Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Back To Birmingham... Theatre Shows, The Back To Backs & Graduation!

I've been in a state of delusion, like I mentioned previously that my life is in transition well its moving forward! The previous chapter of my life has been written and closed firmly, ready for me to move on because it's been a strange couple of months. Good things do come to those who wait! Birmingham, let's get this clear because it's now time to say goodbye! Let's go, go B! 

Birmingham called me back three final times this month, firstly to the Birmingham Hippodrome to see the hit musical Cats. I saw the ticket release date for the show and jumped at the chance, we have to treat ourselves once a while! I hadn't been out in Birmingham for a while so the theatre borrowed me some time back in the second city. Getting my Chinese food fix was quite underwhelming, not tarnishing all the restaurants in Birmingham's Chinatown but I've ate much better at the other restaurants, especially Dim Sum. I literally couldn't spend my money as I've been on the hunt for a new pair of trainers, I would be damned even if I tried harder! At least the pint of Cider I had at the Village Inn was nice, it brought back some memories of my Uni days but those nights are done! I suppose we should get back to the show? Would this touring show match my childhood West End experience? A memory?

Let me begin, I first saw Cats when I was about four years old in the West End so I had a high expectation because shows lose their edge when they tour. The iconic 'Jellicle Ball' theme song was dragged out for the first half of the show, I already knew the show lacked in dialogue so I took that into consideration. Grizabella, the glamour cat will always be my favourite member of the show but she didn't have the age that needs to be portrayed. I had the opportunity to see Elaine Page play the role of Grizabella, she wasn't that old but her rendition of 'Memory' was more than outstanding. The part of 'Rum Tum Tugger' the ladies tom cat was played the best along with 'Mr. Mistoffelees' so that impressed non the less. I half enjoyed the show, that emotion was shared with a fellow theatre-goer who agreed with me. I last saw 'Singin' In The Rain' at the Hippodrome in March 2014, it was a very good performance! With one curtain call its time to compose the next chapter! Birmingham, I'm waiting! 

Throughout the years I spent in Birmingham as a University College student I never got to see the Back To Backs! Nestled deep in the heart of Birmingham's Southside stands the only remaining block of back to back terraces in Birmingham. For a small cost I was able to see the forgotten way that inner-city Brummie's lived through the 18th and 19th century's. Three restored houses stand with a thousand memories and stories that were told to me and my tour group by the knowledgeable tour guide. Ranging from 1830 to 1930 the three houses have been brought back by the National Trust, I had relatives who lived in a back to back terraces within the West Midlands. I never knew that Southside and Hurst Street was once a thriving Jewish community, boasting a Synagogue and Kosher bakeries. Only Block 15 remains today but its a must to witness the Back To Backs that have been reborn in Southside. Loved it! 

Birmingham's Back To Backs aren't for the faint hearted, I even had a challenge navigating the stairs in the vintage housing project. I also learnt that in the 1960's the Back To Backs in Birmingham were condemned unfit to live in but Block 15 survived due to the existing businesses that once faced Hurst Street. I loved seeing something different within Southside, after all it was part of my night scene of nightclubs and bars throughout my University days. One of the couples in my tour had stopped in Birmingham to see the Back To Backs on their way home from the Cotswolds, I apologised on-behalf of the dreary weather because Birmingham didn't look at its best. Throughout the tour our tour guide showed us a photo of what Birmingham's Hippodrome theatre looked before its major revamp, I was saddened because it looked very grand with its eccentric brickwork. See something new or something borrowed at the National Trusts Birmingham Back To Backs! I do love you, Brum!

Now, Sissy That Graduate! On the twenty second day of September I donned my cap and gown at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. I graduated with honours, against all the adversity I faced as a school boy I got my hustle game on and achieved a 2:1 degree after completing my BA Hons Hospitality and Tourism Management course. University College Birmingham took me places that I never thought I would ever go! I worked at Walt Disney World in the summer of 2011 and I experienced one year out on placement in Newark, USA for Virgin Atlantic Airways. I didn't want to get a First Class Honours because I worked my hardest at uni and partied in Birmingham during my student life. I never planned to attend my graduation ceremony but it was such fabulous day, my cap and gown annoyed me but I won't forget strutting across the stage in front of an enthusiastic audience! I brought the house down, the house down B!

