How to be a happy herbivore… or 14 fun things I discovered on going vegan

1 Nov

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

I used to think vegans were weird.

Then I became one of them.

And now the thing that’s weird is that I didn’t do it earlier.

I wish I had but like lots of choices in life, it’s only for you when you’re for it. (Like getting married or learning to like olives.)

In the run-up to going vegan, I read and watched some pretty pivotal (for me) books and documentaries. They made the decision more definite.

But once I was vee-goned… as well as feeling healthier and happier, there was a whole lot more to discover. Happy herbivore stuff. Like where to buy the best vegan donuts, how to find stylish vegan shoes, and who does the best vegan eyeliner.

So, for anyone considering going vegan, here’s my 14 fun things I discovered in my first months as a vegan…

1. Cooking so good you can swear by it. Yes, I discovered Thug Kitchen. The wonderfully sweary, all vegan cook book has some of the best things I have EVER eaten in it. The coconut rice with mango and beans is the most amazing dish ever. You will not regret making it. I swear.

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

2. The best ever ‘mac no cheese’… This recipe by Aine Carlin was a game-changer. It’s actually hard to explain how good it is. It’s proper comfort food without the grease (and extra vitamins too). We made it recently for my meat-loving in-laws and they polished off the whole lot.

3. I don’t miss chocolate or cheese. Honestly. Before going vegan, I’d worried about ‘giving up’ chocolate and cheese. But here’s the thing… you don’t have to. You can buy dark chocolate (which is better for you, double win) or treat yourself to coconut mylk chocolate (a complete revelation for me!). I also discovered Rebel Kitchen, whose chocolate orange mylk is probably meant to be for kids but I’m addicted to it!

4. Happy vegan snacks! There are soooo many wonderfully accidentally vegan snacks, like Love Hearts, Skittles, Starburst, Frazzles, McCoys crisps, Party Rings and Oreos to name but a few. (There’s even this fab Instagram account, Accidentally Vegan UK, dedicated to sharing the ones they find.)
And there’s the brilliantly ‘unaccidentally’ vegan snacks, like wagon wheels from Anandas Marshmallow Confections.

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

5. Vegans love junk food too… because everyone needs a hot dog or a burger every now and then. My favourite so far has been from the Essential Vegan pop-up in Shoreditch (which has popped away now but they’re hopefully opening a real premises soon) and The Waiting Room in Deptford (who do a mean spicy hot dog!).

But you can also get vegan pizza at Pizza Express (it’s called the Pianta), eat vegan at Nandos or at Wagamama, and even have a vegan curry at Wetherspoons.

6. Vegan cake is damn good. Ruby’s of London is my new favourite (they have a stall every week in Greenwich Market). But Ms Cupcake in Brixton is amazing too (the cookie sandwiches are AMAZING). And the cheesecake from VX in Kings Cross. Oh yeah. We’ve also been making vegan brownies at home too. (Yes, there’s a reason the hashtag #whatfatveganseat exists!)

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

7. And then there’s the ice cream too. You can get lovely deliberately vegan ice cream, like Salted Caramel Almond Dream, or go for Walls Swedish Glace which happens to be widely stocked at big supermarkets, be a bargain and vegan too. Again, winning!

8. Epic vegan Bloody Marys are the business. My other half created these Bloody Mary beauties one night and they’ve become a firm favourite ever since.

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

9. Vegan bags are brilliant. I’ll admit here, I used to wonder about vegan bags… I wasn’t going to eat the bag so why did it need to be vegan? (Yeah, I know.) One of the first things I did on going vegan was treat myself to a Matt and Nat bag. (You can find them in lots of local boutiques, but also in Urban Outfitters and online at ASOS too.) I also treated myself to a SkinnyDip bag, again happily vegan. For more vegan bags ideas, I’ve been Pinning away when I find something nice here.

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

10. I put some new shoes on, and suddenly everything’s right. I love shoes. Like more than I really should. And again, it was something I worried about before going vegan. How would I find shoes I love? Quite easily as it happens. Turns out that Urban Outfitters do vegan leather boots. Miss KG does lots of sparkly, shiny shoes that happen to be accidentally vegan too. ASOS even have a ‘non-leather’ filter that you can use to only look at vegan shoes. I even found amazing jelly brogues when I was in Lisbon. They smell of lemons. Yup, they’re very happy shoes.

In fact, lots of high street places have vegan shoes, you just have to check the material symbols on the bottom of the shoes – little diamond shapes are good, little stretched out hide shapes are, eh, not good.  Also, you’ll probably save money too as faux leather tends to be cheaper. Win-win!

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

11. More treats! The Vegan Kind subscription box is now my favourite post of the month. Based in Glasgow, they send out a treats box filled with sweet and savoury snacks (and the occasional beauty or lifestyle product). Through their box, I’ve discovered Lazy Days dairy-free Scottish millionaire shortbread (again stocked in Sainsburys). This shortbread was a hit with the in-laws too!

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

12. Bunny friendly and vegan friendly make-up…  In the first weeks of being vegan, I was doing a lot of thinking about what I ate and this graduated to thinking about what I put on my face. So I did a beauty bag audit. I looked at the ingredients of my products and if they were cruelty-free. (It was shocking how many things I’d assumed were that turned out not to be.)
So I made a pile that I would use up and not buy again – and then when I ran out, I would replace it with something vegan and cruelty-free. So far, my new favourites are Lush’s eyeliner and Soap and Glory’s mascara (as someone who has flicked eyeliner everyday, I’m a harsh critic of eyeliners and mascaras!). But I’ve also discovered Superdrug’s B Makeup which is super affordable and cruelty-free too.

13. It’s even better when there’s two of you. Around the same time that I went vegan, my other half decided he was going to do it too. Since he went vegan, he’s done his first half-marathon and discovered an immense love for veggie Colin the Caterpillars.

