Future Islands – Brixton Academy, Review

While the lead singer of Future Islands, Samuel T. Herring, looks distinctly like a GP with his sleeves rolled up in preparation to perform a prostate exam, the sound that spreads through Brixton Academy from his voicebox and the collective sounds of the band are quite different.

Future Islands do not look how they sound. Quite the opposite in fact – the cool demeanour in their sound is not represented by their image. Had you only heard these guys on the radio, you’d be surprised to see the four men standing on the stage in front of you. They look more like they’re about to teach a geography lesson than rustle up a heady collection of songs that set Brixton Academy alight with a thrumming atmosphere and make feet tap to the rhythmic beat of the heavy drums and synthy keyboard sounds. And this is something which only seems to add to the magic of their live shows.

The intensely feeling lyrics, such as “People change, You know but some people never do, You know when people change, They gain a peace but they lose one too” from the hit song Waiting on You, enable Future Islands to balance dreamy, futuristic riffs, guitar sounds and the haunting language of the songs with meaning that lingers long after the song has finished. There’s something about their lyrics which speak to the millennial audience gathered. The crowd is hooked on both the sounds and words of each song as if it is an addictive drug, but rather than seeking nothingness from its clutches they are seeking guidance from the wisdom of the song lyrics and escape from the real world with the harmonious melodies. Every song can be related to the real lives of the audiences – we all hear a part of ourselves as Herring performs, throwing himself dramatically around the stage and giving attention to every word he sings.

Herring is a showman like no other, eliciting the full spectrum of emotions from the audience looking on to his performance. From the guttural roars of his low-end vocals to his theatrical, crowd-pleasing dance moves, dazzling high kicks, Cossak moves (yes, really) and overwrought chest thumping feeling of the lyrics, it’s as if every moment of the show is an exercise in exorcising his internal demons. Were it not for his regular interaction with the audience – singing directly to those crammed in at the front of the stage to expletive laden messages about how awesome the rowdy crowd are – it would almost feel voyeuristic to watch the man in front of you come undone and piece himself back together in every song, especially as the band’s latest offerings have become somewhat bleaker, exploring themes of depression, death and loss with in amongst their pithy electrobeats. His energy levels are similar to that of an over exerted toddler on a frenzied high before they crash out into a deep sleep or an exhausted tantrum. Just how much he exerts himself is evidenced in the way his characteristically cleanly pressed black shirt becomes a sweat-sodden memory of a shirt within the first 25 minutes of the show.

Future Islands sound like no other band of the present or from history and the album of this tour The Far Field (released in April 2017) is a rip-roaring success amongst those who require their music to have as much theatre as it does feeling. And boy do these guys know how to put on a show as they edge their way towards the curfew with no hint of winding down anytime soon. When the gig finishes, Future Islands leave behind a feeling reminiscent of the moments just after a storm – an electric atmosphere still hanging in the air and the sense that you’ve just witnessed some of the realest, purest magic the world has to offer.

Fear

I went ice skating for the first time in a long time recently. I hadn’t hesitated when my friend had asked if I wanted to go to Morning Gloryville’s festive early-morning ice skating rave. Yes. Yes I did want to go along. Yes I absolutely did want to listen to banging tunes as I skated my way around Somerset House with people dressed as unicorns. What better way would there be to spend the last day of November other than with a bunch of other people who thought getting out of bed at an ungodly hour to go ice skating was a good idea? None.

I was excited and, despite having to get out of bed at 7am for the first time in a long time, I’d been looking forward to going for a while. I laced up my boots and shuffled towards the rink entrance. But as I moved towards the ice, I was completely and entirely stricken by fear. I suddenly realised that, since being diagnosed with cancer, I no longer felt invincible. I was no longer as fearless as I had been before I got sick. I was suddenly all too aware of the things my body could and could not do. I was worried about slipping, catching myself on my right side and pulling my mastectomy scars. Paralysed, I looked at my friend and simply said “I don’t think I can”, ready to walk away. I suddenly realised just how fragile I feel these days. And just how far away I am from the person I was before I got sick.

I don’t think I’d ever felt real fear before I got my breast cancer diagnosis. Not the kind of fear that stops you in your tracks and fills you with a sickening feeling from your toes right through to the crown of your head. Not the cliched kind of fear that leaves you trembling. The first time I remember feeling fear like that was the day I went in for my mastectomy, as I waited for the anaesthatist to put me under. What a wonderfully charmed life to have lived though, right? I was never afraid of jumping off a waterfall and into the cold waters of Low Force when I went ghyll scrambling for my #25at25 challenge. I’d never been scared of my body failing me. I wasn’t scared of travelling to Texas on my own, or of throwing myself into open water swimming. Or of setting myself challenges I never knew if I could manage. I’d literally never been scared of ice skating before, despite being the person who ALWAYS falls over and ends up with the most hilarious bruises. But it seems cancer has stopped me from being quite as fearless as I used to be.

