Saturday, 7 November 2015

More yoga - III - the pursuit of happiness

More yoga!

One of the things that I had been slightly worried about was whether I would find the amount of yoga too much.  I usually go 2-3 times a week when I'm in London so I wasn't sure about doing yoga every day, especially if the classes were longer than I was used to.

In fact we did 4 hours a day - 2 in the morning and 2 in the evening, but the teachers were fantastic and mixed it up so that it didn't get boring.  Typically the morning sessions would be a mix of meditation, vinyasa flow and workshops, and the evening would be meditation and yin.  The shala was beautiful and constructed of wood, facing out over the gardens to sea, with billowing muslin drapes and candles.  It felt like the most wonderfully calm space in which to practice and I loved every second of it.

yoga retreat

One morning we did a mindfulness walk which was one of the most powerful events for me.  It was apparent during the week that most people had ether had a moment or gone through some kind of metamorphosis or revelation just through the practice of yoga.  It's strange how the less you do and say, the more scope there is for your life to change.  The interesting thing about yoga is that it's not just a form of exercise, it's a way of life.  It changes your mindset and your energy, and opens you up to interacting with the universe positively and without fear, and the universe responds accordingly, presenting you with a wealth of opportunity.

yoga retreat

You learn how to "be" rather than "do".  You build inner resources so that you can treat the world and everyone in it with kindness, knowing that you can rely on your own inner resources to steer you away from people who do not have your best interests at heart.  You have no need to lash out and try to control your environment in order to be happy because you have everything you need inside yourself.  You cease judging everything and reacting, and you instead you become an observer.  You become calmer, ,more grounded, and more at ease with yourself.  Instead of railing against life you flow with it, bending and flexing rather than jarring.

yoga retreat

It was during the mindfulness walk that I had my most profound realisations.  We walked in single file, in silence, down to the beach where we spent around 20 minutes reflecting before walking back. I looked around me, determined to soak up every aspect of my environment and notice everything I could through every sense.  The colours were vibrant - a bright blue cloudless sky, the dark navy of the sea and the light ochre and tan of the dusty road against the hundreds of shades of green of the forest.  The I glanced to my left and watched an insect land on the side of the road amongst the scrub.  It was perfectly camouflaged, almost completely invisible and it occurred to me what you miss in life if you're not paying attention.

I continued the walk, looking and listening and paying attention.  The cicadas were deafening even early in the day, although apart from that there was no other noise at all - no traffic, no talking, none of the clattering and clanging that form the soundtrack of life in London.  It was bliss.  I held out my arms and felt the heat of the morning sun on my skin as the warm scented air entering my lungs.  The path got steeper, and more difficult to navigate in sections where the loose shale made securing a foothold tricky.  It reminded me of life generally; how sometimes the path is easy to navigate, at other times its hard or seemingly impossible.  But if you pause, look ahead and focus on how to keep walking rather than emotionally reacting to the fact that its difficult, then the whole journey gets easier.  And for all of the steep hard bits, there are also lots of smooth flat bits.  Each bring something different to the party and teach yourself something about yourself.  And the one thing that is certain is that the path will change and change again.  The tough bits don't last forever.  The steep inclines where you feel exhausted, unsteady or lost eventually level out and you find your way again.  Just like life.

I was rewarded when I got the beach - as I found myself a perch on a large flat rock I gazed out to sea and enjoyed its expansiveness.  Before too long I caught site of what looked like a small face popping up out of the water in the middle distance.  I screwed up my eyes to check I wasn't seeing things but for the next few minutes  more faces popped up.  They were Mediterranean monk seals, endangered and rare.  I was overwhelmed to have seen them.  In perfect symmetry at the same time a diver surfaced close to the shore and I thought how funny it was that whilst he was peering down under the sea, the seals were doing the equivalent, popping up their faces to see what was happening on the land, each party curious to understand the foreign world lying beyond their own.

