Too much of a good thing!

Ok, maybe not quite, had a lot of hot chocolate recently!

I decided to try and get more involved in photography society stuff, as I have a bit more time, and today they had a fantastic alternative to the alcohol-sodden classic, the caffeine crawl. One of the stops was Fork, a beautiful little deli on Tavistock. Sadly, despite its amazing selection of breads, pastries and all things wonderful, their hot chocolate was probably one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted.

At £2.6, you would expect at least a good quality powdered chocolate with milk, I mean, even McDonalds gets that much right and it’s a fraction of the price. No, whatever it was they served in the bespoke recycled cup was the result of two pumps of syrup and probably some milk. It was thin, weak, and unappetising in every possible way. All in all, I highly doubt I will ever return

DSC_5246

How could something so beautiful create something so vile?!

Another stop was on the Store street espresso. I’m learning to love Bloomsbury in a whole different way, behind the clean cut exterior found north of the Central Line, there are some fun little corners!

After the fork debacle, this was a welcome delight; real chocolate! I do feel like it’s (more of a) waste of money buying to go, as a big part of this is having somewhere to hang out and abuse WiFi privileges, but it was rather lovely.

DSC_5049 DSC_5047

Earlier this week, I did find my favourite coffee shop so far; La Gourmandina. This year, I’m studying around Russell Square, and have lectures in Great Ormond St. Hospital. Next to it, is a fantastic little road called Lamb’s Conduit St, where I found this gem during lunch. The service was amazing, the store itself is like a small tardis, and the chocolate was divine. I’m pretty sure it’s nothing more than dark chocolate and double cream, but they found a way of making it a drink and not just molten goo. It was absolutely fantastic.

I guess I’m not sleeping tonight!

B

DSC_8887

Testing faith

The weekend marked the end of Freshers’ week here at UCL. We put on loads of events, and the response has been pretty amazing, despite many setbacks! In fact, the sheer number of people has been one of our biggest (literally) problems!

On Thursday, we had an open house event with around 15 confirmed guests. When the bus arrived with freshers from the quadrangle, numbers were breaking fifty, way more than could fit in Mark’s tiny living room and roof terrace! We had to walk over to my friend’s considerably larger flat, which was a shame, because the view was ace!

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 00.54.09

The same story could be told of the welcome fair. We were stuck in a corner between the Chocolate Society and the Comedy Club, which was great as we got fed and had some good banter! Unfortunately, it was a boiling hot logistical nightmare as we tried to get sign ups. Despite the hordes of freebie-seeking freshers, however, we managed to get a huge number of people interested, with more emailing in saying they’d like to join but couldn’t attend – amazing!

Today, I had my faith tested in a massive way. As I mentioned earlier, we’d been surprised at the overwhelming number of people keen to get stuck in, and so the room that we fought to get booked, was definitely going to be too small. The union has been undergoing huge renovations, as a result of which, space is extremely limited; they don’t even have space for lectures! This means clubs and societies fall to the bottom of the room-booking pecking order.

Lots of emails had been shot at the union, frantically trying to determine what room we had so we could tell everyone where to go. By around twelve, we still didn’t know, and were really at a loss as to what we could really do but watch our efforts slowly unravel. However, God really pulled through. At around three, we got a surprise email saying everything was confirmed, despite someone calling beforehand and them telling us we couldn’t have it as someone else had booked. This was literally amazing!

What followed was probably, in my opinion, one of the best meetings we’ve had in a long while. We packed out the larger room, people were stood up on the sides because we didn’t have enough chairs, there were loads of people hanging about afterwards, chatting, talking, and loads more at the bar, carrying on this great time of fellowship.

DSC_8886

Amazing.

B

My Achilles Heel

You’re walking down the high street and you spot it in the corner of your eye. Despite having been there countless times and knowing pretty much every single item in the store (as they tend to be quite small), you wander in anyway, stoking the flames of your guilty pleasure. Shelf upon glorious shelf stacked with things you’ve never seen before, and hitherto never knew you needed on your already cluttered bedroom desk. Welcome to my Achilles heel, the art shop.

