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Ooh, now what shall I pack for Marrakech? October 03 2016

Ooh, now what shall I pack for Marrakesh?

A common question for a female who has just booked a trip to Marrakech, is what what you should wear, what should you pack? Some will say shorts and vest tops, other will say cover your shoulders and knees. Well, having just got back from a fabulous trip to Marrakech, I recommend that you dress modestly and wear sleeved tops and trousers or skirts that fall below the knee.

 

Although there were tourists wearing shorts and vest tops, I personally wouldn't have felt comfortable wearing such attire as Morocco is a Muslim country and being female, I didn't want to attract unwanted attention, in fact, I didn't want attract any kind of attention... I just wanted to blend in with the locals as much as I could.

As I was carrying hand luggage only on the plane, I was going to be limited as to how much I could pack. I didn't want to pack too much but equally, I didn't want to pack too little! As Morocco is hot, I packed lightweight silks and cottons as made from natural fibre they are breathable in a dry, hot climate.



I packed a maxi dress, maxi skirts, a pair of harem pants, a couple of t-shirts with short sleeves, silk billowy tops with 3/4 length sleeves and a scarf. And oh, a sun hat!

A scarf can be used for multi-purposes, it can be used to cover your head (if you don't have a hat), to cover your shoulders if you are wearing a vest top or wrap around your neck if you are wearing a low cut top.

If you do decide to pack vest tops, it would be good idea to pack a kimono to wear over the top.

If you are staying at a Riad or resort that has a pool, it's absolutely fine to wear a bikini or swimming costume to sunbathe in but pack a tunic that you can throw on if you need to...


For footwear, I packed a pair of comfy leather sandals and a pair of flip-flops. I also took a lungi/sarong instead of a beach towel, a soft rucksack, a fabric shoulder bag although I think a crossover body bag would be better and a flesh coloured money belt.

As a female traveller, I packed a rape alarm. Not that I expected to get attacked but to err on the side of caution, if I felt threatened in anyway, I would not hesitate to use it.

If you are on foot and get lost or are unsure of the way to somewhere, then get a cab or a tok-tok (a motorised tricycle). You will get locals offering to show you the way but they will always expect money at the end of it or they will just direct you the wrong way!

My friend George and I were very lucky to find a tok-tok on our first night who we hired to take us places and pick us up for the rest of our trip. I did ask the tok-tok man his name but either my French was rubbish and he didn't understand what I was asking him or he didn't hear what I was asking so ashamedly we never did get to know his name. Always agree the price before going anywhere that way, there are no nasty surprises when it comes to paying.

If you don't speak Arabic or French, try to learn some basic phrases to get you by. Luckily, I was able to use my basic French from school albeit just scrapping by!


In the main square Jemaa el Fna, I bought a traditional dress with the "Hand of Fatima" printed on. I've been told the "Hand of Fatima" gives you devine protection. I bought the dress in the evening and thought it was a black coloured dress when it in fact it was dark brown! But it kept me cool, it was comfortable and it cost 30 MAD which is about £2.50! These dresses are everywhere and can vary from 30-200 MAD depending on if you buy in a souk or one of the stalls in the main square and your haggling skills..!

There were pashminas galore sold between 40-100 MAD. There were beautiful handmade Moroccan slippers all in different colours with different designs cut from the softest of leathers. There were lovely leather goods in belts, bags and sandals gracefully swinging from stalls everywhere. I thought leather goods would be cheap in Marrakech but they are not as cheap as everyone seems to think.


So if you a woman and in a bit of a quandary as to what to pack for Marrakech, don't despair too much, just remember to cover your shoulders and cover your knees, it shows respect to the locals and that goes for men too. Also, you can pick up some nice bits in the market like a traditional dress and pashmina scarf for a very good price... And blend in like a local!


The humble rise of the Prom June 22 2014

It is the season of Proms, when school kids celebrate their last senior year, the girls get to dress in gorgeous flowy dresses and the boys get suited and booted. Over the weekend, I went to wave my niece Olivia and her friends off to their Prom in a vintage bus.

The bus was privately owned and its proud owner gave me a brief history and let me on board to see its original leather and fabric interior with bunting hung inside, it really was adorable. The bus was lovingly made in 1954 and was originally with the Aldershot & District Traction Co Ltd for the London link.

As we ate canapés, chocolate strawberries all washed down with Shloer, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters all got snap happy in taking photos of the excited group of friends.

But how did Proms get started? When I left school, they just had a Leaver's Disco, in fact, our year were so bad, the school opted not to have a Leavers Disco for us!! I also think it may have had something to do with fact that there was a teachers strike going on as well not just we were the naughtiest year in the school!!

Virtually unheard of 15 years ago in the UK, Proms are now the highlight of the school leaver's year, where pupils look forward and start planning their big day way in advance.

So where did it all start? Prom's started across the pond in the US, it was an event to bring together people from all financial standings and heritage. Ever see the film "Pretty in Pink"? If you have, you get the idea!

The word “Prom” comes from the French word, "Promenade", which means "walk" or "stroll". Early in the Twentieth century, it was considered inappropriate to dance with men that you were not married to so the girls would take short and heavily-chaperoned promenades around the block with their dates.

In the 1930s and 40s "Prom" stories of good and bad memories were published by school papers and were taken seriously. By the 1950s and 60s Proms had moved from school gyms to fancy ballrooms with heavy competition for the titles of Prom King and Queen becoming a popularity contest, usually going to the best looking and best dressed couple.

