Hidden shopping gems – Matalan

As a great bargain lover who likes to own lots of things (I’m definitely quantity over quality) I find a lot of high street stores too expensive for what they are (I’m talking to you Topshop and Warehouse). I like to shop cheaply and regularly, as I’m fickle and get bored. As much as I love an item, I don’t like wearing the same things too often.

Matalan, for me, fits the bill perfectly. Their footwear especially is great value, there’s often a discount code to be found, and they do free online delivery if you spend over £50 (no online returns, unfortunately, but there are a couple of stores locally that are open late with plenty of free parking, so all good). I’ve bought some great stuff from Matalan over the years, and quite a bit of my work wardrobe is from there (not currently needed as I’m jobless, did I mention that?!) Easy to wash and wear crepe dresses, box tops, jersey midi pencil skirts and tailoring.

I popped in last week and they’re currently swapping over from winter to spring stock. Here are my picks from the latest online range.

Strappy heeled sandals – £15
Pebble (black and white tiny dots), black, coral and pale tan – I’m thinking these would be lovely with my new midi skirt

Matalan strappy sandal 2 £15 Matalan strappy sandal £15 Matalan strappy sandal 4 £15 Matalan strappy sandal 3 £15

Black high cork wedges – £20

These have a sport feel due to the white rubberised sole; I think I already have some that are too similar to justify a purchase though

Matalan cork wedge £20

Moving onto bags

White laser cut tote £20
Love the detail on the front; only spoilt for me by the gold hardware

Matalan laser cut bag £20

Lemon clutch – £8

This is so cute and quirky! Haven’t seen it IRL so not sure on the size or where I would use it, but it’s such a fun item for spring summer (and a total bargain too)

Matalan - Lemon Clutch £8

A couple of clothing items that caught my eye

Yellow jumper – £12

This is a supersoft knit, I’ve seen it in store. I’m picturing it with light blue denim for a laid back casual look

Matalan yellow jumper £12

Ripped jeans – £18

These jeans would fit the bill perfectly

Matalan ripped jeans £18

Floral cami – £7

A great bargain, again would look great dressed down with the above jeans and flat sandals, or dressed up with the jeans and the black strappy sandals above.

Matalan cami £7

Floral kimono – £14

I’ve seen this in store and the colours are more vibrant IRL while still being subtle; black with white, mint and beige. Unfortunately only currently available in petite online.

Matalan floral kimono £14

Jewellery – wowsers, quite a lot I like, I can feel an order coming on!

Filigree disk necklace – £12

Have to say I’d wait for this to go into the sale, I don’t spend too much on costume jewellery

Matalan disk necklace £12

Ear cuffs – £5 each

Love this look – not sure on the logistics of getting your hair tangled though?

Matalan leaf ear cuff £5 Matalan stone ear cuff £5

Black stone split band ring – £5, glass stone statement ring – £5, linked ring – £3, rhinestone double ring – £5

Matalan split band ring £5 Matalan green statement ring £5 Matalan linked ring £3 Matalan rhinestone ring £5

Double pearl bangle – £3

Matalan pearl bangle £3

With the sun shining and the lighter nights just around the corner it doesn’t feel like too long until we can ditch the boots and coats and start to embrace some lighter wear. And bargainous jewellery is always a pick me up, whatever the time of year!

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Restaurant Review: Cafe Rouge, The Mailbox, Birmingham

It’s rare that I eat at chain restaurants. Not because of a sense of snobbery, just because there’s so much choice out there, and so much good cuisine, that it seems somewhat unimaginative. Of course there are times when it makes good sense to use my Tesco points combined with their clubcard boost offer to eat out for “free” because sometimes you still want that dining out experience, even when there’s too much month at the end of the money.

