London lifestyle blog

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Ahhh, it is so nice to be tapping away here again! You’ve probably noticed that this blog has purely become a little hidey-hole of the internet that I only update when I know I will really enjoy scratching the itch and have a rare solo afternoon like today. Nick is wearily making his way back across the country from his stag do! And so, charged up on a millions cups (bowls) of tea and having completed all my wedmin / wedding crafty tasks I thought oh! Like a Skeleton Key! Let’s do this old friend. I stick mostly to posting about my travel adventures over on TwentySomething Burnouts and this really is a place for more intimate and ramshackle brain ramblings. However with the total-plot twist life change news that I am moving to LA (as in, this time next month I will be a fully fledged living-working resident of Los Angeles – woooah) I have a feeling that I will be recording my life a little more fully on the internet again. That said; I don’t know if it will be blogging. I LOVE it, don’t get me wrong, and having kept a diary since I learnt to write, and an online journal since I discovered Livejournal at the age of 17, I’ll always do this. That said, writing a blog entry takes quite a bit of brain power. Working in marketing I regularly write long form content (blogs, press releases, campaign round-ups, copy etc) all day long which means that in my downtime I am slightly more reluctant to sit at my laptop continuing to work. After quite a bit of thought I decided I’d like to document my move to LA a little more visually; so will be setting up some sort of home to post videos. I feel like since I’ll be on the other side of the world it might be an easier way to share my new life with friends and family than attempting to do it justice with fancy words. PLUS! I will find it much easier to sit and natter at a camera than typing away; although I have no editing skills so might need to sweet talk my husband (!!) for help there.

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But that’s enough of that, back to life right now. Well having said goodbye to London before; you’d think I’d be doing a better job of it this time but it seems to be a similar gut wrench of excitement to leave the pesky bits (tube traumas, grumpy folk, crazy creeping rent costs) and sadness to face the fact that realistically this may be the last time I live in the big smoke. Those pangs hit me at the funniest of moments. Don’t get me wrong, I know I am ridiculously blessed to be moving to a place that sounds like a dream to live in… but London has been my home for a decade. So I’m totally allowed a long goodbye! I even found myself gazing adoringly at Piccadilly Circus the other day – having spent 10 years desperately trying to avoid that particular patch. I think it boils down to the fact that I know who I am in London. I know I like to treat myself to a mocha from The Fields Beneath if it’s a dreary day. I know I like to wow visitors by taking them to Kings Cross Dishoom & nattering over pink drinks. I know I can pull on some trainers and be at the top of Primrose Hill in 15 minutes looking out over the whole of a toy-town skyline in the distance. I know that the cat who lives next door is called Thomas and where he likes his belly ruffled. I know Craig and I can go dancing at Archer Street at any given moment and they’ll play Taylor Swift and everything will feel ok again. I know I’m only a 3 hour train journey from Yorkshire and the wilderness when I need a brain break. I don’t know how to live my life in LA. Where will I go to make sense of myself?

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It’s ok though. Because I had all these feelings before I quit my life and backpacked around the place and they dissolved within about a day of me stepping foot off the plane. It’s hard to be all wistful and emo when a new culture and adventure is demanding every ounce of concentration! I’m also a bit over-whelmed and run-down from: a) leaving my job/downloading my work brain b) preparing for a new job c) planning a (very DIY) wedding and d) preparing to ship and move my life to another country. I’m sure all of these feature on a “most stressful life things” list somewhere and I’m a bit like a bingo card of THINGS TO THINK AND DO right now. I honestly don’t know how I would function without To Doist. Every second I spend my time right now feels like it’s been colour coded, tagged and categorised in that app right now (even writing this – cringe!) Luckily Nick has been on hand to save me from myself and make sure that I have downtime. This week he surprised me with tickets to see Empire Records at the Camden Market Backyard Cinema Film Festival! Let’s not talk about the fact that Empire Records is TWENTY years old this year (it’s ok though, Pretty Woman is 30 years old). Nick splurged on some sort of lux (so LA!) tickets that included a free whopping Honest Burger and a giant cider. We cosied up under blankets on deck chairs and not even a decent dose of British Summer rain could stop us bopping along to the soundtrack (which I used to have on tape cassette in my first car) and talking along with the unforgettable quotes that are taking up valuable GBs in my bee brain. Attention Rex Manning fans, to your left you will notice a shoplifter being chased by night manager, Lucas. This young man will be caught, deep fried in a vat of hot oil and served to our first hundred customers. Just another tasty treat from the gang at Empire Records! The festival is running for another couple of weeks, including the chance to see Amy in Camden which would be pretty fitting and a screening of Teen Wolf which sadly clashes with my work leaving shindig so please go and watch it on my behalf!

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Something else that’s been making me happy is flowers! When Blossoming Gifts emailed me to ask if I’d like to sample their delivery flower service I obviously said yes please and then swooned over the fact they had a bouquet of Apricot Rose & Hydrangea. I am having hydrangeas for my bridal flowers so the thought of having some in the house whilst I did the final bits and bobs of wedding planning felt really special. And no I haven’t walked up and down the side of my bed holding the vase as if it was my bouquet and smiling sweetly at the walls pretending they were guests. Nope, no siree. I was super impressed with the delivery bouquet options; it felt like they had some really unusual colour and flower combinations and are clearly experts in what works well together. The flowers arrived in a very sturdy box and lasted a whole week without wilting, even in the tropical London smog we had lately. In fact the apricot dalidas are still going strong so I’ve transferred them into a little glass vase that Nick bought me which is actually a wine carafe that is given to Italian army officers as standard kit (snazzy!) which he picked up at the local Army Surplus Store.

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Blossoming Gifts have kindly passed on a discount of 33% off if you’d like to treat yourself! I’d definitely rate them and the ease of being able to pick a bunch online and know they will be delivered safely and swiftly is so easy. No more scuttling around a service station hunting out a crummy old carnation creation when in need of thanking someone! You just need to enter the code BGIFTS33. You can check out their flowers by post here and their cheap flower selection (which don’t look cheap – score!) here. I’m already desperate to order myself the orangery selection – those giant daisies are cute as a button.

One thing that is also concerning me greatly about the upcoming move is WOE I will not be in the UK for the Great British Bake Off final. And apparently there isn’t a Great American Bake Off to fill the (cake) hole so I am going to need to work out how to use Tunnel Bear properly and work out the time zone different for watching it as soon as possible and hope it doesn’t involve being awake at 4am or something. Everybody without exception in my team at work is GBBO mad; so for the last couple of years I have helped to organise a team bake off where a different person bakes every Wednesday. Last year I burnt my arm so badly whilst making a Chocolate & Yorkshire Ale cake that I had to go to A&E when it made my veins turn red and angry! This year I managed to avoid any hospitalisation and also managed to make a random thought that had popped into my head a baked good reality. I had wondered if I could make a cake that looked like a watermelon using some kind of mystical food colouring / dark chocolate drop combo. And well… it kind of worked!

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Before I sign off I just want to share a few final things that are currently floating my boat, since I have been absent for a while. Mainly – PODCASTS. Serial was my gateway drug, which led onto podcasts about that podcast (still totally hooked on Undisclosed, Serial Dynasty, Serially Obsessed and Crime Writers on Serial) and about the same time I discovered Welcome to Night Vale and This American Life which tend to also be the big gateway podcast pathways for the less crime oriented types. Oh and I loved listening to Grantland’s Watch the Thrones almost more than watching this season of Game of Thrones. Podcasts have completely revolutionised my life in terms of how much more fun any sort of travel or chores now are. Whereas previously I might have put a few tunes on to motivate myself to do the washing up or my commute; now I honestly track my walk to work against how many episodes of podcasts I have to get through and get extremely excited about that time alone in a totally immersive world of audio. I feel embarrassed, as an audio book lover, why it took me so long to figure out that podcasts were swiftly going to become my favourite form of entertainment.

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Recently I have got deep in to three podcasts that I wanted to share; given that basically all my podcast discoveries have come via recommendations. They all have something in common and have unearthed a part of my tastes, likes and interests that had somehow become dampened as I have grown into an adult. That thing is… MYSTERY! As a child I was absolutely obsessive about mysteries. My sister and I would count down the excruciating seconds for Strange but True with Michael Aspel to come on each week. We had various books of unsolved mysteries including the classics like the Bermuda Triangle, Jack the Ripper and Mary Celeste and I would paw over them every night after lights out using the old torch-under-the-duvet trick. I can remember the giddy-terrified sensation of hearing about a new spooky story or unsolved mystery and laying awake for hours trying to unpick the details and try to solve it; not for the good of humanity but in order to not be totally freaked out and need to do the shameful climb into bed with my sister! As I’ve got older I have developed a more control-freak-ish personality and therefore all things mysterious have slightly gone out of the window. That said I have still always had a curiosity for true crime (mainly in the form of an addiction to Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City and always reading the headlines of Chat magazine when lurking at the supermarket checkout) and maintained a love for zombies and b-movies. All of these long lost loves have been re-ignited through my three top podcasts; hooray! Childhood me is so happy to feel that spooky goosebump skin once more!

  1. Lore : Sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction. This bi-weekly podcast explores topics such as real life zombies, folklore, mysterious beasts, asylums, cabins in the woods and haunted hotels. I almost squealed when I saw episode 9 pop-up in my feed as it covers the story of the Devil on the Roof; the story I remember terrifying me into a near catatonic state when I first read about it with sweaty palms at a stupidly young age (blame having elder siblings!) It’s hosted by Aaron Mahnke who has the worlds most soothing voice and is also a supernatural thriller author and resident of Boston (known for the Salem trials and being Lovecraft heartland; so a pretty good place to start) and I can’t recommend it enough. Just make sure you have an Ovaltine lined up for bedtime after listening.
  2. Generation Why : Murders, myths, monsters and miscarriages of justice. I have come to this cult podcast at a shamefully late date considering how much it’s my cup of tea. That said; it now means I could binge on about 50 incredible episodes in the space of 3 weeks – covering everything from the disappearance of Madeline McCann, the case of D B Cooper, the Zodiac Killer and Robert Durst. Amongst these more contemporary cases though are sprinkled a ton of old classics from my reading-by-torchlight days which I have gleefully revisited with an adult brain – Loch Ness Monster, Bermuda Triangle, Big Foot and the Bermuda Triangle! The podcast is so well produced and presented by Aaron and Justin that you soon feel like you are sitting down with a couple of old chums for a natter about the weird and wonderful. I like the fact that the more grizzly / grim cases (multiple homicides or violence against kids/women) often focus far more on education around the legal implications or the culture surrounding the circumstances than just fear-mongering or focussing on the gory details. For example I listened to the podcast about Lucie Blackman; a story I felt really affected by at the time when it was all over the news, and was relieved that the podcast was super respectful and featured a real expert in Japanese culture and lifestyle to explain the context of the case.
  3. The Mystery ShowA podcast where Starlee Kine solves mysteries. This podcast is a ridiculously simple concept – Starlee Kine investigates mysteries that cannot be solved by the power of Google. On the journey to solve the mysteries however; it’s the people and the places that Starlee is taken that create a rollercoaster of emotions, unexpected forks in the road and twists & turns that become so unexpected you almost forget what the original mystery way (for example the SPECTACULAR Phil Spector story that is revealed whilst looking for the source of Welcome Back, Kotter lunch pail artwork) it’s adorable, it’s engaging and it’s a must-listen.

