Christmas isn’t usually allowed to start until after my birthday, which falls at the beginning of December. But some rules are meant to be broken, especially when beauty, bloggers and breakfast are involved.
Lori of Wild and Grizzly organised the most charming of mornings, held at the Mockingbird Cafe in Bristol. It’s a very beautiful new space - all scrubbed tables, industrial lighting, vintage knick-knacks and vases of flowers. Plus, they played Dolly Parton and Elvis which makes them officially my kinda people. Sun shone through the big glass windows as we drank coffee, ate amazing buttermilk biscuits with egg and bacon, and got to work putting together our Christmas wreaths, supplied by Laura Ashley.
I’m so happy with my wreath. I chose to stick with just a few of my favourite bits and pieces - pine cones, glittered acorns, red berries and a plume of white and brown feathers.
It’s always a pleasure to get together with fellow bloggers and their sweet kiddos. Seven of us chatted and gossiped, laughed and wreathed (is that a verb?). My fellow makers were Lori of Wild and Grizzly, Fritha of Tigerlilly Quinn, Adele of Circus Queen, Jessica of Along Came Cherry, Laura of Cardboard Cities, and Laura of Side Street Style.
I may have to revisit my no-Christmas-until-December rule after all - since the wreath-making, I have succumbed to my first mince pie of the year. It’s all downhill from here.
Remember these? They're the lady pirate boots I was banging on about a few weeks back. Well, in a slightly obsessive fashion, I tracked them down. They were sold in Anthropologie a few seasons back, and are by a brand called Holding Horses. Eventually, I found a pair on eBay.com, located in America, and the owner agreed to ship them to me. Excitement overload!
The most beautiful piratical footwear set sail across the ocean, arriving at my door last week. Turns out lady pirates have small feet - these turned out to be a size 6. My treacherous feet are a size 7. Excitement overboard.
Enough with the dubious seafaring nonsense. The point of this post is that I now have a pair of the lovely boots pictured above FOR SALE! Drop me a line if you think your feet would be a good match and I can send pics galore.
I also have a pair of replacement boots - these ones pictured below, from Esprit. I'm sure we will set sail on adventures a-plenty, me and these rugged lovelies.
Sponsored by Esprit.
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Female wrestlers fighting alligators? Hell yeah! This book is something else - 'in the Florida Everglades, gator-park Swamplandia! is in trouble. Its star performer, the great beauty and champion alligator-wrestler Hilola Bigtree, has succumbed to cancer, and Ava, her resourceful but terrified 13-year-old daughter, is left in charge with her two siblings. But Ava's sister has embarked on a romantic relationship with a ghost, her brother has defected to a rival theme park, and her father is AWOL.'
Peculiar subject matter meets exquisite writing.
2. Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies
After reading this piece by Hadley Freeman in the Guardian, I wanted more. Be Awesome is one of those books I wish I'd read when I was younger. Much of it isn't new, but I like the way she writes and it's a very easy read. Sometimes that's all I need.
3. Life After Life
I forget who recommended this book to me, but I have no doubt it was one of my most well-read and learned friends. I love the premise of Life After Life: What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
All the questions!
4. The Happiness Project
The Happiness Project is 'one person’s year-long attempt to discover what leads to true contentment. Drawing at once on cutting-edge science, classical philosophy, and real-world applicability, Gretchen Rubin has written an engaging, eminently relatable chronicle of transformation.' I do love a bit of thorough research, although I'm slightly concerned this might be a bit on the New Age side for me. We'll see.
5. Imperfect Home
A new book by Mark and Sally Bailey, owners of one of my all-time favourite shops (and just in time for my birthday!). The subject is one close to my heart - I really dig the way they leave visible the layers, history and imperfection that most people would decorate over. And I pretty much love everything they do, so this book has me yearning for a return visit to their beautiful store.
What are your November reads?
Back in the summer, I wrote for a piece for the home issue of Lionheart magazine. Super duper editor Hels also asked me about my favourite room in the house, and I picked the bathroom.
I have a real thing for bathrooms that don't have any of that seashell, blue water-themed jazz - just a simple and serene space that just so happens to have a bath and a loo and a basin etc. Recently, Viakal challenged me to make it even more relaxing by sending over a hamper of luxury goodies. It worked.
