I have a small problem. No, not a ‘pass me the number of a therapist’ type problem (not yet). It’s just I have a teensy obsession with all things papery and beautiful. Cards, art prints and stationary made by clever, creative folk who sell at groovy little niche fairs, markets or independent type shops up and down the UK. Stuff that makes a REALLY satisfying treat for myself, and rather lovely gifts for everyone else. Actually, this isn’t the problem as far as I’m concerned, but living half way across the world from them is (Hong Kong to be precise-hubby’s job). And so I had to get resourceful because I’m ticking the age box that equates to a lot of marriages and births, on top of the statutory birthdays. That’s a lot more gifts to buy and so undaunted I have embraced the maxim ‘have computer, will shop’. The upshot of all this is discovering that all those very clever, creative folk tend to have their own online shops or sell through sites like Etsy, and- unlike most big retailers- are happy to ship internationally. Ditto their U.S counterparts. So now I’m truly global in my paper and stationery quest (and yup, I’m now an Etsy addict too).
I’ve discovered that a really nice gift to give is an art print. People love to receive something original and beautiful, maybe a little quirky even, and I’m currently really in to the idea of bespoke art- lovely prints that can be customised with images, colour and text, and then framed to create a unique and thoughtful gift for that special someone in your life. Particularly if that special someone is yourself.
Here’s a roundup of a few that caught my eye:
1. Every one of Made Specially’s fabulous prints can be customised and they also offer framing and a totally bespoke service. Spread the love with this Namaste print (UK) from £40 (30cm x 40cm Giclee print).
2. If your best friend’s dog means more to her than her own children (and let’s face it, dogs are far easier to train) then maybe a custom silhouette of the pooch would be just the ticket? Letter Happy ( USA) $15 (8″x10″)
3. Stuck for an original ‘paper’ wedding anniversary gift? This 100 hearts tree from Leeds based Modo Creative can be customised to include your own message but it might be a tough call to beat ”a hundred hearts would be too few to carry all my love for you” £25.80
4. Brides-to-be will love this clever alternative to the wedding guest book from Florida based Fancy Prints. The ‘Signature Wedding Tree’ has 150 leaves for guests to sign and features lovebirds (and ‘optional’ nesting baby lovebirds) which can be customised along with the text and colour scheme.
$45 (16″ x 20″)
5. One for Dad – a thoroughly modern take on the silhouette print from Edinburgh outfit Happy Thought £35.86 (16″x11″ Giclee print)
6. Isn’t this the cutest? Every kids room probably should have a ‘little lion’ from Little Lion (Canada) $29 (30cm x 40cm)
7. Commemorate a birth with this sweet print from from U.S based Ink Tree Press $28 (11″x 14″ Giclee print).
8. Adorbs. Beautifully illustrated family tree with space for photos or drawings from Belle And Boo (UK) £16 (297mm x 420mm (A3)
9. Modern Pop’s alphabet frieze is like a little ray of California sunshine for your kid’s room $60 (19″ x 13″)
10. I love this cute triptych from Sugar Fresh which can be customised to just about any colour you like (USA) $55 (set of 3- 8″x10″)
11. Make any mummy happy (and grandmummies too) with Le Papier Studio’s beautiful silhouette print (USA). $24 (8″x10″) plus one-time charge of $10 per custom silhouette which can then be used in any future artwork.
The danger with buying clothes whilst on holiday, is that you can often find yourself being swayed towards a style you would never normally wear and which never seems to translate terribly well back home. This is a particular danger in Uzes where they have a style all of their very own – a sort of Marie Antoinette meets shabby sexy hippy kind of look – fabulous on the right person but not at all on the wrong. Let me give you a little example, although this one involves a man but you’ll get the idea – there is a little shop off the main square, which sells beautiful cotton Mousquetaire shirts. They have them in all sizes and on children they can look rather sweet. They are large and billowing and fastened at the neck with a laced ribbon which criss crosses up the front. Think Dartanian, or Dogtanian if, like me, you preferred that version. The father of a friend, who shall remain nameless, came to Uzes a few years ago and bought himself one of these local Mousquetaire fashion blouse / shirts and continued to wear it back home in South London paired with jeans and Crocs for his Sunday lunch at home look. I don’t think I need say any more.
