It’s the final part of my wedding posts, guys. I’m sure you all have mixed emotions about that. So on to the reception…
I’ve put this post off, as it feels almost too epic to write. But it’s time, guys. I’ve had to break the days down into smaller sections, because otherwise it’s just too epic. I cannot be concise here. Sorrynotsorry. So here I’ve just talked about the getting ready part of the day. Settle in, we could be here for a while.
Our wedding was on 29th August this year, and we decided to get married in the church in the grounds of my old school and then have the reception at my parents’ house, in a marquee in their garden.
The week running up to the wedding itself did not get off to a good start.
This is basically borne out of the plethora of charming and whimsical blog posts I’ve read lately about how great it is that sodding autumn is here. It’s an antidote to all the smug happiness. As ever, I am your loyal servant, readers…
Readers, I married him. Yep, the wedding has been and gone. Now that I’m a Mrs and wedding planning is a thing of the past, I will have lots more time to blog. About, err, the wedding. I’ll try to mix them up so my blog doesn’t become too wedding-tastic, but expect to see more content in general from now on *party popper emoji*.
At the ripe old age of 32, I have been on a lot of hen dos. I’ve learned the can-can, how to make bunting and fascinators, Flashdance. I’ve been rollerskating, abseiling and shooting. And I’ve eaten more afternoon teas than you can shake a stick at.
What I mean to say is that I am fairly well versed in hen dos (and don’ts), and have been lucky enough to attend some fantastic ones. So unfortunately for my long-suffering bridesmaids, I had a fairly narrow vision of what I wanted for my hen dos. There was a massive list, in fact. Here were some of the criteria (I think my bridesmaids may have PTSD now):
And after a massive hiatus, I am back. My feet have barely touched the floor recently and all my friends have developed a nasty eye roll every time I mention how busy I am. I’ll say to you lot what I say to them: I am sorry and I’ll try to be better.
What has been taking up my time? Well, weddings. Specifically ours (mine and Andrew’s, not yours and mine – weird). It’s about 130 days until we say “I do” and we have been in the midst of invitation sending and finalising vendors recently.
I’m going to start doing a few travel posts here and there. This is because a) I can do whatever I damn well like with my blog and a) I like to travel. Jeez, who are you, my Mum? (Hi Mum! I’ll phone you tonight, OK?) Mainly it’ll still be a blog about London, but with some travel stuff thrown in for free (it’s all actually for free). Just accept it and move on.
So a lot of you got on the Nutribullet bus over Christmas. Father Christmas really wanted to make sure you guys are getting your five a day. Good for him (and good for you!).
Since then I’ve been receiving a steady trickle of messages asking how to make smoothies so they don’t taste “green”, “gross” or “make me actually almost vomit”. Fear not fitness pups, I am here to help. I’ve whacked together my top five tips on how to make a smoothie that doesn’t seem so bad.
I am finding it hard to believe that I am getting married this year. People keep saying time is going to fly this year with the planning, and I totally believe them. But also the idea that I will be walking down that aisle, saying those vows, becoming someone’s wife this year – it feels bonkers and amazing at the same time.
I hate keeping secrets of my own. I can keep other people’s secrets fine – the amount of pregnancies I’ve kept secret in 2014 is testament to that. Oh, that sounds wrong. I mean I’ve known friends are pregnant before they’ve ‘announced’ it and have been sworn to secrecy. I digress.
What I mean is I have trouble keeping secrets of my own, as I just want to blurt things out. I always want to tell people about the presents I’ve bought for them right away, because I am so excited to see their reactions. The month of December is torture for me, guys.
So now I have the ultimate secret: my wedding dress. I’ve ordered it. Eek! And my mum (who patiently accompanied me to the shops in my hunt for The Dress) and bridesmaids are the only people I am going to show. And I now have to keep the secret from nine months – and to have to keep it from Andrew is torture, because I normally tell him everything.
Basically, planning a wedding at a venue that doesn’t normally host events is a mammoth task. I know a lot about the following things: marquee linings, generators, luxury mobile toilets and catering kitchens. I didn’t want to know anything about any of these.
There have been fun parts too. Afternoon tea with my bridesmaids and my mum and mum-in-law-to-be, wedding dress shopping and Pinteresting the hell out of everything to name but a few.
Ruddy hell, the weather is grim at the moment isn’t it? I will make no secret of the fact that I hate Winter, with the exception of the two weeks before Christmas. I hate the cold, I hate the dark, I hate wearing thick coats and then almost passing out on the tube because my stupid coat has made me too hot. I hate itchy scarves. Just ugh.
And the tendency now is to reach for comfort foods, isn’t it? Mine is at least. Pies, stews, soups, mash. Overcooked, fatty food to coax us into hibernation. And going out in the rain to train? That’s a massive challenge. But luckily I have Sybille sending me emails reminding me to keep active and not let the cold beat me.
But these challenges are sent to try us, and I am determined this winter to combat the blues with action rather than inaction. I won’t shy away.
This salad is perfect for combating winter blues. The nectarines aren’t seasonal, I know – but they taste like pure, unadulterated sunshine. They also contain anti-oxidants and B-complex vitamins, which help to turn food into fuel and keep bodies energised all day long. The warm, poached chicken is an excellent source of high-quality lean protein. Eating the mangetout raw means you get the maximum benefit from them, and they’re packed with Mange Vitamin A and Vitamin C and are a good source of fibre and thiamin (the latter of which aids the body in all its functions).
OK, so it’s basically amazing for you, tastes like sunshine and goodness and will have you karate-chopping the heck out of winter.
Warm oriental chicken & nectarine salad
– 2 skinless chicken breasts
– 2-3 ripe nectarines
– 100g mange tout, finely sliced
– 3 spring onions, finely sliced
– 2 tbsp chopped coriander (if you hate coriander like I do, leave this out – it’s fine)
– zest and juice of 1 lime
– 1 tbsp runny honey
– Thumb-sized portion of ginger, peeled and grated
– 1 tbsp soy sauce
– 3 tbsp raw oil (I used coconut oil)
– 1 dessert spoon toasted sesame oil
– 200g couscous
– 1 tsp vegetable boullion
1. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Put the chicken breast in the centre of a large square of foil. Sprinkle with good-quality salt and freshly cracked black pepper, plus a tiny drizzle of olive oil). Seal the foil into a loose parcel around the chicken, making sure there are no gaps. Pop the parcel on a baking sheet and put the oven for 25 minutes.
2. Remove the chicken from the oven and take out of the parcel. On a chopping board, cut the chicken into thick strips or chunks. Put in a bowl and put aside, covering with foil to keep warm.
3. Slice the nectarine into juicy wedges. Add to the chicken with the mange tout, spring onions and coriander (if you’re using that disgusting stuff).
4. Whisk the lime juice and zest with the honey, ginger, soy sauce and oils.
5. In a separate bowl, add the couscous and the vegetable boullion. Pour over enough boiling water so the couscous is covered by about 5mm of water. Cover with clingflim and leave for about 5 minutes before fluffing up with the fork.
5. Divide the couscous, chicken and salad between two large bowls (or plates, you can use plates). Drizzle over the dressing and serve.
Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food.
After vowing to try to eat more food raw, I was kind of struggling to think what to eat apart from smoothies (which technically you drink anyway). So I did what any self-respecting independent person does and turned to Google to find out what everyone else is doing. Turns out they’re not eating raw chicken, which is Good News.
One of the first recipes I found that sounded vaguely un-mental was raw courgette noodles. Hey, wait, don’t click away! There’s cheese in this and loads of garlic. It tastes good.
Sybille told me to stay away from processed foods. “If it doesn’t grow or need to be killed to eat it, don’t eat it,” she told me as I sweated my way through one of her unbelievably tough (but good) yoga sessions. “Err, so does that mean no pasta?!” I asked, faintly hysterical at the thought of not eating platefuls of spag bol. Everyone at the yoga class looked at me and then firmly said no. Seems Sybille had got to them too.
I love pasta, but have found these courgette noodles are a perfect substitute. They’re just like al dente spaghetti. I make my noodles using this sprial-maker thing. It’s great fun. When I make them it’s one of the rare opportunities to see Andrew offer to help in the kitchen. It’s basically like those Play-doh machines but it makes something tastier.
Why’re these good for you? Well courgettes are a good source of fibre and they’re low calorie too. They won’t leave you feeling bloated like pasta often does, and they’re really filling and satisfying. Plus the pesto sauce has raw garlic in it, which contains lots of good stuff to help prevent colds and keep your heart healthy. The lemon juice contains pectin, which is proven to aid weight loss. And you know about vitamin C, which is also in those cherry tomatoes. Right, let’s hit the recipe shall we?
Raw courgette noodles with homemade pesto
Serves 2 generously
For the noodles:
– 4 medium-sized courgettes, washed
For the pesto:
– A large handful of basil (I use a whole bag of those ones you get from the supermarket)
– 1 garlic clove, peeled
– Juice of 1 lemon
– A handful of pine nuts
– A large handful of freshly grated parmesan
– 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the topping:
– Ball of burrata cheese
– Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1. Make your noodles by spinning the courgettes round in a spiral-thinger. There’s instructions on the box of the thing, ok? Set them aside in a bowl.
2. Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a frying pan (with no oil). Put them on a high heat and keep an eye on them. Keep shuffling them around until they start looking golden. Don’t let them go black.
3. Put all the pesto ingredients in a blender (or NutriBullet!) and blend until it’s a paste-sauce consistency.
4. Pour the pesto over the noodles and toss until the noodles are all coated in sauce. Then divide the noodles between two plates.
5. Rip apart your burrata and scatter over the noodles along with the cherry tomatoes. Eat and enjoy.
P.S. Thanks so much for the AWESOME support in response to my last post. It has blown me away. I’m excited a few of you are joining me on this journey. Let’s kick health in the head. Or something. Kicking it in the head sounds bad.
Recipe adapted from Skinny Taste.
A lot of people recently have been saying I’ve gone crazy. For I am normally the girl who tempts people out after work with promises of wine and putting the world to rights, I am the go-to resource among my friends when they’re looking for the best burgers in town and I am also a lazy slug.
