Category Archives: Shopaholic UK
On a UK Monopoly Board, Piccadilly is the sixth most expensive property at a whopping £280.00 and bears the colour yellow. To build a Monopoly hotel on the site will set you back £1,200.00. In reality, Piccadilly is a busy, multi-lane thoroughfare in London’s West End, running from Hyde Park Corner past Green Park to Piccadilly Circus. It’s home to the Hard Rock Café, The Ritz and the Royal Academy. Piccadilly is where Russian spy, Alexander Litvenenko visited a branch of Itsu just after he was poisoned by polonium, a deadly radioactive substance, in a modern-day Cold War power struggle. It’s where to browse through book stacks at the amply-stocked bookstores of Hatchard’s and Waterstone’s, ogle gourmet delights at Fortnum and Mason and Caviar House or refuel at The Wolseley, where weekend brunch tables are a hot ticket. With such esteemed neighbours, both historic and present, it’s no surprise that Piccadilly is where the French hotel chain, Le Méridien, decided to install their landmark London hotel – a stone’s throw from Eros and the Circus’s famed flashing signs. It has now resided at the Regency property of number 21 Piccadilly for a sound twenty-six years, since 1986, in a purpose-built building that first housed The Piccadilly Hotel in 1908 and Masonic temples in its basement.
I’m ashamed to admit that Le Méridien on Piccadilly is a place I must have passed thousands of times yet never once entered and I cannot fathom why. This has recently been rectified; not only have I now entered Le Méridien Piccadilly, I’ve also luxuriated in its underground swimming pool and snored soundly in one of its gigantic beds, oblivious to the busy West End traffic artery located mere feet from my head.
My recent stay at Le Méridien has also educated me in their all-pervading approach to art. The arrival art is what a guest encounters first. As part of Le Méridien’s re-branding at the hand of the Starwood Hotels and Resorts group since they took ownership of the chain in 2005, art has been incorporated into all areas of the guest experience, starting the moment you walk through the door. Before I’d even reached the check-in desk I’d already noted a display of limited edition umbrellas by designer Duro Olowu, with snazzy geometric prints that any connoisseur would be happy to shelter beneath in a London rainstorm.
Even the lowly key card has been welcomed into the LM artistic experience. My card, a work of art in its own right, sported part of a Yan Lei Colour Wheel, its design being part of the LM Unlock Art incentive: not only does the key card open your door it forms part of a collection by a contemporary artist. The current featured artist at LM Piccadilly is Langfang-born Yan Lei, a member of the LM100, the collective comprising 100 influencers who contribute to the LM experience, through their expertise across a wide selection of the arts, from art and design to cuisine and perfumery. Some of the previous Unlock Art card collections, by fellow LM100 members, Hisham Bharoocha and Sam Samore, hang in frames by the lifts, but form and function are only two facets to the LM key cards; they also provide free access to Tate Britain and Tate Modern exhibitions – all you have to do is tell the concierge which Tate exhibitions you’d like to attend so he can arrange access for you, then just flash your key card when you get there, unlocking a local cultural experience for free.
Yan Lei’s Colour Wheel paintings hang in the Piccadilly lobby, the bespoke carpets underfoot are awash with lines, thoughtfully reflecting the inspiration for the company’s name – the meridian lines which criss-cross the globe, and in the ground floor internet den the shelves are set with contemporary ceramics, smart and stark against a dark background. There’s a video installation, created especially for Le Méridien, playing on a loop behind the Guest Relations desk and, on your way to the Longitude Bar, you’ll pass an elegant series of black and white portraits of the people responsible for the overall artistic experience that a guest will enjoy at Le Méridien – the LM100. As for that subtle aroma wafting through the lobby? That’s the signature Le Méridien scented candle, LM01, created by more members of the LM100 clan, Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi. It’s a unique blend of frankincense, iris absolute and musk with cedar notes, gently adding to the sensory welcome so carefully constructed with a guest’s first impressions in mind.
The final and possibly most important part of Le Méridien’s atmosphere is the human component. In my time at the hotel I truly appreciated the comportment of the staff. From greeting to leaving, there was always a smile, a courteous hand, nothing too much trouble. Lift doors were held open without asking, a troublesome door catch dealt with immediately by not one but three kind and patient staff, an unusual breakfast order delivered on-time, without issue, a forgotten toothbrush taken care of, taxi doors opened and closed, a myriad small kindnesses. Whomever I spoke with on the staff seemed to genuinely care that I had a positive experience of Le Méridien Piccadilly. That’s what I call the Art of Hospitality, and in the travel environment it’s absolutely priceless.
