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Sharing the love – and why I struggle with Valentine’s Day

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Etsy: Heart garland

I will never understand Valentine’s day. I never have.

At school I hated it because all the cool kids got cards and the rest of us felt totally unloved and embarrassed. When anonymous cards were sent, it became an opportunity for the cool kids to make fun of all the losers who weren’t ‘man enough’ to put their name to their declarations, and I just found the whole concept very weird and uncomfortable.

When I was sixteen I moved to South Africa and went to a school which embraced Valentine’s day in a truly American-high-school style. Everyone in the all-girls school gathered in the hall at lunch time whilst the headteacher held a bucket of single roses; she then preceded to call out the names of every girl who had received a rose from the boys school round the corner. What utter lunacy.

I only wish I’d been a stronger character at school. I wish I’d rebelled and spoken out about the social isolation caused by these theatrical performances. And that’s all they are, because if you love someone you will tell them in your own way. You don’t need to publicly remind the popular girls that fourteen hormonal boys have a hard-on for them, and you don’t need to remind the girls lacking confidence that no one has noticed them. (Of course, it’s likely that they were very much noticed – but probably by the boy that didn’t have the confidence to buy a rose from the school office and send it to the school round the corner.) I’ll never understand why teachers thought this was a good idea.

When I went to University, fellow students found Valentine’s day depressing. It made them miserable, and I hated that this Hallmark Holiday had such a hold over people.

Today I drove to work and listened to the radio. People (largely women) were sending in examples of the most romantic things their partners’ had done to celebrate Valentine’s day. One woman said that she was so grateful to her “amazing husband” because he had brought her a cup of coffee in bed, and said she could have a lie in for twenty minutes whilst he got the kids ready for school because, Valentine’s Day. 

I’m sure there’s more to their relationship and family dynamic than the text message sent in to BBC Radio, but I couldn’t help but think it would be great if he shared that duty with her every day. But who knows, maybe he has other duties.

I channelled my v-day frustrations to R when I got home, and tried to work out what makes me so annoyed by it. Is it the constant display of all the love? Is it the public Facebook messages between couples who live together that makes it feel like we’re back in a school performance? Maybe, but that’s expected. We live in a world where we share everything all of the time, so surely displaying love is no different to publicly displaying food and friendship and parties on social media – of which, by the way, I am entirely guilty. So why shouldn’t we share love? Maybe it’s nice to give people a day to be mushy when the world feels like it’s building walls to separate us.

I think that perhaps, above everything, my difficulty with this day is that it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like true romance; it feels forced and contrived. A guy at work asked me to remind him to buy roses (obviously) at lunch time because, Valentine’s Day. Is that romance? Doing it because everyone else is doing it? I guess romance means different things to each of us, and if this is real to you or you just welcome an opportunity to indulge in romance then that’s absolutely fine. But it’s still a day for just you and your significant other, right? We don’t need you to stand up in front of your peers and smugly say, ‘look how in love I am’. Because, on any other day, maybe that would be okay. Maybe your selfie in a love heart and PDA would be cute, but when thousands of people are doing it on one day in one go, it feels like we’re being bombarded. It loses it’s authenticity and it feels like we’re competing. It feels like we’re saying ‘Look! My partner’s better than yours!’

We are all very different, and if I’m allowed to rant about V-day in my corner of the web you are of course welcome to bask in the glory of love hearts in yours. So if you’re madly in love and this is a day you celebrate, then I hope you have had a wonderful day and that you got spoilt rotten. If it’s not your thing, I hope you have a day just like every other day, celebrating your love in your own way no matter how understated that may be. But if you’re not madly in love and this day gets you down in any way, all I’m saying is: don’t let it. Because to many of us (70% according to a survey on Twitter that I now can’t find to link to) it’s utter nonsense.

I don’t feel like I can end this post on a completely negative vibe – I got called grumpy and cynical twice at work today! – so I’m going to mark this year’s Valentine’s day by joining the #sharingthelove hashtag which I actually find quite lovely. It’s a chance to share nine pictures from the last 12 months that show how much I love the people around me. I figure if we’re going to publicly share love on this day, let’s share all different kinds of love with lots of very lovely people. (And yes, pizza deserves a spot because pizza is love.)

