28/11/12 - Boux Avenue, the stuff dreams are made of

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I am a huge fan of underwear.  It's something everyone needs and will always need, so I don't see why you wouldn't make sure you have invested in a nice matching set for every occasion...and in every colour.  Knowing that you're wearing a pretty pair of knickers or a really good bra can make your day even when everything else is going wrong.  However, I hate shopping for underwear.  Sizes can be different everywhere you go, and unhelpful sales assistants are able to make something that is quite a difficult thing already one hundred times worse.  And so much of the affordable underwear on the high street today is just hideously tacky.  But never fear!  The answer to your underwear woes is here, and I was invited to the press preview before the opening of my local branch this Tuesday.  I recommend you all visit your nearest Boux Avenue.

My lovely friend Laura pointed me in the direction of another lovely Laura from Fluorescent PR who enabled Emma and I to pop along to the brand new Boux Avenue store in the St Stephens shopping centre in Hull for the opening.  It is probably the most beautiful shop I've ever been in - really stunning with the lingerie displayed above labelled drawers holding all the stock.  The nightwear is absolutely adorable, and the beauty and home fragrance products are gorgeous.

But the real pièce de résistance is the changing rooms.  Not only are they decadently decorated, they have an intercom system which allows you to speak to a sales assistant without leaving the cubicle and three lighting options (day, dusk and night) so you can see how your new underwear will look in all situations.  This is so much better than most shops; no more clutching your top across your chest as you stick your head out of the door, desperately searching for someone to help you, before sobbing in a corner at how hideous the unforgiving lighting makes you look.

After a free fitting from a really lovely woman called Billie who very helpfully explained all the elements that goes into finding the right bra (something that will definitely come in handy for future reference), I was tempted into making a couple of very minor purchases.  It was a bit of a treat, but with the 10% student discount and other in-store deals, it didn't come out as expensive as it could have done.

We were also given really lovely gift-bags containing; white chiffon hand cream, rose petal lip balm, white chiffon drawer sachet, powdered tissues, USB stick and a £10 gift card!

All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful experience and I'm really glad we got in there early before the official opening...once Theo Paphitis opened the doors properly at 1pm, it was apparently absolutely heaving!  

If there's a branch near you, I recommend you go as soon as you can!  Where is your favourite place to by underwear?

24/11/12 - Theatre review: 'London' by Simon Stephens

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This Thursday, I took myself off to Manchester for the second time in a week.  This time, I was flying solo and really enjoyed wandering the city.  Browsing in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, lusting over things that cost more than my rubbish laptop is worth, sampling my first ever Taco Bell - it was a lovely day.  And then at half past two, I took myself over to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the reason that I was here in the first place; Simon Stephens' 'London' in the intimate Studio theatre.

Cast member Abby Ford discusses Simon Stephens' London

I am a huge fan of Simon Stephens and the way he writes, so when I saw this performance come up on the theatre's website, I booked the ticket without a second thought.  I didn't mind going to the theatre on my own as I was just so excited about the prospect of seeing this production.  I missed the screening of his adaptation of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time for the National Theatre, so it was nice to actually get to see some of his work onstage.

'London' is made up of two monologues, roughly thirty minutes each, and the whole thing runs at almost an hour in length with no interval.  The first half, T5, requires the audience to wear headphones which take you inside the head of the woman (Abby Ford) who begins lying on a bed.  As the audience settle in their seats, we listen to the sound of her breathing and as the performance begins properly, a mixture of live and recorded sound make for an interesting experience.  Both pieces deal with the ideas of love and loss in very different ways, as well as the experience of modern London life; in T5, it is something stifling to be escaped.

Between the two monologues, the setting of an airport hotel room is deconstructed and the house lights brought up, stripping back the stage to allow Cary Crankson to take us on the journey of his character, Alex.  The illumination of the audience along with the informal, chatty delivery really draws you into the story.

The second half, Sea Wall, is one of my favourite pieces of drama.  The half hour monologue, which was originally written for performance at the Bush Theatre in 2008, has been adapted into a short film starring BAFTA nominated Andrew Scott (best known as Moriarty in the BBC's ground-breaking Sherlock) which I had seen previous to this stage production and was the thing that inspired me to get the ticket.  I seriously recommend everyone go and check it out here, particularly if you won't get chance to see this touring production.  It is absolutely breath-taking - I won't spoil the plot for you, as I found watching it knowing what was going to happen was a very different experience than having the story unfurl before you.

