London

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What kind of chump writes an entire emotional blog post about leaving London and then err… stays in London? This one! So here I go, embarking on London living the sequel. I think a big part of why we became fixated on moving to Brighton was that we didn’t want to feel like we’d just come back from 7 months of life-altering travel just to return to the same old same old. It felt like London would just suck us back in and somehow dissolve all the perspective we’d gained through seeing so many developing countries and shiny new cultures. Obviously this was quite an extreme reaction, and I think it was mostly due to the fact that as we were counting down to leave London we were at the ends of our tethers with manic jobs, crazy commutes and no money to enjoy any of the sparklier city offerings. Living off crumbs and working all hours is bound to get you glum, wherever you are living, but we started to completely associate that feeling with London specifically. Once we had put a few thousand miles between us and the big smoke, the things we loved and missed started to trickle back in. I explained in my last blog how our flat hunt in Brighton had failed pretty spectacularly, and also at that point how I had been for a first interview at a place I have always dreamt of working. Well, another interview and a gruelling presentation later and I got the job! What a birthday present! I’m now the Digital Marketing Manager at Penguin Books. More about my return to the ratrace later, but once I knew I bagged this role and Nick had also lucked out with a job at a production company he likes, all signs were pointing to a return to London. Both of us commuting to Brighton would have cost £4.5k EACH a year. So heck forget the signs, with a wedding to save for there was no way on earth we could justify that outgoing and both suspected the fresh sea air might not quite be enough to balance out the grate of a 2 hour+ daily commute and having no pennies.

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So, it was time to find a flat. After living out of backpacks and a different bed every night for the best part of a year, just having somewhere to call our own was a glorious concept. We got stuck into the black hole of house hunting, which in London at the moment is a whole new breed of cut throat, and one sunny evening we turned up to view a property in Kentish Town. We weren’t expecting much as we sat swinging our feet on the wall and squinting curiously up at the flat. The only thing in its favour is that it’s about 5 minutes away from Camden Town Brewery Bar aka our favourite London watering hole. We were joking as we walked up the stairs that however dank and dumpy it was, we’d take it anyway, and just spend all our time drinking beer down the road. Then we walked in and… fell in love! It’s a dinky little flat but perfectly formed, with lots of lovely little luxuries such as space in the kitchen for a table & chairs, a bath huge enough to fit the BFG in it and tons of nooks & crannies for storage. We moved in over the bank holiday, with the help of Craig and Phil. It was a soggy affair, and slightly hindered by the fact we kept celebrating and getting accidentally drunk, which doesn’t aid the tedious task of unpacking your whole life. After 3 days of slogging away, it’s now almost finished with just the fun stuff left like what to hang on the walls and how to categorise our book shelf (Nick votes genre, I vote in rainbow colour order).

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It’s been so amazing waking up in my own bed, surrounded by my own stuff and having a base. It helps that I am absolutely ADORING my new job too. My new colleagues are brilliant (their interests include: ukulele, hula hooping, knitting, mac & cheese AND Katy Perry) which makes such a huge difference, as any job can be dreamtime on paper but when you spend so many hours in close proximity to people then it’s massively beneficial if you have shared interests and can be real-life chum too. My role is super exciting, and involves reading books for overtime, which obviously is not an issue. Oh and the canteen does a jacket spud & beans for a quid! Which is almost as exciting and life-changing as everything else. So all in all, London life: Part 2 is feeling really exciting so far. Obviously I will still get disgruntled when I find myself on the tube during signal failure and other London-specials, but mainly I feel like this is a completely different chapter in my life (and I’m 30 now don’t cha know!) and has just as much to offer me as if I had upped sticks to the seaside or decided to stay living on an island in the Caribbean sea forever.

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Although I want to lodge a formal complaint about what has happened to the cats at the Art Deco beaut Carreras Cigarette Factory (/Greater London House) in my absence. Does anyone know why they have been blobbified?

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Gosh I feel like my blog lately is just getting bogged down with life-updates. Hopefully now that I am planning to quit doing anything life-changing for a while, I can get back to talking about cheeseburgers and Yorkshire tea and new frocks. Bear with me! Something I think it’s fitting to quickly shoehorn in, given my new job, is a few of my best recent reads, that I am itching to get more people to read so that I can compare notes:

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan. I can’t actually remember where I first heard about this collection of short stories; I think perhaps it was recommended on Amazon or Goodreads because The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter is one of my favourite books. For once, that’s a very fitting comparison and an accurate if you like that you’ll probably like this pick. The twenty stories of lust, longing, fantasy and magic intertwine recognisable elements and characters from traditional fairytales twisted with a refreshing take on the morals, locations and endings. Other stories are entirely new, modern fairytales I suppose, which get under your skin and creep back into your mind as you drift off to sleep; in the same way you might have been haunted by Red Riding hood’s wolf or Hansel and Gretel’s captor. Something I admired most about this book was Kirsty’s approach to gender and sexuality. Relationships between men, women, witches, coin-operated boys, stags… are dealt with depth, intimacy and heart. I’d love to see a shift in mainstream fiction to approaching similar issues in this way. I’d highly recommend this collection of stories, even if you aren’t usually a short story fan. I found myself absolutely captivated from the first line of delicate, descriptive prose and am already looking forward to curling up with it for a re-read.

