Friday, June 27, 2008

A Great Day in London

Alex and I had a wonderful day in London today. We took the train from Reading about half past twelve, and headed straight for Westminster with a view to going to the Cabinet War Rooms. I could not believe my eyes when we got off the tube at Westminster. The station itself was so improved, with the lovely double doors on and off the tube that make such a difference. The station was totally revamped and modern. But then, I suddenly realised, the last time I took the tube to Westminster was easily fifteen years ago, maybe twenty. Improvements are bound to have been made!

At Alex’s request, we left the station by Exit 3, which is where you can see the Parliament Buildings. I am always staggered by the beauty of the Palace of Westminster, and don’t get me started on Big Ben! It was the animated picture of Big Ben, with Peter Pan flying over it in the Disney film of the same name, that made me first start to think that I might want to live in England when I was about six years old. I told Alex today, if he ever thinks dreams can’t come true, to just come into London and look at Big Ben and know that they most certainly can, and do.

On our way to the Cabinet War Rooms, we of course walked past St Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey. I decided that Alex really needed to visit the Abbey as he had never been there before. So we headed up to the entrance, which is down the side instead of at the front as it used to be. I was shocked to find that admission to the Abbey costs £12 for an adult (about $25) and £9 for a person under 17 (about $19) but I duly paid up (cash only!) and we went in. I can’t say the Abbey is an uplifting place, nor is it as beautiful as St Paul’s Cathedral, but it is a place you need to see, if only for all the incredible graves there. To stand at the foot of the graves of Kings and Queens is so humbling, and to look at graves of people who died in years like 1100, simply blows you away. This faith I hold so dear has been shared by so many people for literally centuries. I could not believe that I could look at the graves of Edward the Confessor, Richard the II, Mary Queen of Scots and so many others. At one point, the coronation chair was just above us, and I had never realised that the throne Queen Elizabeth sat on was the seat that every monarch since the 1300’s has sat on for their coronation. Good grief! Suddenly time stands still and you feel very insignificant. Then there are the graves of the poets and statesmen, from Lord Byron and Lewis Carroll to William Wilberforce. Wow.

By this time we were very hungry – and as it was nearly 2.30pm this was no surprise! So on leaving the Abbey we headed in the wrong direction down Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square in pursuit of something to eat. It’s an interesting walk down Whitehall, past Downing Street, the Palace of Whitehall itself and the Cenotaph. Finally, just on the corner of Trafalgar Square, we stumbled on a Prêt a Manger shop and went in for some delicious sandwiches. You can always count on Prêt a Manger for fresh, delicious food, fast. We really enjoyed our lunch.

We then headed back towards the Parliament Buildings and followed the signs to the Cabinet War Rooms, opposite St James’ Park. I must say, they have really made some amazing improvements since my last visit over twenty years ago. It is much more interactive and you really do feel you are stepping back in time. Alex and I loved every minute, and were shocked to find out that we spent nearly three hours exploring the incredible bunker from where Churchill’s War Cabinet made the decisions that won the Second World War and preserved freedom for the generations to come. So many of the rooms are exactly as they were left, right down to an envelope containing a soldier’s sugar rations from 1940, which was found hidden at the back of a drawer! It is an incredible place to visit and I highly recommend it.

Alex and I then walked up past Horse Guards Parade and along the Embankment, finally getting back on the tube at Waterloo and heading to Covent Garden. It’s always fascinating there, with something different happening every time. We wandered round for a bit, enjoying the atmosphere and then found a Pizza Express for dinner. We had a really lovely meal there. Despite the name, it’s a very relaxing place to have a meal. They are a chain of restaurants of course, but the quality is very consistent and I have never been disappointed.

Then we walked down to Leicester Square tube station and headed back to Paddington Station. What a super day!

Thursday, June 26, 2008


My friend has just told me that she has chosen the same curtain fabric for her kitchen as mine. She said “I hope you don’t mind”. Mind? Heavens no! I’m really flattered. I honestly do believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and I’m thrilled that she liked my choice so much she chose it for her own home. It’s made me feel really confident about decorating – which is wonderful because pretty soon – in December – we’ll have been in the house a year and can start to decorate the actual walls.

Oh gosh, did I just say “December” and “soon” in the same sentence? Where is the year going? I honestly have never known time to fly by so fast. On some levels it is really scary. Other times, like when Guy is away on business, it suits me. But saying “December” and “soon” in the same sentence in June? Well, that’s just asking for trouble!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my website, and in particular the Recipe of the Week page. I like the page as it is and don’t want to change it too much but I’d really like to expand on it. I love to cook – and eat – and I’d really like to do something more. So, I’ve started a blog totally devoted to the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen and food in general. You can see it by clicking here. Have a look and let me know what you think!

I’ve had a really good day so far today. I had Pilates this morning and then, as I was in town and had some shopping to do, I ran some errands. I managed to find absolutely everything I wanted, everyone was helpful and, aside from in Marks and Spencer’s, I didn’t have to queue. Now that’s my idea of shopping! The only minor glitch was that I got home to find the power off. It wasn’t a total loss though as it made me go across the street to ask if their power was off too which meant I’ve finally met my neighbour across the road! After six months, it’s about time!! Yes, their power was off too, but it had only been for about ten minutes. And the best news was, it came on again just after I walked back through the front door.

