Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Lovely Little Jaunt To Manchester


Earlier this month we celebrated our anniversary. As we helpfully got married on the same date we met, this was eight years of knowing each other, and two of being man and wife. With our big holiday on the horizon in early autumn we didn't want to do a huge trip for our anniversary, but we did want to have a little break, so we decided to head up to Manchester for a few days.

We travelled up with Virgin Trains and splashed out on first class seats. It's so nice when you can get the two seat pods together. We dranks lots of tea, caught up on some admin (cheers, wifi), and before we knew it we were up in the glorious north.


We stayed in the Hilton Deansgate, a hotel we've enjoyed before. The building is large and roomy, and the executive rooms are spacious with great facilities. As well as the awesomely comfy bed and the beloved Nespresso machine in our room, I also enjoyed the fantastic, deep bath with spa jets. It was so good I had to go to Lush just to get a bath bomb for the occasion!


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Happy Monday/Ten Happy Things #9

Okay, so I know it's not Monday. But Monday was a Bank Holiday here in the UK, so it was all about R&R and kitties (and Deep Heat on my niggling back injury). I didn't want to miss out on the chance to round up the week though - I love these posts. Which is why I'm joining up as ever with Katy and Jasmin (she's currently on a brief hiatus, but I still like to give her a wave!) for a lovely, positive start to the week, albeit a little later than usual! Here are my ten happy things from the last week and the present time :) 

1. Phone calls

I actually loathe phone calls most of the time. I love meeting in person, I can rock the snailmail, and emails and tweets come easy...but phone calls I enjoy with a very small portion of the population. Phone calls with two of the faves, however, have made me laugh and smile a lot recently. My tribe, man. So good.

2. Books, books, books


This could pretty much be a weekly addition (and it crops up often!), but I'm really excited to read a tonne of things - proofs from publishers, books I've treated myself to, the long list of recommendations I received on facebook when I did a 'what-should-I-fill-my-kindle-with' call! Bookworm for life.

3. Pizza Club




Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: Ctrl Alt Delete by Emma Gannon


I’ve been a fan of Emma Gannon’s writing and her blog for quite a while - she’s got a clear voice and a great skill for observations and descriptions, so I was excited to receive a copy of her book to review.
This felt like a longform version of Emma’s blogging or her writing for the Debrief - witty, knowledgeable, warm and brave. That’s not to say new readers should be put off - this is an inclusive and honest memoir and I’m sure it will win Emma a host of new fans.
There were chapters I adored (the one on the trolls was probably my favourite, I loved how clearly Emma cut through the BS and was able to verbalise so much of what is happening and what needs to change; and the interning excerpts made me howl/wince). There were others that made me feel very old (at thirty five almost a decade splits my experience from hers), and once again very glad to have done a good portion of my growing up and my uber-awkward teenage phase away from the online world.
I loved the conversational, witty tone of the book - whether Emma is writing about the big bad stuff or the funnier, sillier side of online life, it never felt like the book was lecturing or hectoring; more that it was like a friend holding forth. Loved the tone.
If you like a good bit of nonfiction I’d heartily recommend this book, and I’m very excited to see what Emma might write next!
You’ll like this if….you enjoyed Yes Please by Amy Poehler, or Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. Kickass books by inspirational, funny women.


Thank you to Ebury for the copy for review - all opinions, ramblings, and inevitable typos my own.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Beauty: August Favourites


I've been thinking for a while that I'd like to do a little beauty round up here on the blog. While I'm not a beauty expert, I do like using great products and one of  the joys of my thirties has been finally making peace with make-up and for want of a better descriptor, having a bit of a play! 

I love learning about different brands and products, and from now on I'll be doing a monthly round up about this here on the blog, as well as a few spotlight posts on great products I buy or receive. I hope you enjoy!


For the longest time, I struggled to find a skincare range that worked for me. My skin is both super sensitive and a bit of a combination, which makes finding a range which doesn't irritate it really difficult. So I was delighted when a few years ago I found Avene - their products work so well with my skin. The spring water spritz has been a godsend in this hot, hot weather, and the hydrating serum has been perfect when dealing with fans and aircon drying out my skin.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Book Review: Hygge


Denmark is definitely having a moment in the publishing world.

Whereas a couple of years ago we were all seemingly trying to emulate the French (with all those titles telling us French women don't get fat, their offspring are charming, their sex lives sizzling and their homes highly covetable), now all things Scandi/Nordic are having a bit of a moment.

