Sunday, 22 December 2013

Scent-ual memories

In response to the Duchesse's lovely post about how perfumes have changed, I thought I'd share some of my smelly thoughts.

Parum d'ete by Kenzo
I still mourn the loss of Parfum d'ete by Kenzo. I wore it daily for about a year until the I used up my bottle. The original version was light enough for daytime, but complex and lush. It smelt to me like a bunch of very fresh flowers from an expensive florist that had just been misted with water.It lasted all day and worked layered on a bit more heavily for evening.

The new version just isn't as interesting - lighter, more synthetic-smelling, not up to par.

Youth Dew perfume by Estee Lauder
I still have my bottle of Estee Lauder's Youth Dew from 10+ years ago as it's such a strong evening scent that I don't wear it much. I love it though - it makes me feel confident and strong and sexy. It's a smokey, musky sort of smell that reminds me of an outfit like a feminine cut tuxedo with nothing underneath.

I've never liked the name, but I'm glad I've still got the perfume to enjoy on special occasions.

Since Parfum d'ete I've never really found one good daytime scent. I've experimented with various light florals i.e. White Gardinia from the Body Shop is nice for summer and the Rose 4 Reines Eau de Toilette from L'Occitane is nice, but a bit sweet at times. I love the packaging of the Penhaligons samplers I got for my birthday, but the actual scents are mostly a bit sweet and powdery for me.

Coco Madmoiselle perfum by Chanel
I inherited Coco Madmoiselle by Chanel from my mum. It's not one I would have thought of for myself, but it does kind of work for daytime and it certainly works for evening. It's fairly strong and a bit 'chemical' in some ways, but I like the complexity of the scent and the way it changes. I particularly like how it smells after a few hour's wear, sort of warm and slightly musky or spicy.

I find the packaging a bit bland for the price, but I guess that 'simple, sleek' thing is Chanel's brand. Basically, I'm a bit up in the air about this one.

Classique by Jean Paul Gaultier
Mum did get it right with a favourite perfume that I wouldn't have chosen for myself - Classique by Jean Paul Gaultier. I prefer the perfume, rather than the eau de toilette as I think the perfume as got more warm, slightly musky, vanilla-y notes, especially when it's been worn for a few hours.  

I was given a travel sized set of four different Gaultier perfumes and I've recently used up both the perfume and EDT of Classique so I think I need a full sized one. Luckily it's common enough to be widely available and often on special. I hope it's being made to the same recipe as a few years ago or else I'm going to be disappointed.

What about you - any suggestions? What are your favourites?

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas biscuits - it's a miracle!

Christmas spice cookies
So, I'm really not a domestic goddess. I bake roughly around twice a year, Christmas being one of the times that I bestir myself to get out the mixing bowls and baking trays.

This weekend the magic will happen, but I'm missing my favourite Christmas biscuit recipe! My friend always used to make them and they're delicious! Made with lots of spices, orange zest and juice, they're soft yet crisp. They're lovely when drizzled with lemon icing... mmm... I'm hungry now!

I'll have to experiment with a new recipe and see how that works out. Anyone got any suggestions?

This Hairy Bikers biscuit recipe sounds good, but we're seeing people at Christmas who don't like candied peel, so maybe not.

This one looks nice and simple, but I'd definitely add a bit of nutmeg and ground cloves as well as the cinnamon and ginger. Spices = Christmas for me.

I like the sound of everything that Nigel Slater is recommending - especially the mulled pear cider! I like the cardamon in the biscuits but they sound like they'd be a bit too dry and crisp for me. I like my Christmas biscuits a little soft in the middle.

