Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Solutions for the New Year's outfit challenge

New Year's Eve outfit

New Year's Eve outfit by eleanorbirdy 

Why is it that New Year's comes along right after Christmas when I'm at my fattest, pasty-est and feeling completely un-glam? It's a bit cruel really. 

I normally love dressing up and going out, but in the post-Christmas slump, I'm really not up for much. Still, I'm due to go out and celebrate so what to wear?

I'm a big fan of midnight blue and already have two evening-y sort of tops in that colour. For some strange reason I love the bat-wing shape too. I don't think it's particularly flattering, I just really love it. So, I'm tempted by the Mary Portas top I found on Polyvore, but it's handwash, would need ironing and I DON'T NEED IT. I will stick to what I've got. 

My chocolate brown coated jeans from H & M are showing their age a little (the coating is scuffing off on the seams) but they'll do for now. 

I don't currently own a pair of black booties, but I've got some gift cards to use up so I'll get me some post-haste. I do have lots of statement necklaces so I'm covered in that regard! 

I goes without saying that this outfit will be topped off with a big coat and my warmest cashmere pashmina. Not for me the silly business of tottering around town in winter with no clothes on!

So, what are you doing for New Year's? Got an outfit sorted? 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

I'b god a cod

 The lead-up to Christmas tends to feel like a race. I galloped and galloped and made it past the post with no major disasters but of course, now I have a cold.

Do you do this? Get sick as soon as the pressure's off? I can pretty much set my clock by it. So here I am in the lull between Christmas and normal life... in bed, drugged up, blowing my nose... Oh well, at least it's forcing me to rest. I guess that's the point.

It's also quite nice to have some fallow time to acknowledge the change of season. All the frantic Christmas festivity is over. All five advent candles have been lit and been snuffed. Winter solstice has been. We're now into proper winter (it's suddenly gotten colder) with the creep towards spring, more daylight, a few hardly bulbs peeking through the soil and the bloom into full summer. 

Awww... look at her face!
 I have a massive list of chores that I could be doing on in my few days off, but I'm not able to do any of them.
 Hopefully tomorrow I'll be up to mattress shopping as our  landlord's mattress has really given up the ghost. We got Christmas money to go towards a new mattress and we're itching to spend it. It will be lovely to have a comfy bed.

  I'm also looking forward to be healthy enough to get on the   wagon of eating nothing but vegetables and taking a daily run.  Well, I exaggerate somewhat, but I am a big blob at the moment  and need to indulge in the traditional January masochism. Soon, my pretty, pretty...

 Right, now I think I'll go back to my book. Bye!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Winter weekend adventures

Ah, the last weekend of sanity before Christmas... We very deliberately kept it low key and thusly had a lovely weekend. Highlights?

Christmas market


There is a market that pops up near our house every few months. This weekend was a particularly big one and there was a lovely singer doing her own take on a range of songs from folk songs to carols and 90's pop songs. We had lunch with a friend and snapped up some local 'Wife of Bath' cheese to take for Christmas. We also got some handmade pies (chicken, bacon and leek) and some locally roasted and ground coffee. I'd been stalking a lovely statement necklace with fuschia and emerald green beads on a brass chain so I *suggested* to my husband that it'd make a good Christmas present.

It was sunny, there was mulled wine and handmade mince pies... Lovely.




Cathedral service

Our normal church was having a kids service so we popped into the cathedral. It's so festive! The choir in robes and ruffs, lighting the advent candle, 10 foot Christmas trees up the front. The only thing I kind of wish they did was incense, but they're not as 'high church' as that.

Also, WHY is it that churches uniformly don't take the opportunity of having more lovely Advent carols? "O Come, O come Emmanuel" is my favourite Christmas song and I haven't had the opportunity of singing it yet this year.

Blaise Castle Estate and Blaise Hamlet


We thought we'd have another go at actually finding the castle in this large local park. We spent a couple of hours walking about there in summer and managed to totally miss the castle.

