From a Squabble to a Redecorating Overhaul

I am particular about how our house looks, I like to keep things minimalist and decluttered and it’s not a good idea to cross me on that. 

About a month ago my boyfriend Jamie went out on plant shopping spree. I love the botanical look, so I was delighted until I realised that all of the plants were so huge and unwieldy that they made the house look messy.

I’d had a glass wine and I just couldn’t hold back on my irritation: ‘Jamie, the house doesn’t look streamlined anymore and I don’t like it – we need to do something about those plants’.

Jamie, not best pleased that his generous plant contribution was being attacked retorted with: ‘I find it ironic that someone as messy as you is so bothered about the house being streamlined’. This admittedly was a valid point.

However the tension of  ‘plant-gate’ did lead to better things.  It got us thinking about how we could declutter the house so the plants wouldn’t look so overwhelming.

It started with a fancy ‘string’ shelving system and a dumping of an unnecessary chest of drawers in our bedroom, which immediately lifted the room.

We loved the changes so much that we started to get high on our new interior success.  What could we do next? The minimalist (and rather expensive) shelves did highlight how cheap everything else in the room looked, so an Ikea, John Lewis and garden centre trip later we had some new chic shelving blocks, a dusty pink throw and even more plants than before.

plants the new improved bedroomThe new improved bedroom

And the decorating frenzy didn’t stop there, we took our fervour into the guest bedroom – giving it the botanical feature wall treatment we’d planned since we bought the wallpaper nine months ago.  And then of course, we need a new bright blue lampshade to ‘pull the room together’.
plants botancial feature wall
Botanical feature wall

And it’s definitely not over yet – I’ve been eyeing up macrame plant hangers in the Northern Quarter’s Form Lifestyle Store, and all of our sudden our front door looks very tatty, not to mention the mouldy wall in our living room.  I’ll keep you posted!

Sri Lanka Awesomeness

I certainly thought Sri Lanka would be a nice holiday, but it was so much more than that.  Sri Lanka is lush and green and teaming with life – the people are colourful and you can’t avoid the wildlife (in a good way!) – especially the monkeys and the lizards.  We were there for just two weeks, and boy, did we have an adventure.


We arrived on Sunday evening in Colombo, the huge capital city.  The owner of our guesthouse Dolce Casa was a super helpful and clever Italian lady called Florence.  She gave us loads of practical advice on Sri Lanka and Colombo.  Thanks to Florence’s ultra efficiency, along with the chilled vibes we instantly felt in Sri Lanka, I was feeling very much at home already.

The next day we were due to travel to Kandy at 3pm, and by following Florence’s very exact itinerary on the best local sights in Colombo, we fitted quite a bit into our day:

  1. A quick visit to the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, which was kind of interesting, but if I’m honest was a bit too much of a tourist joint for me.
  2. A papaya juice at the decadent Galle Face colonial hotel.
  3. A ridiculously rushed (but tasty) lunch at the Ministry of Crab.

This hectic approach may not be the ideal way to experience Colombo – but we quite enjoyed it.  And being able to get tuk tuks for £1 a journey certainly helped.

Next up was our train to Kandy – which was just 2.5 hours and a rather nice experience.  By paying a bit more (all of £10) we ended up in the observation carriage which is air conditionned and reserved just for tourists.

Sri Lanka Crab time, at Ministry of Crab
Crab time, at Ministry of Crab


Kandy is in Sri Lanka’s hill country – I wasn’t wowed by it but we still had a nice time there.  I found it an intense, slightly overwhelming city. But our guesthouse up on the hill had pretty views.

What was good about Kandy was that it was a great base to go to Sigiriya Rock – which is about a 2 hour drive away.

sri lanka The stunning (if slightly misty!) view from our B&B in Kandy
The stunning (if slightly misty!) view from our B&B in Kandy

Sigiriya Rock

Is an ancient rock fortress dating back to the 5th century.  Sometimes I’m not very interested in historical ‘stuff’, but this place is magical.  It’s quite a sweaty climb (it takes about an hour), but when you get to the top, you feel like you’ve entered a mystical land.

Sri Lanka Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya Rock

Kandy to Ella by Train

Our next destination was Ella, but this was a 7 hour train journey away, it is apparently one of the world’s most epic train journeys.  Ok, we travelled through some stunning tea plantation scenery on the train, which was quite something, but if I’m honest it didn’t live up to the hype for me.  7 hours on a train is still 7 hours on a train – a bit too long.

