Spacemasks and stationery – a Liberty shopping spree

Liberty of London is one of my favourite places in the world. When I lived in London, I shopped there regularly – which might make me sound like a millionaire, but like any good department store, it actually caters for a range of budgets. I got a half-price Vivienne Westwood dress that I wore to several weddings (which got me lots of compliments along the lines or ‘ooh, that could almost be a Vivienne Westwood’ from people who clearly thought I couldn’t afford the real thing!), my favourite silver shoes that I destroyed on a walk of shame* home in the rain from a very fancy party, and a gorgeous pair of Ash boots that I wore until they fell to bits and had to abandon in a New York hotel room because I knew if I brought them home I’d never throw them away. I’ve got drunk and shopped unwisely at their ‘card holders’ loyalty nights, and found bargains that I have treasured for years. They sell Ren, one of my favourite toiletries brands, and over the years I have bought everything from a glass of champagne to a pair of knickers under its roof. Usually when my plan had been to do nothing but pop in for five minutes to kill some time before meeting people for a drink.

I’ve bought an endless array of presents there – when something comes in that little purple bag, you don’t need to wrap it, which is good cos everything I wrap looks like I did it with my feet – and given into the temptations of its seriously indulgent chocolate department, but the scene of most of my sins has not been the cosmetics department – although that has done a fair amount of damage to my budget over the years – but the stationery store.

Oh, the Liberty stationery store. If my heaven is anywhere, it’s in a giant bookshop with a good coffee shop and cocktail bar attached, and a door to Liberty stationery hall. Not only do they stock their own iconic Liberty notebooks in print or leather covers (the leather ones are a bit above my usual price range, though I have been bought some by generous friends, and they are luxury incarnate), but an excellent and regularly changing stock of other brands. As well as trying some indie brands (one of my favourite ever notebooks was purchased there, and I hung onto it long after it was used up, whcih I normally don’t do, because the brand went defunct and I’ve never managed to replace it.) I’ve bought (and been gifted) a number of Christian Lacroix notebooks over the year, and indulged in Kate Spade cards and journals (weirdly, they have a better selection of these than the actual Kate Spade store, which is down the road on Regent Street).

Since moving away from London, I’ve visited less often. Most of my trips are business or theatre related, so I tend to avoid the bustle of Oxford Circus and Regent Street for less crowded parts of town. But since I was seeing Betrayal on Panton Street – from which Liberty was a mere stroll up Regent Street on a sunny day – I decided I was overdue a trip. I’m so sorry, dear wallet.

Yup, I couldn’t help but indulge. I used the rationale that I’ve been feeling a bit stalled on my book and some nice notebooks might give me a boost, but to be honest that’s just an excuse: I love fancy notebooks, and I don’t mind paying for them. (An unexpected bit of work funded the spree – I figured I wasn’t expecting the money so why not spend it? This explains a lot about my life). I opted for a larger Lacroix (gold, lined paper – gotta be lined!) and a smaller blue metallic one, as it was a colour I hadn’t seen before. The Kate Spade was a cheat: I actually bought the same one in Fenwick’s a while back, and loved it so much I’ve been itching for a reason to buy another.

The cosmetics department didn’t escape my attention either: I bought a couple of boxes of Spacemasks. If you are unfamiliar with these, they are worth checking out: herbal, warming eye masks that are great for unwinding or relaxing, and though they don’t dent my insomnia – nothing does – I have become a bit addicted to them. (I usually, I admit, order them online from Selfridges, where they are slightly cheaper – plus I pay an annual fee so I don’t get charged postage on each order – but fond as I am of Selfridges, it’s never won me over quite like Liberty has, and you have to support the shops you love, right? Right?)

All in all, an expensive afternoon, then – but there are worse vices for a writer to have…

*I pulled – those were the days! – so it was more of a walk of ‘quite pleased with myself, actually’, but the rain did knacker the shoes.

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A day trip to Edinburgh

After three weeks without a day off, I finally had some downtime, and headed up to Edinburgh to meet my friend K, who I haven’t seen in years. Edinburgh is only an hour and a half away from Newcastle – and the East Coast train takes you along some of the country’s most beautiful coastline, so it’s a pleasurable as well as a fast trip. The plan was that we would have lunch, do some culture, then have some cocktails before I headed back. And… we managed most of that. You can probably guess which bit got dropped…

I haven’t been to Edinburgh in years – last time was to do some research for A Vampire in Edinburgh, during my unfortunate homeless stint, when two of my Glasgow friends let me stay there when they were on holiday, so I took advantage to do a day trip to the city. I had forgotten quite how gorgeous it is – all those dramatic cliffs!

We started off with a wee wander round the Old Town. Edinburgh Press Club looked promising but we were too late for breakfast, and none of the sarnies appealed, so we settled for coffee then wandered some more. We had planned to do Mary King’s Close but were put off by the cost (nearly £16!) so had a wander around a nearby church instead. Lunch was a couple of wraps at old-school vegetarian cafe Hendersons, which had been much recommended to me, and after that we felt we could justify a cocktail.

