An Evening With Itchcraft

Last Saturday night I went along to the Royal Institution in London to be at the launch of Simon’s Mayo’s latest book, Itchcraft. I reviewed the book a couple of weeks ago, and loved it, and I had been lucky enough to meet Simon the weekend before at another Itch event that he did in Chiswick. That was just a warm up though; he burned a €100 note (though of course it was a fake one planted in the audience), but he saved all the big explosions for the Royal Institution event.

Sadly, I didn’t get much of a chance to look around the place before the event started, though it’s a lovely building. It’s somewhere I would like to go back to, and I think listening to a lecture there would be really interesting. Science can be an awful lot of fun, particularly when someone is standing in front of you making things go bang, and I’m all for learning more about it.

Simon had a couple of special guests with him to help launch the book. Professor Andrea Sella from University College London was on hand to provide the aforementioned explosions, and Show of Hands made a cameo to sing a song called Cousin Jack. I had never heard of Show of Hands before, and I certainly didn’t know that mining songs were a thing, but they stood right in front of me (I have the type of friends that ensure front row seats are a guarantee), and sang and played beautifully. It’s another step on the road to discovering wonderful new music that I knew nothing about. They were a part of the evening because there’s a character in the book called Jack, and she’s Itch’s cousin, and given the book’s links to mining, Simon named her after the song and puts her dad in a Show of Hands t-shirt at one point. Do you expect anything else from a music DJ?

The evening was a blast (literally); Professor Andrea demonstrated some scarily powerful magnets, and blew up various things (warning us first to look at the space above his head and cover our ears). As with the books, most of the science went over my head, but he informed me on Twitter that the showstopping final explosion was a mole of magnesium. It was quite spectacular too!

Simon Mayo is no slouch in the science department; he may not be the one creating the explosions, but he’s obviously fascinated by the subject, and it’s wonderful to watch children really engaging with the subject. The audience was full of youngsters, and they were so keen to get involved, asking questions and being generally wonderfully enthusiastic. He even got a load of them up to help him with a quiz he did about the current value of certain precious metals, and having seen him play the same game the week before, I had assumed it would be all kids again. Imagine my shock when he pointed straight at me and asked me to stand up – I wasn’t expecting it at all and must have looked like an idiot when I said, “Me?” In fact, I know I looked like an idiot, because the ever-wonderful Chloe took some photos of me to prove it!

 
(Rhodium is my new favourite element.)

Afterwards I joined a very long queue to get my book signed. I had already had Itch Rocks signed the week before, but I saved Itchcraft for this week, and though it was a very long queue, it gave me a chance to catch up with Chloe and spend some time bonding over the fact that other just people don’t get our love for Wittertainment. This time round, I wasn’t particularly eloquent when speaking to Simon, though I did say thank you for plucking me out of the audience. And I did get a photo with him, though it had been languishing on my camera for some days before I managed to liberate it because I couldn’t find the right lead.

I have Chloe to thank for this photo too; I wish I didn’t look quite so awkward, but hey, when you’re an awkward individual, that kind of thing tends to shine through in photographs.

I had a lovely evening; I got to meet some people that I previously only knew from online, and I got to catch up with Chloe. I’ve said it before, but whilst I am a huge fan of Simon Mayo, I’m a bigger fan of brilliant books, and I do truly believe that the Itch series is great. They are the best kind of children’s books, because they are as appealing to adults as they are to youngsters. We’ve been reliably informed that there’s nothing new until at least 2016, and given that Simon has confirmed he’s currently writing a non-Itch book, who knows when we’ll next catch up with the young element hunter? Whenever it may be, I’ll be keeping an eye out for release dates and details of another explosive launch.

The Shires at The Water Rats

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see The Shires in London. Sitting on Twitter one evening, I saw that Bob Harris had tweeted a link to their UK tour, and I immediately took a look. Having ascertained that they were playing a London date, I booked tickets immediately. I didn’t even check that my friend Hannah was free to come, I just thought that I had to have tickets straightaway! As it turned out, Hannah was free as a bird, and we went along at the end of July.

We decided to have a day off work and spend the day in London first, and I took full advantage to go on a Book Bench quest! After we had seen all of the benches that we could find in the area, we were struggling to decide what to do, so we decided to head over the river and visit Tate Modern. I’ve been a couple of times before, but Hannah wasn’t sure that she had been, so in lieu of any other ideas, that’s what we did.