At that moment I couldn't have been happier and I wondered about the human condition.  We chase money with increasingly demanding jobs, sure that once we can afford that big house/car/boat, then, and only then, we'll be happy.  And happiness is what it all comes back to.  Try this trick - ask someone close to you (or even yourself) a series of questions and ultimately, whether they know it or not, it comes back to what makes you happy.  I tried it on my dad.  I asked him why he worked so hard at nearly 70 years old in a high profile and stressful job.  Because I like the challenge, and the money of course.  Ok, so what do you want to do with all the money I asked?  I want to buy a country pile and lots of land he told me.  Why, I asked?  So I can have space and a beautiful home.  Ok, but why?  So I can enjoy my success.  And why?  Because it makes me happy!

yoga retreat

Ultimately no matter people think they want, if you reduce it down to its smallest component it all comes down to happiness.  I don't want to judge anyone for their choices and from the number of people who play the lottery, there's no doubt that most people think that if they had more, they would be happier.  Certainly money brings opportunity and freedom and those things are incredible.  But if its just all about the pursuit of happiness, why does it matter whether you get there via a big house and a yacht, or by something simpler - a walk to the beach, an random act of kindness, a simple meal shared with friends?  I mean, what if you get your yacht and then spend the rest of your time worrying about whether your neighbours boat is bigger, or whether yours might spring a leak, or whether you could lose it all?  I don;t know the answer but its a question that I think is worth pondering.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

How was it for you? Yoga Retreat Part II

My first one and now the first of many I've decided.  Its a brilliant way to spend a week, recalibrating your body and mind, giving your liver a break and getting some valuable time and space to think and breathe.

yoga turkey

If you've seen my earlier post you'll know I went to Suleyman's Garden in Turkey for a week in July. By the time I finally arrived it was about 1.30am so I didn't get to see it in all its glory until the next day when I was met with the most beautiful view, since the whole site looks out from its mountainous perch to sea.

The whole place is simple but utterly charming.  Accommodation is wooden or stone huts that you can choose to share to occupy alone.  None have locks on the doors (not needed as there's no crime) and you need a torch to get back to your hut at night as they are dotted randomly around the jungley site.  Some huts have en suite bathrooms, some don't but the facilities are good. The huts don't have air con which I liked, but it did make sleeping a bit tricky, and when I put the fan it just buffeted hot air around so that I mostly felt like a roast chicken slowly cooking in a hot oven.  But I soon got used to the heat and the pool is the perfect temperature to cool off before bed.

yoga turkey

yoga turkey

All the food that you eat during the week is grown on site, and the extraordinarily rich growing conditions yield all sorts of fruits and vegetables; enormous flavourful tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and garlic, aubergine, courgette, avocado, cherries, mulberries, peaches, plums, melons, apricots, figs, name it.  The flavours are wonderful, so much more intense than anything I have tasted at home, and conditions mean that things grow literally a metre in a week.  In fact its hard to keep up with all of the produce and the selection of jams at breakfast is astonishing - fig jam, cherry jam, apricot preserve, orange marmalade with whole tiny kumquats, olives, corn bread, pine honey, fresh mint tea and water drawn from the nearby well  Meals were mostly vegan, but with feta cheese and eggs from the free range chickens at breakfast time, and it was seasonal eating at its best.

yoga turkey

The whole site is verdant and jungley and the heavy is so heavily scented with honeysuckle and jasmine that its as though you are walking through clouds of perfume as you make your way back to your hut at night.  You can get to the beach (which is in fact a series of large rocks leading to the sea) via a scrabbly path which leads down to a charming little cafe restaurant.  If you go early in the morning you can see various footprints of the animals with which you are co-existing, and in fact I heard the pitter patter of heavy footprints across the roof of my hut on more than one occasion. According to Ian the owner, neighbours include porcupine, polecats and wild boar, and one of the girls found a tortoise under her hut one morning!