In 1963, President John F Kennedy had to cancel a fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton because the hotel double-booked a school Prom. The Hilton tried to cancel the Prom but luckily for the Senior Highs, the President cancelled his event!

In 1975, President Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan, got to have her prom at the White House. No stinky old school gym for her!

Today, parents from the US and UK alike complain that Prom's have become expensive and more of a competition of who has spent the most as much as it is a show for the kids. Yes, it can be expensive if you let it but you can buy a Prom outfit fairly cheaply if you shop, around and look no different to someone who has spent a small fortune. It's not necessarily how much you spend but how you wear it.

All in all, the Prom is a wonderful night, for boys and girls to dress up and celebrate the end of their exams and the end of their school years with friends who they have shared so many laughs, tears and experiences with. And as the girls and boys are teetering on the edge of adulthood, the Prom will hopefully, be a night remember.

 

On the Buses from Betsy Blue on Vimeo.

 


Feast in the Woods May 29 2014

In a secret location somewhere in the middle of nowhere, a group of friends and I went back to basics with Pop-up Camping over the Bank Holiday weekend.  "Now what's this?" I hear you cry...  I'll tell you what it is, it was an incredible weekend called, "Feast in the Woods".

"Feast in the Woods" is a bespoke and rather intimate mini-festival for one weekend.  It's all about being at one with nature and mingling with like-minded strangers.

If you can't do without modern day technology, then this isn't for you because it's all about good old fashioned human interaction...

This brilliant idea was inspired by Rebecca Cork of HoneyWoods Camping.  I asked Bec how did she came by the idea and she said that she wanted to do something that she would enjoy going to and with her knowledge of event organising with a charity and her love of outdoors, Pop-up Camping was born.

Here, you can relax in a small community of 100 people and let your children run where wild things are.  You can even bring your dog (although spaces for poochies are limited).  It's a simple life of good food, fine drink, good food and more good food!  You can sit around the camp fire, chatting and sharing experiences with whoever you happen to be sitting next to or you can join in with the outdoor activities be it a dog competition, coffee tasting or playing Chinese Whispers... For which I confess...  It was me who changed it half way through and probably why I was picked to do a forfeit when someone else lost another game we played!  I think it's called Karma folks, ha ha!


Digby won 1st Prize in the Dog Competition - *And me having to do a forfeit! (*Courtesy of Amanada Thompkins)

And if you fancy a drink, you can stomp down to the Cider Barn and get some award winning cider down your neck by Virtual Orchard or for those of you who don't drink, some freshly pressed apple juice that is so pure and crisp, I can still taste it now.

The Cider Man

You can hire bell tents (sleeps 4 adults) or you can bring your own tent.  Space is limited so it's advisable that you don't bring a big tent.  You can set up your abode around the camp fire or in the wood itself.  You can also bring a camper van if you dare and park up next to the campsite.  There were three pristine VW Camper Vans all in pretty ice cream colours.

The first night was spent in a wonderful Indian marquee with a variety of curries bubbling away made by the fair hands of Indiana Joe Baba after an eclectic day of rain, thunder and outbursts of sunshine.  I was worried the food was going to be too hot and spicy for my pallet but it wasn't, it had a slight kick but it was all very delicious.

Having curry banquet fit for a King - And Indiana Joe "Chai Wallah, Chai Wallah" Baba

After, there was a short talk by Guyrope Gourmet on the history of food riots in England during the 18th Century.  I didn't even know there were any food riots in England, I'd only heard of one and that was in France where Marie Antoinette supposedly said, "Let them eat cake" and as a result, lost her head!

Even though I had a good sleeping bag and was sleeping on a camper bed, the night air was bitter and I was cold...  Even worse, I had to get up in the night and traipse across the campsite to go "The Bogs", shining a torch dressed in pyjamas, bed socks and Birkenstock sandals (mmm sexy) without tripping over tent pegs and string! As I found out the next morning, I wasn't the only one who had to get up and tackle the obstacle course in the night, my friend Zoe did too!

The Bogs! (Courtesy of Dave Brothers)

The next morning, the sun was shining and breakfast was being cooked for me by my besty Emma.  Eggs, bacon and fresh bread.  I had the idea of toasting the bread on the camp fire which was a bit difficult if you didn't like burnt toast.  After the washing and drying up, a few of us went to the marquee tent for a spot of Sunday morning coffee tasting with Arabicca and Robusta beans.

Breakfast Time

As lunchtime turned into afternoon, the sun was still on its best behaviour and stayed out to join us for a BBQ by a small lake nearby.  It was a beautiful sight to see, the BBQ sizzling away, a hill full of daisies and a lake with kayaks, children and adults laughing and swimming.  It was a beautiful day, spent with wonderful people.  My friend Dave said he wouldn't have missed it for the world and I think that just summed up the day.

Steak Kebabs with Halloumi made by Emma and me...

A lady offered me some Kangaroo meat that she'd just cooked on the BBQ...  I'd never had Kangaroo before so I was intrigued as to what it tasted like, it tasted just like beef.  Then a young lad offered me some Ginger Biscuit Tiramisu that his mum had made in their tent that morning and Chocolate Brownies that had gone gooey in the sun, all washed down with a cup of Indian Chai.  I don’t normally like Chocolate cake etc but by golly, these tentmade Brownies just tempted me onto the dark side and they were yummy, scrummy in my tummy!  Now that's generosity and getting into the community spirit!!

