Richard Wiseman and Derreny Derren Brown in conversation

Last weekend I was up in Edinburgh for a follow up ‘hen do’ (aka an excuse for a girlie night or two away with lots of food and drink).

When planning the trip I was elated to discover that two of my favourite people in the entire world: Derren Brown and Professor Richard Wiseman, would be ‘in conversation’ as part of Edinburgh Science Festival.

Was it luck? I don’t really consider myself a lucky person (even after reading Richard Wiseman’s Luck Factor and watching Derren’s recent show on whether a whole town can be lucky). But I managed to get tickets to the sold out show. One of the friends on the trip spotted it had changed location (otherwise we would have all missed it) so maybe luck was on our side. Either that or it was some sort of spirit intervention.

The afternoon was thoroughly entertaining and satisfyingly exclusive (there were no recordings or photography allowed). There are some pictures of the event over at Richard Wiseman’s Blog (which you should all follow): http://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/derrenbrown/

Questions from the audience were permitted and my favourite has to be the following exchange:

Audience: “Derren, with your interest in taxidermy, if you were to be stuffed when you die, what position would you choose?”

Derren (with a twinkle in his eye): “Well obviously I’d like to be mounted.”

Richard: “Who would you prefer to be mounted with, Sally Morgan or Derek Acorah?”

Yes it was a very deep and meaningful, scientific discussion 🙂

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Word magnets for skeptics

You know those magnetic poetry sets you can get (I have Shakespearean, sexual innuendo and really rude words)?

I have just discovered that you can also get word magnets for skeptics – thanks to Professor Richard Wiseman.

I love this. I can leave messages saying “there are no ghosts”, “it was just the door creaking” and “it’s all in your imagination”.

Of course, I might be proven wrong as the spirit world uses the medium of magnets to communicate with me.

 Please buy them for me – in return I’ll promise not to come back and haunt you: http://www.skepticalrobot.com/word-magnets-for-skeptics

Fitter, slimmer, blogger who enjoys a good book: my resolutions for 2012!

Okay, so I’ve faffed about not making resolutions and instead creating blogs on what I did last year, so now, time to bite the bullet and actually decide what the hell I’m going to do in 2012.

I’ve read and been thinking about Richard Wiseman’s Blog Guide to keeping your New Year’s Resolutions; it’s no secret to friends that I think his approach to, well everything, is amazing.

I’m currently reading Luck Factor, his book on changing and improving opportunities in your life. Don’t worry though, I’m not putting ‘must talk to more people in bus queues’ down as a resolution, but please don’t run away if I do speak to you.

In his blog, he suggests that you should go with one resolution and try not to repeat resolutions from previous years. I’m going to go against this. But what I am doing is reducing the number of resolutions (four instead of last year’s 10 – find out how I did) and taking on board his suggestions that you should:

  1. Break your goal into steps
  2. Tell people what you plan to do (that’s what this blog is about!)
  3. Remind yourself of the benefits of what you’re doing
  4. Reward yourself as you reach each step (I like this part)
  5. Keep a progress map of how you’re doing

So, in the interests of keeping Richard Wiseman partially happy…

Resolution 1 – Get fitter: I will do at least two exercise sessions a week

Carrying on from last years’ vague ‘get fit’ resolution, I’m specifically planning to do at least two pieces of  exercise a week (this might be swimming, spinning, zumba, abs, or simply more walking).

Each Monday I will plan in my exercise sessions to ensure work/nights out don’t ruin my plans.

Resolution 2 – Lose weight: I will lose three stone by the end of June 2012 *edit by the end of September

This is averaging at about half a stone a month, so difficult, but not completely impossible. Healthy salads, soup and an aim to cut alcohol down from ‘yes, please’ to a couple of nights a week. The exercise will help.

*After properly thinking about this, I fear the three stone by June might be a tad optimistic. I have a social life. I am not doing some stupid faddy diet. I need more time. So, on that basis, aiming for an average of 5lbs per month which takes me to mid September.  If I get there quicker, then great, if not, at least I’m not starving myself. 

Each Monday I will weigh in and measure recording the details in my diary. I will record my food in the same way, planning my week so as not to be scuppered by pesky socialising!

