Event: Exclusive theatre evening in honour of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 155th Birthday

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Event: To celebrate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle turning the grand age of 155 an evening was planned to celebrate his most iconic character, Sherlock Holmes.

Who: Hosted by the Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes and in order to raise awareness and money for both The National Literacy Trust and Undershaw Preservation Trust.

When: On his birthday obviously, Thursday 22nd May 2014

Where: Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes located quite aptly on Baker Street

Refreshments:

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I’m not 100% sure you can see from the photo of the menu but the Sherlock Holmes afternoon tea included:

Tier 1: Sandwiches: Cheddar and pickle, roast beef and horseradish, smoked salmon and lemon cream, cucumber and dill.

Tier 2: Scones (oh glorious scones!): 1 plain scone and 1 fruit scone with clotted cream.

Tier 3: Cakes comprising of: Pimms & strawberry cheesecake, lemon & poppy seed sponge, treacle tart and a Victoria sponge.

NB: I feel I should note I didn’t eat all of this by myself I got them to package it away discreetly in a doggy bag!

Then it was onto the canapés:

Mini (I say mini they were quite sizeable) fish and chips in a cone, dates wrapped in bacon, croque monsieur with a quail egg, sausage rolls, a soup, a turkey piece wrapped in bacon and a couple of others that alluded me.

Freebies: Aside from the entire evening?…

Review:

I arrived at the Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes for 5.30pm for the exclusive Sherlock Holmes themed afternoon tea. I didn’t realise it was afternoon tea for one but I was duly escorted to my comfy leather chair and enjoyed first class care and attention. The dining room was shared only by a pair of well-to-do ladies, one of whom was sporting a magnificent hat, I was later to learn she was the wife of one of the Sherlockian authors present that evening, no wonder their conversational topics spanned from the Romanov dynasty to Einstein – yes I was eavesdropping.

During my afternoon of sandwich nibbling and gin swigging, Maria, the PR Executive, Europe, Middle East & Africa for PPHE Hotel Group, came over and introduced herself explaining the layout of the evening and also talking me through my sandwiches. The afternoon tea had been designed by the Park Plaza kitchen team who were keen to bring alive the spirit of the Victorian period. She also introduced me to Steve Emcez, the lead man at MX Publishing who was responsible for much of the evening’s talent.

In Steve’s capable hands I was taken on a whirlwind tour of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle. Being the UK’s leading NLP and Victorian Literature Publishers, they offered a lending library of a number of their author catalogue to the Park Plaza spanning Sherlock Holmes inspired graphic novels to the more fantastical outings of Doyle’s fans.

I was introduced to Luke Kuhns author of such Sherlock Holmes graphic novels as Sherlock Holmes and the Horror of Frankenstein , he’s currently working on his next full-blown graphic novel totalling 90 pages of Sherlock in Technicolor glory.

By 6.30pm the evening proper was beginning and the room was filling up fast with fans, authors and members of the Undershaw trust mingling around each other. After my afternoon tea I wasn’t sure I could cope with canapés, that was until they came out and I realised what they were, mini fish and chips? Yes please. Croque Monsieur with a quail egg? Why the devil not? All washed down with a ‘Scandal in Bohemia’ gin martini…or three.

No birthday would have been complete without a rousing rendition of the birthday song attributed to ‘Sir Arthur,’ not Arty as I would like to believe he would have preferred, the cake, a magnificent feat of baking by the Park Plaza Sherlock Homes kitchen and pictured above, was cut and handed out before we were ushered downstairs to commence the theatrical entertainment.

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The evening’s entertainment was brought to the revellers by ‘Don’t go into the cellar’ who market themselves as, Victorian Theatre with Bite! The one man show entitled ‘The Singular Exploits of Sherlock Holmes,’ was acted with tremendous aplomb by the talented Jonathan Goodwin with technical and stage support in the guise of Gary Archer. Throughout the hour-long play we were treated to the well-known characters of not only Sherlock but Moriarty, Myroft and the stealer of scandal Milverton.

