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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Working With The Salvation Army: Three Months on

From July to October 2018 a small team of us from my organisation worked with Booth House, Salvation Army Centre in Swindon (Wiltshire, UK) to help increase revenue and awareness of one of their social enterprises called The Sandwich People. As part of our activities I spent time volunteering with the charity and even wrote an article off the back of my experiences.

Below is a video summarising what Booth House do, specifically the two enterprises Recycles and The Sandwich People:

Three months after we delivered our final report and presentation to staff and volunteers, myself and the team are so pleased to see how the social enterprise has implemented some of our recommendations and come on leaps and bounds in such a short space of time. Three things in particular which stand out for me:

  1. The Sandwich People have set up an Instagram account and are more effectively using social media to get their message across.
  2. As per our suggestions, the management have refined the menu based on the cost of production versus sales.
  3. Starting this week, the centre manager has informed me that The Round (the daily sandwich delivery around offices) now have the equipment to take contactless payment. This is a big deal as before sales were entirely dependant on office workers carrying cash (which often they didn’t).

 

The social enterprise is also seeking collaborative groups and communities to help spread the word and foster a supportive environment for a number of local charities. I was recently asked to help contribute towards a case study article, the results of which you can find on the Swindon Social Enterprises website

It was great working with the guys at Booth House, as stakeholders they were infinitely helpful and useful, as human beings trying to make a difference they were complete saints. The residents and volunteers certainly taught me a thing or two (including how to make a chicken salad wrap) and it was an experience I will not forget in a hurry.

Here’s to the next three months, years, decades!

 

To find out more about Booth House visit their website

Learn more about The Sandwich People

New Year, Less Me

I’ve kicked of my 2019 in true style, by having a piece of my skull yanked out of socket. That’s right, on the third day of this year I got so bored of life in 2019 that I chose to have a second wisdom tooth removed (sorry 2019, but you really need to up your game).

For those less familiar with my life, you’ll find the delightful account of my last wisdom tooth extraction that took place back in 2016 here. I suppose the main difference between the circumstance of that experience and this is that the first wisdom tooth to be removed was a delightful little critter that was burrowing a hole into the side of my cheek. I was doubled over in absolute pain the day I stumbled into a private clinic to have an emergency removal (thanks massively to Mumma Bennett who scouted out the surgery on my behalf). The wisdom tooth being removed this time round who I will fondly as ‘Left Upper Eight’ had been giving me grief for some years now, but nothing quite like the previous tooth that had being trying to burst out of my cheek, Baby Alien style. Left Upper Eight liked to keep me on my toes, a mouth ulcer here and there, an odd antibiotic-fixing infection every so often to keep me on my toes, but day to day little more than an occasional jab to remind me of its existence.

After a particularly challenging couple of weeks around Christmas time I finally made the decision to be done with Upper Eight’s tricks and be rid of him/her/it(?) for good. It says a lot that top of my New Year to do list was call the London surgery to book in an examination and removal.

I’d had this done before, so waiting for my appointment didn’t bother me in the same way as it had done the years before. Course, the private dentist’s waiting room had had large leather seats and played Heart radio which you could listen to with an selection of Women’s Weeklies. The NHS waiting room at my London dentist is none of these things, but then it’s also less than half the price for what it clinically defines as Band Two treatment. Besides, who really cares about their horoscope for the week when they’re about to have a surgical drill put in their mouth? A Christmas present guide on the Top 111 Coffee Shops in London will do the job.

I was told to go down to the dentist, an unusual experience for this dentistry as in all my previous dentist surgeries I’d become acquainted with nurses leading me through to the chair itself. Pros of this mean no need for that awkward small talk that you have to make both sufficient and short enough to fill the ten second gap from waiting room to dentist, the con is that on this occasion I found myself walking hesitantly down into the basement area of the surgery where my dentist was ready and waiting. When going for a check-up it’s bright and breezy, but knowing you’re going to have a tooth extracted makes you feel a bit uneasy. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t going down to the hull of a ship where the dentist was little more than a drunk sailor with a saw. I put on my best normal look as I walked into the room.

“How are you Alice?” The dentist asked.

“I’m here to get a tooth removed that’s making me miserable in a procedure that short term will make me even more miserable. How do you think I feel?” I thought to myself, nut instead I said…

“Alright, I’ve been better.”

