Monday, 31 December 2012

Mince pies out the way- it's sale time!

For me, the post-Christmas sales are as much of a tradition as turkey and a tree. The sales left me disappointed last year, and after a few months of financial restraint, I was looking forward to grabbing a few bargains and revitalising my wardrobe in the cheap this year.

However, once again I was left disappointed. By the time my grand old trip to Stratford City Westfield came round, most of the shops were bereft of sale rails entirely. 

My main target this year was office wear (I feel so grown up typing that!) and I managed to catch a couple of bargains.

The above grey skirt was £7 in the H&M sale. Venturing into the store was a mission and a half - one glance at my friend cowering under a rail as violent shoppers ripped items off the rail, mere millimetres from her ears, was a particular highlight. Back to the skirt - it's a versatile office staple- heels, flats, jumpers, blouses, vest tops, pretty much any colour- it all goes, making it perfect for wearing year round.

My second purchase was this plum coloured skirt from Primark. I'd gone in with the intention of hunting down a black dip-hem skirt I'd seen on a mannequin a couple of weeks ago but not had time to try on. Said skirt was disappointing fit, but I went away with this one, another office staple.

Disappointingly, my favourite stores (New Look, I'm looking at you) had very little in the way of sale gear- most of the shop floor was still dedicated to full price current season items. Forever 21 was also disappointing - they only had a couple of sale rails in their whole three-floor store, and as far as we could tell, most reduced items were faulty - ripped, stained or damaged in some way.

My 2012 in numbers

2012. What a year. Sure, many people will go on to equate it with the Olympics, or the Diamond Jubilee, or the Jimmy Saville scandal. For me, it will always be the year I graduated, and my life really began.

1 degree completed
2 trips abroad
3 placements undertaken equaling 8 weeks of unpaid work
4 part time jobs held
5 "unusual" animals befriended- Penguins, lions, cheetahs, giraffes, elephants
6 months of graduate life completed

Far be it from me to become all sentimental, but looking back at this time last year, I'd say I've come pretty far. 12 months ago, I still had the long hard slog of the final few months at university to get through. Two solid months of 12 hour days in the library. This was inevitably followed by the jubilation of freedom. For the first time in about 16 years, I was out of education. It was about a week after this that I had what I consider to be one of the best days of my life so far; A spontaneous trip to Blackpool to see a friend. I was free of exams, the weather was perfect, and despite a near miss with some quicksand, I was the free-est and happiest I had been in a long time.

2012 also saw me step down as Lifestyle Editor of The Yorker, a position I loved and although I enjoyed every minute of it, I know my baby is safe in the hands of the wonderful Farrah Kelly. I have taken up the position of Travel Editor at Kettle Magazine instead, allowing me to channel my energies into one particular area of interest.

Couple all of this with my first solo travel experience - which allowed me to make many great friends from all over the world, and I think 2012 will always be the year that I started living my life to the full. Here's hoping 2013 is even better!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

"May I have you attention please?" by James Corden- review

Since being introduced to the work of James Corden via the medium of the brilliant Gavin and Stacey a couple of years back, I've had nothing but admiration for this talented comedy writer and his partner in crime, Ruth Jones. Well, admiration and a hint of jealousy at this man's amazing comedy writing (and acting) talents. I've often been heard to lament out loud (to no-one in particular) that I wish I had written Gavin and Stacey, so succinctly perfect is this series. I mean, I would have got there eventually, Corden and Jones just beat me to it, that's all.

So I was extremely excited to stumble across James Corden's autobiography recently (not as excited as I was when I learnt that my Dad had once shared a lift with him at Upton Park, but you catch my drift); surely this would give me the insight needed to get into the mind of this wizard, thus allowing me to replicate his comedy writing success in my own, yet-to-be-conceptualised show?

I started reading with trepidation. From the few celebrity autobiographies I have read, they all seem to follow a similar pattern: Woe is me -> I'm so talented -> Fame and fortune -> The inevitable downfall -> Discolouring the good name of other celebrities.

Corden, however, is refreshingly honest. His admission of his own lack of confidence only serves to make him more endearing to the reader. His refusal to show anything but respect for former girlfriends and colleagues, rather than dishing the dirt, is admirable. He doesn't deny that his success comes from a lot of hard slog, dodging the usual celebrity twaddle that talent alone is responsible for their rise to fame. Most poignantly, his writing of the book shortly after the birth of his son serves to make the reader feel as if they are being invited in to share a momentous occasion in Corden's life.

