Monday, 13 February 2017

Tips to Take on Safari With You

So I’ve just got back from the trip of a lifetime – an African safari. It was an amazing experience, and part of my honeymoon which made it even more special. However, going on this type of holiday which is different from anything else is a bit daunting. I didn’t know anybody else who had ever been on safari, so we didn’t really know what to expect.
If you’re thinking of booking a trip to the African wilderness, here’s a bit of advice from yours truly.

Always be on the lookout

OK, so you’re obviously going to have your glasses on during your game drives – but that’s not the only time you’re going to bump into the wildlife. When checking into our luxury lodge, we were warned not to leave anything out on the balcony as the monkeys like to steal what they can! Even from your balcony or lodge you are likely to make quite a few impressive sightings. As soon as we arrived we saw impala and kudu wandering across our view. On our last day, I nearly missed a herd of elephants passing because I had my head in a book! Whenever you have a good view of the bushland, whether you’re eating breakfast or chilling on the balcony, be on the lookout.

The view from Kuname Lodge

Have your camera ready

We calculated we were going to go on six game drives in total – that’s 18 hours out on the safari truck. With this in mind, we thought we wanted to experience the first drive properly and take in the sights with our eyes rather than through a camera lens. I’m a true believer in this, especially as people are becoming obsessed with documenting their lives through their phones and social media. We decided not to take our cameras, phones or Go Pro. Our ranger couldn’t believe us when he asked where our cameras were.
It was a great idea and I’m glad we did it, however looking back we saw some of our best sightings on that first game drive – and don’t have any lasting memories to keep. We didn’t understand that each game drive is completely different, you never know what you might see. We could have spotted one of the big five on that first drive, and not seen it again during our stay. For example, we didn’t see a cheetah or a leopard until the last half hour of our very last game drive. Similarly, you could see an amazing sighting such as an animal making a kill, and then you’d regret not having your camera to hand. It’s about finding the right balance between living the experience and documenting it.

Cheetah spotted just after making a kill

Forget the typical safari gear

I was intrigued about safari fashion and really wasn’t sure what to wear on the game drives. It was summer so really humid from 7am – there were only a couple of times when we felt the need to wear a jacket. Most of the people we were staying with were dressed as if they were going on a trek, with hiking boots, long trousers and lots of layers. But it really wasn’t necessary! Unless you plan on going on a walking safari, you can wear suitable sandals or trainers the entire time, and I wore shorts when it was really hot.* The weather is changeable, but in our truck there was a poncho for every person so you didn’t even have to worry about taking a raincoat. You’ll only get out of the truck for a sundowner or a coffee break, and it’s not likely to be in jungle terrain, so if you’re worried about carrying around heavy walking boots then just leave them at home.
*Depending on your location you might want to cover up as much as possible to prevent mosquito bites.

Here I am rocking comfy shorts, a denim jacket and Birkenstocks for sundowners 

My last piece of advice is just to savour every moment! There’s nothing like the genuine peace and quiet of the wilderness, or the starry night sky without a light for miles. Most safari lodge stays are quite short, between two and five days, so it really does fly by. But it’s long enough to see the majestic wildlife of Africa and experience true solitude. There's nothing else like it and it should be on every avid traveller's bucket list.

Let me know if you have any safari related questions! J x

Monday, 24 October 2016

George the Poet - Review

George the Poet - Search Party
Band on the Wall, Manchester 23/10/16

I've never been to a spoken word performance before. I've seen some poets perform live, but not in this hybrid form with musical accompaniment. Yet I've always been a fan of George the Poet, right from the start - and if he's to be the mainstream face of spoken word, then there's going to be a lot of new fans of poetry.

First up we were treated to Manchester's own B Franklin as the warm up act. I think it's fair to say his blend of rap and spoken word pleasantly surprised the room. Tackling real issues such as alcoholism and homelessness, it's easy to see how his work aligns with George's. His deep vocals and simple acoustic guitar accompaniment grabbed the audience's attention - and he continued to impress us by boasting with his his backwards rap.

When The Search Party finally got started, the live band really lifted the mood. Suited and booted with a head mic, George the Poet almost looked like a religious minister or pastor up there on the stage – or perhaps an American ‘motivational speaker/get rich in 10 days seminar’ - and the way the crowd respected his presence he could have been. Only this was much more fun.

He started spitting his poems with charm and charisma straight away, engaging with the crowd and explaining the set up of the show. Instead of simply rolling off each of his hits, George seamlessly led the audience through stories which connected each poem. He explained how and why he left his music label and is now an independent artist - and couldn't resist cleverly linking his departure with Brexit. He noticed the irony that it was all happening at the same time, and gave us one of the best lines of the night:

"The only difference is I was 100% sure I could make it on my own - not 52%."