Alexander has a day off school tomorrow and I’m hoping we’ll be able to do something together – possibly go into London to a museum or shopping. We still enjoy spending time together, which I know makes me a very lucky mother. The only catch is that, if Alex sees someone he knows, I have to pretend not to know him and walk on ahead. It’s a bit soul destroying, but it’s a small price to pay!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another day in my wonderfully unpredictable life

When I was a teenager, I used to read “Seventeen” magazine regularly. It seemed to contain all the secrets of a teenage girl’s universe in the 1980’s. My favourite bit was always the calendar they ran in August, setting out things to do each day to get ready to go back to school or college. I was thrilled that someone could actually tell me what to do in order to make sure my life ran smoothly, setting it all out day by day like that.

I had a look at a Seventeen magazine recently when we were in Canada, and it, like me, has definitely changed. I don’t know if they still run their August calendars, but based on the titles of the articles I flipped through, I somehow doubt it. What hasn’t changed about me though, and I suspect about many women, is our wish that we could have our lives all mapped out so that we knew exactly what to do in order to make sure that whatever lay around the next corner was both desirable and manageable. Sadly, no one has yet developed a calendar that can do that for us and life remains pretty much totally unpredictable.

Which is why it is so nice to catch up with old friends who seem not to change very much at all, even when their lives, like our own, are often swirling vortexes of chaos! We had a wonderful time with our friends who came for dinner last night. They are the sort of friends who it is never hard to find things to talk about with, and if there is a pause in conversation, no one feels uncomfortable. We don’t normally entertain much during the week due to Guy’s punishing work schedule, but it was a real pleasure to make an exception this time.

It was one of those great evenings when everything fell into place beautifully, and I was able to cook dinner without losing my cool, even with everyone gathered round in the kitchen so I wouldn’t be left out of the conversation. Of course, I’m very lucky to have a huge kitchen with a sofa and lots of chairs in it so there is plenty of room for people to spread out. If I had tried to cook like that in first (considerably smaller) kitchen in our flat in Crystal Palace all those years ago, it would have been completely impossible. Dinner came together beautifully, while everyone sipped Kir Royale and nibbled on nuts. I made a new recipe up, for chicken in a mustard, wine and tarragon sauce (soon to be a Recipe of the Week) and served it with gorgeous little red skinned potatoes, broccoli and carrots. We had Nigella Lawson’s “Orange Scented Brioche Pudding” (from her book "Feast") for dessert which was delightfully easy to make and meltingly delicious.

We played on the Wii after dinner which was great fun even if I am totally crap at tennis and my usual brilliance at bowling was eclipsed by my friend! We stayed up chatting till after midnight and I must admit I can really feel that this morning. Now I am doing so much exercise with the running, Pilates and yoga I find I get really tired and staying up late is one of those things that is NOT A GOOD IDEA anymore, even if I am only drinking herbal tea at the end of the evening.

I’m just off to load the dishwasher again. The only thing about entertaining I hate is the cleaning up afterwards!

Monday, June 23, 2008

What Other People Expect

I read Oprah Winfrey’s interview of her dear friend Maria Shriver in the June 2008 issue of 'O' Magazine this morning and I found it really interesting and uplifting. If you can get a copy of it, I highly recommend reading it. I’ve always admired Maria Shriver and never ever thought she might have had even a single moment of self doubt. Turns out that really isn’t the case. But the thing I found most inspiring was that – when talking about her “aha! moment" in a speech at the Long Beach Convention Centre - she said she realised that “You can spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what other people expect from you…or you can make a decision to let that all go.”

I had to read that quote twice. Can you really do that – let all that go? I’ve spent a huge amount of time trying to figure out and do what I believe others expect of me. The idea that you don’t have to do that is beyond liberating. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me. Anyway, it turns out doing just that has worked very well for Maria Shriver, and she has written a book about it called “Just Who Will You Be?”. I’ve ordered a copy from Amazon today.

It’s been a great day actually. I had an amazing run with Judith (my personal trainer) this morning. It is the best I have ever managed and I felt very good indeed afterwards. It’s really sunny here and getting more and more like summer as well. I also had a totally unsolicited compliment from someone that made me feel really good about myself. Not bad - and it’s only 3.15pm!

The weekend was really good. We had a wonderful visit with Guy’s parents on Saturday. Everything I cooked turned out and everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. On Sunday Guy, Alex and I spent a lot of time working in the garden and it really is coming together beautifully. I really enjoy wandering out there now to look at the flowers and plants. A lot of them have been given to me by friends and family and it brings me great pleasure to look at them and know they were given to me by people who love me.

Tomorrow our friends Mike and Jayne are coming for dinner and a visit. We are all really looking forward to that. They used to live just down the road from us in Derby. Ironically, we all moved on the same day but to very different villages! I must admit we miss having them close by, but when their new home is finished they will only be an hour down the road so that will be nice. I’ve found a great Nigella Lawson recipe for dessert – Orange Scented Brioche Pudding from her book “Feast”. I normally would not make a new recipe for the first time when cooking for friends, but I’ve made Nigella’s Ginger Bread and Butter Pudding before and the method is very similar.. Hopefully it will be fine. I just can’t decide what to make for a main course. I guess I’ll have to go to the grocery store and see what looks fresh and delicious. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot

Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot has been an institution for years, but I had never before attended it. Traditionally, men wear morning dress (top hat and tails) and ladies wear dresses, hats and sometimes gloves. The horse racing is only half the story – with people watching being the main order of the day. Champagne is the drink of choice and a badge for the Royal Enclosure is a highly desired possession. Despite its name, the Royal Enclosure is not where the Queen sits – she has her own private suite and box. The only way you can get a pass for the Royal Enclosure is to apply months in advance and have your application sponsored by someone who has attended the Royal Enclosure for four years (not necessarily consecutive years, but four years nonetheless!).

