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Carols at Imber

22 Dec

I am just back from the most amazing experience ever and I had to write straight away to tell you all about it. I first read about the carols at Imber in Country Living magazine and knew immediately that I had to go, especially because they take place not far from my mum and dad in the neighbouring county of Wiltshire. Imber is a village on the Salisbury Plains that, during the Second World War, was taken over by the Armed Forces for training purposes. The inhabitants were relocated, but told they would be able to return to their homes once the war had ended. But they weren’t. Today, the public is granted access to Imber on 60 days of the year – so former residents can visit the graves of loved ones buried at St Giles, Imber’s Church, for example. The Christmas Carol Concert is one such day so today me, M and my mum went along. What an experience.

Imber carols Little Miss Married

The organisers put on a vintage London bus from Westbury train station to Imber, which is fun in itself. We all huddled together and willed it forward as we manoeuvred steep hills through the pouring rain. When we arrived there was a rush of umbrellas as everyone quickly weaved their way through the mud to get inside the church. There was mulled wine and a mince pie when we got there – much appreciated – and then we found a seat at the front by the brass band. We’d got there in the nick of time because there was a constant stream of people coming in and before we knew it, it was standing room only – outside! It was packed. But, even if we had been one of those left standing, it would have been worth it. The atmosphere was incredible; such an overwhelming sense of coming together. Everyone sang at the top of their lungs and it felt so special to be part of this seemingly secret community. It was like entering another world. What a way to start Christmas and one I will certainly never forget.

Festival of Carols

13 Dec

I love carols but, every year, I end up only going to one carol service so barely getting to sing them myself. I’ve therefore vowed that this year I have to go to at least three events where I have the opportunity to sing. First up was tonight’s Festival of Carols, hosted by The Eve Appeal at St Botolph without Bishopsgate. It was beautiful. I began with a candlelit procession, which was followed by a programme that included Once in Royal David’s City and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, as well as readings by Celia Imrie and Helen Lederer. I feel so festive this year!

eveappeal.org.uk

The BBC Proms

1 Aug

Royal Albert Hall

So, for any of you who have been thinking I’ve been a little quiet of late, apologies! It’s not that I’ve not been up to much, it’s that I’ve not had the time to write! First up, the BBC Proms! Last week my mum came up for an evening of musical entertainment with JP and I. The three of us had been to the Proms many years ago – I was so small (or diva-ish) that we didn’t Prom proper style but this time there was none of that and we stood the whole way through. Mum and JP stood in the queue to sort out tickets while I was at work then we headed in to enjoy what a truly fantastic performance of Beethoven’s Symphonies 5 and 6, and two works by Pierre Boulez. The Royal Albert Hall was packed and seeing so many people all crowded together for a united cause – to appreciate amazing music – was incredibly special. To prom only cost £5 and it’s well worth it – I can’t believe I haven’t done it before now!

bbc.co.uk/proms

Wells, walled gardens, and Wimbledon

8 Jul

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past week or so – I don’t know where the time’s gone! Last weekend saw me head home to Somerset for a number of social occasions. On the Saturday I headed to Wells to catch up with a close friend L, who’s recently taken on an amazing hair salon called Hairdressing by Jax (hairdressingbyjax.co.uk). She’s already expanded the business to include a fish spa and has so many other exciting plans for the future – watch this space! I’m so proud of how much she’s achieved in such a small space of time – and all while balancing another full-time job!

On Sunday I was treated to the most delicious breakfast ever by godmother. She’s a member of the idyllic Babington House so we headed there for homemade granola with yoghurt and compote followed (in my case) by a Full English. Yum! Took a peak at the walled gardens and grounds on the way out (to die for!) and left wishing I could afford to become a member – or just live there permanently! I then headed to Steeple Ashton in the afternoon for a friend’s 50th and, if you’ve never been, it’s a truly beautiful village with picturesque, quintessential country gardens of fragrant roses and perfectly mown lawns.