I can’t honestly say that I know an awful lot about modern art. I know what I like – Mondrian, Picasso, Matisse – but I get overwhelmed by most of the art on display at somewhere like Tate Modern. I prefer an exhibition of carefully curated pieces, rather than being left to my own devices to browse. But it was a fun afternoon, and it gave me the opportunity to trot out the anecdote that I visited before it was officially open (and before the Queen), back in 2000.

 

Look, I’m a bloger – I took a photo in Starbucks! I never, ever go in Starbucks. Not for moral reasons, just because I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t really enjoy paying over the odds for an average cup of tea. But we had some time to waste, so I had a cold drink (too much orange, in my opinion), and some fruit toast. I’m always happy to see jam from Tiptree on my plate!

I’ve never been to The Water Rats, but my friend V, who used to go to a lot of gigs in London, had told me that it was quite small. She wasn’t exaggerating; it’s a pub with a back room, and it wasn’t very big at all! It was also the hottest room in the entire world; seriously sweaty and disgusting!

Before The Shires played, they had two support acts. Gary Quinn and Frankie Davis are both country artists, and they played a few songs each. They were both amazing, and I’ve been listening to them on Spotify since I saw them! I really, really liked Frankie Davis, and I’m waiting patiently for her album to come out, as she sang a couple of songs that I thought were really good.

But of course, we were there to see The Shires, and they finally came on. The Shires are Crissie and Ben, and it should be noted that they are both beautiful people. But it’s their music that makes me love them, and I wasn’t at all disappointed; they sang their first single, Nashville Grey Skies, which I have been playing over and over and over for months! They did a really long set, and I think they must have sung most of the songs from their forthcoming album. Their latest single, Tonight, is another great one, and it’s being played all over Radio 2 at the moment! The crowd were divided in two (and Ben looked right at me when he divided – swoon), and both halves had to sing along to different parts. If you’re at all interested, some kindly soul has uploaded the performance to YouTube; I keep watching it because it’s so great!

I tried to take a few photos, but I had forgotten my camera, and sadly my phone wasn’t up to the job. After a couple of attempts, I gave it up as a bad job, and just decided to enjoy the music. I’m now (im)patiently waiting for The Shires to release their album; after hearing so much good stuff at the gig, I want to be able to listen to it over and over!

I bought a t-shirt while I was at the gig, because I had seen some other girls wearing them and was jealous! You can’t be a super-fan without a band tee! I have already worn it a few times, but I’ll definitely be wearing it in November, because I’m going to see The Shires again! This time they are doing a joint tour with Ward Thomas, who are another UK country music duo, and whose album I adore. I think there are still tickets available, and they are all over the country, so book some. You won’t be disappointed, I promise!

Books About Town

When I read about the Books About Town benches that were going on display all over London, I knew that I would have to try and find as many of them as possible. In case you don’t know, The National Literacy Trust got together with Wild in Art and commissioned artists to design sculptures shaped as books, celebrating famous novels. They are placed as benches across London, and there are different trails that you can follow to find them all!

I love a quest like this, I was always quite jealous that I couldn’t go and find the Gromits in Bristol, so I was all over this! And it’s a celebration of books, and as you probably know, books are my favourite thing.

I headed into London on Monday with my friend Hannah; we were going to a gig in the evening and we decided to make a day of it. We hadn’t really made any plans, but I decided that it might be a nice idea to try and find some of the benches, and Hannah agreed, so we did! I checked out the website, and made a note of the ones that were close to where we were going to be. I was hoping that there would be an app that would give you the location of each bench in relation to where you are, but sadly that’s not the case. You can download a map to print off, but as my printer isn’t working, I had to resort to a pen and paper and my trusty London A-Z!

I took quite a few photos (as did Hannah, and some of these are obviously hers, as I am in them!), but I had forgotten my camera, so had to rely on my phone! As such, they aren’t the best photos in the world, but they’ll do. There are a lot of them too, so be prepared!

Books About Town bench Books About Town
Books About Town

First up, we found the Jeeves and Wooster bench at The Brunswick. It was designed by Gordon Allum, and it’s rather fetching! It was in use when we arrived, but when I went to read the information next to the bench, the girls on it got up and moved! I felt a bit bad, because I didn’t want them to think that I was forcing them off, but I was glad of the opportunity to have a photo!

