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Monday, 17 November 2014

Owl Guy: Buying a flat!

Renovation ideas London

As Candy has previously mentioned we are currently at one of those big life landmarks, becoming homeowners. But before we get into all the fun posts about interior decorating I am going to talk about the joy of actually trying to buy a house, or at least our experience. Now a quick disclaimer, this is by no means a generalisation, merely how it went down for us.

We started looking for places about a year ago, it was pretty disheartening initially since we had wanted to try and find something near our flat in South London. However, we quickly realised that London house prices being what they are we had no hope of finding something nice. We started looking at other areas and while much of London is painfully expensive there are lots of nice areas that are much more reasonable. After putting in a few offers on various places and getting outbid we put in an offer on a little place by London City Airport, we really liked it, super cute and a really interesting location (great for Candy’s love of aeroplanes). After quite a nailbiting wait the bank approved our mortgage application and we thought everything was going to work out. Alas upon the bank valuing the property they decided it wasn’t worth as much as we had offered and so they wouldn’t give us as much money as we needed which meant that we couldn’t go ahead with the purchase. We were pretty devastated at the time and did a lot of “grieving”, but in hindsight it seems to have worked out for the best.

After that, getting back into the house hunting game was pretty hard. It is hard to psych yourself up about something after a disappointment like that, but we did and after a few weeks break we started looking again. Around the end of March I went to a viewing in a Victorian terrace conversion flat, it was in pretty bad condition, woodchip wallpaper and artex everywhere and the kitchen ceiling was falling down, but it felt like with a bit (or it turns out, A LOT) of work it could be really nice. I got Candy to come and take a look and she totally agreed (yay!). Anyway, then began negotiations… Now I won’t get into too much detail here but the lease on the flat was short (which in the business means less than 80 years apparently…) and so we agreed that we would buy the flat only if they extended the lease first (because otherwise the bank wouldn’t give us a mortgage… notice a recurring theme). The seller agreed and so we were all set, we got the mortgage approved and were expecting to complete by the end of June, but wait! The lease! It turns out extending a lease is a painfully frustrating legal process... Coupled with all the lawyers going on summer holidays, we didn’t actually get the lease sorted until the end of October! So finally, about 5 months of constant emails and phonecalls we had bought a house!

So now we are in the process of renovating it so we can move in, I won’t give away any of the interior decor, since that will be in other posts, but I will say that watching the transformation is incredible. So watch this space, we are hoping to move in by Christmas and it will be the best present after what has been a completely exhausting year!

"Owl Guy" is a (nearly) monthly series written by my husband Dan, in which he chats about what we've been up to recently!

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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Perfect Banana Bread - a text message recipe

Easiest banana loaf recipe

Sometimes I have a craving for some really specific foodstuff from my childhood. Now that my mum and dad both live abroad, I've had to make do with asking them for recipes rather than popping home for a dose of home cooking. It's at times like this that I will send one of them a frantic text saying something like this, "Dad, I need to know how you make that leek and ginger soup you used to force me to eat all winter when I was a child! It's urgent!" or "Mum can you tell me your recipe for banana loaf again - I've lost it..."

Thankfully, both of my parents are fairly tech savvy and understand the importance of urgent food cravings, so I usually get a response fairly quickly. They are both excellent cooks too - the kind of cooks who can just open up the fridge and make something fantastic, no matter what they find inside. I hope that one day I will acquire this skill - Dan is a bit better than me at this right now. I'm too scared of failure. Anyway, before this turns into a self-flagellation-fest, here's the response that I got when I sent my mum a text asking for her banana loaf recipe a few months ago:

easy banana bread recipe


So, you've got Owl Mother to thank for this one - although she probably prefers to go by 'Karen' since that is her name! This recipe is not very consistent with its measurements but there are plenty of nifty conversion tools online if you want to make it into cups or ounces or something like that. And yes, I did text my mum "<3 Ur a goody". It was (semi) ironic, I swear!

- 2/3 mashed bananas (we always mash ours with a fork)
- 2 tablespoons of margarine (you can use butter, but this recipe works really well with marg)
- 125 grams of caster sugar (I use golden, but white works too).
- 200 grams of self raising flour! (this is important!)
- 3 eggs (medium)
- Chocolate chips (as many as you want! I used a whole packet!)
- A pinch of nutmeg (you can replace with cinnamon or leave out altogether if you like).
- A pinch of salt.