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Ah that was nice. See you again sooner; I promise.

 

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It’s been a while, huh? If you feel out of touch with my goings on, I have been wittering away about recent travels such as BERLIN over on Twentysomething Burnouts; so don’t forget to subscribe over there! Life is feeling pretty settled at the moment; which is a rarity for me and something that usually means I am going to do something crazy to unsettle things! But for now I am still here in my lovely treehouse flat in North London, which I’ve lived in for a year this month. I’m still working away at Penguin Random House and pinching myself that I get to read books for a living (although there is a little more to it than that) Oh and still wedding planning. The big day is 133 days away (I am obsessed with the Big Day app!) (and brackets it seems) and after finding wedding planning a little bit stressful initially, I have now hit my stride and am really enjoying the process. It helps that all of my friends are pitching in so much and letting me delegate, which is a skill that does NOT come easily for someone with Monica-from-Friends-control-freaking-syndrome. The most helpful of all has been my beloved Craig or should I say… my Creative Director! Who is helping on the decor front; from hunting out treasures on eBay to setting up on the day so I can concentrate on getting my hair done and drinking bubbles. What a wedding gift!

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I don’t know how other people have approached wedding planning but Nick and I have a system that works pretty well. Firstly; broadly speaking I am organising the wedding, he is organising the honeymoon. This has kept things really clear and plays to both our strengths. I was worried that wedding planning was going to grow into a monster and take over my whole life; which isn’t really possible when I have a full-time job and busy year (2015 has already been an insane one for other weddings/anniversaries/30ths etc etc… in fact I have been away every weekend since the beginning of March! Phewf!) so my method has just been to IGNORE wedding planning on a day to day basis; and then set aside one Sunday every month to get up early and spend the whole day planning, booking, paying bills, filling out forms and all of that stuff. It’s so productive and I have a list up until September of what I need to tick off each month; so I always know what’s coming and what to power through. Then I have a week off in June where I can sit around in my PJs listening to Taylor Swift and doing all the crafting and little details for the tables and guests. This has kept the whole thing feeling incredibly manageable and dare I say… fun!

One thing I’ve had to do is get a little bit fit this year. I didn’t want to do the predictable bridezilla dieting and being miserable for the year leading up to the wedding (I love cheese way too much for that) so instead I have just carried on eating what I want, but focussed on exercising. I pay for an expensive London gym membership but in November and December I only used it twice – once to use the free Wifi and the other time to use the VENDING MACHINE (!) so honestly it was time for a change. That and the fact that when January rolled round, I had a wedding dress fitting and couldn’t fit in the dress I had altered the previous October. From that point I made a vow to do some form of exercise 5 out of 7 days. My problem is I get quite grumpy and bored at fitness of most kinds and am basically huffing, puffing and pouting before I have even laced up my trainers or stepped into the pool. By switching up what I do, I have managed to trick my brain into not hating it because there isn’t a predictable routine. Some days I just walk into work (just over 5k/3miles) and then it’s done for the day before I’ve even really woken up. Other days I swim, spin, pilates or if I’m feeling really brave, I go to step aerobics set to 90s music. I’m also doing one run a week. I have had such a love/hate relationship with running but after reading Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley it really re-ignited all my warm fuzzy feelings. I can’t run very easily in winter because cold air is my main asthma trigger, so now the warmer days are here I am actually enjoying the chance to race about a bit. I am SO spoilt to have Primrose Hill, Hampstead Heath and Regents Park all on my doorstep, so it’s nice to be making the most of that.

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Even though it’s May, and I have shed the excess Christmas pounds and am feeling fitter than ever, I have found it hard to accept that this is a “permanent” shift. I’ve been stubbornly wearing the same crummy old band tees and old running leggings that I’ve had for six years and are peppered with moth munches because I’m still in the mindset that this is just a phase. Finally last month Nick talked some sense into me and I invested in some running tights, proper fitting/quick-dry tops and basically things that don’t fall down/off when I do any sort of movement. It’s amazing how this has revolutionised my running particularly; how feeling good about myself carries me through on days where I feel less like getting out there. Primark has actually been my best source of nice-looking but nicely-priced sports kit; so it’s worth going there for a dig around if your gym kit needs an overhaul.

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As well as feeling chipper on my wedding day, I wanted to put this new found energy and zing to good use. A month ago an email came round at my work, and before I had chance to convince myself of all the reasons I COULDN’T do it, I signed up… to climb the Three Peaks in 24 Hours! This is happening in just over a months time, so I’m stepping up the training with a few 20 mile walks planned in May. Oh and climbing the stairs at work every day, as I am on the 7th floor and it’s two-flights per floor. I mean that is totes the same thing as Snowden… right?! I am obviously quite intimidated by the challenge that lays ahead of me, but as it’s with a bunch of colleagues so I feel like it will be an incredible bonding experience and I just know I’ll feel so proud every time we reach one of the summits (even if I only learnt for the first this week that err, Ben Nevis has SNOW on it, that’s how high it is) I need to wake up to the fact I’ll need to invest in a bit of kit, our list includes things such as 2L hydration system… and I am not naive in how gruelling this will be as not only is it lots of steep walking and scrabbling, but it’s also 24 hours with no sleep (the second peak is done in the night, with only a head torch to guide us… so hopefully that one will kind of be like sleepwalking?) but I just plan to stock up on jelly babies, flapjack and a few audio books to tune into if I need distracting. Wish me luck and if you could be ever so kind; donate a few pennies? I’m raising money for Mind; a charity incredibly close to my heart who always need more funding to do their amazing work. I’m only at the half-way mark of my compulsory £550 sponsorship target so even if you only donate the cost of a pint that would still be hugely appreciated! Sponsor me and my legs HERE. If you do, I will be THIS happy and you can see how happy that is!

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All of this gadding about the place in trainers has got me a little sore; so when a different kind of email came round work offering reduced price sports massages; I booked myself in. Imagine my horror when I turned up to my session and the masseuse is a 20 stone body builder, with a body fat ratio of 5%?! He even enters in professional body building competitions and eats 40 eggs a day. it made my jaunts around the park look small fry. It certainly was not what I expected and I was scared he might permanently break me, considering he resembled the incredible hulk. Obviously he didn’t, because he is a professional masseuse, but I sure could feel the work he did for days afterwards!

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Well that’s probably most of the new news for now! I turn 31 on Monday and am quite excited to inch further away from my twenties and into a decade that feels like it’s fitting pretty well. I told someone yesterday that it’s my birthday soon and their response was “well you don’t know how many you have left to celebrate; so enjoy it!” which at the time totally destroyed my feel good celebratory vibes and put me into a bit of a downward mortality-questioning spiral. However, she was right in a way. We are so lucky to have every day, birthday or not, so it’s nice to feel like I’m trying to squeeze the most out of them right now.

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Why is 2015 in such a hurry ey? Maybe it’s because I am planning a wedding and so hyper-aware of the days left to get my bum in gear and organise things are speeding past in a blur of well… doing everything but organising things. I just can’t believe that it’s mid February, that the days are getting long and that things in April (like my next dress fitting) suddenly seem uncomfortably close rather than dark distant days!

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I feel like this gorgeous Hello Dodo tee-shirt sums up my general life-vibe lately. Bear with me; I’m trying my best to be good and enthused about all the things but occasionally I just have to take a day like today where I sack every thing and everyone off and am still in my PJs at 4pm, intending to make the most active thing I do changing into a fresh pair when bedtime rolls around. Anyway! I am really keen to share with you a really neat thing I did in London lately. My friend Ianthe writes for the BA High Life in-flight magazine and got in touch a few weekends ago to see if Nick & I wanted to accompany her, along with some of Nick’s other uni buddies, to a “locked room mystery”. A few Googles later and I realised that there a craze sweeping well… the world, which London is actually a little late to the scene on. The craze actually started in 2007, when in Japan there was a sweep of turning simple point and click computer games into a physical challenge, that took place in a locked room. The participant would only be able to leave the room once the challenge had been successfully completed. This soon became so popular that the trend was picked up and soon “escape the room” adventures were popping up across Asia, Australia and Europe.

So, this led to me finishing an uneventful work Monday in January and making my way to an anonymous looking door in the city, near Bank station. The first challenge was to locate the entrance to Escape Hunt; the only signage being a small logo next to the doorbell. After plummeting 3 flights of stairs into the bowels of London, we were met by an enthusiastic lady dressed as a sort of sexy Sherlock Holmes (!) who introduced herself to us as our Games Master. We were pretty swiftly taken to a door and the process of what lay ahead of us was explained. The building contained various themed mysteries; our mystery to crack that night was the called “The Artists Bedroom”. In the bedroom we would fine an artist had been brutally murdered; and we would have exactly one hour from the second we entered the room to work through various codes, clues and puzzles in order to solve the crime. For the duration of the hour, our Games Master would be watching us on CCTV. If at any point we got stuck; we could phone her for a clue. However! This was discouraged because every time we phoned for help; we would lose a minute from the countdown clock. If at any point she felt like we were taking too long, she could phone us with a hint to keep us on track. We deposited all of our worldly belongings in a locker outside and were quickly hustled into a small infra-red lit room and the door slammed with an electronic click. We were totally locked in and we needed to get a wriggle on to escape…

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In case you are planning to take part in Escape Hunt I won’t give too many spoilers about the mystery itself, because that’s obviously the best bit. Once in the room, there were various different types of tasks; from reading music, to maths, to word games to picking up on subtle clues within the room. We also had to basically turn everything within the four walls upside down in order to find keys, padlocks, hidden laminated hints and NOTHING was what it seemed (for example an innocuous looking wardrobe ended up being a door into an Alice in Wonderland style set of smaller and smaller rooms beyond it). The main theme, cheesy as it is, was team work. We quickly figured out that unless we organised who was focussing on what and where, we didn’t have a hope of getting past the first hurdle. It’s also unbelievable how quickly an hour can flit past once you are racing against the clock. In the end, we had to phone ole sexy Sherlock three times for a helping hand, and she phoned us once… and we cracked the crime with 7 minutes to spare! Afterwards we got to celebrate by a) being freed from our locked room prison and b) dressing up in tweed and posing at a photo-booth with various Baker Street appropriate props.

