48 hours in Liverpool

For Christmas this year Ben & I decided to do presents a bit differently.

Rather than buy each other a gift, we decided to each book a surprise mini break for each other. I chose Liverpool.

Having been to Liverpool for a work conference around four years ago when I worked at the paper I’d had a glimpse of the city and it seemed like a lively place, a cross between the historic (the Albert Docks) and the modern (the Liverpool One shopping centre). I’d been itching to go back and get a chance to explore properly, and I had a feeling it was the kind of place which would be perfect for a little city break. It turns out I was right…

John Lennon’s statue outside the Cavern Pub in Matthew Street

How to get there?

We decided to drive up, as it works out quite a bit cheaper than the train. It took around four hours from Berkshire, which was fine, although the way back took an epic 5.5 hours due to roadworks – gah! We’ve done a few road trips like this now (including Edinburgh), where our hotels/apartments haven’t had parking so we’ve stayed in town centre car parks. It worked out at £13 a day, which isn’t too bad either.

Where to stay?

We stayed at the gorgeous Malmaison hotel near the Docks. We’re both big fans of Malmaison in Reading, (although we haven’t actually stayed there we got a sneak peak of rooms during Dante or Die’s I Do theatre production) and we love popping in for a few drinks. Malmaison always feels soothing – I think it’s the dark walls and dim lights, it just makes you feel relaxed. Our room was a good size and it had a huge bathtub plus a walk in monsoon shower, which is always a bonus. It was a great location too, just a 10 minute walk to the Docks or the town centre.

What to do?

A must-visit while you’re in Liverpool

Liverpool is ideal for a two day visit as it gives you enough time to explore the culture (and do a bit of shopping!). Our first stop was The Cavern Club, home of the Beatles. Although we’re not super Beatles fans as such, you can’t help but be in awe of the venue, and enjoy hearing their music played live. All the greats have played at The Cavern and there’s just so much history. We had a beer and listened to some Beatles covers and it was the perfect way to start our trip.

It’s also well worth taking a walk along the Albert Docks which have little shops and restaurants nestled around them. There are some impressive boats moored there, and it’s also the home of Tate Liverpool. We popped in as I wanted to see the Tracey Emin/William Blake exhibition they had going on, and we found ourselves wandering around for a good 90 minutes. The gallery had a really nice mix of work, including a quirky robot play which was taking place while we were there.

And of course, there’s the shopping. Liverpool One has all the main high street players, and there are a few other little streets/shopping centres to find too.

Where to eat?

Eggs Benedict at Lox and Caper

Being mostly driven by our stomachs, food plays a big part in any mini break we go on, and we discovered some complete gems in Liverpool (pretty much due to Ben’s sixth sense for picking a good restaurant!). We tend to look at TripAdvisor (although you do have to take the reviews with a pinch of salt), and then have a look on a restaurant’s website/Facebook page. Here are the places we tried:

  • The Salt House. Such. good. Tapas. Ben spotted this while we were walking through the town centre looking for somewhere to grab a quick bite to eat after arriving in Liverpool. They had a set menu which offered three tapas dishes and bread per person, and it was just the right amount. One of my dishes was a cauliflower risotto which was wonderfully creamy, and the pan-fried pardon peppers with flakes of salt were delicious with a hint of bitterness.
  • Mowgli. We rocked up for a table at 7pm but it was so busy we were told we wouldn’t get seated until 9pm. No problem, we thought, we’ll just do our night in reverse and go for some drinks first. What’s the harm right? The harm is that alcohol skews your judgement and you end up ordering the entire menu. (I lie, it was the whole menu but it was A LOT of food!). Mowgli was superb. It’s an Indian street food menu with things like Bhel Puri and roti flat breads alongside lots of different curries and street meats. We had the Yoghurt Chat Bombs which were incredible – they kind of pop in your mouth and you have all these spices and flavours alongside the cooling yoghurt – and we went for ‘a Tiffin box for one’ each, which is like a curry roulette. You get three curries and a rice, which are delicious but it was way too much – just go for one between two.
  • Lox and Caper – We very nearly didn’t find Lox and Caper as it’s tucked in with the Merseyside Youth Association. The MYA reception desk is at one side, and the cafe tables at the other. We popped in for brunch and the menu has loads of awesome things including several different variations on Eggs Benedict. I had the traditional which came with super thick ham and a creamy Hollandaise, and Ben went for the Oscar which came with brisket. A no-frills, super good food kind of place.
  • Bacaro – More tapas I hear you cry? I know, but we were SO full from over-doing it at Mowgli we decided to go for small plates for our second evening. Looking at the website, we think Bacaro may be linked to the Salt House, but it felt more like an evening venue, with twinkly lights and super friendly staff. Everything was delicious – the fluffiest mozarella, crispy deep fried gnocci with pesto, slithers of beef carpaccio. And a lovely prosecco.
  • Castle St Townhouse – You can see a pattern emerging. Tapas. Brunch. Tapas. Brunch. Castle St Townhouse was a comforting place to stop and refuel before heading home. Our waiter brought us some cucumber water to start (refreshing) and then we sipped tea and coffee while tucking into baked eggs with chorizo (Ben) and a black pudding hash topped with a poached egg (me). The menu was slightly more interesting than most brunch venues and the food was lovely.

