Monthly Archives: September 2014

Go Pro’s in Go Ape

I’ve always said that I’d wanted to go to Go Ape. I’d always seen other people’s photos on Facebook, and thought to myself “Yeah, no problems, I’d rock at that”.

I literally didn’t even think of the height factor. What an idiot.

So with one of mine and Julien’s milestone anniversaries fast approaching (I shan’t say which one, due to our long and twisted road, surrounding what constitutes as a relationship over the past 3 years), I decided as ever that we should do something a little more interesting than the norm, and therefore thought a day at Go Ape would be the perfect day for us both.

With Go Pro’s strapped to our heads like the geeks that we are, we got off at Cockfosters tube, at the far end of both the Piccadilly Line, and God’s waiting room, and made our way to Trent Park.

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A team of smiley, helpful staff greeted us, in a small, no expense spared little timber hut, on the edge of the forest. They took our valuables and got us immediately harnessed up, and practising our placement of safety clips, onto the safety lines.

We’d booked on to the midday slot, where we were starting at the same time as a group of around 10 others, mainly parents and children, and one other couple. Our safety guide, Rhys, helpfully gave us a quick run-through of ascending the trees, and the house rules in general, and then we were off.

So, if you are not familiar with Go Ape, it is a series of, I’d say, obstacle courses in the sky. You ascend to the tree top canopies via a rope ladder, which leads to a wooden platform around the tree. You go from one tree to the next, via a variety of means, whether it be a simple rope bridge, or a set of silver hoops hanging from chains, which you need to precariously place your feet in, going from one to the next. After you’ve completed each crossing, you eventually reach a zip wire, which brings you back down to the ground. From here, you go to the next circuit, of which, in Trent Park’s Go Ape, there are five (including a practice one, each increasing in height and difficulty, as you progress.

So after the practise one, we started the second course, and as soon as I was up at the top of the rope ladder, I was instantly wracked with nerves. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you will see I’m scared of just about everything and anything, but one of the more outstanding fears is that of falling from a height.

I made my way very timidly along the first few crossings, until I reached the Tarzan Swing. The Tarzan Swing is exactly like what you may imagine, in that you clip your safety hooks to a main piece of rope and literally just hold it and swing into a large hanging net about five metres in front of you. When you reach this, you grab a hold of it, and scale across to the safety of the adjacent tree. This was TERRIFYING. However, also super fun. As soon as I’d got to the net, I felt like I just wanted to do it all over again.

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We chased through a couple more obstacles, until we got to the end of course two. Like with each course, the only way down was via the zip line. Julien went first and sped his way down to the bark chippings at the other end.

I was psyching myself up for my turn, and literally about to jump, when a small child behind me reminded me that I’d forgotten to attach one of the very important clips to the line. Thanking the 12 year old, I rearranged myself, and pushed myself off. Speeding through the air, high on the exhilaration of it all, I approached the landing area and forgot what I was told about stopping. So the landing, instead of being an elegant and smooth one like I’d wished, was in fact more about me screaming at Julien to get out the way, as I delved into a pile of bark chipping, which later I would discover, had found their way into my underwear with the sheer impact of my landing.

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Dusting ourselves off, we got up and entered the third course. As we ascended, the 12-year-old child, his sister and his mother were hot on our heels. They were the most beautiful, middle class and perfectly behaved children, so naturally I had to keep apologising for my shouting of profanities as I consistently nearly fell from every obstacle possible, whilst two little angelic faces stared at me in shock and horror.

By this point I was getting braver, and felt nearly invisible. You may think it odd that I’d decided to visit Go Ape for something fun to do, with a relative fear of heights, however I am of the opinion that if I’m scared of something, I need to do it, or else I’ll lead one hell of a boring life. Bar spiders. I can stay being afraid of those.

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After completing the course of obstacles, the way down was another zip wire; however this one had a skateboard running parallel beneath. The idea was to jump on to the skateboard and ride it half way down, rather like Marty McFly from the Back to the Future movies. I managed to instead straddle it in some weirdly unachievable way, and spin round a few times, before again, ending up in the bark chippings laughing to myself. Julien on the other hand, nailed it.