yoga turkey
The group I was with comprised about 8 people from the same studio as me in London, and 4 Dutch girls.  Most people had travelled alone and didn't know one another but by the end the group had bonded and the dynamic between us was relaxed but companionable.  It was a mixed bag - a dentist, a musician, a fashion designer, a legal secretary, a physiotherapist, a communications was nice to meet people from such diverse backgrounds.  The Dutch girls were really interesting; two of them, R and E had travelled together and were best friends despite a 30 year age gap.  E was a tough lady in her late 50's who was delightful company and had been on several holidays with R, despite both of them being married (they sensibly left their husbands at home!).   I confess to being a bit skittish where bugs are concerned and the incredibly verdant landscape made it a haven for flying and crawling things of remarkable proportions.  I try not to make too much of a fuss but E soon put things into perspective when she told me how a few years back she had travelled to Greece and opted to sleep on the beach.  On waking the next morning she discovered she had spent the night sleeping on a snake!  Typically matter of fact, she explained in her heavy Dutch accent that it suited both of them fine - she hadn't realised the snake was there so it hadn't disturbed her, and the snake had had a cosy night's sleep so they parted company on good terms, no harm done.

More in Part III......

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The one where I go on a yoga retreat - Part I

A recent convert to yoga, I decided this summer to take it to the next level and to go on a yoga retreat to Turkey.  Organised by the awesome House of Yoga the retreat was at Suleyman's Garden, sister venue to the immensely popular Huzar Vadizi, both near Fethiye.

suleymans garden turkey huzar vadizi

This post is part 1 of several because there's so much to say and my enthusiasm is practically bubbling over, but I want to start with the proprietor of this fantastic establishment, because he is as much a part of the experience as the beautiful surroundings and the incredible food.

Ian Worrall is 1/3 adventurer, 1/3 motorcycle enthusiast, and 1/3 barking mad.  He is one of the last remaining truly eccentric Englishmen, utterly bonkers yet with a wealth of knowledge unrivalled by anyone I have ever met.  He ambles through life in a haphazard fashion and makes delightful company thanks to his incredible story-telling ability.  He has lived a rich and varied life, flitting from Istanbul to Burma to Tibet to Kenya to India to the UK and back to Turkey.  He was originally whisked off to the exotic city of Istanbul in the 1960s by his adventurous and endlessly curious father, who pursed a career in science working for the UN.  At that time it was unheard of for a middle class family from England to gather up their children and set off for such foreign climes, let alone to drive there in a camper van, but that they did.  It clearly imbued Ian with a nomadic spirit and a certain fearlessness, as he grew up striking out on his own on a series of adventures, with nothing more than an unreliable motorcycle, a packet of cigarettes and more than his fair share of blind optimism.

The inimitable Mr Worrall enjoying himself

suleymans garden turkey huzar vadizi

His stories of crossing the Himalayas on his 3-legged beast of a bike has me howling with laughter and gasping in disbelief in turn.  Were it not that he has the slightly helpless demeanour of a young child you might doubt the provenance of the tales and even start to think them unlikely but it was clear to me that they were all true, recounted with such wonderful turn of phrase and flamboyant language that the images they conjure up are as vivid as had you been there yourself.

One of his beloved motorbikes

suleymans garden turkey huzar vadizi

This is a man who can cross the Himalayas nine times on a motorcycle yet cannot remember your name.  His passion for beauty is such that he spent 3 weeks building the perfect pedal bin from scratch, so offended were his mechanical sensitivities by the range of pedal bins available to buy.  On further enquiry it seems that his list of complaints about the bins on the market ranged from the violence of the lid-flipping action, to the ever present problem of the bin being too light and thereby skittering across the floor away from the well-intentioned user.  I was curious to see said bin and sure enough it was a thing of beauty.  The body was an empty oil drum painted a lovely cream colour.  The lid had been constructed to fit perfectly.  The thing was appropriately weighted, it had a superb flip mechanism made from a tent pole and it was finished off with some excellent shock absorbers made from a yoga mat.  Of course you might question (as I did) whether this was time well-spent during peak holiday season but no guests seem to have suffered any adverse impact to their holiday so all's well that ends well.  

