The Bright Skies of London

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On Sunday 10th November I headed tentatively into central London, expecting large crowds for the Remembrance day ceremonies and parades.  Apart from having acquired a handy app of the London Underground tube network on my phone – something I wholly recommend to any London tourist – I had not really prepared a plan for my first day of sightseeing, I thought it would be fun to see if I could just walk around the city and ‘connect the dots’ on foot between famous landmarks. At East Croydon Station, I hopped on to the first train that I saw on the platform. It was headed to London Bridge – however I got off at Elephant and Castle, a station which is named after an old coaching inn and is situated near the Imperial War Museum. My stop off was a spontaeneous decision based purely on the novelty of the name – you can definitely tell I’m not a Londoner! – but I must of looked quite confident in my decision as it wasn’t long before I was being asked for directions by American tourists… I loved the red elephant placed on a pedestal outside the station, a statue which dates back to the 1960s.

From Elephant and Castle, I was off on the tube to Charing Cross, the stop for Trafalgar Square,  home to The National Gallery (a monument in its own right, most recently filmed for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode). Trafalgar square also plays host to the four iconic bronze Trafalgar Lions, placed around Nelson’s Column. I had previously visited the nearby Canada House on a school trip way back in 2007, and it was an awesome feeling to relive the excitement of the busy area again. Trafalgar square has four plinths, one in each corner of the square – the fourth plinth is dedicated to temporary contemporary artworks (that rolls off the tongue!) and this colourful cockerel was installed on the plinth in July 2013, making it a relatively new addition to the Square! It’s a cheeky statue which fully embraces British humour (although I think it looks a bit Gallic in nature and it was in fact created by a German Professor of Sculpture!).

Instead of heading into The National Gallery, which has over 2,300 paintings on display and (… perhaps most importantly for a girl on a budget) offers free admission, I got sidetracked spotting the flags of various Embassies that flank the streets around the square. I soon found myself outside Her Majesty’s Theatre, which has hosted Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical ‘The Phantom of the Opera” since 1986. The original novel, written by frenchman Gaston Leroux, is one of my favourite books. Being a hopeless romantic with a passion for gothic novels, the story of a tortured artist who sulks for his lost love in Parisian catacombs was always going to be right up my street. When I accidentally came across the theatre, I  definitely felt a frisson of excitement and promised myself that I would return later in the week to watch it. The theatre box office is open from Monday – Saturday from 10am-6pm and I definitely recommend buying your ticket in person if you are a lone ranger, rather than purchasing online or from a half price ticket booth – some amazing deals can be had at the last minute and the attendants at the box office desk are extremely kind and helpful.


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I sauntered onwards from Haymarket to the Mall. Again, not knowing the streets of London very well, I ended up in this area completely by chance – I didn’t even realise that I was near Buckingham Palace! Due to the Remembrance Day parades, I was met with a Mall closed to traffic and full of pedestrians quietly enjoying the Sunday sunshine. The autumn leaves of St James’s Park looked glorious against the bright blue skies and the calm serenity of the area was fitting for such a poignant day. London is famous for its beautiful parks and St James’s Park is no exception. It is an iconic location, having served as the backdrop for many films, including the James Bond film ‘Die Another Day’ and the live action version of Disney’s ‘101 Dalmatians’ – I was half expecting to see dalmatians frolicking under the trees! London is renowned for being an expensive city, however if you are willing to put on your walking shoes, there are many sights and locations that can be enjoyed for free.

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It was great to be able to approach the Palace on foot via the Mall. As it was November, the Queen’s guards were wearing their grey Autumn/Winter coats over their famous red tunics – the overcoats are thicker and longer in length than the tunics, providing more warmth and protection against the oncoming British cold. I thought that the Guardsmen were looking rather stylish…
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I had made plans on Saturday night to meet up with Daryl, a friend from University, for an afternoon of ‘adventure’. Just before he came to meet me outside the Palace, I chanced upon a Canadian Remembrance ceremony by the Canada gates in Green Park, just to the side of Buckingham Palace. I mentioned earlier in this post that I’d participated in a 2007 school trip to the Canadian Embassy in London.  This excursion was later followed up by a trip to France and Canada, thanks to a project run by the Imperial War Museum called ‘Their Past Your Future’ – the aim of which was to analyse the way in which Canadian soldiers, who fought in World Wars 1 and 2, have been commemorated from the past to the present day. The Canadian Remembrance ceremony at Green Park in 2013 brought back emotive memories of the war stories from that 2007 trip and I feel grateful that I was allowed to observe the ceremony and have a quiet moment of contemplation on the sidelines.

