All posts by mirandasnotebook

A Perfect Getaway: The Gallivant, Rye

The Gallivant Hotel, Rye

arriving in Rye – Mapp & Lucia – we explore the town – lunch in front of a roaring fire – arriving at The Gallivant – we’re greeted in style – a walk on the beach – I feel thoroughly pampered – hotel dining – a breakfast table of my dreams – touring the hotel – steak & chips

If you fancy a mini-break from London, then look no further than a couple days spent at The Gallivant in Rye, which offers a wonderful mix of beautiful rooms, delicious food, pampering treatments, coastal walks and an incredibly picturesque town to explore….

Tickets to Rye

Rye, East Sussex

Last week, I packed a small bag and met a friend at St Pancras Station to travel down to East Sussex together, ready for a short break from London and to enjoy the delights of Rye and our hotel, The Gallivant.

I’ve been to Rye before and instantly fell head over heels for this charming coastal town, with its twisting, cobbled streets lined with beautiful ancient buildings (many of which date from the 15th Century), tea-shops galore and stunningly beautiful beach.

Although he had spent several of his childhood summers in Sussex, my friend had never been to Rye before, so I was keen to introduce him to some of the town’s highlights, as well as some of its many literary connections. The train ride from London to Rye is an easy journey of roughly 1 hr and 20 minutes, so we felt we’d barely finished our cups of tea before we were pulling into the pretty station. Happily for us, the sun was shining, and as we’d aimed to arrive in Rye for about 11am, we had a little bit of time to explore and eat a light lunch before calling a taxi to take us to The Gallivant in Camber (a 10 minute drive from Rye).

Mapp & Lucia

Rye, East SussexRye, East Sussex Rye, East Sussex Rye, East Sussex

A 1-2 hour walk is plenty of time to see Rye’s main attractions, and even my appalling sense of direction can handle its small town centre, so I led my friend up the path from the station to St Mary’s Church, filling him in on details of E. F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia books, which are famously set in Tilling, a fictionalised Rye, along the way.

If you’ve never read a Mapp & Lucia novel, then I suggest tracking down the first in the series right away! These are wonderfully humorous stories set in the 1930s and describe the power struggle between Lucia Lucas and Elizabeth Mapp as they each battle to be crowned the societal queen of Tilling. If you’re a fan of P.G. Wodehouse and Nancy Mitford, then you’re likely to enjoy E.F.Benson’s books. They’re the perfect novels to bring with you for some light reading whilst in Rye, as Benson describes the town so lovingly in his books, and it’s fun to track down many of the sites mentioned in the stories in real life.

Rye, East Sussex

Lamb House, visible from the path leading down from St Mary’s Church, is the setting for Lucia’s home in the books, and was E.F. Benson’s former residence, as well as being the home of other notable writers, such as Henry James and Rumer Godden. Unfortunately, the house isn’t open to the public in March (you can see my pictures of it and the garden from when I visited last year), but we still enjoyed walking past, before rounding the corner into Mermaid Street. This street is surely one of the prettiest in Britain, with its beautiful, ivy-clad houses flanking either side of the cobbles, and the sign of the historic Mermaid Inn swinging gently overhead.

Mermaid Street RyeMermaid Street Rye

Simon The Pieman

Simon the Pieman RyeSimon the Pieman Rye

After taking far too many photos, we carried on our stroll, stopping by Rye Pottery and the Rye Bookshop (where I bought my friend a copy of Mapp & Lucia!), before deciding on lunch at Simon the Pieman (it was hard to resist the name!). The interior of this charming little cafe was made especially welcome by a roaring fire and a delectable display of homemade cakes in the window. We made our way through cottage pie (him) and goat cheese and onion tart (me), with plenty of cups of tea alongside, before calling a cab to The Gallivant.

Welcome Drinks at The Gallivant

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

I’d spent far too long lingering over the details of The Gallivant’s website the night before our departure, so I knew we had plenty of treats in store for our stay, and the Gallivant staff did not disappoint! On arriving, we were welcomed warmly at Reception and offered to be taken to our room straight away, or asked if we’d like to enjoy a welcome drink in the lounge first. We opted for our welcome drinks of Sloe Gin Spritzers, sinking into the comfy armchairs and sofas in the hotel bar area.

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

The Gallivant is described as a ‘restaurant with rooms,’ so it’s not surprising that you’re never far from a good drink or tasty bite to eat at this fantastic hotel. The restaurant and bar area is spacious and inviting, with plenty of cosy features such as lit candles and sheepskin throws. It was the perfect spot to linger over our cocktails, feeling the stresses and tensions of everyday life in London melt away, and smiling at other guests’ dogs (the hotel is dog-friendly) napping in sunny corners of the room.

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

The hotel’s atmosphere reminded me of my teenage years growing up on Long Island; it has that mix of elegance and beachside-casual that is very ‘Hamptons.’ Apart from the fact that I didn’t have any Herve Leger bandage dresses to hand (or a scary female nemesis); I could easily start fantasising that I’d walked onto the latest set of Revenge.

Luxury Garden Room

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

After finishing our drinks, we were shown to our room – one of the hotel’s Luxury Garden Rooms, which are the most spacious offered. It was just as pretty as I’d envisaged, and the bottle of Chapel Down English fizz cooling on ice for us was an extremely lovely surprise! Before we opened it to toast to our break away, though, I had to have a thorough explore of our beautiful room. I thrilled at all the thoughtful details: good books on the shelves, soothing colours, a beach bag filled with blue and white striped towels (as well as a jar of chutney and chocolate truffles – yum!) and our own personal little larder and fridge, stuffed with treats.