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Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway. Hawthorn and Child are policemen in the Met, dealing with the daily despair of London’s murky underworld. From the description, I had expected a cookie cutter police thriller, but I was SO wrong. For a start, this book has the most ambitious narrative structure I think I have ever experienced. It can be wildly frustrating, as each chapter is almost a stand alone short story in itself. After starting the book and desperately trying to log details, story archs and characters in my brain, only for each chapter to go off on another tangent, I stopped and started over again treating each chapter as it’s own independent snap shot. In fact the only link to each chapter is that it features Hawthorn or Child, although by the end you have learnt so much about them both throughout these individual scenarios. The book takes commitment and attention, due to the discord method of writing, but as a reader who tires of being spoon-fed obvious information; I really enjoyed the challenge. My only regret is that it’s sat on to-read shelf so long, as it was released to co-incide with the London 2012 Olympics (and with a story thread that ties directly in to them) and I think it would have been fantastic to read it whilst wrapped up in the sporting frenzy at the time.

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The Broken – Tamar Cohen. This up & coming author had somehow passed me by (maybe because I was out of the country!) until I read a brilliant interview over on Steph’s blog The Musings of a Human Magpie. The Broken introduces two couples whose lives are intertwined to the point of regular holidays, their daughters being best friends and doing pretty much everything together. That is until one of the couples, Sasha and Dan, break up. It’s a scenario that most people can relate to, having been friends with a couple and then being forced to take sides or attempt the impossible task of staying neutral. The still-together couple Hannah and Josh find themselves getting far too involved in the increasingly sinister dramatics of the separation, to the point that it starts to drive a wedge into their previously blissful marriage. This is a real can’t-put-down, reading-under-the-duvet-with-a-torch (or kindle light, but that doesn’t sound so exciting!) novel, which I devoured in a single day and night. The dynamics and intricacies of both happy and imploding relationships are written so accurately that you feel like you’ve experienced both during the course of the book. I have immediately downloaded another of Tamar’s back catalogue and am looking forward to working my through the previous 3 releases.

 

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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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Apologies that this is basically turning into a blog where I talk about food and a tiny bit of life stuff! I’m sure you’re wondering how I haven’t eaten myself into oblivion but it’s all being balanced out by walking 5 miles into work every day which my health-logic then entitles me to eat anything and everything. (I also keep focussing on the fact that soon I’ll be climbing mountains and sweating litres in Caribbean heat) (& Not the fact that I also have to brave a bikini…)

Like most children of the 80s/90s raised on a diet of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles; I love pizza. I love it so much. I’m not really a fan of Pizza Hut and after a brief novelty-value-flirtation with Domino’s I now can’t stand it, the freaky donughty base is not the one. I like my pizza thin-crust and as authentic as possible, my favourite London pizza joint up until now has been Stingray in Tufnell Park where you can get a pizza & a beer/wine for £5.95! And the pizza is GOOD and the waitresses always play amazing songs like Tatu and Melanie C from their ipods. Stingray still has a hunk of my heart but there is a new kid on the block rivalling for my affections. I first heard about Home Slice a few weeks ago. I follow lots of wise food blogging owls on twitter and start hearing rumblings that it was well worth a look. It is located in the very picturesque Neal’s Yard, an area of central London that I really don’t go enough and so it’s nice to have a delicious excuse to visit more often. Like many of the start-up restaurants, such as Meat Liquor and Wish Bone, Home Slice started humbly – as a homebuilt mobile pizza over in London Fields. It’s lovely to support these passionate chefs and entrepreneurs as they grow and blossom. Using traditional wood fires, pizza is all they serve! But that’s not to say the menu is dull, the toppings are all mouth wateringly tempting ranging from ox-tail to bone marrow to salami to traditional Caprese. The pizza is served either by the slice (£4) or a full pizza (£20). After basing our decision to go to Home Slice purely on the novelty for being able to order by the slice NY style, we then succumbed to being piglets and ordered a whole pizza.

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That is 20 inches of pure cheesy tomato delight. Home Slice is one of those laid back places where asking if we could go half-n-half on toppings was absolutely no problem. Our waitress was so enchanting and even praised us on our topping selection – mushroom, ricotta & pumpkin seeds / chorizo, corn & coriander. Upon the arrival of the 20 inch beast, we both proclaimed “oh wow, we’ll be taking home a big doggy bag”. Then we took a bite, and all concepts of doggy bags vanished as we silently troughed through the whole lot only breaking to make ridiculous movie mmmmm noises and wide eyed YUM faces at each other. It is by far the finest pizza I have ever had in my life, including the many slices I shovelled away on my trips to New York.

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Most of my friends will know that my tipple of choice is Prosecco. Mainly, due to cost, I reign myself in and only drink it on special occasions and celebrations. Occasionally I cave in and order it on an average night out and get met with “celebrating something..!?” and then feel all bashful. But Home Slice clearly felt my pain and therefore they have Prosecco ON TAP. Have you every heard of such a thing? I would be such a happy (merry) person if I could have Prosecco on tap in my house. Anyway the draft-ness of it means it’s a steal at £4 a glass…another very good reason to go, chow down and chug up!

