Mixing up a cocktail or six with Mixology in London

by Carmen Allan-Petale

As a girl who grew up watching Sex and the City, I’m not impartial to the odd cocktail. There’s nothing better than having a night out with the girls and kicking the evening off with a Cosmopolitan in hand while you catch up on the latest gossip.

So when my friend asked if I wanted to partake in a cocktail making class, I wasn’t going to turn it down.

If there was a Martini involved, I was there faster than you could say Sex on the Beach.

What, cocktail? I'm there!

What? Cocktail? I’m there!

But I must admit that I’m certainly more accustomed to drinking cocktails than making them. For my 20th birthday (a few, ahem, years ago – but who’s counting?) I hosted a cocktail party where we used a number of blenders to mix up a variety of drinks.

Pre-party, I was very organised, printing out recipes and laminating them so my friends and I could follow instructions to help us make up some tasty drinks.

Needless to say, as the night went on, these recipes were forgotten and the cocktails ingredients got wilder and wilder. Before we knew it, it was the wee hours of the morning and we were chanting ‘down it, down it’, fists banging on the table as my best mate swallowed a drink handcrafted by yours truly that was murky green. In fact the colour reminded me of an algae-covered pond, now that I recall it.

It’s impressive I can remember anything of that night, actually.

The girls mixing up a cocktail together

The girls mixing up a cocktail together

But anyway, I’ve grown up a lot since then (ahem) and was keen to flaunt my new-and-improved cocktail making skills that I’ve gained over the years at the Mixology cocktail making class. Well… I haven’t exactly practised these skills, but after watching many a bartender mix me a cocktail, surely it can’t be that hard to do it myself, right?

Wrong.

The Mixology bartender rattled through our first set of instructions with flair, flipping a couple of bottles in the air and balancing his glass on his elbow as he went. My friend whispered that his ‘strong forearms’ were rather distracting and we all giggled before he shushed us.

The barman with the biceps

The barman with the biceps

The first drink was the French Martini, consisting of blackberries, Chambord and pressed pineapple juice. As well as vodka. Delicious. Well, the bartender’s was anyway.

I’m not sure whether it was his ‘distracting’ biceps, but for some reason my cocktail didn’t taste quite right.

Next he taught us how to make the Elderflower Julep, which consists of mint leaves, gin, elderflower cordial and apple juice. This was my favourite drink and best of all is that all the ingredients can easily be found in Britain so needless to say I will be making this cocktail at home. I felt I was getting a little more confident in making cocktails by this stage and so my drink wasn’t as bitter as the last.

The Mixology Masterclass comes with everything you need to mix up your cocktails

The Mixology Masterclass comes with everything you need to mix up your cocktails

After this we made the Grapefruit and Marzipan Daiquiri which consists of two types of rum, lime, sugar syrup and pink grapefruit. The marzipan flavour comes from orgeat syrup which has an almond-flavoured taste to it.

Our bartender told us that this drink was favoured by Ernest Hemmingway who enjoyed eight measures of rum per cocktail. Which would’ve been fine if he’d had one cocktail at a time, but he was known for knocking back a few more. Seven more cocktails in fact – which is the equivalent to three and a half bottles of rum in one sitting!

Well Hemmingway must’ve had a higher tolerance to alcohol than me because by this stage in the night I was started to feel a little bit tipsy. We’d also had another cocktail on arrival so it was now four cocktails and counting.

Our bartender showed us how to mix two more cocktails – the Mai Tai and the Zombie.

The Zombie flaming in the coconut

The Zombie flaming in the coconut

I would tell you what’s in them… but I can’t really remember!

The Mai Tai is reportedly the best cocktail but by this stage my own concoctions were hardly high-quality mixing standard.

It seems my friends have similar skills to me because at the end of the class we put our cocktail mixing to the test when we competed against another four teams to win the best cocktail.

I wish I could say we won that prize… but I can’t.

So I’ve decided – I think I’ll stick to watching the bartender mix me my drinks, rather than mix them myself. And hey, with biceps like those…

My friend Morgan mixes up her cocktail

My friend Morgan mixes up her cocktail

What you need to know:

Cost: Tickets for a Mixology Masterclass cost £70 and this includes an antipasti platter to share between five and a bowl of pasta each to line the stomach for your six cocktails.

When to go: Mixology run classes each month at their locations in East London. You will need to book ahead online. Mixology can also rent spaces for private events. Ours was held in Charlie’s Cafe in Notting Hill, as my friend’s company hosted her event. I should also disclose that because we went as part of her social club, I only paid £15 for my ticket and her company paid the rest.

London Time Tour: Going back in time to explore London

by Carmen Allan-Petale

Ever wanted to know what London will be like in the future? Well I know. I know exactly what it’ll be like in the year 2121. How do I know? Professor Quantum on the London Time Tour bus told me.

