Sit back, make a brew and I will whisk you back to summer 1991 when I was 7 years old. I was on a family holiday to one of our favourite spots; Seahouses in Northumberland. I’ve only found out as an adult that on the fabled morning that I set this tale, my parents had an almighty row. I think maybe two weeks cooped up in a tiny self-catering holiday home with a scrapping sister & brother was taking it’s toll. So following the row my dad did the sensible thing; escaped the house with my brother and I. Seahouses is famous for it’s boat trips and despite the fact we’d done them so many times we headed out under a blackening sky for another, leaving my mum to have some much-needed alone time. As it was already a dank, drizzly day and hardly puffin-spotting weather, there was only us and another family on the boat and in that family was another 7 year old girl called Clare Foster. The boat trip turned into something more resembling white water rapids at a theme park. A storm rolled in and waves heaved over the boat as it was bashed around the sea. Obviously being kids we thought this was fantastic, but I’m sure my dad and her parents were more green and less happy about the situation. After a stomach-reeling hour the sailor took us back to shore and it was there that on the back of a receipt she wrote her address down for me. (And my parents? My mum had watched us out in the stormy sea and was so happy to have us all back in one piece that all was forgiven. We were the last boat trip to go out that day, all the rest were cancelled because of dangerous conditions!)
Clare & I were penpals from the age of 7 to 15. We wrote on a weekly basis, if not more. She lived in a little village in rural Cumbria, and I lived in a smoggy urban city. To each other, our lives seemed idyllic and exciting and as we got older we would also go to visit each other in the school holidays. Our relationship was far closer than perhaps some of our school-friends as we could be really honest about all the things that were happening to us as we negotiated those tough teenage years. The letters were more like diaries really, where we offloaded anything and everything that we felt, thought and bought (we shopped aLOT!) in intricate detail. On average each letter was 4 pages of doodled A4. We shared photos, stories and most details of our everyday school lives. I think we did a really good job of maintaining contact for such a long time, but the letters petered off around 15/16 when you discover boys, under age drinking and get a bit overwhelmed with life choices.
I was such a geek (I know Geek-branded tee’s and Star Trek re-boots have made saying that chic, but I really was and not in a cool way) that I filed tons of the letters Clare sent me, in a very dashing lime green Homer Simpsons folder. Somehow this collection of letters has survived every house move I’ve made; through living in 4 different cities and a whopping 11 different addresses. Mobile phones and the internet barely existed when we lost touch, so it was a pretty permanent thing. I had fleetingly thought about Clare many times; especially when I ended up at uni with two of her school friends who we later worked out I had met on my visits to see her, but I had never been able to find her amongst the many other people with similar names online. By this age I had really felt like if we were going to get back in touch it would have happened, but I must have had a small psychic inkling that our story wasn’t over as her letters remained in a box in my loft.
Then, two weeks ago I got a message on LinkedIn. When I saw Clare’s name pop up I nearly fell over! It was such a rush of emotions and questions and curiosities. Literally ANYTHING could have happened to her in the 14 years we’d been out of contact and sometimes I had wished I could somehow know she was okay. And here she was!
I hope she won’t mind me including a few snippets of our letters! I just think they are so 90′s and so amazing to read as adults, it’s such another world being that age. Anyway after a quick browse of the internet we discovered that we are both living in London and both bloggers (Clare wrote a really inspiring piece about us getting back in touch here) I guess a childhood of pen-palling conditioned us both into writers even now. Within days of her note on LinkedIn we were planning to meet up, and this morning we headed to Salvation Jane for a delicious brunch and 14 years worth of nattering. I was a bit nervous before she came in, but the second we got sat down the cappuccinos and chatter flowed and two hours zoomed by. To be honest it almost felt as easy as if we’d maintained our weekly penpal letters of news and gossip, it was so natural to just pick up where we left off. I’ve got no doubt that this is the start of a new chapter in our friendship, that started on a stormy day in 1991 and just took a bit of a breather.
I suppose the point of my writing this is to really encourage you to seek out friends you may have lost by the wayside. I know it’s impossible to stay connected to everyone and also you shouldn’t push where relationships have reached a natural end. But in those cases of treasures from your past, I definitely think if you find yourself pondering “I wonder whatever happened to so & so” it might be worth just tapping their name into Google and seeing what happens next.
Tags: Childhood friends, Letter writing, Long lost friends, Meeting up after 13 years, Meeting up after a decade, Nostalgia, Pen friends, Pen pals, Penfriends, Penpals, Salvation Jane, Seahouses, Should I get in touch with childhood friends?
Birthday parties are a tricky business. As an auto-pilot anxious type, I love them in theory but then suffer from crippling nerve rattles as the event arrives. I worry that no one will come, that they will come and it will be awkward, that no one will mingle, that the drinks will be too expensive, that the music won’t work, basically every scenario from a bit crummy to nightmare un-recoverable-from embarrassment. I got around this issue by having a joint party with some fellow May-babies for a few years and that helped take the pressure off. That birthday ship has now sailed, so last year I had a solo affair. Wow, could you tell I was a party rookie! I planned it on a Friday night; so everyone was tired from a tough work week and drop outs were rife. Then I didn’t have any dinner. Then I met everyone in a Mexican bar, didn’t eat ANY dinner, and accepted every shot of tequila my generous guests (and strangers) offered me. After probably an hour I was too drunk to stand up and ended the night at about midnight being forced, in a manner similar to how police put robbers in their cop car, into a taxi by Nick. It was such a waste! I had fun, but I could barely remember being there and then felt so horrific and sorry for myself the next day that even looking at cake or wrapping paper made me feel queasy.
Not this year! Surely being the grand old age of 29 is all about learning from your mistakes and this year I was determined to make it my best party ever. My birthday was also on a Saturday which is a precious, rare gift in itself! I was lucky enough to have my brother come to stay from Yorkshire (he hasn’t visited in 5 years!), my friend Manda visisted from Cheltenham (via Paris & Yorkshire) and my best friend & her husband train-ed over from Stoke. Before I even talk about the glorious theme, you’ll be relieved to hear that I stuck to 3 key rules to avoid birthday disaster:
- Eat dinner: Prior to partying we stuffed our faces at the glorious Chicken Shop where they even put candles in a brownie and sang happy birthday to me!
- Stick to one genre of drink: I only accepted Vodka, Lime & Soda’s all night. I didn’t veer from this one choice. It was both refreshing and merry making.
