Such, such were the joys

20 Feb

It truly feels like an age since I’ve blogged, and – although I’m not going to dwell on it – I really do feel quite ashamed of myself.

Since my last post, the bloke and I have packed up everything we own, moved house, bought and built approximately £1,000 worth of flatpack furniture, unpacked everything we own and adopted two cats.

In addition, obviously, we’ve been going to work, doing the food shopping, scoffing, and completing such vital tasks as checking out our new local pubs.

With no broadband connection for the first three weeks after our relocation, I felt pretty bereft despite these diversions – and so it gives me pleasure to resume normal service on my beloved Blog of Joy.

Here are the things that have been making me happy (or at least helping to keep me sane) during what’s been a brilliant, but very busy time.

1. My iPad

This was an extravagant Christmas present from my wonderful fiance, and I adore it. ‘But what’s an iPad FOR?’ people ask. ‘Isn’t it just for show? Isn’t it really pretty pointless?’

‘No, it isn’t pointless,’ I respond. ‘It is simply wonderful.’

iPad in Cath Kidston case.

It's technological AND twee...

It’s an eBook reader, a place for downloading favourite magazines and newspapers in stunning digital formats, an easy-to-use, light and mobile web-surfing device. It’s a pleasure to use – and it’s bloody cool.

To boot, mine has a floral Cath Kidston case.

Bliss Spa Triple Oxygen face mask

Bliss Spa's foaming face mask

2. This fabulous Bliss face mask

This face mask is among the most bizarre and impressive I’ve ever used. Normally I’m one for a simple mud mask: you know where you are with thick goop that dries on your face, pulling out all the impurities and leaving you in need of a good slick of lotion.

I was sent a sample of the Triple Oxygen Instant Energy Infusion Mask (ahem), along with a bunch of stuff I ordered online as Christmas gifts. I must say that while I wouldn’t recommend shopping online at Bliss UK after my shockingly crap experience with the site, the face mask is truly great.

The pinkish serum turns into a foam on your skin, tingling and tickling your pores until they return to life and your face looks bright again. I appreciated this right after Christmas, I can assure you.

If you have £40 burning a hole in your pocket and worry that your skin appears as knackered as you feel, give it a try… Or maybe just ask the people in Debenhams for a sample.

Whistles top and skirt, from the Spring 2011 collection

Sigh!

3. Shopping at Whistles

Every time I walk past a branch of Whistles, a part of me wants to yell: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’

The brand’s collections just go from strength to strength, and there is never a shortage of items in store for me to lust after.

Whistles’ email marketing is the devil on my shoulder (although, given my digital geekery, I am continually thinking up ways that it could be even more effective).

Yet I can forgive the countless temptations Whistles throws my way; I can forgive the holes in my bank balance that regularly appear every time I happen to step across the threshold. This is because the clothes are of excellent quality. They’re stylish, edgy, classy and comfortable all at the same time.

What’s more, even I look good in them: they are cut for women, not gangly teenagers (yes, I am narrowing my eyes at you, Topshop).

It genuinely gives me pleasure to see a British high street brand doing so brilliantly – and helping to bulk up the size of my already out-of-control wardrobe.

Jumper and skirt from the Whistles 2011 collection; image from the Whistles website.

4. Some pretty incredible cushions

After moving, me and the bloke went furniture and accessories shopping on Tottenham Court Road and did the unthinkable: we went into Heal’s.

This is the sort of tomfoolery that results in paying loads of money for super beautiful homewares – which we duly did. Among my favourite purchases that day were a selection of beautiful Donna Wilson cushions. They were well worth splashing out on.

Wilson’s work is stunning: warm, homely, witty and cool all at the same time. What’s more, she won Elle Decoration’s Designer of the Year award in 2010.

5. Dreaming of gorgeous wedding gowns

Wedding dress ideas have begun to crystallise in my mind, in much the same way as those dodgy substances from chemistry sets that you have to leave hanging on string until they solidify. (Did anyone else do ‘gem-making’ as a child?)

Anyway. I’m planning on going to see the lovely ladies at Fur Coat, No Knickers and to pop in at David Fielden over the next couple of months, to be poured into gowns and to get an idea of what will work on me. Squeeeeeeealll!

David Fielden dress, style 7219

A romantic vision!

6. Chips and beer at The Queen’s

My new favourite pub is The Queen’s in Crouch End. The chips are amazing (and come with home made spicy ketchup), it has a great wine list and always offers a strong selection of real ales.

7. My fur babies

Last, but definitely not least, the two latest additions to our family have been keeping us busy and amused since late last month.

