The blog

British mummy blogger and travel blogger

My pink fashion obsession

A few years back I had my colours done. What this involves is having various swatches of colour placed… [more]

My pink fashion obsession My pink fashion obsession

Norwegian Getaway

This time last week I was somewhere in the Caribbean on board Norwegian Getaway, the newest ship from… [more]

Norwegian Getaway Norwegian Getaway

In Dublin’s fair city

It had been a while since I'd been to Dublin but when we arrived there on Thursday it felt very familiar,… [more]

In Dublin’s fair city In Dublin's fair city

Competitive Fancy Dress Syndrome: are you at risk?

My twitter timeline is currently full of mums worrying about what their kids are going to wear for World… [more]

Competitive Fancy Dress Syndrome: are you at risk? Competitive Fancy Dress Syndrome: are you at risk?

Cher, kayaking and alligators: My mad weekend in Fort Lauderdale

Apologies for the blogging Radio Silence; this time last week I had just arrived back from Miami after… [more]

Cher, kayaking and alligators: My mad weekend in Fort Lauderdale Cher, kayaking and alligators: My mad weekend in Fort Lauderdale

Guardians of the Galaxy review

I've had to wait a full 24 hours to blog this Guardians of the Galaxy review because it was under embargo… [more]

Guardians of the Galaxy review Guardians of the Galaxy review

My pink fashion obsession

BarbapapaA few years back I had my colours done. What this involves is having various swatches of colour placed on your shoulders, and then the ‘colour therapist’ decides which colours and tones lift your face, and make you look good. For me, this was spring and summer colours, specifically pale blue and pinks. You can decide to take the advice and go and buy a whole new wardrobe, or ignore it. I chose to ignore it, and apart from the occasional pink cardi, stuck to my favourite black and grey instead, determined not to look like Barbapapa.

Legally blondeUntil earlier this year, when I bought my pink coat, and discovered that yes, pink really does suit me, after all; it lifts my face and suits my skin tones. It was a fashion revelation. In fact, I LOVE wearing pink, and I can wear any shade, too – crimson, salmon, rose. OK, I’m not quite at Barbara Cartland stage yet; there’s no need for an intervention. But I’m definitely addicted to pink fashion. And as a grown woman and a feminist capable of making her own decisions I feel perfectly comfortable choosing to wear pink; not every day, obviously, but for me, pink doesn’t stink at all. As long as I avoid the Legally Blonde head to toe thing, because, well, that would be kind of weird. I’m not Barbie, for heaven’s sake, it’s not about looking girlie. I’m more interested in channelling Joan from Mad Men, so if the pink item in question has a Fifties/Sixties vibe, then it’s probably coming home with me.

M&S Autograph pink shift

 

Anyhoo, I’ve been hitting the sales (I know, I know), and I found this FABULOUS Autograph dress at M&S, which is very Jackie K before she became O, dontcha think? I don’t usually buy clothes at M&S but I couldn’t resist this…

French Connection pink dress

 

…and this absolutely GORGEOUS dress from French Connection (total bargain, £33 reduced from £110!)… it’s ideal for wearing on a summer night. The coat hanger, by the way, was handmade by my grandmother over 30 years ago. She also loved pink.

Gerard Darel dress

 

And this wonderful number from Gerard Darel. I’m not going to tell you how much it was, but it was totally worth it.

See? What’s not to love about pink fashion? Go on, give it a whirl.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy review

guardians-of-the-galaxyI’ve had to wait a full 24 hours to blog this Guardians of the Galaxy review because it was under embargo until after the premiere had taken place; that’s how hot this movie is, and it doesn’t even open until next Thursday.

No 1 Son was excited by the prospect of seeing the new Marvel movie; we both like Chris Pratt (from Parks and Recreation, aka as #ParksandRec), and I’ll take Bradley Cooper in any form – even when he’s voicing a CGI raccoon.

The plot of Guardians of the Galaxy was completely new to me, but it’s fairly straightforward: Chris Pratt plays a cocky adventurer, Peter Quill, who steals a mysterious orb also coveted by powerful villain Ronan with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits—Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon (Cooper), Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand—with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.