Having never attended a horse race in my life before and not coming from a racing family, I did not have a badge for the Royal Enclosure. I did, however, have a ticket for General Admission – which, confusingly, is actually better than a ticket for the Silver Ring – the Silver Ring is the lowest category of admission, kind of like steerage on a boat. General Admission means you have access to all areas except the Royal Enclosure – so it’s pretty good really.

The atmosphere is electric and the colour and sparkle of the dresses and hats on show is incredible. Everyone seems to be trying to outdo everyone else, with the most fashionable dress, shoes and especially hat. The press stop women with particularly fashionable ensembles as they come in, spiriting them off for photographs or interviews. The amount of money being worn by the ladies attending Ladies Day is impossible to calculate, but it would definitely run into the millions of pounds. I saw hats that were bigger than the ladies who were wearing them, fascinators that were incredible concoctions of gorgeousness and even a hat shaped like a Stilton cheese (not so gorgeous that one!). I wore a dress and jacket by Jaeger from their summer collection, and a hat from the millinery department of John Lewis. My shoes were by Russell and Bromley. I felt quite well turned out, but I was more than eclipsed by many of the other ladies there.

We started off with a lovely picnic lunch in the grounds of the racecourse prepared by a company based at Ascot called “On the Hoof Catering”. Everything was beautifully presented and we were given two small bottles of wine with our lunch as well as a bottle of water. Actually, I’ve never seen so much alcohol consumed in one place at one time…and that’s saying something! It seemed like a bottle of water or cup of tea were very hard things indeed to find – but beer, wine, Pimms, cider and champagne were all readily available. Mind you, champagne cost £17 – that’s the equivalent of about $36 – per glass! In the end, I was positively abstemious, drinking only my provided wine and a glass of Pimms later. Everyone in our group kept giving me their bottles of water because they didn’t want them! It was not just the cost of the drinks that put me off, I really don’t like drinking in the daytime. It makes me tired. After 6pm though, I love a nice glass of wine or champagne.

Anyway, before the racing started, there was the Royal procession which is when the Royal party arrive in coaches in the parade ring. We managed to get right up close to the front, so that all that was between us and the parade ring was a box hedge. Our view of the procession was completely unimpeded and I was so pleased! The Queen, Prince Phillip, Princess Anne, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, Prince Andrew, Peter Phillips, his new wife and various other members of the royal family were literally inches away. It was a really nice atmosphere with everyone very happy to see them. The Queen looking really well. I have to say she looks amazing for a woman of her age, even from close quarters. I don’t know what her beauty regime is, but she certainly is doing something right to keep looking so well. Her dress and hat were gorgeous as well. I’ve been told off for not taking any photographs but we were standing right beside the press and paparazzi in our rather enviable close position and I just couldn’t bring myself to add yet more flashes to the huge number going off in the faces of those travelling in the carriages. It seemed somehow disrespectful.

After all that excitement, it was time for the racing to begin so we made our way to the Grandstand. It was great fun having a few little bets, although with only one win of any consequence I think I had better only bet on the horses once in a while! It was such fun cheering the horses on. Everyone gets really into it, enthusiastically cheering their favourites on to (hopefully!) victory. I also had a huge amount of fun people watching. We even saw the odd famous face. One of our party saw Alan Titchmarsh, and I saw Simon Cowell. The time absolutely flew by.

Guy had very kindly offered to collect me – which would mean sitting in loads of traffic – so I decided to leave before the very last race to beat the crowds. It’s a good thing I did. It took us almost an hour to find each other, with Guy sitting in traffic the whole time and me walking for what seemed like miles. Of course it didn’t help that I was walking in the wrong direction to start with. I was sure Guy would be heading into Ascot that way, until he told me on the phone that he was driving “into the sun”. As I was also “walking into the sun”, I decided it would be prudent to turn around! We got there in the end, finally meeting up about two miles away from the race course. We had a drink in the pub Guy had parked up in as the traffic was not moving and then headed on home. That journey home, which should have taken 45 minutes, took nearly 2 hours. It was worth it though. I had a lovely day.

I would definitely recommend Royal Ascot for a day out, and Ladies’ Day in particular. I had so much fun that I’m already planning my next trip to Ladies’ Day next year, but this time I’m going to take Guy and Alex with me!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another lovely day

The nicest thing happened to me yesterday. I was walking through the garden from our house to the garage when a cute cat came up to me. He was the spitting image of our lovely old gentleman cat Woody when he was a kitten. At first I was a bit shocked, the resemblance was so uncanny, but I bent down to pat him and we made friends. He even tried to get in the house. I didn’t let him go in – like Woody he is a well fed little soul, so he is clearly someone’s well loved cat and I wouldn’t want to confuse him. It was just so nice to see a friendly cat – although I did make it very clear to him he needs to leave all the lovely birds visiting my bird feeder well alone! Then he walked away and settled himself under the bushes in the flower bed, just like Woody used to do. I found that incredibly comforting.

Anyway, it’s been fairly peaceful here in the 21st Century Household these last few days. We’ve just been getting on with things and enjoying life. Despite the bullying Alex has been experiencing, we are feeling much more settled here. I must admit, my one on one yoga sessions have been incredibly helpful to me. I have a session once a week with a lovely yoga teacher. She has really helped me come to terms with Mom and Dad’s deaths and become more flexible and fit at the same time!

