Best films and books 2012

For the first time in about five years I've barely been to the cinema. I even cancelled my Cineworld card at the start of November, which speaks volumes about how often I am frequenting the flicks. Out of the films I did manage to see in 2012 though - you can find all the films I saw at the cinema and all the books I read in 2012 here - my favourites were: 
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • The Descendants
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Skyfall
  • Life of Pi

Books-wise, I also loved the book versions of two of my favourite 2012 films, The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings and Yann Martel's Life of Pi - the films are based on the respective books. Other favourites reads in 2012 were (in no order):
  • The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
  • The Woman He Loved Before - Dorothy Koomson
  • Einstein's Dreams - Alan Lightman
  • Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane
  • Perfect People - Peter James
  • Little Girl Lost - Brian McGilloway
  • The Ask and the Answer - Patrick Ness
  • The Marchwood Vampire series - Shalini Boland
  • Outside - Shalini Boland
  • The Blessing - Nancy Mitford
  • The Kindest Thing - Cath Staincliffe
  • Babies in Waiting - Rosie Fiore
  • The Declaration - Gemma Malley
  • Mortal Chaos - Matt Dickinson
  • Into the Darkest Corner - Elizabeth Haynes
  • Pretty Little Liars series - Sara Shepard
  • Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts
  • Clockwork Angel - Clare Cassandra
  • The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton 
  • Behind a Closed Door - Mel Sherratt
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
How about you? What have been your favourite books and films of 2012? x

2012 books and films

This year I've read these books and watched the following films at the cinema.  A brand new read is [B] and a book I've read before is denoted with a [R]. I can definitely say that my Kindle is the reason that I've read more in 2012!

