A Pint of Blood Sir if you may: The Cloak and Dagger Tour of Southwark, London (Review)

 “Have fun on your date.”

“It’s not a date Mum. I’m going on a London ghost walk by myself, it’s a last-minute thing.”

When technology wormed its way into the English countryside I thought it would be a good thing. Get people more connected, better informed and stop my Mum asking me every five minutes if I’m going on a date. Well I was right, instead of asking me over the phone, she now texts me.

“Anyway, I’ve got to go now, it’s about to start.”

“Enjoy your tourist date.”

I sighed, dropping the phone into my shoulder bag.

Looking around at my fellow evening companions maybe having a plus one would have helped me blend in. Couple, Couple, tourists, female friends, couple. It was going to be that kind of a tour which is weird because everyone knows all men are attracted ladies with a fascination for historic execution, sewage and hanky panky. Obviously.

Our guide for the evening would be the creator of The Cloak and Dagger Tour, a man who goes by the name of Cary Galia. In the face of a number of competitors this guy decided to create his own tour of Southwark which, when you think about it, is pretty bolshy stuff. Dressed in 18th Century style attire he started the evenings activities at the historic George Inn pub, just up the road from London Bridge station. After formalities Cary lead the group into the heart of Southwark, notably Borough Market. I won’t give away all the gory facts and details for you (Cary would legitimately hunt me down if I did) but turns out I was more than a little misguided when I told my sister that the oldest part of the former pig market was “just added on as an overspill area for street food vendors”. Before this tour I clearly had rose tinted glasses on to think the block paving was only there to make the floor look pretty.

Still, time pressed on and there was a hefty round of drinks awaiting our cash in the warmth of The George Inn so we continued our tour. More gore, more History, more than some people could handle. I briefly got chatting to the only other single traveller on the trip, a middle aged lady who seemed shocked by the bloodied past of the South Bank.

“It doesn’t bother me, I used to study historic cases of infanticide. This is pretty tame in comparison.” I cheerfully replied, after which the lady didn’t approach me again. No idea why.

The walking tour was peppered with questions and mini re-enactments but the real spectacle came at the end of the tour when the group were safe back inside the historic interior of a function room. You’ve got to hand it to The National Trust, they know how to run a pub. Anyway, out of the blue another actor bursts in through the door and all hell breaks loose. Cary goes from jokey guide to full on performer, there are Northern accents flying about and to be quite honest I don’t know what is normal anymore. Where the hell am I? And where’s my pint gone? (Oh wait, I drunk it.) A dramatic fight scene, impressive monologue and the whole spectacle ends with the audience stunned in silence.

Suddenly Cary is all Southern again and returns to a normal person. But I can’t trust this man, the man of many voices and a coat I wish I owned. I eye him and the other actor suspiciously as he asks us whether we think his character was being honest or not. Silence.

“No thoughts?” He challenges again, “you’re that stunned?”

“It’s because we were so mesmerised by your performance!” One of the female friends quips with a giggle.

“Pass me the flipping bucket” I think, rolling my eyes.

We ended up coming to the same conclusion all British people have when faced with a debate; none. But that said it was a great end to the walking tour I’d had the pleasure in partaking in. I moved to London in May 2018 and have since spent a great deal of time frequenting the South Bank with, it transpires, a poor understanding of the blood and guts that used to flow down its streets.  Truth is, if you’re looking for a polished, clean take on history you’re better off spending the day in the British History Museum. But if you want to know the real, day-to-day existence for people living on the South Bank, before the coffee vendors, the refrigerated meat sellers and the hipster fruit smoothies then really this is your best bet at getting that. If you want to latter go to Cloak and Dagger Tours. But as I type this from a Wapping-side pub, glancing down at my phone, I request only one thing. Please don’t ask fellow participants if they’re on a date.

 

More information on The Cloak and Dagger Tour of Southwark, including how to book, can her found here.

 

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New Year’s Eve Parties, Classical Art Style

You may think your planned NYE party is off the chain but trust me, its got nothing on how these guys used to live it up. And as we all know, classical paintings and depictions are 100% factual (as true to life as Kim Kardashian’s derriere).

 

New Year’s Eve Parties, Classical Art Style

As per any night out, the evening’s events begin six hours beforehand when guests start getting ready in preparation for the night ahead.
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It’s the kind of party that you know is going to be a-maze-ing. After all, name a party headlined by DJ Maz-donna that wasn’t historic?

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Feel the bass

 

Before you know it everyone is having a blast. Jesus isn’t looking too great, but then that guy always ends up boasting he’s the son of God at parties so maybe he’s having one of those kinds of night.

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Just smile and walk on by.

But then the vibe suddenly changes. It all starts when a request is put in for the live band to play Ariana Grande.

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Then someone beckons the Virgin Mary over…

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…only to give her two fingers.

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Next thing you know, the New Year’s Eve party turns into pure chaos. You’re with individuals you’ve never met before in your life and unable to understand a single word they’re saying.

