An update

Life has been pretty hectic lately and it feels as if I’ve not stopped. But it’s a good kind of hectic, the kind where you feel you’re making progress.

My job as a copywriter takes up most of my waking hours but in my precious spare moments I’ve been cramming a lot in. When I’m not writing/blogging, adventuring or adding to my ever-growing feather family (yes we did finally get those quails) I have been working on a creative side project.

It has been a dream of mine to create and open an Etsy shop for a long time. Previous posts will show you I’m the crafty type and and fully support handmade. So the ideas I’ve now ‘realised’ have been on the back burner for quite some time, they haven’t just popped up over night.

Recently I’ve been playing around with a lot of creative mediums and trying to discover what it is I really want to create. After a lot of playing around I decided to combine my two greatest loves: birds and jewellery.

The process of creating my pieces was understandably time-consuming and much of it was a learning curve as cliche’d as that probably sounds. But now I’ve created some pieces that I’m really proud of (and this is a big thing for me, because I’m not ever proud of myself!) My Etsy shop is set to open next week, Saturday 13th February. More details of this can be found over at the Pretty Little Finch Instagram.

The whole idea around my shop and my pieces is centred around birds that you might find in a back garden in Britain. Here’s the spiel:

Pretty Little Finch is a collection of hand-painted, digitally edited and laser cut wooden jewellery inspired by the beautiful and varied birds that visit British back gardens.

Carefully selected for their beautiful colours and patterns, the collection focuses on birds that can be caught at a tantalising glimpse in gardens across the country. This natural beauty found in the most ordinary of spaces is translated in to highly wearable pieces that will lend a touch of charm to any outfit.

Each piece is lovingly hand-painted in our studio before being adjusted digitally and prepared for the laser cutting process. Pendants are crafted from plywood and glossed for protection.

And here are some shots of the finished pieces

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I’m hoping that this venture will be successful because I’d love to continue creating more pieces. I have a lot of ideas and designs in the pipeline…it would be fantastic to realise them. For now though, I’m just having a lot of fun with it!

 

Day three: The Forum, Palatine Hill and parrots.

On our last day in Rome we woke at six but snoozed until eight. Almost overcome with exhaustion yet not wanting to waste time this felt like a good compromise. My legs had seized up and were sore but today we had planned to see the forum and walk up Palatine hill.

Ideally it’s best to visit the Colosseum and forum together because they are in such close proximity. We would have done this ourselves but, not wanting to miss the Capuchin Crypts (and not being able to find out if they’d be open on a Sunday) we chose to break our time up and leave the forum to last. Besides, this way we had more time to give to our surroundings.

We stopped first for breakfast. Our last day in Rome required a breakfast befitting of such an occasion. I had a beautiful custard pastry and milky coffee whilst Gareth had a pain au chocolat and freshly squeezed orange juice – this was vastly nicer than the offerings of the hotel and left me feeling ready to take on the day.

We took the Metro to the Colosseum.

When we arrived at our destination, we wandered around for a while stupidly unable to find the correct entrance.

Inside the forum were beautiful and intriguing ruins and as we rambled further among them I felt as if I were in a story book or film set. Some of the charm was lost to the pain I felt in my legs as I struggled on. Often I had to take a seat on a bench. Sometimes this was pleasant, especially when I could hear the melodious sounds of a violin waft on the breeze (it felt like a private concert.) Other times it was frustrating as I willed my poor legs to work so I could explore this exciting place. Although there are plaques up to briefly describe what everything is, not much information is given. For those who want to learn the history I’d recommend a tour. Personally I just enjoyed soaking up the surroundings and feeling as if I’d stepped in to a text book.

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As we walked around the Forum we came across this adorable bunny who didn’t seem very shy!

We eventually found ourselves traversing up Palatine hill and taking in the views of the forum below us which were stunning. At the top we came across orange trees, fountains and exotic green parrots feasting on seeds and berries. I was truly surprised to see parrots as I hadn’t expected them at all. I also caught site of two chaffinches which made me happy.

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And that was it. Our trip to Rome was over and it was time to catch the plane back to rainy England.

I had a wonderful time in Rome and saw some beautiful and extraordinarily interesting things. It’s more than possible to see a lot in a short space of time but if you’re thinking of visiting Rome as a weekend break I’d recommend sticking to the main attractions – they are more than worth it!

 

Day two: The Colosseum, Capuchin Crypts and pizza.

We woke early on Saturday morning and my legs ached like they hadn’t before. Standing on my feet I felt unsteady and like my legs were untrustworthy. However, I didn’t have much time to contemplate my aches and pains because we had booked a tour of the Colosseum at 10.40.

We showered and dressed quickly before heading down to the cafeteria of the hotel for breakfast. Usually this wouldn’t be done, but it was included in the booking and we were trying to keep costs down. The breakfast was pleasant enough – a selection of warmed croissants, fresh fruits, juices and coffee. I wouldn’t say it was one of the finer meals we ate in Rome but it was fuel for the busy day ahead.

We arrived at the Colosseum early to collect our pre-booked tickets (thus enabling us to avoid the horrendous queue that would form just an hour later.) Eager to start seeing more of Rome we decided to have an unofficial snoop before the tour started. The structure itself is very iconic and magnificent to see in real life- it loomed up in to the sky and we felt very excited to see something we’d read about in books and watched in films so many times before.

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After a quick look around and some snaps we assembled at meeting point 3 and waited for our guide to arrive. One of the reasons we booked the tour as opposed to walking around ourselves was that in a tour you can access the upper and lower levels of the Colosseum -something which you cannot do if you decide to go it alone. Included in the ticket price is also access to the Forum and Palatine Hill which are just metres away and well worth a look.

