Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

When to take the Christmas tree down

It’s my first post of 2013 and time to look forward. Actually I threw caution to the wind this morning and was rash enough to tell my local radio station (live on air!) that my twin ambitions for the year are to complete my new novel and to learn to speak fluent French.

But before I could get started on either, there was the thorny question of when to take down the Christmas tree. And even more pertinently, what the hell to do with it after that. I don’t get as fed up with the Christmas tree as my mum used to. She always put hers up early and by Boxing Day was bored of it. By dawn on December 26 she’d dismantled the whole thing, baubles, stars, fairy and all, and stuffed it outside.

This Christmas, our tree lasted till New Year’s Day, when it looked such a sorry sight that it simply had to go.

Stumped for ideas about where to take it I scanned the council website. The recycling page came up trumps, listing a plethora of collection points across the city. They are open for the first two weeks of January and best of all, the trees get recycled into woodchip to use in Oxford’s parks.

My husband nobly said he’d take the tree to our nearest site on foot and set off in the chilly afternoon air. But for some reason he was gone an awfully long time.

“Was there a problem?” I asked when he finally arrived back.

He grinned. “No,” he said. “But I went twice.”

“Er, why?”

“Because we never got round to taking last year’s Christmas tree. So I walked back and dragged that along too.”

He got some very strange looks as he hauled the tree, completely brown and with a few dead sticks attached, through the streets of Oxford. A man selling copies of The Big Issue did a double take when he saw it. “Is that this year’s tree?” he asked. “You should go and get your money back.” 

PS. My picture shows a flooded Port Meadow on Christmas Day.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Happy Christmas from House With No Name

What is it about Christmas trees? No matter how hard I try they just won’t stay straight. I bought a special (and rather ugly) tree stand this year but the tree is still leaning at a Tower of Pisa-style angle. Apart from that, we’re all set for Christmas. I’ve collected the turkey, wrapped everyone’s present and am happily listening to A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast live from King’s College, Cambridge.

There’s sure to be something I’ve forgotten (bin bags for one) but by Christmas Eve it’s too late to worry about anything. All that’s left to do right now is to say a big thank you for reading House With No Name in 2012 and wish everyone a very happy Christmas.

Love from Emma xx

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Saturday before Christmas - cycling in the rain

With a multitude of presents to wrap, a turkey to buy and red cabbage recipes to puzzle over, there was still only one place I could be on Saturday.

Not home. Not Sainsbury’s. And no, not even the off licence. No, with three days to go till Christmas, my family hot-footed it to the picturesque environs of Hillingdon Cycle Circuit, on the outskirts of West London.

Undeterred by the torrential rain, my bike-mad son had decided to enter his second-ever road race. He loaded his bike on to the car and we tore down the M40. The rest of the traffic seemed to be heading in the opposite direction, laden to the gunnels with Christmas presents. 

By the time we got there, I half expected to find that the event had been called off. But cyclists are the hardiest people I know and a crowd of them, clad in fluorescent wet-weather gear, were busy warming up on their turbo trainers. My son, pale with nerves, grabbed his helmet and over-shoes and plunged into their midst. A middle-aged chap, clearly an old hand at road cycling, kindly gave him a load of advice about tactics. “If you fall off, protect yourself by getting into the foetal position,” he said. “The beetle position?” queried my husband. “What’s that?”

It seemed like an age before the event got underway – and a century before we saw him flash past in a sea of grit and Lycra. By the time he’d done forty minutes his face was splattered with mud and white with exhaustion.

But with another five laps to go before the finish, on they rode through the wind and the rain. Planes took off from nearby Heathrow and a wedding party drove by, but the cyclists kept their eyes on the track. Bradley Wiggins eat your heart out.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday book review - The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

If you’re racing to get your Christmas shopping done and need an enchanting story for girls aged ten and up, then The Wolf Princess could be just the ticket.

The first novel from journalist turned author Cathryn Constable, it’s the captivating account of penniless orphan Sophie Smith. Stuck in her drab London boarding school with her two best friends – brainy Marianne and immaculately groomed Delphine - she longs for something exciting to happen.

Then, thanks to a mysterious Russian visitor, the trio suddenly find themselves on a school trip to St Petersburg.  But when they arrive they are swept off by train to a winter palace – where a charismatic princess lavishes them with gifts, takes them skating on a frozen lake and weaves stories about her family’s tragic past. 

