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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

Santa, I know him! … and other Christmas New York tales

24 Dec

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On 34th Street is where we start this tale… all about a girl and a boy and a big shiny city called New York.

Now, they’d come here before – last time during a hurricane – and that hadn’t felt quite enough.

So they returned to do a re-do. But not for oh so terrifying Halloween this time… they came for Christmas instead, surely the weather would be less scary she said!

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And oh New York, you did not disappoint. Yes, it was colder, the days were shorter, and our cheeks were pink from the biting wind… but it was all rather wonderful all the same. Especially as we were treated to a glorious coral-pink-orange sunset every evening.

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And then there was this guy… now as much as I love Halloween, well, Christmas is Christmas. So there was Santa spotting to be done.

Turn a corner and all of a sudden, and you’ll find the red suited dude on motorbikes (NYC Santas have upgraded from reindeer). With Santa Claus is Coming to Town blasting out from somewhere. Obviously.

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But we couldn’t come all the way without meeting the real deal. Now watching Miracle on 34th Street had led me to believe that the actual big guy is to be found at Macy’s department store. So grinning – like the dweebs we are – we joined the queue to meet Santa…

What we’d expected was a big queue of kids that we could sneak past and get a quick snap – from afar. Instead, we turned a corner and an elf told us to ‘go this way’… and suddenly we were in a room – alone, well, us and elves – with Santa.

Still holding hands, we pressed ourselves against the back wall, possibly terrified, and had to be beckoned towards him.

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Which resulted in this awkward photo with the ‘real’ Santa… who clearly might not be the real Santa as…

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… as when the legends Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart met Santa at Macy’s too, that’s definitely another Santa. Shock. Horror! (Also they seem a whole lot more onboard with getting their picture taken than us it has to be said. Cooler than us!)

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That said, give me the Yeti from the Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas window… and I am this happy. (Yeah, I know I am soooo logical!)

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Essentially the window at Saks told the story of a Yeti who makes snow… who travels to New York. So far, so Elf.

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It was such a popular window that you had to queue to see it. Yes, queue to see a window! (We may have cheated and just taken these pictures over people’s heads!)

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As well as Santa (and Yeti) stalking, there was Christmas tree hunting to be done… so we went to see the Rockefeller Tree. Along with almost everyone else in New York. Nothing more festive that being crushed in a crowd of hundreds while looking at a big tree. Humans are weird when you think about it!

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And it is BIG… but then when you look at it next to the Rockefeller Center, it’s pretty teeny really.

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Instead my favourite Christmas tree of all was the one at the American Museum of National History with its origami decorations!

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Complete with origami dinosaurs… really, really, really wished they had ones to take away!

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I can’t have been the only one hoping for an extra huge tree though as these HUGE baubles prove.

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Imagine the size of the tree that would go with these lights! (I was a little happy to find these!)

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And when we weren’t tracking down all the Christmassy things… we were hanging out in Greenpoint and Brooklyn eating ALL the things.

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Like vegan hot dogs from the indoor version of the Williamsburg Smorgasburg… London can we have have some vegan hot dog places, please?

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Insanely sized and tasting pancakes that came with honeycomb butter (yes, honeycomb butter!) from Five Leaves

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Crazy good ramen burgers for him… so good he went back twice. Really wished they had a veggie version!

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And Cheese Pops for me… yes, a cheese plate on a stick. Still confused? See below.

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Choux pastry with amazing cheeses and mouth-watering toppings. Each one was better than the last.

I had to run back to the guy who sold me this and tell him just how fricking amazing it was.

Then I didn’t want to eat anything else in case it spoiled the memory of those cheese pops!

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And when we weren’t eating ALL the things… there was street art to spot and walls to rock.

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You know you’re in an area that’s cool with street art when you can do it when the police are so close by.

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Ok. Not entirely sure why ok = rarr in my book but apparently it does. Ok?

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A future record cover for a single that has not yet been recorded?

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Not a future record cover perhaps… but I get points for being exuberant. I may have just had a strong coffee. (Perhaps we can blame my new crazy ‘getting my photo taken’ style on my recent take-up of coffee?)

And of course no trip to New York is complete without the following:

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… a trip to the wonderful High Line. I’ve been now on sunny days and on crazy cold days, and it’s beautiful whichever way.

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… some theatre… and my second mention of the legends Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen. We were lucky enough to see them in one of my favourite plays. As they’d you expect they were legen… wait for it… dary.

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… doing something totally random… and for us, this was going to a spelling bee. Yes, an actual spelling bee.

I have never felt so stupid in all my life. I knew two words out of everything from the whole night. (And one of them was a Scottish word ‘Strathspey’ so that was cheating!) However, it was very funny though – so many characters!

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… and doing something else really random… like driving a NYC bus…

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… and did I mention the random… isn’t this the best Christmas decoration ever? Love you NYC!

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So ah New York… you were big, you were shiny, you were busy, you were crazy…

You were colourful, you were exhausting, you were sparkly, you were full of calories…

And oh gosh you were rather damn lovely. So until next time…

Have a merry Christmas everyone… and if you see Santa, say hi from me. I know him. (Even if I am slightly scared of him!)

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