Well known for his politically fuelled poems, the wordmaster continued to touch on difficult social issues, from climate change to the failing criminal justice system. After all, The Search Party tour is all about promoting social action through the arts and trying to connect with people, to get fans thinking about things that really matter. His work outside of his music career, with charities and organisations, further advocates his stance as a social warrior. George the Poet has influence - and he knows how to use it.

However witty and inspiring his poems are, I have to say I'd be watching him and listening intensely, whatever he was talking about. He has a natural ability as a public speaker, almost demanding silence and craving to be heard. His mesmerising musical performance combined with his clever social commentary makes George the Poet a unique talent. If we listen, we'll see some changes.

If this show was about proving he can make it without being a signed artist, I think it’s fair to say George the Poet needs a label as much as America needs Donald Trump. If more individuals in the public eye were this focused on social change instead of getting rich, the world would be a better place. 

Catch him while you can - the tour heads to Birmingham and London before the end of the month. 


Monday, 25 July 2016

Motionhouse Broken - Review

Motionhouse Dance Theatre - Broken
Outdoor performance on Salford Quays, 16.07.16 (presented by Quays Culture)

A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of reviewing a free dance event for Salford Online. I was planning to go anyway and review it as I'm a Motionhouse fan, so it was great to get the VIP treatment!

The scene was set outside Media City; the large stage was waiting for the dancers to enter and a substantial crowd had gathered, eager to see this free performance. People of all ages were stood waiting in anticipation, (some had been clever enough to bring camping chairs) and for once the weather was on Salford’s side. Thanks to Quays Culture, the crowd were about to enjoy a thrilling multimedia ride into the shifting centre of the earth.

For the next hour or so, the crowd developed and people watched in awe as the epic scenes unfolded. Silence, which is unusual for large crowds, filled the atmosphere as we stood transfixed at the spectacle.

Motionhouse specialises in large scale outdoor performances, however Broken was devised as an indoor dance piece. Artistic Director Kevin Finnan had to adapt it for the outdoors, which included completely changing the first five minutes of the piece the day before, due to lighting issues. The original opening scene needed a complete blackout, which wasn’t possible at 9.30pm on Salford Quays. He also told me afterwards that he felt placing the show outdoors changed the feel of the performance altogether – the standing audience felt more connected to the performers and the themes, and the show grew in intensity as the skies grew darker.

The fluidity of movement and the exhilarating film backdrop created a mesmerising performance from start to finish. Athletic and poetic, the choreography was powerful and original, and enhanced by the creative scenes projected onto the stage. The audience was amazed by dancers hanging from bars, swinging around poles, dancing on stilts and falling from heights. 

The performers took us on a journey which represents our relationship to the earth, starting with the big bang which created our planet.  Other scenes took us deep underground, into the treetops and finally into a crumbling urban metropolis. The amazing ending scene was literally earth-shattering, as the dancers physically pushed themselves to the limits to survive the digital earthquake. 

Thanks to Salford Online and Quays Culture I was lucky enough to speak to the Artistic Director after the show and asked what had inspired him. It was easy to relate the scenes to his various stimuli – fossils and life underground, the Chilean miners’ accident and his travel experiences around the world.

I was amazed at the energy of the dancers, which truly brought the story to life. The powerful choreography was beautifully exerted, especially within the impressive duets throughout the piece. The piece is strikingly original; there is no other dance theatre company successfully integrating digital like Motionhouse. It was near perfect – the only improvements I’d suggest would be to do with the digital elements, which at times looked a bit unrealistic. The dancers can’t be faulted, but some of the choreography was a little bit cheesy or ‘obvious’ to the trained eye. However, this makes it more enjoyable and easier to follow for audience members new to dance theatre. This is certainly a show which can appeal to people of all ages and introduce new audience members to contemporary dance...and it was FREE!

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Greater Manchester Fringe Festival - Theatre Review

Underdog Theatre Company - Two Rucksacks and a Map of the World
Eagle Inn, Salford - 05.07.16

It's been a while since I seen some theatre, and I thought the Fringe Festival would be a great place to see some fresh writing and up and coming actors. With so much on each night, it's hard to decide what performance to go and see but Two Rucksacks certainly delivered.

The first thing that impressed me was the venue at the Eagle Inn. Who knew that this Holts pub on a back street in Salford had such a beautiful and intimate performance space hidden at the back?!

Two Rucksacks and a Map of the World tells the story of three characters with total different agendas and plans. Ryan is stuck in the middle - his best friend Carl wants him to go travelling the world with him before it's too late, but his new girlfriend Kerry wants him to stay and settle down. He ends up lying to both of them to keep the peace, but who will he choose in the end?

This short play gave the audience lots of laughs as the amusing plot unravelled. Highlights include the characters using an ironing board as a dining table and Carl giving his best mate some much needed and overdue sex ed. Overall it was well written, well paced and well performed, just like fringe theatre should be.