3. Pour into a glass, Instagram the hell out of it and then drink.
I got engaged a month ago today to my amazing best friend-boyfriend hybrid, Andrew. Here’s his tiny little face:
A quick overview: We’ve known each other for 10 years, and have been together for just over nine years now. We met in our home town when we graduated from our respective universities and were left thinking “Now what?” A mutual friend, Jess, introduced us and we quickly became really good friends. Andrew, Jess and I hung out together all summer, almost every day. I have never laughed so much in my life. Then in November Jess moved away with her family and Andrew and I started going out a few months later. About a month after going out we made the mental decision to go travelling together for eight months together. It was a make or break situation for us, and sometimes it was both. Ha! I guess the rest is kind of obvious. Andrew liked it so took eight or so years to put a ring on it. He is not a decisive character.
So now we’re planning a wedding… I have no intentions of turning The Z Factor into a wedding blog, but I will pop up updates as and when I think something is interesting (note: most of wedding planning is really dull).
A month down the line and what have we got locked down? Well, I picked my bridesmaids right away as I’ve known for a good while who I wanted to hold my hand through this process. Here they are:
Amy lived with Andrew when we first moved to London, and we quickly all became excellent friends. We went on an amazing trip to visit friends in Berlin once, which must be one of my favourite trips ever. Amy is very organised and she also helped Andrew organise his proposal.
Jo (here on the left) is Andrew’s little sister. Although it is customary to ask your future sister-in-laws to be bridesmaids, my decision to have Jo wasn’t governed by this. Over the years we’ve spent a lot of time together at family get-togethers, Christmases and even Glastonbury. She’s already been my pseudo sister for years.
Josie and I met when I joined her school in sixth form. We got the train together to and from school every day and had all of our free periods together. Since then we have had many adventures together – and even more nights out. She now lives in Florida with her husband, so will be rocking an amazing tan at the wedding. Pass me the fake tan…
I actually went to secondary school with Phoebe, but she was a couple of years below her so although I knew her we weren’t really friends. However, when I got together with Andrew he was friends with her and I quickly stole her as my own pal too. As with all the bridesmaids, she’s really important to both Andrew and I, and it felt totally like she should be a key part of our day together.
My endlessly entertaining niece, Immy. She’s five at the moment, will be six when we get married. She was one on the most tricky of negotiators who campaigned to Andrew for him to propose, such was her eagerness to be a bridesmaid. Perhaps more excited than me about the wedding, she already has big plans for her dress (big and white, apparently) and is putting in requests for shoes. She’s such a massive character and I know she’ll keep all our guests entertained more than I will on the day!
We’re also having three page boys, my three nephews.
Archie – Head page boy
He’ll be eight when we get married, and is a really lovely, funny and sensible little guy. We’re going to give him some little responsibilities so he feels really involved in the day. Maybe like giving a speech… Haha. Just kidding A Bear!
Henry & Theo
My Californian nephews! Henry will be almost two when we get married, and Theo will be four. They might not have any big responsibilities as they’re still very young but wow will they be cute. I can’t wait for them to spend the day with their cousins as part of our bridal team. I hope they have lots of fun. (Theo at the moment thinks he’s going to be an actual page – a knight in training – as he’s obsessed with knights. He’s going to be disappointed)
Quite often when people who don’t live in London talk to me about how I live in London they often say, “I could never live in London,” in such a horrified tone it’s as if I have told them my pastime is eating babies or licking tramps toes.
More often than not I shrug my shoulders. Horses for courses, isn’t it. Some people want to live in the middle of nowhere, some people want to live in the town they grew up in, some people don’t want to live in any one place. Me? I want to live in London because I love it here. I don’t feel the need to justify my lifestyle choices to people just as I don’t expect them to justify theirs to me. Having said that, here’s five of the many reasons why I love London.
1. The people
Yes, that’s right, the people. Londoners get a bad wrap; people say they’re mean, moody and impatient. And yeah, we can be, but that’s only because we have to traverse hoards of kids of school trips, provide travel advise to tourists and sweat on the tube during our daily commutes. We aren’t bad peoples deep down, and there is no better place in the world for people watching than London. All of human life is here: there’s so many different people doing different things and for the most part we’re living harmoniously together (just move down the carriage and we’ll all be friends, yeah?). I love how London embraces people from all walks of life and rarely questions what people are up to – want to walk down the street singing at the top of your voice? Go for it. Want to do the waltz to the busker in Leicester Square tube – knock yourself out.
2. The restaurants
No massive news to most, but London’s restaurant scene is a constantly evolving, innovative place these days. Gone are the days of bad British food – people who say this haven’t been to London in time. Fancy an amazing Turkish meal cooked authentically? Pop over to Green Lanes and you have more options than you could wish for. Want some wicked-good curry in the most lively restaurant you can imagine? Tayyabs is for you. Sushi, veggie, raw, falafel-only, dim sum, Vietnamese, French-style burgers, food trucks, market stalls – there’s everything and anything you want here. I love that whatever I want, there’ll be somewhere I can go within about 30 minutes travel and fill my boots. And sure, a lot of cities have lots of restaurants (next person to show off about getting a Bill’s in their town gets a punch in the face, though), but the thriving nature of London’s dining scene means anything sub-par doesn’t survive and every restaurant is kept on their toes. It breeds creativity and innovation and I love it.
3. I became an adult here
My first real job was in London, and after two years of commuting to Kent where I lived, I moved up here. I moved into a flatshare, which was a nightmare of horrific proportions (every time a bus went past – and we were on the main bus route in north London – it knocked out the TV reception. Also there were no windows in the house and the outside was painted gloss brown) and quickly moved out and into another one. Since then I have progressed in my career, moved in with my boyfriend, bought a flat and got engaged. I’ve made friends for life, including one who will be my bridesmaid next summer, and had lots of ups and downs. This is where my whole adult life has been. When I was at uni in Liverpool, sure I was 18 but I was a pseudo-adult (real adults are able to get out of bed before 10am); before that I was at school and lived at home, aka very much not an adult. London will always have that place in my heart that no other city will have.
4. It’s iconic
London has led the way in so many direction, not least of all style and fashion. It’s also got some incredible designs – the architecture is truly breath-taking and the skyline is instantly recognisable with the sharp spire of the Shard next to the beautiful dome of St Paul’s cathedral. Even the transport is unique; black cabs, Routemasters and underground roundels are all synonymous with the city. Glance at a tube map and you instantly think ‘London’ – nothing else looks like it. And what a beautiful piece of design work the tube map is. It’s so inspiring to be constantly faced with all the beauty and creativity you see every day in London.
5. It’s where I got engaged
I’m sure you’re all bored of hearing about my engagement now, but London will forever be in my heart because it’s here I got engaged. It was a very London-based affair, with the final down-on-one-knee bit happening right by a London street sign. As I only plan on getting engaged the once, it’s incredibly special to me and something I’ll always remember.
So I thought I’d tell you guys a bit of news from my life that doesn’t entail eating burgers the size of my head; I got engaged on Saturday. Yeah, that’s right – someone asked me to be his wife. Shall I tell you the story? Oh alright then.
I thought I was meeting Andrew and our close friend Amy for lunch on Saturday. Andrew was going to the gym so I said I’d meet him there. “How late with you be?” I asked, knowing that he is permanently late. “Not late at all,” he told me.
So I met Amy (pictured below) for lunch. Thirty minutes later Andrew hadn’t appeared. I moaned to Amy.
As soon as I finished my food Amy said, “So Andrew isn’t coming for lunch but he asked me to give you this” and she produced an envelope with his writing on. “Um, what’s going on?” I said to her, feeling panicked and a bit sick. Amy shrugged as she watched me open the envelope. Inside it said…
I looked at Amy who was armed with my first clue: find a dog, preferably a sausage dog and text him a photo of it. I flew out onto Upper Street in the search for a dog. The first dog I saw was this guy:
His baffled owners let me take a photo of him, which I sent to Andrew. The next clue arrived:
This took me to a beauty salon next to the Breakfast Club in Camden Passage. When I got there (Amy dropped me off and waved goodbye) they told me I was there for a manicure. And some bubbles… Andrew had booked it all for me.
The ladies who worked in the salon were VERY excited. “He’s going to propose!” they screamed when I told them the story. “I don’t think so,” I said.
I had my nails done – unfortunately one of my nails broke last week (Andrew was so cross and now I know why!) so it looks crap but the rest are lovely.
I sent this picture to Andrew and then I got another clue:
He was panicking a bit as my nails took longer than he thought (even if they are stubby guys!). I got to Covent Garden and got this message:
I got to the blowdry bar and they were ready for me, and gave me a beautiful blowdry. They also were convinced Andrew was getting me ready for a proposal after I told them the story. “I’m not sure,” I said.
I send Andrew a pic of my blowdry:
And got another clue:
I got home and a dress was laid out for me with this note on it:
When I lifted the dress up there was a present under there. It was this book:
We’ve been listening to the audio book of Wind in the Willows as we fall asleep recently.
I sent him a photo of the book and then the final clue arrived:
This took some working out. Kenneth Brannagh is who reads the book on our audio book, where as the author is called Kenneth Grahame. I googled where he lived between 1901 and 1908 and it was Phillimore Place in Kensington. Andrew’s surname is Phillimore. I hopped on a tube across London…
And trotted through the streets. As I got to the corner of Phillimore Place I saw Andrew, and we smiled at each other but then he ducked down. I rounded the corner and he was down on one knee with a ring in his hand. I immediately started to cry!
He explained he had brought me to Phillimore Place to ask me if I would be a Phillimore and marry him. I said yes, of course!
The ring fit perfectly and was my absolute dream engagement ring – I couldn’t believe he knew me so well. It turned out Amy had gone ring shopping with him back in Easter when I was at a friend’s hen do. Sneaky sneaky!
Andrew had then booked us a meal at Beast in Marylebone, so we jumped in a black cab there. We called our parents and siblings and drank champagne and ate LOADS of food.
Then he had booked us a hotel room, so we got in another cab to Dean Street in Soho where he’d got us the penthouse suite at Soho Hotel.
We had cocktails in the bar and then fell asleep in a massive amazing bed. I want that bed!
In the morning I woke up to this:
We had champagne on the balcony and then he’d booked for us to go to a surprise brunch, which turned out to be at Chiltern Firehouse! The brunch was amazing, but I’ll post that another time.
We then travelled home where Andrew had arranged for some of our friends to come over a celebrate. It was absolutely amazing! I kept telling people “Things like this don’t happen to me!” And I still can’t believe it did – it feels like a wonderful dream.
I can’t wait to marry this amazing man and be Mrs Zoë Phillimore!
This is a terrible photo of us just after he’d proposed! He looks a bit stunned and I look crazed. Haha.