In short, I am now even more full of admiration for this comedy genius, and, at the risk of sounding cheesy, May I have your attention please? is one of the most inspirational books I have ever read, and I'll tell you for why. I am now determined that 2013 will be the year that I try my hand at script-writing. I've considered it before, but with no professional training and no experience in this area, it's difficult to know where to start. However, having learned about the development of Gavin and Stacey, from Corden's own observations at a wedding, to the building of the characters, to the writing of the first episode in a hotel room (Elbow musical accompaniment optional), I am left feeling somewhat empowered to have a go myself. I know it won't be easy, and I know that success in this industry is rare, but if you never try then you never know.

James Corden, I thank you and I salute you.

Everybody else, watch this space.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Christmas 2012 fashion haul

So, the big day has been and gone, the man in the red suit has trundled his way back to Lapland and some crazy fools were queuing outside Bluewater at 1am (yep, you read that right) for the sales to start.

But before we all head back to the rat race and forget that Christmas ever happened, I thought I'd give you a quick run through of the fashion-centric gifts I received (before I skip off to the sales and stock up on a few more bits and bobs).

First up is my main present, a black leather jacket. If you're thinking what wonderful taste the person who bought it for me has, I feel now is the time to enlighten you to the fact that I chose it myself. I've been semi-consciously looking for a leather jacket for a couple of years, but it's one of those wardrobe staples that has to be completely right. Luckily for me, leather jackets have been prevalent on the high street this A/W, and I loved the shape and style of this one. The fur collar is detachable, and I think I'll be leaving it off for most of the time.

Next up is this penguin hoodie. You'd have to understand my love of penguins to get this one, but I'm pretty chuffed with it.

This bag is perfect for me! I'm not one for small handbags, being the sort of person to throw everything in, so this is perfect for a night out. Hopefully it's big enough for a pair of flat shoes as well.

And last but not least is this Rimmel nail polish in "Black Cherries", a perfect Christmas shade.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Last Tango in Halifax - the best TV drama of 2012?

I'm writing this off of the back of seeing the last episode of one of my favourite TV shows for a very long time: Last Tango in Halifax.

For those not familiar with this BBC six-parter, the basic premise is thus; a pair of would-be lovers reunite in the autumn of their lives and take the decision to get married.

If you haven't guessed by now, my favourite television dramas are not those with the flash special effects, expensive sets and fantasy elements which the rest of the world tend to go for (unless you consider the set of "Wild at Heart" to be expensive, in which case, consider that to be the exception to my rule). I prefer TV dramas which are real, which real people can relate to, and which do not use explosions and car chases to hide shoddy writing and a mediocre plot.

Last Tango in Halifax is, by contrast, brilliantly written. It seamlessly manages to encompass almost every aspect of modern life -marriage, divorce, alcoholism, sex, sexuality, homophobia, illness - yet despite all this drama, maintains a relatable element.

In contrast to the heavy-hearted subject matter, there were some great comedic antidotes to the potential doom and gloom, perfected partly by Sally Wainwright's admiral writing talents, and partly by Sarah Lancashire's professional and timely delivery.

So inspired by the brilliant writing that I went on to watch this video from the BBC Writer's Room, which, combined with my recent reading of James Corden's autobiography, has reawakened my passion for trying my hand at scriptwriting.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland 2012 review

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland 2012 has had mixed reviews; some people claim that you can spend all day there, whilst others believe that it's not worth a visit at all. Having experienced the disappointing Southbank Christmas market already this year, I was, perhaps pessimistically, expecting the latter.

However, even from Hyde Park Corner, it's clear that it's worth a visit, just for soaking up the atmosphere. The big wheel juts up into the sky, guiding visitors towards the lively fairground, making it easy enough to spot in the rolling landscape of Hyde Park.

Entrance is free, and it's well worth a wander around. The entrance is lined with festive stalls, creating a well-lit boulevard leading vistors gently towards the larger attractions. Traditional German sweet stalls gave way to craft stalls, food stalls... several of the stalls were familiar from my previous trips to the Leeds Christmas Market.

Further on, the German food market creates an olfactory reminiscence of Christmasses long since passed.

