Sending myself a get well tea-mail from Piacha…

black-and-cherry-tea-envelopes-s

I’ve been sick, on and off, for a month. What started out as simply the world’s most disgusting head cold has ambled on as a strength-sapping virus-chest-infection combo. I’ve been working pretty much throughout (thank God I have an employer that is set up to support working from home) but this week the ongoing lurgy cost me a business trip. Things are… irritating. And that’s where tea comes in.

Tea. So much tea. You guys know I love tea, right? And write about my tea love. And you know that I visited Piacha in Islington and loved that too, and then Pia sent me a lovely email saying ‘hey, wanna try our tea subscription service?’ and basically this is the best possible way I can think of to deal with feeling so utterly grotty.

The way it works is that you pick a tea from the website as usual. Then you choose the subscription option instead of a one-off purchase. You’re asked to choose a delivery interval: 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks. You set up payment. Then, on schedule, a foil sachet of tea arrives through your door. That’s it.

english-breakfast-envelopes-s

Being an absolute gem, Pia let me try my first delivery free. I opted for the Shui Xian oolong I tried in our tasting as it’s a lovely rich, nutty, black oolong. There was no question I was ending the subscription there – I’ve now drunk my way through two deliveries of Shui Xian in a bid to sort out my raw throat. I then fancied a change so I have switched the most recent delivery to 40g of beautiful pine needles white tea which is incredibly delicate and fragrant. Cake is now a very occasional treat for me, but my shelf of tea canisters sees me through each day in which I’m apt to drink anything from 2 to 12 cups of teas of varying colour, flavour and caffeine content. My tea shelf is packed with gems from my favourite tea shops (and one weird Disney World Alice in Wonderland weird strawberry flavoured weird tea). Knowing I’ve got a regular delivery coming from one of my most trusted sources is not only reassuring in terms of keeping my tins topped up, but being able to switch around my options means that my tea promiscuity is well catered for – I can be getting hot and heavy with one blend while flirting unsubtly with another.

The small print, as it turns out, is as uncomplicated as the principle. Price varies per tea though all have free UK delivery (with EU and international options) – plus it’s 10% cheaper than buying one off. The cheapest by volume is £5.31 for 75g of loose leaf English Breakfast and the most expensive is £10.62 for a generous 75g bag of Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong – with most at the lower end of the scale. My current delivery is just £4.95 per sachet (albeit a 40g pack). Plus of course many loose leaf teas, including oolong, can stand up to multiple brewings. You can log in and change tea type and delivery interval, or skip deliveries, at any point. I know I’ll be away at Christmas, so have already arranged to skip the relevant deliveries.

ginger-chilli-ls-front-s-2

One tip from me: if you are going to go for it, then do make one further investment if you haven’t already – tea tins. Piacha teas come in lovely foil sealed packs which preserve freshness, but once you’ve torn a pack open, you’ll want to transfer the contents into an airtight tin to keep them smelling and tasting perfect. Should you be able to resist inhaling it all, tea can stay in decent nick in a tin for up to two years.

In a long, frustrating, exhausting month that culminated in the GP announcing “you don’t look well” before I even described the problem (me: “…”) it’s been a massive source of comfort to have black tea and dark chocolate to hand at all times. I’ve always believed in treating myself, but as tempted as I’ve desperately been to sign up to all manner of beauty boxes and nerd subscriptions, I’ve resisted it due to worries that I wouldn’t really want everything I was getting, or it wouldn’t be fair to have a regular delivery that was just for me. But tea… tea I’d definitely drink. And it’s tea I’ve chosen myself, and want to drink. And I can share it with other people! It’s useful. And delicious. And one of my favourite things in the world. Self-justification made easy, my friends.

And with that, I raise my mug to you and hope that the next time you see a post from me it will be with a clean bill of health. I can guarantee there’ll be a fresh cuppa, too.

