Tag Archives: UK

The Lady Novelist Fangirls Out in Cardiff

fangirlWhen Tim and I were walking down to Cardiff Bay, on our way to the Doctor Who Experience, I said to him: “I’m getting my fangirl geek on for this.”

Tim laughed and laughed at that one. As if my fangirl geek wasn’t already on; wasn’t constantly on. It was a fair cop. I therefore declared that I was flicking dust from my fangirl geek cuffs, setting it hat at a raking angle and walking jauntily towards my date with Adventure! Or at least with the Doctor Who Experience!

I’ve wanted to go to the exhibition and interactive adventure ever since Tim saw it in London a while back and spoke so highly of it. Since then, it had moved to its permanent and purpose-built home in Cardiff, so of course we made time for it on our current Tour of Blighty. (We got in just in time – the Experience closes very shortly for an overhaul, and will reopen in October with a brand new Doctor and a whole new Experience!)

The exhibits are great, but it really is the interactive experience that makes this whole thing worth a visit (and the price of entry). Lighting effects, physical effects, atmospheric sets and effective soundscapes make for a fun and immersive activity – but as always with theatre (which it undoubtedly is) the key element is the participants’ own willing suspension of disbelief. As an adult it would be too easy to decide it’s all just smoke and mirrors (or lighting effects and sensaround) and not be impressed, but you won’t have any fun that way.

DWE 1Instead, I let a lifetime of being spooked by threatening creatures; feeling excited by the appearance of the TARDIS; and yearning to be a companion for just one adventure carry the moment.

I managed to in fact spook myself and duck once or twice and have a rip-roaring good time. If you missed the Matt Smith version, I’m sure the upcoming Peter Capaldi adventure will be just as good. And if you saw this version – now you have an excuse to come back!

The static exhibition will no doubt have more costumes and props to display as well.

But Cardiff has more for the fangirl and boy than the Doctor Who Experience. There’s also a semi-official memorial to a fictional character, and a castle that plays supporting roles in show.

The Ianto Jones Shrine sprang up after that character met his sad fate in the third season of Torchwood. I wasn’t a fan of the first two seasons of the show, but I thought the third was excellent SF (and it had Capaldi in it, huzzah!) but Ianto’s death was sad very effecting. It certainly seems to have made an impact on his fans, who started an impromptu shrine on the boardwalk by Cardiff Bay. It became such a big thing that the local authorities finally erected a permanent plaque about the shrine to a fictional character.

IMG_6039One theme that popped up in several of the letters and notes attached to the grating of the wall was the notion that he did not pass a ‘blip in time’. One item hung on the grate was in memory of a woman who wasn’t able to get to Cardiff in person due to ill health and passed away – her friends leaving a note to her that ‘you aren’t just a blip in time to us, either’.

I’m sure there are essays out there exploring more of why this character and his death affected so many, but I think that speech of his touched a nerve. Perhaps most of us will pass without having made any major impact on history or broader life, but perhaps we want to know that we mattered more than passingly to those we loved.

Memory does endure, though, especially if any of the exhbitions and articles about Great War I’ve been exploring are any indication. Loss leaves a hole, and though it may stop bleeding and may heal over with a scar, there will often be that mark, that absence of a person who should have been there, a hole in the fabric of broader lives… and I’m getting too philosophical maybe, after an afternoon spent at the Imperial War Museum, but anyway. A human response to the loss of a single fictional character is a sort of dress rehearsal for other losses, and none of those lost are blips. They always leave spaces in personal histories and individual hearts.

After reflecting on death and loss and people both real and invented, I spent part of the next day at Cardiff Castle. With BBC Wales based in Cardiff, it’s no wonder that the Castle is used as a location in many shows shot here – including two of my favourites, Dr Who and Sherlock.The Castle even offers a film location tour on this aspect of the site.

IMG_6319Having said that, though, I wasn’t all squeeful about spotting TV locations around the castle, because I am separately a fan of castles in their own right. Castles are neat! Castles are filled with layers of history, and layers of imagination. Castles weren’t always used for fortification, or at least not only for fortification. They have pasts full of luxury and leisure as well as warlike stances and defensive bristling.

Cardiff Castle, for example, has roots down to the Roman era; it has a Norman keep. The main living quarters are all faux-medieval having been done up in the 19th Century as Gothic Revival; and in the 20th Century it was opened to locals as a bomb shelter during WWII.

attack beaversElements of the Gothic Revival decorations entertained me the most, though. Oh, our Victorian era brethren, how you loved to make stuff up and then pass it off as tradition! You sure made a mess for the lovers of historical accuracy, but as a storyteller, I can’t help but to think you delightful for your crazy. (Speaking of which, I love the Attack Beavers depicted on the rooftop water fountain. They look like their fish are loaded and they are not afraid to use ’em.)

Discussing this with Tim, we wondered whether that Victoria habit of making up ‘traditional’ legends and traditions was a reaction to industrialisation; and whether our modern habit of being all retro hip with 19th Century hipster beards and 1950s Betty Page hair-dos and cupcakes is a similar treasure-the-past reaction to contemporary anxiety about constant connectivity, climate change and fear of surveillance through the smart devices to which we are so addicted.

