Thursday, 31 October 2013

Halloween Favourites

Happy Halloween! I feel like this ancient festival traditionally used to celebrate the dead has somewhat passed the UK by until recent years, but I’ve always loved any excuse for a celebration. My love for Halloween was born when I was about 10 – my parents had never been a fan of trick or treating, but that Halloween we stayed with some friends and they took us out. I dressed as a witch and thought it was the most fun ever. We didn’t do any tricking, but coming home with a plastic bucket full of sweets (and the ever present threat that some evil man might have poisoned some, as he was always rumoured to have done) was so exciting. 

When I got to university, Halloween turned into an excuse for dressing up and having a big night out – and to be honest, that’s pretty much what it’s remained ever since. So in honor of the celebration (and as an excuse to share some photos from my Saturday night out) I thought I’d share some of my Halloween favourites and memories…enjoy!

Halloween Films

I’m massively not a fan of scary films – I’ve seen quite a few but they often just leave me feeling a bit sick! Children’s Halloween films are a different story. I bought Casper and Hocus Pocus recently, and watched Casper this weekend – we’re saving Hocus Pocus for tonight! Casper is such a cute, funny, feel good movie. I really enjoyed sitting watching it with some snacks (and okay, I maybe had a little tear in places!) It made me think – films for children are deliberately aimed to make them happy…why aren’t adult films the same? Don’t we need to feel happy too?! I’m going to make an effort to watch a lot more kid’s films going forwards (sorry, boyfriend…)

Fancy Dress

I always have over ambitious costume ideas, which lead to me wearing something a bit boring and staring jealously at my friend’s amazing costumes! This year was no exception so I ended up going as a zombie princess (ie a dress I already owned, stockings and a bit of effort with black eyeliner and fake blood).

Some of my friends had amazing costumes though – I was jealous!

Not my boyfriend though. He did his usual trick of going as Dead Man #1...

Over the years I’ve been a dead Playboy bunny and a corpse bride - what’s your favourite?!

Halloween Club Nights

I personally think a cheesy club night is a must for Halloween. The Clapham Grand Halloween Ball is this Saturday night, if you’re still on the lookout for somewhere! Last Saturday I went to Propaganda in Islington, which is always a brilliant night and had really good music. 

I’d recommend getting a taxi booked in advance though, as we had (just a little) trouble getting home…  

Halloween Nails

Some people have done some insanely impressive Halloween nail art this year! I on the other hand was feeling lazy, and picked up these falsies for £1 in Primark. I actually really like them! 

I took them off, though – pretty sure work wouldn’t be too enamoured…

Halloween Food

Why is novelty food so much more exciting than normal food? I can ignore a cupcake, but stick a little picture of a pumpkin on it and I’m all over it. I would thoroughly recommend Sweet Couture cupcakes especially if you’re planning on buying them. This year I made Cadbury Scream Egg Cupcakes – basically, a cupcake with a little Cadbury Screme Egg buried inside them! It’s not hard – just make a normal chocolate cupcake but when you pour the mixture into the cupcake cases, pop a little frozen screme egg in there first. You need to be careful to keep it in the middle though, as they can get a bit sticky otherwise!

Halloween Decoration

My little tips… the plastic pumpkin buckets you can buy in most supermarkets, which are great for little kids to use when trick or treating, also make great cocktail buckets.

I love having Halloween themed cups or straws to make drinking from them seem even more fun!

I also really loved these Halloween balloons from Waitrose this year – they come in black and orange, they were super cheap and really good fun. I didn’t go for turning my flat into a bat cave (although Elle Fowler’s Halloween condo was SO impressive and I recommend everyone check it out!) but I did add a couple of banners.

