Category: Life and Living

London Calling? I can’t hear it!

I know that to some people – many people – living in London is the epitome of cool. It’s very rare you hear of country kids growing up with a dream to move to Manchester, for example. It’s always London. The capital city; centre of culture, home to theatreland and the geography of our Monarch.

Me? I’ve never seen the appeal. It’s expensive, crowded and full of tourists. Plus it’s pretty big. So living “in” London is actually about living in one of many boroughs, all of which have their own individual high streets, postcodes and local pubs. All the “great things” that people quote about living in London – the museums, the art galleries, the chance to see different bands every night of the week and a different play in the West End – aren’t really on your doorstep. Sure, your own borough might have stuff going on, but probably not every day, You’ll invariably need to travel to suck up everything that London has to offer, which means an overcrowded tube, an overpriced taxi, or a walk that will be more suited to trainers than those new strappy heels that match so well with your dress.

Because you wouldn’t drive. Good god no! Traffic jams and parking nightmares and one way systems, plus the fact that you probably couldn’t afford to run a car because of your extortionate public transport costs (plus paying through the nose to rent a flat the size of a shoebox). That’s why women can be seen traversing the pavements in business suits and sneakers on their way to offices where they’ll change into heels when safely at their desk.

The reason for my vitriolic London rant? Today! I had a meeting in London today, for work. I had to catch a 6.30am train (that’s not London’s fault, I know). There were issues with my pre-booked tickets (also not London’s fault). Here’s the bit that’s London’s fault.

The underground. Queuing to get on an escalator to get to correct platform.

Temperatures increasing the lower you get, so that even in winter when you’re wrapped up against the elements it’s too hot. Standing crammed against strangers in an overstuffed carriage and hoping everyone remembered to use deodorant that morning.

Tourists. Everywhere! Wheeling suitcases, taking up space, stopping without warning or running over your feet.

How do people do it every day?!

And of course things weren’t helped by the fact that the Victoria line – the one and only tube line that would get me to where I needed to be – was closed. So, all of a sudden, the life source of London – moving people around seamlessly and methodically, away from the unpredictability of traffic jams and delivery drivers and all those things which can slow a vehicle above ground – came to a halt. Not so bad if you know what the alternatives are. A pain in the ass if you don’t.

Now, I’m not completely callous and heartless, so the fact that the line closure was due to a fatality on the line did temper my annoyance somewhat. But being told I needed to catch “the number 24, from behind that building” wasn’t exactly the hand holding I needed. “That building” didn’t have an obvious “back”. It had sides, which I had to wander around. It also had many many bus stops on it’s perimeter.

The upshot was that I found the bus stop. The bus turned up quickly. The driver looked at me like I was trying to pull a fast one when I explained that the Victoria Line wasn’t working and told me that I would have to justify this to the ticket inspector if he got on the bus, but he didn’t charge me. And, unlike being underground, you get to see more of this great city.

Like the building work.

Oh, and some more building work (seriously, it’s everywhere you look).

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The great range of well thought out and well appointed apartments, where you can sit outside and admire the building work while breathing in genuine London smog.

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The bright red double decker buses, snaking across the city at a snail’s pace.

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Of course there are some great sights too, although how much notice you would take if you were seeing them on a daily basis is questionable.

Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column

The cenotaph in Whitehall, covered in fresh wreaths following the Battle of Gallipoli memorial parade at the weekend

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Beautiful and imposing buildings with architectural influences from across the centuries

 

Good old London boozers.

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Quite a lot of photographs for one bus journey, yes? That’s because it took a whole bloody hour instead of what would have been a 10 minute tube journey. It took 8 minutes to get across one set of traffic lights when there was only one vehicle in front of us. The bus driver squeezed in a space alongside a lorry that was so tight the two vehicles were touching each other. And neither driver acknowledged the bump or challenged the other one.

Presumably because, well, that’s London for ya.

