Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween High Jinks At The Twisted Toys Tea Party




In years gone by, I was one of those miserable killjoys who, when the trick-or-treating "yoof" of the neighbourhood came a-knocking on All Hallows Eve, would flip off all the lights and throw myself on the floor until the coast was clear.

Then I moved from raucous Romford to the serenity of Sevenoaks - aka God's Waiting Room - and instead of threatening-looking clowns rattling the letterbox in need of a Haribo fix, the spookiest activity I now see on my quiet village street at Halloween is a single skeletal pensioner lit up Scream-style by a neon street light, whilst taking his scrawny Yorkie for an evening stroll.

Although I love my safe and peaceful Kent haven, the sorrowful sight of just the odd lonely old soul shuffling past the house is somehow more affecting than the boisterous Essex dramas I'm used to. It reminds me of the marching of time, the need to embrace every opportunity for fun while I still can; I too may be cutting a frail and lonesome figure in years to come.

Thus I throw myself wholeheartedly into everything I do; any opportunity for fun and frolics must be grabbed with both (increasingly gnarly) hands. So when a friend drew my attention to the Twisted Toys Tea Party, I was all over it. With the event blurb promising immersive theatre by Zebedee Productions, a three-course feast by Nanny Bill's and general ghoulish toy-themed antics it sounded right up my (dark, deserted) alley. I set about preparing my outfit immediately...

Saturday 29th October soon ticks around (there's that pesky thing called 'time' whizzing by again), and suddenly I find myself strutting down Bromley High St in broad daylight wearing full fancy-dress, complete with gothic toy dolls strung round my neck and towering Victorian-style lace-up stiletto boots, having hurriedly got ready at work in a flurry of false lashes and face-paint; huge clouds of talc and glitter billowing from my office as I set about the serious business of getting into character as a possessed china doll. It seems to have the desired effect as I'm aware of heads turning, my gawping fellow passengers ogling open-mouthed on the train. Job done.




Any self-consciousness felt in Kent soon dissipates as my Disco Devil-themed boyfriend Andy and I reach the anything-goes melting pot that is central London: no-one bats an eyelid here, and we're soon swallowed up by buzzing throngs of pimped-up party-goers.




Arriving at The Yard, an event space set back behind a gated entrance on Shoreditch's Worship Lane, we're suitably impressed by the queuing crowd, who have clearly gone all-out with their costumes: a snake of werewolves, zombies and blood-spattered Barbie dolls is weaving down the street, excited chatter reverberating all around. Instantly I see an old mate in the crowd and we join him, before being ushered inside...




Once over the threshold, we're greeted by a careworn toy dog, casually lolling in a shed and generally looking creepy. We continue on and the scene is set: childhood toys are strung from the ceiling, props such as bunkbeds, a rocking horse and a big old-fashioned pram hint at what's to come.

There are two cocktails on offer: a kermit-green gin-based number and a Barbie-pink vodka one. Tom goes for Kermit, Andy and I opt for Barbies and we select some prime seats on the long banquet-style tables at the front...

The show begins: the premise of the story being a young girl's toys, discarded and left to rot in the attic, become mentally disturbed after years left in isolation in the dark; their once-innocent games now descending into all sorts of bloodthirsty action. Amongst them are a pair of blonde-pigtailed ragdolls, a terrifying teddy, a jack-in-the-box....as well as bitchy Barbies, a rather dashing action man and a lily-livered Ken.


 


The spectacle kicks off with dancing dolls and a ballerina singing on her podium - only her rendition of "come on Barbie let's go party" has a haunting, sinister tone as she delivers it with a deep, raspy quality to her voice. It manages to be eerie and humorous at the same time, as she bickers with the jack-in-the-box, hinting at the discord between the toys and the all-out war that's to follow.

The soundtrack to the high-energy show succeeds in getting the crowd fired up: I particularly enjoy the LED-lit hula-hooping extravaganza played out to the beat of Lee Walker and DJ Deeon's 'Freak Like Me.'



Between each act food is served on wooden platters by toy soldiers; pumpkin and cheddar croquettes with chilli jam to start, followed by cola-glazed salt beef and buffalo chicken wings served with steamed greens and mac and cheese. The sharing element makes for a sociable environment, and everyone's chatting animatedly with their table-buddies as the delicious food is passed around.


                           


The conversation is flowing and the cocktails are slipping down nicely as the show continues. Next up, we meet the Bitchy Barbies - a pair of fabulously camp drag queens and a bestockinged bubble-haired blonde, who cavort around the set to the sounds of Britney Spears' Toxic, nonchalantly flipping their hair and generally working it. The costumes are suitably glam: the rhinestone-encrusted nude bodysuit is particularly impressive, although I doubt I could wear it quite as well as the lithe young guy who's inside it...