Shu lives in London and always has the best tips of where to go for a fun time. Also, her tweets are always bloody hilarious. So I was very pleased when she said she’d take part in the My London… series.
Name – Shula Cara
Job – PA & Office Manager
Neighbourhood – Pinner. The deepest, darkest NW London. Hopefully not for much longer!
I love London because… There’s something around every corner if only you take the time to notice it. My office used to be the Pink Floyd recording studio! Also, last week I sat on the tube and sat opposite a couple reading. She was engrossed in Fifty Shades of Grey and he was perusing the Bible. I can’t imagine that happening anywhere else.
London is at its best when… You’ll laugh but I’d have to say during the tube strike a few weeks ago! Nobody knew where they were going and were forced to actually talk to each in order to find out how to get to work. How often do you talk to people during your daily commute? The weather was great, so nobody minded walking AND I discovered a bunch of hidden gems around Angel that I’d never noticed before, despite travelling there every day – albeit underground.
My ideal day off in London would be… Waking up early, managing to snag a fresh doughnut at 1235 Doughnuts (sadly no more behind the yellow door on a Sunday). Obviously it would be sunny, so I’d sit outside somewhere like the Towpath Cafe with a good book and a great cup of coffee, watching the world go by. I’d visit somewhere like the Geffrye Museum or Hackney City Farm then head to the nearest Street Feast with friends. After that, it would be time to stop for a spritz on Broadway Market. Cocktails at the Cat and Mutton, and I’d end the night at Hip Hop Karaoke with my oh-so-special rendition of Nasty Girl, some wild dancing. Then sleep.
I absolutely love this little-known place… well, technically not little known, but I love 69 Colebrooke Row, The Blind Pig and the bar at the Zetter Townhouse. Perfect for dates and a drink or two. Also, the Conservatory at the Barbican, I think it’s only open on Sundays
The best night I’ve ever had in London was… A boy once took me to Bourne and Hollingsworth for cocktails and then onto Hip Hop Karaoke at Little Social. An unusual mix but the best fun I’d had in a long time!
My favourite restaurant is… Again, I can’t choose just one. I eat out a lot because I work in hospitality and have had some incredible meals at Morito, Locanda Locatelli, 10 Greek Street and Clove Club. Sharing a pizza at Homeslice is always fun and if I could ever get a table at Sushi Tetsu, I’m sure I’d love that too.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… restaurants and bars with my friends. I’d probably buy a pair of shoes at Liberty too, then fall over in them.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… the Hunterian, the contents of which are partly grotesque, but totally amazing. It’s the kind of place that will either fascinate you or make you a little sick. Technically not theatre, but Secret Cinema events are always fun. Anything at the Southbank Centre. I was taken to a Pippilotti Rist exhibition a while ago and that was awesome.
One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is... I’ve lived here all my life (apart from a brief hiatus in Nottingham that we don’t mention). A thing that other people don’t know is how close all the tube stations are to each other. Walking is infinitely more enjoyable than sitting on a cramped train during rush hour.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… Can I have more than one? People that swing their golf umbrellas and tourists that take photos with iPads, for some reason that really bugs me. Oh, and the obvious one – slow walkers!
I’ll leave London when… I die. I love my city. I’ve lived here 25 years and haven’t discovered even half of it yet.
For me, if I like someone I mock them. It’s perhaps not a great trait, but growing up with two older brothers has meant that it’s the way I communicate my friendship. If I feel comfortable around someone and like them, I will tease them and joke around with them.
When I first met Rupert he was wearing heavy-framed glasses, which were without lenses. Like a red rag to a bull (I’m the bull in this scenario), right away I started mocking him, and there started our friendship of me cruelly taunting him and him being generous enough to laugh along (and maybe cry himself to sleep at night). As a firm part of my north London circle, no pub visit is complete without Rupert blustering in an hour late, shouting “Darling! How are you?” while wearing some chunky knitwear.
Here Rupert, ever-tolerant and entertaining, talks football pubs, his karaoke track of choice and trying to illegally board a train bound for Paris…
Name: Rupert Cross
My ideal day off in London would be… a Saturday. I dream of this perfect day of waking up not too hungover, opening the windows to sunshine before writing music throughout the morning. Content with a hard day’s work by midday, I head to lunch at the Swimmer at The Grafton Arms pub in Holloway, where Laila and Jon [the staff] greet me and my friends like the opening from Cheers. Sitting outside drinking pints of Brugse Zot, my friends and I discuss where to watch the afternoon’s football – a debate utterly irrelevant as The Tollington Arms on Hornsey Road is excellent and we’ll be going here. As this is a fantasy day, we watch Manchester United not lose horribly and all my Arsenal supporting friends break down in tears, admitting they have been closet Reds all along.
I absolutely love this little-known place… called Shoreditch. I think it’ll catch on.
The best night I’ve ever had in London was… one that ended at 8am at St Pancras International pleading with the ticket office to let us on a train to Paris without our passports. At the time I imagined it looking more Withnail and I than Fear and Loathing. Now I’m not too sure.
One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is… the best espresso martini is made at The Hoxley & Porter in Upper Street.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… when bus drivers don’t wave to each other when they pass one another. There is no excuse for this.
You know you’ve found a friend for life when you’re running through Vauxhall Station at midnight, both dressed as brides (neither of us were getting married, it might surprise you to learn) shouting “ALAN!” at the tops of your voices. This person to me is Camilla (along with a few other blushing brides). There is NEVER a dull moment with her around, and she has a unique perspective on life (she once tried to compliment one of my friends by telling him, “You’re the exact opposite of Will Smith”). So it’s no surprise to see her go from strength to strength in her career too and become the PR guru she is today. Now running her own agency, I thought she’d know some great London places and she agreed to share some insights into her London. Take it away, Millington…
It’s summertime and everyone is smiling. You get that buzz around 4pm on a Thursday and you just KNOW that your colleagues are thinking the same thing: pub garden. People are tanned, toned and generally more attractive, which makes the commute SO much better. Also, a bit of al fresco never goes a miss…
Waking up with your man, sun streaming through the curtains, no doubt hungover. We both need bacon and a bloody mary, so we head to our local cafe/bar to do just that. Once fuelled, we’d head to Borough Market to utilise the free samples and mainline some fizz, before heading back home to get our glad rags on and meet a bunch of friends somewhere East for dinner and more beverages. We’d dance into the night and due to my imagination running wild, we’d end up in a posh hotel and mainline the mini bar until the early hours. As long as it wasn’t a random mid-week day off?
I absolutely love this little-known place…
OK it’s not exactly ‘little-known’ but my good friend JJ Goodman owns the London Cocktail Club bars and I absolutely adore them. Best cocktails in London, fact. (You HAVE to try the Bacon & Egg Martini).
The best night I’ve ever had in London was…
My birthday with an ex. My parents very generously got me dinner at The Ritz so we decided to spend the day living like Kings. We dressed up in our finest, ate amazing food, sipped gorgeous champagne and ended the night in the Hoxton Hotel. I like to pretend I’m rich, so it was right up my street.
The Ledbury in Notting Hill. Once a year, my parents and I go for a very special Christmas dinner. I’m working my way through Chris Pople’s list from his blog, and this one was stand out epic.
I loved Liechtenstein at The Tate. I’m not hugely into art however this really stood out, especially as my client at the time had brewed a beer just for the launch. Not a huge theatre goer, I prefer kooky cinemas like The Prince Charles.
One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is…
How many people think it’s such a big deal to visit. I like that, though. It feels special to live here. I was on the train this morning and a load of middle age women were taking selfies because they were visiting for the day, it made me smile.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is…
Slow walkers. I walk stupidly fast and hate it when people dawdle, or worse, stop abruptly in the middle of the street. I sometimes pretend I’m Yoshi in Mario Kart and slipstreaming by all the tourists just to make things a little more interesting.
When you start dating, get together, go steady – however you want to phrase it – with someone, you sort of inherit their family, don’t you? You have a whole new load of people to get drunk on Amaretto on and argue over board games with at Christmas. Luckily for me, I inherited a bloody amazing family when Andrew and I got together. They might be small (trust me, I feel like a giant around them and am contantly banging my head on things at their house, which they fit under easily) but they are mighty.
And this is how I met the subject of this post’s interview – Jo. She’s Andrew’s little sister. Jo set up a dog accessories business a few years ago. I know a lot of dog owners visit The Z Factor, so I thought some of you would like to hear about Jo’s business and her very cute little pug, Betty.
Andrew and I started “going out” (for want of a better phrase) nine years ago last Sunday. It seems bonkers that I was 21 and he was 22 when we got together. Although I feel like I can barely remember a life before him, those nine years have gone fast. Probably because we’ve crammed a lot in.
After dating for five months we decided to go travelling together for eight months. We booked our tickets, packed our backpacks and boarded a plane to Singapore without a second thought. In hindsight, this was a rash decision as we essentially barely knew each other. But in a make/break situation, it made us.
Since then we’ve returned home (obviously) and been through various rites of passage such as starting careers, having quarter-life crisises, watched all of our siblings get married (apart from his brother, who is getting married this summer – big up Willophie) seen the births (not literally) of our niece and nephews (who totally consider me “Uncle Furry Face’s” less-entertaining sidekick), moved to London, watched lots of our friends get married, bought a flat together.
To celebrate the passing of nine years of being together we decided to stuff our chubby little faces, and headed to the Classic Car Boot Sale, which had set up shop on Southbank. It was graced by a beautiful Spring day and I had several food trucks I wanted to visit…
Yeah, yeah. Cars and loads of vintage tatt. You get the picture. Now for the food…
First stop was to these guys…
Spit and Roast specialise is finger lickin’ chicken that sends KFC right back to where it came from (hell?). They serve rotisserie chicken and buttermilk fried chicken. I went for the latter, with hot sauce and slaw in a bun. CUE PICTURE:
The chicken was succulent and juicy and fell apart (rather embarrassingly) when I bit into it. The sauce was piquant without dominating the chicken too much and the batter was absolutely to die for. It was a total mess to eat, but I loved every minute and Andrew was extremely jealous.
So he paid a visit to Engine Hotdogs.
He went for a Beef Richard because, hey, when in
New York a carpark in Southwark you need to stay true.
The small bite he allowed me was delicious. Those pickles! Ooof. Definitely on-par with Big Apple hotdogs.
