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What I’m doing now…

It’s been a while since I blogged, and even longer since I blogged regularly. Somehow, having kids and all that that entails, has seen my writing slip to one side and I fear I’m not as good at it as I once was. I’m out of practice. So, stealing inspiration from this post, here’s one to ease myself back in…

Reading: Well, I’m not actually reading anything at the moment, in anticipation of the publication of The Atlas of Us – tomorrow! It’s author, my good friend Tracy Buchanan, had two dreams: to have a baby and to get a UK publishing deal. Typically, both arrived at the same time but she’s so super talented (and a bit bonkers) that she’s managed to write a book and raise a lovely little girl all at the same time. Hats off to Buchy! The last book I read was The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and it’s utterly amazing. I urge anyone to read it and not want to change their life for the better afterwards. It’s just fantastic. Continue Reading

Loving that frugal feeling


I love the word thrifty and am a big fan of Mrs Thrifty’s blog: she offers top tips on saving money and spending wisely. This is not something, until recently, that hubby and I have been good at.

We’ve always chosen the quick/easy/lazy option and that often means waste and expense. Take, for example, the amount of food we throw away because it rots before we get around to eating it. Then we complain we have nothing much to eat and splurge on a take-away. Lose-lose.

I’m not keen on clutter either, although it always seems to gather somewhere – why do men open letters then put them back in the envelope before sticking them in a drawer!! – and I probably have hundreds of tealight holders thanks to my addiction to GU puddings that come in those little glass dishes.

Usually we’d take the quick route and stick our clutter a bin bag every once in a while and leave it for the binmen to deal with. But on discovering our more frugal side, we’ve discovered a better way.

People shop in the dark at 5am – can you believe it!

A few weeks ago I did a car boot sale. Yes, it meant getting up at 4.30am – why the hell to they start at 5am when it’s pitch black!? – and standing in the cold for a good seven hours, but me and my mate Angie (hubby point blank refused to help on this one) had a laugh and made almost £200 between us. Mostly for selling junk! And can you believe people shop at car boots at 5am with torches on their heads!? That’s dedicated bargain hunting for ya.

So, yes, I had to deal with people complaining that a sports watch didn’t have a battery in it – well Mr, that’s why I’m offering to sell it to you for 50p!!! – and letting go of once-loved shoes and boots for just £2 a pair. But these items went to good homes, I no longer used or needed them, and pence makes pounds. And trust me, with a baby on the way (turns out little people need a lot of stuff), that money comes in handy. I earned almost £100 for a morning hanging out with my mate when usually I’d have dumped everything in a bin bag for speed. Well worth doing!

We also have lots of items at home that we don’t use, want or need any longer. Car booters aren’t willing to pay much for anything so things like Uggs, electrical items, designer handbags and dresses were whacked on eBay. Yes, there’s an investment of time here, loading the items on and having to package and send them somewhere, but I still made money – £50 for a pair of Uggs that sat gathering dust in the bottom of the wardrobe, and £50 for a stack of DVDs that did little more than take up much-needed storage space. Again, well worth doing.

No more shopping with our stomachs

Then there are items of furniture. With a house move on the horizon, I’m keen not to transport furniture we don’t need or want to the new place. And the garage has been home to a table and chairs, a TV stand and other items for well over a year now. They’re no good to anyone in there! So I whacked them up on the intranet noticeboard at work, offered up at cheapo prices and made in excess of £250 for selling unused bikes, unwanted dining furniture, chests of drawers and a dog crate. The double whammy here is that the people buying them get decent products for a much reduced rate, so it’s win win. And I earn money while clearing out clutter. Yet again, well worth doing.

Don’t get me wrong, hubby and I still have a long way to go but we’re making much more of our money. We plan meals and food shop accordingly – getting it delivered to save us from shopping with our stomachs or getting distracted by the clothes and DVD aisles. And when we indulge in take-aways or meals out we try and look for voucher codes. I also jump on two-for-one offers, stock up on cut-price products we use regularly and use my Boots card to collect points when I buy essentials like shampoo and conditioner. And it feels much better to be doing it this way, rather than hurredly picking something off a shelf and then cringing when they put it through the till.

