Category Archives: Shopping

How to find a nice pair of shoes when your feet resemble paddles or where to get a pair of wide fitting shoes

Search, search and search the internet bringing up ugly shoe after ugly shoe and then…BINGO. The title of this post could be a little misleading as I’m only going to talk about one, very exciting, source of wide fitting shoes.

I have an issue, I’m quite particular about what I wear. I may not strike you as the fussy type, I mean..no offence to me but, I don’t immediately come across as a particularly well dressed, stylish kinda gal. But I am, in my head. The problem is that I don’t fit into the things that are available on the high street that are aimed at my sort of demographic and the things that I do fit into are not, well, me. My shoe of choice is a Converse low top (and that has completely informed the way that I dress), but, I’m shoe mad. I can’t travel to work without appreciating at least one pair of shoes and I’m forever on the hunt for the shoes that I lust after in a size that, at least, almost fit.

Enter Shoes of Prey, an Australian based company that was started in 2009 by two Google execs, and one advertising and law exec with a vision and the gumption to do something about it (unlike me, who has toyed with the idea of setting up some sort of shoe company, to address my shoe woes, for years).

I ummed and aahed about the ridiculousness of getting a pair of custom made shoes from Australia and then I thought, sod it, they offer a stupidly good returns policy. In the end it felt like a bit of a no-brainer.

You can get an idea of the kind of shoes you could design but in order to actually start designing your ‘dream’ shoes, you have to set up an account – which is no biggie really. Once I’d set up my account I got started, taking one of their standard templates, the ballet pump, and seeing what it would look like in different colours and fabrics, with this trim or without. I looked at their galleries, for inspiration (because, it turns out, shoe designing doesn’t come that naturally to me) and watched lots of their videos.

You can save your designs as you go, building up a library of shoes, and I don’t think that there’s a limit to how many shoes you can have in your library so you can properly compare looks. I really wanted to design a bold pair of shoes but I thought it would be best to go with something that I could wear everyday that had a slight edge to it and ta daaaa….

At the ordering stage you can specify things like EXTRA WIDE fitting, but you can’t give further details (which feels a little worrying) but once your order has been received, Shoes of Prey get in touch with instructions for measuring your feet and then, that’s it. Just the month long wait for delivery.

Except…, I got an email to say that my shoes had been fast-tracked (I suspect that they do that with all new orderers) with a photo of my actual finished shoes. Which was REALLY exciting.

When the shoes arrived I was so, absolutely excited. And, they were packaged so beautifully – everything about them felt special and (sorry, I know it sounds shallow but…), the instant that I put them on I felt like the proper grown-up woman that I want to be.

Package left on my desk.

Waiting for me on my desk one morning.

And so begins a little game of pass the parcel (with me as the only unwrapper!).

SOP first layer SOP second layer SOP third layer

There was another layer, the shoes in a lovely little shoe bag, but my photo of that is really, really crap.

Tee hee. This makes them look as though they're longer and significantly bigger than my keyboard.

This makes the shoes look as though they’re longer and significantly bigger than my keyboard! Pah ha.

In truth, the shoes do pinch a little but I think that that was because I measured my feet myself and I suspect that that’s something you should enlist help for. And, I could have sent them back to be altered but…I just didn’t want to.

Next on my list is a pair of leopard print ballet flats, I have them there ready to order and then…I dunno, maybe another ballet pump or a shoe/boot. I’m so SO happy to have found this company with their fantastic product and second to none customer service and no, this isn’t a sponsored post.

But first, enjoying these little beauties (note the Instagram-alike shot).

SOP instagram shot

Music to blog to….

To Walthamstow…and beyond

Fair warning….this is a LONG post. I’m trying to write shorter posts, break things up into manageable (for the less than truly dedicated reader) chunks but, that’s not what I’ve done here!

Oh, what a good weekend that was (last weekend). The weekend started properly on Friday evening (which, I believe, is often the case) with H, D and I heading to the Southwark Playhouse to watch Superior Donuts. I’d not even heard of the theatre before H suggested that we go and it turns out to be a real gem of a place (though, I do prefer allocated seating) with a couple of performance spaces (The Large and The Little) and ample seating for early-comers to sit and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat. If Superior Donuts is anything to go by, and from a quick browse of their programme for the season, the Southwark Playhouse is somewhere that I’ll be returning to.