- NO SHOTS FOR GOODNESS SAKE! (I might have had one tequila at Aces & Eights Saloon Bar at 1am to congratulate myself on not being too drunk)
Wes Anderson is my second favourite director (David Lynch clinches #1, sure Wes would totes understand) and I’ve wanted to have a Wes Anderson theme party for a VERY long time but worried it would be slightly obscure. Then the exquisite Moonrise Kingdom came out in 2012 and I felt more confident that people might have heard of him and be up for the challenge. I knew instantly that I’d go as Suzy Bishop because she is a) my new fashion icon and b) I already had most of the clothes. The only thing I had to do was sew cuff/collars to a 60s vintage dress that was sitting unloved in my wardrobe, and I bought a special pair of green (real!) stag beetle earrings from this lovely lady on Etsy. Nick was a trooper and rather than go for someone cool and manly out of The Darjeeling Limited (his favourite) he agreed to wear a questionable fur hat and be the Sam to my Suzy. I bought a £4 khaki shirt from Primark and sewed some vintage scout badges all over it. I also sewed on a felt badger that is actually from a brooch Nick bought for me in the first week we met, when he was off galavanting at End of the Road festival and I was pining away. I think we did a pretty accurate job?
I was so touched by the effort all my friends went to in order to make my birthday perfect. The costumes they cracked out must have taken days and weeks of preparation and so much thought and care. I got so choked up being stood in a room surrounded by my favourite people all dressed as characters I love so dearly. For the party I hired the upstairs of our absolute favourite local boozer; The Pineapple. If you live in London (or ever visit London) you have to visit this quaint little slice of Kentish Town brilliance. The pub is so kitsch, with pineapples adorning the inside, a conservatory room, tropical bird wallpaper and excellent ales / Thai food. I felt it was important I had a location that Wes himself would approve of; and the old fashioned lantern lamps, open fire, dusty couches and gaping windows were perfect. We also had a sweet little sound system set up, which my brother & Nick’s brother Phil happily took over with some impressive playlists. From the Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack to The Walkmen to Daft Punk’s Get Lucky over and over, there were a lot of drunken Eli-Cash swaying dance moves going on by last orders.
& Here’s a run down of the costumes in all their glory…
Suzy Bishop (Moonrise Kingdom) & Dignan (Bottle Rocket)
Richie & Margot Tenenbaum – Number 1 (The Royal Tenenbaums)
Richie & Margot Tenenbaum – Number 2 (The Royal Tenenbaums)
Dudley (The Royal Tenenbaums)
Team Zissou (The Life Aquatic)
Suzy Bishop in bird form “What kind of bird are you?” (Moonrise Kingdom)
Sam Shakusky (Moonrise Kingdom) & Francis (The Darjeeling Limited)
Richie Tenenbaum & Eli Cash (The Royal Tenenbaums)
Max Fischer x 2 (Rushmore)
Richie Tenenbaum (The Royal Tenenbaums) & Suzy Bishop (Moonrise Kingdom)
Mr & Mrs Fox x 2 (Fantastic Mr. Fox)
It was only right that we gather together for an en masse Westastic group photo, and in-line with his cinematography movie-poster style, dead pan faces all round! Which on reflection makes it look like we were at the worst party ever.
The best thing was the variety of films & characters my clever friends managed to cover. EVERY single Wes Anderson film was represented. After partying until we got booted out of The Pineapple, the hardcore Wes-dressed hit Aces & Eights Saloon Bar for some power ballads and amaretto sours. An unexpected amount of people came over throughout the course of the night yelling WES ANDERSON at us and it stirred up alot of excitement. It was surprising how many people recognised what the theme was, especially as by the post-midnight point various bits of costume had been lost/stolen/abandoned. I would love to relive the night over and over, and might just force everyone to dress like this every year. I like to think I’m the only person to ever have this theme for a party? Next time I’ll dress a Wes himself…
Tags: Aces & Eights Bar, Bill Murray, Birthday, Birthday Party, Bottle Rocket, Chicken Shop, Costumes, Dignan, Dress Up, Dudley, Dudley's World, Eli Cash, Fancy Dress, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Francis, Hiring The Pineapple, Jason Schwartzman, Kentish Town, London, Margot Tenenbaum, Max Fischer, Moonrise Kingdom, Mr Fox, Mrs Fox, North London, Owen Wilson, Party, Richie Tenenbaum, Rushmore, Sam Shakusky, Scouts, Suzy Bishop, Suzy Bishop Dress, Suzy Bishop Earrings, Team Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic, The Pineapple, The Royal Tenenbaums, Tufnel Park, UK, Wes Anderson, Wes Anderson Character Costumes, Wes Anderson Characters, Wes Anderson Costume, Wes Anderson Fancy Dress, Wes Anderson Group Photo, Wes Anderson Theme Party, Wes Anderson Themed Party, What Kind of Bird Are You?
I feel like I need to pinch myself, I just had the best magical birthday weekend and am definitely going to be crashing back down to earth with a double whammy of post-birthday and post-bank holiday blues any moment. I turned 2-9! To be honest, 27 was my worst of all years ever. 28 had sparkly shiny highlights (mostly Nick & travel related) but more than a fair sprinkling of health, family & life woes. 29 feels psychologically like I’m leaving my crummy late twenties behind and am now in a special stand-alone-year-countdown to thirty which should be packed with ensuring I do everything I ever wanted to by this milestone. I am slowly tick tick ticking off achievements and aims and feeling really positive about my impending new decade, no mid-mid-life crisis here thank you. Maybe it helps that a) I don’t read age fear-mongering women’s magazines and b) tons of my friends are 30+ or 40+ even, and are seemingly no different to 20+ers so it’s definitely only a number.
My birthday celebrating actually started on Thursday (despite my birthday being on Saturday) as my eldest sister took me to The Wolsey for breakfast. This is something I’ve been desperate to do since moving to London but am glad I saved it for something super special. If you want to go and sample the famous Wolsey breakfast delights, be sure to BOOK in advance as it’s popular for a reason! The experience itself is decadent, in the grand dining room with sweeping staircases and swooping chandeliers. The menu is so extensive that it was near-impossible to decide what to eat. In the end I opted for a pot of (decaf) tea which came with a very nifty high-tech strainer, then we shared a basket of delicious mini pastries and then I had the eggs Alvington (their fanceh name for the one with smoked salmon) and it was definitely the best hollandaise of my LIFE. For someone who could eat hollandaise with every meal, this is quite a feat. The best thing about breakfast was the price actually! For such a special dining out, the prices aren’t much more than what you’d spend on an early morning splurge in Pret. It’s my sister’s birthday next month, so I have promised her an equally swish breakfast outing in return. Do you have any recommendations? Been anywhere wonderful? So far the Riding House Cafe menu is my plan A.
