Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016: The Review

This review is becoming something of a yearly tradition....you can find the reviews for 2007200820092010 , 2011201220132014 and 2015 by clicking through. It's always nice to take stock at the end of a year and see what's happened over the last 12 months.

Throughout the post I've added pictures (in no particular order) of a year well spent. Good heavens there are lots of pictures, but I'm so happy I have them - this year has been a precious one in so many ways, and these pictures are just a few that show how lucky I've been to walk through a busy, happy year with some fabulous folk! Kicking off with one of my favourite selfies - it's rare I like my face in pictures so I decided to include it :)


I spent several happy days exploring the Christmas lights in town

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?

It's been a year full of new things - from travelling to new spots like New York & Boston, to my first bits of paid freelance writing, to interning, to becoming a godmother, it's been quite an unusual year!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sleep, glorious sleep



I am something of a sleep fan (as are our cats, hence their inclusion in the header image!).

In our modern world there are so many things which can detract from a good night's rest - noisy cities, crying babies (for the parents among us), stress about work and deadlines, and just trying to cram too much into the day and simply not getting enough time in bed.

About six years ago I was very guilty of the latter. I was so determined to ace being in London, and having a career, and having a social life, and writing, and everything else, that I whittled down the amount of sleep I got from a sensible 6 to 8 hours down by subtle increments to about 4 hours a night. It didn't happen all at once, but there was a swathe of months where I was turning in at 1am or 2am, and rising at 5am or 6am.

Those hours might work for Margaret Thatcher, or Barack Obama, or Donald Trump (all infamous 4-hours-a-night sleepers) but it definitely doesn't work for me. After about six months of trying to do this I was shattered - my brain wasn't as sharp, I felt much less like myself, my health habits were ruined, my skin looked grey, and I wound up suffering from migraines and headaches on a hugely frequent basis.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Happy Monday #19

It's Monday, it's the start of the week, which means it's time for a lovely, positive start to the week. Katy and Jasmin inspired me with their cheery posts each week, and now, when schedule allows, I join in with a happy Monday of my own. Let's go!

1. New blogging projects

I've been thinking for ages that I'd like to set up some spinoff blogs from this main one. My blog is a lifestyle one, and while I adore the breadth this affords me, I've been thinking for a while that certain elements that I write about are more niche, and I've been toying with the idea of setting up separate domains for them. So this past week I set up CMClaire Cooks, CMClaire Reads, and CMClaire Travels. I have no idea how this experiment will play out...but I'm excited to have a play! I've been writing here for almost eleven years now (good heavens!), and it felt like time to try something new. Worst case scenario, I'll fold 'em back in here!

2. Catching up with friends

It's been a fairly social week, and I've had lots of time with some of my favourite people. Always a tonic!

3. Lumos at the House of Lords


Sunday, December 18, 2016

My favourite music of 2016



I love music. I always have. From down-home country to soaring gospel, cheesy pop to gritty rock, I have time for the joy that music brings.

So it seemed natural for me to put together a list of my favourite songs of 2016. Originally I was aiming for a top ten...but that proved too much of an ask. So here are my top 50 songs of the year. You can also listen to the whole eclectic thing over on Spotify!

One quick note - three Beyoncé songs would have made the cut (Sorry, Formation, and Daddy Issues), but as her music isn't available on Spotify where I compiled the main list, she's absent from my rundown. Massive fan of both her and the magic that is Lemonade though, definitely one of the most iconic listens of the year. Viva Queen Bey.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Getting ready for Christmas


We are well and truly into the Christmas rush now. The last few cards and gifts need to be sent, the social whirl is in frenetic mode, and Mariah Carey is everywhere, like some kind of golden-voiced, glittery diva angel.

I approve.

As we head towards the celebrations proper, I am all about getting ready for Christmas. There are so many little things to do to ensure the festive period goes smoothly.

I like to check that our Christmas food orders are sorted and doublechecked (thank heavens for online shopping too, I must say). We're getting most of our stuff delivered by Ocado on the 23rd, and we have some delicious options on the list (Poppet is most interested in the large free range turkey crown of course!).

Thursday, December 15, 2016

10 chickflicks you definitely need in your life



As we barrel towards Christmas proper, and the social calendar starts to clear a little, my mind always turns to relaxing a little, getting cosy and curling up. One of my favourite ways to unwind is with a good film, and nothing is quite so relaxing and fulfilling to me as a good old-fashioned chickflick.

Don't get me wrong, I can thoroughly enjoy a good action romp, a subtitled critic's darling or a highbrow drama, but when it comes to pure indulgence, I'm all about curling up under a cosy, fleecy blanket, pouring a glass of red (or making a tea or a hot chocolate), and watching an old favourite.

Here are the 10 chickflicks I think you definitely need in your life...some are pure chickflicks, others are comedy, drama, or teen films that also straddle the chickflick genre. Be sure to let me know any of your favourites in the comments too!

