Friday, 2 December 2016

A Year of Firsts

Earlier on this year I lost one of the best women in the world. After a battle with cancer my Nanna passed away in July.

I made the journey to Scotland to see her while she was ill in hospital, but I arrived a little too late. She passed away unexpectedly in the early hours of my first full day in Scotland and I didn't get to see her.

She was the only one who knew it was coming.

There are lots of way people deal with grief. It's something I have never had to process before so It's likely I have been through them all at different stages. I have screamed, I have cried until I hurt and I locked myself away. I Haven't exactly broadcast this information and is part of the reason I have hardly blogged this year. I didn't want to pretend like my life was all happy go lucky when in reality, it really wasn't. I pretty much avoided the internet. Even as I'm writing, I don't really know where this post is going, I just know that finally putting words out there is good. Accepting the fact that I'm really not OK is part of a new process I'm trying. I just hope the words make sense and aren't too much of a ramble.

I think the main focus is not a 'how to deal with loss' or anything like that, everyone always has their own experiences and techniques, I guess it's more of an overview of what is happening, what has happened and what is still to come. My mum put it so beautifully and told me that we are essentially having 'A Year of Firsts' - from the first day without her to the first anniversary.

Over the past few months. some of my 'firsts' have come and gone but there are so many more to come and I imagine they will be the worst.

Some firsts for you:

The First Day

The day my Nanna passed away was a series of emotions and also partly a void. Pretty much every negative emotion happened in one day.

I cried so much I wore myself out. I was furious with myself for not going up sooner.  I regret that the last time I spoke to her I told a lie (well, a white lie: She didn't know I was coming to see her and when she over heard my Grampy on the phone telling me not to tell her she obviously asked what was going on. I said 'nothing'. I lied).

Most of all, I hated how she was taken away.

How rude of the God damn universe.

Fuck you, 2016.

The First Time I Saw my Grampy Cry

Yeah. That was a thing and it killed me.

When we saw Grampy for the first time since we heard the news, he said 'sorry' as though he hadn't done enough. I helped him put my Nanna's clothes away (she would have told him off if he hadn't kept everything tidy). He started crying and called himself a 'silly sausage'.

Grampy's aren't supposed to cry. They're there to make you life, read you stories, kiss it and make it better when you've fallen over. They're the strong ones in a big scary world. Like the BFG. Just not on that day.

First Funeral

Interesting fact of the day, I had never been to a funeral before until this year when a friends passed in January (reiterating 'fuck you 2016' here). This time it was different. I was part of the family. I was in the procession in the Grandchildren car driving slowly behind my Nanna, people stood to let us pass, people cuddled us and said 'sorry for your loss' so much I couldn't stand to hear the words any more.

I hated every part of it. We tried to make things better by sharing nice stories and telling bad jokes. But it still felt like I was in a weird wormhole of sadness. It sucked. And I got mascara everywhere.

First Day Back at Work

I didn't really give myself enough time to grieve. This is probably why it's taken me so long to process it all. While I was in Scotland, I was still working until the day of the funeral. When I got back to England, I went straight back into the office the next day. I locked myself in the toilet and cried for a good twenty minutes. I had such a puffy face.

First Night Alone

I don't normally have any nights alone, when we were in Scotland I knew that my mum was in the next room and I love with my boyfriend so we're very rarely apart. My first night properly alone came on a day where Gary had gone to stay with a friend and I can guarantee that the nights are the worst. I didn't sleep at all.

The morning Nanna passed away, I was woken up by my mum screaming and crying. That night I was alone for myself for the first time, I couldn't get that noise out of my head.

First Text Message

Not everyone does this one but whenever I was texting my Nanna or my Grampy, I'd always copy the other one in. That way I knew that at least one of them would see it and get back to me. I can't remember what I was texting my Grampy about but I went to copy my Nanna in automatically and it was a shock to the system when I realised I didn't have to do that anymore.

First Birthday

Every year on my birthday my Nanna calls me and sings 'Happy birthday to you' down the phone. My Nanna also always wrote the birthday cards. This year my card was written by my Grampy but still said 'love Nanna and Grampy' just in handwriting I don't see that often. Cue breakdown.

Their First Birthday

It's this weekend. I'm just thanking my lucky stars that I have to work so I at least have a distraction. I have a card at home I haven't written in.

First Christmas

This is possibly the first year in FOREVER where I am not excited about Christmas. Not even in the slightest. It's December and I have barely started Christmas shopping. I'm still adjusting to the idea that there's one less present to buy,

My Nanna loved Christmas, when I came a long a rule was implemented where we weren't allowed to talk about Christmas until AFTER my birthday,

I'm really not looking forward to t, I kind of wish I could skip it.

