27/02/14 - Make It Snappy!

I've always loved disposable cameras.  Back in the day, I used to get one for every family holiday and every youth theatre show week, and then I'd annoy everyone by running around and snapping unflattering photos while they weren't looking.  The last time I used one, I realised when I found the developed prints, was for a Sixth Form trip to London...so that's at least five years ago now.  The digital camera revolutionised the way we view personal photography and the development of phones with cameras that are just as good as any camera has changed it even further.  Imagine a party before the invention of the iPhone; you take a photo of your group of friends, carefully posed and smiling.  No one has the ability to look at it immediately and therefore there's no squeals of "Oh God, look at my hair, I look so fat, I'm blinking, ugh I hate it...take another one!" which inevitably leads to a fifteen minute photo shoot of near-identical pictures.  Instead, you have to wait until a good few days after the party, which means you can use all that retaking-photo time to actually enjoy the evening.  Then you get the fun of all getting together to laugh at the less flattering photos when there's nothing you can do about them.  Aah...simpler times...

It was something I was already thinking about, having unearthed a whole batch of old school photos hiding in their paper wallet under my bed.  But then I read this blog post and I was inspired.  Here I am, mourning the loss of analogue photo technology...when it doesn't have to be a loss at all!  Disposable cameras are still readily available and not exactly expensive...what's to stop me from bringing them back into style?

So the plan is to carry a disposable camera around with me everywhere I go and whenever I feel like it, take a couple of snaps.  The point is to make the camera last several weeks and not fill it up in one place, so the delayed gratification of getting the prints back will take even longer than normal.  The memories will come flooding back and it's so much more fun having physical copies of pictures.  When I get the film developed, I'll do another blog post reminiscing on all the fun times I captured!

If any of you fancy joining in on this little challenge, please do...link your blog in the comments and I look forward to seeing the photos you take!

25/02/14 - The Fairy Tale Tag

I was tagged by the lovely Laura to complete this tag and of course I jumped at the chance!  Everyone knows that I like to inject a little bit of magic and sparkle into every occasion, so this tag is perfect for me.

Snow White: Do you consider yourself beautiful?
Sadly, I don't think I know anyone who could honestly answer this question 'yes'...and even if they tried, people would certainly judge them for it!  There are days when I'm much happier in my skin than others, but obviously there are things I want to change.

Sleeping Beauty: How many hours do you sleep at night?
Normally around 9 hours...I like a lie-in but force myself to get up even if I don't strictly need to or I'll spend all day in bed!  I don't function well without sleep, I get grouchy.

Cinderella: Do you have a curfew?
Not any more, although I am still in the habit of telling my parents that I "won't be too late" (i.e. home after midnight) as I leave the house and then rocking up whenever I feel like it.  Oops.

Rapunzel: Do you love being outside?
I used to hate it, but I've recently developed much more of a love for the outdoors...even in the hideous British weather we've been having recently.

Red Riding Hood: Do you trust strangers easily?
If I answer 'yes' then it makes it sound like I go around giving my home address and PIN number to every third person...it's not quite that bad!  But I've always been a very open person and find no problem at all in making conversation with strangers, so I suppose I kind of have to say yes.

The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids (incidentally, one that I have never heard of!): Are you easily fooled?
I like to think not.  I'm quite a good judge of character, so I'm fine on that front.  I am, however, incredibly easy to wind up...my family get endless fun out of playing devil's advocate in arguments with me, if that counts!

Beauty and the Beast: What makes someone beautiful in your eyes?
A good heart (and if that doesn't sound like the answer of a fairytale princess, I don't know what does!)...generosity, kindness and honesty all fall under this heading.  Also, passion.  I like to see someone's face lighting up with enthusiasm for something they love.  I find that beautiful to watch.