Disclosure: The lovely Pia of Piacha kicked off my subscription with one entirely free delivery for review, but all deliveries since then have been paid for by me. All thoughts, opinions and words are my own; the pics are courtesy of Piacha.

The top three red lipsticks (that I’m thinking of right now)

I never used to wear red lipstick. Never.

To wear red lipstick was surely to court attention. To assume a certain level of confidence in one’s appearance. To take up visual space.

And then I got over myself. (Or maybe just got older). I drifted down the red lipstick railroad, making stops at some of the suburban outposts like Lipstick Queen’s Medieval and other great red lipsticks for people who are scared of red lipstick. I still like to visit these at weekends. But since then I’ve taken the plunge into central scarlet. I love a rich, matte finish, a painted pillarbox with precise edging and vibrant pigments. If it has just a touch of softness, so much the better.

Here are my current favourites – but, in the words of the Haunted Mansion’s Ghost Host, there’s always room for one more, so I’d welcome any recommendations.

  1. Besame 1941 Victory Red, $22

besame 1941.PNGA fairly new addition to the Besame family, the brighter 1941 shade supplanted even Agent Carter’s 1946 ruby Red Velvet in my affections. A slightly thicker formulation – Besame mixes are forgiving on the lips due to their softness, but messy to apply and a little prone to feathering – it wears better than the Red Velvet and is a better daytime shade, with just a hint of a sheen over a matte base. It’s quite an all-comers shade as I’ve seen it look beautiful on a variety of skin tones and with various hair colours, including my own paradoxical Mediterranean look: deeply dark brown hair with very pale skin. Taking Besame’s advice to apply, blot thoroughly, and re-apply gives it greater staying power, but you’re likely to need a couple of top-ups during the day, particularly if you’re an all-day tea-sipper like me.

The only problem with Besame is it’s very hard to come by in the UK; a very kind friend in LA sent me the Victory Red when it was released, along with a lovely special edition pin which was a launch gift, and I’ll be stocking up on Besame cosmetics when we’re in the US in a few weeks. If you have American pals near a Sephora – or the flagship store in Burbank, California – it might be quicker to beg a favour than wait for the infrequently updated European website to be stocked!

2. Illamasqua Sangers Blood Red, £19.50

illamasqua.PNGThis was a very kind birthday gift from another friend (I pick them super well, do I not?) and I absolutely love it. It’s much more matte than it appears on the website images (though full marks for showing different skin tones), and has a very thick, crayon-like texture which means you feel like you’re applying it with a trowel. It is mildly drying, but it clings on impressively – I rarely have to do much more than a quick post-meal reapplication, and it survives my habitual tea-drinking admirably. The shade is very similar to the Besame, and I have been known to mix them together to take advantage of the more silky feel of the Besame on the skin, without losing the staying power of the Illamasqua.

3. Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Red Carpet Red, £23

I got a handful of CT samples when I bought a foundation and lip pencil from the shop in Covent Garden and this was among them. It is such a beautiful, classic Hollywood shade, with just a hint of softness and sheen so it’s never harsh – like combining a matte lipstick with a touch of highlighter. I immediately popped in again to ‘give it a try’ and wandered around town for the afternoon feeling like an absolute superstar. Because of the price I delayed splashing out on my own tube, but after suffering an epic cold / sinus drama over the last three weeks I needed something to cheer me up, and it had to come home with me this weekend as a post payday treat.

Because I still look bleary, I haven’t yet got a good picture of myself in it – but I’ll be sure to Instagram on both my day-to-day and style ‘grams when I do.

As ever, I hugely welcome tips. I’ve yet to find a shade of pure red I like in the NYX liquid lip ranges, but I feel they should get an honourable mention here are a favourite of mine – an absolute bargain at £5.50 each, so I have three other colours instead.

Disclaimer: None needed – the gifts were from brand-neutral IRL friends, not PRs, and I spent my own cash on NYX and CT!