So there you go – just a couple of Halloween favourites. I hope you all have a great day – what are your plans? I wish I could go out and do it all again this weekend but I have to revise, so let me live vicariously through others!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Arctic Monkeys, Earl’s Court

I have always asked my Dad why he never went to see the Beatles. They are his favourite band, and always have been. Their music came to stand for his entire generation. It is everlasting. He told me that he simply didn’t get the opportunity to go, and I remember thinking I don’t want to tell my children that. I wanted to be able to tell them that I stood in the crowd and watched the band that came to symbolise my generation, that I saw them live and soaked up every moment and danced and got crushed in the crowd and breathed the same air. To be able to say 'I was there,' I suppose.

Now obviously, I can’t predict the future. But I think the Arctic Monkeys are that band.

Arctic Monkeys Alex Turner

This is actually my fifth time seeing the Arctic Monkeys. I stood in the front row at Reading 2009, and had bruises shaped like the barrier imprinted on my rib cage for weeks. I paid over the odds to sit at the back of Wembley Arena in December 2010 and peered the stage through an inexplicable and irritating fog. I squeezed into a crowd at the O2 in October 2011, and just two days later I dragged my boyfriend into a mosh pit at the Cardiff Arena. It doesn’t matter how often I see them – I just never get tired of it.

Last Friday as I arrived at Earl's Court, I wasn't quite in the right mood. I’d been to see Jake Bugg the night before. I was tired and hungover and my feet hurt. I stood through the (average) support act, wincing slightly at the loudness blaring through the speakers, sipping at watery vodka diet coke and kind of wishing I was sitting on my sofa at home with a book. But then the lights went dark and the crowd came alive and Alex Turner walked onto the stage, and my mood completely changed. 

I have literally never known a performer be that electric. I don’t mean to swoon like a thirteen year old girl, or use clichés like ‘lights up the stage’, but I’m not sure how else to describe it. There is something Elvis Presley- like in Turner’s movements (it can’t just be the quiff, as he so modestly suggests) -  in the way he tilts his head, rests one foot on the amp – looks at the audience in a silent and mutual acknowledgement that he really is that good and there isn't much point in denying it.

Opening with recent single Do I Wanna Know before launching into a string of their best known songs, the Arctic Monkeys seem to have finally grasped the importance of a well-ordered set list. If I’ve ever had a criticism in the past, it’s their almost Dylan-like insistence of playing exactly what they like, when they like. I appreciate the musical integrity of this, but if you’re headlining Reading, for example, it’s probably not ideal to open with a new single that nobody has heard of yet – and it’s frankly absurd to follow that up with a little-known B-side. Four years later, Turner has learned to strike a perfect balance, playing songs across all five albums in an order that meant no one lost interest. There was plenty of appealing to the majority – I Bet That You Look Good On The Dance Floor, Mardy Bum, Fluorescent Adolescent and Brianstorm were all there, with only When The Sun Goes Down conspicuous by its absence (not a great loss – in my opinion, it’s one of their weaker songs). But there were moments for the fans too – Dancing Shoes, for example, which I haven’t heard them play before, as well as Pretty Visitors and Reckless Serenade for die-hard third and fourth album fans respectively.

New songs were sprinkled carefully throughout the setlist, with Turner modestly asking the audience ‘Do you like the new album, then?’ Perhaps only ‘Fireside’ fell a little flat, but in general the heady mix of Turner’s brilliant and fast moving lyrics with the new electric feel created some of the best moments of the night. The slow-moving, seductive Number One Party Anthem was the perfect follow up to emotional masterpiece Cornerstone, with Turner beckoning an eager crowd towards him in a way which managed to make the cavernous Earl’s Court feel like an intimate 100 person gig. The encore opened with Snap Out Of It, a grown up pop song with a kick, and closed with RU Mine, Turner’s new-age love song which left most of the audience feeling that yes, we are all his.

It’s easy to deride the Arctic Monkeys because they are so popular and because their gigs are rowdy and full of people throwing beer (at least I hope it was beer) and shouting for Turner to play Mardy Bum. Because their music began in a time when there were lots of indie rock bands, so maybe at that point their genuine talent for creating original material was clouded, and people took them for the new Oasis - an accolade that Turner has done absolutely within his power to avoid. And so since then they’ve done exactly what the Beatles did before them – make new albums turning in different musical directions, not always popular, not always what the fans are demanding, but always something new. I think their new album might be one of their best, and how many bands can say that of their fifth album? Not only that – they are a real live band, a band whose songs come alive through their hopelessly cool leading man with an audience in front of them, shouting the words back.