First Anniversary

Maybe on the 23rd July 2017, things will have started to heal. I don't know yet. No one knows yet. It could be wonderful. It could be the saddest day ever,

Everyone has different firsts and every one takes their time to 'get over it' (even though you never really get over it...), I don't even know whether I'm taking too long. All I know is that it hurts less every day. Maybe one day the hole n the pit of my stomach will vanish and I'll be able to watch the Phantom of the Opera without crying. That will be a new first. There will be lots of new firsts to come and I'm sure some of them will be amazing. I just need to get past the shit ones first!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Warner Brothers Studio Tour London (Part One) - A Harry Potter Fan's Dream

When I was 9 years old. I picked up a book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and I was hooked from the very beginning. Nearly 20 years later, I am still mourning how I never got my Hogwarts Letter and when things get bad my automatic reaction is to turn to that battered hardback with the faded cover which has been so loved over the years.

For my birthday last year, Gary surprised me with gift tickets to go back to the Warner Brother's Studio Tour and I couldn't be more excited. Even though I had already been there... so what?

If you haven't noticed from previous posts, I am a MASSIVE Potterhead, my September and October were probably the best months I have had all year because of this. I have been invited to be an ambassador for J.K Rowling's charity Lumos, I have seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (twice) and then the Studio Tour just topped it all off.

The Warner Brothers Studio Tour is any Potterhead's dream. It's a museum to the legacy that is Harry Potter. A film franchise that spanned well over a decade and is still in the hearts for millions across the globe. And always will be

The moment those grand doors open and you walk into the ACTUAL GREAT HALL, is beyond awe-inspiring and it continues throughout your tour. The Great Hall itself is still kept as a 'hot set' so it's lit in the perfect way so even if you take a picture on your phone (like I did), it'll look amazing. I could spend HOURS in the Great Hall, There isn't really as much to see here compared to the rest of the tour but as it's the set itself, you can just imagine being at Hogwarts.

The rest of the tour takes you on a journey to even the tiniest details of the making of the Harry Potter films, from taking selfies in the Mirror of Erised, seeing the hand written books and copies of the Daily Prophet, potions labels and goblin masks that are so detailed they frighten me a little bit.

Now, I have been to the Studio Tour before. Three years a go with my equally as Harry Potter obsessed cousin and there was ONE thing we desperately wanted to see.

It's FINALLY here.

I finally got to see it.

I cried.

Don't judge me.

It's only the GOD DAMN HOGWARTS EXPRESS. Complete with steam, choo choo-ing and individual compartments decked out like in each film. My favourite being the compartment from The Prisoner of Azkaban with Ron's hand print on the frozen window.

Out in the back lot we get to see some of the larger sets. My favourite being the Knight Bus with its sign saying 'no where under water'. Privet Drive is obviously a must see as it's where our story pretty much began. It's such a sham I missed it when it was open. One day.. One day.

Who doesn't wish you could spend an evening exploring Diagon Alley? I certainly wish I could. At the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, you get to have at least a little bit of that moment. Gazing upwards at the kind of towering Gringotts and having a good chuckle when you see Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, a bright and glowing orange in such a huge contrast to the rest of the street. What would have made it even more perfect were if at least one of the shops were open. Maybe this would be something new for the future. Either way, I was pretty darn happy to be there and to run around pointing things out to Gary. How he put up with me, I will never know.

It's all so wonky, I love it!

Now, there is obviously the one main thing that every Harry Potter nerd wants to see and was certainly crying point number two for me. The scale model of Hogwarts itself. It's a bitter sweet moment really because it's my favourite part of the tour but also the last part of the tour, I don't like endings.

JUST LOOK AT IT! Words cannot describe the feeling you get when you turn the corner and are faced with the splendour of Hogwars all lit up like it was real. ('What is this, Hogwarts for ants?')

If you have never experienced the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, even if you're not a Harry Potter Nut like me, I strongly recommend you do. It's amazing to see the world we all know and love as though you're behind the camera. In fact... it's that time of year for Hogwarts in the Snow... Watch this space for more Harry Potter fueled fan girling and even more pictures of Hogwarts!

Have you ever been to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour? Which was your favourite part? 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


A video posted by Ashleigh-Jayne O'Connell (@smashleighjayne) on

So no one told you life was gonna be this way...

