Christmas birthday blues

I find the prospect of my birthday very stressful. Apart from the getting older thing, which is basically inevitable no matter how much I spend on moisturiser, there’s the stress of allowing my husband to buy a present for me, and there’s the stress he feels when trying to pick out a present for me, which also stresses me out.

When your birthday is four days before Christmas, you only get one chance during the entire year to be spoiled by loved ones, so every year I agonise over a carefully prepared list of possibilities, which I then compile into a PowerPoint slide with costs, places to buy, and recommended turnaround time, and email this to my husband. Is that strange?

After I’ve passed the presentation on to him, I find at least 5 different items that I’m sure I would like more, and should have put on my list, but of course it’s too late because I don’t want to provide too much information otherwise I’ll just confuse him. I call this birthday-list remorse. Still with me?

And then, there’s the fact that, no matter where we go for dinner, we’ll most likely have to eat off a Christmas menu, which will have very limited choices and invariably include turkey, even if it’s an Indian or Chinese restaurant. I really don’t see the point of paying more money for less choice.

This is why I’ve compiled the following list.

5 ways to console yourself if you’re born near Christmas or New Year:

Enjoy faster rail travel to London
The new and improved rail service starts this month – I’m going down to London next week, and it will only take 4.5 hours. Flying can easily take that long if you include getting to the airport, waiting in the queues, waiting in the departure lounge, waiting while your flight is delayed, the actual flight time, waiting for your bags, and getting from Heathrow to central London. And of course, on a train you aren’t limited to 50ml bottles of liquid, which leads me to number 2:

Drink champagne
In The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe spent her birthday drinking a bottle of champagne in the bath. I heartily endorse this practice, and as a Christmas baby, I get to buy my birthday champagne at a discounted price, as places like Oddbins and Sainsbury’s are offering all sorts of deals on fizz at the moment.

Eat italico paesano with a bottle of Barolo
As we won’t be struggling to have an intimate dinner over turkey pakora, amidst drunken co-workers making memories they’ll hope to forget, my husband and I will probably stop at a Peckham’s and pick up some cheese and wine and other foodie treats to have at home while we watch The Wire.

Get a hot stone massage at James Dun House
The nice people at JDH have supplied members of their mailing list with a 50% voucher that can be used on haircuts and spa treatments. Because I'm nice, I'm sharing it with you! Click here to download. Join the mailing list by visiting their website: www.jdhlifestyle.co.uk/

See a free festive movie in George Square
Freeze your rear end, drink hot chocolate, and watch free movies on the big stage every Wednesday night as part of Winterfest. Unfortunately, the next film is Polar Express, with that uncanny-creepy-too-realistic animation, but White Christmas is scheduled for the 24th and Grease will be playing on 7 January. For more information, visit the Winterfest or the Glasgow Film Festival website. Grease is the word.


Sale sale sale! And it’s not even Boxing Day

To console ourselves that Net-A-Porter is only doing a sale for those shopping from the USA, we should take advantage of all the other Christmas shopping discounts flying around:

Asos.com: 20% off winter style (selected items only) and free delivery until 7 December at midnight.

Graham & Green: 20% off everything until 8 December. Use code X8WK when shopping online. An excellent place for finding classy yet whimsical Christmas decorations and lovely housewares.

The Conran Shop: 20% off all the cool home accessories and furniture you can handle until 7 December at 11:59pm. Use code HOHOHO when shopping online.

SpaceNK: spend £75 and get a free gift worth £15. Enter code STOCKING01 at checkout. Offer expires today.

Monica Vinader: 15% off until 18 December. Use code VIP at checkout. Buy the beautiful semi-precious cuff links for the hard to shop for man in your life.

Habitat: 20% off for home lovers until 7 December. Print off this voucher and bring it in to the Bothwell Street store.

House of Fraser: up to 20% off when you use code FF08 online, or print off the voucher to use in store by 7 December.

Monsoon: get all your party frocks and sparkly bits 30% off online with code mon30 or in store with voucher. Ends 7 December.

Happy shopping!


Christmas gifts for boys who are too cool for school

Continuing on with the gift list theme, I thought I would try my hand at shopping for the indie boy. My husband would rather die than consider himself ‘indie’, and has never been too cool for anything, but these are the types of things I would buy to bestow him with a bit more je ne sais quoi when he’s on stage at whichever shady pub that will allow him to emit strange sounds into a microphone.

Soo Stubborn, $65 (around £45)
I bought my husband a belt with a bull skull buckle from online accessories store, Jackie Heinsohn. He loves it and gets all the attention he craves when he wears it. Now Jackie Heinsohn carries a new and improved version with added bling. The site is based in the US, but you can pay with paypal, and they will send packages to the UK. And, if you buy it on the 10th of December, you’ll get 10% off.

Gift voucher from Anthology Records
I’ve already done a blog entry on this amazing online record store. So many treasures to buy and share, so many fun facts to know. This site is well worth the visit for any boy or girl. Available at www.anthologyrecordings.com.

Tibida Watch from Tokyo Flash, £118
Tokyo Flash sells retro-but-new watches from Japan that tell time in many mysterious ways. The Tibida watch ‘offers three conceptually different ways to tell the time’. Hmmm. I have a hard enough time with dial watches, let alone binary time, but this is just the sort of challenge dorky-but-cool boys love. You can buy directly from Tokyo Flash, or from www.streetfusion.co.uk.

Bose In-Ear Headphones, £80
These are not sound cancelling, like the flight version, because, well, that would be bad. No matter how rockin’ yer tunes are, you really do need the sound experience interrupted by pesky horns, screams, and screeches, so you know when you’ve almost been hit by a car. That said, the sound quality on these is about 20 times better than the crappy headphones that Apple gives you with your iPod. And, unlike the Apple headphones, they won’t die after 6 months. The Bose headphones come with a set of three different rubber attachments, allowing you to choose just the right size for maximum ear comfort. Available at Bose, Ingram Street, Glasgow.