This time we followed the signs carefully and (after a lovely scenic walk through the woods and several delightful encounters with squirrels) found our way to the top of the hill. There is a surprisingly small 'castle' built on the hill in the 1700s at the request of the rich landowner.

We also had a quick wander around the green of Blaise Hamlet. There are nine of the most riDICulously cute cottages you could imagine. Don't they look like Hobbit holes? You can see some more here.

They were built for pensioners of the Harford family who owned the estate. Imagine being so rich that the housing for your aged servants is designed by a famous architect! (John Nash, in case you're interested). They're all owned by The National Trust now but are still lived in by a few very lucky people. 

 On our way back to the car we stopped in at the cafe and got pulled (not at all reluctantly) into a lovely carol sing-a-long. There was quite a competant pianist and a group of about 15 from (I found out later) the local church. I had great fun doing the descants on the final verse of carols like "Once in Royal David's City" and doing the male king/ female page thing in "Good King Wenceslas".

Then we mulled lots of cider and ate the pies from the market for dinner with lots of gravy and steamed veg.

What did you do in the weekend? Nice festive things or are you just feeling frazzled?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The pleasures of hibernation

Brrr... baby it's cold outside! I'm deeply hunkered down into the couch, furry slippers on my feet. I walked home in the dark with a cold wind blowing through my hair and making my ears ache. It's hibernation time.

So, what are some of the pleasures of this time of year?

Mulled cider

Photo: John Wright
I'd never had mulled cider until I moved to Bristol (the South-West of England is a big cider region). I recommend you give it a go as it's delicious!

Recipes vary wildly but my suggestions include:

* Making sure it doesn't boil (or it'll lose all its alcohol)
* Adding traditional spices like cinnamon, a little nutmeg, about six cloves.
* Peel the skin off an orange in small strips and add.
 * Be cautious about adding sugar. Use caster sugar so it disolves more easily and taste after every dessert spoonful. A lot depends on how dry your cider is.
* Add an extra slosh of Calvados (apple brandy) or dark rum when serving.

Rugging up


Now it's gotten properly cold I can wear a jumper or cardigan to work all day and not get too hot. Often I'm in a scarf most of the day too. Gloves are a necessity for walking outside and I'm back to being grateful for my warm wool and cashmere duffle coat.

I'm carrying a few more pounds that I have for a while, but winter clothes are so forgiving that I'm okay with it for now.

Also, I can pull tights over my dry, white, unwaxed legs (sounds appealing, non? Luckily my husband doesn't care and nor do I).








There are many lovely festive things about December but robins are one of my favourite. They sing beautifully, they're unshakably perky and cute, they're quite tame and common enough that you're likely to see them regularly.

The only slightly odd thing is that they're clearly orange at the front, not red as popular culture insists. Wikipedia informs me that the colour name 'orange' didn't exist in England 'till the 16th Century as the fruit hadn't been imported yet.

Anyway, they're lovely and particularly good on bare winter branches.

So, I'm enjoying a nice quiet week at home after all my gallivanting. What about you - are you hibernating or running around like a mad thing? Or is it summer where you are?

Monday, 8 December 2014

How to do work good (and pretty pics)

So I'm back home now, after a whole week away in a couple of different places for work. It's been a huge week, but a helpful one. I thought I'd mull over what I've learned in case it's helpful for you in your work or personal life.

(Also, I'm popping in pics of Alex Skarsgard 'cos he's lush. Far more interesting than stock photos of people in suits shaking hands.)

1. There really isn't anything to beat face to face meetings. 

Alex agrees with me on this point.
We did a big conference for one part of our organisation. Again and again people were saying how great it was to 'put a face to a name' and how they felt comfortable referring clients to each now that they had met the person they would be referring to.

We try very hard to be connected using things like email, online messaging, teleconferencing or video conferencing, but this week reaffirmed the vital importance of meeting in person.

An even more important aspect is time to have a coffee, chat over a drink, have a meal together. The best ideas and conversations happen when something is going into our mouths!