The Little Mermaid: What would you sacrifice for love?
Every relationship - be it romantic, familial or as friends - requires a little bit of give-and-take.  I think there's a limit to how much you should be willing to sacrifice, but it directly relates to the amount your partner is willing to sacrifice.  If one of you is giving up a lot more than the other, that imbalance can be unhealthy.

The Frog Prince: What do you find disgusting?
Rudeness and a bad attitude.  There's just no need for it.  Also, I am no good with vomit.  I have been known to abandon friends who are throwing up for fear of following suit.

Jack and the Beanstalk: Do you have any plants?
Nope.  I bought a pointsetter over Christmas and watered it a grand total of...once.  That poor thing.

Puss in Boots: Do you have any pets?  If not, do you want them?
Currently, I am pet-less.  Over the course of my life, I've had several different ones, including hamsters, fish, a budgie and a rat...but I don't currently find myself craving one.  I'm going to make a blanket statement that will make me mighty unpopular, but: I don't really like animals.  They freak me out a bit.  Sorry.

Bluebeard: What is your weak point?
Overthinking and trying too hard to please other people.  The two often go hand-in-hand.

Pinocchio: What is your biggest wish?
To be happy, of course.  To have a fulfilling job and to be surrounded by people I love.

Peter Pan: What is your mental age?
My mum has a theory that everyone is born a certain age and when you get there, that will be the age at which you're most comfortable.  I think mine was eighteen/nineteen.  It's all downhill from here!

The Star Money (again, this is totally new to me): What is your most valuable possession?
I don't really own anything that is particularly valuable in terms of money, but I'm a big one for sentimentality which makes it hard to narrow down.  I'm going to say my watch which was a 21st birthday present from my brother...after I lost the one he got me for my 18th.  I was distraught when I realised that I'd lost it and even worse when I had to admit it to him.

Gold Mary and Pitch Mary: Are you a hard worker or a lazy one?
It very much depends on my mood and the tasks I have to carry out.

The Snow Queen: Who is your best friend?  What would you do for them?
I couldn't name a single best friend; I have some very close friends from different areas of my life and I'd struggle to choose between them (y'all know who you are).  I'm certainly someone who tries to go above and beyond for their friends, so there's not much I wouldn't do for my nearest and dearest.

The Princess and the Pea: Are you sensitive?
Oh God yes.  Yes, so much.  Overly so.

Godfather Death: What qualities make a good parent?
The idea of having children terrifies me.  Like, it is THE scariest thing I can imagine.  I think the key is selflessness...being happy to and able to devote your whole life to looking after this tiny thing that has no choice but to totally rely on you.  I am far too selfish and far too concerned about letting people down. 

The Twelve Dancing Princesses: Do you like parties?
Love 'em.  A chance to get glammed up and have a boogie, possibly with a promise of buffet food?  Heaven.

The Emperor's New Clothes: Do you care a lot about your clothing?
I don't think I do.  I love a new dress as much as the next girl, but I live my life in the same leggings-and-jumper combination.  Comfort is key.

The Brave Little Tailor: Do you consider yourself brave?
Until about two years ago, the answer to this would have been a resounding 'no, nope, not in a million years, God no, who do you think I am?' but now, I'm going to say...sometimes.  Which is a big step forward for me.

If you haven't already completed this tag, please do and link me in the comments!  It's a really fun set of questions with an adorable theme.

20/02/14 - 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' at Manchester Opera House

It's been a little while since I did a proper theatre review and that's because sadly it's been a little while since I've been to the theatre.  But I broke this streak on Monday night with a little jaunt over to Manchester.  I was there anyway for a job interview (which went very well thank you, I have a follow-up interview tomorrow) so we decided that in order to dodge the extortionate online booking fee, I could nip into the box office and pick up some tickets for that evening.  And boy oh boy, was it worth spending all afternoon wandering aimlessly around the city centre until my feet were sore.  Even the weather couldn't dampen my mood, because that evening I got to settle down in front of the hilarious new musical which will be opening in the West End in March; Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the Musical.

