Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Festive Crafting: Reindeer

Hello Everybody!

I hope you are enjoying the festive season. I sure am! I just got back from some German Christmas markets. I have also been indulging in some seasonal crafting - reindeer wall-hangings, they are so easy to make, let me show you!

First find some appropriate card, I found these present boxes in the 99p shop and then took them apart.

Next find a template you like the look of, I got this one off the internet by typing 'reindeer template' into Google. I know you can do that!

Now take your template and draw round it onto your card, making the most of all the space available - remember you can even tessellate the reindeer.

Pick your weapon of choice and cut out your reindeer!

Get some blue-tac. We're gonna put some holes in our reindeer. I'm using cotton threads but you could easily use ribbon. Place the blue-tac on your surface. Place the reindeer over the blu-tac and make your hole(s). I used scissors but you could easily use a craft knife, braddle etc. I found two holes give extra support.

Now thread your reindeer onto your thread. If you are doing the two hole method can I recommend threading such that they cross over behind each reindeer? This stops the reindeer from bulging all out front.

It is time to position your herd, on the fireplace or wherever feels right. At this point I hit a roadblock. Some of my reindeer were flipping upside down and showing their rather unsightly behinds!

 I tried a number of solutions with little success so stretched out to the wise souls of the internet who did not disappoint! As it transpires, that same blu-tac you used earlier weighs the reindeer hooves down just so! Thank you good people of the internet!

And there you have it, a herd of seasonal reindeer; you could adapt this any number of ways. Name your reindeer, draw on each one, change the material (work in glass perhaps?!), move the holes such that the reindeer don't topple over? Either way enjoy!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Hamburg T2D3: Coffee with and without eyes


Yes I know I've been keeping you waiting some three weeks to find out what happened on day 3, I've been off having important meals, getting new jobs and exploring new cities if you must know! But sort of vowing to do better in December.

Coffee without eyes: Dialog im Dunkeln

So, when I was at the Toll Museum I saw an advert for this exciting adventure-experience. Dialog im Dunkeln Hamburg is a part of a much larger international outfit (India, China, Argentina all have sites) giving visitors the opportunity to experience a variety of situations blind. In a similar way to Dans le Noir, the tables are turned and the blind guides of this social enterprise become the confident ones, visitors are entirely at the mercy of the guide and their little white stick. My experience lasted 90 mins but it felt like just 5! What an adventure, Jann our guide took us through a variety of simulated experiences based on Hamburg's tourist scene, bridge crossing, boat trips, picking fruit at the market, even crossing the road. The space is entirely devoid of natural light so even with your eyes open you are reliant on your other senses. I was surprised how quickly I adapted to the loss of sight. In the cafe I bought a cup of coffee, I was amazed at how much more important the texture of even the coffee cup became once the visual aspect of coffee had been removed. Bit pricey for a standard adult (20€) but they offer plenty of discounts. And I've never been so grateful for my eyesight.

(so trendy it hurts)

(Amazing Apfelkuchen)

 (Cute advertising...)

Coffee with eyes: Cafe Brooks

From the museum I headed East on the U-bahn out to Hasselbrook station. I was meeting a couchsurfer for coffee at Cafe Brooks. What a great cafe. It definitely fits in with that Shoreditch/ Berlin/ antipodean unique coffee vibe and the Apfelkuchen was nearly as good as May's, and that's saying something! It was great to meet Theres. She even took me to this beautiful, peaceful park (Stadtpark) near her house. I'm getting somewhat into the habit of frequenting peaceful parks before returning home on the plane. Company, the cafe and the park were all A+.


I'm back in Germany next weekend enjoying Aachen's Christmas Market and catching up with friends...

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Hamburg T2D2: Boats, Towers and Glühwein

Today has been rather hectic.

After a gentle start, and a latte near the Rathaus I set out in search for Dialogue im Dunkel – an entirely blind experience and adventure. Finding the place took about 3 attempts, each time returning near enough back to where I started. When I eventually found the place they had no availability for today, I booked for Sunday and had to spell my nachnamer, not easy when it begins with ‘W’.

My place booked, I headed for the nearby Maritime Museum. It is a massive building spanning nine floors and covering every detail of maritime history, from Art History to construction, merchant shipping to warfare, models and uniforms. I could write a whole blog post about this museum I spent 2.5 hours there but I could easily have spent much longer, they use ipods for audio-guides, they’re really into multi-media exhibition spaces and even the ‘boring’ cases of objects have been turned into books. The other brilliant thing was the provision of integrated spaces within the museum for education and group tours. The downside to this museum was definitely the price, entry plus audio guide cost 15€; that said if I’d stayed all afternoon, as I easily could have, I’d say that was money well spent.