14. Micro pigs = maximum fun. It was my birthday recently and my other half took me to meet Charlotte and her friends at Kew Little Pigs. We spent a fun two hours getting to know the little quirky characters. And we got to give them some guilt-free hugs too. (Even though Charlotte wasn’t so sure she wanted a hug from us!)

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

14 fun things I learned on going vegan | Conversation Pieces

For anyone who wants more vegan ideas and recipes, I’ve been Pinning anything I’ve found useful, insightful or just yummy here. Or if you want any advice, then I’m happy to help too. It took me a year of figuring things out, doing research and talking about what I wanted to do before I went vegan – so I know it’s not the easiest decision if it’s one you’re thinking about making.

And if anyone has any shoe recommendations or amazing vegan snacks I should try, then I’m all ears.  (And tummy too!)

A flat and feline tour… or how to be upstaged by your own cat

28 Aug

Velvet Ninja Cat at home

Now if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll already know that I take a lot of pictures of my two cats – the Velvet Ninja Cat and the Fox Owl Cat. I’ve written here about these two wonderful wee weirdos – both shelter cats with their very own distinct personalities – and how much having some fluffy overlords living with you can really brighten your day. So, yes, I’m definitely a cat fan shall we say…

So I only have myself to blame for how much the Velvet Ninja Cat (above) likes getting her picture taken. Bring a photographer into the flat and she clearly thinks they’re there to take her picture. (The Fox Owl Cat, however, thinks they’re there to steal her away so hides under a duvet, in a cupboard or once behind the washing machine. Let’s just say, she’s more camera shy.)

Recently the lovely team at Urban Outfitters popped over to take some photos for a home tour. Now, I’ve said before that I’m not the most relaxed photography subject, all full of nervous chatter and energy, so I clearly need to take tips from the resident feline… who would just strut into the shoot and give her best ‘blue steel’.

Pop on over to the Urban Outfitters blog to see some more snaps of the Velvet Ninja Cat, our London home and to read me babbling about my love of thrifting, blankets, and how my Positive Pigeon project came about.

And just because… here’s more proof of just how much the Velvet Ninja Cat knows how to work a camera (and steal my heart every time). And a few of the Fox Owl Cat too so she doesn’t feel left out!*

Happy cat on couch at Conversation Pieces' home

Actual cat and cat pillow at Conversation Pieces' home

Cat in a box at Conversation Pieces' home

Draw me like one of your French kitties – Conversation Pieces

Cat team at Conversation Pieces's home

Velvet Ninja Cat and the Fox Owl Cat – Conversation Pieces' cats

Fox Owl Cat and scarf – Conversation Piecesb

Fluffy paws – Conversation Pieces' cat


*And because her little mismatched paws kill me every time. They’re soooo fluffy!

Tree-mendous: a weekend in the coolest treehouse in Cornwall

5 Jul

The best ever treehouse in Cornwall, England | Conversation Pieces

Last weekend, we headed out of London for a little birthday adventure… staying in a treehouse in Cornwall. A round, wooden, Ewok-style tree pod in fact, located in a forest clearing.  It’s one of the craziest, cutest and coolest treehouses I have ever seen, and is certainly going to be one of the most memorable places I’ve ever stayed in.

The Ewok-style round treehouse in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

By the time we arrived (thanks London for having crazy standstill traffic) it was dusk and the way to the treehouse could only be seen with a torch. I had that weird mixture of being thrilled and slightly terrified as we walked through the forest to where our weekend home was.

It was so quiet. Like proper quiet. You could hear the nearby stream and that was it. Both of our phones had died on the long drive which made it feel otherworldly somehow. We lit a camp fire, cooked some veggie sausages, and told some ghost stories until the darkness got the better of us!

Amazing round treehouse in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

Inside the treehouse, it’s like a wooden tent with a fireplace, a sink, seating that folds down to make the beds and a little shelf to put things on. It’s compact but cosy… and when we lay down we could look up through the see-through panels to the night sky above.

Time to put out this tiny fire while we sing you a song | Conversation Pieces

On waking up (well, if you don’t count being woken up by an owl in the middle of the night), the first thing I wanted to do was actually look at the tree pod as I felt like I hadn’t seen it properly… and then set up some birthday-ness in the forest. Turns out it’s hard lighting a birthday candle with matches that have sat outside all night!

Roadside Neptune carving in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

We hadn’t brought coffee – and since my other half essentially runs on coffee – we went off in search of some. We drove to Charlestown (where we spotted Neptune) and had some caffeine, followed by fish and chips.

Harbour jump shot in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

Then we had a little stroll around the harbour, watching the kids leaping into the water and pondering what it must be like to grow up such a water baby. And of course, the other half had to do a jump… always a sign that he’s had enough coffee!

The amazing Eden Project in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

From there, we were within quick driving distance of the Eden Project… so we headed there for the rest of the day, along with as it turns out a stadium’s worth of Motörhead fans. Yes, the ecological park and home to world’s largest indoor rainforest was also the stage for Motörhead that night. Which meant as we walked around, we heard occasional guitar solos and warm-ups as we wandered. Pretty cool even if neither of us could name a Motörhead tune.

Harvesting sculpture at the Eden Project in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

With this odd mix, I’d rather fallen in love with the Eden Project – which reminded me of Jurassic World without the dinosaurs – and that was before we’d even explored the indoor rainforest.

A little piece of paradise inside the Eden Project in Cornwall| Conversation Pieces

Unsurprisingly, it’s hot inside… like in a rainforest hot. But it’s also pretty cool. Everywhere you turn there’s something to learn, something to look at, something to be a little bit awestruck by. Did you know that ferns are one of the first ever plants? Essentially, they’re dino plants. (I have a newfound respect for them now.)