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

I delighted in throwing open the french windows opening out onto our little patio and garden and breathing in the fresh sea air; in warmer weather we would definitely have enjoyed our fizz sitting outside, but as there was still a nip to the air we instead popped the cork and enjoyed a glass in the room. I love Chapel Down wines, and we both agreed that their sparkling wine is excellent.

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

Feeling thoroughly in a holiday mood, we decided to enjoy the rest of the wine later and head out for a walk along the beach, before returning to the hotel in time for the slices of cake and cups of tea served to hotel guests each afternoon (I truly surpassed myself in the amount of food and drink I managed to squeeze into this stay!).

The Sea!

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

The Gallivant is situated across the road from the dunes, so after a two minute clamber over the path leading to the sea we topped the dunes and saw the beautiful view of the glimmering sea awaiting us.

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

A huge advantage to travelling off-season is how much quieter everywhere is: we had the beach virtually to ourselves. I scampered about collecting seashells, stuffing a few of the prettiest into the pockets of my coat and trying to remember the last time I’d been for a proper walk along the beach (far too long ago, I decided!).

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

Tea Time then Spa Time

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

After our refreshing walk, we happily turned our minds to tea and cake and made our way back to the hotel, where a huge, steaming kettle greeted us, as well as a tray piled with slices of (extremely good) lemon drizzle cake.

‘This is the life,’ I sighed, leaning back into my chair and smiling at my friend. Usually, the time we spend together in London is much more hurried: snatching moments in-between gym and work, or a drink after what has already been a long day. It felt truly luxurious, in contrast, to have nowhere else to be; to have nothing else to do but to enjoy ourselves and relax, letting our conversation meander and loop back, discussing everything and nothing, knowing there was no imminent curtail to our chat; no rushing off to our other lives or return to reality just yet.

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

After a lazy hour or so spent talking over our tea, I left my friend to read a book back in our room and headed for my full-body massage appointment at the hotel’s spa. All of the Gallivant’s beauty treatments are held in their cosy beach hut in the coastal garden. Strung with low-lit lights, it’s a peaceful oasis to enjoy a restorative treatment.

My full-body massage was given by Billie, who was brilliant, and it felt the ultimate relaxing treatment. I loved the WiDEYE products she used too, which she told me are blended in the UK using natural ingredients. I liked that this detail showed how The Gallivant’s focus on sourcing British (mainly local) ingredients extends throughout all experiences in the hotel.

Dinner Time

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

After my massage, I just had time to reapply my makeup and freshen up a bit in our room, before we headed into the restaurant for our 7.30pm dinner reservation. Amazingly, we were both hungry again – it must have been the sea air!

The Gallivant truly prides itself on its award-winning restaurant, which must be greatly appreciated by Rye locals as well as visitors, as in general I feel Rye is a little lacking in good restaurants. The Gallivant’s philosophy to food is simple, with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients that are sourced as locally as possible. The restaurant boasts that most of their meat and fish come from farmers and fishermen they know by name and are within 10 miles of the restaurant. More information about the provenance of the food and wine we were enjoying was given on a little scroll of paper waiting on our table, which I thought was a fun touch.

I was especially keen to try the local fish, so after polishing off an amuse bouche of delicious cheesy biscuits and spread, I tucked into pickled herring followed by the catch of the day, which was cod.

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

My friend was clearly in a more meaty mood, as he went for pork terrine followed by the pork chop!

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

The food was beautifully presented and delicious. My pickled herring was a real highlight, as it was so delicate and fresh, but the cod was wonderful too, and my friend pronounced his choices as excellent as well. The portions are relatively small, so if you’re very hungry, then I’d recommend ordering some sides, but it’s not necessary to do so and we didn’t need any supplements to our main dish.

We washed everything down with a bottle of the house white wine, which was extremely palatable. If you’re more of a wine connoisseur than we are, though, then be assured the restaurant offers a truly excellent list, with opportunities to try some of the best English wines, as well as ones from further afield.

For dessert, I went for panna cotta with rhubarb sorbet (yum), and my friend indulged his liking for ice-cream and went for the rum & raisin (with a real shot of rum to pour on top!).

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

My panna cotta was wonderfully smooth and creamy, and the sorbet was perfection – not too sharp, but providing a pleasing tartness in contrast to the panna cotta. I almost missed the detail that my prettily pink sorbet was shaped to resemble a fish, which my friend pointed out to me, and I tried to capture the lovely presentation in a photograph.

Feeling thoroughly satisfied, we both agreed the meal was a wonderful end to a fabulous day.

We Eat Again

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

We were up early the following morning, as my friend had to catch one of the first trains back to London, although I decided to stay on and enjoy the extended check-out time the hotel had offered. I joined my friend for breakfast, though, after we’d had an early cup of tea in the room (which was stocked with an espresso machine, kettle, fresh milk and tea and coffee supplies).

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

We were both very impressed by the breakfast table laid out in the restaurant: it was laden with freshly baked banana bread, cinnamon rolls, madeleines and granola bars, as well as jars of yogurt and berries, stewed fruit, yogurt panna cottas, cereal, and more. There was also hot food to order, and my friend (who informed me breakfast was always his favourite meal of the day) looked very excited at the prospect of a Full English and the chance to try some of the hotel’s homemade bacon.

I ordered my favourite breakfast of smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and toast and only wished that I had two more stomachs (or that we were in Hobbit land, where second breakfast is a thing), so I could do full justice to the feast before us. As it was, I contented myself with a bit of fruit and yoghurt before the hot dishes arrived.