So I truly believe that one day I will tell my future children about that time I saw the Arctic Monkeys perform AM and they will be impressed. I just hope I can tell them about many more occasions after that too!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Jake Bugg at Brixton Academy

I was predisposed to dislike Jake Bugg. I wanted not to like him. I don’t know why – maybe it’s because he’s young, and I’ve started to realise that at 26 I’m unlikely to ever make it as a rock star (my lack of singing ability and stage presence has never quite been enough to convince me that this is an impossible dream). Or maybe it’s because I rudely categorised him without even listening under ‘mid 20s singer songwriter’ – another Tom Odell, boring bland alt-pop that the music industry fawn over but to me makes an album where every song blends seamlessly into the next; indiscernible, prosaic indie rock with nothing new to offer.

Luckily, my boyfriend dragged me to see Jake Bugg at Rock Werchter this summer and after standing with my arms crossed and an unimpressed look on my face for, oh, I don’t know – five seconds? – I had to admit I was wrong. Since then, I’ve become a big fan, and last Thursday night we headed to Brixton Academy to see him again – this time, having listened to the album over and over, and prepared for it to be good.

I wasn't disappointed. Bugg is, first and foremost in my opinion, a bit rock and roll. The loud, clashing beats and I’m-a-lad lyrics on songs like ‘Two Fingers’ and ‘Trouble Town’ tip him dangerously towards fish-and-chip shop rock – in the best possible way, but if he only had this string to his bow he might look a little like a second rate Oasis. I’m not saying the songs aren’t good – they are – but it’s the way he combines them with the dark beauty of some of his other performances that shows a true talent.

Bugg has been criticised for  being a wannabe Bob Dylan, a comparison which I can only assume relates to his unusual voice – I personally like it, although I can accept that it sounds a little nasal in places when live. It certainly doesn’t relate to his attitude as a performer – which has a slight swagger,  but is never brash enough to be cocky – or his songs, which in my opinion couldn’t really be less Dylan-esque. Bugg himself has stated on several occasions that he’s more influenced by the Beatles than by Dylan, which is something I think is particularly prevalent in some of his newer records.

Bugg has already recorded his second album, admitting that it was surprisingly fast, and played a couple of songs on the night, including brash new single ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ – an instant crowd pleaser with a Sex Pistols-esque riff – and the beautiful ‘Slumville Sunrise’, songs which confirm – to me at least – that he won’t be a one-album wonder.

But it was the dark, hauntingly beautiful performance of ‘Broken’ that was the highlight of the night for me. Standing amongst a sold out Brixton Academy listening to everyone singing the words of this abjectly gorgeous song  was spine-tingling. Don’t write this one off – if you get a chance to hear it, then do!

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Big Easy – My Favourite Restaurant in London

Yep, the title is true. A big claim, I know, but the Big Easy on the King's Road in Chelsea is definitely my favourite restaurant in London - if not of all time!

Chelsea, in general, is full of fine dining restaurants. Which is great. Sometimes I’m really in the mood for plates of tiny scallops covered in sauce inexplicably described as a ‘reduction’, or desserts with lavender in (lavender isn’t really a taste, is it? It’s a smell. You wouldn’t eat potpourri. Well. Would you?!)

But sometimes I just want to eat a large plate of something that tastes amazing. Enter left – The Big Easy. A ramshackle little American diner where the portions are USA large and the flavours are Chelsea incredible.

Little tables with red and white chequered table cloths are crammed in seemingly at random, and friendly, unpretentious waiters serve American style beers  - or, you know, wine, if you’re me and you love wine…

To start, I had potato shells with cheese and bacon. Yes. That’s a starter. This isn’t a meal for the faint hearted.