Well, I'll give one of them a try and see how I go - wish me luck!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Making the same clothes look different

Work outfit with sheath dress

I've seen a few outfit suggestions recently that say things like 'One dress, four looks' then just show the same dress with small bits of jewellery and different shoes. 
If I'm going to wear and re-wear my outfits, I want to pretty much make people that think it's a different piece of clothing. A few tweaks of jewellery is just not going to cut it in the 'make people think you're not wearing the same things all the time' stakes.
So, I've got a lovely burgundy sheath dress that I'd like to make more use of (the dress above is the closest approximation I could find, although the picture looks more red than burgandy). 
I've worn my dress to the races at Ascot and a wedding (both in summer) but now I want to wear it for work in autumn/winter. 
I've got all the pieces above (or something like them). As you can see from the picture above, I'm pulling the formality of the dress down a bit as my workplace isn't super-dressy. I'd put the belt over the cardigan a) to keep warm and b) 'cos I like accenting my waist. For those apple-shaped folks, I'd suggest putting a wider belt under the cardigan - it still defines the waist but is more subtle about it. You could also make things a bit more fun with some subtly patterned black tights instead of just solid black.
 Above is another idea, again with items I already have some version of. Hopefully the change of colour palette looks different enough to not bring out the thought 'she always wears the same clothes'.Still, the style is definitely 'me' with the belted cardigan and tights the same colour as the shoes.
Now I'm running out of ideas. I don't fancy the idea of strong colour contrasts like navy and burgundy (remember my actual dress is burgundy) and heaven forbid I wear bright green and burgundy! 
I do have a pale pink cardigan which would look quite fetching with my dress. And I've got a nice pastel coloured statement necklace which would tie things together - with beige tights and beige booties. A bit frivolous, but could be kind of fun.
What do you think - do you mind wearing the same things all the time? How do you ring the changes?

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Hit around the head with a 2 by 4

2 by 4 plank of wood
For those who are wondering, a 2 by 4 is a wood used in building houses - I think it used to be two inches high by four inches wide. In New Zealand it's kind of pronounced as one word i.e. toobafor.

Anyway, I feel rather like I've been walloped with one. I am under a LOT of pressure at work with long days of travel and far more work than I can cover in the time I have. Yesterday was a particularly full-on day and by the end of it, I was a zombie.

I ate dinner in front of Dr Who then watched Sherlock (mmm... Cumberbatch, so soothing) and had a bath with lavender oil so I felt a bit more human but still... This weekend is kind of feeling like the eye of the storm.

I'm sitting in an incredibly messy room with chores that need doing all around me, including some Christmas prep.

Nontheless, it's a beautiful, still morning with blue(ish) skies and goldfinches tweeting in the trees outside. A couple of local cats popped in the window for cuddles and to play with our Christmas ornaments for a bit this morning. And there is always coffee. I will try to use these couple of days to rest and refresh myself a bit for the big push on to the holidays.

So, that's enough from me. Enjoy your weekends, All!

Monday, 2 December 2013

The spirit of envy...

Queen from Snow White
London mayor Boris Johnson has made waves this week with a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies (a right wing think tank set up by Margaret Thatcher). Among other things, he said “I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses and so on that it is a valuable spur to economic activity.”

There are a lot of angles that I could explore on this concept, for example I totally disagree with his final phrase, but I'll stick to one angle for this post.

Boris's concept of the "spirit of envy and keeping up the Jonses" really struck me - first of all as something that I expect some churches would pray for as a demon to be cast out of people! But also, it struck me as the ultimate recipe for misery.

Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism all speak against envy. Buddha said "Do not overate what you have received or envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind".

In the Bible it says "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones." Proverbs 14:30. The Bible talks throughout the Old and New Testaments about envy being destructive.

Boris Johnson claims to be heir apparent of Margaret Thatcher but even she once said "The spirit of envy can destroy; it can never build".

I firmly believe in (and attempt to practise) the art of counting my blessings, feeling gratitude for what I have and who I am. I try very hard to remember people who are less fortunate that me and compare myself to them - not in a gloating way but just to realise how very lucky I am. I also try to help out people who are less fortunate in whatever small ways I can. I'm no saint of course, I could do a lot more.

Another point that I try to remember is that looking at others, we only see the outside. Comparing our insides to other people's outsides is a fools' game as you never know what's really going on with them. People can look all glossy and fantastic then you find out that they're in an abusive marriage or they actually feel like an impostor in their job or all their wealth is built on an unstable stack of debt and exploitation.