Carvings inside the Eden Project in Cornwall| Conversation Pieces

Every corner had another surprise… I was rather taken with these Studio Ghibli style carvings.

Measuring the Titan arum at the Eden Project in Cornwall| Conversation Pieces

But the biggest surprise was this plant… The titan arum (aka corpse flower) is a spectacular AND stinky flower that only opens for about 48 hours. It attracts pollinating insects by basically smelling like a dead thing! It hadn’t flowered when we were there (maybe not a bad thing) but had grown massively overnight. All I could think of was the plant in Little Shop of Horrors!

Road side attraction at the Eden Project in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

And of course no trip is complete without posing with a giant tyre… there’s also a giant spade for those of you who prefer spades!

Eat at Mimis vintage diner in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

A slice of Americana in Cornwall| Conversation Pieces

As if the giant tyre wasn’t American enough, we discovered Mimi’s vintage diner on the drive back to our treehouse. It’s a real 1950s American diner which was shipped from New Jersey to the UK… from the tunes to the food and even the dresses the waitresses wear, it felt wonderfully authentic. Which added to the ‘where are we again?’ feeling.

Fries, burger and sweetcorn phones at Mimis diner in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

Inside, all the little details are so much fun… especially this collection of novelty phones. I was smitten with the French fry phone in particular. I don’t have a home phone but I now want one so I can get one of these.

Root beer float at Mimis diner in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

And anywhere that serves a root beer float in a watermelon glass is always going to get my vote. The food was delicious too – hot dogs, chilli corn and milkshakes – all freshly made. A good pit stop before heading home to light another fire, barbecue more food, and watch bats flit about as the light faded.

Adventures in a round treehouse | Conversation Pieces

Pretending to hold up the treehouse in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

And then all too soon, it was our last morning at our treehouse… which meant we had to get every possible photo of it we could. Of course.

Highland cow spotting in Cornwall | Conversation Pieces

Just as we were leaving, we spotted some Highland cows just sitting at the side of the road. I was so surprised that I made us stop the car. Who knew Cornwall had Heeland Coos?!

Stonehenge on a midsummer night | Conversation Pieces

On the drive home, we knew we were going to pass Stonehenge… so rather than stop at a service station to break up the drive, we went here. Possibly the most scenic coffee stop I have ever had. And so much more fun than a Little Chef!

Summer evening at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England | Conversation Pieces

As we were leaving, we passed around 30 people dressed as druids, with drums and a Lord of the Rings style horn, off to celebrate/worship the summer solstice. It was somehow a fitting ending to a weird and wonderful weekend.

Pink and purple sunset driving back into London | Conversation Pieces

It was such a short weekend (with so much driving) and I couldn’t help but wish we’d had another day or two… but then, as we drove back into London, the skies turned pink and purple as if saying welcome back. This city knows how to keep a girl’s heart…

What it’s really like to have a photo shoot at your home

17 May

What's it really like to have a photo shoot at your flat

Ever looked at the pages of an interior design magazine or a home tour on a blog… and wondered what the home looked like before the shoot? Or if they really keep that plant pot there? Or do they honestly have fresh flowers or just baked bread sitting out all the time?

And where – oh so importantly – is their mess? Everyone has mess right? Where did they hide it??

Well, if you’ve ever pondered these pressing issues, then this blog post is for you. It’s all about what it’s really like to have a photo shoot done in your home.

What it's really like to have an interiors shoot done at your flat

Now, I’ve always loved interiors – that’s actually why I started this blog way back when* – so I’m very grateful and happy that people have liked my style enough to actually do photo shoots in my home.

I’ve also been very lucky to have had wonderful writers and fantastic photographers (such as Hannah from Seeds and Stitches and Kristy Noble) turn up at my door and make my home (and me!) look better than I’d even hoped for. And put up with my incessant chatting, photo ruining (usually because I’m chatting) and occasional fits of giggles.

Behind the scenes of an interiors photo shoot

So, based on all the photo shoots I’ve done so far, here’s the process I go through EVERY time. Yes, you think I’d learn but no, it’s pretty much the same. Except I don’t always take scissors to my hair the night before.

Stage 1. Elation. Someone wants to do a shoot at my flat. All the happy. This is exciting.

Stage 2. Regret. Oh shit. What did I say yes to? Why?

Stage 3. Denial. Maybe they’ll cancel. They meant someone else’s flat right? They’ll come to their senses soon enough.

Stage 4a. Panic. But the bedroom curtains are horrible. And the bathroom needs painted. Everything I own is terrible.

Stage 4b. Panic again. But I need to lose weight. My hair is terrible. What on earth am I going to wear??

Stage 5a. Manic tidying. Oh god, why is my home so untidy? Where did this dust come from? Why do the cats leave fluff on EVERYTHING?!

Stage 5b. Mad makeover. I could cut my hair. Or just get a fringe. I could cut my own fringe. Now where did I tidy the scissors away…

Stage 6. Fear. Urrrrrgh. Burb. *whimpers*

Stage 7. Acceptance. It’s today, it’s happening. This is as tidy and as neat as the flat will EVER look. Just so long as no-one touches anything. Or a cat doesn’t decide to puke on something.

Stage 8. Act normal. Pretend that none of the above has happened and that you’re totally at ease having people come to your home, take photos and ask you questions about it. Totally normal. NOR MAL. (Man, even the word sounds weird now that you’ve thought about it too much.)

Stage 9. Make tea or coffee. It will give you something to do while you act N O R M A L.

Stage 10. Don’t worry. It’s going to be fun. Lovely, professional people are here and they’re going to make it look like stage 2 to stage 7 never happened.

