Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Vintage shopping at Spitalfields

Bank Holiday Monday was flippin' freezing (no surprises there then) so we decided to go somewhere where we weren't exposed to the elements but was not too far away.

It just so happened that Spitalfields market was playing host to a vintage market at Bank Holiday which was a bonus. I love this part of London - if I could I'd live there alongside the Bangladeshi community and the urban artisans who have populated the area in the last couple of decades. Spitalfields has transformed beyond recognition and it's a shame the new development is home to the same old chains - Jigsaw, Leon, The Real Burger Company... but that aside there are enough small businesses to make this well worth a wander at a weekend.
View from the top end with a Hawkesmore church in the background...

Go to Dennis Severs house - where you will walk back in time and almost into a new dimension. Opening times are limited so please visit the website to pre-book - it's well worth the visit!

It's part fantasy, part history and is unique throughout the world...

What I love about this part of town is the juxtaposition of the new with the old - not always sympathetic but always surprising!

Top end of Spitalfields market from the church...

And back to shopping.....

Monday, 29 August 2011

Jane Eyre - a remake of a classic

The new film version of Jane Eyre is the stuff of Sunday evening TV - all comfy sofa and a large glass of red. Not a freezing screening room in the much-hyped and to be honest, greatly disappointing W hotel off Leicester Square. But I shouldn't complain as the film more than made up for the temperature of the screening room.

Tackling any great classic which has had so many incarnations is always going to be a tough call but I do believe that this latest incarnation from director,Cary Fukunaga, although not destined to necessarily be a great in it's own right, plays fair service to other adaptations and the book. Fans of Charlotte Bronte may feel they have left some of the depth of the story out, but overall the characters and the setting keep you enthralled for the full two hours.

For those of you who haven't read the book or seen one of the numerous films then Jane Eyre (the adult Jane played by Mia Wasikowska) is the story of a girl raised by her aunt Sarah after her parents die of typhus and shipped off to a dismal boarding school as punishment for her perceived insolence. Both her and her classmates suffer at the hands of the strict school staff. Turning 18 she leaves and finds work as governess for the ward of Edward Fairfax Rochester (played by Michael Fassbender). Rochester falls for her but on her wedding day she discovers his dark and awful secret....

Jane Eyre hits our cinemas on 7th September. Go for the cinematography which is beautiful, for the romantic storyline and the ubiquitous appearance in any costume drama of Judy Dench as the housekeeper... Michael Fassbender is brooding and magnificent, Mia Wasikowska is pale and ghostlike but brings an inner steel to the character. Worth a look....

Friday, 26 August 2011

Móa - The Green Balm (and why you should buy it)

Moa The Green Balm

I am a bit wedded to my Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream which seems to work for most things - dry skin, cuts, bruises, chapped lips, cold sores... but I have now discovered a green and organic 'miracle' product that is just as good!
Móa Green Balm is a waxy moisturiser with the killer ingredients of yarrow and tea tree oil. Apparently yarrow has been used for thousands of years and was reported to have been used on wounds in the Trojan War so why we don't use it all the time I just don't know. Mix that with the antiseptic qualities of tea tree oil and that is why I think it's such a great product. 
It works as a moisturiser and can even be used on your hair as a mask. It heals rashes, eczema, nappy rash, and is 100% organic. You can also add it to hot water and honey and gargle with it for sore throats. I had the start of a cold sore, put some on and it vanished almost immediately (I kid you not).
Don't be put off by the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan - she does have some good ideas. Buy it today at Cult Beauty for £12.50 for 50ml.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Latest Spa Treats from Burt's Bees

I know I've gone on a lot in the past about how much I love Burt's Bees products - and I still do!

They've now gone one step further and are launching (from September so not long to go) a Spa range so you can get the benefit of these natural and gorgeous smelling products from head-to-toe.

There are three main flavours in the range. Mango and orange are combined to revitalise, honey and shea provide relaxation and cranberry and pomegranate replenish. It was the latter that I tried in the form of the body bar (£4.99, 140g), sugar scrub (£12.99, 225g) and body butter (£12.99, 185g). I wasn't disappointed...

