, and I’ll never need another pair of shoes again. I promise. 
  • a Boodles Marguerita blue topaz and diamond cocktail ring. A good quality copy would be acceptable…
  • a Lulu Guiness lips clutch. Again - I'm not fussy, I'll let you decide which colour...
Then, in case Mr G and my family ask for any other ideas, I’d quite like:
  • this twinkly snowflake bracelet. I’m a snow baby, so I have a strange obsession with snowflakes. And anything twinkly. Obvs. I know, it is strange for me to request a piece of jewellery that doesn’t have seven noughts on the end of the price tag, but I’m being honest. I’d reeeeally like this please!
  • these earrings. In the absence of genuine diamonds and emeralds, genuine green and white Swarovski crystals will do nicely. Totally red carpet and Bond Girl-esque!
  • and whilst you’re in Swarovski picking up the Bond girl earrings, please also look out for this necklace and bracelet set… or just the bracelet.
  • to add this pretty watch to add to my growing Swatch collection.
  • to scent our home with a new Diptyque or Jo Malone scented candle. I love the smell of fig. Mmmmmmmmm
  • some new perfume. I wouldn’t sniff at (geddit) some Viktor and Rolf Flower Bomb or some Stella McCartney Peony, especially as I’m running out of both.
  • an ultimate travel book like this one as you know I love to plan a holiday, and you know that there’s nothing that makes me happier than reading about all the places I’ve been to and will one day visit, this book will keep me entertained for hours. It might cost you a bit in future travel plans as well, though…
  • some retro champagne saucers, seeing as there will be lots of champagne quaffing in January, these glasses would make the quaffing uber-special.
  • some good books, the Mad Men DVD box set, a few recent DVD releases, maybe the Wii Zumba game (sorry downstairs neighbours) and some new tunes for my iPod to keep the post-Christmas blues at bay and see me through the cold, dark nights of January and February. Brrrrr.
  • a cute dinky diary is always welcome, because you never know when you're next going to kill your iPhone!
  • some new snuggly PJs, slippers and socks, in keeping with the tradition. Christmas without new joke pyjamas - it's like tea without milk and sugar. Acceptable, but quite frankly, strange!
  • and finally, my new obsession with Pan Am means that I NEED one of these Pan Am flight bags. I’m not sure what on earth I’d use it for, but just knowing I have it ready and waiting for when the need arises would make me very happy. If you could track down the Marc Jacobs limited edition version, well, that would be magical!
Please send my love to Mrs Claus, and send season’s greetings to the reindeer. I’ll leave your sherry and mince pies in the usual place and the carrots on the door step. Fly safe – it’s a jungle out there!

Love and kisses
p.s. don't forget - Eat, drink, be merry! Ho Ho Ho!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Change something

I know I’ve spoken before about how I don’t like change, but that was just in jest – and I really didn’t like the new Gold Bear consistency!
When it comes to real change, sometimes it’s not nice, sometimes it really throws everything up in the air which ruins my plans and Stresses. Me. Out! But generally I try to embrace it. It’s something to look forward to. It results in new opportunities and challenges. It can mean new projects, new friends, new places to see. I hate goodbyes but change often means there are hellos on the horizon.
I saw this picture on a friend’s Facebook profile a while back and, as a great believer in “signs”, it helped me make a few big decisions. I printed it out and stuck it up next to my desk as a little reminder to keep things moving, and to stay happy. Recently things have piled up and I lost sight of this picture, quite literally. And then, with a little bit of a spring clean (yes, I’m still speaking both in reality and figuratively, stay with me!) I discovered it again, and after a few weeks of feeling miserable, sorry for myself and lost, I am now feeling inspired again to make some big changes, and a few little ones, to make myself happy again.
I also quite often find myself humming this Honda advert from years back and, simple as the words are (and bear in mind they are singing about car engines!), they make sense:
Hate something?
Change something!
Hate something? Change something!
Make something better!
Indeed. That is what I shall do.
Things have been static for too long. I’m going to look at the things I hate, I’m going to change them and make things better for myself.
Happy days!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Out and about: Kenza

Earlier this week I went for dinner with the Mr and some friends at Kenza on Devonshire Square.