Guardians of the Galaxy has a great cast, including Karen Gillan – aka Amy Pond from Doctor Who – sporting a dramatic hair cut that is bound to have lots of teenage girls asking for a ‘Karen Gillan’ - lock up your nail scissors. The story zips along nicely, the movie has a brilliant soundtrack, there are some touching moments, it’s a little dark at times and the special effects are, as you might expect from the franchise that brought us Iron Man, outstanding. Guardians of the Galaxy is an action-packed epic space adventure, with laughs: a proper blockbuster. The perfect movie for a summer holidays treat, in fact. 4 stars (out of 5).

Here’s a clip to whet your appetite – Guardians of the Galaxy opens across the UK on July 31.

 

 

St Martin and Sint Maarten – two Caribbean islands in one

St Martin

 

Although we were having a whale of a time (sorry) on board Norwegian Getaway after two-and-a-half days at sea it definitely felt good to get on dry land – in this case the Caribbean island of St Martin and Sint Maarten. It doesn’t matter how many times you go to the Caribbean, there’s always something new to discover – and, I can’t stress this enough, NO TWO CARIBBEAN ISLANDS ARE THE SAME. They all have unique, distinctive characteristics, and in the case of St Martin and Sint Maarten, you actually get two islands in one; there’s the distinctively French side, St Martin, and the Dutch side, Sint Maarten, and a cute little bridge between the two.

Mama Doudou

 

We started our tour of the island by visiting the rum ‘factory’ of Ma Doudou. Although we weren’t actually allowed to see the ‘factory’, which gave it a sort of Willy Wonka mystique, we were given some rather fiery spiced rum to try – my favourite had orange and honey.

Ma Doudou rum bottles

 

Aren’t the rum bottles beautiful?  All handpainted, just gorgeous.

Caribbean cat

 

And this little cat was rather adorable too.

Cooking demo St Martin

 

From here we headed off to the stunning beach at Grand Case bay and a cooking demo by the chef at Le Ti-Provencal was very entertaining, with lots of delicious creole food to try – my favourite dish was an exquisite chicken curry, but also banana glazed with brown sugar and of course, rum. Total nom.

Le Ti-Provencal

 

Le Ti-Provencal really has the most idyllic setting – you can even see Anguilla from the beach.

Grand Case Bay St Martin

 

Then we hung out on the powdery sand a while and swam in the clear (and a little cold) water…

starfish

 

…and found this little starfish (so cute).

Bar St MartinAfterwards I decided to go for a mooch along the beach road, taking photos of the pretty houses and this little church…

…isn’t this bar cool? You can see how hot it was though – the photos are a bit blurred because of condensation on my iPhone caused by the humidity (nothing to do with the rum, believe me).

St Martin

 

On the way back to the port there was time to stop and get some photos of the stunning views…

houses St Martin

 

…and these rather fabulously-painted stores…

flowers St Martin

 

…and flowers…

St Martin/Sint Maarten is the kind of Caribbean island you fall in love with instantly, one of the prettiest I’ve been to, and the kind of place I could imagine easily staying a bit longer - it’s perfect for a family holiday or a romantic break; it’s also very stylish. The beauty of cruises is that you get to discover gems like these, and can make plans to return.

Norwegian Getaway

Norwegian GetawayThis time last week I was somewhere in the Caribbean on board Norwegian Getaway, the newest ship from Norwegian Cruise Line, with Virgin Holidays Cruises. It’s a really beautiful ship with colourful artwork (known as livery) on its hull and a Miami/Cuban vibe…

Norwegian Getaway chandelier..the design is very contemporary – I loved this stunning chandelier…

Norwegian Getaway balcony stateroom…and my ocean view balcony  stateroom was decorated in turquoise and wood, which gave it a very elegant feel…

Norwegian Getaway tea and coffee…it had lots of room and a sofa so could easily have slept a family of four. And I was very pleased that it had a little coffee maker (plus fresh ground coffee and tea bags) - the first time I’ve encountered this on a cruise ship.

Breakfast on the balconyI also enjoyed breakfast on my balcony with a sea view…

pancakes Norwegian Getaway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…although the selection was a little limited (far too healthy for me) – if you want an American-style breakfast you’re better off going to the self-service The Garden cafe or Taste and Savor, where you can get the most amazing pancakes and crispy bacon.

Cuban food Flamingo Bar and Grill

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are lots of restaurants to choose from but my favourite was the Flamingo Bar and Grill, which offers Cuban-inspired delicacies including grilled plantain, spinach empanadas and yucca chips. NOM.

