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Last Post (of 2015)

Recently I visited with friends the French town of Lille, for a birthday weekend celebration.  It’s a beautiful town with a mixture of old and new architecture, culture, beautiful independent shops, markets, lovely cafes, and some great bars and restaurants.

First stop was La Piscine Museum in Roubaix.  What was once a swimming pool, is now a museum of art, ceramics and textiles.  The breathtaking swimming pool was constructed between 1927 and 1932 by the Lille architect Albert Baert. It closed in 1985, and re-opened as  museum in 2000. It’s beautifully done. Occasionally an audio clip of children’s voices and splashing was played to remind you of it’s previous incarnation.

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It’s no longer a pool, but a shallow water feature to allow the reflection of the fabulous end window to reflect on the water when the sun is behind it.

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On the ground floor underneath the balconies, you step into the original cream and green tiled shower cubicles which are still the entry way.

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There was a fabulous exhibition of the Marc Chagall’s work on display.

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The art deco period detailing was reflected in the exterior of the building too, the undulating edge of the flat roof, the window and door architraving and the iron work on the lamps – even the guttering.

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After leaving we popped into an eccentric art pop up shop, with a cafe, in an old warehouse type space. Below, a pixilated wood on chip board tribute to Footloose. Or something.

 

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Coffee could be taken in bed, but only in the upright position.

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A lovely old sink had been ruined repurposed as a mirror

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French gnomes. Just rude.

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Lille by night

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Our trip was not long after the Paris attack, I’m not sure if this building was lit up with the French flag as a tribute – or the building is always lit. Either way it was beautifully done.

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The lights look a little like they may have been hit by austerity cuts – or the weather, or both.

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In the quiet backstreets the lights made the cobbles glow.

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Delicious mulled red or white wine and spiced warm apple juice.

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After our meal we childishly purchased our glasses at the Coq Hardi.

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The next day we headed to the markets, this giant Carmen Miranda head oversees the flea market in Wazemmes.

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Giants in skirts are the order of the day in the food hall.  No idea.

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There were long queues on this Sunday morning on the fish stall, the meat stall and the bakery, and the food was carefully inspected before purchase.

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Hence the try before you buy Pineapple.

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Less a mode of transport, more a mode of storage – I hope.

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You want lots of ham, cheese and onion?  You’re in the right place.

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Colourful walls contrasted with shady looking characters in the alleyway.

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My favourite part – the brocante, was limited, but we spotted some nice paper artefacts and some vintage Mossy amongst the vintage magazines.

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Scandal.

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A beautiful, traditional boulangerie was on the edge of the market.

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The fruit was so beautifully displayed.

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Don’t ask.

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Frenchie says Relax

 

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Nothing says I love you like….jam.

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Who hasn’t felt the need for a boyfriend (or girlfriend) pillow?

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This particular outfit was a bit low on the comfort factor for my liking

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Every place had onions – but this one was official.

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That’s it. I hope you enjoyed your tour of the beautiful, the charming and the outright wacky.

Thank you for reading, for your comments and kind words this year.  Wishing you and your family a very happy Christmas and 2016.

Winter Telly

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When the winter weather finally arrives, but you’re not yet on full-on Christmas hostess duty (one month today!), there’s nothing better than popping another log on the fire, pouring yourself a pint of Baileys on the rocks (or is that just me?) and relaxing on the sofa in front of your favourite tv programme.

If you’re an Adele fan and you didn’t see the Adele at the BBC special do catch up on iPlayer, aside from her singing live, a piece with her look alike’s was great telly.

It wouldn’t be November without I’m A Celebrity. This year is no different to any other, Ant and Dec doing what they are so good at – mercilessly taking the mickey out of the celebs in the jungle.  There’s always one high maintenance diva that the viewers enjoy nominating for task after task, and this year Lady Colin is the gift that keeps on giving.

Winter plus Christmas equal sequins, it’s the law. And just in time, along comes Strictly.  We’re over half way though the run now, for me it’s about the dancing, nothing else.  Jay and Aliona’s Pulp Fiction jive is the best dance so far.  Not long now until we find out who will lift this years glitter ball trophy.

The Man In The High Castle, produced by Ridley Scott and starring Rufus Sewell in uniform. If you care about the plot line it is an alternate history of what life may have been like had the Allied Powers lost World War II. Available for binge watching on Amazon Prime.

Also coming up is a BBC hour-long tribute to Peter Kay called 20 Years Of Funny. No date has been released yet, although it is in the pre-Christmas listings, so Kay fans keep an eye out.

If anything starring Idris Elba fills you with joy, he is returning to our screens for a two episode of Luther on the 15th December.