 

 

BFI London Film Festival 2016: Their Finest (review)

I have never read the source material on which Their Finest is based, Lissa Evans’ 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half. However, I’m going to make a leap and blame the disappointing third act of this adaptation on the fact that it is an adaptation. A cataclysmic event that one cannot reveal for fear of spoilers could be a devastating twist leading to a richly emotional coda on paper; on screen it happens at precisely the wrong moment, melodramatic rather than moving, and a it’s a crying shame because until that moment there was a great deal of promise.

For a start this is a staunchly feminist offering by design, not just because it’s a heavily female-led production. The Second World War offered opportunities to women to step into male-dominated industries in the absence of their menfolk; we think of these largely as mechanical, physical: factories and food production, Rosie doing her riveting. But in 1940 the propaganda machine was also in full flow, and this tale focuses on Catrin Cole, whose facility with the written word leads her into the world of patriotic film production – first on awkward shorts and later on an ambitious, big budget production to win the hearts and minds of the general public and keep them behind the war effort. It’s a film about films, often wry and funny, using a talented and treasured cast to round out the thinner aspects of the characterisation.

Gemma Arterton brings gutsy warmth to Catrin, an approachably genuine mix of hesitance and growing independence. Rachael Stirling’s acerbic and openly lesbian producer and Helen McCrory’s canny agent manage to sidestep excessive stereotyping and steal the show from the sidelines, and it is female characters and female stories that largely drive the action. Sam Claflin is perhaps a little wasted in the mildly unconvincing arc of initially churlish screenwriter Tom Buckley, who spots Catrin’s potential and – occasionally grudgingly – supports her efforts while becoming a complicated potential romantic interest. His curtness is balanced by Bill Nighy’s deliciously hammy declining star with a Norma Desmond ego – a more genteel rehashing  of Love, Actually‘s Billy Mack, but no less watchable for it – who is given an unnecessary but moving subplot involving an ancient bromance with a dog-obsessed struggling agent.

Their Finest has more than that small whiff of Richard Curtis about it; a wartime setting offers ample opportunities for gallows humour alongside genuine tragedy. Director Lone Scherfig (Riot Club) keeps it light as often as possible, and were it not for the sadly uneven final act, this could be added to the list of rousing British romcoms – something I think we do almost excessively well. The development of the potential love triangle should be the emotional core of the film, and given the full space it needed to breathe it could have been a rollicking one. Sadly as things stand, the big bang rather forces the film to go out on a whimper.

Luckily there are still reasons to watch –  the insights into film production of the time, some light relief around a hopelessly wooden war hero pressganged into a patriotic performance to woo American audiences. It’s galling but also satisfying to hear small references to feminist struggles still being overcome (“of course we can’t pay you as much as the chaps…”). And speaking of chaps, the supporting cast is a small galaxy of national treasures – Richard E. Grant, Eddie Marsan, Henry Goodman and even an amusing cameo from Jeremy Irons quoting Henry V; it’s almost distracting in its embarrassment of riches.

Uneven pace and flaws aside, I’m glad Their Finest was made; thematically it’s a story worth telling. I would have liked to love it, but I’ve filed it away for Sunday afternoon TV viewing with one of those cups of tea every other character kept mentioning. I can’t mend its problems, but I can certainly make do.

Disclosure: privately bought ticket for the London Film Festival as a BFI Member. No PR / freebies involved.

BFI London Film Festival 2016: Paterson (review…ish)

How do you make a film compelling

Without conflict, drama or action“?

When a man goes to work every day

And loves his girlfriend

And she loves him?

When a notebook full of gentle poems

Stashed in a pocket as he drives the bus

Is all that he needs to be

Himself?

When the surroundings are suburban

Washed out, simple

Just about real?

When cereal is eaten from a water glass

(No plums in the icebox)

And every morning starts the same

More or less?

When simple symbols repeat themselves

Regularly for two hours

(Circles, twins, circles, twins)?

