Friday Fun for the Bank Holiday

Greetings – I have just enough time before my annual pilgrimage to the green fields of Cheltenham Racecourse begins (aka Greenbelt) to share some fun with you. Apologies for the minimal blogging of late, I’ve been trying to wrap up an essay before the festival (which I’ve pretty much succeeded in) and been hugely productive in all areas of my life, other than blogging…

Firstly, the obligatory TfL fun. This week we have a 3D visualisation of the whole network, created by the departure/arrival data that TfL have recently begun releasing to the public. It is very pretty and I recommend having your sound on as it makes satisfying train noises too. It’s utterly hypnotising…

3D Tube


Secondly, if there’s one city in the world that’s almost as great as London, it’s New York. I’m a big fan of black & white historic photos of the city, so I rather adore a project by a blogger who is comparing archive shots with modern day New York. If you go the site, the photos have a slider so you can see more or less of the two photos. Fascinating.

Grand Central 1913 2013You can’t get more classically NYC than Grand Central Station.

Something else photographic which is pretty random, but fairly absorbing, is the humanae tumblr, where headshots of various people are placed against the Pantone colour background that matches some of their facial skin tone. Yes, I realise that doesn’t really make sense, which is why you need to see it:


Finally, the obligatory musical Friday Fun – and it’s amazing! I did share this on Twitter & Facebook last week, but if you haven’t seen it, you *need* to. An extremely talented impressionist sings Total Eclipse of the Heart in the style of at least 12 divas. It’s awe-inspiring – well, if you’re a wannabe diva who loves a good karaoke session.

And now we have a new game to play at karaoke…

An alternative to chicken soup

Thursday night is always a highlight of my week. Forget ‘Thursday is the new Friday’ – when your weekend is Friday & Saturday, it literally *is* my Friday. On top of that, it’s usually the night when the women of Matryoshka Haus gather for a convivial Thai curry, a bit of wine and a glorious hot chocolate. It’s an opportunity to catch up, moan, pray and plot. It’s a thoroughly restorative process.

But last Thursday night, things went up a notch and we discovered that our great Thursday evenings had the potential to become even greater…
…when an hour of karaoke is included. 
Ah yes. The power of karaoke is never to be underestimated! I’ve waxed lyrical about its benefits many a time, but of late, my karaoke opportunities have been limited. My one-time favourite sleazy karaoke bar shut down just weeks after I moved within walking distance of it last year and it’s been a while since the last frenetic SingStar party. However, after last week, I think it’s likely this is going to have to become a regular activity.
[Yes, that’s a Dave Walker original.]
Last Thursday, there was a lot going on amongst the group that met for curry. Jobs are changing, houses are being sought, lives are altering in dramatic ways – heavy conversations were being had over the table. You might have thought us a little subdued if you’d seen us in our Brick Lane curry house, but things could not have been different at 10pm when we tumbled out of our karaoke room in a singing induced euphoria. 
We only had an hour in our booth, but we made the most of it. Shoes were immediately shed and sofas jumped upon. Jugs of margaritas were ordered [though I insist that the alcohol was a minimal factor in the euphoria that followed]. A playlist of appropriate songs was formulated and the singing of them was entered into with gusto. The mics didn’t work properly, but we didn’t care – we just sang and sang and sang. 
Being the karaoke lover that I am, I was slightly anxious about singing for the first time with this particular group of friends. I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t about impressive solos (as was often the case in the public karaoke bar of old), it was about being there together and singing simultaneously. As ever, some noteworthy discoveries were made:
  • Björk’s It’s oh so Quiet is a brilliant karaoke track. Shhhh! Shhhh! 
  • Yazz’s Moving on Up is not. Can you remember how the verses go? No. Neither could we.
  • Always choose a really long song just as your time in the booth is expiring. Don’t Stop Me Now was a good choice, given its theme, but Bohemian Rhapsody would have given us longer. 
  • Don’t bother complaining that your mics didn’t work properly until the end of your session as you’re then likely to get a decent discount on a subsequent visit. 
  • Most of all, ensure someone you know is regularly checking the deals available via Living Social – which was how we managed to get a bargain hour complete with cocktails. 

Seriously, forget chicken soup. When it comes to healing souls, there is nothing that surpasses the power of an hour’s raucous singing.

Karaoke booths may sound like an expensive option for a night out. As mentioned above, you can score deals via offer websites, but some chains also do offers. Lucky Voice (one of my favourites as it has Wicked tracks on its database) offers a free hour of singing to groups that include at least one person who ‘does good’ in their job (i.e. medics, teachers, social workers, charity workers) on two nights a week. Others do discounts for local residents, so it’s well worth doing some research. [I have actually, in the course of writing this post, sent an email entitled ‘Karaoke Research’. I take this stuff seriously. And obviously feel a need to get another karaoke date in my diary.]

When karaoke gets serious

If my church has anything to do with a weekend away, social, festival or other event not directly relating to worship, it’s highly likely – nay, essential – that karaoke will be involved. A prime example of this would be the weekend away that forms part of its version of the Alpha Course, when people spend a happy couple of days in Eastbourne learning about faith and how we experience God. What else but karaoke would be a great ice-breaker and relaxer after a day of talks, prayer and theology?

When I joined the church six years ago I thought this was amazing. Karaoke? Loved the idea and for the first 5 minutes (before the first performance) contemplated my song choice. Then I heard the performers… Wow. In a church that contains a ridiculous number of professional creatives (musicians, actors, producers etc) it has an unsurprisingly high karaoke standard. 
People take it incredibly seriously. There are thought-out costumes and dance routines – this is a ‘spend all afternoon preparing’ karaoke experience, not a ‘I’ll run my finger down the songlist & see what takes my fancy’ one. To demonstrate, here’s a favourite performance from Saturday night:

[Warning: contains high-pitched screaming and a potentially inappropriate hand-down-trousers moment.]

