DoubleTree by Hilton London Islington

Following on from last week’s stay in a Hilton, this week’s stay was at DoubleTree by Hilton. Whilst a Hilton hotel is described as “much more than a full service hotel”, DoubleTree is described as “a comfortable hotel experience”. Arriving at DoubleTree by Hilton London Islington expectations were appropriately set.Doubletree by Hilton London IslingtonThe hotel is conveniently located a short walk from Angel. I’ve stayed in this area a lot as it is close to my base in Barbican. Angel has everything you need in turns of restaurants, bars, cinema and theatre so it’s definitely a good location. I was using it as a half way point as my meeting the following day was near to Kings Cross and the walk is bearable.

On entering the hotel you are met with fantastic contemporary decor. a friendly greeting at Reception and the offer of the trademark warm cookie. Declining the cookie on a calorie count did not faze, I was simply offered fruit in its place.

My room was a standard double (obviously given it was with work). And the room met this expectation.Doubletree by Hilton London IslingtonThe bed was comfy, the room had the facilities needed and the bathroom had a good range of toiletries and the shower was good enough to meet expectations.Doubletree by Hilton London IslingtonThe view wasn’t great, overlooking the goods entrance. I’m guessing it might be have been better than overlooking the street. It did have a desk area, which was appreciated, as was the mirror close to the window for sorting my face in the morning.Doubletree by Hilton London IslingtonMy criticism of the hotel was of the room service. It had been one of those days, nay, one of those weeks, where my plans of a night out were drowned out by my need to hide within four walls. I ordered room service. Remember how I declined the chocolate chip cookie? I ordered the superfood salad with grilled chicken. With a large bottle of water. And I offset it after much deliberation with a slice of a lemon based desert. Five minutes after ordering I had a phone call to let me know the desert was of the menu and to offer alternatives. I took it as a sign of my need to lose some weight and declined. 

A little while later my meal arrived. I needn’t have celebrated the calories I hadn’t gained. I have no idea what it was with the salad, apart from half the ingredients were missing so it basically compromised quinoa, lettuce, pepper and courgette. And to hide the missing ingredients, it was drowned in mayonnaise. Oh I was so unhappy. My laziness of not nipping round the corner to the supermarket was on payback. My night of slobbing out in a hotel room was ruined by the taste of oh-so-much mayonnaise.

Lesson learned- when staying away always explore the surroundings!

And as it always the way, here’s what to expect from a room at the DoubleTree by Hilton London – Islington:

M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech City

There are the things in your diary you really look forward to as they approach. Britmums Live was one of them for me, admittedly less so for the event itself and more so for some quality time with friends. Sara-Jayne and I decided to share a room, club our funds together and splash out on a room at M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech City.M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityM by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityI say ‘splash out’, but I doubt anyone can question that you get what you pay for at a Montcalm hotel. I was absolutely devastated to find out as I checked in that I had free access to a spa. I know I overlooked this when booking but I used to hate the idea of a spa, however having recently celebrated a special birthday for a best friend in a spa hotel, I am a convert.
I felt my afternoon was a little less full for not being able to take advantage of the facility.

I’ll also admit to feeling dressed in the wrong attire. Anyone who knows me well knows I am an ill-informed goth. On this particular Friday I chose to rock up in my coral sweatshirt with gold font ‘Winging It’ emblazoned across the front. To a hotel where guests and employees all received the memo about black attire- it feels that stylish.M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityAs I inspected my room all qualms about not spending my afternoon in the spa were quashed, for I spotted the pièce de résistance of the room, the place to while away some time without interruption. M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityAnd it was lush. I read. Answered emails. Wrote a blog post. Chatted on the phone. Perfect.

And then Sara-Jayne rocked up. And I had to come clean. Her dream of an evening away from the family relaxing in a bath was over.

