Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

At first there was the book, then there were the films and - for some time now - you can even experience it live on stage - if you are in London that is.

However, why is it that directors, actors and obviously a wider audience are so fascinated by The Woman in Black

As far as the films and the play are concerned, my answer has to be - I don't know because I haven't seen any of it. In regards to the book, however, I know exactly what creates this fascination, although the means are not quite new and can be traced back to the era of Gothic fiction. Nevertheless, not only the gothic elements contribute to this fascination, but also the fact that this book is somewhat different from the average novel you can buy at your local bookshop nowadays; which might be entertaining, but maybe not able to pull you into its plot like this one.

The story evolves around a young lawyer - Arthur Kipps - who is sent to Eel Marsh to take care of the late Mrs Drablow's "business [...] in connection with the estate". He has never been to this place before and is quite excited. However, upon his arrival he finds that whenever he mentions the deceased or her estate, people get quiet and pretend not to know anything about it. In fact, it seems that a dark secret lies upon Eel Marsh House.

Finally Kipps finds someone who is willing to take him to the property and back. At first glance the property seems to be remote, dark, musty and a bit odd, but nothing to be scared off. Back in town, he decides to stay at the property for the time it takes to attend the business of the estate, which is frowned upon by the residents who try to talk him out of it. Nevertheless, Arthur sets off to the estate the next day to find out more about the late Mrs Drablow, who seemed to have been avoided by the residents for years. 

During his stay Arthur notices strange things in the house and gets a deeper insight into the family affairs of the late Mrs Drablow. After going through several photos and letters, Kipps is able to unlock a well hidden and tragic family secret, not knowing that something darker - which will ultimately affect him - lies beyond all this.

Title: The Woman in Black
Author: Susan Hill
ISBN: 978-0-099-28847-3

FILM REVIEW: The Big Wedding

Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton have been divorced for ages. However, when their future son-in-law's Catholic mother arrives for the wedding, they are forced to play the happily married couple to keep up appearance.

The Big Wedding is a light comedy, that entertains through its numerous misunderstandings, pretences and the sometimes weird and unexpected relationships between the characters. In this film nothing is what it seems and not everyone what he pretends to be, which creates funny moments throughout the film.

While Robert De Niro's performance as father of the bride is a bit pale compared to his earlier comedy successes like Meet the Parents, Robin Williams shines in his role as Catholic priest who performs his function with a mixture of dignity and unintentional comic. The female stars of the film act rather average, but still good enough to be convincing. All in all the film is not the best film I have seen this year, but worth watching.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013


Actually I am not a big fan of musicals, I prefer the theatre. However, WICKED exceeded my expectations and I really enjoyed it - even from my seat in the back (18 £). When it comes to view, I think it doesn't really matter where you sit as the theatre offers great views from every seat and if you need them, you can rent small binoculars for 1£.

My major concern in regards to WICKED was the plot. I love the old Wizard of Oz film and wasn't too keen on some made up story that somehow related to the original. The script writer of WICKED, however, did a great job when creating the story of the young witches' lives back then at school in Oz.

The way Alphaba (the evil green witch from The Wizard of Oz, remember?) develops throughout the play and some other details that are being revealed during the musical fit in perfectly with the story of The Wizard of Oz and are convincing. The brilliant stage design, great music and the talented actors made it an afternoon to remember. So if you are anywhere near London, try to get some tickets!

Wicked - The Musical

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Adventures on the Train

Usually I write about fun things to do or books. However, today I think it is about time to dedicate a blog entry to public transport.

Everybody thought that during the Olympics public transport would collapse because no one believed that any of the companies could deal with the amount of people. Needless to say that I was pretty surprised that there were no major disruptions during the Olympics, which was maybe due to the fact that lots of people found alternative ways to travel, i.e. bike, car, walk ... and public transport was on its best behaviour.

Over time I got used to it, but I should have know that this was just to good to be true. Shortly after the Olympics and after the school holidays things got back to normal: overcrowded trains, delays, cancellations (my favourite reason for a cancellation: we don't have a driver for this train), disruptions combined with a lack of bus replacement services and over-running engineering works (to be fair, the latter only happened once so far).

Last Monday

Last Monday morning could have been quite enjoyable as the school holidays began and usually trains and stations tend to be less crowded. However, this Monday was different. When changing trains in order to get to Richmond everything was fine, but a few minutes later the guard announced that there are no trains to Richmond due to overrunning engineering works. Yes, I think you can imagine how much fun it is to think of an alternative way to get to work (in time) before you even had your first coffee. While I was thinking, the guard announced that there are bus replacement services!!!! Yes!!!!! They managed to set up a replacement service!!! Well, my excitement lasted approximately 3 minutes - to be accurate - until the moment the guard advised passengers to Twickenham and Richmond to alight at Feltham an take the 490. 

490 is NOT a codeword for bus replacement service, but a proper bus that runs from Heathrow to Richmond and vice versa. 

