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Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This has been one of my most anticipated films of the year. The cast, to be frank, is bloody amazing. You see Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch and John Hurt and clearly you can't fail. It's another film in the long line of book adaptations hitting the big screen recently, although I hadn't actually read the original novel this time before I went to see the film. My boyfriend however is a big John le Carre fan, and was desperate to see this even though he's not a big cinema goer so off we popped to a Sunday afternoon showing with masses of popcorn and milkshakes to keep us going.

The story is undeniably brilliant, and plants a number of seeds in your mind that keep ticking over. I only realised some seemingly obvious plot twists when we were waiting for our bus home. However, I'm actually struggling to write about what happened. The pace of the film was purposely slow to increase tension, but I ended up being a bit bored half way through when there didn't seem to be much headway with who the mole was. Yes, there was tension, but it didn't reach a huge climax as you would expect. It's built up and up and then the main revelation comes so casually that I wasn't even entirely sure if the crux of the film had been reached at all.

The highlights of the film were Tom Hardy's performance as Ricky, the piece perfect sets and costumes which fitted the period perfectly, and the superb sound which highlighted every breath and every footstep. Overall I think the focus on having the essence of a spy film overtook the most important part of the script: the big  revelation. And it's not because I need fireworks, car chases or rounds of gun fire. For example, 'Moon' has its primary reveal relatively early on in the film, but its subtlety isn't so subtle that you basically miss it, as in TTSS.

And I can't even read the book now as I know what happens!

Life: A Very Happy Birthday!

Well, it's been 5 days since I turned 23 and I've only been able to write about it now because it was it's taken me this long to get over the excitement! This year my birthday went beyond all excitement and was full blown bloody brilliant!

As you've probably seen, the weekend before I went to Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes with some of my besties, but for the actual day I headed back to Milton Keynes to spend the day with my family. Those that know me will already be aware that I share my birthday with my mum, which many people find hard to comprehend. Most people love their birthday because it's a day all about them and I constantly get asked what it's like to share mine. Of course, I don't know any different as it's always been that way! But I wouldn't change it for the world, because as far as I'm concerned my day is just made all the more special because I get to share it with my favourite person in the world. This year though, I had another relative enter the world on the 20th which is definitely up there with one of the best birthday presents ever! I'm already aunt to 3 beautiful nephews, and last week saw the birth of my first niece, Alexa.

Me playing the proud aunt!
And this year, my Mum and I actually received the same present from one relative! While I'd actually asked for mine, she had not and was very pleasantly surprised by being given a Kindle! A lot of people I've spoken to about it have said they don't want one as they love books, but I don't think having a Kindle means you don't like actual books. I have an iPod but I still buy CDs! I wanted one for a couple of reasons: I live in a flat share and don't have any storage for new books, but still want to read new things; and I travel on the train quite frequently, and it is so much lighter than a huge book. I've downloaded the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes for a bargain 89p and it's no heavier than a thin paperback.

Matching birthdays, matching presents!
However, now I've got a Kindle, I won't actually be travelling quite so much. I had another surprise on my birthday which was that my boyfriend is moving from Manchester to London! It seems I won't be travelling on the train so much anymore (thank goodness!), but there is always the tube.

If anyone has any recommendations for Kindle downloads then let me know!

Explore: Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes

For my 23rd birthday, I went with a group of girlfriends to Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes hidden underneath the Tavistock Hotel in the heart of central London. It's a 1950s style venue that contains not only bowling lanes, but private karaoke booths and an authentic diner selling literally the biggest pizzas ever seen.

The entrance to the lanes

The atmosphere of the whole place is cleverly confined to its themed era, and the lanes are simple (no bumpers for those of us who couldn't throw the ball in a straight line!), and the screens showing our scores reminded me of bowling lanes from when I was a child.

The scoreboard - I didn't retain my lead for long!

The lanes boast the only above lane ball return outside of the US, which was a pretty nifty piece of kit, even if it looked like the ball was going to catapult into my knees every time it came back!

The view down the lane
Of course we had to don the ever glam bowling shoes as well. I had to take this picture of my friends wearing them as it amused me that the ones with tiny feet had to have velcro fastenings instead of laces!

Laces for regular size feet; velcro for tiny feet!