(sorry it is sideways!)
I’m in Hamburg for a conference held at a church in West Hamburg. Whilst waiting for registration to open I paid a visit to a more historic church. The church of St Michaelis has both a tower and a crypt to visit, the current building was constructed in the 50’s – as you can imagine I greatly relished the opportunity to visit both for just 7€. The tower was, er, tall and offers a lift service for those for whom 10 floors represents too tall a staircase. The view from St Michaelis Tower was impressive and good value for money. The crypt is the final resting place of many Regency  burials – evidence of lavish coffins covered in velvet and gold trim were in evidence when the crypt was excavated. The crypt is also the final resting place of one of the Bachs, I know not which one.

After conference I met some friends for dinner and we went to this nice Syrian joint. The sausages were great and I was so full by the end. From dinner we stumbled across this Nacht der Jugend festival at the Rathaus. All we knew was there was loud music coming from the Rathaus but was an opportunity for us to visit for free! Further investigation uncovered that this was a festival to remember Kristallnacht and encouraged young people to think about politics – one stand even asked ‘is Swing Dancing political?’ Sitting in the main chamber listening to a young man rap at great volumes was a once in a lifetime oddity.

Subsequently we had great fun getting lost in one of the big underground stations in the centre of town but made it to the Winter Dom fireworks just in time. After the firework display we made the most of the little stalls; eating würst, drinking glühwein, climbing aboard tractors! So much fun was had we lost track of time and by the time I returned to my dorm it was 1 am, and unlike last night, there were three sleeping bodies all disturbed by my bedtime routine. Oops.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Hamburg T2D1: Ports, taxes, philarmonie

Hi everyone! It has been a busy few weeks again since we last spoke. I’ve moved house, been to a private view, read several books and now find myself typing from Hamburg.

I’m in Hamburg for a conference called OBJECT, run by my friends at Hope Dies Last. The conference itself runs Friday afternoon to Saturday night but I thought I would extend the trip to take in more of the city after a brief visit last year.

Bearing in mind that Hamburg is an old port town with a world famous Red Light District, and how I am travelling alone…I decided against those super cheap budget flights that land you in a town you don’t really know in the middle of the night. Instead I flew British Airways. The whole thing was so different to the usual flights I take, everything was ‘would you mind awfully…sorry…oh not at all’ and once we were in our seats everyone sat silently, amply supplied with complimentary drinks and snacks. I loved tracking where we were on the in-flight information screens. I could get used to travel like this.

Arriving at the airport, I was greeted by the familiar fahrkarten machines for all rail travel; the ergonomic design means you can quickly find what you are looking for (in my case the ‘English’ button and then the ‘Travelcard’ button) and these days I read German train timetables like a boss!

Eventually I emerged in the city centre. One of the things I find most challenging about Hamburg is the blatent inequality; such wealth and poverty alongside one another. Something about the arrival of quality goods and the opportunity for informal economies provided by ports enables this to take place at this extreme. I’m not trying to say it’s a sight I wouldn’t recognise in London, but it is like putting Regent Street and the Old Kent Road right next to each other! The two images below are of the same street.

Next I stumbled across the Zoll Museum. For just 2€ you can learn all about tolls and taxes in Hamburg throughout history. Yet again the German museums blow us out of the water on interactivity, engagement and ingenuity. These hats were placed throughout the museum; they’ve got speakers inside them so that when you stand underneath them you can hear first-hand accounts, but stood next to them you hear very little – such clever noise management – highly reminiscent of the DDR Museum methods. Also playmobil dock workers.

The photo below is of me expressing my shock and pride that before standardisation my rather short stature was deemed 5 foot 6 in Saxony. Haha!

After the museum I explored the new site of the ElbePhilarmonie, no Dad it still isn’t finished. Took some pretty pictures of the dock and returned to try to find the Hostel which was more difficult than it seemed. It also involved walking down some rather dark side roads. I don’t know if it is because I am carrying more expensive equipment with me than usual but I am really aware of how visible I must be. Even though I cross roads like a German (looking in the right direction, waiting for the man) etc. my belisha beacon effect is on full-beam; several blokes have already approached me in the hostel lobby area (incidentally the only place you can get free wifi).