Although the layout is initially confusing, with decisions over which path to take to avoid missing any of the fun, it soon becomes clear that the entire area is set out in a circle, so the best option is to choose one direction and stick to it. With large landmarks such as the big wheel and other rides, maintaining a sense if direction is straightforward, although in darkness, it all looks very similar. 

The main attractions such as the ice rink and ice kingdom get booked up in advance, so making a reservation is key. We opted just to go ice skating, and although it was on the pricey side, it was definitely worth it. The ice rink forms a ring around the Victorian bandstand, complete with a central Christmas tree, and the sky above is lit with a criss cross of fairy lights, making an oh-so-romantic scene.

My inner adrenalin junkie was tempted by the zip-wire, which allows people to skim across the top of Winter Wonderland, sailing over the heads of unsuspecting visitors below.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is 100% worth a visit. If you're stretched for time or money, just pop in and have a wander around the stalls, preferably at night if you fancy some festive atmosphere. If you've got more time, spend a whole afternoon here, as there's plenty to eat, drink and do.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Disney @ Harrods for Christmas 2012

Anyone who knows me, or more specifically, knows my inner child, will understand just how excited I got when I found out that Harrods were opening a Disney Princess pop-up shop for the Christmas period.

After my experiences at the Harry Potter pop-up store which appeared in Harrods last year, I didn't have high expectations. Although the set-up was good, creating a realistic Diagon Alley, the prices were high, clearly aimed at collectors rather than children.

However, I'm pleased to report that Harrods got it spot on with their Disney venture, aiming it predominantly at children, as Disney should be (there's still the odd treat for all the kidults out there as well- cushions, homewares, soft furnishings...).

However, I was left feeling like a child with a slapped wrist for not doing my homework research properly; a quick glance around on arrival revealed not only a Disney Princess area but also Toy Story, Cars, and classic Minnie and Mickey merchandise. In short, a Disney fans' dream.

The Disney Princess theme was most prevalent; the entire set-up revolves around the central Princess castle, a structure which doubles up as a shoe parlour, allowing young princesses to shop in privacy. Naturally, glitter and pink rule in this vicinity.

Each of the themed areas is cleverly designed and self contained- the Toy Story area, for example, is designed to resemble Andy's bedroom, complete with larger than life Woody statue.

Rumour has it that there is also a Disney Cafe at Harrods too. Unfortunately I didn't have time to visit on this occasion, but hopefully soon!

Harrods, I think there is a lesson to be learned here; Disney trumps Harry Potter every time.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Candy Kittens Mk 2: Still no candy

A few months ago, you may remember that I paid a little visit to the Candy Kittens pop-up store in Chelsea, and was left extremely disappointed. Although the concept was good, the journey there was traumatic, and the result was disappointing, with not so much as a sniff of the promised candy. I later learned that the Chelsea shop finished its' pop-up run a couple of weeks after our ill-fated pilgrimage, so I resigned myself to giving it the benefit of the doubt, assuming that the sweets had all been sold and that was that.
However, I had high hopes for the Christmas pop-up store. "What Christmas pop-up store?" I hear you cry, "for I know nothing of this promised wonder!". Well, you wouldn't really, as the Candy Kittens website hasn't actually been updated, and still contains that unspeakable map which caused so many problems the last time. In fact the only way I knew about the new store was from Jamie Laing's Twitter feed.  It was only by googling "Candy Kittens Carnaby Street" that I landed on this website which, very usefully, provided the address of the Carnaby Street store. 

Fast forward a while and I found myself outside the new Candy Kittens store within a few days of its' opening, or so I thought. On arriving, I wasn't entirely sure that the shop was open, despite it being a busy Wednesday afternoon a couple of weeks before Christmas. The door was open at a 45 degree angle, and the interior appeared to be bare, both of stock and decoration, as if it was still being set up. 

I walked past a couple of times, giving the place a once over and no doubt arousing suspicion in the patrons of the nearby cafe, who probably thought I was casing the joint in readiness for the preppiest burglary ever carried out. Eventually I summoned up the courage to walk in and find out whether it was in fact open. It was, but it seemed that the minimalist look was what they were going for; there was barely any stock (these photos show the more generously filled side of the shop).