We only had a shower. It was a great shower. But yes. That’s me- lover of a great shower, hater of the bath talking. It’s true, our room didn’t have a bath- and that’s a bit rubbish.M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityThe good news is as well as the fandangled technology which is explored a little in the taster video at the end (but not half as much as I found out- the curtains close at the push of a button, you have numerous colours for your mood lighting, the room fragranced to your preference… the list really does go on), most importantly, the bed is fantastically comfy. M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityYou do pay for the luxuries you get. And when I phoned the hubby I joked that all I ever need is a good shower and a comfy bed.

But I admit, every once in a while, we’re worth the luxury, I’m worth spending a little extra on.

The evening away with a friend catching up.
The morning spent taking the time with our appearance.
The day spent just being a person, without immediate responsibility.

Would I do spent this sort of money all over again?

Definitely.

A love of London Bridge

In my head I was going to stay in a different hotel for every work visit, to explore new places. I only seem to be managing this on an occasional basis. As my eye searches available hotels I keep returning to the same one. And whilst I try for a little variety, I keep returning. To London Bridge. And all that surrounds it.

I love London Bridge. I love exploring the contrast of old and new. The wonder of the science which underpins the beauty of the surroundings. The wonder of how much life evolves from water to road, from brick to steel and glass.

I love the hotel I stay in – the views of the Tower, the Harbour, the River, or the Bridge. How on earth do you choose a view when given the option?

My to-do list is telling me to sort my hotel bookings for the next few weeks. I’m putting it off. I think I’d like to explore the South Bank with my new camera a bit more, but my eyes are distracted by London Bridge.London Bridge Around London Bridge Over London Bridge London Bridge From London Bridge Under London Bridge London Bridge Views around London Bridge

The Tower Hotel, London

I hope you’ll indulge me, it was a night at Guoman’s The Tower Hotel which inspired me when I had been struggling with content for my blog. I love to bake you see, and my hope of baking ever week has fallen short, but what’s not been falling short is my night’s away with work, and I’m lucky- some weeks a Travelodge will be the only hotel within budget- and every now and again, I’m lucky enough to stay in wonderful hotels.The Tower HotelThe Tower Hotel falls in this category. And whilst I’m not sure to many it looks that great from the outside, it has the most wonderful backdrop, and the interior and the customer service more than makes up for any perception of ‘concrete’.

The Tower Hotel sits conveniently next to Tower Bridge, a short walk from the aforementioned tube station, and a stone’s throw from St Katharine’s Dock which offers some great eateries and bars. In my limited experience of staying sporadically at the Tower Hotel for the past six months, the hotel is most popular with group bookings, usually for black tie dinners.

So you could forgive me for always feeling out-of-place. My first stay in the hotel last year saw me approaching the receptionist saying in hushed tones “I think I’m booked in here.” such is the grandeur of the hotel. When I returned the following evening because I couldn’t persuade my room card key to work she remembered me (no mean feat given there are usually at least six people on the front desk at any time and it’s always busy). 

And since that first experience I have returned to the same standard of customer service. When my visits are less sporadic I am greeted with “Welcome back” and less so I am reminded of the locations of all key areas of the hotel.The Tower HotelFor the accommodation itself, I am always a little unintentionally wary. The rooms do feel dated, although this is always pessimistic of me. I judge every hotel by the quality of its shower (even in the early days of babies it is a truth that I cannot function without a shower), and The Tower more than stands up to the test.The Tower HotelThe Tower is also one of the few places I will happily pay for room service. If I am not meeting up with friends or colleagues I am most likely to find a local Pret or supermarket and bring food back. I’m not one for eating alone. The food at any hotel will be more than exceed the cost of bringing food back, but I feel at home enough at the Tower to make hot food an option.

One of the main areas of customer service I love at The Tower is that they ask what room you’d like. I love to eavesdrop on the responses, because whilst on the whole I think I’m accepting with a hotel like this I’m happy to push my luck.