What it's really like to do a photo shoot at your flat

And to prove it… here’s the oh so lovely Hannah from Seeds and Stitches and brilliant Kristy Noble shooting my flat last summer for Mollie Makes. These two are not only a pleasure to have round, but definitely make it a fun experience. It is strange seeing people move your stuff, but good strange. Like lots of ‘oh, why did I never think of putting that there’ moments. For instance, Hannah moved our sprayed pink vintage Anglepoise onto the mantlepiece… and it looked so good there that it stayed exactly where it was for ages after the shoot.

What's it really like to have a photo shoot at your flat

What it's really like to have a photo shoot at your home

What it's really like to have a photo shoot at your flat

And the bathroom… it’s one of those rarely seen places in interior shoots unless you have an epic fantasy bathroom. I’d always seen our bathroom as pretty functional in our rented place but Hannah and Kristy made it look a wee bit epic after all.

What's it like to do a photo shoot at your apartment

Behind the scenes of an interiors shoot

So back to the important pressing questions, like did you really bake bread this morning, do you always have fresh flowers, and where on earth is your mess?

1. So that artfully placed plant pot or the freshly baked bread just sitting out… yes, all your suspicions are correct, they’re not normally there. It just looks good in the pictures. Homely even. And the bread makes it seem more N O R M A L. Like you’re really baking rather than having people with cameras and camera equipment in your home.

2. Flowers… for me, well, yes and no. I almost always have flowers in the flat. It’s just around 50% of the time they’re actually wilted, half-dead or so dead that they actually look kind of dried-out cool. (Erm, maybe.) On the morning of the shoot with Hannah and Kristy, these flowers were definitely on their way out! Eeek. Emergency flowers were bought… and luckily the ever prepared Hannah happened to have brought some lovely blooms too. Phew.

Going behind the scenes of a photo shoot


Behind the scenes of an interiors photo shoot

3. Mess. Yes, mess! There’s still mess, just ‘artfully’ hidden. And by artful, I mean shoved into bags, cupboards, drawers… basically anywhere you can hide the mess. That said, I recently read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying and now I have sooooooooo much less mess than before. And there’s still mess.

What it's really like to have a photo shoot at your home

4. Pets… I learned from Living Etc and Elle Decoration that a well-placed pet can really bring the room together. But it does help if your pet likes having its picture taken. Luckily, the Velvet Ninja Cat loves having her picture taken. She hates strangers though so I think every photographer has a picture of her hissing at them! (SORRY.)

What's it really like to do a photo shoot at your flat

And there’s one more thing about photo shoots… it may seem obvious but it always surprises me (and perhaps explains my stressing)… they’re always different. From my very first photo shoot that I did with Scotland on Sunday‘s magazine and journalist Fiona (who now has a gorgeous blog Copperline) to the one I’ve just agreed to (and am still eeeking about now), they’re all nerve-racking and crazy but brilliant and fun.

Here’s a selection of my favourite photos, outtakes and moments from shoots I’ve done… (All other photos above are Kristy‘s fantastic work, apart from the cheeky one I snapped of Hannah and her of course.)

The reality behind the pictures of a home tour

From the photo shoot with Fiona where I said ALL the words and then went extremely pale when I realised it was time to get MY photo taken. While the photographer did his thing, I’d just been playing Scrabble (as you do) while chatting so had completely forgotten that I had to be in the shoot too.

What it's really like to have a photo shoot at your flat

From the shoot for Company Magazine… what was surprising to me at the time was how finished the flat looked in the pictures. In reality, we were still painting and fixing (you’ll see that the fireplace has a picture over it which is to hide the big hole behind it!). But I think looking at the pictures now, just how lovely the Edinburgh flat looked and how much I miss it still.

What it's really like to do a photo shoot at your apartment

From a shoot with Jo for her The Only Place’s Bloggers at their Desk series. Again Jo got all the babble from me, and I’d recently had a bad fringe cut (I really, really don’t suit fringes), but in amongst that, she took some really beautiful pictures that made my mess look arty.

What it's really like to have a photo shoot at your home

From the shoot I did with the ace Lauren McGlynn for Hannah Zakari and 91 Magazine… where Lauren made me laugh so much (you can see my dimples in so many of her pictures!) and I honestly almost forgot that she was there to do a shoot and not just to have fun.

What it's really like to have a photo shoot at your apartment

Which explains why I’m juggling gold dinosaurs in some of her shots… just because.

So to all the photographers and writers… for all the times I babbled at you, looked awkward in photos and plain old got the giggles, thank you for putting up with me. And making me sound and look great, sane and normal. Well, as N O R M A L as I get.


*Feels like an absolute lifetime ago. I’ve now been blogging, mainly erratically, for years. Sometimes I think about stopping completely. Partly as I miss those heady days when blogging was just fun and I didn’t ever imagine that anyone was even looking at it. Partly because, well, writing a blog post is sooooo much more effort than posting a picture on Instagram. But then… well, then I think about the brilliant, amazing people I have met through writing a blog and how cool it is to look back on the blog and see moments in our life… and then I think oh go on then, maybe one more post or two.

The London bucket-list for new Londoners (or London lovers)

2 Mar

Take a tour inside Big Ben | Conversation Pieces

Almost two years ago, I was a brand new Londoner. With a list as long as my arm of things I wanted to do here. So I made a bucket list. (Because that’s what people do right?)

My original thought was that once we’d ‘done’ all the things on the list, then we might move home – back to Edinburgh.

Now anyone else who’s moved to London and had a similar thought will recognise what happens next… the bucket list just keeps growing, and growing. And before you even realise it this city – this swirling mass of brilliant and bonkers things to do – is home.

So for any other new Londoners or just London lovers, here’s my bucket list for London… and with some optional advice of things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Take a tour inside Big Ben – and climb 334 steps to get inside the clock tower. To do the tour, you have to be a UK resident and book through your MP. Expect to wait a few months after your request but it’s totally worth it. Standing behind the clock face while the bell sounds out is one of the coolest (and loudest) things I’ve ever done.