  1.  A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh [B] 
  2. The Alchemyst - Michael Scott [B]  
  3. The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov [B]
  4. The Boy in the Dress - David Walliams [B] 
  5. Catch Me If You Can - Frank W. Abagnale [R] 
  6. Passenger 13 - Scott Mariani [B] 
  7. The Chocolate Run - Dorothy Koomson [R]
  8. Six Geese a-Laying - Sophie Kinsella [B]
  9. Clockwork Angel - Cassandra Clare [B]
  10. Pretty Little Liars - Sara Shepard [B]
  11. Dating A Cougar - Donna McDonald [B]
  12. Flawless - Sara Shepard [B]
  13. Beautiful Creatures - Lulu Taylor [B]
  14. Perfect - Sara Shepard [B]
  15. Unbelievable - Sara Shepard [B]
  16. Abandon - Meg Cabot [B]
  17. The Cross - Scott G Mariani [B]
  18. Suffer A Witch - Morgana Gallaway [B]
  19. Build A Man - Talli Roland [B]
  20. The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux [B]
  21. Clockwork Prince - Cassandra Clare [B]
  22. Afterwards - Rosamund Lupton [B] 
  23. Wicked - Sara Shepard [B]
  24. Killer - Sara Shepard [B]
  25. Heartless - Sara Shepard [B]
  26. Wanted - Sara Shepard [B]
  27. Boys Don't Cry - Malorie Blackman [B] 
  28. Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo [B] 
  29. The Hating Game - Talli Roland [B]
  30. Watching Willow Watts - Talli Roland [B] 
  31. Before I Go To Sleep - S.J. Watson [B]
  32. Dirty Tricks - Jo Carnegie [B] 
  33. Girl - Blake Nelson [B] 
  34. The Descendants - Kaui Hart Hemmings [B] 
  35. The Lying Game - Sara Shepard [B] 
  36. Never Have I Ever - Sara Shepard [B]  
  37. The Woman in Black - Susan Hill [B] 
  38. Delirium - Lauren Oliver [B] 
  39. How to be a Woman - Caitlin Moran [B] 
  40. Dead Reckoning - Charlaine Harris [B] 
  41. The Wicked Games - Alex Marwood [B] 
  42. Miracle at the Museum of Broken Hearts - Talli Roland [B] 
  43. Fortune - Megan Cole [B] 
  44. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Deborah Moggach [B] 
  45. The Fallen Star - Jessica Sorensen [B] 
  46. Into the Darkest Corner - Elizabeth Haynes [B]
  47. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins [R]
  48. Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts [B] 
  49. The Declaration - Gemma Malley [B] 
  50. Mortal Chaos - Matt Dickinson [B] 
  51. Nine Uses for an Ex-boyfriend - Sarra Manning [B] 
  52. One Night Only - Sue Welfare [B]
  53. The Darker Side of Love - Jessica Ruston [B]
  54. Shakespeare's Landlord - Charlaine Harris [B]
  55. Pear Shaped - Stella Newman [B]
  56. The Making of Modern Britain - Andrew Marr [B] 
  57. The Sky is Everywhere - Jandy Nelson [B] 
  58. The Girl in the Mask - Marie-Louise Jensen [B] 
  59. Riders - Jilly Cooper [B] 
  60. Two Truths and a Lie - Sara Shepard [B]
  61. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein [B] 
  62. The Kindest Thing - Cath Staincliffe [B] 
  63. Outrageous Fortune - Lulu Taylor [B] 
  64. Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins [R]
  65. A Vision of Loveliness – Louise Levene [B]
  66. Mum on the Run - Fiona Gibson [B]
  67. Babies in Waiting - Rosie Fiore [B]
  68. Heist Society - Ally Carter [B]
  69. Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins [R] 
  70. Divergent - Veronica Roth [R]
  71. Insurgent - Veronica Roth [B]
  72. Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson [B] 
  73. America Unchained - Dave Gorman [B] 
  74. The Gift of Rain - Tan Twan Eng [R] 
  75. Outside - Shalini Boland [B] 
  76. How to Thrive in the Digital Age - Tom Chatfield [B]
  77. Hidden - Shalini Boland [B] 
  78. Thicker than Blood - Shalini Boland [B] 
  79. Truth Dare Kill - Gordon Ferris [B]
  80. Marked - Kim Richardson [B] 
  81. The Diamond Queen - Andrew Marr [B]
  82. Fifty Shades of Grey - E. L. James [B] 
  83. Fifty Shades Darker - E. L. James [B]
  84. Londoners - Craig Taylor [B] 
  85. Fallen Idols - Neil White [B] 
  86. Fifty Shades Freed - E. L. James [B]
  87. The Resistance - Gemma Malley [B] 
  88. Adorkable - Sarra Manning [B]
  89. Angelfall - Susan Ee [B] 
  90. Yesterday's Gone: Season One - Sean Platt and David W. Wright [B] 
  91. We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver [B] 
  92. Legacy of Blood - Alex Connor [B]
  93. First Bitten - Samantha Towle [B] 
  94. Yesterday's Gone: Season Two - Sean Platt and David W. Wright [B]
  95. Here Be Sexist Vampires - Suzanne Wright [B]
  96. Mr China: A Memoir - Tim Clissold [B]
  97. The Immortalists - Kyle Mills [B]
  98. The Bringer - Samantha Towle [B] 
  99. The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng [B]
  100. Drive - James Sallis [B]
  101. Aleph - Paulo Coelho [B]
  102. The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness [B] 
  103. The Secret of Happy Ever After - Lucy Dillon [B]
  104.  The Ask and the Answer - Patrick Ness [B] 
  105. Construct A Couple - Talli Roland [B]
  106. Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness [B]
  107. The New World - Patrick Ness [B]
  108. Monday to Friday Man - Alice Peterson [B] 
  109. A Shirtful of Frogs - Shalini Boland [B] 
  110. Switched - Amanda Hocking [B] 
  111. Torn - Amanda Hocking [B] 
  112. Ascend - Amanda Hocking [B]
  113. Partitions - Amit Majmudar [B] 
  114. Bronson - Charles Bronson [B] 
  115. An Idiot Abroad - Karl Pilkington [B] 
