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December Frolics

Thursday, 20 December 2012

This month is always hectic. Big events at work, lots of shopping to be done, parties, ridiculous amounts of baking, meeting up with friends... It's rare that I have any free time during the majority of December. I'm permanently knackered and skint and my body and bank balance don't thank me for it!

But I finished work on 14th December and all of my Christmas stuff is DONE. I can now breathe a huge sigh of relief and enjoy myself until 7th January when I go back to work.  It all starts today as I have a quick jaunt down to London planned to watch the showjumping at Olympia.  Exciting!

December hasn't been all rushing around madly though.  I did manage to squeeze in some fun, relaxing stuff as well.

I was invited along to a preview of the new Lush spa last week.  Now I'm not the sort of person who tends to indulge much in makeup and beauty related stuff, but I am a big fan of Lush so I had a whale of a time there!  The shop is huge compared to the last one and the shelves are positively groaning with delicious goodies.  You may be shocked to hear that I headed straight for the massive pile of Snow Fairy scented stuff (top right in the above pic).  Yes, I know it's pink and I am notorious for loathing the colour, but I adore the smell.  It's in my top 5 smells list (FYI, the others are freshly cut grass, blown out matches, bread and JPG for men) so I just shut my eyes and wallow in deliciousness.  

The spa is gorgeous too - sort of Alice in Wonderland meets English country cottage.  Just a brief wander around it to look at some of the treatments left me feeling utterly blissed out so I can definitely see myself venturing back there in the New Year for an early 2013 treat.  Which treatment to pick though?  Decisions, decisions...

I also ventured into the unknown for the third time this year and booked some tickets to an evening of secret cinema with Reel Unknown.  The previous two films were Con Air (complete with Vegas style set-up in the Kazimier) and The Goonies (which was in the Williamson Tunnels and was fricking awesome).  We knew this wouldn't be Christmas related, but the only clue we had was to meet in the graveyard of Liverpool Cathedral one cold December evening.

Can you guess what the film was?

Young Frankenstein of course!  Oh it was brilliant - I've never seen it before and I laughed my (odd) socks off.  Could they have picked a more perfect place than the Medical Institute to show it in?  I don't think so!

Then last weekend it was time for tea:

Afternoon tea at The London Carriage Works to be precise.  We had a mini Liverpool tweet-up and jolly nice it was too!  I always feel terribly ladylike when finger sandwiches and mini cake are involved.  Weirdly, whenever I go anywhere with bloggers and other internet folk (who you'd expect to be more forgiving of my habit of taking photos of my clothes), I never remember to take any outfit photos.  So there are no pics of me looking terribly ladylike, but I wore my River Island London print frock and StylistClick sparkly shoes.  It would have been a pair of my finest Irregular Choice heels but Liverpool is a city built on a whopping big hill and I can't hike in heels!

I'll save them for Christmas Day when I'll be doing nothing more tiring than tottering from house to car and back again.

Winter Wool

Friday, 14 December 2012

I'm sure there are many varied and hilarious lists out there entitled "You Know You're A Fashion Blogger When..."

Well, I'd like to start off a new list entitled "You Know You're A Crazy Fashion Blogger When..." and start it with:

  • You voluntarily take outfit photos outside when it's minus 4.  And you take off your coat. And your gloves.
Because I was (relatively) snuggly warm when I was dressed like this:

But then I stripped off the layers and it was COLD. 

Like I said, crazy fashion blogger.  Mind you, had I not been wearing this jumper then I would have been chillier still.  I do enjoy wearing plus size tops in winter, especially when they're as snuggly as this one.  You can chuck all sorts of layers on underneath (you can't see the long sleeved top and a band tshirt under this) and if it's a good jumper you manage to get away with looking like you've deliberately worn it that way, rather than bearing a striking resemblence to someone in their dad's clothes.

The boots might not look it, but they're actually quite a sensible choice. My feet are further away from the cold ground and they're lovely and easy to walk in! Plus there's room for some festive odd sock action underneath.