Professor Quantum - our guide on the London Time Tour

Professor Quantum – our guide on the London Time Tour

In the year 2121 there’s been a lot of technical advancement – we can fly our vehicles if we’re stuck in a traffic jam, for example – although much of London’s monuments are still the same. English Heritage has kept them preserved. And if Professor Quantum says it, it must be true!

The Time Tour takes place on a converted double-decker London bus, painted black and featuring vintage-looking lamps that wouldn’t be out of place in a burlesque bar.

The fancy lamps from the London Time Tour bus

The fancy lamps from the London Time Tour bus

Professor Quantum is dressed as a mad scientist and he welcomes you on board before taking you through London, divulging interesting snippets of history as we go. He may be from the future but he takes us back to the past on the tour.

I know quite a bit about London from tours I’ve been on previously, like the London Duck Tours and the RIB Voyages tour, but even I discovered some new facts on this tour. For example, did you know that the infamous Strand near Charing Cross was named after ‘strongway’ in 1002, which is old English for ‘shore’? It was because the shoreline of the River Thames actually reached this point before the construction of the Victoria Embankment.

This church was bombed in the Second World War but its ruins have now been turned into a garden

This church was bombed in the Second World War but its ruins have now been turned into a garden

And just down the road from there did you know that someone tried to shoot King George III in the Drury Lane Theatre in 1800? George was pretty unfazed by it all though – he reportedly fell asleep during the interval after it had happened!

From here the bus heads east to the place where London had its last public execution. Michael Barrett was hanged outside the Newgate Prison near the Old Bailey in 1868. Barrett had been arrested for a bombing in Clerkenwell in which 12 bystanders were killed.

The London Time Tour bus is a great way to take in the sights of London

The London Time Tour bus is a great way to take in the sites of London

On the tour, we also learnt about how the Great Fire in 1666 started – in a bakery of Thomas Farriner on Pudding Lane, shortly after midnight. From then on, no buildings were allowed to have thatched roofs in London, as they were deemed a fire hazard, and to this day this law still stands. The only exception is the Globe Theatre, which is the replica of the theatre Shakespeare’s plays were performed in back in the day.

Speaking of Shakespeare, Professor Quantum video calls famous people from the past like Shakespeare, to get a firsthand account of what’s happening during different periods in time. He did this as London was burning during the Great Fire and we received an account from a maid about what it was like at this time.

A Skype call to the past - speaking with Shakespeare on London Time Tour

A Skype call to the past – speaking with Shakespeare on London Time Tour

He also communicates with the bus driver – who is a robot – and they carry out comedy sketches based around the lonely life of the bus driver.

At the end of the tour, Professor Quantum asks us to close all the bus’ curtains and we’re plunged into darkness. The bus shakes as we’re transported back to the present day and smoke rises from our seats. It was a magical end to the tour.

What you need to know:

Cost  An adult ticket for the tour, which lasts just over an hour, is £20 and a child’s ticket is £14.

When to go  The London Time Tour Bus runs every Saturday and Sunday at either 14:45 or 13:30, depending on the time of year.

How to get there – The bus leaves from Northumberland Avenue outside of The Grand Hotel, which is close to Charing Cross tube station. It’s right near Trafalgar Square and so many buses also frequent the area.

Time Tour provided us with two complimentary tickets, but as always our views and work are our own.

5 tips for travelling as a couple

by Carmen Allan-Petale

Today is our first wedding anniversary.

I can’t believe it’s been a year! It’s absolutely flown by. One year ago we were saying our vows and about to leave for our sunny honeymoon in Margaret River and yet it feels like it was yesterday.

They say that the first year of marriage is the hardest but if our first 12 months are anything to go by then our marriage is going to be a breeze.

Me and Dave on our wedding day this time last year

Me and Dave on our wedding day this time last year

What do you think is the key to a successful marriage?

Some say you should live with your partner before you tie the knot to see whether you can put up with each other’s living habits.

I think this is important, but just as equally I think you need to travel with your other half to see whether you get along glued to the hip 24-7. Travelling can bring out the best and the worst in us and it’s good to check whether you both have similar travelling styles before you decide to spend the rest of your lives together. And trust me, it’ll be a true test to see just how strong your relationship is!

Dave and I travelled together a lot before we tied the knot

Dave and I travelled together a lot before we tied the knot

Dave and I have been travelling together for nearly five years now and during that time we’ve learnt a lot about how best to travel together as a couple.

So I thought I’d share my top five tips with you below.

1.      Decide on the itinerary together

It’s a good idea for both of you to get involved in planning your itinerary before your travel. Not only will this ensure you’re both happy about your plans but it’ll also get you excited about your trip.

