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12 best ways to get cheap theatre tickets in London

One of my favourite things about living in London is being able to see so many great West End Shows. I’m very lucky and get some great free theatre tickets as part of my job (if I’ve learnt anything from working with 18 year olds it’s that they’re great at signing up for stuff, not so great at actually showing up!) however there are still plenty of ways to get cheap tickets to shows that I’ve discovered. I was going to write them all out myself then realised I’d basically be repeating exactly what has been said in the post below so without further ado…

Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl's London theatre reviews

After seven years on the ground in London and with over 900 plays / concerts / ballets / operas under my belt, I’ve become an expert on how to get cheap tickets to shows in London. My friends ask me how I do it, especially when I’ve got tickets to something that’s sold out and juicy and they can’t find a thing. Well … I do have a few tips and tricks, and I’m more than willing to share them with everyone else. I rarely pay more than twenty pounds for a show, and apparently some people consider this shocking – how do I do it when tickets to so many shows are going for forty, fifty, even sixty quid? Well …

First tip: it’s the day of the show, you want to get cheap tickets, and what do you do? The TKTS booth in Leicester square is a great…

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What International Education Means To Me

Last week was International Education week in the UK (the world?!). It was also the week before Thanksgiving and, as an international education professional who works with American students, one of my busiest weeks of the academic year. So long story short I didn’t get the chance to sit down and write this post until today (Happy Thanksgiving Y’all!).

Now I’ve written before about my experience studying abroad in New Orleans and how that year really changed everything for me. I pretty much chose to work in the international education sector because my own time abroad was such a game-changer in my life and I wanted to help other young people experience their own game-changers. I’ve been involved in the industry for over a year now and blimey, I’ve learnt a lot.

Below are just a few of the many many many things I think International Education encompasses.

International Education is …

… learning as much from a conversation with a stranger on a bus as in a classroom with a text book

… finding that thing that makes you feel at home even when you’re away from home

… witnessing different ways of doing things and thinking “Huh, that makes sense. Why don’t we do that?!”

… finding that balance between celebrating your own culture while still respecting the culture of others

… questioning how you define home

… learning to look for similarities as well as differences

… having a chance to bond with a place and a people on your own terms

… embracing the role of ‘other’ and the unique perspective this provides you with

… the likelihood of being a minority, perhaps for the first time

… the chance to try on a different life and see how it suits you

… finding ways to communicate that doesn’t involve speaking words

… learning how your own culture is perceived by others

… realising that you have a culture and that you are a product of that culture whether you realise it or not, or like it or not.

… realising for the first time that the history you’ve been taught is not always the same history others are taught

… the possibility of realising that actually, home is where your heart lies

… the possibility of realising that the world is scary big and you want to see all of it asap

Happy Belated International Education Week!!

P.s There’s also this. I have to explain what my job involves A LOT. Pretty sure half my relatives just think I’m a teacher.

StudyAbroadAdvisors-Profession

Missteps and Mishaps: Times Things Have Gone Wrong While Travelling

Not all who wonder are lost. But sometimes, we genuinely are… See below for some examples of my travel misadventures and misfortunes. Yolo, right?!

  • The time I got arrested for accidently trespassing in a park.
  • The time I slept through my 6:50am flight to Dublin and my friend was already there waiting for me to arrive. 
  • The time I got drunk and decided it would be a great idea to run up the ‘down’ escalator while wearing flip flops. Stacked it near the top and gouged a huge chunk out of my knee. Couldn’t bend my leg for days, which is a pain in the ass (and knee) when you want to sit down.
  • The time I was vegetarian and mistook fried calamari for an onion ring.
  • The time I was trying to get back into the States on a tourist visa and the guy at the Canadian checkpoint had big qualms about letting me in and the bus very nearly left without me.
  • The time we were lost in a not-so-nice part of Casablanca and I felt so intimidated by the groups of men standing around staring at us (me) and making clicking noises as we passed that I grabbed hold of my friend’s hand and pretended he was my husband. 
  • The time I got stomach flu and was living in an apartment with a broken toilet. We don’t speak of that time.
  • The time I drunkenly lent my friend my passport to use as id to get into a club and the bouncer confiscated it and I never got it back. It had my visa in it but I was too drunk and too young to realise what a huge deal this was at the time.
  • The first time arrived in America alone and had forgotten the one really important form I needed to validate my visa and be allowed into the country. My mum finds it later on the windowsill in my bedroom.
Sometimes it's just one of those days...

