Treasure Trails – Spy Mission, Mayfair

January 8, 2011 10 Comments

Earlier this week I saw this post linked from the Londonist Twitter feed which promoted a ‘treasure trail’ that they had been on around the lovely St Katherine’s Dock. As a lover of puzzles and London this sounded right up my street so I decided to check them out.

The company behind this venture is Treasure Trails Ltd (http://www.treasuretrails.co.uk/) and the franchise now covers much of the UK with over 550 trails on offer. For the base price of £5 you choose a trail that you want to go on (Treasure Hunt, Murder Mystery or Spy Mission) and receive a booklet that has various clues to solve as it guides you around a short trail in a particular area. For the £5 you’re provided with a simple PDF to download, whereas £6 will get you a colour postal copy and £12.95 will allow you to customise the trail and make it more personal by, for example, adding the names of your friends or co-workers into it – great as a gift or team building event. I have a little issue in the term ‘treasure hunt’ as this is what some people call geocaching also and is simply not the case. They are not treasure hunts unless you can actually find and return with treasure. Kids get excited by the prospect of treasure hunts and finding a chest full of gold so it’s unfortunate that the term is being used for these types of events where no digging or booty is in play.

Though the trails are for all ages I think it would most suit a family who are looking for a bit of time to kill in a particular area; it’s great exercise, gets you into the streets where you may not normally go, seeing things you may ordinarily miss and spending time together.

I went ahead and bought two trails initially; the Covent Garden Murder Mystery which I’m going to do with a few co-workers in a couple of weeks; and the Mayfair and Park Lane Spy Mission which is the one I’m going to cover below.

The Mission

The latest British lunar mission has just launched, and the rocket ‘Bulldog II’ is on course for the moon. Your agency has uncovered information leading them to believe that international saboteur Meg Le Maniaque is behind a plot to blow the rocket to smithereens. Can you gather the evidence and crack the code to disable Meg’s device?

This trail takes you around the streets of Mayfair, starting and ending at Marble Arch and running over two and a quarter miles. I started it after work on Tuesday night and found the going quite straight forward – to start with.
Jelly Babies

The clues and guided route are easy to follow. Though I know my way around the streets of Mayfair you wouldn’t need a map if you didn’t as the guide does just that – it tells you exactly where you need to go to solve the clues. Finding the answers to the clues is all very straightforward, and it’s more of an observational game rather than an actual case of deciphering a clue. As long as you keep your eyes open for the items mentioned in the clue then you won’t really go wrong.

The problems I had on this cold and dark evening were mostly that of visibility. I don’t have the best of eyesight at the best of times, but when looking for dates carved onto the walls of building I soon found that I would be better off doing this during the day. Luckily I was armed with a camera also, as at one stage my access to the answer was blocked by the gate to a park area, open in the day time but closed at night time. With the camera I was able to zoom in on the answer through the gates, but without this I’m not sure I would have been able to secure a few answers.

Church Yard

As I was carrying all of my UrbEx gear with me I luckily had a torch to hand, as this was also required to find one particular answer placed at ground level. It was only when I was approached by an armed policeman that I realised I was outside the US Embassy; he was a little confused as to why I had a camera on a tripod and was shining a torch at the floor – but a brief discussion later and he was pointing me in the direction of one of the answers.

I called it a night halfway through the trail and decided to come back during the day time, which I did today.

grotesque

I started from where I had left off on Tuesday night and found the remainder of the trail nice and straightforward. One of the clues was reminiscent of those you may find in a ‘multicache’ if you’re a fan of geocaching, but pretty much just a case of find an item in the clue and look around that area for the answer. I actually did combine this trail with geocaching, making sure to pick up any of those near this route on my way around.
horse

I don’t feel I learnt a great deal as I walked around the route, though there are plenty of blue plaques to take in if you are interested in those; however it was still great fun walking around and observing those little details in an area that you would normally miss by walking straight past them. I enjoy these things which make you pay attention to your surroundings and whereas I would normally just give a passing glance at statues, plaques, engravings and buildings this trail gave me an opportunity to take all of this in during a pleasant walk. The guide you are provided with also gives you a few more facts which you wouldn’t normally learn about the area you are in as well. There are also plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars on the way around should you need a quick refreshment.

