Fashion

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Why is 2015 in such a hurry ey? Maybe it’s because I am planning a wedding and so hyper-aware of the days left to get my bum in gear and organise things are speeding past in a blur of well… doing everything but organising things. I just can’t believe that it’s mid February, that the days are getting long and that things in April (like my next dress fitting) suddenly seem uncomfortably close rather than dark distant days!

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I feel like this gorgeous Hello Dodo tee-shirt sums up my general life-vibe lately. Bear with me; I’m trying my best to be good and enthused about all the things but occasionally I just have to take a day like today where I sack every thing and everyone off and am still in my PJs at 4pm, intending to make the most active thing I do changing into a fresh pair when bedtime rolls around. Anyway! I am really keen to share with you a really neat thing I did in London lately. My friend Ianthe writes for the BA High Life in-flight magazine and got in touch a few weekends ago to see if Nick & I wanted to accompany her, along with some of Nick’s other uni buddies, to a “locked room mystery”. A few Googles later and I realised that there a craze sweeping well… the world, which London is actually a little late to the scene on. The craze actually started in 2007, when in Japan there was a sweep of turning simple point and click computer games into a physical challenge, that took place in a locked room. The participant would only be able to leave the room once the challenge had been successfully completed. This soon became so popular that the trend was picked up and soon “escape the room” adventures were popping up across Asia, Australia and Europe.

So, this led to me finishing an uneventful work Monday in January and making my way to an anonymous looking door in the city, near Bank station. The first challenge was to locate the entrance to Escape Hunt; the only signage being a small logo next to the doorbell. After plummeting 3 flights of stairs into the bowels of London, we were met by an enthusiastic lady dressed as a sort of sexy Sherlock Holmes (!) who introduced herself to us as our Games Master. We were pretty swiftly taken to a door and the process of what lay ahead of us was explained. The building contained various themed mysteries; our mystery to crack that night was the called “The Artists Bedroom”. In the bedroom we would fine an artist had been brutally murdered; and we would have exactly one hour from the second we entered the room to work through various codes, clues and puzzles in order to solve the crime. For the duration of the hour, our Games Master would be watching us on CCTV. If at any point we got stuck; we could phone her for a clue. However! This was discouraged because every time we phoned for help; we would lose a minute from the countdown clock. If at any point she felt like we were taking too long, she could phone us with a hint to keep us on track. We deposited all of our worldly belongings in a locker outside and were quickly hustled into a small infra-red lit room and the door slammed with an electronic click. We were totally locked in and we needed to get a wriggle on to escape…

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In case you are planning to take part in Escape Hunt I won’t give too many spoilers about the mystery itself, because that’s obviously the best bit. Once in the room, there were various different types of tasks; from reading music, to maths, to word games to picking up on subtle clues within the room. We also had to basically turn everything within the four walls upside down in order to find keys, padlocks, hidden laminated hints and NOTHING was what it seemed (for example an innocuous looking wardrobe ended up being a door into an Alice in Wonderland style set of smaller and smaller rooms beyond it). The main theme, cheesy as it is, was team work. We quickly figured out that unless we organised who was focussing on what and where, we didn’t have a hope of getting past the first hurdle. It’s also unbelievable how quickly an hour can flit past once you are racing against the clock. In the end, we had to phone ole sexy Sherlock three times for a helping hand, and she phoned us once… and we cracked the crime with 7 minutes to spare! Afterwards we got to celebrate by a) being freed from our locked room prison and b) dressing up in tweed and posing at a photo-booth with various Baker Street appropriate props.

