Archive for August, 2011

August 31, 2011

Yorkshire 3 Peaks and a request.

Hello all,

This is a bit different to my usual posts, because it comes with a plea for money.

As you know, in my 35th year of life, I am undertaking a challenge to do 35 new things. Most of them are just for fun, or to try something to see if I might like to take it further. This one is different. On 10th September 2011, along with my husband, and my wonderful sister and brother in law, I will be climbing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. This is a 26 mile walk, to be completed in 12 hours or less, taking in the three largest peaks in the county : Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen Y Ghent.

I’m doing this, firstly because I’ve never done it before, so it counts as a challenge, but also to raise money for Bliss, the premature baby charity. On November 10th 2006, my daughter was born 10 weeks too soon. I had really severe pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome and so, to save our lives, she had to be delivered immediately. Weighing in at only 2lb 11oz, she spent the next nine weeks in the Neo-natal Unit at our local (and truly wonderful) St James’ University Hospital, Leeds.

Here she is, about a month after her birth – I didn’t want to show you the really scary photos.

We spent the whole time sitting by her incubator, and on Christmas Day we took in a giant sack of gifts for her from our amazing family and friends. On New Year’s Eve, we were in the hospital at midnight to show her the new year fireworks and share our wishes for the upcoming year with her.

Despite a couple of setbacks, she finally came home to us in January, weighing 5lb 4oz.

You can just about see her in the car seat!

It was the most terrifying time of our lives, throughout which we were supported by Bliss who helped us to cope with what was going on, both in the hospital and back at home. Thankfully, at the age of two, Eve was signed off by the Child Development Unit at the hospital and is now a beautiful, perfect and very bright four year old, about to start primary school.

So, it would be wonderful if you could support me in my fund-raising attempt to walk the Yorkshire 3 Peaks.

The JustGiving link is here:

I’ll be posting photographs and a story of the day here once it’s finished – assuming I get back in one piece!

Thank you so much.

August 30, 2011

Camping without the glamour.

Camping in Yorkshire, even in mid-summer, requires a certain amount of fortitude. Which, sadly I do not possess. Still, on Friday I found myself bound for North Yorkshire (only an hour away from home) for a long weekend’s worth of camping with my husband and the kids, planning to pitch the tent and stay for three nights. You know what they say about God laughing when you tell him your plans?

As we drove past the lovely forest cabins (with hot-tubs), past the caravans, past the premium pitches with hard standing and electric hook-ups, down to the standard pitches, the sky was already looking ominous. Roughly thirty seconds after the tent was put up, the heavens opened. For fourteen hours…

The children were terribly excited about the whole thing and by bedtime, had tired themselves out enough to fall asleep without much hassle. Unlike me. Freezing cold and unable to sleep, partly because of the knowledge that if I needed the bathroom in the night I had to get changed, put on wellies and a raincoat and trudge up through the quagmire of a field to the toilets, I lay awake in the tent, listening to the never-ending rain. As the night got colder, I added layer after layer of clothing. By 2am, I was wearing socks, leggings, two vests, a t-shirt, a sweater, a blanket and a pink fluffy hat borrowed from my daughter with rabbit ears and a pom-pom tail. David, also still awake, looked at the darkening pool of water above us – even though the tent was pitched fine, the sheer amount of water meant that it was struggling to stay watertight. He got up to try and disperse the water off the  tent. Which he did. Straight onto my head. As I lay in bed (now also wearing a towel) David recited tales from the adventures of Scott and Shackleton. Amazingly, I managed not to kill him, and by 3am, I was feeling distinctly warmer, thanks to the addition of my two year old son, who had woken up and would only settle back to sleep in my bed.

The following morning, ridiculously feeling like a survivor of some extreme expedition (the Scott tales must have lodged firmly in my brain) I watched as car after car failed to drive off the field, surrounded by groups of watching men muttering under their breath about how they would do it if they were driving. The idea of being marooned on the campsite field was making me pretty cross, so I was staggeringly grateful that David was the only one who managed it without a tractor pulling him out.

I asked Eve what she thought of camping in the rain. ‘Rubbish’, she replied. ‘Do you want to go home?’ ‘No!’ So another night was on the cards.

The day was much sunnier, and as we drove over the top of the purple heather-covered North York Moors and towards the sea, I was reminded that although Yorkshire on a bad day can be horrible, on a good day, there is truly nowhere on Earth more beautiful.

August 23, 2011

Dressing like my daughter: a new approach to colour.