Also, the hostel passed on the ‘Hamburg Tourist Tax’ to me as the consumer. I thought it might be a ploy to make me part with cash, but genuinely, if you can prove someone is in overnight accommodation as a tourist (i.e. not on business) the government seems to levy a 1€ tax per person per night (I googled it). Apparently this practice is quite common in other European cities like Barcelona but it’s a new one to me. That said looks like I’ve got a 6-bed dorm to myself tonight so not really complaining.

Tomorrow brings: many more adventures. I probably haven't died if I don't manage an update tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Berlin Diaries II: Exposed brickwork, flea markets and country houses

Day 4 in Berlin, we woke early and packed up our things, already concerned by how we were going to compress all the luggage into the mandatory single piece of hand-luggage. We boarded The Ring train, noticing only on our last day that direction was represented in the ring icon as well as the locations listed…oh well.

We were headed for Dascha, another of Luke's recommendations; as the lady wasn't prompt in opening up and time was of the essence we found breakfast down the road in this kooky venue, all exposed brickwork and second-hand furniture. Mercifully this morning was wasp-free and wifi-enabled!

(Kooky breakfast)

From breakfast we headed to a flea market in the north of the city. We arrived promptly at 10:30 but the park was already packed, the stands rammed full of potential customers. The majority of stands featured standard content; scarves, records, vintage clothes, jewellery; one particular stand stood out, it sold watches and jewellery but was manned by an eccentric gentleman in a top-hat. Sometimes display really is everything…

(Flea Market)

From the hectic flea market we boarded The Ring in the opposite direction, towards Potsdam. Like Oranienburg, Potsdam is about 1 hour's travel from Berlin city centre. Potsdam is a town of great consequence. Kaiser Wilhelm built a country house, Schloss Cecilienhof. Hitler claimed to be his heir by marching through the city. Churchill and the allies met here to decide the division of Germany at the Potsdam Conference, and the Red Army also had a presence here. 

Schloss Cecilienhof
I headed for Schloss Cecilienhof, boarding a local bus and praying I'd be reunited with my ally before we boarded our flight home. I was merrily minding my own business when I was ambushed by a troop of some 20 exhausted English tourists and their tour guide, quite possibly a Miranda Hart voice-double on the weekends, promising they 'will never need to run again'.

(Miranda tour-guide)

The house itself was like a little slice of England, built by Kaiser Wilhelm, grandson of Queen Victoria for his wife Cecilia. It was a gloriously sunny afternoon in a park full of peace, and flowers, gold leaf and lovely boats. I really would recommend a visit in the afternoon in good weather. Entry to each museum building charged separately, main house 6€ - I just walked round the gardens, for free.

Park Sans Souci
After a brief nerve-wracking moment my friend and I were reunited and we headed for Park Sans Souci, Frederick the Great's pleasure palace and gardens, created in the 18th century. Comparisons could reasonably be made with Versailles or Hampton Court, the gardens were all fountains and landscape gardening. We saw gods and goddesses, muses and even soldiers dressed up in full-Regency livery. We enjoyed our little moment of luxury, it seemed a world away from yesterday's experiences. I wouldn't have paid to go into any of the buildings, but maybe that's personal taste, I've never been that bothered by Regency history. We took some beautiful photos in the low-lying sun and met a charming, but shy young man (he was maybe 3?) at the railway station on the way to the airport.

Being in Berlin has, as always, been a pleasure. I've really enjoyed getting under the skin of this city, the veritable queen of reinvention. Needless to say I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Berlin Diaries II: Harrowing

You might have noticed I've been in the habit of naming my blogs in threes; not today.

We set off to find breakfast at a leisurely pace, we were looking for Assel where, according to my Lonely Planet, 'both the seats and the toilets are kooky', the café had been long closed. Oh well, we resorted to the expensive, wasp-plagued but quite tasty, Oranium, unknowingly munching on melons in the heart of the prostitution area.

From here we jumped on the S1 to Oranienburg. The journey took about an hour, it was a sensationally sunny day. We watched the landscape becoming increasingly rural and the proliferation of summer houses for the enjoyment of all those urban Berliners. It felt like a great day to be alive and yet my mind was already conscious of where we were headed, and of the 20,000 people who had met premature deaths travelling this same route.


We were en route to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I’d never been to a concentration camp before, I was frightened of the unknown and didn't want to go alone. But with my trusty companion at my side and lots of head knowledge from my MA course I approached the site with trepidation.

The first thing I noticed was they don’t charge an entry fee. This is not entertainment for tourists, this is education and no one is to be barred due to cost. Secondly you could opt to buy an audio guide; they fascinate me, the way they mediate your experience of historical sites, shaping the narrative and indeed my own experiences. I think the audio-guide helped to distance me from the very immediate emotions of being in such a place of death; audio-guides are usually reserved for country houses and battlefields long since disappeared.