Photo credit - Manchester's Finest

Photo credit – Manchester’s Finest

Magma, a small chain of art and graphic design shops, have a branch in my home town which I visit almost religiously every time I’m in the area, a habit which fills me with guilt as I saunter around the tiny room, perusing the oddities knowing full well I could never justify buying.

Now people do this a lot in places like the Apple Store or Harrods, heck, they’re pretty much tourist attractions in their own right, but window shopping in tiny stores just feels wrong. The moment you enter, you’re greeted by an enthusiastic man in flannel and skinny jeans who is genuinely happy to chat with you about how cool their business card design is or why you should pick Moleskine over Paperblanks, a man who you cheerily wave goodbye to as you walk out having not spent a penny, despite all your good intentions. I prefer stores like Paperchase as they’re slightly more impersonal, allowing you to dream about at all the things you could have in your dorm room, with less emotional investment.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Yesterday, my friend Lorraine introduced me to, what could potentially be the undoing of every good financial decision thus far - Fred Aldous. Three stories pile high with art supplies, books and gifts; heaven. In the basement, they also have a photography studio which you can rent out for £15 an hour, fully supplied with studio lights, soft boxes and macs.  We spent a considerable amount of time in there, needless to say!

God only knows how much will be spent here if I ever own my own house

B

WPC – Humanity

DSCF0586

“Special days”  were when all the program staff took a day off, and were bereft of any structure or routine, having to make do and entertain the kids for an entire day. Normally we do big all camp activities such as cops and robbers or the olympics. Rain puts a stop to all that, resulting in restless little packets of near-infinite energy confined in small sheltered spaces. Chaos. The rain got so bad we couldn’t even forecast an end, and so we had to make do. Luckily, we have a DVD player on the hill, and so we used that to solicit their good behaviour. It worked.

One good thing about hot countries is that the rain is amazing in its extremes. On this particular day, it almost flooded the cabins with that little river that’s visible in the photograph. It was unbelievably intense, and beautifully warm. So we stood outside and soaked it all up.

A wonderfully simple pleasure.

B

Check out the rest of this week’s entries, here 

Nooks and crannies

When I was making my choices on where to go for university, I really tried hard to move away from Manchester. It helped that UoM didn’t do the type of course I thought I wanted, but really, I didn’t want to stay in Manchester.

Part of it must have been because I’d never really wandered anywhere past the Arndale shopping mall, full of the same old shops. Maybe if I had seen the Manchester that I know now, things would have been different. Leaving definitely makes you appreciate home.


DSC_0019 DSC_0020

I met up with a few friends from college and we had a hankering for good food. Terrace is quite literally a hole in the wall next to Teacup, one of my favourite coffee shops in the Northern Quarter. Nothing outside tells you what it is except the door into a corridor leading through to the other side of the street.

Inside, it’s dark, filled with odd bits of furniture and low hanging lights, definitely my kind of place! The food was good, although the burger a little on the small side. It was cooked to perfection and the fries weren’t bad either!
DSC_0025

We then found this place Hannah mentioned called Twenty Twenty two. You’d miss it if you weren’t looking, heck, I missed it when I was looking. It’s in this tiny little alley off Dale st. The place is huge, and through the back there are four table tennis tables. Some may see it as a gimmick, but I absolutely love it, adds a new (top)spin to chilling out at your local!. We paid for half an hour but because it was dead, we played for well over an hour.

DSC_0027 DSC_0032A camp buddy was over in manchester and discovered this wonderful place called Almost famous burger. The burgers pile high with cheese, onion rings, bacon, everything your mind can think of. It’s the only place I’ve ever been to where the fries are pretty much a main on their own, drizzled with cheese, bacon, onions and chilli. Then the desserts, goodness me. Visit.

Manchester, you’re great.

 

B

 

Successes, disasters and my favourite photograph, ever

A big part of this summer, for me, was trying out film photography for the first time. I have a polaroid, which is really fun, but there’s something really cool about holding an old SLR that I just had to try out.

It’s not been easy, nor cheap. Being new to the whole thing, I’ve bought lots of film from all the wrong shops, and had absolute nightmares loading and snapping film. In fact, last week, I sent my first roll off to be processed to find it was completely blank. Great.