2. There's a lot of value in personality tests - but not what you'd think.


Alex is more a do-er than a thinker
Another part of my week was a big team meeting which involved some input from a personality test company. Now, you may know that the concept of personality 'types' has been largely dismissed by psychology as it is not supported by research. Putting people into one of a few personality 'types' isn't much more valid than describing people using their star sign. Many psychologists even take issue with the idea of personality traits (though the majority agree on the 'Big Five' model).

This hasn't stopped enterprising people setting up businesses selling bespoke personality tests to businesses. The output of these tests can easily be harmful if used incorrectly, for example as the main factor in recruiting staff.

HOWEVER given all those disclaimers, I think it is really useful to put aside time to have open discussions about what we're really like as people and how we like to be treated.

We are a very new team so it was helpful to have time together to start to get to know each other and to reflect on ourselves. I have already spent a considerable amount of time working on my self-awareness but I did actually gain some more insights through this experience. 



3. Being powerful isn't bad.

Eric Northman and I are both strong characters
I've known since my teens that I'm naturally a very full-on, direct person. And that almost everyone else finds that overpowering and unpleasant, especially in a woman. I've been working all the time to soften myself down, to be more gentle, slower, more collaborative, give others time to speak etc. The message from a lot of quarters has been 'Who you are is wrong'. 

Still, we did a series of challenges as part of a team building exercise. Our team won. A biggish part of that was me quickly coming up with ideas, nudging others into action and keeping on task. I think I managed to do this while giving others a chance to contribute and without being domineering. So, maybe being a strong natural leader has its uses.

So, did you enjoy the Alex pics? Any other thoughts?

Friday, 28 November 2014

Stressed? Give thanks!

So for some reason, the vast majority of my readers are from America. It's a bit odd 'cos I'm a New Zealander by birth and living (and writing about) in England but I really appreciate you guys!

Anyway, as you probably realise, we don't have Thanksgiving here. This is just an ordinary week in late Autumn.

For me, this has been a really tough week. Lots of angst at work, lots of people getting heated, lots of difficulties to negotiate and unmanageably huge amounts of work to do. So, as well as sweating it out at the gym every day (impressive, eh?), I thought it would be a good idea to practise gratitude.

What are the benefits of gratitude?
"More than any other personality trait, gratitude is strongly linked to mental health and life satisfaction...

Not only is gratitude a warm and uplifting way to feel, it benefits the body as well. People who experience gratitude cope better with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health, including lower blood pressure and better immune function." http://ei.yale.edu/what-is-gratitude/

Good enough for me! So, to get on with the gratitude, I am thankful for:

The beauty of Bristol, of England, of autumn, of the wildlife. 

I still appreciate walking through the park with the streetlights shining through the mist, large plane-tree leaves on the ground, golden leaves on the branches above, quaint cobbled streets and the amazingly beautiful St Mary Redcliffe church lit up to show off its sculptures.

We have adorable blue tits in the tree outside our kitchen window. I regularly see red kites, buzzards and other raptors on my way to work.

 My lovely husband
Not to get too soppy on you, but we've been married nearly 14 years and together for over half our lives. He is (to coin a cliche) my rock, my best friend and is generally a good person to have around.

How much I have managed to learn about doing my job
I did a short project management course this week and I found it rather affirming. It was really nice to see that I did actually know how to use all the tools and also some of the traps that you can fall into.

We've also had a bunch of new people at work and again, it has shown up how much I have actually managed to learn. I've still got the rest of my career to keep learning, but it's comforting to see that after about 15 years of work, I have managed to gain some skills.

Food and drink!
As much as I'd like not to be the size of a house, I do love my food. I'm grateful for good coffee in the morning (using our aeropress - it's delicious, try it!) and nice wine at night. I'm grateful for the cafe down the road from work which makes good quality food for reasonable prices. I nipped out for a very late lunch today and got a mix of Greek salad and pasta salad and a chocolate brownie for under £5.

