Secret Cinema Moulin Rouge

Although I’ve read about some of the amazing events that Secret Cinema put on, I’ve never been to one. I suppose not being a big film-buff that I was reluctant to spend a lot of money on a ticket to see a film I’ve probably never heard of and won’t like (I’m thinking of the Alien one in particular). I was much more keen when they started doing immersive events where you knew in advance what the firm was, but none of them had particularly captured my imagination (I hate Dirty Dancing for example, girl crime, I know).

Maybe about a year ago the Secret Cinema social media channels started posting gifs which hinted that a Moulin Rouge event might be on its way.

Now, I love Moulin Rouge, it’s one of my favourite films, which is unusual because I hate musicals, however, I love Baz Luhrmann. When we were in middle school my friends and I watched Romeo and Juliet (the Baz Luhrmann version with Leonardo di Caprio and Clare Danes) and were a little bit obsessed with the clever twists on the story. So when Moulin Rouge came out I went to see it in the cinema. I remember liking it but not being quite sure what to make of it on first viewing. However, one friend in our group was particularly obsessed with it (her sixth form ball dress was in the style of the ‘smouldering temptress’ dress from the film) and so we ended up watching it as part of group sleepovers. I fell fully in love with it (and Ewan, *sigh*).

I couldn’t think of a film more suited for an immersive experience, it’s visually stunning.

I made sure I was on the mailing list and the day that tickets went on sale we booked ourselves two tickets, an early birthday present to me. We booked tickets some time late last year and it was a few months after that that we received our first email, asking us to sign up. We were allocated characters and provided with a dress code befitting our ticket level (there were three different price brackets and accordingly, three different types of role/character), together with a backstory, a list of people our characters liked and disliked and certain Calls to Action.

Last night our visit to Montmartre finally rolled around and I couldn’t have been more excited. We got ourselves all dolled up in our finery for our night out. As cameras are banned inside, we took a few quick photos in our stairwell before walking down to Shadwell to get the DLR (where I realised I’d forgotten my gloves). I have never felt so self-conscious or bathycolpian walking from our flat down to the station. My boyfriend had gone all out and grown a beard which he then shaved off the day of the event into a moustache. As for my boyfriend, apologies for the weirdly cropped photo. I usually keep him off the blog and don’t refer to him by name because writing this blog is my choice and under my control, not his. Plus, he isn’t on any other social media and I have to respect that. However, this is an exception because we never put this much effort into anything and it’s worth showing off. Unfortunately the crop for privacy means you miss the great top hat, you’ll have to imagine it!

In the spirit of Secret Cinema, I am not going to give anything away about what’s inside (Timeout have a sneak peek here), save to say that it was unbelievably good, I was blown away by how good the live action stuff was and the whole experience was amazing – I gasped, laughed and might have even shed a little tear. The staff all added to the experience, from the first one we saw outside Canning Town tube station to the bar staff, to the actors wandering around, they were all incredible.

Fresh from our experience, I thought I’d offer some spoiler-free advice:

  • Watch the film first. I imagine that most people going are going because they’re fans, but it’s conceivable that people will go along with fans for the experience. This is NOT the time to see it for the first time. There will be background noise around you during the film (although for the most part people were pretty respectful). Go with an idea of the plot.
  • There is a Secret Cinema online shop selling everything you need for your costume, however, don’t forget other places like charity shops or ebay, they’re likely to be cheaper. I found my little beaded capelet on ebay for only £3.99 and my corset for just over £10.
  • Don’t feel like you have to stick slavishly to the dress code. I can’t speak for other Secret Cinema events but at least for Moulin Rouge, although it helps to wear something befitting your role (Aristocrat, Child of the Revolution or Creature of the Underworld) it doesn’t really matter. If you have an Aristocrat ticket you will be marked out so won’t lose any of the benefits you’ve paid for.
  • Don’t overdress – this is 1899, aircon doesn’t exist yet, it is warm in the Moulin Rouge!
  • Don’t worry if you don’t have all the props. You’ll be asked to bring things but we didn’t use the one we brought or missed out because we didn’t bring another.
  • Do take a credit/debit card though – they don’t accept cash, so if you want to buy drinks or food (it’s French themed street food) or souvenirs of your night then you’ll need a card.
  • The scale is vast, make sure to explore and really get into the middle of things. However, watch for changes, so if one area quietens down, chances are there’s something going on elsewhere – follow the crowd!
  • If you have a last train to catch, take a watch! Your phone will be sealed in a grey plastic bag to prevent the temptation to take photos/spend the night on social media, it’s an awesome rule, but we came out completely lost as to what time it was.
  • EMBRACE IT! It’s incredible and unlike anything else you’ll do.