Make sure you preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius/Gas Mark 4/350 degrees Fahrenheit! The basic method that my mum and I always follow is to start by creaming the butter and sugar together, before adding all of the other wet ingredients and mixing it up into a big gloopy yellow mess. Then we add the flour bit by bit until it's all incorporated. My mum says you can add a bit more flour if you think it's too wet, but like she said in her text, this is a pretty wet mixture, so don't stress out about it too much! Pour the mixture into a greased non-stick loaf tin, and pop it in the oven for about an hour. I always check mine with a skewer or knife after about 45 minutes to make sure it's cooking nicely, and then keep checking it every ten(ish) minutes until the skewer comes out clean (except for melted chocolate!) and it is ready! Pop it out of the loaf tin and onto a cooling rack before gobbling it all up with a pot of Earl Grey.

fresh banana bread

chocolate banana loaf recipe

This recipe is so easy, that you can pretty much whip it up WHILE dinner is cooking! A favourite Friday night tradition with my mum is to make tuna pasta bake and banana loaf all at once, and then devour them both whilst watching sitcoms on the television. I've tried so many banana bread recipes and none of them work quite as consistently as my mum's classic! So my question for you is this - do you have any 'family recipes' in your household? Are your dad's roast potatoes the best in the land? Does your grandpa make the most intense margaritas you've ever tasted? (Probably not - that's Dan's Nonno's territory!) I'd love to know if you've got any culinary secrets in your family!

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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

October's Greatest Hits

serene brighton seaside

So welcome to November guys! I hope you all had a wonderfully Autumnal, slightly spooky, productive, healthy, happy October. My October has been pretty memorable, and very surreal in parts, and a lot has happened, so here's the low-down.

October's memorable moment

countryside sunday walk

The latter half of October has been a frenzy of work-related stress, last-minute tickets to shows and events, and of course, finally buying our flat, so I am finding myself drawn to mention some of the more serene moments from the beginning of October, such as walking along Brighton beach and watching the sun go down, filling our lungs with fresh air in the fields near Dan's parents' house, or reminiscing about all of the weird things I've collected over the years.

I was also lucky enough to attend an event to celebrate the UK launch of a fashion app called The Hunt, where I got to meet up with some of my blogging pals Angelica and Charlotte, as well as meeting the bloggers behind the fellow Owlishly named blog Two Little Owls, and ogling Rosie Fortescue from Made in Chelsea from afar. The venue was half aeroplane-themed and half 70s disco-themed. A bizarre yet winning combo in my opinion.

October's Instagram moments

countryside living cambridge skyline
kings cross commute twentysomething homeowners

This month, I indulged my rural side, admired the Cambridge skyline from the top of a multi-storey car park (some of the best views are from the top of car parks - pro-tip!), continued to commute to work on the ricketiest trains imaginable, and... bought a flat. Say whaaaaaaaa......?!

Songs on repeat in October

I have to say, I've definitely been on the Taylor Swift bandwagon this month. I made a decision some time ago, to stop being a snob about popular music, and to just enjoy it. Gone are the days when I tut and shake my head at a song just because it is popular rather than tapping my feet and nodding my head because I actually appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into creating it. Plus, in the case of Taylor Swift, you can see such personal progression and development when you listen to all of her albums back to back, which I really enjoy. I'm not going to write an essay about her here (although I totally could), but if you're one of the 0.5 people who hasn't already listened to Out of the Woods then you should get your act together and experience its dark synthy nostalgia now. I've also been listening to Starman by David Bowie because I was recently reminded of the time I begged my Dad to call up the local radio and request it, but they didn't have it so they played me Rebel Rebel instead. I was about eight years old, and I was so angry that they didn't have the entire Bowie back catalogue. HOW DARE.

Blogs I've loved this month

My friend Freya is a very eloquent and very beautiful young woman who writes with painfully sharp accuracy about how it feels to live with a mental illness. I've known Freya for a very long time and I thought I'd give her new blog a bit of exposure here because she has a lot to say and I think that it's really important to read first-hand accounts of things like depression and anxiety, whether you suffer from these things personally or not. It's good to know that someone feels the same way that you do, if you do feel that way, and it's vital that you begin to understand how people live with mental illness if you are a mentally well person. That said, if you are triggered by frank discussion of mental illness, it's probably best to give this a miss for the moment.

