Posts Tagged With: Vouchers

Adventures with Vouchers: Flapper Brunch

Summer in London: it happened, folks. It’s just now starting to think about autumn here, but for about a month or so it’s been hot in London. Gross hot. Sticky hot. Don’t touch me hot.
I love it.

And this is exactly why we have seasons, people. I have never been so giddy or grateful for suffocating and sunny weather as I am having gone through the doldrums of this past abysmally grey (look, I’m turning English! Stockholm Syndrome is setting in) winter.

However, sweat-your-balls-off weather is probably not the ideal time to play dress up.

Also, I don’t even LIKE dress up (that’s fancy dress to all my thousands of British readers. While I love the word “fancy,” and give the Brits props for usage, it is still not an appealing activity to me.)

So why on earth would I book a dress-up flapper brunch, a period in fashion history not particularly kind to a curvy lady like myself?

I do not know. I am addicted to vouchers. And absurdity.

And brunch.

But back to the heat. By the time my friend K and I traversed the city and the environs of Hammersmith to the Betty Blythe Vintage Tea Room, our clothes were damp and molded so thoroughly to our bodies we were not too enthusiastic about clothes in general. When we discovered our reservation had not gone through, and the downstairs brunch room was closed because of an electrical outage, we didn’t much care. The sweet pinky French lady at the counter offered to let us dress up and sit in the window on the ground floor, but we politely declined.

I was kinda disappointed – the dressing up was the whole point of this surreal experience – but honestly, there was barely a fan blowing on us. I was too hot to care about anything except shoving food in my mouth hole after the long journey west.

Which is what happened: a pot of English breakfast, a pink lemonade, pain au chocolat, granola and yogurt, and more toast than you can shake a stick at. All for GBP7! Impressive and delicious.


After a good long chat and bellies now full, the French girl let us go downstairs to play with the available stock of flapper clothing for a few minutes. It was mostly just accessories, and we spent ten giggly minutes trying on hats and headbands and gloves…not a huge selection, but it was actually good fun and we got some nice photos. And none of it would have made the actual eating feel any different – can you even eat while wearing a hat? I think those two activities are mutually exclusive. And clearly trying to eat in elbow length gloves would have ended messily and with much embarrassment – so I’m totally fine with how it all worked out.

We totally won this one: Vouchers: 1, Me – 2

I’m not ready for fall. Come on London gods, let’s keep up the atrocious, debilitating heat just a little longer…at least until September.

A selection of silly, be-hatted photos:






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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Adventures with Vouchers: You will be the falcon and I will be…



I don’t have any great affinity for birds. When the voucher popped up for a Birds of Prey Experience at the English School of Falconry, I basically thought: why not? The English School of Falconry sounds like one of the most English things you can possibly do. Bonus: it was in a town called Biggleswade, and oh wow did I want an excuse to say the word “Biggleswade” as many times as possible. I had visions of Harry Potter and Hogwarts and Hedwig. I want a self-sacrificing owl, you know? Plus, I always loved that tagline from the silly SNL sketch starring a falcon named Donald.
Barn owl

Barn owl

Now that I think about it, I don’t think we even hung out with any falcons.


My friend from Manchester drove down with her husband and met me at the Biggleswade train station (the town is so small and off the beaten track it is only open in the morning, shut and locked by 3pm). Driving through Biggleswade was sadly unimpressive. Arriving at the GPS-directed address, we drove through a strange world of hangars and muddy fields before arriving at a none-too-well marked lawn parking area and a further muddy walk to the school’s office. My friend’s husband just wanted to observe, having come as chauffeur and photographer for the day, but they made him pay GBP15 for the privilege. He’s a good sport, so he ponied up the cash and we raced to meet our group, having arrived a squinch late.
No, I'm not scared. (Yes, I am.)

No, I’m not scared. (Yes, I am.)

So then we held some birds. They were big and heavy and pretty. They were species of eagles, I believe, but I wasn’t paying that much attention. They were just big and heavy and pretty. Then we went to a little fenced in area where we got to catch some kites (maybe?) and owls, little ones. By catch I mean we held out our gloved arm, and one of the trainers called the birds (each bird has a name, like Trevor) and they came and landed on us, knowing they would get some food for obeying. Some birds were less obedient than others, and at one point I had two little owls on my arm. Which was pretty cool.
Two for the price of one

Two for the price of one

We moved to a bigger field for some hawk catching. At this point I got a close-up look at what they were feeding the bigger birds: torn up pieces of tiny, fluffy chicks, their yellow down smeared with blood. I didn’t want to think about that too much.
We watched a flying show, in which our tour guide, a cheerful and well-versed young Englishman who seriously looked like he was 12 years old, gave a running commentary on the different types of birds he showed off – egrets and pelicans as well as more owls and eagles. Maybe a falcon.
We went into a caged in area where we go to hold, bare-handed, little five week old owls. Four of them perched sleepily on a diagonal wooden rod, and it was awfully rude of us to disturb them. But they were very cute, sitting on my friend’s shoulder and nibbling her hair and ear, burrowing into the furry hood of her sweatshirt (as usual in this glorious land, it was late April but cold, cloudy, and windy.)
It tickle-hurts.

It tickle-hurts.

We were then free to wander about looking at the caged birds, most of whom were lazing about for their midday siesta. Birds are tremendously pretty. Who knew?
I actually had a lot of fun – it was great to see my friends for a couple of hours, and I fought off my terror at allowing birds to fly at my body (I have walked through New York City on more than one occasion and felt an imminent pigeon attack strategizing around me.)
Blue eagles are awesome

Blue eagles are awesome

I got some fun photos, which is, unfortunately the point of the experience. Despite our well-educated guide, who could spit out facts at the rate of four a minute, I didn’t get a sense of why the English School of Falconry exists. Why do they train birds? What purpose do the birds serve? A glance at their website listed “conservation” as one of their goals, but conservation from what? I imagine if I had read the little placards near each bird station I would have a better understanding of which birds are endangered, and how the centre helps breed and repopulate them.

But do they ever free them back into the wild? Could they even survive? These birds are so dependent on humans for treats, why would they even want to leave? I know I wouldn’t. Is that good, or bad? Ecotourism in a paradox. I’m just not sure if I agree with it. Near the beginning of the day, as we waited to hold some of the bigger eagles, we watched a bunch of enormous birds nestling in their feathers. Occasionally one of them would start to flap its wings and launch itself off the perch where it rested. Inevitably, they landed two feet away, their feet tied with rope to that same perch. There was something sad about watching birds try to take flight and failing. It was a terrible living metaphor.
Still, I had a good day. Does that make me a bad person? I pushed the metaphors out of my mind and just enjoyed the beauty of the birdies. I am uneasy with myself for this unthinking submission to a photo op. The twenty or so cheery English who were part of our group didn’t seem to be overthinking the moment, oohing and aaahing as the birds sailed around us. It’s just hard to know if the centre does more good than harm.



But how else was I going to pretend I was Harry Potter for a few hours?

What do you think? Is this kind of “interactive” nature experience good or bad for, you know, actual nature?

Scorecard: Vouchers – 1 Me – 1

Categories: London, Travel Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Adventures with Vouchers: Acupuncture and Cupping

Since moving to London, I’ve signed up for some mailing lists through Time Out London and Amazon. I get daily emails with a ton of vouchers for different things, basically like a Groupon. Being new to the city and looking for unique experiences, I’ve purchased a whole lot of these vouchers. Then generally I wait until they’re about to expire before I scramble to get an appointment. Typical avid wanna-go-do-see! procrastinator.

Today I went to a…spa? clinic? place for my first experience of acupuncture and cupping.

