Last minute Christmas present idea: sorted

Need some inspiration for a last minute Christmas present? Lean closer, I’ve got something I to show you.

Need some inspiration for a last minute Christmas present? Lean closer, I’ve got something I to show you.



Shaken Cocktails is awesome and you should not only subscribe yourself but also consider subscribing for a friend for Christmas. Readers of this post get five pounds off their first month’s order with this link or, if you fancy purchasing and gifting more than one box, then make sure you check out the Shaken Gifts page.

Longer version:

The modern world is moving to subscription-based models for just about anything you can think of. From music and films from Spotify and Netflix respectively; to cars and coffee in the shape of Zipcar and Pact – monthly payments for things that you only need the right amount of is without doubt, an over-arching theme of this digital generation.

The latest addition to this revolution is that of the humble cocktail.

And those behind that solution? Shaken Cocktails.


Mastermind behind this, and all-round drinks/digital expert, Mark Jennings, tells me that Shaken Cocktails is a subscription service that, for just £24 per month, delivers… Hang on, let’s just check the website:

  • A different classic each month
    Each kit showcases a classic cocktail. Read about its history, its ingredients and what makes it great. Then we show you how to tweak the classic recipe, making a modern masterpiece.
  • Five drinks, and more
    The kit contains enough premium ingredients to make two classic cocktails, followed by two of a modern variation. Then there’s an extra slug of the strong stuff for you to try neat or on the rocks. That’s four cocktails and a shot, in every kit.
  • Beginner to Expert
    It doesn’t matter if you’re an expert or a novice. Our instructions are clear and simple, but we don’t dumb things down – meaning our kits make great gifts for cocktail lovers or for absolute beginners.

So yeah, not bad at all right?

I broke open my first kit a week or so ago and here’s what you get inside:




That last image is the clincher for me; the whole premise of Shaken is that making cocktails at home can be a proper ball ache. You simply can’t buy the ingredients you need without spending over the odds for giant bottles of Campari or vodka or whisky or whatever. Shaken combats that by sending you what are ostensibly medicine bottles filled with the liquor that you’ll need to become a cocktail-making pro.

And they’re super cute to look at too.

On top of that the cocktails themselves are really easy to make. You might need a couple of additional extras like, I dunno, glasses to drink out of and maybe some ice for the mixing process but that’s about it.

Even I managed to get it right.


Hmmmmmmmmmm…. 🙂

Anyway, Shaken is awesome and you should sign up, either for you or for a loved one this Christmas. It’s commitment free (you can cancel at any time) and the team behind it really believe in this being the future of home cocktail making.

Did I mention that readers of this blog get five pounds of their first order by using this special Whatley sign up link? No? OK, well I have now.

That time I was in SPAMALOT!

Starring as ‘Sir Not Appearing’

Sir Not Appearing!

[click to embiggen]

This past week, thanks to a rather awesome Christmas present from the girlfriend, I was given the chance to appear in a cameo role in the current West End run of Monty Python’s SPAMALOT!





Looking back on it now, a good four days later, I still can’t believe it happened! It’s difficult to communicate (using just the written word) how great the whole thing really was. So it’s a good job I took a load of pictures to help me tell the story!

Part 1. Arriving at the Stage Door
The crew greeted us warmly, and were just super super nice about EVERYTHING. ‘Hey! James is here!’ – ‘Is that the Sir Not Appearing?’ – ‘Yeah!’ – ‘Hey everyone! Our Sir Not Appearing is here!’

I turned up with literally zero knowledge of what I was going to be doing or what my line was (didn’t I mention? It was a speaking part too!) as I was kept in the dark right up until arrival. So this whole ‘Sir Not Appearing’ thing? I had no idea what they meant…

The stage manager met us and explained everything:

There’s a part in the play, around two thirds through the first act, when the narrator, after King Arthur has rounded up his men, reads through the names of the Knights of the Round Table… and the last name he reads is ‘the aptly named ‘Sir-not-appearing-in-this-play’. You come on at that point, you say ‘Sorry!’ and then you leave. Easy! Don’t worry, we’ll be rehearsing at around 730pm, plenty of time!

Any fan of the original Monty Python and the Holy Grail knows that this only a slight variation on the film’s script:

NARRATOR: The wise Sir Bedevere was the first to join King Arthur’s knights, but other illustrious names were soon to follow: Sir Launcelot the Brave; Sir Galahad the Pure; and Sir Robin the Not-quite-so-brave-as-Sir-Launcelot who had nearly fought the Dragon of Agnnor, who had nearly stood up to the vicious Chicken of Bristol and who had personally wet himself at the Battle of Badon Hill; and the aptly named Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Film. Together they formed a band whose names and deeds were to be retold throughout the centuries, the Knights of the Round Table.

