Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Gigging Gospel

Sat at my desk at work, I can confirm that summer is well and truly here. I know this for three reasons; it is cooler in the office than it is outside, my skin is ultra soft after days of slathering on sun cream and I have just witnessed my first proper thunder storm of the year – and welcomed it. Added to this list are all the other indicators – an increase in ice cream consumption being one of them and a move from indoor activities to outdoor pursuits being another. And I’m not just talking about the walking/running/cycling I was on about last week. I am talking less physically demanding recreation. More specifically, gigs.
Alas, this year I have yet again failed to get my arse in gear and land myself some tickets to a festival somewhere out in the country. But never mind – London has got a plethora of outdoor gigs right on my door step. Last week I spent Thursday afternoon braving the elements in Hyde Park in order to the see the mighty Kings Of Leon. Okay so I got a bit wet (and managed to catch the sun too – only in the UK is this possible in a 12 hour period) but it was well and truly worth it. There was a real festival atmosphere, with plenty of beer and burgers, and no less than four supporting acts. For six and a half hours of live music, I came to the conclusion that it was fifty quid well spent – especially considering one of the acts was Paul Weller, another was White Lies (who also played Glasto) and, out of the other two, only one was a bit on the dodgy side.
However, as usual, there were those in the crowd who, after one too many beers and a little bit of sun, lost the ability to conduct themselves in a manner that was respectful to those around them. Okay, so it is a concert, and we are all there to enjoy ourselves. And yes, it is permitted to dance and jump up and down a bit too. But if you do decide to show your appreciation of the music in this way, surely it is not too much to ask you to try and not jump on top of everyone else in the process? It is possible – I know I have perfected my technique for bopping in crowded places over the years quite successfully.
But that leads me on to my second gripe. You see, I know when I have drunk enough get me happily merry but not so much that I am unable to stand up without support – or to the point where I feel the need to pee into a pint glass and chuck it over the crowd (just plain gross, guys), have to push my way out of the crowd to vomit (not cool) or collapse on my way home (highly undignified). Alas, not everyone has yet to figure this out.
And then there are those who feel the need to moan and groan throughout the entire show. Okay, so I am tall and probably don’t appreciate how annoying it is to be at a gig and not be able to see something. But I don’t see why I should apologise for it either. I imagine there are lots of advantages to being short (being able to fit on buses, buy trousers, not have men stare at your chest all of the time), but gigging is clearly not one of them. So suck it up – and go and stand towards the back where everyone gets a clear view. Harsh, maybe, but that’s life. And, yes, it is annoying when people bump into you all of the time, but for God’s sake, please don’t start pushing back and get into a fight. You’ll only end up pissing everyone off even more.
So, next time you go to a gig, please remember my golden rules. Actually, make that the Gigging Gospel: Show a bit of respect, to yourself and to others. That way everyone can have a jolly good time.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Great Outdoors

A lot of people don’t get London. Some of my friends and family who live out in the sticks struggle to understand why I have stayed here so long. My sister often smugly tells me about her weekends spent pottering about the rolling dales of Yorkshire. During a country walk across the border, my Lancastrian cousin once asked me what us city dwellers do in our time off, seemingly bewildered that some people actually enjoy more urban activities.
The idea of not having an expanse of unspoilt space within a five minute walk of home is for some people a little too much to comprehend. Don’t get me wrong - I like a bit of greenery too and every now and then find myself fleeing to Hampstead Heath or the nearest train station in pursuit of real fresh air and the sight of a horizon unspoilt by tower blocks.
Having said that, this desire to escape the sprawling metropolis has been less apparent of late. And I think I know why. You see, since signing up for the Race For Life I have ditched the gym for the local park. Not only is it far more interesting than trudging along on the treadmill (think Blur’s Parklife and you get the idea) but I think it is doing my well being the world of good too. And it isn’t only us joggers (going round, and round, and round) who keep their fitness up outside. In Finsbury Park there is not only a basketball and tennis courts, but a range of gym equipment for those who like to go their resistance work somewhere other than a sweaty studio. My recent attempts to learn (at the grand old age of 31) to cycle have also let me indulge in a bit of otherwise unscheduled greenery. My sessions (which are going quite well, thank you) are held in Highbury Fields which is not only very pleasant, but has a conveniently placed café and ice cream van too – perfect for when I need a bit of a break from pedal power.
About a year ago I met some volunteers who run Green Gyms across London. No, this isn’t an eco-friendly version of Fitness First, but an opportunity for people to get outdoors and get fit whilst doing a bit of conservation work – something that I would definitely commit to if I was a lady of leisure. And, although the Urban Jungle isn’t as rich in flora as its name might suggest, if you feel the need to get out and about and stretch your legs, London is a great place to go walking. I’m a big fan of my Time Out London Walks book and have been on a couple of guided walks too – great exercise with a bit of local knowledge thrown in for good measure. What’s not to like?
So, as I quickly approach the date of my 10k race (EEK!), I am considering more and more seriously cancelling my gym membership and getting myself out there. Okay, so when the weather turns a jog around park might be less appealing, but at the same time the idea of wrapping up in my thermals and braving the great outdoors sounds quite invigorating, even a little romantic. And, at the end of the day, I always have my Wii if I really can’t face the elements. And it will save me a heap of cash.
In my book, outdoors is definitely back in.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Oh what a night