Ian and the perfect pedal bin

suleymans garden turkey huzar vadizi

His passion for Suleyman's Garden is obvious and slightly chaotic approach is entirely off-set by his willingness to assist with any query or crisis and so the entire experience is only enhanced as a result. Despite outward appearances, things do seem to happen at just the right time and the retreat actually appears to run pretty smoothly.  Quite how, one cannot be sure, but I find it seldom pays to question these things too closely.

More later......

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Honey, I broke the dog

So I'm a big fan of  For the uninitiated its a website, much like a dating website, but a million times better because it matches people with dogs, which I find far superior to, and much more likely to result in a loving and lasting relationship than those websites that match people with people.

This is my borrowed doggy and its a total love match.  We adore each other and I hang out with him whenever I get the chance.  He's teeny tiny which makes him super portable.  He's got a charming disposition and can be trusted to behave beautifully in bars, restaurants and designer stores (check out my Instagram page - observa_ldn - for the day I took him to The Botanist at Sloane Square), and he often turns up with painted toenails (see below, in a lovely bright orange).  So all in all he's a total delight.  Which is why our recent emergency trip to the vet was so traumatic.

borrow my doggy

The recent heatwave meant it was the perfect time to take him to the park for a picnic.  I unfurled my lovely new Fortnum & Mason blanket, broke out the prosecco, and started chucking tennis balls for the little scamp, watching him race across the grass in hot pursuit.

borrow my doggy

borrow my doggy

Suddenly he let out a blood-curdling squeal and held up his paw.  I called him over but there was more squealing and paw holding up so it was clearly not just attention-seeking, and by now the people surrounding us having their own picnics were peering over interestedly, presumably to see what I was going to do with the squealing three-legged sausage dog.  Hmmmm.  I had had that same thought myself.  And he isn't even mine to break.  Oh shit.

I scooped him up and cast frantically around.   My poor companions were left to hurriedly clear up the picnic and prosecco, and trail along in my wake as I started barking panicked orders to call an Uber and get us to the vet.

After a lengthy negotiation with the driver (who clearly didn't want a dog in his car, no matter how small and how injured), we made it to the vet who diagnosed a broken claw (think broken nail but the kind that breaks too far down and so really really hurts).  Said nail was duly clipped off with a bit more squeaking, after which he was presented with some biscuits for being good and then, the piece de resistance, dressed in one of those hideous cone things to stop him licking his paw and infecting it.  He hated it.  Apart from obscuring his peripheral vision, it amplified the noise much like being stuffed into a trumpet I imagine.  Or a trombone.  Poor sausage dog.

We swiftly adjourned to a bar for a bottle of wine to calm our nerves at which point I realised I had lost his lead.  So we needed more wine.

Eventually it became apparent that drinking lots of wine was not going to fix the dog or find his lead.  So I put him back in a taxi and headed back to his owners.

The upshot was that having been trusted with their lovely doggy, I had brought him back 24 hours earlier than planned, broken, with a vet's bill and a missing lead.  It was not our finest hour, he and I.  I am just hoping I can borrow him again.  I really think he's the love of my life and one thing's for sure, I won't be bothering with anytime soon.  Let's just hope he doesn't dump me....

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Body hair - yay or nay?

So women's body hair seems to have been in the news lately.  I'm not sure what's "newsworthy" about it, after all this is not a new concept, but apparently it is a controversial one.  For some reason men have been quite vocal these past few weeks about the sheer unacceptability of any body hair whatsoever.

This story in  Daily Mash brilliantly takes the piss out of the guys who are so horrified at the prospect of a stray hair on a lover that they would rather forego the the chance of a shag than sleep with anyone who is less than perfectly groomed.

