Friday, June 28, 2013

Retrospective Outfit of the Day 1.

Today, I'm starting a new ~series in which I pick some of my favourite outfits I've worn in the past (or occasionally, what I'm currently wearing at the time of the blog entry), and list where I bought all the stuff. There's a couple of reasons why I'm doing this. First and foremost, cos it's fun!~~ And secondly, I'm not a huge online shopper, nor do I have that many designer label outfits, nor do I frequent thrift shops or anything. When it comes to clothes, 95% of my wardrobe comes from the high street, meaning I should, in theory, dress quite generically. My aim is to show that with a few odd bits and bobs here and there, you can really make an outfit your own.

I wore this ensemble on my last night on holiday with Anna (the namesake of this blog) in our stay in Toarmina, Sicily. Here it is:

Dress: Forever 21, £18.75
Heels: Marks and Spencer, £25
Bangle: Warehouse, £8
Handbag: market stall, £3
Heart-shaped sunglasses: Accessorize, £15

There's also a barely visible ring on my non-bangle hand, but I can't remember where that's from.

Wasn't that fun! There'll be more to come soon. :p

Nail polish experiment: mixing No7 So Neat with No7 Daisy Darling.

In theory, I didn't expect these two colours to go, as their tones are completely different: teal with sparkly pieces of pink:


The end product was surprisingly good though!

Daisy Darling provides a useful topcoat to So Neat, as I find that No7 nail varnishes chip far too easily for my liking. I'm my third day in to wearing my nails in this colour and so far there's been no chipping, so I'm delighted I've found a functional and fashionable way of jazzing up my nails slightly! Daisy Darling is the first glittery-type nail varnish I've bought, but it's so pretty and now I think I'm in the market for a multi-coloured sprinkles type nail polish as well.

I think, on a night out, I will pair Daisy Darling with an even more daring colour and see what the end product is. If it looks bad, I can just palm it off as #experimentation.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

361 Degrees trainers.

My mum bought me some stuff from her visit to China this Christmas, and one of them was a bright pink pair of trainers (pink is my favourite colour):

I had my reservations about these shoes to begin with, as, when it comes to trainers, I'm kind of a label-Nazi, and swear by Nike or Adidas trainers. So I was a bit snobby and sneery towards these. But they make a great change from my grey/pink Adidas pair (review for another time), and are actually a lot sturdier than the fashionable-but-not-altogether-functional Reebox Classics out on the market.
The bright, practically fluoro-level pink means that I can wear a relatively muted outfit, dull jeans, and these trainers transform the entire look by giving it a much needed pop of colour. And for running, they're more comfortable than all my other pairs.
So if you ever find yourself in China, you could do worse than these trainers!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Benefit California Kissin' Lipgloss review.

I love lipgloss, and Benefit do some of my favourite lipglosses. I was beguiled by this product because it was so blue and had no idea how that would work on my lips, but thankfully the blue doesn't show up as obviously on your lips as it does in the packaging. The product carries with it a minty-fresh scent that's unusual from the standard floral scents you'd expect from lipglosses, and it's not altogether unpleasant.
However, for the price you pay £14, you'd really hope to see a better return for your money from this product, which is good, but doesn't ever fulfil the "promises" that the sales clerks con with you, primarly, that you'd attain whiter teeth. Now, lipsticks actually do give me whiter teeth, but I'm yet to find a lipgloss that does, and this certainly isn't it. For the price and the lies, I'm gonna have to give it a...
Grade: C

Monday, June 24, 2013

ModelCo Shine Ultra Lip Gloss

If you buy Glamour this month (£2), the free gift is a lipgloss worth £12! (according to the ModelCo website)

Previously, I only had one lipgloss with a mirror on the side, and it was from Primark. I don't know why more brands don't do this because, whilst it may look a tiny bit less classy than without a mirror attached, the mirror is SO helpful!
As for the lipgloss itself, the colour I selected was a great nude shade (as I have more than enough red and pink-toned lipglosses), so that it merely glossed & faintly added glitter on my lips, but not so much that I looked ridiculous. The quantity is very generous and the longevity ain't bad either. I give this lipgloss a thumbs up. For £2, and a magazine, it really would be silly not to get it!

Book Review: Briefs Encountered (Julian Clary)

Celebrated actor Richard Stent has just won a BAFTA for his portrayal of the celebrated British actor and playwright Noël Coward, and such is his connection with the character that he leaps at the opportunity to buy Goldenhurst Manor, the Kent mansion that Coward occupied for him and his partner Fran. However, on moving into the house, he and his acquaintances all experience bizarre goings on in in that lead him to believe that the house could very well be haunted, and the spirit of Noël Coward is perhaps not fully at rest.