Tomorrow I am going to Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot. It is something I have always wanted to do, and this year I was lucky enough to be invited by my wonderful aesthetician Eve who owns Eden Beauty in Burton-on-Trent. I have a wonderful new outfit and hat to wear (suitably demure as is specified by the officials at Royal Ascot!) and I feel very excited. It seems it may be a very special Ladies’ Day indeed as the news is that Kate Middleton’s mother has been invited to meet the Queen in the Royal Enclosure tomorrow! Wouldn’t it be lovely if Prince William finally got engaged to Kate Middleton? I’d really love to see that. We could do with a Royal wedding and they make a gorgeous couple. I know the course of true love rarely does run smoothly but it would be so nice if just for once it did!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

It was bound to be a strange kind of day today as, once again, it is one of those “firsts since Dad died”. So I really felt the loss of my Dad today, just like everyone out there who has lost a Dad does on Father’s Day. And yet, despite moments of sadness, it was a really lovely day.

I had really taken a lot of time to plan today as I wanted it to be a lovely Father’s Day for Guy. So this morning Alex and I were really excited as we watched Guy open his present which was tickets for the three of us to attend the British International Motor Show in July. He was really pleased and that made me very happy. I had booked a table at The Beetle and Wedge for lunch at 1pm. We have never been there before and it comes highly recommended by Guy’s Mom, my curtain maker and many other folks locally, so we were quite excited to be going. I was very pleased that they had given us a table right beside the window so we could look out over the Thames, watching the boats and ducks go by. The view from our table really enhanced the meal and when several families of Canada Geese swam past complete with dozens of goslings we were all flabbergasted, having never seen that many goslings together ever before. Wonderful! The food was amazing, really delicious. We had a variety of starters – Alex had crispy duck on a rosti which he said was the best duck he had ever tasted, I had a lovely crab pate with lemon cream and Guy had mussels which he thoroughly enjoyed. For main course Alex had a steak with béarnaise sauce and Guy and I had roast Pollock with tiger prawns and mango salsa. Alex said he steak was great and Guy and I found our fish to be light and delicious. The mango salsa was a lovely surprise. Dessert was sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream for Alex and I. It was different than I have ever had before, with the sticky toffee pudding served in slices. It was actually quite light and totally scrumptious. Guy had a lemon tart with raspberry coulis which he very kindly allowed me to taste – stunning. It had one of the lightest pastries I had ever had and the lemon filling was a stunning balance of tart and sweet.

We came home after lunch and Guy and I went for a walk. We followed the Thames Path from Mapleduram Lock a little over half way to Pangbourne and the followed it back home. We are so lucky to have such super walks on our doorstep. In the end our round trip was about five miles, so hopefully we walked off most of our lunch!

14th June 2008

Guy got home Friday morning at 6am. He brought me a huge box full of the most beautiful orchids from Singapore. They are dotted all over the house in vases now, looking amazing.

Friday seemed to disappear in a whirl of activity. The bullies at Alex’s school are back in action, just generally making certain classes an absolute misery. The teachers have totally lost control in some cases and the bullies seem to be taking over. Guy has had enough and has put his foot down. Finally, we’re getting prompt and decisive replies. It’s about time. So many children are being bullied at Denefield. I cannot believe that such a rough school can exist on the fringes of such a lovely area. We were really mislead when we were looking at schools as well, with everyone we spoke to saying how good Denefield was. Of course, most of them were from the company building our house so we should have known, but it was a time of such great upheaval in our lives we were easily mislead. The nice kids are just getting swallowed up in the chaos. It’s horrific. If only Alex was not in the middle of his GCSE’s we could get him out of there. As it is, we are pretty stuck. So we need to make sure that changes are made and the bullies are put in their place. If we don’t anywhere this time, we’ll file a formal complaint with the local education authority. In the meantime, poor Alex has another year there. But he has a fabulous attitude and is such a tough cookie I know he will triumph.

I really do worry about the state of youth in Britain today though – so many of them are clearly headed in totally the wrong direction. Of course, the general attitude of doom and gloom being forced down their throats by the media, their teachers and society in general really does not help. The kids I’ve spoken to talk of being told in class that they “will never find a job, be able to buy a house, get ahead, do well or anything” as the economic climate is so challenging. Well, if they keep getting told that, they will begin to believe it. We grew up in a tough economic climate as well – but hard work, some divine intervention, lots of blessings and a good attitude have meant that we have done very well. So can the children today, if they are equipped with the right attitude and a good dose of optimism. But in almost every instance, they do not seem to be getting it. I feel like the voice in the wilderness sometimes, talking about positive thinking, hard work and things turning out well despite everything. For heaven’s sake, some of the most amazing success stories have occurred in the midst of some of the most difficult economic and social climates throughout history. Why should now be any different?

Okay, so I’ll hop down off my soapbox now! We had a good day in spite of all that and really enjoyed having a chance to sleep in this morning. After a nice lazy start we got going on sorting out some of the chaos in the garage and some of the clutter in the house and really made super progress. Guy and I headed off to the dump with yet another carload of recycling and then went to Costco to stock up on cleaning products. It was so busy in there. It seemed like half of Reading had decided to do the same thing as we had. But we finally made our way out of there with everything we needed and got home in time for lunch. Alex had put a quiche in the oven for us so it was all ready when we got home. I threw a salad together and we were sorted.

The “Big Band” Alex plays with were playing a garden party this afternoon. It was hosted by Berkshire Maestros, the group that runs most of the music lessons for children in Berkshire and also has various bands for them to play in. So we went along there and enjoyed an afternoon of really great music by various bands and ensembles. There are some incredibly talented young people out there!

