Put on a brave face for Goosebumps Alive + win a pair of tickets to see it

Goosebumps Alive Waterloo immersive experience

If Goosebumps gave you thrills as a kid and you’ve still got plenty of nostalgia for the series, you’ll be intrigued to hear that there’s a spine-tingling immersive experience coming to London that’s inspired by R.L Stine’s most memorable creations.

From 6 April, you’ll be able to find out what happens when your childhood fears become your adult nightmares as you journey through the dark, abandoned railway tunnels under Waterloo, and step into the beautifully haunting world of Goosebumps Alive, a chilling, modern update of the Nineties cult horror series.

Brilliantly reimagined from the classic tales of R. L. Stine, whose first book was published in 1992, it’s equal parts terrifying and riotous. The only way out is through 19 rooms populated by the residents of your darkest dreams, so you’ll have to walk the knife’s edge of fright and fun in this chilling promenade.

Go with friends or colleagues, but leave the kids at home – this is the Goosebumps of grown-up fears.



Win a pair of ticketsgoosebumps alive waterloo experience april spooky

For the chance to win one of two pairs of tickets, simple answer this question correctly:

What year was the first book in the Goosebumps series published? (Clue above!)

  1. 1992
  2. 1991
  3. 1995

To enter, leave your answer, full name, contact email and number here. Closing date: 23 March 2016.

Terms and conditions                          

Winners will be selected at random from all correct entries. Each winner receives a pair of tickets to see Goosebumps Alive. Winners can redeem their tickets any time from 6 April until 13 April. For a full list of performance dates and times visit www.goosebumpsalive.com. Tickets to be collected at the box office with no cash alternative; value if specified based on highest price bracket. Tickets are subject to availability and are non-transferrable and exchangeable. Competition is run by www.booments.com on behalf of Goosebumps Alive.


I think I met a serial killer… Speed dating in St Paul’s

“Never again,” I’d decided after a nauseating speed dating experience three years ago. Where I’d expected cute, dateable men; instead I found a lot of desperate wife-hunters with mental checklists in tow. “Do you eat meat?”, “Are you religious?”, “Do you smoke?” were the sorts of questions fired my way, along with the bog-standard, “Where do you work?” Boring.

I’d also made the classic errors of a) failing to tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ straight after each speed date, and b) failing to make any notes to distinguish each man from the next. As a result, by the end I’d confused myself entirely as to who was who and had a banging headache, so I hastily ticked a few boxes on the scorecard before handing in my slip – only to regret the entire thing the next morning, when I emailed the organisers and asked them to remove my scorecard from the count. WUSS! But in my defence, speed dating was a bit much for my 23-year-old self.

So, last night – three years on – and armed with another single friend, a new scorecard and a renewed sense of optimism, I gave it another punt. It was the same formula: women sit at tables around the room, men move from table to table every three minutes when the whistle is blown – and it wasn’t actually that bad.

I should interject before I go on that I do think speed dating should come with a firm caution along the lines of: ‘It is entirely possible you’ll have crap, awkward dates where the three-minute slot may feel like an eternity. This is perfectly normal. We cannot be held accountable for the shittiness of the talent on offer.’

I didn’t walk away from the night with the feeling that I’d met my Prince Charming, but I did meet an entire spectrum of men – from the weird one who gave off a serial killer-vibe (more on him in a second), to the beardy man who chatted to me for an extra 40 seconds after the whistle was blown. Aw!

This time around I was on top form: I made the ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘friend’ selection on my scorecard as the night progressed, and I made notes too. My notes mostly consisted of a word or sentence that reminded me of the date – for example, for the one mentioned above I wrote ‘big beard’, another I wrote ‘Egyptian’, and another I wrote ‘gay?’

Conversation flowed and some guys actually came prepared with interesting icebreaker questions – for example, one asked, ‘if you could host a dinner party, who would you invite?’ Even if he did use the same line on all the ladies, it did make it a more positive experience.

I also appreciated the fact that there was a ‘friend’ option on the scorecard of the Original Dating event, which meant you weren’t outright rejecting, just friendzoning.

Just as I was starting to relax and actually enjoy the night, the scary/weird/odd man, who I’ve decided to nickname the ‘serial killer’ came to my table. He had a stone-cold look on his face as he sat down, and when I asked his name, he grabbed my scorecard and wrote his name down rather than telling me it, and he asked me to do the same. He wrote his name in big angry capital letters too.

Next he said, in broken English: “I’m [insert name], I’m 31 years old and I’m looking for a girlfriend.” *Conversation killer!* I wracked my brain for a quick fire back, and came up with some generic questions about where he lives, what he does for a living and what brought him to London, etc. Bearing in mind he’d been talking at me for about a minute by now, there was a pause as I thought of something to try and continue the conversation. He rudely interrupted my thoughts with the question: “So are you going to ask me a question or what?” DEMANDING.

