Musings

+ 10 Fun London Birthday Ideas

The first birthday I spent in London involved me renting a limousine which took me and some friends from my hometown to an American-themed restaurant called Jailhouse Rock (sadly no longer open!). Since then, each year I've been in London I've always spent a lot of time researching nightclubs/bars/restaurants in the hope that I find the ultimate destination for my birthday celebrations. Let me share with you some places I've trailed out since I moved to London in 2010 that are perfect birthday London ideas:

1) Proud - Camden

I spent my 24th birthday here with friends, and have also attended numerous friends' birthdays here too. You can book yourself a stable which is really fun - the one my boyfriend booked had a pole for dancing which got used a LOT as the evening progressed! It's not as claustrophobic as your standard nightclub, thanks to the fact that it has two dance floors, the large stable area, an outside bar and more space for chatting around the bar.

There are so many bars within the club to choose from and more than different music playing in each dance area, plus the in-club entertainment has been known to include women on stilts and flame eaters!

2) Drink Shop & Do - Kings Cross

I love how fun and unique the event nights are here! I've only been for drinks here so far, but booking a themed night is on my to-do list.

You can pre-book an area in the bar downstairs for groups of ten or more, and they also do a special food menu for parties.

3) Gordon's Wine Bar - Embankment/Charing Cross

Gordon's Wine Bar

4) Bounce - Holborn

I've only been here once or twice, but the venue is MASSIVE, is centred around a really fun sport which gets more fun after a cocktail or two, and the place has a great playlist.

> You can play on a London 2012 Olympics table!

> For up to 25-30 guests, you can hire the Gallery Table and ensure you have a nice area for all your friends.

> As told on their website, "Bounce is located on the very site where the game of Ping Pong was invented and patented in 1901 by John Jaques III".

5) Barrio Central - Soho

Warning! This place gets really sweaty and full. If you don't like the idea of having to spend half your night pressed up against a load of tourists you should a)rent a private area or b) avoid at all costs.

> You can rent an area called 'the porch' which is at the very back of the bar on the ground floor. This area seats up to 20 people. This is as far away from the main dance floor (in the basement) as you can get, so you might also want to consider the Stone Clad as this seats the same amount of people and is right in the thick of it. There's also the 'Love Shack' in the basement, right next to the DJ.

6) Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes - Bloomsbury/Holborn

> This place has karaoke rooms, bowling lanes (obviously!) and also a dancefloor/bar area which is open until 3am.

> What sets this place apart from other London nightclubs is that it's one of the rare venues to serve food too. Ray's Pizza and Diner is only open until 10pm, but it does mean if you want just one venue for your whole evening (dinner, drinks, dancing) you're covered!

7) The Blues Kitchen - Camden

This venue gets crowded really quickly, but you can book ahead for a booth for dinner, and (from what I remember) you can usually use that as a base for the rest of the night. This venue offers free live entertainment if you get there before 9.30pm, and after that it's around £5 on the door.

8) Metro Garden & Bar - Clapham Common


From the outside this is a dark and mysterious bar, but if you walk through to their outdoor area, you'll be pleasantly surprised. This venue has high-quality and has a real touch of sophistication, a far cry from how Clapham high street often looks on a Saturday night!

I'd recommend this place for some early evening Pimm's on their outside daybeds, and then when it gets a bit darker the fairy lights come alive and the whole place transforms into something from a fairytale!

9) Circus Bar - Covent Garden

Circus Bar, London
You'll likely miss this bar when you go looking for it - the front door is a non-descript heavy steel door and you can barely see the 'Circus Bar' sign. You will need to book ahead for dining here, but most evenings after work I've been able to visit here for a glass of vino with friends.

> Every 30 minutes or so, a new performance act will come 'on stage'. By stage I mean the massive dining table which is usually reserved by a large group for dining.

> I've never eaten here, but the Sharing Menu could be a great option for a birthday meal with friends.


10) The Boat Show Comedy Club

I went here with my boyfriend a few months ago, and this place was so much better than I had anticipated! Firstly, if you get there straight after work and well before the show, this would be an ideal place to catch up with friends for a few drinks while overlooking the South Bank and Big Ben.

The comedy event itself is obviously the main draw here, and I saw plenty of groups seated in their reserved booths having a great time! There's a bar towards the back of the room, and the quality of comedy acts here is second to none - many well established comedians apparently do warm-up shows while on tour.

We didn't stay for the dance night (after the comedy show they move the chairs and transform the room into a club night) and I haven't heard many people rave about it, but you're at least in central London if you want to carry on the night elsewhere.


+ 2011... What a Year You Were!

2011, more than any other year, was a year of contradictions for me.

This was the year I turned a quarter of a century, and when I was younger I assumed all 25-year-olds know everything and have their lives sorted... How wrong I was!