1. Mystic Pizza


Monday, December 12, 2016

Happy Monday #18

It's Monday, it's the start of the week, which means it's time for a lovely, positive start to the week. Katy and Jasmin inspired me with their cheery posts each week, and now, when schedule allows, I join in with a happy Monday of my own. Originally I updated weekly, but as the year has progressed and life has changed (and will continue to do so as we move into 2017), I will be doing these on a more ad hoc basis - when I've time and things to share I'll be here :).

1. A very happy birthday




On Saturday I turned 36 (36, man!) and had a lovely, lovely day. Cards and cakes and messages and wine and wonderful people meant I entered a new year on the planet feeling happy, lucky, and surrounded by love. I'm so fortunate to have the people I have in my life.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Home etc: Sitting Room Plans



It's been a while since I've linked up with Home Etc, which is a shame because I always enjoy writing about our home. Right now it's a swirl of chaos as we get ready for Christmas visits, are putting up trees and wrapping dozens of gifts for friends and family, as well as trying to get everything spick and span and organised before I return to full-time work in the New Year! In between packing and sorting and wrapping, however, I'm having a very jolly time planning for how we are going to rearrange our sitting room in the early part of next year.

Our sitting room is currently made up of two parts - a front section with sofas, shelves, TV and a back section with a 'home gym' we rather optimistically installed when we first moved in. Four years on and the use it gets is so minimal we've decided to donate or sell the equipment in order to make one big sitting room with space for TV watching, book reading, and light work.

Matthew and I both have our own offices/studies too (both our careers require a healthy amount of take-home work, and it's lovely to have space to do this without impacting the others space) but I'm looking forward to having a little space in the sitting room where we can work alongside each other too. When I first moved down to London we both shared the cutest little study (it was less than 6 foot by 7 foot), and while we had to take turns moving our chairs out (we sat back to back, meaning negotiations if you wanted to stand up and get to the door), I loved have a little hub together. Having workspace downstairs also means that if we decide we'd like to repurpose a study at any point as a spare room / nursery / extra bathroom, we'd have that option. I'm also super excited to have more space for books!

We'll be planning in depth over the Christmas break (yep, this is our idea of fun - a notebook and a tape measure!), then saving up towards the project in the first few months of 2017, but in the meantime I'm enjoying browsing online and thinking up ideas. Now we've lived here four and a half years we know the house, we know what gets cluttered (him: shoes left in the middle of floors. Me: magazines and catalogues) and I'm having great fun thinking up methods for storing things and making it a space we can enjoy!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Book Review: Scrappy Little Nobody

Picture taken from the book's own site because my high-def pic didn't save correctly. Ah, the perils of blogging at pace.
I make no bones about the fact I like to read widely. I'm happy to pick up most books, bar a couple of genres that just don't thrill me (gory horror and really out-there sci-fi/fantasy, if you're wondering, and even in those cases I'm always willing to have a go for an exceptional book that's been recommended to me). I like literary fiction, self-help, YA, thrillers, non-fiction (of a bazillion different ilks), historical fiction, classics, autobiographies, mysteries, children's books, comedy, romance, 'man-goes-on-a-quest' tomes. If there's a book in my immediate vicinity, I'll give it a read.

That being said, there are two genres which are probably my comfort zone. The two kinds of book that I've always got time for, and can read whatever my mood or situation is. The first group is chicklit. Like or loathe the term, by employing it you will know exactly what I'm talking about, and I love a good escape with Cecelia Aherne or Jojo Moyes or Sophie Kinsella. 

The second group of books I really enjoy? Is the ever-growing genre of books by intelligent, talented women in the public eye and/or the entertainment business. I adored Bossypants. Yes Please genuinely made me think and changed my life for the better. Both Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Why Not Me? entertained me greatly, as well as cementing my opinion that if Mindy Kaling ever needs a fat, less-famous, British wingwoman (it's a niche role, but let's go with it), I clearly have to make the shortlist. And recently I thoroughly enjoyed The Year of Yes, by the force of nature that is Shonda Rhimes.

So when I discovered that Anna Kendrick was penning a memoir, I was excited. I've always enjoyed her acting, whether it's in Up In The Air, or the Pitch Perfect franchise, or Into The Woods. The real selling point for me, however, was Kendrick's twitter, because the woman gives amazing tweet - they are dark, funny, witty, sharp and often a little R-rated. Which I love! In a world where a lot of famous folk seem content to tweet fairly beige content or avoid the platform entirely, celebrities like Anna Kendrick and Chrissy Teigen offer a refreshing realness.

Book Review: A Christmas Cornucopia


Now that Advent Sunday has passed, I am transitioning well and truly into Christmas mode. Trees are being trimmed, jollity abounds, and the strains of Christmas music can be heard as I busy myself writing cards, running errands, and planning fun. I truly adore this season, as Advent moves towards Christmas proper, and have been accused more than once of being a little bit of a Christmas geek.