When he sees things in black and white

(Him and the world, together but separate)

And she makes everything black and white

But sees everything as grey

As possible

(Cupcake queen, country singer)?

When an event of enormous personal significance

Is a broken bus

A toy

A chance conversation

Some paper?

You cast Adam Driver

On whose face the tiniest twitch

The most subtle reaction

Is everything you need to know

And who is capable of being blank

Without being empty.

And to make doubly sure

That everyone is paying attention

You add a bulldog with just enough personality

(Personality goes a long way)

And a wobbly postbox.

paterson.jpg

BFI London Film Festival 2016: La La Land (review)

La_La_Land_(film).pngYou could be forgiven for assuming that Damien Chazelle has a particular focus on making films about music. In fact, what his blistering debut Whiplash and La La Land actually have more closely in common is that they’re both about commitment and conviction. Which is mildly ironic, as there’s not a lot of that in evidence in the latter.

Is La La Land a musical or an homage to musicals with occasional musical numbers? Is it about following your dream, or about how dreams change? Is it a love story, or about two individuals making their own way? I’ve never felt more divided in opinion about a film before, and I trace this back to the divided soul of the film itself, and perhaps moreover down to the divided nature of its auteur: I love the work of Damien Chazelle the director, but when he takes his turn as a writer I struggle.

In fact, I had a similar problem with Whiplash, wherein I could only accept its polished, perfectly timed brilliance once I’d parked my opinion of its premise (that abuse is food for genius). In La La Land, jazz pianist Seb (Ryan Gosling) is a mildly more palatable talent, as he struggles to fulfil his dream of opening a club dedicated to what he believes is a dying form of music. On his journey, he blasts into the life of aspiring actress and writer Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), and their parallel dreams are at the heart of the rest of the story – as is the question of their ability to fulfil them.

At one point, it looks like Seb might be taking the story in an interesting direction; Chazelle circles back again to a previous theme in unpicking whether relationships are bad for creativity, and vice versa, when he introduces Keith (John Legend), who tempts Seb off the path and pays lip service to the idea that media don’t die so much as evolve. Mia attempts to steer things back on course, but at this point it’s hard to know whether that is or isn’t the right thing to do – the evolution of Seb’s dream seems to bring him more pleasure than the original plan ever did – although when Mia also suffers a setback to her plans Seb resolutely bullies her back into action. Is changing a dream an admission of defeat? Is it ‘growing up’? Is that maturity or losing one’s childlike joy? It’s impossible to tell in a tale that doesn’t so much leave things open-ended as, at times, directly contradict itself.

It’s also impossible not to raise one of La La Land‘s other great contradictions. Set in LA – intended, quite clearly, as a love letter to the city of stars – it boasts a massively, realistically diverse supporting cast, and some attention has clearly been paid to recognising the distinctly black roots of jazz as a musical movement. And yet the next step – to make one or both of the protagonists people of colour – wasn’t taken. Only Keith stands out as a memorable supporting character, and yet he still has the whiff of plot device.

I also felt a mild queasy twinge at the differences in character between Seb – brash, rude, insistently bullying Mia into liking jazz by insisting on ‘educating’ her – and Mia – two quicksteps away from ‘feisty’ but saved by Emma Stone’s beautifully judged performance rather than the words on the page. Gosling tries his best to breathe life into a charming mansplainer (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) and mostly succeeds in at least keeping him just attractive enough a prospect to Mia – even if his singing is shaky. Stone, whose breathy soprano is considerably sweeter, evokes a beguiling combination of fragility and determination, with a warmth that reflects that hers is the character who forms better interpersonal relationships. Despite the fact that Seb has a sister and fellow musicians nearby whereas she only has scatty housemates and dour coffee shop colleagues, he deliberately isolates himself and it is only meeting Mia that seems to draw out reluctant flashes of his humanity. I occasionally got the uncomfortable feeling that Mia’s warmth was characterised as a weakness – that it might be what gets in the way of her goals. Later, female professional success is also represented in terms of family stability; in an overly lengthy coda that fantasises about multiple outcomes, there are none that don’t include two becoming three.