Dave and I like to sit down and map out where we’re going and how long we’ll stay in each town before we book our accommodation.

I normally research each bed and breakfast, hotel or hostel I think would be nice to stay at but will always send Dave a link to see whether he likes it too.

2.      Compromise

Decide early on what you’re hoping to get out of the trip together. If you’re keen on laying on the beach all day but your partner would rather being hiking in the mountains make sure you’re aware about your differences so you can take it in turns to do something each of you enjoy.

Compromising is important in any marriage, travelling or not

Compromising is important in any marriage, travelling or not

Dave loves anything to do with military and war, like going to the Duxford Air Museum, but that stuff doesn’t really tickle my fancy.

If you take me to another war museum i swear I'll shoot you!

If you take me to another war museum i swear I’ll shoot you!

I prefer shopping.

So when we travel together I often agree to go to another war museum if he promises to go to the beach with me afterwards. Or he says he’ll come shopping with me if we only go into a maximum of four shops.

So compromising is important. (And not just for travelling – for any relationship to work well!)

3.      Give each other space

Spending 24 hours a day with someone can be tedious, no matter how much you love each other. Set aside some time each day to do your own thing, even if it means taking some time off to read a book or write an email.

Make sure you respect your partner’s time out as well.

You don't have to spend every waking moment together to be happy - some personal space can improve your relationship when travelling

You don’t have to spend every waking moment together to be happy – some personal space can improve your relationship when travelling

If they’re relaxing with a glass of wine and a good book, try and cease your chatter for awhile so they can take the time to truly chill out.

Sometimes this can be difficult for me, the ultimate chatterbox, but I’ve learnt to respect Dave’s space over time. Dave also likes to go for a run every now and again and while we’re on holiday and I take the time to do some writing. A good chance to have some alone time.

4.      Motivate each other

If you’re on a long trip, sometimes you can start to feel a little lazy and want to spend your whole time relaxing by the pool.

That’s fine if that’s all you want to do.

But if you went on holiday to see the sights and then can’t be bothered getting out of bed in the morning then you might regret it later.

Dave and I normally spend each night over dinner discussing what we plan to do the next day.

We also say what time we’re going to wake up in the morning and then encourage each other to get out of bed at that time. It also helps if you book an early tour or some place you need to be – that’ll help you stop being so lazy and help you to make the most of your holiday.

Motivate each other to get out of bed and go exploring

Motivate each other to get out of bed and go exploring

5.      Agree on how to handle your finances

It’s a good idea to decide who’ll be buying what before you travel. The last thing you want to have happen is for one of you to run out of money and have to ask to borrow some funds. But make sure you have more than one bank account between you and a number of bank cards. There’s been times when my bank card has been eaten by a foreign ATM and if it wasn’t for Dave’s card I would’ve been stranded.

But as a whole, Dave and I share all our finances so we’ve never really had to worry about talking about money. There have been times when I’ve earned more and times (significantly more time) that Dave’s earned more. But as Dave likes to say, ‘it all comes out in the wash!’

However, we do budget and save money ahead of a trip.

We also talk about how much money we should spend during a holiday and try as best we can to stick to it. And so far we’ve never had a debt so something must be working!

When travelling to asia, some of the best places to relax are nepal and vietnam. You can design your own holiday to Nepal and Vietnam at www.tripfuser.com.

Rottnest: Western Australia’s paradise island

by Dave Allan-Petale

It’s hard to believe that a year ago we were back home in Western Australia sweating in forty degree heat as we counted down the days till our wedding. Our friends and family had flown in to Perth from all points of the compass and the excitement was building to a fever pitch. To relieve a bit of the tension we went on a day trip to one of the most beautiful spots in WA, Rottnest Island.

Most people who travel to Australia only go to the east coast and tick off the big ticket items – Sydney Harbour, Byron Bay, the Gold Coast, Great Barrier Reef and so on. Unfortunately, Western Australia is often dismissed as being too far away so the many wonderful things ‘the big state’ has to offer don’t get a look in. But that’s a shame, because hand on heart, I think the west is the best and Rottnest Island is just a small taste of the natural beauty the state has to offer.

Rotto has hundreds of bays and beaches, perfect for swimming and sunbathing. This is one of my favourites - Little Parakeet Bay

Rottnest – or Rotto for short – has hundreds of bays and beaches, perfect for swimming and sun bathing. This is one of my favourites – Little Parakeet Bay

Rottnest, or ‘Rotto’ as we call it, is a favourite holiday spot for Perth people. I spent many happy summers staying in the self-contained cottages there, swimming, fishing, riding my bike absolutely everywhere. In fact, there are no cars allowed save for a few essential machines and if you want to get anywhere you have to pedal or walk. It gives the whole place a very relaxed feel.

