Monday, 13 March 2017

In Praise Of Marks & Spencer

It always seems slightly odd to me but also comforting that The State Of The British High Street is measured by how well good old M&S is doing, as if the fortunes of this shop that's always been there is the only true barometer of the nation's mood.

But, when it does well, people complain. And when it doesn't do well, people complain. That is the true barometer - if people are complaining then actually we're doing alright and the world hasn't burned yet. In recent years, it hasn't been doing well and yet I've never bought more or wanted to buy more from them than I have in recent years. There's specific reasons why.

1. Their pants are the best. Don't @ me.
Reader, allow me to be intimate for a moment. I very rarely wear any other sort of pants apart from supremely sensible black cotton ones. Now we're that bit closer, let's continue.I briefly (ha!) dallied with buying my pants from Primarni labouring under the false economy that paying £2.50 for a pack of 5 pants that would fall apart rather rapidly was better than paying £6 for a pack from M&S. FOOLISH GIRL! Never compromise on pants. Find the ones that are the most comfortable and invest in them. Life is too short to skimp on such necessities.

2. Their jeans are really good
Waistbands that sit where they should. A decent range of colour and cut. Enough elastene in the skinny ones that you don't cut your circulation off. And not ridiculously expensive. Not all jeans are created equal but there is absolutely no point paying more for them unless you have to and with M&S jeans, I don't believe you have to.

3. The Autograph and Limited Edition collections do wearable fashion
Fashion mags have twigged on to the fact that, actually, there's wearable takes on current fashion trends that people might actually buy and now regularly feature the key pieces from each season that M&S produce. Yes, the fashion mag picks are good but don't ignore the rest.

4. Their celebrity collaborations make sense
Some high street collabs seem forced and make absolutely no sense but M&S's don't. Allow me to explain. In the same way that for 90s girls, Kate Moss will forever be our supermodel, Twiggy is the same to 60s girls. And those girls may well now be in their 50s and 60s but in their heads, there's still a part of them that is a gamine ingenue with ridiculous lashes and legs that beg to be shown off in a mini skirt and knee high boots. They *know* that they're older but Twiggy is older with them and so it makes sense to them. As it should.

5. The beauty department is as exciting as a French pharmacy
One of the things I love most about going abroad is browsing the pharmacies and beauty stores to look at new and exotic things that I might not ever buy. Yes, I know I can find these things online but there's nothing like picking up a bottle and having a sniff or a test on the back of your hand. The M&S beauty department goes from budget to luxe and everywhere in between and is a comforting mix of brands you've heard of and exciting ones you probably haven't unless you're a true beauty obsessive. I don't know about your local store but mine does feel like browsing a Parisian pharmacy and that makes me very happy indeed.

There's also specific things it does wrong - they need to scrap Per Una immediately and there's actually too much choice within parts of the main ranges (excluding Limited Edition and Autograph as you'd expect). And yes, some of the actual stores are so tired and in desperate need of a makeover but hopefully these are problems they can overcome because the rest is great.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

NES Eats: Germanic Inspired Food At The Rutland And Derby

It is incredibly rare that I get to eat out these days so when I do, I want food that's a bit different, tastes great and isn't going to cause my bank account to send me multiple alerts that someone has raided it. Leicester isn't exactly short on places to eat out now but there's a lot of chain restaurants which is fine but not always inspiring.

And so on a very cold night last week, along with Laura from Extreme Housewifery, I was invited by The Rutland and Derby to try their winter menu. If your notion of pub grub is a plate of cheesy chips and a sad looking pie then clearly you have not been here. Taken on in 2008 by The Beautiful Pubs Collective, The Rutland and Derby has built a strong and steady reputation for delivering quality food and drink. So what's so special about their winter menu?

Well, it's the first menu I've seen in Leicestershire that has a distinctly Germanic/Alpine influence. I've heard of German food becoming a bit of a trend but only in the far flung bright lights of London Town and Manchester so it's nice to see something happening here while it's still a current trend and not a bandwagon cash-in...

The main thing though is that this is a menu that's been created by people who genuinely care about it. It all started when Sam (owner of Beautiful Pubs) set his chefs the task of creating a sharing menu for the party they were hosting to celebrate the anniversary of The Forge (another of their pubs). According to Sam, the food was one of the most talked about aspects of the party and so he asked the team to see if they could turn it into a proper pub menu. What delighted me the most is that his team went away and researched and researched in order to come up with dishes that drew on these tasty Germanic flavours but that could be created using seasonal, local produce and tailored to meet the flexibility of a pub menu.