I was so entertained by Julian Clary’s novel Murder Most Fab that I rushed to grab a copy of Briefs Encountered, not least because the title is also a play on my fifth favourite film of all time. And, indeed, that’s all I thought the title was – a cheeky pun that worked because it just so happened to be the title of a well-loved Coward creation. However, late on in the book you actually realise that the title carries far more significance than that, and I chuckled to myself once again at Clary’s wicked sense of humour.

Such is his sense of humour, in fact, that Clary casts himself as one of the supporting characters in the novel– the previous resident of Coward’s abode, who sells it to Richard Stent, and he pokes fun of himself from the start. The novel is set out like a play, with it being divided into acts and scenes as well as there being as list of characters at the beginning, and Clary is introduced as “annoying camp actor and renowned homosexual”, which sets the tone for the amount of ribbing he dishes out to himself over the course of the book.

Throughout the novel, the main protagonists makes snide comments about Clary’s grubby flamboyance (despite Richard Stent being gay himself), or trying to avoid him, and Clary even writes a humorous, albeit cruel ending for himself that includes his career taking “a dive that Tom Daley would have been proud of.” Such self-deprecation is rare in comedians these days – they love making fun of everything and anything but one word of mockery in their direction and they show their true diva colours – but Clary isn’t afraid to poke fun at the aspects of himself that he knows people are saying already, and in doing so, the novel is ever the more charming.

The story itself takes the formula that many a women’s weepy novel has: alternating narration between Richard Stent’s first person in the present and Noël Coward’s story, written in third person. Both Stent and Coward have plenty in common: they are famous British actors, both are gay (though in the primitive times Coward lived in, he had to keep his sexuality much more under wraps), and both struggle with the testing work/life balance and the effect it has on the relationships it has on their loved ones. It is clear from the way Coward’s story is painted, and the wandering eye of his unsatisfied American boyfriend Jack, that their love story won’t be a happy ending, and it is with trepidation and eagerness that we turn the page to see if the same doom will be inflicted on Richard and Fran.

As with Murder Most Fab, Clary dabbles with all the themes he knows most about: celebrity (hilariously, at one point the “Julian Clary” character compares his fame with Stent’s, only for the protagonist to internally sneer), man/man relationships, sex, and doing naughty things when we really ought to know better. His writing style is both unpretentious yet incredibly sharp, and as with MMF, the observations on life and certain celebrities are absolutely bang on the money.
Noël Coward was famous for his liberal depictions of adultery in his plays, for which he was lambasted by some critics, but this laissez-faire attitude towards relationships and free love is shared by Clary, and so him writing a fictionalization of Coward’s life makes perfect sense. Elements of Coward’s songwriting and poetry are interspersed throughout the storytelling, and the fact that he was clearly a very gifted raconteur and damn funny bloke is captured in the book, which, for its depiction of his flaws, renders him lovingly. Clary has clearly done his research, and Coward’s encounters with Hollywood greats such as Katharine Hepburn in the novel feel so realistic, you can actually imagine the conversations happening.

Finally, whilst some books’ treatment of the afterlife feel either mawkish or overwrought (I’m thinking The Lovely Bones, which I did not at all consider a good book), Briefs Encountered paints the spirits so naturally that they don’t feel any different from normal people, and thus we can really believe they exist. There’s dry social commentary aplenty – in the Coward segment of the novel, the actor is hounded out of his mansion by a homophobic policeman who seems intent on arresting him, yet takes quite the nosy interest in his sex life, suggestion repression on his own part, as well as a twisty whodunit to pique our interest. With a fabulous sense of humour, polished writing style and a neat eye for pacing, Clary has once again produced a treat.

Grade: A

Friday, June 21, 2013

An awful attempt to give myself a French manicure.

I've graduated!~~~ I got a 2:1 in Economics, which means all those endless nights of studying Taylor Rules, logit and probit regressions, memorising elasticity equations, solving mathematical problems pertaining to moral hazard and auction theory, pretending to give a damn about the stock market, reading the FT, deriving Hotelling formulae and memorising facts about tax evasion have amounted to something.

To celebrate, I went on a bit of a splurge, buying a tonne of girly crap I didn't really need. One of these things was a Bourjois Paris French manicure kit, because I'll be entering the working world next month and I want give the semblance of a ~classy lady~ in worldplace, even if I'm anything but. The kit was £9.99 for three things:

It's classily packaged stuff, and extremely functional. I can imagine that if applied correctly and accurately, it will give the look that you can get in the salon. However, I'm a completely nail polish n00b and so my attempts were rather amateurish, to say the least:

This is somewhat of an embarrassment: uneven application, chipped at parts, smudged... I definitely need to train.

I'm a big fan of this product though, and will continue to use it until that elusive day when I actually get it right!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Restaurant review: Pearl Liang (Paddington)

In a particularly hard-to-reach spot around Paddington station sits Pearl Liang, a Chinese restaurant specialising in dim sum, featuring some of the most delightful dishes I’ve had for some time.

