Looking for Zoella

The teens have birthdays only three days apart which presents a few logistical issues.  For a start, everything has to be the same.  It’s not like one has a birthday in February and the other in November leaving eight long months for the November born to forget what happened on February born’s special day.  With only three days to separate the events are too fresh to even be memories and the pressure is on to make sure that the present pile is the same cubic dimension, the parties/celebrations are of the same calibre and the energy levels are maintained throughout.  It is terrifying singing happy birthday when you know that you are under a pair of beady eyes doing a thorough audit of your felicitation vigour.

When they were younger there was also the party situation to navigate but, as they have got older, we have chosen not to spend money on parties but to have a family treat instead (sorry, I know that sounds annoyingly twee but I can’t think of any other way to describe it!).

This year we decided on a couple of days in Brighton because (a) it is a great place (b) we love it and most importantly for Teen 2 (c) it the home of Zoella and Alfie.

I was forbidden from sending some sort of embarrassing mother communication to Zalfie (I know, they even have their own super-couple nickname) begging an audience for Teen 2.  We had to be content with lurking around The Lanes with our eyes peeled for a sighting.  Teen 2 was adamant that if she did spot one of them she would not make an approach, a combination of nerves and respect for their privacy.  I did point out that they make a living out of having no privacy but this was greeted with a ‘you don’t know what you are talking about’ stare but, that said, she did carry round her hardback copy of ‘Girl Online’ in her backpack the whole time just in case she could get it signed.

I know.  Bless.

We clearly do not have promising futures as celebrity stalkers as Zalfie remained well hidden, but we did have a lovely time walking the hallowed ground upon which they had walked.  We are now trying to persuade Teen 1 to apply for Brighton University so that we have plenty more reasons to go back.

Can’t go to Brighton without a wander on the pier.

 And the best fish and chips EVER.  Thanks to the graphicfoodie.co.uk for the review.

 Breakfast at Bill’s

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 Teen 2 and her BFSB (Best Friend Since Birth) ticking a visit to Photomatic off their wish list.

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Retail therapy – Halloween pumpkins because the display was too good to resist

and an early birthday present to me, the most fantastic bag from Sophia and Matt.

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This is my new favourite shop, gorgeous things everywhere.  Sophia sold me my bag and she was very lovely; I think products from their website are going to feature heavily on my Christmas list…

Sourdough pizza at Franco Manca (highly recommended – tasty, light, and amazing prices), and a trip to the Theatre Royal Brighton.

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Last morning of the trip.  Bacon bagels from Bagelman in Hove – right on Zoella’s doorstep!

Delish.

What (Not) To Wear

One of the pluses of your children getting older is that you have a little more opportunity to think about yourself.  Life is no less busy but in a different way – mother and toddler group replaced by late night pick-ups from parties or cinema, pre-primary ballet superseded by GSCE revision.  However, the days of staggering out of the house, bleary eyed from sleep deprivation, with baby sick and toddler Weetabix encrusted onto your sweatpants, are in the past.  The only downside is that when your children are three and six they still like you and greet every outfit with “Mummy, you look like a Princess!”.  Ten years on and my sartorial decisions are generally met with an eye roll, a sneer and the teenage equivalent of “you’re not going out dressed like that are you?”.

So, in the spirit of all self respecting magazine articles aimed at woman in their mid forties, I decided it was time to implement a bit of an image audit and try to regain some of the polish I think I must have had back the heady days before children.

This is obviously not going to be an overnight process.  In fact, it is a mission for 2016, so no pressure to be transformed in record time.  I don’t really want to be completely transformed, I would settle for marginally improved – set the bar quite low and anything else is a bonus is my theory.

Step one took place last week when I spent the morning having a ‘Colour Me Beautiful’ consultation.  Twenty years ago this system of colour analysis was all the rage.  People were flinging scarves on you at every opportunity and labelling you as Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter depending on your palette.  To be honest, I was always a bit sceptical and never took any of the opportunities to have my colours done – it all seemed a bit New Age and bonkers.  Then, a few years ago, I was out with a friend and we were idly browsing the rails in a clothes shop.  As we flicked through the hangers the friend dived into her bag and pulled out a little wallet filled with coloured bits of fabric which she proceeded to hold up against the clothes in the shop.  It turned out that she was a colour analysis devotee and would not entertain the thought of buying something that did not feature in her range of given colours.  As we were discussing this I realised that yes, she did always look lovely and always ‘right’.  Not because of the latest fashions or massively expensive purchases but because whatever she wears is entirely appropriate to her skin tone, hair colour, body shape and style.

