Monday, 18 March 2013

Yurts up at Botelet for 2013 season

I've written many times before of my love of Botelet. Home to the yurt of our honeymoon and the yurt of our first family holiday with the baby, Botelet is my little corner of heaven in Cornwall. I saw today that the yurts are up for the 2013 season and they are taking bookings. Sadly, the baby now moving means we are unable to stay in the yurt this year but I am hoping to book a stay in one of the cotttages instead.

This is glamping at it's best and least pretentious. I really can't recommend more highly.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

life lately... places I have been in London

The Drapers Arms, Islington... this was our first stop of the day, for a lunch which started off as 3 plus baby and ended up as 8. one of those days which just works and people join in. I had a wonderful beetroot and pearl barley risotto which the baby loved so much she ate spoonfuls off my plate. I also had the best latte I've had in a long time. So good, that I had to have another one later on. in fact, the food was universally decried to be excellent and the selection of drinks good too. there was also plenty of room for the baby, and a lovely garden. just right for a rainy Saturday afternoon but, I imagine, lovely in summer too.

the rest of the party decamped to watch the rugby, but, such is the way sometimes with children, Pip refused to sleep in the pub after lunch and so I just couldn't take her to watch rugby over tired but not wanting to settle in her buggy either. so Pip and her godmother and I wondered idly round some of the shops of Islington, trying on a few unflattering dresses in the Whistles sale, testing out some new products in Aesop and fighting amongst the debris in the remainder of the Gap sale.

Duke of Cambridge, Islington, N1 Duke of Cambridge Organic Pub, Islington ... this was our second pub visit of the day; a lovely cosy way to while away a rainy miserable Saturday evening with friends. The Duke of Cambridge is Britain's first (and apparently only) certified organic pub. We sat round a big wooden table and interspersed our Kernal beers with various items from the bar and dinner menus, which are written up on big chalk boards. I'm hesitant to review the food, as such, as I only tried a starter and pudding, but wouldn't have recommended either. that said, the other people in our party enjoyed theirs, and the drinks were excellent. there was also water in pitchers on the bar, which was nice. the nicest things though were the little things; the changing table, highchairs, welcoming to the baby (who we popped into her pram in her pjs after food, and she went to sleep, allowing us to stay for a drink or two) and all the food information.

photo credits:

Drapers Arms here | Duke of Cambridge pub here

Friday, 8 March 2013

Life lately... & Other Stories

Sometimes one just happens to be in the right place. This lunchtime I was walking up Regents Street in the peeing rain, heading for the tube, when I passed & Other Stories, H&M and Cos's bigger designer sister and thought, ooh, I've read about that store in Vogue. I'll pop in and have a look. It seemed quite busy, but it was lunchtime, and it's been a while since I've been shopping on my own in town. I had a quick look round, admired some of the clothes, the dresses, colours, and some of the shoes and leather goods in particular but decided that I must try and abstain from any more purchasing.

In the end, I did buy a pair of black pants (lingerie, not trousers) which look faintly Stella McCartney-esque, like her range for Adidas perhaps, crossed slightly with more risqué styling, sort of black mesh. I can't find them online oddly or I'd share them.

And then, I thought I'd test out a cobalt coloured nail varnish as I love the colour but never want to spend too much on trendy colours. No time to test it yet but I'll report back. The packaging looks nice though, I like the way it looks like paint. And when I went to the till, I was given a free lip gloss as well. Which was a nice surprise. Which is where I found out that the shop had opened about an hour previous.

Which explains the crowds.

So, I thought the pieces were interesting and pretty reasonably priced. Some of the underwear was mor expensive than Cos, and, not quite as nice, but in general there looked to be lots of neutrals and useful wardrobe additions as well as lots of pops of colour including cobalt, neon coral and orange. I was quite taken with some of the brown/tan shoes but sadly the queues for trying them put me off. Another time perhaps.

Worth a visit, I think.

256-258 Regent Street
Near Oxford Circus tube station

Website here

Sunday, 3 March 2013

life lately... places I have been in London

Kipferl @ Camden Passage, Angel

Kipferl (Austrian and Viennese Cafe and Kitchen) Camden Passage, Islington - After a week of my own tonsillitis and then the baby developing her own illness, I was in desperate need of a couple of hours to myself this afternoon. Leaving the baby with her Dad, I popped down to Islington and met my sister and her boyfriend. We were after somewhere to sit down and have a quick chat and we ended up eating wieners with rye and mustard whilst we caught up on the week behind and ahead. They also had a variety of delicious looking cakes, but having made a chocolate and Guinness cake on Friday, I passed.