But back to our recent trip. My brother (and best man) Jonathan, wife-to-be Carmen and our good friends from England Claire and Jim, stepped off the ferry at Thompson’s Bay, the main settlement, and headed straight for the bike hire shed. We got our wheels, stopped for a quick bite at the famous Rottnest Bakery (get a pie!) and cycled to a beach called ‘The Basin’. The Basin is a thin line of bone white sand leading to a lagoon of water sheltered by a half moon of reef – hence the name. We jumped in the clear water for a dip and used snorkel sets to follow schools of fish through the submerged coral. Very heaven.

Wish I was there...

Wish I was back there…

Next on the agenda was Little Parakeet Bay which is a short bike ride from The Basin. We locked our bikes up at the racks and walked over the smooth, hot sand down to the bay formed by windswept rocks. The blue Indian Ocean lapped at the edge of the pure white beach gleaming in the midday sun. It was getting hot so we all slapped on some sunscreen, waited for it to soak into our skin and then dove into the water.

We spotted this lizard slithering through the undergrowth - I think we disturbed his sunbathing!

We spotted this lizard slithering through the undergrowth – I think we disturbed his sun bathing!

I have a fair bit of family history with Rottnest Island. My great-grandfather George Monkhouse had a yacht that slipped its moorings during a storm and sank on the eastern side of the island – you can dive on the wreck if you want. During the Second World War the island was used as a fortress to protect the City of Perth and Port of Fremantle from attack and old George used to tow a targets for the big guns on Rottnest’s Oliver Hill to practice their shooting on.

We rode up the very steep roads to the top of the hill to have a look at these ancient weapons. You can go inside the turrets if you want, but the best thing about the climb is the view. You can see far out into the Indian Ocean on one side and then turn to see the mainland shimmering in the distance with the verdant island sloping away below.

Me and Carmen on Oliver Hill - the sea breeze blowing across the summit was a welcome relief from the heat!

Me and Carmen on Oliver Hill – the sea breeze blowing across the summit was a welcome relief from the heat!

So why do we call it Rottnest? Well, the story goes that the island was first discovered by the Dutch and when they landed they found it was teeming with colonies of small animals that they thought were giant rants. So they called it Rottnest, or ‘Rat’s Nest’. I think that’s a bit harsh on the little marsupials though.These days we call them quokkas and they are cute as a button – unlike rats!

Quokkas are harmless and found all over the island

Quokkas are harmless and found all over the island

Speaking of quokkas, we decided to end our day trip to Rottnest inside one – well, the only pub on the island, called The Quokka Arms. The pub’s outdoor terrace faces the ocean and jetty where the afternoon ferry ties up. We spent the last few hours in this paradise sipping ice cold beers and wine, eating prawns as big as your fist and watching the waves lap on the shore. A day well spent.

DSC06792

What you need to know:

How to get there: Ferries leave regularly every day from the Port of Fremantle, Barrack St Jetty in Perth and Hillarys Boat Harbour. You can book tickets online or get them from the vendors at the point of departure. You can also fly to the island or take your own boat and pay for a mooring.

Costs: Ferry ticket prices depend on where you depart from and what you take – for example you can bring your own bike but you have to pay for it to be carried on the boat. Most services charge around $80 Australian and have discounts for students and children. Bikes cost $28 to hire for an adult multi-gear over 24 hours.

When to go: November to April is the best for good weather

The Barbican: London’s ugliest building?

by Dave Allan-Petale

The City of London is a surreal mixture of very old and very new. The grave of the diarist Samuel Pepys sits in the shadow of office blocks with windows that reflect a silhouette of The Shard –  the tallest building in Europe brand spanking new to the London skyline. 

But possibly the weirdest place in London is the Barbican  –  a concrete ziggurut surrounded by flats exploding out of the clutter. It’s well worth a visit because it is so different to the rest of London – the first time I went I was thunderstruck. Is it beautiful or ugly? Futuristic or ancient? What the hell is it for?

The flats are very expensive and highly sought after - there is a waiting list stretching on for years

The main courtyard of the Barbican Estate

The Barbican Centre opened in 1982 as a peforming arts centre; its main hall is the home of the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and there are exhibition spaces for art and dance performances.

Lots of people live there as well. The Barbican Estate has towers of flats forming a wall around the centre that is built in the same brutalist style – soaring panels of concrete, glass and wood – making the whole place feel like the set of a bad 1960s sci-fi movie. But it’s a popular place to live and it’s said the waiting list is so long for a flat you’ll be waiting for someone to die before you’ll even get a chance of getting on it.

The Barbican is surrounded by office blocks and is a very popular spot for lunch

The Barbican is surrounded by office blocks and is a very popular spot for lunch

But the Barbican has its haters. It was voted London’s ugliest building in a poll in 2003 and remains a controversial addition to London’s streets.