And I’m not just talking about getting scared of doing things. I’m actually really scared of my body. I don’t trust it not to let me down again. I’d never had reason to doubt it before, never questioned that it was entirely on my side, but ever since I found that lump in Cornwall all that time ago, I’ve been aware that some parts of what my body does are entirely out of my control. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I haven’t always known this fact, it’s just I have had a sickening reminder of that fact pretty much every day since 7th July 2015.

When I was in treatment, my body was not my own, and even though treatment is over now, I still feel like it isn’t mine again yet. And more to the point – I just don’t trust it. Someone asked me recently if I’d forgiven my boobs for trying to kill me yet. I said I wasn’t sure but I guessed not. But now I know the answer. The boob is forgotten, MIA until further notice, but the body is not yet forgiven.

So where do we go from here? How do I get back to being the fearless person I was before my breast tried to kill me? How do I forgive my body for putting me through everything? I guess I focus on the things that I am thankful for. As I bend and stretch a little more every week in yoga. As I reflect on the fact that even though my body betrayed me, I couldn’t have got through the last 18 months without it. It could have given up on me completely in the throes of treatment but it dealt with everything that was thrown at it in it’s stride. So I’m grateful to it for that. And it is this I must focus on as I try to move forward.

I guess you want to know whether I got on the ice or not. I did. I did so with huge trepidation and wouldn’t have managed it without the friend who took me by the arm and told me that I could. I couldn’t have done it if the girls hadn’t eased me round steadily as my confidence grew and consistently checking how I was. I had to put my trust in them that I could do it. That I would do it. And that I’d be OK when I did do it. Even if my body had let me down in any way when I was on the ice, I still would have been OK.

I just had to borrow some fearlessness from my friends. And til I find my own again, that’s OK too.

 

 

Tumour Has It

A letter dropped through our postbox this morning. From the NHS. Addressed to me. I presumed it would be about my impending appointment to pop along and see my surgeon and have my new medical photographs taken (as weird and as funny as it sounds). Alas, it wasn’t an appointment about my boobs this time. It was a letter to tell me it’s time to go and have my cervix checked out.

Women aged 25 to 49 in the UK are invited for cervical screening every three years, but recent information released by Jo’s Cancer Trust have shown that one in three women aren’t attending their regular check ups. Whether is through busy-ness, or fear or apathy, I’m not sure, but one thing I am sure about is that we need to get out of the habit of putting things like this off.

Right now, I can literally think of nothing worse than having a test for cancer and having to wait until the results come back. I’m still pretty traumatised from all of the drama I had when the assisted conception team tried to get my coil out before I started treatment to protect my fertility in case chemo ravaged it completely. I won’t go into details cos it’s a story for another time, but all I will say is they spent about 50 mins trying to get it out, and failed. While I was reminded of the chapter in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues “Because He Liked to Look at It” it was not a pleasant experience for anyone, least of all me.

So yeah. I get that revealing your lady parts to a doctor is not a particularly nice thing to have to do but, and I understand that having a test for cancer can be a bit scary and a bit overwhelming –  but it is imperative. And actually it’s not all that bad. Sounds like a stupid thing to say but the more relaxed you are, the easier it is. It’s a bit uncomfortable but it’s much, much better than the alternative.

According to Jo’s Trust “cervical screening is 80–90% reliable and can prevent 60–80% of cervical cancers. This means that seven out of every 10 cases of women who would have developed cancer of the cervix can be prevented.” Sounds like a pretty useful tool to me. And it’s like always say when I’m talking about checking your boobs, knowledge is power. You owe it to yourself to get checked out, because a healthy cervix is a happy cervix, right?

I recently met a pretty special lady called Karen. Karen and I are both part of an organisation called Trekstock, and we’re both lucky enough to be in the group of people classed as “young adults with cancer”. I know right, what an awesome and elite group to be part of!

Karen was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014, aged 25. Since her diagnosis and treatment, she’s dedicated a lot of her time to raise awareness of cervical cancer and gynaecological disease. At the moment, Karen’s doing this through her one-woman comedy show Tumour Has It. As we speak, she’s up in Edinburgh performing this show to the masses at The Fringe. Billed as an “honest and hilarious tory of her cervical cancer extravaganza” told “through comedy, storytelling and a poem to Svetlana the Tumour”.

