Five things that have changed since I started wearing more vintage

Those of you who have read this blog before probably know I’ve become far more into my vintage in the past year – to the point of writing all about how it’s not impossible for bigger girls to do so.

I don’t wear vintage – or even repro – every day. I don’t stick to a particular decade, either, though I’m broadly mid-century. But bit by bit, I wear more and more vintage or retro pieces or shapes, and it’s started to have an effect on me in ways I didn’t necessarily anticipate. I’ve noticed quite a few things are changing. For example…

My hair

All the hairpins at the Tomorrowland premiere

All the hairpins at the Tomorrowland premiere (with the ruffle of a 40s dress just visible under my Haunted Mansion scarf…)

As a child, my hair was straight. As an adult it is still straight… up to about the tops of my ears, at which point it suddenly turns into tumbling ringlets, as if mirroring the kind of vertiginous take off and stomach-churning spirals I always avoid in a theme park ride. But it is also very fine, breaking easily and up until recently it was only through copious usage of L’Oreal Elvive Fibrology Shampoo that I could get it to do anything at all.

Then my vintage-enabling friend (her again! I love her) suggested a bit of pincurling. Now… I love me a luscious set of Victory Rolls – more at the side than the front; that sort of hair-bagel fringe thing unsettles me – but I’m also well aware of my lack of both talent and patience when it comes to hair styling – not to mention being very wary of using harsh or heavy products on my special snowflake tresses. Still, there are plenty of ways to pull off a bit of vintage inspired pincurling while still rocking a more modern look – usually by flattening the curl against the scalp and securing loosely with just one or two pins. I even experimented with popping on a scarf and sleeping in them once, though naturally the only time I ever pull off impressive mid-century glossy curls afterwards is when I pin up carelessly at 6am out of bad hair day desperation, leave it in all day and am quickly unpinning just before bed – so only my husband sees it. Typical.

Moody face is moody.

Moody face is moody.

Best of all, my hair has much more volume since I started pinning it regularly; constantly lifting the hair at the root but not pulling it into a hairband means it seems to have more body through the crown. I use a touch of curl-supporting mousse if I’m leaving it to air dry, or a bit of straightening heat protector if I’m blow drying (the curls half fall out under a hairdryer, so I tend to blow dry straight). If I’m pincurling for all day, I will usually liberally spritz on some super strong hairspray, which keeps in the curls after unpinning but also has a slightly drying effect which can increase volume too – though it’s perhaps not as great for the hair.

One of my typical pinned looks can be seen in this very moody post-theatre shot in Angel – I <3 that 1960s gold lurex frock, too.

My makeup / skincare routine

I’m not sure this can entirely be attributed to wearing more vintage, but the fact is when you’re wearing a nice dress you do seem to end up wanting to do up your face to match. I do, anyway. I’ve never been big on heavy foundations etc, and I’ll probably do a separate post on my experiments with BB creams and the like to achieve a smooth but not heavily made up look. I have, however, branched out into richer, more colourful lipsticks; I’ve wanted to for a LONG time, but somehow didn’t really have the confidence to go for it until I was more confidently owning my whole look(s).

With that, came the desire to properly remove strongly pigmented reds and more regularly painted on eye flicks from my face every night, as opposed to cleansing a bit more… haphazardly. Again, I’ll likely blog separately about my favourites and things I’m trying out, but I will say that Clinique’s Take The Day Off balm cleanser and Pixi Glow Tonic are both permanent features.

My shoes

There’s a scale of soul-sapping shopping experiences for every person, I think. For me, jeans were near the top until I discovered Uniqlo and Lady K Loves, who fulfil my high street and retro needs perfectly respectively. The current second place on the list belongs to coat shopping, which is nearly impossible (like the old joke, you can have something fast, good and cheap if you pick two; with coats it’s seemingly impossible to go for stylish, properly warm and decent length all that the same time). Shoes are – have always been – at the very top. As a child my feet were wide and flattish, and I ended up with arch supports; as an adult, I’ve inherited the b-word (can’t say it, too hideous) from my father’s side of the family and everything that isn’t a super-cushioned trainer will hurt eventually. I don’t really go for heels heels (at almost 5’9″ I’ve long been told I ‘don’t need to’, as if height is all that heels are for), so the majority of my footwear BV (Before Vintage) was trainers or plain, flat Ecco boots and the odd pair of low heels worn mainly indoors to reduce pain.