It was great to finally face the day, I tried my best to fast-track my degree because of securing a Chinese visa but I faced facts because it was something I couldn't control. Celebrating the event with some of my classmates was great, we've all change but it's been a while since we all embarked on the beginning of our course. Donning our cap and gowns we chatted about the good times, looked towards the future and compared the results of our degrees but most of all it was a great lasting memory. The last few months have been strange, I felt a sense of accomplishment as I made my way back to my seat with my degree in hand! People come and go and with each friendship remaining makes everything worthwhile, I know who'll be on my Christmas card list in the future. The next chapter has only just begun, I look forward to the next phase of my life and to embark on my Chinese year of discovery! Quote Rupaul's 'Sissy That Walk' to understand my opening word. I will get to work! 

Birmingham... You've Still Got It! 

Joseph Harrison

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Serving It Up... Stoke-on-Trent, England!

Ey up mi ducky? Stoke-on-Trent, the world's ceramic leader took me by the hand to teach me a thing or two. Don't you go about breaking any dishes! Oatcakes were on my mind the whole time until I got my hands on one! Trentham had my attention also but let's be serious, I don't appreciate posh, I wanted nothing but Stokey realness! Somehow, Stoke's still got something!

Pottery has been a part of Stoke-on-Trent's soul for thousands of years, making the most of the rich source of clay, water and coal sparked the early Pottery trade. Established in 1774 the Gladstone Pottery Workshop worked through a thousand arduous days until 1970. Thankfully the 17th Century site was saved from demolition to be preserved as a working museum. Located in Longton, one of the five towns that historically made up the city of Stoke-on-Trent. If you couldn't stand the heat you wouldn't make it as a pottery worker, all 700 degrees in that kiln! It's believed that half of Stoke's population made their money in one of the pottery works, it was a family affair! The Gladstone Pottery Workshop boomed through the late 17th century through to the industrially rich 18th century period. Gladstone Pottery Museum tells the truth, celebrating the legacy. Let's bring more pottery back to Stoke-on-Trent! 

Stoke had some bottle! I mean the bottle chimneys that once littered the skyline of that North Staffordshire city, but the pollution plagued the people of the city with health problems so eventually newer equipment was used during the 1950's and beyond. Call me crazy? I wanted to learn something about the pottery works in Stoke because it's rare that positive things are said about the city on the Trent river. Have you heard of Josiah Wedgwood or Henry Doulton? Josiah and Henry paved the way to become two of Stoke-on-Trent's most famous produces of fine bone China. Several top ceramic works have been commissioned to make products for the British Family to serve Great Britain and the Empire. Keep your opinions to yourself because they won't make a difference! Hanley, Burslem, Fenton, Stoke and Longton now work as one, things haven't been rosy for the Potteries but demand for British made ceramics is picking up now. Stoke-On-Trent, you better well work it mi ducky!

What's up Hanley? Stoke-on-Trent has an unusual layout but I made it to Hanley after I learnt about the city's pottery legacy. Not being a bus person I put bigotry aside for the day because I didn't fancy walking from point to point! Hanley, you have such a personality! I wanted nothing but an oatcake! Stoke does them best, like a pancake but made with oaty goodness! Choosing a catering van outside the Intu Potteries shopping centre I indulged in a cheese and bacon whopper Oatcake! Duck, it was great! I didn't have time for clothes shopping, I just wanted my Oatcake from Hanley! If the truth be told I randomly decided to visit Stoke-on-Trent, I didn't take anything seriously. You already know that I appreciated the uncomplicated vibe that Hanley had that Friday afternoon, I should really look North more often. I have to eat an oatcake when I'm in Stoke-on-Trent! Oh no ducky, Hanley hadn't changed one bit!

Making sense of Hanley's city centre amenities I could tell that a few things had changed since my last visit some years ago. Hanley kept me on my toes! Well apart from the new bus station that served me well with my onward connections. My aunties both lived in Stoke-on-Trent for a number of years so it meant several visits to North Staffordshire. Throughout the years I had the chance to see Sneyd Green, Burslem and Talke, all showcasing something completely different. Sneyd Green and Burslem serve straight up realness with a no hold attitude about anything, both colourful neighbourhoods to say the least! Talke offered a slice of calm with the green fields and scenic views that I had the opportunity to witness. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, there's always time for an oatcake in Stoke-on-Trent! Not wanting to make any negative swipe at Hanley but after living in Newark, NJ I don't mind these places! Stoke in general has an edge to it, that's for sure! Just truth. 