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

Our food was absolutely delicious, which we’d come to expect, and we had time for one more cup of tea before my friend jumped into his taxi to the station.

I went back to the bedroom, made myself some more tea (I really am addicted) poured a long, hot bath (with plenty of bubbles) in the room’s enormous bathtub and pressed play on my classical music playlist. The wind was whipping the trees outside, and a steady rain was falling, so I decided to put aside my plan of having another walk on the beach and instead luxuriated in a leisurely soak before wrapping up in one of the hotel’s fluffy bathrobes and writing a blog post. Then I got dressed again and headed to Reception for my tour of the hotel.

A Hotel Tour

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

I’m always curious about the other rooms in a hotel, and The Gallivant was kind enough to offer me a tour of some of their other rooms. I thought you might be interested to see them too, as it gives a good idea of the style of rooms offered under each rate.

The standard Garden Room is one of their lowest rate rooms, and – although not large – is very pleasant:

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

The Snug Cabin is one of a kind, and I think it would be especially charming for a romantic escape in the colder months, when the wooden panelling and darker tones would provide a cosy setting for staying warm and snug.

The Gallivant Hotel Rye The Gallivant Hotel Rye

None of the Deck Rooms were available to see, but it’s worth remembering these rooms allow dogs. Next up, I peered into a Baby Hampton room, the next biggest down from the Luxury Garden. I thought the window seat looked particularly inviting!

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

As you can see, all of the rooms are comfortable and attractive, but I must admit, I’ve definitely got a particular fondness for the Luxury Garden rooms, which really are something special!

Steak & Chips

After checking out, I decided to kill some time before catching my train and had lunch in the hotel (truth be told, I think I wasn’t quite ready to leave such a cosy haven!). Deciding I’d try some of the local meat this time, I ordered steak and chips with a side of red cabbage and a glass of the house red wine. The steak was melt-in-your-mouth good, and I don’t think I’ve ever had such delicious chips! Honestly, if you love a good steak then definitely order it if you’re ever at The Gallivant.

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

After polishing off (nearly) every bite, I looked up to see my taxi pulling into the hotel driveway. I bid a regretful farewell (resolving to go back again soon!) and made my way back to hustle and bustle of London.

Top-Tips for Your Rye Holiday

The Gallivant Hotel Rye

Organise: the Gallivant staff are wonderfully helpful, and it’s worth emailing them prior to your stay to request taxi numbers, check if any extended check in or out times are available, book any treatments and make a restaurant reservation. Also, if you are forced to leave quite early (or arrive late), then make sure you organise your taxi to or from Rye Station well in advance, as we realised the cab companies outside of London operate much more 9-5 hours! The team at The Gallivant really came to our rescue for my friend’s early departure, with one of the managers offering to drive him to the station herself if necessary. Fortunately, we were able to secure a cab, but it was a lesson to be more aware of ‘country hours’ in the future!

Off-Season: it’s such a joy to travel in the off-season, as not only are areas much less touristy, but there are also some great deals to be had! Check out The Gallivant website to view their latest offers and rates.

Pack: think coastal chic for your trip and pack Breton tops, cotton trousers, Keds or espadrilles (you might want a pair of wellies for your beach walk in the colder, wetter months), a trench coat and a light cashmere scarf for added warmth and style. Don’t forget to bring a good book too, to sit and read outside, or to enjoy as you munch that afternoon tea and cake….

If you’re in the mood for a weekend (or mid-week!) getaway, then I honestly can’t recommend a trip to The Gallivant enough. Our stay was utter bliss, and I already want to go back!

Have you ever been to Rye before? Do you fancy a stay at The Gallivant?

*Note: I was invited, with a guest, to stay at The Gallivant for the purpose of this review, but all opinions expressed are my own and those of my friend’s, and I would not be recommending this hotel to you if we had not had a truly spectacular time!

London Photo Diary | A Spring Walk in Hampstead

I’ve been feeling a strong pull towards getting outside and enjoying the fresh air as much as possible lately, so when what felt like the hottest day of the year so far dawned on Thursday, I closed my laptop and set off on a walk to Hampstead. Taking my own advice, I brought my camera and resolved to capture some of the blossom and spring blooms I encountered as I wandered around my favourite corner of London.

I’m lucky that it only takes me about 1/2 an hour to walk to Hampstead village, and it’s a particularly pretty walk too, taking me past beautiful, historic houses and banks of daffodils. I waved at the old studio flat I lived in for 4 years and took a steep, winding path towards Fenton House. The house’s beautiful garden and orchard is one of London’s best kept secrets and is always a favourite destination of mine. Although the orchard is glorious when the apple trees are blossoming, at the moment it’s a sheer delight as well, with the grass carpeted with crocuses and daffodils.

I also paid a visit to some of my favourite haunts: Ginger & White for truly delicious carrot cake and tea; Judy’s Garden Store and the secondhand bookshop on Flask Walk.

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Whereabouts have you walked recently? Have you been noticing any signs of Spring?

A Chat With Brita Granström

A Chat With Brita GranstromPhotograph © Diana Pappas via  Brita Granström website

I’m thrilled to publish this interview with the fabulous artist, Brita Granström, whose work I discovered last year (and have been coveting ever since!). I went to Brita’s exhibition at the Tanner & Lawson gallery in Chelsea and was completely charmed by her gorgeous paintings featuring domestic interior scenes, as well as the beautiful landscapes of her native Sweden and Scotland. Brita’s next exhibition is taking place in Scotland at the Open Eye Gallery from 10th-27th March, and she has kindly allowed me to illustrate this post with the paintings that will be exhibited (and available for sale) at the exhibition. I so wish I could see it! If you’re in Edinburgh – please do go and report back!