Sometimes it’s just one of those days…

  • The night of my 21st birthday, which I spent in a hostel in Portland, OR with a weird roommate who farted in her sleep. Literally in her sleep. Sleep farting.
  • The time we met up with a bunch of marines on leave on a night out and one of them grabbed my wrist and kissed me and wouldn’t let go even though I was pushing him away.
  • The time we were on our way to visit a Mosque and I wore a white cotton shirt which went completely see-through in the sudden rainstorm we got caught in on the walk over. 
  • The time I got lost trying to find an abandoned prison (don’t ask) in South Carolina and ended up walking around the projects alone at 11pm.
  • The time we visited some rock pools and a big wave swooped in and we nearly drowned.
  • The time I got locked out of the house I was supposed to be housesitting.
  • The time the window opposite me blew in on the train from Marrakesh to Essaouira. I was shaking glass out of my hair for days.

But, despite all these dodged bullets and near misses, travel is still what I want to do. Sometimes I think it might be all I want to do. I work three jobs and never turn the heating on because I want to get back out there and nearly drown in rock pools. It’s a privilege to have stories to tell and scars to point out because they are the proof of a life lived bravely. And that’s the kind of life I want.

Read about the time I got into a car with a stranger I met on craigslist and drove across the American South…

…in my essay ‘Once Upon A Time on Craigslist’ which has been published in a new travel guide for solo travellers! ‘A Girls’ Guide to Travelling Alone’ is rammed full of inspiring tales written by women who have ventured into the big wide world and lived to tell the tale.

I really can’t stress enough have proud I am to be featured in this collection of amazing female travellers and how thrilled I am that we’ve been able to gather our stories together and make our voices heard. Also did I mention my essay is the first featured? That was pretty much the icing on the cake for me!

‘A Girls’ Guide to Travelling Alone’ is available to purchase on Amazon and Itunes right now, so go go go!

A Girls' Guide To Travelling Alone

15 Signs You’ve Become A Londoner

love_london

Since I’ve started working with American students I’ve heard the term ‘Londoner’ used a lot. It’s like the Holy Grail to my students and they all want to make the jump from tourist to Londoner as quickly as possible. Which is great, until you realise they are still going around calling it “Li-cester Square”. So to help us all out, I’ve mocked up a quick guide on how to tell when you’ve made it as a proper Londoner…

1) You’ve given up complaining about how expensive everything is

The only thing worse than high prices is hearing people bitch about high prices all then damn time. We all know London is expensive, we live here. So suck it up and buy your £5 Pret salad in resigned silence like the rest of us!

2) You’ve perfected the art of BBW (Brisk British Walking) while maintaining the thousand-yard stare.

Not to compare Londoners to battle weary soldiers, but one does experience a marked decline human compassion the longer one lives in this fair city. When walking, Londoners see no evil and hear no evil so they definitely will not hesitate to knock you flying if you are dilly dallying around on the pavement.

3) You measure journeys by how long it will take you to reach your destination, not the distance

Tube maps and bus routes can be deceptive. If a journey contains more than two tube lines or multiple changes, it’s almost always quicker to walk. This is doubly true during rush hours and weekends. You shake your heads at the fools (tourists) who get the tube from Charing Cross to Covent Garden, or worse, Charing Cross to Embankment…

4) You’ve developed a fondness for a certain tube line and become unnervingly defensive of it

We all have one, whether it’s the line we take to work every day or that line where you once found £2 stuffed down the back of a seat. It may be slow, creaky, slightly smelly and out of service 72% of the time, but you will defend it to the death because it is YOURS! Now that’s loyalty the London way.

5) You have a set itinerary (including restaurants and toilet breaks) for when relatives and/or friends come to visit you in the city

Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, Harrods… you know your audience and make sure to hit up all the tourist hotspots. You will feel like you want to kill yourself by your fifth ride on the London Eye but it is your duty to provide these services as ‘the one who got away’ and moved to The Smoke!

6) You pronounce Holborn correctly

Ho-burn. Ho-burn. Ho-burn.

7) You are registered with a local dentist and/or doctor, as opposed to travelling back ‘home’ every time you require a check up

A mile-stone in London living! Choose wisely grasshopper, you will be unlikely to change them again unless you move boroughs.

8) You can enter museums and art galleries without feeling like you have to see it all in one visit, because you know you can just pop back in next week

Laugh at everyone else frantically trying to negotiate the multiple floors and staircases of the Tate Modern while you peruse at your leisure, safe in the knowledge that you can just leave when your legs become numb from standing up for so long and return next week. A smug Londoner is a happy Londoner!

9) You have a library card that you actually use

Welcome to the community! They do exist in London, I promise!

10) You have been to a local hairdresser/beautician on more than one occasion

And have sussed out who the best stylist is and whether or not you need to tip.

