‘Don’t forget’ – summer holiday packing list

As you may have observed/mildly judged, in the ‘About me’ section of this blog,  I like to ‘make a good list’. I really mean it. I get a deep sense of dorky personal achievement from ticking actions off a list. So much so, that I will sometimes  retrospectively add things I have done to lists, which weren’t on the original list, just to tick them off and get the buzz.

I wanted to put out into the universe, for the good of mankind, my ‘don’t forget’ holiday packing list – which is basically a list of things I have forgotten on holidays over the years or blindly  assumed others will bring.

Suitcase full of stuff

Great British packing list

Practical things:

  • Local Currency – I always assume the pound is accepted everywhere. No. Wrong. And come home to find frustrating envelopes of old useless Euros from previous holidays in drawers everywehere
  • Phone Charger. Adapter. Travel Battery.Various crucial, but irritating cables for Ipad/Kindle.
  • Beach Towel. People always get particularly irritated when I forget this
  • Map/Guide book – v. retro but a godsend when data roaming is zillions of pounds
  • Insurance/hotel details – numbers and directions
  • Decent bags for sight-seeing/beach
  • Gym Kit. So annoying when you end up in a great hotel, with a great gym and loads of time to actually go but no trainers, socks, sports bra etc.
  • Teabags/instant coffee. I mock my Mother for bringing her little bags of PG Tips on holiday, but do resent buying continental Lipton (eughh).

Toiletries and skincare:

  • Sunhat and sun protection spray for hair. Always burn my scalp.
  • After sun. Oh the best made plans.
  • P20 suncream. Doesn’t come off all day, come sea or sweat, and is the only thing I don’t burn with. Not for face though.
  • Facial Mist. For hives and just general fun. Sprtiz. Spritz. Spritz!
  • Neon lipsticks/nail-polishes . Otherwise what is the point in having them? You can only wear on approx 3 days in UK
  •  Hay-fever tablets, eye drops, blister plasters, prickly heat cream, immodium and tissues – spend 10% of every holiday desperately trying to locate a pharmacy with pink, streaming eyes
  • Travel size toiletries and samples – shampoo/conditioner, shower gel, shaving cream, body lotion, facial cleanser, serums, moisturiser, perfume, deoderant and razors –  all the samples taking up space in the bathroom – this is your moment!
  • Toothpaste and Toothbrush. Once forced to buy aniseed toothpaste for 6 Euros in Italy which tasted like Sambuca
  • Cotton pads, facial wipes/flannels.

Entertainment:

  • DVDs/Player or Ipad with films/box-sets downloaded. For rainy days, flights, holiday ‘can’t switch off’ twitch
  • Games – Playing Cards or the best Ipad game of charades ever – Heads Up
  • Good books – pre-downloaded onto Kindle. (In Portugal, recently, I ended up panic downloading the most incredible trash).
  • Speakers. Beach side tunes.
So much more relaxing when you haven't forgotten your pants

So much more relaxing when you haven’t forgotten your pants

Totally obvious stuff:

  • Jacket, jumpers, jeans for cool days
  • Loads of shorts and T-shirts for the day
  • A million swimsuits/bikinis, plus beach covers
  • Skirts, playsuits, dresses, tops for evening
  • Underwear – including NEUTRAL tones as there will be a surprising opportunity to wear white
  • Converse/trainers
  • Flipflops/sandals
  • Nightwear
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • Passport…Printed boarding passes…

Ironically I was more organised when I traveled less, but over the years I have become so ‘Generation EasyJet’ that I complacently believe holiday packing ‘just happens’. But it doesn’t. In fact, last month it happened at 11.45 before a 6am flight from Gatwick to Faro, leaving no time to sleep and a pretty disappointing holiday wardrobe when I arrived. So fingers crossed that getting organised for my next holiday will help…

Happy Travels x

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Lyles – the loveliest new London restaurant

I’m a fussy eater. I eat like a child. I leave my crusts and make a mess. If I am left alone at the weekends I often eat chocolate for breakfast and chicken nuggets and tinned sweetcorn for lunch. Over the years I have admitted to too many people that my hypothetical ‘death row’ meal choice would be a McDonalds happy meal.

But after a good experience at the new London restaurant Lyle’s this week, run by two chefs James Lowe and John Ogier who are causing a bit of a ‘stir’ on the ‘London scene’ maybe there is hope for me yet.

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When my sophisticated friends book ‘foodie’ restaurants I am always nervous. Especially when they are in Shoreditch. I find many London restaurants intimidating – with menus in continental languages I don’t understand and strange ingredients and complicated culinary terms I don’t recognise.

While Lyles had one of those scary menus – with the added fear-factor of a ‘get what you are given’  daily set menu –  I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely delighted by what I found.

A good part of the reason was that it had all the lovely touches of nice restaurants. Lots of surprising, complimentary house specialties to taste between course, so it feels like good value. And each course is brought to you by a different member of the kitchen or front of house team and they talk through the food with a lot of knowledge that underlines the quality and freshness of the ingredients, sourced from across the UK. (The chefs are also quite fit and have that very attractive, ‘country/urban’, ‘I could kill an animal, but would always treat it well’ earthy quality going on).