But Karen wants MORE. And I want MORE for Karen too. She’s determined to keep telling her story to new audiences and has turned to Crowdfunding in an attempt to raise enough money to keep her show going around the country when she gets back from Edinburgh. She needs £££ for venue hire, production costs, marketing and promotional materials (including a badge that says the word “vagina”). Her target is £7000 by 26th August.

Here’s a little to do list of things it’d be great if you could think about doing off the back of this post.

  1. BOOK YOUR SMEAR TEST. ATTEND YOUR SMEAR TEST WHEN CALLED FOR SCREENING
  2. Go and see Karen in Edinburgh if you’re there*
  3. Remember that a healthy cervix is a happy cervix, and help Karen raise awareness of cervical cancer and gynaecological disease with her show by helping her Crowdfunding Campaign. There’s a video all about it right here. Find out more about the show on Facebook.

I saw “No More Stage 3”, a comedy show by Alistair Barrie about his wife’s run in with breast cancer the other week and at the close of the show he said “Always keep laughing. Because if you stop laughing, you stop living, and then the cancer has won”. This is very true and applies as much to Karen’s show as it did to Alistair’s. It’s also just a really good motto for life. You can swap out “cancer” for other words including “depression” “terrorists” “Conservatives” etc.,

I’m off to book my smear appointment right now, fear be damned.

*Another of my friends Katie Brennan is at Edinburgh Fringe as well, performing her show Quarter Life Crisis, so go see that too, yeah? Because I can’t and I’d like to live vicariously through you. K, thanks.

Running Up That Hill

As you guys have heard many a time before, I am not a particularly big fan of the old health and fitness scenario. I like a good dance (with or without cocktails), I bloody love to swim (you’ve probably heard that a million times right?), but occasionally I pull on a pair of running shoes and drag my backside out for a shuffle around the block. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. I am no athlete and I don’t hugely enjoy running, but I do it because I know it’s good for me. And it means I don’t need to feel too guilty about eating all of the cheese. Or chocolate.

Last year, I took on my first 10km. I trained relatively hard, taking on Sydenham Hill once or twice a week and dragging my backside out for shuffles that began to look increasingly like jogs, nay, perhaps even those illusive “runs”. I finished the 10km in 1 hour 7 and I was pretty bloody pleased with myself.

Cancer changed things a bit. I went from running reasonably far at a fairly reasonable pace to being forced to retire my running shoes while my breast healed (or rather, attempted to heal) post mastectomy and all of the follow up surgeries. I found myself counting down the days to when I could get back to running, but then when I did, chemo meant I was worse at running than the early days. I tired easily and I was absolutely furious with cancer for ruining all the hard work I’d done. It was a bloody battle, and one that ended quite a few times with me sobbing in the park, aching, cold and pissed off. With life, with cancer, with my body, with myself for crying in public. Again.

But not long after I got diagnosed, I’d signed up for the Cancer Research Winter Run 10km again on a whim. You know, one of those, stubborn WELL CANCER ISN’T GOING TO RULE MY LIFE whims. One of them OH HEY CANCER, YOU CAN’T STOP ME whims that I came to regret when race day rolled round two days after my last chemo. Great timing, eh? It was suggested I give it a miss, but those whims and my pure bloody mindedness meant there was no way I wasn’t crossing that start line. I would have crawled there if I’d had to. And I’d have crawled the whole 10km if I needed to.

And I did it. With the aid of two of my closest friends, two family members and my homeboy CDB, I bloody did it. Bald and all. And I won’t lie, it was bloody glorious. I loved it. So much more than when I did it solo last year. I got high fives and hugs from strangers. We ran through the closed London streets on a drizzly, chilly Sunday, past some incredible landmarks and sights. And we ran more than I imagined we would. And it made all (though there weren’t many) of those sad preparatory runs worth it when we crossed the line after 1 hour and 31 minutes.

Staying active during cancer treatment is hard, especially if the activity you love most is off limits. So find something you don’t hate and set yourself a goal. But don’t make it an unachievable one. And don’t put any pressure on yourself either. Leave every expectation you have of yourself at home. And I KNOW how hard this is. I’m perpetually hard on myself, and it took a shift not to be. But remember just how much your body is going through and has been through. Give yourself a break and be proud of yourself just for heading out, even if you run for two minutes and walk for 25. That’s totally cool. And remember to be proud of yourself too.