But I really like it. The design reminds me of the ‘cities of tomorrow’ that I used to read about in primary school and whenever I go there I feel very relaxed. The use of plants and water gives the place a bit of an organic feel, even though its all hard lines, sharp edges and concrete. The interior of the Barbican Centre is even cooler – like something a James Bond villain would build in an active volcano.

'Ah Mr Bond, you have discovered our hideout...'

‘Ah Mr Bond, you have discovered our hideout…’

There is always something to see and do at the Barbican and I particularly love its library. I’ve spent many happy hours trawling through its massive collection of books and films and there is even a music section where you can listen to records and take out sheet music. There are also restaurants and a huge conservatory filled with exotic plants.

So is the Barbican ugly? I say no. I don’t think its beautiful either, but I do think it’s interesting and I’d recommend a visit so you can make up your own mind.

What you need to know

Getting there: The centre has its own tube stop, Barbican, on the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. You can also get there from Farringdon tube, and there are buses that stop nearby as well.

Cost: Entry to the estate, the centre and its libraries is free but you will need to pay for tickets to see a show.

When to go: Any time, though a clear day is best if you want to explore the grounds.

barbican tower

What is Europe’s best theme park?

by Dave Allan-Petale

Let’s be honest, the prospect of going to any theme park is a bit naff. You have to drive to the middle of nowhere, pay a king’s ransom to get in and then spend most of your time either queuing for every ride or looking for your lost friends and family who are probably stuck in a separate queue.

But regardless of all of this, I do love them.

I’ve been to both of the Disneylands in the USA and done a fair few of the other big names like Busch Gardens and Six Flags. Australia and Asia are into theme parks in a big way but I was surprised by how many there are in Europe, the home of high culture and the freezing cold. I’ve sampled a few, such as Thorpe Park outside London, and found they stack up to the best in the world.

But which one is the best?

dave asterix

Me looking pretty happy at Parc Asterix!

Parc Asterix.

Hands down. I went there with Carmen and had an absolute ball. Carmen lived in Paris with a French family many years ago and we were in the city of lights for her host mother’s birthday. We had a spare day – I wanted to go to Euro Disneyland – but Carmen’s host sister insisted we go to Parc Asterix. She simply said ‘Zeus’ over and over again, which was confusing – but seemed sophisticated and French – so I went along with it.

If you don’t know the story of Asterix, let me explain.

Asterix is a comic book character who lives in a small village during the Roman occupation of Gaul (what France used to be known as). Asterix and his best friend Obelix (who has superhuman strength from falling into a cauldron of magic potion when he was just a little baby) have a series of crazy adventures throughout the Roman Empire which are educational as well as bloody hilarious. There are more than twenty volumes in the series and they are well worth a read, even if you’re old and grey.

Our heroes! Obelix is the big one (don't call him fat!) and Asterix is the little guy

Our heroes! Obelix is the big one (don’t call him fat!) and Asterix is the little guy

I loved the books as a child and must confess I still flick through a few now and then. But I wasn’t expecting much from Parc Asterix. Disney has a menagerie of wild and crazy characters in cool situations that lend themselves perfectly to rides and games. But Asterix? What could an illustrated, albeit humorous, version of the ancient world serve up? Well, this for starters:

Lots of freakin’ rollercoasters. Lots of them.

There was a twisty one that rolled along a metal road, an old school style wooden one that cracked and creaked and warped as the cars sped across its spars and a really fast one that made us feel a bit sick.

But the big daddy of them all was Zeus.

The headline act. A super fast, twisting behemoth of fear and ancient Greek resentment.

I may have complained about it previously, but I think queuing actually has its good points.

I don’t mean that I enjoy the annoying act of waiting. I don’t. But standing in a slow moving line beneath a rollercoaster that whizzes past every thirty seconds leaving a doppler smear of people’s screams ringing in your ears builds suspense better than Hitchcock. Every 20 people ahead of you in the line that get into the cars bring you closer to the moment of truth. ‘Is this too dangerous?’ you ask. ‘Can I back out now without seeming like a wimp?’

Then it’s your turn.

With Zeus, you lower yourself down into the still warm seat of the carriage (hopefully the very front one!) and let the metal restraint snap into position. No turning back now. The attendents waive you off with a bored salute and the pneumatic pistons on the track kick the rollercoaster into motion. Zeus has you in his grasp. Up and up you go, higher and higher, closer and closer to the big drop. And then…

I won’t spoil it for you. Go yourself. You won’t regret it!

What you need to know

How to get there: Parc Asterix is about s 30km north of Paris on the A1 motorway if you drive. There’s a shuttle bus that leaves from the Louvre and trains from Charles de Gaulle airport.

Costs: 44 euros for 12 and up and 33 euros for 3-11 year olds.