Such is the nature of dim sum, that it’s hard to go wrong, really, but there are some delicacies in the Pearl Liang menu that I hadn’t encounter elsewhere, that proved to be quite the pleasant surprise. Wasabi prawn dumplings stood out to me, and I wolfed mine down in one bite. Honey roasted pork buns are a Chinese plate I’m more familiar with (my mummy can actually make them), but it’s no surprise that restaurant-cooked ones are considerably better, and Pearl Liang’s ones surpass the norm. (By the by, customer service is, whilst not exemplary, better than the abrupt pissy attitude you can expect from the Chinamen who serve you in Chinatown). The only dish that I didn’t particularly care for was something that I felt was misadvertised, as pork in black bean sauce. There was certainly lots of pork, awkward to eat as it was on a bone, but there was about three beans in the dish, and that, I’m afraid, does not a black bean SAUCE make. Nonetheless, all was redeemed with the dessert of sweet chrysanthemum buns, which were little drops of baked heaven.

The prices of the dim sum plates are very reasonable, with some giving more generous portions of a dish than the less swanky counterparts in Chinatown, but in terms of any extra dishes, you’re likely to be left wanting. We ordered honey roasted pork as well as sweet and sour chicken, the latter of which was £8.80, and I gotta tell you, the portions of sweet and sour chicken presented to us was not even worth half that. Factor in that you’ll be served for every teapot of tea you drain (when the teapots are designed so they hold deceptively little amounts of tea), and you can be prepared to pay £15+ for a really good experience. Which isn’t too shabby, really, provided you order the right things.

Grade: A-

Book Review: Murder Most Fab (Julian Clary)

Having just suffered his first love and heartbreak, Johnny Debonair is uprooted from his farmhouse in Kent to the big city, where his grandmother enrols him in drama school, believing the change will do him good. However, his classes are filled with self-absorbed people, who think too highly of themselves, and he soon becomes disillusioned with acting, long realising that he won’t be going anywhere with his pipe dream.

An alternative route would be to follow the footsteps of his flatmate Catherine, a brassy nurse who supplements her meagre NHS salary with occasional dalliances into high-end prostitution. Soon, both get kicked off their day jobs and become full-time hookers, and uproot from scummy Lewisham to a classier joint in north London, along with an expensive cocaine addiction to match. In his travails as a gigolo, Johnny happens to screw the right people that lead him to become a popular television presenter, but it doesn’t come cost-free, the cost being a few casual murders.

I’m unfamiliar with Julian Clary’s stand-up comedy, but having read this book, I’m definitely going to browse some of his acts on YouTube. The novel is bawdy, morally ambiguous to the extreme and sixty different kinds of hilarious. Johnny’s experiences of being a rent-boy to a range of clientele vary from the amusing to the downright gritty and disturbing, but all the way through the author maintains a jaunty, upbeat tone, however degrading the stuff Johnny has to do. Similarly, it’s clear Catherine isn’t satisfied with her lot as a prostitute, complaining in one chapter “My fanny’s like a cake mix”, but hey-ho, that’s the hand life’s dealt with her, so she might as well enjoy all the Gucci handbags she can along the way.

As you’d expect in a novel about murder, there are a few twists and turns embedded throughout the story, and, whilst you have to suspend disbelief for some of them, it all adds deliciously to the bubbling witch’s brew of a plot. Blending a crime novel with such a jovial comedic tone isn’t easy, but Clary carries it off with considerable ease, even managing to get us to root for Johnny, a dark, twisted kind of way.

Each of the characters, whilst first appearing like caricatures, still feature astute observations, from those of the snobby British class system, to the trite-but-true fact that money doesn’t make you happy. Perhaps the character that Clary paints in the most fashionable light throughout the novel is Johnny’s mother, a hippie, free-loving nature lover. She is one of the few unpretentious people in the book, and she is happier for it; by shaking off the social norms that shackle her, she finds herself and the happiness that her son never truly attains.

Smut splashes off every single page, but at the centre of Murder Most Fab is a huge heart. This sounds paradoxical, considering the main character bumps several people off in it, but Clary manages it, all the more impressive considering this was his debut novel.

Despite Johnny’s oh-so-glamorous celebrity lifestyle, his life story is ultimately tinged with an  undeniable undercurrent of malaise, malaise at having lost his one true love, met up with him again, but then been relegated to being a mere sideline in his life. It is Johnny’s longing for this person that motivates his actions throughout his life, and whilst he does things that we as the reader wouldn’t be caught in a million year’s doing, reading about his adventures in doing so sure is an riotous, witty, and unbelievably funny ride.