Where to drink?

We went on a mini bar crawl while waiting for our table at Mowgli and ended up trying a couple of cool places.

The Underground Gin Society – It just sounds fun, right? Set down a little flight of steps, so you could totally walk by and not even realise it was there, the Underground Gin Society is a cosy, dark little bar, with ALL THE GINS. We tried the Liverpool Gin (when in Liverpool eh?) which is served with a slice of watermelon. It was light and tasty but the barman put in way too much tonic so it sort of swamped the flavour a bit. Less tonic, more gin please.

The Alchemist – Breaking Bad meets cocktail bar. Think Long Island Ice Teas which cloud with dry ice, or cocktails served in those triangular laboratory flasks. It’s achingly cool, but doesn’t feel too pretentious. I had a Peaches and Cream (Briottet peach and pink grapefruit, lemon, prosecco) which was just the right amount of sweet.

Malmaison – It would have been rude not to have a nightcap at Malmaison. The bar wasn’t busy but it felt cosy and relaxed and we sipped a warming whiskey to finish off our night after Bacaro.

And that is how to fill 48 hours in Liverpool. Well worth a visit if you get the chance.

Where have you been?

A photo I took on a blustery tube strike day walking to Waterloo. A bit of computer wizardry has turned it into a painting and I kind of love it like this.

Since 3 January the rhythm of my life has changed pretty dramatically.

A 10 minute commute has become an 80 minute one on a good day, and a 100 minute one on a bad day, and with it my habits and routines have had to twist and bend.

How cool is my train pass holder which my lovely sister bought for me. Officially a commuter.

I talk about train times and delays a bit too much now, and I’m no longer the last person left standing at a crossing in London waiting for the green man because I’m not quite sure what the flow of traffic is.

I eat a bit less, I drink tea a bit more and I do personal correspondence on the train (see I told you I mention trains all the time!).

Love this sign. I saw it outside a little shop near Buckingham Gate and it sang to me

I enjoy a walk in green spaces to clear my head, and I have seen the best and worst of people on public transport (yes, trains). It still makes me smile to see London landmarks arching over the skyline.

The London Eye on a chilly Friday night

Gone are the free hours to blog (as you’ve probably noticed!) and instead time has become really precious again. I eat, I read, I socialise and I crochet.

I’m making a crochet mood blanket where I make one square a day in a colour which matches my mood. So far I’m only 3 days behind, hoorah!

Books have been a saviour on some commuter days, when the thought of getting up in the dark is eased by the knowledge that I’ll get to tuck back into whatever imaginary world I’m wandering around in at the moment. Instagram has become the place I chart my reading adventures, a bit of mini blogging I guess.

Loved this book. Such a multi-layered story.

Weekends have become precious and short and I actually let myself stop and catch up now, rather than rushing around to fill every moment. That said, last weekend I went back into London for a bottomless brunch at Forge&Co with some of my best friends and it was so nice being in town at a weekend and getting to enjoy the non-commuter side of things too.

Poached eggs and prosecco

I love this new way of being. Don’t get me wrong it is tiring (and tiredness has a way of being quiet for so long and then jumping out at you so you sleep in until 10am on a Sunday – woops!), but it feels bigger. I feel different – challenged and invigorated – and I’ve realised a fast pace is definitely my kind of thing. I’m looking forward to seeing the seasons change in London and for the first summer walk around St James’s Park, and I’m excited to keep growing and embracing this new way of life.