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Onto the fourth course we went. At this point we were level pegging with a different family of three. We’d gone from one lovely mother, and her two polite children, to a bit of a gravelly voiced, chain-smoking mother, with her little girl, and incredibly annoying and boisterous son, called Jack. Jack; who proceeded to tell me I was a massive chicken, and that girls suck. Resisting the urge to push him from the trees, I politely let them go ahead, as they clearly wanted to take the course faster than I did.

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Course four was a little more challenging, and higher up. This one involved crawling through a series of barrels, which were not connected to one another, and various obstacle course components that required more dexterity and balance. Again, the course ended with another big zip line, which with more swearing and profanities was a lot of fun.

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And with that, it was time to take on the fifth and final course. Standing at the bottom of the rope ladder and looking upwards to the first platform, it was more than apparent that this course was considerably higher than the previous four. As I climbed up, I could see my hands physically shaking. We slowly used the first few crossings, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling of terrible uneasiness and fear that had somehow taken residence in my chest.

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We came to another Tarzan Swing. This one was at least double the distance of the original Tarzan Swing we had used on the second course. I opted to go first, and connected all my carabiners to the Tarzan rope. I stood there for a couple of minutes, hyping myself up some more to jump. I could hear more kids scrambling up trees behind me, and suddenly felt such an immense pressure to jump and stop holding them all up. At this point, the fear just completely over took me, and infested itself within me, deep. I couldn’t move and was frozen, and started crying like a big old wimp. Julien had to un-attach and then reattach me to the safety lines. I look back at that now, and kick myself, however I’d just told myself I was terrified so badly of jumping; looking down and seeing tree tops, beneath the tree that I was already in, and listening to little shit kid, Jack, rampaging behind me like Taz the Tasmanian Devil, no doubt on his second go round course five.

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Thank The Lord, there was an alternative route, which in all honesty was probably not a lot easier than the Tarzan Swing option, however we took that one none the less.

At this point I was shaking a great deal, and had lost all nerve and bravery that I was able to summon before. They say not to look down when you’re scared of heights, however it doesn’t help that you HAVE to look down in order to know where you’re placing your footing.

Regardless, I “wussed” my way round, as Julien kindly told me afterwards, and made it to the end, where we climbed an even taller tree, and got on the final zip line. This was the biggest and the longest, and certainly the most fun. I didn’t want it to end, screaming with joy the whole way down.

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And with that, Go Ape was finished. We had a great time, and for around £30 a head I feel like it’s reasonably priced for what you get. You’re not limited to doing each course once, and you are allowed to revisit them as many times as you wish within your day. Our time went so quickly; we’d started at midday and weren’t finished until around 16.00, however it felt like a lot less time.

It’s very energetic when you’re there, even without realising. For example, when you scale the large hanging net, it takes a lot of upper body strength to keep yourself pulled taught and close to the net, without dropping. When you reach the end of the entire course, you may not feel tired, but when you take a moment to sit, you realise actually, you have been very active and it is tiresome.

Feeling suitably sleepy and happy with a fun filled day, we walked back to Cockfosters Underground, to get the train back to civilisation, not before posing for a childish photo.

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We returned to Battersea, where we had a lay down, and scrubbed up, before on to the more traditional part of celebrating our anniversary…dinner.

I’d chosen a restaurant on Drury Lane, London, called Sarastro. I’d been before with family, and it’s this beautiful little restaurant situated in the heart of the West End. The restaurant therefore has a strong theatre theme, with puppets and masks planted all around. They also have these beautiful isolated balconies looking over the rest of the linear restaurant, which are apparently very difficult to get in to, as they are extremely popular.

When making the reservation, I’d mentioned it was a very special occasion, which it was, and requested we sit in one of these balconies. Sure enough, when we arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted very warmly, with open arms and big smiles, and taken to our private balcony.

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We were seated in the quaintest little private box; obviously mean to recreate that of a box at a theatre. The waiters climbed stairs to show us menus and to take our orders whilst we looked down to the main thoroughfare of the restaurant, where an extraordinarily charismatic four string quartet played for us, and had all the patrons in a mix of fits of laughter and sheer admiration for talent.