Tonight we watched "Over Her Dead Body" on the Apple TV. It was very funny and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt so sorry for Eva Longoria’s character though! I was told I was taking it all far too seriously of course and I have to admit, I have not laughed so hard in a very long time.

Thursday 12th June 2008

Finally, it’s Thursday night! I am literally counting the hours till tomorrow morning and Guy arriving home. As I have said before, the one part of being a corporate wife I hate is business trips. Guy is brilliant at keeping in touch, and we speak on Skype so we can see each other and everything. But I still hate it. I am more myself when he is here, happier and more content.

We are really lucky actually. When most couples we knew were feeling the seven year itch – or worse, divorcing – Guy and I were still like newlyweds. As the years have progressed, thankfully not much has changed. The only problem with this is that I really find it hard when he is away. I’m a bit funny like that. I don’t do “girly weekends” or anything like that as I’d much rather be with Guy and Alex. Thankfully Guy isn’t much into things beginning with “boy’s” either. (Except “boy’s toys” like fast cars but that’s another story!) We do things separately of course – when Guy goes to the British Grand Prix later this year I definitely won’t be there. It’s not my cup of tea at all. But we usually only do things like that for a day. All three of us, Alex included, are very family oriented. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I think it is one of the reasons we are still all together after all this time. “The family that prays and plays together, stays together” is something I really feel is a truism.

Anyway, today has been good fun. I went to Pilates this morning and then had a manicure. Of course, my favourite place for manicures is still Eden Beauty in Burton-on-Trent, but now I am living “down South” I needed to find somewhere a bit closer for every day. I still go to Eden Beauty regularly – at least once every six weeks – but I need somewhere I can go for regular maintenance, if you know what I mean! So I went to Permanent Beauty in Reading. They are located in the same building as my Pilates instructor, so it’s very convenient, and they do a lot more than just the laser treatment and medical beauty they advertise on their website. I’m still not quite at that stage yet! But I had a super “Anti-Aging” manicure and my hands are incredibly soft. They are actually almost glowing – which I know sounds daft, but they really are – kind of like my face does after a facial! I’m really pleased. My therapist was lovely too.

After Alex got back from school and I had spoken to Guy as he got on the plane, I realised I had a few errands I needed to run. We are so lucky to have Pangbourne just down the road. I was able to go to the post office, the bank, the pet store (for bird seed – we have incredibly hungry birds lately!), and my favourite cheese shop all within a half hour. Pangbourne is a wonderful little village that way – really everything you need is right on the high street.

So now I’m buzzing round sorting everything out and trying to get tidy so I can spend as much time as possible this weekend relaxing. Guy does not have to go into work tomorrow (it’s considered a “travel day”) and he has taken Monday off, so we’ve got a super long weekend. I’m really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The nightmare of home delivery

I hate waiting in for deliveries. It is beyond frustrating, and the stress is unbelievable.

A few weeks ago, we decided to order a new bed for Alex. He’s been sleeping in a single bed, but he is so tall now that it is just not long enough for him, and the other day when I went in to wake him his legs were completely off of the bed and on the floor. After a lot of looking around we headed to John Lewis, a chain of British department stores who generally stock very high quality at competitive prices. We should have gone there first. We found an amazing double bed with an array of drawers fitted underneath it – not just the standard two drawers each side, but drawers each side and on the end as well. It even had pull out side tables on both sides. It was a bit more than I had wanted to pay, but it was fabulous so we ordered it. Originally I ordered a mattress from John Lewis as well, but not only could I not arrange to have it delivered the same day as the bed(?), it was incredibly expensive and Alex kept saying he did not like it. He wanted the same mattress as he had on his single bed, only in a double size.

So I did a bit of research to find the company we had ordered our mattresses from about five years ago on the internet. It had worked out very well back then. We got top quality name brand mattresses for a lot less than we would have paid on the high street, delivered straight to the house. I found them, and the mattress that Alex wanted. It was £300 cheaper than the one I had ordered from John Lewis. Needless to say, I ordered it and cancelled the mattress order from John Lewis. I was also able to arrange to have the mattress delivered the same day the bed was being delivered – today. Excellent.

Of course, having anything delivered is a nightmare. Often they want you to stay in all day with no idea of exactly when they are going to arrive. I was very hopeful the bed would arrive first, and then the mattress as it would make things a lot easier. But at the end of the day, I was going to be grateful if both just arrived at all.

To start with, the mattress company had listed delivery as “between 7am and 12.59pm” on the email. They had also specified that the mattress would – under NO circumstances – be delivered beyond the front door. It was a “kerbside delivery”. Funnily enough, I don’t remember that last time. I know they brought the mattresses upstairs. Fantastic. Especially with Guy away, how were Alex and I going to get a double mattress upstairs without killing each other? I mean, we get on great, but try and get us to take anything large upstairs and the monsters inside both of us come rising to the surface. Put another way, we both like to be the one telling the other one what to do. It doesn’t work – never has, never will. On top of all that, the bed itself was due to be delivered “anytime” today. Excellent.

I got up at 6.30am, showered and dressed. I knew full well the mattress would not arrive until 12.59pm exactly, but I was terrified of being found in my nightgown at 7am. Amazingly, at 8.30am, I had a phone call from the bed company. The bed would be delivered at 9.30am today. Really? Well, bless me, it was. The chaps from the bed company were lovely and put the bed together within half an hour. It looked great. All that was missing was the mattress.