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Date weekend in London

I love date night. I’m never too bothered about how we spend it, but I love getting out of the house and doing something away from the daily routine to catch up with my S.O and really spend time together.

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that R and I attempted a mini-moon to Tallinn (Estonia’s capital city) last month, but it didn’t go too well. R got flu and we didn’t leave the apartment other than my trips to the supermarket and the pharmacy. Not quite the romantic post-wedding getaway we had planned.

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Last weekend we decided to try again – this time in our own capital city, which was massively helped by the fact that my sister’s wedding present to us was a night’s stay in the very beautiful High Road House boutique hotel in South West London.

We kicked off the weekend with Friday night cocktails and Stewart Lee’s Content Provider, a comedy tour I highly recommend if you enjoy dry satirical comedy with a strong focus on history and politics. I hardly ever see live stand-up these days but it’s something I wish I did more of; laughter really is the best medicine and I seriously need to up my dosage.

On Saturday we treated ourselves to lunch at Marcus Wareing’s restaurant at The Berkley – creatively named ‘Marcus‘.  We had cocktails (the theme of the weekend) and a three course set lunch menu with a matching wine list because why the hell not. Cheap it is not but, in the spirit of firmly sticking to my new year’s resolutions, it was one hell of an experience and one I definitely plan on repeating at some point.

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Feeling full and tipsy and ready for a snooze, I suggested we go and see the afternoon screening of La La Land. I wholeheartedly adore Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling but had a feeling the film had been over-rated by the critics and would probably a bit pretentious if not a little bit nauseating, so probably a good place to rest my eyes. Ladies and gents, I was wrong. So very wrong. It was WONDERFUL.

Being back in the big city reminded me how much I love London. It has pockets of utter glory and there’s nothing I love more than strolling through the back streets and wistfully admiring the colourful overpriced townhouses on my way to a cosy gastro pub. On Sunday we did just that, and found ourselves at The Smokehouse in Chiswick. I’m pretty critical of a pub roast dinner because it often doesn’t live up to the home-cooked version, but my oh my their roast beef with all the trimmings was absolutely perfect. They have a sister pub in Islington so if you find yourself in North or West London on a cold Sunday lunch time, do yourself a favour and get involved.

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As we headed over to High Road House Hotel, I had a bit of a spring in my step. I’m always so envious of people who stay in hotels just for the sake of it and we are not that couple. We have lived together for eight years and we stay in hotels – usually cheap ones – out of the necessity of needing a place to crash, not to indulge in a night of luxury. But High Road House is exactly the place to go to hide away from real life and curl up on a bed so comfortable and in sheets so soft you imagine you’ve died and gone to heaven on a cloud.

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We stayed in the Play Room (worth noting the lift doesn’t go all the way to the top floor, so you spoonies have one flight to cope with) and it just screams relaxation – or rather, whispers it in a soft, calming voice. The bath, surrounded by an array of Cowshed products, is just perfect for an evening soak, and the huge shower makes for a refreshing morning wake-up call.

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The stay reminded me of two very important things: one, there is quite possibly nothing better than a good mattress with crisp, clean, white bedding and two, it’s good to take time out and stay somewhere quiet for no reason other than to curl up and hide away. It’s heavenly, and in my mind it’s what date weekends are made of.

Now… time to start planning the next one.

New year resolutions for 2017

I wasn’t going to do this, but I can never ever get through January without thinking about what I want to stop, change or improve. I roll my eyes at myself for giving in to such a generic tradition, but I always end up coming back to the fact that resolutions are probably, fundamentally, a very good thing. There is nothing wrong with trying to be better, trying to be happier, and striving to get the most out of the year ahead so I figure why the hell not? Let’s do this.

Last year I stuck to three very simple resolutions: keep some weekends free, listen to more podcasts, and read more books. I figured if I achieved those things I’d be well rested and my mind and body would be enriched.

I read more books and loved it, but I listened to precisely zero podcasts which quite frankly is embarrassing. However, perhaps most importantly, I can confidently and proudly say that I kept many weekends free, and it was wonderful. I had the easy excuse of wedding planning which meant I didn’t have a lot of spare time, and meant the last quarter of the year was pretty much me and R at home chilling together. This year I don’t have that excuse but I’m determined to keep the same resolution because it did me the world of good.