Being a tastecard member, and having heard good things, I'd been meaning to try it for a while and this double dinner date was the perfect opportunity as it was pretty central for us all, and is only stumbling distance to Liverpool Street for the last train home.
Booking wasn't quite as simple as I had hoped. First I booked through Open Table which was quick and easy, to start with. I requested a booth but couldn't book any kind of deal nor check the T&Cs of the tastecard usage, so I called the restaurant directly to check, whereupon I was greeted by a stubborn and highly rude employee who was happy to let us cancel the booking all together rather than let us use my card on the booking. The tastecard website states that it can be used for a maximum of two people. Most restaurants accept the card for two people, using either the ‘2-4-1’ deal or 50% off the food bill, and then charge full price for the rest of the meal, which essentially reduces the overall cost for all diners when the bill is split. However, the Kenza representative stated that the card could not be used at all on the table booking as there were more than two people, rudely pointing out that if we didn't like the terms, then she could just cancel the whole booking. Seeing as I'm more stubborn than her, and indeed more stubborn than a mule, I accepted her offer and cancelled completely. Thinking that they must be incredibly busy that night to be able to turn away trade I hastily re-booked a table under the Mr's name, so as not to enter the admin nightmare of finding an alternative restaurant for the dinner date. I felt that my stubbornness shouldn't ruin everyone else's night! So anyway, on arrival I was greeted with an entirely empty restaurant. Clearly they weren't busy, just rude!
 From there on in though the evening got much better and so shall this review!
It was a bit tricky to find, but that might be because we were too busy chatting and not paying enough attention to signs and maps, but on arrival it was worth the hunt. Having just come back from the Middle East, it was like stepping out of central London and back in to holiday mode. The decor is amazing with pretty glass and metal lanterns, silk cushions, trickling fountains, colourful tiles and carved wood screens around the booths. They've truly created a little piece of North Africa in the Square Mile.

After the tastecard issue, we settled on the Assaffa Feast which, for only £25 per head included four courses of traditional Lebanese and Moroccan food. I'm not tight, I just like to get a bargain, and by saving money, it means I get to eat out more, and thus have to cook less! Hurrah!
So anyway, the feast consisted of cold starters which included mezzes such as hummus, warm pitas, roasted vegetables, Tabbouleh and olives, followed by warm dishes such as sauté potatoes, chicken wings and deep fried lamb parcels. Following that we were presented with two big morroccan serving plates filled with massive lamb shanks accompanied by mountains of cous cous, figs and pears. I'm not normally a lamb eater, but when in (pretend) Rome and all that. It was succulent and tasty, and the cous cous was plentiful. We had to ask for it to be taken away after a while as its presence on the table was just too tempting and I would have eaten myself in to a carb coma!  
After a small break we were then presented with a fresh fruit platter with orange blossom water, baklava and Turkish delight which was all delicious. We accompanied all this with yummy cocktails (and few mocktails, just to give them a go) and some great laughs as the belly dancers wiggled and jiggled in front of us, and dragged one of the (male, obvs) diners up to join her.  
I have to say the service was incredibly slow considering how quiet they were, and the staff required a few nudges to get things moving, however when they were at our table they were all polite, helpful and attentive. There was no sign of Bad Telephone Attitude Girl on the night though, so that's a good thing.
As I've mentioned before, I always have to check out the loos as well, it's part of the "venue scouting" routine that's been drilled in to me, and I can report that these were good. In keeping with the overall design, a bit funky, a bit dark, but overall clean and with nice smelling hand wash. No hand cream though – so they lose a Toilet Star for that!
Would I go back? Definitely! I'd probably have a few drinks at the bar as well, despite the slow service and the rude welcome on the phone, the food was yummy the setting was great for getting out of my "city" headspace for a few hours and the belly dancers made me laugh.
All in all a good night out.

