A day out in London: Part one

These pictures are from the awesome Grand Designs Live earlier this month. I was invited to go along by Vaillant, who were sponsors of the Kevin's Green Heroes section of the show.

For years, I worked at an architecture centre where building design was part of my daily life, and it turns out I kinda miss that world. Grand Designs Live reignited my interest in both the design/build process and also the sustainability issues that are now more important than ever.

At the show, I saw hempcrete being made (you can guess what that is), learnt about the super-efficient range of Vaillant ecoTEC domestic boilers and renewable technologies, and was haunted by that famous opening music from Grand Designs which played on a loop as you entered or exited the show. So much so that I wasn't fazed by hearing the dulcet tones of Mr McCloud himself - it didn't seem out of place for him to be chatting just a few feet away from where I stood.

If I wasn't a renter, I'd be making so many changes to my home to improve its eco credentials; I learned so much at the show. Plus, I loved seeing all the styled room layouts, product previews, and some of the more, shall we say, eccentric products on sale, such as this levitating bed:

There was so much to see that this little girl had the right idea - I wish I'd had a little lie down too:

Thanks to Vaillant for such a thought provoking day and for being such brilliant sponsors.

A new series: Five flicks for May

Since 2013, I've been writing about my five reads for each month (well, almost monthly), and now I have a new series for the blog.

The boys and I moved into our new house in March and I was reluctant to launch into the usual TV/DVD set up ensconced in the corner of the living room. Instead, we spent a month or so with just laptop or iPad screens to fulfil the need for culture. My kids surprised me by actually using their imaginations - drawing, playing, messing about in the garden. It was refreshing. But I found myself going to bed as soon as they were asleep, taking my laptop with me and nodding off with a box set on in the background. I barely used the living room.

So, it was time to re-think. We were given a hand-me-down DVD player by my parents, and a friend offered us her old telly. And then Netflix asked us to be part of their Stream Team. A box arrived with Apple TV and a year of Netflix for us to enjoy. What better opportunity to start this new series?

Five flicks will introduce the films, television shows and documentaries I've been enjoying. I'll be selecting a range of gems from various sources, all of which will be available to stream or download according to your own set up. Of course, you'll need decent broadband.

So, this month's five flicks picks... From the looks of things, I'm going through a fashion/Paris/nineties kinda phase. Nowt wrong with any of that.

Dior and I (I rented this from iTunes)

What happens when a new creative director is appointed to head up one of the oldest, most iconic fashion houses in Paris? Dior and I tells the story of Raf Simons and the six weeks of incredible work that went into the creation of his first couture collection for Dior. Going inside the intimate atmosphere of the atelier feels such a privilege, and the contrast between the quiet, methodical craft in the lead up and the presentation of the show itself is astounding. I think I'd have given anything to be at that show.

Frances Ha

Oh, Frances. This is a beautiful film about a dancer trying to make it in New York. But that description doesn't do it justice in any way. Shot in black and white, there is something so tragic and heartbreaking about Frances as we follow her journey from New York to Paris and back again, and in and out of dance troupes and flats and peoples' lives. Kinda Woody Allen-ish, it's funny and exquisite, messy and dazzling.

The September Issue

Well, if ever there was a film about office politics this is it. Anna Wintour (known to her staff as Nuclear Wintour - best nickname ever) and Grace Coddington spend six months battling it out planning the September 2007 issue of American Vogue, the most lucrative and influential of the year. This film offers access to this closed world of money and beauty and tension. It's fascinating. Look out for Anna's daughter and her attitude towards the fashion industry.


One of my very favourite films from the nineties, Clueless stars Alicia Silverstone as spoilt LA teenager Cher as she navigates her way through high school relationships. Alicia is a brilliant comic actor - way underrated, as Cher might say - and the language of the film is just genius. (I just wish this print was still available.) And, of course, the fashion worn by Cher and her school friends is completely bonkers.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I think it's fairly safe to say that anything Tina Fey does is golden, isn't it? Fey co-created and stars in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a made-for-Netflix series about the life of Kimmy after her rescue from a doomsday cult in Indiana. Not exactly the most uplifting subject matter you might think, but this show is all laughs.

What are you watching at the moment? Leave me a comment with your recommendations, I'd love to know.

Disclosure: this is a collaborative post. 
Thank you for supporting the posts that make Oyster & Pearl possible.

Children's books: Dandylion

There are some children’s books that capture something. A feeling, a mood, an experience. Dandylion by Lizzie Finlay is one such book that has featured on heavy rotation at bedtimes over the past few years.

