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London Zoo was founded in the nineteenth century, originally as a scientific zoo, but was later opened to the public. A lot of the animals at that time came from the Royal menagerie at the Tower of London.
These days it is quite expensive to get in,but you can get a better deal by buying tickets on-line in advance, it is more expensive to go in summer, but as adult ticket is about £25, but it is a well laid out and maintained zoo, which can be a full day activity. There are lots of talks on during the day, as well as informative signage. The Zoo is located the far side of Regent's Park and is a good walk from the tube station (Regent's Park or Camden) or you can get a bus.
The range of animals are quite diverse and include a butterfly house, reptiles, bugs and a small aquarium alongside the usual lions, gorillas, giraffes and penguins.
On my last visit they had just had three Sumatran tiger cubs born, but unfortunately they didn't come out to play at the times we visited, although we did get to see their dad having a snooze and later prowling his modern enclosure before treat time. The Gorilla Kingdom was also very nice, and the male silverback enjoying his broccoli.
The penguins live at Penguin Beach, a new large enclosure, but I found that apart from the swimming ones, it was hard to get good pictures, as they stood too far from the viewing areas. I also like the raised giraffe platforms enabling you to see them at eye-level and get good photos.
There are lots of facilities such as cafes and drink stands, but these do add to the expense of the day. There is also an extensive gift shop.
If you like zoos, and are in the area, then I do recommend you pay a visit here if budgets allow.
Ralph’s Party is a novel by popular British author Lisa Jewell written some 20 years ago. It hasn't really dated other than the lack of mentions of various technologies that we nowadays take for granted.
Ralph and Smith decide to get a new flatmate in Jem. Jem has had a dream that she falls in love with one of the men who live in this flat, but which one will it be? Do we really care?
At first I thought Jem seemed a bit unsound with her idea that she would live happily ever after in the flat, but actually she was quite likeable if a bit naïve, and the boys also had issues, and quite frankly sound like the sort of guys most sane women should avoid (one had a five year crush on an unattainable woman, the other liked to read his new flatmate’s diaries).
Along with these three we also meet their neighbours in the same block – long time couple Siobhan and Karl and aforementioned unattainable woman Cheri and we see parts of their lives too, and yes, they do all go to a party (eventually).
This is a lightweight ‘chick lit’ novel and whilst I quite enjoyed it, it didn't blow me away. It would be suitable for reading on holiday or a long journey as it doesn't require much concentration but there is enough happening to keep the reader engaged. The characters do have some depth to them, you get a feel for them as individuals, but there are no real plot strands other than the romantic ones.
I visited Guatemala as part of a trip around Central America in 2007, I spent some time in Guatemala, which is one of my favourite countries that I have visited so far. I loved the food (refried beans, tortillas, burritos, salsa etc), I found the people very welcoming and friendly also. The main reason for visiting was the fascinating Mayan sites, but the country is full of beautiful scenery and colour with some adventurous activities as well, - Oh, and the shopping was great too!
One highlight was the Mayan temple site of Tikal,near Flores. This place is set in the jungle and has a real 'Lost World' feel to it and has been used in a number of films. I really loved the idea that I was seemingly miles from anywhere and the fact that we could climb the temples.
We also spent some time on the Rio Dulce (Sweet River) which we used to travel to Livingston on the Caribbean coast, which was very different from other parts of the country.
My other major highlight was Lake Atitalan and we stayed in a town at the side of the lake in a place called Panajachel, and spent time in the charming town Santiago De Atitlan which was a short boat ride away. I really liked the tranquil, remote vibe from this region. On our way out of the town we stopped at the attractive market town of Chichicastenango in the mountains.
Following this we spent our last few days in Antigua de Guatemala, a small but attractive colonial town. The region has a lot of active things to do such as canopy tours (on a 'death slide') and volcano hikes but as we only had one full day here I elected to explore the city. There are some lovely old buildings and churches, and a colonial house museum called Casa Popanoe. I also did a walking tour. The Parque Centrale, the wide and spacious main square, is a great place to watch the world go by from.