(Note – so far, I’ve failed. January and February are fully booked and March is half way there. Probably need to burn my diary.)

2017

This year I’m going to jump up to five but I reckon they’re all very doable and very sensible and will obviously make me and my life super brilliant.

#1 – Spend money on experiences, not things. It’s the year of the honeymoon and it’s the year of clearing crap out of my house. I want to focus on travel and food and taking care of myself, rather than another basket of Asos stuff I don’t need.

#2 – Keep some weekends free. It’s time to go back to basics and start blocking out one weekend each month. One weekend for pyjamas and crap films, for massages and takeaway, for sleep and self-care. I’m excited about it already.

#3 – Stop watching Question Time. For those not in the know, Question Time is a BBC political discussion show and it drives me MAD. It’s on 22:45 so we normally watch it in bed, which means I get angrier and angrier watching lying politicians and bigoted audience members and by the time it ends I am too frustrated to sleep. So no more.

#4 – Send birthday cards. Stationery is my thing. I love notebooks and cards more than many other things, and I am always so touched when my dear friends make an effort to send me beautiful birthday cards – and yet I never remember to send them out. This is the year that all my friends will receive beautiful cards; it’s going to be great.

#5 -Sort out my health. Don’t worry, I’m not expecting to cure chronic pain this year, but I think it’s time for a new approach. Mine isn’t sustainable and as much as I like to think I’ve got it sorted, I know I haven’t. This year I plan on trying a few new things and being as healthy as can be.

What have you got planned for 2017?

The 50 TV series you really should be binge-watching

Binge-watching is my thing. Surely it’s everyones thing, right?

For many years I thought I liked to spend hour after hour watching episode after episode of something because I am lazy – and that’s definitely part of it – but I recently watched a programme where a woman with a tumour on her spine talked about the importance of TV in coping with limited mobility.

It got me thinking. Whilst feeling emotionally attached to the lives on screen may seem sad to some, film and television play a huge role in the lives of the chronically ill, the elderly, the socially awkward, the physically challenged, and many others. The arts are important and I don’t feel like something has to be award winning, critically acclaimed or particularly profound for it to be enjoyable, supportive and meaningful. (This is me justifying my love of shit TV here. Can you tell?)

So I thought I’d kick off the new year by sharing my top 50 favourite TV series with you. It sounds like a lot, but this was surprisingly easy – which is either a massive achievement or a huge life failing on my part. Take it as you will. Some of these are what I call “good shit TV” whilst others are truly excellent; you can be the judge. In no particular order, here we go:

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The Sopranos – Image via E!

#1 The Sopranos. Follows family-man Tony Soprano managing his family and the mob. The final episode is one of the most frustrating finales I have ever watched.

#2 The Night Of. A Netflix original about a guy who’s arrested for committing murder. The evidence is clear, but he swears he didn’t do it. I was hooked in the first five minutes.

#3 Breaking Bad. Chemistry teacher turned crystal meth dealer. What’s not to love?

#4 The Fall. If only for Gillian Anderson. But also, a good BBC psychopath drama.

#5 Veronica Mars. If you love high school drama (who doesn’t?) then this is for you. School student turned private detective. Genius.

#6 Friday Night Lights. Again with the high school drama. American football, high school relationships, and the best power couple you’ll ever see on screen.

#7 Freaks and Geeks. Did I mention I love high school drama? This is all about the outcasts at an American high school, and the difficulty that is your teenage years.

#8 The Following. It’s not that great, but it’s got Kevin Bacon in (that’s a good thing guys) and follows FBI agents trying to catch a serial killer. It’s good shit TV, trust me.

#9 House of Cards. Another Netflix original. Great cast and perfect if you suspect every politician is completely corrupt, as I do.

#10 Pretty Little Liars. I got through seven series of this. It’s terrible and ridiculous (but completely addictive) and follows four high school girls looking for their friend’s killer.

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Greys Anatomy – Image via Wikipedia

#11 Greys Anatomy. Obviously. Because it’s Greys, and Greys is brilliant.

#12 The Wire. It took a while for me to get in to this but once I did, oh my. Five intense series following the police and drug scene in Baltimore.