When I'll look back at this year, my memories at first might be overcast with the sheer bleakness that dominated the news: more focus on the recession, more unrest around the wold, and a surprisingly high level of ignorance than I'd ever thought possible!

This year has been one of trying to stay strong in the face of horrible twists of fate for me. People I'd started to get used to having around left the country for new jobs or adventures. I took on a new challenges at work which I had never envisioned at the start of the year. And to top it all, many of my friends went through tough experiences that tried even my unfaltering optimism that good things DO happen to good people.

And as hard as this is to admit, I realised more than ever that seeing the best in people can come back to haunt you. People who I viewed as 'not like the rest' turned out to be more cowardly, selfish and hurtful than I'd ever thought possible, and if I'm honest this is the year more than ever that I've started to realise truly honest people are a rare breed. I also learnt that settling and overlooking deal-breakers in a man is never worth it, it's plain self-harming! Allowing yourself to fall for someone you know isn't actually good enough for you means you're only setting yourself up for disaster further along the line. 

This was also the year I travelled abroad four times, and I learnt so much from each experience! Berlin was intense in its raw cityscape, shattered from the violence of the past and yet it managed to impress upon me an unforgettable adventure in music, history and the brilliant sense of freedom that comes with living the life of a traveller, no matter how short the actual trip.

Valencia seduced me with its lush gardens, idyllic and uncrowded beach; the slow pace was just what I needed to confront me with the realisation that life doesn't have to be as frantic and isolating as London would have you suggest.

Bali and its islands were diverse in their beauty and ability to blow you away. The Balinese people were so damn happy, and can you blame them considering how stunning their homeland is?!

Amsterdam, like Berlin, instilled in me a sense of fun and freedom so easily lost when your life is dominated by a 9-5 existence. Relatively small, the city did make me appreciate the London sprawl but I envy the lifestyle of late starts and nonchalant commutes cycling across cobbled streets.

As well as travels, I feel like I'm starting to realise what I want more from life than ever before. I guess that's an inevitable part of getting older, but this I what I've learnt in 2011:

+ I need to have more faith in my ability to take on anything thrown my way.

+ I will always, always have the travel  bug and need to succumb to it far more often than I already do

+ This year I've been deceived and lied to, pickpocketed, evicted and screwed over a few times, but I honestly believe bad times need to be experienced to appreciate the good.

+ Life doesn't follow any logic and people aren't as clear-cut as we've been led to believe. In essence, we really are all just a jumbling mass of molecules struggling to make sense of who we are and what we're supposed to do with our short stay on this big chunk of rock!

+ Getting my phone stolen taught me that as a generation we're so more reliant on technology than we ever admit to. And this also means that our whole social structure is to some event not even 'real' any more- the virtual world of the Internet plays a big role in shaping relationships with people and staying up to date with the lives of close ones. As a side note, these days social identity is as much about how we project ourselves online as how we act in social situations, and gives us all scope to judge and be judged. 

+ When life seems to be mucking up at every choice you make, the one enduring thing you can truly rely on is your sense of self. All we really have is our own moods and whims to guide us through life and everything else is transient and unreliable.

I am both excited and apprehensive as to what could happen in the next twelve months, but am willing to give it a shot and make each experience my own :)


+ Destiny's Kisses and Dope-Slaps

The most life-changing events in our lives are not really down to us. I read a quote the other day from David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest, which beautifully elaborates on the seemingly serendipitous nature of life:

"Both destiny's kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person's basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can't even hear because you're in such a rush to or from something important you've tried to engineer."--David Foster Wallace

I'm of the opinion that achieving success in life is entirely down to you, in so much as that you can influence events and the course of your life more than many people think. When you crumble at the hand life might have dealt you, ask yourself, "what choices did you make that led you here?" Sometimes, people are completely blind to their role as an agent of the very thing most important to them; their own life!

I'm not suggesting that everyone in the world has the power or means to become whoever they want to be. After all, life is about give and take and it's sadly inevitable that some people's gain is only possible with the eventuality of another's loss. Take the job market. It's very tempting to assume that you DESERVE your cut of what the world has to offer, but to everyone else you're a stranger who's no more deserving than the next person. And the same applies to money, relationships, security - almost anything that means anything to people. All that matters is recognising your little place in the world, and accepting that the number of people who care about your fate might not be as big as you think!

I first read the quote below a week or two ago in one my daily emails from Writer's Almanac. It got me thinking about what's more important in shaping our lives - our own gut instinct and emotions, or logic and reason? After all, although we can do our best to influence the route of our lives, much of it is down to chance and the actions of others.

"My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle. What do I care about knowledge. All I want is to answer to my blood, direct, without fribbling intervention of mind, or moral, or what-not."--D.H. Lawrence

Are we responsible for everything that happens to us, or is it all just the luck of the draw? I can't stand anything more than people who believe their failings in life is all down to other people. Surely it's all about responsibility for your own situation in life and making sure that you do everything you can to increase your chances of luck smiling on you!