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Malaga – way more than just an airport

My travel retrospective yesterday got me thinking about past travels and city breaks.

I love getting away for a weekend. Short breaks concentrate your efforts in terms of seeing everything and doing stuff. Whilst not the most relaxing of times, I always feel fulfilled and satisfied by just how much I’ve managed to do. No time for having a lie in or an afternoon nap. It’s all about cramming it all in.

Quite often a city break for us can stem from seeing a cheap flight and investigating whether the destination is worth visiting. Which is how we ended up in Malaga 5 years ago.

For most Malaga is a gateway to the Costas. Brits who have holiday homes in Spain flock to the airport, or through the airport, from the beginning of the sunny season through til the end. Families on their two week escape looking for sea, sun and sand will land at the airport and be whisked away by tour operator coaches to their coastal destination of choice. But there is so much more to Malaga.

I don’t recall what made me look into it as a destination in itself, but I was so glad I did. Husband wasn’t convinced but I implored him to trust me. In mid April, flying out on a Thursday, flights were still reasonable and we got a basic but modern, adequate and well situated IBIS hotel at a steal. The actual trip cost us around £100 each for two nights.

First things first…Malaga is very Spanish. Which seems a case of stating the bleeding obvious, but it’s true. Because it’s not a tourist destination there is no “need” for everyone to speak English. As a result (and refreshingly so) Spanish is the first language. There is a need to communicate via pigeon English and pointing at menus when ordering food. Shops don’t have English signs. There’s a real feel of being in Spain, despite the influx of Brits through the vicinity on a daily basis.

Malaga, for me, has it all. The climate (it was 25 degrees in the day and around 15 degrees at night, and that was end of April), the food (bars and cafes serving authentic tapas, and tiny backstreet alley restaurants delivering the best paella ever for about 10 euros), the architecture (white washed buildings, cathedrals and a castle in the hills) and the sea (it’s on the coast. Who knew?!)

Oh, and when we arrived, they’d had a film festival in the city, so there was a red carpet running through the pedestrian area. And not to welcome us, as I thought might be the case.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking,

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Malaga is all about timing. Due to it’s popularity for reaching coastal destinations flights can actually be prohibitively expensive in summer. But time it right early or late in the season, with a mid week flight, and it’s well worth a visit.

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The French Coast – a look back and a peek forward

2 weeks today I’ll be on a plane to France, hurrah! Invariably it will be wet and dull in the UK, in true bank holiday style, so I’m making the most of it by jetting off for 3 days in Nice, on the French Riviera.

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Living in land locked Birmingham, it’s always good to get to the coast, especially when it’s as stunning as this. The Cote d’Azur has a micro climate and 200-250 days of sunshine each year, so I’m hopeful that early May will be warm and pleasant, and I might even get to dip my toes in that stunning blue sea.

As well as a stunning coastline, Nice has beautiful architecture, lots of greenery and a colourful Old Town that I’m looking forward to wandering around.

Nice port

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Nice cathedral

Nice old town

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It’s 5 and a half years since I was last on the French Coast. We went to Marseille for a our first wedding anniversary, and totally fell in love with it. Just 6 hours door to door, from home via Birmingham airport, it’s a gem of a place and we immediately declared it our weekend bolthole when we fancied getting away. Unfortunately Ryanair had other ideas and cancelled the route soon afterwards so we haven’t been back since, but I would definitely return.

Here are some snaps.

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Twit of the Day award…

…goes to the order packers at H&M who, instead of packing my (admittedly very large, but mainly because of their blinkin’ bloomin’ sizing) order into multiple manageable boxes, sent me this:

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Which is so big, it did this:

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The cardboard handles broke as I tried to lift it, so I don’t know how the courier managed to lug it up the stairs without splitting it further.

Or how he’ll get it back down.

Come on H&M, where’s your common sense?!

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Dresscode: Casual

I start my new job tomorrow. And I have a problem.

