A day out at Standen!

My friend Zoe asked if I fancied accompanying her to visit a fairly local National Trust property, Standen, and I agreed. After all, it would be nice to go somewhere that didn’t have toddler fingerprints over everything…

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We drove out to Standen, in East Grinstead (it was the first time I’d been out that way; all I knew about East Grinstead is that it’s where a major Scientology centre is.) The journey was lovely- it was the morning after the massive storms and all the plants were lush. Everywhere was quiet.

Image: Standen/National Trust

The Beale Family at Standen Image: Standen/National Trust

After about an hour, we arrived at Standen, a house and garden built in the 1890s by the Beale family, initially as a summer residence, although they took up permanent residence there after Mr Beale retired. What makes it an attractive place to visit is the fact that inside it’s decorated in the Arts and Crafts style and is therefore a haven for a William Morris fanatic like me.

How gorgeous is this fire screen? If ONLY my embroidery skills were up to this!

How gorgeous is this fire screen? If ONLY my embroidery skills were up to this!

I love the calm of stately houses and the fact that they’re SO PRISTINE. You’d get through quite a few feather dusters at Standen, I can tell you. By the way, does anyone else ever go to these sort of places and try and imagine what it would be like to have lived their at the time each house was built? It can’t JUST be me, surely?

The house is truly lovely and if I didn’t live with a man whose favourite colour was beige, I would totally emulate the Arts and Crafts style in the new house. As it was, I took inspiration from the accessories and artwork around the house. If you keep your eyes peeled, you can definitely spot some Rossetti and Burne-Jones art, which was definitely super exciting for a Pre-Raphaelite nerd like me.

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I wish I’d got a better photo of this gorgeous tapestry, but it was quite dark and you’re not supposed to use a flash. Also, I’m a rubbish photographer.

As well as the house itself, the gardens are well worth a visit- I was endlessly snapping photos of plants in order to get ideas for when (ha!) we move. I sat in the Victorian conservatory and looked out onto what seems like endless greenery. I could have quite happily taken my own needlework in there and worked for hours.

Me chilling in the conservatory.

Me chilling in the conservatory.

As well as visiting the house and gardens, there’s an exhibition about Helen Beale (one of the daughters of the original owners) and her time as a nurse during the First World War. We were lucky to arrive at Standen on the day this small exhibition opened and it was fascinating and poignant.

Finally, we had lunch in the cafe- it was not as expensive as I’d thought it would be AND it was delicious!

Now I have plans to visit The Red House and Kelmscott Manor, both houses lived in by the great William Morris.

It’s happening again…

It looks like my book buying ban is becoming an annual thing- I have accumulated so many books that I need to take a step back and actually read what I have!

Image: Musee D'Orsay

Image: Musee D’Orsay

The rules:

  • The ban begins on August 1st and will last until December 25th.
  • I can accept books as gifts and for review.
  • I should take all other books out of the library or borrow from friends.
  • I’m allowed to swap books with friends.
  • I can buy books for D- from charity shops- whenever I fancy/have money.
  • I can buy books for other people as gifts.

Last year, I did really well- I only broke when I saw Morrissey’s autobiography for less than the price of a magazine. As much as I desperately I want the new Sarah Waters book, I’ll have to go on a massive reservation list at the library.

Fancy joining in? Sign up below and we can encourage each other- it’ll be a looooooooong few months…

Caitlin Moran: How To Build A Girl tour

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I rarely have much to thank football for; it dominates whole swathes of the year in our house and I’m currently (still) living with the bloody World Cup wall chart in the living room. However, this weekend, football pulled a blinder for me, as a friend (Kelly) had a spare ticket for the sold out gig at Brighton’s Theatre Royal because her husband fancied watching the final. Obviously, I immediately took her up on the offer. Then I panicked.

I panicked because there would be a signing after the show and a) all the books I have by Caitlin are on my Kindle and b) I’m skint til payday, so there’s no way I could afford to buy the books new again. After I realised that I live in Brighton and that there would be at least three copies of How To Be A Woman circling the charity shops, I went off on a mission and bagged myself a copy for £2. It’s thrifty, so I’m sure Caitlin would approve.

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As I waited outside the theatre for Kelly to arrive, I took in the scene: mostly women were milling around, chatting, laughing, clutching books. There were quite a few pregnant women and, from the snatches of conversation I caught, quite a few teachers too (this was further backed up by the cheering when Caitlin mentioned the strikes.) I figured it was going to be a good night.