Seed Balls - And Kayaking in the lake

A tray of seed balls containing wildflower seeds were being handed out.  They were made up of wildflower seeds, clay and compost all rolled up into one.  You take a seed ball, make a wish, then throw it into the wilderness so it scatters and wherever it lands, wildflowers will grow.  What a lovely simple idea to naturally brighten up the countryside.

The last night saw us all sitting around the now roaring camp fire.  I think I was sitting a bit too close as my face felt like the top layer of the skin had peeled off!  I shared Emma's homemade flapjacks with Britain's Fittest Fireman (he came 20th out of 6000!!!  Or so I was told, unless it was another Chinese Whisper!) and the very charming George from Bristol.

The evening ended giggling in the Cider Barn sitting on haystacks with Emma, Lou, Dave, Susan and Susan's son Ben.  Feeling rather weathered and very tired I think we must have all hit the sack before midnight!

Susan and Andy's tent could be seen from Space!

With a better night's rest, the last morning saw us all up bright and breezy packing up to go home before the threat of rain came.  Any rubbish consumed by campers had to be taken home and disposed of to ensure we kept Britain Tidy!  As we said our goodbyes to friends and strangers, friends Andy and Susan (Sandy) found they couldn’t move their car.  They had parked up on the grass when it was raining and consequently their car had got stuck in the mud!  No burley men were able to shift it but luckily Emma’s Freelander did.

From the moment of arrival, everyone's kids went feral and never seemed bored.  They climbed trees, threw sticks for dogs and searched for Fairies in the woods.  It was truly a magical time for them.

The Kids Play Area - *And the walk back to the Bell Tent Village (*Courtesy of Louise Barnett)

As much as I was looking forward to having a nice hot bath, I was going to miss the little Bell Tent Village that had become our home for the weekend.  Not only did I get to spend an incredible weekend with my lovely friends but I got to mingle with like-minded strangers who I didn't even know the name of and they didn't know mine...

There's a quote... "The older I get, the more I realise how rare it is to meet a kindred spirit."  Well, if you were there this particular weekend, you would've realised that this quote isn't quite true.  My friends and I are already eager to book next year so if this is for you, maybe our paths will cross and I’ll see you next year…

The lovely Bec of HoneyWoods Camping


Psychedelic Fun Run... Man... April 29 2014

 

Over the weekend, my bestfriend Emma and I did a fun run with a difference... It was neon lit at night! Fresh from the USA, the Electric Run has been taking the world by storm and its premiere in the UK was at London's Wembley Statium. Run it, walk it, the event was for Breast Cancer and participants were encouraged to sling on their neon outfits and have the whole world rubbing their eyes not quite believing what they were seeing.

 

 Not the most flattering of outfits, ha ha!

Entry fee was £30 early bird up to £50 last minute. Also, race packets (T-Shirt, race number, some glow items) had to be picked up on the Thursday/Friday before the event or for an extra £5 on the day (which is a cheek as they don't tell you that when you're registering only about a week before the event!) And if you ordered extra merchandise, like I did (LED glasses, glow necklaces, glow ring) you are given a ticket with your order and you have to queue again to get them, although the wait wasn't that long.

 

It was the most fun but most surreal run I've ever done. I can only describe it as going to a rave but without the drugs!!! With pumping dance music, glow in the dark everything and a view of the Wembley Stadium arch lit up, me, Emma and about 15,000 neon snappy dressers were raring to go. The atmosphere was electric, if you pardon the pun... I felt like I wanted to high-five anyone and everyone who had made the effort to dress up!!! Woo YEAH!!

Other glowing runners we got chatting to... Like you do!

As there were so many people, the starting line was staggered to prevent a mass exodus into the neon lit wild. The run was due to start at 8pm when the sun had gone to bed and we were due to go about 8.45pm. As we waited with other excited runners, the MC was throwing neon glow sticks into the crowd for them to carry on the psychedelic wonderland. Then came our official countdown, "10, 9, 8, 7..." And we were off...!

Emma and both found that right at the very start, people were already walking which made it frustrating and slow as we wanted to run! I think the big slope just after the start line had something to do with it but then I think a lot of people were there just for the experience rather than to run which is fine because it was a fun run all for charity.

The one thing I will say is my disappointment (and Emma's too) in that I was given the impression that the whole 5k route would be lit up all the way (as I think most people were) giving a light show with music and although it was in some parts, a lot of the run was in the dark and silent... Not quite what I was expecting but it was still fun nonetheless and Emma and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

The half way line was also a watering hole with neon coloured plastic cups with water. There were psychedelic lit up trees and screen projections, there was even a UV chill out area and a big blow up Battersea Power Station to run through.

As the end of the run was nigh and the finishing line was in sight, we ran through again, I felt it was all a bit of an anti-climax. I wasn't expecting Stars and Spangles but I thought they could have lit up the last 100 yards and have bubbles blowing from a bubble machine for a more grander finish but it really was something of nothing much.

 

For the hardcore, there was an after party with a DJ and stage light show for those who wanted to party on. There was also a food and drink area if you were feeling peckish after burning off those calories. Emma and I were hungry and opted to stop off for a Maccy D's in Brixton, not something I usually eat but our change of clothes were in the car and it was now 10.30pm and getting cold and re were hungry. Wearing a leotard and lace leggings with a tutu isn't the warmest of clothing!

