Category Archives: Lifestyle

Be inspired by the seventies: the maxi-dress

It’s official, the seventies are back.

If the idea of taking inspiration from the seventies has you running for the hills, then don’t panic. This trend is perfect for autumn, honest.  Chunky knits, cord trousers, long dresses and boots – they’re all perfect for kicking though leaves and pretending you’re one of Jilly Cooper’s plucky heroines.*

Today, we need to talk about the seventies-inspired maxi dress. It’s soft and flowing in every sense – with long sleeves and an even longer hemline.

Seventies style maxi shirt dress by Peacocks

I spotted this amazing Ossie Clark-inspired dress in Peacocks and just had to try it on. It’s length is slightly impractical, but it feels so glamorous. At £25, it was coming home with me, never mind its practicality.

It’s perfect for autumn evenings out. Unbutton, or button up, according to the occasion.

Seventies style maxi shirt dress by Peacocks

I’m wearing the roomy size 10. I’m 5 ft 4″ and need heels with it, otherwise it’s too long. Wear with shiny brown leather boots for the ultimate seventies look.

Tempted to try one? Here are some more of my favourites… 

Seventies maxi dresses

Floral dress, £59, Warehouse /Coral dress, £24.99, H&M

Seventies maxi dresses

Floaty dress, £38, Vera Moda at ASOS / Floral shirt dress, £22, Boohoo

Seventies style maxi shirt dress by Peacocks

I wear floral maxi dress, £25, Peacocks

Are you feeling inspired by seventies style?

* My favourite Jilly Coopers are her short books from the seventies. Try them, they’re the ultimate autumn comfort read. Prudence and Imogen, are my personal favourites.

Switching off: why your phone makes a terrible alarm clock

Digital detox

Ever since I first got a smartphone it has slowly inveigled its way into every area of my life. It’s like it’s attached to me by an invisible string. In dull moments, I find my fingers itching to seek it out – to tap on the screen and get that gratification that only comes from social media, or a getting a reply to a pressing email.

It affects my concentration and interrupts my dreams. And even worse, it came up to bed with me. My phone was my alarm clock, but it was also the world’s biggest time waster. The time had come for new boundaries and a fresh start.

The challenge was simple: I had to leave my phone downstairs at bedtime.

After a week of this, I’ve learnt some very interesting things…

Mobile phones make terrible alarm clocks

I struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. Every night I’d set earlier and earlier alarms on my phone in the hope that I’d somehow miraculously leap out of bed. The alarm would ping at 6am, and I’d reach out for my phone and hit the snooze button again and again. It was a well-practised routine that I could do while still half asleep.

And when I finally opened my eyes, can you guess what I did first? Yep, look at my phone. It was just too tempting. I’d scroll through Instagram, post a picture and generally faff around.

It was the ultimate diversion tactic. I’d leave it until the very last-minute to get out of bed. I was a disorganised mess, which left me feeling tired and unmotivated.

Pink aster

Snooze buttons are bad for you, which is why my new routine doesn’t have one.

Instead of my phone I now use a radio alarm clock, which I can’t reach from the bed. It clicks on at 6.50 am. I drowse for ten minutes listening to the Today programme and then wake properly for the news headlines at 7am.

With no temptation to look at my phone, my head feels clear and I have a stronger motivation to get out of bed. I feel more resourceful and focused on the day ahead. One week in and it’s still working.

I feel less tired

This could be because I’m not wasting an hour of my precious sleep pressing the snooze button, or perhaps it’s because my quality of sleep is better without the nocturnal pinging of my phone.

Mainly though, I think I feel less tired because I feel less rushed. I was clearly in denial about how much time I was spending on my phone in bed, because now it’s no longer there I feel like I have at least double the amount of time to get everyone ready. No more running around like a headless chicken. I’m a nicer mummy, and my children are being more co-operative – probably because they too are enjoying the gift of time.