If you didn’t get tickets in the first round then you haven’t missed out, new dates were added the other day, so you can still experience Paris, 1899!

Vive la vie de boheme!

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March 2017: This month I have mostly been…

Feeling: Squinty

Ok, so I haven’t mostly been squinty all month, only for the last week, but it’s felt like an eternity. A week ago on a Friday I woke up feeling like I had something in my eye, the pain got worse over the course of the day and it got to the point where it hurt to keep my eye open or look at bright light. It wasn’t any better on Saturday and unable to get somebody at my optician to take a look at it, I ended up going to A&E/Primary Care when I was at home for Mother’s Day (Happy Mother’s Day mum, here’s your daughter, home with a gammy eye). The on call eye doctor said it looked like an ulcer or something on my cornea and I was given eye drops to take intensively (every half an hour) before coming back the next day in order to check it was improving and wasn’t getting worse. If you wear contact lenses then you’ll have been warned about the possibility of an eye infection caused by an amoeba which is more likely to affect contact lens wearers than the rest of the population. The concern was that it might be that. It seems to have improved with the drops and I went to Moorfields on the Monday morning for follow-up and they seemed unconcerned. However, I still need to take the drops for a week (not too problematic) and also not wear my lenses for a month (more of a problem). I can’t believe the timing. I did nothing in March, now it’s April and I have all sorts of fun things lined up – Secret Cinema Moulin Rouge next weekend, a trip to Munich and then at the very end of the month, a glamping trip (which I’m hoping to be back wearing lenses for). I feel like I’m 12 again and hiding behind my glasses, hate it, but, of course, grateful for my sight.

Reading: Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

So I can apparently rely upon my own taste (but not my memory).

I bought the top copy of Alone in Berlin maybe last year and it’s been sitting on my ‘to be read’ pile since then.

Although I’ve been in London for nearly six years I still have loads of books (accumulated from the time I lived at home, through university and during the four years after I graduated) at my mum’s house. Lots are still on the shelves in my bedroom and there are even more in the garage that weren’t allowed in the house. Every time I go home I wrap a few (or as many as I can carry) up in my clothes and bring them back down to London in my suitcase. Among my shelves I found, guess what, another copy of Alone in Berlin. I must have bought it years ago and overlooked it on my shelf because I’ve never read it.

After consulting Instagram, I have decided to read the less pretty copy (on the left in the above photo) and then set it free into the wild (possibly tracking it via Bookcrossing), keeping the pretty copy on the right for myself. Sorry, but I am judging a book by its cover in this instance.

Watching: Girls

I bought the first season of Girls years ago when Lena Dunham was touted as the voice of my generation (Lena is only two weeks younger than me). However, my purchase of Girls coincided with my boyfriend moving down to London. He is very much not of my generation (being 17 years older than me) and I didn’t think he’d appreciate it in the same way I would. Now I’m not one to not watch something for a man (he couldn’t break the Made in Chelsea habit and in fact came to love it like I do, as a guilty pleasure) but living in a studio type set up at the time meant compromises and picking and choosing things the other would generally at least tolerate. So Girls was put on the backburner until we moved out and recently I started watching it. Over the course of the last month or so I’ve worked my way through to season 5 (it helps that each season is only 10 episodes of 30 minutes each).

I’m quite enjoying it. I’m not sure how many I like, but it’s actually nice seeing characters who actually aren’t always likeable (in any way). I sort of feel like a lot of it reflects how so many of us stumbled through that late-teens, early 20s stage in life when we all made mistakes, did things we wouldn’t do again and generally got to care little for the consequences. I’m not sure I’d go back to that time, so it”s a nice way to cathartically live out that care-free period of time (and watch it go to levels I never would have taken it to).

