You may go anywhere you wish in the castle, except where the doors are locked, where of course you will not wish to go.

I’ve never been a fan of the whole “date night” concept (Or phrase. Sounds so icky.). But if we were to have a date night, last night would have been pretty much the perfect one. We started with dinner in Tayyabs – if you live in London and you haven’t yet had the lamb chops from Tayyabs, then shame on you. What have you been doing with your life? Once we’d eaten so much we couldn’t move, we rolled ourselves and our curry-stained fingers over to Wilton’s Music Hall to watch the performance of Mark Bruce’s Dracula.

I’m quite obsessed with learning about the rich history of East London, and Wilton’s Music Hall is one of the gems of the area. It originally opened in the 18th Century as an alehouse, becoming known as “The Mahogany Bar” from around 1826 – apparently because the landlord was the first to install a mahogany bar and fittings in his pub. From around 1850, when it was bought by John Wilton, The Mahogany Bar became a Music Hall – with a large concert room in the back, entertaining punters with stars such as George Ware, and Champagne Charlie – and even, according to some sources, was the location of the first performance of the Can-Can in London (after which it was promptly banned).

Following its incarnation as a music hall, it then passed into the hands of the East London Methodist Mission in 1888, and it remained as a mission hall for the next 70 years. After another reincarnation as a rag sorting depot – and surviving war, fire and floods – the building is now seeing a new life as a performance and arts venue – you may have seen its recent appearance starring alongside Robert Downey Junior in Sherlock Holmes 2 –  and you can even get married here!

This visit was the first time I had seen a performance at Wilton’s – although I have previously joined one of their fantastic and informative free tours – and the show I was seeing fitted in perfectly with the general atmosphere of stylish Victorian era dereliction (unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the hall due to my phone battery giving up at the first sign of actual use, but there are plenty on the website here)

The show we saw was Mark Bruce’s modern dance retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Which is probably the only modern dance performance I can realistically get my boyfriend to come along to, seeing as it’s got Vampires in it. It was an absolutely stunning show – really atmospheric, with smoke, candlelight, and shadowy figures appearing suddenly out of the dimly lit corners of the room. Bruce Goddard – who played Dracula himself – completely blew me away with his performance, completely inhabiting the character, and even eliciting some laughs, and a little sympathy by the end. And I’ll never forget his eyes.

I also thought Kristin McGuire, who played Lucy Westenra, was excellent – particularly in the second half as she portrayed Lucy’s (SPOILER ALERT) change, following her visits from Dracula. To accompany the dancing, the music was pleasingly eclectic, with some proper old school music hall classics, and a soft-shoe shuffle to boot.

I couldn’t fault this show at all – even as someone who doesn’t know much about modern dance, I could completely follow the story (although admittedly, I am familiar with it), and the emotions portrayed were very real and the atmosphere was utterly thrilling – at several points during the show I felt something move across my neck – it was literally the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, as the creepy ambience took hold of me. I’d recommend it to everyone – although I think it’s completely sold out at Wilton’s, unfortunately, it is going to Oxford and Frome following its stint in London. See here for more details.

And if you can’t get to see Dracula, then do pay a visit to Wilton’s if you can, and have a drink in The Mahogany Bar – it’s a fantastic venue, and there’s nowhere quite like it.

Today’s quote is from Dracula, by Bram Stoker 

 

Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.

I was really struggling with reading The Finkler Question recently – just feeling that I didn’t get it. All the quotes at the beginning of the book say how funny it is – The Guardian even calls it dazzling! – and yet the most I could raise was a wry smile. So I was extremely chuffed when three of the books I’d ordered from the library came in and I could legitimately put Howard Jacobson aside and work my way through those (My excuse for shameful book abandonment? Books from the library are mine for a limited time only, and so have to be read first).

The first on the list was The Serpentine Affair by Tina Seskis. This tells the story of seven University friends who, 25 years on from graduation, meet every year to catch-up, fall out, and make-up. The book focusses on one fateful picnic in Regent’s Park, which ends in tragedy, and jumps back and forth between that night, and its repercussions, and earlier years in the story of their friendship. It’s a gripping book, well told, with lots of twists and turns to keep you interested, and I devoured it in just a couple of sittings.

