Sunday, 15 November 2015

London's First Mulled Wine Festival

I really got lucky with Yelp London's First Mulled Wine Festival. I had offered to help on the 12th in the first slot 12-3. Things were on the quieter side when I started out, as everything was being set up. So I got the time to figure out what was going on where, where the ATM's were, the wifi set up etc. I managed to meet the community managers from Birmingham, Manchester & Edinburgh and other yelp elite & chat with each of them.

At around 1pm, the lunch crowd started coming in & the action heated up a bit, helping people download the app, telling them what yelp was all about.

At 3, things had quietened, so I finally left the main booth (registration only) and actually headed to the food and drink areas. Since things weren't rushed, I had a chat with most of the stall owners and got to try everything for free with the nifty Yelp Elite VIP wristband!

I started with the Mulled wine at Chez Antoinette - a lovely sweet mulled wine with strong flavours. I absolutely loved this one. I also got to try half a duck confit baguette. I loved the duck but the bread was a little too crusty for me. (I prefer soft breads) They have a permanent location in Covent Garden, so I'd love to try more of their food there.

As I was munching on my baguette and sipping my wine, I headed over to the DJ booth being run by Phizz. They were handing out goody bags with pop chips & Phizz Rehydration tablet samplers to Elite. The music they were playing was really good, but at the main booth where I was stationed, we could only hear the opera being played from inside Covent Garden Market. The DJ's said that they only had permission to increase their volume later in the evening.

My next stop was Gosnells where I tasted mead for the first time (An alcoholic drink made from honey. I've read so much about it in historical fiction, but I wasn't sure how it would actually taste). It was lovely. Again, a sweet drink, so right up my alley. The mulled version was even better & my glass was fortified with a shot of rum.

With my baguette over, I headed to the Meat Liquor stall. I've been following them on instagram and been very tempted to head over to one of their locations, but hadn't got around to it. The dead hippie burger was FANTASTIC!. So I know that I HAVE to head to their restaurant ASAP. As I was chatting with the lovely lady here about food & meat, she offered me some of their Jagermeister Spice. Which was also amazing. I'd have loved to take some home with me, to sip on in the evening.

The final stop in this section was Morelli's Gelato which had 2 Christmas Specials - the mulled wine and the mince pie. They were also offering Irish Cream & another flavour. I had the mince pie, which was very good and later in the evening I had the chance to taste the Irish Cream & the mulled wine too. I think the mince pie was my favourite.

Corral one over and done with, I headed to corral two. I started with LIC Pops - Mulled Wine pop. I've had their pina colada & mojito pops before, so I knew I could expect something fantastic. It was delicious, but frozen (obviously!) These pops are better suited to be enjoyed at home in front of a fire or radiator, than in chilly, windy, nippy, Covent Garden on a semi winter night.

I quickly headed over to Heddon Street for a Hot Scot Cider, mulled with Drambuie, which warmed me right up again. I bought one of their lemon and honey madelines, just to balance the alcohol I was imbibing and they were warm and toasty, fresh out of a warming oven.

I skipped Thistly Cross as they were having some electric troubles which they were trying to sort out. She told me I could have lukewarm cider now or hot cider later. I opted for later and was really keen to try the marzipan & gingerbread mulls.

My final stop was L'atypique who offered me prosecco for a change, which was fresh and crisp.

The Christmas Cart wasn't offering samples and as I was stuffed & marinated, I promised myself that i would be back later for one of their pies (I tasted the venison & port from a friend - it was good.) &top it with some Thistly cider before I left.

Once I got back to the main booth, things started heating up, literally. We heard that the micropigs would soon arrive and the heater was turned on for them. And the moment the pigs arrived, was when the crowds really started.

Everyone wanted their pictures taken with those cute, squealing bundles & the registration area just exploded. I lost count of how many people I helped download the app that evening.

It was then time to suit up for the Santa flashmob, where we ran around the square handing out candy canes and yelp cards. By now it was around 7:45 and I was ready to leave.

Brajesh had arrived & I wanted to take him to all the stalls, but it was impossible to get through the coralled areas. The crowds were just piling in by 7:30. There were queues everywhere. The security got strict. They didn't want anyone taking glasses outside the area which just increased the number of people inside the small fenced areas. There was no seating and the stalls were on the smaller side. so it all ended up feeling very chaotic.

Yelpers were doing their best to manage the crowds the best that they could, but it was becoming unmanageable. People who arrived around this time would not have enjoyed the festival, the way that I had the luxury of doing so.