But on to the interview…

A Chat With Brita GranstromMuscari and Sea View

MN: Could you tell me a little about yourself and your background? Did you always want to be an artist?

BG: I grew up on a farm in Sweden, by a lake, and I always wanted to be an artist and grew up drawing, painting and making all the time. After leaving school I did a 4 year postgraduate course in Illustration & Design at Konstfack in Stockholm. While still studying, I worked as an illustrator for the charity AMREF making step-by-step ‘how to do it’ illustrations for Kenyan and Ugandan bush surgeons, mostly repairing cleft-pallets – this meant a month in Africa and flying in tiny planes over the Serengeti not to mention drawing operations from life! A couple of years later in 1993 I came to Scotland, unexpectedly fell in love, and stayed here.

A Chat With Brita GranstromTulips and Scissors

At first I made illustrations for the Glasgow Herald and BBC Scotland as well as embarking on a career making children’s books. I have always painted on canvas too, but initially found it very hard to find a gallery to show my paintings. Then, one day, I met Mara-Helen Wood, an authority on Scandinavian art, and who was, at the time, the director of The University Gallery in Newcastle. She had enough faith in my work to give me shows in her galleries, first in Newcastle and later at the prestigious Kings Place in London. Since then I have been fortunate enough to show at various galleries, including the brilliant Thompsons Galleries of Aldeburgh and London who stock my paintings, as do Tanner & Lawson in Chelsea. My new exhibition, Dreaming Of Scotland, will be my second show at the wonderful Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh.

A Chat With Brita GranstromBonnard’s Dog

MN: What first brought you to Scotland? What things do you miss most about Sweden, and what do you enjoy about life in the U.K.?

BG: Love kept me here. I fell in love in Scotland 24 years ago. I love the light and the wind and the beaches. I love the contrast between the chilly Scottish winters (nothing compared to freezing Swedish ones where it can drop to minus 30!) and the short, hot Swedish summers. We live in an old Georgian house in the borders with lots of character and a wonderful soft light which inspires many of my interior paintings. We have also built our own wooden house in Sweden near a lake. The vibe is different in both places – but I like them both equally.

MN: I love your interior scenes that often focus on the domestic, but your landscape paintings are equally beautiful. Do you have a preference for drawing outdoor or indoor scenes?

BG: My work follows my life. When I get really inspired by the light and subject it makes me want to paint it. At the moment I have immersed myself in painting interiors as well as tulips and muscari – but three weeks ago, I was painting on the windy beaches in the early spring sunshine. In the summer I painted watery Swedish summer night-scapes with swimmers. In August we were back in the UK and I had my canvasses on the rocks, dodging the tide and painting beautiful rock pools. Quite often someone walks into my picture and I paint them in. You can see lots of these paintings on my website and follow new works as they happen on my Instagram feed @britagranstrom. In my interior paintings I like to paint the beauty in everyday chores; the fleeting moment often ignored or missed. Chopping rhubarb or apples for a pie, a boy drinking tea or beating eggs, someone cutting the ends off tulips or carrying a birthday cake…

A Chat With Brita GranstromGirl Chopping Rhubarb

MN: What is your creative process like? Do you work from 9-5 most days, or are you generally more flexible?

BG: With my book illustration work it’s mostly 9 to 5. The painting is different. Often, after days of building up my ‘painting battery’, I paint and then it takes the time it takes… The light and the subject is all that matters not time.

MN: Your exhibition at the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh opens on 10th March. What was your inspiration behind the artworks exhibited? Do you have a favourite amongst these paintings?

BG: The exhibition is named after one of my autobiographical paintings called ‘Dreaming of Scotland’. It seemed fitting for a show in Edinburgh. There are quite a few paintings of interiors as well as some big seascapes painted in the stunning all changing weather of the coast up here. You can view them here.

A Chat With Brita GranstromBeryl Teapot

MN: I love the children’s book you illustrated about the Bronte sisters. Do you have a favourite Bronte novel?

BG: Thank You. That was a great book to be working on – about admirably strong women! Wuthering Heights is my favourite with Jane Eyre as a close second.

MN: Which Scandinavian artists do you admire the most?

GB: Helene Schjerfbeck, Sigrid Hjertén and Edvard Munch.

MN: What advice would you have for young creatives starting out today?

BG: Be true to yourself, work hard, have fun and do not give up. I also love Bonnard’s quote: ‘Draw your pleasure, paint your pleasure, and express your pleasure strongly.’

A Chat With Brita GranstromParrot Tulips and Lapwing

MN: Through my blog and podcast, I like to celebrate successful, creative women. Which women do you particularly admire within the Arts industry?

BG: I think the artist/printmakers: Emily Sutton, Alice Pattullo and Angie Lewin are having fantastic and well-deserved success just now. I also admire the children’s books of Helen Stephens and Emily Mackenzie. Recently read Nellie Dean by Alison Case and thought it one of the best novels I have read; Emily Bronte would have approved.

A Chat With Brita GranstromBig Sand Dune

Thank you so much to Brita for taking the time to give me such fabulous answers to my questions. For more of her glorious artwork, check out Brita’s instagramwebsite and current exhibition. To purchase any of the paintings featured, contact the Open Eye Gallery.

Isn’t Brita’s artwork a feast for the eyes? Which painting do you like most?

T&T 18 | The Art of Home-Making

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode on The Art of Home-Making here or on iTunes.