I am a full-time working woman with a full and demanding life. I know perfectly well how to cook pancakes from scratch, be they crêpe, American-style, potato or blini, but I’d rather get the fillings right than muck about with batter after a long day at work. As Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day/ Mardi Gras falls invariably on a weekday, that dictates the need to cheat if Monsieur and I are to do the traditional thing and dine on pancakes. This is how I blitzed it for us this week:
Pop a knob of butter in a frying pan and, once melted, place a galette darker side down in the pan. Immediately start to place your filling ingredients on one half of the galette, wait for the edges to brown a little and flip the other half across the fillings so that you have a perfect half-moon oozing with deliciousness. Make sure both sides have been adequately heated (this involves a bit of flipping for the culinary gymnasts among us) then place on a plate and set aside.
In the meantime, heat the oven to about 150 Celsius. If, like me, you have an audience who will eat the galettes as fast as you can make them, and if you prefer to eat at the same time as those you’re cooking for, this is a useful trick – wait until about a short while before you want to serve the already-filled galettes, slip them into the oven for 10 minutes and they will be piping hot, as if they came straight from the pan, when they arrive at the table.
I have an entire book filled with recipes for galette fillings and the options are endless. Here are three surefire favourites that Monsieur and I enjoy, not just on Shrove Tuesday:
- The Classic Complète. Place thin slices of ham (honey roast is delicious if available) to cover half of the galette. Crack an egg on top and allow it to start to heat through, but don’t leave it so long that the galette burns. It can always continue to cook a little once in the oven. Sprinkle with grated cheese, and/or a little parmesan. Grind black pepper over the whole and close. When in half-moon shape, i.e. the fillings are covered by pancake, flip to ensure the egg gets heat from both sides. If you’d like to be a little more ambitious with the presentation, place all the ingredients at the centre of the galette, leaving about 5 centimetres uncovered around the circumference. make sure the egg is situated as close to the centre of the galette as possible. Fold in 4 edges, leaving the egg exposed but creating a roughly square shape. Serve.
- The Neptune. Arrange slices of quality smoked salmon to cover half of the galette. Dollop three tablespoons of creme fraiche on top of the salmon and spread. Sprinkle chopped chives (dill also works beautifully here) and a little parmesan cheese over all. Close as the salmon’s colour starts to turn pale but before the galette edges start to curl.
- The Vegetarian Italian. Put thin slices of mozzarella around half of the galette, dot with 5 or 6 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half. Sprinkle with parmesan and chopped or torn fresh basil leaves. You have to keep an eye on this one because if you leave it in the pan for too long the tomato juice will make it soggy and difficult to flip. One solution, if you have time, is to use regular slicing tomatoes and remove the juicy flesh and seeds beforehand.
Sweet pancakes are usually called crêpes in France, to distinguish them from the savoury galettes. To cheat for this type I used the following pre-made version, also from Ocado, although most supermarkets in the UK offer something similar:
Once again, they come in packs of 6. I am a complete traditionalist when it comes to sweet pancakes. If at all possible, Monsieur will do the French thing and fill his with Nutella, but I prefer to keep it simple:
As for the galettes, heat a knob of butter in the pan and place the crêpe darker side down in the pan. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of sugar across one half of the crêpe, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the sugar, add a dash or two of cinnamon, fold in half and serve. An optional extra might be a squirt of chantilly or a scoop of proper vanilla ice cream. If I weren’t so convinced I’d set my head alight, I might attempt Crêpes Suzettes, but for the moment I leave that to the experts in restaurants like Les Halles, where they’re so practised that I couldn’t hope to compete.
Among my vices various, those who know me will tell you that I am a self-confessed, bona fide bag lady. It would be perfectly accurate to call me a bagophile or loverrrrr of all things bag. Ever since I was given my first small cane handbag with chocolate leather closure and handles and chocolate cotton lining at the grand old age of four, I’ve been hooked on handbags, mainly because of an irrational fear that I might get bored without some portable entertainment in my possession at all times. So my handbags generally have to be large enough to accommodate 1 x book to read, 1 x Moleskine journal, digital camera and pens plural (in case one runs out), on top of the regular paraphernalia of phone, keys, money, lip gloss and travel pass.