Gone are the greying flannels and towels, replaced with fluffy white ones from The White Company. Banished is the scrappy bar of soap; instead we're washing hands with the most delicious hand wash from Diptyque, made with lavender honey, rosemary and lemon oil. And, for a final touch of luxury, a Diptyque Baies scented candle. I'm keeping that one for baths taken alone with the door firmly locked, small people fast asleep. The biggest luxury of them all.
Thanks to Viakal for the hamper.
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When I was a very small child, my parents made a bit of extra cash letting out the spare room to actors who were in the city for short spells with Bristol Old Vic - it was something a lot of Bristolians did and still do. One memorable guest was Beryl Reid, an English actress well known for her role as Grandma Mole in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, who must've stayed with us in the early 1980s. According to my parents, Beryl was not happy about the noise my younger brother and I used to make when we woke up, as her life as an actor meant for late nights and late mornings. But she did enjoy eating (and almost certainly drinking) with us from time to time.
My parents are immensely outgoing and love nothing better than an impromptu dinner guest, and I can imagine that playing host to up-and-coming actors was irresistible to them. A fantastic cook, my dad has countless books stuffed with hastily-scribbled recipes documenting his favourite meals of the time, and it was among these I came across the recipe for Beryl's creme brulee.
Scrawled on her own headed notepaper, Beryl has crossed out her name, instead giving the recipe the caveat 'Written without my glasses'. Despite this, the recipe begins well - quantities look ok, the writing is just about legible. Beryl does not pull any punches: she expects the reader to know how to make an egg custard, and writes in a heavily abbreviated fashion. However, around half-way down the page things get a little indecipherable - her hand becomes looser, the instructions more vague. It doesn't instill a cook with the kind of hand-holding security we've come to expect from recipe books today. To bring things up-to-date I've played around with the recipe, filled in the gaps and tested for myself, and have come up with the following fail-safe tribute.
1/2 pt (284ml) double cream
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
4 level tbsp caster sugar
4 tbsp demerara sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas mark 2.
2. Pour the cream into a heavy bottomed pan and set over a medium heat.
3. Whisk the egg yolks together with the caster sugar in a roomy, heatproof bowl, combining well.
4. When the cream has reached a steady simmer, add the vanilla extract.
5. Pour the cream onto the egg/sugar mixture, stirring all the time.
6. Place two ramekins into a large, deep oven tray, and pour half the custard mixture into each.
7. Pour hot water into the oven tray to create a bain marie (water bath) - the water should come half way up the ramekins.
8. Carefully place the tray into the centre of the oven, and cook for 30-35 minutes.
9. Remove the tray from the oven, and the ramekins from the water. Place in the fridge until completely cool.
10. Just before you wish to serve the brulees, switch on the grill. Sprinkle the brulee tops with the demerara sugar, making sure you cover the surface evenly and the sugar goes right to the edge of the dish.
11. Finish the tops under a grill (the Reid way), or with a culinary blowtorch (the modern way) - either way be careful the sugar doesn't burn. As Beryl says, you want a finish that's 'brown, even and shiny'.
I like to serve these dusted with icing sugar and with a few berries on the plate, but pudding purists may like an unadulterated creme brulee. The fun part is cracking through that caramelised top, so all that's really needed is a sharp spoon and a hearty appetite.
Oh, there are some horrible shoes out there! I've been trawling for a new pair of boots and have come across some remarkably nasty ones. Why is it that when you're actively looking for a specific pair you can't find them?
The boots of my dreams are ankle boots.
They are devoid of buckles and zips and laces, and yet they have character; they have lived a little.
The leather is good, soft leather.
They have a hint of the cowboy or the biker about them without being a caricature or a costume.
They pull straight on, the toe is not too pointed, and the heel is low.
I think they could be described as lady pirate boots.
Have you seen my boots? Please tell me where they are. I miss them.
These ones I've pinned come close but aren't quite right. The search continues...
|Sali Hughes and her sons|
Photograph by Thomas Butler for The Guardian
1. Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion
From the age of about 19, I've worn the same make up - black, cat-eye eyeliner - accompanied by varying degrees of face/eyelash coverage. As I've got older, I've just upped the quantities and now wear the full face of make up I wore on my wedding day as my day-to-day look. I have no idea if this is a good thing or not. Sali Hughes knows, and I'm deferring to her from now on with her new book. She recommended a glorious Chanel eyeshadow on her Instagram a while back, and I proper fell in love.