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After all those inches of dough we decided we better walk home. When you have a boyfriend who’s handily your bestfriend and braintwin, you have lots of adventures even on a walk you’ve done a thousand times before. First we walked through “Sci-Fi City” (the new business development by Warren Street) and then found a door that led to nowhere. We scampered about and found a lot of things to laugh at and about, even as our legs grew weary and the sun dipped. It’s nights like this that make me extra-excited for our international adventure, as I think if we can still find a way to find a tedious walk home so sparkly then imagine what it will be like when we are roaming through rainforests and trekking through misty mountains. I’m sure we’ll have the odd “I miss London!” moment and it’ll be nights (and meals) like this that I’ll be remembering.

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My work-mate/mate-mate Chloe is one of those people that always knows exactly where to go to eat. Whatever conundrum I have (eg. where do I take this client for lunch to look cool but not pretentious? where can I get Scottish square sausage in London? where can I get the best soup noodles in China town?) she has the solution. In fact she EVEN knows what to say when I have those frustrating “I’m hungry but I don’t know WHAT I WANT” moments (um, every day).

This week I have turned into a human pin-cushion. Ahead of quitting my life and travelling the world, there is a lot to be organised and one big part of that is the fifteen vaccines I need before doing things like living on a hammock on the Amazon. On Monday I had three injections in one day (two in the same spot on one side, sprouting a sad sympathy bruise) so I arrived into work with lead arms and a traumatised face and Chloe said “Huzzah! I know what you need. You need to Nordic Bakery” and she was right. It fixes all woes, including needle related sulks.

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Since discovering the Nordic Bakery I have been back more times than I can confess, and plan to camp out there on a weekly basis until I leave Soho. It’s tucked away at the back of Golden Square, so about 10min stroll from Oxford Circus, past the Carnaby Street chaos. I am already a fan of nordic food but this only really stretches to summering in Stockholm a decade ago and… Ikea. I thought I liked Cinnamon Buns, a lot, but I didn’t realise that the rest of them PALE in comparison to the Nordic Bakery Bun. Weighing about the same as an iPad (!) it’s layer after layer of flaky, sticky goodness that is the equivalent of eating a hug.

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The Nordic Bakery is dreamy for breakfast-brunching. Not only do they serve a damn fine cup of coffee (I heart Agent Cooper) they also have an array of pastries and baked goods ranging from standard pan au chocolate to the real traditional Nordic bits such as karelian pie which is a Finnish dish consisting of a crusty rye base, filled with potato or rice porridge and then topped with the most miraculous of ALL food inventions; Egg. Butter. Egg Butter. It sounds like something from the Butterflied Diet, but is an actual real thing and is as tasty as it sounds. The pies are served warm so the whole thing is a flaky, melty, buttery delight.

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There is also a pretty good spread of lunch goods, although I haven’t sampled any yet. But they range from salmon & egg on rye to some traditional brain-busting fish combinations including gravlax, herring and salmon. The cafe itself is very aesthetically pleasing, all wooden loveliness and sleek lines and corners, and has a zen sense of calm and tranquility despite being in the heart of Soho. Oh! I also haven’t mentioned the sweet treats. There are mountainous cakes on offer, lingonberry tarts and I sampled (all in the name of afternoon-tea suitability research of course!) the oatmeal cookie which sounds potentially dull but it was a sweet sticky gooey mass of oats and nuts and dark / white chocolate heaven. The thing I actually like best is what the baristas are wearing! The denim aprons are top of my object of desire list. I think they should start selling them.

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I’ve spent the last seven years working in Soho, only moving from the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street to the Oxford Circus neighbourhood when switching jobs. It’s been the place I’ve clocked up more hours than anywhere else in my adult life and mooched in and out of doing my 9-5 (pah, 9-8 more like) thing for so long that it feels entirely surreal that in a mere 2.5 weeks I’ll no longer be a Soho socialite. Ah well, it’s a good excuse to eat and drink and sample EVERYTHING here before I leave…

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When I first started hearing mutterings of a “Pop-up Roller Disco” I instantly knew that at some point this summer, I’d be dragging an unsuspecting friend down to Kings Cross to re-enact Starlight Express and zoom around pretending to be a roller-waitress (my dream job as a child!). Luckily Craig was a willing participant although he didn’t crack out the short-shorts he was rocking at The Color Run, which was disappointing! We started off our Friday evening lurking around the water fountains outside Central St Martins at Kings Cross, watching a perfect sunset appear and fade above our heads as we nattered away for a few hours (considering we had some pretty big news to discuss – THANK YOU for everyones incredible responses and support and enthusiasm, it’s been very humbling and really re-enforced that I am doing the right thing)