I am shockingly bad at bowling (it was the lure of 'retro' that persuaded me BBL would be a good place to celebrate my birthday!) so it was a small miracle I didn't break anything and that I managed to actually hit some pins! The place was packed full of people, and it seems to attract a huge range of people. There were loads of hen parties, birthday parties and groups of people of all sizes out enjoying an alternative Saturday night. And not everyone was bowling, it seems the lanes are a gem for reasonably priced drinks and a relaxed but energetic atmosphere. Oh, and the burgers. Rated 2nd best in London they are delicious but so huge I could barely move afterwards!

So. Much. Food.

What other places in London would you recommend that are a little out of the ordinary?

Film: Troll Hunter

It may sound like a ludicrous, cheaply made, Scandinavian thriller, but Troll Hunter is actually a ludicrous, cheaply made, Scandinavian... Hang on. Yes, Troll Hunter is in fact pretty much what your first impressions would expect, but rather than a thriller, it is a gloriously dark comedy.

Its conflicting genres confused the audience, unsure whether we should be laughing at the Troll Hunter's annoyance at his lack of pension or the government's poor attempts to cover the trolls' tracks of destruction with imported (dead) Russian bears. But the film encourages you to look at the fact that the Troll Hunter's job is ridiculous, while also reminding you that he is a metaphor representing underpaid and unappreciated public sector workers (how well he'd fit into Britain at the moment!).

The genius of the film is how it plays on preconceptions and fairy tales. The trolls, although ten times larger and more terrifying than those in childrens' books, fit perfectly into the myths that shroud them: from turning into stone when they're exposed to sunlight, to smelling the blood of a Christian man. In fact, there's even one that lives under a bridge. The assumption of the filmmakers that the audience would understand these references to childhood stories is a pure example of how they've blended humour with darkness, and I think why I left the cinema feeling warm towards the film, despite it involving death, violence and explosions (not normally on my checklist when I decide what film I'm going to see!).

Filmed in POV style, mainly set in Norwegian woodland, and starring big old monsters, Troll Hunter is like the fun cousin of the Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield - still providing some jumps but without the lingering tension of its handycam predecessors, which for someone like me who can't stand horror films, is the perfect level of thrill! The script is funny, sarcastic and political in the right measures, and although the CGI isn't the most technically brilliant I've ever seen, the stunning Norwegian scenery makes up for it. Visually mesmerising, scriptually unique and a clever twist on childhood stories, Troll Hunter is brilliant fun and despite not having much public cinematic attention, will definitely become a cult classic post-release.

Music: Bestival 2011 - the music

Patrick Wolf 

He was as enigmatic as I had expected him to be. I'm always entranced by solo performers who can capture a crowd and fill a room in such a lively way. It takes a certain someone to master an audience with such encouragement and excitement, but Patrick Wolf really did that. The whole crowd in the Big Top stage moved to every beat, and were suitably wowed by his musicianship - it's not every performer who plays a harp on stage!

Patrick Wolf on stage at the Big Top

Graham Coxon

This was really disappointing. He was the epitome of a middle aged man trying to stay young; his scissor jumps in the air with his guitar causing embarrassment. Everything sounded too fast, and we weren't the only ones who left midway through the performance because of it.

Magnetic Man

I don't really listen to the radio, but I've heard the odd song by Magnetic Man and found it quite catchy, despite not really liking the whole grime genre thing that people of my age are supposed to like. However, despite the admittedly innovative beats, I had to stop watching through sheer frustration with Magnetic Man himself. Why he kept repeating his name over and over I have no idea, but it was highly irritating. There's only so much of that you can take before you want to move away. Swiftly.

Crystal Fighters

So catchy! A mixture of what seemed to be calypso, electro and pop, the Big Top stage was packed out for this, so we sat just outside on the grass and listened from there. I'd definitely go and see them again at a gig of their own as the crowd seemed to feed off the band's enthusiasm and, frankly, manic presence on stage. 


Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip

Easily my favourite performance of the weekend. They created a fever in the audience that continued to rise with every song; everybody unable to resist moving when the beat kicked in. For me, I love this pairing because of Scroobius Pip's lyrics. They are passionate, political, relevant and inspiring. Sadly in the tent, the words weren't always heard, and the irony of everybody dancing to a song about suicide wasn't lost on the performers' themselves. The passion and fury in every song was enough to catch everyone's imagination (although Ms J, my festival buddy, was not so impressed!) and many people agreed that it was the show of the weekend.

Scroobius Pip on stage at the Big Top

Paloma Faith

She has the ability to hit the mainstream and be gloriously bizarre at the same time. Her pop star status is the highest it's ever been, and she is considered a fashion icon by all the glossies, but her performance reminded me that she isn't a celebrity, she is a musican. And a bloody good one. Her voice has a strength that resonated through the entire audience watching the main stage, and her infectious personality shone through her frankly bizarre make-up (full silver face paint anybody?) to keep the audience engaged and singing along. Her new material didn't disappoint either; it looks like she won't be suffering from 'difficult 2nd album' syndrome that's plagued so many others!

Paloma Faith on the Main Stage

Crystal Castles

I was dubious about seeing them live because their music is so inherently electronic that I thought it may get lost amongst the enormity of the open air stage. Luckily that wasn't the case, the addition of live instruments particularly a drum kit, helped to transfer their uniquely artificial sound for a festival audience. Alice Glass (lead singer) has always freaked me out slightly - I'm not sure what it is about her, but she makes me feel kind of uneasy. And Bestival reinforced that with me. She threw around the stage in a way that didn't seem excited, just unstable! 

PJ Harvey

The twice Mercury Prize winner didn't disappoint in the crazy headwear stakes, but, and I hate to use this word, she was pretty boring. She didn't capture any imagination and she left out any of her more upbeat and anthemic tracks which left the audience tussling with whether they should stay or not. It's not that I or the rest of the crowd don't appreciate the beauty and talent of PJ Harvey's music, it's just that the pace of her performance that day didn't inspire me as I hoped it would.

The Cure

2 encores, 2.5hour set. You have to hand it to them, The Cure were more than worthy of their headline slot. Starting off a little slow, they soon got into the swing of things - the main stage crowd filled to capacity with a variety of people: young, old, drunk, sober, and all of them ridiculously excited when they played 'Lovecats'. I'd forgotten how many songs I actually knew by The Cure! Their time on stage didn't drag as they pretty much continually played, with very little space in between songs. And they weren't like other bands I've seen from the same era who are visibly past their sell by date and cringeworthy to watch, rather they were still fresh and exciting to listen to. My particular highlight was 'Boys Don't Cry' and Robert Smith playing a customised Bestival guitar!

The Cure on the Main Stage
Click here see what else I got up to at Bestival (including leaky tents and lost ferry tickets...)!

Music: Bestival 2011

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it was the Bestival of times, it was the Worstival of times.

This weekend I attended Bestival on the Isle of Wight - the last major festival of the season, but the first one for me this year. Bestival is known for being eccentric, lively and highly encouraging of fancy dress, as well as being up there with Reading and Glastonbury for a hosting big name acts. This year the headliners were Pendulum, The Cure and Bjork, and the festival was full of other stages and mini venues for a range of other performers, from hip hop to comedians. It is surprisingly difficult to see all the musicians you want to at a festival, but we managed to fit a good few in! See my separate post tomorrow for reviews on the bands I saw.

Bestival 2011

We didn't get off to the best start. Ms J was running late and when she did turn up it turned out I was waiting for her at the wrong train station. This gave immediate cause for cocktails in a can (what else?!).

...G&T in a can for the ferry
Cosmo in a can for the train...
On the ferry out to the Isle of Wight

We arrived on Friday afternoon so we had to basically camp where we could find space. Turns out that the space we found was probably empty because of a) the ridiculous pilled-up morons next to us and b) the proximity to the stages. I've only done a few festivals before, but I've never seen camping areas so central to the actual performing areas. This for me was the biggest flaw to Bestival and a really poor bit of planning. Everyone knows that you get minimal sleep at a festival what with everyone being drunk and/or overexcited, but generally the camping areas are a 15 minute walk from the hub of everything. Bestival planners obviously wanted to cram as many people into one space as possible, and declined to let anyone know that DJs would be going until 4am - the only chance of sleeping would be the bass rocking you to sleep.