#13 Arrested Development. Such brilliant comedy. This series follows the dysfunctional Bluth family and brings with it some incredible one-liners.

#14 Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes is obviously a classic, but with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman it is so very good.

#15 Friends. It never gets old.

#16 Sex and the City. Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda and Carrie got me through my university days.

#17 Orphan Black. Clones. And some great dry humour.

#18 Girls. The modern day Sex and the City but, some would argue, better.

#19 The Walking Dead. Zombies. Series 1-3 are great, but I gave up after that. There’s only so much running from zombies, killing zombies, hiding from zombies I can do.

#20 Fargo. I preferred the film, but still worth a watch.

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The Americans – Image via The Independent

#21 Dexter. Serial killer who only kills bad guys. It’s good shit TV except for the final episode which is RUBBISH.

#22 The Killing.  Danish series following a murder case day-by-day. They made an American version as well, which is also good. Watch the Danish one first though.

#23 The Americans. Oh I absolutely adore this. KGB spies fitting in to American society.

#24 Mad Men. One of the best. Follows the lives of advertising executives in the 1950s and 60s. Sustained its brilliance for an entire seven series.

#25 The Shield. Corrupt cops running the strike team in LAPD. Horrible and excellent.

#26 The Office. Brilliant British comedy with a good little love story to boot.

#27 The Missing. Follows the investigation of a child’s abduction. It’s good.

#28 Veep. Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President of America. Genius.

#29 Peaky Blinders. Gangster series set in Birmingham in the 1920s. Gross and brilliant.

#30 Happy Valley. British crime drama set in Yorkshire. Gritty, excellent and not at all happy.

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Happy Valley – Image via Radio Times

#31 Broadchurch. Olivia Coleman and David Tennant, two of my favourites. Police drama about the investigation of the murder of a young boy.

#32 Cold Feet. This will forever be one of my absolute favourites. If Desert Island Discs was about television, this would be one of mine.

#33 Jessica Jones. Comic book series, and the best one I’ve seen in a while.

#34 Stranger Things. Another Netflix original starring Winona Ryder, set in the 1980s and based on strange things that start happening when Winona’s son goes missing.

#35 Community. American comedy about an unlikely group of friends at a community college. Funny funny funny.

#36 The West Wing. Politics, dry comedy, Allison Janney and Rob Lowe. Thumbs up.

37 #The Returned. Set in a small town where people who previously died in a coach crash return after many years have passed.

#38 Parks and Recreation. I adore Amy Poehler and I adore this comedy series. Felt like I’d lost my friends when it ended, but that’s because I’m a bit sad.

#39 Line of Duty. A BBC police drama about the department that investigates corrupt officers.

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Parks and Recreation – Image via Huffington Post

#40 The IT Crowd. Three hilarious people who make up the IT department, based in the dark basement of the office block. Brilliant funny brilliant

#41 The Hour. The BBC launching a new cultural affairs programme in the 1950s. Strong cast, strong story line.

#42 Lost. Many people felt the Lost writers’ had lost their way by the end of series two but I remained loyal and loved it from beginning to end.

#43 W1A. Set at the BBC headquarters and follows a team who have been put together to redefine the values of the BBC. Hilarious – especially if you work in an office.

#44 Better Call Saul. A spin-off of Breaking Bad and so much better than I ever expected. I am wary of spin-offs but this was so worth it.

#45 Orange is the New Black. Set in a female prison and centered around a slightly annoying prisoner, Piper. But the other inmates make up for her frustrating qualities.

#46 Love Hate. Gruesome, gritty series about gang life in Ireland. Not one for the faint-hearted.

#47 Ally McBeal. Quirky series from the 90s about a group of unconventional lawyers. Made me fall in love with Barry White and yearn for unisex toilets to dance in.

#48 iZombie. A twenty-something girl is turned in to a zombie, gets a job at a morgue to secretly eat brains, but ends up ‘seeing’ how murder victims are killed. Outstanding!

#49 Search Party. A group of self-absorbed twenty-somethings start looking into the disappearance of someone they loosely knew at college. I like it a lot.

#50 The OA. Another Netflix original and the latest must-see series. Gripping and emotional and beautiful throughout. One of the best on this list.

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The OA – Image via Film

The end.