Coat - Kookai, via car boot sale
Jumper - Primark
Shorts - Gap
Boots - Aldo, via ASOS
Scarf - unknown
Mittens & hat - Dorothy Perkins

A Party Frock

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

I was having the party frock horrors a few weeks ago.  I was madly in love with a French Connection green sequinned beauty but nearly had a fit when I looked at the price label.  I might well be a fan of sequins in the daytime but there is no way I could justify spending that much on one dress that, let's face it, would not get worn that often.  I was moaning on about the prospect of having to go naked to the party because there were NO NICE FROCKS ANYWHERE but then ping went my phone and my lovely pal Shell sent me a link to a divine frock on Amazon of all places. Not my usual port of call when looking for clothes online. It was from Strawberry Hill Cottage, was under £25 (score!) and best of all, it was green.  That girl knows me well.  Spookily, she hadn't heard me moaning and just come across it at random.  Fate.  Must be.

So, one party frock duly secured, I scrubbed myself up after work on Monday and headed out to Leaf for the Christmas meal with the gang from work, followed by deliciously strong cocktails at various bars in the city centre. A good night was definitely had.

This is my patented hide-the-matronly-upper-arms pose

This is just me being a complete div.  Oh well, tis party season after all!

The photos don't do the frock justice at all.  It's a wee bit 50s in style and the skirt is much fuller and the shape more flattering than it looks here.  However this house is notoriously terrible for taking outfit photos in (lights are in bizarre places, no plain white walls anywhere) and I didn't want to lug the SLR on a night out, so these photos will have to do!  I'm sure you'll see it in some outfit photos in the future.  My wardrobe has to earn its keep and this will look cute with a cardi and flats during the daytime too.  It's not just a party frock, although it does look fetching when accessorised with a party hat!

Dress - ex C&A stock
Jacket - Warehouse via Oxfam
Bag - H&M
Ring - vintage
Shoes - Dorothy Perkins

I also dressed Ffion for the evening as she's just about to move house and was having a wardrobe crisis, having managed to pack all of her party frocks.  Damn her for looking better in this than I do!

Frock - Ghost
Fake fur coat - vintage

A Blogging Good Read - December

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Slightly later than normal this month due to epic amounts of giveawayage going on last week, but it's now Good Read time! Joining me this month is Kezzie from KezzieAG.  Unfortunately the other blogger lined up for this month hasn't been able to join in, but we've read her choice of book so we'll review that as well, especially as it was so good!

She picked The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Did Kezzie like it?

The Book Thief for me was an utter joy to read: in a bittersweet way.  It tells the tale of a young girl, Liesl Meminger who is fostered by a family in Molching, Nazi Germany in 1939, after her Mother cannot afford to keep her (and though we don’t learn of her fate, we suspect she gives her up partially because the Nazis have something against her and she ends up dead, ‘off-stage’ as it were) and how the power of words in a book ultimately saves and nurtures her life.   

I consider a good sign that a book evokes strong emotions in me, one that engages your emotions and makes you care about the fate of the characters deeply. I confess to crying several times reading this book (3 times embarrassingly in a single Tube journey!) - I fretted over the ending of this book before I reached it, I was that drawn into the story and I cared about each and every character deeply! The story constantly kept up the sense of suspense as to their fate. The Narrator as Death was clever and he was a witty raconteur.  A really special part of the book is the relationship development between Liesl and the various characters she meets, her foster father, her best friend Rudy, a hidden Jew, the latter particularly beautifully develops.   The stories within the story (the books which are thieved!) are rather poignant too.

The description and vocabulary was something striking for me about this book, the imagery used- it was clever, witty and highly original- phrases like bullet-proof eyes,  and the shop was white and cold and bloodless (p51) had me laughing in delight at the originality as did the creative and unusual verb choices.  The story was just the right length- despite its 580 pages, the pace was constantly moving and there was always something to learn or something happening.  Honestly, I know I say this about most books I read, but you really have to read this - it is utterly beautiful and though a multitude of tales exist written about this era, this really is something Other with that capital O!  There is nothing I can say that I did not like about it apart from the fact I wish things ended differently for certain characters!

