My Day at the Zoo, by Alex Sheppard (aged 23 and a half)

Remember when we came back from half term, we’d get to write stories about what we’d got up to over the holidays? My belated birthday trip would contain enough material for at least FIVE of those. I’d fill out a sheet of A4 and then some.

The BEST sign

My birthday surprise started with a pre-train ride brunch at The Breakfast Club. Not knowing what the day ahead had in store, I ordered the carbiest thing on the menu (pancakes, hash browns, various fried meats slathered in syrup). I’ll spare you an Instagram of TBC, but it’s a nostalgia overload. Particularly liked the My Little Pony wallpaper in the Ladies and the fact that our waitress wore a backwards baseball cap. We’re still not sure if she was being ironic.

Aside from early onset diabetes, brekky bought with it a clue to how we’ll be spending the day:

What could it mean!?

Then it was time to take a train to somewhere called Broxbourne, a mere 25 minutes from Liverpool St. Station. Once we were in the ‘burbs, a mini bus with a very chatty driver (do people ignore boundaries the further you get from Zone 1 or something?) took us to our destination: Paradise Wildlife Park! “So much to see…So much to ZOO!” said the tagline, and they weren’t wrong.

The main draw was a tour of the big cats, followed by afternoon tea (hence the clue). But we had time to kill so took in the main attractions in an eerily empty (of people, I mean) zoo. Like this chinchilla:

These amazing otters:

And a cockroach display that lets you stick your actual head inside. I wasn’t brave enough, but Sian seemed more than happy to try-OH GOD WHAT ARE THEY DOING TO HER

All in all, it was a wonderful belated birthday gift from Sian and brilliant way to start the week. Every Monday should have tigers and handsome zookeepers instead of spreadsheets.

Pictures all taken by Sian. I was too busy cooing over goats.

What I’ve been up to: Salted Caramel, Séances & The West Wing

I thought I’d clear the cobwebs on my little corner of the internet (not a euphemism) by telling you about some of the ‘cool’ things I’ve been up to recently.

The West Wing

I’ve just started watching The West Wing and I love love LOVE it. Yes, I have to concentrate because they talk awful quick and I know nothing about US politics. But it’s nice to watch a TV show where the characters are actually quite lovely (as opposed to Mad Men, the entire cast of which are dirtbags. EVEN THE HOT ONE).

Plus, I learn something new every time I watch it. Like that episode about the Peters Map which left my mind in pieces. You don’t get that shit on Come Dine With Me.

Salted Caramel Brownies

If you want people to like you, then bake them a cake. Everyone knows that. Want to reduce people to murmuring hrnghrhgh in a trance-like state of pleasure? Bake them salted caramel brownies. I know this to be the truth.

It’s quite simple really. Just layer Hugh F-W’s cocoa brownie mix with this salted caramel sauce. Twenty minutes in the oven and Bob’s your gooey, dense, salty, sweet and deliciously rich uncle.

Bake and distribute amongst friends / family / potential lovers for an instant god complex.

Macabre Museums

Hey, so you know an awesome and definitely in no way weird thing to do of a Thursday evening? Go to a séance! Or Through A Glass Darkly, which is the closest thing to a Victorian séance I could find in London. Held at the incredibly spooky Old Operating Theatre Museum in London Bridge, a magician explains the tricks used by fraudulent mediums in the olden days. As long as you don’t go expecting ectoplasm like I did (spoiler alert: there was no ectoplasm) then you’ll have a lovely evening.

Ooh, and if you’re free one weekend then definitely drop by The Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. Aside from a totally delightful exhibition on The Tiger Who Came To Tea, The Stuff of Nightmares art installation is shoulder-shudderingly creepy (excellent snaps here). Even more so because it was created by local school children.

I mean, what sort of sick mind dreams up this?

Mediatheque @ BFI

Despite the Southbank being one of my favourite spots in London, I’ve never seen a film at the BFI. Until last weekend when I discovered that you can turn up at the Mediatheque, borrow a pair of headphones and watch one of thousands of films or documentaries. For free! You’ll get told off for bringing in popcorn but aside from that it’s pretty much perfect. Go watch The Wicker Man when it’s raining and drool over Britt Ekland.

A nearly perfect Saturday

I moan a lot about having to move south of the river, and for good reason. It takes hours to get anywhere, the trains cancel at the merest sniff of snow and I’m sure most of it isn’t actually London. Most of all, I miss my grubby little corner of Holloway.