Cat on a cushion

I allow myself a look at my phone when all the urgent chores are done.

Usually this is around the time I get my make-up on and clean my teeth. It’s just time for a quick look and to say hi to Instagram – then it goes away again until after the school run. Yes, my fingers still itch to look at it, but I don’t get sucked in so easily. It’s so refreshing to feel like it’s on better terms.

I realise now that I was trapped in an unhealthy cycle

The desire to fiddle on my phone outweighed my other priorities. Allowing it to eat up time I didn’t have was making myself feel tired and inadequate every single morning. Which is a terribly depressing way to start your day.

If I’m making it sound easy, that’s because it is easy

I thought I’d miss my phone terribly. But I didn’t. After just a few days of my new routine I have seen my phone for the time-wasting and unhealthy habit it was. Yes, I still look at it during the day, but banning it from the bedroom has given me the freedom to see its true colours.

Your phone might feel like your best friend, but sometimes it can be your worst enemy. Cut the ties occasionally and you may surprise yourself with your own resourcefulness.

Time 4 Sleep commissioned this piece as part of their Tech Detox campaign. 

 

A hint of leopard print

There’s something about leopard print. Every autumn I fall in love with it again. Is it the earthy colours? The sense of fun? Whatever it is, I’m hooked.

A little hint of leopard print is a fun and stylish way to update your wardrobe. This autumn I’ve chosen a scarf – the perfect purchase for in-betweeny autumn weather.

Leopard print scarf by New Look

This soft, slightly abstract scarf by New Look is £12.99 and I love the flattering, peachy tones. It really transforms this simple outfit. I’ve invested in some new boots for the season too, also by New Look.

Here are some other leopard print delights I’ve spotted lately…

How about trying this jacket from Gap? The fluffy collar is detachable, so it’s very versatile.

Or how about these gorgeous shoes or this scarf from ASOS?

Leopard print shoes and scarf

Do you love leopard print too? 

Simple September pleasures

Simple September pleasures: orange flowers

I love stepping through the gates of autumn. The nights are darker and colder, yet the days are still tinged with warmth. With every step I take my eye fastens upon some new delight – red berries, shiny conkers or a sparkling spider’s web.

The arrival of autumn brings a special kind of comforting joy. Whether you live in the town or country, a flat or a house, you can indulge in these simple pleasures…

Crumble for tea 

Simple September pleasures: crumble

Whether it’s apple, plum, blackberry, or all three, crumble were made for September. I like to keep things simple: plain fruit on the bottom and a simple mixture on top of 100g of self-raising flour, plus 50g of both butter and sugar.

Gather nature’s bounty 

Gathering cobnuts

You don’t have to live in the countryside to make the most of nature’s bounty in September. Gather some cobnuts or apples from a friend’s tree, or pick blackberries in a local park. It’s so easy and satisfying to forage for delicious, free food – always carry a bag in your pocket in case you spot something when you’re out and about. Open up your eyes to what’s around you and you’ll be amazed what you find.

Enjoy homemade jam 

Enjoy homemade jam

Another classic autumn activity. My favourite preserve to make in September is blackberry jelly, although I don’t always have the time. This year I’m going to take pleasure in eating other people’s homemade jam instead. My mum always gives me lots, plus I’ll be keeping an eye out for roadside stalls.

Make friends with an old jumper 

Simple September pleasures

On chillier September days, I love reacquainting myself with my favourite jumpers. They’re like old friends and I’m always so happy to see them again.

Create a cosy corner in your home

Cosy cat

Take a little time to curate a corner of your home with your favourite blankets and cushions. Make it the perfect spot for a morning coffee or an afternoon cup of tea.

What are your favourite September pleasures?

Three things I’m loving this week

Three things I'm loving this week

Recovering from my recent surgery has certainly made me appreciate the little things. Cups of tea in bed, cat cuddles, flowers from friends and the excitement of getting new things through the post.  If you’re stuck in bed, then the sound of a parcel hitting the doormat can be the highlight of your day!