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I cannot recommend Escape Hunt enough. It brings every childhood Crystal Maze fantasy to life! (Except not getting to go in the glass box and grab gold and silver tokens, wah) It was SO much fun! There seem to be endless iterations of escape adventures popping up across the capital at the moment, with Hint Hunt  and Clue Quest amongst them. I’ve chatted to colleagues who have been to other versions and I feel like perhaps the other companies might be a little slicker; with more maths/code based tech-y type challenges. I’m not going to lie; ours was pretty hammy! And the theme was definitely steeped in detective stories, clues and observation skills; which I’d definitely prefer over anything too tech based. The Sherlock stuff and the very low budget props in the room definitely made it clear that the money had gone into the CCTV set up, central location and working out the room riddles themselves. I guess it’s down to preference; so do a bit of research of what’s available where before you buy your tickets. That said, we found the slightly low-budget-ness really charming and a good ice breaker once locked into a teeny tiny room as a group of five. There really wasn’t much I would have changed about the experience; and we were all completely high on it afterwards! It was so rare to be that focussed on something for an entire hour; with the worries of work, life and London completely vanished. In such an intense environment, with a team relying on you, it was impossible to let your mind wonder. I’m already obsessed with taking as many different groups of friends as possible; as it’s such a good alternative to a night down the pub or an expensive dinner somewhere. I also feel competitive with my former self already, and desperate to get back in a locked room in an attempt to get out of it in a quicker time. One final thing to note is that ironically, I am quite claustrophobic (can’t go in lifts, but totally fine in tubes – to give you an idea of the size of my triggers) therefore the concept of being locked in a tiny room had my heart pit-pattering. That said, as I mentioned in my 2015 resolutions, I am trying to keep my anxiety in check and was determined not to let it stop me taking part in something that sounded so fun. As it turned out, the Games Master was SO understanding and gave me a couple of reassurances such as the fact she was watching the whole time and I could just wave to the camera to be let out. So if small spaces give you the fear, don’t let it put you off this amazing experience!

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What else has been occurring? Last weekend I zoomed up north to catch up with my friends and family, and take a bit of a London brain-break. I spent the Saturday in Leeds with my mum. I lived in Leeds for 5 years, so was amazed that she could show me something that had remained a completely hidden treasure the whole time I was resident there; luckily after a bit of research I realised it had only opened once I had left the city, so feel a bit less sad about the missed opportunities to while away some hours there. This most marvellous marvel is the Leeds Art Gallery Cafe and it’s certainly one of the most beautiful spaces I have ever seen, including every where I have visited on my world travel tour. It was originally a Victorian reading room for Leeds library, but fell into disrepair. In 2007 a huge project saw the hideous 60s shelving torn down and the tiled room restored to its former glory. There are wall to wall green decorative tiles, huge marble arches, gold globed roof detailing and floor to ceiling windows letting in beautiful light shafts. It’s honestly breath taking when you step foot inside, and worth going just to see in person. That said, the tea and cakes (and the company) were pretty great too.

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I slept at Becca’s house on the Saturday night. Myself and her other two bridesmaids drank pink wine and ate noodles and nattered away until we realised it had gone 2am. The next day I had a slightly hazy cross-Yorkshire mission to get to visit another friend, Annette, so Becca drew me a handy map to get me on my way. Please note her use of the word snicket which is such a Bradfordism that I am proud to say I haven’t let London knock out of me.

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This weekend was Valentines Day and although we hadn’t planned to do anything ~special~; actually one of the most romantic things we could do happened. We went to the town hall and gave our official Notice of Marriage. Nick had been saying all week that he thought we’d be separated and interrogated and asked hard Mr & Mrs style questions about each other. I was shaking my head and saying that sounded like something he’d seen in a movie and would definitely not happened. But sure enough, we made our way to the registrars room and within a couple of minutes had sent me packing to a chair outside whilst Nick had to give my occupation, full name and date of birth. Phewf! We had to switch up and then I did the same. Even though I knew all the answers, I found myself stuttering and stumbling because it felt like an oral GCSE exam or something pesky like that. Luckily we passed with flying colours (actual quote!) and we are now legally set to become an actual real life grown up married couple. Wow! This got us into the Valentines spirit so we decided to celebrate “Kanken-tines Day” instead (previous love letter to Kankens HERE) and head to one of our favourite little nooks of East London – The Brokedown Palace where we picked up some new Fjall Raven Joy. I also got myself the most amazing pair of socks that I have refused to remove since. After years of Primarks finest, I never new socks could feel this way! Toasty, cosy and the perfect temperature, I feel like I might have spoilt me feet for ever and might need to throw away every other pair I own.