Another blog I've loved this month (and will love foreverrrrr) is A Certain Adventure by my new friend Tamsin. We were both at Cambridge but managed to miss one another until recently when we stumbled into one another through the internet. Tamsin writes about food and frolics and all of the fun that I absolutely love to read about, and she is just so friendly! So you should definitely give her blog a read!

What was your highlight, this October? And tell me if you did anything exciting for Hallowe'en, because I didn't even dress up in the end! Everything was so hectic!

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Monday, 27 October 2014

On being three dimensional

black and white glasses

Maybe it came from reading too many Enid Blyton school stories as a child, but I spent a large portion of my pre-teen and adolescent years worrying that I hadn't found 'my thing'. Each of the girls at Malory Towers had a special talent or trait for which they were known and which marked them out as distinctive and special. As far as I could see, I didn't have one of those at all. I longed to be 'the musical genius' or 'the beautiful one', and every year before the school year began, I'd make list after list of the traits I'd adopt and the way I would be this year. Time after time, I'd fail to become the two-dimensional character I longed to be, as my own human, multifaceted self could not be suppressed. Part of the problem of course, was that I had so many 'things'. I was musical, I was academic, I was energetic, I was sociable, I was a clown... And I could never decide which one I wanted to be the most. I had to pick one didn't I? Teen magazines were constantly encouraging us to pigeonhole ourselves with flow-charts and quizzes. What 'type' of girl are you?

Looking back, I am saddened to remember the anguish I put myself through as I tried to puzzle out what 'my thing' could be, and as I'd punish myself for failing to fit into whatever arbitrary category I'd chosen to strive for each time. What saddens me even more though, is that I am still prone to this way of thinking, even now as an adult. There are so many things I still want to be, even though the adult world appears to be the ever-narrowing of fields and the closing of doors. Even within the blogging world, we're told to choose a niche for ourselves if we want any chance of becoming successful. Are you a beauty blogger? Are you a fashion blogger? Are you a food blogger? Do you travel enough to really call yourself a travel blogger?

I've become really interested in how we form our identities, during the process of trying to accept myself as a three dimensional individual. Identity is so heavily attached to the idea of 'belonging', and we draw near to those who like what we like, and who do what we do, our identities like magnets. I like to hang out with people who have similar political ideologies as me, and I love the feeling when I meet someone who has read my favourite book or enjoyed my favourite song. It's important to bond with people who are similar to us, but of course there are dangers attached to marking others out as 'different'. Especially if there is a value judgement attached to that assumption.

"Be yourself" is a common thing that adults say to teenagers and young people. While I see what the phrase is trying to say, I have always found it to be vastly naive and incredibly damaging. How on earth can a teenage girl be expected to 'be herself' when she's expected to be so many things all at once, and she doesn't even really know who/what "herself" is? "Be yourself" sounds so absolute, so concrete... as though "yourself" is a fixed concept that can be distilled, put into a glass vial and held up to the light. I wholeheartedly reject that concept, although I am its victim as much as anyone else.

So before this post becomes any more of an essay of existential nonsense, here's a list. If you can figure out who I "am", then do let me know, because I'm almost a quarter of a century old, and I haven't figured it out yet! I'm all of these... I'm none of these... I'm so much more than any of these...

I am

A writer - a diarist - a musician - a feminist - creative - nostalgic - contemplative - anxious - energetic - lethargic - melancholy - vulgar - a redhead - short sighted - fair-skinned - a digital native - a blogger - a wife - a cat-lover - a woman - a Cambridge University graduate - an ex-teacher - shorter than average - green-eyed - half-Australian - an older sister - a tea-drinker - accident prone - self-doubting - magical - an individual with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome - comedic - sociable - a foodie - whimsical - sensible - sensitive - a daughter - a travel obsessive...

So those were just a few of my thoughts. Normal posting shall resume during the week - there's a twee-as-hell banana loaf recipe coming up, so don't worry, guys. I've not completely lost it. Yet.

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Thursday, 23 October 2014

A walk in the countryside

Autumn country walk

I could get used to this country lifestyle. No amount of mooching about in Hyde Park, or frolicking in the greener parts of South London can really replace the fresh air and sense of infinite freedom I get from donning my biggest, clumpiest Dr Marten boots and trudging through some mud, taking in huge lungfuls of cool, clean air. Hampstead Heath comes close, but even that doesn't quite hit the spot.