All in all, I felt the whole experience was unique and had a festival atmosphere about it... And considering the amount of participants, the whole event was well organised although a little pricey.

If you're interested in doing this next year, it's not a race or a serious run, it's just a bit of fun to do with friends or even on your own but you to get to wear the most horrendous outfit without being arrested by the Fashion Police!!!

Psychedelic Fun Run from Betsy Blue on Vimeo.

 


The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer April 06 2014

I had been kindly given a complimentary ticket to see a show of my choice at the West End Centre in Aldershot which is run by Hampshire County Council. Normally, I would have chosen to see a band of some sort but I decided to be a bit more cultural and chose to see a one-man animation/puppet show called, "The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer".

This charming tale tells of heartbreak and heroism where the world has suffered a biblical flood and the surviving souls have been forced to live on skyscrapers and mountain tops.

After the death of his beloved wife, Alvin Sputnik is alerted by Earth HQ that something must be done to save the world. Grief-stricken, Alvin Sputnik decides he has nothing to live for but to save the human race from extinction and so goes on a mission diving into the big blue searching for the world at the centre of earth that will save the mankind.

Everything the audience sees has been written, operated and performed by the talented Australian Tim Watts. With the clever use of torches, puppetry, animation, Tim Watts plays the Ukelele, singing sweetly and rather melancholy dressed in a wetsuit. It really is incredible that he performs this all by himself and manages to get the timing just right, although I did ask after the show how he managed timing to which Tim Watts replied that sometimes he didn't but it was enough for the audience not to notice!

The story is tender and Alvin Sputnik is adorable and had the whole audience captivated during the forty-five minute show. Although the show is suitable for children, I think it may be a little too dark and deep for really young children but nonetheless it's a heartfelt story for children and adults alike.

It's a bit of tear jerker but if you don't coming out of the theatre all bug-eyed and bloodshot and you fancy something different, go see this touching fairytastical show... It will truly bring a smile to your face, it did mine...


A Sunday Mooch... March 24 2014

Over the weekend I met up with my gorgeous friend Roisin in the historic city of Winchester. We hadn't seen each other since last September in Portsmouth when the weather was still hot and barmy and there was still no sign the Indian Summer was coming to an end. This time in Winchester, the weather had taken a turn from the lovely unusually warm weather we'd been having this time of year, to cold, windy and hail stones.

Aww, lovely Roisin with her Iced Coffee

We had lunch at a Coffee/Wine Bar called Black, White, Red, co-owned by England's Cricket Captain Chris Robshaw on Jewry Street. The place was rammed! And it wasn't looking likely either that we were going to get a table but we managed to squeeze a place where we could both eat and have a good natter.

There you can have breakfast, brunch, lunch or an early evening meal. Roisin and I were on the cusp of brunch and lunch so I ordered slow roasted Pulled Pork in a toasted Brioche Bun with Pickled Cabbage and Spiced Apple Chutney all served up on a wooden platter with a Coca Cola (only from a bottle!) And Roisin ordered Poached Fruit Pancake with Maple Syrup and Whipped Cream on a plate with an Iced Coffee.

Now I'm told that this is the place to go if you want a different cup of coffee. I wish I'd known this at the time or I would have ordered one as I do like my coffee but I'd already had my quota that morning so I opted for a fizzy pop!

The place itself is quite small and very modern, kind of a cafe on one side and a wine bar on the other. If you want a bottle of wine rather than just a glass, you select your wine from the shelves at one end of the room and then pay the retail price plus a corkage charge if you are drinking it there.

The cakes looked amazing, the staff were friendly and the price was right.

Yummy scrummy!

Considering the amount of people in there, we didn't have long to wait but then we were so busy catching up on the goss, I don't think we would have noticed if the food had taken a while. No, I think I would have... I was so-ooo hungry!

After lunch, Roisin and I took a wonder into Winchester town getting lost on the way! Err, how many months have you lived there Roisin!??

A bit of window shopping!

The sun had come out to play in the suddenly clear Blue sky and we decided to have a mooch around Winchester Cathedral. It was the first time I'd been there in a few years and Roisin had never been but every time I go, it still makes me think, "Wow, what a place..."

Work began on Winchester Cathedral in 1079 and is a mixture of different phases from 11th to 16th Century. It is one of Britain's largest Cathedrals and is the longest in Europe.

As we strolled in awe of the magnificence of the place, the organ was playing in the distance and the faint singing of the choir could be heard. Quite where it was coming from I don't know but it sent goosebumps all over me, it was beautiful at the same time quite eerie. Roisin said she felt the same as she passed a tomb of a Bishop of Winchester long gone.

We went down below into the low vaulted crypt that floods in the Winter months where you'll find Antony Gormley's sculpture of a solitary man standing up to his knees in water reading a book. A word of warning though, there are steep stairs to walk down so if you're wearing heels like Roisin and I were, walk sideways and hang onto the metal railing on your way down or you are liable to fall and break your neck!!!

Beautiful stained glass window... And graffiti from the 1500s in the reign of Elizabeth I!!

As always, whenever I enter a church, I light a candle and I always light it for my Dad who passed away in 2006, who I miss very, very much. All are welcome to come and light a candle and say a little prayer, for me it gives me serenity, to let that person know they are never far from my thoughts.