The tour itself was very informative and our guide helped us to imagine how the Colosseum once was. Tales of gladiators fighting lions sparked my imagination and as we wandered through the ruins I imagined to myself all of the weird, wonderful and horrifying things that had taken place where I stood.

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The view from the lower levels – you can only access this if on a tour.
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The view from the upper levels of the Colosseum was fantastic.

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Throughout the tour my legs began to seize up and I felt increasingly uncomfortable so afterwards we sat and rested on a bench for a while before searching the back streets for a pizzeria. We found a small cafe and ate hot, fresh slices of Margarita pizza washed down with cold lemonade. Lunch was delicious and everything I had hoped it would be. Refreshed and content we headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved 30 minute nap.

Batteries temporarily recharged once more we hopped back on to the Metro and towards Barberini in search of the Capuchin Crypts.

Inside the small, quiet museum we learned about the Capuchin monks and observed objects that belonged to them including rusted pocket watches and retooled books. No photos were allowed inside the museum or crypt and I respectfully abided this despite my burning desire to capture every tiny little thing I saw. The winding museum led us down in to the crypts which were dull – lit only by faux flickering candles.

Inside were ornate patterns and designs spread carefully across the walls and ceiling, macabre lampshades made of human bones. Hooded skeletons guarded the crypts, humbly bowing their skulls down to the gritty soil beneath them.
I have visited the Catacombs of Paris and as such, did not anticipate feeling ‘creeped’ out by these crypts. How wrong I was. I learned that no one really knew how the bones had come to be in the crypts or who had arranged them in such a manner. I felt a shiver crawl across my shoulders. Some of the skeletons still had withered skin that clung to their skulls and looked to be mummified. This combined with the thick hooded monk cloaks made them look terrifying. The detached thigh and shin bones placed to make shapes were easier to digest but having no idea of the sort of man who might arrange them as so made the whole experience feel unnerving. I would definitely recommend a visit to the Capuchin Crypts for anyone who wants to see something different and unique. The experience was haunting but grossly interesting.

From here we roamed the area until we came to a cafe. Outside we sat and had a glass of red wine whilst observing the bustling streets. I was happy to see a pair of chirping sparrows and fed them crumbs which they greedily pecked up.

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We fed the sparrows over a glass of wine.

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When the wine had been drunk we wandered further in to the city and perused the shops and busy cobbled streets until my legs felt as if they were on fire.

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Muscles screaming we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and rest some more before the evening ahead.

Once again we headed for the Trevi fountain and the plethora of restaurants that surrounded it. We settled for a small restaurant with outside seating and heat lamps to keep us toasty. Here we had beautiful cold beer and bruschetta to start, followed by spaghetti and meatballs and lashings of salty Parmesan cheese. Although it was not comparable to our first nights dinner, it was still delicious and very enjoyable.

After a very quick stop by the Pantheon, we headed back to Pepy’s bar, as we had done the first night. Here we had bourbon served with bitter dark chocolate and chatted about our adventures in to the night.

By the end of our second night in Rome we had walked 30 miles.

Day one of Rome: Sistine Chapel, St Peters Basilica & lasagna

I’m painfully aware that my last blog post was a whole 12 days ago…the reason for this is that I have been extraordinarily busy! I guess now is as good a time as any for an update and I’d like to talk about my recent trip to Rome.

I have decided to break up each day in to a post (I went from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.) The reason for this is the sheer volume of photos and stories I have to share! (Please bear with me.)

We left our flat late, half an hour late to be exact. Even though we’d carefully laid our plans the night before and had set up the timed lamps, cleaned out all of the bird cages and packed – we still didn’t make it out on time. Rushing to the airport, we boarded the plane – just. Our flight took two bumpy hours before we landed in Italy. The sun was shining, the skies were blue and the air was crisp – not quite cold yet not particularly warm either…my ideal weather. We took a taxi to the hotel (Hotel Gambrinus) and as our taxi hurtled its way through the cobbled streets and outskirts of the city, I marveled at the beautiful old buildings that looked set to crumble at the slightest touch. By the time we reached our hotel I had decided my jacket wasn’t to be needed that day.

At the hotel we quickly decanted and arranged our belongings about the room. Our stop was quick – being in Rome from Friday to Sunday meant that time was against, it was precious and we didn’t wish to waste it.

Our first stop in Rome was to be the Vatican, and as we walked along the dusty pavements to the Metro we saw that the streets were lined with orange trees, heavily laden with fruit.

We decided to take a tour of the Vatican museums and walk the (quicker) route through and to the Sistine Chapel. We moved slowly from room to room soaking up all there was to see. The rooms were opulent with floor to ceiling paintings or carefully carved statues of marble. The thing that most impressed me (even more so than the art on display) were the ornate ceilings with their beautiful depictions, paintings and carvings in rich inky blues interjected with gold and swirling patterns. Each room seemed to be in contest with the last and I found myself drifting through them with my head craned skywards.

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A stylish spiral staircase in the Vatican museums.
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Stopping for snacks to keep us going. The pizza snacks were bland but we were fans of the bacon.

Along our way we saw Matisse and Dali and felt quiet satisfaction at being able to recognise something. At the end of our route we came to the Sistine Chapel. Of course everyone in this room had their eyes fixed firmly to the ceiling and that iconic painting The Creation of Adam. Photographs were not permitted here and without the clicks of flash the room seemed darker and stiller. Much more peaceful than it had been moments before outside of it. I thought the paintings were amazingly beautiful but architecturally the chapel is not spectacular.

