Friday, 28 February 2014

Four and a half highlights of London (for tourists)

So a wee while ago I posted about planning a visit to the UK and kind of dissed London. The lovely Duchesse mentioned that I was possibly being a little unfair as it is one of the great cities of the world. So I thought I'd let you know about some of my favourite places of visit and things to do while in London town.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, LondonThe V & A
I've written before about how much I love this place. It's very me. A repository of the most beautiful things made by people. My favourite bits are the dresses and jewellery but even things you think won't be interesting like say 'ironwork' have amazing examples of craftsmanship and are nicely displayed with information to put them in context.

On a practical note, unlike the nearby Science museum, I've never seen a queue to get into the V & A and there's always room to move inside. The temporary exhibitions like the recent David Bowie retrospective get very busy with sold out shows and timed entry, but there's plenty to look at without bothering with them.

Also, the tearooms are worth a visit of their own accord. Squeeze into the William Morris room (you might have to share a table) and enjoy the view with your Devonshire tea. Admission is free.

Kew Gardens
I've only been once so far, but it was one of the highlights of an earlier visit to England. Kew Gardens are huge and varied and just beautiful. I saw two and a half squirrels (the half is a probable but not definite sighting). The little shops and tea rooms are excellent. It's not particularly cheap to get in, but it is a whole day's entertainment. Did you know there were historic buildings there as well as all the lovely garden stuff? I recommend having a good look at the Royal Palace where King George III was held during his periods of 'madness'. 

The Wallace Collection art gallery, London
The Wallace Collection
This is my top recommendation of all the huge and amazing art galleries in London - largely because it's not so huge! Also, it's in a lovely old building and does have a good collection of art and object d'art. Admission is free.

Paddle boats in Regent's Park, London
 Regent's Park
Mainly the Boating Lake and the squirrels. There are very fat, tame squirrels to be seen in Regent's Park which is nice if you're from somewhere lacking in the squirrel department. Also, you can (and should) hire pedalo boats and paddle about the Boating Lake, admiring the different types of water fowl and generally taking the air. 

One last recommendation - check what's on and book something that takes your fancy. It could be a concert at the O2 arena, some theatre at Shakespeare's Globe (highly recommended if you're into that sort of thing), opera, stand up comedy, a big flashy musical... there is always so much going on and while a lot of it is quite expensive, it is amazing.

So, what do you think - have I missed anything vital? Any suggestions.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Gosh, I miss...

So I'm about to pop back to New Zealand for a visit. People occasionally ask me 'are you homesick?' or 'what do you miss?'. To be honest, I'm not really homesick and I don't miss much about New Zealand other than my friends and family and cat. I haven't really craved particular foods like this article suggests people do. Maybe part of the reason is that New Zealand food is basically British food as the country was settled/ invaded by the Brits a couple of hundred years ago.

That said, when I'm back in New Zealand what will I be indulging in?

New Zealand Marmite
A totally different beast to the English version or the Australian Vegemite. I've loved Marmite since I was a child. I used to get a teaspoon of Marmite and dip it in a cup of milk, then suck the milk off, then re-dip etc. (This isn't the normal New Zealand method of consumption!)

Not Weetabix which goes soggy the moment it touches milk. Weetbix is a bit tastier and firmer in texture.

Far cheesier than Wotsits - and much more brightly coloured.

A type of sweet potato - excellent roasted with potatoes, pumpkin, parsnips and served with lots of gravy!

Kim Crawford un-oaked Chardonnay, New Zealand
New Zealand wines
Especially Pinot Noir and Sauvingnon Blanc and Kim Crawford's unoaked Chardonnay. In my price range, I've only seen rather odd and unpleasant New Zealand wines in supermarkets in England. You can find a few good brands like Oyster Bay, but they're generally a bit expensive for me. It is nice to have access to a huge range of French, Spanish, Chilean etc. wines over here but sometimes I miss a good Kiwi wine.

So, I think that's about it. What about you - what's your taste of home? Is there anything you miss when you're away?

Friday, 21 February 2014

Women, for the love of all that's holy - wear a suit!