The Trentham Estate took me by surprise! From the Gladstone Pottery Museum and Hanley City Centre to then end up surrounded by the grandeur of Trentham Gardens, I was very impressed! The formal Italianate gardens are set within a three hundred acres estate of parkland that dates back to 1758. Part of the wider city of Stoke-on-Trent the suburb of Trentham plays as the perfect contradiction. To the left stand the well manicured gardens, standing from the viewpoint gave me a whole new perspective on the Potteries. Aside from the grand gardens there's plenty to get up to around the Estate, shopping can be enjoyed at the Trentham shopping village that borders the garden's entrance. I took the 21B bus from Hanley bus station that took around thirty minutes give or take some traffic. I had seen the Monkey Forest on a previous occasion so I chose to visit the gardens entirely, S! 

Summer, Winter, Spring or Autumn I can be assured that the gardens at the Trentham Estate look amazingly regal! Trentham definitely has gardens to envy but what's going on with that five star hotel? Don't take this the wrong way, I always notice that there's a dreary look to the sky in Stoke, but as negative as that may sound I saw it as a benefit during my Stoke day! Don't judge a book by its cover because Stoke-on-Trent deserves respect for all of its industrial advances, it was just dealt a bad card. Word on the street is that the pottery trade is filtering back into Stoke-on-Trent, so far so good! Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and the rest of you pottery works, keep working on your grind! The Trentham Gardens give the perfect opportunity for rest, relaxation and a pleasing view. Like I previously mentioned I endorse the Stoke Oatcake, its best served with cheese and bacon! Hanley's city centre keeps its hustle true to the mark! Make no mistake, Stoke-on-Trent served me something! Yes!

Don't Go Breaking Any Dishes!

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 8 September 2014

USA: San Juan, New York City & New Orleans...

In my heart I will always have a place for the United States of America, its a place that's given me a lot that I can be thankful because of my placement. Serving my remembrance to my USA year, I want to pay attention to San Juan, New York City and New Orleans. From crystal clear Puerto Rican waters to an empire state of mind, there's always room for a Disney Princess, T! 

La isla del encanto esta esperando! Puerto Rico was for me! Leaving the mainland behind me to experience a hearty serving of Puerto Rican culture! I stepped back in time, choosing Old San Juan for a relaxing break to embrace the breathtaking colonial Spanish architecture. I chose wisely to see the cobbled streets of Old San Juan to relax and to see the castle forts that were fortified by the Spanish. I hosteled like a true backpacker on Calle de la Fortaleza, it didn't cost me the earth either! Both Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristobal served strong meaning business, protecting the rich port from invaders these fortification's are part of the U.S National Park Service. I had a valuable history lesson! A stunning U.S Commonwealth nation had me entering those Puerto Rican borders just fine, the island follows the same entry requirements as the U.S mainland. I was good with my visa, ready for PR!

Trading fast food for a meal at Cafe Puerto Rico! I was a must do to enjoy a freshly cooked Mofongo with chicken, served with a rich garlic sauce. I found out that Mofongos are made from plantains! Boricuas are proud of their heritage and love to express their allegiance to their island of Puerto Rico! I don't drive so I went on a day trip from Old San Juan to the El Yunque National Rainforest and Luquillo Beach. The rainforest transported me to a tropical oasis, reinforcing the hidden beauty of Puerto Rico! To conclude the trip a rest stop at Luquillo Beach where the Caribbean Sea hugged the Atlantic Ocean, it was a magical time relaxing on the golden sands in the sun with an ice cold Daiquiri in hand! I loved it! San Juan, Puerto Rico opened my eyes in the best way, I'll definitely return to the island of beauty and realness in the future! Learning a whole kind of Spanish whilst on the island along with the Spanglish phrases the Puertorriqueños used, it was the perfect Spanish lesson P! 