Benefits of both these resolutions are happier, healthier, slimmer Linda and the opportunity to wear all the clothes currently hidden in a case under the bed. New wardrobe – no cost!

Resolution 3 – Blog more: I resolve to blog at least eight times a month

Look, I’m doing it!

Step 1 – Develop a blog plan for the year. All too often I go to see a show or read a book and I think “I should review that or comment on it”, then life gets in the way. If I plan when key events are coming up and plan to blog about them, the idea is that blogs will happen.  Part of the plan will take into account seasonal messages – I missed a whole range of opportunities to blog about grammatically inspiring Christmas gifts.

Step 2 – Have some blog entries ready to go – if it’s a slow week or I’m really too busy, I’ll be prepared!

Benefits of this will be to increase my blog readership, increase my writing skills and prepare me for being lead blogger for the Live Theatre for a month this year. Eek!

You, dear readers, can assess my progress!

Resolution 4 – Read more: I will read at least one book every two months

I probably read about 15 books last year. That’s not a total failure. But I can sense Thrifty Gal over at E for Envelope shuddering as she reached 100 in October.  I tend to read in concentrated bursts: five books in a week long holiday, one book on a transatlantic flight. I feel like I should be a bit more consistent in my reading and not have huge gaps between each book.

Step 1 – Reduce the amount of TV watching, Facebooking and faffing I do. This time could be better spent with a book in my hand.

Step 2 – Make sure I have a book with me at all times and choose to read that rather than a magazine, newspaper or facebook on my phone.

Hey if I read all the books I have in my pending pile – I can then buy myself more as a reward!!!

So there it is…

There’s a whole raft of other things I could include in this. But things like improving love life, moving house, moving job etc I haven’t had a chance to think about yet.

The things I’ve chosen, I believe, will make me fundamentally happier, more organised, and thus more likely to tackle those other things along the way.

Happy 2012 everyone – what are you going to do?

2011 Top 5 – that’s out of 10 plays, 11 gigs, 4 comedians, and a mentalist!

I started to write up a month by month review of what I did last year (this is over and above nights out with friends, holidays, art exhibitions, movies, and books), but I soon realised that this could become a very long post. 

So in the interests of reflection on 2011 (and brevity), what made it to my Top 5?

So, my Top 5 in reverse order….

5 – Sleep no More, McKittrick Hotel, Manhattan, NYC

A controversial one this, as it divided our party, quite literally, into two camps.

Sleep no More is an immersive theatre experience based loosely on Macbeth. It is set in the imaginary 1940s hotel, the McKittrick (in reality a couple of disused warehouses on West 27th street, New York). The set is amazing with the ‘hotel’ reception, ballroom and bar giving way just as easily to castle ruins and a mental institution.

As an audience member (with mask to create anonymity – I wonder if there’s any social experimentation afoot with this), you are encouraged to choose a character in the play and follow them to watch their tale unfold, you can swap to another if you fancy a different take, or rummage through the set – it’s so painstakingly detailed you could spend hours just marvelling at that alone. Whatever the path you choose, you can be sure it’ll involve a helluva lot of walking, or in my case running, I was glad of my spinning classes when Macbeth took off at speed and legged it up two flights of stairs.

It’s a very disjointed production and you’re just as likely to miss everything by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as see everything (it’s quite explicit in some scenes). Our party had mixed experiences because of this. I loved the set: it was disorientating, dark, whimsical in part, I found the act of choosing your own path through the play to be interesting, however, this resulted in the whole thing being difficult to follow. Overall though, loved the experience and hell, it was in New York!

See Thrifty Gal’s less impressed take on Sleep no More.

4 – Americana Festival at the Sage Gateshead 

I actually blogged about this at the time, so you can read a little more about what I thought about the Americana weekend.  Suffice to say though, as well as some paid for gigs, the Sage Gateshead put on three days of free outdoor stages that showcase upcoming and established local, national and international bands. It was a great day filled with wine, chips and dips, and sunshine. I also managed to catch The Lucky Strikes, one of the first bands I’m seeing this year. These lovely chaps also sent a free CD to some of their Facebook fans – it contains a cracking rendition of Whiskey in the Jar so I’m happy 🙂

3 – Ghost Stories at Duke of York’s Theatre, London
I’d wanted to see Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories for ages: I love all things scary, I’m searching for the horror movie that will terrify me, so I’m all for live shows that try and do that.