As for what was there, it was mainly Jack Wills-esque fashion; oversized hoodies, logo t-shirts and beanie hats, all folded perfectly a la Abercrombie. A few other items were dotted around, such as notebooks and Christmas baubles (the cheapest, and pinkest, items I came across, at £5 each). Yet still there was no evidence of the candy part of the title, except a few old-fashioned humbug-style jars dotted around. At least the Chelsea shop had the saving grace of a milkshake bar, even if they had sold out of most of the flavours.

Oh biscuity Jamie, I love you so, but I don't think retail is for you. Or sweets. And definitely not marketing. Stick to biscuits and looking pretty, eh?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Chelsea boots and dogtooth

For me, there are two staples to the high street this winter, which will be making their way into my wardrobe just as soon as some money makes its way into my pocket.

First up, dogs tooth. With an uncharacteristic dose of fashion foresight, I've been loving dogtooth ("houndstooth") for the past few winters. There's something about it that is so metropolitan, that somehow screams "high-flying career girl". Just me? I've probably been watching too many New York based Rom-coms again. I digress.

With dogtooth, there is a thin line between getting it right, and getting it so, so wrong. Generally, the larger the print, the riskier the look. However, even subtle dogtooth is not a good look when done head to toe. And wearing clashing prints is a definite no-no unless you want to risk being mistaken for Cher Lloyd (trust me, you don't).

Back to basics

The good news is that traditional black and white dogtooth makes a great base for a monochrome look, rendering it perfect for that highly coveted day-to-night look, heading straight from the office to a Christmas party. Case in point is this dogtooth bodycon dress - chuck a black blazer over it for daytime, but let the pattern flow free when the sun goes down .

The softer approach

However, it does not have to be about bold, harsh patterns, as demonstrated by this mocha oversized jumper (£42, Topshop), great for wrapping up on chilly winter days.

To carry the dogtooth look into the summer, this sleeveless dogtooth shirt would look great dressed down with skinny jeans and black pumps, or glitzed up with black leggings, heels and oodles of eyeliner.

Accessorise it!

If an outfit of dogtooth is too bold for you, take a basic outfit and accessorise it! This snood (£7.99, New Look) is great for a casual weekend look. For the office, pair these dogtooth court shoes with an a-line dress or pencil skirt (black, naturally).

Jazz up your classic LBD look this Christmas with the dogtooth clutch (£10, River Island). For a more modern look, go for a coloured base - emerald green and wine red are both prevalent at the moment, and relatively easy to pull off.

But for me, the ultimate dogstooth item on the high street is this dogtooth mini skirt (£22.99, Mango- although it is also available on the Mango website, I prefer the ensemble on ASOS)

Chelsea boots are my other wardrobe staple this winter. Perfect for wearing with a knee length skirt and winter woolly tights, or tucking skinny jeans into, Although they are two-a-penny on the high street, the perfect pair proved to be very elusive- once I had an idea in my mind of what I wanted (black, leather/waterproof, slight heel, minimal embelishments...), the ideal pair proved very hard to find. Suede is plentiful, and although it's cute, I wasn't budging on the waterproof criteria (my mother's practicality seems to have rubbed off on me more than I realised). After talking myself out of a few practically perfect but wildly over-budget options, I settled for these little beauties.

Miraculously they were only £20, from an independent trader in Bluewater. I just can't help thinking how good they'd look paired with the Mango dogtooth skirt!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Watching the sun set on London 2012

A selection of photos taken from the Stratford Westfield shopping centre "London 2012" viewing gallery.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The classic dream wardrobe

Now I'm the first to admit, fashion is not my strong point, not by a long way, but that hasn't stopped me creating, developing and perfecting my perfect wardrobe over the years. I say "perfect", I mean "dream" - the prices are enough to ensure that this wardrobe will never be a real option for me. Still, a girl can dream

First up is the classic Burberry trench - elegant, sophisticated, timeless. Looks great dressed up with office wear (particular if you happen to have the fortune to work in Vogue House) or casual with skinny jeans and a classy jumper or shapely shirt. My one reservation is the length - unless you've got lengthy pins, there is the potential to give the drowning-in-Burberry vibe.

Next up is the bag, the ultimate accessory for every look. Personally I have two all time favourites - a day option and an evening option. The Mulberry Bayswater is a classic must have, and although my hypothetical choice of colour fluctuates on a daily basis, depending on mood, season and general whim,   I've whittled it down to browns and reds (at least until I can afford one in each colour!)