The clues being solved gave me words or numbers which I completed into a page that was provided, and this allowed me to eliminate numbers and letters on a grid – eventually giving me the correct answer to disable Meg Le Maniaque’s device and save Bulldog II, so at the end of the day I’m also a hero. I’ve submitted my answer online and had confirmation of it being correct, and have also been entered into a prize draw which is drawn once per year and provides regional winners with the chance to win a jackpot made up of 10p from each trail sold.
eisenhower

All in all I enjoyed the trail and look forward to teaming up with colleagues to check out the Covent Garden Murder Mystery in the near future.

On a personal level, and as someone who has been riddling for years, I would like to see the introduction of difficulty levels to the trails. I think this one was perfect for anyone to do, but especially those with young children and you can tell them they are looking for a particular item and they can go ahead and find it. I would like to see a more difficult one, perhaps with cryptic clues and various types of code to decipher in order to find the answers. This would add more of a challenge to the route and, for me, provide even better value for money.

Saying that, you really can’t complain at spending £5 for several hours of fun in London – I look forward to taking part in more of them as they are introduced around London and recommend you go ahead and do the same.
boots

Enchanted Woodland – Syon Park

December 5, 2010 5 Comments

Tonight I headed out to Syon Park which, according to the website, is the ‘London home of the Duke of Northumberland’. Or at least Syon House is, rather than the park itself.

Unless of course the Duchess and Duke decide to pitch a tent in the park when they are here to stay, I’m unsure. Though I don’t think they would have done so today because it was pretty darn cold out there tonight – it’s about time I used gloves that weren’t fingerless when out taking photos, or at least purchase a shutter release cable so I can keep my hands in my pockets for the duration of a long exposure instead of having to hold the button still without shivering for a minute or two – if there had been more light I’m sure I would have seen my fingers turn blue.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yes, tonight I headed out to Syon Park for a light display they called ‘Enchanted Woodland‘. Unfortunately by ‘display’ I don’t mean that it was fireworks. This was simply a few different coloured lights pointed at trees really. It cost £5 to get in, and I hope this blog post doesn’t inspire you to go to it because in my usual fashion I left it until the last day it was on before I went and visited it. Besides, it was a bit rubbish to be honest.

I arrived around 5:45 – it was advertised as being open from 5pm to 8pm; gates closing at 9 which gives you an hour to walk around – this is plenty of time as I guess it takes around 30 minutes at a leisurely pace. Or in my case 2 and a half hours due to the fact I had my camera with me.

The largest disappointment was that it really was just a few lights (okay, they say over 1000) put up and pointing at trees. It didn’t seem to do anything much other than that. At one point there was a smoke machine, a rumbling noise and a ‘beware the dragon’ sign, closely followed by an abandoned table and a few toy fairies hung up as a ‘Fairy tea party’ kind of thing – both a bit odd and the only thing aimed towards ‘enchanted’ in the display. Perhaps I was just too cold to enjoy it fully.

The first half was quite busy with other people and children going past me. Annoying mostly due to the fact everyone was snapping away using inbuilt flashes on their cameras. I don’t know why people buy expensive digital cameras and don’t bother either learning how to use them or don’t bother buying an external flash. One woman tutted away as she tried to take image after image with her flash only to find the results pretty flat. I gave her a quick lesson in raising the ISO and reducing the Shutter speed and encouraged her to make full use of fence posts and what not (with a hint she could buy a tripod) so she could get a few results from taking the night time shots – she seemed happy enough with the results.

The second half was pretty much empty; I guess with most people hitting the place early rather than late so there were less interruption of people walking past. It was getting pretty cold though and my camera was fogging up towards the end.

Syon Park - Enchanted Woodland


Syon Park - Enchanted Woodland

The problem which was consistent throughout was that there is so much ambient light coming from the city that the sky was never fully dark; plus the park is in the direct flight path of planes heading into Heathrow so every minute there is a passing plane ruining a shot and the noise of it killing any atmosphere that was in place.

This is an annual display but I can honestly say that I’m glad I’ve been once, but won’t be returning in the near future.

If you ever get the chance, visit Enchanted Forest in Scotland instead – this is a much, much better experience.