I can heartily recommend finding a #Squad. I honestly believe that my clan carried me round that 10km run – not physically as initially expected – but mentally and emotionally. I held them all back as my pace was slow but I’m so grateful to them for running with me and being such an awesome bunch of people. It makes me a bit teary when I think about it. I salute you all.

I’m off out for a shuffle round this afternoon. I don’t have any aims for distance or time. I’m just going to go out and enjoy moving my body. And I’m going to be grateful that I can.

Here’s a few snaps from the day:

NB: I didn’t fundraise this year, just in case I didn’t make it to the start line or across the finish line. But Big Sis is fundraising for Look Good, Feel Better throughout the year and Sophie is fundraising for Cancer Research. If you wanted to, I’m sure they’d be happy to receive your donations. Choose wisely (LOL).

OH PS – I only went and bloody won Lifestyle Blogger of the Year at the Blogger’s Lounge Awards. Literally never expected that to happen. Not in a million years. If you voted THANK YOU. Couldn’t have done it without you. You’re a rock star!

9 myths on moving to London from the Inimitable North

When I moved to London, a lot of people couldn’t figure out what I was thinking. I come from a reasonably small town in the North East of England where things are comfortable, life doesn’t move overly quickly and the pace is relaxed. I was leaving behind my family and many of my friends, but I was carrying a huge part of the North with me – my identity. Moving to London was a big decision but I was lucky, I’d spent a lot of time in London, so I was never scared of moving from a small town to a big city. I dragged my boyfriend along with me for company, so we figured out the ways of the Big Smoke together. But not everyone has that option and moving to the big city from the Inimitable North can be overwhelming, fraught with horror stories and thick with myths. So I wanted to take an opportunity to share my thoughts on some of these, to offer reassurance to anyone who might be thinking of abandoning their roots, upping sticks and following the bright lights of the city.

1) Myth: Londoners are miserable, you’ll never talk to anyone

Reality: I think this is an important one to address from the off. I’ve met some really bloody incredible people in London be they through work or blogging events or work blogging events, or just in and around the city on a Saturday night. I’ve seen people do things on the underground that have made my heart glad – like the woman who ran down the platform waving a plastic bag at another lady who had just had hers split in a rather dramatic fashion. Or the guys who carried an older family friend up the stairs in her wheelchair when my family had been caught out by the stairs at Covent Garden. Or the Londoners who get asked for directions, might not know the answers but go out of their way to help. People say London was a different place during in the Olympics, but the London the world saw then was the London I see most of the time. That’s not to say some people aren’t miserable some of the time – you try travelling to work in a tin can that’s hotter than a furnace (more on public transport later) and see how your mood fares – but that’s not permanent. And if you talk to someone on the tube, they’ll talk back. If you smile at someone on the tube, they’ll smile back. You’ve just got to be willing to make the first move. london 2) Myth: London is nowhere near as beautiful as the north of England

Reality: I am the first to admit that the north of England is absolutely stunning, especially that there Yorkshire (sorry Lancashire dwellers). The countryside is like none I’ve seen anywhere else, with glorious rolling hills, plush greenness and an abundance of nature it’s hard not to feel humbled by. The cities – York, Newcastle and Liverpool are among my favourites – give the area a brilliant vibrancy that it’s hard to duplicate anywhere else. But sometimes, when I pass by Big Ben in a cab at midnight after a long day at work, the sight catches my breath. When I discover something new – like climbing to the top of Primrose Hill, or seeing the steam rising off the warm water of London Fields Lido in the dark and cold of winter – I have to blink twice to believe that it’s real. London is as beautiful as the north, it’s just a different beautiful. You’ve just got to look for it in different places. You’ve just got to allow yourself to see it.

3) Myth: You’ll have to live in a shoebox, infested by rats

Reality: Ok. So this one might not be a total myth. There is a strong chance you will live in a shithole at some point during your time in London. While I’ve been incredibly lucky with the places I’ve lived, I’ve seen some truly awful places with extortionate rents in amongst the tens of properties I’ve viewed in my time here. BUT if you’re willing to move a little further afield than the likes of Brixton, Clapham into zone 3 (my only points of reference are south of the river, sorry) you can find some pretty nice places with relatively (key word) affordable rents. Rent will be considerably higher than if you still lived at home and don’t even get me started on house prices, but the horror stories aren’t always true. Sometimes they are, but not always. You just adapt. I mean, I lived in a property where you couldn’t stand up in the shower for two years, no questions asked. Your priorities change. That’s what living in London is about.

cropped 4) Myth: Your friends will eventually stop asking you when you’re going to return to The North

Reality: I’ve lived here for four years, regularly shout about how much I love it to anyone who’ll listen (this article is exhibit A) and some of my friends still ask when I’m coming home. I think I will go back one day, but right now, I absolutely can’t picture myself leaving anytime soon. *Please see comment below from my good friend Carly. For the most part, they do only do it because they like you

5) Myth: You’ll never call London “home”

Reality: For a long time, this was absolutely true for me. I still yearned for the north often for the first few years I lived here (and sometimes I still do) but probably about a year ago, I realised that my heart had settled, very comfortably, in my little section of London.

