Thursday, 31 July 2014

A Kentish Wedding

Last Saturday saw the wedding of my lovely cousin, Gianni to his beautiful fiancĂ©e, Nicki. After receiving the gorgeous invitation months ago, attending the Hen and Stag Parties earlier in the month and talking about the day non-stop for weeks, Andy and I were so excited that the big day had finally arrived!

Everything was perfect:
the sultry, sunny weather
the beautiful barn, marquee and bell tents
the meaningful and highly personal ceremony
the company of family and friends
the delicious food.

It was the kind of day when pictures tell the story best.

The cake was inspired by the spot where Gianni got down on one knee to ask the all-important question - Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro.

Many of the decorations were natural and seasonal, influenced greatly by the beautiful rural location near Maidstone in Kent. Many of Gianni and Nicki's friends and family helped to make the day so very special. There were parties held to stitch together reams of bunting and the day before many helped set up the barn, marquee and fields (usually used as a Scout campsite) the day before. It looked fantastic!

They are such wonderful couple and I know they will be as in love with each other in fifty years as they were on those very first few days that they met in the summer of 2006. Funnily enough Andy was living with Gianni at the time, in what is now our little flat. When Gianni moved out, he moved in with Nicki making space for me to move in with Andy. Now we're all grown up and married!

What a wonderful day! One that all who attended will remember forever and will have flowers (we received seed packets as favours) next summer to remind us of a special day in 2014.

Lower Grange Farm, Sandling, Kent.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Whilst Wandering In The Woods

I came across this rather amiable tree.

I think it's a donkey. It has to be with that snout!

Don't you just love trees with faces?

Burnham Beeches, Buckinghamshire

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Moominsummer Madness

Despite being a huge bookworm as I child, my first real memory of the Moomins is hiding away in the gallery at Daisy and Tom's (a children's department store in Chelsea where I had my Saturday job) one afternoon and enjoying a few chapters about these loveable Swedish/Finnish (they were written by Tove Jansson in Finland but in the Swedish language) 'things'. I call them 'things' because I'm still not really sure what they are. They look hippopotamuses but are clearly not, they're not really trolls either. They're just fun, lovely and surprisingly very human!

Thus there was no way I was turning down the offer from my best friends to spend the afternoon with them and their children at the Polka Theatre to see their summer production, Moominsummer Madness. If you're not familiar with the Polka Theatre, it is a wonderful delight hidden in Wimbledon. It's a theatre just for children - they put on a wealth of shows during the year for toddlers through to adults as well as lots of school and holiday workshops. It's a great thing to have on your doorstep and worth travelling a long way for - my lovely friends coming from Kent and Cambridgeshire.

The show was fantastic and held mine and the children's imagination from start to finish. The play tells the story of the summer when a huge flood swept through Moomin Valley, forcing the Moomins to find a new home in a floating theatre. Disaster strikes as Moomintrool, Little My and Snork Maiden disappear and so Moominpappa and Moominmamma have to find a way to reunite the family.

Told through a mixture of songs and dialogue by four excellent puppeteer actors, the play is beautifully crafted. The songs are magical and are very wistful. I've been humming a few in my head since I left the theatre yesterday. The sets are simple but hugely effective and the gorgeous puppets and handled skilfully. At points I forgot there were people manipulating them so think the effect must be even more dramatic for little ones.

This is definitely worth seeing if you're a young or old fan of the Moomins - steal a child (not literally please, I don't want to be a co-conspirator in court!) to take with you and watch them spellbound by the magic of this enchanting story.

And if you can leave without purchasing your own mini-Moomin then you're definitely made of stronger stuff than me!

Performing at the Polka Theatre, Wimbledon until 16th August 
and then on tour throughout the UK.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Olympic Cycling

A few weeks ago I was considering buying a new bike. Not having cycled for years I wanted to make sure I really liked cycling before making such a big purchase. As I'd been looking at Brompton folding bikes it seemed like a good idea to hire a bike from a Brompton Dock and spend an afternoon testing out life on two wheels.

