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

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.

Climb inside Big Ben

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.

rome-spanish-steps

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.

Everything’s going to be all bright… a mini new home tour… + tales from the old flat

24 May

Pink London brick – Conversation Pieces blog

So in April we said goodbye to our first London flat (and goodbye to having wifi at home until mid May!).

I was blasé about this move. After all, last time we’d moved home, we’d packed up our entire lives, driven 10 hours, and moved country. This time, we weren’t even leaving South East London.

And unlike last time, we were so ready to move. Our petite place had become to feel even more so, like it had shrunk in the wash somehow over the last year. Perhaps it was the kitchen sink that was always blocked, the mould that refused to die in the bathroom (and then destroyed my Scandi shower curtain in revenge) or ‘the day ALL the blue bottles came’™.*

Which is not to say that the flat was all bad, not at all. Just as time went on, the things that were funny at first – like the step that always caught your sock and put a hole in it – became less so. But we did get much better at darning socks. And darn it – socks, blockages, mould and yucky flies aside – we had fun this last year. 2013 will always be the year we moved to London and that flat will always be part of that.

So we approached moving with the excitement of two kids waiting for Christmas. Impatient, a little grouchy, a little too over excited. We packed in a hurry as if that could make the move happen faster. And then all of a sudden, as with all things you wait for, it had happened.

We moved.

Living room 2 – Conversation Pieces blog

Which, of course, is an understatement. There was lugging, there was lifting and shifting, and cursing ourselves for having so many books (a hallmark of any move we have ever done).

Not surprisingly, packing up all your belongings into boxes (and a multitude of tote bags when you run out of boxes) was more tiring than I’d have liked to admit. And oh being without internet for such a long time, well, oft.

But it was totally worth it.

Living room 4 – Conversation Pieces blog

Records – Conversation Pieces blog

I think we’re in the loved up phase with this flat… where every eccentric angle, every ray of dappled sunlight spilling through the windows, every drop of rain tapping at the skylight (possibly my favourite thing ever).

Kitchen window 2 – Conversation Pieces blog

And ok, so it’s a rented flat, but it feels like it’s somehow very much ours and just to have somewhere to call home again is really rather wonderful.

Japanese sponges – Conversation Pieces blog

Of course, we’re still sorting things, working out what fits where, discovering a need for furniture we don’t have yet… and even with more kitchen cupboard space we still don’t have room for all the vintage china I’ve collected over the years. But that’s the fun of moving right?

Velveteencat + kitchen - Conversation Pieces blog

And the furry felines we live with… well, they seem to have settled in just fine. There’s carpet to roll about on, stairs to scamper up and perhaps most importantly a bit more space from each other. (Theirs is a relationship built on being always at least a couple feet apart, unless there’s a spider in the room.)

Tiger fireplace 3 – Conversation Pieces blog

60s Daybed – Conversation Pieces blog

Maybe it's you 2 – Conversation Pieces blog

Foxowlcat on bed – Conversation Pieces blog

Veleveteencat – Conversation Pieces blog

Fucking fantastic print – Conversation Pieces blog

And the humans… we’ve settled in not too badly too. With more kitchen space, we’ve started cooking properly again (now we have an oven that doesn’t take 90 mins just to cook a veggie burger), I’ve started doing more crafty stuff (see the bright neon chairs in the second picture!), and generally just doing more happy chilling out when we’re at home (instead of frustratedly trying to tidy a flat that was impossibly impossible to tidy).

Yes, everything is going to be all bright now… or at least, a little more neon than before!

*******

 

*the day ALL the blue bottles came™…

A day that will live on in my memory forever.

If you’re eating, planning on eating, really dislike blue bottle flies, don’t read this bit!

[…]

London reflections… one big city, one little marble

2 Mar

Big-Ben-2–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

339 days ago, I moved to London… 

In those first days, people would ask regularly ‘are you absolutely loving it’? Those exact words.