  116. Perfect People - Peter James [B]
  117. At the Sign of the Sugared Plum - Mary Hooper [B] 
  118. The Saturday Supper Club - Amy Bratley [B] 
  119. Lizzy Harrison Loses Control - Pippa Wright [B]
  120. The Private Life of Palaces - Julian Humphrys [B]
  121. The Beach Cafe - Lucy Diamond [B] 
  122. The Child Who - Simon Lelic [B]
  123. Hide and Seek - Sara Shepard [B] 
  124. A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness [B]
  125. L.A. Candy - Lauren Conrad [B] 
  126. Revenge of the Tide - Elizabeth Haynes [B]
  127. The Book of Lies - Mary Horlock [B] 
  128. From Rags - Suzanne Wright [B]
  129. Sweet Little Lies - Lauren Conrad [B] 
  130. Sugar and Spice - Lauren Conrad [B] 
  131. The Stepford Wives - Ira Levin [B]
  132. Unsuitable Men - Pippa Wright [B]
  133. Hollowland - Amanda Hocking [B] 
  134. Pretty Twisted - Gina Blaxill [B] 
  135. Id - Paul Craig [B] 
  136. Playground - 50 Cent [B]
  137. Little Girl Lost - Brian McGilloway [B]
  138. Watch Over Me - Daniela Sacerdoti [B] 
  139. The Happiness Trap - Russ Harris [B]
  140. Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane [B] 
  141. Wannabe a Writer? - Jane Wenham-Jones [B] 
  142. Beautiful Disaster - Jamie McGuire [B] 
  143. How Many Friends Does One Person Need? - Robin Dunbar [B]
  144. The Moth Diaries - Rachel Klein [B]
  145. The Uiverse Inside You - Brian Clegg [B] 
  146. Among the Living - Timothy W. Long [B]
  147. The Unquiet Heart - Gordon Ferris [B]
  148. Mockingbird - Kathryn Erskine [B] 
  149. The Proof of Love - Katherine Hall [B]
  150. The Sacred Sword - Scott Mariani [B] 
  151. Bared to You - Sylvia Day [B] 
  152. Einstein's Dreams - Alan Lightman [B]
  153. The Little Book of London - David Long [B] 
  154. Mountains of the Mind - Robert Macfarlane [B]
  155. City of Bones - Cassandra Clare [B]
  156. The Rock Star's Daughter - Caitlyn Duffy [B] 
  157. A Kind of Loving - Stan Barstow [B] 
  158. Fantastic Mr Dahl - Michael Rosen [B]
  159. The Wife Who Ran Away - Tess Stimson [B] 
  160. Yours Truly - Kirsty Greenwood [B]
  161. All That Glitters - Ilana Fox [B] 
  162. What I Did On My Holidays - Chrissie Manby [B]
  163. Pursued by Love - Georgia Hill [B] 
  164. The Expats - Chris Pavone [B] 
  165. VII - H M Castor [B]
  166. The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling [B]
  167. A History of Modern Britain - Andrew Marr [B]  
  168. Fracture - Megan Miranda [B] 
  169. When Lightning Strikes - Meg Cabot [B]
  170. Code Name Cassandra - Meg Cabot [B]
  171. Safe House - Meg Cabot [B]
  172. Sanctuary - Meg Cabot [B] 
  173. Talent is Overrated - Geoff Colvin [B] 
  174. The Woman He Loved Before - Dorothy Koomson [B]
  175. The Bourne Identity - Robert Ludlum [B] 
  176. Fifth Avenue - Christopher Smith [B]
  177. Your Writing Coach - Jurgen Wolff [B] 
  178. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern [B] 
  179. Perfect Alibis - Jane Wenham-Jones [B] 
  180. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt [B]
  181. The Rose Petal Beach - Dorothy Koomson [B] 
  182. Reflected in You - Sylvia Day [B]
  183. Millie and the American Wedding - Anna Bell [B]
  184. A Study in Scarlet - Arthur Conan Doyle [B]
  185. One Perfect Summer - Paige Toon [B] 
  186. Thank you for Smoking - Christopher Buckley [B] 
  187. Devilish - Maureen Johnson [B]
  188. The White Lie - Andrea Gillies [B] 
  189. Pushing the Limits - Katie McGarry [B]
  190. Life of Pi - Yann Martel [B]
  191. The Blessing - Nancy Mitford B]
  192. Time's Echo - Pamela Hartshorne [B]
  193. The Midwife's Confession - Diane Chamberlain [B] 
  194. This Thirtysomething Life - Jon Rance [B]
  195. The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton [B]
  196. Thursdays in the Park - Hilary Boyd [B] 
  197. The Half-life of Hannah - Nick Alexander [B]
  198. 1,227 QI Facts to Blow your Socks off - John Lloyd [B]
  199. The Island of Adventure - Enid Blyton [R]
  200. The Legacy - Gemma Malley [B] 
  201. Blood and Snow, Volumes 1-4 - RaShelle Workman [B]
  202. Street Duty, Case One: Knock Down - Chris Ould [B] 
  203. Safe House - Chris Ewan [B]
  204. Blood and Snow, Volume 5 - RaShelle Workman [B]
  205. The Siren - Tiffany Reisz [B] 
  206. The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins [B]  
  207. The Last Telegram - Liz Trenow [B]
  208. The Villa Triste - Lucretia Grindle [B] 
  209. The Men Who Stare at Goats - Jon Ronson [B] 
  210. The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud - Ben Sherwood [B] 
  211. The Night Before Christmas - Clement Clark Moore [B] 
  212. The Blackhouse - Peter May [B] 
  213. 600 Hours of Edward - Craig Lancaster [B]
  214. The Nightmare Stone - Finian Black [B] 
  215. Somewhere to Hide - Mel Sherratt [B] 
  216. Behind A Closed Door - Mel Sherratt [B] 
  217. Taunting the Dead - Mel Sherratt [B]  
  218. Little Red Riding Crop - Tiffany Reisz [B] 
  219. Fighting for Survival - Mel Sherratt [B] 
  220. Me Before You - JoJo Moyes [B] 
  221. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner - Stephenie Meyer [B] 
  222. Camp David - David Walliams [B]
  223. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky [B] 
 Did not finish: The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing

  1.  The Iron Lady - Seen on 09/01 - Meryl was marvellous, but portrayal of an alive modern-day Maggie makes for uncomfortable viewing. 8/10
  2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Seen on 20/01 - Fab remake that made a long film not seem *that* long. Not sure why they changed the ending though. 9/10 
  3. Shame  - Seen on 24/01 - Pointless drawn-out scenes; little plot. 3/10
  4. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - Seen on 25/01 - OTT, yet enjoyable. 7/10
  5. The Artist - Seen on 03/02 - Charming at first, but grows a little old. 6/10 
  6. The Descendants - Seen on 29/02. 8/10 
  7. The Hunger Games - Seen on 22/03 - A great adaptation. 8/10 
  8. Avengers Assemble IMAX 3D - Seen on 02/05. 6/10 
  9. The Dictator - Seen on 06/06. How does he get away with it! Very short, but very enjoyable. 7/10 
  10. The Amazing Spiderman 3D - Seen on 10/7. 7/10 
  11. The Dark Knight Rises - Seen on 20/7. 9/10 
  12. Magic Mike - Seen on 24/7. 4/10
  13. Skyfall - Seen on 1/11. 8/10
  14. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 - Seen on 4/12 - Dreadful. 2/10
  15. Life of Pi - Seen on 28/12. 9/10