Ban.do schedule

The joy of new stationery

I love a good diary, and the Ban.Do I Am Very Busy Schedule is possibly the best I’ve ever owned. It shiny and pretty, but also highly practical at heart. It has enough space for lists and day-to-day planning – plus, plenty of stickers on the days I need to reward myself for getting out of bed. I ordered mine from ASOS and yes, at £20, it’s a little pricey for a diary. My purchase was to celebrate finishing an important bit of work, and I was happy to justify the price tag – however, there are also smaller notebooks and sticky notes in the range if you’d prefer to tart up your current diary.

Ban.do schedule

My new kindle 

I used to be a bookseller and I swore I’d never, ever, buy ebooks. But after a holiday in which I lugged four paperbacks down to the south of France, plus a highly tedious stay in hospital without my book collection, it was time to rethink. They’ll always be room in my heart for beautiful books, but from now on I’ll be reading large, heavy books on my kindle – plus the soft and goey romances I need at times, but don’t particularly want gracing my shelves. So there you go, I’ve gone over to the dark side, but I do feel quite good for it. Mine is a Kindle Paperwhite with a pink case.

Kindle paper white with pink case

The little bit of luxury 

I was lucky enough to be treated to a gorgeous gift-by-post by Liza and Markus, the co-creators of Postboxed. Their clever little gift boxes are designed to fit through letter boxes – perfect when you need to send a present by post. It’s a great time-saver, especially when you’ve left things till the last-minute. They pack everything up beautifully and send it with a message to your chosen address.

Postboxed signature gift box for women

It’s amazing how many lovely things they can fit in such a slim little parcel. I received the Signature Gift Box, which includes a notebook, earrings and chocolate – but there are options to suit men, women and children, plus every budget and personality. I’ve already ordered another one for a birthday present and will be back again for future gifts.

Postboxed signature gift box for women

What have you been loving this week?

Disclosure: I was sent the Postboxed gift box to review for free, but I will only ever recommend products that I genuinely like and enjoy. 

Lessons for modern life – an interview with Davina McCall

In many ways, modern life is liberating. Yet, in an age when we’re switched on all the time, it’s easy to become obsessed with keeping up appearances. It’s confusing. Sometimes we all need a bit of help.

Step forward Davina McCall, the best friend everyone wishes they had. In her new series, The Davina Hour, she’s tackling big subjects head on – everything from parenting and social media to body image.

W Channel invited me to interview Davina ahead of her new programme. I wanted to get right to the heart of how she navigates modern life…

We started with the pursuit of happiness. The desire to be happy is nothing new. What’s changed in recent years is a perception that we ought to feel good all the time – and if we don’t, we’re doing something wrong and need to shape up.

“I’ve learnt a lot about what people want,” says Davina. “We’re living in an age where self-improvement seems to be really important to all of us. We all want to be better… but we need to manage our expectations. You can only feel true joy when you’ve known sadness. The lows make the highs even sweeter. I think that people who are really struggling have to remember that things will get better and life will feel good again.”

Next up, we turned to social media. For better or for worse, most of us are glued to our phones. Even Davina is no exception.

“I can spend up to four hours a day on my phone. I get driven to places and the minute I get in the car I crack out my phone. It’s terrible, but I love it. I’m addicted,” she admits.

“Every like I get on Instagram is a hit of dopamine. After I’ve posted something I go back and check in the first hour to see it’s going down well – or, if it isn’t.”

The dangerous thing about social media is that it can give us all unrealistic expectations of perfection. Our constant scrolling and tapping through images styled to perfection can’t be healthy, can it?

“Of course, I want to look good, but I also want to look normal,” she admits. “I’m 49 and I’ve got three kids. I want to inspire rather than make anyone feel bad about themselves.

“I used to care about perfection, but I don’t anymore. I think that’s because I’m a bit older and more relaxed about everything. I want to make people feel better, not worse. Really, at the back of everything I do, I’m always trying to help people.”