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Anyone who’s lived or visited London regularly won’t have failed to notice that King’s Cross is going under some pretty hefty renovations. Kings Cross has always been my station (all London dwellers have this, it’s just the major rail station that takes you back to your hometown and you inevitably spend hours of your life lurking in!) as it is the mouth to the north. KX has never been, I felt, the greatest welcome to London for those arriving. The journey in takes you past some grimy high rises and the slightly battered side of Caledonian Road, and previously as you burst excitedly into LONDON! from the train you would be welcomed initially by two McDonalds, a Premier Inn, an O’Neils and a world of chicken shops. There was also a whole section behind Kings Cross and on the canal that I wouldn’t have dared stray into after daylight hours. But not anymore! It’s a slow slog but now the whole area is a pleasure to visit these days and a perfect warm-welcome to the big smoke. If you haven’t headed down, add it to your to-do in London list in bold letters. There’s a wildlife reserve, a lovely bar called The Filling Station which I have yet to visit but I hear crab burgers and frozen margaritas are their speciality so it won’t be long!, the amazing water feature and a seating area onto the canal covered in fake grass… perfect for sunset reclining on.

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Skate King’s Cross is the latest “innovation” section of the redevelopment. It’s just running for eight weeks, until the 6th September and I’ll avoid making a terrible pun here about getting your skates on if you want to go. I love the concept of a summer roller rink, it’s the perfect antidote to the winter-ice-skating-withdrawal I suffer every year. Tickets are £14 for a two hour slot any time of day from 10am (which includes hire of some pretty snazzy looking pro-rollerskates, non of the cheesy smelling My Little Pony efforts from my childhood here). I think it’s better value though to go on a Friday or Saturday night though, for the disco. Tickets for this are £19 but they are 8pm-late meaning unlimited skate time and you get the added lighting and music and party atmosphere thrown in. Upon arrival we headed straight to the wheels area to get kitted out. The cloakroom is free, which is as rare as a mysterious underwater unicorn in London, and very much appreciated. (Sorry, I had to get that phrase in here somewhere, as three people have found my blog with that search-term this week. What? And… Why?!)

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It turns out, we are both dreadful at roller skating! We barely got from the benches to the rink without breaking something, and as we debuted onto the rink we managed to do a phenomenal falling over/clutching each other/wailing movement that sent anyone in the vicinity racing away! I could definitely roller skate as a kid so it must be a confidence thing. Even putting the breaks down seems so unnatural as you have to practically fall over to get your foot that close to the floor. But despite completely lacking in ANY talent, the enthusiasm was there as we dragged ourself around using the bars around the edge and resembled Bambi walking for the first time; all jelly legs and panicked faces. This in itself at least gave us chance to people-watch everyone else on the rink, and there were some incredibly talented skaters doing all sorts of moves (backwards, trains of people, JUMPS!) that made it really entertaining just being a sidebar saddo. After a few circuits our bravery (and humiliation) kicked in and we graduated to letting go of the edge and doing a few laps without any help. Success!

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The skating was a lot of fun. There was the perfect amount of people on the rink, enough to feel like a party but not so many that it was intimidating for newbies and novices. The DJ played some great music, although towards the later part of the evening it turned a bit mwam mwam funkyhouse which was disappointing as really when you’re wearing neon rollerskates and zipping around under flashing lights, you may as well just go all out and have some serious cheese to shimmy to. After an hour of skating (and surviving with all limbs intact) we sloped off back to our non-wheeled footwear and headed to the bar for some of the much hyped drinks.

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At the bar there is diner food from Disco Bistro N1C and a pretty good drink selection. We didn’t opt for any food, so I can’t really give it a fair review, although the piles of frozen chips on the floor didn’t exactly make the thought of eating that appealing! In a London packed with burger-competition I didn’t think the burgers looked like anything too special (especially if they are cooked from frozen too…) but at £10-£15 a pop, I’d hope they were that price for a reason. They were serving something called pig skin popcorn for £2 which we didn’t sample but is one for a peckish carnivore. The drinks were amazing though. Craig had a hard shake (vanilla ice-cream, spiced rum, banana & rum socked raisins!) and I had a Lemon Pimms Mojito as it mixes two of my favourite drinks into one… so why not. Both were massive portions, but at £10 a beaker I would need it super-size in order to not weep as I handed over my £20 for two drinks. Ouch.

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It was probably as much fun to watch the skating as it was participating. We spotted a few people on dates, and even got some front row action for a couples awkward first kiss (on wheels, so brave!). Again there were some amazing moves to marvel at, and the rink is staffed by a crew of VERY hot (and very lovely) “marshalls” who are mostly ladies and all in a uniform hotpants and footballs sock. They all take turns doing their thing on the rink too which is easy on the eye! I’d definitely recommend getting yourself down to Skate whilst it’s there. You may have your dreams of being an extra in Starlight Express dashed forever, but at least you can drown your sorrow in boozy milkshake. Everyone we met who worked there was so friendly and passionate and having so much fun and the whole experience made me annoyed that I don’t do more with my Friday nights usually (home from work as quickly as possible and a mug of wine in bed has been the previous two’s pattern before this excursion). Head down even if you can’t skate, or don’t think you can, as trying is part of the experience and you’re less likely to lose a finger if you fall over, than you are at the Ice Rinks!