I was prepared to be talked around and booked myself an appointment with the wonderfully monikered Fennella Flor (yes, it is her real name, I asked!  I love it, it makes her sound like a 1950s movie studio starlet), a Bournemouth based consultant for Colour Me Beautiful.  I had booked in for the full works, colour, make up and style – an approximately four hour session with a light lunch included.

Fennella sat me in front of a mirror in the window (natural light is key to the process) and created a blank canvas by covering my clothes in an off-white gown.  She then proceeded to drape different coloured squares over me holding them to my face to see what worked.  The funny thing was, it actually did make a difference.  Colours that I thought suited me such as dark navy and shocking pink actually sucked the life out of my skin whilst some shades of green and teal (yes, teal) made my skin tone glow and eyes shine.  I was instantly converted and we spent a happy couple of hours drilling down the exact colours that are right for me and loading them into my own personal wallet so that I too can be the person in the shop furtively comparing clothes to fabric swatches.  Interestingly Colour Me Beautiful no longer use the seasons to categorize clients, as a global company it did not make sense when the seasons invoke different colours depending where in the world you live.  Instead they use groupings of light, deep, warm, cool, clear and soft in varying combinations.  Turns out I am warm and soft with lots of tones of green, camel and lighter blues in my wallet.

Colours sorted it was onto style and make up.  The style section of the consultation is where you try and work out what style of clothes suit your body shape and lifestyle, it is a good opportunity to have a hard think about making some changes and stepping out of your comfort zone.  I finished the session with some homework – going home to my wardrobe and weeding out the wrong colours and shapes as well as items that are more the ‘old’ you than the ‘new’.  This posed a bit of a problem for me as one of the things that emerged from the session as that I should stop wearing stripes.  What, no stripes?  That is 85% of my wardrobe obliterated in one hit.  I’m not sure I’m ready to bin all the Bretons in one go, that will have to be a gradual withdrawl.

I came away from Fennella’s studio feeling fired up and ready to shed my mummy chrysalis.  I have my wallet of colour swatches and tons of great advice on ways to update and improve my look.  What I really need now is a Fennella Flor clone to be with me whenever I go shopping and every time I look in the wardrobe to choose what to wear.  I’m definitely converted to colour analysis and the whole experience was not only really good fun but a perfect springboard to my 2016 improvement mission.

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I think I need to join SA – Stripes Anonymous…

 

 

Dorset County Show 2015

One of my most favourite things since coming to live in Dorset is the Dorset County Show. We have been every year of the four that we have lived here – the first two just as spectators and the most recent two as spectators and competitors. I get stupidly excited as soon as the tents start going up on the showground on the outskirts of Dorchester, a canvas metropolis rising from the fields. The early bird ticket office appears on the high street and there is a definite feel of the circus coming to town.

To give you the back story, the Dorset County Show began in August 1840 when a group of local farmers formed the Dorchester Agricultural Society and staged the 1st Annual Exhibition. 175 years later and the show still largely run by farming families and still a key date in the Dorset and South West Calendar. It is a huge event with livestock classes, horse and pony shows, elegant carriages and bonkers scurry racing. There are dogs galore, birds and ferrets, oodles of shopping opportunities and mouth-watering food stalls at every turn.

The show is a two day event and it is hard work to fit it all in a one day visit. I generally drive the teen and the tween to distraction, marching them round on a schedule fretting that I will miss the Dog and Duck Man/Hounds Demo/Pig Judging/Grand Parade.

Of all the tents (and there are many) to look at my top favourite is Homecraft and this is where we have made our entries for the past two years. There are a myriad of classes you can enter and competition is stiff, especially in the jam and marmalade classes – we’re talking hardcore WI preserves here, no room for lightweights.