With its magical descriptions of ice, snow, diamonds and white wolves who prowl the palace grounds at night, The Wolf Princess is the perfect read for a chilly Christmas afternoon. The cover, as you can see, is glorious too.

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (Chicken House, £6.99)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Don't panic! Ideas for Christmas presents

Help! I thought I was completely organised, but as usual I’ve rifled through all the secret carrier bags stashed under the bed and realised I haven’t cracked Christmas at all.

But in a bid to make everything easy I hit on the idea of buying my extra presents from one shop. And where better than Blacks? The stores sell everything to do with the great outdoors – tents, camping equipment and waterproof clothes.

I’ve been a fan of Blacks since I bought my first pair of walking boots in their Keswick branch – more years ago than I care to remember. I’d just met my one-day-to-be husband and he’d invited me for a weekend in the Lake District. He met me at Penrith station and asked whether I’d brought walking gear with me. “Of course,” I replied jauntily. “I’ve got a pair of plimsolls in my bag.”  He was horrified, of course, and insisted that we stopped off en route to buy a sturdy pair of walking boots. They were navy blue, blissfully comfortable and perfect for striding up Catbells. I still wear them to this day.

But back to my Christmas ideas. This is what I came up with. For my coffee-addict husband, a stainless steel mug he can fill with his favourite espresso. He can stick it in the car on long journeys and it will stay piping hot.

For my 21-year-old daughter, who’s studying in Paris this year, this brilliant red sleeping bag. As well as taking it to festivals next summer, it’s just the thing for friends arriving to stay for the weekend (me for one!)

For my 18-year-old son, this brilliant cash capsule. It’s a keyring with a capsule large enough to hold a £10 note – so perfect for emergencies.

And I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t resist this stylish Dad’s Army enamel mug for myself. During the frantic lead-up to Christmas, the message emblazoned across it is very apt. DON’T PANIC!
This is a sponsored post.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

From Paris to South Wales - how I sent my son pizza across the channel

The hall’s full of bike bits, there’s a ton of washing (make that two tons) scattered across the floor and a well-thumbed copy of The Cyclist’s Training Bible is propped up on the kitchen table.

It can only mean one thing. Yes, my son’s back from his first term at university and I couldn’t be happier. I don’t know why, but I was worried he might be different. But he isn’t. He’s a bit skinnier (too much cycling by half), but he hasn’t changed a bit.   

And sweetly, he is pleased to be home for the Christmas holidays too. The novelty of doing all his own shopping, cooking and washing seems to have worn off pretty fast and now he’s thrilled to open the kitchen cupboard and discover stuff he always took for granted before. Like bread, biscuits and his favourite Krave cereal.

Actually, for the last week of term he existed on a diet of lentils and rice. His credit card got nicked at a club and the bank said it would take up to ten days for a new one to arrive. He managed fine, going into the bank on campus to take money out every day. Except everything went wrong last Sunday night, when he staggered in from a 60-mile bike ride and realised he’d completely run out of cash. Worse still, the cupboard was bare and none of his flatmates were around to borrow from.

So he rang me. The only problem was that I was in Paris for the weekend, staying with my daughter. I panicked, wondering what the hell to do. And then my daughter hit on a bright idea. “I know,” she said. “We’ll order him a pizza.” And so that was how the pair of us, sitting in her flat on Paris’s chic Left Bank, found ourselves busily (and incongruously) hunting for a Domino’s in South Wales.

But guess what? It worked. Within 20 minutes flat, my hungry son was tucking into a Pepperoni Passion. Result!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A December weekend in Paris

As regular readers will know, my student daughter is at university in Paris this year. She’s settled into a flat on the Left Bank and, three months on, her French is pretty fluent. She says she still sounds English but that’s hardly surprising. Unless you’ve spoken French from the age of two or three it’s impossible to sound completely français.

I’m trying not to be a clingy parent, I really am, but I’d been counting the days till I could whizz across the Channel to stay with her. I booked a Eurostar ticket weeks ago (£99 return) and, finally, the big day arrived.

Paris has always been one of my favourite cities and December is the perfect time to visit. The Boulevard St Germain twinkled with chic white lights, a team of carpenters was busy building white wooden huts for the annual Christmas market and the shop windows were a vision of festive loveliness.