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I haven’t been sure what to post in here lately, because although life has been true to my busy-bee name, I have mostly been busy lying like a starfish on any patch of grass I can find in London, soaking up the sun and nattering to colleagues and friends. My freckles have moved in for summer and I love the fact I haven’t even thought about wearing a jacket for weeks on end. A lot of people seem to be complaining about the heat at night but I LOVE it! I sleep deeply and dozily and wake up looking like a mole who’s just seen daylight for the first time. I hope the heat is here to stay a little longer.

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On Wednesday I visited Opium in Chinatown for the third time in three weeks, which I think makes it an official obsession and therefore something I need to share with the world. Opium is a Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour; what better combination is there than that? It’s the sort of place you hear about via word of mouth, whispered tip-offs and drunken loose lips, and that’s because there is no sign – speakeasy style! I know the “secret” thing is getting a bit overdone, but I have to say I still get a little rush of excitement when you walk up to an anonymous door and have no idea what you will find lurking behind. The door in question here is the “Jade Door”, 15-16 Gerrard Street (the main Chinatown strip) which is nestled between bustling restaurants and Chinese supermarkets. On arrival, a poe-faced security man will phone up to the “hosts” and you will then be sent up a dark, winding staircase to your table. Out of the gloom you are welcomed into an oasis of calm and tranquility, it’s almost impossible to believe you’re still in the heart of chaotic Chinatown.

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The main thing that’s captured my heart about Opium is the atmosphere. The decor is stylish and simple, with huge comfy seats and low set mahogany lattice tables. It’s always the exact right side of busy; buzzy but you aren’t sat on any strangers laps or squidged into shared tables. The staff couldn’t be more attentive, and the music is a treat in itself (where else can you hear a folk version of No Diggity?) The setting feels exclusive and you are made to feel like your custom is really valued, something I’ve found desperately lacking in a lot of of my London nightlife experiences lately.

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And of course the best part, is that the prices are totally reasonable. Cocktails are all around a tenner (I can’t believe I’m saying this so flippantly as I’m sure my friends back up north are recoiling in horror, but that’s pretty standard for London cocktail clubs) and they are worth every penny. The Crafted Fancy Drinks are all exclusively created by the Opium mixologists and a menu for the more adventurous drinker like me, there basically isn’t a spirit or flavour I DONT like! Which makes choosing a really tough experience, and explains why I keep going back. Not only are the drinks delicious, but they are also smashing it with the presentation. Syrups come in “Chinese Medicine” bottles, the Opium No 3 cocktail arrived in a dramatic smoking cauldron with griddled nectarine slices on the side and shorts are served in traditional tea cups. My favourite tipple is the Lady of Yue which comes with the description “while strengthening the spirit, one should remain outwardly calm”; a quote that is about to become very relevant to my life. It’s a tasty combination of remy martini, aporel, homemade almond syrup and fresh strawberries. If weird and wacky doesn’t do it for you, there’s an extensive list of old fashioned classics too including things I’ve never heard of such as cobbler, pisco sour and a bronx.

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Of course you need something to soak up those spirits, so the dim sum is a very necessary side addition. It’s a short, simple menu featuring favourite such as siu mai and char siu buns but also some extremly addictive items such as sesame-poppy prawn-lobster toast and salt and pepper aubergine which is by far the highlight of the menu. Order it even if you don’t think you like aubergines, because you will now!

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And there you have it. My latest London secret find, which I can’t recommend enough. Something else that I keep noticing lately is a new breed of trees… the painty variety. I’m pleased to see some of the grey-er corners of North London getting a colourful smattering of nature, and I wonder if it’s the same person planting the seeds or if it’s just coincidence?

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Now that I have lived in London seven years I’ve finally found “my spot”. Everyone needs that hideaway nook that they can go to think, read, write, ponder (or phone their mum, like me!) but in London it can be hard to find a place that isn’t already bustling with people or claimed by others. Over the last two years I’ve returned to this spot over and over again, in every season. I don’t know why the tree is dead, and perhaps it’s a bit morbid that it’s the place I’m attracted to, but I love it’s spindly branches and the way it dominates it’s surroundings. It’s set in wild long meadow grass which I like to sprawl out in and breathe in the fact that no one passing would even know I’m lurking there. Well, until I start wriggling around to scare off the insect & creature invasion. I’m already excited to get a little bit of me-time there tomorrow, and finish the last chapter of my book appropriately called The Memory of Trees by F G Cottam.

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I don’t know why it surprised me, but cheeseburger is my most used tag on the blog. Examples here, here AND here. I really, really like cheeseburgers and have dived in with both feet to the burger trend that has tidal waved across London in the past two years. I really need to write a post updating my stance on London’s best burger (Lucky Chip? Patty & Bun? The Diner? Byron? Admiral Cod? Kua ‘Aina? Meat Liquor? I’ve tried ’em all… numerous times just to be sure) and actually the world’s best burger (Shake Shack? In-n-Out? Umami?) but I don’t think there is any point in doing this until I’ve sampled the latest burger boys to roll into town (Covent Garden to be precise!) – Shake Shack UK and Five Guys UK. No one seems entirely sure why these competitors chose to open their first ever British/European branches in the same week, American Independence day maybe?, but they are here and surely there is enough hype and hungry mouths to keep both in booming business. It was extra nice to see  neighbourhood branches of Bryon and The Diner tweeting them to welcome them to town.

