Where I've Been:

Why Hyde Park Winter Wonderland Left Me Cold

Big wheel at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London - photo by Katie Hale @ Second-Hand Hedgehog travel blog

I love Christmas markets. I love the festive colours, the smell of spices wafting from the stalls, the sound of carols issuing from tinny speakers... I love mulled wine, and Christmas crafts, and seeing families strolling around them and marvelling at everything they sell. I love the excited buzz surrounding them.

So when I was in London a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't miss a trip to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. My expectations were high, especially as I'd visited a couple of years before and loved it. 

Sorry, but I was disappointed. 

It's not that all the things I love weren't there. They were. There was mulled wine in abundance. There were couples and families browsing the stalls and going on the rides, and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. So why wasn't I?

Monday Wisdom: The Cure for Boredom

'The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.'
- Dorothy Parker

Horned sheep on th Isle of Man

Curiosity killed the cat, apparently. 

Well then I guess it's a good thing I'm not a cat, as I'm constantly curious. It's part of what keeps me writing, and what makes me always want to travel more.

I think it's a basic human instinct to be curious. It's what has allowed us to make all kinds of developments, from inventing the basic wheel, to exploring the possibilites of life on Mars. And the great thing about this world is that it's so vast; there's always more to see, to discover, to explore.

As Tim Rice put it in The Lion King
'There's more to see than can ever be seen,
More to do than can ever be done.'

And I for one intend to remain curious about it all.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red: the last few poppies at the Tower of London

Poppies outside the Tower of London after Rememberance Day, commemorating the First World War

I often worry about the way we commemorate the First World War: all the pomp and ceremony. Sometimes it seems to be a way of forgetting the horror of it all in the face of cenotaphs and trumpets. 

But the installation of poppies at the Tower of London is the most poignant memorial to the First World War that I have ever seen. 

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red is an installation by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper. In the lead-up to 11th November, 888,246 ceramic poppies were installed in the moat of the Tower of London. Each one represented a British military fatality during the First World War.

By the time I was able to visit at the end of November, most of the poppies had been removed. Enough remained, though, to get a sense of the scale of the artwork, and of the scale of the war itself.

Looking at the sea of poppies, each one hand-crafted and carefully planted, and knowing that this was only a fraction of the original installation, it took my breath away. It's almost impossible to envisage what 888,246 deaths might mean, but the sea of poppies started to bring it home. The vastness of it. Impossible to count. Each one totally individual. 

I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of memorials of the First World War over the next few years - but it will take something very special to move me more than this. 

Instagram Stories: November

Sunrise, Lake District, Cumbria

Sunrise, starlings and salmonella: November was a strange month. 

On some levels, it was wonderful. I worked at the Penrith Winter Droving festival, and took part in the procession after the sun went down. I also fit in a bit of travel, which is always nice (for a travel blogger)! This was my annual trip to London, seeing my university friends and delivering Christmas presents - which also meant a tour of the Harrods Christmas windows from Supal at c&e. Oh, and cake. Lots of cake. (And mulled wine, too.) More about that on Second-Hand Hedgehog soon. 

But November also had its horrible moments. Yep, that's right: I got salmonella. I won't say how (apparently I'm not allowed, unless it's 100% proven), but suffice to say that it wasn't my own cooking. Small relief! But basically, it put me out of action for a week, meant I felt a bit dodgy for another two, and is still affecting me, in that I'm tired all the time, and prone to random fits of weeping. Not great. 

Hopefully I can leave all that behind, though, and lose myself in the lights and tinsel of December, and eat far too many candy canes and mince pies. That's the plan for this month, anyway. (Oh, and New York. Super excited!)

Until then, here are my favourite Instagram moments from November 2014:

Review: Peter Pan at Theatre by the Lake

When you look around an audience and see a fairy, a man in a top hat and nightshirt, and several pirates, you know you’re in for a good night.

Wendy, Michael and John Darling in Theatre by the Lake's Christmas production of Peter Pan. Review by Katie Hale at Second-Hand Hedgehog travel blog.
[Isabella Marshall, Meilir Rhys WIlliams & Matthew Coulton: photo by Keith Pattison]
Any theatre that puts on a production of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is starting from a good place - especially when press night is also fancy dress night. It’s a fantastic story, and has a witty, entertaining, timeless script. But the script also presents challenges, the main one of which is of course flying.

To simultaneously fly four actors above the (comparatively small) stage in Theatre by the Lake’s Main House was ambitious, both for the technical staff operating the flight rigging, and for the actors who had to avoid hitting the set or each other. Luke Jerdy as Peter did a particularly exceptional job of making flight look easy and natural.

There were a couple of mishaps with the flight equipment (a couple of tangled wires, and a bump against the wall), but overall the ambition paid off. Against the backdrop of Martin Johns’ beautiful set, and enhanced by his vibrant costumes, flight certainly added to the magical feel of the show.

The cast brought Barrie’s wonderful characters to life: from Isabella Marshall’s sensible and caring Wendy Darling, to Peter Macqueen’s cunning and somewhat misunderstood Captain Hook. Meilir Rhys Williams as Michael, the youngest, was a delight to watch, captivating the audience with his childish mannerisms and charm.