As for my thoughts on it, well I'm a contrary creature.  People have been telling me to read this book for years and I've been ignoring them (ditto The Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas etc, although I did read a whole two chapters of the latter before passing out due to extreme boredom).   As such, I did perhaps start reading this in a bit of a stubborn mood, wanting it to really make me love it.  To start with, I didn't.  That's not due to my mardiness, it's because there are a lot of stylistic tricks in this book that could be really annoying.  Omniscient narrators, fragmented story telling, telling you at the start of the book what happens at the end: none of these are things that I like.   And yet, once I'd given it a little time, these things completely ceased to annoy me and actually worked perfectly in context.  It's hard to carry on being cross and irritated with things like the little interludes that broke up the general narration when one of them - just two simple sentences - managed to break my heart.

I liked the omniscience of the narrator.  Death always makes a good character in fiction, doesn't he? Usually it would be classed as a complete spoiler if the fate of a key character was revealed early on, but here it just doesn't matter.  It  makes sense for him to tell you about Liesl in the way that he does and you read on because you want to know how her story is written, not what the end result is.  Kezzie has given you a brief plot overview and I really don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it but it turns out that the way it unfolds is enthralling, uplifiting, fascinating and quite desperately heartbreaking in parts.  

Oh, and I'm a moron for not reading it sooner.

My choice was A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones

I've loved this book for years and years.  Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite authors and this book, to me, is the perfect example of her inventiveness, sense of humour and amazing skill.  Her books may technically be for children but there's never the slightest hint of pandering to her audience. They're quite often deeply steeped in mythology and folk literature (try Fire & Hemlock or The Homeward Bounders for two of her best) - this one isn't quite so much, but the concept behind it is just as fascinating. It starts in Britain in 1939 where Vivian Smith is being evacuated from London.  Only she never quite makes it to the safety of the countryside, because she's promptly kidnapped from the train station by Jonathan and Sam (two boys who are under the impression she's a different Vivian Smith) who then whisk her off to Time City.  The city is set in a patch of space and time outside history - the people there observe and maintain history and stop it from going wrong.  But now the city itself is now starting to crumble, the Time Ghosts are behaving in unexpected ways and history is going critical. 

It's complicated to explain why this is happening and even more complicated to explain why Vivian, Jonathan and Sam start venturing into the Unstable Eras of history in search of missing polarities, so I suggest you read it yourself! DWJ's writing is an absolute treat and Time City is practically a character in its own right, with the most intriguing mixture of technology and traditions.  I think perhaps you're meant to feel a bit sorry for Vivian, having been hauled out of her normal life into this exotic and baffling place, but I mostly just wanted to be her, having lessons with Dr Wilander, wearing one of Elio's favourite outfits, joining in with the mayhem of running around to find Sempitern Walker's ceremonial clothes and trying the thing that I think everyone remembers this book for.  BUTTERPIES!  If you don't want to eat one of those, there's no hope for you.

What did Kezzie think?

Interestingly, when I started this, I noticed that all 3 books we read were written or set in 1938-9! On the whole I liked this book.  It had a great Dr Who-esque sense of adventure in the quest to find who was causing Time City to become Unstable and unhinged from time with interesting and creative ideas of what might happen in future Earth history and the type of technological advancements.

The plot took a while to get going, there were moments of hiatus where we had some more description of Time City (or at least that was my impression) and then it got moving again. I wanted it to keep up the pace!   I liked the main character Vivian although I find the two leading boys rather annoying.   It had an Enid Blytonesque element, which seems ubiquitous to most children’s stories, with lots of talk of food which I found strangely annoying, unusual for me.  I usually love a bit of food description!

 The ending was a bit abrupt, confused and unresolved- I wasn’t quite sure exactly what was happening to Vivian - and the final denouement was a bit of a let-down: I thought, “Oh is that it?”   I may have raised some negative points but on the whole though, I enjoyed this tale- I always enjoy a quest and I would certainly recommend this to some of my kids at school to read (I think I’ll donate my copy of this to the school library)  because I think it has all the ingredients that boys and girls alike would alike. 