Part 2. Costume!


[Note – for reasons that will become clear very shortly, I had to shave off my beard. I look about 12yrs old! ARRGH!]

3. Meet the star!
For this run (initially scheduled for a limited six week run but now, thanks to its popularity, on an indefinite extension) of SPAMALOT! King Arthur is played by the one and only Stephen Tompkinson.

And what a bloody nice bloke he is too.

Me and Stephen Tompkinson

Part of the evening’s plan (aside from being a special guest star (ahem, yes – that’s me)) was to meet Stephen backstage and chat to him about all things Python. Again, something I didn’t know was happening until the night and again, something equally brilliant for me to do!

Things Stephen told me about Spamalot:

  • His daughter, with whom he has watched Monty Python’s Holy Grail several times a year, every years, since she was six years old, was the one to convince him to take the role! ‘You’d make me so proud, Daddy!’ – she said to him. ‘How could I say no to that’ he said. Awww!
  • His rehearsal process was a mere ten days. TEN. DAYS. Mental. Alright that’s a pretty intense ten days, but still – I can’t imagine. Fortunately for Stephen, he is only one of two new additions to the cast (the other being the quite brilliant AJ Casey, as The Lady of the Lake) so the ensemble already in place not only welcomed him with open arms but also supported him every step of the way.
  • The name of the game [on this production at least] is Fun! That’s what the director told Stephen on his first night – ‘Just forget your troubles, get out on that stage and have a riot. The audience want to have fun with you, so just have a ball!’
  • This new [ish] version of the play is a lot more inclusive and open than it was in the Palace and is updated accordingly to very current affairs – songs as well!

What a lovely chap. And there was still so much more to come!

4. Rehearsals

Rehearsing with the SPAMALOT gang :)

Again, another moment for the cast to be warm and welcoming. I got my part right first time, and they all cheered and whooped.. Ha! Just, brilliant.

5. Waiting!


6. Final adjustments
Hat, moustache, beard (yes, that’s right – I shaved my beard so I could wear a fake one, brilliant), mic, and a wish of good luck from the girl.


Before showtime!


7. The show!
Backstage the atmosphere was, how can I put it? Hilarious. Laughter, jokes, and merriment were spewing forth from everyone – and that was before anyone was on stage! It was such a great group of people to be around; they clearly loved their work very, very much and every single person who walked past whilst I was waiting in the wings stopped to wish me luck, before they themselves stepped out in front of 700+ people.

Just lovely, lovely people.

When my cue – ‘and the aptly-named…‘ – came I strutted out on stage and beamed at the audience – ‘…Sir-not-appearing-in-this-play!’

Sir Not Appearing!

In four beats: the knights looked at me, I looked at them, I looked back at the audience, and then came the line:


And the next thing I knew, I was off again – to roars of laughter!

Exit stage right!

The audience’s reaction was great, and I was grinning from ear to ear.

I was [and still am really] utterly dumbfounded that the whole thing took place at all. I can’t believe it. It was just brilliant.

The team backstage told us that the role of ‘Sir Not Appearing’ is usually played by one of the ensemble however they often throw it open to special guest stars such as celebrities and/or comedians who can come on and kill with that role. In other words, for me to get the opportunity to do it was very special indeed.

Just. Wow.

And while I can’t guarantee that I’m going to be in it next time, I can 100% guarantee that seeing this play will make you laugh. A LOT. I laughed like a madman, both backstage during act one and then again when I joined the audience for act two.

Two last things to say before I finish this epic blog post –

First: Go and see Spamalot. Please. It’s AWESOME. Hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny, and… and the cast just has so much fun. It would be unfair of me to mention the epic corpsing that took place during the Knights that say Ne segment, so I won’t. But I nearly died laughing.

Second: I have to say thank you to my amazing girlfriend, Jen, for managing to swing what is quite easily the Best. Christmas present. Ever. You rock x



Five things on Friday #52

Things of note for the week ending December 28th, 2012


1. #EmptyUnderground, New York
The above photo is taken from the mythical City Hall subway station that resides underneath New York City which, thanks to the demand of longer and larger trains, has been closed and deserted since 1945.