I have confession to make. Last Friday I went out with some colleagues and got a little bit tipsy. Well, a little bit more than tipsy perhaps. Let’s put it this way, I was glad that by the time the Sambuca made an appearance the only person left more senior than me was the one buying the drinks.
I was supposed to be going for a pint with an old friend I worked with in Days of Yore, but she cancelled at the last minute (sorry but I fail to see how childcare arrangements are more important than beer). So, not one to be deprived of my Friday night drink, I asked a colleague if she fancied a swift one. Within an hour half the office was traipsing down to Kings Cross to Caminos.
I think it is fair to say fun was had by all. The more responsible (and sensible) amongst us drifted off at around 6.30pm, leaving the hardcore to venture up the road to Lincoln Lounge – where the Sambuca made an appearance. It is not a bar I have been to before, but, from what I remember (and it starts to get a bit hazy here) it had a pretty cool vibe, comfy chairs and chilled music. Just my cup of tea.
After a couple more beverages, we were down to three. I don’t recall what time it was, but we were hungry for more. The question was, where to now? A quick curry? A bit of a boogie? Nah, way too mainstream. So what did we do? Well, we went bowling.
You see, this is where living in London becomes a real advantage. Not only were we able to get a bus to our next destination well after 11 (not that I recall the journey particularly well), we were able to go somewhere other than a night club or a brothel for our late night entertainment. Excellent! And then, after two games of bowling – in which I managed to get a STRIKE, thank you very much – we decided it was maybe time to line our stomachs with some food. At two in the morning.
But, for our old chum London, this was not a problem. We wobbled over to a cab and in less than a hiccup later, we were at Green Lanes, tucking into a mighty fine Shish Kebab with salad, harissa and rice. Beautiful! What more could a girl ask for?
Alas, the night had to end at some point. After stuffing our faces with Turkish delights, we started to flag. It was time to go home. So, once I had secured a doggie bag for my lunch the next day, we wandered out to find a cab. How much for a cab to Finsbury Park with two drop off points, we enquired? £7.50 each. As in 15 quid. For a ten minute journey. We tried to haggle (not easy in the circumstances) and got nowhere. So, begrudgingly, we agreed our fare and collapsed onto the back seat.
I crawled into bed next to a snoring Him Indoors at 3pm a happy bunny. It had been a good night. Beer, bowling and ‘babs, all within easy reach at unreasonable hours. God I love London sometimes.
I just wish the cabs weren’t so bloomin’ expensive...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Deal or No Deal?

You know what? I like a bargain, me. Put it down to my frugal northern roots or that feminine intuition that kicks in around the 1st January (and again about 6 months later), but nothing gives me more satisfaction than getting something that I want for not a lot of money.
This doesn’t mean that I buy things just because they are cheap. I like to think that I am savvy enough to only part with my hard earned cash when it is in exchange for something that I really want, or need. Just because those canary yellow hot pants are only a pound does not make them an investment. And although it is tempting to snap up yet another five course meal followed by laser hair removal via Groupon on a daily basis, you can end up with more beauty deals and nights out than you can fit into your diary.
That isn’t to say that I am immune to the charms of Groupon. I have succumbed a few times, I admit. There’s been my bi-yearly mani/pedi, a team lunch in a local gastro pub, a massage and, most recently, a champagne afternoon tea with my friend.
Okay, so afternoon tea is not exactly a necessity, but after a stressful few months at work my chum and I felt the need for a little treat. And, at £12 a head it seemed more than reasonable. So, last Friday we headed over to the Rafayel Hotel on the Left Bank. We arrived full of high expectations – okay so champagne tastes good anywhere, but sandwiches, pastries and tea in a five-star hotel was sure to be a real delight, right?
Well, you’d think, anyway.
Alarm bells began to ring when our sandwiches arrived. It didn’t bother me too much that the staff didn’t tell us what was in them, even if it would have been quite nice to have been in the know rather than having to peel back the bread and sniff the various gooey fillings to find out. But... the bread was stale. Not massively stale, but it was quite clear these sandwiches had not just been rustled up for us and had in fact been hanging around for some time.
Slightly disappointed, we waited for our cake stand to arrive. I looked lovely, loaded with scones, berries, cakes, and... Hang on, what was that? Well, it was pink and gooey, but not necessarily in a good way. When our tea arrived I politely enquired as to that the said item actually was. The waiter looked a little confused and said he would find out for us. Sadly, when we called him over two minutes later (because, erm, our MILK WAS OFF), he hadn’t had a chance to find out. He did however make a valiant effort to convince us that he hadn’t brought us off milk, but it was in fact double cream. You know, that really thin smelly variety.
So, when a different member of staff reappeared with a fresh supply of milk I asked her to help us solve our mystery. She just shrugged and said she didn’t know. And we were expected to eat this unidentified object.
By this point we were finding the whole situation decidedly amusing. It became a game to see how many waiters would fob us off rather than actually admit that maybe there was something wrong with our refreshments. So I was a little bemused when the next chap I collared actually took away the offending object and replaced it with a really rather pretty raspberry macaroon.
I have to admit that we didn’t bother to complain – although we certainly would have done if we had paid the full £30 a head the Rafayel usually charges for this sloppy service. Needless to say we won’t be going back, though. It makes me wonder why businesses bother with such deals – surely the point is to get the punters in, impress them with your product and welcome them back in the future as customers who are willing to pay top whack? Or am I missing something?
Sadly this isn’t the only business I know of which has fallen into this trap. In fact, I don’t think I would go back to the spa where I had my massage even if it was on offer again. But that doesn’t mean that others don’t get it right. Later that same Friday I went to one of the London Zoo “Lates” – think an evening at the zoo with no kids but plenty of food, drink and a silent disco. It was great night – made even better by the fact that I get the tickets for better than half price on Living Social. A true bargain – and the same experience that I would have had if I'd paid the full 18 quid. Now that is what I call a good deal.
So, the moral of the story? Pick your special offers carefully. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some real gems out there. Just don’t expect too much – that way you won’t be disappointed. Or, even better, you might even be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