By now, it was crowded & chaotic. We managed to snag a dirty hippy & a jagermeister, before we left to find a quiet place for dinner.

I enjoyed the event, but I can see why people who came in very early or very late found the place too quiet or too chaotic. It was a great first event, but can be made even better next year with a little more planning and objectively looking at what could be done to improve the overall Festival.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

#YelpBigNightIn - Yelp’s Big Night In

I cheated! I juggled myself into celebrating THREE #YelpBigNightIn on Wednesday, Thursday AND Friday!

Wednesday, was a lovely chilled out day. A picnic arrived from Pauls via the Quiqup guys. 26 minutes from the time I placed the order online to the time the picnic hamper was delivered home by Edward. Plans to head to Hyde Park were promptly dissolved in favour of watching a movie at home. Plus picnic hamper meant no cutlery, so no washing up! Yay! Score!

Thursday was spent preparing for a Huge #YelpBigNightIn, and I was busy cooking up a storm during the day and into most of the night. A bit of a disappointment when the lady from Hassle did not turn up at the appointed time. The Hassle guys were willing to send a substitute over on Friday, but I was having friends coming over on Thursday to spend the night, so I had to quickly clean up myself. They have promised to let me use their service at a later date.

The Laundrapp guy did not turn up at the appointed 4pm either, But a lovely Shiraz appeared courtesy Mr Vine, so I was ready to just drink my disappointment away.

We had barely started on the bottle around 11pm, when a guy turned up from Laundrapp. I was shocked, I didn't know people actually "worked" that late in London. He told me that they do pickups and deliveries right until midnight. What a wonderful facility for people who themselves work late and get home even later. The biggest pleasure of course, was an empty laundry basket. No ironing this week. Tralalalalala.

Friday, a couple of friends were due to come over for a home cooked meal, but I cheated a bit. I ordered some starters and baklava from Lokkanta, which was promptly delivered by deliveroo and everyone loved the food. I'll be ordering a full meal from them some time soon. Since the starters were taken care of, I could spend more time with my friends just catching up.

I wasn't able to get anyone at Bizzby, but I'll talk to them this week and try and sort it out. I was planning to ask them to pick up some chilled beers, ciders and ice just before the party (these miniscule London city apartment refrigerators!) But the poor husband was finally dispatched to do this job. LOL.

Laundrapp is due to return the clothes on Monday and I have to contact Bizzby & Hassle to see what can be worked out, so I might just manage to extend the #YelpBigNightIn by a couple of more days. Maybe I can get myself a massage from Bizzby and a cleaning before our next round of houseguests the coming weekend? Is this going to be a #YelpBigWeekIn ?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Death of a Salesman at Noel Coward Theatre

Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play by American playwright Arthur Miller. It was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949, running for 742 performances. Death of a Salesman is often numbered on the short list of being among the finest American plays in the 20th century.

I had heard a lot about this play, but had never got the chance to watch it nor had I read it. When we realised that 18 July 2015 was the last performance of this run of the play at Noel Coward Theatre, we quickly booked tickets for the penultimate show.

I'm glad, I didn't read up anything about the play before I went to watch it, because I could enjoy the story line as it evolved. The problem with well known plays for me, is that I know how things end before a performance even begins. I personally prefer the slow reveal.

In the land of the free, each man is in charge of his own destiny. But as old age begins to take hold of Willy Loman, the dream of retiring with his loving wife and watching his handsome sons continue his legacy seems further away than ever. Directed by Gregory Doran, this production of the Royal Shakespeare Company marks the centenary celebrations of Arthur Miller.

The 4 main characters are Willy Loman - a salesman in his 60's, his wife Linda and his 2 sons - Biff & Happy.

The play opens with Willy returning half way through a sales trip unable to carry on his journey. His troubles start out seeming quite commonplace - burn out due to overwork and wishing his sons had achieved more in life. But as the play moves forward, you realise that there are much more serious issues involved, dangerous secrets to be revealed.

This is most definitely a tragic play, and we came away feeling quite depressed.

Almost 70 years have passed since Arthur Miller penned this play, but the social, moral and consumerist issues are exactly the same today too. The line between reality and illusion is normally very clear in the present, but it gets a bit hazy when thinking of the past and in the case of Willy Loman, he embellishes his memories so much, that it seems that he can no longer distinguish between the two.

It is difficult to find sympathy for Linda, because it seems like she enables Willy's behaviour, no matter how irrational.