Brompton Dock is a fantastic idea. You register online and for a small membership and subsequent hire fee, you can borrow a folding bike from a locker and use it for the day. It's cheaper than hiring a Boris Bike and because Bromptons fold up you can take them on the Tube and also into buildings if you're going to a meeting, doing a bit shopping or stopping for a bite to eat. We picked up our bikes up from Turnham Green underground station but Docks are opening up everywhere all the time, not just in London but in Oxford, Manchester and lots of other cities across England.

Andy and I decided to head over towards the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. We visited it so many times during 2012 but hadn't been back since the site had been repurposed and reopened. I was dying to go back to the place that holds so many wonderful memories from the Olympics and Paralympics.

Having been very adventurous in carrying the bikes onto the Tube and even changing lines, we got off at Blackhorse Road and walked down to the towpath where we could cycle alongside the River Lea. It was a lovely, easy ride. You can't imagine how nervous I was getting on a bike for the first time in years, especially as I was cycling so close to the water, but I soon got back into it and became quite confident at zipping along. It's definitely true what they say - you never forget how to ride a bike!

I really enjoyed riding alongside the River Lea. We passed through both Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes and they were amazing. I'm not so familiar with this part of London but it's definitely somewhere I want to go back to - they were both such tranquil, calm places in the middle of the city. Such peace! They reminded me of Wormwood Scrubs, which is near me, but with water instead of a mainline train-track running alongside

River Lea Bridge Graffiti
I saw these captions on a couple of the bridges down by the QEOP and just had to take some photos. The wording seemed so appropriate. Who can forget the role of the fantastic Gamesmaker volunteers during London 2012 or fail to appreciate the changes the area has gone through in recent years? From industrial estate to wasteland, then its rejuvenation into a major sports event venue and now a community space, the River Lea has certainly changed beyond imagination!

Andy and I continued through to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and I was absolutely stunned. It is gorgeous. The wildflower planting is now established and looks amazing. Everything looks so natural and like it's been there forever. There's little to suggest that it's only been cultivated there in the last couple of years. The park is really child-friendly and there are lots of play equipment for different ages to use. There are some lovely big ground fountains where children and adults ran through to cool down. Whilst it was busy, it did not feel like you had no personal space, there were lots of hidden corners and benches to relax in. Both Andy (an experienced bike-commuter) and I thought that it was a great place to cycle because the paths are relatively new and are still so smooth. I loved trying to get up lots of speed up and down on the ramps. I felt like a pro - move over Victoria Pendleton!

It was a wonderful sunny afternoon and we'll most definitely be doing this bike ride again. Next time on my very own Brompton bike - I was so taken by the experience that I went out and bought one the next weekend.

Brompton Dock
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

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52 Lists / Thirty

Joining in with Emma at Made In Hunters and her 52 Lists project.

This week: List the things you want to be remembered for

I was rather excited when Emma's email with the list for this week landed in my inbox. I'd been thinking about what I wanted to be remembered for earlier this week when Andy and I had one of those random conversations about what we want our funerals to be like on the way home from dinner out on Saturday night. 

I keep thinking about this a lot recently as I don't want to have a bog-standard chronological eulogy. I've read these at 3 of my grandparents' funerals and although they're a lovely celebration of the persons life, it can be so stressful for the person doing it that I'd rather not make any loved ones even more anxious at a difficult time.

So I've decided I just want sentences read out about me. It will be the good, the bad and the ugly - the sort of things that if you heard it you'd think "Yep, that was Jo". I don't want just to be remembered for good deeds, I want to be remembered for who I am because if you know me and love me as family or friends, you have to take the rough with the smooth, appreciate my kind ways and laugh at me when I'm dappy. 

I guess over time these will change before my funeral but these are some of things I want to be remembered for...

Jo always had her friends and family in her heart and in her head.