I was feeling pretty sour about the whole thing, and half-heartedly sent the second roll, knowing full well it was ruined as I impatiently opened the back when it wouldn’t roll back. That came back today, and it’s amazing!

By amazing, I do not, by any means, mean all the pictures were great. In fact, a large proportion were a mess. A well exposed mess, mind, but a mess nonetheless. Some were super blurry, frames mixed in with each other, some were missing and others suffered the wrath of the few seconds of sun I exposed them to. However, amongst these, are some of my favourite pictures.

Practika-3

Practika

This, I have to admit, is the picture that brings me most joy. My face literally lit up when I saw it in the pack. It’s a mixture of knowing you took the photo blind, not expecting a single thing, and the sheer incredulity at how lucky you were for that thousandth of a second.

 

This is going to be an expensive habit.

 

B

 

Bright-3

Honest reviews: Fujifilm Finepix X100

In hindsight, taking this as my only camera during my first visit to New York was a pretty bold move. I had never used it before in any serious capacity and the camera was, for all intents and purposes, untested. However, it did a pretty good job under some difficult circumstances, and I would consider it again.

Overview
The X100 is a compact system camera – a high end point and shoot. It is mirror less, which means that as opposed to SLR cameras which have a mirror/prism system that takes light from the lens up into the viewfinder then flicks up at the last second to expose the sensor when you press the shutter release, there is no mirror, but the viewfinder is simply a hole, albeit, a very cool one. It has a range of advanced shooting modes, P, S, A and M. It’s small, built extremely well and enables you to take great photographs.

The build

Bright-6

It did get considerably more scuffed and scraped at the bottom of my bag. The brushed metal doesn’t play well with other metal things! 

I love my DSLR, but it’s all plastic as Nikon tries to save money and entice more people into photography. The X100, on the other hand, is wonderfully finished. All metal, the top and the lens have a really nice premium feel to them, as does the leather that wraps the body. The machined external controls are a great touch, and really help you get to know how the whole thing works.

One reason I opted to bring this travelling over my DSLR was the size. It is considerably smaller and shallower than the body and lens(es) of my Nikon, meaning I’m much more likely to throw it into my bag on my way out. The best camera is the one you have on you, and so having something small you carry around with you all the time is quite handy. Furthermore, its size allows you to shoot pretty inconspicuously. If you’re on the street and raise a big black box at someone, it changes everything. The shutter also makes a pretty audible click (I did miss this!). With this, you simply point, shoot and move on.

The The viewfinder is nice and large, but as it’s a mirror less rangefinder, it is offset from the lens itself. This means that whatever you frame in the viewfinder will always be slightly different, but the hybrid OVF technology does go some way in making up for it, projecting a virtual viewfinder onto what you’re looking at, which lets you properly frame the shot.

Shooting

The camera has a fixed lens. This has both positives and negatives. The upside is that it’s a good lens, and you don’t have to faff about with carrying around a whole bag just for the camera, as that option is taken away from you. The downside is that it robs you of versatility. The 23mm f/2.0 is nice and wide, so you can get lovely big street shots, and good portraits, without having too hard about the frame, because chances are it’ll be in there anyway.

When closed, the results come out nice and sharp

But it gets a bit soft at f/2

The sensor is also a bit of a pain. In low light, you’re going to be at 1/30 most of the times, with the ISO cranked up pretty high. Noise isn’t really noticeable until 2500, but it’s still quite a drag having to shoot at such a value.

One cool feature of the X100 is macro. This allows you to take super close up shots, closer than you would with a standard 23mm prime. The macro button is on the back, and turns on with ease. You can use the live view for this, or the electronic view finder (EVF). It’s like a tiny LCD that drops down over the viewfinder and shows you exactly what’s hitting the sensor, getting rid of the problem of offset. The colours do look somewhat washed out on the EVF compared to the OVF, however. This can be used for regular shooting too, by flicking the switch up front (I only found this out a few days ago!), but it’s a lot less enjoyable and takes up too much battery. Anglia-26

All this makes a pretty good all rounder. In the daytime, it’s pretty much the perfect point and shoot, giving good portraits and landscapes without much effort. In low light, you have to be more careful with how you’re taking your shots. Because of the short focal length, however, you can avoid blur by taking a big breath. The burger was at 1/4!