I’m also being more charitable. I’ve had a few clothes clear outs of late and bundle unwanted, unworn or don’t fit items into two bags – one for friends of a smiliar size who are grateful for good condition seconds, and another for the charity shops. If you’re going to throw things out, someone somewhere should benefit.

Five for Friday: Why I'm peeing my pants in excitement for summer

Highclere Castle, Highclere, Hampshire

I wouldn’t usually wish huge chunks of the year away but I positively cannot wait until June. Here’s why…

1) Bye bye studies (temporarily), and hello life (temporarily)
Once my next assignment is submitted in early June I’ll be free of study for the whole summer, which means I get my evenings and weekends back and complete freedom to… DO WHATEVER I WANT! Whether it’s dinner and drinks with the girls, a day out with hubby or clearing out the garage (I’m itching to get in there and unleash my inner Monica) I can do it. Hoorah! I can even spend a whole weekend in my pyjamas watching back-to-back episodes of Murder She Wrote, eating nothing but biscuits and drinking tea from china cups if I want to. It’s not that I don’t love the MA, I do, but a break will be blissful and hopefully well earned.

2) Holiday!
Usually, as January 1st of each year rolls around me and hubby will be booking a holiday, putting a marker in the calendar to drag us through the bleak winter months when there’s nothing much to be cheery about. Christmas behind us, we always need a holiday to look forward to. We’ve planned nothing this year because we’ve been reluctant to spend any money (having a tight arse phase at the mo – and hubby nearly bankrupted us with his eggnog latte addiction) and free holidays don’t exist – or rather, they do, but are at my mum’s house in the Shire. And while we STILL haven’t booked anything, we WILL be taking at least a week off in June to revel in some Cornish sun, make ourselves sick on rum and raisin ice cream and cream teas, eat in seafood restaurants, explore parks and gardens and generally have a bloody marvelously British time.

3) Writing, writing, writing
It’s really not possible to work full time, do an MA part time and manage to eat, bathe and dress myself daily as well. Throw in time with the family, time to read, watch my fave TV programmes and wind down after a long day in front of a computer, play netball and volleyball and try and salvage some inkling of a social life, and my poor old writing tends to fall off the ‘really need to get on and do’ list. I’ve just managed to enter two competitions which, luckily, only require the first chapter or two of my novel (and I await with baited breath!) but it’ll be lush to get some proper time back to focus on writing projects, my blogging, my novel, some freelance work. Bring it on. I’m brimming with ideas and won’t be fulfilled until I’ve put this creativity into action.

4) Afternoon tea and a slice of heritage
To celebrate the handing in of my last assignment of the academic year hubby and I plan to while away a few hours at Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed. We’ll soak up the history, the grounds, the well thought out camera angles, and revel in a slice of British history and an era brought alive by a fictional place called Downton Abbey. And on the way home we’ll stop for afternoon tea a posh hotel in Marlow, using the voucher my delightful friend Bloater (she’s not fat, far from it, but has been known to eat a whole maltloaf in two bites) gave me for my birthday. A lush present and hubby and I will use it to pretend, just for a couple of hours, that we’re civilised.

5) Sporting highlights
June to September calendar highlights include: car shopping (hoping my current batmobile lasts that long); Buchy and Bruiser’s birthday bash (these are my husband and wife friends, not a comedy duo btw); the Big Doggie Do – the dog show in which Ralphie was crowned cutest puppy two years ago; Mandy’s wedding in July; Olympic volleyball in August (we have tickets!) and topped off nicely by a weekend oop norf and a trip to the York Festival of Writing (need to run that last one past hubby first).


Pictured above is Highclere Castle, Highclere, Hampshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The joy of afternoon tea

You can’t beat afternoon tea with the girlies – especially when the cakes are home baked (not by me, I hasten to add) and decorated by hand as a collective effort.


The best ever recipe for mulled wine

Homemade mulled wineToday’s my birthday and as much as I love receiving, this year I’m giving something to you. Actually, I’m stealing something and giving it to you because this is my mum’s recipe for mulled wine. It’s bloody good and pretty much all I drink at Chrimbo. As the years have gone on I’ve certainly lost my boozy tendancies but this mulled wine… well, it’s simply marvellous.

