August 2013 archive

Impulse Buy: Tesco’s Orla Kiely Shopper for Cancer Research

| Impulse Buy

Tesco bag

Our eyes met across the checkout queue, and it was love at first sight. You know the story: girl goes out to buy cereal, girl comes back with a new bag. But oh my, what a bag.

I’ve always been a fan of Orla Kiely’s quirky print, and a fair few of her accessories have adorned my wardrobe over the years. Which is why I couldn’t resist this limited edition Orla Kiely print shopper (for Cancer Research Ltd – extra fashion brownie points) from Tesco. It cost four pounds. Let me repeat that: FOUR POUNDS. This may be the cheapest most beautiful thing I’ve bought in a decade. Go buy one now. Hurry!

Tesco’s limited edition Orla Kiely shopper for Cancer Research Ltd costs £4.00 and can be bought here:

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On Dorothy Parker’s birthday

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 photo-40 copy

Oh Dottie, you acerbic raconteur, you satirist, you writer, you alcofrolic. What fun it must have been to be part of your circle. But how you suffered. A lady born before her time. Would you have been happier in today’s (comparatively) more liberal time? Your acid wit does seem perfectly suited to the 140 character ninja chop of twitter. Doubtless you’d be up there with the twitterati. You’d have demolished X Factor and it’s ilk. Tonight I’ll raise a cocktail to you and, as I often do, savour some of your finest quips:

[When the phone rang]. “What fresh hell is this?”


“If you want to know what God thought of money, just look at those he gave it too.”


“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”


“Tell him I was too fucking busy– or vice versa.”


“If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.”


“That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can’t say ‘No’ in any of them.”


“Ducking for apples — change one letter and it’s the story of my life.”


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Impulse Buy: The Essential Oil Company’s Epsom Salts

| Impulse Buy, Uncategorized

 Epsom salts

I’m a writer. I have EDS III. My neck/shoulders/back/whole body is so sore it feels like someone’s been using me as a stress toy. Magnesium Sulphate a.k.a. Epsom Salts eases muscle tension. The brown paper bag packaging looks stylish, rather than clinical or medicinal in my bathroom. Magnesium Sulphate is often lacking in modern diets and… to be honest this had me at ‘eases muscle tension’. I dropped two cup’s worth under running bath water and soaked forever. I’m actually writing this from the bath. I’m never getting out. It feels so good.

The Essential Oil Company’s Epsom Salts 2kg bag costs £9.98 and can be purchased here.

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Why I love Coco Chanel, on her birthday

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Coco Chanel was perhaps not a nice woman. There are rumours of an abandoned child, and accusations about Nazi collaboration. Murky episodes that may or may not have been vital to her survival. But then the world already had plenty of nice women. Coco was different. She was a woman who challenged the status quo.

All too often when we think of Coco Chanel we think of boucle suits, pearls, and Karl Lagerfeld at the helm of the multinational Uber brand that carries her name. All of these things are part of her legacy, but she was also instrumental in liberating women. The Belle Époque era, when Coco started out as a seamstress, saw women constrained, restrained and weighed down by crinolines and whalebone corsets. Just as they had been for most of history. Coco thought this was nonsense, opting instead to dress like a Tom Boy.

Through Coco’s designs, often based on her own style, she pioneered: the discarding of corsets, women wearing trousers, and women cutting their hair short. Those more used to the current freedoms of expression we enjoy may view these as a trifling list of trends in the ever-changing game of fashion, but they signified monumental social change. They revolutionised the way women dressed. They revolutionised the way women were seen. They revolutionised the way women saw themselves.

Coco herself achieved something during her lifetime that was beyond most of her femal contempories’ grasp: she was a businesswoman. Financially independent. Unfettered. Her life spans a period in history when women were still viewed predominantly as ‘only’ wives and mothers. Mere decoration for a man’s arm. Coco helped free women from the shackles of society’s expectations. She gave women the (literal) freedom to run, jump and stride forwards. Those aren’t just a pair of slacks and a stripy jumper she’s wearing, they’re a political statement.

Happy Birthday, Coco.


Credit: Coco Chanel with dog from Baudot, Francois. A Century of Fashion London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.