IMG_6309Or, you know, maybe we just think the hair is cool.

Finally, I leave y
ou with a giant and rather cranky owl who squawked a lot and glared with his giant golden eyes because he wanted his dinner RIGHT NOW. He was like a giant feathered cat.

The castle falconer had a number of birds out for us to see. The white barn owl made me think of Hedwig (and that always makes me weepy) and there was a tiny wee owl called Pocket who of course made me think of the Weasley’s owl, Errol, only Pocket was more sprightly and even cuter.

So. Cardiff. A fangirl’s delight. I recommend it.

Thank you to Visit Britain and Visit Wales for hosting us.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Romantic London: The Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea at the Athenaeum

IMG_5744I arrived in London two days ago and already I’ve done so much it feels like I’ve been here twice as long.

That’s not a bad thing. It just seems unlikely that in only 48 hours I’ve packed in a walk around Fitzrovia, a visit to Speedy’s Cafe (of Sherlock fame), the Cartoon Museum and the Petrie Museum, seen the first episode of the new Doctor Who (many cheers for Peter Capaldi!) and then today visited the Abbey Road community garden, met with one of the locals who work on the garden (discovering he’s an SF fan and has just been to LonCon, and his wife is writing a fantasy novel) and then explored the All Saints Church which has sections dating from the 12th Century, before reuniting with our new friends Mike and Penny for a beer in Stratford’s Tap East boutique beer bar, and then returning to our new digs at The Athenaeum on Park Lane…

Possibly I should have stopped for breath somewhere in that paragraph, but you get the picture. I have two weeks yet to go here in London, and then we’re off to New York. It’s going to be jam-packed and fabulous!

But let’s backtrack a little to The Athenaeum.

After spending our first two nights at the splendiforousness that is The Grafton, we have moved our little travel camp to the dashing and shiny Athenaeum Hotel overlooking Green Park. I feel very posh (and possibly also under-dressed). The bathroom is full of beautiful dark green marble and the bow window allows me to watch the passing traffic – including red buses and black cabs – as darkness falls over the Park.

IMG_5753The Athenaeum also offers a charming Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea. If your tooth isn’t all that sweet, it’s a wonderful alternative to the usual scones-and-cakes affairs normally offered by grand old hotels. (The Athenaeum offers those as well, of course.)

There’s a certain Gregory Peck-ness to the ambiance of this savoury afternoon tea, served in the elegance of the Garden Room. The view through the windows is of a lush garden wall, greenery draped down the outside bricks and lending the interior a lovely grotto feeling without all that inconvenience of actual leaves and insects in your tea. Inside, highlights of burnt orange in the furnishings add to that sense of richness and warmth. Tables are set up in little shallow alcoves, so you have a sense of intimacy without being shut off in dark corners.

IMG_5762As for the afternoon tea itself: you start with a dram of single malt scotch whisky (served with water that you can splash into the glass yourself to taste) and soon you and your beau will be enjoying chilli cheese sticks with welsh rarebit; wild boar sausage roll, a seasonal terrine (ours was ham hock) and a miniature beef and ale pie.

By the time the bacon scone topped with Wookey Hole Cave aged cheddar arrives, so has your large pot of piping hot tea. Selecting the tea is rather fun – you open up kind of wooden ‘book’, which is a box displaying loose leaf tea samples and descriptions so you can choose a tea for your mood. Half way through the afternoon tea, the lovely staff whip away the pots, in which the tea was brewing a bit too strongly, and bring back fresh pots – so each cup of tea is the perfect cup of tea.

The sweetness comes along, not in light and fluffy confections, but in rich and complex flavours – a sticky toffee pudding with walnuts (served with that thick English cream that has real gravitas), whisky fruit cake and whisky chocolate truffles.

IMG_5775

A cake trolley is also brought past in due course – to tempt you with cakes that you’re probably much too full to enjoy. (I am more to be pitied than censured that I was much too replete with deliciousness to be tempted by the caramel chocolate cake; a Victoria Sponge was also on offer, which led to my beloved doing impersonations of a Connery James Bond soliloquising about his nemesis, the femme fatale spy, Victoria Sponge…”So, Miss Sponge, we meet again. I must be dreaming!”)

IMG_5785If you’re in London with the one you love, whether or not either of you is a gentleman (or can do Connery 007 impersonations), this is a sophisticated and ever so slightly rugged alternative to the standard sugar-rush afternoon tea. It’s well worth the £34.50. In fact, it might make a really special and stylish buck’s party (or hen’s party) for a small group.

The Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea is at the Athenaeum until 31 December 2014 from noon to 7pm, and reservations are essential.

Disclosure: On this trip we were hosted by the Athenaeum Hotel.

Do you know of a romantic city experience? Let me know and I will selflessly explore it. SELFLESSLY.

In the meantime, read my erotic spy thrillers set in Melbourne and Brisbane: Double Edged and Expendable and learn about Philip and Martine before I send them to London to spy-wrangle and drink whisky in the Garden Room!