With temperatures dipping towards zero (I’m SO glad I delivered my daughter’s duffle coat – she really needed it), we spent loads of time catching up in Paris’s brilliant cafés.

My favourite place for breakfast was a tiny bakery (below) in the rue de Buci (6e). It’s called, quite bizarrely, The Smiths. When we asked the waitress why, she explained that the architect was a huge fan of the band and named it after them. But Morrissey apart, The Smiths sells a café crème, croissant and orange juice for 5.5 euros, which seems pretty good value. The French are clearly a hardy lot because even though it was freezing lots of people were sitting at tables outside. Luckily, The Smiths, like most other cafes, supplies blankets on the backs of chairs so you can wrap up warm as you sip your coffee.

Meanwhile the Rose Bakery is brilliant for lunch. Rose Carrarini (author of the fabulous cookery book, Breakfast Lunch Tea) co-founded Villandry in London in 1988 and later went on to open the Rose Bakery, an Anglo-French bakery and restaurant in Paris. Some people were sceptical about how the French would take to a menu featuring cakes, scones and brownies, but it was a roaring success. Ten years on, there are three branches in Paris, as well as others in London, Seoul and Tokyo.

When we arrived at the branch in the Marais (30, rue Debelleyme, 3e) the queue stretched the length of the narrow restaurant and spilled out on to the pavement. Within 20 minutes though, we got a table and happily sat down to lunch. Everything is kept simple – with brown paper laid on the table, hunks of warm wholemeal bread and huge carafes of water. The only tricky moment comes when you have to choose what to eat – it all looks (and tastes) delicious.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Getting organised for Christmas

My mind’s been on Christmas since the summer. That's when I sat down to write my latest novella, White Christmas. As the rest of my family whizzed around enjoying the sunshine I was in a world of my own, dreaming about Christmas trees, advent calendars, carols, presents and snow.

But now my ebook is done and dusted, I’m busy getting sorted for Christmas. With friends and family scattered all over the place, it means being hyper-organised for once and making sure that the right presents get sent to the right place at the right time. I’ll never forget the awful year when I finished work in London on Christmas Eve, drove down to my parents in Dorset, laden (or so I thought) with presents, and then discovered I’d left the most important ones behind.

My problem is that I always get lulled into a false sense of security. I usually start my Christmas shopping in October, get loads done and then grind to a halt. Around the middle of December I have a major panic when I realise I haven’t done nearly as much as I thought I had.

But this year is different. Why? Because instead of keeping everything in my head (not a good idea when it’s clogged up with other stuff), I’ve actually written a list.  I’ve also downloaded the brilliant Red magazine's Christmas Kitchen Lifesaver app, which is keeping me on the straight and narrow about all the food I’ve got to buy.

But back to presents, my list is a work of art. I’ve scrawled the names of everyone I’m buying presents for in one column and when I need to post everything in the next. I’ve written my Christmas cards (well, most of them), sent my goddaughters’ parcels off by Parcelforce already (they are a dream to buy for) and if I say so myself, I’m not doing too badly at all.

Getting ahead for a change and sending my presents off early has been a revelation. Instead of panicking I’m enjoying these pre-Christmas weeks. I just hope I haven’t forgotten someone...
PS. I've even bought a Christmas pudding - from Meg Rivers Cakes (see below). Thanks to my friend Jackie, I've just discovered their cafe near Broadway, in Worcestershire, and it's a great place for lunch.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Friday book review - The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis

With Christmas less than a month away (eek!), I’m busy writing a newspaper piece about great festive reads for children.

One of my favourites so far is Richard Curtis’s The Empty Stocking. The prodigiously talented Curtis – director and screenwriter extraordinaire – has written an enchanting tale for children, with sweet illustrations by Rebecca Cobb.

It’s the story of seven-year-old twin sisters Sam and Charlie, who look the same but couldn’t be more different.

Sam is angelic, while Charlie is quite naughty. Or as Curtis puts it: “Not interested in being obedient. Quite often very grumpy. Not very fond of telling the complete truth. But very fond of eating sweets, making a filthy racket and having too much fun.” (Actually, come to think of it, Charlie sounds the life and soul of the party).