We got a Bleecker single cheeseburger, which was bloody amazing. Bleecker is totally my favourite food truck in London. And they’re on Southbank every day of the week at the moment by the skate park. GO!
There were loads of food trucks that looked amazing, which we didn’t get to try. But it was a brilliant day out and a lovely way to round off a relaxing and sunny anniversary weekend.
On Valentine’s Day we decided to spurn the cheesy restaurants, champagne and roses and go to Hawker House with our pals.
Hawker House is run by the Street Feast folks, who run night markets in London that bring together food trucks, booze vendors and the hungry hordes throughout the year.
As it’s cold right now, they’ve retreated indoors to a warehouse in Bethnal Green. Hawker House was inspired by Singaporean-style night (hawker) markets where people grab what they want from different vendors and then sit on communal, canteen-style benches and eat together.
It would be hard to ignore the food truck scene that’s exploded in London over the last few years, and the beauty of Hawker House is that it allows you to sample lots of different trucks all in one place. This is ideal for someone like me who wants to try everything. Right. Now.
Having tried Bleecker St Burgers before at #NationalBurgerDay and deciding them to make the best burgers in London, I made a bee-line right away. Zan, who started up Bleecker and was serving at Hawker House when I was there, is totally focused on creating NYC-style burgers. Look, I haven’t been to New York (I know, right?!) so I can’t speak to how they compare to New York burgers… But I have eaten a burger before and mine was amazing. They’re SO meaty and rare and juicy and just, ugh, totally perfect. Zan whipped me up a triple cheeseburger off-menu, which I shared with Andrew. We also had sweet potato fries, which were so crunchy, fluffy, sweet and moorish that it was pretty hare to share them.
I then went for a Grilling Greek chicken souvlaki. While I was there I caught up with some long-time Twitter friends I’d bumped into. Everyone was so friendly at the event. It was so great to put some faces to some Twitter avatars! Anyway, the souvlaki was OK but I think I’ve been rather spoilt by living in North London close to some of the best Greek and Turkish restaurants in the UK – and my Grilling Greek didn’t totally match up. Noa and Petek, you still have my heart.
After this I took a massive breather, and focused on drinking wine from plastic glasses and chatting to my friends. The rest of the crew indulged in Roti Chai (not amazing, apaz), Breddos Tacos (really good – I was sad I couldn’t fit these in) and Yum Bun (the all-round favourite of the night).
One last push saw me heading for a sweet treat, and to the You Doughnut stand!
I went for cinnamon sugar doughnuts with warm salted caramel sauce and marshmallows. Ooof, they were ruddy amazing. Fried to order, they were little nuggets of sweet cinnamonny clouds with a delicious warm caramel sauce. I feel a bit jealous of myself right now for having eaten them.
Hawker House was a really fun night. It was a bit cold inside there, so wrap up warm and get there early-ish as the tables fill up.
Hawker House is running every Friday and Saturday evening until the 22nd March. For more information visit Hawker House’s website.
It doesn’t take long browsing this blog to realise I absolutely love dogs. I am totally obsessed with them. I grew up with dogs as pets, and really think they add an incredible amount of love to owners’ lives.
As you know, I take pictures of dogs when I’m out and about. I also talk to them and stroke them whenever I get a chance (Andrew gets kind of mad when I stroke them!), and often buy homeless people’s dogs treats when I can. I also have quite a lot of dog accessories.
So often people ask me why I don’t have a dog of my own. Trust me, I would love a dog of my own. But my lifestyle would make it completely unfair on the pup. I work long hours and like to go out socialising too, and a dog needs plenty of love, affection, routine and care. So at the moment, I just can’t have one.
But recently a few friends – normally fellow dog lovers – put me on to BorrowMyDoggy. This is where dog owners are matched with dogless people who want to spend time with a dog, so they can take the pup for walkies or even dog-sit when the owner needs an extra pair of hangs.
I loved the concept and signed up straight away to be a borrower. I’m yet to be matched with my perfect pooch, but live in hope. In the meantime, I’ve been chatting to the lovely Rikke at Borrow My Doggy and she agreed to do an interview for The Z Factor. And here we are.
Growing up, my family were obsessed with Sunday lunch. That is to say a roast. Some of my strongest “home” memories is of The Archers being on in the kitchen as my Mum created the most delicious roasts known to man, the windows all steamed up, my two teenage brothers raiding the larder and my Dad outside in the garden doing whatever it is gardeners do… on one of those damp, grey Sundays that seem to be a permanent fixture in autumn.
My Mum makes the best roasts. People other than me have said this. And no, I don’t mean my Dad. As I grew up I enjoyed helping her out in the kitchen here and there – she’s really where my love of cooking stems from. So over the years she has shared some tips and tricks with me, which is sometime in time – if I’m lucky – I hope to pass on to my children.
The other day I made Andrew and I roast chicken. I find this an excellent economical choice for a Sunday meal – leftover roast chicken is surely one of the perks of Mondays? Indeed, the leftover meat is perfect for packed lunch sandwiches, stir fries, curries or even making some kind of special fried rice for the Monday evening. I often end up getting not just one delicious meal out of my chicken, but maybe two or three more.
So, without further ado, here is how I make my standard roast chicken, which is stuffed with lemon, garlic and herbs. It’s super easy.
Perfect lemon, garlic and herb roast chicken
You will need:
For the chicken
1 medium-sized chicken. If your budget stretches, go for free-range. Happy meat tastes better!
1 brown onion
2 sticks of celery
2 cloves of garlic
1 large knob of slightly salted butter at room temp
A handful of woody herbs – I used rosemary and thyme
For the gravy
1-2 tbsp plain flour
250ml of good-quality chicken stock
1 large glass of white wine
1. Wash the celery and carrots under cold running water, then chop them into chunks – 5cm lengths is perfect. Pop them in the bottom of a large roasting tray.
2. Peel your onion and then slice from top to bottom through the middle. Cut into chunky wedges. Pop this into your roasting tray and mix with the celery and carrots. You’re going to use the veg as the trivet to keep the chicken off the bottom of the roasting tray, so that’s why you want to make it chunky. They will also help make your gravy corking.
3. Take the chicken out of the packet, but before you throw it away reading the cooking instructions. It tends to calculate as 45mins per kg (so look at the weight of the bird, which will be printed on the packaging) plus 20mins. So for a 1kg bird you’d cook it for 65mins.
4. Some people wash their chicken under running water. I don’t bother and I haven’t died yet. Pop your chicken on a clean chopping board.
5. In a small bowl, zest your lemon. You can do this with a zester, or by using a regular vegetable peeler and then chopping the peel up into thin strips. Then add your garlic cloves (crushed) and some chopped up herbs. Add the butter and use the back of a fork to mash all this up, so it’s combined.
6. Back to the chicken. Use one finger to gently poke a pocket between the skin and the breast meat. You just want to create a gap there so you can stuff in the buttery mixture between the skin and the meat. It sounds ickier and harder than it is. Be brave.
7. Chop the lemon into quarters and then push it into the cavity. Pop the chicken onto the veg in the roasting tray and cover with tin foil. Put the whole lot in the middle of a 190C oven. Check it at regular intervals, and use a spoon to scoop up any liquid in the pan and pour it over the chicken to keep it moist. About 20 mins before it’s due to come out, take the tin foil off to crisp up the skin.
For the gravy
1. Once the chicken is out, take it out of the roasting tin and pop on a warmed plate. Cover it in tin foil and then cover that with a clean tea towel and leave it to rest.
2. Put the roasting tray with the veg on the hob and turn the heat on. Sprinkle over the plain flour and then mix it with the veg until it creates a paste.
3. After you’ve made the paste (this is actually called a roux, factfans), slowly add the stock bit by bit, stirring the veg and roux until the liquid is absorbed. Gradually the paste with loosen until it turns into fairly thick gravy. Splash in the wine and leave to warm for a while – the alcohol will steam off fairly quickly, but it will make a nice, sharp-flavoured gravy that goes well with the lemons.
4. At this point I strain off the veg, leaving a few onion bits in there as Andrew likes those. But you can leave the veg in if you like – they’re completely cooked, but this does make for a rather “unrefined” and chunky gravy.
Valentine’s Day draws apace like the consumerist behemoth that it is. And although I am in a happy relationship, I can honestly say: fuck that shit.
If you’re not in a relationship, V-Day (as it is rather disgustingly referred to as by those who don’t know any better) is all up in your grill making it seem like everyone else has their lives together and are in these smug, happy relationships and you’re the only one, alone with cold soup for dinner, watching Roy Cropper have an existential crisis. I know this isn’t actually what single life is like, but this is what Valentine’s Day tries to make single life seem like.
If you are in a relationship, Valentine’s Day is a guilt trip riddled with meaningless sentiment that you could do without. I am all in favour of people being in loved and proclaiming it so (as long as it’s not a. vomit-inducing or b. on Facebook – let’s keep these proclamations to weddings and birthdays, yo). I don’t want to be guilt tripped into telling my boyfriend I love him. And I certainly don’t want to do it over a three-course set menu in an average restaurant while at the same time swapping cards adorned with grey teddy bears with blue noses. It’s so unimaginative and generic, which to me is the antithesis of what love is. But if you’re not doing anything and someone annoyingly trills at you, “Sooo, what’re your plans for Valentine’s Day?” and you say you’re not doing anything you’re met with a sympathetic look that says, “Your relationship is over”. What’s wrong with a bit of ruddy spontaneity and declaring your love as and when you see fit? I know the answer: nothing.
I don’t want it. I don’t want any part of it. Get out of my God damned face, Valentine’s Day.
So, with my thoughts on that covered off, I’ve compiled a list of films that are anti rom-coms. Sure, they’re about love but they’re realistic and will remind you relationships aren’t all flowers and love hearts. And Ashton Kutcher doesn’t start in a single one of them. So if you’re looking for something to do this Valentine’s Day and don’t fancy all the consumerist BS, I suggest you give one of these a go…
Perhaps one of the most depressing takes on love in modern cinema, Closer sees a cast of four systematically break each other’s hearts and become embroiled in bitter tit-for-tat mind games. Starring Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Julia Roberts, it is perfectly acted and is at times funny, sad and romantic. Andrew and I went to see this at the cinema on our first date – it was like a warning. Luckily I have not had cause to don a pink wig or emigrate… yet.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I think the vast majority of us have gone through a phase of wanting to delete the memory of someone from their brain; to erase the hurt or the constant over-thinking. This film explores what would happen if you could do that, with a bitter-sweet outcome. Joel (Jim Carey – but don’t hate the film for that) decides to wipe his ex (Kate Winslet) from his memory, but changes his mind mid-wipe and then tries to remember her as much as he can. Quite sweet, really.
