Photo Sunday: Rivers and Oceans

Confession: if you’ve stumbled on this page looking for photos of rivers and oceans, you may be disappointed. This post is actually about an event called Rivers & Oceans, which took place last week at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, and was billed as an ‘immersive cultural experience’. Not sure what that means? Read on…

The event was a unique collaboration between three organisations: chamber collective Ensemble Perpetuo, the London Photo Festival, and BitterSuite, a London-based company who design sensory experiences set to classical music.

Ensemble Perpetuo

It’s not the sort of thing you’d usually find me at; much as I like all the individual components (music, photography, food) it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to put them all together in this way. But my sister Caz had submitted one of the photos featured in the exhibition, so we went along as a family to see her work on display. Not quite sure what to expect, our uncertainty only grew when we arrived and were offered a wooden box and a small bottle of an interesting looking drink…

Ensemble Perpetuo

The concert featured eight pieces of music, all inspired by rivers and oceans, from composers including Samuel Barber, Sally Beamish, Joan Tower and Camille Saint-Saëns. While the musicians were performing, a huge projector screen showed a rolling slideshow of the featured photographs, curated by the London Photo Festival, with more pictures on display around the walls. Unlike most concerts – and against all my instincts as an audience member – we were encouraged to get up and wander about while the musicians were playing, to look at the photos and experience the music from different perspectives.

Ensemble Perpetuo

So far, pretty normal. But you’re probably wondering where the wooden box and bottle of drink come in, so I should explain. Some of the pieces of music were numbered in the programme, as were the bottle and the canapés inside the box, and each taste had been designed to accompany that particular piece of music.

Now, I’ll be honest. I didn’t totally get this bit – although when BitterSuite’s chef, Adam Thomason, came out at the beginning of the second half to explain, it made a bit more sense. Essentially, I think, it’s all about the combination of flavours, and how it makes you feel – one piece of music, for example, was quite dark, so it was accompanied by a rye bread that was almost bitter in taste, with some conflicting flavours on top designed to make the taster feel slightly uncomfortable. And then there was the small egg cup of caramelised parsnip and white chocolate soup, which was quite warming and soothing (actually, that one was quite tasty). The flavours may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, and we did have to be a bit brave sometimes to taste things with no idea what they were – but that was all part of the fun.

Photo 06-09-2015 20 23 21

The sensory experience also included scents to accompany one piece of music, and this bit I did get (once we’d all stopped sneezing), because the combination of smells really did make me think of the sea, and it was easy to imagine myself on the coast somewhere.

Ensemble Perpetuo

Overall, it was a fascinating evening, with beautiful music and photos – and a unique twist in the accompanying tastes and smells. And of course it was great to see my sister’s photo on display. (That’s it in the picture below. If you’d like to see more of Caz’s photography, check out her blog, Finding a Focus. She’s really very good.)

Ensemble Perpetuo

The final event in Ensemble Perpetuo’s series of immersive events, Heavenly Sights, is in November at the Forge, Camden, and will be inspired by space, flight and motion.


20 signs you’re definitely getting old

Last Sunday, something AMAZING happened. Like, it was possibly the greatest day of my life. I’m not even exaggerating, because last Sunday, I was followed on Twitter by one of my childhood heroes.

Yep, that’s right. Gordon the Gopher, who’s all set for a comeback after over 20 years out of the public eye, is now following me on Twitter.

I KNOW, right?!

If – like many of my colleagues – you read that and said ‘Who?’ then this may not be the post for you. This post is for the people like me, who remember Gordon the Gopher, and the Broom Cupboard, and the days before Phillip Schofield had grey hair. Yes, there was such a time. See?

Phillip Schofield in the CBBC Broom Cupboard

But Schofe’s hair isn’t the only thing that’s changed since I was a yoof. So, just to make us all feel like old folk, here are 20 signs we’re not as young as we used to be. I’ve probably forgotten loads, so please share your suggestions too, and let’s all be ancient together…

20 signs you’re definitely getting old

You remember when this was a shock twist.

You reminisce about the Great Storm of 1987, even though you were only five when it happened and you don’t really remember it at all.

You used to actually talk to your best friend on the phone, while sitting in the kitchen or your parents’ bedroom, because that’s where the landline was. And you knew her phone number off by heart, whereas these days you have trouble remembering your own.

You remember when Robbie left Take That, the first time.

When you said ‘I’ll just read to the end of this chapter,’ you had no idea how long that would be, unless you physically flicked forward (which all readers know you should never do).

Especially if you were reading Point Horror – which obviously you were, because everyone was.

You had to plan how to get to places before leaving home, using an atlas.

Getting your photos back from Boots after a three-day wait was literally the most exciting thing ever – until you realised that half of them were rubbish.

Photos from Boots

You remember when phone boxes were used to call people, instead of just for tourist selfies.

You used to buy a TV guide every week, set the video to record things, and you had to actually watch the adverts.

Oh, and you remember Ceefax.

Compiling a playlist meant hours of going through your tape collection, then figuring out how to use your parents’ stereo system to record the tracks.