The site itself is mainly levelled to the ground – with concrete demarcations of huts and other buildings. Some elements have been reconstructed such as a domestic hut so you can get a sense of scale and representative watch-towers. It is always difficult to know how to make monuments of these contested spaces; do you let them crumble or do you preserve them for posterity? I found the truck depot and mass-grave complex the most harrowing – all life and vitality had been totally quenched here in some very cruel ways.

Did you know that when the Russian liberators arrived they continued to use the camp to intern prisoners? They uncovered a mass grave of prisoners’ bodies in the 1990s.

Humans can be hideous.

Schloss Oranienburg
We headed for Schloss Oranienburg led on by the sounds of medieval instruments. It was a bit pricey to get in to the festival but we noted Oranienburg  had a pretty river, castle, gardens and a strange Russian shop. Our return journey was rather quiet.

(Schloss Oranienburg)

(Russian shop)

Mexikanische Essen

For dinner we returned to Warschauer Strasse (where I stayed last year) on the u-bahn; trying not to meet the eyes of those begging ‘change for joints’.We navigated our way through the stoned hipsters to Simon-Dach Strasse, a street lined with restaurants and came across this Mexican restaurant where we maxed out on burritos and cocktails. Great value, epic portions and tasty cocktails, A+.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Berlin Diaries II: Panorama, the Stasi, and wine

Day 2 saw a much prompter start because we’d booked tickets to see Berlin from above. There are lots of ways to do this including the Reichstag Tour, the Berliner Dom tour and even a hot air balloon (click here for what I thought). But this time we chose the famous Berlin TV-tower (fernsehturm), an alien spike that dominates the skyline with a viewing platform some 200 metres high. I’m glad we booked tickets online with VIP queue jumping tickets as the queues at the venue were mad!

It takes just 2 mins to cover the 200 metre climb in a space-age lift. The views from the platform were astounding, although thoroughly dependent on the weather. We could see for miles, roof gardens, apartments, road networks, the river, and the S-bahn looking like a train-set below us. The only slight frustration with this experience was the info panels ran in the opposite direction to the viewing route meaning I only discovered the significance of ‘that odd looking building’ after I’d viewed it.

3/5 quite pricey for what it was, and significantly dated, but amazing views.

(the viewing platform is in the centre of the grey blob)

(Alexanderplatz from above)

Stasi Museum
We continued our DDR-Berlin day by visiting the Stasi museum. It’s a long way east but worth the visit. After yesterday’s experiences I had high expectations for another of Berlin’s museums which were perhaps misplaced.

The Stasi Museum is set in the old offices of the Stasi – stepping over the threshold the weight of historical resonance falls firmly the on the shoulders. That said most of the exhibits are traditional ‘stuff in cases’ or rooms laid out as they would have been used during the Stasi regime. One part of the museum focussed on prisoners of the regime and put you in a seat opposite the ‘prisoner’ depicted by a biography panel. There were subtle layers of undertone here, of interrogator and interrogated, created through something so simple as two chairs and a bit of cardboard.

3/5 Hard going if you don’t like reading, but some fascinating objects.

(Meet the prisoners)

East Side Gallery
After the Stasi museum we proceeded to the East Side Gallery. This artistic monument fascinates me; it started life as original protest art whilst the wall was in use, then official artists were brought in to represent constituent voices, when most of the wall was demolished. Today it’s a tourist trap where people take photos of themselves and occasionally tag a wall. It’s a piece of history and yet it’s also a place to voice complaint on current affairs – the veiled role of exhibition curation as political response is so much more evident here. The walls address themes from state sovereignty, war and peace, to sexuality, national culture and freedom in a way that is perhaps more democratic than an official museum or speech? This famous painting of Brezhnev and Honecker has been significantly tagged since I was last here, in part in reaction to the current homophobic crisis in Russia. It’s interesting that this particular tag and many others have not been removed by state authorities.

(East Side Gallery)

We progressed quickly from the East Side Gallery to Starbucks via Checkpoint Charlie. We decided against the extortionate passport stamping ruse, get all 6 for just 5€. Er, no ta! And caught sunset at the Brandenburg Gate. Then I spent an extortionate amount on a handbag made from old lorries and seatbelts.

Weinerei Forum

Finally we ended up at the Weinerei Forum, one of the destinations recommended by Luke. We were not disappointed, we found warmth, cheap home-made food, free wifi, plentiful affordable wine, and surprisingly the good Lord who was hanging up on the wall, overseeing every glass. On Fridays the Forum offer wine tasting for just 2€, fill your glass with whatever you fancy! It was just what we needed after a long day!