And I didn’t have a good answer. Did I? I really wasn’t sure.

It was good. I liked it. It suited me. But love? 

It’s hard to love something so familiar and so strange all at once.

Big-Ben-3-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

Big-Ben-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

But, after nearly a year, I’ve realised that to love London is to admit you’re thrilled by something massive, sprawling, wonky, overcrowded, brilliant, bonkers, irreverent, complicated and altogether glorious.

It’s like a proper relationship. You’ll have your good days, your bad days, and the days that make you feel like there could never, ever be another city for you.

Carousel-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

London-Eye-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

Which is strange to say as I know a big part of my heart still belongs to Edinburgh (and I gave away some of it to Brooklyn and Tokyo too)… but it’s impossible to think of anywhere else when you’re staring up at Big Ben or gazing down on St Paul’s.

London-Skyline-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

The-Shard-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

It’s the old and new. The history. The heartbeat.

It’s the music that spills out of tiny flats on hot summer nights. It’s the solidarity of waiting on late buses. It’s the smiles in the crowds. It’s the voices you hear in the streets. The laughter, the anger, the humanness of it all.

The-Shard-2-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

St-Pauls-5-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

So here’s to you, you wildly strange place I now call home… this is my love letter to you, all with the help of a shiny marble and a rather gorgeous Spring day.

Yes, I think we can definitely call this love.

St-Pauls-4-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

St-Pauls-2-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

St-Pauls-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

Tate-Modern-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

Underground-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

Zoe-–-London-Marble-–-@Convo_Pieces

Colourful London - @Convo_Pieces

Love you London. Thanks for the last 339 days, here’s to many more xx

The Red Velvet Pancake experiment… a tasty (but cautionary) tale

12 Feb

Sprinkles – Convo_Pieces

“It looks like a bad burger”.

We both stared at the forlorn lump of batter, burning gently at the edges. Brown bubbles simmered on its surface. Smoke began to rise from the pan.

“I don’t trust this frying pan.”

At some point, suspicion turned upon the frying pan… because you know if you can’t blame the implements, what can you blame. We swapped it for another pan. This did not improve things. Perhaps more red food dye was the answer…

“For a lot of red, we’ve created a lot of brown.”

I stirred the weird lumpy maroon batter mix, thoughtfully. With every stir, the mixture grew browner. Not a nice chocolatey brown, but an inedible shade of blurgh. My main thought: pancake batter and natural food colouring were not a good mix. Also, it smelled strange.

 “This is going to look weird in the sewer after I flush it down the toilet.”

There was only one thing left to do with the mix – and it was not cook and eat it. So down the toilet it went. This was our second batch. (The first had not been nearly so disastrous, the third would be worse.)

“Are we just frying a cake now?” 
“Well, we are Scottish…” 
“We’re not deep frying it.”
“Not yet…”

By this point – the third attempt – we’d created some sort of pancake-cake-biscuit. And a high level of hysteria. Blame the food colouring, but now we just had a massive fit of the giggles. So much so, that I nearly choked on a mouthful of pancake-cake-biscuit. Which somehow seemed even funnier.

Sensible people would have given up… but oh no, not us.

•••••••••

So how did this misadventure involving a whole lot of red food colouring, batter and a potentially misbehaving frying pan come about?

Snowflakes and pancakes - Convo_Pieces

Back in December, we’d stopped somewhere for breakfast. American breakfast. You know, the hearty, heart-stopping kind of breakfast that means you won’t have to eat again that day. And I spied on the menu… Red Velvet Pancakes.

Which seemed like a must order. I love red velvet cake so surely Red Velvet Pancakes were going to be AMAZING. (I was hungry, jet lagged and over-enthused.)

The very nice waiter informed us that their breakfast menu had finished for the day – but their lunch menu was now on. So I had mac ‘n’ cheese for breakfast. Which as your first meal of the day is a whole lot of wrong. (Yes, coming from the girl who wanted red velvet pancakes!)