Grade: A

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review of The Apprentice series 9 episode 7 “Caravans”

The contestants are woken up at 6am, told to pack an overnight bag and to meet Lord Sugar at the Tower of London. Jason, in true court jester form, insists that the only thing one needs to pack for an all-nighter is his big teddy. On the way to the Tower of London, Neil banters with Alex that hopefully it’s him going in the dungeon, an idea that I wouldn’t be averse to, if it sorts his bloody eyebrows out.

As it turns out, the location of Tower of London turns out to be quite tenuous link to this week’s task, which is to do with caravan holidays. The teams will go up to the Birmingham Motorhome and Caravan Show, where they will choose products to sell at the roadshow, one of which must be a high ticket item (ie a caravan). To rebalance the numbers in the teams, Lord Sugar moves Neil over to Evolve, so the teams each have 5 people in.

As someone who has had caravan experience, Kurt nominates himself as PM for Endeavour, and despite Alex also putting himself forward, Kurt is by far the more popular choice, so Alex relents. As for Evolve, self-proclaimed natural salesman Neil elects himself as PM. As someone who has been on a couple of caravan holidays over the years and despised each one, I fully agree with Jason’s sentiment when he demands “Why on earth do you go caravanning? What do you get out of it?” I’ll tell you what you get, a bad temper. So personally, if I were doing this task, I’d most certainly not want to be PM, because I simply couldn’t muster any kind of enthusiasm about it.

Evolve and Endeavour must each pick two cheaper items in addition to their caravans to sell. These include a children’s adventure box, a boat with a lid, an electric bike, a mini-BBQ or a chair with a hood. Both Evolve and Endeavour have their eyes on two items – the children’s adventure box, and the electric bike, although Myles covers his bet by buttering up all the producers. However, his enthusiasm isn’t mirrored by Leah and Natalie, and they really shoot themselves in the foot by trying to negotiate with the vendor of the children’s playkit, when she’s adamant she doesn’t need to lower the price. They repeat this same mistake with the supplier of the electric bike, so then it’s not surprising that both items go to the other team, leaving Endeavour with two second-choice products.

Arriving to hunt for a caravan, Jason’s having the time of his life, joking with motorbike owners, much to the chagrin of Neil, who feels Jason isn’t taking the task seriously enough. When it comes to caravans, Evolve and Endeavour aren’t competing for the same products, as Neil goes for the fold-up tent-style camper, which although isn’t to his personal taste, sells very popularly. Endeavour go for the far more attractive retro-style camper, which I do like, but could potentially prove impractical as the majority of people who take caravan holidays are people older than 50, and the creator of the retro camper himself admitted the age range 35-45. So well shall see.

When it comes to selling the caravans, Kurt selects Myles to do it with him, ahead of
Alex, who gets annoyed because his age is bought into it and he “doesn’t like being talked down to.” Meanwhile, for Evolve, it is Jason and Neil put on caravan-selling duty, and Jason is proving very popular, particularly with the ladies, with his easy charm and flirty style.

Meanwhile, the electric bikes aren’t proving to sell quite as much as Evolve projected, with one passerby facetiously commenting on the £949 electric bike that he wouldn’t pay that much for a car. Nevertheless, Luisa manages to flog a few bikes, and her adeptness for selling is making Jordan, who has sold none, jealous. As annoying as I find Luisa, it’s quite nice to see Jordan, who has been pretty successful in the majority of his tasks, looking put out and find something that he can’t do.

Back at Endeavour, Myles’ straight-to-the-point selling style isn’t getting him anywhere, and Nick astutely observes that whilst this manner is suited to some kind of items, in a caravan roadshow, you’ve got to take the time to charm your customers, rather than just regard them as walking dollar bills. In fact, the first caravan sale of the day goes to Jason, which, whilst benefiting Evolve, you can tell it annoys Neil, who shows his surly side, saying “it definitely doesn’t make him the God of sales.”

Perhaps the worst caravan salesman of the four men is Project Manager of Endeavour, Kurt, who just slouches around casually. That kind of attitude doesn’t draw anyone in, and in a desperate attempt to close a caravan, he calls Alex to send over Leah for “eye candy”, which is a bit sexist, to say the least. Comedy gold, however, was created, when you saw the look on Natalie’s face when Leah was elected as the eye candy ahead of her.

Back in the boardroom, Neil’s team absolutely trounce Kurt’s, over £33k to under £1500. Endeavour sold NO caravans, and Evolve sold three, but they won the task on sales from accessories alone. The prize for Evolve is pretty awesome – they get to go up to the Manchester Velodrome and meet Chris Hoy! It’s a much more bitter pill for Endeavour, who have to face the harsh music of the café as they squabble over where they went wrong.

Kurt picks Alex and Natalie to come into the boardroom with him, although Natalie contests this, exclaiming “I didn’t scare off the bike lady”, one of the lines of the episode. I said at the end of my review of last week’s episode that there would be double firings this week, and indeed, there are, Kurt and Natalie, and it’s difficult to argue with those choices.