He went through the procedure and I smiled and nodded throughout as he explained the potential complications. To cover his own back, that I was sure of, although the complications became increasing gruesome. I started to squirm in my seat, the private dentist had never informed me of any potential complications before.

“And finally there’s a risk the removal of the bone can cause a hole in the sinus. Why does that cause an issue you ask…”

“I didn’t” I thought.

“Well that means when you eat food could get up your nose because the two spaces would become one. I’d stitch it though, you wouldn’t even be aware of me doing that if it happened.”

“Yippee for that” said the dry voice my head as I outwardly smiled pleasantly. Sat in the chair I forced myself to sign the form to give this man full control over something I was beginning to regret choosing. Maybe the antibiotics weren’t so bad.

Sparing all the details of what happened (more because I was both thankfully unaware due to the local aesthetic and having my eyes tightly shut) about ten minutes later, if that, I opened my eyes with a lump of surgical gauze in my mouth and the offending tooth laid bare on a tray. When asked if I wanted to keep it the drugs, gauze and moment itself made my response usual and typically Alice.

“You’re cute.” I said to the tooth. From the corner of my eye I could see the dentist and the nurse exchanging a look. I studied its shape and yellowed colour from the long hook that that previously sat below the gum line. It really wasn’t cute.

“So you want to keep it?” The dentist repeated, slight bafflement in his voice. Clearly I was one of a minority to take such interest in a tooth, at least one of the few people over the age of 11.

Sense returned to me. “Err, actually no, it’s alright.” As drawn as I was to the tooth I remembered I had plenty of other functioning teeth in my mouth to marvel at. The drugs and the moment itself started to wear off, to be replaced with a new sensation in my mouth that made me keen to release myself from the small white room.

“You’ll start feeling pain in the jaw area where the tooth has been extracted, that’s normal.” The Dentist said, before going through the aftercare process. I signed the last form, thanked the man for removing the tooth but took leave my leave quickly. I returned to the flat thankful that its emptiness meat I could groan through the gauze, my pain explicit but implicit to me and myself only.

Which puts me where I am now, currently working through a post surgery recovery plan to get me back to my normal-ish self. There have been ups and downs, downs with the pain, the unable to drink coffee until it is barely warm, unable to eat solid or large meals. Ups when the pain killers kick in and feeling neutral is a blessing, when I get over the foul taste and the salt water temporarily eases the soreness. My tongue has yet to reach that curious stage when it’ll explore that side of the mouth and find the crater that exists where Left Upper Eight used to be. In repulsion the oral muscle will then swiftly retreat back to its former position where it’ll remain in hiding for several weeks. It happened before and it’ll happen again, I just know it.

I’m glad to be rid of my second wisdom tooth and long term know I will look at this as a good decision to make in my life. Short term pain for long term gain as the gym freaks would say. Ironically I’ve been told to stay away from vigorous exercise for at least a week, so I guess that’ll be my excuse for eating cakes and hanging out in coffee bars for the time being.

What can I say? New Year, less me.

 

The Season Alcoholism Became Trendy: The High Street at Christmas 2018

Hey, guess what? It’s only blinking Christmas.

(Wait, you’re telling me this wasn’t top of your playlist?)

As we enter into the final furlough of Christmas shopping it felt only right I put fingers to keyboard and compose a seasonal post of what the UK consumer markets are trying to flog this year. And boy, has the High Street really invested a lot this year into our well-being.

Kicking off with that point, designers and retail buyers across the land have made a sterling effort to make us more aware of our health this season. It’s good to see decision makers moving away from chocolate and fast food related puns and products. That’s because this year there’s a new fad in town; alcoholism.

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(You get the idea.)

Course, if gin isn’t your bag there are still a scattering of animal puns to be found in shops, however they haven’t charted so well so have found themselves relegated to the tea towel isles of TK Maxx.

And if tea towels or traditional animal puns aren’t your bag then there’s always toilet paper that features a rabid rabbit that looks like an extra from Watership Down.

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(All I’m saying is that it’s a couple of Bright Eyes plays from…)

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And that’s available all year round folks! (The loo roll, not Woundwart.)

Marketers struggling for new and original way to market often take a step back and return to the basic principles. Red is good, bells are better or if either aren’t possible from a branding perspective just stick a hat on it.