And my highlight for this week (aside from Murray making it to the Wimbledon finals) would have to be Kew the Music on Wednesday! I’ll admit to you all now that I’m a secret M People/Heather Small fan so, when I heard she was to be performing – with 70s hit Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, the warm-up act, I had to go. Fortunately the rain showers of the day stopped in time for the show to start and I, and a former work colleague and great friend C, set up on a grassy bank with a prime view of the stage – situated in front of the Victorian Temperate House. It was a stunning evening and such a treat to see Kew Gardens in the evening, full of the buzz of excitement of our fellow music fans, all sitting around tucking into their picnics. There’s something special about listening to music on a balmy evening as the sun sets and Heather didn’t disappoint. Kew now have a series of open air cinema with The Artist, which I’m still to see, on 6 September. Should be good! kew.org

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.

roh.org.uk

roh.org.uk/bpbigscreens

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.

La Reve at the Cafe de Paris

26 Feb

Well, what an evening I had on Friday! Great food, great friends, and great entertainment – doesn’t get much better than that. Time Out had been running a special offer for discounted entry to La Reve with a complimentary cocktail so I’d booked up for B, A, J, K, and I to go. La Reve is a weekly night of cabaret and burlesque in the heart of London (Cafe de Paris is located just off Leicester Square, cafedeparis.com) – but so much better than I’d been expecting.

The show didn’t start until 8.30pm but seating (or in our case standing space) is first come, first serve. We nipped into Soho for a quick bite to eat – handmade dumplings, crispy pork, and an adventurous menu of drinks – at Jen Cafe then left the chaos of Leicester Square to step back into time to the golden age-style bar that is Cafe de Paris. I’m not sure what I’d had in mind when I’d first booked up but the show was so much better than imagined – a hula hooping whiz-kid, silent comic, hilarious Jessica Rabbit presenter, and fire-blazing tipple-tassing-shaking burlesque dancer. M would have loved it! 😉

Afraid to say I was so in awe of the performances I didn’t take any piccies, but check out some of the performers on YouTube (links below).

The boy with tape on his face

Craig the incredible hula boy

Raymond and Mr Timkins

Kitty Bang Bang

The Spaghetti Western Orchestra

6 Jan

Just back from seeing the Spaghetti Western Orchestra perform at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre and they were great! Had no idea quite what to expect when I turned up for the show. They’re a quintet of Australian musicians who claim to play over 100 instruments over the course of the night, and the music they play is all from westerns, hence their name. Now I’m not a big western fan but the good news is you don’t have to be to enjoy the show. The five band members put on a performance that is as comic as it is musically impressive. From traditional drums, pianos and bass to the less conventional paper bag, cornflakes box, and coat hanger, they play their tunes in whatever way they can and the result is truly unique. They never fail to transport you to the scene being described by the song, be it a punch up in a saloon or a chilly night by an open fire. But don’t just take my word for it, check out clips on their website and book seats on their current tour!

spaghettiwesternorchestra.com

The Cat’s Meow

20 Nov

London Swing Cats

So last night I had a night out with a difference. Instead of heading to one of London’s many clubs, I went underground to Guy’s Bar in the basement of Guy’s hospital, for the monthly Cat’s Meow (£12, londonswingcats.com), a swing dancing institution.

Now I’ve never swing danced before but that didn’t matter. There was a short taster class by the London Swing Cats where a group of perhaps 20 of us were taken through the basics of the Charlston – wave those jazz hands! After that the DJ – Vintage Bob – started playing and some total pros took to the floor. It was entertainment in itself watching them spin, skip, and swing across the floor. I used to do Ballroom and Latin American dance myself but swing is in a league of its own. It’s fun, fast and energetic – a great alternative to the gym!

But my highlight of the night would have to be the live band that came on at about 10pm. The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band are the most amazing jazz band ever. With great tunes like ‘I’ve got ants in my pants’ (what track title is better than that?!) and a catchy cover of ‘When the saints come marching in’. Check them out here – rabbitjazz.co.uk – and if you ever get a chance to see them play live, go! You won’t be able to sit still while they’re playing and you’re guaranteed a great night.

I went to The Cats Meow with a couple of friends and I definitely want to make it a regular occurrence – hopefully after a couple of visits I might actually be able to take to the floor properly myself. Ooh, and I should mention, retro dress is a must! Pin-up curls, bright red lips, and a swooshy skirt for the girls; braces, trilby hats for the guys. Definitely a night to remember.

Rihanna at the O2

5 Oct

Oh my gosh! Just back from seeing Rihanna live at the O2! It was a spur of the momentt night out – there was a ticket going spare – and it was so much fun! She really does know how to put on a show. Highly recommend it if you get the chance!