Daryl found me at the gates of Buckingham Palace and we were off to meet another friend from University at Trafalgar Square… however, we got a little bit lost on the tube but eventually, via Piccadilly Circus, ended up at our intended destination. From Charing Cross, we hot footed it to Covent Garden Market, which is one of my favourite areas in London. It features stunning architecture in the form of the Piazza,  which is surrounded by the lively buzz and hubbub of ‘Theatre land’, buskers, acrobats and musicians, making for a animated and magical atmosphere which changes from day to day.

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Daryl took a moment out from our frantic tube hopping to pose by the Piccadilly Circus underground signage…

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Now, I knew that the Moomins had their own theme park in their native Finland, but I was intrigued (and thrilled) to see that there was a miniature Moomin land within my reach in Covent Garden! The shop is accessed by a set of stairs, flanked by artistic Moomin silhouettes and postboxes for ‘Moomin Valley’ with beautiful attention to detail. I didn’t buy anything… but was definitely impressed with the concept! Definitely head to Covent Garden and have a look at the quaint market shops if you are looking for unusual christmas gifts or stocking fillers.

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After a brief dash into the Disney Store, we hit the road once more, this time I was told by my London savvy companions that we were headed to a magical place on Regent Street…

Hamleys Toy Shop! I was told en route that it is a childhood rite of passage for British children to go to Hamleys – the world’s oldest toyshop which has thousands of toys spread out over an impressive seven floors. Not being a frequent visitor to London as a child, I obviously missed out on that experience, but don’t weep for me too much… 😉 As you can tell by my enthusiasm for Moomins and the Disney store, it wasn’t too late in life for this big kid to visit the flagshop London toy shop.

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And I clearly wasn’t the only one to enjoy the experience! I wonder if anyone will wake up this Christmas with this £2000 + Bear from Steiff under their tree?! (Perhaps due to size issues it might have to be placed alongside the family tree!) I loved the displays and the peppy enthusiasm of the Hamleys staff who were to be found on each floor performing demonstrations of all the gadgets they had on offer to wide eyed children… and their equally wide eyed parents. It must be impossible to go into Hamleys with children and leave empty-handed, but luckily there is a choice from thousands of toys that cater for every budget. I can vividly recall reading about the exciting London toyshop experience in Jacqueline Wilson’s books when I was about nine… Now 14 years later I have finally experienced the Hamleys magic – and seen Prince William, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge incarnated in Lego.

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After the excitement of Hamleys, it was time to head to Ellie’s parents in Bromley via London Victoria for an amazing Sunday roast – I really was spoilt by Ellie (who had spent the entirety of her Sunday slaving over lesson plans) and her family! After dinner, we returned to the Ritz of East Croydon, I gratefully removed my heels and already started thinking about what activities to take on next…

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Pimp my Pumpkin!

This week I gave myself a Halloween mission to locate some pumpkins and slice them up. Sounds simple enough. However, whilst I like arts and crafts in that I like doodling and throwing glitter around, this task was a dubious one at the beginning. I do not really trust myself not to leave destruction or carnage in my wake at the best of times (ie. when selecting an outfit to wear for the day) Factor in wielding a knife and having to stab into a large orange fleshy object, the potential for a messy situation is increased significantly . Regardless of my passion for Tim Burton, when you put a knife into my hands and direct me to some vegetables, the aftermath is less Edward Scissorhands, more Chainsaw Massacre. I can cut a straight line, and on a good day, a paper snowflake but this was a whole different ballgame. I was already having premonitions of having to have my fingers reattached in Accident and Emergency before I even bought the pumpkins. (Me, melodramatic? What gave you that impression?)

Anyway, off I ambled to the supermarket to purchase some pumpkins. I went to the Alliance, which in spite of its futuristic scifi sounding name, is in actual fact, a horrifically ugly and outdated corrugated iron warehouse style building. However, I always think of it fondly and with affection as it is a sort of Aladdin’s cave and contains every kind of product that you could ever need (often in industrial sizes – think along the lines of vats of mayonnaise, marmalade and strawberry bonbons). At the Alliance, I purchased two medium sized pumpkin beasts and then decided to chance the hedge veg stalls of St Sampsons to see if there was anything smaller lurking on the shelves. I was feeling enthused by this point and decided that I wanted a panoply of pumpkins. In Guernsey, you can often find wooden boxes on the hedges filled with locally grown produce. You drive up, select your wares and then place money in an ‘honesty box’. Small town living. Forget Mcdonalds, in Guernsey, if you want fast food then you’ll have to settle for a punnet of blackberries fresh off the hedge.

