29/08/13 - Bon Voyage Rachel!

My dear friend Rachel has cropped up on this blog before, particularly here where she featured heavily as my primary travelling buddy.  However, I now resent her as she is taking our globe-trotting ways a step too far and moving to Canada for a whole year.  That's a very long time to be separated from a girl who I can honestly say I will be utterly lost without.  Why is everyone I know emigrating?!

Although we went to both the same primary and secondary schools, we didn't really make a connection until somewhere around GCSE time.  It didn't take long for casually being part of the same group of friends to become a steadfast friendship, based on a mutual love for sarcasm, restaurants with free salad bars and all things a little bit geeky.  We went on to tour a selection of Britain's universities together as well as spending two weeks exclusively in each other's company on back-to-back school trips to France and Germany which could easily have resulted in a broken friendship (spending too much time with anyone can be damaging).  Somehow we pulled through and despite going to unis at opposite ends of the country, we've remained the firmest of friends.

What can I say about Rachel?  She may be surprised to hear me say it but she's a bloody classy lady.  Less of a surprise I hope, is that she keeps me grounded.  If I need sage advice, she can dole it out with the best of them...but not quite as well as she can give me the kick up the bum I sometimes need to man up.  She doesn't take things lying down and is more than happy to stand up for herself, a quality I lack and therefore greatly admire.

I don't know what I'm going to do without her for such a long time.  Who will do the Made In Chelsea 'fence watch' with me?  Who will be the Max Black to my Caroline?  Who will I go on Harvester dates with?  Who  can I spend hours in Liverpool's cheesiest club with, despite having had no more than one drink each?  Who will fully understand my need for yet another red lipstick?

She's my sister from another mister, the Caramel Drizzle to my Vanilla, and she knows just how much I'm going to miss her because I never miss an opportunity to guilt-trip her for leaving me.  I know she's going to be hugely successful, and I'm just glad that I'll be along for the ride even if it's from afar.

Canada, you'd better take good care of my girl.  You're damn lucky to be getting her.

If anyone wants to make a donation to the 'Get Hannah to Canada' fund, please comment below!  Look, I already have the national costume down...I make a damn good lumberjack.

27/08/13 - Boux Avenue Ladies Night

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Some of you may remember my post a while ago now about the opening of Hull's Boux Avenue store.  That was a fantastic event and I was lucky enough to be invited to another one, this time at the Liverpool One branch.  Last Thursday, myself and the lovely Laura popped along to the evening event which was in collaboration with local magazine His & Hers for a few hours of retail therapy.  They were offering 20% off all purchases along with triple VIP points and a lovely little goodie bag...it was far too good an opportunity to pass up!

After being greeted with a glass of bubbly (always a plus in my book), we proceeded to have a little wander around the store.  I always love the atmosphere in Boux Avenue shops; the staff are friendly, the stock is really well presented and it always smells nice!  After a browse of all the beautiful things on offer and a few cheeky purchases, probably spending more money than I should have done, we decided to indulge in a little bit of pampering as there were free mini manicures on offer courtesy of Barry M.  I opted for a lovely classic red polish and it was so nice to have someone else paint my nails for me, as I don't have the steadiest of hands!

And let's not forget the very generous goodie bags we received!  Containing a hand wash and hand cream in Boux Avenue's trademark white chiffon scent, a Barry M lip paint in the shade 163 'Little Vixen', and five pairs of nipple petals for those glamorous backless occasions (probably much better quality than the ones I buy for £2 from eBay!), it was such a nice touch.

I'd like to thank everyone involved in organising the event - Laura and I had a fantastic time, and we're so grateful to have been invited!

25/08/13 - Bon Voyage Charlie!

There are some people who you immediately hit it off with as soon as you meet them.  For me, Charlie is the main person in my life who this is true for.  We met probably within minutes of my parents leaving me at my university halls three years ago, and we've never looked back.  And now Charlie and her lovely boyfriend Sean, who is also a good friend of mine, are going to be jaunting around Australia for the foreseeable future.  It's alright for some!