She loved all cats and would stop in the street to befriend them.

She always remembered birthdays and anniversaries and jumped at any excuse to send a card.

Jo would never allow people to pause for breath between sentences and would often jump in to speak before you could complete the final syllable of the last word.

She loved bunting and always cheered up her street with her displays of bunting, flags and fairy lights at Christmas.

She cared about every child in every class she taught. She always tried to get to know ever child inside out.

She made a pretty good Christmas pudding, scrummy fruit cake and her custard and white chocolate cookies were delicious.

Jo was really bad at always double-dipping chips.

She loved London and was so proud to be a life-long, multi-generational Londoner.

Jo loved Andy to bits even if they did so often drive each other bonkers.

She was a procrastinating perfectionist but usually got there in the end.

So that is me. I'm sure there are other things I'll think to add later but I'm hoping this event won't occur in the immediate future. That said I'm glad I've written it done because you never know what's around the corner and it could be a big red bus waiting for me to land underneath. (Joke!)

What would you like to be remembered for? x

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Hammam Indulgence at Menana Spa

Picture Source
If you've not already realised by my sudden flurry of posts, this week saw the end of term and the end of the school year. I was a very lucky teacher because as well as receiving lots of lovely cards, flowers, candles and other presents, one of my teacher gifts was a voucher for Menana Spa in Chiswick. What an amazing treat!

As school finished on Thursday, I decided to book myself a treatment on Friday afternoon to celebrate surviving my NQT year. Having browsed the website with interest and excitement, I decided to add some money to the voucher and have a 90 minute Hammam session.

Hammam is a traditional Moroccan bathing ritual which not only cleanses and exfoliates but boosts circulation. After a year which has taken its toll on my wellbeing, I was certainly in need and ready for a relaxing and rejuvenating treatment.

When I arrived at the spa I was impressed by the tranquil interior and calm atmosphere. Relaxing music played and surrounding me was the gentle scent of candles. I filled in a card with my personal details and was then taken through to one of the treatment rooms where I met Menana, my therapist for the afternoon who is also the owner of the spa. Menana was lovely; she explained what the treatment entailed and waited outside for me to strip off (yes, I wore just my birthday suit) before taking me through to the Hammam Room.

The Hammam Room at Menana Spa
The Hammam Room was beautifully tiled and lit dimly with candles. This is the steam room in which the wet treatment takes place. While I sat on the tiled bench seat Menana firstly rinsed my skin from head to toe before covering me in cleansing black soap. This was left on for about 10 minutes and during this I lay down on the warm tiles, letting the steam get to every pore. Menana returned and exfoliated me all over using a traditional Kneessa mitt. I was amazed at just how much dead and dry skin came off from ever nook and crevice. This took about ten minutes, after which it was thoroughly rinsed away and I was then covered in a beautiful mix of Rhassoul mud, melted shea butter and aromatherapy oil. The oils were rose and geranium and smelt wonderful, just like the best Turkish Delight. Whilst the cream soaked in, Menana carefully washed my hair (with the most lovely head massage) and then again rinsed my body. She had a very gentle touch throughout and despite being completely exposed I was able to relax and enjoy this unique experience.

I was then given some luxurious thick white towels and a bathrobe and transferred to the attached treatment room. Menana put some peaceful mood music on and I was treated to the most amazing deep tissue massage. Again the aromatherapy oils and creams smelled wonderful and the experience was both relaxing and stimulating. My body felt rested and much less weary than it had felt in recent months. I had thought the massage might feel rushed after the intensive Hammam experience but it was very thorough and must have lasted a little over 30 minutes.

Once the treatment was over, Menana left me to get up and put my clothes back on in my own time without making me feel that I need to hurry to make space for her next client. She then met me outside in the reception area with a glass of mint tea before I paid and said goodbye.

