My Hair Routine

Hi lovelies! I'm so sorry I've been neglecting the blog this week - the combination of changes at work, a rotten cold and working on an application for something potentially very big and very exciting (I won't say what just yet though in case it doesn't come off) have meant that unfortunately it had to be the thing that slipped slightly. But I'm back now, and today's post is all about haircare. This was originally meant to be a #2014BloggerChallenge post but I've missed the deadline by miles, so it's just going to be a normal blog instead.

My hair is naturally quite wavy and thick, and has a slight tendency to frizz. Whilst I don't tend to heat dry it, I do want to make sure it still looks sleek rather than lank, and I'm also trying to grow it for the wedding (though it's now getting slightly to the 'argh I want to cut it all off' stage!).

Here are the products I'm using at the moment:

I normally wash my hair two or three times a week, as it doesn't get greasy too quickly but isn't particularly dry either. The night before I'll treat it with L'Oreal Extraordinary Oil from the mid-lengths to the ends to keep it in good condition. I really like this as it's not too heavy but also makes my hair feel in good condition, especially if it's been particularly cold or windy which I always find really damages my hair.

At the moment I'm using Lush New shampoo bar (the red disc in the front of the picture above) which has lots of ingredients like cinnamon, clove and peppermint to stimulate the scalp and encourage hair growth. I've been using it for about a month now and I can definitely tell that my hair has grown a lot quicker since I started, as well as making my hair feel soft and look shiny. Plus it smells like Christmas - what's not to love about that?!

Once I've washed my hair, I use the Yuko Anti-Frizz Heat-Activated Leave-in Conditioner, which is a light spray-in product. I got this in my goody bag from the Company Blogging Forum last summer - yes, that is how long I've had this - and I really like it. Not only does it save time in the mornings, it also smells nice and isn't too heavy when I leave my hair to dry naturally, but also makes my hair straight and gives it volume when I blow-dry it. Annoyingly it doesn't appear that you can buy this in the UK any more (don't you just hate it when that happens?!) so I'm going to try and eke this out as long as I possibly can - though luckily you don't need much for it to work its magic.

The only other thing I really do is mist my fringe with L'Oreal Elvive hairspray - I'm currently using their Very Volume one and like it as it gives good hold but doesn't make my hair feel crispy. If my hair needs a wash but I don't have time in the morning I'll reach for the dry shampoo. I've tried quite a few but always end up going back to Batiste; it always makes my hair feel refreshed and I really like the smell of this Oriental one as it's quite floral but not too heavy.

I should add that my fringe gets washed every day, because otherwise it goes stringy and horrible. At the moment I'm using Naked Care Shampoo which I reviewed a little while ago; it didn't work so well for my hair overall but as a fringe shampoo and brush cleaner it's OK. My fringe is also the only part of my hair that gets regularly blow-dried as it tends to split otherwise. I use a Denman bristle brush which I sweep side to side through my fringe whilst drying it - this is a technique I learnt from Sali Hughes, the Guardian's beauty writer, and it works really well (you can watch her how-to video here).

Finally, I get my hair cut at Rockalily Cuts near where I work - it's the most amazing retro salon in Hoxton and Emma does an absolutely fabulous job on my hair. I haven't been for a while actually so I'll book an appointment next week and write a review for you - look out for that on the blog soon!

What's your favourite hair product at the moment?

Beauty Review: Revlon Parfumerie Scented Nail Enamel in China Flower

Regular readers will know I'm not the best at reviewing the latest products - mainly because I have loads of stuff to use up already and am trying to save some cash ahead of the wedding and putting down a deposit. But a couple of weeks ago I felt in the mood for some new make-up, so I decided to take advantage of Boots 3 for 2. One of the things I picked up was this Revlon Parfumerie Scented Nail Enamel in China Flower, as I hadn't bought a new nail varnish for a while but had thrown quite a few out in my massive make-up clear-out and I was drawn in by the prospect of a grown-up scented nail polish. There are 20 polishes in the range, but I chose this one for no reason other than that I liked the colour - a bright red that would be great for summer but OK to wear at work too.

The packaging has the look of a vintage perfume bottle, with squared-off corners and a round black lid. I like the slightly retro look to it and the solid, weighty feel of the bottle in my hand - it's pretty, but it's not something I wouldn't carry around with me for fear of it breaking. In the packaging, it looks like a bright coral-red - a great tone for summer that would work well on fingers or toes (although the latter might defeat the object of a scented nail polish. Unless you find people smelling your toes attractive for some reason) - and looks fairly similar on my hands as it does in the bottle.