Planning: Nothing

Oh gosh isn’t that dull? I have spent most of March being quite busy at work (hence the slight drop in blogging) and most of the stuff I have in the pipeline has been planned and sorted for ages. No holidays have been booked, nothing exciting pencilled in. I’ve just been plodding along as normal, living in the moment. Sometimes I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. I’m not embracing every moment or anything like that, but I’m not wishing time away either. I’m just living.

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The romance of train travel

Faster than fairies, faster than witches, bridges and houses, hedges and ditches“… there’s a certain romance associated with trains, a romance which has managed to survive in a way that the romance and pleasure of travelling by air really hasn’t.

Travelling by trains has always had an element of romance for me personally too (perhaps because I’ve never had to commute by train). Other than a boyfriend from school, my first real adult relationship was conducted by train. In the summer before I went to university I got chatting to a guy I’d ‘met’ on an online forum. It sounds super dodgy but it wasn’t, he wasn’t 45  or a weirdo, just a normal guy (and I took all the usual precautions, taking a friend with me to meet him and that lot). The only obstacle? I was at university in Sheffield and he was at university in London. So, I started travelling by train in order to visit him. The funny thing is that whilst we were ultimately incompatible (although we had fun while it lasted), I did fall in love, with London. I realised that I exhaled when I was in London, in a way that I didn’t anywhere else. I felt like it was meant to be. I’ve been gradually moving my books down from my mum’s garage to our flat down here in London. A lot of them have been in storage for nearly a decade and sometimes I get them out and flick through, only to find that there’s an old train ticket tucked in the back which had been acting as a bookmark. It instantly takes me back to another time and discovering my first (and enduring) real love.

Trains have continued to bring me closer to my loved ones. Before I moved down to London I somehow ended up in a relationship with my boyfriend. I was offered my job in 2008, a few months before I met my boyfriend, so I always knew that I’d be moving down here, in 2011 I finally did move down to start my job (a two year period between offer and starting is normal in the legal profession but then my start date got deferred due to the financial crisis). It sounds bad now (nearly nine years later) but I’d always assumed that we’d have fun while it lasted but that when I moved down to London things would probably drift apart with the distance. However, without any real discussion we decided we would just see how things went and every other week one of us would travel up or down the country on a Friday night to see the other. It turns out that things didn’t drift, in fact, he ended up moving down and now we travel back home together to see our families and use the train to explore the country on a series of mini-breaks. We have a Two Together railcard which is the ultimate romantic train commitment in my view.

This year we celebrate our ninth anniversary – the question is, where to go?

But, we aren’t the only ones celebrating an anniversary, this year. On 9 March 2017, Virgin Trains celebrates its 20th birthday on the West Coast route, where passenger journeys have grown to 37 million a year.

To celebrate the occasion and give back to their customers, Virgin Trains hosted a ‘pop-up musical performance’ at London Euston which saw choir Urban Voice Collective sing legendary pop song ‘Ain’t Nobody,’ by Chaka Khan (and here was me thinking it was by Liberty X, you learn something every day). Customers travelling in the midst of rush hour were delighted by the impromptu singing and dancing performance which lasted around 5 minutes.

The celebrations will continue onboard throughout March with the introduction of five films onto BEAM for a limited time only (Virgin Trains’ free onboard content service), all of which are celebrating their 20th birthday. These include Titanic, Men in Black, The Full Monty, LA Confidential and Boogie Nights.

Umm, sorry, but how is Titanic 20 years old?! Time flies. Happy 20th Anniversary to Virgin Trains!

This is a collaborative post. 

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Pan Chai restaurant at Harrods

Possibly the thing I love the most about London is that (almost) anything you want can be found here. The whole world is here, brought to you. Nowhere do you get more of a sense of that than when standing in the food hall at Harrods. Under ornate tiled ceilings are counters featuring just about every cuisine you could think of – the world under one roof and a sandbox in which to try new things and also old favourites. It’s also a place where you can introduce others to your favourites and that’s exactly what I got to do at Pan Chai the other weekend.