Goodbye Grey Sky

Raystitch (99 Essex Road) - Raystitch is a haberdashers and cafe set up by Rachel Hart and is just across the road from where I used to go to WI when I used to live in Islington, although it didn't open until 2011. I've been meaning to go there for ages and I finally managed to go today when I realised I had to give back the cot sheets we borrowed when Pip was born and that given I can't find any I like, that I should just make my own. Sadly, or luckily for my bank account, I didn't have much time this afternoon to browse, it was more a case of rush in, find some fabric, have a quick coffee and leave again. They sell all sorts of fabric, haberdashery, my favourite Merchant & Mills supplies and they run all sort of classes. And did I mention they serve coffee. And cake? I will be back.

Photo credits:

Kipferl | Raystitch

Material World (Perri Lewis)

I love to make things, but I rarely buy books about the subject. Beautiful though they often are, they are usually filled with projects that either are impractical or lovely in theory but no one needs. Perri Lewis's Material World: The Modern Craft Bible is a little bit different.

For starters, it's not just about making things. It's full of general guidance, quotes, ideas and techniques. Secondly, it's about a variety of skills - and how to adapt them. Take the quilting chapter for instance; basic guidance and then instructions regarding a chair, but also discusses making quilts and other more utilitarian options. The one thing it's not is a follow by numbers guide. The key to Perri's work is adaptation "I like to think of this as the Jamie Oliver approach to craft. Whack in a bit extra of what you fancy, cut back on elements that you don't like, or don't have handy. Don't fret too much about the rules along the way, so long as what you end up with is perfect for you." which is perfect for me. If I had to follow a project exactly I would never start or finish anything. All my most creative work is when I just sit down and get on with it, experimenting and making it up. That said, having Perri's guide to basic technique and instruction (as well as inspiration) is quite helpful.

I haven't had that much time for crafting recently and barely any time even for reading, but I've enjoyed dipping in and out of this over the past few weeks. I'm not going to lie - I don't have time for a big project at the moment but this book has inspired me to get my sewing machine out and whizz up a couple of (teeny) projects. I even went to a haberdashers today and bought some material to make some cot sheets and bits and pieces for Pip's nursery.

And, and, I got some more Liberty scraps online so I can finally start Pip's quilt. It's not going to be a chair (well, not this incarnation, anyway) but it will be thanks to this book that it finally gets going.


Thanks to Ebury Publishing for the review copy. All words, opinions and half finished projects my own. Find details of my sponsorship policy here.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Geek Girl (Holly Smale)

Baby Pip (my very own Geek Girl?)
" “My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek.”

Harriet Manners knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a “jiffy” lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. She knows that bats always turn left when exiting a cave and that peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite.

But she doesn’t know why nobody at school seems to like her.

So when Harriet is spotted by a top model agent, she grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her best friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of impossibly handsome model Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.

Veering from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, Harriet begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did.

As her old life starts to fall apart, will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?
Geek Girl was one of the reasons that I got to thinking about Young Adult fiction/literature last night. I pre-ordered this book last autumn sometime and it arrived last week, although it's official release date is today. What's that you say? A timely post? Anyhow.
You might have realised I love young adult fiction and, within that, strong female (teenage) characters. It was whilst I was reading Geek Girl that I realised that Harriet Manners is the first teenage character I've encountered who has a mobile (and who lives in this current decade - what *is* it that we are calling it - the 2010s?). This makes Harriet different from any character in any YA book that I've ever read and, I think, why I found it harder to relate to her.
That's not to say I didn't like or even love the book, I did. It's funny, and fast paced and well written and not too predictable. It's just that I can't get over the fact that I didn't recognise Harriet and it made me feel old and out of touch. And also made me a little worried for it will be like when Pip is a teenager. And Harriet's nemesis, Alexa, didn't even seem to be using social media to help enforce Harriet's status as a geek. Goodness knows what she'd have achieved if she did. 
I found Harriet an interesting protagonist. On the one hand, I could see my teenage acquaintances in parts of her, although, strangely, not myself. I wasn't enough of a geek to be a geek and whilst I had friends, no best friend like Harriet. Neither pretty or ugly, I don't think I stood out particularly at school. On the other, as is often the case with teen things these days (don't I sound so like a grandmother) I often can't understand why a character struggles and so on, when it seems they have all the required attributes. That said, she was quite self obsessed - maybe that was the problem!
In the end, I liked that Geek Girl wasn't a simple geek to chic story - there was a lot more to it than that. Complicated relationships that all teenagers suffer; parents, friends, boys. Harriet's 'big moment' didn't really mean anything after all. Or did it? There is a sequel to come, after all.
This was not a sponsored post. I bought my own copy. That said, in the interests of full disclosure, the author is a friend of mine. She didn't ask me to review it; she doesn't even know that I am. What she (hopefully) does know is that if I didn't like it, I would say it and I certainly wouldn't post a review here.