But I simply can’t wear a pretty, tight-fitting pencil dress and clumpy boots.  There are women who would WORK that look; I’m not one. So, gradually, my shoe collection has expanded. I’ve found a small number of Sensible Shoe Brands that don’t look quite as orthopaedic as they feel in various heel heights up to 3″ (Ecco features quite a lot, as do some M&S wider fit and the occasional Clarks). Each has had to go through a staggered, extensive and plaster-ridden breaking in programme, and each has had to be fully justified as to a regular, recurring role in my wardrobe or it’s simply not worth the effort.

The sporty slip-ons. The gold ballet flats that go with virtually anything. The 6-year-old M&S brown shoe-boots still being pressed into regular service. My first pair of clogs which were chosen specifically for the stretchable leather and are still undergoing the foot-moulding process. Some high-school Geography teacher sandals (sorry Ms. Hall, but you know it’s true). I was overjoyed when my mum gave me these super soft Parex summer peep-toes which didn’t fit her comfortably but worked on me and erred on the side of retro rather than retirement. Gradually, all the types of shoe I thought I’d have to give up on for good are working their way back in, largely due to the freedom of going for more old-fashioned designs (because they go much better with my old-school or just plain old clothing). By changing my look, I have more scope to once again be both comfortable and stylish.

I’m not quite ready for Hotter yet, though. I’ll get there.


My undergarments

I swore blind I was never going to wear a slip. I grew up observing my mum’s very 1960s approach to layers, which always, always includes a simple slip because she never wears trousers. I am always cold, so I don’t mind an extra layer, but I’ve spent years trying to come to terms with properly fitting, snug clothes and I wasn’t about to go adding an extra layer of BULK.

Except I’m an idiot, because slips do anything but. In fact, every dress looks sleeker and better with the addition of a basic slip – I prefer cotton, but also have non-static artificial fibres and they’re very slinky too. They’re also a dead cheap undergarment to buy, unlike bras.

And speaking of bras… look. If you’re buying a dress made to fit over bullet bras and girdles then the least you’re going to have to do is embrace the pointy boob look. If you head strait for vintage favourite What Katie Did (and I suggest you do) please read their fitting advice. Old-style bras do not contain elastic, and therefore your usual back size may well be out by up to 4″, which has a knock-on effect as cup size is not static but relative to the back measurement (if you didn’t know, 32A, 34B, 36C and 38D are all the exact same cup size – it’s the broadness of the back that’s different and may in turn make the bust appear bigger or smaller). It is simply incredible how much better a 1950s fit and flare dress looks when you put the right body architecture under it. This is nothing to do with being bigger here or “flattering” there – it just makes your body shape correspond much better to the darts and lines in the cut.

My feelings about myself

I’ve mentioned before that buying clothes by measurement, rather than by massively variable size, has a quite extraordinary effect in helping to divorce clothes from self-worth. I can’t pretend that I look in the mirror and love every bit of me every day, but I do know that I can be a fair bit more dispassionate than I used to be – and that I feel far more confident sharing photos of myself, trying new looks out and generally taking up space. It’s not something, I think, that can only be attributed to vintage – I’ve also come a long way professionally and personally in the last few years, and being a mum does seem to automatically reduce the number of, erm, ducks you give about anyone else’s opinion – but starting to more carefully select the way I look and what that says about me to the world is weirdly powerful. It feels like all this is a bit fluffy until you say it out loud and think: well, what could be more important for a sense of self than to afford it a language of expression? I feel very privileged that I have both the means of attaining this language and a crowd of family, friends and colleagues who are receptive and supportive, which I don’t think one can take for granted… but now I am sounding a bit melodramatic, so we’ll draw a line there.

I’d love to know if anyone reading this (is anyone reading this?!) has felt the same in taking those first steps into the vintage world and presenting themselves differently. Or are you a longtime addict who can relate to any of this? Or perhaps you just think this is very personal to me, rather than in any way universal. Whichever way, it would be great to hear what you think.

No disclosure: there are no PR samples or gifts included. L’Oreal has been a client of my workplace; never one of mine.

Red lipsticks for people who fear red lipstick

Mother and daughter make faces. There is also a lipstick in here somewhere.

Mother and daughter make faces. There is also a lipstick in here somewhere.

My name is Alex, and for years I feared red lipstick.