This is quite an extreme example and to be honest, there were about 20 dresses I could have quite happily bought and which at home, worn with a leather jacket and biker boots, would have been rather lovely. This brings me on to perhaps the best shop I have ever visited. L’Atelier Des Ours is located on one of the little side streets a moment away from the main square – for those unfamiliar with Uzes, it is a little like Venice without the canals – and sells all these fabulous Uzes style clothes for women and children. In amongst the swathes of linen and lace and florals and silk, there are vintage tins and toys and signs and glass plates with domes and dolls and all sorts of lovely treasures. It’s a little hard to tell what’s for sale and what isn’t but you have the feeling that the lady would happily sell you anything if you asked…..and had enough pennies. The floor downstairs as you enter is covered in fine sand which somehow makes you feel immediately excited but also quiet and careful. This is not a shop for the children! There’s a delicious ice cream stand at the cafe next door which will keep them amused while you take it all in.
I was so tempted I can’t tell you and even more so watching a customer flouncing around the shop making sharp intakes of breathy excitement as she tried on another layered skirt over her silk floral slip. It’s hard to tell whether it was the surroundings which made me love it all or the clothes themselves. So back home to the English countryside and do I wish I’d indulged myself or am I happy back in my ubiquitous jeans and sweatshirt look? It’s hard to tell. I haven’t returned home particularly longing for anything I saw, apart from the glass cloches, the 1950s school desk, the chalk board, the pretty floral sun dress, the cast iron bath, the vintage signs and tins, the wardrobes, the brown leather laced ankle boots, the 1920s hat box……no, absolutely nothing at all really.
One of the pleasures of city living is not feeling like you’re living in a city. I live up on a hill; out of one side of my house all I see is sky and treetops; out the other side my back garden, which is open to whatever wildlife ambles along. There is a large park nearby, and from its woodland venture wild turkeys and deer, which forage silently among the trees. Less silent is the woodpecker who lives there, and wakes me each “morning” at about 4am by drilling for grubs. Rat-a-tat-tat instead of cock-a-doodle-do.
We have small grey mice and impish chipmunks and twitchy grey squirrels. We have blue jays and cardinals and grackles and all manner of brightly colored songbirds who eat from the birdfeeder hanging under the lilac. I often look up from my table to lock eyes with a brazen member of the groundhog family which has made its home in a vast network of tunnels under a neighbor’s porch. They are like beavers without the flat tails, and huge — the size of a small dog. They’re cheeky buggers, and like to dare you to make a sudden movement in their direction, at which they will bolt, often tearing through my vegetable patch flattening everything in their path.
I planted borders of onions to keep the rabbits out because they don’t like the smell. So far it’s prevented them from nibbling on the tomatoes and, for now, the young frothy tops of carrots, but I know it is only a matter of time until the word gets out and they will devour, like the beans, peppers, strawberries and sweet peas down to the ground.
But it is the family of bunnies I find most endearing. Every day they appear on my lawn among the clover to dine on tasty shoots, and stretch, and sometimes, just roll about. When they were babies (kittens, to be exact), no bigger than a tennis ball, they would often curl up to nap in a shady divot, their presence only signaled by a petite pair of silky ears. They are remarkably tame — naively tame, in fact — though they hold very still if you come near, watching with big beady eyes.
I have named the patriarch Monsieur Lapin, and find myself talking to him when I go out to water the plants or do a spot of weeding. “I see you, Monsieur Lapin,” I will say as he turns to hop away. “Say hello to Madame Lapin for me, and tell her to mind les enfants.”
My neighbors must think I’m completely batty.
Let me start by saying I’m NOT pregnant but have written this for a few fabulous girlfriends who are.
There has to be more to pregnancy fashion than elasticated waists and smock tops. There just has to be. But what? I’ve been through it twice now and remember it oh so very clearly indeed. For someone who loves clothes and adores dressing up in the morning, I was pretty excited at the prospect of finding a whole new style of my own…..that was the first pregnancy, by the second I was sick to the back teeth of it and didn’t really put a huge amount of effort in to the style side of having a baby.