In this episode, Sophie and I are turning our thoughts to our homes. With Spring in the air, we’re sharing our best tips for making your home a pleasant, comfortable place, even when struggling with the limitations of a small space. As we’ve both lived in flats for the majority of our adult lives, and in a variety of situations – sharing with university friends, boyfriends, family, as well as living alone – we feel that by now we’ve got fairly adept at creating a home wherever we are.

Explaining how William Morris’ philosophy on possessions influences us both, and how we like to consider our senses when creating a comfortable space, Sophie and I chat about the kinds of environments that suit us best and that we find most conducive to happiness and creativity.

Listen to hear our tips on making an inviting and comfortable home in a small space.

If you enjoy our podcast, please do leave a rating and review on iTunes! It’s a great way to help other people to find and enjoy Tea & Tattle, and Sophie and I would be very grateful!

Happy Listening!

Miranda xxx

Fun Things To See And Do | March 2017

So far, March has definitely lived up to its reputation of coming in like a lion, with plenty of wind and rain to make one truly tired of winter. There have been the odd sunny days, though, which have served as a welcome reminder that spring is very much just around the corner. Here’s my monthly list of fun things to see and do to make the most of this month.

1/ Offer your support to other women. March 8th is International Women’s Day, which serves as a timely reminder to seek out ways to encourage the women around you. This challenge can be simple: say an encouraging word to a female colleague, or support a girl friend in a new project. If you’re feeling inspired to do more, however, then here are some excellent suggestions for how to get involved in mentoring young women.

2/ Add an item of clothing you’ve been needing for a while to your wardrobe. I bought a new pair of trousers over the weekend, and I only wish I’d got them sooner! I’d been wanting a pair of easy pull-on, cotton trousers for a while, and now I’ve found just the right pair I’m over-the-moon.

3/ Go on a blossom hunt. Clouds of pink and white blossom are starting to appear all over London. Hampstead, Notting Hill, Chelsea and Primrose Hill are especially good places to search out the prettiest trees. Snap photos as you stroll around, or bring along a pencil and sketch-pad to draw these beautiful early signs of spring.

4/ Spoil your Mum (in the UK, Mother’s Day is on the 26th March). Here are some ideas: have a Victorian afternoon tea at the V&A, go for a facial at Elemis in Debenhams, or enjoy a glass of champagne somewhere decadent, like the Connaught bar.

5/ There are some fantastic sounding shows at the Royal Academy right now. I want to see both the Russian Art and America After The Fall exhibitions.

6/ Focus on the things that make you feel revitalised and refreshed: use crisp, fresh perfumes; eat grapefruit for breakfast; splash your face with cold water; take a long walk and end a tiring day with a long, relaxing bath.

7/ Send some special snail mail. Naomi Bulger’s amazing instagram account and blog is full of the most beautiful post inspiration. I love her illustrated envelopes and incredible creativity. If you sign up to her newsletter, you get free monthly downloads of templates so you can start decorating your own envelopes.

8/ Watch Dancer with a friend. I was completely mesmerised when I saw this video featuring Sergei Polunin dancing to Hozier’s Take Me to Church, and now I can’t wait to see this documentary exploring the life of the ‘bad boy of ballet’ (talk about heartthrob material!).

9/ Have a go at writing a short story, using a particular theme, like ‘food’ or ‘home’ to spark your imagination.

10/ Pay attention to the people who take the most of your time. Are they always the people who make you feel your best? Set yourself a challenge this month to pour your time and energy only into those relationships that make you feel energised, supported and loved. You may see fewer people, but when you put effort into nourishing your very best relationships, you’re guaranteed to end the month happier.

A few more things…

Going to Rye. I’m off on the train tomorrow and just can’t wait! I’m staying at the Gallivant Hotel, which sounds blissful. I used to visit The Hamptons regularly when I lived on Long Island as a child, and this definitely sounds the next best thing. I’m channeling my inner Revenge vibe.

Taking part in the #femmemarch book challenge through my @mirandasbookcase account, as well as the Ruth read-a-long hosted by @thenobbylife.

Attending this talk in celebration of International Women’s Day at Foyles.

Celebrating a friend’s birthday on Friday.

Recording a lot of fun interviews for Tea & Tattle – can’t wait to publish the ones I have coming up!

Reading Longbourn in preparation for the next Miranda’s Notebook Book Club discussion!

How about you? What’s on your list for fun things to do this month? I’d love to hear what you’ve got planned!

 

A Touch of Colour

A touch of colour

Happy Friday! It’s undeniably grey at the moment, so I thought I’d do a little list of some colourful things that have been almost as good as some vitamin D and have been keeping me cheerful lately.

The David Hockney Exhibition at Tate Britain

A touch of colour

I went to see the Hockney exhibition last Friday with my friend Alice Stevenson. It was fantastic, if very crowded, and the perfect show to see if you’re getting sick of the leaden skies. I was fascinated to view many of Hockney’s California works, which I’d never seen before, but instantly transported me to warmer, sunnier climes. Do go if you get a chance, but make sure to book in advance if you’re not a Tate member, and I definitely advise visiting early one morning, if possible, to avoid the crush.

A touch of colour

Chocoholics Chai Afternoon Tea

A touch of colour

One particularly wet afternoon, I took my friend along to enjoy a pop-up, Indian-inspired afternoon tea at a church in South Kensington. Somewhat to my disappointment, we didn’t tuck into our macarons seated in the pews, but instead tables were set up in a little room adjacent to the church. The room wasn’t the prettiest, but the lovely ladies behind London Chai Party did a great job brightening the place up with daffodils and colourful tablecloths.