The brush is quite thin, but I liked that as I felt like it gave me more control over applying the polish. I also found the spherical lid really easy to grip, which made application a lot smoother. The consistency of this polish is quite thick but not gloopy - one coat was opaque, apart from a slight mark on one of my nails where it might have needed two to cover it. This is definitely a polish for days when I need to save time but still want a pop of colour on my nails.

So far, so standard coral-red polish. But then we move onto this product's USP - the scent. China Flower is one of the floral scents in the Revlon Parfumerie range, and when the polish dries it has a lovely subtle soft flowery scent. I have no idea what a China flower is or what it's supposed to smell like, but this was a nice fragrance in a very girly, spring-like sort of way. You can't smell it unless you're fairly close to your nails but it was quite nice to catch little whiffs of it when I was putting my lipstick on or fiddling with my hair. I also found that applying a top coat every day helped to revive the scent for a little longer, so this would definitely be worth doing if you wanted to 'top up' the scent.

Finally, the durability. I applied this on a Friday night and, although there was a bit of tip wear after a heavy weekend of typing for the blog, it didn't chip until Wednesday. Normally nail polishes chip incredibly easily on me - I'm lucky if I can get some to last two days - so I'm very impressed with that, especially from one coat!

Overall, I really like this nail polish - lovely colour, gorgeous bottle, very durable, good coverage and actually lives up to its claim in terms of the scent. Whilst it is a little bit more expensive than other drugstore nail polishes at £6.49, it's also a slightly bigger bottle at 11.7ml so I'm quite happy to pay that bit extra. I'm definitely going to be adding some more of these to my collection - Lavender Soap, Surf Spray and Autumn Spice all looked lovely in the bottles so I'm hoping they smell just as good!

Have you tried any of the Revlon Parfumerie nail polishes?

Bailey's Stardust at the National Portrait Gallery

I'm not normally one for art exhibitions - I normally much prefer museums as I feel I get more of an insight into the past that goes beyond just looking at something and thinking 'Ooh, I like the pretty colours'. But this year there are two big ones that I really wanted to see: the Matisse cut-outs at the Tate Modern (which I think I might have to take a day off for and book as it is ridiculously popular) and Bailey's Stardust at the National Portrait Gallery. So, a couple of weeks ago when I had an itch to do something - and this was pre-spending challenge - I took myself off up to the National Portrait Gallery to see the exhibition.

I've always preferred portraits to landscapes and photographs to paintings - I think it's something to do with being able to connect with the real person behind the image more easily. But I'm also quite keen to get more into photography as well, so was hoping to get some inspiration for how to improve my own pictures by learning from the master, as it were.

The exhibition was grouped into themes, which is quite unusual for a show like this, and I liked the freedom it gave you to explore at your leisure. My knowledge of David Bailey was shamefully limited to just his name, so the themeing gave a great insight into all the different things he'd done in his career, from taking celebrity portraits to travelling the world. It was also really interesting to see the aspects of Bailey's style that had stayed consistent throughout his career, especially the use of black and white and the way he plays with shadow, which makes the photographs look really striking.

One of the things I particularly liked were the brilliant effects littered throughout the exhibition, such as the fade and soft focus effects that gave Bob Marley a godlike quality and made Brigitte Bardot radiate old-school glamour. On several occasions I did a double take to check I was looking at photographs rather than paintings. They worked really well to illustrate certain themes as well, particularly in the portraits of Aboriginals where ripped effects and blacked-out sections really conveyed the sense of intrusion that was matched by their standoffish poses. The pops of colour littered throughout the exhibition also acted as wonderful highlights to particular details, such as the amazingly coloured face paints of the tribespeople in Bailey's Papua New Guinea photos or the brightly coloured clothes and hair in the Fashion Icons & Beauty room, which had a very lively quality created through the use of big band music and the dominance of action shots, in contrast to some of the more posed images.

My favourite room, however, was the one dedicated to Bailey's wife Catherine. Not only were there some amazing shots of her using various different cameras and make-up effects, which gave the impression of looking at really old photographs and continuing the theme of 'photographs as paintings' (there's one of her in black and white make-up where she looks like a monochrome Picasso come to life), there was also a huge wall of their family photographs from over the years. I loved the joy in capturing those small but powerful moments in life and it was a huge reminder of the significance photographs play in creating our memories of a particular day or event.

The main criticism of it that it's quite an expensive exhibition at £16 for what I didn't feel were an awful lot of photos. But I also came away with serious admiration for Bailey's ability to reflect his subjects' personalities - even the clearly posed pictures felt really natural and made it look like everyone was having a great time. The other thing I really loved was his ability to show different aspects of his subject, whether that's one of his hard men looking shyly over his shoulder, a rare clean-cut shot of the Rolling Stones where they look for all the world like the Beatles with an extra member, or placing skulls next to bunches of bright blue roses.