In my opinion, Simon Stephens' writing has a way of perfectly capturing the inner workings of the human mind - the use of flashback and the disconnected thought processes can be initially confusing, but the stories slowly piece themselves together in the most wonderful way.  His use of language is always stunning and it's so easy to get totally lost within the mind of the characters on stage.  The way he writes is so impressive and I know a lot of people have found Sea Wall to be one of the most moving pieces of writing they've come across.  As someone who has always toyed with the idea of being a professional writer, it would be my dream for my writing to effect even one person in the way Simon Stephens has inspired so many.

Did any of you get to see this recent production?  If so, let me know in the comments!

18/11/12 - The year was 1847...

So this Saturday just gone, despite the mounds of work I have to do and all the deadlines I have creeping up on me, I spent a wonderful day in Manchester seeing my parents and my brother.  It's been far too long since I've seen them other than on a Skype screen so I was super excited to have some quality family time.  Also, my brother and I had booked theatre tickets way back in January, so we'd been waiting for this weekend for rather a long time.

I hopped off the train at Manchester Piccadilly, a station I feel like I've spent an awful lot of time in over the past year or so, to be whisked straight away to my favourite place in the city to eat - 1847.

This little vegetarian bistro (so named as it was the year in which the Vegetarian Society was established in the UK) is located on Mosley Street, a stone's throw away from the train station and the main shopping centre.  The best word I can use for this place is...select.  It has a fairly small dining area, so I would recommend booking if you intend on visiting at a weekend or in an evening - it's always best to know you're guaranteed a table!  

The menu isn't massive, but it changes seasonally and all the ingredients are locally sourced. The food is always beautifully presented, full of flavour and a lot of the time, really interesting combinations of ingredients.  If I could have the chef from this bistro come and cook at my house every day, I would be a very happy (and very fat!) girl.  Although the portions don't look huge - as is to be expected from a sixteen-year-old boy, my younger brother polished them off very quickly, practically licking the plate - the three courses I ate filled me right up.  And being full of good food is so much more pleasant than being full of rubbish junk food.

Sorry for the awful quality of my iPod camera!
To start, I had roasted balsamic sprouts with honey and toasted almond flakes which was served on a bed of some form of pea puree with a honey vinaigrette dressing (I'm afraid I can't remember the exact description)  and rocket salad.  I'm not a massive fan of sprouts - for years, I've had an agreement with my parents that I will eat one a year on Christmas Day and that is all I can manage - so I don't really know what enticed me to this starter, but I really enjoyed it.  Maybe I'm maturing.

Next, I ordered battered tofu with hand-cut chips and fresh peas.  Last time I visited 1847, I had the same thing but with halloumi and I have to say, there wasn't much to choose - both dishes were very tasty.  The tofu was moist, the batter light and crispy and the chips...oh, the chips.  I can be very easily sold on a place if they do good chips and 1847 didn't disappoint.

As a big fan of trying lots of different kinds of food, a trait I share with the rest of my family, meals with us can turn everything into a taster menu, with fork- and spoonfuls of various dishes being passed backwards and forwards.  By not duplicating orders, we managed to cover most of the menu.  I will say that after tasting four different meals, I would recommend the wild mushroom and spinach strudel that my dad had - absolutely delicious.  And even Josh, who admitted that mushrooms and spinach are "two of his three least favourite vegetables", enjoyed it.

Time for dessert.  I had chestnut and chocolate torte with a reduced mulled wine sauce and it was divine.  The chocolate was rich, but offset by the chestnuts, it wasn't too sickly or overwhelming, and the mulled wine sauce was to die for.  Indulgent, decadent and festive, what more could anyone want?

For food like this, you would expect a very hefty price-tag.  Now, it can work out a little pricey and I definitely couldn't afford it on a student budget, much as I would like to.  However, as a treat, it's 100% worth it, and they do all kind of deals (£10 for a main course and a glass of wine, and the £15 taster menu in an evening which I would seriously recommend) and their Christmas bookings seem very reasonably priced.  You can find their website here and I would highly recommend trying it if you get chance, whether you're vegetarian or not.

Have you been to 1847?  If so, what did you think?  Feel free to leave any other restaurant recommendations in the comments, regardless of where you are in the country!

Square Meal

10/11/12 - Ed Sheeran "strums on my heart-strings like he was a Grade 8"

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I am an absolute sucker for singer-songwriters and boys with guitars, which explains my love for Ed Sheeran.  His music is beautiful, his lyrics equally heart-wrenching and hilarious, and his talent seems to know no bounds.  Armed only with his acoustic guitar, a couple of microphones and a loop pedal, he takes every venue by storm.  Wednesday was the second time I've had the pleasure to be in one of his audiences and I have to say, I loved it just as much as the first time. 

