Thursday, 31 January 2013

Bond Street

A few years ago, I was in a bit of a mess. Having split with a long-term partner (and due to a failed house sale we had to live - barely on speaking terms - under the same roof for 12 months), I'd also been very ill. I moved into an apartment which turned out to be disastrous - noisy neighbours both above and below and no outside space at all - and saw through my minimum 6 month tenancy whilst desperately looking for somewhere else to live.

An internet search led me to Bond Street. I knew the village it was in but not the street, so made an appointment with the letting agent to view. It took a while to get there - it's an unadopted road up a steep incline with a few houses at the top and a row of five Victorian terraces. The top of the 'street' is actually a dead end, just a path leading to the Methodist church.

To cut a long story short - I took the house. Number 7 (my lucky number) hadn't appealed to previous viewers. Maybe it was the swirly carpets (optimistically described as 'Axminster-style'). It could have been the postage stamp-sized kitchen, or the rough lane it was situated on, or the original mid-century decor. And no, I don't mean mid-century in a cool way.

It had a feel to it. Peaceful. It had been loved by someone, once. I loved the quirkiness of the back yard with its coal store and outhouses, the enormous master bedroom (with views across the moors), the understairs store which had clearly once been a pantry.

The neighbours were old. Bond Street was old. My landlord had bought the house as a future home for his daughter, who had learning needs. He lived around the corner and was happy to come and repair problems at a minute's notice. He and his wife put a vase of flowers on the mantelpiece to welcome me on my moving-in day, and gave me another bunch when I left.

After a rough few years I finally felt at home. The village had a butcher, baker, post office, chemist and general shop. I could be walking in the open countryside within minutes (and I did). I caught the bus to work each day. Being alone was good.

Bond Street made me better.

Last year I bumped into Chris (my old landlord). He enthusiastically told me he'd done a full renovation on the house and that I 'wouldn't recognise it'. I congratulated him whilst feeling a bit sad. I'm glad I took the photos in the week before I moved out to come and live with Jay.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013


Jay and I were supposed to be getting married on 6th June last year. We had the venue booked, the registrar sorted out and all the rest of it. But things happen. I hadn't fallen pregnant as quickly as we'd thought, so we assumed that having a baby was going to be a long-term project.

It turned out that I did get pregnant - shortly after making all the wedding arrangements. And, had we stuck to our original date, I'd have been six months gone and getting married in a maternity dress. Which I didn't really want to do.

Although this Stella McCartney number would have tempted me. Shame I didn't have the bank balance to go with it.

We've since attended a few family weddings and it's made us think about how we want to do ours. Neither of us are particularly extrovert; to be honest, the thought of being the centre of attention in a big group of people fills me with horror. Ditto Jay. And I don't want us to dread our wedding day.

The first place Jay and I ever went away to together was Edinburgh. We like the idea of a small wedding in Scotland - maybe even just the three of us - then a big party back home for friends and family. And even though we'd originally gone for a June date, spring or even autumn would be nice too.

Basically: we don't know what to do just yet. But I do like the wedding dress and cardigan combination.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Comfort viewing

Obviously, daytime TV viewing isn't really an option these days. The odd foray into the cooking channels while Joe's guzzling is about it (I refuse to get sucked into soaps or daytime TV).

The good thing is, you become a lot more selective about what you do watch. And it's nice to switch off the TV altogether sometimes. We tend to record anything interesting then watch it when Joe goes to bed. You get the added benefit of being able to fast forward through the adverts too - makes you feel smug in a rather pathetic kind of way.

Things I'm watching at the moment: Girls, Hunderby (on DVD), and, ahem, Fashion Police.

Moving swiftly on... there are some programmes which always give me that cosy feeling, especially at this time of year. They include Gardener's World and Nigel Slater's cooking shows. But for real comfort viewing it has to be the Agatha Christie's Marple adaptations (the casts, the costumes, the settings - so perfect) and Poirot. I'm a tiny bit in love with David Suchet. Only when he's in character. Is that strange?

The Darling Buds of May and Cold Comfort Farm always cheer me up too - both live up to the books. It's the escapism back to the 'good old days' which probably never really existed.

If it's cold and horrible outside (and I've had the misfortune to have been out in it), not much beats tea, cake, a warm jumper and an episode of The Good Life. Preferably viewed from underneath a blanket.

Let's be honest, the real star of the show:

I love her.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Grey days

I recently had a conversation with my mum about favourite colours. Her least favourite is grey - she finds it depressing (concrete, leaden skies etc). Grey is actually my favourite colour - there are so many natural materials in so many shades: wool, stone, wood. It's the colour I always end up going for in clothes shops before reminding myself there's already plenty of it hanging in my wardrobe.