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Review: Cowley Manor, Cowley, The Cotswolds

| Hotel and B&B Reviews


Breakfasting on the terrace, darling

 Cowley Manor, a grade 2 listed Italianate manor in Gloucestershire, was built in 1855 and belonged to the Horlicks family. It is now a contemporary luxury hotel with 30 bedrooms, set within 55 acres of glorious gardens. It is here that Charles Dodgson met a little girl called Alice. Inspired by her and the fantastical grounds he wrote, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


Hubby and I arrived at 2pm on a sunny Sunday. We were too early to check into our room, so we walked through the modern and quirkily designed reception, bar and lounge (oak panelling, cowhide seats, paper mache ‘stuffed’ animal heads on the wall) to have lunch on the terrace. We sat overlooking the tiered luscious lawn, which was sprinkled with daisies and laughing children playing croquet, and looked out at the twinkling lakes and the great sweeps of majestic trees. In the distance I could see couples enjoying picnics on sun loungers. Waiters delivered cocktails to those reclining on Fat Boy beanbags. As I don’t have friends in the aristocracy, or hang around with oil bazillionaires, I’ve never been able to sit as a guest and enjoy sumptuous surroundings like these. It was like staying in a National Trust property that had been given a Living Etc makeover. An array of brightly coloured Hunter wellies are provided for guests to go exploring.

We ordered lunch. A fish finger sandwich and triple cooked chips for me, and a crayfish sandwich for Hubby. A crayfish salad arrived, which Hubby, ever the diplomat, decided he’d keep. My fish finger sandwich showed up too, but no chips. A couple of minutes passed so I enquired after my potato snacks and asked for some ketchup. A further 10 minutes passed, during which my sauce-less sandwich grew cold, and the only chip I had was the one growing on my shoulder. Was this turning into Angela’s adventures in blunderland?

Flustered, friendly apologies, ketchup and some incredible tasting chips arrived from the kitchen and my hunger grumps were satiated. Cowley Manor threw off this shaky start and went from strength to strength for our two night stay.

We stayed in room 22, which is classified by Cowley Manor’s own rating system as “great”. It was huge. We had a small island for a bed, more designer armchairs, a desk, and enough electronic toys – flatscreen, iPod dock, CD/DVD player – to keep Hubby entertained. The minibar was stocked with a range of high-end treats, including popcorn and candyfloss in case you wanted a movie night. The bathroom housed two sinks, a cavernous bath surrounded by plentiful products, and a walk-in shower that was bigger than my entire en suite at home.


The bathroom. Credit: Cowley Manor

We walked to the local, The Green Dragon, for supper the first night (more traditional pub grub than gastro,  it’s a beautiful building with roaring fires, lovely staff and good value food). And we ate in Cowley Manor’s main restaurant, next to the window, overlooking the twilight gardens, on our second night. Locally sourced, fresh produce was cooked and served by knowledgeable staff. Tasty, without being mind blowing the food should easily satisfy most foodies. The cocktail and wine list also went down well.


Oh I do like to be beside the C-Side

During the day we hung out at the beautiful and modern C-Side Spa. A little bit of Ibiza in the Cotswolds. There’s an inside and an outside pool, and you can order drinks and food. I indulged further with a massage and a facial, both of which were exceptional. The skilled therapists dealt with what can be a tricky customer (me) with confidence and calm. I’d recently suffered the double blow of a neck dislocation and a rash caused by the hormone fight back my body had launched, but the therapists managed to sooth and repair me to my former self. Well worth the money.


It’s the little touches that make the biggest difference

As we sipped our wine, and played board games in the lounge that overlooked the lantern lit lawns I knew we’d be back. Hell, I’d move in if I could.

Cowley Manor: magnificently modern manor living. More please. 5/5

View Cowley Manor’s site here.

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Impulse Buy: Topshop’s Leopard Cutout Back BodyCon Dress

| Impulse Buy

 Topshop Dress

I don’t usually do animal print, but the colour popping blue of this dress won me over. I am a fashionista, hear me roar! It has a cutout back I imagine would keep the more svelte among you cool, but as I don’t want to share my back fat with the world (it doesn’t seem fair), I wore it with a black body underneath.

In the photo I’m posing (duckface) in vintage orange snakeskin pumps – oh how I wish I could still wear you! But I actually bought this to wear with my blue Nike high tops. My recent ill health means my feet currently have to be firmly flat on the ground, and in very attractive orthopaedic insoles. This dress fits in perfectly with both my sensible shoes and my current wardrobe vibe of 1990s children’s TV presenter. I styled it up with a (fake plastic) gold metal chain also from Topshop and an orange clutch from Zara. Up next I’ll be introducing Fun House, Round The Twist and Sabrina the Teenage Witch while making a lunchbox out of sticky back plastic. Orthopaedic footwear be damned, I’m still going to have fun with fashion!

Topshop’s Leopard CutoutBack BodyCon Dress costs £35.00 and is available to buy here.

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Reviewed: Bindon Bottom B&B, Lulworth Cove, Dorset

| Hotel and B&B Reviews


Lulworth Cove, a mere 5min stroll away

On the road down to Lulworth Cove, with a tricky car park to pull in and out of, is the semi-detached 19th Century Victorian house that is Bindon Bottom B&B. It’s efficiently and cheerfully run by Clive and Lisa, who were a font of useful information in the face of the numerous emails and special requests I made of them (I was travelling at strange times, in a split group party, with a walking stick).

The interiors of this grand proportioned house are a calming blend of neutral tones, vaporised aromatherapy oils and antique French furniture that is sourced from a local dealer. The dining room, with name painted pebbles to denote your room’s rotating allocation for the day, has a huge bay window that overlooks the cows grazing on The Purbeck hills. Lisa and Clive source the majority of their yummy organic breakfast ingredients locally. You select your cooked choice the evening before, and are also free to help yourself to a fine spread of cereal, fruit and juices. Don’t miss the Dorset chipolatas – perfect with a squeeze of organic ketchup.


View from bed in the Barrie Room

I stayed in the Barrie room, named after the Peter Pan author. Two large twin beds and organic bedding provided a beautiful nights sleep for my friend and I. Lisa and Clive have worked hard to ensure this B&B is among the best in the country (it was awarded a certificate of excellence by Tripadvisor 2013), providing little extras that make your stay truly special: full-size Neal’s Yard products in the bathroom, shortbread, flapjacks, and crisps on the tea and coffee tray, extra bottles of distilled water to hand, chocolate truffles next to your pillow at night, and a discrete box of every possible ‘essential’ you may have forgotten. The Barrie room’s ensuite didn’t have a bath, but the fluffy towels and powerful hot shower made up for that.


The Barrie Room. Credit: Bindon Bottom B&B Website

A helpful and interesting guide in the room not only told me about the local amenities, but also about the presumed links between Lulworth Cove and Barrie’s Neverland. There are striking similarities between the two. Inside the antique wardrobe I found the framed signature of the French madam who had originally commissioned the piece. This area, and this house, drips with history and Lisa and Clive have done their best to tease it out in a tasteful manner.

I only experienced two small moments of concern during my three night stay. The first was when Lisa and Clive were visibly reluctant to let my friend, and the two children she had with her (who’d been stuck in traffic for 5 hours in 36 degree Celsius heat), pop in to use the toilet. And the second was when our final breakfast was subtly interrupted to ask if we needed a taxi booking for us to leave. But, as this luxurious bolthole has cultivated a quiet, almost retreat atmosphere (and I was in my pyjamas, and hungover on the final day) I can forgive them for being protective of their balanced paradise. I hope to return with my partner for a blissful, relaxed break truly away from it.

Bindon Bottom B&B was recommended to my by the lovely team at Camp Bestival, as somewhere to stay local to Lulworth Castle. Garrison Car’s whizzed me too and from the castle in about 5 minutes. It’s a five minute stroll from the B&B to the pebble beach of Lulworth Cove, longer if you linger at the gift shops and cafes on route. Feeling energetic? Climb up the cliffs to view the natural rock formations of Durdle Door, a World Heritage Site and part of the Jurassic Coastline. It’s a stunning location for all ages.

Bindon Bottom B&B: Relaxed organic retreat in stunning surroundings. 4.9/5

View Bindon Bottom B&B’s site here.

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