Saturday, 11 March 2017

Riu Tikida Beach Adagir: hotel review

I'm not normally one for reviewing the large multi-national hotel chains - the glossy photos on the website usually speak for themselves - but our recent stay at the Riu Tikida Beach Hotel was so excellent, I've decided to make an exception.

The building itself is a whitewashed arrangement of neat stacks, two storeys high in some places, four or five storeys high in others. The balconies and verandas hint at a visual cacophony of floral colour in the summer, but in February, we make do with the few bougainvillea plants in bloom.

The entrance, beyond the airport-style scanner, is a mosaic tiled floor - so far, so Moroccan. Reception sits subtly over to the right, the hotel shop to the far left, while the centre opens up into a light-flooded atrium. An impressive black vase, filled variously with lillies and roses of ever-changing colours during our stay, hogs the spotlight on a circular glass table. The floral offerings add a splash of colour to the reception area. It's not drab, but rather stylishly muted, all browns and greys, African hunting lodge meets old English country house.

The hotel lobby is like a museum, with something different to see every time you walk through. Some of the artefacts are immediately obvious - the life-size chimp sculptures, the plethora of deliciously mismatched lampshades and bases, the wealth of inviting sofas and armchairs, stools and settees, all as comfy as each other. Other items take a bit more teasing out like the historic photos of a Natural History Museum - possibly London, possibly elsewhere - tucked away in an impressive display cabinet.

The highlight though, is the library, a mezzanine-level treasure trove lined with leather bound books, overlooking the piano bar and accessed via a rustic metal spiral staircase. Sadly, the staircase is roped off; these are books to be admired from afar rather than read up close.

The exquisite decor continues throughout the hotel. The main dining room is painted a mushroom grey - dull enough not to offend sleepy eyes over the breakfast table, but a classy enough backdrop for the stylish evening meals. The lunchtime restaurant is a treat of a different kind, with focus drawn unfalteringly to the panoramic view of the beach through the floor-to-ceiling glass.

The food is as expected from an all-inclusive hotel. Seafood features heavily, but if you're not a fish fan (don't worry, I'm not) there are plenty of other options including salads, pastas, soups, tagines and meat joints. Being an adults-only hotel, the usual child-friendly chicken nuggets give way to the more grown-up chicken tagines, but even the fussiest of eaters (again, hello) won't starve. The delicious breakfast pastry selection warrants a special mention, as does the evening dessert chef who missed his calling as an architect:

Aside from the decor, what makes this hotel so memorable are the friendly, welcoming and helpful staff. Everyone, from receptionists and bar staff to cleaners and gardeners, asks how your stay is going - lovely, but no chance of getting anywhere in a hurry when you're stopped every 10 seconds. Bar staff have a knack of remembering everyone's favourite tipple from night to night, and practically have it poured for you before you've even taken a seat.

Location-wise, the hotel is disappointingly a 30-minute walk from the centre of Agadir, and a further 15-20 minutes to the marina. Taxis are readily available and inexpensive (make sure you use one of the orange taxis to avoid being ripped off) but if you enjoy a short stroll of an evening, this may not be the hotel for you.

The beach is right across the promenade from the hotel, with a private area and sun loungers available to hotel guests. In theory, it's gorgeous, golden sand. In reality, the hotel beach is situated right next to a river outlet, meaning that heaps of rubbish, plastic, and goodness-knows-what-else ends up on the sand and in the sea.

The hotel pool is lovely though - the larger of the two is heated, but the highlight is the pool furniture. Sunbeds, wider than you'd find at most hotels, are provided with cushions and pillows, not to mention the mattress beds whittled into the terraces of the hotel's gardens.

The only niggle was the fire alarm's persistence at waking everyone at 6.30am for the first four mornings of our stay, despite us, and several other guests reporting it (it was going off across the whole hotel). The staff's disappointingly laissez-faire attitude to getting it fixed tainted an otherwise excellent holiday.

Hotel Riu Tikida Beach, Agadir. We visited off-season (16-27 February 2017).