Sri Lanka
The famous Kandy to Ella train journey


Initially I fell in love with hill country town Ella – it seemed hippy and chilled and the surrounding hills are jaw droppingly picturesque.  However my feelings soured quickly when I realised this tiny town was a backpacking mecca. Everywhere I turned there was some traveller boasting about their escapades – it was a little suffocating.

However what was spectacular about Ella, was our walk up to Ella Rock, which was a special and tingly experience. We met with our local guide at 6am (while it was still dark) and started our two hour journey up to this glorious peak.  We walked along a railway line, past waterfalls and up a really steep climb at the end.  And, best of all we were the only tourists up there because it was so early.  The views, and the atmosphere were breathtaking.  And our local guide Abi, was the sweetest guy – he really made the trip for me too.

Sri Lanka Our trusty guide, Abi, at the top of Ella Rock
Our trusty guide, Abi, at the top of Ella Rock

Udawale Safari

Having identified that I don’t like long journeys on public transport, we opted for an air conditioned taxi to our next destination, Udawale, which was 2 hours way.  It was gloriously easy.  On arrival we booked ourselves onto a safari jeep and headed off to the wildlife park. I was trying to keep my expectations in check, as I wasn’t sure if we’d see much.  But we were in luck, we must have seen about 30 elephants (and quite a few babies) and most were in spitting distance of the car.  They were so graceful and elegant to watch. We also saw eagles, pretty bright green bee-eater birds, water buffallos, alligators and peacocks. Brilliant.

Sri Lanka Beautiful Elephants
Beautiful Elephants

Tangalle Beach

A quick 1.5 hours in a taxi and we were in Tangalle. When the taxi driver dumped us by a lake with a pulley boat to get accross to our guesthouse, I started to get nervous about how remote this place was. As it happens, it was pretty remote, but that didn’t matter, because the beach was like paradise, and the guesthouse served exceptional food, so we didn’t need anything else for two days.  It was a lovely bit of time for relaxation and reading after all the hecticness of the previous week.

Sri Lanka Beach idiotics at Tangalle
Beach idiotics at Tangalle

Mirissa Beach

We downgraded to a tuk tuk to get to our next destination – which took a couple of hours and was a lot of fun.  However when we arrived in Mirissa I was slightly horrified, it appeared we’d arrived in Sri Lanka’s version of Benidorm – the beach was rammed with burnt tourists. We were both really turned off.  But, as we settled in, we started to adjust to being in a busy environment (the beach at Tangalle had been empty and vast), and actually started to totally fall in the love with the surfy, yogic hippy vibe of Mirissa.

Sri Lanka Chilled Mirissa
Chilled Mirissa


Galle was our final destination and what a beautiful one to end at.  It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and an old trading port full of imposing Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches, grand mansions and museums.  Apparently it’s had a lot of money pumped into it since the 2004 tsunamai because a lot of charities based themselves in Galle. It was definitely our poshest stop off. I really enjoyed walking round the ancient city walls and looking at all the glamourous colonial buildings. And we had the BEST meal of our holiday at Lucky Galle Fort restaurant where we shared 10 curries for just £7.50.  These curries were exquisite – including banana flower, crispy fried aubergine, tamarind root, mango curry (basically stewed mango) and pumpkin curry.  Every mouthful was a taste sensation.

Sri Lanka Galle
Lanka Galle

I felt sadder leaving Sri Lanka than I normally do at the end of a holiday – I was treated to a slice of paradise on this island – the scenery, the gentle people, the crazy monkeys and lizards, the tasty curries and rotis – and there was always so much colour and life going on around us. I’m glad I’ve got a lovely load of cherished memories and photos to hang on to.

More Sri Lanka Blog Posts

I will be writing some more blog posts on my Sri Lanka trip if you’re interested where I’ll be going into more details on the destinations we went to.  I’ll also write one on our Sri Lanka food experiences.


And for those thinkng about going to Sri Lanka you might be interested to know how much we spent in 2 weeks:

Our flights with Emirates cost about £500 each from Manchester (with a stop off in Dubai) – and our journey time in total was 14 hours.

Our accommodation in total was about £600, and each place ranged from £25 a night to £75 a night, but we mainly paid about £35 a night.  And you really get a lot for your money for that. We weren’t staying in particularly posh places, but they were all clean and really nice and we were treated like royalty by the staff.

And while we were out there we spent between us about £800, so £400 each – and that included several long distance taxis, a safari, entrance to Sigiriya Rock and lots of lovely meals and cocktails! If you’re thinking of going on a budget  you could easily do it cheaper and have a nice time.