Young Adult Literature with female characters

Whilst reading reviews of something else, I came across a sad statement. It said "It made me jealous of today’s teens who get such high quality literature written for them (it was a leap straight from Sweet Valley High to Jilly Cooper in my day)" Whilst I cannot be sure if we were teenagers at the same time (I was 13 in 1995) I rather felt for the author of a blog who writes about female authors that she seemed to have lacked so much in terms of teenage female role models or specifically young adult literature about female characters. Not that there is anything wrong with SVH or Jilly Cooper. I think I own almost every SVH ever written and just bought all the most recent ebooks as well. 

I read avidly as a teenager and this statement made me try and think back to those books that I loved in those early teenage years. It also doesn't hurt that it's world book day on Friday.

Starting this post was like opening Pandora's box. The more I thought about it, the more books I could remember. This post will go on forever, so I am limiting it and I think it will have to be a reoccuring series. Add your favourites in the comments if you want.

My all time favourite was Rose, in A Little Love Song (Michelle Magorian). That's a book I still re-read to this day and such is my love for this book that my friend arranged for Michelle Magorian to sign a copy of this book for Pip. Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, A Little Love Song is one summer of Rose's life as an evacuee, arriving a schoolgirl, leaving a strong confident woman. She gave me hope that I too would fall in love, but also that I didn't need to. And that I didn't need to change to be grown up and accepted; that by being myself, I'd be ok.

Nancy Blackett in the Swallows and Amazons series (Arthur Ransome) is my longest standing girl crush on a female character. I was 7 when I first read Swallows and Amazons and always wanted to be Nancy. She was a pirate, a sailor, independent, self reliant and the ring leader of all the Swallows and Amazons adventures. She could do everything that John could do, but was also a girl. I dressed up as Nancy Blackett for world book day when I was 10. Nancy is described by Sara Maitland as a childhood role model "who transcended the restriction of femininity without succumbing to the lure of male-identification" and a "hero who had all the characteristics necessary for the job; who lived between the countries of the material and the imaginary" (I realise that Susan does fall neatly into female gender stereotyping in many ways but also without Susan, none of the adventures would ever have gone ahead. Susan knew that the parental figures did not care so much for adventure but did care that one of them could be relied on to ensure everyone went to bed, ate meals and washed. All expeditions require a cook and organiser and in Ransome's case, this happened to be Susan).

Sadie Jackson in Twelfth Day of July (Puffin Teenage Fiction) and the rest of the 'Kevin and Sadie' series (Joan Lingard). Sadie lives in Belfast and is a protestant; she meets and falls in love with Kevin, a catholic. The series follows their relationship from Belfast, London and Liverpool and did a really good job of educating me about the Irish troubles. Sadie was pretty much everything I wasn't as a teenager and I think that's why I found her so fascinating. She wasn't going to let life in Belfast stop her from living; she was sassy and courageous and followed her heart rather than her father's instructions. We read The Twelfth Day of July in the third form perhaps, as part of our English coursework and I then sought out every other book in the series in the library. Partly, I suspect, because the relationship between Kevin and Sadie was at the core of the series and, much like now, I love a good romance. But there was far more to it than that.

Alex in the Alex series (Tessa Duder). Alex was a New Zealand swimming school girl with serious talent, training for and then competing at the 1960 Rome Olympics."I have always known that in another life I was-or will be-a dolphin. I am a pink human, caught in a net of ambition and years of hard work. In a few minutes I will dive into artificially turquoise water waiting at my feet. A minute later I'll either be ecstatic or a failure." (Alex in In Lane Three, Alex Archer). I was reminded of the Alex books when watching the Olympics last summer and have been trying to track them down again to re-read (I didn't own any of them and had to rely on the school library).

Liz in In spite of all terror (Hestor Burton). I could write reams on this book (and did, in my dissertation). Liz  lives with her aunt and her family in East London poverty before being evacuated to Oxfordshire and a relatively wealthy family who really wanted a boy. She is geeky, determined and self sufficient and in the end, she and the family she is evacuated to find peace united in their grief. A common theme to my favourite books was strong female teenagers finding themselves set to a background of war and, as part of that, falling in love. Liz and Ben's love is not graphic like Rose and Alec's is, in A Little Love Song. That was written in the 1990s and shows (in a good way). Liz meanwhile remains in the late 1960s and although younger and chaster, I still wanted to be like Liz and to find but not depend on a man like Ben.

Victoria in Vicarage Family: A Biography of Myself (Noel Streatfeild), Laura in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, most of the books by Judy Blume, the list is endless. I'm not quite sure where children's literature becomes young adult literature in some places and indeed I think the boundary can be quite blurred but basically anything aimed at 10/12 years to 18 years must be a rough definition.

To be continued...