Five Things I Learned From #BlogYourSocksOffSeptember

It's the final day of #BlogYourSocksOffSeptember, and so today I wanted to do a post on what I've learnt from the challenge. The first thing I'd like to say is I'm really glad I did it - I said for my September goals that I wanted to get into blogging more seriously and I definitely managed that! But equally it's been a huge learning curve for me as a relative beginner blogger, and for that reason I've decided to write about what I got out of doing the challenge and what my next steps are going to be in developing my blog.

1. My blog needs a makeover.
One of the things I've found in terms of feedback on my blog is that I've got a good writing style, which as sad as it sounds makes me really happy. Writing is what I love and so to have people say they like it is absolutely lovely to hear. However, it has become painfully clear that my blog desperately needs an overhaul in terms of look - it's fairly cluttered and not particularly pretty. So, with that in mind, I'm now on the hunt for someone to design the new look. I've got an idea of what I'd like but I am technically and artistically rubbish so hoping to find someone who can give it a revamp!

2. Blogging Twitter chats are a fantastic source of advice.
I've heard a few other bloggers complain that the various bloggers' Twitter chats are just a way for people to get more followers, but I actually found them fantastically helpful as sources of advice on various things, especially in terms of equipment. (Actually, if I was going to add a sixth thing, it would be that although you can make blogging as simple as you like, but that if you want to there's also a lot of equipment potentially involved.) And also everyone is so nice and willing to help you out, even if you feel like you're asking silly questions! So it's definitely worth using the chats to help you build your blog and to find some new blogs to read.

3. Scheduling and planning are your friends.
I was posting late at night a lot, especially when I couldn't schedule posts or had had a busy week, which really threw my posting off. So I would say that writing as much as you can in advance is definitely a good idea, if only so you feel like you're staying on top of things. I felt a lot like I was hastily having to throw things together just so I could put something up and complete the challenge rather than putting a decent amount of work into it, and if I was doing it again I'd definitely try and schedule things more, or get up early in the morning and write a bit then to get ahead in the evenings.

4. It is really hard to think of a topic every day...
There were days when I had a complete blank on what to write about, mainly because I don't like to write on the same topic two days in a row and I had lots of beauty stuff which I didn't want to all string together. So I am seriously, seriously impressed with bloggers that can post every day, or even twice a day! I don't think I could do that for a sustained period of time, I'd just run out of things to write about, but over the month it did help me by forcing me to be creative.

5. ...but it also inspires you to try new things.
I wrote about so many things this month that I haven't written about before. I did fashion posts for the first time ever - wish lists and awards posts - as well as more restaurant reviews and blogs about beauty stuff that weren't nails. Plus things like the blogger chats gave me several other ideas for what else I can do, like crafty posts and recipes. I also really want to try doing outfits of the day, as well as make-up looks rather than just reviewing products, and shooting videos as well, so I'm excited to see where I can take the blog next.

Overall, I've really enjoyed #BlogYourSocksOffSeptember. It's been a serious challenge and there were times, especially towards the end, where I did find it a struggle, but it's definitely been worth doing and has given me the confidence not only to keep blogging but also to get myself into gear and try doing different things with the blog, as well as smartening it up and making it look pretty! But I don't think I'll be blogging every day again - it's back to every other day for me I think, I wouldn't be able to keep up otherwise...

Did you do #BlogYourSocksOffSeptember? How did you find it? And what (if anything) have you learnt from it that you'll apply to your blog going forward? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Strictly Come Dancing Week 1

So, for those of you who may have missed it, the new series of Strictly Come Dancing started this weekend. I am something of a Strictly mega-fan (it would probably be my specialist subject on Mastermind were I to ever go on it) and was particularly excited for this series as it had some potentially really good contestants - admittedly no major Hollywood stars as there have been in previous series, but lots of people I thought could turn out to be rather awesome. So this Friday and Saturday night, I settled down in front of  

I have done this as a post on all the routines because I wanted to be able to compare them all to each other (plus, you know, my thing about not having two posts on the same topic on consecutive days). So, without further ado, here's what I thought of this week's dances!

Ashley & Ola (Cha-Cha-Cha) - I had high hopes for this, and it wasn't bad for a first dance, but his knees drove me crazy. Straighten your legs man, she's not that short! And he had no hip action to speak of that I saw, and there was a wee bit of skippiness. However it did improve on a repeat viewing, so I don't know if it was just having nothing to compare it against. But he looked like he was having fun, which as I've said before is all I ask in a Strictly contestant, and it is only week one. Onwards and upwards.

Tony & Aliona (Waltz) - Classic older male contestant first dance. It was sweet, and he was surprisingly light on his feet, but there was a stumble about midway through and he didn't really look like he was enjoying it. That said I do think Craig marked it harshly. I think he'll be out next week though because he looks like he'll struggle with the Latin. And, annoyingly, Aliona had the second nicest dress of the night.

Mark & Iveta (Tango) - It was one of those routines that could have gone either way, but thankfully it wasn't too hammy and there was actual dancing in it. Yes, there was a point near the end where it got a bit skippy, and I knew Craig would hate that thumb, but he had a good frame with no gapping and acted it brilliantly. The worry is his Latin, but I think as long as he keeps the fun element he'll hang on in there for a few weeks.

Susanna & Kevin (Jive) - Jive is a really, really hard dance to get early on, and the fact that Susanna did a decent job suggests to me she'll go far, especially considering how much solo stuff she had to do. I liked that she looked exactly like I think most of us would in the arm section - "Where am I going? What am I doing? Argh, I don't know!" - but also properly went for it in a 'stuff it, I'm going to enjoy this' way. It might not have been technically perfect, but it was so much fun!

Sophie & Brendan (Waltz) - Firstly, can I have her whole outfit? She looked absolutely beautiful. Secondly, I agree with the judges that her top line does need a little bit of work. But she moved well, and I think she's got potential to be the top ballroom girl. And points to Brendan for the least prop-based faffing, showing that you can tell a story without all that messing abaht (to paraphrase Len).

Natalie & Artem (Cha-Cha-Cha) - My favourite of the first night, if only for the completely inspired choice of music. She moved well and clearly had rhythm, but I have to admit I'm not sure what Craig saw in it, especially as a lot of the focus seemed to be on Artem and it didn't feel like she was allowed to do an awful lot compared to, say, Susanna. It also didn't seem that complex. So technically good but there didn't seem to be a huge amount of personality in it, which worries me a little...

Ben & Kristina (Cha-Cha-Cha) - I think he suffered from first night nerves, bless him, because it wasn't fantastic. As Len said, it suffered a little because when he panicked he sped up and consequently his timing went a bit funny. He also needs to take charge a bit more. That said, he did have more hip movement than Ashley, and when he was able to keep his timing he actually did quite well. Plus, doing that with 50 per cent hearing is pretty impressive, so props for that.

Fiona & Anton (Tango) - First of all, it was really nice to see Anton with someone who can dance! (I make no secret that I'm an Anton fan.) Considering it was a first go there was definitely lots of potential there and it was well acted. There were bits where it was rough around the edges - hands weren't finished and it wasn't quite as sharp as I'd have liked - and a few walky patches, but otherwise it was a good start. Now fingers crossed for the Latin...

Dave & Karen (Cha-Cha-Cha) - Oh dear. I couldn't see much of a cha-cha in there, and it did feel very much like Karen threw everything at it choreography-wise and saw what stuck. That said, it was so much fun I almost didn't care. Plus his posture wasn't horrendous and he was in time (well sort of), so it makes me think his ballroom may not be terrible. That said I think he'll be there a long long time, much to Craig's chagrin.