Cast your eyes to the left for a glance of Goodwin in full character.

The final act of the evening was a Skype link up with a mirror-image party taking place in Florida, the reason behind this was to get involved with a live Q&A with bestseller and award-winning author Diane about her latest novel ‘The Conan Doyle Notes – The Secret of Jack The Ripper’, talking from her world book launch.

Unfortunately, as all best laid plans when it comes to technology actually working there was a couple of hiccups relating to microphones and videos, however, we did get to hear a little about her latest foray into writing and although this didn’t contain Sherlock in the novel his methods and presence within the pages was very much alive and well.

As 9.30pm signalled the end of what was a not so elementary evening (sorry!) it was time to head home. A massive thank you to not only the Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes but also MX Publishing for hosting such a wonderfully entertaining event. Plus with profits going to The National Literacy Trust and The Undershaw Preservation Trust it was truly a worthwhile evening for all those in attendance.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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Book Review: Spare Brides by Adele Parks

Spare Brides by Adele Parks

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Title: Spare Brides

Author: Adele Parks

Publisher: Headline

Publication date: 13th February 2014

Paperback: 416 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? With the centenary of the First World War fast-approaching there are fiction and non-fiction books being published at an alarming rate, this one happened to land on my doorstep and so I decided to have a change from the normal historical fiction and give it a quick read.

Where to read this book: Try a little trip to the reading room at the British Museum it will give you the air of the uppper classes thanks to the quiet corners your can disappear in amongst extremely regal surroundings.

Refreshments: To instill some 1920’s glamor mix yourself a delicious Rose Prosecco Cocktail, obviously they need to be drunk in the traditional champagne ‘saucers’

Review:

Damaged and beautiful, they were the generation who lost so much and became ‘spare brides’ this is the story of four, extraordinary women left to pick up the pieces of their lives, in the scarred, glamorous and endlessly fascinating post-First World War era. With countless men lost, it seems that only wealth and beauty will secure a husband from the few who returned, but lonely Beatrice has neither attribute. Ava has both, although she sees marriage as a restrictive cage after the freedom war allowed. Sarah paid the war’s ultimate price: her husband’s life. Lydia should be grateful that her own husband’s desk job kept him safe, but she sees only his cowardice. A chance encounter for one of these women with a striking yet haunted officer changes everything. In a world altered beyond recognition, where not all scars are visible, this damaged and beautiful group must grasp any happiness they can find – whatever the cost.

Coinciding, whether opportune or calculated, with the centenary of the First World War, where everything and everyone is looking back on the impact of this event, this social reflection on the lives of four women promises to be both interesting and entertaining. Unfortunately, like with many before it, the substance lacks and the characters disappoint.

Although the story circulates a friendship group of four our attention is fundamentally drawn to Lydia. Everything in life has come easily to her, wealth, beauty and a husband of means to create a powerful match. Her husband Lawrence didn’t fight at the front therefore he’s a coward and deserves a white flower from women he passes by. This was a sad fact for the men who were forced to stay behind the front line and do other necessary war work. The redeeming feature of the story comes not from Lydia but the men surrounding her who criticise her attitude and the hero-worship she bestows on the soldiers she comes into contact. Quite rightly they attempt to educate her advising there was no glory in war, however, her fanciful ideals take her down a very different path.

My favourite of the women was in fact Bea. Being a plain girl she has had her idyllic dream of a comfortable life in the country with a husband and children ripped away from her grasp. No grandiose life plans, but ones that have equally been scuppered by the atrocities of the war and a lost generation. Unlike Lydia, she rallies and grows as a character through the pages, a progression that is reflected in her growing friendship with the appointed feminist of the group Ava.