In terms of my own photograhy, think the main thing I learnt from the exhibition was to take lots of photos to find the perfect shot rather than just taking one and thinking "Oh that'll do", and to make better use of light and angles in order to highlight certain features. Plus, if it ever needed reinforcing that you can take just as good photos with a camera phone as you can with an all-singing all-dancing DSLR, the room of photos of Bailey's night out in East London was solid proof of that. Those shots also contrasted really well with the images of the East End in the 1960s.

And here is what I got from the shop - a bag with the contact sheet from Bailey's portraits of Jean Shrimpton in 1964 (how amazing is her hair?!) and postcards of two of my favourite photos from the exhibition. I think David Bailey has single-handedly reawakened both my teenage crush on Johnny Depp and my love of vintage fashion. Plus there's something really reminiscent of seeing photos of my grandmothers and their sisters all dolled up for nights out in Liverpool in the one on the left, which I absolutely love.

If you fancy checking out Bailey's Stardust, it's on at the National Portrait Gallery until 1st June.

Have you been to any photography exhibitions recently?

Charles Dickens Challenge: The Old Curiosity Shop

My fourth book in the Charles Dickens Challenge was The Old Curiosity Shop, which is one of the books that's often cited as an example of a stereotypical Dickens novel - and everything that's wrong with him as a writer. So I have to admit that I approached it with some trepidation that it really was going to be as terrible as everyone said. But actually, I ended up being pleasantly surprised.

Image source
The Old Curiosity Shop tells the story of 13-year-old Nell Trent, who lives with her grandfather in the shop of the title. After he falls into debt through gambling in order to ensure Nell's financial future, they are forced to flee from his creditor, the dwarf Daniel Quilp, who makes Tyrion Lannister at his craftiest look like Bambi. The book then follows them as they attempt to flee as far from London as possible. Meanwhile, Nell's wastrel brother convinces his friend Dick Swiveller to marry Nell in order to get his hands on her perceived fortune.

Like Dickens' previous novels The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop has an episodic form which actually ends up being rather humorous due to the cast of characters they meet along the way, from the Punch-and-Judy men Codlin and Short to the waxwork show owner Mrs Jarley. Consequently, even in the scenes when the main characters were in jeopardy, I had a very strong sense that everything was going to turn out all right - there wasn't the sense of peril and crushing oppression that there was in Oliver Twist. It also gave the infamous ending a very fitting sense of relief and the end of a journey; despite the sadness for the characters, there was also a strong feeling of peacefulness. It might be one of the few books I've read recently where the ending was actually quite satisfying (bet you weren't expecting that from the girl who hates endings now were you?).

Although on occasions Nell was a little too angelic for her own good, she actually turned out to be a surprisingly sympathetic character, and the relationship between her and her grandfather felt very realistic. I also loved Kit, Nell's friend in London who constantly strives to create a better life for his widowed mother and young siblings and acts as a moral compass  However my favourite character was by far and away Dick Swiveller, partly for his brilliant name and partly because he feels like one of the first Dickens characters I've encountered who actually changes significantly over the course of the novel.

Overall, I found The Old Curiosity Shop much easier to get through than the previous novels in the Charles Dickens Challenge, and a lot more enjoyable. It was a really good blend of what I liked from the other books, particularly in terms of the comedy, but also felt like a much more complete novel in terms of the characters' development and the sense of being in good hands that ran through it. Next up for the challenge: Barnaby Rudge.

What books have you read that have surprised you?

No Spend May: The Rules

As I mentioned in my goals post a few days ago, this month I am going on a spending ban. The main reason being that I am spending way too much on things that I don't need - particularly clothes and make-up - and consequently am worrying about money a lot more than I should. Plus there are new rules coming in about mortgages where it's possible that lenders might assess what you're spending on various things, and as we're hoping to buy somewhere later this year I want to get my financial house in order before we start applying.