But I said before that, just as the film lacks the conviction to nail its message, its characters and even its format down, I also couldn’t say with determination that I didn’t like it. The full-on wide angle approach is beautiful and used consistently and well. Every visual detail down to costume design is lovingly, colourfully rendered. I’m damned if I’m not still humming one of the songs days later. As a vision, La La Land is stunning, and it is this I think that makes me still excited to see what its director does next. If I could immerse myself in an exhibition like this, I’d fail to emerge for days; on film, it’s just the story that gets in the way.

Disclosure: privately bought ticket for the London Film Festival as a BFI Member. No PR / freebies involved.

Redecorating the kid’s bedroom with Dulux part II: the painting

img_2652

But it’s not OK to have such a dreadfully dull wall colour. Not when you’re six, anyway.

So, you might remember we were kindly approached by Dulux to try out some of their Endurance+ range paint as part of their campaign to overhaul kids’ bedrooms and let them be part of the process of creating their personal space – a laudable aim and one which I only put a few parental parameters on (I cannot live with pink, I just can’t).

 

We settled on sunny Vanilla Sundae, a fairly bright yellow, that would add a bit of spark to the room – which doesn’t get much natural light – without being eye-watering. It’s not a big room, just 10′ x 8′ and the ceiling isn’t very high, being a pretty squat 1960s build, so we settled on 5l of paint. We didn’t need to do an undercoat, as the original wall colour was pretty light, but there were some test patches of paint to cover, as you’ll see in the ‘before’ shots. It wasn’t until I had to take those that I realised how embarrassingly drab we’d let the room get; so much so this is about the only ‘before’ photo I can bear to publish. When we first moved in, hurriedly, it was the first room to get a quick dash of paint, a new wardrobe and a pair of curtains, just so we could get our then-toddler settled in. Now a newly minted year 2, with a wall full of certificates for this and that, drawings and posters (Tangled, My Little Pony, Squarehead and Marvel superheroes all represented), the flat calico and basic bed suddenly seemed a pretty poor reflection of the cool, grown-up girl our little dynamo has become.

img_2667

We started with the usual prep and masking off, and she wanted to get stuck in immediately. While we got to work with the rollers, we shoved a paint brush into her hand and got her to go around all the little masked-off bits in the room – around power sockets, thermostats etc – and she started work on the pipes. When we moved in, we had to add a new gas supply to the house, and the copper piping has been exposed ever since, and not in a cool, steampunky sort of way. While the paint is not designed for that particular job, we glopped a generous layer on and it worked surprisingly well.

img_2660

The first coat went on pretty quickly, and were it not for the test patches we might well have got away with one coat as it had very good coverage. We left it for the minimum four hours the tin recommends, before adding another coat; this was a bit trigger-happy, as we created some patchy bits by getting ahead of ourselves (our fault, as it was a fairly damp day, so we should have gone for more than the bare minimum time). After leaving this second coat overnight to dry out thoroughly, we made some touch ups in the morning and… boom. Job done.

Best of all, although we’d packed R off to the grandparents the night before so she wasn’t sleeping in a wet-walled room (just enough time for me to barrell through a fat Sarah J. Maas number), she was able to move straight back in on the Sunday night, since the paint has a very faint smell. While it gives off just a bit of a painty, yeasty vibe, it’s not at all unpleasant or unmanageable, and since none of us are prone to reactions to these things we were all very happy for her to sleep in there with just cracked-open windows to encourage thorough drying. All in all it was an exceptionally easy process – and it turned out that 5l was just spot on for two coats and touch ups – in fact, there’s just enough left in the can for anything else we spot. It’s dried to a lovely even yellow, slightly brighter and deeper than the colour on the can – a really Fluttershy shade.