From here we moved out on to the grounds and strolled through them with the sun on our faces. We walked further still towards St Peters Basilica stopping for our first taste of gelato at a grubby vendor. Unfortunately the ice cream tasted stale and I worried we would be sick so the limp coned ice creams went in to the bin and our first lesson of Rome was learnt – do not buy from street vendors!

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The Basilica is very beautiful to admire from the outside, but inside it was breathtaking. The ceiling rose up so high it was almost lost but I could make out yet more magnificent paintings and depictions of Rome. The Basilica felt very special to me was a real highlight of the trip. I would recommend this to anyone wishing to visit Rome.

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On our back we stopped at a proper gelato bar and got our first real taste of the city. I had a delicious chocolate and Nutella cone that tasted just like a frozen Ferrero Rocher and burst with flavour in my mouth. Gareth had chocolate and stractiatelli.

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Gareth thinks Jesus is cool.

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Back at the hotel we quickly changed in to smarter attire before hopping back on the Metro in search of dinner. In Rome there are two lines A and B – we quickly established which lines we needed to take to get where (or rather, Gareth did) and it was simple enough to get around.
We headed to the Trevi Fountain because we had wanted to see it and we had heard there were a lot of restaurants around it. By the time we got there it was dark. The fountain was much larger and more beautiful than I could have anticipated. The water was aqua and highlighted with spot lights that reflected and sparkled on its surface. The fountain was bustling with activity. Tourists stopping to take photos of the enchanting scene, street vendors selling selfie sticks and Italians having a quick kiss by the water.

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We ate nearby in a pretty restaurant that was covered in ivy with twinkling fairy lights poking out from between the lush green folliage. Inside the walls were lined with tempting bottles of wine and the atmosphere felt relaxed and happy. The tinkling of glasses, scraping of cutlery against plates and the gentle murmur of Italian accents made the place feel welcoming. Our service was wonderful and we were recommended a strong red wine which we sank half of as we hungrily made our way through the basket of fresh breads. We both ordered lasagna and I can say with confidence it was the nicest meal I have ever eaten in a restaurant before. Beautifully rich and creamy, every bite of the lasagna was like a slice of heaven that left me wanting more.

After our meal we wandered through the city and came across a bar called Pepy’s. There we ordered Italian Iced Tea (just like a Long Island Ice Tea but with amaretto.) At night the street sellers come out in force and try to sell you all manner of rubbish from collapsible baskets, to hunks of goo and laser pens. Sitting outside the bar we were constantly swatting away the sellers like flies, although one managed to coerce one euro out of us for two African bracelets.

By the time we curled up in bed much later that night we had walked 15 miles.

Attracting garden birds

When I was younger my mum and dad used to leave stale bread out in the garden for the birds. I would sit on the step of the back door and watch the sparrows and blackbirds with fascination – sharp beaks and shiny feathers rooting around in the grass for a feast. When my mum got cats we didn’t leave out anymore bread, and we didn’t see anymore birds.

A garden has always been an important specification for me when looking at potential homes to rent. When we moved to East London the flat we rented had the smallest of concrete patches with a tiny unusable shed and a huge towering tree that blocked out all of the sunlight – but it was a garden. A garden in London no less. So we rented that flat and I set out to entice the birds in.

I bought a feeder, and a bird box and I left out a tiny china plate with mealworms on – all to bring the birds in. They never came despite my attention and best efforts. Ironically I never saw a single bird in our garden – not until a week before we left when I saw a lone blue tit singing high up in that wretched tree.

Moving to Essex a garden was still a must. We got one, albeit a very small one. And once again, the birds were on my mind. This time I was determined to bring them in… and I was successful!

After a great deal of  research I learned some important things that I’d like to share with anyone who is looking to bring some feathered friends in to the garden.

  1. Different birds like different foods. Buying one type of seed and hanging it in a feeder will not attract different kinds of birds – it might not even attract one kind. It’s important to buy different feeders and supply different feeds. I now have seeds, sunflower hearts, fatballs and peanut granules. The blue tits and great tits love the peanut granules and a rather fat robin seems to have made his way through four fatballs with minimal help from the blackbirds. We got our feeder from B&M for a bargainous £8! B&M is also really great for bird food and does some great deals on feeder/seed combos. Wilkos is another shop I’d recommend if you want to cut down the cost of feeding wild birds.
  2. Water is key. Right now I have a little dish that I fill with water – it sits on the bird feeder and is there to provide fresh drinking water or a little bath to birds who may require it. Eventually I’m hoping to get a birdbath as I have read that they help the process along even more so.
  3. Shrubs / greenery is a must. My garden overlooks another which is a little awkward. But the garden it overlooks is filled with bushes and trees and things that can provide cover for birds who need to dart. During the summer I will be looking to plant some bushes of my own. I am hoping to attract goldfinches – I have read they are fans of teasel.

Baring these things in mind we have been able to attract a few different types of birds to the garden – even some I can’t identify! Below are some photographs I have taken of just some of the sweet birds that frequent our garden. Please note, these photographs were taken through a glass door and as such are not in pin sharp focus!

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We purchased this feeder station from B&M. The coconut fat ball and feeders/seed came separately but were reasonably priced.

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Etsy review – Charming Creatures

Disclaimer: I have not been paid or gifted anything in return for this post. I’m a big supporter of handmade and I’m writing this to share with the world one of my favourite Etsy shops.

Please note: this post contains affiliate links.

You can visit the shop here

I have been shopping with Etsy for a few years now. I am a firm believer that handmade is best – the quality of a handmade item is just far superior than that of a mass manufactured one and I really like the idea of owning something unique and tailored to suit my tastes.

