August 2018 Things

Birthday month again, with this year being a big one for Husband.  He’s still a young man to me.

Islay
This beautiful Scottish island was a dream.  I can’t wait to go back one day.

R.E.M.
Husband is a huge fan of the band R.E.M. who split up about 7 years ago, so there isn’t much new content for him to enjoy.  However, he started listening to the R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: Me Podcast a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been totally sucked into it!  I know a bit about the band, and have enjoyed learning more about their album tracks.  It also helps that Adam Scott is one of the hosts, and is adorably hilarious.  The podcast is so stupid, and they spend most of each episode not actually talking about R.E.M.

Marks and Spencer ice cream sandwiches
They are so ridiculously moorish – I’m obsessed.

Holiday planning
In a couple of months, we’re off to Texas for a few days and friends of Husband have very kindly offered to look after us for part of the trip, so we had a long video call with them one weekend to talk about our plans.  There’s a lot of fun things on the list – November can’t come quickly enough.  After our chat, we then went on to book a very exciting hotel for the rest of our Texan adventure which I am so looking forward to.

Birthday bath
For my birthday, I was treated to a couple of nights at the Hotel Du Vin in Bristol.  Bristol itself was an… interesting place, but the hotel was incredibly relaxing.  The best thing about it – the huge bathroom on the mezzanine floor, with a roll top bath.  After getting back from a birthday burger, I poured some of the L’Occitane toiletries into the bath and spent about an hour in there.  What a perfect way to end the day.

Islay – The Logistics

Once I’d figured out where we were going to stay on Islay for Husband’s surprise birthday trip, I then had to figure out how to get there.

The first leg of the journey was to Glasgow which was the easy part.  From there, there are a few options but realistically for our schedule, we could either fly with Logan Air or drive to Kennacraig to get the Calmac ferry.  There are pros and cons for both modes of transport but considering my goal was to get to Islay as quickly as possible, flying ended up being the best choice.

Unfortunately, flying made the beginning and end of our trip quite stressful.  We almost missed our first flight from Heathrow as there was an accident on the M3 which was so frustrating as we only live 30 minutes away from Terminal 5.  Not only that, whilst I thought I had given us enough time to switch planes on the way back from Islay at Glasgow airport, our Logan Air flight ended up leaving Islay half an hour late so we had to run to our gate.  And I hate being that person who runs through airports.

Not only that, but Husband was sad that our luggage wasn’t big enough to pack all the whisky he wanted.  Next time, we’ll have to drive the 13 hours from our house so he can fill the whole car with bottles of whisky.

Ignoring the stress, flying into Islay is very special.  It takes 40 minutes from Glasgow on a tiny 34 seat turboprop plane (which was only moderately terrifying).  For most of our journey, the cloud level stopped us from seeing anything below but all of a sudden, the iconic Laphroaig appeared out of the right side of the plane.  I confess – I squealed when I saw it.

The airport itself is as small as you’d expect – two check-in counters, a bijou but comfortable lounge, a cafe serving locals as well as visitors.  I wasn’t expecting to be greeted by a dog at the front door, but I don’t think he’s there all the time.

There’s a few transport options on the island – a regular bus service, a few taxi companies, but I decided on hiring a car from Islay Car Hire at the airport which was incredibly easy.  I booked a medium sized car as I knew the route to our Airbnb was a little off-road and I didn’t want to risk a small car.  Within about five minutes of getting off the plane, I was adjusting the mirrors in a Vauxhall Astra who I named Sassy.  The car hire worked for us mainly because I don’t drink, so was happy to ferry a tipsy Husband from distillery to distillery.

So other than drive from distillery to distillery (which I’ll be covering in a future post), what else did we do?  Not much to be honest.  With only two full days on the island, Husband wanted to maximise his whisky tasting time but we did manage to see a few non-whisky related places.

On our first night, we went up to Bowmore for a little wander around and some pizza at Peatzeria (good pun).  It was surprisingly busy for a Monday night and we ended up getting one of the last tables which I was relieved about as it would have been a shame to miss out on tasty pizza.  Bowmore has a lot of lovely little shops which were all closed as we were there late, but it’s definitely somewhere to get cute souvenirs as well as more every-day items.