Friday, 11 November 2011


It comes before a fall

It’s a deadly sin

It goes hand in hand with prejudice

It’s brightly coloured

It’s a bunch of lions hanging out on the plains

It's an old man's beer

Whatever you think, I am currently feeling proud. Of quite a few things, which I shan’t go in to here, but most specifically of my poppy pin and paper poppy. I am proud to be wearing them.
It doesn’t make me a war-mongering fascist, a religious zealot nor a raving nationalist. It is not a political statement, in fact, for me it’s quite the opposite. What I’m saying here isn’t new, original or an improvement on anything else that’s been said countless times before. But I’m going to say it anyway.
The boys who lost their lives in the Great War were not there for their own political reasons. They were there at the orders of a higher power, and not a spiritual one. The boys and girls who contributed to the World War II war effort did not participate because they wanted to, but because they were ordered to, or had to, to survive. The men and women out there in the Middle East aren’t risking their lives for fun, but because men and women in offices of power have sent them there or created a world that requires them to sign up to the army.
And that is why I won’t listen to anyone that tells me I can’t wear a poppy and neither should a team of footballers, if they want to wear one, that is. That is why the newsreels about sporting associations denying people the opportunity to wear them during play exasperates me, images of people burning poppies saddens me and Facebook status updates about people going crazy about criminal records over spray-painted poppies bores me. Come on, people. Burning your own property isn’t illegal. If you bought the poppy, you own the poppy and if you want to burn it, fine. More fool you. You clearly have money to burn – quite literally. Spray painting a poppy on the side of a building, any building, is criminal damage. Get a grip! Posting posters full of expletives on your online profile aimed at people who don't want to wear poppies, for whatever reason, are entirely counter productive. I understand your frustrations, but that's not what wearing a poppy is about. Let's not let these issues overshadow the real message. Poppies aren't meant to divide us, it's meant to unite us, and create empathy across geographic and cultural divides.
I’m not alone in having grandparents and great grandparents that have fought, and some of them died, in the wars our leaders have taken us in to, even on opposing sides at some points. I’m not alone in having friends at war, as we speak. I’m not alone in having a sense of pride in, and respect for, those people that risked, or continue to risk, their lives in dangerous situations that benefit our right to freedom and safety.
Whatever your thoughts are on the tactical balls-up that was the First World War, the insane crimes against humanity that have occurred during wartime, the crazy political stances that have started wars and the stubbornness of humankind that continues to let war happen in this day and age, suggesting that wearing a poppy is bad thing amazes me.
It’s just an enamel badge, a piece of coloured paper, or even nowadays, a plastic wristband. But it stands for so much more. Everyone knows that wearing a poppy is about remembering those who died for my freedom to write this, who fought for equality and human rights (though we are still a long way off solving that problem), or those who just ran at a wall of bullets because they were told to and had no other choice. They created a world where it's ok to say so if you don't want to wear poppy. Ironic really.
Those that suggest it’s about religion, politics or nationalism may be right in a minority of cases. But for the majority it’s just about simple, understated respect.
I will wear my poppies with pride (yes both of them), I will observe a two minute silence. I will remember those who died, I will watch the remembrance service and will shed a tear when Queenie places her wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and if people don’t like it, well tough. That’s their right to do so and mine to ignore them.
For them. For now. Forever

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Out and about: Equus Bar

Equus Bar was a location we were considering as a venue for a work event and we rather liked the feel but in the end went for a different venue. Sorry Equus Bar!
However when I saw a deal pop up on Travel Zoo for cocktails and canapés at a significantly reduced price it was hard to say no, especially as we'd seen some yummy cocktails on the menu  during our last visit.

The setting is very Mad Men-esqe, with lots of dark wood, masculine soft furnishings, brass plates and iron railings at the door. It felt a bit like a high end gentleman's club in fact (not that I’ve ever been in one!). However, in direct contrast to the traditional feel of the lounge areas, is the back-lit perspex bar and funky light feature in the recessed ceiling which lifts the feel slightly to make it “old school” not “old fashioned”. Despite visiting in early October, I also felt very festive. I think it's because it reminded me of a New York hotel bar I visited one Christmas, and all cosy bars, dark wood and "croony" music immediately makes me think of NYC, that's just me though

The cocktail list is short, but well formed with names in homage to famous former guests, including Winston Churchill, and hand-picked ingredients to compliment them. The bar tender was very helpful and talked us through each drink and helped us pick cocktails according to our likes and dislikes. He was also rather lovely and made us some freebies, which always puts a bar in good stead in my mind!
The cocktails were tasty, the canapés were delicious, although not enough to fill us up so I have to admit we did walk round the corner for Mexican food afterwards (and it would have been rude not to have a margarita as an accompaniment) to fill the hole.
The setting was chilled, most definitely not buzzy and it did lack a bit of atmosphere, but it is essentially a hotel bar, it is on a deathly-quiet road and it was a Wednesday, so we weren’t expecting a rave, to be fair. The clientele varied from well-dressed ladies returning to their hotel for a cocktail after a day hitting the shops (I had paper bag envy in a big way), little old men snoozing in to their cognac in the private dining rooms after dinner, middle aged couples on date night and relaxed business meetings. We were the youngest patrons by a mile, but that also meant we got some great service!
The event manager in me always has to check out the toilets, and I wasn’t disappointed. Shiny, new, monochrome and spacious with lots of mirror and surface space for make up touch ups and with nice smellies on offer.
I won’t be hurrying back, not because it was bad in any way, I just need a bit more “buzz” in my bars. However, if I’m passing with my dad I’d take him in for a drink, I think he'd like it!