Ok, I came up with the topic of films: films should be the winning topic to save the day, I thought. “Do you like watching films? Films?” I asked as I wasn’t sure if he could totally understand me. “Yes, I like films with blood. You know, killing.” The background noise was getting louder and my expression may have suggested that I couldn’t hear him. At this point, he reiterated his point, saying “killing films” and made wild stabbing gestures towards me with an imaginary knife to illustrate. That was when I thought, “Errr, when’s that f*cking whistle going to blow? I’m about to die here.” I picked up my drink and took a long, long sip. The whistle still hadn’t blown. I took another sip, and did it again. Then I inquired as to whether this was his first time speed dating. No, he said – it was his third time because the last two times he didn’t get any matches. No bloody surprise! Then the whistle saved me. Hurrah.

That entire experience did, however, make me question the number of male speed daters who turned up to speed dating alone. Is that weird, or is it just a very female thing to want to take a friend everywhere you go?

Aside from the serial killer, there were 15 other men I met at speed dating – one I found really boring because he wanted to talk about politics, another piqued my interest as he revealed bits of his bucket list to me and asked me to do the same, and one offended me straight away by saying he thought my name was odd. Of the 15, I actually enjoyed talking to about 5 of them. It was a real mixed bag, and I think that with speed dating, ultimately you won’t know what you’ll find till you get there.

One cool thing about the Original Dating event was that you didn’t have to give your scorecard in to anybody at the end of the event – you could take it home and have a think before entering your choices into its unique smartphone app, Mixeo. This buys you time to make an objective decision the next morning. The app then tells you who you matched with and links your profiles so you can use its private in-app messaging system to chat to them if you want.

Would I speed date again? Probably not. But I met a serial killer and survived, so here we are.

PS Top trick for speed dating: one girl at the event revealed that she ticks ‘yes’ to every speed date to see who matches her before deciding who she’d actually like to talk to or date – I suppose it’s a bit like swiping right to everyone on Tinder. If you’re brave enough, you could do the same.

A day in the life of a guide dog trainer

guide dog

It’s distressing to consider the thought of losing your sight, vision, or sense of balance – when I’ve got a mild ear or eye infection I’ll moan and groan – but for some people, living with visual and auditory impairments is a part of every day life.

Today is World Sight Day, a day that draws attention to and celebrates people who live with visual problems and blindness. There are plenty of services available to help people cope with sight loss, and guide dogs help to give freedom of movement and companionship to almost 5,000 people in the UK right now. I’ve always been intrigued by guide dogs when I see them about on the street, and so in aid of this special day, I caught up with former guide dog trainer Mark Richards from UK charity Guide Dogs, to ask him all about them, and what training involves.

Mark Richards, 50, worked as a trainer for 18 years, and is now an Events Demonstration Officer for the charity.

One of the questions we often get asked is ‘how does the dog know when to cross the road?’ It’s one of the common misconceptions that people have about guide dogs: the fact is, the guide dog doesn’t work alone – it works in partnership with its visually impaired owner. So a guide dog may walk the owner to the curb, but then it will stop. It’s up to the owner to say ‘forward’ when they think it’s acceptable to cross the road. The dog will be on watch to see if it’s safe to cross – if the dog sees a car, it will disobey the command and turn away from the curb, and proceed only when it is safe to do so.

As one of 17 trainers at the Leamington Guide Dogs site, I’ve got a pack of four dogs to teach (each trainer has four or five dedicated dogs), so my day is broken up into four ‘journeys’ as we like to call them – I spend a couple of hours with each dog individually, every day.

The dogs are about a year old when we start working with them. Before this, they’ve been working with volunteer puppy walkers who’ve introduced them to the sights, sounds and smells of the world in which they will soon play an important part. This could mean taking dogs on buses and trains and into shops and restaurants, so they slowly learn what’s expected of them.

guide dogs charity day in the life

To start the day, I have a training session from 9 to 10.45am. I’ll head over to the on-site kennels and collect the dog I’ll be working with. They’re cared for round-the-clock by dedicated carers who check them daily from nose to tail to ensure they are at optimum health – for example, to make sure they aren’t carrying too much weight. Some days a dog may be ill, so we won’t train.

The dogs typically spend 16 weeks in training with us, before they graduate to more advanced training with instructors, who will introduce the dogs to their new owners and get them used to their new environments. So, as trainers, we specifically focus on perfecting the dog’s behaviour. We’ve got a checklist of things we need to achieve with a dog before it graduates to that level, so each one has its own training schedule.

There are three main stages to the training: we start off by teaching obedience responses, for example, ‘sit’, ‘wait’, and ‘down’ etc. After these have been established, we’ll introduce the dogs to a harness walk, where the dog is put into its harness and taught basic guiding skills such as navigating a kerb and avoiding obstacles. A smaller dog will start off in a quiet environment where there are fewer distractions, but as it becomes more obedient and less distracted in its decision making, it will be taken to a more challenging environment. At this point you may discover that a dog is distracted by other dogs – he may keep pulling you toward them to say hello – so you may get a head collar for him to steer him away and break this habit. The final stage of training is blindfolded training – where the trainer wears a blindfold to test the dog’s guiding skills. It’s the ultimate test.