At 11.35am, fighting down rising panic, I called the mattress company “just to confirm” that the mattress was arriving today. I was told it definitely was, by 12.59am. Oh, and they would not take it upstairs – under any circumstances. I was beginning to worry over this, picturing a double mattress taking up residence in the hallway for two days until Guy got home. In desperation, I texted Guy, who suggested the old faithful tactic of “ask ‘em and tip ‘em”. I had forgotten that particular trick.

Sure enough, the truck delivering the mattress pulled up outside the house at exactly 12.59pm. When I fluttered my eyelashes and asked if – please – he could help me get the mattress upstairs as “my husband is away and my little boy won’t be able to help me”. (Little? Ha. If there is one thing my six foot two inch tall fifteen year old son isn’t, it’s little.)Anyway, the chap went for it, and helped me take the mattress upstairs. He saved Alex and I having a meltdown and I was very grateful to part with £10 in exchange. He did protest at the tip, briefly, but in the end he went away with it agreeing to buy himself a drink.

Getting the mattress out of the packaging and on to the bed was another thing entirely. It took me the best part of half an hour and I’m not sure my shoulders will ever be the same again. But, by the time Alex got home, his bed was made and looking fine. So, despite the frustrating nature of waiting in for deliveries, it has come out well in the end.

But seriously, would it be so impossible for companies to provide you with a two hour window in advance, and actually arrive at the beginning – or even the middle – of it?

10th June 2008 - The Joys of Shopping

I needed to return some lingerie I had purchased at Marks and Spencer’s on Sunday. Now, I normally purchase my lingerie from Bravissimo. Their bras and knickers (panties) are specially designed for women like me with hourglass figures. I went to their store in Nottingham not so long ago and had a fitting – a fitting which even I, phobic as I am about bra fittings, found less than embarrassing – and now I know my correct size I can order from them on-line. So this is what I tend to do. However, Marks and Spencer had some beautiful bras on display, and even though I had to really look to find any styles in sizes over a DD cup, I decided to take a chance. I selected two bras and three pairs of knickers and took them home to try on.

I don’t know why I bothered. I just cannot wear bras from Marks and Spencer anymore. Two pairs of the knickers fitted though and were gorgeous, so I decided to keep them. This left me with two bras and a pair of knickers to return. After my Pilates class, I duly walked over to Marks and Spencer to do so. I returned to the desk in the lingerie department where I had purchased the bras and knickers only to find out that if I wanted a refund – as opposed to an exchange – I would have to go to the refunds desk. So I headed off through the men’s department into Customer Services.

Now I have never actually returned anything to the Reading branch of Marks and Spencer’s yet so I did not realise how well set up they are. I was delighted to see a desk with five salespeople on it taking returns. I joined the queue and marvelled at how quickly customer services are steadily improving in England, something they really have needed to do for quite some time. I think it is because so many folks are travelling now and experiencing the customer service offered in North America – where the customer is king - and also in many other cultures where service is considered to be so important. Gone are the days when I used to stand in shoe stores needing assistance only to be ignored by the three members of staff who were chatting amongst themselves, and most hotels in London are now a great deal friendlier than they used to be a few years ago. It’s all good stuff.

As I was musing, I moved steadily up the queue and observed that three of the salespeople on the returns desk were women and two were men. It suddenly occurred to me exactly what I was returning and I began to pray that I would be served by a woman. Bearing in mind the bras I was returning were very lacy and delicate, and the knickers were the same, I was not terribly keen on pulling them out of the bag and handing them over to a chap. I watched as the queue snaked forward, and started to do mental calculations as to which member of staff would serve me. It was not looking good.

So I began to bargain with God. I figured if I had to be served by a chap, at least it could be by the nice middle aged chap who seemed pretty matter of fact, and who, in fact, had just handled a bra return for the lady two in front of me. “Okay, so if it can’t be a woman, then please let me be served by him.” Of course, God is very busy with much more important stuff than who serves me in the returns queue at M&S, and I felt cheeky even praying something so flippant, but my cheeks were already beginning to burn with embarrassment and it was much to late to leave the queue without it looking very odd indeed.

I was pulled out of my reverie by the chap two from the end of the service desk saying “May I help you madam?”. I always feel very old when I am called “madam” – except in France where it has a much nicer ring to it. And I was mortified to discover that I was being served by a very attractive, very young chap. I had carefully put the bras back on the little hangers they come on before I brought them back, but he still had to adjust each strap of each bra on the hangers, and hold the knickers up so he could fold them. The floor was not being very cooperative at all, staying solid beneath my feet instead of swallowing me up as I wished fervently that it would.

I barely even met his eyes during our exchange, and I could not get out of there fast enough. My face was still burning as I walked past the Foreign Exchange desk and back through the men’s department. I don’t think I’ll be trying any bras from M&S again any time soon – I just can’t handle the embarrassment!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Catching Up

Friday was sunny and gorgeous, so after a morning spent pottering round the house, we set off for Windsor, one of the prettiest little towns I know. Of course, Windsor is the home of Windsor Castle, one of the homes the Queen still lives in a great deal of the time. The castle itself is absolutely massive, sprawling over what would be several city blocks. The town, which grew up round the castle, lays at its feet. Windsor has lots of gorgeous little shops and galleries, and lots of super restaurants. It is a great place to spend the day, and you can even walk across Windsor Bridge to Eton, the home of the very famous college. If you have time, Windsor is a fantastic castle to visit. It has been beautifully restored post the terrible 1992 fire, and contains some amazing treasures. The chapel in Windsor Castle, St George’s, is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. We did not really have time for a proper visit to the castle however, so instead decided to wander round the streets of Windsor and Eton, perusing the shops and galleries. We had lunch at Francesco's, a super little Italian restaurant in Peascod Street. It has long been a favourite of Guy’s and we had a super lunch there. On our way home we stopped in Reading for a bit of light shopping and then headed home for dinner with Alex. It was a brilliant day, very relaxing and so nice to spend some time together just wandering round a pretty place and relaxing.

