A weekend in London

London was calling one Friday in March - my first day off work in 2015 and boy did I need it. I know you're thinking 'How lazy, Alex. You'd only worked two and a bit months since Christmas and already you were flagging!' I hear you, but January and February are the busiest months of the year when you work in travel, so I was very much looking forward to a day out of the office.

The reason for my visit to the Big Smoke? A belated Christmas present from my other half's parents. So the two of us headed down on the 10 o'clock train from Wilmslow to meet them at London Euston. Upon arrival we headed straight for our base - The Civil Service Club.

Steps from Trafalgar Square

No,it isn't an exclusive private members' club; it's more of a three star hotel for the sole use of current and former civil servants - the boyfriend's parents are one of each. The building itself, as you can see below, is quite attractive from the outside but what really blew me away was the location. Steps from Trafalgar Square, walking distance from Whitehall and close to Covent Garden, you couldn't get much more central. And certainly not for the price- at around £115 a night including breakfast! Bargain.

Boston Burgers at Borough Market

After checking in, we headed straight for bustling Borough Market where we mingled with tourists and weatherbeaten workers on their lunch breaks. Spoilt for choice, we opted for a pork Boston Burger from the Boston Sausage Company stall. The burger itself was very tasty, topped with stilton, rocket and a sweet onion chutney. For dessert, we had Portuguese custard tarts known as pasteis de nata, before finishing off with a cheese course from the renowned Neal's Yard Dairy. The afternoon of over-indulgence culminated with some people-watching over glass of prosecco from a cute little bistro in the heart of the market.

Matilda the Musical and Trunchbull Terror

I'm a little bit of a musicals maverick - I absolutely love them. I love watching them live, on film and most of all, I love being in them - I met the other half doing am dram at Durham University. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to be able to get late tickets to see Matilda the Musical, just five rows from the front. Without going into too much detail, it was absolutely outstanding. The children are super talented and I was truly terrified of the Trunchbull, particularly when he/she leapt from the stage and sprinted down the centre aisle, inches from my face.

Henry VIII and Hampton Court

On Saturday, we headed out of London for a day trip to Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace. I've been a bit of a Tudor fanatic since I was a child - I'm pretty sure I knew the divorced, beheaded, died... rhyme before the words to Humpty Dumpty. We opted out of the audio guide as we prefer to go at our own pace and spent a good couple of hours wandering the palace and verdant gardens - you can't miss the huge, bell-shaped trees or resist getting lost in the maze.

A Double Dinner Date at Pasta Brown

We struck lucky with dinner as we stumbled upon a lovely Italian in the Leicester Square area - Pasta Brown. A poster in this family-run eatery claimed that that octogenarian Grandma Carmela still makes cannelloni in the kitchen! We ended the night with a quick pint (or several) at CAMRA-recommended The Harp. As you can see in the picture, standard decor gives way to an innovative collage of beer mats and pump badges over the bar. Tip: mind the gap between your head and the bar when you're ordering or you will end up with an extremely painful papercut.

Come morning, my head felt as cloudy as the ciders I'd been drinking the night before,so the full English breakfast was very welcome. After a spot of shopping on Oxford Street, we headed back up North after a truly enjoyable weekend. I always have mixed emotions about London; whilst the majority of my friends live there and I always enjoy my visits, I don't think I can ever see myself living there. After all, I'm a true Northern girl at heart and Manchester always calls me back.

Eurovision 2015 - my thoughts

I love Eurovision. But one of the main problems I have is remembering which country / song was which at the end of the night, so for Eurovision 2015 I decided to make a few notes to help me and thought I'd share them here as I had a bit of giggle reading them back to myself.

Warning: these are my first impressions and are very much focused on the costumes, gimmicks, singers...everything except the actual songs really. Enjoy!

