Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Forget Me Nots

Yesterday would have been my mum’s birthday, sadly she died of a heart attack before Erbie was born. As she had been a lover of nature and all things flora and fauna I though it would be a good day to visit the allotment, of which I have been a little remiss of late. To my great joy I found it carpeted in forget-me-nots and a tuft of primroses and violets had burst through in my woodland section.

Primroses and violets
It was a gloriously sunny Spring day, perfect for digging. I managed to clear 3 beds, put up a beech wigwam ready for beans and sweetpeas, trim back the privet and gather myself a bunch of forget-me-knots to bring home before the school run.

I treated myself to a half bottle of champagne and had a glass whilst Erbie was in the bath. I've decided it is good to drink champagne on the birthdays of those who are not with us - to remind us to drink it on the birthdays of those that are.

Forget-me-nots from the allots.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Style Forever - How to look fabulous at every age by Alyson Walsh

Style Forever by Alyson Walsh (Hardie Grant, £12.99)
Illustrations: Leo Greenfield

I’ve recently been enjoying a new grown-up guide to looking fabulous called Style Forever by That’s Not My Age blogger, Alyson Walsh. It's all about embracing age with panache and is stuffed full of seasoned advice from experts on looking great as we get older. How not to disappear into a haze of beige but say hello to Generation FAB (Fifty and Beyond). Here, here I say!

I tend to get lost style-wise sometimes, especially on the school run and at one stage in the not so distant past had slipped into a uniform of wellingtons, Barbour and flat cap - I know, I know - no excuse (unless I was Kate Moss at Glastonbury).

Style Forever hit a chord - why should I as an older mother not continue to enjoy clothes as much as I had in my younger days, okay maybe not the lurex hot pants or sky high heels my young legs and feet could carry off in my clubbing days, but yes decent shoes and a good pair of jeans with a well-fitting Breton top, rather than literally throwing on whatever was at hand. Thankfully I have been shopping since the wellington days and a with a pair of decent boots, a well cut coat and a big scarf I can pass muster at the gates. This is exactly the kind of advice that can be found in the book.

The author, Alyson Walsh was actually a magazine fashion editor and for years was making-over readers, friends and family so knows her stuff when it comes to looking stylish and feeling good in what we wear. Taking in elements such as fit, proportion, colour, layering, jewellery and make-up the book gives plenty of useful pointers such as: eight perfect pairs of jeans and where to buy the perfect Breton. I love Dr Sam Bunting’s advice on skincare - ‘Eat 80% of what you should eat and 20% of what you want to eat.’ 

You can also learn how to tie a scarf à la Mary Berry or perform a DIY facial by Su-Man with step-by-step diagrams beautifully illustrated by Leo Greenfield. I liked the chapter on inspirational women such as Kay Montano and Wendy Dagworth and it was interesting to see what they would have said to their 15-year-old selves.

‘Spend money on good shoes.’

I especially enjoyed the Grown Up Style Tribes chapter with where to shop and heroines for each title. And fab titles they are too: The Casual Glamourpuss, The Older and Bolder Brigade, The Superpower Dresser, The Gentlewoman, The Fabulous Femme, The Scandinista and The Ageless Rocker. There's nothing to say you can’t be more than one depending on how you’re feeling on a particular day, it’s all about following your style and not the fashion of the moment.

Alyson’s writing has a friendly warmth to it and is not preachy at all, I almost feel like I am exchanging tips with a best friend over coffee or Martinis on a shopping trip; sharing where to get the best trainers or various styles of sunglasses. Some wonderful visual imagery is conjured up to clarify points too, such as Neneh Cherry in 1988 or Farrah Fawcett in 1972.

‘Take your shirts to the dry cleaners’ - life is too short 

I’m also going to be purchasing a few new beauty products offered up by six experts in the field: especially Guerlain’s Terracotta Compact powder - 'every Frenchwoman's secret for looking healthy and rested' as recommended by Mak Gilchrist.

This is a book for grown-up women, either on the verge of menopause or who shut that door a long time ago, women who are confident in their style or have lost their way, but women wanting to stand up and be counted and look their best whilst doing it. 

I have a few wrinkles but I earned them and I earned the right to look my best. So what if I'm over 40. Over 40 and fabulous darling!

‘Fighting ageing is like the War on Drugs. It’s expensive, does more harm than good and has been proven to never end.’ - Amy Poehler

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Yummy Chocolate and Dairy-Free Easter Eggs - 2015

Easter falls at the beginning of April this year and I’ve been browsing the huge selection of wonderful Easter treats available, the choice these days is astounding, including dairy-free which is perfect for Erbie.