The little girls can’t wait for Christmas and excitedly hang their stockings at the end of their beds on Christmas Eve. But the big question is - will Santa fill both their stockings with presents this year? Or is it time he got tough?

This is a lovely picture book for small children – and as well as being an exuberant and heart-warming tale, it’s got an important message too.

The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis (Puffin, £6.99)

Monday, 26 November 2012

The kindness of strangers Part 2

My children are both at university now – but out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind. Far from it. The fact that I don’t see them every day makes me worry even more.

I was thrilled, though, when my 18 year old son phoned at 10pm last night. Except it wasn’t for a chat. It was to say that he was on a train from Manchester to South Wales after a weekend catching up with old pals and the train had been severely delayed because of the weather. He’d just clocked that his train was due to terminate at Newport - at midnight, 50 miles from where he needed to be and with no more trains till dawn. 

To make matters worse, his credit card had been nicked a few days earlier, he only had £10 on him and his phone was about to run out of battery.

“We’re stuck at Shrewsbury,” he said. “And I don’t want to waste my battery so I’m switching my phone off now.”

Before I could reply, he rang off.

At midnight, with no news, I rang Newport railway station. But the place had shut up shop for the night. Next, I called a taxi firm close by.

“Don’t worry,” said a cheery voice at Dragon Taxis when he heard the sorry tale. “I’ll go and find out. What does he look like? I’ll see if he’s there.”

How kind was that? The man came back ten minutes later and said my son wasn’t there. But he’d asked the rail staff and in fact the train had travelled on to Cardiff. After that, they’d said, Arriva Trains were laying on taxis (free of charge) to take stranded passengers home. And sure enough, when I finally spoke to my son at 3am, that’s exactly what had happened.   

So, all I can say is: A big thank you to the wonderful Dragon Taxis of Newport. Talk about going that extra mile...

PS. I've just realised it's exactly a month till Christmas. Help!

PPS. The kindness of strangers Part 1 is here.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Download White Christmas for free today

Hal Benson smoothed his crumpled charcoal jacket, adjusted the livid pink tie he’d borrowed from a friend and cleared his throat noisily. His mouth was dry and he’d started to sweat under the bright studio lights. He couldn’t for the life of him work out why he was so nervous. For goodness sake, he’d performed in front of thousands of people before. He’d played Macduff at Stratford-upon-Avon without batting an eyelid, and had even appeared in a Tom Cruise movie once. It had only been a tiny part, admittedly, and his five seconds of fame had ended up on the cutting room floor, but all the same, he was a professional actor. And this, well this was just play-acting.

In eight years of acting, Hal had never worked anywhere as garish as this place. He half-wished he’d brought a pair of sunglasses with him. The whole studio was painted in an acid yellow, with a giant black clock on the main wall and a vast red curved sofa in front of it. There was a Christmas tree in one corner, covered in red and yellow baubles, and a life-sized model of Father Christmas in the other. Red and yellow were clearly the TV station’s signature colours.

At that moment a young studio manager with a bulky pair of headphones clamped to her ears took him by the arm. She guided him to the left-hand side of the sofa and instructed him to stand in front of a translucent screen.

‘You’ll see a faint image of the graphics appear,’ she told Hal. ‘The image will give you an idea of where to point and you can use the remote clicker we’ve given you to move on to the next graphic. Is that clear?’

As clear as mud, thought Hal, but he nodded brightly and said ‘sure…’

That's a short extract from my festive new ebook, White Christmas. If you’d like to read more, you can download the novella for free on Amazon today. Let me know what you think...

Friday, 9 November 2012

White Christmas – new romantic novella out now

With Christmas just seven weeks away (help!), my festive new novella has just been published. White Christmas, the tale of two rival weather forecasters, was great fun to write – so I hope readers will enjoy it.

From Christmas trees and carols to holly and mistletoe, the story aims to get everyone in the festive mood. White Christmas is available for download at AmazonHere's the blurb...

Everyone dreams of a White Christmas.

But nobody dreams of one quite as much as Hal Benson.

Out-of-work actor Hal has been hired as a stand-in weather presenter by a ratings-chasing TV news channel. But actually, Hal couldn't care less whether it rains or not. To him it is just a job.