H being amazed by the doughnuts

Rather than ice-cream they were serving DOUGHNUTS!!! during the interval. These Glazed and Confused goodies were in gorgeous flavours, mine was sticky toffee and H’s was lemon meringue. Ahh…take a look at their Facebook page – YUM.

Saturday saw me heading to Walthamstow (which I can’t stop calling Awesomestow), stopping first to buy a bunch of flowers from Flowers and Gifts which is a relatively new shop on Stroud Green Road. The tied bouquets were just lovely and the bouquet that the shop keeper (who was an absolute sweetie) made up for me was just right (though my photo of it doesn’t do it justice – as per) and the flowers are absolutely not too costly. It was all that I could do not to buy a bunch for myself too!

Stroud Green flowers Stroud Green bouquets Mothers Hub bouquet

A delightful springtime bouquet for A.

I was heading east to check out  Mothers Hub, a brilliant new ‘concept’ shop (sorry, but it kind of is – it looks more like an art gallery than a shop selling clothes and toys for children, plus, the idea is that A is giving a platform to local makers – a place to sell their wares that works for them (aka, she isn’t greedy) and as a result the stock is a really interesting edit of beautiful little collections) on Wood Street, E17. Less than a year ago I met up with the gorgeous and supremely talented A for coffee and a picnic in the park and she told me about this idea that she’d had for a shop that would be more than a shop, it would be a space for parents and children to come and do activities (and she has more plans afoot) as well as a creative outlet for her (she is a photographer). Mothers Hub is already (and only) in its fourth month (A doesn’t hang about) and seems to be going strong, it’s a beautiful shop and it feels so welcoming (which is no less than I’d expect from an A project). It’ll be my go to shop for gifts for children from now own. And…there’s something for everyone with a brilliant collection of alphabet cards, designed by A’s husband S, that is totally cross-generational.

Wood Street map

Shame I didn’t notice this map before I went off in the wrong direction for a time!

Exterior of Mothers Hub

Ooooo…exciting, my first sighting of Mothers Hub.

Toys and books A playing shopkeeper

A playing shopkeeper. Actually, I think she was attending to my purchase.

Mothers Hub tote

As a little thanks for visiting, I got one of their lovely canvas totes thrown in – normal price £5 (bargainous).

Walthamstow is interesting, there’s such a mix of people there and it’s honestly bustling and vibrant and the council seems to be really encouraging start-ups that have some sort of community involvement/benefit. I love it. I didn’t manage to make it to the main market this time (which is no bad thing as I had on my mind to buy more fabric but I’ve got loads and loads in my stash with seemingly no time to make it into anything….although, I am determined to join in with Me-Made-May this year, if it’s running – that links to last year’s MMM, so…I’d best get on with it) but heading to Wood Street showed me a side of Walthamstow that I’ve not seen before.

Quaint Walthamstow village

How amazing is this? A gorgeous little village, slap bang in the middle of E17.

I didn’t get a chance to really explore Wood Street and the indoor market but I did stay long enough to….oh dear, buy a few things – a little taster (literally) of what’s on offer….mmm mmm mmm.

Scrumptious in a box A cutting the cakes Passion fruit meringue pieUp close with the stunningly gorgeous passion fruit curd meringue tart – Oh My. And that dark slice at the top? That’s a Guinness and pear cake which was out of this world delicious.

These Aura Rosa cakes were faultless, my only gripe was with myself – that I was silly enough to buy an Oreo cupcake (can never resist them though) when so many other cakes and patisserie were on offer.  I’m sure I saw somewhere that they offer cookery lessons!!…I’m after finding out how to make that devilishly good Guinness cake.

Mother's Ruin blackboard The Mother The ruins

Didn’t manage to walk away empty handed from this cute unit. Well, who could resist a tiny little bottle of Mother’s Bitter Helper, a bitters tincture made in tiny batches, to bring out the oomph in any cocktail – particularly good with citrus drinks I suspect.