Red Velvet Pancake – Convo_Pieces

So, we had to come back. The waiter (a different one) eyed us nervously – two Scots demanding, pre-coffee, that they wanted breakfast was obviously more than he’d expected to deal with first thing.

He did a sort of hop from one foot to another as he explained that the usual guy who did the pancakes wasn’t in today but he was sure the Thursday guy could give it a go.

The pancakes arrived. They looked beautiful. So red, so pretty, so Instagram friendly.

But they tasted of… nothing. Not bad, but not great. Just bland. And then I said the magic words…

“We should make these ourselves when we get home. But better.”

Red Mix – Convo_Pieces

Now to be fair, our first batch wasn’t bad. (Which is Scottish/British for pretty darn good.)

We’d used two tubes of Dr. Oetker food colouring gel and had some red-pink batter.

We need another tube. Sod the E numbers.”

But we only had two… so red-pink would have to do.

Red Velvet Pancake Hearts – Convo_Pieces

So we ended up with swirly, heart-shaped pancakes… which super tasty and pretty much tasted like red velvet in a slightly chocolate-y, red-pink way.

Sensible-ish people would have stopped there. (Sensible people wouldn’t be adding food colouring and chocolate to pancake batter would they?)

Red icing – Convo_Pieces

So we decided that we’d make another batch another day. But better. (Ah that word again.)

Now as you now know… batch 2 and batch 3 were an unmitigated disaster of inedible proportions.

But batch 4… well, this time we were going to nail it. Or die trying.

Red Velvet Pancake Mix – Convo_Pieces

However… batch 4 also coincided with a Sunday. And where we live, supermarkets close early on a Sunday. (Well, too early for people who suddenly want to make pancakes at 5pm.)

So, we went off to the local corner shop for eggs, flour and more food colouring.

And came home with eggs, flour, pink Nesquik milkshake powder and red colouring for curries. 

Now, let’s get this out of the way. Nesquik milkshake powder does something weird to pancake mix.

To be fair, nowhere on the packaging does it indicate that you can make strawberry milk that you can add to batter.

So if you’ve ever wondered about this, wonder no more.

Heart Pancake Convo_Pieces

So, food colouring for curries it was…

We used a teeny, tiny, ickle drop and made pink batter.

Pink not red but the pancakes were rising and smelt lovely. So pink is where we stopped.

Love Pancake Convo_Pieces

And they were good. Insanely good. 

We had made rose coloured velvet pancakes. (I was so over the idea of red by this point.) But that wasn’t why they were so tasty…

In fact, it had nothing to do with the colouring or the chocolate… and everything to do with just being darn good pancakes. And the sprinkles, icing and strawberries.

Now sensible people would have stopped there… and for once, just for once, we were those sensible people. With happy tummies and a whole lot of pancake making mess to clear up, we called it quits on the red velvet pancake experiment.

Strawberry Love – Convo_Pieces

So, on the off chance, you actually want to make some pancakes after reading this, here’s our tried and tested pancake recipe (cut out from New Woman magazine some years ago)… add chocolate and food colouring at your own peril!

Makes 6 large pancakes

Ingredients:

125g plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
Pinch of salt
4 tbsp baking powder
2 large eggs, separated at room temp
250ml full-fat milk (don’t add Nesquik)
6 tbsp melted butter, plus a little extra for cooking
Sprinkles/fruit/icing/maple syrup for serving

How to:

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks, melted butter and milk. Keep whisking to create a batter, but don’t overmix it (it’s OK if it’s a bit lumpy).

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold them into the batter with a spatula. Pour into a measuring jug and gently add blueberries (if you want blueberry pancakes of course!).

Heat a heavy non-stick pan. Add a tbsp of butter to coat the surface and pour in some of the batter. When bubbles form on one side, flip the pancake over with a spatula. Brown for 30 seconds or so and then continue with the remaining batter.

Serve as you please… though in my opinion, sprinkles are a necessity!

 

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