Kelly and I settled into our seats, expensive theatre drinks in hand, and waited. I was aware that this was an event in which the host would be preaching to the converted, but I was amazed at the positive energy in the room. The lights went down and then there was that flash of the hair and we were off!

I’d say that the show is a mixture of talk, readings and standup, with a few hilarious celebrity anecdotes thrown in (seriously, I’ll never look at Benedict Cumberbatch in the same way again…), but the overwhelming message was that we have the power to change things- for ourselves and for society at large. Caitlin Moran has attracted controversy and criticism, which she accepts, but she has such good ideas that I still think How To Be A Woman should be essential reading for teenagers. I don’t think Michael Gove would agree with me though. Caitlin’s argument is that no one feminist will do everything and that feminism itself is a patchwork quilt- we have to work together to make it stronger.

The bit of the show that really resonated with me was when Caitlin spoke about how she spent a lot of her life channelling Courtney Love when she was faced with difficult situations and that we should fake it to make it. I’ve also spent a lot of my life channelling Courtney, although how appropriate that is when faced with a class of 30 Year 7s learning about grammar is something of a conundrum…

After the show, we decided to queue with the other hundreds of fans to get our books signed. This is the first book signing I’ve been to where the writer ISN’T sitting down. Talking a mile a minute, emerald green eyeshadow flashing and kisses and hugs aplenty, Caitlin enthusiastically greeted each and every one of us.

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Tip: when meeting a writer you really like and admire, don’t dress like a nerd (I’m blaming the lady who took this photo for my seven chins) and then don’t babble on like a deranged stalker about how you once accosted said writer outside Wagamama’s in Brighton about three years ago. Not cool, Pomfrett, not cool. However, Caitlin was lovely and asked how I was as if she remembered. That was cool.

Anyway, it was a great night and I’m looking forward to reading How To Build A Girl and re-reading How To Be A Woman. I’m also inspired to do more of my own feminist reading and, possibly, writing. After all, I have decided to fake it til I make it…

THANK YOU to Kelly who took me with her!

Je suis une geek, oui?

Sometimes, you get an email that sparks an idea off in your brain for a blogpost and you do it. When SingleHop emailed me to ask if I wanted to do a blogpost about being a geek in the run up to Geekness Day on Sunday, I thought “Yeah, OK. I could do with some ideas for the blog.” So here we are. (BTW, not being paid for this post, I just thought it was a fun topic.)

Image: greatwhitesnark.com

Image: greatwhitesnark.com

Now, I am quite unashamedly a geek in some ways. Not in an Alexa Chung/Topshop t-shirt kind of way, but in a ‘why, yes, I do own a number of t-shirts from TeeFury/Qwertee‘ kind of way (mostly Dr Who, X Files and Powerpuff Girls/Batman mashups, if you’re interested.) I am geeky about many topics: tea, certain books, history, the aforementioned Mulder and Scully. I also think it’s quite possibly genetic; my mum has two daughters and neither turned out to be the ballerina of her dreams. We spent out childhood beating the local boys at Street Fighter II to the point that no one would challenge us any more.

Image: Print by Hey Monster

(By the way, if anyone wants to buy me this print, you can. Here. I need it in my life.)

I think my evolution as a geek started young; I grew up with two male cousins close in age to me, but old enough to seem wiser and otherworldly to a younger me. They had a love of Red Dwarf and SNES and so it seemed natural that my sister and I followed in their footsteps. AND NOW LOOK AT ME. I write a blog read by literally TENS of people on a semi-regular basis. I’m living the dream, kids.

So, who’s your geek role model? I’ve said it before, but mine are definitely Scully, April O’Neil and Velma from Scooby Doo (being short, round and ginger as a kid/adult means limited options when represented in the media.) On Sunday I shall wear a Super Mario t-shirt with pride and eyeliner. Happy Geekiness Day 2014!

 

Bluebird Tea Co.: Cherry Bakewell*

 

Image: Bluebird Tea Co.

Image: Bluebird Tea Co.

I have made no bones about the fact that I love a pretty looking tea, and this new offering from Bluebird Tea Co. is possibly the PRETTIEST I’ve seen. I want a jar full of this on my kitchen worktop (and then, because it’s so delicious, I’d probably refuse to let anyone else drink it. I’m a selfish tea hoarder.)

Of all the new Bluebird summer teas, this is the one that appeals to me the most; I love cherry bakewells anyway and the thought of a tea with all sorts of health benefits and few calories is right up my street.