Sunday, 6 November 2011


Last month I was mostly loving:
High Street Make up

In recent months I have re-discovered a love for high street make up. I've always been a make up addict. I'm a complete product junkie. I need it all. Want it all. Love it all. As a child, I'd spend all my pocket money on high-end cosmetics. Saving up pocket money for trips to Selfridges and the magical make up counters. On holidays, the minute we were through airport security (back in the days before toiletries had to go in sandwich bags, and you could still take a massive vanity case of toiletries on as hand luggage) I would sprint towards the duty free make up and spend about 90% of my hard-earned holiday money on designer make up, saving the other 10% for a post card to my grandparents, and friendship bracelets for all my buddies back home.
I'm still obsessed now, a trip to Space NK of a lunchtime can leave me starving until the next payday. And I keep trying to delete myself from the MAC, NARS and Bobbi Brown newsletter distribution lists… I do, I really do.
It was a dream come true when my friend Liz started working for Estee Lauder – can you imagine 75% off the whole company range (which included Bobbi Brown, Prescriptives, MAC… you name it) but also a special Staff Shop where you could get the most amazing treats for only a few quid. I'm not going to tell you the tantrum I had when she announced that she was going to travelling for a year… so selfish of her!
Recently, however I've been making attempts at saving money. It's not going well, as my friends and family can attest. Holidays, clothes, trips, parties. I have however reigned in the high-end make up purchasing and have started using *GASP* highstreet brands for the odd occasion. A little bit of research on Make Up Alley and some well-placed articles by leading make-up artists will confirm that quite a few products live up to their more high-end cousins’ hype. Some of them don't but on "three for two" in Boots, who cares? I've been back to the old school with some Rimmel lippie (Not heather shimmer!) but The Kate Moss collection in shade "02" (how imaginative?). It doesn't have the staying power of NARS but it's a cool colour I get compliments on it all the time so it's a keeper. I found a great matching lipliner from Barry M in "dark pink" (also imaginative, no?)  , and the "fuschia" lip liner is a perfect match for my fave NARS lippie in "Schiap". Way to go Barry M.
I've always been faithful to the Barry M glitter dusts and nail varnishes, so there's nothing new there, but I have also discovered the uh-mazing staying power of the Rimmel lycra nail varnishes as well. They totally out-last anything by OPI, Chanel and Jessica. I have to say that Essie still remains to be my fave nail varnish though – those little bottles are too cute – and when applied properly (i.e. not in the car en route to a party, but in the Cowshed spa, in a snuggly chair complete with blanket and champagne) the varnish can last over two weeks! Special mention for the scented nail varnish too. So clever. Strawberry Shortcake-scented nails? What more could a girl need? Nice work Rimmel!
The Autumn Trash TV schedule
Particularly the Sunday night offering. Saturday nights snuggled up with the girls, or my boy, watching Strictly and X Factor and providing our critical analysis (I always agree with Craig – is that bad?) with yummy snacks and bottomless cups of tea and interspersed with chats and gossips in the ad breaks. But Sundays – well, Strictly (thankfully without dear old Brucie, less of Tess and more of the lovely Claudia), X Factor with some proper performers selling their wares, some dreamy outfit and accessory lusting on Downton Abbey and then a good old chortle at our resident pantomime characters on TOWIE finishes off the evening perfectly.  Then during the week there's all the other cool stuff like Glee, Made in Chelsea and Pan Am is on it’s way. Yay!
Caramel KitKats
*new chocolate obsession alert* (to replace last week's Burnt Toffee chocolate from green and Black's).
I knew they were out there but I never indulged, until two of my besties dressed up as a Kit Kat for a recent birthday party. They required a few logos to stick on things so they bought numerous Kit Kat variety packs, and then handed them out throughout the day. I got a whiff of the caramel one about ten minutes in and then proceeded to scoff at least one an hour until home time.
My new Swatch watch
I lusted after it in Heathrow duty free. I located it in Istanbul airport. I sought it out in Athens. I resolved to purchase it in Santorini, but was scuppered when they didn't have it in white. I got to Athens airport en route home and attempted to buy it, but the Swatch stall was the wrong side of security and I was scuppered again. My obsession with it grew as I was unable to make a purchase, and then I found it by mistake in my hometown but, on finally getting my hands on it, I just didn't love it as much. I think it was because it was white. I have an obsession with white watches in general but this one just didn't work. Then on a trip to the new Westfield (we didn't bond, sad times) I tried on the blue version, and I quite liked it. Only thirty quid and quite quirky. Done. It makes me feel sporty when I wear it. You know, like I should put on some trainers and go for a run or something. I won't though. Don't worry. It hasn't changed me, just enhanced me…
It also ticks really loudly, and this keeps me (and others) awake in meetings. Bonus!