Actually, I have multiple problems. I’ve been out of work for 3 weeks. That in itself is a huge change of pace. I’ve kept a routine and made sure I’ve been getting up early (although the odd afternoon nap may have crept in). But I’ve been eating when it suits me, doing what I want, reading blogs, reading books, sitting in the sun, planting my balcony boxes, visiting family. All stuff that will come to an abrupt end tomorrow.

Another problem is the travelling. My old job was a commute of 8 miles total per day. My new job is a 60 mile round trip. That means a complete change of morning routine, leaving home earlier, and getting home later. Couple that with the fact that husband has also changed jobs recently, working closer to home, and that means we will clash. He’ll be at home getting ready when I am. That has never happened, in the whole of our 10 year relationship. I foresee arguments!

And food! In my old job I was able to pop home for lunch. Working 30 miles away makes that absolutely impossible, so I’ll also have to factor in making and taking food with me.

As well as the usual “will I be what they expect?”, “will I be good at the job?”, “will I fit in?”, “where are the toilets?”, “how do I change the photocopier paper?” worries.

First world problems or what?!

Anyway, back to THE PROBLEM.

What to wear?????

Being vain and shallow and pathetically self conscious (in a good way, obvs), clothes are a massive part of being me and being confident. But I’ve been thrown a curve ball. My new workplace has a casual dresscode. WHAT??? I’ve never worked anywhere with a casual dresscode. I can’t crossover my work and non-work wardrobes. They have to stay separate. If I wear work shoes out of work it messes with my head. I can’t use a non work bag for work. I’ll have none of this “make your clothes work hard for you”. I don’t want double the wear for my money, I want to compartmentalise my life. Work clothes for work. Casual clothes for outside of work.

Of course, as has been pointed out to me, I don’t have to conform. But being the new girl (I use the term girl loosely; birth certificate says otherwise) is enough to set me apart, without turning up in my usual work attire of towering heels and dresses.

I’ve reached the conclusion that flat shoes are one of the differences between smart and casual. I’ve never EVER worn flat shoes for work. Apart from on casual days (the irony). And I can’t do ballet flats. As much as I like them on other people, they just make my feet look like boats (they’re not, they’re feet). I’m only a size 6, but they look wide and long and just weird. Plus I’m very much back into pointed shoes at the moment. But even before then, ick. Also, I’m slightly smaller than a 6, actually. I step out of most court shoes. So straps are generally a must for me to keep shoes on my feet.

These from Matalan fit the bill perfectly for me. Pointed, with ankle straps, and reduced to just £8 per pair.

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I’ve actually been wearing the black pair during my time off this week. Which defeats the object of work vs non work wardrobe. I like that they show a bit of toe cleavage (I know that’s a no-no for some people, but I’m a fan).

Usually I would have bought these for casual wear. And I like them for that purpose. But obviously, because of my own rules, I now have to make that decision between work or non-work.  Or get over my own own rules.

While I realise these have heels, I think these boots bridge the smart casual gap (I’m not sure I can do full on casual all the time, and I need to keep my calf muscles in practice so can’t wear flats all the time). £25.

Beige boots

And the other key to dress down is basic tops that I can add jewellery and scarves to for interest (grey £8 / khaki £7)

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And I suppose jeans will have to feature. This goes against everything I’ve ever known. This may be my one concession to keeping work and casual separate. ‘Cos jeans are just jeans.

I’ll be repurposing existing work clothes in a different way – crepe shift dresses with chunky biker boots, jersey midi skirts with flat sandals.

So what will I wear tomorrow? I have no bloody idea! And I’m trying to put off thinking about it until I really have to. Because that’s when the real world kicks in. Eek.