Eurovision Song Contest 2015 Summary

  1. Slovenia - Here For You
    What's with the headphones? It's like she's trying to channel a bit of Paloma Faith and a bit of Duffy with the way she's trying to sing. Not succeeding.
  2. France - N'oubliez Pas
    'Don't forget', but the song itself was a little forgettable. The backdrop looks a bit like the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse with white birds being the only survivors. Oh and some male drummers dressed in awful beige outfits.
  3. Israel - Golden Boy
    OMG the golden shoes. Very Lady Gaga. The backing dancers are very boy band - N*Sync meets JLS. #Israelboybandselfie
  4. Estonia - Goodbye to Yesterday
    Weird shadows on the floor behind that look nothing like the singers. And then he starts looking at her in a really creepy way as he's playing the guitar. Then she starts crying. I feel uncomfortable.
  5. UK - Still in Love with You
    Trying to not be biased, but I kind of like it. Reminds me a bit of Gramaphonedzie's 2009 song 'Why don't you.' Still, feels like the most un-British thing we could have entered. This is probably a good thing with Eurovision. Could be improved upon with some Charleston dancing, ideally featuring Strictly Come Dancing's Len Goodman.
  6. Armenia - Face the Shadow
    Why are they dressed in Grecian Scottish Widow outfits?
  7. Lithuania - This Time
    OK so Lithuania somehow managed to sneak Mumford and Sons into Eurovision and get them to play the backing for them. Wooo kissing. LOTS OF KISSING - SAME AND OPPOSITE SEX KISSING. YAY! Definitely saw some tongues there.
  8. Serbia - Beauty Never Lies
    Big, opera singer lady. Chunky yet funky. It's not over until... Is that a pan scourer in her hair? Backing singers are dressed in floor length white PVC coats. Bit The Matrix meets NHS nurses. STRIPPING  to reveal second outfit - very Bucks Fizz Making Your Mind Up.
  9. Norway - A Monster Like Me
    She has the best hair I have ever seen in Eurovision. Gorgeous, thick, long, wavy, red hair. Demelza from Poldark meets Merida in Disney's Brave.
  10. Sweden - Heroes
    I was expecting David Bowie but got a cartoon background manipulated by the very attractive singer in real time. He was cool until it was revealed he was wearing leather chaps. Just no.
    UPDATE: Sweden win Eurovision 2015
  11. Cyprus - One Thing I Should Have Done
    Oooh. Black and white vintage feel. Classic. I do like a man in a nice suit and glasses. OK now we have colour - I think I preferred him in black and white. There's something tragically Ronan Keating about him.
  12. Australia - Tonight Again
    AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE! Yes, yes yes! Really liked this song.OK that woman is wearing really short shorts. And the lead singer looks like he's dressed to go on the pull at the Polo.
  13. Belgium - Rhythm Inside
    This is a bit different as a song, I'm not sure what I think. This guy is very young - think he is at Eurovision on work experience. Why is he on the floor? OK I think he is enjoying the 'Rhythm Inside' a little too much. OK now he's gone from baby face to psycho face - weird. It's like he's manifesting a sex offender's inner struggle to stay in control. Oh god...now he's mentioning being "wicked down below" and a "love attack." Stop it, Alex.
  14. Austria - I'm Yours
    PIANO PYROTECHNICS!!!! I love a bit of Eurovision pyrotechnics and special effects. Is that Kid Rock on the piano?
  15. Greece - One Last Breath
    "One last breath" until we run out of money. Looks like she's spent it all on hair extensions.
  16. Montenegro - Adio (Goodbye)
    Lots of stomping - female violinist with a fierce headpiece playing on the waves of the sea. The lead singer looks like the love child of Barry from Eastenders and Ricky Gervais.
  17. Germany - Black Smoke
    She is wearing a HUGE bun ring / doughnut thing. Oooh a nice backless jumpsuit there. Ok, are those floating vaginas in the background? Oh god, one single enormous feather earring. I hate it.
  18. Poland - In the Name of Love
    She looks super-elegant in that wheelchair. It's right she should be here - all about overcoming adversity and personal tragedies. Beautiful floaty dress. Wait, are those needle marks on her arm?
  19. Latvia - Love Injected
    Now she should have the needlemarks on her arms instead. Bit of an Ellie Goulding vibe. Huge red dress ruined by massive tattoos over her boobs.She looks like Snookie from Jersey Shore but the song sounds like it should be on an episode of Geordie Shore.
  20. Romania - De La Capat / All Over Again
    I'm thinking all of the B's here for these band members. Bald, baseball cap, bemused and bored.The singer is rocking some serious collar embellishment though. He's working it.
  21. Spain - Amanecer (Break of day)
    What is with the Scottish Widows outfits in Eurovision 2015? This time with a red cloak - I hope she doesn't do a Madonna and fall. Ooh and a big reveal shows a light green dress underneath. And fierce calf-length gladiator sandals. Lots of lifts with the topless male dancer. As a viewer, the backdrop makes me feel I am staring into the earth's core. Weird.
  22. Hungary - Wars for Nothing
    I'm getting a bit of an Alanis Morissette vibe from this girl. I do like a wine-coloured dress. Lots of weird backdrops going on here - the barbed wire gun formation has now become a palm tree of guns. And now there's a huge mushroom cloud and green radioactive waste on the floor. Appropriate - perhaps the title should be (Nuclear) Wars for Nothing.
  23. Georgia - Warrior
    This girl is doing some serious gothic power dressing. Maleficent meets Morticia Adams. Thigh high PVC boots are a bit dominatrix though. And she's standing on a lightening swarm, before crying giant tears of mercury in the background. Bizarre.
  24. Azerbaijan - Hour of the Wolf
    Male and female dancer performing like they are werewolves mid-change. Literal interpretation of the song title here. Oh god, what an awful key change.
  25. Russia - A Million Voices
    'A Million Voices'...that will be ruthlessly silenced. And allegedly the song is about love and tolerance. Hmm... she looks like a cross between Holly Willoughby and Fearne Cotton. They've missed a trick here; they could have had an animated choir of millions of angelic children singing in the background. And we have some crocodile tears. It's actually not a bad song - they'd better not win.
  26. Albania - I'm Alive
    She reminds me of Caroline Flack when she was on Strictly Come Dancing. Oooh, the girls are out to play here in the very deep plunge neckline.
  27. Italy - Grande Amore
    OK so they are basically Il Divo. Loving the detail of the red sequin handkerchiefs just peeking out of their pockets. Oh, they're called Il Volo - close enough. And it looks like the ruins of Pompeii in the background. Definitely a dramatic ending to the evening's entrants.