*clap, clap, clap, clap*

Yup, you're going to have that in your head for the rest of the day now and I'm not even sorry.

YES! I know I went to Friends Fest AAAAAGES ago but generally being and adult and stuff has meant I have HAD NO TIME.

For the majority of twenty-somethings out there, Friends was and always will be a major part of our lives. Quotes from the series have become key parts of our vocabulary and as we 'grow up', we find ourselves relating more and more to the characters and their story arcs.

When Friends Fest first came along, we tried desperately to get tickets and failed. This time, Charlie, Distracted being the best ticket person ever managed o nab some up and e were all pretty darn excited.

The journey to East London was a bit of a pain (North London, Baby!) but it was absolutely worth it.

We were booked to view MONICA'S APARTMENT at 6:45 but first there were obviously photo opportunities to be had (where I hit poor Katy in the face with an umbrella) and Boomerangs... that took three attempts.

Just look at Pablo, he's so Bangarang.

Monica's apartmrnt was amazing, they had gone to stupid levels of detail including sticking Rachel's 'Trifle' recipe to the fridge and putting copies of The Shining  and Little Women in the freezer.

The staff weren't that great though. We were pretty much rushed out the second we stepped over the threshold. #Rude.

Following on from Monica's apartment we went through to the Chick and Duck bar which included iconic items from Joey and Chandler's apartment including Rosita, the Canoe and the entertainment unit locked up with a hockey stick. Poor Joey.

The cocktails in the bar were expensive for the small amount of booze you got but had hilarious names, and you got bonus points if you asked for them with passion. I went for the Smelly Cat but was debating the PIVOT! We later worked out that is was better value for money to buy two bottles of Prosecco and split it. We're geniuses.

I have no idea what I am doing with my legs...

My favourite bit was possibly Central Perk and 'marrying' Charlie after 14 years of friendship. All in all, it was just a FABULOUS evening but the company made it 1000 x better.


Adulthood: Finances are hard

Me after every pay day...
Let's face it, adulthood is hard enough as it is. You have to start booking doctors and dentist appointments yourself, there's no one there to wake you up in the morning anymore, there's no longer a magic basket where you put your dirty clothes and suddenly they're all clean and shiny again folded up neatly on your bed. One of the hardest part about adulthood though is understanding finances.

Obviously, there are lots of resources to help you out, especially when it draws ever closer to pay day. I'm 28 now and along my journey to adulthood and approaching the big 30, I have realised that there are so many things I don't understand, which I am adamant should totally have been taught in school!

Here's a list of stupid questions about finances I have asked myself in the past year... (please don't laugh at me)

1. What is interest/APR?

At least... I'm assuming they're the same. I dunno. Haven't a clue. All I know is as I save up for a place to own (trying to, at least), these things apply...

2. How much do you need to save to own a house...?

Well, what really counts as a decent amount for a deposit. I know that owning a property in London is all but a dream but is it possible to put together a deposit of £5,000 ANYWHERE? Probably not

3. What's an ISA?

I have one. It has about 9p in it... Don't really know what makes it different from any other technological hole where money goes

4. How do tax brackets work?

I'm sure this is something we should know. All I know is I have no idea how much tax I pay. I just know that every month money goes into my account.

5. What's the difference between credit and debit?

Right, this is possibly the most stupid answer on my list but hear me out a little. I get my year to sate gas and electricity bill and it says I have X amount in debit. Every year I have to call my dad and ask whether this means I owe money or whether I will be getting back. I had this phone call with him last week and I still can't remember. I'm such an idiot,

I know there are a bunch of people out there who are much adultier adults than me but one day I will get this gist of it. I hope...

Is there anything you still don't understand about Adult stuff?

*Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post with Vivus but all stupid questions and inability to be an adult are totally my own.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Sushi on the Sea and exploring the Navigator of the Seas

You may not already know this about me, but I bloody love boats. When my mum went travelling, she took pictures of boats for me everywhere she went. I used to live by the Grand Union Canal and used to sit on the bridge to 'watch the Rosie and Jim boats' go past.

Going on a cruise has always been on my 'bucket list'. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea but chilling out on boat and seeing the world is most definitely my idea of a fab holiday. It was a grey day when we got to go on our mini adventure on a boat (yes, I know it's a ship but boat is nicer to say), so just imagine blazing sunshine and blue skies...