Last Tuesday was my Mom’s birthday. We had tickets for a 7.30 theatre performance so I suggested pre-show drinks and dinner. Now, my Mom isn’t a fussy eater as such, but she knows what she likes. Doesn’t eat Italian food (doesn’t like pasta – I mean, HOW???), doesn’t eat peppers or seafood and I was struggling to think of a place to go where we could park, drink and find a menu that would suit her tastes. Going down the steak train of thought (who doesn’t like a good steak) I settled on Café Rouge, so we could have drinks at the Marco Pierre White Bar at the top of the Cube and dinner overlooking the waterways (Mom isn’t familiar with that part of the City so it was something a bit different) before heading over the road to the theatre.

What can I say. Both the food and dining experience exceeded my expectations and then some. We got to the restaurant at around 5.30 and there were only a handful of other diners so we had our pick of seating. We sat near the window for a canalside view and, as the restaurant is on the third floor, we could see all around across to Brindley Place, Gas Street Basin and all of the city living apartments in the vicinity.

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The interior of the restaurant is decorated in a French bistro style, similarly to others in the chain (I’ve only eaten at a Café Rouge once before, in Nottingham many years ago). Red and cream colour palette, rattan chairs, checked table cloths, wooden floors and soft lighting with a large bar and big airy windows. Background music was perfect – loud enough to hear without being overpowering and a nice mix of mood lifting jazzy numbers.

20150317_181411

The menu is full of rustic and “cosy” food – meats, breads and cheeses with sauces and chutneys. We chose starters of “Champignons à l’ail” (mushrooms in a cèpe & garlic cream sauce on grilled rye & caraway bread) and “Pàté” (chicken liver, grilled rye & caraway bread and chutney). Both were delicious – really good size portions, fresh and tasty . The pate was served on a wooden board with plenty of bread and chutney (I hate it when a restaurant is stingy with accompaniments and you run out before the end of your meal – not the case here) and the mushrooms were plentiful in a rich and creamy sauce.

For main course we both ordered “Steak Frites” choosing the 7oz fillet and peppercorn sauce, with a greedy double carb side order of dauphinoise potatoes. The steak was as good as any I’ve ever eaten – even at 3 times the price – cooked exactly to our liking, juicy, and so so tender.

20150317_180338

I wouldn’t usually order steak in a pub or chain restaurant having been disappointed so many times before, but this was outstanding. I’m so glad I had a last minute change of heart – I was all set to go for the beef bourguignon but then got “The Fear” when my Mom ordered and feared I may be missing out if I didn’t order the same as her.

Overall a great experience – the staff were friendly and attentive without being overbearing, and the early dining time meant the restaurant was nicely empty (from a selfish point of view!) With an outside seating terrace this will be a lovely location for summer afternoons. I was very pleasantly surprised, and I’ll definitely be back!

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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.

Hire me

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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Twit of the Day award…

…goes to me. Technically Twit of Yesterday award actually, for facing my redundancy head on, saying goodbyes to colleagues and friends, being incredibly nonchalant and exiting the building…only to get home and realise I’d left my purse at work.

D’oh.

Luckily I had someone’s number to ask them to find it (fallen under my “ex desk”) and take it to reception so I didn’t have to go back in to the office proper.

Leave and come back

But doing a journey I thought I wouldn’t have to do EVER again within an hour of leaving was pretty dumbass

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It’s a midi thing

I’ve been having a bit of a midi skirt love in on Pinterest recently.

Pinterest midi Pinterest midi 2

Such a chic length dressed up or down.

Pinterest midi 3 Pinterest midi 4

Love the casual tee with the dressier skirt, and also the stripes and ankle boots styling.

Truth be known, they’re not a perfect style for me. I’m probably slightly wider of hip than is ideal for this look and I know the skirts will emphasise that, but I don’t care!

It helps that all of the images above contain items I already have in my wardrobe, and that their hairstyles are similar to mine too! Style stalking!

I just missed out on a black midi in the New Look sale (when I say just missed out, I mean forgot to place the order), and had put it on my mental to do list to find one at the right price. Yesterday, grocery shopping with my Mom in Asda and we just popped to have a look at the clothes and, lo-and-behold, a black midi skirt. Only 3 left, waffle fabric, stretch waist, and a bargainous £14.