11) You have an Oyster card

Embrace the Oyster, it’s your new best friend. You’ll know you’re a Londoner as you breeze through the ticket barriers at rush hour.

12) You’ve gotten lost in one of the big shops on Oxford Street

There is a fresh corner of hell known as the Oxford Street Topshop returns counter on a Saturday afternoon in January. Enter at your own risk and pray to Alexa Chung that you make it out alive.

13) You never attempt tube travel on a Sunday

Unless you happen to enjoy cancelled/delayed trains and entire stations closed for engineering works, Sunday is a day for rest and Netflix in your new London shoebox.

14) You show complete disregard for the red man when crossing at traffic lights

If there’s nothing coming, go for it! Especially if there is someone beside you, who will get hit before you do. Callus but practical.

15) You’ve fallen up or down an escalator while running for the tube

And then had to endure the rest of the journey sitting beside fellow travellers who witnessed your epic trip up, comforted only by the thought that you’ve bought laughter into the life of some miserable TFL worker who is currently re-watching your fall on the CTV monitor for the fifth time.

Go Abroad Article

Happy Sunday everyone!

Just a quick post to share an article I wrote for goabroad.com about my time studying abroad in New Orleans. I wanted to get across the idea that while studying abroad can undoubtedly be an amazing experience, it can also be pretty darn scary! My first few days in New Orleans were completely not what I was expecting and were actually pretty terrible. Then I met all my fellow study abroad buddies and suddenly everything was more manageable. 

Goabroad.com is a really great website and resource for people thinking about studying abroad and it also showcases some great travel writers to boot. I clicked on a couple of articles that caught my eye and found myself lost in the authors’ amazing travel blogs for a good few hours! 

So click on the link and have a good browse around!

The Busker

I meet Rosanna in a hostel in a strange, soulless city. She tells me she grew up in a Romanian orphanage but probably has an American father. I don’t believe her, but at the time I myself am claiming to be a direct descendent of Oscar Wilde, so am in no position to demand the truth. Her truth and my truth do not matter here, in this city where nobody knows us and nobody cares.

Every morning she leaves early, a violin on her back and a rollerblade in each hand. When one day I decide to follow, her shadow is monstrous on the sidewalk. It is so cold I can see my breath, but she wears a short purple dress and sneakers. Her legs are dappled pink and a weak, wintery sun shines through the gap between her thighs.

I watch as she skates and plays. Two talents for the price of one. People should pay double, but they don’t. Occasionally our eyes meet and I feel like we share a secret. The next day I follow her again and on the third day we walk together. Gradually we form a routine. Most days she goes busking while I wonder aimlessly around this city of strangers and wait for the words to come. I always end up back with her, watching.

When she takes a day off we link arms and walk together to nowhere. This is when we meet the men. I cannot say how they find us or how we find them, but somehow they are always there. We smile for them, let them tell us things we already know, laugh at their jokes but never at their dreams. We are young enough to be their teenaged daughters without the attitude or the secrets, old enough to be their wives before they were consumed by middle-age. We let them buy us lunch, drive us places we cannot walk to, put their hands on our knees, pay for everything. But we never sleep with them. We believe that our company should be enough.

Everywhere they are telling us to be afraid. Be scared of the night, of the unknown, of strangers, of saying yes, of living. Together we are fearless and invincible. Together we are brave. We know the men that will beat us, rape us, murder us are the men we already know and we will open our front doors to them, smiling and surprised. We are safer here.

One night we sit out on the rickety fire escape, legs dangling into nothingness as we dare death. We smoke stolen cigarettes and watch the sun sink. When she kisses me I am not surprised. My body reacts before my brain and I kiss her back in a way I have never kissed a man. Afterwards we do not speak but remain outside as the dark swallows us. I wonder if this is how they will find us, frozen together on the edge of a beginning.

If this were a television show, I would have woken up the next morning and found her gone. In reality, it is three more days before she leaves. I cannot tell you about those, because everyone needs their secrets. In my mind I see her skating away, graceful and smooth like a knife. She will continue to search for her father but find only the men we have already found.

Then one day she will open her front door and smile.

I wrote this short story to be included in an anthology e-book, commissioned by the literary magazine What The Dickens. It’s a great collection that highlights some amazingly talented young writers and is available to buy from both Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. It’s also one of the first pieces of writing that I am actually proud of, so here’s to progress!

