The Weekend #30

Last weekend was spent dogsitting in Staines for some friends so was pretty quiet. I spent the majority of the time chain watching How I Met Your Mother which I have now finished.

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*spoiler alert don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the finale*

I really don’t get what all the fuss was about over the ending, I thought it was very fitting given the build-up – I mean why else would he have spent all that time talking it when really only the last few episodes were really relevant to the question in hand? I did have this most excellent theory though that the mother was actually going to end up being a surrogate for him and Robin so technically their mother but not his wife but yeah I liked it. My only real issue was the treatment of Barney in that final episode do we really think he would go back to his old ways that quickly? Anyway enough about that.

*end spoilers*

Obviously I took the dog out for a walk by the river which was lovely if a tad on the cold side. Staines is a really nice area.

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I finally got round to sorting out my feedly and making sure I was following the bloggers that I read most often on Twitter and a bit of general blog admin. I’m thinking of giving the blog a bit of a redesign but I just don’t know where I would find the time right now to be honest! Is there anything you’d like to see change around here?

How was your weekend? Any exciting plans for this one?

Shaun in the City

You should know by now that I love free stuff more than anything and one of my favourite free things to do in London is to walk around it. However I find that having a plan of action rather than wandering aimlessly helps and I love it when there are trails set up across London like the Books About Town benches last year.

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As from tomorrow there’s a new trail in town. To celebrate the new Shaun the Sheep Movie coming to cinemas next month, 50 giant Shaun the Sheep sculptures will be installed from tomorrow until the 25th May in some of the city’s most iconic areas before then moving on to Bristol. After which the statues will be auctioned to raise funds for children’s hospitals across the country.

You can print a copy of the map from the website or download the official Shaun in the City: Sheep Spotter app. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for these on my adventures.

BitBS Rating£

BunnyChow, Soho

I’ve been meaning to check out BunnyChow ever since they opened and were splashed over more blogs than I could count. Somehow it’s taken an embarrassingly long time to get there – they’ve been open 6 months which the server was only to kind to point out when I mentioned this ;) – but with my new mission to save money rather than spend it I finally took the opportunity to visit on Tuesday evening when I met up with my friends Michael and Victoria for dinner.

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So what is a bunny chow you might be asking? It’s a South African fast food dish consisting of a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry, or in the case of here, lots of other delicious fillings. They’ve won an award and had a tonne of column inches dedicated to their innovative full English bunny; sausage, bacon, mushrooms, beans, tomato black pudding and a fried egg which is available all day long. Can you say yum?

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The menu itself is small with only five options including that famous breakfast bunny. Unusually for me I went for the vegetarian option which was blooming amazing; cauliflower, chickpea, potatp and paneer cheese in a spicy sauce topped with mango chutney and poppadoms.

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I hardly ever go for vegetarian options but this was incredible. Extremely flavourful without being too spicy with a great texture combination between the hard potato and soft cheese. The hardest part is figuring how to eat it – there is no right or wrong way – I started out by spooning out the filling but soon gave up and just picked the whole thing up and started munching!

Portion size looks small but it’s deceptively filling and the best part? Super cheap! A bunnychow costs just £5 (£4 for the breakfast bunny) and drinks start from as little as a quid. I opted for a fresh green mamba; Peppermint & Earl Grey tea with a splash of lemon juice.

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Really refreshing and would make an excellent cocktail which they will actually quite happily do as you can add a spirit for just an extra £2! Where else in London can you get a freshly made cocktail for just £4?!

Service was speedy; they take your name at time of ordering then call it out when ready and this place totally heads straight to my number one spot for cheap eats in Central London. I’m sure this is just the first of many, many visits!

BitBS Rating – £

Getting serious about my debt

Six months ago I finally rented out my flat in Aberdeen and breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t be paying for two sets of bills anymore. For some reason I thought that this meant I could stop tracking my spending and worrying about having a budget. Big mistake.

I was still in debt.

Still AM in debt.

So why I thought this was a good idea at the time I have no idea. Fast forward three months and I was in a pretty good position financially. Part of the reason I moved to London was so I could explore Europe at a much cheaper cost but I didn’t do any travelling at all in 2014 because I simply couldn’t afford to. 2015 was to be that year a I started planning various trips with gusto. A couple of which I’ve already taken; Paris, New York City, Oslo.