Anyway... the snow's gone and we're left with drizzle and cold winds and general January gloom. Here are a few things which cheered me up today.

This geranium which flowers most of the year and came from a cutting.

These daffodils - they smell lovely.

And these - I actually prefer them in bud, yellowy-green.

These blood oranges (and their packaging).

This egg cup, because it reminds me that spring is around the corner. Hooray!

Sunday, 27 January 2013


I've never been one of those girls who go mad for shoes. Carrie Bradshaw I ain't. Not because I think coveting nice shoes is silly or anything. 

The reason is that I have feet which refuse to have anything to do with nice shoes. They're wide and square. Nice shoes are for people with narrow, shapely feet. So even though I'm only a size five-and-a-half, I associate shoe shopping with disappointment and resignation. After many years of buying shoes which I convinced myself I'd 'break in' (and various stretching sprays and contraptions), and hobbling about in agony as a result, I've come to accept reality: a good shoe is hard to find. And a 'sensible' shoe is out of the question.

I'm not too sure when Clarks started getting it right. But I'm so glad they did. Because I like heels. In fact, when I worked in a museum for many years, people would know I was coming down the corridor - the click click click gave me away. 
(Please note: the heels were worn with jeans. I don't do power dressing. I suspect I'd be pretty bad at it).

The shoes - or more accurately, footwear - I live in most of the time consist of:

Grey Converse trainers (probably need replacing soon - they've taken a hammering - see above)
Short Hunter wellies
Stubby suede boots with sheepskin lining (thank you Clarks)
Towering tan leather wedge sandals (Clarks again)
Black patent ballet pumps (you've guessed it)
Black patent (very) high heeled courts - M&S I think
Havaiana flipflops.

I'm not a slipper person really. My mum despairs.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Back home

Today we went to Ramsbottom, near where I used to live (and where I grew up) to do some food shopping.  They have a little market on a Saturday and we go to the butcher there too. It was so snowy I had to go in search of someone with a shovel as the car got stuck. Oh, and the market wasn't there due to the inclement weather.

But we still got to the butcher and stopped off at the bakery for bacon sandwiches (to keep the cold out). Then we went for a walk around the nearby villages of Chatterton and Strongstry.

I get homesick quite a lot - fortunately, it only takes around 20 minutes to get back to 'Rammy'. So I never feel too despondent about the lack of hills here in our part of Cheshire (or the absence of stone terraced houses, moors, allotments...) I even miss the deep snow with all the inconvenience it brings.

Joe got plenty of fresh air. He's full of a cold at the moment. I think he enjoyed our walk (despite his less-than-impressed expression).

Friday, 25 January 2013

The bigger picture

Image from Think Different

A short post today as it's been a long week and a long day. But I've been thinking about this for a while now (often in those strange hours when you lie awake) and it's time I committed it to virtual paper.

Things I don't aspire to:
Earning a huge salary
Driving a big car
Owning gadgets
Living in a big house
Going to 'in' places
The approval/acceptance of others based on the above factors

Things which are important:
Making plans and realising them
Spending time with people I care about
Avoiding people who are materialistic/judgmental/shallow
Paying the bills and having a bit left over
Giving Joe a happy childhood
Doing the things which I enjoy

It's not about seeking approval and acceptance through the things you own. I've lived in a big house, earned a good salary, driven an expensive car, been on lots of holidays... and was miserable. I've lived in a small, rented house, taken the bus and been on weekends away with my mum. I was happy living within my means and taking pleasure in the small things.

Stuff isn't what matters. To me, at least.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Wardrobe serendipity

I would love to have just a clothes rail in the bedroom with my 'capsule wardrobe' on it - decorative, minimal... and very unlikely to ever happen. The compromise would probably be a rail with pretty things on it and the rest of my stuff stashed behind closed doors.

Last weekend I cleared my wardrobe. A lot of things went, including clothes I like but realistically never wear. The few 'office' outfits were bagged up. I still have some smart items but I don't want to work in the kind of place where I'm expected to dress in an anonymous way. Clothes should reflect how you feel and express who you are.

I also got rid of my maternity clothes. Partly because I didn't buy many to begin with (so they were pretty worn out) and partly because I'm ready to reacquaint myself with my pre-baby (PB) things.

Anyway... I've lost weight but currently only fit into one pair of PB jeans. No problem - I'll wear them until I lose a few more pounds and can get into my others.