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Holiday Reading Roundup: February 2017

For me, books are a key part of a good old beach holiday -- not just one or two new bestsellers, but any novels I can get my hands on. I don't care how old they are, I spend far longer deciding which books to take on holiday than I do picking my clothes. I've normally cracked my first spine (sorry, purists) before I've even left the tarmac at Gatwick, and spend the next ten days eating my way through the collection, before pouncing on any books whoever I'm travelling with has brought, and hoovering up any English language offerings on the hotel bookshelf. Here are some brief reviews of what I munched my way through in Agadir:

Missing by Susan Lewis *****

Most of Lewis's novels can be described as hard to put down, but getting through a 500-pager in 24 hours is a new one, even for me. The story is a bit of a slow one, with the author introducing the characters separately -- in the style of Jodi Picoult -- before revealing how their lives overlap. It's worth persevering as more and more of the plot is revealed. A missing mother, an unidentified corpse a missing baby and an illegitimate child make for an engrossing read if you enjoy solving mysteries as you go. Highly recommended.

The Bones Of You by Debbie Howells ****

One to read if you enjoyed The Lovely Bones or Gone Girl. An 18 year old girl, Rosie, goes missing, and the novel follows the fallout of her disappearance, both with her close family and more widely, in the village she lives in. As well as the usual list of suspects -- a controlling father, a clandestine boyfriend -- the narrative is interspersed with chapters from Rosie's own point of view, adding another dimension to the usual mystery. Happily, the plot isn't immediately predictable, but unfortunately it's also lacking in the sort of gasp-out-loud plot twist that I've come to love in this sort of novel. Still well worth a read though.

The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas ****

I'll be honest, I wasn't looking forward to reading this one -- historical fiction isn't usually my idea of a good holiday read. The story flicks between modern-day Wales and 1940s India, bonding generations of the same family through the eponymous Kashmir shawl. Initially, the shawl is a tedious device linking two seemingly distant groups of people, but as the narrative develops, my desperation to know the full story of the shawl increased. Initially, I found the 1940s based chapters dull, wishing the author would stay in the present day, but by halfway through, I wanted the reverse. A fascinating level of research must have gone into writing this book, and yet it isn't culturally different enough to be too dull or too challenging. Takes a while to get into, but worth persevering.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty *****

Based on the lives of three Australian women, the protagonists of The Husband's Secret seem separate until it becomes clear how their lives are linked -- and then a secret is revealed, linking them even further. It's good fun trying to predict what'll happen. The plot is an unpredictable one, and all the more satisfying for it. The author manages to offer an ending that satisfies the reader, despite it not being the ending you find yourself hoping for. The novel's downfall is the dilemma faced by one character over whether or not to reveal the big secret -- I was left feeling indifferent regarding the choice she faced, the narrative lacking the urgency required to make it a real nail-biter.

What's Left Of Me by Kat Zhang ***

I'm not sure if this one is intended as YA fiction but it certainly feels that way. It also falls into the science fiction genre, something I usually avoid. The opening few pages reminded me of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves but the truth here is revealed at the beginning instead of halfway through. Despite my initial reservations, I soon found myself clinging to the enjoyable if predictable story. The ending leaves a few loose ends and a lot to be desired but the concept of Hybrids will stay with you long after you've forgotten the story. It'd lend itself well to a film, with a similar audience to Twilight or the Hunger Games.

By The Time You Read This by Lola Jaye ***

This one is a sweet, touching story about a girl whose father died when she was five. Approaching her 13th birthday, an aunt gives her a book, The Manual, that he wrote for her before he died. It contains a chapter to be read each birthday between the ages of 13 and 30, plus a miscellaneous section offering general life advice. Through the book, we watch her grow up, through family issues, relationships, jobs, travelling and more. As is necessary with a story spanning nearly two decades, time is elastic, but at times the narrative dragged, and at other points it skipped over sections that I felt warranted more detail. A cross between a coming-of-age tale and a self-help tome, it's a lovely read, as much about death as it is about life.

