Wardrobe Wednesday: the ‘W’ edition

Last week we went to a wedding in Waitotara, west(ish) of Whanganui. It was warm and windy, wonderful and well-worth the whirlwind weekend.

Aaah, my fourth form English teacher would be proud of all that alliteration.

The night before the little ones and I left (Tall came up the following day; flying with two was easier than expected, especially when air stewards and passengers alike were all so lovely and helpful), I spent a while trying on a load of dresses. One was a little tight in the chest area, so it got hung straight back up. Another fit well, but needs to be shortened. Another is my go-to dress, a dress I can easily nurse in – but this time, I would be sans bébé (which didn’t go so well, but hey, we all survived, despite Pickle’s stubborn refusal to take a bottle for five hours!), so it was gladly put away.

I settled on my very favourite LBD from Monsoon; another dress that conjures up strong memories.

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Please excuse my TERRIBLE posture! #needtogetbackintoyoga

It is the dress I wore when, at 11 weeks pregnant with Tiny and still suffering from severe morning sickness, we ate at Le Gavroche, Michel Roux Jr’s Michelin Two Star restaurant in London. We had an eight-course tasting menu, and it was d-i-v-i-n-e.

I love it. It has a v-shaped back and a wide neckline which gives me a bit of much-needed shoulder width. You possibly can’t tell from the photo, but it is slightly layered, and has a lovely, subtle movement to it.

My shoes were an easy choice: I was determined not to wear black, and so chose the strappy green ones that I knew I could walk in for a little while without feeling like a teetering baby giraffe. They were a good choice – the day was HOT – but I took them off as soon as we were seated for (thankfully-not-a-buffet) dinner…I am NOT a heels wearer!

Outfit details:
dress: Monsoon (London); shoes: Overland Footwear; earrings: Rockbourne Jewellery; circle bracelet: Oroton (a gift from my sister for my 30th); sparkly bracelet: Esteem Jewellery; flower hairtie: no idea…have had it for years!

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Linking up with Miriam for

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Tales of Travel: Leaving London

The decision to leave London was one that we made early in 2009.

Everything started to fall into place when Tall was head-hunted back by the company he’d worked for prior to us leaving Dunedin. He’d already put them off once, but with the doom-and-gloom recession starting to hit New Zealand, he recognised he was lucky to have received such an offer.

Flights to South America for one final jaunt on the way home booked and paid for, we then found out I was pregnant with Tiny. A few weeks of tears and “should we? shouldn’t we?” later, we both handed in our resignations, and began the process of packing up our lives and preparing to leave the country that had been home for almost two-and-a-half years.

London

I knew that the hardest part about leaving would be saying good-bye to my sister and her family (they stayed in England for a few more months longer), and to the wonderful friends I’d made. But I always knew we wouldn’t stay indefinitely, and that my sister would head back to Melbourne, and I knew that I would always keep in touch with those friends who really mattered. So instead of spending our last few months thinking about what we were leaving behind, we chose to make the most of our time and made sure we saw and did all those things we’d been putting off.

Picnic at Hampstead Heath with my sister and family

Things like visiting museums and galleries, going to see The Phantom of the Opera and having a picnic at Hampstead Heath.

Brighton Pier

Visiting Brighton, taking last strolls for squirrel watching around Hyde and St James’ Parks, and having one last shopping spree on Oxford Street and the maze of streets in Covent Garden.

Course four at Le Gavroche – scallops cooked with ginger, oh my!

Going out for a fancy eight course Michelin-star meal at Le Gavroche, and having “last drinks” at the various pubs we’d spent so much time in over the past couple of years.

Squirrel!! I love squirrels.

There were tears – copious amounts of them – and hugs I never wanted to end, and promises of keeping in touch. There were removal men collecting our boxes for shipping home, and strangers collecting items we’d sold on eBay. There were new tenants to take over our lease, goods to be donated to Oxfam, and food to be used up.

And suddenly, it was the 1st of November, and we were in a taxi in the driving rain, on our way to Heathrow Airport. The tears had dried up, and the excitement and anticipation of eight weeks in South America had set in.

Tales of Travel: Living in London

Before leaving on our New-YorkNew-ZealandThailand adventure, we’d moved out of our St Albans flat – in deep, deep snow, no less (in fact, the morning we flew to NYC, we trudged from my sister’s house to the train station, in deep, deep snow…)! We spent a couple of weeks selling things on eBay and putting everything else into storage; it was scary how much stuff we’d accumulated in less than two years!

Snow at our front door…

Arriving back in England, we headed back to St Albans to stay with my sister while we looked for a new place to live; conscious of the fact that she had two young children, we wasted no time in figuring out what areas of London we’d consider living in, and set about the daunting task of trawling through ‘Flatmates Wanted’ ads online.