You can catch the last performance of Two Rucksacks on Thursday 7th July at 8pm. Of course there's plenty more to see during the Fringe Festival, which runs until 31st July. Check out the website for more details and to book tickets: 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Gig Review: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Manchester

Manchester Arena - 12/04/16

So, before I get into the incredible headline act we need to talk about this guy...

Raury. I've been following him for a while because he is mega talented and unique, and I'm confident he is going to make it big. He is just 19 years old but makes incredibly thoughtful and mature music. As a support act, he might have been playing to a half full crowd but he totally owned it like a fucking superstar. He gave it his all, taking his shirt off and throwing water on the crowd...anyone would have thought he was the headliner. Mark my words, he is the next big thing!!

Next up was the pop-rap God himself, Macklemore and his DJ Ryan Lewis. Right from the start, they made it clear how the night was going to go:

"I know it's been a hard day and there's some comfy seats in here...but this is a hip hop concert, so stand the fuck up."

Stand up everyone did - and the party didn't stop until we got home.

As well as delivering their punchy hits, they also added really fun elements into the show - including giving away drawings and cookies. During the encore they also invited two people on stage to have a real life dance off to their anthemic track 'Dance Off' which was a great way to end the show.

The truth is, there is nobody making music like Macklemore and nobody putting shows on like Macklemore. If you've ever listened to one of his albums, you'd know he is a master of contrast. They sing the silliest songs about cadillacs, mopeds and junk food, then deliver heartfelt pieces of music about consumerism, celebrity culture and becoming a Dad. This tour encompassed all of the different emotions really well, seamlessly transitioning from party tunes with colourful, tongue-in-cheek video accompaniments to serious rap ballads with a string quartet and choir.

Highlights for me were definitely Thrift Shop, Can't Hold Us and Downtown, they are my favourite songs and really got a club atmosphere going. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis may not have sold out the arena, but shame on every empty seat - you missed a damn good party.
J x

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Restaurant Review: Date Night at Est Est Est

So let's make one thing clear before I start this post - I don't celebrate Valentine's Day. That's right, I'm one of those cynics who says that V Day is a load of commercial crap (and I'm right!) The hubby to be and I have never really bought cards or gifts for one another, or gone out on the day itself, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

But this year, we did end up going out on 14th February - only because it was Rik's only day off work that week! We rarely get a date day these days so we were looking forward to it, and had just decided to go to the cinema and for a meal at the Trafford Centre. We decided to try Est Est Est because neither of us had been before. Also there was 25% off prosecco which was an added bonus...

Of course the TC was rammed, which was a bit annoying, (this is why we refuse to go out on V day) and we had to be squeezed in by the hostess because we hadn't booked ahead. The menu is really varied, and where I'd usually go for a pizza I decided to be different and try a chicken dish. I was really impressed when the chicken breast was served in a heart shape! The romantic in me isn't dead after all.

I really enjoyed my meal but Rik's wasn't as great. He also went for chicken - an escalope with spaghetti. But it kind of looked like a kiddy meal! The pasta was really dry so there was no sauce at all on the chicken. This would have been fine for me as I kind of love dry food but Rik would have preferred it smothered in sauce. So Est Est Est only got a thumbs up from me, but I think we should go again and try something different on the menu as we'd probably enjoy it a bit more.

In terms of the restaurants on offer at the Trafford Centre, I reckon this is still one of the nicest and offers good value for money. I bet they do really good pizzas, calzones and pasta dishes - it's just a shame we didn't get to try them out.

What did you do for Valentine's weekend? Are you the opposite of me and like to do something extra special (and pay premium price hikes)?! J x

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Secret Santa Night!

So this weekend my group of friends hosted our annual Secret Santa night, which is one of the best nights of the year. We get together with lots of food, swap our gifts and generally get in the festive spirit just before Christmas! We also like a good games night so we usually have a bit of a quiz, splitting into teams and getting competitive, and play other fun games.

Even though we're all really close, sometimes it's difficult knowing what to get your Secret Santa - especially when you have to stick within a price limit. But this year I was really impressed with my gift - it shows my friends know me so well! I was handed a small envelope which was wrapped really pretty with twine and a candy cane. But I thought, what could possibly be in here - surely someone didn't buy me a gift voucher?

My Secret Santa really thought about the perfect present which was, of course, a ticket to a dance performance. And it's not just any old dance company - one of my favourites, NDT2. So now I have something to look forward to for 2016 (not that I didn't have enough, I'm only getting MARRIED). But I've got a theatre night in my diary for April and know it's going to be an incredible night. I'll of course be reviewing it right here.

You can catch NDT2 at The Lowry on 19th and 20th April. The dancers will also be touring in Woking, Bradford, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Nottingham and London.

Finally I'd just like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy 2016.