An Alice in Wonderland themed party

If you’re turning 30, like my friend Angie did recently, you ought to accept the fact that you’re an adult and have a party involving cheese, wine and chats about insurance. Or….hire a hall and hold a fancy dress competition in the style of Alice in Wonderland/Victorian, and top if off with a visit to a shisha cafe the next day:

Cakes!

Is he the caterpillar, or Dracula?
The white queen and…uh…a beer bottle?
Embracing my inner cross dressing Victorian lady
Us and the birthday girl
Me at the shisha cafe in Colchester
Emma…looking cool

A modern sideshow (kind of)

Last weekend I went to the circus in the 1930s. I’m clever like that. I had heard that the Roundhouse theatre was having a ‘Circusfest‘ during a previous London jaunt, and when I saw an ad for Professor Vanessa’s Wondershow – where the main stage would be transformed into a travelling circus on a village green – I got a ticket before asking if anyone else was free. I’m always assured of good conversation when I’m alone anyway.

So…after skipping around Brick Lane and Camden Lock, where the colourful clothes live, I found myself in the theatre main space breathing in the sickly smell of candyfloss and popcorn. On the way in I passed penny arcades and lurid posters, and was greeted with a row of tents lining the perimeter. I was excited!

In the middle of the floor was a small stage and here I watched a French, juggling tight-rope walker (I nearly proposed marriage there and then), a girl hula hooping with fire, aero-rope girls up above and… giant wasp taming. Everyone was free to wander and visit whichever tent they wanted, though its a lot to get through in only two hours.

Though I was at first concerned I would be having a ‘genuine’ sideshow experience (blockheads etc I love, but I’m really not sure about ogling a disabled person), I was quickly reassured that most acts were a mirror show. For example, ‘the Mummy’ featured a woman in Egyptian regalia transform into a centuries old mummy ” before our very eyes,” before she chased us out of the tent. Another showed early film clips and, being such a fan, it meant a lot to see them how they would have been at the very start of the twentieth century.

It was good fun; the tent shows were surreal entertainment and some of the stage acts in the middle were beautiful to watch. I always like a trip to the circus and if there are any French, tightrope walking jugglers out there come and find me.

Junky fights, escort ads and a suicidal Barbie

Yesterday I went for a wander through Shoreditch in London, where the hipster artists go to pose. It ended up being quite unexpectedly productive and gave me a story idea. I also noticed this artist selling her wares (the art, not herself) at the market.

I’ve also decided that once I actually know some things about photography and have a half decent camera I’ll wander around London and take pictures of the interesting folks; I like unusual types as mentioned in my post about ‘freaky fashion’.

I came across the amusing scenes in the photos below and overheard an argument between two junkies on the bus back, which was a bonanza. How did I know they were junkies? If you ever hear them talk, you know they’re on heroin.

Everyone else on the bus gave each other looks as if to say, ‘well, how awful!’ but I got out my pen and paper and wrote it all down.

I will call her Trixie, and him Jeff. Imagine their voices in an estuarine, drug-induced whine. This is roughly how it went:

Trixie: Well, who is that person’s number then?

Jeff: Text it then and say, who is this, its Trixie?

Trixie: You just want me to say who I am so she knows its me and not you

Jeff: No, just text it then, go on or give it here

Trixie: Alright! I am, I’ve done it.

Jeff: Well what did they say then?

Trixie: It says, ‘don’t know who this is, your girl borrowed my phone’

Jeff: Oh yeah, what have you been up to then you sh***y horrible c**t?

Trixie: You’re the one who’s been doin’ something you c**t

Jeff: You horrible c**t, what have you done?

Trixie: Oh yeah, you gonna split my face open when we get home?

Jeff: I ain’t never hit you

Trixie: You did…(inaudible)

Jeff: Well, you can either forgive me or you can’t. You need to get over it

Trixie: It makes me feel sick whenever I think about it. I ain’t giving you money for your next comedown

Jeff: Oh yeah, you was the one saying on the phone that time, ‘Can’t talk, Jeff’s here.’

And so it went on, until she declared she was going to her mother’s and they both got off the bus. I hope you like the snapshots I got on my phone of a couple of entertaining sights in Shoreditch:

Notice the Barbie about to jump

Spiffing arty and writey updates from London

On Tuesday I went for a day jaunt around my capital city, soaking up information to pass on to others like a disturbing sponge.

I like to think of visits to London as plugging myself in, like a phone that needs recharging, which is very silly. However, the occasional visit does remind me of all the little things I may not have heard about otherwise.

If you’re a cheapskate like me have a look online for a list of free exhibitions and galleries and you’ll be fine. Museums of course are already free, which is as exciting as a singing fish doing cartwheels.

The tube gnomes notified me of Circusfest in May, which looks exciting. I shall certainly be there chatting up the clowns whether they like it or not.

I began my day by going to the Childhood Museum in Bethnal Green to write down as many toys as I could relating to the era of my historical novel. Reading about stuff is great but until you play with a zoetrope I’m not sure you get the whole idea.