(and measurements are dead rough btw, I make it slightly differently each time. Bung it cookery is what my mum would call it)

  • One and a half bottles (medium sized) of ginger ale (low calorie if you want to compensate for all the sugar)
  • 3oz brown sugar
  • Two large oranges
  • Cloves
  • Three cinnamon sticks
  • Two tablespoons of mixed spice
  • One bottle of red wine
  • One glass of ginger wine or brandy or whisky (I’ve listed these in order of my personal preferences)

The process…

  • Stick the oranges with several cloves and set aside
  • In a large pan, slowly heat the red wine, ginger ale and ginger wine with the cinnamon sticks
  • Stir in the mixed spice and sugar and continue to heat
  • Slice the oranges into rough segments (cloves included) and add
  • Serve it up and enjoy!

I like my mulled wine pretty damn hot so I drink it out of a large mug but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to have it warm and from a glass. Whatever your preference, enjoy it, it’s lush. And play around with the ingredients, you just can’t go wrong with this.

One anniversary, two people, a treehouse and a very posh restaurant…

The 5th December 2010 was bang on perfect and the same day one year later was going to be hard to beat. Let’s face it, wedding days are pretty special. But our first anniversary was blooming marvelous.

The walls around us were made of wood and we bathed in a copper bath for two before pulling on our Sunday best (or Monday in this case) and trekking across a muddy field, arm in arm, the wind in our hair, torch in hand; our only light against the black of night. As we reached the old country house, a dark shadow appeared and opened the car door with a creak, guiding us in. And away we went, down winding roads, sliding around corners as a frost began to take hold.

Harptree Court treehouseAs we reached our destination, warm smiles greeted us, the glow of Christmas lights and festive decorations and a very comfortable sofa. We’d just travelled from the treehouse at Harptree Court (which gets a great write up in The Guardian) to The Priory in Bath for dinner. The treehouse was my idea but full credit goes to hubby for planning the meal out – I had no idea until we’d arrived where we were even going and he’s usually rubbish at keeping secrets! I was so hungry a Macdonalds would have done but this had to be the best meal I have ever tasted. We plumped for executive chef Michael Caines’ signature tasting menu… scallops, pate, seabass, beef, cheese, sorbet and fruit salad and a chocolate dessert, followed by anniversary-themed petit fours and a fair bit of wine. Between the eating we sere served by really helpful and attentive staff, not snooty and in your face, just friendly and informative and genuinely interested in which was our favourite course. To be honest, they were all amazing but the pate and beef were probably top. Lush!

Petit fours at The PrioryThe sommelier was fantasticly passionate about his wine and helped us try some new ones, not intimidating with his knowledge and passion and not snooty about my lack of refinement when it comes to fine wine either. His lessons in wine were enjoyable. And the chap who served us our cheese course had a genuine glint of excitement in his eyes when we asked for his recommendations. Masterchef winner Sam Moody is the head chef at The Priory and between him and Michael Caines, they produce some food to be very proud off. There was literally a party in my mouth that night!

After the meal – which lasted over three hours! – we headed back to the treehouse, the perfect tonic to a busy existence. It boasts all mod cons as well as a character copper bath, heated flooring, a much needed hot water bottle , log burner, and a huge helping of Linda’s homemade lemon cake which is to DIE for. The torch was much needed, we’d have been sleeping in a wet field without it, but that added to the experience and isolation of our three-day retreat. Harptree Court is nestled in tranquility between Bath and Bristol, near to Chew Valley Lake, and it’s a pretty drive to the Park and Ride which took us to Bath’s Christmas markets, Harptree Court Treehousehugging the town’s Abbey and luring visitors to its core with the smell of mulled wine, cheese and chutneys.

On our second night at the treehouse we braved the dark and wet again and strolled around 200 metres to the local pub, the Waldegrave Arms, where we were met with smiles, cosy Christmas lights and music and a good home-cooked festive menu. And as we wandererd home, our bellies filled with roast turkey and beef stew, we saw the local phone box filled with novels. Locals use the box to house their book swap shcmee – what a lovey idea.

Linda and Charles run Harptree Court and welcome people into their home like old friends. At 10am check out time, Charles was there with the 4×4 to help us take our luggage across the field to the car and we left feeling utterly relaxed and smug. Our first anniversary was everything we’d hoped it to be and more, and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer place to spend it.