Archive | May, 2012

One of my Plan Bs!

31 May

A very special friend celebrated a significant birthday at the weekend and, to mark the occasion, I wanted to give her a suitably memorable present. Instead of heading the high street, I decided to make her a pair of earrings out of metal clay. Following the success of the set I gave my mum for her 60th, I figured why not give it another try. But this time I was doing it unsupervised and on my own. Eek!

The first earring went really well but, obviously it couldn’t all be plain sailing! Fortunately though, after the second one over heated and melted – pretty cool effect btw, I was left with my finished pair. What do you think? Could this be a possible Plan B in the future?


Fancy the cinema?

30 May

I’ve been to see a couple of films lately so thought, just in case anyone out there is contemplating a night at the flicks (although with the weather as nice as is it of late, I expect you’re probably not), I’d fill you in on the two shows I’ve seen.

First up is What to expect when you’re expecting featuring a pretty star-studded cast – Cameron Diaz, Chris Rock, Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Banks, and the sickeningly-stunning Jennifer Lopez to name a few. It follows five couples whose lives become intertwined and turned upside down by the challenges of impending parenthood. Not just a film for expectant couples, or those already with children, this is a hilarious – I challenge anyone not to laugh at the adorable traits of Rock’s clumsy son – honest (I like to think; I don’t have children), and moving look at all the different scenarios and outcomes of creating a family. There’s Lopez’s character, Holly, who’s in the process of adopting; Wendy (Banks), who, after waiting 30+ years to get pregnant, discovers it’s not as glamorous as it may seem; and Rosie (Anna Kendrick), whose life is turned upside down following a one-night stand. Not just one for the girls, this is a chick-flick that even the men in your life (I can hear M already chuckling) will enjoy.

If thriller’s more your thing and if, like me, you’ve been totally engrossed in Scandinavian dramas such as The Bridge, then Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters is a must-see. I had no idea what to expect when I turned up at the cinema but I found myself, despite some of the excessive blood and gore, loving it from the start. It tells the story of a headhunter, who, to maintain a lavish lifestyle, steals priceless works of art in his spare time. When he gets a tip-off about a masterpiece, long believed to be lost, and he makes it his next project, needless to say, his life changes for ever – with unexpected, and sometimes funny, consequences. This one’s been out for a while so if you want to try it, get to the cinema now!

Abigail’s Party at Wyndham’s Theatre

29 May

Last week, I was lucky enough to see Mike’s Leigh’s comedy of sorts, Abigail’s Party, at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London. It’s a new production by Lindsay Posner, who recently did Noises Off at the Old Vic, and it boasts a celebrity line-up with Jill Halfpenny as the seductress and hostess-the-mostess Beverly, Andy Nyman as her over-worked husband Laurence, Jo Absolom as the seductee with a violent edge ‘Tone’, Natalie Casey as his beaten-down wife Angela, and Susannah Harker as the stereotypically, overly polite Susan.

Abigail’s Party is set in 1970s suburbia (and they’ve gone to town with the staging – think bold brown and orange prints, faux sheepskin rugs, lava lamps, and a never-ending supply of cheese-and-pineapple-on-stick canapes), but many of the themes and storylines hold true for today. Prejudices over social class come to light and you quickly realise the marital relationships are all not what they seem, as the G&Ts at Beverly and Laurence’s drinks party – the situation for the entire play – flow freely. You know the night can only end in disaster but Leigh provides enough witty one-liners and humorous set-ups that you can’t help but have fun getting there. Moreover, each of the five cast members shines in their own right. Halfpenny is captivating as the selfish, sexually-frustrated, show-off Beverly (a role made famous by Alison Steadman) and I couldn’t help but fall in love with Casey for her impecable sense of comic timing and embodiment of a trodden-down wife letting loose on a rare night out.

I whole-heartedly recommend!

Runs to 1 September at Wyndham’s Theatre, London;

London Wetland Centre

27 May

What glorious sunshine! It would be wrong to sit inside. So yesterday, I decided to walk along the river to the London Wetland Centre, somewhere I’ve passed many times but never actually visited.

The centre is situated just outside of Barnes, on the former site of four Victorian reservoirs. When the reservoirs were no longer needed, Peter Scott, the son of the Arctic explorer, had them converted into what is now a network of ponds, lagoons, and marshes, and home to over 200 different species of wildfowl.