Fast forward another three months and my financial situation has changed completely yet again. This time in not such a good way. I had finally paid my dad back some money he had loaned me for my flat deposit for the first time since I moved to London. £1k which was roughly the amount of money I’d made from renting the flat out for the previous six months, hence the huge drop in my NET worth this month. A couple of days later I committed to attending Dragon Con in Atlanta in September making hotel arrangements and booking flights, which I got at a bargain price FYI! Then the bad news started to trickle in; there was an issue in my flat with part of the roof collapsing due to damp which I have no idea how much is going to cost to get repaired, my rent is going up £100 a month and because of this I’m probably going to be looking for a new place in 6 months which means saving for a deposit. Y’know right around the time I’m going to be heading off to Dragon Con *sigh*.

So with all this, plus my 30 by 30 goal to be out of debt by that time it’s time to get serious again. Basically I need to save around £400 per month between now and May 2016 in order to achieve this and put it solely towards debt repayment. I’m very lucky that I’m not paying any interest on any of my debt thanks to balance transfers and such like so I don’t have to worry about racking that up at the same time.

I’m quite lucky that most things for my trips are prepaid but I still have about £600 worth of hotels to pay for in the next 6 months and of course spending money so I can actually enjoy being away!

To help I’ve put myself on a theatre ban for the next six months so apart from the tickets I’ve already bought for Alice Underground and Hamlet I won’t be going to any other shows unless I get complimentary tickets. *hint hint* Expect to see a lot more free events and cheap eats on the blog as I try to have a bit of a social life while saving money.

I actually like the budget I made back in September but I need to track my spending for this first month to see what sort of numbers I should be aiming for. I currently get £1,688.80 per month salary and approximately £200 from renting out my flat but I’d like to make a little extra money on the side somehow to bring up that total to a round £2k per month. How I’m going to do that I’m not entirely sure but I’m open to ideas!

Are you in debt? Do you have a plan to pay it off? Any suggestions for ways to make a bit of extra cash?

March 2015 NET Worth

Credit

Cash – £5.73
Santander 123 C/A – £473.83
Halifax C/A – £3,646.31
PayPal – £95.00
EasyCash – £1.00
Credit total – £4,221.87

Debts
Capital One C/C – £3,060.75
MBNA C/C – £3,762.26
Santander C/C – £2,854.82
Debt total – (£9,677.83)

Net worth
£4,221.87 – £9,677.83 = -£5,455.96

Joshua Reynolds Experiments in Paint, The Wallace Collection

It’s been a while since my last art exhibition so I was thrilled to be invited along to the first ever bloggers event at The Wallace Collection to take a look at the new Joshua Reynolds Experiments in Paint Exhibit. The Wallace Collection is an absolutely stunning building tucked away just behind Oxford Street which I had no idea even existed until I was invited to attend.

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Sham on me because this is one of those hidden London gems. It’s like a grand old house with a sweeping driveway which I just loved and inside is even more lovely. I was running a little on the tardy side so didn’t take any pictures of the foyer but given that the entrance to the entire place is completely free of charge AND you are allowed to take photographs  – which so many exhibitions don’t allow these days – I’ll definitely be returning to take a look at the permanent collection.

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I rather naively had no idea who Joshua Reynolds was so found his history to be quite fascinating. He was the first president of The RA where I have been a few times since moving and a very experimental painter. Conservator Alexandra Gent gave us a guided tour of the admittedly small collection as she was hired to oversee the research and restoration of some of his paintings. Not being an art historian I really enjoyed this personal touch compares to other blogger events I’ve been to in the past.

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She spoke with such enthusiasm that I too couldn’t help but be intrigued by his methods. If Reynolds didn’t like his first attempt then he didn’t waste the canvas but instead flipped it over and started again. If fashions in hairstyle or clothing had changed between the time his sitters came in to pose for him and the time of handing over the painting to its purchaser he would update them to be more modern and when he was too popular to paint all of the paintings commissioned by himself he would take the mostly finished painting from one of his students and add his own flair to the finished article.

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We know all this because of all the work Alexandra has put in over the last few years, x-raying the paintings and using all sorts of testing methods to determine what materials had been used during conception and what had been added to it later (perhaps in an attempt to preserve it). The most fascinating part of the exhibit for me however was the experimental canvas which is on display where Reynolds would test different techniques and make notes on what had worked well and what had not.

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As someone with very little creative talent its fascinating to see the methods used in creating such amazing works of art, and they are amazing.

The exhibit is running until the 7th June so there is plenty of time to see it and while there why not check out the rest of the collection too. I also believe that the restaurant serves an incredible afternoon tea by Peyton and Byrne as well as a well stocked à la carte menu.

*Disclaimer: I attended this event for free in exchange for blogging about the event.
The above opinions are still my own and not influenced by this in any way.