A touch of colourA touch of colour

On sitting down, we were handed a glass of warming hot chocolate, before tucking into the feast, which was a great take on afternoon tea with an Indian twist. The marsala popcorn was a fun way to kick off the meal, and I especially loved the cream-cheese and sweetcorn croquettes with a delicious jalapeno sauce , tandoori chicken club sandwiches, white chocolate and cardamom macarons and rice pudding & chocolate mousse pudding (which sounded a bizarre combination, but worked surprisingly well!). Oh, and of course, the chai tea was delicious too!

The Gentlewoman Magazine

A touch of colour

My heart got an instant lift, when I saw this gorgeously bright edition of The Gentlewoman magazine on my doormat. I’m loving the articles in this issue, especially the interview with the gorgeous ballerina, Francesca Hayward, whom I admired in the BBC Nutcracker documentary over Christmas.

Madelinetosh Yarn

A touch of colour

One thing I love about yarn, is that a knitting project is the perfect way to indulge my love of colour (and also to match wool to book covers – seriously fun!). It’s a joy to ponder over each skein, debating which to choose. I love knitting things for other people too, as it means I can work with colours that wouldn’t particularly suit me, but that I still love. The purple yarn in this picture is intended for a scarf for my Mum, who has very different colouring from my own. I paid a trip to Loop yarn shop recently, which stocks Madelinetosh yarn (my favourite!), but it reminded me that I have far too much stash wool to use up before buying anymore! It was still a treat to browse the shop, though, which is always full to bursting with beautiful, colourful skeins.

{By the way, this photo also serves as a reminder that this month’s book club choice is Longbourn by Jo Baker. Looking forward to discussing it with all who take part!}

What touches of colour have you been enjoying in your life lately?

5 Step Guide to Building A Capsule Wardrobe

signs of spring – this month’s blog theme – a reminder of our book club title – spring cleaning and sorting -capsule wardrobe guide

Welcome to March! I’m thrilled to see the first few hints of Spring in London; the tree opposite my flat is burgeoning into blossom, and I look out for the golden piles of daffodils at the florist next to my local tube station every morning.

With the start of Spring, there’s always a feeling of freshness and renewal in the air. It’s a time to sweep away the physical, as well as metaphorical, cobwebs; to take stock of your home and fill it with a renewed sense of energy after the inertia of winter. Although I’m no minimalist, I do think March is a good time of year to consider your surroundings and have a thorough declutter. This month’s theme on the blog, then, is devoted to home-making, and you can expect some related posts and podcast episodes centred around domesticity in the weeks to come.

Also, don’t forget this month’s Book Club choice is Longbourn by Jo Baker, which is also in keeping with the domestic theme. Longbourn tells the story of Jane Austen’s fictitious Bennet family from the point of view of their servants. I’ve started it and am thoroughly enjoying it already, so please do read along if you can as I’d love to hear your thoughts on it too.

For the first post of March, I thought I’d offer a guide to starting a capsule wardrobe. It always feels good to have a thorough sorting at the start of Spring, and these are the steps I used myself when I had a huge closet clear-out in January. I hope you find them useful if you’re inspired to take stock of your own wardrobe and make time for a bit of Spring sorting and cleaning.

1/ Make sure a finely-honed wardrobe is what you want.

This is key. If your heart isn’t really in it, then no matter how much you think your closet should be neater, you’ll never be willing to be ruthless in your sorting. Check in with yourself and make sure that a pared down, simpler wardrobe and style is really what you want. It’s ok if you are happier with a lot more choice and a full-to-the-brim closet (we can’t all be Marie Kondo, after all), but then you have to move on and realise a capsule wardrobe probably isn’t for you.

If you feel that a thorough sorting of your clothes is just what’s needed, though, then here are some great resources to get you fired up and reaching for the bin bags:

++The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. Definitely a little eccentric (I consider it part of the charm!), but I love how Marie Kondo encourages a no-guilt attitude to letting go of your possessions.

++ L’Art de la Simplicite by Dominique Loreau. This book will make you want to make everything in your life a little (or a lot) simpler.

++ Dominique Davis’ e-guide to building a capsule wardrobe. Dominique does a great job holding your hand through what can be quite a traumatic process, and she feels like a friendly big sister by your side, urging you on with practical advice. Of course, you can also listen to my Tea & Tattle interview with Dominique for some capsule wardrobe inspiration as well.

++ Un-fancy blog. This blog is perfect for inspiration on making the most out of every item in your closet and re-mixing and matching pieces to create great looking outfits.

2/ Define your personal style.

Before starting the clear-out, it’s essential that you’ve a clear idea of your personal style and what types of items you want in your capsule wardrobe. It makes the sorting process much easier, as you’ll be far less likely to be tempted to keep clothes that clearly fall outside of your capsule wardrobe parameters.

When refining your personal style, I think it’s a good idea to create a Pinterest board (it doesn’t have to be public – mine is currently private!) and to start to build up a collection of images that match the type of style you’d like to develop. Also key to this process, is to think about your lifestyle: do you realistically ever iron those cotton blouses? How many party dresses do you actually need, or, alternatively, do you in fact use any of your ‘loungewear’? I, for instance, realised that I love to wear comfortable, practical clothing a lot of the time, so I kept a lot of my jumpers, denim shirts, breton tops, jeans and trousers. These are the kinds of clothes I like to wear when I’m working from home, but I also realised that I needed slightly different outfits for when I’m teaching in schools and also for when I attend blog events or go out in the evening. This realisation brings me to the next tip….

3/ Think about the different types of capsule wardrobes you need.