Cold weather clothes

Ugg boots. Scarves. Snuggly jumpers. Hats. Mittens. I keep getting all excited, and then as soon as I put something snuggly on the weather throws us a curve ball and kicks out some summertime temperatures and I find myself sweltering like the old witch from Hansel and Gretel. Phew.
I started writing this earlier in the month when I was scouting out the best winter woollies and then Florence Finds went and wrapped them all up (excuse the pun) in a neat little article here. In the mean time I went ahead and purchased
  • this snuggly snowflake jumper by Fearne Cotton for Very (my girl crush probably played a big part in the sale though)
  • This cute little fitted jumper from Dorothy Perkins 
  • A super-cool floppy Cynthia Rowley hat with diamante bow from TK Maxx for a BARGAINOUS £14
  • And three, yes three pairs of suede and leather boots from New Look. These were so cheap it was rude not to purchase them in teal as well as black and I’ve been looking for the perfect pair of riding boots for about three years now, and although these aren’t perfect, they’re very close, and they were less than £70. Literally a steal compared to the other, less perfect, ones I’ve been trying on.
  • This sparkly party dress from the new New Look collection. Though, I don’t look anywhere near as good in it as Kelly Brook and I can’t help thinking of Britney in her “Toxic” video, or the really bad tribute from this year’s X Factor… you know what I’m talking about. So I think this one needs to be returned.

Dressing up

Kim, Katie and Neil turned 30, and Jo turned 21. There were parties, there was fancy dress, there were hangovers.  There will be memories forever! Great times!!

I also said to stop "bugging me" about my final outfit, and here it is. It was an Ugly Bug Ball hen do (see below) and I started off as Lady (Gaga) Bug" but there was just too much polyester going on. So I had a wee re-think, sprayed a whole can of Batiste big and bouncy dry shampoo on my hair, went wild on the backcombing and just went as a slutty ladybird instead. I'm from Essex, it was halloween, what can I say?
Last month I went all arty and visited the Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy, saw Warhorse at The New London Theatre, and if it still counts as “arty”, saw Britney at the O2. Read my thoughts here
Cake pops
I made cake pops. Lots of them. Round ones with glitter on! Just call me Nigella!
Caro Emerald’s new album

I love the Puppini Sisters, they make my daily commute bright and bouncy, but after three years of playing them non-stop I needed something new. Caro Emerald’s “Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor” fits the bill perfectly. She ticks the quirky, vintage and retro boxes but is also funky and modern at the same time. Her tunes are so catchy. I love “That Man” for the morning and “Back it up” for the way home and a special mention to her rendition of ”Bad Romance” (obviously!) which sadly doesn’t feature on the album.

The Ugly Bug Ball
So twenty of us headed off to Bath for Sarah's hen do, and it was fun fun fun fun! We started off with croissants and coffee at Chief Hen's house and then drove in convoy to Bath to take up residence in a massive 20-bed cottage just outside of the city. We spent the afternoon drinking, chatting, playing games and then trying to avoid making eye contact with the naked man that turned up for our "life drawing" session! Even this chief prude thought it was funny! Thankfully we ate hotdogs before the willy came out, and had SUPER yummy lasagne for dinner, handmade by Mummy Hen, Anne!