Alex, whilst a bit annoying, a bit full of himself, not to mention said “bespoke” this episode about 20 times, has built a business at the ripe young age of 22, and a lot has to be said for that. Furthermore, he committed very well to many tasks, including his acting as the “Colonel” in last week’s task, not to mention his inspired creation of the foldy chair.

Kurt went against common logic in picking the gorgeous retro camper ahead of the uglier but better-selling folding campers, and Natalie not only didn’t shine in this task, but her irritating tendency to well up every time she’s in the boardroom is not only tedious, but gives a bad image for women in business. This also isn’t the first time Kurt’s cocked up – remember flag-gate, and as other people on his team noticed, he used this week to try and show Alan Sugar what he could do, rather than try his best to win the task. So I’m glad to see the back of both of them.

The aww-bless moment of the episode was when Jason was summoned back into the boardroom to be praised on his selling, as he was plucked out of his comfort zone this week in a selling task, and he more than stepped up . “I hope to keep impressing you” he tells Alan Sugar, as he walks backwards out of the boardroom, as if terrified to turn his back on a Lord. AWW!

In The Apprentice: You’re Fired, I HAD to take a photo of the take-away gift that Dara O Briain gave Kurt, which was his “recycling chair” realised. Hilarious!

Next week, the contestants have to set up a dating website, which is just asking for lolz (in the preview, we see Alex bragging "I am the Christian Grey of the Valleys"). Watch this space!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: The Birthday (Julie Highmore)

"The Birthday" follows a family consisting of Emily, the daughter, Ben, the son, and mother Fran and father Duncan as they gather for Fran’s 60th birthday. Each family member has skeletons in their closest: from Emily’s clandestine affair with the urbane Iranian Hadi, to Ben battling depression after the recession leaves him jobless, and his coping with it by popping pills, to Duncan’s life-long paramour, who also happens to have born him two other children. They’ve done a good job keeping the secrets from each other for the time being, but if the various other books I’ve read have taught me anything, it’s that in novels, these secrets have a way of all coming out at the same time, in an awfully dramatic crescendo.

Julie Highmore is a writer who has been praised for the way she presents life’s dilemmas without judgement or condemnation, and that’s certainly one of the best things about “The Birthday”. Obviously, none of the protagonists of the book are saints, and a different outlet (say, the moral guardians of The Guardian) would have written them off as charlatans immediately. But then it would be a boring book, reading about a bunch of “bad people” who we don’t care about. It’s to Highmore’s credit, that she writes about Emily’s affair and actually makes it sound intellectual and emotionally stimulating, rather than just a quick fuck, and Ben’s drug addiction problem is both terrifying, yet in its own mordant way, funny. This book is not a cautionary tale against having affairs or taking drugs, and for not partronising its audience, I respect it hugely.

The biggest shortfall of the novel is that it’s all a bit convenient that all the secrets manage to come to a head on one dramatic evening; in reality, they all would have come out much sooner. Nevertheless, it is a work of fiction, so I’ll suspend disbelief temporarily. On the whole, it’s a very engrossing novel, and I particularly like the way Highmore meshes the past with the present, giving the accounts of how Fran and Duncan met, as well as how they came across the other loves in their lives, respectively. The attention to the minutiae is also commendable – Emily’s husband, Alex, works for a fine wine company that doesn’t make much use of his Art History MA, but they hired him because they “liked the sound of hiring someone with an MA.” Now that IS realistic.

“The Birthday” is not supposed to be some kind of emotional odyssey, and for that, I was not particularly attached to any of the characters. I wanted to know how the story ended, but only for the sake of drama. There was no particular character that I was really rooting for, and whilst that meant, I too, shared Highmore’s dethatched look at their extramarital affairs, it also meant I wasn’t terribly emotionally invested in the book. Thus, whilst it was a very well-written, rich, entertaining read, at the end of the day, this isn’t a novel that will linger in my memory for long.

Grade: B+

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Restaurant review: Seaton Restaurant (Weston-super-Mare)

Just off the pier in a vibrant seaside town is Seaton Restaurant, an extremely hospitable and charming restaurant that I would recommend to all who visit Weston.

The menu is extremely varied, featuring famous Greek dishes, homemade burgers, as well as seaside must-haves such as fish and chips and knickerbocker glories. A family-run establishment, the owners of Seaton Restaurant are very welcoming to all their visitors, and their personable, down-to-earth manner is infinitely better than the altogether hostile attitude of the vast majority of waiters who work in London.

The kleftiko, one of the home-made specials is a fantastic blend of succulent a lamb on the bone, cooked in a slow oven and served with chips and salad. Cooked to perfection with the optimal blend of herbs and spices, all the ingredients come together fabulously for a true treat.

The home-made burger was also fantastic, far better than even those that come from specific burger joints like GBK. If burgers or lamb aren't to your palate, however, there is a surprisingly extensive range on the menu, from ravioli to lasagne to vegetarian omelette and absolutely everything in between.

