Sunday, 27 November 2011

Cottage 2 update

Here's an update of where I am with my current project, Cottage 2 (Cottage 1 was completed by my Grandma).  The top half of the house had been completed before I started work on this project, as had the trees on the right hand side.

A certain amount of unpicking had to be done yesterday as I had miscounted, which was a little frustrating, but all done now and back on with it.  I'm hoping the rest will stitch up fairly quickly, but I don't have a completed image to look at as I'm going.  Also some of the backstitching is covering a couple of the stitches up, so I'll have to take a good guess as to what they are.  More soon, but that's all for now.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Prince's Trust Rock Gala 2011

I feel terribly lucky to have been at this event.  Not only had I never been inside the Royal Albert Hall before, but to be offered tickets in a box, to a charity concert, was I think one of the nicest ways to first experience it.

Having read the lineup for the event, I wouldn't have said that there was anyone on the list that I'd have particularly paid money to see, but when you step inside the auditorium, the atmosphere just feels good.  You know that the money raised during the evening is going to a great cause.  I'll admit, I felt a bit posh and spoiled, sipping my champagne, but it was nice, just for once.

The headline act was Pete Townshend who seems to be everywhere at the moment.  I'm not familiar with his music at all, not quite old enough to have been brought up on it, so whilst he was good, it wasn't really my cup of tea.  Thankfully, someone pointed out that 'Won't get Fooled Again' is used in one of the CSI series, so I did recognize that one!!

However, I was very pleasantly surprised by a lot of the other acts.  I'd say the highlights for me were probably Cerys Matthews (performing Catatonia's hit Road Rage, plus covers of Ring of Fire and Love Me Tender) and Joss Stone (I've had Super Duper Love stuck in my head all day), who both sounded spectacular, and also Boy George and Julian Lennon who were so much better live than I would have ever expected.

But with so many other well known names on the bill and in the house band, and the audience up on their feet many times throughout the show, it just felt like a really lovely evening all together.  And next year, I would happily pay for a ticket to see something like this again.

The event was being filmed to be shown on Christmas Day on Sky Arts and Sky 3D channels, so if you can catch it or record it, then do.  It's well worth a watch, but I don't think it will beat actually being there in person.  Look out for me on the telly - I'm the overexcited one dancing whilst trying not to fall out of the box.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

New York roundup

Overall, I had a great weekend in New York.  The shopping was every bit as good as I had been told, and I think I fell in love with Macy's, especially decked out in all its Christmas baubles and lighting.

I felt safer than I expected to, I think the thing is that everywhere in Manhattan is so busy that you don't really feel like you're walking in a strange location on your own.  I felt quite at home pretty much straight away.  Even Times Square which I thought I would find overwhelming with its lights and people was actually ok.  A bit like Leicester Square I guess, I wouldn't choose to go there but as a tourist, its something you just go and see.

The water made my skin feel great! One thing I hate about London is the horrible hard water.  But by the time I left I felt like all my dry skin had cleared up and my spots had gone and I felt glowy!

But onto the negative... the pricing.  The tax gets added on top of the price on the ticket.  It caught me out a few times and I don't really understand the reasoning for not putting the full price on the ticket.  I guess it makes the item sound cheaper, but I found this really frustrating every time I spent money on something.

I did like the city a lot, I felt like I could happily live there, and there were lots of nice little places to eat and the park was really great to walk around.  Next time I'd like to do a boat trip I think, because I felt like we didn't have time to fit that in really.  But I'd recommend visiting when it is all done up for Christmas, it is brilliant for presents which are different to here in the UK, and I'd say 4-5 days there would be perfect to do a good amount of touristy stuff.  I felt a bit like we had to cram everything in with just 3 days and could have done with pacing myself a bit better with the walking.

But we were really lucky with 3 days of beautiful sunshine and I had a great time.  And now my first trip to the US is done, who knows where will be next?!

...Then on Sunday

Since we had seen a lot of NY from the ground, we thought it'd be great to see it from above.  

An early start meant that we got to the Empire State Building before too many queues had formed, and the 1 hour wait that was mentioned to us was much more like 10 minutes.  Since Rob had been to the Observation deck but not all the way up to the top floor, 102 floors up, we decided to do that.  It seemed like not too many people had taken that option.  It was a little expensive, but we figured that we probably won't do it again.