  


The show picks up pace as it builds towards the impending toy war, the effeminate Ken doll offset by a fit Dan Bilzerian-esque action man, who vows to lead the battle with the Barbies, toy gun in hand.

Dessert is a marshmallow platter in collaboration with The Marshmallowist, served alongside cookies, chocolate curls and a little oil lamp for diners to toast the caramelised apple and pecan mallows themselves, which is a nice touch.




There's a sexy scene with a pair of pigtailed ragdolls, one of whom gets left on the lawn and mangled by the mower. Consumed by jealousy of her still-beautiful twin, she sets out to maim her. The scene takes on a sexual twist as they shrug off their petticoats before making up with a lingering, lingerie-clad kiss - entirely gratuitous but it adds a certain extra frisson of excitement to the already-sizzling show.



                                            

                     
The performance reaches it's climax with the battle of the toys versus barbies - a rampaging riot of gory violence (well, as gory and violent as you can get with water pistols), played out to a blaring backdrop of The Prodigy's 'Smack My Bitch Up.'



With the crowd whipped up into a frenzy by the theatrical feast, high on sugar from the cocktails and dessert, we burn off some energy with a spot of hands-in-the-air booty-shaking to some classic house anthems spun by the dj, before heading out into the crisp autumn air, broad smiles spread across our painted faces, our desire for a memorable Halloween suitably satiated for another year...




Follow Zebedee productions on Facebook or Twitter to be kept informed of upcoming events.


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Sunday, 16 October 2016

Cancer Isn't Soft, So Why Is This New Approach?

Cervical Cancer Facts:
- there are over 3000 new cases diagnosed in the UK annually
- it is responsible for 900 UK deaths a year
- cervical screening rates are in decline, with more than 1 in 3 women ignoring their letter
- diagnoses of cases in women aged 25-29 are the highest since 1999; up 60% in the last decade
- the UK has one of the lowest survival rates for the disease
- cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35


I'm no stranger to those NHS letters dropping onto my mat; over the years I've had more than my fair share of "invitations for cervical screening." Not the most popular of invites, admittedly; I'd much rather it was a wedding invitation - or at least a birthday party. But cervical screening, or  the 'smear test' as it's otherwise known, is a necessary procedure. There's not that much I take seriously in life; I'm a fun-loving kinda gal with a strong sense of humour, but I know that medical investigations are to be ignored at your peril - and I never have.

Despite my diligence in attending these appointments I had stage 3 CIN and subsequent treatment around 16 years ago, when I was 24 years old. I went on to develop an infection which saw me later have a partial hysterectomy and 3 failed cycles of IVF. It's taken time to accept that I will never be a mother. But do I regret attending the screening that diagnosed the pre-cancerous cells in the first place? Of course not. Had I not attended and simply carried on with my life in blissful ignorance, there's a high likelihood I wouldn't be here now. I had no symptoms, and the chances are that by the time I did, the cancer would have been fully established and may even have spread to the surrounding organs.

I have a filing cabinet stuffed full of correspondence relating to my ongoing treatment: the six-monthly screens and colposcopies...gradually moving to annual check-ups and eventually three-yearly smears. Occasionally I'd have an abnormal result again and need closer monitoring, but I've never had to have more cells removed; since my loop cone biopsy, they've returned to normal by themselves. As you can imagine, 16 years' worth of such treatment has resulted in quite a lot of paperwork.

So when my latest invitation arrived a few days ago I knew instantly what it was and tore it open eagerly (which may sound surprising, but no checks for three years has left me feeling anxious - like walking a tightrope between skyscrapers without a safety net).

Since I know the wording of these letters off by heart, I instantly saw the difference. My heart sank. Instead of being told clearly that my cervical screening test is due being (politely but encouragingly) asked to attend and given the telephone number to call, the new version of the letter takes an altogether more casual tone: Your choice. It's upto you whether or not to have cervical screening.

Wait, what?! No encouragement, no advice? The new letter has also been made completely impersonal with no signatory, no date of last smear or due date (as there was on the bottom of my 2012 letter) - not even a mention of the telephone number you need to call to make your appointment...





Over the years I've been vocal in my support of the screening. In recent months I have written about my experience on my blog (which got over 6k hits in the first week), had the article published on the front page of Huffington Post UK, and campaigned via social media to encourage women to attend. My campaigning has been picked up by several cervical cancer and gynae charities and women's health groups.

I recently attended an event organised by The Eve Appeal during Gynae Cancer Awareness Month. It's common knowledge that attendance rates for screening are in decline, yet not once has anyone mentioned this change in the way women are invited for testing as a possible contributory factor. I had no idea the letter had changed until I received my own a few days ago.