I arrived just after lunch, as a guided tour was setting off. Now I know nothing about birds so I figured, to actually gain something from my visit, I’d be best joining the group, and I’m glad I did. For an hour and a half we wandered around the parkland, our tour guide identifying all the different birds and giving background about where they’d normally be found in the wild. I now know the difference between a moorhen and a coot (I told you I knew nothing about birds but did you know a moorhen isn’t a duck but a rail and it doesn’t have webbed feet but instead individually webbed toes?), that male ducks lose many of their feathers after breeding season, a process called an ‘eclipse’, and there’s such a thing as a black AND white swan!

It was pretty hot – a lot of the paths were in direct sun – so the hides provided welcome shade – and a relaxing spot to sit and peacefully watch the birds. At times, it was hard to believe I was still in the middle of London…

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

21 May

As well as Jupiter Artland, when I was up in Edinburgh I also had my first visit to the Royal Botanic Garden. It’s recently had a striking new entrance and cafe built so M’s parents were keen to show it off and treat me to a hearty breakfast at the same time. Unfortunately we were too late for breakfast – they stop serving at 11.30 on the dot – but we had the most enjoyable stroll around the gardens, which are free!

My highlight was the Edible Garden, a stunning allotment where they grow many of the ingredients for the cafe and restaurant. They had every sort of vegetable and herb imaginable growing and I loved the use of pebbles as name tags (the plant descriptions were written on different shaped small stones). They’d also used branches as supports instead of canes – very sustainable!

We then headed outside the gardens to find sustenance for my journey back to London, and stumbled across the newly-opened Earthy, a chain of three health food and organic cafes/delis in the city – their tag line is ‘Forage, nourish, share’; love it! I couldn’t choose from the array of homemade cakes, many of which were gluten-free or vegan (a pleasant surprise), so ended up just having a coffee – but what a coffee! It was honestly one of the best ones I’ve ever had (Matthew Algie). But don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourselves…

If you go down to the woods today… make sure it’s to Jupiter Artland!

20 May

What a weekend of discovery I’ve had! I was up in Edinburgh visiting friends and M’s family, and have had such an exciting time.

I travelled up on Friday and happened across an article in The Guardian about a new art installation at Jupiter Artland, a ‘gallery’ situated a few miles outside of Edinburgh. The display was by Turner Prize nominee Anya Gallaccio and featured 10,000 fresh roses, which over the next four months, will slowly age and decompose.

Now, I’ve been on a bit of an art trail of late (Tate Modern last month, V&A and National Gallery this month) so I was eager to check it out. I headed there yesterday, with M’s parents, and what a find. I can’t believe I’d never been there before! For not only was Anya’s exhibit thought-provoking and strangely mesmerising, but Jupiter Artland is like another world – not a gallery in the usual sense of the word but a living and breathing exhibition, situated outside, in the midst of a stunning bluebell wood with views across to the Firth of Forth. Pieces ranged from an intricate web of coloured fishing line (see pic below) to a series of ghostly wax works of weeping girls, made even more sinister by the drizzle of the day. It was refreshing to be outdoors with the space and quietude to stand back and appreciate the art on show, without the jostle of city crowds.

We ended up, as is custom, in the on-site cafe – in this case an American aluminium Airstream – where I enjoyed a wedge of ‘Barry’s Favourite Coffee & Walnut cake’, served by none other than the man himself! Now I’ve found this place, I’ll definitely be coming back. The whole Artland boasts sustainable credentials (which I love) and Anya’s got a new installation opening later on this year – an underground chamber of amethyst protected by gold barbed wire. But, even without that, the changing seasons alone would make each permanent artwork, look like new.

10,000 roses form Anya Gallaccio’s latest art installation

Art interspersed with nature – can you spot the weeping girl wax work?

The 400cm web was knitted from multi-coloured fishing line, using a technique inspired by Shetland lace

The cafe!

It’s Barry’s favourite – I can see why!

Falstaff at the Royal Opera House

15 May

Just back from a performance of Falstaff at the Royal Opera House and what a treat! It was a colour-pop sensation of impressive staging, fantastic costumes, and a beautiful score from start to finish.

It was written by Verdi in 1893, when he was in his late seventies, and tells the story of Sir John Falstaff, a portly knight with a taste for sherry, lavish feasts, and women! But when his excessive lifestyle catches up with him (and his wallet), he plots to seduce the wives of two wealthy men – with hilarious consequences. In true comic operatic style, the two women find out that they are at the heart of his devious plan and join forces to turn the tables on him.

It my be nearly 120 years since Falstaff’s debut but this new co-production by the acclaimed Teatro alla Scala, Milan, and the Canadian Opera Company, is fresh, fun, and bang on trend with its 1950s setting – think bright yellow formica and fabulous Mad Men-esque costumes. Add to that an endless amount of vintage props (many of which were sourced from eBay), fake food that looks good enough to eat, and a real horse (yes, real), and you can understand why I had to flag up the performance straight away!