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Digbeth Dining Club – Pietanic and Big Daddies Diner reviews

Digbeth Dining Club (DDC) has been running for over 2 years, and continues to go from strength to strength, winning Best Street Food Event awards for two years in a row. It’s a very simple concept – bringing a collection of street food vendors together on a weekly basis to offer good quality, stripped back tasty nosh. And tasty it is! For some reason I’ve only ever been 3 times, which is quite ridiculous considering it’s pretty much on my doorstep, but I intend for that to change this year, for sure.

DDC is hosted at Spotlight, a large warehouse space bar with a DJ, comfy sofas and picnic tables inside. Drinks are reasonably priced and the bar was both well stocked and well staffed.

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I have to be honest that last night’s vendors didn’t really ding my dong compared to some of the other regulars, but it was my last night of “holiday” as I start my new job next week, and some friends were planning to be there, so I thought I’d make the best of it. How wrong I was to be reticent. The food was fabulous.

Starting with Pietanic.

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The Pietanic van is a retro cream and brown affair with their name painted across the side. They’re fully self sufficient and serve via a hatch in the side of the van. I went for Chicken and Chorizo, which was served hot from a foil container that resembled a deep pudding pot more than a shallow pie. There was a choice of either mash and gravy – an obvious pie accompaniment – or potato salad. With the weather doing a great summer impression I went for the latter, and what a choice it was. Skin on crushed potatoes, fresh and flavoursome. The whole lot was sprinkled with crispy fried onions.

The star of the show, as you’d expect, was the pie. Just delicious. Pies can sometimes be too much pastry and not enough filling, but this was the perfect combination. The outer was less of a crust and more of a soft doughy protective case around it’s precious contents of tender chicken, meaty chorizo and sweet spicy tomato sauce.

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My husband may or may not* have had a second one to take home with him at the end of the night.

*He did.

The beauty of street food events is eating more than one cuisine. Second choice for the night was Big Daddies Diner. Specialising in hotdogs, they had a choice of around 8 different types – from a basic dog right up to fully loaded varieties. I’m not a huge hot dog fan, but the beauties I was seeing people holding meant there’s no way I couldn’t try one for myself.

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I went for the Edna – 2 dogs in a soft bun, loaded with chilli and cheese. Yum.

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Husband chose a Turbo Pete – topped with pulled pork and red slaw. His opinion was also yum.

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Big Daddies Diner uses a combination of pork and beef dogs that are cooked right in front of your eyes. They’re thick, succulent and juicy. I was definitely converted. The chilli and cheese on mine were perfect bed fellows, although it did necessitate eating with a fork due to the sheer size! Big Daddies Diner was definitely the most popular vendor of the night, with queues of up to 30 people at a time running back across the car park. Was it justified? Hell yeah!

Its testament to the popularity of all the vendors that all of them were displaying sold out signs across at least one of their dishes by the time we left at 9.30.

DDC is open every Friday night from 5.30pm, as well as the last Saturday of every month. The key is to get there early and wear your Joey Thanksgiving pants!

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I’m eating out again tonight – I fear for my waistline!

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A great bank holiday Monday

Here’s what I got up to.

We drove to Clent Hills for some sunshine and fresh air and beautiful views.

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BUT…

The rest of Birmingham had the same idea and it was manic. No parking spaces and an impatient husband conspired against us.

So we came home and went out locally.

We watched great blues and jazz music c/o Moseley’s best pub on a sunny day, The Prince of Wales.

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Hannah Johnson and The Broken Hearts are a great Country band with a sweet female vocalist, a cool steel guitarist, an amazing lead guitarist and a double bassist. Double bass is my favourite instrument.

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So cool.

So we drank some cocktails (an Old Fashioned for him and a hmm.a.hmm.aaaa.hmm for me…I can’t remember the name, but it contained gin and elderflower).

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And then went for Moroccan food, starting with mussels with chilli which, I am so hooked on, I can’t have anything else when I eat here.

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Much love for Bank Holiday!