giggles, gigs and... gravestones

Ah, London. It has something for everyone. Or something for every mood, for that matter. Whether you feel like a good giggle, chilling out to the Blues or a mooch around one of London’s most atmospheric sites, it always manages to hit the spot.
However, don’t expect London to deliver its delights without a few setbacks. Oh, no. London is a feisty one at the best of times, and although it is full of delights, it often tests its inhabitants and visitors alike, offering its very best only to those who show real endurance. Something that I feel I possess. As for Him Indoors? Well, that’s another story.
Last week was a busy week. Being a sucker for a good night out, I had booked us tickets for a freebie at BBC television studios and a gig at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. Teamed with a Bank Holiday, I couldn’t resist but squeeze in a day out at the weekend too. Sadly, though, our escapades didn’t go without a hitch.
Last Monday, after a trip to Nando's for some Peri Peri chicken, Him Indoors and I headed over to the White City to indulge in a bit of audience participation with Claudia Winkleman in her new show, King Of. We got there nice and early and joined the queue. Him Indoors started to get twitchy within five minutes. He doesn’t do queues, you see. I guess it didn’t help when I volunteered information to an assistant about his experience of scuba diving. They were looking for people to talk to Claudia about under water creatures. On the telly. Funnily enough, he wasn’t impressed by my blabbering. Oops.
In the studio we ended up near the front due to my disclosure. The show was a real hoot – Claudia and her guests ad libbed about their favourite biscuits, dance moves and things to sit on for a good two hours. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Sadly, Him Indoors didn’t get to share his love of Sea Cucumbers with the nation, but he still managed to get the hump about having to clap too much. I tell you, there is no pleasing some people.
Then, on Thursday, we headed to Camden Town to see the mighty Seasick Steve. I had treated us for Him Indoor's Birthday, but yet again, the evening failed to hit the spot.
I met Him Indoors in Strada on Parkway. Admittedly I was a little damp after an afternoon of heavy showers. Him Indoors was soaked from the waist down. Unfortunately his cagoule was only effective to a point, and that point happened to hover just above his crotch. Oh dear. Doubled with the restaurant’s news that their pizza oven had broken, the evening did not get off to a good start. Fortunately, after a long wait, our favourite Blues singer saved the day and our evening ended on a high, despite some complaints on the bus home about ringing ears. Close, but no cigar.
Finally, this Monday, I felt it was time for us to indulge in some culture. Him Indoors suggested Highgate Cemetery – I had been banging on about visiting the resting place of some of London’s most celebrated since reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. It was a fascinating afternoon and my camera hardly took a break. But, again, Him Indoors had cause for complaint. You see, the cemetery is at the bottom of a hill that we had to walk down to get to – and walk up to get back to the bus stop. Needless to say, I was less than popular by the time we got to Tesco Metro to pick up our dinner.
The moral of the story? Well, if you want to enjoy London’s offerings, whether you want a giggle, a gig or some gothic gravestones, you have to take the rough with the smooth. The capital’s culture may be on your doorstep, but sometimes you have to compromise your comfort to get to appreciate its crown jewels. So put on your walking boots and your waterproofs and get ready to work for your recreation. Because London can be more than a little bit difficult when it wants to be. But that is part of its charm.