Kezzie's pick was Out of the Silent Planet by C.S Lewis

She chose it because:

I think it is an extraordinary book that more people should know about. I first read it about 6 years ago, (not read it since), and I don’t know anyone personally who has read it, so I really wanted to hear what other people think of it!  For me, I was most excited at views of what space, planets, space-ships and extra-terrestial life-forms in an author pre-space travel, pre-Moon landing!  This was the first book I had read in which the author has not been saturated by a myriad of different films, TV programmes and books with their images and thoughts of alien-life, so it was refreshing and beautiful.  I adored hearing about a spherical space ship with its own centre of gravity and the strange landscape and life-forms on the beautiful planet of Malacandra. C.S. Lewis has a beautiful method of description and the second book in this trilogy has the same delightfully original description.  I like the subtle allegorical message involved- it’s not too in your face!

I liked this book for very much the same reasons.  It was really different to read a pre-space travel interpretation of space travel - it felt so much fresher and innovative than other books I've read that are set in roughly the same time period.  Whether that's due to the author's ability or the time he wrote it, I'm not entirely sure, but it works for me!  It's not overly technical (except for the linguistic sections which I do admit to speed reading slightly) and it was thoroughly entertaining to be taken on the adventure through space to Malacandra and then to explore the planet through the eyes of Dr Ransom.

The writing is, unsurprisingly, excellent and perfectly brings to life this strange world and the creatures that inhabit it.  I adore the Chronicles of Narnia but for some reason I'd never even looked at the author's backlist before this.  This book was very different but shared a lot of the things I like best about the Narnia books - namely the creation of a fantasy world that seems so amazingly real and vivid that you believe in it totally.  I don't know that I'd necessarily rush out and track down books 2 and 3 - my tolerance for sci-fi isn't huge - but it definitely works as a standalone book and it was very much worth reading.

Thanks for joining in, Kezzie, and for expanding my book horizons!

If anyone fancies picking up a book over the Christmas hols, I'll be back at the start of January with two new contributors and we'll be reading Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, Letters from a Lost Generation edited by Alan Bishop & Mark Bostridge and If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor.

Cracking Christmas Giveaway: The Winners!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Afternoon all!

The deadline has been reached...
The votes have been counted... 
The winners have been selected... 

Sophie will be dancing round in a shiny new pair of shoes because she's won the Spartoo voucher.

I hope Alice is feeling hungry because a box of Nakd healthy snacks and some of my very best baking are about to arrive on her doorstep.

The Postcolonial Rabbit - clear some wall and bookcase space because you've won the Neverland to Wonderland poster and Folio Society copy of All Quiet on the Western Front 

Give us a twirl Maria! You're going to look amazing in the Madam Rage frock.

Kelly. On your marks, get set, KNIT! The Scruff the Dog kit is yours.

Miaow, purr purr, meep.  What, you don't speak cat? That was me telling The Girl she's won the crazy cat lady parcel.

Lakota! I demand you spend the ASOS vouchers on something fabulous to show off your slinkiness.

I hope the lucky winners all love their prizes!  Sorry that everyone couldn't win - some of your comments and entries made me laugh so much, and they've definitely helped put me in the Christmas spirit!

Cracking Christmas Giveaway: Day Seven

Friday, 7 December 2012

Day Seven. The last day.  Boooooooo.  This has been much fun!  I love giving stuff away.  As a final treat from me to you, I'm going to buy the winner:

£50 of ASOS vouchers

It made me feel very old the other day to realise that I remembered ASOS when it was first launched. Back in the days when it was short for As Seen On Screen and practically everything was labelled as "in the style of Sienna Miller/Nicole Ritchie/other random celeb that was popular in 2000". It's come on a lot since then!  If I have a problem with ASOS, it's that there is so much stuff on there that it can be dangerous to start browsing.  I know I'd end up with a wishlist as long as my arm if I went on there a lot.  Instead I tend to go a bit mad every now and then by searching for lots of animal keywords.  Hey, the #wardrobezoo doesn't stock itself you know!  And that approach turned up the best jumper in the world (as well as some of the prizes from yesterday's giveaway), so you aren't allowed to mock me for it.