To be absolutely clear, I love bags of all shapes and sizes – suitcases, duffel bags, totes, evening purses, shoppers, and I even admit to having a vague interest in airline sick bags of the empty and never-used variety. (Please do note, however, that I draw the line at squeaky vinyl or Judith Leiber.) Much to the annoyance of crowded-out golf bags, shoes and evening dresses, the majority of one large cupboard at home is given over to this particular passion for bags, the collection of which was recently augmented by the addition of one large example from a London-based company called ‘Clippy’.
Monsieur will tell you that when I’m not growing my bag family, I love collecting bits and pieces from our trips – ready to stick into my journal, which is always with me (in a bag). He’s so accustomed to this now that before he bins detritus from his pockets, he’ll turn to me and say “do you want to keep this ticket/ card/ receipt/ brochure?” (delete where applicable); rolling his eyes with amused indulgence when I reply “yes, please.” (At least I’m predictable). What doesn’t find its way into my Moleskine will end up in albums various or treasure boxes filled with souvenirs. I’m a proper little squirrel with sentimentality issues; that much is certain.
So when you take one bag-lover-stroke-memento-hoarder and offer her the opportunity to review a clear plastic Clippy bag covered in clear plastic pockets just begging to be filled with bespoke decoration, including souvenirs, you are single-handedly responsible for making the Universe a much happier place for one particular bag lady.
The new bag was not a done deal. Yet. I had to order it online for starters. Here’s how it went:
First, I visited the Clippy site and found that there are two ways to order a Clippy bag:
- You can order the bag with empty pockets and fill them yourself at home, or
- You can upload your own photos and/or use the Clippy site’s stock images to fill the virtual pockets of your chosen bag, so that you can see how the finished bag will look and leave the hard graft to all those clever Clippy folk.
***Either way, you’ll be faced with a dilemma: pink handles or black handles? Now, THAT is the question.
I followed the instructions for option 2, doing everything possible online, and was quite unprepared for how much fun this would be.
The first part of the process is registering your details on the site (easy peasy) before choosing your bag. There are various styles – from pencil cases and washbags to totes and shoppers. Was this part difficult? Only for the bag-o-phile who has a hard time making decisions. In the end I tore myself away from the darling metallic ringbinders which would be oh-so-perfect for random travel jottings, to choose an eighteen pocket shopper (nine pockets on each side) just begging to be stuffed with excesses of sentimentality.
Bag chosen, I moved on to the next stage: uploading photos to the site. This was the hardest part of the process, only because I am that abovementioned indecisive bagophile. Which to choose? Should there be a theme? What about balancing colours? Should I go garish and clashing or keep it sleek in black and white?
In the end I uploaded a selection of photos (colour, in case you were wondering) representing two of my other passions: travel and food. The site allows you to move the photos around from pocket to pocket so you can see how they’ll look once inserted in the bag. Once you’re happy with the overall effect, you save and send your finished virtual bag via the Clippy site links to the Clippy people (who, for some reason, I imagine are adorable little pink oompa loompas – apologies if that’s not the case.).
This was the only time I had a problem. I’d save and send my bag, as per the on-site instructions, but the shopper repeatedly disappeared somewhere between my computer and the other end. Luckily, the brainchild behind Clippy, an accidental entrepreneur called Calypso, was there to talk me through the process. Neither of us could see why my bag design hadn’t reached her, but with some perseverance the system finally worked and my bag was despatched the following day. Hooray! NB I have to say that it would seem I’m the exception to the rule here. Everyone else’s online bag creations were behaving; just not mine.
And so, it was with calorie-busting excitement that I opened the grey plastic packaging to find my first Clippy bag. There were my images, all staring out at me from their designated pockets. A pretty gingham bow was tied around one handle and a Clippy badge sat in one of the central pockets – encouraging more multi-media insertions of my own. I took the bag for a spin around the office. The feedback from the girls was favourable, although progress was slow thanks to everyone wanting to know the story behind each photo.
Then it was time to get serious. How did my first Clippy stack up on the bagophilia barometer? Firstly, I checked out the quality of the photos in the pockets. Sadly, it wasn’t great. The whole concept is so eye-catching that quality photographic paper would definitely help make the images stand out more. As it is, the photos are on heavy stock paper such as I might use for a presentation document at work, with the result that they’re a bit flatter than they might be. In future, I’d probably opt for getting the photos printed myself and doing the DIY bag decoration at home. That way you have more control over paper weights and finishes.