The BBC have just announced their Christmas day highlights – and part of that is the imaginatively titled Michael McIntyre’s Big Christmas Show. Also, the acclaimed musical Gypsy, starring the fabulous Imelda Staunton. One to record and enjoy when the kids have gone out.

ITVs Christmas day highlight is the Downtown Christmas special.  Channel 4’s big day offering is a special edition of Gogglebox – with kids.

We have to wait until New Years day for the much anticipated one-off Sherlock special, based in Victorian England.  If you really want to push the boat out you can pay ££’s to go and see it at your local Picture House cinema – with added extras not being screened on the night.

Something good to look out for the new year;  a thriller mini series, The Night Manager. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, and Tom Hollander. In six parts, based on the novel by John le Carré.

Have I missed anything decent?

Credit to my husband Older,Wiser Models Inc. for the photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help!

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When Harry Met Sally was one of my favourite movies, back in the day. If you’ve seen the film, the above scene of Harry stalking Sally in the personal growth section of the bookshop will be familiar to you. For me it’s all too familiar.

There’s something so optimistic about reading one of these kind of books.  In the last year I have read a few – one was the excellent Willpower by Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney.  It gives you very useful tips on how to master your thoughts and resist temptation. Whilst reading it I thought, this is excellent, I must read it once a year to invigorate my willpower – will I?  No. Oh the irony.

Another was by Ariana Huffington (founder of the Huffington Post) called Thrive. She’s a bit of a human dynamo,  Here’s what I took away from Thrive;  life is short, don’t be that person who never enjoys the now, who doesn’t pay attention to your nearest and dearest.  Be present, you may not be here next week. I hope Ms Huffington rereads her own book once a year.

But one of the most interesting books is one that is selling like hot cakes at the moment, it’s called The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying by Marie Kondo.  Ms Kondo is a professional tidier, her business is going in to homes where the owners need help to reduce the amount of clutter they are holding on to.  The  main argument of her book is that we are all living with too much, we are moving into bigger houses with better storage to accommodate our too much, we are buying more and ever cleverer storage for our too much but it’s not making us happy.  So why not make it less – much less.  Then, instead of tidying or feeling overwhelmed by our over stuffed homes, we can have time to do more.  She has a point. Ms Kondo’s mantra is, does the possesion bring you joy?  If not, and if you don’t need it, dispose of it. The author acknowledges it isn’t easy, and that sometimes we hold on to things because we don’t want to let go of the past – or are scared of the future.  I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who feels overwhelmed by too much stuff.

All this reading may be classic displacement activity, but I will have tidy cupboards!

Getting Used To The New Normal

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My daughter has been at university for a month now, the longest time we have been apart since the day she was born.  For her, the last month has been busy making a new life, in a new home, with new friends.  For me, it has been a month of getting used to an empty bedroom, a quieter house and smaller meal times, the absence of her feels a little easier with each passing week.

The dynamic of the house has changed now it’s a house with me, my son and my husband.  In this new, more male household there is more chat about sport at the dinner table – as well as on the tv.  Something those of you with all male children already know about.

But.

There are things that I am growing to appreciate.  Less housework – washing, shopping, and running around, that means more time to do whatever I want.  Life is expanding to fit, as it does. Lots of things that have been waiting for me to have the time to do them are getting done, and get togethers and weekends away have been planned.

Last week I went with some friends to see Ruby Wax on her Sane New World tour.  The audience were predominantly women, although there were some men. If you haven’t seen the show I recommend it.  She talks about modern life, how fragile our mental health can be if we overload it – and how best to protect ourselves from emotional burn out or depression.  It made me realise how busy life had been just before my daughter left, and how important a bit of down time is to give perspective and allow our minds and emotions to adjust and realign when life throws up changes and challenges, as it does.  Mindfulness, Ruby explained, is good for lowering the cortisol (the hormone our body produces when it is under stress). It may be meditation, mindfully doing a task – such as cooking, or if neither of those sorts of things work for you, doing some form of exercise.  Whatever it takes to make you exhale deeply and drop your shoulders from around your ears!

So this term is shaping up as time for letting the dust settle and adjusting to the new normal, which I’ve been reliably informed by a mother who has done this before me, I will have got used to by Christmas  – just in time for the old normal to return for a while, with added washing!

A Moveable Feast

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a mum in possession of a child at uni must be in want of something to distract her.  This last weekend I (finally!) took my daughter to university.  The week before threatened to be a long one – so thank goodness for the distraction of Henley Literary Festival. It is held over one week and this years was the largest so far. It holds so many events the locations are spread across the town, I went to see 4 of the many authors.  The tickets for the big names go fast, but the big names are not always the most interesting, as I found out.