How perfect, then, that Penguin sent me a copy of Mark Forsyth's A Christmas Cornucopia to review in the lead up to the festive season. I'm a big fan of Forsyth's other books (being an English teacher I've been gifted other books of his in the past and particularly enjoyed The Etymologicon) and was happy to hear he'd turned his talents to the delights of Christmas.

Forsyth's tone is a unique one - it always reminds me of a brilliant professor holding forth on a subject they know well. Whatever twists and turns the narrative may take, you never doubt that you are in expert hands and are quite happy to follow along with Forsyth as he traverses eras, traditions and cultures. Rather than employing a dull list format, this is a book where the prose flows, taking you on a journey, and the whole book is suffused with humour. It really was a treat to sit down and read a chapter or two after lunch or before bed.

The content of the book is fascinating. Despite being a bit of a Christmas nut I was delighted to discover that there was much contained within that I did not know already. Each chapter brings plenty of information and charm, but I think chapter 5 (entitled Santa Claus: The Biography) is my favourite; I feel I am quite the expert on Saint Nick now.

This is a sweet and illuminating book and I think it would make a lovely gift. I think I'll be sending copies to a couple of friends who love this season too, and I think it would be appreciated by fans of Christmas, history and culture alike.







Disclaimer: As mentioned above, I was gifted a copy of the book. All opinions and Christmassy glee are my own.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Food: Cooking up a storm with KitchenAid

 

We all have the brands we love.

It could be a car brand. A shoe brand. A...pen brand (I don't know, you do you).

For me, the pages I keep bookmarked are invariably home and kitchen brands. I love our home and buying things to make it even more cosier and lovelier is something I really enjoy saving for and looking forward to. I've got out of the habit about writing about home stuff on the blog in recent months but I will be sharing more and more going into 2017 - I have me some projects planned.

But I digress. All the above to say, there are several brands whose sites I know well and whose products are very much on my wishlist. One such brand is KitchenAid. Ever since I first saw Ina Garten (who by the way, is goals) use one of their stand mixers, I knew they were a brand I'd love to use and have in my own home.

Imagine my delight, then, when a PR from KitchenAid emailed to see if I'd like to join the brand for a cookery lesson at their showroom in Wigmore Street, a stone's throw from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street.

I had a wee look at the classes available and when I noted that there was a steak option, so the deal was done. I was so impressed with the class format - for £25 you get a great kitchen to work in (full to the brim with KitchenAid appliances, of course), a chef tutoring you, and all your ingredients. We were a merry group and had great time cooking chips, making rocket pesto and bearnaise sauce, and of course, learning all about steak and the various ways to get the most from it!



I kept on getting distracted by the beautiful stand mixers. I mean...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Gift Guide Bonanza - a gift guide for everyone!


I'm going to be doing my gift guides a little differently this year. By nature a planner, I really enjoy having a good think about what to gift and for me the months of October and November are a fun season of thinking about presents and planning what to give. Add in all the fun that I had at various 'Christmas in July' events earlier in the year and I am just full to bursting with inspiration!

Rather than doing gifts guides for him, or gifts guides for her, this year I set out to arrange my guides around themes, so I set up boards to address a certain interest, area or passion. I've really enjoyed sharing the posts I've written so far, but as we've galloped through the month of November I've come to realise I won't have time to do a post per board - with 21 still to go I wouldn't be able to write about anything else! 


So today this is my bonanza post with links to all the boards I've created. Whether you're looking for a gift for a Harry Potter fan, a baker, a child or a puppy - I've got you. Clicking on each title will take you to the board full of gift ideas. 
















Gift Guide: For Pets (Cats and Dogs)





I'll be adding to all of these boards as we approach the big day - I hope you might find at least one of them useful. Happy shopping!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Happy Monday/Ten Happy Things #17

It's Monday, it's the start of the week, and I'm joining up as ever with Katy and Jasmin for a lovely, positive start to the week. I didn't do a happy Monday last week, as other responsibilities and general busy-ness got in the way but there's been plenty of happy going on, no fear!

1. Hibernating

While I've still been getting out and about, the rest of the time I've been embracing to cosy in full. What a lovely thing it is to be curled up inside a warm house as the rain lashes down outside. Such a simple, wholesome pleasure.

2. Brunch with some lovely ladies



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Theatre: The Last Five Years

Photo by Scott Rylander
One of the best things about living in London is the sheer amount of awesome theatre available to see. All across the city on a given night there are marvellous shows to watch, from big budget musicals to experimental theatre, one-woman shows to inventive interpretations of a classic play. Truly we are blessed with a surfeit of theatrical riches.

