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The Last Days of Summer

Friday, 26 September 2014

Fellow fashion bloggers, I love you, I really do, but sometimes I feel very left out.

You're all prancing around in coatigans and chunky boots and big old scarves and sleeveless coats, kicking up leaves, drinking pumpkin spice lattes and stocking up on conkers to ward off the spiders. Me? Well...

I love autumn, don't get me wrong, but I also love a bargain. When you see a beautiful summer frock in the sale and can't resist buying it, you then have to wear it straight away. This is the law.  It would be criminal to shove it in the wardrobe until next year.

Overseeing a random Twitter convo (as you do), I clicked on a link to the clearance section of the Boden website to be all nosy about what dresses they were oohing over. Not somewhere I've ever really considered shopping before cos, well, I'm poor and Boden stuff is undoubtedly lovely but quite expensive. Or so I thought! Turns out they're one of the few retailers who actually discount their sale items properly (hurrah! More places should do this) and so this exceptionally pretty Matilda dress was mine for the bargainous price of £17.60.

I hereby christen it my cheerleader dress.  I'd make a terrible cheerleader.  Huge fan of Bring It On but lacking the necessary pep and enthusiasm about life to cheer properly.

In similarly summery spirit, I'm still wearing sandals. Ish. They're summer shoes anyway. No winter boots here, not yet anyway.

'Matilda' Dress - Boden
Cardi - Primark
Heels - Irregular Choice, present from Char
Necklace - won in a blog giveaway ages ago

The Answer To Any Question

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I wasn't going to blog this outfit. The reasons are as follows:

1) I've worn this dress about a million times.
2) I have my can't-be-arsed-with-life cardigan on.
3) No makeup.
4) Hair had been in a topknot for three days.

But we can't be perfect all the time, can we? (Or ever, in my case.)

I got Taya, my Costa drinking partner in crime, to oblige with a few outfit snaps for the very simple reason that I was wearing EPIC new shoes and they deserved to be immortalised on here.

(I am so bad at having my photo taken. What am I even doing here? Amusing you, most probably)


I got an IC gift voucher for my birthday and struggled for ages to narrow the selection down to one thing to spend it on. Then I saw these and it was love at first sight. They arrived and then it seemed to rain forever and I really didn't want to ruin them, so this was their first outing.

I should probably have dug them out a week or so earlier - they'd have been perfect for the Scottish referendum!  They're perfect for general life though. I barely have to talk when I'm wearing them. I just do some sort of interpretive dance hokey-cokey and waggle my feet at people. Awesome.

Dress - Billie & Blossom @ Dorothy Perkins
Cardigan - Primark
Shoes - Irregular Choice 'Why Not'

A Jolly Good Time with Joules

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

I spent part of last week at Blenheim Palace. Tis rather large and rather wondrous.

The library was busy being set up for a wedding reception when we went around. Oh my word. Can you even imagine how much that must cost? I shudder to think.

Guys, it's a cake palace. It's made of CAKE. Who wants to help me eat it?

In short: the palace was most excellent. We weren't there just to look around impressive buildings though. During that week in September a whole other little city sets up camp in the grounds. A horsey city! We were volunteering at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials which has got to have one of the loveliest sporting backdrops possible.

Aside from the three phases of the main competition (dressage, cross-country and showjumping) there are tons of tradestands, a food hall, an attractions arena with loads of brill demos and displays, doggie agility, a funfair and all sorts of fun and games to take part in. My shopping mostly consisted of horsey related things and I can't in all honesty expect you to get excited about the martingale I bought (the blingy green browband perhaps - it's like Crown and Glory but for ponies!).

Gin and tonic sorbet though...

Also, Joules. We all love it, don't we?

Hello there, tempting tradestand. It's Joules' Jubilee this year, marking 25 years of deliciously colourful country clothing. As far as I'm concerned, they're are a match made in heaven for horse trials shopping. While I daren't even look at tradestands like Dubarry (eye-wateringly expensive), I know that there will always be tons of things to take my fancy on the Joules stand. I utterly lost my heart to their amazing new fox jumper.

Knowing that I was off for a weekend of horses and gallivanting around in tents and fields, they had very kindly asked me if I'd like to try out anything from the Equestrian Collection. I couldn't resist the mega comfy Hartland gilet and super stripy Cowdray sweatshirt (mine is the salt wash colourway but it doesn't seem to be available online any more).

I'm delighted with them both. There's the additional side benefit of the tongue twisting amusement of trying to say Joules gilet but even without that it'd be pretty much perfect in my book. I don't like my gilets too shiny or too padded (don't need to look any bulkier than I am!) and this one is soft, cosy and absolutely ideal for those autumnal days when the weather can't quite decide how warm it wants to be.

The sweatshirt is equally perfect for an evening sitting outside the tent reading and then cooking dinner.

Also loving the turn back cuffs. Ideal for those of us with short arms!

So what was for dinner? Corned beef mash, campsite style. I adore that little gas stove.

We had a smashing time. I can't think of many better ways to spend four days than camping somewhere beautiful and enjoying the very best in country shopping and sporting entertainment. Just to end up with a little bit of horsiness, here's my favourite picture from the weekend:


Further Tales From The Decorating Front

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

I promised you a house update so here goes...

At the end of the last one I was busy feeling sick about all the cracks in the walls and waiting anxiously for the plastering to take place.

 Well, the plasterers have been.  They did a grand job but OHMYGODTHEMESS. Even worse than when the plumbers ripped out the boiler.

Approximately 27 trips to the tip later and it looked somewhat better.  Nice when it's all done and you've got actual walls and ceilings!

I don't know why I've now got a hoe in my house. It just appeared.

I severely underestimated how long it takes to prep a room for painting.  The place was filthy (still is). It took about two days to chip all the plaster residue off the wooden surfaces and get it vaguely clean enough so that the walls and ceilings could be painted.

My ever-awesome father made a beautiful job of painting the ceilings.  I donned my decorating smurf costume and attempted to help but just gave myself a crick in the neck.  I'm too short/inept to successfully do it.

Luckily I am excellent at scrambling up and down ladders and doing finicky things so I did all the pre-painting taping things off which also takes ages but is rather satisfying. What's not so satisfying is when you take the bloody stuff off and it brings half the paint with it. You had one job, Frogtape!! Useless.

I then spent four hours going up and down ladders with two tiny paintbrushes in hand, fixing it. Felt like a trampy version of Michaelangelo.

Wall painting is much more fun.

Deciding on colours is hard though. The living room was dead easy (green, obvs) and although all of these shades look pretty much the same in their tester pots, the library colour was obvious once we'd painted some sample splodges (Honey Dip won).

The hall colour proved more difficult.  Who knew there were so many shades of yellow?

Then my equally awesome Mum, she of the precise eye and wallpapering skills, was drafted in to help with the next stages.  So we have wallpaper.  Glittery wallpaper!

And shiny, clean, freshly-painted skirting boards!  Also pipes and radiators and stuff that I neglected to take a snap of.

The contractors have been busily doing their thing too.  The electricity hasn't actually been turned on yet (something to do with Manweb and earthing...I dunno) but the lights are up. All hail the tacky green chandelier!

I can now get in the loft. That's nice!

I'm trying to arrange for someone to come and rescue the parquet flooring cos I really don't want to have to cover it up again.

But I was delighted to rip the crappy old stair carpet off to discover that my vision for the stairs is basically a case of restoring them back to how they were in the past! I want painted stairs with a carpet strip up the middle and that's what I'm having.

Oooh, well done if you've made it through all that lot.

I go through stages of feeling awesome about what the house will look like when it's done and stages of feeling utterly despondent about how long it's all taking and how much there still is to do. This has been a nice exercise in reminding myself how much has actually been achieved so far though.  It's getting there.

It was very nice to sit down on Sunday, cast the paint brushes to one side for half an hour and dive into this beautiful Decorating with Colour book which I got from Farrow & Ball. It came at a perfect time. Strange as it may sound, my gloom about the state of my house was immediately lifted by looking at sumptuous photos of other houses. You'd think it'd work the other way and send me into even deeper gloom, wouldn't you?  Nope!  I was all "oooh, pretty" and "right, I want that library!" instead.

Now obviously I can't turn a two-bed terrace into an airy Italian palazzo or ancient English country cottage but I don't think they exactly expect that.  It's all about inspiration, isn't it?  I can't be an interior designer but I can damn well pinch their good ideas! This book is chockablock with them.  Every single page has a paint colour or a design idea that I want to steal.  Just don't think the house is quite big enough to fit them all in...

The only slight downside is that I now have extreme bookshelf and cushion envy.

Seriously, I want that cushion so badly.  Help.


A Blogging Good Read - September

Monday, 8 September 2014

Morning everyone and welcome to the September edition of A Blogging Good Read. Joining me this month are Lucy from Lucy In The Clouds and Nicola from A Lifetime of DIY. This edition is a day later than usual due to a massive technology fail on my part but I'm sure you don't mind that! Let's see what we read and reviewed:

Lucy's pick was Watership Down by Richard Adams:

I chose Watership Down simply because I bought a cute old Penguin-orange-spine copy in a charity shop a few years ago and had tried and failed several times to get into it, so I wanted to have a reason to read it. I also have some very disturbing memories of catching snippets from the film when I was tiny and I kind of wanted to put that ghost to rest. Most people will know the general premise: a small band of rabbits break away from their warren when danger (a building site) threatens, and embark on an epic journey through the countryside on their mission to find a new place to settle. It’s not hard to see where the inspiration for The Animals of Farthing Wood may have come from. Again it took me a few attempts to get into it (and I’m ashamed to say I’m still only about halfway through at the time of writing this review. My own book choice! What a rubbish BGR-er!), I think partly down to the inclusion of Lapine (rabbit-speak) words and constantly having to check the footnotes for explanations, and partly because so many characters seemed to be introduced in the first few pages that I found it hard to keep track. The tiny typeface and yellowing pages in my 1976 copy don’t help matters! Since getting into it though I have found myself quite compelled by the story, it’s just a shame that it clicked just as I had to go back to work and no longer have the free time for a page-turner.

I compared the story to The Animals of Farthing Wood, but, although the characters are anthropomorphised rabbits, this is not some cutesy Disney tale. It’s quite gritty in places and stays true to what I imagine the life of a rabbit would actually be like. You never forget through the narrative that the characters are not human, every little gesture reminds you. The rabbits’ reactions to everyday things make you really think about things from their point of view too, such as the concept of floating on water on a makeshift raft – most of them are unable to grasp that possibility even when watching it happen in front of them. I also love how well-thought out the whole rabbit world is, with its own language, belief system and folklore. It gives real depth to the story and transports you to another world. I feel I will finally finish it this time!

What did Nicola think?

I really struggled to get into this book. After the other books it was very heavy. I still haven't finished it and it became a bit of a chore to read. I personally don't read books very often and like books that are easy to both read and pick back up. This book was neither. If I had to put the book down to do something I struggled to get back into it and found myself having to read back a bit to remind myself what was going on. To be honest (and I feel bad saying it) I can't see myself ever finishing this book. Sorry :(

I'd never read this before, or seen the film. I know of it - doesn't everyone? - but the specifics had passed me by. I think I was expecting something a bit more along the lines of The Animals of Farthing Wood. Peril, yes, but lots of jolly animals and stuff as well. Erm. In case you haven't already realised, Watership Down is not like that. There's much more of an adult feel to it as it's an awful lot darker and scarier than I expected, plus surprisingly long for something that's acknowledged as a classic children's book.

It's beautifully imagined, with some impressive world building and mythology (wow, seems odd saying that about bunnies!). I particularly liked the author's use of language when it came to nature as it was wonderfully evocative. Yet this book didn't grab me and it took me a long, long time to read it.  Shameful confession: I haven't finished it either! It's not a short book and I don't have a lot of free time at the moment but this did feel a bit more of a chore than a treat. I'm glad I've finally got a copy but I don't think it's the sort of thing I'll want to dive back into any time soon.

I chose Attachments by Rainbow Rowell:

Complete and utter Rainbow Rowell fangirl here. I've met her and she liked my Paddington Bear skirt. Squeeee!! Ahem...

Eleanor & Park is probably her best known book and we've reviewed it in the past for BGR (in short: it's amazing). Although I love everything I've read by her, Attachments is my favourite.  It's such an unashamedly nice book. I mean that in the very best possible sense of the word.  It's gentle, it's charming and it's very easy to get caught up. There's a real sense that you're dropping into the lives of the characters to pay them a short visit and if you like them (which I do), there's nothing better to read about. I'm much more of a romance fan than the average BGR participant so I do tend to hold back a bit from selecting some of the books I'd really like people to read but this is a nice halfway house between the two - much better than chick lit  (I hate that term with a passion) but not too full-on romance to scare people off.

It's set in 1999 and is told through a mixture of emails between Beth and Jennifer, two friends and colleagues on a newspaper, and normal chapters about Lincoln, the IT guy who has to monitor their correspondence.Yes, it could touch upon creepy stalker tendencies but the author has such a deft touch that she manages to keep it just the right side of that line - mainly because we're shown throughout that Lincoln feels really bad about it. He's what makes this book so special for me.  I really like a beta hero anyway but the way he very slowly grows up and changes throughout the book win me over every single time.  I shan't squee any more over it because I could genuinely type all day long about how much I love this book.  Please give it a read though.

Did Lucy share my love for this book?

I’m not a great fan of what could be described as ‘chick-lit’, the literary version of a rom-com I guess. Whenever I read anything by the likes of Cecelia Aherne or Jill Mansell I just feel that I could write better myself if only I could think of an interesting plot. Life is too short to read badly written books! So, even though I had heard lots to the contrary about her, I wasn’t too excited to read a fluffy romantic book by someone with a preposterous name like “Rainbow”.

My verdict? I’m on the fence really. I thought the plot was fairly predictable and the emails between the girls grated on me no end – who actually writes like that in email (or even talks like that in person)?? BUT, the writing wasn’t bad at all and I did find myself really liking Lincoln, identifying with him a bit and wanting to find out what would happen next. The fact that it all takes place around the time of the Millennium Bug gave it a nice sense of nostalgia too, for those of us of a certain age! If we were doing star ratings this would get a solid 3/5 from me, and I’m certainly interested to read Eleanor and Park now.

How about Nicola?

This book is a very easy read. No real need to concentrate. To be honest, I was bored quite quickly at the beginning and I highly doubt I would have carried on reading it, had it not been for Blogging Good Read. Having said that, the characters did grow on me and I am pleased I stuck with it, even though the plot was pretty obvious.

This book is a nice, light read if you stick with it, ideal as a book to read while lazing around the pool on holiday. It is almost voyeuristic in the way you meet 2 of the main characters by reading through their personal emails. It doesn't seem right to be reading them, especially as you know how Lincoln feels about reading them. I couldn't help but like Lincoln and did feel sorry for the way he seemed unable to move on with his life after Sam.

Nicola picked The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger:

This book was not quite what I expected. I imagined, from the title, that the book would be written from the perspective of the wife. However, once she grows up, it seems to be all about Henry.

I did enjoy reading this book and would recommend it, if you can get past the seemingly seedy nature of a naked 40 year old man visiting a young girl throughout her childhood. The dates at the start of each chapter and the ages of each character was essential to following the plot. I am an inherently lazy reader and skipped it a few times. Each time I skipped reading the dates/ages, I found myself confused and had to re read from the start of the chapter. Once I got into the habit of noting these facts then the plot was easy to follow.

Did Lucy like it?

I first read The Time Traveller’s Wife about 8 years ago and just absolutely loved it. I was so pleased to have a chance to re-read it, as the way it is written - jumping back and forth in time with an alternating first-person narrative - is so intricate and you have to really ponder what is going on. The fact that Henry travels back to meet Claire as a child and reveals that they will spend their future together throws up some interesting questions about fate, destiny and free will. Does Claire actually have any control over her relationship choices or does she play out her life the way it has been described to her? Is it really all written in the stars?

I do love a good bleak book with plenty of misery and this has it in spades – the obvious dread in the lead up to a very significant event, which is hinted at in his earlier ‘travellings’ in the book (imagine knowing it’s coming and not being able to do anything to avoid it!), and also the Ingrid sub-plot which really resonated with me for some reason, it’s just so sad. A couple of incidents towards the end of the book are a little bit cheesy but that didn’t stop me crying buckets. Highly recommended by me.

I first read this during the initial hype when it was published and quite liked it (unlike Her Fearful Symmetry by the same author which is honestly one of the worst books I've ever read). It's been on the bookshelf ever since then though as for one reason and another I never fancied picking it back up. Am I glad I had to reread it? Hmmm. My reaction is mostly the same as it was first time round. It's alright. It just doesn't quite seem to push my reading buttons.

I find books like this quite frustrating, or perhaps I find myself frustrating. Who knows?  I mean, you can't love everything you read, but when there's something that everyone thinks is brilliant and you're a bit meh about it, you do start to wonder what you're not seeing.  Suppose I admire this book more than I like it.  The way it's crafted is undoubtedly impressive.

Huge thanks to Nicola and Lucy for taking part this month! Can't believe we all failed to finish Watership Down though. Whoops!

Next month I'll be back with two different bloggers and we'll be reading Atonement by Ian McEwan, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Any Human Heart by William Boyd.

Life At The Moment

Friday, 5 September 2014

Let me hit you with an early 90s video game analogy. Life at the moment feels very much like this:

Chaotic and in serious danger of piling up and crashing around my ears.

I'm trying not to be self-pitying, I'm just exhausted and can't remember the last time I had more than about twenty minutes to sit down and simply do nothing. It's a constant cycle of work, decorating, home, sleep, work, decorating, home, sleep...  Work is bonkers. It's always bonkers but we are chronically short-staffed and things keep piling up and piling up so that no matter how hard I try, I never get to the end of a to-do list.

The only things saving me from going completely off the wall are the fact that the house is slowly, slowly getting there (more on this next week) and that three days a week I have to ignore the raging chaos and go and look after Monty.

Non-horsey people probably don't get it. Life with horses definitely ain't glamorous. It's often cold,  wet and distinctly smelly and even in the summer when the weather is kind, it's pretty much always tiring.  So why is it helping me maintain my sanity? Mostly because when I'm at the farm, I have to concentrate on Mr M and Rocky. There's no brain space for fretting about stuff left undone at work or the fact that I should probably be wallpapering the house instead or that I'm (as usual) running late for something else.  It's pony time.

He stresses me out when he's being an idiot but mostly he's adorable. How you can not fall in love with a horse that:

Is ridiculously cute and tries to help push the barrow when you're poo picking the fields. Wrong end though, Mont.

Kisses with his eyes closed.

Loves drinking from the hosepipe, despite being afraid of killer puddles on the ground.

And who is the handsomest pony in all the land.

Then on a lovely autumnal evening like last night we can go for a blast around the stubble fields and have a jolly good time.  I defy anyone to feel anything other than sheer, unadulterated enjoyment when they're galloping on a lovely horse with the wind in their face and the sun on their back.