Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I Don't Like Plays (but I sure *heart* Hampstead Theatre)

Let me preface this post by admitting something rather controversial: I don’t like plays. There, I said it.  I don’t like going to the “theatre”.  I especially dislike musicals (unless it’s called “Wicked” and I’m seeing it with Udita or, actually, I’ll allow for the “Lion King” as well and only if I’m flanked by my mom and dad – but that’s it, I swear.  No Jean Val Jeans for me, thanks). 

Plays make me fidgety, nervous.  I become aware of the sound of myself swallowing in the theatre – you know, when it’s all quiet and you need to swallow (which is, after all, a natural function) and your throat gurgles and it’s, like all awkward and stuff.  I get anxious.  As soon as the lights dim, I convince myself that I need the toilet and check my watch after 5 minutes, then the program, to see how long I’ve got until intermission.  After intermission, I find myself reluctantly trudging to my seat, like a child that has been pulled away from the playground by his mom.  Then, rather annoyingly, I find it extremely difficult to concentrate (and no, I don’t have ADHD – at least, I don’t think I do) and focus, especially during the opening of the first act, first scene.

But John loves plays.  Like, loves.  Particularly Shakespeare (for example, he bought tickets for a July performance at the Globe in January.  Enough said).  And for a while, we were on a roll in terms of attendance at Southwark Playhouse (a very small, intimate, rather unusual venue not far from Tate Modern) until we realized that every single (albeit amazing) play we saw there reduced us to tears and tantrums afterward due to their incredibly depressing nature.

So then we stopped going to Southwark and kept missing the box office for “hits”, such as War Horse (despite the fact that I work nearly next door), and inadvertently fell into a theatre rut, until John spontaneously bought tickets for Enda Walsh's Penelope at Hampstead Theatre in Swiss Cottage.  I’ll be frank: we chose to go because a) we had nothing better to do that night and b) it was a 5 minute drive away (this was before our precious Yellow Peril of a Skoda decided to break down on the entrance to an on-ramp).  But since then, we’ve been back again for RSC’s production of Little Eagles and I think it’s safe to say we’re fans.  And I’m converted.  Wholly. 


Well, for one thing, Hampstead Theatre is special – it’s like no other theatre in London.  It doesn’t have the reputation and gravitas of the NT (National Theatre) or the innate quirkiness of smaller, cooler-than-cool venues like Southwark Playhouse.  But its premise is simple: great companies performing great plays by great, new, up-and-coming writers in a welcoming, creative environment.  One of the winning aspects of the theatre, in my opinion, is its “look and feel”, which I think is crucial to the audience’s experience.  The design and architecture of the theatre itself is slick; but not in such a way that would turn you off.  Patrons can grab a gastro pub-style dinner (food is not great but then, that’s not terribly important) before the show and relax with a glass of wine without any real rush, as the doors are just a few steps away (unlike the Barbican, where you feel like you’ve traipsed the length of a shopping mall in order to get to your seat from the bar or the toilets).  The seating and stage layout is simple – and yet, this simplicity lends itself to a kind of beauty and (for me, at least) assurance you just don’t get in most modern theatres.  It’s comfortable.  The staff is always friendly and helpful, which isn’t something you’d necessarily look for in your theatre experience, but I find that it encourages me to return in this case.

So if you’re looking for something slightly different, want to wander away from the crowd but not have an entirely wacky theatre experience, I highly suggest you pop over to Hampstead Theatre and see what’s on.  Good seats can be relatively cheap, might I add.  An incentive for everyone.

Photo source

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


This was perhaps the best and worst present to receive on a day I just had a root canal done.  My eyes were still smarting with tears at my work desk from the hour or so of drilling, scraping and other almighty unpleasant stuff, when this lovely box was delivered to my desk: chocolate covered Peeps beautifully packaged (complete with fake grass we use to fill Easter baskets in the US) from fellow blogger, A Wife Called Chuck.  Now people, not only did she include chocolate covered peeps and fake grass in this amazing display of Easter cheer, she also had the style and elan to enclose a nice little message on adorable Kate Spade stationery.  Impressed?  I was.  My tears of pain quickly turned to tears of joy.  Observe and weep.  Just don't let my dentist know.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Just In Time For The Royal Wedding: William & Kate Dress-Up Dolly Book

Look what I got sent in the mail from Ladybird y’all, just in time for the Royal Wedding – a Wills & Kate dress up dolly book.  Thassright, the future king and queen in their skivvies (I’m not gonna show you any inside images as this isn’t Amazon “Search Inside The Book”, folks, so you’ll have to buy your own copy.  But I can reveal that Kate’s famous blue Issa dress is recreated to a truly exacting, illustrated standard).

