Dusty Limits – Psycho

Cabaret at Komedia on a Bank Holiday weekend – there’s nothing quite like it! And a night with Dusty Limits? Well, he’s something else (something very good but something very else). Dusty positively radiates charm and charisma. It’s hard not to fall in love with him from the get-set-go of the show. He has so much stage presence; you can’t tear your eyes away. Talking of eyes, his practically “pop” (in fact, I might try out that makeup on myself).

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“Smizing” (that’s smiling with your eyes for those who don’t watch ANTM) and schmoozing aside, Dusty is one hell of a talented performer. His voice prompts a fair few goosebumps on unsuspecting limbs… (by which I’m talking about arms and legs, you dirtbags!)! The songs themselves are brilliantly written and perfectly performed. Musician and composer, Michael Roulston, accompanies Dusty on the piano. The two have great chemistry and pizzazz (did I just say “pizzazz”? Sorry…).

There are songs about MSM (men who have sex with men who protest they aren’t “gay” or “bisexual”), completion anxiety (an artist’s inability to finish anything they start – totes know the feeling), a retrospective look at the ridiculous debates surrounding gay marriage (and the ludicrousness of the House of Lords), family f*ck-heads (a rather warped yet fitting family portrait), and the show culminates with a psychotic medley, which includes “real” disorders from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; aka, comedy gold).

The show will have you laughing your arse off but there are also some touching moments too that will no doubt prompt a fair whack of reflection as you undertake your journey home. Dusty exposes the absurdities of the DSM; there’s even a condition called “temper dysregulation disorder”, which is basically another name for “teenager”. Dusty makes a good point; if we’re all depressed and anxious doesn’t it mean there’s something wrong with the world… and not us? He also portrays attitudes to the elderly and homeless in a way that makes you giggle one minute and squirm the next. We soon realise that Society is the one who’s f*cked up, not us. Dusty & Michael question the need to stick labels on everyone, the willingness to hand out pills in order to help us cope with life. We’re also reminded that homosexuality was once classified as a mental disorder and suddenly the show is laced with an inescapable fear, an anxiety of our own making (well not ‘ours’ – theirs – the powers-that-be, I mean). That being said, the sensitive subject matter is handled with care and Dusty’s striking honesty and open vulnerability entrances throughout.

Oh and as with any cabaret, there’s a nice dollop of audience participation where you get to shout “cock” at the top of your lungs and scream your heart out to the tune of “I’m not normal”. Arrh, we all felt better after that. We all need a bit of Dusty in our lives. Check him out next time he’s in town!

[Komedia, Brighton – @KomediaBrighton / Dusty Limits – @DustyLimits / Brighton Fringe – @BrightonFringe / http://www.michaelroulston.co.uk ]

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Day Seven & Eight in Vancouver, Canada

Not only did today mark the first time I’ve been on a bicycle in 18 years (or thereabouts) but it also marked our first ever JAPADOG – a Japanese style hotdog (please to report no actual dog). I had the “Avocado special”… in short a beef hotdog, smothered in Japanese mayonnaise, cream cheese, with a whole slab of avocado decorating the top. It was a beast to eat but bloody tasty. So were the shichimi and garlic chips. A meal there will cost you about ten bucks.

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Having consumed about one million calories, we figured it would be a good idea to burn them off on a bike. For four hours. In the pissing rain. We picked up our bikes at Simon’s Bike Shop on Robson Street ($28 including taxes for a whole day’s hire) and headed off at a modest pace. There are bike lanes all over Vancouver (apparently) but pick up a map from Simon and study it a bit before heading off. We cycled down Hornby Street, all the way down the end, and somehow managed to get on Beach Avenue. From there, we cycled up to and all around Stanley Park. Before we passed out, we grabbed a coffee and took a snap of the famous Totem Poles.