Saturday we were a bit more industrious, doing quite a bit of work in the garden and planting the Robinia tree which was delivered to us last week. We had a Robinia on Squires Way and loved it, so we were keen to find another one, but it took quite a bit of searching! Eventually we found one at the Big Plant Nursery. Anyway, after all our hard work, Guy and I took some time out to have a bit of a drive in the country in my car. The weather was gorgeous so it was the perfect day for it. We stopped at a farm shop and bought some freshly picked asparagus for supper. Sadly after that we had to do some packing, as Guy had to head off to Singapore Sunday on business. Thankfully it is only for a few days.

Yesterday, after the driver collected Guy for his trip to Singapore, Alex and I headed off to London on the train for a bit of an explore. We had great fun wandering around Regent Street, and then headed off to Harrods, where we took time out for a cup of tea and a cake in the branch of the famous French patisserie, Laduree, which is located in store. We didn’t buy anything in Harrods, but did a lot of looking round at all the amazing things they have for sale there. I did get a nice pair of black pumps at Russell and Bromley in Regent Street, one of my favourite shoe shops. It was very hot in London though so we decided to head back to Reading and had a really nice dinner there before catching a cab home. It was a really fun day, but I do miss Guy. Business trips are the one part of being a corporate wife that I absolutely loathe – except of course when I get to go along!!

Friday, June 06, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life

I have had the most wonderful couple of days!

On Wednesday Guy and I travelled up to Burton on Trent to see my dear friend Alice. We went for lunch at The Brookhouse Hotel, a restaurant in Rolleston on Dove, just outside of Burton. The food is delicious, and we had a lovely visit. Afterwards we went to the Wyevale Garden Centre at Rangemore and Alice bought me two gorgeous roses for my birthday –Gertrude Jekyll and Anne Boleyn. On the way home, we stopped at a farm shop and picked up asparagus and strawberries for dinner with Alex. Lovely!

First thing yesterday it was time for cards and presents. I was really spoiled, especially by Guy who bought me a beautiful diamond necklace, a circle of diamonds symbolising eternity and endless love. I was overwhelmed. It is so pretty. After Alex went off to school, Guy and I went into Pangbourne first thing and picked up a few bits and pieces, including some yummy cheese from Grey’s Cheese Shop which we had for lunch with a fresh baguette. We then headed off into London on the train to do some shopping. I was looking for a dress for Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot which I am attending in a couple of weeks. We started off at Harrods, but for the first time I was disappointed in the choice I found there. Everything seemed to have turned over for Autumn, just slightly too early for me (although I appreciate that now is when the Autumn clothes have always appeared in the shops). We wandered outside, into Monsoon where I tried on a couple of dresses. One was lovely but I was between sizes and neither one fit properly. Jaeger was just down the road and I immediately found at least twelve things I wanted to try on. I always have trouble getting things to fit as I am an hourglass shape and so many things seem to be designed for people who are not hourglass shapes! But finally I tried on a dress which was just my style and exactly what I wanted that fit just beautifully. It came with a matching jacket, but the only one they had was too big, so the saleslady found me another which was very nice so I purchased the dress and jacket. We then headed off for another branch of Jaeger, in Regent Street, to try to find the first jacket so I can mix and match. Not only did they have the jacket, but a fabulous belt as well, so I’ve got a great outfit with lots of individual pieces I can mix and match not only within that one outfit but with other things I already have as well. Just the way I like it! The even better bit was that by signing up for their loyalty card which allows me to collect points towards money off future purchases, I got a twenty percent discount on everything which meant quite a substantial saving.

Alexander came into London after school and we met up at this point and headed off to John Lewis. Alex went to look at technology and Guy helped me to choose a hat to go with my dress for Ascot. There were lots of ladies in the hat department, all of us trying on hats for Ladies Day. Guy and I found a fantastic one with just the right amount of wow factor for me without being too over the top!

It was then time to head off for my birthday dinner at The Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly Circus which I have talked more about on my recommended restaurants page. It is a beautiful restaurant and we had a fabulous time. The food was wonderful and Guy, Alex and I had a brilliant evening. Guy took the photograph of Alex and I above. I had a lovely birthday and I’m so grateful to have been able to spend it with the two most special people in my life.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It's Tuesday already...

We had a wonderful day in Burton on Saturday. We got everything we needed to do done, and even managed to catch up with friends - who we had not seen for six months(!)- for a coffee. On Sunday I collected my new car. I am so pleased with it. It is a Chrysler Crossfire Roadster convertible. Not a very practical car - it only seats two and is not the most environmentally friendly little guy on the block - but I love it. It is such fun to drive - and I promise I am obeying the speed limit!! It was lovely and sunny on Sunday so we got lots of chance to drive with the top down. Yesterday and today it has been rainy, but it is still fun to drive even with the roof up!