The Festival of Light at Longleat Safari Park

If the saying is true, that whatever you’re doing on New Year’s Day will set the tone for the rest of the year, then 2017 is going to be really blooming brilliant.

After an awesome New Year’s Eve spent drinking gin, eating Thai food and playing games at Cat & Alex’s we all hopped in the car and went to Longleat Safari Park for New Year’s Day.

Animal ears were compulsory!

Longleat brings back memories of being about 14 and going there with one of my best friends and her family, and I haven’t been since so it was really nice to return and see how it’s changed in the last 14ish years.

We decided to go for the safari first, which was every bit as brilliant as I remember. You do the whole safari in your own car, except for a small stop off at the African village to start with, and you get given a CD to play which talks you through each area as you drive into it.

Gorgeous

The animals just roam free around you, and it really is amazing how close they get to the cars. The lions were incredible and I loved the wolves who definitely looked as if they were posing for photos!

The monkey enclosure is definitely still the best as they leap up onto your car and scamper around. We saw one having a good old chew on a car aerial behind us but luckily our car came out unscathed.

After lots of squealing at the monkeys and some Oohs and Aahs over the wildcats we drove back down to the main entrance area to warm up with a hot, gooey pizza. It was the soggiest day outside, and we got completely soaked at the African village, but we all decided to just go with it anyway, and not let the weather dampen our day.

We bought a couple of brollies and headed to the outdoor maze. I remember the maze seeming so huge as a kid, and it taking us ages to find the middle, but my sense of direction must have improved as I was the second out of our group to make my way through.

Totally didn’t get lost in the maze!

After that we went into Longleat House which is stunning, and they had some gorgeous Beatrix Potter ballet costumes on show. There was also a roaring fire at the entrance so we lingered a bit there in an attempt to get dry.

And then it was back outside to check out the Festival of Light. The festival has actually been so popular they’ve extended the dates so it’s running up to next weekend too. It’s so worth a visit – the lights were gorgeous, with a whole garden full of cheeky Beatrix Potter characters.

There was also a section celebrating Longleat’s 50 year anniversary with a huge birthday cake, presents and animals, which was brilliant.

Happy birthday Longleat!

There were New Year’s Day fireworks schedule for 6pm but being pretty cold and wet by that point we decided to head home. Even with the pouring rain, it was such a brilliant day, and if the rest of the year carries on like that we may be rather soggy but we’ll definitely be very happy indeed.

Looking forward

Well 2016 has been a bit of an oddball of a year hasn’t it?

And by oddball I mean a year which saw two occasions when we went to bed and couldn’t believe what we were seeing when we woke up. A year with so much public grief for lost heroes. A year with news headlines which made your stomach lurch when you read them.

It’s no wonder the online world is currently being so vocal about how ready it is to close the door on 2016, to put it down as a black blotch of ink on the scroll of time and instead fill our hearts with hope and move on.

Personally, 2016 has been a bit of a limbo year, saving, saving, saving in the hope that we’ll eventually be able to buy a home to call our own.

And it has also been a year with so much goodness. I’ve danced on many a wedding dance floor and seen wonderful friends profess their love for one another and I’ve cuddled adorable new babies who just leave me in total awe of how precious they are. I’ve had an epic adventure to the Edinburgh Fringe with the best people, I’ve flown to Malta where I braved a storm and never knew that just watching Harry Potter while the rain hammers down outside could make you feel so content.

I’ve had afternoons sitting on the floor of my parents home playing games with wonderful little people, I’ve sung at the top of my voice while standing in a field watching Fall Out Boy, I’ve clinked cocktails with many, many friends and I sat in the sunshine for a day on my own in London with a ice lolly which tasted like champagne.

Without getting completely sentimental, I’ve spent lots of time with the people I love, which absolutely does mean the most, and looking at the world outside has made me realise how precious the simple things inside my little bubble are.

So, 2017. It feels like we’re on the cusp of a big year. I’m about to start a new job in London (excited!) and we’re about to begin ‘the great big house hunt’.  This year will also see some amazing friends tie the knot and there’s already a bit of travelling on the cards (Bruges here we come!).

I’ve been thinking hard over the last few weeks about what 2016 has taught me, and have put together a bit of a goals/resolution list for the year ahead.

1. Focus on the good. As said by Roald Dahl – ‘If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.’

2. Stop mindlessly scrolling. I’ve realised how much social media has negatively impacted on my happiness this year (this article in the Guardian says it all) so I’m going to try stepping away a bit more.