The Daily Mail did a similar article, with one interviewee hilariously claiming that he liked anyone he was dating to have "no hair from the eyebrows down." Wow.  Well that's us told then.  I'm surprised that any of his dates ever make it out in time for dinner, so preoccupied must they be with last minute plucking, waxing and shaving.

And what of us girls?

Well most women I know are busy cultivating the Cara brow with enthusiasm usually only reserved for chocolate or champagne, and the results are impressive.  Some of these girls would put Dennis Healy to shame.  And celebs are going for it as well, with Gwyneth Paltrow happily proclaiming that "she rocks a 70s vibe" (make of that what you will) and Miley Cyrus showing more hair under her arms than on her head.  If that weren't enough, spend a few minutes googling "underarm hair" and you'll get page after page of girls rocking colourfully dyed underarm hair (yes really!).

So are men and women out of sync when it comes to body hair?  It would seem so.

Despite the internet gleefully insisting that body hair is in, I don't know a single women in real life who doesn't shave her legs with reasonable regularity.  Admittedly I am probably at the OCD end of the scale and even in winter, clad in thick black tights, I wouldn't go more than a couple of days without some form of depilation.  In summer my routine is far stricter, and daily shaving is the order of the day.  I prefer to face the world smooth and silky, and as bare as a naked mole rat, though hopefully marginally more attractive.

naked mole rat

But let's not forget that all of this grooming takes time.  In fact I reckon I spend 10 minutes a day shaving my legs in the shower which is over an hour a week or 5 hours a month.  Add on 45 minutes a month for the obligatory brazilian wax, and 20 minutes a month on eyebrow threading and you're looking at around 6 hours of hair removal every month which is almost a working day.

So my proposal is that if men are expecting "no hair from the eyebrows down", then women get an extra 12 days annual leave a year in order to make up for all of the time spent on the intensive programme of topiary demanded by our husbands and lovers.   After all, the naked mole rat look doesn't just happen by magic.....

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

How to board a train like a Londoner - tourists take note!

Londoners are pretty orderly commuters. Ok, so I know you might be rolling your eyes and grimacing as I mention your commute and sure, it’s pretty unpleasant being squashed into overcrowded carriages little cattle whilst paying through the nose for the privilege. However, on the whole, the seasoned London commuter knows the rules and generally sticks to them, a trait that I greatly appreciate.

Given that summer is (allegedly) here and London is awash with tourists, here are the rules for the unitiated:

1. Stand on the right. Stand on the right. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STAND ON THE RIGHT! Ok, now that's settled the rest is easy....

2. Position yourself exactly in front of where the carriage doors open. Exactly. Which you will have memorised within a week of starting at a new station. Then try to defy the laws of physics by surreptitiously expanding yourself so as to discourage any newcomers from muscling in and taking up precious inches that might result in you being pushed off pitch away from the door and *shock* towards the body of the carriage, commonly known as “no-man’s land”.

3. If you find yourself in no-man’s land you have a quick decision to make. Do you stay where you are in , thereby positioning yourself equidistant from two doors so that you can see the lie of the land when the train pulls in and make a dash for the emptier carriage? Or do you commit to a door now, either trying to regain your spot by the original door or shuffling miserably towards the neighbouring one, glumly accepting your fate at the back of the queue? Stick or twist? So many parallels here with the dating world I don't know where to begin. No right answer here kids but remember, fortune favours the brave!

4. Inch forward. Make sure your toes are just touching the edge of the yellow line, that way you’re in pole position for swift boarding but when the staff shout “stand back from the yellow line”, you can smile confidently, knowing that you are not actually breaking the rules (and are thereby safe from both public humiliation by the guard and also from being unexpectedly sucked off the platform and under the very train you're trying to board by the gust that follows as the train arrives. No warranty given on the second point obviously).