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We didn’t want to be responsible for the bikes overnight, especially as we had a flight to catch the next day, so we had to race back to Simon’s shop (it closes at 6pm). This would have been fine if a) we didn’t have any wine, b) there wasn’t a monsoon, and c) we didn’t break every highway code known to man. Regardless, we managed it. And we didn’t kill ourselves. Or anyone else. Hurrah.

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We were soaked through to the bones (pack waterproofs) so we sought shelter at our hostel and showered off the day in preparation for our last night in Vancouver. We met Irish for a spot of dinner at The Factory – every dish is $5.95. And after a few beers (Lucky Larger was on offer), we continued partying at The Cellar, followed by L.E.D. We didn’t last long. Mainly, because we were knackered but also because Vancouver’s nightlife doesn’t quite match up to what we’re used to back in the UK. That’s not us being bar / clubbing snobs (well, it is a bit) but even the Canadians we met said it was a bit on the dull / quiet / restrictive side. That’s another thing – if you look under 40, you’ll get IDed. So take ID.

Our flight was at 3pm the next day so we just had time for a final wander down Granville Street. We caught the Canada Line from Vancouver City Centre to YVR-Airport.

So, to summarise… A few firsts this week: first time in Canada, first mountain hike, first time on a bicycle in 18 years, followed by a 4 hour bike ride in a monsoon, first encounter with wild bears, and – above all else – my first JAPADOG. Thanks to Irish & the girls for being part of the adventure. Would I recommend Vancouver? Well, if you like the idea of popping down the beach one day and heading up a mountain for a bit of skiing the next, if you wanna eat and chill out like you’ve never eaten and chilled out before, if your greedy eyes are fond of spectacular scenery and if you’re the active kind of tourist… then yes, I would. There’s something for everyone in Vancouver.

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Day Six in Vancouver, Canada

We signed up to the Granville Island Market and Brewery Tour and made our way to our hostels sister, HI-Downtown, for 11.45am (only a 5/10 minute walk). Our tour guide chaperoned a group of 14 or so excitable tourists to the Aquatic Centre ferry port. A return on the False Creek ferry costs $4. And when I say ‘ferry’, it’s not a ferry as you’d know it. It’s a teeny tiny dinky little boat. A great way to travel across the creek! If you fancy going further afield, then you can pay the difference and do so at your leisure. Image Image “An eclectic array of artists, buskers, green grocers, casual eateries, craft vendors, ethnic food sellers, importers, sweet stands, florists, fishmongers, butchers, bakers & candlestick makers” line the streets of Granville Island. The tour is a great way to experience the culture and history of Granville Island. And if you fancy tasting some samples of the food or picking up some souvenirs, head to the Public Market. Image The brewery tour is completely optional and costs $9.75 (or a bit less if you’re a student)… but we missed the tour because we wrapped up lunch five minutes late. The Keg Steakhouse and Bar served up tasty food (incidentally, you must try the salmon while you’re in Vancouver, and Poutine if you can stomach the grease), but despite asking them to hurry it up a bit, the salmon didn’t arrive in time. Be warned, Canadians take their time keeping seriously. In fairness to them, they reimbursed us. And, admittedly, it was our fault. Regardless, we still got to sample the beer… Image

In the afternoon, my partners in crime decided to hop on a Floatplane at Canada Place, so I left them to it and continued to explore Granville Island. For anyone interested in flying over Vancouver and soaking up the sites, head to the Tourism Information Centre and check out the Floatplane deals. It’s $114 for a 20 minute flight (Vancouver Classic Panorama). They also fly to Victoria and Whistler so if you fancy mixing things up a bit and travelling in style, then that’s another option for you. I, as a student, stuck to my means. Walking is a great way of getting around Vancouver for those on a budget!  Everything is so accessible and the public transport is cheap as poutine.
ImageI spent that hour moseying around the completely gratis Canadian Trail. Free knowledge and fabulous sites of the harbour – lovely.