Death of a Salesman is a tragedy and depressing, but it is also thought provoking and covers topics that need to be discussed amongst the youth of today.
What is Success?
What is acceptable behaviour on the path to success?
What are the responsibilities of parents towards their children and children towards their older parents?
Should you follow your own dreams or those that others think you are capable of?

Its a lot to think about...

Monday, 13 July 2015

Peter Barnes - Noonday Demons - @King's Head Theatre

We absolutely loved James McAvoy in The Ruling Class, so when we heard that King's Head Theatre was putting up a performance of another Peter Barnes Play, we were really excited.

The fact that this play was being put up in a Theatre within a pub, just made the whole concept more interesting. This was our first visit to a Theatre within a pub and it was only later that I learned that there are more such Pub Theatres in London.

The idea behind the play was simple:

St Eusebius is living as a hermit in the Egyptian desert, alone but for a tower of his own excrement, and the maggots that live in his festering flesh.

With nothing to do but self-flagellate, he is quite content surviving on olives, water and self-righteousness until a second hermit arrives with an order from God. And so begins a contest as to who is the holiest.

The script itself is that of an anarchic black comedy. Sadly the performances couldn't match up to the script. It is an extremely difficult script and what we saw where the early previews, so I do hope that the group can tighten the performance and bring in more of that manic energy needed to portray characters in a Peter Barnes play. Or maybe our expectations were too high for expecting a James McAvoy level of performance.

The sudden appearance of a third hermit at the end of the play just for the curtain call threw us all for a loop, none of us could figure out where he came in from and what his role was.

The themes of religious zealotry, violence in Gods name, clash of extreme egos are all very relevant and current, but somehow this performance didn't manage to strike the right note for us.

The King's Head Theatre is a tiny theatre with free seating. The front row is literally on the stage itself. And the advantage was that we got a close look at the make up which was excellent. Torn knees, covered in dust from the desert, it was all very well put together.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Twelfth Night @The Actors Church / @IrisTheatre #iris12thnight

A Shakespearean Play set in an Actual Garden in the heart of the City with multiple locations and the audience moving around the garden with the actors? Whats not to love about that?

The minute I heard about the concept (from Anne Marie's twitter feed - We LOVED her in These Trees are Made of Blood), I knew we had to catch this play.

And so we found ourselves on a Friday evening, among a select group of people with access to St Paul's Church (also known as The Actors Church) in Covent Garden, while others contented themselves with street performers in the piazza.

The play by Iris Theatre was set out in 6 locations across the church and the gardens, each one more atmospheric than the other.

The Twelfth Night is a typical Shakespearean comedy with mistaken identities and love triangles / quadrangles etc. We had watched a recording of the play performed at The Shakespeares Globe on Star Arts, but that was so pale and insipid compared to this version.

This version, directed by Vik Sivalingam was light and airy and fun and even the young kids in the audience seemed to be loving Shakespeare. The music by Anne Marie Piazza and Nick Howard Brown was perfect at setting the atmosphere. The open air settings, the fairy lights, the minimalistic sets, the gorgeous church.

The cast was stellar - Anne Marie as Maria, Nick Howard as Feste, Henry Wyrley-Birch as Sebastian /Aguecheek, Pepter Lunkuse as Viola, Olivia Onyehara as Olivia, Tony Bell as Malvolio, Robert Maskell as Sir Toby and Julian Moore-Cook as Orsino.

I loved the costumes and how beautifully they were transformed from clothes that could be worn on the streets today with just a few touch ups.

I would heavily recommend this play to everyone, especially if you believe that Shakespeare is too heavy to enjoy.

And in case you were wondering why St Paul's Church in Covent Garden is called the Actor's Church :
It was designed by Inigo Jones in 1633 and is regarded as the masterpiece and focal point of his piazza. Inigo Jones was an architect, but also a set and costume designer to the court. Hence the name.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Gina Bellman in "Orson's Shadow"

Thanks to Antony from London Meetups, we caught another brilliant play at the Southwark Playhouse.

This one was again inspired by true events surrounding Giants of Stage and Screen Orson Welles (John Hodgkinson), Sir/Baron Laurence Olivier (Adrian Lukis), Vivien Leigh (Gina Bellman), Dame Joan Plowright / Baroness Olivier (Louise Ford) and Kenneth Tynan (Edward Bennett). Although its more in the realm of speculative fact based fiction.

Set around 1960 in Dublin and then subsequently at the Royal Court Theatre, Hollywood giants Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier have been persuaded to work together for the first time - in a production of Eugène Ionesco’s masterpiece "Rhinoceros" - the inspired idea of legendary theatre critic Kenneth Tynan.