The next book on the list was Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I’d head good things about this one, but given how much I’d enjoyed the last book, I thought the chances of reading two awesome books in a row extremely unlikely (it’s the statistician in me, I guess). However, I absolutely loved this book, and will be leaping to recommend it any time I hear one of my friends (or, indeed, any passing stranger) wonder out loud what they should read next. Another book with an unusual structure – this one told mainly through letters and emails – it tells the story of 15 year old Bee – daughter of Bernadette, a former recipient of the Macarthur Genius Grant, and Elgin, a Microsoft whizz – and her quest to find her mother when she suddenly goes missing.

Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.

This is a really funny book (as you’d expect from a book by a former SNL and Arrested Development writer), at times touching, and extremely engaging throughout. I have a bit of a soft spot for  books from the perspective of a precociously intelligent child (See also: Special Topics in Calamity Physics and The Fault in Our Stars), and this one doesn’t disappoint, with Bee being an extremely likeable and intelligent narrator. I started reading this on a Thursday evening tube journey, and finished it in my lunchbreak on Friday. Get this book, read this book, then tell all your friends.

And now I’m onto the third book. A totally different kettle of fish altogether – Fatherland by Robert Harris. I’ve not read any Robert Harris before, so wasn’t sure what to expect. This is his debut novel – a murder-mystery-conspiracy-thriller type, but with the intriguing twist that it’s set in Berlin in 1964, in an alternative world where Germany won the second world war. I’ve not finished this one yet, but so far so hooked – I’m fairly racing through it, and can’t wait to see where it’s going to end up.

So, I’m feeling pretty pleased with my latest library haul. What are you reading at the moment?

Today’s quote is from Lemony Snicket in Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid.

Rhythm is something you either have or don’t have, but when you have it, you have it all over.

Did you ever read that book “The Yes Man” by Danny Wallace – or see the film with Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel (quick aside: Jim Carrey (born 1962) and Zooey Deschanel (born 1980)? What were the film-makers thinking.). Well, in it, the main protagonist (i.e. Danny Wallace) decides to take control of his humdrum life, and turn it around by never saying no to an opportunity, no matter how strange or uncomfortable.

‘I, Danny Wallace, being of sound mind and body, do hereby write this manifesto for my life. I swear I will be more open to opportunity. I swear I will live my life taking every available chance. I will say Yes to every favour, request, suggestion and invitation. I WILL SWEAR TO SAY YES WHERE ONCE I WOULD SAY NO.’

Now, I can’t say I follow this approach to the letter (sometimes a girl just needs to sit on her ass and watch some Kardashian Kar Krash), but I do think there’s something in it – a way to open up your life to new experiences, rather than just the same old routine. Which is how I found myself performing in the Olympic Stadium, with Ian McKellan and Stephen Hawking just feet away – and why my neighbours have to suffer through endless evenings of me practising the D7 to G ukulele chord change.

And it is also how I found myself enclosed after hours in a work meeting room with five others, as I attempted to learn the basics of African Drumming.

The Djembe drum. (Image from Wikipedia)

The drums we were playing were called the “Djembe”, which comes from the Malian saying “Anke djé, anke bé” which translates to “everyone gather together in peace”. We learnt the three basic sounds: bass, tone, and slap, which have low, medium, and high pitch, respectively – and practiced using these three sounds in some “question and answer” rhythms, and to keep a basic rhythm going whilst our teacher got all fancy over the top of it.

Oh the glamour of Government meeting rooms.

We also had a good bash at the Dundun drum. He easily played a rhythm on all three by himself – but we struggled just wielding one each. Not natural drummers, any of us.

Our very talented (and patient) teacher was Ernest Kwame Obeng, who is originally from Ghana but now based in Brighton. He has worked as a choreographer on BBC’s Strictly African Dance, and has been an integral practitioner at Womad International Festival of Music, Arts and Dance, Drumcamp, and other leading drum and dance camps and residencies in the UK. If you want to find out more – or have a go yourself, visit his website.