Many will say “as long as I have a bed for the night”, but if like me you look confused they’ll ask “a higher floor or lower”, I’m a sucker for a view (my home is testament to this) so I automatically say “higher”. And on the basis you’re selective, dependent on availability you’ll be asked about your preferred view- the Tower, the Bridge, the River, the Marina? The hotel team are great at making sure you have the room you want. I’ve also heard people asking for the refurbished rooms. I have no idea on this one- I have always been more than happy with the allocated room.The Tower HotelSo here’s a quick spin of the room:

Despite a promise to stay in a different hotel going forward to get some great material for my blog, my new camera has been delivered, so I’ve booked this hotel again – I’m a sucker for London landmarks!

ShermanCymru does the National Theatre – Iphigenia in Splott

The morning after the General Election, the week Mr J’s mum passed- May 2015.
I had a ticket for the opening night of Iphigenia In Splott. I wasn’t sure whether to go but getting out of the house that evening seemed like a good idea.
As everyone else left the space, I stayed behind, regaining my composure. This is a production with the power to break you and then give you a reason to put yourself back together.
Everything about the production just was.
And I can honestly say it’s shaped a lot the decisions I’ve made since. Maybe I haven’t changed as radically as I wanted. Small steps.
Iphigenia In SplottIphigenia received fantastic reviews (not least my own of course), and some months later I was at Taith and the conversation moved on to the transferability of the production. I remember commenting (with my heart in my throat) that I thought the piece should be regionalised if it was take to the road, because it makes it more immediate.

I thought about entitling this post ‘Why Rachel O’Riordan is always right’ or ‘Never argue with an Artistic Director about what they know better than you’.

In the Summer of 2015 Iphigenia went up to Edinburgh to a fantastic reception. Remaining as Iphigenia in Splott and packing the same punch.
A tour was announced, and I managed to book a ticket at the National Theatre early enough.

Seeing Iphigenia again left me in the same mess. Even knowing the story, knowing where it would break me.
I had naively thought pride in Cardiff taking on London would get in the way of my emotion.

Because here’s the thing. I am filled with immense pride seeing ShermanCymru take a production to the National Theatre. The first Welsh production to transfer to the National.
And because I’m Welsh it’s something I automatically feel the need to tell everyone.
I think we, in Welsh voice, should be singing it from the rooftops.

The production on a London stage, eight months on, was sharper, the Cardiffian accent seemed more cutting, punchier, more confrontational than I remembered.
This maybe because it’s a softer Effie which remained with me.

But this Effie, well Sophie Melville was stunning, getting the backs up the audience, you could see the disdain. Effie was going into battle. And this is the joy of Gary Owen’s writing. Effie draws you in, first with her humour, and then with emotion- physically drawing you in as she changes from this ‘skank’ to a realisation that the same emotions, beautifully articulated, are everything you know.

Last time I broke first during Effie’s encounter with Lee, this time the two gentleman sitting either side of me did.

But this time, knowing, I allowed myself to live Effie’s emotion, the raw emotion, this time the power of feeling ‘not alone’ caught me, full of optimism for what could be, for what Effie didn’t know but the imagery of words allowed me to feel the joy which would shortly envelop her.

This time, surprisingly to me, it was Kev who broke me, his joy destroyed.

This time, I was no less broken by what was to come.
I know, as a mother I break easier, but I know I wasn’t alone.
The time Effie’s call to action felt more direct.

This time, eight months on, I have less confidence that things are being fixed, things really aren’t improving by those elected to look after our nation.

This time I have more confidence in the strength of the human spirit, the ability to create change at grassroots.

I’m now on the train back to South Wales.  Catching up on how the Vale of Glamorgan Council has found a loophole in the Libraries Act. Failing to embrace the passion of the grassroots campaigners who took their fight to keep local libraries publicly run to the Courts. 