Roisin and I left leaving a donation to the Church and to say goodbye to one another until the next time. It was so lovely to see one another... I think the next we meet, it will be in Guildford except we won't visit Guildford Cathedral as that's where the 1976 horror film "The Omen" was shot, so I don't think we'll be going there, ha ha...!!


Cupid, draw back your bow! February 13 2014

 

For all you star-crossed lovers out there, Valentine's Day is fast approaching. The vision of hearts, flowers and wild romance makes life nothing but a dream...

And for all you singletons out there, don't despair, it's only one day of the year!

Traditionally, Spring begins on St Valentine's Day (February 14 incase you didn't know!), the day it was believed that birds paired into couples.

This year romantic Brits are expected to spend around £1 billion on cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts!!! Yes, you read correct, £1 billion!!!

In the 18th Century, cards and gifts were sent anonymously but nowadays we often make it clear who is sending each "Valentine".

Saint Valentine

But where does Valentine's Day come from? And who was Saint Valentine?

Was he?
a) A 3rd Century Priest in Rome who performed secret marriages when the Roman Emperor Claudius II thought single soldiers were more likely to enlist in the army?

b) Someone who helped Christians which was a crime at the time?

c) Someone who was responsible for giving the jailer's blind daughter back her eyesight and before his execution, he sent her a note saying, "From your Valentine"? Thus, the phrase is still used.

d) All, some or none of the above?

If you guessed d) then pat yourself on the back and treat yourself to those love-heart shaped box of chocolates that you've been salivating over in the supermarket since January!

Stories about Saint Valentine are scarce and vary wildly but he is widely believed to have been a 3rd Century Priest in Rome who was imprisoned and executed supposedly on... Yep, you've guessed it on February 14. So...

Where did he live?
According to the official biography of the Diocese of Terni, Bishop Valentine was born and lived in Interamna.

How did he die?
The Emperor Claudius II ordered for his arrest and death by stoning. When he didn't die from stoning, the Emperor then ordered for him to be executed... Hmm nice man the Emperor Claudius...

When did he die?
Again, myth has it around 269 AD on February 14.

Where is he buried?
Apparently, his body was then buried in a hurry at a nearby cemetery before his disciples later came and carried him home.

Where are his remains now?
The poor chap seems to be scattered all over the place!
  • A skull believed to be his is held in glass in Rome. But parts of his skull could also be in Chelmno in Poland.
  • His shoulder blade is in the Czech Republic and is now on permanent display in the Church of Saints Paul and Peter in Prague.
  • There are also said to be remains in Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome, Roquemaure, France and Dublin, Ireland.

When was he made a Saint?
In 496 AD, February 14 was declared in the name of St Valentine by Pope Gelasius. It was originally part of the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a feast day dedicated to St Valentine.

It remained a Church holiday until 1969, when Pope Paul VI took it from the calendar because of uncertainty of the facts.

Just the one Valentine?
Little is really known of the real man (or men) behind the myth. What is known is that at least two men by the name of Valentine (Valentinus) were known in Italy and died in the late 3rd century and a third Valentine was located in North Africa around the same time. The two Italians were buried along Via Flaminia.

Courtesy of Angel Food Bakery, Brighton

Traditions and Tales of Valentine's Day

  • The first man an unmarried woman saw on February 14 would be her future husband (let us pray it's not the smelly old tramp that rummages through the bins on your street!)
  • If the names of all a girl's suitors were written on paper and wrapped in clay and the clay put into water, the piece that rose to the surface first would contain the name of her husband-to-be.
  • If a woman saw a Robin flying overhead on Valentine’s Day, it meant she would marry a Sailor.
  • If a woman saw a Sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy.
  • If a woman saw a Goldfinch, she would marry a rich person.
  • During the Middle Ages it was believed that birds chose their partners in the middle of February. Thus the day was dedicated to love and people observed it by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved.

Did you know?

  • The first reference in print to Valentine's Day is found in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Parlement of Foules" (The Parliament of Fowls) circa 1381.
  • The earliest known romantic Valentine verse was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife in the 15th Century while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
  • In 1537 King Henry VIII declared St Valentine's day an official holiday. It was another century and a half before religious devotional cards became non-religious cards to reflect the change in the holiday.
  • On Lupercalia (a Roman festival for purification and fertility) a young man would draw the name of a young woman in a lottery and would then keep the woman as a sexual companion for the year. Understandably, this was not favoured by Pope Gelasius so he...
  • Changed the lottery where women would write love letters and stick them in a large urn. The men would pick a letter from the urn and for the next year, pursue the woman who wrote the chosen letter. (Bet the men were gutted!) This custom lasted until the 1700s when people decided their beloveds should be chosen by sight, not luck.

Whether you are coupled up or single, however you spend your day, Happy Valentine's Day!

And if you are single, why not use Valentine's Day as a reminder to spend the rest of the year letting people know how much they mean to you. That will show your coupled friends that love is actually everywhere... X

"Be my funny Valentine..."  Not politically correct but I thought this vintage Valentine card endearing!


The Wizardry World of Harry Potter! January 20 2014

Squealing like a couple of kids, my niece Louise and I went to Warner Bros Studio Tour, The Making of Harry Potter in Watford. It had been booked for weeks and it had to be when Hogwarts was covered in the snow.  The snow was only for the Christmas period but it proved so popular, the studio extended it so people who couldn't book in the month of December, had a chance of seeing it in January.