I felt so relaxed after the treatment that after a leisurely walk home, I laid on my bed and slept peacefully for three hours. I've also slept really well the last two nights which again was just what I needed at the end of such a busy time. My skin is also amazingly soft. Problematic dry areas on my shoulders and around my elbows are especially smooth and I'm now determined to maintain this with my favourite shea butters.

The only drawback has been that I've had a little blood blister bruise on my shoulder and a bit of a sore back since yesterday afternoon. I think I was a little too enthusiastic about having more pressure put on my back during the massage and not being used to regular massages, it's my bodys way of telling me that I needed to go for something more gentle. This is completely my own fault as Menana asked if I'd like her to massage more firmly and I was very keen for her to. However, I think next time I need to be a little more restrained.

I absolutely loved this experience and would definitely have another Hammam treatment in the future. It felt very indulgent and luxurious but was also thoroughly relaxing, theraputic and somewhat spiritual. I will definitely visit Menana Spa again in the near future - I'm already thinking about another visit there for my eyelash tint and brow shape before my cousin's wedding next weekend. The spa was so clean and beautifully decorated, the atmosphere was tranquil and all the staff lovely. I felt that Menana really did care about my well-being.

If you're in Chiswick or the West London area, you really must head to Menana Spa to relax and beautify.

Menana Spa
279 Chiswick High Road London W4 4PU
020 994 5754
This post was written completely independently and not sponsored.

52 Lists / Twenty Nine

Joining in with Emma at Made In Hunters and her 52 Lists project.

This week: List your favourite books
This is a long post so you may want to read it with time to spare,  make a cup of your favoured beverage and sit on a comfy cushion.

To say I love books is an understatement.

Over the years books are something that have brought me huge amounts of joy and are something that I've devoted so much time to. As a child I would visit our little local library twice a day during the school holidays. I'd be waiting on the doorstep at 9.30am to get a new book, run home and read it and then head back before the 5pm closing to get another to read that night. That was the pattern of my summer days. My first Saturday job was working in the book department of a children's department store (which for a girl whose favourite film is You've Got Mail was like heaven) and then went on to work part-time in a library when I was a student.

Books have also cost me a lot of space and money. Thankfully with the invention and purchase of a Kindle I no longer buy paperbacks other than if they're written by my favourite tried-and-tested authors. However I now have a picture book addiction that has grown like topsy (and Tim!) and have to keep my own children's library in school just to have space to store them.

Due to my bookish past, I have to arrange books on my shelves in some kind of order so they're all arranged by genre, then author, then size. Thus I've decided to categorise my favourite books by the age at which I first discoverd them. Perhaps one or two of your favourites are here.

Favourite at Three - Lucy & Tom picture books by Shirley Hughes

Mum and Dad bought all these for me and I read and re-read them. They are the simple stories of Lucy and Tom's lives and experiences but they are so warm and cosy, I don't think anyone could resist them. I still get them down off the shelf to read them from time to time when I need something innocent and comforting. I've met Shirley Hughes a few times at  signings at The Illustration Cupboard and she's absolutely enchanting, like everyone's favourite great-aunt. Her Alfie and Annie Rose books as well as Dogger are also lovely!

Favourite at Four - About Teddy Robinson by Joan G Robinson

I can remember pulling this out of my stocking on Christmas morning and could not wait to meet Teddy Robinson and his owner Deborah. I loved having it read to me at bedtime. It was also a favourite that I went back to as I started to learn to read. Again, just simple adventures but they're just what you want when you're small - things that seem incredible but also in the realms of possibility. I also loved Paddington Bear, particularly as he lived in London and the places he visited seemed familiar. My grandparents lived near Portobello Road and I always looked out for Mr Gruber!

Favourite at Six - Milly-Molly-Mandy stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley

Mum had loved these stories when she was little and she was keen to share them with me as I became an independent reader. They are one of the first books I can remember discovering by reading myself rather than having someone else read to me. I loved finding out about Milly-Molly-Mandy's life in interwar rural England, so different from my own life in 1980s London. The days were always filled with sunshine and although they didn't have lots of material posessions, M.M.M., Little Friend Susan and Billy Blunt always had a lovely time. I really treasured my moments cosied up on my bed with my cat reading these stories again and again.