According to the source, New Yorkers now have the opportunity to see said subterranean architecture for themselves –

You don’t have to take my word that the secret City Hall Station exists, as the 6 Train will now allow the passengers who have been enlightened with the knowledge of its whereabouts to stay on the train during its turnaround and see the Station. You won’t be able to get off, but you’ll be taken for a slow tour of the platform and see what a beauty it was in its heyday!


If you’re reading this then that means you’re reading the last ‘Five things on Friday’ of 2012; week 52 is in the bag and my year-long blogging project is complete.

I am spent.

Whatley Shark

Back on December 30th, 2011 – aka, ‘Five things on Friday #0’ – I made a promise:

Every Friday (hopefully on my way home from work) I’m going to jot down the five things I’ve done or seen that week. Or perhaps even five things that have happened to me or that I’ve seen or whatever. Either way, it’s going in the Moleskine and then, naturally, it’s ending up on here.

Over time that promise has moved around. Earlier posts focusing on what I’d been up to, who’d I seen or what projects I’d been working on, with later entries mainly being about the coolest things I’d found on the web that week. It’s interesting – to me at least – how (and why) that changed in the way it did.

Moving to big agency life means that there’s more structure around what projects you are (and more specifically are not) allowed to talk about. With a few slight changes in place already (I still work for Social@Ogilvy, I no longer work for OPR), I’m hoping that will change in the New Year.

What else? Well, life has been tough this year. Perhaps the toughest year to date. Both for me and for the woman in my life. We’ve not been able to do all the things we’ve wanted and we’ve had some pretty hard personal and professional battles to fight too. But again, things are changing and, as 2013 rolls around the corner, already we seem to be armed better than ever before to face the year ahead.

Work and home life aside (huh, it’s strange isn’t it? How through the simple act of collating different things you do and don’t like over the course of 365 days allows you to view the past year of your life with a new and more thoughtful lens? I never thought that this project would provide such post-year analysis – and I certainly never thought it’d wind up in this way either), here we are: exactly 52 weeks later and Five things on Friday 2012 is complete. I honestly still don’t know if I want to keep going. It was a year-long project and that year is over.So I guess, we’ll have to until next Friday and see how I feel.

What have we learnt?

  • Much? Doubtful.
  • Stupid things? Probably.
  • What it feels like to actually finish a project? Definitely.

Right then, enough wanky introspection Whatley, you’ve still got three more things to bash through – GO!

3. Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up


The New York Times ran a profile on Jerry Seinfeld just before Christmas and, even if you’re not a fan, it really is one of the best things on the web this week.

Go read it.

4. Christmas in The Trenches
On Christmas Day, 1914, Private Frederick W. Heath wrote the following –

“The night closed in early – the ghostly shadows that haunt the trenches came to keep us company as we stood to arms. Under a pale moon, one could just see the grave-like rise of ground which marked the German trenches two hundred yards away. Fires in the English lines had died down, and only the squelch of the sodden boots in the slushy mud, the whispered orders of the officers and the NCOs, and the moan of the wind broke the silence of the night. The soldiers’ Christmas Eve had come at last, and it was hardly the time or place to feel grateful for it.

Memory in her shrine kept us in a trance of saddened silence. Back somewhere in England, the fires were burning in cosy rooms; in fancy I heard laughter and the thousand melodies of reunion on Christmas Eve. With overcoat thick with wet mud, hands cracked and sore with the frost, I leaned against the side of the trench, and, looking through my loophole, fixed weary eyes on the German trenches. Thoughts surged madly in my mind; but they had no sequence, no cohesion. Mostly they were of home as I had known it through the years that had brought me to this. I asked myself why I was in the trenches in misery at all, when I might have been in England warm and prosperous. That involuntary question was quickly answered. For is there not a multitude of houses in England, and has not someone to keep them intact? I thought of a shattered cottage in — , and felt glad that I was in the trenches. That cottage was once somebody’s home.

Still looking and dreaming, my eyes caught a flare in the darkness. A light in the enemy’s trenches was so rare at that hour that I passed a message down the line. I had hardly spoken when light after light sprang up along the German front. Then quite near our dug-outs, so near as to make me start and clutch my rifle, I heard a voice. there was no mistaking that voice with its guttural ring. With ears strained, I listened, and then, all down our line of trenches there came to our ears a greeting unique in war: “English soldier, English soldier, a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas!”

