Introducing the HPL’s new blog

You’ll be glad to know that I’m not going to bore you with too many tales of cracked nipples and pelvis pain over the next few months as I’ve decided to post all my thoughts on the joys and – frankly – bloody awful bits of pregnancy, birth and motherhood on a new blog. So, if you’re interested in seeing how I figure out what on earth I’m doing, please have a look at my new blog:

The Happy Baby Project

Imaginative title hmm? I’m tweeting about mummy stuff from @happybabyblog and I’ve also set up a Facebook page. Well, I have to do something to bide the time spent mulling over my growing tummy (and boobs, and thighs and bottom).

But here, I’m still going to dedicate my time to the worthy pursuit of great burgers, decent wine and being happy in London. Life, albeit slightly more curvy, carries on as usual!

The Happy Baby Project

I’ve been quiet over the last few weeks because life has changed somewhat, and it has something to do with the little wriggly person that’s been growing inside me. Yes, the HPL is having a baby!

And while I’m wildly happy about it now, there were times in first 12 weeks when I really struggled to remind myself of all I’ve learnt about being positive. Of course I appreciate how lucky I am, and what an exciting thing is about to happen to us, but my body’s reaction to the news wasn’t exactly pleasant. And it took this wonderful blog post by Caroline No to give me the strength to say IT’S BEEN BLOODY SHIT! I’ve been a bit rubbish at this pregnancy stuff! And finally – who cares!

My skin decided it didn’t like the preggie hormone or the preggie hormone didn’t like certain foods anymore and broke out in giant red itchy spots all over my chest, neck and face, which might or might not have been hives. I got teenage acne. I developed an agonising pain in my right buttock which turned out to be my pelvic girdle pinging out of place, making walking nigh on impossible. I found myself sobbing like a heartbroken teenager for hours on end, once hysterically laughing and sobbing at once, not knowing why. I felt nauseous and fat and bloated and frumpy, unable to squeeze into my old clothes but not big enough for maternity gear. I ate three burgers in a week. I missed wine and hangovers, still do. And don’t get me started on itchy boobs and cracked nipples and giant wire-less maternity bras which make cycling to work an interesting exercise in pot-hole avoidance and agonising bouncing droopy pendulous bosoms….

A cumulative force of utter exhaustion, the need to cry repeatedly and teenage acne-like skin meant I lived as a hermit for weeks – not even wanting to go for a walk and covering my face when I saw anyone including a man reading our meter: “Don’t Look at Meeeee!”.

There were sudden periods of anger, an unbearable urge to snap. The Poor Chef got the brunt of it, being the only person in my vicinity for much of the time. You put a wine glass in the dishwasher the wrong way – YOU IDIOT!!! You didn’t put the plant pot in the right place – YOU RUINED MY BIRTHDAY!!! And how could he understand the raging hormones that were filling my body with negativity and fury and sadness, when he was just really really happy?

But on the cusp of 12 weeks things got better. I got my energy back, which built up to something like hysteria when I realised I could finally socialise and actually see my friends again (lunches and walks along the Thames best – drunken dinners not to the most fun when you’re sipping on Schloer all night and wondering why everyone’s laughing at an unfunny joke). My skin cleared up and my hair went from greasy to full. I contacted friends, I felt positive, I started thinking about the future. And The Poor Chef came out of hiding.

And then this week we had the scan. I was a bag of nerves, wondering if it was there at all, or alive or deformed, or multiple. But then we saw him (for we call him “he” after the scan but we don’t know if he is a she yet of course). What a gorgeous wee wriggler. He was tiny, of course. But with a round little belly and a lovely face with big lips. And beautiful frogs legs and two feet, which he kicked in the air before turning his little bottom towards us. I can’t feel him yet but my tummy is getting more solid and I love the little reminder that he’s there, wriggling and waiting.

So now it’s different. I’ve told people which really helps. I’ve bought a few bigger clothes and am enjoying better skin and shaking off the indignity of the last few weeks. I’m loving my new body – the round curves, the bigger breasts, the hardening belly. I’m so proud of my body, so impressed at its strength and the way it seems to know exactly what to do. I can see why women who’ve given birth often want to do marathons  afterwards – and I feel the same – because I love my body in a way I never have before and I’m amazed at what it is capable of and I want to get fit, not just work out at the gym to lose weight, but get stronger and faster and show myself what my body can actually do. I feel womanly and dare I say a bit beautiful.

