Friday, 22 May 2015

Village Life #2 - Sharing my 3 kinds of happiness


Back in 2008, residing in Herne Hill, I was very proud of the gutsy little Franco Manca in Brixton Market that served up deliciously simple sourdough pizzas amongst the yams, reggae and incense. Since then, Giuseppe Mascoli's one man operation has turned into a true rags to riches tale having just completed on a £27.5million deal with the Fulham Shore Restaurant Group.

My Bestie and I checked out the Northcote Road branch last night and thankfully, found that the heart and soul of Franco Manca from Brixton Market remains alive and well. I ordered a No. 5 (tomatoes, mozzarella, anchovies and capers), Bestie order No.4, (ham and mozzarella). Beautifully fresh and served in comfortable, informal surroundings, it was the perfect, low-key dinner and at £23 for the two of us, a freelance frugality win.

Brixton Market, where it all began


If ever there was an excuse to waste an hour larking about on your smartphone, it's the Animal Face App. I got wind of it over lunch today and spent my entire train journey home doing this.

You're welcome.


I distinctly remember reading an article by US Design Critic Don Norman about the importance of designing products that are emotionally pleasing for the end user. It was around the time that I was deliberating parting with £700 to buy my first Macbook. What convinced me was the notion that the most frequently used everyday products, items, devices in your life should be highly functional but should also bring you the most joy.

So putting that theory into practice, I bought this stapler.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

& Other Stories Spring Summer Collection - An Introduction

& Other Stories - Mid-week Mooch

If you're looking for bold street fashion that manages to be wearable and affordable, look no further than & Other Stories. For me, it's the off-duty COS, and those who know me well, will know that COS is my all time favourite high street store.

As well as edgy and whimsical prints, you'll find well cut, hard working basics, directional shoes and accessories mostly under the £50 price point. A freelance frugality win.

The only physical store is on London's Regent Street, so if you do find yourself in the West End, give yourself at least 45mins as you're bound to be seduced. 

On my last visit I tried on the slogan T-shirt and the slogan sweater to add to my bulging collection of statement sweatshirts but after reading this feature, I thought better of it for fear of turning into a yawning cliche. 

I did purchase the cute playsuit which I have been layering with a denim shirt as my arms  aren't quite ready for public airing. The navy shirt and trouser combo is a contender for my next visit Up West. 

In search of the Good Life

At the last count, 50 percent of my friends have moved 'out' in out of London.
Rather than experiencing the shock of a sudden mass exodus, it's been more of a polite seeping of fun and familiarity over the past decade. Like a party balloon with a tiny pinprick, London being the party, obviously.

Some have moved out for pragmatic, practical reasons due to the spiralling costs of housing in London, others have moved to find work. All have move out looking for a simpler life, usually somewhere rural.

I used to scoff at people leaving London, but as I now live with an extremely boisterous, mud pie making toddler, I sort of get it. The sky, the gardens, the trees, the dogs are all super-sized in the country. There is room to breathe, stretch and grow.

I am not living in a high rise block in Zone 2, which in some respects would make my decision to stay or go easier. My predicament is that I am residing in suburbia, an hour away from the West End, surrounded by open parkland, friendly neighbours, good schools, where nothing bad ever happens, but nothing of note ever happens either. It's all very nice, very comfortable.

(Image Courtesy of UKTV)

Remember that 70's TV series, The Good Life, which was set (ironically not far from me) in Surbiton? I have days when I am more Barbara (I've mentioned mud pies already haven't I) and days when I am more Margot. e.g tomorrow I am lunching at friend's new restaurant in Shoreditch (see, classic Margot) which is going to take me over an hour on the train.

I've lived in London all my adult life, I love it. The problem is that being close but not quite close enough to the action, heightens the FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) tendencies within me. When I see my metropolitan Zone 2 friends on Facebrag spending an evening at the V&A or Shepherds Bush Empire because it doesn't cost them £60 in babysitting, I do get pangs of envy.

I have two options. Move out or stay in suburbia, get an Au Pair and do more London-ing.