Start your Christmas lists now

This year marks my 10th Christmas season in Glasgow, and it may be my imagination, but I do believe those lights in George Square are getting worse each year. Once the lights go on, I amazed people make it through the centre of town without getting migraines or seizures. What’s wrong with a tasteful arrangement of white lights, like those over Royal Exchange Square and Ashton Lane? Why can’t the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau intervene on our behalf? Surely the red lights beaming out of City Chambers and the kitsch-o-rama multicoloured bells, holly, teddy bears and candy canes undermine the Scotland with style strapline?

However, the gradual appearance of said decorations is telling us to start making our Christmas lists, and who doesn’t like buying and receiving gifts? Well, many people don’t like buying them, but that’s because the cold gives us brain freeze, and we suddenly can’t think. That happens to me whenever I start hitting the stores in late November.

So, I’m going to do you a favour and tell you what to buy. Well, this is really just a list of stuff that I like, so I’m telling you what to buy for all the stylish women in their early 30s who have the exact same taste as me. Maybe I’ll devote future blog entries to buying stuff for people who aren’t exactly like me.

Anyway, now for the stuff:

Gifts under £50

Velvet eye mask £13

Ever since a colleague told me that spiders drink our tears when we sleep, I’ve been obsessed with finding the perfect eye mask. It may not be true, it’s probably not true, but there’s something about eye masks, very old-school glamour. This one from Graham and Green comes in many colours and is one of the most reasonably priced ones I’ve found. You can also buy a matching water bottle cover. If you don’t mind spending more than twice as much, Holistic Silk do a beautiful silk version filled with lavender.

Alpaca fair trade slippers £30
Shop with a clear conscience and buy these warm and fluffy slippers from www.biomelifestyle.com. They even give you the option to offset the carbon footprint of your purchase.

Cashmere wrist warmers £42
Not since the high school production of Oliver! I was in have I seen so many people sporting these fingerless gloves. I think it’s because it means you can keep your fingers warm whilst still showing off your new giant cocktail ring. Brora does a lovely long pair in pure cashmere, but if you really want to break the bank, get the super long version by Celine from www.net-a-porter.com

Narciso Rodriguez eau de toilette gift set £42
50ml size perfume with a free scented candle, available at Boots (and they’re giving out an extra 1000 Boots card points if you spend £50 or more, so add a few other items to your basket). No perfume I’ve ever worn has gotten so many compliments, not even Coco Mademoiselle.

Gifts £50 – 100

Long cashmere cardigan £70
Marks & Spencer do the best knitwear in Glasgow, and you can’t beat the price. And every woman loves getting cashmere for Christmas.

Silk quilt £80
This reversible 100% silk quilt is available in 5 gorgeous colour combinations and measures 230x230cm. Available from www.biomelifestyle.com

Toyah Laptop bag £100
Stylish, attractive laptop bags that don’t cost a fortune can be hard to come by. Knomo makes several styles of bags and laptop sleeves in a variety of lovely colours. My favourite is the Toyah, a quilted nylon bag with leather trim. Available from www.knomobags.com or at House of Fraser.

Gifts over £100

Silk/cashmere dressing gown £170
Loungewear is huge right now, with the likes of Gap's Body range, Pyjama Room, and Lounge Lover telling us we should be just as elegant and stylish at home on the sofa watching TV as we are at work. I think people are loving the new emphasis on loungewear because during these uncertain times, it’s comforting to focus on comfort. Anyway, I really want a cashmere robe, and this is the best way to get one without spending £400. Available in six colours and a wide range of sizes from www.dennercashmere.co.uk

Miu Miu patchwork wallet £170
Get a piece of that signature Miu Miu patchwork leather without having to spend over £700.

Marc by Marc Jacobs double flap clutch £185
Black, patent leather, turn lock clasps, Marc Jacobs: what’s not to love? Available from www.net-a-porter.com. Check out Vi Vi Vee at www.yoox.co.uk for a much less expensive patent leather clutch.


Cocktail rings for shopping fiends

Stop! Stop! Stop whatever you are doing right this minute and go to Koodos and get a Monica Vinader super big and chunky cocktail ring for 50% off. I kid you not. Go right now.

I want the labradorite square one, which is a whopping 2.5cm. At Net-a-Porter this exact same ring is £160. At Koodos it’s £55. These are the kinds of deals dreams are made of. Go. Why are you still looking at my blog? Go! Shoo!

Still here? Okay, then go to Duo and get a pair of made to measure, select your own calf width boots for £20 off the regular price. Use code LY20, and do it by 5 November. Don’t say I never look out for you.


Financial crisis getting you down? Then drink!

Did you know that there are still places in Glasgow City Centre where you can buy a drink for less than £2? I found one, and it’s not associated with a university in any way, it’s just a cheap cheap pub.

I’m talking about the Ingram – it’s on Queen Street, just off George Square. It looks a bit like an old man’s pub, but we were there on a Friday night and there was a pleasing cross-section of Glasgow society. It's like the Uisge Beathe, but without the stagheads and students. It was busy, but not heaving and we managed to get our own table. Don’t expect cocktails or fancy glasses, or even a slice of lime in your vodka and soda, but do expect to buy a large round of drinks for less than a tenner. What more can you ask for in this uncertain economic climate?


Back in Black

I got paid on the 30th of September, and I could not spend the money fast enough. Now it is the 10th of October and I am broke.

But, there is a happy ending for me and my cash, because I spent it on much needed clothing for work and play. Now that our “summer” is over, and it’s starting to get wet/rainy/cold, I need stuff!