3. Walk. If bootcamp taught me anything this year, it’s that exercise = happier. And with the Shine walking marathon in September I better get my boots on.

4. Have a brilliant year in my new job. Let the London commuter life begin!

5. Crochet a mood blanket. I saw this idea on Bella Coco’s blog and just ordered 25 (!) balls of wool, with 10 different colours matching a different mood. I’ll be making one square a day, based on how I feel. Let’s hope for lots of happy pink.

6. Get lost in books. Escaping into pages always makes me feel better and there will be plenty of chances to read on the train now.

7. Take the pressure off. I’ve taken the pressure off with blogging in December, and haven’t pushed myself to do so many posts each week. I feel much less stretched for it, so although I’ll still be posting, it will probably be a bit more ad hoc.

8. Be less afraid. If I listened to one half of my brain – the part that’s soaked up every bit of news this year – I probably wouldn’t leave the house. I need to listen to the other half and be brave.

9. Spend time with the people who make me happy. It’s a no brainer.

10. Find a home. Four walls and a door – it’s out there, we just need to find it.

December dips and pom pom crowns

Imagine this.

It’s a freezing cold day, the kind where your breath turns to ice in front of you, and your alarm goes off at 5.30am. Getting out of bed, you pull on some clothes, hop in the car (which, by the way needs de-icing), and head down to the river.

You get out of the car, take all those warm clothes off until you’re just left in your bathing suit, and you squelch across the muddy ground to the water’s edge. Then, without any drama, you just slip into the freezing cold water and go for a swim. And you do this EVERY SINGLE DAY for the rest of December.

I literally can’t imagine doing it even once, but this is what my amazing friend Ella has been doing to raise money for Crisis, the homelessness charity.

It looks beautiful but can you imagine how cold that is!!

She’s braved dark mornings and icy evenings and all sorts of toe-tingling temperatures, and has raised nearly £3,000 for Crisis in the process, which is just incredible. All the information about her swim is over on her Dip a Day December justgiving page, and if you’ve got some money to donate it really is the most worthy cause.

For each of Ella’s swims she’s also been wearing a different hair accessory which is where the pom pom crown part of this post comes in. I’d been keeping an eye out around town for something fun she could wear, but aside from Santa hats and Rudolph ears there didn’t seem to be much. So then I remembered the pom pom crowns Kirstie Allsop wore at the Handmade Fair last year and decided to see how tricky it would be to make one.

It turns out they’re super easy! I found this tutorial on Bespoke Bride and altogether it probably took about an hour to put the hairband together.

The first step is to make your pom poms, and the best gadget for doing that is the pom pom maker. It saves so much time and each pom pom comes out looking really fluffy!

SUCH a genius gadget. No more cardboard rings like we used to use as kids.

I did make a pom pom out of a gold glittery wool I had (see photo below!) but it shed so much glitter everywhere it looked like a fairy had sneezed across my living room floor by the end. The gold pom pom was quickly vetoed when it came to assembly but the rest of the colours were actually bright enough without it anyway.

Pesky gold!

After you’ve made all your pom poms it’s a case of figuring out how you want them to sit. Some hairbands I’ve seen have them sitting really neatly and all the same size but I wanted mine more textured so I made some small and some medium sized and then tied a few close together so there was a bit of height. Then you just tie them on, snip the loose threads and there you have it!

A pom pom crown fit for a lovely (and brave!) winter swimmer, dipping in the cold December waters every day for a very, very good cause.

The king of festive weekends in Kent

If there were a prize for the most traditional festive weekend in the UK, my adventures in Kent last weekend would definitely be in the running.

We had chestnuts roasting on an open fire, A Muppet’s Christmas carol, Christmas tree decorating and the actual bloomin’ ghost of Christmas future.

It’s all about the glitter bauble

We were down in Kent visiting my sister and brother-in-law, and it’s always fun spending a weekend with them in Tunny Wah Wah (aka Tunbridge Wells), especially at Christmas.

Our weekend started on Friday night with the Muppet’s Christmas Carol (here comes Mr Humbug!), prosecco and Christmas tree decorating (while wearing a turkey shaped hat, obvs).

On Saturday we wrapped up in our hats and scarves and headed over to Rochester for the Dickensian Christmas Festival. Apparently Dickens loved Rochester, and based some of his novels around the area so the town goes pretty Dickens mad this time of year.