I first came across the Charming Creatures shop when looking for a zebra finch necklace. Unsurprisingly I wasn’t overwhelmed by the scarce options available to me. But my search did pull up one thing – a link to a little handmade clay pet bird necklace.

I contacted Emily (the mastermind behind the clay creations) about getting my little zebra finch Cheeks immortalised in clay. I sent her a couple of photographs of Cheeks and paid the (small) fee. At every step of the process I was kept updated – I was sent photographs of the clay shape, and then of the painting. This part of the service is just one of the many things that sets Charming Creatures apart from other Etsy shops I have visited (and I believe it deserves a mention.)

When clay Cheeks arrived in the post the packaging was absolutely wonderful and very secure. The actual necklace itself was beautiful-well made, well painted – and Emily managed to capture the likeness of my sweet little bird perfectly. The necklace exceeded all of my expectations.

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Clay necklace of Cheeks
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Actual Cheeks (and little Biscuit)

Some time after this I saw Charming Creatures was having a competition over on Instagram. Of course, after receiving such a beautiful piece I definitely wanted to own more. The competition was to post a photograph of your pet and write a few sentences about him/her – the prize was to be a little clay sculpture of said pet. I posted a picture of Muffin, explained why he was special and waited.

I couldn’t believe it when I won! I have never won anything in my life and was so excited to win such a fantastic competition.

Clay Muffin arrived in the post today (yay for a happy post day!) and I was blown away by how special he is.

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Clay sculpture of Muffin by Charming Creatures

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Muffin

Once again the packaging was fantastic – a small little box with ribbon and wrapped felt to enable clay Muffin to arrive minus any damages. The sculpture itself is stunning – and once again the likeness has truly been captured (most especially around his eyes.)

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Size difference between a custom pet sculpture and a necklace

The great thing about Charming Creatures work is the attention to detail. I have painted clay before and it’s not the easiest of things to do – yet these beautiful sculptures have so much precise detailing and really do look lifelike. I can only imagine a whole lot of love goes in to them. They are also really sturdy and although I am very careful I imagine them to be quite hardy.

Charming Creatures doesn’t just create birds, so if you’re looking to get your pet immortalised in clay, whether it be a feathered friend or a four-legged friend this shop is for you. I can imagine also that these would make fantastic and incredibly thoughtful gifts for those that you love -I would be delighted to receive one! Here are some examples of the charming clay creations (photos taken from the Charming Creatures website.)

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Wonderful Goldfinch trinket bowls – I have my eye on these!
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Pet sculptures. Charming Creatures doesn’t just create feathered friends.
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Custom cake toppers – custom is key.

Do you have a favourite Etsy shop? Please share in the comments below so I can check it out!

 

Birds of Thorndon

Some photographs I snapped of birds in Thorndon Country Park.

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A very blurry pic – of a chaffinch we saw. This was the only snap I managed to get!

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Thorndon Country Park

It was a grey weekday- and as we rolled through the car park, gravel crunching satisfyingly beneath the wheels of our car, I noticed that Thorndon country park was just as busy as it had been the weekend before. I wondered to myself if it was always as busy, or if everyone was there out of guilt from overindulging over the festive period.

We parked the car and stepped out in to the chilly air. This time we came prepared. Instead of flimsy trainers and battered chelsea boots, we were clad in (definitely not cringe-inducing) matching black wellies. I delighted in striding purposely through the murky puddles and to my favourite bird-snapping spot just outside the cosy little shop that sells hot chocolates and pin badges.

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As I did last time, I stood frozen to the spot just by the bird feeders. At first I watched the blue tits and great tits squabble over the best places to peck at the peanut granules, but then unable to resit I grabbed my camera and took some photographs. I stood there for a long time, my fingers growing numb and tingly with cold, my nose positively glowing. This time I managed to capture some of the beautiful blue tits I love so much – darting around in that frantic manner they adopt when you stand just a little too close, fighting off bigger birds to defend their territory. I took a lot of photos of the birds – not wanting to spam this post (too much) I have created another just for the birds (so go check it out.)

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Determined not to miss out on the rest of Thorndon like the last time however, I eventually managed to tear myself away from the feeders and take the muddied path in to the woods. The first thing that struck me about Thorndon was the beauty of it. The paths although slippery and littered with an obstacle course of branches and puddles were wide and open – allowing the woods to feel safe and well-traversed. That said the trees and shrubs were magnificent in size and gave the feel of wilderness. I’m not sure how a place can feel so open and familiar yet leave you with the impression that you could get lost for days, but somehow that’s the feeling it imparted on me.

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For those that haven’t visited before, the woods have a very popular Gruffalo trail for younger children. I often saw wooden sculptures with small children clinging to them, grinning gleefully at the cameras their parents clutched. Thorndon is a great place to take children if you have them. Even if you don’t, (like me) it’s still a wonderful place to take a walk.

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We walked for a long time, following signposts for squirrel and bird trails, stopping every now and then to listen to the bird calls, or to take a photograph of something beautiful and wild. The woods were thriving with squirrels that bounded playfully from treetop to treetop – and I must have counted at least six robins singing their distinctive song. I was surprised to see so many. Along our way we also saw a chaffinch, a bullfinch, nuthatch, multiple tits and a tiny green bird that we couldn’t identify from our position down on the ground.