This suggestion was one of the most useful hints I took away from my interview with Dominique. She said to think about having more than one capsule wardrobe, depending on your lifestyle. So, for instance, you may want a capsule wardrobe for work as well as weekend wear (and adjust the size of each according to what you wear most).

As I said, I have 3 capsule wardrobe categories: teaching, home and blog / evening wear. Thinking about the type of clothes I wear and use the most really helped me to be especially strict about not keeping too many clothes, like evening dresses, that I wear only a few times a month. I have to admit, I’m currently not too fussed about sticking to an exact number of items in each capsule collection; I’m just happy that now all seasons of my clothes fit together in my wardrobes and drawers. As long as that continues to be the case, I consider that I have the right amount of clothing for me.

4/ Set aside two whole days and get someone (non-judgemental) to help you.

It’s surprising how long a thorough sorting of your closet can take. Make sure you clear a weekend from any other distractions, and (so you won’t drive yourself insane debating whether you really do need one more black top, or if you’ll regret getting rid of it later) make sure to ask someone close to you to help and who won’t raise any judgemental eyebrows at the number of ballet flats you happen to own (cough).

5/ Plan what to do with the clothes once you’re finished sorting.

It’s to easy to pile everything you don’t want into bags, feeling virtuous at how much you’ve managed to wean out of your closet, but then promptly forget about it all and never quite manage to get to the charity shop for a drop-off. Make sure you don’t fall into this trap by carefully planning how and when you’ll get rid of your discarded clothes and try to clear everything out of your home as quickly as possible.

Will you be doing any Spring cleaning this March? Are you tempted to pare down your closet and create a capsule wardrobe? I’d love to hear how you get on if so!

T&T 17 | A Chat With Lorna McKay of The Perfume Society

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

To round off our February episodes, this week I’m in conversation with the wonderful Lorna McKay, co-founder of The Perfume Society and co-author of The Perfume Bible. As a lover of scent, I’ve been a fan of The Perfume Society since soon after it first launched a few years ago, and I’ve been to several of their fantastic events in London. Lorna is an expert in all things beauty and fragrance related, and so it was a real treat to chat with her. I loved hearing about how she first got started in the beauty industry working for Harrods and becoming the buyer for their international department, before moving onto Liberty.

As well as describing her interesting career, Lorna had lots of fascinating tips to share about perfume, including her suggested list of top 5 fragrances women should try at least once in their life and the up-and-coming perfumers she’s keeping an eye on. I also enjoyed learning a bit more about what goes into creating a perfume and was also thrilled to get some suggestions as to rather more affordable alternatives to my all-time favourite scent ‘Portrait of a Lady’ by Frederic Malle.

Listen for an entertaining discussion on the delights of perfume.

Do you love perfume? Which are your favourites? Do you ever associate certain smells with a particular person or place?  I’d love to know!

Book Club Discussion: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

I’m so excited to be writing a review for the first Miranda’s Notebook Book Club choice! When this post goes live, I’ll be just about to meet everyone attending the London get-together, and I can’t wait to chat about the book in person as well. Here are my thoughts, though, for our online discussion of Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier:

Some Background to Jamaica Inn

At 22 years old, Daphne du Maurier got lost with her friend Foy Quiller-Couch as they set out on horseback from Jamaica Inn across Bodmin Moor. Daphne later wrote ‘we ventured out across the moors, desolate, sinister, and foolishly lost our way, to our horror rain and darkness fell upon us, and there we were, exposed to the violence of the night.’ They took shelter in a barn and eventually made their way to safety, but the dread she felt lost on those lonely moors clearly sparked an idea for what would later become Jamaica Inn.  

Bodmin moor, as described by du Maurier in her novel, becomes a character in its own right in the book, and its malevolent, brooding atmosphere is reminiscent of the Yorkshire moors in Wuthering Heights. Gothic novels were certainly an inspiration to du Maurier when writing Jamaica Inn (the opening scene of the book echoes the beginning of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), and she liked to draw parallels between Cornwall and the Yorkshire moors made famous by the Bronte sisters. Indeed, du Maurier pointed out in her book, Vanishing Cornwall, that the Brontes had a Cornish mother and aunt, inferring that they would have been told Cornish myths and legends as children.

Just as their landscape, as well as stories and legends, inspire the Brontes, so did Cornwall inspire du Maurier, to the extent that her name is forever linked with the area. Jamaica Inn is one of her most gothically dramatic Cornish tales.

My Reactions to the Novel

** Warning! There are spoilers ahead! **

I first read Jamaica Inn as a teenager, so my recollections of it were a little hazy, although it’s hard to forget the brooding menace of the Cornish moors and the rotting inn Daphne du Maurier describes so brilliantly. I found it fascinating to reread the book as an adult, and this time, rather than the plot (which occasionally I found a little heavy-handed), it was the character of the protagonist, Mary Yellan, that I found most intriguing and kept me turning the pages.

Mary’s story begins with plenty of dark foreshadowing: hurtling through the driving rain (so different from the gentle drizzles of her native southern shores) across the Northern Cornish moors in a carriage whose driver urges her to reconsider her journey to Jamaica Inn. ‘That’s no place for a girl,’ he says darkly. Mary has little choice, however, but to continue her journey to her aunt and uncle-by-marriage, who live at the Inn. Having made a promise to her dying mother to go to her Aunt Patience and her husband, Mary is determined to keep her word. On arrival, she is horrified by the appearance of her aunt, who has been broken in body and mind by her brutish husband, Joss Merlyn. Her Uncle is not beyond threatening Mary too, but states he won’t touch her as long as she keeps her nose out of the mysterious business he conducts at the dilapidated inn, that never has any guests. Mary suspects her Uncle to be involved in smuggling, but soon discovers his secret is much more horrifying and deadly when he confides in her after a night of heavy drinking.