6) Myth:

You’ll never be able to afford to do anything Reality: Yes. Things are more expensive in London. Yes, it’s incredibly rare you can buy a round of drinks for less than £20. But that doesn’t mean you can’t afford to do anything. London is awash with things to do for free and these things don’t just appeal to tourists. Museum exhibitions change all the time, there’s always something new to see at the V&A and the art galleries always have new new works on display. Apps like yPlan and Time Out London aim to make everything that bit more affordable for local people, so when you can afford to do something, you rarely have to pay full price for it. Comedy for a fiver here, deals on drinks for a tenner here, discounts and savings on food there – there’s always something affordable to do. Some of the best things I’ve done in London have been an absolute steal – and they’ve often been booked last minute. yaaay.jpg 7) Myth: Public transport in London is completely useless

Reality: While I will admit that some days, public transport in London can leave you at your wits end, there’s a lot of days when it runs incredibly smoothly. I always say the fact that people get stressed out when they have to wait more than 5 minutes for a tube is really telling of the level of service Londoners are used to. In my home town, I used to have to wait for two hours to get a bus to my college. Aforementioned bus would then take neck end of 90 mins to make a journey which I could manage in about 22 mins in my car once I’d passed my test (and that’s without speeding). I will admit that I don’t know many people who dwell in zone 2 or further afield who haven’t experienced a journey time that has been at least tripled by some transport nightmare. Be that signalling failures, passenger incidents, or something equally as bizarre as that fateful day when someone spilled concrete in the control room at Victoria, we’ve all had hellish journeys across the capital, but we usually get from a to b in one piece, often just a little more sweaty than we’d like.

8) Myth: You’ll never learn your way around

Reality: You’ll learn your way around surprisingly quickly. Once in a while, you’ll be wandering around somewhere you think you don’t know, then you’ll turn a corner and realise you’ve been here before. Another piece of your London map falls into place. You stop having to look at tube maps before you go on every journey. You’ll have conversations with your other half discussing the best route to go while none-Londoners look on as if watching a tennis match, glancing from person to person as you throw suggestions around.

9) Myth: London is MASSIVE

Reality: Greater London is massive. London is not that massive. You’ll be surprised how often you bump into faces you know. One of the things I love most about London is it’s a size that offers just the right amount of anonymity balanced with just the right amount of  not being a big fish in a small pond. For me, moving to London was like when I moved up to secondary school, in that it was terrifying but after just a few short months I realised just how small this city actually is…

All that said, I still love going back to my roots and hitting up the North once in a while. I mean – it’s excellent. They call Yorkshire God’s Country for a reason you know.

Cancer Research Winter Run – Conquer The Cold

A few weeks ago, I was rudely awakened by my alarm ringing out at 7am on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t going off by mistake either, and as much as I would have liked to have turned it off, turned it over and gone back to sleep, I dragged my sorry backside out of bed. The reason I was leaving my lovely, cosy flat early on a Sunday morning in favour of heading out into the three degree weather was to run my very first 10km.

Let’s just take a second to recap on my running “career”. I was a horrendous runner in school. My anti establishment father used to write me notes to excuse me from taking part in cross country, having sympathetically watched me fear that portion of my education more than any other. I was one of those people who believed I just couldn’t run. I’d tried it and I had decided it wasn’t for me. But then I decided to do that ridiculous 25at25 thing and the gauntlet was laid for me to start running. On Boxing Day 2013, I left Mum and Dad’s and embarked on Couch to 5k. It was miserable. I didn’t enjoy it. Fast forward to October 2015, when I’d found some kind of solace in running and had officially left my 25at25 year behind, I signed up for the Cancer Research 10km before I knew what had happened.

Queue a whole bunch of soul searching, running home on a route that is 75% uphill, doubting myself, nerves and attempting to convince myself that I could do it. February 1st rolled around and I found myself stood alongside 11,000 other runners and Big Ben, ready to Conquer to Cold and run that 10km.

