10 brilliant things about Christmas in England

Christmas in England

While there’s a rather large part of me that would kill to be sunning myself on a beach in Australia, there’s something special about Christmas in England that can’t be recreated anywhere else. Here’s 10 things you’ll notice about Christmas in England as Brits embrace the holiday season with a unique combination of grumpy cynicism and festive cheer.
Christmas in England1. Christmas shopping
From approximately mid-October, we start to stress about buying the perfect gifts for our loved ones. But somehow, shopping trips end up vastly unproductive until mid-December where frantic panic buying commences. Except for that one friend who pipes up chirpily, “I got all my presents in the sales last year so I’m all finished”. Cue threatening glares from everybody else in the room.

2. In fact, shops in general
Beware: grave danger awaits at any retail outlets in December. Aisles blocked by prams, death by overheating in your coat, hat, scarf and gloves, the battle to the death for a parking space. Thank God for online shopping.

3. Christmas films
They’re inescapable and we love it. ITV are showing Love Actually three times this week and let’s be honest, we will happily sit through them all. Other personal favourites include The Holiday, The Muppets Christmas Carol and….Die Hard. Yes, it’s a Christmas film.

4. TV overload
Normal scheduling goes completely out of the window as Christmas specials dominate. Want to watch films back to back for the entire week of Christmas? It’s completely possible. Even if you haven’t watched an episode of Dr Who or Eastenders all year, the Christmas Day specials suddenly become essential viewing.

5. The Queen
3pm, Christmas Day. There’s nothing more British than the Queen’s Speech.

6. High spirits like never before
Most commonly heard phrase during Christmas in England? “Oh go on, it’s Christmas.” Offices everywhere are decked out in tatty pieces of tinsel, we drive our colleagues and family crazy with Shakin’ Stevens on repeat and a tipple before midday has never been more socially acceptable. We Brits know how to party when we’re cracking out the Baileys with a breakfast of chocolate coins.

7. All the food
Along the same vein as number 6, the entire nation comes over with the munchies over Christmas. And there’s so many options, available for a limited time only, that it’s completely acceptable to enjoy a turkey sandwich, mince pie, slice of Yule log and assorted Mr Kipling favourites all in one sitting.

8. Crackers
We’re a stylish nation that falls into two categories: those who point blank refuse to don a paper hat and those who rock the crown from the moment of pulling the cracker until bedtime. I fall into the latter. Don’t judge me.

9. Christmas cards
Why do we do this? It’s stressful from start to finish. Then we feel pressured to display our cards until mid-January when they start falling from the walls and we can chuck the whole lot in the bin.

10. Pigs in Blanket
Truly the best thing about Christmas in England? I’ll take an entire plate please.

How British is your Christmas? Buzzfeed put together this great quiz to help you find out!

Laura x

For those travel blues days

watching film laptop

Although everything may look peachy perfect on social media while people are travelling, the truth is that every day can’t be perfect. Whether it’s suddenly being struck down from illness, a stormy day while you’re staying at a beach resort or purely suffering from a bout of homesickness, it’s natural to sometimes feel like you need a day to relax and recuperate. Luckily, no matter where you are in the world, it can be pretty easy to spend some time recharging your batteries if you catch a case of the travel blues.
watching film laptop Plusnet kindly sent me a package of essentials to get my night in started and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it would be to recreate this treat night in feeling abroad. While it’s unlikely you’ll be carrying DVD’s, almost everybody now will have some kind of device with them while travelling, whether it’s a laptop, mobile or tablet. Log into the wifi and stream a film – when it comes to comfort watching, an old favourite always does the trick for me. This weekend, the BFI LOVE season boxset that had me covered and as I sat down to watch Bridget Jones’s Diary, the familiar music at the start was already making me feel better.
travel blues Tissues and face wipes are two of my absolute must-haves on any trip abroad to keep you feeling fresh, even when you’re desperately needing a hot shower! A face mask would feel like the ultimate indulgence – who else’s skincare routines go completely out of the window as soon as you set foot in a hostel? – and not something I’d ever think to pack in a backpack. But if you’re travelling through Asia, their skincare is renowned for being pretty amazing and picking up just one of the famous sheet masks could give you that pampered feeling you’ve been craving.

So stick on your comfiest clothes, tie your hair back with a comfy headband and even create that movie feeling by making popcorn in the hostel microwave. Sometimes we all need to stop and enjoy a comforting few hours in to help us get over the occasional travel blues and appreciate the busy, exciting times.

If you had to pick your favourite love story, what would it be?

Laura x

Le Corsaire: English National Ballet

Seeing the ballet each November has become somewhat of a tradition for my grandma and I. This year, the English National Ballet brought ‘Le Corsaire’ to the Liverpool Empire Theatre and as a ballet that had never been danced in England before 2013, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We excitedly wrapped up warm against the biting wind and made our way to the Empire for the Thursday evening showing.
Shiori Kase as Medora in English National Ballet's Le Corsaire Photo (C) Photography by ASHLe Corsaire (meaning: The Pirate) is based on a poem by Lord Byron. Conrad’s love Medora has fallen into the hands of a slave trader Lankendem and his pirates sail towards the Ottoman Empire to free her. But despite managing to free her in the Act I, treachery and mutiny lead to a back and forth of kidnappings. It combines the romance of ballet with swashbuckling action and touches of humor to become a ballet unlike any others I have seen.

