Seeing Hamilton in London

So for the past year or so I’ve been living with Hamilton lyrics stuck in my head on repeat.

A colleague was playing some Hamilton songs at work, I knew of the show and the songs sounded nice but I had no idea what was going on. One song he had played a few times suddenly had me intrigued. In the song one character was begging another to take a break, and this other character (who I assumed to be the love interest) had come all this way to see him. I cannot stand not knowing the answer to something so with nothing else planned that evening I sat and listened to the whole musical on Spotify. I then immediately bought the CD from Amazon and it played in my car on repeat on my commutes home.

The words get sucked into my head, and James ended up singing along to ‘The Room where it Happened’ in the house having never heard the CD due to my constant rapping! So James searched the ticket websites a few times in the lead up to Christmas and managed to get us reasonably priced stall tickets. He tried to play it off that he’d bought my tickets for Matilda, but I knew from the way he dashed up the stairs to check we were free on a particular date that we had Hamilton tickets!

Backstory (mine, not Hamilton’s) aside, James and I went to see the incredible show at the Victoria Palace last night and I was not disappointed. I’m not going to explain the story, it really doesn’t need to be said again, but I’ll give you my experience here in case it helps any other fans have a smooth experience.

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Arrive early!

As the paperless tickets tell you, aim to arrive an hour before the show starts. The theatre opens 90 minutes before but I couldn’t convince James to go any earlier! Getting into the theatre is swift, slight queue outside (took longer as James became entranced with a police officer’s explosive detection dog’s snazzy curly haircut) but at this point they briefly check your confirmation email and direct you to the correct door. Then a thorough bag check and another person takes your payment card, swipes it and these beautiful Hamilton tickets come out for you to keep! Then you’re in!

Loos

I’d talk about them, and they are fancy, but there wasn’t anything to say form my personal experience. We arrived at 6.30, when straight to the stalls’ loos and I went straight into a cubicle. At intermission though James said the sight of the ladies’ loos queue was awful! I never go mid show so couldn’t tell you.

Merchandise

There is a nice orderly queue for merchandise outside the ladies’ loos opposite the doors to the stalls. As you queue there are laminates showing the merch and prices, however I had done some research on the newly opened Hamilton London online shop. I’d decided I wanted the £10 brochure and the £8 keyring for my keys. No last minute panics for me!

But I never saw online that there are two brochures, the £10 picture one with images of the original Broadway cast and the £4 programme containing the details of the London cast. I decided I would get both, for an extra £4 it was worth it.

Then James returned from the gents and got hold of one of the laminate cards and was reminding me of all the other things on offer. ‘Do you want a t-shirt? Look, they do a ladies’ tee? What about a hoodie then? Aww, they have a bauble. And a water bottle. How about a magnet for the fridge. You’re not getting the badges?’ With so much choice I decided to get the magnet too. I asked for these items and then from behind me James appears and buys the bauble as well (doubling the price of our merch just like that! You might notice, I’m the saver and James is the spender!). I didn’t fight it though, this was a special event for me and I never treat myself to stuff like this.

Everything packed into a cute Hamilton plastic bag and to our seats we go!

Seating

The stalls opened at about 6.45pm I believe. Just as we arrived after loos, merch and the bar (just bought a bottle of water, nothing to report). The seats are fairly tight. James is about 6 foot and his knees were just about touching the seats in front. Much taller and I bet it could get uncomfortable.

View is great, we were about 5 rows from the back and could see almost everything. (Big headed guy in front meant I missed some action from the left of the stage.) We took loads of photos before the show started.

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The show itself

Just amazing. I couldn’t believe I was watching the show I had pictured in my head for the past year in it’s full glory. Being FA Cup final day, I was concerned we would have understudies! We did, for both Burr and Hamilton. But aside from the videos on YouTube I didn’t have much to compare them to. Sifiso Mazibuko as Burr was brilliant. I had read an article about him a few weeks back, he also understudies for Hamilton and Lafayette/Jefferson so has to know his stuff. His portrayal was just as I expected Burr to be and I wonder if I’d be disappointed with Giles Terera’s take when I come back. My slight gripe with Ash Hunter’s Hamilton is that he looks down too much. At the start I hoped it was a part of showing his growth, so by Act 2 he’d be standing upright and confident but it didn’t really happen. But aside from that he was excellent in the part.