Other than the image quality, I’m very happy with my Clippy. It’s sturdy, waterproof and versatile – equally suited for the likes of trips to the deli at the weekend or to the swimming pool after work. It would also be a clever carry-on bag for any holiday involving airports and uptight security guards, simply because it’s clear plastic. There are no secrets with a Clippy bag.
Having said that, on further exploring the Clippy site I found that there are optional bag-liners in case you’re a bit more private about the contents of your bag. If you really want to push out the bespoke boat, there are Clippy sticker packs and pocket liners to get you started, although personally, I wasn’t tempted. I’m good to go with a handful of metro tickets, postcards and restaurant cards, tokens, a good luck charm and a beer mat or two. And the best thing about my Clippy bag is that whenever someone notices it, there are automatically eighteen stories to tell. So, if an image is worth a thousand words, then I estimate that my eighteen Clippy bag photos and a couple of handfuls of mementos would fill a book.
Here’s what my bag looks like:
If you would like to try Clippy’s products for yourself, log onto the Clippy site here.
This is a review post. I was provided with the product free of charge for the purpose of honestly reviewing it. I have not been instructed what to write and my opinions are honest and my own.
One of the most enriching aspects of being half of a Franco-Kiwi partnership is the opportunity to always have more to learn about the other culture. Monsieur definitely understands how dull his life was before meeting his wife and witnessing her Jekyll-and-Hyde behaviour during All Blacks games. Inspired by my passion for men in black, my dear, sweet husband now knows all the rules of the rugby (thank you so much, Mr Wikipedia) and tells me often that ”France is gonna kick your esssssss at the World Cup”. If you don’t follow rugby, shame on you. FYI the RWC is coming up later on this year with key matches (read: when The All Blacks thrash France) already entered into all calendars and is predicted to be an interesting stage in our fledgling marriage.
Rugby aside, I’ve learned a great deal about French ways since meeting Monsieur – most of which they neglect to teach you in French studies at school or university. I make constant gaffes (or so I’m told because I also now realise how blunt the French can be when trying to re-educate hopeless antipodeans like moi, who are used to changing their cutlery with every course) and struggle with subjunctives and reflexives, but at the end of the day it’s all worth it when I discover some new (at least new to me) French tradition, like the eating of Galette des Rois on Epiphany.
For those readers who are more sinner than saint and don’t remember your Christian feast days, Epiphany celebrates the visit of the three wise men to baby Jesus, bringing with them as offerings gold, frankincense and myrrh. In France, Epiphany is celebrated on 6 January each year. It’s a big deal. At your favourite patisserie, you must buy a Galette des Rois, a type of sweet pastry flan filled with almond paste. Somewhere in each Galette lurks a tiny ceramic feve or charm, but only the pastry chef knows where. The flan is cut into slices, then one of the party is blindfolded and will point at random people in the group to indicate who gets the next slice. This is supposed to ensure fairness because sometimes a certain bulge in the galette may show where the charm is hiding.
Once everyone has a slice of Galette des Rois, eating begins with great ripples of anticipation coursing through the air: who will find the charm? It’s not just the kids who get excited. Before long, some lucky soul will bite into something hard in the midst of the soft almond filling “C’est moi! C’est moi!” they’ll exclaim, and will now become king or queen for a day, wearing a paper crown kindly offered by the patisserie with every Galette des Rois sold.
I first encountered this tradition when Monsieur’s maman invited us to an Epiphany party one year. Monsieur won the charm that time, gallantly asking me to be his queen – what an old softie.
This year, I decided to arrange an Epiphany celebration of our own – just the two of us. I tracked down a Galette des Rois at Paul, raced across town after work to collect it (there’s no decent patisserie near where I work, which is quite the cultural desert, as opposed to dessert) then dashed home to create a Frenchified evening. We made another type of galette that night – the brown savoury ones so popular in Britanny - filled with smoked salmon and salmon roe, chives and creme fraiche, or lightly smoked slivers of French bacon oozing with golden melted cheddar and an egg. I always find galettes rather filling, even though we never have more than two apiece, so we lightened our intake and ingested most of our five-a-day requirement with a big helping of salad before finally approaching the Galette des Rois.