As I said, I met Charlie on my first day at university and I couldn't be more glad.  For the past three years, she has been my rock.  A shoulder to cry on during some of my toughest times, an ear to rant to, and someone to watch endless episodes of Gossip Girl and the Kardashians with.  She's looked after me on many a drunken night out, and listened to me whinge and moan about everything under the sun, always knowing how to make me feel better.  Among other things, she was the first person to permanently dye my hair (after making me sign a contract promising not to stop being her friend if it went wrong) - that's a mark of real trust if ever there was one!

Much as I try, I will never live the events of this
night down!

If I started to list all the wonderful memories I have with Charlie, I would never stop and everyone would get bored.  But whenever I drink tequila or Bailey's, I'll think of her...and don't even get me started on pre-mixed strawberry mojito.  Whenever I hear a Taylor Swift or a Katy Perry song, whenever I watch (and quote along with) John Tucker Must Die...I could go on forever.  There are hundreds of stories that we share which I will never forget and plenty that I wish I could!

And let's not forget the unshakable bond between Charlie and Miffy!
For the past three years I always knew that Charlie was there, a few seconds across a corridor or up some stairs.  And now she's going to be on the other side of the world.  As jealous as I am and as much as I'll miss her, I know that she and Sean will take Oz by storm and have an absolute whale of time!  I look forward to hearing all about it in a few postcards...hint hint...

The Three Musketeers may be missing a member, but we'll try not to
resent her new adventures too much!
And I can't leave out Sean, who not only shares my love for Doctor Who (one thing that Charlie just cannot get her head around) but has also been a firm friend to me over the years, getting me out of many a scrape and putting a smile on my face at the same time.  Enjoy trying to convince Charlie to enjoy the 50th Anniversary special!

Charlie and Sean, have an incredible time Down Under and I look forward to catching up when you get back!

22/08/13 - Book recommendations: 'Paperback of the Year' Edition

I don't have any real idea of the age demographic for readers of this blog, but I suppose I've always assumed most are around my own age - this probably stems from an inability to believe that anyone other than my actual real-life friends would have interest in reading my ramblings.  With this in mind, the books I am about to recommend might seem to be what is typically considered a little 'younger' than the books I tend to write about on here.  However, bear with it - all of them I really enjoyed, despite being an adult reader.

For those of you who don't know, I've worked in libraries since I was 17.  My first job was as a Saturday assistant in a local children's library - not exactly rock and roll, but I really enjoyed it.  Since going to uni, I've done varying degrees of casual work through a few different libraries and finally came to rest in a department away from the public sphere.  For the past couple of years, all my university holidays have been spent packing up boxes of books on a variety of subjects to be sent into schools to assist with that term's topics.  Again, it may not seem overly thrilling but I get along well with my colleagues and I can think of much worse jobs I could have been landed with.

The highlight of this job is being involved with the local Paperback of the Year event; we draw up a shortlist of fifteen titles which have been released in paperback within the last twelve months and local schoolchildren of the young teen persuasion vote for a winner.  As the actual voting takes place in term-time, I tend to be long gone by that point but the shortlist is a big task and requires a few extra pairs of hands (and eyes) to get through all the books which seem to be viable candidates.  Cue me doing a Hermione Granger, hand waving eagerly in the air - "Pick me to help, pick me!"  For this reason, all the books I've read in the past two weeks have been for work, and that's what this post will be about.  Without further ado, I'll crack on with the recommendations.

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Despite the fact that Elise, the protagonist, is eleven and therefore much younger not only than me but also younger than the people who will be voting, this book's themes are so universal that it hardly seems to matter.  Everyone can relate to the apprehension you feel moving from primary to secondary school, most people have had experience of bullying, and who doesn't like a good mystery?  The ideas of friendship, family, coming to terms with loss and seeking a sense of belonging are all central to this beautiful little book.  While I know that I would have loved this book as a child, I can appreciate it just as much as an adult and I believe anyone who reads it can learn a little something from it.  A heartwarming tale about the difficulties of growing up and the little lessons we could all do with remembering from time to time.