(Weinerei Wine)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Berlin Diaries II: Trabis, Bunkers and the DDR

I have returned to one of my favourite places in Europe for a long weekend, we’re jam-packing the experience so expect lots of reviews!

Arriving late last night we allowed ourselves a lie in and the clouds a chance to disappear. We left our apartment in Schöneburg on a bright and sunny morning in Berlin. After a brief caffeine stop we headed for Charlottenburg in search of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial. When I visited last summer the memorial was closed and undergoing renovation. And surprisingly, it was still closed this time.

Determined not to be disheartened there were many things to discover out west including a smart and elegant department store with a very elegant name, Douglas. Down the road we stumbled across an interactive museum housed inside a shopping centre.

This large museum is an interactive and bilingual experience aimed at getting you familiar with Berlin’s 800 year history. There are more than 10 topic rooms coming off a central corridor of time. The city’s rich history is explored through fashion, music, short films, photographs and artefacts. I learned lots of new things about Berlin, particularly in the regency period. 

The ticket price includes a tour of their onsite nuclear bunker, built in 1970 to house 3,600 Berliners for just 2 weeks. The airlock and bunker are all still operational but my friend and I were pretty clear that the bunker represented delayed death rather than any real hope of survival.

The Story of Berlin costs €10 and fits neatly into the current trend of museums as experiences of the past.

4/5 Bit expensive but high quality

We travelled back to the centre on the U-bahn – the livery of said vehicle is sunshine yellow, such a merry, optimistic shade, more underground systems should be yellow! We were taking a route towards Museumsinsel but made an important stop off at the Ritter Sport Chocolate shop. Like Mary Poppin’s hand-bag its bigger on the inside and allows you to make your own chocolate, buy their chocolate bars and learn about chocolate production – several bars later we crossed the centre of town, passing the beautiful Gendarmenplatz and the Berlin Dom on our way to Museumsinsel. My Lonely Planet claimed you could visit on a Thursday night for free; but as it turned out that information was out of date, a frequent theme on this trip.

Instead we found the excellent DDR Museum on the banks of the Spree. It’s a total steal at just €4. We arrived 1 hour before closing time so were quite tight for time, but could easily have spent more time there.

The DDR museum provides an interactive experience of life in East Berlin from the 1950’s – 90’s. The museum is set up thematically considering topics such as the home, education, fashion, and music. There are lots of games to play in this museum, our favourite being the opportunity to ‘drive’ a trabi car – experiencing first-hand the frustrations and joys of the vehicle, it was a lot of fun!

Passing under the mist of bureaucracy – a physical wall of mist – visitors enter the second section of the museum looking at conflict, law and order and the military. Again the curators have thought very creatively about using the space, with light-show games, and spaces set up as interrogation suites so visitors get a real sense of what it was like. One of my favourite installations was in the interrogation room. In order to hear the response of the defendant one had to put one’s elbows on these desk pads and cup your hands over your ears – inspired!

5/5 amazing value and high quality exhibit.

At the end of day 1 I know so much more about life in Berlin after WWII; tired but ready for day 2.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Four autumnal adventures

 The arrival of autumn has been hurried to say the least, as I type in my cardie and jeans I’m wondering how just last weekend I was in t-shirt and shorts! I have been having all sorts of adventures but I wanted to take the opportunity of reviewing a couple of them here.

Home Free – film premiere

My good friend Stephanie Hazel has joined force with the sensational Amber Bayley to produce the short-film Home Free which explores public attitudes to homelessness particularly in the Brighton and Hove area. Can a homeless person be a hero? Can love cross the housing divide? The show portrays a realistic view of homelessness which will challenge common misconceptions of homelessness; it does so with great gentleness and is accompanied by a lovely low-key soundtrack. It was my great pleasure to attend the premiere of Home Free in the atmospheric venue of West Street Loft – this film will hopefully become available to the public soon.

Marks Hall – heritage day

Marks Hall is a large estate in Coggeshall, handed over to the public in the 1930s. The extensive property has been filled with forests, walled gardens and meadows – it would be a brilliant place to take active children or pet! The hall itself was demolished in 1950 – the most recent incarnation of buildings on this site from at least the Tudor period. Archaeologists have been exploring the site over the last few months looking for outlines of the building and clues about the lives lived there, on Saturday they hosted an open day with tours of the site. Finds included a complete Neolithic axe-head, and the largest collection of Hedingham ware in the country. The pottery combined with several boars’ teeth in the nearby middens would suggest this site had been a high-status site for many centuries. More recent finds include the pulley systems for calling servants, a Victorian doll and a thimble. I was fascinated by the thought of doing archaeology on a site which had stood firm until so recently…proving you really can find out new information through archaeology from a site in use less than 100 years ago!

