Big Apple Brixton

As winter well and truly owns the November skies, it’s nice to see venues keeping up appearances. Formally Brixton Beach, this South London rooftop is bringing the Big Apple to the big smoke for an appropriate seasonal makeover.

Located above Pope’s Road, this interpretation of the concrete jungle we all know and love has done a great job in capturing the big lights, bold signage and stateside vibes.

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Though you can leave your passport at home for this American adventure, you might confuse yourself for being in an airport when it comes to security checks. Lets face it, most of us are quite accustomed to feeling like a modern day Mary Poppins when heading anywhere midweek. But unless my hard drive, an old metro copy and my empty tuppaware are criminal, there was really no need to get bicep deep in my tote. Unless she felt compelled to attempt a dig to the Statue of Liberty. Because that’s what that level of privacy invasion felt like.

Keeping up with the weather is difficult for any establishment. But being a pop-up, outdoor (but covered) venue open for the duration of the colder months, you’d think they’d take that into consideration when deciding how many heaters it’d need to keep the premises warm. Yes, I know that’s virtually impossible with a canopy roof mid November, but I can tell you know, three aren’t quite suffice for several hundred people to gather around. Unless you’re down with that level of privacy invasion. It’s certainly a way to make friends…

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In an attempt to keep warm we wandered around, exploring all Brixton’s answer to New York has to offer. Quirky rooms dressed as a vintage Barber shop, a Chapel, a Record Store and Peep Show are available to hire complete with tables, chairs and fun decor. Though we didn’t have one ourselves, we were told that if booked, your drinks are ready on arrival. Plus, each is combination lock operated and only your party is given the code. Meaning that you can come and go as you please without the fear of an American gangster breaking in.

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Now for something that’s usually my favourite topic: FOOD. On a Thursday evening, only three out of the four vendors were open – meaning Pizza was out of the question. With a sterling choice of Mac to the Future, Plucky’s or Burger Bear – it was chicken that I felt my tastebuds would thank me for most. Turns out, my stomach was not quite the fan. When ordering my food, the guy who appeared to be in charge of the stand was beyond rude. Myself, along with the girls I was with, were completely taken aback by his attitude and manner. We had to ask if it were okay to order… We ordered… He silence led us to ask whether we had made our orders… And then ten or so minutes later, our burgers and nuggets were ready on a heated bar – awaiting their arrival of chips. The chief brought the basket over from the frying pan and began serving them equally onto our portions – HELPING HIMSELF TO SOME TOO!!!!! I mean without sounding too much like Joey Tribbiani… But I’m not sure we ever gave the okay for sharing our grub. It’s not common practise. And that’s because it’s just plain rude!!!! Shocked, we sat down and began to tuck in… To a very short-lived meal. We had uncooked chicken nuggets and the salt in the chips made it feel as though we were sipping seawater on the side. Not ideal.

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Either this vendor needs a stern talking to or another street food pop-up should take its place. Because when faced with the question of did it #CrackMyBitchFace, that’s an easy no. I mean shivering whilst mentally begging the chip-stealing chef to leave my burger with a couple of mates isn’t really something that encourages a positive look upon my face. And in hindsight, perhaps my resting bitch face was the reason as to why he took it upon himself to be a chip scrooge. When such effort has gone into smashing the mulled wine recipe and making the place look good – it was definitely a bit of a shame.

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REFORMER PILATES: EPOCH FITNESS

Always one for trying out a new exercise class, Reformer Pilates at Epoch Fitness caught my attention. Probably because, in all honesty, I’d never heard of it before. For someone that’s never participated in any form of Pilates or Yoga, but a keen gym-goer, I was excited about getting stuck in. (The typical thoughts of a girl prior to forcing her body into unnatural shapes.)

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Call it doing your homework, curiosity or just plain sensible – I had a cheeky Google pre-class. ABSOLUTE ERROR. The machines looked like torture beds and Google Images kindly displayed a selection of photos that I can only describe as a contortionist’s library. Cheers Googs.

The classes are held in the Fitzrovia Centre – a little random – but you’ll know when you find the correct room, as you’ll be confronted with 8 torture beds. The instructor was friendly and explained the class to a few of us beginners, including a quick demo of the Reformer machine. Towels and bottled water were provided, which was definitely appreciated and a nice touch.

The lesson is made up of squats, lunges, press-ups and core toning – with the springs underneath the reformer machine creating the resistance. As the class is quite small, the instructor is able to observe, help and correct you when you aren’t quite nailing it. And don’t worry, they’re used to sweaty backs.

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Things not to expect:

-An easy hour

-Getting it right first time

-Flattering positions

Things to expect:

-Burning thighs

-Thinking “20 more? You’ve got to be kidding me”.

– Walking like a penguin the next day

Turns out, the only similarities that the reformer machines hold to my initial description of torture beds is that you spend the lesson lying down. They aren’t half as bad as they look. Quite the contrary, you might say, as you’ll leave having been introduced to muscles that you’ve never met before.

Did it #crackmybitchface? Well, I’m pretty sure during the class my face didn’t look that approachable. When one’s left leg is indicating South East and one’s right is pointing to South West, whilst your feet are hooked into resistance straps; I ask does anyone look cheery? (Those that are in to kinky bedroom antics need not answer that.) But after feeling the burn 24-48 hours afterward, I was certainly smiling on the inside: NO PAIN NO GAIN, right?

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.

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.

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.