Review: Schuh Game On Gladiator Sandals

Whilst not strictly wide fit shoes by design or intention, I recently purchased a gorgeous pair of gladiator sandals from Schuh that certainly fit the wide fit-friendly bill and therefore deserve a review and your consideration.

Review Schuh Gladiator Sandals

If you've read my previous blog post about finding wide fit shoes that fit yet are fashion-forward, you will know that I have long lamented the choice currently available to the 21st Century woman on the high street.

Because of this, I always anticipate the approach of summer with a certain degree of dread. Warmer weather means open-toed shoes - my wide feet out for the world to see in flip-flops, sandals and wedges, instead of the cosseted concealment provided by boots in the colder months. Shudder.Yet I feel I must toe the line (please forgive the awful pun).

Summer shoes are notoriously tricky for those with wide feet - how to avoid the dreaded overspill of feet in strappy sandals like the overspill of an ample muffin top in a pair of skinny jeans?

Strappy sandals are deceptive- the spaces left in between straps look like they should provide more than enough room for wide feet, but in reality there is often less room than in normal shoes as your feet are garrotted by the straps. Leaving behind those attractive trellis-like red marks, not unlike the marks left on your back by the underwire of a too-tight bra when removing it at the end of a long day.

Solving the sandals saga - Schuh 

Schuh Gladiator Sandals Bronze

But, fellow friends with wide feet, I have found a solution to this sandals saga. Schuh's Game On gladiator sandals. As you can see in the photos, the secret is the adjustable laces. Just like with a comfy pair of trainers, you can let them out before you pop them on and then tighten them up as desired. And best of all, no overspill!
The stunning metallic sandals caught my eye on a recent weekend in London and though I was too shy to try them on in front of the sales assistant, I went straight home, ordered them online and got them delivered within a couple of days thanks to Schuh's speedy delivery service.
Schuh Game On Gladiator Sandals Black
Image credit: Schuh.co.uk

If metallic isn't your thing, these sandals also come in tan and black - I liked my metallic ones so much that I just had to get them, in black, too - you can't go wrong with black gladiator sandals!