But there are days when living in South London, specifically near Greenwich, has it’s perks. A Saturday with extreme snowfall is good enough. But throw in spiced apple brandy, sniffing posh soap in charming shops, dithering in the market and a very satisfying snow angel session to get this level of pie-eyed giddiness:

My favourite spot of the day? The enterprising local youths who used estate agent signs as toboggans. That’s London all over.

Snaps by one Sian Meades. Aren’t they lovely?

Travellin’ Plans

Last month I hopped on a plane (first time in three years, unbelievably) and went  to the gorgeous little city of Tallinn in Estonia. Sian and I had a lovely time even if, partly due to her African Virus, we holidayed like OAPs and our trip was of the eating, sightseeing and watching Poirot in the hotel room variety (pretty snaps here).

But the trouble with travel is that it gets rather addictive. Returning to work, chores and drizzly London – aka the Post-Holiday Comedown – is even more depressing once you’ve had a few days away from it. And the little (and large) problems you thought you left behind? Yeah, they don’t disappear just because you’ve had a few days away. Rather inclined to think that Nabokov (well, Humbert Humbert) was right after all:

“A change of environment is the traditional fallacy upon which doomed loves, and lungs, rely.”

Still, that’s not stopped me from drawing up a massive list of places I want to visit. I rarely leave London, and when I do it’s to visit family and friends in Derby. That’s probably not very healthy. So here (time, money and company permitting) are the places I hope to visit in the next few years:

Florence – Uffizi, ice cream and Michelangelo

New York City - well, duh

Brighton - Seaside and shopping at The Lanes

Edinburgh – A week in this castle please

Oxford - The Ashmolean (specifically this) and playing Harry Potter

Vatican City - I blame Robert Langdon

Paris (again) – Eclairs, Sacre Couer and a proper trip to The Louvre

Sydney - Family who live by the coast!

Manchester - Vintage shopping and the chance to meet lovely Twitter people in the flesh

To be honest, I’m happy acting the tourists in most places so my future travels are by no means limited to this list. But if I know anyone who a) lives in any of the above places and b) is willing to be my guide then makes yourselves known! Also, if anyone (that I know who isn’t a psycho) is willing to travel with me then drop me an email.

Image of me wandering in Tallinn from sianysianysiany’s flickr photostream

Moving Out

In the next couple of weeks, all going well, I’ll be moving from my Dad’s flat to an actual house with a landlord and flatmates and bills. This means paying proper rent and living with people I’m not related to, two things I’ve yet to do, like, ever (shut up, I am only 21…).

Obviously I’m excited. It’ll be the first time in my life I won’t be living with a parent. That’s got to be exciting, right? But my overwhelming emotion is anxiety. What if I’m not cut out for living with other people? What if my clean-freakishness takes over and I scare everyone with incessant polishing? What if I hog the bathroom? What if I’m taken over by the urge to fritter away my rent money on shoes and pastry? And so on. I also have an extreme attachment to my current area, despite it being a bit rough around the edges (and one of the worst three roads in Britain apparently).

But deep down I know I haven’t a good reason to be worried. My rent is more than affordable, I vaguely know the area where I’ll be living and my future housemates are lovely. I also get to live with another Domestic Slut, so I’m assuming there will be Shared Wardrobe Privileges and brownies. And we’ll have a house warming party. And a SodaStream!

So why do I have the horrible feeling that once I’ve moved in and unpacked my things, I’ll burst into tears?

Introducing For Books’ Sake

If you follow me or the lovely Jane Bradley on Twitter, then you would have heard about her exciting new project that launched this week. For Books’ Sake is a blog featuring book reviews, news, interviews and general book nerdiness.

I’m really very excited about it. Not just because I’m a contributer but because I think it fills a gap in the market. I read blogs that cover most of my interests – London, music, cute boys with cats – but finding an intelligent books blog that doesn’t take itself too seriously is tough. So when Jane told me she was launching a ‘Super-Fantabulous-But-As-Yet-Unnamed Books Blog’ I was all too happy to get on board.

But writing reviews is very different to the usual stuff I scribble about over on Domestic Sluttery. It forces me to form an opinion, something I suck at because I’m so nervous about someone disagreeing with me. And I’m everso slow. Maybe it’s because I haven’t yet gone to university (and therefore missed out on years of writing essays) or I’m just not a very experienced writer, but my review of We Need To Talk About Kevin took me three weeks to write*. Three weeks! If I was freelance I’d be living off crackers.

But I digress. Do keep an eye out for For Books’ Sake on Twitter and Facebook. And you know, actually read us.

*So please read. Here.