The second night, we were too tired to go out so we ended up in the Port Ellen Co-op and cobbling something together to cook back at home.  I won’t tell you what we ended up with as it’s so pathetic (in our defence, the Co-op isn’t that big).  We did want to try the Sea Salt Bistro but instead tried their sister restaurant Yan’s Kitchen for lunch on our last day where I had an amazing burger.

My two favourite things about Islay:

  • The empty landscape.  There are a few “main” roads across the island but you can drive for miles and see nothing but fields.  Following the coast down to Port Charlotte, you’re right next to the sea.  When you’re not on a main road, you’re on a single track lane going through farmland.  There’s just nothing and I adore it.
  • The people.  I don’t want to being a patronising mainlander who just thinks everyone is sooo cute and quaint but every single person we came across was incredible friendly.  People wave at you as you’re driving along – other drivers and pedestrians – and I very quickly got used to waving back.  It felt really jarring to be back at home where people aren’t so nice.

What a phenomenal island.

Islay – Where We Stayed

For the past year, I have been planning a surprise trip for Husband’s big birthday (I won’t reveal the number – let’s pretend it was 30).  He was not involved in any of the planning and I managed to keep the secret all the way up until our final leg of the trip, so honestly, I am feeling pretty smug about what I managed to pull off.

On our very first trip to Edinburgh 4 years ago, Husband discovered Islay whisky, and became quickly fascinated by all the different elements that go into making the iconic whisky.  Since then, he’s been working his way through all the different brands that make this small island their home. so there really was only one place to take him.

And it certainly helps that Islay is one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever visited.

More about the island in the next few posts, but this first one is about the place we stayed.  I have a reputation amongst friends and family for obsessively seeking out unusual places to stay (exhibit Aexhibit B, exhibit C to name a few) so of course I spent weeks – months – finding the most perfect property.  And I found a gem (here comes that smug feeling again).

This small but ever so beautiful turf roofed lodge is called Tigh Na Uiseag (which I think means house of the lark) and I found it on Airbnb.  I haven’t ever used Airbnb before so was a little nervous of booking, but I had no reason to be – Richard the host was a delight, so generous and helpful.  We couldn’t have wished for a better first Airbnb experience.

There are many places to chose from on Islay from B&Bs, to self-catering, to hotels, but there were a couple of things that helped me choose Tigh Na Uiseag – the overwhelmingly positive reviews, the Scandinavian-inspired decor (an Arne Jacobson chair!) and the view.  My god, what a view.And if you zoom in at the centre…

Husband’s favourite distillery, Laphroaig.  This post could just be a million photos of the view as we spent most of the time in the house just looking out the window, but then you’d miss out on the beautiful interior.

I didn’t photograph it, but the bathroom was amazing as well – Molton Brown toiletries, White Company bathrobes, and the most phenomenal shower I have ever used in my life.

There were so many thoughtful touches which made our stay even more wonderful – a book of short stories on the bedside tables, home-baked bread, eggs and bacon in the fridge,  and a cute pot of delicious marmalade which we ate whilst watching the ferry arrive in the morning.

Sadly, our stay was too short – a drawback of working in Higher Education with an August birthday is that annual leave is a little difficult – but we will definitely be returning for a longer stay.  As you’ll see from my next few posts, we still have so many distilleries left to visit…

Mr Jones Sample Sale 2018 and collection update!

I have lost control of my Mr Jones Watches collection a little bit.

A quick summary for those new to my obsession – London based Mr Jones creates the most beautiful watches, and is always coming up with new designs that I just have to own.  I’m pretty sure I’m now up to 14 in total, although to be honest, I can’t be certain.

I started off with this post all about my first watch.  And then I bought number two and three.  Covered off four, five, and six on one busy day last year.  Quickly followed up with number seven.  Eight, nine, and ten had to be done to celebrate their 10th birthday.  And eleven appeared one Christmas.