Dandylion is a bright, sunny yellow lion. He turns up at school one day, and enters a class of rather conformist children, all busy doing their work neatly and quietly. Dandylion’s arrival disrupts and delights the kids, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with his imaginative games and endless energy. There are descriptions of his penchant for dressing up in rather inappropriate costumes, of playing raucous new games in the playground, and of drawing felt tip moustaches on the faces of his classmates. The latter results in the teacher being so cross she couldn’t look at her class - what we see (but they don’t) is that she’s actually laughing.

There comes a point, though, when Dandylion’s antics go too far, and the class tell him he’s like a weed. Poor Dandylion is devastated and goes home with his tail between his legs. There, he tries to conform, combing his wild mane into pigtails, and having a chat with old Grandpa Clock.

The moral of the story is, obviously, to be yourself, that those who love you will love you for your idiosyncratic ways, not despite them. This message is particularly pertinent to my youngest, T, who defiantly travels to the beat of a different drum (another post on this is brewing in my mind).

In celebration of all things different and wonderful and unique, we had our own Dandylion Day - a chance to draw moustaches on ourselves, to make Dandylion’s packed lunch of choice (extraordinary sandwiches, made from chocolate spread, jelly worms and candy floss), and to read the book for the nth time.

The kids took it upon themselves to make a museum by putting all their cuddly toys into every glass jar, vase and vessel in the house. That’s the kind of creativity that can only be a good thing. Slightly weird and macabre, yes, but I'd prefer that to uninspired.

For more children’s literature, have a look at this top five tear-jerkers.

Interiors: An easy IKEA chest of drawers hack

The kiddos and I have recently moved into a new house, and so we've started from scratch somewhat in turning it into a home.

Pennies are tight so it's flat pack and second hand all the way. The Rask chest of drawers from IKEA is just £20 and the drawers are perfectly kid-size, so the boys have one each. But functional though they are, the plain pine finish is a little dull for our tastes.

We sought solace in Pinterest (as so often in life), and were inspired to part-paint the outside frame of the chest of drawers, and to finish with a selection of colourful mismatched knobs from Abodent. Aren't they darling? T has Batman yellow (painted with roller and Vospur paint), with elephant, hippo and pine cone handles, as well as one the kids have named 'the black diamond'. A's version is green (spray-painted, this time, again Vospur), with squirrel, rabbit, and watermelon-coloured handles.

Things are getting more homely now, although we still have a toy box to build. Wine crate + casters + ? what? A giant box of classic Lego arrived from House of Fraser in every shade of plastic brick under the sun. Its arrival was every child's idea of heaven, and it feels right to give it a suitably colourful home. So, should we go with geometric triangles? Spray-painted primary colours? Or something a bit more adventurous? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Thanks to Abodent for supplying the handles and to House of Fraser for the Lego.

Review: London Retro Loren glasses

sophia loren london retro glasses direct

Like a trillion other people on this planet, I have a thing for old Hollywood. That beauty forever embalmed in the amber of a black and white portrait, that film star youth preserved in films for eternity.

Follow Lottie | Oyster & Pearl's board Dudes | Heroes & Heroines on Pinterest.

I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to the snapshots of stars I admire, from the golden age and more recently, from the worlds of film, music and art. One of my favourites is the picture above, of Sophia Loren. Those eyes! That mouth! Those eyebrows!

The latter inspired the name of my new spectacles, no doubt. These Loren glasses, with their dark frames and leopard arms, mirror the arch of a brow and sprinkle me with the tiniest whisper of glamour, for which I am always grateful. Head over to Glasses Direct to see the lovely ranges they offer, and try before you buy - you can order four frames for a free home trial to see what suits you, then order easily and quickly online from a range of designer glasses.

Which would you choose?

glasses direct london retro loren
Thanks to Glasses Direct for supplying me with a pair of glasses for the purpose of this review.

An Oxford blogger meet

Bimbling with bloggers is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a day. Add to the mix a picturesque location, a delicious lunch, and the unexpected arrival of a fifth blogger, and Saturday’s blogger meet in Oxford was pretty much perfect.

Kat, Heather, Karen and I regularly get together for snapping and chatting - you can read about our previous adventures here, here and here - but it’s been a while since we last met.

Having just bought a new camera, I was desperate to get out in the sunshine and get snapping. ISO maxed to 100 thanks to the bright sunshine, we wandered the streets taking pictures of the beautiful architecture, endless blue sky/pink blossom combinations, and the unexpected arrival of every morris dancer in the UK (or so it seemed).