Tall was going to be commuting to St Albans six days a week (five for work, one to play cricket for Wheathampstead), so we needed to be near the Thameslink trainline. Our search, therefore, started in West Hampstead and nearby suburbs – the perfect spot with the train station for Tall, a good tube line to the centre of London for me, and loads of great pubs, bars and restaurants.

The first flat we looked at was in Swiss Cottage, a 10 minute walk from West Hampstead train and tube stations. It was on the third floor of a Victorian terrace, in a quiet street close to Finchley Road and not far from Hampstead Heath. The bedroom was huge, the lounge was even bigger, and the bathroom and kitchen were ginormous by English standards. The flatmates who were staying in the flat just happened to be a young kiwi couple, and we hit it off at that first meeting; she was huge fan of cooking shows on TV (yey for me!) and he was a massive Arsenal fan (yey for Tall!). We fell in love with the flat straight away, but had arranged to view another the same evening.

Swiss Cottage

That second flat was in West Hampstead itself, five minutes from the train and tube stations. The room was small but had a modern ensuite and a separate closet, and the rest of the flat was very tidy and had been recently redecorated….and the flatmates who were staying in the flat were – you guessed it – a young kiwi couple!

Knowing how quickly nice flats get snaffled up in London, we knew we had to make a decision immediately. That night, I called the first flat to say we were keen to take the room; it was tough situation as we didn’t want to seem too eager and scare them off, or too nonchalant and have them give the room to someone else. Luckily, we made a good impression, and they immediately agreed; the flat was ours!

Five days later, we were taking all our belongings out of storage and moving in to the flat that would be our home for the next seven months.

What I’m Reading

Book #114 on the BBC Big Read list is ‘Les Miserables’, by Victor Hugo.

I’ve seen the musical. Love it; know the songs.

I’ve had the pleasure of dining at the michelin-star restaurant named for the little urchin, Le Gavroche, in Mayfair, London.

However, I had no idea what the book would be like, and was expecting something depressing, gruelling and somewhat hard-going.

Let me tell you how pleasantly surprised I have been thus far, and how much I am struggling to put this book down at night. “Just one more chapter” (and bless him, they are nice and short), I tell myself….and another 15 minutes passes by.

Hugo writes a compelling narrative and intriguing, fascinating characters. The way he intertwines their lives is fantastic – and unpredictable – and his ability to capture the moment is phenomenal.

The descriptions of people living in dire poverty make me shiver and try to steel myself against biting winds; I’m drawn into their lives and imagine myself alongside them, suffering with frozen feet and surviving with barely nothing to eat.

Loving it so far, and I’m probably three-quarters of the way through. I can’t wait to get to bed tonight and read some more!

Tales of Travel: Windsor

One wintery Saturday in December 2008, my friend Jess and I took a train from the grey, concrete jungle of London to the rolling green pastures of….well….just out of London, to Windsor.

(That's fake snow)

Windsor is a beautiful town, with cobbled streets and gorgeous old buildings, a crooked pub and quaint little stores (as well as the usual high street offerings). We spent some time just wandering in and out of shops and alleyways….and watching as Santa’s sleigh was pulled down the main street by reindeer.

We had lunch in a traditional English pub that specialised in pies; the ceilings were low and the decor didn’t seem to have changed since the 1700s, but the pies were really tasty and were washed down with crisp New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Windsor Castle

After lunch, we wandered back up to Windsor Castle. The castle is simply beautiful, and the interiors were opulent and elegant and so very regal. It was amazing to think that we were walking the same carpets (mostly) as Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Queen Mary.

Queen Mary’s dolls house was a highlight – the detail and craftmanship were phenomenal – and St George’s Chapel (burial place of 10 monarchs) was beautiful.

St George's Chapel

We could have toured Eton, or visited Ascot, but chose instead to take a relaxed approach to our visit; we both wanted to see the castle most of all, and once we’d seen that, we were quite content to jump back on a train bound for London.

All-in-all, Windsor was a great choice for a day trip from the capital – easy to get to, easy to navigate, easy to enjoy.

Tales of Travel: London 1.0

Visiting London and living in London are two completely different experiences. So instead of one all-encompassing (and epic) post about the English capital, I’m going to spread my tales out a little.

Being a tourist in London can be a daunting experience, especially when you’re not used to living in a big city. If I’d arrived straight from Dunedin, I think I would have been more than a little overwhelmed when I arrived. Having spent two months in Melbourne, however, I was used to the crowds and the noise and the sheer number of sights that a big city throws at you.