Christine Lagarde
Christine Lagarde
 I recently sat in a training course for new managers and something struck my eye. The guys were all wearing formal shirts and trousers but the women were wearing a wide range of things including including some of them in very casual and obviously worn clothing.

This has also bugged me about women politicians. Why oh why do they match themselves up against guys in suits by wearing a shapeless blouse?

My plea is this - we know that males are already likely to be taken more seriously as authority figures, promoted more, paid more... why let them have the advantage of looking smart and appropriate too?

Actually, I'm not really insisting that women wear suits as such, 'cos I certainly don't (except for job interviews) I'm just pleading that we dress like grown up, professional, appropriately formally presented people.

Julia Gillard, ex-Prime Minister of Australia
I know that self-presentation is only a tiny factor in success at work and that there are many who are very successful while looking like they were dragged through a hedge but still, I think we women should take any advantage we can get. Presenting ourselves as authority figures by using garments that traditionally signal authority is an easy and relatively painless exercise.

Wearing reasonably formal clothing to work does not need to cost any more or take any more time. So why not?

Helen Clark and Condoleezza Rice
I believe that how you present yourself is important, whether that's in writing, on social media, in how you speak, the things you say, how you dress.  I think it's especially important for those who have been promoted to manage their peers. A level of formality in dress and behaviour signals 'I'm your boss now - our relationship has changed'. How you present yourself affects how you get treated.

So, what do you think? Wear what you want and damn the torpedoes? 

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Secret smugness

Confession time - I like myself pretty well. However, a less savoury side of my character is that I have a few traits that I'm a bit smug about even though they're totally unearned.

I know, being smug is infuriating and usually I keep it to myself, but I thought I'd share in the hope that I'm not the only one being being unreasonably proud of things I did nothing to deserve.

Woman holding starfish up to her eyes
Secret smugness no. 1 - Good eyesight
Even though I'm basically monocular, using both eyes together I can read small text from across the room and see animals in the distance as well as being able to do close up things like thread a needle. My party trick is closing my good eye and showing what a huge difference there is in what I can see (my right eye is extremely short sighted).

I haven't had an eye test in donkey's years and I'm thinking I probably should as I may be starting to struggle more with glare while driving at night. So maybe my source of smugness is on the decline?

1940's woman tripping over
Secret smugness no. 2 - Not being clumsy
It seems like everyone bemoans their clumsiness and complains about tripping over or dropping things all the time. Not me! It's not like I glide about with the grace of a swan, but I'm more likely to move a vase into a safe place than knock it over or step over a loose cobblestone instead of twisting my ankle. Don't ask me why I've got this tendency, but it's a handy one to have. 

Colourful cupcakes
Secret smugness no. 3 - Colour sense
Again, it seems like quite a few people struggle with colours, whether it's choosing colours that suit their skin tone, working out which colours go together or remembering colours to match with new stuff when shopping.  Somehow I seem to have a little switch in my head that clicks over to 'yes' when a colour suits me and flashes red for 'no' when it doesn't. I'm also pretty good at remembering colours to be able to match new clothes, accessories and home wares. And I'm quite confident mixing and matching colours in outfits or home decorating. This isn't something that I've earned in any way, it just is... but again, it's handy.

So, do you hate my smug self now? Do you have your own secret smugnesses? (Please tell me you do and make me feel better about mine!)

Monday, 10 February 2014

Too old for glittery nails?

Dark burgandy and fuchsia glitter nail polish
I'm quite proud of these little beauties - Rimmel Black Cherry with Ciate Candy Cane over the top. The base is a very dark burgundy and the glitter is fuchsia.

 The ladies at Facegoop say, "That's the power of glitter nails. They make you feel special. Luminous. Invincible." (They have a helpful article about what to do with glittery nails here.)

But I wonder slightly if I'm pushing the envelope of professional attire. And I have read stupid articles that say 'no glitter nail polish over 30'. I do want to be appropriate - I'm not one of those 'I'll wear what I want and screw the lot of you!' lassies.

I've done an impression of the outfit I wore with my glorious nails - as you can see my cardigan is a bit brighter than the one I could find to illustrate. And my necklace was three strands of dark purple 'amethyst' beads.  
Black trousers, riding boots, fuchsia cardigan, purple necklace
So, what do you think - acceptable in a reasonably casual office? On someone (gasp) over 30?

Rimmel Black Cherries and Ciate Candy Cane

Friday, 7 February 2014

How to stay married

Twisty ivy watercolour picture
Ivy symbolises constancy in the language of flowers
As Valentine's Day looms, I've been thinking about how my husband and I have managed to stay married for 13 years so far and whether I might have any advice.  I'm feeling very cautious about the advice but here goes...

1. Be lucky. Very, very lucky. My marriage is one of the great blessings of my life. I know how lucky I am to have such a good man at my side and to have had him around for so long (we've been together since we were teenagers).

2. Work on living out your wedding vows day to day, whatever they happen to have been. Mine were Anglican and they pretty well sum up how I see marriage:

To love, comfort, honour and protect each other, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to each other as long as you both shall live.

"To have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death us do part...

With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you."

3. Similarly, regardless of your religious beliefs, work on the 'Love is...' stuff from the the Bible (1 Corinthians, chapter 13 verses 4 to 6).

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

I particularly like the persevering bit. No-one is perfectly patient and kind etc. but we can say sorry and keep on trying to be the best partner we can be.  

4. Keep your sense of commitment through all the stuff above (sickness, health, better, worse etc.) Keep talking, spending time together, doing and saying nice things even through the tough times and you'll be more likely to be in good shape to enjoy the good times. 

5. Know thyself and keep working on knowing your partner too. I'm still learning (and re-learning the tough lessons) about myself. I keep changing so it's an endless task! I'm still surprised to learn things about my husband that either I never knew or that have changed. Don't drift apart - keep growing together like two ivy plants with space around the roots but branches twined together.  

I do hope this post has been helpful... Let me know if you're feeling inspired or discouraged, if you agree or want to challenge some points in the comments below.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Why you shouldn't bother visiting Birmingham

Pre-Raphaelite Painting by Rosetti 
Porsepine by Rossetti
Sorry to be harsh, but really, there are dozens of nicer cities in the UK to visit. It may be the second biggest city after London, but it's nothing like London. Birmingham is far less 'urban' and cool than smaller cities like Bristol or Manchester.

Disclosure - we were only there for two days but we did stay in a central city hotel and wander about the city.

* Strangely lots of parking for the middle of a big city. Cheap gravelled lots where you could park for 24 hours. Helpful.
* Big train station in the middle of town with trains going straight to the venue for the Depeche Mode gig.

Martin Gore singing in a Depeche Mode concert
Martin Gore singing at the Depeche Mode gig

* We went to see Depeche Mode play at the NEC - not quite as good a gig as the one we saw at the O2 Arena in London, but still pretty enjoyable. 

* Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery - lovely Pre-Raphaelite paintings like the one I've shown by Rossetti and quite a nice tea room (on the downside, they are building new galleries so bits of it were closed or just empty).

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery view from outside
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Tea rooms in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Quaint tea rooms at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

* Birmingham New Street station is undergoing a big refurbishment - sadly the main idea in refurbishment of railway stations in Britain is to create a great big echoing 'futuristic' space with no seats. Also, the trains were really annoying.
* Birmingham's just boring really. It has a few pretty buildings, but it mostly grew up around the industrial age. The big shopping centre at the Bullring is just like any other big shopping centre around the UK with the same chain stores, but bigger. Evidently there are canals but we didn't really explore that far.

So... I suggested some good places to visit in England here. Try one of them instead! Or let me know if you think I'm being a bit harsh on old Brummie-land.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Shopping bargains!

Ooh, I had a good shop yesterday! I got some lovely bargains that I thought I'd share with you...

I had a do yesterday evening and thought I'd have a browse around to see if I could find a nice new top to wear. I managed to find a whole new outfit of things that I'm sure I'll get plenty of wear out of. First of all, the top.

Midnight blue sparkly Warehouse jumper
On my screen this Warehouse top looks black, but it's actually midnight blue with sparkly threads in the knit. It's in a batwing style with a short zip at the neckline on the back. I love the colour and the combination of casual and dressy. Also, it's reasonably warm for going out on winter nights. I think it'll be really useful.

Black slim-cut Reiss trousers
I needed to replace my black work trousers and these Reiss trousers were hugely discounted. If you're looking to buy them be warned, I had to go a size down from my usual size and even then they're a bit loose around the hips. On the positive side, they're the right length for me (I'm around 5'4), machine washable, comfy stretch material and they look fine under knee high boots for smart-casual work wear.

Last night I wore them with the blue top for a cocktail do at a friends' house and going out to a bar.

Edited to add: I now know why they were so cheap - the fabric is developing snags after only two days on.
Black and white check Mango coat

My most bargain-licious purchase was this Mango coat for just 20 pounds! It's mostly synthetic fibres and not suitable for really cold weather but ideal for coming into spring. It looks good wrapped around instead of buttoned with a black belt pulling the waist in. Or I can just embrace the over sized boxy-ness of it. It'll go beautifully with my black and white check skirt and my black and white leopard print scarf but I'll wear it over everything as it's quite neutral.

So that's my weekend's spoils. They've already been put to good use so I think they'll prove to be wise investments.

Let me know what you think of my bargains or if you've snapped up any treats recently in the comments below.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Visit Copenhagen? Maybe I'm getting jaded...

It was my lovely husband's birthday last weekend. He's fond of travel so I popped onto friend internet to see where we could go on a cheap flight. Copenhagen looked good. I booked flights and a few weeks later we hopped on a plane.

* Delicious food with some new tastes - we ate a cake with a creamy topping made with sea buckthorn berries.

* The royal family lives right in the centre of town and there's quite a nice museum with lots of royal history right next to their house.

* The National Museum has lots of interesting Viking things with all captions in English (and it's warm inside!)

Viking horns in National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen
They threw lots of things in a bog as sacrifices - helpful for future generations to ogle!
* Magasin du Nord is an attractive (and warm!) department store with good food at the restaurant in the basement. We had fried fish, dark rye bread, salad and chunky skin-on chips for dinner. I got a couple of fine merino wool cardigans for 50% off the normal price.

Magasin department store in Copenhagen
Magasin du Nord
Fried fish and chunky chips in Copenhagen
Yum dinner!
 * The free walking tour was a good way to orientate ourselves to the city and learn a bit of history. Two and a half hours outside in the wind was a bit much, though.

Walking tour in Copenhagen
Nyhavn New Harbour in Copenhagen
Nyhavn (New Harbour)
Frederik's church, Copenhagen
King Frederik's Church - he wanted somewhere posh to go on a Sunday so he built this.
* Everyone spoke English - helpful as we don't speak a word of Danish!

* Clean and safe - we felt perfectly safe walking around the city, in fact we were often the only pedestrians! There were a few people on bikes, but the city seemed reasonably empty of people (or maybe they were all huddling at home in the warm).

* Cold! -4 with a -11 windchill and only a light dusting of snow on the second day to cheer us up (we like snow).
Icy river in Copenhagen
Icy river!
* Grey - Copenhagen seemed to a city made of grey pavements and squares, grey buildings and grey skies with hardly any trees or vegetation generally. There was a little more colour down by the harbour but where we were was a deserted grey plain with hardly even a pedestrian to break the monotony.

* Cost - we knew Copenhagen would be pretty expensive when it came to eating out, but it meant that I felt kind of hungry most of the time I was there as I didn't feel I could justify ordering enough food. We did manage to find a nice coffee chain called Baresso who did reasonably priced food and hot drinks. Coffee was definitely better in Copenhagen than in England - sorry England, you're just not great at coffee. On the plus side of the cost issue, our hotel was a good quality budget hotel for a very reasonable price.

* The Tivoli amusement park was closed for the winter. I'm not normally an amusement park kind of girl, but this one opened in 1843 and looked (from the outside) pretty amazing.

Gargoyle sculpture on dry fountain in Copenhagen
Dry fountain with Tivoli in the background
All in all, I guess I'd give Copenhagen a six out of 10. It's not quite as good a European city break as somewhere like Bruges in Belgium, but it would probably get a better score from me in spring or autumn when it's not so cooooold! 

Any suggestions on where we should go next?