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After half an hour, the quartet band was finished, and on came two opera singers. These ladies were remarkably talented, and we were all in awe of this, however we couldn’t help but honestly think it was a bit strong for background entertainment whilst dining. This lasted another half an hour, and as I say, they were much appreciated and admired for their talents.

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Both the quartet band and the opera singers, during their respective times performing, made an effort to circulate through the restaurant, and up the stairs to sing / play personally to each of the tables, which was a really lovely touch, and got everyone involved.

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Sarastro have this theme every Monday, also including a set menu. It was around £30 per person for a starter and a main.

The starter was simply amazing; a selection of small Mediterranean dishes, from freshly made hummus to cured meats, olives and beautifully calorific fried cheese shapes.

We reluctantly reminded each other that we’d also ordered a main course each, so must try and restrain from eating everything o the table. I’d ordered a duck comfit, whilst Julien had ordered a lamb shank. I hate to say it, but Julien won this time round with his ordering. His meal was absolutely amazing; the meat just fell from the bone so easily, and was served with these beautiful Dauphinoise potatoes. Mine was nice; none the less, and by the time we’d scooped our plate loads into our mouths, we were certainly not wanting desert – something which is almost unheard of with myself and Julien.

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All around our little balcony area, lovers had carved their names, and quotes into the walls, as almost a tradition. After a couple of glasses of wine, we thought we’d jump on the bandwagon also. Unfortunately, the couple of glasses of wine that enabled me to make the decision to carve our names, also enabled me to spell Julien’s name wrong, which wasn’t the most romantic thing in the world. However; I guess it sticks with our theme of unconventional romance.

We were all set to leave, and had asked for the bill, when a waiter approached us with a slice of cake, with a candle sticking out, singing “Happy Birthday”. We went along with it, laughing at their assumption of “special occasion’ translating to birthday, and not anniversary. So I guess we did have desert after all.

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And with that, we left, took a stroll along Waterloo Bridge, and back to the station.

We were shattered. We’d had the perfect anniversary. Flinging from trees, getting wood chippings in our underwear and getting all grubby, coming home and dressing up all fancy for a lovely meal out, and now home to bed.

That night we slept for around 11 hours. It doesn’t get better than that.

“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” It’s time to go Back to the Future.

All the way back in June, there was a big announcement for all sci-fi nerds and geeks. Hill Valley, California, the place where the Back to the Future franchise took place, was coming to England. Courtesy of Secret Cinema, a team of creative types would be working hard to recreate the fictional town, for films buffs to step into, fully immersing themselves in the 1950’s flair, eventually ending the evening with watching Back to the Future.

At this point Julien was on a work trip to Ireland, where he was writing a piece for the Daily Mail about the filming locations for Game of Thrones; so I thought to myself, as a treat to him I’d grab us a couple of tickets as a surprise.

If you’re reading this and tried to book tickets at the original sale, you will remember the sheer frustration and tediousness as Secret Cinema decided upon using a server that could not handle the volume of customers, who clearly would be trying to book tickets for an event with such a cult classic status and following. After sitting for the majority of my working day, at my desk, staring at the same screen telling me my booking was processing and to sit tight and not refresh, there was finally a message saying that no one managed to buy tickets, and to try again the next day; when they’d be using See Tickets instead.

So 24 hours later, I found myself with great ease, booking two tickets for Secret Cinema Presents Back to the Future. Success. Finally.

I told Julien about the surprise just a few hours later, seeing as A) I was super excited to hear his reaction, and B) I was worried he’d go and book himself tickets, not knowing I had.

Being a MASSIVE Back to the Future nerd, of course he geeked out straight away and started planning his outfit out. Even though we’d been told the theme for the night would be 50s, as that is the era that the movie mainly revolves around, Julien opted to plan his outfit around Back to the Future Part II, specifically Marty McFly’s pretty rad hat, jacket, hover board and of course, those sick Nike Mags.