Flight are not usually direct from London, I flew via Continental airlines and transited in Houston, USA.
This debut novel by talented Indian author Kishwar Desai is set in a small town in Punjab, Northern India. A young girl, Durga, is in custody for killing her family and setting fire to their home, but something doesn't quite add up. Simran Singh, a social worker who grew up in the area, has been invited to come back and see if she can help the girl open up and get to the bottom of the crime.
Simran is an amazing character: an unmarried, forty-something Indian woman, who drinks and smokes,she is also down to earth and flawed, she is capable of making the same error of judgements that we make in the real world which meant I liked her as a character, I reckon she would be good company. However not everyone is pleased to have her around. Durga has drawn into herself and Simran is having trouble connecting with her and returns to the burnt out house to see what she can find. Simran discovers a history of abuse towards the daughters of the family, and sees how far money and power can get you.
The story is quite issue-based, and portrays parts of India’s patriarchal society in a most unflattering light. However, for the most part, I found the book engaging and an interesting read, but occasionally slow in parts. If you enjoy issue based novels, with good characters and/or enjoy reading about different cultures, then I recommend this book which combines both aspects to make an excellent work of fiction.
The National Portrait Gallery is probably my most favourite art gallery in London. If you are a fan of portraiture then this is a real must-visit. Situated on St Martin’s Place just behind the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, this free gallery feature portraits of numerous British people throughout history. Not all paintings are traditional ‘sat’ portraits, some are depictions from battle or historical scenes but the people within the paintings are the main feature.
The gallery was founded in 1856, and feature portraits from 1485 onwards including caricatures and photographs. On my last visit I saw the Grayson Perry 'Who Are You?' exhibits (free) and in the past David Bailey’s Stardust exhibition of photographs (one you have to pay for), but apart from the few special exhibitions the gallery is free and you can wander at your leisure. I tend to start at the Tudor collections on the top floor and work my way down. There are a lot of royals depicted in some magnificent portraits, as well as more modest portraits to contributors to science and the arts.
One of my more favourite of the more contemporary portraits is one of Joan Collins painted by Andy Warhol in the mid-eighties. Recent acquisitions include the first (and rather unflattering) portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge and ‘People’s Portrait’ (where the subject was nominated by the public) of Falkland’s war veteran Simon Weston.
There is a good standard of facilities here, as well as late night opening and drawing classes. Highly recommended
Mad About The Boy is the third ‘Bridget Jones’ book by Helen Fielding. I enjoyed the first two when they came out and was both intrigued and slightly worried about re-visiting the series some years later.
[No Spoilers – all that I discuss is revealed in the early chapters]
Bridget and Mark Darcy married and had two children before Mark died, leaving Bridget financially secure but a single mother. We read about Bridget’s struggle, both past and present, to get back on her feet and be a good mother. Aspects of her relationship with Mark, told in retrospect, are revealed throughout the book. Although the book is still in diary form, these longer back-story aspects, make the book seem more like a ‘normal’ novel told chronologically. Some old characters are still around such as Daniel Cleaver and some of her old nutty mates. Her friends decide that she should be trying to start dating again and meanwhile she discovers the ‘joys’ of Twitter. This being Bridget, there is usually an element of chaos lurking somewhere.
Criticism of the book maybe that it is too convenient to have Bridget as a wealthy, yummy mummy, meaning the author doesn’t have to deal with Bridget juggling work and children, or budgeting as many single mum’s would find they have to do. It does make her slightly un-relatable.
Whilst I did enjoy ‘catching up’ with Bridget I found the book much more sad and bittersweet than I expected. If you enjoyed the first books than I think this is worth a read, but it isn’t necessarily more of the same. Bridget has grown up, and so have we.
