Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Precious things: a series

Decorative gourds (the wartier the better) and an antique art school palette. Unlucky for some.
Happy Halloween!


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Thrifty Style giveaway WINNER!

A few of my favourite style icons, in celebration of today's giveaway winner.

One copy of the rather marvellous 'Thrifty Style' by Janine Chisholm goes to.... fanfare!

Congratulations, Emma. Drop me a line and I'll put the book in the post to you forthwith.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 29 October 2012

Melancholy Monday

Just discovered this beautiful music. Perfectly matched to today's mood.

Hope your week has started in a perkier fashion.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A walk in the park

Sometimes, there's nothing for it but to get out in the autumn sunshine.
Sometimes, the journey turns out to be better than the destination.
Sometimes, you just have to stop and kick leaves when the opportunity arises.
Looking after small kids can be so hard sometimes, but other times it's a walk in the park.

Saturday, 27 October 2012


On Thursday night we went to the Bristol premiere of Skyfall, the new James Bond film. It was completely and utterly brilliant. We arrived to a red carpet champagne reception, a string quartet playing various Bond themes from across the years, and everyone dressed 'strictly' black tie, as per the invitation.

I remember watching Bond films on Sunday afternoons as a child, my brother and I obsessed with the villains and their quirks, as well as Q and his gadgets. But I think I've lost interest in recent years, I'm not even sure if this one is the second or third starring Daniel Craig. Director Sam Mendes has hoiked up the quality big time, and although still cartoonish, Skyfall is a blockbusting thriller, exactly as it should be. I can't imagine what the budget was, they certainly spared no expense and locations are lavish (Shanghai looks magical, London is shot from a romantic point of view, and the scenes in Scotland are a tourist board's dream), and the special effects are something else.

I found the final scene so tense I was really quite anxious, but this was soothed by a (very strong) cocktail given to us as we left. Thank you, Bristol Magazine, for a brilliant evening, and here's the trailer:


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Scones for Jane

A few weeks back the grande dame of bloggers, Jane Brocket, came to speak to Malago WI for the second time. Jane is a force to be reckoned with, crafting beautiful quilts, knitting up a storm, baking vintage cakes, writing books, and documenting it all on her blog, Yarnstorm.

I always find it intriguing to discover what a person is like 'in real life' (as A would say) when I've read their disembodied words for so long. Jane is an absolute delight. She has a direct manner, a straightforwardness that is refreshing in the world of 'lifestyle' which has the potential to be wishy-washy or twee. Plus her disregard of the 'rules' of the various crafts she enjoys is empowering - if Jane doesn't want to bother with something then she finds an alternative way round, and sees no reason to feel inferior with the result (which is anything but).

But what to bake the author of Vintage Cakes? I opted for scones with a twist. Using my go-to recipe (Nigella's recipe for Lily's Scones), I topped them with traditional clotted cream and jam, but to the jam (strawberry, high fruit/low sugar) I added a tablespoon or two of rosewater. I also intended to top with petals from the last of this year's roses but was too late, alas.

For more (better) pics of the night, have a look at Malago WI's Flickr and Alice's vastly superior photographs.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Precious things: a new series

Narcissi and conkers. One sweet-smelling and bright, the other shiny and tactile. Two seasons, one display.


I've been collecting images of vignettes, displays and arrangements for a while now - bits and bobs neatly arranged, carefully curated, mainly on the mantel. Such a quick and easy way to ring the changes.

I'll be sharing a few of my favourites here regularly in this new series.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Thrifty Style: Review and GIVEAWAY!

'Thrifty Style: Clever ways to revamp your wardrobe' is exactly the sort of book I've always wished for.  I have so many items in my wardrobe that are the wrong size, or that could do with minor alterations to make them fit just so, or bring them up to date, and am forever finding bits and pieces in charity shops that just don't quite work for one reason or another.

Author Janine Chisholm runs Custard House Clothing and is an expert in customising and upcycling. Who better to guide readers to breathing new life into tired or damaged garments, otherwise destined for landfill? Janine has packed this book with just the right balance of inspiration and guidance. Divided into chapters detailing embellishments, reworking, and reconstructing, levels of required skill are clearly marked and inspire confidence in even the most unsure of seamstresses. So, within embellishments the projects range from the very simple, such as machining a sequinned panel onto a jumper, to the more advanced - my favourite in this chapter is the day dress with crochet trim, an ingenious way of incorporating a crocheted doilie on the front and back of a silk dress.