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I first fell in love with vintage shops when I spent a summer in the Kensington Market area of Toronto, where every alley is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, dresses, bags & shoes, all pre-loved and with past adventures seeping from every stitch. I have an overactive imagination, so I love to imagine who has previously had their head turned by the item I’m buying and where it was worn and what happened to the person wearing it. Then I try to imagine under what circumstances they surrendered the item up to be sold on (… sold on to me!). I still love a lurk around a vintage store, but for me it is something that needs a lazy afternoon dedicated to it. Rummaging through racks and heaps of items is not something that can be rushed, and the best gems always seem to be the most well hidden.  For this reason most of my shopping is done online (I should have shares in ASOS basically) because I barely have time to be surgically separated from my laptop during the week and the thought of clicking my mouse a couple of times Vs queuing up in a sticky Oxford St shop always wins.

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For this reason I did a little yelp of joy when one of the lovely ladies behind Brag Vintage emailed me about their new online Vintage shop. Pre-loved goods? Check! Easy online order? Check! It’s the best of both worlds. Brag Vintage are based in Sheffield, and having lived there for a year when I was 18 I have fond memories of weekly trips to The Forum to spend my ever expanding overdraft on trinkets. After a meandering trip through the various sections of the Brag Vintage website (handily split into men/women and then into categories such as coats/jackets, tops, dresses etc) I took the plunge on a faux fur Stella jacket. I know it’s totally inappropriate for the recent spate of 30degree+ weather we are having, but summer is the BEST time to stock up on winter warmers as they are half the price of what they’ll be in a few months. Plus faux fur jackets are my achilles heel. This is the fifth in my collection, I love how versatile they are – making great practical picks as they are so snug and warm, but they are also smart enough for do’s such as parties, weddings etc.

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I took my new find out for a spin in the early morning dew which is about as autumnal as it gets in London at the moment. I trotted around Golders Hill Park, which is a little-known section of Hampstead Heath and totally worth a visit. Not only is it a beautiful park, with some wild heath-forest sections to get lost in, but they have a menagerie of animals to visit including deer, donkeys and (randomly) capybara! Forgive the poses (especially the one I like to refer to as tree-flasher!) a natural fashion blogger I am not, but I did have fun prancing about as Nick played at being David Bailey. “Now look happy”! “Now look mysterious”! And hopefully you can see what a beauty this is and also in what fantastic condition it arrived in. I’d highly recommend a browse of Brag, I am already being tempted by their endless collection of gorgeous Levi cut-offs in every colour. Nothing beats the smell of memories and must that hits you when you walk into a vintage store, but this is definitely the very next best thing.

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After my discovery that Chelsea isn’t in fact just for people named Binky or owners of miniature dogs, I’ve been branching out and exploring more of this London gem. A few weeks ago my friend Phil aka Chime Hours told me about Big Easy and more importantly, it’s all-you-can-eat FAJITA WEDNESDAY! Big Easy is a short stroll from Sloane Square station and describes itself as deluxe crabshack dining which already had me sold. The decor & atmosphere is worth a visit in itself, let alone the fact the food is sensational. Feeling as if you’ve just left Chelsea stiffness and entered the deep south, Big Easy is adorned with crabs, fishing nets, amazing artwork and kitsch quotes.