Child number one was conceived and carried and given birth to in London where I was still working and life had to pretty much carry on as normal. I had to be well turned out every single day and although the sample rail was pretty much out of bounds after the first 3 months, I had find a way to dress up and look the part. I always like to look for a style muse at times like these, someone I admire and would quite happily fashionably emulate. My pregnancy muse number 1 was Sofia Coppola. She did a smock, swing and shift dress better than anyone I’d ever seen and always looked chic and neat and stylishly preppy. My ideal look. So that’s what I did. I didn’t buy a single piece of maternity wear, I didn’t go near any skinny jeans with massive elasticated waists – they’ve always terrified me those things – I just decided jeans were out for the next year or so and alternatives had to be found. I wore dresses, every single day. Dresses I already had in my wardrobe paired with tights, or leggings when the sun came out, and all worn with some rather fabulous patent Celine pumps which I bought in 4 colours – pink, yellow, red and cream. PPQ smock dresses proved the best, as did American Retro (I bought two brilliant ones in Paris) and COS was my saviour for long sleeve cotton tees which covered both bump and bottom beautifully and they also do some of the very best oversized but flattering shirts, dresses and sweaters you’re likely to find on the highstreet. The other thing I love about COS, while I’m on the subject again, are the fabrics. Never cheap, always long lasting no matter now many times you wash and superbly comfortable to wear whatever “state” you may be in.
The last few weeks before baby number 1 arrived and I stopped work, I lived in my husbands Intimissimi pants, a pair of his old Levis and enormous t-shirts and vests. Needless to say I didn’t really care anymore I just wanted to get on with it and stop feeling gigantic.
Baby number 2 was a different matter all together. We’d moved to the countryside, I was working part time as a PR consultant whilst looking after my 1 year old, and I felt completely dreadful pretty much all the time. Dresses and patent pumps were no longer necessary – more was the shame – and I found myself in leggings for the most part worn with my faithful COS long sleeved tees and 3 brilliant maternity cardigans from Marks and Spencers. 2 black and 1 dark grey. I think they call them “Waterfall” cardigans, long on the sides and shorter at the back. Marvelous for covering up whilst being surprisingly flattering and incredibly easy to wear. And when it got hot – both my boys were Summer babies – I went kaftan crazy. Wore one every day for the last few weeks and loved every minute of it. So by the time he arrived I was freckled and fat and floating around Oxfordshire, dressed like a very happy hippy indeed.
So in conclusion, my tips for as stylish a pregnancy as possible are as follows – invest in some pretty pumps which you like looking at – even when you can’t see your feet any more, other people can and pretty shoes are important – go to COS and stock up on long sleeve tees, the ones with the thumb holes are the best, and wear dresses as much as you can – you can just belt them when your waistline goes back to normal. Finally get yourself a couple of M&S cardigans to keep everything looking tidy. Oh and leggings are a must I’m afraid. I found American Apparel do the best cotton lycra ones which are long and don’t bag at the knee too prematurely. The last thing you need to be worrying about is baggy knees, it’s enough to spoil the entire day before you’ve even started.
And don’t forget to buy yourself a pretty nightdress or nightshirt for the birth. I bought a white cotton one from Princess Tam Tam at Fenwick. There’s something strangely comforting in knowing you’ve made an effort to look nice even when you’re swearing at the midwife.
It’s been a rather lovely week spent in the South Of France doing Absolutely Nothing. I could get used to this.
Bonkers about brocantes Mel Moss
Hunk’s Trunks Sunk Zebedee Helm
Another Day Another Brocante Mel Moss
Mother’s Wardrobe Mel Moss
There’s Something About Sommieres Mel Moss
The first time I visited Sommieres was the year we were married. Some friends told my husband about a bull fight happening in the town just 2 days after our wedding which we had to go to. It wasn’t your usual bull fight but one performed with midget matadors. We still have the poster framed in our downstairs cloakroom to remind me of one of the most bizarre evenings I’ve ever had. I won’t go in to to it too much, it was just plain weird.