The weather has been glorious this week but my gladiator sandals got their first proper outing last weekend on a work trip to Cyprus. I'll be fiercely challenging my inner Russell Crowe next week as I pound the sidewalks of New York and Boston on my holiday.

Test me.

Top picks from the ASOS sale

I love an ASOS sale. Every time I get my ASOS Premier advanced sale notification email I do a little squeal of glee. OK, maybe it is a large one. As I'm sure most of you know, as an ASOS VIP, you get to browse the sale at least 24 hours before the commoners. This means you can load your ASOS shopping basket full of goodies in your size well before they sell out. Nothing can soothe the aches and pains created by shopping basket indecisiveness.

And so I find myself browsing the gorgeous goodies in the ASOS sale on this balmy April evening. As usual, there are far too many things I want than I can afford to buy – especially since I’m trying to save my pennies for my pending New York trip in under three weeks time. Excited doesn’t even begin to cover it.

So, I thought I would share with you my top picks from the ASOS sale. Available to buy now (08.04.15) with 30% off if you’re an ASOS Premier member with the promotional code GETIN30. Shortly to be released to the masses. Prices below exclude the 30% off discount.

Floral dresses are very much my thing, and this one simply jumped out of the page at me. The contrast of the vivid colour palette of the flowers against the black of the raw material makes this dress a perfect transeasonal piece. And the high neckline means no unintentional flashing of the goodies at work.

2. ASOS ENTICING Laser Boots - £48

These suede-look, laser cut-out shoe boots are simply divine. The peep toe provides a nod to the increasingly warm spring weather and the suede adds an extra layer of texture to boot (another bad pun, apologies). I have a floaty cream dress that is begging to be toughened up by these bad boys in the coming weeks.

3. New Look Crochet Shell Top - £17.99

Crochet always reminds me of long summer days punctuated by gin and tonics and barbecues. A certain summer staple, this versatile top will look equally good thrown over a bikini at the beach or on an outing to a summer festival. It’s 100% cotton too, so will definitely keep you cool as well as covered.

4. ASOS Garden Print iPhone 5 Case - £8

Everyone knows that your phone case is as much of an accessory as your handbag or jewellery now. I don’t tend to go for overly blingy ones, but this one is just my cup of tea and encompasses the ever-present spring floral trend with its cute pastel roses. Opt for this phone case for a dash of floral if you aren’t keen enough to go for an all-over print. Outkast - who actually said Roses really smell like poo–oo-oo ?

Have you discovered any good finds in the ASOS sale? 

A weekend in Cambridge

History oozing from every paving stone, scholars and academics walking shoulder to shoulder down cobbled streets and exquisite architecture - I had high expectations for this quintessential British university town and the unseasonably pleasant weekend I spent in Cambridge in February did not disappoint.

Countless prime ministers, scientists and other high achievers have strolled and cycled down the hallowed lanes of Cambridge and I felt lucky to be hours away from doing the same as I drove down from Manchester one Friday evening. Tip: watch out for the speed cameras on the A14, they are super-sneaky and heavily concentrated.

Cambridge, Friends and Family

The old saying goes that it's good to have friends in high places - this is true, but it's also good to have friends that live in extremely beautiful places. We are lucky enough to know three people that live in this picturesque town - my cousin Andrew who is reading Economics at Jesus College and two friends from our Durham days, Mike and Becky, who were kind enough to let us stay with them for the weekend.

The pair live just outside of Cambridge in a place called Chesterton, which handily for us, had space for the car - a rarity in this neck of the woods. After a good old catch-up over a few glasses of wine we headed to bed, full of anticipation for the next day when we would get to explore the city.

Cambridge bicycle

Cousins, Colleges and The Cam

After fuelling up with some bacon butties courtesy of the couple, we headed into town the next morning on the bus. Looking out of the window on the short 15-minute journey, I was astounded at the number of bikes - I knew Cambridge was a bike-friendly city due to the flatness of its terrain, but I'd never seen so many velocipedes or cyclists back home in Manchester. Marvellous.