I started with a vow to go back to basics – last year, due to pressure from friends and colleagues to step out of my comfort zone, I added more colour to my wardrobe. I spent the subsequent months standing in front of my closet in the mornings going, ‘I have nothing to wear.’

This year, I am going back to what I love – black. And I’ve got scores of fashion magazines to back up my choice. Black is always back on the A/W runways, but this year is so black, even Boden is selling it. I’m in heaven.

So, I bought a super soft black cardigan from Boden, with a touch of cashmere, a black velvet skirt from Boden, and some black and white wool trousers from Long Tall Sally.

Next on my list, some leather riding boots from Duo. In black, of course. I’m not totally embracing the nouveau goth moment fashion is experiencing, but I’m giving it a firm handshake.


Record hunting in Partick

Did you know that vinyl at the Salvation Army on Dumbarton Road costs a mere 50p per record? I was just in there the other day, looking for that holy grail of retro furniture, the steel typists desk, when, on a whim, I decided to check out the records. Among the Val Doonican records and the ‘Hits of (insert year)’, I managed to find some real gems:

Lodger, David Bowie
Released in 1979, this is one of those borderline albums, made at the end of the far better first third of Bowie’s career. I wasn’t as familiar with this one as some of his others, but my rule of thumb with Bowie is, if it was released before 1980, it’s probably good. This one just makes it.

Muddy Waters Rocks, Muddy Waters
Not his foray into rock music (which was actually called Electric Mud), just a random compilation of good songs. I don’t really need to say anything else about this one – it’s Muddy Waters, and he rocks.

Purple Rain, Prince
I have this on CD already, but I find that I never listen to CDs anymore. And at 50p, can I really say I don’t need this enough to justify the price? Certainly not.

Night Flight to Venus, Boney M
Even if this album didn’t have Brown Girl in the Ring on it, I still would have had to buy it for the cover alone. This record is very European, and sounds a bit like Aqua, but in a '70s way.

Arrival, Abba
This is the album with Dancing Queen; Knowing Me, Knowing You; and Money, Money, Money. Again, I have some Abba on CD, but there really is something special about putting a record on, leaning back on the sofa, and reading a book. Maybe it’s the crackle of the needle, or the fact that you have to work a little bit harder for your listening pleasure (you know, getting up, turning the record over, cleaning the dust off the needle, etc).

These just scratch the surface. Had I been more adventurous, there was a whole crate full of hard rock/heavy metal, including Rainbow’s complete back catalogue. As a rule, the record selection at Sally Army does not justify daily visits, but it’s an excellent place to go if you have some time to kill and want to make £2.50 go really far. There are other excellent places in Glasgow for vinyl – the Oxfam record shop on Byres Road, Record Fayre off Argyle Street near the Tron Theatre to name but two. But any charity shop will provide a few entertaining moments of browsing.


Can someone help me please?

Never ever ever buy something from www.dabs.com – or from any company that uses Home Delivery Network as their courier of choice.

My laptop’s hard drive recently died after only 3 years (note to self – next time, don’t buy a Toshiba) and made the mistake of ordering a new one from Dabs. Apparently their courier, Home Delivery Network, tried to deliver it twice unsuccessfully, though they never left a card or any other evidence of having done so. On your first 3 purchases, Dabs do not allow you to use a different delivery address from your billing address for ‘security reasons’ so unless you plan to be home on a week day, all day between 7am and 6pm, expect a week or so of bureaucratic nonsense before you hold your purchase in your sweaty little hands.

After tracking the failed delivery attempts on the Home Delivery Network’s website, I decided to call them. There is no phone number listed on the site. It directs customers to go back to the original supplier of the item in question. So, I wrote to Dabs to reschedule, and arranged to work from home the day of delivery. Unfortunately, Dabs, who also discourage customers from actually phoning, have a rather leisurely approach to answering emails, and no one got back to me until the day after the package was meant to be delivered.

I searched online for the telephone number for Home Delivery Network, which I found on a thread called Hard to Find Telephone Numbers. Several bits of information were imparted to me during the ensuing telephone conversation:
  • My postcode doesn’t exist in their system
  • Despite there being no telephone number anywhere on their website, they do not wish to discourage customers from phoning them
  • They do not deliver to Universities (I work at a university, so they could not deliver to my work
  • They will only deliver to homes or organisations that have no yellow lines in front and have plenty of parking spaces (how does that become my problem?)
  • Once drivers leave the depot, they are completely unreachable (apparently mobile technology has not yet reached the logistics industry)
After I screamed, laughed and cried into the phone, we finally reached an agreement. They would deliver to my husband’s place of work. And they did, around 11:30 this morning. And at 2:30 this afternoon, they phoned to say that they couldn't get access to the flat, and I should contact them to reschedule delivery. But they didn't get me, because they called my home number, which I told them was not the best number to reach me during a work day. Either Home Delivery Networks are hilarious pranksters, or complete idiots. And I’m sure one of the people I spoke to at their central call centre was actually drunk.

And, to cap it all off, Dabs finally got in touch with me this afternoon, replying to the email I sent them 2 days ago. Well done!


Things to do in Glasgow when you’ve only got £30 left in the bank

I don’t know where the money goes. Well, if I sat down and thought about it I would, like that £160 at Ikea, and the £70 on those patent leather brogues by Ash, and the Aveda facial at JDH, and ever increasing weekly shop from Sainsbury’s online (can someone tell me how a week’s worth of groceries plus delivery fee can cost close to £100?).

So now I’ve got £30 burning a hole in my pocket, and it’s Saturday, so here’s what I’m considering:

Blowing it all at Brutti Ma Buoni at the Brunswick hotel – I always get the same thing every time I go there, but honestly, nothing is better than the brutti bread with olive tapenade, mozzarella, and a lake of olive oil, and washing it down with a glass of cava. Plus, they have the best homemade cheesecake in the `verse.