Just to prove how close our tent was to one of the stages - The Psychedelic Worm tent

Like all festivals, there was more than just music to keep you amused at Bestival. All kinds of weird installations were scattered around the venue, some completely pointless...

...others to just pretty up the place...

Ms J doing her best 'I'm a star' impression

...and, there were  the festival equivalent of street entertainers dotted around including a guy who could balance a load of stuff on his head...

That's four glasses and an urn on his head!

...and the famous Bestival Saturday fancy dress parade. This year's theme was Rock Star and Pop Divas:

We decided against the whole disposable bbq thing and roamed the site for the huge variety of food stalls available. Whatever you want you can get: from fish and chips to curry, to mexican and tapas. My favourite find was a bloody amazing cream tea on the top deck of a double decker bus (the same bus that took over an hour to serve us a bacon sandwich earlier in the morning, but cake can be very forgiving).

Check out that festival hair!
And then the rain hit.

This was bearable as wellies are obviously a festival necessity, but what we didn't expect was our tent to leak in the middle of the night. I would approximate that it's been 20 years since I last woke up wet in the night, so it wasn't a welcome surprise when I realised the bottom half of my sleeping bag and pyjama bottoms were soaked through. Turns out our waterproof tent was no longer waterproof. We left pretty swiftly the next day (once we'd bought new ferry tickets to replace the ones that had disappeared/been lost/stolen/I have no idea where the hell they went).

So we definitely had our fair share of disasters with cake and Paloma Faith to soften the blow, but I don't think I'll be setting foot on the Isle of Wight again anytime soon!

Music: Festival Necessities

Well, festival season is nearly over. I promised myself I'd do at least one this year but that didn't quite work out, until a couple of week's ago my friend Ms J invited me along to Bestival with her. I've not really done too many festivals in the past, but there are standard must-haves, especially as the weather is predicted to be abysmal this weekend!

First up is food and drink. Obviously the standard festival fare is disposable bbq and vodka, but we've decided to just buy food there and have some snacks along the way. So there's cookies and crisps for the sugar rush, and cereal bars and fruit for when I feel guilty after my 7th bacon sandwich with extra chips. Drinks are consisting of mixers and a big juicy box of wine (which takes me back to my student days!). Disgusting? Maybe. But there's no glass bottles allowed and it's, you!
When it comes to clothes, I'd love to say that I've embraced the whole festival chic thing, but to be honest I'm more worried about staying dry and warm! I've got skinny jeans to tuck into wellies as well as a pair of vintage Levi shorts just in case the sun decides to make an appearance. I've literally chucked a couple of reasonably plain tees in as I plan to be wearing jumpers most of the time, including the big sexy grey one in the picture below which HUGE. It's from a beautiful vintage shop called Purple Haze in York and is long enough to be worn just with leggings, but that won't be the case for Bestival.

Keeping warm this weekend!

Of course, the main thing people wear at festivals is WELLIES! I'm going to be wading through the mud in my lovely Roxy pair that I really don't get enough wear out of. I've also chucked in a pair of sandals, but I think that may be a bit optimistic...

Shoe oxymoron

Ms J is providing the tent, and I'm taking no risks when it comes to being warm and relatively comfortable. I've got my pillow, sleeping bag, roll mat and slanket (that's right, the blanket with sleeves!) at the ready!

Comfort stuffs

And then there's the cosmetics stash. I'm a freak for smellies so it's hard to keep this section light! The must-haves are of course, toilet roll, hand sanitiser, dry shampoo and a toothbrush. But other essentials for me are headache tablets (for the hangovers), earplugs (as purchased because of the noisy neighbours) and sunscreen (because as I said, I'm keeping my fingers crossed!). My two Lush necessities are Ultrabalm and Go Green. Ultrabalm is basically a multi-use wonder product that I use as a lip balm, skin soother, eyebrow smoother, cuticle balm and clear mascara (to name a few uses!). Go Green has sadly been discontinued, but I stocked up! This is my last one, but it is honestly the only thing I know of that covers any smell! It was supposed to be a body spray, but I use it as a room freshener and it's fab. Electrics wise, there obviously won't be any plugs, and I'll manage to charge my phone in the press area, but I'm also prepared with my torch! I'll never be able to find anything in my enormous bag otherwise!

