Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Solutions For A Summer Silhouette

If, like me, you've failed to get that bikini body in time for the summer sun, you may be tempted by one of the following Chinese products – if you can handle the heat that is...

A few weeks ago, I was struck by a small news piece that more discerning readers would have easily missed. Travelling through China some years back it was hard not to take note of the bizarre array of novelty items available on the market. I came away with buckle on flashing heelies I then carried from country to country for several months before putting them into storage never to be used. I still see the appeal of my redundant purchase but hairy tights?

And if you've shaved your pegs but still can't stomach that much flesh on show, the face-kini may be your answer. Ensuring anonymity allows you to let it all hang out:

Protecting an area often overlooked during the application of suntan lotion, the "beach balaclava" will also warn off any embarrassing and unwanted attention - as long as you're surrounded by fellow wearers. Otherwise, expect some bemused stares and wary reactions... Or why not go wild and adopt both crazes?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Extreme Cultural Diversity In The UK

For the last decade I've been all about world domination, wanting to sample as many different cultures as humanely possible. Part of my global takeover has led to a real interest in food from foreign parts; a result of one of our many trips, has been a love of Polish cuisine. Since visiting Krakow some years back, I'm all about Polish food and have recently been trying a variety of Polish restaurants in West Yorkshire's “City Of Dreams”, Bradford.

My first stop was Balanga on Goodwin Street that began as a real leap of faith and has since remained interesting due to its restrictive time restraints and exceedingly cheap highly authentic menu. Although grotty from the outside, Balanga has a genuine feel with billboards in the toilets covered in Polish adverts, multi-lingual menus and bar staff rather endearingly actively warning clientele they only serve Polish food.

Several Balanga food babies later, it was time for a change – if only to locate somewhere that serves food after 7pm! Idly wandering the streets of Bradford through a previously undiscovered gay quarter with ex-Bradders colleagues, we stumbled across Ambrozja on Sunbridge Road. At 7.30pm on a Friday night, Ambrozja was deserted but boasted low prices and food worth revisiting.

My final Polish discovery was Staropolska Restaurant on Manningham Lane. Only recently opened, outside looked inviting but inside was immediately off-putting with staff telling us on arrival there'd be a party later, implying we might not want to stay. The entire menu was in Polish with no translations, making ordering an interesting experience. Pointing to several dishes on the menu we were told no translation was possible or given dubious explanations that seemed to solely entail staff members pointing to the stomach region. Even the drinks were inaccessible or unrecognisable with a whole listed section being unavailable and Western drinks like “Bulmers” being listed as “Blumbers”.

Amazing food and reasonable prices aside, dining in Staropolska was reminiscent of eating in a foreign country. Even our apres-food walk around Hanover Square felt like we were no longer in the UK with the current extreme heat and entire families wearing tunics and trousers while playing cricket in a central shared garden area.

Bradford may not be the city of dreams but it sure is a place of extreme cultures with entirely Polish speaking enclaves right next to Indian/Pakistani communities, making such culinary adventures possible a mere twenty minute train journey from home. Never in my life have I felt so far from home, despite being so close to it. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Days Of University Past

With age, people get more and more nostalgic, reflecting back to the "glory days". Last weekend, a dual Birthday celebration saw me embarking on an Otley run over a decade since I last attempted it. Unlike the Fresher's Week crawl my eighteen year-old self undertook, there was no fancy dress involved and we didn't start until 3.30 after an exceedingly hearty gourmet pizza lunch.

Our old fogey's pub crawl was dominated by shared jugs of Pimm's and lots of moaning about rowdy stag parties. Our pace had definitely slowed but it was good to be reunited with an old friend again and reassuring to see that although our approach had definitely changed some things hadn't. We may not have managed the full 18 pubs but stops in the nine we decided to make from the traditional 1999/2000 route led to encounters with increasingly inebriated stag groups.

The Taps and Skyrack were curiously male-dominated while The Oak proved ever popular and The Hyde Park particularly rowdy. The Eldon seemed to have undergone a chain make-over and pleasingly served up pint-sized bottles of Hooch – yes, it is back on the market and apparently has been for the last six months!

Making it to The Packhorse was a particularly sentimental stop when we discovered it's still the rockers' pub and bands playing “back in the day” continue performing to familiar faces. After the disappointment of both Leeds University bars being closed, the near-empty Fenton was a more disturbing fleeting visit with its DJ's pumping tunes, calling for a quick shot stop before moving on to the still strangely endearing Strawbs.

Although it lacked clientele, The Dry Dock seemed to be in a time-warp and rounded-off a successful trip down memory lane before some dirty takeaway and the ever-reliable Fab Cafe. To our relief, the play list in Fab remains very much the same, as does its “anything goes” vibe but I was saddened to see an old Leeds' character looking worst for wear with age. A final sneaky blue WKD managed to transport me back to happier days, leaving me hunkering after a triumphant Aftershock. Now I need to find somewhere that serves it and people willing to join me...

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Bare Necessities

What do films like The Notebook and Clueless have in common? Both are of course fairly slushy and appeal to romantics but are also perfect examples of the current growing trend for theatre companies to adapt films into stage musicals. Having watched Ghost: The Musical in the last week at The Grand during its UK tour, I've been reflecting on what makes a successful adaptation.

The sketchy vocal quality of the leads (with the exception of Wendy Mae Brown who plays Oda Mae) and series of uncatchy songs in Ghost: The Musical made it a disappointment. David A. Stewart of the Eurythmics co-wrote the music and lyrics with the film's original screenplay writer, Bruce Joel Rubin and American songwriter, Glen Ballard - with this in mind, I had expected to leave humming one of the show's infectious tunes; alas, each song seemed to run into the next and added little to the story, seeming to merely act as a means of lengthening its running time. With this in mind, reading reports of the show's previous standing ovations, puzzled me – the only people standing at the end of Wednesday's show seemed to be folk preempting a fast escape from the theatre's sub-tropical temperature.

In the days since the show, I've found myself pondering what makes a good musical stage adaptation. Thinking over musicals of films I've previously enjoyed, the answer seems to lie in the film's original content. John Water's 1988 film Hairspray, early 90s' film Sister Act and Roger Corman's 60's flick, Little Shop Of Horrors, all made perfect stage adaptations, precisely because they all already lent themselves to catchy show tunes - music was already central to their plots or they had easily recognisable soundtracks.

Screen to stage adaptations are of course popular with each film's already existing fan base, allowing enthusiasts to see favourite characters come alive in the flesh. Films with cult status give fans a sense of unity, providing die-hard devotees the chance to recite lines in unison with the actors and in doing so, add to the atmosphere of each live performance; Shows like Fame and Dirty Dancing are a case in point.... Hearing fans singalong to popular tunes or cry out lines from the film like “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” add humour to the experience and make you feel like you're among friends in a theatre full of like-minded allies.

Although memories of Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost transport me back to the more optimistic days of my youth, watching the musical reminded me of a teenage mistake. Back in 1990 after the film came out, I foolishly spent well-saved pocket money on the film's soundtrack; I was disappointed to discover that Unchained Melody was the only vocalised song on a predominantly instrumental soundtrack that sounded like a mishmash of special effects. If I'd paid more attention during the film, perhaps I'd have been less surprised and saved myself some money.

To me, this whole experience seems to merely highlight that plot is more important than fluff and sometimes it's better to stick to the bare necessities. With its impressive special effects and sets, Ghost: The Musical would have made a fantastic play, captivating viewers through its story alone. However, despite this rather negative experience, I'm still planning on trying to catch the stage versions of Once and The Commitments. As music is already key to both, I'm expecting to prove my hypothesis...