Ahhhh, the Backstreet Boys. Classic.
It amuses me that the group of guys who humiliated themselves in this fashion include respectable members of society, like a soon-to-be Vicar in training and a teacher – as well as the slightly less respectable professions of Youth Worker and Actor. 
However, I am no longer intimidated for Saturday marked a personal achievement and another 2011 First – I sang karaoke at a church event. No, it wasn’t planned or choreographed, but I think we pulled off our rendition of Don’t Stop Believing fairly respectably. (With thanks to Ms Bush who agreed to partner me on the condition that she’d have another drink first, only to discover that we were next up.) 
Just as well I got that First over and done with last weekend, because in a couple of weeks time it’s likely I’ll be doing something choreographed and costumed in a church context… Terrifying prospect. 

Reviewing the 2010 Firsts – Part Two: Favourites

Looking back over the 2010 Firsts list, it brings back memories of many special days and several notable achievements. It’s hard coming up with favourites, but there are a couple that stand out.

Without a doubt, the biggest achievement was taking beginners’ tap at Pineapple Dance Studios. When I wrote ‘take a dance class’ on the original list, I think I envisaged some kind of community centre class, or possibly something at the gym where I could remain anonymous. I definitely did not imagine tripping up at one of London’s leading dance schools in the centre of Covent Garden (and location of one of 2010 TV hits of the year).

This was a definite example of saying “yes” to something I’d never usually touch with a barge pole. Chances were I’d never have had the nerve to take a dance class without the added security of at least one friend – so the fact that two colleagues began plotting a trip to tap was definitely a helping hand. I would also never have picked Pineapple as the location – the fact that a dancing friend of mine was in awe of my visit I think says a lot. But it’s one of those things that I look back on and genuinely think “wow, I actually did that – go me!”.

Then there are the Firsts which have had a notable impact upon my day to day life – like waxing. I won’t go into too much detail, but I’m now a total convert (legs only) especially since finding a fairly cheap establishment just round the corner from work. Or my introduction to the Hummingbird Bakery which has opened up a whole new world of cupcakes to me, as well as new baking joys.

There was also an unplanned First which has now become one of my top London tips. When my American boys came to visit, Ian suggested we climb the Monument – something he’d done before but I hadn’t. In a city of great expense and hideous tourist traps, the climbing of a tower for £3 is something of an oasis. It’s now something I recommend to all visitors and would be more than willing to do again when friends come to town. Plus, as well as fabulous views of the city, you get a certificate – what’s not to like?! 
Oh, and 2010 could probably also be described as the year of karaoke. From timid karaoke virgin in January, to Queen of the microphone (and playlist) in November, it’s been quite a journey. The mic no longer holds any fear for me and I’m personally of the opinion that the more public you do it, the better. This has to mean that 2011 holds many more comedy karaoke evenings – it’s just fortunate that I have circles of friends who also believe it to be a great form of entertainment. 
Now, if I could just resolve my tendency to sing with my eyes shut…

Going back through the highlights of 2010 is making me quite excited for what could happen in 2011. Bring on more randomness, ridiculousness, leaving of comfort zones and most of all, more firsts!

Amusing anecdotes about absinthe

1. Absinthe was banned in the UK until 1998.
2. Absinthe was banned across the world in the early 20th century – Belgium in 1906, Switzerland in 1908, USA in 1912 & France in 1915.
3. It will not make you go mad (well, no more so than any other spirit).
4. It could be an aphrodisiac, but then so are most alcoholic beverages in sufficient quantities.
5. It tastes revolting – both in its original aniseed flavour and mint version.
6. An afternoon of absinthe drinking will inevitably lead to to an awesome karaoke evening.

Ok, actually, none of those were particularly amusing – I was just looking for an alliterative title. I’m not usually given to drinking absinthe, in fact, I’m almost certain that I’ve not tried it before – probably fearing that it would provoke the same reaction in me that its aniseed cousin sambucca does. [It makes me very, very angry – I now try and avoid it where possible.]

Don’t get ideas, drinking spirits is also not something I’d generally do mid-afternoon either, but this was a special occasion. Another 30th – this time a wine tour of Vinopolis (mecca of alcoholic facts and refreshment in London Bridge) that actually included gin, rum, whisky, beer and the aforementioned absinthe. It started at 2pm and it’s a miracle I was able to find my way the short distance home at three and a half hours later.

I’d love to say that I learned a lot – I probably did, but the units of alcohol consumed made the information fall out of my brain. Instead of answering the (many) questions in my wine tasting notebook, I simply wrote down whether I liked them and any amusing tidbits from the wine labels. Thus I can share that the Casa Filgueria Tannet (a red wine from Uruguay) is known for its ‘silky attack’ and its ‘persistent finish’. [I liked it a lot.]

Also in my notebook are the following quotes:
“Can I have a glass of red?” [To a waitress behind a table full of a variety of Southern Hemisphere reds.]
“I was going to wear pants tonight – girl boxer style ones – but they were a bit obvious so I’ll just go without…”
I probably should clarify that these were snippets gleaned from a nearby hen party – a group of girls that actually wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible “because they were on a hen”. Clearly the wine tour just equalled a piss up in their eyes!

A Bombay Sapphire cocktail’s shadow in the Bombay Sapphire Gin Experience

Unsurprisingly, this afternoon of merry entertainment ensured that when I got to that evening’s karaoke party (with a completely different group of people) I was more than willing to step up and sing the dreaded first song of the night. [It was All That She Wants – Ace of Base – in case you’re wondering and it wasn’t my choice…]