LAND OF THE LIONS

Step off the tube and into the Gujarat state of India at London Zoo’s latest attraction, Land of the Lions.

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One male and three females have taken residency at the newest enclosure. Their new crib has room to roam and roar; but some privacy can be found in hidden caved outlets. (A lion likes a bit of Netflix time too you know. And yes Mufasa and Simba are up there in their list of favourites).

Having not ticked India off my travel bucket list yet, I can’t give marks to actual accuracy. But the South Asian majestic and authentic balance the designers have painted throughout the Lion’s new digs, certainly have a way of taking you out of Regent’s Park. Replica street markets, a food hut, carts, tuk tuks and shops complete the Indian wonderland – where attention to detail has been absolutely nailed. It’s as much fun exploring the intricate side of ZSL’s take on Gujarat as it is seeing the beautiful big cats explore their new habitat.

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We were lucky enough to swing by the pride at feeding time. The ladies did Beyoncé proud by being all independent in owning and chomping up the animal carcasses that were on the menu. It was just a shame that the arm of the keeper didn’t have the same power when it came to throwing the flesh beyond the Indian moat surrounding their territory.

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The main lad Bhanu was dominating his man den during our visit, so we didn’t actually get up close and personal with him. But when walking along one of the bridge walkways in the Gujarat compound, we were hit with terror and amazement when what we thought were really cool sound effects, happened to be Bhanu just voicing his thoughts on Donald Trump. His deep tones echoed through the entire Indian state and sent excitable chills and panic right through you. In a few month’s time, the Gir Lion Lodge Cabins open their doors to the public for sleepovers, so I’d imagine those roars will make for excellent alarm clocks.

With glass panels on several look-out points, Land of the Lions is probably as real as it’s ever going to get when rubbing snouts with jungle royalty. And did it #crackmybitchface? It certainly did. Having a face off with four of nature’s most stunning creations means that it’s pretty hard not to be blown away. Namaste Heidi, Indi, Rubi and Bhanu. It’s a pleasure to have you.

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A LIVE PODCAST RECORDING: WATERSTONES FITZROVIA

It’s no secret: Books get me giddy. So does wine. And when you put the two together? I don’t remember anything I’ve read. So I can’t review Waterstones in Tottenham Court Road. Sorry.

Okay, so I didn’t get that bladdered in Waterstones – I do have some form of self-control. As it happens, I wasn’t drawn to the venue solely for its alcohol supply. The lower ground floor is the happy home to lots of cool events and talks, which very nicely coincides with its reservoir of the rouge stuff.

The event that I was honoured to be in the audience of was a live podcast recording, with two absolute feminist icons of the moment, Emma Gannon and Cherry Healey. And if you’re yet to hear Emma’s audible instalments under the same title as her book, where have you been? She’s absolutely smashing the digi-generation, giving raw, intellectual and inspiring chats with global #girlbosses. Both Cherry and Emma have strung thousands of sentences together to form their books – and in a world where women are finally giving sexism the middle finger, their timing couldn’t be more perfect.

‘Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online’ is Emma Gannon’s fabulous masterpiece. And if you happened to be a youngster in the nineties, her digital throwback will take you deeper and further than any Thursday has, ever. It’s completely relatable. Her words have the power to believe that you’re actually really good mates – until you snap out of your book bubble and realise that it’s her memoirs that have been your sidekick for the past week. Not her.

Cherry Healey’s ‘Letters To My Fanny’ is a heart-warming thank you to something that women should cherish – their body. Cherry hits the nail on the head with the love-hate relationship women seem to have with their frames. Her empowering words make you feel like your not alone in a world where we’re brainwashed with make-believe perceptions of perfect. As she very openly shares her experiences be prepared to feel, again, like your besties for 288 pages.

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The downstairs of Waterstones in Tottenham Court Road was the perfect place for them to bring their worlds to life. If you’ve watched any of Cherry’s documentaries, her integrity and warmth that you’d expect filled the room – as she and Emma turned a relaxed interview into a friendly feminist chinwag about all things growing up online.

We were a gathering of around 30 people – though it has the capacity for 200 standing. But the wallpaper of novels and autobiographies means that it’ll always feel like an intimate space.

Did it #crackmybitchface? Without a shadow of a doubt! These two awe-inspiring femme idols make you feel like you can take on the world. What’s not to smile about? Plus when a cheeky tipple is in reach and you’re surrounded by wisdom, there’s not much more you can ask of an event space.

I’M A SELECTIVE SMILER…

Smiling isn’t on any national curriculum. But apparently, it’s something some folk naturally do. (I know right, who knew?)

Alongside your birth certificate, you’re not given a smile guidebook. When you start school, you don’t have to sit an exam that analyses your ability to express a constantly upbeat expression. And when growing up, your parents didn’t take you to the doctor to explain their concerns for the disappearance of your smirk. You know why? Because there are no rules.

So let me ask you this: Why do complete and utter strangers deem it necessary to request a smile from my face when it’s in rest mode? Just because it made a decision early on in life for said expression to portray a sullen bitch, it’s not an invitation for people to demand positivity.

