Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Please sponsor me!

Two of my favourite things in the world are lions and having new adventures. So when I heard about the ZSL sponsored abseil taking place in July to raise money for the Lions 400 campaign, I signed up immediately.

Lions 400 is London Zoo's new flagship fundraising project which aims to protect the 400 remaining wild Asiatic lions in the Gir Forest in India and protect the species from extinction. Money raised for the project also goes towards building a much-needed larger encolsure for the lions at London Zoo, to allow the zoo to continue its breeding programme and work educating the public about these animals.

If you would like to sponsor me for this challenge and help raise money for these lovely animals, you can do so here. I have to raise a minimum of £95, but would like to raise a lot more than that in reality. Any amount you can donate will help! Thank you.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Hot Tub Cinema In Abandoned Shoreditch Underground Station - Reviewed

A rough photo of the venue that I took whilst trying to beat a hasty retreat.
Hot Tub Cinema - which, predictably, is a cinema where the public sit in hot tubs to watch a film - undeniably has a niche target audience. However, from experience, I can say that the target audience is neither those who enjoy cinema nor those who enjoy hot tubs, as it's not an enjoyable way to experience either of these things.

Prior to my HTC experience, I was 90% dread, 10% anticipation. And to be clear, that's anticipation of a new experience in general rather than HTC-specific anticipation. I was also full of questions; would spending two hours in a hot tub with strangers fresh from a sweaty day at the office (and this was a warm, sweat-inducing day) be as disgusting as it sounded? Wouldn't you go wrinkly sitting in the hot tub for that long? I certainly wouldn't have paid the going ticket price (£35) to find these things out, but having written this preview, I got the chance to go along and try it out for free, dragging The Boy along with me for moral support. Truth be told, a large part of my reason for going was to satisfy my curiosity for the venue - an
abandoned Underground station in Shoreditch.

The arrival was confusing to say the least. After checking in at the box office, receiving our wristbands and being told which tub we were allocated to, we were shepherded into a dark room and told to join the queue - for what, we weren't sure. It transpired that we were queuing to buy tokens for drinks and snacks - a good idea to prevent people from having to take money into the water with them. Usefully, the drinks prices -surprisingly reasonable- were displayed, allowing us to estimate how many tokens we needed, although unused tokens were displayed at the end of the night.

Once we had bought our drinks tokens we were allowed further in, where it became clear that the two marquees in the room functioned as the male and female changing areas. The Boy disappeared into the male one and I headed for the female one. The door was closed, and as the system wasn't clear -was it one in, one out, was it a free for all?- I did my usual thing of swerving all possibilities of social awkwardness and went and got changed in the toilets.

Appropriately swimsuited, we deposited our bags into the efficient cloakroom system and headed down the stairs towards the tubs. At first glance, the venue was larger than I thought, with around 16 hot tubs, and a screen at each end. However, once we were shown to our tub, it became clear that size was deceptive -yes, there were 16 tubs, but judging by how squished up the four people already in our tub looked, our addition
to the party was only going to make it more cosy.

This brings me on to the tubs themselves. You remember those paddling pools that either you or your really coll friend had as a child, with the inflatable edges that made such fun to slide along until somebody fell in the rosebush? Each hot tub was one of those, around 4 feet in diameter. We knew straight away, with our knees tucked under our chins, that it was going to be an uncomfortable couple of hours, what with 6 adults crammed into that space and all. There was no ledge or step to sit on, as in a normal hot tub, meaning that shorter members of the audience such as myself had to spend the whole time craning our necks to keep our heads above the water. There were also no bubbles. Now, I wasn't expecting the sort of hot tub you might find in a five star hotel. I'm reasonable. I know that this is a temporary set up. But the hot tubs were a massive disappointment, and by this time I was already thinking that if I had paid £35 for this experience, I would have felt ripped off.

A few minutes in, the film began. Up to this point, the atmosphere had been very noisy in the venue, with people chattering, laughing and screaming with their friends. Nothing wrong with that. But ten minutes into the film (Hot Tub Time Machine, in case you were wondering), I was still waiting for them all to shut up. It was so loud in there, that I could not hear a single word of the film. It was the sort of loud that caused the dinnerladies at school to grab the largest metal spoon they could find and bang it on the wooden canteen tables in a bid to get you all to shut up. I was getting so frustrated, that I was close to getting out of the tub, and in the end I ended up forgoing most of the film as I couldn't follow it, and simply people watching for a couple of hours. The lack of intervention by staff of HTC surprised my some what, but at the end of the day, everyone there was an adult.

However, about an hour and a half into the film (which still nobody was watching), things got boisterous. A couple of beer-bellied guys a few tubs over took it upon themselves to throw themselves, uninvited, from tub to tub. Their reign of terror ended when, predictably, they landed in our tub and did one of the other girls quite an injury. At this point, I was really shocked that not one of the numerous HTC staff -who were on hand throughout the film as they offer a waiter service - had tried to stop this clearly dangerous behaviour. It's one thing not wanting to be a killjoy, but it could have been a whole lot worse, and by this time, I just wanted to get out.

And as for the venue? Well, that was a bit of a disappointment. Although it was undercover, it wasn't actually underground, and looking at the fixtures and fittings, I'd say it's used regularly as a nightclub or gig venue, meaning that HTC is probably not the only way to gain access to it.

Overall, the whole thing was a frustrating, uncomfortable and not something I would repeat. As soon as the credits started rolling, we beat the hastiest retreat that we could - following the screening, a hot tub party began, and we certainly weren't hanging around for that.  Next time, I'll take a laptop into the bath. The electrocution risk may be greater, but that's a risk I'm willing to take to watch a film in peace.

Stories of a Shopkeeper at John Lewis

As I told y'all a few months back, John Lewis in Oxford Street is celebrating 150 years of the company with a shindig. And by shindig, I mean an exhibition of John Lewis memorabilia complete with faux shopfront and original book in which the taking from the first trading day were recorded.

"Sounds interesting", I thought, as I completely forgot that the exhibition even existed, until a few months later, when I managed to scrape in a visit mere days before it closed. Interesting, but you'd be pushed to spend more than half an hour there...


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Sprinkles ice cream and cakes, Southampton

If you ever find yourself strolling the streets of Southampton, particularly on a sunny day, step off the beaten track and head for the delight that is Sprinkles on QE2 Walk.

Don't be put off by the too-pink exterior of this corner-dwelling piece of heaven, as what awaits inside is something spectacular.
Sprinkles is an ice cream parlour, cupcake cafe. and all round diabetes-inducing eatery. It's somewhat tardis-like in that the American diner style seating inside is more than expected from the outside.
The ice cream counter is an absolute pleasure to peruse, although somewhat eradicates any chance of a queuing system as people gather round to get a good look. On the day we visited, there were 44 different flavours available, ranging from the ordinary (mint choc chip) to the extraordinary (tutti frutti, Kinder Bueno). The only other place I've ever seen that's come close to this variety and novelty of flavours is LICC in York, although LICC is a much smaller scale than Sprinkles.

So you select your ice cream choices and make your way along to the till to order and pay, but then you're faced with the cup cake counter. They aren't just cakes, but works of art, with cupcakes designed to look like sheep, monkeys, and even the Cookie Monster (complete with choc chip cookie mouth). I had a tip-off that the sheep is particularly good if you like butter cream, but I went for Cookie Monster, and had it boxed up to take home.

So if you're ever in Southampton with half an hour to spare, follow your nose to Sprinkles. But beware the come down from the sugar high -six hours on, I'm still waiting for it to kick in, but I know it's going to be bad.