We had a great view over the whole city, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Also seeing the exhibition about how the building had been built and how little time it took for something so massive, we were pretty amazed, especially looking at the photos of the men with almost no safety equipment holding them up and imagining what it must have been like.  After we'd been there for an hour or so it was starting to get really busy, so we left through the obligatory gift shop.

The building itself is lit up in the evening, often for a particular reason with particular colours.  The full schedule is on the website.  As we left, many people were stopping to take a photo with the beautiful Christmas trees and of the stunning architecture, so here's mine :)

After this we decided it was time for brunch, and this time I was after some eggs.  After a quick search on foursquare for brunch in the area, we walked over to Penelope.  Unfortunately, I think most of the city had had the same idea, since the wait was well over an hour.  After finally getting seated, we had a cracking brunch - I had the Sam I Am, which was something different to what I'm used to, with Asparagus and Feta cheese!

A little more shopping in the afternoon followed by a quick change in and we pottered along to Times Square, all lit up and busy.  Rob had stayed in the Marriott before, and we decided that the revolving restaurant might be pretty nice for our last night.  Again, the food was delicious, and although it was filling, the steak we both had was fantastic.  We walked it off by talking a little wander to Radio City - I've seen it so many times from other people so it was lovely to finally be standing opposite it in person. 

And on Saturday...

On Saturday, I woke up craving a cup of tea.  Guess what.  Our fancy hotel must have been too fancy to have facilities to make yourself a cuppa.  I'm assuming this isn't typical of America, I mean I know they love coffee over there, but really, I've never stayed in a hotel where you couldn't make yourself a hot drink in the morning.

After a good grumble at my still half asleep husband, I got up and got ready to get out and about.  We decided to head in the opposite direction to Friday and towards Central Park.  Lucky for us, our hotel was lovely and central.  

We had brunch on the edge of the park in Sarabeth's.  I decided to go with the unusual (for me that is) and ditched my usual cooked breakfast to try the buttermilk pancakes with strawberries.  They were pretty delicious, but I still don't think I could eat that much sugar for breakfast every weekend.  

Our next stop was to the toyshop FAO Schwarz, mainly to see the piano that they used in the film 'Big' but we had such a fun time looking at all the toys and trying to stop ourselves splashing out on the kiddies we love.  If you want to have a go on the piano you can, or stick around for the shows twice an hour with the professionals.

Afterwards, we took a long stroll in Central Park, which was really busy.  We walked up and around the lake, looking back onto the city, which was a lovely view, especially given the clear blue skies.  Although it was busy in the park, it never felt uncomfortably crowded and the general atmosphere was one of people just hanging out with their families or friends.

As it grew dark, we headed towards Hell's Kitchen to see if we could find somewhere to eat.  We walked past a great looking restaurant called 9, did a quick check on Opentable to see what the reviews were like and decided to give it a go.  We were pretty early so it wasn't too loud, but by the time we left the place was pretty full.  I had the Tuna Tartare to start and the Organic Chicken as a main course, and I have to say that both were fantastic.  The chicken was the juciest I ever remember having eaten.  Although I was pretty full, we decided to share some mini ice creams for desert.  It was followed by a slow and podgy walk back to the hotel and a very good nights sleep.

Last Friday...

With Rob being at work for most of the day, it was up to me to brave it on my own round New York.  Armed with a map, and a few instructions for where the best shopping was, I grabbed a quick Starbucks and headed off in the direction of Broadway.  I think it felt good that most people were on their way to work, which meant that when I got to Macy's there weren't too many people about.

It was all decorated for Christmas, and in the windows and inside it looked beautiful.  I didn't realise while I waited for the doors to open, but there were 9 floors.  After a couple of hours of browsing and treating myself to a jumper, I decided that I'd better leave or else I wouldn't see anything else of the city for the whole day.  As I left the store, I saw the lit up word 'Believe' on the side of the building and looking at the street name I finally twigged that I was seeing something of the film 'Miracle on 34th Street' which is still one of my favourite Christmas films.  What a doofus not to spot the connection before.

Plenty of browsing throughout the day, I made my way down Broadway and 5th Avenue all the way until I got to the site of the World Trade Centre.  It was a hive of activity to see the new buildings going up... they are already pretty tall.

Just as the sun was going down, Rob finished for the day and caught up with me and we headed over to the Hudson River.  It was a lovely evening with a view towards the Statue of Liberty in one direction and the Empire State Building in the other, glowing in the evening sun.

We finished off the day with a mexican meal in Dos Caminos in Soho, and a bowl of Guacamole about the size of my head.  The food was tasty and filling.  We walked back to the hotel, past the Empire State Building, all lit up for the evening.  It was a very relaxing day, but my feet were so so sore!  Still, the exercise is good for me, right?