It was a day for feeding my face, as I was later treated to a selection of tarts by my lovely work colleagues and a very impressively in-tune happy birthday serenade. Can I also take a moment to point out this raglan tee of dreams. I have always loved this style of top but hadn’t owned one until now; this is one I picked up in Madewell when hiding from the New York blizzard. The material is such soft jersey loveliness. I wish I’d hunted higher and lower for a few more as it’s now my go-to outfit with jeans, which almost feels as comfy as wearing PJs to work.
On Friday I had a rare, glorious day off work and the sunshine put his hat on, especially for me! It was so excessively exciting to scamper about with bare legs, open toes and a tee-shirt dress, NO COAT! NO CARDIE! Saying that, I did spend most of the morning inside as I went for my first ever facial! Have you ever had one? I’m a total newbie but had some Spa vouchers as a bday treat and thought I’d opt for something brand new. I went to the Aveda spa in covent garden as I was drawn to their use of only naturally-derived products. Upon arrival I was led out of the chaos of their cafe and hair salon, and down into the underground tranquil Spa retreat. I have to admit I was a little bit nervous, but the first thing my facial therapist did was plunge my feet into soapy warm water and give them a massage whilst we chatted about my skin and what I was hoping for from the treatment. I then got into a huge bed, that was heated inside and I lay tucked in snug as a bug in a rug whilst my face and head was massaged, oiled, cleansed and endlessly exfoliated. It was so relaxing I nearly fell asleep a few times, until the steaming started. It was lovely at first but THEN my therapist started removing blackheads. OW! I was absolutely mortified, I didn’t know this was going to happen and wriggled around as she went to town on my face with a tweezer and some other unidentified equipment. Imagine that being your job?! I certainly was not expecting it. However it’s true what they say, no pain/no gain. My skin after has been baby smooth and dewy, although I had a few red blotches from the blackhead gate so I wouldn’t get this done the day before a party – like I did. Get it 3-4 days before to have time to recover the skin violation.
Next was some gentler pampering, and my annual birthday manicure at Wah Nails. They currently have a pop-up at the amazing Box Park in Shoreditch, so I met up with my tres jolie pregnant cousin (she is due in 3 weeks and still dresses like she’s on a Parisian catwalk, I swear most women have embraced velour by this point!) and we spent an hour getting nail happy. If you haven’t ever had the Wah experience, DO IT! It’s a bit pricier than a standard french polish or plain polish, but the nails last at least a week …sometimes more. This year I opted for intergalactic, as I’m so obsessed with stars and constellations.
My fro-yo obsession that has grown since my first experience in LA knows no bounds. My absolute favourite local joint is Snog, so on a dusky Friday night after stuffing our faces with cocktails and mini burgers in the Lucky Chip Slider Bar @ The Player, Nick & I stopped by for some Soho Snogging. I’m not quite sure how “guilt free” it is when you cover it in brownies and choc chips…
My birthday present to myself was a blush pink Kanken, making the most of the current I Love My Kanken 15% discount. Hands up; my name is Bee and I am a Kanken addict. I would literally buy one in EVERY colour if I had the funds. Nick and I even had our first ever argument (!) over the fictitious scenario that if I win one in the million competitions I have resorted to entering, I wouldn’t give it to him (he doesn’t even have one) I’d just keep it ALL for myself. Perhaps by the grand old age of 29 I should be treating myself to “proper” handbags, but they just don’t make me as deliriously-happy as these backpack of dreams.
On Saturday, my family and friends arrived from all corners of London and the UK for a party. However, this needs a post all of it’s own as it was a Wes Anderson themed party and the costumes were just so exquisite. If you follow me on instagram you will have got a sneak peek over the weekend. Sunday was a hungover slope of a day, with a giant diner breakfast and a walk with my brother around Camden market taking their toll and me ending up snoring away in bed by 9pm. Yesterday was a glorious sunny day; but we decided to hole up in Cineworld and rinse our unlimited cards by seeing Iron Man Three & The Place Beyond The Pines. IM3 was brilliant; I can’t believe a threequel can turn the super hero genre on it’s head so much! Messing with convention, twisting and turning, but not losing any of the action packed pase or cheesy one-liners. The Place Beyond the Pines was haunting and beautiful. I’ve read so many mixed reviews but I just found it captivating from start to finish. I’m a huge fan of the finer details, a geek for rewatching films repeatedly until I’ve spotted every hidden glance or mutter or meaning. The Place Beyond the Pines was packed with little nods to those who pay attention, and I really appreciated that. I’d give it 4*’s and place it up there in my films of 2013. If you’ve seen it, I really enjoyed Tea & Oatmeal’s review (and her blog in general).
More on my Wes-tastic Saturday soon…
Tags: 29th Birthday, Aveda, Aveda Spa Covent Garden, Bank Holiday, Bank Holiday weekend, Birthday, Blackhead Removal Facial, Blush Pink Kanken, Breakfast at The Wolsey, Cineworld Unlimited, Cineworld Unlimited Card, Eggs Alvington, Facial, Fancy London Breakfast, Fashion, Fashion Blog, Frozen Yoghurt, Galaxy Nails, I love my kanken, Intergalactic Nails, Iron Man Three, Kanken 15% discount, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Blog, London, May Birthday, May Day Bank Holiday, My first facial, Poached Eggs & Smoked Salmon, Posh London Breakfast, Raglan, Raglan Tee, Raglan Top, Riding House Cafe, Snog, Snog Soho, The Place Beyond The Pines, The Wolsey, Turning 29, UK, Wah Nails, Wah Nails Box Park, When to get a facial, Where to eat breakfast in london, Where to go for breakfast in London
Ok, I lied. I said I had finished writing everything up from my USA tour, but there was one last thing I wanted to share. Everyone goes to New York and takes photographs of Times Square, Lady Liberty, Empire State, bridges & brownstones. I did the exact same, because all these things are so photogenic and exciting to see “in the flesh”. However getting to spend longer in the city, and working there, helped me discover a new side of New York that I’d never noticed before.