According to the World Happiness report, Denmark is the happiest nation on earth, and has been for some time. The top ten in this chart each year always seems to feature the Scandi/Nordic set, plus Australia, NZ, Canada and a couple of other nations (at the moment, Switzerland and the Netherlands). Other countries may have other titles locked down, but when it comes to being happy, the Danes seemingly have it sewn up! There are several reasons people cite for that, and one of those is the importance of hygge.
 
I first came across the idea of hygge (a Danish term which has no direct English translation, but which means a kind of cosiness, comfort, sort of creating a cocooned, safe space) last year, when reading Helen Russell's wonderful book The Year of Living Danishly.* I loved the whole idea of creating a warm and welcoming nest during the colder months - as someone who has spent many winters in Scotland and Germany, where cold weather means that cosy home time is the way to go it really appealed. I'm also a big fan of living seasonally anyway - as I type this I am heartily tired of the hot temperatures and more than ready for autumn to sweep in, bringing with it so many delights that I am oh-so-ready for!

In his book, Hygge* (pronounced HUE-gah, fact fans), Meik Wiking (who is the CEO of the awesomely named Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, a place I clearly want to visit) talks you through the many and various aspects of Hygge and offers hints, tips and ideas for bringing a little hygge into your world.

First things first, this is a beautiful book. The scandi-style cover in gentle creams and blues with metallic accents is delightful, a real treat for the eyes, and it has fit onto our coffee table very happily - it adds a lovely little lift to the room. Once you are within the covers, the book continues to be a beauty, with small, easy to read chapters, beautiful photographs, and easy to understand diagrams and tables.

Wiking covers every element of hygge, from decor to cooking, and offers so many ways to embrace this idea in your own life - whether it's by cooking a hearty meal, sharing time with loved ones, dressing for comfort and cosiness, or bringing a little hygge to your festive celebrations. From cosy blankets to candles and lamps, he explains how adding a few little touches can make your home a little more hygge.

As I read through the book I realised that hygge is certainly something I already do - indeed my propensity to hibernate in the winter is pretty darn hygge in and of itself. Whehn I looked down the list of things which Danes feel contribute to hygge, I found some many of my own autumnal and winter favourites - hot drinks, baking, candles, Christmas, books and board games and blankets. How hygge might change my behaviour a little will be that this year I think I'd like to share the cosiness a little more.

Usually, my winter habits involve spending more time at home, with Matthew and the cats. But hygge is all about sharing the comfort, and I'll certainly be trying to do more of this - having friends around for supper, or a board game night, or just to have tea and cake while reading books and relaxing.

I really enjoyed reading this book and it gave me all kinds of ideas for making our home a little cosier, and a lot more hyggelig, this year. It was the perfect thing to read in my current mood, and I can't wait to bring some of the ideas into my life as we head into the cooler weather. There is a chapter on hygge in the summer but in the current weather my mind is more on ice lollies and chilled cocktails - I'll be going full hygge once the mercury starts to drop. Bring on the knitwear, low lighting, and stews!





Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by Penguin Living in return for an honest review. Thank you, lovelies!


Thursday, August 25, 2016

London: Cream Tea on the river with MBNA Thames Clippers


Those of you who have read here for a while will know that if I was compiling a list of favourite things, both London and afternoon tea would make the cut. So when I was very kindly invited to enjoyed some scones, tea and champagne aboard one of the MBNA Thames Clippers boats that whizz along the Thames, I was oh-so-happy to say yes, please!

We boarded the boat in glorious sunshine at London Bridge pier and set off for our hour long journey along the river. From the pier we headed west taking in so many London icons from our excellent vantage point on the river - the Shard, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament. The company was charming, the tea delightful, and the views incredible.


I love the many different skyscrapers we get in London - the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin...


The pier we boarded from was right next door to the HMS Belfast, which was looking resplendent in the summer sunshine.


The clippers are a familiar sight to those of us who live and work in London - I've taken them for short hops before, but this was my first opportunity to enjoy a cream tea!


I'm always happy to see scones. And champagne. Love the Boden dress I chose for our outing, too!


We sailed past Shakespeare's Globe...


...the London Eye...


...arcades filled with shoppers and café patrons...


...the impressive buildings of the Embankment...


...the Tate Modern (and we went far along the river to spot Tate Britain too!)...


...and the pomp (and scaffolding!) of Westminster.


All too soon our hour was up and we turned around to approach the pier ahead of disembarking - this afforded a great view of yet another London Landmark, Tower Bridge!