Book group time again. Looking forward to reading this story of 'Calliope Stephanides and her truly unique family secret, born on the slopes of Mount Olympus and passed on through three generations. Growing up in 70s Michigan, Calliope’s special inheritance will turn her into Cal, the narrator of this intersex, inter-generational epic of immigrant life in 20th century America.'
It won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, dontcha know?
My friend Alice swears by her Alice Hart book, and I've only just discovered this one dedicated to all things green and glorious. And Skye Gyngell, she of Petersham Nurseries, has contributed! What could be better?
4. The Priory
I've always been a little bit enchanted by the idea of Persephone Books - a publisher dedicated to reprinting neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. Cor, yeah. Hubs went to the capital a few weeks back and went in on my behalf. He requested the best/most popular title and came home with this one. The reviews are almost universally great. Can't wait.
5. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.
'Here is the story of what it was like to be a girl at the height of punk: the sex, the drugs, the guys, the tours, the hard lessons learnt and those not considered. From Madonna to Lady Gaga, fashion to feminism, Viv Albertine has influenced a range of exceptional artists. Here, before and beyond the break-up of The Slits in 1982, is the full story of a life lived unscripted, with foolishness, bravery and great emotional honesty.'
Can't NOT read it.
What are you reading at the mo?
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Mini breaks are all well and good, but have you ever been on a micro break? Don't worry if you haven't as I've just made up the phrase. Couldn't think of a better way to describe spending a few hours away from home without travelling too far.
Last month, we took our first micro break: to Bath. It's just a few miles from Bristol, and a city in which I work a day a week. Ben came to meet me after work and we headed straight to The Roman Baths Kitchen for supper. It's always a treat to spend some time together without small people interrupting or asking for things, and we enjoyed a three-course meal and some actual conversation. Unheard of.
Our meal was part of a Twilight Tour of the Roman Baths, and so after our meal we crossed over the square to the Baths, where we uncovered the history of the ancient building by torchlight. Exciting! My parents tell a story of years ago when they swam in the sacred waters of the Roman Baths. Rather them than me - the baths were somewhat green, but the tour was fascinating and we learned so much.
To top off a glorious evening, we spent the night at the MGallery Francis Hotel which was one of the loveliest hotels I've seen in a very long time. We stayed in a Feature Room - individually designed, and not at all as traditional as the hotel's exterior might suggest. Instead, think four-poster beds styled with Welsh blankets, Regency tables and chairs topped with a fancy coffee machine in your room, black-and-white tiled bathrooms with an enormous shower. And the bed itself was sublimely comfortable, like a big old fluffy marshmallow. Heaven.
And the breakfast? Well, I do love a hotel breakfast and this one was pretty cool. Smoothie shots and mini pastries, homemade yoghurt with granola and fruit, and plenty of coffee. Both of us had to be back at work first thing, so we headed back to Bristol. It really was a whistle-stop, just-over-12-hours, micro break. Totally worth every second.
Disclosure: We were given a night's stay at the Francis Hotel and pass to the Themae Bath Spa as part of this post. All views and opinions are my own.
Twenty years ago, on 24 September 1994, I met two women who would become two of my very best friends.
Picture it: me and my school mucker, all obsessed with Britpop and writing a fanzine and thinking we were the absolute bomb (god, we were insufferable 17-year-olds). Off we went to Gloucester to see our favourite band du jour - Shed Seven (yeah, I know) - LYING to our parents about where we were staying although we had no idea but we just HAD to see Rick Witter in action so it was a kind of justifiable lie, right? Ahem.
I think we'd had some rather inappropriate notion that we might just hang out with the band, perhaps hitch a ride on their tour bus, and that would be completely fine. Thankfully, for everyone concerned, the band were heading somewhere far, far away that night, which left us in a bit of a pickle. My friend and I had spotted four cool looking girls who were next to us at the front, and we asked them whether they knew anywhere we could stay.
This is the bit I can never get over.
All four were staying at one house in Cheltenham and were being picked up by a long-suffering mum. Hannah - of house, car and parent - offered to ask her mum if we could go back too. Remarkably, she agreed. So kind! Six of us bundled into the car (laps, no seat belts) and drove back to the house, where we stayed up all night chatting and laughing. After that, we became pen pals. After that, we became pals.