Mo and Dessy - my fur babies

Snuggled together on the kitchen rug

We adopted sisters Mo and Destiny from Battersea Cats and Dogs Home at Old Windsor and are absolutely in love with them. They adore each other, occasionally bicker like old women and very much enjoy cuddles, eating the poshest cat food we can find and climbing inside open cupboards.

The wise words of Diana Ross

5 Jan

And lo! After weeks away from the blog I return this evening with a brief post in celebration of the beginning of a brand new year.

Ok, so it’s January 5th and the start of 2011 already seems like slightly old news. I guess once most people’s hangovers have receded and they’re back to work, thoughts of THIS YEAR being different from any other fade away as quickly as our resolutions to lose weight/give up wine/stop idly browsing ASOS whenever there are five minutes spare.

But for me, there’s no doubt 2011 will be a big year. I have exciting personal plans for the months ahead, my wedding planning will continue apace come Springtime, and there are always new handbags to be spied, lusted after, saved for and (inevitably) purchased.

I asked myself over the festive period, as Diana herself might: Do you know where you’re going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you?

Step into Christmas…

12 Dec

During a pyjama-clad discussion with my other half this morning, I found myself explaining to him why Elton John’s ‘Step into Christmas’ is among my least favourite festive tunes. Not only does the title’s turn of phrase offend me – how exactly is one supposed to step in to a day, or a season, pray tell? – the smug jauntiness of Elton’s track is also supremely irritating.

‘Step into Christmas’? My arse. I always feel as though I have to be dragged kicking and screaming.

Of course, UK retailers’ obsession with lighting up every high street like a Christmas tree from mid-October contributes to my annual, groaning descent into a pre-festive funk. While everyone else starts wearing santa hats and wrapping gifts immediately after Halloween, I can’t bring myself to so much as look at a mince pie until December.

Perhaps my moodiness is also something to do with the fact that, despite the arrival of Christmas on exactly the same date every year, I am never financially prepared for it. My bank balance is always nearing rock bottom at exactly the moment I need to start shopping.

Nevertheless, today – to paraphrase that awful song – I have found myself tip-toeing cautiously towards feeling festive. I have successfully done 90% of my Christmas shopping without leaving the flat, or even getting dressed. This truly is a cause for celebration, considering my nearest ‘town centre’ is hell on earth, aka Oxford Street.

So, in a bid to feed my slowly burgeoning seasonal joy, I thought I would share with you the things that never fail to bring out the small, sentimental, Chritstmas-loving girl in me. Here they are.

Diptyque Frankincense candle

Diptyque Frankincense candle, available at department stores

1. Diptyque candles

Posh scented candles are a real indulgence, and I buy them rarely. But at Christmas, it’s become a little tradition for me to buy a wintry, spicy or festive-smelling one that I burn in the few weeks running up to the big day. Scent is a powerful thing, and this year’s frankincense candle reminds me strongly of hours spent in the incense-soaked Catholic churches of my youth.

2. Warm booze

Mulled wine, hot cider, rum grog and winter Pimm’s are served in gastro pubs throughout the land at this time of year – and how lovely these tipples are! There’s something delightful about stepping into a steaming-hot pub, complete with cloyingly spicy atmosphere, from the freezing cold of the street outside.

White Christmas movie poster

Dreaming of looking like Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas...

3. White Christmas on DVD

There are loads of films people associate with Christmas: Home Alone, Love Actually and the Harry Potter movies among them. But my all-time favourites are the old technicolor movies that get shown at this time of year – especially White Christmas.

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye form a much-underrated comedy double act, while Rosemary Clooney smoulders as the crooner’s love interest. The musical numbers are great, the costumes are great and the dancing is superb. Best enjoyed with a glass of red and a slice of cake.

4. ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ & other Christmas songs

When I was a kid, my Mum used to take me and my sister all over the place in her little car. For years she couldn’t drive, but as soon as she passed her test, her vehicle sort of became her very own little shrine to ‘Maureen-ness’.

There was always a bin in the car (yes, seriously), it was always incredibly neat and there was always either an Abba album or some bizarre, obscure Motown tape in the deck. But at a ridiculously early point every year she would ditch the 70s pop and put in her bumper Christmas collection, which featured some absolute classics – as well as the odd prize turkey.

My sister and I would always fall about laughing when Chris de Burgh’s song, ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ came on. Even at a relatively young age, I was staggered by the pompous insanity of this track;  his vision of the baby Jesus as some kind of alien, sent down from a strange planet to teach mankind to love. And ever since, this has been my number one favourite Christmas song. It’s ridiculous, but it somehow sums up the madness and joy of the season.