Optional: Matching biscuit not required but highly recommended.

On the London bucket list, climb inside Big Ben | Conversation Pieces

2. Visit Aldwych Station, an abandoned underground station… Ok, so Londoners go on the tube every day. It shouldn’t be that special to go and visit another Tube station but it is. It’s abandoned! It’s spooky! And it’s used as a filming location! The station was a bomb shelter (for artefacts from the British Museum) during WWII, then unused and unloved for many years, and then found a new life as a TV and film set. The train sequence in Sherlock was filmed here, and the Prodigy’s Firestarter music video to name a few. Tours are not that easy to come by but keep an eye on the London Transport Museum events page for when they’re on.

Optional: Pretending to be in that Firestarter video and doing a crazy dance while down there.  Or taking pictures with lots of dust in them and then mildly freaking out that you’ve captured a ghostly presence in your photos.

Visit the abandoned tube station Aldwych

3. Walk on the tracks of the Brunel Tunnel – the oldest tunnel in the Underground. When there’s engineering works on, the Brunel Tunnel Museum sometimes run tours of the tunnel – originally built as a ‘tourist attraction and party venue’, then became an area of disrepute, before being converted into the underground tunnel that it is today.

Optional: Stopping to take a snap on the bench replica of Tower Bridge outside the Museum. (Also since you’re here, go to the Museum. It’s tiny, like really, really tiny, but well worth spending 20 mins in.)

Visit Brunel's Tunnel (and sit on the Tower Bridge bench)

4. Breakfast at Duck & Waffle or at Sky Pod inside the Walkie Talkie. To celebrate our first year in London, we treated ourselves to breakfast at Duck & Waffle and sat admiring the view more than we actually ate breakfast. Then to celebrate surviving January 2015 (my least favourite month of the year) we went for a 7am breakfast at Sky Pod, which is the public ‘garden’ at the top of the Walkie Talkie building.

Optional: Go to work afterwards. Feel smug that you missed your normal crazy commute and ate breakfast somewhere pretty damn cool. Feel slightly regretful by 10am when you realise that two strong coffees at 7am was maybe too much.

Breakfast at the Duck & Waffle and The Sky Pod

5. Jive dance at Rivoli Ballroomthe only intact 1950s ballroom in London. It’s like stepping into something from a Baz Luhrmann film with the Chinese lanterns, flocked wallpaper and vintage charm. (It’s also been used as a film locating for Strictly Ballroom and, eh, Avengers Assemble.)

Optional: Realising that despite having done a jive lesson (and learning how to Lindy Hop), none of this has been retained by your traitor of a brain.  If this happens, just go with the flow, fling yourself about and watch out for stray elbows (and men with wet backs!).

Go jive dancing at London's Rivolii Ballroom

 6. Press the champagne button at Bob Bob RicardThis elegant, eccentric restaurant has four person booths (with tiny privacy curtains) and it makes me feel like I’m in a 40s movie (spotting a theme?) but the best bit of all is that button. Even if you don’t like champagne, you have to press it.

Optional: Hmm, the pudding! The Bob Bob Ricard special is a gold chocolate orb that melts when you pour chocolate sauce on it. It’s worth it just to watch it melt – but it’s also one heck of a luxurious dessert!

Press the champagne button at Bob Bob Ricard

7. Go to City Hall on Open House London weekend.  Yes, it looks like a giant bike helmet from the outside but if you’re after some pretty cool architecture and some relatively short queues (the Open House London ones are craaaazy long).

Optional: Lie down on the carpet, ignore the stares and admire the big swirly, whirly staircase.

Inside London's City Hall, looking up

8. Rent a Boris Bike. Ride about London, feeling like a boss.

Optional: Falling off said bike, and landing on your chin. If this does happen, head straight to Stories for gin, meringues and a serious amount of pain killers. Stay there until the sugar, alcohol and ibuprofen kick in. Whatever you do, don’t look in the mirror at what you’ve done to your face. This will only make you go extremely white and feel very sick. Then you’ll need more meringues and gin.  Ride a Boris Bike... falling off optional

 9. Eat in a converted toilet at The AttendantNow I’m slightly obsessed with converted venues I’ll admit. Used to be a bus, train carriage, post office? Then I’m your biggest fan. Converted loo even better. Maybe that’s just me.

Optional: Thinking about the fact that people used to pee in here. Or where you’re eating.

Coffee and cake at The Attendant, converted toilet in London

 10. Go to Secret Cinema. The secret, secret one. It’s an experiential night where you book before you have any idea what the film is. On the night, you’re then plunged into an immersive experience for an entire evening. Oh, and they take your phone off you, so there’s no sneaky snapping. Weirdly, this is also quite cool – you have to actually look at things with your eyes and remember them with your brain. Novel!

Optional 1: Drinking one too many vintage cocktails and waking up still in your 1920s flapper dress. I’m sure that’s how they did it back then. Ahem.
Optional 2: Go to Prangsta in New Cross for your outfit. The head piece I’m wearing here is from them – I would wear it every damn day if I thought I could get away with it.

Go to Secret Cinema

11. Go on the Emirates Air Line I’ll admit I thought this would be scary. So scary that I put off visiting it for ages, but it’s actually really rather cool. The queues can be huge but it’s worth the wait for a different view of London. Also there’s the silliness of getting into a cable car to cross a river, just because you can. Does it make any sense? Nope. But that’s another reason to like it.

Optional: Waving at the people in the other carriage. Yes, you’ll feel like a dweeb but it will put a big smile on your face and theirs.