My boyfriend had jalapeno peppers, which he said were good, but not as good as my potato shells. Ha.

For my main, I went for the lobster roll – half a pound of lobster in soft bread – and the half and half; half a portion of onion rings, half of chips.

Ian had a chicken burger with avocado and chips, which I stared at with envious eyes... 

Sadly, he couldn’t quite finish it, but luckily I was on hand to help clear up!

It’s my idea of a proper restaurant – you can pour BBQ sauce on everything, you can wear jeans and get your hands dirty, you can get special deals on different days of the week. It’s not a dining experience or a chef’s experiment or an exercise in vanity -  it’s a restaurant for people who love food and like a lot of it. It’s not the cheapest restaurant I’ve ever been to, and you need to book unless you’re going at a weird time of day (we went at half past three on a Thursday and only waited around ten minutes, but who eats at half past three on a Thursday?!) but I would thoroughly recommend it. The sign on the door on the way out rings true - let me know if you know what I mean!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy - My Response to that Huffington Post Article

This week, I read a pretty widespread article here in the Huffington Post on why Generation Y kids – my generation, may I add – are so unhappy. This article has been linked to me more than once, and I’ve read it more than once – in fact, I’ve read it over and over, because for a while now I’ve been fascinated by what exactly it is that makes our generation – and even worse, maybe, the generation below me, the ones in Educating Yorkshire who seem to think that natural eyebrows are a kind of infectious disease  – so miserable.

And we are miserable. Depression is on the rise. Phrases like ‘panic attacks’ and ‘anxiety disorder’, which would have been basically unheard of 20 years ago, are now commonplace – bordering on fashionable. Half of us don’t have jobs and the other half have jobs we don’t want. According to the Huffington Post, the reason for this is essentially that we all think we’re special, and that therefore reality can never meet up to our expectations. Stop thinking you’re so great, the article tells us, and life will kind of work itself out. The trouble is, I don’t think it’s that simple anymore.

I was a reasonably intelligent child in that I always did well at school, and didn’t smoke or get pregnant when I was thirteen, and I was brought up to follow a fairly well-trodden path of school-university-job. It wasn’t a fairy tale, nobody told me I was going to be editor of Vogue or the next Enid Blyton. The message – from my parents, from my teachers, from society – was simple; if you work hard, you’ll do alright. So I did. I got a job as an editorial assistant – for peanuts, obviously, but that was okay, I told myself I’d work my way up the ladder.

Unfortunately, I happened to graduate from university in 2008. Three months after I started work a weary manager took me into a meeting room and told me that she was really sorry but actually, they couldn’t afford to pay me anymore. I remember getting my monthly railcard refunded, feeling slightly shocked, thinking, ‘never mind, I’ll get back on the ladder again.’ The trouble was, I quickly realised, I couldn’t reach the ladder anymore. Us graduates stood around on the ground looking up hopelessly at a ladder hanging down from a house way up in the sky. We jumped, but we couldn’t get there.

I started out applying for editorial roles, but in the end, I applied for absolutely everything, and I know so many others who have sat in that chair, sending CVs into black holes, waiting for a rejection letter which will never come. Not enough experience to work in an office. Too much experience to work in a shop (you’ve got a degree, haven’t you? So you’ll never stick around). Even internships wanted experience, never mind to have you work for free with only the vague hint of a job at the end of it all. Telling your friends brightly about how you might go travelling soon, you’re enjoying a well deserved rest -  then going home to stare at the Guardian Jobs website for half an hour, wondering if maybe recruitment was your dream after all. Trust me, after months of this – and it was months, for me, but for other people it’s even longer – I didn’t feel very special. I felt worthless. I got a job, eventually, but it wasn’t remotely involved in anything I wanted to do, and in a way, going down a path I didn’t want to go down made it even worse – I felt like as time went by I got further and further away from where I wanted to be, swimming helplessly against an impossible tide. So yes, I was unhappy.