Which brings us up to number twelve, with thirteen & fourteen from this year’s sample sale.

A couple of months ago, Husband was in a very happy mood so treated me to The Hidden City, a beautifully serene design featuring London’s green parrots.  I got number 44 which pleased me immensely – 4 is my lucky number.  Such a gorgeous watch.

Onto the sample sale.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit the store on two occasions for their sample sales in the past.  It’s a good opportunity to get a rare watch, or a variation on their current stock.  Personally, I love the chance to find old watches that I haven’t seen before.  For 2018, it was online only – no queuing outside the store, no complaints from those who couldn’t even get to the store.  I was going to be in the middle of a hair salon appointment, so I had visions of me scrolling through the website whilst my poor stylist tried to cut my hair.  Fortunately at the time the sale went live, I was waiting for the bleach to develop so had stress free shopping – phew!

I feel very bad for MJW as unfortunately there were a few stroppy and mean spirited people posting on social media about the sale.  I personally didn’t have a problem with the technical snafu on the website as I just used my common sense plus I also accept that the nature of online sales means that you shouldn’t get too fixated on a specific item because that is when you’re going to be disappointed.  It’s unfortunate to miss out on the watch you want, but there is zero point bitching and moaning about it – some people were saying they would never shop there ever again, or that their whole day was ruined.  Oh please, how ridiculous.

Anyway, my purchases.  The first one I saw sadly got yoinked out of my basket before I was able to purchase it (the black colourways of the Cyclops, and I didn’t whinge about losing it) but I quickly saw two others that I was more than happy with.

The super cute Late Again – there was a choice of two, either one with exclamation marks or one that had “oh no” on the dial.  I preferred the exclamation marks.  It reminds me of The Accurate (but significantly less intense).  It’s just so bright and happy, and I smile every time I look down at my wrist.

I absolutely adore my second purchase – Good Things.  It’s so simple, so clean, and it has unusual blue stitching on it which I love.  And unless you’re looking at the right time, it’s completely nonsensical.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

This watch is a little more beaten up than the other- you can tell it’s been worn or wrapped around something as the leather strap is curved and a little cracked.  The back is also a little scratched up – I’m not so fussed about that as it’s the price you pay for having a sample.  They make it very clear that there may be signs of wear or tear.

By the way, I’m assuming the dial is 24 hours, however I’m not 100% sure.  As I’ve said before, who wants to use their watch to do something as prosaic as tell the time.  That’s just so very boring.

July 2018 Things

Oh hello there.  I haven’t posted for a month, and to be honest, I haven’t done that much this month either.  My work life over-shadowed pretty much everything as I had the big scary audit that people in my sector dread.

But I got through it, and now the pressure is off (a little).  Just in time for the new academic year prep.  When can I retire?

The Weather
I do not like hot weather (let’s ignore the fact I go to Miami every year…) so July has been hell on earth for me.  How people can deny climate change is beyond me – it was 32 degrees in my office by 10am last week, please don’t tell me this is normal.

Is August going to be cooler?  I bloody hope so.

The Cosy Club
As a reward for getting through the audit, my manager took us out for dinner at the newly opened Cosy Club in Guildford.  I have visited their Exeter restaurant for brunch, and was very excited when the manager there told is they’d be opening in Guildford “soon”.  That conversation was two years ago and I was beginning to give up hope – it’s so great they’ve managed to make it work!

My favourite thing about the Cosy Club is their non-alcoholic drinks menu.  As someone who isn’t a huge booze fan, a varied mocktail menu is very much appreciated.  So much so, that I had to go back a week or so later with another friend.

Their Pink Lemonade is dreamy.  I could do with some of that right now.

New New Glasses
So last month I bought myself some new glasses and decried that I wasn’t sure I liked them.  As the weeks went on, I decided I definitely didn’t like them so bought a gorgeous Kate Spade pair from Glasses Direct.

Anyone who says that they are basically exactly the same as my original glasses is 100% right wrong.