Water slides Norwegian Getaway

 

 

The pool spaces are well thought out with lots of slides for kids (big and small) …

Ropes course Norwegian Getaway

 

…and this is the ropes course (which includes The Plank – a narrow er, plank, that juts out to sea. You’re given harnesses, but on a windy day this is definitely not an experience for the easily shaken.

The Vibe Norwegian Getaway

 

We were given access to The Vibe club, which costs $79 a week and is a great adults-only place to chill out while the kids are at their own clubs, so worth every penny, and it has jacuzzis and flat beds and a bar. The staff even bring you cold washcloths and complimentary fresh fruit while you soak up the rays and views; but throughout the ship I was pleased to discover they’ll also spray you with cold water, which is very welcome in the heat of the Caribbean sun.

Guava and raspberry mojito

 

The beauty of travelling with Virgin Holidays Cruises is that you get $100 onboard spend per stateroom, which you can then spend on whatever you like… for example, cocktails *cough*.

The Waterfront Norwegian Getaway

 

One of the best things about Norwegian Getaway is that it has a whole deck of outside space, known as The Waterfront…

Ocean Blue calamari…this is where you’ll find the speciality restaurant Ocean Blue – I can’t understand why more cruise lines don’t offer outside space, because there’s nothing nicer on a balmy Caribbean evening (or Med, for that matter) than eating al fresco – this was the excellent calamari…

norwegian getaway fireworks…it’s also a great place to watch the fireworks (Norwegian is the only cruise line apart from Disney to offer fireworks at sea). We also enjoyed the dance show Burn the Floor and the magic at The Illusionarium.

Norwegian Getaway ice barAnd of course we checked out the ice bar – they give you warm coats to wear but it’s still freezing so we lasted about 10 minutes…

The Haven pool…and the exclusive ‘ship within a ship’ known as The Haven (guests staying here even have their own restaurant), as well as the state-of-the-art spa.

towel animal bunnyOverall, I was very impressed with the Norwegian Getaway experience, and I miss my nightly turn down service, complete with towel animals and chocolates, and of course, waking up to those spectacular sea views. You can watch a video of my ocean view balcony stateroom below *sighs wistfully*.

Men over 40 are MORE attractive, frankly

Oh I do love a nonsensical survey which makes sweeping generalisations based on very little evidence. This latest one comes from somewhere called the Crown Clinic, which specialises in hair loss. I can’t seem to find how many people they actually surveyed, but apparently ’54% of men’ feel invisible after the age of 39 (try being a woman over the age of 39 – you could use your invisibility cloak to fight crime).

Anyway, it’s clearly TOTAL baloney to suggest men lose their sex appeal after the age of 39. Apparently we start thinking of them as fathers for our children rather than sex gods, which doesn’t really make sense, because if you want someone to father your children you have to fancy them, don’t you?

The fact is that men over 40 are MORE attractive. Yes of course the likes of Zac Efron are very pretty *cough* but as a man starts to mature he ages like a fine wine: flecks of grey in the hair, creases round the eyes, and a look of a man who has lived a bit and knows where he’s going and who is is are VERY attractive. Guys, if you’re under 39, you have A LOT to look forward to.  (I don’t mean ALL men, obviously – if you weren’t particularly attractive when you were in your 20s or 30s, you’re not going to wake up and find you’ve suddenly become sexy overnight.) But let’s look at the evidence.

Brad Pitt

 

Brad Pitt, 50

George Clooney

 

George Clooney, 53

Liam NeesonLiam Neeson, 62

Hugh JackmanHugh Jackman, 45

I rest my case.

The One with the smooth shiny hair

Monica in Barbados

 

I’ve always had the kind of hair which veers from wavy to frizzy in its natural state, that is without straightening with the GHDs or an expensive blow-dry. And of course this kind of maintenance is not good for the hair, particularly when you combine it with highlights. Add in humidity and I end up looking like a blonde version of Monica in Barbados, and definitely not in a good way.

So when Muse of London asked me if I’d like to come along and try their nanokeratin blow-dry I jumped at the chance, particularly if it meant I’d finally have smooth shiny hair.

Muse of London

 

Muse of London is located in Fitzrovia, close to Oxford Street, and it’s a cool, funky salon, the kind of place that has a giant fridge stocked with drinks inviting you to help yourself. Salon director Jason Cocking has worked with everyone from the Olsen Twins to Vogue, darling, and he has a fab, friendly personality which puts you immediately at your ease.

