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This enjoyable film was based on the true story of Colin Clark, who at the time, was third assistant director to Laurence Olivier on the film The Price and the Showgirl, which starred Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. The story follows Colin (played by Eddie Redmayne)as he assists Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) with the difficult star, Marilyn (Michelle Williams).
Marilyn is surrounded by her team of sycophants but is filled with self-doubts (as well as booze and pills), worried that she isn't good enough as an actress and stumbling over her lines. Newly married to playwright Arthur Miller, she is insecure with dramatic mood swings. Olivier is captivated by Marilyn initially but frustrated by the fact that she cannot remember her lines, making him angry and Marilyn more upset. Marilyn feels better when Colin is with her and he, in turn, starts to fall for her charm and vulnerability.
The film is quite simple in its execution: just taking a small period in time and dropping us right in - no setting of the background, just a short spoken introduction by Colin. Marilyn and Olivier need no introduction, of course.
The film is based on Clark's memoirs and was adapted by Adrian Hodges. Director is Simon Curtis, who I was not familiar with, but thought did a very good job. The main leads did a sterling job in their parts, ably supported by the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Zoe Wanamaker, Toby Jones and Dominic Cooper.
With a running time of little over an hour and a half, this was a very watchable and engaging film. It is not fast-paced or action-packed and at times is a tiny bit slow, but I really enjoyed the story and was intrigued how this small part of Marilyn's life would close.
I visited Rome for four days over a New Year period and found it fairly cold. Like many visitors we headed to the Colosseum which was quite an expensive attraction, but we decided against getting the audio tour to save costs. However there was very little signs inside the Colosseum, so we didn't really know what we were looking at. It was built about 80 AD and and whilst it has obviously seen better days, it is a very famous and popular image of the city. One that many tourists make the effort to see - just get the audio tour or a guide!
For me, I really liked the Roman Forum next to the Colosseum, which is even older. This part of the city would be the heart of ancient Rome, and whilst it doesn't look much now, it is free to walk around and there is quite a bit to be found. Another iconic image of the city is the Trevi fountain. This large baroque fountain seems to crop up in every film ever made in the city, even if it isn't actually near the required location. It is said that if you throw a coin over your shoulder, into it, then you will return to the city. I did this, but as yet I have not gone back.
A definite highlight of a visit to Rome is spending time in the Vatican City, but I think this is worthy of a separate post. Also worth visiting is the Spanish Steps, and some of the squares. I found it a good city to wander around and found some good, reasonably priced shops.
Hotels in Rome are VERY expensive - we ended up staying towards the north of the city, near the station. It was handy for access to the airports and transport, but it wasn't a great hotel, it looked pretty shabby and the breakfast was awful.
There were some lovely restaurants to be found, but also there are some tourist places that serve sub-par food at inflated prices, so be selective and keep your eyes peeled when looking for places to eat. Sundays and public holidays are particularly challenging as a lot of places are closed.
Pizza Express are one of the most established Pizza chain restaurants in the UK. Most recently (last Saturday lunchtime) I ate at the Wardour Street branch in central London (right by Chinatown). They have loads in London and I expect that it the same for many cities, certainly they are popping up in many smaller towns too.
We hadn't booked but didn't have to wait as it was quite early in the lunchtime session, the restaurant was a lot fuller when we left at 1.30pm.
I found all the staff to be polite and helpful, although we had a slight wait to get our plates cleared and the bill, I expect due to the fact the restaurant was a lot busier.
We ordered soft drinks which came promptly. Beers, wines and spirits are also available. I didn't have a starter on this occasion but I do love their dough balls - piping hot little balls of dough with garlic butter. The bruschetta is also good.
For my main I was tempted by the Bosco Salad which had some lovely ingredients in it including avocado and garlic mushrooms. In the end I plumped for a pizza - the Padana Leggera. The leggera pizzas are thin and crispy with a hole in the centre filled with a dressed salad, bringing the meal in to under 500 calories. The calories are an added bonus for me - I find normal pizzas quite filling and rarely finish one, so a smaller pizza with the change of texture of a crisp salad accompaniment ticks the boxes for me. This one had goats cheese and caramelised onions. If I was being critical is was a little over-cooked for me. They also sell risottos and baked dishes such as lasagne.
We didn't have desserts but they offer a good selection, including some lighter ones. Prices vary depending on location but our main courses were typically £11 in central London. I would expect to pay slightly less in other parts of the country.