The downside of this can be that sometimes you'll miss shows, or they will simply not hit your radar. That's a great shame, as sometimes smaller, more intimate pieces can lose audiences simply due to budget, big name Hollywood or Broadway stars, or name recognition. But when we are willing to do a little hunting, to take a chance, there are some amazing gems to be discovered.

One such show is The Last Five Years, currently playing at the St James Theatre, down near Victoria. I love this venue (the last time I'd attended was to see the divine Miss Katie Brennan kill it in her show) and they always have great, vibrant productions. However, I must confess that I hadn't heard much about the show, and that's on me, much due to the reasons above. But when my main theatre buddy Shona said she had a spare ticket, I very happily trotted along.

And man, am I glad I did.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Travel: Flying First Class to JFK with Virgin Atlantic


Last year, on our honeymoon, Matthew and I were lucky enough to travel from Gatwick to Las Vegas with Virgin Atlantic, flying in first class. We enjoyed it so much that when we started putting together our US and Canada trip this year we agreed that flying first class again, at least for a leg of the trip, was something we were keen to do. We'd heard great things about the service from Heathrow to JFK, and as we were starting in New York, we decided to book. With a little saved money and a big chunk of air miles we were able to secure some very nice seats!

Now, I know there are bloggers who fly first class a lot (and fair play to them all - get it, girls and boys!), but I'm not one of them. Here I write about the things I enjoy, and it's a real mix - I'm neither a luxury blogger nor a budget blogger, rather I'm straight down the middle. I love treats, I love bargains, but like the majority of people I encounter and embrace a range of both! I'm glad though, because I think mixing budget, mid-range and luxury elements means that the treats I do have (nice hotels, beautiful meals, great champagne) I think I enjoy even more.

That proviso in place, allons-y!

The whole experience with Virgin Atlantic is wonderful. If you're flying from Heathrow, they send a town car to your door to take you to the dedicated check-in for Virgin first class at Heathrow. Yep, no standing in lines or marching through the crowds - you are dropped off at the door, checked in, and breeze through your own security channel. Then it's off to the lounge for a few hours of relaxation ahead of your flight.

Gift Guide: For The Tea Lover



I'm going to be doing my gift guides a little differently this year. By nature a planner, I really enjoy having a good think about what to gift and for me the months of October and November are a fun season of thinking about presents and planning what to give. Add in all the fun that I had at various 'Christmas in July' events earlier in the year and I am just full to bursting with inspiration!

Rather than doing gifts guides for him, or gifts guides for her, this year I'm arranging my guides around themes, so the lists will address a certain interest, area or passion. Each post has an accompanying Pinterest board too, so I can keep adding great finds as I come to them! I hope these prove useful and that you might find an item or two that works for you.


Today's guide is all about tea - the drink that keeps us Brits fueled up and ready to go. In a year where what it means to be British seems to be in utter turmoil, it's nice to be able to point to a few universals, and the people of Britain love a cuppa.

For the person who enjoys an unusual and innovative flavour, how about this Eton Mess Tea (£8.25, Postea at Not On The High Street)? There are so many varieties and blends around, you'll be sure to find something your friend or relative will enjoy. For the tea drinker who like to be proper about such things, how about a beautiful cup and saucer (£13, John Lewis) to enliven the daily ritual?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Food: Devils on Toast


I remember the first time I had devils on horseback.

It was just after midnight in the wee small hours of Easter Day, and I tasted my first ever devil on horseback after a long Lenten fast where I'd given up both meat and alcohol (so needless to say there was champagne involved too). After weeks of plain, simple food, this decadent morsel was the ideal food with which to break the fast.

That was several years ago, but I was recently reminded of my fondness for the combination of salty bacon and sweet dried fruit while Matthew and I were in New York earlier this autumn. One day we went for tapas in Hells Kitchen and the date-and-bacon combo was on the menu. And delicious. I knew I'd have to work the flavour profile into a recipe before long!


Getting festive with John Lewis, and the nicest biscotti recipe I've ever tried



A couple of weeks back, the lovely folks at John Lewis invited a bunch of bloggers to join them at the Waitrose Cookery School for an evening of cookery and cocktails. Designed to be an event to inspire us in our own cooking, we had a marvellous evening of cooking, chatting, and generally getting festive.


Blogging in the age of snapchat and insta-stories requires all phones to be at the ready!


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Gift Guide: Cocktails, Beer and Wine, oh my!



As I mentioned last week, I'm going to be doing my gift guides a little differently this year. By nature a planner, I really enjoy having a good think about what to gift and for me the months of October and November are a fun season of thinking about presents and planning what to give. Add in all the fun that I had at various 'Christmas in July' events earlier in the year and I am just full to bursting with inspiration!

Rather than doing gifts guides for him, or gifts guides for her, this year I'm arranging my guides around themes, so the lists will address a certain interest, area or passion. Each post has an accompanying Pinterest board too, so I can keep adding great finds as I come to them! I hope these prove useful and that you might find an item or two that works for you.