Can social media really help people though? I like to think it can – and so does Davina. In fact, she’s keen to point out that social media is a positive force for good.

“I’m not against social media in the same way that some people are,” she says. “Women are the ones who really engage in social media. I think it’s a been a great place for activism for women… a place to come together and spread ideas.”

Deep down I think we all know that moderation is the key. Putting that into practice is the hard bit, though. Once upon a time work ended when you left the office – and you could shut out nosy neighbours by drawing your curtains. How do you escape when you’re always switched on?

Davina, like the rest of us, struggles. “I’m always on call. If I get an e-mail at 10 o’clock at night I think I have to answer it.”

Recently, she’s found simple way to switch off – creating headspace by disconnecting herself. “I take the dogs out for a walk every day. One day, I decided to leave my phone at home and it stuck. It’s no exaggeration to say that having this simple time-out each day has changed my life.”

And what about our children? We’re all scared of the influence the digital world has on our children. It’s natural. But Davina tries to keep things realistic.

“When I was a teenager I was speaking to my friends on the telephone for two hours after school even though I’d just spent all day with them! For my kids to be on social media chatting to their friends for two hours after school isn’t so very different, is it?”

“But I’m very uptight about their privacy,” she continues. “I’ve lectured them about what you should post and how to be safe.”

Davina admits that the most important thing we can teach them is how to switch off. “We have a no-screen rule an hour before bedtime and I think it makes a big difference to their sleep patterns.”

Over the last year, I’ve written a lot about #OnePerfectThing – a hashtag community I curate on Instagram. It’s all about paying attention to the little things in life that make you happy, whatever life’s throwing at you.

I couldn’t meet Davina without asking her what her #OnePerfectThing is right now. She totally got it: “for me, it’s a dry pillow.” She went on to explain that, “when I was using drugs I got terrible night sweats. So, every morning that I open my eyes and I feel my head on a nice crisp pillow case I think thank you.”

And, thank you, Davina! Meeting her was like getting the best pep talk, ever.

The Davina Hour starts on W Channel on Monday 4th September at 9pm. You can find out more here.

Davina McCall and Lizzie Woodman

A week in Avignon

Avignon

Avignon, in the south of France, is a charming place. It’s quintessentially French – from its pretty shutters, cobbles, pavement cafés to the gentle hum of Provençal conversation. This small city overlooking the Rhône is a long way from rainy England. Which is exactly what we wanted.

Last summer we had a delightful, but typically inclement, holiday in Derbyshire. After climbing to the top of Mam Tor in the lashing rain, my youngest said ‘why are we doing this?’. Why indeed. After a string of disappointingly cold UK summer holidays it was time for a change.

Why did we choose Avignon?

I had a vision of an old walled French town with lots of little winding streets and squares. The kind of place you can wander around, sit in cafés and take life at a leisurely pace – but with enough things to see to keep the younger members of the family amused.

Palais des Papes

After a bit of discussion my husband suggested Avignon, in the south of France. He’d briefly visited there years ago and loved it. It looked like the perfect combination of everything we wanted – a bustling city with an amazing cultural and historical identity. We wanted to be a part of that, so chose an apartment right in the very heart of the old city.

Avignon

A fascinating history

The city is dominated by the enormous Palais des Papes. The popes decamped from Rome to Avignon in the fourteenth century and built the enormous, fortress-like Palais – the biggest gothic palace in Europe. You can’t visit Avignon without looking inside. After a chequered history, it’s unsurprisingly an impressive place to visit.

Avignon

The best bit was climbing to the top of one of the towers and looking down to the city below – oh, and the beautiful medieval frescos. The palace also is filled with modern art, so there’s plenty to see.

Avignon

Other delights are the famous Pont d’Avignon and the gardens at the Rocher des Doms. If you have children then the pedal go-carts and ride-on horses in the park at the top of the hill are such fun (and great for tiring out small people).