The variety of starters is also above that of your typical restaurant, the we had bread & a range of Greek dips for starters, of which the pink one (I've forgotten what it's called) was my favourite; it was heaven!

Portion sizes are also generous, which again, is a welcome change from the two-bites-and-you've-finished size plates you get in London restaurants. We had a huge plate of Greek salad between us, and it complemented the meat & chips of our meals fantastically.

I've been to a lot of restaurants, and it's been a long time since I've found one that I recommend as much as Seaton Restaurant. Amazing service, very reasonable prices, and best of all, some of the best cuisine I've had for an age, I could not recommend this place enough.

Grade: A+

If you would like me to review your restaurant, get in contact via email at

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Anna, Look!

A couple of photos from Anna's trip to visit me :3

Belated birthday present from Anna:

The delicious lemon macaroons are infinitely better than the ones from Laduree

Night out in Moles:

Cocktails in Slug and Lettuce:

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Apprentice: series 9 episode 6 review

The episode begins with various contestants talking the talk about how much they want/need to win this week’s challenge, with the cream of the crop being the ever-bitchy Luisa commenting “I think Rebecca’s desperate to be PM, but I don’t think she’s got a clue.”

The contestants meet Sir Alan in London’s majestic Guildhall, which is famous for holding the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. It is also famous for hosting Corporate Events, which relates to their task this week – to put on an “away day”, which, despite the frivolities, is not just a jolly or an excuse to get pissed. Whilst fun may be had on an away day, the main idea is to teach managers important skills such as communication and listening.
Company away days are a lucrative business, fetching in £1billion a year in the UK, and each team is given a budget and a set of clients, whom they must provide entertainment for. Instead of leaving it to them to pick the Project Managers, Alan Sugar allocates them this week: he picks Leah as the PM of Endeavour, and Francesca as the PM of Evolve. Ominously for Francesca, she already looks excited about commandeering this one, and such pre-emptive enthusiasm never bodes well for the project managers.

Francesca calls herself Mrs Corporate and immediately Luisa pipes up “I hate corporate”, which is pretty stupid, in my opinion. I’m not a particularly corporate-minded person myself (I will be working for a smallish firm after graduation), but for crying out loud Luisa, you’ve gone on The Apprentice, it doesn’t really get more corporate than that. She goes on to dismiss all corporate firms as “boring” and saying “the people are dull”, which is sure to go down a treat with Sir Alan.

Meanwhile at Endeavour, Neil remarks that Leah “had a point to prove” on the previous task (Dubaigate), and that if she micro-manages effectively, Endeavour will win. But if she doesn’t, they won’t. In the brainstorm, they disagree already: Neil wants a school day theme, but Leah wants a more medieval history theme. The horrific idea of St Trinians is put up, which Leah is most unimpressed with.
School is also a theme that is discussed in Evolve, but with more enthusiasm, and they fix it as their chosen motif. In an interview, Francesca declares that “of all the tasks so far, this is the most perfect one for me.” We’ll see.

With their theme chosen, Evolve next move on to activities, with Rebecca suggesting wine-tasting. Jordan, however, is hesitant, questioning how it goes with a Back to School theme. Another asinine suggestion is chocolate making (how does that relate to school or team-building?), but Luisa wants to do cake-making instead of chocolate making, as that is her field.

Luisa’s dismissive attitude toward her PM is evident immediately, as in the car she does a pissy impression of Francesca, both her indecisiveness and how she shies away from responsibility. True as that may be, I don’t see how childish impressions will get anyone anywhere.

The majority of Endeavour want a School theme, with 4 voting in favour of it and just 2 picking History, but Leah overrules them and goes with her gut. The rest of the group aren’t happy, dubbing it a selfish decision.
Next up, the teams meet their clients. Evolve’s clients this week are, who work on the mentality of 5 star services for 3 star prices. The CEO of the company expresses that it’s important for his employees to collaborate and cooperate efficiently. Jordan re-iterates these ideas, and seems to be charming Cathy, the other person from, who smiles warmly at him as they leave.

Leah’s group’s client is Barclay’s Retail UK, who are kept waiting by Endeavour, as they are stuck in traffic. Even after they arrive, the three members at the meeting (Leah, Myles and Natalie) stand in the building bickering, and it takes Karen scolding them to remind them that their clients are waiting. Not a good start at all.
Immediately you can tell that the big boss of Barclay’s isn’t happy about being kept waiting, remarking: “you obviously have had a busy morning.” When prompted on what he hopes to get from the event, he states the importance of his branch managers improving their communication and listening skills, especially in the face of ever-evolving technology.  As an added incentive, he tells Endeavour that if they impress, the exercise could be expanded to up to 35,000 people.