There are a whole lot of reasons for this. Some  of these issues could be resolved simply by finding the right lipstick – like a shrubbery it has to be a nice one, not too expensive – but others I just needed to get over (like being noticed and taking up space and wearing things because I like them and not because it’s expected, or not, as the case may be). Anyway, I now have a few red lipsticks that I love, and that do not generate The Fear, and I thought maybe they might help those who also face internal reticence about being brazenly scarlet-lipped in public.

Some of these I actually use and swear by myself; others are on my to-try list and I look forward to any comments telling me your thoughts if you’ve already dared to branch out.

Tried & Tested

1. Lipstick Queen in Medieval




So, this is barely a lipstick and more of a sheer lipstain. It’s like a gateway drug to hardcore red lipsticks, but thoroughly addictive in and of itself. Plus, being a sheer colour that you can layer as brightly or subtly as you like, it suits practically everyone and basically just deepens your natural lip colour, with a hint of shine. Lipstick Queen is not particularly affordable, with shades like this at about £20-25 a pop (and Velvet Rope – more on this in a moment – at a squeak-inducing £35), but I found a trio of their finest for £20 on Amazon and snapped them up while I was feeling flush.

2. Boots No 7 Stay Perfect in Love Red




My first go-to red and for a while my only red (hence looking a little battered). It’s a pure pillarbox shade without a hint of orange, which is just as well as I tend on the very pale olive side with dark hair – which means I generally need to tread carefully with olive. I’ve seen this look great on a variety of girls with very different skin tones to me, so I think it’s a bit of an all-purpose winner. And at £9.95 and available in any Boots, much easier to try and / or buy.

3. L’Oreal Color Riche Collection Eva’s Pure Red 




Having just said that, this is one of the few shades with a hint of coral I’ve found I’ve been able to pull off – even though my skin tone is some distance away from Eva Longoria’s (it’s the one in the photos of us gurning). A brick-ish red which tends to last; after a good 10-hour run I did find it was starting to bleed slightly though it was still clinging on well for the most part. An astonishingly bargainous £6.99, and if there’s a 3-for-2 type offer, J-Lo’s nude shade is also very lovely.

Next Up…

4. Lipstick Queen Velvet Rope in Black Tie

I haven’t yet made the jump to spending £35 on a lipstick, but I’m working up to it. My fine and very beautiful friend Jen recommends it as the go-to, badass, effortlessly light, moisturising and incredibly persistent lip colour she goes back to any time she wants to basically take on the world and win. I can’t really argue with that.

5. Besame 1946 Red Velvet

This is one I’m definitely going to try as soon as possible – just waiting for it to arrive from another country after a friend kindly picked up some for me when it sold out for a while here.  A vintage-inspired shade, it’s the very lipstick used on Hayley Atwell in Marvel’s Agent Carter (hence selling out) – which gives you a pretty good idea of what a pure, deep red it is. Also, there are few entertainment-related things on this earth I love more than Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. And if you happen to have similar colouring it should give you an idea how it will look (not as cool as her because no-one possibly could be, but close enough).  30EUR ordered direct from Besame’s European site; best to try and nab some before season 2…

6. MAC Russian Red

Beloved of vintage hounds everywhere and recommended by this ‘ere sultry temptress, this is apparently near immovable and a very true red. I’ve always found MAC stores to be a bit overwhelming, but many of my beauty-loving friends swear by a whole host of their products. Also, they’ll famously swap you a brand new lipstick for free for every six empties you return for recycling. Maybe I need to try more than one shade… after all, I’ve heard good things about Lady Danger, too. £15.50

If there are any more than should go on my list, I’d love to hear about them – so please do comment away.

No disclosure needed; no gifts or PR samples included here. L’Oreal has worked with my employer, but I have never worked on that account.

Hamlet at the Barbican. Yes, that Hamlet.

I don’t think I’ve ever waited 15 months to see a play before.

Films yes – I can spend an extraordinarily long time waiting for those – and books… well, let’s just say I really hope Pat Rothfuss is in a writing mood this month (though I know he’s not my thingy).

Anyway, 15 months it has indeed been and finally, finally we got to take our seats for one of the most talked-about theatrical experiences in London in recent years. So I feel like – if for no other reason than the epic wait – I should plop down a few thoughts about what I saw.