Midi skirt

Better still, when I got to the checkout it was only £8. That’s my kind of shopping. The only thing missing that I would have truly loved is pockets. Everything should have pockets.

I’m thinking of wearing it to my sister’s birthday party tomorrow night, with a leopard print scalloped hem waist length top and metallic red peep toe ankle strap heels.

I’m also planning to order these two beauties, also from Asda, for a look-see.

Lace midi skirt Overlay midi skirt

I think the lace one contrasted with a grungey tee would be especially cool.

I can feel a mini obssession coming on!

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Tattoos in the workplace – all the world’s a stage

On Tuesday night I went to see a production of Saturday Night Fever at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham. I was surprised to see that the chararcter playing Tony Manero had tattoos on his back during one of the scenes where he took his top off, and also that the (female) club singer character had a full sleeve and back tattoos.

Why was I suprised? Well, firstly, because it doesn’t fit in with the 70s timescale of the production – especially not for the female actor. I guess I’d have thought they would be covered with make up. Or, maybe the actors would have been overlooked for the part because of their tattoos not fitting the character they were auditioning to play. Which, quite frankly, I’m very annoyed with myself for even contemplating.

I have tattoos. They’re mainly covered up and I planned them that way. I have a wrist cuff that is generally on show and I don’t even think about it anymore as it’s been there for so long, although in the beginning I was very conscious of it. Occasionally I’ll catch someone looking at it when I meet them for the first time. Not judging. Just looking. I work in a stuffy corporate environment which is very male orientated and I’m aware that most of the people in my office would think differently about me if they knew the extent of my tattoos. Which is really unfair. Yet here I am doing the same about the actors from the show.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to say here. I guess it just shows that tattoo acceptance is still a long way off. That appearance is still the very first thing we see and that we make a judgement – even if it’s not a negative one – without even realising. I certainly wasn’t upset that the actors had tattoos. Surprised, yes, and even impressed. I think it’s fantastic that the show producers didn’t try to cover them in spite of the fact there would be people in the audience who would see it as a negative and judge their appearance accordingly. It’s fabulous that they were up there performing based on talent. I’m conscious that I will cover my wrist for upcoming interviews. I wish I didn’t feel I had to, but if I were to miss out on a job role a little part of me would wonder if that was anything to do with it. Yet there are circumstances where I wear my tattoos with pride; where I will dress to show them off.

Society is still such a judgemental place, and we have to be so many things to so many people that we often can’t be 100% true to ourselves all of the time. Rare is the person who’s worklife mirrors their homelife mirrors their social life. Maybe it’s just part of being an adult. Or maybe it’s part of being an individual – refusing to comply just because we should. Sticking two fingers up to the norm, so that we can be our own norm when the time is right.

Tattooed person Tattooed person 2

Tattooed person 3

Interestingly, when you search Google images for tattooed professionals in the workplace, there are barely any photographs of women.

By the way, the show was really good. Very talented crew – live musicianship on stage incorporated as part of the story gave it a different spin, stunning voices, and some really great dancing (as you’d expect). Considering they’ve been touring since December they were as fresh and sharp as if it were their first ever performance.  The Alex is a joy; still having that olde worlde intimate feel due it’s relatively small size.

Alexandra Theatre
Isn’t this a cool pic? I was wondering what the actors see when they’re looking out at the audience looking at them.
Alexandra Theatre 2
Out of curiosity I googled the female actor. Her name is Cici Howells and she plays numerous instruments including flute, clarinet, sax, oboe, guitar and trumpet. Her talent far far outweighs her physical appearance. Here’s a photograph of her in action in another production; playing classical music with her tattoos proudly on show. Brilliant.
Cici Howells

Her online casting profile mentions her tattoos and that they can be covered up easily. Making it even cooler that the producers of the show chose not to.