When I got out at Feltham I could join a long queue - yes, they were all waiting for THIS bus - and hope that I will get on it somehow. The bus finally arrived and we could start the How-many-train-passengers-can-we-squeeze-into-a-small-bus-game. I have to admit, I didn't count how many people actually fit into the bus, but I am pretty sure that we couldn't fit in every train passenger. Sandwiched between my fellow passengers I finally made my way to the office and it took me only an hour longer than usual.

OK, things happen. Everywhere things go wrong from time to time. 

The rest of the week ...

The rest of the week went as usual: minor delays, some sport in the morning* ...

*I don't need a gym. Nearly every morning my train arrives at VIR after the train to Richmond (which I have to catch) has arrived. With only a few moments left I have to jump out of the train the second the door opens (sometimes this takes a bit longer) and run up the stairs, hurry over the footbridge and then down the stairs to run along the platform and finally jump onto the train to Richmond. So far it worked quite well, just once I missed it as my first train was late. Anyway, I think the daily run will get more interesting during winter when the platforms are covered in ice and snow.

Another Monday

Another Monday. I was ready for whatever may come. I had had two coffees already and I was well prepared for anything that involved catching the train ... However, everything went just fine.


Today school started and I had to deal with a lack of coffee, a tired kid and the train. In the morning everything went according to plan: get on train, change trains at VIR, survive on the crowded train, arrive at work.

In the afternoon I checked twitter (just to make sure everything is fine) and there it was, the event that would ruin my evening: someone was hit by a train - train services through Richmond: suspended. OK, still a few hours to go, don't worry, everything will be fine. Service should be fine by 6 pm - that's what they said.

6pm. We got on the train and arrived at home 30 minutes later. 

Hmmmm ... YOU WISH! Instead we were standing at a very VERY crowded bus stop in front of Richmond station waiting for the 490 which runs every 30 minutes. - By the way, 490 is still NOT a codeword for bus replacement service. - So, lots of people were getting on the bus (one bus for all the people who actually would have taken the train from Richmond): some got a seat, many were standing and some even had a place in the front row right beside the driver! (Is the latter actually in compliance with health and safety regulations?)

The overcrowded bus finally headed towards Feltham, passing by many stops and leaving passengers waiting (for another 30 minutes) as there was just no room for more passengers. About 45 minutes later we arrived at Feltham where lost of people were waiting for their delayed services and you could tell that they were neither a- nor b- or c-mused.

I think we all understand that there are events that neither of us can influence, but the response to these events, especially if they occur during peak times, could be much better. It is nice to get informed about things via twitter, but it would be even better if the company that is affected organised a proper replacement for the service, i.e. additional busses from tfl, shuttle busses that just serve the stations affected or shuttle trains.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Shall we promenade? - The Victorian Family Tour at The Royal Albert Hall

Usually the little ones are not too keen on participating in guided tours through buildings. However, that might change during The Victorian Family Tour at the Royal Albert Hall. The tour is not conducted by some tour guide, but by two brilliant Victorian characters, who make sure that this tour is as entertaining as possible for the young ones and their parents.

The tour starts in front of the box office and runs through the whole hall. On your way you will hear about why this hall was build, how it was funded and who attended it. Above that the Victorian Lady will tell you all the latest gossip, teach the young ladies and gentlemen some lessons ("Ladies, never open a door. Wait for a gentleman to do that for you.") and show you around her box, which is just a quarter of a circle away from her majesty's box, which stands out against the other boxes by its light pink curtains. Opposite the Royal box you find the royal retirement room, which is used to serve refreshments during a break. From there the two take you to the upper ranks of the hall where the poorer people used to stand. However, not only the poor went there, but also the richer, as the upper ranks were not only the cheapest places, but they also offered the possibility to promenade around the hall while enjoying a very good view.

The tour finishes in the education room, where the little ones learn about Victorian fashion and finally dress up, so a proper Victorian photo can be taken.

Further information on the tour can be found on the website of The Royal Albert Hall.

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

About 45 minutes from London you'll find a little town called Great Missenden, which was home to Roald Dahl for more than 30 years. Today The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre reminds visitors of its famous citizen who died in 1990.

Roald Dahl wrote bestsellers like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Boy, George's Marvellous Medicine, Witches and many more. The Roald Dahl Museum took all these books and stories to create a place where children get to know the author, his life and his writing hut - the place where all the literary magic happened. Above that they learn where he got his ideas from, how he created such remarkable characters and - what's even more important - that even a brilliant writer like Roald Dahl sometimes took his first draft and threw it in the bin just to start all over again. On a big tv screen in the Story Centre his colleagues - among them J.K. Rowling - tell the visitors about their creative work, which shows that each writer has a unique approach to her/his own writing.