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Throughout the woods there are clearings. Some spaces created with benches to eat at and gates to keep dogs from bounding in. One clearing we came across did not have these gates or benches but the ground was soft and mossy and damp with raindrops. Small ponds had formed in places and reeds had gathered around them. The thing that struck us most about this clearing was the beautiful smell in the air – like incense curling in the sky and snaking its way up our nostrils. Of course it wasn’t incense at all. It was the smell of wood smoke combined with the dewy grasses and trees. I wish I could have bottled up the scent and taken it home with me – it was very enchanting.

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As we rambled further in to the woods we eventually found ourselves off the beaten path. We began to realise that we hadn’t seen or said a cheery good morning to a stranger in at least 20 minutes and no bright-eyed dogs were in sight. The bushes and brambles became thicker, wild and tangeled…much less manicured than they had been when they framed the paths we had taken earlier. We came to realise that we were completely lost. How funny that we could even find ourselves lost and unable to find our way back in such a relatively small space (500 acres.) Using my partners GPS we managed to find our way back through the woods and to the cabin where we drank lemonade and poured over the photographs I had taken.

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I haven’t visited Thorndon in the summer but I imagine it is just as (if not more) beautiful during that season. I am looking forward to exploring even more of the green spaces that surround me but for now, Thorndon is my favourite.

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Top tips for taking care of yourself this month

As I enter the new year heavier around the stomach and lighter in the pocket I can’t help but experience those post-Christmas January blues. Christmas has been and gone, the festivities are over and the time for washing every meal down with a creamy snowball and a fistful of Quality Street has passed. Getting in to the swing of working and not laying in bed until noon is difficult and walking to work with my cheese, biscuit and sugar-clogged arteries is nothing short of an exhausting chore.

If this is all sounding familiar then rest-assured, you are not alone. It is universally acknowledged that January is a horrid month; the fact it exists is downright offensive to all. Joking aside, January can be a real struggle to get through. Here are my top tips for taking care of yourself this month.

Take a mental health day

Maybe you spent the festive season slumped on the couch in a mince-pie induced coma despondently watching Eastenders, or maybe you spent it ferrying between friends and family and fitting in as much as you could. Whatever you did, it probably wasn’t as relaxing as you had anticipated. Whilst it’s nice spending time with loved ones it can be exhausting. All those parties and special events to attend are fun but can leave you feeling wiped. Not to mention a month of eating horrific processed food and drowning in booze – it can all take its toll. For me Christmas is always a fun time. I love seeing my family and hitting the boxing day sales gives me a buzz – but it’s not relaxing. Even so, getting back in to the swing of work can be really difficult after taking some time away. If you find it’s all a bit too much, take some time back to recover. January is a good time to take some leftover holiday or pull a sickie for the sake of your mental health. Use your day to take a refreshing walk in the woods or to catch up on some much needed sleep. Just as long as you’re not skiving left right and centre you should be fine.

Treat yourself

This might sound a little odd after you’ve probably been spoilt rotten by friends and family at Christmas. But I think it’s always nice to give yourself a tiny treat to perk yourself up when you’re feeling sad. So maybe you’re on a strict diet or detox to get rid of that festive flab – but it won’t hurt to have a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit once in a blue moon. Or maybe you fancy a new book to get stuck in to. You don’t need to overdo it especially if you’ve overspent this month – one small gesture of kindness to yourself can really lift your mood. Be selfish, you just spent your hard-earned wages on friends and family, now it’s time to treat yourself.

Get organised

A new year – a new you…or maybe not. January is a month of change though and people often use it as a platform for motivation. Whether you want a new job, lifestyle or partner or want to stay in your cosy little rut, getting organised can help keep you on track. My aunt recently suggested I buy a planner as she swears by hers and I’ve been on the hunt ever since. As a serial list-maker I find it’s really conducive to put thoughts/dates/aspirations down on paper so I can free my mind up to think of other things. Everything is a bit wobbly in January, a diary or planner can really help you to keep track of those all-important goals you might otherwise conveniently forget.

Take time for yourself.

When you feel sad it’s important to make sure you’re talking to and spending time with friends and family. These people are best-placed to cheer you up however it’s also good to have some alone-time. Sometimes we can become overwhelmed with all the plans we’ve made and all the people we have to fit in to our already tight schedules. If you’re feeling like you need some space to just relax, cancel your plans and have a night in in front of the telly. As long as you don’t isolate yourself or become a social hermit, it’s perfectly fine to have and want time to yourself. Friends and family are sure to understand, don’t forget – they are probably longing for a rest as well.

Be kind

Don’t forget to do everything with kindness. Other people are sure to be suffering this month too. A little bit of consideration can go a long way.

How do you improve your mood when you’re in a funk?

 

Thorndon and the robin

As I poured myself a cold glass of water to drown my vague new years hangover with, I noticed a tiny Robin Redbreast out of the kitchen window. For a while he sat perched on our fence, his head cocked and looking inquisitive. Before long he’d moved to the fat ball feeder to peck away happily at the food we’d left out for him.

I decided then that today would be the day I used my new zoom lens to capture some birds with. I bought the Sigma 70-300mm lens for my Nikon last week for the express purpose of bird photography.

I must have sat by our living room patio windows for over an hour as my hands began to grow cold and numb. Eventually I got some shots of the birds that visited our garden – including the little robin. These shots are through a glass door, so they are not pin-sharp perfect.

 

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A while later my very understanding boyfriend realised my need to go out, get some fresh air and snap some birds in the wild. Full of eager excitement (all mine) we set off for Thorndon Country Park. I had never been there before and was quite excited to explore. Whilst we did look around I probably spent at least an hour at the bird feeders snapping away at the great tits, blue tits and robins – I was truly in my element. My boyfriend was incredibly patient despite the fact I would continuously apologise for “being annoying”, pull a face and then continue snapping away at the birds! Eventually we took a walk through the woods but the rain came and we hobbled back to the car with frozen fingers and muddy shoes. For this reason I won’t yet describe this beautiful country park – however, I will re-visit so a post is sure to follow.