I'm all for freedom of choice, but during my campaigning I've discovered that most women know very little about their own bodies, cervical cancer causes and symptoms - or even how important the screening really is. Even some of my own friends - intelligent 40-something mothers who have witnessed my own traumatic experiences first-hand - admitted to me that they were clueless until they read my article. It seems that women are not attending mainly due to fear, ignorance or embarrassment:






Amending the letter in this way to dilute the message and imply that it's something that you can simply decide to ignore if you like, is at best irresponsible and at worst, negligent. We should be encouraging women to attend more, not less.

I intend to take this further. I need to find out why the wording has been changed at a time when diagnoses are up and attendance down. If the answer is not satisfactory, I will campaign to have the wording amended. The government may be willing to accept these women's deaths, the hundreds of heartbroken families left in their wake...but I'm not.

And to the 3.7million women in the UK who haven't attended their smear appointment in the last 5 years: do you really want to be next?


This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post UK.


Please SIGN MY PETITION to get the cervical screening letter amended and support my #AtYourCervix campaign...





Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

Reflecting on Paralysis: The Cure Girls


When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

A wrinkle...an imperfect nose...a fresh blemish on your chin? In this age of air-brushed perfection and cleverly-filtered social media, it's easy to be self-critical; to compare your looks, wealth, success - your life - to that of others.

But what if you looked in the mirror and saw a paralysed woman in a wheelchair gazing back at you. Would you still focus on that spot on your chin...or the fact that you can no longer stand up and walk?



Loredana Longo



This is the reality for the 2.5m people around the world living with a Spinal Cord Injury; those who were going about their business when disaster struck. In a split second their lives altered forever. But wait. Does it have to be forever?

Surgeons have managed to get a man with SCI walking again using  stem-cell therapy, but there is still a long way to go. More funding and research are needed if any of these patients are to have a hope of standing on their own two feet again.

One group of women who are only too aware of this predicament are The Cure Girls: a cluster of seven feisty young females from around the world, thrown together by a cruel twist of fate - and united in their determination to overcome it. The girls met online six years ago, and two years later The Cure Girls was born, the brainchild of Italian Loredana.

These were ordinary women just like you and me, whose everyday concerns were once superficial too. Only now they are forced to live extraordinary lives. One day, each girl suffered a tragic accident resulting in a spinal cord injury which instantly changed her life, including my good friend Lorraine (Lolly) Mack, whose story I've already written about on my blog and which appeared recently in HuffPostUK.

Suddenly, those little physical imperfections that used to be important just don't matter as much anymore. Now these girls have bigger concerns to occupy their minds - like finding a cure for the paralysis that dominates their lives, which would mean they could then get back to sweating the small stuff, just as they did when they were able-bodied. These girls would love to look in the mirror and see only a wrinkle or a spot...because that would mean they were cured, their reflections no longer dominated by the hard lines of a metal wheelchair.

Each Cure Girl has found herself sitting in this chair through no fault of her own - tragedy cutting her down in her prime. She's experienced the full spectrum of human emotions: shock, anger, despair, grief, frustration. Yet there is one emotion they all refuse to feel: defeat. They refuse to just passively accept their circumstances and give up on their dream to walk once more.

These girls have been to the brink, pushed to the very limits of human endurance...and have made the conscious decision to come out fighting. They may be in wheelchairs, but there's nothing wrong with their voices. And these voices will shout until they are hoarse in order to make themselves heard. They are shouting for awareness, for funding, for research, for a CURE. It may sound like a miracle: to make the paralysed walk again. But surgeons work miracles every day, transplanting hearts, lungs - faces even. Due to the wonders of technology Stephen Hawking can 'speak' using a muscle in his cheek.

Taking pride in your appearance is something most of us do instinctively, but it becomes a feat in itself when you cannot move from the neck down. However, don't be fooled by the girls' outward glamour. These pictures were taken on a recent photoshoot at The Hospital Club in London, since some of The Cure Girls were in the city for a series of important meetings and to get an update on the research news (the girls donated €70k last year to the cause).

  


These stunning pictures, shot by photographer Michelle George (make-up by Lauren Kay) illustrate their vitality; their feisty, vibrant characters. These are young women who want - who deserve - a cure. Yet while they enjoy dressing up and wearing make-up like any woman, they refuse to sugar-coat their injuries. The photoshoot is a useful vehicle for highlighting their plight and raising awareness, but they are careful not to gloss over the reality: they are in constant pain.

Whilst attention-grabbing images are vital, it's important that people understand their daily struggles, otherwise they may not understand the urgency of a need for a cure; instead wrongly assuming that they are coping just fine as they are.

Each girl's list of everyday ailments is extensive: chronic neuropathic pain to bladder infections, pressure sores to osteoporosis. Unsurprisingly, there are challenges to mental health too, with a high incidence of depression and suicide amongst SCI sufferers - meaning that the girls have also lost many friends along the way. Then of course there are the practical issues: complete loss of independence, the cost of medical equipment; whole teams of round-the-clock carers.