Henry Coffin said, "Envy is the art of counting another fellow's blessings instead of your own". It's around Thanksgiving or Harvest festival in many parts of the world now. I think as we come up to the great consumer melt-down that is Christmas, it's a great time to count our blessings and rest from the endless stress of trying to keep up with these mythical Joneses. 
As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man.


As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man.

As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man.

Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.

Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.

Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.


Friday, 29 November 2013

As if Christmas wasn't busy enough!

I don't know about you, but December madness has struck early for me this year - super-busy at work, lots of travel, getting presents and cards sorted in time for postal deadlines... it's all go and I'm getting a bit stressed.

Bristol Christmas lights
That said, I also want to enjoy the lovely festive-ness of December in England. The run up to Christmas is so lovely with lights, Christmas markets, roasted chesnuts and mulled wine and holly wreaths and robins etc.

We've got a Christmas market tomorrow so that should be useful for presents. I like to get lovely crafted things instead of mass produced plastic stuff from the mall.

Winter Wonderland ice skating at Cribbs CausewayThere are also several other lovely festive thing that I really want to try and squeeze into December like outdoor iceskating. They have some plastic-y waxy fake ice 'cos it's really not cold enough to keep ice frozen, but still, it seems like fun. I used to enjoy indoor iceskating as a child and teenager in New Zealand.

There's a big rink out at the mall in Cribbs Causeway or there's a smaller one in the town centre. Hopefully I'll manage to get out on one of them for a bit of a blat one evening in December.

Moominland Midwinter puppetsThere are lots of lovely plays, pantos, musicals, concerts and general performance things on, but the one I really want to go to involves Moomins. I've loved the Tove Jansson books since I was a child and still love them now. The Bath Theatre Royal have a puppet performance called "Moominland Midwinter". You can see a bit more about it in this article. The performance seems mainly aimed at children, but I'm going to be there with bells on! (Well, not literally, that might get a bit distracting!)

The last thing that I'd really like to go to is Westonbirt Aboretum's Christmas Lights trail. It looks absolutely beautiful and I do love a good tree. We went to Westonbirt last autumn to enjoy the leaves. Though we were slightly late for the peak colour, we still had a lovely day out tromping around the forest trails. The only thing I worry about is how crowded it might be. Noisy crowds would really spoil the atmosphere. Still, I think I'll give it a go.

 I'll let you know how my ambitious December plans pan out... wish me luck and especially sanity between now and the 25th!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Red kites rock the party!

Red kite (bird of prey)I commute about 80 miles each way for work several times a week through lovely countryside. One of the treats of my drive is spotting wildlife as I drive along. I've seen wild deer, bunnies, pheasants and owls but one of the best animals is the Red Kite. In the last couple of days I've seen several pairs circling above the motorway. I just love how their wedge-shaped tails flick about in the opposite direction to their wings as they navigate the currents of the wind.

Still photos can't really do them justice as it's all about the size of them (they're quite large birds - with a wingspan of over a metre and a half or about 70 inches) and the graceful way they move. I found a short video for you to see...


I really enjoy the beautiful birdlife in England. We have bird feeders outside our window and as I type there are great tits, blue tits and collared doves hopping about the tree. If there's anything on earth cuter than a blue tit, I'd like to see it!

Blue tit
Although, there is a lot to be said for robins too and robins have a lovely song...


Evidently bird-watching is referred to as 'birding' or if you travel specifically to see birds; 'twitching'. I wouldn't say I'm actually a 'twitcher' but I do get a lot of pleasure out of admiring these lovely creatures. Actually, I did plan my summer holiday around seeing puffins so maybe I am dabbling in the deep waters of twitching! What do you think?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

TKMaxx - my happy place

How much do I love TKMaxx? Well, let's just say that I can spend a good three hours browsing around our reasonably small store in Bristol. I also love saving money (of course!) and finding good new designers. I tend not to look at the clothes as I find the quantity and randomness a bit overwhelming but I love the handbags and scarves and beauty products.

Like these, but dark purple...
I popped in last week for a quick look around and lucked out with some lovely purple leather gloves. The exact same brand and style was 16 pounds in Debenhems - 12 pounds in TKMaxx. Thanks guys!

