Thursday, 30 April 2015

Waiting for payday

Tomorrow I finally get paid. It feels like forever since the last payday as this month saw several hefty outgoings and left me without any spending money over the past few weeks.

Fortunately I did make an incredibly pleasant discovery which got me through the latter half of the month. Turned out my contactless card for my student account still had actual money on it so I have at least been able to travel to and from work (yippee!). Usually topping up my Oyster is the one expense I can't avoid!

For the first time since I arrived in London I do have savings though! Pretty strict with myself when I really want to be, I refuse to dig into it, so I have basically become a hermit.

Over the past few weekends, in my bid to avoid spending I have become a master in the art of pootling; taking it slow, getting stuff done at a relaxed pace while enjoying music discovery/re-discovery. Many evenings have been whiled away on Netflix and iPlayers or in the company of books before bed (in addition to this saving malarky, I'm also half-attempting to cut back on screen time straight after and before bed in the hope that it might improve my sleep).

I have been taking pleasure in the little things. Tuesday nights pre-choir I've made an attempt to explore the City en route to feel as though I've at least had some adventure in my week! The weekend just gone was particularly special as we finally sorted out our little London garden! It is officially looking like a proper garden and I can't wait for sunny weekends and warm evenings so we can sit out and enjoy it! I did also manage to spend last Friday night doing something other than my laundry and or tackling the mountain of washing up that grows over the course of a week as I had pre-booked tickets to the Magnificent Obsessions exhibition at Barbican which proved highly intriguing, positively puzzling and thoroughly entertaining all at the same time.

Fingers crossed this month brings with it a few less expensive hurdles (although I am fully aware that the yoga membership I am going to treat myself to will hardly come cheap... all for a good cause!) I wish myself luck, especially as the bank holiday weekend looms.

In the meantime, Instagram is always there to make me feel like I'm doing something with my days...

A welcome duck pond (complete with fish) where I sat to eat before choir one Tuesday.

Days spent at home tend to be those where I dress the most impractically... got to get my kicks somehow!

I also spend far too much time 'organising'. Pretty happy with my little Norfolk corner though, I must say!

Another Tuesday, another lovely spot for food. Guildhall in all its glory.

Revelling in the artistic talents of a 6-year-old.

I would love to live in Barbican.

Filled with pride; our little London garden!
I even got the oboe out for a honk. Desperate times?

At least dog walks on Wimbledon Common are free. (Just wanted an excuse to show off my new wellies really...)

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Another day of brilliant sunshine leaves me feeling incredibly happy because I'm pretty certain Spring has finally sprung! The Easter holidays have been ever so kind in terms of an ideal balance between beautiful weather and duller days. I say an ideal balance because as much as I'd love sunshine every day, those dull days are good for doing the dull things when staying inside is required. There is nothing worse than being stuck inside on a sunny day!

Last week saw the first full day of sunshine in a long time. Feeling overly-energised, I headed out with the intention of making the most of it.

Apart from my birthday plans, one definite plan over Easter was to go back to yoga. Having loved it in the summer, I've felt sad to be away from it for so long so hoped that Easter would provide the perfect opportunity to make my return. Having worn my trusty Matalan leggings and 'PE' t-shirt for sessions in the summer, I did feel that proper clothes were in order to really motivate me (of course shopping is always the answer!) so I ventured into Wandsworth for a spot of shopping!

Hugely distracted by H&M where I made several totally necessary purchases (NONE OF WHICH WERE BLACK), I finally made my way to Sports Direct in search of some good value leggings and sports bras. I always feel a little (ok, very) odd in sports shops, and I do feel like the assistants see me and wonder if I'm lost. As a general rule, the idea of anything remotely resembling exercise absolutely terrifies me, and I feel like people in sports shops can smell my fear.

Needless to say the sight of deoderant marks all over seemingly every item I wanted to try meant my visit was very short. Not at all familiar with the area I wasn't entirely sure how to actually leave Wandsworth, but I hoped that a bus to Putney wouldn't be too hard to come by. Pretty impressed by the ease with which I located the necessary bus stop, I was on my way!