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I cannot recommend Escape Hunt enough. It brings every childhood Crystal Maze fantasy to life! (Except not getting to go in the glass box and grab gold and silver tokens, wah) It was SO much fun! There seem to be endless iterations of escape adventures popping up across the capital at the moment, with Hint Hunt  and Clue Quest amongst them. I’ve chatted to colleagues who have been to other versions and I feel like perhaps the other companies might be a little slicker; with more maths/code based tech-y type challenges. I’m not going to lie; ours was pretty hammy! And the theme was definitely steeped in detective stories, clues and observation skills; which I’d definitely prefer over anything too tech based. The Sherlock stuff and the very low budget props in the room definitely made it clear that the money had gone into the CCTV set up, central location and working out the room riddles themselves. I guess it’s down to preference; so do a bit of research of what’s available where before you buy your tickets. That said, we found the slightly low-budget-ness really charming and a good ice breaker once locked into a teeny tiny room as a group of five. There really wasn’t much I would have changed about the experience; and we were all completely high on it afterwards! It was so rare to be that focussed on something for an entire hour; with the worries of work, life and London completely vanished. In such an intense environment, with a team relying on you, it was impossible to let your mind wonder. I’m already obsessed with taking as many different groups of friends as possible; as it’s such a good alternative to a night down the pub or an expensive dinner somewhere. I also feel competitive with my former self already, and desperate to get back in a locked room in an attempt to get out of it in a quicker time. One final thing to note is that ironically, I am quite claustrophobic (can’t go in lifts, but totally fine in tubes – to give you an idea of the size of my triggers) therefore the concept of being locked in a tiny room had my heart pit-pattering. That said, as I mentioned in my 2015 resolutions, I am trying to keep my anxiety in check and was determined not to let it stop me taking part in something that sounded so fun. As it turned out, the Games Master was SO understanding and gave me a couple of reassurances such as the fact she was watching the whole time and I could just wave to the camera to be let out. So if small spaces give you the fear, don’t let it put you off this amazing experience!

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What else has been occurring? Last weekend I zoomed up north to catch up with my friends and family, and take a bit of a London brain-break. I spent the Saturday in Leeds with my mum. I lived in Leeds for 5 years, so was amazed that she could show me something that had remained a completely hidden treasure the whole time I was resident there; luckily after a bit of research I realised it had only opened once I had left the city, so feel a bit less sad about the missed opportunities to while away some hours there. This most marvellous marvel is the Leeds Art Gallery Cafe and it’s certainly one of the most beautiful spaces I have ever seen, including every where I have visited on my world travel tour. It was originally a Victorian reading room for Leeds library, but fell into disrepair. In 2007 a huge project saw the hideous 60s shelving torn down and the tiled room restored to its former glory. There are wall to wall green decorative tiles, huge marble arches, gold globed roof detailing and floor to ceiling windows letting in beautiful light shafts. It’s honestly breath taking when you step foot inside, and worth going just to see in person. That said, the tea and cakes (and the company) were pretty great too.

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I slept at Becca’s house on the Saturday night. Myself and her other two bridesmaids drank pink wine and ate noodles and nattered away until we realised it had gone 2am. The next day I had a slightly hazy cross-Yorkshire mission to get to visit another friend, Annette, so Becca drew me a handy map to get me on my way. Please note her use of the word snicket which is such a Bradfordism that I am proud to say I haven’t let London knock out of me.

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This weekend was Valentines Day and although we hadn’t planned to do anything ~special~; actually one of the most romantic things we could do happened. We went to the town hall and gave our official Notice of Marriage. Nick had been saying all week that he thought we’d be separated and interrogated and asked hard Mr & Mrs style questions about each other. I was shaking my head and saying that sounded like something he’d seen in a movie and would definitely not happened. But sure enough, we made our way to the registrars room and within a couple of minutes had sent me packing to a chair outside whilst Nick had to give my occupation, full name and date of birth. Phewf! We had to switch up and then I did the same. Even though I knew all the answers, I found myself stuttering and stumbling because it felt like an oral GCSE exam or something pesky like that. Luckily we passed with flying colours (actual quote!) and we are now legally set to become an actual real life grown up married couple. Wow! This got us into the Valentines spirit so we decided to celebrate “Kanken-tines Day” instead (previous love letter to Kankens HERE) and head to one of our favourite little nooks of East London – The Brokedown Palace where we picked up some new Fjall Raven Joy. I also got myself the most amazing pair of socks that I have refused to remove since. After years of Primarks finest, I never new socks could feel this way! Toasty, cosy and the perfect temperature, I feel like I might have spoilt me feet for ever and might need to throw away every other pair I own.

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My name’s Bee and I’m a dress-aholic. Don’t get me wrong; I am not stating this to claim any sort of fashionista status, but more to confess that I actually find dressing up easier than dressing down. When faced with the bleary eyed pre-7am task of rooting through my wardobe, I inevitably sway towards my rack of dresses. Come summer or winter, it is just so much easier to pull on a single item and be instantly fixed up! I can then use any remaining early morning smarts to match it with one of my rainbow of cardigans or chuck on a couple of accessories. Whilst this sounds lazy; it usually ends up looking smarter than if I spend ages battling a jeans, shirt, jumper, trainer marathon outfit ensemble.

Prior to this year, I had never really thought of shopping in George at ASDA for dresses. The main barrier was that I don’t have an ASDA near me (Mozzas4lyfe) and despite being an online shopping fan, hadn’t ever thought of checking out their fashion offering. However as I write this blog I remembered that when I was 15 I had a school Christmas disco to attend and my mum took me to ASDA to buy my dress and even thinking about it now gives me tingles. It was a red tunic style dress (boy was I bolshy and brave, I wouldn’t opt for red these days) with lacey material over the top. I loved it so much that I styled it up after the disco by wearing it over a long sleeved black tee-shirt and flared jeans on a near-daily basis for about an ACTUAL year afterwards. So, it’s kind of nice that after living the same amount of years as my first George at ASDA dress (!) I am rediscovering them.

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So, this year my oldest school friend Becca is getting married and I am super honoured to be a bridesmaid. Luckily enough I get to return the favour a mere few months after her big day. I love thinking how if you’d told us when we were swapping notes in class and whispering in the playground at the age of 10 that we’d be getting married in the same year, and that year would be 2015, our kiddie minds would have been actually blown. Anyway, I digress, and the point is that Becca’s bridesmaid dresses are from…. George at ASDA. And they are GORGEOUS. I won’t spoiler too much here, but they are Audrey Hepburn cute little 50s frocks with pockets and perfectly flicky skirts. That said, I haven’t yet tried mine on, because the snow up north over Christmas quashed my plans of popping to Beccas for a dress up session (which I am slightly relieved about considering just how many Guylian sea shells I managed to consume over the festive period) I know this is a rambly explanation but bear with me! The bridesmaid dresses had sold out, so Becca wanted me to order another dress of a similar style from George to check it fitted ok. I logged on, thinking (terrible… forgive me ASDA!) that I would order any old thing, try it on, and send it back. Instead I found it super hard to even choose from the selection of lovely dresses and then ordered this floral beaut that will do perfectly for a snazzy work gala dinner I’m attending later this year. Sorted!

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In that weird way the world works, just a day later the lovely Lucy at George contacted me to say they wanted to gift me a dress and bag to share on the blog and wax lyrical about how dressing up is not just for the festive season. (It’s not!) What a twist of fate! Being extremely familiar with the dress selection I opted for this gorgeous brush-stroke effect dress. The pattern reminds me of abstract palm trees, and I desperately need an injection of summer in my life, and I am also really into the midi length at the moment. Too many of my dresses have gone down the route of being washed too many times and turning into X-rated bum skimmers. With a nice midi option, there is no risk of accidentally sharing my ass cheeks with the office, a fact which everyone will surely be grateful.

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(Can we take a moment to discuss my chubby elbows?! I guess you never really look at your own elbows, as that’s physically impossible, but wow. I didn’t realise they were actually dimpled like little smiley faces!)

The dress feels really versatile, whilst I love it with tights and boots and a blazer for a smarter office wear look; I think it’ll be great with sandals for some smart summer roaming too.

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I selected a beautiful croc textured & pink satchel big enough to fit all the bits and bobs I need for work in; which is pretty hefty. I then realised that I have basically committed a lifestyle blogger CRIME, in that I have never, not ever, done a “What’s In My Bag” post, despite the fact I devour them whole when posted by anyone else. So, for your noseying pleasure, let’s have a look at what’s lurking in my shiny new satchel:

1. Wallet: I take after my mum in needing the worlds largest purse to store the important stuff like bank card and driving license; but also my 1000 loyalty cards for everywhere I have ever eaten or drunk ever. There is also some random bits like my oyster card (aka all-my-money-sucker) a swatch of the fabric for my bridesmaid dresses (ee!) and some lovely photobooth photos from my two times in Vegas.

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2. Kindle & Book: Working in publishing I now have a reading list as long as my arm. This means that I constantly carry three forms of books; kindle (where I can save manuscript PDFs), a physical book and audio, as I subscribe to Audible on my phone. During the day I usually switch between all three at some point. At the moment I am listening to “The Woman Who Stole My Life” by Marian Keyes, which is my first Marian Keyes novel and I’m excited to see what all the fuss is about having really enjoyed all the interviews and blogs I’ve read of hers. I’m trying to broaden what I read (/hear?) this year, as it’s important, now more than ever, that I am familiar with a real range of authors, titles and genres. I am reading “What She Left” by T. R. Richmond; which is an exciting proof copy as the book isn’t released until April (I still get geekily giddy about these!) and is told through a really unusual approach to fiction in that it is all written via compiled diary entries, social media posts and letters. There is no straight narrative prose. Finally, on my kindle I am reading The Amber Fury by Natalie Haynes and All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. I’m a quarter through each and should probably stick to one and finish it… but I feel like they both require me to be in a certain brain space to tackle the tricky topics in each. My kindle case was a Christmas present to myself from Klevercase as Great Gatsby is my favourite book. Considering my kindle is 2 years old and has travelled around the world and back; getting covered in sand, sweat and sea… I’m so impressed that it’s still battling on and am currently awaiting the liney screen of doom any day!

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3. Mustard Moleskin: I keep notes in lots of places; in Evernote, To Doist and my actual notebook. I find having numerous places to tick tasks off makes it more likely I’ll do at least a few…

4. Vaseline: For a short, sweet period of time vaseline did an amazing “Queen Bee” honey branded tin. I should have loaded up because I instantly lost mine. The old fashioned label cocoa butter one is a runner up favourite though.

5. Pad lock & Underwater Headphones: I always have these odd objects on my person because I go swimming twice a week. The padlock is for my gym locker, and the underwater headphones have revolutionised my laps because now I can do it whilst listening to The National and Taylor Swift, and therefore never getting bored!

 6. Washi tape: Because you NEVER know when youre going to need to get crafty!

Okay so nothing earth shatteringly secret lurking in there, but even if there was you wouldn’t be able to find it beneath the 1,0000 kirby grips.

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In the last week London has turned Arctic; and I’ve been frantically unearthing all my thermals (last worn in the ANDES!) and every piece of faux fur I own. Because I haven’t had a proper UK winter in 2 years, I am still enjoying the novelty of proper British weather; that sleety frozen rain that fills every crevice with cold and soggyness, or the air so frosty that on my walk into work – the section of scarf I have nearest my mouth has actual ice crystals on it by the time I take it off. I’ve mainly been using the cold front as an opportunity to wear my ridiculous jumper collection, and tuck up under the duvet reading about mountain disasters… because no matter how chilly it is here, I know I’m never going to be as cold as alpine mountaineers stuck up Everest at -27 degrees getting frost bitten faces.

 

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Last weekend we had my future in-laws staying for the weekend; so rather than wallowing about reading, I was forced out of my duvet cocoon and into full on hostess mode. Luckily Sue and Nigel are the easiest, cheeriest guests around and they had a very clear itinerary of what they would like to see in London. I do love having guests to London, because otherwise I stick to the same local treasures and favourite well-worn spots. I rarely make the most of the galleries, exhibitions and museums right on the door step. Our first stop on the tour was the Imperial War Museum. Nick & I visited the museum in Manchester last year and it was an incredible experience; so we had high hopes for the London version which had recently re-opened with a whole WW1 gallery. I suppose when deciding what museum in London to potter around for a few hours, the topic of war might not be high on everyones list and places such as the Natural History or Science museum might feel more tempting. To be honest, had I been left to my own devices, I might have been lured towards a nicer offering; so I’m really grateful that the Horton’s infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on me, as it is by far the best museum exhibit I have ever been to.