The rest of the cast were amazing too. Not a weak person. Madison repeated a line in ‘The Adams Administration’ instead of another line, but I asked James afterwards and he didn’t notice. I really liked the actor playing Hercules/Madison a lot, I never picked up from the CD how different the two characters come across physically. Seeing Madison and Jefferson together in the second half was a highlight. There is a lot more physical comedy that you cannot pick on from the CD either, lines got laughs that I hadn’t imagined. Something that sounded intense and moody on the CD could come across light and pull a laugh on stage.

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There were parts that I’d directed differently in my head too, some lines are washed over rather than emphasised as I do when I’m singing along in my car. It almost felt like watching a film of a beloved book! I’d pictured so much in my head that it wouldn’t compete in some ways, but in others I was excited to see how it looked on stage.

James’ favourite songs were always King George’s on the CD, and he didn’t disappoint on stage. This was James’ favourite parts of the musical. It is such a laugh.

When am I going back?

I always knew this wouldn’t be a one off visit! I don’t have tickets yet but I’ll certainly be looking out for more reasonably priced ones. There is so many layers to this show, there was lots about the choreography that went over my head that repeat viewings would make clearly, same with the lyrics and music on the CD. But when? It is only a matter of time.

 

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Taking Brownies to Kidzania

Yesterday we had an awesome day out to the Kidzania centre in London, and while I was concerned about many aspects following reviews online we actually had an amazing time! Here is everything I wish I knew beforehand… even just to cure some of my worries!

Arrival:

Make sure to do the research on how to find Kidzania within Westfields, it isn’t signposted too well but there were staff around to help point us the right way. While I’d looked at the Westfields map online, being in the centre looked very different! The entrance is beside some lifts, you’re greeted in a rather small entrance that leads to escalators, after taking four of these you’re at arrivals.

The Brownies and adults are given security tags, and the Brownies are given Kidzo money and hair nets (which some will proceed to put on straight away! But they’re for the food activities and I believe they put them on before putting on helmets for the climbing and air conditioning.)

As we go into the centre we’re greeted by a staff member who explains to the Brownies how the system works, how to check how long an activity will take and whether they have to pay Kidzos to take part, or of they get paid!

The only disappointment here is that the time it takes to get your security tags is included in the 4 hours. We walked into the Kidzania town itself at 11am (our booked time slot) but were told as we started checking in at 10.45am we would finish at 2.45pm.

Setting up a base:

We decided to set up base in the Town Square, an area with tables and chairs designed for resting and eating. The Brownies dumped their bags on and under our table and as leaders we took turns staying at the table and going around the centre and seeing what the girls were up to. This meant the Brownies always knew where to find an adult, it was placed very close to the toilets, and often the Brownies would pass by anyway between, or during, their jobs.

Security tags:

A major disappoint for us was that the security tags did not work. For a start, no one even mentioned this aspect of the Kidzania experience to us, I was only aware of this from a colleague who had previously taken her daughter. At the Job Information stand, right next to where you first walk in, there is a screen. Press the green ‘tracker’ icon and then scan your wristband and you should be able to see on the map where all the young members of your group have last scanned in (those running each activity scan the kids in and out). Great for leaders and for the girls to be able to find each other, but none of our tags worked. We were told it was because we were a large group and to go to the airport to fix it. A fellow leader discussed this with a manager for a little while, it didn’t get sorted which was a shame (if it had included getting all the girls together to scan their wrists again it wouldn’t have been worth the loss of time).

Lunch:

As of when we went in Summer 2017, youth groups and schools are allowed to take packed lunches into the centre. This was great as organising 16 kids buying lunch would’ve been a nightmare! We kept their lunches at our base and the girls came and sat with us the eat their lunch when they were hungry between activities. This worked so much better than trying to collect up all 16, and meant there was more space for other families.