Books About Town Books About TownBooks About TownBooks About TownBooks About Town

As you may be able to tell from the number of photos here, I loved the Narnia bench. It’s so pretty! It’s in St George’s Gardens, on the Bloomsbury Trail, and there was someone on it when we arrived, but again, he moved on after a little while. I was really conscious of not crowding people who were sitting on the benches; although I really wanted photos on them, I think it’s rude to force people to get up. There was a family that we saw later doing exactly that, and I didn’t like it. Luckily we managed to get photos of this one, which was designed by Mandii Pope.

Books About Town Books About TownMrs Dalloway bench

The Mrs Dalloway bench is in Gordon Square Gardens. When we arrived, we were expecting the Sherlock Holmes bench, because the map confused me (make an app!). I am not terribly familiar with Virginia Woolf, so the bench didn’t mean a lot to me, but it’s still beautifully designed (by One Red Shoe). I might try to read it now.

Books About Town Books About Town
Books About Town
Books About Town

We did eventually find the Sherlock Holmes bench, it’s in Woburn Square Garden, opposite Golden Square Garden. Using the website on my phone made it look as though the bench was in the same park as the Mrs Dalloway bench, but it wasn’t, and we found it in the end! It is designed by Valerie Osment, and there was a lady sitting on it eating her lunch. She got up for us, and said that we were the third people to come along and take photos! She was very nice about it, and we were telling her about all the other benches around the city.

Books About Town

Books About Town

We did head over to Queen Square Park and Garden to see the Pride and Prejudice bench, but there were some people on it, and although we waited around for a while, they weren’t going anywhere. I couldn’t even get a photo of the back of that one! We moved on to Bloomsbury Square Gardens to find the James Bond bench (designed by Freyja Dean) and the Agatha Christie bench (designed by Tom Adams), but by this point it was a sunny lunchtime, and there were so many people about, there was no chance we were going to find empty benches! I’m sad we didn’t get to see the front of these benches, as they look great, but I am planning another trek at some point, so I’ll try again!

All of the benches that we saw are on the Bloomsbury trail, and there are four others – Greenwich, City and Riverside. There are a few benches that I am desperate to see, Mary Poppins being the main one, so I am definitely planning another trip before the benches go up for auction in October.

Have you seen any of the Books About Town benches?

The Classical Spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall

Ages and ages ago (in March), I went with my dad and two of his friends to the Classical Spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall. My dad has been going for a few years now, he took my mum a couple of times, and he loves it, so when he said that he had a spare ticket and did I want to go, I thought I would. I don’t know an awful lot about classical music; while I would never claim not to like it, I am not particularly familiar with it, and I just like what I like. But I love hearing music played live, and I have never been to the Royal Albert Hall, so I knew that I would probably have a good time.

It’s taken me a while to write a post about it, but as ‘Go to a music concert/gig’ is one of my 2014 goals, I thought it deserved its own post. You’ll just have to forgive the quality of the photos, as they are merely phone images.

 

As you can see, we had seats quite high up in the theatre, but I have no fear of heights (unlike my sister), so I was fine. The stage was down to our left, and the view was fine. It’s all about the sound, anyway, and I don’t think there’s anywhere inside the Albert Hall that the music wouldn’t sound amazing.

The orchestra playing was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and though I have no real frame of reference, they were very good. They played one of my favourite pieces of music ever, Rhapsody in Blue, with a solo by Jonathan Scott. It was amazing; I had no idea that they were going to play it as I don’t really think of it as a piece of classical music, because it’s so modern (comparatively – it was written in 1924). I also really enjoyed Land of Hope and Glory and the Hornpipe, because I love watching them on the Last Night of the Proms on the television!

 

I know it doesn’t look as though my dad is having a good time, but he was. He just probably wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the selfie nature of the photo. And at the end, hundreds of balloons came down, and I grabbed my phone but was just slightly too late to catch them actually falling.

As you can tell from the photos, it’s a very nationalistic and patriotic affair, with union flags to wave and red, white and blue balloons. They played Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia, but other than that, the rest of the music came from all over the world. It’s fun to wave a flag, but I felt slightly ridiculous doing it!

At the end, during the 1812 Overture, two cannons on either side of the hall go off, one of which was right above our heads! It made me jump each and every time it happened! And then there is an indoor firework display, which was very impressive.

I had a lovely day, and I made a Spotify playlist of all the music when I got home. One of the main problems I have with classical music is that I know I like certain pieces, but I don’t know what they are called, so listening to my playlist means I know their names!


Go to a music concert/gig