I must admit, it was a slight let down all things considered. I think it had suffered from too much hype, and as I’d just read Richard Wiseman’s brilliant Paranormality I did spend much of the show thinking “ooh Wiseman mentioned that…” (I discovered later that he’d actually advised on certain elements of the show which explains a lot).

The reason it’s made it to the top 5 is that it was part of me rekindling an interest in the paranormal and ghost stories in general. This had always been an interest of mine but it had faded into the background a bit, this show reinstated my love of the trickery and misdirection that scares people, the simplest fears of the dark, or what we imagine rather than what’s actually there, and the need to never be last when entering anywhere that looks like it might contain a man with knives for fingers.

Read Thrifty Gal’s full review of Ghost Stories over at Body of a Geek Goddess.

2 – Simone Felice at Cluny 2, Newcastle



Simone Felice

 The Felice Brothers and the various spin off bands (Simone Felice as soloist and The Duke and the King – who I believe may have just split) were my find of 2010.

Simone Felice at the Cluny this year was a joy to watch. Clearly mischievous, he seemed to love performing, he extends a hand and you take it, never knowing if his lyrics will lead you gently down some leafy lane in the sun or dump you somewhere in the city at midnight with a cigarette in your hand, alcohol on your breath and an empty wallet.

Simone Felice: just what you wanted your long-haired, tight-jeans wearing, sensitive singer type to be like. I just wish I’d been brave enough to hug him instead of just shaking his hand.

1 – James at the Sage Gateshead

Everytime I see James play I remember that I’ve always loved them and probably always will. They’ve been a favourite of mine for over 20 years so I don’t know how they keep on surprising me, but they do.

This year’s show was nothing short of breathtaking. To give it its full title: An Evening with James with the Orchestra of the Swan and the Manchester Consort Choir did exactly what it said on the tin, but how outstandingly beautiful it all was. The Sage Gatehead in itself is a remarkable venue, providing some of the best acoustics in the North East. Add to this Tim’s flawless vocals, the soaring sounds of the orchestra and the power of the choir and it was near perfection. Oh and he climbed over the seats right next to me and sang about three seats away – squeeee!

Tim Booth in his wafty trousers.

Quite brilliant.

And the rest…the full list!

Theatre 

Thrifty Gal pointed me in the direction of some review opportunities for the website Exeunt (formerly Musicomh) which was great as it got me interested in a few more shows that I probably wouldn’t have made the effort to see.

  • The Comedy of Errors at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal
  • Faith and Cold Reading at the Live Theatre, Newcastle
  • Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales at Northern Stage, Newcastle
  • A Walk on Part at the Live Theatre, Newcastle
  • Ghost Stories at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London
  • Oh the Humanity at Northern Stage, Newcastle
  • The Wild Bride at Northern Stage, Newcastle
  • Sleep no More at the McKittrick Hotel, Manhattan, NYC
  • Revenge of the Grand Guignol at The Courtyard Theatre, London 
  • Legally Blonde at Sunderland Empire

Music

  • British Sea Power at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle
  • Sam Carter at the Live Theatre, Newcastle
  • Simone Felice at Cluny 2, Newcastle
  • Americana Festival at the Sage Gateshead
  • Glee at the O2, London
  • Ron Sexsmith at the Sage Gateshead
  • Bright Eyes at the Sage Gateshead
  • Ane Brun at Scala, London
  • James at the Sage Gateshead
  • Stephen Fretwell at Cluny 2, Newcastle
  • The Cornshed Sisters at Newcastle University

Comedians

  • Jimmy Carr at Sunderland Empire
  • Dylan Moran at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle
  • Alan Carr at Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle
  • Milton Jones at the Tyne Theatre Newcastle

 Mentalist

  •  Derren Brown: Svengali at Sunderland Empire

Bring on 2012!

Review of the year: how many resolutions did I keep?