Doing the museum thing – Buoyed by my experience of Haptic at the Lighthouse, I’m thinking of broadening my cultural horizons elsewhere. Haptic, which is all about the sense of touch, allows you to feel the materials used in the objects displayed. The Lighthouse now costs £3 to enter (though there is free entry on Saturdays), and I wonder, do you have to pay the entry fee if you just want to go to the gift shop? With all the Marimekko, Vitra, and an entire wall of design books, it’s possibly the best museum giftshop in Glasgow. Today I’ll be turning my attention to the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, where there’s an exhibit of work by Glasgow’s own Jim Lambie (who was shortlisted for the 2005 Turner Prize). GOMA still has free entry, but they are recommending a small donation now. After visiting the exhibition, be sure to go down to the public library in the basement and check out some DVDs. They seem to specialise in art house, classics, and European and Japanese horror.

Take a walk along the Clyde – There’s a lovely path that goes through Glasgow Green which is quiet and picturesque. A great, easy way to get some exercise.

Go to the cinema – It seems a shame to hide away indoors in the dark on a sunny day like today, but inevitably, it will start raining, so why not pop in and see Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day? Frances McDormand is always brilliant, and I’ve been in love with Lee Pace ever since I saw him in the Canadian television series Wonder Falls.

Drink outside – There's something about drinking alcohol in the sun that makes it seem almost wholesome. Most places are doing outdoor seating at the moment, so have a cocktail in the sun. Glasgow wasn’t really designed for outdoor seating, so some places work better than others, but most of the restaraunts and pubs in the Merchant city have nice areas dedicated to it, and of course Ashton Lane in the West End is ideal.

Have a picnic – make the most of the sunshine and head to the Botanic Gardens, where you can sit in the sun and eat potato salad, or whatever it is people pack in picnic baskets. Stock up on foodie lunch supplies at Peckhams, Kember & Jones, or if you are feeling really wealthy, Heart Buchanan. Then wander among the trees and get an education – many of the trees in the Botanics display information about the type of tree and its significance in British history and folklore. The Botanic Gardens are a great place to explore too, as there are many hidden nooks and crannies everywhere. Plus, the West End is pretty good for stargazing, if you're into that kind of thing - last time I was at the Botanic Gardens I think I saw Stuart Murdoch, oddly dressed and grinning at some woman's baby.


See Woo

What is shirataki? What’s underneath the leathery skin of a dragon fruit? Is there any end to the types of bean curd/meat substitutes one can buy? All these questions and more are answered at See Woo, Glasgow’s Oriental megastore.

Located just off Saracen St in Possil, See Woo is a giant warehouse full of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and um, Polish products that every kitchen needs. There are isles and isles of sauces, noodles, meats, fish, bean curd, and the best part, frozen foods. There’s also a bakery and a fresh seafood counter. You can even get dishes, woks, rice cookers, and giant burlap sacks full of rice. Okay, so maybe the latter isn’t that useful unless you own your very own Chinese restaurant, but there is so much at See Woo, just browsing is an experience in itself.

My husband and I went today (taking the 75 bus from Hope Street, as we don’t have a car), and managed to get away with spending only £50. That’s because we didn’t buy the case of Tiger beer for £24 – next time, maybe. Highlights from today’s trip:

  • Brown rice noodles – this ought to get me an extra gold star in the low GL column
  • Dragon fruit – the soft white flesh can be scooped out and eaten with homemade sorbet (I made some with mango and Cointreau)
  • Shirataki – another low GL purchase, these thin white noodles are made from an Asian yam
  • Glutinous rice balls with peanut or sesame filling – roll these in sesame seeds for a yummy chewy dessert
The only question that didn’t get answered for me was who would eat vegetarian intestine? Speaking as a vegetarian, intestine is not one of those items that I miss from my meat eating days. Perhaps I just never gave it a chance.


Nice ice baby

I think about ice a lot. I do; it’s an American thing. Where I come from, we drink everything with ice apart from beer, which we drink from mugs we keep in the freezer.

So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I was thinking about ice recently, and remembering the trays we had in the 70s – they were metal and had a removable partition that came out of the tray with the pull of a lever and released the cubes. Ice cubes were left lying in the tray, loose and ready to go, as if by magic. Pull lever, release ice. None of the frostbite associated with prying ice loose from rubber trays, none of the breakages associated with plastic trays. Just simple, old fashioned, mechanical ingenuity.

Captivated by memories of my ice-filled youth, and too poor to buy one of those giant fridge-freezers with an icemaker attachment, I searched the web for those metal ice trays. They are available to buy on Amazon, for a very reasonable £5 each. I bought 4 of them, because my need is great.

I tested them out, and the results were substantial blocks of ice, each one as pleasingly craggy as a chunk of quartz. I broke out the whisky (I know, I know, but see above, re: ice in everything) and made myself a drink. The cubes didn’t dissolve within seconds, as is the case with what normally passes as ice these days. When I drank, I got that satisfying chink you hear when people drink highballs in Dallas or Hart to Hart, or some similarly sophisticated night-time drama.

Yes, they have made all my ice dreams come true. Now if only I could get my husband to stop pretending that ice cube trays need to be washed between every use. Just refill them, okay? And stop putting them in the sink as if you are actually going to wash them.


The saddest shopping in the world

Nothing illustrates the concept of the fine line like a kaftan. Is it the must have cover-up for holidays in the Pacific Ocean, or is it the sad refuge of the bubbly, overweight party hostess?

I think the secret lies in how much you pay for it. At £735, nothing says chic holiday like Missoni. Alternatively, swimwear guru Melissa Odabash will make you beach fabulous for £370.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the Venetian at Kaftan World to give you that ‘misjudged party ensemble’ look. But hey, it will only set you back £19.95. And I imagine it must be great for chilling out at home with a book and a glass of lemonade. Just don’t let the ladies on the homepage put you off.