Other features

The X100 is also able to film video clips of up to 10 minutes. Helpfully, there’s a virtual level on the screen and EVF to help you keep the frame. It’s nothing special, and the films can be very shaky. Furthermore, once you’ve started recording, you can’t change the focus, so you’ve got to be happy with what you first saw, or use your feet.

Conclusion

Fuji managed to make a pretty good piece of kit. It’s lovely to hold and shoot with, with a decent prime lens that’s good for most day to day jobs. The autofocus could be faster, and the battery could be longer, but if you’re looking for something small, and are willing to be inventive with your shots, this is the camera for you.

B

The one I’ll miss the most

My last few days were spent in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a small little area adjacent to Williamsburg. After stressing over this, E managed to find somewhere called the Greenpoint LodgeBright-23.

For what we paid, it was amazing, and I was constantly kicking myself as to why we hadn’t found it earlier! The area around us was lovely, with a huge park where we sat and watched some baseball.

Bright-22 Bright-21

This was our breakfast, at the Manhattan inn. A quirky little outlet, with a skylight and a piano for entertainment. The pianist was wonderful, but the environment slightly awkward, as if we were too close and were expected to be watching rather than appreciating the food and our own conversation. Bright-39Bright-37

This was probably one of the best bits of street art I saw in my whole time there. And believe me, there was a lot of it.
Bright-29 Bright-30

Bright-38The are around us was wonderful. There aren’t many things that would make me want to live in America, visit, maybe, but this neighbourhood is just so lively and amazing.
Bright-25

Unlike manhattan, however, Williamsburg and Greenpoint do sleep. At night, it can get kinda ropey, and I wouldn’t advise walking around too much on your own, but if you’re willing to brave the streets, you’ll be rewarded with an entirely different borough..

Bright-26..offering stunning views of the city such as these!

Bright-27And these!Bright-31Bright-32The next day was brilliantly sunny, and so I decided to brave the right hand side of the road on a Citi. They’re the more expensive facsimile of the Boris Bike – just as heavy and unwieldy! However, they are a marked improvement to my own two feet when it comes to moving around. After a while, I got the hang of the whole opposite side thing, and the road down to the Manhattan bridge was wonderful, I wish we had cycle lanes like this!

At the bottom of the island, just beneath the bridge, is a large skatepark. Some of the people there were absolutely incredible! I must have sat there watching for a good hour. Apparently there were some famous skaters there too, going by the reactions of the people around me! Bright-24

Add some family dinners, relaxing nights in, top banter and you’ll have yourself a week never to forget.
Bright-28Catching the flight on the following morning was an extremely sad affair, not helped by the fact that I’d not slept since the previous night due to an extremely hectic day of last minute prep. I was sent off, however, with this glorious sunrise that peaked from behind the manhattan skyline. Everyone in the waiting room was caught by surprise, incredulous as to whether that was really the sun. And just like that, I was gone.

Goodbye America, see you on television.

B

 

 

The one where we were almost homeless

Working with kids 24/7 means it’s really hard to figure anything out, especially when a lot of other people are involved. This was made even worse by the fact that we had no reliable internet. The result was ten people sat in Tempest trying desperately to figure out where we were going to sleep that night! As you can imagine, this all became rather stressful, tensions ran high, and so did the bill! The taxi ride there was 

We eventually managed to track down an apartment in downtown Manhattan, right next to Times Sq. After my last stay in Manhattan, I wasn’t particularly keen, but at that point we didn’t really have much choice. It’s much harder to be social when everyone is separated off into rooms as opposed to all sharing one huge house.

The apartment building was nice enough. The beds were lovely, and the maintenance guys were fixing the roof, so they left the fire escape open and we got a rooftop view! Bright-20Bright-2

 

The first night was pretty quiet. My favourite part about the hotel was that there was a Food Emporium nearby (think: small,  worse M&S). I may have gone on a slight spree and bought everything in sight. This was to make, probably the biggest meal I’ve ever made, serving over ten people a decent bolognese and fresh bread. There was plenty to spare too! Cooking it in a tiny hotel apartment was a nightmare, however, as the fire alarm(s) would go off every five minutes!