I blindfolded Monsieur (nothing kinky), then he chose a piece for each of us. The charm was in neither, so we had to wait until the next day to try again as there was no capacity for two slices in that one evening. Monsieur won. I knew he would. He cheats. This time, his technique was to play a mind game on his poor, unsuspecting, defenceless wife (sob, sniff), so that she would allow him to have the piece with the tell-tale bulge. What was the charm this time? A small, ceramic crown, just big enough for a mouse to wear. Where is it now? In the bin. By accident. On purpose. Monsieur isn’t sentimental like me and didn’t see the point of keeping it to turn into a Christmas decoration. Luckily, Paul sold spares, and pre-empting my husband’s attempt at ‘feng shui’ (better chuck the charm), I’d already ensured that my Christmas decoration idea was taken care of. In a little round box, shaped like a golden crown, I had 5 beautiful little ceramic charms, just waiting to hang on the tree in December.
Then, on twelfth night, January 6 2012, we’ll have another Galette des Rois, just as we take the decorations down.
Once more, we’ll have French treats. Once more, Monsieur will probably win the charm. The difference will be in managing to confiscate the charm the second the crown lands on Monsieur’s head. You see, I plan to make a tradition of turning every year’s charm into a decoration, and that will require sharp eyes and quick hands, to grab the charm and ensure that Monsieur goes nowhere near the bin.
Everyone has at least one tale of woe regarding lost luggage. So far, I’ve been fortunate enough not to have lost a suitcase (touch wood), although they’ve often been ominously slow to come off the conveyor, or have mysteriously appeared on the wrong conveyor for whatever flight I’ve been on. With this in mind, it’s surely only a matter of time before my dirty socks wind up (without their owner) in New Delhi or Peru or in one of those unclaimed baggage auctions.
Thinking back, my first-ever holiday with Monsieur was largely interrupted by the hassle of waiting for his suitcase to arrive, which it eventually did following a five-day detour to some Eastern European country that bore no relation in name or location to our destination. We were in the land of spaghetti and mozzarella, yet Monsieur’s luggage was travelling through regions of dumplings and sauerkraut, pierogi and borscht. On a practical note, with Monsieur’s bag gone, so were his clothes and shaving foam, but thankfully Monsieur is wise to the foibles of baggage handlers and always has insurance in place, so he wasn’t stuck in his travelling clothes with facial fuzz until such time as the wandering luggage joined us. Instead, he went insurance shopping for essentials, but even that wasn’t straightforward because after 4 days without it, he had so little faith in his suitcase ever turning up that he bought a new one. Then, on the way home, the airline stung him massively for having two suitcases, more than the per person allowance, in spite of the fact that it was their fault his bag hadn’t arrived on time in the first place. The whole exercise took a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy to reconcile. Inconvenient doesn’t even begin to describe it.
The irony is that airport baggage security is supposed to be much tighter than this. Theoretically, a bag cannot travel without its owner, yet Monsieur’s bag managed to do so disturbingly easily. To add to this messy mix, it’s not always the fault of the airline that bags go missing.
Following that first trip together, during which Monsieur and I wasted an inordinate amount of time calling the relevant airline/s for updates and ever-changing e.t.a.s, Monsieur’s suitcase continued to go missing, to the point where the lost luggage people at Heathrow recognised Monsieur’s name. Once, it was picked up by accident by someone who thought it was his bag until he got home and started to unpack. Luckily, that meant the bag was in the UK so was delivered the following day. On another occasion, it was left behind at the airport of origin, so arrived a day or two later. On yet another occasion, I was collecting our bags from the conveyor while Monsieur went off to sort out landlubbing transport and had to collar a woman who once more thought that Monsieur’s suitcase was hers. I wouldn’t mind, but his suitcase is distinctive enough not to be mistaken for someone else’s so what is it with these people?
Sadly, we’re not alone in such frustrating moments – many of our friends and colleagues bemoan the loss or misplacement of their luggage on an ongoing basis. In Lost Baggage Blues Therapy, a handful of us can talk easily for hours about misplaced luggage, without changing the topic.
Heads in hands, we groan out loud. Whatever can be done to stop our luggage from going missing when we travel, apart from only packing carry-on? Cue the development of a product that could change all that waiting around for lost bags that may never turn up: Reboundtag.
The folks at Fuelmyblog know that I travel a lot so they sent me this clever little travel accessory to review. It’s simple, really; a bag tag with in-built microchip containing both Reboundtag’s and the owner’s details, including your travel itineraries so that when a missing bag is located it can be immediately forwarded to wherever you are at the time.
I’ve recently activated one of these sturdy plastic tags and it was easy peasy. You just visit the Reboundtag site, register an e-mail address, password and the tag number, then visit the Members’ Area where you store your contact information, describe your luggage along with any identifying features, and upload itinerary information, such as flights and accommodation. You can also take advantage of a rewards system, should you wish to forward Reboundtag’s details to your contacts. So far, so brilliant.