I first visited the USA in 1992, and did a camping trip around Florida and across to New Orleans and back again. I flew into Miami and stayed for a few days in Miami Beach. Our hotel was quite modest, but well located and there was lots of lively bars and restaurants around. From here we visited the Everglades and the Florida Keys for a few days, which was a lovely relaxing time, with hardly any other tourists in May. I do recommend taking an airboat (hovercraft) around the Everglades if you get chance.
We also spent a few days in Orlando where we visited Disneyworld, EPCOT and Universal Studios. I think there is a lot more there now than we had in those days, but we still enjoyed the rides and meeting the characters. It can be a long day but as we were off peak the queues weren't as horrendous as we had been led to believe. It isn't cheap to eat in these places. I also enjoyed my visit to Kennedy Space Station, which I found a lot more interesting than I expected.
On our way back from Louisiana, we stopped at the old colonial town of St Augustine, which had a lot of history and was well worth the visit.
Obviously this is just touching the surface of options that are available in Florida, but there is much more to it than beaches and theme parks and if you have your own transport you can really explore so much of it easily
The biography is by Sarah Gristwood and is about the surprisingly little known Tudor royal Arbella Stuart. She had quite a pedigree as a cousin of James I (James VI of Scotland) and thus an equal claim to the English throne after Elizabeth I. Born in 1575 she was the great great-grandchild of Henry VII, whose daughter Margaret was the great -grandmother to both Arbella and the future James I. Her influential maternal grandmother was Bess of Hardwick a friend of both Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots and was very ambitious for Arbella's future. Not to mention a tad controlling, as the family matriarch, she also kept Arbella a virtual prisoner for her own protection.
I found a lot of the book quite dry. Not a lot is known about Arbella and the Elizabethan English is hard to follow in extracts of letters. It seems Arbella suffered from some health problems (possibly porphyria which allegedly affected other members of the royal family), as well as trying to rebel from her controlling grandmother. I enjoyed the end more, when we heard of things that did actually happen rather than speculation (such as whether playwright – and Shakespeare’s peer - Christopher Marlowe was a) a spy, b) Arbella's tutor, c) both, d)neither).
This is the only biography of her I have read, and it makes me unlikely to read another as I found it dragged, although those with a particular interest in Tudor and Stuart monarchs, may find something of interest in here.
The Victoria & Albert Museum in situated in the heart of London's museum district by South Kensington tube. It was established in 1852 as the Museum of Manufactures and is now one of the world's leading museums dedicated to art and design, having been in it's present building since 1899. It is part of the big museum road in the Kensington area and is easily accessible by public transport.
The museum is free and is open daily (with late nights on Fridays to 10pm). You may have to pay for some special temporary exhibitions (I recently visited Wedding Dresses from 1775-2014 and Savage Beauty - An Alexander McQueen Retrospective). The topics vary for historical artefacts, fashion, photography etc.
Like all big museums it is a good idea to have a plan of action when coming here so that you can make the most of your visit and see the areas that really interest you, but it is not as daunting as some and fairly easy to navigate. They do offer set tours over various 'themes' fr about £10 (one hour). I've not done one, but imagine it would be helpful to the first time visitor, or those short of time.
I quite enjoy the fashion exhibition and the other 'materials' section (divided into jewellery, glass, furniture etc). They also have a Europe section and an Asia section. If the weather is nice, sit in the garden within the museum courtyard, or else make time for a visit to the lovely café and gift shop. I have to add the food and drink can be expensive here and the café is very busy at peak times.
I originally purchased this book a few years ago, it is apparently the 4th in the “Josephine Tey Mysteries” series. I think the fact that appealed to me was that it was set in the 1930s and had a ‘guest appearance’ by Alfred Hitchcock. Nicola Upson won awards and praise for her debut novel “An Expert in Murder” which also featured Josephine Tey. Tey is not just a character in a novel . I didn’t realise until I’d finished the book that she was a real person, rather than a frictional character. She published a number of crime fiction mysteries and wrote a number of plays and lived between 1896-1952. A notoriously private person, very little is known about her personal life and she never married.