Total Spend

Was about £2400, so £1200 each.

Why I Run

I’ve been running for 12 years.  And it’s been hugely important to me.  And because it’s just part of my routine now, I forget what a profound effect it’s had on my life.

At school I was about as unsporty as you can get – chubby, physically unconfident and clumsy, I was never picked for teams.  I was vaguely good at defending in hockey, but catching balls? Forget it!

Fast forward to my late twenties, not a brilliant period of my life.  In debt, a bit overweight, a smoker and not really living the life I wanted to.  I miraculously and thankfully discovered running.

My friend Regina wanted to run a Nike 10k race in Hyde Park. I wasn’t in any way fit, but I liked the idea of a challenge.  We started training on Saturday mornings in the local park.  We’d usually both rock up hungover, and I’d often have a fag on the way.  A significant part of our training was actually ‘speed walking’ round the park and gossiping, and then reluctantly running a lap.  However we committed to the process and gradually improved.

On the day of the 10k, I absolutely loved the buzz of the event and the thrill of finishing a 10k.  It felt like a huge acheivement, especially at a time in my life when not a lot was going in my favour.

Next up was a half marathon, we’d enjoyed the 10k, so why not double the distance? And 5 months later we found ourselves running the Reading Half Marathon.  What strikes me as hilarious now is the stuff I used to run in.  I literally wore the thickest track suit trousers and just a normal cotton t-shirt to run the half marathon.  I just hadn’t got my head around how hot I would get running 13 miles. But I did it!

Regina and I were now hooked on this running thing.  So a year later we signed up to the London Marathon and another friend joined our running crew. I became nicknamed the ‘running Nazi’ because despite my extra pounds, fag habit and tendency to enjoy a bit too much booze, I was actually very diligent in following a strict running programme.  My favourite memory is one Sunday when we planned to do our final long run before the Marathon. We were aiming to get to 16 miles.  I arrived at Regina’s place to discover that she and our other pal had been clubbing for most of the night, but were in their running gear and ready to go.  Miraculously, we completed the run (with a mid-run stop off at KFC).

The day of the Marathon arrived, and despite being bored out of my mind and wanting to give up for many miles of the running, it really was a glorious day.  The crowd support was like nothing I’d ever experienced in my life, I had loads of friends who came down to watch and the sense of achievement was just immense.

Ten years on from that Marathon, running is just a habitual part of my life.  It’s keeps me trim, sane and happy. I may not love every run I do, sometimes it’s sheer endurance getting out there in the the cold and the rain, but it’s always worth it.  I view it a bit like putting money in a bank, it’s not always loads of fun, but I’m investing in me.  And I think the journey from chubby, unsporty, not doing very well in life Katya, to slimmer, fitter and generally happier and more confident me, is all entwined with my running journey.  The running made me feel good about myself and more confident in my life, and as I became more confident in life, I became even more confident about running.  A virtous circle.

If you fancy getting into running, my top tips would be – find a running buddy at a similar level of fitness, get a pair of running trainers and a good running bra, try the coach to 5k app and when you feel ready do a local 5k park run – there’ll be one near you and they are free.


Brain Food: my Favourite Podcasts

In June this year I discovered podcasts.  And five months in, I am a confirmed addict.  So fervent is my commitment that in the past two months I’ve smashed up my phone screen twice in podcast related incidents.  Not because I threw the phone on the floor in a dramatic reaction to what I was listening to, it was actually because I was so enthralled listening to my podcast that I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing with my phone and dropped it.  Then did the same thing a month later. It’s been an expensive time at the phone shop.

Here are eight of my favourite listens:

S Town from the same creators of Serial. For those who haven’t heard of Serial – it’s an American true crime podcast that has been ridiculously popular on iTunes.  And S Town is another cracker.  Prepare to become completely anti-social as you binge listen to this.  I must have polished off the entire series in about a week.  It’s a true story, about a guy called John who despises his Alabama town and asks a reporter to investigate a murder of a local young man.  John believes the police are corrupt and have swept the case under the carpet. But the story that unravels is about so much more.

Dirty John After finishing S Town, I needed something to fill the void. The series begins with an autopsy report of a body that has 13 stab wounds. Before we learn whose body it is, we are told a staggering tale of manipulation, deceit and abuse. This has been a great excuse for me to go for lots of walks this past week.  Dirty John has been good for my fitness.