The Cure Girls work every day towards their mission, relentless in their endeavours to raise awareness; tirelessly fundraising through various initiatives such as sponsored FES-bike cycles, the annual Wings For Life World Run - even a skydive in Lorraine's case. They use blogging, newspaper and magazine articles as well as social media to highlight the cause. They will never give up.

So next time you peer into the mirror at the dark circles under your eyes with a sigh, spare a thought for these girls. They don't want your pity, they just want to walk again. With our support one day they too will be able to stand up and look in the mirror...


Donate here

BLOG: www.curegirls.wordpress.com
E-MAIL: curegirls@gmail.com
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cure-Girls-On-a-Mission-To-Reverse-Paralysis/153526494802101
TWITTER: CureGirls1
INSTAGRAM: curegirls
Here come the girls....

Arcangela's story:
"I had a car accident when I was 32 years old. After my spinal cord injury which left me paraplegic it's forced me to live a life whereby I cannot do a lot of thing that I would be able to if I was walking. I work daily with the Cure Girls and have visited labs here in Italy. I help raise money for Marina's charity and my Friends help us a lot too."


Loredana's story: "I was only 17 years old when I was involved in a car accident with my family which left me paraplegic. I am an active person with an extremely busy life, a graduate, I have a full time job and am politically engaged but I don't want to spend the rest of my life confined to a wheelchair so I decided to create the Cure Girls blog. I work very hard on a daily basis with the Cure Girls and I spend a lot of time raising awareness and fundraising so that it gets donated directly to research initiatives that focus on curing chronic spinal cord injury."


Lorraine's Story:
"In 2004 during a night out with friends an incident occurred which transformed my life. Suddenly I was lying on the floor of a nightclub totally paralysed. I knew that something was terribly wrong when all I could do was blink, my friends were telling me to get up but I couldn’t. Paramedics arrived and took me to hospital where I had emergency surgery. After a six hour operation I was told by doctors that my spinal cord was damaged ie compressed. What followed was ten months of rehabilitation in a spinal unit miles away from my home. During this time my family and I decided to fight this situation all the way and do everything we can for me to walk again. Since returning home I still work very hard to maintain my fitness, working with my physio five times per week. I retain my passion for the same things I had pre-injury namely travelling, fashion, music and glamour modelling and have taken part in a skydive, sponsored cycles and Wings For Life alongside my fellow Cure Girls."


Marina's story: "At present I'm a student of psychology at the University of Bologna but at time of my injury I was a professional cyclist and had a promising career in Italian cycling. In June, 2010 I had a very serious accident during my cycling training when a car cut me up making me come crashing off my cycle. Since that terrible day my life has changed radically. I was taken to hospital with very serious conditions then went into a coma, I came out of the coma on June the 9th which was my 22nd birthday. Since that day I've been paralysed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair, because of a spinal cord injury. In spite of the many difficulties I face and the obstacles that a paralysed person has to face on a daily basis that doesn't make me lose the will to fight in order to have my healthy, active life back. During the long period spent in hospitals and rehabilitation centres, which is still going on, I really discovered the pain of human cases that are even more dramatic and awful than mine. It is for this reason that with my family and closest friends I set up the non-profit Marina Romoli Onlus with the aim to support research into therapies able to cure spinal cord injuries, but also helps people under 30 under who have been involved in sports and have been victims of road accidents. We help them financially in order to help them pay the very expensive costs of therapies and rehabilitation. My charity has raised over 200.000€."


Barbara's story:
"I was 11 in 1987 when a fall from a swing left me paralysed from the shoulders down. I sustained a cervical spinal cord injury at C4-C5. I am totally dependent for all the activities of daily living, I can experience some autonomy in using my power wheelchair just because I guide it pushing a little button with my chin, and when I use my computer with a voice control programme or writing with a stick in my mouth. I support research, making donations to various charities and work everyday with my fellow Cure Girls. I participated in the last two Wings for Life World Run. A cure for me would mean no more fear about my future because just recovering the use of my arms and hands is all I need... after 29 years of tetraplegia I think this is a fair wish."


Sabrina's story: "I was 28 years old and so fit and healthy when I sustained a C4/5 spinal cord injury when I fell to the ground whilst doing a simulated air surf on the beach. It's a kind of like a huge swing. My life completely changed, paralysed from the shoulders down and having to rely on 24 hour care. I went from being a beach loving, surfer girl who loved martial arts, running and was also a really good cook now confined to a wheelchair and fighting for a cure! I work on a daily basis with my Cure Girl sisters as we all have the same passion to become independent and also walk again. I have organised fundraising events in Porto Alegre, Brazil and take part in the Wings for Life World Run along with my sister and lots of my friends & family.I've also appeared on TV and newspapers here in Brazil to raise awareness and spread the message that there is an urgency for a cure for paralysis."