3. 500 Days of Summer
Bit of a divider of opinion, this film. It’s also toe-curlingly twee. Zooey Deschanel plays
Jess Day a kooky lady who gets falled in love with (that’s a term) by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Funny, sweet and ultimately ending in heartbreak, this film makes you never want to fall in love. And might also make you want to kick Deschanel’s head off (and steal her hair to wear as wig. Creepy?!).
4. Brokeback Mountain
They’re macho cowboys who are totally in love with each other, but can’t be together. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, and food for though: even if you are eating your cold soup with Coronation Street, at least you’re not one of these guys.
5. American Beauty
Kevin Spacey makes everything better, every single time – even when you don’t need things to be better. He’s like a brilliant, exciting Uncle who is fun to be around but ultimately makes you feel safe. Or is that just me? Anyway, Spacey plays a doomed suburban Dad who becomes infatuated with his daughter’s bestie, meanwhile the kid who lives next door isn’t having a laugh riot either.
At the moment, one of my favourite things to do at the weekend – after a long lie-in, of course – is make a lazy brunch. After rushing around in the morning every week day (early starts aren’t my talent in this life), it feels like a real treat to shuffle around the kitchen, rustling up something more decadent than bran flakes. I think it makes the perfect start to a weekend day.
In the run up to Christmas, my lazy weekends seemed to get jam-packed with weddings, present-buying missions and birthdays. Lazy brunches were out of the window in favour of manically trying to wrap presents while directing Andrew in where to put up pictures in our new flat. It was hectic and I felt strung out. I missed our lazy lie-ins and brunches.
As part of my aims for 2014, I’m trying to not let my schedule get so out of control. And this has meant I have been able to get back some time for brunchtime pottering. To celebrate I made buttermilk pancakes, which were so crazily light and fluffy I just had to share them with you. They are quite a lot of faff, but well worth it.
Buttermilk pancakes with caramelised apple, pecan and maple syrup sauce
Serves 4 | 50 mins
– 3 eating apples
– 25g butter
– 85g pecans, cut in half lengthways
– 175ml maple syrup
– 100g plain flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
– 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
– 2 large eggs, separated
– 284ml buttermilk (if you can’t find buttermilk, plain natural yogurt with a squeeze of lemon juice in will do)
– 25g butter, melted
How to make these chaps:
1. Peel, core and cut the apples into quarters. Now slice the quarters into four (that’s eighths, if you please).
2. Pop the butter in a large frying pan and heat until melted. Tip in your apple slices and fry them until they start going golden (or slightly black if you leave Andrew in charge). Don’t let them get to the stage where they get crumbly and broken down. You want them to hold their shape. Stir in the pecans and maple syrup and let it heat through and combine. Remove this frying pan from the direct heat, but keep the apple mixture warm (put foil over it, essentially).
3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarb into a large bowl.
4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. They will look white and glossy, and when you lift the whisk out of the eggs they’ll retain a stiff peak in the surface.
5. In yet another bowl, mix the yolks, butter and buttermilk together. Then tip this into the bowl with the flour in and mix until combine.
6. Gently add the egg whites to the mixture, folding in slowly until it’s all combined and you have a nice airy batter. Go slow – you don’t want to knock out the air, this is what gives the pancakes their fluffiness.
7. Heat a large frying pan and melt some butter in the pan – just a bit. Then drop puddles of batter into the pan using a large spoon. Wait until the puddles loose their glossy look and bubbles start to form in the top, then get a spatula or whatevs and flip them over. This can be messy, but do NOT panic. They will taste the same (so long as you don’t burn them) and will look nicely homemade. Or that’s what I told myself.
8. Remove pancakes from pan after a minute or so after you’ve flipped them. Create a stack of them on a plate, then spoon over some of that apple mixture you made.
Adapted from BBC Good Food
So 2014 is in full swing now, and I’ve got some plans for it. I thought writing them down here and sharing them with the whole wide internet would make me more accountable when sticking to them. Here goes…
1. Be less busy
At the end of last year I got in a bit of a state. I had made arrangements to do something every day and every night for about three weeks. At the end of it, I was a wreck. After a stern word from my mother and Andrew, I realised I try to cram too many things into my schedule because I’m the kind of person who wants to do everything. The result is I end up strung out and emosh. But not in 2014. I plan to block out several weekend days a month where I do nothing, and spend more time at home in the evenings after work too. So far I’ve stuck to it and I feel much more on top of things, organised and think that when I do see people I am less frantic/stressed/tired, so they get a better version of me. Win/win.
I know, this is pretty standard, but I really want to travel a bit more. Not necessarily great long trips (although that would be nice, too!), but weekend trips, little jaunts – that kind of thing. So far I have penciled in a trip to the south of France to go wild swimming, and I think my whole family – there are 12 of us now! – are going on a summer holiday to Italy. I’d also like to visit Budapest, and my dream would be to go to Costa Rica, but that’s not going to happen in 2014 I don’t think. Boo.
3. Worry less
I am a big worrier. It’s very annoying for everyone. One of the things Andrew says to me most is, “Zos, just chill out!” (which is kind of annoying – I don’t want to worry!). But I think there are a couple of things I worry about more than I should, so I am going to focus on not worrying about them. They’re not even important things, and not worth my energy.
4. Focus on my career
I had a pretty good year work-wise last year, and the most enjoyable in my career. However, instead of sitting back and letting things happen, I’m going to go out and grab opportunities. I love what I do now, and I want to build on my achievements from last year. So far in 2014, this is going well. However, I need to finish making my ~professional website~.
5. Be more organised
I am pretty organised anyway, but it makes me feel much more relaxed if I have things planned a little. This is mostly Andrew and mine’s schedule, which sometimes is a little hectic (see above!) and jumbled. And also we’re terrible at planning meals and often end up grabbing things that are bad for us at our Sainsbury’s Local. With this in mind, we have set up a corner of our kitchen for organising our lives (see picture above). We’ll see how long this lasts before it descends into drawing immature pictures…!
I have lots more plans for 2014, but these are the little ones I am happy to share for now.
Every year I make the ladies in my life something homemade for Christmas. This has seen me making caramel-filled truffles, a world of chutney and industrial amounts (well, not quite!) of sugar body butter scrub.
Nearly every time I take on my Christmas project I have an near-on emotional break down, get fed up half way through and wish I hadn’t started the project. But it’s always worth it when my friends and family open their homemade gifts and – at least to my face – seem to truly love them.
This year I decided to make bath tea bags. These are like tea bags, but you put them in the bath and they infuse the water with lovely scents and some goodness too. All the recipients had to do was run a bath, chuck one in and then relax in their own little spa.
I got a recipe from a website and then sort of made it up. I knew I wanted them to be lavender-based, mostly because I find it headily relaxing and hoped they would too. And I also wanted them to be nourishing and help muscles relax, so they did some good instead of just smelling fancy.
This resulted in me putting in rolled porridge oats and Epsom salts. The oats make the water soft and moisturise the skin while Epsom salts are great for aching muscles as they draw toxins from the body.
This is what I ended up putting in, in full:
4 parts dried lavender
1 part dried hibscus (I would leave this out if doing it again, as I don’t think it added much)
2 parts rolled oats
2 parts epsom salts
1 part lavender essential oil
I bought sealable tea bags from Soap Posh, where you can also get a range of dried flowers and Epsom salts.
1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Fill bags about half to 3/4 full.
3. Iron the bags shut, if you’re using the kind I did. Otherwise you can sew them shut or you can get draw string ones too, which is pretty self-explanatory.
4. Parcel up and gift to those you love.
I popped about 3 tea bags into lovely paper bags, which I bought from a seller on Not on the High Street, but you can pack them up however you want. I also included a list in each paper bag of what was in the tea bags and how to use.
So far the feedback I’ve had is good on the teabags, but no one is going to be rude are they?! However, I have used them myself as I made more than I needed and they are really lovely. I like squishing them in the water so all the oaty moisturising goodness some out.
Oh, and if you squeeze them out then leave them to dry then you can use them two or three times more.
I owe you an apology. Yeah, you. I know you’ve been anxiously refreshing The Z Factor, hoping for a new post. And I’ve let you down. I’ve also let myself down. The run up to Christmas and then Christmas itself was really busy, and I neglected write blog posts in favour of alcohol, cheese and friends. But now I am back to share the spoils of my fun and also to wish you a very happy new year.
Here’s what I got up to while AWOL…
I was Christmas shopping and then wrapping presents. I had to do it mega early this year as I wasn’t seeing my family. They were off to LA and I was off to Andrew’s folks’, so we exchanged presents in early December. These are some of my gifts to my lovely family…
Then my family came to visit. This is my niece trying to get Andrew to concede a game of “Sleeping Lions”. Little does she know that Andrew is very competitive, even against five-year-old little girls.
Mid-December marked the nuptials of some of Andrew and mine’s nearest and dearest friends. It was a brilliant wedding and the perfect way to kick off the festive season.
This is Andrew and a couple of his besties at said wedding.
These are some of life’s good guys, right here.
Then is was Christmas, which meant it was high time…
To make our flat cosy.
Eventually we retreated home.
And saw Andrew’s family. We played board games and ate aforementioned cheese (did I mention the truffle?).
We saw our home friends and ate a huge burger at The Flying Pig.
Went to the soft launch of House of Ho. (OK food, terrible service)
We kicked off the new year with another hangover.
Looking forward to the year ahead very much – hope you guys are too.
As I have said before, rather recently, I love cosy pubs at this time of year. I love nothing more than heading to a warm pub, settling into a nook and drinking wine, chatting with good friends and watching people come and go.
I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 pubs to do this in, incase you want to do similar.
1. The Swimmer at the Grafton Arms
This pub is pretty close to where I live, and very much makes up part of my regular pub list. It’s tucked away behind the grim Seven Sister’s road, and is an absolute gem. It has board games, generous and yummy food, a good wine list, an open fire and even a sort-of adopted pub cat called Tallulah.
It lacks any pretension and is just a good, honest boozer without being stinky or too local. I absolutely love it here and will no-doubt be having Christmas sessions in here before long.
13 Eburne Road, N7 6AR
A few of us have a traditional walk on Hampstead Heath on New Year’s Day. Nothing blows the cobwebs away like climbing Parliament Hill to enjoy the view!