See also: Fairytale of New York, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Merry Xmas (War is Over), River (the stunning James Taylor version).

5. Vegetables

Some people are all about the meat at Christmas. I am all about the vegetables. Give me a plate piled high with crisp roast potaoes, parsnips, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots and I’m a happy girl. But hold the sprouts.

6. Home

I almost wrote that ‘it goes without saying’ – but I don’t think people say this, and mean it, often enough.

Being back with my parents, old friends and extended family at Christmas time is now the best thing about it for me – because what else is the season really for once you understand Santa is a myth?

Presents, and even stuffing my face full of food, I could forgo any year – as long as my much-loved people were around me.

Loco & Coco

30 Nov

After a long period without blogging, here I am again!

What’s my excuse for not being around? Well, first and foremost, the insane amount of wrangling that’s been going on over the future of my tenure in my current home. After much debate, the fiance and I will be leaving our abode. However, thanks to some ace negotiating by us both we will be departing with a very welcome cash incentive.

Of course, now the fun of flathunting is laid out large before us. I’ve been reading a bit of Yeats lately, and that last phrase momentarily put me in mind of He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven. But in reality, trudging around north London looking for a new home is going to be more like treading in a big muddy stinky bog than tip-toeing across the heavens’ embroidered cloths.

Anyway… Expect more on this soon.

In other news, my laptop has been a bit buggered recently. (Now I’ve downloaded Firefox it seems to be behaving itself again – so thanks to Daniel and my lovely Daddy for their advice on making it behave properly.)

What has been keeping my sane during these LOCO past few weeks is – as the title of this blog suggests – COCO.

I’ve eaten several Cadbury’s Wispas. I’ve scoffed Ben & Jerry’s Phishfood frozen yoghurt. I’ve also put away several Pret-a-Manger Love bars, not to mention the odd dark chocolate Hob Nob.

In addition I have almost eaten an entire Hotel Chocolat chocolate vampire, who before his demise was named Vincent. I was sent him at work by my lovely fiance – and very tasty he has been, too.

Vinnie the chocolate vampire

Vinnie the chocolate vampire

During those brief moments when I haven’t been looking around a mould-encrusted flat in Tufnell Park or stuffing my face (or worrying about the after-effects of stuffing my face), I’ve enjoyed conditioning my hair with Bumble & Bumble’s Creme de Coco hair products. While I normally eschew posh shampoos and conditioners, I bought a bottle of the conditioner in a moment of madness – and I have to admit it’s wonderful.

Bumble & Bumble Creme de Coco conditioner

Bumble & Bumble Creme de Coco conditioner, from £18

I’m not sure it’s entirely worth the pricetag, and it’s certainly too expensive to use on an everyday basis. However, it does leave my long hair feeling beautifully silky and smelling absolutely, unequivocally divine. It has a rich coconutty scent that is soft and sweet, without being too cloying.

Best of all? It has allowed me to enjoy a much-needed sugar fix on some of my recent stressed-out mornings – entirely calorie-free.

In vain I have struggled, it will not do

8 Nov

Mondays are rubbish aren’t they?

Unless you have the very best job in the whole world, getting up on a Monday – particularly when the weather is as uber-pants as it is today – feels like an ordeal.

Then the torture intensifies as you arrive at the office, realise there is no milk in the kitchen and look at your Outlook calendar, only to discover you’ll be attending approximately five just-about-vaguely-useful meetings that day. (Or is that only me?…)

Anyway, while musing on the crapness of Mondays in general, determinedly resisting the urge to start singing any songs slightly connected to Bob Geldof, the phrase ‘This will not do’ entered my head.

These words set off a chain of thoughts that could only lead me to a single destination: Mr Darcy’s angry declaration of undying love for Miss Lizzie.

To paraphrase Jane Austen, it was certainly diverting – as I hope this clip will be, for all other miserable Monday folks in search of a little joy.

PS – I think the oritental subtitles add a certain charm to it. Don’t you?

What would Audrey wear?

7 Nov

After a fairly average and ordinary few days, this weekend’s fun commenced with the arrival of Lovely Liz, the fiance’s parents and my own Mum and Dad. After months of planning, six of us – including my wee sister bear – made our way to the very first Modern Bride Show at London’s ExCel. (The fiance and his Dad, in a celebration of their own true love of sport, went to Twickenham.)