Image We had dinner at Mahony and Sons – we ate our seafood as we overlooked the harbour. I had the Pacific Coast Seafood Chowder. Mega yum. Image

Day Five in Vancouver, Canada

So today we decided to hike up a mountain. Grouse mountain, to be precise. But a mountain’s a mountain and, as I found out, bloody hard to climb. The first thing you’ll see when you open the web page is a picture of a Gondola. Take that as a sign. Because climbing up the thing shouldn’t be taken lightly. I knew it would be hard but I didn’t know it would be THAT HARD. It didn’t help that we got lost on the way up. We took a wrong turn and ended up on another route so we had to backtrack and start again. So instead of hiking for 3km (which should have taken a couple of hours), we hiked for a lot more and it took nearly 4 hours. At one point, I nearly cried. No, I’m lying. I did cry. It was around two hours in when every f*cker that passed us said we were half way… I couldn’t handle the fact that we had to repeat everything we had just done ALL. OVER. AGAIN. Also, half an hour and a million rocks / steps later, another a-hole would say ‘don’t worry, you’re nearly half way’… How can we still be half way half an hour later?! So yes, I got my rage on and threatened to stay put and spend the night under a rock, avoiding the bears. Thank god for my friends – they kept me going.

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 (Here are my friends… note that they’re all ahead of me)

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(And yep, it turns icy at the top… watch your step)

In all seriousness, don’t be a dick about it. One wrong step and you’ll be down the bottom of that mountain as fast as you can say ‘WHY AM I DOING THIS?!’. If you don’t believe me, here’s a sign:

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“KNOW YOUR LIMITS (Jo Sutherland)”

People have died. Also, if you’re not a friend of exercise, I’d stick to the gondola. Here’s what they have to say about it… https://www.grousemountain.com/grousegrind.

If you hike up, this is what happens at the top… (if you’ve got the same fitness levels as me, i.e. none):

(Yours truly passed out on the stairs leading up to the bar)

We refuelled at The Observatory and then went to say hello to the Grizzly Bears.

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Then we took the Gondola back to earth (no way in hell were we gonna hike down!) and this is the view that made all our efforts worthwhile:

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Despite our bodies cry for mercy, we continued our adventure and headed towards Lynn Canyon to cross one of Vancouver’s many suspension bridges. As a tourist hotspot, you’ll definitely hear about the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but apparently the website makes it look better than it is, so you may as well save yourself $35 and go on the free one at Lynn Canyon Park instead. Well, that’s what we did and we loved it.

There’s also a really cool rock pool nearby so you can sit and have a picnic as you listen to the water crashing down. If you’ve got a car, the park gates close at 7pm, but if you’re on foot you can go there whenever – I would avoid getting caught in the dark though.

We headed back to our hostel in tatters but it was all worth it! If you fancy exploring Grouse Mountain or Lynn Canyon, you’ll need to catch the SeaBus from Waterfront, north to Longsdale Quay. It’s about $4 return. From there, you can catch a bus. Simples.

Or – if you’re staying at HI Vancouver Central – Erik runs a Lynn Canyon tour on Tuesdays.

What. A. Day.

Day Four in Whistler, Canada

We caught a Greyhound coach from Pacific Central Station to Whistler… although I think you can pick up a coach downtown (but we didn’t realise this). If you plan on spending a day or two in Whistler, I’d suggest pre-booking the coach tickets cos it’s way cheaper (also, if you’re a student, take your ID – you can get discounts in quite a few places). We hopped on the 10.30am bus which got us into Whistler for 1pm and we scheduled our return for 4pm, because we only wanted a few hours to explore Blackcomb mountain. If you’re interested in doing a bear excursion or a bit of skiing, you should aim for the 9pm return… or stay overnight somewhere. We had just enough time to catch the ski lift up to the top of Blackcomb mountain, take in the view, defrost with a glass of vino, warm the cockles with a Baileys Hot Choc, and descend back down to civilisation. Needless to say, it’s cold up there – so wrap up nice and snug! My boots and socks got soaked through with snow so I’d recommend taking a spare pair if you can be bothered… or if you’re a wimp when it comes to cold tootsies.