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Officially unemployed

Today, after 3 weeks of “consultation”, I’ve been officially made redundant. I feel relieved, resentful, angry, frustrated, elated, exhausted, mentally weak, mentally strong, excited, scared, hopeful. So many mixed emotions. Even though I’ve known it was coming since the end of last month, it’s still an odd sensation. Not that I was hoping the company would change their mind – indeed I’d have been disappointed if they had – but even when you’re content with a turn of events, its still an upheaval.

The sun is shining and I can see the rudiments of spring on my balcony. It feels like a sign.

Hyancinths ready to flower / a cute pansy face popping out from the undergrowth

2 year old snap dragon which keeps fighting back / spring berries

New shoots on my strawberry plants / pretty blossom tree

<<end of Spring watch!!>>

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Persistent petals and seeing the sea

A couple of weeks ago I bought some pre-potted bulbs. I never think to plant bulbs; partly as I only have balcony pots to put them in but mainly because I always forget until it’s too late. With the job of potting some up already done by the shop, along with the fact they were starting to sprout, I invested in some red tulips, hoping for a sunny day to get them outside.

I carefully transferred them home in a carrier bag…and promptly forgot about them.

So, now that I have remembered them, they’re ready to be thrown away, right? No water or sunlight for more than 2 weeks, stifled in a plastic bag in a corner. They’re bound to have withered and given up.

Wrong! Look at my beautiful tulips!

Curved tulips 2

Not only have they miraculously continued to grow, but they have done so in the most peculiar way; obviously growing towards the air and trickle of light that was available. Searching out the life force to not only survive, but flourish. That’s pretty bloomin’ special.

Curved tulips

I’ve now popped them on my kitchen window sill, flooded them with water, and hopefully they’ll straighten out and grow upwards towards the sunlight; after which I’ll transfer them to my balcony.

I still have some snapdragons from a couple of years ago that refuse to throw in the towel; I thought I’d cleared them all out at the end of the summer but they sprouted back up in November and came into bloom.

Here’s a couple of pictures from the North Welsh coast from my weekend trip.

 

It all looks rather gloomy, but I quite like the power of a wild and windy seaside in cloudy weather. Not as much as I like a clear blue sky and white sandy beach, but the chances of that in Wales in March are slim to none.

And how quaint is this cottage?

Hafan y Mor chalet

Its one of the holiday park rentals; looks like something from a fairytale.

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Travelling light? Not if I can help it!

I like stuff. And I like choice. I also like to be happy with my appearance, because not being happy with the way I look can affect my enjoyment of an experience. Sad but true.

So, when I go anywhere, I take as much stuff with me as is feasibly possible. So that I have choice when I get there. None of this capsule wardrobe/one colour palette/3 outfits for 3 days nonsense.

Luggage

Case in point was this weekend. Travel Thursday / travel back Sunday. Leaving only 2 full days to dress for, and 3 nights out. Here’s a summary of what I took:

  • 2 vest tops for layering
  • 4 jumpers
  • A hoodie
  • 2 70s style blouses (hate that word, but not sure how else to descibe them?!)
  • A t-shirt
  • 2 pairs of leather look leggings
  • 1 pair of standard leggings
  • 2 pairs of skinny jeans
  • 1 pair of coated skinnies
  • Pair of white skinnies (in March? What was I thinking????!!!!)
  • High waisted black denim shorts (to wear with tights, I’m not completely barking)
  • Leather look sleeveless top
  • Sleeveless oversized band tee
  • Sleeveless chiffon top
  • A dress
  • Long sleeve chiffon shirt
  • 70s style fluffy knit waistcoat
  • Pair of tartan trousers
  • 4 pairs of boots (1 for daytime/3 for evening)
  • 4 coats (leopard fur/leather bomber/heavy jersey military/lightweight leather biker)

Plus the t-shirt/boyfriend jeans/hi-tops I travelled up in on Thursday.

Ridiculous, no? That’s the trouble/bonus of travelling by car – no weight or space restrictions, so you can cram EVERYTHING in!

Overpack

A good point I think?

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