Falstaff runs from now to 30 May, with a special (and free) broadcast on 15 BP Summer Big Screens around the country on 30 May. Tickets to attend the Royal Opera House may be around the £100 mark but standby ones are available for a much more affordable £15 – just get behind me in the queue; this is one performance I’d happily watch again…and again.

Saturday (and Sunday) in the sunshine

13 May

What wonderful weather! After what seems like months of rain (which I hasten to say I love), a weekend of blue skies, balmy breezes, and sunshine. I headed straight out into the garden to plant up pots of rocket, sweet peas, and tomatoes. I’ve been waiting for a garden through Age UK’s Garden Partners programme, which pairs up those with gardens they can’t manage, with people willing to lend a hand, for the past few months to no avail (one possible garden unfortunately fell through) so instead, I decided to give the garden where I live a second chance. I say ‘second chance’ because the garden here in Putney seems to be the one place in London that receives minimal sunshine and it’s also the toilette of choice for our resident cat, Missy. Thankfully, I have a newly required green house – a most precious leaving present from when I recently changed jobs. Check out my beautiful terracotta pots (and a couple of wine coolers) planted up with tasty salad leaves. After being without space to grow my own for a while, it’s a fantastic solution until a bigger (and cat-free) veggie patch comes my way.

Sunday – more sunny weather. I, however, headed indoors to the V&A’s Norfolk House Music Room for an hour of piano with soprano accompaniment – Schumann’s Liederkreis, Debussy’s Trois Chansons de Bilitis, and Copland’s Poems of Emily Dickinson. A stunning programme in an even more impressive setting, and, I’m pleased to say, a free event that takes place on the first three Friday nights of the month. Follow that with a visit to the V&A tea rooms for one of their epic scones with apricot jam – bliss.

Dark Shadows

11 May

Johnny Depp

If you’re looking for some light-hearted, spoof-like entertainment this weekend, head to your nearest cinema to catch Tim Burton’s latest, Dark Shadows (out today). Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, and Eva Green – amongst others – it tells the tale of Barnabas Collins, an arrogant young man from the 18th century, who is cursed to be a vampire then buried alive (there’s also the compulsory love story but I won’t give that storyline away). Fast forward 200 years and a group of Macdonald-building construction workers have the mishap of uncovering his body. Suddenly Barnabas finds himself free but faced with the bright colours, swinging music, and new-found gadgets of the 70s – with laugh-out-loud consequences.

Some reviews already released haven’t been particularly praising but, take this film with a pinch of salt and see it as a satire of current popular vampire flicks (think Twilight), and it makes for comic viewing. Plus, it beats the endless stream of Saturday/Sunday-night reality TV at least!

A weekend in Rye

7 May

What better way to celebrate the bank holiday weekend and extra day of freedom than with a trip out of London towards the south coast. And, what better place to spend it than Rye, a cobbled streeted, picture perfect town in East Sussex, that brims with history, cream teas, and cavernous antique shops. B and I booked into the delightful Four Seasons B&B (£70; 01797 224 305), just a 10-minute (if that) walk from the centre. Rita and her husband were the perfect hosts and, in the bright and large, yet cosy bedroom, all comforts had been thought of from biscuits on arrival to dressing gowns on the back of the door. And then the breakfast – yum!

We arrived on Saturday and, after dropping off our bags, headed straight out to explore – fuelling ourselves up en route with buttery crumpets from The Cobbles Tea Room (, which is literally set in a former front living room and therefore tiny. If only it had been afternoon, we would had sampled their impressive looking array of cakes.

The day then sped past as we went from one antique shop to another, picking up everything from butter knives to wooden-handled screwdrivers and vintage tea dresses – all at bargain prices. An afternoon pick-me-up was a scone with clotted cream and jam in front of the fire at Fletcher’s ( before a dinner of sausage and mash at The Globe ( Both, as does everywhere in Rye, boasted wonderfully friendly staff.

The next day (Sunday), B and I walked the three miles to Camber Sands, a stunning stretch of white beaches and dunes. Fortunately the beaches were breathtaking because Camber itself leaves a lot to be desired. After blowing away the cobwebs and clearing out our lungs, we headed back for more cake – a mini-break counts as a holiday after all! – and one last perusal of the shops before catching the train home.

For anyone who hasn’t been to Rye, GO. I can’t believe I haven’t been soooner and, one’s thing for sure, I’ll definitely be going back.

A trip to Rye is like stepping back in time…

Beats a trip to B&Q!

Picture this on a sunny day – heaven