Favourite at Eight - Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

At eight my world revolved around ballet, books and cats. I first encountered Ballet Shoes through a video of a 1970s BBC drama that my parents gave me for my eighth birthday. I watched it again and again and then found the book and read it again and again. I desperately wanted to be Posy Fossil and live with my adopted sisters Pauline and Petrova in South Kensington and attend Madame Fidolia's Dancing Academy. Again, I think because it was set in parts of London I knew (even if it was written about the city in the 1930s) and it all seemed very real. During the summer holidays in 1990 I read this book no less than 6 times and when I when I had pneumonia earlier this year found it comforting to re-read this old favourite.

Favourite at Eleven - A Likely Lad by Gillian Avery

This was the last book I remember discovering at primary school. I found it on the shelves in the Juniors' Library one afternoon when I'd been allowed to go downstairs and find something to read because I finished my work early. I was soon absorbed in reading about turn of the century industrial Manchester and Willy Overs desire to stay on at school rather than leave to work in his father's sweet shop. I could easily imagine all the sights and smells and it made me fall in love not only with Manchester (did this lead me to my future husband?) but this period in history and as a consequence ended up picking my university and course because it offered a module studying specifically this period.

Favourite at Fourteen - Lark Rise To Candleford by Flora Thompson

This was another of Mum's favourites that she wanted to share with me. I loved it from the first chapter and devoured all three books in a weekend. Again it was a very visual book set in another of my favourite periods in history. It is so beautifully written and I think I could identify with Laura's journey from youth into adulthood as she learned the important lessons of responsibility and being divided between staying with her family and moving on to bigger and better things. Again, this was a book I returned to through my undergraduate degree studies when I looked at the move from agricultural to industrial Britain in the nineteenth century as being semi-autobiographical it presented issues in a real and honest way. This was some years before the BBC Sunday night costume drama, although I must admit I enjoyed that too (even thought it wasn't exactly true to the book) and loved being able to visit the set when I worked in BBC TV Locations.

Favourite at Sixteen - I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

This is my absolute favourite book - I just love it. I read it all on one summer's day and when I got to the end, started it all over again. I discovered it at an age when the world was opening up to me, just as it is to Cassandra in the novel. I wanted to know what true love was and how to make sure it was real. Just like Cassandra I wanted to live life, rather than imagine it. The words are exquisite, it all just flows together beautifully. I equally adored the film - Romola Garai was exactly how I imagined Cassandra. As I've mentioned before, I would like the some of the last words from the novel to be inscribed on my grave: I love. I have loved. I will love. 

Favourite at Seventeen - The Pursuit of Love & Love In A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

I still have no idea how I discovered Nancy Mitford, and her other amazing sisters, but I do remember reading this on the way to school sat on the District Line and was so engaged that I missed my stop. I read these two novels together in an omnibus edition and just loved the passion and wit. Again, I think it was reflective of my own position at the time: still young and finding out about the big wide world around me. I enjoyed the specific details of the period (can you see how much I love interwar/ WW2 England?) and the diverse characters weaved throughout its pages. Since reading this I've read all of Nancy Mitford's books, most of those by or about her family and even studied Diana Mitford as one of my modules at university. I know have the pleasure of driving past and often parking outside Nancy Mitford's Chiswick house every working day. Something deep inside me gets a little thrill from walking in her steps, if only I was as inwardly beautiful as Fanny!