New York is full of ghosts. Old shop fronts and vintage painted advertising stretching up towards the sky. In a city that’s so modern and bustling, I found it comforting to stumble across the odd piece of forgotten about history. The brilliant blogging belle Kate recently wrote about how important it is to look up when visiting a new city. Luckily (or unluckily) I’m one of life’s natural looker-uppers. I constantly stumble, trip and scitter my way around my London life, as I’ll be absorbed in some amazing tiling on a building or ornate stone gargoyle teetering over a rooftop. I am one of those annoying people who you end up rugby-tackling out of the way as I am so pre-occupied with gazing skywards. But up is where the secrets lie, the forgotten things and the treasures that go un-noticed by passing people glued to their iPhones or staring at their shoes.
My personal favourite, I wonder who last flew with “Sea Air” to Mexico?
Tags: Advertising, Advertising Ghosts, America, Art, Avignon Pharmacy, Bicycle Painting, Essouto, Ghost Adverts, Ghosts, Green Island Cruises, Kate Fleming, Lombardy Dresses, Look Up, Manhattan, New York, New York New York, Octoberish, Old Adverts, Old Shop Front, Old Signs, Painted Billboards, Polaroid, Pork Shop, Retro Adverts, Sea Air, Street Art, Suzy Petette, USA, Vintage Photographs, VIntage Shop Front
I need to get out of the bad brain habit that every blog post on here needs to be an epic adventure! After Morocco, New York, Los Angeles… I’ve got used to expecting to spend hours carefully cutting and curating and tapping away to create something solid and grand. But actually, the blogs I enjoy reading the best are a bit more higgeldy piggeldy and spontaneous with their content. I recently discovered Sally Tangle, a sweetheart of a girl who I instantly wished fiercly lived in my town so she could be my real life friend. Her blog is SO unique (a tough shout in the cookie cutter genre blog world of today) and such a flow of her thoughts and fears and favourites and feelings. I would highly recommend adding her to your reader, everyone needs a slice of her type of life perspective!
This morning I had a business meeting in a cafe (the best of all kinds) and was taken to a little hideaway in Carnaby Street called Speakeasy. I was really taken with the jars of jam laid out on all the tables. So taken that I just had to order some fancy homemade bread-toast to slather with it. I plumped for strawberry and it was jam-packed (get it!) with huge strawberry bits and extremely tasty. I know cute condiments have gotten a little bit overkill recently but I really appreciate the teeny tiny milk bottles and jar shaped cocktail tankards and novelty salt & pepper shakers sprouting up all over the place. This attention to detail I’m sure can have its downside if everyone thinks they are so nice, they want to pinch them thanks very much, but some brands just get it so right; I’m looking at you Wahaca “save our spoons” amnesty and you Virgin Atlantic salt & pepper shakers and the vintage milk bottles above in Leon.
This week has been blurry, long eye-stinging work hours and muchos Espanol lessons and homework, and long lost friends to catch up with over pizza. I also have been back into the fitness thing with a vengeance, as you don’t even want to know how much weight I piled on during my USA trip but I’m sure you can guess just by reading my previous blogs. Every day my alarm has twittered away at 6.30 and I’ve whimpered as I drag my sore leg muscles back for some more slogging it out at the gym. It helps that it’s light in the mornings now though, I definitely have more of an imaginary spring in my zombie-step as I sludge to the tube.
Aztec print! I’m not entirely enamoured with this print phase but when I saw these beauts in Primark whilst sheltering from a burst of Bristol rain, they were the only pair in sight and in my size, so I took the plunge with my first aztec purchase. I have to say I’ve practically had to ban myself from wearing them as after 3 days in a row I was worried my colleagues were eyeing me judgmentally. (I’m sure they weren’t, they are very lovely). Primark have definitely stepped up their jeans-game. I used to be suckered in by the £6 price tag and the pretty colours, but every time after one wear I’ve suffered the ultimate jeanmare; saggy KNEES and saggy bum syndrome. It got so ridiculous, with so many pairs ending up unworn and taken to charity, that I haven’t bought any from there for about 3 years. I’m so pleased that it seems like these can take a battering and still fit perfectly. I think it’s going to be the start of a very long partnership. I’m planning to wear them this weekend (another weekend away! I haven’t had a weekend in London since the first week of March!) up to Derbyshire. My friend has hired a bunk barn for her 30th birthday so 30 of us are trecking there from all corners of the UK for a weekend of hiking, cooking, table tennis, boozing and rambling around the middle of nowhere.
A few hands. Top hand is raspberry crush Models Own polish, with my authentic Malibu hairband. All the girls in Malibu wear these (sometimes muliples) tie-dye elastics and I’m surprised the trend hasn’t caught on anywhere else as I think they are really nifty; they also dont snag your hair so practical and pretty. The bottom hand is my ONLY pay day treat. It’s my birthday next week so I’m on a tight shopping ban from my friends and family, but I saw this winking at me in Urban Outfitters today and it was 20% everything so this was too much of a steal to leave on the shelf.
So there we go… the contents of my brain and wardrobe this week, that was fun!
Tags: Aeroplane, Aztec, Aztec Jeans, Aztec Print, B bracelet, Cafe, Carnaby Street, Coffee Shop, Cumbrian Blogger, Jam, Jam Jars, Leon, Malibu Hairband, Milk Bottles, Name bracelet, Primark Jeans, Raspberry Crush Nail Polish, Sally Tangle, salt & pepper shakers, Speakeasy, Urban Outfitters, Vintage Milk Bottles, Virgin Atlantic Salt & Pepper Shakers, Wahaca Save our Spoons, Wahaca Spoon Amnesty
Crikey, where is the time going? I’ve been back from America for 3 weeks now but they zipped past in a haze. I haven’t actually had a weekend in London since getting home, instead my jet-setting continued on a smaller UK-scale as I spent Easter weekend in Norfolk with my 93 year old gran (who is amazing; she called people in their 70s “old fogies” and one morning she just whipped up 2 homemade loafs of bread before I’d even woken up!) then last weekend I was in Taunton visiting Nick’s older brother, wife and his 2 year old nephew Riley. He is at that super cute inquisitive age and was on fine form; with highlights being his bath-time serenading us with his self-invented song “heads, shoulders, knees and toes AND BUM!”, his new-found ability to naked breakdance (I can’t wait to remind him of that when he’s a teenager – his parents have NO idea how he learnt to do it?) and following our lunch out at Frankie & Benny’s on the Saturday, his obsession with playing “restaurants”. I spent all of Sunday playing restaurants with him. At Riley’s restaurant he serves “crab bolognese” “chocolate” or for the more adventurous diner.. “whale”.