Rachel & Pasha (Waltz) - I was worried about this, because he'd had two really good partners, so this was pleasantly surprising. She looked beautiful, had a lovely top line and the grace and the way she glid across the floor with the rise and fall was just gorgeous. Plus I think it says much about Pasha as a choreographer that he gave her what looked like quite an easy routine but let her shine in it. The only negative was she looked slightly nervous, but that'll pass in time.

Julien & Janette (Cha-Cha-Cha) - The first thing that struck me was there wasn't a huge amount of dance content in there - it was very posey and they didn't actually move about all that much. He also had terrible hip action, which surprised me quite a lot - I was expecting him to be a lot more loose in that department. I also think he's going to annoy me immensely with the constant interrupting the judges. But it did give us Bruno's most innuendo-tastic moment of the night, which was... interesting, to say the least.

Deborah & Robin (Tango) - I have been waiting for a tango to Money, Money, Money for years, and I'd like to say this lived up to expectations. But it did fall a little bit short. Granted she'd lost time because she'd been on holiday, which I took into account, but there were some skippy bits and it needed to be sharper. That said, it was very entertaining to watch, she acted it surprisingly well, and I think she's got a brilliant personality. Looking forward to next week's Latin.

Patrick & Anya (Jive) - I agree with the judges' comments about his feet, and there were some slightly sloppy kicks, but the energy level was fantastic and they seem to have a really nice relationship with each other. It says much that he was the best of the boys and I think a lot of that was about bringing personality to it and conquering the nerves, which pleases me as I had a feeling he'd be someone who went for it on the fun front. Now bring on the ballroom!

Vanessa & James (Cha-Cha-Cha) - I was actually a bit disappointed with this one as there was too much acting and not enough dancing (though the dancing she did wasn't bad, despite the fact there were lots of unfinished moves especially with the hands), and there wasn't much of her personality in it. But her timing was good so hopefully she'll improve in the ballroom.

Abbey & Aljaz (Waltz) - Well they did look gorgeous together (despite his slightly dubious white jumpsuit) - I fully expect at least one tabloid to be splashed with rumours about them within weeks - and it was a lovely performance, but it was just a bit beige. She moves well and has a lovely line and posture, and they've got chemistry by the bucketload, but I personally didn't connect to her. I also think she seemed a little tentative, so I'm intrigued to see if she can let go in her Latin.

I'm also going to do a weekly leaderboard with my thoughts on the week's dancers, plus a running total for the series:

Laura's Leaderboard: Week 1
Susanna & Kevin - 8 
Rachel & Pasha - 8 
Abbey & Aljaz - 8 
Patrick & Anya - 7
Natalie & Artem - 7
Sophie & Brendan - 7
Deborah & Robin - 6
Ashley & Ola - 6
Fiona & Anton - 6
Ben & Kristina -6
Mark & Iveta - 5
Dave & Karen - 5
Vanessa & James - 5
Julien & Janette - 4
Tony & Aliona - 4

Overall, it wasn't a bad first week - lots of potentially good people, with Dave, Rachel and Susanna amongst the highlights, but nothing I was particularly wowed by. But it's only the first week and we've a long way to go yet, so I'm very excited for next week to see if people improve after getting the first one out of the way, and what effect the change in styles has.

Did you watch the Strictly opening weekend? What did you think of the dances? And do you have any favourites yet? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

How Much Is Your Face Worth?

Another tagged post from me today, and this one's courtesy of Jess who blogs over at Lovely Jubbly (the creator of the #BlogYourSocksOffSeptember challenge!). Jess was tagged herself by Lisa from Lisahh-Jayne, and when she decided to tag everyone reading the post who wanted to do the challenge, I decided to give it a go!

Basically the idea is to take a look at your everyday products, add up the total and see how much you spend on your face. I've included my skincare and brushes as well as my make-up, so have done it all in sections (at the non-discounted prices) and then added it up separately. You can see what I use on a 'normal' day here:
Clockwise from top left: Superfacialist cleanser, Garnier moisturiser, Superdrug serum, Bourjois foundation, EcoTools brush, Body Shop foundation brush, Body Shop eyeshadow brush, Real Techniques brush, Urban Decay mascara, Benefit palette, Body Shop night cream, Rimmel concealer, Benefit blusher

Superfacialist by Una Brennan Rose Hydrate Creamy Cleanser - £7.99
Superdrug Simply Pure Hydration Serum - £4.59
Garnier Skin Naturals Moisture Match - £5.99 (I'm using up the free samples I've got of this at the moment but will invest next week when they're finished)
The Body Shop Vitamin E Nourishing Night Cream - £11

Total:  £29.57

Bourjois 123 Perfect Foundation in 51 Light Vanilla - £10.99
Benefit Big Beautiful Eyes palette - £24.50
Rimmel Hide The Blemish Concealer in 001 Ivory - £3.99
Benefit Sugarbomb blusher - £23.50
Urban Decay Supercurl mascara - £15

Total: £77.98

Body Shop foundation brush - £12
Body Shop eyeshadow blender brush - £10
Real Techniques blusher brush - £9.99
Eco Tools Airbrush concealer brush - £5.49

Total: £37.48

Grand total £145.03 *clang as jaw hits floor*

Blimey that's a lot! I'm not surprised that the vast majority of that is make-up to be honest as there are three premium products in there, but they were all bought as presents and the eye palette and blusher have lasted for ever, so in my mind it's a worthy investment. That said I think this is also a good indication not only of the range of products available at lots of different price points that still work really well. It'd be interesting to do this post on a regular basis and for other products as well, as I'm in the process of working out what works for me and of having to seriously economise on make-up (though I do have lots of nice bits that were bought as gifts which I haven't cracked into yet) so I'd like to see how the cost of my face changes with time.

I'm not tagging anyone specific but if you're reading this post then please feel free to do the challenge!

Do you prefer premium products or are you more a drugstore girl? Are there any products where you prefer to spend more and others a bit less? What products do you use on your face every day? And how much do you think your face is worth? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Book Review: Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Since starting my new job, I've been getting a bus from the train station to the office, and this has got me at least an extra 20 minutes a day to spend on reading (on top of reading for at least another 10 minutes each way on the train and a chapter before bed). As a result, it's meant I'm getting through books a lot quicker, and so I was surprised to find myself having raced through Tess of the D'Urbervilles this month.

Set in Wessex amidst a landscape familiar to anyone with a knowledge of Thomas Hardy's books (the town of Casterbridge gets mentioned a lot), the eponymous Tess Durbeyfield is a simple country girl whose father finds out he is descended from an ancient line of aristocrats, the D'Urbervilles. Her family packs her off to wealthy relatives with the hopes that marriage will restore them to their former glory, but Tess falls victim to the charms of the wily Alec D'Urberville and returns home in disgrace. When she meets parson's son Angel Clare and falls in love with him, the past comes back to haunt her...

I have to admit I came to Tess with some trepidation, because it is referenced a lot in Fifty Shades of Grey (Yes, I read it. I was curious. What?) and I was a bit worried that I wouldn't enjoy it because I had that in the back of my mind. I'd also heard that it was a bit rubbish. But I took the plunge and decided to give it a go. And I have to say it wasn't that bad. True, the plot was fairly predictable (although I admit I knew most of the story beforehand so that probably didn't help) and although I'm fully aware it was a product of the time, Angel's hypocritical attitude really jarred with me. I also didn't feel like I identified much with the character of Tess; for all I'd heard about her being a firebrand she actually seemed quite passive, with only the occasional flash of anger to justify that reputation, though again I'm aware that is partly a cultural difference. Finally, the ending fell a little bit flat and felt rushed to me.