We failed to protect the cuts in the areas which can’t take it, the cuts are going wider and deeper. Prodding and picking anywhere they can, and most commonly at the areas we value yet under appreciate, until it’s too late.

Iphigenia in Splott deserves this local audience on a national scale. Rachel O’Riordan’s precision and passion for this piece should be celebrated, in Cardiff, in Wales, by those who believe a stage gives opportunity.

Iphigenia is a mirror and burying our heads in our lives makes us no better than the Effie we met in those first minutes. 

I can’t begin to tell you how much I think you should see ‘Iphigenia in Splott’. I’d actually recommend you see it twice.

A trip to London with a 6 year old

It’s taken a while to write this post, defeatism, #mummyfail, and the rest. It will quickly be followed by a post about taking four year-olds to London- far more successfully- lessons learned are a speciality of mine.

Our children are used to mummy going to London, it happens every week.
And so, like everything else, the fact they can’t see it increases ten fold their desire to have it.

When I heard about Kids Week it created an idea in my mind about a perfect trip to London for me and my girl.
I gave CM the choice and she decided she really wanted to see ‘Charlie & the Chocolate Factory’.
And me, being me, wanting to ensure our time was at its most productive, decided it would be a good idea to get tickets for both days of our trip.
Seeing ‘Wicked’ tickets remained available after the initial ‘fight’ for tickets, and yes, first and foremost because it’s my favourite, second because CM’s Christmas production had been ‘Wizard of Oz’ and third because it would be a great use of time, and it was a 5+ age, well I booked tickets for that as well.

I sorted a family railcard knowing my truth, that whilst coach travel is far more reasonable in price the truth is I’d rather travel by train for comfort and expedience. Well, the railcard has more than paid for itself given the other trips we’ve made.PaddingtonI tried to save money by booking a Travelodge. Some of the Travelodges (like Old Street) have really improved since they upgraded their beds. Our one at Euston was noisy, both outside and inside, not great when, as it would transpire, you’re coping with a meltdown as midnight approached.

On our trip to London, I learned the most valuable lesson.

The best things in life really are free.

I feel like I spent a fortune in London- and the reason I feel like this is because I wasted money. I got cross about it and shouldn’t have.

An example is that CM really wanted to go on an open top bus. I checked this out and thought buying tickets with a tour company at Trafalgar Square would offer value for money. That would usually be true. If every other tourist in London didn’t have the same idea. And your daughter hadn’t decided after 30 minutes she didn’t like open top buses.

I wish we had stayed having fun at Trafalgar Square.Trafalgar SquareEven this long after the event, I’d say the Tour rep wasn’t great. Encouraging families to sit at different ends of the bus isn’t the warmest welcome for a 6-year-old. Poor commentary also got my goat. But yep, more than all of that was not making the most of the exorbitant cost of the ticket.

What I thought of beforehand, which given the seats we got on the top deck I wish I had gone with- was just buy an Oyster card and go on public transport!! If you really want an open top bus after half an hour of sitting on the top deck of a usual red bus, go and pay the prices for a tour, but you might save yourself a pretty penny if it isn’t for you. 

After disembarking the bus, fortunately near enough to Buckingham Palace, yes- definitely this is the place to go for any tourist including 6 year-olds. CM saw the queues to get into the palace and really wanted to go inside, I wish I had thought to investigate this as an option beforehand- the queues really weren’t for me, but yes, for every wannabe princess I guess this would be a great ticket.

We did have a great time taking photos, especially around the Victoria Memorial.
Buckingham Palace, London with a six year old.Unfortunately I was to lose more points for not letting CM play at the play area opposite in St James’ Park. I justified this to myself by how busy it was and how many smaller children there were. Hindsight says I wish I had let her find out for herself- it really wasn’t worth the strop which was to follow. 