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Julien’s friend, Fern Blevins, had done an amazing job turning an old, unwanted bag; into a fully-fledged, legit looking hover board, as if straight from the film itself. It looked incredible, and she had been up until the early hours the night before, desperately trying to get it ready for him on time. With this to truly finish off the look, we knew we were going to look so (Marty Mc) Fly.

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We had tickets for the opening night; the 24th July, and we were both excited beyond words. The plan was for Julien to meet me from work, at Highbury and Islington, and for us to catch the London Overground to Hackney Wick. Everything was set, it was a baking hot day, and I’d asked to finish work an hour early. As I went to collect my things from my desk at exactly 15.52, my phone lit up.

“Tonight’s Secret Cinema: back to the Future is cancelled. We apologise for the inconvenience & will send further details via email. SEE Tickets & Secret Cinema.”

Bearing in mind we were meant to be at Hackney Wick at 17.00, I instantly thought this was some kind of hoax. However I then received an email with the same message. And of course, social media was purely erupting with anger.

So with the knowledge that this was for real, and a deflated heart, I called Julien to deliver the bad news. Bless him, he was in West London, where no one would have any idea about Secret Cinema happening on the other side of London, and a sad little Marty McFly had to begrudgingly get off the train, and head back home to change.

I immediately requested that we attend on a date at the end of August, and therefore be guaranteed that they sort this out in time and we could go.

That night Julien and myself decided to drink a lot of cocktails in the sun to try and make it all better.

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So fast-forward nearly one month to the 21st August. We are the proud owners of two tickets for that night. We wake up, excitedly, and go downstairs to cook ourselves a fancy breakfast. Lets have omelette, we say. It’s Back to the Future day.

I go to my hairdresser in Mayfair, Jimo, who runs the magnificent Salako salon on George Street. Being someone who literally gets told off by their boyfriend for not brushing their hair when they get out of bed in the morning, I just knew I’d need a helping hand in achieving that 1950’ s look.

Jimo is a literal dream. I’d discovered him through a Time Out London offer that turned up in my inbox one day. I went along for a haircut and was blown away by not only his talent, however also his experiences, who he’d worked with, his kind nature and hospitality. It’s not a general experience like many other hairdressers you visit. He makes you feel like no one or nothing else is more important than your hair, and he works his magic.

So anyway, after Google Image searching for the perfect hairstyle, and agreeing I probably wasn’t going to be looking like Scarlett Johansen (he’s a hairdresser, not a magician / surgeon) we agreed on an extravagant French Pleat.

In just over an hour I was done, and felt a million dollars.   I’d changed into my outfit, a yellow dress, and a red handkerchief round my neck, teamed with a vintage American baseball jacket draped over my shoulders, and very dramatic red lipstick, with almost Winehouse style eyeliner flicks. Walking through Marble Arch during a Thursday rush hour, I certainly got funny looks, however, I kept telling myself I looked fabulous and just shook it off.

I got home to find my boy all dressed up as Marty McFly, and looking great in his whole get up.

We grabbed some tinnies for the road, and off headed to Hackney Wick. The vibe on the train, as we got closer was mixed. The many of us that were donned in our 50’s outfits were all excitedly looking around, giving one another almost a secret nod, as if to say “Hill Valley? Me too”, whilst everyone else was thinking “what the hell train am I on?” or even “Oh just a normal day of eccentric East London idiots, dressing in order to show off”. The latter being the most likely, to be fair.

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Anyway, we got off at Hackney Wick, and were directed across the bridge, and down the road to the Olympic Park. Already, the actors were out in force to recreate the feeling that we’d suddenly time travelled back to the 1950’s.   Instead of having your usual security asking you to stick to the side of the path and allow other pedestrians to pass, they had actors in true 50’s American Cops uniforms shouting and yelling for us to get into file, and for us to put away our “calculators”, meaning our iPhones.

After a swift queue we were finally at the front, and declaring we had no phones or cameras on us. Which of course, was massive lie. We’d done our research via the different hashtags on social media, and worked out people were certainly sneaking in different devices to take photos, therefore making us even more determined to get footage. Even more of a reason to not want to listen to the rules, was how much we’d been messed around with the whole cancellation saga. So screw it. We had cameras and we were going to use them.