After a chilly walk, we normally head to The Flask in Hampstead for a mulled wine and a chat about our resolutions. It’s a small pub, but always has a lovely warm welcome. Again, it’s nothing fancy but I love that about it.
14 Flask Walk, NW3 1HE
You can read a more extensive review here, but this pub is the epitome of cosy. A friendly welcome, lots of people have a good time, and again, an open fire. It helps that the beer and wine list could have you busy for several days of non-stop drinking and the food is amazing – all conspiring to make you say, “I’ll just have one more, then I really must go…”
63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG
Low lighting, fun decor and a warm, bustling atmosphere help this pub feel super-cosy. The taxidermy animals dotted about and the various different seating layouts make it quirky without staying into tedious hipster territory. The food is also great, with everything made fresh in-house every day and a wide and interesting menu.
194 Southgate Rd, N1 3HT
I’ve spent many an evening here, growing foggy while enjoying the wine list. However, The Dove’s forte is Belgium beers, and their list is probably one of the most impressive in London. The pub itself is cosy and constantly busy, with the tables set close together and the unisex loos – everything is very intimate.
24/28 Broadway Market, E8 4QJ
I am a bit of a grumpy lady about people celebrating Christmas too early. Christmas adverts in September, the festive music in the shops in October and special offers on mince pies in the supermarkets in November. NO! December is the month of Christmas. Even then, putting up a tree in the first week of advent seems a bit premature to me. I fear suffering from Christmas burn-out, so by the time Christmas Eve (REAL Christmas) rolls around nothing feels special any more.
Having said that, I love Christmas a lot. And now we’re past my Christmas embargo date, I am feeling well excited about all the Christmas things I have planned. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of my favourite things to do over Christmas in London.
1. Ice Skating
Every year Andrew and I go ice skating just before Christmas. It seems so romantic. But in actual fact, ice skates seem to have been designed by a sadistic cobbler, and I feel queazy at the thought of putting my foot in a cold, damp boot that’s been on loads of other people. That’s before you get on the ice, and realise you’re more Bambi than Torvill. “We hate ice skating,” Andrew and I say to each other, “why have we come? We suck at it and it’s beyond painful!”
However, we always go out of duty. It’s now a horrible Christmas tradition, but I kind of love it.
Afterwards I prescribe a strong mulled wine to rid yourself of the aches, pains and cold that you will have acquired.
2. Choosing a Christmas Decoration
My Mum and I have a festive tradition where we go out together with the sole purpose of choosing one new decoration for our – well, my parents’ now I suppose – tree. We’ve done this together ever since I can remember. We spend a long time oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over all the pretty (and hideous) sparkly thing, before selecting one and scampering off for a cup of tea.
Last year we went to Heal’s, which has the most amazing array of festive decorations (and homewares – man, I love Heal’s). It feels and smells so festive in there, and Paul A. Young has also just opened a cafe next door – ideal for our victory afternoon tea.
3. Christmas Markets
Winter Wonderland and Southbank Christmas Markets are my favourites, but there are all kinds of festive outdoor adventures to be had in London. I love wrapping up warm, linking arms with a buddy and carefully choosing where to buy a festive feast from. And it’s all the better when it’s washed down with a heady mulled wine before getting on a fairground ride of dubious safety standards.
4. Getting Cosy in Pubs
I love pubs anyway. They’re such a uniquely British thing, I think. Sure, everywhere has bars, but the British pub is something that just can’t be replicated anywhere else.
And in December they really come into their own. Walk in out of the cold into a blast of buzz, warmth and the scent of mulled wine. Huddle into a booth with friends and watch the sky grow dark by 4pm while knocking back festive drinks, all while you’re being warmed by an open fire. Extra great points if there’s a pub dog in the mix.
This year I’m going to the Draper’s Arms for a Christmas carol sing-a-long with friends. I cannot think of anything more festive.
5. The Nutcracker
Every year my Mum and I go to the Nutcracker, either by the English National Ballet at the Coliseum or at the Royal Opera House. I love getting swept away in the Christmassy story and gasping at the amazing costumes.
I also love seeing all the other families who have come to watch for a Christmas treat. It feels so magical and special. I cannot wait to go this year.
I’ve known Alice for quite a number of years through the wonderful world of blogging. She’s an all-round superwoman and lady of excellent taste. Here she shares with me a few of her London things…
Job: Blogger and Marketing Consultant
Neighbourhood: I moved out of London when I had kids and now live in Buckinghamshire (boohooh). But in my time in the fair city I lived in Kentish Town, Shoreditch, De Beauvoir and Muswell Hill.
I love London because… of the diversity! There aren’t many places where you can experience such a rich mix of cultures and languages. You always meet someone with a story to tell.
London is at its best when… Frosty and twinkly or sunshiney and happy. Both as lovely as each other.
My ideal day off in London would be… starting at Borough Market I’d walk along the Thames to Embankment, stopping off at The Savoy for a cup of tea. I’d get the tube up to Camden to visit some of my old haunts before powerwalking up Parliament Hill to marvel at the amazing view. I’d finish the day with prosecco at The Dean Street Townhouse or maybe Shoreditch House, followed by espresso martinis. And karaoke.
I absolutely love this little-known place… the sushi cafe above the Japanese shop at Centrepoint. In my opinion it’s the most authentic (and tastiest!) sushi in London.
The best night I’ve ever had in London was… too many to count! I was recently introduced to Gordon’s Wine Bar – the oldest in London – and had a very raucous night in there with a very fun friend.
My favourite restaurant is... what a difficult question! I seem to eat at The Dean Street Townhouse a lot these days (love their chips and salad) but you really can’t beat the shortrib nuggets at Hawksmoor. Also, the Street Feast/Mr Hyde burger festival in Dalston earlier this year was bloody brilliant
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in...Cos, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie. Harrod’s Beauty Hall. I can’t decide!
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is absolutely breathtaking. I saw To Kill A Mockingbird there in May and despite the freezing rain it was a wonderful experience.
One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived there is… How accessible everything is on foot! I try not to use the tube or buses if I can walk, it’s a much better way of travelling.
London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… SLOW WALKERS!
I’ll leave London when… I will never move further than 30 minutes outside of London. It always leaves me feeling energized and happy.
I have a HUGE backlog of posts I need to write up, but you see the problem is that I’ve just moved and my life is chaotic to say the least.
I know there’s the old trite thing about moving/buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do. But I can only take from it that the people who say these things have never edited a magazine that has a ridiculous deadline, or organised a school sports day, or backpacked around a county where you can’t speak the language and you’ve just had $800 stolen. Buying a house is stressful, but it’s hardly the most stressful thing.
Anyway, because I’ve been engrossed in the tedium of packing, unpacking et al, I haven’t caught up on my posts. And I am still not going to. In lieu of a decent post I am going to tell you the top five things that I have learnt from moving home (to make it less stressful).
1. Ask for help – bribery is OK
One thing guaranteed in life is that you’re probably going to have to move house at some point. Therefore, let’s get together and help one another. I couldn’t have moved if it wasn’t for the help of my parents, Andrew’s brother and future sis-in-law and our friends. Many hands make light work, guys. Sure, it might mean that in future you have to get up early one Saturday morning to return the favour, but that’s part of being friends, yeah? (Going forward, maybe start selecting friends based on how much “Stuff” they have, going forward. Friends with little clutter = BFFs, Friends with loads of crap = Time to be “phased out”) We obviously bribed our nearest and dearest with offers of breakfasts and roasts on us in return for their help. And don’t worry Toby and Rob, we’re aware we still owe you both a full English…
2. Find a Good Man ‘n’ Van
I think being a man and van would be my worst job ever. You drive a van (stressful) and then have to help slightly hysterical home movers (me) move all their worldly possessions and then unload it all (tiring). Anyway, the service offered by mans and their vans is varying to say the least. What you don’t want is some dude in a clapped out van who turns up, lets you loads your stuff in, slams the door and drives off to the next place, then lets you unload for £100. No thank you. We managed to find a lovely guy who helped carry stuff, load, unload and all the while he never complained about how much stuff we had or that our bed is bloody massive (OK, he did slightly complain about that). If you’re London-based, I thoroughly recommend this company. If you’re not London-based, ask friends/family for recommendations.
3. Get a Nectar Card
This is mostly for homeowners, I guess, as I hope those who move into rental properties don’t have to do much DIY, but anyway… We’ve spent shed loads of money in Homebase recently. I basically could work there now, I know the shop floor lay out so well. Paint? Dulux? Aisle 1. Step ladder? At the back in Aisle 9. Yeah! (God, that is so pathetic). Anyway, the only bonus – and it is a crap one at that – is that we have a Nectar card and have been collecting Nectar points. I have then spent all of these Nectar points on champagne and ice cream.
Perhaps the only thing that got me through this move was alcohol. It kept me motivated while packing, and having a rewarding glass of champagne after moving day was brilliant. I realise this makes me sound like an alcoholic, but this is my reality. (P.S. I’m not an alcoholic)
5. Don’t EVER move
Seriously. It’s rubbish. Don’t do it.
So with all the eating I do, it’s time to get serious about burning off some of those calories (boo!).
I started doing Free Form Fitness‘ bootcamps about three years ago, when I lived in Highbury. Over the past year I haven’t been living there, so have fallen off the bandwagon somewhat. But that’s all about to change as we’ve just bought a flat back in Highbs, so there’s no more getting out of it… It’s time to hit the deck and pump some, err, iron?
When I started at bootcamps I was kind of nervous. I admit I feel a little intimidated by fitness classes (I won’t know anyone, everyone else will be better than me, I’ll be wearing the wrong thing…), but as soon as I got in touch with Free Form’s owner, Sybille, she immediately put me at my ease. She was knowledgable and encouraging, telling me more about an injury I had than even I knew, and started me off gently. As everyone in the classes are at different fitness levels – some are marathon runners, some are new mums trying to lose some baby weight, some are flabby food bloggers (OK, just me in that group) – Sybille has different levels of exercises to suit everyone.
The first session I went to was just the right level of hard. Then I woke up the next morning and couldn’t actually move. I have never experienced anything like that – my muscles were in shock. BUT in a good way – I was just using muscles I’d not used since I was a kid.
