Posted in Lifestyle, Uncategorized

Currently reading

This is my latest reading pile and I cannot wait to get stuck in!

I have been on a bit of a spree on Amazon and have loads of books waiting for me so I hope to get through this lot, alongside my kindle downloads, within a few weeks at least. It shouldn’t be too hard as I am off on holiday for a week and plan to do nothing but read, sunbathe, eat, swim and sleep. I am definitely going to make the most of the relaxation as the new term and my new job start the day after we return.

Everything I Never Told You – As a favourite child, Lydia is expected to pursue all the dreams her parents were not able to but then her body is found in the local lake causing chaos and destroying the family. This book is described as a gripping page turner and a family portrait about love, lies and race. I haven’t really seen this book talked about even though it was released in 2014 and is a New York times bestseller, it sounds really interesting.

This Is Going To Hurt – 97 hour weeks, life and death decisions and a tsunami of bodily fluids. This book is the diary of Adam Kay, comedian and former Junior doctor revealing his experiences during the endless days and sleepless nights. I imagine this is going to be really enjoyable, particularly as it is written in diary form and comes from a personal perspective.

The Beach Wedding – Tessa has to face deadly ghosts from her past as she welcomes her daughter to the beach resort for her wedding where a previous experience had changed her life. I picked up a couple of these quick reads as they were only £1 and I am a great fan of Dorothy Koomson books, even though this seems a bit different from her usual reads.

How To Be Happy – After Annie has been sad for so long Polly has a hundred days to help her find happiness but is letting others in a risk worth taking? I know you should never judge a book by its cover but I have to admit that the fact it was so colourful and about being happy I couldn’t help myself but to buy it!

Keep You Safe – Kate and Madeline both have very different views on parenting but one of them makes a fateful decision that sees her being accused of being a terrible mother, should she be vilified or was she just trying to keep her children safe? The blurb on this book doesn’t give much away so I’m quite intrigued to see what actually happens!

 

I haven’t really got any psychological thrillers in my book pile so I have a couple on my phone and I also like self help books so thought I would try this classic to see if I can pick up some new productive habits.

I have so far read 23 out of 45 books for my yearly target which I think is pretty good even though I have to catch up a bit.

From my last reading post I loved Into the Darkest corner which jumped between Catherine’s past and present as she endured an abusive relationship and how she learnt to cope with the consequences. I also really enjoyed The Lost Swimmer which was a bit of a mystery even though it was a slow burner and The Queen and I was an amusing book, although hard to imagine the royal family actually living on a council estate. I wasn’t much of a fan of The Chocolate lovers diet, it started off well, getting to know each of the characters but turned into a bit of a diabetes inducing cheese fest with the amount of chocolate references and the way everything seemed to be predictable.

What do you currently have on your reading list?

Posted in Lifestyle, London, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Love is Love – Pride 2018

I have never been to a Pride parade before, they do look so much fun but I tend to avoid anything that is overcrowded as I had a bad experience at the Notting Hill carnival back in the 90s. As I was attending a tour of Parliament in the early afternoon and I knew that there would be people milling around Trafalgar square I decided to take a stroll towards there and see if I could get some photos of the festivities.

I didn’t realise as I approached that actually the parade would be passing through at the same time and I managed to see all the emergency services and floats from lots of different companies all in support of the day. Trafalgar Square itself was so full I didn’t attempt to go all the way up there but Whitehall was full of people but not too congested.

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I am so glad I took a walk to see the parade, it was such a joy to photograph so much colour and happiness and the atmosphere was truly electric. To top off the afternoon England won their game against Sweden and the jubilance continued on!

Posted in Food, Lifestyle, London, Travel, Uncategorized

A spa day at The Montcalm Hotel – Marble Arch

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As a London and Travel blogger, my friends and family know that I like nothing more than to get out and experience new things (when I’m not lying in bed reading a good book) so when it comes to buying me presents they usually opt for the physical type, a meal out, a trip away or an experience voucher… just don’t make it skydiving because I would never do it!