For evening wear, the Mulberry goes and the classic Chanel quilted bag takes over - in black, naturally.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Joneses (Borte, 2009)

***Contains spoilers***

Like a blend of Stepford Wives meets Desperate Housewives meets the OC, The Joneses is a somewhat bizarre mix that doesn't really work.

The idea is thus; An elegant, aspirational new family move into an already elegant and aspirational neighbourhood, as sort of Wisteria Lane for golfers. The family go about introducing themselves to their eclectic group of neighbours until, not too far into the film, the twist is revealed; the family are not actually a family, they are a group of salespeople thrown together with the intent of imitating the perfect family, selling the perfect lifestyle to their neighbours.

For me, the revelation of the twist came far too soon; a lot more suspense could have been created if the reason for the strange behaviour was not revealed until later.

The cast (Demi Moore, David Duchovny, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth), although neither unattractive nor untalented, lack a certain je ne sais quoi as an ensemble; the chemistry between the "parents" of the family is lacking, despite their supposed extra-curricular attraction. The romantic thread of the plotline is somewhat predictable, and even the death of The Joneses' neighbour, an apparently poignant and guilt-evoking moment in the film, raises little emotion.

Overall, this film has the makings of a good idea, but is not executed in a way to fulfill the potential.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Review: "Thanks for the memories" by Cecelia Ahern

The name "Cecelia Ahern" has always floated around my literary consciousness, been there in the foreground, but for some reason I've always overlooked her books in favour of other popular authors. What a mistake to make.
I recently picked up a copy of "Thanks for the memories" and I'm so glad I did. Whilst this book does have elements of the "chick-lit" genre (the love story, the near misses, the happy ending), ithere is more to it than this. 

Ahern uses elements of the supernatural to grip the reader, and whilst this is something I usually shy away from (I struggled with Harry Potter for this reason), Ahern keeps the plot simple, easy to follow, even for the most imagination-starved reader such as myself.

The basic concept is this; Justin, a recently relocated divorcee is persuaded into giving blood in exchange for a date. Joyce, a soon-to-be-divorced estate agent with a troubled personal life, receives his blood donation, and with it receives memories, skills and knowledge that she did not possess before. Throughout the novel, their paths cross several times, sometimes intentionally, sometimes chaotically. I won't give too much away, but the plot is gripping until the very end.

Several times I found myself howling with laughter due to Ahern's brilliant ability to bring a scene to life; the scene of Joyce's dad attempting to collect his suitcase from the airport conveyor belt particularly  sticks in my mind. Ahern also has a talent at crafting believable, realistic characters; again, Joyce's dad is the prime example. Through clever dialogue and wonderful description, he comes alive as somebody that any reader can identify in part, and, quite frankly, the novel would fall apart without him. Sadly, the character of Joyce is not quite as developed as I would have liked - despite her troubles, I found little reason to sympathise with her.

Suffice to say that I will be skipping over Ahern's books no more!

Monday, 26 November 2012

The best Christmas jumpers of 2012

The traditional Christmas jumper. Previously an annual joke akin to lewd photocopies at the office Christmas party, it's come into it's own in recent years as a staple fashion item for the festive season. There seem to be more than ever available on the high street this year, from stylish knits to absolute clangers.

Peacocks seems to be ruling the budget end of the roost, with everything from the classic red Rudolph (£16), perfect for Bridget Jones style family gatherings, to the more stylish patterned jumper dress (£18), suitable for work as well as play. For a more feminine twist on the all-out-party jumper, try this red and white snowflake special (£16), which will look great with indigo jeans, or for more sparkle, pair this Ho ho ho jumper dress (£20 -bargain!) with skinny jeans and a chunky scarf.

Topshop seem to have based their designs largely on black this year; pick from  a slightly off-colour robin (£50), a candy cane (£50),  or the slightly more lively polar bear snow scene (£50) - that's one thoughtful looking bear. Fortunately there is light at the end of the tunnel with this cream, holly-patterned jumper (£50), just be careful where you throw your Christmas day gravy!

If girly kitsch is more up your street this sequin Christmas tree design (£27.99, New Look) is a great way to show your fun side. For a soft yet edgy look, this charcoal snow scene (£27.99, New Look)

Snuggle up at home with this aztec style jumper dress  (Dorothy Perkins, £28), perfect for snowy afternoons in front of the fire.