Last Thursday...

...Something quite fabulous happened.  I got on a plane.  By myself.  For the first time, I flew to the United States of America.  Rob was in New York for the full week, and he and everyone else twisted my arm to go out there for the weekend.

So, a very early start and I arrived at Heathrow with a heap of time to spare.  I'd heard amazing things about Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food, so with 3 hours at least until being fed on the plane, I decided breakfast was in order.  The Eggs Florentine I ordered were the best I've ever had.  The portion size was spot on so that I felt full but not stuffed.

The BA flight was full, but the time passed quickly.  Again, the food was excellent, I was pretty impressed that we weren't fed too much as on some flights I've been on.  So I arrived feeling ok, and the customs man was nice to me and made me smile, and they let me in so that was all great!

I was a little tired since I don't sleep on planes, but an hour in a taxi later and I was at the beautiful Bryant Park Hotel.  The view out of the window was of the ice rink in Bryant Park and the lovely little stalls of handmade goods.  The room itself was a suite and it was enormous, with an equally beautiful and huge bathroom.  And I slept so well on the first night which is something I rarely manage.

After Rob finished work, we headed out locally for a meetup with a few old friends from the London office and a couple of beers and I felt very quickly at home, and had Manhattan pegged as something between London and Sydney.  Somewhat familiar but with a few things to get used to at the same time.  But I was excited for the weekend rather than petrified of being in a place I didn't know.  Go me.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


In the past, I have dabbled with watching reality TV.  When Pop Idol first started in the UK, I watched it periodically, to catchup with who was good and who I really wasn't bothered about.  Back then, I was very much a fan of pop idol.  Now we have The X Factor.  I don't think I've watched a single series.  For a start, I cannot bear to cringe my way through the audition process.  Secondly, I don't think there's anything new or exciting, from the snippets I've seen when I've visited friends who are avid watchers, and when my family visit and beg to watch it - it all seems like pop.  For a girl who has found her way to Punk/alt music, I can say that this reality show holds no interest for me, I don't care who the judges are, and I find that I have no buy in to any of the acts.  How about a Punk Idol? (jk, I know it wouldn't work before the watershed)

I'm a Celebrity just makes me want to vomit, because I just find all those bushtucker trials disgusting.  Some people might get pleasure out of watching celebs make themselves ill or eat things I never would, but really, not for me.

Big Brother. Ahhh. I'll admit, I have watched certain series of this.  I watched the first couple when it was new and interesting and when Nasty Nick's behaviour was shocking and it wasn't clear what would happen in the house.  It was a bit more of a social experiment and that made it interesting and the people seemed like they might have been quite normal people that you might have known.  These days, it seems to be the most outrageous people who will all cause trouble or have a 'thing' about them.  This promotes lots of arguing and sniping, backstabbing and shouting out in the open.  Some people like this, I prefer a quiet life.

I wasn't really interested in Strictly Come Dancing.  I was quite irritated when Arlene left, since she is one of the best known choreographers in the UK, she knows her stuff and she was honest with her opinions.  However, let's let that one go, it's in the past. This year -  I. Am. Hooked.  Between the UK version and the US one which films on Monday nights and airs a week later here in the UK, I am stunned by the quality of the participants this year.  I only really set them to record because I thought it would be fun to watch certain people (Jason, Harry, Holly - UK and Ricki, Carson - US).  It's been interesting because those I thought wouldn't do so well have had weeks of brilliance, and those I thought it would come naturally to have struggled.  But I have enjoyed every single show, it brightens up my week and I plan to stick with it.

Having said that, with all the scheduling of reality tv (there seems to be a new one popping up every week), I suppose I feel that these shows are being made in place of other, traditional TV, which is a real shame.  Perhaps with the surprise popularity of Downton Abbey, the UK is ready for a little less reality and a lot more of an escape with a bit of well scripted and performed drama.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

It's all about the Service

Isn't it depressing when you receive bad service from a place, for no particular reason. These days I order a lot more online than I used to and last year I think I did most of my xmas shopping online. A lot of the time, the delivery person is in a hurry to complete their round, I totally understand that. But really, would it hurt them to smile as they hand over the parcel?