But then he meets rival weather forecaster Lizzie Foster. She’s bright, determined and very beautiful. Fascinated by meteorology, she can’t believe that Hal is completely clueless about the weather.

They become friends, but as Christmas Day approaches, their relationship turns out to be as unpredictable as the weather. And sometimes as stormy.

Whilst everyone else is unwrapping presents, Hal and Lizzie are looking to the skies for signs of a White Christmas. So will the pair overcome their meteorological differences - and find true love?

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas in the Lake District

As we ground to a halt on the motorway for the umpteenth time I began to wonder whether our Christmas trip to the Lake District was worth it. The journey should take four hours but in 20 years of visiting the place we’ve never managed it in less than six. We usually arrive in a filthy temper at midnight and swear we’ll never do it again.

This was the first Christmas we’d ever spent at my in-laws’ holiday let in the Newlands Valley so it was a bit of an experiment. On the plus side the farmhouse has been done up in the last couple of years and boasts lovely White Company linen, an Aga and a massive roll-top bath with stunning views over the valley (have you ever seen such a great outlook from a bath? No, me neither.) On the minus side, the weather is often dire, with grey skies and sideways rain, and there’s no WiFi.
But we had four blissful days. I panicked slightly the first morning when I realised I’d forgotten to pack my children’s treasured Christmas stockings. I know they’re 20 and 17 but they still hang stockings up on Christmas Eve. I rushed into Keswick to look for replacements but couldn’t find anything. Then the lovely Emma at Temporary Measure in Main Street suggested using two of her printed canvas bags instead. What a brilliant idea – far more chic than stockings.

The highpoint came after lunch on Christmas Day when we set off on my favourite Mrs Tiggy-Winkle walk. As we meandered along the foot of Catbells and Maiden Moor we barely saw anyone, apart from a few hardy Herdwick sheep.

It’s a route that Beatrix Potter knew like the back of her hand. Although she lived further south, at Hill Top Farm in the village of Sawrey, she often stayed at Lingholm, a massive pile on the shores of Derwentwater. She was walking along the Newlands Valley when she met Lucie Carr, the local vicar’s daughter, and later wrote The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle for the little girl, complete with sweet drawings of Skelgill Farm and the isolated village of Little Town.

Despite the howling wind (so strong that it lifted me off the ground), the walk was as lovely as ever. As dusk fell, all we could see across the valley was the soaring peak of Causey Pike and the twinkling lights of Little Town in the distance. Mind you, we got our come-uppance for setting off so late when we staggered back up the hill in the dark, the night-time silence punctured by shrieks (mostly mine) as several of us went splat in the mud. But it didn’t matter a jot. A few minutes later we were back by the log fire, with festive glasses of champagne in our hands and a toast to Christmas 2011.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas from House With No Name

The tree is up (at an unintentionally jaunty angle), the Sainsbury's shop is done and the Military Wives Christmas song is playing full-blast.

There’s sure to be something I’ve forgotten to do but by Christmas Eve it’s too late to worry about anything – so at this stage all I can do is to thank you for reading House With No Name in 2011 and wish everyone a very happy Christmas.

Love from Emma xx

Monday, 19 December 2011

The trials and tribulations of online Christmas shopping

Like most people, I’ve done loads of my shopping online this Christmas. Instead of flogging round the shops in the freezing cold I've sat in the warmth of my office sipping coffee and choosing presents from Amazon, Topshop and other shopping emporiums.

It’s so quick and easy that I wasn’t surprised in the least to read that online sales have doubled to ten per cent since 2000 and are predicted to rise to more than 12 per cent by 2014.

Except the one thing I’d forgotten in the midst of it all is that someone still has to deliver the blooming stuff. And that’s where I’m not so impressed.

Last week, three Amazon parcels got delivered to our house. Fine, except they were delivered on the days I was in London and were simply dumped on the doorstep. Again, it wouldn’t be a problem if we lived in the middle of nowhere but we’re on a main road in a busy city. Anyone could have hopped up the steps, nicked the parcels (luckily they didn’t) and sped off in a trice.