 

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Just one tip about the Imperial War Museum; you will never get through it all in one day! We took nearly three hours just to see the first floor. Part of this was because we went on the busiest day of the week, but part of it was the density and detail that there is to immerse yourself in. I did learn about the Great War at school, but in terms of my knowledge of world history, my brain is far more filled with facts about WW2 and the Nazis (talking of which… if you didn’t see The Eichmann Show on the BBC this week you absolutely MUST catch it on iPlayer. It is one of the most moving pieces of television I have ever seen; ever.) The Great War is also the entirely new gallery, so that was where we decided to spend our afternoon. I don’t exactly know what I expected, but the gallery was curated to perfection. There is a total mix of visuals, design, haunting quotes, video, audio and artefacts. The gallery takes you from pre-war and the tension build up, right through the war, and onto the build up on WW2. The refreshing element to the experience is that it isn’t just focussed on soldiers or the British. The gallery really brings to life how war affected everyone from children, to women, to men (both in and out of the army) and to people in pretty much every corner of the world.

Unbelievably, given the subject matter, there are some real moments of light relief or curious ingenuity – such as a video depicting how the soldiers in the Somme came up with the idea to build fake “bombed out” trees that they turned into look out points. Despite being entirely man made, to a German soldier looking over the battlefield, they never once realised they were in fact being spied on by the enemy from this innocuous part of the “natural” landscape. Another aspect that tickled me, was how very British the approach to war was; in that when soldiers were battling for their lives in the trenches – a priority was still to keep hold of their special army edition shaving kit and ensure that they were clean shaven and immaculately turned out where possible.

 

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Obviously, an awful lot of the gallery is devastating to take in. We all agreed afterwards, as silly as it sounds, that we felt like we had just lived through the war ourselves. The optimism and patriotism when war broke out is palpable; with men desperate to go to fight and represent their country. As the war goes on, and on, and on… the loss of lives reaches epic proportions and modern warfare catches everyone off guard with the introduction of gas, tanks and modern weaponry. The gallery was peppered with quotes from senior army officials at how “barbaric” the fighting was and how “un-gentlemanly and un-chivalrous” the war was turning out to be. It was quite a surreal experience to spend hours learning about every detail of the war, and dealing with all the harrowing emotions that came from being placed right in the centre of it… all whilst still being surrounded by hundreds of people taking the same journey. It’s such an important journey to take though, so I thoroughly recommend it to anyone in or visiting London.

 

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& Now for something completely different! An event that really cheered up the gloomy grey days this week was a very generous delivery from Apple Yard Flowers. One of my new years resolutions, that I didn’t list in my epic round up here , is to take more care of my little flat. The flat is pretty dinky, so never really gets messy as we wouldn’t physically be able to move, but I have got a little lazy at putting up art on the walls and generally making it feel as us and sanctuary-like as possible. Part of my resolution was to invest in decent fresh flowers for the flat every couple of weeks; as they make such a difference to our front room AND my mood! So my discovery of Apple Yard couldn’t have come at a better time. Full disclosure >> they invited me to select a bouquet from their Valentines Flowers range to receive for free (yipee) in exchange for an honest review of their flower delivery service.

 

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It was tough to choose from the Valentines selection, but in the end it was the Mimi Eden Roses that stole my heart. On delivery day, I was really impressed that the flowers arrived in a huge box (about half the size of me!) where the blooms were well wrapped up between giant bubble wrap and with the base in a special portable tub of water to keep them fresh. It reassured me of something that has previously made me apprehensive of delivery flowers; that the would just be heaped in a pile in the back of a van getting all wilted and bashed about! The bouquet itself was a generous bunch of at least 25 pink & white rose buds, in various states of unfurling. These were propped up in a bed of Buplerum and Hard Ruscus, creating a really stunning look. It’s amazing how many skills you accidentally learn when entering the wild world of wedding planning and suddenly finding yourself creating bouquet “looks” on pinterest. I know loads about foliage and green and what goes with what these days! Prior to this, I think I honestly would have thought buplerum was some sort of cocktail.

 

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I really can’t fault the flowers or the service. They arrived in beautiful condition and bought a real twinkle to my front room for over a week. I can’t tell you how much my mood lifted every time my eyes tracked from the drizzly dull view back to my beautiful bright flowers. It’s definitely reinforced in my head that it’s worth spending a little more on flowers that last, rather than shove a bunch in my trolley on a Morrisons dash and then be surprised when they are manky and mouldy after a few days! My only baby bug bear was that I should have picked something that didn’t need quite such love and care as roses. With roses you really need to chop a decent wedge off the stems and remove the lower leaves when they arrive (which I did… prickly business) but they then really do need the process repeating a few days in. Unfortunately work and winter whisked in and I never did get time, which meant the roses started to brown and fade at the edges. I think they could have lasted a little longer if I had paid them a little more Valentines care and attention, so if you are after something a little lower maintenance then I’d opt for a different bouquet.

 

Apple Yard have very kindly offered me a discount code to share with you all; which entitles you to 40% off all of their beautiful bouquets. The discount code is BLOG40, so please do treat yourself (you totally deserve it) or someone who deserves a special delivery. I am absolutely in LOVE with this “Nutmeg” bouquet (how sweet are the little daisies?!) so perhaps I need to drop some poorly disguised hints for Nick to use my blog discount code for a surprise Valentines present… Ha! Can you see this being the start of an addiction? I’m officially a flowerzilla.

 

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I’ve already done a bit of a look back at 2014 aka the biggest year of my life but every year (2013 here, 2014 here) I write some resolutions which I inevitably don’t stick to but really help me look back over my year and structure a bit of a misty mulled brain review of what I’ve been up to. This time last year I hadn’t updated this blog since September as I had been busily seeing the world and tapping away on Twentysomething Burnouts but as we holed up in a hotel in Panama City and recovered from our most traumatic travel moment I snuck down to the “business office” and did a sole post from Latin America. I’m in a different (way comfier) place this year as I sit writing this in my PJs, with a giant mug of tea, a fiance curled up next to me and in my own little treehouse flat; full and content from a week of port, fondue, friends, family and wintry walks.

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2014 Resolution Recap

01. Read 52 books I think a hefty combination of events has conspired to make this the year that I will read the most books in my ENTIRE life! This year I didn’t just read a book a week as I aimed, I read 74 books in total! Crikey. You can see the full list here – thanks GoodReads for the lovely layout! Travelling for the first 3 months of the year spiked the number I could rattle through, with long journeys and endless need for distraction whilst waiting around sketchy bus stations and without pesky things like full-time work getting in the way. Then when pesky full-time work did come along… It was in publishing! Which means that not only do I now read for fun, but I read for work, and luckily most of the time I enjoy both kinds. There have been some incredible releases this year, plus I have discovered new authors and books that have been floating around for years but only surfaced into my brain this year and this led to some classic Bee-book behaviour where I then buy or download every single thing by that person and devour it as if they might vanish from my life again. Here are some of my 5*/top reads.

Dublin Murder Squad Series – Tana French
Somehow Tana French had passed me by; despite the fact that the first book in this Dublin Murder Squad series (Into The Woods) came out embarrassingly in 2007. Since then, there have been five books in the series and each one is told from the perspective of a different detective from within the Murder Squad, working on a different case. After reading Into The Woods at the start of November and really enjoying it, within moments of finishing the last paragraph I downloaded the rest to my kindle and Tana French was basically the ONLY thing I read in November! I am actually so happy that I read the books in this binging-fashion however because the same characters crop up and there are lots of bold, then more subtle, links between each novel and knowing my inability to retain tiny details; these would have been absolutely lost on me if I’d read the books as and when they were released.

It’s hard to choose, but I think I most enjoyed The Likeness where Detective Cassie Maddox is contacted after the body of a woman is found murdered and whose identity is none other than… Lexie Madison, a former alias that Cassie herself created when she was working as an undercover agent. In a slightly paranormal twist; the body also looks identical to Cassie. Attempting to discover more about this mystery unknown and now dead twin; Cassie goes undercover again and lives with Lexie’s university housemates to try to discover what on earth happened and who killed her (but not her). There was just a hint of Secret History about the dynamic between the students and their outsider cliquey life. All the other books are told via male narrators, and despite the characters all being layered and different, they can slide into slightly blokey territory. With The Likeness I enjoyed the female slant and perspective; Cassie’s behaviour and responses felt the most authentic to me of all the Detectives. That said, I really warmed to Detective Frank Mackey in Faithful Place, and my favourite storyline by far was Broken Harbour.

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How To Be Both – Ali Smith 
I strongly believe that the less you know about this book in advance, the better, so no spoilers here… or much information at all. I’ve been a lifelong Ali Smith fan and feel that her writing has grown up with me, and been such a comfort at various points in my life. With that in mind I was frothing at the mouth with excitement at a new release, and wasn’t at all disappointed. The book is printed in two entirely different ways; so that the reader will be met with the story Eyes first, followed by Camera OR Camera followed by Eyes. One story is slightly harder to get into but more rewarding. One is contemporary, one set in the past. That said, there are so many themes that thread between them, that at no point does it feel like two individual books. There are really only two things to say -1. Read it! and 2. No one describes falling in love better than Ali. “Cause all I could think of all that week was flowers for breath and flowers for eyes and mouths full of flowers, armpits of them, the back of knees, laps, groins overflowing with flowers and all I could draw was leaves and flowers, the whorls of roses, the foliage dark.”

The Lazarus Prophecy – F G Cottam
F G Cottam features in every reading round-up I’ve ever done. He’s one of my must-read authors. Previously I would have said must-read “horror/spooky” authors but with his latest release (and recent branching out into Young Adult/Super-Natural) I think it’s clear he is so much more than that. The Lazarus Prophecy is an ambitious new take on the Jack The Ripper mystery; set between a Victorian and contemporary London. The book opens with London left in the wake of a string of murders of women in the space of a few weeks. The killer seems to be targeting high profile victims who exist in the public eye and leaving behind clues in long dead languages. DCI Jane Sullivan leads the investigation supported by an ensemble cast of experts spanning religion, history and crime… but it quickly becomes unclear who can she really trust as she faces a race against time to avoid becoming a victim herself. This is by far my favourite Cottam novel and so ambitious, yet executed with precision and intricacies that make re-reading (and re-reading again) as enjoyable as the first time. I sound like a broken record (see Tana French above) but it was so refreshing to read a strong female lead; especially as the story revolves around horrific violence and violation of women. The strength and intelligence of the majority of women featured really offset that becoming an uncomfortable read; which I feel it might have if the protagonist was male. Cottam really captures the enchantment of old and new London and how they sit side by side; something that as a London dweller I am in awe of on a daily basis. I learnt some really fascinating London facts about places like Bedlam as an aside to it being a great read! I say this was an ambitious project because not only is a thrilling page-turner, it touches on some very relevant current issues such as religion, race, the vulnerability of the UK and the state of confusion around politics and beliefs. I am now extra keen to ensure that this year I take a trip to the Royal London Hospital Museum to see the famous “From Hell” letter in person.

