Welcome back to another thrilling episode of Simon's Blog ;)

In this post I'm going to talk about what it was like working in Abu Dhabi and about my experience at the House of Illusion in Spain.

The Mother of the Nation festival was a 2 week event that the princes of the United Arab Emirates put on to celebrate the work that their mother has been doing to advance women's rights in the Arab nations. Held at Corniche Beach in Abu Dhabi it was kind of like a fairground crossed with a festival, there were food and clothing stalls, a massive tower you could jump off into an airbag, slackline, yoyo and pogo stick workshops, loads of live performances by poets, musicians, human statues, jugglers, magicians, acrobats and so much more!

I was there with a group called the Bureau of Silly Ideas working alongside Chris Patfield and Tiago Fonseca doing an acrobatic and juggling show called 'The Hole Job', about a group of road workers trying to find the right place to dig a hole so they could do some repairs. We'd stack up wheelbarrows and spades to do acrobatic skills on, juggle hammers, road cones and hard hats and climb all over each other as we were foolishly failing to get our job done. It was a great experience but hot work, even though all of our sets were in the evening it was still around 30 degrees.

While I was in Abu Dhabi I visited my friend Nick who was performing at Ferrari World, a theme park devoted to the Ferrari brand. It's a massive site and wasn't finished when I went there but I can tell it's going to be one of the big attractions for tourists in the UAE. When we arrived it was a few hours before Nick's show so he decided to show me some of the attractions, I wanted to go on the roller coasters as I'd never been on one before and I left it to Nick to decide which one we'd go on.
We joined a queue and when we got to the front I found out it was for the Formula Rossa, a ride that accelerates from 0 - 100 km/hr in just 2 seconds and reaches a top speed of 240 km/h (the average speed in F1 racing) making it the fastest roller coaster in the world (quite an experience for anyone let alone someone who's never been on one before). Despite the fact that it's the 6th longest roller coaster in the world the ride is over in 60 seconds and it's one hell of a ride, definitely recommend this to anyone who goes there even if the line is super long, also, if you wait a bit longer you can guarantee to get a front row seat, also highly recommended.

After the Formula Rossa I was buzzing, what a thing to have done! It was a good thing that the next queue was pretty long as well because I don't know how ready for another ride I'd have been had it been shorter. The next attraction we saw was the Flying Aces, rather than just standing around in a line you walk through an almost maze like series of rooms and tunnels until you end up in a room that looks like an air force command post in WW1 with memorabilia from the era on display.
I was curious as to why this would be a feature in Ferrari World but it turns out that the logo that Ferrari use comes from a fighter pilot who used the insignia on his plane. He was one of the aces of the Italian air force and had been one of their legendary pilots. One day Enzo Ferrari won his race and the pilots mother had been in the crowd, she approached Enzo afterwards and said that the insignia would bring him good luck if he used it and hence the theme of this attraction. The ride itself was more like what I expected of a roller coaster with many loops, climbs and falls and lasting several minutes so you've got time to enjoy it a bit more, this one only reaches 120 km/hr but believe me that's still enough to be a thrilling ride.

We went to the theatre that Nick's show was in after the rides and as we were rather early for the show we spent a bit of time training and Nick gave me a brief cyr wheel lesson, it wasn't my first time in the wheel and I still wasn't quite comfortable with the concept but thanks to his patience and experience he almost had me spinning around in it by the end and I was intrigued by the wheel in a way I hadn't been with my previous experiences.
Showtime came and it was a great show, so many highly skilled people presenting a very slick show, much respect to the artists and team who came up with it. After Nick was done we went to watch another show in the park, this one was more of a contemporary dance show with 2 dancers interacting with a screen behind them which projected multiple scenarios and was really engaging, for all that Ferrari World is a corporate entertainment complex they've done a good job so far, maybe I'll have the chance to visit it again some day.

My time at the House of Illusion was an experience I'll never forget, it's the closest thing to the Magic Castle that you can get in Europe. The venue was gorgeous, the show was incredible and the team I was working with were some of the best I've had the pleasure of working alongside. Every week we'd have 10 shows (one of the nice things about not being on a touring show is you can put on so many more performances), a dinner show and a late show 5 nights a week. Before the show we would each have a close up station that we worked at, I was usually outside and as it was sunny and people were on holiday I'd normally have a good crowd unless it was too hot.
After the close up sets finished the crowd would make their way into the theatre and we'd start the show. We started the show amongst the crowd in various places with a spotlight coming on for each of us as we were introduced and then make our way to the front of the stage while the presenter continued introducing the show.
I was working alongside some brilliant magicians, Alexander Wells, Glenn Bonnar, Simon South, Steve Fisher, Mandy Fletcher and Chris Tennant, each of them highly skilled in different areas of magic. Most of the time when I'm working with other magicians they would keep their secrets to themselves but the HOI had an open book policy where if someone knew how to do something that you particularly wanted to do then they would share it with you, much more like the circus crowd that I'm used to which was nice. There wasn't a whole lot that I was wanting to learn while I was there but I did get a fair bit of advice about my performances and Glenn helped me work out the structure of what I've been using as my standard 30 min close up show since then.
Salou wasn't a particularly exciting town to be living in, there were a few nice restaurants and bars but for the most part it's a tourist destination with lots of resorts and tacky shops selling the same souvenirs, the beach was nice though and my walk to work was always enjoyable walking down palm tree lined boulevards. It would have been nice to have hired a car and gone on a trip around the surrounding areas but I've not got around to getting my licence yet so that wasn't going to happen.
We found a mini golf course in town that encouraged drinking as you played so a few of us made some rules regarding this, a hole in one was a shot and the last place player of the previous round was responsible for buying the next rounds drinks figuring that it would kind of even out over three or four rounds, unfortunately one of the group had very little hand eye coordination and consistently came in last place each round...

Morwen joined me out there a few months later and after I finished with HOI we went on a trip to Barcelona to check out the Gaudi architecture and culture. Our first couple of nights were in a youth hostel up in the hills near Barcelona which was OK but nothing amazing. While we were there we found a nice local tapas restaurant that did really good food and drink deals, we also found a restaurant at the top of the hill that Morwen ate an astounding 40 king prawns due to a misunderstanding on the menu, she made it all the way through too, what a trooper.
We moved into an AirBnB for the last few days as we hadn't planned on staying there for that long and stayed with a local woman and her 4 year old son (and possibly her partner but I only saw him once during the time we were there) which was funny, the lad was very amused by all of the circus and magic tricks we showed him but would storm off and have a little sulk because he couldn't do them straight away. While there we went to the aquarium in the city and saw rays, sharks and penguins (we saw the penguins at feeding time and it turns out that they can be very fussy about which fish they are getting out of the bucket. We also saw La Sagrada Familia cathedral which was designed by Antoni Gaudi, a fascinating building that I'd like to explore more the next time we go. That brought our time in Spain to an end and on to the next chapter in Newcastle Upon Tyne, near the Scottish border in England...