Lady pirate boots

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...

Five reads for October

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.

2. Middlesex

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?

3. Vegetarian

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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A micro break in beautiful Bath

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.  

Thank you for the days

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.


What would you say to your younger self?

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.)

To enter the giveaway, login with your Facebook account or name and email address and follow the Rafflecopter instructions below. Increase your chances of winning the giveaway by:
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You have until 12am on Sunday 12 October 2014 to enter. Good luck!

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These two.

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

Forbidden fruit

The garden is dominated by the most beautiful fig tree. In winter, its silvery, bare branches look as though they'll never come back to life, but they always do. The tree's fruit never ripens - something to do with pollination - but it does provide shade and secret hiding places in summer. And, at this time of year, when its enormous leaves begin to yellow and fall, the air is filled with essence of fig. It is something else.

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 iconis a vaguely close second. Ish.
SpaceNK, £38.
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!
Carluccio's, £7.95.
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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New uniform

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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Five reads for September

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...

Joining in with Jodi's 52 project

Just So 2014

'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!

In the sky

Today is the beginning of Bristol's annual Balloon Fiesta, a tradition that sees hundreds of hot air balloons rise high in the sky above the city.

As a child, the Balloon Fiesta loomed large over our summer, a focal point for fun and excitement. We'd watch them glide by from the flat roof of our childhood home, sometimes waving (slowly, with both hands), or alerted to their presence by the urgent whoosh of the gas filling the material. Each of us had our favourite balloon, those special shapes being the most thrilling of all.

There was that one year a balloon crash-landed on the zebra crossing near my house and we all rushed out as we saw it lose height. Down, down it came, our small, wide eyes incredulous as the basket bumped to the ground. My dad photographed the scene, the pictures later making the local paper.

And there was that time my primary school teacher asked me what my father did for a living. Not having the slightest clue, I made up what I really wanted him to do: hot air balloon pilot. In Bristol, that's not so far-fetched.

And there was that time last year we got the kids up early to climb to the top of the hill in the park, packed breakfasts by our sides, to watch those quiet giants rise up into the sky over our heads in the pale, milky dawn.

And there were endless times we'd just go to Ashton Court and sit on the grass and watch. Much like this video of just such a time, shot in the early eighties (I'd guess 1984 or thereabouts - I think I must be about eight years old). Only of interest (probably) to people who know us or balloon enthusiasts. But, hey, this is Bristol. There's a fair chance of a few of both out there.

Just So 2014

This morning, our tickets to Just So 2014 arrived, causing much excitement. We chatted about last year's festival, flicked through the programme, and debated our choice of tribe.

Arthur had so much to say about it all that I thought it might be good to do a little Q&A with him. Over to Arthur...

What did you like most about last year's festival? 

I liked the music and the disco. And I loved staying up late! I like that there are no rules at a festival. I liked making the fairy houses and the acrobats in the trees. The pirate area was fun and exciting.

Did you enjoy camping?

Yes. It felt quite nice to sleep out of home and to have some fun hearing all the animals outside. It was cosy in the tent.

What are you looking forward to doing at Just So this year?

I can't wait to see Arthur's Dream Boat. I missed the Gruffalo in the woods last year so I'm looking forward to finding him.

Are we going Friday, Saturday AND Sunday? Yeah? YEAH!

What tribe shall we choose this year - lions, foxes, frogs, stags, owls or fish?

I don't know. I think Ted would like to be a lion.


If you'd like to see more from the festival, have a look at the post from last year or watch the video below. And book your tickets now as they're selling fast. See you there!

Image: Just So/Tell Tale Hearts & In Situ Circus with the Wind & the Sun

ctrl b

About six months ago, I got my first tattoo.

For years, I'd thought about having one, never sure what to choose, never quite brave enough. When I changed career it felt right to mark this immense turning point in some way, and one day I woke up brave. I chose a symbol that's been in my life for as long as I can remember, one that reminds me of my childhood, and that has relevance to my new work.

I booked the appointment. I told no one. I went alone, nervous but excited. It hurt, but not as much as I'd expected. What surprised me was how fast the tattooist worked; it was all over in about five minutes.