A 15 minute walk down my road revealed a little nook (in someone’s driveway, casual, I had to lean precariously over a flowerbed in order to access it) selling small pumpkins for £1.00 each (bargain). I placed two one pound notes in the box and bought two small ‘uns which I then placed on the palm of each of my hands. Walking past the pub, a stone’s throw away from the hedge veg boutique, a Guernsey grower with a van full of Guernsey toms (that’s tomatoes for you sophisticated townies) stopped me by leaning out the window, guffawing and telling me I was mishandling my pumpkins.

Is there a correct way to handle a pumpkin? You tell me.


A little illustration of the scenario. I should also probably point out that I was wearing wedged shoe boots, perhaps not the most appropriate footwear to go a pumpkin foraging. However, not as outlandish as the shoes that Courtney Stodden  would wear to a pumpkin patch photo shoot.


Earlier in the morning, some flowers that i had ordered for my mum online arrived from bunches.co.uk (in less than 24 hours, impressive)  The bouquet had an autumnal theme, and incorporated some mini pumpkins. As I mentioned in my previous Halloween blog post, I just love novelty things. I couldn’t resist ordering a bouquet with miniature pumpkins in it. You can see from the picture above that Chino, the house rabbit, was rather intrigued by this floral arrangement, most probably because he wanted to eat the roses. Alas, it was not to be for Chino, who later disdainfully turned up his nose (…or twitched it) when offered a piece of pumpkin. (Rabbits can eat pumpkin in moderation however Chino does not like it, will not eat it, and tends to only be enthusiastic about bananas). With the arrival of the pumpkin flowers and the pumpkins themselves, the house was suddenly bedecked with orange, and I was feeling inspired. After having a bit of an Instagram/Pinterest lurk, I decided that I would pimp my pumpkin (leaving one for my brother to work his artistic magic on) by turning it into… a princess carriage! A carriage missing its Cinderella, but a princess carriage none the less. It is perhaps not the most conventionally ‘spooky’ of ideas but one that would allow me to keep the knife action to a minimum and also give me an opportunity to glitz it up.

The pumpkin family. I attacked the biggest, deciding to save the pumpkin goop from the middle for cupcakes. Very experimental. I also put the seeds aside to roast later.


With the first part of the pumpkin all carved out, I turned my attention to the experimental baking. I roughly followed a Martha Stewart pumpkin cupcake recipe online, although I cut down the amount of sugar (for fear of an overdose) and stewed the pumpkin goop for about forty minutes until it was purée. I then mixed the purée with the other ingredients, fearing a Bridget Jonesesque cooking disaster, and spooned the mixture into muffin cases and one big foil case. The cakes baked for twenty minutes and I later frosted them with cream cheese frosting and pecans. THEY WOULD TURN OUT TO BE DELICIOUS. Pumpkins, you are a revelation.


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Putting cupcakes in treat bags with ribbons and handmade labels is a sweet halloween activity and make for a good little gift… 😀

Back to the Pumpkin pimping. Using a household paint brush , I coated the outside of the pumpkin with orange glitter glue. Hello fire hazard. I then used some old strass/diamanté/beads that I had lying around in my room to decorate around the ‘windows’ and ‘door’. The little orange curtains are made from organza, which originally came from a flower bouquet. (I buy all the flower bouquets) The purple ribbons and bows cost about £1.50 from a local craft shop. All the material and bows were pinned on. This carriage concept is a great activity to carry out with little girls (or boys who want to turn their halloween pumpkin into a death wagon) however it’s imperative to make sure that children are supervised around flames and pins. Because nobody wants a paint splattered screaming child with a pin through their eye and a flaming hand. It’s also best to let an adult do the carving. You get the picture.

IT’S SO GLITTERY.

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And here is the finished result. I added an old glittery tiara from Claire’s Accessories on top (originally from a cheerleading gypsy wedding social) and used two smaller pumpkins for the wheels – they’re not overly sophisticated, I may alter them. The large pumpkin is actually supported underneath by a bowl which has been covered in the glittery orange organza.

I really enjoyed the carving (surprisingly therapeutic) and decorating… and there is one large pumpkin left. Watch this space! If you have any Halloween decor ideas or recipes, then please feel free to comment below! 😀 Coming up…. my verdict on roasted pumpkin seeds and some costume ideas!