From the sharing plates part of the menu (always tricky for me because like Joey, I don't share food if I can help it...) we tried the bratwurst, fresh baked pretzel and ham and cheese croquettes.

Pretzel goodness

Oh. My. God.

Croquettes may not sound German - of course they don't - but these are fluffy, delicious balls of ham and smoked cheese goodness. Served with homemade chilli jam (that I need to have delivered to me on a weekly basis because it is that good), they were surprisingly light but full of flavour with the balance between the smokiness of the cheese and the ham absolutely spot on.

The slices of bratwurst were pretty addictive and full of flavour. The pickled red cabbage that came with it was a welcome punch of acidity to slice through the meat and I could've eaten a lot more of it.

Then the pretzel. There can't be many things finer than warm fresh baked bread. Especially when it is soft and served with generous cubes of smoked cheese (the same sort as used in the croquettes) and some tasty mustard and did I mention it was soft and warm? So. Good. We also got to try the pretzel buns used for the burgers and again, soft and warm and honestly, I could eat this all day every day.

We also tried the flammkuchen from the pizza menu. It was light and tasty with the onions a particular revelation. Normally I hate onions but these were sweet and smoky and the perfect topping with the bacon and creme fraiche. This would be perfect to share for that one drink (ok, two drinks) after work with friends.

One of the key things for The Rutland and Derby is that the taste and the look of the food should be equal. They've cleverly recognised that word of mouth is one of the greatest advertising tricks out there and have pushed their kitchen teams to the test to produce 'Instagrammable' food. And, hey, it works! I was in a meeting a few weeks ago when I saw a picture of the chicken schnitzel on Instagram (I was scrolling to find something for the meeting honest!) and immediately wanted to cry because I was so hungry.

Reader, it did not disappoint.

Raindrops on roses, schnitzels, favourite things. Yes.
Served with a salsa verde, lemon aioli and triple cooked wedges, it tasted as good as it looked. The flattened chicken breast was moist and covered in a perfect schnitzel crumb that was just the right amount of crunchy. It was so refreshing to eat something that had looked so good in a picture and have it meet expectations. You don't realise how rare that is until you taste it.

Add to this an impressive beer list that will complement everything we ate, reasonable prices and you have yourself a really good meal out. Although it is a little off the beaten track, make the effort to come here and you will be rewarded.

Disclaimer time! We were guests of The Rutland and Derby and as such were treated to our meal. I wouldn't recommend it if I thought it wasn't worth the money though. Also, The Rutland and Derby is technically part of the pub portfolio owned by the brewery I work for but is run as an independent business. I don't get paid to review pubs.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Parenting Tribes And The Hard Work Of Trying Not To Judge

One thing you never seem to be told in amongst the millions of messages and opinions thrust upon you when you become a parent is the existence of parenting tribes. Sure, they're alluded to - The Earth Mother, The Helicopter Mother (noticing a theme yet?) but the examples given seem so ludicrous and outlandish that you dismiss them as yet another stick being used to beat you and your decisions.

Then, slowly but surely, you do start meeting them. And it's weird because here they are doing the same thing as you but in a way that is wholly unrecognisable. But mostly you can avoid them because like follows like and you find your people. But the differences that you manage to avoid on a daily basis become very apparent should your child take up a hobby. Parents of kids with hobbies generally fall into two camps - the ones who think it's great they have an interest but sometimes resent the amount of time they can take up and the ones who devote their entire being to making sure that they are supporting their child to reach world glory.

I'm in in the former tribe. I love that my child has a hobby - in this case, a 2012 legacy of swimming - that she loves and she wants to do well at but goodness, does it take up a lot of time. I cheer her on at races and I sort of know what her PB times are (that's personal bests. Hobbies open up a whole new language as well) but I couldn't tell you off the top of my head. I'm happy as long as she's happy but you can bet your life that if she ever got to the Olympics, I would be as happily weepy as Bert Le Clos.

But a lot of the swimming parents - and here, I cannot restrict this generalisation to just mothers which frankly is a delight all on its own - are in the latter tribe. These parents show up to galas armed with clipboards and highlighted race sheets where they take note of not only their own child's times but those of other kids in the club or in rival clubs. I find it utterly bizarre because I don't care about other people's children. Not on this level anyway. But they find it bizarre that I don't know these things. And then there we are, judging each other even though we're essentially doing the same thing.

I try incredibly hard not to judge them. Sometimes I envy them that they are so wholly devoted to their children and want them to do well.