I am already aware of competitive mum syndrome and what lies ahead. There are the I’m-still-a-party-girl mums (I stayed up til 2am and wasn’t tired at all! Yes the baby is two weeks old lets book that girls’ holiday to Ibiza!). There are the body-beautiful mums (I’ve not put on ANY weight! In fact I’ve LOST weight! Who’s the first for botox?!). There are the capitalist mums (I’ve just bought the most fabulous baby papoose to match my bugaboo pram travel system in a neutral colour to match my tastefully decorated nursery!). And there are the this-is-totally-natural-to-me mums (vitamins? I didn’t bother with those. Epidurals? I’m just going to power breathe with my doula).

So what sort of mum will I be? Well who knows. But I’m not pining my party days any more. In fact I’m loving getting to bed at 10pm and being cosy under a woollen blanket on the sofa. My favourite recent purchase is a great pair of sheepskin slippers.  I’m looking forward to my body getting big and round because I have a feeling it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be doing and I really want to take care of it from now on. And I believe what my child really needs is our unconditional love, and a favourite cuddly toy which is soft and old and worn, and being read to all the time, and its grannies and granddads and aunty and uncle teaching it about life and the world and where it came from.

I know one thing for sure. This is the biggest adventure of our lives and its one that I’m finally ready for. And sometimes it will take all I’ve learned about happiness and positivity to keep me going when times are tough, but the joy this little thing will bring will teach me more about life and love than I ever imagined possible.

So wriggle away wee man, we love you very much, and we can’t wait to meet you in March!

A London girl’s guide to getting hitched

So, The Chef and I got hitched just over a month ago – hurrah – and, while I slowly sink back to earth, catch up on sleep, and enjoy being able to EAT and DRINK again, I thought I’d write down some stuff I learned along the way *:

1. The dress – there’s nothing like wedding dress shopping to drop a giant big turd on your “special day”. They tell you you need 6 months to order your dress, then say they haven’t got any free appointments for 2 months, and sometimes even say you have to pay £20 for the privilege. Some make you take off your shoes at the door, wear gloves and rush you to be in and out in an hour. Importantly, there is far too little champers handed out (big up to Mirror Mirror and Teokath for bucking this trend). Fact is, unless you get it made, buy it second hand or go vintage, you’ll pay an average of £2,000 for your dress and the alteration process is a nightmare that goes on for hours. The upside is that if you pick the right one, you’ll feel incredible on the day, and its a great lesson in what suits you so I found my wardrobe also improved. These are the dress shops that I think are worth going to:

  • Teokath in Wimbledon – where I got my lovely Lusan Mandongus dress. They have a great selection of dresses, are friendly, have a lovely dress fitter who will patentiently address all your concerns (pull it in! more! shit I can’t breathe!), and you can also buy jewellery there.
  • Jenny Packham in Pimlico – hard to get an appointment, but gorgeous beaded 1920s Great Gatsby style dresses. Best suited to tall skinny people though.
  • Mirror Mirror and Morgan Davies in Islington for great selection of dresses, although at Morgan Davies you have to pay £20 for appointments.
  • Alice Temperley in Notting Hill – amazingly different, electic dresses, perfect for the actresses and extroverts amongst you. Lovely room to try on stuff and great to try something different.
  • Suzanne Neville in Knightsbridge – lovely dresses and lovely staff although I was slightly put off by their posters of Danielle Lineker that adorn the walls.
  • While I’m at it, Bridal Rogue Gallery on Chiltern Street has an amazing selection of shoes and jewellery, and borrow the veil from a friend (sooo expensive).

2. Self-preservation, head fuckwittage and general wellbeing -while getting married was the happiest day of my life, and I am absolutely loving being a newlywed, I put my hands up and say not only it is bloody stressful, for me the pre-wedding preparations was a time when I needed to work at staying happy. I remember when I was single I got annoyed at my engaged friends moaning, thinking you should be happy – I’m having to go to Tiger Tiger this Saturday and you’re sticking me on the single table! And I too found that when I moaned about the pressure, I had people saying I should be happy and why was I sweating the small stuff, which I found pretty unhelpful.

But I now know (and sorry to my married freinds who I was unsympathetic to before!) that weddings bring to the fore issues of self-esteem, highlight family problems, make you miss people who can’t be there, shine the spotlight on friendships, showing who you can count on and who are always too busy.