A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson **

Best described as an easy read, A Boy Called Hope has its moments, but for the most part it's a bland, predictable story. It has some sweet parts and a couple of chuckle out loud moments, but what was missing for me was any sort of affinity with the main character, an 11 year old boy trying to get back in touch with his own father. It passed a couple of hours, but I wouldn't recommend putting it to the top of your must-read list.

Lizzie Jordan's Secret Life by Chris Manby **

Bland and cringeworthy are the two words that come to mind with this one. The story begins with a pair of college sweethearts who break up but stay penpals when they find themselves living on different continents. Six years later, they're reunited, putting the web of lies they've told each other in the intervening years in jeopardy. The one thing going for this novel is that the ending isn't the one you'd expect -- even if the rest of the story is. It feels like the character of Lizzie is intended as one the reader can identify with, but she becomes such a slapstick caricature that I found myself repulsed by her rather than enjoying her. One best avoided, in my humble opinion.

What are your top reading recommendations (holiday or otherwise)? Let me know in the comments - I'm desperate for some new reads.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Where to find Scribbling Lau

You've found my blog -- congratulations. I hope you like what you see. If you do, there are plenty more places you can find me around the web:
  • Twitter: I share thoughts and anecdotes. I retweet things that make me laugh. Quite often I ask for advice on where to find cake in whatever vicinity I happen to be in at the time. I post links to this blog, and to things I've written elsewhere. You'll find me @scribbling_lau.
  • Instagram: Photos. All the photos. From Moroccan markets to the Portuguese coast, street art in Shoreditch and coffee in Clapham, you'll find it all on Instagram, mixed in with multiple animals and plenty of sunsets. Find me @scribbling_lau.
  • Facebook: I've set up a Facebook page dedicated to this blog. Like what you see? Follow it to be alerted every time I post something new. You'll also get a selection of my photography on there too, because sometimes it's nice to brighten up everyone's day. Find me a Scribbling Lau blog.
  • Londonist: When I'm not eating my way round London's cake shops to write about it here, I'm climbing on roofs and going behind the scenes at museum's for Londonist. Find my latest articles here.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

L'Eto Caffe, Chelsea

You know when you're strolling along the road, browsing in shop windows, and suddenly BAM: you're sitting down with cake and a fork in front of you, inviting you to get stuck in? Let me explain:

Here's a more thorough explanation:

Confronted with a display like that on a drizzly Sunday in January, you'd have gone in too -- and that's how we found ourselves sitting in L'Eto on King's Road in Chelsea, cake and coffee in front of us.

Service was simultaneously brisk and lax, if such a thing is possible. On arrival, we were waved downstairs by one member of staff, only to meet another on the stairs who told us that we should have waited upstairs. Eventually we were seated downstairs, a room which makes up for a lack of natural light with some lovely, if muddled, decor -- country lodge meets city chic, which sums up Chelsea perfectly.

Acoustic covers of pop songs and a gentle buzz of chatter made for a relaxing atmosphere, and we got stuck into the all-important task of choosing our eats.

The menu, extensive and beautifully presented, had one problem; it didn't cover the cake options. Making that crucial decision involved trekking back up the stairs to peruse the display that had tempted us in a few minutes previously -- something that was both a pleasure and a chore.

Decisions made, our order was taken -- between us, we opted for a chocolate and cinnamon cake, and a honey layer cake, a lavender latte (it sounded interesting, and I love a gimmick) and a carrot cake smoothie. The cakes, looking delish, arrived within a few minutes... and our drinks finally followed them, a whole 15 minutes later.

The cakes were everything we'd hoped they would be, and more, although the chocolate one was so rich, it took half an hour to polish off the whole thing -- a half hour I paid for with a mild dose of queasiness on the train home. The lavender coffee, though, did nothing to insinuate it had even been near a sprig of lavender, and felt like a bit of a rip-off at over £5 a cup.