New York City baby! The city streets might be tough but feel the deal, NYC is real! From Downtown to Central Park I scratched beneath the surface, reading between the lines to capture the true essence of NYC! Chinatown NYC doesn't throw shade, I had some Vietnamese dishes to discover. I got down to a Broadway show, Evita gave me my Broadway experience. The New York Yankees played their game, allowing me to step into the Bronx! NYC will always be the queen of my dreams! I took solace from the struggle that the immigrants went through at Ellis Island. That island visit was the perfect opportunity to meet the Lady of Liberty. During my time in New York City I left my worries in Jersey, NYC was my playground! In the best way, New York City will always serve 'royal highness!' Yes, the view from the top of the Empire State Building put me in my place, I got over my fears! NYC had me feeling all kind of feelings!

Brooklyn didn't just show me its bridge, I found a rather mysterious corner of Williamsburg that held a big Jewish presence. Lee Avenue had me keeping things 'Kosher' within the hasidim population within New York City, I was amazed! Midtown Manhattan had me like 'damn' the first time but I discovered all kinds of fabulousness along Christopher Street, the NYC Pride March 2012 had me feeling all kinds of myself! As the winter months creeped in, the cold bit as I walked along the High Line during that December month. Times Square caught my attention several times, it was the first place that I saw in the city. Those lights and advertisements won't ever get repetitive, I'll be back one day to revisit that colourful corner! I didn't see Coney Island because Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey pulled me away, I'll be seeing you in a few Coney! From the Bronx to Midtown with Battery Park, NYC gave me serious life experience! New York C's Battery Park had me desperately seeking Susan!

I headed down to the Deep South to New Orleans alongside the rolling Mississippi River. I didn't get those Delta blues because the French Quarter brought me Disney's Princess and The Frog to life with the original buildings and Voodoo business! I wanted to take a boat trip through the world famous Bayou but Mother Nature threw serious shade on me and my sister friend that January afternoon. Digging a little deeper, we headed over to the Garden District to be transported back to true Louisiana realness with the regal houses that lined the streets. We enjoyed a triple chocolate brownie or two from The Grocery on Charles & 6th Street!  We left the crowded city streets behind us to experience an infusion of colonial American style because that was where New Orleans began before the stars and stripes! Fairytales really do come true, New Orleans was the sprinkle of pixie dust!  C'est vraiment incroyable! Tiana! 

St. Louis Cathedral gave us Jackson Square life, the French influence was unstoppable within that part of town. Looking out for the Fleur de Lis, that sight instilled the French history. Cajun cuisine broke all boundaries down, Cafe Du Monde coffee-house served up some delicious Beignets with coffee! Cajun cuisine impressed us much, we made sure that we both tried Gumbo and Catfish at least once to ensure our whistle-stop experience in New Orleans could be whole. Breakfast had to be enjoyed at Stanley's, myself and my sister discovered that French Boudin completed the perfect 'Orleans cooked breakfast! Bourbon Street served us with washing machines filled with iced cocktails that we simply had to try! The voodoo vibe was in the air, we loved our haters so no voodoo dolls were needed! The weather may have been terrible but we kept it going down in the Deep South! New Orleans had us rolling on the Mississippi River, so we loved that waterfront with its steamboat style! 

Get it, Get it! 

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Warwick's Little Secret...

Here I go again, another month meant another new adventure! Warwick had some unanswered questions so without further ado I got my act together, taking a train this time to that Warwickshire town. Warwick might be famous for its 1100 year old castle but I wanted to leave those castle walls to question that notion. Warwick, I think you need to step into the beat! Yes! 

Serving medieval realness Warwick Castle stood before me, I have to admit that the castle was looking in very good condition for 1100 years old! I had been twice before my recent trip, therefore I didn't have a problem getting around the inner circle of Warwick's castle. Have you been to Warwick Castle? I worked at Walt Disney World in Florida, I can sniff out the competition within a second! No shade was thrown! No! Rewinding the clock to 914, the original castle was more of a mound. Crafted by Ethelfelda, that Anglo-Saxon princess used her fortress to protect Warwick during the early years. I learnt from the performers that Warwick Castle stands today in such good condition because of the lack of battles that were fought. History aside it was an international affair that September morning at Warwick Castle, to hazard a guess I heard four extra languages spoken excluding English! Princess Ethelfelda, Slay!