So, for all that, why didn't I mind it? The main reason was that it was a surprisingly easy read, and that despite the characters being a little bit two-dimensional they were equally very believable, especially the supporting characters such as Tess' parents. Plus I also really love the way Hardy evokes the Wessex countryside; it's a cliche to say this, but it really does feel like you're right there in Tess' world, and in my book being able to create that rich world for your characters can go a long way.

Overall, if you can get over the hump of the slightly simplistic story and the slight lack of dimension to the characters (which again I think is largely due to cultural differences) then it's definitely worth a read, if only for the beautiful portrayal of the landscape and the fact that the story's well-paced and moves along rapidly. If you like your classic novels easy to read and with a bit of romance and drama, then I'd say Tess is worth a go.

Next up for What I Read: Dark Fire, the second book in the Tudor-set Shardlake series by CJ Sansom. I read the first one, Dissolution, a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, so I've got high hopes for this one as I love a good historical mystery. After that, it'll be another classic, but I'm not quite sure what yet - maybe Madame Bovary, or some Dickens.

Have you read Tess of the D'Urbervilles or any other Thomas Hardy books? What did you think of them? And what's your favourite classic novel setting? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Beauty Review: Andrea Fulerton Nail Boutique Trio in Rain Fall

There are some nail polishes that work all year round, and others that are most definitely reserved for spring/summer or autumn/winter. Considering that most of the year the British weather is definitely more on the wet side, today I wanted to share with you a very aptly-named polish in the form of Andrea Fulerton Nail Boutique Trio in Rain Fall. This possibly wasn't the most appropriate shade to blog about as we've had a bit of a mini heatwave this week here in London, but it's one I'm really glad the luck of the nail box drawer brought me!

I've blogged about Andrea Fulerton Nail Boutique Trios before (click here for my review of the Art Attack polish from all the way back in 2011), but basically how they work is that the bottle includes two smaller bottles in different shades, and you can either wear them as individual polishes or layer them together to create a third shade. Quite a few nail brands have brought out these types of polishes in recent years - Models Own recently launched their own version for instance - but Andrea Fulerton was the first to do it in the UK, so in the spirit of this blog as celebrating original versions of products I had to write about this one at some point.

The photo on the right is the base coat for Rain Fall, which is a slightly darker more greenish turquoise colour. I've put a photo of it here next to Andrea Fulerton Eliza, which I blogged about a few weeks ago, so you can see the difference - I think Eliza is definitely paler and also has more blue in it. I used two coats of the Rain Fall base coat for this picture (with Revlon Post Trauma Treatment base coat as usual) but it was pretty much opaque in one so could have got away with less.

I then layered it with the top coat, which is a purplish colour with reasonably large particles of greenish-blue glitter. I only did one coat of the top coat, and then Seche Vite over the top.

Unfortunately this one hasn't photographed fantastically well as I think it's really a polish you need to see up close and in person (hence the slightly random one-finger photo!). It's definitely a polish where the colours change a lot depending on the light and as you move your hands. The photos here make it look much more turquoise, for instance, whereas when I'm writing this in the evening with artificial light and it looks a lot more green but goes a slightly navy blue colour or even purplish when I angle it away from the light. Sorry that's not enormously helpful but I really think it's one of those polishes you have to try yourself!

The only problem I have with this is that it did chip quite easily - I put it on on Saturday morning, and had small chips within 24 hours so that's not great. However the first properly noticeable chips didn't appear until Tuesday, so it could be a lot worse.

Overall, I quite like this polish and think it's really versatile - the fact that you get three polishes is a great deal, and they're such quality that I'd quite happily wear the two individual polishes on their own. The effect of the two layered together is beautiful too, I got loads of compliments on it which always makes a polish a keeper in my book! Plus the green/blue colour makes me wonder if this would make a great alternative to the traditional reds for the Christmas season...

If you'd like to try this polish it's available at Superdrug for £7.99 a bottle which I think is a pretty good deal for three polishes, especially in such awesome colours!

Have you tried any trio polishes? What did you think of them? And are you starting to embrace your autumn nail colours or still hanging on to more summery shades? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

The Autumn Tag

I've been wanting to have a go at doing a tag post for a while, as I love doing these types of lists, but as I'm not enormously well known in the blogger community yet unfortunately my chance hadn't come around. Then I spotted this post by the lovely Bex on her blog Futures. (and she herself was tagged by Shona at freshbeautyxox) and thought it would be the perfect way to get into tagged posts, especially as autumn is fully kicking into gear! The Autumn tag was created by Georgina from Makeup-Pixi3, and I've found it a great way to get into tagged posts. So without further ado, here are my answers!

For Autumn, what is your...

1.  Favourite thing about it? Everything! The cold crispness in the air, clear nights with the stars out, wamr coats, scarves, hats, boots, funky tights, jumpers, kicking through piles of leaves, hot drinks, Halloween, Bonfire Night, city centres all lit up in the evenings, watching box sets, Strictly being back on the telly, and my birthday in October :)

2.  Favourite drink? Hot chocolate, especially the Whittard ones -ginger or orange are particular favourites on a chilly night. I also get ridiculously excited about the Starbucks Christmas drinks (they come out in November, that counts as autumn, right?) and will try all the new flavours, but I'll always have a soft spot for the Gingerbread Latte.

3.  Favourite scent/candle? I love the smoky smell of burnt-out fires the morning after - if someone could bottle that and make it into a perfume then I'd be very happy! However I'm not a big candle person so don't really have any preferences on that front.

4.  Best lipstick? I like a good red for autumn so probably something like Revlon Lip Butter in Candy Apple or Kate Moss For Rimmel Lasting Finish in 01, with my trusty MAC Ruby Woo for special occasions.

5.  Go to moisturiser? Normally whatever I'm using at the time - so right now that's Garnier Moisture Match in the morning and Body Shop Vitamin E Cream at night - but if my skin's feeling particularly rough I'll use Steam Cream as it's incredibly nourishing but not too heavy.

6.  Go to colours for the eyes? I've been very into browns for my eyes so will probably stick to that, with the occasional smoky eye going on as well.

7.  Favourite music or band/singer to listen to? I change my mind on this as often as my socks so it's impossible to pick just one! That said I'm listening to lots of She & Him at the moment so that'll probably feature quite heavily.
 8.  Favourite outfit to wear (i.e. boots & a scarf combo)? Funky jumper, denim skirt, colourful tights, flat brown boots, hat and chunky scarf. Love it!

9.  Autumn treat? Hotel Chocolat dark chocolate salted caramels. They are my absolute favourite chocolates and as I'm on a beauty spending ban at the moment, they'll do as a treat for cold weekend evenings when I want to indulge myself a bit.

10.  Favourite place to be? My mum and dad's house - they have a proper wood-burning stove and going up there always brings back happy memories of curling up on the couch with a roaring fire, watching DVDs and drinking tea by the bucketload. Perfect.

