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.

So Alex…where you been at?

I know I haven’t written anything since February (fuuuuudge!) but I’m a strong believer in not blogging unless you have something to say. But just to reassure y’all that I haven’t disappeared, here’s what I’ve been up to in the last six weeks…

I visited the llamas at Mudchute City Park:

I finally got to visit 40 Winks hotel. All sorts of beautiful.

Domestic Sluttery turned 1! Naturally it was a cocktail and cupcake-fuelled event at the best bar in London. This is me, Domestic Slut Robyn and an N64:

I’ve been karaoking away every other Monday at Karaoke Klub, organised by the wondrous Gail. You can see what we’ve been singing in this Spotify playlist. Fancy coming along? Drop me a message! (Psst – helps if I know you). Extra points if you’re willing to duet on Flight of the Conchords with me.

The lovely peeps at Qype interviewed me for the Qype Does London blog.

I did yet more karaoke at Twestival, courtesy of Lucky Voice’s Fantabulous Portable Singing Machine. Hazy polaroid of me and a couple of Karaoke Klub members doing our thang here.

I drank about £50 worth of very posh vodka at Bob Bob Ricard at 12.30pm -  a restaurant with it’s very own emergency champagne button. I also decided that I need to get more of their sea salt caramel ice cream into me.

Awesome piccies from sian_meade’s flickr photostream

Hazy polaroid courtesy of the ever-wonderful @sesp.

My weekend in Paris

I’ve been mildly obsessed by Paris for several years. Every few months I’ll browse Eurostar and hotel websites and get it into my head that this will be the year that I finally go. But none of my friends were really interested in going to the most romantic city in the world without their boyfriends. I know, right? Losers.

But then I won Eurostar tickets (thanks to this blog post) along with a few other Domestic Sluts and got the chance to visit this wonderful city last weekend. Granted, I’d had a rubbishy week and wasn’t feeling all too spanky, but I had an amazing time once I got there. And thanks to all the walking we did (easily around 15 miles) I may have actually lost weight. Win!

The inevitable list of fun things I did in Paree in chronological order because I’m a bit weird like that:

Steak frites and wine

My little jug of wine

My little jug of wine

The first thing we did on arrival at Gare du Nord (after being warned by Jane to KEEP OUR BELONGINGS CLOSE BY AT ALL TIMES) was wander for somewhere to have lunch. On the way we stumbled across the oldest sweet shop in Paris, where I got to practice my appalling French. It involves far more hand gestures than it probably should.

Anyway, an hour later we were in a restaurant playing bad country music and ordering medium-rare steak with fries. Having missed breakfast and dinner the night before, I could barely finish my little jug of wine (equates to a large glass) and was drunk at 3pm.  The other girls thought it was cute.

Drinks at the Louvre

One of the wonderful Domestic Sluttery readers heard we were going to Paris and emailed us a list of rather fabulous places we should visit. Unfortunately we forgot to print out that list and had to piece it together by memory. Oops.

Our view from Cafe Marly

One of the places we were all keen to visit was Cafe Marly, a restaurant with an outdoor terrace practically on the doorstep of the Musee de Louvre. The waiters were a bit rude, a small glass of white wine was 7EUR and it was drizzly but the view was amazing. Imagine everything good about Paris – the Louvre’s glass pyramid, Arc de Triomph and the Eiffel Tower – all rolled into one view. With wine and giggles.

I should also add that the Louvre is one of the most astonishing buildings I’ve ever seen (and I’ve yet to go inside). I think all of us just ambled about the courtyard with our jaws dropped. I didn’t think it was possible for one building to contain so much beauty. Even if you don’t step foot into the museum, you HAVE to see this building.

Hotel picnic!

Pretty buildings aside, we came to Paris to eat. Rather than forking out for another meal (I was saving my cents for macaroons), we nipped to the local supermarket and filled our baskets with every delicious thing we could find. Namely bread, cheese, chorizo, little caramel tartlet thingies, bubbly and brioche which we managed to successfully smuggle into our hotel room. We did leave a few crumbs though…

Centre Pompidou

Look! THE EIFFEL TOWER!

Jane was keen to stop by an exhibition at Centre Pompidou, a modern art gallery not unlike the Tate Modern. While she perused the feminism exhibition, the rest of us talked about handsome ushers and tried desperately to get pics with the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower

I owe a word of thanks to my travelling companions Jane, Gemma and Sian. Though they’ve all seen the Eiffel Tower, they walked with me across Paris for over an hour so I could see it for the first time. They said my reaction, which involved a REALLY big gasp, was worth the trip.

Macaroons at Laduree

I’m a little bit obsessed by macaroons, as previous blog posts may have demonstrated. So I had to visit Macaroon HQ (aka the Champs Elysees branch of Laduree). We queued for ages, but as we spent most of that time gazing at the rococo interior and shiny pastries, we weren’t too fussed.

Even though I’m still recovering from my trip, I can’t wait to get back to Paris. There’s so much I want to do. I didn’t visit Notre Dame or try an absinthe cocktail, and us girls fell in love with Sacre Coeur once we saw it from the Centre Pompidou. But my first trip to Paris was pretty perfect. This will sound a bit corny, but it was every bit as amazing as I expected it to be. And I didn’t need to go in the Spring, with a boy and spend loads of money to enjoy it.

But if anyone’s offering?

Fabulous pics from sian_meades’ flickr photostream