The novel opens in London in 1954 and Chief Inspector Archie Penrose has an unusual visitor, making enquiries into a double murder that occurred in Portmeirion, Wales in the 1930s when Penrose was holidaying there with Josephine, who had recently died. Then we switch to Wales in 1936 and Josephine has come to celebrate her 40th birthday with friends. Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma, along with an assortment of actors and other colleagues are also going to be there for their own purposes and would like to sign a deal to film Josephine's novel. Hitchcock apparently likes to play (often cruel) practical jokes on his guests and has a few stunts arranged for the weekend. However, the weekend is barely underway when one of Hollywood’s top actresses is murdered, followed by the rape and murder of a young village waitress.
I found the book had too many supporting characters who weren't always relevant to the story and got in the way a bit, some seemed to reoccur from previous novels and I didn't know their backstory, so I felt a bit out of the loop in parts. Hitchcock's party seem to have the secrets, and in fact many appear to be associated with the area in their past, when they had different names which starts to get a bit confusing when you try and remember who everyone is and if they’re secretly connected at all.
Like all good mysteries there is a twist in the ‘whodunnit’ part of the book, but I did find this all a bit too convenient.
I hesitate to recommend this novel, it didn't meet my expectations as crime fiction, but I think it is more than that: The confusing (and largely irrelevant) cast of characters, muddied the waters and I think prevented me from engaging with the book initially. It took a while for anything to happen and the murders seemed a sub-plot to a story of a weekend break.
I had an excellent holiday in Egypt some years ago. The country has a lot to offer and we travelled around for ten days as part of a small group tour.
Our first stop was Cairo and the Egyptian museum and a trip to Giza to see the pyramids which are such an iconic symbol of this country. Cairo has now expanded so much, that the city has virtually encroached on the pyramids and we had to be careful in choosing the direction we took our photos in to make sure they looked sufficiently remote. Pollution has also caused further deterioration, this is a shame considering they have been here successfully for thousands of years.
From here we went to Hurghada on the Red Sea coast for some snorkelling. Before travelling to Luxor, which was one of my personal highlights which included a sunrise donkey trek through the hills to the Valley of the Kings. This gave us some unique views and perspective of the complex, including the stunning Queen Hatshepsut's temple. We also explored the Temple of Karnak and Edfu before sailing down the Nile on a felucca.
The felucca is a traditional sail boat and we slept on the boat moored up and cooked hot meals on the sandbanks at night, otherwise we ate on our boats, and watched the world go by. We said a war could be going on and we would know nothing about it. After a stay in Aswan we took and internal flight to Abu Simbel which was well worth doing. From Aswan we got the train back to Luxor to fly home. I always have fond memories of that trip although it had coincided with a few terrorist incidents at that time.
It is very sad that this beautiful and fascinating country is often considered a 'no-go' area due to problems in the region as a whole. It is also sad that many people only ever experience the Red Sea, and not the historical heart of the country. I hope both situations change soon.
This is the first book in a trilogy and I gave it a try as I got it free for the Kindle. I quite like the odd apocalyptic thriller for a change, but I was quite disappointed with this. It isn't just the end of the world, but some sort of alien invasion. There seems to be strange creatures taking over the dead humans and only one human survivor in the whole of New York City. Her name is Emily, a journalist, and is quite pathetic, so that it is a wonder how she survived as long as she did BEFORE the world as we know it ended. She seems to be the only survivor anywhere short of some scientists in Alaska.
I realise that when you read such books you have to suspend your disbelief, but I did find some of the things that happened a bit too convenient. The book reminded me slightly of the film I Am Legend. I hated the strange creatures that were lurking, and couldn't really summon up a satisfying image in my mind. They posed lots of questions but there were no answers, or even clues. The book didn't end, so much as stop, so if you want to find out what becomes of our heroine you have to buy the next book(s).
Jones' writing style was fine, I did engage with it to a certain extent, but found he got bogged down by the mundane a bit. Thus I would perhaps read the next book if it was free, but doubt I will be sufficiently motivated to purchase it.