The jury's out.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Village Life #1 - Sharing my 3 kinds of happy

Welcome to my new weekly series called VILLAGE LIFE where I share the top 3 things that made me happy this week.


I know what you're thinking, Keira Knightley...seriously? Yes, seriously, she's ok in this. Begin Again is a sweet low budget indie film with a big heart. Bringing Mark Ruffalo back to his alternative roots, he plays Dan Mulligan, an ex-record company executive turned crusader fighting against the homogenisation of the music industry. Trust me, you'll be cheering him on with laughter and tears.

Set in hot and humid summertime New York, the central themes of self-preservation, love and sticking it to the man rang very true to me. And if you won't take my word for it, the picky Mark Kermode gave it 4-stars for its "ramshackle charm".

Available on Netflix,  DigitalHD, Blu-ray and DVD


When I worked in Soho Square last year, I must have visited this little ramen bar 20 times. The pork stock is phenomenally good and those soft boiled eggs just melt in your mouth. I'm salivating just writing about them. Tonkotsu sparked a noodle revolution in London two years ago and in my humble opinion, it remains the best in town. I never leave without buying Mr R, their famed chilli oil. So when I found myself on Dean Street at 12.30pm yesterday, it would've been rude not to.

63 Dean Street, London W1D 4QG


I stumbled across this Dad after his bowl of crap post had the blogosphere chortling away to itself in full recognition that most households have one. He also writes about the perils of changing a teenage boy's bedsheets and wearing his skin tight cycling kit on the school drop off. Effortless parenting he calls it.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Sorry, Not sorry for being 40

A few weeks ago, I was invited to contribute to a magazine via a features editor who found me on Twitter. I was really flattered but before accepting,  I felt compelled to 'disclose' that I was a good decade older than her average readership.

Why did it matter? Well clearly it did, as it was part of the questionnaire. I was worried that I would look incongruous placed next to the perky 20 somethings that the fashionistas were used to and that my opinions wouldn't be relevant. Thankfully, the editor considered my 40 years as passable, but it could've easily gone the other way.

Immediately after filing my copy (where I don't think I came across as an out of touch has been), I chastised myself for being an inverse ageist.

Age appropriateness is a funny thing, I've never really thought about it until now but it strikes me that there is a code that women of a certain age (not men) must adhere to or fall foul of the 'who does she think she is' aspersions from both the Boden brigade AND the perky 20 somethings.  The media can make turning 40 feel like walking a confusing tightrope between kidulthood and old-age.

Well sod that.

I've officially decided to blog myself into my 40s and it's so damn liberating. The web was made for people like me, who don't want to be categorised or who don't quite fit into the demographics of traditional media. The blogosphere is built on self expression, optimism, experimentation and making friends, just like my old clubbing days but without the tinnitus.

I'm going for it. I'm becoming a blogger and I'm giving it some proper welly over the next few months to see how far I can take it.

A cultural experiment, a reinvention, an it what you will, I hope you'll come with me for the ride.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

What happens when your parents sell the family home

After much deliberation, Mum and Dad have decided to sell the family home in Wales. They have already pulled out of two sales, simply because they are finding it really hard to let go.

I'm the one wearing the red & white stripes and flares on the left 
But this time it's happening. I know it's happening because they asked me to drive home to collect my novels, records and trinkets from my teenage bedroom. I had to take down my New Order poster,  discard my musty retro suede jacket and confront photos of 'chubby Lynn' after I gained a stone by comfort eating biscuit Boost bars to cope with the misery of boarding school.

It's only now, having been reunited with the forgotten objects of my past, that I  share in their sadness. I used to spend hours in my bedroom compiling mix tapes, venting angst in my diary, experimenting with make-up and sneakily smoking out the window. It's the only place on earth that I am guaranteed an amazing night's's all so comfy and familiar.

Reading matter, the Teenage- angst years
A lot of good (and some bad) times went down in that house. We spent at least 20 Christmas' there. Mum in particular loved Christmas, it was the one time she knew all her babies, and their babies would come back to the nest and she could go into Chinese cooking overdrive.