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The first was author Max Mosley. Max talked about his childhood as the son of Diana Mitford, society beauty and her husband Oswald Mosley, disgraced founder of the British Union of Fascists.  Moving on to his time in Formula One, working with Bernie Ecclestone and his role in improving safety on the track.  Finally he touched on his legal battle with the News of the World newspaper, who published photos of what he considered a private orgy, and what they considered fair game.  He won.  He seems to have inherited charm and the ability to take on the establishment from his parents.

Next up was Candace Bushnell, the American author of the column in the New York Times which inspired the tv series Sex And The City. I’ll only say that despite the valiant efforts of the interviewer it didn’t live up to my expectations, but the drink in Hotel du Vin afterwards was good, so the evening wasn’t a total right-off!

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The next author I saw was one that I hadn’t previously heard of (my bad), Ella Woodward. Deliciously Ella has sold in record breaking numbers.  Ella’s success came from her blog, where she wrote about overhauling her diet after a serious and debilitating illness.  She has a huge following on Instagram and her blog covers everything from food, yoga, exercise and lifestyle.  She is healthy now, beautiful and successful. Her talk was great – very honest, and natural.  I came away admiring her and thinking what a great role model she was for how to turn adversity into a positive life change, and in the process has now got a great career.  One of her healthy, all natural recipes can be found on this link to her blog –

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At the end of the week I saw Sue Perkins being interviewed about her autobiography Spectacles.  She was very entertaining and despite being pressed she successfully avoided disclosing the result of this weeks Bake Off final.  She regaled the audience with stories from her book, and revealed she met her tv partner Mel Giedroyc at Cambridge, and although their personal lives have gone in very different directions, their friendship is the one she values most.  I’ve started reading her book, so far, so funny.

So if you like books, hearing authors chat, answer questions and crucially, you need a little distraction, investigate where your local festivals are – or you could plan a trip to the mother of all lit fests –  Hay Literary Festival  Happy reading.

The End.

Coming up for air

It has been a long time since I wrote on the blog for which I am truly, truly sorry but there has been a good reason.   My eldest chick has flown this nest but the run up to him spreading his wings and actually going has been all encompassing from writing the longest to-do list ever (yes even longer than when I was waiting for him to arrive into the world) to spending literally days on Pinterest looking at top 1000 ‘dorm room hacks’.

It’s been exactly 4 weeks since I dropped him in his dorm room at his American university. I kind of went into overdrive, totally taken in by the huge ‘starting college’ industry/shopping craze over in the USA. What – you haven’t bought a waffle bed topper, bed bug protecter, goose-down comforter and industrial fan that all match his dorm room colour scheme (white breeze block)? I wanted to make sure he had everything in case I was labelled a BAD PARENT plus have you seen the cost of shipping a forgotten winter coat, some dairy milk and a bag of twiglets to the US?!

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It all felt very alien, not only because we were in the US but also because I really struggled to recall my only university days to use as a point of reference (clearly destroyed all memories of that period in a haze of Snakebite and Black). I spent a while fantasizing that I was actually in a couple of my favourite 80s films St Elmo’s Fire or Animal House as we walked past Delta Kappa, the refectory and the quad. His room was not bad. My husband and I made his bed which was like the Princess and the Pea with multiple layers added to the 2 inch thick college mattress. Helped him unpack and hang up his clothes (it’s only when you unpack them all that you realise they have way too many clothes). Pinned up his photos and then inevitably went shopping for MORE essential college stuff (he felt like he wasn’t taking it seriously unless he had some folders even though I had just bought him a top of the range laptop).

We had a last lunch where I could feel the tension building of saying ‘THE GOODBYE’. He was happy which was the main thing and I was happy he was happy. I shed a few tears, hugged and with that he was gone. We flew home 24 hours later and that was when it hit me. Over-wrought and tired from no sleep on an overnight flight, cold and rainy back in the UK I just felt like everything was crap. Why on earth had I agreed to allow him (yea, right!) to go to uni so far away? Why had I done this to myself? I went to bed and wrestled with the rational vs irrational sides of my brain for a couple of hours. Thankfully rational had won by the time I woke up – he is 18 now, an adult and in charge of his own destiny.

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Over the following week every time someone asked me about him, my eyes pricked with tears. I thought about him constantly – woke up thinking about him, and thought about him before bedtime. Wanting to contact him but not too much. Thank god for What’s App – we can have a quick chats without it being onerous on him. Then at the weekend we have a long FaceTime which I really look forward to. After about 10 days he told me he felt homesick and I found this hard even though I knew it would pass. My maternal instinct was to make it all fine but I do believe that we should face up to negative emotions and try and understand and accept them rather than deny them and smooth them over. Four weeks in there has been a small but definite change and he is seems happier, settled into a routine and making friends.