On mothers day I received a Virgin voucher for a trip to a spa with a champagne meal for two…oooh. It took me a while to get round to booking it but the process was quite easy and one thing I liked about it was that it gave you the option of swapping your experience for something different if that particular activity didn’t take your fancy, for instance if I received a skydive I would have swapped it for an afternoon tea perhaps! I knew my eldest daughter would also appreciate a spa day so she accompanied me to The Montcalm.

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The Montcalm is a short walk from Marble arch and has a five star rating. It seems quite small from the outside but as you enter you are met with a light, spacious lobby area that is filled with little seating nooks with mismatched furniture in neutral warm tones.

We were shown down to the spa in the basement which was divided into different spaces and were given a pair of slippers and a towel each. I didn’t particularly want to use the gym but wanted to try out everything that was on offer so we brought our gym clothes for a quick workout. There were a couple of people in there when we arrived but they were just finishing up their session and we soon had the place to ourselves. I tried out all the machines but left well away from the contraption that was full of weights, it was supposed to be a relaxing morning after all!

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After the workout we had a quick change into our swimming costumes to visit the spa room. It consisted of a sauna and steam room that had a shower in between. Next to that was the Jacuzzi that had the option of the bubble machine, this switched itself off every so often and you had to wait a while for it to be reactivated. The small pool was also similar to the Jacuzzi, the water was warm and although it had buttons to get the same jet stream effect as the Jacuzzi, these did not work. To be honest the pool was nice just to relax in but wasn’t big enough to actually make use of if you wanted to have a proper swim and as we found out a few minutes after entering the space can quickly feel crowded.

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While we were in the pool there were two guys in the Jacuzzi, it would have felt a bit awkward to get in there with them so we went to try out the sauna instead. As we both suffer from panic attacks and there was a big red panic button on the wall it kind of made us a bit apprehensive so we just tried it out with the doors open… I know you would think this defeats the purpose but it was still really hot in there!

As we left the sauna, the two guys had moved over to the pool so we went into the Jacuzzi but then another two ladies came in and it felt even more awkward, I mean there are lots of chairs around and a snug little area with magazines but nobody wants to go to the spa to sit around on chairs do they? After a while it was approaching our lunch time and we felt very hot and sweaty so we departed to cool off in the showers and get changed.

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The changing rooms were clean with lots of space to keep your stuff but only had two showers and two toilets so luckily we were the only ones in there, especially as the showers are not very private with see through glass doors!

Before our visit to the spa we tried to check out what food would be served with the virgin voucher but couldn’t find any information other than the fact that it was a one course meal. I mean I don’t know how much the voucher costs because I don’t like to check these things as it was a present but I thought a one course meal was a bit miserly and if they want to make it a special day they should at least add a dessert, even if they charge a few pounds extra.

The restaurant, which is just beyond the lobby, was a lovely big room with skylights to provide extra light. I liked that the artwork on the wall matched the furniture.

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We were a bit confused as to why they gave us a menu with all three courses on it if we were only to choose one meal and although I assume we could have purchased more had we wanted to, we were not offered their normal menu with the prices of anything on. There were only three main meals on offer unless we wanted to pay a supplement and if you are a vegetarian then you better be a fan of eggplant as that is all your getting! This did just remind me of Hard rock café all over again and I think that when Virgin make these deals with restaurants that they should be more upfront with what they are offering!

We both went for the Corn-fed chicken supreme with thyme and truffle although it didn’t mention any sides and we were left wondering if it would just be a bit of chicken on a plate. Luckily it was accompanied with a creamy mash, vegetables and half a roasted garlic and it was absolutely delicious, I ate everything including the garlic which surprisingly didn’t taste very garlicky. We also enjoyed a nice glass of prosecco (for some reason the small print states that you only get champagne if you attend the other hotel outside of London) which I had to finish for Jasmin as she didn’t particularly like the taste.

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Overall we had a really lovely morning, although it would be nice if the vouchers from Virgin experience were more transparent so you know exactly what to expect.

Have you ever visited a hotel spa or used a Virgin voucher, what was your experience like?