When to go: We went on a sunny day in spring. It was still too cold for the water attractions but the crowds were lower so we go on to the rides pretty easy. Summer is definitely the busy season! For more information about safety travels, feel free to visit uber coupons for existing users.

Experiencing the Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition at the Museum of London

by Carmen Allan-Petale

The Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition at the Museum of London is gruesome. It’s grisly. And it’s also fascinating.

I don’t know why people find death so interesting. Yes, it’s morbid but most love reading about it. Think of how popular the Patricia Cornwell crime thriller genre books are. Perhaps it’s fascinating because death is so final. Perhaps it’s because we don’t know for sure what happens to us when we die. Whatever the reason, we’re curious about it. And it’s this curiosity the Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition at the Museum of London is playing to.

The dead body of a man was crucified and his skin removed before being placed in plaster-of-Paris. The result was this life-size model which hangs in the exhibition.

The dead body of a man was crucified and his skin removed before being placed in plaster-of-Paris. The result was this life-size model which hangs in the exhibition.

Back in 19th century, hundreds of men were coming to London to study medicine. Bodies were required to practice surgery on and to learn more about anatomy. Students could learn from wax models but the real thing was thought to be much more helpful.

As the demand for dead bodies grew, so did body snatching. Men would creep into graveyards at the dead of night and pull fresh corpses from the ground. Body snatching wasn’t deemed as theft and so as long as the snatcher left the valuables buried with the bodies behind, they were unlikely to be arrested.

Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition

A realistic wax model of a human torso.
Photo credit: Matt Alexander/PA

Over time the price of a body rose until one corpse could fetch a month’s wages. This led some men to murder. In the 1830s John Bishop, James May, and Thomas Williams were arrested for the murder of an Italian boy after they tried to sell his ‘still warm corpse’ to a London hospital. Bishop and Williams were executed for their roles in the crime and in an ironic twist, their bodies were used for scientific study.

It wasn’t just the thought of murder that had many scared during these times. The idea of your body being taken from its grave had many religious connotations linked to it – it was thought that if your body was pulled apart after death then you wouldn’t be able to reach the afterlife.

Wax anatomical model of a female human head showing the internal structure of skull.

Wax anatomical model of a female human head showing the internal structure of skull.

Because of this iron coffins became popular, making it difficult for thieves to pull your body out of the ground. Snares and traps were also placed around grave sites, so if a body snatcher came near he could be caught. But these methods were pricey and only afforded by the rich, so it was mainly the poor who continued to live in fear of what might happen to them in death.

The remains of an iron coffin and, in front of it, a trap. These were used to deter body snatchers from stealing the bodies of the wealthy who could afford such deterrents.

The remains of an iron coffin and, in front of it, a trap. These were used to deter body snatchers from stealing the corpses of the wealthy who could afford such deterrents.

In 1832 and in the wake of the grisly body snatching murders, parliament passed a law allowing unclaimed bodies and those donated by relatives to be used for the study of anatomy, essentially ending the body snatching trade. But once again, this law mainly affected poor people who could not afford to bury their dead.

This law was still in practise until very recently following a scandal at Liverpool children’s hospital Alder Hey in which it was discovered surgeons were removing dead children’s organs and storing them in pots without permission from the children’s families.

It was found that organs from more than 850 infants had been stored this way, leading to the introduction of the Human Tissue Act 2004, which overhauled legislation regarding the handling of human tissues in the UK.

A male memento mori - an artistic reminder of the inevitability of death

A male memento mori – an artistic reminder of the inevitability of death

Not only does the Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition at the Museum of London give a unique insight into the grisly trade of body snatching, it also shows you what 19th century hospitals were like in London. I must admit it made me thankful to live in the present day!

If you broke a bone back then, an amputation without anesthetic was likely. Four men would hold you down as your limb was hacked off. The best surgeon could operate in 30 seconds. If you weren’t so lucky it took over a minute. Not surprisingly, this operation could lead to your death – around 45% of patients died following an amputation because of infections to the wound.

A tool kit used for amputations in the 19th century. A surgeon would slice through the skin and then saw through the bone to cut off a limb.

A tool kit used for amputations in the 19th century. A surgeon would slice through the skin and then saw through the bone to cut off a limb.

The Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition at the Museum of London is not for the weak stomached. It’s deemed too morbid for children under 12 so prepare to be spooked. But if you have a fascination about death – like most of us do – then this could be just the exhibition for you.

A human stomach from the 19th century - gruesome!

A human stomach from the 19th century – gruesome!

What you need to know:

Cost – Tickets for the Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition at the Museum of London are £9 and you can buy them online here.

When to go – The Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition at the Museum of London runs until the 14th of April.

How to get there – The nearest tube stations the Museum of London are Barbican, Moorgate, St Paul’s and Bank. The nearest overground station is Farringdon and City Thameslink.