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In a society where gender equality imbalance is being fought globally, it should surprise me (but sadly doesn’t) that 97.4% of these comments are put to me by men. Remarks for me to cheer up or smile more are just tiresome. Why are they interfering with me when I’m in autopilot? Why does it matter if I’m smiling or not? Why do they think they deserve to see me sport a big fat grin?

Eleven times out of ten, the reason behind my moody demeanour is Chronic Bitch Face. But to all those that aren’t usually a victim to CBF’s glare, there’s going to be a reason behind their glum appearance. And I can guarantee you now, that reason is going to be none of your business. You jeering ‘Gis us a smile love’ is going to be the last thing they need. A bad day, fresh from an argument, a grievance or hearing disappointing news – there are so many factors that contribute to your expression. And when it’s not Chronic Bitch Face, smiling is going to be the last thing on their mind. So how about you butt the eff out alright?

I’m bored of people telling me that “it might never happen” if I don’t cheer up. I mean, what do you say to that? How are you meant to respond when such words are uttered in your direction? Over the years I’ve experimented with replies: Fake smirks. Rolled eyes. Verbal excuses. But now I come to think of it – do they even warrant acknowledgement for their rudeness? No. It’s my face and I’ve come to terms with the fact I look like a bitch when I gaze. You should too.

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Yes. I’d go as far as saying it’s a form of harassment. And Tatyana Fazlalizadeh thought the same, when four years ago she started the art series Stop Telling Women To Smile. She didn’t stop there. Because the issue of street harassment towards women lies much deeper than this. Posters of her work above can be seen around the world, with strong, simple and clear messages. It’s unwanted attention. Uninvited comments. An invasion of personal space. We’re going about our own business. If I needed a daily reminder to smile, I’d just set a reminder on my phone. (If there isn’t already an app for it, Apple, you heard it hear first.)

And riddle me this: Why do men not pick up on the miserable faces of other men? Guys get moody. Their faces show it. So surely they should be on the receiving end to one of your “be positive” jibes, no? Whether they’re fellow CBF sufferers (yes, they do exist – Kanye West) or are just peeved that they lost at a game of Fifa, their pissed off look can go by unnoticed and they’re off the hook. They can get away without having their concentration broken by someone they’ve never met before. But your facial expression shouldn’t fall into a double standard trap. Not in this day and age.

That’s the thing with CBF. You could be thinking about a new puppy you’re on your way to pick up, or that funny thing Lucy did at the weekend or even that meme that was just shared in your group Whatsapp. But on the outside, your face just says vengeance.

In my books, that’s totally fine. There are no laws that depict how your face should appear when in a daydream bubble. And it really grinds my gears (making that look of vengeance intentional) when nosey bystanders burst it.

 

 

 

ALADDIN: THE MUSICAL

To this day, a magic lamp complete with Genie has always been top of my Christmas list. And though my wishes change on a daily basis depending on my level of hunger, one thing that doesn’t is my love Disney’s classic Arabian fairy tale.

When I heard that Prince Ali was heading to town, I knew that I had to see him. So it wasn’t a matter of if I’d go… It was when. And I can confirm that I wasn’t disappointed.

DISCLAIMER ALERT: I promise I’ll do my best to not give away too many spoilers.

First thing’s first – the real heroes that should take a bow are the production team. Attention to detail? On another level. Props, special effects and lighting? Nailed. Set design? Out of this world. Words alone can only go so far when attempting to describe this work of theatrical genius – with a special nod to when you’re taken inside the cave with Al himself. I mean lets just say there’s enough gold to give Kanye a second shot at the Forbes rich list. The whole set glistened from start to finish – it’s the kind of stuff Magpie dreams are made of.

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The first time I saw Genie appear, I honestly had to shake my head and look hard to work out how they made his emergence from the lamp so realistic! He really did steal the show. His take on the character that Robin Williams made so lovable in the first place raised the Prince Edward ceilings – and also took elements that teetered on the edge of pantomime into full-on West End spectacular. His singing, aura and stage presence meant that the interval was spent researching where this wish-granting legend had come from.

Love’s young dream was brought to life by Aladdin and Jasmine – who certainly demonstrated they could hold a note or two, but didn’t quite bring as much as Trevor Dion Nicholas did as Genie. I’d like to say that the chemistry between them was enough to light Ababwa (if it were a real place) but sadly it felt a little forced. All of your favourite songs were there – alongside a couple that felt they were just there to fill an outfit change or pad out the sequence – I mean, Proud Of Your Boy? Very odd.

Yes, a couple of adaptations had been made and there was no pet monkey – apparently Marcel from friends had prior engagements. Iago’s  parrot to human transformation was quite a success too – after all, what would Jafar be without a sidekick?

One last special mention has to go to the true magic of the entire show, so lads: take note. If in life, you ever find a way of getting your hands on a magic carpet, TAKE IT. Say yes. Don’t look back. And you’ll be romantically sorted for the rest of time. I think I speak on behalf of all ovaries in the theatre when I say if I were Jasmine, I’d be putty too. The lighting, the song, the moment – it’s the stuff cupid thrives on.

