Friday, 31 August 2012

Jumpy - Duke of York's Theatre review

I was lucky enough to be given a preview ticket for the new and soon to be a hit comedy, Jumpy, at The Duke of York's Theatre last week. This fabulous play by April de Angelis stars Tamsin Greig (you'll know her from Green Wing and Episodes) who plays a 50 year old mum of a 17 year old teenage girl. It's a play that will strike a chord with all those with teenage children and I found myself squirming at quite how accurate a portrayal it is.

April de Angelis really gets inside of the head of a middle-aged mum. I saw myself reflected more than once in the behaviour of mother towards her daughter. Who hasn't sat slumped after a hard day at work only to immediately brighten in tone and body language when a child comes through the front door. This is made all the more poignant and real by the subsequent, grumpy toned 'Alright' as she breezily asks 'How was school today?'. Often with a glass of wine in hand, mum Hilary is frustrated by the lack of impact she has on those around her and looks back on her youth (she was a Greenham Common protester) and the fact that once she was relevant.

It's a mid-life crisis comedy and has all the usual suspects, a hankering after a lost youth, a lack of passion in a marriage, a best friend who refuses to grow up and still believes she is sexy, and of course, a teenage girl of foul disposition but amazing frailty.

Don't let this put you off. Far from being cliched the writing and the acting transcends the mundane and obvious subject matter. We really feel for these characters and the smaller characters who weave in and out of the story-line. Tamsin Greig is superb but so is her best friend played by Doon Mackichan (Smack the Pony) and her daughter, Bel Powley, who plays moody then clingy with real belief.

Anyone who grew up in the 80's will recognise the soundtrack which includes music from The Clash, Dexy's Midnight Runners and Adam and the Ants - all giving us an insight into the mother's background and experiences. The staging too is very clever. All white with minimalist furniture it switches from a living room, to a bedroom to a beach scene easily and credibly.

I won't give too much of the story away here - safe to say it is instantly recognisable, very funny and in parts will reduce you to tears. Go see it while you can, it's one of the best things I've seen in the West End in quite a while.

Jumpy, The Duke of York's Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4BG. 16th August - 3rd November 2012. Tickets from £15-£75.

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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Philips ReAura - the treatment time is over...

My wrinkles are definitely less obvious than before.

This was before, and okay it is smiling, but you can see the skin texture has greatly improved.

Well it's been a while and I have been pretty good at sticking to the Philips ReAura laser skin rejuvenating regime over the last few months and I can honestly say it has had an effect. Strangely I found my skin changed in terms of it's sensitivity during the trial, sometimes I could get the dial up to 3 with very little difficulty, sometimes it was just too uncomfortable above 2. Maybe it's my hormones? Or maybe my pain threshold just fluctuates. Anyway never was it too uncomfortable and I can honestly say it has made a real difference.

I have started going without foundation or BB cream on more days than not - and have had many complements on how fresh faced I'm looking, which is a first since I hit 40.

I have noticed that deep lines around my eyes and on my forehead are definitely far less noticable, and that the fine lines across my cheeks have also reduced in number and appearance. I feel as if I have had a weekly facial, but one that doesn't bring out spots and reduces redness too. Strangely my skin feels smoother to the touch and I look far less tired. All in all this product needs sticking with quite religiously but does have a really positive effect.

Forehead before shot

This is closer up but again, skin texture is definitely brighter and younger looking

If you want to read more about my trial of the Philips ReAura then please read my opening post and this post which gives the low-down half way through the trial period. I am happy with the way it has all turned out and will be keeping the machine close at hand (no tucking it into the top of a cupboard and forgetting about it) to give myself  'top up' treatments.

The Philips ReAura is £799 and is available at space:nk


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

MoovBoots make me feel wintery...

I would almost welcome winter if I had a pair of these boots. MoovBoots marry a lightweight natural latex rubber shell with a great design with a lining of softest Australian Merino Sheepskin. They are 25% lighter than trad rubber boots and the insides are breathable. I would love a pair but they are on the tad expensive side...

The Arena collection (shown here) comes in a mid-height at £225 and high style for £235. They are another sheepskin classic from Australia and are all handcrafted and designed to fit your foot shape perfectly - I can but dream!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Clarins HydraQuench Cream-Gel review

It is at this time of year in particular that I find myself drawn to moisturisers that feel just that - moisturised. Whether it's my skin or my hair that feels dry I like to indulge and get back that glow and great condition.

HydraQuench Cream-Gel from Clarins is one such product as it is a cooling gel with the efficacy of a cream. And I love it! I use it as a daily moisturiser and it works with keeping my skin soft while feeling cool and refreshed. It is totally non-oily which I also love and is perfect for my skin which tends to be normal/combination.

It contains Katafrey extract which is exclusive to Clarins products, which helps reinforce my skin's natural brier. Hyaluronic acid helps add more moisture and my skin does look smooth and matte. It also has Alpine willow herb and pomegranate extract which is great for tightening up pores and apparently has an extra complex to help fight of the harmful effects of pollution in the air - though how I know this for sure I don't know!

I have been using it morning and evening and my skin looks good even when I wake up so it's obviously doing something right. This is a light cream perfect for summer days with skin that is not too dry.

Clarins HydraQuench Cream-Gel is £33.50 for 50ml.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Marks and Spencer Body Fit jeans

Over the year's many a company has tried and a few have succeeded to create denim tailored for a range of body shapes. And those that do, often come with a premium price-tag. So I was happy today to read about Marks and Spencer  launching a new range of jeans, Body Fit Denim, designed to fit women with curves. I hesitate to use the words 'real' women as all women are real, but these are for those, like me, who can't wear  hip skimming, low-cut demin that pinches and increases the chance of muffin top.

Lisa Snowdon, who has a lovely curvy figure wears the Marilyn Jean, £25

Lisa Snowden has curves and has been advertising for M&S for a while now. Here she is wearing the Marilyn jean which is one of three new shapes set to solve all jean buying problems.
You will be able to calculate which style is most appropriate for you by subtracting your waist measurement from your hip measurement.

The three shapes available in the Body Shape Denim range for M&S Woman are
The Lana jean is designed for an apple-shaped body
The Lana Jean for apple-shaped bodies

The Eva jean is designed for the pear-shaped woman
The Eva jean for pear-shapes

The Marilyn cut is designed to flatter women with an hourglass shape
The Marilyn cut for hour-glass figures

They launch instore on 5th September 2012 in a straight leg, indigo wash and the sizing is great too, from 8-22. Priced at £25 there are three length options. Hope there are some left in a medium 12 by the time I get there!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Naked Skin by Urban Decay review

I always thought that having the word 'decay' in the name of a beauty company was a little strange, but I do like some of their products and I suppose it does give them a different spin.

Anyways.... I was given a bottle of Naked Skin Weightless Ultra-definition Make-Up to try and I must say I do like it. I was wedded to my Stila All-Day Foundation but it is a bit on the heavy side (only a tiny bit mind) for hot weather. Naked Skin feels just that, naked, which is a bonus when you're travelling on the London Underground in sweltering heat.

I like the packaging too - sleek and minimalist and modern looking.

So what's in it? Naked Skin is oil and paraben-free and formulated to make your skin look just about perfect, which it really does. It contains nourishing ingredients too including a powerful anti-wrinkle peptide (Matrixyl 3000), brightening Litchiderm and Green Tea to antioxidise. Skin is hydrated with sodium hyaluronate which also helps absorption. You can use as little or as much as you like - I found one pump covered my whole face to perfection.

There is no spf but I use a moisturiser with that anyway so it doesn't bother me. It goes on really smoothly and gives a matte appearance - again great for shiny days. There is no fragrance so you just don't notice you are wearing it. My bottle seems to be going a long way too which makes it reasonably good value for money - can't think when it will run out at this rate! If I have one gripe (and it is a very small one) it's that it doesn't last all day and needs a bit of a touch up after around 6-8 hours. Of course it depends on what I've been doing - sitting in an air-conditioned office will probably help it last, rushing about like a loon won't. But this is a small gripe and goes with the fact that it's such a light product to wear I wouldn't expect it to last amazingly really.

Naked Skin Weightless Ultra-Definition Make-Up is £28 and comes in 18 different shades across the spectrum, available from Debenhams.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Sunny Weekend at Black Dog Farm

Another weekend another birthday party - or so it seems at the moment! This weekend saw us driving down in the heat to Wiltshire, just over the border from Bath and on the doorstep of Longleat to celebrate my friend, Karen's birthday. She has done the big step of leaving North London and moving to the country, to a remote 16th century cottage on the edge of a bluebell wood. Beautiful as hell, but not within striking distance of a pint of milk or a newspaper so hopeless for me...

What she was within striking distance of however, was the Black Dog Farm B&B which is at the end of her track and on the A36 - so easy to get to and a great base for exploring the area.

Black Dog Farm has been run as a B&B for the past 18 years by Lyn and Fraser Mills and it is with them that we stayed the night, staggering back along the track in the dark after an evening of drink and food. What lovely people and what a lovely place to stay.

If you are looking for bijou, boutique hotel then forget it. Black Dog Farm is traditional, slightly old-fashioned but brilliantly English, with those little touches that show that the owners want you to feel special. It was originally a coaching inn hence the close proximity to the road, and now sits within it's sprawling farm outhouses with a cottage garden reminiscent of a Peter Rabbit story.

There aren't any rabbits but there are chickens and home-made jam. The welcome by the couple is genuinely warm and friendly. Nothing is too much trouble and the rooms pretty and traditional too, with en suite and a comfortable bed. Ours overlooked the garden and a wide sky.

Breakfast was a real highlight and was enormous. Everything was excellent quality from the sausages to the fresh coffee. On returning from our night out we came across Fraser making fresh bread for the morning which provided perfect toast - what more could you ask.

Black Dog Farm is within striking distance of Bath, Bristol, Longleat Safari Park, mystical Avebury with it's ancient standing stones and many other interesting places in this fantastic part of the country. Prices are really good and they welcome those with young children (though not dogs as they have one of their own). Check their site for rates, details and more on the surrounding area.

The Black Dog Bed & Breakfast

The hen house

Black Dog gardens

A proper Georgian farmhouse hallway

The breakfast at the Black Dog Bed and Breakfast

The standing stones at Avebury

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Superga - why didn't I find them before?

I seem to spend a lot of my life running from one thing to another - like most working women really, and especially those with full-on jobs or children (or should I say and children).

I love my pumps and have always been wedded to my Converse as they are easy on the eye, readily available and I don't feel like mutton dressed as lamb, so long as I opt for low-tops and neutral colours anyway. But with my last pair developing holes and thin soles it was time to look for another pair and I was just a bit depressed at buying exactly the same thing again (black, low-top).

I am banned from wearing Nike and Vans because this is what the teenage daughters wear and they really don't want their old mum to be copying. Which is a shame as I do like Vans - colourful, great shape, what's not to like?

Then Krista at work suggested I check out Superga. Now I know I am very late to the party on this one and those in the know have been wearing them for years but I am not going to apologise for that, I can't keep up with every trainer and shoe trend as I really am not that interested. But I must say I really like these shoes so treated myself to a pair.

Believe it or not this 'People's Shoe of Italy' is over 100 years old having been born in Turin in 1911, where they started producing shoes with vulcanized rubber soles, the Classic of which is still around today.
Afer the Second World War they reopened with a mission to bring high quality footwear to the Italians (like they didn't have high quality footwear if we are honest) and they are now an icon, worn to the beach at weekends and dressed up and down. 

Today they have a myriad of colours to chose from and fashion designer Henry Holland has produced a range with a thick sole and great prints too....

Think this could be the start of a great new shoe crush...

Friday, 17 August 2012

Must-have Age Of Reason scarves

Again, in Age of Reason,  I have come across a company making the most beautiful silk scarves with gorgeous designs that won't date and certainly make a statement.
Why do I love scarves so much? Over and above the practicalities of keeping you neck warm in winter, scarves are often an overlooked piece of beautiful textile design. I have scarves worn by my mother that are as beautiful today as they were 20 years ago. And they add a focus to a boring dress or sweater - so what's not to like?
Check out these beautiful designs...
Punky owl with spikes, £195
Mushroom Magic, £98

Victory Pirate Queen, £195

Get Your Skates On, £98
 All the scarves are 100% silk and made in England. The designer, Ali Mapletoft, brings her designs to life using coloured inks on watercolour paper. Every image is then printed onto fine silk and then a skilled seamstress finishes each scarf by hand - hemming them for the perfect mitred corner.

They even send your scarf in handmade Age of Reason wrapping paper and stamped with the gold galleon emblem.

Ali Mapletoft is an advocate of British design and manufacturing and we should salute her!

Ali Mapletoft
Check out their video below to find out more about Age of Reason and their work...

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Save a tree with Marcus Lupfer

Now the Olympics is over (well until the Paralympics, and I am beyond excited as I have tickets) we need to look for something else to support. What better way that to promote the planting of new trees via an annual Tree-Athon.
Fashion designer Markus Lupfer has designed the t-shirts for this year's event which takes place in London's Battersea Park on September 15th 2012 and is in the form of a traditional triathlon with a gardening twist.
Entrants will take part in a 5km run, a 100m barefoot sprint and will be given a free sapling tree to take home and plant.
There will also be a family-friendly festival all that day which includes children's games, arts and crafts, food stalls and live music.
All runners will wear a Lupfer-designed t-shirt to run in and there will be a limited number to buy on the day. All profits raised from the Tree-Athon and the t-shirt sales will go directly to Trees for Cities, helping them to continue to create beautiful, oxygen giving urban environments.
If you would like to get your running shoes on to actively celebrate your newly awakened interest in sport then there are far worse ways than this to do it. Check out Trees for Cities for further details.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Lazing on the Thames, with Olympic crowds nearby

The blog has been a bit neglected again this week and all because we took a 3 day break and hired a boat on the Thames. This is something I have always wanted to do - well since reading Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat at the age of about 14 it is. None of us (we were four in total) have ever done this before and we knew we would have locks to negotiate - however all the locks were manned and the river was quite quiet for the time of year because of the Olympics just up the road from Windsor which was our starting point. We could hear the roar of the crowd as we set off then for three days everything was peace and tranquility. Okay the boat was not luxury standard but was adequate for the three nights and we saw some simply amazing properties along the river and got to sample some excellent pub food. This is a trip that I would highly recommend!
Here are some photos to whet your appetite!

Cookham Churchyard 

Grave of Stanley Spencer - one of my favourite British artists

Beautiful, dappled sky

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Cow & Co - shopping made easy

I love a site that has a few surprises and things I haven't seen before, so if you do too then check out Cow and Co who stock everything from lighting to clothing and have a sale on at the moment! I particularly love their individual take on a football supporters shirt!

Poole Pottery Cups
Poole Pottery cup and saucer, £20

Monday, 6 August 2012

Cos A/W 2012 lookbook video

Cos - one of my favourite stores because their pieces are anti-fashion with just a nod to current trends (so metallics this season), can be worn by 20 year olds and 50 years quite happily, and are affordable.

Here is their fabulous collection for A/W - roll on September!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Black Garlic - taste the difference

I've been doing lots of stir fries recently - well it's just too dodgy to plan a bbq - and I have recently discovered the joys of black garlic. No, it's not a different type of garlic, simply white garlic which has been aged (so is a bit like using a blue cheese really).

The garlic is gently heated then stored to ferment for 3 weeks resulting in a garlic which has a completely different texture and flavour to normal garlic. The process seems to bring out the sweetness and gives it a fudge-like feel and the taste is much, much less pungent (so the opposite to blue cheese then).
Because of this you can use it tossed in salads or in marianades for meat and fish so is proving very versatile.

Look out for it in your supermarket or order it online.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Hard Sell - Anglian Windows

We live in a terraced house in North London which is over 100 years old. When we moved in 17 (gulp) years ago we had to revamp a bit. All the fireplaces had been ripped out and the doors had been replaced with non child friendly glass ones. But the ceiling plaster was lovely, the tiled floor in the hallway and outside path intact and the front door had the original stained glass. The windows were also original - heavy wooden casements and large panels popular in their day.

Alas it is these that are now past their prime and need replacing. Because we bought an old house for it's character it is soul destroying to have to lose the original windows but the truth of the matter is that they don't open, let in loads of freezing air all winter (making them pretty non-environmentally friendly) and are just no longer fit for purpose. So we started looking around for suitable replacements. Obviously our first thought was replace like-for-like with real handmade wood - especially as we are only looking to do the front. But it really is a no-no cost wise being upward of £20,000. So we started to look at the plastic replacements.

In a previous house we had gone for Anglian Windows because they were just about affordable and the quality is good. I drive past our old house occasionally and they still look great after 20 years so we gave them a call to see if we could get a quote. Within 24 hours a salesman (and to be fair a very nice man he was too) had turned up on our doorstep.

And this is where the game begins gentle reader. We wanted a quote to replace our windows. A straightforward 'this is how much it costs to have three windows replaced' price. We are intelligent people and don't have all evening to negotiate. So he came and went through an hours sales pitch and told us all about the 50% off everything which is a special deal if you good by the end of the month. All we wanted was a straightforward price remember...

This he couldn't give us but promised to get something over in writing the next day. Which duly arrived. The cost would be in the region of £12,000 but with the special sale price of 50% off would be £6,000. Of course we all know that no-one ever pays full price for these windows - EVER! Every month there is a different deal so it's nearly impossible to get a ball park figure for something we might do in the Autumn or even next Spring. So we didn't get back to them as we were going to get other quotes.

That afternoon I got a call from Anglian. 'Did you get our quote madam?' 'Is there something wrong with the price?' Now this was within 24 hours of receiving the quote. I explained that we were gathering quotes together before making a decision and we didn't know when we wanted to do the work either.

'If the quote was better for you would you be prepared to sign up to the deal?' was the reply. Again I explained but did say that by all means they could come back with a different quote.

The following day my husband got a call 'We would like to offer you an extra £500 pounds off your quote if you sign today sir'. R said we were still thinking but if they could knock £1000 off we might reconsider. They said they had to 'contact regional management and get back to him'.

They duly did and agreed to knock £1000 off. He agreed to meet with the sales guy that evening to give a deposit of £50 to secure the deal and we would have the work done next year. In our heads we wanted to spend this amount so were happy even though we had had to go through the frankly ridiculous negotiating game - as I repeat, we just wanted a straightforward quote.

So nice sales person came back and it was now that we discovered that to put down a £50 deposit we had to sign up to a finance agreement over a certain amount of months with a third party supplier that if we paid upfront and foreclosed early had a penalty of £250! This was never, ever explained to us! What a right royal rip off! So the negotiating started again and we got him to drop the price a further £250 to cover the cost (strange he didn't have to contact regional management for this). If we hadn't got him to swallow this the down payment would have been £500 instead of £50!

As I said we are reasonably intelligent people who don't want the wool pulled over our eyes. We have done the deal because it was what we wanted to pay and having had windows from Anglian before are happy with the quality but why, oh why, oh why the painful, bloody rigmarole. And what if we were elderly or less able to argue the toss? And did we really get a good price or could we have got him down a further £1000 or so - we will always be left wondering!

nb prices are not 100% accurate but are in the region of what we were quoted and accepted

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