"That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves."--Garth Stein

"Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."--William Jennings Bryan

Life doesn't come with a step-by-step guide to how to get everything you want or reach where you want to be. At the risk of sounding like a crazed self-help book addict, as long as you avoid blaming others for the low points in your life, and appreciating the role you play in your own happiness, you're on the right track. If anything, recognising your own powerlessness in your own life can be pretty empowering. You can spend less time agonising over your day-to-day choices and just be, safe in the knowledge that that true empowerment is letting go of the non-existent power you were so sure you yielded over your own life!


+ Addicted to Facebook... Or Yourself?

Facebook is so much more than a tool for communicating with friends. It's inevitably also used to project an image of ourselves to best friends, childhood acquaintances, exes and of course the people we're so want to impress. Online personalities are one-sided, highly edited and, for me, they can be symptomatic of a worrying trend where people get so lost in themselves and their own image that Facebook is merely a tool to create a self-concept they wish to be true.

The same goes for personal blogs where selective photos, galleries of sun-drenched days and the power of Photoshop rule. Take a look at the most visited blogs on Bloglovin and you can see that they're invariably the ones with endless soft-focus pictures of themselves and a round-up of only the most glamorous places they've recently visited. It goes hand in hand with how people choose to maintain their Facebook profiles - I have even seen one person who uploads photos from a fashion blog and then pretends that it's her...

Facebook should be about interaction and keeping friends and family up to date with your life, not just about posting vacuous facts about yourself and photos of yourself alone in your room!

For most people, social media is a forum to advertise a specific construct of yourself, one that, for the most part, you can control. I'd love to see more people being just as comfortable outlining their fears and (possibly) controversial opinions as they are uploading photos of themselves in a new outfit. I'd love to see more people use Facebook as a tool to share information rather than just as a tool to appease your self-absorbed tendencies.

Self-expression and the power to construct an online personality for ourselves is just one of the many perks of the internet. I'm not saying that it shouldn't be fun, light-hearted and make us feel good! It's just worrying that people are starting to forget that the sum of who you are is so much more than the photos you upload and what you decide to 'like' on Facebook.

I know people who have felt the need to upload intimate photos of their child's birth, and these days it's almost odd if someone doesn't update their status at their own wedding. We get so bogged down with recording our lives that the danger is we forget to properly live them. Travellers search just as avidly for wi-fi as they do adventures and a cold beer! People spend more time uploading photos from their phone than using them to actually phone their friends.

The danger is that Facebook acts like a security blanket, as it's a scarily easy way of assessing how your life is faring compared to your peers, or at least measuring up to their perceived lifestyle. It looks like more and more people are all set to spend their whole lives frantically refreshing their Facebook news feed, completely missing the real events are going on in the real world!


+ The London Riots

Croydon ablaze during London riots

Since when has been trashing your own community and throwing missiles at your community's police force been an acceptable expression of dissatisfication with the lack of opportunities in society? It has not and will not be an effective impetus for social change.

Anyone who thinks looting, burning cars and setting fire to wheelie bins is going to improve their lot in life then they are sorely mistaken. Let's be frank - if you're in need of a job and resentful for your inability to afford flatscreen TVs and a new pair of Nikes, the worst thing you can do is contribute to the degeneration of your community by causing thousands of pounds of damage and wrecking the livelihoods of local business owners.

I know that times are bleak for young people today, (even with qualifications you're not guaranteed a job at all, let alone a poorly paid one), but surely there are more effective ways to improve your lot? I'm hearing so many people blaming the riots on a lack of optimism for young peoples' futures, but surely adding to the bleakness is the worst thing you can do?

I don't dispute that the riots have pushed the challenges of deprived areas in London to the top of the news agenda, but, when the smoke evaporates and the windows get replaced, it won't have succeeded in bringing more investment into these areas.

In times of crisis and stagnancy, innovation is what's needed to create new jobs and opportunities. This isn't exactly helped along by the cuts made to local councils and charities best placed to help improve the lot of young people, but that is still not reason enough for trashing your own community.

Residential areas, double decker buses are up in flames while I'm writing this, and it disgusts me to think that these are the images being sent around the world with 'London' as the tagline. Wouldn't it be so inspiring if these youths (as the media love to label them!) vented their anger through creativity, through pioneering their own community schemes or burying their head into a book to enable them to put words to their fury? With rationality and the patience to foresee the long-term consequences of your impulsive actions, these disenchanted members of society might have realised that setting your community ablaze is the most nonsensical cry of help for a better world imaginable!

The Notting Hill Carnival is now in jeopardy, my friends are now updating their Twitter/Facebook feeds about riots happening in their area, and flames are still blazing in areas around the city.

Perhaps the last word should go to this woman who was filmed angrily trying to appeal to the senses of the looters: