Practically perfect in every way

The release of Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel to the original sixties made film, coincided with shops releasing some fabulous merchandise.  A new generation has been introduced to the magical nanny and Disney has shown it can move with the times.  A little less magical than the original, the film is still escapism at its best.

Given my love for afternoon teas, I couldn’t resist a visit to The Shard who are offering a Mary Poppins themed afternoon tea.  My husband was reluctantly going to accompany me, until he broke his toe, so Mum kindly stepped in and my husband treated me to a Mary Poppins Pandora charm as an apology; so all’s well that ends well!

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I wanted to wear something that had an air of sophistication and a nod to a previous era, words which could also describe the film.  I decided a boucle jacket would fit the bill perfectly and saw a gorgeous one from Sister Jane but, unfortunately they are a sizest company and don’t go up to fat bloater size – so that was out!  Luckily I found just the one in Marks and Spencer.  I paired this with skinny jeans from Oasis and a plain white t-shirt.  I accessorised with red Sarah Jessica Parker heels, a red ‘Mulberry’ clutch and a geometric silver necklace from V&A museum.  The real piece, that set off the outfit, was a handmade large oval brooch depicting Mary Poppins’ tape measure and the slogan ‘practically perfect in every way.’  I purchased this online at Etsy, from a store called Shrinking Violet Jewellery, which I highly recommend.  The product was excellently made and delivery was fast.

 

After clearing security, the lift took us up 32 floors to the restaurant area of The Shard and we made our way to Aqua Shard – the restaurant offering the tea.  The corridors along the way have some wonderful illustrations depicting the map and sights of London.  As we were early we had a drink in the bar and took in some of the stunning views across London.  I noticed that some of the tables for tea had a window view and hoped we would get one, but was doubtful.  However I was pleasantly surprised when we were ushered over to one.

 

Many people would probably think the cost for this tea (almost £75 including tip) was over the top, even by London standards, but the theme was done fantastically and we couldn’t have asked for a better view or a more pleasant afternoon.  Goodness knows what it feels like to go up as high as the viewing platform as even on this floor, I was looking down on the roof of my old office and the trains looked like toys!

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A mirror was handed to us that had the menu printed on it and all the crockery on the table was Mary Poppins illustrated.  Our glass of champagne (which was so smooth, you could tell it was a luxury one) was delivered to us and we had the choice of adding a flavour to it, which were in medicine like bottles on the table.

 

The tea stand itself was even themed with Mary Poppins umbrella on the top and her boots as the feet.  A tray of sandwiches was brought over while the stand was full of delicious sweet treats, including one that resembled Mary Poppins hat and a very novel tin containing a syrup desert.

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At this point, I was concerned that the key component of an afternoon tea was missing – the scones.  I need not have worried though as a rather handsome waiter arrived at our table and pulled a paper bag with them in, from a Mary Poppins carpet bag.  It was the icing on the cake.

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To finish off the fabulous tea, the final course was candy floss!  Talk about take you back to childhood!

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After all that we were both stuffed and had spent a wonderful afternoon having mother/daughter time and catching up.  By the time we left, darkness had enveloped the sights of London and we could observe all the pretty lights.

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If you wanted to take some of the magic home with you, there was an opportunity to purchase a Mary Poppins book and themed tea leaves on your way out.

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I highly recommend this tea for all Mary Poppins fans.  Escape reality for a few hours and be spoilt in a beautiful restaurant with an even more beautiful view – practically perfect in every way!

The 12 outfits of Christmas

Christmas is my favourite time of the year, not least because it brings everyone together and helps you to really appreciate the wonderful people that are a part of your life.  Christmas also makes it legitimate to wear as much glitter and sparkle as possible!  The shops begin Christmas sometime in October but I refuse to get too into it until December.

On 1st December, out came the advent calendars, including one for Rufus of course, which by Christmas Eve he had completely annihilated!

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This was also the day of the first outfit of Christmas as we enjoyed a festive curry with friends that evening.  I wore a navy glitter dot dress from Oasis with navy suede heels from New Look and a matching clutch from Boohoo.  I even had my nails navy with the ring finger glittery.  The dress was a surprising disappointment on the quality front, particularly given my love for Oasis and the usual excellent quality.  The glitter shed itself all night, adding plenty of sparkle to the curry house and the next passenger in my husband’s car!

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I always like to arrange a trip somewhere to really get me in the mood for Christmas, so this year I chose one of the best and most famous Christmas markets in the UK – Bath.  My second outfit of Christmas comes in here.  I wore a red dress from Oasis with a mid brown funnel princess coat also Oasis and some black suede, calf high, slouch boots (yes you guessed it – Oasis) that I have been lusting after for a couple of years so finally treated myself to.

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Bath is somewhere I have wanted to go for some time and it didn’t disappoint although sadly the weather did.  Rather than a nice crisp winters day with a few light flurries of snow that would have made it the quintessential start to Christmas, we were treated to drizzle!

The market stretched for miles through the Georgian streets, selling everything from paintings and crafts to hot chocolate and waffles!  I was drawn by the smell of citrus fruits and cinnamon to a beautiful Christmas wreath stall.  We also got a couple of unusual presents for people.

While in Bath you have to visit the Roman baths it is famous for.  The baths are one of the most visited historical sights in the UK.  The thermal spring rises here meaning the baths flow naturally with hot water.  Bathing was a major part of Roman society and culture and this sight has been remarkably well preserved.

From Roman times to the late 1700’s, we had afternoon tea at The Regency Tea Rooms above the Jane Austin centre.  Jane was fascinated by bath, mentioning it in all her novels and even making it the setting for a couple of her stories.  We enjoyed the ‘tea with Mr Darcy’ served by waiters and waitresses in period costume, and avoided the worst of the rain.

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After more shopping we warmed ourselves with a drink at the Abbey Hotel’s Apres ski bar.

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As darkness fell, the beautiful streets and chalets were lit with pretty fairy lights and we finished the day with carols at the Abbey.

The following day, inspired by our trip, we put up all the Christmas decorations at home, while enjoying a snowball of course!

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Mum and I went to see the Tina Turner musical the weekend before Christmas, so this was outfit number three!  I wore a navy glitter knit dress from Warehouse with a pink shearling coat from Zara.  After the fantastic show, we took in the lights of Covent Garden as we headed for dinner at Browns.

Outfit four was for Christmas drinks with friends and was a black blouse with gold spots from Oasis with black leggings, also Oasis, with black stilettos with a bow detail on the back from New Look.

We had an early Christmas day, on the Sunday before, at my Mums with my gorgeous nieces and for this I wore my soft animal print dress from Oasis with purple Ugg boots.

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Christmas Eve arrived and we had both sets of parents over for dinner.  I wore my gingerbread men christmas jumper from Oasis with a velvet mini skirt from New Look.  We had a great meal, followed by a board game and then headed to midnight mass.

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Christmas day was spent as a couple this year.  We had bucks fizz and scrambled eggs with smoke salmon for breakfast.  We cooked a wonderful Christmas dinner in the evening and in between pigged out on nuts and sweets while finally wrapping the rest of the presents.  This year I decided to get crafty with my wrapping.  I wrapped the presents in brown paper and added red and white twine, stickers from a Kikki K book and fancy tags, finishing with a slice of dried orange.

Christmas day saw me wear a fun Christmas t-shirt I got from River Island some years back and a checked mini skirt from Oasis.  I was spoilt rotten with beautiful gifts, as was Rufus, who had a Christmas eve box, his own Christmas dinner and a blanket with his name embroidered on it from spoilt rotten pets!

Boxing day was a total chill out day, spent in our pyjamas on the sofa watching DVD’s so outfit eight was lounge clothes and cute slippers from Oasis.  I did move from the sofa briefly to make some gingerbread men!

We met Mum’s family in London on 27th for a delicious meal at The Parcel Yard in Kings Cross station.  Afterwards my husband and I sipped champagne at the champagne bar at St Pancras.  I wore a knitted stripped sparkle dress from Oasis with the same mid brown coat and slouch boots I wore to Bath earlier in the month.

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An afternoon with Phil’s family was spent in black skinny jeans from New Look, slogan t-shirt from Boohoo and a grey cardigan from Oasis.

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My Mum and I had the great treat of taking my nieces to the pantomime which was Cinderella this year.  For this I wore a mustard jumper and denim pinafore – both Oasis but to complete the look wore the wonderful Cinderella shoe necklace that my parents-in-law got me for Christmas.

All too soon, it was New Years Eve and I must be getting old as I turned down various invitations, to spend the evening in pyjamas, watching DVD’s and drinking fizz with a glowing log burner and my Yankee candles to add a bit of hygge.

So I saw out 2018 in outfit twelve of my Mary Poppins pyjamas from Marks and Spencer.  New Year always marks a time of reflection on things achieved and those still to achieve.  Once again I made a long list of New Year’s resolutions.  This year I am determined to at least achieve one and it’s a big one – to lose nearly three stone in weight.  I’m the heaviest I have ever been.  Weight is sneeky – it creeps up on you and enough is enough.  I started well with a seven mile walk around Riverside Country Park on New Year’s Day!  Let’s see if 2019 is the year I finally achieve that.

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What resolutions did you make and how are you doing with them so far?

 

 

 

VIP for the day

One of the A-list events in the calendar for me now is Stylist Live.  It is an annual three day event that brings to life everything sassy, affluent female commuters, in London and other major UK cities love about the free, weekly magazine – Stylist.

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Stylist being distributed at Southwark tube station

On my way to Olympia for the event in November, I was admiring a ladies skirt on the tube and then realised I might look a bit odd starring at her so struck up a conversation.  Turns out she was off to Stylist Live too and the fabulous skirt she was wearing had been designed and made by her.  Check out more of her great designs by following her on Instagram @luxefromclare

I always like to make an effort for these sort of events to at least try and look like a stylish, sophisticated woman so I wore black leggings from Oasis with a Kookai blouse and New Look biker jacket, paired with my suede stilettos with tassels on from New Look and Oasis cross-body bag.

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This year my best fashionista friend and I opted for the VIP tickets and I am so glad we did.  While last year was good, this year was on another level.

On arrival we were filtered into a special queue and within the VIP lounge, there was plenty of space to relax and a separate cloakroom from the other ticket holders which saved the long queue at the end of the day.  Your ticket included a free go on the vending machine of dreams which despatched a pack of Candy Kittens gourmet sweets and if you were lucky some great prizes ranging from Warehouse vouchers to a holiday.

Included in the VIP ticket are unlimited snacks, lunch and soft drinks.  We had the macaroni cheese which was to die for and a Bol salad so we felt a bit more healthy!  A glass of prosecco and a gin are extra freebies alongside the complimentary Gordons premium pink gin all ticket holders receive, and most importantly a we received a goody bag worth £150.

The goody bag more than paid for the VIP entrance cost and included some full size products as well as a number of sample sizes.  My favourites include a travel tangle Teezer, NARS lipstick, Jack Wills socks and some clear telephone cord hairbands.

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As if all of this wasn’t enough, a treatment in the beauty rooms was also included with our ticket.  There was a choice with a choice of either Shiseido, bareMinerals, NARS, Laura Mercier or Buxom.  My friend chose the Shiseido which was a cleanse and moisturise session that she enjoyed and I treated myself to a NARS Fashion Week Supermodel Eye.  I have to say, it was quite a transformation but despite them writing down all the products they used and where to put them, I doubt I would be able to flawlessly recreate it.  Afterwards you had access to a dressing up box and a short catwalk so they could create a GIF and email it to you.

More than 250 boutique pop-ups were at the event, providing a range of free beauty treatments, hair styling and shopping opportunities.  I was a little disappointed at the length of the queues for some of the hair styling but the range goods for sale was fantastic, encompassing well known brands such as Spectrum, BaByliss, Fresh and Pixi with emerging newer brands such as Yull shoes and Mean Mail.  My favourite pop-up was Kikki K, the Swedish design stationery brand which a friend at work got me into a few years back.  Its founder, Kristina Karlsson was at Stylist, signing copies of her new book, ‘Your Dream Life Starts Here’.  I was star struck getting to meet her and I hope by reading her book, I am inspired to get on the road to living my dream life.

Talking of inspiration, there were plenty of inspirational talks throughout the weekend and one I found particularly useful was from the Physiologist DR Nerina Ramlakhan who gave practical advice on how we can all get a better nights sleep.

The catwalk show is always one of the best parts of the day for me and being VIPs, we got reserved front row seating to watch the best of the autumn/winter 2018 trends.  Leopard print has made a big come back along with trends of bold, earth tones and cowgirl.  I particularly like the fact that all the clothes are high street and you are given a sheet detailing each look, so it is easier to go and shop for the looks you like the best.

By the end of the day, my friend and I were both shattered but it had been such an enjoyable day.  We will definitely be returning next year and I urge all you fashionistas to read Stylist magazine and look out for tickets going on sale for 2019 Stylist Live event.  To watch a short highlights video of this year’s event (very excited as it’s the first video I have made and edited) check out my Instagram @blahnikgirl

Girls and the city

Fashion icon, Audrey Hepburn once said: “Paris is always a good idea”.  I couldn’t agree more, Paris, like New York is a city I never tire of as there are always new things to discover.

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Paris is chic personified, the city and fashion go together like strawberries and cream.  It is the home of Chanel and Dior as well as the birth place of Karl Lagerfeld, John-Paul Gaultier, not to mention some fabulous accessory brands, Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Cartier.  The allure of  French fashion for me began as a teenager when I discovered Kookai, a label founded in Paris in 1983.  Unfortunately Kookai no longer exists in England so you can imagine my joy on my recent visit to Paris on seeing the store.  Naturally I had to go in and purchase.

In September I spent a very enjoyable long weekend in Paris with two of my closest friends from school.  We started the trip as we meant to go on with prosecco on the Eurostar while reminiscing about French lessons at school and visits to La Serronerie, the house near Normandy that the school owned.  I always adored the French language, despite it not coming naturally to me and so studied it right through to A Level.  I actually surprised myself on this trip at how much came back to me.  When travelling it’s important to be comfortable so I wore a black pleated midi skirt from Asos with a t-shirt embroidered with the Paris skyline from Topshop.

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I first visited Paris aged about 13 with my Mum (see picture below) when her best friend lived on the outskirts and it was love at first sight.  I have returned many times since then, as well as introducing others to its wonderful charm.

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Anyone who reads my blog will know that Sex and the City is an obsession for me and therefore first on my list for this trip was to explore the sights of those 2004 epic finale episodes, guided by the website Set in Paris.  It made perfect sense that Carrie Bradshaw should visit the French capital as fictionally, she is one of the biggest fashionistas and as she puts it so eloquently, is “a person looking for love”.   My outfit for this occasion was carefully planned, a black cord pinafore dress over a mustard long-sleeved top, both from New Look, set off with a beautiful Victoria Beckham for Target silk scarf and Carrie Bradshaw herself would have been proud of the amount of ground I covered in my patent Oasis heels.

In these finale episodes, we first see Carrie in Paris as she arrives at Hotel Plaza Athenee and the hotel is even grander in the flesh than it looked on the screen.  The weather was wet, just as it was for most of Carrie’s trip but the hotel is simply striking in any weather with its beautiful balconies, adorned with red flowers and the Eiffel Tower just a stones throw away.

The hotel is on the most fashionable street in Paris, Avenue Montaigne which is home to all the haute culture brands.  Indeed the Dior store where Carrie slips over is on this street.

When Carrie finds herself alone in Paris again, vowing to “do French things and be very parisien” she visits Cador patisserie, where she shares cake with a large dog.  Cador is unfortunately no longer and instead there is Cojean – an organic cafe.

Kong, the restaurant where Carrie meets Aleksandr Petrovsky’s ex-wife and gets an insight into what he is really like is still there although we didn’t go inside.

There is no better people to explore a city like Paris with than your girlfriends and that is what Carrie is missing in Paris.  This hits home for her when she spies four girls having lunch in l’Avenue.

The last time we see Carrie and Aleksandr happy is when they are strolling through place du dauphine after Carrie has bumped into her French fan base.

When Aleksandr feels nervous about the opening of his light exhibition, Carrie ditches her dinner with her fans to attend the museum with him.

Carrie goes to Paris with a new man for a new life but returns with an ‘old’ man to her old life which is quite ironic but of course gave many fans the ending they craved of Carrie and Big finally getting it together for good.  We see Carrie hear the long awaiting declaration from Big on pont des arts “Carrie you’re the one”.

So that was my Sex and the City tour of Paris but of course we did plenty of the sights too.  We stayed in Montmartre which is one of my favourite parts of Paris.  Known as the art district, it has a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere than other areas of Paris.  The main square (place du tertre) has a carnival atmosphere with artists painting and sketching and selling their work.

Overlooking the main square, on the highest point of the city, is the beautiful white stone basilica of Sacre-Coeur.  This gives visitors a great view over the whole of Paris.  The building is awe-inspiring whether seen by night or day.  If the steps up are too much of a challenge, there is a small funicular that takes you to the top for a small fee.  The inside is just as beautiful with its stunning painted ceilings and carvings.

Having done the cultural bit, the shops in this area are well worth exploring, particularly the macaron stores.  A quirky find is the shop Belle du Jour which specialises in traditional, vintage perfume bottles.

On a couple of evenings we enjoyed dinner at L’ete en Pente Douce where delicious food can be enjoyed on the pavement terrace soaking up the Montmartre ambiance.  On the walk back to the hotel, we were tempted into a small creperie for a sweet treat on more than one occasion!

On one of the days while there, the rain became torrential and so we opted to duck out of the showers in some of the wonderful shops along the Champs-Elysees.  We walked the full length of the street to where it meets the Arc de Triomphe.  My friend had a fantastic make-over by the Urban Decay stand in Sephora and we queued for macarons in Laduree.  Laduree is a beautiful and regal store where you can eat in or simply buy some of the luxury sweet treats which the brand has been making since 1862.

I had never seen the famous painting, the Mona Lisa and so we paid to go in Louvre museum simply to see it.  The Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world and the glass pyramid in the main courtyard of the museum is a work of art in itself.  The Mona Lisa however was somewhat of a disappointment.  It is much much smaller than one imagines and you have to fight your way through throngs of people in order to get a look at it behind glass.

On this day I wore a checked pleat mini skirt from Oasis with a Boohoo slogan t-shirt and a long grey cardigan from Oasis.  I finished the outfit with my red patent bow pumps which I bought in Milan.

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No trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower.  We visited at night when it is spectacularly lit and went right to the top, which while blustery and cold was worth it for the views and the champagne at the champagne bar.  When we came down, I indulged the child in me and had a ride on the traditional Victorian carousel.  It was a magical evening.

Our final day came round all too soon and we decided to begin with a boat trip along the Seine.  On this day I wore a Breton t-shirt dress from New Look, clinched in at the waist with a red belt, also from New Look which nicely tied in the red mac from Marks and Spencer.  We visited Notre Dame with its impressive stained glass windows and finished up with lunch at a cafe on the left bank which is linked to the Shakespeare and Company book store.  The book store sells English language books and is part shop and part library.  Many writers write here amongst the books, in exchange for helping in the shop.  It really is an Aladdin’s cave and a bohemian heaven, somewhere I would love to sit and write myself.  It totally inspired me and I’d love to come back.

Paris should be on every fashionistas bucket list and is a perfect break for friends or couples.  I will certainly be returning to one of the greatest fashion capitals of the world.  As Honore de Balzac, a French novelist and playwright said “Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant”.

 

 

Zigazig-ha!

No one knew what the phrase meant but the band that coined it would change the landscape of pop forever.  Who am I talking about, the Spice Girls of course!

The five straight talking girls burst on to the pop scene in July 1996 with their debut single Wannabe which stayed number one for seven weeks.  I was a broke thirteen year old, attempting to record their Top of the Pops performance of the song onto a blank cassette tape while flushing with embarrassment as my Dad announced about Mel B ‘I wouldn’t mind her boots under my bed!’

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The Spice Girls were a girl band who embraced individuality with their five alter egos Scary, Ginger, Posh, Baby and Sporty.  They were something teenagers of the nineties could look up to with their girl power philosophy.  It was a new modern feminism.  It taught girls to believe in themselves and take control of their lives as well as the importance of solidarity with female friends.  They loved to make a statement at every opportunity – who can forget Ginger Spice pinching Prince Charles’ bum at the Royal Variety or that Union Jack dress at the Brit Awards!

Over twenty years later, it would appear their popularity hasn’t diminished with people last weekend, rushing to announce on social media that they have secured tickets for their comeback tour next year.  I never saw them tour in their heyday but did go to their 2008 reunion tour.  For me this time round isn’t going to be the same as they are only touring as a foursome, with Victoria too busy on her fashion line.

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This year I visited SpiceUp, an exhibition about the Spice Girls at the Business Design Centre, Islington London, with my sister-in-law.  Now me being me, I always have to get into the theme and dressed in a denim mini from Oasis, a Spice Girls t-shirt from their 2008 reunion tour and platform shoes from New Look, with a mini backpack also from New Look and Union Jack ribbons in my hair.

The exhibition is a collection of costumes worn by the Spice Girls over the years on stage and in TV appearances as well as extensive memorabilia.  It’s creator is Alan Smith Allison, who started collecting memorabilia aged fifteen.  It takes you through their many albums and singles and even includes some items and costumes from their solo careers.  The Spice Bus from the film Spice World, released in 1997, was the star of the show.  I remember Mum and Dad getting me the video of the film which came in a celebratory tin.

I really enjoyed Viva Forever, the musical of 2013, that critics were very critical of and closed early due to financial losses.  There was some merchandise from this on display.

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Some of the costumes, especially the shoes were unbelievably outlandish and surprisingly most of them looked fairly cheaply made, although there were some designer pieces.  I was disappointed that Geri’s Brit Awards Union Jack dress wasn’t part of the exhibition.  I remember going to a Spice Girls themed birthday party where the birthday girl wore a replica of that dress.

Pop merchandise for the group took off in a way it had for no other band before or since.  They launched channel five and endorsed Pepsi, Chupa Chups, Impulse deodorant and Walkers crisps to name a few.  Their faces appeared on everything from collectable photos to dolls, to duvets!  At the end of 1997, it was estimated they had earned over £300 million in marketing deals that year.  The exhibition even had Pepsi cans with the ring pulls missing, which fans (including me) collected to get a special single – Step to me.

Despite being a young fan who idolised Geri Halliwell, I didn’t think I had that much memorabilia, but as we walked around the exhibition, it appeared I owned rather more than I first thought!  “I had that” became a well used phrase.

It was a great blast from the past and it would appear that fashion wise, the Spice Girls aren’t the only thing from the nineties having a come back.  Checked suits as worn by Cher in the nineties classic film Clueless have flooded the high street this autumn.  I lived in my Benetton sweatshirt in the nineties and it appears sweatshirts are the jumper of choice once again this season.  I have two lovely ones from Oasis and one from Joy.  Even Buffalo platform trainers have tried to make a comeback!

If you have enjoyed this trip done memory lane,  it’s not too late to visit the exhibition and Spice up your life!  The exhibition is showing at Intu, Watford now, until 31 December 2018 – say you’ll be there!

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Greetings from the picture postcard island

As I sat in the midday sun with no water, no money and no phone, I started to really wonder whether I would ever find Mum and how the hell I was going to get back to the hotel without the car keys.  Suddenly riding the donkey up from Fira old port while Mum got the cable car, didn’t feel like my brightest idea.  We had arranged to meet where the donkey ride ended but as I assumed (wrongly) the cable car to have been much quicker, when she wasn’t there when I arrived, I decided to go to the emergency meeting point, the cable car station.  After numerous cars had emptied out with no sign, I was starting to panic slightly, given I had left my bag with her.  Eventually a very worn out and slightly annoyed Mum appeared!  Some weeks after returning, I felt quite ashamed to have taken this donkey ride at all when I saw a Facebook post on how the poor animals are treated on the island.  I had naively assumed that animals were cared for as in the UK and taking the donkey/mule ride was no different to riding a horse.  I now know however that these animals are forced to carry far more weight than they are able, given little rest or water and wear poorly fitting saddles which rub and injure them.  I was left disgusted with myself, so please if you visit Fira, either walk up from the old port or take the cable car, don’t make the mistake I did.

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The capital city of Fira is perched on the western edge of the island and we sat sipping frappes overlooking the stunning caldera below, which was created when a volcano erupted some thousands of years ago, leaving this special kind of crater.  Cruise ships were aplenty.  The winding steep streets host an abundance a lovely quaint shops, selling all manner of souvenirs.  From Fira, we drove on, in our hired Fiat 500 convertible, to Oia which is clearly how Santorini got a reputation as one of the most beautiful islands in the world.  Had we not have visited Oia, I would have been very underwhelmed by Santorini, given the way people had built it up before we went.  We strolled through the maze of narrow cobbled streets there, the warm air filled with scents of the perfume boutiques, mixed with garlic from the tavernas, and were led up to a venetian castle with 360 degree views of the village including one of the most photographed windmills.  The village embodies the iconic greek architecture of white buildings with blue roofs.  I never knew so many shades of blue existed before coming to Santorini.

 

The second day of the car hire, we drove out to the village of Pyrgos.  This is the highest point of Santorini and again has the typical winding streets and steps up the hillside which we embarked on after fuelling ourselves with a yummy breakfast in a cafe at the base of the village.  The climb is certainly worth the effort for the wonderful views of the island from the top and if you tire in the heat along the way, you can always pause in one of the many beautiful gift shops selling paintings, greek eyes and the like.  We sat in the cafe near the castle sipping a well-earned fresh orange juice before making our way back down.  We drove on to Megalohori, one of the most picturesque villages, surrounded by vineyards due to the fertility of the soil.  Here we enjoyed an exquisite lunch in a tree-shaded taverna in the main square, before exploring the streets and churches.  The bell towers are definitely a photo opportunity not to be missed as well as being able to step back in time and visit an ancient cave house.  We drove back through Exo Gonia which has one of only two churches on the island with a tiled roof, Agios Charalambos, before arriving back at our hotel in Kamari.  I was quite impressed we had managed to find our way to so many different parts of the 28 square mile island over the two days, given when I asked for a sat nav at the car hire place, she had looked at me blank and when I then clarified, calling it a navigation system, she offered me a paper map!  I also had to contend with Mum’s map reading, at one point she claimed the airport wasn’t on the map, despite the size of the area, and the fact that Greeks clearly don’t consider road signs as a necessity!

An organised trip offered respite from the anxiety of driving in a strange country and allowed us to visit the Monastery of Profitis Ilias where I purchased honey, made by the monks.  Emporeio village provided some more beautiful, postcard worthy shots and after a coffee break by the sea, we headed onto Akrotiri where we got to see one of Mum’s great loves, a lighthouse before enjoying a traditional Greek lunch in a clifftop taverna with breath-taking views and a cat who was happy balancing on narrow ledges, hoping for a titbit.

The rest of the trip was pretty much spent by the hotel pool or on the beautiful beaches of Kamari, devouring novels, in my case Marian Keyes latest offering – ‘The Break’, and sipping Aperol spritz.  By night, we frequented some of the many beautiful restaurants, mainly those that lined the beach and sampled the delicious Greek food and hospitality, often while watching the owners cats and dogs frolicking – I even sang karaoke one evening.  I know it’s a hard life!  We ventured on a boat trip to nearby Perissa, with its black sand beach for lunch one day which was an experience in itself.  The boat ride was fairly choppy and I watched a girl opposite me turn greener and greener before she vomited in a plastic bag which later spilled out on the deck!  The captain’s dog clearly had his sea legs though!

You can’t go to Santorini and not witness one of the beautiful sunsets over the caldera and we enjoyed this from a front row perspective, in a wooden sailing boat, organised by the tour company, while sipping prosecco.  The trip also offered the chance to swim in the thermal springs and bathe in the mineral rich mud but unfortunately my lack of swimming skills meant I couldn’t.  We did enjoy dinner on the island of Thirassia though, where I tried the island delicacy of fava – a type of bean puree.

Santorini is a beautiful island there is no doubt which probably explains the estimated two million visitors per year and countless wedding ceremonies.  Relaxing on the beaches with waves gently lapping the shore, the sun makes the water look as though it has been sprinkled in glitter.  You don’t have to walk far to see a magnificent church and it is rich in history both cultural and geographical, with the last volcanic eruption being as recent as 1950 and earthquake 1956.  I did feel a little disappointed due to the hype that preceded my visit however, as you are led to believe that the whole island is stunning, particularly by people’s use of Instagram filters.  Don’t get me wrong, it does have spots that are truly postcard perfect but if you stayed exclusively in Kamari or Perissa for example, you would see little of this, so a car is a must.  Having been to a number of Greek islands, Santorini is not unique in its beauty or hospitality and the beaches here are inferior to some of the islands, due to the volcanic nature.  Another great, relaxing and enjoyable summer break though with my best friend, my Mum.  I did of course miss my wonderful hubby – absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder.  Have you visited Santorini?  If not, hopefully this account has inspired you to add it to your bucket list.

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Dress called ‘Santorini’ from Oasis

 

‘It’s always tea-time’

What better theme for an afternoon tea than Alice in Wonderland, given that there is no tea party more famous than the Mad Hatter’s tea party, featured in the 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.   The Sanderson Hotel in London clearly thought the same and currently hosts an afternoon tea inspired by the very novel.

It was a sunny, warm June day and my friend and I were having a joint birthday tea (her birthday being May and mine July, June is always the best choice for this).   We were greeted at the hotel and led through to a beautiful courtyard garden, complete with faux flamingos. Marble tables were set out around the pond and baby pink blankets were over each chair, should a need for them arise. The garden also had a beautiful, floral swing chair, in association with Laurent-Perrier and was getting a lot of attention with girls trying to get the perfect Instagram snap.

 

I had come dressed in the latest Cath KidstonxDisney collaboration, an Alice in Wonderland shirt dress. I paired this with rose gold Marie Leonie pumps bought in Verona and a matching rose gold handbag from River Island.

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The waterfall in the background had a lovely relaxing effect as a waitress brought over the teas to choose from. These were all in small bottles like the drink me potion was in the story and each one was named after a character. The menus were stuck in a novel, crockery featured gymnasts and the serviettes were wrapped with a piece of paper with #I’m a Mad Hatter. When the tea pots came out, they had an illustration of a king on them and a black paper crown. The sugar cubes could be found, where else but in a music box.

 

When the tea stand was brought over, it was simply wonderful and really embraced the theme as much as possible. The food was one of the best themed offerings I have seen at any afternoon tea.  The savoury items were a smoked salmon Scotch quails egg with caviar and cream cheese, a stack of King of Hearts ham and parmesan croquet-monsieur, held together by a heart cocktail stick, Cornish crab brioche with spiced avocado and coriander and White Rabbit cucumber and cream cheese sandwich on pesto bread.

 

 

Next came the obligatory warm scones with Cornish clotted cream and fruit preserve. These were wrapped in black and white checked napkins as a nod to the chess game in the story. Then came the bit I enjoy the most, the range of sweet treats. There was a Queen of Hearts rose and strawberry Jammy Dodger, mocha chessboard gateau, Tweedle Dee lemon curd financier, Mad March Hare vanilla pocket watch macaroon, chocolate and pistachio Blue Caterpillar, Wonderland marshmallow magic mushrooms and Mad Hatters lost carrot and fennel meringue; all washed down with Alice’s exotic fruits “Drink Me” potion, served in a small bottle with a vintage paper straw.

Finally to round things off, we were given ice-cream served in a small terracotta flower-pot, as you do.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but was slightly disappointed at the standard of service received. I said as much on Twitter and much to my surprise, the impossible happened and my friend and I were invited to return to the hotel for a complimentary dinner, so they could showcase their service. We returned and our every need was met, while we enjoyed a delicious three-course meal and the hotel’s signature cocktail. They certainly turned my opinion around – what fabulous customer service!

 

When it came to my actual birthday, my sister-in-law surprised me with a fantastic Alice in Wonderland themed cake while my husband bought me an Alice in Wonderland cake stand.

 

Lewis Carroll was inspired to write the novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while rowing in Oxford with a friend from Christ Church College and his three girls, one of whom was called Alice in 1862. During the trip he told the girls a story about a bored girl named Alice who was looking for adventure.  This story, which the real Alice asked Lewis to write down, is the basis of what, once elaborated on, became the novel.  I wonder if Lewis Carroll, knew when he was in Oxford that day, what an influence the novel and its characters would continue to have over 150 years later.   I visited Oxford with my Mum back in May, following a shopping trip to Bicester Village.  We had afternoon tea by Folly Bridge which is where Lewis’ boat trip began, visited Alice’s shop and saw the small door in the Cathedral Gardens which legend has it is where Alice entered Wonderland.

 

Over the years, there have been many differing adaptions of the classic tale and I have to say one of my favourite film ones is the Disney 2010 adaption, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.  Whatever the version you choose though, I think there are two very important messages to take from the tale which are, nothing is ever quite as it seems and if you believe in the impossible, it becomes possible.