And I'm currently wearing a lovely scarf by Cynthia Rowley. I'd never heard of her, but I got an excellent greenish peacock feather printed summer scarf a few months ago and now I've got this little beauty for my collection too.

It's reversible - one side black with cobalt blue polka dots, the other side black with a multi-coloured paisley pattern on velvet. It's got lots of useful colours in the paisley to go with a range of outfits. It seems like they'd Cynthia Rowley scarves would pretty expensive as her clothes aren't cheap, but I can't find any of her scarves anywhere on the internet. I guess they must be old stock. Suits me if I get them cheap!

I've also been introduced to Jane Shilton by TKMaxx. Again, I'd never heard of her as a designer, but I got a cute little boxy cream and chestnut brown leather bag by her for summer. Just recently for my birthday I got the little number in the picture to the left. It's nicer than it looks in this photo - leather with a textured fabric bit on the front. It's about 30cm long, so big enough for the essentials but small enough to be light to carry. I do like a cross-body strap to keep my hands free as I'm walking. And yes, purple is one of my favourite colours.

A couple of months ago (having run out of my usual duty free Clinique), I treated myself to some Elizabeth Arden skincare. I'd never used her stuff, but now I'm a fan.

I got the Visible Difference Optimizing Serum Set. The exfoliating cleanser, serum and moisturiser work together beautifully to make a visible difference (the product does what it says on the tin!). My skin looks plumper with fine dry wrinkles smoothed out (temporarily, or course but the SPF 15 helps with reducing sun damage as well). They're only 30ml but as I say, I've been using them about every second day for a couple months and I haven't run out yet. For only 20 pounds instead of around 40-60 pounds elsewhere, I'm pretty pleased.

So yay for TKMaxx! Have you found any nice bargains recently?

Friday, 15 November 2013

WHY is buying a car so hard?

Damaged car
So I've just been through the car purchasing process and am moved to ask WHY is buying a car so damn hard?

I might be coming a little late to this pain as I didn't really have this problem in New Zealand. My lovely brother is a mechanic and he was very helpful with car buying. He looked over cars we were interested in and sometimes even just presented me with a car and saying 'buy that one' (which I did and it was great).

Moving to the UK a couple of years ago, I needed a car urgently for work. I bought one off a mechanic recommended by a friend. I felt a bit ripped off as I paid at least 400 pounds too much for an old car with high mileage, absolutely no mod-cons and a leak that dumped cups of water onto the front footwells. However, I begin to think that I got off lightly. At least that car was mechanically sound and did me 20,000 miles of reasonably trouble-free driving (except for the time that the engine exploded in the fast lane of the motorway... and the leaks that led to it fogging up so badly I had to drive with a squeegee in my hand).

Anyway, we thought it was time to get a safer, comfier car for winter driving on my a long commute. We saved up and started looking around online. On Saturday we looked at a rubbishy one in Wales from a private seller then just had time to get to a car dealer a bit further away before they closed for the day. We managed to look at the car but not test drive it as they said that they needed a staff member to go in the car and there was only one guy on. Great! We had a good look around the car and all the signs were propitious. We arranged to come back the on Sunday for a test drive. By the way, it was over an hour's drive and we had to pay the not particularly cheap bridge toll each time. AND it was howling a gale by the time we drove back.

It was still cold and stormy the next day when we headed back and managed to test drive the car (without a staff member in the car, fancy that! I think he just couldn't be bothered on Saturday. Or he was testing how committed we were...).

During the test drive there was a knocking sound in first gear but we thought (hoped) that might be from a loose inner wheel cover thingy. We were told the car was 'Category D' but didn't really know what that meant.  The dealer said he didn't know what was wrong with the car that it had been written off by the insurance company. We had a thorough look around and couldn't see any damage. We tried to negotiate on price and suddenly, the friendly nice car dealer turned on an instant! Not a jot was coming off the price!

We discussed it for a while and finally decided to buy the car. We put down a deposit and hurried out of the cold rain into a cafe to warm up.

Of course when I got home and started searching 'Category D' my heart sank. We debated for a couple of days whether to pull out, try to get a mechanical check and pull out if it was no good or to just go through with it. We decided to go through with it.

