Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Hiking at Lionsrock Sanctuary

Hiking trail Lionsrock sanctuary

I think it is safe to say that I am a very bad blogger indeed. Emm in London turned seven this month and never before in all those years have I fallen off the radar in such a dramatic fashion. I mentioned in June that I’d been burning the candle at both ends and that something had to give and I’m pleased to announce that we are almost there. I begin a new job in August and will no longer be commuting into London or working quite as much overtime as I worked this year. I am definitely looking forward to reclaiming my life and returning to being a decent blogger and blogging friend.

One of the casualties of my Great Blogging Break was posting about our trip to South Africa in December. We had such an incredible time and I definitely want to tell you about Lionsrock Sanctuary which was a highlight not only of our trip but possibly of my entire life to date.

Lionsrock Sanctuary is a Big Cat sanctuary run by the charity Four Paws International. They exist to provide a sanctuary for big cats from around the world and have conducted several high profile rescues of lions, tigers and other big cats from zoos, circuses and private collections around the world. To fund their work at the sanctuary in Bethlehem in the Free State in South Africa, Lionsrock provide a family friendly lodge featuring self-catering chalets and double rooms.

We discovered Lionsrock quite by accident – I had searched to find accommodation for 11 people in December, South Africa’s peak tourist season and went ahead and booked at Lionsrock based on the excellent reviews alone. I had no idea what an important, incredible place this really is.

Lionsrock is located on acres of beautiful savannah near the Golden Gate National Park and aside from swimming and interacting with the animals, one of the best aspects of the park is their hiking trails. And so it was that we grabbed two grandparents, four parents, an aunt, an uncle and four kids and we took a hike right around the lion enclosures and nearby koppie (small mountain in Afrikaans).

Jazz at Lionsrock

We were guided by Jazz, the very energetic dog that lives at Lionsrock.

The Lionsrock

You could see forever from the top of the hills.

The Old Farmers House at Lionsrock

We found the remains of the old farmhouse from when Lionsrock was an old farm.

Mysterious steps at Lionsrock

I can never resist a set of stairs and went bounding up these stairs, followed by all four of the kids.

Remains of the farmhouse after fire

The main section of the farmhouse had obviously been in a fire and their were charred remains to be seen.

Greenery at Lionsrock

I think this is when I’m at my happiest, outside in nature with the sun shining.

Hiking at Lionsrock

These are some of the people that I love the most. Right i front of me is Sara – we met when we were fifteen and I met Stephen the night of her wedding.

A view to remember Lionsrock Sanctuary

More gratuitous scenery and a peak at the watering hole.

Rocks and shrubbery at Lionsrock

I first fell in love with the rocks and scenery in this area when I was eleven years old and have been coming to this area frequently in the years since. I can clearly remember standing at Golden Gate National Park on a school trip, gazing down onto a scene not unlike this one. Of course, we were in the midst of a great drought in the 1980s and I recall it being much drier and more yellow.

Watering hole Lionsrock Sanctuary

Thankfully drought is not a problem in South Africa at the moment and we were treated to a couple of thunderstorms during our stay at Lionsrock. I love thunderstorms.

Dried riverbed Lionsrock

As you round the last section of the hike, you look down onto the lion and big cat enclosures. I’d like to think that the cats are happier here after their lives in cages and concrete enclosures but the painful truth is that cats in zoos and circuses are not fed the right foods and are deliberately underfed to stop them growing to their full potential so they often have health problems for the rest of their lives. Nevertheless, Lionsrock Sanctuary and Four Paws are doing fantastic work and recently rescued two lion cubs from a refugee camp in Gaza.


Have you ever been to an animal sanctuary or rescue centre? Tell me all about it!


Friday, 19 June 2015

Nick Darke’s The Dead Monkey at Park Theatre in Finsbury Park

UK, London, Park Theatre 90 Mongrel Thumb, in association with Falmouth University presents The Dead Monkey by Nick Darke.  Directed by Hannah Price with James Lance as Hank, Ruth Gibson as Dolores  and Charles Reston as Vet. Park Theatre, London, UK

10th June 2015
Photo: © ZuteLightfoot

California. The land of surfing, oranges and the great American dream. Dolores and Hank are married, happily perhaps or so they think. Hank was great once, a renowned surfer with a monkey on his back, literally speaking of course. Dolores was happy to be by his side, to look after his monkey when Hank went on to travel the country in search of the next great sale. Until the day that she wasn’t. Until the day that the monkey died and Dolores discovered that she has a unique talent.