5. As the doors open, edge back sideways so that there is a neat corridor for those exiting, formed by the eager boarders lining up either side. Do not attempt to board when people are still getting off – your fellow passengers with publicly berate you. Do you want that? No, thought not. The key here is to feign nonchalance, whilst gearing up to spring forward like a crouching panther, elbowing adversaries out of the way as you do so. At this point it’s every man for himself.

6.. The next move is crucial and I am forever perplexed by the difference between tube users and overground users. In my experience the tube user has a far superior method. He (or she) steps quickly and decisively onto the train and moves swiftly down the body of the carriage, thereby finding a pleasant airspace in front of seated passengers in which to read his newspaper. The overground user adopts a far more leisurely (and frankly, annoying) pace. They step onto the train with unnecessary trepidation and with no pace whatsoever. The staff on the platform, seeing this, blow their whistle prematurely, usually causing the passengers to suddenly bolt like frightened sheep. They subsequently tumble into the train in an unseemly tangle, congregating around the doors and blocking a route to the coveted middle of the train. A disappointing start to the day I think you'll agree.

So good people of Putney – please mend your ways! Step quickly and confidently onto the train in one swift movement. It’s not hard. If you need a crash course I suggest you spend a week or two on the northern line trying to board at one of the Claphams at around 8.15a.m. It's every man for himself and certainly not for the faint-hearted. Hesitate momentarily and you'll be trampled in the rush and left standing bewildered on the platform with all hope of getting to work on time dissolving fast. Think of it as commuting boot camp. You’ll come back a new person and your fellow commuters will thank you.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Hit me baby one more time

If you can't function without a regular caffeine hit then you probably have your favourite haunt.  But if you're thinking of breaking out of your coffee rut and trying somewhere new (unlikely I know - 99% of us stick with tried and tested sources of caffeine, after all, life is stressful enough without playing Russian roulette with the most important drink of the day), here are some good ones.

And if you're worried that this might be like trip adviser and you could be relying on a review from someone with appallingly low standards then fear not.  I'm no coffee snob but I am the equivalent of Goldilocks when it comes to coffee - I don't like it too strong but not too weak either.  It's got to be hot so I always order my cappuccinos extra hot and even then I would describe most of the offerings as tepid at best.  Once I sent one back three times with decreasing optimism that it would ever return more than lukewarm.  I don't like it bitter, I don't like it acidic and I don't like Starbucks.  Basically when it comes to coffee I'm a pain in the ass so read on, safe in the knowledge that I have done the hard work for you.

1.  Monmouth Coffee
People queue around the block at Borough Market for the drip coffee from Monmouth and the variety of beans to take away is pretty good as well, from Africa to South and Central America.  I'm a Brazilian girl myself (oops, too much information?!) and there's no doubt their coffee is rich, smooth and very palatable.  Plus Monmouth seems to have a universal seal of approval so you can shout about your love of their coffee without fear of derision or ridicule.  Perfect for the aspiring coffee lover.

2.  Nude Espresso
Time to get trendy about your coffee.  Don't even think about venturing to Brick Lane unless you're clad in skinny jeans and ideally a beard.  This place is reminiscent of New York's East Village with a kiwi influence. They take their coffee seriously, boast their own roastery opposite, and claim to roast the best coffee the world has to offer.  Can't really comment on that but it's pretty good.  Try the flat white.

3.  Artisan Coffee
Back in SW London we are also taking it all quite seriously, this time with coffee school.  Apparently here their baristas treat each cup like a fine chef does a meal, adjusting the grind for changes in the atmosphere.  Wow.  Weather forecast with your coffee?  This place is always buzzing so they are obviously doing something right, although I find the coffee pretty punchy here, which may account for the buzz!

4.  Konditor & Cook
Ok so this is a bit of a wild card because I would be usually be waxing lyrical about the cakes, with a particular nod to the iconic curly wurly cake.  After all, that's what its known for.  But if you are looking for a chain that does decent coffee, then this is it.  Eschew the costas and caffe neros of the world and take that extra 5 minute detour to Konditor & Cook where the coffee is of a respectable standard and price.  Although beware the amazing cakes and pastries.  You could end up with diabetes to accompany your caffeine habit so tread with caution.