The Activities!:

There was so much to do! We gave our Brownies parents the list of jobs to read through before the day, and again to the girls on the journey up, so they could decide what their preferences were.

There really was activities to please everyone and our girls did such a variety. Reading reviews online I was concerned about queuing, being a sunny, hot day may have worked in our favour as the queues weren’t very bad at all. Many were just waiting for the previous group to finish and were next in. But some activities seem to have a constant queue, such as the firefighters and the chocolate factory.

Some activities were a little disappointing. A few younger ones were excited about the Smoothie Making Lab – but as ‘fruitologists’ their job seemed to be about identifying fruits rather than actually making smoothies – they did have some to taste though.

The air conditioning unit was tunnelling with tasks to do along the way, like counting up broken light bulbs.

Many were dashing around as couriers making deliveries, some were looking around for units to measure up to sell as estate agents, and some were looking after new born babies in the special care unit. Some were fashion designers and using a select number of clothes had to design an outfit for a client based on ‘tomboy’ or ‘girly girl’. Some became vets, although I was told the staff were a little unenthusiastic which made the session feel boring, I think the right staff really does make the activities as some others were fantastic.

One Brownie became a reporter and wrote an article on the dance studio, she selected the images to use and then her report was printed in front of her, hot of the press!

After a couple of the little ones went to university and got their Kidzania degree, the Brownies soon realised they would get paid more money in some jobs if they had one too! After achieving their degree they receive a little photo card which was a nice souvenir in itself.

They also figured out to make the most money they needed to become window cleaners. (I imagine this is because Kidzania actually benefits from the kids keeping their windows clean!)

By the end of the session the goal most Brownies had was to open their bank account. They need 75 Kidzos before they can make a deposit and receive their bank card, they’re given 50 on arrival to the centre and each activity earns 5-12 Kidzos. But watch them after they receive their bank cards, after queuing 15 minutes to deposit their Kidzos they’re straight at the ATMs trying to withdraw it all back out!

The only activity I was frustrated with was the Cadbury’s chocolate factory. One of our littlest Brownies queued by herself for so long for this, as she stood at the front of the queue we watched as the group before finished and left, and then another 10 minutes as the staff leisurely set up for the next group. When they’re finally let in (and you pay for this one, you don’t get paid) and they have their aprons on and wash their hands, then the official photographer came in to take a photo of each child holding a giant chocolate bar. It took so long to do anything. I’m not sure what actually happens during the activity, but when they finish they’re given a token, about A6 in size with the picture of a chocolate bar on it to hand in when they leave to receive some chocolate so we were a little disappointed when our girls who took part were given a ‘Heroes’ dairy milk! I didn’t understand why this couldn’t have just been given at the end of the activity rather than getting their hopes up!

We let the Brownies decide if they wanted to stay paired up or go it alone, though we did this thinking we could keep track of them but it actually worked out fine. Some stayed in groups the whole time, others had their own aspirations so split up for a bit, but they knew where to find a leader if they wanted to pair up with a group again.

Spending those hard earned Kidzos!:

Don’t expect to get much for your money. I tried to explain to some that this is the value of money and you have to work lots of times to buy the things you want. There is a shop, kids only, that sells pencils for 40 Kidzos, rulers for 45 Kidzos, necklaces for 120 Kidzos. But at the end of a session, if you hadn’t spent anything elsewhere, you’re likely to have about 85 Kidzos at most. The Brownies who had money didn’t even want to spend it on a pencil or a ruler, I wish I had advised them sooner to think about spending it on actual activities instead. It costs Kidzos to have your face painted or attempt the climbing wall. I believe there was a drum workshop too but I never saw it. Most of ours came home with bundles of Kidzo notes, so at least they can return with it in the future!

Departure:

About 20 minutes before our time was up we started directing girls to the shop if they wanted to spend their money. This worked as a bit of a wind down time. We queued to have our security tags taken off and it was “bye bye” Kidzania!