Cosmetic warrior

So here it is. My life for the next 3 days packed into a rucksack, an Ikea bag and my favourite brown satchel. Wish me luck!

Ta dah!

Music: Amanda Palmer - Heaven, 02/09/11

If there's one thing to say about Amanda Palmer, it would be that she knows how to put on a show. But this would be a pretty rubbish post if I just said that. It would also completely underplay the magnitude of the performance I saw on Friday.

If you don't already know Amanda Palmer, she is, as well as being a solo artist, one half of cabaret punk duo The Dresden Dolls, twin sister to Jason Webley in Evelyn Evelyn, wife of novelist Neil Gaiman, and utterly bloody brilliant. But let's not carried away with awe (that will come later!); this post is about the show.

Under the arches between Charing Cross and Embankment stations is the famous gay nightclub Heaven, and the venue for the show. Doors were early, and I made it just in time to see the first what ended up being six special guests, the sublime Australian pair The Jane Austen Argument. Like a lot of my friends I first heard JAA when Palmer did a duet with them on her album Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under. This led to downloading their EPs, and swiftly falling in love. They have a gentleness to them, pierced with irony and strength in their lyrics that genuinely makes me well up. It's really beautiful stuff, and sadly they only did a 3 song set, but I was happy to have had the chance to see them seeing as I couldn't make their 'twitnic' the day before (see their Twitter 
for explanations!).

The Jane Austen Argument

Next was the ever amazing Bitter Ruin. I'm so pleased that they are starting to get the recognition they deserve. They make twisted, haunting music that draws you in, shakes you up, spits you out and then wraps you back up again. It's quite an experience. I first saw them over a year ago when my uni housemate invited them to play in our tiny living room in York. From then on I've tried to see them at any show I can get to, partly to support them, partly to experience their music first hand again. On Friday they were entrancing and perfect; the audience were mesmerised by their music and flattered by their friendliness. I've no doubt that new fans were cemented that night.

Bitter Ruin

And so on with the show. Bursting onto the stage in a haze of garments covered in sequins and glitter (brought along by the audience as requested by AFP on Twitter), the songs came thick and fast, every single one a surprise and played as though it was the first time we'd all heard them. She started with the rousing and stirring 'Astronaut' which was enough to make my eyes well up, not because of the song itself, but because it is music that I have listened to at home for years and that I adore, and here I was watching the woman herself! Although she has enough material to fill an entire show, AFP mixed in covers, duets and Dresden Dolls songs which kept me excited throughout - each song was a surprise, delicately prepared and presented in its own unique way.

Amanda Palmer with violinist Una Palliser

Amanda Palmer isn't just a one woman band when she performs; she shares the stage generously with other talented musicians who help to give her music the soul it deserves. The beautiful and ridiculously talented violin player Una Palliser (on loan from the Shakira tour apparently!) accompanied on a few songs, bringing the depth of a professional recording to songs like 'Missed Me'. A seemingly random horn section that AFP told the audience she'd only met that night took a shot at playing with her on some new material and got it spot on. Duets came thick and fast with the members of both support bands coming back on stage to perform with her (Bitter Ruin sang The Dresden Dolls' 'Delilah' with her which literally had me standing with my mouth open in awe); her husband Neil Gaiman sang at one point which was absolutely adorable - forget Brangelina, Gaiman/Palmer are the coolest and most genuine couple I've ever witnessed (and I hate public displays of affection normally!); singer-songwriter Tom Robinson led the entire audience and the whole AFP crew in a rendition of 'Glad to be Gay'; and comic Tim Minchin, fresh from the Comedy Proms, surprised everyone when he popped on stage and performed 'You Grew on Me'.
The Gaiman/Palmers

The Gaiman/Palmers

Topped off with audience requests on the ukulele and an aerobic dance lesson from belly dancer Super Kate (where AFP came into the crowd and danced with the audience!), the entire performance was a staggering 2.5hrs long!

Warming up with Super Kate for the dance lesson!

Finishing with everyone on stage (including Tim Minchin in the background!)