If you want a motif jumper that will last all year, this slouch-style hanging cats jumper or this Alice in Wonderland style heart print jumper are both great for casual wear, and the latter is great for office wear too.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Book review: "Stealing Water" by Tim Ecott

It has always been an ambition of mine to read a travel book about a place whilst I am in that place; travel and books are two of my favourite things, so it makes sense to combine the two and enrich my enjoyment of them both. I managed to achieve this on my trip to South Africa, when I read Stealing Water by Tim Ecott. Like many things, reading the book was something I planned to do before I left home, but it never happened.  This turned out for the best, as it lead to me being able to absorb Ecott's affectionate descriptions of the buildings of Johannesburg whilst sitting in the South African bush with a panoramic view of the distant sprawling Jozi metropolis, the perfect travel literature experience.

Undoubtedly Johannesburg has changed since the days Ecott reminisces about; for one thing, the modern day Johannesburg seems to cover a vast area similar to London. The skyscrapers seem to centre around two areas, with a lesser horizon of other buildings linking the two. Secondly, from what I have heard, Johannesburg is much more dangerous now than in the past. En-route to the Lion Park on my first day, I was warned of the dangers of central Johannesburg, specifically the Nigerian drug rings which operate in the city centre.

The autobiographical Stealing Water serves as a memoir of Ecott's youth, split between Johannesburg and Northern Ireland. Both locations were undergoing periods of political divide at this time, although Apartheid is rarely mentioned in the book, excepting a couple of passing references to the black maids of white families and the racially segregated living areas.

Instead, the book offers a refreshingly honest account of life for the average immigrant family in Johannesburg. Whilst the drama level varies throughout the book, with some pages being quite slow, it is the detail of everyday mundanities which build up to provide a fascinating collective insight.

Not what you would describe a "unputdownable" (largely because that probably isn't a word), the pace is slow, but this serves to echo the African lifestyle. I stuck with it because of my current interest in all things South African, but sadly I don't think I would have done so otherwise, which is a shame because it turned out to be an insightful and rewarding read.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Leaving the Lion Park

Today was my final day at the Lion Park. I got up as normal and helped the other volunteers to clean the enclosures, before spending most of the morning playing with the cubs, feeding the giraffes, taking lots of photos and generally enjoying my last few hours of African sunshine before returning to the British winter.

By the time my taxi arrived at 4pm, I was overwhelmed with sadness at leaving behind the friends I have made over the past two weeks, both animal and human. I can't believe that I have known the other volunteers for only two weeks, nor did I believe it possible to get as close to complete strangers as we all have during this time. I have made some friends for life, and will be definitely be keeping in contact with them all.

A few of my amazing memories...

As my two weeks drew to a close, it dawned on me that it had felt far longer. As sad as it was to say goodbye to everyone, I was definitely ready to pack up and head home!

Previous entry: My final day
Lion Park blog homepage

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

My final day - escaping lions, stubborn giraffes, and everyone gets fed.

Today was my final day working at the Lion Park, and although I carried on with my volunteer duties as usual, I also took the opportunity to take many photos and videos to remember the experience by.

First thing in the morning, we were greeted with the news that five of the lions had escaped during the night and were found roaming the park. When we all simultaneously looked towards the cub enclosures on hearing this news, Marian provided clarification by saying "the big ones". Immediately we all had mental images of the fully grown, semi-wild lions from the lion camps stalking our campsite throughout the night. Imagine our relief when she provided further clarification that she meant the biggest of the cubs - cue relief all round! They had managed to dig under the fence of their enclosure and burrow out that way!

This afternoon, the cubs were fed meat instead of their usual bowl meals. Like their larger counterparts in the lion camps, they get excited the second they see the meat truck coming. The meat is tossed over the fence and into the enclosure, one piece per cub, and they are left to fight amongst themselves. Needless to say, when we go to collect the bones from the enclosure the next morning, there is not a crumb of meat left on them!

Following the excitement of feeding the cubs, Mara, the six month old giraffe, had to have her evening meal and be put to bed in her house.

Like any petulent child, Mara did not want to be in bed.
 Even more excitement followed when the volunteers went on a night game drive. Although the camp lions are given their main meal of the week on Sunday, they receive a "snack" of meat on Wednesday evenings.  Watching them fight over meat by the light of a flashlight was more more intimidating than anything seen in daylight; their warning growls echoed around us in the darkness, giving a rather spooky, voyeuristic feel.
Volunteers ready for a game drive

Night-time feeding

Returning to the camp, we decided to go to Montecasino, my all time favourite place in South Africa, for a few well-earned cocktails and to celebrate my last night before returning home.
One last night in Montecasino

A well-earned strawberry daquiri!

