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.

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

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Climbing Forest Hill

Phwoar: as Wetherspoon's pubs go, this one's a looker.
They weren't messing about when they named Forest Hill. On the day of my inaugural visit, back in early 2016, heavy rain had transformed the eponymous peak into a fast-flowing river, sweeping up everything in its path and hurtling it towards the Overground station waiting at the bottom to swallow it all like a ravenous, open-mouthed monster. My boots never recovered from that particular incident, but my explorer's spirit did.
Fortunately the weather was marginally better for my more recent visit, a grey but mild Saturday afternoon in January -- but the hill wasn't any less steep.

Most people arrive in Forest Hill via the aforementioned Overground station. From here, it's a quick hop across the ever-lively South Circular (sounding romantic already, isn't it?) and the main hill is ahead of you. If you've got time, head south along Dartmouth Road and take a wander around the independent shops and delis before returning to the South Circ to tackle The Hill.

The Sylvan Post, a pub that used to be a Post Office, makes full use of its remnant features. It's an Antic pub, naturally.
Just a little way up the hill, take the time to veer off to the right on Havelock Walk, a mews-style back street where old meets modern, cobbles overlap with tarmac, old brick warehouses marry with modern, concrete studios. You'll still hear the rumble of the South Circular, but the combination of cobbles and street art makes it hard to tell whether you've stumbled down a north England street in the 1960s (think Billy Elliot) or the most hipster of 21st century Barcelona barrios. Different music tumbles out of the windows of each of the studios, as each artist works to their own rhythm. Best of all are the cherubs, each decorated to a different theme, hanging off of balconies and out of first floor windows of almost every property on the street,uniting them in a way that their varying architecture cannot.

A stroll down Havelock Walk
The Teapot offers a delectable (and highly Instagrammable) range of cakes, but I'm not here to tell you where to eat in the area -- there's a fab article here that does that (#cheekyplug). Worth a mention for the architecture, though, is Wetherspoon's -- The Capitol. I'll leave you to make up your own mind about the culinary offerings, but this hulking beast of Art Deco magnificence (top picture) opened as a cinema in the 1920s. The inside stays as true to its cinematic heritage as the outside does, short of having an actual cinema screen on the bar. If you like the look of it, make haste -- it may or may not be closing soon.

Onwards and upwards .Shortly after passing Sainsbury's on your right, the hill seems to plateau out, but don't be fooled -- the climb continues around that bend ahead of you. You'll pass an Esso garage should you need refuelling of a different kind, and then you'll see it. The clock tower. The holy grail. The Horniman:

The museum sits at the peak of the hill.
 The Horniman Museum is the gem in Forest Hill's crown, and is one of my favourite London museums for several reasons; it's free (although donations are encouraged); it has all manner of animal and natural history artefacts; it does wonderful temporary exhibitions (dinosaurs and nature photography being two of my recent favourites); there's an excellent farmers' market on Saturdays; it's only 30 minutes walk scaling the sheer cliff face from my flat; but best of all are the grounds. Fields and manicured gardens and farm animals all blend together in a little pocket of nature overlooking London. It's like perching on a fluffy, green cloud, looking down over the city and beyond.

The bandstand sits at the centre of the Horniman's gardens; note the London skyline to the left.
Ever been to Forest Hill? Know somewhere decent that I've missed? Let me know in the comments.

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

Monday, 2 January 2017

Beauty product review: Bleach London The Big Pink hair dye

Anyone who has had so much as a sniff around the rest of this blog knows I'm not a beauty blogger. My make-up is done in under 60 seconds each morning (and yes, you can usually tell) and I'm certainly not one for buying expensive hair or beauty products. But I fancied a change for the new year, and that change came in the form of a new, slightly out-there (for me, anyway) hair colour.

I've had a hankering for candyfloss pink hair for a couple of years now (think Amelia Lily in her X-Factor time) but it's a tricky one to pull off. I certainly couldn't cope with a full head of it -- I'd be feeling the need to skip down the street and sing songs from the musicals as I went about my business. So I decided to take the dip-dye approach, and when the post-Christmas sales turned out to be disappointing, I consoled myself with a bottle of Bleach London The Big Pink hair colourant (£5, Boots). It claims to fade out in 2-10 washes, so if it wasn't right it didn't matter - it wouldn't be hanging around for too long.

The product was gloopier and less runny than expected, and a rather flourescent pink when it came out of the bottle. The bottom three inches or so of my hair was doused in the stuff, as per the instructions, and then began the 15 minute wait - a shorter time than other dyes I've used in the past. When the rinsing out came, the water was a shade of pink that would put Bagpuss to shame.

Time for the big reveal:

Well, as you can see, not quite the result I was hoping for. My hair has a slight pink hue if you look at it in the right light, but other than that, a disappointing result. I guess my hair was too dark to start with, but I'm reluctant to get into bleaching my hair. If anyone knows any other products that will turn medium-brown hair a candyfloss pink, please let me know in the comments below.

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