The following photographs were taken at Thorndon Country Park with my Sigma lens. Again, these aren’t all in pin-sharp focus. I am still an amateur getting used to my camera (despite the two year photography course) and getting sharp images of birds is hard. Firstly because they are so small, and secondly because they move around a lot!

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I saw about two or three robins at Thorndon which surprised me as I know they are territorial creatures. This one was very beautiful and even posed for a photo!

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The above is the only shot I got of a blue tit. Blue tits are my favourite birds and smaller than the great tits shot above. It was hard to capture but very beautiful to watch.

All in all I had a wonderful day and I’m quite happy with the shots and new lens! Watch out for more bird photography.

Goodbye 2015, hello 2016!

As 2015 comes to a close, I thought I’d write a little reflection post about the kind of year I’ve had and finish with a few goals for 2016.

It has been a busy year to say the least, but also the best year of my life. For me this year was all about adventures and growing as a person – improving myself and my life and really just doing the things I want to do. After a tough few years, this was really important to me. I can’t say the entire year has been perfect. There have most definitely been some very personal and ongoing struggles; but for the most part, this year has been good to me.

I started out 2015 as I start any new year – with lots and lots of lists. The first was a list of new years resolutions. These were:

  • Sort out my health problems
  • Advance in my career
  • Write more/publish more
  • Read more
  • Finish dissertation and graduate
  • Learn to drive
  • Try to eat healthier
  • Try to eat less/smaller portions

Of these goals I made steps to sorting out my health problems and although there’s still some way to go, I am hopeful I will get there. I advanced in my career, I wrote less (giving up my freelancing position) but then I started this blog so will be writing more. I finished my dissertation and graduated (yay!), I have started to eat healthier and less and so far I’ve lost 9 pounds through that. Overall I’d call that a success. The goals that weren’t fulfilled this year are naturally being carried over in to 2016. As far as the reading is concerned, I’ve already bought a book ready to get stuck in to and learning to drive is a big priority of mine.

My bucket list was also updated and I managed to tick off a large chunk of it (but this list is far too long to publish here)

However, from that bucket list, this year I managed to set up a blog (obviously), take pottery classes, take knitting classes and learn to knit, knit my own scarf, go strawberry picking in a field, get my thighs tattooed and a cactus tattoo, write my dissertation and graduate, take up a hobby, start a collection, visit Paris, have my first proper holiday abroad, go to a London show and take the Jack the Ripper walk in London.

If it sounds like a busy year, that’s because it was. Perhaps the busiest year I’ve ever had. I managed to squeeze a lot in to it. My personal highlights were collecting all of my lovely finches which have changed my life indescribably for the better, moving house twice with my boyfriend, exploring the Catacombes of Paris and seeing the Eiffel tower, exploring different caves in Spain, swimming in our private pool under the stars and watching a concert on a lake at the Caves of Drach, holding and flying owls and a harris hawk on a bird experience day at Eagle Heights, holidays at the caravan in Dorset and all of the many wonderful adventures we had there (including the less wonderful getting stuck in sinking mud in the New Forest) and so much more.

I also created a list of things I definitely wanted to do and experience this year (my adventure list.) Of that list I did the following:

  • Visit the British Wildlife Centre
  • Visit Dennis Sever’s House
  • Highgate Cemetery
  • Birdworld
  • Chistlehurst caves in Kent
  • Theatre (we saw Bend it Like Beckham and it was wonderful)
  • London Zoo
  • Car bootsale
  • Picnic in a London park
  • BBQ
  • Strawberry field picking

Of that list there are a few things I missed out on and will be pursuing in 2016 – Kew gardens being a big one for me as I have wanted to go for years. I think there will be a couple of revisits to the above also as some of the days out were really amazing and I’d like to record them properly here.

It feels like it has been a very special year and I personally feel very blessed and lucky – especially to have spent it all with my partner in crime.

So what does 2016 have in store for me? If it is even a fraction as good as 2015 I will be a very happy woman.  I have already got a list packed full of things I hope to do and achieve. My new years resolution list is somewhat shorter and perhaps simpler this year though:

  • Read more
  • Be kinder
  • Keep doing more of what I love
  • Learn to drive
  • Get down to X stone. (my goal weight.)

I think I will get there and I’m certainly excited for the journey! Writing out goals is a big thing for me because it forces to recognise all of my achievements and reflect back on happy times.

How has your year been, and what are your goals for 2016?

Christmas craft project

The festive season is almost over and Christmas is feeling a little like a distant and hazy cheese-filled memory, but I’d like to take the time to share a Christmas craft project I completed.

This year I knew I wanted to give my friends and family something thoughtful and handmade. I decided scarves were the way to go and I took up knitting lessons, learned how to knit and started a load of different projects – there was my mum’s moss stitch scarf and my dads’ cable knit one… then, as it often has a funny way of doing, life got in the way and I found myself with a pile of half-finished knits and no motivation.

As it turns out, scarves were definitely not the way to go. So my Christmas craft project had to be something that was relatively cheap, simple enough to achieve and not all that time consuming. I decided I would make a Christmas card.

Firstly I dug out my watercolours and painted a robin as they are my favourite festive birds. I was quite happy with the finished result which I think portrays my style.

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Then I scanned it in to my computer and made some tweaks / adjustments in Photoshop.