I bought a kaftan for the first time this year, and I went for the middle option – a silk one from Monsoon, also in the £19 range, but only in the summer sale. Originally the dress went for £65, thus giving it some fashion cred. And because I’m not actually going somewhere in the Caribbean or the Pacific Ocean, its main function at the moment is to elevate my evenings-at-home look, when I wear it my Rick Owens dustulator cardigan (a sale purchase from a few years ago) and a pair of Havaianas.

Another guideline is authenticity. As in, you don’t want it. Batik makes everyone look like an art teacher. Everyone. Approach authentic shapes and patterns with extreme caution.


Beauty products for our less than beautiful summer

Looking out the window, you would never know it, but we are still in the height of summer. It’s only July, and with more than a month and a half to go before autumn, you may actually have a sunny holiday destination lined up.

If that’s the case, there’s still time to organise your summer beauty, if you aren’t the type of person who does that in January, the minute your summer holiday is booked. I personally don’t like much on my face in hot or humid weather, so I tend to focus more on refreshing skin sprays and different types of moisturiser, but here’s my list of what I love this summer:

Shu Uemura deep sea water in hamamelis
This is a light, refreshing spray that seems to magically disappear into your skin seconds after you spray it. I bought mine at Heathrow airport, but I haven’t yet figured out where someone living in Glasgow might get it. And I’d love to see them in a travel size, as the 150ml bottle isn’t getting through airport security.

RMK refreshing skintuner in light
An alternative to traditional moisturiser from this cult Japanese brand. It’s a liquid moisturiser that you simply splash onto your hands and then splash onto your face. Available at House of Fraser.

Laura Mercia bronzing gel
Like many people living in Scotland, I’m naturally very pale. This bronzing gel makes me look like I’ve gotten a bit of sun. It’s subtle, and you can control the amount of colour, so I can wear it without looking like a clown. It also blends into a bare face really well. Available from Space NK online or in the Prince’s Square shop. Also available at House of Fraser.

Blinc mascara primer
You put this on before putting on your mascara to amplify its effect. I rely on mascara during the summer because it’s one of those items that can make a big difference without making you feel like your face is weighed down with make-up. Buy directly from Blinc, from HQ Hair, or Harvey Nichols online shop.

Clinique colour surge butter shine lipstick in delovely
I love this lipstick – it’s a perfect colour and consistency. It’s light, moisturising, and a great wear-with-anything shade. And the best part is it’s in a gorgeous bamboo shaped silver base. Available from most departments stores and Boots.

Shu Uemura protector TTL defender SPF 25
I put this on after moisturising when my moisturiser doesn’t have an SPF. It feels much lighter than a regular sunscreen, and it gives skin a nice luminous glow. Available from Space NK

Rodial glam balm wipes
Paraben free wipes with chamomile and vitamin E that remove make-up and smell lovely. Great for travelling. Available at Beauty Expert and HQ Hair.

Marc Jacobs splash sorbet in grapefruit
A light, fresh and fruity scent for summer, this eau de toilet comes in a massive bottle, with a removable spray top, so you can either spray or splash it on. When I bought it at House of Fraser, they gave me a purse sized spray with it – I don’t know if that’s a standard thing, or if it was a promotion. Available at House of Fraser or online from Harvey Nichols.



Spending all your money on clothes – it’s pretty much the equivalent to trading your cow for magic beans. And yet it’s so appealing.

Much celebrated Net-A-Porter is deep in summer sale mode, and many bargains of the still-too-expensive designer variety can be found. There are a few items that I want but can’t afford and/or would never fit me, like the Celine bow front tank top (in next season's best colour, inky blue), the Luella bomber jacket (the wet look is so in next season) or the Kenneth Jay Lane pyramid cuff. Everything is so beautiful, and so expertly chosen, and the site boasts the most covetable brands. Natalie Manhasset is to be congratulated for gliding into the gap that previously existed when it came to online designer retailers.

However, if you are larger than a size 16, perhaps you feel she is actually owed a flaming bag of poo on her porch. Did you know that designers like Chloe, Missoni and Miu Miu make clothes in a size 18? If you are a regular visitor to Net-A-Porter, where a size 14 is described as “XL”, you probably would not have guessed that designer clothes can go up to a 20 in some cases.

Thank you Yoox for expanding my education. Though their selection is a times a bit odd, or just too fashion forward for my pedestrian tastes, there are several items that are making my mouth water. Highlights, include an adorable skirt by Chloe (pictured), some Armani Collezione wide leg linen trousers, a Chloe blouse with A/W’s essential ruffles, and a cashmere and silk coat by Missoni. And best of all, you can search by size, so you don’t have to wade through hundreds of items of tiny clothing to get to something that fits. And then don't forget to check out the selection of bags, which includes items by Celine, Gucci, Corto Moltedo, Chanel, and many others.

I won’t abandon Net-A-Porter, who, in their own words, deliver ‘impeccable packaging and unrivalled customer care.’ Their sleek black boxes, with the magnetic closure and black tissue paper make for the best packaging around (next to Penhaligon) and the delivery and returns services are second to none. And the second I find an extra £255 lying around, that Marc by Marc Jacobs magazine clutch is mine. But just because they were the first doesn’t mean they are the only, and there are many other online designer retailers to explore.

Other sites to check out:
Beige (for plus sizes)

And for shopping in Glasgow, check out Jaeger on Ingram Street for their increasingly stylish offering, and Aquascutum and Pringle (who both do XXL) at House of Fraser.

PS Dear Ms Manhasset, if you are reading this, I don't really want to leave flaming poo anywhere near your house, and I am a very loyal customer, and I wouldn't say no to that Marc by Marc Jacobs clutch


The fastest way to a more 80s you

Me: I just totally got a Filofax.
You: Totally?
Me: Totally!
You: How totally 80s of you.
Me: I know, right?
You: Cool – let’s do some lines and listen to Lisa Lisa & the Cult Jam.