Aladdin @ The O2

I was invited along to The O2 this festive season to go and see Aladdin A Wish Come True, starring Lily Savage as Widow Twanky and S Club 7's Jon Lee as Aladdin. We returned to London yesterday after a lovely Christmas in Kent and saw the 17.30 showing.

Now, pantomimes tend to fall into two types. They are either really good, or they are really bad. Thankfully, this is a good one and Lily Savage - Paul O'Grady's alter ego - really made the show. Funny with a fantastic pair of legs - not bad for a 57 year old man! - Lily Savage sets up everything negative that people tend to associate with pantos and made it seem humorous, as well as showcasing some awesome ensembles. Serious costume envy at times!

It feels modern for a "traditional" pantomime, and it's reasonably silly for the children but not *too* silly that the adults groan in despair. Abanazar was definitely my second favourite character after Lily Savage even though he *is* the baddie. What was great to see throughout the show was that you see the actors on stage were genuinely having a great time playing their roles and quite often could be spied cracking up at their fellow cast members stage antics.

The first half felt a bit slower than the second half, but it was an enjoyable show overall and we left the purpose-built theatre with a smile on our faces. If you want to catch it whilst it's on, it's only playing until January 5th 2013 so you'll have to be quick! Are you a fan of pantomimes? x

Mad Hatter's Tea @ The Sanderson

At the weekend I was at The Sanderson to celebrate my friend Hayley's 30th birthday. The Sanderson is situated just off Oxford Street and their classic afternoon tea, called the Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea, is £35 each. They also do a champagne version for £45.

There are lots of lovely little details that really make the afternoon tea special - sugar cubes are kept in ballerina music boxes, riddles are tied around the napkins and the menu is hidden in an old book, for example.

The negatives I would say about it is that the service wasn't that great, especially considering the 15% service charge they add on to the bill regardless... It also had "Jelly Wonderland" on the menu which they didn't offer us. I doubt we would have managed this as we were all pretty full but we should have been offered it at the very least - we'd paid for it!

Still, those negatives aside, it was a lovely afternoon. I'm not a sandwich person so my favourite bits were the scones, the strawberries and cream handmade marshmallow mushrooms, and the green tea and white chocolate mousse served in a dark chocolate tea cup. The top of the mousse had popping candy which was a nice surprise!

Harringay Market

Earlier today we went along to the Harringay Market to see if we could find any last minute Christmas gifts to buy and, of course, to sample some street food!

I went for Alley Katsu and had their delicious Chicken Katsu Curry (£5), whilst Olly went to the Burger Bear stall and had the Grizzly Bear (£6.50). He's now a big fan of bacon jam. 

We also took home with us a Batch Bakery brownie (£3 each); I can't remember for the life of me which ones we picked but they were yummy. Olly's tasted "just like Christmas", though I wasn't keen on his, and mine had a soft mousse-like texture that was much more my cup of tea.

The Harringay Market is on every Sunday, 11.00 until 15.00, at the North Harringay Primary School. If you're a North Londoner, it's well worth a visit! x

Get into London Theatre 2013

Every year, around this time of year, I keep my eye out for an email announcing that Get into London Theatre has launched. Get into London Theatre is basically top shows selling great seats for £10, £15, £25 or £35, with no booking or postage fees.

You can book tickets for performances that take place from 1 January - 15 February 2013. I've just booked War Horse. What would you go and see? x

Christmas Countdown!

December is well and truly here and Christmas is on its way! I've sorted all my presents and the only thing left to do before the big day is finish editing my two books. I'll have an announcement about those in the New Year.

Now, I've not blogged for a while and that's because I have been quite poorly, with one illness after another. I'm hoping I'm on the mend, but it's been a bleak few weeks and I'm going to be taking it easy for the rest of the month.

Other than battling several plagues, I did manage to go and see Robbie Williams when he was playing The O2 on his Take The Crown tour a few weeks ago. I was never a fan of Take That the first time round - I preferred Britpop and the likes of Blur to poppy boybands -  but I do like Robbie's solo stuff and Take That grew on me when they got back together. The video for Candy is a bit odd though!

How have you all been? Are you sorted for Christmas? x

Retro Love: Home Alone

Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York are two of my must-see films around Christmas time. In fact, Home Alone 2 was the first film I ever saw at the cinema, and quite possibly responsible for planting the initial seed in my head that New York is amazing. (Definitely encouraged on further by The Babysitters Club books and Stacey McGill.)

OK, so the plots when watching as an adult are absolutely ludicrous - Harry and Marv would have been dead in the first film with some of the things Kevin does to them - but I still love these films.

What are your must-see Christmas movies, and what was the first film you ever saw at the cinema? x

The Killers, Battle Born World Tour

This weekend I was lucky enough to see The Killers perform at The O2 on their Battle Born World Tour from the comfort of a corporate box. Sweet! Now, The Killers are one of my favourite bands EVER, and I saw them earlier this year as well at V Fest. I'm a BIG fan.