Reality doesn’t meet expectation because we were told that if we worked hard, we’d get a good job, and lots of us didn’t, and so suddenly our life plans, all the lessons we’d learned – so well-taught that I would say they were almost forced upon us – fall to pieces. I remember turning to my Dad and saying ‘I just don’t know what else to do,’ and he felt awful. He felt that he’d given me bad advice or worse, false promises. I’d grown up to believe that the world was fair – always an element of chance, yes, but fair. He said ‘I want to complain to someone. I wish I knew who to complain to.’  

So then yes, reality didn’t meet expectations – but I don’t think it’s fair to say that that’s because we expected too much, or more than our parents did. That’s true for a few people, certainly – people who have watched too much Made In Chelsea and think doing nothing for a living looks fun, or that setting up a business means idly saying ‘ooh, I’d like my own jeans line!’ and tweeting about it.

But I felt defensive of my own generation reading that article. More than ever, we’ve put the effort in. We worked hard at school, we jumped through hoops to get into university just to work even harder, because we were told by people we trusted that this would lead us into happy, meaningful careers. I think most of us would be prepared to keep working in order to make our way up the ladder. It’s just – like I say – that we don’t know how to get to that first step.

I do have a job I enjoy now, incidentally, if not one I ever thought I’d have -  and I also have this blog, which is whimsical and frivolous and allows me to indulge the side of me that always thought I’d write for Cosmopolitan. I enjoy my life and so no, I’m not unhappy. But I wanted to stand up for the people in Generation Y who are unhappy. Maybe their expectations were different from their parents. But I think it’s important to remember that reality was different too.  

New Look Accessories Haul and an Autumn OOTN

As much as we British like to complain about the weather (I don’t know what people in other countries talk about all the time), I’m actually a big fan of British seasons. We’ve had a decent summer this year and the warm weather lasted well into September, so I’m now quite happy to settle into Autumn – I’m enjoying lighting candles and drinking endless cups of tea and, of course, going shopping for my Autumn wardrobe!

One shop I always like to pop into if I want to treat myself to an accessories update is New Look. I really like how they have fashion pieces at decent prices. The first thing I picked up was this monochrome bag, £12.99. I think the gold chain and metalwork detailing make this bag look way more expensive than it’s price tag, and it’s the perfect size for a meal or drinks out – big enough to fit in all the essentials, but not so big that you knock people out when you turn around!

Secondly, I’ve been looking for a pair of boots with cut outs for ages, so I was really pleased to find these (I think they were around £24.99). They’re suede effect and look great with dresses and tights or dressed down with jeans. I think they’re great transition shoes for the Autumn season!

On Saturday I went for drinks and paired the shoes and bag with this floral shift dress from Forever 21. I added a belt (a present from a friend several years ago), a chunky knit black cardigan (Primark!) and was good to go all night! Obviously, I’m a useless blogger and couldn’t even get the bag in the photo but still…you get the idea!

I’m looking forward to pairing the accessories I bought with other outfits too! 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Windsor Sunshine

We all knew it was going to happen – this week, it’s finally got cold. Up until this weekend it’s been surprisingly mild and sunny for this time of year! I was under no illusion that it was going to last, so while the sun was still out, I wanted to take a little day trip. The problem with this is that getting my boyfriend out of bed at a decent time in the morning is like pulling teeth. He looks so genuinely mournful and hurt if I try to get him up before, say, midday, that I always end up feeling bad and leaving him there!

However, last Sunday at 9am just happened to be the Glastonbury ticket sale, so reluctantly for once he had to get up. After a perfect start to the day of pressing the refresh button and staring blankly at an error screen, we actually did manage to get tickets, which put my boyfriend in such a good mood that he agreed not to immediately go back to sleep, but to face two hours of train delays and tube break downs with me in order to have a little day trip to Windsor.

We both went to university near Windsor and my cousins happened to live nearby when I was growing up, so it’s a place I’ve been quite a few times, but I never get tired of how pretty it is. We didn’t go round the castle itself but started off by wandering around the grounds in the sunshine.