Rebecca's story:
"I was 22 when I had a riding accident during a polo match. I am injured at T12, L1 & L2. For many years I was very lonely. My twin sister had her life and watching her do all the things we were both supposed to be doing was hard.I have had quite a few health problems around bladder and medications. I suffer badly from nerve pain. I am married now and we have a 9 year old son. That was a very difficult time. I work tirelessly to raise awareness along with the girls. Taking part in the wings for life run and have a hand bike push coming up next year, health-permitting.To have a cure would be like being given a miracle. To be able to go on the beach with my son and I'd marry my husband again - but standing up this time."



This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post UK.

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Thursday, 13 October 2016

iPhone-ly Got Eyes For You



I remember the first time I laid eyes on him. His name was Norris Nokia; he was a little on the heavy side and with a tendency towards clumsiness, yet when he nuzzled against my ear we just seemed to...connect. He was my first, so it was all a bit of a novelty I guess. A traditional kind of fella, some might say outdated even, but reliable, practical and good in a crisis; it's with a hint of shame that I admit that, due to my younger fickle nature, he was traded in for a fitter, trendier model after a year or so. I can barely remember him now, if I'm honest.

As time went by I upgraded regularly, as one does, constantly searching for the best one for me - my forever partner. Unfortunately I don't think that exists in today's throwaway society. There's simply always something better just around the corner - and of course I have to keep up with all my friends. I had a brief fling with Bobby Blackberry but he wasn't known as 'Crackberry' for nothing; it was an unhealthy alliance.

My current squeeze is Ivan iPhone, a sexy little number with the whole package: looks, slim body, intelligence...and he says I press all his buttons. I just can't tear my eyes away from him; we're inseparable. He's very animated and ridiculously clever - he seems to know everything - although he never switches off, which can be a tad exhausting. Consequently he burns himself out quickly and loves regular mini-breaks to recharge his batteries. Some people say our relationship is unhealthy but I just can't help it - I don't feel complete unless he's right next to me. I can't even contemplate ever losing him; I'd be lost without him. Sometimes I can spend hours just gazing at him, oblivious to everything going on around me.

Did I mention I have a boyfriend? I know, I know...I do feel guilty, as I've neglected him for a while now. I suspect he may have a similar secret relationship going on himself though: things are becoming distant between us and we seem to be growing apart....

Sound familiar? As a nation - scrap that - as a planet, our obsession with technology is getting waaay out of control. Gone are the days of kids playing out in the street, hearing the sound of their tinkling laughter as they whizz past on their bikes; boys playing footy in the cul-de-sac, girls sitting huddled on the kerb, chatting. I remember chalking on the pavement and playing hopscotch outside the house, the whole street's children gathered round.

Now the residential roads are deserted - eerily silent save for the sounds of the traffic as a nation of zombies walk alone, heads bent at the neck, pale faces creepily lit up a ghostly white by their phone screens against the dark night sky. Where are all the kids? Goggled-eyed in front of various electronic gadgets indoors: phones, ipads, computer games; ashen-faced as they gawk open-mouthed for hours on end at one screen or another...or sometimes several at once. The idea of being more than a few feet away from a power supply is just too terrifying to contemplate; the colour drains from the phone-owner's face more quickly than the battery itself upon discovering there's less than ten per cent charge left. It's like a lifeline: the panic that sets in akin to that of a deep-sea diver realising his oxygen supply is about to run out.

It's learnt behaviour: I regularly see children vying for their parents' attention, as Mum buries her face in Facebook and shuts them up with a packet of mini cheddars. I can't say I blame her - I'd rather watch cute dog videos than listen to a two-year-old incessantly repeating "Mummy" too. Working in a shopping centre means I've witnessed countless head-on collisions as parents idly stroll and scroll - and little Jimmy gets catapulted out of the buggy like a crash-test dummy. "Whoopsie daisy!" says Dad brightly, as he plonks his concussed offspring back in the pram and slyly slides his phone into his back pocket. The whiplashed kid is too stunned to cry and instead sits stock-still, mute and wide-eyed, blinking rapidly. Instead of a dummy, Dad hurriedly hands the kid his phone as a pacifier - a quick app-tap and the child is instantly soothed by a Peppa Pig cartoon.

Other times I've seen people almost get mown down crossing the road, eyes down, headphones in, completely oblivious to the double-decker an inch from their face. If they glanced up they'd be horrified to see the whites of the bus driver's eyes, but nope, on they march, deftly side-stepping the other zombies whose feet fall within their downcast eyeline.