Take a trip on the Emirates Air Line in London

12. Go late in the day to Columbia Road Flower Market… I think every guidebook ever tells you to get up super early for Columbia Road Flower Market. I’d say go late in the day as you get cheaper flowers, slightly less crowds and you can go for a late brunch afterwards.

Optional: Find the fox door knockers and dream about owning a flat on this road.

Visit Columbia Road flower market in London

 13. Have a drink on a rooftop car park… Frank’s Campari Bar is only open during the summer because let’s face it who wants to drink on the rooftop of a car park in winter? When it is open, you’ll find one of the busiest bars ever with one of my favourite views of London. (Ok, ok, so I have several favourite views but this one is great because you can see everything all at once.)

Optional: PeckhamPlex nearby is the cheapest (and cheeriest) cinemas in all of London so if you fancy doing something more than drinking, head here when the sun goes down.

Frank's Campari Bar in Peckham London

14. Go up BT Tower I was very lucky to do this as part of my old job last year. If you get the chance to go, jump at it. The view is pretty special, especially if it turns from day into night while you’re up there.

Optional: If the restaurant starts revolving, standing on either side of the moving floor and slowly watch as the view changes. Weird but awesomely weird.

Take a trip up BT Tower

15. Capture a London sunset… the thing about London is that you don’t have to be up high to have an amazing view. You just have to be walking home from work one night as the sun goes down and turns everything pink.

Optional: Admire the sunset from the Hungerford bridge as a busker sings No Woman, No Cry – and two tourists join in, singing in unexpectedly perfect harmony.

Capture a London sunset

16. Find ‘your’ London… Yeah, that seems like an odd bucket list suggestion. But I find if you’re a new Londoner then it doesn’t really feel like you live in London. It feels like you’re passing through, like London belongs to other people, but not yet to you.

Every Londoner has their own patch, their own places that they revisit, their own piece of London well-trod… and the nice thing about exploring is that you get to find out where your bit of London is. It’s out there, somewhere, that patchwork of random things that belongs just to you.

If you want any more suggestions, check out my Pinterest board: London bucket list. It’s very much unfinished and I love that more than all the things I’ve done so far. And of course any suggestions of things I should add to the list are very welcome too. Anything weird and wonderful. Especially if it’s another converted loo or a new view!  

Positive pigeons… a year of spreading a bit of origami cheer in London and beyond

30 Nov

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

A year of origami pigeons

Sometimes it’s the little things that make you smile. The small, silly everyday moments that make Mondays more manageable, Tuesdays more tolerable and Fridays more fun.

Around January last year, I decided I want to do something to cheer myself up a little (I’m never a fan of January) and got to thinking about Herbert the origami dinosaur we found in a cafe when we first moved to London. It was just a small thing, but something that definitely made my day a ‘good day’.

And it got me thinking… maybe we should make a little something that would cheer someone else up, as well as me.

But what…

Oriagimi dinosaurs are hard. All my T-Rexs fall over (still) and all my versions of Herbert don’t even look like Herbert.

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

So we tried origami swans… much easier but lacking a little something. And then the penguins…

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

Which looked like little wise guys… and always turned out with slightly different posture than expected. (Check out the guy on the right… is he drunk?)

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

And then I started thinking about the people (myself included) I wanted to cheer up a little… Londoners.

Now London might be know for many, many wonderful things (culture, opportunities, tea) but it’s not very well know for its cheerful disposition. And if you commute daily, you know why. All of life is on the Tube, you can see every emotion, up close… and sometimes it’s rather depressing.

But that said for every grump pushing people rudely out of the way, there are the people who help others with heavy luggage, who share knowing smiles at the behaviour of others, who give up their seats for people who need them… It’s not always a picture perfect moment, but it’s real.

Now pigeons are ubiquitous in London. These wonky birds are as much a part of London as red telephone boxes and buses. In fact, there’s probably more pigeons than anything else in London. And somehow they summed all this up to me. The good, the bad, the slightly grubby.

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

So we decided to make a pigeon. A positive pigeon.

A small, nice thing to leave behind for someone else to find.

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

Due to my work, I travel regularly-ish so this very first pigeon, I left in a San Francisco coffee shop – and wrote inside him saying ‘with love from London’.

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

Then once back in London, we tried to leave one wherever we went… in a cafe, in a restaurant, in a bar.

Sometimes with a little positive note inside saying something nice to the finder, and sometimes they were blank. (Mainly because I didn’t always have a pen on me.)

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

 It was silly and a little 5 minutes of fun but we did wonder if anyone actually ever ‘found’ them…

Positive pigeons… a year of spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

And then we saw this… the first pigeon we ever left in London found by someone and well, that made my day.

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

So we kept on making them…

Positive pigeons… a year of spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

And making them…

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

And then we made some more…

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

By the summer, we had pigeons on us wherever we went…

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

At one point, we went on a School of Life tour about London (yes, we’re London nerds) and at the end of the tour, the woman running it spoke about the surprising things that London sometimes throws at you.

For instance, she said, she’d heard about people leaving origami birds in cafes as a little gift for the next person who came along.

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

There’s a high chance she didn’t mean us of course but at the end of the tour we gave her a pigeon anyway!

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

 And then we had our silliest pigeon moment so far… the one that hurt my cheeks I was smiling so much.

We left two positive pigeons in a modern art gallery – just on a ledge in the stairs, thinking that someone might pass them by, find them and that be a nice thing.

While we were standing in a queue for part of an exhibit, we saw two security guards holding the pigeons – looking at them quizzically.

I instantly felt guilty, we shouldn’t have left them there… but then… both of the security guards started smiling. Like big smiles. And I remembered the nice notes I’d written inside them. (I think one said ‘you’re totally awesome’!)

We watched (me blushing and grinning) as they showed them to other people, still smiling, and then placed them in with the actual exhibit. If you look very, very, very carefully in the above picture you can see a tiny white and green thing on the edge of the piano.