Desert Island Discs I’m sure you know the drill, each well known guest gets eight tracks, a book and a luxury to take to a desert island, which provides the prompts for each celebrity to talk about their lives. It’s deep, sad, enlightening and joyful.  Some of my favourite listens were Noel Gallagher, Sue Perkins, Stella McCartney, Ed Sheeran and Keith Richards.

Courage and Spice by Sas Petherick – the podcast for humans with self doubt.  What a lovely idea.  Self doubt holds all of us back in some, or many areas of our lives.  Sas interviews various people on the subject and looks at how to tackle it.  Sas is fun, warm, down to earth and full of incredible wisdom on this topic. Listening to this podcast is like having a lovely, empowering hug.

Hashtag Authentic by Sara Tasker.  I’m a big fan of Sara’s – she’s well known in the Instagram world for her gorgeous @me_and-orla account.  Hashtag Authentic is a great listen for anyone running their own online/social media business.  Sara interviews all sorts of people figuring their business journey out, including many big names on the Instagram scene.  It’s not only an incredibly practical podcast, but it provides emotional support too.  Sara herself is willing to be very vulnerable and shares the ups and downs of running her own business, as do her guests.  I always come away with a load of ideas and tips, but it’s also a creative, beautiful and life enhancing listen.

CTRL ALT DELETE by Emma Gannon. I saw Emma speak at Blogtacular in June. Emma is responsible for my podcast addiction.  She spoke so enthusiastically about podcasts at the conference I became convinced I needed to enter this exciting audio world.  Emma was also an all round inspiration and very passionate about empowering women to build brilliant careers. In her podcast she interviews high profile guests about how the Internet and social media have changed our lives forever – and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.  Guests include Liz Gilbert, Lena Dunham, Zoella, Tanya Burr, Will Young, Gillian Anderson.

What She Said by Lucy Sheref.  As a keen blogger and Instagrammer, this is the perfect listen for me.  Lucy chats with interesting women in blogging and the online world.  Lucy has a lovely open and honest style that makes for a really pleasant listen and I always learn a lot.  She also always has her baby with her while doing her podcasts – the cute gurgling noises throughout are very soothing.

The High Low this is a weekly pop-culture / news podcast by Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes. They are extremely posh journalists in their late twenties, and whilst I was initially a bit put off by their poshness, they are just brilliant.  Inspiring, open, really switched on and really willing to fight the corner for women.  An energising, fun and thought-provoking listen.

Let me know how you get on with these – I’d love to hear what you think.  And if you have any recommendations for me – I need them now!

My Very Long And Windy Road to Confidence

In my recent blog post Laying Ghosts to Rest I described having had my confidence ripped away at school and being left feeling stupid and not good enough. This lack of self belief had terrible consequences in my life. I thought it was just my story, but I’ve been inundated with messages from women I went to school with who’d suffered throughout their lives with very similar confidence issues. I was horrified.  It just didn’t seem right.

So I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned on my long and windy road to confidence. I’ve gone from being a tortured fragile soul to actually a (largely) really happy, bouncy version of myself. I’ve had a lot of help with therapy, counselling and coaching, which I used to be embarrassed about, but the truth is, it’s been the making of me.  Here’s what I’ve learnt:

  1. To be kind to myself and to forgive myself. We all make mistakes or bad decisions in life – that’s just normal human behaviour.  But learning to forgive ourselves for those mishaps is so important.  The weight of guilt and shame I’ve carried for getting into horrendous debt in my twenties nearly derailed my entire life. But as I’ve got older (with the help of therapy) I’ve become a lot kinder to myself about that situation. I’ve learnt to reframe it.  My mum died when I was 23 and I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my dad, so I felt very alone when she died.  Money became my friend and my escape route.  Money replaced the love that I’d lost. I spent much of my 30s utterly ashamed about the mess I’d got myself into financially (which fortunately I’ve sorted out).  But in recent years, with the help of coaching and therapy, I’m actually quite proud of the stuff I did when I racked up debt.  I spent money on counselling in my 20s which was a life saver for me, I travelled the world for a  year, I went on many fascinating courses.  And I lived my life.  I wanted to meet people and go to parties and experience things, and I did. My mum’s death made me ultra aware of wanting to live life to the full.
  2. There are different ways of being intelligent. From my school days I’d been fixated on what kind of intelligent I wasn’t. I wasn’t academic, I wasn’t scientific, I wasn’t a natural at languages, I didn’t have a photographic memory, I didn’t know much about current affairs.  I often wouldn’t utter a word in meetings in my last job, deeming everyone else to be more intelligent than me. During coaching and therapy, we examined what kind of clever I was. I can do logistics, creativity, communication, I’m resourceful, practical, I think outside of the box, I have vision.  It’s a long list of skills and talents that I’ve started to celebrate.
  3. To allow myself to be vulnerable. I used to be the master of never asking for help. Perhaps my mum dying when I was so young made me super self sufficient. But in honesty trying to live my life so robotically really wasn’t working. When I got divorced a few years ago, I put my stiff upper lip on, didn’t complain and just cracked on with things. I’m not sure how I did it. It was a really lonely time. However what was brilliant was that I went into therapy.  And my therapist identified that I was completely out of touch with my feelings and effectively isolating myself by trying to be so independent and strong. She was very clever at prodding me and questioning me and making me understand that I needed to express myself and let people in in order to be happier.
  4. To recognise when a situation isn’t working for me anymore.  My job at 5 live at the BBC was an amazing experience for me – I was there eight years and worked with some great people and really came into my own.  But in the end I felt stuck, and couldn’t develop my career or my confidence any further there.  I left in May 2016 and haven’t looked back.  I catapulted myself out of my comfort zone – last year was all about being creative and having some time out and this year I started my business. It’s still scary and I don’t entirely know what I’m doing, but I’ve learnt a lot, met loads of interesting people and had a pretty amazing time.
  5. To embrace new opportunities.  One of my favourite quotes is ‘old ways won’t open new doors’. I think as we get older it’s so easy to become very rigid in our routines. Personally if I don’t have cake and Netflix in the evenings after dinner, I feel very hard done by. However despite some of my cumudgeonly, cosy habits, I have been pretty good at throwing myself into new situations in the last few years. It started when I was getting divorced when I just thought, I can either stay home and be lonely or really make something of my life now.  I was feeling a bit socially rusty, but I joined a fell running group, ran a couple of supper clubs at my house, joined a ramblers club, booked a holiday to Morocco and New York,  went out dating and met my lovely boyfriend, and turned things around.

This is just a little snapshot into how I’ve overcome some of my confidence issues.  I think nearly everyone has their own struggles with believing in themselves and getting what they really want out of life. I’d love to hear your lessons in confidence if you’d like to share them.

5 Tips to up Your Instagram Game

I’ve spent a good couple of years obsessing over Instagram – it’s absolutely my favourite platform.  I enjoy ogling people’s beautiful photos of food, latte art and travel destinations.  I also love the friendly, nurturing, community vibe on Instagram.  People are more likely to say nice things to you than on Twitter, which feels like a rowdier, more argumentative place.

Having been on a few courses and done a load of experimenting on Instagram, here’s some top tips for you:

  1. Learn to take good photos.  This may sound a bit obvious, but Instagram is the most visual social platform and your photos need to stand out to get noticed.  Here’s a brilliant article on how to take better photos with your smart phone – I found it super helpful.
  2. Write good captions.  Yes, it is primarily a visual platform, but you’ll pack more of a punch if you’ve written something interesting alongside your picture.  A lot of people use it almost as a journal, to share little stories from their day, while others use bantery fun captions – the range of writing styles is huge, so pick an approach that’s right for you.  I’ve got most inspiration from scouring accounts like Orla and Me, Old Fashioned Sus, Allison Sadler as they express themselves brilliantly and authentically.
  3. Get some Insta role models. As I mentioned above, I have a ton of these.  I don’t just seek inspiration from them in terms of how they write their posts, but I look for ideas for how they compose photos, how often they post, who they are following, what hashtags they use and how they use Instagram stories.  I want to the learn from the best.  Other accounts I love are Alison Perry, Father of DaughtersPhillipa Stanton
  4. Use the photo editing phone app called VSCO.  It’s free, but it’s not that good unless you pay for some filters.  Instagram itself offers filters and editing tools, but they are a bit clunky and uninspiring.  VSCO is more subtle and the filters are great. Because I largely stick to the same filters it gives my feed a more cohesive, consistent look.
  5. Use a planning app.  I use Mosiaco (which I paid about £5 for), but I know that there are free apps others like Planoly and Preview.  Mosiaco allows me to test out what my photos are going to look like with the rest of my Instagram pictures before I post them.  Again, so I can try and aspire to the Insta dream of having a gallery that is well thought out and is following a deliberate colour palette.

I hope these are helpful and if you have any tips for me – do comment below.