The Cancer Research Winter Run was, dare I say it, pretty fun. With my number pinned to my chest I queued from Horse Guard’s Parade, down onto the river front, and began the race at about 10.10am with Westminster behind me and the sun on my face. The route, which scaled the length of the river down to the Tower of London, looped back around and up to St Paul’s then finished up back where we started was glorious – and to my utter delight, pretty much completely flat. Supported by polar bears and cheerleaders and guaranteed snow on at least two parts of the race, you could feel the atmosphere – especially when the crowd was asked who had been directly affected by cancer, and who was still undergoing treatment. There was one person in my wave who was still undergoing treatment and it was the thought of them and all the people battling cancer and in recovery that pushed me on when I thought my legs wouldn’t carry me any further.

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I finished the race in 1 hour 7 minutes and 33 seconds. I’d been aiming for 1 hour 10, so when I crossed the finish line a little tearfully at 11.18am, I knew I’d beaten the time I had set myself and I absolutely couldn’t believe it. It is a long time since I felt that proud of myself.

Running has definitely become a big part of my life now (yeah, I don’t know who I am anymore either). Though I can’t see myself running a marathon anytime soon, I reckon I could take on a half next year. Since that Boxing Day in 2013 though, I’ve definitely become one of those people who likes fitness stuff – fashion and gadgets mainly. My Nike running tights make me feel like an absolute badass as well as keeping me safe on dark, winter runs while my Nike Aeroloft Running Vest keeps the wind off my chest and makes sure I keep warm on those miserable rainy, windy runs in the depths of January.

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My new favourite running companion though cropped up on my desk at work the day after the Cancer Research Winter Run. I only wish it had arrived a day or so earlier, because I am ultimately impressed. I’m talking about Runphones. I’m absolutely convinced that this simple little headband can make a massive difference to anyone who leads an active lifestyle.

It might look simple, but actually this little band is home to a couple of wireless speakers that play music straight into your earholes from your phone via a Bluetooth connection. Yeah, I know, sometimes technology blows my mind too.

I hadn’t realised how restricted i was by headphones when I was running until I was completely wireless. Suddenly it was easier to turn my head to check for traffic when I was crossing the road, my headphones weren’t falling out of my ears as I was lolloping along. It was utterly fuss free and ultra safe. Runphones enable you to hear music at a volume that’s still motivational without blocking out the sounds of traffic and what’s more, the speakers are removable and the headband is washable. No gross sweaty bugs lying around near your face. The wireless Runphones I’ve got retail at £69.99 and are available direct from Runphones.

I never thought I would be so impressed with a piece of equipment designed for runners. Namely because I never thought I’d be a runner. Turns out I kind of am.

Here’s a picture of me looking squinty with a polar bear to prove that I am still the same person I was 15 months ago, just a fitter one wearing a medal around her neck.

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If you want to donate to Cancer Research, you can text BEAT to 70200

Runphones sent me their wireless headphones to trial but I really am genuinely impressed with them. So much so my parents just bought themselves a set each. If that’s not an accolade, I don’t know what is.

REVIEW: Grimm Tales for Young and Old

London is awash with places to go and experience incredible theatre. From musicals on the West End to epic productions at the Old Vic and performances of the Bard’s greatest work at London’s Globe, there’s an abundance of stuff to see right on your doorstep and I’m consistently in awe of what’s on offer. Recently, I was offered the chance to pop along to see “an immersive fairytale” – a production of Grimm Tales for Young and Old at Bargehouse, OXO Tower and I, somewhat inevitably, said yes with minimal hesitation.

Based on Philip Pullman’s re-writing of Grimm’s fairytales, this production is spread over several floors and as soon as you enter the building, you’re immediately transported to another world. In that world, characters from some of the best known fairytales are waiting for you, all itching to tell you their stories. Darkness and shadows combine with everyday objects and familiar fairytale tokens to create an atmospheric setting for a theatre experience where the action unfolds around you.

gt1Audiences huddle around to hear the story of Thousandfurs, a princess on the run from her father’s ill-conceived plans for her marriage, meet the Three Little Men in the Woods who bestow gifts upon a kindly guest, discover how The Frog King came to inhabit a well rather than a castle, follow Faithful Johannes as he endeavours to keep a dying kings last wish and witness Hansel and Gretel’s discovery of a house made with the sweetest foundations.