I lived with it for months, just a black outline on my arm. Not particularly loud or conspicuous, it sometimes surprised me; I'd forget it was there.

Last week, I went to have it changed, filled in, made bold. That hurt a lot more than the first time, and took longer, but it was still not an intolerable pain.

Since then, more people have spotted it and commented. Perhaps because it's bigger and darker, perhaps because it's summer and I don't have it covered up - who knows? Most people are curious about the symbol and what it means. Some want to know if I think I'll regret it, most of all my mother.

'You'll regret that when you're in the old people's home,' she said to me on Monday. Perhaps she's right... The way I see it, if I make it to an old people's home I will have a. retired (unlikely, given my poor pension provision), and b. not died young. Both of these things should and would make me lucky and happy, as would memories of a life well lived. If I'm moping around there, regretting my tattoo, please remind me what's important.

Please remind me I was bold.


I've lived in Bristol pretty much my whole life, centrally, close to the heart of this city of beauty and grime, of wealth and extreme poverty, of utter delights and contradictions. Memories of Kingsdown, my childhood hood, are of a creative enclave perched on top of the hill, the smoke and colour and messy charm of Bristol spilling out before us in a jumbled, thrilling expanse.

This was back at the start of Thatcher's reign. The St Paul's Riots took place when I was three-and-a-half and I remember clearly the feeling of that neighbourhood being one of notoriety and danger. Driving through was a necessity, getting us from home to the bottom of the motorway and out to the rest of the country, and I would peer out of the window, fascinated by the people and the places I saw as we whizzed past.

St Pauls still thrills, on no weekend more than carnival weekend. Heading down at midday to catch the procession of kids from local schools dressed up, alongside bands and dancers, the kids were awestruck at the sights but most of all the sounds. Loud samba bands and passers-by blowing whistles were deemed 'too noisy!' by both, until they got their hands on a whistle of their own.

Heading down to the main stage, through the stalls and food sellers, slices of watermelon and cans of Red Stripe along every street, you could see a kind of mesmerised delight in their eyes, both boys enjoying the music and the excitement of the new.

One of my children enjoyed himself far more than the other (regular readers will be able to work out which one I'm talking about!), and I caught a glimpse of what might be when T's energy is channelled in positive ways. Is this wayward child of mine harbouring a major creative spark? Reckon he could be a performer. Actually, what am I saying? Already is.


A: 'I've got a good idea! HOT DOGS!' (Merci, Muppets)
T: Growing, growing, growing, into the light

It's been weeks since I last posted a set of 52 portraits. Not really sure why; perhaps a bit of the not sharing thing I was going on about the other day, or maybe just a reluctance to post portraits that aren't beautiful, just to make the set (we've got enough of that with the Panini World Cup stickers at the moment). Anyway, these pics made me happy, and so here they are.

We've already made good use of the longest day of the year; this morning's activities include plenty of toast and honey (and a quadruple espresso), making a cuddly toy hospital, adding to my midsummer Spotify playlist, and swaying in the hammock with the new issue of Lionheart (more about this another day).

And tomorrow? A lie in, followed by a barbecue in the park with friends - ones who make me laugh 'til it hurts.

Enjoy this precious solstice weekend.

Looking out, looking in

There are times when it feels right to write and there are times when it does not.

A couple of weeks back, we spent seven days in France. Likely to be our one holiday of the year, we did all the holiday-ish things you'd expect: sun, barbecue, sea, ice cream, pool, repeat.

Ordinarily, I would have been snapping away, taking photograph after photograph both for the family album and for here. A few days into the holiday, I realised I just wasn't taking pictures in the way I normally do. And that realisation didn't prompt me to try harder.

Instead, the few pics I took were of views: from the beach; from a house we visited; the most incredible view; and the blue, blue sky. Looking out.

The looking in? Well, we did family stuff. Made memories that no one else knows about. Memories just for us.

Not everything needs to be shared.

(But if you really, REALLY want to see where we went and what we did, it's more or less the same thing we did last year, and the year before, and the places we went then. We're a bit dull like that.)

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