img_2671

Going just a tad further than we’d requested…

We have more changes to make to her room, including the addition of an amazing Teen Titans Go! wall sticker, though we’ve been advised by the sticker manufacturer to leave newly-painted walls to dry out thoroughly over four weeks before whacking it on. I christened the process by surprising R with a lightbox and letters – with some colourful ones on order too – which I think all adds to the theme of light and colour which we’re really going for. Her new cabin bed was paintstakingly assembled and yes, she does do her homework in there, sat at the pull-out desk from the bed she chose, in the light of a room that is painted in a cheery colour she picked under the purple lampshade that was her preference. While it’s now crowded with boxes and books until we work out the best storage arrangements (hence no photos: I have my pride!), finally the beginnings of her personality are stamped on her own space – a privilege I didn’t realise I’d been denying her.

img_2691

We’re really happy that Dulux gave us a shove over the finish line. I have a plan in my head for our living room now (pale mint green walls, pale grey bookshelves, mustard cushions) but since it involves some purpose-built shelving and a new sofa it might have to wait a year or so for some hardcore saving…

Disclosure: The paint was provided for us by the Dulux team, but everything else down to the rollers and opinons is ours.

“No one just says they love Sam Neill” …and other stories

There’s a sense with blogging that each post ought to have a theme. An SEO-able topic, that kind of runs along a sensible continuum and gives people a reason to read. My blithe dismissal of this on occasion might explain why I’m not a Blogger-with-a-capital-B, but just a…blogger.

Anyway.

The other day I was talking with one of my favourite people and one of my favourite kickass-women-I-admire and the subject of Taika Waititi came up because we all want to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople (and obvs I’m a Thor bore of old). And I said I really want to see it because I really love Sam Neill. Lo laughed and said “no one ever says that! No one ever just goes ‘I really love Sam Neill‘”. And I mean obviously I just did but it’s true. It doesn’t get said in passing conversation nearly enough. The man is the Lord High Master of hey-it’s-that-guy acting – appearing in practically everything, including goddamn Jurassic Park, and yet is not routinely coming up in conversation . He should. This is my manifesto. Also, watch The Dish because it’s all kinds of charming. And if you’ve seen that weird film where he reminisces about his former life as a dog that I caught 20 minutes of in the gym can you explain it to me in the comments? Ta.

While we’re on the subject of hey-it’s-that-guys, my friend Wil has now cooked for Stellan Skarsgard, and this is basically the best thing I’ve ever heard that I’m thinking of right now. This (Stellan, not Wil) is the man whose marvellously oily character made Good Will Hunting watchable! Even if he hadn’t done 100s of other great things, that would be worth the water cooler chat for decades to come. (I know, I know… I just can’t warm to it. I grew up on that other Robin Williams-starring paragon of special snowflakery, Dead Poets Society, and I’m sticking with it. And Josh Charles. To the desk-standing last.)

My brain is very full of stuff at the moment. I’m working on a huge number of different things at work, involved to different degrees. I’m getting ready for a hugely expensive but fun month, with four London Film Festival screenings and a second bite at Letters of Note all happening in a very small space of time. I have many things to pay for, and childcare issues to resolve. I have films to watch and books to read. I have blog posts to write (you all want to know how the painting turned out, don’t you? Well, you should). I have at least three ideas for future businesses I want to run if I can ever figure out how to run a business, and a draft of a book that very, very badly needs rewriting before I can figure out what else I might want to do with it (I’ve booked an Urban Writers Retreat Day to try and deal with a fraction of that).

I need want more dresses with pockets. Or just more dresses.

My hair has decided it’s curly now and I don’t know how to look after curly hair and some days I look like Cher in Moonstruck and other days it’s more like Monica Geller in humidity.

Everything is so… fizzy. I have the privilege of having so much to say and do and think and covet that I cannot get my thoughts into any sort of reasonable order.

Except, apparently, a Sam Neill Manifesto.