The GR and I are taking Erbie down to to the seaside to stay with grandaddy and are attempting our first night away. I’ve booked a hotel in Brighton for Good Friday and hopefully if things go to plan erbie will have a sleep-over with the Brighton is where I lost my heart to The GR with one very innocent kiss, stolen in a doorway 19 years ago. 

I'm going off-piste again, on with the eggs...

An all time fave the luxury chocolate brand Prestat have produced a wonderfully grown-up one, London Gin truffles in a lemon infused white chocolate Easter Egg with popping candy bubbles, nestled in this handsome box, fit for the Queen perhaps (they are appointed!). 

© Prestat London Gin truffles Easter Egg box 
£14.99 from Selfridges

© Prestat London Gin truffles Easter Egg

Or this wonderful milk chocolate Charbonnel et Walker egg filled with pink Marc de Champagne truffles from John Lewis £15.00.

© Charbonnel et Walker @ John Lewis 
© Charbonnel et Walker @ John Lewis 
Hotel Chocolat have produced this chocolate tek on a classic English breakfast - eggy soldiers or dippy eggs or Eggs and Soldiers as it is called, mmmmm. £7.00 John Lewis

© Hotel Chocolat @ John Lewis

There are some good natural looking speckledy eggs from this goose egg sized, cupcake inspired Mint chocolate one by James - £5.00 from John Lewis

© James @ John Lewis

Box of 12 Superior Seagull Salted Caramel Eggs by Rococo of Marylebone - £7.50.
  A caramel ganache with fleur de sel covered in milk chocolate in a fine sugar shell. 

© Rococo

Bantam sized Belgian chocolate speckled eggs in edible grass by Natalie also available at John Lewis for £8.00

© Natalie Belgian chocolate eggs @ John Lewis
And the ones I'm hoping for only available in a box at Eastertime. Hazelnut praline quail eggs, if you hid these in the garden you may be forgiven for thinking they were real. Rococo Chocolates £7.50
© Rococo Chocolate Praline Quail Eggs
© Rococo Chocolate Praline Quail Egg
If you don't fancy chocolate eggs how about beautifully designed Easter biscuits from Biscuiteers.
This beautiful tin of 8 jewel like Faberge inspired iced biscuits are available for next day delivery from Biscuiteers - £30.00

© Biscuiteers Easter Egg mini biscuit collection
Or you can have a personalised Easter bunny card, I'm thinking about one of these two for the Belle Mere. Available from - £11.50

© Biscuiteers Personalaised Easter Bunny Card

And for the kids - these super cute hand painted Easter Eggs by by Rococo Chocolates are solid  chocolate and come as a pair in a clear box with bow for £15.00 

© Rococo Chocolate

And last but not least dairy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free and egg-free Easter treats. 

Choices do these lovely dairy-free bunnies available at several shops including: Sainsburys and Holland and Barrett usually £1 or under as well as a selection of dairy free eggs in some stores. I prefer the white to the brown taste-wise.

© Choices Dairy Free bunnies

Moo Free Chocolates also do a fab range of Easter treats, these eggs come in 3 flavours, honeycomb toffee, milk chocolate and orange. All are dairy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, lactose-free, vegetarian and vegan, so if you have just found out your child has a cows milk allergy these might be the perfect Easter Eggs for you! For stockists near you click here. Or check out their website

Rosie Rabbit - Honeycomb toffee, dairy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, lactose-free, vegetarian and vegan Easter Egg.
© Moo Free Chocolates

Rice milk chocolate dairy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, lactose-free, vegetarian and vegan Easter Egg.
© Moo Free Chocolates

Cheeky Chops monkey Orange flavour dairy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, lactose-free, vegetarian and vegan Easter Egg.

© Moo Free Chocolates

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Valentine's Art - Damien Hirst - Feb 14th 2015

This morning, after the school drop off I took a quick skip and a hop down to my old hunting ground  to catch Damien Hirst’s Valentine Exhibition at the Paul Stolper Gallery on Museum Street.

I met Kendal, who since my distant post mentioning her has been given two things - the all clear from her breast cancer and an inheritance; not enough to change her lifestyle but enough to smooth the edges and buy herself little treats - such as a membership to the British Museum.

The Paul Stopler Gallery is open from 10am Wednesday through to Saturday. We arrived too early, (public transport having whizzed me from N10 to WC1 in under an hour) and had just started to bother the doorbell with frosty finger when the gamine gallery worker opened up.

I knew what to expect and have to say it is right up my straße, pretty to look at without much content (no comment). I love the details too. Basically Damien has produced a series of screen prints in various colourways of hearts and butterflies with some nice gold foil blocking for that studio 54 loving clientele! (I’m sure there is much more to it than that but you won't find it here). I especially liked the larger than life sized disco biscuit with engraved love message.