The bus dropped us off right outside leafy Jesus Common and after a leisurely stroll across its vast grassy verges we met up with my cousin Andrew who kindly offered to act as our tour guide. First up was Jesus College - it already has a huge common that shares its name on the doorstep, but step inside and there is an abundance of green space waiting to greet you. The main entrance is formed by a quaint walled passage and is nicknamed 'The Chimney'; derived from the Middle French 'chemin', denoting a path or way.

Jesus College Cambridge

Jesus College boasts many notable alumni, including Prince Edward, 'plebgate' Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell and the perhaps more popular members of Clean Bandit, the British electronic band whose catchy 2013 single 'Rather be' I have had stuck in my head for a while now.

A stone's throw away, we walked passed the
ADC Theatre, home to the famous Cambridge Footlights where Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, Olivia Colman and The Inbetweeners' Simon Bird have all trodden the boards. They're just a few of my favourites but you can see how many actors, actresses, writers and directors have graced this stage here.

Punting on The Cam Cambridge

Meandering closer into the centre of town we did see a handful of stalwart punters accompanying tourists out on The Cam but not too many as it is unsurprisingly more of a summer activity. We passed by hundreds of tourists gathered outside stunning Kings College and I thought how surreal it must be to be a student here. I studied in Durham, where we had our fair share of tourists near the Cathedral, Castle and Palace Green, but not to this extent. Stepping out of your college and having to battle your way though the masses just to get to your morning lecture must become tiresome after a while. But don't feel too sorry for them because they do get to study their socks off in the most picturesque surroundings imaginable.

Happily, we managed to avoid the tourist touts because we obviously blended in and looked like students. Yeah, that's definitely the reason. Or perhaps it was our guide. He's probably going to kill me for posting this, but my cousin was walking us round with the biggest black eye and set of stitches I've seen for a while - received by an ill-timed attempt at a header in a football match the previous week. I'm not saying he looked unapproachable, but it obviously worked and I'm not complaining!

Andrew Jacott Cambridge

Cambridge Pub Crawl

Mid-afternoon, we headed back out to Chesterton to await the arrival of another friend who was coming over to visit from Brentwood, Essex. Tom, or 'German Tom' as he was known at Durham, shared a house with Mike and I in second year, but I spent loads of time with him as we both studied Politics - I remember us getting reprimanded a few times for consistent giggling in lectures. You know how that works - cue more giggling like schoolgirls. Which of course was extremely immature of us and neither of us have ever engaged in such childish behaviour since.

Tom was turning 21 again on Monday so the five of us decided that a Cambridge pub crawl was just the way to celebrate. First up was The Haymakers with its traditional exposed beams - we struggled to find seats due to a rather large reunion of the Cambridge Rock Soc. Although, I was happy to see a woman in a Sale Sharks rugby shirt (my local team) in the corner. I debated going over and yelling 'I'm from Stockport, I love the fact you're wearing a Sale shirt' but decided the poor woman hadn't done anything to deserve that so left her in peace.
The Haymakers pub Cambridge
Image credit: individualpubs.co.uk

Next was The Boathouse - the back of the pub opens out onto The Cam via a lovely terrace - we didn't venture out into the chilly February air ourselves but there were a few die-hard smokers braving the cold. This pub is situated next door to Cambridge institution The Tivoli, housed inside a former cinema, which sadly burnt down in March.

Image credit: User Afreebing, Tripadvisor

With our bellies rumbling, we stopped at The Castle to sate our appetites. We can heartily recommend the steak and ale pie and bison burger and the boys inform me that the selection of real ale is also excellent.

Image credit: cambridgespots.co.uk
Our final stop was Jesus College Bar where we were keen to relive our Durham student days, see my cousin and take advantage of the student prices. The prices certainly did not disappoint, though as experts on our college bars due to our time in Durham we felt we could only rate it a 6/10 overall as it reminded us of Hatfield College bar, Durham. I'm being mean. Overall it was great, thanks to my cousin for getting us in and apart from a regrettable incident which involved him spilling the best part of a pint of beer over my Michael Kors coat, it was a lovely end to a lovely evening.