A relaxed bohemian feel

Avignon is a hugely cultured place – but not in a boring or serious way. It’s friendly, relaxed and bohemian. We arrived a week or so after the big arts festival had finished, and a little of that atmosphere lingered on with performers and buskers. The children loved it.

Avignon

We all embraced a different way of life. The children were late to bed and late to rise. Some evenings we ate out together, and others we’d just go out for drinks and sorbet after cooking at home. Our apartment was just a few metres from the beautiful Place de l’Horloge, with its twinkling carousel and bustling cafés.

One of the best places to experience the food and culture is the local covered market

The stalls are overflowing with the most delicious and fresh produce – the sights and smells are intense.

The market in Avignon

Our highlights were delicious bread and pastries from Maison Violette, soft apricots, fresh figs, ripe cheese, luscious olives and the local Provençal Rosé.

French bread

It was hot, but in a good way

When we visited, the south of France was in the middle of an intense heatwave. The usual average temperature in August is about 30°C. When we arrived, it was 43°C. This intense heat only really lasted for the first couple of days though – after which it cooled down to more normal temperatures. Yes, it was hot, but it was dry heat that was much easier to deal with than the humidity of a hot day back home. We paced ourselves and avoided being out during the hottest parts of the day – it also helped that our apartment had very good air conditioning!

Avignon

Avignon is within easy reach of several stunning Roman heritage sites

This was a big draw for us. The city is easily placed for day trips to some of the most fantastically preserved Roman sites in Europe.

Nîmes is a short train ride away from Avignon and has not one, but three amazing Roman buildings.

The most striking is the amazing amphitheatre, which is right in the middle of town. It was utterly breath-taking – so incredibly well-preserved and with such history. We were all completely awe-struck with the atmosphere of the place. It was unforgettable.

Nimes ampitheatre

And it just gets better. Around the corner from the arena, is the Maison Carreé. This is the most spectacular Roman temple – the only one this well-preserved, I believe. Yet, again, we were overwhelmed by it. To sit down next to it in one of the pavement cafés, and drink a cup of coffee, is something I’ll never forget.

the Maison Carrée

And if you need anything else to bowl you over in Nîmes, there’s also a Roman watch-tower to climb with spectacular views. The town itself is also incredibly pretty and filled with beautiful fountains and channels of water.

Later in the holiday we caught the bus to the Pont du Gard – an incredible Roman aqueduct. Again, it was spectacular and has enough for a whole day out. Take a picnic and paddle in the river!

Pont du Gard

View from the top of the Pont du Gard

How did we get to Avignon?

We travelled entirely by train, and I’d highly recommend it. It was efficient, exciting and surprisingly relaxed.

Avignon central railway station

First was Ely to King’s Cross, then a short walk to the EuroStar at St Pancras. In a couple of hours, we were in Paris, and took the RER from the Gard du Nord to the Gard du Lyon. After that we caught the high-speed TGV to Avignon. We left Ely at 6.30am and arrived in Avignon at about 6pm.

Where did we stay?

A fabulous apartment in an old building in the centre of the city. It had wonderful original features, but was also stylishly modern and comfortable. It was the perfect base for exploring the city – nothing was ever more than ten minutes walk away. Full details here.

Where did we eat?

If you’re travelling with children we’d recommend Maison Nani. For simple, friendly French food, we also enjoyed La Cour d’Honneur.

I would also highly recommend a visit to the cat café, La Compagnie des Chats. It was a cool and calm retreat from the hot streets – and a great chance to meet some adorable chats! We called in here twice to have coffee and stroke the sweet cats who live there.

Avignon

So, au revoir, Avignon! I hope it won’t be too long before we visit again. 

Life lately

Avignon

You may have noticed something of a radio silence here in recent weeks.