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“Yep Jimmy, that’ll do the trick”

Even better though, you could always put a hat to something that’s already a symbol of Christmas. Because if you stuff up the colouring of a traditionally seasonal bird in the factory, chances are a comical hat (that said bird would never wear), well that will entirely baffle and charm consumers into a needless purchase.

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I’ll take ten.

Now although a number of High Street stores have been making an active effort to advert public attention from certain political disruption (chiefly a UK event beginning with “Brex” and ending with “It”), unfortunately some shops just couldn’t overlook it. I found one bargain outlet stocking what I can only assume to be the retailer’s prediction of what a Post-Brexit banana will look like.

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I think it’s supplier’s decision to put it in a “Jokes and Gags” box that really does it for me. Brexit will impact you too China!

Speaking of China, I don’t find this assumption that British people only wear one sock funny either.

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What are we paying our taxes for if not to have Foreign Ministers dispel these ridiculous rumours?

You know what, come to think of it I think Europe and the wider world want done with us. I mean, even Denmark (Denmark!) are flooding our stores with what look like neck crackers.

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This is a very different take the the traditional Nutcracker tale I remember as a kid

 

Ok, ok, enough political stuff. Lets get back to the high quality gift giving, such as these fish slippers.

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You know you’re onto a winner when I don’t have to add any dry wit

 

Or an overpriced toothbrush?

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Getting that unique taste twice a day? That’s the flavour of bulls**t

Course, many people struggle to buy presents who those who may have been somewhat challenging throughout the year. When it comes to particularly ‘difficult’ presentees then I’d always recommend purchasing something that seeks to improve relations between the two parties. Something to subtly tell the recipient to lighten up or shut up.

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Just be prepared for backlash from the recipient and their crew.

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Why do I feel like I’ve had a dream like this?

You know what, this year I think I’m going to revert back to the basics. It’ll be chocolate gift giving all the way with me. At least with festive chocolates everyone knows where they stand.

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Is that Father Christmas or a slightly squidgy Christmas pudding?

I’m going to stay in, have a glass of wine and watch a festive classic on TV.

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For Christ’s sake!

Merry Christmas Everyone! With love from Jesus.

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Wish You Were Here? Travels in Bruges (*Video*)

I recently visited the fair city of Bruges (or, to give it’s Flemish name, Brugge) in Belgium. While on paper there was nothing grand or seemingly important about this four day break in a historic city, for me personally it meant a lot. Why? Because it was the first time I’d ever travelled abroad by myself. It has been something I’ve wanted, nay, known deep down I was capable of for a while but I never had the courage to take the leap.

So as something a bit different I’ve created a video of my travels in the historic city. View and enjoy!

I had the best time in Bruges by experiencing all the city has to offer and more (a highlight not showcased in the video was a very moving moment when I had an organ recital all to myself in one of Bruges’ many churches. I’d been wondering around the church and about to leave when a volunteer started playing. I sat in the pews and was almost brought to tears by the beauty of the music and the environment.)

For anyone considering similar I say simply this. Do. It.

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I’m just back after my first solo city break to the wonderful Bruges. I spent hours in the coffee shops recommended by locals, explored the parts of city day-tourists lacked stamina for, I even got my own classical organ concert in a deserted church. Oh, and I consumed A LOT of beer and chocolate.

To the little voice inside my head (and anyone else’s) know that you don’t need to have someone else (friend, partner etc.) to justify a holiday. Be your own person and create your own adventures.

(Blog post to follow.)

 

The Bits of London that Make the Bigger Picture

It’s been a while since I put together a heavily picture-based post and I also haven’t given much of an update into my crazy London lifestyle* (*crazy mainly because I now shop at Tesco’s rather than Sainsburys – I’m off the chain). So as I was scrolling through the very typically Alice photo reels I thought I’d combine the two and create a random post full of random images. If you want to see more photos like these check me out on Instagram (aeb_thewriter).

First off, start with this to set your weekend off right:

Maybe it’s the work, maybe it’s the general buzz of the big city but I’ve very much got into my acoustic covers since moving. Perfect music to unwind to.

And what’s a chilled weekend without a good coffee? My local haunt is a tiny little shop on the corner of Cinnamon Street rather aptly called Cinnamon Coffee Shop.

Inside there’s only a small selection of seats however every one offers a perfect people watching spot, be it people walking down the quiet back streets of Wapping or those dashing in and out with their soy lattes to go. I’ve spent many an hour in this place on a weekend afternoon, chilling with a book whilst The Beatles play in the background.