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I’m excited to sample both, but selected Five Guys to celebrate 4th July at as I have been to Shake Shack a few times in New York (twice both visits in fact) and I adore it, but wanted to try something shiny and new. I’ve also been keen to give it a whirl since Wish Wish Wish Carrie came back with rave reviews after her visit in NYC. My partner in burger crime, the delightful blogging beau What Katie Does , was already camped out in the queue when I arrived hot and bothered after a power walk through a sticky Leicester Square. Luckily, she had already befriended a sunshiney American girl infront of us who, in turn for holding her place, fetched us some cold beers to slurp as we waited. Safe to say, a pretty dreamy start! The snaking queue may look off putting but it was very well managed. Menu’s handed out to drool over, lots of interaction with chatty staff keeping us updated on estimated queue time etc, and at peak-time of 6.30pm we actually only queued for 25 minutes before we were IN…

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Almost every staff member I interacted with was American, which added to the novelty “fresh from the US” experience. It also made me extra-appreciate their cheery, chatty attitude as I’m sure they’d have all preferred to be back home munching 4th July food and watching fireworks. As you queue, you can pick up a carton of shell-on peanuts to take the edge off a grumbling tummy. Five Guys have a close bond with the holy peanut; as they cook the fries in Peanut Oil rather than standard cooking oil. Perhaps not ideal for those with peanut-allergies, but very happy days for a peanut mega fan like me.

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I hadn’t even glimpsed at the menu before the daunting task of selecting WHAT to have! I thought the standard size cheeseburgers were extremely pricey (at nearly £9 for bacon/cheese – my favourite combo) so out of cost cutting alone I opted for a more reasonably priced Little Bacon Cheeseburger and trust me, it was not little! So don’t be put off by the title, this was a totally average size burger and filled the burger shaped hunger hole perfectly. Myself and Katie shared a large fries, which was WAY too large. We barely finished the fries that had falled out of the paper cup fries-holder and into the paper bag… so again, size down when ordering your sides. We were thrilled to discover them stocking Brewdog ale, so both opted for a frosty IPA to wash everything down with. They also stock Brooklyn Beer. Although, the big drink schtick Five Guys have imported with them is Coca-Cola Freestyle which is a machine where you can literally build your own Coca-cola drink! Adding flavours, picking the base cola type (caffeine free for meeee!) and playing cocktail maker with the worlds most iconic drink. At £2.50 a cup you can also have as many free re-fills as you like; meaning you can create some real horror flavour combos just for fun.

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My main LOVE for Five Guys is that all toppings are FREE. How obvious is that? But how stingy most burger places are, charging £1.50 for bacon, at least £1 for bloomin’ BBQ sauce etc. It is such a relief to see this burger revolution whereby you can choose any topping and it’s still the exact same cost. I couldn’t really get over this fact, so put it to the test by opting for All The Way (every topping! – onions, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayo, mustard) plus extra BBQ sauce AND hot sauce (it was a saucy affair, but I just love a condiment). I regret not chucking some jalapenos in there, but you live and learn and it’s a good excuse to return very, very soon.

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And the food? Oh it was GOOOOOOD. The burger was perfect; exactly the right colour and a taste bud sensation of flavour and exact-right melty American cheese.  I also love a burger wrapped in foil, as it reminds me the brief dalliance my nothing-cool-ever-happens-here northern hometown had with Wendy’s and their square-burgers. Maybe now burgers are cool, Wendy’s can make a glorious return?! Katie is a caring herbivore so chomped through a veggie burger which she also made very happy noises about and said was a brilliant veggie option. We both ummed and ahhhed about ordering the grilled cheese instead of the burger (wild!) which looked and smelt delicious so that’s another must-have for a return trip. I’ll be honest, the fries weren’t anything to shout about. Skin-on and crunchy, but they seemed to go cold and tastless within moments. Granted we were chatting a million miles a minute and not exactly hurrying up with our meal, but they should be able to last a conversation and still be delicious. Five Guys do their own brand of cajun spice fries, so I would have these next time as maybe they will liven the spud up a bit.

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I was SO impressed with the eating experience considering it was opening night. I’ve been to Shake Shack near Port Authority in NYC at 3pm on a WORK day, and still had to queue for 30+ minutes once in the door, then faced the horror of absolutely NO seats so having to just hover with your tray, shovelling food in and evil eyeing all the happy folk with the luxury of a stool. It really ruins the experience! This was fully what Katie and I expected when we hit Five Guys. Instead, the staff were really managing the queue plus the restaurant is split level with tons of space both upstairs and downstairs. There were numerous spare seats to choose from, and being the curious types we spotted a narrow little staircase which we braved with our heaving burger-trays and were rewarded with a massive 10-seater booth in a private VIP corner to ourselves for 2 hours of peace, quiet and alone time with our burgers. Bliss!