Where will this all end? Is the human race destined to wipe itself out due to vitamin D deficiencies, rickets, or Pokemon-related accidents? I'm fearful for our future as people have increasingly online relationships and the next generation are fed a steady stream of violence, porn, and BDD-inducing images of perfection via social media.

When we were young, taking a photo meant aiming a camera in the vague direction of the subject, clicking a button then forgetting about it, before trotting down to Boots on your return from Torremelinos, waiting a few days, then collecting 24 pictures of badly-focused holiday snaps with missing heads and red-eye. These days most people won't share a photo unless it's been retaken at least 15 times, cropped, photoshopped and filtered until it looks nothing like the original shot and the average-looking twenty-something in the frame now resembles a pneumatic Russian supermodel wearing a cartoon flower crown courtesy of their new Snapchat filter. I'll admit to pimping my pics via Instagram before sharing them myself on occasion. It's natural to want to show the best version of yourself but it's also all just so...exhausting.

On holiday with the mister on an idyllic Thai island, we'd stumble across countless loved-up couples creating full-on photoshoots at dawn. After two weeks of apologising for inadvertently stumbling into the shot we jokingly had a go at a photoshoot of our own....I'm still sniggering and snorting at the results as I type this. Let's just say we won't be gracing the cover of Vogue anytime soon.

But seriously, I'm scared for the kids of today. Research shows that heavy users of social media, particularly young people, are more likely to become depressed. More and more people are suffering from Internet Addiction. Lots of us wake up during the night and look straight at our phones (yep, guilty as charged), creating lasting insomnia. Like any addiction, most people are in denial about their usage; I have mates who are practically invisible on Facebook, but mysteriously seem to be completely in the loop with all the 'news' - down to who ate what for dinner last night. Hmm, must be telepathic I guess...

We, as adults, have to lead by example: put down our phones, particularly at mealtimes, and make an effort to connect face-to-face. I'm guilty of it myself: idly scrolling whilst half-listening to the conversation. It's just so goddamn rude.

For my part in this, I apologise. I'm going to make a conscious effort to perform a digital detox. I need the tech police to follow me about with a loudspeaker: "Put your hands where I can see them and step away from the iPhone."

We created this Frankenphone monster (half human, half mobile) so it's down to us to fix it. It'll be hard. You can't just take a tablet (no pun intended). We need to get the balance right. This poem by Sugar J and used on the latest Nationwide television advert sums it up perfectly.

Otherwise one day we may look up from our phones - all double-chinned, pale-skinned and hunchbacked, with the dark-ringed eyes of addicts - and realise that the kids have grown up, real-life adventures have passed us by, and we don't even recognise our friends and family at all...unless they're wearing a flower crown, of course.





This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post UK.

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:




Sunday, 9 October 2016

Space: The Final Frontier



Ibiza.
Eye-beef-ahh.
Ee-beez-a.

Whatever your preferred pronunciation, most people who visit The White Isle never go just once: the island is a magnet. If she were a woman she'd be a fearless rubber-clad dominatrix, mercilessly reeling you in then spitting you out; she eats guileless tourists for breakfast.

My first foray to the island was as an impressionable 17-year-old schoolgirl, astounded and delighted in equal measure that my parents, along with those of my eleven closest girlfriends, had permitted us to go. Hence followed an annual pilgrimage to get our 2 week fix of fun and frolics - until two weeks just wasn't enough anymore. Like an addict, I'd built up a tolerance and required ever-more hits to get my sun-drenched kicks. In 1997 I decamped to Ibiza for the season, filming Ibiza Uncovered and working at The New Star. I spent May til October in my happy place. Ditto '98. The trips continued thick and fast and in 2005 I was married in Santa Eulalia to the Englishman I'd first met on the island in 1998.

Fast forward to 2016. After 15 years together the marriage is finito and I'm instead returning to the island with my fella Andy and our gang of trusty party devotees for our pal Keith's 40th birthday celebrations at the big one: Space closing. Only this is not just the annual end-of-season shindig, this time it's closing FOR GOOD. Terminado. Even typing these words brings a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. (Or is that just the post-party blues?).

Space, my favourite club on Earth, is no more. Get a grip, you might say. It's only a nightclub. But those that share my passion about the island's club scene will understand my dismay. The heartbreak. Because Space is (was!) not just any club. It was a meeting of minds, a coming-together of individuals from all walks of life, united in our love of top-quality house music.

I remember the first time I stepped over the threshold. It was 1994, I was eighteen, and on my second jaunt to The White Isle, the first having been largely centred around the West End of San Antonio. By the second year I was a bit more clued-up. We'd been to another club until it closed and then taken a taxi to Space. It was around 7am and I instantly fell in love: with the "freaks" as they were affectionately known, the music, that "anything goes" freedom. As I'd just starting working in the City, reluctantly joining the rest of the grey, suit-clad rat-race, this was a welcome relief from the humdrum conformity of the dull workforce of London town. Gazing around me in awe, I greedily drank in the scene.