My next port of call was the craft shops. I hit these to find some cards to print on. I found some from Polaroid which looked promising and only cost a quid (bargain!)

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I thought the printing would be a relatively easy process but it definitely was not. It turns out I’m not very good at creating cards on my laptop. My boyfriend helped me and we finally achieved something which I felt was presentable (although not quite as polished as I’d have liked.)

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One of the downfalls to the Polaroid card paper is that is was very thin. It did stand independently without too much wobble but the the card itself looked inexpensive (most probably because it was.) You can’t grumble when you’ve paid a pound but I’ll still try.

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My Christmas card stack included Sophie Jackson who was a very brave little girl. She received 10,000 Christmas cards – I hope these showed her that she was special and in everyones thoughts.

Overall I was fairly happy with the finished product and friends and family commented how nice the cards were which was pleasant. However – I managed to sneak a peek at some after their delivery and noticed they had developed smudges that made them look less than professional. Actually this was quite upsetting to see because I think it took away from the overall aesthetic. The smudging could be because the cards got wet in the post. It could be because they cost a pound. All I can really do is speculate –  I’m not sure what happened there but either way the Polaroid card stock is not something I would use for future projects or recommend to others. (Although I’m sure they do have some better products than this.)

I’d like to try this project again next year with better card that is thicker, glossier and doesn’t smudge.

For now I hope the cards achieved (in some small way) what they set out to; show those I love that I am thinking of them.

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Did you get crafty this Christmas?

 

 

In the bird room

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in every post ever, we moved recently. Our new flat has two bedrooms which was a major pull for us. Being in a steady loving relationship we felt that two rooms would be appropriate. One for us and one for the babies. And when I say babies, what I actually mean is the birds. All of the birds.

So at this point we have about 20 finches (a whole charm!) They recently moved in to the bird room and although they still remain caged, it’s a lot more spacious and they can be let out to fly around without the fear of them smacking in to anything or falling behind cabinets. They are rather small birds and this can be a problem. The bird room is great though, and currently houses a very large aviary- type flight cage and three other large cages. I often get asked if the birds all have their own names. Of course they do. With the exception of the six chicks we recently hatched (and can’t bear to part with) every bird is named.

And here they are – a kinda whose who of the bird room.

This is Pepper. She is a hen zebra finch and one of the first finches I ever owned. She is the friendliest of the bunch and very inquisitive.

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This is Biscuit who is also a hen. We got Biscuit and Pepper together at the same time and believe they are probably sisters. Both Biscuit and Pepper recently had chicks (three each.)

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This is Freckles a cock zebra finch. He is paired with Pepper and they had three chicks together (all hens.) Freckles was an amazing dad doing almost all of the feeding.

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This is Cheeks, a cock zebra finch. Here he is seen with the bird he is paired with – Biscuit. Together they had three chicks two of which were hens and one cock.

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These are our penguin zebra finches. At the front is Pumpkin (a cock) next to him is Mabel (a hen) – Biscuit is pictured once again. Pumpkin is very sweet and likes cuddling up to the other birds. Mabel is a bit tougher and likes to sing loudly and defiantly.

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And now on to the chicks. I don’t think I’ve captured them all but we have five hens and one cock. At the moment they are going through that cute stage where they are growing feathers in. Below is our little boy – note his adorable patchy little cheeks.

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All of the above live in the largest aviary although should be separated soon when we find another large cage to house the chicks who will soon be troublesome adults.

In this photo you can see Sweetpea a hen zebra finch. Behind (the brown and white) is Bramble who is a bengalese finch and Button who is a cock bengalese finch. These guys are always singing.

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This is Raisin who is a black-cheeked cock zebra finch. He lives with Button, Bramble and Sweetpea. He used to live in the larger aviary but he was a terrible bully. He’s pretty cute though.

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The third cage houses our owl finches and orange cheeked waxbills. These are tiny birds and passive so they live happily together without squabble. The zebra finches can be prone to fighting and being mean to each other but these have never had any problems.

Below is Clementine and Wotsit – our orange cheeks, and our cock owl finch Pipkin.

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Pickle, Pipkin, Clementine and Wotsit. I will come clean here and tell you that I can’t identify which orange cheek is which as they are virtually the same to look at. Nevermind- they are both very skittish and sweet!

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And finally our fourth cage houses our redpolls. Unlike the other finches these are not foreign. These are actually the only British finches we own (although I’d love to own more so watch this space!)

Below is our cock Muffin – he loves destroying seed bells and has a lot of character.

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And this is our hen Chestnut. She has very beautiful markings. I particularly like the yellow accents around her face, when she is annoyed with something or wants the zebra finches to stop squawking she makes a very angry sound that is not too dissimilar to a telephone ringing.

Redpolls are wild birds and in the UK you can only sell them if they have been ringed. Ours both bear ring bands and were purchased at a bird fair in Brightlingsea.

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And thus concludes the tour of the bird room (for now!) I next want to purchase some quails but we’ll see. Bird seed and upkeep is quite costly when you have 20 beaks to feed!

I think birds are wonderful to watch and very rewarding to keep. Do you own any special birds?

A winter walk

Yesterday (Saturday 19th December) marked one full week since we left Stratford and moved to Essex. However, being employed and busy human beings, we’ve barely had time to unpack/relax in our new home let alone explore our surroundings. Yesterday we decided to celebrate some much needed downtime and make our second ever visit to the country park near our new home – North Weald.

After a stint in Stratford, greenery was a site for sore eyes (even if the trees were sparse.)

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However, we had both clearly been living in London for too long because we were woefully under-prepared for the mud in our flimsy shoes whilst everyone else was clad in wellies. (I have now put these on my shopping list as an essential.)