Jam and Marmalade2

Last year was our first year of entering. I chose the picnic hamper and lemon drizzle cake classes and had a happy time channelling my inner Kirstie Allsopp as I worked on my entries. The morning of the show dawned and we were up and out at 7am to drop the entries at the tent before the show opened. It is a brilliant feeling driving onto the showground at this time. The autumn mist hangs low around the fields and all around you the show is waking up – exhibitors are munching bacon sarnies, cows are being hosed down, ponies hooves are being polished. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation as the minutes tick down to the gates opening. We parked up at the tent and, full of first time enthusiasm, carried our entries inside. The atmosphere was quiet and tense. It suddenly dawned on me that this was not like ‘show and tell’ or the cake stall at the school fête. This was serious! All around me people were placing, tweaking, polishing and appraising their creations whilst casting furtive glances to the other competitors and their entries.

I placed my picnic basket in its allotted space and began arranging my foodie mis-en-scène as best I could. I tried to engage my neighbour in jolly banter about her entry – this was a  school girl error – a chummy exchange of picnic preparation angst was not going to happen, she slammed her wicker lid firmly shut as I tried to peer in.

Entries set, we returned home to have breakfast and get ready for our big day out. By now what has started out as a simple bit of fun ‘Yey! Let’s enter some stuff to the county show! Such fun!’ had become a nail biting, nerve racking, full on worry. I had gone in like a lamb to the slaughter, no idea that the volume and quality of entries would be so high. I had gone in not really thinking about the competition element but now I wanted to win something!

Happily, with a bit of luck and a following wind, I did win something. First prize for my picnic hamper – hurrah for me and two fingers to the lady who was so secretive about her entry at the start of the day. (I know, it is not attractive to gloat, but sometimes needs must).

Picnic Hamper

So now we had the taste for competing we resolved to build on our success in the 2015 show. This year we chose different categories – rainbow cake and marmalade for me, Victoria sponge for the tween and a scarecrow as a family effort with the teen leading the way. The scarecrow was the most fun – we laughed ourselves stupid trying to stuff tights with newspaper and feed them into old jeans from the charity shop. The theme for the scarecrow category was ‘Thomas Hardye’ but rather than go trad with our costume we styled our chap as a member of the film crew from the most recent adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd.

Scarecrow 3

It was a gamble but it paid off and we came away with second prize. The tween triumphed with a second prize for her victoria sponge but my cake and marmalade remained lurking in the depths of the un-placed; definite room for improvement there I think.

Produce

We enjoyed a great day; marvelled at enormous bulls, cheered on spaniels and labradors as they raced in and out of the lake, ate hog roast and fudge and indulged in some fantasy chicken purchasing -I like the ones wearing big feathery trousers, the girls prefer the fat and fluffy ones.

Animals Collage

We returned to the homecraft tent as the sun was sinking and the crowds were drifting home. We folded and squeezed our make-do man into the boot of the car and retrieved the tweens winning sponge. Stopping only at the bin of shame to dispose of my un-placed rainbow cake we headed home already discussing, in true reality TV style, how we could ‘up our game’ and really ‘nail it’ with our entries for the Dorset County Show 2016.   Watch this space.

A Very British Picnic

Bunting

Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Knoll Beach at Studland Bay, Dorset.  Whether braving the bitter wind for a wintry walk or fighting for a patch of sand in the height of summer, it is always a lovely day out.

Last week we had some friends to stay and, to celebrate the start of the school holidays, I booked a National Trust beach hut at Knoll Beach for the day.

Our own patch

You can rent huts at Studland on a daily, weekly, annual or three season basis, but there is a lengthy waiting list for the longer rentals.  A day hire suited us perfectly and for £24 we had our own hut complete with two deck chairs and a wind break – what more could we want?!

I made the booking several weeks ago and, sure enough, as the day drew near it seemed I had put a hex on the weather.  The forecast swung between rain and wind to cloud and drizzle.  We ummed and ahhed but the night before the Met Office promised us a dry, if cool and cloudy, day.  That was all the encouragement we needed, we’re British goddamnit, freezing temperatures and low visibility were not going to stand in the way of our picnic.

Grey Skies at Studland

Clouds? What clouds?