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I usually have Spanish evening class on a Wednesday so this was an extra special treat because I skived my lesson (then had to make up for it with the Que Horror! of double spanish the next week) as the lure of all you can eat sizzling meat was too high. You pay a really reasonable £14.95 and this includes as many fajitas as you can scoff PLUS an icy beer or a frozen margarita. Guess what I opted for…

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I just want to take a moment to pay tribute to my beautiful Sugarhill Boutique Love Birds blouse. I was in the market for a birthday-present to myself when I saw lovely Rosie’s post with her wearing it and I was a style thief and instantly ordered myself one! Luckily we live hundreds of miles apart so I felt safe in the knowledge that she wouldn’t trot in at any moment wearing it too, phew. Since buying this blouse I’ve been obsessed with Sugarhill Boutique. I’m a sucker for prints and they have such a beautiful selection, I’ll be writing more about them next week as I am wearing this little number to the York Races tomorrow so I’ll be reporting back on the day and the dress! SO, back to the fajitas…

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The fajita goodness comes out on a huge sizzling platter. You can choose chicken, steak, shrimp or vegetable. Or you can be a greedy guts and choose all four, which is what we did. It sizzles away on a hot plate, whilst you are also bought baskets of hot fajita wraps and plates of salsa/lime/cheese/guac/sour cream. After feasting your way through the lot, you can ask for as MANY refills of everything as you can possibly muster. All of the food is delicious but as a surf & turf freak I stuck mostly to shrimpy steak combos. I intentionally arrived with a huge appetite but as usual was quite lame once under the pressure of you can eat as MUCH as you like! I managed 4 fajitas, but my three dates for the night fared better. Phil & Craig both managed 5 fajitas but Nick was crowned fajita champion by chomping 6 (and his were all stuffed so full they basically exploded). I don’t think Nick felt like the winner as he groaned his way up the Northern line home and had to be rolled into bed though.

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A nice added bonus was that Big Easy also have nightly music. We were sat next to the stage and a group of guys & guitars serenaded us with sweet covers and tropical tunes as we ate. It did mean conversation was a little SHOUTY and getting waiter/waitresses attention for refills and new drinks could be a challenge, but the pros outweigh the cons and I really enjoyed the buzzy, hectic, friendly feasting atmosphere. The Big Easy has a huge standard menu of BBQ, shrimp, steaks and seafood. They also do various other offers similar to this during the week including all-you-can-eat Shrimp on Tuesdays and an annual rib-eating contest on 4th July. I basically am already dreaming of when I can next go back there and want to take all my friends there to experience the fiesta vibe. Who’s in?

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Our smug not-as-full-as-Nick faces! I realised that when you live in London you NEVER take photographs on the tube, so thought I’d go rogue and actually the lighting and colours are quite fetching. In-real-life friends will recognise this shearling collar, as I am wearing it every day at the moment. This nightmare May weather means I want to wear my leather jacket or parka but never know when I’ll get an attack of the chills and need something toasty. I down-right refuse to wear a scarf in Spring so this is the next best thing, it also adds a nice furry lapel to any jacket you are getting a bit bored with. In fact I love it so much, I just ordered myself another one from ASOS in cream. I guess it’s just my big collar addiction hitting a new level of over-size!

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If you read my recent accounts of my Los Angeles adventures (part i & part ii) you will have gathered that I recently went on a work trip to America; where I spent 1 week working from the West (Best?) Coast and then jetted over to New York for another week. Obviously my initial reaction when finding out about this trip was WAHOOooooooOoOooOooooOOo! However, my second instant reaction was, what the HECK am I going to pack for 2 weeks, 2 cities and 2 entirely different weather systems (not to mention an itinerary of formal work presentations, tourist treks and bar crawling)?

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After weeks of jotting down outfit plans in Evernote and hours of frantic trying-on sessions which resulted in my room looking like it had been burgalised on more than one occasion; I finally had a suitcase filled with lessons learnt on how to pack for two VERY different climates. In LA the weather hovered around 28-30 degrees with blazing sunshine; although out on the coast there was a wind chill to contend with. In NY there was a blizzard to welcome my arrival and the weather barely crept over zero degrees, mainly sticking to the minus section of the thermometer. I found it really tough to adapt by the time I reached New York as I had got so used to just skipping out into the California sun every day, so on my first lunch break in NY I eagerly packed up my bag and embarked on the 4 flights of stairs down to the street in just my cardigan. I had got so used to the bliss of no-coat living. The second I stepped out into the frost bitten city streets I realised my error and skulked back up 4 flights to retrieve my coat, scarf, gloves and did NOT make that mistake again!