Today's gift guide? Is for the people who know their Merlot from their Malbec, the budding mixologists, and the beer fans - I know I have a few of these on my Christmas list! Of course a great choice is drink itself (I'm crossing my fingers for some Tanqueray 10), but I've looked mainly at accessories and additions.

This 'cheers' sign (£24, West Elm) would look fabulous is any home bar - love the gold tinge of the brass! I love being gifted unusual spirits and mixers to develop cocktails - how delicious does this Blackberry Gin (£22.50, The Ely Gin Company on Not On The High Street) sound? Also on Not On The High Street, how fab are these drink-inspired teatowels (£31, Hey Holla) - a very chic way to keep things neat and tidy!

These cocktail-inspired soaps (£6, John Lewis) would be a lovely stocking filler or a hostess gift - I've actually bought one of these for a friend already and can confirm they smell amazing! For a beautiful wine rack, look no further than this beauty (£30, Habitat) - I love the pretty honeycomb design.

Book Review: Swing Time


Many moons ago, back in the hot, hot summer of 2016, I popped over to Penguin. As an aside, my inner-bookworm-child still gets very excited by the fact that I know people at publishers, for what it's worth. While I was there I was given a couple of books to review, because I love to keep reading. One of the books was Swing Time, the new novel from the national treasure that is Zadie Smith.

Swing Time is a book about so many things - class, race, dance, friendship - and it feels specific and universal, all at once. Incredibly readable with vivid, interesting, flawed characters, this is Smith writing at the top of her game. I love how she's unafraid to write real characters and how she shies away from casting heroes and villains. The complexity and richness of the human experience and how we all react to and interact with one another fills each part and chapter.

The narrator of the book is never named, and this distance is fitting - as a character she always seems a little detached, a little distant. The other characters - Tracey, her erstwhile childhood friend; the villagers she encounters in Africa; Aimee, the popstar she works for - are all boldly drawn and described; the narrator is more shadowy and indistinct.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Gift Guide: For Babies and Toddlers



As I mentioned last week, I'm going to be doing my gift guides a little differently this year. By nature a planner, I really enjoy having a good think about what to gift and for me the months of October and November are a fun season of thinking about presents and planning what to give. Add in all the fun that I had at various 'Christmas in July' events earlier in the year and I am just full to bursting with inspiration!

Rather than doing gifts guides for him, or gifts guides for her, this year I'm arranging my guides around themes, so the lists will address a certain interest, area or passion. Each post has an accompanying Pinterest board too, so I can keep adding great finds as I come to them! I hope these prove useful and that you might find an item or two that works for you.

As a proud auntie and godmother, selecting presents for the little folk in my life is a real pleasure. Whether it's adorable outfits, great books or fun toys, there are so many wonderful things for little people to enjoy!

I love the book The Fox and the Star (£6.99, Waterstones) - it's a very sweet story and the illustrations are beautiful.  I have a soft spot too for this gorgeous polar bear romper (£22.50, Boden) which looks lovely and cosy for little folk in the December chill!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Sunday letters....

On Sunday, I pressed 'publish' on my first ever newsletter. I thought I'd share the first one here too - if you'd like to be on the list for a little letter from me each week, you can sign up here. No spam, no hard sell, just thinking-out-loud, a little love, a little silliness, going out into the world. I'd love to have you join.

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Subject: Hello!

When I was younger, at boarding school, each Sunday was letter writing day.

After chapel, before lunch, we all had to sit in the common room and write letters. Letters to parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, scrawled out longhand and mailed off to the four corners of the globe. As tiresome as I found the routine at times back then, the discipline of Sunday letters has stuck with me and often it's the day where I find myself putting pen to paper to write a card, a greeting or a hello.

When I thought about setting up a newsletter, then, it made sense that Sunday would be the day to do it. Mondays are too busy, Fridays too festive, Saturdays too social and the rest of the week a bit of a blur, to be honest! As we move forward I'm sure this little newsletter will grow and change and morph into something all its very own, but for now I'm just excited to have you all along for the ride.

As I type this it's an inky-dark November evening here in London. Outside the temperature has dropped and the last few fireworks of the season are being set off by the good denizens of Stratford and Hackney. Here in my study all is calm and quiet, bar the occasional purr-snores emanating from Poppet and Leela, who are both snoozing in the corner (Fry has repaired elsewhere after bravely 'saving' me from the printer a moment ago. Hero). I love having this little space - a little haven from the world.

A world which can seem more than a little fraught at times. The next week is going to be pretty much dominated by one story, I think. Clinton vs Trump. The big showdown. I'm not sure how it'll play out, but whatever happens I think it'll be nasty right down to the wire. I've never seen a fight so vicious. Or so long - it feels like this presidential campaign kicked off in 1995!

I'll sign off for now, as dinner and an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition call my name. More to come; I'm looking forward to going on this journey with you all!