Warwick Castle is another one of those typical voids that satisfy the American tourists to name a few, they are always gagged on the medieval realness that Warwick's most famous castle slayed to them! Flashback to my time when the world and their mothers went crazy coo over Buckingham Palace, I suppose we the British have a valiant history to be proud of?! That wasn't a question! Substituting the modern love I took a sneak peak inside the main castle buildings to admire the former opulent living quarters of the previous tenants, when can I move in Merlin? You might be thinking who's Merlin? Warwick Castle is owned by the Merlin Entertainment group, it's one of the many properties owned by the entertainment middleweight. I didn't waste my time dawdling around without a purpose so I got my snaps, saw what I needed and even contemplated climbing the almost four hundred steps around the castle tower. I did that when I was a boy! Give the castle a chance! Give it every chance! Sure!

Unfortunately, we can't all be royal forever! Leaving Warwick's castle behind me to see some of the town had to be next. Warwick may only be a small town, facing facts I wanted to see as much as I possibly could! Yes! Stepping back to the year 1571 to understand the Earl of Leicester's plan! The Lord Leycester Hospital stands close to the town centre but oozes 11th century architecture. The hospital element has never existed, making sense of its ancient sense meaning 'a charitable instigation' to help the needy, infirm or aged. Don't be fooled, this Warwick point of interest caught my attention, I wanted something authentic away from the castle. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the hospital was under royal charter, commandeering the space for old and disabled soldiers who fought under her service. Modern day brethren and their wives still make a worthy level of contribution to ensure this historical gem. Plan B?

Connected to the Lord Leycester Hospital is the Chapel of St. James the Great, that was built over the ancient West gate that leads back into Warwick around 1123 by Roger de Newburgh. Capturing a snap of the hospital took some doing but I just got on with it! Yes! Warwick Castle takes the shine from the Lord Leycester Hospital inevitably, let's keep it to the point I like to support the underdog. Upon my visit to the hospital I learnt the tour would be self-navigated, I don't like being part of a tour because I feel like a sheep being herded by the keeper, no thank you! The chapel was quiet, giving the perfect location for reflection or prayer if that's your thing? I bagged a student price for entrance, every little helps even though I'm no longer enrolled at an educational institution. I noticed within the quaint courtyard the architecture served some more medieval realness, I was living for that sight! It is a force of habit? I was in a cost conscious mood as I bypassing the Brethren's Kitchen!

I had been attracted to Warwick, it's a small historic town that has a fiery story to tell! September 5th of 1694 brought the Great Fire of Warwick, this Warwickshire town suffered the burn of the fire but with the strength of the townspeople it rebuilt itself back up stronger! To the left is High Street, one of the main streets in Warwick that was hit with the flames of 1694. Starting from a small flint of light from a burning branch that would be used for fire wood the wind must of been hearty to start that fire?! No I'm not a walking historian! To gain the knowledge of Warwick's catastrophe I trusted the views of the Market Hall Museum in the heart of Warwick's town centre. Are you a sucker for a slice of historical shade? I am! Mapping the region of the four boroughs took a quick second to be familiar with the Sheldon Tapestry work. Who knew that Coventry was once a walled city with the spelling, Coventrie? Yes!  

I appreciated what the castle showed me and with further research I like the sound of Princess Ethelfelda because we all start from somewhere. Blazing through the town like a torrent of flames the Great Fire of Warwick 1694 only took its toll on Warwick for a short time. If you're from a foreign land I urge you to visit Warwick town and its castle because it exudes that vibe you dream about a small town in the heart of England. The Lord Leycester Hospital challenged the conventional meaning of a hospital, of course life is a lesson! Take the time to take heed from the Market Hall Museum to understand Warwick's strong women that fought the Viking invasion during the Anglo-Saxon reign. Warwick lies thirty minutes away from Birmingham Snow Hill, so get those tickets booked! Leamington Spa looks good, I'm on a Warwickshire hype at the moment so watch out for a round up blog soon! Be the Queen of the castle or conquer a whole dominion? There are no more secrets left! 

Watch Out Warwick!

Joseph Harrison