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

The style of this book might turn some people off - I'll admit that I was skeptical when I first opened it.  It's the first novel I've read which is written in verse form and, while I'm not what you'd call a traditionalist, I was curious to see how the experimental nature of the format would work.  I have to say that as soon as I got into the story, I loved it.  Kasienka is a twelve-year-old Polish immigrant who moves to England with her mother in search of the father who left them two years earlier, but my favourite thing about this book was that it's not an 'immigrant story' as such.  Yes, there are struggles, but these are the struggles of any young teenager rather than those specifically of a Polish one; coping with school bullies and ignorant teachers, parents who don't understand, having your first kiss.  The style is just the half of it - Kasienka is a vivid and exciting character, the narrative so personal it can't help but move you.  Despite being a fairly quick read, I loved this powerful, emotionally-charged and stunningly written book.

Finding Cherokee Brown by Siobhan Curham

This was probably my favourite of the books that I read for the shortlist.  While saying I would have loved it when I was younger is totally true, that seems to say that I don't love it now and that is entirely false.  On her fifteenth birthday, Claire Weeks finds out she isn't quite who she's always thought she was and this realisation gives her the power to become the person she wants to be, not dictated by her mum and stepdad or the bullies in her class.  There's an authenticity to Curham's writing which can be difficult to find.  She captures the experience of being a teenage girl perfectly and my favourite element is the flawed nature of the adult characters.  Something it's easy to forget as a teenager is that grown-ups are people too, and that your parents - shock horror - had lives before you came along.  The bullying aspect of the story was painfully realistic at time, but this didn't stop the novel being really uplifting as Claire comes into her own against all the odds.  A really inspirational read for all ages, and particularly for those of us who has ever struggled to believe in themselves.

There will be other titles on the shortlist which I didn't get a chance to read, and I'll really excited to see which of them wins!  I think it's a great idea to get young people reading a variety of authors they might not have encountered otherwise and to encourage them to go on and read more widely outside the books we recommend to them.

If you have any book recommendations, leave them in the comments!

19/08/13 - Outfit of the Day: Summery DIY

You may remember that last summer, I ventured down to London and while I was there, I did a spot of vintage shopping around Brick Lane (you can read the post all about that trip here).  On that shopping trip, I purchased only a couple of items and one of them was a lovely summery vintage dress.  I can't remember exactly how much it cost me, but it was definitely around the five pound mark.  That's why I love vintage shopping; while it can be vastly overpriced, you can find some utter bargains.

I love the idea of vintage dresses and some lucky people can pull them off in their original form.  However, I don't believe that I am one of those people.  While I loved the colours and the style of this gorgeous dress, it was just a little too long for my tastes and made me look really frumpy.  Since I bought it, it has been waiting patiently to be altered and I finally got around to doing it.  My wonderful mother helped as I'm not exactly a dab hand with a needle and thread, and between us we took a couple of inches off the length, hemming up both the under and outer layers of the skirt.  We also had to take in the sides of the dress as the elasticated waist had gone with age, and it looked ridiculously baggy.  It's still not a perfect fit, but I don't really mind.

Excuse the unprofessional pictures taken in my garden; I really wish I had a personal photographer to negate my need for desperate self-timer stresses!  Also, please forgive the awkward poses - I'll never make it as a fashion blogger, as I feel so self-conscious 'modelling'.

I love the fun print and the style of the dress.  It's a shame the elastic at the waist went, as obviously this has changed its shape but we altered it the best we could, and I like to think it looks okay!

