Tuesday, 30 September 2014
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.
Wednesday, 24 September 2014
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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Sunday, 21 September 2014
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
Sunday, 14 September 2014
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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Wednesday, 10 September 2014
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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Monday, 8 September 2014
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?
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