The open-air terrace was bathed in warm sunshine, blissful house tunes carrying across the dancefloor like manna from heaven. It was fairly empty at that time, having recently opened at 6am in order to catch the after-hours crowd eager to continue the party. Peacock-like transvestites mingled with androgynous types in 6in black platform boots, piercings and bondage gear; a blur of wild wigs and brightly-coloured make-up as they strutted around to the beat of the music, whilst hippy types lounged in white robes and tie-dyed smocks, draping their dreads over the backs of wicker chairs as they smiled lazily through fugs of blue smoke. The atmosphere was of relaxed hedonism, a laissez-faire attitude making you feel instantly at ease, despite the bewildering array of crazy outfits and huge kohl-lined eyes. The interior of the club was altogether darker in all senses of the word: heavy pounding beats and a pitch-black dampness as the sweaty crowd gyrated to the beat.

It was in 1997 as a fully-fledged "worker" that I became a regular at the club. My boss Juan, the moustachioed and mischievous owner of The New Star (and well-known on the island), would take us to the club after our shift and the door staff would wave us in for free. Particularly memorable was the opening party, when what felt like the entire San An workforce were doing the "Ibiza Shuffle" in time to the uplifting sounds of "You're Free" by Ultra Nate. I can clearly remember looking around the club as we danced, high on the terrace steps, giant fans blowing our hair back, planes soaring overhead due to the proximity of the airport, as we chinked our vodka shots with cries of "Salud!"'
"This is awesome!" I shouted to my girlfriend, Kez, over the music. "I love it!" she agreed with a high-five. Judging by the Cheshire-cat grins and wide-eyed awe of my fellow party-goers, we weren't alone in this sentiment.

Tuesday mornings were always eventful. Manumission, a weekly party held on a Monday night at Privilege (formerly an aircraft hanger, then Ku), was a vast club regularly attracting upto 10000 revellers. I had a "job" of sorts with the Manumission entertainments team, the vague description of which involved dressing up in various outlandish costumes and performing random tasks such as peeling potatoes on the dancefloor or using a plastic lizard as a phone - the more random the better.

The shenanigans would then continue at Space Carry On, where the weird and wonderful would crawl out of the woodwork to party at the club. Even on those busy mornings there was plenty of room to dance, with vast fruit platters being passed around and groups of people relaxing on double beds, chatting. Props such as beachballs and inflatable toys were volleyed about: it was basically a playground for carefree adults who'd raided the fancy-dress chest. We Love (held on Sundays) was another favourite - in part due to the novelty of full-on partying on the sabbath, whilst everyone back in Blighty was munching a roast or slumped on the sofa, slippers on, watching the footy in a near-catatonic state.

Over the summers I've been to Ibiza countless times, with a hiatus in recent years as I travelled to South and Central America and Asia instead. Whilst the island has always been a favourite destination of mine, I love discovering new countries - and besides, for the price of a long party weekender in Ibiza you can live like a queen for two weeks in Thailand.

Regardless, as soon as we heard that Space was closing for ever, it was a no-brainer: we simply had to go. Like visiting a dying relative, we knew it would be nostalgic, sorrowful and bittersweet, as we vowed to give it a good send-off and say our last misty-eyed goodbyes. We weren't the only ones: apparently there were around 16k other people with the same idea. It was touch-and-go as we raced to be amongst the first 4000 to secure one of the coveted online tickets - with each limited release selling out in seconds.

Once in possession of those Willy Wonka-style golden tickets, we set about choosing our outfits and cramming our carry-ons with glitter and heels. The excitement built day by day, as we ticked dates off the calendar, counting down the sleeps until the party to end all parties. After a 27-year run, this would be the final farewell, a 20-hour extravaganza featuring over 100 of the world's top DJs.




Eventually the big day arrives....

We're careful not to go too hard the night before, which is no mean feat in Ibiza where parties are in abundance and temptation is at every turn. When we awake the sun's already shining on our shenanigans: it's a glorious day. We gorge on the hotel breakfast buffet - it could be a long time before we get our next meal - which includes complimentary jugs of sparkling wine to get the party started. Easy tiger! I've got to get my Space Face on yet and those 2 inch false eyelashes are fiddly as hell. A sozzled Barbara Cartland is not quite the look I was aiming for.

There ain't no raver like a wrinkly raver, but fortunately us girls are a dab-hand with the warpaint: soon we're glossed and bouffed to within an inch of our lives. You can't polish a turd....but you can roll it in glitter and stick a bindi on it.




Early afternoon, and we're just revving up into 5th gear at Bar 45 where Brandon Block and Alex P are getting the party started, when suddenly the killjoy Policia Locale rock up and flip off the music, slapping the bar with a whacking great fine for good measure. Bastardos!