Anyway I don’t want anymore time to pass without documenting my time in New York. I relied on blogs SO heavily before heading to the big apple and although I already blogged about New York the last time I was there, I had a totally different experience this time around, I guess a lot can change in 3 years and I’m also a different Bee to the one I was then. This time I was business Bee! Before I wade into my memories and photos; the blogs that have recently captured my NY imagination were The Faerietale Foodies hot list of coffee, donut & NY food joints broken down by area, my lovely Eleanor Jane’s recent trip which despite giving her a frostbitten face produced some of the best photographs of the city that I’ve ever seen and finally VIPXO who was flying out as I flew home and managed to fit in about 4 weeks worth of antics into 4 days.
So you last left me exploring LA’s downtown and enjoying the California sun. My flight from LA > NY was quite eventful! I flew Virgin America who I adore (the beaker above says it all, so much attention to kitsch detail) and it was just short of 7 hours. It still boggles my mind that it’s further to fly across from LA to NY than it is to fly back to England. It’s the same country? Anyway my flight was manned by male twin hipster stewards with waxed moustaches, who both separately talked to me about wanting a dinosaur onesie. I loved them until one of them ID’d me for my G&T and I had to trample over all the people in my aisle to get out, get my handbag, get my ID etc etc in front of the whole plane! But with the big 3-0 a’knocking I guess I should really bask in the youthful accusations, especially as I had no make-up on and severe timezone confused tired-face. Anyway half way through the flight we had a power surge of some kind which was one of those heart in mouth moments as I squinted down at the snowy rocky terrain below and sneakily eyed around to see how edible people looked. Luckily the only thing it affected long term was the entertainment service; so no films for me for 4 long hours. By the time I landed in JFK I was relieved to reunite my feet with the ground. I was less relieved to walk out into the -5 dark night; having got used to 30 degree daily sunshine!
I didn’t get a particularly warm welcome from New York, on day one I negotiated my walk to the office (I felt like a true New Yoiker! No subway for me!) and the sky got darker and darker with every step. I expected Godzilla to pop round for every corner or a Day After Tomorrow style tidal wave to creep up behind me. Luckily for me and my overactive imagination it was just a snow storm landing and a few hours later a blizzard started that didn’t stop for ten hours. After a long day my best laid plans for exploration were weather-ruined and I slinked back to my hotel, only venturing out to find something warm and tasty near by. Luckily I stumbled across a Korean restaurant where I could chomp away on steamy broth and kimchee pancakes and watch the snow settle outside. The next day the snow had more-or-less melted and left the city in a state of frost-bite. The temperature didn’t creep past zero degrees for my whole trip, mostly lurking around -5. It was so cold that New Yorkers were walking around with their Starbucks cups gripped in their teeth, so that they could keep their hands in their pockets. That sight frightened me everyday… what if the lid fell off? Such a risky strategy!
I HEART New York. I totally get why people want to emblazen their love for it on T-Shirts and mugs and sing about it endlessly. There is just this sparkle and energy that is contagious, and a huge pride in being in NY which is something I think us shy retiring Brits haven’t successfully emulated in London. One thing I had forgotten is how much people CHAT. I think it helps that as a nosey northerner I’m the first to get nattering, but it made me chuckle that on a daily basis someone would just randomly yell something at me. The first day it was “Hey! Blue Eyes!” and the second I just got a nice “Good Morning Miss” and they aren’t from people wanting to engage you in conversation or a sleazy-builder style bellow. They are just chatty New Yorkers being very New York. It warms my heart! On the Tuesday I had a recommendation for a sushi restaurant but when I walked the 10 blocks there it had shut down! Woe. Luckily this led me to discover Two Boots where I could order a slice of pizza as big as my head and very delicious it was too (also don’t tell, but I actually ordered 2 slices and ate them ALL). However, my work colleagues were not so impressed and said it wasn’t AUTHENTIC enough, so the next day one of them ordered me two wholes boxes of Saluggi’s which I will go on record to say that was hands-down the best pizza I have ever eaten. They must put actual magic in the sauce. Even remembering it makes my mouth water. If you are ever in New York, you need to go there and you need to eat THIS.
There is so much yellow in New York! I hadn’t realised before. Taxis, school buses, traffic lights and traffic lanes. Yellow follows you around the city and every photograph you take will inevitably have a flash of it somewhere. The nice thing about working was that I made instant friends and had some people to show me the best spots off the tourist trail. After eating & drinking myself around Manhattan here were my top treasures:
Best Cafe: Vesulka This Ukarainian cafe has been in the East Village for 58 years. The bright, airy space is the perfect place to meet friends for brunch, lunch, dinner OR late night since it’s open way past bedtime. Be brave and try the traditional items like Blintzes, Challah or Goulash. If you would prefer something more traditional; the choc chip pancakes are to die for. The tea also comes with sweet literary quotes attached to the bag-string.
Best Sushi: On the Wednesday night my colleagues Clairellen & Gerta indulged my sushi craving and introduced me to Tomoe Sushi. It would be easy to walk past this cosy little Japanese joint and there is often a small queue, but oh it’s worth it. The chef’s prepare the sushi in front of you (it’s so small in there, you can see everything!) and I’d definitely recommend the seaweed salad and the deep fried oyster-mmmm. They can definitely claim the Best Sushi in NY title.
Best Bagel: Bagel’s are served everywhere. The bagels from the bagel cart are your best bet and best NY experience. A plain white with cream cheese has to be your first pick, but then I would be brave and opt for the darkest brown looking option, which is Pumpernickel and unlike anything I’d had before. They are packed full of molasses though, so will leave you full for hours of site-seeing.
Best Mexican: Rosa Mexicano is a high brow mexican offering so partner it with a trip to somewhere a bit more down n dirty for a burrito. The reason you have to visit here is the world famous guacamole which they come and make fresh at your table in front of you!
Best for Night Owls: My favourite place to drink is St Marks Place, and a great place off the beaten track there is The Crooked Tree. It’s fairy-lit, cute and perfect for gazing at a handsome boy over a cocktail or IPA brew. They also do killer crepes.