St Paul’s Cathedral

I had a Tesco Clubcard voucher for St Paul’s that needed to be used by the end of this month and this was pretty much the only time I had free in March to go so after lunch we headed to St Pauls. As I mentioned it didn’t open until after 2:30pm but it was closer to 3pm when we got there and with it closing at 5 this meant we only had a couple of hours to see the whole thing which definitely wasn’t enough. Especially when they started herding us out at 4:30pm.

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St Paul’s is one of the most magnificent old buildings in London with its instantly recognisable domed roof being a significant part of the London skyline. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside the cathedral as it is still very much a place of worship first and foremost but they are opening up to a lucky 300 photographers on the 8th April for the Surprise St Paul’s competition which if I wasn’t flying home that same night I would definitely be buying a ticket. More details can be found here.

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Included in the cost of each ticket is the use of an audio guide which directs you to various parts of the cathedral and explains them in more detail. This is a fantastic but it was difficult to follow as it covers the core parts before going on to smaller areas rather than following a logical order. I guess this is so you can decide which parts you want to see over others but I found it quite frustrating.

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The magnum opus of course is the beautiful domed ceiling which you can go pretty much right to the top of. There isn’t an elevator so you have to be prepared for the climb. It’s 257 steps to the whispering gallery where it’s said that you can stand on opposite sides and hear someone whispering to you as clearly as if you were standing next to each other. A further 121 steps takes you to the stone gallery where you get your first glimpse across London.

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The views from here are great but not as magical as from the golden gallery a further 152 steps consisting mostly of open wrought iron spiral staircases which I wasn’t a fan of at all. The walkway of the golden gallery is very narrow so you may have to wait a while before you get to step foot outside but I promise you it’s worth it.

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Going back down is even worse than going up and by the time we got to the bottom my legs were like jelly and I had to have a wee rest before hitting the crypts. Sadly I didn’t get to see much of this as we were ushered out far too quickly for my liking.

The on the door price for St Paul’s Cathedral is £17 which I think is actually quite reasonable given the rich history of the structure and the fact that the audio guide is included with every tour. You could easily spend twice as long in there than we did just soaking everything in.

BitBS Rating – ££

The Fable, Holborn

My friend Joanna was in town for London Super Comic Con at the weekend and as I’d taken the Friday off so that I could make sure that I was costume ready we decided to meet up for lunch. We had planned on going to St Paul’s when she first arrived but a memorial service scuppered that plan as it wasn’t open to the public until 2:30pm.

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It wasn’t all a loss though as it meant that we could have a nice leisurely lunch at The Fable. The Fable is the most recent restaurant to be opened in the capital by Drake & Morgan who seem to specialise in theatrically themes from botanical and secret gardens to fairytales which is the chosen theme at The Fable. To be honest while it was very nice I found it a bit lacking and it could have used a little but more to give it that extra boost into something magical. That said when the food is this good who really cares about the surroundings?

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The hardest part was deciding what to have to drink! The cocktail menu here is huge with some really inventive names. I went for the Skinny Russian Rose Martini; Smirnoff Black vodka stirred with Kwai Feh lychee liqueur, ginger syrup & garnished with a rose petal which both sounded and looked amazing but sadly didn’t have the taste to match. It was very strong and left a bitter taste in my mouth afterwards so I was disappointed.

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For main course I went for the special cod which if I remember correctly came with creamed leeks and mussels.

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This was absolutely flavoursome and I enjoyed every bite. The cod was cooked to perfection flaking beautifully with a fork and the mussels really added to it. The sauce was incredible, not too thick and didn’t overpower the fish. I finished the entire plate along with half a portion of sweet potato fries – which came is a super cute flowerpot – as well.

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Undecided on what to have for pudding I went for the Mini pudding shots a smaller version of three of their most popular desserts; chocolate brownie, wagon wheel & Winterberry crumble. When they came out I was amazed at the size, these were no teeny tiny puddings but instead three sundae glasses with half-sized desserts.

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I’m not a huge fan of hot fruit so tried the crumble first and really wasn’t enamoured with it. I’m not sure what kind of berries were used but they were quite bitter although the vanilla ice cream was the proper stuff made with pods and delish.

IMG_0260The Wagon Wheel was probably my favourite which is strange given how much I love chocolate and was looking forward to the brownie but more on that in a bit. The Wagon Wheel consisted of toasted meringue, raspberry sorbet, shortbread and chocolate sauce all of which worked really well together although I think I would have replaced the sorbet with a raspberry ripple ice cream. The toasted meringue was the highlight for me it was squishy like marshmallow and very sweet. An all round winner for this one and my recommendation of the three.