They didn't disappoint. Brandon Flowers had only sung four songs in Manchester earlier in the week before he had to stop because of a sore throat, but he recovered in time for the London shows and they were incredible.

The jam-packed crowd at The O2 thought so as well. Mr Brightside. Human. Smile Like You Mean It. Miss Atomic Bomb. Somebody Told Me. For Reason's Unknown (my absolute favourite). I could go on.

My only gripe is that they never play enough from Sam's Town, which is possibly my favourite album of theirs - it's pretty much neck and neck with Hot Fuss, anyway - which means we miss out on some belting songs of theirs. Still, I did like their nod to Oasis as they covered Don't Look Back in Anger - Oasis influenced Flowers to be in a rock band after he saw them play in Las Vegas, don't you know. 

A-mazing! They've just announced that they are playing Wembley next June, too - I'll have to go, won't I? Are you a fan of The Killers? x

Thank you to Olly for taking the photos! xxxx

Latest Loves: 11.11.12

MEATliquor celebrated its first birthday today - we went for the first time last week, probably because the horror stories of the queue has always dissuaded us in the past. (Twenty minutes for us, on a Monday evening at 7pm, if you want to know.) Now we're wondering what took us so long to visit, and I know we'll definitely be returning. Definitely not a place for a first date though as you're going to make a mess with the overloaded burgers and hotdogs. I had the epic Chili dog but make mine a Dirty chicken burger next time.

Intrigued by the trailer for the second season of Homeland when it started airing on Channel 4, I quickly caught up with season one and promptly fell in love with the series. Claire Danes is absolutely brilliant mental as Carrie and her relationship with Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Brit Damian Lewis) is gripping stuff.

Another TV series - it's the return of MasterChef: The Professionals. Such a treat to see Michel Roux Jr. cook beautiful food whilst others try to replicate it and impress him, even more so after eating at Le Gavroche earlier this year. When he puts his Epigrams De Sole back on the menu, we will be going - it looked AWESOME.

I'm currently working about a five minute walk from the King's Road, which means whereas I'm not having a cheap lunch - you try finding somewhere in Chelsea to have lunch for less than a fiver - I am getting to try out some pretty sweet places. Last week's find was Buona Sera at The Jam, a "treetop" type Italian restaurant which has beautiful flavours and a quirky set-up. With wooden booths on the ground, in-between them are little ladders leading up to booths stacked on top. I'm going to have to take Olly there!

What are your latest loves? x

The Making of Harry Potter, Part II

Once you've completed the first studio on the Harry Potter studio tour, you head outside to the back lot where you get to see Privet Drive, the Hogwarts' bridge, the Potters' cottage and the Knight Bus. You can also get yourself a Butterbeer out there, or a non-magical refreshment if you're feeling Muggle!

Priced at £2.95, Butterbeer is worth trying, though it's the cold version and not the piping hot version, à la The Three Broomsticks. It was grim and raining outside so a hot Butterbeer would have gone down a treat!

The next part of the tour is more behind-the-scenes, such as finding out how they put together all of the magical creatures:

You then enter, Diagon Alley. (Amazing!) This is not the Diagon Alley of the first book though; it's how it is towards the end of the series when Voldemort is back and the Death Eaters are in control. Eek!

Original artwork and building models come next, before the seriously impressive model of Hogwarts Castle. It took sixteen weeks to build, only six minutes to burn down!

Finally, through Ollivanders you go - the names on the wand boxes are of all the people who have been involved in the films over the years - and then you're into the (over-priced) gift shop. Tour done!

Regarding ticket types, we had various ones between us. I didn't get to see the souvenir guidebook which came with one ticket but my nephew promptly handed over to me his digital guide (costs £4.95) as he didn't want to use it (carry it). I had a little listen whilst the children were intently deliberating in the gift shop, and I don't think you need to get one.

Your best bet is to buy a regular ticket but remember that you do need a ticket before you go as you can't buy one when you get there!