And, more than that, the fact that you have now got what you’ve always wanted, have all this attention on you, is a little overwhelming and sometimes, there is a tiny little voice that says

why me? how could I be this lucky? I don’t deserve this happiness!

…and you have to organise lots, and think about things you don’t normally give a crap about like flowers and hairstyles and ribbons and napkins and garters.

And you suddenly feel bad about all your married friends who you were a bitch to when you were single and unhappy, acting with indifference to husbands and children, getting horrifically drunk at weddings and snogging the best man. It made me feel guilty that they were all so lovely to me and didn’t hold my previous bad behaviour and impatience against me (apart from one – who pointed out when I emailed accomodation details 4 months before that I RIPPED brides apart for doing this at previous weddings).

And you don’t sleep brilliantly and you are dieting, and you might get cold sores or excema, and start being a fucking bitch to your husband-to-be, and then you worry he might not marry you after all and then…. Argh!

After a recommendation from a friend,  who commented very kindly on how ragged I was looking, I became a walking pharmacy of things-that-help. This stuff calmed me down and zenned me out, so much so that I was surprisingly cool and calm on the big day:

  • A sleepy time dream pillow spray of lavender
  • Valerian herbal anti-anxiety tablets (I had one called Quiet Life that was amazing)
  • Herbal sleeping pills (I used Nytol)
  • Buy bottles of Bach Rescue remedy for work, in your handbag, in your car, at home. Use frequently, especially when he says “but there isn’t anything to do!“.
  • Vitamin B complex helps with stress and energy and cold sores.
  • I’m not ashamed to say that due to my erratic behaviour and feeling a bit overwhelmed I had a “maintenance” session with my amazing counsellor (email me for deets) – she made me realise what was upsetting me and why I was finding things difficult because I just didn’t t hink I deserved all this wonderful stuff happening to me. She made me realise I did deserve it – I’ve worked so hard on my faults, on my happiness, on this blog, on relationships and life and family. I’ve worked bloody hard and I do deserve it. I deserve The Chef – he’s my reward somehow. And I am lucky, I won’t forget that.

3. Grooming. I found it stressful thinking I had to be the thinnest I’d ever been, the most beautiful. And what if you wake up with spots? Or excema? Or a cold sore? My friend pointed out that a bride’s beauty comes from within, from the fact that she is so happy she’s glowing, and on the day itself I was in this smiley bubble all day, but we all need a little help so here’s where I went:

  • Linda Meredith in Knightsbridge does amazing facials and oxygen facials where they push oxygen into your skin. Made me glow for about a week. Not cheap (£100 for a facial and £100 for the oxygen thing) but I got a voucher from Keynoir at half the price.
  • Lorraine at Expressions gave me a set of amazingly natural-looking eyelash extensions (to avoid the Sam from TOWIE look, just ask for a lash on every 2nd or 3rd lash and volume rather than length) which looked amazing on the big day and meant I didn’t have to wear any make-up for the week before and for almost 3 weeks afterwards so perfect for honeymoon. She works from her rather hard-to-find flat in Hammersmith but its well worth going.
  • Michael Becman who works at Space NK in Edinburgh did my hair and make-up – we kept it very light and natural, and as I was getting married outside in a garden, we put flowers and pearls in my hair. Mikee’s not only a great make-up artist, he is hilarious and kept us all laughing on the big day.

4. The cake. Oh my look at that beauty above. We utterly lucked out with the cake. I found cake shopping quite disappointing, the fact that a simple, boring-looking, traditional three-tiered cake costs minimum £300 and often didn’t taste or look that great. And then through twitter we met Lisa Brunton-Stocks (@harbourhussy), who is mad about cakes, and actually, pretty mad full stop. She drove all the way from Aberdeen to Edinburgh to let us taste her cakes which were incredible, and for the first time I got excited about what a wedding cake could be. She was amazingly inspired and creative and spent ages getting it perfect – sending me pictures of edible pearls and meringue to match my dress, matching the decoration to the lace on my dress and my bouquet. It was a jaw dropping cake and amazingly delicious. And on the way to honeymoon, I read this blog her friend wrote about the work that went into it: http://willtravelforcake.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/an-epic-wedding-cake/. If you can’t find your own Lisa, then I reckon M&S has some brilliant, unique cakes at good prices (check out this upside down white choc version).

