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Ladies who Afternoon Tea

At the end of April I headed to London, in search of good company and distractions. London is full of both and this is how Maddie and I ended up at Sketch for afternoon tea.

Judging by my Facebook newsfeed, Sketch is one of the places to go for afternoon tea in London. It has 4 out of 5 stars on Trip Advisor and Time Out describes it as “a place with wow factor”. All in all, it was promising, even if those promises included the word expensive as well as fabulous.

Walking into Sketch felt like walking into Wonderland. Going through what felt like tent flaps pinned back, into a dark, spacious hallway with various pieces of odd and interesting art, we were greeted warmly and directed towards the The Parlour. To get to The Parlour, you go past the cloakroom and through The Glade, which we marvelled very briefly at before we reached The Parlour.

Now, I will admit that we were early. Any place that takes your credit card details when you book so that they can charge you if you don’t turn up is guaranteed to have me arrive half an hour early. So of course we were told our table wasn’t ready. Which is completely fine, though we weren’t sure where we would go for twenty minutes, especially as it was raining outside and window shopping is only good when one doesn’t have rain dripping down one’s neck.

But we started to head back out, but the lovely greeter, confused as to why we were leaving so soon, suggested we go back to The Glade and have a drink at the bar while we waited. This was an excellent suggestion.

The Glade was gorgeous.

The Glade was beautiful, decked out as if there was a lawn party in the middle of a forest. With dappled green walls, moving mirrors to catch the light and wicker chairs, it was lovely. The cocktails we went for were delicious, and I have no doubt that any of the selection would have been equally good. And the waitress was excellent, suggesting other drinks when they were out of the one I wanted.

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Edible flowers are the best.

Eventually our time came, and we went back into The Parlour to have afternoon tea. The Parlour is very 1920s and very pink, as well as lined with David Shrigley’s work. The overall effect was…interesting. David Shrigley is an artist whose work I’ve encountered several times, and sometimes I walk away feeling unsettled and sometimes I walk away with a smile. The full range of his work on display at Sketch meant I was unsettled and smiling which is a very odd feeling. And as for the décor of the room…I felt like I’d walked into a womb.

Some excellent crockery.

The Parlour is as different from The Glade as it could possibly be, and to leave a room I loved so much to go into one that made me a scooch uneasy was saddening. I’m sure that for many people The Parlour is gorgeous, but I wished we were still in The Glade.

With a choice of nearly 20 different teas, we were soon sipping away from china designed by David Shrigley. Although we were served our drinks fast, it then took another 20 minutes before we saw any sandwiches or cake. I may have missed a memo about current afternoon tea etiquette, but I always assumed one had the tea with the sandwiches and cake. Happily, the tea is refillable so we weren’t left as bereft of beverages as I was concerned we might be.

So much food. So much. 

The food was delightful. Tiny parcels of pesto and chicken, salmon sandwiches with caviar sprinkled on them, cucumber and asparagus sandwiches…The list goes on. I would recommend not biting into caviar though. I didn’t realise what it was until I had. Rookie mistake.

Cakes included the densest coffee and chocolate cake topped with gold leaf, adorable strawberry tarts and profiteroles filled with raspberry sauce. In addition to the cake stand, we had a scone each and the pudding of the day, which was pear something French.

For the most part, the food was delicious, and the bits that weren’t are a question of taste. Like the egg sandwiches that had olives in them. I’m not a proper adult yet and do not enjoy olives. At all.  So on grounds of food, I would very much recommend Sketch.

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The toilets were space pods. SPACE. PODS.

Some of the other bits of the experience were less good. For one thing, when we sat down, I sat in the booth rather than the chair and the man leading us to our table then trapped me there by pushing the table in. Then he moved the next table along closer to us, as if to make sure that I would never escape. This proved awkward when I had to ask the people next to us to move their table and then ask Maddie to move ours so I could discover the ridiculous toilets. I got some serious side-eye, but it was that or climbing over the back of the booth.

We also couldn’t pay the bill. Which is to say, after we were presented with the bill, no-one came to ask us to pay it. For half an hour. In which time the people next to us, who had been given their bill at the same time, paid and went. In the end, I had to flag a passing waitress down.

Overall, I really wasn’t impressed with the service at Sketch. I’m not sure if me and Maddie looked particularly young or out of place, but we were paying the same £45 as everyone else. So while the food was great, and the décor fascinating, the lack of good service and being wedged into a corner dampened the experience as much as the rain had dampened our window shopping plans.

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Warships and ABBA

It was Eurovision yesterday! I hope everyone who watched had an excellent time, and if it was your first time, what did you think? Was it all you’d hoped it would be? Personally, I was hoping for some more weirdness than we got, but Bulgaria gave up light up sci-fi knee dancing, so I’m pretty happy.

But this post isn’t to talk about Eurovision 2016. Oh no. To  begin my tale, I need to take you back to Eurovision 2015. I was at a Eurovision party, glued to Twitter as I often am during Eurovision, and spotted a tweet by Tesco. They wanted to see pictures of people’s Eurovision parties and if you tweeted them one, you could be in with a chance to win a trip to wherever won Eurovision. Obviously I entered, and a week later got a DM from Tesco telling me I’d won a trip to Sweden.

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This super low quality photo won me a trip to Stockholm.

I didn’t think anyone ever won competitions like this. But they do! So me and my Dad got to go to Stockholm for three days this March. Tesco paid for flights, accommodation, breakfast, transport to and from the hotel and £30 to spend.

Walking out of baggage claim to see someone holding a sign with my name on it was so cool. So very cool. Felt like a swish business woman who travels the world to negotiate deals and drinks cocktails at every meal. That feeling didn’t disappear when we got to our hotel. The Radisson Blu is a very lovely hotel where all the staff were super helpful. We arrived three hours before check in and yet they let us have our room straight away. An excellent place to stay.

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The first thing you see and it really sets the tone.

Of course, the first place we headed when we arrived was the ABBA museum. Potentially Sweden’s most famous export, I feel like you can’t go to Stockholm and not visit the ABBA Musuem. After we’d figured out the trams, it was smooth sailing, and soon were were immersed in the world of Europop.

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Such costumes.

As museums go, it was great. It’s really colourful, informative, every bit of Swedish had an English translation and, most importantly, it was interactive. You can do karaoke, virtually dress up in iconic ABBA costumes, attempt to remix an ABBA song and even go on stage with hologram version of the band.

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Creepily life like wax models.

I really enjoyed it, even if they skated over the break-up of the band. It was a tad surreal, especially when there were surprisingly life-like wax models of the bad. What’s also attached to the ABBA Museum is the Swedish Music Hall of Fame. I was genuinely shocked at how many famous pop songs Swedes have been involved with, whether as the band performing them, or as writers or producers. They reckon that Sweden’s biggest export is pop music and they are the country with the third biggest involvement in the music industry, after America and the UK. Which is crazy considering how small the population of Sweden is compared to the USA and Britain.

After that we headed back to the hotel for food and sleep because getting up at 4am is tiring. The next day we headed out bright and early to go to the Vasa, which is a war ship from the 17th century. It sank 1300 meters into it’s first voyage and stayed at the bottom of the sea for centuries until a project was launched to bring it to the surface.

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This is a scale model because at no point could I get the entirety or even the majority of the actual ship fully in shot. 

It’s huge. I mean, it is so ginormous that I spent the entire two hours we were there in shock and awe at how flipping massive it was. It’s one of the reasons it sank. It’s just stupidly big. I’m not sure I’ll ever be over how big it is.

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See what I mean? This is just the very front bit of the ship.

The Vasa is really well preserved for a whole number of reasons, including the fact that the water it sank in wasn’t overly salty. Which means they have valves from the ship that look like they were carved last week, because they’re that well preserved. The ship that you see is 95% the original ship. They’ve had to replace all the metal and a small percentage of the wood, but the sheer amount of this massive ship that is the original wood from 1628 is ridiculous.

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Look at the fancy carving.

It’s nearly two months since I went to see the Vasa and I still can’t get over how well preserved it is and how big it is. If you’re ever in Stockholm, it’s definitely worth a visit. Would recommend so hard.

Afterwards we had a wander through the city and headed to the old town to have a look at the palace. The old town felt really lived in. When I was in Zurich, the old town was full of super posh business and artisan shops, which was cool, but meant it didn’t feel particularly old. Stockholm’s old town definitely feels old.

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My favourite bit of architecture in all of Stockholm

Later that evening we were back at the old town for tea at Fem Sma Hus. It was so good. The restaurant goes on for miles and we were eating what must have once been the wine cellar. I got to try reindeer and the pudding was chocolate art. Our waitress was the most helpful. Honestly, the whole experience was a delight.

Our final day in Stockhom we headed for the palace. It was cool but not as fantastic as the palace in Madrid, although Stockholm did have an exhibition about clocks through the ages on. The treasury was interesting, not least because Swedish monarchs are no longer crowned, so we saw the Crown Jewels that are now redundant. Or retired. I’m not sure which.

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The palace has some reconstruction going on.

And then we saw the changing of the guard. I had never seen a changing of the guard before and it was both interesting and hilarious. Every time soldiers hit their mark they then had to shuffle over so that they had actually hit their mark. And when they disappeared behind pillars, the odd one or two suddenly decided they were behind the wrong pillar and should be behind the next pillar over and would dash across.

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Fancy dress uniforms.

Sadly, that was the last of our time in Stockholm. I really enjoyed our visit, brief though it was. The city is lovely and the tourist attractions are great. I’d like to go back, though I think perhaps it might have to wait until I’m slightly richer, as food was expensive. Not just at fancy restaurants, but at cafes too. My trip was all warships and ABBA and that’s a great combination.

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Swingamajig – A swinging good time

Last time I said that there were many stories to be told, including my travels to Sweden and Liverpool. And this is true. Unfortunately, I’m blogging remotely today so I don’t have any photos from these places. However, I do have my photos from Swingamajig 2016 and so that’s what today’s post I all about.

Last weekend it was my birthday and as well as clubbing, I dragged Beth to Swingamajig with me. I went to Swingamajig by myself last year and had a fabulous time so I had high hopes for this year.

Held in the Rainbow Venues in Digbeth, we walked past some excellent graffiti on our way down, and were greeted by a big top. Turns out that was the main stage. I do love a good big top. First things first, we had a wander and my goodness, was it bigger than last year. With six stages, a swing dance room and a vintage market, Swingamajig really out did themselves this year.

After watching Jon Udry Punches Gravity in the Face, which was a spectacularly named, incredibly entertaining juggling act, we headed to the Arch Stage to see The Rin Tins. I saw them for the first time at Swingamajig last year and were a big part of the reason I wanted to com to Swingamajg this year.

And they were fantastic. The Rin Tins a) are a great band to see live, b) play what they call thrash jazz and c) get everyone dancing like a maniac. They’re so good – and they’re playing Glastonbury this year! If anyone’s lucky enough to be at Glastonbury, you should check them out.

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All of my other photos were blurry – I was dancing that much.

When we were danced out, me and Beth ended up watching a burlesque act that INCLUDED FIRE. Fire eating, fire breathing, fire running down her arms…. It was incredible. And also adds credence to the You Gotta Have A Gimmick song from the musical Gypsy.

We eventually found burritos and then wandered to The Night Owl which was the swing room, so I could ask strangers if they’d like to dance. Everyone was super lovely, I bumped into some friends from University and I even got some excellent dances. Despite my new years resolution, I really haven’t done all that much swing this year and it’s so lovely to go to a social dance and just have fun.

After a pint in the setting sun, we wandered back to the Big Top to find Electric Swing Circus beginning their set. ESC are the founders and organisers of Swingamajig and put on a great show. I’ve not really listened to them much, but I really enjoyed seeing them live.

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Electric Swing Circus in the Big Top. I love it when names comer together.

Eventually me and Beth wandered off, looking for seats. And instead we found Troy Savoy ft live Sax from Eugene the Cat. Regular readers might recognise the name Eugene the Cat as I saw them back in December when I was out in Stuttgart. So what we were faced with was a swing rave, formed of a DJ and a live saxophonist. It was so good. I’d go to that again in a heart beat.

After sitting at the Vintage Roof Terrace for a good hour, looking up at the stars and listening to the strains of upbeat swing and jazz, we decided to head home. Swingamajig was excellent last year and it was excellent this year. It was bigger and better and I’m so glad that I got to go. Would highly recommend for next year. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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Shiny, happy people.