In we went, like excited little children and ran up the ramp and round the corner, to a big sign greeting us to “Hill Valley, a Nice Place to Live”. Just like in the movies. We passed all the little bungalow huts that depicted scenes from the 50’s, to which we would later return.

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We walked past these and into the main area of Hill Valley. It was a square, with the infamous clock tower being the central focus, which would later display the movie, projected onto the front. Directly opposite this was Ed’s Diner, which served amazingly strong and fabulous adult milkshakes containing liquor. Along the two parallel sides connecting the clock tower to Ed’s Diner, there were a series of shops, including a florists, a Post Office and such like, broken up by Hill Valley High School. We opted for this as we heard the music blaring out.   We had to queue for a very short while, and quickly went into the school hall, where the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance was taking place.

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Again, there were incredible actors / dancers who were talking to Julien about his outfit and how they’d never seen anything like it before in the 50’s. They’d then suddenly break out into synchronised dancing; not having previously given any indication that they were processionals.

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We had a bit of a dance, had our pictures taken, explored some more, and then decided to ride the big Ferris wheel. We only had to queue a short while, and we were at the front. We got on, and as we started gradually escalating higher in the sky, I remembered how I have a fear of even Ferris wheels and how safe they are, which of course is embarrassingly silly. However, this did make for some great sneaky GoPro footage, as I was squealing with joy and excitement on the wheel.

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After some more eating and copious amounts of drinking and dancing, it was time to settle down to the film. We squeezed in any space we could find on the floor, facing the clock tower and town hall; which was harder than you’d imagine. The serious film goers had been saving their seating area on the grass right from the beginning; which I guess is fair enough in a way, however also, they’d completely missed out on the essence of visiting Hill Valley and checking out all the amazing parts of the re-enactment of the town from the 50’s, and to be quite honest should have just gone to an open air cinema to watch it. Anyway, these die-hard fans were very arsey about letting the people that were dancing sit down; as that was ruining their “area” they’d been camping out in. The film started, and after a few huffs and puffs and groans from certain people around us, we decided to go and sit in Ed’s Diner at the back, and watch from the seats there. Which of course suited us just fine, as we sipped away on our alcoholic milk shakes, and laughed, joked and watched the movie without disturbing anyone.

Whilst the movie played, actors were employed to act scenes out in sequence, on the stage underneath the projected film. They did this so well, and even ran between audience members. They also had cars going around the audience, including the DeLorean – which of course excited Julien beyond belief.

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At the end, during the infamous scene where Marty McFly needs to get back to his real time life, in the future, and The Doc is trying to link the clock tower cable up to meet the lightning bolt, actors were indeed playing this out at the same time. Credit to Secret Cinema for this part, massively. The Doc manages to zip wire down and over the heads of the crowd, whilst Marty drives the DeLorean back to the future, leaving fire skid parks on the pavement.

The movie finished, and instantly came on a 50’s jive bands, and everyone got up and danced. Inside Hill Valley High, another band was playing and people were dancing in there too. It was literally like being taken back in time, and nearly everyone was getting really into the spirit of things and having a wonderful time.

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We went into the little huts around the back of Ed’s Diner, where each one depicted a little taster of a home from the era. With old décor, and pictures of James Dean on walls, it was a very sweet little extra touch to the set.

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With the night soon coming to an end, we took ourselves away, and started making the walk back to the station to go home.

We’d had SUCH lovely evening, and left extremely happy customers. Secret Cinema, without a doubt, seriously messed up with the pre organisation of the event, and I feel the general consensus is the people who flew over from other countries for the original events, have not been compensated for air fares or for hired hotel rooms, which I do think is massively cheeky, however I just feel lucky enough to have been able to make a different date alternatively.

Aside from that, it was done incredibly well, coming from someone who liked the movie but wasn’t a fanatic, and also from Julien’s perspective as someone who is a phenomenal fan of the franchise.

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I can honestly say I hope to experience another Secret Cinema at some point in the future.  Bar the initial mess ups, it was an incredible evening.