*Takes a bow*


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Homemade blackberry vodka – part two

A few weeks ago I told you I went blackberry picking so that we could make some bramble vodka. This week I thought I’d share the delightful, deep purple mess that we made and the recipe that will give us some delicious vodka treats on New Year’s Eve.

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You will need, roughly:
– 500g blackberries
– 120g white sugar
– 1l vodka

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Add all three ingredients to jar or bottle that can be tightly closed. Store in a cool, dark place for as long as you possibly can. We stored ours for three months.

Slowly turn the bottles/jars at least once a week, making sure that the blackberries are able to move around as you turn.

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As the weeks went by, the liquid turned a darker colour and the sugar fully dissolved.

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After three months, we took the vodka from the cupboard and prepared to serve it in to 50ml shot bottles ready for wedding favours.

We placed a sieve and a sheet of muslin cloth over a large bowl, and poured the vodka into the sieve.

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The liquid very slowly passed through the muslin, leaving us with a beautifully pure and sediment free blackberry vodka.

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Using a small jug and plastic funnel, we filled each of the shot bottles and wrote name tags for each guest, ready to tie around the bottle necks.

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The bottles look so cute, and I think they’re the perfect winter wedding favour. DIY weddings are bit daunting to a girl like me, who far prefers to throw money at a problem – money I don’t have, I hasten to add. But the work on these favours has been spread out over three months so is entirely manageable, the vodka tastes delicious and I’m really glad to be able to add a personal touch to our wedding.

Sadly (or gladly) we made far too much, so I thoroughly enjoyed curling up this evening with blackberry vodka on ice, accompanied by several puff pastry cheese straws and an evening in front of Home Alone. Adulting at its best.

If you didn’t see last year’s sloe gin recipe, check it out. It was equally delicious.

The good in 2016

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you 2016 has been a terrible year. It all kicked off with the death of David Bowie on 10 January, shortly followed by the deaths of Prince and Alan Rickman. Jo Cox’s death shook the political world in June and shortly afterwards Brexit happened, and then Trump. It has all been a lot to take, and many are hurrying on the end of the year so that 2017 can be the start of happier things.

But this year has not all been doom and gloom. In fact, it’s included some pretty wonderful moments and I feel the need to take a moment and reflect on some of the good. It’s important to celebrate good things when they happen, and not feel guilty for enjoying those happy moments. So with that in mind, here’s my year of good…

I started my new job in January and discovered a true love of the railway. In fact, for the first time ever I realised what it really felt like to love your job.

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In February we moved in to our very first country cottage, and I got to experience slow living at its very best. The pond, the greenhouse, the garden… it was all part of our dream home and it’s definitely living up to expectation.

In March we decided to get married and surprised all our friends with invitations in the post having spent weeks making all the arrangements in secret.

We went glamping in April and I walked eight miles in the South Downs. Eight miles!

In May one of my best friends got married, closely followed by another in September, and in between that my Godson was born in August.

I survived festival season in June when I popped over to Porto for Primavera, and we also spent a couple of days in Florence at the end of a beautiful Italian wedding.

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Sadly September, October and November were destroyed by an aggressive flare up, but through that I discovered that my new GP is very excellent and he encourages quick telephone calls when advice is needed but an appointment isn’t necessary. If that’s not good I don’t know what is.

Soon it will be December, which means Christmas dinners and party nights out, days spent out in the cold and nights spent warm by the fire. My sister comes over from Australia and my brother-in-law comes over from America, and our friends and family will join us at the end of the year to celebrate our wedding.

I have to say that despite the sadness and the stress and the many lows, 2016 has been a pretty good year full of some incredible highs. In fact, it’s one I’ll treasure forever.

I’ve got chronic pain and a wedding to dance at

The blog’s been a little quiet lately, for which I can only apologise. A long flare-up often leads to periods of quiet because, quite frankly, who wants to write about (or read about, for that matter) pain and sadness for a solid nine weeks?

Last week I decided I’d forget about the pain and write about whatever was going on in the world instead. Sadly, Trump happened and that was another pile of pain I couldn’t bring myself to write about. Instead I just cried and scrolled through a range of devastated posts online. I didn’t feel the need to add to the outpouring of emotion; everyone was already articulating my thoughts – and that in itself was somewhat comforting.