Navigator of the Seas

The Navigator of the Seas is the largest in the Royal Caribbean fleet... (is it  a fleet? Or is that just for the Navy...) and I swear to all the deities, it's like a town on the sea. It's pretty damn huge. When we boarded, it was like being in a little high street. There was a little pub that actually looked like a pub, a STARBUCKS (Which was desperately needed after a nightmare start and ridiculous O'Clock), and shops with everything you could possibly need. Like I said, town on the sea.

Navigator of the Seas Royal Caribbean

Plus... Just looking at how beautiful the dining room is. It's like being in a movie. I had to resist the urge to sit at the Captain's table for the fun of it...

Navigator of the Seas

When many people think of cruise ships, more often than not it'll be with the image of Iris and Frank going on an adventure they should have had 50 years ago. But with Royal Caribbean, it's not all about the older generation and families. There's a plethora of activities an areas to explore as well as the opportunity for little day trips along the way. With casinos ALL THE FOOD IMAGINABLE, multiple pools, a gym and even a surf machine type thing, you're not exactly going to be short of things to do.

Navigator of the Seas Royal Caribbean

Navigator of the Seas Royal Caribbean

The food is what blew me away the most. I have only recently started trying fish and it surprised my friends that I managed to have a while MEAL of Sushi. Erica thoughts I wouldn't eat any of it, but even though I avoided the octopus (I'm sorry but I can't eat Ursula) and pulled the prawns out of things (evil sea worms of death), I LOVED every mouthful. Izumi is run by Travis Kamiyama who started training back at the age of 14 which is just incredible in itself. He loves exploring different styles and fusions so the Sushi he creates is certainly not your average, always taking inspiration from other cuisines in his creations.

food royal caribbean

Seriously, doesn't it all just look delicious. AND I LOVED IT.

Being able to explore the decks and depths of (flight of...) The Navigator of the Seas has just made me want to go on a tour even more. After speaking to fellow bloggers and even some of the passengers, I've actually been looking into it. When I got home that night I was talking to my friends and boyfriend about how I desperately wanted to go on one and with mini breaks from £309pp, it's not really that much more expensive than another holiday!

Have you ever been on a cruise? What tips do you have?

*Disclaimer: I was invited on board the Navigator of the seas but all opinions are my own and I genuinely do want to go on a cruise now. No lies here!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

We Are Lumos: Charity Gala and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child London

In 1997 one woman captured the hearts of a generation and more to come. The story of a little orphan boy, his adventures and friends taught us that it's OK to be different and that there will always be a light, no matter how dark and bleak the world may seem. Now, 19 years later, J.K Rowling is putting that into practise.

Lumos is not only the spell that brings light, it's also J.K Rowling's charity working towards making the world a better place for over 8 million children (that we know of) in institutions.

Lumos Charity

I'm going to be honest here, I had heard of Lumos (obvs) but I had no idea what they really did nor the immense scale of their work. While at their charity gala as new ambassadors for Lumos, we had the opportunity to meet some of the celeb ambassadors and listen to talks from Georgette Mulheir and Bill Di Mechele who both chair the charity.

Normally when people think of orphanages (or institutions), many people will have the image of a loving environment and happy children running all over the joint. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Lumos charity

The harsh reality of the children in institutions is that 80% of them have at lease one living parent but have been placed into the system because of poverty, disability. discrimination and the need for health care that their parents may not be able to provide. Many children could then be subject to trafficking and abuse. Not only will they suffer physically and emotionally but also intellectually as their education could be considered as a sideline or they are lacking support to succeed.

Lumos Charity Gala

On the even darker side of things, shocking figures show that 1 in 7 children raised in institutions will resort to prostitution later in life and 1 in 10 will be driven to suicide, One. In. Ten. It's enough to send a chill down your spine and the look of sheer shock I saw on Jason Isaac's face (who is also new to the campaign), really said it all.

During the talks, Warwick Davis and Evanna Lynch told us more about the work they have been doing with Lumos, most recently in Moldova, what they have seen and how they are working with Lumos to get these children out of the institutions. It made me desperately want to help more.

While we were there, we had the opportunity to actually meet Evanna Lynch ( LUNA BLOODY LOVEGOOD) who is hands down one of the nicest people I have ever met. She came right over to our table and started chatting away and we all ended up huddled around her phone watching videos of Chris Martin singing a song about wanting to be in Gryffindor.

Gryffindor for the win.

Lumos Charity Gala
From left to right: 1. Mugglenet 2. Alex, 3. Katy 4. EVANNA LYNCH, 5. Katie, 6. ME 7. Charlie

Warwick Davis is in pretty much everything and sums up my childhood in movies so just being in the same room as him and working towards the same cause filled me with joy. Jason Isaacs... well, I have no words.