So, happy Thanksgiving one and all and remember to regularly practise gratitude. You can start by telling me one thing you're grateful for, if you like.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Column dressing and working with what you've got

Column dressing

Column dressing by eleanorbirdy 

 I came across the concept of 'column dressing' in Bridgette Rae's blog recently. The idea is that you create a 'column' of a single neutral colour then add a pop of complimentary or contrasting colour over the top. 

I really quite liked this idea as a way of rethinking my options in combining separates. What with Christmas coming up, I shouldn't be shopping. So, I had to have a think about how I might do this column thing with clothes I already own. 

I have more or less matching sets in dark jade green, warm navy blue and black. I have cardigans in a range of colours (here I picked navy, burgundy and fuchsia). I added some shoes and jewellery to tone in with the 'pop' colour of the cardigan. In the case of the green and blue set, I thought it was similar enough to be able to get away with introducing grey/silver as a third colour in the mix. 

What do you think about this column dressing idea? Helpful, interesting or too dull?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A concealer that's as good as a night's sleep!

So tomorrow morning I have to get up around 5:30am. Not looking forward it!

As well as occasional lack of sleep, I also inherited a propesity to dark circles under my eyes. So, I've been a keen fan of concealer since my teens. I've tried various brands and styles from the cheap but effective Rimmel Wake Me Up Concealer toYves Saint Laurent and  Estee Lauder's Double Wear.

On our recent trip to Budapest, we ended up with a fair bit of the local currency to get rid of. Lovely husband suggested a trip to Duty Free. I deliberated for ages and eventually snapped up Clinique's Airbrush Concealer. Gosh, I'm glad I did! Somehow a few light brush strokes magically make my black circles vanish into a soft radiant skin colour.

I was a bit worried that it wouldn't provide enough coverage and stay on all day, but it's fine on blemish scars and it lasts well on my sometimes oily skin. 

Clinique isn't infallible (some of their skin care is useless) but I have found some absolute treats in the make-up. 

Sadly the Airbrush Concealer only comes in a few very light shades, but if it'll suit your skin, I say get your mitts on some!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Dos and Don'ts of Budapest

So we popped off to Budapest for a long weekend recently. My thoughts about the place can be filed under 'Do' and 'Don't'. I'll start with the 'Don'ts' to get them out of the way.

Go to the Cave Church. It's (as the name suggests) a Catholic church founded by Pauline monks in 1926, set in a small network of caves. Unfortunately it's totally devoid of atmosphere as all the caves have been sprayed with concrete, had floors put in and decorated with flowers and statues.

Also, the film about the place and the audio commentry were hilariously bad. The soundtrack was a group of monks singing 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol (why?!), the commentary was read by someone who sounded like a bored student and written by someone who thought that to convert us to Catholicism, all we needed was loooooong explanations of topics such as 'the Sacred Heart of Jesus'.

Nice view from the Gellèrt Hills though.


Give yourself less than three days in Budapest. Five days would be ideal, to allow for side trips. There is so much to see and do. With the way our flights worked out, we only ended up with two days and it just wasn't enough.

 This one is a bit of a qualified suggestion... The baths at the Gellèrt Hotel are famous and on the recommended list for a visit to Budapest BUT... I found the experience before and after actually being in the hot water quite stressful. It was really quite expensive and hard to work out what kind of ticket we actually needed. We didn't notice until we were actually in there that we needed to buy a swimming cap to go in the inside pool. We snuck in without one and we got away with it.

The place is a labyrinth! So difficult to find your way around, it's not funny. I couldn't find a ladies loo for the life of me, and there were only two hairdryers (significant in a cold climate as you don't want to go out with wet hair).

The hotel looked a bit like it was leaning on its fading grandeur, with tacky stalls in the foyer. The main outdoor pool was closed for winter, which was a bit sad.

I'd suggest you try some of the other baths available and see if you get a better experience.

Bother with the main shopping street Váci utca and Central Market Hall. They are complete tourist traps, complete with acres of similar souveniers, people calling out to you to come and see their shops or eat at their overpriced restaurants. If you wanted to buy food i.e. fruit, vegetables, cheese, spirits including local liquers, meat including lots of sausages and salamis, then the Central Market Hall is probably a decent proposition, but we weren't there long enough to do any cooking.