5.  EZ & Moss
A little gem.  Good coffee, nice surroundings, quirky touches like salt shakers shaped like lightbulbs.  Very nice and worth heading north for.  That's all.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

If you're looking for someone to follow, start with yourself.

We all spend a significant proportion of our time following people on twitter, instagram, facebook, pinterest, and for the most part it's fun, interesting and informative.  But if you're having a less than good day it's easy to slip into feeling envious of other people's seemingly perfect lives and to zero in on what's missing from our own.

For me to stay sane I've learned that it's really important to balance looking outwards with looking inwards; to spend time cultivating a sense of who I am and what I think rather than just absorbing everything presented to me through my phone/tablet/laptop without applying my own filter to things.  So here are a few few pointers that I find helpful if I am having a tricky time.

1.  Stop comparing yourself to others & be authentically you
You're unique and you have your own spot in the universe.  Don't waste it trying to emulate others; you're better off being you.  Authenticity is so important, and anything less is cheating yourself so make sure you live your life and not someone else's.  Don't let the word "should" creep into your vocabulary or you will find yourself doing things for the wrong reasons, so replace it with "could" in your mind and see where that takes you.

And if that makes you feel anxious then ask yourself why.  If you don't like you, then you need to work on that as a priority because you're likeable, loveable and good enough as you are.  And believing any less is going hold you back from living the amazing life that you deserve.  Try this book which is full of practical advice on how to tackle low self-esteem.

2.  Remember that no-one's life is perfect.  Honestly!
I know it seems like everyone else is having a great time, especially when your friends are posting endless pictures of them and their adoring husbands on a beach in the Maldives, or tweeting about glamorous parties/plans to take a year off/babies/killer abs.....the list is bloody endless.  I frequently fall into the trap of believing that everyone else's life is amazing, and I have to constantly remind myself that no-one posts about the shit time they are having.

In fact I have been jolted back to reality a number of times when I have found out that everything is not what it seems amongst my friends and colleagues - one couple who seemed to have the perfect marriage split after an affair, a friend revealed that despite outward appearances her husband had a gambling problem and they had huge debts, and another confided that she had been grappling with depression for a number of years.  At one time or another I had envied all of them and, as sad as it was, it also served as a timely reminder that everyone's got something.

What you see on facebook is just a carefully curated snapshot of some of the highlights and none of the low points, so take it all with a generous pinch of salt.

3.  This too shall pass
Benjamin Franklin said that nothing is certain but death and taxes.  I think you could add "change" to that rather short list.  Nothing stays the same and how you feel about things today will not be how you feel in 6 months, 12 months or 10 years.  Some changes are small, some are huge, some come from outside of you and some from inside but however stuck you feel, you're not.  If it feels like nothing is happening remember that you don't notice your  hair growing a by a few millimetres a day, but one day you wake up and realise you need a hair cut.  Some changes are tiny but over time they add up to a big shift.  You're evolving, your relationships are evolving and your world is changing.  If you're feeling lost, unhappy or stuck then remember that you won't always feel like that so hang in there.

And remember, if you're looking for someone to follow, start with yourself.  You might like what you find.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Building a perfect Sunday in London

Stuck for ideas on how to spend a Sunday in London?  Try going East.  By night the bars around Old Street and Hoxton are full of hipsters and trendy creatures in skinny jeans and panama hats smoking rollies and hanging out until the early hours.  By day there are plenty of other things to explore.

Like.......Columbia Road Flower Market. 

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Rd in east London is the place to buy blooms on a Sunday.  It starts early so set your alarm and get down there before 9am to beat the crowds.