Natasha spotted that we were in Oxford thanks to a Kat tweet, and we arranged to meet. The five of us poked about in funny little shops (including that most beautiful of home stores, Objects of Use), bookshops, and gossiped in cafes. Life has been a little stressful recently, so to hang with blogging buddies on a bright spring day made me forget my troubles for a while. Sunny days are on their way.

A trip to London for the HP Instant Ink Print Party

HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog

A few weeks back we were invited to head for the big smoke to a special bloggers' party hosted by HP (not the sauce, the printer peeps). The boys and I travelled up by train, noses pressed up to the window as the fields whooshed by, and sped across town in a black taxi cab. I think my kids would've been quite happy if that had been our London experience, but much more fun ensued.

We arrived at Maggie and Rose in Kensington, the most beautiful kid-friendly venue I've ever been to, for lunch and a bit of dressing up in the photo booth. T was dressed in his skeleton costume, which made him very easy to spot among the rest of the blog kiddos. Before long, the activities began. HP’s resident ink expert, Thom Brown, explained all about the amazing science behind original HP Ink, and the kids had fun looking through a lens at the tiny dots of ink that make up a printed photograph. Optical illusions, colour mixing, and drawing sessions kept little ones occupied all afternoon.

Back home, we took delivery of our HP ENVY printer and Instant Ink (ensuring we'll never be left without ink again - the ink is delivered straight to the door before you even know you’re running low, and the scheme allows savings of up to 70% on cartridges), and begin putting our new-found knowledge into action. The first pic to be printed was one of a fruit bat - T's all-time favourite animal - and it came out perfectly. More and more photos were printed by my children, who found the printer's touchscreen interface a doddle to use. Have a look and see what made it to our fridge door.

Want to join in? Mobile phones are full of our latest, spontaneous pics of our kids but often that’s where they stay - stuck and imprisoned on our device. If you look around your kitchen, on the fridge or noticeboard, how up to date are the pictures you see? How many of us still have pics of our kids as babies or toddlers on our fridge, when our little ones are long past the baby stage? It’s time to Free Your Pics! Tweet a pic using the hashtag #HPFreeYourPics; together we can update the nation's fridges!

Disclosure: we were compensated for this post.

Five reads for April

I Used to Be in Pictures: An Untold Story of Hollywood

Born in Surrey, England in 1972, twins Austin and Howard Mutti-Mewse were raised in a household that enjoyed classic black-and-white Hollywood movies, and aged 12, the pair enthusiastically began writing to their on-screen legends. Many responded with heartfelt, handwritten notes and signed pictures, with Lillian Gish the first actor to reply. The so-called First Lady of American Cinema was entranced by the twins’ “Englishness” and was followed by Katharine Hepburn, Frank Sinatra and Shirley Temple. Letters soon turned into invites for tea, and the twins made their first visit to Hollywood in 1992, long after the demise of the much-loved studio system. Over a decade later, the twins—who continue to keep in contact with surviving stars—compiled their treasured findings in the book, I Used to be in Pictures. Heavens to Betsy, have you ever heard of a more amazing book?

The Paying Guests

Sarah Waters' latest novel has just been nominated for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. Our latest book group read, The Paying Guests is a tale of two women who fall in love in the twenties, one of my favourite eras. The description of the chemistry between the two lead characters and the way in which their relationship develops is particularly worth reading.

Yes Please

Amy Poehler, what a dude. Yes Please is a memoir but done Amy's way (which is, of course, the best way one could ever approach a 'celebrity' memoir) - with exceptional humour and aching honesty. If you don't know it already, Amy's Smart Girls site is also brilliant.

Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust

Doesn't sound that promising, does it? Nothing could be further from the truth. Viktor Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist before the war, used his time in the concentration camp to observe human behaviour under the most extreme circumstances. He used this to refine his theory of psychotherapy, known as logotherapy, which focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on a person's search for such meaning, and the consequent purpose. Frankl says that 'the meaning of life always changes, but... it never ceases to be', and that we really find ourselves when we find it.

Lost My Name

The cutest pair of books arrived on our doorstep the other day. The Little Boy Who Lost His Name tells the story of a child who has lost his name, and bravely sets off to track down the missing letters. Along the way he meets lots of weird and wonderful characters, who each give the first letter of their name. My two were enchanted.

What are you reading?

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