Worry about not being able to speak any Hungarian. We looked at a phrase book and gave up on even being able to say hello. Not to worry, everyone kindly spoke English.

Right, now onto the positives...

Go to Budpest, especially in autumn. It's such a pretty city and it was made even prettier by the autumn leaves and mist. Evidently it gets crazy-hot and full of tourists in summer. The only slight suggestion would be to maybe go in September so that some things wouldn't be closed for winter and the days would be longer. It did get dark very early (like around 4:30pm).Or try going in spring as I'm sure that would be very pretty too.

Decide what you want to do and book early. We missed out on a evening river cruise and on a performance at the Opera House 'cos we hadn't worked out our itinerary for our visit and booked tickets.

Walk over as many of the bridges across the Danube as possible.  The views along the riverbanks are stunning, either by day or by night. The parliament buildings are particularly pretty.


Walk up Castle Hill (or take the funicular railway - sadly it was undergoing maintainance while we were there) and spend a day. The views are amazing, the architecture spectacular, Matthias Church is one of the prettiest churches I've ever seen. We also did a whistle-stop tour of the Hungarian National Gallery which had a lovely collection of art, from ancient elaborate church decorations to a spooky modern installation in the dome. Sadly we didn't have time for the other museum in the old Palace. We'll have to go back at some point as there's just so much to see!

Cute Neo-Gothic tower on Castle Hill
Spiral window inside Matthias Church

Castle Hill from the river bank
Eat like a pig! The traditional food is hearty, rich and filling to help keep out the winter cold (and also reasonably priced). We had delicious paprika spiced sausages, lots of mulled wine, goulash (of course), soups like the kosher pea soup in the picture, rich desserts with honey and cream... mmm... makes me hungry just thinking about it! We enjoyed the good service and amazing food at the Drum Cafe.

So, in summary, Budapest is awesome! I'm definitely planning to go back at some point and catch up with some of the things we missed. It's also handily close to other places I'd love to visit such as the Croatian coast and Austria. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Birthday treats 2014

 So it was my boofday again recently. (I know, again! It seems to come around quicker every year!). Unlike most years, I don't have a list of smaller bits to show you and make you jealous. My big treat this year is a new engagement ring.

A new engagement ring? But haven't you been married for years, you ask? Well, yes I have, but I very sadly lost the diamond from my engagement ring earlier this year. (Note to self: make sure settings are checked by a jeweller every year).

I debated for ages about whether to get a new ring or replace the diamond. Lots of research and searching led me decide on a new ring and eventually to find 'the one'. It's a lovely mid-blue round sapphire surrounded by diamonds to make a flower-like pattern. Lucky me!

I also feel really blessed in my friends and family. I had a lovely day beginning and ending with phone calls from family, punctuated by lunch with my lovely husband and dinner with a group of friends in the evening.

There's a Maori proverb which I really identify with:

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? 
It is people! It is people! It is people!

Jewels (and presents generally) are lovely, but the best thing is the feeling that people care and are thinking of me. I know that sounds a bit pious and trust me, I do love presents!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Castles and Abbeys - Scotland in Autumn

 Last week I had to pop up to Angus in Scotland for work. I happened to see that Glamis Castle was nearby so thought I'd take an extra day and look around.

I chose Arbroath as a place to stay pretty much at random. I didn't realise that the lovely ruined Arbroath Abbey was quite so significant in Scottish history.

In 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath was written (probably) by the Abbot of Arbroath Abbey and sent to the Pope to entreat him to recognise Scotland as an independent country. In those days the Pope was the top international authority in the western world.