With the amount of travel that we do, I have to say that my mind already rests easier knowing that I have a Reboundtag. Should my luggage ever decide to take a tiki-tour of the world without me, it should find its way back once a baggage handler locates it, realises it’s travelling on its own and logs its whereabouts on the Reboundtag website. Then, wherever I am, I can find out where my bag is (New Mexico/ Indonesia/ Glasgow) and tell the baggage handlers where I want it to be sent and when. (It doesn’t even need to be a baggage handler who does this! One of those accidental conveyor belt kleptos could do it, too.) This is particularly useful if you’re on an extended break because you can arrange to have the wayward luggage forwarded to wherever you are. Then again, if you’re just away for the weekend and concerned about your bag arriving at the hotel when you’ve already left for home, you can tell the handlers/ finder to send it back to your hometown, even requesting delivery to a daytime address so that you don’t have to wait around for the delivery at home when you should be at work. And in case you’re wondering about the safety of your details, you can choose to make them anonymous, so that you’re protected against someone finding out that you’re away and deciding to pop over to ‘borrow’ your DVD player.
In short, when it comes to Reboundtag I’m a fan. I’ve tried it now on two international flights and both times felt a lot calmer than usual about bidding farewell to my luggage at check-in. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one day all new luggage comes with a built-in Reboundtag-type chip. It would certainly make a lot of people’s lives easier, considering that approximately 42 million bags went missing last year, many of which were never reunited with their owners. That’s a lot of unclaimed knickers being auctioned.
Should you decide to try Reboundtag for yourself, here are some useful details:
This page explains the RFID technology behind the tag. Personally, I’m not fussed about the tech, as long as it works, but you may be interested to read more about it.
- Each tag comes with three years’ membership.
- You can choose between one Reboundtag at £19.99, a family pack of three at £49.95 or a business executives’ pack at £149.99. (Whichever way you look at it, that’s a small price to pay compared with the cost and trouble of replacing lost suitcase and contents.)
- There’s also a corporate facility whereby you can order Reboundtags for all your travelling staff and have your company logo printed onto them.
Unfortunately, I can’t yet tell you how well Reboundtag works because so far, my Reboundtagged suitcase is safe and sound. Should this change, I will return here and add my experience. In the meantime, if you have a Reboundtag tale to share, please do let us know in the comments below.
October in London: it’s dark in the morning, a chill is in the air and at work the central heating isn’t working so we wear scarves all day long. It isn’t even Hallowe’en yet.
Cue a timely newsletter from the folk at Fuelmyblog asking for interested bloggers to review the snug boots made by Australian brand, Emu. I needed no prompting to reply. This sort of footwear is right up my street, having a reputation for being both warm and comfortable. I fired off an e-mail to say I would be more than happy to review a pair of tall, black, Bronte-style Emus.
The boots arrived yesterday, which was perfect timing as it was a cool 18 degrees Celsius in the office. With blue lips I skipped back to my desk, box under one arm, to try them on. Opening the box I pulled out the Emus and smiled. In smart black suede with merino wool lining, they have a sensible rubber sole with the sort of traction that should help me to stay upright in the snow this winter, a feat not easily achieved. The boots certainly looked warm and comfortable from the outside, but how would they feel once on?
I pulled on the first boot and – what? – my foot would only go so far. I wriggled my toes and felt scrunching. Ah. This doofus had forgotten to remove the paper ball keeping the boot in shape. Paper ball jettisoned, I tried again, this time with success. The boot fitted perfectly and my right foot had found its cold weather heaven. Until that moment on an early winter’s morning I had not realised exactly how cold my feet had been.
For some time I kept just that one boot on. I didn’t think I could get away with wearing my Emus to meetings; at least not yet, but while I was at my desk I could at least get a feel for them. Eventually realising how odd I must have looked with loafer on left foot and Emu on right, I reluctantly removed the Emu, wishing the day away so I could take my Emus for a test drive after work.
On leaving the office it was suitably cold, grey and dull, but I was now happily wearing my Emus, every step taken a delight to my spoiled feet which adore comfort such as this. It’s like walking on a sheepskin, with full support, especially in the arches, and on sitting down I had to stamp my feet a couple of times to make sure they weren’t floating above ground.
The verdict? I love Emus and may well invest in a tan pair in one of their different styles. But this is not the end of this tale.