We left with bigger smiles than even the security guards had had.

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

So it turns out, it’s really nice seeing someone find the little something you made… so we kept going.

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

A piccione for Rome…

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

A due for Copenhagen…

A year of origami pigeons

A few tauben for Berlin…

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

Then we got in Autumn… yes, we’ve been leaving/littering (!) London with pigeons for that long…

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

And so to finish off our year of positive pigeons… we made some Christmas editions…

Positive pigeons, spreading a bit of origami cheer in London

In December, we’re going to leave them wherever we go… if you find one, he’s yours to keep.

And just know, it’s a little Happy Christmas (and a happy right that moment) from us to you.


P.S. In case you don’t find one, above is a gif of how we make them but it might be easier to follow some actual instructions of course.

P.P.S. If you do find one, I hope it makes you smile!


A fruity bedroom makeover… with DIY watermelon bedding

11 Sep

DIY watermelon bedding

Back in April, I came across these watermelon sheets on Australia’s Vogue and became ‘slightly’ obsessed. But budget and distance was against me so I thought I would have a go at making my own watermelon bedding.

DIY watermelon bed sheets

So I did some searching on a certain platform (who I now work for!) and came across how to make watermelon wrapping paper… and thought with a tweak, sheets instead of paper and fabric paint instead of normal paint then it should be easy.

Potato stamped watermelon

3 small bottles of red fabric paint, 1 bottle of green and 1 bottle of black and 3 baking potatoes later – and voila, DIY watermelon bedding!

Well sort of, it also took at least 1 1/2 plays of the Lego Movie in the background (my new favourite film to craft to!) and 3 hours of potato stamping, painting the rinds and the pips (not including drying time). Each layer was best left to dry before adding the next bit too. Phew!

Cat paws on watermelon bedding DIY

Of course, the real challenge (in our place at least) is ensuring that a cat-astrophe doesn’t happen. That’s a cat standing on your craft project and ending up with paint everywhere… after a few near misses, luckily this creation got made without any painty paw mishaps.

Potato stamping kit

Though there were a few potato casualties (mainly in that we kept buying potatoes for the DIY and then by the time we we came to use them discovering they’d gone bad!). Who knew that potato stamping was so fraught with perils?

Cake fork for potato stamping

My best potato stamping tip is to use a fork so that your quartered potato doesn’t slip out of your hand or get difficult to lift off the sheets… and keeps your hands paint free too. (Unless you’re me and then you still get some on your hands regardless.)

Painting a rind on DIY watermelons

Painting pips on DIY watermelons

How to make DIY watermelon bedding

Of course, having been not allowed to stand on the sheets will they were being painted the velveteen cat and the fox owl cat were extremely enthused about getting onto them once they were done.

How to DIY watermelon bed sheets

But heck… what’s an interiors shoot without an animal posing in the pictures right? So Elle Decoration!

Fox owl cat on DIY watermelon bedding

Conversation Pieces diy watermelon bedding

And while we were adding the fruity bedsheets, we also did another quick DIY with my Blossom and Bill tea towel. (Which I’d never been able to bring myself to use as an actual tea towel!) With some neon ribbon, staples, some dowelling wood and a hacksaw, we now have a roll-down piece of art.

Tea towel into roll down art DIY

Tea towel frame DIY

But back to the cats… and one more DIY. This is the fox owl cat looking beyond displeased at my attempts to shoo her off the bed, which meant there was only one thing for it…

Fox owl cat on watermelon bedding

…to make them their own potato stamped bedding. (Well, their own potato stamped Ikea fleece but it’s pretty much the same thing.)

Cat shaped potato stamp

But with cats rather than watermelon of course. And turns out one fleece (and one colour) is definitely way easier… until I decide we need cat print bedding!

How to make a potato stamped cat fleece

Which they seem to like… but not nearly as much as the watermelon bedsheets. Of course.

Our Roman Holiday… 5 days of gelato, coffee, street art and, er, cats in Rome

25 Aug

Watching the film Roman Holiday on a rooftop in Rome, Italy

We spent the whole day doing things I’ve always wanted to.”
Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

Watching Roman Holiday on a rooftop, with St Peter's in the background

Somewhere up on a rooftop in Rome, with St Peter’s illuminated in the background and a glass of cava in hand, I watched Roman Holiday for the first time. It was by far my best outdoor cinema experience ever. The 1953 film stars Audrey Hepburn as the not so perfect princess and Gregory Peck as her not so perfect knight in shining armour… set in the really rather perfect setting of 50s Rome. They whizz about on mopeds, eat gelato, sip coffee, fall in love… and do so without anyone ever breaking a sweat or getting sunburnt.

Liuk – vintage lemonade and liquorice ice lolly

Our Roman Holiday, on the other hand, well in most of the pictures I look less like an Audrey Hepburn princess and more just pickled. Being Scottish means that I can do about 30 mins in 32 degrees before I start to melt. Which meant that in our 5 days in Rome it was essential for me to eat my body weight in gelato and coffee granita. Absolutely essential.

Gelato at Gelateria del Teatro, Rome, Italy

Our favourite gelato places were: Hedera Sweetness & Co, Gelateria del Teatro and Fatamorgana. We experimented with Lavender and Peach, Sicilian Peach, White Chocolate with Basil, Custard and Pine Nuts, Rose Petals and Violet Flowers, Cheese and Cherry, Cheese and Walnut Fig, and even Kentucky” (chocolate with tobacco). Did I mention we ate a lot of gelato in 5 days? 

Rome essential: Coffee granita at Taza D’Oro

Also I now firmly believe that a coffee granita at Taza D’Oro is an essential part of any visit to Rome. The other half took a picture of me while eating mine; I have a really crazy wide-eyed look of ‘oh my freaking goodness’ while I’m devouring it. To say that I was a little hyper afterwards would be the understatement of the year.