My neighbours will no doubt be pleased to learn that it won’t join the ukulele in my regular repertoire of instruments.

Today’s quote is from the King – Elvis Presley.

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Not only do I agree with the assertion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I would go further and say that it has the power to make or break a weekend. A good breakfast of french toast, or pancakes, or huevos rancheros, or just a full English (I could go on) can really set you up for an awesome day of fun in a way that soggy cereal or a limp piece of toast really just doesn’t. 

Blogging's just a excuse for me to show off my new pink scales, if I'm honest with you.

Blogging’s just a excuse for me to show off my new pink scales, if I’m honest with you.

Unfortunately, in the week I don’t the luxury of time to have sit down to such a feast (or rather: I choose my duvet over eggs), and have to resort to breakfast hunched over my desk whilst desperately trying to catch up with emails and hoping no one talks to me until I at least have my coffee in my hand.

There are things I can do to soften that blow – and when I discovered this homemade chocolate coconut granola recipe in the Vintage Tea Party recipe book by the elegantly named Angel Adoree, I knew that I would be breakfasting on this for years to come. It’s really easy to make, chockful of goodness, but with a side portion of sin. Like all the best things in life.

Granola a go go.

Granola a go go.

Ingredients:

240g (8 1/2 oz) rolled oats

175g (6oz) flaked almonds

70g (2 1/2 oz) shredded unsweetened coconut

70g (2 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar

40g (1 1/2 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder

90ml (3fl oz) honey

50ml (2fl oz) vegetable oil

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 120 deg C

2. In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients up to and including the sugar.

3. In a separate bowl, mix all the rest of the ingredients together.

4. Combine the 2 bowls, then pour onto two lined baking sheets.

5. Put in the oven for an hour and a quarter – stir even 15 minutes or so, to stop it baking together in one big lump.

6. Serve up with yoghurt and fresh fruit. Start your day!

I normally also throw in a few handfuls of whatever selection of nuts and seeds I have in my cupboards (pumpkin seeds work really well), and I have only just found somewhere near me that sells shredded coconut – although it says not to, I have made it with dessicated coconut several times, and no one has died as yet. So the moral of this story is, to make granola you can chuck a load of things you like together, mix it with honey and cocoa, bake it, et voila. Good, eh?

 Today’s quote is from the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

I shall leave this city not less but more beautiful than I found it.

This weekend we escaped from our den of shamefully unpacked boxes (only 4 more to go!), and ventured out into the real world to go to the last day of the Richard Rogers “Inside Out” exhibit in the Royal Academy.

If you’ve not heard of him before (I hadn’t!), Richard Rogers is the architect responsible for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Lloyds building in London, and the Millennium Dome. If you live in London, you’ll also be aware of his current project – the aptly nicknamed “cheesegrater” (actually “The Leadenhall Building”), which is currently creeping up into our skyline.

A model of the "cheesegrater", currently going up in Leadenhall.

A model of the “cheesegrater”, currently going up in Leadenhall.

The exhibition was excellent – it really packed a lot in to a relatively small space, starting with details of Rogers’ ethos, and including interesting details such as books that had influenced him or personal mementoes such as a set of personalised coloured pencils gifted him by the architect Norman Foster for his 70th birthday, a previous work partner and great friend.

 “In “open-minded” spaces we are readier to meet people’s gaze and participate. These spaces give us something in common, bring together diverse sections of society and breed a sense of tolerance, awareness, identity and mutual respect”

This rather confident young man was hanging out in the Bordeaux Law Courts.

This rather confident young man was hanging out in the Bordeaux Law Courts.