If the title means nothing to you, I suggest you get yourself - well, I was going to say "down to your local Blockbuster" but I suppose the equivalent these days is "on Netflix"...anyway, get yourself to wherever you watch films and indulge yourself in the original 1988 movie.  It's a rip-roaring comedy starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, and it's a real treat.  As big fans, my family and I were never going to pass up the chance to see this onstage.  If you're up North, I would certainly recommend grabbing tickets now before it moves to the Savoy Theatre...the Manchester Opera House is a lovely theatre and obviously the prices are much more affordable!  And of course, there's the joy of knowing that you've seen this wonderful show before the London audiences.

The plot revolves around two con-men who become rivals as they each attempt to swindle a young American heiress out of 50,000 dollars.  That's the basic premise, but the actuality of the story is so much more entertaining than my pathetic one-sentence summary.  This show is jam-packed with hilarious japery, catchy songs and toe-tapping dance numbers.  There's romance, cases of mistaken identity, some fabulous disguises and it's generally just the perfect recipe for a fun evening out at the theatre.  I love a show that is so unashamedly good fun and doesn't take itself too seriously, and this certainly fits the bill there.

Robert Lindsay was incredible in the role originated by Michael Caine, perfectly encapsulating the sophistication of experienced conman Lawrence Jameson who makes his living preying on wealthy ladies holidaying on the French Riviera.  Obviously you can rely on Robert Lindsay to give a stunning performance, full of suave charm and the occasional dance number heavily featuring the flinging around of hats.  I have to admit to having the tiniest of not so tiny age-inappropriate crushes on Robert and if my parents hadn't been with me, I definitely would have been at the stage door with all the middle-aged fangirls at the end of the performance.  No shame, he's amazing and really shone in this role.

Rufus Hound, who arguably had a harder job in filling Steve Martin's rather sizeable comedic shoes and certainly has less stage experience, gave an energetic and incredibly enjoyable performance as Freddy Benson, an American whose swindling is in a rather different and certainly cruder league than Jameson's.  Hound's accent was very consistent and convincing, and his singing was much better than I'd expected especially considering he was in direct comparison with such a seasoned professional.  His comic timing was impeccable (which you'd expect from a comedian really) and he generally impressed on all counts.  The memorable - some might say iconic - scene in which his character takes on the role of Lawrence's bizarre younger brother 'Ruprecht' in order to frighten away an over-attentive female admirer lost nothing from being accompanied by a song and it still remains one the funniest things I've seen...seriously, watch the film for some absolute gold from Steve Martin.  Hound certainly didn't disappoint.

The show's leading ladies come in the form of Samantha Bond and Katherine Kingsley.  Both performed beautifully and Kingsley in particular showed her prowess as a versatile comic actress with a serious set of lungs on her!  Of the two, I was much more familiar with Bond's work when I sat down in the theatre, but both women were incredible and I was thoroughly blown away by the talent on display.

A special mention must be made of John Marquez who plays Andre, Jameson's accomplice in his swindling.  This role was much expanded from the film including a new romantic subplot, and I really enjoyed his performance.  I thought the character was really well-played and his duet with Samantha Bond, 'Like Zis/Like Zat', was probably my favourite song in the show.

You can find the official website here and I highly recommend that if you're around Manchester at all and have a spare evening, you should get yourself down the Opera House for an evening of all-singing, all-dancing entertainment.  You'll be in for a bloody good time, I promise.

Are there any favourite films you'd like to see staged as musicals?  Let me know in the comments!

15/02/14 - Exploring Liverpool: Salt House Tapas

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I suppose this is something of a Valentine's Day edition of my new 'Exploring Liverpool' series (you can find last month's post here), but not really.  Heather and I had initially intended to do the whole 'single girls on V-Day' thing of treating ourselves to a dinner-and-drinks date night but of course 14th February gets booked up pretty bloody quickly, so we went on the day before instead...which is apparently known as Desperation Day, a name I do not appreciate.  I much prefer the Parks and Rec version known as Galentine's Day, a chance to celebrate your best lady friends. 