I also offer one to one Instagram training, if that’s something you’d find useful, whether that’s for your personal account or for business please get in touch.  And here’s my Instagram feed, if you want to check it out.

Laying Ghosts To Rest

I left Kendrick, my all girls grammar school, 23 years ago when I was 18 and I hadn’t been back since.  I left with rubbish A levels results and broken confidence.  This started a trajectory of just not doing very well in life in my late teens and throughout my twenties (although things are good now), a lot of which I can trace back to the belief I developed at school that I was stupid and not good enough. And let’s not even go into how going to an all girls school impacted me with men.  I can laugh about it now, but it brutally affected my ability to even talk to the opposite sex as an adult, let alone have relationships.

So why on earth would I go to Kendrick’s 140th birthday party when I had such unpleasant associations with my experience? Because I wanted to make peace with it all and find out if my perspective would be different after seeing the school and some of the teachers in the flesh.  A couple of my best friends from Kendrick wanted to go along too – they hadn’t had the best time there either, but we thought we needed to do it and that we would have fun.

We arrived at the school on Sunday at 1.30pm and discovered ourselves to be nervous wrecks.  I hadn’t realised it would affect me this much.  I was shaking.   We walked into register and I could barely write my name on my name badge because my hands were shaking so much. Very quickly the memories came flooding back, looking at the shabby buildings and the tennis courts that hadn’t changed much at all. But what really struck me, was that the memories popping into my head were good and funny. I always had a lot of friends at Kendrick, most of whom I’m in touch with and still really like.  Yes, the school was suffocatingly dull and old fashioned, the teachers weren’t particularly inspiring, but we were kids with energy and imagination (and a lot of hormones) and we had fun.

school My friend Katie and I when we wre about 15
My friend Katie and I at school when we were about 15
Walking through the dreary classrooms, I remembered how bored I was in classes. I’ve no idea how I got through 7 years of them. At primary school I had been a confident kid, specialising in writing wacky stories and making crazy artwork and doing bits of drama.  I wasn’t a brilliant high achiever, but I knew I was clever and that I was really good at my creative things.  Suddenly at this new school, from the age of eleven you needed to be a self disciplined exam machine, ready to nerdily crack on with hours of homework every night. And there was no patience, no curiousity and no warmth from the teachers if you couldn’t deliver.  Your sense of worth came from scoring the highest test results, not from writing the coolest story about super hero pigs.

I am still bitter that I was a nice, bright child and that I was cast aside for being lazy because I wasn’t a nerd.   It just seems a terrible shame that in my teen years when I should have absorbed learning like a sponge, I was camatosed with boredom and labelled a trouble maker for being disengaged rather than disobedient.

However, I took my chip on my shoulder back to the school on Sunday and discovered that despite everything, I am grateful for my time at school.  I had been in a protective environment full of high achieving girls – it wasn’t the right place for me, but it planted the seed of ambition in me to strive for the best and push myself.  I didn’t excel, but school was a safe, consistent home to me for all those years, and I may not have fitted in academically, but socially I was confident and had lots of laughs.  And even though my A level results were crap, I made it to university.  And when I compare all those happy outcomes of my school years to a lot of other people’s teenage experiences, well actually, I know I’m lucky.

The opening photo is of myself and my friends from school, posing in our old biology lab at Kendrick’s 140th birthday celebration.


Help, I’m in a Wine Rut!

I do love a glass of wine, but I’ve definitely fallen out of love with Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc, my go to supermarket picks.  I know there’s more to wine than this. Surely I could be giving my tastebuds a bit more of an adventure?

Who better to assist me in broadening my wine horizons, than Janet Harrison who runs Cracking Wine? And here she is with a load of great suggestions, I can’t wait to tuck in:

Cracking Wine Janet taking in the aromas of a nice rosé
Janet taking in the aromas of a nice rosé

So, a refreshing change to be asked if I’d tried any good wines recently.  You see my friend Katya is in what I call a wine buying rut.  Like most people she’s a bit tired of Sauvignon Blanc (you’ll get there eventually) and so overwhelmed with the amount of ‘easy drinking reds’ on offer, she tends to keep buying the same ones.

The up side of having such great supermarket ranges and independent wine stores is that we all have a huge choice, but as anyone who shops in the massive M&S in Manchester will tell you, it is easier to pick the nearest thing and make a bolt for it – and who buys all those cardigans?

Anyway, I digress.

I only need to flick through the recent pictures on my smartphone to see what I’ve been slurping recently – not that I NEED to photograph to remember (ahem).

You see my glass is always full – well, that’s until it’s empty of course.