It has been a typical busy week. In between drives in the new car, Guy and I went to Costco to stock up on Sunday (in his car I hasten to add!). In addition to the stock items we needed (boring stuff like paper towel and Zip Lock bags - Costco is the only place in England you can find Glad Ziplock!), we got another Roomba robotic hoover. We already have one of the first generation models, and this is another generation up - a 530. They really do work (although of course you do need to vacuum with a proper hoover every once in a while). You can find out more by following this link

I have not been able to use the Roomba since we moved due to the way new carpets shed fibres but as it has been six months it's now safe to let the robots loose again! I'll use the old one upstairs and the new one downstairs.

Yesterday was a busy day with personal training in the morning and yoga in the afternoon. I felt so relaxed after yoga I didn't even mind it when Guy was late coming home. He was interviewing a new person for his team and the chap could not come in till 7.15pm so it all dragged on a bit. Even though it was well after 9pm, we had a lovely dinner. We had pasta, and I finally made bruschetta. It was a great success and it is now recipe of the week on

Today is one of those "housewifely" days with lots of things arriving and appointments. I've taken delivery of our lovely new console table in the hall from Laura Ashley. To see it, click here. At 2pm I've got a garden designer arriving just to see if we can get some ideas for our very large L-shaped garden, and at 3pm a delivery from John Lewis is arriving. Then this evening Alex has band, and so it goes...

Guy is on holiday Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for my birthday treat. I'm so looking forward to spending a few days with him - and to celebrating with him and Alex!

30th May 2008

It is wonderful to be home. We arrived back at Heathrow in the early evening and were collected by the driver who was waiting for us. The traffic was not too bad, even though it was Friday, so we decided to head on into Reading and have dinner at Pizza Express which we always enjoy.

Actually today was quite a nice day, spent relaxing round the hotel, walking along the footpaths by the River Lee and eating lovely lunches and teas. Poor Guy was working and hit all the stress – returning the rental car (which was so slow we swore it was diesel, only to find out it was petrol when we went to fill it up!), racing for the plane and driving back. As for me, the shopping at Cork airport was not too bad either and I managed to pick up some treats on the way home – non calorific ones of course (especially after the amazing food we have had these last two days)! Guy sat in the lounge and worked waiting for the plane bless him.

I was reading In Style magazine on the plane, and was really interested in the interview in the current issue with Rene Zellweger. I particularly loved the quote “There's no yearning with me. There's intention.” I found that quote incredibly inspiring and I’m so grateful to her for including it in her interview. What an amazing lady.

We’ve just been watering our new plants, and expressing frustration at our poor milkman – who despite being told we were away still delivered milk and a sample of orange juice today! Luckily I have a cooler thing and as it has been far from summery both milk and orange juice stayed cool enough. We’ll have them tomorrow for breakfast with our Krispy Kreme donuts we picked up on the way home.

Tomorrow we are back off to Burton as Guy and Alex have haircuts booked. Hopefully we will manage to catch up with a few friends and have a bit of fun as well. On Sunday I get to collect my new car and I can’t wait!

May 29th 2008

These last few days have been spent in Cork, Ireland. We’ve been staying in the lovely Kingsley Hotel on the banks of the River Lee. Both our room and Alex’s room have spectacular views of the river. Spacious and beautifully decorated, the accommodation is very comfortable indeed. Guy has been working out of the Cork offices whilst Alex and I have been sightseeing.

Our first visit was to Blarney Castle. When I was a little girl, Dad always talked about The Blarney Stone and joked about kissing it. Sadly he never got there. So Alex and I headed off to the castle to fulfil his dream in memory of him. We walked through the beautiful grounds on the way to the castle. The castle itself is in ruins, but it is easy to picture it how it must have been in its heyday. We were surprised to find that you had to climb up a very precarious staircase to get to the top of the castle and the stone itself. Imagine my delight(!) when I saw the stone – actually more a piece of a wall -, over eighty-five feet up, accessible only by lying on your back and hanging over a precipice whilst hanging on to metal rods. The picture above demonstrates - and the one below that is the view from the ground up - the space in the middle above the three windows is what you hang over! A very friendly, and yet slightly forceful Irishman hangs on to your waist so you don’t fall to your death. It was utterly terrifying – just a couple metal rods between me and the ground eighty-five feet below! Then, having thought I did it, I sat up sighing with relief only to be thrust back down again by the aforementioned Irish chap as “your son didn’t get the picture yet”! This time he gave me a good old push to be sure I kissed the stone enthusiastically – what an experience!! I’m glad I’ve done it, but I’ll not be doing it again – and I urged Alexander to forego the pleasure which he was happy to do.

We had a cup of tea in a lovely little café afterwards. We sat outside in the garden and it was positively hot by then, despite dire predictions of cold and rain by the forecasters. Later, we met up with Guy and had a wonderful dinner at Man Friday, a seafood restaurant overlooking the harbour in the beautiful village of Kinsale. I had crab au gratin to start, followed by Turbot in a white wine sauce, all washed down by a yummy Pouilly Fusse. Guy had fish as well but Alex thoroughly enjoyed his steak – there are lots of choices for folks who are not keen on fish too. Dessert was a strawberry shortcake. It was made with shortbread and was delicious.

This morning Alex and I headed off to explore Kinsale, and then drove off down the coast. The scenery was quite spectacular and we had a super time sightseeing. Tonight we ate at Cafe Paradiso, a wonderful vegetarian restaurant in Cork. The food was so delicious and the atmosphere was really friendly and comfortable. I’ve never eaten at a vegetarian restaurant that was so clearly a gourmet experience. It is expensive, but worth every penny. If you do travel to Cork, I highly recommend a visit!
Tomorrow we return home. It has been a nice little mini break I must say. Although the city of Cork itself was not really to my taste, the surrounding area is just lovely.