5. The photographer. We used Paul Raeburn who took these amazing photos. We hated posed photos and interminable group shots that last for hours and he was perfect. Really artistic photos in a journalist style capturing amazing moments – The Chef kissing my forehead during the service, my sister crying and waving as she said goodbye before I walked down the aisle, my bridesmaid pouring her drink into my glass as I was “thirsty”. We wanted to spend the day enjoying ourselves and being with our friends so he was the perfect photographer.

6. The wedding. As neither of us is particularly religious, and we wanted to marry somewhere unusual and unique, and not particularly traditional, we had a Humanist ceremony undergiant redwood trees in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Being in Scotland, it rained a bit, but I loved the freedom of us all huddled together under these trees and we loved the Humanist ceremony where our celebrant talked about how we met, what we loved about each other, and about how much we loved our friends and family. We sang Happy Together by the Turtles, had a piper playing me down the aisle, and my friends read a poem they’d written. It was moving, emotional, funny and we loved it. We then ate haggis, neeps and tatties, ended with deep fried Mars Bar with an Irn-Bru chaser and ceilidhed the night away. Humanist ceremonies aren’t legal in England sadly but we’re hoping this will change as its a fantastic alternative to a registry office ceremony.

9. The extras that no-one really cares about but you bend over backwards to do anyway:

  • The Chef was right – favours are indeed largely ignored so don’t spend much money (we got married at Easter so we gave everyone little bags filled with Easter eggs).
  • One thing we did that everyone loved though was table names of our favourite restaurants and we told the story of the time we went there.
  • We didn’t have an order of service as the ceremony was so special we wanted people to be engaged and surprised all the way through, and stop people flicking through to see what was next and when they could get a drink. We did get amazing creative invitations through Nirvana CPH – we did the invite in the guise of a menu and they looked amazing.

* for another point of view, you might also want to read my thoughts on being single in London.

A Tale Of Two Cities

I’d wanted to go to the Experimental Cocktail Club in Soho for ages but it was one of those places I’d never got round to trying. But The Chef and I planned a long overdue “Date Night” last Friday, and I suggested we might start there.

Oh how very wrong was I. We didn’t book a table – well, we were only 2 people and meeting pretty early at 6.30pm. Again, wrong. I rocked up on a cold January day on my own, and was “welcomed” by a humourless French bouncer who looked me up and down like I was something squidgy and brown he had just stepped on. AND I WAS DRESSED UP AND EVERYTHING!!! Now in my mid 30s with a decent job, good clothes, an expensive haircut and a credit card, I can safely say I have not felt intimated or belittled by door staff for a good decade or so, but this man made me feel about an inch tall. After asking if we had booked a table (no) he then proceeded to tell me that they were so very busy that I might be allowed in, but he could not promise that my companion would also be allowed in.

OK so let me get this straight. I am dressed up, obviously not a tramp, wearing nice shoes, obviously willing to spend money on your ridiculously overpriced and undoubtedly pretentious cocktails, and you are telling me that my choices are (i) wait in the January cold on my own until my date gets here; or (ii) go alone into the cocktail bar and presume you are going to treat my companion with the same patronising disdain and shoo him away, leaving me alone for the evening.

I went with the former option and this lovely bouncer kept me outside, in the cold, on my own, for a good 10 minutes, letting others inside who came after me, which made me want the ground to swallow me up, never speaking to me nor once suggesting I go inside to warm up. I should also mention in this time he let 2 couples in who had not booked. It seems I was on his blacklist for daring to turn up solo or to question their booking policy. Finally, The Chef arrived and Monsieur Le Cockface (I believe I dropped the C-bomb on him on twitter later that night, perhaps a little uncalled for, but I was a fairly merry by that time) kept us waiting for another 10 minutes before finally telling us that they were far too busy and we would have to wait another 30 minutes but even then we could not be assured a seat.