There were strengths in the story that I appreciated and found interesting. These were largely associated with the wounded men and the imprint the war has left on them, especially with Edgar and his overwhelming anger at being royally duped. Men were forced to fight thanks to the power of ‘sex’, women would only love them if they defended Britain and if they didn’t they were deserters. I also embraced my female love for all things beautiful and lusted after the flapper dresses and fashions of the 1920s described by Parks in immense and stunning detail.

I found the book strangely addictive. However, I confess, pages were skimmed and I wasn’t left satisfied a result of the a-typical formula of: four friends + different problems = happy ever after. This book will do well because Parks is an accomplished writer, unfortunately, for me, the characters were weak and the ending sudden and especially slapdash.

Rating:5 out of 10

Book Review: ‘Look Who’s Back’ by Timur Vermes

Looks Who's Back

Timur Vermes

Title: Look Who’s Back (Er ist Weider Da)

Author: Timur Vermes translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch

Publisher: MacLehose Press (whoever was in charge of the marketing and added the wonderful statement ‘and he’s Führious’ deserves an Oscar.)

Publication date: 3rd April 2014

Hardback: 352 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? I’m a history nerd and studied dictatorships at university so a front cover and synopsis as enticing as this one wasn’t going to go unread for very long.

Where to read this book? I have recently moved flats in London and live around the corner from Battersea Park, so as the book begins in the open air I took advantage of the unprecedented good weather and took a pew in the park, find your local park today.

Refreshments: Meat is off the cards in fact food wasn’t really a focus for more, instead I followed Hitler’s lead (the one and only time I will ever be saying that sentence!) and supped slowly on a couple of delicious Peach Bellinis.

Review:

One summer’s day in 2011 Adolf Hitler wakes up dazed and confused amongst the morning dew in a park in Berlin. His initial reaction is surprise at the sunlight – shouldn’t he be safe in his bunker? And also lack of overhead drones and the sounds of machine gun fire. Things have certainly changed – no Eva Braun, no Bormann, no Nazi party and certainly no war. Hitler barely recognises his beloved Fatherland, filled with immigrants and run by a woman. However, people certainly recognise him, albeit as a flawless impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable and the inevitable happens as the ranting Hitler goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own T.V. show, and history begins to repeat itself as people prick up their ears and begin to listen.

Translated from the original German, Look who’s back, has already notched up an impressive stack of publicity not to mention 1.5million German readers thanks to its controversial and satirical stance on society and the taboo dictator. Add to this a refreshing attempt to tackle this historical maelstrom, a fantastically designed front cover and the marketing genius that states ‘he’s back and he’s FÜHRIOUS’’, and you’re guaranteed to catch people’s attention.

I am going to assume that Jamie Bulloch has done a brilliant job at translating this novel, as I can’t read the original German version, capturing a unfathomably whimsical version of Hitler who has to navigate his way through modern technology from the internet to a mobile phone, with a ringtone of nothing less that of Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries.’ These details entertain the reader especially his penchant for a peach Bellini, however, they also serve to highlight how terrifying such leaders can and will be with social and mass media at their fingertips. Back in the 1930’s and 40’s the references and images we have are disturbing enough, factor in the world today where everyone is constantly connected and you have a much more unsettling picture.

Hitler’s mental dialogue is peppered with frequent references to the members of the Nazi party that he held dear and in contempt he misses the friendships of both Bormann and Goebbels but decries those such as Röhm. Furthermore, it’s interesting and entertaining to discover how Vermes has decided upon Hitler’s reactions to learning about how the War played out since he woke up in the park.

The slight issue I had whilst reading is that the story is quite slow-moving and does become slightly repetitive in its message. We know Hitler’s methods and the depiction that society is always predisposed to fear and a strong leader is one which we need to be reminded of – especially with the upcoming European elections and the propaganda posters UKIP are ramming down our throats – however, it could have curtailed a few chapters whilst maintaining this same strong message.

This was a refreshing and sardonic twist on a well tread story and has brought the talents of Timur Vermes to my attention – a talent I will be following with keen interest.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10