Thursday, 8 November 2012

A stay at the Lainston House Hotel and a trip to Winchester

I've been craving the opportunity to get out of London recently. I dream of the open road. Unfortunately, between my job and the other half's crazy project schedule plus mutual fiscal control issues, it hasn't really been possible.

But last weekend I was determined to escape. We had a car at our disposal, we had a bit of money for once and we had at least a day and a half with no obligations.

Faced with all this freedom, neither of us had any idea where to go. In the end we settled on Winchester because I'd been there briefly for work and thought it would merit a re-visit with a bit more time to actually see the town. It's very pretty with lots of history - did you know Winchester was once the centre of England's political power? - and wasn't too far to drive.

But we still had no idea where to stay - staying in a Travelodge-style hotel wasn't really an option. I needed something nice, rather than something that just was. And then my debit card got suspended, so we couldn't book anything online ruling out lots of bargain options.

In the end we settled on the Lainston House Hotel mainly because it looked nice, still had a room available and didn't mind if we turned up late and paid in cash.
The hotel was formerly a country house for one of England's many landed families and the main structure dates back to the 17th century. It's set in 63 acres of land and comes complete with it's very own ruins - a 12th century chapel from an earlier house on the same site. Sounds nice, doesn't it? It looks very pretty too and we were quite excited as we drove up the long, winding approach road.

Approaching the hotel from the car park
However, the room they initially put us in wasn't really worth the £150+ we paid. It was at the very end of the farthest corridor from the main building and felt small and dated. And the bathroom was a bit too all-singing all-dancing - there were coloured lights that moved and changed around the baths and in the shower. And a TV at the end of the bath.
Not really my idea of luxury so we asked to see another room which was pretty similar. However, the third room they showed us was much more what we'd been expecting - big high ceiling, lots of dark wood, shuttered windows overlooking the approach, four poster bed, roll top bath. Really nice.

Aside from the small mound of dead flies by each window - which were quickly dealt with - and a short fire alarm interlude.
Lovely collection of dead flies
The staff were polite and accommodating despite having been asked to show us three different rooms when we'd arrived after 9.30pm. Although I did find it a bit disquieting that we were initially guided to our room by a member of staff who carried our bags, which really wasn't necessary, and then actually waited in the room to be tipped - I haven't experienced that outside of the US before. Is it just me or is that unusual and a bit odd in a British hotel?
The room came with an iPhone/iPod dock so we could play our own music and even set an alarm for the morning via our phones. And the bed was blissfully large and sink-into-able with lots of good deep pillows. Rather than a 'do not disturb' sign, they give you a stuffed owl to put outside your door, which was an odd touch.
I really can't sing the praises of the bathroom enough. The toiletries provided all smelled good and I got up early to have both a wonderful shower and a lazy bath in the morning - I couldn't resist trying them both out!
I was exceedingly happy to walk into the bathroom and find this
Morning bath, complete with complementary copy of the Independent
Breakfast was nothing special - perfectly fine. But the views down through the grounds from the dining room were lovely.
Tarted up a little courtesy of Instagram
We had a good ramble around after we'd eaten, exploring the ruined chapel next to the hotel and examining the slightly grown over outdoor chess set, and then into the hotel's own kitchen garden which provides some of the fresh produce for the kitchen (although possibly not at this time of year as it looked a bit sparse). Plus the added thrill of an aviary full of falcons! It turns out that the falconry is the baby of former cricketer Billy Taylor (and his lovely dog) who has set up a residency at Lainston with his collection of birds of prey. If you fancy it you can even book a day's hunting with the falcons. And there were also owls, which I love, and a golden eagle called Anna.

The chapel

And then we drove off for an amble around Winchester, taking in the ruins of the castle and learning what a sally port was and then visiting the Winchester City Museum which is surprisingly good and the perfect size (quite small). And then we took in the Cathedral and had a bite to eat before driving home. It was only a day but it was enough to feel like we'd been away and blow a bit of the London smog out of my brain.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Beauty purchases: Monu Moisture Rich Collagen Cream review

I first tried this moisturiser by Monu when it came as part of a Glossy Box package. You may have already heard of Glossy Box - it's a sort of beauty delivery service that you can subscribe to. Pay a small monthly fee and get a box of surprises delivered to your door every month.