By this time, I’m ashamed to say I was freezing, annoyed, upset, humiliated and angry, a feeling I recall from trying to get into cool Soho clubs when I was in my 20s but which I had long forgotten. Well, you know what Experimental Cocktail Club? FUCK YOU! Yeah, FUCK YOU and your stupid pretentious look-you-up-and-down patronising derogatory bullshit. You genuinely made me feel like a teenager again, standing outside Oddfellows in Edinburgh in the cold, while you let my friends in and made me wait outside all night, contemplating another lap round the block and changing jackets with my best mate in case you didn’t recognise me the second time. You made me feel that small and pathetic and uncool. And yes, I admit it, I CRIED when I left, walking up Dean Street, freezing and shivering, and away from your patronising stare. I’m ashamed to admit that I cried and I felt like crap and you almost, almost ruined my night. And I will never ever go to your crappy establishment again and I hate you and everything you stand for and the way you make people feel, and the way you think that WE, the paying public, the people who pay YOUR salary, should feel we OWE YOU anything – that WE should feel HONOURED to sit our stinky pleb bottoms on your gold-covered sofas. You got it wrong ECC, you owe US you see, and little did you know, The Chef and I like a cocktail more than most and would have shelled out a ton of cash if you’d treated us right.

Anyway as The Chef said, don’t let them get to you and I won’t. But never ever go to the ECC, unless you enjoy being treated like a dirty little cockroach.

We had booked a table that night at Quo Vadis – the re-done Soho institution on Dean Street. So we decided we might just go there early for a cocktail. And how bloody right we were.

The difference between Quo Vadis and the ECC was astounding. When we came in several staff members smiled. They took our coats, said hello, showed us to the bar. The barman smiled, gave us a menu, asked us what what we liked, explained a few things, let us try their homemade pomegranate juice. And – hello – the cocktails ranged from around £6.50 upwards. How wonderfully refreshing. And the barman was lovely and the cocktails gorgeous. My vodka martini was perfect with delicious little olives, The Chef’s whisky sour fantastic. Add to this a lovely little English fizz and some Campari cocktails and we were happy little bunnies once more. And this is the annoying thing about the ECC – people like us might not look the part to you, but we like nice things and good service and are willing to pay for it.

Quo Vadis has been taken over by Head Chef Jeremy Lee, a charismatic Scotsman who welcomed us to our table and chatted amongst the guests all night. He was formerly head chef at the Blueprint Café which I also loved – a little jewel on the Thames which seemed overlooked, much to my surprise, as the food and service were amazing and the views incredible. As a Scot I just loved the Scottish touches – a weather forecast on the menu: “bonny”, heather on the tables, haggis.

The service was genuinely perfect – Michelin standard. Waiting staff were friendly and knowledgeable and totally unintrusive. Wines were ace. Starters of salsify, mallard and eel sandwich were just delicious. The Chef by now was going off into his trance-like misty-eyed silent mode, eyes rolling back into his head, which meant he loved the food (and didn’t care for conversation) – last time I saw a similar reaction was at the Ledbury, and Leong’s Legends.

And onwards. The Chef had mutton chops which were incredible, a real depth of taste, you could actually picture a wise old sheep gambling up the hillside. I had a delicious hake with parsley mash which reminded me of San Sebastian. This is The Chef’s type of food – simple, rich, and all about the ingredients. Pudding was an amazing almond tart, and cheese, with a glass of Sauternes.

I cannot rave enough about the new Quo Vadis – lovely, friendly service that makes you feel a million dollars (SO important to me, still fuming ECC!), delicious fairly-priced food (starters from around £6, small bites around £3.50, mains around £8 – £15) so for me Quo Vadis has to be the pick of restaurants in Soho.

The cost? Well it was £100 a head, but once we sat down and started smiling because they got it JUST right, we knew we were going to blow the doors off. For £100 each we got: 3 cocktails each before dinner (norty), a £48 bottle of lovely wine (after ECC I suggested we splash out), 3 starters to share between 2, 1 main course each, pudding and dessert wine. It was so worth it, we went home with a smile on our face and a skip in our step. Highly recommended (and did I say already, avoid the ECC).

UPDATE 8 FEBRUARY 2012: After I wrote this blog post, I was inundated with tweets and emails and comments from others saying they had had the exact same experience so it seems it was not just me. However, on the evening I wrote the post, I got the following email from Xavier Padovani, one of the owners of the ECC:

Good Evening,
Firstly I would like to introduce myself, I am one of the owner of the ECC Chinatown.
I have just read your blog and I am horrified, I can not find the word to express how sorry I am, how sorry I am to discover the way you have been treated, this is not how we are or how we want to be, in a few words I am speechless!!
Firstly I would like to sincerely apologise for the way you were treated  at the door, I am sorry, and I understand if you want to tell me to “bugger off” or even so if you wish yo use other words to express your feeling, I totally get it, this is unacceptable!
Again I would like to apologise.
I am tonight on my way to the bar and I can only promise you that I am going to firstly investigate exactly what happened at he door Friday night and once I understand exactly what happened, I will act in consequence.
Yet clearly you must hate us and be upset with us, so the only thing I can do at that stage is to assure you that this is not who we are and who we want to be but rather the opposite, this is not an acceptable attitude for our people to take at the door.
So firstly I wanted to apologise and secondly, and only if this is ok by you, and after investigating on my side what happened, I would like to get back in touch with you to be clear on what exactly what happened and learning from our mistake share with you what we are going to change to make sure this never happen again at he bar!
I can only promise you that we will learn from that horrible experience and I will do what I have to in order to make sure this never happens again!
I will get back to you after speaking to the management and the team.
Best wishes
Xavier

After investigating, he sent the following email:

Good Evening/Morning,
I have now personally investigated the matter further as I told you I would since it is what we do when we get a complain.
I understand you came to the bar and you were told that you could come in but when you mentioned someone was going to join you later the door staff told you that they could not guaranty entrance for your guest.
This is because by the time your guest would have arrived we may have reached the authorised legal capacity number.
I understand that you decided to wait. By the time your guest arrived, the bar had reached capacity as a result you two could not enter the bar.
After reading your blog comments it sounds like the staff did not communicate properly with you and may have had quite an attitude while dealing with the issue ; believe it or not I am genuinely embarrassed if that is the way they made you feel and tonight I have had a word with the staff.
Again I can only appologize if you feel the door staff did not act properly.
Clearly you did not appreciate the experience so there is nothing we can do to change that. I can only assure you that we have read your words and this will help us improve in the future.
This is a genuine “I am sorry email and we have taken note”. I am genuinely sad this has happened, I really hope you understand that blog or no blog I am totally sincere.
We will continue to get bad reviews and good reviews since everyone can write whatever they want on the net, this is the beauty of it and this is the game we all play.
However I am completely honest and truly thought what happened was a shame, voila, hope you understand.
Regards
Xavier

To this I wrote the following response:

Hi Xavier and thank you for your response.
For the sake of fairness and with your permission, I will publish this on the blog – let me know if you object.
What I may say is that I have genuinely not been treated so badly by door staff for over a decade in London, and from the twitter responses to my blog post, a huge number of people in London have been treated the same by your door staff and will not go back.
If you geuinely don’t want your establishment to be seen as somewhere you have to put up with abusive door staff then I suggest you entirely re-train them, or get new people who are able to be friendly!
In any event, I am grateful for the time and effort you have taken in responding and for the concern you have shown.
All the best
Sasha

Since then, I am still hearing stories on twitter about poor treatment at the ECC, including tweets from last night by @bittenwritten saying they had the following exchange with the doorman: ECC – “Can we come in?” Answer: “No.” Why? “Maybe wait 45 mins.” Us: Go fuck yourselves.

They are making a mistake here – I’ve heard from people including previous Masterchef winners and influential food bloggers that they have been turned away in similarly rude style. Who passes through the door of doom then? Only those who have booked, or those who look a certain way? Is this Parisian service for you? And why didn’t Xavier offer us to come back and try it if he was so sorry? I suspect we just wouldn’t get in.

Quo Vadis on Urbanspoon

GUEST POST – CULTURE IN LONDON: Fridaze by Leonie Ellis

Note from Sasha: So our celebrant tells us that organising a wedding should be fun as the day itself flies by, and y’know what, it is. Yes, it is, really. Planning menus and tasting wine and talking about flowers and eating cake and planning a fantastic party for all the people you love, is fun. I even bought Monica-from-Friends style cocktail sticks so we can do a pop-up table plan. But, it means daily life sort of goes on hold for a bit (thank god we decided to get married quickly, I couldn’t keep this up for more than 6 months) so I’m not really checking out much of London – apart from gyms, yoga classes, facialists and wedding shops. So I’m leaving the exploration of London to my brilliant friend Leonie who has summed up all that is fabulous and beautiful in London in January. She does a weekly round up of what’s on in her “Fridaze” emails – tweet her to get on the list @Leonie_Ellis.

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ART

A couple of weeks ago, the West end art galleries held their first opening shows of 2012 after the Christmas break. Eastcastle Street and Mayfair was heaving with a throng flitting between each gallery like a swarm of fevered bees with impoverished artists scrambling for the free beers at each stop. I would recommend heading to ‘Sex and Friends’ by Tobias Rehberger at Pilar Corrias on until Feb 17th.