I also really enjoyed Hawthorn & Child, The Rental Heart and The Broken (reviews here) and The Goldfinch, Hangover Square, The Shock of The Fall, Burial Rights, The Gospel of Loki, Disgrace and Apple Tree Yard.

My biggest WTF was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Clearly I am the only person in the world to feel this way, given its rave reviews, but I just couldn’t abide it. I actually resented the time of my life spent reading it, and wish I could claim it back!

Finally, and I know it’s not a book, but like 99% of the world this year I got massively into SERIAL. I can’t remember the last time I felt the infectious addiction around the next instalment for anything; not TV, film or books. I love This American Life, but Serial really tapped into that event feeling of a shared experience and I found myself seeking out fellow listeners wherever I could (including once on the tube!) and picking over the facts and story over and over and never getting bored. It really served as a gateway into re-kindling my love for audio and listening; that seems to have been buried for a few years. I REALLY should have re-kindled the audiobook love before I did a ton of 20/30 hour coach journeys, rather than after, hey? Now I am armed with an Audible subscription and the Librivox app; ready to keep me company on my long walks to work.

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02. Re-learn to drive. FAIL! To re-cap on this, I passed my test first time when I was 17, then enjoyed a few years of driving around Yorkshire like a maniac, often dinking the car then attempting to blame my dad (sorry dad). I adored driving but then I moved to London and now I have been here nearly 9 years and not driven once. I had grand plans that 2014 would be my year to re-learn but then Nick went and popped the question, and money that might have been spent on something boring like a car is now being squirrelled away for way more fun things like Wedding! Party! Honeymoon! I think this is more likely to be a 2016 resolution, when I actually live somewhere that doesn’t have an amazing public transport system (and doesn’t have eye watering parking space costs)

03. Stay in touch with travel buddies: Could do better. We met some amazing friends from all over the world during our trip to Latin America, and due to the intensity and other-worldyness of the experiences you go through together; the bonds you make feel unlike anything else. When I was travelling, I felt like my barriers and boundaries were at an all-time low. There is no small talk because everyone you meet is already a kindred spirit in the fact that they happen to be in say… Ecuador at the exact same moment as you. Rather than than talking about careers or small talk, it felt like conversations with travel pals were always much deeper and honest because a) they have no preconceptions of “old me” from my “old life” and b) there was that sense that you may never see the person again so could risk a lot more soul searching. As with so many big thoughts and plots and plans I had whilst travelling; they had to be modified once I was back in the daily grind and day to day living that didn’t just involve hammocks and bug-spotting. Whilst we have stayed closely in touch with the people we made the deepest connections with such as Jordan and Skyler in Galapagos, Beau in Bolivia and Ike in Big Corn – it will be a special year when we see any of these people again face to face to reminisce about the days on the road! We did have one great twist of fate though; Tom the micro brewer from Minnesota that we met in Guatemala popped up over Christmas. My eldest sibling Meg went to Minnesota to visit friends this year so I encouraged them to pop into Tom’s brewery bar and say hey. Unfortunately he was off travelling again (jealous) but Meg did pick me up an amazing Indeed Brewery tee that was presented to me on Christmas Day.

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04. Move to BrightonObviously this didn’t happen, and I think I am on a much better path because of it. Although now “live by the seaside” remains on my bucket list for the foreseeable future.

05. Eat more veggies: Yes and yes; and the purchase of a spirazlier and the discovery of courgetti has meant that I am no longer permanently on the brink of scurvy.

06. Finish knitting my scarf: This is a running blog joke. This will never, ever actually happen.

07. Start a project with Meg: This didn’t happen, but there are plans afoot…

08. See more of my friends and family: Yeah! It has helped being back in the same country as them and not just relying on pixelated Skype calls. The Christmas period was special for catching up with heaps of family, then New Years Eve I hosted a party with some of my absolute dearest friends for whom the stars had aligned to make them all be in London on this one night. We drank prosecco and danced to 90s music, and it was the best start to a year I have ever had.

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09. Get Outdoorsy: Off to a good start with trips to Exmoor and Sweden hiking about the place; we are currently trying to pick somewhere to sneak off to in February for more outdoorsing as we both got new adventure gear over Christmas that we want to put to the test.

09. Apply all the lessons I have learnt travelling to my life back home: I could write a million things here, but for the sake of being short and sweet I wouldn’t say I have managed this, at all. But that isn’t to say I wont.

10. Keep trying new things and pushing myself: Definitely, it’s been a crazy waltzer year with a ton of adapting and being flexible and taking on new challenges. I am certainly barely ever in my comfort zone.

11. Get back in music: Oh so much. This year has been soundtracked by Future Islands, Haim, Boy, Dry The River, Jenny Lewis, Half Moon Run, War On Drugs and I even went to THREE whole gigs – a 300% improvement on 2013.

12. STOP saying “Oh my God”: I think I finally did it. My chat is now peppered with a lot more crikeys and blimeys.

13. Daily Records: This year I turned 30 and I documented it on Instagram with a photo a day, and my own cheesy hashtag #beeing30. Check out the serious side eye this giant tortoise is giving me!

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2015 Resolutions

01. Deal with my anxiety. I might write a longer blog about this at some point (if that sounds interesting?) but… Worry wart, highly strung, nervous disposition. Call it what you will, I am constantly battling to reign my anxiety in, and it’s exhausting. When I quit my job and travelled to some of the worlds most remote and dangerous countries, you would think I’d have been at my PEAK anxiety right? Wrong! It was such a joy to have day after day after day of clear headed cool as a cucumber living. I think it was almost a flooding effect, where there was so much to potentially worry about (and trust me I did before we left – what if the coach crashes? what if I get bitten by a poisonous spider? what if our tiny plane crashes? what if we get kidnapped? etc etc etc) that I actually just shut down that side of my brain and didn’t worry about any of it. I think most people would be surprised to hear I’m anxious, because I put on quite a good efficient front and in a warped kind of way I think I only am so efficient because I worry and angst and get things fixed. I definitely go through phases of being better than others; but the standard pattern is that I am a) either worrying about something legit such as friend/family problems, work issues or big life stuff or in the absence of these I b) worry about things like yknow, my illness, death, why the hell we are stuck on this planet in the middle of space… It’s ridiculous! I have conversations in my head I know I’ll never dare translate to real life, I get paranoid, I lay awake churning over the same things again and again. So! It’s definitely time to take control and do the things I know alleviate my worrying. Sadly, heading to Latin America again isn’t on the cards so it’s more mindfullness focussed; such as doing meditation at least twice a week (head space app ilu) sticking to regular pilates and basically being kind and admitting that some days I just need to not do everything, perfectly, right now. If any other fellow anxious-types reading this have any hints or tips that work for them please hit me with it!

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02. Sort out my organisational approach I initially wrote “be organised” here, but I am ridiculously organised so that’s not the right way to phrase it. My problem is that I am organised in different ways and places for different areas of my life. For example I use my phone calender and notes sections for some things, paper diaries for others, Evernote for work and I have a nifty anti-bride planner for wedding stuff. But! A colleague at work recently introduced me to ToDoist which I think is finally the solution. I have spent the Christmas break transferring all of my life lists and chores onto it (hello Monica from Friends style fun); with colour coding, different folders and tags for work/home stuff and it’s already making me feel so zen. Planning a wedding (especially a pretty budget DIY one where we are stubbornly doing most of it ourselves) has the potential to become stressful and I really don’t want anything about my wedding to feel stressful; so I think delegation (haha, thanks already to people like Craig aka our Creative Director and Cindy our shout-at-people-and-get-them-to-move-around-er) and organisation is key to stop is becoming a last minute panic. Every day my shiny new To Doist delivers me a synced to-do list on my laptop, Outlook, iPad and phone and I work my way through them. Sometime I put things like take a bath and drink tea just to make sure I tick a decent amount off.

03. Get married. Just a little one. Sometimes I just feel like everything starts and ends with Nick, I’m so in awe of him every single day. I cannot wait to legally stick myself to him forEVERRRR (and of course throw a massive party and wear a nice frock)

04. Read 52 books. I think it might be optimistic to attempt one a week now that I am busier and not on the road; but I’ll give it a try and may just chuck in a few thinner books here and there, as I tend to go for total whoppers.

05. Keep blogging! It’s hard being a greedy guts with two different blogs. I’d like to think most people follow both, but when I’m active on Twentysomething Burnouts I am aware that this blog suffers with periods of radio silence. I actually (shhhh) enjoy writing here as it’s more personal and cathartic, so for the sake of getting ~feelings~ off my chest I need to make sure I still touch in here regularly.

06. Get back into the blogging community. I still read my favourite blogs regularly, but as I am mostly reading them on my phone when sat about somewhere I am dreadful at commenting and sharing the love. I need to set aside a bit more time to do this!

07. Get in shape! What a cliche. Don’t worry, I’m not talking fad diets or anything that involves me buying a ton of January shred type books… but I have eaten so much over Christmas that I didn’t fit into the PJ bottoms that I wore at the start of the holidays! I can’t even look at another crisp, peanut or chocolate. I also have a gym subscription and didn’t enter the gym ONCE in December; oh no actually I went in once to use the vending machine and then left, which says it ALL. I know I’m happier when I’m exercising regularly and when my clothes aren’t on the tighter side, plus I want to feel my most confident on my wedding day (I know, I know) so I’ll be trying to eat more spinach, less cake for 2015. That said, as if I’d EVER give up cheeseburgers, so it won’t all be rabbit food.

08. Drink more water. Why do I hate water? I need to sort this out! I have a pint of the stuff evil eye-ing me right now and I a just thinking WHY ARE YOU NOT AS FUN AS DRINKING A BELLINI.

09. Keep up daily records. I am doing my photo a day thing on Instagram, this year under the even cheesier tag #beeinghorton as it’s the year I become Mrs Horton (how weird is that!) because I enjoyed it so much last year. I also have my Q&A book which I fill out every night, and now that it’s in its 3rd year it’s so interesting to read my answers from previous years and how much my perspectives alter and shift.

10. Go snorkelling again! This was something I never expected to fall in love with but absolutely did. The most peaceful I’ve ever felt in my life was swimming under water with a giant sea turtle brushing against my belly and a giant ray circling over the top of me. I think I might have been a mermaid in a former life (which explains why I am never happier than when I am in the bath. Today I propped the iPad up against the taps and watched 2 hours of The Good Wife whilst my skin went prune-y) Hopefully we will decide on a honeymoon destination that has snorkelling as a potential activity, alongside a lot of chilling out.

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11. Visit my friend in Berlin. My oldest school friend Sarah lives in Berlin and has for 4 years or something ridiculous. Every year I say I’ll visit, every year I fail, and it’s crummy behaviour. So this spring I will put my money where my mouth is and actually make it over there and learn all about what has made the city capture her from me for so long.

12. Send more snail mail. Some of my best friends are scattered all over the world now; and I love nothing more than sending out care packages of british bits and tidbits of news, but am so bad at getting organised enough to do it. Maybe I need a new To Do-ist folder…

13. Climb a mountain. I’m about to join a mountaineering club which is very exciting and feels like something out of Victorian times, attending socials and heading off on some expeditions. I have some great walking boots now and I quite fancy making Snowdon actually happen this summer. Any excuse to eat Kendal Mint Cake!