Inbetween eating all the sweet icy things, we did take some time to see the sights of Rome… in fact, one of the things I hadn’t realised about Rome is just how many old things there are to see. And when you even start to think about how old they are, you get a bit dizzy… or at least you do if you’ve been living on gelato and coffee for the last few days.

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

So, the Colosseum. It’s 1942 years old. That blows my mind. So we did what we do when faced with such an ancient artifact… jumping shots!

Getting ready to do a jumpstagram at the Colosseum in Rome Italy

Now the thing with the Colosseum (and all of Rome really) is there’s a lot of people about. Like a HUGE amount. And they will stare at you a HUGE amount if you sit down on the ground to take jumping shots of your other half… the tired, grumpy, exhausted stares of tourists who are hot, bothered and mind-boggled by too much old stuff.

Jumpstagram at the Colosseum in Rome Italy

Definitely a ‘when in Rome’ moment… that was especially hard to capture as I was giggling too much. The other half assured me that jumping in that heat was particularly hard. Not that it stopped him of course.


Now I may have mentioned that Rome is really, really busy… London’s Oxford Street on a Saturday or Edinburgh during the Fringe you ain’t got nothing on Rome. But see in Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn eats ice cream on the Spanish Steps and there’s hardly a soul about.

From where I stand in Rome

Standing on the Spanish Steps in Rome

Meanwhile on our Roman Holiday, this was the only way we could take pictures of each other without a bazillion other people in the background. (Well, almost. We do have an ‘arrgh, the Spanish Steps are soooo busy’ selfie of the two of us too. It’s actually one of my favourite pics of the two of us.)

Tourists on the Spanish Steps in Rome

Because in reality the Spanish Steps look like this… yes, there are steps under there somewhere. See those people just standing at the bottom of the steps, contemplating whether they really want to go up them or not? I’m guessing they were surprised by how busy they were too.

Hiding between the pillars at The Vatican in Rome, Italy

Similarly, the Vatican… we visited at the end of the day when officially it was closed, the crowds had dispersed and the sun was beginning to set.

Alone at the Vatican in Rome

If you’re not a big fan of crowds and don’t mind not going inside, I’d highly recommend doing it this way… there was something weird and wonderful about having it to ourselves. Like we’d stumbled onto a Dan Brown film set. (One of those movies I’d only recommend seeing if it’s on TV and you’re having a lazy day on the couch… and you can’t reach the remote to change the channel.)

Roman Forum in Rome

But back to the very, very old stuff… Rome has a way of making you feel rather small and inconsequential (intimidating ruins!) and then you spot the seagulls…

Seagulls at the Roman Forum in Rome

Seagull standing on a pillar in Rome, Italy

Seagull perched on Ponte Sant'Angelo statue in Rome, Italy

Seagull perched on statue on a bridge in Rome, Italy

Seagull perched on ruins in Rome, Italy

Turns out that it doesn’t matter how old you are, how much you’ve achieved, how regal, how impressive, how historic… you will inevitably end up a grand perch for a seagull. (This ‘philosophy’ may have occurred to me around 30 mins after I had the coffee granita. Plato and Socrates did all their best work after having a coffee granita.*)

Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome – where Casear was stabbed and now a cat sanctuary

Or… and this is a big or… as a sanctuary for cats! Now this place (Largo di Torre Argentina) gets a big shout-out in the history books as it’s the place where Caesar was stabbed. Proper epic history right there. But it’s almost impossible to take this information in as it’s also home to a shelter (Torre Argentina) that looks after stray cats.

Shelter cat sign at Torre Argentina in Rome, Italy

We went just went to have ‘a look’… and only just came out without having adopted Nero the black kitty with neurological problems and Stevie Wonder the cat who’s blind. Not to mention the two tiny kittens who made me well up on the way out. (There’s a high chance eating a lot of gelato might make you susceptible to tears!)

Nero the shelter cat at Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome, Italy


Shelter cat at Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome Italy

Shelter cats sleeping at Torre Argentina in Rome, Italy

Shelter cat sleeping at Torre Argentina in Rome, Italy

Shelter cat eating at Torre Argentina in Rome, Italy

We didn’t catch this guy’s name but you gotta love a cat that is helping itself to everyone’s dinner provisions, while putting its tail in some other food at the same time.

Rome’s other surprise was the street art… I really hadn’t considered that there would be any. Let alone cheeky angel themed street signs.

Kissing street sign in Rome, Italy

Angel street art sign in Rome Italy

Angel street art in Rome Italy

Cat being chased - street art in Rome

Life's a bite – street art in Rome

And it’s not just the street art, there’s humour and colour everywhere in Rome… faces in strange places…

Switches with faces in on a wall in Rome Italy

… and dashes of colour in even in the narrowest of winding back alleyways.

Colourful window box in Rome

And all to soon it was time to say goodbye to our little Air B’n’B apartment, and its wonderful rooftop view of St Peter’s, quirky Pinocchio touches, lovely tiles and colourful coffee makers.

Air BnB apartment in Rome, Italy

Soft green Bialetti espresso maker – Conversation Pieces Blog

Rome Air BnB apartment bathroom tiles

Until next time Rome, ti amo. You crazy city of relics, ruins, coffee, cats, gelato and  gulls. 

Rooftops and The Altar of the Fatherland in Rome, Italy

I’ll miss eating watermelon on your rooftops… the only thing I ate more than gelato! (Honestly, I had a whole watermelon to myself one day. That’s how hot I was!)

Rooftop watermelon slice in Rome, Italy


*May not be a historically accurate fact. Though I’m pretty sure Plato and Socrates would have enjoyed them too.

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