As it was early and were the only ones there, I was able to snap a few photos. Needless to say all images © Damien Hirst and Paul Stopler Gallery.

Damien Hirst - LOVE at Paul Stopler, Museum St. WC2
Limited edition love heart © Damien Hirst
 These disco biscuits would get anyone dancing.

Limited edition love heart © Damien Hirst
 I love these enormous love hearts and especially like his love logos and signature on the side.

Heart and arrow © Damien Hirst
 This one was more to Kendal's liking! A black feathered bolt through a pickled cow heart.

 ©Damien Hirst 2015 
 So purrrrdy!

 ©Damien Hirst 2015
 ©Damien Hirst 2015
 ©Damien Hirst 2015
Mmm, I'm thinking one of these limited edition screen prints (at £6,000 a pop) would look rather lovely over my fireplace...

 ©Damien Hirst 2015
Enough dreaming! 

Afterwards Kendal shared the British Museum Member’s room, where I had one of the finest cups of coffee I’ve tasted in London. Then happily back to North London sated on my little diversion.

The British Museum February 2015

Sunday, 2 November 2014

I won a trip to Provence!

Having not been out of the country since Erbie turned 2, I had taken to entering competitions on a whim and out of the blue I actually won! A trip for 2 to Marseille to stay at the Vieux Panier in the old quarter, transfers et al. Blooming marvellous. I had only recently talked about my wish to show Erbie where TheGR and I had lived in France (before he was born) when wham bam there it was in my inbox. Could it be too good to be true, could it be a scam, could I manage to go this year, well yes I could. The only blip was renewing Erbie’s passport but even that came back in time. So it was for three blissful days at the end of August I re-visited les temps perdu.

Erbie and Bunny at Heathrow
French France
We set off at daft o’clock,  Erbie eeked out of bed and bundled into a taxi at 5am for a rainy drive to Heathrow where sleepy staff and shuttered shops echoed the grey window views. Onto a BA flight to Marseille to be met by a rather handsome driver holding my name on a placard, one off the bucket list, (the placard not the handsome driver).

We were deposited at the hotel, in the pedestrianised old quarter at what was still very much morning. Off with the London garb for cold and wet and on with the faithful ripped denim shorts, berkenstocks and straw hat. Oh yes, I could feel the corners of my mouth starting to turn up already.

The old quarter of Marseille

Au Vieux Panier hotel front

We set off to explore as our room wasn't ready, pah nothing could dampen my mood, the sun was shining and people were speaking another language. Here are some sights on our way.

You can't get much more French than a Citreon duex chevals 
Close the door if you please!
Shutter up.
The Cathedral directly below the old quarter
Marseille Cathedral
Marseille Cathedral on the port
Marseille play area on port.
Sunhats on.

Marseille museum

View to Notre Dame de la Garde catherdral from the old port 

On January 24th, 1943 the German SS with the help of the French police evicted almost 15,000 people from the area around the old port and put them onto trains at Arenc station bound for the prison camps at Frejus.

Little tourist train 
The old port, Marseille

French menu
The roof above the Metro, Marseille old port
Mirror art, Marseille Metro
Looking up at the mirrored ceiling.
Le Big Mac
Marseille is famous for it's wonderful soap.
Marseille port
View over the old port.
Saint Victor's abbey
Enough walking now mummy.
Erbie on a little beach in the city of Marseille.

We walked from one side of Marseille to the other and then caught the bus back in the late afternoon to find there had been a mix up with out room and a double booking so they had to give us the one en haute (at the top). Well, at the top was the suite, not just a room, a terrace and a kitchen as well, oh boy. Aux Vieux Panier we love you.

By this time we were both pretty tired and Erbie just wanted to cuddle up on the sofa with his ipad, a quick sortie for provisions and I was happy to watch the sunset, the colour of my rosé on our terrace and listen the the ambient café noise from below.

Erbie making himself at home
Our room, Au Vieux Panier hotel
Someone else making himself at home!
Provencal rosé on the terrace (mine)
Sunset from the terrace of Au Vieux Panier hotel, Marseille

Avignon (where TheGR and I once lived for a year)
I love the French transport system, it's just so accessible and affordable. We caught a bus the the main station in Marseille and hopped on a train to Avignon. When you leave the station you are see the walls surrounding the city and the main avenue with a Monoprix, an H&M, a Zara, all my old haunts, leads up to the famous Palais du Papes.

Entrance through the city walls to Avignon

I took Erbie to Place Pie, where we stopped for bite and took in the local flea market. We just missed Les Halles (the daily undercover fresh food market), which finished at midday. I remember being thrilled at pick and mix baby salad leaves, and people chatting with a bock (a tiny wine glass of beer) after finishing their shopping at 10am.