With just the crumbs and dregs left, we paid and made our way up the stairs and across the crowded ground floor restaurant towards the drizzly outside world. It's only as we beat our retreat that we noticed the salad bar -- although such a phrase doesn't do it justice. A resplendent feast of tropical colours laid out beautifully on a sideboard is a more accurate description. The fact that the beautiful plates lay uncovered at adult coughing and sneezing height. Yum.

So, L'Eto: Delicious food, beautifully presented. Underwhelming drinks. Hit and miss service. Risky salad. It's at the top end of what a lot of people would be prepared to pay for cake (£23+ for two cakes, a coffee and a smoothie), but after a long, healthy and broke January, a little treat was called for.

L'Eto, 149 King's Road, Chelsea.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Disney Pixar confirms what fans knew all along

Never has a film with so few words revealed so much.

I've just come across this official Disney video on YouTube (it was released a year ago, so forgive me for being a little late to this party -- although a similar version was recently re-released on the Toy Story Facebook page). It reveals links between different characters, locations, companies and objects in seemingly unrelated Pixar films.

Of course, the fan theories have been flying around for years. Put aside a few hours to fall down that particular internet rabbit hole. There's an entire, extremely detailed, website dedicated to it. I've read somewhere that every film gives a clue as to what the next film will be, even when they feature seemingly unrelated characters, but somewhere along the way, a release date was delayed and the system was messed up. I've never looked into it too carefully.

I can't believe I never noticed the Jessie (Toy Story) or Nemo (Finding Nemo) toys in Boo's (Monsters Inc.) room.

Or, to put it another way; every Disney Pixar film ever made has been an advert for every Disney Pixar film ever made. Damn, those Disney folk are clever. I'd be willing to bet that this video only shows a tiny fraction of the truth, too -- they can cash in on this one for years.

What's missing? Add your Pixar knowledge in the comments below.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Meet the man behind London's Clown Museum

I visited London's Clown Gallery and wrote a feature about it for Londonist. The museum itself was interesting enough, but the man who runs it is a fascination in himself.

As the traditional church door swings open -- the fact that it's blue is the first clue that this is no normal church door -- a face peers out from behind it. Actually, several faces do, but the human face at the centre is the one that speaks.

"Come on in. I'm glad you found us."

The door opens further, wide enough to let me in, and I step inside. What hits me first is, oddly, not the hundreds of clowns staring down at me -- photos, circus posters, models, ornaments, even eggs -- but the cold. On a January day, it's warmer outside the church than it is inside.

"I used to be a clown doctor, you know", he says as he pours me a warming cup of tea in what can only be described as a cupboard. My mind races with the possibilities with what the phrase "clown doctor" could even mean, but he sees I'm struggling and helps me out.

"I used to clown for the patients at Great Ormond Street Hospital."

That's just the tip of the iceberg of the fascinating life of Mattie Faint. He's a retired clown, and curator of the Clown Gallery in Dalston. Reeling off a list of annual clown festivals, gatherings and conferences around the world, it's clear he knows his stuff.

In the two hours I spend with him, he hops between anecdotes of his life in clowning; alarming the Queen with a flashing nose at the Royal Albert Hall, meeting her a couple of months later when she singled him out of a crowd.

His knowledge of clowns -- both dead and alive -- is astounding. He talks about Joseph Grimaldi as though he were a personal friend, rather than a London character who's been dead for almost two hundred years. But what's most fascinating is the fact that he knows many of the clowns shown in the museum's photos personally; one's an "ordained clown" - a vicar by day, with a side job in the entertainment industry. Others are involved in the museum with him.

He points at the many photos on the wall and reels of the clowns by name "Bonzo, Ian, Smokey". The clown world, it seems, is smaller than you'd think. In an odd way, it reminds me of the Harry Potter universe -- and I don't mean that detrimentally to either the clown or wizarding world -- people going about doing daily jobs in PR, as vicars, as writers, while all the while being part of this separate community that most people don't even know exists.

Mattie himself recalls the time he spent in Sun City in South Africa, one of several places around the world that he's lived (Dubai's also mentioned in passing, as well as other parts of Africa). By day, he did the PR for the resort. By night and at weekends, he was the entertainment. Often, he slipped between his white suit and his clown make-up in the same day, something which baffled many guests who recognised his voice, but couldn't place it without the accompanying red nose.