If you have visited anywhere in London then feel free to join in with my new linky #thelondonlink to add any of your blog posts, old or new!

 

 

Posted in Lifestyle, Uncategorized

Currently reading

We are now halfway through the year and I am a bit behind with my reading target. So far I have read 17 books and need to get to 45! I am free at the moment as I have finished university and am not getting much response from my job applications (I do have an interview on 10th July so fingers crossed) so as the weather is so nice I have been in the garden reading and hope to get a few more days where I can relax and enjoy the summer.

I have a mix of books in my pile and on my kindle this month, some light-hearted, a couple of thrillers and a self help book.

The queen and I – This is a bit of a satire where the queen and the rest of her fam are banished from their royal residence and sent to live on a housing estate in the Midlands when the republicans come into power. I am a fan of the Royals and love the idea of them living amongst us normal people so looking forward to seeing how they cope without the luxuries they are used to.

The lost swimmer – Rebecca is accused of a crime and suspects her husband Steven of having an affair so in an attempt to put their lives back together they go travelling. When Steven goes missing after taking a swim off the Amalfi coast, fresh allegations are made against Rebecca but will she be able to uncover the deceit that has followed her? I find thrillers the easiest to read because I am always so eager to see what happens, I like the sound of this one!

The House of Elliot – Two very different sisters fight to assert themselves in the fashion industry by setting up their own fashion house to rival those in Paris. This story follows the strengths and anguishes that accompany the rise of the House of Elliot. Not my usual type of book but I got it when I bought a set of summer reads and it has been on my shelf for a few years so thought it was time I got round to reading it.

The chocolate lovers diet – The chocolate lovers club is a group of women all going through problems in the love lives and who better to turn to than each other? I imagine this will be a typical summer romance novel which you have to read a couple of over the summer holidays, only problem is I suspect I will want to eat chocolate every time I pick it up!

On my Kindle I have The Note which has been on there a while. An unforgettable romance based on the authors true story of how a little note can change everything…sounds intriguing! I am already half way through Into the darkest corner and have found it really gripping, I actually look forward to having a spare 10 minutes so I can get a few pages in. It jumps between Catherine’s chilling past and how she is coping with it in the present. Think Small is a simple and accessible plan for success based on seven scientifically tested steps. I will let you know if it works when I reach those big goals after reading it.

From my last reading pile I recommend In a cottage in a wood, it is quite creepy but I feel that the main character is relatable and you feel endeared to her. The storyline is interesting and you feel like you want to really analyse all the characters to see what they’re hiding. The Secret child was also a good read. Although a true story of a 1950s Dublin child, it reads like a novel and occasionally jumps between the past and present as the author takes a trip back to his childhood home.

What will you be reading over the summer?

Posted in Lifestyle, Uncategorized

Currently reading

It seems like forever since I last posted a currently reading post and I must admit I am behind with the amount of books I have wanted to read so far this year (I think I am currently on 10) but I have a new pile to get stuck into and hopefully with the sun making an appearance I can spend some time in the garden getting my tan on and catching up!

This month I have a mix, I cant resist a bit of a thriller but have also added a true story and something a bit more light hearted.

The loving husband – When Fran wakes one night to find her husband Nathan missing, she makes a devastating discovery. Questions about their relationship start to mount and Fran’s life begins to spiral out of control.

I am already three quarters of the way through this and enjoying it. It is quite creepy particularly reading it at night time with a quiet house as I usually do! Although I have nearly finished it, I’m still not sure where the story is going which is always a good sign.

It started with a tweet – When Daisy’s social media obsession causes her to make a catastrophic mistake at work, her sister Rosie suggests a digital detox at a remote cottage but will the hunk next door be enough of a distraction to survive without her phone?

I imagine this story is something we can all relate to, I know I could probably do with a digital detox but it is hard to imagine life with our online world nowadays! I love that fellow blogger Louise Pentland’s review is on the front cover and she says it’s “The perfect laugh-out-loud love story”

Secret child – The inspiring story of a boy born in 1950’s Dublin and raised as a secret child in a home for unmarried mothers as his own mother was so determined to keep him, he was hidden from the world including the rest of her family.