When I'd told people we were going, their initial reaction was, "What you going there for? It's for kids isn't it?"

No it isn't just for kids, it's for children and adult alike.  Eight years old or Eighty years old, you can marvel at the wizardry of Harry Potter's world.

The Sat Nav took us straight there but even if you didn't have a Sat Nav and just a print out of AA Router, once you get to Leavesden in Watford, the Warner Bros Studio is clearly signed posted.

Emma Watson has the same size hands!

Tickets cost £30 each for adults and £22.50 for children aged between 5-15 years and £89 for a family of four.  If you buy tickets online, you need to get there 20 minutes before your slot so you can collect your tickets.  As it was, we arrived about 45 minutes before our 11 o'clock slot and so we had plenty of time to collect our tickets and get a Starbucks before queuing.

The studio itself is very well organised and apart from the first part of the tour, you can spend as long as you want on the tour.

Now if you want to see the tour for yourself and don't want the surprise spoilt for you, then I suggest you stop reading right here!!!

But if you want to know what's instore of the grand tour then step right up, hurry hurry, the show is about to begin...

 

As we queued, we were told we could take as many photos as we liked but try and save the battery life of your camera/phone for the very end of the tour or we would be disappointed.  Having a full battery on my phone, I did bear this in mind, I didn't want to be missing out on a thing!

Once inside you are taken into a small cinema showing a short film about how the Harry Potter franchise took the world by storm.  The screen splits to reveal a door, the door to The Great Hall of Hogwarts!  There you will see the table settings and various costumes such as Dumbledore, Sybill Tralawney, Hagrid and Professor Filius Flitwick to name a few.

From here onwards, you are moved onto The Big Room where you can explore the original sets, costumes, props, special effects.  There is Dumbledore's Office, Hagrid's Hut, the Weasley's Kitchen the list is endless all leading onto Privet Drive where there is an eatery for food and drink and the famous Butterbeer...

Quite why Louise and I bought a Butterbeer each, I don't know...  It was like drinking the most sweetest, most greasiest Cream Soda EVER and I don't like Cream Soda at the best of times!  And the more you sipped, the more the Butterbeer seemed to fill the glass!  I think I had about three sips, I absolutely couldn't drink anymore neither could Louise.  I should have just stuck to Hot Chocolate!

Here at Privet Drive you'll see Hogwarts Bridge, the Knight Bus, the Flying Ford Anglia (although not suspended in the air) and Hagrid's motorbike.

No, we didn't have matching macs on!  That is Louise and me, not Dobby and me!!

 

Through past the toilets, you can walk on to see the creature effects such as the Buckbeat and the Mandrake.  Then onto the cobbled Diagon Alley, this, I was really looking forward to see but although it was Diagon Alley, it didn't quite look how I imagined it to be but then how was it ever it going to look like it did in the films?  It was indoors in a studio for a start! Nevertheless, the details of the buildings and in the shop windows, were so intricate, they looked like they could be real shops albeit, eccentric shops!

As you stroll up and out of Diagon Alley, you enter through the Art Department where you will see the most wonderful architect drawing of the gothic buildings before leading you to The Model Room.  And it is here the magnificent model of Hogwarts stands in all its glory and covered in snow!  I literally said out loud, "WOW!" I always thought Hogwarts was computer graphics, I never thought it was an actual model, I don't know why but I just didn't.  The model is HUGE.  You can walk around it and take photos at different angles.  The mood lighting lets you see the school at night and you can see lights flickering through the windows...  And this why you are asked to save the battery life of your camera or phone...  It's really quite breathtaking.

As you walk around and leave Hogwarts, you enter Ollivanders Wand Shop.  There are 4000 wands all individually named after every cast member, production team, set worker and runner that ever worked on the Harry Potter films. Each wand is inscribed with a different handwritten ancient remedy inside!  Amazing. If you are looking for the wand of one of your favourite actors, just ask one of the guides, they will direct you straight to it.

There are many, many secrets you can learn about the making of the films.  So much thought and detail went into absolutely everything from the contents of the glass bottles in the Potions Classroom, to the metalwork carving on Alastor Moody's magical trunk, to the placing and colours of feathers on the Buckbeat.

Did you know the more power Dolores Umbridge gained, the more Pink her outfits became? No neither did I!
I think Dolores could with adding BB's 1950s White Flowers Brooch by "Coro" to her collection!

You can have wand-waving lessons...  "Izzy whizzy, let's get busy", oops sorry wrong character, that's Sooty not Harry Potter!!  Or sit in the Green Room on a broomstick or sit in the Wesley's Ford Anglia.

The gift shop is pricey though but then aren't all these things?  I saw a Quidditch Broomstick hanging for sale at £245! A Chocolate Toad was £7.  Wands were £25 each and t-shirts and sweatshirts were up to £40...  You get the picture?

 

The tour is one-way so make sure you see as much as you want and take as many photos as you can because once you leave a room, you can't go back.

The Making of Harry Potter is amazing, Louise and I both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  We spent about 3 hours there but you can spend longer if wish.  You will see children dressed in Hogwarts attire and you will see Grandparents enjoying the tour as much as their Grandchildren.  If you are thinking of going, go! *Accio!  You won't regret it...

*Accio = Summoning Charm


The Real McCoy? January 01 2014

With Christmas and the New Year celebrations now over, most of us will go shopping hoping to grab ourselves a bargain in the January sales.