St Peter Port

Monday afternoon, I found myself in town with a few hours to kill. The sun was shining and although there was quite a strong breeze (i.e. strands of my hair were dancing in the wind like the tentacles of a hyperactive octopus) I decided to soak up some much needed vitamin C.  I bought some vegetable sushi and headed over to Havelet to look out over the Channel.  It was high tide and the waves were hitting the shore quite aggressively, however I was feeling happy about the sunshine and so instead of catching the bus home, decided to kick off my shoes and go a paddlin’.  The temperature was surprisingly mild for October and I almost wished that I’d brought swimming stuff with me. I say almost. Being a weekday, most people were indoors, leaving me alone with… the gulls.

THE GULLS.

Guernsey gulls, by the way, are quite savage feisty creatures. They have no fear. They will rip a sandwich from your hands in a flash ; many a St Peter Port office worker has been left alone on a harbour bench to mourn the loss of their M and S Prawn Mayo on malted brown. After about a minute of poking the water tentatively with my foot, I decided to walk around to the Bathing Pools. The pools in question are two historic Lidos that look out towards Castle Cornet and the islands of Herm and Sark. Originally they were intended to be used separately by the Victorian sexes i.e.. one pool for ‘gentlemen’, one for ‘ladies’, however they are now open to all members of the general public all year round and also feature as an arena for….. underwater cycling. Apparently, footage of this sport taking place was featured on Blue Peter, back when I was at school in Guernsey. I don’t remember being very aware or concerned about the cycling at the time, just being a bit miffed that I didn’t get to miss school to go and admire Gethin Jones, who was presenting the segment.

ANYWAY. At the bathing pools, I soon found myself encircled once more by a circle of the sea vultures, who were very intrigued by the sudden appearance of another creature with food. They looked at me with their beady eyes and razor sharp beaks approaching closer every time I turned my back. Eventually they realised that all I had to offer was a bit of chargrilled pepper wrapped in seaweed and they lost interest. I can’t really blame them. Chargrilled pepper is a little bit of a letdown if you’ve set yourself up for an M and S sandwich. I almost got hit by a wave (the pictures above look deceptively tranquil) and I headed back home with a smile on my face and sea-salt in my hair.

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The Graduate

Four years of studying, voyaging and exploring European languages and cultures culminated at the end of June! Tears of happiness were shed when I discovered my degree result (2:1) and I can summarise the final month that I passed in Durham as a bittersweet whirlwind of fun spent with friends. I say bittersweet, because as the saying goes, ‘All good things must come to an end’ and the cumulative sadness at having to leave our Durham student days behind was omnipresent not only during our Congregation ceremony but also throughout the final weeks of japes and escapades. I’m sad to have left, but there are no words really to describe my happiness at having had the chance and honour to have lived in Durham, Clermont Ferrand and Konstanz, thanks to my Degree, and I am so thankful to have met all the friends I have made along the way. Earlier this year, I wrote a post about Dr Seuss – here’s another one of his wise quotes that can bring us all comfort when dealing with rites of passage…

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened!” – Dr Seuss

I think I will be smiling for years to come.

As I was conferred a Bachelor of Arts (in Modern Languages French and German), I had to wear a robe with white faux fur trim – there is a different type of hood for each degree  programme. We  were fitted for our robes (no mortar boards in the Durham grad regalia, although I had a professional photo taken with one on!) and assembled in the Great Hall of University College (otherwise known as Durham ‘Castle’, where some lucky students live) to be put in alphabetical order. We walked from the Castle courtyard into the Cathedral in a procession.

It rained. Quite a lot. I know England has a stereotype of being a rainy climate… but it had been quite a sunny June!

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I defy thee, rain! Me with my little Lulu Guinness umbrella standing in front of a traditional red phone box and a letter box on Palace Green.

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Casually pretending to be Hermione Granger… in the Cathedral cloisters. The ceremony took place in the Cathedral.

I have a lot more photos from this month and the last Durham days (including my graduation), so stay posted! For now, it’s time for me to look ahead on to my next pursuit…. whatever that may be!

A glimpse of Hogwarts

Took a little stroll in the early evening, off the beaten track, through the graveyard meadow that overlooks the River Weir… and Durham Cathedral*. Stopped to take this photo of the Cathedral framed by a canopy of leaves. It was a beautiful day, warm, the town teeming with people – a mix of locals ready for the weekend, and students relieved to have finished their exams…
I still have one exam to go, but I am glad to have the extra time to do a bit more revision. It’s hard to frown when the weather is so beautiful, the city so magical and when you realise that southern fried chicken is for tea!

*I got an invite to dinner in the Cathedral recently which was followed by drinks in a Victorian pub. This city has a lot of character, that’s for sure.