So how did I decide to fill the blog void? I decided to write about weddings! Hurrah! Because quite honestly, if wedding chat doesn’t cheer us up in times like this, what will?

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Image via Love My Dress

That’s how I feel about weddings. Even as a non-religious, non-traditional, non-bride, I believe nothing beats a good wedding. A few months ago I wrote this post about our un-wedding coming up next month, and at just seven weeks away it’s getting very exciting. For the past seven months we’ve been planning on Friday nights with takeaway, wine and the next thing on the to-do list. It’s involved nights of tasting wines, cheese, lemon tarts and chocolate tortes, and listening to our favourite tunes on repeat. Seriously, if this is wedding planning, I may have to do this again. (I joke. Kinda.)

There have only been two moments I haven’t adored; one where I decided my dress didn’t suit me about 413 times, and one where I couldn’t decide how to style my hair for six months. Then I reminded myself that things like dresses and hair styles were exactly why I didn’t want a wedding at all, and I promised myself at the beginning that these wouldn’t be the things I would worry about. I refused to become overtaken by cakes and flowers and dresses and hair styles – things that I just don’t really care about. I just wanted it to be simple and fun and so far, it seems to be going to plan. So after taking more selfies than any sane person should, I’ve just decided I look awesome in my dress and I will have excellent hair and who cares if I don’t. Not me. (Repeating that mantra whenever I start to doubt myself.)

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Image via Love My Dress

The Friday night planning continues and we surround ourselves by all the right people and all the good things, and it all feels pretty marvellous. But whilst one part of me is planning to make sure it’s the best party we ever have, the other part of me is planning to make sure I can be well enough to enjoy that party.

As a chronic pain patient of eight years, I’m well practised. Behind every day is a well-tested plan. I live each day knowing what to eat and when, what to wear, what to do and what not to do, and how many tablets to take and when. I pride myself on sticking to that plan – most of the time.

Even so, planning or not, wedding days are long. They’re emotionally and physically draining and I know that to last until the end of the night it’s going to take some small miracle. I’ll take a medicine bag with me containing all my essential pills and potions, and I’ve got lots of little things planned to help me out throughout the day. I guess beyond that, all I can do is hope for the best and pace myself. And I will. I really will.

Okay, I’ll try.


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The alternative halloween

Staying in is the new going out. Didn’t you know? I’m a big fan of reminding myself (and others) that getting involved in the fun and celebrating the holidays doesn’t have to mean going out and putting your body through strain. Staying in can be just as good.

When it comes to halloween my usual approach is to stay in, turn out the lights and when the trick or treaters come knocking, I do the sensible thing and pretend I’m not home. Young kids in Scream masks are frickin’ scary.

But, when HMV gave me the opportunity to collaborate on a post for the perfect halloween night in, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to get involved without leaving my sofa.

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Skull bunting and candles to get in to the halloween mood

My halloween-themed treats had me perfectly prepared a spooky night in. I gathered blankets, popcorn, skull candles and bunting and hours of viewing with two DVDs. Perfect.

There’s something good about creating a fuss. You get caught up in excitement by creating an atmosphere, getting friends involved and making an event. It’s what takes your evening from ‘lonely girl watching TV’ to ‘awesome halloween night in’.

I figured if I’m going all out with skulls and mood lighting, I might as well add a pumpkin to the mix too. Before I knew it, I had a house full of on-theme decor and a window that said, “come on trick-or-treaters, this is a house that welcomes halloween fun”. (It’s probably worth saying, the pumpkin stayed in the window long enough for me to take this photo. After that I removed it; I didn’t want the neighbours thinking it was okay to trick or treat. I may have taken a small step towards embracing the horror, but spiders and witches and fancy dress are still too creepy.)

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My perfect pumpkin

The best thing about staying in is you get to rest that body whilst spending time with the people you want to surround yourself by. You can drink cocktails and eat in your pyjamas and make your night as wild or as tame as you want. You set the rules.

What’s not to love? Plus, it’s a great way to start the ‘best horror film’ debate. As a total wuss I can tell you our two films were a good mix – Hocus Pocus was a hit whilst The Exorcist required a bit less attention. What would be your choice? Happy Halloween!

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Cocktails, films, and brain sweets. Obviously.