But with Olivier’s eccentric wife Vivien Leigh and girlfriend (later wife) Joan Plowright added to the volatile mix, legendary egos collide both on stage and off.

The play was nominated for Outstanding Play of the Year in the Lortel Awards on its New York debut.

While most theater & movie goers would know the main actors/directors in this play, Orson's Shadow gives us a peek "behind the scenes", so to speak.

Rather than the perception of the individual in popular culture and the media, we see their insecurities, their egos, their frailties... We get to see the "person behind the image"

The dialogues, insults and barbs flew thick and fast. If you are familiar with that era of film and stage, there's a much deeper level of understanding, but even if someone has never heard of any of these names before, the play can be enjoyed for what it is.

Even though the theater was hardly occupied today (because of the tube strike), the cast performed as though it was to a full house.

John Hodgkinson as Orson Welles was absolutely brilliant. and Claran O'Brien as Shawn was great comic relief. I was wondering why Gina Bellman looked so familiar as I have never watched "Coupling", I then realised that I have watched her in "Leverage"

A surprise bonus was suddenly coming face to face with Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) when buying a coffee at the bar during interval - who was in the audience :)

Picture Credits : 
Antony from London Meetups
Southwark Playhouse

Monday, 6 July 2015

Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic & Emergency Service, London

Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic & Emergency Service
55 Elizabeth Street
London SW1W 9PP

020 7730 9102

The vets here are brilliant! As are its nursing staff! When we returned home late on Saturday night, our normally healthy cat had thrown up and continued to throw up at 3 hour intervals.

Our regular vets are shut on Sunday, but have a tie-up with this clinic for emergencies. The nurse on the phone was very helpful and helped calm us down. She gave us some recommendations, and told us to call again in the evening if the symptoms didn't abate.

We had to call them again and were given an appointment quickly. The nurse in the waiting room was efficient and calmed us down as well as all the other people who came in with their pets in emergencies.

The doctor when we saw her was brilliant. Attentive to all our input and handled our temperamental + sick cat beautifully. Given the problem we have getting a tablet down her throat, she gave us a paste to feed her in 2 hours and she has promised us that cats LOVE the taste. She also gave her an injection for the nausea and discomfort and put in a bit of a pain killer too to ease the cat.

As soon as we got home, our cat who was on 15-20% energy levels and 60% stubbornness for the past 24 hours, is now at 60% energy and 90% stubbornness ( in 30 minutes)

Very very impressed and happy with every interaction that we had with this clinic today.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Visiting the Lavender Farms @TheHopShop

We were headed to Kent for a picnic at Knole Park and our friend Sarah (the Fabulous Baker) urged us to come in earlier, so we could squeeze in a visit at the Kentish Lavender Castle Farm.

We were so glad that we took her up on this offer.

As we drove towards the farm, we spotted glimpses of purple patches that grew steadily larger as we approached. The minute we turned off the main road, the sweet smell of lavender wafted up to us and I knew that I was in a blissful heaven.

The kind folks at Castle Farm have left a small section of this working farm open, where passersby can pose and take pictures. We even met a couple who had brought their Afghan (dog), just to take pictures with him posing in front of a sea of lavender!

At Castle Farm, they grow over 95 acres of lavender and extract high quality essential oils on site. These are sold at the farm shop on the grounds. Other items on offer include Culinary Essences, toiletries, dried flower-heads, gifts and foods.

We tried the Lavender Cookies that were outstanding, but the ice cream was very low on Lavender flavour. We picked up some fresh apple juice on site, squeezed from their Norfolk Royal Apples. This is a rare strain and they even sell some young trees for 20Pounds. The juice was delicious and consumed rapidly even by a "certain someone" who said he hated apple juice :)

If you are so inclined, you can book a massage therapy session in the middle of the lavender fields (under a marquee or in the open), but they seem to get booked up very early. You might just have to wait until next year.

If you would like to learn more about how Lavender is grown and processed, they have a tour that takes you behind the scenes of lavender production, from the fields to the distillery, with an expert guide. Tours cost 4.5 / 5.5 on weekends/weekdays and last about an hour.

During Lavender season, they put up a second temporary shop to deal with the sheer number of visiotrs and increase in produce. The Hop Shop itself is a permanent structure and is open throughout the year.