We headed across to Westminster, because by this time we were both getting a little frustrated with a lack of fun, but daddy phoned to suggest a photo at Big Ben was one he’d really appreciate (not for the first time I wondered what our life would be without mobile phones).Westminster

Overlooking the Houses of ParliamentFrom there we grabbed some lunch and enjoyed Southbank. And I was over the moon that we both shared a love for this part of London. We explored the Southbank Centre (again I did loose brownie points for not having tickets for the slide from the top of the Centre), and I discovered if I gave her credit for discovering things I didn’t know about I was rewarded with the best of moods.Enjoying summer on the SouthbankThe evening would see the ultimate fail of the trip. We picked up food from M&S at Euston, and had a picnic on our bed, in line with CM’s request, and then went across to Victoria to see Wicked. We had fantastic seats.

Before the curtain  had dropped for the interval we were on the underground to our hotel. Whilst I thought I had prepared CM for the storyline, I had failed to remember the massive dragon which embraces the stage, whose eyes turn red when Elphaba loses her temper, and which scared CM beyond belief.

Kids Week had it in their 5+ years listing, and I do think there were children younger than CM there, but since I’ve also found theatre recommendations which suggest 7+ years. I know I can only beat myself up over it.

And that’s what happened. CM was upset she had let me down. She then decided she was homesick. Meltdown resulted in her falling asleep. Resulted in mummy crying in the bathroom. Vowing that if CM woke the next day and wanted to go home we’d board the first train. And if she wanted to stay, I’d do whatever she wanted.

She woke re-energised (unlike me) and the day was hers.

We spent ages outside the hotel at this office building. As people turned up for work CM spent the time running up the paving and sliding down. It felt like a scene from ‘Big’. Who wouldn’t prefer a slide to work?ArchitectureWe went across to Oxford Circus, where they were giving out Lucozade Pink Lemonade. What a proud daughter phoned her dad to say how happy she was to have a pink drink- for free!

We walked down to Hamley’s ahead of its 10am opening, and little did we know what was about to happen. It seems every day they invite young people to open the store. And fortunately l I have a daughter who will volunteer for Everything. And so, this mummy, who was cursing herself for being the worst ever, got to witness the excitement as her daughter opened Hamley’s!! (Best mummy forever points).Opening Hamley's Regent Street LondonFrom Hamley’s we went across to the Science Museum as I had heard great things about it (which I thought would make it similar to Eureka! in Halifax). It didn’t turn out to be that way, CM was too old for the tactile children’s stuff and not old enough or the more ‘science’ stuff. We left. But again, caught off guard, there was a street entertainer with giant bubbles, I lost my daughter for over 30 minutes, under the spell of bubbles.Science MuseumFrom the museums we headed back to central London, and to Covent Garden, and CM fell under the spell of more street entertainers. Street entertainment at Covent Garden LondonWe then headed to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, positive I had adequately prepared CM. This time we got to the interval. I sent a celebratory text to hubby that maybe I was a good parent after all. Five minutes into the second half we left the theatre. Very realistically, Augustus Gloop had gone up the shoot, CM was scared.

I took the best learning I could from the day before. Headed back to Trafalgar Square and treated her to Pizza Express ahead of the journey home.

However many months on, CM is as eager as ever to come to London with me, with specifics. That the theatre I take her to see should be like the theatre we see in Cardiff.

Once again I am left wondering why I am so eager for my children to grow up. Why didn’t I get tickets for the tried and tested rather than pushing boundaries in a place in which they are unfamiliar?

As life would have it, we did create the best memories. Who wouldn’t want a picnic on a bed and to open the best toy shop ever.

Mummy just needs to stop micro-managing. To let her child be the child she’s promised she can be. And to live.

Did someone mention Kids Week 2016?

Evening at the Talk House at the National Theatre Review

I had high expectations for Evening at the Talk House, probably unfairly, Wallace Shawn wasn’t known to me as a playwright, but for being in nearly all of my favourite tv shows. So not exactly a qualified perspective.An Evening At The Talk HouseEvening at the Talk House begins well, it takes on the story of Robert (Josh Hamilton), a former playwright and now successful television writer, on the eve of a ten-year reunion since his last, unsuccessful, play. An engaging monologue, familiarity which creates an easy atmosphere. And so the evening begins, well enough, with good humour and the scene of the evening set. 