Best for Take-Home Treats: Trader Joes! This isn’t just your bog standard supermarket. This is the best grocery store I have ever encountered. Don’t leave it to the airport to stock up on boring-reeces-pieces. Hit up a Trader Joe’s and explore their treats section for peanut butter stuffed chocolate covered pretzels! Oh and their Speculoos biscuit spread is also an absolute must. I also stocked up on my biggest weakness: HOT SAUCE!
During this trip I indulged in a bit of an ambition and guilty pleasure – also taking one for the team for people in my life such as my best friend Lol and my sister Meg. I went to CARRIE BRADSHAW’S HOUSE! Under the guise of exploring Greenwich Village, which in itself is definitely worth doing, I looked up the street address and found myself at 64 Perry Street being a fan girl. Luckily there was no one else around so I could take a few stealth snaps and then pretend like I belonged in the neighbourhood. One really sweet thing is that the family who live there have put a chain up (so people dont intrude and climb up the steps) and on the chain is a note from the family, asking if you take a photo to donate ¢1 to the local animal shelter. Aw. There is a little tin for you to drop your dollar in. Such a nice idea.
After nearly a fortnight apart, on the Thursday my dreamboat sailed into town (well ok, flew). We had agreed to meet at Grand Central, as after the longest we have ever been separated, we felt we deserved the most film-like and romantic reunion. And it was! We hadn’t agreed where in Grand Central, but happened to choose the same location where I leapt on him for a proper Hollywood smooch and the worlds longest bear hug, whilst tutting harassed Americans scampered past on their ways to and from their lives.
Part 2 coming soon; the ‘holiday’ part of my trip as Nick & I took on New York heading to my first ever KBBQ, exploring Williamsburg and being turned away from the Brooklyn brewery tour so making up our own Brooklyn beer pub-crawl.
I’ll leave you with this little lady; the NY office dog of dreams. Isn’t she just begging for me to take her home with me in my bag (that she’d definitely fit in)?
Tags: 64 Perry Street, American Treats, Best Bagel in New York, Best Cafe in New York, Best Mexican in New York, Best Pizza in New York, Best Sushi in New York, Blintzes, Blizzard, Carrie Bradshaws Flat, Carrie Bradshaws House, Challah, Crepes, Eleanor Jane Photography, Faerytale Foodie, Grand Central, Grand Central Reunion, Greenwich Village, New York, New York New York, NY, NYC, Pizza Slice, Pumpernickel, Rosa Mexicano, Saluggis, Sex & The City, Sex And The City, Speculoos spread, St Marks Place, The best things to do in New York, The Crooked Tree, Tomoe, Trader Joes, Two Boots, Ukrainian Cafe in New York, Vesulka, VIPXO, Virgin America, Yellow
If you read my recent accounts of my Los Angeles adventures (part i & part ii) you will have gathered that I recently went on a work trip to America; where I spent 1 week working from the West (Best?) Coast and then jetted over to New York for another week. Obviously my initial reaction when finding out about this trip was WAHOOooooooOoOooOooooOOo! However, my second instant reaction was, what the HECK am I going to pack for 2 weeks, 2 cities and 2 entirely different weather systems (not to mention an itinerary of formal work presentations, tourist treks and bar crawling)?
After weeks of jotting down outfit plans in Evernote and hours of frantic trying-on sessions which resulted in my room looking like it had been burgalised on more than one occasion; I finally had a suitcase filled with lessons learnt on how to pack for two VERY different climates. In LA the weather hovered around 28-30 degrees with blazing sunshine; although out on the coast there was a wind chill to contend with. In NY there was a blizzard to welcome my arrival and the weather barely crept over zero degrees, mainly sticking to the minus section of the thermometer. I found it really tough to adapt by the time I reached New York as I had got so used to just skipping out into the California sun every day, so on my first lunch break in NY I eagerly packed up my bag and embarked on the 4 flights of stairs down to the street in just my cardigan. I had got so used to the bliss of no-coat living. The second I stepped out into the frost bitten city streets I realised my error and skulked back up 4 flights to retrieve my coat, scarf, gloves and did NOT make that mistake again!
Top Tips for Hot to Cold to Sunny to Snowy Packing
It’s the classic mum-advice whenever you visit a different climate and if it’s good enough for mums worldwide you just know it must be wise owl stuff, and it definitely is the first rule of thumb for packing for multi-climates. I would have a basic outift, then a multitude of others bits and bobs that I would carry around in a tote bag ready to layer on as the sun set or the snow set in. I sound smarter if I make it look mathematical:
cardie + hoodie
cardie + hoodie + scarf
cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket
cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket + coat
cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket + coat + knit headband
cardie + hoodie + scarf + leather jacket+ coat + knit headband + bobble hat
Even when I was beach-bumming around Malibu I still had a few emergency layers stuffed into my bag for when the sun set. You can see from this photograph, taken on the same day, I could wear a short-short dress and cardy during the day, but by dusk I had added my trusty American Apparel hoody, pink cotton scarf-snood and a pair of Uniqlo thermal leggings. Which takes me neatly onto…
I have been a fan of thermals ever since you could only buy them M&S and they were of the frilly/holy/granny variety. Luckily nowadays thanks to the kings aka HEATTECH Uniqlo and their subtle, fashionable thermal collection, life for chilly boned bods like me has vastly improved. In fact the latest tie-up between Uniqlo & Orla Kiely produced such thermal beauties that they were begging to be worn for the world to see, rather than buried beneath winter woollens. For my trip I took a camisole, vest, t-shirt, long-sleeved and legging versions of the Uniqlo thermals. I also took thermal tights; which you can pick up in Primark and are so thick they don’t have a denier. They are like leggings with feet! Finally, I took my trust thermal socks. If you have survived winter without making the discovery that is thermal socks with all your toes intact, I want to shake your hand! Thermal socks are the worlds best invention. They are fluffy, furry and take the heat you create whilst walking around and circulate it around your hoofs leading to toasty, happy feet. Mine are from Primark but I have spotted higher-brow versions in Fat Face.