Now I’ll bet that if I had been living in the US this whole time, I’d be sitting at my work desk right this instant, refreshing any page that provided royal wedding gossip enough times to get me disciplinary action from the boss.  Instead, I’m in the UK, desperately trying to avoid it.  It’s not that I’m not interested in what Kate will be wearing (will it be McQueen?  Or Temperley?  Or McQueen for The Dress and Temperley for Pippa’s dress?  It must be McQueen.  No, it must be Temperley.  Ooooh, I just don’t know!) but the minute-to-minute updates are Really. Driving. Me. Crazy.  Chelsy will be Harry’s plus-one.  Chelsy won’t be Harry’s plus-one.  No, she won’t.  Yes, she will.  And oooh, just look at all the SCANDALOUS guests who are being invited, tut tut!  Crazy. Just … crazy.

So crazy that I decided to book a holiday ON the day of the wedding and fly out the morning of – just when UK customs will certainly be heaving with tourists ambling to get in.  “Nooooo!!!” wailed my mom when I informed her of my departure.  “How could you?” she asked, as if I had betrayed some sacred promise.  Now, mother, I’m sure every hotel room in Cyprus will be covering it on their television screens, but I’d just rather watch it sipping a pina colada in a beach bar than cheek to jowl with screaming tourists waving a British flag on a plastic thingy along the Horse Guard’s Parade on the day.  “But how will I live vicariously through you?” complained Le Petit Elephant (but she is an adorable elephant; I would rather live vicariously through her).  

Then, via Twitter and Facebook, I received a message from my alma mater urging me to follow a fellow alum’s journey to London to blog about the royal wedding.  I couldn’t click “close” quickly enough (no offense to her, as I’m sure it will be brilliant and you can read it here).  It was the last straw.

But this – this, I like.  I showed it off to the girls next door in Production and they thought it was cute and even remarked on Kate’s sizing, which should surely “promote positive body image in young girls” as she is probably 2 sizes down from this in real life (“HAS KATE GONE TOO FAR???” screamed one headline yesterday).  As for Wills?  Well, let’s just say no royal has looked better in boxer briefs and dress shoes.  And that six-pack?  Mmm, yummy.  Better yet, inside are fourteen different outfits for you to cut-out and dress the dolls with, including – and ladies, this is important – accessories.  Swoon.  I can confirm that I will be emulating the “Weekend in the Country” look very soon.  

So if you've had enough of the royal hoo-ha but still want to be in on some psyched-up-wedding-fun, I highly recommend taking an afternoon off and inviting paper Wills & Kate to a royal tea party at your place.  Just make sure their accessories match their outfits (just sayin').


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday Morning Tube Rant: Read-Walkers/Walk-Readers

Dear Sir or Madam,

I'm so glad that you find One Day by David Nicholls / The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve / Insert Other Generic Bestseller Here by Generic Bestselling Author so engrossing that you can't possibly stop reading it for justonesecond to look where you're walking in the crowded tunnel and platform, thus slowing down and getting in the way of a throng of morning commuters, especially on your way up to the escalators and on the stairs.  You might want to be careful that you don't just accidentally One Day-your way off the platform and onto the track.  Because that would be pretty bad.  And really delay my journey.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Add A Bit of Country To Your Morning Commute

Who doesn't get the Sunday blues come 6 pm on a Sunday evening?  As I type this, I'm already pushing away visions of paper on my desk, though at least I have the London Book Fair to look forward to tomorrow.

I don't think I actually dread going to work - once I arrive, it's fine.  As evidenced by my weekly tube rants, however, it's the getting there that I find problematic and stressful.

But I think I've got it sussed out.  Well, at least, I think I've found something that can help: country music.  Yes, seriously.  I'm not talking about going crazy here, but instead of the usual combinations of Radiohead and Massive Attack (which send me spiraling into instant depths of depression and/or total un-motivation) or Copland and Dvorak (which prove too soft to drown out the horrible tube sounds) or Rihanna and Kanye West (which is a bit too "party" on a Monday morning), I found my face spreading into an involuntary grin when my iPod shuffle landed on Lady Antebellum (which is the closest you'll get to country on my MP3 player).  Actually, it made me laugh.  A lot.  Listening to country on the tube can only be described as ... ironic.  I can tell you right now, there's no weirder place to experience the lyrics, "Met up with some friends outside of town / we were headed towards the lake / I hopped into the back of a jacked up jeep and felt the wind upon my face / We got to the spot and the sun was hot, everybody was feelin fine / So we jumped on in for a midday swim and then we lost all track of time" than sitting across from a serious man in a dark suit with a leather briefcase and a frown on the Bakerloo line at 8:23 a.m. on a Monday morning.

Try it.



On days like this, I lie on my back in the garden with my arms outstretched and watch the underbelly of planes go past as they prepare to land at Heathrow.  Sometimes, if I cock my head at just the right angle, I'll catch the sight of the all-too-familiar BA tail - the one with the Union Jack - and get the strong urge to hop the next flight to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mothering Sunday: #Winning

Back before Charlie Sheen made #winning a trending topic on Twitter, my mom already had a lot to say about the subject.  And since it's Mother's Day here in the UK and I've just received an awesome delivery of Peeps in anticipation of Easter, I'm gonna go ahead and tell you a little anecdote about my mother and her attitude towards #winning - Mother's Day/Easter mash-up style.