I’ve been super lucky to visit to Japan three times now for work and whilst I love it and relish the opportunity to see a country that has always fascinated me, I have to experience things there either with my colleagues or alone. I always come back with tales of the things I’ve seen and eaten that I can’t wait to share with my boyfriend when we go together (we’re planning on exploring Japan together in 2020). However, until then, we’ve found a great substitute in Pan Chai.

With counter seats and chilled glass cabinets housing an assortment of fresh fish, it mimics the sushi counters I’ve visited in Japan. However, unlike most sushi counters in Japan, they do a mean line in cocktails and we decided to partake in a Kir Royale and Bellini while we perused the extensive menu.

The menu is split up into several sections: nigiri/sashimi, salad, grill, tempura, platters, sushi rolls, ramen and more. We started with a bowl of salted edamame to nibble on.

As a starter we chose, with the assistance of our lovely waitress, an assortment of sashimi and when it arrived it was just the most stunning thing. It was placed on the top of the counter and its billowing dry ice attracted stares from everyone both seated and passing by before it was placed in front of us.

As the dry ice cleared, the sashimi was revealed, beautiful slivers of fish emerging from the mist. It was stunningly presented. We’d ordered some old favourites – sake (salmon), suzuki (sea bass) and maguro (tuna) and some new ones which I was keen to introduce my boyfriend to – otoro (tuna belly), tamago (a sweet Japanese omelette) and unagi (eel).

Salmon and tuna sashimi can be fairly easily found now both in sushi restaurants and chains and also as takeaway sushi, but otoro isn’t something you really see other than at the best Japanese restaurants. It’s from the fatty belly of the tuna and is the fish equivalent of wagyu beef. It’s marbled with fat and you can see the difference in the photo below, between the otoro (front right behind the ginger) and the maguro (back left by the tamago). The otoro melts in your mouth, it’s delicious.

When I was in Japan in January, we were taken out by some of our clients for a kaiseki dinner (a multi-course Japanese dinner), which we enjoyed in a private room in a traditional restaurant. One of the starter courses was a selection of beautifully presented little mouthfuls of vegetables and fish. One was unagi (eel – if you don’t see Ross from Friends when someone says unagi then we can’t be friends). Now I would never normally have tried eel, but when it’s placed in front of you as part of a client meal then you try anything to be polite. However, unlike with some of the other delicacies I tried (like chicken sashimi), the eel wasn’t something I had to pretend to like, it was delicious. So, when I saw it on Pan Chai’s menu I had to introduce my boyfriend to the delights of eel. It’s blowtorched and rich but so tender. My boyfriend was an immediate unagi convert.

We followed up the sashimi with a some of Pan Chai’s signature sushi rolls, the Negitoro maki, spicy tuna with mayonnaise, spring onions, topped with chopped tuna belly. Again served with dry ice – more heads were turned. The rolls were delicious and came with a little spicy kick

That was all just a taste of what was to come as a main. Enamoured with the unagi, my boyfriend chose an unagi donburi as his main dish – five pieces of grilled unagi on rice and cucumber with unagi sauce. Seriously, if you go then do try the unagi in one form or another, it’s delicious. I had ordered my main with the intention that we would share both dishes but I barely got a look in at the eel.

My choice of main was the Grilled Plum Sea Bass from the grill section – grilled Chilean sea bass marinated in plum juice and miso paste. It was delicious, perfectly flaky white fish with just a hint of the marinade. It also came with an umeboshi on the side, something else I got to introduce my boyfriend to. They’re sort of pickled plums and they are this incredible mix of sweet and sour, it’s a taste unlike anything else I’ve ever had so it’s hard to describe, but I loved this little authentic addition to the dish.

Pan Chai bills itself as a pan-Asian restaurant and in their grill section they offer a Malaysian rendang and a Korean bulgogi, however, their offering is primarily focussed on Japanese cuisine and it’s excellent so definitely go with something Japanese-y. As part of the same group at the Mango Tree, I should have known to expect a great meal, but this blew me away – it was a little slice of Tokyo in West London. We might not be planning on going to Japan until 2020 but we will be going back to Pan Chai for a taste of Japan before then!

Our meal was provided on a complimentary basis but the views expressed here are my own unbiased opinions. Thanks Pan Chai! 

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