The Hop shop stocks beef, Cox and Norfolk Royal apples, apple juice, hops, dried flowers, lavender and essential oils, honey, pumpkins and pheasants, all sourced from the farm itself. Others items are purchased direct from genuine local producers – cakes, jams, fruit pies, chutneys, ice-cream, sausages and bacon, meat pies, apple crisps and free-range eggs. In spring and summer they source local asparagus, strawberries and cherries direct from other Kentish farmers, as well as local herb plants.

Around September to October, the farm is open to pick your own apples and between September and November, you can even pick your own pumpkins and squashes.

Seasonal Produce - Exact dates change according to weather, but generally the below is on offer:

Strawberries: May – August
Cherries: July
Asparagus: End April – Mid June
Lavender Honey: Autumn
Sweetcorn: Early September
Norfolk Royal and Cox Apples: Pick Your Own orchard open September – October (weather dependent). Ready picked in the shop through November.
Kent Cobnuts: September
Pumpkins: mid-September – December
Fresh cut Lavender: on a daily basis from late June until early August.
Lavender Plants: Early May – early August.
Hop Plants: December – April
Turkey, Gammons and Christmas meats: December – to order.

The farm is gorgeous and whether you are interested in a massage or just taking pictures of the undulating fields or munching on some amazing lavender cookies - this is a wonderful trip to take. (Its just 20 miles from Central London)

Monday, 22 June 2015

Notting Hill Cat Boarding

Notting Hill Cat Boarding
21 Blenheim Crescent
London W11 2EF
Notting Hill
07813 547461

We requested Dominique's assistance when we had to leave for 3 weeks and I'm so glad that we chose her.

We chose the cat sitting option where she visited our home daily to check on Cookie, feed her and spend some time with her. Dominique sent us daily updates with photos on whatsapp which helped alleviate our separation anxiety greatly.

When our mischievous brat managed to open a shut door and lock herself in a room one night, she made 2 visits the next day to check in on her.

She really cares for cats and our cat loved her. We will definitely request her help again, the next time we travel.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Jonathan Pryce as Shylock - Merchant of Venice - Shakepeare's Globe

I've always wanted to catch a performance at the Shakespeare's Globe, but hadn't got around to it for awhile. When Antony from London Meetups, said that he had tickets for Merchant of Venice, for the first time ever, I booked tickets THREE Whole MONTHS in advance.

Back in India, booking in advance means 24 hours before. With our crazy travel schedules, we rarely commit ourselves to anything more than a week away. This is one of the changes we are slowly adapting to, in London.

Anyway, Antony said that Olivier Award Winner Jonathan Pryce was playing Shylock in this performance. This is one of the Shakespearean plays we are familiar with - both of us have also acted in excerpts of this play during our school days. Since we had opted for the standing tickets in the Yard to get the authentic experience, tickets were a paltry 5-6 pounds each. For London, these prices are dirt cheap.

For most of you TV watchers, Jonathan Pryce may be more familiar as the "High Sparrow" in Game of Thrones or Cardinal Wolsey from "Wolf Hall". For the Bond Fans,  you would know him as the Media Baron villain  in "Tomorrow Never Dies" - Elliot Carver. And Johnny Depp fans would know him as Governor Weatherby Swann from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series. Since I'm a fan of all of these, I HAD to go watch this Olivier Award Winning Actor (for Hamlet) perform live.

Shakespeare's Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse in the London Borough of Southwark, on the south bank of the River Thames that was originally built in 1599, destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and then demolished in 1644. The modern reconstruction is an academic approximation based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings. It was built about 230 metres (750 ft) from the site of the original theatre and opened to the public in 1997, with a production of Henry V.

There are some balcony style seats in this circular theatre at multiple levels for those with more money. But Shakespearean theatre was meant for the masses and masses stand in the yard (open to the sky) right up close to the stage (maybe thats where the concept for screaming fans standing near the stage at award functions comes from). Standing and watching the play was quite an experience, I asked an usher if they had a facility to shut the rof if it rained or if performances were cancelled. With typical British style, she said 'The show goes on' and what about those standing in the yard "well, they get wet"

So there you have it! Book your tickets weeks, nay, months in advance and if it rains - you just get wet - while watching an amazing show.