With Pizza Express you know what you are getting and as a chain, it is fairly uniform - although service can vary between place to place. I prefer to try independent places but in some locations there only tend to be chains. With Pizza Express you can have a quick meal at any time, and it will inevitably be quick.
We didn't have a dessert
This is a lovely theatre that I have visited on a number of occasions, most recently last weekend to see Bradley Cooper star in The Elephant Man. The original theatre was established in the 18th Century Georgian, although I believe the current building is from 1820 and externally it is a large and attractive theatre. I believe it holds 880 people. Nearest tube stations are Picadilly Circus and Charing Cross, so you have plenty of options for food and drink nearby.
I didn't book the tickets myself, but you can buy direct from the box office or online. Prices vary depending on the play and you can usually get good seats in the middle stalls or circle for £50 or less on some productions. This time we were in the Gallery (above the Upper Circle) for £13.50. The seats here are small 'benches' with arm dividers (rather than rests) and there is very little leg room. We had a clear (but high) view of the stage, my only comment would be that we sometimes struggled to hear some of the actors especially if someone coughed nearby and drowned them out. You are very high up here, and there are a lot of stairs to climb with no lift access due to the age of the building.
The theatre looked to be well maintained and didn't look shabby, but the lights are low.
There are a number of bars in the theatre - a vodka and diet coke and a bottle of beer was £9.40 which is pricey, about a pound more than a nearby pub. Sweets and crisps could also be purchased. Staff were polite and friendly and worked efficiently, so although it was busy you didn't really have a long wait. There are toilets in various parts too - for ye level they were up a further flight of stairs. They were clean but had a problem with water pressure so you had hand wipes instead. Expect to queue in the Ladies.
You can buy programmes from a number of sellers - for the last show it was £10 for a massive full colour programme, but I don't recall paying this much before.
Although this review is about the theatre itself, I really enjoyed the play and it is always a bonus when you get to see Bradley Cooper in his underpants :-)
This novel, by Kader Abdolah, had been recommended to be by a fellow reviewer ages ago, and I was glad to finally get round to reading it.
It is set in the town of Senedjan in Iran and surrounds the family of Aqa Jaan, who lives in the house that is next to (and owns) the mosque with his cousins which include the imam of the mosque. They all live with their wives and respective families, and two 'grandmothers' that help clean and look after the imam. The book starts with the moon landings of 1969 and carries on through the American hostage situation and the Iraq-Iran war of the seventies and beyond. I was a bit too young to remember more than superficial details about this latter time, but overall this is a work of fiction existing against real-life events that would have had a dramatic affect on the country and its inhabitants.
It took me a while to get my head around the characters and who was who but in the end I was engrossed in the novel and enjoyed learning about their lives. I found the book informative as I got a better understanding of events that made up the Iranian revolution. It has many parallels with IS and the trouble that is occurring in the present day, in parts of the Islamic world.
This is a character led book and I found all the characters to be well-drawn. Obviously you don't like all of them and they have their conflicts, but you have faith in Aqa Jaan to do the right thing for his family and the mosque, even when events are outside of his control. I found the book jumped about a bit at the end as the author tried to bring things to a neat conclusion, but that aside, I really enjoyed the book and looked forward to making time to pick it up.
I visited the Malaysian state and island of Penang a few years ago now. The island can be accessed by bridge or ferry from the North-western side of Peninsular Malaysia. The main town is Georgetown. I believe the island is a lot more built up nowadays than it was when I visited, but I hope it had kept some of its unique charm.
The island was occupied by the East India Company, on behalf of what was the British Empire, in the late eighteenth century. Fort Cornwallis was built for the British military to protect British interests during the Napoleonic wars, but it has never been involved in any battles, and its role had primarily been administrative. It is worth visiting for the views of the island.
On the outskirts of the main town, Georgetown, is Kek Lok Si Temple, which is also known as the temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas. It is a Chinese-Malay Buddhist temple and is situated on a hill, and some steps, leading up to the main, dramatic pagoda. I didn't count to check if there are really 10,000 Buddhas, but there did seem to be rather a lot! You'd think after that I'd be a bit Buddha-ed out, but I later visited the Temple of the Reclining Buddha which is a Thai Buddhist temple. At 33m it is supposedly the 3rd longest, indoor, gold-plated reclining Buddha in the world. I assume there may be larger non-gold-plated or outdoor reclining Buddha statues elsewhere! Lots of temples like to make these claims. You were not allowed to take photographs at the time.
Other attractions include Snake Temple and tours showing traditional crafts and lifestyles.
Accommodation is varied and budget hotels are available. I recommend taking advantage of the local cuisine whenever possible, but there are plenty of Western style fast food places and restaurants.