Then to Rue des Teinturies where we lived in a tiny garrett above a theatre. Our old local wine bar was open although under new ownership, I took Erbie in for an apple juice and had a lovely glass of rosé. I showed him the water wheel in front of our old door, that I'd poured a whole bottle of sunflower oil onto to stop squeaking and it worked!

The theatre we once lived above in Avignon. The smoking dog
We lived here!
rue des Teinturiers, Avignon
Le zinc in the old local,  rue des Teinturiers, Avignon
When in France
Waterwheel on the river Sorgue, rue des Teinturiers
Water wheel on the river Sorgue, rue des Teinturiers
Blocks of stone arrived the summer we lived on rue des Teinturiers and were sculpted by many different artists over a series of days, they are still there.

Sur le pont d'Avignon!
The bakery on the corner where we got our pain quotidien had also closed down, the baker sadly deceased and his wife sold up. A big roly poly couple who worked hard and made the best croissants.

Then up the back streets away from the crowds arriving at the amazing Palais du Papes and gardens behind where Erbie had fun in the sprinklers!

The back of the Palais du Papes
Back of the Palais, Avignon
Back streets of Avignon
Palais du Papes from the back
Avignon, hewn from rock
The back of the Palais, Avignon
The back streets are much quieter in Avignon

Nipping up the back streets to the Palais
Avignon square in front of Palais du Papes
Palais du Papes, Avignon
Avignon, Provence, France
Palais du Papes, Avignon
Palais du Papes, Avignon
Notre Dame, Avignon

The Rhone and famous pont d'Avignon
Palais du Papes, Avignon

Well kept gravel
Marseille shopping and sunbathing at Vallon des Auffes.
After dipping into Monoprix for Herbes du Provence we got a tram to the main shopping area, which was super busy after the tranquility of our pedestrianised quartier (neighbourhood). Still we grabbed some Playmobile from the wonderful department store Printemps. And I managed to squeeze in a couple of French chemists for handbag sized treats of La Roche Posay, Nuxe and Caudalie. (Nothing over 100ml is allowed in hand luggage and I never put luggage in the hold).

After the morning shop I was keen to see the cute fishing port Vallons des Auffes made famous in the film The French Connection. It did not disappoint and just around the corner we found a quiet bay for a quick dip in the sea.

View from the hotel in the morning.
Sunrise from the terrace.
Morning on the our terrace in Aux Vieux Panier hotel, Marseille
Bliss for breakfast
The pedestrian only old quarter - Marseille
Fantastic graffiti all over Marseille 
Marseille old quarter - graffiti
Old quarter Marseille


Vallon des Auffes
Vallon des Auffes
Vallon des Auffes
Vallon des Auffes

Vallon des Auffes

Sunset in Marseille

Marseille graffiti

Aux Vieux Panier Hotel, Marseille

The lovely Au Vieux Panier is a small hotel in the old quarter of Marseille in Provence, France. The two girls who run it are lovely, (thank-you Sandrine); there is an honesty kitchen and only a few rooms, each room is decorated every year by a different artist. We stayed on the top floor in the Pixtil Suite. (Summer 2014) Every bathroom is stocked with Savon du Marseille and there is a rooftop terrace accessible via a spiral staircase with excellent views of the Cathedral. Beautiful white linen and towels provided and everything you could possible need just a stones throw away.

Pixtil room, Au Vieux Panier Hotel, Avignon
Wall in Pixtil suite
Pixtil suite 
Pixtil suite
Private terrace with our room 
Au Vieux Panier, Marseille 
Panier quartier, Marseille
Marseille soap shop
Marseille, shopping mall with Printemps and FNAC
Marseille near Vallon des Auffes
Marseille memorial
Vallon des Auffes
Public roof terrace, Au Viuex Panier, Marseille

Public roof terrace, Au Viuex Panier, Marseille

View from the public roof terrace

Public roof terrace

Spiral staircase to public roof terrace



Pixtil Suite, Au Viuex Panier, Marseille

Au Viuex Panier hotel

Au revoir Marseille

I won my lovely trip by entering a competition on and the holiday organisers were NDL

All photo's by me from my Blackberry © Sara Hodgkinson

Other nonsense

Quote of the day

‘They tuck you up your mum and dad...’
Anon - after Larkin

“Philately will get you everywhere”

“It’s not the despair, I can handle the despair. 
It’s the hope I can’t deal with”

“Each new friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
Anais Nin

‘Come on Dover move your bloomin’ arse’.
Eliza Doolittle