My two best friends, Claire and Abi. We have travelled and holidayed together, both as carefree whippersnappers and as tired parents. We have festivalled, we have Londoned, we have danced. A lot. We saw in the millennium together, fell in bramble bushes. They were my bridesmaids. They have supported me and loved me and pulled me up when I was being, frankly, a bit of a dick. They have made me laugh like no one before or since. They are always there. Always. Despite never having lived in the same city, I am closer to them in spirit, outlook and sense of humour than almost anyone else I have ever met.
Who'd have thought a chance meeting in the most absurd of circumstances could have changed my life forever?
Thank you for the days, you two. All 7305 of them.
I was asked this question by Legal & General, who are kindly supplying one Google Nexus 7 16GB Wi-Fi tablet as a prize to one Oyster & Pearl reader.
With all of the above in mind, I would say:
Take a chance. Do stupid things if you must. Don't always rely on the kindness of strangers but, if it comes along, properly appreciate it. People really are the greatest fun.
(Incidentally, when I mentioned this post to Abi she said that she would tell her younger self to wear hot pants. You see why I love her.)
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This moment has come around so fast. In retrospect. It's always the way, isn't it? The days are long but the years are short.
Both my children are now school-age, and we're processing what that means. No big realisation has hit me (yet) that those baby days are long gone. No tears have been shed. No nostalgic outpouring of regret or sorrow or even relief. It is what it is - two boys, both in varying degrees of shabby school uniform, skip down the road to school with their book bags, accepting of what this now means to them individually, together, and to the four of us as a family.
The cobbled-together childcare arrangements are on hold until the school holidays and routine is resumed. It feels good.
Yesterday, faced with a full 12 hours of solo parenting, we piled into the car and headed to the cinema for The Boxtrolls, followed by a (shh) happy meal, a run about, then a trip to the Affordable Art Fair, and finally supper at Wagamama. Mainly, the kids were super sweet and kind to each other (and to me), and a good day was had. If this is what the weekends bring, this school lark can stay.
Joining in with Jodi's 52 project
A friend came over last week and we wandered out the back. Fig is one of her favourites and she held a fallen leaf up to her face, inhaling deeply. As much as I'd love to loiter in the garden surrounded by that figgy fragrance, it will soon be gone for another year, making this selection of fruity treats very necessary purchases.
Clockwise from top-left:
1. If you can't afford the jumper - REALLY want the jumper - the Bella Freud Fig Leaf and Tomato candle is a vaguely close second. Ish.
2. 'Musky, green fig leaves swaying in the warm evening air...' - oh, go on then.
Fig Fiction Classic Soap, & Other Stories, £4.
3. Italian fig jam, made with figs, sugar and lemon juice. Swoon!
4. 'A dramatic composition focused on the idea of a ripe, sweet, shapeless mass of fruit, an unruly and intense savour' - I'm desperate to try Pulp by Byredo.
Liberty London, £88.
5. Porridge with chocolate and fig? That's some kinda WOW breakfast.
Harvey Nichols, £5.95.
6. ... and let's finish breakfast with these Sea Salted Caramels Spiced Figs.
Harvey Nichols, £13.95.
7. Fruity shower gel isn't my style, but this Korres version has the scent of freshly cut figs.
Liberty London, £8.
8. Good old Diptyque, they know how it's done.
Figuier Room Spray, SpaceNK, £36.
9. I tried this Ortigia range out in a little shop in Frome when we visited At the Chapel last year. It is divine.
Fico d'India Bath Oil, Liberty London, £30.
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So there's a nip in the air and all that autumn jazz, and I could go on about light and leaves but I'm really not a fan. I suppose I'm just not ready to say goodbye to summer - a summer I barely had as I worked most of it, only spending nine days with the kids - and certainly not ready to say goodbye to the sun on my skin, and walking between house and garden with no discernible change in temperature, and the sandals I fell in love with and wore every day since June.
But say goodbye I must, and if there's a sure way to convince me to move on then it's with new clothes. The kids have a new school uniform this month, so it's only fair that I have a new school run uniform, right? (Before you go thinking I'm one of those mums, I'm really not. I just need no excuse to buy myself something nice.) This season I'm after the softest jumpers. The poppiest colours. The chicest dresses.
The latest collection from Hush is totally floating my boat. A black knitted bomber jacket worn over a loose knit, soft grey jumper, teamed with a black pencil skirt? Teeny, weeny pine cone earrings? A canary yellow scarf teamed with a classic black dress? A felted dress in the most perfect of blues - mallard? I'm on it. All of it.
What do you think of this pretty new collection?