Well, the 80s are back, after all. And I can’t think of a better way to pay homage to the decade so bright I gotta wear shades than with a Filofax. Filofax was to the 80s what PDAs were to the 90s. I suppose iPhones are the PDAs of the 00s, but until my current contract ends, I have to stick with my Prada phone (yes, I am a label whore).

Filofax – no syncing of Outlook, no purchasing of memory, no recharging of battery. Just a pen, some paper, and a leather binder to hold it in; a great big beautiful red binder with a snap, which makes me feel important and clever. So simple, so low-fi, yet so perfect. I like it because I can insert note pages into the Filofax next to the calendar pages, so if I take notes at a meeting, they are right there, next to the diary entry for that meeting. I’m really not as anal retentive as I sound. Really.

I got one of the mid-range models – the A5 Finsbury in red-grained leather. They have models for all budgets, costing from £15 for the mini Identity to £125 for the A4 Filofax classic. I got mine direct from the Filofax website, which was fast and efficient (it arrived 2 days after I ordered it), but you can get them from Paperchase in Borders, and many stationers around town carry them as well.

Now I just need to get some white Wayfarers and some killer shoulder pads.


Boots finally acknowledges my desire to shop without speaking to anyone

Despite the fact that Boots has the best customer loyalty scheme anywhere, my interest in the store waned over recent years. This is probably due to my increasingly expensive taste in skincare products and make-up, and the fact that I bore easily. This also has to do with the fact that buying products off the Boots website has been a seriously disenchanting experience, with broken links, understocked items, and an excessive wait for my purchase to arrive.

This past weekend I went to the Boots in St Enoch Centre for the first time in months, and it was like rediscovering an old friend. Though I really do like avoiding the crowds and ordering things online, nothing beats the browse, particularly with toiletries. Buying lipstick or perfume online, without the chance to sample the goods, can be a very risky proposition. And there were new brands and new items I was very happy to see. This Boots now sells Barry M cosmetics, so I can restock my beloved Dazzle dust in Mushroom (pictured) without paying a delivery charge. I also came across travel sizes of the Prevage anti-aging treatments for skin and eyes – allowing me to try the products without the hefty £75 price tag.

The most exciting feature of the Boots experience though has to be the arrival of self-service checkout. You can use the nifty machine regardless of your method of payment; you can even pay for things with Boots points. And as you’re scanning and bagging everything yourself, you can save yourself the embarrassment of sharing your more personal shopping habits with a cashier.


What is a paraben and why don’t I want one?

By now you’ll have heard about nasty parabens but do you know what they are?

A paraben is essentially a preservative that many cosmetic companies use to lengthen the shelf life of their make-up and toiletries. Liz Earle, purveyor of ‘naturally active skincare’ and creator of the cult sensation Cleanse and Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser, has a very handy and informative guide to preservatives on her website, and defines parabens like this:

Parabens are a family of ingredients widely found in nature, especially in foods such as fruits. They are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid, hence their name, and include methylparaben (E 218), and propylparaben (E 216).

The Liz Earle site actually asserts that parabens are not harmful. In fact, she goes so far as to say:

Parabens are frequent in nature and can be considered to be ‘green’, bio-degradable and natural.

Say what? This runs contrary to everything I’ve ever heard on the subject. I decided to do more research. I looked to the Sense About Science website, run by an independent charitable trust that responds ‘to the misrepresentation of science and scientific evidence on issues that matter to society’.

I wasn’t able to find anything specifically on parabens, but they did have a lot of information about chemicals generally, and misconceptions about the use of chemicals in our day to day lives. By the way, be sure to check out how they slam the detox industry as well as celeb pseudo science – I actually laughed out loud when I got to the part where they quote Madonna as saying:

“That’s something I’ve been involved with for a while with a group of scientists —finding a way to neutralise radiation.”

Posing for nudie pics, writing children’s books, nuclear physics - is there nothing that woman can’t do? Anyway, the site is amusing and interesting but, a word of warning. Sense About Sciene have been accused of partiality, and one of the members of their Science Advisory Board is a reputed global warming sceptic.

An article in Wikipedia seems to think parabens are okay, but the neutrality of the article was questioned, and one should always be cautious about Wikipedia’s accuracy. Doing a general search on Google shows up as many sites saying parabens are helpful as there are saying they’re harmful. One thing they all agree on, though, is that they are widely used because they have been considered safe for many years. There are studies that show they are safe, though there appears to be studies saying they aren’t safe. I found one article that even said that one kind of paraben caused premature aging of the skin! Of course, this article sited no references what so ever. It also mentioned the fact that using moisturisers with parabens allowed the preservatives to absorb directly into the bloodstream. But, scientists quoted on the Sense About Science website claimed that ingredients in skin cream don’t actually get absorbed into the blood stream at all.

Who to believe? I guess the answer here is that you won’t find an answer here! There are companies that don’t use parabens in some or all of their products, so they are possible to avoid. I guess this is just something that each person had to decide for herself – what can I live with? What do I believe, which sources of information seem more trustworthy to me?

I will be posting another entry soon on paraben free costmetics and where to find them.



Everybody loves it. Right? My question is, why? I used to love it too, but lately it’s been leaving me a bit cold. Everything seems a bit cheap without actually being inexpensive.

I bought a super cute flower ring there on Saturday, but when I got it home, I noticed that one of the petals had been broken off. I’m guessing that this is not the first time the ring was purchased and returned because it didn’t have its original packaging when I bought it. The staff were very nice about it and happily exchanged the ring for a new one. But today while I was getting dressed, the ring caught on the top I was putting on and the flower broke right off. So, do I try to glue it back, or do I return it again. Again! This is not how I wish to spend my time, but throwing £8 into the bin isn’t how I wish to spend my money, either.