Like Bex, I'm not going to tag anyone in particular, but I'd love to read your answers if you want to complete the tag :)
Do you like doing tagged posts? Do you have any particular favourites out of the tagged posts you've done? And what are you most looking forward to about autumn? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Beauty Review: Neutrogena Visibly Clear Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit Moisturiser

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Another day, another Neutrogena moisturiser post - today I'm writing about their Visibly Clear range, which is designed to tackle breakouts. The line has been around for several years now but last year they released an update in the form of their Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit set, which includes a scrub, a face wash and this moisturiser. As I've been having really rubbish skin since coming back from travelling (don't ask me why, it was four months ago now and I'm still getting breakouts!) I thought this might help to tackle the problem.

First thing is that I really like the packaging - it's functional but still looks good on a shelf, which is always something I like. I tend to be a bit suspicious of fancy packaging as it suggests more money's gone into that than the product but with this one it looks like something that works. It also has a surprisingly nice smell, which often a lot of these products don't as they can end up being a bit chemically, whereas this one was really clean and fresh-smelling. But, of course, the main question was: Did it work?

In terms of texture, it's not the thickest of moisturisers but it's not too thin either, although I did find I needed a little bit extra to spread over my face and neck as the normal amount I'd use didn't quite cover my whole face. However it did sink in quickly but also left my skin feeling moisturised throughout the day and overnight, so in that regard it definitely worked! I also felt it worked really well at keeping my skin clear - though it didn't actually fight my spots (but then I don't expect a moisturiser to do that, that's what cleanser and to a lesser extent serum is for), it did seem to prevent any new ones appearing.

Overall, I really liked this product. It smelt nice and it worked well - not too heavy so equally good in the day as at night, but moisturising enough that it would work well as a winter moisturiser as much as it would in the summer. And it works to prevent spots, which in an oil-free moisturiser is pretty much exactly what you need it to do. Definitely one I'd buy again.

If you'd like to try Neutrogena Visibly Clear Pink Grapefruit moisturiser, it's available at Superdrug and Boots. It's normally priced at £4.99 for a 50ml tube, which considering how long it lasts I think is very reasonable, although Boots is currently offering it for £3.33 so get in there quick if you fancy picking some up on the cheap!

Have you tried any Neutrogena skincare products? What did you think of them? And what's your favourite facial moisturiser for the autumn months? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

What I Wish I Wore: Emmys Red Carpet

First off, I'm sorry the post is so late today - I ended up going for impromptu Nando's with N and our friend M who we haven't seen in ages and didn't have time to finish it before I went out!

I have to admit I was really stumped for what to blog about today. I've been enjoying Blog Your Socks Off September but as it gets to the end of the month it's becoming increasingly difficult to think of new things to write about! I had lots of ideas but it was all things that needed a few days (in part because I'm a bit funny about posting two things on the same topic next to each other and all I had written down were beauty posts!) or things I need to finish before I can blog about them.
And then, as I was flicking through the news sites at work this morning, it hit me: The Emmys were last night! They have pretty dresses! I haven't written a fashion post in ages! So it made sense to blog about my favourite dresses from the red carpet. I have to admit it was so, so hard to narrow this down - I ended up having to write reviews of each outfit and then whittle out the ones I didn't love - but these are my top six:
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Allison Williams in Ralph Lauren
Love, love, love this. I am a sucker for bright blue anyway but the lovely simple shape of this made it an absolute winner for me. Really liking the hair and gold bracelets too - they add nice details but equally don't fight with the dress too much.

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Elisabeth Moss in Andrew Gn
Another favourite of mine, mainly because black, white and red is a classic combination and very on-trend right now. Again, I love the shape and think it works really well on her - it's a lovely classic line but she doesn't look swamped in it. Plus it looks sparkly, which is always a good thing in a dress like this - you need some extra little detail to amp it up. I like the shot of colour from the handbag too (although it does clash with her nails slightly).

Jennifer Westfeldt
Memo to Claire Danes: this is how to do a plunging neckline. She looks great! It's all very simple and pared down - straight hair, natural make-up, black accessories - and so the dress is centre stage. It's clingy, yes, but it's not slutty, and the colour is absolutely beautiful on her. A definite favourite. I'm also loving John Hamm rocking his Sean Connery in Goldfinger-esque white tux jacket; it was nice to see a change from most of the other actors who were just in normal black suits.

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Kelly Osbourne in Jenny Packham
I love a girl who gets her tattoos out on the red carpet. The dress is absolutely gorgeous on her - beautiful colour, lovely shape, sexy but not too on-show, and nice shoulder details. It's girly and rocky at the same time and I love it. Plus the fact she looks so happy just makes this whole look.

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Michelle Dockery in Prada 
Just utterly gorgeous. Love the bow at the back of the neck (I am a sucker for these types of looks) and the beautiful two-tone autumnal colours in the dress - on a red carpet with so much blush pink and white it was really nice to see someone going for more seasonal shades. I like the fact she's kept her hair and make up really simple too.
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Melissa Rauch in Ruben Singer
Firstly, it was really nice to see someone in a dress that wasn't red, blue or pale pink! I am a big fan of that Cadbury purple shade anyway so this was already a winner for me. Love her contrasting turquoise earrings and ring too. Secondly, the shape of the dress is absolutely gorgeous - it's a very classic line and I love the way it's pulled in at the waist, but equally the slightly alternative take on the strapless neckline gives it a cool edge. Finally, once again there's a very simple approach with the hair and make-up, meaning the dress takes centre stage. I absolutely adore this look - in fact I'd go so far as to say this is my favourite. Saving the best for last!

Honourable mentions for:
Lena Dunham in Prada (mainly for her awesome hair and eye make-up)
I also think I'm possibly the only person who didn't think Zosia Mamet's dress was that bad. It was unusual, certainly, but I actually quite liked the Impressionist-style watercolour floral print in the skirt and the top half of it worked quite well overall. 

It was interesting to see the trends coming out of the red carpet - there was a lot of blue, a little bit of red, and a lot of blush pink but also plenty of sparkle. Hip detailin and peplums were also a trend, as were plunging necklines (in some cases, such as Cat Deeley, on the same dress. Hmmm.), although equally a lot of celebrities seemed to go for higher necklines. Boxy clutch handbags were also a big thing, as were smoky eyes in black or brown - or, in Lena Dunham's case, teal green to match her dress - and simple hair, either slicked back into ponytails or very lightly curled.

I was actually really surprised how many of the HBO after-party dresses I preferred to the red carpet dresses - Claire Danes' butterfly dress, for instance, was so much nicer and more flattering than her ceremony dress. On the other hand, there were also the likes of Kiernan Shipka, Elisabeth Moss and Michelle Dockery, who pulled it off both at the ceremony and the party afterwards.

Did you watch the Emmys? What did you think of the dresses? Did you have any favourites? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Beauty Review: OPI I'm Not Really A Waitress

I have way, way too many nail polishes, but still have the urge to buy more. I'm the kind of person who goes to Boots and stares wistfully at the shelves, looking at all the pretty colours, and then putting them back with a sigh. But that makes 'shopping my stash' more fun, because I'm trying to get through all the polishes in my nail box so I can buy some lovely new ones! So today, I wanted to show you one of my favourite polishes: OPI I'm Not Really A Waitress, a beautiful deep red.

Please let me know what you think of my taking the photo on the book - I'm experimenting a bit with my pictures of my nail polishes at the moment so any feedback is vastly appreciated! (Also thanks to Sophia at TattooedTealady who gave me the idea!)