I definitely need to go back to Wood Street and to the market, not least to buy more Mother’s Ruin concoctions, I’m after the sloe and damson gins, but also, to rifle through the vintage shops and to find out more about Significant Seams which is a really interesting community enterprise in the unit next to Mothers Hub.

Waving a sad goodbye to A and her beautiful family and armed my lovely new tote,  I started back home, via the rather excellent butcher by Crouch Hill station, for an evening of cooking and TV watching.

I began by making Mimi Thorisson from Manger’s milky chicken with butternut squash pancakes, I found that I needed to add a little more liquid than stated for the pancakes (as I did with her galette recipe) but apart from that….heaven! Mimi’s blog is SO beautiful so, check out the recipe in her own words and then…make it. Do save the poaching broth, then you too can make a disgusting looking but lovely tasting soup by caramelising sliced onion and leek to which you could add any mixture of ingredients, I put the leftover butternut squash, carrots, potatoes and a chicken stock cube and ended up with a souped up leek and potato soup..

Milk poached chicken stock soup

Simple, nutritious, filling and a hundred leagues more tasty than it is beautiful.

After our simple but splendid supper, D and I sat down to our Saturday night (for the past month or so) ritual of a double bill of the brilliant Salamander, a Belgian political thriller. The last two episodes aired last night but if you do come across it, it’s definitely worth a watch (as I write, all twelve episodes are available on the BBC iplayer but not for long). I got drawn in by the language, the show is set in and around Brussels and is spoken in a mixture of Dutch (technically Flemish, I think) and French and, by Jove, Dutch is such an odd language, there were often times when I’d realise (subtitles essential) that what had just been said was almost exactly the same as if it had been said in English or French and yet, without the subtitles, I’d have not understood anything.

Sunday morning began with a mid-morning brunch of butternut squash pancakes (waste not want not, and all that) with bacon and a fried egg – such a beautiful combination of sweet and salty topped off with the depth and richness of a half set yolk.

Butternut squash bacon brunch

In the evening D and I headed out, but not before I’d whipped up a batch of Mary Berry Lemon Drizzle slices, to watch Ángel Múñoz who was performing at Sadler’s Wells as part of their annual Flamenco Festival. D and I know nothing about flamenco but we’re both trying to get out and about, to see and do more things and, in previous years I’ve been interested in going but never got off my bum and gone. I chose Ángel because he is part of the new generation of flamenco dancers and I thought that it might be more powerful and edgy. I think I was hoping for a Strictly Ballroom moment but it was quite different to that. Ángel was the only dancer but he had on stage with him, at various times, a couple of singers and three musicians (one of whom played three or four wind instruments including my favourite – the oboe). Although there were costume changes, interesting use of shadows, arms that moved in ways it felt they oughtn’t to and an aural feast, by about half way through I was starting to feel that whilst the dancing had been impressive, I’d probably seen enough. But, by the end of the performance I realised that I’d really loved the show and, I wasn’t the only one as there was an incredibly long standing ovation. It did leave me wanting to check out other performers (online) as, with nothing to compare him to, I don’t think that I appreciated just how good Ángel Múñoz was.

Lemon drizzle squares

Beautifully tangy and moist little squares of goodness ready for a post performance snack.

My half hour with Emma of Back of the Wardrobe

You probably wouldn’t know it from looking at me but, I’m trying to spruce up my look, trying to look more ‘put together’, more grown up and more stylish. At the moment though, most of this trying is in my head only so, as a birthday treat to myself, I snapped up one of the Stylist Package tickets to a recent The Stylist’s Rail held at The Hoxton Hotel.

The Stylist’s Rail is a sale of clothes and accessories and the stall holders are, in the main, stylists. The event promised designer bargains, a touch of vintage and some cool new brands as well as music and cocktails and, it didn’t disappoint. Seriously, there were some gorgeous and massively knocked down pieces and if any of them would have fitted me, I’d be a damn site poorer (because of how much I’d have bought, not how much stuff cost) now.