More images are available in my Enchanted Woodland flickr set

Syon Park - Enchanted Woodland

Joby Ballhead for gorillapod SLR-zoom

May 1, 2010 3 Comments

The Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom is a new addition for my camera, and there were a few things I disliked about it. I loved the fact you can cling it to railings, and that was the purpose of my purchase, however I realised whilst shooting the 2010 Virgin London Marathon that it was difficult to pan with it. As I wanted to take shots of the runners as they went past me I needed it to move, so I ended up loosening the screw slightly to act as a makeshift rotator; but everytime I panned on an athlete the gorillapod would loosen itself from the railing slightly, this didn’t leave for very steady panning and I’m sure I easily missed some great shots.


Panning

The second thing I didn’t like about it was the fact it connects straight onto the camera and if you want to separate them you had to unscrew it…annoying when you want to shift from a sturdy tripod point to free hand movement – I ended up have to move the whole tripod, still attached to the camera, to take some of the action shots.

So I was pleased to find that Joby have now released a ballhead attachment, which although it isn’t perfect does compliment the gorlliapod.


Joby ballhead

The main thing I love about the ballhead is that there is a easy release feature to remove the camera from the tripod. The part at the top, with the bubble level, screws directly into the camera and can be released from the ball head itself by simply pushing a button. Though this means you’re walking around with a bubble level stuck to your camera (which actually comes in helpful sometimes) it certainly helps for those times where you need to use both camera as a standalone and the tripod; which would have been perfect for my London Marathon photos.

The main downside is that there is no dual lock mechanism. The ballhead itself freely rotates as you would expect, allowing you to angle the attached camera pretty much however you need to.

They also state the base of the ball head rotates, which gives you a flat 360 degree pivot. Unfortunately, when you turn the knob to lock the device it locks both the ball head and the base. This means once you position the camera angle perfectly, but you need to move the rotation of the camera itself around, you are going to have to unlock both and lose the perfect angle you had while you readjust the base.

Therefore panning still requires a steady hand, but at least the tripod stays mounted to the railing whilst you do so.

Far from an ideal solution, but better than what I had. I note that Joby have now released the ‘Ballhead X‘ which does have this feature, but is also twice the price and a little heavier, which is a shame.


Joby Ballhead with camera

The ballhead device itself isn’t too large and can easily slip into a camera bag as required. It’s also very light so it won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back either.

It’s made out of sturdy plastic but doesn’t look like a kinderegg toy; the bubble level itself being the only part that looks like it may break in some way…but touch wood that doesn’t happen.

The retail price is £34.95 which considering the inflated price you normally pay for camera products is pretty good. I noticed Jessops had it on their shelf and after inquiring as to the price it appeared to be £42 (for some reason the Jessops I went to didn’t have display prices for any of the Joby products).

I picked up mine from Play.com for £29.99 with free P&P which appeared to be the best deal out there. If you’re buying together with a gorlliapod you’re likely to get it a little cheaper also.


Joby Ballhead in use

All in all it’s a nice additon to the gorillapod and adds a little needed functionality. Improvements could easily be made to make this a better, and more competitive, item – especially dual locking. I haven’t tried it on any other tripods but I think it should work okay with a lot of them.

If you have a gorillapod that you regularly use and want to be able to add a little more flexibility to it, you can’t really go wrong with picking one of these up, especially for such a cheap price.


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Gucci by Gucci

January 3, 2009 Leave a Comment

Gucci by Gucci pour homme- eau de toilette spray

Gucci by GucciTop notes: bergamot, cypress and violet
Heart notes: tobacco leaves and jasmine
Base notes: patchouli, amber and incense.

Though the reviews for this scent were not the best (to say the least…I think Luca Turin described it along the lines of a rush hour scent – but obviously with more eloquence) I wanted to try one of the latest Gucci scents and this appeared to be the best of the bunch available with the decision being swung in it’s favour by the lovely bottle.

I haven’t tried any Gucci products since Tom Ford left which must be about 5 years now, and I’m happy enough with this product.

I’m never a fan of something that’s too overpowering, and this one suits well with a fresh but bold smell once first applied. Though the top notes fade relatively quickly the scent lasts a reasonable length of time in a very subtle way. I’m not sure it really develops into the dry down stage though…or if it does it really isn’t powerful enough to be recognisable.

Would I rebuy? Yes…but probably only for the brand of which this is the best of the bunch out at the moment. However there are certainly much cheaper and better options out there. Chanel’s Allure still remains my favourite – I’m attempting the ‘sport’ version just now which seems a bit more citrusesque.

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