And me? I am feeling ok! There is less of the shitty domestic stuff I hate like washing, hanging out kit, endless food purchasing. I have more blocks of time that I didn’t have before that I have yet to fill with something meaningful (i.e. not Twitter) and it is in those moments that I think not about him, but what has passed – his childhood and everything wrapped up with it. I still have a smaller chick at home but he needs me less and less. I asked my husband ‘what did we do at the weekends before we had kids?’ Sleep in, get drunk, nurse a hangover. I don’t intend doing that again so I feel quite liberated that like him, I have a blank page to fill.

Hygga for the heart

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Danes were voted the happiest people on earth last year. One of the reasons is a way of life the Danes call Hygga (pronounced hooga). It was originally a Norwegian word for well-being, but it is now the word Danes use for how they combat the effects of their long, dark winters. Hygga is all things cosy, candle light, fur, throws and fires for warmth, friends over for conversation and dinners –  with great food and drink etc. You get the picture.

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Today is the Autumn Equinox, days are getting shorter, we are also adjusting to our new normal – life with a child who has gone to uni. So why not adopt hygga for the heart this season. Reduce our expectations of ourselves whilst we adjust to the change in family life. Be a little bit more indulgent, use the extra time to please yourself more.  A friend told me that by Christmas you have got used to your child’s absence. Then Christmas rolls round remarkably quickly and they come back – with washing!

So make the most of the coming weeks to do what you want –  whether that be putting your feet up or organising a get together with friends in the same boat.  And if anyone has the temerity to question this new attitude or demand more than you are capable of giving at this time you could always use the advice in this recent quote from Helen Mirren, “At 70 years old, if I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to use the words “f*** off” much more frequently” Not very hygga I’m sure you’ll agree, but effective!

The School of Life

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My first thought for what to write about this week was how to combat the sadness of children going off to uni.  But then a 3 minute clip of loveliness about change and the sadness it can bring popped up in my inbox from The School of Life –

On Melancholy

If you are feeling sad because life is changing, the news is bad, the days are getting shorter again or the post-holiday feeling has hit you like a sledgehammer – any damn reason really, do watch it.  It makes you feel less alone with our sadness, which is something all of us could do with quite honestly.

Next week:  a piece so relentlessly upbeat it will make you feel queasy – promise!

The photo above is of a sculpture of John The Baptist in the Strahov Monastery, Prague.

S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G – we’re shopping

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If your child is off to uni do you have a definitive list of the kit they need?  As a mum doing this uni thing for the first time, I have asked a few friends who have done this before and some current uni students – what did they consider useful or helpful? The list varied between boys and girls, as you would expect, but below are all of their suggestions.

For their room

Duvet & pillow(s), 2 sets of bedding and towels

A lamp

Coat hangers

Big, easy to squash down bags to take everything in – Ikea or similar, also good for under bed storage

A wheelie suitcase or easy to carry large bag to bring stuff home in – if they return by train for the holidays

A kettle if your child likes tea/coffee/pot noodles

Over the door hooks for coats or hanging washing to dry

A doorstop – the doors are heavy fire doors so a door stop is often required, apparently

A large coloured throw for over the bed, throw cushions, fairy lights, a hot water bottle and a mattress topper.

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For the kitchen

The obvious – cups, bowls, plates, knives, forks, spoons and tea towels.  A frying pan, a saucepan/and or wok, pint glasses and/or wine glasses.

Plus, a tin opener, bottle opener, corkscrew, slotted frying pan turner, large serving spoon, wooden spoon, kitchen scissors (best kept in their room as they go walkabouts very quickly apparently!), a container for microwaving, a peeler and a grater.

One student told me it was a good idea to mark your valuables using a UV pen with your name. A bike lock is useful if you are taking a bike or something that needs to be secured in the room.  Nothing (apart from the laptop and phone) needs to be expensive as things can get ruined or go walkabout.

Another parent mentioned a starter kit for the first days – milk, cereal, tea, coffee, biscuits, eggs, bread, salt and ketchup, shower gel, toothpaste, washing up liquid, washing powder and paracetamol. Also, any favourite foods.

Make sure that valuable items such as laptops are covered by some form of insurance, from day one. Finally, you could cover a laptop in stickers (firmly stuck on) to make it less desirable to steal, as this makes it too easy to identify.

Would you add anything?  Is there anything here that you would not bother with?

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