Here are my current top picks if, like Katya, you are stuck in a wine buying rut.  There are versions of all these wines at supermarkets, independent stores and in restaurants, it all depends on your budget and whether you are splurging at the weekend or just celebrating #WineWednesday.

White for easy drinking/light meals:

Albariño: A good news story from the Galicia region of Spain and gorgeous wine too (think of Al Pacino if you can’t remember the name).  The one I bought that is pictured below is from Define Food and Wine.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous wine shop, deli and cafe near Nantwich.

White wine for more substantial meals or cheese:

Montagny: This is a white wine from Burgundy – enough said.  If you are an ABC (anything but Chardonnay) I challenge you to try, but do so with some cheese or light meat dishes which have a creamy sauce.  This is a fabulous one from Waitrose, and Aldi will be bringing out a corking version in November.

Light easy drinking red:

Wines from Portugal seem to be everywhere at the moment.  Try this Porta 6 from Majestic Wine – it also has a jolly picture of a Lisbon tramcar on the front.

Cracking Wine A Montagny, a Porta 6 and an Albariño. Happy drinking times ahead for Katya!
A Montagny, a Porta 6 and an Albariño. Happy drinking times ahead!

Heavier red with hearty meals:

Warning….splurge alert!  I’m not a massive fan of Australian Shiraz – I find it a bit overpowering sometimes, but this Vinteloper Shiraz from the Adelaide Hills is certainly worth the cash.  Imported by the fabulously quirky Red Squirrel Wines, they seek out rare and special wines made with love.

It is delicious!

You’re very welcome.


Cracking Wine
Don’t drop the Vinteloper Shiraz! It’s £40’s worth of wine.

Janet Harrison runs Cracking Wine, providing fun and informal wine tasting events in the North.  She also runs the only wine festival dedicated to Champagne and Sparkling wine in the UK, it’s called the Fizz Festival and it’s coming up in November at Altrincham Town Hall.



Bush Craft Antics With Fresh Walks

When I arrived at Henbury Hall in Macclesfield on Monday morning for ‘Fresh Walks Wild’ I had very little idea how the day was going to pan out.

I regularly go for hearty networking walks in the Peak District with Fresh Walks.  They are always, without fail, energising, great fun and useful for business.

However this was a new version, a bush crafting event run by Lewis Herridge at Re:You.

I’m relaxed about going on a 14 mile hike up Kinder with the Fresh Walkers as I know what to expect, but would I like making fires and shelters with this lot? Would it be as much fun?

As it turns out, it exceeded expectations, and we had a blast.

What made me instantly happy on arrival was that everyone was sitting round a real campfire drinking tea.  Winner. I felt instantly at ease.  And even better there was a ‘wild’ toilet.  I had wondered if we’d be peeing in the bushes, so this unexpected luxury pleased me no end.

Fresh Walks Wild At 9.30am this was the cosy campfire scene
At 9.30am this was the cosy campfire scene I entered
Fresh Walks Wild The luxury 'wild' toilet
The luxury ‘wild’ toilet

We took a while drinking our teas and chatting before things got started, which was a very nice start to the day.  Then Lewis got us on our a feet for a little tour of the camp and talked us through the four most important things for survival in the wild: shelter, water, fire and food. We were then put in groups and asked to find items in the local woodland to represent ways of tackling those four areas of survival.

My group embraced the task with enthusiasm, and having recently watched Bear Grylls Celebrity Island, I felt I had a lot of expertise to offer the group.

We chose:

  • nettles for eating
  • some dung because where there’s animal droppings there’s usually water nearby, and you can burn it
  • moss because you can squeeze water out of it
  • some sticks of wood to burn, or build a shelter.

We then had a big group show and tell with our items. It was a proud moment displaying our dung.

Fresh Walks Wild Lewis demonstrating the various uses of stinging nettles in the wild
Lewis demonstrating the various uses of stinging nettles in the wild

Our next job was building a fire.  Lewis showed us a variety of ways of getting a fire started ranging from putting some wire wool on a battery, to sparking flint against steal and then using the sparks to light a tampon.  As you can imagine as mature adults we all found lighting a fire with tampons absolultely hilarious.  We all had a little practise which you could tell everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Fresh Walks Wild Lewis showing us how to get a fire going
Lewis showing us how to get a fire going
Fresh Walks Wild Andy Fleet using the primal flint and steel method to get sparks flying
Andy Fleet using the primal flint and steel method to get sparks flying
Fresh Walks Wild All the men mesmerised by the process of lighting fires
All the men mesmerised by the process of lighting fires

Then is was competition time.  We were split into three groups.  We now not only had to get a flame going, we had to build a proper fire.  For each group, Lewis stuck two sticks in the ground and tied a piece of string across them at about 60 cm up from the ground.  The first group to burn the string would be the winners.