Previous entry ("Restaurant review: Lekgotla")

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Restaurant review: Lekgotla, Nelson Mandela Square

Every fortnight, the volunteers are taken out for a meal to a traditional African restaurant, Lekgotla (translating as "meeting place"). By "traditional African", I don't mean the sort of place that Africans go on a regular night out. Rather, it's the sort of place that tourists deem to be traditionally African, offering foods which are unique to Africa, and it therefore plays up to this stereotype, offering traditional entertainment and beautiful decor.

Lekgotla is situated in Sandton, a 30-minute drive from the Lion Park. Although the buildings of Sandton -skyscrapers by African standards - are visible from the Lion Park, their true beauty cannot be appreciated until you are right below them. The main building, Sandton City, stands guard over the famous Nelson Mandela square, its roof glittering in the darkness, its' silhouette like a miniature Canary Wharf.
Nelson Mandela Square itself is very chic, full of classy restaurants and, when we visited, already lit up for Christmas. On leaving the restaurant, we had the opportunity to take photos of the larger-than-life Mandela statue, the focal point of the square.

I'm getting ahead of myself.  Walking into the restaurant, the African ambience hits immediately. Dimly light, the woven wooden ceiling gave a homely feel, combining with the delicious aromas of various meats cooking to ensure customers felt right at home.

We were given the choice of the buffet or choices from the menu. Being walked though the buffet and having everything explained to us, I was beginning to panic a little. Not being the most open-minded of diners at the best of times, and already aware that South African food tends to be a little spicier that that which I am accustomed to, I found little at the buffet to tempt me. Returning to the table and reading through the menu - seafood, spicy meats, curries- nothing was really appealing to me, and I thought I was going to disappoint my inner wild-child (she's in there somewhere, buried really deep) by having something boring like pasta. Then, something caught my eye.

Nile crocodile curry.

Crocodile is something I know I haven't tried before. It's very African. The curry was described as creamy, and I have been known to partake in a korma at home. What could possibly go wrong? Given a choice of sides, I went for rice- boring, perhaps, but crocodile was enough excitement for one night.

After ordering, a bowl of water was brought to each of us at the table, allowing us to wash our hands, and we were each given a towel to dry them. Further entertainment was given in the form of traditional African face painting. For a small tip,we each got our faces painted with trailing patterns and flowers.

Face painting

Liza and Daneka with their faces painted.
 When the food arrived, I was excited just by looking at mine. It was beautifully presented, the curry being served in a traditional African pot called a potjie, resembling a cauldron to my untrained English eye. The rice was served in a perfect ball on a separate plate.

The curry was delicious. Very creamy, with barely an afterkick, it was perfect for fussy eater numero uno (although I kept expecting a yellow pair of eyes and a sharp set of teeth to surface from the sizzling mix. Normally I have no problem separating my animals from my meats, but as I was eating, I remember feeling relieved that the crocodile farm trip is taking place after I leave Africa - I just wouldn't have been able to look the little guys in the eye).

Completely full from my curry, I was tempted by the dessert menu, but couldn't have done it justice. Whilst waiting for other people's desserts to arrive, the entertainment cranked up a notch, with a spontaneous African dancing and drumming performance, just metres from the end of our table. Various male diners were called up to join in the dancing, including Igor, one of our volunteers! Everyone involved in the performance looked like they were having such a good time, it became infectious, until everyone in the restaurant was joining in, even those still halfway through their meals.

Once the dancing was complete, I took the opportunity to explore the restaurant further, and realised that what we had seen barely scratched the surface. Other dining rooms went off at various tangents, each sticking with the African theme, yet also individually styled. In short, the place blew me away.

 Leaving the restaurant, I still could not believe how delicious the meal had been. A quick mental calculation led me to realise that it came to roughly £10  for the main. An absolute bargain when you consider how few restaurants in England serve mains for £10, let alone good quality meals consisting of something as rare as crocodile meat.

Previous entry ("A chaotic meal time")
Next entry ("My final day: escaping lions, stubborn giraffes, and everyone gets fed")