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But the real question on Arabia’s lips: Did it #crackmybitchface?

A million percent yes. It’s Aladdin: In front of your eyes for crying out loud! London has to be one of the luckiest cities in the world right now with this playing in the West End, so whilst it has residency here – book it. Because it’s the closest you’ll ever get to meeting a blue giant. You will not regret it.

DINO SNORES FOR GROWN-UPS

Think of the coolest thing you’d like to do in London. Got it? Okay. Now I’m about to trump all over that and blow your prehistoric-obsessed minds:

How about a night sleeping under the infamous bones of Dippy? Just to caveat, this isn’t a romantic affair. Besides, I can’t imagine spooning a skeleton would be that comfy. (No hard-on puns intended.)

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Whether they were inspired by Ben Stiller’s antics, or felt like giving the extinct creatures something that wouldn’t have been around in their day… A sleepover at the Natural History Museum welcomes guests with several events throughout the year. The kids got it first. So there were one or two alterations that had to be made to make it a little less PG. Cue the alcohol and the appropriately-inappropriate talks: I give you Dino Snores for adults.

Predator tip number 1: Get there early. Let’s face it; you’re up against a load of wannabe Paleontologists. And let me tell you – they are as punctual as you think.

Once you’re checked in, you’re given a foam mattress and tokens for a welcome drink. Seeing as it’s a rather pricey affair, it would have been nice if more than one beverage was included – at least a tipple with the dinner too?

Predator tip number 2: Pick an alcove and go back for a second foam mattress. Alcoves are more secluded and you’re more likely to win when it comes to the fun game of sleeping bag hide and seek at 5am. And to the latter point, they have tonnes of spare foam mattresses, so once the last of the troops is checked in, staff are happy to give out extra to make your back a little happier.

The rules? Have fun. Don’t get too drunk. And no ”doing it like they do it on the Discovery Channel”… Enough said. Although you could argue that seeing as half of the creatures inside the chambers of the National History Museum are extinct, they weren’t “doing it” enough.

Predator tip number 3: Book under a last name that is towards the ‘a’ end of the alphabet. You’re split into three different groups according to names, each representing a prehistoric era. We were a ‘T’. And that unfortunately meant that we didn’t get seated for our three-course meal until 10pm. And by that point I most certainly resembled a carnivore at breaking point. They knew who was in which group prior to the evening. So a little note in the FAQ email advising those in the late diner’s group that having a snack before arriving will prevent you becoming a ravenous raptor, would not have gone a miss.

Whilst the rest of the fossil fanatics were dining, we were taken to the first activity – an insect sex show. After seeing parts of a fly’s anatomy I thought I would go by life without ever confronting, it was time for a personal highlight – gin tasting. We delved back through the plantations and history of the Juniper, on a journey that’s destination was sampling some of mother’s ruins finest hard stuff.

That set us up perfectly for the Ugly Animal stand up comedy. The comedian did a great job and got mammoth laughs. I’ll go as far to say that even the Stegosaurus cracked a rib. And the staff were NOT happy about it to say the least. My chuckles were short lived though. As my stomach took matters into its own hands when it announced its hunger to the rest of the group. Perhaps taking audience participation a little bit too seriously.

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We were sat at 10pm and received our mains at around quarter past. Though the food was nice, it was so late by this point I couldn’t really appreciate it for what it was – so perhaps someone that dined early could correct me about the meal.

Predator tip number 4: Pack a onesie! After devouring our food, it was time to change into something far more appropriate and don our furry all animal costumes – as many others had already beaten us to.

It has to be said; walking around the Natural History Museum at this point was rather surreal. Dressed in a onesie and taking part in a life drawing class where the model was an ancient giant sloth as the midnight hour was looming… Whilst others took part in a quiz or a creepy crawlies tasting session?! I mean, you can see why the event is so popular.

At this point, I took it upon myself to have a cheeky half hour power nap, ready and rejuvenated for the movie marathon that saw you through to the early hours. My alarm was a beautiful harpist, who happened to be playing the main theme tune to everyone’s favourite dinosaur movie. It was time.

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We watched Goldblum battle his way through attacks with nature’s first reptiles and then decided to turn in. Heading back to our sleeping bags, we were extra careful not to wake Dippy after seeing what he and his mates were capable of. We nodded off, content after having the kind of night that Jurassic dreams are made out of.

We woke up at around 7.30am and headed to breakfast in the main dining hall at about 8am. A traditional English breakfast was on the menu. But the length of time it took to reach tables saw a couple of diners fossilize. Generally speaking, I think the T-Rex robot could have done a better job in organising the caterers.

Overall, did it #crackmybitchface?

Yes! I mean it’s not every day you can say you slept over at the Natural History Museum. Jurassic Park and making midnight friends with Dinosaurs definitely snapped my face out of it’s neutral resting position of bitch. Although I’m sure my facial expression during hours when I was experiencing serious bouts of hangry beg to differ. We tried to not let the minor niggles and the morning’s poor efforts spoil our stay. Because overall, Dino Snores is one of the coolest things you can do in London. Dippy is a great host and excellent night security – because most importantly, he didn’t wake up.