3 years later, this time accompanied by our 1 year old, we went to Sommieres under much better circumstances, to visit their weekly flea market which is one of the best we’ve ever found. That year we bought a child’s 1950s deckchair, a beautiful platter and the best ceramic water jug I ever did see which I use all the time for drinks and flowers and even to display the odd potted Hydrangea. So today, 5 years on from the midgets, we went again and this time accompanied by our 3 year old and 1 year old and the promise of all kinds of treasure to be uncovered.
We didn’t do as well around the market this time but I did buy some lengths of embroidered fabric which might one day edge some curtains – when I live in a house with curtains and have time to edge them – and my husband found some beautiful silver serving spoons and a pair of 19th century meat sheers which he can use to dismember chickens and turkeys. I have no doubt they’ll be used every Christmas for years and years to come. No really.
But the highlight of the day came when we ventured in to the walled town centre in search of lunch. The main square was in full Saturday market swing with stalls over flowing with meats and smelly cheeses and fresh bread and rotisserie chickens. The hustle and bustle and absence of English voices was quite exciting. There were restaurants spilling out in to the square packed with people tucking in to platters of oysters and chunks of bread with cheese all being washed down with carafes of cold rose. We quickly realised everything they were eating had been bought from the market and the restaurants were happy to just serve drinks and allow the use of their trestles and benches. So now it was just to find an empty table and gather together some delicious things, which we eventually did, promising ourselves that next time we’d come early and organised and remember to bring a knife to cut the salami.
So today I have learned that you can’t always judge a town by its midget matadors and that my 3 year old is really rather good at sneaky photography with an iPhone.
Having spent the best part of my teenage years borrowing (stealing) clothes out of my Mother’s wardrobe, it was really quite exciting when today she invited me to take a look at some things I might like. Even at the tender age of 36, other people’s clothes, always seem so much nicer than my own. Being given something that you haven’t had to shop for or, lets be honest, pay for is such a lovely treat and quite frankly, I now have some pretty good stuff in my wardrobe thanks to today.
She’s quite a neat dresser, my Mum, lots of Agnes B and Comptoir Des Cotonniers mixed with a bit of Cos and Zara – really can’t sniff at any of that – and there have been many many times I’ve caught myself feeling rather envious of certain ensembles. She’s always been very good at separates and wears a tailored cotton shirt perfectly and capri pants better than anyone else I know. She bought the most fabulous white tuxedo jacket from Zara recently which I had to really force myself to congratulate whilst being quietly furious not to have seen it first.
So I write this dressed head to toe in my mum’s clothes; Agnes B sleeveless pale blue cotton shirt and Zara skinny white capris, smelling of Coco Chanel, drinking a cup of fresh coffee and flicking idly through the pages of Cote Sud. Today, I am my Mother. How lovely.
This time it was Uzes. One of my favourite towns in the whole wide world….and it knows it. I always seem to fall in love with everything I see in Uzes so when we heard there was a 2 day antiques fair and market, it was bound to be trouble.
Had we all the money in the world and an enormous french farm house to fill, it would have been a breeze, but we haven’t and we don’t so we were frugal and careful but still found some treasures.
My finds were as follows : a 6 piece set of matching plates, a bundle of fabulous french stripe fabric and some silver and bone handled cutlery – 6 of each utensil and all in pristine condition.
My husband – having a bit of a thing for milk and glass bottles – found this gorgeous one which will sit on a shelf with the 35 American glass milk bottles he shipped back last year. A man can never have too many milk bottles.
To celebrate our brocante brilliantness we went out for dinner, sans children, to a wonderful restaurant called Le Tracteur in Sanilhac – Et – Sagries. It’s on a little back street of this very sleepy village with no signs, no menus out front and just a small garden with enough tables and chairs to seat 40 comfortably. It’s full every single Summer night and the food is simply a treat. The very clever chef, who works the kitchen with no help at all, devises a changing menu which offers a choice of just 2 starters, 2 main courses and 2 deserts or cheese, all for 27 euros. We come here every year and have learned to totally trust anything which is put in front of us and therefore always choose one of each course to share – or not to share, depending on who made the best choice. Everything is seasonal and local and more often than not, there are foods and flavours I’ve never tasted before but which I wish I could recreate and eat all the time.