My dental hygienist recommended these to me a few years ago as I struggle to floss at the back of my mouth where I was suffering from plaque build up. I usually use either the red ones (0.5mm wide brush) or blue (0.6mm wide brush). They come in packs of six with a plastic holder and there are several sizes available, and you need to factor in any gaps in your teeth when deciding. My dentist sells them but I usually buy them in either Boots or the supermarket and I am sure lots of other pharmacies and similar would stock them also.
Each pack of six comes in a small cardboard packet with a plastic holder that protects the brush that is in use - this means that you can take it out and about to clean quickly after meals as a toothpick. I tend to just leave mine at home and use them as a further 'go round' on my teeth before bed to ensure I haven't missed anything.
The brush heads are plastic coated wire and the plastic holder can also go on the bottom end of the brush to extend the handle, which can be handy for the back of the mouth, but I sometimes feel it is harder to manoeuvre with a longer handle. It is easy to squeeze the brush between your teeth at the front, to remove any unseen food residue. They do an extra soft version, but I find the original brush is fine and doesn't dig into or irritate my gums. I still find it tricky at the back of the mouth, but think it is worthwhile also using these to 'drag' along the gum line at the back as it is hard to be accurate with the toothbrush in this part.
These can usually be found at a reasonable price and I think it is worth while if you suffer with plaque build up and have difficulties flossing - I find this much easier and doesn't take up too much time.
Diet Coke is my vice. I don't like tea or coffee (I know, I'm weird), so my caffeine fix or break from the monotony of water is usually Diet Coke. I do try and mix it up with other drinks for variety, but this one is my favourite and first choice. I used to drink the regular 'full fat' version as I disliked the artificial sweetness of Diet Coke initially, but wanting to lose some weight I made the switch and found weight came off a lot easier. I have since stuck to the diet version as it has no calories or sugar. However is does have aspartame and other artificial products that may not be healthy for you either and there are various (mostly debunked) stories surfacing about them. I guess as individuals we need to decide for ourselves, it is known to be a problem if you have a problem breaking down phenylalanine however and this is usually mentioned in the ingredients.
Taste wise this is a sweet drink, and I now much prefer it to original coke, finding it less sweet than the sugar laden version. It is a good mixer when served with alcoholic spirits and is particularly nice with ice and a twist of lime (or lemon if you prefer).
At present you can get a 175ml bottle for £1.85, and different supermarkets sometimes swap offers between this brand and Diet Pepsi (its main rival). Individual cans (330ml) are about 65p and 500ml bottles £1.25. This depends on where you purchase them - smaller independent shops like newsagents often charge slightly more. It is certainly a brand to watch for multi-buy deals.
Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Colour (Caramel E150d), Sweeteners (Aspartame, Acesulfame K), Natural Flavourings Including Caffeine, Phosphoric Acid, Citric Acid. Contains a Source of Phenylalanine
Odessa on Ukraine's Black Sea coast was a interesting city which I visited during a holiday to the country in August 2013 (before all the troubles started). The city is a bit of a millionaire's playground, and a holiday destination for many wealthy Russians who have apartments in exclusive complexes or like to moor their yachts up nearby (as you do). It is a very smart city, with lots to offer the visitor, but is also quite an expensive city.
One main highlight in the Potemkin Steps, off of Primorsky Boulevard, right by the port in the heart of the city. There used to be 200 steps in ten blocks of twenty, but about 8 have been lost from the bottom, when the port was rebuilt. The stairs were featured in the Russian film 'The Battleship Potemkin' and although not their official name (especially after independence from the Soviet Union), they became known as the Potemkin steps, and the name stuck. I climbed down them and up again, but as they are wide, even and not too deep, and there are 'landings' in between each set it was not as tiring as I expected. You do get a good view of the port from the top though. The city has a number of art galleries and museums and I found the Archaeology Museum quite interesting. 90% of the artefacts were relevant to the immediate area. Another aspect of the city I liked was the green spaces, and it was nice to sit in the City Park and watch the world go by. I was here at the weekend and they had a band playing on the bandstand and a lot of the older folks got up and danced.
I very much enjoyed my visit to the Opera and Ballet Theatre and a trip out to the city to the Odessa catacombs is also worthwhile. The catacombs run under the city, but you must visit them as part of a guided tour, about 10km outside. They developed about 200 years ago as the limestone was used for building the city but also for smuggling and other illegal activities through the tunnels. More recently the tunnels played a key part in the resistance movement in the Second World War and much that you can visit is dedicated to showing how the resistance groups lived.