It wasn't surprising to see that the average age of the crowd was probably about 16 and the queue was huge - I even heard some kids discussing how their friends had taken the day off school to stake out good places early on.  I can see why Ed's music appeals to the teenage demographic - his romantic lyrics are enough to melt any girl in her tracks.  However, it may have come as a bit of a surprise for some of the girls, and definitely for the parents who accompanied them, to listen to some of Ed's other songs.  While it's easy to write him off as your typical singer-songwriter for doe-eyed girls, many of his songs have more mature content concerning drinking, drug abuse, miscarriage and heartbreak.  Personally, I think it's part of why he's so popular.  With his easy combination of acoustic soul, pop, reggae and hip-hop, his songs may speak straight to the hearts of every idealistic girl out there but they're also gritty, realistic and down-to-earth portrayals of modern life.  

Ed is honestly one of the best and most charismatic performers I've seen live.  He has such an amazing energy and develops a rapport with the audience almost from the moment he walks on stage.  Between songs, he chats easily and makes little jokes without them ever seeming awkward or overdone.  One thing I will say is; don't go to an Ed Sheeran gig if you're not big on audience participation.  There is a lot of singing (which I wholeheartedly approve of) and throughout the course of his set, we were Ed's 'gospel choir', and he even had the two halves of the audience harmonising with each other.

Some might find it hard to imagine his acoustic album translating into a live spectacular, but that's the only word I can use for it.  Particularly his huge hit, 'You Need Me Man, I Don't Need You', which he performed as the first song of his encore was totally mental.  Like, totally.  The rapid-fire lyrics, the insane looped backing track and the energy of the crowd all added up to an incredible experience.  Everyone was dancing and trying to rap along with the song and just generally loving life.  

Other highlights -for me, at least - were my absolute favourite song from Ed's album, 'Goldrush', a cover of Nina Simone's 'Be My Husband' (with a lot of audience singing and clapping) and the wonderful 'Wayfaring Stranger'.  For those who don't know it, it's a gorgeous folk song and Ed somehow managed to get the whole huge room so quiet that he was able to sing the end of the song acapella and with no mic.  I don't know about the people nearer the back, but I could still hear perfectly and it was a magical moment.

I am not ashamed to say that I may have shed a tear or two throughout the evening; there are certain of Ed's songs then really mean a lot to me for various reasons and lyrics that get me choked up every time I hear them.  There's always one.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to embed the video I wanted to, but if you're interested in seeing snippets of the actual concert that I was at, click on THIS LINK.  I highly recommend you 

If you're an Ed Sheeran fan, then you probably know that the music video for his new single 'Give Me Love' went live on last night.  If not, I'll embed the video below or go to this link.  Personally, I think it's stunning.  Let me know what you think in the comments!

Ed's just got back from supporting Snow Patrol around some of their US tour dates and will be opening for Taylor Swift on her 2013 tour of the States.  If anyone would like to provide me with tickets for that, plus flights and somewhere to stay, I would be most grateful!

04/11/12 - Happy Hallowe'en!

So Hallowe'en, one of my favourite days of the year, has come and gone.  Honestly, I just love any excuse to get dressed up!  This year, we decided that rather than going out in the cold, wet winter evening - not good for keeping your costumes pristine - and spending lots of money in a very busy club, we'd have a house party.  And we went all out.  Our decorations started going up a week before actual Hallowe'en and the only thing missing was carved pumpkins.  This is the first year in my entire life that I haven't had a pumpkin on Hallowe'en and it made me really sad, but we left it too late to get any and by Tuesday, not a single place had one!  Not even rubbish little ones.  So that was a disappointment.

But anyway, we decorated the house, stocked up on alcohol and sweets - essential for any Hallowe'en soiree - and donned our costumes!

If the state of our house the next morning and everyone's hangovers were anything to go by, it was a pretty good party!  I mean, I assume it was.  To be honest, by the time all our guests arrived, the hosts were all a little more tipsy than we should have been...aah student life.

How did you spend Hallowe'en?  And what did you dress up as?  I love hearing about other people's costume ideas!

03/11/12 - Monkeying Around with Megan

So last weekend was a little...hectic, to say the least.  The lovely Megan, who you can see in my London summer posts, was staying at my house for the weekend for all the fun and frolics of the student lifestyle that she must sorely be missing while she's down South having a proper job.  'Fun and frolics' such as messy kitchens, freezing houses and very very  drunk people.  But other than that, she seemed to enjoy herself!