Thanks to HMV for reminding me that staying in with a good film is a great way to have fun.

Homemade blackberry vodka – part one

Before you can make homemade blackberry vodka, you have to pick a lot of blackberries. This year we’re planning to make about 5 litres of the stuff for our wedding in December, so many an evening is spent walking along the canal, searching for brambles. It’s really quite idyllic, and the fact there’s vodka at the end of it is nothing short of an added bonus.

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You would think I might have tired of this tiny stretch of canal by my house, but I really haven’t. In the summer months the boat yard has been busier than usual, but it still seems so calm and peaceful. Maybe that’s because I’m still comparing it to our last house on the south circular in South East London. The house boats have moored and I love nothing more than wandering along the narrow path, picking my boat of choice.

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Still, this wasn’t about picking boats. We were picking blackberries. Big, ripe, juicy blackberries. Last year we made this sloe gin and it was amazing, so I’m hoping this year’s vodka will be just as good. Fingers crossed anyway – we plan on serving it to 70 people.

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Living with chronic pain means that country walks don’t happen as often as I’d like. In fact, the chance that I’ll get a perfect summer evening on the same day that I feel healthy is fairly unlikely so days like today have to be embraced. Embraced, documented with multiple photographs, and blogged about. Because isn’t this what we’re all striving for? Those moments of good health that you just want to box up and pack away, ready to re-live when you’re short of spoons.

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24 hours in Oxford

How does your home town make you feel? Whenever people tell me they’re going to Oxford for the weekend, I can’t help but wonder why. I mean, sure, it’s famous for its university buildings, for punting on the Thames, but… it’s just Oxford. It’s the place I grew up, full of tourists and devoid of decent shops, expensive and dull.

As you probably know, I returned to Oxfordshire when we left London earlier this year, so when a friend from Newcastle came to visit and said she wanted to explore the city, I put together the best 24 hour guided tour that I could come up with. And you know what? It turns out Oxford is pretty special.

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Oxford city is small and flat – which is a relief, because I’m less physical than most – so looking around it doesn’t take long. There are many museums to get lost in but the weather was absolutely glorious and neither of us fancied moseying around old buildings in the blazing heat, so instead we took to the university grounds.

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Christ Church College meadows are absolutely beautiful. They’re green and spacious and manicured to perfection, with impressive buildings imposing on the landscape. We walked out of the grounds and over Magdalen Bridge, watching the punters enjoy the midday sun. (Note – students, get yourselves a job punting for people who want to lie in the boats without the hard work.)

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Walking over the bridge and down the High Street made me realise how lucky I am to have grown up in Oxford, and also how embarrassing it is to have claimed Oxford as a dull city. Dull! I go to Prague and Amsterdam and Paris and Gdansk and wax lyrical about beautiful architecture and the joy of small cities to walk around and yet, here I am, overlooking all this on my doorstep.

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We had lunch on Broad Street surrounded by many more beautiful buildings – and about 200 students in their gowns, enjoying graduation day with families and friends. This is what I hated about growing up here but now, seeing the road swarming with black gowns – like a bat invasion, I felt pretty lucky. Lucky to see this hub of excitement, and even luckier not to be a part of it; there’s nothing better than people watching. (Second note – I worked damn hard to take photos without the student invasion in them, but now I kind of wish I’d captured the buzz.)

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This is one of my favourite buildings in Oxford; the Radcliffe Camera. A round library – what’s not to love.

Now you know I mentioned Oxford is small and I’m sore? Well, this little tour of the city’s most iconic buildings took us from morning until lunch, so we swanned off to the countryside and spent the afternoon in the grounds of Blenheim Palace.

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Blenheim Palace is a country house situated about half an hour from Oxford. The Duke of Marlborough lives there which, let’s be honest, seems a little over the top. I mean – who needs this much space? I barely know what to do with two spare rooms.

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I begrudge paying £24 per person to get in to grounds that I used to sneak in to for free when I was a kid. That is a lot of money to wander around a lake and look at a big house. But, come on, what a beautiful big house it is. Plus, there’s a mini train that takes you to a maze and a model village so well worth the £24 in my book.

(Check out my instagram for pictures of the model village and the Oxford snaps that my phone was responsible for.)