Earlier in the day French Colleague had noticed my Emus sitting under my desk.
“Aaah, you have EEEE-mus!” she enthused, “I have them too. I prefer them to UGGs.”
“Why’s that?” I asked,
“Because they have better traction. Actually, I have two pairs of Emus now.” Quite the menagerie.
That can only be a good thing for me as long ago I stopped wearing heels in the street due to a rather nasty accident. I caught a heel between cobbles, resulting in a broken front tooth, severely bruised knee, grazed forehand and grazed hands. No, I didn’t call a ‘trip-or-fall’ lawyer, although perhaps I should have, given the size of the dental bill. Overnight I changed from no-pain-no-gain perpetual-heel-wearer to flat-footwear-afficionado. There’d be no more heels caught in cobbles or tube station grates for me. Heels are now reserved for work or special occasions.
On the travel footwear front, Monsieur and I will be visiting Portugal in a few weeks. Breton-Crêpe-Lover was giving me advice on Lisbon this morning when suitable footwear came into the conversation.
“In the streets there are lots of… what you call… stones, errr…”
“Yes, cobblestones, so you shouldn’t wear heels. Just flat shoes.”
Looking at my feet she noticed the Emus.
“Yes, those are PER-fect.” she said with a nod. “Wear THOSE in Lisbon.”
So not only are my new Emus comfortable, toasty-warm and soft on the sole, they’re also going to keep me safe from broken teeth. What a relief.
Fitness Footwear UK stockist of Emus with FREE UK delivery
Their homepage is here.
I don’t usually write about feet or shoes, apart from the fact that I’d rather spend my annual footwear allowance on travel than on a pair of Manolos and I just might have set up a site called Clogblogger once upon a time. However, if you’ve ever worn Fit Flops, you’ll know why I’m writing about them today.
Last year, I invested in a pair of these flip flops with ‘the gym built in,’ that claim to help you tone and exercise muscles in your legs and back whilst simply walking. A couple of friends already had them and swore by them, so I bought a pair of rather unsubtle gold-sequinned Fit Flops with the suitably flamboyant style name of Elektra. By the end of last summer, including a full two weeks in Vietnam where I seldom wore anything else (on my feet, to be specific, because clothes definitely did feature. At times.), I didn’t want to take them off. No, it’s worse than that. My feet, a couple of particularly sensitive souls (pardon the pun), grieved the advent of autumn, for it meant that their beloved Fit Flops would be exiled to the back of the wardrobe. Poor feet!
Here’s the gold variety that stirs an alarming amount of interest from my male colleagues. Oo er, missus! Who knew they’d be such attention-grabbers?
And this is the black equivalent that I wear on more sombre occasions:
There are one, two, three, four more Fit Flop wearers within 5 metres of me right now. Most of my girlfriends are advocates, and when I went to a wedding recently, my feet were understandably NOT happy about abandoning the Fit Flops in favour of something high and elegant. No siree. In case of a Feet-Against-Heels uprising during the day, I stuffed a pair of ballet pumps in my bag, but as it was, most of the girls went barefoot in the grass at the reception, so the ballet pumps were surplus to requirement. Chatting to an acquaintance, I admitted being relieved not to have to trot around in my heels all afternoon,
“My feet are spoiled. They’ve been in Fit Flops all week.”
“Mine, too!” confessed the acquaintance, “and I have a pair of ballet pumps in my bag, for dancing, later.”
“Me, too!” I squeaked, so happy to have located a kindred spirit with high-maintenance feet like mine. High five, girlfriend!
Even so, I couldn’t wait to slide back into my Fit Flops when we got home.
The next question is inevitably: do they work? Well, it’s hard to tell, because my legs are the most-utilised part of me and are therefore pretty fit already. But a good test was during the recent 48-hour tube strike when I had to walk to and from work each day. That was a total of 4 hours and 40 minutes fast walking, in Fit Flops, over a two-day period, and boy, did I ache by the end of it. The aches were in unusual places, too, usually untouched by regular walking or hiking. (At least, that’s how THIS particular body behaves.) So the Fit Flop’s claims to give you a workout while you walk seem to be true. Having said that, for me it’s kinda like TV. I’m not interested in knowing how it works, as long as it works.
Long may the summer last, though, because in spite of Fit Flop’s foray into winter-weather alternatives, they’re lacking the funk of the spangly Elektra, and I’m not a big UGG fan. But I may have to eat my words soon, because this here high heel-phobe has been invited to an evening with Jimmy Choo. Help. I’ve never spent £368.00 on a pair of shoes in my life and I really can’t afford to start such an expensive habit now. Besides which, £368.00 could pay for a long weekend in Venice, in my Fit Flops, and that’s what I’d really rather do.