So back at the start of the year I set myself some top 10 ‘plans’ for 2011… I rather prematurely did an update about two weeks later. The real test is now, a year on.

1. Improve my beauty regime – I must say I think I’ve done pretty well on this front. I’ve had some lapses but generally have followed a moisturise (if nothing else) regime fairly regularly. Origins have had a further £100 (or more) out of me, but I am using the products now instead of just admiring them as they languish under dust in my bathroom.

I also discovered primer. On a trip to New York the lovely Sephora store gave us freebies galore (however I guess they weren’t technically freebies when you’ve spent hundreds of dollars already) – one of the freebies was a make up primer. I’m a convert. My make up even stays on after spinning (more on that later)!

As an add on to this plan/resolution I also upped my work wardrobe (hey everyone has off days, you guys sniggering at the back). Generally my attempts to wear heels, funky trousers, and ‘festive’ jumpers have been greeted positively. However, by far the most successful (and in fact unintentional) change has been my intensified hair colour. Going that deeper shade of red/ginger has paid for itself in compliments. The non-reactions of those who clearly don’t know how to deal with change have also kept me amused.

2. Get Fit. I said in January that this appears every year, and so it goes. It will appear in January next year too. It took ’til around June to get really going with this, but then it clicked into place. I went spinning and swimming a few times a week, every week, until October. I also tried zumba! Spinning has since continued but with less intensity. The result? Dress size down and a stone and a half lost.

I have also spread the fitness joy by encouraging KD to join me at zumba and Emma B to embrace the joy that is spinning. I think Emma B only comes spinning to giggle with me at Jane’s attempts at handing in the tickets to the hot instructor (I’ll just say “headboard”).

Result of resolution 2: astonishing thighs in the web team.

3. Write more. Hmn. Not great. I completed the ‘Start Writing Fiction’ course from the Open University with flying colours. However it didn’t have the required result, that of making me write more fiction.

I have got more involved in writing theatre reviews for a London-based website. Again, though, after a flurry of blog activity in March, Postcard of a Painting was pushed to one side.

4. Travel more, travel differently, travel alone. Not sure I was entirely successful with this.

Travel more. I actually probably had fewer holidays this year, but then 2010 was a bit of a mad flurry.

Travel differently. I can’t actually remember what I meant by this. But if I meant destinations, I failed. I went to lots of places that I’ve already been to: Zakynthos, Rhodes, New York, Glasgow, York, London, but nowhere new.

Travel alone. I went to Zakynthos, Rhodes, Glasgow and York alone. And if I’m honest, I realised that I don’t like it as much as I make out. I mean I do enjoy some solo travel and I’m quite independant when I do travel with others. Generally though, I’d like to travel with someone else, someone to share the experience with – just don’t interrupt my book reading on the flight. 

5. Cook more. Over the summer in my health kick, cooking more, meant ‘make soup’. I haven’t done very well on this resolution otherwise.

6. Phone the people I don’t make time to travel to visit. Major fail. I can’t even claim that I visited them instead of phoning. Sorry people. 😦

7. Be open to dating. Again, this hasn’t gone spectacularly well. I’m not sure I count picking a random stranger up on the corner of my street as a successful dating strategy. He was very sweet,  until he starting talking about God, then he was a bit scary.

8. Be nice. There are many instances where I’ve done this, from friends and colleagues, to the girl at the Post Office with the funky red nails dotted with white polish – just like snow I tell you 🙂 and what happens? Either the recipient thinks you’re taking the piss, tells you that the item you like was cheap/free/old, or smiles (and keeps smiling). Take a hint people – accept and embrace the compliments! Be the smiley one.

9. Be nice to myself. After a year of feeling pretty shit, 2011 was the year I started to turn this around. All the stuff above is part of this. Everything that Richard Wiseman has written is part of this. I’ve started being and thus feeling more positive. And if people give me a compliment, I take it, thank you very much 🙂

10. Be timely. Hey I’ve done better here. At least this review of the year is out there before the year ends. Just have to make sure that next year’s plans, if I do any – just managing expectations – are posted in the first week of January (again making sure your hopes aren’t too high for a blog on January 1st)…

But nevertheless, see you some time in 2012 folks.