Amanda Palmer's enthusiasm and love for her audience and her work radiates through everyone that encounters her. Her music is simply ridiculous in its brilliance, and I honestly can't flaw it. Touching on every subject, regardless of taboos, she brings fresh, unadulterated beauty to every performance and every song and I'm so grateful I was able to be a part of such an event.

So who's jealous?!
*all photos belong to me. Please don't use them elsewhere without asking first!

Film: One Day

It's the film I've been dreading ever since they announced it was in the making. I'm not against book to film adaptations at all; there have been some fantastic ones ('Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and 'Girl, Interrupted' to name a few), but there have also been some horrific ones. My main problem with these interpretations is that they are now coming thick and fast, substituting original ideas for screenplays and (often) irking the fans of the original. That, and Hollywood always seem to pick my favourite books, which means I either have very good taste in literature, or very bad luck. Or both.

I felt an obligation to go and see the film, mainly so I had a justified reason to slate it, and felt quite a lot of trepidation considering the last adap I saw of a favourite book, The Time Traveler's Wife, was so hideously bad I had to re-read the book just to remind myself that it was still good. If you've heard anything about the film version of One Day, you will definitely have heard one thing: it stars Anne Hathaway as Emma. In the book, Emma is strong and fiery; in the film she comes across as a bit....wet. Whereas in the book I felt the story was focused on Emma as she was the character easiest to relate to (let's be honest, there aren't many of us who would be more like an alcoholic sex fiend than a bookworm in a dead end job, no matter how hard you may try), the film had its emphasis on Dexter, played to a T by Jim Sturgess. He managed to keep the essence of the original character by making the audience cringe and fall in love with him at the same time, allowing us to take pity on him and mourn with him in all the right places.

It didn't flow as easily as the book, some of the 'chapters' were skipped through in a matter of seconds to get to the juicy stuff, but then adaptations always have to be cut down. Anne Hathaway's Yorkshire accent may have got her a role in a big movie, but it certainly wouldn't have got her a role in Emmerdale, but that was to be expected. It didn't particularly bother me though - her hometown origins aren't what makes the character. Regardless of its flaws, the story was still there, the relationship was still built up and shot down, and I still cried (but my cinema companion Ms C, and most of the people in the audience, did too, so it's fine!). If you liked the book, it shouldn't hurt too much.

Now just to wait for 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'...

Comedy: Chris Addison

It turns out there's a little known theatre in Chiswick, based above a pub next to Turham Green tube station. The Tabard Theatre may only hold around 50 people, but it seems to attract some well known faces as well as the expected local productions. On Monday and Tuesday night Chris Addison, the stand-up comic as well as star of Mock the Week and The Thick of It, performed brand new, never heard by human ears material for the measly price of five English pounds. I couldn't believe my luck! He's someone I've wanted to go and see perform for quite a while, but what with me being stingy AND lazy it never really happened. But here he was, practically on my doorstep!

Titled 'Chris Addison And The Disorganised Sheafs of Paper', Addison admitted at the beginning that we were essentially his guinea pigs. The shows were to figure out what was actually funny and what should just stay on paper in preparation for his next major tour. It was fascinating to see him come out and actually refer to paper notes and switch on his dictaphone for reference; but that didn't deter from the performance, it still came across as perfectly natural. Just because it was a 'trial run' didn't mean that he didn't throw himself into it, his energy was high and his frantic hair grabbing when he was grasping for words was hilarious in itself. 

I won't give too much away in terms of what he actually talked about as I don't want to ruin it for anyone who goes to see the finished article (even though inevitably some bits will be taken out), but what I love about his comedy is his observations on everyday life. His comments on his Twitter addiction and the hype over Kate Middleton's wardrobe were so perfectly articulated, and they received such a positive reaction because he'd tapped into the thoughts of the whole audience. Even when talking about 'suffering from a mild form of fame' he didn't alienate the audience as we could all picture the exact type of person who'd shout 'OI! MOCK THE WEEK!' at him - it wasn't condescending, it was self-deprecating, and that's always guaranteed to tickle me!

See the listing for The Tabard here. Or at least drop in for a pint of Bitter & Twisted beer!
As of 20th November 2014, any products marked with an asterisk (*) have been provided as a sample for unbiased review