Would you go on the Harry Potter studio tour or not? x

Harry Potter studio tour, Leavesden

Last week we headed just outside of London to Leavesden to celebrate my nephew's 7th birthday at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, aka the The Making of Harry Potter. Now, as some of you may know, I'm not so keen on the Harry Potter movies but I had a bit of a thing about the books and had an award-winning, and now very retro-looking, Harry Potter website.

I am definitely no stranger to the series so got to act as a bit of a tour guide to my family and Olly, answering all their Harry Potter questions. Despite not been a massive fan of the movies, it was still wonderful to go on the tour. I think as passive consumers of films none of us really realise just what goes into making a movie, especially movies nowadays with CGI, and what not. To get that insight, well, it's a real eye-opener.

One thing that I noticed, probably because I was with my seven year old nephew, four year old niece and three month old nephew - who all have short, child-like, boredom thresholds, funnily enough - was the wait to get into the actual tour.

We had a time slot of 14.30 and were told that we needed to get there twenty minutes before this slot. If we weren't, and we missed our slot, we might not be allowed in. The reality was we got there twenty minutes early but it took us about an hour to actually get started on the tour. Granted, it may have been half term, but it's worth bearing in mind if you're there with little people and need to plan some queue entertainment for them. 

In total, we were there about three hours, but you could definitely stay longer. We went at the children's pace, rather than our own - they just wanted to see exciting, magical things, rather than read about the ins and outs. There is a lot to take in and you even get a go at flying - both a Ford Anglia and broomstick - which is oh-so-cool.

Once you've finished the first studio, it's out to the back lot - I'll post more about that bit next time! x

A trip to London Zoo

One of my Christmas presents last year was a giraffe called Ellish. OK, so I didn't actually have a giraffe wrapped up under the Christmas tree waiting for me, but Olly did adopt me her from London Zoo. Part of the adoption package includes a free ticket to the Zoo and we finally went to visit her, and the other animals, a few rainy days ago.

This is Ellish, below, getting fed at the "Giraffe High Tea". She's the biggest giraffe there and quite greedy compared to the others! (I wouldn't expect anything less from a giraffe of mine.) The feeding usually takes place outdoors but because it was raining and miserable the giraffes stayed firmly inside. The three giraffes at London Zoo are all girls so sadly there won't be any baby giraffes joining them any time soon. 

As much as I could spend all my time with the giraffes, London Zoo has other animals. My other favourite is the penguins who live at Penguin Beach. This is their second home at the Zoo as their first abode became too small so they needed to be rehoused somewhere else in the Zoo. So cute!

London Zoo doesn't have any bears at the moment but back in 1914 a black bear called Winnie (Winnipeg) arrived at London Zoo... A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin visited the Zoo and Winnie became the inspiration for the Winnie the Pooh books!

I love visiting London Zoo. It's definitely one of my favourite places in London. How about you? What is your favourite animal? x

Rekorderlig Winter Forest Bar

I've been to some pretty nifty pop-up places in my time, but last night I was down at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane to see the Rekorderlig Winter Forest Bar before it opened to the public and it's definitely my new favourite pop-up experience.

Now when I was first told that I would be going to a beautifully Swedish Winter Forest, just one that was indoors, I was kind of dubious. Immediately I thought fake snow and trees, sort of like a Santa's grotto.

Santa's grotto this ain't. It's, well, a Winter Forest. Like a real full-on actual Winter Forest filled with trees, dirt, twigs, grasses and foliage. All real. Indoors.

The effect is pretty amazing and as the night draws in they drop the temperature and lower the lighting - there are blankets on hand to snuggle in and you can also order yourself a hot Rekorderlig to warm you up.

I've never really been a fan of warm alcohol - I hate mulled wine, and my only exception to the rule is a Baileys-enhanced hot chocolate - but I'm now a big fan of their warm Winter cider. They are also doing cocktails down there and there's yummy Swedish tapas available, too. Elk sausage roll, anyone? 