Let’s start with the smell: it’s spot on. It’s the perfect blend of cherries and almonds and really conjures up the image of a proper, old-fashioned tart with a cherry on top. Perfect!

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

Taste-wise, as the base tea is a Chinese white tea, it’s pretty delicate. Imagine the cake without the pastry-like stodge and you’re there. The tea itself brews to a pink hue, thanks to the hisbiscus and cornflowers, and the added fruits (cranberries, raisins) and almond pieces make this a lovely, fruity blend that’s perfect for a hot day’s afternoon tea.

You can buy Cherry Bakewell here.

Country Baskets Blogger Challenge- Accessorize yourself!

Before Christmas, I was asked to take part in the Country Baskets blogger challenge. I enjoyed myself so much that I knew I would be well up for the spring challenge- to design something suitable for a wedding. There’s £250 of craft vouchers up for grabs, so I had to design something interesting.

Now, I admit that I found this quite hard; I ran through a few different ideas. A corsage? A bag? In the end, I decided to make a headband- they’ve become quite a staple in my own accessory wardrobe. I knew I wanted to use some of the purple chiffon in the pack I was sent, as well as some sparkly teardrops. I just had no idea what to do.

And then it hit me- I’d take Carey Mulligan as Daisy in The Great Gatsby as my inspiration!

carey-mulligan-great-gatsby-pixie-cutI decided though that my own creation would be a bit more low-key- I don’t have the skills and, more importantly, I didn’t have any glue in the house. Everything would be hand-stitched and done in the limited time I had while D was out with his grandparents. So, listening to Ivanhoe on Radio 4 (narrated by David Tennant), I set to work.

First of all, I cut a length of chiffon and lace and stitched them together. The chiffon is barely visible and gives the hairband a wispiness, while the lace really makes it feel ‘wedding-y’.

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The challenge was to use five of the materials I was sent. Of course, using the chiffon meant that the rest of the product had to be similarly delicate. One of the materials that most interested me was a wire spray with teardrops. I decided to snip some of these off and twist them onto the lace at regular intervals. Although not immediately obvious, I thought they’d reflect the sunlight really nicely on a beautiful day.

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I was also sent a lovely white and cream bouquet of artificial flowers; although immediately attracted to the roses and lilies (that had a splash of pink in the centre), I thought that the smaller flowers would suit the delicate look I was going for- anything else would have just been, well, blousey. Also, I have fond childhood memories of them, so they seemed perfect for the project at hand. Luckily, they popped off their stems quite easily, so I stitched those on as well.

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Finally, I added ribbon to the ends, so that the hairband would tie on nicely. (By the way, I apologise for the state of my hair in this photo, but I was sort of aiming for ‘shabby chic’. Alas, I ended up with just plain old shabby…)

This was a super easy project that took just over an hour; it could be an idea for bridesmaids or for brides who are having a simple wedding. Similarly, it could double up as some kind of festival hairband, which I hear are all the rage with the kids these days.

Anyway, I hope you like it!

(All materials provided by Country Baskets)

 

Relaxation Wishlist…

Ah, I’m stressed. Work stress, house-buying stress and, this weekend, ‘oh-look-my-lips-have-swollen-in-an-allergic-reaction’ stress. I need a holiday, ideally on my own. Alas, due to expensive dentistry, this is not an option (although I can pretend I’m in Paris in my head. There are some advantages of being a champion daydreamer.) Alas, I am skint and a toddler does not leave much spare time for utterly selfish ‘me-time’, but I may save up and treat myself in a few months…

mucha

So, if I had the money, what would I do?

  • A good facial- yeah, I could do this myself at home, but there’s something utterly luxurious about someone doing it for you. Plus they often know what they’re doing more than I do and so I relax more.
  • Full body massage- I haven’t had a massage since before I got pregnant with D. I LOVE massages, especially the ones with aromatherapy oils and stuff. I leave the session feeling slightly tipsy and chilled and I sleep wonderfully afterwards.
  • Yoga class- again, I haven’t been to yoga since early pregnancy and I don’t have room to do much in the current house. I’m not very good at yoga, but I find that a good session has the same effect on me as a good massage.
  • Posh manicure- I don’t quite know what I mean by ‘posh’. I’d just like someone to do it for me and for it not to smudge.
  • A night to myself in a hotel- I love my boys, I really do. But if money was no object, I would take myself off to the Metropole with a book and just wallow. Long hot bath, face mask, huge book, posh chocolates, room service. Ahhh, heaven.

What would you do for your ultimate relaxation?