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June Scavenger Hunt

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Hasn't June been an odd month?  It feels like it's gone by super-fast, yet the start of the month feels like it was about 6 years ago.  I can't quite reconcile the two.  Anyway, it's Scavenger Hunt time!  Thanks, as always, to Kathy for picking the categories.

At night:

Open-air theatre on a glorious summer night is one of the best things in the world. Even if it does feature terrifying witches.


It's highly unlikely that this is real diamond jewellery - I don't come from that sort of family. Pretty though! So let's pretend it's real.


 King Eider looking noble at the vet's inspection at Bramham. What a lovely horse.


Just before a HUGE raincloud came across the river and soaked us.  Gahhhhhh.  The sun was cracking the flags when we set out!


Nice name for a road, isn't it?

Out of reach:

Waaah, my beloved shoes are so high up! Or I'm so short.  One of the two.  Either way, it requires a mini stepladder to reach them.


Tudor style.

On the edge:

You'd have to be on the edge of sanity to sleep in this.  Eek, imagine rolling over in the middle of the night and plummeting off the edge!  I still find it quite impressive though.


This was after about an hour of painstakingly redoing the lettering on my Grandad Jim's headstone.  Fiddly work!


On a caravan. How terribly British.


I may have spent a good 50% of this month blowing my nose but at least my tissues have crowns on them. Ah, the joys of shopping in Historic Royal Palaces gift shops!


Well it was never going to be anything other than Oscar, was it? I make crazy cat lady noises when he sleeps like this.

This Summer

Thursday, 28 June 2012

I saw a lovely post on Elise's blog recently about her summer plans, sharing an idea that Rebecca wrote about.  Let's call it a summer to-do list.  But a fun one, not a naggy, horrible, "hoover under the bed and read the collected works of Charles Dickens for self-improvement" one.  So here's what I want to do this summer:

  • Go to the Edinburgh Festival
  • Make a complicated cake - possibly Dobos Torte. See here for a mega review of someone else trying it!
  • Complete Project Bunny
  • Have a smashing time at the Olympics
  • Take my lovely new tent camping again
  • Go to the football - either a pre-season Liverpool game or keep it local and go and watch Marine
  • Try a Zumba class
  • Have a picnic with Shell and Baby Jack because I just don't see the two of them enough
  • Go on a Ferry 'cross the Mersey! Would you believe I've never been on it?
  • Do or buy something a bit frivolous and not feel guilty about it
  • Chill out.  I am becoming increasingly incapable of not checking my phone for texts/emails/tweets/Instagram updates/blog comments every 5 minutes.  I know it's a terrible habit.  I'll have to lock it in a box or something
  • Write 15,000 more words of The Second Novel 
  • Finally, if I can fit it in (cos my weekends are quite packed!), go to the zoo.  I've never been to the zoo.

And as it's a well-known fact that you should always start off a to-do list with something you've already done, just for the sheer satisfaction of having something crossed off, here are TWO things that I wanted to do this summer that I've already done! Yesterday, to be precise.

  • Watch some outdoor theatre
  • Book an autumn break with the girls from work

We're staying here in October and having 5 days of loafing around and crafts and walks and trips to York and Durham.  BLISS.

I shall update you all at the end of August.  Or perhaps mid-September, depending on the word count of the novel.  I may struggle with that one. I've totally lost my writing mojo.

Pink Rabbits

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Sometimes, clothing just doesn't quite work out the way you plan.  In this instance, what I thought was a perfectly respectable length shirtdress on the hanger turned out to be quite indecently short when I got it home and tried it on.  I think H&M has caught New Look-itis.  I am all of 5 feet 2 inches tall - dresses should not be short on me.  I will perhaps forgive it if they're verging on the tunic side of things but this is a shirt dress.  There is no possible way it's meant to be crotch length and especially not on someone my height.  How do you taller people cope?!

Anyway, I didn't want to take it back.  It is a fab addition to #wardrobezoo, so it's staying.  All I needed to do was tuck it in and turn the belt into an impromptu headband.

Top - H&M sale
Blazer - Warehouse via Oxfam
Skirt & ring - Primark
Shoes - Dorothy Perkins

Warning: Contains Ugly Shoes

Monday, 25 June 2012

ASOS is not a website that I stalk religiously.  In fact, I don't often go on it at all because I'll only end up spending money.  I only really venture over there when people send me tempting links (Twitter is bad for this, very bad) and during the sales, which are gooooooood.

So today I spent my morning tea break idly browsing the shoes and wondering if I actually need a pair of gingerbread men pattern shoes, or whether they're just so flipping cute I am in mad want of them.  I'm still pondering that one.  I got totally distracted by a little game I like to call Hideous Shoe Hunt.  Oh boy, ASOS know how to pick 'em!

Cos I'm a generous soul, I then spent my lunch break picking out the worst offenders to share with you.

Those of a nervous disposition may wish to scroll down to the bottom of the post now...

Cheaper (and probably more stylish) to just strap a box to the bottom of your shoes than buy these, no?

Sorry, don't care if these are Alexander McQueen.  You would have to pay me the £265 to wear them. I loathe and detest those tread soles.

So much wrong with these I don't really know where to start.

Does any shoe really need a high-rise with leather uppers and a Liberty floral print and cut-out inserts to the sides and a rolled cuff and an elastic lace closure to the reverse and an open heel design and peep toe styling and a slim sole and a high, plexy heel (which frankly, always remind me of stripper shoes)?

Make it stop. Please.

I think these might be the most awful things I've ever seen.

I may have to stop now before I'm sick.  The fringed monstrosity above has had a bad effect on me.

On a positive note, there are some lovely things on there too. Want to see the gingerbread shoes?  Course you do!

I still haven't made my mind up about them.  Am I being distracted by their cuteness?

These are also v. sweet.

And I'm seriously considering these, floral and daft as they may be.

Getting Dressed

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Goodness me, I feel as if I've forgotten how to get dressed recently, let alone do an outfit post.  I am fighting a joint battle against the last, lingering effects of the plague (I have been blowing my nose for 10 days now - it is SORE) and trying to reduce the overwhelming amounts of stuff that I own. More on the decluttering saga at a later date, but in brief - so much stuff.  No room.  Am living surrounded by towering heaps of crap that I don't know what to do with.  Help.

Despite the fact that I've actually done some ironing for once (I know, right? I'm as surprised by this as you are), it doesn't mean clothes are actually accessible at the moment.  I just cast my eye over the easily reachable things and went: t-shirt, yup, shorts, yup, still not warm enough to go bare legged so tights, yup, boots, yup.  This pair were so desperate to be worn that they fell out of the wardrobe and threw themselves across the room.

Note to self.  Don't take outfit photos at 5pm.  You look crumpled.
Tshirt - Hero and Cape
Shorts - H by Henry Holland, Debenhams sale
Boots - Aldo, Asos sale
Rings - Landbaby (owl) and Dorothy Perkins sale (white)

Suggestions Please

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

I have the plague.

Ok, perhaps this is a slightly more accurate description.

I am currently feeling really rather horrible and haven't got out of bed for two days.  I have no energy for anything except sleeping and reading.  The only slight problem with the latter is that all the books in my to-read pile are large and fairly serious and not really ideal sickbed material.  Blogs are better - shorter, more fun and don't need as much brainpower as a 400 page novel. I'm about to embark on a well overdue blog commenting session but your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to link me up to a good blog that I need to read.  I'm sure I'm missing out on loads of them!  Which do you currently love, and why?

ps - If you're on Twitter and around on Thursday night between 7 and 8pm, come and join in the Twitter party on #wwfashion for lots of fun chat about fashion, styling and dressing for your shape, whatever that may be, plus a chance to win lots of lovely Debenhams vouchers! I could so have done with this when I was in the middle of losing weight, so I'll definitely be there sharing some of my hints and tips.

Red, White and Ooooh

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Do you ever think to yourself "Oh I've got loads of shoes/accessories/cardigans"?  I do it all the time, mostly when struggling to cram things into my annoyingly small wardrobe.  Yet when it comes down to it, it doesn't mean I actually vary my style choices that much.

Perhaps it's because of storage issues or because I'm terrible at doing the ironing but I often stick to the same cardi for several different outfits, or will wear one set of earrings or necklace for about two weeks in a row.  I don't even notice I'm doing it until I actually put two sets of outfit photos together like I have here.  Both outfits were worn over the Jubilee weekend (I know, I know, I am late at posting the pictures.  Don't all hit me with your discarded bunting) and are on the red, white and blue side of things,  so perhaps that's another reason why.  After all, even I don't need more than one pair of red Mary Janes.

What I do need is pretty much every sort of leg and foot related accessory that M&S Limited Collection are producing at the moment.  Check out the socks. 

I know they're not odd but I believe I've already mentioned at some point that knee high socks are the exception to the Odd Sock Law.

Shorts & tshirt - H&M
Cardi - Matalan
Socks - Marks & Spencer Limited Collection
Shoes and necklace (it's actually a headband) - Dorothy Perkins sale
Bangles & ring - Primark

And the tights!  Ooooh, aren't they just amazing?!

It's London.  On my legs!
Dress - via New Life
Cardi - Tu
Tights - Marks & Spencer Limited Collection
Shoes & headband (actually worn as a headband) - Dorothy Perkins sale

Too, too tempting.  Perhaps I can make room in my tights suitcase and sock drawer just for a few more... After all, I don't think I've ever said "Oh I've got too many tights."

A Blogging Good Read - June

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Joining me for the inaugural edition of A Blogging Good Read are Bex from Futures and Char from T*rexes and Tiaras.  Bless them both for coping with my timescales and reading so fast!  People joining in for future editions, you will have more notice than they got.  Promise.

To summarise what this is all about, we each pick a book, explain why we chose it, then the other two read it and review it.  Simple as that!

First up is Char's choice, Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult.  Here she is to explain why she chose it:

Since reading My Sister's Keeper a few years ago, I've been a bit of a fan of Jodi Picoult's books and have subsequently read my way through most of them. I like that fact that she is a step or two away from what is commonly considered chick-lit, and that her books deal with some of the more emotionally involving issues. Her books often feature a court case, which I think is one of the things which draws me to them; during my degree I was always intrigued by the details surrounding the cases we studied.

In Handle With Care, Willow suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, causing her bones to break easily at the slightest impact. After a particularly severe injury, Willow's parents decide to take legal action against the medical practitioners whom they feel should have notified them of their unborn childs' condition, in order that they can bring a 'wrongful birth' case to court. What follows is an emotional struggle for Willow's mother, Charlotte, to decide whether or not she can stand up in front of the court, her best friend who happens to be her doctor (and more so in front of her daughter) to tell them she would have preferred it had her child never been born.  The impact of the court case hangs over the whole family, all of whom deal with it in their own ways, and all of whom tell their stories to Willow throughout the course of the book, which I like. I remember reading this book and that the story stuck with me for a while afterwards, which I always consider to be the mark of a thought-provoking read and I will be interested to see what the others think of it.

So, what did we think of it?  Over to Bex:

As a mother myself, I was dubious to how I'd find this novel. I did enjoy it although I could see certain incidents happening pages before they did and I found Charlotte to be a very selfish and self-centred character who didn't seem to care how this court case was affecting the people she should be caring about most: her husband, her children, her best friend. I would liked to have found out more about Marin's story, as I felt both her story and the court scenes were a little rushed and I was a little disappointed with the ending.

As for me, I must admit I didn't like it very much.  I tend to come away from Jodi Picoult books feeling as if I'd been beaten around the head with 500 pages of Important Issues and so I haven't picked one up for a while. I was hoping things would be different this time but alas not.

For starters, I'm not especially keen on switching narrative points of view so regularly throughout a book, especially when it's written in second person.  It makes it even more of a difficult read when you actively dislike most of the characters and can't warm to a single one of the narrators.  There were certain issues within this book that were a bit of a sore spot for me, plus I only have limited patience for books so heavily focused on motherhood and birth, so I can't say I was ever going to be the ideal target reader for this one.  But having said that, it did have its good points.  For such a big book it was very readable and some bits of character backstory were delightful - it's just a shame they were so brief. And I'll give the woman her dues because she's certainly done her research into the topic! I liked the courtroom scenes best so would have enjoyed it more had the book been slightly more balanced in favour of this element, but overall, it's just not for me.

Bex's choice was The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday and she chose it for quite a mysterious reason!

I recently received it through the post, no idea where it came from. I took a look at the blurb and it seemed like a very interesting read - obviously someone thinks it is interesting enough for me to read too!  This was the book I was most wary of, I really felt like I wouldn't enjoy it. It was actually my favourite of the three! The way Michael and Elizabeth tiptoe around each other really helped the story develop, they were both too frightened to confront the 'elephant in the room'. I find it a little hard to believe that in all their years of marriage, Michael managed to hide that big a secret from his wife, but the way it comes out is definitely explosive!

So what did I think of it?  Firstly, I agree with the pull out quote on the cover above.  The way that the story is revealed is both clever and gripping and the novel unfolds in such a way that it's actually quite difficult to write a review of it because I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it.  It starts off very sedately - just an ordinary tale of two people who are settled in their ways after ten years of marriage.  Then a brief encounter with the mysterious girl on the landing and everything is different.  It doesn't seem sinister at first but things very swiftly start to unravel and I zoomed through the rest of the book to try and discover what was really happening.  Torday is very clever in how he plays with ideas of truth and reality and the idea behind one possible explanation for Michael's behaviour absolutely fascinates me, although I can't elaborate for spoiler reasons. 

And here's Char's review:

Another author I hadn't read before. For the first hundred pages or so I found it a little bit pedestrian; plodding it's way between Michael and Elizabeth's narratives with each chapter, and I didn't feel like there was much to the plot. As I got further on, however, I began to think this was probably Torday's intention. The slow and steady thumping of the plot started to become a little eerie, reflected in Michael's nature and actions. Once Michael meets the girl on the landing, life for Elizabeth and Michael begins to change. All of a sudden (or so it seems to Elizabeth) their marriage becomes so much more fun; suddenly there are spontaneous weekends away and Michael's most important bedroom task is no longer hanging his trousers in the trouser-press. His priorities change, and Elizabeth enjoys this to begin with, although after a while is wary that there is a reason for this, so begins to search. As she gets closer and closer to finding the truth, the pattern of the alternative narrative chapters is broken, and a more chaotic pace ensues, leading up to the crescendo, which I think is effectively reflected in the circumstances of the ending. Without wanting to spoil any of the plot, all I will say is that I did end up enjoying this book a lot more than I thought I would from the first few chapters and that it's definitely worth a read. 

Finally, onto my choice, The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson.  I'll just mention at this stage that this book was originally published under the title The Countess Below Stairs which I think is a much better (and more accurate) title than The Secret Countess.  As both Char and Bex mention in their reviews, Anna's past isn't exactly a secret in the book.

This book utterly charms me.  It was the first of Eva Ibbotson's books that I ever read and I loved it so much that I now own everything she's ever written, even the books that are solidly aimed at the under 5 market.  This one in particular is my go-to comfort read.  It's not complicated or issue-ridden, it's just a very good story, beautifully written and described.  The (not-so) Secret Countess is Anna Grazinsky, part of an aristocratic Russian family who have had to flee their homeland during the Bolshevik Revolution and start a new life in England, in much reduced circumstances.  She goes to work as a maid at Mersham, a large country house which has been a bit unloved during the war years and is now being spruced up for the return of the new Earl and his new (and extremely rich) fiancée.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this would be all cliches - swooning embraces behind the potted plants, cardboard characters and the evil fiancée destroying their happy little world.  It's not.  It's magical.  Well ok, Muriel is a complete horror and she does manage to upset an awful lot of people, but even that is is done beautifully in a very insidious sort of way.  The characters, even the minor ones, are so real and vivid that the worlds of Mersham and post-WW1 London sparkle to life.  It's the mark of someone really talented that they can write such a large and interesting cast of characters. Eva Ibbotson has passed away now, and she never did write sequels anyway, but I am still a little bit sad at the fact that I'll never be able to read about the Honourable Olive as a grown up.  God, I would have loved that book to be written.
Anyway, I could talk about this book all day but I should try and let the others get a word in edgeways. Did they like it as much as I do?

Bex said:

Although it took me a little while to get into, I grew to love this book tremendously, falling a little bit in love with Anna myself and thoroughly detesting Muriel and the loathsome Doctor. I was willing everybody to find out Anna's true identity for chapters before it was actually revealed and found myself getting angrier and angrier with each near miss. This book provoked emotions in me, I really felt as if I was involved personally.

Char's thoughts were:

 Although I hadn't read any of this author before The Secret Countess, I must admit when I read the overview on the back, the premise sounded familiar. I was expecting something heart-warming and gentle, and I wasn't disappointed. Russian countess Anna gets thrown into poverty and is forced to join the team of servants at Mersham, an English manor house. I thought it a little odd that the existing servants all knew immediately that she was well-educated and of a higher class, and that also it became obvious fairly quickly to Rupert upon his return to the house; the countess didn't seem to be much of a secret to me.

I enjoyed the gentle nature of the story, although felt Anna's character was perhaps a little too storybook-perfect. She seemed to have no trouble at all getting all of the members of the house -including the dog- to love her.
I took an instant dislike to Muriel and was therefore pleased when Proom's plot to get rid of her was taking shape. Proom and his servants tied up all of the loose ends and managed to get Anna back to Mersham and into the arms of her beloved Rupert, in an ending which I felt was sweet but perhaps a bit too speedy. A sweet, happy ending though and an enjoyable read.

Hope you all enjoyed this edition!  Have you read any of these books?  If so, I'd love to know your thoughts on them.

I'll be back at the start of July with two other contributors and three new books.

Not Quite A Teaparty

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

What better way to celebrate the Jubilee than with a party?  I don't know about you but I never need an excuse to eat cake.

The lovely lot at George asked if I'd like to take part in their Jubilee Tea Blogparty.  I replied with a slightly more coherent version of "Yespleasethankyouverymuch" and then I just had to pick a dress from George that I thought best represented a decade of the queen's reign, sit back and eat cake.  Suits me down to the ground!  I chose this frock which is sort of dual purpose - it reminds me of 70s tennis frocks and also the very 90s jersey dresses I used to buy from Tammy Girl and Miss Selfridge.  Incidentally, does anyone else from Liverpool remember the circular changing room in Miss Selfridge?  I miss that.

As for the party, I should, in the interests of honesty, admit that tea was not drunk.  We like coffee and lots of it, so there's no point faffing around with tiny teacups.  Mugs are the way forward.  Big mugs.

I love mini party rings.  Really, really, love them.

Char looks very happy with her cake.  I am possibly the most startled anyone has ever been by a Victoria sponge. 

We had a jolly good time though!

Dress - Barbara Hulanicki @ George, c/o George
Cardi - Tu
Ring - present
Cat - Oscar, optional accessory