But this morning, they died. They were old, worn thin and they just died. Cue the need for a pair of interim jeans. But when I was out shopping I had a realisation: there were 4 pairs of old jeans in a bag waiting to be sold/donated. Because fortunately, I haven't got around to photographing everything ready to put on the web.

So no need to try on lots of pairs and no need to buy some 'just for now'. I'll put up with the old ones for a bit longer. And I have a perfect incentive to keep up with the healthy diet and exercise regime. Because there are several pairs of very nice PB jeans in my newly-edited wardrobe waiting to be worn again. Sometimes things just work out.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Fact: being a mum wrecks your hands. I used to have perfectly manicured nails each day - painted immaculately (usually in bright red, deep plum or gunmetal grey) and filed short. Dark, short nails were one of my Things.

Photo from A Cup Of Jo

These days, what with the endless routine of handwashing and nappy changing, my hands are a sorry sight. My nails don't often see polish (other than the Pledge kind). Trying to squeeze in a quick painting session would be disastrous as it wouldn't get the chance to dry before I had to pick up the baby again. My skin feels like sandpaper despite trying to apply hand cream regularly. Or at least, trying to remember to apply it.

My mum bought me a tube of Clarins Creme Jeunesse des Mains when I had Joe. It smells so nice, and is a rare treat these days (it's a luxury item). I'd also rate Cowshed's Cow Slip hand cream - again, it smells nice - and I keep mine next to the kitchen sink.

I carry antibacterial hand rub in Joe's changing bag and it really dries your skin out. Maybe it's time to get some of that Norwegian Formula stuff (as endorsed by rugged, weather-ravaged fishermen). Glamorous? No. Effective? Hopefully.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Our house is pretty small - one of those late 1970s-built properties where they didn't allow for the necessities of modern life (dryer, dishwasher - we don't own one, pram etc). Sadly, this is still the case in many new-build homes. Where to store the hoover and ironing board? Still, a small house means fewer rooms to heat, smaller mortgage payments (unless you live somewhere 'desirable') and less impulse buying. You always ask yourself, 'Where will it go?'.

More often than not I'll blog close-ups when using pictures from indoors. So here are photos we took just before Christmas.

The living room is a bit of a mishmash of furniture. Eventually I'd like to exchange the leather Chesterfield for a sectional, L-shaped sofa. No room for that yet though.

Mostly, our stuff is a mix of Ikea and vintage/secondhand (like the old sideboard and G Plan corner unit). There have been a few changes since we took the pictures - we've swapped the living room curtains with the ones from our bedroom. And there's a sheepskin rug in front of the fireplace. Joe's bouncer lives in here, as does a big log basket to house his baby things - toys, storybooks etc.

The kitchen isn't huge but we managed to fit a small table in there. Now we've added a high chair. Oh, and the plant died...

Our bedroom has a few built-in cupboards, so no wardrobes. I'm going to try and squeeze a little dressing table in there eventually. The red lamps are temporary - they give a dim light while Joe still sleeps with us. He'll be in his own room in another month or so.

This has changed quite a lot too. We're getting a cot soon (another gift, gratefully received). I told you about the tree here. And I made the owl hand puppets from a kit I bought at the Tate Gallery shop.

And finally, the smallest room in a small house. Not much more to say really.

Friday, 18 January 2013


It's been snowing. In the forecasts, they keep referring to how temperatures are low but may be even lower 'locally'. What does this mean? Surely 'local' applies to every one of us, everywhere.

It's currently looking more festive than it did at Christmas. And I'm sure our tree must be happier outside than it was in the house.

Going back to 'local'. Since reading this book a few years ago (and becoming quite militant as a result), I became aware of how important it is to buy from small suppliers where possible. And although I no longer boycott supermarkets, I do have a deep mistrust of them. We buy our fruit and veg from 'local' shops where possible and get our meat from the butcher.

Today we went to our local independent grocer for some provisions. I went there last week and was educated on the merits of Seville oranges (good for marmalade but not eating, apparently). I was seduced this afternoon by a huge bulb of garlic, among other things.

They didn't have any Bramley apples. They did in the (small) supermarket round the corner. But they were pre-packed and I object to being told how many of something I have to buy. I also have an issue with excessive packaging. So I didn't buy any. Sometimes it's just a principle thing.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Bags of bags

I know that I recently added to my collection of bags. I also know I need to lose some of them. One or two get a lot of use. Others are work bags - and I'm not currently working. Not in an official sense anyway. This weekend I intend to do a bit of a wardrobe cull but it will be in stages, as 'wardrobe' doesn't just mean clothes. It means bags, scarves, shoes, jewellery, gloves and a lot more besides.