Jesus College Bar Cambridge
My cousin and I

Bacon and Goodbyes

There was just time for some more bacon sandwiches the next morning before we all said our goodbyes and set off home. It was so lovely to see the three of them - it’s so satisfying to see people you've not seen for ages and realising that nothing's changed and you're catapulted straight back into the good old days. Not so long between seeing each other next time you three!

Thanks for letting us stay Mike and Becky - we'll have to return in the summer for strawberries, Pimms and punting on The Cam. I'm even considering scheduling a trip to Brentwood, home of The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE). We all know you’re a closet fan of the show really Tom!

On the drive back up north, we thought about how much we are looking forward to our next visit to an academic town, but this time one a bit further away. We are off to Cambridge, Massachusetts to visit my best friend Katy who is studying at Harvard, the clever clogs. Watch this space for Cambridge UK vs. Cambridge USA.

Wide fit shoes: daily battles and finding fashionable styles that fit

Feet. Not most people’s favourite body part and I have to say they are certainly not mine. After years of struggling to find pretty wide fit shoes for my broad feet, divine intervention occurred with my prayers answered by none other than the high street’s favourite, Dorothy Perkins.

It's not that I have awkward feet - I prefer the term pedally-challenged. If I was male I would probably boast about their girth but broad feet are not on most women's wish lists.

At work, I cast envious glances at the works of art cradling my colleagues' standard width feet. However, as I am frequently reminded by a certain female family member who has normal width, but size 8 1/2 feet, I could have it much worse.

That Sex and the City episode

Yes, but watching Sex and the City as a teenager was pure torture. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha strutted the streets of New York in stunning Jimmy Choos and Louboutins - shoes I knew I could never wear.

In fact, does anyone remember that Sex and the City episode where Charlotte crosses paths with Buster, a foot fetishist with the perfect job - a high-end shoe salesman?

Wide fit shoes Sex and The City Charlotte

For those of you who haven’t seen it or don’t want to, Charlotte becomes embroiled in a sordid symbiotic relationship with Buster - he enjoys worshipping her feet and fitting her shoes, whilst she receives increasingly hefty discounts and even a free pair of shoes. All is going swimmingly until Buster appears to climax whilst assisting with her sixth pair of the day.

I'm sure I could have gotten over the awkwardness and taken them off her hands (or feet). But obviously my fat feet wouldn't have fit into them anyway and I doubt even the most desperate, toe-starved foot fetishist would get pleasure from mine!

Wide fit shoes for women

No, I had accepted long ago that I was doomed to a life of too-chunky Mary Janes and huge, unflattering clodhoppers. Because, if you have broad feet you clearly want to put on awful shoes that make them look even wider.

As a modern woman, how can you conquer the world that is supposedly at your feet in a pair of shoes that resemble German U-Boats? The answer is clearly that you can’t, nor should you be expected to.

Cute small person feet

The absence of panache in many wide fit shoe designs comes as no surprise - as their descriptions confirm, they have been created for substance rather than style. “Secret hidden comfort with extra support ” - they’re not sports bras for the well-endowed! I despair.

Dorothy Perkins wide fit court shoes to the rescue

Thankfully, this is where Dorothy Perkins saved my soul (or should it be sole?) with their gorgeous wide fit pointed court shoes in blue.

But wait, wide fit pointed court shoes is oxymoronic, is it not? I understand you confusion.

As a child I would look at the very same shoes and interrogate my mum with persistent questions: "Do women have to cut their toes off to get into those shoes?" “Like the witches in Roald Dahl’s book?” Oh how times have changed.

Dororthy Perkins wide fit pointed court shoes

Gorgeous, suedelike and in the most beautiful powder blue, I'm sure you can see why I have fallen in love. They're comfortable too - after a day of strutting around the office where I was now the object of shoe envy, they fared pretty well, despite their 4 inch heel.

I love them so much I may (definitely) decide to return for the other colours – nude, classic black and mint green. 

And the best news of all, is that the black and nude are reduced to £17.50 in the Dorothy Perkins sale - an absolute steal. There's also tonnes of choice in the sale for standard width shoes at the moment, too.

So what are you waiting for? Ladies, put your best foot forward, head to your nearest Dorothy Perkins store and get your hands on - and feet into- these before someone else does! After all, if the shoe fits – wear it. And buy it in EVERY colour.