For you organised types who actually have a wishlist, I'm sure you'll have no problem spending this prize!  Just follow the steps below to get your entries counted.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

All of the giveaways will stay open until 12.30pm on Monday, so if you haven't entered one, there's still time.

Cracking Christmas Giveaway: Day Six

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Day Six sees me calling all crazy cat ladies (and gentlemen. Wouldn't want to discriminate!) and #wardrobezoo fans.  On offer today are:

A cat bag and ring, purchased by me (both from ASOS)

And this fabulous Puss In Books book provided by the British Library gift shop

Raise your paw if you want to win them!  Gosh, I really need to stop picking giveaway prizes that I want to keep for myself.  This ring is adorable, the bag is beautiful (and big! I love a big clutch) and the book looks fascinating, with a whole host of feline themed nursery rhymes, poems, stories and gorgeous illustrations.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cracking Christmas Giveaway: Day Five

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Onto Day Five of the giveaway - hope you're enjoying it so far!

My thoughts often turn to crafts at this time of year.  I like to make a new beaded bauble or two for the tree each year - look above to see one I made earlier - but I'll give anything a go.  If you're anything like me, today's prize will be perfect for you!  It's:

An incredibly cute Scruff the Dog knit kit from Gift Horse Kits

If you're a knitting novice, don't worry! This kit is designed especially for beginners and is super easy and satisfying to make. It comes with absolutely everything you need to make your very own Scruff and all you need to do is pick your preferred colour, then get out the needles. It's even easier to complete than the bunnies kit I made, and frankly if I managed that then anyone can!  If you remain unconvinced by your level of knitting ability then it'd still make a fab present for someone - the kits are beautifully packaged.

Pop your details in the box to enter - you know the drill by now.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cracking Christmas Giveaway: Day Four

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Happy Tuesday everyone! It's Day Four of the giveaway today and the prize is:

A very pretty frock from Madam Rage

Madam Rage were super helpful when I was trying to track down a cat print blouse recently and they've continued their general loveliness by offering this dress as a giveaway prize.  Isn't it pretty?  I love that slight gold shimmer in the lace.

 It's available in sizes 8-16, so if it'll fit you (or someone you know), get entering!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cracking Christmas Giveaway: Day Three

Monday, 3 December 2012

Day Three brings literary gifts.  To be precise:

A Neverland to Wonderland poster from The Literary Gift Company

And a Folio Society copy of All Quiet on the Western Front

How beautiful is the poster please? Utterly perfect for anyone with a love of children's literature or just maps in general.  And words can't express how much I love the Folio Society.  This is a wonderful book and the illustrations and cover make it even better.  Who wouldn't want this gracing their bookshelves?

I very strongly wish I could keep both of these for myself but they're all yours.  Enter below, you lucky, lucky things.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cracking Christmas Giveaway: Day Two

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Onto Day Two and the prizes today are food based. 

A Nakd Celebration box, courtesy of Natural Balance Foods

And some of my rather good (even if I do say so myself) Christmas baking.


Yum!  One naughty, one nice, but they'll both be delicious.

Not only are Nakd bars amazingly healthy snacks, they actually manage to taste good too.  Trust me, I've tried out all sorts of low-cal snack bars and healthy options and these are about the only thing I go back and buy again and again.  This box has 18 of their very nicest things in it.

I can't promise at this stage exactly what the other half of the prize will be because it entirely depends how the baking mood takes me! But it will be good, I promise you that.

To enter, follow the instructions below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cracking Christmas Giveaway: Day One

Saturday, 1 December 2012

(yes I know it's only 1st December today but it'd be no fun to run this just before Christmas - the winners wouldn't get their presents in time!)

I have a week of fabulous goodies lined up for you lovely lot.  Want to win things?  Of course you do.  Check back every day this week for the latest prize - there'll be all sorts of amazing stuff on offer!