So between now and next payday (30th May) I am only allowed to spend money on the following things:
  1. Essentials - so rent, bills, food and my travelcard. Most of these were sorted when I got paid but because my travelcard comes near the end of the month (always a bad idea!) I will have to pay for that in May.
  2. Emergencies - I'm not sure what this would cover but just in case I need to pay for anything urgently.
  3. Anything that is coming out of my bank account this month by direct debit - so that would be my phone bill and my Birchbox subscription.
  4. Pre-planned activities. I am going to a meet-up with some people from a beauty forum on the 10th May, so have allowed myself a £30 budget for that (I've already bought my train tickets but that budget will include food).
I am also allowed to spend any money I earn if I need to, so am selling a few things on eBay - my seller page is here if you want to take a look - and will go through my CDs and put them on MusicMagpie as well. The other thing I'm going to do is try and cancel a few direct debits that are hanging around in my account. They're not huge amounts of money but every penny helps and I also suspect that the mortgage people wouldn't look kindly on them.

I'll be honest - it's going to be hard. And it has been hard so far - even just small things like resisting stopping at Starbucks on the walk home after work. But I know I have to break the habit of spending so much and not keeping a closer eye on my bank balance. Wish me luck!

#2014BloggerChallenge: Desert Island Discs

This instalment of the #2014BloggerChallenge is all about music, and as soon as I opened the email I knew instantly what I wanted to write about. One of my favourite radio programmes is Desert Island Discs, which invites a celebrity or highly regarded figure to imagine they've been cast away on an island and choose eight pieces of music to take with them. In a slightly odd way it's something that I think about a lot, and so this post seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a go!

It was really difficult to choose eight tracks - I could probably have got my list to at least 15 once I started thinking about it - but these are the ones I decided on. Would any of them be on your list?

Hanson - MMMBop

Hanson were one of the first bands I got really into, and their album 'Middle Of Nowhere' was the first CD I ever bought (and it holds up surprisingly well 17 years later. Yes, I'm old). 'MMMBop' was my favourite song on there, and reminds me of the summer of 1997. Every year when I make my summer playlist, this is always one of the first songs that goes on there, and reminds me of lazy sunny days with no cares and worries.

Good Charlotte - Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

When I was in high school and sixth form, I was a bit of an emo/pop-punk type, and 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' was one of the first songs I got obsessed with in that phase. It's slightly ridiculous and irreverent, and I still consider it one of my guilty pleasures - as well as a reminder of how much I've changed since then, and how much I'm still the same person (put it this way, the girl who listened to this in 2002 wouldn't have seen herself wearing skirts and make-up - at least other than eyeliner - twelve years later, but she would have still known all the words).

The View - Same Jeans

This is one of those songs that reminds me of my first year at university. I was very into music during my degree and went to the local indie club to see bands a lot, and also reviewed singles for the university radio station. That's when I discovered The View, and I played this song to absolute death. Just listening to it now puts me right back in my university room - I can see the posters on my walls, the books on my shelves and the view from my window as if I was there.

Smash Mouth - I'm A Believer

This is one of the songs that Nick and I both love, which we realised quite early on in our relationship,and I'm trying to convince him to let us walk out to this at the wedding (well this or You And Me Song). It also very much sums up my feelings about relationships when I met him - I had had disastrous luck through my teenage years, so to actually find someone who liked me for me. Plus, it's fun to bounce around your room like a loon to.

Bill Withers - Lovely Day

This has become my summer morning music - I just love the chilled-out vibe. It was also the song our tour bus driver played every morning on our trip along the Great Ocean Road and up through South Australia, which was one of my favourite parts of my travels, and takes me back to sunrises over the desert.

Tim Minchin - White Wine in the Sun

I am one of those people who would have Christmas in July if I could, but what made me pick 'White Wine in the Sun' was its message of family. If I was cast away on a desert island, I'd want a song to remind me of my family, and this was the one I played a lot whilst travelling as it reminded me that, even at the times when I missed my family the most, I would be coming home to them soon. Even though it makes me cry, this is the one I would save from the waves.

The Beatles - Can't Buy Me Love

Well I had to have a Beatles song didn't I? This was actually the hardest one to pick, because I grew up listening to the Beatles' music, but I went for Can't Buy Me Love because I love the accompanying scene in A Hard Day's Night. I think the Beatles were at their best during the first half of their career and this song sums up the joy of lots of those early songs. And, if you haven't seen A Hard Day's Night, it's a surprisingly good film.

Pharrell Williams - Happy

For all my obsession with music as a student, since graduating I've been shamefully bad at finding new music; I mainly do it through a couple of music blogs I read, songs I hear on TV programmes and the occasional trawl of the music channels. So I actually discovered 'Happy' quite late, but since I did I've been playing it constantly. Plus it always gets me in a good mood and makes me want to dance, which is definitely something I'd want on my desert island.

So they're my current Desert Island Discs - a real mix of styles and genres, but all songs I love. Would any of these be on your list?