'Reworking' features a fantastic backless sequinned dress (do I have a sequin obsession emerging?), a peplum pencil skirt (bang on trend), and a boyfriend shirt tunic that makes use of a hand-me-down man's shirt. And highlights from the 'Reconstructing' chapter include the prairie dress that adorns the book's cover, a stunning 1920s butterfly dress that would make a perfect outfit for Christmas, and a sweet sunshine dress for warmer months.

There are even 3 patterns included, enabling readers to make their own sunshine skirt, hot pants, and 1970s cape (which I love the look of and am desperate to try), and Janine outlines equipment and techniques in just the right level of detail, giving readers the confidence to feel these impressive modifications are not beyond one's capability.

If you're inspired to get out the sewing machine and revamp your wardrobe, then you're in luck. I have one copy of 'Thrifty Style' to give away to one lucky Oyster & Pearl reader. There are 11 ways to enter - all quite straightforward - and the giveaway closes in a week.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Wild in the woods

My very talented sister-in-law planned the best party for my nephew's 6th birthday. On Sunday morning, when the sun shone and the air was crisp, we headed out to Tyntesfield for a den-building extravaganza.

About 15 boys trekked into the woods with their parents, the excitement almost visible, like the rays of sun coming through the tree canopies. We reached a shady glen and set up camp. First of all, the boys played a game of 'Bat and Moth' - both blindfolded, the bat and the moth held shakers and the bat had to find the moth just by listening. Then, the gang split into groups to make dens - a mammoth task as there was so much scope for building different structures using branches, leaves and moss. Lunch followed, along with birthday cake, and the final game was to make faces on trees using a flour and water mixture. These tree spirits were really quite terrifying, and I pity whoever stumbles across them unawares...

As usual, I was chronically under-dressed for such a brisk day - despite the sun shining, we were under the shade of the trees and it was really quite chilly. Again, it made me remember my plans for a cold weather kit to take with us everywhere (hand-warmers, glow sticks, and a flask of tea).

A few months back I took an e-course with Capturing Childhood, designed to demystify the manual settings on digital cameras. I'm so pleased I did the course and think I've learned such a lot - these photos almost all came out as I wanted them to, which never happens! View the full set here.

Oh, and one more thing - if you're near Bristol this Saturday, drop in and see my sister-in-law who has a stall selling her beautiful crafts at Windmill Hill Craft Market.

Monday, 15 October 2012


When it all got a bit much at the weekend – too tired, too grumpy, too housebound, too everything – we sat together watching funny YouTube videos and roaring with laughter. I am a huge fan of slapstick and find nothing funnier than a pratfall, so I was in my element. Babies dancing to Beyonce, cats getting stuck in cereal boxes, Bollywood bopping boy... Give me a cuppa and an episode of You’ve Been Framed and I’m one very happy lady.

Think the boys share my love of silliness. And technology. Best medicine and all that. What makes you laugh till it hurts?


Sunday, 14 October 2012

Snapshot: Indian summer

Oyster and Pearl blog: Torta di mele

Yesterday we travelled across town to one of our favourite shops, Easton's Sweet Mart. Poor T had been very sick in the night, and we were all drained and weary. Beautiful colours and nourishing food were our goals. A was amazing, trying lots of different pakoras, samosas and bhajis - not sure at first, but tried it all and really liked some of the milder ones.

While we were that side of Bristol, we took a trip to the St Werburghs City Farm - pigs, chickens, goats and rabbits all came to say hello to little T who felt a bit better as a result. The cafe is lovely, with a great play area for kids, a decked terrace, and delicious lunches.

Home again, and we made a mild korma for the kids, dal, homemade chapattis*, and we fried up some of those tiny papads (poppadoms the size of a £2 coin) which A helped to make - perfect kid food as they cook in seconds and puff up instantly, before your very eyes.

Early nights all round helped sort us all out. And a bit of X Factor. Plus that light yesterday was incredible. I'm always surprised how much of a difference it makes to photographs.