Leah tries to pitch the idea of a history theme to the bosses, saying “classic”, “medieval” and “majestic” twice, which induces an awkward silence from the two bosses, who don’t care about the theme, and rightly, don’t feel they should be bothered on such matters. “I’m not here to solve this assignment for you”, the boss says. After the meeting, Leah worriedly comments on how unfun her original idea was.

The boys of Endeavour are trying to obtain activities for their medieval- themed day, and procure archery sets for £320. Neil calls Leah to tell her the good news, only to hear that the goalposts have moved, and the theme has changed from history to army – something with archery doesn’t altogether fit into.

Meanwhile at Evolve, Luisa and Jason examine a chocolatier, but are scared off by the high prices - £795 for just 12 people, and so Luisa decides to save money and do cake-making instead, and run it herself, thus saving substantial costs on hiring unnecessary manpower. Whilst I agree with the decision from an economic point of view, Luisa’s keenness to mention how she makes cakes repeatedly is more than a little bit jarring. The awkward meeting is made all the more awkward when Luisa explains at length, why she feels the chocolatier to be overpriced, and then ends by asking to buy some piping bags from her. LOL.

Francesca and Rebecca are shopping for ingredients for their “school dinners” at Morrison’s, but they’re loading their trollies so eagerly that they haven’t thought about costs, with only Jordan considering the budgeting. For their ingredients, Endeavour take a more frugal route, buying food directly from a Cash and Carry, and Leah driving a hard bargain on every item of food.

For Endeavour’s activities, Neil is worried that they don’t have enough to do for the day, and for some godforsaken reason, suggests sumo wrestling, which Leah says she “[doesn’t] love at all.” Getting exasperated, Alex whines in that classic way of his, and Leah barks at him to show her some respect. Finally, as a compromise, she says she’ll allow sumo wrestling, but only as a last resort.

Back in their group, Evolve are at loggerheads over whether they should hire a motivational speaker, or give the speech themselves. Luisa and Jordan feel they can save money and give it themselves, but Rebecca is intent that they should hire someone. Personally, I would have forked out the money (even though at £600, he isn’t cheap) for a motivational speaker, just because these speakers really know what they’re doing, and I wouldn’t be able to deliver anything anywhere near as good, but that’s just me. In the end, they decide to hire someone, because, as Francesca says, “you need to pay for quality.”

At Endeavour, however, they choose to give the motivational speech themselves, with Neil, who has vast experience as a football coach, chosen to deliver it. Speaking in an interview, Neil comments that he knows
the quality of the activities for the day aren’t great, and thus how it carries off will depend massively on the execution. Neil and Myles take ten minutes to try and link each of their activities with the way they’re going to build teambuilding, listening and communication skills, whilst Natalie and Kurt get cooking.

It turns out that Evolve had spent £300 of their budget on props, some o
f which are ugly as sin (check out the fugly-ass flamingo), which Nick Hewer regards quizzically. Jason is put on carrot peeling, broccoli scrubbing duty, which, given his part exploits in the kitchen, in the farm shop  task, I’m not sure is the brightest idea, but we’ll see.

And so the actual days begin. 16 managers from arrive, and their “Meet and Greet” is already faltering, as Francesca fails to communicate the objectives in the half hour slot she’s allocated, and instead wasting time faffing about with tea and biscuits, and giving the cringiest opening speech imaginable, saying it’s to get “success in work, success in life, or just success in yourselves.” So success, basically. As if her speech couldn’t get any worse, when talking about motivation, she says she wanted to be a policewoman when she wasn’t a child, but isn’t one. Smooth.

At Endeavour, however, Neil, playing “Sergeant Neil”, makes the objectives of the day explicit to the managers from Barclay’s. “Colonel Alex” is also clearly having fun, ordering the managers into a Left, Right, Left style march into the garden. Once in the garden, the managers are playing lawn games, but blindfolded, so that the members really have to listen to each other. They all seem to be enjoying it, and Neil is definitely leading them well. However, once rain hits, the managers are unable to play outside and Leah, having not thought of a contingency plan, has to think fast.

Only as Endeavour’s clients head inside do the activities finally start for Evolve’s ones, where, again, the managers look like they’re having a whale of a time. Nick Hewer remarks that there haven’t been any broken bones, and he sounds almost disappointed over the fact.

Due to the rain, Leah has to improvise a conflict resolution “session”, and her detested sumo-wrestling costumes have to be employed. It’s not a successful operation and the managers look either bored or embarrassed at watching Neil and Myles wrestle in sumo-wrestling outfits.

From one fail of an event to another, comes Evolve’s wine-tasting class, which is most ineffective as Rebecca and Jason, who lead it, both don’t know anything about wines. Most hilarious are Rebecca’s tenuous efforts to link the wine-tasting to business nous. The other half of the group are making cupcakes with Luisa, which is also questioned on how it links to business, with Francesca giving the most glorious bull, “it’s to do with experiences.”