I’d normally avoid this kind of thing (anything to do with confronting my dire body image) but I’m trying to be more yes and a lot less no. Whilst I absolutely was intrigued by the idea of seeing a stylist, and I liked the look of Emma of Back of the Wardrobe and liked her ethos of trying to use what you already own to make up a killer wardrobe, it was the goodie bag that sold it for me. I’ve been wanting to check out the dance classes at FRAME for ages now and the goodie bag included THREE class vouchers – it was a no brainer!

The Stylists Package goodie bag

The full goodie bag (actually minus the Proper Popcorn, which got eaten before I got a chance to take a photo, and the Bloom ready mixed gin and tonic, which I gave to H).

Sugar Style necklace

Looking forward to trying out this Cheeky  Chat Me Up nail paint in Soots You and the necklace from Sugar + Style is absolutely the kind of thing I wear (and I have already worn it).

Love conditioner

How the hello did the goodie bag know that I have harsh and frizzy hair?

The goodie bag also included, amongst other things, a cute pair of Dinny Hall earrings, lots of Lush products and a lovely smelling (Lemongrass & Neroli) Wick and Tallow candle.

Prior to the event, Plum (the woman behind The Stylist’s Rail and also an absolute pleasure to deal with) sent through a questionnaire for me to answer to give Emma a sense of what I wanted to achieve in my half hour as well as a more general overview of my attitude to clothing and style.

The event which was held at the back of the hotel in a series of interconnecting rooms with a series of smaller side rooms, felt like a brilliant bazaar taking place in a little warren and reminded me a bit of my absolute favourite shop, Liberty.

I was met on arrival by Plum who ushered me to a comfy chair, via the bar and a mega gin and tonic, to wait for Emma. Once Emma was ready for me, Plum showed me through to one of the side rooms where Emma was waiting with a smile on her face and a really genuine warmth that put me straight at ease (sounds corny I know, but I really did feel comfortable, happy and looked after). Emma had taken a look at my Pinterest boards and had made up a board with ideas to suit my shape (and size). She told me, more or less, what I already knew – I’m not made for that gorgeous slouchy luxe casual look that I so adore, nor the Parisian chic that both my sister and I love, no, I’m more of a vintage glamour girl all nipped in waists, fitted tops and pencil skirts. We talked jewellery, fabrics, cut, underwear, hair and more AND we went and had a look at the rails of clothes with Emma pulling out colours and textures that she thought would suit me. Emma managed to pack in A LOT in a short half hour (actually, I guess it was the same length of half hour that a half hour is) and I felt as though she had really taken the time to think about me and how I could boost my outfit confidence (my confidence full stop).

I would THOROUGHLY recommend Emma and Back of the Wardrobe and I believe she’s running a discount until the end of February for a three hour wardrobe visit. I may have slight Girl Crush, oh dear. Take a look at her site for more information.

Bloom G and T at The Stylists Rail

You can’t tell from this, but this was more like a BUCKET of gin and tonic. Still, it made me feel all fancy pants – until I tried to peruse the rails whilst carrying it plus my coat and bag plus my mega goodie bag!

DJ at The Stylists Rail 2

This makes it look all gritty and seedy and Real but in reality it’s just another example of my shocking photo taking skills.

ImageMe with the gorgeous Emma – she’s actually channelling a look that’s tailor made for me there.

Once H and I had had a proper look round, we headed back into the hotel for a drink and a bite to eat.

Porn Star Martini at The Hoxton Hotel

Enjoying a Porn Star Martini in the restaurant before diving into a rack of sticky ribs and a gloriously gooey American style macaroni cheese with bacon and jalapenos.

Carnival costume, here I come.

So, as promised here, this is a cheeky little (bonus) Liverpool post….

On the long walk back from The Wheel of Liverpool, back up Bold Street, I spied the most glorious looking costume jewellery shop. Now anybody that knows me well at all, knows that I’m a SUCKER for a bit of bling and this shop had razzle and dazzle written all over it. Actually, it’s called Claudia Pink. Claudia Pink has an array of fantastic, huge necklaces – to call them statement, would be an understatement. I wanted to buy a few of them but settled on the one that had drawn me into the shop.