In Conclusion:

Great day! Very pleased that the queuing wasn’t an issue, we had a few moans but I think this was part of the lesson they learned during the session. If I’d had the option I would’ve gone for a longer session, 4 hours goes so quickly, but actually being there the girls were starting to wind down after that amount of time anyway. The security tags were a disappointment but it didn’t ruin the day, it would’ve been nice to know where they were. Also, handing out maps would be a good idea too. There were signposts but I never looked at them so doubt ten year olds would! I never saw where the pilot and cabin crew activities were, or the music workshop. The stadium, engineering and animation studio were out of the way too so many of the kids may not notice them. But overall we had a fantastic day, we had great feedback from the girls including “this is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life” – you can’t beat that!

Madame Tussauds & Ghost Bus Tour

So back in February James and I took a stroll around London. It was valentines day and we both took the day off work to share it together. It is a good reminder that we need to enjoy each others company amongst the chaos going on around us.

Madame Tussauds was not the activity of choice for either of us. We had done it in Blackpool and found all the London cast offs to be rather funny. However we chose to hit this attraction as it was one of a few we hadn’t reached using our Merlin Annual passes (RIP). We had an evening planned at Pizza Express and on the Ghost Bus Tour. This was a mere warm up.

On entry to the attraction we were very confused. We were handed a couple of wrapped items and told to go up the stairs. At the top were a large group of people who were all just lingering around, not taking photos, no effort to get in the lift, I have no idea why they were standing there as a staff member directed us straight into a lift.

We are probably world record Madame Tussauds visitors. We aren’t really fans of posing with the models, only a few funny ones. We spotted John Wayne early on, James’ Mum’s favourite actor. Her birthday as coming up so we jumped in for a selfie.

John Wayne

We enjoyed the Marvel part too, even if it was quite short. The 4D cinema experience was a bit of fun but clearly for younger Marvel fans. We got stuck in posing with the models here though:

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It would be a good afternoon of fun for anyone who loves all things celebrity and love a good selfie, but we were not in our element at Madame Tussauds. We headed off to Charing Cross for a lovely Pizza Express before wandering down a dark Northumberland Avenue.

We were early for the Ghost Bus Tour but were greeted by a mysterious conductor who took our details and in response gave us the number 4 “the ghost told me to tell you”. This would’ve been more scary had he been clearer though as I started looking through my paperwork for reference numbers and started rattling them off. We waited for the bus confused, with our only knowledge the number 4.

The Ghost Bus Tour arrived and in the eerily dark February evening looked like this:

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Crowds of people had arrived by this point and flooded to the bus doors to get their seats. A conductor appeared blocking their path. “You will be seated in order of your arrival number 1 please”. Woohoo! I was so pleased. Being number 4 gave us great seats. We sat at the top front so could have a good view of everything on our side. The curtains (used for a gimmick at the end) were slightly annoying but couldn’t complain about the seats.

The tour is a good one if you like mysteries, crime and all things creepy about London. A story ran through the tour as well about a ghost on board the bus too which was a bit of a laugh.

I wasn’t happy with the walking part, I understand the bus probably couldn’t go down the route we needed to see this part but I’d rather skip it and stay cosy on the bus.

Some may find the acting and story cheesy and annoying, if you’re looking for straight forward facts about London this probably isn’t the best one for you. But for a funny, spooky night out this is fab! A perfect way to spend time with the one you love the most!

Celebrate! World Thinking Day 2014 at Alexandra Palace

So our first big Guiding adventure of 2014 is over. But it won’t be forgotten very quickly.

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Celebrate! was a large scale event held over Thinking Day weekend and offered a vast amount of activities to all ages from Rainbows to Leaders. It was held at the mammoth venue Alexandra Palace in London. Here are the details of my two day adventure…

Saturday 22nd February 2014

Mother dearest and I had an early start to get to Alexandra Palace for 8am. The Celebrate event team had requested volunteers arrive from 6am onwards to help prepare the venue for the weekend’s activities. Traffic was a doddle and we parked up at 7:45am.