Its a riot of colour and you can find any floral variety you can think of.  When the flower market is over the shops and cafes on Columbia Road are also worth a visit.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Choosing peonies and lilles

Columbia Road Flower Market

Mini pineapples

Columbia Road Flower Market


Columbia Road Flower Market

Big terracotta pots of daisies

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road window boxes

Columbia Road Flower Market

Teeny tiny succulents and cacti

Columbia Road Flower Market

Smallest juice bar ever

Columbia Road Flower Market

Service with a smile!

Columbia Road Flower Market

There are plenty of places to stop for a coffee around Columbia Road, with plenty of buskers to keep you entertained

Columbia Road Flower Market

Or you can just pull up  a seat on the kerb!

Columbia Road Flower Market

Grabbing a coffee with our haul of roses and peonies

Columbia Road Flower Market


Columbia Road Flower Market

If you want something more substantial there are lots of places for lunch - this one, Brawn is a favourite



Refreshed and ready for a fashion fix head towards Bethnal Green Road to Tatty Devine for quirky handmade acrylic jewellery

Tatty Devine

Tatty Devine

Tatty Devine

Matching my flower choices to my outfit colour palette

Columbia Road Flower Market

Finally once you're exhausted yourself buying flowers and jewellry, walk down to Hoxton for some refreshment

Columbia Road Flower Market

Finish with some Vietnamese summer rolls on Kingsland Road.

Vietnamese Food

Images: Writers own

Thursday, 21 May 2015

How to make a distressed side table

Distressed furniture is so beautiful but can be expensive to buy because it's so popular.  The good news is that it's really easy to do it yourself with just a tiny bit of time and effort.  This table took me less than 3 hours to transform.

What you'll need:

- a piece of wooden furniture - I used a side table that I found in a street market in Dorset for £19 (yes, £19!)
- Annie Sloan chalk paint
- Annie Sloan soft wax
- a good quality paint brush
- soft cloths
- medium grain sandpaper

If you find a piece of furniture that you think might look good, try to look past its original state and imagine it restored.  This table doesn't look much in its original state but I loved the delicate shape and scalloped edges so I knew it would look great with a little TLC.

Wipe down the table with warm soapy water first to get rid of any dirt and dust, and let it dry before you start.

Also, no matter how careful you are its' difficult to stay paint-free, so change into old clothes before you crack open the paint.

Choose your paint.  Annie Sloan chalk paint is great because it gives the furniture a very matt effect and rubs off easily when you start to distress it.  I used duck egg blue.

The great thing about this paint is that it goes straight on, and you don't need to sand or prepare the wood before you start.

If you want more detail  there are plenty of books that you can refer to for ideas.  Quick paint transformations by Annie Sloan is a good one, as it's simple and every step is illustrated.

It's a good idea to put down newspaper before you start painting.  If the weather is fine you can paint outside, or if not in a utility room or somewhere with wipe clean surfaces.  The paint comes off fairly easily if you drop any, but I doubt carpets or soft furnishings would fare as well as paving stones or lino floors.

Keep a pot of water nearby to slightly dampen your brush and then apply the paint evenly to the table.  I decided on two coats, although coverage was pretty good after just one.

It takes about an hour to dry although you might want to leave it longer.  Once dry you can take your sandpaper and start rubbing off edges.  I wanted a heavily distressed look for this piece, but if you're unsure just rub on the parts that would have naturally got knocked over time - so edges and corners primarily.

Be brave - you can always repaint any parts you don't like, and experimentation is how you learn. Perfectionism stifles creativity, so don't worry about getting it perfectly right first time.

The beauty of this table is that as I rubbed it revealed first the dark wood and then, beneath, the lighter wood which gave it a really interesting effect.

Once you've distressed the table, you need to decide if you want to wax it.  I used Annie Sloan soft wax which protects the wood without affecting its matt finish.  The colour darkens a little if you wax it, but only very slightly.  Use a soft cloth like a J-cloth to rub the wax evenly across the table.

And there you have - a beautiful distressed french-style side table.

Images: Writer's own