By now we're chomping at the bit to get to the club and trot happily along the Bossa streets, excitement building with every step as we approach Space. To our joy, there's barely a queue (we're lucky, it's over 2hrs long soon after) and we step into the pumping Flight Area, instantly bumping into some familiar faces. We say our hellos with a hug and a high five and have a dance, before heading to our favourite part of the club, and where we'll spend the majority of the day and night: the Sunset Terrace.




Unfortunately Jon Ulysses has just finished his set, which you can listen to here, but at least we get a chance to chat to him and a few other old faces, before getting down to business on the dancefloor. The air is filled with the sounds of tune after classic tune, accompanied by singing, laughter and the unmistakable blast from an air horn. The sweet house music is like food for the soul. Kez and I dance up by the fans for old time's sake; if we close our eyes for a moment it could be our nineties heyday all over again.

It's busy, but not uncomfortably so, and the atmosphere is electric: hands-in-the-air happy clappers determined to make this final Space mission a memorable one. It's just a sea of toothy grins and crinkly-eyed smiles as far as the eye can see. The energy is contagious.



Barbara Tucker belts out funky feel-good melodies, then we check out the other rooms before returning to the terrace for Smokin' Jo's cracking set. Next up are the legends Alex P and Brandon Block: these dudes created the terrace and there's no way we'd miss their lively set. As expected, they deliver tune after bouncing tune, served up with their characteristic cheeky style and a side-helping of charisma.






                                      



The freaks are conspicuous in their absence, which is a shame. I miss marvelling at the old woman with the eye patch in a tatty wedding dress, battered plastic kid's doll held aloft. Or the guy who dances with a full-size shop mannequin. There's no sign of Metal Mickey either, with his hundreds of chains and piercings. That's not to say people haven't made an effort: there are plenty of decorated hats, sequins and sparkly pimped-up outfits, beaming faces adorned with gems and glitter. I'm sure I catch sight of the huge-hatted Vaughn and pals from the Funky Room at Pacha.




The club is filling up now so we escape upstairs to the Premier Etage for a breather - space to dance, chat and relax in the huge padded chill-out tube. It's out to the Flight Area for Carl Cox, then later the pitch-black Main Room for Josh Wink, Sasha and Erick Morillo. Wink plays Higher State of Consciousness; the smoke cannons chuck out huge gusts of cooling dry ice as the beat drops, the force of which is almost enough to blow you over. The beams of the lasers light up the crowd, which, as you'd expect, is going completely wild.

By now it's almost 6am and we've been in the club for 13 hours. Due to some areas closing, it's uncomfortably full and exhausting trying to move around the club in the scrum - dangerous even. Wearing spike stiletto heels was a rookie error: my balls are killing me. As much as we planned to stay til the final dance, Andy and I decide to drop the shoulder and head home. Kez follows close behind. Our most hardcore buddies stay till the very end, including Keefster the birthday boy, and turbo-birds Jenny and Katherine. I must admit to being a tad disappointed in myself for being a lightweight and not hanging it out when I see this awesome shot of the final moments...


photo credit: Tatiana Chausovsky

It's a marathon, not a sprint....fortunately we sprint marathons. After a quick pit-stop at the hotel to shower and change we get a second wind and head back out to continue the party: first at Tantra, then at Bora Bora, which is nothing like the dancing-on-tables extravaganza of the old days, but a nostalgic treat nonetheless.




Soon we're surrounded by our fellow Space cadets, whose impressive stamina saw them dance til the very end and listen to Carl Cox and (the owner) Pepe's speeches and the final tune of the night: Angie Stone's Wish I Didn't Miss You...




They pull up a seat and we excitedly compare notes...and memorabilia, which is mostly varying-sized chunks of the famous Space terrace wall. Everyone who attended got a ticket to collect a free Space tote bag filled with goodies: a cd, Space tags, a Space t-shirt and history-filled memory card - annoyingly we lost our tickets and missed out on these. Amateurs! Hey ho. We spend the day drinking and chatting to friends old and new at Bora Bora before jumping a taxi back to the hotel to grab our bags and head off to the airport, Blighty-bound...




The Burger King in Departures doubles up as Ibiza's second A&E: battered-looking clubbing casualties are slumped on every available surface, half-heartedly chomping on a Whopper (likely the first thing they've eaten in days) and vacantly gazing off into the middle distance.

It's time to go home.

Ibiza. This island leaves you fragile as a china doll that's been smashed into a hundred tiny pieces, then haphazardly glued together by it's seven-year-old owner. But Beefa, like our first love, you'll always have a special place in our hearts...and we wouldn't have you any other way. So, until next time, it's...

¡hasta luego, mi amiga!




Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at: