Friday, 27 March 2015

Hudson Taylor at the O2 Academy Oxford

Last month my friend Pob and I went to see Hudson Taylor at the O2 Academy Oxford, as part of their UK tour.  I knew a few of their tracks from an EP they released a while back and Pob is quite a big fan of their music. We had a nice pub roast at a pub on Cowley Road in Oxford and arrived early to the gig, to see the support band.

We hadn't realised that the main demographic of the band were teenage girls, which didn't seem to fit their folky songs, but we soon discovered when arriving at the venue that we were very much in the minority! There were fans who had been queuing outside the venue all day and we were amongst the oldest there at the ripe old age of 26 and in the minority 3% of males at the venue!


We weren't impressed by the supporting solo guy at all and I can't remember his name. He was just a bit dull and his voice wasn't all that great. It was nice that Gabrielle Aplin sang with him during a couple of songs of his set though. You may know Gabrielle Aplin from John Lewis Christmas advert fame - she also dates one of the Hudson Taylor brothers.

You always run the risk of getting a bit bored when seeing a band live that you don't know very well, as it's nice to be familiar with the songs and sing along. Despite not knowing most of the songs, I really enjoyed the gig and was impressed by the bands vocals. Hudson Taylor have released their debut album Singing for Strangers today [30th March 2015] and it's well worth checking out if you like popular folky music, with nice melodies and charming Irish vocals. You can check out a couple of Hudson Taylor's tracks in the videos below; Battles is an older track and World Without You is a track from the new album.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Delta Force Paintballing

A couple of weeks ago I organised Paintballing day with a group of friends in North Bristol. I've always wanted to give Paintballing a go, so booked ten of us in for the day with Delta Force, who are the biggest Paintballing company in the UK, with dozens of centres. I found a deal for £3.50 per person for entry and 100 paintballs through an affiliate site. Further paintballs are charged at £7.99 per 100, or £6.99 per 100 if buying 1,000 at a time. 

At the start of the day I thought I'd end up spending a small fortune, but it didn't actually turn out to be hugely costly. The ten of us bought 1,000 paintballs at a time and split the cost at the end of the day, which seemed a lot simpler than the hassle of buying our own paintballs each time. I spent about £30 on paintballs for the day, using around 500 including the first 100 which were free. 

paintballing group

There were around 40 participants at the Delta Force Paintballing centre on the day we visited and our group were kept on the same team and joined by people from another group. The staff tried to keep the teams as fair as possible, but the team we were up against were mostly a lot younger than us, which made it a little one-sided for us a lot of the time. I'd much rather have had it like this and stayed on the same team as my friends though and it's just luck of the draw with what groups are there on the day.

The day was well structured and organised, with helpful and friendly staff doing a safety briefing and marshalling each game. We played six different scenarios in total, with each scenario played twice, reversing the starting points for two teams. The game scenarios looked great, with different structures, including temples, churches, bridges and forts. Some of the games involved having a good strategy in place and others were obviously designed to make you use up a lot of ammo to make you buy more, but it was all good fun.

As we visited in March, it was very muddy, which made it a bit tricky to be stealthy at times, especially where there were knee deep pools of mud and water in places! This made the game play tricky at times, but it was still a lot of fun. I'd like to go again in the summer one day as I think I could have moved a lot faster and played the games differently with harder ground.

It was quite painful when you got hit by a paintball, but I only got one epic bruise. This was from where I got caught at the top of my leg at fairly close range. When we got home, our group were sending each other photos of their bruises on a group Facebook message, which quickly turned into a rather strange competition to see who had the most impressive injury! Don't be put off by the pain of Paintballing. It does hurt a bit, but it's really nothing to worry about and it's loads of fun!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

A brief visit to Singapore

Visiting Singapore was a fairly last-minute decision back in November. Emily and I were in Malaysia and realised we had enough time to visit Singapore, which is relatively cheap and easy to get to from George Town in Malaysia, which you can read about here. I ran out of time to write this blog post at the time, so it was nice to find the time to look back and write about this now I am back in the real world!

singapore skyline

We arrived in Singapore after a 14-hour night bus, which left over two hours late and also arrived two hours later than we were told. We've come to expect any bus or train in Asia to take way longer than they tell you when you book, but Malaysian buses had been pretty spot-on until this one. The border crossing from Malaysia to Singapore was really quick and easy. We were dropped off to go through Malaysian exit immigration, re-boarded the bus to go over a big link bridge between the countries, then got off the bus again briefly to go through Singapore entrance immigration. I love collecting immigration stamps in my passport, so was delighted to get so many for the visit to Singapore from Malaysia and back again.

singapore building

We stayed in a guest house in Little India called D&E Inn Pte Ltd, which we booked in advance and I'd now advise avoiding if possible! They were the cheapest on, but the service was terrible and there was nowhere to leave your bags on arrival before checkin or on your last day, which every other place we have stayed has offered as standard.

Little India is a clean, bustling and vibrant area and we stopped for a tasty lunch at a little hawker centre, before exploring Singapore further. The transport in Singapore is incredible; think London Underground, but super efficient, clean and inexpensive. We got a 3-day tourist travel pass, which was excellent value for the unlimited travel it offered. The only downside to this pass was having to pay a deposit for the card, which they make very difficult to claim back.

gardens by the bay singapore

We'd heard from friends that Gardens by the Bay in Singapore was well worth a visit and it really was a lovely place to spend a relaxing few hours. Gardens by the Bay is similar in some ways to the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK, however more focus was on the infrastructure and design than on the nature at Eden Project. This includes an enormous manmade waterfall in one of the domes, which you circle around on giant suspended walkways. 

We went to see a light show at the end of our visit to Gardens by the Bay, which was themed to Christmas music. It wasn't very busy and we had plenty of space to lie down on a big bench and look up at the lights glowing in time to music on the giant pods in the sky. This seems almost impossible to describe, so you can check out the video below that I found on YouTube. It was definitely more exciting in real life and the Christmas music when we visited made it a bit more lively too!

gardens by the bay

singapore wheel

Having done 'the cultural thing' for weeks around Asis, we decided to have a break from this for a day and headed to Universal Studios Singapore to indulge in Western food, rollercoasters and being big kids! Universal Studios Singapore is one of many attractions on Singapore's Sentosa Island, which also hosts a huge waterpark and an abundance of rollercoasters and other cool stuff. 

Universal Studios Singapore is big enough that there is plenty to do for the day, but not so big that you don't have time to do everything. Being the middle of the week and not in main school holidays, it was pretty quiet and the queues were very short for most rides. Closing time was 7pm and by 5pm many people had left, so there were no queues at all! We went on the best rides up to five times, including the awesome virtual reality Transformers ride.

universal studios

I've always loved the Shrek movies, so was delighted to discover that there was a Far Far Away land, totally devoted to all thing Shrek! There were some fun rides, a 4-D cinema experience, along with all the ride staff dressed as characters from the movies. 

singapore universal studios

One of the highlights of the day at Universal Studios was the Waterworld live action show. The set and show was based on the 1995 Waterworld movie starring Kevin Costner, which I haven't seen for years but loved when I was younger. The show was very impressive, with people doing stunts on jet skis, explosions and some cheesy acting. 

water world show

After our brief two day visit, Emily and I booked a bus back to Malaysia, taking us directly to Kuala Lumpur, where we were due to fly out from to New Zealand a couple of days later. I'd definitely like to visit Singapore again in the future as there was so much awesome stuff to do. I'd also like to visit the Raffles Hotel and drink a Singapore Sling cocktail in the very same bar that it was created.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Travel Money Frame

During our travels around the world, my girlfriend Emily and I saved bank notes and coins from each country, planning to do something creative with them when we returned home. I finally found the time to frame the money this weekend and I'm really pleased with how it looks! The travel money frame takes pride of place on our bedroom wall, alongside our festival wristband frame, which I blogged about here

travel money

Sunday, 15 March 2015

King Charles at Gloucester Guildhall

This year I'm making a concerted effort to see much more live music, as I've been pretty slack at doing so over the last couple of years. My girlfriend Emily and I recently went to see King Charles at Gloucester Guildhall. We've seen King Charles three times in the past and he's a great performer with a very distinctive voice and great guitar riffs. I first discovered him when he collaborated with Mumford and Sons on The Brightest Lights and his first album LoveBlood quickly became one of my all time favourites. As he did last year, he did a 28 date tour of the UK, each date in February, which I think is cool, but must be exhausting!

King Charles played some of his new tracks at the Gloucester gig, which had a different sound to his earlier music and sounded great. Mid-way through the set, he said that he had finished recording his second album the day before embarking on his epic February tour. He has recorded the first album in Hollywood and the second in Devon, produced by his friend Marcus Mumford. He then said "would you like to welcome Marcus to the stage to help sing it with me" and there was a small cheer, partly because it wasn't a hugely busy crowd and partly because I imagine a lot of people, like us, thought ht was joking! To our absolute delight, Marcus appeared on stage and performed two awesome new King Charles tracks, followed by a further on stage collaboration during the encore. You can check out a recording from the show below, but unfortunately the sound quality is pretty terrible in the video, despite being spot on at the gig.


This gig was definitely up there with one of the best I've ever been to, with the appearance of Marcus adding to the awesomeness of what was already a very enjoyable night! I haven't seen a release date for the new King Charles album yet, but I hope it comes out very soon. Add to that the recent announcement of a new Mumford and Sons album being released soon, means I have a lot of fantastic new music to look forward to over the next few weeks.