However, this place is not only about learning, but above all about getting inspired and being creative. Children can dress up and take photos, make a mini movie, draw or just collect ideas to write their very own story (and that even in Roald Dahls very own armchair!). Not in the mood to write? Well, why not get one of the Storysacks? They provide the little reader with a book and some items from the book, e.g. mice, chocolate (sorry, this one can't be eaten, it's made of rubber) and some background information on the book. After that, why not indulge in some more story telling in Miss Honey's classroom? 

When you're finished and are still in discovery mode, you can grab a village trail and explore the museum's surroundings, if the weather is ok that is.

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
81-83 High Street
Great Missenden
HP 16 0AL

Direct trains from London-Marylebone to Great Missenden run every 30 minutes.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Let the Chocolate Unwrapping Begin!

Sad but true, Chocolate Week is over and all that's left are memories (and the chocolate supply on my kitchen shelf).

Chocolate Unwrapped was the highlight of this year's Chocolate Week and was home to Chocolate Shops such as Artisan de Chocolat, Rococo Chocolates and Thorntons, Chocolate Companies like Chocolateandlove, Enric Rovira (one of my personal favourites) and Lucky's (love them!) as well as Chocolate Makers like Lindt Excellence, Friis Holm or Chocolate Naive.

Exploring Chocolate Unwrapped

The moment we reached the entrance of the LFM I was pretty happy that I bought our tickets in advance (there's hardly anything worse than several people standing between me and the chocolate), so we could go right in and indulge ourselves in chocolate. Though the space was small and a bit dark, it had the right temperature to taste the chocolate and there was lots of very good chocolate to taste. The range of chocolate on offer went from simple milk chocolate to the strangest combinations you can imagine, like white chocolate with tomatoes and basil. It sounds not soooo delicious, but be assured Regina Margharite Chocolate is one of the most delicious chocolates I've ever tasted!

We started our tasting with the classics: milk chocolate and dark chocolate (66%). Up to now I thought that milk chocolates and dark chocolates would not differ very much from each other, but they do. Some were really good and others, not my cup of tea. Another really interesting thing I noticed while I was eating my way through all these lovely chocolates, was their wrapping. Some were simple, some were colourful, some looked pretty commercial (they way you expect them to look when buying them at a supermarket) and others were little pieces of art (e.g. Lucky's, Chocolateandlove or Rococo Chocolates).

Finished with the basics we went on with the sophisticated and extravagant chocolates. Thorntons had several treats to taste, among them the award-winning Strawberry Choc Block. White chocolate with strawberry chunks. Never heard of it? Well, then it is definitely about time to get some of this Strawberry Choc Block and taste it! Our next stop was Enric Rovira, a Spanish Chocolate Company with the most exciting flavours at Chocolate Unwrapped - and yes, these are the guys who created the tomato-basil-chocolate. In addition to the extraordinary Regina Margherita Chocolate, they impressed me with creations such as Noir de Rose, Noir de Jasmin or Noir de Lavande. The next on the list was Lauden Chocolate, which, in my opinion, make the most beautiful chocolate in the world. Their little choclates are master pieces and I still don't know how they get this lovely decoration on the chocolates. Needless to say that these treats do not only look good, but have a marvellous taste. Just to name some there is Fresh Mint, Blackcurrant & Redcurrant (✩✩✩✩✩), Passion Fruit (✩✩✩✩✩), Lychee & Rose ...

The Tastings

We were lucky enough to visit two tastings: 

The Rabot Estate, which has a lovely shop at Borough Market

Lindt chocolate and wine tasting, which was presented by Lindt's chocolatier Stefan and wine
   expert Sarah Jane Evans

The Rabot Estate's tasting brought us back to the roots of chocolate with telling us about how chocolate is made, what is involved in the process and by giving us pure chocolate. The chocolate tasting comprised dark chocolate (66% cocoa), cocoa beans (not everyone's favourite) and pure chocolate, i.e. 100% cocoa (which is not what I would eat everyday as it is really strong chocolate).

Cocoa Beans

Lindt's tasting was really interesting because it brought together what at first sight does not seem to go together: chocolate and wine. However, I was open to try something new and it worked out just fine since chocolate and wine have more in common than I thought. If you taste either of it, you have to follow a certain technique, so you can grasp the whole taste. You have to eat the chocolate very slowly and breathe out while you do so, which makes the taste of the chocolate more intense. Don't believe me? Buy some Sea salt Chocolate and take a piece. Eat it really quickly, the way you normally eat your favourite chocolate. I bet, you don't taste any salt. Then take a second piece and use the technique described above and you will taste the salt. By the way, Sea salt Chocolate has always been a weird combination to me, but paired with a South African Shiraz it tasted divine!  The same applies to the other chocolate and wine combinations. At the end of this lovely tasting I even got a little guide which for example recommends the following combinations:

Lindt Dark Orange Intense Chocolate & Cold Chenin Blanc
Lindt White with a Touch of Vanilla & Sauvignon Blanc
Lindt Dark Chilli & Claret

Give it a try, you will like it!

All in all Chocolate Unwrapped was a fab day out and I will definitely attend next year again.