"It's such a relief, clowning. It allows you to be mad, controllably," he says of this dual personality.

Back here in the UK, his work has ranged from opening Comet superstores to performing regularly at Smollensky's on Strand. Just when I think I've got to the bottom of him, he wheels out the fact that he was the original stage manager on the Rocky Horror Show when it as performed on King's Road, taking it on tour in Japan twice.

Now, in his sixties, Mattie's retired from clowning, focusing mainly on the museum, and is responsible for organising the annual clown church service -- a duty he's not taking lightly. And if you think he's let clowning rule his life, think about this; on his death, he wants his ashes scattered in the church garden, following in the footsteps of fellow clown Rob "Smokey" Townsend.

So next time you're in a museum, particularly a small, niche one such as this, it's worth remembering that there's probably a passionate, hardworking person (or team) behind it -- and they may be more interesting than the museum itself.

For more information about the museum itself, see my original Londonist feature here.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik release I Don't Wanna Live Forever video

I'm not normally one for music blogging, but when Taylor Swift releases a new tune, I'm all over it like a cheerleader on a football captain.

T-Swizz has partnered up with one time One Direction member Zayn Malik to release I Don't Wanna Live Forever -- the soundtrack to the new Fifty Shades movie, out in February.  On first thoughts, the pairing of pop's golden girl and rebel guy seems an odd one, yet it works.

The song's been floating around since late last year, but they released the video this week -- and as you'd expect with anything from the Fifty Shades family, it's all a bit saucy (excusing some questionable miming from Zayn in the opening verse).

 Champagne flows, things get smashed. There's strobe lighting. It takes a few watches to fully take it all in. Purist Taylor Swift fans who still hark back to her innocent country beginnings (I'll admit, I was one of them myself until Out Of The Woods won me over with its relentless catchiness) will hate it. That lipstick! Those hair tosses! That pout!

There's something for fact fans and Londonphiles too: it was filmed in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in King's Cross.

*Hums to self for rest of weekend* Wu-ooh-uh-uh.

FYI, the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack also has offerings from the likes of John Legend, SIA, Nick Jonas & Nicki Minaj, and Corinne Bailey Rae. Not a bad line-up at all.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Review: Chiswick Lantern Festival 2017

A miniature version of the world has appeared in west London. Sadly, London hasn't finally got its own mini Epcot (I wish), but the Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House and Gardens goes part way to recreating some of the cities and cultures of the world in light form.

Entry to the festival is via the Duke's Avenue Entrance to the gardens, a fair old trot away from Chiswick train station. Being the sort of people who like to be tucked up in bed at a reasonable hour, we'd opted for the earliest entry slot, 5pm, but the length of the queue suggested that plenty of other people had the same idea. Once the gates swung open, the crowds dispersed to see the light installations lining the main avenue into the gardens. With illuminations on both sides, it's hard to know which way to look. The signs of the Chinese Zodiac are all represented, but most impressive is this recreation of London's Houses of Parliament:

At this point, we hadn't actually shown our tickets, and were wondering if there had been an oversight (/why we'd actually bothered paying if we could get in for free) when we rounded the next corner and hit the back of the next queue. Cleverly, the queue overlooked a luminous recreation of all things Parisian, keeping visitors occupied while they waited.

After walking and queuing for so long, plenty of people were keen to find the nearest toilets, which turned out to be in the cafe next to the ticket gates. Unfortunately, the cafe only has four cubicles in the ladies, and presumably a similar number in the gents, resulting in lengthy queues (we waited around 20 minutes).

Surprisingly, the venue doesn't seem to have made any provision for extra facilities at this point. If you're tempted to cross your legs and wait until the next opportunity arises, be warned that it's a decent walk away (it took us around 40 minutes to get to that point, and once you've passed certain points, the stewards won't let you go back on yourself -- a clever way to keep the crowds moving, but not helpful if your kids decide they need the toilet when there isn't one nearby).