Injury fun
Husband was away for work again at the end of July, so I had a lot of alone time.  I am very happy with my own company, but the only time I worry is when I injure myself, like last Friday night when I slipped over backwards in my garden, smashed my the back of my head on the ground, and oddly badly cut and bruised my foot.  I really thought I’d properly done some damage and having him 8000 miles away isn’t particularly helpful.

The bruising is quite incredible.

Burger Mania
I love a Byron burger, and I had two this month – one in a hotel room the night before a workshop, and one on a spontaneous trip to London with my Mum.  We did our normal shopping route – Liberty, Fenwicks, and House of Fraser where I bought some beautiful Butterfly Twist flats and then I persuaded her to walk a little further up to the Byron at Langham Place.

June 2018 Things

Oh June, what a mixed month you were.  I thought it would just be an average month, albeit with a couple of excellent trips planned, but that all changed right in the middle with some very stressful work news (I’m being deliberately abstract).  Needless to say, ending the month with by working 10 hours a day was not where I saw myself.

We did get the “premium” catering for a workshop the other day though, so it’s not all bad.

Fun Home at the Young Vic
Think of Bechdel when you need to embalm.

Flight of the Conchords at The O2
Have you ever been asked if your hair is a wig?

Schitt’s Creek
On the face of it, this does not look like my type of show – a wealthy family lose all their money and are forced to live in a run-down, small town motel.  However, with Husband away for work for most of the month, I quickly ran out of Netflix shows to watch so gave the first episode a go.  Inexplicably, I became addicted and watched all 4 seasons in a week and a half.

It would be easy to see the characters as stereotypes, and that’s definitely how it started, but there’s such a charm to them all.  Catherine O’Hara’s portrayal of Moira was the main reason why I continued watching, but I then fell in love with Dan Levy and Annie Murphy.  The show has rarely made me laugh out loud, but has made me teary on a couple of occasions which is why I’ve continued watching -there’s a surprising amount of heart.

Winter Boots
Considering we’re in a ridiculous heatwave at the moment, it seems a bit odd that I’ve bought some boots, but these glorious Grenson Annie boots were on sale and I couldn’t say no.

Just need it to be cold now please.

New Glasses
My left eye had got super twitchy recently, and an eye test showed that my prescription had changed slightly so I got some new specs.  Whilst the twitching has subsided, I’m not sure I actually like the glasses.  One – they’re by Kylie Minogue.  Two – they’re called Spinning Around.  Three – the arms are silver glitter.

I was hoping for something cool and minimalist, and somehow ended up with a pair that border on crazy.  Why is it so hard to buy a pair of glasses?!?!

Flight of the Conchords – London 2018

Last weekend had all the makings of a disaster.

I’ll take you back to October 2017.  Flight of the Conchords had just announced a UK tour – their first since we saw them in 2010.  The day the tickets went on sale, Ticketmaster revealed itself to be the truly awful garbage company it is, and we very nearly didn’t get tickets but thank goodness for random internet clicking and an extra date being announced.  A gif party ensued in the group chat.

About two weeks before the gig, it was postponed – poor Bret McKenzie had fallen down some stairs and broken his hand.  They rescheduled to June, which unfortunately ruled out two people from our group of 5 – boo!

June came around, bones were still in tact, new people were added to our party – all seemed fine.  Well, except the fairly major crisis that happened at work which meant I couldn’t get the day off, I had a stressful train ride into London, an even more stressful tube ride over to the O2, and then a tense wait outside the venue for the 5th person to arrive (late).  I genuinely wasn’t looking forward to the gig.  At all.

Thank god I didn’t give up because the gig was AMAZING (sorry Ryan).

As I sat with Husband, Tim, and two of Husband’s people waiting for Bret and Jermaine to come on stage, I really couldn’t imagine how this gig would work in the objectively too big O2 Arena.  How could New Zealand’s fourth most popular duo possibly fill the stage without losing their down to earth, self-deprecating vibe?