He explained that the nanokeratin blow-dry is different from a Brazilian blow-dry, which uses formaldehyde, and told me that while it would make my hair smoother and more manageable, it couldn’t permanently straighten my hair, which was fine by me, because if I’ve been in the sea I do quite like my waves.

nano keratin blow dry muse of london

 

 

So, how does the nanokeratin blow-dry work? Well, first of all your hair is washed twice to open the hair shafts; then the product is applied, section by section, and the blow-drying starts, while the product is still in your hair. You end up looking as though you’ve been to a salon, but it looks as though you have slightly too much serum in your hair (don’t worry though, this is only temporary). Then comes the hard part: for the next three days you have to leave your hair unwashed, and not put any product or anything in it. You can straighten it to help it keep its shape but that is all. For someone who is used to washing their hair at least every other day, this was very difficult.

Finally, after three days, you can wash your hair – Jason recommended a paraben-free shampoo and conditioner – and the results are, frankly AMAZING. For the first time in my life I have smooth shiny hair without any need for serum or oil or straighteners or anything else; just perfectly manageable hair, and best of all no flyaways or frizzy little stray hairs. It feels like SILK, and in the best condition it’s been in for years.

So, that’s my experience of nanokeratin blow-drying. I can’t believe it took me so long to try it out. Thank you Jason and Muse of London for transforming my tresses.

*READER OFFER: If you’d like to experience Muse of London for yourself, call 020 7467 9560 and quote: MUSE24 and The Mum Blog to receive 35% off colour services and 15% off all other services on your first visit.

In Dublin’s fair city

Irish post box

It had been a while since I’d been to Dublin but when we arrived there on Thursday it felt very familiar, although of course lots has changed and there’s currently building going on all over the city. The Celtic Tiger may have stopped roaring for a while but according to our taxi driver things are definitely on the up, which is good to hear.

The Merrion hotel bedroom

We stayed at The Merrion, which is utterly fabulous and without doubt one of my favourite hotels in the world. It’s not just that it’s proper five-star luxury (Asprey toiletries in the bathroom, for goodness’ sake)…

 

Merrion hotel drawing room

 

…or that it’s so elegant (this is one of the  drawing rooms)…

Irish breakfast at The Merrion hotel

 

…and that it does superb Irish breakfasts, complete with my favourite potato cakes, but it’s also about the service, which is second to none.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Georgian door Dublin pink

 

The Merrion is housed in a classic Georgian building (four houses knocked into one) – and Dublin is of course famous for its wonderfully elegant Georgian architecture and doors, like these ones (my favourite is the pink). Georgian door Dublin yellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dermot Morgan chair Merrion Square

 

For lunch we decided to visit the food market in Merrion Square park – this is held every Thursday lunchtime in summer and has all kinds of stalls, selling everything from pulled pork sandwiches to irresistible French toasties (best not to think about the calories); everyone sits on the grass, there’s live music playing and it’s a great atmosphere. While we were in the park we stopped by this chair, designed to commemorate Father Ted himself, the actor Dermot Morgan. I had the privilege of interviewing Dermot years ago at the Irish Club in London: he was a great character and the chair seems a fitting tribute for a true King of Comedy.

 

Razmompolitan Fire restaurant

 

 

That night we had dinner at the spectacular Fire restaurant, where I had this rather splendid Razmopolitan…

 

 

 

 

 

Irish hake

 

 

…and some delicious Irish hake…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zesty lemon tart

 

…followed by the zestiest Lemon tart. Perfection.

 

 

 

 

 

Stained glass window Bewley's

 

 

 

The following morning it was raining so we decided to hit the shops on Grafton Street, stopping at Bewley’s Cafe for lunch (OK, food featured HEAVILY on this trip, but honestly, it’s impossible to resist.)  This is one of the beautiful stained glass windows at Bewley’s, which is a real Dublin landmark…

 

 

 

 

Trinity college Dublin

…afterwards we had a walk along the River Liffey and through Trinity college…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basil martini

 

…before going to Fallon and Byrne for dinner, where I had a Basil martini – a new one on me, very refreshing…

Peach melba crumble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and this Peach Melba crumble was rather delicious, too.

 

St Stephen's Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And on Saturday it was gorgeous and sunny again, so we went to charming St Stephen’s Green for a walk…

…before catching the flight home - 55 minutes to London, which means there’s no excuse for not visiting more often, really, is there? We’ll have to try not to leave it so long next time.