Favourite at Twenty - The Other Side Of The Dale by Gervase Phinn

I first encountered this book as an audio book when I was studying for my first year university exams. I went to my local public library for text books and picked up this cd as I thought it would be something to take my mind off my history studies during the busy revision period. I loved hearing Gervase Phinn retell the events of his first year as a School Inspector in the Yorkshire Dales and the amusing stories about children usually with lots of amusing comments 'out of the mouths of babes'. I have since enjoyed reading all of Mr Phinn's books and hearing him speak on several occasions, dragging both my Mum and Andy along with me. These books were something that really made me consider teaching as a future career; they don't hide what hard work it is and how frustrating teaching and the silly bureaucratic systems can be at times. These stories were also something I have returned to during my PGCE and NQT years when I wanted to remind myself why I was staying up until all hours planning and preparing - they made me reflect on my own experiences helping to confirm that I had found my true vocation in life.

Favourite At Twenty Five - Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Another present, this time at Christmas from Mum. It was a purchase from The Book People and she thought as I love reading about London and the 1950s, I would enjoy this book. Again, I enjoyed this book way before the BBC television series but have enjoyed both in very different ways. I love the detail of the books and the honesty that Jennifer Worth has when sharing her experiences. They are also very visual and create a true picture of the hard lives of East Enders at this time. The television series is also a lovely, comforting watch; somewhat different to the book as the stories and characters have been adapted to make it more pacey for a TV audience but again it is so visual and mostly accurate in the way it represents the period. I have enjoyed all Jennifer Worth's books, especially her final one about death. My one regret is never writing to Jennifer Worth before her early death to say thank you for bringing me such joy through reading. I always knew that I'd have to create space in my diary whenever a new book was published as I'd not be able to put it down until it was finished.

Favourite at Thirty Two - The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb

And so I'm back where I started, with a children's picture book. It's not that I've not read anything in the past few years (although time has been limited) but there has been nothing that has really made an impact on me, my interests and made me think about who I am. I've picked this final book as it was one I discovered in the summer holiday between my PGCE and NQT year when browsing in a 'proper' bookshop rather than online. I loved the illustrations and knew that if I'd read this book as a child I would have adored it. Little did I know that the illustrator, Rebecca Cobb, is the sister-in-law of one of our good friends - super small world! I enjoyed sharing this book with my class in the Autumn Term and in January loved being told by one of the parents how they had bought it after they daughter had come home raving about it. She also explained that her daughter had made paper dolls for her Dad's birthday present, including herself with the little doll characters from the book. 

It was that moment that I realised what an impact being a teacher has; not in the cold, academic way of helping others to acquire knowledge and skills but in the oddly romantic notion that it can shape people's lives and who they are as people. If I can help others to love books as much as I do, then I will know that I've done a good job. Perhaps in years to come, this little girl will find the paper dolls she made and think about one of her favourite childhood books and somewhere there may be a little thought about her first teacher who introduced her to it. 

What are the books that have made you who you are today?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

52 Lists / Twenty Eight

Joining in with Emma at Made In Hunters and her 52 Lists project.

This week: List your dreams for the future (right now)

Getting to the end of term. I'm exhausted and just need to sleep and let my body rest and recharge.

Having a happy little family of my own

Being able to afford to buy a family home - preferably in a nice location near nice people
(If I were to really push the boat out I'd want a home in London and something in the country)

Owning a Debenture seat at Wimbledon

Feeling carefree

Gaining more expertise as an Early Years Teacher and perhaps study for further qualifications

Seeing and touching the white sands of the Outer Hebrides

Enjoying the company of more cats and perhaps a little dog
(I hanker after a border terrier that I'd call Rafa)

Eating cherry pie and custard

Meeting my lovely friend Shannon someway, somehow, sometime

Meeting Andy Murray

Finding a work-life balance
which would lead to
Feeling like I'm on top of life again

Hot sunny evenings (it's certainly not miserable but where has the sunny weather gone?)

Seeing the positive things about every day

Laughing more

What are you dreaming of?

As I mentioned above, I'm absolutely exhausted. I have no more oomph left in me and yet still have a week with the children and then another two days tidying up the Nursery. I am ready to flop and have been getting home and needing a nap most days. Roll on 17th July. I have never needed a holiday more than I do this one. x