The Performers were phenomenal. Launcelot (the Jester for the purpose of this play) grabbed a couple of audience members to get on stage with him and play the 2 sides of his conscience (like a comic performance and pretty unusual for Shakespearean performances as far as I've heard) Also the female roles were played by actresses (most Shakespearean theater had female roles played by male impersonators)

The play was slightly rewritten to make the dialogue more contemporary and easier to follow, but the original language was retained for some of the more poetic sections. However, the way it was portrayed, I came away much more sympathetic to Shylock and felt that he had been unjustly treated throughout (he seems logical and just throughout his dealings with his own code of honour - except when he insisted on his pound of flesh). Was Shakespeare trying to prove the superiority of Christianity over Judaism? (I'm not a Literature scholar, so I'm not sure about this)

The singers were amazing, their voices in the background went perfectly with the developments on stage.

However, standing for 3 hours is not the best way to enjoy a performance of this magnitude. We will return, but next time, I'm buying tickets for the seats.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Stanfords - THE Shop for Travel Related Books

12-14 Long Acre
Covent Garden
London WC2E 9LP
020 7836 1321

Stanfords ranks among my top 2 specialist bookstores in London at the moment. (the other is the one at the Wellcome Collection premises)

3 floors of travel and London related books. Lonely Planet, Bradt Guides and DK EyeWitness are obviously all available, but they are just the tip of the iceberg among the selection available here. Other than the guides and maps, they have fiction and non-fiction from specific regions too and a sprinkling of cookbooks.

Travel guides and travel accessories (toothbrush covers, walking sticks, waist pouches, games for kids to play when traveling - the range is vast) make up the bulk of the collections.

Half the top floor is the frame-able maps and globes section. Very reasonable and loads to choose from. I also love their travel themed furniture - if only I could fit them into my pokey London apartment.... Maybe, I can pick up something just before I leave the country. Those trunk style bars look wonderful as did the Ritz Lobby Cabinet. Maybe I can finally get my messy desk in order.

The staff is extremely helpful and not in the least bit pushy, so its always a pleasure to shop here. They often have a couple of discounts running and a few author signed copies.

There are quite a few London themed souvenirs on offer that are much higher quality than the 2pound stuff available elsewhere. The store has been around since 1853. They are obviously still doing something right to be going strong in these days of Online Book Bargain Shopping.

Its a great place to pop in for a respite or hunt for your next holiday trip. And there is a coffee shop - Sacred Cafe - on the premises if you want to give your feet a rest.

Monday, 4 May 2015

London Silver Vaults

A couple of months ago, I had read about the London Silver Vaults in The Londonist and it seemed like a very interesting place to visit. However, there are so many interesting places that I read about everyday and want to do, that some places slide down the list and the Vaults happened to be one of them.

I had work at Chancery Lane the other day, and I was walking back to the station, when I saw the banner for the London Silver Vaults. I just HAD TO walk in.

I love Silver Jewelry and each State in India has some beautiful traditional patterns and there are also a lot of modern designs coming out. I thought I would take a look at what the patterns in the UK were like.

When I walked into the building, I saw a security guard at the desk and nothing else - no shops. He very politely checked my bag and then I had to descend 2 floors below to get to the shops. It was an underground shopping center with each individual door to a shop - at least 10" thick and reinforced. Never seen anything like it. Not even when gold shopping in India.

The second surprise was that there was hardly any jewelry in the vaults. It was more of cutlery and serving bowls, candle sticks and decorative pieces.

A lot of the silver was antique, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Pepper pots, condiment sets. Some practical, some decorative. The amazing thing was that all the people I met at the stores, could speak very knowledgably and authoritatively on the history and purpose behind each of the objects in their store.

There were a few pieces of jewelry, but nothing that induced me to open my wallet immediately. Because design wise I have seen much better and at much lower prices back home. But there were a few unusual items that I would have liked to pick up.

But there is a VAT rebate if you buy it before leaving the country, so I will just wait for this posting to come to a close, before I head here with my chequebook

Photography is not permitted inside the vaults. 
Conversations are free.

London Silver Vaults is on the corner of Chancery Lane and Southampton Buildings, open Mon-Fri, 9am to 5.30pm, and Saturday 9am to 1pm. Entrance is free, and you can just walk in.

Friday, 10 April 2015

St Catharines College, Cambridge

St Catharines College
01223 338373

We stayed at the guest house / student rooms here on our trip to Cambridge. Since it was over the Easter break, things were very quiet.

We had a double bedroom with an attached bath. Very clean & comfortable rooms, set in the heart of the city. Everything was a couple of minutes walk away.

Really large spacious room & bath. Good hot breakfast, friendly staff, free wifi. What more could you want?

Since these are part of student accommodations, there are no tv's, but our room had a large bookcase and a really large study table, aside from a very comfortable double bed.

Fresh linens and toiletries are also provided.