We had another drive over the bridge and through the rain into Wales to pick it up later that week. (Don't tell anyone I said this, but I think it always rains in Wales.) Anyway, the car seemed okay except for the rattling in first gear.

In order to find out what the 'Category D' issues were, I booked it into the mechanic as soon as I could for a thorough check over. A few hours after I dropped it off I got the phone call from the mechanic. He asked how recently I'd bought it then bluntly said, "Take it back". I explained that I'd foolishly bought it as a written off car so I couldn't take it back. Besides, on paper it was a great car and car buying is so goddamn awful I didn't want to go through it again!

Basically the car had been in a reasonably big collision hitting the front driver's side area. The driver's side front wheel was inches back from where it should be, the whole engine had been pushed back and the shock absorber was busted. Lots of money later, my new car is more or less sound and safe to drive.

Here's hoping I get to drive it for quite a while so I don't have to go through the hell of buying a new car anytime soon!

So, I've learned that it's essential to get a mechanical check BEFORE committing to buy the car! Have you got any tips or horror stories to share?

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Lovely birthday presents!

Well, I've been rather serious here at Birdy Begins of late so it's time for some frivolity! It was my birthday this week and I got some lovely bits I want to share with you. (And by 'share' I mean show you so that you're jealous, not actually give you some of them!)

First up, smellies! I just love little sets of make up and fragrance so when I spotted this set in Penhaligon's, I sent my lovely husband back to the shop with clear instructions. Penhaligon's shops are dizzying wonderlands of scent and prettiness but he managed to get in and out unscathed. And they did beautiful gift-wrapping!

In this little box, I got good sized miniatures of Lily of the Valley, Ellenisia, Malabah and Artemisia (slightly different from the picture). Some of the scents are a bit too sweet and powdery for me, but I adore the dinkiness of the little box of beautifully presented bottles. The Lily of the Valley is eau de toilette, the others are eau de parfum but there doesn't seem to be much difference in how long they last. They need reapplying after four or five hours, but the little bottles can easily be slipped in a handbag. It's nice to have a range of scents to chose from each morning.

Another lovely birthday treat is from Woolovers. I've been searching for reasonably priced wool cardigans in England for some time. I do find it really quite odd that England gets quite cold, but most of the reasonably priced knitwear is acrylic. In New Zealand I was used to fine knit merino wool being everywhere in winter. In England the done thing seems to be paying huge sums for cashmere. Well, I have a solution!
Wool cashmere pale pink Woolovers cardigan

I got this little beauty in the mail this morning and I love it already (in fact I'm wearing it now). It's soft and snug fitting (but doesn't gape), lightweight but warm. I foresee a few more of these little beauties in other colours coming my way but I must resist the urge to buy more than I need!

I also handily got a pair of rose quartz and garnet earrings in the same mail this morning from someone else. They go beautifully with the cardigan. Thanks, present-givers!

One last birthday treat out of the many that I was spoiled with... I spotted this one online last time I was planning a trip to London. The Tower of London didn't have a particularly fabulous little shop, but the online shop on the Historic Royal Palaces website yielded this slightly macabre beauty.
Henry VIII's wives charm bracelet
In case you can't see it has a broken heart to signify divorce, a cute little axe to signify beheading, a tombstone for death and a crown for the one poor woman who survived being married to Henry VIII. In case you're interested, the details are:

Broken heart – Catherine of Aragon (divorced)
Axe – Anne Boleyn (beheaded)
Gravestone – Jane Seymour (died)
Broken heart – Anne of Cleves (divorced)
Axe – Catherine Howard (beheaded)
Crown – Catherine Parr (survived)

The bracelet is gold plated with tiny diamantes on the base of the crown. I love the surprise of how pretty it looks contrasted with the rather miserable charms. It tickles my fancy (and looks nice with my gold coloured watch).

I also got a stack of lovely CDs to while away my long commute, but music reviews are boring in my humble opinion so I'll refrain. Anyway, these are some of the things that have been perking up my busy, rainy week.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Social class - what defines it?