Facilities used, we hit the lantern trail, which was already heaving with people. The first stop was the above part-Arabic, part-Dutch style offering. Each display has an information plaque describing what it represents, but at some points the crowds were too deep to see this, and guesswork had to come into play.

Weaving past some impressive but poorly lit anamatronic knights on horses, the trail leads downhill towards a lake -- and here's where the biggest problem of the night presented itself to us. The paths are extremely poorly lit (or not lit at all) in some places, making for quite a dangerous experience. Parts of the paths along the trail are tarmac, while others are rough, gravel material, and when you can't even see your own feet, it's easy to trip up over a loose stone or a bump -- not to mention inadvertently venturing onto the mud verges and slipping. We didn't see anybody actually hit the deck, but several people came close. The argument may be that path lighting would detract from the lanterns, but so would having to call an ambulance if someone breaks an arm or leg.

The lake setting itself is beautiful, causing stunning reflections on the water (or, on this particular night, ice) surface. The theme of the festival is the Silk Road, and camels feature heavily. If you want to keep the kids -- or yourself -- entertained as you walk around, count how many camels you see. Answers in the comments please.

One of the most popular lanterns, at least among younger visitors, is this one, nestled away on a muddy detour away from the lake. Recognise these two?

Just past Aladdin and Jasmine are the next set of toilets, a marshmallow stall (couldn't get near it for the crowds) and a van which, judging from the aroma wafting through the crowds, was doing a roaring trade in mulled wine. If you're thinking of indulging, bear in mind that the next set of loos aren't until the funfair at the end of the trail.

After your pitstop, the trail continues over the lake, via a rather steep humped bridge -- one of several points along the route at which I'd disagree with the organisers' assertion that the festival is "accessible to wheelchair users" (mud, bumpy terrain, loose gravel and steep hills are also not wheelchair-friendly elements).

At this point you may be starting to flag. Beautiful though the lanterns all are, it starts to get a bit same-y, and your focus switches to warding off frostbite in your fingers. Fast forward the next few, until you get to this wonder:

The picture does no justice to the scale, but it's pretty much a lifesize temple. Impressive, and undeniably beautiful, but for me the highlight of the festival was this series of Chinese style arches:

From here, it's just a panda and a couple of fish to the funfair, ice rink and food area.

The last lanterns before you enter the 'entertainment area' are these toadstools. It's worth noting that once you enter the area, the stewards won't let you back out onto the lantern trail, so make sure you've taken all your Instagram shots and haven't lost any gloves/hats/small children before you pass this point.

The food stalls on offer here are as expected -- more marshmallows, duck wraps, crepes, churros, burgers, that kind of thing -- but the queues ruled out us even contemplating eating here, not to mention the lack of seating. The synthetic ice rink is fine for kiddies, but for ice with a side of lights, you'd be better off heading to the more impressive Canary Wharf. After a quick lap of the entertainment area, we beat a hasty retreat.

The lanterns themselves are beautiful, and well worth going to see, but the event could be better executed -- more toilet facilities and better lighting on the footpaths would be a start. We visited on the opening weekend, which had sold out -- it may (or may not) be less busy on other weekends later in the festival.

Going to the Magical Lantern Festival? Top tips: 
  • Take a torch. Attach lights to your children and anything else you don't want to lose.
  • Allow at least two hours to get round everything (the website suggests 75 minutes, but allow for getting stuck in the crowds). 
  • Prepare to do a lot of walking, including on uneven and muddy ground.
The Magical Lantern Festival is at Chiswick House and Gardens until 26 February 2017.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A first look at Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival 2017

Oooh, pretty colours. Maybe it's the romantic in me, but I'm a sucker for a good light festival. London's latest offering is Canary Wharf Winter Lights. 30 light installations have been dotted around among the skyscrapers -- and they're free to visit.

Put yourself in the wings and halo, and have a picture taken of your most angelic side:

This egg appears to be floating on water. There's a floating pathway through the middle of it, and every so often, smoke appears. Mystical.