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It's been five months since I wrote a five reads post. Whoops. It's not that I haven't been reading in that almost-half-a-year, just that I've neglected certain areas of my blog. That makes it okay, then.
I have been reading - I HAVE! - and have discovered some cracking reads over the summer, making this post a particularly easy one to write. Actually? It was tricky to narrow down my discoveries to just five, but as it's well beyond the beginning of the month I can always leave a few for October.
1. A Modern Way to Eat
This is a spectacular book. On my kitchen shelf there are two types of cookbook: the decadent, delicious, special treat recipe books, and the rather stiff, healthy books whose pages speak of privation. Not any more. A Modern Way to Eat brilliantly blends nutritious eating with astonishing flavour, making it my ideal cookbook. Really, you have to try it. I did that thing where I looked through and put a little scrap of paper in between the pages of each recipe I plan to make until I realised there were scraps of paper in between every page. Last week, we tried dhal with crispy sweet potato and quick coconut chutney; tonight, we ate speedy sweet potato quesadillas; and tomorrow it'll be lentils and beets with salsa verde. All incredible.
2. Lionheart 5
Confession time: I wrote a piece for this issue of Lionheart (as I did for 3 and 4) - it's one of my very favourite mags. This issue is themed around Home and is jam-packed with brilliant contributions, from Lianne Buiting of The Pippa and Ike Show, to Hannah Bullivant of Seeds and Stitches, to my dear pal and colleague, Lara Watson of Mollie Makes.
3. Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life
Described as 'a meditation on reality and opportunity', Missing Out looks at the gap between the life we live and the life we thought we'd be living. Gulp. So much of the media with which we surround ourselves now is about the ways people present themselves, making it too easy to compare and contrast and to find one's own life falling short of expectation. This book is about examining the life we didn't choose, and what it says about the one we did.
4. Kinfolk Volume 13
It's that time again - another issue of Kinfolk. This is where I would normally describe it as the most perfect magazine, but this time the theme is Imperfect. Celebrating 'the holes in our socks, our scorched attempts at marmalade making and all the bad haircuts we've had over the years', this issue is about as perfectly imperfect as Kinfolk could ever get. And kind of fits with read number 3, too.
5. Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two
This is just the kind of book I LOVE: snippets of wisdom from some amazing people, such as Quentin Crisp, Cindy Sherman, William S. Burroughs, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis. Each chapter resonates with the voice of its author, varying so much in length, tone, and, of course, advice. The sort of book I wish I'd read when I was younger. Also, where else would the words of Bettie Page sit alongside those of Alain de Botton? Exactly.
What are you reading this month?
A: Super helpful big kid. When not trying to jump to the moon, he keeps a close eye on his brother in the park.
T: Noodles are his favourite. Always wolfs every last mouthful.
It's been a rather embarrassing seven weeks since I last posted a weekly picture of my children. Well, all I can say is that we've had a hectic summer and, sometimes, something's got to give. With just ten days left of the school holidays, the last bank holiday of the summer looming plus that hint of autumn in the air, I'm feeling a little melancholy. There's nothing like a bit of a shift about when the gloom hits, and this weekend we've tidied, cleaned and sorted ready for the weeks ahead. New school year = mini new year, and therefore new starts a-plenty. Might even go stationery shopping next week for a real hit of shiny September-ness...
'I want to stay here for the rest of my life', I heard a small child say as we left Just So Festival on Sunday evening. And who could blame him? He'd just experienced the time of his life, no doubt. As had the rest of us.
From the minute we arrived (after the most hideous journey of gridlock/are we there yet?/backseat whistling), we had wall-to-wall fun - without the walls. Not exactly a camping pro - I may be a romantic but I never relish the idea of sleeping under the stars - we pitched up with our friends Kat, Lori, Heather, and Sarah-Lou, and got stuck into a weekend of magical adventures.
The kids got lost in the excitement of it all: rumpusing in the forest, sandcastles next to a pirate ship, Ukrainian gypsy bands, magic, dancing at the Northern Soul disco, big top skills, staying up and watching Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and Bugsy Malone, whispering secrets in the tent late into the night.
The best part? Just how sweet the kids were together, with each other and their new friends. Given acres to roam, small people with whom to roam, and more freedom than they've ever had before, those boys of mine were as happy as I've ever seen them.
We were kindly invited to the festival by the organisers of Just So, and we're incredibly grateful. Thank you Rowan and Sarah - you are AMAZING!