But I didn’t make a fuss till a third parcel arrived and was left outside in the pouring rain. I arrived home more than 12 hours later to find a sorry, sopping mess. The cardboard packaging completely disintegrated when I picked it up and the book inside was ruined. It took three phone calls to get through to the delivery company and about an hour to repackage the present and arrange for a new one to be delivered. Hmmm. In that time, I could have walked to Waterstone’s and bought it in person. Maybe online shopping isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

PS. The most hilarious piece I read over the weekend was a report declaring that the happiest moment of Christmas is at... 1.55pm. Apparently that’s the time when all the presents have been opened, lunch has been cooked and served and the children are playing happily with their new toys. I’m clearly the most disorganised parent on the planet but I can predict for sure that at 1.55pm in our house, lunch won’t have been cooked and served and we’ll only just have started opening our presents. I’m ashamed to admit that the latest we’ve sat down to lunch on Christmas Day was 5.30pm. And did it matter? Not a bit.

PPS. Just to show that there's something else to be said for shopping in person, the picture above (taken in the Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris) shows my favourite shop window of the year. A VW camper in the window? Now that's definitely the way to attract customers.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

House With No Name Weekly Digest: From the fabulous Military Wives to a birthday lunch in Shoreditch

With Christmas exactly eight days away there are still presents to buy, food to organise and a snowboarding course to do (no, thankfully not me, my son). He, by the way, has set off this morning in jeans and a shirt – still no coat! I may have to try novelist Veronica Henry’s approach. “I can be quite scary,” she tweeted. “... and there was money involved.”

On the plus side, the Christmas tree is up, at a slightly wonky angle, and this very second I’ve had an email from Amazon saying my CD of the Military Wives’ Wherever You Are “has dispatched.”

Anyway, as promised, here are some of the week’s highlights at House With No Name.

House With No Name’s shout-out for the fabulous Military Wives
House With No Name on the problem of where to put the Christmas cards
House With No Name on a special lunch in Shoreditch
House With No Name Book Review: Robert Harris’s The Fear Index

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Christmas card conundrum

Christmas is full of conundrums. How long to cook the turkey for? Whether to make bread sauce (I loathe the stuff)? What to buy the in-laws? But the trickiest puzzle by far is... what to do with the Christmas cards.

Lots of people have stopped buying cards altogether or opted for e-cards ages ago - but not me. I love sending Christmas cards and I love getting them back.

The only trouble is that I haven’t got a clue where to put them. Artistic friends hang them on scarlet ribbons from VV Rouleaux while others prop them on the mantelpiece. The problem is that we haven’t got a mantelpiece and if I cack-handedly try the ribbon thing it looks awful.

So after a few days I always opt for my mother’s tried and tested solution. It’s quick, easy and doesn’t involve any creative flair whatsoever. I get a large bowl out of the kitchen cupboard, plonk it in the middle of the table and chuck the cards in. Simple!

PS. Now the Christmas cards are sorted, the next thing on my list is to find an uplifting carol service. My children’s carol singing days are long gone and my confirmed atheist husband refuses point-blank to go anywhere near a church, so if you see a solitary, but very happy, figure sitting in an Oxford pew it’ll be me.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The art of haggling - and a free Laura Marling CD

I like a bargain as much as anyone. My purse is stuffed with discount vouchers and cuttings snipped out of newspapers and magazines – from a Paperchase offer in today’s Observer to a handful of dog-eared Tesco vouchers.

But apparently what we should be doing in these cash-strapped times, and especially in the run-up to Christmas, is haggling. Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which? magazine, says: “Christmas doesn’t have to be cancelled. Savvy shoppers can save money with online deals, discount days and pre-Christmas sales. You should compare prices between stores and don’t be afraid to haggle to get the best price.”

Apparently everyone is doing it, including Sun columnist Jane Moore, whose husband got £3,000 off her new car by haggling. Well, lucky her, but the trouble is that in order to get a great deal in the shops you have to be a very cool, confident customer. Not only that, I reckon that shops dishing out discounts probably have a cut-off price they’d sell the goods at anyway. You only have to look at the zillions of on-line offers around right now to realise that. I’ve currently got emails giving 15 per cent off at Cologne & Cotton, Emma Bridgewater, the Conran Shop and more arriving by the day.

When it comes to haggling, though, you’ve either got what it takes or you haven’t. I remember my mother giving it a go at Covent Garden market years ago. Browsing at a clothes stall, she spotted some trousers for £15 and a top for £10 and asked the stall-holder “can you do the two for £30?” He clearly couldn't believe his ears. “Yep, I think I can,” he said, quickly wrapping the items up.