I was fully expecting an excellent central performance, and I got it. One friend had said she was concerned Benedict Cumberbatch would have too much gravitas – frankly, be a little too old? – to play the university-aged prince of Denmark, but actually when he’s adopting his own tones and not Sherlock’s moody baritone he does, anyway, sound younger (although it is in Sherlock, I think, that we see proof that childish peevishness is well honed in his repertoire). And his finely honed sense of the ridiculous is simply perfect here. But what I wasn’t quite expecting was the set.

Holy mother of set design.

When we were last at the Barbican, for Richard II (I swear I do go and see plays that star people other than nerd heroes, promise), the staging was so spare; a huge space to fill – and a difficult one to dominate – it was all simple chains and metal walkways. This time the halls of Elsinore unfold and… well, I won’t give too much away for those watching in cinemas or with tickets still to be used. But I couldn’t not comment. As a character, the palace itself almost overwhelms the action; that we were quite near the back and all occasionally struggled to hear Ciaran Hinds’ Claudius probably only made the detailed construction and beautiful lighting all the more obvious.

So… was it worth the 15 month wait? Damn right it was. And now I look ahead into a week of London Film Festival screenings already beginning to feel hints of the sadness afterwards when all the fun is over.

Although after Hamlet, Suffragette, Trumbo and High Rise, some form of therapy might be required…

Five things that make having an only child wonderful

It’s a question that, inevitably, anyone whose first child has reached two or more, will hear: “are you planning another?”

My answer will differ depending on who’s asking, because if it’s someone I know and like – and luckily it usually is – they’ll get a fuller response whereas if it’s not they’ll get a polite shutting down of the conversation (my womb is not public property, which is why you’re also not going to get the answer here). But invariably what follows is a discourse on whether having an only child is ‘fair’. I’m not going to go into all the things I found – shall we say – problematic in this well-meaning but rather weird article, for example but I do think it’s a sterling example of the job lot of assumptions – from ‘selfishness’ to a ‘lack of peers’ – that are very common when people talk about only children. I’m actually not one, but I am married to one, and right now my daughter is one too.

So here, with tongue tucked just a little bit in cheek, are my five best things about having one child.

Money Money Money

Unquestionably, there is more of it to go around. In a household with two working parents, who already have to rely some of the time on very obliging grandparents, budgets are tight and childcare is at a premium. Three afternoons a week of a childminder and a full five-week summer camp – not to mention holiday costs, uniform, school visits and trips, general household bills and the size of the property we live in (and therefore the mortgage we pay) – add up. The added costs of just one more child can radically change your lifestyle, and we really like ours where it is.

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!

I have no idea where the selfishness thing comes from. As my friend Anna once said, “only a child with a sibling knows the exact mid-point of a Mars bar”. People assume that – a bit like manners, or liking vegetables – sharing has to be practiced or you won’t know how to do it. But sharing is something us social human creatures only seem to object to when we’re forced to do it. Think about it: what feels better, offering your seat to someone on the Tube or being asked for it? Both husband and child are considerably more natural and happy sharers than I am, because they’ve routinely had the security of knowing their stuff is their stuff. Not communal stuff. Not a hand-me-down. Not limited to ten-minute turns. Then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a single adult where I could tell if they had siblings or not by how ‘selfish’ they were. I suspect it makes no difference at all, but if I had to argue for more selflessness on one side, it would be in favour of the only child.

The Winner Takes It All

Having said that, I’ll tell you what I’m overwhelmingly glad my daughter doesn’t have to share: a bed. On holiday  (particularly in the US) it’s frequently the case that you’ll encounter hotels that have two double beds per room – and she gets it all to herself. No squabbling, no problem. I don’t have to share with her, as I did with my mum until my sister and I could be trusted to actually sleep and not have a kicking contest, and she never has to wake up freezing cos her sibling has made a burrito out of the bedding (naming no names, sister mine). If there is only one bed, she’ll slip happily into a single roll-out camp bed.

Knowing Me Knowing You

I think the “what about their peers” argument is closely related to the anti-homeschool argument, though I’m not a homeschooler myself. There’s this assumption that if kids don’t have another child at home or don’t spend all day every day with at least 15 other kids of the same age (because in the workplace we’re all segregated by age and ability all the time), that means they’ll never have any friends. There are no cousins, no friends at school / clubs / swimming lessons, no family friends and relatives, no neighbours and absolutely no other opportunities to socialise with other kids. At all. Ever. Right? And we all know that having absolutely no personal space or way to get away from the person who’s driving you round the bend is very conducive to healthy friendships, and siblings never, ever argue. Ahem.