Breakfast was in the formal dining hall. Think "Harry Potter"esque Great Hall with portraits of past headmasters and a headmistress staring sternly down. Almost expected the pictures to come alive, but I guess it was too early in the morning...

The Continental Breakfast was served outside in the great hall itself and the hot items - eggs, baked beans, sausages, bacon etc were served in the annexe inside.

The pub "Catz" (nickname for St Catharine's College) on the premise is large and has a pool table etc. The modern set-up in the basement feels anachronistic to the Gothic building design on the outside. But it was very quiet when we visited. The Eagle Public House next door is a better option for a drink (but not dinner)

Price was roughly 100GBP / night per double room including breakfast.

Scudamore’s Punting, Cambridge

Scudamore’s Punting
Granta Place
01223 359750

Its traditional to go punting along the river (Cam at Cambridge and the Thames in Oxford), but inspite of having a family of marine engineers, Brajesh and me knew we would not be able to steer one of these craft ourselves, so we settled for taking a guided tour by a punter.

The long pole that is used to the steer the boat is called a "punt" which is where the name comes from.

We prebooked our tour with Scudamore’s Punting and I have to say that they are one of the best managed punting tours in Cambridge, they were the only company that provided umbrella's for protection and blankets for warmth on their boats.

All the craft and companies follow the same path along the River Cam which takes in all the main colleges of Cambridge - King's College, St John's. Trinity and St Catharines And the bridges - Bridge of Sighs, Kitchen Bridge, Mathematical Bridge.

Mostly the buildings are Gothic except for a couple of modern monstrosities along the way, which sadly cannot be demolished because of "heritage" status.

The river is filled with punters reeling out facts, figures and fiction and bantering with each other along the trip. But sometimes that gets a bit noisy, when there is a lot of crowd at a particular spot.

There are multiple options for punting and you will be assailed with offers from the time you start approaching King's College. We found Scudamore's the best equipped, even though there are many cheaper options around.

Scout for online offers before you head there. National Rail is currently offering a 2FOR1 deal with them.

Personally, our experience wasn't as good, because it started to rain mid-way through the tour. The umbrellas did help keep us dry(ish), but we couldn't see the sights along the river as well, with the umbrellas blocking our view.

We hope to be able to make this trip again when the weather isn't so bleary. The trip takes about an hour from the time you "Check In"

Word of Warning : Don't be fooled by how effortless the professional punters make it look!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

These Trees are made of Blood @ Southwark Playhouse

Thanks to Anthony of our Meetup group, we caught another brilliant play at the Southwark Playhouse. This time the play was held at the smaller of their 2 stages and walking in was such a pleasant surprise.

The entire theater had been converted into an Argentinian Night Club - The Coup Coup Club - the perfect setting for "These Trees are made of Blood" by Theatre Bench The performance was a combination of musical, cabaret and hard hitting drama.

I have never before seen such a powerful piece of Political Theatre.

Recipe for every Fascist Regime -> Self Righteous High Decibel Discourse + Religious Support of Actions + Oppression of Free Speech & Expression. This play was about the disappearance of 30,000 people in Argentina between 1979-1984. But the lessons are every bit as relevant for the World and especially India of today. This was art of a transcendental nature.

The band members welcomed us with some beautifully haunting music and I was completely mesmerized by Anne Marie Piazza's voice and musical capabilities. I finally understood the term "a voice like melting honey". However, hitting the high notes was left to Rachel Dawson who also played a CIA operative and a prosecutor. Josh Sneesby on guitar and keyboards, Neil Kelso on keyboards and doubling up as a magician and mind reader, Eilon Morris as percussionist were all wonderful.

This is definitely a multi-talented cast. Greg Barnett as the Argentinian General was amazing. His justification for his actions was so convincing, that even while hating what he did, his reasons still seemed so compelling as he held forth on why the worst parasite is an idea. Val Jones as Gloria - the frantic yet powerless distraught mother is spot-on. Alexander Luttley initially came across as awkward and then the comic relief, but it takes guts and conviction to put on a performance like his.

Tickets are just 18GBp and the play is on until the 11th of April. I highly recommend watching this one.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

James McAvoy in The Ruling Class @ Trafalgar Transformed

I have never laughed as hard as I did today watching James McAvoy play Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, the 14th Earl of Gurney.

The Ruling Class is a 1968 British play by Peter Barnes and centers on attempts to cure the new Earl of Gurney of insanity.