The Tate Modern gallery is one of four Tate galleries in the UK. The original gallery was founded by Henry Tate in the late nineteenth century, but this branch (which is just for British and international modern art) was not opened until a hundred years or so later. It is situated in a former power station on London’s South Bank; right by the Millennium footbridge and next door to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre so it is really a prime spot in central London.
It is free to visit but they do charge to see special exhibitions. I have seen Matisse Cut-outs last year, and various others in the past. Booking is recommended, but not always cheap although they do have concessions available.
The Turbine Hall is a massive open space on a lower level of the gallery, which is often used for installation type exhibits. I have seen some pretty random things in there over the years.
Alongside the paid for exhibitions there are changing displays of art available to see for free. There are usually several featured artists as well as various theme or concept rooms. Artists may be 'big-hitters' that you have heard of such as Damian Hirst, Salvador Dali or Andy Warhol or people who are new to you, to discover. I'm not going to pretend that you will like all that you are going to see or even 'get' it, but if the idea is to promote discussion about art and ideas, then I think you'll find plenty here.
There is a nice bookshop and expensive café-restaurants with great views. It is also worthwhile using them as a vantage point to admire the northern side of the river with the distinctive dome of St Paul’s Cathedral looming over the buildings on the opposite bank. The gallery is also expanding with a new adjacent building being worked on.
Having decided that this season’s ‘Beachy waves’ look was something I could pull off and style myself I set about getting a few basic tools to enable this. This included some sectioning clips.
I bought these clips in Boots, they were reasonably priced at £3.59 for a pack of four good sized clips.
The clips are black and are made of a matte rubberised plastic. They seem to be quite sturdy and don’t look like they would snap easily. The base of the clips are easy to grip, not small nor fiddly with a smooth spring action. Each clip is approx. 10 cm long (of which the grippy part is abut 8cm) and they are slightly curved. The pointed (narrow) end is rounded so doesn't dig into your scalp. Within the clip there is a ridged part on the bottom and small, firm 'bristles' on the top part. These aren't hard or sharp.
For an evening out, when I want my waves to look a bit neater, I section it into four sections and the I curl it with my narrow straighteners. I often feel I need an extra pair of hands when styling my hair, and these have definitely made life easier. If I don’t get the look I am aiming for it is usually down to my own incompetence, rather than the tools I am using.
If you have very long hair it is easy to get your hair caught in the next clip if you are not careful, especially at the back where you can’t see. I tend to fold or twist my hair before clipping it, however if I don’t get a good grip with the underneath hair, the clip can gradually slide down. I don’t think these are a fault of the clips necessarily, more user error. When removing them it is worth making sure you have unclipped them, rather than just pulling them out, as the little rounded spikes can catch on your hair.
I think these are a must-have tool for styling your own hair, especially if it is long. I think these are also a good size and quality as well as being reasonably priced.
The Fault in Our Stars in a novel by American author John Green. It is a moving account of a teenage girl called Hazel who has a rare form of cancer. She attends a support group, but mostly because her parents make her, and one day she meets a boy called Gus who she connects with and starts to see outside of group.
Hazel has a favourite book, also about a teenage girl with cancer, and she shares this book with Gus and they set about trying to track down the author and find out what happened to some of the characters in the book.
Mostly I found the book engagingly written. As it is written from a teenager's perspective it is not heavy or hard going, but it is moving in places, mostly due to the nature of the subject matter. Whilst I didn't have much in common with Hazel, I did feel an admiration for her and her attitude. Whilst not having suffered myself (fortunately), I liked her pragmatic attitude was refreshing and I thought how she freely admitted battles with depression and problems relating to other teenagers would be realistic in the circumstances. I think it is targeted at the ‘Young Adult’ market, but this should not put off an older adult.
I would recommend this book, but it is sad in parts (and not always the parts you expect).
There has been some criticism of this book and how it portrayed Hazel’s particular form of cancer, as being more serious than it needs to be.