Late Autumn is my absolute favourite time for country walks, because there's nothing in the fields that would give me hay-fever, and it is the perfect temperature outside to bundle up in lots of knitted layers to keep warm before coming home rosy-cheeked and windswept to a toasty house and something hearty to eat.

And that's exactly what Dan and I did last weekend. We set off through the churchyard, and up the lane past the local farm equipment, before winding our way through some woods and along a little stream. We stopped by the side of the stream to sit with a flask of tea, watching the crows peck around the fields. And do you know what? I think we might go for another walk this weekend!

Countryside horizon UK
Cosy autumn outfits
Cambridgeshire fields
Cambridge stream walk
Ginger woman in England
Scary sheep gangland
mushroom hunting in Cambridgeshire
shrivelled leg woman
Autumn sunset England
Autumn knitwear fashion
A lovely walk in cambridge

Jumper and scarf - Both H&M


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Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Mock Turtle - delightful tea rooms in Brighton

best tearoom brighton

Stepping through the door of this traditional tea room in the centre of Brighton has been a complete delight to me for over 20 years now. For as long as I can remember, despite changes in ownership and expansion into the next building over, The Mock Turtle has fulfilled the same role in the Brighton cafe scene - it was doing twee before 'twee' was in style, darling! My parents would take me here when I was little, for a treat of toasted teacakes - I continued to visit through my teenage years, and still make an effort to stop off for a spot of tea whenever I'm in Brighton because it is just such a pleasure to eat here, even now!

twee decor cafe interior
vintage cash register
big vintage mirror brighton
Antique aesthetic decor

The crowded, mismatched decor and super-antique atmosphere in the Mock Turtle should not fool you into thinking that the service and the food are anything less than top notch here. There's a vast array of freshly baked cakes, pastries and scones on the menu, as well as tasty lunch snacks such as Welsh Rarebit (which is a gooey, fonduey cheese mixture on toast, in case you've not heard of it before) and cooked breakfasts.

Dan and I shared a deliciously traditional Welsh Rarebit (which we greedily wolfed down before we had a chance to photograph it) before indulging in a cream tea for dessert. We thought that we'd do a very scientific experiment and decide once and for all, which kind of scone is best, out of the Devonshire and Cornwall styles. There's an age old friendly (I think it's friendly anyway) rivalry between Devon and Cornwall regarding the correct way to assemble a scone with jam and cream. In Devon, they put the clotted cream on the scone first, followed by a dollop of jam, whereas in Cornwall, the jam is spread on the scone first, and then a thick layer of cream is liberally applied on top. Dan prefers the Devon method and I prefer the Cornwall method, so I can't say we came to any particular conclusions in our experiment!

Cream and Jam pots
Devonshire Cream Tea
Cornish Cream Teas

I'd really recommend visiting The Mock Turtle cafe if you're ever in Brighton. I've loved it since I was a child, and I'm clearly not alone, as they've expanded into a much bigger tea room recently. The prices are still incredibly reasonable (doubly so if you're used to sky-high London prices) and you get fantastically generous portions. You can find the Mock Turtle on Pool Valley in Brighton (BN1 1NJ). Let me know if you ever visit this tea room because it'll make me so happy!

Which type of scone do you prefer? Devon or Cornwall? And if you're not from the UK, exactly how ridiculous does this rivalry sound? Is there anything similar where you're from?

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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Why do we think sunsets are pretty?

Brighton Skyline

Last Saturday, I took my husband to visit one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I've watched the sun set in so many different countries all around the world, and even so many places in Great Britain, and I am moved by every sunset I see - perhaps I am sentimental, but I can't think of a sunset that I find so profoundly sublime as the one you can see from Brighton beach.

We walked two and a half miles along the promenade, alongside the crashing waves and the salt-tumbled pebbles, as the sun dipped lower and lower in the sky, before sinking down just far enough to touch the horizon. We watched its final descent below the surface from a bench in front of a neat little row of beach huts which were bathed in the amber glow reflecting from the clouds as the sun descended.

This year has been one of the hardest so far - nothing has been certain, we've had to leave our home, and it has been deeply unsettling not to know what the immediate future holds, even though we do have each other. Looking at a sunset and letting one of the planet's most every day (literally) occurrences overwhelm me was more soothing than I could have ever expected. The sun sets every single day. It is beautiful. Every single day.

What does the sunset look like where you live? And why do you think humans seem to all agree universally that a sunset is pretty?

Sunlight dog
beach silhouettes
Sunset beach huts brighton
Sunset paradise UK

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