I grew up in Small Town, USA, which was unofficially separated into three parts:  North Hill, Downtown, and South Hill.  I lived on North Hill, which had two major grocery stores that ran an annual Easter coloring contests for kids.  Every year, for about four years or so, I entered this contest.  I still remember what the coloring page looked like: an Easter scene (usually of a bunny or a basketful of eggs) photocopied onto an 8 x 11" piece of white paper with a space to fill out your name, age and address at the bottom of the page.  The prize was usually some incredibly large, fluffy, snuggly stuffed animal and the opportunity to have your photo taken with the store manager and displayed at the entrance of the store.

Every year, I would ask for an entry form at the counter, grip it tightly in one hand and my dad's hand to cross the street with the other, take it home and carefully, meticulously do my best coloring job EVER.  Like, I mean, EVER.  Not only did I stay inside the lines, I did the best shading a five-year-old could possibly manage and on occasion, I even remember sprinkling a bit of glitter on the eggs to create a Faberge effect (not that I knew what a Faberge egg was at the age of five).  Then I'd carefully pass my finished masterpiece over to my mom or dad, who dutifully handed it over to the clerk next time we went shopping for groceries on North Hill.

And I never won.  Not once.  Not even third place.

Instead, the winning entries (they were always taped to the wall near the photo development kiosk) were always furiously scribbled with mis-matching colors, clear OUTSIDE-THE-LINE rookie mistakes, and no attempts at effort whatsoever.  As a five-year-old, disappointment doesn't even begin to describe how I felt.  What had I done wrong?  I picked complementary pastel colors, I stayed within the lines, I did SHADING FOR GOD'S SAKE!!!  And the ones that were repeatedly picked were lousy excuses for coloring.  I mean, really, they brought shame to the competitive coloring world.

I remember asking my dad to take me to the store after work to see if my entry was up yet.  I remember scanning all the horrible ones for mine and not seeing it.  I remember the hot tears that quietly welled up in my eyes as I tugged my dad's hand to go home, then running into my mother's arms when I got there.  "What's the matter?" she'd ask me, bending down to my level.  "I didn't win, AGAIN!" I'd cry with frustration.  "I don't know what I'm doing wrong!" "Silly girl!" my mom would say in Chinese, wiping away my tears.  "There are plenty of opportunities in life for you to win.  This is a coloring contest!  This is small beans!"  But of course, when you're five, you just want the giant stuffed bunny prize and your picture taken with the store manager, you don't want to learn life lessons (which my mom also usually conveniently followed up with a Chinese proverb that was more infuriating than helpful).

And you know, she was right.  I later won an art contest and my work was featured on a billboard on North Hill (I would be lying if I said I didn't feel some sense of vindication for having never won the Easter coloring contests at that point - and yes, I totally used the same shading techniques).  I won scholarships in high school and fellowships in college - and this sense of #winning slowly became less important to me.  Because I quickly realized that life isn't about #winning at all - it's about the people who believe in you and will stand by you and love you, no matter how many coloring contests you lose. 

So today is dedicated to my mom, who always considers me a #winner in her eyes, which is special and important (although sometimes she calls me a "loser" and laughs hysterically while making the "L" sign at her forehead, albeit with the wrong hand,  but that's for another time), because she's my mom and because she's (nearly - I can remember a few bits of fashion advice that were slightly misjudged when I was in junior high) always right.  Thanks mom, for always believing in me.

Peeps Ahoy!

Peepin' heck - look at all the Peeps I got in the mail yesterday!

They were sent all the way from Seattle from a very special friend who took pity on my Peep-less run-up to Easter - which, as you might remember, I complained about last year.  I couldn't wait to dig into the marshmallow-y treats, but obviously had to take some pics of my treasure trove of Peeps to share with you, dear readers, before tucking in:

Aren't they beautiful in all their pastel-rainbow glory?  No?  Are you British, then?  Because they simply wouldn't have played a role in your childhood if you are.  I, however, spent many a Easter-holiday in a family friend's backyard hunting for eggs with baskets featuring cellophane grass, Peeps, and other American goodies.

John was not impressed.  "That's a lot of boxes," he commented.  "You'd better eat them all, otherwise they'll go off," he said, inspecting the sell-by-date closely.  "Oh never mind, they don't go off until 2012.  Don't open them all then," he instructed.  I didn't understand how someone could be so cold in the presence of such adorable candies.  "Don't you want any?" I asked, my eyes still shining (and nearly brimming with tears from joy), mesmerized by the beautiful Peeps display before me.  He wrinkled his nose.  "Um, no thanks," he said, walking off.  I received a similar reaction from Bindy this morning when I extended the great privilege of sharing my Peeps treats with her.  "Yeah, I'm not just not that impressed with them," she said, shrugging.

Okay, whatever.  I'll just bask in Peeps-heaven by myself then.  Thanks, Holly!
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