We loaded the car with teens, tween, dog, picnic, scarves, blankets, flasks of hot chocolate and buckets of gung-ho spirit.

Cut to our arrival at the beach to find us staggering, sweating, to the beach shop to buy emergency sun cream and cold drinks.  Good old Blighty weather – always a surprise around the corner.

We collected the key to our home for the day and went in search of No.34.  When I made the booking I was told that the hut was not right on the beach but tucked behind a dune, so it was not a surprise to find that we were hidden away.  Initially I was disappointed not have an open view of the sea but, actually, it was perfect as the huts around us were not in use that day so we were able to set up camp in secluded bliss.  The beach was 30 seconds through the dunes so no hardship there.

No34     Path to the hut

We had a fabulous day.  Stuffed our picnic as soon as we arrived (sandwiches,  sausage rolls, jam tarts, fruit cake, strawberries), walked the dog on the beach, read our books.  The teens and tween ventured into the sea and hired a pedalo before returning to the hut to flop around languidly tattooing each other with henna.

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Of course we had to eat all of the picnic within minutes of arrival

Jam Tarts

Jam tarts

Fruit cake and brownies

Fruit cake and brownies

Harry at the hut

Dogs are allowed on the beach all year round. Happy spaniel!

My lovely friend

My lovely friend

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A pedalo adventure

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Henna tattoos as the heat went out of the sun

When you take a day hire you can stay well into the evening and just post the key through the National Trust letterbox on your way out.  Had the weather stayed warm and sultry we would have done this but the clouds drew un and we packed up at six-ish to head home.  Next time I’ll stick a portable BBQ in the car and the day can roll into night over hot dogs and smores.

We arrived home both sunburnt and shivering which summed up our Very British Picnic perfectly.

Ice Cream

Sculpture by the Lakes

I am not particularly known for my cultural expertise, you won’t find me puffing on a Gauloises wearing a black polo neck and ballet pumps. But I do like to look at things that make me happy, make me cross, make me start a discussion, make me wish I could do it myself. This is what brought me to Sculpture by the Lakes, a fantastic hidden gem in Pallington, near Dorchester in Dorset.

Sign USE

A visit has been on my wish list for a while but as they do not admit children under the age of fourteen, I had to wait for a suitable child free weekend. I had the perfect opportunity when my girls were temporarily replaced by a lovely friend from the Isle of Wight who came to stay leaving her own family on the other side of the Solent for a couple of days.

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Fruit

Sculpture by the Lakes is the creation of artist Simeon Gudgeon and his wife Monique. They purchased 26 acre plot 2007 when it was a working fishery and immediately wet to work transforming it into the oasis that stands there now. Simon is one of the country’s leading bronze sculptors and Monique turned her back on a career in PR to become a landscape gardener; together they have created a perfect showcase for both of their talents.

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Duel

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Disappearing Worlds

This is not a run of the mill attraction. There is no tea room or gift shop, young children and dogs are not allowed. Visitors are limited to ensure that everyone who attends is able to fully absorb and enjoy the experience in total peace and tranquillity. Having digested this information before we went I was unsure what to expect, was it going to be all rules and public library-like signs demanding silence?

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Pelicans

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Roe Deer

I needn’t have worried as the caveats that have been issued are all valid and really did contribute to our enjoyment. Entrance is via intercommed electric gates on a lane of small cottages. On parking up we were met by a member of the team who gave us a brief intro and explained that a few of the sculptures were missing as they were on the way to the Chelsea Flower Show where the Gudgeons have a garden this year. There was only one other small group of visitors apart from us and we set off to explore.

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Falcon

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Whispering Spirit

It was utterly peaceful and tranquil, the only sound the faint hum from the tangle of electricity pylons that are strung over the acres like industrial bunting. The sculptures are set within the natural habitat of the grounds and whilst some stand out tall and majestic others creep up on you from behind trees or the banks of a lake. Words feature quite heavily, reflected on the water, made into a bench, sunk into a path beneath a tunnel of wisteria.

