Thursday, 18 July 2013


Every so often I stumble upon a new blog (new to me rather than new to the blogosphere) which so hooks me, that I become a little obsessed and stalkerish about it.

The first one that I found, and which opened up the whole world of blogging to me (I know, I'm a little behind the times!) was Cherry Menlove. I found I couldn't get enough of it, and had to read all of Cherry's back posts. I have found her blog inspirational, as unlike many, often US-based, home & interiors style blogs, she doesn't have an unlimited budget. Everything she and her husband does to their home, is done on a tight budget, using what they already have and mixing Ikea basics with junk-shop finds etc. Cherry is also totally self-taught in everything from sewing to cooking, which is pretty amazing considering that she now runs a baking school from her home and has had a book published which includes recipes and craft how-to's. Her photography is beautiful too. How she accomplishes what she does as well as look after her 3 year old twins, I'll never know. I love her writing style, which reminds me a little of Nigella - that cosy way of writing, as if she is sitting next to you having a chat. She is very honest, and seems to hold very little about her life and family back (something which she has been criticised about), which is so very refreshing. I have been inspired by a lot of what Cherry has done to her home, and her love of all things white.

My open kitchen shelves - inspired by Cherry's here!
  I found Cherry a year or two ago, but in the last week have found two more which I know I am going to get totally hooked on! The first one is Young House Love. I have only just to started to delve into their back posts, but what I have seen so far is amazing. The transformations they have made to their homes is truly astounding. And for every project, they photograph it as they go along and include step-by-step instructions. I'm just in awe of what they accomplish whilst having a 3 year old under their feet too! Again, I love their writing style. What makes this blog is different is that it is a husband and wife team, and they take turns in writing the posts. A feature I have just discovered on their blog is "House Crash", where they give a tour around someone else's house, pointing out great style tips. I'm certain I will be getting lots of home makeover inspiration from John and Sherry.

The final blog that I recently discovered (yesterday in fact!) is Kate's Creative Space. A beautiful looking blog, full of fantastic home-made things for her 3 year old son (checkout this homemade hardware store!!) I am hooked already, especially on the posts about their house makeover. They have recently moved to a crumbling old house and are slowly renovating it. The couple of reveals of rooms they have finished are totally amazing, and I can only drool over the pictures and try and aspire to that perfection! It's great that this is a UK-based blog, which means I can take note of paint colours, suppliers etc. This is one of those blogs where you want to hate the person writing it, as they are just a little bit too perfect in every way, but instead I have really warmed to her. She comes across as being very human and down to earth, yet the stuff she makes is phenomenal! I have been pinning her stuff on pinterest like crazy!

So now I have found some new reasons not to do all the things on my to-do list - instead of cracking on with my own house makeover and renovation, I'll be reading about other people's instead!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A Blissful Child-free Weekend Part II

The weekend before last, I was lucky enough to enjoy another child-free weekend away! What on earth is going on?? Two weekends away from the children in the last 2 months, after 6 years of never having left them hardly??

This time is was to celebrate husband's 40th birthday. His birthday was back in May, but this was the first available booking I could get for the restaurant he has wanted to go to for years. My original plan for his birthday celebration was to take him to Villa Park (he's a life long Aston Villa supporter!) to be wined and dined in their restaurant, have a guided tour and a meet and greet with some old players, before watching Villa v. Sunderland. It was costing a small fortune, but I knew he would absolutely love it (not sure I was looking forward it too much though, as I'm not really into football, and the last time that husband had taken me to see Villa play I'd fallen asleep!!). I kept the whole thing a surprise and was looking forward to seeing his reaction when he found out where we were going. A few weeks before the event though, I got a phone call to tell me that the match had been moved to the Monday night and did I still want the hospitality package. Obviously, I had to cancel and I was totally gutted! What on earth I could I arrange now at short notice that would be anywhere near as good as Villa? After wracking my brains a little, I remembered that Husband has been longing to go to Purnell's Restaurant in Birmingham, ever since he saw Glynn Purnell on the first series of the Great British Menu. As a fellow Brummie, he loved Glynn and the look of his culinary creations. Being a michelin starred restaurant however, it gets booked up way in advance.

And so this is why we had to celebrate Husband's birthday in July instead of May. Our good friends (the one who I went away on my last child-free weekend with) offered to have the boys for us for the weekend, so I booked a nice hotel in Birmingham city centre, close to the Bullring, for a weekend of shopping, eating and drinking.

The hotel I booked was Hotel La Tour. I had originally wanted to stay at Malmaison at The Mailbox, but after reading some recent reviews on Tripadvisor saying that it was looking a bit shabby and could do with a re-furb, I opted for a newer hotel which had excellent reviews. And I was glad I did. Hotel La Tour is a five minute walk from the Bullring and all the shops. It is a lovely new, modern hotel with everything absolutely spotless. We didn't eat at the hotel at all, so can't vouch for the standard of the food, but the cocktails were good! The rooms are lovely, with fancy touch-screen lighting controls and the most fantastic shower. And at only £85 for the room for the night for a 4 star hotel, I will defintely be staying there again.

Cocktails at the hotel

The weather was amazing - the start of the really hot spell we have been having. And we shopped 'til we dropped! The sales had all just started, and we got loads of great bargains. I have to confess that my converse addiction took hold and I succombed to buying 3 - yes 3! - new pairs (you can read about my Converse addiction here). I even managed to talk Husband into buying a pair on the sale - green ones like he originally said he would get. He wore them on Sunday and LOVES them! Result!

Before we had children, I remember shopping trips with Husband as being stressful events often involving bickering and stroppiness (him, not me!), and something that we avoided if possible, unless it was Christmas or something! This time, it was positively blissful! We glided around the shops perusing the sales rails at our leisure - no screaming, fighting kids, no need to carry bags of snacks/drinks/bribery with us, and no need to go into any toy or child-friendly shops! We even skipped lunch in favour of a coffee and more shopping time!

Our booking at Purnell's was at 7pm, and we were really excited about it. I can tell you, we were not disappointed! We opted for the 9-course Purnell's Tour which included courses entitled 'Emotions of cheese and pineapple on sticks "Soixante-dix"' and 'Burnt English custard egg suprise'. That last one was the one he won the dessert course on the Great British Menu with. All of the food was amazing, apart from the amuse bouche, which Husband said tasted like a leek and potato cup-a-soup! We got chatting to one of the waitresses who was a brummie (a lot of the staff were French-sounding), and explained that it was Husband's birthday and he was so pleased be eating there. She promptly returned from the kitchen with a signed menu - Glynn Purnell was actually in the kitchen cooking that night. Husband was chuffed to bits!

Burnt English custard egg surprise

The signed menu

Shortly afterwards, the man himself dashed out of the kitchen over to our table to shake hands with Husband and wish him a happy birthday! Husband was even more chuffed! So much so, that we ordered another bottle of wine! I was starting to lose track of courses by now, after cocktails at the hotel, followed by a vodka martini as an aperitif and then wine, but hey, we could have a lie-in the next morning!

At the end of our fantastic meal, Husband sent a note to the kitchen telling the chef how much we'd enjoyed the food and service, and asked if it would be possible for Glynn to come out and have a picture taken. Despite being flat out in the middle of service, he duly popped out for a photo, which made Husband's day!

Glynn Purnell and Husband

Needless to say, neither of us felt on top form the next morning! The plan had been to do some more shopping and have a leisurely lunch before heading back to collect the boys. After eventually getting some breakfast at Cote Brasserie (for free, after such appalling service and having to repeatedly complain and when the food finally came, send it back as it was burnt!!), and a wander around The Mailbox (a waste of time - most of the retail unit are empty, so don't bother going there), we decided we may as well head for home and watch Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final instead. The boys hadn't missed us at all, as they were having so much fun with their friends, and didn't want to come home!

 Murray's win at Wimbledon really was the most fantastic end to a wonderful weekend.

Me and the old man!

Monday, 1 July 2013

House porn

I have always been slightly addicted to magazines. My whole family are. My habit was started as a small child when my sister and I had a subscription to Twinkle magazine. This later turned into Girl magazine, followed by Just Seventeen, Looks and finally Cosmopolitan - all paid for by good old Dad!

twinkle    girl teen magazine 1988 may 4    Just seventeen December 1988   looks magazine cover 1992 december

My dad himself has several magazine subscriptions on the go - Farmers Weekly, Tractor & Machinery and Autoexpress (can you tell he's a farmer??). 

My magazine habit continues to cost me a small fortune, the title and genre of magazine changing to reflect what is happening in my life. Once I met my future husband, all the Cosmos, Company's, Marie Claire's stopped (I no longer needed to read about how to find my perfect man!), to be replaced by wedding magazines! When we bought our first house, I discovered the world of home decor magazines, and when I got pregnant with our first child, our magazine rack became filled with the likes of Mother and Baby, Prima Baby and Junior magazine!

Since moving house, I have been well and truly sucked back into the world of house porn. Except this time, instead of Living Etc and House Beautiful, I have been seduced by the decidedly more glossy The English Home, Country Homes & Interiors and Period Homes. These magazines have some beautiful period properties featured, and over the last 18 months I have been sucking up all the beautiful pictures to try to get some inspiration for our home.

    The English Home - April 2011 (UK)   

Recently however, I have started to get more and more annoyed and disillusioned with these magazines. I have realised that the homes featured are all owned by people in the "business" ie interior designers, architects, property developers, antiques dealers, interiors shop owners etc, so not "normal" people who have done their house out nicely.

They all also seem to have had unlimited budgets, and vast arrays of antique family heirlooms in the shape of 12-seater dining tables and chairs, grandfather clocks, dressers, dressing tables etc. I queried it with my mum as to why we have no family antiques, and she said that Granny had chucked then all out in the 60s as they were "nasty, old dark wood" or "old-fashioned"! So gone are all the beautiful old oil lamps that Mum remembers from her childhood, the brass bed-steads, scrubbed pine tables, mahogany chests - basically everything that you see filling antiques emporiums these days, with a hefty price-tag attached. Whenever I look around an antique shop with my Mum, practically every item is something she remembers them having at home when she was growing up. All gone!

But apart from the lack of ordinary people in these features, the most annoying thing, and something that I have only just noticed, is the fact that these homes don't look lived in. They look too perfect. The biggest clue, is the fact that there are no televisions! I've been struggling with the layout in our drawing room, and had been looking to my magazines for help. All the rooms shown are perfectly laid out - and here's the important bit - around the fireplace which is the focal point of the room. The problem we have is that we have the focal point of the fireplace but also a bloody great flat screen TV parked in the corner. If I position the furniture neatly around the fireplace like in the magazines, it's impossible to watch telly comfortably. If I position the furniture so that all seating can watch telly, it just looks all wrong. 

Now, I don't believe that all these people featured in the magazines don't own TVs. I've realised that the photos are totally staged for the magazine. In our room we have extension leads trailing across the room, in order to plug in lamps where you actually need them. In the magazines, they have fabulous lamps on beautiful antique tables behind the sofas, but with no evidence of the power cables anywhere! I can only assume the lamps have been popped there for the photo.

I have probably been hugely naive in thinking that these were real people showing off their real homes. I did wonder why there was never any mention of the more practical stuff, like how they heat their 8 bedroom Georgian Manor house when it is -5 outside (we know how hard it is to heat an old house!), and the small fortune it took to re-wire the house. The realisation that the photos are staged for the magazine has really taken the shine off my enjoyment of these magazines, and leaves me sagging a little at the thought of never being able to make our house look as lovely as those.

So are these magazines to home-owners, what the glossy fashion mags are to teenage girls - full of totally false, staged and unrealistic photos, that make the normal folk who read them feel unworthy and lacking?

Or are they purely just house porn - to be read and enjoyed for the beautiful pictures and items shown in them, allowing the reader a little escapism and fantasism, to be then thrown to one side in order to get on with real life and the true realities of living in an old, money-pit of a house!