All winter long I’ve been complaining about dry skin, especially following a swim, when the chlorine from the pool leaves a nice, flaky beard on my face, in spite of slathering moisturiser all over it. It’s not just me, apparently; the Day Job office is so dry and full of static that we’ve all been experiencing unattractive skin this year, comparing dry patches with spots and red zones, all of which only flare up while we’re at work. In desperation, I’ve even tried wearing night cream during the day – unheard of! But, hey! It worked. For a while.
To coincide with the return of Flake Face, a package from Shiny Red PR arrived on my desk, as if by magic. Out of it spilled Aveeno skin products (bath salts, small tube of cream, large tube of daily lotion) and American Colleague was by my side in a flash. “Ohmigahd, you’ve got Aveeno!” she cried with what I consider to be excessive enthusiasm for body lotion in boring cream packaging with dull, hippy-green accents. “I always keep it in my drawer.” She pulled out a tube of Aveeno to prove it. “Do they sell it here now?” I, the Aveeno novice, shrugged. “I used to have to get friends to send it over from the States but it looks like it’s crossed the pond, so GREAT!” American Colleague is a super girl, always keen and bright as a button, so I was heartened to have this encouragement to try a product I had never once heard of.
The bad news is: the packaging; it looks like it walked out of a cream and green health food shop. In fact, it looks like it should smell vaguely of linseed oil and carob. The good news is, Aveeno is made by Johnson & Johnson so it should be safe. More bad news – the creams are marked ‘fragrance free’, something that I find off-putting because it’s one of those claims that don’t always turn out to be true and even if they do, ‘fragrance free’ makes me think of allergy sufferers. Then again, I suffer from stress-induced eczema at times, and having recently made the third round of redundancies at the Day Job, I was starting to believe that the Itchy & Scratchy Show referred exclusively to me. Anything was worth a try, especially if it was going to help my skin, but oh-oh, more bad news: the packaging uses the word ‘colloidal’. What on earth? Instead of sounding alluring and feminine, Aveeno was beginning to make me wonder if I’d just walked out of the local hospital’s dermatology clinic. Out came the trusty dictionary, to find out what ‘colloidal’ meant exactly (I was never that great at chemistry, but I can generally tell if a word related to that dreaded subject). The definition according to the Collins Paperback Dictionary is:
COLLOID n A mixture of particles of one substance suspended in a different substance. COLLOIDAL adj.
In this case the particles of one substance are oatmeal and the different substance seems to be a whole list of chem-lab ingredients, from allantoin and glycerine to Distearyldimonium Chloride. This wasn’t looking good, given that I prefer natural skin products made from things like olives.
Still, I promised to give the Aveeno range a test run and test it I have. Here are the results:
- 1. The Aveeno bath salts – unless you enjoy bathing in brown water, then I’d recommend passing on this product. Some of us still like sweet-smelling oils and bubbles. I got out of the bath feeling in need of a shower to wash off the good-for-you brown stuff.
- 2. The Aveeno Daily Moisturising Lotion – this has been showing some minor improvement on my elbows but remember that a little goes a long way and you need to give it a few minutes to soak in.
- 3. The Aveeno cream – looked and felt to me like the same product as the 24 hour cream (remember I’m not an expert), only in a smaller tube. Now, credit where it’s due – this is great stuff. In the three to four weeks that I’ve been using Aveeno cream as my daily moisturiser, it’s done wonders. My skin has returned to normal, smooth and flake-free. However, it does feel a bit gooey going on and the total lack of fragrance, even a no-fragrance fragrance is not a good thing in my book. I prefer things that smell nice, like olive oil face creams that smell fresh, not necessarily of flower beds or apricots, just fresh and that I do like very much.
So the result of my experiments with Aveeno is that I will be interested to continue using the cream to counteract post-winter facial flakiness but the jury’s out on whether or not to buy a replacement once I’ve finished the tube. The packaging puts me off a bit, as does the healthy look’s conflict with a rather off-putting list of extra chem.-lab ingredients on the reverse. If the packaging were a bit less oatmeal-y and the oatmeal particles could be suspended in a friendlier group of substances, you could probably count me in as a new customer. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if I miss Aveeno when I’ve used it all up. For the moment, however, not a flake in sight.