Bags are an easy place to start. I currently have:

Blue and white Orla Kiely (see above) - a bit scuffed but much loved as it was bought when I went to Boston for my 30th birthday
Brown Orla Kiely (small handbag, canvas with leather strap and another birthday present)
Red Orla Kiely (messenger-type bag, birthday present)
Purple patent work bag (mulberry coloured but not actual Mulberry - I'm not a celebrity)
Green and white Gsus Industries canvas tote
New tan leather small bag (see here)
Charcoal grey canvas messenger bag
Black patent clutch
Tan leather large tote (another birthday money treat, this time from Paris)
Red leather weekend bag

I think (hope) that may be it.

The list doesn't include the baby's changing bag, the straw basket hanging in the porch or my collection of jute shopping bags*.

I'll let you know what stays and what goes - it's going to be difficult.

*That's a whole other story...

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


The older I get (not that I'm old - yet), the less impressed I am by the trappings of material things. It becomes more about small pleasures. And when you're home with a young baby, it's surprising just how luxurious these little things can feel.

You spend your time being completely switched on - anticipating feeds, nappy changes, entertaining the little one, planning each outing to the nth degree. And despite all the pregnancy/parenting literature telling you to 'sleep when the baby sleeps', that doesn't happen.

When Joe naps (anything from 20 to 40 minutes usually, once in the morning and once in the afternoon) I grab a shower/do the washing up/sort the laundry/pay my credit card bill. All the fun stuff.

So for me, real luxury is about getting a cup of tea in the afternoon. Or reading a few pages of a book or magazine. When J comes home I cook dinner (listening to Radio 4) and it's more relaxing than tiring. 

At the moment my ultimate simple pleasures include:

A hot bath
Painting my nails
A lie-in (although I'm a very light sleeper)
Relaxing under a blanket watching Girls
Eating pomegranates
Walking at the weekends.

Who needs massive shopping sprees anyway? 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Out and about

It was freezing last night and we woke up to a heavy frost. The weather over Christmas was so dismal that any opportunity we get to go out for a long walk, we go for it. Today we headed to Dunham Massey - a stately home and deer park in a National Trust-owned village and estate.

We wrapped up warm and bundled Joe into his snowsuit. I avoided the gift shop (too much temptation) but succumbed to a hot coffee - you can watch the swans while you wait in the queue. It wasn't too long today but there were people buying ice cream. Yes, really.

The deer are usually timid but today most of them were dozing and didn't seem bothered by all the passers-by photographing them.

You may be wondering why I don't put many photos of Joe on my blog. I will (occasionally) but if you're curious, he has a blog of his own. His dad put it together when he was born so friends and family could see him. It's also a nice way to chart his daily progress. You're welcome to take a look here if you like - he really does exist!

Saturday, 12 January 2013


My mum brought me and my older brother up on her own (my dad left her for someone else when I was four). We didn't miss him - quite the opposite actually. Michael and me had a great childhood, partly because my mum worked so hard to make sure we never went without.

That doesn't mean things weren't difficult for her. She just chose not to tell us her worries and it wasn't until I was older and paying my own bills that I really began to appreciate how hard it must have been.

On a Friday evening my mum and me used to take the bus to my grandma's house, about ten miles away, and spend the night. Grandma lived on her own and my grandad had recently died. They were Polish and had moved to Britain just after the war, so I learned a lot about resourcefulness from both my grandma and my mum - things like always cooking a meal from scratch using inexpensive ingredients (herbs, root vegetables, rice, less popular cuts of meat).

In the winter when we stayed over, I'd go up to bed while they stayed downstairs talking in Polish. The guest room was always freezing but the bed sheets would be freshly washed and nestling deep down was a glass lemonade bottle filled with boiling water so my feet would be warm. I'd gingerly inch my toes down towards it, fearful of scalding them.

There was always something cooking when we arrived. Pork with dill, or pierogi ('suitcases'as I called them), filled with potato and cheese, or cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and meat, or beetroot or sorrel soup with soured cream.

Because of my mum's received wisdom from her mother, I:

Never waste or throw food away
Always cook from scratch
Love carrots, beetroot, gherkins, dill and cabbage
Wear extra layers if it's cold
Save bones for soup
Make do and mend
Grow things to eat.

I intend to keep a record of this wisdom, live by it and pass it on to my son.
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