Whenever I pass through Putney and Putney Bridge on the District line, I do conclude that if for some reason I was forced to live south of the river, Putney would be the place for me (I understand that Putney Bridge isn't actually south of the river, but it's still far down in my eyes). Though having only seen it from above, I wasn't at all sure what to expect from the highstreet. Of course it was sweet! And Sports Direct here provided me with just what I needed (a pretty horrific changing room experience though. It was literally a box!) so in no time at all I was on my merry way home.

Sun shining, Notting Hill on the line, I had to take a detour. Notting Hill is definitely one of my favourite places to stroll around on a sunny day. Houses that are already incredibly beautiful are even more so in sunlight, and when the market isn't on, it's not at all busy either so a very pleasant place to be!

I thoroughly enjoyed aimless wandering before finally finding myself in an Italian ice-cream café serving Illy coffee which I adore! I first had Illy when I was on tour with the Kings Lynn Festival Chorus in Italy; sweet memories. It's so yummy and always transports me right back. Hard to tear myself away, but my tummy told me it was time for home and I felt satisfied that I'd made the most of the day!

I first went to yoga over the summer at a fancy studio in Seven Dials; Yotopia. They had an amazing selection of teachers and classes, so while I'd signed up to the introductory offer I tried it all; from bikram to ashtanga to vinyasa to ballet sculpt & stretch (which was my favourite by far. It was like living all my childhood dreams in one class)! However with a fancy studio comes fancy prices and as I neither live nor work particularly close to Seven Dials, I decided I couldn't justify the cost.

With time since the summer flying by, I've then not found another place to go since. I was determined therefore to use Easter as the opportune moment to return. Having found a studio in a good work-home-friendly location, I bought another introductory offer so I could have some lessons over the holiday.

The studio in question, Stretch London, has two studios in ideal locations; Columbia Road and Broadway Market. I figured the Columbia Road studio is a slightly shorter walking distance from work so that's where I decided to try!

I'm still very much a beginner, so I'm not about to start writing about yoga in any amount of detail, but I do enjoy it very much so I hope this time to keep it up. I'm sure if I keep going I'll have plenty of embarrassing moments and a good dose of rave reviews to write about; so far I'm loving the studio and the teachers! Just in case I do have any time off like before, I've got a little notebook in which I've written poses so I can do some at home on the mat I bought on a New Year whim about 5 years ago (actually turns out it's a really nice mat; cheers TK Maxx)! It's probably something to do with the fact that it's the Easter holidays, but I am feeling incredibly energised at the moment, and lighter in all sorts of ways! I am also one of these people that loves a bit of muscle ache, so re-awakening some I think I'd forgotten I even had has been incredibly satisfying!

In addition to the health benefits of yoga, Columbia Road itself is one of my favourite streets in London and it's been nice to see it on quieter days when there are no hoards and I can actually see small (or actually in terms of the enormous mosaic I'd never noticed before, not at all small) details along the way. I'd love to be able to live in East London one day (and no, I am not a hipster. I appreciate the buildings and the green spaces)!

Definitely been partaking in plenty of self-indulgence this holiday. 
May it continue for the final few days!

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Overture (followed by a birthday)

Yesterday marked the day of my birth and I had a wonderful time celebrating! Of course it went far too quickly but lucky for me I had a visit from Ma & Pa for a bit of a warm up (or, Overture as I decided in the end; it was a pretty epic two days)! One of my favourite things about birthdays is that they provide an opportunity to share my favourite places and pastimes with the people I love! 

Forming an itinerary was a slow process. The only problem with a birthday at the end of March is that one has no idea what the weather will be doing. Some years I've seen heat-waves, others snow, so I never know what to plan for. I began with an extensive list 'To Do' because I just couldn't decide. Fortunately (although probably more unfortunately), the rain clouds that would not go away on BBC Weather narrowed down my choices, although at the same time revealed to me how few sheltered places there are to run to in London that won't cost money or be incredibly well-populated on a wet day!