Upper class twit of the year from Monty PythonToday in the office, we got to talking about social class. Don't ask me how, it's normally a fairly touchy subject but me and two English girls had a good chat ranging from what we call the room with the TV in it (in New Zealand it's always the lounge - in England it seems it could be a living room, sitting room or possibly front room instead) to what part your accent plays in advancement at work.

The subject came up because of the BBC Lab UK’s Great British Class Survey earlier this year. We were a bit late to the party as it was published in April but evidently there was some fairly rigorous research involving over 100,000 Brits.

They say "It found a new model of seven social classes ranging from the elite at the top to a "precariat" - the poor, precarious proletariat - at the bottom." and "The BBC Lab UK study measured economic capital - income, savings, house value - and social capital - the number and status of people someone knows. The study also measured cultural capital, defined as the extent and nature of cultural interests and activities." Link to BBC website.

They are convincing in their explanations, but I just don't buy it. I think that social class is a subtle combination of how you  look, think, speak and behave. I think it's mainly down to how you're brought up rather than things like your education, friends, income and what entertainment you enjoy. That said, all things being equal your class will generally affect things like whether you go to University (and which Uni, and which courses) or whether you like classical music.

Still, I think that it's perfectly possible to score "Elite" while other people think of you as "Traditional Working Class" because you happen to have made lots of money but still have a working class accent and attitudes. And I bet that Prince William doesn't actually like classical music, the theatre or ballet but surely he's pretty much as 'Elite' as it gets in British society?

In discussing it in the office, we were all pretty clear on who was which class and all clear on what class we were ourselves. It's part of the complicated interaction of human society that we all juggle.

What am I trying to say? I guess just that it's complicated, but interesting. Go and do the survey and let me know what you think.

Friday, 1 November 2013

How much is enough?

There has been a lot talk recently about simplicity, quality not quantity and ethical shopping. I've been wondering, as I build my winter wardrobe... how much is enough?

I can't fit all my shoes in the bottom of my wardrobe yet I just put a pair of ankle boots in an online shopping trolley. My jumpers are bulging out of my jumper drawer, yet I struggle to find five tops to wear for a working week. Should I follow the common wisdom of spending eye watering amounts on a few perfect items and wearing them to death?

Well, no I couldn't bring myself to do that. I enjoy variety so I'd be bored silly. Plus, I think that no matter how hard you try, there will be some shopping mistakes. It'd be gutting to buy something super-expensive that just didn't work.

Janice from the brilliant blog The Vivienne Files recently posted that the real power shopping is:

Everything is

She is so right and I do try to follow this advice. I also have regularly clear outs and donate stuff to a local charity shop. Still... I struggle and I wonder how much is enough? How many dresses? How many skirts? How many shoes?

I think part of the problem is that there are so many niches. I bought wellies (gumboots) but I only wear them a few times a year. They're really useful, but they take up a lot of space.

I have grey ankle boots and beige ankle boots, but I could really do with some black ones too. (Actually I shouldn't have bought the beige ones - They're not as useful as I thought they might be).I have high heels in many of the colours of the rainbow, but I could collect dozens more to go with various outfits.

Recently we had a small cocktail party without all the equipment that we left behind in New Zealand - no cocktail shaker, no martini glasses or crystal tumblers, no fairy lights, no plastic ice cubes or wineglass charms... and you know what? It was fine.

Maybe another learning is that making do and multi-tasking and maybe even being slightly wrong are okay. What do you think?

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Christmas is coming!

Blah, blah, it happens earlier every year... personally it doesn't bug me that Christmas decorations and food start appearing in the shops in September, but I did take pictures of some particularly cute decorations and also some particularly odd ones. On the cute side, Butlers had various woodland creatures made of glass to hang from your tree...
Owl Christmas decoration

Fox Christmas decoration

Hedgehog Christmas decoration
Then there were the ones that headed a bit further out into the wilds of Strangeland... I can see some kids loving the dinosaur one (though it wouldn't show up well in a green tree), but I think the gerkins are a bit pointless. The hamburger one would just make me want a Big Mac!