Afterwards we headed to the shops!

As well as the usual array of high street stores, Windsor has so many unusual little places, like this traditional sweet shop, where I managed to pick up a few things…

Along with a whole host of market stalls – I was particularly attracted to the jewellery, obviously. I’m like a magpie for shiny things!

I also thoroughly recommend you check out the fudge shop. They’re so friendly and will let you try anything you like. There’s no obligation to buy anything, but you probably will!

Shopping left us hungry so we headed to La Tasca, a Spanish tapas restaurant, for bread and oil…

Followed by a big, chorizo and chicken paella.

It wasn’t the greatest paella I’ve ever tasted, but it was pretty good, and the atmosphere was really nice - I loved the decorations in the restaurant. I'm such a fan of this candle-in-a-wine-bottle style!

We walked off the food along the river. It’s probably the nicest bit of the Thames, in my opinion. 

You feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle of London, with swans floating alongside you and little kids and dogs running ahead. Everyone just seemed so happy and relaxed.

We finished the day with a cider on the riverside. Sitting outside, in England, in October! Incredible! 

Although looking outside, I wouldn’t want to do that now…it was such a lovely day and I do recommend Windsor – even if you’re not interested in the castle itself, it’s such a nice place to visit!

Monday, 14 October 2013

A Monday Catch Up... and Afternoon Tea at 140 Park Lane

This is the first time really since I started blogging back in April that I haven't blogged for over a week with no excuse. I obviously missed a few posts back in July, while I was on holiday, and in August when I didn't have internet during my move, but this is the first time I really just haven't blogged, not because of some external force but because I didn't feel like it, so I thought I'd try to explain a little bit... 

I've always been the first person to take a photo on a night out, or put up a Facebook status about what I'm up to, and so on, and that's why I wanted to blog - because basically, I wanted to stop inflicting it all on my poor friends, but for some reason I like recording everything I do online! But at some point, I stopped recording things because I wanted to, and started feeling like I had to. And I just got a bit sick of it. I got tired of always being the one taking photos, or asking people to take photos of me. Last week I went out and bought make up and I thought 'I should photograph this first', and it just felt tiring all of a sudden, like a chore, not something I wanted to do. So I took a little break, and it kind of gave me some space to realise that I don't have to blog every little thing I do - just the bits I think are worth talking about! I definitely don't want to stop, I think I just needed a quick time out, to remember that I really write this blog as a way of recording my interests, and that it should be something I enjoy, not a chore. Anyway, enough about me, here are some much more interesting photographs of food!

So - yesterday I went for afternoon tea with my boyfriend and my friends Nikki and Glenn (who just recently found my blog - so hi, if you're reading this!) at 140 Park Lane Hotel. We picked up vouchers on Groupon to make the deal cheaper - they claimed full price was £188, which made my boyfriend pull a face like he was about to be sick! It was raining and we were all a bit tired and hungover from the night before, so I was glad to find that it wasn't at all pretentious - just very light, bright and pretty.

We were shown to our table, which was again really pretty, and given the set menu.

The menu entitled us to sandwiches, cakes and scones, along with a pot of tea and a tea pot of cocktails between two. The tea was a little bit stingy I felt - really only enough for one and a half cups each - but the cocktails were more generous. We went for the Mexican Cosmopolitan cocktail, which was nice, if a little strong!

The food consisted of a plate of sandwiches, hot scones and crumpets, and an assortment of cakes.

We started with the warm crumpets and scones - adding huge amounts of clotted cream and jam, obviously...

We then ate the rather uninspiring sandwiches, before turning to the cake selection. My favourite part.

My personal favourite was the oreo cheesecake - a little ball of crushed oreos and butter cream balanced on a biscuit base...

This somewhat divided that no one else liked it!

Overall, it wasn't the best afternoon tea I had (that was at Fanham's Hall, see my little blog post here!) but for the price we paid it wasn't bad and the cocktail element was a good novelty. It was a good way to waste a rainy afternoon in London, anyway!

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