Also, might there not be something to be said – particularly, again, with two working parents who are out of the house a lot – for having a guarantee of your parents’ undivided attention? I can tell you that, for me, spending more time one-to-one (and less time refereeing) is a really precious gift; one I don’t take for granted. No, I don’t get to see those loving sibling moments – though I’ve seen some downright adorable cousin moments – and I only get one amazing small friend rather than two or more; my loss, indeed. But the flipside of that is that jealousy is a rare emotion in this house (except when the cat monopolises my lap for too long) and I only have one set of tantrums to handle.

My Love My Life

The fact is that I breathed a bit of a sigh of a relief when the baby milestones were done. I adored my daughter at all her stages: tiny, scrunched and helpless, snoozing on my chest; chewing her feet and making da-da-da sounds; taking her first wobbly steps. I hated potty training with a vengeance, but I celebrated with her when she nailed it, and I delighted in dispensing with nappies and bedtime pullups. I really, really, really love having an older child now, with whom I can have conversations, properly read books, watch films in the cinema, go to museums, travel and go out and about without the sponge shaped like a teddy bear and the teddy bear shaped like a sponge. I can also let her go for grandparent sleepovers without concerns – albeit not without missing her – and have more date nights, theatre trips and catch ups with friends.

Having one child – unless your first two children are twins – necessarily means reducing the length of time that you are parent of an infant; even if you have them back to back, each time you’re tacking on another year of those moments. And they’re beautiful, and wonderful and you do them willingly and sometimes you marvel in them but – to my mind – they’re not as good as the much more fully rounded person you get a few years down the line. (See? Told you I was the selfish one.)

When all is said and done, there are some serious things to be said about the only child discourse – including how hurtful it must be for people who did not choose to have one child but were forced into it by circumstance. And of course there are some very wonderful things to say about having more than one child, as many of my friends and family do. But just for once I wanted to celebrate the advantages – material, practical and emotional – that come with being a mum of one.

Whether or not I’ll stay that way… well, that’d be telling.

Jewish Museum London: Tiger, Mog and Pink Rabbit – A Judith Kerr Retrospective



I’m ashamed to say I’ve never visited the Jewish Museum in Camden before. I mean, I’m not actually Jewish, but that’s a terrible reason (arguably a greater impetus to visit in fact), and my husband is and therefore our child has Jewish heritage. Two of my friends have worked there (one still does). But this post isn’t about how I’m a terrible person; it’s about how I’m a ludicrously emotional person.

What finally shoved me through the doors was this small but beautifully curated exhibition of the work of Judith Kerr. I don’t know of a child who didn’t grow up on The Tiger Who Came to Tea; it was one of Ramona’s first memorised books, that she’d ‘read’ to me before she knew which word was which. It has charm, more than a touch of the bizarre, lovely touches of mundane realism that ground it and, most of all, gorgeous illustrations – the deft work of a talented woman who is still announcing new work at the age of 92.

Kerr was very nearly silenced before she started. Fleeing Nazi persecution in childhood, her family ended up in the UK via Switzerland (see what ‘migrants’ can offer? Not that it should matter whether they turn out to be artistic genius or not; human beings are always human). Here she has been ever since, and both the famous Tiger and her series of Mog books based on the adventures of her gorgeous tabby have won and broken the hearts of three generations of children (and their parents). I finally read Goodbye Mog for the first time, at Ramona’s insistence, sitting in the museum, in a giant cat bed. I cried and the beginning, and I cried at the end, and Ramona gave me a gentle cuddle and then sprang off to see more.

The four sections of the exhibition take in Kerr’s childhood, with a smattering of her youthful works of art – and a funny aside about how she failed the book illustration module of her first formal art training because she was so focussed on painting – leading into the more serious side of her work through novels such as When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. More teary eyes.

Suddenly, you turn right into Sophie’s kitchen, where a Tiger sits, devouring the all the sandwiches on the plate and all the tea in the teapot. Yep, as I sat in Sophie’s Daddy’s armchair, and tried on Sophie’s Mummy’s orange coat – Ramona in Sophie’s red one – I cried some more. I’m ridiculous.

Finally, kids can crawl through a cat door (adults don’t have to) into Mog’s world, and dress up as her as they curl up in her bed and have a catnap. Perfect.