As the day draws to a close, both teams finish on their grand finale: the motivational speech. Francesca’s team have hired one of the leading speakers in the country, which goes down a treat, with the managers of saying he’s been the highlight of the (admittedly otherwise shambolic day). But Leah’s group do it freestyle, with Neil giving the speech, and it’s also a good one, drawing in on his personal experience and emotions.
In the boardroom, both teams can’t wait to criticise their PMs, with Neil already putting Leah in it, saying he passionately wanted a school theme, and Jordan commenting on Francesca’s weak management and non-existent strategy. On the basis of the footage of Francesca’s continual jargon and talking crap through the day, it’s difficult to argue with that. Meanwhile, Karen Brady really lays into Leah, berating her for being late with her meeting with Barclay’s as well as her “half-arsed” pitch.

Alan Sugar, always good for an opinion, remarks that Alex’s pantomime Colonel was bullying the delegates, but Alex contests this, saying instead that he was “getting the best from my troops”. Furthermore, Lord Sugar looks truly horrified on hearing that sumo wrestlers was presented to workers from the biggest bank in the country, and even less impressed that Francesca’s team had tried to get managers drunk.

Both Barclay’s and weren’t totally happy with the away days and had asked for refunds, but in the end, Leah’s group wins by a good £500. Karen Brady singles Neil out for applause, and Sir Alan remarks that Leah has her team to thank, obviously going from the feeling in the boardroom that she wasn’t an effective PM. As a treat, Endeavour are sent off for a day of pampering.

In the café, Endeavour discuss how they’d been docked points for “a complete lack of business message”, which Jordan feels is all down to PM Francesca. Furious, Francesca calls Jordan a turncoat. However, he has a point; woman spouts absolute rubbish – even in a dumb interview, she says “if I go down, I go down in flames, but at least decisively in flames.”

In the boardroom, Sir Alan holds nothing back, telling Endeavour that many of the workers from feels the day was a blag. I agree with them. Even I would have felt a day like that as patronising and jargon-filled, and experienced professionals would have only realised that even more. And the jargon from Francesca doesn’t stop – she tries to bull her way through explaining how cupcakes can make something amazing, and Karen abruptly asks her “do you even hear what you’re saying?”

Sir Alan disregards both the wine-tasting and cake-making as completely inappropriate for the day, and further questions why, if they talk so much, none of them gave the motivational speech rather than hiring someone to do so.

The claws really come out, however, when Francesca has a go at Luisa for bitching about the corporate world throughout the day, who retorts “I think a lot of empty words are spoken in the corporate world.” Luisa complains about how people in the corporate world “talk crap”, to which Karen quietly remarks “you might find that a rough attitude when you’re asking a bank for investment,” to which Luisa, like the child she is, rolls her eyes.

And were it up to me, Luisa should have been fired. However, Francesca craftily chose Rebecca and Luisa to come back into the boardroom with her, as Rebecca put most of the ideas forward. And thus, it is Rebecca who is fired, which I feel a little unfair. Admittedly, her ideas weren’t great, but at least she had some, rather than bickering all day like Luisa, who aside from leading the cake-making activity, was a counterproductive force in the group. She also likes to bring up her looks a LOT. Luisa, you ain't that hot, girl js.

Furthermore, at the end of the day, they were mere suggestions, and the whole away day was a mega-cringe, and that was down to PM Francesca and all her hollow words. So Francesca and Luisa should both have been fired ahead of Rebecca, and Jordan hardly covered himself in glory with his lack of budgeting as well. So I feel quite bad for Rebecca.

With the episode over, we're at the halfway point of The Apprentice. Six episodes gone, and 10 of the 16 contestants still remaining. I smell double firings next week!

Summertime Sandals.

If you remember, after Christmas, I dropped a few dollars on the Barratt's sale online. Since then, I've been assessing each of the items I bought on looks, price, wearability, comfortability, swag, among various criteria. Today, it was the Rocket Dog sandals:

They're a pair of cute blue sandals, down from some twentysomething quid to £12. The heels are wedge heels, so walking in them are a lot more comfortable than high heels, say.

I absolutely adore the style of these wedges, as well as the colour - although it does mean some care has to be taken when choosing my outfits - they clashed with my black shorts. I really like wearing heels and wedges nowadays because they do wonders to one's legs, as well as helping correct my hunchback.

However, whilst visually appealing, a big downfall with these wedges were how uncomfortable they were to wear on a first occasion. The above photo capture the remnants of the back of my foot - which was covered in blood. 

Sadly, because of my war wounds, I'm going to have to wait at least two weeks before I try the wedges again. For now, I'll grade it a C, but if future wearings are more comfortable, I may be open to giving these shoes a reappraisal. 

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Sunday, June 02, 2013