2014 Resolutions: May Update

It's the start of a new month and that means a new 2014 resolutions post! Here's how I got on in April...
  1. Blog at least every other day. I was better at this than I was last month, but it's still not quite perfectly back on track as I foolishly forgot to schedule a load of posts before I went on holiday in the middle of the month. But I've been much better since coming back from holiday so hopefully will be up to speed again this month.
  2. Run a 5K. I have signed up to do the Colour Run on 1st June with a group of people from work - immensely excited about this as it sounds awesome!
  3. Buy a flat with Nick. Potentially some exciting news on this front - Nick's grandparents are getting rid of the house they rent out in south east London and have asked if we want it. We probably wouldn't move until the autumn, and I need to see it first, but if we could get it that would be amazing.
  4. Perfect my skincare and everyday make-up routines. Progress, albeit slowly - I think I have cracked my evening skincare routine (with a few tweaks to come once I run out of certain products), but I still feel like my morning routine is missing something. The make-up needs sorting out as well, just because I haven't yet got the perfect foundation and concealer matches, but that might be one to save for next month.
  5. Use up a net balance of 30 beauty products. I managed to get rid of lots of stuff that had been hanging around - and destroyed an entire Sunday newspaper plus supplements in the proces. I haven't counted up yet but hopefully I should have cut the stash down a lot.
  6. Read at least 50 books. At the time of writing I was up to 16 books this year, mainly because I read two when I was on holiday (plus finishing the book I was reading when I went away and reading most of another one), so I'm on track to reach the goal.
  7. Take more photographs that aren't just for blogging. Bit mixed to be honest
  8. Watch all the TV series I started but haven't finished. Big fat fail on this one this month I'm afraid - mainly because I got distracted by RuPaul's Drag Race on Netflix (which is awesome by the way). However as I'm not going to be going out much this month I'm hoping that will help me to make progress on this.
  9. Wear the clothes I already own regularly and only buy new stuff when I need it. I actually didn't buy much new stuff this month apart from some pyjamas and a dress in Primark, but equally I'm aware it's getting to be a bit out of control and I need to nip it in the bud, stat.
  10. Eat more healthily. I am doing better at eating more healthy snacks through my Graze box and taking bananas/cereal bars to work, as well as remembering to drink more water. I've also now totally cut out sugar in my coffee after giving it up for Lent, so whilst it's not perfect it's getting there.
  11. Learn to drive. I have finally signed up for lessons and will be starting them in the next few weeks! I'm nervous as haven't been in a car for almost ten years, but I'm also looking forward to (hopefully) finally being able to drive - it'll make going to Cornwall and visiting my family so much easier.
  12. Finish writing my novel. This is one time when waking up stupidly early in the morning is working to my advantage - I'm doing half an hour a day of writing first thing, and also taking advantage of the opportunity to take photographs and do some work for my blog. It's slow progress, but it's getting there.
  13. Go to at least one blogging event. I've been to two blogging events this year already but don't have any more planned - so if any knows of any good ones please let me know!
So how did I get on with my goals for April?
  1. Take at least one photo every day and put it on Instagram. The photo a day I mostly managed (apart from one or two); the Instagramming - not so much. Again lack of internet whilst on holiday was my reasoning for that, and then I just fell out of the habit. But it has inspired me to keep taking and posting more pictures.
  2. Cull my beauty product stash. As mentioned above I got rid of a lot of my old nail varnishes last month so have made a serious dent in the beauty product stash. I still have a few things to clear out so will probably do another Give and Make Up box this month, or add a few bits to my blog sale.
  3. Get my clothes ready for spring. I've put the new buttons on my coat, and am reshuffling my wardrobe to get my spring outfits ready. Now all I need is good weather to wear them :)
Last but not least, my goals for May - there is a bit of a theme this month as you'll see:
  1. Not spending any money unnecessarily. With the new mortgage rules and the fact that I am just plain poor at the moment, I am trying to not spend any money I don't need to this month. I will talk about this a bit more in an upcoming post but essentially this means no clothes, no beauty products, and no days out I have to pay for. The only money I can spend will be money I earn through selling things.
  2. Wear a different outfit every day. I might be buying far too many new clothes, but I'm not actually wearing the ones I've already got - I tend to just lapse into a uniform . So, with that in mind, I'm going to go through my wardrobe and try to wear a different outfit every day, plus taking pictures of what I'm wearing and putting them on Instagram.
  3. Finish my clearout. I have some bits of clothing that I'm trying to get rid of, so have put some things on eBay (take a look here!). I've also got a few CDs left over that I didn't get rid of in my last clearout so will put those into Musicmagpie at the weekend.
Do you have any goals for May?