While the stories are fairly familiar, Grimm Tales offers a really unique retelling of the classics and introduces a few new elements, while being shepherded quickly from one performance space to another makes the whole scenario feel somewhat like a dream. The bizarre set, which you’re given the opportunity to explore at the end of the performance, just adds to this feeling. While the performance was not as immersive as similar projects and my suspension of disbelief was disturbed by the interval, this production is still a complete spectacle and one I’d recommend to anyone, especially to those who haven’t witnessed the madness of the likes of Punchdrunk.

The Three Little Men in Grimm Tales, The Bargehouse_credit Tom Medwell

Sabina Arthur, Morag Cross and Kate Adler in Grimm Tales, The Bargehouse_credit Tom Medwell

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I thoroughly enjoyed Grimm Tales. It’s worth keeping in mind this show is, as the title suggests, for people of all ages, so it’s perhaps not quite as dark and twisty as it could have been. I’d have loved to see one of the Grimm brother’s darker fairytales on the bill to match the eerie setting a bit more acutely but I was captivated by the skill of the entire cast, who were without a single weak link. The set was incredible and poking around at the end was the cherry on the top of a real treat of an evening.

Once again, I was reminded how glorious the capital really is – especially when I got home and checked out this picture on my camera.

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Grimm Tales is on at OXO Bargehouse until 11th April. Tickets start from £45

*I was invited along to Grimm Tales  and received a pair of free tickets (lucky Chris, eh?)  to blog about the show, but as ever, you’re looking at an honest review from me. Banging production photos from Tom Medwell, the less good ones are mine.

#CurrysChristmasWalk

Christmas has 100% crept up on me again this year, so much so I have no idea how I managed to get all of my Christmas shopping done with minimal stress.

For many though, Christmas shopping can be a bit of a chore – traipsing round the bustling high street is often a bit frantic. The high street stresses are a far cry from the festive spirit we traditionally associate with this time of year, so when Joe Bloggers got in touch to invite me on the CurrysChristmasWalk with them a few weeks ago, I was keen to see the alternative shopping experience they had in mind for us.

They’d teamed up with Best LDN Walks to take us on a tour of some of the oldest shopping haunts in the city – away from the crowds and the fury of the shoppers on Oxford Street. Not only that, but Currys wanted to make us all feel better about the number of mince pies we were certain to eat over the coming weeks, so they gave us a piece of wearable tech to prove just how many calories you can burn while marching around the bustling streets, laden with gifts for your loved ones. I got to test out a Garmin Vivofit – more on that in a minute.

On our stroll around Piccadilly, we visited chocolate shop Charbonnel & Walker, longstanding bookstore Hatchards, Berry Bros liqueur shop, Lock and Co hatters and Paxton and Whitfield cheese shop. I’m not hugely familiar with this part of the city and I would never have thought to do my Christmas shopping here, but there was certainly something for all of the people on my festive list. And Hatchards has fast become my favourite new haunt in London. A bookshop with a spiral staircase? Hello! Anyway, I snapped several photos before my phone gave way – so here they are:

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Our guide Charlotte was incredibly knowledgeable about the stores we were frequenting and the surrounding area. This is the only Best LDN Walk I’ve done, but I’m certainly keen to do more in the future. They have a whole host over on their website (linked above) so be sure to check them out.

I was initially given a Jawbone to test on our festive stroll but couldn’t get it to pair with my phone, so at the end of the walk, I had it replaced with the Garmin. As a result of that I don’t have the final stats for the walk, but I can guarantee you’ll be surprised how many of your recommended 10,000 steps per day you get done walking around for a couple of hours.

For me, wearable tech is more useful when I’m running (which I’m doing more of these days) than for everyday but the Garmin Vivofit is still really cool. The display shows you how many calories you’ve burned, the miles you’ve travelled, the steps you’ve walked and how far off your daily target you are as well as the time. It feeds all of this information back to an app on your smart phone, allowing you to track all of these things, as well as using GPS to track your routes. I think you can also use it to track your heart rate but I haven’t figured out quite how yet.

*I was invited along on the Curry’s Christmas Walk and was gifted the Garmin Vivofit but this hasn’t affected my views on either the walk itself, the wearable tech or the excellent tour provided by Best LDN Walks.

A Secret Adventure – 31st October

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OK. So it’s happened again. Almost a whole month has slipped by, leaving me chastising myself for not updating my blog and furious at myself for not sharing the content I had promised myself I would in a timely manner. At the start of the month, my work life was being dominated by the #VCSwapShop, then I disappeared off to spend a week in the Barbados sunshine (more on that later), and before I knew it, I’m looking December in the face and wondering where on earth the year has gone.