The drinking went on in to the night, continued after the pyjamas went on and only when we had significant injuries and had drunk the fridge dry did we go to bed. The next morning we held off the hangover with a breakfast free-for-all in the kitchen before jumping in our mini bus for a trip to the Thermae Spa. We recovered from the night before with some bobbing around in the rooftop pool in the blazing sunshine (hello strange October weather!) some steaming, and some showering and we soon felt human again.

After the spa we had a spot of lunch and a pre-scavenger hunt briefing. Chief Hen and I sent the others off on their way, meeting them at the halfway point for a cocktail and then at the finish line where we totted up the scores over lychee and grapefruit cosmopolitans before heading back to the cottage for pizzas, wine and general tarting up for our big (or "bug") night on the town (see above).

Later that night, after plenty of vodka shots, cocktails and dancing we all piled in a taxi bus back to the cottage to catch up on X Factor (cue a roomful of crazily dressed women screaming insults or support at the telly for a while) and then crashing out.

The next day we had an even bigger hangover breakfast and a small presentation ceremony before hitting the road and I got home in time for Sunday dinner, sofa snuggles and trashy telly with the boy.

A bugtastic weekend!!!

And as promised to Claire Wacey, here are some outfit photos. Special mentions for the bug-on-board and the winning outfit - Alison's Caterpillar!

A ladybug, spider (with bug on board), Lady of the Flies (our bride), a Caterpillar, Black Widow, an ant, Amy Wine-hive
... and November
I'm now SUPER excited for November to get going - more birthdays, afternoon tea at the Soho Hotel, girly nights in, and the best bit? Planning for CHRISTMAS!!!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


This month was full of fun! It was the start of the 30th birthday season with a hen do thrown in for good measure, resulting in lots of drinking, partying and fancy dress. There’ll be more on this soon, but first, for some culture! After my lazy Sunday of watching low-rate telly, I thought I should attempt to look a bit more civilized and intellectual. It doesn’t really suit me though, so I’ll start working on posting the less cultured stuff soon… 

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement


My lovely company gave me some free passes to an exclusive out-of-hours viewing of the Degas Exhibition at the Royal Academy. To be honest I'm a bit of a pleb when it comes to art and not really a gallery person. I'm more about art in situ – a picture of a historical figure on the wall somewhere like Hampton Court is much more spine-tingling for me. Standing in the room that it was painted for, on the same floor boards as the commissioner, looking at it in the same light as it was seen in then, is more what "art" means to me. A picture on a white wall in a room with a plaque to tell you about it leaves me a bit cold, but, being a former dancer, I’m familiar with a lot of the Degas works, and I was interested to be given the “behind the scenes” information that really makes them come alive, and with free, "backstage" access, who can say no? I took my mum and my aunt, both avid ballet fans, and it was great to spend some time wandering amongst the famous paintings, sculptures and films with a guide who knew all the history, meaning, references to other artists and hidden jokes in the pictures.  The exhibition was about Degas' "preoccupation with movement" and it claimed to "trace the development of the artist's ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years".  