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The staff also couldn’t have been more welcoming, friendly and lovely. Not a single bead of sweat on any of them, as they bent over backwards to make our experience perfect! I forgot to order mayo for the fries at the counter, so one of the many “floating” staff not only went upstairs to get me some, but also bought it right over to our tables so we could dig in. Table service? Pretty special, I can’t think of many places who would be so accommodating. They really did live up to the name of the Willy Wonka’s of burger making. It was a flawless evening. And the company was pretty swell too, thanks Katie for being such a great burger companion, I can’t believe we spent three hours together and I didn’t talk abou The National?!

I took this photo entirely by chance, but chuckled when I realised I had literally captured Five Guys, in Five Guys…

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Five Guys is at 1 Long Acre, Covent Garden (a short stroll from Leicester Square and Covent Garden Tubes) and is here to stay aka.. it’s not a pop up. Their website is already teasing a Five Guys Reading coming soon, so hopefully for non-London readers there will be Five Guys invasion in your neighboorhood soon. They are very twitter-happy, so maybe pester them with your location requests and hope for the best!

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I’ve alluded to a tough week, and this is never a blog where I shy away from being honest about my personal life, so I feel like I should just share this before I go back to talking about cheeseburgers and nail varnish. Those of you who were readers through the woes of Rubbishtober 2012 will know that life as I knew it took a nose dive lat year, as I was diagnosed with a whopping ovarian cyst, which proceeded to rupture and I needed emergency surgery to remove. As far as I was concerned, and to be honest the doctors led me to believe, that would be that. Surgery, cyst removed, life as normal. Sadly thought it hasn’t quite worked out like that. I have never been quite right since my operation and haven’t been able to shake a niggly feeling that something still wasn’t 100%. After various checks, tests and me sulking until they sent me for another scan (which is so unpleasant I wouldn’t be begging for it if I wasn’t really worried) and last week I found out that I have not one, but two cysts, on the same place they removed the last one. Well, my mum always said I wasn’t one to do things by halves.

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Anyway, it turns out the surgeons didn’t remove all the endometriosis in my last operation. This is a decision apparently they may have made to try and protect my healthy ovary by not getting too close to it with the surgical tools… However this wasn’t something I’d been told at any point in the 6 months since my surgery, so safe to say, it was pretty devastating. I’d been led to believe everything had been well and truly removed. In a way it was a relief to have some answers to my ongoing wishywashy health vibes, but in another I feel really let down and out of control of my own body. The good news is that the cysts aren’t currently big enough to need surgery again, so I get a break from operations for  little longer. In fact there is a chance it might not grow and I can just live with it (like a really unwanted body-pet). However in a year I go back for a scan and if it’s even grown by a cm, I’ll be back under the knife. So for now, I’m focussing on the positives and all the amazing things I need to fill my life with in the next year just in case I do have another bad patch. I’ve not been able to wear mascara since this happened because it’s made me turn into a weeping willow and has been a real brain battle to get my head around. But so that’s the crummy bit…

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The good bit is how INCREDIBLE my friends and family and of course, Nick the wonder boy, have been. They rode every roller-coaster bump of last October with me and so instantly felt the shock and disappointment of this news too. I’ve been so touched by how supportive and wonderful everyone I’ve confided in so far has been, when I haven’t really been much fun to be around. Craig was immediately on hand with an M&S picnic in Regents Park, as some situations only pink gin & tonic in a can can fix. We sat gritting out teeth and “enjoying the sun” (it was about 15 degrees!) for as long as we could muster before skulking to the nearest Starbucks for a hot chocolate to thaw out. Typical British summer antics! My beautiful Kate literally landed from her holiday in Mallorca and slept for approximately one hour, before rushing to London still in her holiday clothes, to whisk me for a stealthy brunch and much needed vent. My mum was an absolutely champ, taking a dash across London from Paddington to Kings Cross to spend a couple of hours watching the new Kings Cross development being built before taking a train back to Yorkshire. & I can’t even begin to list the millions of thoughtful things Nick has done, precious glimmery sparkly moments to make it impossible to be glum; one of them might have included an AMAZING dance to the entire 3 minutes of Aretha Franklins RESPECT (shhh!). That and chocolate moustaches. Safe to say I have had a much needed word with myself and remembered how lucky I am, whatever happens with my health in the future.

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The BIGGEST thing Nick did for me to put a crocodile grin back on my misery guts face was… he has successfully broken my The National curse! Out of the blue a few weeks ago, they added a random July London date in. From the second I heard the news, I knew I just HAD to be there. Intimate venue, walking distance from my house, super SOON! We embarked on an early morning stroll to work where we sat at our respective office computers frantically pressing f5 f5 f5 on the Roundhouse website. Tickets went live at 9am and predictably with The National, the internet broke! The Roundhouse website wasn’t structured to cope with such a vast quantity of hits and before long the site was down, the phoneline was cutting us off and breaking the curse was looking more and more unlikely as I was cheerily informed I was number 3947 in the queue for tickets… Just as we were cursing ourself for not showing up in person to the box office (the old school method is always the best way!) Nick said those glorious words “I’ve got them”! With some serious hacking prowess he managed to avoid any queues and glide through the crumbling website, to bag us a pair of level one tickets so I can scamper to the front and gaze up at The National. I am welling up just listening to them and imagining seeing them live, so imagine what kind of hysterical creature I’ll be on the night? That’s if I get there though… I’m still imagining a piano will fall our of the sky on me as I walk to the gig doors! Lets hope there really s nothing stopping me this time.