Classes weren’t something I looked forward to, but once I got there they were enjoyable and everyone in the class was really friendly. I’ve made friends at bootcamp that I still see now and count as very good friends indeed (hi Simon and George!). It’s a really nice community event, as everyone lives around Highbury Fields who comes to my class. A happy result was I toned up, lost weight and improved my posture without really – I wouldn’t say trying, because a lot of sweat went into it, but perhaps without really much thought. Sybille does the thinking, I just do what she very gently instructs!
As I say, I’ve now moved away but am coming back! And just in time for a new class Sybille has devised called “Cardio and Core Blitz”. This is a 30 minutes high intensity workout, focusing on fat burning and core work.
Sybille says of the class, “By using a class format comprised of HIIT (high intensity interval training) and functional core work we have created a workout that will help increase the body’s ability to burn body fat without putting it through the strains and risk of overuse injuries associated with traditional boot camps or high impact cardio workouts. You will be working hard for 30 minutes but you will leave feeling super energised and de-stressed!”
Sessions are £5/class or you can buy 11 for £50. The classes run in Highbury Fields at the moment, but will soon be running in Liverpool street, Green Park, London Fields and Tower Bridge in the mornings, at lunch times and in the evenings.
Free Form Fitness have teamed up with me and are offering Z Factor readers a free first session. All you need to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “The Z Factor”.
Hope to see you all down there!
When Andrew and I were visiting LA in the summer we decided to do a road trip up to San Francisco, driving all the way up the coast. It was amazing!
We hired a car and got a complimentary upgrade to a Ford Mustang Convertible.
We picked the car up from LAX (the airport in LA) and then drove through Malibu to Santa Barbara.
Stopping in Santa Barbara for lunch (actually our breakfast), I got some amaaaazing pancakes:
We were going all-out American on this road trip.
Driving up the coast was brilliant – we had some playlists going, we had spectacular views and got to spend lots of quality time together. N’awww.
Along Route 1, which is the coastal road in Cali, lies the Big Sur. The Big Sur is essentially an amazing piece of coastline whose beauty I could not do service to in words. It is absolutely stunning. Have some pictures instead:
We stopped for a night in Carmel, but we were absolutely knackered so didn’t really get to explore that evening. However, we got up nice and early, had breakfast in our room and then went to the beach in Carmel.
The weather wasn’t great, but there were so many people out walking on the beach, and it was really peaceful.
After dragging ourselves away from Carmel, it was a relatively swift drive to San Francisco and the next leg of our trip…
More on San Fran another time.
Photography © Andrew Phillimore
Sometimes life calls for a little date. Not a big date, which would demand for heels, a blowdry and ~booking~ something (P.S. I’ve never got a blowdry for a date. Soz, Andrew). I’m talking a spontaneous, “Hey, shall we go out tonight? Just you and me?” date. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be with someone you feel a bit woozy with love or lust about, it could just as easily be a pal.
These evenings, in my experience, are normally best when they’re local, often in a little place that you discover – a gem that’s budget-friendly. In these places, the staff leave you alone to chat, the wine is decent and the food delicious. You leave the place arm in arm and step out into a cold, dark evening thinking how life is a little bit better for your date being in your life.
I’ve compiled a list of my top five date venues, where I’ve had evenings like this and think you might be able to enjoy them too.
1. Le Mercury, Upper Street, Islington
I’ve had more than one lovely evening here, with a range of different people from friends to family to my boyfriend. Each evening has been great. At Le Mercury they serve simple French food, and offer little tables close to one another and soft candlelight. There’s a huge capacity, and due to their massive popularity in North London they’ve actually expanded from their original restaurant to a second venue just down the road. The great thing about Le Mercury is that for those on a budget or splitting the meal, each offering on the menu is the same price per course. So starters are all £4.45, mains £9.95. And you know what? The food is really bloody good for that price. It holds a little special place in my heart, and is definitely one of Andrew and mine’s favourites.
2. Petek, Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park
I’ve written a more extensive review of Petek before, which you can read by clicking on the link above, so I won’t go on too much. But this is one of my fave date venues. It helps we currently live very close to Petek, but it is like a beacon of joy on the somewhat grey Stroud Green Road. Inside the lighting is glowy and soft and the service is friendly without being all up in your grill. It’s pretty darn perfect. And it kind of feels like you’re on a Mediterranean holiday in there. All that is missing is the stray dogs.
3. Kettners, Soho
OK, so Kettners might not fall into the “little-known place” bracket, as it is a London institution, but I like it as a date place so it’s going in, alright? Good.
I’m not talking about the restaurant here, cos that’s all sparkly and new and, well, just a fairly standard Soho restaurant. I’m talking about the champagne and cocktail bar. That might sound a little intimidating, but don’t be put off! Really it’s a cosy and relaxed bar, and is great for people watching. Dangerously, you can buy champagne in glasses, half bottles or bottles. And they stock a lot of champagne. So what might start out as a cheeky flute of bubbles can gloriously descend into an evening of being drunk on champagne and feeling all cosy and great. They do great cocktails too.
4. Albertine, Wood Lane, Shepherd’s Bush
If you ever had the misfortune to be in Shepherd’s Bush, as I did for a good while when I worked at the BBC, then Albertine is like a beautiful oasis in the drab wasteland of Shepherd’s Bush. I’m not suggesting you go there for a meal, because I’ve only had one proper meal there and it was slightly odd and slapdash. No, I mean you go there for drinks and snacks. Albertine’s is a wine bar, and owned by a guy who is obviously passionate about wine. Consequently, the wine list is bloody massive and has wines from all over the world. They also do a good line in bar snacks, with my faves being mini chorizo sausages. It’s all a bit rustic at Albertine’s. You can sit in the window, hunker down for the night and have really great chats.
5. The Prop Store, Southbank
One of my closest and most charming friends introduced me to The Prop Store, for it is attached to the National Theatre, where she works. Had it not been for her, I don’t think I would have found it as it’s quite easy to miss a lot of stuff on Southbank, especially in the Summer when the Prop Store operates.
Yes, indeed, this is a seasonal bar. As I said, it’s run by the National and exhibits inside an interesting array of props from the theatre company. The bar itself is kind of tiny and it does take a while to get served, but the drinks are reasonable for Southbank, and you can spill out onto the river bank on a hot, sticky summer evening and have one of those nights when you’re like, “Yeah, London is so pretty and awesome and I get to live here!” And although I generally find Southbank a bit too frantic in the summer months, it’s nice to rest up at the Prop Store and watch the world go by.
So that’s my list. Do you have any cute little places you like to go on for dates? Think I’ve missed somewhere? Rant at me in the comments.
My ex-colleague and long-time friend, Jonathan, shares the exploits of his champagne lifestyle and his apparent passionate hate of cyclists.
Name: Jonathan Wilkins
Job: Magazine editor, Star Wars Insider
Neighbourhood: Sanderstead, South London
One thing I didn’t know about London until I moved here is… How close everything is. No need to get the tube or bus anywhere. Walk it and get some air. Mind out for cyclists though. [Ed: Jonathan is famously fundamentally opposed to public transport]
I turned 30 a few months ago. I try not to notice people in their twenties balk when I say I’m 30 (smug gits). I try not to let my brain spiral into hysterics that I am 30 and still don’t know my left from my right, or that I struggle with the 24 hour clock (stop judging me, guys!).
So, I thought I’d make a post about my favourite things about being an adult. Here they are… *excitement builds to a palpable level*
1. Friday Nights
Oh yeah, sure, Friday nights were fun when I was in sixth form. After a tedious A Level Geography lesson we’d go to my town’s biggest pub, Weatherspoons, as would ever other teen under 18 in the town, and drink Reef while breathing in lungfuls of hearty second-hand cigarette smoke (this was 1999). But the trouble was I had no money and had to hide in the toilets from the in turn belligerent and jobsworth-y bouncers.
But now Friday nights are better. I have money (I don’t really) and a face so craggy and old-looking that no one chases me to the loos. No one chases me full stop. Instead I pile out of work and into a pub with work friends. I stand outside for as long as possible, freezing slightly (and still getting a passive smoke in), enjoying the thought that I don’t have to answer another work email for two whole days. Or I’ll meet up with my boyfriend and we’ll go for dinner and drinks. It’s just brilliant, thinking about the whole weekend spread out ahead of you. This is much better than my teens, considering getting up and having to go and work in Topshop the next day, manning the fitting rooms and trying not to be sick in people’s faces (oh, the glory days of my late-youth).
2. No Housemates
Oh don’t get me wrong, I have met some of my closest friends in houseshares (big up Number 26!) but Christ, houseshares (and other people) are grim aren’t they? I lived with eight people in Highbury for four years; I am happy to live with just Andrew now. There are no emails saying someone’s friend is going to crash on the sofa for a month, or finding my kitchen knives blunted because someone used it to open a can of beans, or crap music being played at ear-splitting volume as I am trying to cook a meal after a hard day at work. Or my clean washing being taken out of the machine and left on the kitchen floor with the potato peelings. Or people hoarding the ironing board in their room. Or people coming in and drunkenly talking through my Sky Plussed episodes of The X Factor. Or the download speeds grinding to a halt every night at 7pm, my computer struggling to buffer a YouTube video.
One of the best parts of being an adult is being able to go home, shut the whole world out, sit in your pants and watch Catfish while drinking warm white wine (I’m not saying I’m fully a mature adult here).
3. Letting Haters Hate
When I was younger, I used to care if people I didn’t even like didn’t like me. I didn’t want people talking behind my back! What if they persuaded everyone I was a chump while I wasn’t looking, and I turned around and everyone had ditched me? [Ed: keep it lighthearted, yeah?] What was that all about, eh? The folly of yoof.
Now, I really couldn’t care less. I read something recently that said write a list of the most important people to you, then any time anyone judges your life if they’re not on a list then they don’t really get a say. It’s sort of true (although I’ve not written a list, that seems slightly cray). I am happy, I love my life, I have brilliant friends and an awesome family, so screw you guys.
I have gone to about 20 weddings in the last two or so years. Everyone is getting married. And do you know what? Bloody, ruddy great. I love weddings. I love watching my friends making this massive step, and being so happy. They’re all like, “Yeah, this is my person who I am going to hang out for a long time, maybe forever – will you be happy for us please? You are? GREAT!” I LOVE speeches. I quite enjoy a champagne and canape too. I realise the weddings will slowly peter out the further I lurch into old age, so for now I am embracing them and all the chicken satay skewers I can cram in my massive gob.