In a bid to continue our mission to discover the best of Liverpool's independent eateries, we headed to Salt House Tapas on Hanover Street.  Just as it says on the tin, it serves up a range of fresh and exciting tapas at fairly reasonable prices.  I love tapas because I'm a big fan of meals which involve sharing.  I always want to sample everyone else's food when I eat out, and the idea of tapas makes that much more socially acceptable.  The atmosphere of Salt House was informal and comfortable and from the moment we sat down, I knew I was going to like it.  All the staff were very friendly, but the waiter who seated us was particularly attentive and chatty throughout the evening.  I always prefer that to surly waiting staff, and the experience was really enhanced by feeling so welcome.

Our evening started - as, in my opinion, every evening should - with cocktails and bread.  The bread was lovely and fresh, served with balsamic oil and aioli (£2.95), and the cocktail menu was fairly extensive and more varied than you get in some restaurants.  Heather had a Salt House Berry Bellini and I went for a Sloe Gin Sour.

Unfortunately the lovely atmospheric lighting made taking photos on my ancient camera a bit difficult, but it did mean that I got to experiment with my new phone camera.  Sorry they're not the best quality!

We decided to share a selection of five dishes, the best way to get a taste for the menu and for Heather to try some new foods she wouldn't necessarily want to eat a whole plate of by herself.  We ordered everything at the same time, but it came to the table as and when it was ready which I liked as it means that your dinner is definitely hot and fresh rather than sitting out in the kitchen waiting for the other dishes to be ready.  Heather got the roasted Iberico pork served with wild mushroom, tarragon cream sauce and kale (£6.95) - unfortunately I didn't get a photo of it before she tucked in, because apparently it was very tasty (obviously I can't judge that) - and gin cured salmon with cucumber, fennel, blood orange and dill oil (£5.50).  She wasn't a massive fan of the salmon, so that became fair game for sharing!

I ordered the sizzling prawns cooked in garlic, chilli and olive oil (£6.50and boy, were they sizzling!  The photo doesn't quite do it justice, but these bad boys were hot.  And delicious.  Perfectly cooked and seasoned, they were a real treat which we both really enjoyed.

I also had deep fried Monte Enebro goat's cheese with honey and red beetroot crisps (£6.95).  There was also some lovely beetroot-y stuff underneath the cheese and overall, it was possibly my favourite dish that we tried.  As soon as I stuck my fork into it, the lovely gooey cheesiness oozed out and was perfectly complimented by the sweetness of the beetroot.  That's my idea of heaven.  Who needs a boyfriend when you have deep fried cheese?  Not me.

We also shared a portion of patatas bravas (£4.50) and there was a lot of dipping in and out of each dish, sampling a bit of everything.  Heather learned that she doesn't really like smoked salmon but that goat's cheese isn't as bad as she thought it would be after the initial very cheesy hit!  

As we ate, we sipped our cocktails and chatted about anything and everything, giggling away the whole time.  I had a couple of embarrassing moments, one involving a stubborn prawn and one where I knocked the quirky little cutlery tin very noisily onto the floor.  In some places, I would have been utterly mortified but the atmosphere was so informal and chilled that I just scooped it back up and ducked my head over my drink in case anyone was staring, rather than having to hide in the toilets!

Then it was time for dessert and more cocktails.  This came in the form of churros with cinnamon sugar and a chocolate dipping pot (£4.95) accompanied by an Aperol spritz and a basil mojito.  The churros were utterly divine, crunchy and sweet, and the sauce was rich and not too sweet which can be a problem with more synthetic chocolate sauces.  This one was the real deal.