Orphan Black –TV series

Bad news guys, BBC iPlayer have started premiering series online before they hit our TV screens. One of the shows in this series, as well as guilty pleasure Bad Education, is Orphan Black – a dark tale of mistaken identity. Sarah witnesses the suicide of Beth and noticing a close resemblance to her own self decides to take on Beth’s identity of in order to escape some of life’s inconveniences. Unfortunately Beth’s life is hardly peachy either and Sarah gets more than she planned through the swap. The opening to this sci-fi thriller was unexpectedly gripping and I will be booking myself some iPlayer time very soon to see episode 2. Although I will be waiting some time, it doesn’t come out on telly til the end of the month!

Project Space: Word. Sound. Power – Tate Modern

What do you do when you have spare time in London? One of the things I like to do is visit free museums. Word. Sound.Power is the first exhibition you come to when approaching the Tate Modern. WSM is a multi-genre exhibition examining the strength and impact of words to influence new ideas, identity and even systems of power. There are rappers from inner-London estates, films of Indian orphans, and photos of roof-top gangs. It is a highly emotive exhibition directly illustrating that words and even sounds (where one is unfamiliar with the language) can indeed have great power. The message of the exhibition is clear – even those with minimal political agency have a voice and could do great things when they raise them.

Words. Sounds. Power is a collaborative curatorial exchange between the Tate Modern London and Khoj, International on at the Tate Modern until 3rd November and is free to visit. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Review: The Secret Wives of Andy Williams

I have to admit I didn’t have a clue who the eponymous hero was. Apparently he's a crooner from yesteryear, recently deceased; despite not knowing who he was the show was still laugh out loud funny. 

(Andy Williams)

Caitlin is a naughty nun, she loves another man more than Jesus. In a bid for purity, and to escape her father, Caitlin becomes a novice at the craziest and kindest nunnery I have ever seen. Accompanied by a brood of crack-pot orphans and strict yet kind nuns, Caitlin battles with some deep issues; life, death, love, other people’s expectations (especially the dead ones) and the true adoration of Andy Williams. Whilst this play confronts serious topics Hasler’s excellent script accompanied by Mayhew’s direction, and the sterling efforts of the entire cast, meant the only time I cried it was with laughter! 

The show really is funny and this is partly down to style. A cast of four deliver at least 10 roles between them; Mitchell for example playing a Scottish nun, an orphan with imaginary siblings including a sister called Nietzsche, a cockney bloke, and a French romancer by turns was both impressive and simultaneously hilarious. I think the hair clips reinforced the reality of a bloke playing a nun in plain sight and enhanced the comedic effect. Similar contrasting roles such as Platt’s novice nun to drunken royal, and Hasler’s strict nun to west-country orphan, keep the play dynamic and entertaining. 

Being a show mainly concerned with death and comedy, black humour played its part; a bell-ringer with no hands, a deceased saint with her boobs on a platter, and a nun with a tv-signal clarifying brain tumour all feature. That said Hasler is also unafraid of confronting death, religion and love head-on. There are plenty of references to philosophy in the piece (come on, the imaginary sibling is called Nietzche!) but not in a way which is exclusive to the less academically minded. 

Hasler has rendered the religious characters in the play with great gentleness; the nuns are kind-hearted women, sheltered from the world by prayer times and a blanket of khaki Battenberg cake! Even God, or the ‘bugger upstairs’ as one character calls him, is depicted as a benevolent parent who just wants His children to have fun. The show was funny without being offensive, crude or irreverent – I was impressed that Hasler credits the audience with enough maturity not to go for the easy laughs about the frigidity of nuns! 

Not all the inhabitants of the nunnery are naive, and their reasons for being nuns are as varied as the counties they were reared in. Just like the average audience member the characters have true depth. One of the stand-out features of this show is the fact the characters are laugh out loud funny without being one-dimensional slap-stick comedy props.

Adults playing children and men playing women has been the recipe for laughter for centuries; but the way in which Hasler has used these methods to discuss philosophy make this an altogether different performance to the standard ‘comedy about nuns’ show you might be expecting. 