I’ve clearly inherited her bartering skills. Looking for an outfit to wear to a wedding, I spied a chic straw boater at a posh Battersea milliner’s. The price tag next to it said £75 so I went in and tried it on. It was perfect. “I’ll have it,” I said. “That’ll be £70,” said the assistant. “Er, shouldn’t it be £75?” I queried and duly paid the more expensive price. When we got outside my husband rolled his eyes in despair. “You are the only person I know who manages to barter the price up,” he said.

PS. It wasn’t just the Paperchase offer that made me buy the Observer this morning. As I mentioned a couple of months back, I’m a huge fan of Laura Marling. So I could hardly believe my luck when a Laura Marling CD featuring ten live and studio tracks (some from her recent tour of English cathedrals) came free with today’s issue. It has quite made my day. And I didn’t even have to haggle to get it!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

House With No Name Weekly Digest: From the world’s worst au pair (me!) to Pippa Middleton’s party planning book

Every Saturday the House With No Name blog features a few of the week’s highlights – and with Christmas fast approaching, there have been plenty during the last seven days.

As I staggered downstairs this morning there were two lots of mail on the doormat. One was the gorgeous January issue of Red magazine (my favourite monthly right now) with party girl Zoe Ball looking stunning on the cover, while the second was (aaagh) my very first Christmas card. It came from a lovely school friend, but had the effect of making me feel even more chaotic than usual. I’ve got as far as buying my cards but there’s no way I’ll get round to sending them for another two weeks. AT LEAST!

House With No Name goes to the BBC
House With No Name on the art of being the world’s worst au pair
House With No Name puts up its advent calendar
House With No Name on how to throw a non-Pippa-Middleton-style party
House With No Name Book Review - Sheena Byrom’s Catching Babies

PS: The National Blog Posting Month challenge (or NaBloPoMo for short) finished in style on November 30 – and da-da-di-da, I made it. A big thank you to everyone who read and commented on my posts. I had great fun posting every day and met loads of lovely bloggers along the way, some of whom have thrown caution to the wind and are blogging right through December too. They are made of sterner stuff than me!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Advent calendars - and the last day of NaBloPoMo

On the last day of November every year I hang a faded purple velvet advent calendar in the kitchen and fill the 24 pockets with sweets. My daughter’s at university now and at 17 my son thinks advent calendars are babyish, but tough, I’m still doing it. And he’ll happily gobble up the sweets before he leaves for school every morning.

I’m not particularly keen on tradition most of the year but Christmas is different. At Christmas, tradition rules. I love searching out the decorations (I buy a new one each year so they now amount to an eccentric medley of hearts, stars, papier maché baubles, twinkling lights and tin snowmen), putting the tree up in time for my daughter’s birthday on the 13th and playing carols at top volume as I wrap presents. I never write lists and with 24 days to go my office floor is already a tangled mess of presents, wrapping paper and parcels that I ordered on-line but can’t for the life of me remember who for.

But in amongst the chaos, today feels extra special. Why? Because it's the last day of National Blog Posting Month – or NaBloPoMo for short.

The first NaBloPoMo took place in 2006 when an American blogger called M. Kennedy decided there should be a blogging equivalent of National Novel Writing Month. The idea took off in a flash and is now held without fail every November.

I'm not sure how I got involved but all I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. The main thing I’ve discovered from the experience is that blogging every day is an awful lot harder than it looks. But from blogging boot camp to the mums who wear pyjamas at the school gate, I’ve somehow managed it - and made lots of NaBloPoMo friends along the way.

PS. This Saturday should have been the day my husband and two friends set off on the annual Tour de Trigs challenge, a gruelling 24-hour orienteering hike through the wilds of the Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire countryside. For 46 years it’s been held every December – when the days are short, the temperatures are freezing and the fields are at their muddiest. But sadly we’ve just heard the event has run its course and won’t be taking place any more. A look of bewilderment crossed my husband’s face when he heard the news. “I don’t know whether to be sad or relieved,” he said.

PPS. If you’re still looking for an advent calendar this Caroline Gardner one (above) is the prettiest I’ve seen. My son isn’t impressed because it doesn’t have chocolates inside but I'd rather have it than a Top Gear one any day.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...