All wrapped up in our woollies!

Ben was convinced we were going to walk into some live action cosplay thing where he’d get dressed up as Tiny Tim, but luckily it wasn’t quite so interactive. Standing with a cup of hot mulled wine we watched the parade, with people dressed in awesome full-skirted Victorian dresses, or going all out and dressing up as their favourite Dickens character. I think Nancy, Bill Sykes and Bullseye were my favourites or the ghost of Christmas future who was amazing.

Come ‘ere Bullseye
Ghost of Christmas Future being accompanied by the Ghost of Christmas present, as you do

We then took a wander up the road, got a bag of roast chestnuts (which were way trickier to peel than I remember, I made SUCH a mess!), and browsed some of the craft stalls and performances they had going on throughout the day. They also have a huge Christmas market up by the cathedral where we bought the most delicious brownies. It was super busy by this point, so after a quick stop to meet the reindeers (Oh hi Rudolph!), we made our way back to Tunbridge Wells for a late lunch.

Dasher, Dancer and Rudolph

I’ve written before about the delights of Gusta and when someone said the words ‘cheese platter’ we knew there was only going to be one option for food. So off to Gusta it was for this epic platter of meat and cheese.

SO good!

And the fun literally kept coming as we spent the evening at the Moonlight Drive-In Cinema at Hop Farm. If you’ve never been to a drive-in cinema before I would totally recommend it. We went to watch Bad Santa 2, which was entertaining but not exactly one to add to the ‘watch every Christmas’ list, but really it was all about the novelty of the experience. Having thought it was going to be freezing in the car we had ALL the blankets with us (plus a sleeping bag) but actually it wasn’t too chilly at all. We also took loads of snacks and drinks so we had a real feast while we watched the movie.

The weekend was rounded off with possibly the best roast dinner I’ve ever had at The Chaser Inn in Shipbourne. Cat and I went for the turkey dinner (see I told you it was a non-stop festive weekend) which came with all the Christmas dinner goodies – loads of bread sauce, pigs in blankets and a giant Yorkshire pudding. A huge wedge of Sticky Toffee Pudding pretty much finished me off. A big turkey dinner followed by a snooze – it must be Christmas!

Light up Reading

Before you read this blog post, open up YouTube, search for Kayne West’s All of the Lights and crank it up.

There couldn’t be a better soundtrack for this post which is quite literally about ALL OF THE LIGHTS. Like this dazzling cube of multi-coloured goodness:

lights4

That’s just one of the exhibits which form part of Light Up Reading, a trail of illuminations which are dotted around the town from now until Saturday, 17 December.

I was so excited to be invited to the launch on Thursday and to see the town lit up in a real rainbow of colour. There are 11 stops on the map, although some are events running on specific dates only, and we started at the Thames Tower High Striker by Reading train station.

lights6

Anyone who lives in Reading will have seen the Thames Tower gradually taking shape, and to now see the entire building dominating the skyline and lit up in a rainbow of colours really is spectacular. The lights change in different sequences, running in pinks, blues, purples, greens, reds and yellows, and it’s all a bit like a gigantic Rubik’s cube. There’s also a bit of fairground fun with a platform you can strike to send the colours running up the building.

The Thames Tower High Striker illumination is definitely the showstopper but there are also some nice little installations tucked around the town. Our second stop was the Box of Hopes, which is in the lobby of 3 Forbury Square.

lights5

The box features squares created by children from Polehampton Infant’s School in Twyford who were asked to draw their hopes and dreams for the world. Some of them are very sweet, very charming, and a few, like the one simply asking for love and peace, are very poignant too.

At the top of 3 Forbury Square there is a second installation, Reading’s own Northern Lights. Although it was way too high for a decent picture, it’s a clever little idea, with blues and greens changing slowly, way up in the sky.