Hat - SoulCal from Republic (£5 in last summer's sale)
Sunglasses - Steve Madden from TK Maxx (about £12)
Sandals - H&M (last summer, £7)
I haven't worn the dress out yet, but this is probably how I'll style it when I do.  Summery dresses are just such an easy wardrobe staple to throw on with a pair of nice flats and your shades for pretty much any daytime plans.  

Tell me about your best vintage finds and bargains in the comments!

Also, if you'd like to see more posts like this, just let me know.  Writing about fashion stuff doesn't come as easily to me as other subjects, but I like to try something different now and then!

15/08/13 - Quick and Easy Bean Burgers

It's been a while since I did a food post on here, because it's been a while since I've had any food worth blogging about!  Full time work coupled with an attempt to save money means little time for making nice food and less chances for eating out.  However, tonight's dinner has pulled me out of my food-blogging slump. 

While it's not particularly beautifully presented or elegant, nothing beats a good veggie burger.  In an attempt to make it a little healthier, I really should have served it with salad rather than fried potatoes but I did forgo a burger bun...I'll take my little victories where I can!

You can find the original recipe here - I'm not taking any credit for inventing this one.  

Messy hands are a must!

It's a perfect antidote to your typical vegetarian burger which is; a) mash, peas and carrots in breadcrumbs or b) a meat substitute such as Quorn.  While there is nothing wrong with either of those options, there's something so satisfying about making bean burgers from scratch.  The recipe is easily adapted to suit personal tastes and super quick and easy to make, especially on a budget.  Not that I would know, but I imagine this would be a fun one to make with kids as it involves something always referred to in my family as 'the hand thing' - there's nothing quite like getting stuck in right up to your elbows!

In the comments, tell me about the best burger you've had or leave me any recipes that you would recommend.

12/08/13 - Harry Potter Studio Tour

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Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a huge Harry Potter fan...I wrote my dissertation on it, for goodness' sake!  So it's a little shameful that it's taken me as long as it has to venture down to Watford to visit the Warner Bros. Studio Tour - the Making of Harry Potter.

Having had a long tiring day trekking around London the day after seeing Sea Wall and getting a late night, I found that I wasn't really overly enthused when confronted with the prospect of more walking...until we got there, and I went into full-on geek mode.  The sheer size of the buildings were enough to get me excited before we even stepped inside.

The thing that impressed me most about the whole experience was the sheer amount of detail that went into every prop, every costume and every piece of scenery.  Each thing we saw throughout the whole tour was an utter work of art, write down to the hand-written potion bottle labels and the thousands of glass prophecies in the Ministry's Department of Mysteries.

I'll leave you with a few of the many (oh so many) photos we took over the course of the four hours we were inside.

My brother's getting to be more of a poser than I am!

The verdict on Butterbeer: after being told horror stories, I was surprised to actually really enjoy it.  It tasted (to me, at least) like Irn Bru with cream soda foam on top, which I loved.

Walking along Diagon Alley, past all the familiar shops, was amazing.  Even with everyone stopping to take photos, it was hard not to feel a little bit like you'd stumbled right into Harry's world.

I've heard some people turn their noses up at the price of this attraction (I believe it's £29 for an adult ticket), but I thought that it was entirely worth every single penny.  Everything inside was utterly spectacular, and I particularly liked the fact that most of the tour wasn't guided so you're free to wander at your own pace and focus on the parts that you want to.  For example, while most people barrelled past the displays of prosthetics and animatronics, my dad and I watched every information video in its entirety and I found it to be possibly the most interesting part.

After we'd finished gawping at all the amazing things on display (and rather hurriedly whisking me away from the last room in which I got a little bit emotional), we spent a good hour in the gift shop where we did some more gawping.  It wasn't as expensive as I'd expected it to be, but I still didn't buy as much as I would have liked to!

Overall, I thought the experience was incredibly impressive and definitely worth a trip if you're a big Harry Potter fan.  And on a related note, I hope everyone I know who was down at LeakyCon in London this weekend had a totally magical time!