I remember one occasion this year when the delivery person practically threw the parcel at me with such a horrible look on his face and then stormed off out of the building. Had that man been a representative of the company that I ordered from rather than a delivery courier, I would never have ordered from them again. It ruined my day, and it is a moment that has really stuck in my memory. All because I didn't answer the door within a couple of seconds so he could rush off to his next delivery. I felt like an inconvenience, when I had paid for that item and probably paid a delivery charge on top. 

Then there are companies who cold call us. They read from a script, and sometimes they don't even deviate from this when you try and talk to them. When you try to cut them off not to waste their time, they can become downright rude. Some of them have even just put the phone down on me. The way that I like to deal with the really persistent ones, is to waste their time back. I let them get through to the end of their script, often a few minutes long, and then I tell them I'm not interested. These ones are just pests. I'm a very reasonable person, and I know it is their job to sell sell sell, but when they invade my life and then talk over me with their script, I don't feel bad about being an arse.

In contrast, there have been two occasions this week when I've had excellent customer service. Firstly, speaking to a lovely lady yesterday to update some details into my married name. The lady at BA was great. Friendly, helpful, and she did exactly what she said, turned my request around quickly and gave me faith in the company. I am a person who hates making phone calls. But when you get service like this, it makes life easier and makes me hate it less.

Secondly, a service company. My husband spoke to them on the phone on Friday as there was a problem with the flat. They were, again, friendly, they talked with him through the problem and arranged to send someone out. The guy arrived exactly on time, with a smile on his face, a bit of conversation and fixed the problem and explained it to me as he wrote out the service report. If only more companies were like this. 

So, if you're in a service role, and you have to interact with customers or potential customers, then please, whatever is happening in your day, there's no need to take it out on the person opening the door or answering the phone unless they've done something to you to deserve it.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Madina Lake @Electric Ballroom

My first time in the Electric Ballroom for a gig and I found it a pretty good experience. It felt big enough that I was completely comfortable to stand where I could have some space and I still had an amazing view of the stage.

First support was Super Happy Fun Club, another Chicago band. I really liked their sound and their vibe, plenty of energy on stage, and I'd had a quick little listen to some of their music before the gig and recognised some of it so it must have got stuck somewhere in my head. They delivered a solid set.

Next on was My Passion. I thought they were also pretty good, but maybe a little heavy for my personal tastes and the lighting guy seemed to be going a bit mad with the strobe which wound me up a bit. But, it was bursting with energy and they sounded great as a live act.

Onto Madina Lake then. From the second they stepped out, I started grinning like a fool and I don't think I stopped until the lights came up at the end of the show. Their whole vibe is so infectious, and it was a totally different atmosphere to last August when they had to play without Matthew whilst he was recovering. That time, totally emotional, and this time absolutely on fire and sparky - they looked as though they had a brand new lease of life, and a proud confidence that a band has when they know they've delivered the best music of their careers so far, produced exactly as they wanted.

The set was a pretty balanced selection of tracks from all three albums, including 'Howdy Neighbor' and 'Imagineer' from latest album WWIII. If I'd been in charge of picking the set, I would have picked an almost identical list, possibly with the exception that I'd have thrown in 'Across 5 Oceans' as I think it lends itself to jumping around with a big crowd of people and singing at the top of your voice. Without giving too much away, I'll say that the staging was pretty thoughtful and immersive which added to the buzz.

My only real criticisms of the show were that the sound in the venue wasn't the best ever and Jeezi was a little in the shadows at the back of the stage, but at least his drums were on a platform this time so he wasn't completely lost behind the other guys.

Overall a fantastic and fun show from four truly brilliant and inspiring guys. I went home happy, uplifted, and exhausted, and that's all I can really ask for.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Old projects

Last month, I wrote about a piece that I was starting work on that had originally been started by my Grandma. I was finding the wool a bit tough and found that it hurt my hands more than regular cross stitch. I changed to a smaller needle. This had two effects - the first that it didn't pull quite so much and was a little easier on my hands and the second was that the needle kept falling out of the material by the time I'd moved my hand around to the back.

Thankfully it was a small piece, and I'm pleased to say that I completed it yesterday. Grandma had done the green and I finished off all the rest. Picture below:

But no rest for the wicked, as soon as I finish a piece I'm stripping it off the frame and getting the next one lined up. I'm going to be doing the other UFO of Grandma's which is a little cottage (one of a pair, the other is already finished). Luckily I managed to locate all the matching threads and I'm ready to go. My HAED projects are sitting in a corner taunting me with 'you have to finish all the other older pieces you bought before you can start us'. Sigh, and I'll keep plugging away!