Our next stop was the Abbey Ruins which were glowing with blues, pinks, reds and purples. Seeing such an historic area of Reading lit up in a very modern way was really quite dazzling, but there was also something a little eerie at seeing these old buildings brought to life in the night.

lights1

After a quick stop off at the Oracle to see the shopping centre’s beacon glowing on top of the car park, we headed over to the bridge near Queen’s Road Car Park. We almost decided to give it a miss, as it was so cold, but I’m so glad we didn’t. Turning the corner we saw lots of tiny candles dotted all over the bridge, lighting up a walkway for passers by.

ll1

And as we got closer a chap invited us to take a splint and help keep the flames going. It was quite a challenge as it was pretty windy, but it felt so…calming. Each of the 500 candles was actually a terracotta dish created in collaboration with art students from Reading College and there was something quite magical about all of the lights flickering in the darkness. It was the perfect end to our trail.

lights3

Light Up Reading is the grand finale of the incredible Reading Year of Culture, which has seen so many amazing performances, speakers and events taking place. Reading has well and truly been put on the map and the year has demonstrated how vibrant and culturally rich our town really is. It’s been a total joy to experience the year of culture, from making biscuits with the incredible Bompas & Parr to interviewing George the Poet on stage and the organisers have really done our town proud.

I’m so excited to see what happens next in Reading and to find out how the Year of Culture’s legacy will live on and continue to make our town a brilliant place to live.

Buttons spills the beans on Cinderella at South Hill Park

There is frost on the ground, twinkling lights are decorating the town and we get to open our advent calendars this week –  Christmas is officially on its way!

And with Christmas comes the wonderful, silly, magical, hilarious, outrageous and fun event that is panto! This year South Hill Park will be waving a magic wand and bringing Cinderella to the stage and it sounds like it’s going to be a spectacular production (as always!).

Each year South Hill Park offers a heart-warming production for the whole family, and this year will be no exception with an original score and script promising something truly unique.

But don’t take my word for it! We caught up with Buttons (known to his pals as Kristian Cunningham) who told us why you should check out the show this winter.

shp_cinderella-30

Hi Buttons, thanks very much for doing our Q&A!

First things first, how are you finding life at South Hill Park and are you looking forward to spending the festive season here?

HELLO! I’m really really enjoying my time at South Hill Park, the surroundings are beautiful and green and it gives me plenty of room to go zooming around on my hover board! I can’t wait to spend the next few months here and getting to see more and meet all the boys and girls.

What can people expect from panto at South Hill Park this year?

A whole lot of fun! There’s this really funny guy in it.. he’s about 5ft 7, dark curly hair, best friends with Cinderella, high squeaky voice.. name begins with ‘B’ and ends in ‘uttons’ – if that’s not a good enough excuse to come see it, I don’t know what is!

What’s your favourite thing about Christmas?

Games on Christmas Day! And fairy lights? I love fairy lights! Oh and also festive spirit and happiness that everyone feels.

Have you done your Christmas shopping yet, and can you tell us what you’ve bought for Cinderella (we promise not to tell her!)?

I’ve not even given it one thought as of yet! My birthday is 14th November so I refuse to give Christmas presents a thought until that’s out the way! However I know exactly what I’m getting Cinders.. firstly I’m gonna buy her a giant button for her to carry round to remind her of me! Then I’m going to buy her a nice warm woolly coat for our winter walks around south hill park!

If you had one message for the folks of Berkshire about why they should come and see Cinderella at South Hill Park, what would it be?

Because I’m in it? KIDDING! Because it’s got some great original music, the set is incredible, and our cast and children are extremely talented and light up that stage. You do not want to miss out on the fun! Or my entrance.. I’ve been working very hard! See you there and can’t wait to meet all the boys and girls!

Cinderella is at South Hill Park in Bracknell from Wednesday, 30 November to Tuesday, 3 January. To book visit www.southhillpark.org.uk.

Review: High Society at The Mill at Sonning

four-and-a-half

Bethan Nash is sensational as Tracy Lord. All photos by Craig Sugden
Bethan Nash is sensational as Tracy Lord. All photos by Craig Sugden

Musicals at The Mill have not been a common occurrence in recent years but after High Society it’s likely audiences will be begging the theatre’s programming director for more.

Dripping in glamour and with a sensational score performed as if it were in the West End, The Mill’s revival of High Society is an all-out musical spectacular.

Cole Porter’s 1956 musical, which was based on the play The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry, revolves around the upcoming wedding of wealthy socialite Tracy Lord (Bethan Nash). As the Lord family prepare for the wedding in their glamorous Oyster Bay home, a few unexpected visitors arrive in the form of Tracy’s ex-husband Dexter Haven (Andrew Alexander) and reporters from Spy magazine who have some dirt to dish on Tracy’s father, and are looking to write an expose on her wedding in return for keeping quiet.