Male violence is a theme du Maurier explores many times in her books. The men she writes about are often murderers, with women as their victims. The topics du Maurier touches upon in Jamaica Inn – domestic violence, rape, murder – must have been shocking for her audience at the time (the novel was published in 1936) and many of the scenes are still disturbingly haunting today. In many ways, I feel Jamaica Inn is one of her angriest novels. Reading the book, you sense du Maurier’s wrath against male domination and brute strength on almost every page. Since childhood, du Maurier was intrigued by the differences between men and women (as a child she invented a male alter-ego for herself), and the frustration she felt at the restrictions imposed upon women seep through her writing.

In contrast to the female protagonists in novels such as Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, who are all undeniably feminine, Mary Yellan is quite a different kind of heroine. Described as being like a boy, with a ‘monkey face’, Mary isn’t too delicate to swear in annoyance. She displays a great deal of physical, as well as mental, strength: Mary can walk for hours on the moors; she fights off her would-be rapist and carries out physically taxing domestic tasks. Whenever she’s told she can’t do something (being only a woman), Mary invariably proves her naysayer wrong.

Mary does, however, perceive a weakness within herself: her attraction to Joss’ younger brother, Jem. Unsure whether she can trust him, yet feeling at ease in his presence (whilst still noticing his rather fine hands), Mary riles against herself over accepting Jem’s kisses. In time, however, he is proven worthy of her faith.

In contrast to Mary’s resolute, unwaveringly courageous character, it is the men in the novel who display the most weakness. Joss Merlyn is revealed to be a blustering bully with an insatiable taste for drink. He cannot control his binges or his tongue and at night is tormented by the faces of the men and women he has killed. He is exposed as a mere puppet in the hands of a much more sinister opponent, against whom he is ultimately powerless.

In general, I enjoyed rereading Jamaica Inn, although I do not feel it stands up so well against du Maurier’s later novels. It lacks the depth of Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, and, although I admire Mary Yellan, in the end I felt a little dissatisfied with her character. She is brave and headstrong, yes, but what else? Compared to du Maurier’s later protagonists, Mary feels two-dimensional, for all her toughness and courage. Perhaps my dissatisfaction stems from preferring du Maurier when she writes in the first person, when the reader can become truly immersed in the mind of her narrator. I feel, too, that du Maurier is at her very best when she’s exploring the (albeit it often strained) dynamics between men and women in love. Jem and Mary’s romance feels a perfunctory affair, and Jem barely says more than handful of lines in the novel, so there seems little to his character but superficial charm. Jem ‘rescuing’ Mary at the end is rather a let down; surely, after everything else she’d handled unflinchingly alone, Mary could have managed her escape perfectly well by herself? Mary choosing to hop into Jem’s cart and ride off into the distance with him, facing their future together, lacks any real emotional charge. Jem’s uncharming little speech to Mary where he says she’ll probably live to regret her decision, left this reader at least without hope for much romantic bliss between them.

In conclusion, then, I felt Jem and Mary’s relationship was the novel’s biggest flaw, but Daphne du Maurier’s ability to evoke a sense of place and atmosphere and build up heart-thudding suspense is dazzling, and the descriptions of the desolate Cornish moors, coupled with a strong-willed heroine, make Jamaica Inn very much a tale worth reading.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Jamaica Inn, so please do add them in the comments. Here are a few questions as prompts to get the conversation flowing, but feel free to comment on whatever aspect of the story you wish to explore. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Some Questions to Prompt Discussion:

What is your opinion of Mary Yellan? Did you warm to her? What did you like / dislike about her?

Mary is repeatedly told she is ‘only a woman.’ In what ways, though, does she repeatedly show she’s more than a match for her male companions?

Do you find the romance between Mary and Jem believable? Did you feel Mary’s liking for Jem was an unfortunate weakness on her part, or were they well-matched?

What types of evil does du Maurier describe in the book? Does she write about one more convincingly than the other?

What did you think of the Vicar of Altarnun? Did you feel there was a supernatural quality to him?

In what ways does du Maurier use the setting to build up suspense?

Did the novel’s ending come as a surprise to you, or did you guess what would happen?

How do you feel Jamaica Inn compares to du Maurier’s other novels?

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T&T 16 | Jane Austen Heroines

Tea & Tattle Podcast - our favourite Jane Austen Heroines

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

I’m especially excited about sharing today’s episode, as this week on Tea & Tattle, Sophie and I are discussing one of our very, very favourite authors: Jane Austen. Having both read Pride & Prejudice aged 9 (after being mesmerised by the BBC adaptation), Sophie and I devoured every Jane Austen novel (as well as her letters and biographies about her) throughout our teens. We still regularly reread the books, and of course Sophie’s teaching at Oxford covers some Jane Austen (apparently she’s just about to start teaching Emma – I wish I could be in her class!).

Our love for Austen’s delightful heroines was certainly one of the building blocks of our friendship, and we exchanged many a letter as teenagers recounting our opinions of each novel. Today’s conversation, then, covers very familiar territory, as we decide which Austen heroines are our favourites (it’s almost impossible to choose!), and the important life-lessons we have learnt from each of them.

Tea & Tattle Podcast - our favourite Jane Austen Heroines

Listen to hear how Anne, Elizabeth, Emma, Catherine and Elinor have influenced our lives and continue to inspire us.

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