While all the artists danced wonderfully with barely a step out of place, special mentions have to go to Osiel Gouneo, the Cuban guest artist making his debut in the role of Conrad and Erina Takahashi as Medora. Michael Coleman’s Pasha made me giggle a number of times too!
English National Ballet dancers in Le Corsaire Photo (C) Photography by ASH

From the hustle and bustle of the bazaar to the tranquility of Pasha’s dreamland, the sets were stunning with such attention to detail making each scene feel special. When looking at the programme beforehand, the costumes were the first thing that caught my eye and they didn’t disappoint. In the opening scenes, the sparkling golds veils of Pasha’s group are almost too beautiful to look at and I found myself longing for one a bejeweled tutu.

Ballet is something that I will always love and while Swan Lake holds a special place in my heart, I was really impressed by Le Corsaire. For a truly spectacular experience, I’d highly recommend an evening out at the ballet: Le Corsaire is running at the London Coliseum between 13th and 24th January.

Have you ever been to the ballet? Which is your favourite?
Laura x

Images: Photography by ASH

Three Best Books about North Korea

Best Books about North Korea

It feels strange to talk about just how much North Korea fascinates me and for a few years now, I’ve been seeking out documentaries and the best books about North Korea to educate myself more. As a country that exists almost completely separately from the rest of the 21st century world, it’s unbelievable to think that the images and videos we see from their state press are taking place in the present day. And behind those images are approximately 24.5 million citizens whose everyday lives we know absolutely nothing about. This is where my favourite books come in.
Best Books about North Korea

The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-hwan and Pierre Rigoulot

Kang Chol-hwan was the first person to escape a North Korean prison camp and defect in order to tell his story. While he was once from one of the more privileged family in the country (being of Japanese descent, they could afford luxuries that many North Koreans couldn’t dream of), his entire immediate family was sent to a work camp after his grandfather was imprisoned. It’s interesting to read the beginning of the book as the others I have come across don’t cover much about a ‘middle class’ life in North Korea – unsurprisingly, it seems to be rare!

Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

This was the first book about North Korea that I came across and it felt akin to reading about what life must have been like in a World War II concentration camp – except this was modern day. Shin Dong-hyuk is the first known person born in a North Korean camp to escape and while I found his story fascinating to read, it was disappointing to see that he retracted chunks of his story earlier this year. However, in spite of this unreliable narration, the sense of how different his childhood was to other children growing up in the country was incredibly interesting. He experienced very little of the indoctrination that other North Koreans go through (as it was intended that he would live his entire life there without being released) and to this day, finds it hard to trust and regulate his emotions.

Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Probably my favourite of the three, Nothing to Envy covers the stories of six individuals and their families from the Chongjin region. It’s interesting to see how things have been changing in recent years, especially the rise of the black markets which have been crucial in the survival of those who don’t live in Pyonyang. One of the quotes that particularly stood out for me was this, from the story of Dr. Kim who considered herself a loyalist to the regime until she escaped:

“She still wanted to believe that her country was the best place in the world. The beliefs she had cherished for a lifetime would be vindicated. But now she couldn’t deny what was staring her plainly in the face: dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea”

For me, the most stark contrasts come in how the North Korean government portray the country through the state media, as though the world is completely blind to the reality behind the smiles and parades for the cameras. The official website of the regime talks about how it “practically guarantees the people genuine political freedom and rights”. In direct juxtaposition to this is its rating by Freedom House: 7/7, the worst possible rating meaning ‘not at all free’.

Leave your thoughts or recommendations for me below, I’d love to read more!

Laura x

Chester Zoo

Elephant Chester Zoo

When the UK warms up for summer, most of us Brits flock outdoors to make the most of the sun and one of my favourite places to spend a sunny day is at Chester Zoo. People of all ages love it and whether its a family day out, exploring with friends or even a first date, there’s something for everybody to enjoy.

The first thing you see when you walk in are the elephants and it’s a pretty spectacular starting compound, particularly if there are babies in there! Some of my other personal favourites are the monkeys – they’re so entertaining that you could watch them for hours – the penguins and the Tropical Realm. There are also plenty of indoor areas in case the weather takes a turn for the worse: I’d recommend the Realm of the Red Ape, the Fruit Bat Forest and the Butterfly Journey.

The best days to visit tend to have scattered sun and overcast moments: too cold and lots of the animals head indoors but too warm and they’re cooling off in the shade away from the fences.
Even during the busiest of school holidays, the staff are ridiculously organised and car parking is a breeze. Entrance prices vary from £16 to £20 for an adult and £13 to £16 for a child – two and under go free! – so if you visit as a family, it’s worth checking out the annual membership options allow you unlimited free entry as well as discount in the on-site cafes and shops. It often pays for itself with two or three visits!

For those moments when you want to take a break from the crowds, there are also a couple of gardens tucked away where you can relax, enjoy a picnic or just take in the scenery. The amenities are pretty good, with toilets never too far away, and while the food is expensive, there’s lots of options in case you don’t want to carry around too many supplies – including some incredible ice cream! If you’ve got some tired little legs with you, then you can even take a trip on the monorail to get around that little bit faster.

One of my personal favourite moments from my last trip to the zoo was seeing my two year old cousin make friends with a monkey!

So, if you’re looking to do something different this summer, why not head to Chester Zoo to marvel at some wildlife?

Laura x