I do love a true story, particularly those based in a different era as it gives a great idea of what the time was actually like. Looking forward to reading this one!

In a cottage in a wood – Neve comes across a stranger named Isabelle on a bridge, who hands her something before jumping to her death in the Thames below. A couple of weeks later she finds out that a charming cottage has been left to her by Isabelle, is this a solution to her problems in London or the beginning of her worst nightmare?

I really like the sound of this book it seems quite dark and I imagine it will be a gripping read, I think I’ll read it in the day rather than at night though!

As well as these I have also been downloading books onto my Kindle and have realised that with my Prime subscription I can borrow up to 10 books/magazines from a selection so have a long list waiting for me. I am currently making my way through these two…

From my last list of books my favourites were Behind Her Eyes which I thoroughly recommend just for the unexpected ending and When I was Invisible because I love the way Dorothy Koomson writes. I was expecting a lot from Truly Madly Guilty as it was praised by so many people but I was left disappointed. It was a good book but I felt it dragged a bit and with six main characters I had to keep going back to remind myself of who was who.

Hopefully I will get through these quicker than the last, what have you got on your reading pile at the moment?

Posted in Lifestyle, Travel, Uncategorized

Summer activities with National Citizen Service

The summer holidays are approaching and if your kids are anything like mine they will be complaining from day one that they are bored but not interested in going to any of the places you suggest. If like me you also have a child in year 11 you will know that the summer holidays are even longer than usual as they undertake their GCSE exams and will need something to keep them busy before embarking on new adventures come September.

I first heard about National Citizen Service (NCS) a few weeks ago when my daughter was told about it at school, a few of her friends have already signed up and she is still contemplating it, her biggest worry is that she wont know anybody that goes at the same time as her. My 19 year old daughter says one of her biggest regrets was not signing up to NCS. She didn’t even tell me about it when she left school because she wasn’t interested in going but loads of her friends went and still rave about it and meet up with people that they met on the residential and she feels like she missed out on a great opportunity!

So you are probably wondering what NCS is?

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What is NCS and how does it work?

NCS is a 4 – 6 week programme aimed at 15 – 17 year olds where they come together in their local community to build life skills and take part in a residential trip full of adventure. The programme is split into 4 phases:

  • PHASE 1 – ADVENTURE
A five-day, four-night residential based away from home with fun activities such as canoeing, rock climbing and abseiling. A chance to meet new people and enjoy some adventure, fun and freedom!
  • PHASE 2 – DISCOVERY
A further 5 days and four nights in a uni-style environment where you’ll develop life skills like confidence, leadership and communication to boost your CV or UCAS personal statement.
  • PHASE 3 – ACTION
Working in teams, you’ll put your new skills into practice by delivering a community project of your choice. Plan, fundraise, make a difference!
  • PHASE 4 – CELEBRATION
You and your mates will get together to celebrate your achievements. NCS opens up a world of opportunities, giving you exclusive access to work placements, volunteering and events
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We all know that it is easy for teenagers to get caught up in certain crowds and with individuals that we may not think is a great influence or our little cherubs and many people complain that government cuts mean there is nowhere for their kids to go to pass time and enjoy themselves. NCS is a government backed scheme and was established to help build a more cohesive, mobile and engaged society. NCS helps them to become better individuals, and in turn better citizens by bringing young people from different backgrounds to share in this unique experience.
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It is inevitable that there will be marathon sessions of FIFA or Fortnight and probably binge watching a few Netflix series but if you want to get your teen off the sofa this summer then checkout the NCS website where you can sign up! There are still plenty of places available and you can fit it around other commitments over the summer such as family holidays. This year more than 100,000 teenagers from different backgrounds will come together in common purpose on NCS. That means one in six of the cohort of 16 year olds will live together, develop skills together and build community projects together.

So I imagine you are wondering how much it costs to keep a teenager busy for four whole weeks?

Well this is the good part… It’s £50!