Oh, and I made Anna del Conte's Torta di Mele - my favourite Autumn apple cake.

*Easiest recipe ever - mix around 250g wholemeal flour with about 200ml cold water (or until you form a dough), knead, then divide into small balls, roll out using lots more flour until around 15cm in diameter. Cook in a non-stick pan or on a griddle, no oil required, until they bubble up and start to brown.

Friday, 12 October 2012


This week has been a toughie. Not sure why, but I've felt a gloom descend. It's the feeling I get when I think of Sunday nights, a loneliness imagined, a big city isolation. Sometimes it's conjured up by listening to the shipping forecast (although that can evoke happiness too - it's 50/50). Back to school feeling, definitely. Tired, post-party come-down. Wistful wondering, nostalgic musing.
All a bit self-indulgent, really.

Yesterday morning, a detour to pick up some artwork on the way in helped a lot. It meant a different route to work, meeting a very talented artist, stumbling across shiny, mahogany conkers in the street, and a watery commute across the river. Sometimes breaking with routine is all that's required.

The other thing that shakes me from my introspection is music. Yesterday's fug was swept away with the help of the Smiths, Hole, Elvis Presley, Clock Opera, and Jenny Lewis. I love rock and roll.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Dog days

These pics (only just unearthed from my camera) are from a fantastic day out in Cardiff at the very end of the summer holidays. A and I went to visit my friend Anna and her daughter N, leaving our other boys at home. We caught the train, which always makes it feel like a proper adventure, and headed west. A and N have known each other all their lives and we meet up a couple of times a year. I love the way young children are quite happy to pick up where they left off and carry on with a friendship - much the same as their mums, in fact.

Anthony Browne is a firm favourite in our household. His books are intricately illustrated, sophisticatedly told tales, often dark but always utterly thrilling. An exhibition of his illustrations - Through the Magic Mirror - has travelled from the North West to Cardiff, and the kids loved dressing up in red duffel coats (as in the rather frightening 'Into the Forest'), posing with the gorilla in a cage, and crawling through The Tunnel. No photography was allowed - oops, but I can't think why not - and those legs you see through the tunnel belong to an officious security guard who tailed me as I flouted the rules. The show has now finished but, as it's touring, it may pop up elsewhere and I'd recommend a visit if so.

We also went to Parc Play, a cut above the usual soft-play type place. Instead, climbing walls, sand pits, astroturf and zip wires make up this industrial unit near the station - kids absolutely love it. A great, late summer day indeed. Feels a long time ago now that we're here at the beginning of October. Today was chilly enough to warrant gloves, I reckon. Winter's well and truly on its way...

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Kitchen disco

What a beautiful day! I am writing this from a country retreat where I am eating, drinking, laughing, relaxing and reading with a bunch of lovely ladies. Call it mum rehab.

Last night was spent dancing in the kitchen, one of my favourite pastimes. Normally it's an activity that takes place with small people in tow, not tipsy women, so in honour of my boys (who I'm missing) here's a playlist of our all-time top dancing tunes.


Monday, 1 October 2012

Woodland wonder PLUS Joules giveaway WINNERS!

Hello October, you sneaked in quickly when I wasn't looking - how did that happen?

The beautiful abode above is a fairy dwelling, fashioned from twigs, leaves and pine cones, one of the activities from a rather lovely 6th birthday party we went to this weekend. Usually, I'm guilty of a weekend potter - in the house, venturing to the local shops, spending weekends close to home. So when we're invited out of the city it feels like such an adventure. As A put it the night before, "We're going den-building? And marshmallow-toasting? In the COUNTRYSIDE?". He was very excited indeed. And it was very lovely indeed. Especially the marshmallow bit.

Here's the moment you've all been waiting for... the winners of my Joules giveaway. Joules gave me 10 journals and they go to:
1. Happy Homebird
2. Clare Woodman
3. Rachel of My Rainbow Vintage Home
4. Anna of Green Tea & Toast
5. Lou of Little Green Shed
6. Lori
7. Charmaine
8. Natalie Thistlewood-Cox
9. Annie
10. Julia Edwards

Well done, you lucky lot. Please drop me an email with your contact details and I'll get your journal to you ASAP.
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