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The final pudding was the chocolate brownie which came with another scoop of the delicious ice cream but sadly the brownie itself tasted burnt even though it looked fine and was overly bitter so I didn’t enjoy it much.

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The service unfortunately wasn’t great for us. We asked for tap water which never arrived we waited almost half an hour for our second round of drinks (which weren’t even cocktails) then we had to wait an age for the bill too. I think we were an anomaly though as there were plenty of groups who were there for lunch who were in and out before we were so maybe we were just unlucky. The whole thing came to just over £80 including tip for the two of us which was quite reasonable and I didn’t have to eat anything else for the rest of the day I was so full!

BitBS Rating – ££

The Weekend #29

My first convention of this year was the London Super Comic Con and I’d been working really hard o two new costumed for the event. An original design Poison Ivy and Emma Frost from xMen First Class. LSCC is always a really fun event as it’s quiet, well organised and just generally really relaxed. It was missing a few regular friends but there were still plenty of people to see.

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Saturday I was only there for half the day before heading to the cinema to see Home with my friend Jen and then plan our girlie trip to Prague in June which I’m really excited about. I did head back to The Fox afterwards to hang out for a while but they stopped serving at 11pm which was a bit crappy and I didn’t fancy.

Sunday morning I wasn’t feeling too good. My crohn’s was acting up and I was a bit bloated so I wasn’t really sure if wearing the midriff showing Emma Frost was the best plan but I decided that I’d spent to long on it and went along anyway. It still needs a little bit more work, especially the wig, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

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I was most excited for the finals of the Cosplay Championship in the afternoon as I’d missed the first round the day before and I have to say the level of workmanship was incredible. I’d watched the progress of a few of the entrants closely on Facebook and I was over the moon when Ross was announced as the winner with his Urusla, I mean how incredible is it?

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He wins a trip for him and a plus one to Dragon Con which I’m also returning to this year and I am so excited! As usual when I’m in cosplay I failed to take many pictures over the weekend and those that I too at the competition were blurry. Events are becoming more about the cosplay side for me and I have a few more costumes planned for the year which I can’t wait to get stuck into.

How was your weekend? Any exciting plans for this one?

Yalla Yalla, Soho

I’ve been eating out quite a bit recently so apologies for the influx of food related posts, this is all about to change soon though as I’m attempting to eat healthier and save money so enjoy it while it lasts!

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Last week before we went speeddating Jen and I popped in to sample the wares of Yalla Yalla, a Lebanese restaurant that I’d seen featured on a blog I follow (I can’t remember which, I should really make a list so that when I visit I know who to thank!) From the outside it looks a bit like a budget hotel chain. I’m thinking Tune hotels with their signature red/white or EasyHotel with the orange. Inside however is a rustic restaurant with wooden tables and chairs all squished together, accents of that signature yellow and a counter overflowing with goodies.

We arrived at about 5:45pm and it was fairly quiet so we got a nice comfy table with cushions tucked away in the corner in which to peruse the menu. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Jen is basically my perfect dining partner as we like so many of the same things! Given that there was so much choice we decided to share a few mezze dishes with the option to order more if we felt we needed it.

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We had the hommos; thick, creamy and utterly delicious I can’t stop thinking about it, falafel; which were some of the best I’ve ever had and totally moreish and the halloum meshoue; grilled Halloumi cheese with tomato, black olives, fresh mint and olive oil because who doesn’t love squeaky cheese? There was also a small pot of complimentary olives and pickles on each table which I thought was a nice touch.

By this point the restaurant had completely filled up and there was a nice happy buzz to the place as friends caught up on each others lives and shared the delicious food. Mezze (and indeed tapas) works really well for this as we found out and the portions were pretty decent for the prices. Especially as everything was fresh and delicious to the point where we were almost licking the plates clean! We’d planned on also sharing the chicken shawarma but found that we were actually quite full. This was good news though as it meant we could have pudding instead and both opted for the yalla jou jou; vanilla mousse speculoos covered in velvety dark chocolate and dark chocolate sauce with a very vanilla ice cream.

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It was nice but the mousse was frozen which I wasn’t expecting and wasn’t too keen on. I thought it would be a light and fluffy end to the meal when instead it was quite heavy and in the end I didn’t finish it. Given that the entire bill came to just over £30 between us I thought Yalla Yalla was very good value for money and I’d definitely return. Perhaps with a bigger group of people so that I could try even more of their delicious offerings!

BitBS Rating – ££