The show is part of the Camden Fringe Festival with a running time of 1 hour dead. It runs til Saturday 24th at the CamdenPeople’s Theatre. They are touring this Autumn, so catch them if you can!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The White Queen: On paper and TV

The recent unveiling of The White Queen television series prompted me to read Gregory’s book. Herewith my analysis of both.

The White Queen: On paper

As you know I do enjoy Gregory’s historical novels. I always enjoy the way women are at the centre of her narrative; providing a fresh perspective to historical events where women are portrayed as agents of change in a traditionally male context. This is particularly the case in The White Queen which takes place at the courts of the fifteenth century York kings. 

We return to a familiar cast for this novel; Mary Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Neville, and to familiar themes; the role of fate, the secret agency of women, and the power of gossip in the courts of kings. It was really interesting to read accounts of common events from all three novels, such as the Battles of Towton and Barnet through a second character’s eyes, having already read the narrative from Anne Neville’s perspective (The Kingmaker's Daughter).

(Elizabeth Woodville discusses the situation with King Edward, image: BBC)

Variation from previous Gregory novels I have read include the use of folklore as a counterpoint to the main narrative. Gregory borrows extensively from the story of Melusina water-goddess with magic powers, said to be the ancestor of the Burgundians, to illustrate the experience of the Woodville family and Elizabeth Woodville specifically, from a second angle;

‘She [Melusina] knew that being a mortal woman is hard on the heart and hard on the feet…He promised her that he would give her everything she wanted, as men in love always do. And she trusted him despite herself, as women in love always do’

Use of the Melusina narrative also enabled Gregory to explore the perception of Woodville as witch; medieval philosophy credited witches with real power to change situations with their craft, enabled only through contracts with the devil. Throughout the novel Woodville uses witchcraft at key moments in an attempt to change the progress of events. 

I had some frustrations with this novel. The White Queen, whilst interacting first-hand with the popular story of the princes in the tower was otherwise plot-light; and not as rewarding as say, The Kingmaker’s Daughter. The story of Elizabeth Woodville involves plenty of time in sanctuary waiting for men to succeed or fail in battle, revolt or be suppressed. As a result the majority of the action in the novel happens on its periphery or through the eyes of men in battle. There were several times I was tempted to quit on this novel before the end; reading yet another chapter of Woodville in sanctuary got boring! 

The White Queen: On TV

With the recent ‘discovery of Richard III’ (I’m a sceptic) a TV drama surrounding the controversy of the princes in the tower is a no-brainer for the BBC. Stretched over ten episodes, as opposed to the traditional 6-part series, The White Queen attempts to synthesise three of Gregory’s novels into a single series.

There are several successes to this series; there is plenty of sex, violence and period costumes, all of these sell! Similarly, as I just mentioned, if there were ever to be a time when the general public were interested in Richard III it would be now. In addition, I have stuck with the series since episode 1 (despite a sensationally weak opening episodes) so something must be keeping my interest; perhaps it was the unique decision to portray male monarchy through female eyes…

That said, there are several weaknesses to representing this period of British monarchy on TV. Firstly, everyone has the same name regardless of which side they are on (and let’s face it lots of them swap!) which makes the plot tricky to follow.

This situation is made all the more complicated by a decision to blend three of Gregory’s novels into one series from multiple perspectives. I can see that this might create added drama, and that creating three series from three different perspectives would be dry. There are, however, reasons why Gregory writes from one perspective at a time; I think one of these might be character loyalty. From page one in Gregory’s novels we watch events through one person’s eyes; the drama of Warwick’s defeat at Barnet is uniquely painful through the eyes of his daughter Anne Neville (The Kingmaker’s Daughter) or the departure of the princes from sanctuary through Elizabeth Woodville’s (The White Queen). The strength of feeling is definitely lost when the perspective on common events is shared between the three women. I found very little compassion or interest for Mary Beaufort (mother of Henry VII), for example, who is one of the three women who feature in the series. I wonder if this is because, unlike the other two main characters, I haven’t read the narrative from her perspective (The Red Queen) rather than because she is an intrinsically unlikable character…

(Mary Beaufort as depicted in the series. Image: BBC)

In sum, I’d give the book maybe 6.5/10 (not as strong as The Kingmaker's Daughter) and the TV series 7/10 (with at least one of those points dedicated to retaining my interest for 10 episodes!). 

Catch The White Queen series and other related content on BBC iPlayer this week.

I’ve read another really exciting book recently, Ann Veronica by H G Wells; keep your eyes peeled for that!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

MONIKERS - A review

This last week I had the great pleasure of discovering a new cocktail bar and restaurant so I thought I'd let you in on this little gem.