To start with we had something I didn’t even know existed – samphire – a sea vegetable. I think it must be that stringy stuff that can creep you out when you swim. Apparently they sell it in Waitrose and this stuff was AMAZING. So fresh, salty and lathered in butter. (I see in my future a disappointing attempt to recreate this at home on a Sunday evening).

Then there was the first course ‘peas and Ticklemore’.  Fresh peas, herbs, lovely Ticklemore cheese and edible flowers.

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I try not to take too many pictures of my food as I find it a very wanky habit- but this was just too PRETTY

Then there was smoked salmon, but I had asparagus and walnut butter (I opted for the vegetarian menu as I have a deep aversion to eating fish unless it comes out of a newspaper). The walnut butter was so yummy – except awkward moment when I had finished the asparagus, but not the butter, and wasn’t sure if would be considered ‘gauche’ to shovel the remaining butter in my mouth with a fork.

There were lots of lovely courses after that – I wasn’t sure how I was going to find the ‘mutton’ soup, but it was scrummy. The main course was my least favourite – but only because I was embarrassed to tell the restaurant that I don’t each mushrooms too (I can’t get past them being wood goblins). So I didn’t eat a lot of my puffball mushrooms, although friends who I gifted it to said it was extraordinary. I did, however, very much love the duck egg that came with that dish.

Character building moment was when a sample of ‘blood cake’ came – which I think is posh black pudding – and I was literally corralled into eating it by my friends who I thought might start chanting ‘eat it, eat it’ like we were on a rugby tour. It wasn’t that bad – not exactly the sausage taste my friends said it had and a very grainy aftertaste that disturbed me. (Iknow, I know, sausage is probably WORSE but I have very double standards when it comes to offal).

So overall – go to Lyles – really special experience for all the reasons above, but especially because I was with friends I hadn’t seen for months, so it was particularly good fun. Even if one of my friends did end the night saying he wasn’t sure about ‘the deconstructed cooking trend’. Which terrified me into wondering… “When did we all become such ADULTS? Maybe I am really too old for Happy Meals now….”

Hanging out with the England Team at Portugal’s Brazil World Cup Training Camp

I have touched on my family’s obsession with the Liverpool football team before.

So while our decision to holiday in Portugal at the time of the England training camp in the Algarve was *not* deliberate, once this happy accident was discovered everyone was BEYOND THRILLED and turned swiftly to the serious business of genuine stalking. Wannabe WAG style.

Shot of Steven Gerard on the putting green at Vale de Lobo golf club

Big cat safari sport sighting – England team world cup Brazil training camp golf break– Gerard and Milner

My parents made a strategically planned, regular morning beach walk to the training camp in Vale de Lobo, where they stood next to the heavily guarded perimeter fence and waited for signs of life. Nothing. Other people would have moved on and given up, but not us.

On ‘pure instinct’ – their next move was to head to the nearby Vale de Lobo Golf Club, following a vague, voodoo sense that the players might fancy a club sandwich and a put on the green.

And it was there that we had our Bridget Jones moment (you know, that scene when she ballses up outside the Old Bailey, but Mark Darcy saves her by hooking her up with an exclusive interview?).

We discovered that the England team players would regularly ‘lunch’ at the golf club. Discovering this, my Mother brazenly circumvented security to gain access to the ‘members bar’ and got a selfie with Phil Jagielker (or a ‘Facie’ as Dad calls it).

On the second day the members bar was now understandably barricaded. But we prevailed and hung out in reception where we spotted Frank Lampard in heavy conversation (and decided on completely no basis he was talking to his psychological coach).

Needing an appropriate ‘cover’, we headed for drinks outside where we saw James Milner chilling on the putting green. This was followed by….the big man himself Steven Gerard. It was like seeing a secret animal in the wild. Literally everyone around the golf club took a sharp intake of breath and purred.

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And THEN Stevie sat next to us at lunch FOR HALF AN HOUR. Naturally nobody spoke as we intently listened in on his conversation, which consisted of disappointment/pride at Liverpool’s latest run and er…his love of audio books.

Poor Stevie – he must have felt so awkward as we all silently stared at him and I took really obvious creepy photographs like the one above.

While I’m no hardcore football fan, I was star struck and shy, so I held back from taking loads of pap snaps in an effort to play it cool. Dad was the same and one of my biggest regrets now, in life, is not running onto the putting pitch while he made small talk about the world cup with Gerard to take a picture of them together.

Oh well we have the memories. Now bittersweet from Brazil. In fact – superstition held me back from writing this post until England had gone and er…gone out. At least this post reminds us they set out to do well.

 

Classy cheap pizza

Franco Manca should probably charge more for its pizzas. It does REALLY good pizza. Like proper pizza. Sourghdough, wood fired,  all stringing,  flopping, bubbling cheese. Beautiful.