I really, really love this polish as it's a truly classic colour that goes with loads of different things. It's particularly great if you work somewhere where you have to be quite corporate as it allows you to inject a little bit of colour into your outfit. I wore it earlier this week to a work event and it was perfect with my black dress, but also went well with more casual clothes at the weekend. It also applied really well, with the brush covering most of the nail and very little tidy-up needed at the edges - great for me as I'm quite messy when it comes to doing my nails! I have banged on before about how much I love OPI brushes as they're shaped to cover the nail properly whereas lots of other brands have thinner brushes that don't give proper coverage.

The polish had excellent opacity - I used two coats to get full coverage but could probably have got away with one, which again makes this a great polish if you need to do a quick manicure. Finally, it lasted really well. I applied it Saturday morning and although there was a bit of tip wear over the next couple of days (mainly due to lots of typing) it didn't actually chip until Wednesday, so I think that's pretty good going! The one downside was it did stain my nails a little bit even with but that had faded within a couple of days. Plus I think it's partly as my base coat's going a bit dodgy, so I'll buy a new one soon and see if that shows any improvements.

Fancy trying this polish? You could win a bottle in my 100th Post Giveaway! Just click on the tab at the top of the page to enter :) Or alternatively it's available at branches of John Lewis, Sally's or Lookfantastic for around £11 a bottle, which although it's at the top end of my nail budget is something I'm very happy to spend for such a classic shade.

Have you tried I'm Not Really A Waitress or any other OPI polishes? What's your favourite red polish? And what colours are you wearing on your nails this autumn? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Restaurant Review: Shake Shack

In case you haven't noticed, in recent months the posh burger has been having a bit of a moment. Chains like Byron and GBK have been springing up across the UK for a while now, but over the summer it was cranked up a notch with two of America's biggest gourmet burger chains - Shake Shack and Five Guys - opening branches in Covent Garden. I happen to love a good burger (and am not ashamed to admit that there are occasions when I cave to McDonald's, especially after one too many glasses of wine) so when I went to see Once the other week I treated myself to a pre-show burger at Shake Shack, mainly as the queue there was shorter (but I will blog about Five Guys soon!)

So, here's how it works. You get in the queue outside the shop, where you're handed a menu and peruse your choices (I went for the single ShackBurger and fries) and then order once you get up to the counter. Once you've ordered, you're given a snazzy hand-held buzzer and go to the counter to pick up your food. I have to say that the day I went there this was really quick - I went around 12.30 on a Saturday lunchtime, when you'd expect it to be super-busy, and yet I got served within 10 minutes! I did however then have to wait a few minutes for a seat but busied myself eating my chips whilst I waited :)

Looks good, right?

And I have to say I was really, really impressed with how it tasted too. The chips in particular were amazing - really hot and salty, just how I like them (ooh-er missus) - and I'd quite happily go back there just for them. I was a bit apprehensive about the burger as I hadn't heard many good things about it, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by it. It was properly meaty if a little thin, cooked well - juicy but not underdone - and made even better by the gooey cheese, great burger sauce and the fact it used fresh veggies. I left feeling satisfied but not overly stuffed, and much more virtuous than when I go to most high street burger places.

Overall, I've got to say that if you're in Covent Garden, Shake Shack is definitely worth a visit. It's not the cheapest - my burger and fries cost me £7.50 - but as somewhere to grab a quick meal that's a step above a lot of the chains in the area you could do far worse. Plus it has easily the nicest chips I've had in a long, long time. My only regret? That I didn't get one of their legendary frozen custard ice creams - that would have rounded things off nicely.

Have you been to Shake Shack or Five Guys? What did you think? And which burger chain is your favourite? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Film Review: Rock of Ages

As regular readers of this blog will know, I love a good musical, both on the stage (when I can get to see them) and film versions. Last weekend I had the flat to myself as N had gone to visit his dad and our flatmate T was up in Lincoln, so I bought myself a pizza, opened a bottle of wine and sat down and watched a film the boys would hate. That film happened to be Rock of Ages, which I've wanted to see ever since the musical was first announced as coming to the West End stage. Director Adam Shankman has become something of an expert at adapting stage musicals for the silver screen (he also directed the 2007 version of Hairspray) so I have to admit I was looking forward to this a lot.

For those who haven't heard of Rock of Ages, it's set in LA in 1987 and tells the story of Bourbon Room barman and wannabe rocker Drew, who meets and falls for new-in-town Oklahoma native Sherry. Meanwhile, the Bourbon Room's owners, Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand, with an accent that I think is supposed to be Brummie but doesn't quite work) are seriously in debt and banking on a farewell show from Arsenal, the band fronted by bad-boy rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to put them back in the black. Finally, mayor's wife Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is on a crusade to bring down the Bourbon and rock music as a whole, unaware that her husband is engaging in a bit of, shall we say, extracurricular activity...

The film is largely carried by the sweet performances from relative newcomers Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, with the more major actors left to inhabit the roles where they're allowed to let go a lot more. Particular highlights for me were Dennis and Lonny singing REO Speedwagon's 'Can't Fight This Feeling' to each other - one of the main moments where I actually laughed out loud rather than just chuckling regularly - and Tom Cruise's performance as Stacee Jaxx, which is completely over-the-top but also genuinely entertaining. He doesn't have a bad singing voice either. In fact, surprisingly, none of the cast does - no Mamma Mia! moments here, although it's not exactly Hairspray in terms of the talent on show or the issues in the story (though apparently it's been altered quite a lot from the stage show so I'd be interested to see both to compare and contrast).

Overall, it's ridiculously silly and the plot is fairly predictable, but Rock of Ages is a really fun ride, mainly because of the great music - I was singing along to pretty much the whole thing! - and Tom Cruise's film-stealing and surprisingly good performance as Stacee Jaxx. I'm not sure I'd have paid to see it in a cinema but as a trashy film for a night in it's definitely worth a watch.

I watched Rock of Ages via Blinkbox, which is currently giving new members £5 when they deposit £1 (meaning the film only cost me £1.99, result!), but you can also buy the DVD for £5 from Amazon if you fancy checking it out.

Have you watched Rock of Ages - either the stage show or the film? What did you think of it? And do you have a favourite musical? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Beauty Review: Neutrogena Deep Moisture Body Lotion

Image source
I don't know about you, but earlier this week I had to give in and put the heating on, because it was just so cold here in London. That reminded that it was time to seriously start using body moisturiser again. I always use it due to having dry skin, especially on my arms, but particularly so in the winter when going from cold outdoor weather to the central heating in my flat and office. So today I wanted to talk to you about one of my favourite body lotions - Neutrogena Deep Moisture.

I love, love, love this product. I like the sleek design and the classic white and blue colour - it's not flashy or showy, but it looks very classic and timeless and would look great sitting on any bathroom shelf. I'm also a big fan of the fact it's got a relatively neutral smell, meaning you can layer it with your perfume or shower gel and it won't clash or fight with it. But what I love most of all is how truly moisturising it is. An awful lot of moisturisers, especially those at the cheaper end of the spectrum, are either really watery and don't do any moisturising at all or are too thick and just sit on the surface of your skin. Not this one! It's not heavy or clogging but sinks in really well and keeps your skin feeling moisturised without feeling like it's slurped up everything you've put on it. I put this on every morning and certainly don't use loads - at least not in comparison to other products - and my skin still feels lovely and soft and smooth by the end of the day.