Top Tips for Hot to Cold to Sunny to Snowy Packing

01. Layers 

It’s the classic mum-advice whenever you visit a different climate and if it’s good enough for mums worldwide you just know it must be wise owl stuff, and it definitely is the first rule of thumb for packing for multi-climates. I would have a basic outift, then a multitude of others bits and bobs that I would carry around in a tote bag ready to layer on as the sun set or the snow set in. I sound smarter if I make it look mathematical:

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cardie + hoodie
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cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket
cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket + coat
cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket + coat + knit headband
cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket+ coat + knit headband + bobble hat
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Even when I was beach-bumming around Malibu I still had a few emergency layers stuffed into my bag for when the sun set. You can see from this photograph, taken on the same day, I could wear a short-short dress and cardy during the day, but by dusk I had added my trusty American Apparel hoody, pink cotton scarf-snood and a pair of Uniqlo thermal leggings. Which takes me neatly onto…

 02. Thermals

I have been a fan of thermals ever since you could only buy them M&S and they were of the frilly/holy/granny variety. Luckily nowadays thanks to the kings aka HEATTECH Uniqlo and their subtle, fashionable thermal collection, life for chilly boned bods like me has vastly improved. In fact the latest tie-up between Uniqlo & Orla Kiely produced such thermal beauties that they were begging to be worn for the world to see, rather than buried beneath winter woollens. For my trip I took a camisole, vest, t-shirt, long-sleeved and legging versions of the Uniqlo thermals. I also took thermal tights; which you can pick up in Primark and are so thick they don’t have a denier. They are like leggings with feet! Finally, I took my trust thermal socks. If you have survived winter without making the discovery that is thermal socks with all your toes intact, I want to shake your hand! Thermal socks are the worlds best invention. They are fluffy, furry and take the heat you create whilst walking around and circulate it around your hoofs leading to toasty, happy feet. Mine are from Primark but I have spotted higher-brow versions in Fat Face.

03. Key Pieces

The skill of any great packer is an eye for key pieces. There is nothing worse than chucking a bunch of stuff in a bag and arriving at your destination to discover not one item matches! I have been guilty of this myself; usually when I’ve been travelling somewhere on a Saturday and just one drink after work on Friday turns into staggering in at 2am and up-ending a drawer into my weekend bag and hoping that the items somehow miraculously turn into outfits en route. They never ever do. One of my key pieces for this trip was my cream lace midi dress. It’s comfortable, work/fun friendly and they main reason is; it looked lovely in LA with just bare legs and sandals. It also looked as lovely in NY with tights, clompy lace-up boots and all the layers listed above. I used a snazzy Stylight board here to highlight what I mean, I could spend hours on Stylight making boards. It’s certainly captured my cut & paste/mood board interest where Pinterest failed.

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Here is another good example of a versatile outfit pick. I’m obsessed with this birdcage tropical River Island T-shirt (a steal at £15!) and in the Cali sun I matched it with a denim highwaist buttondown skirt and sandals and a leather jacket for the evening. In NY it worked just as well with thick tights and my boots and a woolly cardie.

04. A good excuse for SHOPPING

Now lets just get this straight. You don’t want to pack toooooo well, as if you have a few items missing it’s the perfect justification to hit the shops. By the tailend of my second week on the road, life was getting stale. That musty aeroplane/suitcase smell was wafting after me like a cartoon cloud and I was thoroughly sick of the same few choices. So, I scuttled to Broadway and spent the last of my precious per diems in Forever 21, Madewell & American Eagle. Was I sensible in my picking up of warm weather supplies? No, of course I got dazzled by the stocks of spring/summer/sunny offerings so shivered my way through the final weekend and am now seriously hoping we get a glimpse of sunshine so that I can debut my results of New York foraging.

I will be posting all about my Big Apple antics this week, but in the meantime I wanted to say thanks Shopping Unlike for picking Like A Skeleton Key as a highlight on their blog this week and giving it this write-up. Shucks.