But... but... we do judge.

They judge me because I'm busy reading my book because galas last for hours and my kid is in one race for a total of less than two minutes and I have so little free time so why wouldn't I take this time to catch up on something that I enjoy that's just for me?

And I judge them because they're not reading or doing something for themselves. They're obsessing over times and the smallest fractions of seconds and for children that have nothing to do with them. And SO MANY of the mums have Can I Speak To The Manager haircuts and... well, it doesn't matter who you are, I instinctively judge you for that.

I'm sorry.

We know what this haircut means 

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Don't Call It A Comeback

So it's been a while since I actually put pen to paper... well, fingers to keyboard to write something that wasn't work or life admin.

Honestly, I felt I had nothing to say.

It took me a while to unpick it but that's because it was tangled in how I felt about my job, my relationships, and how I was comparing myself to everyone else. And everyone else was saying it all but, to my mind, better and there's so much clutter around anyway so why throw my opinion into the ether.

It took quitting my job and getting a new one to realise how unhappy I'd been at work. It may sound like that would be the exact thing that would make me want to write reams and reams of words. Creativity loves misery, right? Not always and certainly not in my case. The problem was I hadn't realised how unhappy I was until I found myself complaining (again) to friends about how I was being paid a reasonable salary but wasn't allowed to choose plates for the staff kitchen even though that was my job. There was more than that but goddamn, those plates! They were the straw that broke me.

Then it got to the point where I hadn't written or created anything for so long that surely I couldn't do it any more. I was scared that the one thing that I knew I was reasonably ok at would have disappeared and then what would I be left with?

So I looked to quit my job and get a new one. Which is easier said than done but after several rejections, and starting to lose heart, I got a phone call from an agency I'd never heard of to say they had a job they thought I'd be perfect for. And a week later, I was able to hand my notice in and it felt like a weight I didn't even know I'd had was lifted.

Then I had a few conversations with people and here we are and I guess I'm back but you'll be reading slightly different things. Don't worry, I'll still be chatting about shoes that I like but the scope of my mind dumping isn't going to be as narrow. Sorry. Actually, not sorry.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

What I Wore Today...

I never normally do posts like this because, quite frankly, most of the time I look a mess. It's either totally dull office wear or jeans and a tshirt. I am the laziest of dressers and go for whatever's clean and easy to wear. When I say easy to wear, I mean comfortable. I have too much to do in a day to be worrying about whether I'm comfortable or not.

So that's why I made a small deal with myself to have at least one day a week where I Make An Effort. Sure, it involves getting up at least half an hour earlier which I'm not a fan of but it was nice today to feel that little bit special. Even though I was going to work where fashion isn't really an option (and trust me, I may do marketing and PR for a job but it is in one of the least glamorous industries ever).

And today, I wore this....

Simple, huh? Who knew it was that easy! The skirt is by Emily And Fin, which I got from the lovely ladies at Aspire Style in their sale and the blouse (which I LOVE) is by good old Dorothy Perkins.

The shoes?

The Term Time loafer by Office. I'm a little surprised I didn't have any loafers - it seems like such an oversight on my part but these were in the sale so I struck gold. They do need a lot of softening up but I'm happy to put the effort into that.

There we have it! Minimal effort for what I thought was a nice impact!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Shoe Of The Day: Dosh by Aldo

I know we've only just dusted away the last debris of Christmas and the New Year but the sales mean the perfect opportunity to pick up festive footwear ready for the next round (you know it will be here before you know it. Sorry!)

It doesn't get much more festive than red and sparkly which makes these heels from Aldo pretty spot on.

The high back and thick ankle strap means that these will be that little more stable once you hit the dancefloor after a few gins while the 4" heel isn't too ludicrous for comfort.

And that sparkle?

Cleverly placed metallic spikes to create a subtle jewelled effect whilst not tipping into the realm of a Disney Princess.

Like to plan ahead? Grab them in the ASOS sale for £32.50 reduced from £65.

Sizes 3-8 available at time of writing

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Shoe Of The Day: Asymmetric Flat Sandals by Zara

Zara have won again this summer with some ridiculously simple but fabulous sandals at a brilliant price. What I want most from a summer sandal is for it not to kill my feet and to be a fab colour. And because we can't predict how many days of summer we'll have, they can't break the bank.
These sandals are £22.99.



Of course at that price they're not leather but what matter. They come in this gorgeous bright green, coral and what Zara call Lime Green but is clearly yellow.

All sizes are available online and well worth a look. At that price, you could even have all three!