The V&A museum will “redesign seven important galleries dedicated to European Art and Design 1600–1800” by 2014 amongst several other projects. It’s already a beautiful place full of art and fashion, both historical and modern.

I wandered into a Georgian ballroom and actually gasped, like they do in novels. I was in there completely alone and the silence made me feel as though I’d stepped through a time gap.The museum is also displaying a cape sewn from silk, which was extracted from millions of Golden Orb spiders.

All the V&A expect is a donation so you can’t really go wrong. They don’t accept bellybutton fluff.

The Serpentine Gallery, as well as featuring very interesting exhibitions, has a shop full of magazines and books dedicated to art and writing. My advice is to go there with a pen and paper and write down the titles. You can look at the submissions guidelines on their websites later.

In case you were unfamiliar with The Serpentine it’s in the middle of Kensington Gardens, just up the road from Exhibition Road (home to the many museums).

The gallery are opening a new space called The Sackler Gallery near the old place this year, so you can run from one to the other and watch dogs sniffing each other in between (disclaimer: don’t run from one to the other).

So there endeth my journey through the capital, may my facts serve you well. Apparently the Underground employs people to sweep up human hair. I like to pretend they’re tiny folks who use it to make nests.

Burgos, Northern Spain

Yup, I'm the one in the rainbow hat

Although the general idea of holidays in Spain is to get a suntan and lie on the beach, one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited was Burgos in Northern Spain. I went with my Spanish class when we were 17 and we loved it with all the hysterical joy of teenage girls.

Its a little mountain town, it was freezing and there are beautiful tombs in the bowels of the monastery.

At the monastery

The snow and the pretty town had us shrieking in annoying joy. Each day our tiny group would go for chocolate con churros (basically hot chocolate and sweet bread) along with practicing terrible Spanish. Jollies!

Delicately picking at bread (right)

Birthday Burlesque at Proud Cabaret

Welcome to my parlour

T’was recently my 30th year and to celebrate it my friends and I went to Proud Cabaret on Mark Lane, Tower Hill (very close to Liverpool St).

Ladies!
My birthday cake!

The place looks amazing. You have to be well dressed to go in and I was pleased to see all my friends in vintage wear as Proud Cabaret itself is decked out in 20s style, and the gothic candles and mirrors on the walls were beautiful. One friend arrived in upper class Victorian wear and another in working class Edwardian, so obviously the Victorian had to beat him and wave money for photos.

The acts themselves were lively and fun, mostly performed by a group of ladies with a single man. The compere Coco Dobois was a lady with a lovely voice and great sense of humour. The theme of the shows change and that particular night was ‘decades,’ with each new performance taking us forward in time from the 20s to the 90s. Personally I would have been happy to remain in the 20s but it was still very enjoyable.

Nathan shows the help the true value of money

Highlights for me included the compere coming over to speak to me, the birthday cake staff brought over, lovely ladies and entertaining juggler Mat Ricardo.

I liked the way the stage had a long area in the middle that allowed the performers to come forwards.

The only troubles came with a rude waitress, the price of the food (at around 45 pounds you’d probably do better to look into a show only ticket) and Marilyn Monroe-esque Banbury Cross not being present. I also wasn’t too keen on the male solo dances (sorry lads, very talented but we were in it for the ladies).

However, the rest was great and much fun and laughings were had by all. I’d like to go back to see a more vintage orientated show but that’s just my personal preference. Recommended!

Lodestar Festival in Cambridge

Last weekend I went to Lodestar Festival in Cambridge. It’s quite a cheap one which is great, £55 for camping at the weekend and £22 for the day. I have to admit a lot of the music wasn’t really to my taste (quite a lot of it was indie) but most of them were local and it was a good platform for that sort of thing.

Cambridge Community Circus
Tea, shisha and Braintree Ways advertising
Cambridge Community Circus

The stall traders were local, the shops sold hippie/alternative stuff (I’m not a hippie, I just like the clothes) and Cambridge Community Circus provided workshops and entertainment. On Saturday night they and a few others going by the name ‘Wildfire Productions‘ performed a fire show with staff, poi, fans etc and it was lots of fun, they brought a lot of personality to it. I learned I’m a terrible juggler with, as my friend Angie said, the coordination of a bee. With my fetish for circus performers, however, I was delirious with joy.

When camping stay warm - you too can look like a fabulous monk

We spent most of our time in the tea and shisha tent The Cloud Lounge, where we smoked fruit pipes and drank a variety of tea. It felt so much like sitting in a front room I got a surprise every time I turned around and saw a festival. The tables and part of the wall were there for people to write on using felt pens, and I felt a regression to nursery as I scribbled ‘braintreeways.com‘ on every available surface.

The Cloud Lounge

Parts of it were extremely middle class and/or hippie (someone was giving away free packs of Jordan’s country crisp cereal, and the off-key recorder playing from the spiritual tent provided moments of unintentional humour) but it’s a really nice small, local festival and I definately recommend giving it a try. I’m not sure I’d camp over again but the circus, stalls and friendly Cloud Lounge staff mean we’ll definately go back for a day next year.