14. Be kind. To myself and everyone else. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this, even though I try my best. I need to remember to smile at people when I buy my coffee, and when I get into a meeting at work, and remember things people tell me and check in at important times etc.

15. GET A PET! Ok this is more likely to be 2016 but I wanted to make 15 resolutions for 2015 and you never know… it might sneak in as a Christmas present to myself or Nick. Preferably the feline kind.

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As was the case last year, I think what I am most excited about is that I have NO idea what my life will look like this time next year. I’ll be married! ME! Who is this grown up person? We’ll be trying to make a home somewhere for the forever after, build a menagerie of animals and hopefully use our honeymoon(s!!) to see more of the world.

& That’s it. Have you got a resolution? Have you seen any other good bloggers list theirs? I’ve seen a few but I’d love to see more. Roll on 2015, I have a really good feeling about you being sparkly and shiny and super.

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I know every blogger and their dog seems to freak out come autumn; but there is a legitimate reason for that. Autumn is breathtaking! I can’t get enough of scrolling through my Bloglovin’ feed and snooping on page after page of burnt colours and leaf kicking and pumpkin carving and conkers and knitwear. In fact I am lapping it up even more obsessively than usual because last year I skipped town before Autumn hit and my A/W 2013 was spent in, well, sweltering tropical heat. This means I haven’t had an autumn since 2012 and that particular gruesome autumn was mostly spent in and out of hospital, and barely participating. Safe to say I have been refreshing the met-office weather app every day, waiting for temperatures to justify the wool tights, woolly jumpers and COATS (ahh lovely coats!) that have sat unloved and unworn for two years. I’m basically delirious because I just ordered my winter coat. What a big decision and one that I used the entire Daylight Savings hour to mull over with a cuppa.

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Whilst a fair amount of my autumnal adventures have included misty ramblings around and stomping about the leaf sodden streets; yesterday it was time to give my cold ears and nose a break and plan something of the cosier variety. After accidentally spending 3 weekends in a row away from London (a hen do, a wedding, our wedding planning!) I have been so giddy all week at the prospect of an entire weekend to do whatever I wanted. So yesterday I did my annual trip to brave the city centre for some perusing up Oxford Street, window shopping on South Molton Street and to spend some time shoving my nose up to the Selfridge’s Christmas window displays. I had wondered where would be good to grab some brunch or lunch and none of my usual haunts were taking my fancy. I wanted somewhere that felt a bit more special than just grabbing a bacon butty somewhere. I wanted somewhere that wouldn’t be heaving, with a queue out the door (I love you Breakfast Club, but you need to have about 100 more tables!) but that would still have a buzzy atmosphere.

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So, I have a (probably really silly) confession to make, and that is despite the fact I LOVE hotels – this was one of my first ever blog posts – and am aware that in London we are spoilt by the quality and quantity of them; I’ve never thought to head to a hotel restaurant for a meal, if I’m not staying at that hotel. In fact (and this is definitely silly) I wasn’t even sure you were allowed to go to one, if you weren’t staying. So, at the grand old age of 30, I can now share this valuable nugget of information – you are! In fact, it is encouraged! And it is such a great option for exactly my predicament of wanting somewhere to cosy up and while away a weekend in-between shops and scuttling about the streets.

With this new life lesson, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the delightful Fiona to the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill and their restaurant The Montagu to sample their new slant on traditional brunch; an Italian/New York influenced offering that is more of an experience than a meal. Oh, and did I mention it includes unlimited Bellinis? I am such a big fan of the holy Bellini that when I type it in my phone, Syri autocorrects it to caps lock and with three exclamation points which gives a clue as to how many times I must have written BELLINIS!!!

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We had barely stepped foot into The Montagu before a super friendly member of restaurant staff whisked us off by the elbows and toured us around the various treats that laid ahead of us. It was a little bit like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Delicious smells and heaving piles of gorgeous food covered almost every surface surrounding the dining tables. Oh and a lovely man was serenading us on guitar; playing some really haunting covers of blues, swing and jazz classics.

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The first stop-off was the deli counter. To take the edge off any shopping starvation you might have entered with; this is an open plan station packed with cured meets, carpaccio, a giant cheese board, every bread you could dream up and glass mason jars of aubergine, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and picky-bits… and you are left to go WILD. I really liked this element to the brunch because it gave the meal a relaxed, luxurious feeling where it was totally acceptable to eat a bit of deli stuff, then something else, then go grazing for more. There is also a salad bar, where the friendly fellows will whisk you up anything that takes your fancy. I went for a Cobb, because I like my cheese to green ratio on the less-healthy side!

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As we let our first course settle, we were given the exact amount of space to natter and chatter; but we never felt like we’d been forgotten about, as our attentive waiter was either bringing us square slices of piping hot pizza fresh out of the oven (yknow, just to tide us over through all that exhausting story swapping!) or expertly topping up our glasses.

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The main course (you have to love a brunch that has a main course) is a unique offering where we scampered over to a big marble breakfast-bar attached to a vast open plan kitchen, where you can hover around and choose between fresh pastas, pizzas, risotto, steak and salmon. The great thing about the kitchen being right there, is that you have talk to the chefs about what they recommend, you can choose exactly what ingredients you want and then, if you are nosey like me, you can watch them prepare it and try to pick up hints to turn you into a chef too. I had Conchiglie (pasta sea shells to me) with tomato sauce, basil and meatballs. There is something just other-worldly about proper Italian pasta cooked by someone who knows exactly what they are doing! It was actual melt-in-the-mouth good.

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Now anyone who knows me can imagine that despite troughing my way through all of this, I really had my mind and my eye on the prize. The pudding prize! As we entered the restaurant I had already clocked the staggering dessert tray and thought “well I just want everything on that”. Here is a small sample of the choices that faced me:

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After an excessive amount of umming and ahhing, I opted for a slice of NYC style baked cheesecake and a tiramisu; just to be equal opportunities and trying something traditional from both sides of the ocean. The cheesecake was quite simply the best cheesecake I have ever eaten in my life. The vanilla tang, the crunchy super-buttery base and the cake itself being the perfect gooey texture. I feel like I’ll never want to order a cheesecake anywhere else in my life because there is no way it can be that good. The tiramisu was dreamy too; I loved the way it was served in a class tumbler, it means all the boozy coffee liquid had pooled at the bottom and just gave it the most amazing potent flavour. I polished both off in record speed despite being so full already. The pudding belly is a totally different thing right?

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I couldn’t believe it when I realised we had been brunching for almost three hours. We had completely pushed the official brunch-time-limit and passed through lunch and almost into afternoon tea territory. The fact this could happen without even noticing is a testament to the staff and the brunch. I hadn’t known what to expect from brunch at a 5* hotel; and worried it could feel stuffy. Instead, I felt totally relaxed. I absolutely loved the mixture of food you could choose yourself and create exactly what your heart desired, versus the food that the expert chefs could whip up. It meant that the experience felt really special, and like I was made a real fuss of, but it also felt really welcoming and intimate. Everyone we came into contact with was genuinely friendly, chatty and completely focused on making the occasion as dazzling as possible.

I am already trying to look ahead at my calendar of when I can go again; as I only had the stomach-space to try about a quarter of the delicacies on offer. The Montagu Italian meets New York Champagne Brunch is £39 a head; and that includes the unlimited bellini/champagne top ups and as much munch as you can muster. The Montagu also do something amazingly called “Sex & The City Par-Tea” which says it all really. I desperately want to take Lol; as she knows every word of every episode so could entertain me whilst we ate shoe shaped biscuits, by doing a one-woman performance of seasons 1-6! Thank you so much to Fiona and the staff at The Hyatt Regency Churchill and The Montagu for hosting me and treating me to such a marvellous menu.

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On the way out, I mentioned how the cheesecake had been the best I had ever had in my life, and an incredibly generous chap boxed up THREE slices for me to take home and so Nick could try some, rather than have me just describe how amazing it was.

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Now I am back home and whilst it’s great to have an extra hour of weekending, I feel a bit distressed about why there isn’t someone here to constantly top up my glass with BELLINI!!!

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Gosh, after claiming that this time around my London life would be different; inspired by my zen travel times, where yoga and plenty of time to contemplate was a regular feature in my life… crikey have I been busy! I think it’s slightly impossible to press the pause button when living in the big smoke. Especially in the summer! I zoom off to work and when I escape into the sunshine at the end of the day, I can’t wait to take a walk by the river, or go meet friends that I’ve been missing and just really enjoy being completely plonked back into the thick of it. There’s always somewhere new to go, something nice to eat and some bubbles to be drunk. It’s so hard to say no! Those shaky reverse-culture-shock stuttery days have long passed and I’m nose-diving super speed into London living, part 2. That’s not to say it’s all been this way; on the odd night that I do come straight home, I have dissolved into a drooly sleeping mess by 8.30pm (still oh so light outside! childhood me would be outraged that this has become a desirable thing!) because I am still suffering massively from new-girl brain drain.

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When I am at home, I am so happy. It’s lovely to finally have a bit of London that is just ours! As much as we have loved previous house mates, after staying in a different hostel every night for 7 months, it was time to have some privacy. Our flat has really exceeded expectations. Sure it’s fun-size, but it still has everything we need, and plenty of sneak space for hiding junk you don’t want out on display. It’s the third floor flat in a converted terrace, so it feels a little like we are living in a treehouse. Our views are pretty much 90% sky, which is lovely, and every time a big truck or lorry passes a rattle passes through. At first I felt like I was about to topple out, but now I’ve got used to them I quite like the daily mini earthquakes! It’s strange to think this time last year I was working in Cannes, with the unknown of travelling and this mammoth life change all ahead of me.

Anyway! What has been keeping me such a busy Bee? Well one thing I have to share, is that a couple of weeks ago one of my loveliest friends Oli celebrated his birthday by inviting a gang of us to the Barbican. We took part in tour that was based around the Barbicans’ Brutalist Architecture. I confess, before rocking up, I had to do a quick Google of “what the heck is brutalist architecture” (read: am I going to have pain inflicted on me during the tour) and the quick answer is no. Brutalism was a fragmented movement in architecture that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, perhaps as a post-war reaction to some of the frivolity in the architecture of the 30s/40s. Brutalism isn’t as bleak as it sounds; it just reflects the lack of bells and whistles in the look of these buildings. They are very functional, often with a dominance of concrete and rather than hiding them; the architects express in the external elevations the functions, people-flows and general bits that are usually kept hidden. Some famous examples are Park Hill in Sheffield, Western City Gate in Belgrade and the J Edgar Hoover Building in Washington.

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We totally lucked out with the weather for our tour. It was warm enough to lig about in the cold for two hours (you definitely get your moneys worth on this excursion) and the sky treated us to pinky, golden, magic hour hues for the whole time. It was as if the Barbican was really putting on a show of just how beautiful it can be. Our tour guide was a super enthusiastic Irish academic, who wore an amazing batman cape-like coat and stomped around in big clompy heels, whilst blowing our minds with facts, figures and LOTS of secrets. The first thing she was keen to inform us, is that there is a misconception that the Barbican was created as a council housing estate (something I certainly thought was true). The architects who created the Barbican did work previously on a council estate just up the road, but the Barbican certainly wasn’t built as one. In fact, it was built to attract city-types and yuppies! As during the time it was built, there was a huge housing crisis and a demand for more professional housing close to the centre of London. That isn’t to say it didn’t serve the community though; there was a YMCA, a library, a girls school and a church within the estate.