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I drink coffee alongside exposed lightbulbs and at 2/3 circle tables. I’m not hipster, but…

And if Cinnamon is packed out then the coffee world is my oyster. I usually hang out at Caffe Nero on the South Bank (Oxo Tower), but closer to the flat you can find me either at the Starbucks at St. Katherine’s Docks or the Starbucks at Hay’s Galleria.

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It’s outside, but covered over, but charging eat-in prices (but paying for take out).

And if you disturb me whilst reading…

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Or clean away my coffee when I haven’t finished…

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“The small girl took command of the situation”…by running away from the body.

That said, even though I’m arguably doing more ‘young professional’ reading (sans avocado) than ever before, I still think I have a little way to go yet. A) because an equally intellectual man has yet to act on this (“wait, you’re telling me Hollywood is a lie?”) and B) my powers of embracing all forms of Art is still a little way off. Case in point; this Sainsburys receipt on display at the Tate Modern (South Bank).

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You know I’d probably have found it easier to accept if I hadn’t discovered the shopper-come-artist spent over £50 and didn’t claim any of the Nectar points.

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That’s 26.5p in points. Wasted. And you know, back in June 2016 I’d have happily have taken those. It’s just selfish if you ask me.

But that’s the crazy thing with living somewhere where you wake up with a view of Tower Bridge and say goodnight to the bright lights of the Shard. Things and places that I wouldn’t have ever imagined having access to are now only a short walk away. I see the Tower of London twice everyday on my walking commute to work to the point of being blasé to its historic value and beauty.

Loathed as I am to say it, London has also opened me up to some great opportunities and experiences. I’ve attended fancy events with old friends I haven’t seen in ages…

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…and at the polar opposite I’ve got completely drenched queuing for tickets in the pouring rain.

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I was one of the last people to get a seat but, from looking at everyone else, the worst prepared for the British weather. My whole body was so numb and shaking it’s a wonder I could take a photo.

I recently discovered that, contrary to my assumptions, my name isn’t as obvious as I had thought. This is what happened when I went bowling after work with some colleagues (including Bev and Theo).

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Hmm.

The weekend just gone marked the main celebration of Bonfire night (English tradition of lighting big fires and fireworks on or around 5th November. Has historical links, Google it). And in part because I didn’t have anyone to go with but more significantly because I didn’t fancy having to pay the money and fight the London crowds I chose to have a quiet one in. That was until I realised that my bedroom window had a clear sight of a massive firework display happening locally, which this expertly taken photo proves (and will you full on instantaneous envy).

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You really had to be there. After trying about ten times to get a decent shot I put my phone down and enjoyed the display as it was intended to be seen.

Have you ever watched a firework display in slouch clothing with a plate of Chilli Con Carne? Very novel experience.

In a pictorial nutshell those are the key elements of my life in London. Work, coffee, books, exhibitions, embracing spontaneity. So far I think I’ve got the balance right, I’m spending more money (“welcome to London hun”) but not as much as I had expected. As I say to work colleagues and friends, “I can buy a cheap-ish coffee at work everyday and gulp it quickly in front of a computer monitor, or I can invest a little more on the weekends and enjoy a hot drink and cake in a coffee shop where I can relax for an hour.” Seems an obvious choice to me.

Central London may be causing havoc with my skin and with my shopping habits (it is frustrating that the entirety of ‘The City’ shuts down on the weekend) but I have come to accept that it’s what comes as part of the lifestyle when you live so ridiculously close to work by London standards. Charm and character will just have to wait for those times I travel back to the family home (picture the opening scene of Bridget Jones).

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Fun fact: the opening scenes/scenes of Bridget’s family home were filmed in a village called Snowshill which itself is near to where I was brought up. In case you wanted further proof I am country bumpkin.

For what it’s worth (worth being not having to pay for a Tube season ticket and live in an area of suburbia feels out of character given its location), Wapping is more than good enough for me. Who knows what the next weeks will hold as I take on this smoke-filled jungle at Christmas, but right now I’m going to focus on the more pressing questions.

For example…

1. What was going through this person’s head last Saturday at the Surrey Quays Tesco Extra?

If it’s what I think it is then they’ve missed the point. Everyone knows the quality of water is only as good as the plant feed when it comes to cut flowers. Boy are they going to look silly when they come to put those on their kitchen table.

And 2. Why are they called epanbeppies here?

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