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Anyway sunny sparkly service as usual resumes, but now you know why I had a fortnight of sad facing about the place. Like a Skeleton Key will be a little quiet this week, as I fly to Cannes later today and am work work working all week, my schedule barely leaves time for a pan au chocolat or napping, let alone blogging sadly! I’m really curious to experience Cannes and will definitely be back with a vengeance next week to let you know how it was.

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There’s been lots of little glimmers of sparkly shiny stuff in my life recently that I don’t want to let just trickle out of my brain without being recorded, and hopefully you won’t mind reading a mishmash of life lately. I noticed that everything has had pink or purple hues lately, so at least there’s random theme tying it all together.

My magic 3 adventurer Craig & I were born a week apart. I don’t know why I can’t seem to retain this information, but every year I am surprised all over again. This year we we decided to have a VIP party for two bam-smack in the middle of our big days. I snuck home early enough to prepare a kids party table of treats and covered Craig’s eyes as he walked in. There was all the classic 90s faves; cold pizza slices, cheesy shapes, hula hoops, cucumber & ham sandwiches cut into triangles (no crusts!) and of course… cheese & pineapple on sticks! I’m not sure if it was all the E numbers or the orange food power but we chatted away for hours until we basically exhausted ourselves, like cranky toddlers. We were planning to watch a Ryan Gosling movie but even the prospect of topless Ryan action couldn’t tempt us into staying up and we crashed out at 11.

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My work had its annual Bake Off last week. I really enjoy baking but usually opt for cupcakes over big decorative cakes – my current favourite being Rolo Cupcakes where you bake an entire rolo into the middle creating a molten caramel sensation. As a result I ended up stood in my kitchen at midnight, with one cake in the bin that resembled jammy scrambled egg. I have no idea what went wrong (actually I blame the recipe! Surely 3 eggs is excessive…?) and the whole house stank like a greasy spoon cafe fry-up. Luckily the second attempt came out a little less yolky, but still had a soggy bottom that Mary Berry would have destroyed me for. Luckily I had planned for this eventuality and woke up early, donned my pinnie and covered the whole thing in cream, jam, edible petals and my secret weapon… popping candy! The cake crackled the whole bus ride into work and scooped a prize for “most attractive bake” – note that it didn’t get a mention in any of the flavour-related categories but I’m still so chuffed to have won something and now have some nifty silicone spatulas & kitchen tools to play with.

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Blossom is making me so happy. Even though temperatures seem to have plummeted again (on the bus this morning every single person was in a winter coat and I counted 4 pairs of gloves and 2 scarves, including my own – WHAT is going on?) I’m happy that natures confetti seems to be indestructible and surviving the rain showers. I also found my first dandelion clock yesterday. I know it’s childish but they fill me with absolute glee. I still love working out the time with giant wolf-blows, although these days I do then get an attack of the guilts over the garden I just spread weed-seed all over. Sorry North London!

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In Tufnell Park, directly opposite the underground station, is a very average looking corner shop. You could even go into the corner shop, grab something quickly, and leave NEVER knowing that you have in fact stepped foot in the shop of dreams. The reason it’s the shop of dreams that lurking through a narrow doorway, at the back of the shop, is the worlds largest biscuit collection. It is an entire AILSE dedicated to every cookie, biscuit, digestive, creme  and cracker you could think of; most of the imported from exotic lands and packed with unusual ingredients. This is just a third of the offering so if you are a fan of something to dunk in your tea, you really need to hop on a tube to this promised land!

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& Finally. Yesterday my (social media) LIFE PEAKED. It will never, ever get better than this! I’m a huge fan of Simon Reeve, he is one of the many brilliant things that wise-owl-Nick has introduced me to. He is a British writer/presenter of the best travel documentaries where he visits little-known areas of the world and as well as reporting on the treasures to be found, he also shines a light on some of the murkier goings-ons. He is incredibly brave, risking life and limb over and over in order to publicise stories that others have been too scared to approach. He has also written books on international terrorism, modern history and about his adventures. If you haven’t had the joy of experiencing Simon Reeve (although a deserved 2.7million tuned into his new Australia show on BBC2 last night so I don’t think he’s exactly obscure) then I really recommend the Tropic of Capricorn / Tropic of Cancer series for a starter. Frustratingly so much of his series are barely available on DVD or download so you need to do a bit of digging, but these are both currently listed on amazon. His books are also all well worth investing in, particularly The New Jackals where he basically prophesies 9/11 in spooky accuracy. An extremely savvy, smart man and my number 1 pick for that “who would you invite to a dinner party” question. Anyway yesterday as we settled down to watch episode 1 of Australia with Simon Reeve (on iplayer here), I sent a cheeky tweet about him and he REPLIED! And he complimented me! I’m not really one that goes in for tweeting celebs but to have one of your idols respond directly had me absolutely shell-shocked. I feel like I need to shout it from the rooftops but the moment has passed in twitter-land, like most things. So please indluge me in dorkily sticking the screengrab here for posterity.

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