I saw all of those things, and more.
Despite the pictures being of dancers, and being replicated in various pretty, feminine and fluffy ways (I've seen them on girly lunch boxes, post it notes, and pencil cases to name but a few) I’ve never thought that they were particularly pretty or nice pictures. But they are some of the most recognised images in history, especially for dancers! I’ve always thought them rather ugly and they make me uncomfortable to look at. Probably, because, in my mind, the dancers in the pictures don’t look particularly comfortable with their art, the scenes are messy, and the movement is not as precise or honed as I was taught they should be. There is a fuzzy ugliness to the paintings in my (untrained) eyes.
Hearing the curator talk about how Degas wasn’t portraying flouncy, pretty, dainty ballerinas, but dancers who were prostitutes to make ends meet, who joked around in rehearsal studios and who were a world away from modern day ballerinas in terms of their physiques, made me realise that perhaps I had been seeing the pictures correctly all along. Albeit for different reasons. He told us about the pictures being less about the subjects, and more about the movement, hence the title, and also about space. Having never looked too closely at the pictures as anything but pictures before I had never noticed the subtle "mistakes" that weren't actually mistakes. Repeated figures, figures seemingly cropped out of the shot, but in fact very purposefully so. Movement lines. Clever composition to suggest a whirlwind of fouette turns across the canvas. Figures copied from photographs or referenced in famous studios of the time. Portraits of notorious ballet masters in the background of various paintings. All of these details were pointed out to us as the gallery staff went about their pre-opening rituals around us. We then moved on to his sculptures (just as the fire alarm test went off), including that famous little dancer he never intended for the world to see, to hear a little bit of background about this little girl who disappeared from records not too long after posing for Degas, and about how she came to be one of the most famous "dancers" in history.  It was brilliant to see how she aided his works going forward.
He pointed out jests, references to other artists who were studying the human form and the art of capturing movement at the same time in history, and also poking fun at those that he didn’t deem “proper” artists, namely photographers. I learned about his life, the way his vision and technique changed over time, as his sight diminished and as other artists influenced him, and I saw the only piece of film, on record, of Degas himself. It is in fact a paparazzi-style film, captured by a biographer whom Degas refused to pose for, so he shot it in secret from across the street outside his home. It was enchanting. It’s literally only 15 or so seconds long and it’s of him walking along a Parisian street with his niece, narrowly avoiding a lamp post. I sat and watched that 15-second film repeat itself for about five minutes before dragging myself back to Canary Wharf to do some work!
I'm not an art buff (in fact I'm far from it), I've never had any affection for Degas as an artist, nor his ballet dancers, save for a little bit of interest on the dancing side, but i did find this exhibition incredibly interesting, moving and informative and i definitely took something away from the hour or two i spent there, even if it was just clarification that my initial thoughts on his works weren't blasphemous!
If you have any interest in art, movement, the history of photography, sculpture or even just in ballet I would most definitely recommend it. And if you're not, but can get your hands on some free tickets, I'd still suggest you pay a visit!
Warhorse was exquisite. Having seen the fabulous puppeteering skills in The Lion King, I didn’t think it could be beaten, but I was wrong. As the show begins you’re looking for the puppeteers, you’re watching them and the way they control the “animals”, marvelling at their skill and accuracy, and by the end of the show they are invisible and the animals take on a life of their own. I’m a bit of an animal lover and I especially love horses, so I don’t know if it was just me, or if the puppet animals had the same effect on everyone, but if the horses were on stage the humans became peripheral to the action. I was transfixed by them and had to remind myself to pay attention. I grew more and more emotionally attached to the animals’ stories, than those of the humans.
The overall story is a familiar one, not only if you’ve read the book, or the reviews, but because it’s set in the first world war and touches on the themes that we see whenever the Great War is referenced in modern media. At the macro level, the hopelessness of our chances as we sent millions of boys out to die as machine gun fodder and the barbaric nature of the conflict in the field. At the micro level, the camaraderie amongst the Tommys, both with those on their own side and with those on the other side of No Man’s Land.
We see the story through the eyes of a spirited horse named Joey and his new owner, trainer and friend, Albert. Bought at market in a small village in Devon by a poor family for their farm, he proves himself to be spirited, intelligent, loyal and a loving companion. The start of World War I finds Joey sold to the British cavalry and he sees battle, on the ground in France, for both the British and the German armies. We, and Joey, meet various characters along the way and we see the war from all their points of view. Albert’s selfish cousin, a disillusioned German officer, a friend that Albert makes in the trenches pining for his girl back home, a proud horse named Topthorn, a gregarious French farm girl and her frightened mother. Some of the dialogue is even played out in German and French and I was rather proud, not to mention astonished, that I understood all of it!
The staging and the effects are amazing, inventive and at times, funny. The use of the space and props is both clever and appropriate for the subject matter, being sparse and simple, but meaningful. The acting didn’t blow me away, but there was enough emotion there to bring me to tears a number of times, and it was believable. I don’t find it as comfortable to sit and watch dramatic acting on stage as I do on film. I’m much more relaxed with dance or comedy on a stage, but in this instance, it was more about the puppets and staging. The script and story itself were good. Great, even, especially when you start to think of the story’s roots. However, there were parts where I found myself drifting away from the moment and thinking about other things or my eyes began to wander with my mind, and I don’t know if the fault there is mine or the director’s for not keeping the pace up with the dialogue and particularly the monologues and soliloquies. The music and singing was, however, wonderful. It added atmosphere, passion and sentiment in the way that only a tuneful human voice can. I did think about buying the soundtrack, but I think, when taken out of context, and played on my iPod on a packed commuter train it’s not going to hold the same weight!
But, ultimately, the script, staging, props, singing and acting all come second in my eyes as nothing can compete with the emotion, skill and devotion of the puppeteers, and the puppet designers.
I won’t ruin the ending, and I shan’t ruin the surprise of the puppets by telling you anymore but I will tell you that you should book tickets to see it as soon as you can!
And finally...