Quite brilliantly as it turns out.  There were no flashy sets, no costume changes – just two guys with their instruments (sometimes with a third guy – Nigel, the “New Zealand Symphony Orchestra”), and fantastic camera work which picked up on every subtlety that happened between the two of them, like Jermaine’s blank face during the middle of Foux Du Fafa.

Terrible photo as my phone isn’t that great, but we had good seats.  Would have been nicer to have been closer, but we were lucky to get tickets at all so I can’t complain too much!

Surprisingly, there were a lot of new songs, including a song about Deana from HR and Ian from Accounting which made me howl with laughter.  Some people were disappointed that classics like Business Time were left out, but the new stuff was just as catchy.  One of the songs had a truly insane recorder solo and I would have hated to have missed out on that.  Even the old classics seemed better, like the mash-up of Mother Uckers and Hurt Feelings where I suddenly realised that Bret’s voice is phenomenal.

Towards the end of the show, Jermaine started to get frustrated with someone who kept yelling for them to play Jenny, a song I don’t really remember (and apparently, the band don’t remember it well either).  I don’t know if this was part of the act or if he genuinely was getting irritated, but I laughed so much as Bret chastised him for his anger.  The badinage between the two of them was as hilarious as ever, with conversations about how Jermaine is Captain Fun, the time they both got stuck in a lift, and how their cushions kept falling of their seats.  There was even a good old Brexit reference (Bret-xit and Jermainers) and a bit of sarcasm on the Millennium Dome which made me lol as that’s what I still call The O2.

I can’t say I’d be keen to go back to The O2 again, but I am so happy to have seen FOTC again.  I really need a live album now – I think a HBO special is on its way – and I’ve had the whole set list stuck in my head since the gig.  As we battled through the tube crowds to get to our hotel in the City of London, I realised with joy that I had captured my favourite song moment from The Humans Are dead on my phone:

Binary solo!
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Fun Home at the Young Vic

I have learnt that if Tim offers me a spare ticket to a theatre show, I should say always say yes.  Back in April, he text me to ask if I was interested in seeing Fun Home, and I hadn’t actually heard of it before but when I realised it was at the Young Vic, I was super excited.  The only other play I have seen at the Young Vic was Yerma which was phenomenal, so if Fun Home was even 10% as good, then I was guaranteed a good evening.

Fortunately, it was fantastic (just ever so slightly less gut wrenching than Yerma).

Of course, I know who Alison Bechdel is, but I didn’t know much more about her than the basics – the comic book artist who has a very iconic test named after her.  Fun Home is a musical adaptation of Alison’s memoir, and if you had described to me the subject of her memoir, I would have told you that I couldn’t see how this could possibly make a good musical (spoiler alert – that is wrong).

In the present day, Alison is drawing her memoirs and thinking back to two periods of her life – as a little girl living in Pennsylvania with her parents and two brothers, and as a freshman at college when she comes out amidst the shocking revelation that her Father is also gay.

I fell in love with every Alison – they all played her so perfectly and it’s hard to pick my favourite.  I loved watching the older Alison watch the action on stage – picking apart her own memories with the benefit of hindsight, realising that her Dad wasn’t going out to get a newspaper or that he wasn’t just driving that boy home.  Kaisa Hammarlund is captivating.

Eleanor Kane plays Medium Alison with just the right amount of awkwardness and naivety, falling in love with her first girlfriend and coming to terms with her Father’s sexuality at the same time as figuring out her own.  Her first night with Joan was so beautiful, and my heart was right there with her as she sung about wanting to change her major to Joan.

Our Small Alison was played by Harriet Turnbull who absolutely slayed me with one line in particular – “Do you feel my heart saying hi” from Ring of Keys sung with such sweetness and yearning.  Oh my gosh, I felt physically winded when I heard it!

There was a classic set trick which I won’t spoil as I think it’s more fun for the entire audience to gasp with delight when it’s revealed.  The crew should be very proud with what they have created.  The music was understated, but very in your face when it needed to be.  Everything just worked.  OK, so there wasn’t a happy ending, but sometimes you’re at a point in your life where a little sadness provides a bit of catharsis.

It’s on until September, so go see it!

