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.

One day, two beautiful weddings

The sun was shining on a fabulous June day and there was a sweet smell of lavender in the air as the guests waited in The Gardens, Yalding for the wedding to begin.  The Gardens opened in 2016 as an exclusive wedding venue.  The 12.5 acre site is divided into 16 distinct areas, representing garden design through the ages.  There are also extensive orchards, in keeping with Kent’s long history as the garden of England.  Five bridesmaids in cornflower blue and a beautiful flower girl sprinkling rose petals along the grass aisle, signified the arrival of the bride.  She looked radiant in a classic style, satin dress with pretty lace bodice, on the arm of her proud father, who escorted her to the round pagoda where her beaming fiance awaited her.

The service was lovely with one particularly entertaining poem by Taylor Mali “How falling in love is like owning a dog”.  Once pronounced man and wife, the happy couple were showered in confetti from pretty die cut cones and then they led the way to the barn, where Pimms and bucks fizz were on offer.  While the adults caught up with each other and photos were taken, the children were amused by various traditional lawn games, including croquet.

Soon it was time to be seated in the two interlinked tipis which are connected to the barn, for the wedding breakfast.  The sides of the tipis were rolled up, bringing the outside in and the flower/garden theme continued with the tables each named after a flower with said flower as a centre piece.  Favours were seeds of the flower your table was named after which I thought was a wonderfully unique idea.

The cake was also in keeping with the theme and made by the bride and groom themselves.  It was four tiers, topped with fondant roses and was sat on a section of tree trunk.

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Rather than just the usual guest book, they had also provided a camera and printer so that guests could put a picture of themselves in with their message.

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We had to make an early exit, after the speeches sadly, as unbelievably we had been invited to two weddings on the same day!  This does have a fashion bonus however as had they both been on separate days, I would have had to buy two outfits and therefore I could justify spending a little more on a dress and was able to treat myself to this amazing Ted Baker number that I had my eye on, totally guilt free!  I accessorised with silver sandals from Dune and a silver clutch.

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The second wedding was that of one of my best friends so I was gutted to have missed the main part of the day but pleased to be able to come and celebrate with them in the evening.

We arrived at the venue, a golf club in Shoreham, Kent, to see a number of classic cars in the carpark.  The bride’s own white cortina had been used as the bride’s transport, while her brother’s rover had been used as the Groom’s car and one of her Dad’s army trucks for the bridesmaids.

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The theme of her wedding was festivals.  Each of the tables had been named after classic albums, with the record itself serving as the table identifier.  The individual name cards were designed as festival tickets.  Favours were cleverly fitting with the theme and the couple’s married name – a travel coffee/tea cup.

The bride looked even more stunning than I could have imagined in a vintage style lace dress with low back and cute buttons, leading to the beautiful train.  She had accessorised with a long gold and pearl necklace down the back – very Chanel.  The bridesmaids wore long grey, embellished dresses that were 1920s inspired.  The flowers in hers and the bridesmaid’s hair were fake but looked amazingly realistic.

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We arrived in time for the cutting of the cake.  The cake was all marzipan with a lego bride and groom.

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The first dance then followed; a classic Dire Straits number, Romeo and Juliet.  It was beautiful to see them dancing and having fun together as man and wife.

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They had a fab dress up box and polaroid camera, so guests could all do pictures and stick them in the guest book, similar to the idea at the earlier wedding.

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Two beautiful couples and two beautiful weddings, I wish them both, all the happiness in the world.  I will leave you with a quote by Mignon McLaughlin that I think sums up marriage perfectly: “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person”.

 

 

 

Nineties Throwback

The nineties were just yesterday weren’t they?  I can hardly believe it was 20 years ago!  Now I feel old!  Like my parents romanticise about the sixties, I tend to do the same with the nineties, having done most of my growing up in that decade.  Admittedly some of the trends are better off left there – heeled jelly shoes, Bon Bleu tracksuits, tamagotchi anyone?  But most of us will sit down and chill in front of an old episode of Friends.

Some of the things born in the nineties remain important to me today, one of which is Sex and the City.  In June this year, it was 20 years since we were first introduced to Carrie Bradshaw and Mr Big in the pilot episode.  While there is some debate about its relevance today, no one can deny that it was the first programme to show the importance of female friendships and women as sexually liberated.  I just love it for the fashion, Patricia Field was a genius!  If it hadn’t have been for Sex and the City, would I have ever been introduced to the beauty of Manolo Blahnik’s?  My husband probably would have preferred that, or certainly his wallet would have done!

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Pop bands come and go and the early nineties saw me following Boyzone, followed by Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys and soloists such as Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears – who can forget Baby One More Time?  I actually found a video of my friends and I, when we attended CDUK (a Saturday morning chart show with Ant and Dec) in 1999 and saw Christina perform Genie in a Bottle – god did we all look young?