Obviously the political situation does not make the Ukraine a 'must see' destination about now, and we all hope that this will change with a peaceful resolution.
I've read a number of Marian Keyes books in the past, and whilst I prefer the older ones, I do enjoy the witty and engaging writing style. They fall in the 'chick lit' category and whilst a lot of that genre is little more than puff, Keyes and a few others raise the standard no end.
In this book we meet Anna Walsh, one of the many Walsh sisters we have met in previous books. That should not put you off as you do get a paragraph on each sister, so you can jump straight in if you haven't read any other books and be up to speed with the cast of characters. It's a fairly long book of almost six hundred pages but was light enough to read before bed, without making me fall asleep.
Anna lived in New York with the love of her life Aiden. We first meet her convalescing from an accident in her parent's home in Dublin. All she wants to do is get back to New York and find Aiden. I don't want to give away too much plot, but this is about an emotional journey for Anna as she comes to terms (or otherwise) we the fact that Aiden isn't around anymore. There is much more to the book than Anna mooning after Aiden though - there is her job and trying to keep it when she can barely keep from losing her mind, her bestie Jacquie and some amusing e-mail exchanges with her mother and one of her sister's back in Dublin. The latter alone is a mini-story on it owns and is an amusing bit of relief for the reader when Anna is stuck in a rut.
There are a lot of characters in the book, and it does get a bit confusing if a lot of them are around at the same time. Marian's writing style is very 'chatty' as if someone was telling you a story over a coffee or a glass of wine, and I really enjoy it, even if it does go off on a tangent occasionally (as do some of the best conversations).
All the main characters are women - I don't think this will hugely appeal to male readers - and think it would make a good holiday read.
I visited Niagara Falls as part of a trip travelling around New England (USA) and eastern Canada some years ago. We did a Cave of the Winds tour where you don fetching yellow plastic ponchos and shoes and walk special walkways which allow you to get up really close to the falls and the spray, and really get an idea of the power of the falls (you don't actually go into a cave as I recall). We also did a Maid of the Mist boat trip to see them from the water too (you get blue ponchos for this one). You can access the falls from both sides, and from memory we crossed the border into Canada as the view is supposed to be better this side.
It can be quite expensive to do all these trips, but worth it if you get the opportunity. We were on a camping trip which saved money as accommodation can be expensive in the area, and we cooked in the camp-ground. Sadly the weather was very grey and miserable when I was there and the water looked really murky. I understand that the area has embraced tourism a lot more now with lots of hotels, restaurants and casinos. If you are able to avoid weekends I suspect that you could get a very competitive deal if you shopped around. I'm not sure this uber-touristy type destination really appeals to me, but the falls are well worth enduring the crowds for.
As always search for good deals in advance
As a British resident I can visit the Houses of Parliament for free through my MP (Member of Parliament – elected official) midweek. However this wasn't convenient for me so I elected to do one of the audio guide tours at the weekend, whilst Parliament was closed for summer recess. Overseas visitors can also visit this way – I recommend booking in advance. I believe guided tours are also available, but are more expensive.
The building that houses Parliament - which comprises the House of Commons (elected MPs) and the House of Lords (appointed as life peers by the Queen on advice of the Prime minister) was built in the nineteenth century after the original was destroyed by fire, although there are older parts.
The audio tour starts in Westminster Hall, the oldest surviving part (11th Century). If you ever saw photos or TV coverage of when HM the Queen Mother died in 2002, this is the room her lying-in-state occurred. It is also used for ceremonial addresses such as royal Jubilees and top flight dignitaries.
You get to visit both Houses and it is interesting to note that they are both much smaller than they look in photos or on the TV and you are not allowed to sit on any of the seats sadly. Although Parliament was not in session, it was busy with visitors. The audio tour is very well done and I recommend it for learning more about the building, and what happens here. This was a very worthwhile place to visit on your break to London.
The Houses of Parliament aka The Palace of Westminster is located close to Westminster tube station and is on numerous bus routes for easy access. Bags will be searched on entry and there are restriction on what you can take in (water, food, bombs, guns), so remember to take them out of your bag first!
This biography, written by historian Tracy Borman, follows the life and times of Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror. Her husband is well known to legions of British school-kids learning about the Battle of Hastings (1066), but we were never taught about his wife.