Countless holidays have been spent squashed around the dining table eating mum's delicious stufffed mushrooms, ginger chicken and lobster with noodles. But as each of her babies shacked up with someone else, the opportunities to gather as a whole family fragmented. Those days of 12 people crowded around the family hot pot have practically gone.

Selling the house is absolutely the right and practical thing to do but it is undoubtedly a painfully bittersweet process for mum and dad. Not only has it served as a family home but also a symbol of what they have achieved in life.

As first generation immigrants, their lives were about sacrificing their own personal happiness for the future of their children, and it all went beautifully to plan.

Helena and John Li's selfless work ethic and resourcefulness made sure all 4 of us attended public school through scholarships and assisted places, then university before we each left home to carve out our life journeys.

The parental role evolves dramatically over the years, we all know this but it doesn't make it any easier to prepare for emotionally. Soon after my youngest brother graduated, Mum and Dad retired and made increasingly frequent and longer visits to Hong Kong.  With each return visit to the UK, one got the sense that they were happiest back in Hong Kong, a country they left as teenagers.

Now, they have settled in the tiny coastal village where my father was born 70 years ago tending their garden, visiting the daily food markets and exploring Asia, just as they had always planned.

The nest is empty. It's time.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Bronchiolitis - a heart sinking existence for children and parents

"Just up his dosage when you experience the heart sinking moment," said the paediatrician.
"In my experience, parents of children with respiratory problems, get that here we go again moment...and that's when you feel your heart sinking. Am I right?"

No one had ever described it like that before. She was so right, I wanted to cry.

Having a child who suffers from ongoing bouts of viral induced wheezing or bronchiolitis messes with the simple notion of hope. Hope that the warmer weather makes for less viruses, hope that the daily medication will do its job, hope that I can stop worrying every time he coughs, hope that he will grow out of it.

Because hope is all we have. Only last week the Brompton Hospital gave us permission to reduce Bobble's antibiotics and steroid inhaler for the summer. I was elated and full of expectation for easier days ahead.

But alas, at 1am this morning, Bobble woke me up and asked for his inhalers. 'I need puffs mummy, I coughing a little swimming today'. My heart sank and there was a lump in my throat. For the first time ever, the little guy asked for his meds.

I set my alarm for 5am so I could count his breaths before giving him more puffs in his sleep. By 7am he is awake and dancing around the house being his usual chirpy self and I am back to feeling hopeful again.

I've already got the hospital bag packed from the last visit we had to Kingston A&E about 6 weeks ago. The looming possibility of a hospital admission is the killer...whether it happens or not, I go into crisis management mode by calling work, clearing my diary and organising an emergency cat feeder.

You get angry and frustrated that it's happening again and feel weirdly embarrassed that you're giving people the same old story because surely he should be getting better now.

Bobble hasn't got much better but we have got 100 times better at dealing with it. That heart sinking moment is a trigger to slow down, be in the moment and absorb yourselves into the NHS care system until a full recovery is made, nothing else matters.

As a family, we have got to know the wonderful staff at Kingston's Sunshine Ward all too well. When Bobble was first admitted at 6 weeks old we naively bought a hugely expensive box of chocolates as a thank you gift to the nursing team as we never guessed we'd be back again. Now, after over 20  hospital admissions in 28 months we've moved onto boxes of Roses as it was all getting a bit much, physically and metaphorically.

Bobble bounces back with extraordinary ease, he's already a pro at hospital stays which are thankfully getting less frequent as the doctors feel more confident we can treat him at home. I wish I was as robust as him, every episode leaves another little dent that can take many different forms - exhaustion, resentment, anxiousness, resignation.

Bobble's ongoing condition is the reason I decided to take a step back from my demanding film career as managing this bronch baby roller coaster with my globe trotting cameraman husband was beyond stressful when we both worked full time. It was the day I asked my assistant to book my airport transfer to pick me up from Kingston A&E so that I could still make it to an event in Oslo that night, that I knew everything was out of whack.

The stark reality was that I had to choose between letting my colleagues down or letting my family down and I chose the latter. That was probably the biggest heart sinking moment of all, one that I hope never to repeat again.

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