Yes, Accessorize has bags and flipflops and scarves galore, but so does TK Maxx. TK Maxx does require a rummage, but it’s so worth the time and effort. Last time I was there, I bought a silk Moschino scarf that originally cost £160 – I got it for £16! And it’s adorable and easily added the requisite stars to my Spring/Summer 08 wardrobe. On that same visit, I bought an oversized clutch in dark pink patent leather. After I returned some cropped linen trousers to Boden for having a slightly odd fit, I found some at TK Maxx for a third of the price.

TK Maxx, or TJ Maxx as it is called in America (and don’t think the market research that went into changing that J into a K didn’t cost a fortune) is not news to anyone, as it’s been in Glasgow for years now, but at times I forget about it, or I get put off by the picked-over shelves, the long queues at the tills, or women running around, pushing their overly large shopping carts like they’re at the roller derby. But when you find just the right accessory, or that incredible cardi that no one else will have, and you see the lovely ‘RPR’ vs ‘Our Price’ tag, the flush of excitement comes rushing back.

The TK Maxx at the Fort is usually less crowded and good for home decorating. The one on Sauchiehall Street can be great for bags, but my advice is to go during the week if you can. Take a half-day from work and grab some brands that can’t be found in the original US version of the store like Miu Miu, Moschino and Coach. And now they've made it easier to find out when a visit is worth the bother, as you can sign up for their fashion news. This means you'll get an email when they're expecting a delivery of something fabulous.


Indulgent hair time at James Dun's House

Reasons I’ve stopped going to my stylist at Eden:

  • I’m never in Hyndland
  • My stylist at Eden has the universe’s shortest attention span, and though he’s lovely to talk to and does a great hair cut, I rarely have 5 hours to spend in a salon
  • I have the universe’s second shortest attention span, and I love things that are bright, shiny and new

Reasons I went to James Dun's House:

  • It’s in my neighbourhood
  • I like Aveda products (Eden uses Aveda too, which is why I first went there)
  • I love things that are bright, shiny and new

My advice – go there. My new stylist, Jenna, who by the way looks like Deborah Harry, engaged in a real conversation with me about my hair and what I wanted. She also offered advice, so while I felt that she was listening, I also felt that she was being honest about what she thought and what was possible. No pretending to listen and then sneaking around the back of my head doing what she secretly wanted to do anyway.

After my hair was washed, my stylist gave me a vigorous neck and shoulder massage. This was followed by an expert hair cut and finish, while I also received a hand massage. There was discussion of hair products, which products my stylist would recommend, which ones she used, but there was no hard sell, so I felt I could leave without buying anything. The best part was my new client gift certificate, which allows me to choose between an intensive hair and scalp damage remedy treatment or a full spectrum semi permanent hair colour. I’ve opted for the hair colour, which I discovered by looking up their website when I got home, is worth £20.

I’ve already made an appointment for my next hair cut in three months, which is unusual for me. Sometimes I go nearly a year between cuts, but I’m starting a new regime. I’m calling it ‘attempting to look like I own a mirror.’


Nars written backward spells Sran

Which means absolutely nothing. But did you know that Nars now does skincare? Of course you did. Did you know it’s fabulous? I’m sure you would have guessed as much, as Nars is the renowned cosmetics company that brought us the multiple in orgasm, and body glow shimmer, not to mention about a thousand great lipstick and eye shadow colours.

To date, I have only tried the balancing foam cleanser and the balancing moisture lotion. I was in Virginia for my sister’s wedding recently, and my husband and I took a drive down to Charleston, South Carolina for a bit of sun, southern gentility, and ghosts. King St in Charleston is boutiques a-go-go, so I had had had to go shopping. Among the gems I found there was Stella Nova, a cosmetic boutique much in the same vein as Space NK, though with fewer stark white surfaces. I was looking for a new cleanser, as my beloved Korres white tea gel wash was feeling a bit harsh in the hotter climate. The saleswoman, who was cursed with combination skin like me, recommended the Nars cleanser. I bought the moisturiser too, because the packaging is just too beautiful. The products come in matt white bottles and tubes, made of heavy glass and plastic, with the familiar Nars logo in thin black letters. They look great in my bathroom.

But beauty is skin-deep, so the real value was revealed after I washed my face. My skin was baby soft, and the redness was completely gone. And even though it was hot enough outside to cook grits right on the pavement, the moisturiser did not feel heavy or greasy in the slightest. It might even replace my usual summer favourite, RMK’s skintuner (a genius, splash-on moisturiser).

You can buy Nars products from Frasers or Space NK, or direct from the Nars website: www.narscosmetics.co.uk. The balancing foam cleanser is £24.50 and the balancing moisture lotion is £40.00.


Do not be afraid of the float

Or, relaxation for introverts, I like to call it. All the benefits of a massage without having to make small talk with some stranger while you are partially unclothed and trying to have a wee kip. Well, all the benefits apart from actually, you know, getting a massage.

But it is very relaxing, and not at all scary and claustrophobic as I had feared. Though, I do feel compelled to check for swimming snakes before I settle into the water.

The flotation room at Willow Trading is an actual room, not a tank (it measures 8 feet long by 4 feet wide by 7 feet high). The idea of being in a tank in the dark scares the bejesus out of me. What you get is a swanky bathroom with a largish shower area, where you have to rinse off before getting into the flotation room. The room is entered through a small door set into the wall. You get inside and close the door to trap in the warm humid air, and lie down. The water is full of salt, so you actually do float on it. You don’t have to support your head or anything, though I still did the first several times I tried it. Then that’s it, you float in the dark for about an hour, until you hear soft music piped into the room. Then you take a proper shower, dress, and go back out onto Great Western Road, where you feel as good as you would on half a tab of valium. I am now an addict, and try to get a float every two weeks or so. In my dreams, I would do it every week.