After a slightly disorientating start on Sunday morning caused by my communication confusion (as is my way), we sat down to tea and hot cross buns before braving the day (the weather was already horribly drizzly at this point). Our first port of call was God's Own Junkyard! We arrived 2 minutes before opening (I had to Google it as sudden fear suddenly struck when we were greeted by a shut-up-shop that perhaps it didn't open on Sundays after all... it does) so stood in the rain looking far too keen until an ominous, I think religious (?), figurine and a brightly coloured cow signalled it was time for us to go in. We were all suitably mesmerised as we drifted around with other keen customers (I say customers, I think most of us were there to admire rather than buy the art)! Lots of oohs, aahs and photos later, we sat down to tea.

Papa & I are the masters of 'looking natural'...

As much as none of us fancied facing the elements when we were quite so content, there was lots on the list so we continued on our journey. Next stop, London Bridge in the hope of finding some lunch at Borough Market... which is apparently closed on Sundays. Nevertheless, we appreciated the architecture and I (well, actually Mum) finally found the umbrella canopy for a photo opportunity. Our tummies rumbling, we wandered on towards the river and Hay's Galleria. However when a Pret a Manger is in your path, you have to seize the moment and grab a sandwich and a tea. Never lets you down! 

Again, sheltered from the rain we weren't ever so keen to venture back out, but we finally mustered the courage and continued on to Waterloo. In the wind the fumes hit us before we even saw any graffiti, causing Dad to wonder whether we might require a mask like the artists. Our turn along Leake Street was relatively short and unfortunately The Vaults were closed while the venue was being prepared for the next festival (which I believe will have actually started by now). With Sunday apparently proving more traditional in London than we expected, we ventured forth to the Southbank for tea at the BFI.

There was obviously a film screening as the bar was overflowing. Fortunately, despite the rain, the temperature was relatively mild out so we took a seat outside and tightly clasped our teas whenever the wind blew! As I'm sure I've mentioned before, the tea selection at the BFI is very lovely. However I'm not sure what was going on this time but despite being quite certain that we had the right teas as they were given to us, when we came to sniff and taste them, we were less than sure what flavour we each had. So we muddled through and just kept whichever we liked the taste of, swapping occasionally for a wider taste experience (we were all just so perplexed)!

A hint of blue sky gave us confidence that we should continue on to our next destination. So we set off for Camden, hopping on a Boris Bus (otherwise known as the new Routemasters) for a couple of stops just for the experience! Oh, but the blue sky had been slightly misleading and as we crossed Waterloo Bridge in pursuit of Charing Cross station we were well and truly buffeted by horizontal rain and ruthless winds. It's an awfully long bridge when you're in fear of being blown sideways and right off it!

I love Camden. The hustle and bustle and the maze of stalls. This time we ventured into the new part of the market and were pleasantly surprised by a cute tea shop and lots of good quality antiques and vintage hidden in a corner that I probably couldn't find again even if I wanted to! We likened the experience to Casablanca and the Soukke, only perhaps with less hassling and dodgy-looking curtains hiding goodness knows what to sell. After losing ourselves in memorabilia galore, we were led again by our tummies to Poppie's fish & chips for tea! I had a fish platter which was just... yum! I have yet to discover another fish & chip shop which serves food on a par with that I eat in Norfolk, so it's a favourite haunt of mine!

A day well spent, we parted company for a well-deserved rest before another early start the following day. In bed with Trevor McDonald and the Mafia; bliss.

Monday morning began with tea at Beyond Retro on Stoke Newington Road. This time we were confident that we had the right tea (or coffee) as we sat watching the world go by from bar stools by the window, Stevie Ray Vaughan playing in the background. Initially very impressed with the choice in music, I'm not entirely convinced that live albums are the most appropriate choice for subtle background music. Suddenly our ears were filled with the screeches of a guitar being manipulated in a less-than traditional way. While such musical... experiments, have great power when seen on stage, they're not so pleasant to listen to. It was our cue to leave. So after a vintage browse, we made our way to Brick Lane to pay a visit to the Vintage Emporium.