Franco Manca

And its reasonably priced. Like surprisingly priced. (I probably shouldn’t be saying this – perhaps they will read this and up the prices?! The horror.)

But lets face it, however much I love their pizza, 50% of the reason that I choose it for Saturday lunches with friends is because the pizza is nicely priced.

I genuinely did a double take on the Northcote Road, when I realised that one of my favourite restaurants has had the broadness of mind to move from the depths of hipster Brixton to the leafy Northcote road.

So in my view everyone should go to Franco Manca – but please don’t go there on Saturdays when I go because you’ll be taking my table…

Washing London out of your hair

I can’t be the only girl in London to find that London turns my hair shit.

Last year I spent many mornings despairing as I dried my hair for ages and IT STILL LOOKED WET.

Picture of kerastase shampoo and conditioner and batisse dry shampoo

Kerastase. I can’t afford it, but turns out, I can’t afford not to use it now.

I  couldn’t figure out why – hard water? my age? my shampoo? the pollution? It was so bad I needed to use dry shampoo immediately after washing my hair as a matter of course. Naturally that gave me a lovely crunchy sprinkling of dandruff to finish off my look.

When I get out of  London and wash my hair I always notice a difference. It feels cleaner and more ‘free’- so I’m sure city-living plays a big factor.

This year I have been using Kerastase shampoo and its made a genuine difference. I don’t know what magic formulation it has, but it has put an end to the accidental ‘wet look’ mornings and makes my hair feel thicker, less dull and in better in shape.

I’m not suggesting my hair is perfect at all – it really isn’t and I still rely on a LOT of dry shampoo – but it now looks a lot less shit.

You can buy Kerastase shampoo and conditioner for £30 – but if you shop around you can usually pick it up for approx £2o. Rush hair salons often have sales.

Jackson & Rye – the usual place

London is supposed to be all about variety, but I do love a good routine.

Its nice to have a few familiar boltholes in this city to come back to, time and time again, to make you feel ‘part of it’, rather than on the outside.

In my friendship group there has been a movement towards finding ‘a usual place’ where we meet, rather than lots of email debate about the venue (god knows, its hard enough to find a date in our diaries).

This ‘usual place’ has recently become Jackson & Rye.

Pic from the Jackson & Rye website – because its also considered odd among my friends to take photos of your dinner when you should be eating

I have written about my adulation of good old USA cuisine before here and this is one of the main reasons I love Jackson & Rye. It reminds me of New York, with its All-American menu. They serve egg on steaks and proper skinny fries – you can choose between normal fries or shoestring fries, but there isn’t a whiff of a chunky chip (THANK GOD).

They also do fab cocktails and have nice dark mood lighting, but not so dark that you can’t see your food or your friends.

PLUS its in Soho, but you can book. So it isn’t one of these places that thinks it adds to the atmosphere or sense of exclusivity if you are forced to queue an hour in the street. Hate those places.

So you can’t go wrong with Jackson & Rye – it s definitely on to my top list of places in town to ‘meet and eat’.

My trips back home to Coronation Street

Far be it for me to question Coronation Street scriptwriters – but I thought it was pretty obvious that Rob would be the one to do Tina in.

His character ‘lifts right out’. If you are going to put someone on a one-way track to leaving the show, then you get them engaged to Tracy Barlow. Before Rob turned into a  proper, murdering nutter, he was just a little bit dodgy, a little bit fit and a little bit boring.

No one suspects you if you start an affair on your wedding day (picture from Daily Mail Online)

Weirdly, I continue to find him as dull as dishwater – which is why the real story will focus on Carla – and perhaps Rita – Coronation Street’s strong women being tested in hot water, yet again. (And Peter and Carla will probably get back together, they will somehow be drawn together against the world. I just have a feeling. You heard it here first).

You may wonder why I pay so much attention to a soap opera. I was brought up on a childhood diet of Coronation Street and Battenberg cake. To say I’ve outgrown The Street would be equal to the treachery of dissing my family, or starting to say ‘laugh’ and ‘bath’ the Southern way.

However flawed the soap might be, however ridiculous the murders or disappointing the adultery, however far-fetched the storylines, I still watch it. Coronation Street brings me home to the North West like a plane landing at Liverpool’s John Lennon airport.

I watch it for the nostalgia – the familiar accents, the sense of community and the Manchester drizzle on those cobbled streets. The feisty spirit of the people who live there, the unflinching northern grit. The fact that many of the cast have always been there – Gail, Sally, Audrey… Rita, Emily and Deirdre…Leanne, Carla and Fiz. Their presence is reassuring and comforting like seeing family friends at Christmas parties.

And yes –the stand-out stars are all women – it has always been about women on that show. I’m not going to suggest that I’d be friends with every woman on Coronation Street in real life or that I take feminist inspiration from them, but women have the power in Wetherfield, they are strong and unafraid and I love that.

I’ve always watched Coronation Street and I probably always will. I even genuinely voted for the show to win the National TV Awards. I know. I wasn’t joking, I really am a proper fan.