You remember when Ant and Dec were PJ and Duncan. And not just the pop band; you actually remember when they played PJ and Duncan in Byker Grove.

Speaking of which, Byker Grove and Grange Hill were your compulsory after-school viewing.

All your favourite movies have by now been either re-made (seriously, why?) or re-released in 3D, at which point all your younger friends get super excited because they weren’t even born the first time around.

You used to eat meals without photographing them from every angle first.

You watched Popstars, and actually cared who won.

Going on holiday used to mean cutting off all communication with anyone back home for a week, except for a postcard. Which always arrived after you got home, and so was essentially pointless.

You researched all your school work using books. At a library.

And finally…

No matter how many may follow in his footsteps, you know that Colin Firth is the only true Mr Darcy.

What makes you feel old? Let me know in the comments!


Meninos do Bloco Fogo: summer fun for kids

This post is for parents of kids who enjoy having fun and making a lot of noise.

So… all parents, then. Moving on.

If you’re based in or near Kent, and the rapidly approaching summer holidays are filling you with a mild sense of dread as you wonder how you’re going to keep the children entertained, I have a great suggestion. It’ll get them out from under your feet, and give them a place to get all that noise and energy out of their system. And they’ll get a free t-shirt. Bonus!

Bloco Fogo are a Kent-based samba band, who play at events all over the country (and beyond). You may even have seen them perform before; they’re easily recognisable by their distinctive red and yellow outfits, and can often be found parading down high streets or motivating marathon runners, among loads of other great events. They even performed at my friend’s wedding…

Bloco Fogo at my friend's wedding

This year, from 3rd to 7th August, Bloco Fogo are running their first summer school for children aged 8-14, called Meninos do Bloco Fogo, in Tunbridge Wells. The aim is to introduce kids to Brazilian drumming and all the skills that come with it, including the dance moves – and they’ll even have a chance to customise their own costume. Rumour has it they may also get to learn a bit of Brazilian Portuguese, if a certain person who works for a language learning company gets herself organised (yes, that would be me).

Most importantly, at the end of the week, they’ll get to perform on Saturday 8th August with the band, so their mums and dads can see how much they’ve learnt.

Now, full disclosure: the event is being organised by one of my best friends, who just happens to be one of the most talented people I know. Cheryl’s been performing with Bloco Fogo for years (that’s her in the wedding dress above) and I’ve no doubt that her enthusiasm and passion for samba is going to make the week loads of fun for everyone involved. I may even try and sneak in myself and have a go; after all, who doesn’t enjoy hitting stuff from time to time?

And in case you had any doubt about how fab the band are, here they are leading an awesome mass busk in Cardiff earlier this month, with 400 other drummers:

Meninos do Bloco Fogo costs £75 per child for the whole week, and includes everything – all the tuition, costumes, language freebies, t-shirt. That sounds like pretty good value to me, in exchange for a week of peace 😉 Although please don’t hold me responsible if they decide they want to take up drumming as a result…

There’s more detail in the flyer below – or email Cheryl for a free info pack to find out more. You can also follow Bloco Fogo on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Meninos do Bloco Fogo flyer


It’s been quite a week. I got to watch Once, one of my favourite shows, for a second time. There was the whole ‘melted ice cream’ drama on Bake Off. I even survived the Ice Bucket Challenge (and yes, I did donate money to charity). But I think my highlight of the week was yesterday, at the O2 Arena in London.

Bit of background – when I was a kid, I used to watch a TV show called Byker Grove. Two of my favourite characters left shortly after the infamous paintball incident (‘he can’t see, man!’) and formed a band. Ok, ‘band’ might be a bit optimistic; they only really had one hit, before giving it up and becoming TV presenters instead.

It’s been nearly 20 years, and you’ll be glad to hear I’m over my crush on PJ and Duncan. But I still have quite a soft spot for Ant and Dec, so when they took their TV show Saturday Night Takeaway on tour, I was pretty excited. And the show didn’t disappoint; it was two hours of pure silliness, featuring Chesney Hawkes, Joey Essex (even though I didn’t understand a word he said) and Riverdance. And even though they made us be on Team Ant, when I’ve always been more of a Dec fan, it was great fun.

Best of all, the show ended with ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble’ (PJ & Duncan’s one and only hit, if anyone’s too young to remember). I’m not sure the kids in the audience really understood what was going on, but all the 30-somethings loved it.

Now all we need is an East 17 reunion* and my life will officially be complete.

Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway on Tour

* I’m kidding. Nobody wants to see that.

Here comes the sun (possibly) – now with added Pimm’s Poll!

I woke up this morning with one sunburnt arm, as a result of sitting outside yesterday to watch the Wimbledon men’s final (and what a match that was!), and with the song ‘Here comes the sun’ going round and round in my head. Together, these two things combined to inspire today’s blog post – my ten favourite things about summer. Wimbledon men's final in London 1. Not having to wear a coat

After a long winter, complete with hurricane-force winds and record-breaking rainfall, and then that annoying couple of months when you’re not quite sure if you need a jacket, so you take one with you, then take it off within five minutes of leaving the house and end up carrying it all day, it’s nice to now be able to head out in the confident knowledge that you don’t need a coat. Of course, this is England, so you may still set out without any additional layers, and then find it’s pouring with rain by mid-afternoon. Like today. Doh.