Yes £50 includes all food, activities and accommodation, probably less than you spend on one days childcare, and bursaries are also available on a case by case basis. More than 400,000 teenagers have already taken part in this government backed scheme since it started in 2011 and I am off to try and convince my daughter that taking part is going to be so much more fun than me dragging her around all the museums in London over summer.

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*written in collaboration with National Citizen Service and all images provided by them
Posted in Food, Lifestyle, London, Uncategorized

Icebar and restaurant Mayfair

As another location on the 10 places I wanted to visit in London this year, I decided to book a ticket for two to the Icebar in Mayfair for my partners Valentine’s gift (obviously I knew he would be bringing me along with him)

I had heard of the Icebar before but the idea of sitting in a bar in the cold didn’t appeal to me, I’m more of a sitting in the sun with a cocktail type of girl! However I do like to look out for different and quirky places to visit that I can experience as a one off and as I saw a deal on Groupon that included drinks and a meal I went ahead and ordered it.

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The icebar is split into three sections. As you enter and give your details (it is advised to book in advance) you are asked to wait in the normal ‘warm’ bar for the next icebar session to start. You can only stay in the icebar for a maximum of 40 mins so everyone that has booked will enter at the same time.

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On entering you are given a, not so flattering but very warm, cape to wear and you take your ticket to the bar to redeem for your cocktail. A normal ticket will give you one free drink which is served in a glass made of ice, remember to put your gloves on otherwise it will just slip out of your hand! You are advised to keep that glass if you want to purchase more drinks in this bar as they charge an extra £4 for another one. I was worried about using an ice glass but I actually really liked it, the part you drink from melts with the warmth of your mouth as you drink and it just feels like you have an alcoholic ice lolly.

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The icebar currently has a theme of ‘wild in the city’ with sculptures of animals enjoying themselves on vacation in London, the theme changes annually and is due to be revamped soon. There is a bit of a nightclub feel with loud music and the lighting occasionally diming. It didn’t feel as cold as I was expecting with it being -5 but it may be because there is quite a lot of people in the small space. As you leave the ice bar the warmth hits you like it does as you step off the aeroplane on a summer holiday.

The restaurant

I was worried that when I booked a meal in the restaurant that I would be sitting huddled in a corner eating in the cold but the restaurant is a stark difference to the bar, in fact it is the complete opposite with the dark wood furnishings and warmth radiating from the two large screens showing a burning fireplace on the wall.

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The voucher that I purchased included a cocktail in the ice bar and a Bellini with the meal. I don’t usually order starters but as the deal included a starter, main and dessert I opted for the Grilled king crab in spicy butter, this included courgette crab roll topped with salmon cavier and the OH ordered coal roasted cauliflower with quails egg.

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The menu includes a choice of six starters, seven main courses and three desserts, there are also a range of side orders that can be added with an extra charge. The starter was really light with a nice mix of flavours and I hadn’t tried salmon caviar before, they reminded me of the tapioca balls in bubble tea but with a fishy flavour.

Another thing I hadn’t tasted before was monkfish which the OH ordered for his main. I gave it a try and was surprised by the meatiness of the fish, I really liked it and would definitely order it myself in the future. I opted for the cheeseburger, I was sold by the caramel jus flavour and there was a slight sweetness to it, I was more taken by the way it was presented on its own little tray with a couple of sauces in pots and a jar of sliced gherkin (although I forgot to eat those)

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With only a few choices for dessert we went for the chocolate brownie and the tiramisu ice cream sandwich. The brownie was delicious (what brownie isn’t?) although it was quite a small portion, just as well as the OH wasn’t too keen on his ice cream sandwich so I had to eat some of that too! We were expecting a normal wafer for the sandwich but it was more of a coconut macaroon which looked like a rice cake and was filled with coffee flavoured ice cream.

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Overall we had a really nice experience at the ice bar and restaurant. I figure if you pay for everything separately it could probably get quite expensive so I would definitely recommend looking out for an offer on Groupon but bear in mind they charge extra for any additional items you order (hello crumble cocktail) and service charge for the entire bill.

Have you ever had cocktails at -5 degrees?