The 13th Earl of Gurney accidentally hangs himself during his nightly autoerotic asphyxiation ritual. Having only one surviving son who has been committed to a mental institution, the Earls half-brother Sir Charles hopes to inherit the title and Estate. But is shocked to see Jack at the reading of the Will and even more horrified to learn that his brother has left it all to Jack. Jack is a paranoid schizophrenic who also believes that he is Jesus Christ.

Charles tries to discredit Jack and to prove that he is insane, so he can inherit the tile, but Jack manages to beat him every time through sheer luck and circumstance. Charles even gets his mistress to pretend to be a fictional character "La Dame aux Camelias" (from the novel by Alexandre Dumas / the Opera - La Traviata) because Jack claims that he is married to this character.

Another marriage ceremony is conducted with Charles hoping that Jack can beget an heir and then he can relegate him back into an institution and control the new heir. However, his plan falls apart when his mistress falls in love with James.

Jack then has another psychotic break and begins to think of himself as Jack the Ripper and murders Sir Charles Wife for trying to seduce him and frames the butler for her murder.

The play ends with Jack murdering his wife and taking his seat at the House of Lords.

James McAvoy was brilliant from start to finish, never flagging, his intensity is what carries the entire play.The script by Peter Barnes is fantastic, but you need a talented actor to play the manic lead role and James McAvoy did it to perfection. We were exhausted just watching his energy on stage, how he manages to play this role 6 days a week and twice on Thursdays and Saturdays is nothing short of amazing.

The play is a brilliant mix of satire hilarity and horror which happily directs its barbs towards English nobility.

The first West End revival of this classic cult comedy is directed by Trafalgar Transformed Artistic Director, Jamie Lloyd.

The Trafalgar Transformed Studio is such a lovely, warm intimate theatre, We would love to watch more shows here. The audience is so close to the stage, that it really doesn't matter which seats you get.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Forensics Exhibition - Wellcome Collection

The ads for the Forensics Exhibition (26 Feb 2015 - 21 June, 2015) at all the Tube stations induced us to visit the Wellcome Collection. Yes, I'm a CSI aficionado.

The reviews that we read before visiting said that an hour would be enough to view the exhibition. We spent 2.5 hours, because we found the subject matter so interesting and would have spent much longer, if it wasn't closing up. (On the First Friday of the Month, exhibitions are open until 22:00)

'Forensics: the anatomy of crime’ explores the history, science and art of forensic medicine. It travels from crime scene to courtroom, across centuries and continents, exploring the specialisms of those involved in the delicate processes of collecting, analysing and presenting medical evidence. It draws out the stories of victims, suspects and investigators of violent crimes, and our enduring cultural fascination with death and detection.

The exhibition contains original evidence, archival material, photographic documentation, film footage, forensic instruments and specimens, and is rich with artworks offering both unsettling and intimate responses to traumatic events. Challenging familiar views of forensic medicine shaped by fictions that came out of the sensational reporting of late Victorian murder cases and popular crime dramas, ‘Forensics’ highlights the complex entwining of law and medicine, and the scientific methods it calls upon and create

My favourite parts of the Exhibition were Frances Glessner Lee's "Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" and the Video Montage of Forensic Evidence given in Courtrooms as seen in TV & Film.

Sejla Kameric's - Ab Uno Disce Omnes - focusing on the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, with its 85 hours of footage and over 30,000 files viewed individually within a working mortuary fridge is haunting, inducing goosebumps and even nightmares. This experience was so haunting, it overshadowed the equally horrifying search in Chile's Atacama Desert for "disappeared" victims of the Pinochet Regime of the 1970's and 1980's.

Famous Murders from British History which were solved using Forensic Evidence like the Ruxton case and the Crippen case also feature heavily at the exhibition.

At the end of it all, we had to stop and sip on a coffee at Wellcome Cafe (managed by Benugo) to absorb all that we had seen, heard and read.

We loved the attached bookshop which has a wonderful collection of books - more than 50% are related to the ongoing exhibitions (Currently Sex & Forensics) - and some very interesting and quirky bric-a-brats.

We'll definitely be back to view the library collection, the Reading Room and the Sex Exhibition. The people behind the Wellcome Collection do a great job of curating very interesting pieces. The number of pieces on display are minimal, but they weave an engrossing story.

Wellcome Collection 
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE
020 7611 2222
Entry : Free
Photography : Not Allowed
Monday Holiday
Tue / Wed / Fri / Sat : 10:00 - 18:00
Thursday & First Friday of the Month : 10:00 - 22:00
Sunday : 11:00 - 18:00