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And here’s the highlight of the week – WE SAW TWO WILD BEARS!! Both were strolling along the road side around 5pm. They were so, so cute… even cuter since we knew they couldn’t maul us from our safe and comfy coach seats.

My friend took a photo of the real bear but I was too slow getting my camera out… so, until the wild bear snap is posted on Facebook, here’s a fake bear shot:

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(Please note that bears are NOT this friendly in the wild).

To toast our bears, we shared a bear necessity at The Pint (boom tish) and had dinner at The Warehouse (Hastings). Dinner for $4.95… And it was mega yum! GO. THERE. #ThatIsAll

A word about prices… I found it easier to add 25% on top of every order (10% for taxes, and 15% for tips). The tipping culture is the same as the States but it isn’t forced down your throat in Canada… for instance, they never include service charge as part of the bill. But it would be looked down on if you don’t include at least 15%. Also, if you’re going in a group, they’ll usually give you each individual bills. Makes things a bit simpler.

Day Three in Vancouver, Canada

The sound of seagulls and torrential rain shook us from our slumber. We decided to be gentle on ourselves (and on our hangovers), so we spent the best part of the day in the Stanley Park aquarium. We saw jellyfish, penguins, otters, whales, frogs, snakes, monkeys, dolphins, sea cucumbers and a sh*t load of fish. I’d recommend catching the Beluga Whale show… and check out the Dolphins in action too.

Here are some snaps:

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It’s a great place to visit – rain or shine. Take warm clothes though because you need to be outside to catch the best view of the shows and, if you plan on eating, the cafe is outside.

In the evening, we each had Five Guys. For dinner, I mean! It’s a fast-food, kinda pop-up style restaurant that serves the best burgers in the history of burgers. You can order as many free toppings as you like. Naturally, I ordered all of them… which turned the whole thing into a meaty pile of sludge, so I wouldn’t go overboard if I were you. One ridiculous topping at a time.

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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

I have wonderful friends. Two of my nearest and dearest decided to spoil me rotten for my birthday treat. As a surprise, they took me to Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London. This place has 2 Michelin Stars, it’s won an array of awards and it’s been voted number 7 out of the 50 Best Restaurants IN THE WORLD. Yeah, my friends are the bomb… And so is this restaurant.

For starters, you can take your pick from snails, foie gras, octopus, frog’s legs, chicken oysters and more. We plunged straight into the main. I ordered Powdered Duck Breast (smoked confit fennel and umbles) – I didn’t know what half the ingredients were but, by God, it tasted good.

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The dish was first invented in 1670! It’s weird to think of people eating the same thing all those years ago but it’s definitely survived for a reason. In fact, it’s one of the best things I have ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth! The girls ordered the Hereford Ribeye which came with mushroom ketchup and triple cooked chips. Who knew you could cook chips three times over?! Well, Heston did and Heston does. And once you try them, you’ll be playing with the hob and every cooking utensil you own to try and match the effect. But you’ll probably fail.

And the party in our mouths didn’t stop there… time for dessert! We were all lured in by the Tipsy Cake. A traditional pud in 1810 apparently. This was served with spit roast pineapple and lashings of booze, hence “tipsy”. So juicy, so tipsy.

The atmosphere was great too. The waiting staff were really friendly and uber professional (although I guess that’s what you’d expect from a Michelin Star restaurant). And, as someone who doesn’t often dine with the elite (I may have been to one of the best 50 restaurants on Brick Lane but not in the world!), I actually felt really comfortable. You’d think the place would be full of snobs, but you’d be wrong. Everyone was chilled out; just enjoying the ambiance and the food.

I’ve always loved Heston – I watch his TV show “Fantastical Food”. You know, the one with the pub made out of pie and the giant Christmas pudding? You can tell Heston’s passion for food has been injected into his Dinner menu and I’d definitely recommend it.

Cheers!