Aperol is a bitter orange aperitif and has a very distinctive flavour that isn't to everyone's taste, but I loved the combination of the liqueur with prosecco.  The basil mojito was really refreshing due to not being as sweet as mint tends to be.  The word we found best to describe the flavour was 'garden' but in the best possible way.  A lovely delicious alcoholic garden.  Perfect.

Overall, I was very impressed with the whole experience.  Everything was delivered to the table promptly, the staff were very welcoming and all the food was of an incredibly high quality.  When the bill arrived, we agreed that we maybe could have economised on certain areas of the meal, but everything was so delicious that we couldn't bring ourselves to regret spending more than we'd intended to.  It would certainly be possible to have a satisfying meal at Salt House Tapas on a budget if money was a concern.

We popped over to Alma de Cuba (which I mentioned in more detail in my last Exploring Liverpool post) for another drink before hitting the road.  As ever, the cocktails were delightful and there was live music which is always a nice addition to an evening.  The whole thing was the perfect way to celebrate pre-Valentine's Day in my opinion; it should be about love of all varieties rather than just the romantic kind!  My actual 14th February was spent lounging on the sofa in the depths of a cold and watching TV with my parents...what a wild life I lead.

Where is your favourite place to get tapas?  Have you ever been to Salt House?  Let me know in the comments!

13/02/14 - It's Never Dull in Hull

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Stepping off the train in Hull, I always get a wave of nostalgia.  Actually, it starts even before the train pulls in.  I don't know if you're familiar with the Humber Bridge, but it looks a little something like this:

Not my photo, we all know my camera isn't that good.

...and for some reason, it just makes me very very happy whenever I see it.  I associate seeing the Humber Bridge with returning to university for a new term, something that I always loved; the anticipation for all the fun in store, the excitement to see my friends again, the mild apprehension when thinking about all the deadlines that would be coming up.  It still brings a smile to my face, even though it means something different to me now.

So I hopped off the train, heaving my suitcase (yes, I do need a suitcase for four days) with me and promptly headed off to get glammed up for a Gatsby themed house party.  As always, the girls hosting really went all out with the party decorations and an amazing night was had by all.

I wasn't feeling quite so spritely the next morning after consuming rather a lot of gin...well, you have to get into the spirit of a themed party, don't you?  But a pint of lemonade and a big old portion of curly fries later, and I was feeling more human.

Not the world's best photo but just looking at it makes me feel satisfied.

The Friday evening saw yet more delicious food but unfortunately I didn't get any photos.  A combination of catching up with people I hadn't seen for several months and some very low ambient lighting made it a near impossibility.  Rest assured, the food was photo-worthy.  I had a halloumi and mushroom burger with a side of amazing handcut chips...and another side of cheese fries.  Sometimes carbs are all you need.

Saturday daytime was spent lounging in bed and bemoaning how much we ate the night before in between creating the finishing touches for that evening's fancy dress costumes.  The theme was Disney and with a Performing Arts Society, you're guaranteed lots of creative costume ideas.  Have you ever played a Disney-themed drinking game surrounded by fairies, princesses and the occasional villain?  Trust me, it's fun but it can get a little rowdy.  I think the staff of Wetherspoons kind of hated us by the end of the evening.

Meg and Hades
The Toy Story aliens
The cast of Peter Pan
A fantastic night was had by all and yet another pub lunch was necessary the next day...although I found myself unable to face the idea of more chips and I may possibly never eat them again.  Not any time soon, anyway.  After more lounging in bed and catching up on a lot of TV on Sunday evening, I headed back to the train station on Monday with a curd tart in my bag (a Yorkshire delicacy that you just can't get over here) and a need to sleep for the next two days.  I was tired and achey and my purse felt considerably lighter, but I had an incredibly fun weekend and really enjoyed catching up with some people I haven't seen for far too long.

If you were going to a Disney fancy dress event, who would you go as? Let me know in the comments!