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In my head, I wondered how much more there would be to learn, as I naively thought that in my 7 years a Londoner “I’ve been to the Barbican loads of times”. I’ve actually only really visited the Arts Centre, and briefly scuttled to and from the tube station. What I hadn’t realised what how vast the Barbican estate is. Our wise-owl tour guide told us to start thinking of it less as a building, and more as a town. It houses over 4000 people; which is actually half of the City of London’s population. We started off taking a good look at the bit EVERYONE knows about… the famous towers. They are so dizzyingly magnificent up-close; no matter how you feel about the marmite aesthetic. At the time of being built, they were the tallest building in Europe. Something I found remarkable, is that despite having slightly different heights (2 towers are 43 floors, 1 is 44 floors) they are identical in every other way. When you view them from the ground, this fact seems impossible! They all look totally different angles, directions and shapes. Our guide informed us that the architects did this on purpose, and it’s one of the most amazing feats of the architecture.

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Something that was instantly noticeable on the tour was the quiet. Sitting smack in the centre of London, surrounded by chaotic rush hour hustle and bustle, at most parts of the Barbican all there was to hear was peace and tranquillity. This is another feat of design; with the architects focussing on sound-proofing the Barbican by building it raised high above the streets and noise. This also gives more opportunity for light and views to trickle in to every bit of the estate. We trailed around the nooks and crannies of the residential areas, and peered enviously at the secret gardens and secluded jungle-like patches that are nestled between the buildings. These are private so we couldn’t go in (I need to make friends with a Barbican resident stat) but our guide assured us that they are so sprawling that once inside, you feel like you could be in the middle of Hampstead heath!

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This is an original map from when the Barbican was first built, and it lists the Museum of London as “building in progress”! I think the map is an example of one of the key perks of paying for a guided tour, as this is something you could so easily march past without paying the slightest bit of attention to. I have previously thought the rather dingy subway style tunnels around the Barbican were quite intimidating, but our tour guide laughed that off, claiming there has never been a street-crime on the Barbican estate so it’s safer than basically anywhere else in London. I need to remember to head there next time I’m drunkenly staggering about after a night out. (What am I saying, I am 30 now, and definitely don’t partake in those shenanigans anymore!) Something I found quite sad as we walked around this incredible chunk of London history; is over half of the flats look un-lived in. Curtains closed, blank window faces, ghost town exterior (I think we saw 2 residents, max). Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t empty and up for grabs – sadly – they are just second homes. They are city crash pads or a novelty piece of real estate. I guess that’s actually in-line with the market they were initially aimed at, but I found it quite sad that they don’t get sold to the tenants who’d love every second of the experience but aren’t necessarily the wealthiest.

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I’m sure the question on your lips is… Is the Barbican Brutalist (!) and the answer is well, no, not exactly. See that photo above? After using concrete on the whole estate, which is dead easy, the nuts architects then decided they wanted to add the texture that you can see in this close-up. So, they created that texture using a hand held machine. Yup, on every millimetre (even the high bits!) of this sprawling monster of a creation. Pretty fiddly really, and not quite in line with the anti-ornate simplicity of Brutalism. And now you know! At the end of the tour, raring for more and not wanting to leave, we were snuck into a very secret plant room. This was the most exciting bit, as we headed deeper into the Barbican underbelly. Down in the dank dingy darkness, we could see a patch of wall where the architects sampled different looks for the finish of the building. Fun fact: they gave serious thought to covering the whole lot in white marble! You can still see the sample of it there today.

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I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. Versions of this tour run on a pretty regular basis all year round; you can book your tickets here.

And now for something completely different! Saturday 7th June had been a date engrained on my brain for a pretty long time. Whilst I was travelling, someone I missed horrifically was my gal pal and bridesmaid extraordinare Kate aka Kasia Basia. Epic emails were exchanged, attempted Skype calls melted into frustrating pixels and darth vadar voices, and we generally pined a lot for each other. When Craig came over to meet us in Guatemala he bought me a letter from Kate, and inside was a IOU note saying she had bought us tickets for Arcade Fire in June. At the time, sat in a sticky sweaty Guatemalan hostel and off the back of 5 months of living in the wild, my brain could barely process the information. Gigs? Was that something I did? I was so disconnected from my “old life” and found the whole thing almost impossible to imagine. All I remember thinking was “I’ll have to travel up to Brighton for that” (when in reality I had a 20 min tube journey home). Anyway home we came and the date rolled around, and it had extra special meaning given that it was so loaded with travel memories and was a really special celebration of being back together. So special, I had to wear my new Twin Peaks nerd dream tee-shirt.

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The gig had a whole other layer of nostalgia, as it was at Earls Court which is due for demolition in the probably not too distant future. Gigs there tend to be a bit pricey, so realistically Arcade Fire is the last time I’ll step foot in there. Emotions were riding high! The support was stellar; Lorde and a DJ set by 2 Many DJs, who were joined on stage by an amazing human mirror ball man.

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I last saw Arcade Fire on the Neon Bible tour in 2007, the gig was at Alexandra Palace, it was pouring with rain and I trecked all the way there from Streatham. I knew they were fantastic, and liked them enough, but in the past 7 years they really have taken on a pretty iconic position in my favourite-music charts. Every album so perfectly encapsulates the time of my life it was released. I was so happy to be there with Kate who I know feels exactly the same. I had been apprehensive about the gig for two reasons. The first was that it was in such a mega dega venue, and we’d be sharing the gig with over thousands upon thousands of other people. I quite like to be near the front and in the heart of the action at gigs, but I knew that wouldn’t be an option here (as we were too busy tucking into pizza and chugging wine and nattering to bother queuing for early entry). I also thought I might get a bit irritated by annoying crowd etiquette ignorers and hooligans. Secondly; (shhh) I don’t exactly love the new album. In fact, I pretty much don’t like. So there was that…

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Luckily, my fears were unfounded. From the first beat of the first track, Kate and I were completely in our own world of Arcade Fire joy. We carved out a decent sized dance floor, marked it with our empty pint glasses (top gig tip) and then bounced about madly, arms slung around each other and crooning along every lyric. It’s such an exhilarating experience when you see a band you truly love. The memories attached to each song seemed so much stronger and more powerful live, than when I listen to them on my commute or during a bedroom private disco (everyone has those, right?). Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) reminds me of Lol so much. I was lucky enough to have a best friend who worked at Virgin Megastore (RIP) and therefore we got into every weird, eclectic and obscure band that came along thanks to her work discount and impeccable taste. Before Arcade Fire had really got out, I can remember really clearly going to an indie night at Stylus (Leeds Uni student union) and the DJ playing it early on in the night. Lol and I raced onto the dance floor, which is sunken below the bar and therefore everyone was looking down on us as we danced completely alone and like absolute idiots! Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) reminds me of my uni boyfriend, who lived on the other side of Hyde Park to me and was on my course, so our pretty short relationship was a constant haze of walking to campus or walking to and from each others houses. I don’t know why but I have such a strong memory of walking through the park one time, wading in inches of thick snow, and stupidly wearing converse with no socks (my teen brain had somehow decided socks were not sexy? I guess?) and I was listening to this song. So my feet basically half froze off, and even now I still get chill-blanes every winter and it’s all because of that one fateful day. This is the weird way my brain works, and every time I hear Tunnels I think about him and Hyde Park and snow and frosty feet.

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When they played Ready To Start Kate and I held clammy hands, and spun around, and generally existed in a shiny twinkly perfect world of me-and-her for those 3 minutes. The good part was that even when they played the new songs that I’m not so keen on, there was incredible stage production and dancers and light shows and it made it all fit seamlessly in with the older stuff. It was hot in there, so hot that you could basically see the steam rising off the writhing dancey bodies around us. When they ended on Crown of Love (of course) the room exploded into a burst of glitter ticker tape. Which was as magical as you’d expect! Look at beautiful Kate’s happy-face-happy-place.

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All in all, it was one of the best gigs of my life. Thanks so much to my Kate date, for making it the best London night since I moved back. It really reminded me just how on top of the world and super human a good gig can make you feel. I definitely need to stop being scared off by the cost and eat beans on toast in order to go to a few more shows this year. That’s just a taste of the new news for now, I still need to write a double whammy about Craig and I’s 30th celebrations which involve life size emojis, wobble chops (!) and Nick dressing as the goblin king from Labyrinth. Yup…

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This is it, my FIRST post of my thirties. How on earth did that happen? On Sunday, I woke up in the most remote part of Exmoor National Park, donned a dress covered in beetle & butterfly print and ate the biggest full English of my life, with extra fried bread. I was now 30 years old. When Nick had asked how I wanted to spend my birthday weekend, I think my requirements were pretty simple; somewhere wild where we can hike around, somewhere just us and somewhere I could eat a cream tea! He chose the most incredible little country house nestled amongst the hills of Dunkery Beacon and beneath one of the only dark sky patches in the UK (stars!) We will be writing about this trip as our first UK-Travel adventure over on Twentysomething Burnouts so I won’t spoil it here, and I don’t want to write about it here anyway because instead I want to write about ~feelings~.

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I had been warned by older relatives and friends about the pre 30 freak-out. I hated the way it was talked about with such inevitability and that from the moment I turned 29 last year the words on everyone’s lips were “ooh 30 next!”. At around this time I started to take stock of my life and the one area of my life I felt there were some pretty heady regrets was seeing the world (and the fact I hadn’t done it, basically). There were many reasons Nick & I decided to quit life and go to Latin America, but a secret one I kept tied up in my heart was that I felt I could perhaps dodge the freak-out bullet by facing head-on the one unsatisfactory area of my twenties, before 30 chased me down once and for all. For anyone else teetering on the late-twenties nearly-thirties gap, I would highly recommend this tactic. If you can use the big day as inspiration to take a look at the bits of your life you would ideally change beforehand, and then make steps to do this, there isn’t a whole lot left to be freaking out about!

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Lately I’d been so distracted with interviews, house hunting, catching up with long lost friends, shuttling around under ground and re-acclimatising with London-me, that I didn’t do very much of thinking “this is the last cup of tea of my twenties”, “this is the last time I wear this dress in my twenties”; the type of thoughts that might start to make your heart patter a little faster. I felt a bit super-hero-esque about this whole turning thirty thing. I kept trying to prod and pinch myself with little tests of if I felt weird about it yet… but I mostly felt excited at the prospect of getting to make an extra big fuss of celebrations more than anything else.

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And then it happened.

It was actually due to my plans for writing this blog post that things started to unravel. I wanted to post some old photos of me through the ages, and therefore knew I needed to have a dig around my storage boxes and bin liners. I found a tote bag that on the surface seemed to be filled with photos, and set about spilling the contents around me. Disappointment quickly stained my initial excitement as I realised all the photos were reasonably recent (mostly blurry drunk photos and Lol & I at various indie nights around Leeds). Having filtered through all the grins and gins and finding nothing from earlier than my twenties, I noticed the bag was still half full. I blindly dug around tombola style, pulling out scrap of paper after bank statement after ticket. I’m not sure why, but the rest of the bag was a mini time-capsule of 2006. I must have stuffed everything in there, before moving down to London, and thought I would sort it out at the other end. Five house moves and nearly eight years later, and that obviously never happened! It was so surreal to suddenly be face to face with my life back then and to every bit of paper trail that surrounded it.