BB loves these Vintage Gucci Purses!

I myself, have been looking to replace my rather old but faithful Gucci purse I purchased years ago from the Gucci store in Berlin. I've been looking for sometime and have looked in various stores for the right purse but I have always returned to looking at Gucci.  So my first port of call was Gucci online and then eBay, just to see what is out there and if I could grab myself a bargain and perhaps a vintage piece.  But how do you know if you're getting the real deal?

Tell Tale Signs

Spotting replica handbags and purses used to be simple like flimsy buckles, cheap leather, slightly skewed logos and misspelled logos.  But fakes can be so good these days that it can be difficult to tell if you have the real McCoy or not.

Online

When buying a handbag or purse online, make sure it’s from a reputable source.  If sites are based in China or Hong Kong, proceed with caution, as most fakes are from these two countries.

Check the Description

Designer bags will have a serial number inside and should come with an authenticity card.  Also, check reviews online for signs of inauthenticity.  If bad feedback is given and customers say items aren’t the real thing, then they likely aren’t.

A quick internet search on the designer's website will soon help you to make sure the design, pattern and details are all correct.  But that can be difficult if you are interested in a vintage piece because the retailer will only be showing their most current items or items from the last season, not from eons ago. So, purchasing a vintage piece can sometimes be a gamble.

Respectable Resellers

Just because a bag or purse is sold online, it doesn’t mean it’s fake.  Authentic and vintage handbags and purses are often sold on eBay hence why I was looking.  But you need to do a bit of research into the seller and use your savvy...  If the deal looks too good to be true, it usually is.  A Louis Vuitton bag will never be £50 so use common sense.

Craftsmanship Flaws

A Prada handbag will not have crooked stitching or unfinished edges.  High-end brands take ultimate pride in craftsmanship, so no imperfect bag would leave their factory.  The leathers and fabrics of authentic bags will always be perfectly stitched and lined up, never crooked or gapped stitched.  If rivets and buckles are damaging the fabric of the bag or purse or are catching on your clothes, then this is a dead giveaway for a fake.

Are all of the patterns on track and consistent throughout?  If not, you could be looking at a fake.  A monogram print should consistently match all over the bag.  For example, in a Louis Vuitton bag, the signature logos should all be facing the same way.

Brand-Specific Clues

Know the signs to look for in the specific bag or purse.  For instance, Louis Vuitton bags made since the early ‘80s have a date stamped somewhere on the interior and all newly produced Mulberry bags should have a small Black cloth label stitched inside stating the country it was made in. Contrary to popular belief, all Mulberry bags are now NOT made in England.  Some are made in in China and Turkey.

There are plenty of brand fanatics online spotting knock-off bags and revealing the tell tale signs so do a quick search before you buy.  eBay sellers give good advice if you're unsure.

You can only really trust it's an original if you purchase the bag from a department store or the brand's shop or website.  What I tend to do is, if the real thing is too expensive, I buy an authentic, quality item of a lesser-known brand (usually in the sale!) at least then I know I'm getting quality and authenticity.


The Little Black Dress December 08 2013

There is an item of clothing that I always have in my wardrobe for "that" special occasion and that's the Little Black Dress.

As Christmas is fast approaching, ladies everywhere will be whipping out that little Black number from the back of their wardrobes, pulling together an outfit that will make them look and feel a million dollars.

Its silhouette has changed over the years but the LBD remains supremely chic.

My LBD - AX Paris £25

Many people claim that the LBD as we know it was invented by Coco Chanel.  In 1926, a picture of a simple short black dress by Chanel appeared in American Vogue and was dubbed “Chanel's Ford” after demand for Ford motorcars which were only available in Black, had soared at the start of the century.  The LBD was like the Model T car because it was accessible to women of all social classes.  Vogue said the dress was "a sort of uniform for all women of taste."

Simple in Black crêpe de Chine with long, narrow sleeves, worn with a string of pearls, Vogue proved to be correct in the prediction that it would become a uniform.

Before the 1920s, wearing the colour Black was strictly reserved for times of mourning.  It was considered indecent to wear it otherwise because mourning dresses were symbolic. During the Victorian era, a grieving widow was expected to wear black for at least two years.  Queen Victoria wore her mourning dresses for exactly 40 years!

The LBD maintained its popularity during World War II, due to the rationing of textiles.  It also became a sort of uniform for the droves of women heading to the workplace.  LBD's were popular in Hollywood during the Technicolor craze because a Black dress wouldn't clash with the other colours on the screen as a brighter dress might.

During the postwar conservative era of the 1950s and early 1960s, the LBD took a bit of a social hit.  Though still worn, it was seen as a little dangerous that the woman wearing it wasn't quite so pure as the conservative woman in Powder Blue.

But the Swinging 60s gave the LBD a bit of a revival, with the younger Mod generation sporting the mini dress invented by the fashion designer Mary Quant.  While the older more conservative set, looked to classic styles like the LBD worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.  That Black Givenchy cocktail dress worn in the film sold at auction in 2006 for £467,200!!!

In the 1980s, the LBD experienced a renaissance at the hands of designer Azzedine Alaïa, "the King of Cling".

The LBD has, for the most part, maintained its popularity through the decades since Chanel brought it into our lives in 1926.  Though it's had its stylistic variations from the Mod mini dress of the 1960s and big shoulders and peplum of the 1980s to the grunge in the 1990s, the motivation behind the dress has remained the same.  A LBD makes a woman feel beautiful and glamorous.  It's a long-lasting, versatile and affordable to a large market of women and is certainly here to stay.