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Finding an excuse to get away, you turn a corner and find your mates surrounding Jesus, who by now is not looking great. No one has a clue what’s going on and the only friend that can string a sentence together keeps repeating “swear down he was like that when I got here”.

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Then things get very blurry. Somewhere in the chaos there’s the sound of cheering as people welcome in the New Year but otherwise it all becomes a nightmarish mix of Heaven and Hell.

The next morning you visualise the night before as being like this:
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However your friends later inform you that your antics were more like:
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Still, it was a crazy night and a good one at that. A News Year’s Eve that’ll definitely make the top five. You may even choose to get a scene or two from the evening painted and framed to remember forever. Before you head off to take in the fresh air of the New Year you have only one more question to ask your mates.

“How is Jesus fairing?”

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Happy New Year 2019!

The Perils of Retail Therapy

A memo to the wise; if you do too much of this:

…you’ll end up with an ankle looking like this:

Ok, granted I wasn’t posing in that exact same fashion when my ankle went, but when it started to ache during a shopping trip I decided to ignore the pain and carry on walking on it. I’d decided to venture to the fair Welsh capital of Cardiff and I didn’t want to turn back before I’d even got properly stuck into my needed dose of retail therapy.

As well as the blinking obvious (walking on a duff ankle) there were other things I didn’t fully factor in whilst hobbling around the city centre on a Sunday in mid-late October. These ‘things’ feel into three categories:

  1. The impact of a particularly bad cold virus.
  2. Excitable children on school holidays, pumped up on sugar and in want of Halloween ‘stuff’.
  3. Super eager women, pumped up on caffeine and hell-bent on obtaining Christmas wares before anyone else.

The result was pure shopping chaos, particularly when I became caught up in the shopping centre at peak time. Quickly I found myself bent and morphed into shapes usually reserved only for the most brutal of Twister games. Grunting the pain away like a reindeer on Christmas Eve, I kept my eyes straight and aimed my cold-filled, Rudolf Red, nose towards the nearest exit.

Out of nowhere they came. Turning out of a shop and charging toward me at speed came a group of teenage girls. Dressed in clothes that liberated their pre-pubescent figures, the young women clutched their semi-empty milkshakes in one hand with a firmness that was nearly as strong as their grip on the pre-ripped, bloodied, shirts that were slung over their backs.

“We’ve got the dead look covered this year girls!” One of the party exclaimed triumphantly, as she pored over a small bag of purchased make up. The others nodded in mild agreement, slupping on their milkshakes and scrolling through void blocks of information. At the command of their leader, the group circulated around a black screen to appease the tiny dot before them. The first snap failing to satisfy, they posed for another photo, and another. The look of death had a time and a place, and as far as the camera holder was concerned Snapchat wasn’t one of them.

Upon realising that my collision with the party was both inevitable and likely to write off my foot (for which I felt quite sure the girls lacked any sympathetic insurance), I decided to change my path. Like a Shakespearian character my persona as flipped into a Hellish beast as I gritted my teeth and turned on the sore ankle to walk around the female cluster.

As I hobbled on, dragging my bad leg behind me, I saw bitter sweet irony reflected in the eyes of all the ghoul clad staff who regarded me with confusion and unease. Coffee stands decorated with bloodied bandages and skulls, shops festooned with beaming figurines and tinsel, each environment looked down at me with a soulless attitude that clung onto those who dwelled beneath. Of all the shopper types it was only the husbands and boyfriends that took the crown for being more out of place than I. Loaded like a Biblical Donkey, acting like a Hollywood Zombie, the men of the city took pity and avoided my half dead shape, whilst their respective partners walked in window-display bedazzlement across my path. I gave a half smile of encouragement to these brave men and pressed onwards.

It was a circular pattern of discomfort and disinterest that punctuated the day. The simple pleasures; the reading of a book undisturbed, discovering a nicely styled boot, these glimmers of joy were hard won and so easily lost. A noisy patron in the neighbouring seat, a swollen foot rebelling against a test environment. A reminder perhaps that no one can be a God in the world of the Godless. This thought whispered around my brain in mockery as I slowly staggered towards the bus station. A hissing that ended with the slamming of doors and screeching of the brakes as I departed the capital once again for English soil.

Life, sore ankles and seasonal shoppers; nothing lasts forever.

North Korea – a Very British Take

I don’t know about you, but I aren’t half irritated by all this talk of North Korea and the like.

There’s no easy way of addressing the rather sticky topic of a country that has barely two sticks to rub together but a tonne of bombs ready to light. Even the utterance of the word ‘Kim’ nowadays makes people shudder. (I feel for anyone of the same name, it must make office discussions a nightmare.) No longer is “Hitler” deemed the ultimate buzz kill of conversations, no, that title now falls to the bomb-drop (pun not intended) of “so…North Korea, eh?”

Drop the mic and never pick it up.

Maybe the dictator is threatening to blow us all up because he tried Instagram and realised that he’s not Kim Kardashian?