See the child. Change the system.

Back in January I told you about my visit to Kids Company and how I was humbled by Camila Batmanghelidjh and the fantastic work done by this incredible charity. I also told you that I would be sharing news of a new campaign from Kids Company.

See_The_Child_Logo1The campaign launched yesterday, and it’s called See the Child. Change the System.

Research shows that there are currently 1.5million children in the UK suffering squalor, abuse and neglect. Many can’t get help because the system simply can’t vote; these kids don’t have a voice so we need to help give them a voice.

Vulnerable children desperately need our help. Too many children across the country are suffering squalor, abuse and neglect. Most can’t get any help because the system simply isn’t coping. Children can’t vote and they can’t make a fuss so we need to be their voice and use our power to create change.

Please help by signing our petition to show you care. This will help support an independent task force to redesign children’s services so that every child who needs help can get it. We need to show politicians that we’re not going to stand for this anymore.

Me as a child

 

 

 

So today, I’m posting a photo of myself as a child; I had a very happy childhood but other children aren’t so lucky. I’m supporting the #seethechild campaign to change Children’s Services in the UK. Share your childhood photo, and sign the petition here to help support an independent task force to redesign children’s services so that every child who needs help can get it.

Look out for the hashtag #seethechild on twitter and please, sign the petition. See the child. Change the system.

24 hours in Venice

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

 

 

 

 

 

I spent 24 hours in Venice at the end of last week; I was there for work, to visit the spectacular new ship Regal Princess. By the time we arrived at our hotel by vaporetto (so James Bond) it was already dark, and the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute looked spectacular against the night sky.

Island of San Giorgio Maggiore

 

 

 

 

The following morning I was determined to get up early and walk to the Piazza San Marco – our hotel, the Hotel Monaco, has a fantastic location right on the Grand Canal and this was my view of the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore when I threw open the shutters on my balcony at 6.30am (NB there aren’t ANY filters on any of these photos). Isn’t it spectacular? Like a watercolour.

Piazza San Marco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking around Venice it’s always easy to see why it has inspired so many artists, particularly of course Canaletto. I was walking around at 7am and for once the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) was almost completely empty – just me, a couple of pigeons, a few tourists with insomnia and a street cleaner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campanile

 

 

 

 

It’s always such a thrill to see the Campanile…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St Theodore granite column

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two granite columns that stand at the edge of the square on the lagoon looked fantastic in the early morning light – this one, next to the Zecca (mint),  has the statue of St Theodore…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

doorway Basilica San Marco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I was also able to go right up to the Basilica San Marco – normally there are tourists all around…

 

 

 

 

 

astronomical clock Piazza San Marco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the stunning astronomical clock…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venice canal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beauty of Venice is that there is always something stunning around every corner.

 

 

 

View from the Hotel Monaco Venice

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards I went back to the hotel to have breakfast al fresco. The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute looked splendid in the sunshine and the blue of the gondolas and the red of the geraniums is a fabulous combination. You could never get tired of that view, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venice apartments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every time I visit Venice I fall more in love with this beautiful Italian city, the wonderful architecture and ever-changing light. I’ve already told you why Venice is great for kids. You can see a lot in 24 hours in Venice but of course it isn’t enough. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I return.

 

 

 

Waiting to exhale

My little boyNext week my little boy is going on his first holiday abroad without me, or any other responsible adult in tow; just him and a friend. The fact that he’s old enough to shave, manage his own bank account and vote is irrelevant. To me, he is and always will be my little boy, captured here as an adorable toddler by his dad (I love this photo, his smile and hands are just gorgeous). And while I’ve had to force myself to unfurl those layers and layers of cotton wool I’d wrapped so tightly around him while he was growing up, the thought of him being somewhere where I can’t control what’s happening is, quite frankly, terrifying.

The truth is I have spent most of his teenage years waiting to exhale, trying to relax and to stop holding my breath every time he does something independently of me; watching him grow into this wonderful young man and giving him the freedom he needs to grow, wanting him to experience everything that life has to offer, while at the same time longing to keep him close and safe. Does it ever get any better, this terror of losing the most precious thing in your life? Judging by the way my mum still frets every time I get on a plane to go on a work trip or my sister goes on a girls’ weekend away, I’m guessing, no.

*This is my entry for the Gallery – the theme this week is ‘breathe’.

 

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