The Museum of London kindly provided us with two complimentary tickets to The Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition, but as always our views are our own.

Review: Bill’s Restaurant in Soho

by Carmen Allan-Petale

Often when you walk into a chain restaurant you can spot it’s one of many because of certain telltale signs. The decor seems neutral and simple. Think Pizza Express. Is there anything remarkable about that restaurant chain’s interior design?

Dave about to tuck into his meal at Bill's Restaurant

Dave about to tuck into his meal at Bill’s Restaurant

Walking into Bill’s Restaurant and it’s an entirely different story. Candles light the room, mismatched wooden furniture decorates the floor and the bar has been fashioned out of large Italian tins of olive oil. It feels unique, it feels like a one off and it feels homely.

But it’s not, and surprisingly I only found out from the website. It’s actually one of 15 restaurants around the UK.

Bill's Restaurant Soho

Hats off to whoever designed Bill’s Restaurant – it feels one-of-a-kind

The decor isn’t the only element that’s homely – the food is too. And delicious. It’s British cuisine with a modern twist, recipes that are the brainchild of owner Bill Collison.

Fish pie - the ultimate homely dish

Fish pie – the ultimate homely dish

Bill’s from Lewes and first started his business as a grocer’s. To this day the restaurant still has a grocery feel to it – you can buy jams, chutneys, chocolate and even beer from stacked shelves and out of wooden crates scattered around the restaurant. However, if you want to fill your growler you will need to look for an actual bar.

My chocolate brownie - the ultimate indulgence

My chocolate brownie – the ultimate indulgence

His food is simple. I had a prawn cocktail for my entree and two friends and Dave had a mezze sharing platter. I then had mussels with chips and finished with a chocolate brownie and vanilla bean ice cream. My friend had a finger fish sandwich for her main and Dave had a fish pie, followed by pecan pie.

Dave's pecan pie - it disappeared before I could get a taste!

Dave’s pecan pie – it disappeared before I could get a taste!

Although the food isn’t extravagant it is tasty. The prices are pretty delicious too. It came to £28 per person and that was for three courses and one bottle of wine shared between four!

Bill's Restaurant Soho

Fish finger sandwich – simple yet tasty

My mussels - they were big a juicy. The only one annoyance was that a couple were slightly gritty

My mussels – they were big and juicy. The only one annoyance was that a couple were slightly gritty

The candles make the restaurant intimate but the light fixtures give a trendy vibe

The candles make the restaurant intimate but the light fixtures give a trendy vibe

The need for speed – a day out with London RIB Voyages

by Dave & Carmen Allan-Petale

What’s a RIB? I’d usually say something smothered in hickory sauce but in this case it means a Rigid Inflatable Boat – think a rubber dinghy with a solid floor and two massive engines. It’s not the usual sort of pleasure craft or ferry you see plying the waters of the Thames in London. So when we got an offer to come along for a ride we jumped right in. Check out the video we made of our jaunt:

What you need to know:

Cost – We did the Ultimate London Adventure, which is valued at £42 or £34.95 if you book online. Children under 14 are £20.95

When to go – The tours depart regularly from the morning to late afternoon. If it’s cold do rug up! They sail in all weather and you will get wet.

How to get there – London RIB Voyages can be found at Boarding Gate One, London Eye Millennium Pier, Southbank, right beneath the London Eye. The closest tube and train station is Waterloo.

London RIB Voyages provided us with two complimentary tickets, but as always our views and work are our own.

London pubs: Drinking down the history of the city’s watering holes

by Carmen Allan-Petale

Millions of people frequent London’s pubs each year but how many of these patrons think about the establishments’ history?

One of the best things I love about London, and England in general, is its quaint pubs. No matter how hard other countries may try, the atmosphere of a true British pub is impossible to imitate overseas.

Think low ceilings, warm ale, log fires and rooms filled with laughter.

I'm not adverse to a tipple but what about the history behind the booze?

I’m not adverse to a tipple but what about the history behind the booze?

Dave and I recently went on a tour to find out more about the history of London’s greatest and strangest watering holes. Rather than a pub crawl, for the first time ever we went on a pub tour and aside from a drink at the beginning and the end, we didn’t enter the pubs to drink – instead we learnt about their history by standing outside of them. And it was fascinating!

The Queen’s Head

The tour began and finished at The Queen’s Head, a pub hidden down a narrow alleyway behind Piccadilly Circus tube station.

An interesting fact about the pub is that it was formerly used as a venue for dog and rat fighting in the mid 1850s. The British government banned most animal fighting at this time but it was still legal to kill rats.

The Queen's Head - former rat fighting venue!

The Queen’s Head – former rat fighting venue!