Irene Alvarez has taken the art of tapestry to a new level with an exhibition of lurex, Walt Disney, synthetic flou inspired pieces. Check out her work here.

Martin Parr has curated an exhibition featuring Richard Simpkins and Simone Lueck entitled ‘Richard & Famous’ which explores our burgeoning celebrity culture and its increasingly blurred boundaries. The exhibition takes its title from Australian star-hunter Richard Simpkin’s extraordinary project Richard & Famous. Since 1989 Simpkin has pursued celebrities to have his photo taken with them. LA-based photographer Simone Lueck posted online adverts inviting older women to pose in the guise of their favourite movie star. The image below is Mara as Brigitte Bardot shot in 2009. Dazed and Confused interviewed Martin Parr about this exhibition.

Future Map 2011 – Future Map is an annual survey show exhibiting the best cutting edge talent from the graduating year at University of the Arts London. Reviewing all the graduate and postgraduate courses in art, design, fashion and communications, an illustrious panel of industry experts chose works they feel best represent the next generation of creativity. On until 5th Feb.

Graffiti artist Stik started out by spotting likely looking walls, sketching and planning his ideas for them and spraying them in just hours, or even minutes, in order to run off before the police found him, but these days  bookshops, galleries, cafes and social centers in both London and Bristol are commissioning him to paint their walls. And for the first time he’s started to rent a studio and to sell canvases and sculptures through galleries. A map has been created on Google of where to find Stik’s work around London. Here it is.

Need some creative inspiration? Haw-Lin is a website with nothing more than than a collection of random images that might just spark that idea you need.

PARTY

I have never entered into the futile attempt of a ‘dry’ January and just as well I haven’t disappointed my tradition this year as I have discovered these 2 drinking establishments:

The Whistling Shop – This bar takes elements of Victorian and Dickensian drinking culture, fusing them with very forward thinking and bar tending techniques. They have a laboratory in which to experiment with flavour, multi-sensory perception and theatrical cocktails which can then be enjoyed whilst being surrounded by wood and glass pannelled rooms and gaslight. This just about trips every switch for me.

69 Colebrookerow – Tony Conigliaro is widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s pioneering drinks creators, and is continually working to break the boundries surrounding drinking experiences. A team of lab-coated bartenders habit this Islington hideaway. Old school charm is at the centre of the bars ethos combining 30’s jazz, faultless service and the odd bow tie.

Artists LuckyPDF are hosting Bubblebyte after party at the Bussey Building in Peckham on the 27th Jan with  Will be good. Check out this link for details.

Main Room
✺ AIDS-3D hot from Miami, cold from Berlin
⊙ DJ SKYPE beaming in from Amsterdam
✺ CRAXXXSMRYF ?????? (¿Germany¿)
⊙ MATTHEW STONE returns from NYC, finally
✺ EDDIE PEAKE = www.eddiepeake.com
⊙ FELIX LEE (NATIONAL GRID)
✺ BRADLEY ZERO (RHYTHM SECTION)

Bunga Bunga Lounge
✺ Enchante (Greco-Roman / TopNice)
⊙ STAN IRADANOV (HOUNDS OF HATE)
✺ Paul B. Davis (Beige / TopNice)
⊙ Hampus Time (Top Nice)
✺ Burning Bush (Top Nice)
⊙ T-Trak

MUSIC

Some new blood going under the name of Pandr Eyez. Have a listen here and read Don’t Panic’s interview with the band here.

Some more new talent Peepholes. Have a listen to their soundcloud here and read their interview with Dazed and Confused here.

This list an excellent list of the recent albums you need to listen to.

Go and discover some new musical  talent at HMV’s ‘The Best New Bands’ event

FASHION

Steaming, bubbling geysers on the verge of explosion, blue lagoons and wishing wells carry particular significance in Tze Goh’s S/S12 collection after a trip to Iceland to witness the Northern lights. Read Tze’s interview in AnOther about the stunning country and how it inspired here.

My friends at Barebones have created this frankly amazing T Shirt that I will be wearing permanently until it falls apart over the summer. You can buy one too for a mere £15 from the BareBones website where you will also find a spectacular array of illustrations.