The only thing I wasn't so keen on was the pump bottle - or, more specifically, the end of the bottle, when there was still loads of stuff left in there. Admittedly I did cut it up and managed to get a couple more weeks out of it, but generally I do prefer it when I can get to all the product without having to faff. That said though, the pump bottle does have the advantage that it gives you the ideal amount of product - I normally use about three or four pumps a day depending how much I feel I need, and that's plenty, whereas some squeezy bottles I can dispense far too much and be rubbing it in for aaaages.

Overall, this is a brilliant body lotion - perfectly moisturising even in cold weather, dispenses the right amount of product and a smell that won't compete with anything else you're using. And it's cheap too! A 250ml bottle will set you back £5.11 at Boots, or you can buy a 400ml bottle for £7.16, which I think is a pretty good deal. I have several moisturisers to work my way through but will definitely be coming back to this one.

Have you tried Neutrogena Deep Moisture? What did you think of it? And what's your favourite body lotion? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Where I Went: Backpacking Round The World! #1

This time last year, I was on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic, en route to Rio for eight months of travelling with my fiance N. It was something I was hugely excited about but equally incredibly nervous - I'd never been backpacking before and was really worried that I wouldn't enjoy it, specifically because I wouldn't meet nice people (long story short, bad teenage experiences made me crippingly shy, and consequently I'm not always very chatty with people I don't know - although once I'm comfortable I don't shut up!). But equally I was looking forward to seeing all these amazing places that I'd longed to go to for years and to go on this huge adventure together before we settle down.

So, this is the first post in what I hope will be a regular series over the next few months about my travelling experiences and any tips I can share (ideally I'd like to do one post a month for each stage of my trip and then the beginning and end with what I did beforehand and what I'd do differently).

The first thing I would say is plan, plan, plan. When we went N and I sat down with a heap of travel brochures and listed the places we really wanted to go to, so it's definitely worth doing that if there's someone you're desperate to visit. Alternatively, you might want to volunteer whilst you're away, or learn a new skill, so think about that too - working or volunteering whilst travelling looks great on your CV. Tied in to that planning is saving. We were lucky as N had recently had an inheritance from a relative, which wasn't the ideal way to get the money but did help to pay for a big chunk of the trip, and then saved every penny for several months before we actually went. But depending on what you do and how long you're willing to spend planning, you can build up a good stack of cash. Also companies like STA Travel, who we did lots of our planning with, will let you reserve your flights for £49 so that could help with price planning.

Secondly, get good equipment, especially if you're going to be doing things like hiking. I paid £85 for my hiking boots, which seems like a lot but considering how much walking we did was definitely worth it! The other thing you need is a good backpack - you don't need a massive one though as you'll be lugging it round a lot and after a while it will become annoying. I took a 60 litre one and that was plenty, with enough space for all my things but equally some space for souvenirs too! Outdoor shops often have sales on so you can get some bargains there.

Also you won't need as much stuff as you think in terms of clothes. I took six vest tops, four T-shirts, four shirts (two long sleeved, two short sleeved), four pairs of convertible trousers, three skirts, a plain black dress, leggings, a scarf for my shoulders in the evenings/going to religious sites, flip flops, black ballet pumps and a microfleece, plus pants and socks as needed. For eight months, that was absolutely fine - I wasn't spending all my time doing washing but equally didn't have too much to carry with me. Ditto make-up as well; you can quite easily get away with tinted moisturiser, concealer, cream blusher, mascara, eyeliner and red lipstick, as well as your usual skincare and sunscreen.

Finally, don't forget your vaccines and malaria tablets. You may think it's an unnecessary expense but if you got ill whilst you're out in the big wide world you'd regret it (though you'll still need to take precautions like being very strict about hygiene). If you live in the UK, most vaccines are free - the only ones we paid for were our yellow fever vaccines and our rabies vaccines, which cost a total of £200 each. Not cheap, but I'd much rather spend £200 and be OK than have horrible tropical diseases. Oh, and get travel insurance - again it can be expensive but it's much, much cheaper than, say, having to be flown back home from Australia. Again we got ours from STA and it was around £1.50 a day, so pretty decent value.

Other things that may be useful to look into, especially if you plan to stay in a place for a long time:

- Working Holiday Visas for New Zealand and Australia. If you can spare the time, I would really, really encourage you to work in these countries. Mainly because they are expensive (particularly Australia) and stopping for a few months to work will help you to build up a cash reserve so you can afford a few treats like coffee or trips to the pub, or put it all in savings for the next leg of your trip. Even if you don't get paid work you may be able to get work in hostels, which will normally offer you free board in return, and considering hostels were our biggest expense in Australia this can give you quite big savings.
- Language courses. True, you may well be going to places where people speak English (especially those with booming tourist trades such as Southeast Asia) but it helps to know a few basic phrases. I picked up snippets from our tour guides and from subtitled US shows - I blame AXN entirely for my newfound Criminal Minds obsession but it also helped my Spanish immensely! However I wish I'd done a language course in Buenos Aires or somewhere, just to help me improve and communicate a bit better with the local people.

So, those are my tips for preparing to go away on a long backpacking trip. Next time, I'll post about my favourite experiences from the South American leg of my journey. That was one of my favourite continents that I visited on the trip, so I'm really looking forward to sharing that with you!

What did you think of my first post about my trip round the world? Would you like to see more of these posts? And have you ever been backpacking yourself? If you have, I'd love to hear about your experiences! Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum

Ah, the British Museum, how I've missed you. Before I went travelling I'd come here fairly regularly to have a wander around the free exhibitions or just to sit in the foyer and chill to pass some time, but since returning to the UK I hadn't been back. That all changed thanks to my lovely friend C, who has membership, and very kindly invited me to come with her on members' night yesterday. The museum's current big exhibit is on Pompeii and Herculaneum, which I was really keen to see, especially as I'm currently working on a novel about the Romans so having the extra information was really helpful.

The exhibition mainly focuses on the everyday life of Pompeii and Herculaneum - which, for a quick history refresher, were both destroyed within a 24 hour period by Mount Vesuvius erupting in AD 79 - to show the stark contrast between the people of the towns just going about their normal lives and then the devastation caused by the volcano. It's themed around a typical house in Pompeii, beginning with the street outside, including the shops that many residents had attached to their houses and the local tavern, and then going on into the house and the individual rooms.

What really surprised me was how well preserved things were - the furniture, for example, which was mostly from Herculaneum as the way the eruption affected the towns was different, was all carbonised and mostly still intact. There's a particularly beautiful garden fresco in one room that is largely intact, and is completely and utterly gorgeous. Even things like the colours in the paintings and the delicate mosaics and jewellery have lasted so well for something that's almost 2,000 years old. That beauty really contrasts with the many parts of it that are quite stark and shocking, such as the opening display with the preserved body of a dog and then you see a dog mosaic from the house where the body was found later on in the exhibition. I got particularly sad over the perfectly preserved baby's cradle.

Overall though it was a brilliant exhibition - really interesting to see just the sheer amount of things that had survived and also what typical Roman life was like, but equally very thought-provoking in terms of not wasting a moment of your life because you don't know what's around the corner. If you're into Roman history then I really can't recommend it highly enough.

If you'd like to go to the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition, it's on until the 29th September and tickets are £15 each or free for members (which is £35 a year if you're under 26) - they are quite limited though so it's best to turn up on the day and see what you can get, but I promise you it's worth it.