The cream tea cruise departs from London Bridge pier at 3.30pm and lasts for one hour. While aboard as well as taking in the views there's a guide telling you all about the things you are seeing. Prices start from £16.90 for the cream tea and sightseeing cruise or you can opt to  upgrade to include a glass of Champagne. I'll certainly be adding to my list of things to do when family or friends come to visit town. You can find details and book your own visit here.

Thank you very much to the MBNA Thames Clippers team for inviting me, I had a marvellous time!




Disclaimer: As mentioned, I attended this as an invited guest and my tea and trip was complimentary. All views, snaps and words my own.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Home Etc: Our New Cleaning Rota

For the last little while I've been trying to get a handle on how I approach keeping our house neat and tidy. We are very lucky to have the space we do, but recently I've been a bit worried and stressed by the clutter, and wanted to put a new rota in place so I could keep up with everything. I also wanted to create a system that meant we had less to do on weekends so we could relax, or work on any bigger house projects then.

I should probably add that Matthew is an absolute housework marvel - he's such a great gardener, sorts laundry like a boss, washes dishes every day and is better than I am when it comes to hoovering! In this season, however, when he's out at work for so much of the day during the week while I work from home I wanted to create a rota where I could clear most of the stuff during the weekdays. With no commuting and fewer pulls on my time of the same urgency, I wanted to take up more of the work so that when we do get time together we can have more fun, with fewer chores to do!

I've experimented with rotas for keeping the house tidy, both monthly ones and weekly ones, but I've never quite hit a rhythm. So this time I thought I'd pitch myself something between the two, with a fortnightly rota. With all the shopping, cleaning and little tasks like popping to pick up parcels or get the dry cleaning, this works out at a very sensible five tasks a day, plus one each on weekend. With a few 'daily dos' as well, this should cover everything, with more time available on weekends when bigger jobs or tasks like spring cleaning, charity shop runs, or getting the Christmas decorations up emerge. I'll keep you posted!



How do you organise your cleaning and tidying?

Linking up as ever with the Home Etc lovelies.

Home Etc

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Books: The House In Quill Court


As I do more and more book blogging - such fun for a bookworm like me, I have to say - I get the chance to go to fun events, read an ever increasing list of titles and take part in fun things such as blog tours. The latter items on the list being something I'm able to take part in today, as I join in with the blog tour for Charlotte Betts' book The House in Quill Court.*

Following the story of Venetia Lovell, a bright and sensible young woman living in a country idyll in Kent before events mean she must relocate to London and to the house which gives the book its title. In doing so she has to bravely start a new life and to find the path she wishes to follow. Set in the Regency period of English history, with the many social conventions so well known by readers of Austen and others, this is an entertaining and charming read, which sweeps you away from the busy-ness of the modern world and away to a place and time which was very different. I very much enjoyed escaping to Venetia's world while commuting to and from the centre of town on the tube. The first fifty pages had me utterly gripped and tight plotting and vivid characters kept me involved until the last page!

I loved the character of Venetia. When I saw the cover I was expecting a slightly fluffy protagonist, I must confess, but was delighted to discover an intelligent, resourceful and kind heroine at the book's core - shades of Elinor Dashwood. I also enjoyed the social commentary throughout the book - Betts' description of a London on the rise, and the mores and morals of society, family and poverty added a real depth to the storyline.

Swift, well-written and involving, this is fiction to revel in. If you're a fan of a read that takes you to a new place, where it's sometimes hard to decide who the villains are, and where the plot keeps you on your toes, I'd thoroughly recommend. Thank you to Little, Brown for inviting me to take part in the blog tour - be sure to check out what everyone else thought of the book by checking in on their days too.


   



Disclaimer: I was gifted a copy of The House In Quill Court in return for an honest review. All opinions my own, as ever.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Happy Monday/Ten Happy Things #8

Joining up as ever with Katy and Jasmin for a lovely, positive start to the week, albeit a little later than usual! Here are my ten happy things from the last week and the present time :) 

1. Books, books, books


Come on autumn, I want to get cosy...

Always. Whether it's a great proof from a publisher (thanks, guys), or a new biography I just treated myself to, there's always time for books!

2. Discovering Kikki K


Yeah, I bought colour in postcards. They look so fun!

I can't believe it took me so long!

3. Trying. Failing. Learning

I've tried out for a few things in the last few weeks...and been unsuccessful. Not proper face-plant, wow-you're-rubbish unsuccessful, more you-are-okay-good-maybe-even-great, but not good enough. As someone who spent a lot of my teens and twenties feeling perpetually not enough and/or too much, I've been quite pleased with how I've handled the disappointments, in a reflecyive, mature and proactive way - even if a good one-tenth of me wanted to collapse on a sofa with some ice cream! Hence, happy.