Although we missed it, there is daily storytime at 10:30 while the exhibition is on, and there are arts and crafts workshops and activities available at other times. I’m absolutely gutted that I missed the opportunity to book a slot at Kerr’s talk – in person! – about her work.

The exhibition continues until mid-October. Entry to the recently beautifully rebuilt museum is £7.50 for adults and £3.50 for children (5-16) with concessions and family tickets available. That of course includes access to the rest of the museum too, which is rich with all aspects of Jewish history; the Holocaust, yes, of course, because how could it not be, but also the reality of Jewish life today, and Jewish practice in real homes of varying observance. It’s a gorgeous, airy, space and I intend to go back and explore properly, possibly without an overexcited 5yo, on another occasion. A note: the museum is open on Saturdays, which is when we went, but due to the kosher licence the cafe does not operate during Shabbat.

No disclosure needed – although I do have a friend that works there she had no idea I was going!

Travel: Stockholm with School-Age Kids – Overview

Gorgeous, even on a grey day

Gorgeous, even on a grey day

We recently got back from a fabulous end of school break to Sweden’s sometimes-sunny capital, Stockholm. Despite its reputation as an expensive city, we found that with a little bit of budget planning it was a great value family destination – and despite the unreliable and variable weather, still a really beautiful city packed with architectural gems for the grown-ups to sigh over.

I’ll be breaking down a few individual recommendations for places in separate posts and sharing more photos, but if this is a destination you’re thinking of going to with kids, here are some reasons to make the leap and book away. If you’re not somebody I know IRL, then it might be helpful to know that ours is a family of three with a 5yo who starts Year 1 in September.

1. Family-friendliness and fun

Snaking her way through Skansen

Snaking her way through Skansen

Kids are welcome everywhere in Stockholm, and there’s loads for them to do.  For the most part (unless – like Junibacken or Skansen – it’s particularly aimed at children), they get in free to museums and the youngest travel free on both public and some private transport. Attractions have children’s menus, and ordinary cafes and restaurants we went to were very relaxed about making minor modifications to freshly prepared food – eg leaving off dressings – to accommodate children’s requests.

As previously mentioned, there are attractions that are specifically aimed at children; I’ll write about the amazing Astrid Lindgren story centre, Junibacken, separately as well, but it’s an absolute must do. With a permanent play village based on classic Swedish children’s literature and a play house designed after Pippi Longstocking’s Ville Villekulle, it’s an absolute joy.

To make matters even more perfect, this year it’s host to an amazing 70th anniversary Moomin Valley play village, complete with Moominmama’s house, the tiny carousel from Who Will Comfort Toffle?, darting fish in the river by Snufkin’s boat, fruit falling from the trees and a glowing campfire for the grownups to sit around while the kids go mad.

Another one for the to do list is the huge outdoor cultural centre / museum / zoo, Skansen, at which it’s all too easy to lose a whole day – or at the very least half of one – meandering about.



Both of these – plus the famous Vasa museum and quite a few others – are on the royal park island of Djurgården which is very easy to get to from central Stockholm – another consideration with kids. If you’re staying near the main waterfront it’s a short ferry ride or a few miles’ walk.

Most of all, if you’re not linguistically blessed – my husband and I are both bilingual but in different languages, neither of them remotely Nordic – the stress of trying to navigate overseas is drastically reduced by the fact that everyone speaks English very well and even announcements on the commuter trains are made in Swedish and English as a matter of course.

More great suggestions – including ones for libraries that I really wish we’d had a chance to try – are in this budget-conscious Guardian article.

2. Food

Meatballs. Because of course.

Meatballs. Because of course.

Stockholm is a busy capital city, and as such every kind of food – and price point – is represented. As a family with a young child we often couldn’t plan lunchtime restaurant meals so ate in the museums, and found the quality to be high. The costs are roughly equivalent to London (eg a meal for three with cooked dishes in a museum cafe was around 400SEK or £30, but there were plenty of cheaper city-based cafes, fast food restaurants and tea houses). However, the quality was very decent and the quantity substantial, even for kids.

Afternoon tea at Chaikhana in the Galma Stan (old town)

Afternoon tea at Chaikhana in the Galma Stan (old town)

Our hotel also had a fulsome breakfast buffet, and you might find you end up eating a bit more often, particularly if you go in for the Swedish fika (afternoon coffee and cake break), but with local traditional foods such as open shrimp sandwiches, meatballs, pancakes and sweet, bready cinnamon rolls, you certainly won’t be short of things to tempt even the fussiest eater.