 

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In January I finally hit the zone with my fitness regime which felt really good. What doesn’t feel good is the daily brain strain of working out what I need to pack for pilates or swimming or running. Add into the mix nights spent sleeping at Nick’s, spanish class, my work mac, my personal laptop and I am starting to resemble Where’s Wally or Buckaroo; laden with bags and bits and bobs hanging off every limb. So it’s probably no surprise that my (very uncool) Quicksilver backpack that I have had since my GCSE year finally sprung some holes and broke, sick of being zip-strainingly crammed full. I don’t know why I haven’t thought about buying a new rucksack  (do you call it a rucksack or a backpack? Is there an official definition for the difference?) sooner considering this one was never very comfortable and wildly out of fashion, but now I had the opportunity to embark in a new one I didn’t take it lightly.

My main issue with most rucksacks is the way the straps meet in-between your shoulder blades. This puts such a strain on your neck and shoulders, they also give the bag a narrow top which means my beast-macbook barely crams in and the zip won’t shut, which in London is basically a pickpocket open invite. So I decided what I really needed was a rectangle shaped bag with wide straps in a nice colour that goes with everything. Then I saw a girl wearing a Kanken and it ticked every box and the rest is history.

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Where to start with WHY I love my bag so much? Firstly it fits everything my heart desires in easily. It’s laptop-shaped-shape means books, folders and my mac happily stack in, then I can pad the rest out with gym kit and trainers and it doesn’t look cumbersome and bulky. It has three strap combinations so you can carry it by hand rather than shoulder if you want. It’s waterproof. It makes even the heaviest load feel as light as a feather because the straps are properly positioned to even the weight. Oh and of course, it has a cute winky fox on it… everywhere on it.

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I know these bags are quickly being identified as the ultimate hipster item and as if to prove this point I walked to the tube today behind three hipster boys all with a different shade of Kanken on (and rolled up jeans and too-high bobble hats) but don’t let the fadness of it put you off. Hipsters get sore backs too. Although I did have a colleague point out the other night that my bag collection next to my desk was a hipster handbag haven: Kanken – check! Obscure brewery bar tote – check! School satchel – check! Ruh roh.

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You can find Kanken’s at ilovemykanken, and mine is a classic. I was worried classic would be too small, as they do a larger ‘laptop’ and ‘maxi’ option, but it’s perfect. It’s so dreamy in fact that I am really tempted to pick up a peach-pink one too. Can I really go from one prehistoric rucksack, to two shiny new ones? Is this what being a full-time working professional grown-up is all about?! It’s sort of like the Superga of the bag world, once you have one you become obsessed with the million other colour-ways available. Here is my Kanken getting to see the word at large and accompanying me on a trek in Morocco. It still proudly carries some Sahara sand dust strains now it’s back to the confines of my commute and gym locker.

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This isn’t a sponsored post by the way, I just really love this addition to my life and want to share the happy-back wealth.

What else am I happy about? I’m foaming at the mouth over the fact that my favourite band The National have a new album out in May AND a documentary. It’s like they know it’s my birthday..! Unfortunately though they haven’t released a single UK tour date and that makes me UNhappy. Despite adoring them for most of my adult life I have never seen them live. I have had tickets to see them live THREE times too, and various transport/life meltdown/illness has prevents me getting to be in the crowd. I would travel to anywhere in the UK to see them, so I just really hope they sneak one show in somewhere. It’s got  to a point where I would probably have to go see them alone and wear no mascara, because their music has been such an emotional crutch for me that seeing it live would just turn me into a mess, especially now I’ve waited so long.

To soften the blow, I got tickets for Nick & I to go to Planetarium at the BAM in New York. He’s coming to visit for the last weekend of my work-trip and to escort me home (although we are on the same flight home and I’m in Business, he’s in Economy!) What a Saturday night NY adventure! It’s a performance by Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner (of The National) with a full orchestra journeying through every planet in the solar system through music and visuals and I think it will be pretty nifty.

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