4. Manchester


There may have been afternoon naps on the schedule. There was also an amazing deep bath with bubble jets - I went to Lush to buy a bath bomb to celebrate the latter fact!
Up high!

How beautiful are these Hawksmoor menus? Divine.


Love the bar at Cloud 23...and the drinks they serve, too.

Matthew and I took a lovely trip up north for our anniversary last week and it was great to have some time together to relax and spend a little time together, with good food, culture and cocktails aplenty. We stayed in a lovely room at the Hilton, with great views over the city and the comfiest bed. It was also handy to be in the same building as the brilliant Cloud 23, where we enjoyed many a cocktail. We had lunch on our actual anniversary at Hawksmoor, which was a triumph, as you'd expect!

5. Exploring Chinese food with Charlie


I believe Dancing With Pandas was the sequel to Dancing With Wolves...

Totes mature

So. Much. Great. Food.

Yeah, we went there.

On Saturday the lovely Charlie was invited along to the London Chinese Food Festival, and she very kindly invited me along as her plus-one. It was great fun to catch up, take selfies with people dressed as pandas, and eat some cracking food.

6. Thinking about teaching

I've mentioned here before that while I'm enjoying this season of career meandering, I am missing teaching too. Especially right now, when I'd usually be setting up my new classroom, labelling books, working on curriculum and getting ready for the new intake. As much as I'm loving trying other things, I can feel my vocation calling. One thing is helping a lot though when it comes to distracting me...

7. Holiday excitement!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! So ready for a nice long holiday and some adventures! I've been doing lots of research on the hotels we've chosen (the Library Hotel, the Boxer, the InterContinental and the Aria) in the four cities we are visiting and I'm just getting more excited by the moment!

8. Cocktails with gorgeous bloggers....


So good catching up with these lovelies!

Perfect cocktails and bubbles

On Thursday I met the lovely Emma and Angie at Forest on the Roof atop Selfridges and loved catching up with them both over cocktails and skinny champagne. Love a good catch up!

9. ....and brunch with other gorgeous bloggers!





Yesterday I got to have brunch/lunch with several of my Bangarang cuties, and also got to visit Dishoom for the first time too (I drank oh-so-much chai). Katy, Charlie, Erica, Jasmin, AJ and Charley, I adored seeing you all!

10. Fry-cat




Even when I'm feeling a little blue, a good snuggly cuddle with my purrful little black cat never fails to lift the spirits! Fry may not be able to miaow particularly well, but man he can purr like a pro!


Sunday, August 21, 2016

London, Food, Drink: Victory Mansion


I love going out for dinner or cocktails. In a city as big as London we are utterly spoiled with the sheer number of places available for meals and drinks. Whatever your desire, whatever you budget, the city will have something for you. As I enjoy writing about food and cocktails, both as a consumer and as a creator, I'm lucky enough to get invited along to events where I get to try different places.

One such place is Victory Mansion, in Stoke Newington. Stokey is having a prolonged moment, and much like Walthamstow, Peckham and my own dear Leyton, it feels pretty darned up and coming right now. Victory Mansion (named for the block of flats in Orwell's 1984, lit fans) is on Stoke Newington High Street, where new shops and venues seem to be popping up quite frequently. It's a cracking wee bar serving some really vivid, unusual cocktails, and the whole place has literary undertones - from the name to the parquet around the bar (taken from a former home of Lewis Carroll) to the many cocktail options with their bookish inspirations.


It really is a handbook of remedies, elixirs and aphrodisiacs. There are a lot of cocktails to choose from! The rather angry fellow above is The Dr Gonzo - full of rum and fruit flavours, it packs quite the punch.


The Robinson Curacao is spicy and fiery (of our group Chris drank most of these - too hot for my tame palate!).


This little delight is The Great Quacksby, and yes, those are tiny yellow ducks atop the candyfloss cloud!With vodka, aperol and ginger ale, this was tangy and refreshing.


My favourite of the night was the sweet Very Hungry Manzanilla - how could I resist this sweet fellow? With rum, manzanilla, sage, mint and lime flavours, this was a cool and tangy drink, with a gorgeously fresh bouquet.


Alongside the drinks we had a range of small plates to sample. Above were my favourite choices. The sourdough toast with beef tomato and homemade harissa was gorgeous, and as for the artichokes with aoili, I could have eaten a whole plate of them! Much like the cocktails, the food was innovative and well-presented, with some real imagination thrown in too.

If you're going to be in Stoke Newington, I'd recommend Victory Mansion, whether for a quick bite to eat or a night on the cocktails. A great little place.




Disclaimer: I was kindly hosted by the team at Victory Mansion in exchange for a fair review. All opinions, typos, and inabilities to drink spicy cocktails are my own. Thank you so much to the team for hosting me!

Victory Mansion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, August 19, 2016

London: London on a budget



I love living in London.

Sometimes my little country mouse self cannot believe I get to live here day in day out, surrounded by what has to be one of the world's greatest cities. Everything is here, and there's no mood or craving London cannot satisfy!

Architecture? From the dome of St Paul's to the jagged top of the Shard, the city is packed with icons!

Art? Two Tates, the nationals, myriad smaller galleries.

Green spaces? Richmond Park (home of one of my favourite funny YouTube vids ever. Never fails to lift the mood) or Hampstead Heath.

History? Everywhere. If you walk down an unfamiliar street or a new avenue, you'll always find a new blue plaque, unusual house, or little slice of this vibrant city's past.

Shopping? Oxford Street, Fortnum's, Portobello Market...whatever you want to buy, we have plenty for you!

Theatre? From the West End to some of the finest fringe venues on the planet, we've got you.

I could go on.

There is so much to do here in town, it can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Especially for the wallet. With so many wonderful but expensive options, I'm always keen to mix these in with more frugal and equally fabulous things. This is why I describe myself as a pick-and-mix blogger: I love a bit of luxury, a bit of mid-range, and a bit of a bargain sometimes too! With this in mind I thought I'd put together a post on my ten favourite free-or-cheap things to do in the city (this may well become a 'London on a budget' series!).

1. Mooch around a market for some bargains, top street food, and some very instagrammable shots! From Portobello to Borough, or the flower bonanza that is Columbia Road, the city's markets are so pretty and vibrant.

2. Take in a little history - you can snap Tower Bridge, or Buckingham Palace, or the Houses or Parliament, or St Paul's easily and get that quintessential London picture! If you're a London resident or planning a trip pretty far in advance, booking tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London will reward you with a one-of-a-kind experience!

3. Visit a museum! I love both the Science Museum and the V & A, and can't quite believe I haven't made it to the Natural History Museum yet. All of these museums and many others are free.

Ducks at Spitalfields City Farm

4. Go to one of the city's beautiful city farms for a slice of country calm amongst the hubbub. I've enjoyed Kentish Town, Hackney and Spitalfields city farms - next on my list is Mudchute! All these farms are free to visit, but as they are charities donations are appreciated.

5. Get arty, for free! The National Portrait Gallery, The National GalleryTate Modern and Tate Britain are all free to visit. The Tate-to-Tate boat between the latter two does cost money (£7.50 single, £15 return) but is a great way to see a whole swathe of landmarks from the river!

Stunning architecture at the Old Royal Naval College

6. Head over to Greenwich. From the Queen's House to the National Maritime Museum to the Old Royal Naval College, there's so much to see, as well as some cracking views of London and a lovely park. There are other paid museums to enjoy too (the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark), but the three linked are free/donation only.

7. As well as the more central parks such as Hyde Park, Regents Park, Green Park and St James', you can also enjoy some of the more unusual parks by venturing a little further afield. With swimming ponds in Hampstead Heath, dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park, and deer in Richmond, the capital's parks are a true wonder!

Love walking past the 'Pringle' in the Olympic Park - site of so many golds for team GB four years ago!

8. Visit the newest of the big parks (this one gets its own entry as I'm local and biased!), the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. As well as being a super park, it has great play areas and wildlife hubs, and it's really cool to snap pictures of the Olympic Stadium and the Orbit - London 2012 has left such a great legacy.

9. Walk to the top of Parliament Hill, Primrose Hill, or to the hilltop next to Alexandra Palace for sublime views across the city.

10. Find cheaper eats by embracing the street food vibe, lunching for your main meal, or eating in up-and-coming neighbourhoods a little bit away from the centre of town, where tourists can be targeted with higher prices.

Still looking for inspiration? Cheap Flights have put together this fab post on thirty things to do in London for under £20 - we even agree on some of our favourite things, and they cover a few of my faves that didn't make my own list (love the Prince Charles Cinema, especially for the singalongs!).





Disclaimer: Cheap Flights asked me to write a post with my tips for London on a budget. As a London fan and someone who adores a bargain, I was very happy to collaborate with them on this sponsored post!

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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