 

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You’re a strong, independent man Jong-un, you don’t need no followers…or human rights or peace talks…

 

Me personally I’ve got to a point where I’m a bit fed up of hearing all about it. Personally I always considered myself to be akin to Cypher in The Matrix. Sod all the misery and slavery in the real world, give me an amazing life in the fake one. As such it doesn’t half frustrate me when I keep having to watch news about increasing tensions, followed by relaxations, then changed up to tensions again. If I wanted to watch a little fat man in a suit I’d have put on Thomas the Tank Engine.

(And we can all get covered in falling pails of milk and it’ll be hilarious and harmless in equal measure.)

As a British person I’m presently faced with three equally delightful prospects of the future: a) death by war, b) death by global warming or c) death by lack of French cheese and wine through Brexit. It’s all water off a duck’s back now, in fact I’m probably more likely to complain to the BBC if the news report does not feature at least two of the above. Unless the article features tea, I’m super hopeful that we’ll get all of that tea China promised us some 150 years ago. I’m going to ask Father Christmas for it this year, that or duct tape for Boris Johnson, whichever suits.

In truth I feel more frustration and sadness over the people who live in North Korea. There is nothing for them there but poverty, misery and worse. No one reports on them, no one thinks about how sanctions hit the citizens who have done no wrong. I’m no politician or John Lennon, but it just seems like such a screwed up country and people are treating it, on the surface, like it’s one naughty child and shouting at it for long enough will calm it down. But since when does that work with normal children? Or Trump? You take away their bacon and they get more irritable.

If we learnt from past mistakes I swear the world wouldn’t be in such a mess right now.

People just need to calm down, and someone needs to give Kim a girlfriend or a new hobby. Has anyone thought about introducing the dictator to cross stitch for example? Or maybe the satisfaction of a well maintained allotment? Just thoughts you know (and considerably cheaper than a world war – sign him up for one of those monthly magazine kits for sale in WHSmith.)

The issue of North Korea isn’t great, I get it, but when I get home from a long day at work can you perhaps not tell me I’m going to die from an exploding bomb or the after effects? I’ve just cleared a backlog of admin and health and safety e-learning and with the greatest of respect Trump I really, really, do not want to know right now. Don’t tell me that the hour spent learning how to position my monitor screen is about to go down the drain. Because seriously, I do not have time for it.

In a nutshell then I’ve basically explained the problems in North Kora through use of Instagram, a children’s TV show and a kid with a bacon addiction. I guess some writers are just born with it.

 

*FYI – all views are mine (because what other crazy fool would write the above?)

Our Ancestors Discussed Death – Why Can’t We?

“Rule one of life: we’re all going to die. Accept it and move on.” – our ancestors felt free and informed enough to discuss the topic of death, so why can’t we?

To read my new opinion piece for The National Student, click here:

Our ancestors openly discussed death – we should too

Theatre Review: Titus Andronicus @ The Royal Shakespeare Company

Theatre Review: Titus Andronicus @ The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Alice Bennett (for The National Student)

 

In the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recent production of Titus Andronicus (currently showing in Stratford-Upon-Avon) all the foulest deeds of mankind come to roost. Murder, affair, execution, rape and even cannibalism are unashamedly showcased in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play. As I found myself watching execution after execution I found it hard to believe that this play could have possibly been penned by the same great man who also wrote about fairies dancing in the wood and young lovers coming together in merry song.

Titus Andronicus, a great general who has fought greatly and lost much, returns home to much praise from family and supporters. However the decision to refuse his nomination for the throne, coupled with his backing of the weak Saturninus for emperor, starts a chain of uncontainable blood and devastation for all sides. Formerly persecuted by Titus, the empress Tamora and her lover Aaron sees to the destruction of the general by inflicting increasingly gory and brutal punishments on his family. As the bodies started to pile up on stage, I was left on the edge of my seat, wondering not who will survive, but how will they die.

This 21st century adaptation of the Roman-based play sees actors in hoodies climb graffitied fences in the opening scenes, crying out for justice only to be swiftly beaten down by armed police officers. From my comfy seat I was witnessing a society falling apart right in front of me, knowing that there was nothing I could do to stop the pain and misery. It’s that feeling of helplessness, that visualising of a dystopian future that is more relatable now than ever before. That sadness that what I was seeing on stage was, is, happening around the world as I type this very review. The language changes, but the darkness of human nature always prevails.

This classical play is attributed with a suburb acting cast, headed with the great David Troughton. I cried with Titus as he cradled the head of his son, felt rage at the sight of his raped daughter and felt a sick, twisted joy from witnessing the execution of the perpetrators. In under ninety minutes my civil nature was swept away in the rivers of blood that flooded the stage, I was hooked from the very start until the very end.

Forget notions of concealed knives under armpits and melodramatic deaths, watching this adaptation you will be forced to absorb some of the most difficult and painful scenarios known to man. The stage will be covered in more than just the spit of the actors. There’s the closest thing to a real-life public execution, scenes of female empowerment which you’ll loathe and outright racism that you cannot shout out against. Leave your political correctness in the clock room, this is an Elizabethan play like no other. More blood please!

Rating: 5 stars

 

For more information, including showing times and tickets, visit the RSC’s website: https://www.rsc.org.uk/titus-andronicus/