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Fast and Furious 7 at the new Everyman cinema in Birmingham

I don’t go to the cinema very often. It’s expensive, uncomfortable, and not a great experience for me. I get annoyed by people eating, talking, or laughing at the wrong moments. I don’t deal well with having to be quiet myself, or the fact that I can’t ask what’s going on or press pause if I need to go to the loo  I’m not much of a film person – I never think I have time to sit and dedicate wholly to watching a movie. I’m also very judgemental in terms of what I will and won’t watch. And as a result I’m sure I miss out on some awesome stuff. In fact when I do sit and watch a film, even something that I’m very against, I generally tend to really enjoy it. Yet the same pattern repeats itself.

Go figure.

The Fast and Furious franchise is a perfect case in point. My husband loves them. I turned my nose up – fast cars and girls, why would I be interested? Under duress I watched one, just to shut him up. And I was hooked! The energy, the soundtrack, the characters. Of course Paul Walker was very easy on the eye, but that wasn’t the only thing. I got immediately drawn into the story, and immediately wanted to watch all of them. I even love Tokyo Drift (number 3).

When Paul Walker died there was obviously a massive outpouring of shock and grief, as well as a question over the future of F&F7, which was already being filmed. When it was confirmed that the film would be completed and released, we said we would definitely go to the cinema to see it.

Handily, the release date coincided with the opening of a new cinema in Birmingham – Everyman. There are only a handful of them in the UK at the moment, but I believe there are plans to open many more. The cinema is in the Mailbox, which is currently undergoing a multi million pound redevelopment, and sits in a plot previously occupied by an indian restaurant (and maybe something else more recently?)

So, what was the verdict? A big thumbs up to both the cinema and the film. The cinema is very nicely done. Just 3 screens, a traditional bar, fresh flowers, lots of wood and old cinema posters.

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About as far from a multiplex as it’s possible to be (and all the better for it). We were in screen 3, down some stairs past this little fella!

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There’s another bar at the bottom where you can order food and drinks to be delivered to your seats. And the seats – well, they’re the star of the show. Big comfy sofas for two people, in purples and reds, with snuggly velour cushions. Wooden footrests and drinks rests give a real quality feel. And, when the film started, the sound was amazing and the darkness was very dark. Perfect film watching conditions.

The film was fab. Lots of special effects, a huge budget as you’d expect for a Hollywood blockbuster, all of the favourite characters and a great appearance by Jason Statham. Knowing that Paul Walker had passed away prior to the end of filming, and that the film makers used Paul’s brothers as stand ins on scenes that were yet to be completed, there was a worry that continuity might suffer as a result, but it was flawless. And the ending (no spoilers) was perfect. Just right. And yes I cried.

Paul Walker

I read this article yesterday, which gives a small insight into how the film was completed without Paul. It must have been tough for the rest of the cast.

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Knowing Me Knowing You

No, I haven’t gone all Alan Partridge and I’m not referring to the Abba song. I’m talking about interviews. I had my first job interview for 8 years today. I got to thinking about the whole process, and how we’re so keen to impress, but how it’s actually a two way street.

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A job interview is as much about the candidate finding out if the job role is right for them as it is about the interviewer finding the right person for the job. You may have seen a job description, or have a knowledge of the company, but a lot of it is about the feeling you get – from the people and the place. Is it a nice working environment? Can you envision yourself there? Are the interviewers your kind of people, can you see that your personalities will work together? A job is so much more than whether or not you’re capable of doing what’s required of you.

I’m very keen not to rush into anything even though I obviously need a job! Redundancy is a massive shock but also a massive opportunity (for me) to do something different. Not just to settle or panic, but to make a measured move that is going to give me job satisfaction. Redundancy pay gives me some financial freedom so that I don’t have to get another job immediately, although of course it would be nice if I could find employment and then bank that cash (or spend it on shoes).

So, how did my interview go? I’m not a very good judge of these things, so its hard to tell. But I answered all the questions competently, felt confident in what I was talking about and also allowed my personality to show through as well. And that’s enough for me.

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