Day One's prize is:

A £40 voucher from Spartoo.

Hurrah! They sell so many amazing brands of shoes and bags that I'm sure you will have absolutely no problem spending it.  The only problem will be narrowing down what you like best!  What will you go for? 

Festively coloured Converse?
All Star high tops in plaid and red

Irregular Choice?  Go on, you know you want to...

Or something a bit sparkly for the holidays?

To save me from going entirely mad with trying to organise a week of giveaways, I'm giving Rafflecopter a whirl. Whack your details in the box below, complete the extra options for extra entries and best of British luck to you!

ps - helps if I change the settings to the right timezone, doesn't it?!  Should all be working now  :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What I Did In November

Friday, 30 November 2012

It's been a busy old month, and December is set to be even more hectic.  Fun though!  Here's what I've been up to recently:

- Tried Dining in the Dark

I was invited along to The Living Room in Liverpool earlier in the month for an evening with a difference. We were sampling mini versions of the food and drink from their new menu and playing guess the ingredient, but with our eyes closed. Well, with blindfolds on, to be precise. I learned that my taste buds are Not Very Good - I think I got 14.5/40 or something shocking like that, although weirdly I did guess all the cheeses correctly and I don't even eat cheese.  Anyway, the main discovery to come out of the evening was not my hitherto-unknown cheese-guessing powers, but the fact that The Living Room is really lovely.  I'd always associated the Liverpool one with footballers and gorgeous girls on nights out rather than delicious food, and I was super-impressed with how good everything on the menu was, as well as how nice and chilled out a venue it was.  Shall be heading back there soon!

- Watched American Idiot The Musical

Which was fab!  I had a slight fear that it would be clunky but it all fitted together rather well and the cast were great.  That album is very tied up with memories for me but I blocked that out and enjoyed it anyway.

- Got excited about Christmas at work

We've busted out the Christmas cd collection already.  In our defence, pretty much everyone is finishing on 14th Dec cos we've got so much leave left to take, so we're allowed to start the festivities in November.  That's our excuse and we're sticking to it.  Plus we have a house and a flipping big tree to decorate!  I was teetering on a ledge about 6 inches wide (if I tipped forwards I went into the tree, if I tipped backwards I crashed into a historic painting) and dancing to Jingle Bell Rock whilst making the tree looks fancy.  It looks ace, even if I do say so myself.

- Visited the cinema quite a bit

Seriously, how much good stuff was on this month?  I didn't even get round to seeing Argo, The Master or Rust and Bone.  Sad face.  The four films I did see were all wildly different but very good.  And who knew Bradley Cooper could actually act?

- Went to see Ben Folds Five

What a pair of fitfaces we are.

I'm not very musical. I don't spend a lot on music, or going to gigs, but I am a total Ben Folds fangirl. I went to see him on the (solo) Lonely Avenue tour a couple of years ago and as soon as the announcement went out that the band were reforming and touring in the UK, I pounced on the tickets.  Ffion and I had a bloody marvellous time last night in Manchesterville.

- Got quite a lot of shopping done.

Nothing in there but moths and a Tesco clubcard now.

I know, I know, it's only November. But I have to be super organised with presents for the people from work - I don't see most of them after 9th December - and then various friends are moving mid-month or generally just away, so I have to get started early. And I have two Secret Santa parcels to put together, plus a load of giveaway packages to organise! December is officially the month where I have no spare time. I'm totally calling on Parcelforce to send all my packages safely around the country. They pick them up from you! I can't face Post Office queues at the best of times and the thought of standing in line in December makes me shudder to the core.

- Tried opera. Cosi fan tutte to be precise.
Hark at me!  I think my pal Lee is just trying to convert me into a complete culture vulture.  He's already got me watching ballet (although not modern dance which tends to bore me to sleep) and he persuaded me to try a £5 ticket to the opera.  I rather surprised myself by absolutely loving it.  More please!

- Sorted out a great big pre-Christmas giveaway

Watch this space tomorrow!