I signed up for a little while but I stopped being able to justify the expense when the products weren't that fantastic for a couple of months in a row. It can be a bit hit and miss and I always have quite high expectations. However, in the early months of my subscription I did get sent some good things. This moisturiser was definitely the best.

I have difficult skin - it gets very tight and dry thanks to the hard water we have in London but it also clogs up very easily and is prone to a bit of oiliness around the t-zone. In the past I'd always veered towards light, oil-free moisturisers as anything rich seemed to bring on the breakouts and clog up my pores almost over night.
But having chatted to a beauty therapist during a complimentary makeover at one of the concessions in John Lewis, it became clear that I needed to find something rich that worked because my skin was not very happy. I tried various different serums and all that jazz, but a good basic moisturiser is really the key.
And then this came along.

The blurb on the back says: "A rich, luxurious cream to relieve dryness and smooth fine lines."

It claims to contain rose and geranium essential oil to soothe the skin; evening primes and blackcurrant seed oils with fatty acids to repair skin lipids; shea butter and sodium hyaluronate to improve skin's barrier function; natural betaines (if you understand the information at the link please can you put it in layman's terms for me?) to stimulate the skin's hydration process; and plant flavonoids with anti-oxidant action to help prevent pre-mature [sic] ageing.

Honestly, I don't know or really care what half of that is about. Nor do I really need all that anti-ageing mumbo jumbo. But it really does work!

When I use it regularly, I don't find myself absent-mindedly scratching at my face as my skin grows tight and itchy thanks to the crazy air condition/heating combo at the office. And I tend to develop fewer spots and blackheads.

The packaging isn't hugely inspiring, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for on the inside. It even smells nice.

This is the first time I've bought the same moisturiser more than once. I tried something else in the interim between running out of the first tube and buying the second and the difference was really noticeable.

At the moment it seems to only be available online directly from Monu and a couple of other reliable online beauty outlets

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Doris Duke - I'm a loser

Back when I was at journalism school, one of our coursework assignments was to write a short blurb for a fictional Top 50 of overlooked album gems for Q Magazine.
At the time I had just discovered Doris Duke.
The record was one of those 80's vinyl re-issues of which my dad bought many. Thin folder after thin folder of seriously classic rhythm and blues, soul (in the true musical sense of the word) and jazz.When I was a baby I probably heard them all, but finding something for yourself makes you listen differently.
I had just bought myself a vintage 60's record player at the car boot sale for £20 and spent days and days going through my dad's record collection.
I listened to albums by The Spaniels and Slim and Slam - familiar from a much-loved compilation tape my mum made for me that I listened to for years before my brother accidentaly recorded over bits of it.
And I found plenty of new stuff, some of which wasn't worth bothering with. I learnt a lot about music from my dad, but his taste has always been ecclectic to the extreme and some of his records are just too weird for me.
But discovering Doris Duke was a revelation. She was raw in a way I completely understood. The other great female singers like Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone, with their astounding voices and great swells of anger and tenderness, had always felt a bit distant. But Doris Duke felt close for some reason I couldn't pin down. Perhaps it was just because this was a singer I was able to discover for myself, who hadn't been tainted by advertising rights, film soundtracks, dodgy tributes or general overexposure. 
For about three weeks I was completely obsessed. And then I reached the point where I had overplayed her and the obsession quickly faded. I don't know if anyone needs to listen to that much raw emotion on a regular basis however well it's expressed. And so I kind of put Doris to one side.
Sometimes though, it seems like there's a conspiracy to make you remember something you shouldn't have forgotten. I walked past an open door and heard a snippet of my favourite of her songs, Feet start walking. A couple of days later I searched for it on Youtube and immersed myself in the comfort blanket of her anger.
And then today I was looking through my old emails and uncovered that bit of coursework.
Reading my old writing aways makes me cringe, but here it is:

I’m A Loser
Doris Duke (Canyon) 1970

Occasionally an album gets forgotten through no fault of its own. I’m A Loser was described as one of the greatest ever soul albums on release but the distributing record label, Canyon, quickly collapsed, denying Doris Duke commercial success and a rightful place in the pantheon of soul sisters.