We entered the venue in shock and slight fear as we heard shouts from the middle of the room. Volunteers were taking orders and helping prepare activities. We sneaked off to the toilets before confronting one of the lead organisers. We were sent off to the largest room to collect supplies.

Mum was designated the Chinese Lanterns as her activity. I think she had been worrying about this task, especially when we found the equipment and before setting it up she was practising her own! A square made up of two long tables the activity was a small one but ready to go.

Next we headed to the Panorama room to set up my activity: Marshmallow Igloos. This proved to be a popular one! As we set up the equipment confusion came over me at the realisation that:

a) we no longer used cups as a base to build the igloos

b) there was no where to collect water for the icing

c) there was nothing to mix the icing in

d) there was nothing to mix the icing with!

We collected some more supplies, confirmed that the girls had to think more strategically to build the igloos and decided to collect water in coffee cups before the event started.

There were a few more activities that needed assistance but it soon closed in on showtime. (After enjoying out bacon or egg baguette breakfast!) I left Mum in the WAGGGS zone;

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and headed to the Passport to Adventure zone and waited patiently with the marshmallows.

The doors opened and not long after the first trickles of Rainbows and Brownies came in. The first group were distracted by the Bollywood Dancing workshop but they were followed by three Brownies who were pointing at marshmallows with their leader. The start was hard going because these girls had to begin making the icing. It took a while, and some Guides joined them, but soon they were all sticking marshmallows together with the icing to create some cool treats.

The activity got popular very quickly to the point it was out of control. I had planned a ‘no seat no activity’ rule as we didn’t have enough space. But soon leaders were pushing their girls into every available spot (and then standing around them so I couldn’t introduce what they were doing or offer down more marshmallows!). By an hour in I wanted to scream and go home. The lead volunteer in the area could see my distress and checked everything was okay. The giant marshmallows were gone within 45minutes and I seemed to get the blame for giving them out too freely. Well, the girls had realised that these made igloos quicker and, guess what, contained more marshmallow to eat than the little ones!

Lunch for me was at 12:30pm and I could not wait. I met up with Mummy and we headed to collect our jacket potatoes. We discussed our activities, Mum’s was a lot quieter and even had leaders using the space as a rest zone while their unit played elsewhere. I complained of the chaos and at this time felt awful about returning. This had become a work day and I was not happy about that.
As we ate lunch Chief Guide Gill Slocombe could be heard on the speakers asking everyone to stand to renew their promise. I put down my cheese and potato and renewed my promise with the other leaders around me. Later Gill Slocombe appeared on the table next to us but this would not be our last meeting.

After lunch the marshmallow igloos got better for a while. There was more control and I achieved my dream of being known as ‘The Marshmallow Lady’. One Brownie made a specially amazing igloo. There were tiny Rainbows making them and adults doing their best to build a roof. But disaster struck at 2:30pm – we ran out of icing sugar.

I spent a long time explaining the situation to leaders and was looking over the crowd for our lead volunteer to decipher if more icing sugar was a possibility. Girls had taken to building without the icing but the activity became much more unpopular with this turn of events. On seeing our lead volunteer I told her our plight and she went off in search of more. Even the lead organiser, Claire, came to me to ask about the situation. One clever Brownie holding a plateful of marshmallows suggested the biscuit decorating stall for more. It was a great shout but there still was not enough. By 3:40pm, 20 minutes before kicking out time, we also ran out of marshmallows. But the crowds had died down so we began operation: clean up.

Mum finished her area long before I did so came to help. After someone stole an instruction sheet, we added new banquet rolls and left everything as we found it we took a stroll past the new Brownie Book designs. Soooo cute! Cannot wait to purchase them.

We helped out a few guiding friends before we hit the road. We had lots of stories to compare but generally both felt happy about our contributions that day. Next challenge, taking 9 girls to the arena!