*cue silly giggles*

So very dashing, in a nutshell.

Following all the talks, photos and general nattering, we all filed over to the Palace Theatre for a special Gala performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There, the experience was opened by the one and only J,K Rowling giving is a speech about Lumos and their goal and their work.

J.K Rowling is just inspiring. Did you know she covers all costs of the charity out of her own pocket? I did not. Did you know that this then means that all proceeds go directly to the charity and their work to help those 8 million children (that we know of) one by one? I did not. The way she spoke so passionately about Lumos' goal to get those children out of institutions and into loving families really struck a chord. I've been privileged enough to grow up in a very loving family and this has made me want to do more. Already there have been discussions with the Bangarang Girls about what we can do. All. The. Ideas.

If you also want to help the work of Lumos, you can buy one of these AMAZING t shirts right here.

They're absolutely fabulous and I will continue to wear mine with pride. They're only available until October so you'll have to be quick and, remember, all proceeds go directly to Lumos and not into someone else's pocket.

Lumos Charity Gala
Don't we all look fabulous in these tops. You should buy one.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child London

When it comes to the play itself, I will obviously #KeepTheSecrets. I'm going to be seeing it again VERY SOON and will be sharing a completely spoiler free  review. In the meantime, for those of you who have read the script and had some sad #opinions, remember that it is not the finished project, There are so many elements that cannot be portrayed on paper. It's just the dialogue and stage directions so it's far from the full experience on stage. In short, it's an absolute delight. I laughed, I cried, I screamed. Charlie, Distracted, who has already seen it, thoroughly enjoyed watching my reactions!

Really, you just need to see it for it to completely make sense.

I am beyond thrilled that I have been given the opportunity to work with Lumos as an ambassador for their work. This was honestly one of the best days of my life and, despite how long this blog post has become, I really don't have enough words.

Earlier on, I described J.K Rowling as inspirational but, looking back on it, I don't think that word is big enough. She created a world that made mine, and so many other people's lives, better through a work of fiction and now she's using her influence as literary queen and icon to make this a reality for those who so desperately need it. Be the Light with Lumos and J.K Rowling and remember that children need families, not orphanages.

* Disclaimer: This post is on behalf of Lumos and to raise awareness of their latest campaign. I was not paid for this opportunity, just really bloody happy! 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Midnight Book release

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch

This post is a long time coming. Sometimes I wish Time-Turners were real so I could give myself a little more time... that and I wouldn't have to be rewriting this post because blogger deleted it. #Rude.

Back in 2007, Charlie, Distracted and I attended the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We were a part of history. We were doing something that we never thought would be possible again. It started a love for midnight releases, ever since that first one, I have been to many midnight releases for books, films and videogames. Most recently I was one of the first people in the country to leave Waterstones clutching my copy of Go Set a Watchman tightly to my chest.

I have to say though, nothing really compares to a Harry Potter midnight release.

The second I bought tickets, the eager countdown began. When the day came, I donned my Gryffindor colours with pride and, wand in hand, made it hastily across London to Piccadilly to join my fellow fans, cosplayers and Potterheads.

Harry Potter Cosplay

Standing in the queue with Leanne, Charlie and her sister, gold enveloped were handed out, we drew lightning bolts on our foreheads and we waited anxiously (well, I was) while we waited for Katy to arrive and the doors to open.

As we stepped through those double doors of my all time favourite bookshop, I was overwhelmingly happy for the first time in weeks. We were greeted by a String Quartet playing music from the films and I ended up with butterflies in my tummy.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch

 Seriously, hats off to the visual lot who organised the Launch. They had made everything perfect down to the tiniest detail. There was a pub quiz, Quidditch, Butter Beer, a mini version of Hogsmeade and THE THIRD FLOOR WAS OUT OF BOUNDS. Guys, you're all legends.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch

 After all our exploring and missing out on top points in the pub quiz... (George lost his left ear, not his right *Face palm*), we joined the winding queue up the stairs.

Midnight arrived and after a ten second countdown, there was an immense cheer throughout the shop. Tears were shed for a variety of reasons and I finally ha my hands on a copy of the script.

Once again, I was a part of literary history and I cannot thank Waterstones enough.

 I made my decision before the release to not read the script until after I had seen the play and now, thanks to the #WeAreLumos campaign, I finally have. The whole situation has made this year 1000 times better. There will be a new post shortly to tell you all about Lumos and the amazing work they do to improve the lives of children around the world.