Then finally, there are the 'you have way too much money and should really give it to charity instead of buying this shit' products. I'm pretty sure I remember this deer being nearly 100 pounds and the large figure with the head of a Scotty dog was around 70 pounds. They were both about four feet high so you'd need a decent sized room to put them in but I guess with that much cash to splash around, that wouldn't be a problem!

So, are you making a list and checking it twice yet? Do you buy extra decorations each year or stick to the same old traditional ones? Fancy any of the above for your tree?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Places to visit in England - Chester

Recently I had a work meeting in Manchester on a Monday. Rather than spend eight hours that day travelling there and back, I decided to take a weekend away beforehand. I had a weekend in Manchester last year so I didn't want to go there again. I asked around and folks recommended Chester. After a weekend there, I recommend it too!

River Dee in Chester, England

Chester is an old city (founded as a city in 1541) with lots of Roman ruins, medieval city walls and lovely ornate Tudor buildings. It has the River Dee running through it with some nice walks on either side, boat trips and (rather overpriced) peddle boats and dingies to hire by the hour. Lovely husband and I whiled away Sunday afternoon in a river-front pub with gorgeous views over the river.
Tudor house in Chester, England
The Tudor buildings were more ornate than others I'd see with moulded plaster in-between the black wood trim, lots of carving (including dinky little statues) and many of the houses were named like this one 'The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life'. They got called shortened versions of the proverbs written on them so this one could have been called something like 'Fountain house'.It's hard to tell the difference between the Victorian 'Tudor replica' houses and the genuinely old ones, but they were all pretty.

Roman ampitheatre in Chester, England
There were the ruins of a large Roman amphitheatre in the heart of Chester. Chester was the site of a Roman fortress then a settlement grew up around it so of course the people needed entertainment. The amphitheatre was built around 1000AD and could seat around 8,000 to 10,000 people. Amazing to think that things like this and the main roads that were built so long ago have shaped modern Chester.

Ruinds of St John's church, Chester, England
Close to the amphitheatre is St John's church with some lovely ruins beside it. Three chapels were ruined by that vandal Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries. When we went back at night, there was a subtle and lovely light show of ancient texts fading in and out all over the stones to remind us of how ancient the building is.

Grey squirrel in a park in Chester, EnglandBeside the St John's church, there is Grosvener Park. It is a very pretty Victorian designed park which was simply HEAVING with squirrels! Being from New Zealand where there are no native mammals (except maybe a bat or two), I love squirrels so I happily watched them cavort about for ages. We took heaps of photos but I think this blurry one best captures the scampering motion of a squirrel racing across the ground.

The only downside of Chester is the difficulty of getting a reasonably priced hotel room during the weekend. Evidently it's fine during the week, but because it is such a tourist centre, hotels were very expensive and most rooms were booked out. We ended up in an expensive but not-that-fabulous hotel a 10 minute bus ride out of town. Luckily there were really good buses every 15 minutes or so but it still would have been nicer to be walking distance into town.We took the train to Chester so we didn't have a car, but we wouldn't have wanted to deal with parking in town either.

Still, overall we had a lovely weekend with plenty to see and do so I do recommend Chester for a weekend break.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Things they don't tell you about getting older

(This post was written as a guest post for CherrySue Doin’ the Do – you can see it here. )

So, the ‘this is puberty’ books give you the basics but don’t cover all the issues. There are some important facets of the maturing process that the books don’t cover so I feel I need to expose to these secrets to the
world. For example:

Old woman sticking her tongue outHair

I knew that people grew hair in bits that didn’t have hair before but somehow I thought that was a one-time thing that happened between (say) the ages of 13 and 15. But oh no, I was mistaken! What I didn’t realise (and I’d like to share with any who haven’t entered this reality yet) is that YOU KEEP GETTING HAIRIER! 

Slightly horrifying, but true. My lovely husband, for example, had a few hairs wafting about the nip-ular area in his teens. Those hairs have spread across his chest and down to his tummy to make quite a pelt. He’s now mid 30s-ish. What’s he going to be like at 60? Will I be able to find my husband under the ball of fluff that he walks about in?