They smell heavenly. The body bar was ideal both for all-over washing and for giving yourself a home foot treatment. I followed this with the scrub which has LOADS of sugar - so is really effective. On removal the oils make your skin feel soft and moisturised. I almost didn't need the body butter but I'm glad I got it - it's heavenly and easily absorbed.

I would be more than happy to get all three of these as a present (Christmas anyone?).
The Burt's Bees Spa range is available from Burt's Bees from September 2011.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Mousse au Chocolat Orange - so lovely I just have to share...

Last night I had two of my oldest friends over to dinner which is always a relaxed and fun evening... Wanting to keep my workload down to a minimum so as not to take over my talking and drinking time, I tried to prepare as much in advance as I possibly could. So once again I found myself turning to the fabulous Supper Club recipe book by Ms Marmite Lover, Kerstin Rodgers.

Anyone who hasn't got this book yet then you really must add it to your cook's library - it's inspired and I do turn to it very regularly these days...

So dessert last night came from here and was Mousse au Chocolat Orange with Cointreau and Choc-dipped Physalis.
Here is the the book's version...

And here is mine using my Grandmother's beautiful old teacups which are truly love and have treasured for years...

I didn't use all orange-flavoured chocolate as I wanted it to be more chocolatey than orangey but I am sure with full-on orange flavour it would be absolutely delicious, and of course you can prepare it in advance and put it in the fridge...

For 4 people you will need- 150g orange-flavoured chocolate (good quality), 100g physalis fruit, 5 eggs with yolks and whites separated, 2 tbsp Cointreau.
Melt chocolate in a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Pull back the leaves on the physalis and dip them in the chocolate. Place on baking parchment to cool and harden.
Add the egg yolks one by one and mix gently then mix in the Cointreau.
Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until they form stiff peaks. Fold them carefully into the melted chocolate and egg yolk mixture. Pour into ramekins (or tea-cups) and chill for at least 2 hours before serving with the physalis on the side.

Thank you Kerstin - another dessert triumph!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Results Day is over for another year.....

And we are all very grateful for that in our household, I can tell you!

Having two daughters relatively close in age (20 months) was a real bonus when they were younger. As small children they played together and starting school came back-to-back, one year after another. We didn't have time to get out of practise with each stage, they shared friends and experiences, they were close (though not too close) and shared popular culture and infant 'crazes' together.

It was when they got to the mid-teen stage that I realised the full horror of what was to come.


As a family we are almost, but not quite, through a cycle of unbearable stress and strain. Eldest did her GCSE's one year, then as she was doing her AS levels, youngest was doing her GCSEs. This conveyor belt of misery has culminated  this year with them doing AS and A levels respectively, compounded by their getting their A and AS level results ON THE SAME DAY AN HOUR APART.

If you have never experienced this you will never know the unutterable tension of the few days leading up to (let alone the 6 weeks of study, revision lessons, testing, pressure and worry before the exams themselves) this Day of Days. Anyone who knows me, knows I am fairly laid-back about these things, but even I was infected with stress headache and palpitations... the teens were fearful, eyes big as saucers with fear, and as a parent it's not a good thing to watch at all.

A levels are not easy, as is often written in the press. They are different and modular and I will agree, it is 'easier' to get a high grade when you have coursework, no doubt about that. But a huge amount of work still needs to go in to get that high grade for coursework, let alone the exams. And yes in the 80's when I took mine, the statistics state that A grades were given to 11% of exam grades whereas now it has levelled off at around 24% - which is a huge leap in, oh yes 20 odd years. Surely we would hope that would be the case anyway as we progress as a society and to keep up with the rest of the world? As a parent I have seen first hand that getting A or B grades (let alone the 'gold standard' A star) still takes work, dedication and talent. And 75% of exams don't get an A and account for results well below A in a lot of cases - as we as a family have seen this week.

In my children's school (which is a non-selective comprehensive) nearly 25% of  the lower-sixth have not got a place in the upper sixth next year because they didn't get the grades. Why is this? They were selected for the sixth form on the strength of their GCSEs so either the teaching was targeted at the higher achievers or they didn't understand the huge leap needed to switch from GCSEs to A levels that they were going to have to take. I think it is more likely to be the latter and it is this problem of the gap between what is required to pass GCSEs and what an A level, that needs to be addressed here. I believe it takes a year to really get into your subject at A level and a year to consolidate your thoughts about it. We took two years to study our subjects. With the new way of teaching you have two terms and then are preparing for ASs (and in the case of my youngest daughter she had two terms and was sitting two AS level papers at the end of this). It really doesn't benefit anyone and allows schools to get rid of those that take longer to get into their stride, before they've even had a chance to get their feet under the A level desk. Hence, guess what, the school's performance at the end of A levels in these ridiculous league tables gets better every year - well what a surprise!

So instead of the joy of narrowing what you study to those things you enjoy and having a little time to really get to know your subject you are being tested to buggery, are in fear of losing your sixth form place and have all the fun of learning stripped out.

Anyway moving away from my rant, how did it all go? Eldest got more than she needed for her chosen university - but she sweated blood to do this and the hard work paid off in bucketfuls. Youngest was a bit disappointed as her grades were not as high as some, or as high as she had been expecting for the work she put in - but she has a good solid grounding on which to build next year.

Some of their friends did really well, some not so well. It's a mixed bag and always will be. All I know is that we are lucky in that their friends, whatever their academic achievements, are decent, nice people who in the future we all hope will find their path and will be fine.

Personally? I didn't go to university as my grades were fairly rubbish. I was a lazy bugger at a high achieving grammar who wasn't encouraged as I wasn't Russell Group material. I went to art school which I dropped out of and managed to get a position which allowed me to learn on the job - frankly I never looked back. Hence my choice of as 'good' a local comprehensive as I could get for my kids was I still feel, the right one. I just wish education today wasn't this bloody awful merry-go-round of tests and the expectation that everyone HAS to go to university or fail in life. In my experience most of my friends who didn't go have done as well if not, in some cases, better than those that did. I do hope with the focus on good apprenticeships and other opportunities, that this will all change quickly. For every smiling blonde in the paper leaping for joy at her 5 A stars there's a long, long line of stressed out, disillusioned and frankly knackered 17 and 18 year old's wondering what the hell they're going to do now....

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Kye's - fantastic old pub gets a make-over in N14

Calling all those who live in our leafy part of North London - we visited Kye's on Southgate High Street twice in it's first week because it's so nice to see a landmark pub which has been shut for seven months reopen with a new lease of life - sadly a rare event these days....

This used to be the Woolpack and is an imposing Edwardian pub on Southgate High Street down from the college and towards the green. It's now reopened as Kye's (named after the owners son) and has had a complete overhaul to freshen things up a bit. Walls are a mix of white and cranberry, floors wood and polished, and there are large ornate gold mirrors and sparkly crystal chandeliers which is not the norm for pubs in this area which tend to be more traditional, all open fires and bookcases.

There's a nice private garden at the back away from the traffic which is a bonus on a busy road and although this is basically a bar with a kitchen the food is all freshly prepared on site - no microwaved meals like most pubs. Because of this its slightly more expensive (around £10 for a main course) with steaks being around £18. These are very good quality being sourced from one particular farm in Essex (I believe). I had a burger which was homemade from minced steak and was delicious and I have to say the home cooked chips were amongst the best I've had... My partner had pork loin with a crumb topping. This was a tiny bit dry but tasty all the same.

The homemade pate for starter was a triumph and I can see myself coming in just for that and a glass of wine of a lunchtime. Talking of lunches they also do a platter for about £13 where you can choose 6 things for your platter from a list of about 15 - things like salami's, olives etc.
We finished our meal by sharing an alcoholic knickerbockerglory which was yummy!
What makes this place stand out is the service and in particular manager Nick who gives a wonderfully warm welcome and has a sharp eye on checking everyone is well served. It was only our second visit and he had noticed we had drunk Sauvignon Blanc on our first - there was a bottle chilling before we even made it to the bar....
If you live in N14/N13 its worth checking out and I may well be making it my local because of the friendliness and attention to detail which is high for a pub..... oh and apparently they do a lovely roast beef Sunday lunch which I will have to try....

020 8882 8593
52 High Street, Southgate, London, Greater London N14 6EB

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Beautiful Lies with Audrey Tautou

Sweltering though the evenings may be I am not one to turn down a screening after work especially when it's the latest film featuring Audrey Tautou, Beautiful Lies. So Monday night saw myself and the Editor of Beautyandthedirt sitting in a comfortable screening room with a glass of pink wine and a crisp to see the latest offering from French Director Pierre Salvadori (director of the extremely funny Priceless).

Due to hit a cinema near you (with English subtitles), Beautiful Lies is the story of a provincial hairdresser Emilie (Tautou) who runs her hair and beauty salon and doesn't like to take 'no' for an answer. When Arab handyman Jean is discovered to speak five languages fluently and isn't what he seems, she is put on the back foot and immediately fires him. Why she does this is unclear but seems to be a running theme throughout the film.

Emilie is unaware that Jean, played by Sami Bouajila whose performance is soulful and measured, is madly in love with her and writes her an anonymous letter stating his feelings. She copies this out and sends it to her depressed mother (Nathalie Baye who played Leonardo di Caprio's mum in Catch Me If You Can) who has been abandoned by her father some four years previously. This is where the fun begins with misunderstandings and mistakes worthy of a Shakespeare play only just keeping to the sane side of farce.

Although I didn’t exactly fall in love with the female characters myself, this film is fun to watch. Shot on location somewhere in the South of France it’s a light-weight girly movie that does leave you with a few ponderables. Why is it okay for the romantic lead to be used as a chattle between the libido’s (one strong the other non-existant) of mother and daughter, and why does no-one question the morality closer (I’m not giving too much away if I say mum sleeps with romantic lead). Only in France I suppose...

Go with your best girlfriends, sisters, mum – leave boyfriend or husband behind, I really don’t think he’ll like it unless he’s a little in love with Audrey Tautou himself.

Check out the trailer here...

Release date August 12th 2011, certificate 12a, running time 104 mins.

Monday, 1 August 2011

A Day Out at Thorpe Park

Okay so I don't do big rides, or crowds, or pretty appalling fast-food chains. I'm a bit of a snob I confess and would rather take a trip to Shaw's Corner followed by a pub lunch somewhere out in the Hertfordshire countryside. But occasionally I have to bite the bullet, slap on the suncream and head, along with about 30,000 other people, to a British theme park. This is because I have teenagers and so does my sister and we love them so very much that we have to bribe them into wanting a day out with us by choosing the sort of day out they will first and foremost love and we can just about bear.

Well yesterday was one such day, so off the 8 of us trotted to Thorpe Park and I must confess I learnt a few things.

1) I learnt that my sister is a closet adrenalin junkie and will go on all the REALLY big and fast rides putting me to shame.

2) Even my cynicism was left at the entrance gate and the first time I heard the menacing music played out over the loud speakers I felt a thrill of excitement.

3) I really, really love big splashy water rides where you get absolutely soaked.

4) You should always go for the trusted brands in terms of fast-food in these places. I opted for fish and chips- absolutely disgusting and partially cooked (they were cold in the middle- yuck). My girls chose Burger King which is standard fare but at least you know what your getting.

5) My husband is also a closet adrenalin junkie and joins my sister in putting me to shame.

6) Thank God for my brother-in-law who is a big wimp like me and is happy to hold the bags and sunglasses while the others go on the white-knuckle rides.

7) You do need to get there at 9.30am to beat the big queues - my sister insisted, I resisted, thankfully she won and we got to go on rides before the queues became 60mins long.

8) Ben and Jerry's makes a perfect substitute to lunch when you've been badly let down by the fish and chips.

Here is a taste of what I am proud to say my sister, husband and the teenagers took on....

Colossus - one of the Top 10 roller-coasters in the world apparently.

The infamous Saw.

And this was my favourite ride - Logger's Leap

And here, dear friends, is the state of me afterwards...

And Thorpe Park itself? Good points are they have a wide selection of fast, scary rides and because it's smaller than Alton Towers there's not so much walking to do. For families with small children there is very little - I'd go up the road to Legoland at Windsor. It was a bit grubby and careworn which considering it's the start, and not the end, of the season is pretty poor, and the food selection is also poor. It is really easy to get to being just off the M25 and near to Staines station (there's a shuttle bus apparently). Above all, if you like theme parks, it's FUN!

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