 ...I also popped in to the O2 to see Britney's Femme Fatale tour (again courtesy of my lovely company!), that certainly doesn't fit here, but I'll tell you about it briefly anyway! Bless her heart, she tried, she really did. So much harder than she tried on the Circus tour but just not hard enough to live up to the standards she set long ago, nor the standards being set by the new (and some old) faces on the block, like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Beyonce. But it's over now. She just needs to go home and be a mummy. She will always have a special place in my heart. She will always be the princess of pop, but for now she needs to get off the stage and do what she wants to do, not what her p!mps, sorry, management want her to do!

The production was so small I was certain that we were in the wrong place, or a whole stage was going to fall from the ceiling to make the show more spectacular. But it didn't. And it's probably a good thing as poor Brit would never had had the energy to cover any more stage than she absolutely had to. It was incredibly small in comparrisson to Circus, but back then I think all the production was put around her so as to mask the fact that she was (a) miming, (b) not dancing and (c) doped up to the eyeballs. The stages was set up like a big top in the middle of the arena so that there was nowhere to put screen so essentially we never saw Britney close up to tell. Just to clarify - miming is fine in my mind so long as you're pulling out some astounding choreo. If you're not then please sing. Even better, make like Gaga or Beyonce and do both. Thank you.

Anyway, back to Femme Fatale. The stage was about the size of the stage at my old dance school, which was a bit disappointing. The theming relating to "Femme Fatale" was pretty loose with long drawn out video voice overs (was she back stage having a sit and a cuppa between tunes?) from a malevolent controlling male stalker seeking out Britney's secret agent character all over the world - cue Egyptian scenery and dancers, some Japanese costumes and the obligatory police cell dancing requiring scantily clad females to dance in tiny "cells" with sexy policemen. I've asked Mr G... this is not reality. So he says...

Britney walks around a lot, flicks her (fake) hair a lot and yells "HEY [INSERT CITY]!" a lot. That's about it. The dance moves were sluggish and she put so little effort in it was actually quite distressing. Brit was the queen of isolation. Where did the passion and attack go? It didn't matter that she mimed in the past, to me, because her moves had me transfixed. Now, it's as much as she can do to hit the flick-ball-change on the right beat and walking from one side of the stage to the other to wave and sparkle at the fans is about as energetic as she gets.

What was even more upsetting was that the choreography was, quite frankly, incredibly dated. It belongs in the Grade 2 modern class I took 18 years ago! Even worse was that the choreographer stood about 2 metres in front of the stage and did the ENTIRE performance in front of Britney so she could copy him. At first I thought he was an over-exuberant fan, but after a while I realised that not even the most dedicated of Britney fans would spend their time learning all that tosh. He even stood in front of her to do the "stand on the podium at each side of the stage and do jumping movements and blow kisses toyour fans" sections for her to copy.

It made me sad.

She perked up a bit when she did the older songs, clearly she remembers the funky choreo of old and pulls out a bit more fire for those numbers. But for the newer stuff, she could have walked off stage and left her (equally lack-lustre) dance troupe to deal with it for her and you wouldn't notice. In fact she did this several times to change uniforms, sorry, costumes.

At one point about 20 members of the audience end up on stage dancing with the backing dancers. I'm not exaggerating when I say that there were times when it was hard to tell the difference bewteen the fans and the professionals.

In her defence, she was a lot more interactive than on the Circus tour and there was a lot more actual singing, despite autotune and vocal effects.

I don't think her heart's in it anymore. So I'll let her off. Also, she used to pull out a spectacular show so in reverence to that, I will forgive. But, as a message to her management, and/or her parents... just leave her alone now. She's worked so hard for you. She's earned millions for you. Let her do what she wants to do now and stop wheeling her out on stage like a performing monkey.

She was legendary. Let's leave it on a high, eh?