Tall and I spent four days in London when we were first reunited. We stayed in a nice hotel in a pretty dodgy area. This was actually a good introduction to the workings of the city, as well as its inhabitants – I certainly had my eyes opened by some of the things we saw and heard.


We spent most of our time walking around the centre of London. We wandered from Trafalgar Square to Parliament, and marvelled at Big Ben (which is big. Very Big). We wandered along South Bank, across the Millenium Bridge to the Tate Modern and The Globe Theatre. We walked past the London Eye and decided not to join the queue of people waiting for a ride, choosing instead to stroll along the side of the Thames. We joined the crowds outside Buckingham Palace, and remarked how we expected it to be grander, and we wandered down to admire St Paul’s Cathedral.


We spent a lot of time holding hands and regaling each other with tales from the eight weeks we’d been apart. We skipped lunch, in a bid to save money (thank goodness for breakfast buffets), and found cheap restaurants for dinner. We thought we were so English, eating curry and drinking ale, and we tried our best to blend in.

On our second visit to London, we went to Wimbledon. Even though there was no one else around, one of the marshals made us “queue” so we could earn our “I queued at Wimbledon” stickers. We shared strawberries and cream, but couldn’t afford a glass of champagne or Pimms. We’d splashed out on Court Two tickets instead, and enjoyed watching relatively unknown players such as Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic.


We were enjoying spending time with friends and Tall’s cousins, but were acutely aware that neither of us had jobs, and that we were mowing through our savings at an alarming rate. So we reluctantly bought tickets for the train back to Market Rasen, and headed back to Greenwood House and gin at 10am.

Tales of Travel: Living in Beelsby

In May 2007, after two months living in Melbourne with my sister and her family, I waved good-bye to the southern hemisphere and jumped on a plane to London. I was filled with sadness at saying good-bye to my 18-month-old niece, my hilarious brother-in-law and my five-months-pregnant sister, mixed with excitement at seeing Tall again. He’d met up with some mates in the West Indies for the Cricket World Cup, followed by a couple of weeks in Mexico.

We didn’t see each other for eight weeks, so you can just imagine the grins plastered on our faces when we were reunited in London!

After a couple of days, it was time to make our way to what was to be our home for the next two-and-a-half months: Tall’s grandfather’s old manse in the tiny village of Beelsby, Lincolnshire.

Beelsby isn’t your quintessential British village. There is no pub, and no post office (although they are becoming a rarity these days anyway); no village off-licence or newsagent. There is a little stone church, a rickety old postbox, and a dilapidated old phone box (Dr Who styles).

The old manse is named ‘Greenwood House’. It’s the kind of house that invokes all sorts of period-drama thoughts; I lost count of the number of times I mumbled to myself, “This is the place to write my novel”. The main staircase has elaborate marble columns, and the sitting room is home to an old piano and an antique chaise lounge. There’s a back staircase for the servants that would have lived there once upon a time: steep and dark, with threadbare carpet on the stairs.

There’s a stable out the back (Tall comes from a horse-mad family; both his parents were competitive showjumpers and his dad rode in the NZ olympic team), which local people rent for a ridiculously cheap price. The grounds are sprawling, with huge trees and an overgrown treasure garden, full of long-lost fountains, garden chairs and rabbits.

Tall’s grandfather is in his mid-eighties, and has lived in that house alone since the death of his beloved wife in the early 1990s. Sadly, he has dementia, which means he lives in the past most of the time. While we stayed with him, he knew who Tall was, but he never remembered my name – I was “that girl who cooks for me”.

He could be painful to live with at times. He’d start his day with a gin and tonic at 10am, and all day, we’d find glasses with a slice of lemon stashed all over the house. He’d sneak down in the middle of the night to drink red wine, and try to hide the evidence; his doctor had advised him to stop drinking, but he refused to admit that he had a problem.

He did give us many moments of hilarity, too. Like the time we searched high and low for his lost dentures, finally giving up when he shuffled off to bed having tried – unsuccessfully – to eat a piece of steak for dinner. The next morning, he told us he’d found the dentures in his pyjama pocket. Of course.

He was fond of the saying, “A meal without cheese, is like a kiss without a squeeze” (“French,” he insisted. “My wife was French, you know.”), and we heard this at the end of every evening meal. One night, after a few too many wines, he got confused. “A kiss without cheese…no, that’s not it…a meal with cheese is like a squeeze…like a hug without cheese…”

But no matter how frustrating he – and the isolation – could be, we knew we were incredibly lucky to have a roof over our heads, and unlimited use of a (gas-guzzling) car. Now we look back on those early days and feel grateful for this, but at the time, we were almost ready to throw in the towel and come back home.

Good thing neither of us are quitters though!