When the tables are turned, Hank is happy to be by Dolores’s side, to look after their Macedonian curly tailed pig while Dolores exercises her gift. Until one day when he isn’t. Until the day that it all comes tumbling down and Hank realises that his best days are behind him.

Directed by Hannah Price, The Dead Monkey is bleakly comic and very dark. It lures the audience in with a promise of humour and satire before savagely delivering its message. Written by Nick Darke in 1986 and originally performed by the RSC, The Dead Monkey is a tale of desperation and creeping violence in a grimy American marriage that is as relevant today as it was almost 30 years ago.

The Dead Monkey is expertly performed by a three-person cast consisting of James Lance as Hank, Ruth Gibson as Dolores and Charles Reston as the vet. With all the action taking place on the intimate Park 90 stage, the cast grips you from the very first scene and takes you on a rollercoaster ride of love and duplicity, desperation and euphoric recall.

I was especially impressed with the set design and costumes in the play. For a moment there, it really felt like we were in a beachside shack in California which made the final scenes ever more powerful. All three actors underwent incredible transformations in their appearance for their roles with Gibson chopping off her long red locks and dying them platinum blonde and James and Charles adopting a moustachioed, early 1980s look that was startling in its authenticity (or is it just me that finds that particular period of fashion unsettling?)

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dead Monkey and would highly recommend it.

UK, London, Park Theatre 90 Mongrel Thumb, in association with Falmouth University presents The Dead Monkey by Nick Darke.  Directed by Hannah Price with James Lance as Hank, Ruth Gibson as Dolores  and Charles Reston as Vet. Park Theatre, London, UK

10th June 2015
Photo: © ZuteLightfoot

This is the second time that I’ve seen a play at The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park and I have to say that I really like it. The theatre is in a great location and is situated right outside Finsbury Park tube station. There are also loads of great restaurants in the vicinity and I’d especially recommend Pasta Remoli and My Cottage Cafe Lebanese Restaurant on Clifton Terrace. I certainly hope to see more performances here in future.

Presented by London theatre company Mongrel Thumb, The Dead Monkey is showing at Park Theatre in Finsbury Park until 4 July 2015. Prices start from £18 each with £12.50 Tuesdays and Pay What You Can matinees. Book online at Park Theatre or by telephone on 020 7870 6876.

Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, London N4 3JP.

Photo credits: © ZuteLightfoot


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

An Art Deco Tour of the Strand

80 Strand

Recently, I joined London tour guide Yannick Pucci for an Art Deco tour of the Strand. You might remember reading about Yannick before as I most enjoyed his Art Deco in Bloomsbury and Macarons and Mews tours.

King George III statue Somerset House

On this bright and sunny May day, we met up at the King George III statue at Somerset House before walking across the courtyard of Somerset House and out on to the terrace. The lovely Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi and I agreed that we simply must return for afternoon drinks on the terrace. It looked really lovely and relaxing.

Sir Arthur Sullivan memorial

We took a turn through Victoria Embankment Gardens where we could see the buildings that would form the focus of our tour. We spent some time at the memorial to Arthur Sullivan, considered especially racy when it was erected in 1903 and not entirely appropriate. The memorial depicts the Muse herself, draping herself in a pose of devastation following Sullivan’s passing.

Looking down towards Victoria Embankment Gardens from the Strand

Together with W. S. Gilbert, Sullivan formed the duo Gilbert and Sullivan and the Savoy Theatre was built from the profits of this successful partnership. Naturally, it was not the performers themselves who were getting rich but their producer Richard D'Oyly Carte and he went on to build the Savoy Hotel right next to the theatre.

The Savoy Hotel

Peter of Savoy stands proudly above the iconic Art Deco entrance to the Savoy Hotel, marking the Savoy as one of the most recognisable Art Deco treasures in London. Check out the geometric steps leading down from the silver signage.