If you’re a teenage girl, friends tend to be a bit crappy, right?! It can’t just be me. I mean sure there are the core guys, the people you have remained fond of and actually enjoy seeing pop up on your Facebook feed even now. But the rubbish friends I am talking about are the moody ones, the ones who use phrases such as “I can’t believe you’ve done this to me!”, “You’ve got a bit prettier recently, but you’re still not great” and “I thought you were my friend!!!!” They get upset if you go to the cinema without them, or if you have a spotty-faced personality-less boyfriend and they don’t have a boyfriend (not even a spot-encrusted one), or if you get better marks than them. Ostensibly, these people aren’t friends, but when you’re a teenage girl fighting for survival in an all-girls’ boarding school you kind of think they are your friend.
Now, I am not confined to being friends with people I go to school with. I can meet someone and think, “Hey you’re cool” and then be friends with them (if they like me, they tend not to though… hmm). And now I am surrounded by spigging awesome people. Recently I’ve realised just how amazing my friends are, and how much richer they make my life. N’aww. Friends! They’re great, right?
BEING AN ADULT IS AWESOME.
My love affair with Los Angeles started in 2006, when Andrew and I washed up there after travelling the world for seven months. Most people turn their nose up at LA – “too hot”, “hard to get around”, “dirty” they say – but I was so excited to go to LA I could barely sleep for a month beforehand. The reason? My brother, Nick, lives there. Having not seen a member of my family for seven months – and Nick for almost a year – I was so happy to arrive. It immediately felt like my second home.
That trip we lived with my brother and his fiancee for a month in the run up to their wedding. They live in Santa Monica, and Andrew and I got to know it really well. Bike rides to Venice, sunbathing on the Baywatch Beach, shopping on 3rd Street. My brother also showed us around a lot – we went to the Hollywood Bowl to see Belle & Sebastian and The Shins, we ate amazing sushi at the Geisha House and were on guest lists to hot Hollywood clubs.
We’d been since then, in 2011, when we also took trips to Vegas and San Diego. So yeah, we know LA pretty well is what I’m saying. So when people turn their nose up at LA (like they often do at London too), I always think, “You just don’t know it”.
So this September Andrew and I packed our sizable suitcases FULL of Cadbury’s chocolate, Galaxy chocolate and sherbert flying saucers and took off for LA (the sweets were for Nick and my nephew, y’all).
Our first day in LA on this trip we went to Disneyland with my nephew, which was SO much fun but bloody boiling (38 degrees!). It was great to see my nephew so entranced by the characters. He doesn’t watch much TV and has never seen a Disney film, so it was cute to get to watch him meeting Buzz Lightyear for the first time (although he just calls him “The Astronaut”).
We went to Katsuya that weekend too. Katsuya is a chic sushi place in Brentwood, LA (aka fancyville), and well, they do amazing sushi there. And the best cocktails I’ve ever had. My faves are the miso-marinated black cod, baked crab roll and the spicy Albacore sashimi with crispy onion. Yums.
Sunday we took a trip to Malibu, to a place called Paradise Cove. It was a gorgeous day and we just lay out on the beach for ages (and Nick and I dug a massive hole in the sand for no real reason than it’s family tradition).
We had a few days in Santa Monica then before we took off on a road trip. I’ll write more about that and our stay in San Francisco another time.
Back in LA we went to an incredible restaurant in Santa Monica called Fig. Nick somehow wangled us the best table in the house, out on the terrace overlooking the pool. All the food is locally sourced, fresh and cooked in an interesting way. The menu therefore changes a lot, but I had an lovely, unctuous French onion soup to start, then scallops with serpent cucumbers, celery, coriander creme fraiche. It was wonderfully light and tasted beautiful of the salty sea. We then got an amazing Peanut Butter Crunch desert, which was chocolatey and caramelly and oh my God I could eat it all day. It was a great night, and so special to share it with Nick and Irene (Nick’s lovely wife).
We also went to an LA Dodgers (baseball!) game. I was kind of thinking it would be lame, because I tend to think sport spectating is dull. BUT IT WAS AMAZING! It was like a real, proper movie. There was a kiss cam. People stand up and do a sing along. The game is easy to follow. And you can stuff yourself silly with Dodger Dogs. I would definitely recommend going to a game if the chance came up for you.
Nick, Irene, Andrew and I took a trip to a shopping complex called The Grove. Who wants to read about a shopping mall, right? RIGHT! But at the shopping centre lay two of our LA faves: Sprinkles and Umami Burger. Sprinkles are cupcakes. You know them. They’re good. Umami Burger is INSANELY good burgers. I mean, best in the world I reckon. I’ll write up food reviews recently, but let’s just say my burger was stuffed with truffle cheese. Oh God. So freaking good.
Andrew and I also took a stroll in the hipster district of Abbot Kinney, which was so beautiful and crammed full of amazing boutiques. I loved it there. From there we also took in Venice Beach, which is always fun and has plenty of people-watching to do.
In between the times we were eating or doing something touristy, we hung out with Nick, Irene and my nephew. My brother now has a pool, so there was a lot of swimming with my nephew (who is two and can swim without armbands with his head fully in the water – some kind of genius I think!). It was a brilliant family time and I am VERY sad to be home.
I’ve been looking for a flat to purchase recently. I’m not an absolute moron; I realise this makes me very lucky to be in a position to potentially own a property of my own, especially in London. So I guess this post is a little “my diamond shoes are too tight”, but whatever! I need to vent.
“It’s so exciting!” people beamed at me when I told them my boyfriend and I were looking to buy a place together. I have since found the exact opposite. It’s been a tedious, arduous journey, which has wasted a good year’s worth of Saturdays looking at depressing hovels in suspect areas of North London.
Without further ado, here are my top five (or should that be bottom five?) annoyances. Estate agents look away now!
1. Kirstie and Phil
For those not in the UK, Kirstie and Phil present a long-running British TV show called Location, Location, Location, where they find house hunters their dream home for under their budget over the course of three days. Not only do they find this gem for the house hunters, they also normally get an offer accepted under the asking price without a hitch. I now laugh a hollow laugh in the face of this.
Phil and Kirstie (aka Kirstie and Phil) have given me – and I can’t think I am alone in this, guys – unrealistic expectations of what house hunting was going to be like. They don’t deal with pushy, sleazy estate agents on the the TV show. They don’t show them rushing about between appointments on a Saturday on London’s public transport. They don’t show the awkwardness of staring down other potential buyers at open days. THAT is house hunting in London, not skipping about tree lined streets in Crouch End weighing up options in a gastro pub over a chilled glass of Sauv Blanc. There is no time to weigh up options – someone else is going to steal your dream flat, so you have to go, go, go!
That’s before I’ve even got to the prices. London house prices are high, but as we’ve only been looking in London we kind of have grudgingly become accustomed to the fact you wouldn’t get a garage for quarter of a mill. When I watch L, L, L, lovely couples are scoring three-bed properties with gardens for £150K. OK, it’s not in London but it’s still a bit gut wrenching and makes me want to break something. But I still watch the show, of course – who doesn’t love P & K? They’re just so delightful.
2. Open Houses
In our area of London there’s probably one reasonably-priced flat that comes on the market per week. Or so it seems. Estate agents are inherently lazy – I learned this early on – and so they pack in as many viewings in on a Saturday morning as possible. “You must be there at 11.15,” they say, claiming they have another viewing at 11.25. You arrive and there’s 10 other couples awkwardly shimmying past one another in a flat the size of a postage stamp, while the more pushy viewers (me!) vie for the agent’s attention to ask about ground rent and other tedious money-wasters.
They will then tell you as you leave “Offer in on Monday”. Meaning most people who have viewed the flat will put in an offer and it’ll turn into a bidding war. All this while the agent kicks back, having only had to stand in a tiny flat for a few hours one Saturday mentally counting his commission*.
3. Estate Agents – especially a well-known agent rhyming with Moxtons.
Estate Agents have been the bane of my life since we’ve been looking. They send me properties that are £100K over our budget, they call and leave 20 voicemails during office hours then go for lunch for two hours when I’m actually free, they tell me my dreams are futile and I should settle for living in a bog.
The absolutely worst agent, who have consistently come up trumps in the “I’m the world’s biggest twonk” competition all estate agents seem to be competing in, is Foxtons. Here are some classic conversations I’ve had with them:
Me: I’m looking for a one bed for £[budget]
Foxtons Twonk: Yeah, can you increase that by £100K?
Me: Um, not really?
Foxtons Twonk: Just that that amount tends to be what most people get for a bonus and so they’re just spending their bonuses on properties buying in cash.
Me: [Hangs up]
Foxtons Twonk: I’ve got this GREAT property to show you! Can you come see it RIGHT NOW?
Me: Great, can you send over the details?
Foxtons Twonk: Well why don’t you just come see it without the details?
Me: Because I don’t want to waste my time if it’s not suitable. Can you send them over, please?
Foxtons Twonk: Well we have a policy of never sending out details. We find it tends to confuse people. We’d really rather just show properties without them seeing the details first. So shall I meet you there at 1pm?
Me: No. I’m not going without seeing the details.
[Cue circular conversation until we’re both worn out and give up]
Having said that, our current agent is a brilliant gem.
4. Getting to Viewings
I live in London and don’t own a car. I also work, so can only really see properties on a Saturday. This tends to mean that over the past eight months, Andrew and I have spent our Saturdays careering around London, looking at depressing holes and battling public transport in between each viewing.
I now know North London’s bus routes surprisingly well and can tell you the fastest route on foot between the Emirates Stadium and Stokey. The late buses, the suspended overground services, the buses on divert (who knows where you might end up, but chances are it’ll be 3 miles from where you wanted to be). It’s horrendous.
I envy those people who chuck money away owning a car in London, as it’s been the one time it would’ve actually been useful.
5. Everyone Else
House hunting has turned me into an intolerant ball of anger, which I hate – so perhaps it’d be more accurate to say number five is myself, but that seems a little emo. Anyway…
– There are the other a eleventy billion people who are househunting. Hate them. They keep buying the flats I want.
– There are home owners. Hate them. How do they own a flat and not me? How did they do it, those evil house buying wizards?
– People from out of town. Hate them. Don’t need to know how much my budget would get me in Scarborough. I don’t want to live in Scarborough.
– People who say “oh it’s so exciting”. See top of article, read to end for reasons why.
At the end of it all, there’s a delightful house-buying process to go through, which I am currently enduring. More on that another time…
*There might be more to estate agency than this. I’m not convinced, but there might be.