Matilda came from a great royal lineage, descended from rulers from Flanders, France, England (Alfred the Great) and even Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, and was likely born around 1031. This lineage appealed to William, Duke of Normandy (a region in what is now France) who was illegitimate. However Matilda apparently refused his messenger and turned him down flat. Legend has it that he rode to her, beat her up severely, after which she claimed she would only marry him. It sounds sickening, but this seems the most likely turn of events based on the sources available today.
Matilda and William appear to have been genuinely fond of each other, and faithful. There are no reports of William having stacks of mistresses as was common for male rulers of the time. When he was ruling England, Matilda was trusted to rule the duchy of Normandy (even when their sons were of age). However he was keen for Matilda to be seen as his Queen and she did eventually join him in England, and was crowned at Westminster Abbey a few years after he took the throne. No other woman had been crowned before in England, the wives of the old English rulers were never considered worthy enough of this privilege.
The problem with writing a biography of someone who lived a thousand years ago is the lack of contemporary sources – many accounts were written some five hundred years later and cannot be easily verified. This is doubly so the case for a woman as often they were ignored and over-looked by a patriarchal society. Borman is aware of this and often offers the reader conflicting accounts and will state which version of events is most likely based on other evidence and facts. I liked that the reader can feel free to agree or disagree and draw their own conclusion.
Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal and I visited it in conjunction with a visit to India in 2008. I have to confess, my first impressions were not great, as we witnessed a lot of poverty as we drove into the heart of the city, which was quite dirty and has a lot of beggars and I thought I wouldn't like it. However, it has become one of my favourite all-time cities because there are not many places that offer you a magnificent mountain range and a living goddess all in the same morning!
We got up very early on our first full morning here and were driven to the airport. Here we got a small 18 person plane and took a scenic flight to view Mount Everest (the world’s highest mountain) and the Himalaya mountain range. We were given an outline map so we could identify the peaks as we flew past, and the stewardess helped us identify them. We also could go into the cockpit to take photos one at a time.
Following on from this we returned to the heart of the city and Durbar Square. This main square is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is clean and tidy (although a few too many pigeons for my liking) and dates back a thousand years, although most buildings are more recent than that. I recommend visiting a cafe at one of the high five-story buildings as you will get amazing views of the old city and a backdrop of the Himalayan mountains as you lunch. Not many cities can offer this! This is just a small section in the picture, to give you an idea of the style of the buildings. The living goddess or Kumari is where a specially chosen pre-pubescent girl is worshipped as the embodiment of a Hindu goddess, and she lives in a palace, in Durbar Square, with her family until she menstruates or has a serious illness, when she is returned to whence she came. At certain times of the day she appears at a window and looks at us commoners in the courtyard below. We are not allowed to take photos of her, and should put our hands together in praying position and bow our heads.
This is just an excerpt of what you can expect to see in this city. The city is vast and many smaller towns on its outskirts have now been absorbed, but are still worth visiting for their own unique temples or buildings. The country is recovering from the devastating earthquakes and needs tourists as much as ever, and I think this would be a good time to go. Kathmandu is a good place to base yourself to explore this part of Nepal before you go trekking for example.
I was lucky enough to get tickets for one of Ed Sheeran's sold out show's at Wembley Stadium. It was my first visit to the 'new' stadium having previously only visited the old'twin towers' stadium or the arena. This review is based on my experience attending a music event here.
There are three stations accessing the stadium - Wembley Park (underground), Wembley Central (the furthest - underground and overground) and Wembley Stadium (mainline - Chilterns) which we used from London Marylebone. The concert capacity is over 90,000 people apparently (I didn't count!) but it seemed very organised when we all came out at the same time. Nearby is an outlet shopping centre with restaurants if you want to sit and eat before going in.
The stadium allows you to take plastic bottles of soft drink in (lids removed) and a small amount of food for personal use in disposable packaging (crisps, cereal bars etc). I expect to be ripped off for food and drink in these places, but I hate queuing 40 minutes to be ripped off! However they did seem to have a good mix of food available at prices that were not completely obscene! Queues seemed to be well managed and fast moving. My friend and I got champagne cocktails (330ml) for £8 which is typical London cocktail bar prices - just in a plastic cup. Smirnoff Ice was £4.90 and beer was similarly priced. There were some beer stands on the pitch, but we preferred to go out.
At peak times there will be queues for the Ladies loos but they weren't too bad and seemed to be quite clean - I didn't go right at the end though!
Generally I was impressed with the cleanliness, layout, organisation and staff at the stadium. It is a non-smoking venue, however a few people pitch side did think they were excluded from this rule, which the staff found hard to enforce. Otherwise I thought the place was very well run.
Oh, and the concert was brilliant!