My daughter likes to choose her own clothes. At the age of nearly five, she already has very definite ideas about what she wants to wear, and on the whole I do let her choose. The time is rapidly approaching for school uniform, where conformity beckons. It’s an interesting contrast, the truth that Britain is a nation of eccentric, unique and bold dressers and yet from a very young age, we find ourselves in uniform. Perhaps the former is a direct result of being subjected to the latter. Anyway, all I know is that at the age of four, my lovely daughter is braver in her clothing choices than I may ever have been.

Recent discussions around her outfit choices have made me realise how different our approach to dressing is. I try to persuade her to wear something that at least has some semblance of being a cohesive outfit. She, on the other hand, wants to wear every colour she can; clashing prints, fabrics and textures on a whim. Fancy dress every day, with the supreme sartorial self confidence that only a four year old in a tutu and wellies can possess.

She already appears to be a true British eccentric. Or perhaps she has seen these rather exquisite prints by the wonderful Greek designer Mary Katrantzou. Her work features bold, feminine but strong print and every piece seems already destined to be a priceless heirloom of the future. The boots are Louboutin for Mary Katrantzou, AW 2011. I particularly love the darker ones.

Mary Katrantzou prints

I like to think of myself as a classic dresser. I prefer to buy things that are not purely driven by any particular season, but those that are well made, plain, simple and stylish. After all, we do know that whilst fashion editors may well be extolling the virtues of the latest collections, many of them are sitting on the FROW wearing black. Unfortunately, the more I look at my wardrobe of black clothing, the more a few truths are coming to light:

1 – The simpler and plainer the clothing, the better quality it needs to be. Where there is nothing to catch the eye in the form of print or embellishment, the more you notice the quality of the fabric or the state of the tailoring, cut or seams. Which, for me, is a shame as it appears I spend most of the household clothing budget on my daughter given the extent of her wardrobe. Something that perhaps needs addressing!

2 – Every black is not the same. My wardrobe of classics, washed many times, left out to dry in the sun, or (at my house at least) accidentally left for the cat to sleep on, has become faded, dull and greying. The reason fashion editors can wear so much black, is that they obviously choose carefully and then look after the pieces better than I seem able to.

3 – Classic needs to have a twist. Otherwise, it can be ageing and (dare I say this?) dull. So, therefore, what it needs is something to lift it – a pop of colour, a print or an update on a traditional shape. Something that tells the world ‘I know what is current’ instead of, ‘I’ve dressed this way forever’ or ‘I cannot be bothered’. A printed scarf by Mary Katrantzou, in a world where I could afford such things, would be an ideal addition to my wardrobe.

On the strength of this, I have decided to embrace some more colour, to be bolder in my clothing choices and to try a few prints. In short, to dress a little more like a true British eccentric, my daughter…

August 22, 2011

35:35 Challenge update

I thought I’d just add a quick Challenge update here. Although I’ve not been writing a lot about it, I have been working hard on the Challenge.

On 10th September, I will be climbing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks; 26 miles of walking, with three significant climbs ( they’re not quite mountains, but challenging enough!) within 12 hours. I’ll be doing this to raise money for Bliss, the premature baby charity and will add a JustGiving link from this site in case anyone would like to support us.

In October comes Cycletta, a 40km women only bike ride around Tatton Park on the outskirts of Manchester. This is going to be particularly challenging for me, as it’s only recently that I’ve got back on a bike since a stupid childhood accident put me in hospital and put me off the bike for good. When I was younger, I used to ride my bike all the time. One particular day, I was riding down along, steep and gravelled hill from a family friend’s farm. The sun was shining, the wind was in my hair (no helmet in the eighties!) and riding downhill felt like I was flying. So, (and here comes the stupid part) to make it feel even more like I was flying;

I closed my eyes…

As you can imagine, moments later, I hit a massive rock in the middle of the road and shot off the side of the bike, into a ditch. Not my brightest moment, and until recently, the last time I rode a bike. So, Cycletta is a big challenge.

Following these two physical challenges come a few different ones. I am signing up for both a falconry session and a silversmithing course. Fashion  has long been important to me, and I have decided it’s time to make more of a practical leap, so silversmithing, and then some other fashion related course  may follow.

Along with carriage driving, which is something I’d love to try. Horses are a long term love. In fact my degree is a BSc Hons in Equine Science and Management ( which, as you can imagine, is terribly useful in the wider job market but still remains a highlight of my life) but riding is a source of frustration as my personality means I don’t ever want to devote the amount of time to one subject that it would truly take to become as accomplished as I’d like.

I’ve decided that my final undertaking, and a fitting end to the Challenge will be the flying. Previously, I asked which method of flying I should try and the result of the poll was hot air ballooning. So, I’ll be doing that next May or June as a final flourish to the year and hopefully as number 35 in my Challenge list!

August 19, 2011

Fragrance: part one

I’ve written recently about fragrance, and of the memories associated with it, but I’ve been reading ‘The Essence of Perfume’ by the incomparable Roja Dove and so my thoughts are still on the subject.

I had the great fortune to meet Roja last year and listen to him give a talk on fragrance, during which he tested us with a series of different scents on white paper strips. He also had with him the original series of bottles in a case from which Mme Coco Chanel chose number 5, giving rise to the perfume of the same name. As you might imagine, it was a great thrill to see them first hand. He is an incredible speaker, and has a great ability to hold an audience completely captivated. I could have listened to him all night.

The sense of smell is developed when we are young, so memories associated with certain smells are imprinted onto our minds. When we smell the same thing as adults, the memories return. This explains why I have a great fondness for the smell of crayons, sweaty horses, old books, mouldy Barbour jackets, cut hay and new trainers!

I have quite a number of books on perfume, one of which is ‘Perfumes The A- Z Guide, by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. It is, simply, one of the best, funniest and most entertaining books I have ever read. I highly recommend it.

Here is an extract of what they say about my beloved Chanel perfumes:

Bois des Iles: ‘ It is basically perfect and, though eighty years old, seems as ageless as everything Chanel did in those inventive years. If you think of all the best Chanel fragrances as little black dresses – sleek, dependable, perfectly proportioned – Boise des Iles is the one in cashmere’

Cuir de Russie: ‘ There have been many other fragrances called Cuir de Russie, every one either too sweet or too smoky. This one is the real deal, an undamaged monument of classical perfumery and the purest emanation of luxury ever captured in a bottle.’

So far, so perfect. (and, yes, for those of you who read my previous post, this is the Cuir de Russie post accident!)

What I’m interested in now, and what will form the next few posts on fragrance, is where my thoughts on other perfumes differ from the thoughts of others simply because of my memories of them.

So I am planning a series of posts about this, but I am really interested to know what are your favourite smells, fragrances, perfumes – and why?

‘Sit with someone and breathe in their scent and they give you one of the most beautiful of all gifts – the gift of memory. You may not have seen someone for years, but with one breath of their scent, the memories come flooding back, dreams are revived, love is rekindled.’ Roja Dove.

August 17, 2011

Stylish and sweet.

Fashions come and go with food as much as they do with skirt lengths or trouser widths.

The American muffin has never quite recovered from its unfortunate associations with the bit of untrained stomach hanging over the top of a waistband, now fetchingly referred to as a ‘muffin top’. We have moved on, through the cupcake, to the whoopie pie. I’m still a cupcake fan myself, although do prefer the name ‘fairy-cake’ or plain old ‘bun’, which must of course, be said with a Yorkshire accent for the correct effect.

One food that has never been unfashionable is the macaron. French, light and beautiful, they come in the colours of the rainbow and sophisticated flavours such as rose and pistachio. Parisian favourite Pierre Hermé is as much part of my annual Parisian pilgrimage as Chanel. The grande dame of the macaron, though, is of course, Ladurée. The company has several locations across Paris and now the you can order online from Harrods in the UK, making them a treat accessible for me on a more regular basis, hurrah! Although I’ve indulged in these beauties on many an occasion, I’ve never attempted to make one.

Until today.

It has taken two days (although a considerable part of that was leaving things to rest in the fridge) but I have finally finished my attempt to make the beautiful macaron. I used a recipe from Ladurée, which was published in the Paris edition of Stylist magazine. Ladurée Macaroons Citron / In This Week’s Issue / Stylist Magazine.

Although mine don’t quite look like the ones in the magazine, I’m still pretty pleased with them!

Macaron a la Margot and Barbara...

August 14, 2011

High Heels and Glitter

I am sitting here, surrounded by the September issues; the heavyweight glossy magazines marking the move into Autumn, which for the fashion industry are the most important issues of the year. Which is probably why they’d do for a weightlifting session, such is their combined size.

Although I do enjoy the summer for many things, when it comes to clothing, the Autumn/Winter collections are more my kind of thing. These are not the fripperies of summer, floral dresses and sandals. This is grown up dressing. Long wool coats, suiting, boots, structured handbags that you buy to last a lifetime. More expensive, yes, but ideally, made to last you a long time. Although it has to be said that I don’t  own enough clothes to be able to put many things away at the end of a season, (generally the movement to Autumn is marked by the adding of a layer on top of what I’m already wearing) there is something rather pleasant about the idea of buying something that you will cherish for a long while.

For me, that generally means accessories. Last year I bought a pair of Pedro Garcia ‘Piper’ shoeboots, which I have loved and worn lots.

I love Pedro Garcia shoes. The Spanish company is owned and run by the third generation of the Garcia family and prides itself on great craftsmanship alongside beautiful design. Although these have a slight platform, they are genuinely comfortable to wear, and I’ve successfully paired them with lots of different outfits.

One of the highlights for me from the A/W collections has been the shift in proportion in the shoes. For the past few years, apart from obvious exceptions such as the perennial gladiator sandal, we have seen ever more complicated, higher and architectural creations. Although beautiful to look at, they were getting to the point where it was impossible to see anyone, with the notable exceptions of Daphne Guinness and Lady Gaga, actually being able to wear them. There is nothing that reduces the appeal of a beautiful pair of shoes than watching someone fail to walk in them. We develop all kinds of odd stances, uncomfortable gaits and wobbles, thus reducing any sex appeal down to a comedy moment waiting to happen.

Plus, and this is an absolute essential for me, they are impossible to be late in. I am always late. Which means I am always doing a kind of little jog-like walk, as I rush to a work meeting, to catch a train or to school. So, I need a pair of shoes that I can wear when I’m running late. I can cope with a heel, as long as this means more of a classic stiletto heel, which this season are in abundance. After a bit of a search, I think I’ve found the perfect pair.

Pedro Garcia Xio glitter heeled pumps.

Again by Pedro Garcia, these are the Xio glitter pumps (available from The great simple shape is a lovely contrast to the Dorothy-esque sparkle and, given that most of my winter clothes are varying shades of black, they would be just the thing to lift both my outfit and my spirits. After all, who can be glum in glittery shoes?

August 13, 2011

Titanic Spa and Hamman massage.

This, although something I’ve not done before, still feels like rather an easy win for my 35:35 Challenge. I’ve decided that this is a good thing, for two reasons. Firstly, I have a heck of a lot of challenges to get through by June so it’s a good job that some of them are easy and secondly, the next few up are going to be significantly harder. Plus, the main reason I needed a massage in the first place was because of my very sore shoulders from all the Cycletta training I’ve been doing!

Titanic Spa is an Eco Spa in Linthwaite, near Huddersfield, built inside an old textile mill. As such, it’s a pretty imposing building to drive up to. Luckily the welcome, although a little chaotic due to the number of folk checking in, was warm and friendly. I’ve been before, but only for a day visit. This time, after a full day in the spa, we spent the night in one of the apartments. To make the best use of the amazingly high ceilings they have created a mezzanine floor for our bathroom and bedroom with a sitting room and kitchen underneath. If we’d known about the kitchen we would probably have brought extra food with us for breakfast the following morning. Although croissants and cereal is provided, I think my husband would have enjoyed a fry-up, Yorkshire bloke that he is!

The Spa itself is on the ground floor and comprises Club Titanic which is a gym (you can also become a member to use more regularly too) and a pool and sauna. The other main element to the spa is the Heat and Ice Experience together with lots of treatment rooms. The product lines used are of the highest quality; Elemis, Carita, Jessica and Decleor, plus the newly added organic line, Pinks Boutique. Three Degrees Hair Salon is located next to the reception, together with a store for you to purchase any of the products that you experienced during your treatments.

Lunch and dinner are served in the Bistro in the middle of the building, and my experience of the food was completely positive. Lunch is a buffet, with several salads, plus a meat or veggie main. If you stay overnight, you can eat a great two course evening meal, usually included as part of your package. Although, I have to confess, I ordered wine and pudding too…

After our arrival and an hour in the gym (more training!) and short while in the Heat and Ice Experience, it was time for my Hamman massage. The Hamman (or Hammam in Turkish) treatments are carried out in a private room off the Heat and Ice Experience, so they are at absolute humidity and are designed to compliment the time you are spending in the various steam and sauna rooms during your stay. As a qualified massage therapist, not only do I believe absolutely in the power of massage, I have high standards and expect to receive a great treatment. The one thing I cannot bear is too light a massage, I need to feel as though my muscles are really being manipulated properly. As my young, slender therapist introduced herself, I have to confess, I  was worried that she was going to be too light of touch for my liking. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. As I explained that my shoulders were really in need of a bit of work, she tailored the treatment to suit my needs.

Rather than the usual padded bench usually used in massage, Hamman treatments are given on a warm wooden plinth. The warmth of the wood helps ease your muscles, but it is somewhat harder to lie on, which is why these treatments are generally lighter than something like Swedish massage. However, thankfully, my shoulders were given a lovely deeper tissue massage too, which really helped to unknot them after too much uphill cycling. The treatment time was not long, only half an hour, but the effects were felt long after the massage had finished.

Overall, my experience of Titanic Spa was a very positive one. There were a couple of little niggles; the Ice Room not working and the Aromatherapy Room smelled like no essential oil I have ever come across, but these are not enough for me to think any less of it and everyone there seemed to be having just as good a time as we were! There are quite often offers to be had through various websites, which make it a great value stay and every treatment I have had there has been of the highest quality (particularly the Decleor Aromassage) so well worth the extra payments.

So, I recommend a visit. I am planning my next one very soon…

August 4, 2011

One, two, three, four…

The 35:35 Challenge is about to step up a gear, as a couple of bigger challenges are looming ever closer, Yorkshire 3 Peaks in September and then Cycletta in October.

For now, I am undertaking what can only loosely be called “training” for both of those, and trying to fit in a few smaller challenges along the way. It has recently dawned on me that in order to meet my self-imposed deadline I need to be doing about one a fortnight, which is not easy with a full time job and two small children!  Luckily, I have lots of support from my family which enables me to find a bit of free time, and some talented friends who are happy to help me try some new things. Or, they just enjoy watching me make a fool of myself… I’ll leave you to be the judge of that.

One of the things I have come to realise is that we all carry around beliefs with us that we consider to be the truths about who we are and what we can do. Sometimes this comes from the labels we were given during childhood – we were the sporty child or the academic one. Sometimes they are labels that we tell ourselves; that we can’t dance, or draw, run, play an instrument, cook. Whatever. What we seem to believe is that we should have some innate ability to do these things. I know that there are a few geniuses out there who are truly gifted. I remember my Granddad used to be able to pick up any instrument and get a decent tune out of it, whether he’d played it before or not. On a somewhat grander scale, there are sports people, musicians, scientists and writers who seem to be effortlessly brilliant. But for the rest of us mere mortals, one fact remains true. The reason we cannot do something is not because we are useless, it is because we have never been taught how. Even the best of us get better with tuition. The more you practice, the luckier you get. So what if, instead of saying ‘I can’t do that’ and believing it to be the full stop to the discussion, we ask to be taught how?

This is the premise behind much of what my challenge is about, and it has led to the first rumblings of a plan. I do love a plan. How many of us have wanted to try something but not known where to start? Or have been too frightened of making a fool of ourselves? Or thought that it was too late, that time had passed us by? What if you could try something out, just dip your toe in, to see how you get on, in a positive, supportive environment, surrounded by people just like you? Would you try then? Let me know.

In this spirit, my latest challenge has been to play the drums. Well, count to four, whilst attempting to keep some kind of rhythm, anyway. It is at this point I must thank my lovely friend Hillary who not only attempted to teach me this, but didn’t laugh at my attempts and provided sustenance in the form of cake. See, this is what I mean about a supportive environment…

Anyway, we started with a quick tour of the drum kit – an electric one in this case, much easier if you have neighbours, plus they are somewhat smaller. Then Hillary went on to try and teach me to basically do three things at once, which you’d think I’d be used to, what with being a mother, but it’s pretty tricky.

We spent the best part of half a day just playing around, me being utterly terrible and Hillary putting up with me with lots of good humour and it was GREAT. I left with the buzzy feeling like the one I’d had at the Northern Ballet which set me off on this challenge in the first place. We finished with an attempt at a bit of White Stripes (Meg, you have nothing to fear…) and I now have such a desire to try again that I was actually in a music store yesterday pricing up drumkits. Which would probably have to live on the allotment, so for now, I am searching for music teachers.

Here's the proof!

I do have a short film, showing how dreadful I was, and how much it didn’t matter, but I’ll save it for a rainy day…