Gianni’s at The Villa, South Beach


Yep, Gianni Versace’s mansion.

Before our trip to Miami, we were looking for somewhere special to celebrate my Mum’s big birthday.  We had also become obsessed with The Assassination of Gianni Versace.  These two seemingly unrelated elements led to us discovering that Versace’s former house on Ocean Drive had been converted into a hotel and restaurant so we just had to book a table at Gianni’s – the restaurant at The Villa Casa Casuarina.

The villa has had a complicated history – built back in the 1930s, converted into apartments shortly after and had its ups and downs before Versace bought it in the 1990s who converted back into one mansion.  He also bought the property next door and created a beautiful outdoor space (although not without controversy).  After his death, it continued to have a troubled existence, but seems to have been a little more stable since opening as a hotel a couple of years ago.  It’s definitely earned its iconic status.

South Beach at night really isn’t my style.  I’ve never really been into partying or bar hopping and this is pretty much South Beach’s primary purpose (it’s why we’ve enjoyed our hotel up in Surfside).  But Gianni’s was definitely worth the effort.  We decided to splash out on an Uber Lux, and pulling up to the front of the villa in a big fancy GMC… car (I’m not good with American cars) felt really special.

We were shown in to the restaurant at the front of the hotel – there were a couple of different areas dotted around the ground floor including the terrace and poolside and whilst it would have been amazing to sit out by the pool, it started raining about half an hour into our meal so we were happy to be inside!

Whilst we waited for our food to arrive, Mum and I scampered around looking at the beautiful decor.  It was outrageously over the top and not remotely my taste, but that’s exactly why I loved it!  The staff were happy for customers to walk around, but didn’t allow tourists – one couple were asked to either book a table or leave as it wasn’t a “tourist attraction” which I did appreciate (mostly because it made it easier for us to look around).

The food itself was expensive of course, but very enjoyable.  There’s obviously a premium for being in such an amazing location, but we all ate really well.  I wasn’t going to have dessert, but couldn’t resist trying a red chocolate mousse.  It was phenomenal.

Gianni's red chocolate mousseI will confess that I had fairly low expectations – I had a preconceived idea on what the food and service would be like, but we had such an unexpectedly great evening!  It’s nice to go fancy every once in a while.

After the meal, we took a wander down Ocean Drive to see the art deco buildings lit up at night.

Really very pretty, but the rest of the strip just confirmed what I’ve always thought – South Beach at night isn’t for me.  Interesting, but definitely not for me.  Wow.

 

May 2018 Things

Most of May was consumed by Miami – planning, doing, and commiserating.  What else though?

Cats
I have always been a dog person, but over the last few months, I’ve been trying to become friends with our neighbours’ cats.  The two ginger cats appeared in our garden a couple of months ago when they were just tiny kittens, but haven’t seemed that interested in me.  After taking some advice from some cat fans, I persevered and was finally rewarded with some cuddles.

I knew he’d love me in the end!

Weekend of Culture
A couple of weeks before our holiday, Husband and I had an overnight in London where we managed to fit in theatre, art, and shopping.  Every so often, London can be a fun place to visit.

Bron/Broen season 4
It feels like I have been waiting decades for the final season of The Bridge (I just checked – it’s been 3 years!) but it’s finally started broadcasting on BBC2.  I’ve missed Saga Norén – there isn’t anyone like her.  And whilst he’s not Martin, Henrik has grown on me.  I can’t wait to see how they end the series.

Miami
Of course.  The longer I’m away, the more I want to go back.

Sephora
Even though this was part of my Miami trip, I think it deserves a separate mention.  I ended up visiting three Sephora’s on my trip – the first one in Aventura Mall didn’t have any Beauty Insider rewards, but did have most of the stuff I wanted to try; the second was actually in JC Penney in Aventura Mall and had a lot of exclusive gift sets which surprised me; and the third was at Brickell and I managed to finally spend my points.

Favourites from my haul so far have been the Peter Thomas Roth Cloud Cream and the SuperGoop kit (I love Supergoop!) and will happily buy these again.