Have you been to the Pompeii exhibition? What did you think of it? And which London museum is your favourite? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

TV Review: Peaky Blinders

As the weather starts to turn and the nights start to draw in, the TV channels start trumpeting their new series to while away cold dark evenings or dreary wet weekends. BBC Two's offering is Peaky Blinders, named after a criminal gang who hid razor blades in the peaks of their flat caps, which is set in Birmingham in 1919 and stars Cillian Murphy as ex-soldier and local petty criminal Tommy Shelby who's bent on making a name for himself after coming across an illegal shipment of guns, amidst a backdrop of the aftermath of war and rising communist tensions.

First thought: it looks gorgeous. The set design is absolutely perfect, beautifull conveying the grime and dirtiness that's needed for a show like this. I'm also quite liking the use of modern music as a juxtaposition with the period styling - it adds a really interesting edge to proceedings and gives a very stronge sense of coolness, which I think helps in building the audiences' relationships with the characters; whilst you might not necessarily like or sympathise with them, you do find yourself engaging with them very strongly. Second thought: there are an awful lot of people in this whose attempts at Brummie accents just make them sound Scouse (although a lot of it was shot in Liverpool so I'm guessing a couple of the extras were locals) or Mancunian.

It also feels very underplayed - not in a way that suggests the actors aren't keen on their parts, but more that there's no need to ham it up and overact. Everything is very subtle, especially Cillian Murphy's quiet performance as Tommy which gives him a very unsettling sense of being someone who's dangerous to know, yet strangely admirable in the way he goes about trying to make a life of sorts for himself after the horror of the Great War. I particularly liked the fact that we come into the series with Tommy already established as a middling gang member who spots his opportunity to work his way up. It would have been incredibly easy to play this as an 'origins' story - and in a way it still is - but starting in the middle works well as you feel like the world you're going into really exists. Helen McCrory is also fantastic as Aunt Polly, the tough-as-nails matriarch who serves as the voice of reason amongst the madness of the gangs' activity, and I'm looking forward to more of Sam Neill as Belfast policeman Chester Campbell, who's hot on the trail of the missing shipment and the Shelby family.

At this point I should specify that I have not seen Boardwalk Empire (don't worry, it's on my list) so I can't compare it to that, but when I do I'll include something about this in the review. But from what I've heard and from watching this they seem very different - there's no glamour in Peaky Blinders, for a start. Overall though it was a great opening episode, with lots of drama, great characters and beautifully shot. I can't wait to find out what happens next and will definitely be tuning in again this week.

You can watch the first episode of Peaky Blinders on BBC iPlayer, and new episodes are on every Thursday night at 9 PM on BBC Two.

Did you watch Peaky Blinders? What did you think of it? And what are your favourite period/crime dramas? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Also don't forget to enter my 100th post giveaway - you could win a bottle of OPI I'm Not Really A Waitress! Click here to enter and best of luck :)

Beauty Review: Nails Inc Richmond

Starting a new job is always nerve-wracking - not least knowing what to wear on your first day, and that includes nail polish. Once I'm settled in a job I'll happily wear bright colours and try basic nail art, but for those first few days when I'm not sure what the dress code is I tend to play it a bit safe. So, for that reason, having started my new job earlier this week, I went for Nails Inc's Richmond, a soft pink with a hint of iridescence.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Nails Inc polishes have been a bit of a bone of contention with me in the past, as so often I've found them too thick and gloopy but equally not giving decent opacity when they're on the nail. This one, however, is different. I don't know if it's because I put Seche Restore in it but it's like wearing a completely different polish! The formula is lovely - I used two coats to do this photo and it gave me really good opacity and went on really easily.

The only issue with this polish was its durability. I did the manicure on Saturday morning and took this photo on Sunday afternoon, by which point it was holding up pretty well. However, it had started to chip by Monday morning and I had to take it off on Monday night :( For quite a pricey polish (a standard Nails Inc polish costs £11) I'd expect much more than that I'm afraid.

Overall, I really like this - it starts off as a very basic plain baby pink polish but when the light hits it right it gets a lovely sheen and has real depth. Definitely one to hold on to for those days when I want to look girly and groomed but still have something interesting going on with my nails, but not one to wear when I want something that's going to last.

Sadly Richmond was part of a set that a friend bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago so isn't available on the Nails Inc website any more, but you may be able to find it on eBay so if you like it keep an eye out!

What do you think of this polish? Have you tried any Nail Inc polishes? And what's your favourite shade of pink for your nails? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Also don't forget my OPI I'm Not Really A Waitress giveaway is running until the end of the month to celebrate my 100th post - click here to enter!

Restaurant Review: Canteen

Image courtesy of
 This is a bit of a restaurant-heavy month for me, mainly because I met up with friends and family quite a bit and whenever that happens we normally end up going somewhere to get food, and also because we have a bit of a tendency to try new places - certainly new to me anyway. Today's post, however, is a holdover from last month that I didn't get around to, when I met up with some friends over the Bank Holiday and we went to Canteen, which does modern British cooking.

There are quite a few branches of Canteen dotted around London, but we went to the one on the South Bank, out the back of the Royal Festival Hall. As it was a lovely evening we sat outside at a long table with low-backed chairs, which did give it a very school dining hall feel (well it is called Canteen I suppose) in a minimalist trendy way, and watched the world go by. It was busy but the service was quick and the staff were lovely and friendly.

I had the pie of the day (when I went it was pork with mustard and cider) with wilted greens, mash potato and gravy, and it was delicious. Good sized pie - and a proper pie at that, with sides and everything! - really well cooked pastry, and lots of filling. Lovely creamy mashed potato and tasty gravy too. For dessert I went for the mini sugared doughnuts, which were really tasty and came with the most delicious dark chocolate sauce I've ever had - rich and just a little bit bitter, which is always what I like in a chocolate sauce.

The only real criticism I have is the price - at £12.50 for a relatively small portion of pie and £5.50 for five mini doughnuts, it seems like quite a lot for what's pitching itself as a casual restaurant. However all the meals are homemade from scratch and the produce is all locally sourced, sustainable and free range, so I suppose a lot of the money is going on that. And if it consistently tastes this good, I'll definitely be coming back.

Have you been to Canteen? What did you think of it? And where are your favourite places to go for a quick and affordable dinner in your town or city? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Also have you entered my 100th post giveaway yet? You could win a bottle of OPI I'm Not Really A Waitress - a great classic red :) Click here to enter!

100th Post Giveaway!

One of the things about Blog Your Socks Off September is that it's made me take stock of what's going on with my blog in terms of things like followers and page views. So I was taking a glance at my stats the other day, and I realised two things: that I've been writing this blog in various guises on and off since May 2007 (2007! I know! I could be a super-blogger by now if I'd stuck with it *shakes head*), and that this is my 100th post!

It's taken a looong time to get here, but got here I have (said in a Yoda voice), and I wanted to do something both to celebrate reaching that milestone and to give something back to the blogging community, which has been enormously helpful to me especially since I started getting seriously into it when I came back from travelling. So, with that in mind, I'd like to welcome you to my first ever giveaway :)

I have to admit it took me a long time to think of a good prize for this giveaway, mainly because I'm a bit cash-strapped but equally I wanted to make you guys got something good. But I think I've got something perfect - an OPI Nail Lacquer in I'm Not Really A Waitress. The reason I chose this is because I love my nail polish (as regular readers will know!) and this feels like a great fit for my blog as somewhere where I write about classic products that may have gone under the radar. Plus it's a fantastic polish that applies really well and lasts for ages. I love the colour too - it's a beautiful shimmery deep red that will go with loads of different things and is perfect for the coming autumn/winter. It'd be perfect to wear with a Christmas dress too!