Unfortunately, myself and my group were not the most talented fire makers and came last (and even then we cheated).  It was a fascinating activity though.

Fresh Walks Wild Look at the pride in our faces!
Look at the pride in our faces!

Next up lunch, to which I have to confess I contributed absolutely nothing. A few of the guys got busy chopping veg and knocked up a beef stew, although ingredients were admittedly shop bought and not foraged.  The stew pot was thrown on the fire to cook, which gave us all a lovely hour or so to just sit around, drink tea, eat biscuits, enjoy the fire and chat.

After our hearty meal was the final challenge of the day. Building a shelter.  Lewis got us to examine a shelter that had already been made so we could understand how to create one, then we were asked to source the materials for building our own (although to be fair Lewis gave us a load of wood to get us started).  After 90 minutes of collecting mud, branches and rhoddidendrum leaves, we had our very own rather fabulous looking shelter.

Fresh Walks Wild Shelter in progress
Shelter in progress
Fresh Walks Wild The Final Shelter
The final shelter
Fresh Walks Wild Obviously I had to road test it and it was very cosy!
Obviously I had to road test it and it was very cosy!

We then rewarded ourselves with a final cup of tea, some bourbon biscuits and a final soaking up of the campfire.

I went home feeling more connected to nature, very chilled and very happy. Thanks Lewis. And of course thanks to Michael Di Paola from Fresh Walks for organising.

Good Food, Cute Animals And Glorious Sunshine – Poynton Show Ticked All The Boxes For Me

I wasn’t convinced that Poynton Horiticultural Show would be for me.  It sounded a bit old fashioned and I didn’t really understand what it was.  However Dave, our local Riverford Veg Box Franchise owner was going to be there with a stall and he spoke highly of it, so we decided to give  it a whirl.

Poynton is just two miles from our house, so we had a gloriously sunny cycle there this morning, which got the day off to a good start.  The show was being held in Poynton Park, which is a really tranquil, pretty park with a lake (I will be using that as a running location from now on!).

We arrived absurdly early (8.30am!!), so not everything was up and running, but it was a nice opportunity to stroll round and chat to stall owners while it was peaceful.  We started with the Cheshire Cheese Company stall, where we tucked into a second breakfast of various samples of cheese, including gin and lemon and caramelised onion and rioja.  It was tasty stuff so we bought a few ‘truckles’ of cheese to make flatbreads pizza with for lunch.  We then sauntered over to the ‘small livestock’ tent where I was delighted to discover a variety of unusual breeds of hen, guinea pigs and rabbits.  I was like a kid in a sweet shop – they were so cute! Next it was time to say hello to the large livestock outside in pens.  Various breeds of bulls, shire horses, donkeys, sheep – it was glorious! My favourite moment was befriending a bull called Minnie who loved having his head rubbed.

Poynton Show Minnie the bull - such a happy animal!
Minnie the bull – such a happy animal!
Poynton Show So sleepy!
So sleepy!
Poynton Show Having a nice rest in the hay
Having a nice rest in the hay

After we’d got our fill of animals we trotted off to the craft tent, where we went met Paul a local honey producer from Happy Valley Honey.  We had a fun ten minutes bombarding him with questions about the honey making process and where he keeps his bees (at various farms around Cheshire if you’re interested).  We also obviously tasted and then bought some as well, and were particularly enamoured with the soft set honey which was lovely and creamy!

Poynton Show Paul Beardmore from Happy Valley Honey
Paul Beardmore from Happy Valley Honey
Poynton Show Happy Valley Honey
Happy Valley Honey

And final stop was at the vegetable tent, where leeks and carrots the size of baseball bats and cabbages as big as sheep were on display – all competing to win prizes.  It was rather fascinating, and gave us some inspiration to up our game with our own garden.

We left the Poynton Show having had a surprising buzzy morning and with a bag full of local produce! What an excellent day out.

PS the flatbread pizzas made with fennel, walnuts and the Cheshire Cheese Company ‘Black Bob’ extra mature cheddar were delicious.

poynton show Fennel, walnut and extra mature cheddar flatbread pizza
Fennel, walnut and extra mature cheddar flatbread pizza