As the champagne starts flowing and things get rather out of hand, Tracy has three men vying for her affections and she must decide who it is she truly wants to be with.

Tracy (Bethan Nash) gets ready for her wedding day
Tracy (Bethan Nash) gets ready for her wedding day

It took more than 40 years for Cole Porter’s film to be translated to the stage, and seeing the glitzy spectacle at The Mill it would seem those are 40 years of missed opportunity. The musical is a visual treat with its simple but stylish set, designed by Ryan Laight, allowing the stunning costumes, and band, to take prominence. Costume designer Natalie Titchener has created a wardrobe which oozes glamour with its silks and sparkles, and the cast wear it well, with Tracy floating across the stage, looking every bit the screen siren.

The band are present on stage throughout, split with pianist on a high platform on one side, and multi-instrumentalists on the other and it’s a marvel to see how quickly they switch instruments throughout the show.

Director Joseph Pitcher has chosen to accentuate the glamour of the Lord family at every moment, with bottles and flutes of champagne pretty much a constant prop on stage, but Pitcher doesn’t make us envy the Lords. Instead we are part of their fun, and we get just as carried away with the fabulous party sequence, where the wedding party let their hair down the night before the nuptials.

Uncle Willie (David Delve) let's lose after a few gins too many
Uncle Willie (David Delve) lets loose after a few gins too many

Tracy is no spoilt brat and Nash makes us warm to her as we see her inner struggle between heart and head. Her vocal performance is nothing short of perfect, with a gorgeous tone to each number and she shares a fantastic vintage quality with Andrew Alexander as Dexter, with both harking back to Porter’s 1956 original score.

Casting is superb throughout – David Delve is hilarious as the drunken Uncle Willie, while Kirsty Ingram also brings in plenty of giggles as cheeky little sister Dinah Lord, despite it being a little difficult to place her intended age. Gemma Maclean is glamorous and heartfelt as reporter Liz Imbrie, showcasing a wonderful depth to her character in her number He’s a Right Guy.

The Mill couldn’t have picked a better production for its festive offering and with plenty of glitz, a bucket load of fun (and champagne!) and a love story at its heart, it’s the ideal way to round up the year.

High Society is at The Mill at Sonning until 14 January. To book visit www.millatsonning.com.

I was invited to press night so my tickets were complimentary but all views are my own.

The unsung heroes who give blood

Photo from www.freeimages.com
Photo from www.freeimages.com

There aren’t many things we do which are completely and utterly selfless.

But giving blood is absolutely one of those things.

It was while I was sat in a sports centre reception waiting for Ben to finish giving blood, that I realised it’s probably one of the most selfless acts of modern society.

In a world with terrifying politics, trolls running riot on the internet, and so much upset, the act of giving blood is the rainbow peeking out from behind the clouds. There might not be any material gain for the person giving blood, but the sheer kindness doing something just to help other in need, is incredible.

Before we go on, I should add that I’m a total hypocrite because I couldn’t give blood. I went along with Ben to try and face my anxiety around needles but it didn’t work for me this time and I had to leave. My body and my mind let me down but this isn’t a story about me. It’s about the people who do it.

The office workers who finish half an hour early so they can make it over in time to give blood. The mums and dads who fit it a donation between the school run and making dinner. The people who are on their first donation and the people who are on their 50th.

Every single one of you are amazing, amazing people.

Anxieties aside, giving blood really does look easy. Seeing Ben, and a dozen others, going through the process without batting an eyelid made me realise how straight forward it is. After registering online you can make an appointment and then go along for your donation. On the day they did a brief screening (which was private so I couldn’t sit in on that bit), and then they take you over to a lean-back chair where a nurse confirms your name, address and date of birth. The nurse then puts a blood pressure cuff on to maintain a small amount of pressure during the donation and inserts a needle with a tube where the blood is taken and sent into a little bag. A full donation takes between 5 and 10 minutes.

Everyone in the room was totally laid back about it, just going through the motions to do their bit. Afterwards you go in the waiting area to sit for a few minutes, and there is squash and biscuits provided if you need them.

While we all hope we’re never going to to need the blood you’re donating, if we do find ourselves on the other side, it’s you we have to thank. I haven’t ever needed blood, and hope I won’t, but here is my thank you regardless. A thank you from the very bottom of my heart, for doing something so exceptional and ultimately helping to save lives.

For more on blood donation visit www.blood.co.uk.