The pop-up Winter Forest is only around until November 6th (it opened today), so it's worth getting down there whilst you can. Online tickets are sold out but if you go down there after 8pm you should be able to buy a ticket on the door. I'm going back next week! x

Sous le Nez, Leeds

At the weekend Olly and I went up to Leeds to become Godparents. Whilst we were up there we had dinner at Sous le Nez - despite Leeds pretty much being my home city, I'd never actually heard of it or eaten there before.

We chose to go for the Menu Du Soir which is 3 courses and half a bottle of wine per person for £24.95. For our mains, Olly went for the seared pigeon breast with bubble and squeak, chargrilled chorizo, thyme and rosemary jus whilst I went for the braised pork shank, champ mash and red onion jus. Both were divine. When we're back in Leeds, I know we'll be eating there again. x

Musical news - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I was excited yesterday to learn that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is coming to the West End next year (May 2013), but that immediately made me wonder what's leaving the West End to make room for it?

The answer is Shrek which makes this announcement less exciting as Shrek is an awesome musical. I was lucky enough to see a preview in May 2011 and then saw it again in December 2011. I would happily see it again, though I am a little sad that Nigel Harman is no longer Lord Farquaad as he owned that role.

Still, Shrek sadness aside, there are finally some new musicals coming to London next year - The Book of Mormon opens in February, as does A Chorus Line) - which is good news for me as I've felt bereft of new musicals! Saying that though, I've still not seen Matilda ... To the box office! What musicals are you looking forward to seeing? x

Making pho, Vietnam's national dish

I am a big fan of the restaurant Pho, a restaurant I first discovered when I worked for UNICEF - their Clerkenwell restaurant is just around the corner, but they have branches all over London and one in Brighton, too. My lunch takeaway of choice was always their delicious and ridiculously filling "Bun Ga Hue" - hot and spicy chicken in a rice noodle stock that you enhance yourself by adding as much sliced onion, herbs (typically mint, Thai basil, coriander), lime juice, beansprouts and chili to as you want.

But "Pho" is not just the name of a restaurant, it's actually a dish. Vietnam's national dish, some claim. Hopefully next year I will have my fill of Vietnamese food - if that's even possible - when Olly and I head there but for now we'll have to make do with Vietnamese restaurants and our own efforts.

This was our first try at making pho - we went for pork pho, recipe here - and I have to say that it was really delicious, though we couldn't add bean sprouts (we couldn't find any in the local area, can you believe!), and we didn't add any of the hoisin sauce or the Sriracha chili sauce (in the eggcups) to our bowls as it was plenty hot already! I'm looking forward to making pho again and also giving Kingsland Road in Dalston a try with its many Vietnamese restaurants.

Are you a fan of Vietnamese food? What's your favourite dish and do you have a favourite Vietnamese restaurant? x

Travel flashback: Pipa, Brazil

I've saved my favourite place in Brazil for last, and on the way to it we stopped off at the market town of São José de Mipibu. It's not really a craft, touristy kind of market town, but it's a good town to visit to get a glimpse of everyday Brazilian life.

My favourite place couldn't be as far removed from everyday life. It's paradise. I give you, Pipa. When we were there it was charming and sweet, even cheaper than Ponta Negra as not many tourists went there so had yet to be "commercialised". (By Brazilian standards that means it's still really cheap.) Just after we got back from Brazil, Vanity Fair's Travel edition waxed lyrical over Pipa as the place to go... If that's not testimony, I don't know what is.

As much as I loved Pipa, a scary thing did happen there. We walked away from the main bit to a quieter spot down the beach and we completely forgot to think about the tide... It was only our bellies that suggested we were feeling peckish so should head back. As we walked back towards the bars, the water was getting higher and wilder. We sped up a bit. Then with the bars still fifty metres away, we started to run whenever the tide went out.

Five metres away, the water was waist-high. Holding our bags above our heads we managed to climb up the rocks and escape the fierce Atlantic Ocean. I dread to think what would have happened if we had realised five minutes later, so always remember to watch out for tides! Despite this, Brazil was definitely one of my favourite holidays and a place I'd love to return to. Would you go? Or have you been already? x


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