AND JUST BECAUSE I LIKE IT……

Return of the HPL competition – WIN the Time Out London Eating & Drinking Guide

Time Out is offering 5 lucky HPL winners the chance to win a copy of their London Eating & Drinking Guide.  I’m planning a Christmas lunch with the girls and it’s been great for ideas of places we can try (walk on the Heath followed by roast at the Bull & Last, yes please) – restaurants, pubs and bars are set out by area and by cuisine. It also has the winners of their Eating and Drinking Awards and “best of” lists, like places to take kids, with river views, food to share, pre-theatre meals.

Having been through a stage of wanting to go to the next “new place” and trying out somewhere different each week, I’m enjoying going back to old favourites (Leongs Legends, the Polpo restos, Great Queen Street), with the excitement of trying out somewhere new every now and then, on special occasions. I’m going to The Ivy! This weekend! Hurrah! And I also want to go to Hawksmoor Seven Dials, Vinoteca in Marylebone, and Bocca Di Lupo; and I’m dying to eat at the Gingerline supperclub early next year.

A guide like this is really useful if you’re planning a date or stuck in a rut and bored, and want to see what London has to offer. If you want to win a copy of the guide, please leave a comment below and inspire me with which restaurant you really want to try soon, and I’ll pick 5 of you completely randomly. Good luck!

Here’s what Time Out have to say about the guide:

In its 29th Edition the Time Out London Eating and Drinking Guide remains the most definitive guide to dining in the capital. The prestigious guide provides reviews of hundreds of London’s best restaurants, cafés, bars, gastropubs, sushi bars and more. All the reviewed entries have been anonymously revisited and we pay our own way so we get treated just like the average customer. No venues pay to be entered in to the guide, we make our selection independently with many new venues having been added this year.

We also give our ‘Hot 50’ list which we believe offer the most interesting eating experiences as well as the rundown of our Eating and Drinking Awards 2011 with categories such as ‘Best New Cheap Eat’ and ‘Best New Local Restaurant.’ Our reviews span the full kaleidoscope of London dining from African & Caribbean cuisine to Malaysian, Indonesian & Singaporean.

The normal retail price is £11.99 but they are £8.99 from the Time Out shop, which can be found here.

An update from the HPL

It’s been a few months since I’ve written the blog and quite a lot has happened in that time. It seems like a good time to update you so here goes, deep breaths!

On my birthday in Brockwell Park a couple of months ago, The Chef asked me to marry him, and I said yes. This was followed by excitement and champagne and a rush of wedding organisation as our chosen venue (the Botanics in my hometown of Edinburgh) only had one date left for 2012 which made us move quite fast. The reaction of our friends and families was completely brilliant – we felt very loved, and as if everyone thought we were a great couple and were really happy for us.

This was then followed, I now admit, by a period of what might only be described as mild panic. Not about the wedding – I’m remarkably chilled about all that, dare I say it I’ve found it quite fun so far; nor about The Chef who is completely (mostly) perfect in every single way and with whom I share a passionate love of words, The Killing, musicals, Deacon Blue and anything edible that makes you put on weight – but about the fact that I’m finally growing up (at 34, late starter), starting a family of my own, settling down. There’s also the panic of this is it, forever! What a gamble! How scary! But then I think this is balanced by the stability it brings, which is wonderful – you have someone to support you emotionally and financially, a real team, even by law. You can’t walk away easily, you have try to be nice and supportive at all times, it’s not just me on my own against the world. And for me, a bit of a loner at times, that is a scary but exciting thing.

I’m back to bliss again – looking forward wildly to the wedding and entering a phase which I can foresee is likely to become highly irritating to others. Of course, I think our wedding is going to be the best party known to man ever in the world, and I want everyone to be where I want them and when. I’m gutted when someone can’t make it or suggests they won’t stay long, or will be giving birth shortly before or after or in one case, during. I love talking about the wedding, the cake, the flowers, the food, and I’m only just managing to stop before it gets inutterably dull.

For those who are interested in such things, I have a gorgeous sparkly ring, a lovely dress, and our wedding theme is Braveheart meets Mrs DoubtFire with the wedding scene from Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves – it’s all haggis and tartan and thistles and man-skirts and whisky and The Proclaimers. As The Chef put it, it’s sort of like a wedding that an American couple would plan if their great-great-grandfather claimed to be from Dundee.

So that, dear friends, is my news. Is finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with the key to happiness? Not really no, the ups and downs remain, but it’s different now, I’m different, it’s not just me, it’s us. And that’s a very happy prospect.