Following that salute boomed the invitation from those harsh voices: “Come out, English soldier; come out here to us.” For some little time we were cautious, and did not even answer. Officers, fearing treachery, ordered the men to be silent. But up and down our line one heard the men answering that Christmas greeting from the enemy. How could we resist wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even though we might be at each other’s throats immediately afterwards? So we kept up a running conversation with the Germans, all the while our hands ready on our rifles. Blood and peace, enmity and fraternity – war’s most amazing paradox. The night wore on to dawn – a night made easier by songs from the German trenches, the pipings of piccolos and from our broad lines laughter and Christmas carols. Not a shot was fired, except for down on our right, where the French artillery were at work.

Came the dawn, pencilling the sky with grey and pink. Under the early light we saw our foes moving recklessly about on top of their trenches. Here, indeed, was courage; no seeking the security of the shelter but a brazen invitation to us to shoot and kill with deadly certainty. But did we shoot? Not likely! We stood up ourselves and called benisons on the Germans. Then came the invitation to fall out of the trenches and meet half way.

Still cautious we hung back. Not so the others. They ran forward in little groups, with hands held up above their heads, asking us to do the same. Not for long could such an appeal be resisted – beside, was not the courage up to now all on one side? Jumping up onto the parapet, a few of us advanced to meet the on-coming Germans. Out went the hands and tightened in the grip of friendship. Christmas had made the bitterest foes friends.

Here was no desire to kill, but just the wish of a few simple soldiers (and no one is quite so simple as a soldier) that on Christmas Day, at any rate, the force of fire should cease. We gave each other cigarettes and exchanged all manner of things. We wrote our names and addresses on the field service postcards, and exchanged them for German ones. We cut the buttons off our coats and took in exchange the Imperial Arms of Germany. But the gift of gifts was Christmas pudding. The sight of it made the Germans’ eyes grow wide with hungry wonder, and at the first bite of it they were our friends for ever. Given a sufficient quantity of Christmas puddings, every German in the trenches before ours would have surrendered.

And so we stayed together for a while and talked, even though all the time there was a strained feeling of suspicion which rather spoilt this Christmas armistice. We could not help remembering that we were enemies, even though we had shaken hands. We dare not advance too near their trenches lest we saw too much, nor could the Germans come beyond the barbed wire which lay before ours. After we had chatted, we turned back to our respective trenches for breakfast.

All through the day no shot was fired, and all we did was talk to each other and make confessions which, perhaps, were truer at that curious moment than in the normal times of war. How far this unofficial truce extended along the lines I do not know, but I do know that what I have written here applies to the — on our side and the 158th German Brigade, composed of Westphalians.

As I finish this short and scrappy description of a strangely human event, we are pouring rapid fire into the German trenches, and they are returning the compliment just as fiercely. Screeching through the air above us are the shattering shells of rival batteries of artillery. So we are back once more to the ordeal of fire.”

via ‘The Christmas Truce’

5. The Augmented Reality TARDIS: it really is bigger on the inside
This is, without doubt, one of the best uses of Augmented Reality I have EVER seen.


Bonuses this week; first, the kindle version of Life Of Pi is now only 20p. Stop what you’re doing right now and go and buy it immediately. Then go and see the film. Second, this is an old post first published back in August but still – once you’ve read what successful people do with the first hour of their day – you’ll be tempted to change yours accordingly. And finally, ‘Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek‘ really is quite beautiful.

Whatley out.

Ps. Why not leave me a comment this week, let me know what you think…

Christmas in Siberia

Moleskine entry: April 15th, 2011

My watch says it’s April 15th but honestly, it could be any time. Officially we’re into our second full day of train travel and, at 12:25pm Moscow time, we’re all very hungover.
Also, we’ve established a constitution:


Which so far have fared us well. Plus, to help pass the time (between the vodka and the beer) we’ve organised different things to look forward to throughout the week.

Last night was ‘dress fancy’ night. Seven of us in total ventured down to the restaurant car for an evening dinner and, for a time, we were the only ones there.

Much merriment was had…

Oly & Me

Oly & Me. Good lad.

Later, a fairly inebriated Mongolian woman came to join us at our table and, much to our shared amusement, we soon discovered that the only the only English that she knew was in the form of Christmas carols.

On a train, somewhere in deepest Siberia, in the middle of April, singing Christmas carols… with a drunk Mongolian.

Brilliant. I don’t even have a box for that but I’m ticking it anyway.


Team Awesome Christmas

Last night at the Team Awesome Christmas Dinner (no, really), Will decided to test out the camera on my N900. Alas – as is the case with most of my phones at the moment – it was already set to video mode…

The good news is, the end result was a rather impromptu entry for the NaVloPoMo 🙂
(and uploaded just in time too)