There were around 40 rat baiting dens in pubs around London and The Queen’s Head was one of them. Every Tuesday evening, men (women weren’t allowed) would bring their dogs down to the pub where they were weighed before bets were placed on how many rats each dog would be able to kill. The record holder apparently mauled around 200 rats in under an hour!

I just have one question – where did the owner of the pub keep the rats when they weren’t fighting?!

The Crown

Just up the road from The Queen’s Head is The Crown pub which has a much more peaceful history. Situated on Brewer Street, where two breweries stood in the late 1600s and early 1700s, this watering hole is better known for its classical music touch – a nine year old Mozart once played with his sister in the building opposite the pub.

The Crown, where Mozart apparently once played

The Crown, where Mozart apparently once played

John Snow

The history of the John Snow pub was my favourite on the tour, and it’s quite a grisly one. John Snow was a doctor who put an end to the cholera epidemic in the area in 1854 when he discovered people were becoming ill from drinking the water from a specific pump on Broad Street. (Now Broadwick Street and the location of the John Snow pub today.)

The John Snow pub - named after cholera source catcher

The John Snow pub – named after cholera source catcher

Others believed the cholera, which killed more than 600 people, was an airborne disease but John Snow proved it was a contamination of the water when nappies from a baby that’d recently died from the disease were found just metres from the water source.

Gruesome!

The ironic thing is that John Snow was teetotal and in favour of the temperance movement. If you’re not sure what the temperance movement was – read on!

The Old Coffee House

The Temperance Movement happened in the 19th century and was when people urged others to give up drinking. The social movement criticised excessive alcohol use and tried to persuade the government to introduce anti-alcohol legislation.

The Coffee House was a Temperance Pub where people came to drink non-alcoholic beverages such as warm milk with fizzy water – gross! Give me a wine over that any time. And I can get one because now days, The Old Coffee House serves alcohol like any other pub.

The Old Coffee House pub, where alcohol was once banned

The Old Coffee House pub, where alcohol was once banned

Another ironic fact is that a lot of these non-alcoholic drinks were often worse for the patrons than alcohol as they contained substances like lead, which made them taste better apparently.

Sounds of the Universe (The Bricklayer’s Arms)

Learning about the history of this site – previously The Bricklayer’s Arms pub – was possibly one of the most exciting parts of the tour. In the upstairs room of this building, Brian Jones auditioned the original members of The Rolling Stones after placing an ad in the Jazz Times – awesome!

Although no longer a pub, the music history lives on as it’s now a record store.

Formerly The Bricklayer's Arms, now Sounds of the Universe record store. But more famous for the fact The Rolling Stones auditioned here!

Formerly The Bricklayer’s Arms, now Sounds of the Universe record store. But more famous for the fact The Rolling Stones auditioned here!

The Colony Room

Above a restaurant called Duck Soup there once lived The Colony Room which was an infamous member’s club for creative people such as actors and writers. Artist Muriel Belcher opened the club in the mid-1950s.

Over the years it was frequented by celebrity artists like Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst.

The top floors of this establishment were formerly The Colony Room member's club

The top floors of this establishment were formerly The Colony Room member’s club

Unfortunately the club closed at the end of 2008 after its lease ran out, even though artist Sebastian Horsley petitioned to keep it open.

Horsley said at the time: “It (The Colony Room) has been a vibrant, unique and historical drinking den for artists, writers, musicians, actors and their acolytes. There is nowhere else like it in the world.”

The Red Lion

One of the final stops on the tour is the former Red Lion pub which is now a Be At One cocktail bar. In 1847, Karl Marx lived in nearby Dean Street and would attend communist lectures in a room above the Red Lion pub.

Now a Be At One but formerly the site where communist ideas were discussed

Now a Be At One but formerly the site where communist ideas were discussed

It was in this spot he wrote an ‘action programme’ for The Communist League with Frederick Engels, which was published as the Communist Manifesto – the basis for the Russian Revolution 70 years later.

You’ll probably need a pint to digest all this history, and when you drink it take a moment to think about the history of the pub you’re enjoying it in! Do you know any more interesting facts about London pubs?

What you need to know:

Cost: We went on the Soho Sunday Pub Themed Tour which is run by Joanna Moncrieff and it costs £8. However, Jo does lots of tours around the Westminster area and if food is more your thing she also does a guided tour of where the best afternoon teas in London can be found – delightful!

When to go: The tour itself lasted about an hour and a half so make sure you bring good walking shoes. We were lucky to get a sunny day but it still got quite cold – we went in February. Rug up and bring a thermos of coffee if you want to keep warm!

How to get there: This tour started at The Queen’s Head pub near Piccadilly Circus tube but Jo’s tours start in various locations. She’ll give you detailed instructions on where to meet beforehand.

Jo was kind enough to give us complimentary tickets for her tour but as always, our views are our own.