I walked in and immediately knew it was not going to be a “spa” experience. The waiting area was clinically pedestrian. There was no small tinkling fountain in the corner, just a line of claustrophobically jumbled bamboo chairs that ended with a tired looking white leather armchair, slightly slashed on the seat. Just as I handed over my voucher, three police officers walked in on a “routine inspection” which clearly terrified the staff, as no one wanted to admit they were the manager. The police asked about insurance policies and client records (the staff claimed to keep lists of clients’ names, birth dates, and procedures, but nobody even asked my name, let alone made me sign any liability release forms). The lady officer in charge asked if there were locks on the doors to the “exam” rooms, to which the Chinese girl responded no, no locks, because that would be…unsafe? (she asked, hoping it was the right answer.)


I then had a “consultation” to discuss my procedures. A very stern Chinese lady doctor, who did not speak English, took the pulse in both my wrists (could they be different?) while another lady translated for us. There was no talk of chi or energy or mental state…I don’t know what I was expecting. Mysticism, something inexplicably magic, I suppose. I said I carry tension in my back, particularly my right shoulder blade. After this two and a half minute in-depth discussion, we moved to the procedure room, where the lady doctor told me to “Take it off” before leaving the room. As I was still wearing my jacket and purse, I was unclear on what to take off. She told me to “take it off” again when she returned, and I finally figured out my shirt had to go.

I laid down on a table, face down…down down, my nose smashed into the table because there was no face hole. As she began applying the needles, I couldn’t really breathe because of my smooshed face. The needles were barely noticeable as they went in, but it was a mildly strange sensation once they were all inserted. She turned on a dim, delicate paper lamp, shaded with a sunflower pattern, pressed play on a CD of generic new age music and left me alone.

I skooched my face up in order to avoid asphyxiation, and noticed the lovely cut out wallpaper, patterned with trees and reeds. The CD started to skip immediately. As I find nothing soothing about faux Native American sounds, I didn’t mind, though it was an abrasive sound and I almost got up to get my iPod out of my bag. I didn’t want to disturb the needles, however, so I stayed still and concentrated on finding a comfortable position that allowed breathing. With my arms up under my head, my shoulders started to cramp.


I eventually discovered there was in fact a face hole in the table, it was just covered by the hygiene-maximizing paper sheet running down the table.

I lay like that for about forty-five minutes, not feeling much of anything except my rapid heartbeat. Through a fluke of timing, this appointment came on the heels of being broken up with by a very nice man, and I suppose I had been hoping for some real external pain to mitigate my broken heart. What I wanted, I imagine, was a tattoo, the grinding sound of the needle gun drilling into my red raw skin.


Unless I concentrated very hard, I barely felt the needles. Every now and then a wave of tingly giddiness would pass over my head, the same feeling as children get when they pretend to crack eggs over each other’s heads and run their hands down their hair, simulating a drippy yolk (did anyone else play that game as a kid?). It’s a feeling I enjoy, but it didn’t ebb and flow as neatly as the ocean, just sporadically, beyond my control.

I don’t know anything about acupuncture – I like to jump into these situations uninformed so the magic can really hit me full force – but I thought there was supposed to be more doctor involvement, or needle manipulation. Maybe that’s a different voucher.

Eventually a not-doctor came back and removed my needles, and set about suctioning cups onto my back, drawing my skin up into puckers. This is supposed to draw out toxins and promote healing by stimulating blood flow. It hurt more than the needles, so I liked it. The woman couldn’t get the cups to suck on to certain parts of my shoulders because of my tight muscles.


I laid there for another fifteen minutes with the cups, and then after a very aggressive hard sell to buy further sessions or some nice smelling body oil (it’s not like I can reach my back to massage myself) I was out the door, my back pockmarked like I’d been attacked by a lazy octopus.

It's hard to take a picture of your own back.

It’s hard to take a picture of your own back.

The woman asked if I felt the toxins being released, if I felt the stress being pulled out by the needles. Oh yes, I said.

But I did not.

Still my back might feel less tense, a little looser. Maybe that’s just because I got off my bed where I sit getting gouged by my wrought iron headboard when I write.

So does anybody have any experience with acupuncture or cupping? What are they supposed to do?

Scorecard: Vouchers – 1, Me – 0

Categories: London | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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