Sorry to get a bit rude, but talking about the nip-ular area, I didn’t realise that all women didn’t naturally grown thumb sized, sticky-out nipples like my mum’s. (How did I come to see my mum’s nipples? She was pretty casual about the clothing issue.). Actually those sticky-out nips are my fault (and my brother’s fault too, let’s share the blame fairly) as we got our early sustenance.  Fair enough.


Now here’s a really depressing one. Like hair growth, I assumed spots were a teenage phase that we all grew out of. Not so! It’s quite possible to have wrinkles, grey hair and spots. A fact I prove reasonably regularly. The only good thing is that with age comes a bit more skill in washing, anointing and covering up said spots so they’re less obvious (we fondly hope). 


I recently attempted day one of the ‘Couch to 5K’ app. I alternately ran and walked for half an hour. After about three days my muscles stopped aching then my left knee started protesting. Talking to other folks in their 30s and early 40s, it seems many of them just can’t run because their knees complain too much. Oh well, I didn’t really like running anyway...

So, what about you – are you enjoying these delightful signs of aging or have you been lucky? Anything else you didn’t realise about aging when you were an impressionable teen?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

What women like men to wear

Jonnie Peacock Paraolympian in coat and boots
A male friend asked me “what do women like men to wear?” last night and I admit I gibbered a bit then spluttered something about cologne. It’s a tricky question for lots of reasons:

1.       Obviously I can’t generalise about all women
2.       If I liked a guy, I expect I’d cope with whatever he wore (within reason!)
3.       If I didn’t like him, no amount of snappy dressing would help
4.       I’ve only been in England for about a year and don’t entirely understand the cultural subtleties

However, I thought I’d see what I could come up with. My context is a 30ish bloke trying to attract a girlfriend. 

Firstly, fit is important. I think it’s particularly important for attracting a mate because in some way you’re trying to entice someone into making the sex with you. That means you want to highlight your attractive bits, whether it’s a firm bottom, clear skin, muscled forearms, your eye colour or whatever. 

A well fitting pair of jeans can make you look like over 20% better than usual (that’s science!). Take time to try on 15 pairs in different styles. Take advice from the shop assistants. Take a knowledgeable friend with you for advice. HEM THEM if needed. Then apply what you learn to other pairs of trousers. 

With t shirts and shirts – I’d generally think a touch snugger than usual. Show off what that lucky lady will be getting. 

Benedict Cumberbatch in a dark suitIf you’ve got a bit of a tum, a well cut shirt is your best friend. A structured jacket or coat is also good. Don’t succumb to a thin, clingy t shirt or a bomber style jacket (it’ll make you look the same shape as a tomato). 

If you’re slender – don’t think that buying clothes a bit loose will make you look bigger. It’ll just make you look like asparagus wrapped in bacon (are you liking my vegetable metaphors?). Buy clothes that skim your body but don’t cling. Again, well cut shirts and structured jackets are all good. You can enjoy thick scarves and chunky knit jumpers in winter.

If you’re not as tall as you’d like – again, pay attention to fit. Also, streamline your look to lean the viewer’s eye up and down for example, black biker boots, a well cut (hemmed!) pair of dark jeans, a fresh white t shirt and a dark coloured blazer. Mmm... sounds good to me.

J Cole in casual clothesLearn what colours suit you – try this Colour analysis site to give you some ideas. I know that site is aimed at women, but just ignore the gender-specific bits and pick up the main ideas. Those who are confident can break the rules as needed, but it’s helpful to have some ideas to start with if you’re choosing from a rainbow of t shirts. Hint: navy looks good on almost everyone, yellow looks good on almost no-one.

Dress like a grown-up. If you’re 30ish and wearing the same outfits as the local 16 year olds, it may be time for a re-think. Also, don’t dress like your Dad. It’s a fine balance. 

If you haven’t changed hair style in 10 years, you should! Men’s fashion doesn’t dramatically change, but it does shift. Keep up. You probably should be spending a bit more money on a good hairstylist. Think about it this way; you wear your hair every day so cost-per-wear is pretty low for a good haircut.

There’s a load more to say on the topic of style of course and these are just my opinions. What would you suggest? Anything you particularly hate a guy to wear? If you’re a guy, what do you think of these suggestions?