The declaration includes the moving words, "… it is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for  freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."
 In the 1950s four students stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey (where the English had rather provocatively stored it under the seat of the throne), they brought it to Arbroath Abbey and left it there, wrapped in the Scottish flag.
 The abbot's house is still intact as it had been used as various things over the years including a school and a factory. The fan vaults above are from the undercroft under the house.
 While I was there, a small school group came for a visit. They got dressed in little monk's robes and had a guide in a robe showing them over the place and telling stories. So there were cute mini-monks shadowing me around during my visit, adding to the atmosphere.
 The grounds around the abbey had been the town graveyard for years. Very atmospheric, especially on a grey day.

After a couple of pleasant hours at Arbroath Abbey I took the pretty drive over to Glamis. I was mostly interested in Glamis Castle because I recognised the name from Shakespeare's "Macbeth". However Glamis Castle is nothing like the blasted ruin that I expected from seeing the play. It's been a plush country escape for very rich people for centuries.

The building started in the 1300s as a hunting lodge. The fairytale castle look was achieved in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Most of the outside of the building and grounds have barely changed since then.

The Strathmore family still live part-time in the castle and they also do a roaring trade as a venue for weddings and corporate hospitality.
 The castle is made of the reddish local stone - you can see it's the same stuff as Arbroath Abbey.

 We had an expert and friendly tour guide take us around 10 rooms inside, but photos weren't allowed so I can't show you details.

They were very grand rooms with all sorts of interesting curiosities. One of my favourite things were the embroidered bed hangings that took 14 years for the lady of the house to complete. They were made in the 1600s and are still in pretty good nick today. There was incredible detail and creativity in all the different animals, plants and decorations she embroidered.

 I do have to mention that Glamis Castle is the late Queen Mother's childhood home - there were lots of interesting royal connections and stories.

Beautiful autumn views from the bridge heading into the walled garden.

A touch of autumn colour in the trees. I saw signs warning me to be careful driving because there might be a red squirrel on the road, but of course I saw no sign of squirrels.
 Cute Highland Cows grazing in a field behind the car park.
 Cornflowers outside the walled garden - there were two large banks of mingled cornflowers and dandelions.
The Italian garden - a view from under one of the two aisles of overhanging trees. There were roses in the beds but they weren't at their best in autumn, of course.

They have been working for the past couple of years on restoring the walled garden. It's a huge space - it seemed to cover about an acre. They have planted lots of roses which will make it an ideal wedding venue when they're a bit more mature.

There are three big amazing castles within a short drive around that part of the country (and it's only about an hour and a half north of Edinburgh). I'm definitely going back for another look around as the countryside is stunning and I do love a good castle!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Communal cats

Black cat
 In our small flat, we're not allowed to keep a pet. We love cats, so we make up for our lack of cat by borrowing some of the many neighbourhood moggies.

There are four small black cats locally. This pic is one of the two who are brother and sister. We call them 'The Invisible Tabby' and 'The Invisible Tabby's Brother' because in sunlight they have subtle tabby markings.

Then we have another brother and sister pair - Earl and Assam. They have name tags and we approve of their names (named after types of tea) so they've stayed with their given names.

Earl is quite a lot smaller than Assam. They're both nice-natured animals who like cuddles and bits of string. I suspect they're Burmese.

Ginger cat

This handsome ginger fellow we named 'Weasley' after the red-headed family in the Harry Potter books. We saw him a bit as a kitten but haven't seen him much since then. In fact this might be the only time he's been in. Either he's indoors a lot or just doesn't hang around near our flat.

We call this cat 'Fluffybum' because she's "so fluffy I could die!" and also she seems to suit a silly name.

She's a sweet little thing - very light and tiny under all that fur. She was being badly neglected by her divorcing family and is a bit skittish (though also affectionate and very playful). She has had a happy ending in that another local couple have adopted her. Now she is always beautifully groomed and looking healthy.

Another couple of gratuitous pics of Earl. This is last year when she battled and eventually defeated our Christmas tree. There wasn't anything delicate on the tree so we let her get on with it. (In spite of Earl being a male name, we think she's female cos she's so tiny).
grey cat
A slightly younger Earl enjoying some strokes on the windowsill.
Tabby Cat
This cat we call 'Skinnytail'. It's a nasty creature, prone to chasing birds, fighting other cats and attacking the hand that feeds it cat treats.
Norwegian Forest Cat
This one might just be my favourite. We named him 'Cat Treats' because that's what we call to summon him. Also, he's so lovely and smoochy he's a treat for us. He has been known to roll around on the bed and nuzzle my nose with his nose. So sweet!