The glow in the dark benches which featured in Lumiere London last year are back -- and they're now a permanent feature in Canary Wharf:

Head downstairs in Crossrail Place for the indoor exhibits (and to warm up):

Look familiar? This installation was commissioned by the Natural History Museum for the Colour and Vision exhibition. Now the exhibition's over, it's been passed on: recycling at its finest.

Westferry Circus is home to one of the most hypnotising, calming things I've ever seen. Hundreds of spherical lightbulbs perched on sticks, twinkling and changing colour in time to the music, gradually speeding up and slowing down. Mesmerising:

One for fans of all things colourful:

As much as I'd like to say I spent my evening watching Trump dissolve, this was one of many words that rained from the sky. The letters are created from water droplets and cleverly illuminated -- it really is a work of art. I freaked out a bit when my surname appeared, until I realised that the words being generated were from current news trends, and this had happened.

Intrigued? Check out this video for more.

Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival is on daily, 4pm-9pm, until Friday 27 January.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The 5 best things about shopping in charity shops

In recent years, the very act of buying things in charity shops has done a complete about-turn, going from something you wouldn't admit to for fear of becoming a social pariah, to something quite fashionable. If you're not yet convinced that trawling around charity shops is for you, here are my five favourite things about buying things -- mainly clothes, sometimes books or DVDs -- from them.

1. It's cheap

Obviously. Cheap is good. Cheap is your friend. Cheap means you can buy that second-hand dress and afford to feed yourself for the rest of the month. Crucial. Or, you can buy two dresses instead of one. Sometimes that's crucial too.

2. It's for a good cause
Again, an obvious one. The clue's in the name, but you'll enjoy wearing your new jumper even more knowing that the money you spent has gone to helping the homeless/elderly/abandoned animals, rather than lining the pockets of a high street retail boss.

3. It make you stick to your own style

Walk into any high street clothes store and you'll be ambushed from all sides by whatever's in fashion at the moment; Animal print. Neon. Bodycon dresses. We've all done it -- bought something that we don't particularly like, or that doesn't suit us, just because it's on trend (or it's literally all that's in the shops at the moment).
Charity shops don't bow to trends. They're indifferent to fashion. Instead, their volunteers create displays out of whatever they have in stock (and most of the time, it has to be said, do a mighty fine job of it). This means you won't be seduced into buying that leopard print jumpsuit just because leopard print is everywhere. It forces you to look more closely at what you're buying, not to decide whether it's on trend, but to decide whether it's you.

The same goes for books. No more being tempted into shelling out for tomes that are top of the bestseller lists, purely because they're displayed beautifully at the entrance of the store. Take the time to read the blurb and see whether it appeals.

4. They're less busy

While the masses are doing battle with pushchairs, shopping trolleys and lord knows what else in Primark on a Saturday morning, in pursuit of their next cheap fashion hit, you can practically have the charity shop to yourself. Have a wander round, no need to queue for the fitting room, try on eight different things, go to the till and pay, have a chat with Mavis the volunteer, and you'll still be out of the shop and home with your new purchases before the Primark devotees have even reached the changing room.

5. No-one will be wearing the same as you

It's a Monday morning. You bought a new coat at the weekend. You're strolling along in it feeling pretty dandy... until you count no fewer than eight other people wearing the same coat before you've even reached your office. True story (shout out to everyone else who bought the M&S beige mac with black piping from the AW14 collection. You have excellent taste.).

Rarely do you get that when buying second hand. Even if the items you buy came from a chain store, they tend to be a few months, if not a few years, old by the time they've gone through the rigmarole of sitting at the back of someone's wardrobe for months, being turfed out to the charity shop, passing time in the charity shop stock room and finally making it out onto the shop floor. By then, everyone else who bought the same thing from Topshop has forgotten they even have it.

What's more, it somehow feels less sacrificial to edit a garment that's already been used for the purpose for which it was intended. There's something satisfying about giving a second-hand item a bit of a makeover -- and if you mess it up, hey at least you didn't pay full brand new price for that pair of jeans you've just cut a hole in.

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