I hadn’t quite known what to expect, as this is the first year Modern Bride has taken place. However, after seeing images of and hearing stories about plenty of other shows, I was rather anxious about how overwhelming and busy we might find the day.

I needn’t have worried, as the whole affair was incredibly civilised. There weren’t too many visitors, too many exhibitors or too many salespeople trying to flog their wares. We had a bottle of champagne in the bar, managed to bag front-row seats for the catwalk show and looked closely at several lovely things that have given me great ideas for my nuptials.

And so we arrive at the point. The Audrey referenced in the title of this post isn’t my Grandma Audrey (although she is probably the most legendary human being currently walking the earth). Fashion fans have probably already worked out that it’s Audrey Hepburn I’m thinking of – and this fact has surprised even me.

Audrey Hepburn, laughing

Simply stunning

Those of you I’ve spoken to about my wedding are aware that, in the words of a certain person some of us know, it is likely to be ‘different’. I’ve talked about tea-length dresses and a blanket ban on diamante; I’ve fantasised about leopard print shoes and black nail polish. What’s more, we’ve already ordered the most mental, Willy Wonka-inspired wedding cake ever conceived.

Since me and my wonderful chap got engaged, I’ve known I will probably end up with an unusual wedding dress. I’ve also felt it will either be fabulously flamboyant or very, very plain. Up until yesterday, I was all about the slightly weird and wonderful wedding dresses – but my mother may well have changed my mind by pointing out a beautiful, almost austere gown from a designer I’d never come across before.

Being my mother, on occasions when I’ve dressed up smart she has sometimes kindly compared me to Audrey Hepburn. Her observations are entirely biased and are far too complimentary, as I am about five stone heavier than Audrey was in her heyday and look nothing like her at all. Maybe my Mum just means I’m a bit thoughtful and serious-looking – and perhaps there is something in that.

Audrey Hepburn

You have to wonder what she's thinking don't you?

To many people, Audrey Hepburn is a true style icon. I’ve always thought of her look as the ultimate in classy, ladylike chic – despite the fact that she basically plays a hooker in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (If you aren’t sure you believe me, read Truman Capote’s original novella. Seriously, the film glosses over the facts somewhat.)

Nevertheless, Audrey isn’t without edge – and it’s for this reason that she’s pretty inimitable. Yes, most of us can throw on a little black dress and a big pair of shades; but not everyone could get away with wearing a tiara while trotting around New York, let alone look good in the mammoth hat we see Holly Golightly don as she departs for Sing Sing.

Generally speaking, I’m far too haphazard and inelegant to be a true Hepburn disciple. Despite years of applying Stop n’ Grow, I still gnaw on my nails. I occasionally do daft things to my hair (red dye, anyone?), I am obsessed with floral and animal prints, I wear ripped jeans and if I try to apply proper eyeliner, I inevitably end up looking like Alice Cooper.

But as a model walked past us during yesterdays’ catwalk show wearing a stunning, super-simple dress, my mother mother turned to me, pointed and mouthed ‘That’s you.’ In fact, it was more Oscar-for-Roman Holiday.

Audrey Hepburn winning an Oscar for Roman Holiday

Like I said, I'm about five stone heavier...

Yet the more I look at the dress on the designer’s website, the more I think that, on a good day (when I have my own make-up artist and hair-dresser) I might just get away with it.

And I guess that’s the great thing about mothers. Even when you’re in a beaten up leather jacket and ancient Converse trainers, thinking quietly that you could really do with dropping a few pounds, they will see – and adore – your inner Audrey.

Other things I’ve enjoyed this week…

31 Oct

Trying on a pair of Manolo Blahniks for the first time ever. These WILL be my wedding shoes, despite being dubbed ‘an urban shoe myth’ by one Carrie Bradshaw:

Campari Manolo Shoe

Hello LOVER!

Using my Neal’s Yard rose body butter, bought for me by my fiance’s wonderful mum a few years ago. It’s super-moisturising, has a wicked toning effect and smells divine:

Rose body cream

Lovely

Watching this BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre:

Jane Eyre

Amazing. Watch it

Listening to Cheryl’s new song. I’m sorry, but it’s deliciously addictive:

Cheryl Cole

All together now: ALOUETTE!

Reading Coronation Street spoilers on DigitalSpy.co.uk:

Corrie

Brilliant

Finishing Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and starting on The Duchess by Amanda Foreman:

The Duchess book

So far it's fascinating, and surprisingly easy to read

Hanging out with my beautiful sister, my brilliant boy and flicking through the latest issue of Cosmo Bride.