Best wishes,

Claire

This week I have been reading Hold Back The Starslistening to Big Day In A Small Townand watching The Apprentice  (so hooked!). I've also been enjoying candles in the dark nights, picking up catalogues for Christmas gift ideas, and partying at a Silent Disco in the loading bay of The Royal Albert Hall. Dressed as a nun.

The week ahead contains fun at the World Travel Market exhibition, steak at an Argentinian hotspot, time with friends, volunteering, and ten pin bowling. All on top of the usual fun. Have a great week, all!

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Thanks for reading :)

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

World Travel Market London, Day 1: A Newbies View!


So yesterday was my first visit to WTM and I was pretty darn nervous as the day approached. As much as I love traveling and writing about travel, this is a serious travel event and self-doubt and impostor syndrome were both biting, hard. I was meant to start the day at a boat based event, but instead started proceedings shivering standing on the side of the river while the team in charge tried to sort out a solution. Such a shame, I felt heart-sorry for them - you can't fight the tides on the Thames! The boat trip had to be cancelld and alternate routes were the next order of business!

All in all I was feeling pretty deflated by that point. A big old part of me pretty much just wanted to turn away and head home to a day of reading, writing and cats, but I decided to buckle down and cheer up. Once I did I pasted on a smile and started saying some helloes and pretty quickly I met the lovely Alison (partner of Iain, a.k.a. Mallory on Travel) and Annabel. As the London native of our trio I happily lead us to the venue on the tube. Once there we went our separate ways, but I really enjoyed meeting them both.

And then, it was conference time!

The World Travel Market is huuuuuuuuge. Or yuge, if you're a certain presidential nominee. So huge in fact that my first stop had to be Costa, for a coffee (first Christmas cup o the season!). Then it was time to get schmoozing.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Happy Monday/10 Happy Things #16

It's Monday, it's the start of the week, and I'm joining up as ever with Katy and Jasmin for a lovely, positive start to the week. It's a very speedy round up today, but let's go!

1. My newsletter

Yep, I've finally set up a newsletter - something I've been meaning to do for a fair old while. I'll be sending out a little note into the universe, every Sunday. If you like to sign up, there's a box in the sidebar on the left, or you can simply click here. I do hope you'll join us!

2. The Last Five Years

A full review to follow, but this show at the St James' Theatre is an utter delight! The cast of two absolutely own the stage and the whole thing is something quite magical.

3. Texts from Christy, about Mariah

Longtime readers of the blog will know that Christy and I have a soft spot for la Diva that is Mariah Carey. So when it was announced that Mariah was unveiling the big Christmas window display in Toronto and performing, Christy naturally went along to pay homage. And sent me texts aplenty so I could experience it for myself. So fun!

4. Christmas fun with Vixie


Sunday, November 06, 2016

Travel: The Library Hotel, New York

It's been a little over a month since we returned from our big US and Canada trip. I've been meaning to write about it for a while, but October was extraordinary in the ways it sought to keep me busy - so it's just now that I finally have the pictures ready to share. It was such a lovely fortnight and I'm really looking forward to sharing about it with you all here.

The first leg of our visit was to New York. I've been to the states several times but never to the Big Apple, so I was so excited to finally make it there. When selecting a hotel we were really spoiled for choice and were finding it hard to pin down a choice until Matthew came across a hotel perfect for a reader like me - The Library Hotel. Set just off Madison Avenue in the heart of Midtown, a block from the New York Public Library, it was a fantastic base for exploring the city. You really couldn't be more in the thick of things - the UN was in session while we were there and the Obamas were at a hotel three blocks away!

The Library is a beautiful boutique luxury hotel, and we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of our stay. The hotel is gorgeously designed, the staff helpful and friendly, and the theme heavenly. Each room is designed to correlate with an aspect of the Dewey Decimal System used in libraries, and each floor follows a theme such as nature, biography, science or art. It's a unique and diverting way to style rooms and means that you could stay here several times and enjoy a different experience on each visit should you so wish! Our junior suite was on the 9th floor and had a biography theme - the bookcases were filled with tomes on the great, the good and the infamous!




Friday, November 04, 2016

Gift Guide: For the Cat Lover



As I explained in my first post on this theme on Wednesday I'm going to be doing my gift guides a little differently this year. By nature a planner, I really enjoy having a good think about what to gift and for me the months of October and November are a fun season of thinking about presents and planning what to give. Add in all the fun that I had at various 'Christmas in July' events earlier in the year and I am just full to bursting with inspiration!

Rather than doing gifts guides for him, or gifts guides for her, this year I'm arranging my guides around themes, so the lists will address a certain interest, area or passion. Each post has an accompanying Pinterest board too, so I can keep adding great finds as I come to them! I hope these prove useful and that you might find an item or two that works for you.