She came up on Friday afternoon and after she went for lunch with another friend and I 'did some work' (i.e. watched Made In Chelsea and tried to tidy my bedroom), we got our gladrags on and made our way to my favourite restaurant near uni, Ruby Lounge...it's only a fifteen minute walk from my house and the cocktails are to die for.  When we got there, we met the rest of the current Performing Arts Society exec committee, of which Megs was the founding member last year, and had a wonderful evening catching up.  It was great to see everyone in a more relaxed context - no pressure of committee meetings, rehearsals or big group socials - and we had a lovely chat with some delicious food and drinks.  I'd love to do a review of Ruby Lounge at some point, but the lighting in there is not at all conducive to photography.  We'll see though, maybe one day.

Fifty Shades of...Green?  Anna, Megs and I before Ruby Lounge

As we left the restaurant, the weather turned freakish as it is liable to do in the ridiculous North of England - it started snowing.  Not heavily and not enough to stick, but enough to freeze us to the very core on our way home.  Thankfully, we were greeted by a warm house and dessert courtesy of my lovely housemate Charlie (you can find the recipe here - you will not regret it!)  

Saturday was a nice relaxing day which consisted of a long lie-in and then a wander to the shops in order to buy Megan a costume for our social in the evening (more on that later).  While we were out, we stocked up on food for the evening and the next day as well as doing a milkshake run for my housemates who were at home studying diligently.  So Milky Way shakes all round were well earned!  We got back, sat around chatting before I whipped up some nachos for tea, which were pretty tasty if I do say so myself.  Nachos are one of my favourite things to make because they're just so easy, but taste delicious!

Once we'd eaten, it was time to get ready for the evening's festivities.  Namely, a Performing Arts social with the theme 'Northern Monkeys and Southern Fairies' - a bit of friendly rivalry is always encouraged.   It was a good laugh, even people who didn't know each other very well were all chatting and getting on, and it was great to just let my hair down (metaphorically - my hair was actually fashioned into monkey ears).

This was probably the turning point of my night, and a big mistake.

A lot of alcohol was consumed - mostly by me - and then it was time to stumble home, buy Subway and drink cups of tea.  Well, everyone else drank tea...I went to bed with all my make-up still on.  Needless to say, I felt horrendous on Sunday morning.  Like, I thought I was dying horrendous.  Not pleasant.

Sunday consisted of lying on the sofa groaning and watching Jamie's 15-Minute Meals (not a good idea to look at lots of food when you feel as nauseous as I did) and all the TV we missed on Saturday night - we're a big X Factor household.  I quite impressed myself, however, by managing to provide some vague approximation of a roast dinner for Emma and Megan while the two of them made some yummy chocolate cupcakes - I did take photos, but my camera didn't do them justice at all.  Then Jemma came round for a cup of tea and a much-needed catch-up...I've missed her SO much since she emigrated to Italy.  It sounds like she's having a wonderful time and I've been really enjoying keeping updated on her adventures on her lovely blog!

So overall, I had a wonderful weekend with some of my favourite people in the world...even if I did find myself feeling a little worse-for-wear on Sunday!  I hope everyone else had a lovely weekend...let me know what you did down in the comments!

02/11/12 - Spending Spree

[Forgive me if this is a little slap-dash; if this were a beauty or fashion blog, this would be labelled a 'haul'.  However, as this blog is a little less organised than that, it's just me chatting on about what I've spent money on recently.  If it doesn't interest you, look away now.  Also, I apologise for the quality of the photos.]

I am not good at saving money.  In fact, I am spectacularly poor at it.  The temptation to spend is always far too strong.  Particularly since I've been at university, it's a bit of a problem. I pay my rent and bills, I buy food, I pay my gym membership...and I vow that I'm going to be really controlled with the rest of my money.  No takeaways, no extravagant purchases, no getting drunk and going for an extra cash machine run on a night out.  And I always fail.  This year is no exception.

I've been back at uni for nearly two months now and my bank balance is seriously hemorrhaging money.  When I live at home with my parents, I find it much easier to save money.  I have a job which pays me weekly and, most importantly and effectively, I have a mother who likes to inspect my purchases with a critical eye - her favourite phrase is, "Do you really need another bag/dress/eye-liner/pair of shoes?"  It makes a massive difference to my spending habits.   But recently, I've been treating myself a little.  In all honesty, nothing I've bought is too extortionate.  In fact, they could be classed as essentials.  Yeah, essentials.  That makes me feel better.