As for me, I was knee deep in bread and crackers – my carb-heavy happy place – and am pretty sure that after five days I was around 67% knackebrod (crispbread).

3. Transport

Ferrying to and fro

Ferrying to and fro

Cars are definitely not needed as Stockholm is a very walkable – and what isn’t is catered for by boats, trains, taxis and buses. It’s a city of mainland and islands, linked by bridges and boats, Djurgården being, as I said, the one you’ll want to spend the most time on, as it includes the Vasa museum, Junibacken, Skansen, the Tivoli amusement park (we didn’t go in but it did not look suitable for the faint-hearted!) and many more museums and galleries.

I already mentioned that Djurgården is very walkable from the mainland, and we did it in 40 minutes from our hotel which was opposite the bridge into the old town (a distance of a little over 2 miles, but with short legs accompanying us!). If anyone in the party is not up to walking or you just want the fun of the ferry, a one-way crossing is about 50SEK per person – free for under 5s, and reduced for older kids – or an all day “Hop On, Hop Off” boat pass starts at 175SEK per adult; or there are combined bus and boat options if you plan to cover a lot of ground. I would note here that I didn’t see any easy accessibility options on the boat – certainly if we’d had my mum, who uses a wheelchair, with us we’d have had to go for a commuter boat instead – but you can fold and pop a buggy on the deck.

Vasa. No pictures - and certainly none from an amateur's iPhone - can do this vast beauty justice.

Vasa. No pictures – and certainly none from an amateur’s iPhone – can do this vast beauty justice.

You can also get combined deals with the My Stockholm Pass, which includes a lot of attractions and dining discounts. We felt it was better value to pay individually – the concierge at our hotel pointed out you needed to be able to go to at least 2-3 attractions a day to make it worth it – but it depends on how much you’re intending to do.

A transport tip: Stockholm’s Årlanda airport is quite a way out from Stockholm itself; you’ll be encouraged to pick up the Årlanda Express, a 20-minute fast train straight into Stockholm Central Station, from the Sky City train station between Terminals 4 and 5. However, hop on the SL commuter train at the same station and it’s about 100SEK cheaper per person, per trip to the very same destination – and it only takes 18 minutes longer.  The trains were clean, spacious and easy to navigate, since everything is in English and Swedish. (Note: On the way out, you need the Uppsala train.)

4. Perfect for short breaks

SAS has a sense of humour

SAS has a sense of humour (meals part of an upgraded ticket, plus lounge access & fastpass security)

While sometimes the whole joy of a family holiday is in being able to go away together for a good long time – whether to Dorset or Disney World – both budgets and the constraints of annual leave and school holidays can render shorter breaks more desirable. The flight is around 2 hours out and a little more back, and that allows you to really maximise time – we arrived at lunchtime on Monday and left on Friday evening so we had pretty much the whole five days to play with.

On budget – our 5 day break in the last week of July including upgraded flights, 4* hotel and spending money came in at around 80% of the cost of our mid-September 3-key hotel break at Disneyland Paris (and that was in 2013 with the 2 days and nights free option thrown in). Now while that’s not exactly cheap, we were lucky to be able to take the opportunity to blow out a bit, and did. Using options like Air BNB, booking cheaper flights, minimising our trinket shopping and planning our meals a bit more carefully, we could have made it a substantially cheaper break. Also, had it just been me and him going we could have hit the highlights in fewer days – as it was, we dropped the pace to a 5yo’s, and stuck to one attraction and a walk around the Gamla Stan (gorgeous but touristy medieval old town) every day.

In sunny moments, there are few more gorgeous places.

In sunny moments, there are few more gorgeous places.

In all, Stockholm was definitely one of our favourite family breaks to date. Our daughter declared that, while nothing could beat Florida, this was her second favourite holiday ever – high praise indeed considering the distinct differences between a city break and a theme park extravaganza. She particularly enjoyed knocking around the old town and developed such a fondness for the Chaikhana tea house (she’s her mother’s daughter) that we ended up making three visits. Even though we ended up caught in a couple of deluges, she really enjoyed pottering around the city and exploring, and it made it a very relaxing break for us adults too.

Are you tempted? I, for one, can’t wait for an excuse to go back.