Happy with my Claudia Pink necklace

This necklace seems to be a bit like marmite – people either love or hate it. What do you think?

As well as the usual pieces you’d expect to find in a jewellery shop, they also sell body pieces  and a rather wonderful line in headdresses. They also custom make a lot of pieces and apparently make lots of costumes for the Liverpool Carnival – Brazilica Festival which is, so they tell me, more Mardi Gras than Notting Hill. Anyway, this got me to thinking, when it’s time for H, F, C and I to be shaking our booties, kind of like in the photo below, I know where I shall go to get me a costume!

Carnival bums

Buying a Christmas wreath

A and I had an evening out in East London last week, beginning with a trip to pick up a wreath from Larkspur and Lavender. Sally, who owns the company, is just lovely, she’s cool, a bit edgy, warm and friendly (you probably will want her to become a friend) and she has the most incredible sense of flower style. I’m really quite fussy about flowers, and whilst I don’t necessarily have the skills or the creativity to put together the arrangements that I like, I know them as soon as I see them. Sally creates exactly what I would, if I could, and this year I didn’t even bother to specify what I wanted out of the wreath, knowing instead that whatever Sally created, I would love.

2013-12-19 17.39.53Sally at work, packaging up our wreath.

Sally works out of a container just off Mare Street in Hackney, she does a fair bit of commercial work but she also runs the occasional floristry day course and she will work to commission (though she won’t normally deliver for a small one-off order) and I wish that I had the occasion to commission her to create arrangements for me more regularly than I do.

2013-12-19 17.41.12   2013-12-19 17.40.27Various flora, waiting to be turned into something subtly spectacular (if that’s not a contradiction in terms…and, even if it is one).

2013-12-19 17.40.42A watching Sally at work.

Christmas wreath 2013And our stunning wreath. It got slightly battered having to go, as it did, to a jewellery sale and a birthday party, before finally making it back to our house.

Rather a longer walk than I had intended

A couple of Mondays ago, I decided to seize the moment (that being, an afternoon with nothing planned) to go and do a bit of exploring in one of my new neighbourhoods. I headed towards Westbourne Park tube and then, as advised by The Londoner on her blog, made my way to Westbourne Grove….except, my phone took me left where the bit of Westbourne Grove she speaks about is to the right – never to mind though as I made it up on the way back.

The first place of interest that I passed was The Oak, which again I’ve read about on Rosie’s blog but it was closed for refurbishment. Not to worry as I have a little time to try out the numerous West London haunts that I have my eyes (and belly) on. I wasn’t taking notes, and I really should have been as I passed so many interesting looking places. As I was only a week into the move my mind wasn’t quite with it. I happened upon a Planet Organic, which I was very pleased about as there were a number of things that I wanted to buy that were more Planet Organic-y than co-op-y.

I don’t think you really get a sense for a place until you walk, bike or drive it and I have to say I was so interested to see how this part of London fits together.  I hadn’t really appreciated how central this area was but with a right turn off Westbourne Park Grove I found myself on Queensway (it is slightly confusing round here as Bayswater tube seems to be on Queensway and Queensway tube is, more or less, on Bayswater!). I bolted through Whiteleys, finding it lacklustre and soulless, and continued up Queensway where, just beyond the tube on the left-hand side of the road, there is a brilliant Cost Cutter – it’s an Oriental supermarket jam packed with all sorts of enticing looking products. I will definitely be heading back there soon. Not being quite sure of how far away home was, without just turning back on myself, I decided it would be best to turn right into Bayswater and do a big U. This is where my son went to school for his A-levels, so I had by now found my bearings slightly. I pootled along with Hyde Park to my left for a very short while and then marvelled, once again, at finding myself at Notting Hill Gate and….a most magnificent sighting

Exterior of Recipease Notting Hill

Recipease Notting Hill

Cookery school in a shop

Difficult to tell in this photo but, there is a group of people to the back of the shop tucking into a spaghetti dish they had just whipped up at the cookers in the centre.