The group gather at their old haunt, the Talk House, and what had been so much more in their memory is now really is an old haunt. The introduction of Wallace Shawn as Dick, a once admired actor, now recovering from the effects of an altercation and more than a bit bruised as a result. His overview that his friends left him in this state begins the first confusion.

As the group reacquaint so the two dialogues commence, the first of a jovial reunion, of rose-tinted spectacles and of could-have-been’s. And then there’s the more confusing, more disturbing dialogue that comes to the fore, from politics into targeted killings. The conversation of who deserves to live, or assassinations, and the need for gentle killings moves the laughter to a more confused state. Evening at the Talk HouseWhilst the dialogue is baffling, seemingly at a tangent to all that has been set up, it still allows the relationships to be rediscovered and for the characters to be positioned and explored. The seeming delicacy of Sinéad Matthews’ Jane is contrasted with her assignment of assassin, and yet as the play comes to a close the character’s delicacy is realised again.

The play ends abruptly, in some ways timely, leaving more questions than answers.

But whilst it does this, and is well-timed, after 140 minutes, there isn’t the head space to consider the final act, the mind is too busy trying to process everything that led to this point.

The oddity of the script never seemed to fulfil itself. There is a timeliness to some of the themes no doubt, but it seemed too far beyond to allow a clear message to be left.

Evening at the Talk House is at the National Theatre until 30th March 2016. 

Living Arrows 48/52

On a bit of a whim I took the boys on a trip to London.
And it seemed like everything seemed to be destined to go in our favour,
Our train was cancelled, but we had arrived at the train station early, and caught the delayed earlier train.
The list of fortunate unfortunates continued all over the weekend.
Choosing the theatre and missing the toy parade.
Walking down Regent Street anyway.
And creating some favourite memories.

Living Arrows Week 48

Living Arrows

The Tiger Who Came to Tea On Stage – Review

On Saturday I was lucky enough to take two very excited boys across London to the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to see one of their favourite books- The Tiger Who Came to Tea – brought to life on stage.

‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ by Judith Kerr has been one of our favourite books, forever. On its national tour in 2012 I took my daughter, and now with the boys having developed the same love for the book, it was great to have the opportunity to see it on stage again. As a musical play adapted and directed by David Wood the characters are instantly recognisable. Featuring performances from  Abbey Norman (Sophie), Jenanne Redman (Mummy) and Benjamin Wells (Daddy/Milkman/Postman/Tiger), this was a high energy performance with lots of audience interaction.

Like their sister before, the boys were positive there was a possibility they would be scared of the Tiger. And of course nothing could be further from the truth.

The characters were introduced to the audience as they walked through to reach the stage, so the atmosphere was relaxed from the outset. So much humour was created in the build up to Sophie having tea that there wasn’t any possibility of anything but fun as the tiger’s arrival drew close.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, UK.

Photograph © Jane Hobson

The boys loved every moment, they were singing along, mimicking actions to songs, and giggling with glee.

And of course, I was enthralled too. I was enthralled in their enjoyment, but also in the creation of a 55 minute production which seemed to end too soon.

Every detail of our favourite book was recreated, and every moment, and every song included in the theatre version is a match. Adding something to the wonderful tale.

And as we arrived back in South Wales that evening the boys were still singing they “could hardly believe it’s true, but it happened to me and you…”. 

And maybe, just maybe, I was singing along with them.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, UK

Photograph © Jane Hobson.

The perfect introduction for little ones to the theatre, a wonderful reality of a favourite tale.

‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ is at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London until 10th January 2016 with tickets online.

Disclosure: We received complementary tickets for the performance for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.