We felt a bit silly taking pictures of all the courses and to be perfectly honest, we were too busy enjoying ourselves. Have a look at their Facebook page where there’s all kinds of lovely things to see and information to be stored.
The problem of bikinis slipping off when enjoying a dive into water is not one that is exclusive to women. As a man it happens too, although it is often not a bikini but the male swimming costume (trunks) which come down and expose the white male rump and ding dong. Don’t think you can trick gravity by pulling the drawstring really tight before diving either, it just makes them harder to pull up again. For those of you who are interested in damage limitation and don’t want to frighten the children, the trick is to catch your trunks before they come entirely right off and then try to re-position them when you are still under the water. Of course this isn’t always possible and if you find yourself starting to drown then abandon the manoeuvre, it is not worth dying for. The thing of it is however, that when your trunks do shoot off you are reminded how much nicer it feels to swim without them in the first place.
I’ve just remembered that this is predominantly a fashion blog and so herewith is a description of the trunks that presently encumber my socks, pants and trunks drawer. Don’t worry this won’t take long I only have three pairs, or a pair of pairs and one more pair, whichever is clearer. Pair one (1) are green and baggy and floppy and I bought them in India for 1 Rupee (for those of you unfamiliar with the currency this is very cheap) Unfortunately they smell very strongly of stale sulphur. This is because I went into a hot sulphur spring in Italy and didn’t wash them out afterwards. People grimace if I swoosh past them wearing these ones, so they are for emergencies only now. Pair two are from a little known fashion boutique called Gap which is in Cheltenham. They are red shorts with white piping. Unfortunately the white piping is now incredibly filthy and grey. I don’t know how they got like this as they are only worn in water, which is what you clean things in, and yet they are dirty and it won’t scrub out, which is mysterious as well as annoying. These are my main pair. Pair three are Burberry ones which I bought ironically. They are very tight and not flattering at all, particularly when exiting the water, or lounging about. Also no one apart from me thinks they are funny, so they rarely get worn. To conclude this essay on the male trunks costume, I would recommend wherever possible to dispense with them entirely and if you are nice and thin, go for a skinny dip, and if you are large, a fatty dip.
Editor’s note : If you would like to know more about the wonderful world of Zebedee Helm then you must visit his website HERE. You can also purchase his fabulous cartoons, drawings and paintings and read his brilliant blog.
The reason I like to drive to France is because I hate to fly. The reason my husband likes to drive to France is so he can pile the car high with wine from the local vineyard (the most delicious blush rose you’ve ever tasted) and all kinds of “tat” from the flea markets and brocantes which litter the Gard. The first thing we do when we arrive is make a calendar of all the local markets and stick it to the fridge – this maps out our holiday and if he misses a single one, then on my head be it. There’s a website called Vide Greniers which lists them all by type and region and at this time of year, thank goodness, they are quite literally everywhere.
He’s gone to Nimes this morning. Yesterday it was Uzes and Anduze. We went en famille to the one in Uzes as I’m quite partial to a market bargain too and in past years, we’ve found some pretty good stuff from this one in particular. We generally like the same kinds of things which helps the hunt and are quite good at spotting objects that the other will like too. I tend to go for lovely old crockery, interesting things for the kitchen and linen and fabrics. He goes for an eclectic mix of kitsch needlepoints (don’t ask), vintage enamel and tin pots and interesting old tools, swords and tractor grills. So you can see, we come away with quite a bundle of stuff we don’t really need but with which it was love at first sight.
I bagged the best bargain yesterday, in fact it could just be the find of the holiday. A fabulous wooden board or “planche” about 5 cm thick and used to perfection. After trying to haggle my way down from 12 to 10 euros, I realised the seller was in fact saying “deux” – “are you mad???” I wanted to shriek, but didn’t. I quietly handed him the 2 little coins and tucked it under my arm and walked away, rather quickly and, no doubt, looking a little smug. Here’s a picture of it in full use earlier today. Isn’t it lovely.
So, as I write this, who knows what treasures he’ll come back with but lets just hope it isn’t another bloody needlepoint of Johnny Halliday on a Harley.