I missed my chance to go to the new Ivy in Brighton – it opened just before I left – so was keen to try the Ivy on the Square. K and I are both fans of espresso martinis so started with them. Well-made by the charming and friendly barman, they were very rich and accompanied by a choice of syrups to choose your own (I plumped for Creme Brulee, K – more wisely – Amaretto). After that I plumped for something lighter – a champagne based drink – and then we decided that some shopping was in order.

A quick wander round Jenners and Harvey Nichols followed – while I love the architecture of Jenners, I found HN a bit bland, though I did buy some fancy pasta and a notebook there, partly cos I wanted to buy something. (K bought a Count Gracula garlic crusher, which looked enormous fun). We rounded off the day with cocktails at The Refinery, then headed back to the Ivy for chips and a last drink before I caught the train home – a fantastic day out, and home before 10? I could get used to this…

A Family Christmas and a trip to Spanish City

I’ve never really done the ‘big’ family Christmas before. When my mum was alive, we tended to keep it small: my friends would come over with their kids in the morning, and various neighbours might pop in, but it was generally low key. Over the years I have had working Christmases, Christmases alone and ‘orphan’ Christmases – all of which were varying degrees of OK – but never done the big family event.

So I was actually a little nervous of agreeing to my cousin’s and his wife’s invitation to spend Christmas at theirs. They host the big family ‘do’ every year, of which I have heard nothing but good things, but I was still a bit anxious. Sometimes eating in big groups makes me self-conscious, and while they generously invited the friend (N) who was staying with me over the holidays, I worried that being thrown in the deep end of someone else’s family might be a bit much for her.

In the end, I needn’t have worried at all. My family are generally excellent company, and proved themselves great hosts, generous and welcoming to me and my friend, who was really touched by how much they made her feel at home. It was a multi-generational gathering that spanned pensioners to babies and all stages in between, lavishly fed and in a beautifully decorated setting. My cousin’s house – always impressive – looked like a Hallmark movie set; the photo below is of the hallway, not even the main room! (Should I ever get around to writing a Christmas romance, I might pop back here for inspiration.) There was vegetarian food aplenty (N is also vegetarian, but since one of the daughters of the house was vegan, this proved less tricky than I feared) and the whole day turned out just lovely.

Boxing Day, we did a brief detour to the sales, though my assertion that ‘it’ll probably be quiet’ was way off the mark, as the whole town was packed. Many of the pubs were closed, though – after a late lunch downstairs at the Tyneside because the coffee rooms were closed, we wandered down the Quayside with the plan to meet some friends in the Pitcher and Piano, which of course wasn’t open. Still, we managed a drink in both the Red House and the Head of Steam, and N got to see the Quayside at night, which is never a wasted trip.

Yesterday, we decided to take advantage of the clement weather and take a trip to the coast at Whitley Bay. Of all the things I miss about Brighton, proximity to the sea is the main one, so it was nice to be reminded that I have a stunning coastline just a Metro ride away.

It was also nice to see the recently re-opened Spanish City. I remember it well from my youth, and was sad to see it go into decline, so I was keen to check out this revamped offering. The building has been nicely utilised: a selection of restaurants (a waffle house and patisserie on the ground floor, alongside a restaurant, Trenchers, in the central space, which seems popular for fish and chips, with a fancier restaurant and bar upstairs, and a luxurious space for afternoon tea). In the end, N and I decided to eschew eating there for lunch, venturing to a little cafe round the corner on Marine Avenue that did a nice line in vegetarian tapas. But we did pop back in for an espresso martini – a tradition of ours – to round off the afternoon, and it was lovely to be able to have a fancy drink while looking out over the seafront.

Quayside market and Ouseburn Open

Terrible weather didn’t deter me from taking a wander around Ouseburn open weekend, where lots of the local studios – including The Biscuit Factory and Lime Street Studios – throw open their doors and you get a chance to meet the artists.

It was a lovely event – I could have spent a fortune, but limited myself to a picture and a couple of greeting cards. We also stopped for coffee in Hotel du Vin, which is a great pit stop in the area, in a beautifully repurposed building.

The biggest surprise of all though was the Quayside market. When I was growing up this was mainly somewhere packed with cheap shell suits and (probably) knock off DVDs, but now it is a foodie paradise with a range of great stalls. Definitely one for a return visit!

Happy Halloween!

I was going to have a fun Halloween post for you, since I had plans to go to something at the weekend and go to Alphabetti yesterday for a spooky themed show. Alas, my body had other plans, and I’ve been laid low by a horrible cold. Obviously the sensible thing to do, since moving was so expensive, would be to think, oh well, money saved. Not to spend it on shinies, which is of course what I did. (Though in fairness, the boots were a Tesco bargain and the Tatty Devine necklace, while not super cheap, wasn’t super expensive either).

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