Please enter using the form below. The giveaway closes at 23:59 on 30th September and I will announce the lucky winner in my birthday post on 2nd October.

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Thanks for entering and have a great day!

Beauty Review: Ciate Mojito

As the autumn clothes start coming into shops, my thoughts are turning to autumn make-up colours (I'm very excited that lips - bright or vampy - are going to be a big thing as I suck at eye make-up) and nail polishes. So far signs look good for this year; there were some lovely shades in both Essie and OPI's fall collections. However, as I'm still on my 'no buying any new nail polishes until I try all the ones I already have' rule, I'm having to hold off for the time being and shop my stash instead. So, with the turning season in mind, I picked a polish with a summery name but that seems like a potentially great autumn shade - Ciate Mojito.

Top coat is Seche Vite as always. Apologies for the photos, they haven't come out all that well - I don't know why but they look much more like a grass green in those shots than the acid green they are on my hands. Let me know what you think of taking this against the wall by the way! I'm trying out some new backgrounds for my nail posts as I've mentioned but always happy to get feedback.

I really, really like this colour. I'm a big fan of greens anyway but these types of acid greens are a particular favourite - I love the way that they sit alongside my leather jacket in the shot on the left to add to the edginess and jar slightly with the black, in a similar way that I like wearing bright neon shoes with black dresses and tights. It'd be a particularly good polish for Halloween, especially if you're doing a costume like a witch for example. The polish also has a really good brush that covers the nail very well and deposits a good amount of colour, although slightly annoyingly the glue that sticks the brush into the lid had melted so when I took the lid off the brush was still stuck in the polish! Thankfully I managed to fix it but it was slightly messy...

In terms of the formula, this was OK if a little bit on the thin side, and there was a little bit of staining when I took one nail off to correct it. It also wasn't very opaque on first application. I had to do three coats before the nail wasn't showing through but I think that's par for the course with a polish in this kind of colour - anyone who's read my various posts about yellow polishes will know of my woes in this area! So I don't necessarily mind having to do three coats in this instance. Durability-wise it's held up really well -I did this on Sunday morning and the first minor chips appeared on Friday morning, so very impressed with that.

Overall: Great colour, decent formula, just a shame about the brush breaking! But definitely worth a try if you're into your bright greens. This is the only Ciate polish I currently own but if they're all like this I'll definitely be looking into getting some more. Plus they have the cutest bottles as well - I love the little bows!

If you'd like to try Mojito it's available on at £9 for a 13.5ml bottle - so a little more expensive than the likes of Essie and a little bit cheaper than OPI, which I think for the quality is quite reasonable.

Do you like green nail polish? What's your favourite - do you prefer a dark green or a bright neon? And which autumn make-up trends and colours are you most excited to try? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Book Review: Talk To The Tail

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It's been a long time since I read a paperback book. Whilst I was travelling my Kindle was my constant companion, mainly because you can get so many books on there, including lots of free classic novels, and as usual I overbought so ended up still reading the things I'd taken away with me for some time after I came back. However, a couple of weeks ago my lovely fiance bought me a copy of Tom Cox's Talk To The Tail, and it recently graduated to my work bag for reading on the train.

For those of you who haven't heard of Tom Cox, he's a freelance journalist who's found fame through the lives and adventures of his many cats - the Twitter feed @MYSADCAT, about Tom's 16-year-old cat The Bear, is both funny and utterly heartbreaking. Talk To The Tail is his second book (the third, The Good, the Bad and the Furry, is due out next month) and is a mixture of observations about the cats and accounts of other animals in his life, including his dad's slight obsession with various stuffed creatures from the local community college, Tom's various horse-riding experiences, and a highly enthusiastic spaniel named Henry.

Much as I adore The Bear, it was really nice to read some more about Tom's other cats, as although they do occasionally appear in the Twitter feed you don't really find out that much about them. In this book The Bear very much took a back seat and the other cats and animals came to the fore, which was quite a nice refreshing change of pace. Granted there were places where it felt a bit disjointed, but I think that's just as it's structured as a series of essays rather than a coherent narrative, and in a way that made it a perfect train book as it was easy to dip in and out. It's got a very light and self-mocking style but when the tragedy comes at the end - and in this context it is very tragic - it hits you full on and is actually quite saddening (though I should stress the book ends on a hopeful note).

Overall, this was a great, easy quick read and definitely brightened up my train journeys to and from work last week by frequently raising a smile and a chuckle - it was a great antidote to the seriousness of Middlemarch. Definitely recommended for anyone who loves animals, but particularly for fellow cat people.

If you'd like to read Talk to the Tail, it's available for £3.49 on Kindle or £5.24 in paperback via Amazon.

Have you read Talk to the Tail or any of Tom Cox's other books? Do you follow @MYSADCAT on Twitter? And what are your other favourite (ficiton and non-fiction) books about animals? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

Theatre Review: Once

I recently won £50 of theatre tokens (thank you!), which for someone like me, who loves a good musical but often doesn't get to go due to prices, was an amazing price. However, choosing which one to go for was a serious struggle as there have been so many good musicals coming into the West End! I narrowed it down to The Book of Mormon and Once - both of which are hot tickets for 2013 - but eventually plumped for the latter. The deciding factor? David Hunter, he of the last four in ITV's 'Superstar' and by far and away my favourite contestant on the show, is understudying Guy and this weekend was one of his definite dates to go on.

If you haven't heard of Once - which is based on a film that won the Oscar for Best Original Song a couple of years ago - it's the story of a Dublin musician-turned-vacuum-cleaner-repairman who meets a young Czech woman when performing in a bar. Gradually, as his career takes off, the two of them begin to fall for each other. But, as Shakespeare wrote, the course of true love never did run smooth...

It was.. I can't even begin to describe how it was, other than amazing. The music is gorgeous, switching from heartbreaking and passionate to filled with Irish fire in a heartbeat, and the performances are brilliant - David Hunter is absolutely fantastic, with a brilliantly raw voice and able to balance both Guy's initial prickliness with his sweetness and impulsivity later in the show. But I loved Christina Tedders as Girl as well, particularly her solo 'The Hill' and in 'If You Want Me'; both are pivotal moments for the show, and she pulls off the conflict between her love for Guy, her relationship with her absent husband and her wish to let Guy chase his dream perfectly. The supporting cast were also fantastic, particuarly Aidan Kelly's comedic turn as Billy and Michael O'Connor's beautifully touching portrayal of Guy's Da.

Overall, I utterly adored Once - it's beautifully simple and benefits from its minimalist set, allowing the focus to centre on the people, the story and the songs. In fact the music is such a huge part of it that not only does the on-stage bar open before the performance, the actors warm up on stage whilst you're drinking and it's lik being right there in the bar with them. The show is sweet, sad, utterly gorgeous, and one of the first shows I've ever walked out of thinking 'I want to see that again tomorrow' and franticaly trying to think of ways to pay for it, which I think says everything. The one tip I'd give is pay the extra for the stalls if you can - it's crippingly expensive but with a show like this, where it's so understated and everything is in facial expressions, you have to get as close as you can.

And yes, I did get to meet David after, and I can confirm that in real life he is an absolutely lovely bloke and a complete sweetheart :) Really hoping he gets to do more shows in the West End as he's extremely talented and deserves to get a leading role in something huge soon!

Have you seen Once? What did you think? Are there any musicals you've seen recently and loved, or really want to see? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!