Spiders that lurk in the night…

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 Revising grammar (it’s really not the most exciting of pursuits, but needs must) listening to electro-swing and daydreaming, as per usual. I’ve actually run out of diet coke and have moved onto instant coffee… Instant coffee is a bit tragic, isn’t it? But not as tragic as the discovery of this creature in the shower… If you have arachnophobia then please look away now.. if not, then please meet my new acquaintance.

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I feel like Bear Grylls or Indiana Jones* right now, having managed to trap this spider (which was on the CEILING) under a wine glass (so classy) with minimal yelping on my part. I just hope that the spider wasn’t distressed by its upheaval from my wonderful shower spa haven… Can I class him as the first customer of my imaginary spa and teahouse business/speakeasy? I christened him Hector Elizondo, in an attempt to make him seem less terrifying but I’m afraid it hasn’t really worked… Anyway, here is some electro-swing to get our minds off of spiders that lurk in the corners of showers!

*Indiana Lou? Sounds quite cool.

Iridescence - Glittery Polishes and the Beauty of Vanessa Paradis

The sparkliest of nails. Natural lighting, with a vignette added. This is 2 coats of OPI “What Wizardry is This? with 2 coats of OPI “Which is Witch?” layered on top. Potentially a tad excessive but there you go. I have tried a few other combinations and will post them sometime in the future, when my hands look less ravaged! “What Wizardry is this?” is best on its own, but I felt like spicing it up a little anyhow! “Which Witch” has big chunks of glitter that have a wow factor, with little pieces of bar glitter also visible if you hold your nails up close! I apologise for the quality of the photo, it would be interesting to get a macro shot, but alas my decent DSLR is in Guernsey – the overdue library books had to take precedence in my luggage. Such is life! I have a lot of revision to do, and I’m listening to a lot of French music. I’ve only just managed to get “Bonnie and Clyde” by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot out of my head.
Currently I am listening to Vanessa Paradis:

I am a big fan of Vanessa Paradis – I think she is extremely elegant and classy. The thought of listening to her today actually occurred to me after having painted my nails…. I think the look of the glitter that I used on my nails is very similar to the look/effect of the lighting used in another of her music videos, “Divinidylle”, in that the glitter is striking (almost blinding) and reflects many colours… just like the spotlight on Vanessa.

Both these songs date from a few years ago! However, Vanessa Paradis’ new album called “Love Stories” will be out on May 13th. I just find her voice sultry and captivating and I wish her every success with her new album.

Magpie Nails

Today, I present to you a photo of the Glitter polishes from the OPI Oz collection. I initially wanted to buy them from Duty free in the airport but there ended up being no time in between my flights. When I had got to Durham, the only scrap of collection left was one bottle of the Liquid Sand polish as the glitters had sold out… My poor little bottle alone as all her pals had deserted her*… so I resorted to ASOS, which gave me a student discount. Thank you ASOS.

When these colours are worn, it looks as if a Unicorn has exploded all over my nails. Not the easiest look to pull off, but glittery nails do make me smile every time they catch the light. My two favourites are “Lights of Emerald City” and “What Wizardry is this?… the latter is is a liquid sand polish and I am impressed with the textured effect. In my opinion, it’s a lot more stylish and wearable than the liquid sand polishes featured in the ‘Mariah Carey’ collection.

Congratulations if you have read this far, I know not everyone likes polish, but I do like to document what I’ve bought from time to time! I didn’t buy any of the OZ ‘Soft Shades’ because none of them overly appealed to me, however the glitters work well over OPI Bubblebath and OPI Don’t Pretzel My Buttons.

*Personifying the bottle reminds me of a story I wrote once with my Dad about a lemonade bottle who was left alone on a skip and longed to be recycled. Green conscious from a young age or too many reruns of “The Brave Little Toaster”? You tell me!

Joyeux Anniversaire Miss Audrey

It’s a cliché student poster of a cultural icon, tacked onto the back of a worn door, covering up unsightly notices. The carpet is navy blue with orange specks, and looks like out of place, like it should belong in a conference room rather than the sanctuary of a 20 something student, the blue clashing with the hues of delicate baby pink, magenta and white dotted throughout the room.

I’m sure that I am one of many girls who have such a poster – often bought down at the union or in a university building, in an attempt to add a touch of elegance to a cold and clinical room. This poster is just one of many artworks, books and trinkets featuring Audrey that I have acquired over the years, zig zagging across Europe from room to room, objects given to me by artistic friends and close family.

Audrey would have been 84 today – here is to the memory of a charitable icon, to a talented polyglot and to the pinnacle of poise. In memory of a woman whose presence on screen still brings comfort and joy to many, years after her passing. Happy Birthday Audrey Hepburn!

Fond memories of my room in Konstanz
Fond memories of my room in Konstanz