We may not yet know how to have it all but it helps to have a reliable outfit that can do it all and will always makes us feel modern, capable, feminine and fun.

Me in my LBD


Stir it up! November 25 2013

Yesterday was Stir-Up Sunday.  "What?" I hear you ask.  "What's Stir-Up Sunday?"

Stir-Up Sunday is the last Sunday before the season of advent.  It was a traditional day for everyone in the family to take a turn at stirring the Christmas pudding whilst making a wish.  It is a British tradition that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert said to have introduced.

Before Christmas puddings were sold ready-made, they were always made at home. They were made a month before Christmas day so the flavours had plenty of time to develop before Christmas.

On Stir-Up Sunday families returned from Church to give the pudding its traditional lucky stir.  The pudding mixture was always stirred from East to West in honour of the three Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus.  Whilst stirring the pudding mixture, each family member would have an opportunity to make a wish.

On their way back from church, children were often heard chanting the following rhyme:

"Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot;
And when we get home we'll eat the lot."
These words were an adaptation of what they had heard in church on this day.

 

Why is it called Stir-Up Sunday?

The name 'Stir-Up Sunday' comes from the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and later.  (The collect is the prayer of the day that “collects” up the themes of the readings during a church service). 

The original collect (prayer) has today been adapted into more modern language and is now the Church of England's prayer after communion for Stir-Up Sunday:

"Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

These days, most children have never experienced the stirring experience of a Christmas pudding but that is probably because most Christmas pudding are now bought ready made And so the tradition is not widely known as it once was.

Christmas Pudding Traditions

  • A Christmas pudding is traditionally made with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and His Disciples.
  • A proper Christmas pudding is always stirred from East to West in honour of the three Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus.
  • Every member of the family must give the pudding a stir and make a wish.
  • A coin was traditionally added to the ingredients and cooked in the pudding.  It was supposedly to bring health, wealth and happiness to whoever found it on their plate on Christmas Day.  The first coins used were a Silver Farthing or penny.  After WW1, it became a threepenny bit and then a sixpence.  In today's money, that would be a five pence piece.
  • Other traditional additions to the pudding were "tokens" or "favours".  These included a ring, to foretell a marriage or a lucky charm.

Sweet Sixteen and a Sugar Lump or Two November 15 2013

Remember, remember the 5th of November...  Well that was 10 days ago and it's now the 15th today.  I have been meaning to blog all week but what with one thing and another, I haven't managed to do it!  Yes siree, I have been rubbish but blogging takes time and thought and I just haven't had a lot of it recently...!

What I did want to write about was my niece Olivia's fantastic 16th Vintage Tea Party last weekend.  At first Livvy didn't want to do anything to mark her milestone but with the insistence of her mum (my sister Susan), we organised a Vintage Tea Party for her.

The weather was particularly atrocious last Saturday and so Livvy with ten of her closest friends sat, chatted and listened to music while Susan, my brother-in-law Steve and I whistled while we worked making finger sandwiches of Cray Fish and Prawn, Cream Cheese and Smoked Salmon, Turkey and Ham listening to a wonderful vintage radio station found by my sister on digital called Smile Sussex.

I was assigned to the laying out of the most fabulous cupcakes I had ever seen.  Infact, I kept thinking what a shame to have to eat them, just staring at them and being tempted by them was good enough for me...  Actually no, maybe that was a slight exaggeration but if they tasted as good as they looked...!   (Which they did by the way!)

Cupcakes made by Kerrie Crabb

A long table was laid with an eclectic mix of fine bone china cups 'n' saucers and plates kindly lent by various neighbours.  One sugar lump or two?  There were Silver spoons from Bali with semi precious stones to stir and slurp the brew.  The vintage looking paper plates and doilies for the finger sandwiches and pizza pieces were purchased through eBay as was the bunting we hung from the walls.

Vintage Bunting and Vintage Paper Plates and Doilies - From eBay

The devilishly scrumptious Birthday cake was made of rich Chocolate mousse covered in delicate swirls of dark chocolate shavings.  It was lovingly handmade by the dad of Livvy's friend Tiren.  How clever is he!? I'm told that Tiren's dad is a brilliant cake maker and looking at what was before me, I could see it was no lie! 

 Handmade Chocolate Mousse Birthday Cake
Black Polkadot Tea Dress - Laura Ashley

 

The girls had all clubbed together to buy Livvy a beautiful birthstone ring of Topaz from Pandora and had wrapped it up in a huge box so she would never have guessed.  Livvy squealed with delight as she opened it and saw the ring.

And so, with bellies full of tea and cake, the afternoon unwound with lots of giggles and a sing song on the piano...  And oh, lots of clearing up for us adults!!

**A Tea Party Ode by Me**

Livvy had a tea party
One rainy afternoon
Mum wanted to go that extra mile
To celebrate it vintage style
But Livvy said, "No boys allowed, it has to be just girls."
"I only want my closest friends wearing frills and pearls!"
Finger sarnies served up a treat
Fresh tea was on the brew
Homemade cupcakes were served as sweet
Was that one sugar lump or two?
A Birthday cake of chocolate mousse
All washed down with Lambrini juice!
But best of all for everyone and me
We all enjoyed our afternoon tea