03. Key Pieces
The skill of any great packer is an eye for key pieces. There is nothing worse than chucking a bunch of stuff in a bag and arriving at your destination to discover not one item matches! I have been guilty of this myself; usually when I’ve been travelling somewhere on a Saturday and just one drink after work on Friday turns into staggering in at 2am and up-ending a drawer into my weekend bag and hoping that the items somehow miraculously turn into outfits en route. They never ever do. One of my key pieces for this trip was my cream lace midi dress. It’s comfortable, work/fun friendly and they main reason is; it looked lovely in LA with just bare legs and sandals. It also looked as lovely in NY with tights, clompy lace-up boots and all the layers listed above. I used a snazzy Stylight board here to highlight what I mean, I could spend hours on Stylight making boards. It’s certainly captured my cut & paste/mood board interest where Pinterest failed.
Here is another good example of a versatile outfit pick. I’m obsessed with this birdcage tropical River Island T-shirt (a steal at £15!) and in the Cali sun I matched it with a denim highwaist buttondown skirt and sandals and a leather jacket for the evening. In NY it worked just as well with thick tights and my boots and a woolly cardie.
04. A good excuse for SHOPPING
Now lets just get this straight. You don’t want to pack toooooo well, as if you have a few items missing it’s the perfect justification to hit the shops. By the tailend of my second week on the road, life was getting stale. That musty aeroplane/suitcase smell was wafting after me like a cartoon cloud and I was thoroughly sick of the same few choices. So, I scuttled to Broadway and spent the last of my precious per diems in Forever 21, Madewell & American Eagle. Was I sensible in my picking up of warm weather supplies? No, of course I got dazzled by the stocks of spring/summer/sunny offerings so shivered my way through the final weekend and am now seriously hoping we get a glimpse of sunshine so that I can debut my results of New York foraging.
I will be posting all about my Big Apple antics this week, but in the meantime I wanted to say thanks Shopping Unlike for picking Like A Skeleton Key as a highlight on their blog this week and giving it this write-up. Shucks.
Tags: Bloggers, Clothes, Fashion, Heattech, Layers, Los Angeles, New York, Packing for hot and cold climates, Packing for hot and cold holidays, Packing for hot and cold weather, packing for sunny and snowy holidays, Primark, River Island, Shopping Unlike, Spring, Stylight, Stylight Boards, summer, Thermal Socks, Thermal Tights, Thermals, Uniqlo, What to pack for hot and cold weather, What to pack for sun and snow, Winter
When I landed into LAX, I was so fortunate to have a seat on the right-hand side of the plane and one away from the window, with a slender slumbering passenger next to me so I could lean right over and shove my nose up to the glass (plastic?). As we swooped down over the city, I had the perfect birds-eye view of the Hollywood sign which had me giddily bouncing about in my seat. I’ve since learnt that this aeroplane sign-spotting is extremely rare. The day before I flew in, LA had something almost unheard of… rain! This meant the stubborn smog, that would usually entirely blot out the view of the sign and the Hollywood hills, had lifted for a few days and the air was temporarily clear and crisp. By the time I headed up to the Griffith Park observatory just a week later, the soupy smog was well and truly back and although it created a dramatic Gotham-city style effect it really did highlight just how terrible the pollution problem is, especially for a city so otherwise obsessed with health and well-being.
Do you know the story of the Hollywood sign? It’s well worth a read here if you don’t. I had no idea that it started life (appropriately for Hollywood) as an ambitious outdoor marketing campaign for a suburban housing development “Hollywoodland”. Long after the housing development firm had disbanded, the land was removed leaving the sign that still stands today. It’s had a typically Hollywood life; with a drunken driver ploughing through and destroying the H, a suicide of a rejected-starlet Peg Entwistle (who in an ironic twist, mere days after her suicide would have received a letter offering her the lead role in a play… about a girl driven to suicide) and near total destruction as weather & no maintenance took it’s hold. In 1978 numerous donors bought a letter each at $27,777 a pop and the sign was renovated. Hugh Hefner owns the Y and Alice Cooper bought the second O in memory of Groucho Marx. Whatever your views on Hollywood and the culture, I would challenge anyone not to feel moved in some way when they see that sign in the flesh!
Now where was I? The rest of my week followed a similar path of working away during the days, then escaping into the dusky evening to explore Los Angeles whilst I could keep my eyes open. On the Wednesday evening I was fading fast so took a night off tourism and just explored Sunset Boulevard with the sole intention of snapping up a feast and retreating to eat it in my hotel bed like a massive slob. I discovered a little Mexican take away (sorry take-out) called Poquito Mas where I ordered a shrimp taco, which you can see below was about twice the size of my head (and stomach, but that didn’t stop me!). I also called in at the liquor store and bought a Mike’s hard lemonade. I first discovered wonderful Mike in NY a few years ago, and it’s perfect for people like me who don’t drink alot and aren’t overly fond of the taste of beer. It comes in a few flavours but black cherry is by far the yummiest.
You’ll notice a theme in this post… FOOD. After a strong start to the year of running, swimming, pilates-ing… all rules went out of the window for a fortnight of gluttony. One night after work Nora kindly chauffeured me back to Malibu as I was desperate to get some more beach time. First we stopped off for sushi (where we could sit outside; a prospect which seems ridiculous now that I’m back in the UK in head to toe thermals, woollens and 3 pairs of socks) and I devoured spicy seaweed and blue lump crab and various sea-lurkers I’d never even heard of, before proudly tucking into an authentic California roll IN California, ho ho. It was during this meal we were sat next to a boy of about 14 on a date with a similar aged girl, and I overheard him loudly exclaim “well I asked my agent, my manager AND my publicist…”which was my one ‘only in LA’ experience. Well that and crossing the road with Joshua Jackson. After sushi we hit Malibu Frozen Yoghurt, and I made Nora laugh/cringe by insisting on saying Mu-Bu-Fro-Yo-Yo-Lo the whole walk there. Mu-Bu Fro-Yo is obviously the #1 teen hangout so I felt like I an extra in Beverly Hills 90210 whilst I sat surrounded by impossibly skinny teens in cut off shorts, scooping mountains of peanut butter frozen yoghurt with crushed Oreo toppings into my gob!