His work tends to create a lot of controversy – not everyone likes his industrial aesthetic. Including, it seems, Prince Charles, who said – referring to Rogers’ proposals to redevelop Paternoster Square, near St Pauls “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe – when it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble.” I, however, am a fan of the National Theatre (designed by Sir Denys Lasdun), which according to Prince Charles is “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”, so I think I’m on the side of Rogers, rather than our future King. The Centre Pompidou is one of my favourite buildings in Paris – both for its brutal inside-out appearance, and the great social piazza that slopes gently down to the entrance. When I lived in Paris, I used to spend a lot of time studying in the library there (they also have TVs that show EastEnders – great for a homesick ex-pat), and I used to enjoy the fact that tourists were lining up at the front of the building to get to the galleries, whilst I queued up round the back with other locals to get in the library (that just goes to show how keen we all were – queueing up for a library!)

The Centre Pompidou - in Meccano.

The Centre Pompidou – in Meccano.

I really enjoyed seeing the models of his work – both the successful and unsuccessful projects. They really helped to bring his vision to life in a way that plans and drawings couldn’t do alone. And the model of the cheesegrater included a mini sushi restaurant, which for some reason really tickled us (it doesn’t take much to entertain us).

Hanging out after sushi under the Leadenhall building.

Hanging out after sushi under the Leadenhall building.

Just as we were leaving we noticed people starting to gather and sit around a big screen in the last room. After further investigation, we found out that Richard Rogers himself was about to give a talk about his inspiration, and career to date, and that it was free for anyone with an exhibition ticket – talk about good timing. Rogers was a very engaging speaker, and clearly passionate about his work and his legacy. He told a great anecdote about going along to the Centre Pompidou shortly after it was opened, and sheltering under the umbrella of a woman who was also visiting. She asked him what he thought of the building – and upon finding out he was the architect, gave him a big wallop over the head with her umbrella. I also appreciated his response to the question of how he can reconcile his work on One Hyde Park – and the multimillionaire absent flat owners – and his commitment to social equity. (His response? We give 20% of our profits to charity).

Richard Rogers giving his talk.

Richard Rogers giving his talk.

Doing a bit more internet research, I kept coming across more work by Richard Rogers that they didn’t have room to mention in the exhibition (or perhaps I just missed it because I was too busy playing with the models), such as the refurbishment of Old Billingsgate Market and Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, near where I live. To top it all off, his wife, Ruth Rogers, founded The River Café in London. How’s that for a high-achieving couple.

Today’s quote is a version of the Ephebic Oath – an oath sworn by young men of Classical Athens upon induction into the Ephebic College, graduation from which was required to attain status as citizens.

The home should be the treasure chest of living.

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My neighbour at work has been through all the highs and lows of the housebuying process with me, and so she helped me celebrate as only office workers can. With the humble post-it.

Well a couple of weekends ago, it was (finally) moving weekend. And boy, was there a lot of moving involved. My thighs are still feeling the burn. We got our keys on the Friday, and headed straight over to the new flat, keen to get in there and acquaint ourselves with our new home.

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Gifts for the estate agents to say thanks! I would be glad I bribed them later, when it came to trying to get in the door…

Only problem is, we couldn’t get in.

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The keys! The door! Our home!

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Our first view of the new place. For a while, we thought it was the closest we were going to get.

No matter what way we turned those keys, how we pushed and pulled the door, what swear-words we used, we couldn’t get in. Ten minutes and two bashful phonecalls to the estate agent later, we’d managed to figure out the door, and we were in. Home sweet home.

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Believe it or not, this wasn’t even the first van load of stuff. We have a lot of stuff. We love stuff. Moving stuff? Not so much fun.

We didn’t move the bulk of the stuff till the next day – we’d ordered a man and van for the recommended time of two hours. After 3 and a half hours and the help of my sister, we were finally there. Surrounded by boxes and bags, but officially moved into our new home.

 

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Siva and my sister take a well deserved lunchbreak in the garden. (Sidenote: we have a garden!)

Before using our new cooker, we boiled milk and sugar on the hob in a new pan, as part of a hindu housewarming ceremony.

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And then of course I couldn’t wait to make that Chocolate, Strawberry and Nutella cake.

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So much cream, so many layers.

So there it is, our new home. And I’ll try to keep the gushing to a minimum, but I am so happy we’re finally in. And it’s ours, all ours!

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Our temporary sofa, till the real one turned up. Priorities!

Today’s quote is from Le Corbusier