Today, I'll be sharing some gifts for the cat lovers amongst us (dog-folk, fear not, I have some great finds for you coming up soon as well). Here are some gifts that would be great for a feline fan - I'll share a few here but there are also loads of options over on my Pinterest board (and I'll be adding more finds over there throughout November and December).


I adore this 'If I Fits, I Sits' teatowel (Woah There Pickle on Not On The High Street, £9.50). If like us the recipient has cats who are obsessed with boxes, this is a great gift!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Book Review: The Nightmare Before Christmas




One of my favourite treats in the run up to Christmas is curling up in front of the Christmas tree with a hot beverage (or a cheeky cocktail) and watching a Christmas movie. I am properly into films at this time of the year, and in addition to the ten I listed in my post last year, there are several others that get trotted out ever December. Gone With the Wind. The Sound of Music. Mary Poppins. And The Nightmare Before Christmas.



The Nightmare Before Christmas is such a wonderful, heartwarming tale, as Jack Skellington tries to bring his own special magic to Christmas. Inventive, silly, creepy and heartwarming, it's a sweet and cosy tale with just enough darkness to avoid the saccharine-ness of some festive fare. I was delighted, then, when I learned that Penguin was publishing a picture book of the story on the Picture Puffin imprint, with words and illustrations by Tim Burton, the film's auteur.



Food: The Diner, Spitalfields


There's something so nice about good ol' fashioned diner food, isn't there? Wings, burgers, shakes - I don't indulge often, but when I do I always enjoy the tastes and flavours on offer. The Diner is quite the fave in our social circle, so when I was approached to do a review and to check out some of the offerings on their new All American Menu, I was delighted to accept the mission.

The things I do for blogging. ;)

After salivating over the options on offer, Matthew and I popped along on Sunday to their Spitalfields location. I love that part of town, especially at the weekend when the markets are on, and it meant we visited at a busy, full time - I love seeing restaurants at full tilt. We arrived and were quickly seated in a comfy corner booth.


Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Gift Guide: For the Happy, Hygge-filled Home



I'm going to be doing my gift guides a little differently this year. By nature a planner, I really enjoy having a good think about what to gift and for me the months of October and November are a fun season of thinking about presents and planning what to give. Add in all the fun that I had at various 'Christmas in July' events earlier in the year and I am just full to bursting with inspiration!

Rather than doing gifts guides for him, or gifts guides for her, this year I'm arranging my guides around themes, so the lists will address a certain interest, area or passion. Each post has an accompanying Pinterest board too, so I can keep adding great finds as I come to them! I hope these prove useful and that you might find an item or two that works for you.

Today's gift guide is for the happy, hygge-filled home. Hyggelong a tradition in Denmark, has really had a moment here in the last eighteen months, and the nation seems more than ready to curl up and hibernate! My board is full of gifts for those who like a cosy, welcoming home each winter. From beautiful homewares to guides to hygge living; sweet treats to bath-time delights, this is a group of gifts for the hibernators amongst us.

My pinterest board is at fifty items and growing, but I also wanted to share a few of my favourite items here on the blog.




Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Theatre: Side Show

Image from the Southwark Playhouse website
Growing up, and particularly in my teens and early twenties, I was an enormous musical theatre nerd (in the nicest possible way, but that's the only way to describe my devotion to the genre). Evenings spent singing along to cast albums on CD soon grew to bigger things when I moved to university and discovered there was a whole society devoted to musicals, and I romped through a fair few productions as a bit player, a lead, or as a chorus monkey (these were often the most fun!).

My time at university taught me a lot about musicals as a form, and I got to try and do all sorts of things (tap dancing, dancing dressed as a member of the undead, an onstage costume change from trousers and a jacket to a sleeveless ballgown in eight bars) while pursuing the hobby! Being in a city rather than my rural hometown I also finally had the chance to see some musicals on stage and the university library afforded me riches in the way of CDs and VHS copies of classic film musicals (yep, VHS. I kid you not!).

I'd always had a crush on the genre, I guess, but those four years were when I fell in love with it. I have fond memories of the time spent performing, practicing and enjoying musicals - while musical theatre was a hobby it did feed directly into my degree, with my final dissertation being on the musical film in general and Moulin Rouge specifically. Man, I enjoyed being a student.

All this is a roundabout way to mention that during these halcyon days I first encountered the score to Side Show.  The show is inspired by the true story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, and from the first time my friend Shona handed me a copy of the soundtrack I was in love. The story is touching, the music compelling. It's a dark, deep musical, full of longing and desire, hope and fear and I played that soundtrack like it was my job. I loved to sing the songs and hoped that one day, at long last, a UK production would happen and I'd be able to see the music brought to life onstage.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Monday/Ten Happy Things #15

It's Monday, it's the start of the week, and I'm joining up as ever with Katy and Jasmin for a lovely, positive start to the week. Let's go!