I’m lucky enough to have a cousin, David, who lives out in LA with his girlfriend Katie, so I had a second set of tour guides to introduce me to a whole different part of the city. They live in an area called Echo Park, which along with nearby Los Feliz and Silver Lake are certainly up-and-coming and becoming increasingly appealing neighbourhoods. I can see why; Echo Park is a wonderful mishmash of diners, trinket shops, dive bars, diners, all walks of life, all cultures, street art, lakes, green spaces and there is also 826LA; one of Dave Eggers-inspired non-profit writing & tutoring centres. If you haven’t seen one, then you can seek out the Ministry of Stories in Hoxton. All of the centres have a fictional shop-front hiding the volunteers and students from prying eyes. In Hoxton its a Monster Suppliers store, Pirate Shop in San Francisco, Super Hero Supply Co in New York and 826LA in Echo Park has a Time Travel Mart. Behind the shopfront, there are classrooms and seminar rooms where children and young people up to age 18 from the local community can go and work with volunteers to improve their writing skills and explore their imaginations. I’ve always wanted to volunteer in London, it’s definitely on my permanent to-do list. On my night in Echo Park we sought out the Gold Room dive bar, where a beer & tequila are served together as a rule, and I enjoyed giant pint of Californian beer that came served with a peel of orange curled into it, served with a bowl of shell-on peanuts.
Friday night rolled round and I could breathe a sigh of relief at my office hours ticking to a close. To celebrate Nora took me for a unique LA experience. We headed down to the Upright Citizens Brigade, which I’d highly recommend if you ever find yourself in NY or LA, as it’s not something you’ll read about in a rough guide or tour book. The UCB Theatre puts on nightly comedy improvised & sketch shows featuring various local comedy troupes. The troupes consist of some of the best comedians out there, who still perform together as quite often this type of improv production is often where comedians are discovered and begin their career. Despite the show being ticketed, my one piece of advise it to arrive 30 minutes early as you still have to queue in advance as each show is massively over-subscribed. I was lucky enough to get a great seat to watch Diamond Lion who specialise in musical improv. They launched on to the stage and asked for a word at random from the audience (“plaid”) and then performed various skits inspired by this word, entirely created on the spot AND set to music?! I can’t comprehend how one person could be so sharp, let alone a group of 7 people all working instantly in harmony and feeding off one another’s talent. It’s at the UCB that skits for Saturday Night Live and various other big American entertainment shows are tested out and based on the audience reaction; shelved or written up! I wish there was something similar in London because I have to admit I find stand-up comedy tedious and contrived, and really enjoyed the unpredictability of improv; some of the funniest moments were actually when a joke didn’t work and the whole thing unravelled.
On my last day in Los Angeles David & Katie ensured I saw everything that was on my quirky hit-list. The only thing we didn’t get time for was the Museum of Jurassic Technology (alas) but I know Nick would have been a green monster if I had, so am quite happy to wait for a return trip. First up we drove around ‘Old Hollywood’ and saw some incredible Victorian Psycho style houses, including one that had been set up by a film shoot to have a garage sale outside. Two doors down a real family were having a legitimate garage sale, so I couldn’t help but think the crew could have saved some time and budget and just filmed that! As a David Lynch fangirl I was desperate to see the spooky Sierra Bonita apartments from Mulholland Drive so after a quick ‘scared face’ tourist photo shoot (as people actually live in them… jealous) we sped off up the road to inspect John Marshall High aka Rydell High from Grease. It was surreal to see the bleachers and race track where they sing ‘Summer Lovin’” which still look identical for the students who attend there today. The school seems to be used as a standard high school in most movies, including Nightmare on Elm Street.
We then drove up the actual Mulholland Drive towards Griffith Park and the incredible observatory there, which again I recommend and it’s FREE. The park itself is a vast amount of green space and in an isolated corner David has even spotted a mountain Lion! After a steep climb to the top, you are rewarded with 360-degree views over the whole of Los Angeles. Everything is visible; the sign, downtown, the stacked hill houses and the mountains in the distance. See what I mean about the smog though…
En route to downtown we called in at Scoops. Again Americans just seem to go bigger & better and the flavours were pretty mindblowing. I resisted temptation to opt for the brown bread or hot sauce options (!) with my sweet tooth winning out and gorging myself on Guinness Chocolate (it was St Patricks Day eve after all) and Oreo Cheesecake. I also appreciated the unlimited toppings so I could go nuts with the nuts. Downtown was my absolute favourite part of Los Angeles. If someone had driven me there blindfolded and dumped me out of the car, I would have sworn blind we weren’t in LA anymore. It had such a different vibe and look; skyscrapers tower over with those distinctive NY-style fire stairs and the sun is shaded out by the staggering buildings. It’s a little slice of NY in LA, with the best of both cities. Although to be honest anywhere that is home to a bar that serves cocktails in bespoke copper tankards is bound to win my heart. The tankards at Cole’s are so precious that you have to hand over your ID as a deposit, and they definitely made my 3pm Moscow Mule taste 100% more delicious. The bar itself obviously had it’s hayday in the roaring 20s and still has the most incredible decour, oh and a sign in the men’s toilets (David reported back) that says “Charles Bukowski pissed here”! If you want to know what downtown LA looks like; watch (500) Days of Summer as the majority of it is filmed there. I also was very proud of my own personal Hollywood tour – I spotted the parking lot that the kid in Kick Ass gets stabbed in. Downtown LA used to be the heart of Hollywood, and this is evident in the grand, plush theatres that still dot the streets; although they are mostly abandoned or now house 99-cent stores or dodgy gold pawn shops beneath. It’s quite heartbreaking and eerie.
I didn’t need a Zoltar wish as I’d had the best possible time in Los Angeles and was about to be whisked off to New York, so already plenty lucky enough. Thanks to my generous tour guides and their infectious enthusiasm, my perspective of LA has been entirely changed and I would definitely class it as a favourite place with so much more to still investigate and discover for myself. It’s much more than just the hall-of-fame stars on the strip.
Tags: 826LA, Beverly Hills, Dave Eggers, David Lynch, Diamond Lion, Drink, Echo Park, Food, Gelato, Gold Roo, Grease, Griffith Park, HIstory of the Hollywood Sign, Hollywood, Hollywood sign from the plane, Hollywoodland, inistry of Stories, John marshal high, LA, LAX, Los Angeles, Los Feliz, Malibu, Malibu Frozen Yoghurt, Mulholland Drive, Observatry, Pacific Coast Highway, Poquito Mas, Scoops Westside, Sierra Bonita, Smog, Sunset Boulevard, The real Rydell High, Time Travel Mart, Tourist, Upright Citizens Brigade, Where to eat in LA, Where to go in LA, Where to visit in LA