2. Ice cream

On the whole, I’m not a huge fan of hot weather; given a choice I’d rather be cold and putting on layers than hot, because there’s only so many layers you can remove (particularly when you’re allergic to getting your legs out, for fear of blinding innocent passersby with their extreme whiteness). And let’s not even mention how unbearable the District Line becomes when it’s hot. Urgh. But if there’s one thing that makes it all better, it’s ice cream*. Not on the District Line, though, obviously, unless you want your ice cream to end up in someone’s armpit.

* especially if it’s Magnum Strawberry and White Chocolate. They’re limited edition, and the day they stop selling them, I may actually cry.

3. Pimm’s

I’m concerned that I talk a bit too much about Pimm’s and am giving a bad impression of myself. I’m really not a big drinker on the whole, but there’s something about relaxing with a nice cold glass of Pimm’s that makes everything ok. Also, it has fruit in it, so it’s good for me. Right?

(Update: when I shared this post on Facebook last night, it led to an interesting discussion about whether Pimm’s is actually nice, or whether it actually tastes like soil. So I thought I’d throw the question out and see what everyone else thinks. Don’t be scared to say if you hate it too; I won’t be offended – after all, it just means more for me…)

Moving on…

4. Barbecues

Barbecues aren’t always great. If you choose the wrong day, you find yourself huddling in the house, ready to run out at the appropriate moment to grab a soggy burger from the hapless host, then dash back inside to eat in the living room. And then there’s the eternal dilemma of how to balance your plate of food and assemble your burger whilst also holding a drink, and trying to keep an excitable dog away from the sausages. Yes, I speak from experience. But there’s one thing I love about barbecues, and that’s the way they seem to exert a magnetic pull on any men present. I don’t know why boys are so attracted by fire (personally open flames of any kind terrify me), but it makes me laugh every time. BBQ 5. My birthday!

I was born almost exactly half-way through the year, which is great because it means I have a nice even gap between my birthday and Christmas. Admittedly I have also had to do exams on my birthday in the past, and then there was the time I decided to celebrate my 18th the evening that England were playing Germany in the World Cup. Big mistake. But on the whole, it’s a great time to have a birthday. I recommend it.

6. Open air theatre

As you probably guessed by now, I’m a massive fan of theatre of pretty much any kind. But there’s something a bit special about open air theatre; I think it’s the fact that you never quite know what’s going to happen, because it’s so much harder to control everything outdoors. A couple of years ago, I watched Richard III at the Globe during a thunderstorm. Fortunately, unlike the poor people standing, I was under cover, but I completely missed one scene because of the noise from the pouring rain, and spent most of the afternoon mildly terrified of being struck by lightning. And despite all that, it was brilliant, because bizarrely, the weather seemed to fit perfectly with the play. Particularly dramatic moments were punctuated by loud crashes of thunder, and as the play drew to a close, with the villain defeated, the sun came out and the rain stopped. The actors adapted admirably and worked with the elements to make it one of the most memorable theatre outings I’ve had. Then again, there was also the time I went to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and the play got cancelled before it even started because of the torrential rain. So it doesn’t always work out. Rain at the Globe theatre 7. Child-free paths

Now don’t get me wrong. I like children. But my office is opposite a primary school, so for most of the year, my five-minute walk from the tube station to work is an obstacle course, the obstacles being small children on scooters and mothers with pushchairs who seem blissfully unaware of my presence (not to mention, given that this is Fulham, a fair number of au pairs). So please don’t judge me for looking forward to six glorious weeks when I can walk down the street without falling over anyone.

8. Festivals

I’m not talking knee deep in mud, haven’t showered for three days festivals. I did that once, and the sight of the toilets by the last morning was enough to put me off for life. What can I say, I like my creature comforts. But I’ve had some great times at festivals and open air gigs over the years, including the time we nearly drowned at a Coldplay gig (I’m not even joking) and the time we saw our old music teacher in Bjorn Again at V Festival. Actually, that was kind of weird and embarrassing. But you get the idea.

9. Wimbledon

Need I say more? (Don’t worry, I hear you crying, ‘Please don’t!’)

10. Sunsets

Just to clarify, although I wasn’t great at science stuff at school, I do realise the sun sets all year round. But during winter, it’s dark before I leave the office, so I’ve come to associate sunsets with the summer months, when I actually get to see them. As you know, I’m officially a sunset addict, and can’t see one without getting my camera out. So the summer invariably means a lot of me wandering about staring at the sky and getting in people’s way, then annoying everyone on Twitter with my photos. Sorry about that. Another sunset over Greenhithe, Kent Now obviously, because I’ve written this post, I’m assuming that in about five minutes’ time it’s going to start raining and won’t stop till September. Sorry I ruined summer. Have a Pimm’s; it’ll help. Honest.