A Sunday-Monday visit made me realise how infrequently I leave the flat for adventures on any other day of the week besides Saturday as yet again we were met with a very definitely closed café. Brick Lane plays host to a wealth of places to eat and drink so we weren't too deterred. My only concern was that I'm not entirely sure whether it was just closed or has gone completely. I must return soon to find out! So we just had to partake in a little more vintage browsing before our tummies rumbled again and it was time for pie!

Square Pie in Spitalfields was a New Year discovery. The BBQ Bourbon Beef pies blew my mind, so I've been back once or twice. We were hoping to introduce Mum and Dad to said taste sensation, but there appears to have been a change to the menu so they were nowhere to be seen (apart from in a take-home-to-cook form, so obviously we snapped those up just in case)! Nevertheless, we had tasty alternatives which filled a hole and would keep us going through to tea time.

Having only spent a minute on a Boris bus the day before, we decided to take another to our next destination for a longer ride from Liverpool Street to Tottenham Court Road. At Tottenham Court Road we got side-tracked by Primark (I just automatically typed 'Primary' then. Can you tell I'm a teacher?) but when the maddening crowds finally put us off, we escaped to the new Foyles aka Heaven.

Unfortunately there was no room in the disappointingly tiny, slightly too M&S/John Lewis-style café. Nevertheless, we found plenty of amusement in the form of sheet music in drawers reached by ladders (pretty sure I've written about these before because they're just that exciting!), the jazz section, comics galore and the new Little Black Classics by Penguin Books lining every staircase (dangerous)! Crucial purchases made, we were in desperate need of tea, so we carried on our way.

A little along from the new Foyles lies the old Foyles, now full of tacky shops that we hope are not to stay. Well-hidden amongst the tat however, is the old Foyles café about which I have only heard tremendous things. Having now had a tea and Portugese Tart, I can totally vouch for those tremendous things. The atmosphere was lovely; a slice of peace above the madness of the streets below. A good selection of teas, board games (been searching FOREVER for a place to play games that doesn't call itself a 'game café/bar'!), tasty snacks, art, great music, comfy tables and chairs, we were happily settled! 

You wouldn't believe how many attempts it took to settle for this very 'natural' photograph...
When we eventually tore ourselves away it was on the hunt for a new tea tray. When I visited Paris many years ago, I brought back a tea tray with a map of the Metro on it. Unfortunately, it has officially bitten the dust, so Ma and Pa are in search of a new one of similar design. I wondered whether the London Transport Museum shop might be the place to go, so that was our next port of call. Possibly as busy as the museum itself, we took great pleasure in a browse; particularly appreciative of the use of old upholstery from trains and buses as cushion covers, purses and even dog coats! Unfortunately, the tray they had to offer was not up to Dad's standards (something to do with the handles), so I guess I'll just have to head back to Paris to find another Metro one. What a great shame!

Finished with Covent Garden sooner than we expected (having been without rain all day, it was beginning to spit so we didn't fancy wandering around in the open air) once we'd stopped off at the Moomin Shop for a cuddly Moomin Papa (for my own Papa, naturally), Mum fancied a trip to Westfield, so off we went...

Not too horrendously busy, we did a bit more browsing then had our final supper (that's perhaps slightly over-dramatic) at Wahaca which went down very well indeed! I'm always amazed by the amass of flavours and here was me always of the opinion that I wasn't a fan of spicy food, yet this was my third Wahaca visit!? Washing the spices down with chocolate and caramel sauce (with Churros, too) it was time to say goodbye again.

Birthday/Easter Daffodils.

After two days of zig-zagging around London, my birthday day itself was a little slower paced. I had made brunch plans and evening plans, so the time in between was spent meandering from one to the other, via pubs for tea and beers. 

40 floors up; brunch with a view at Duck & Waffle

'I live over there...'

Sunshine at St Katharine Docks

Stumbled upon the 'Royal Boat' (pretty nice view of Tower Bridge too).

A view of St Paul's Cathedral to end the day.

Finished off the night with bowling fun at All Star Lanes!

I may be 24 now, but birthdays certainly haven't got any less exciting yet! Maybe 25 will be a bit of a shock to the system, but in the meantime I'm going to enjoy this year as much as I can. I'm so grateful to have seen it in with the people I love doing what I love.