I found MONIKERS whilst looking through Time Out online for a vegetarian-friendly bar in East London. MONIKERS fits the bill perfectly - located on trendy Hoxton Square and set in an old Chemistry classroom complete with periodic table and school lockers it offered us A* food and drink at affordable prices.

I chose MONIKERS for its chemistry lab theme - although we sat on the terrace, the school science lab feel runs throughout the restaurant from the school desk reception area to the table water delivered in lab beakers. The mezzanine floor of the restaurant has been decorated to look like the school bus complete with steering wheel, vinyl seats and a request-stop buzzer. Even the bathrooms were educational - complete with messages in English, French, German, Italian and of course Latin!

(Even the carafes are science-y)

The excellence of this restaurant was not limited to its commitment to theme.
Let me tell you about the food and drink.
We had two courses - I enjoyed Shetland mussels and fennel with a side of proper real chips - sensational flavours! I followed this with an Eton Mess that was a creamy delight of a pudding. My dinner companion had a very mediterranean main followed by a blueberry cheesecake the size of his head! The puddings were particularly affordable coming in at just a fiver!

Being grown ups (and fans of cocktails!) we were particularly keen to try their sweet concoctions. We made our way through a Great Gatsby (bright orange, Bulldog Gin and lots of Grapefruit - simultaneously fresh and strong!), The Figaro (Appleton XV rum, a large dose of fig syrup and orange bitters - a sparkling taste of summer in a martini glass) and a Strawberry Field (champagne, strawberry liqueur, chocolate sprinkles, hello!). All delivered promptly, all rather strong, and for a fair price of just £7.

(Strawberry Field - and my elbow - photocredit @joan_gp)

So the overall experience was lovely and the bar soon filled up, my only criticism was the amount of time it took to pay the bill. Short of actually standing up straight and shouting 'we'd like to pay now!' we did everything in our power to get their attention and it did take a horrendously long time to pay.

But if waiting time to pay is your only criticism I'd have said it was a pretty good evening out!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

France Daily VI: Le Retour

The final in the daily blogs, my chaotic but grateful return.

I needed to get a cab, to board a train, to take a minibus, to board the aeroplane home. Easy right. No way.

Getting a cab inside a medieval city: As it turns out medieval cities weren't designed to be wide enough to pass lorries. So any cab you order may well get stuck behind a lorry unloading before or after you jump in. Not too bad in my case, just 10 mins late.

Boarding a train in France: First buy your ticket, with 3 people ahead of you in the queue and only 10 mins til the train leaves. Navigate a French ticket master who clearly sees neither your urgency nor your luggage and asks if you've got another 10 cents for the change. Congratulate yourself on making it to the platform with a whole 6mins to spare only to discover its one of those platforms split in two and that's your train 200ft away and with only 2 mins to departure. Cue running. And this bruise from the Chateauneuf bottles bashing your leg as you run.

 (the price you pay for good wine!)

To take a minibus: I arrived at Nimes station with plenty of time to spare. So, half an hour before the little shuttle bus was due to leave I decided to work out where it left from. Supposedly easy - the map of the station 'clearly' showed its location, so I looked around the locale and there were neither signs nor bus shelters for this bus. I asked the 'station info' point - he had no idea. I went out and checked again. Nothing. Just as I lost hope, a bus drew past me - the shuttle! I successfully boarded the only shuttle bus to leave Nimes that day. He waited 3.5 mins for any passengers before moving on. Not a big window of opportunity by any means. I had thought all my worrying would then be over, but the route the driver took out of the city was very different to that which I had taken just 6 days previously. We were heading towards 'Garons' with the airport sign. Then when we got there the departure lounge looked so different to the airport I had left that I actually asked the driver if I was at Nimes airport. Luckily for me he said yes (and rolled his eyes)

To board the aeroplane home: This bit was actually very easy, my bags came in underweight, there was plenty of time for me to eat Haribo - albeit with a disappointingly large amount of licorice in it -  drink coke and indulge in other habits of a balanced lifestyle! All was calm again until England I was running again for a train to central London and once liberated of my baggage, to see my sister's  show.

(healthy diet)

The South of France in summary:
Sunny, disregards health and safety, has a penchant for castle-like abbeys, good taste in theatre, coastlines and amazing wine, appreciates fine pastries, contains donkeys, requires a car really, has a sensational mistral wind, scented by lavender, olive oil and broom plant. Not bad for a week off.

As this blog marks the end of my holiday normal weekly(ish) service will be resuming next week. For now, thanks for reading.