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Unfortunately the weather was not on our side and so my photos do not do the pieces justice but they give you a flavour of what was on display. There were some that I loved, some that I didn’t and others that sat somewhere in the middle. The friend who came with me is not only an artist herself but also a gardener so I had a properly trained eye to help with my layman observations. I was worried that maybe it would be a bit ‘mainstream’ for her but there were things that appealed to us both for different reasons – it really was very accessible art without being dumbed down in any way.

Willow Man USE

Willow Man

The Gudgeons encourage you to stay for the day and there are many secluded sitting and eating areas if you choose to take a picnic. They also have a river keeper’s hut and island lake house available for hire for special events or extra nice picnics.

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The River Keepers Hut

Weather and time did not allow us to linger as long as we would have liked and I definitely plan to return very soon, I think there is much to be gained from a second visit and of course the gardens and grounds will change with the seasons. If you are planing a trip to Dorset, or live nearby, I can definitely recommend a visit to this unique and inspiring attraction.  Have you already been?  What did you think?

Bridge USE

Le Banc du Souvenir

My Freaky Friday Style Monday Night

On Monday night I found myself sitting in the vertiginous heights of the upper balcony of the Bournemouth International Centre. I was surrounded by an eclectic crowd, many of whom were wearing pink sparkly cowboy hats. Not my usual Monday night occupation, obvs, but this was no ordinary Monday – it was S Club Monday.

S Club Line Up2  S Club7 3

There was a valid reason for me to be at the S Club Reunion Tour (other than the throwback value) and the thought process went something like this:-

Teen and Teen’s friend have happy memories of leaping around to S Club when they were pre-schoolers so when they announced a Bournemouth stop of their tour two tickets were purchased to celebrate the 15th birthday of Teen’s friend. That was in December 2014, we went to bed and woke up in May 2015 and the concert was upon us. I was on taxi duty, and as Bournemouth is a 40 minute drive,  there is no point coming home in between drop off and pick up so the Tween and I faced an evening of hanging around Bournemouth killing time (single parent conundrum – when taking the older one out the younger one always has to come unless you want to cough up for a babysitter).

There was nothing suitable on at the cinema, my usual go to occupation when waiting to collect from a BIC concert, when I had a light bulb moment – why didn’t the Tween and I go too? So, on to StubHub and ten minutes later we had two cheap resale tickets up in the gods, suitably far away from the Teen and her pal who had standing tickets and so not at risk of maternal or sibling embarrassments.

That is how I came to be primly sipping my water waiting for seven 30 somethings to take to the stage and entertain me.

Well, I am not (too) ashamed to say that entertain me they did. As soon as the magnificent seven rose up from their glittery podia to the familiar strains of ‘Bring the House Down’ swiftly followed by ‘S Club Party’ I was on my feet mum-dancing like a goodun.

S Club 7 4

Scrutinising the close ups on the big screens it seemed that the band have not really aged although they did not seem quite as supple and confident moving around the stage as they maybe were in their heyday. There were definitely some live vocals but I wouldn’t like to put a percentage figure on it. We heard all the hits – none of your new material rubbish – and a cover of Uptown Funk which was the highlight for the Tween who, at 12 years old, has little memory of all the other songs. It was basically like being at a huge karaoke/disco party with one of those DJs who makes you do all the dance moves. It’s not often you get to go those sort of affairs at my age!

S Club 7 5

As we reached the end of show (double encore with ticker tape, streamers, pyros – the works) I noticed that with all the sea of mobile phones being waved in the air the Tween was not recording or broadcasting anything.

“Quick,” I panicked “put something on your Snapchat story, Instagram some pics.”

The Tween calmly reminded me that two weeks ago I had made her delete all her social media accounts after a too-much-time-spent-on-electronic-devices meltdown.

“Forget that!” I said “Have my phone, quick post something or no-one will know you have been here.”

She met my frantic wild eyed stare with a level gaze.

“ It’s OK,” she replied, “I’ll just tell people about it in person tomorrow.”

That single, old fashioned comment was the best moment of the whole evening and rounded off our Freaky Friday style role reversal night perfectly.

But I really, really, wish I had bought a pink sparkly cowboy hat as a souvenir.

PS – If you want to hear the Teen’s view of the evening you can find it on her blog Love Millie Rose

Pink Cowboy Hat