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Exploring North Weald

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We rambled on through the mud and made our first stop at the little shop by the car park. As soon as we entered I wanted everything- from the cuddly deer to the hot choc laced with Amaretto. Like the spoilt child I am I came away with a little greenfinch pin and some feed for the deer and the ducks.

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My partner Gareth showcasing said feed.

The last time we visited North Weald it was summertime and the deer were full of life. As it’s winter we did wonder if the deer would have been moved elsewhere but we were glad to discover they were still there and we were able to feed them. I love deer – they are such sweet little creatures.

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DSC_0663 - Copy.JPGWe fed the ducks too although they looked rather plump and went about taking the food in a rather apathetic manner (a case of the good life I presume.)

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The great thing about North Weald (besides all of the beautiful creatures you will discover there) is that whether it’s summer or winter it’s still a very beautiful and scenic place to explore. The lake is particularly lovely.

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There’s also a little bird hide there which is pretty neat. Inside there’s a fact sheet about siskins and how they populate North Weald. We didn’t spot any siskins but we did see a fair few plump squirrels all digging frantically amongst the leaves.

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Looking out from the bird hide.
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Inside the bird hide we found this slip. If only it were mine.

 

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BlueBell Tree House. I’m not sure what this is for. Perhaps the squirrels have tea parties inside?

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I found an unusual pinecone

On our way back to the car we stopped to take some clippings of holly to decorate our fireplace with.

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All in all we had a wonderful time at North Weald and it felt fantastic to get some fresh air. I definitely believe that country parks are not just for the summer – there’s a certain charm to taking a chilly winter walk.

Where is your favourite place to explore during the winter months?

 

 

London…it’s not me, it’s you.

My love affair with London ended around ten months ago – just two months in to living in Stratford. Prior to moving to London, I spent most weekends ferrying myself up there for some market or the other. I thought Camden was ‘unique’ and the coffee shop outside Aldgate Station was the bee’s knees. Prior to the move I had images of wild nights out in Shoreditch and black cabs home past midnight. I had grand visions of myself taking every class and seizing every opportunity I could. And I guess, in its own way London was good to me. But much in the same way an acquaintance can be fun to bump in to on a night out, you don’t want to be around it all the time; in short, London is fun for a fling, but you don’t want to settle down with it.

So I did what any reasonable twenty-something would do, and I jumped ship. My partner and I moved to Essex . An ‘Essex girl’ born and bred, this was pretty exciting for me. The prospect of a proper chip shop (not a fried chicken / greasy kebab shop) and just a smidge more greenery was (and still is) the dream.

So why didn’t London and I work out?

Well, now the smog has cleared, I think I’ve narrowed it down.

The people are rude

Okay okay – a sweeping statement I know. And I’m not one to generalise so let’s be fair. Of course not all of the people are rude – that would be ridiculous. There’s good and bad wherever you go and obviously it would be impossible for the entire population of London to be on my personal naughty list. So, being reasonable I’d say…98% of the people in London are rude. Is that fair? I think that’s fair. On almost every occasion I had the displeasure of traveling on the 25 bus I was shoved and elbowed and glared at. I got the impression that the bus drivers wanted to murder us all and, I guess I couldn’t blame them.  People are busy in London. They have places to be, people to see – and they are ruthless. If you have ever crammed on to a tube at rush hour you’ll know what I mean. And living in London was like a never-ending tube ride.

There are no proper chip shops

Poppy’s is the well-known chip shop in East London. But when you live in Stratford, popping to poppy’s for a cod and chips is a just a bit of a mission. Where I lived all of the takeaway shops served fried chicken (albeit delicious fried chicken), kebabs and pizza. I did discover two chippies in relative close proximity…but the chips were limp and lifeless. And when you’re  settling down and creating a home with your loved one, a good chip shop is something to consider. What? It matters. It matters to me.

There’s hardly any greenery

Whilst London does boast some beautifully manicured parks, it is a challenge to find anywhere you feel really relaxed walking. The constant sounds of the city sort of cancel out any of the feel-good vibes you might otherwise get from a brisk morning walk in the woods. Sometimes I felt like it was hard to breathe. When I moved to Stratford I knew I wouldn’t be surrounded by fields and woodland and green space. I just didn’t anticipate how much I would miss it.

You don’t get a lot for your money

I’m sure it won’t suprise anyone when I say that living in London is expensive. My partner and I lived in a crummy one bed masionette that was seriously mouldy. This woefully inadequate housing cost a bomb all things considered. And it’s not just crappy house prices that wound me up either. The cost of living was noticeably higher. You shouldn’t have to remortage your soul just to buy a beer. That’s not living; it’s existing.

The reality doesn’t live up to the expectations

I guess the biggest thing about living in London for me, was that the reality of it was not as I had anticipated. Originally I moved for work – and for the convience of it (it afforded me more time in bed every morning.) But as mentioned above, I did have some preconceptions of what London life would be like. Whilst I did have a few nights out, and I did join a couple of classes, I didn’t really do as much as I thought I would. I found myself spending most of my weekends in Essex or at the seaside because that’s where I preferred to spend my leisure time. Whilst I am sure there are people who adore living in London, I didn’t at all.

So now, as I mentioned earlier – we are living in Essex (which I am sure some will argue is not much better!) But we are happily wedged between some country parks and the nicest chippie I’ve had all year – success! I’m feeling pretty positive about the move, and looking forward to exploring the area and discovering some cool little places.

To add some balance to this (only ever so slightly negative) post, what do you absolutely love about living in London?