He's a Norwegian Forest cat with a big ruff and a foofy tail. His owners don't brush him enough so he gets matted fur. We occasionally have a go at snipping out the worst tangles. He's very trusting and quite happy to be groomed.

So, that's most of our neighbourhood cats. We are very lucky that we get visits to cheer us in our catless state.

Friday, 17 October 2014

One pair of pants, three days

One pair of pants, three days

One pair of pants, three days by eleanorbirdy featuring a bateau neck top 

So this week I suddenly found I had to stay away from home for a couple of nights. I commuted for my work on Tuesday morning but the traffic (and weather) was so damn bad that I thought I'd rather stay in the area rather than have to face it again. Of course I hadn't packed, so what to do about clothes for work? 

I happened to be wearing the first outfit on the left - one of those excellent shirts from Oasis as mentioned previously, leopard heels and a gold-toned necklace from Accesorize. I also had on my new pants (or trousers for the English) from Laura Ashley. I have to say that they stood up brilliantly to three days of hard use! 

I popped out to Next UK after work ('cos their shop happened to be on the way to where I was staying) and after a bit of hunting and trying on, I found these two tops. They were both quite cheap and I think I'll get plenty of wear out of them. 

I have been wanting another beige cardigan after I left my old one in Belfast so I was pleased to get this one. It's got a bit of a fabric detail on the lapel which gives it a touch of something more interesting. Also, it's a nice light beige colour. I have to be very careful with beige to get the right tone to suit - yellowy tones look hideous on me!

I also got the dark blue boat-neck top. The picture shows it being rather loose but I sized down to get a snug fit. The colour suits me and I like the buttons at either side of the neck.   

So, with a few toiletries and some cheap underwear, I was set for a couple more days at work. Not the most exciting outfits, but I was pleased with my improvisation.  

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

English things - faff, spiders and paving stones

I've been noticing a few things about living in England recently that I just wouldn't have known about until I moved here. As a public service I'm warning you about them...

Fright wig Rocky Horror
This came up by searching 'faff'?!?
In case you're not sure, to faff basically means 'fuss, flap, bother,' etc. It can be a verb or a noun i.e. "We can't faff around forever" or "There was the usual faff of getting through airport security". You can also be faffing about.

Let me warn you - there is a reason that this is a particularly English word. The flip-side of the beautifully polite and orderly queueing is a notable inefficiency. For example, even large chain cafes tend to have all their staff doing everything at once i.e. making coffee, taking orders, clearing tables (or not clearing them as the case may be). This is vastly slower than the practise in New Zealand of having a dedicated barista and someone else operating the till. I think the general tolerance of crowds and queues leads to less pressure to keep things moving. 

Autumn Spiders
I'm not going to give you a picture of this one! I'm fairly arachnophobic and I've been horrified to discover that it's an actual thing where every autumn large spiders suddenly start coming inside looking for a mate! This never happened in New Zealand (or least spiders came in every so often, but not en masse in one season). So far I've had two in bed at different times, including one crawling through my hair. NOT ON!

English street rain paving letterbox bicycles
Trick paving stones
Here's another good autumn/winter tip - beware of the trick paving stones! English footpaths are covered in all sorts of things from old cobblestones to stone blocks, pavers, concrete or asphalt. If you've got paving underfoot and it's been raining recently, do step carefully. What can happen (and it's happened to me) is that a loose paver gathers a little reservoir of muddy water. When the time is right (i.e. when you step on it), the paver gushes filthy water over your shoes, up your legs and possibly even manages to splash your coat. This will comprehensively ruin your day.

So, just a few handy tips if you're thinking of emigrating or visiting. Are you going to adopt the word 'faff' now? (Try it, it's fun!).