1. A cosy weekend


Lovely, tasty meals, good wine and chats

Poppet loves using me as a cushion/vantage point

Really enjoyed catching 'Addams Family Values' yesterday on Channel 4. I'm a total wuss so horror movies are off the table for me, so spooky family/kids films like The Addams Family ones or Hocus Pocus are as scary as it gets!

Around this point of the year, when the fireworks for Diwali and Guy Fawkes' Night are having their usual fortnight of loud bangs and flashes, we always book a couple of home weekends so we can be around for the katzen. As fun as travelling and socialising are, it's also nice to hibernate a little too. Good, wholesome food, lashings of red wine, napping and kitty cuddles...I feel replenished and ready for a busy week!

2. Side Show

Friday, October 28, 2016

I Love Your Blog: Bloody Hell Brennan

Katie Brennan is a flipping force of nature.

Actress, singer, writer, bon vivant and so much more, I've been reading her blog (Bloody Hell Brennan) for a good long while now and am extremely lucky to be able to call her a friend too. Whether it's watching her (award nominated, sellout) autobiographical stage show, bantering on WhatsApp or laughing at a well-told story at a Bangarang get-together, I never tire of her company, and her writing is a delight. I'm thrilled to host her here today for another round of 'I Love Your Blog'. Let's go, Brennan!

The lovely Miss B! All pictures kindly sent to me by the lady herself.

1.How long have you been blogging?

Since February 2013...so nearly four years! BLIMEY MATE that's gone quickly! 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book Review: The Year of Yes

The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes


Every year, it seems the market is flooded with books by celebrities. Autobiographies, stories, cookbooks - there could be a whole section of the bookstore devoted to books by that guy from.../the lady who.../the star of.... as with any genre or group of books, it's a mixed bag of quality, but there are gems to be found, and I always sit up and take notice when an actor, singer, or other creative I admire releases a book (same goes for great sportspeople, journalists, bloggers, businesspeople, and chefs). Some of my favorite books of recent years have sprung from the pens (or perhaps the keyboards?) of folk I knew for something else entirely.

Aside: if you haven't yet read Bossypants or Yes Please, please considering doing so. Fey and Poehler both give *excellent* book.

But back to The Year of Yes. Shonda Rhimes is the uber-famous creator/showrunner of the Shondaland stable of programmes- Grey's Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, and my personal favourite, Scandal. Hugely professionally successful, she has a come to Jesus moment over just how she's living her life over thanksgiving meal prep with her sister. Spurred on by this, Shonda resolves to change things up and embrace the power of YES, and this book is all about this journey. 

And what a journey it is. Rhimes is a gifted writer, as her hugely successful TV career would suggest, but in this autobiographical setting it's a great tone she sets - charming, conversational, deep, with just enough silly to lighten the mood when necessary. This is a book about saying yes to yourself, yes to life, and Rhimes emerges happier, healthier, and more at peace with herself than ever.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: The Devil's Feast

The Devils Feast Book

The Devil's Feast is a dark, undulating tale of murder most murky. The third in the Avery & Blake series by M.J. Carter, following on from The Strangler Vine and The Infidel Stain, this book takes us to a gloomy underworld where the darkest facets of human nature are pulled sharply into view.

The novel is set in Victorian London, a world of strict hierarchies and social mores quite different to our own. There has been a mysterious death at the Reform, London's newest and grandest gentleman's club, and Captain Avery is approached to uncover the murderer using all his powers of deduction and discretion. He must also solve the crime under an unusual pressure as his usual partner, Blake, is missing. Like Sherlock without his Watson, Avery must solve the clues alone and try to fathom whether this murder is a gruesome one-off or the beginning of a far more grisly set of events...

This is a competent, entertaining thriller. It's not necessarily a genre I've read much in before, but the action moves along swiftly and the characters are convincing and the action thrilling - I loved trying to predict what twist or turn might emerge next! I also enjoyed learning a little more about London in 1842 (turns out celebrity chefs have been with us for a good long time!) and the various political and personal motivations of the cast of characters.

If you are looking for a good, pacey thriller with plenty to ponder (as well as the central whodunnit I enjoyed the mystery around Blakes whereabouts!), this is the perfect book to curl up with on a dark autumnal evening. I haven't read the first two books in the series but was still able to follow the action and proceedings happily, and very much enjoyed a glimpse of a London long gone.





Disclaimer: I was gifted a copy of the book in return for a fair and honest review.

Hi, I'm Claire...

Hi, I'm Claire...

About Me

I believe in 80s pop, 90s teen movies, and proper thank you notes. I just like smiling...smiling's my favourite.

I write here about London, food, books & travel, and a lot more besides. I'm never happier than when having adventures, cooking for friends, or lost in a good book.

If you'd like to work together, or if you'd just like to say hello, my email is: countrymouseclaire@gmail.com

Please note that on occasion affiliate links may be used in this blog. All items received for review or paid posts will always be disclosed.

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