Bright-3

We decided to hit Chinatown! It was, unsurprisingly, incredibly crowded with tourists and hawkers at every street corner. We had lunch at the New Malaysian Inn, which was decent at $10, but the food was a little too greasy for my chopstick-incompatible fingers, forcing me to retreat to the familiar comforts of the fork. Bright-4 Bright-5
Bright-6 Bright-7MoMA, and other large galleries, I believe, offer free entry one day a week. Thanks to UNIQLO, we got in for nothing, and it was pretty cool! I wish I could appreciate art on a deeper level. Mostly I just like looking at all the architecture and design stuff. Paintings are breathtaking but a lot of it just goes over my head. The photography exhibit on the third floor was also quite good. E, my photographer friend, said some of the photographs brought her to tears. If you’re in NYC on a Friday afternoon, it’s definitely worth the line to get in, just don’t bring a big bag, unless you want to wait another hour! 
Bright-8 Bright-9 Bright-10Tribute to a fallen hipster 
Bright-11 Every saturday on the East River State Park, Williamsburg plays host to the Smorgasburg, a very large artisan food market. It was wonderful, and the food, albeit rather pricey, was delicious! Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. 

Bright-12 Bright-13This hot chocolate was from a place called Bakeri, on Wythe ave. It’s a small and unassuming patisserie, with, what I can only describe as a moody, adolescent Cath Kidston feel inside. The hot chocolate they served doesn’t look like much, but it’s one of the most unusual I’ve tasted. It was rich and warm, spiced with cardamom, normally used with coconut milk and cauliflower in some curries. It remained delicious to the very last drop. 
Bright-14After this, we packed up and moved to the next hotel, using Uber! It was one of the coolest things ever, you order a taxi through an app, and like a video game, it shows you, as a little icon, your cab coming towards you, and plots your entire journey. The payment comes off your card, and is, mostly, a lot cheaper than a normal NYC cab. Their customer service is also excellent, having both my issues resolved with money back too, I’d wholeheartedly recommend them if you find yourselves in the city. 

 

That’s all for now! 

 

 

The last one

What struck me most about the third was the fact that I was super emotional watching the kids go.

I had quite an odd tent, with a mix of seven and nine year olds. This was initially quite a challenge, given the mental age gap between the two, but they have been absolute angels in comparison to the other two sessions. Don’t get me wrong, there were still times where J and I got mad, but they were just being kids!

I felt like a proud dad when one of my kids passed his blue level swim test, allowing him (and us, finally!) to swim in the deep – the first time it’s happened in years. I also managed to teach two kids how to ride a bike for the first time with no training wheels which filled me with relief more than pride as biking with the young ones often involves us doing 95% of the work whilst they sit there enjoying the ride.

We were also the first little johns in a long while to have an entry in the talent show! They all got together and did a cute dance to Bruno Mars. If I’m honest, in comparison to the other entries, ours wasn’t great, but I’m just amazed that this was something they really wanted to do and pulled through with it, despite nerves and tantrums.

The talent show this session was actually one of my favourites. Despite the circumstances of some of these kids, there is some absolutely amazing talent. I’m struggling not to use the diamond analogy, but being pressed in at all sides does sometimes yield gems!

These were some of the Sherwood boys

I loved this because it was so different from the other dances. It’s rare kids this age would try contemporary!

This was my favourite act of the night. One day during music, JJ, the girl, started singing this song. T, the guy, then hopped on the piano and started singing and playing along whilst another girl made a beat tapping on the acoustic guitar. The result was enchanting. We had a talent agency visit from across the way a few days ago. They loved his music so much they donated a piano as he only has a chance to practice on sundays at church. His passion for music is absolutely astonishing.

The banquet that follows was also one of the best. Our unit leader staged a wedding with the unit leader of the oldest girls’ hill as everyone said they should get married. It was hilarious, and genuinely would have made a lovely real wedding ceremony! sherwood sherwood-2

I didn’t really expect to get so attached to the place when I first arrived, treating it more like a job than camp, but everyone is genuinely like one big family. Yes, like any family, it has its cracks and flaws, but then you have moments like this when everyone gets together to have fun. Those are the memories I’ll be taking back with me!

B