The people at Willow Trading are very nice, and will talk you through the whole process before you do it. They’ll show you the room before you commit yourself too, if you’re still not sure. They provide everything you need: shampoo, conditioner, towels, even a hair dryer. All you need to bring is your stress.

Each session costs £30, or you can get a block of three for £60. Willow trading also offers various massages and other treatments. A full list of services and prices can be found on their website.

Chairs and tables and sofas! Oh my!

I first visited Sofa Workshop when it was located in Nelson Mandela Square, before that particular corner of Glasgow became mini-America (American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, Subway, Pizza Hut – all it needs now is a Gap). I had checked out some of their sofas online, but there’s something about buying furniture sight unseen – yes, you can ask for a swatch, but how much can you really tell from a 1 inch by 2 inch piece of fabric?

Once I discovered they had a store in walking distance (I don’t own a car, eco-smugness a friend calls it) I dropped in to the showroom. And I was so glad that I did. Apart from the fact that the sofa and fabric I thought I liked was actually hideous (I love you Sofa Workshop but not everything you sell is lovely), I made a fabulous discovery – the clearance room! This was a room where ex-display, discontinued, or returns wait for some loving family to take them home for TV and snuggles.

Mind you, clearance buys at Sofa Workshop demand a firm commitment. There are no returns on these items, so make sure your choice will fit through your door. The Sofa Workshop offers a service where, for a fee, guys will come into your home and assess how well the item will fit through hallways and doors. Don’t go for this option – I did, and they actually told me it wouldn’t fit, and that none of the sofas in their store would fit, but then I pointed out that it was the wrong measurement they were basing it on, (you have to go by the height of the sofa because they tilt it when they go through doorways) and we all agreed that it would fit after all. My husband and I could have had exactly the same conversation for free. They also don’t do delivery for clearance items, but they recommend a guy with a van, and he was great, so do go for that service if you need it.

The store is now located next to Habitat on Bothwell Street, and the good news is, they still have clearance merchandise. The amount of clearance furniture varies – I was quite lucky when I went, there were rows upon rows of sofas. Some quirky or even deeply weird (as they had been made to other customers specifications and then returned), but enough nice items that I was struggling to make a choice between 3 strong contenders. The winner was a beige linen sofa with a deep seat, originally priced at £1500, they were practically giving it away at £500.

(The image above is a photo of my sofa, Connor. The image was taken from the Sofa Workshop website.)


Anthology Recordings

Looking for something inspired to buy your iPod slinging boyfriend for that special occasion? Try the soulful proto-metal sounds of Sir Lord Baltimore. Looking for something a bit weirder? How about Father Yod and his naked cult babes (aka Ya Ho Wha 13)? Anthology Recordings, the self proclaimed ‘source for reissues and rarities’ offers these gems and so much more. The site, founded by an NYC A&R man, sells individual songs and albums, iTunes’ style, with album covers, samples, podcasts, and exhaustive liner notes to enhance the virtual shopping experience. There are even free downloads. And if there’s anything I love, it’s stuff that’s free!

The only drawback to this otherwise perfect gem of a site is that some albums are only available to users in North America. It’s obviously due to licensing and rights negotiated with the various labels blah blah blah, but it does add a major annoyance factor.

Check out Cauldron by Fifty Foot Hose for swirly 60s sounds, Kingdom Come by Sir Lord Baltimore for fuzzy proto-metal guitars, and Folk Blues and Beyond by Davy Graham, for some influencial British folk, blues, and well, beyond.

Health clubs make me sad

And it’s not just because of the unsightly bulge around my mid-section. At the moment, I belong to the University of Glasgow’s health club, which, at its main Gilmorehill location, offers a cardio vascular suite, weight room, full sized pool, sauna, steam room, and classes in anything from step aerobics and boxfit to table tennis. That’s not to mention the significant discounts members can receive on alternative therapies like chiropractic care, Thai yoga massage, and sports massage (often at 50% of the cost to external customers). There are also discounts offered on treatments at Woodland Herbs.

Being who I am, I was simply not happy with the arrangements. I suppose I wanted to avoid bumping into a colleague in the steam room. Or maybe it’s all the students that annoy me. Any excuse will do to avoid exercising, in other words. And I moved from the West End to the city centre, so its Oakfield Avenue location just didn’t seem that handy anymore.

So, I tried to find a gym closer to my flat. And that’s when I realised that health clubs make me sad. I took a tour of LA Fitness in the Radisson on Argyle Street. There were too many people there, all looking like the kind of people who say things like, “I work hard, but I also like to play hard.” There were dozens of machines packed into one dismal, grey open planned room, a dimly lit tiny pool room, and an overcrowded room for their spin class.

I suppose I’d been expecting facilities like the ones at Greens in Finnieston. Now, that is a gym. Well, okay, the time I went there I pretty much skipped the gym and went to the spa for a pedicure. But they let me use the pool, which was nice, and the Jacuzzi and steam room. And best of all, I got to use the changing rooms. These are not changing rooms for mere mortals. These are the heavenly wood paneled and frosted class filled changing rooms of the gods, complete with individual showers. No communal bathing at Greens, oh no.

But that points out the problems with my chosen mode of transportation, my feet. I am essentially a very lazy person, and trying to get to Greens by bus or foot, of a normal working day, just did not seem feasible. So, I did what any sensible person would do in my situation. I chose to continue with my Glasgow Uni gym membership, which I never use, and bought a stationary bike from Amazon.co.uk. They were having a sale on exercise equipment so I got a very nice bike for £80 (marked down from £140). I manage to use it about 3 times a week for about 20 – 25 minutes. It’s a start, and I get to watch telly whenever I use it.


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