05/02/14 - Long Time No See

You may have noticed that I've taken something of an unscheduled hiatus from blogging recently.  Some people might have been a little relieved and equally some people might be happy to see this post pop up in their Bloglovin feed.  I'm hoping for the latter.  Either way I'm back and I'm determined to be back for good, like good old Take That would want.  And just while you thought you were happy to see me again, I'm going to have a bit of a ranty ramble.  Bear with me.  I won't be offended if you stop reading now.

2014 began with me heading back to the local Job Centre to admit that I am, yet again, 'between employment opportunities' (it sounds so much better than jobless, doesn't it?).  After finally having something of a routine and a regular salary back in my life over Christmas, this feels like a couple of rather large steps backwards for me.  As determined as I've been not to let it get me down, my motivation has been at a rather low ebb recently and unfortunately my blogging suffered.  I didn't intend to take a break from writing things for my lovely readers, but as my motivation skipped its way out of the window it must have convinced my inspiration to go with it.  Every time I clicked the Create New Post button, I'd sit and stare at the blank screen before closing the window and distracting myself with another half hour stint of mindless YouTube-watching.  A combination of unemployment, friends who are either busy or skint or in absentia, and generally awful weather (come on England, let's have some spring already!) means I've been rather confined to my house and it's taken something of a toll on my mental state.  I try and go for a walk every day even if it's just for twenty minutes, but the grey skies and horizontal rain make it hard to drag myself away from my duvet.  And when I'm cooped up, I find it hard to be productive.  Being stuck in front of my laptop has to be a choice for me to be happy with it; if it's because I'm given no other option, it loses some of its appeal.

Tumblr just gets me.
However, things are looking up.  Partly it's because I've decided that I've done enough wallowing.  Moping won't get me a job.  I can feel time ticking away and it's a little bit scary to think that it's so easy to waste an entire month feeling sorry for myself.  Also, blogging is something that I love and when you love something, you don't just shy away from it when it gets a little more difficult.  So I'm determined to work harder to be creative with my posts and try and develop some kind of regular schedule.

I may actually - shock horror - have some things to blog about very soon.  I am going to be in Canada for two whole weeks in March and will also be taking a weekend jaunt to Seattle within that time.  For someone who hasn't left the country in about three years and has never been further than Belgium, this is ludicrously exciting for me.  Even though the flights aren't quite booked and a couple of deets still need finalising, I'm already forming a packing plan as well as an extensive list of things I want to do/buy while I'm there, and restraining myself from reading the recently downloaded books on my Kindle that I'm saving for the plane.  I will be reunited with my gorgeous Rachel for the first time in months, so this trip is definitely going to be one worth writing about.  Start getting yourself geared up for some travel-related posts coming soon!

Vancouver, here I come!
Even before my Canadian adventure, I'm determined to do some things to tell you about.  Tomorrow I'm embarking back to Hullywood for a weekend of Disney-themed debauchery as part of Old Girls' weekend (a name I object to; I much prefer Graduate Girls, I refuse to be old yet!) so I imagine there will be a post next week when I've recovered from that.  I'm also in the process of forming Valentine's Day plans - namely a hot date with a bestie, some tapas and lots of cocktails - and that will form the second part of my monthly 'Exploring Liverpool' series...if one post and one potential post can be called a series.  And then there's at least one birthday night out coming up in the next few weeks.  I'm hoping that having some solid interesting things to write about will help inspire me to keep writing, even between exciting occasions. 

If you made it this far through the post, I commend you and I'll leave you with a cheery picture of myself, my little buddy Sarah and her boyf rocking some 90s nostalgia at a recent fancy dress birthday event...just a little proof that January hasn't been totally grim.  I'm just something of a drama queen sometimes.

Ash, Pikachu and Misty are ready to hit the town! Don't judge the pose, I was in character.

I want to say huge thank you to everyone who has stuck with my little blog...it's what makes me want to push myself to write! 

Let me know in the comments if there's anything you'd particularly like to see from me in the coming weeks and months!