This was partly for a very nice reason. We spent a beautiful week in Avignon, in the South of France. It was adventurous, but relaxing; chilled, yet awe-inspiring. I can’t wait to share more about it with you. There’s so much to tell.

I’d always planned on taking a break for my holiday, but I hadn’t planned on it being so long. Not long after getting back I had to have urgent surgery on my back. It was unexpected and all a bit shocking.

Some of you may know I suffer with chronic back problems. Or maybe you don’t. It’s not something I really like to talk about on here. This is my happy, inspiring space – and dwelling on long-term pain doesn’t inspire much happiness. Plus, it’s also really boring and not at all what I enjoy writing about.

Anyway, things came to a bit of head last week and my GP sent me off to A&E. Scans confirmed there was a nasty bulging disc. I ended up having the offending bits removed and now the process of recovery starts.

I’m a bit shell-shocked by it all, but I’m focussing on the positives: especially the lovely well-wishes from friends and family – plus, the community of dear friends which lives in my phone via Instagram. I’m also very grateful for the wonderful care I received from the NHS – especially all those lovely cups of tea.

Right now I’m recuperating with all the nice easy-reads I can lay my hands on – plus, a bit of online window shopping. I’ll be back soon with all the details about our amazing holiday.

Lizzie x

Dreams were made of Gingham and Broderie Anglaise

Topshop gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top

Some things never go out of date. Strawberries and cream, bretons and blue jeans… gingham and broderie anglaise. They’re timeless summer classics that never grow old.

Last week in Topshop I stumbled across these gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top. I hadn’t been in there for years, so it was quite a revelation. I found this outfit in the first minute and knew immediately I had to try it on, even if I did have my six-year-old in tow. It was love at first sight.

Topshop gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top

The trousers and the top are both rather flouncy in the best sense of the word – ie. the make me feel good every time I wear them. Like Brigitte Bardot on a rainy day in Ely – or so I like to think in my dreams. Whatever life throws at you, it’s great to have an outfit like this up your sleeve. Roll it out when you need to make your own sunshine.

ASOS cherry earrings

Maybe it’s because I’m in a holiday mood, but I was also seduced by these cherry earrings from ASOS. It’s no exaggeration to say that I think these might be the best earrings I’ve ever owned. Definitely a summer impulse purchase, but one which totally floats my boat right now.

Topshop gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top

Topshop gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top

Oh, and I may have bought another basket. This time it’s a simple, jute one by Next which is slightly more compact and portable than my usual French market basket. It’s surprisingly sturdy and will come in handy for storage when summer comes to an end. A girl can never have too many baskets.

Gingham trousers, £39, Topshop / Broderie Anglaise top, £24, Topshop

 Basket, £28, Next / Cherry earrings, £8, ASOS

Topshop gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top

What’s your current outfit of dreams?

 

 

#OnePerfectThing in July

#OnePerfectThing in July

Life can’t always be perfect, but we can still look for something small that makes us happy. It may only be a fleeting moment, but it’s precious.

So, how was July for you?

It’s my birthday month, which always makes it feel extra special. It was also a very busy month – crammed full of sports days, cancelled sports days and other delights. It’s fair to say that the weather has been a little disappointing in the UK – especially after that glorious heatwave in June. It was certainly more puddles than picnics.

But despite the downpours, you all still found beauty and perfection by the barrowload. Which is, of course, the whole point of #OnePerfectThing. I love that you all totally get it. I also love the pinky-purple hue of all the photos – lavender is clearly the colour for July on Instagram.

#OnePerfectThing in July

Top row, left to right: @edinburghgardendiary / @amandarusselldesign / @topknotsanddaisies

Middle row, left to right: @hellomistermagpie / @sky.larking / @mrs.a.king

Bottom row, left to right: @emilyandmore / @rachaellucas / @jenilujones

Thank you all for joining in for July – I can’t wait to see what August brings. Rain, probably, but I know you’ll all make the best of it!

What have been your #OnePerfectThing moments this month?