Tantalising meringues

Don’t these meringues look delicious – just like pastel candy coloured figs. YUM.

I just had a quick look round and though I’d already planned to check out the classes and to return to try out the café this post by Rachel Phipps has convinced me that I must. If any of you have seen Jamie’s American food crusade shows, this places seems rather like the centre that he set up to teach people how to cook. I mean, this probably isn’t news to you, and as a bit of a Jamie Oliver fan,  I really ought to know about the Recipease concept..tut tut.

I’d started my walk quite late in the afternoon and it was, by now, getting on somewhat so I thought it would be best to head homewards. Walking along Pembridge Road, just at the point where the road forks and to my left, I spied a nice looking pub – The Prince Albert  – which I note from their website, has a small theatre upstairs. I took the right fork and carried on along Pembridge Road which was dotted with small shops, some interesting and others not so much. There were a handful of secondhand/designer vintage shops – Retro Man and Retro Woman and an odd looking pizzeria (mainly because it had half a car sticking out of one of its interior walls and..come to think of it, I’d already passed a branch on Westbourne Grove) called Arancina. I finally got back to Westbourne Park Road but, hearing home calling me – as I’d somehow managed to fail to have a coffee anywhere (though I’d not been short of opportunities) I pressed on apace.

I ended up stopping off and having a coffee, just before Westborne Park tube, at a PUB no less! Honestly, with all the coffee and cake opportunities I had on my walk, I can’t believe that I ended up having one in a pub. I only just made it in time though as they stopped serving coffee at 6pm and I got my order in with about a minute to spare. Oh yes, I also got a tap water. Heh heh. Oh dear, must try harder. I’ve walked past The Metropolitan on football evenings and it has been packed with, mostly men, clutching pints, staring in the direction of the screens. I wasn’t sure then, if this was really a boys’ boozer but I needed a blinkin coffee and a sit down. The bar staff were really sweet and I felt completely comfortable going in there on my own.

In search of a tweed suit

D has been wanting a tweed suit for such a long time, the first time I met him he was wearing a beautiful three-piece tweed suit that his grandfather had handed down to him and very dapper he did look. So this year, I could take it no longer and promised to take him to buy a suit as a birthday present.

There seems to be a glut of affordable tweed on the net but most of the shops D found were online sales only. I think this is the kind of thing that (certainly until you know which cut and which colour in the tweed that most takes your fancy suits you) you really do need to try before you buy. D found an interesting looking site that had a shop in Parsons Green in South West London, the date was booked and we both took the day off.

It was fun heading off to a part of London that we don’t know at all and I quite liked Parsons Green, it had quite a village-y feel about it – but, because I’d had to go to the dentist in the morning, it was already quite late in the day. As neither of us had yet had our lunch, our first stop was a pub called The Brown Cow where we enjoyed a really good meal in chilled out and pleasant surroundings. The staff struck just the right balance between attentiveness and relaxation.

After lunch we headed a stone’s throw up the road to Walter Slater where we were greeted by a young lady dressed in trainers, shiny disco blue leggings and a fitted jumper who, because she was carrying a vacuum cleaner and was so untweedily dressed, I assumed to be the cleaner. She turned out to be most charming, engaging and above all else knowledgeable and she quickly had D out of his trousers and into a pair of theirs. After trying on a couple of different jackets and trousers D settled on what he wanted, the shop assistant deftly tucked fabric here and pinned a bit there and D was free to get back into his own clothes. The suit will be sent off to Scotland for the alterations to be carried out and should be ready for collection in a couple of weeks or so.

D trying on an Edward

The shop is great with a good selection of tweeds, mostly in the Edward cut – I believe, and some lovely woollens (jumpers, cardigans, socks) in a range of natural and vibrant colours.

Tweed jacketsLove the elbow patches..

With the main purchase under our belts we headed back North, stopping off at Vagabond on Stroud Green Road for a coffee and a damn fine delicately spiced and moist slice of apple cake.

Coffee at Vagabond Apple slice at VagabondMmmmm…so good.