Just as October came to a close though, I got an incredible opportunity to celebrate Halloween in a completely unique and unconventional manner. I’ve been following the likes of Secret Adventures for a while now. They specialise in hidden escapes from London city. I’ve been on the precipice of heading to one of their wild swims so many times but never quite managed to find a suitable date to take the plunge and I’ve followed their night kayak series with close attention and daydreamed about going on one of their weekend retreats, so when I saw a post on their Facebook page asking for bloggers and photographers to come along on one of their adventures, I grabbed the chance and hung on to it so tightly, I felt I had to apologise for being too keen. Assured by Madoc, founder of Secret Adventures, that there was no such thing as too keen in his book, he gave me the biggest compliment I could have asked for when he said I “seemed adventurous” and invited me along to The London Labyrinth event on Halloween.halloween

I’m not ordinarily a fan of Halloween. I find it trite and commercial. I get frustrated with the focus on “sexy” Halloween costumes that are available for women. I’m uncharacteristically an absolute, card carrying misery come 31st October. But I thought that this, a pot luck dinner party in a set of underground tunnels in London only reachable by boat sounded like it might have been the way to change my feelings about the festival of fear. So off I trotted (having utilised eyeliner and eyebrow colouring for a last minute attempt at face painting) on a unseasonably dry and warm evening in late October to a set of moorings in north London to join the other Secret Adventurers who were to be my companions for the night.

After some introductions, we jumped in a couple of boats and kayaks and began our illicit trip down the water. Lubricated with wine and beers, we cruised past incredible mansions, behind a zoo, through the quietest parts of the city and past plenty of revelers in fancy dress and arrived out our location around 40 mins then slipped under a building into a basin, where we were plunged into complete darkness, albeit from a few head torches some of the more forward thinking of our group had thought to bring along. At this point, I heard someone say “this is how horror stories begin”.

We clambered from our boats through a set of wooden doors at the back of the basin and found ourselves in a mass of connected passages under a thick cloud of darkness. The area was formerly used as a stables for horses and ponies working on the nearby railway, but it has subsequently been abandoned and become an eerie London underworld. We took some time to explore , but being kind of terrified of the dark and quite claustrophobic, I rarely left the comfort of the group for longer than a minute or so, in fear of losing them and getting stuck in the darkness forever.

After a little while, we –  a group of people who were predominantly strangers, settled down for our pot luck dinner. They were such a brilliant group of people from such a wide spread of walks of life and I felt really privileged to be part of such an exclusive soiree – especially one that had no pretensions – for a really special, perfectly eerie and exhilaratingly creepy Halloween.

As the evening drew to a close, our candles faded and the food supplies began to dwindle, we hopped back in our boats and made our way back along the canal and headed home.

Check out all of the amazing meetups Secret Adventures have on offer – and go along! I can guarantee you, you won’t regret it.

*Madoc invited me to go along to the London Labyrinth event but this in no way affected my view of the trip, or of Secret Adventures. They’re bloody brilliant.

Pictures from Ana-Maria Bourceanu and Natalie Ward over on the Secret Adventures Meetup page

Pirates of the Carabina

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I’ve been so bad at updating my blog recently. The last couple of months have, as you would expect, been really busy, but I just wanted to share what we got up to last night as it was one of the occasions where I realised just how insanely lucky I am to live in this fair city.

As the last few weeks have been a bit manic, Boom decided it was time for a date night. He popped onto Yplan (my favourite app for booking London stuff) and booked us in for an evening of entertainment. I knew nothing, other than to meet him at St Paul’s at 6pm, which I duly did. We then found ourselves at The Bowler Hat – a temporary theatre, shaped like a massive bowler hat, obviously – for a show by acrobatic troupe Pirates of the Carabina called Flown.

We spent quite a lot of time at the Cabaret and Circus tent when we were at Glastonbury last month, and both of us were completely transfixed by a couple of the trapeze, silk and aerial performers we saw, so I was incredibly excited to see what Flown had to offer. And I can tell you for certain, it did not disappoint.

Showing off a range of old fashioned circus skills with a live band, the Pirates of the Carabina put on a spine-tinglingly good show, complete with gasps, laughter and pure awe. I spent a large part of the hour-long show completely agog at the feats of balance, skill and wonder I was witnessing. It was captivating, hilarious, inspiring and completely magical. Though the build up was insanely good, the finale really took the show to another level.

I didn’t want to take my eyes off the action for too long, so I only took a couple of snaps, but check out their website, like them on Facebook and keep an eye out for their next show near you. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Take a look at the video below for a little taster of the show’s magnificence.