Blue split front jumper from New Look (the website
only has red by hey ho!), £12.99 (with discount, £10.39)
This jumper was definitely essential, especially as it was such a bargain.  It's really cosy, particularly because I always buy jumpers a little on the larger side, and I love the colour.  It's such an easy thing to chuck on with trackies of a cold evening (we have a lot of those in my freezing house) but it can equally look just as nice to wear out in the day with jeans or a skirt and tights.  The photo doesn't do it justice, the colours are much deeper (and nicer) than that.

Red jumper with asymmetric
hem from Zara, £17.99
This jumper was another must-have and with the cold Northern winter closing in, I feel the need to stock up on snuggly knitwear.  I was torn between this colour and the same jumper in a deep green, settling for this as it was more of a contrast to the jumper above.  The asymmetric hem makes it that little bit unique and I am very tempted to go and buy the green one as well.  Perfect to wear with simple black leggings and winter boots.  [Disclaimer: this photo doesn't look anything like the actual jumper. For some reason, I can't capture the actual colour at all.]

Black sausage dog print snood from
River Island, £16 (with discount, £12.80)
I am a bit of a scarf junkie, but I don't actually have that many at university with me which is how I justified this purchase.  I only have two day-to-day scarves and one woolly winter one here, so I needed another just to give me some more options.  And just look at the adorable sausage dog pattern - couldn't resist it!  

Gold necklace from Topshop, £10 (with discount, £8)
Very simple reasoning here: I don't have very much gold jewellery.  I picked up the necklace and remarked, "Hmm I don't wear a lot of gold...probably because I don't have any."  Straight to the till.  Boom.  God bless the impulse buy as I have been wearing this a lot - makes a daytime outfit look more put together, but equally as perfect for something more dressy.

Green blazer from River Island,
£40 (in the sale, £20)
This may have been a little less essential to my winter wardrobe, but it's something that caught my eye and I just had to have it.  I was totally sold on it, even at the original price so when it came up on the website for half price, I didn't give it a second thought.  Plus, the colour is really festive.

Cowl neck wrap dress by Wal-G for
Topshop, £33 (with discount, £26.40)
This dress was a bit of a treat, but also something that I needed - you can't wear any old thing to a hen do at which you are a bridesmaid, right?  Anyway, this was a bit of a stressful purchase; when I tried it on in the shop for the first time, it wouldn't fasten.  For real.  And there was no bigger size.  So I spent some time being a tad depressed.  Then I made the rash decision to get it on the days Topshop were doing 20% student discount and dun dun DUN slim into it.  Never a good idea, except I put a limit on it.  If it still didn't fasten by the time the returns policy ran out, it would go back and I would get a refund.  And I tried it on recently after a lot of healthy eating and gym sessions, and it finally zips up.  I don't know if I just got a dodgy one in the changing rooms, but whatever.  I'm a happy bunny.

Collection 2000 Extreme 24-hour felt tip liner
available from most high street drugstores, £2.99
This eyeliner is my ultimate life-saver at the moment.  Super affordable even on a student budget and the felt tip pen applicator means that it's ideal for even those who are a little bit intimidated by liquid eyeliner's reputation for being messy and difficult to master.  I swear, without this, I would have been late to so many seminars!  It's the easiest eyeliner I've ever used...and I find it tough to leave the house without my eyeliner.  Even at quarter to nine when I really should be leaving the house if I want to make my early seminars, it takes two seconds to whack it on and I instantly feel more human.

Ponche shower gel from Lush, 100g bottle £4.95
I am a huge LUSH fan and this shower gel is something I've been craving ever since I heard about it.  Inspired by traditional Mexican Christmas punch and made with infusions of orange, plum and cinnamon, the fruity scent is to die for.  All topped off with a shot of tequila and anyone who knows me knows that I looooove me some tequila.  I bought the handy little bottle to try it and because I'll be travelling around quite a bit over the next month, but if I like it I might go and stock up on one of the big bottles.

Lipstick in 'Wicked' from Topshop's
A/W Collection, £9 (with discount, £8.10)

I really fancied a new lipstick and this one is the perfect autumnal shade that I was looking for.  While the bullet looks a bit dark and daunting, the actual colour which you can see swatched is much pinkier and less scary.  I've worn it once and I love it.  I love the consistency of Topshop lipsticks and this colour will be a regular feature this winter, I can tell.

I hope you've found this interesting and maybe spotted something you might treat yourself to on your next shopping trip.  Let me know in the comments if there's anything in here that  has inspired you and also what your favourite A/W purchase has been so far this year!