Born Doris Curry in 1943, Duke cut her teeth in gospel groups before she found herself singing back-up vocals for, among others, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Nina Simone. Her own album would prove to be a lyrically rawer affair than any of these female vocalists had delivered.

Teaming up with prolific songwriter and producer Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams, Doris found a new voice. Even now, the bitterly confessional and self-deprecating style of songs like “He’s Gone”, “Feet Start Walking” and “I Don’t Care Anymore” is a shock.

The single, To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman), made the billboard charts in the US. Critic Dave Godin, the man behind the success of soul in the UK, called the album the finest soul record of all time. Doris went on to record another album with Swamp Dogg on the Mankind label but nothing has been heard from her since 1981.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Tweed Run London 2012 - Fortnum & Mason hampers, handmade tweed capes and Graham Coxon

Just over a week ago on May 6th I took part in the London Tweed Run.

For those not in the know, the Tweed Run is an annual event that involves gathering together a large group of vintage bike enthusiasts and people who enjoy a good opportunity to dress up and going on a 15 mile bike ride around some of the more central parts of London.
We gathered in front of the Albert Memorial for a group photograph before setting off and then discovered that the other half of the gorup were doing the same thing on the other side of the Albert Hall...
This was the fourth Tweed Run - there were two last year but one was sponsored by Ralph Lauren's Rugby brand and I'm not sure if it counts. I've wanted to part of it since seeing pictures of the first one and this year was lucky enough to be invited as a friend as her plus one.

At the moment though, I do not own a bike. A plan was hatched to borrow my mothers 1980s ladies road bike, which she has recently had retrofitted with an electic motor. It is not a thing of beauty, but it is reliable. For someone as unfit as I am the battery was also welcome back up plan for the ride home. The route was a closely guarded secret so we had no idea how far from home we would all end up.

For an event as style conscious as the Tweed Run, something had to be done about the bike. So we decorated it. Luckily the Jubillee celebrations are almost upon us and there is a proliferation of Union Jack paraphenalia in Poundland. We wrapped the bike frame in some blush coloured lace found in mum's attic and attached fake flowers to it using cable ties. Union Jack cushion covers were attached to the rack at the back, to which we also added my Fortnum & Mason hamper, which was filled with an anorak in case of rain, a blanket, a large can of hairspray and a few other useful bits and pieces.

The bike mid-decoration
The wire front basket, which contains the bike's battery in its hideous black vinyl bag, was disguised with more lace and flowers and then wrapped up with a big red organza bow, treading that very fine line between ebullient and bad taste.

The bike in action - picture via the Tweed Run Facebook page
Thankfully none of this fell off during the ride, which took us from Kensington through Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly, Parliament and then to the Imperial War Museum for a very welcome tea break complete with games and a good old fashioned tombola.

Then through the back streets of Bermondsey and back over the river via Tower Bridge, past St Pauls and the bells rang out (a really special moment for most of us I think) and then up to Clerkenwell for whisky and gingers at the very friendly but slightly overwhelmed The Blacksmith and Toffeemaker pub.

Along the way we were joined by Graham Coxon, who carried a toy pig in his bicycle basket - as you do - and then presented the awards for best dressed man and woman (dapper dame) at the pub.

The line up for dapper dame
Graham Coxon presents the award to Pandora, a truly dseserving winner whose outfit was entirely homemade!
I was extremely proud to win the award for best dressed bike! I was presented with a beautiful brown leather saddle bag by the charming founder of Pashley Bikes. It's my favourite ever trophy (it helps that it smells like a tack room - one of my all time favourite scents).

Receiving my prize! Image via the Tweed Run Facebook page
But it's hard to decide what the best part of the day actually was (it certainly wasn't discovering I had forgotten my door key and having to ride up to Nottinghill to get the spare pair from the boy - my poor aching thighs were on the verge of revolt by that point).

As we cycled up the mall - a 400 strong flotilla of English eccentrics, vintage enthusiasts and bike nerds - I realised I'd never seen so many people in London look so happy. The tourists looked like Christmas had come early, and it did actually feel a little like that. Bus and taxi drivers suspended their default grumpiness and a few of them actually laughed, despite having to wait for us to pass. It probably helped that a lot of the men doffed their hats as the cycled past to say thank you.

I can honestly say that I haven't done something that joyful in a long time - and certainly never had so much fun on a bike. And I also used the run as a chance to raise some money for my charity of choice - Safe Haven Childrens Trust. You can still donate via my JustGiving page if you would like to help.

I didn't take many photos on the acual ride - I was too busy enjoying myself - but here's a few I snapped on the old iPhone at the initial gatheirng point just off Exhibition Road.

The chap on the left won the best dressed male category
I've been slightly reliving the whole experience over the past few days by reading everyone else's blogs (the one that sums it up best for me is by Jenni Yesterday) and catching up with all the Tweets from the day. I've put them all together using Storify, which has turned the whole thing into a Tweed Run live blog complete with pictures so you can get a bit of a sense of how it all unfolded if you're interested.There are also some rather jolly images on the Tweed Run Facebook page.

My outfit (on the left):

Tweed jacket by Armani (found at Kilburn car boot sale)
Waxed cotton circle skirt by River Island
Vintage silk shirt (found at Traid in Kilburn)
Vintage fox fur stole  found at Wills Moody Jumble Sale)
Vintage Cacharel diamante brooch (via eBay)
Hair bow (found at Wills Moody Jumble Sale)
Brogues by Office (found at Kilburn car boot sale)

All bike decorations found at Poundland and Harlesden and Kilburn car boot sales

p.s. If you spot any pictures of me in full get up during your web browsing, please let me know!

Friday, 13 January 2012

It's been a while...

Since I last blogged, many important things have happened. But let's not dwell on that. It's a new year and, really, it can't possibly be much more cataclysmic than 2011. Unless, of course, the Mayans were right.
I did abandon my blog last year. I have missed it and I apologise to anyone else who might have missed it too if they exist. I was busy having a full time job, worrying about the world, dealing with real life and doing this:
Yes, it was two months ago, but it still feels pretty amazing. And I met Caitlin Moran!
I also took up swing dancing. This is definitely not the same thing as swinging. There is no pampas grass in my front garden thank you very much. That joke is getting very, very old now.
I've dabbled with dancing once or twice before but this is the longest I've ever stuck with it and it feels like it's a permanent part of my life now. And dancing makes me happy. When I got home after my last lesson the boy said I was 'glowing'.
What all this has meant is that I've had no time to spend hours trawling fashion blogs and watching and BoF like a hawk for gossipy tidbits, shows and news. I haven't really had the energy to trawl online retailers to find content for 'best of the sales' posts or keep up to date on new arrivals - frankly after a while it just gets depressing because I can afford precisely none of it.
I do, however, still find the time to trawl charity shops, designer exchanges and car boot sales and I still retreat to Liberty to stroke the lovely things after a difficult week.
So this year, my blog is being revived. I made myself a New Year's resolution and I am going to at least make an attempt to stick to it by posting a minimum of once a week. The content may be a little more varied. I'll be posting about the hunt for the perfect 30s and 40s dance outfits - be they vintage or repro or modern-with-a-flavour-of (Miu Miu is on the wish list at the moment) - and about learning new ways to burn my hair with curling tongs. I'll be reviving the £10 challenge because it's fun, although I still hate pictures of me. I'll also be talking about non-clothing related stuff occasionally; books I'm reading, new recipes, dancing and other things I like. But there'll still be the occasional post on new collections, things in the shops and wish lists.

MMmmmmmmmiu miu - yes please! (image via
Finally, just thought you should know that I've sort of given up smoking and am putting aside the money I would usually spend on cigarettes (roughly £10 a week at current prices I think, although I did save by turning to roll ups for a while) as I'm trying to save up for my dream bag - a Mulberry Bayswater in black. I've wanted one for so long now that I've learnt to ignore the litle pangs of jealousy that I get whenever I see someone with one on the tube. But recently one of my favourite people was given one. Yes, given. Just like that. And I can't handle it anymore. So I've made buying one - the real thing - one of my other New Year's resolutions. And I'm selling a lot of my old stuff on eBay to raise further funds towards it.

Drool. (image via
I want to walk into Liberty and pay in cash. Wish me luck!