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I dragged the bag to a shredder and sat reading every item before destroying it forever. Some parts were fascinating; like my revealing wage slips that showed how many hours I worked at a busy gig venue & bar but how pitifully I got paid. All my bank statements were just one more H&M splurge away from the bottom of my already-extended overdraft. There were cheque books (how quaint!), receipts for dates I don’t remember, an annoyed letter from my dad about my eating habits (which I had no recollection of) and endless ideas and plots and plans for short stories I never wrote, and maybe should. There was a doozy of a heart-wrench find in a letter from my ill-chosen university boyfriend, who had apparently staggered drunk into my work and had to be thrown out by my manager. Talk about dramatic, I don’t remember my life being so Hollyoaks like. It was three a4 pages of empty apologies and promises I had heard a million times. Safe to say, things didn’t last very long after that! Shredding that particular find felt extra satisfying.

I’m actually really happy that by some twist of fate, I ended up having to face up to some lurking ghosts of my past and the inevitable reflecting that comes along with switching decades. The feelings I felt most strongly were disconnect from that early twenties in-debt love-troubled bar-working dreamer. It felt almost like rummaging through someone else’s life. It was familiar, but mostly it was shocking how far removed I have come to be from that chunk of my life.

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The key learning I took from it is what I think it the NUMBER ONE difference between the twenties and thirties. Are you ready? In my twenties I thought I knew everything. I thought I had everything and everyone sussed out, I thought I was wise before my years (cringe) and I thought I had it pegged exactly how my life was going to pan out. In my thirties, the first thing I am happy to do is put my hand up and admit I have a LOT to learn. I certainly do not know everything, and that’s exciting to me. I don’t rush in making snap judgements anymore, or assuming I know what someone it about. I sit back, I take my time and I am happy to admit when I was wrong and have to go back to the drawing board (the big “lets move to Brighton” plan for example!)

Ever since turning 30 on Sunday I have felt an unusual sense of inner calm. I think I look a tiny bit wiser/have a new wrinkle. I feel so relieved to draw a permanent line in the sand between the me of my twenties and the me now, who has so much to look forward to. So far, being 30 is pretty excellent! And, because I am no longer twenty and paranoid about what people think of me, I will happily confess that I have practised saying “Hi I’m Bee and I am 30” in the mirror a few more times than is healthy and it feels… ok!

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Exactly one month ago today, I smushed my nose up against the window of my Air New Zealand LA > LDN flight and burst into tears, whilst also giddily jumping around in my seat, as the rolling green hills of England peeked up through the marshmallow clouds. I would never have predicted that the sight of a few fields would evoke this reaction in me; but having spent nearly 7 months out of the country and travelling hundreds of thousands of kilometres (whilst getting in all manner of scrapes) it was the feeling of finally being home. I won’t recap the whole trip here, as hopefully you were glued to Twentysomething Burnouts and know all about the time we shared a bed with the world’s most deadly scorpion or accidentally ended up in a teeny tiny 8-seater tin-can aeroplane with a 17 year old pilot, who spent the whole flight rummaging on the floor for a biro. No? No! Then you better head over there instead of reading these slightly melancholy post-travel-trauma ramblings! Those stories are far more fun!

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Despite spending the last 3 weeks of our adventure in California, and therefore slowly returning to civilised behaviour such as showering regularly, the culture-shock I have had since returning to the UK has been mammoth. Absolutely normal things that I’ve grown up my whole life with such as; flushing toilets, hot water, slippers, CHEESE, public transport with loos on them, PJs, tap water you can drink without dying etc. have been denied of me for so long, that it’s like they are shiny and new. It was absolutely surreal to return to Nick’s parents and unpack my handbag that had been left gathering dust in their attic for the duration of our trip. I opened my wallet and it had a vaguely fuzzy de-ja-vu familiarity, but it looked like it belonged to an entirely different person. Why on earth did I have SO many coffee shop loyalty cards?! At what point had I earnt enough salary to justify having a Liberty storecard? There was also a distractedly half read book of short stories, The Returned boxset that we had watched all but 2 episodes of before leaving and a tick-list of chores for our “Last day in the UK”! All my hopes and fears and excitement about the unknown trip of a lifetime were festering in that handbag, and now I was back. And it was totally over.

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Although it was back to earth with a bump, our first week was at least buffered with a dreamy jet-lag haze. We toured the country visiting our parents and immediate family, getting spoilt rotten and being treated like royalty. I enjoyed eating everything I saw; all the food we’d obsessed about being reunited with whilst tucking into South American delicacies such as a broth complete with floating chicken claw, the thing that directly translated as “soup of the beast” or the myriad of mystery meats we consumed. And then… the victory lap was over, and we found ourselves back in London. I was outraged. Where the hell was my hammock? Why wasn’t I drinking a pina colada at 2pm? We were both having trouble sleeping. I’d wake up on an hourly basis, sweaty and bemused in the pitch blackness, my mind buzzing with anxiety over what country was next on the itinerary and where the bus station was… only to slowly realise I was in Golders Green, not Guatemala. Mornings rolled around, and instead of excitedly questioning each other on what rainforest we could scramble through today or where the Rough Guide reckons we could find a decent breakfast for under a dollar… the sinking realisation crept in that we needed jobs, we needed money and we needed to find a home. These things are way less fun.

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I would be lying if I said it was easy. Heck this is my little corner of the internet and why lie? It’s been absolutely horrid. We’ve spent 7 months in some of the most dangerous and pressured situations in the world, and been cool cucumbers. Back in same-old-same-old familiar London, we were fraying at the edges. The fact is, we have seen things and experienced things that have made us different people to the ones that left London last. I guess that means slotting right back in as if nothing happened, isn’t an option! We caught a train to Brighton, in the hope of flat hunting, only for me to be waylaid by a stomach bug, realise I have a phobia of those mutant massive seagulls, and to be messed around something chronic by estate agents. We skulked back to London with our priorities shifted; how about trying to get jobs before we house hunt. Let’s cope with one mega-dega life thing at a time… and let’s try the one that gives us money, rather than takes it away.

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After living out of 35litre backpacks forever, I seem to now have an aversion to stuff. We’ve both only unpacked about two outfits each, which hang forlornly in an empty wardrobe probably thinking hey where are all my dress-pals? Why do they have to live in a bin liner now! As this blog is testament to, I used to dress with obsessive precision in twin-sets and accessories, but now I just can’t face the amount of choice required to dress myself in the morning if there isn’t just a choice of this OR that. Maybe I’ll become one of those freaky aspirational capsule wardrobe types you read about in women’s magazine? (I’m saying this as someone who hasn’t stepped foot into H&M, Zara or Topshop yet. Who am I kidding.) I’m sure anyone who has ever moved house can empathise how rough life is when everything is in storage / boxes. I momentarily forgot this when I went for my first post-travel haircut (there were actual dreadlocks forming) and had a super chic snazzy do that needs daily blow drying and an hour with the straighteners. If only I could find the box that contains my hair dryer… or straighteners!

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Weeks in, and we’re appreciating some parts of being back in the big smoke. Our friends have been incredible, rallying round and doing nice things like cooking us dinner, buying us coffees and letting us watch Game of Thrones at their house. Yknow, the life essentials! We also had a much needed London-tourist day on Wednesday. We both had first interviews for jobs we really want in the morning. I had left before Nick, so when we met up on The Strand later we cracked up upon realising that we had dressed identically for our interviews! We were both wearing his-n-hers beige macs with black shiny brogues.

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In our uniform; we marched over the Thames, stopped for a Wahaca burrito on the South Bank, checked out the skate park demo, saw some nice new street art and then tottered over the bridge to the British Museum for an afternoon of Ancient Egyptians and Medieval British bits. There is something so soothing about the museum. One of the things Nick and I bonded over when we first met, is that when we both moved to London penniless and brand new, we would both come to the museum after work (separately, we were still 5 years off meeting!) and spend hours roaming around in the last hour of the opening, as the gallery staff start to politely shoo you out. I’d come to the museum and sit surrounded by these incredible artefacts and give myself pep talks. Seven years on and it still has that welcoming, everythings-going-to-be-ok… ok? vibe for me when I visit!

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And this weekend I did the thing to make you appreciate London the most… leaving it! Nick was in Berlin on a stag do (a four day one, which I think is a little intense!) so I came to my most precious Norfolk getaway, and timed it to catch my Gran and Mum at the same time. On the Saturday my aunt drove us out to Overstrand, a coastal village about 20 minutes from Cromer. We picked up fresh dressed crab which we devoured for picnic lunch, and then marched out onto the beach. Despite the blistering winds and chilly temperatures, I felt so proudly British to join the families who were stubbornly paddling, sitting in deck chairs or attempting Frisbee regardless. A family favourite tradition of ours is to hunt out balemites amongst the flint and the pebbles. They are rare little fossils, but there is a treasure trove of them to be found if you peek hard enough. We clambered up past the coastal path where, during the bad winter storms, every beach hut between Overstrand and Cromer was whisked into the sea!

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I’m not sure if it was the sea air, the brisk wind or being surrounded by my family, but by the time we got home and I crawled into bed (all toasty because my gran still remembers to put an electric blanket on for me a few hours before bedtime!) I then slept for eleven hours and when I woke up I felt settled for the first time since we got back.

Oh yeah! In other bee-life news you may have missed if you haven’t followed the travel tales, I am now engaged! It happened like this and I am very lucky indeed. On Sunday morning I woke up and my mum had bought me my first Bridal magazine instead of an Easter egg. Does this mean I am officially a grown up?!

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I am not sure what will happen next. Where we’ll live, where I’ll work or what gallivanting I will be blogging about here. But please bear with me, and in the meantime I turn 30 in two weeks (agh!) so I will be sure to be getting up to a few antics to celebrate this most grand of old ages. Over on Twentysomething Burnouts we will also be finishing up the last of our California exploration, and a few other behind the scenes bits, so that blog is far from over!

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I’m going to end the post with some lyrics from a song that has meant a lot to me recently. Whilst travelling I just had an iPod shuffle that had to entertain and occupy me on every 10, 20 and 30 hour bus journey, every sleepless night, every long flight. I kept it permanently on the shuffle function and despite it getting drenched on our dramatic Colombia > Panama boat-mare, it is still going strong. On the penultimate day of our travels, I turned the shuffle function off, and decided to play the ipod from start to finish (we had a long Megabus ride from San Fran to Los Angeles). The first song that came on was one I had NO idea was on there, and that the shuffle function hadn’t played once in the whole seven months! It was like winning the lottery. A whole new song out of 331 that I had heard hundreds of times each! It is by a very talented man who releases under the name Adem, and it’s called Everything You Need. The lyrics really felt appropriate at the time I discovered it, driving through the California dust bowl, and have been really comforting since we got home.

You severed your ties
Left us all behind
You said all your goodbyes
To everything you need

You severed your ties
Re-forge them… make it right
Come back with open eyes
To everything you need

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