After training with the first dog, I’ll return it to its kennels before coming in for a warm up and a quick tea break before heading out with the next one.

Each dog has its own strengths and weaknesses; they’re a lot like us. So a dog could be fantastic at picking up the straight line principle – where it must follow a straight path, avoiding obstacles (both stationary and moving, such as trees and pedestrians), and pick up a straight line on a route indented with a kerb, perhaps – whereas when you attempt to teach it something else, it fails.

Teaching a dog the height obstacle is perhaps the most challenging part of training. This is when the dog is able to successfully judge the height and width of obstacles such as low-hanging trees or scaffolding so that its owner does not bump their head or shoulder. We have an obstacle course set up on site, and all the obstacles vary in height, to practice. For a dog to be able to take into account its own height as well as yours, it can be difficult.

We primarily use positive reinforcement during training – where you reward a dog for displaying the behaviour you want it to. Rewards can be in the form of treats and toys to start, but we quickly wean the dogs off this – instead using vocal praise, or perhaps a free run at the end of the day as a reward. Repetition is important too, as dogs are creatures of habit so the more you do something with them, and reward them for it, the more likely they are to remember and do it again.

Some dogs can be a real difficulty to work with – particularly those with a low concentration or low motivation. But it’s up to us to discourage these behaviours by building up a specific behaviour in steps with rewards.

It’s a real ask for a dog to go out and guide. In this role, they’re making decisions for a person: whereas everyone else’s dog is waiting for a command, this dog is in charge of commanding and negotiating a situation, so not all dogs make it through the guide dog training (about 20%). This could be because they are highly distracted, have health issues or confidence issues.

It’s always disappointing when a dog doesn’t make it through training. We put in so much effort. As a trainer, you often take it personally. You develop an attachment to a dog. But making a decision on whether a dog is not suited to this career path is important.

Dogs that do not progress through training go off on to other services such as hearing, dogs for the disabled, the police, army or prison services. We have a new scheme called Buddy Dogs where people who are interested in being guide dog owners can take in the dog and find out what it is like having it about the house.

At 1pm I’ll take an hour’s lunch before beginning training with the third dog in my pack. It’s non-stop, but a lot of fun.

A guide dog takes on a different demeanour when it’s got its harness on. It’s trained to think ‘I’m working now, no messing about’. We teach the dogs guiding tasks when in harness, and make sure there’s no silly behaviour – it’s time for the dog to be a decision maker. When the harness is off though, as a trainer you are more relaxed and so is the dog; you’re not asking anything of it – and that’s how it distinguishes between being on and off duty.

When on duty and in training, other dogs are the biggest distraction for our dogs. Dogs that are running around or playing with a ball are particularly interesting to our training dogs, who are encouraged to say hello but that’s it. Our dogs have little contact with balls from when they are young – they are purposefully not introduced to them, so those owners with ball launchers in the park are a big distraction. Our dogs think, ‘that looks fun, what’s he running after?’ when they see dogs playing with them. But we teach the dog to stay put (and not go after the ball) – and positively reinforce this behaviour.

Crowded places can be overwhelming for dogs too – they can make them stressed and result in errors, so the dogs are primed early by being introduced to busy in order to habituate them. As pups, dogs may also be taken into restaurants. When we later take them to these places for training, we ensure we are consistent – we ensure they are always obedient and quiet, and we don’t go into a restaurant encouraging bad behaviour one day, perhaps by saying ‘yes you can go and crawl and eat that chip someone’s left on the floor’, and the next day teaching the dog to sit quietly under the table.

We train in all weather, so we wear jeans and a Guide Dogs branded polo shirt as uniform. It’s particularly pleasant to train when the sun’s out in the summer, less so in the winter, but nothing deters us. We have to have the dogs prepared for all-weather conditions for when they go out with their owners. My day would usually finish at 5pm but sometimes I do night walks with the dogs, depending on whether or not they are ready for them.

I still get a buzz and bags of enjoyment when a dog performs something for its new owner that I taught it, and what I love most about working with dogs is that even when you’re having a bad day, they still treat you like you’re the best thing since sliced bread – they love you no matter what. I love being around dogs and have a good rapport with them. I fell into this job – I used train my collies for agility and flyball competitions as a hobby, when someone suggested I apply for the job. I got it, and I haven’t looked back since. I’m being paid to work with dogs – what could be better than that?

Don’t let the coffee cup drive you…

A close friend shared this with me, and I was extremely grateful to have read and understood its meaning. I felt that it would be nice to share it on here too.

It’s a short story with an uplifting moral – to enjoy the finer things in life and not be carried away by the more unimportant aspects of it, such as money, status and position.

Here goes, hope you like it….

A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.

Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to hot coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones.

“While it is but normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.

“What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups and were eyeing each other’s cups.

“Now if life is coffee, then the jobs, money and position in society are the cups.

“They are just tools to hold and contain life, but the quality of life doesn’t change. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee in it.”

Don’t let the cups drive you…

Enjoy the coffee instead.