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Anyway, my other great love of the nineties are the Welsh band, Stereophonics, formed in Cwmaman in 1992.  Their first album Word Gets Around was released in 1997 and since then they have gone from strength to strength.  One of my closest friends introduced them to me around the release of their second album, Performance and Cocktails in 1999 and the two of us regularly danced at parties to ‘The Bartender and the Thief’, despite disapproval from most of our other friends.  Ironically I have probably ended up a bigger fan than her, having seen them live over 10 times now and met them twice.  On my bucket list was to see them on their home turf and in June, I finally fulfilled this wish.

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My husband and I travelled to Cardiff to see them at Cardiff City Stadium.  Their set opened with C’est la vie and closed, with Dakota which has somewhat become a regular closing song.  They were absolutely fantastic and never disappoint.  I love the fact that they play a range of songs from across all 10 of their studio albums.  I was stood dancing for most of the gig.  Sadly I’m not sure my husband had quite such a good time, given he doesn’t really share my passion for their music.

While in Cardiff, we thought we should make a weekend of it and do a bit of sightseeing.  We visited Cardiff Castle and it just so happened that the visit coincided with the Queen’s official birthday celebrations so we got to see the Royal Gun Salute.

Returning to Paddington station, I was reminded of one of my childhood loves, Paddington Bear.  My Dad used to read me the stories and add his own bits in which was always fantastic.

It’s great to reminise and Stereophonics have certainly survived the test of time.  It’s a shame that my face hasn’t faired so well over the years!  The nineties were great but I wouldn’t want to go back to a time of no broadband!  One day I would like to visit Stereophonics home village and I hope they are still going strong in another twenty years.

Tale as old as time…

How many times have you looked in the mirror and thought, if only I were slimmer, younger, prettier?  We all do it, more so as we are living in a society where the likes of Instagram have made everything about appearance, not to mention the fact that cosmetic manufacturers, diet guru’s and cosmetic surgeons make a living off the back of our insecurities.  It is not until you get into your thirties though, that you begin to accept yourself and realise “Beauty is found within.”  This may sound strange coming from someone who adores clothes, shoes and make up but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you dress someone up, their character and heart is what makes them beautiful, or not, as the case may be.  Disney has encapsulated this thinking in Beauty and the Beast, whether you are talking of the 1991 Disney animation or the 2017 live action picture, staring Emma Watson with a fabulous enhanced soundtrack.

I always love a good Disney movie and the recent remakes have made me nostalgic for those times when I believed fairy tales came true.  I therefore couldn’t contain my excitement when I heard that The Kensington Hotel was hosting a Beauty and the Beast themed afternoon tea.  My excitement was short-lived however when I discovered that every date had been fully booked.  Luckily for me though, they released further dates due to the popularity, so after almost a year’s wait, I finally got to go.

Upon arrival, we were ushered to our table, past a rose in the bell jar and each table had been dressed with a red rose and biscuits decorated with marzipan to look like Belle’s dress.  Champagne was brought to us, along with tea and coffee.

The amount and variety of food at this tea was fantastic and they had gone to great lengths to theme as much of it as possible.  The tea began with warm savouries which included bite size venison pie, beef ragu and saffron arancini and cheese souffle, served on a plate garnished with rose petals.  We then moved onto sandwiches, which the staff were happy to replenish.  Instead of scones, there were sweet brioche baguettes to fit in with the scene in the movie, where Belle goes to purchase baguettes from Marie.

The sweet tier of the cake stand, always my favourite, was where the theme really came to life and included, white chocolate mousse served in chip, vanilla and gold jelly complete with rose petal, and cream to garnish it, served in Mrs Potts, a snowball macaron and a chocolate clock tart.

What made the whole tea all the more Instagram worthy were the Cogsworth and Lumiere props they brought to the table.  The only thing that let them down here was the fact that they didn’t have enough of the props to go round and therefore they took them to use for another table before the end of the tea.

I chose my outfit for the day to fit in with the enchanted rose element of the movie and wore a black midi dress with rose print from Miss Selfridge and completed the outfit with pink suede shoes from Oasis and a pink cross body bag.  I accessorised with a beauty and the beast necklace from the Disney Store by Danielle Nicole.  My hair was loosely based on a Belle hairstyle, that I found instructions for on YouTube.  My perfume was a Beauty and the Beast one from Marks and Spencer.

Beauty boxes and subscriptions to them are currently very popular with Glossybox and Birchbox being two of the most famous.  While I love the idea of getting a box full of beauty surprises each month, I am not keen on being tied into a subscription and also there will inevitably be products you don’t use.  However last year when the new film was released, I couldn’t resist this one off, subscription free, Beauty and the Beast themed box from Latest in Beauty.  The box included Burt’s Bees lipstick, Caudalie moisturising sorbet, a gold compact mirror, Gold Lust dry Shampoo, Soigne nail polish, Gatineau exfoliator and L’Occitane rose hand and nail cream.

There is nothing wrong with making an effort with your appearance and enjoying beauty products but always keep in mind that true beauty lies within.  In a world where celebrities are idolised and body image is always a hotly debated topic, shouldn’t every young girl be reminded that beauty isn’t only skin deep?  Let’s hope we all realise that and appreciate what we have ‘before the last petal falls’.