Brown rice porridge: one cup of rice, four sweet and savoury meals

Ready, set, porridge

Ready, set, porridge

Since I started experimenting with savoury porridge using oats, I knew at some point I was going to bother to try a proper, hearty rice porridge too. It is a little tiny bit of bother in the sense that it takes quite a long time to be ready; on the other hand, it needs relatively little intervention other than a quick stir every so often, so I popped it on while working from home and my husband (also working from home; he takes the kitchen while I commandeer the living room) kindly checked on it every so often while I tapped feverishly at my keyboard.

It’s tempting to whisper the word ‘congee’ here, and this take is certainly a closer relative than oats; however, as I used the only wholegrain rice I had to hand – which was basmati – it’s still not in the immediate family. Also, plenty of people make congee with white rice. Still, the principle is the same: a slow(ish) cooked rice porridge which swells the grains way past what’s desirable in a normal bowl of rice, and makes the starchy liquid a thick soupy sauce. How runny you want to go is entirely up to you.

Lining up the toppings

Lining up the toppings

The ratio I used was 1 UK cup of rice to 6 parts water, plus a dash of salt; I brought it to the boil and then simmered on a low heat for an hour or so. It was running a bit dry sooner than I wanted so I added another cup and continued for 10-15 minutes after that. You will find different ratios all over the internet, up to twice that water (and cooking time). You can only experiment with the time and patience you have. Also, yes, some sites suggest you can use your slow cooker, so do some digging.

I could have used stock or more elaborately flavoured the water, but I wanted to make both sweet and savoury dishes. I would definitely recommend using stock if you’re going for only savoury (it’s a richer flavour) but it will still be delicious without. For sweet you could include coconut or almond milk, but you don’t have to as brown rice has a natural sweetness (where do you think rice malt syrup comes from?).

So how four meals? Well, that one cup made four decent-sized individual servings of porridge, and as I’m not averse to reheating rice for the adults in the family (no, I don’t risk it with our daughter; yes, I know it’s not advisable but living on the edge here, obviously) my husband and I both had some for lunch and then I went on to have more for dinner – brinner, actually – and the last helping for lunch the next day.

Steamy goodness

Steamy goodness

Meals 1 & 2: Leftover chicken

My husband had roasted a chicken the day before, so I shredded 150g of cooked breast and stir fried this in a little coconut oil with fresh chilli, smoked garlic, mushrooms, spinach and courgettes.

To finish, I added some toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of ketjap manis, and fed us each a gloriously filling and warming dish that took less than fifteen minutes of prep and cooking time to assemble.

Who doesn't love breakfast as dinner?

Who doesn’t love breakfast as dinner?

Meal 3: Fruity brinner

I fancied something sweeter and brought the rice back to the boil on the hob with a splash of almond milk. I sliced a small apricot, a pair of strawberries and a couple of raspberries and added them to the now-sweet porridge along with a dollop of crunchy peanut butter and a little under a teaspoon of chia seeds (they add texture and tend to absorb liquid, making them quite filling).

Meal 4: Holy mackerel

I had some mackerel fillets in the fridge looking a little desperate, so while the porridge got nuked I quickly fried one in coconut oil, then used the same pan to toss around a hodge-podge of the tail ends of some 4-for-£4 packs of veggies that were going bendy in the fridge (in this case broccoli, sugar snap peas, spinach and samphire). While this tasted delicious it turned out less than beautiful, so you’re denied photographic evidence!

A 1kg bag of the rice I used costs £4.95 in my local supermarket. A cup being about a fifth of  a bag, each one of these meals cost a base of just 25p and if you use plain water it can become both main meal and a rice pudding-y, porridge-y dessert. Then it’s a question of using up anything in the fridge – poached eggs would be amazing – to go on top, and you can put as much or as little effort as you like or have time for.  Also, they’re all suitable for gluten free diets, and even the one including three types of whole fruit was still remarkably low fructose.

The next taste test will be my daughter – she’s very, very specific about porridge, which she usually likes super plain, so I’ll have to just let her taste mine and see how we go – but since it’s essentially more of a texture than a flavour I have hopes of winning her over.

Clearly I’m not breaking any new ground here – rice and oat porridges have been staple foods since these forms of agriculture was developed and continue to be eaten very widely globally – but as they’re often sidelined to very specific uses in UK households I’m enjoying playing around with flavours and textures I’ve basically ignored for years. And given the reactions of some people I’ve talked about this with, I don’t think I’m the only one. Time to bring back appreciation for some classics, I reckon.