Sunday 23rd February 2014

After a short sleep mother dearest and I awoke again for our second day of Celebrate madness. A lay in compared to yesterday we left at 8:10am with our fellow leader, Sue. On arrival at the station we found two of our older members already eager and waiting. Our group was a mixed bunch. From tiny 7 year old Brownie, three 8 year old Brownies, one 10 year old Brownie, one 10 year old Guide, and three Brownie Helpers (also Guides) aged 12-14. All arrived on time and we were on the platform by 8:30am and got a train ahead of schedule (not that I was aware of this at the time and went into panic mode later).

The journey was made up of a few short bursts on different trains, all assisted by clever Guide and her trains app. On the way the three groups discussed the activities and chose their favourites, one pointed out rather excitedly “Lunch! I LOVE lunch!”

The walk up the hill to Alexandra Palace was a tough one. We lost Sue into the crowd of Brownies behind us. “I’ve found Blackbird,” shouted hyper Brownie as she pointed across the road to a curious bird.

The rain and wind tried to pull us back but we pushed on through to reach the giant venue. I got our group registered, in the queue, and very quickly we were ushered into the venue.

Our discussions with the groups on their favoured activities went out the window when we arrived. A group of Brownies wanted to try the bungee trampoline but we had to explain the queue was at its maximum but we would return later (unbeknown to us this would always be unsuccessful.) Instead some took to the revolving climbing wall while others met the animals at the petting zoo.

The revolving climbing wall was an interesting watch, most managed to stay on the whole time while. We tried out the bowling, BATAK challenge, duck racing and table tennis. I took the 10 year olds to look around while the younger ones stayed by the ducks. They tried candle decorated, looked at the mosaic that many girls were assisting in creating and tried some Edinburgh rock.

In the village fete zone we queued for the scalextric stand where the girls cycled to power the race cars. As we queued I noticed a lone Guide before us. My girls asked whether one should join her when a fellow leader appeared by my side. “Wow! What’s this! It looks amazing!” She chirped with sheer joy. I looked up to see Chief Guide Gill Slocombe by my side. We discussed the activity before I pointed out there was a Guide looking for a partner to race. She was so filled with excitement that it was contagious. My two girls then took their go and really enjoyed themselves.

As we headed to our midday feast the same lunch loving Brownie had another mountain top moment at Celebrate, “Carpet! I LOVE carpet!” (It was nice under our feet, I must admit.)

After lunch half the girls headed to the funbus (a regular bus but spray painted blue with soft play toys inside) and half queued for the roller disco. I happened to be waiting with the roller disco girls and minutes into the queue the Guides questioned whether I would join them. “No, no, no,” I instinctively reacted. “Come on Brown Owl, please!” The younger Brownies insisted. I must admit, it felt nice that the girls wanted me to join them. I saw other leaders taking up the opportunity and decided why couldn’t I have some fun too?

The roller disco turned out to be my favourite part of the day. It was good to be involved, but mainly I realised I was needed on the disco floor too. One smaller Brownie had never skated before so I became some support while the railing helped her stay up too. During our time in the skates she managed some distance with no support at all. She did fall once, but we even managed to get across the arena without the railing at one point.

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I had a short race with the more able skaters and we all had a good time. But for me, knowing I’d helped a girl have a new experience and face a challenge was the most rewarding and therefore most memorable.

The Brownies and Guides also tried the musical Gamelan workshop, the silent disco, made body scrub, tried Henna art and made masks before we made the journey home. The group had wanted to try the marshmallow igloos but it seems the activity ran out of stock even quicker on the second day. That’ll be an activity for next term I think.

We were all exhausted by the time we returned home. “How are we getting home?” One Brownie questioned as we arrived at our station. “You’d better have a parent waiting here, because we will be off!” We joked with her.

I thought this event was a great experience. As a leader it gives you more time to interact and have fun with the girls knowing you’re not the one with all the activities to lead and questions to answer. As a Brownie or Guide it gave them pure decision making with a vast range of activities to choose between. Plus team work on picking activities together and many challenges to face. Will we see another event like this to Celebrate World Thinking Day? I truly hope so!