Tales From The Circus #1

I am sitting between two Ukrainian acrobats in the backseat of an old estate car that has definitely seen better days. In the front seats are an accordion player and her Serbian husband, currently embroiled in an argument of epic proportions which involves much arm waving and guttural exclamations, and our driver, an enigmatic French tightrope walker. Behind us we are towing a small caravan and as we trundle along the winding roads of rural Oxfordshire, we are listening to the soothing tones of Radio 4. I know all of them by sight only.

“Hello,” I say by way of introduction. “I’m Jules. I work in the box office.”

Everyone nods sagely, as if this bit of information confirms what they had suspected all along. The Ukrainians tell me their names (which slip out of my English brain almost immediately) and The Enigmatic Frenchman raises a hand in casual acknowledgement. Formal pleasantries out of the way we continue merrily on to our destination, the next pitch for the circus we all work for.

The idea had been for everyone to leave the last site together and travel to the next location in convoy. This had worked well until a combination of unlucky red-lights, busy T-junctions and a small issue with the car’s exhaust pipe had caused us to fall behind. We are now quite lost. Had my arms not been wedged against my sides by Ukrainian acrobats I would have googled the Serbian translation for ‘lost’ as I suspected our current situation may be the source of the conflict upfront. But I digress…

Eventually we pull into a petrol station, primarily to ask for directions or possibly to phone one of our colleagues to come back and collect us. What actually happens is everyone immediately leaps out of the car the moment it stops and dives into the little shop, leaving me bemused in the backseat and The Enigmatic Frenchman upfront. He pulls a pouch of tobacco out from the scarf he has wrapped around his head (like a true bohemian) and begins to roll a cigarette. Soon everyone returns to the car carrying copious amounts of alcohol. The Ukrainians begin slotting themselves back into the backseat, the Serbians resume their blazing row and The Enigmatic Frenchman lights his cigarette and holds it languidly out of the car window, his other hand propped nonchalantly on the steering wheel as if waiting for some sort of sign. And amazingly, one appears.

Through the smeared windscreen we can just see the back of a caravan disappearing round a roundabout a few feet up ahead.

“Go!” We all start shouting (in numerous languages). “Quick, follow it!”

The Enigmatic Frenchman (who up until this point has appeared to be incapable of moving at any pace other than leisurely) seems to suddenly jerk into action, slamming his foot down on the accelerator and sending us roaring out of the petrol station (no mean feat when towing a caravan). But something is wrong. Somehow we have ended up on the wrong side of the road and are now entering the roundabout from the wrong direction, meaning we are driving round it the opposite way to everyone else.

“Oh my god!” I hear myself shout. “Oh my god, stop!”

(This is of course terrible advice and in hindsight I am extremely glad no heed was paid to it whatsoever.)

Out of the corner of my eye I catch sight of the glowing bud of The Enigmatic Frenchman’s cigarette and realise, to my horror, that he is still holding it and is therefore steering the car with one hand. At this point I follow the example set by my fellow passengers and start to yell indiscriminately. As we career into oncoming traffic, Ukrainian To My Left is stomping his foot down wildly on an imaginary brake and Ukrainian To My Right has spilt his newly purchased beer (opened with truly terrible timing mere moments before we spotted the caravan) all over his trousers. Amid a blare of horns and Serbian curse words The Enigmatic Frenchman turns the wheel just in the nick of time and we veer off down an exit. Up ahead the caravan we were originally trying to catch up is chuddering serenely along, completely oblivious to the chaos that has just ensured in its wake.

Our yells gradually peter out and I awkwardly unlatch my fingers from the death grip I’ve unconsciously had on Ukrainian To My Left’s knee. The Serbians upfront are at last silent, having been shocked out of their argument, and are now embracing each other passionately. Ukrainian To My Right says something in Russian and holds up his empty beer car forlornly. Ukrainian To My Left replies in sympathetic tones.

The Enigmatic Frenchman, meanwhile, casually reaches up to adjust the rear-view mirror and grins at us broadly. “Why you shout, you crazy people?!” He says, shaking his head indulgently, as you would to a child who has just told a truly terrible joke. “You are safe with me forever, non?

“Jesus Christ!” The accordion player suddenly shouts, in perfect English and with a Cotswold accent to boot. That will teach me to make assumptions. “What the fuck was that? You nearly killed us all!”

“I kill no one! You say to follow, I follow!” The enigmatic Frenchman declares adamantly and makes a spitting gesture with his mouth. “Fuck, I do not speak this English! It hurts my mind!”

We spend the rest of the journey in awed silence, all contemplating (I presume) how lucky we are to still be alive. Just as we are arriving at our new site, The Enigmatic Frenchman suddenly looks down at his right hand lolling uselessly out of the window.

Merde!” He mutters darkly. “I have lost my cigarette!”

And so begins another week at the circus.