In my mind, this display always reminds me of the front of a car which would make sense in an era obsessed with planes, train and automobiles, when the march towards the future was inevitable and filled with the promise of technology. 

The Art Deco glass and chrome of the Savoy

Just under the Savoy sign, the road winds clockwise around a central fountain and cars drop off their passengers. Protected from the weather and other elements, you can find an almost unspoiled display of Art Deco glass and steel design.

Kaspar the Savoy Cat

No visit to the Savoy is complete without paying your respects to the topiary depiction of the famous Kaspar, the Savoy Cat. What a beautiful young specimen who no doubt prevented bad luck to many a Savoy guest. You can read a little bit more about how Kaspar warded off bad luck at the hotel

80 Strand from the side

Following our visit to the Savoy we wended our way towards the Adelphi Building. On the way, we were able to appreciate the side of the Shell Mex building, with the American eagle located about half way up.

Shell Mex House or 80 Strand is the iconic building with the clock on top that you can easily spot when standing on the Southbank on the other side of the Thames. It is featured in the first and last photos of this post and is so imposing that it is difficult to truly appreciate its beauty except from a distance.

Detail on the Adelphi Building

Finally, we made it to the Adelphi. This is one of my favourite Art Deco buildings in the world and one that I worked next door to for three years. Despite spending so long staring out the window at the building, I knew very little about it and enjoyed hearing about every little ornamentation, detail and statue from Yannick. The Adelphi truly is one of the modern wonders of the architectural world.

Looking up at the Adelphi Building

Nearly every surface on the building is filled with symbols of the Art Deco ethos, from bees and the pestle and mortar, representing the apothecary and advancements in medicine, to symbols of industry and technological advancement.

Mantel detail on the Adelphi Building

The Adelphi is in the middle of a massive refurbishment which is a pity because I have never seen the building looking so blackened. I am sure they will restore it to its white glory once the works are completed.

Adelphi statues

Once we had completed our exploration of the Art Deco buildings, we walked some distance towards Trafalgar Square before turning to look back. There it was, the other side of the iconic clock of Shell Mex House. Did you know that this clock is even bigger than the clock atop Elizabeth Tower (which you might know as Big Ben)?

The view of the other side of the clock on the Shell Mex building

Overall, I would say that Yannick’s Art Deco in the Strand walking tour is excellent and highly recommended. I worked in this area for three years and I was astonished by the amount of information I learned on the tour. As with all Yannick’s tours, the tour is really well researched and you get to learn not only about Art Deco but also about the history of the buildings before they took their present form.

Are you a fan of Art Deco? If so, which is your favourite Art Deco building?


Sunday, 7 June 2015

Exploring Royal Victoria Dock

The minute I stepped onto the platform at Canning Town, I began to feel the sheer energy and nervousness of the students around me. I like to call it the Morgue Train - the train from Canning Town to Custom House where ashen-faced students take their final journey before writing their exams at the ExCel centre. I wasn't nervous before I got onto that platform but I've decided I'm some sort of psychic sponge because I was a nervous wreck by the time I got off the train at ExCel.

So I decided to find a quiet place where I could plug in my earphones and listen to Alan Cumming read his book Not My Father's Son on Audible.

Royal Victoria Dock is really quite nice when you take the time to explore.

"Landed" a tribute to the workers of the Royal Docks from 1855-1983. Sculptor Les Johnson (2009). I took this photo straight into the sun so it didn't come out very well but I kind of like the silhouette effect.

This is Vulcan by Eduardo Paolozzi. I'm pretty sure this was erected after Paolozzi's death. I'd love to know the story behind that.

So did my little plan work? Well yes, a little too well. When the time came, I walked calmly into the exam hall and took my seat. I took a deep breath and told myself "I can do this" before opening up my paper. And then I realised that this was one of those papers, the papers my institute is notorious for with the 30% pass rates. I wanted an A but now I'll be satisfied with a pass. Anyway, onwards and upwards! My exam is over and I have a little bit of breathing space for a while. I'm hoping there is a lot more calm in this time and definitely a lot more exploration and photography.


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