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The Renovation-The Building Bit

When we started house hunting the running joke was that I wanted one big f**k off room. Well when we found our house, which you can read about here, it was not immediately obvious that I would get the big f**k off room but within days of the offer being accepted the plans for the big f**k off room started.

To go one step back, all joking aside, we had moved from an open plan apartment in the city centre. I loved open plan living, the social aspects, the light and most of all the togetherness. We didn’t want to completely lose the feeling of the open plan all the while looking forward to a house that would give us different living areas. In this big f**k off room I wanted to be able to cook, eat, socialise, watch telly, read, drink tea, live.

The Plan

When we started out from offer accepted day, we immediately wanted to know what could and couldn’t be done. We started to study the floor plans, going through configurations before we spoke to the professionals.

Picture courtesy of Home Estate Agents

The kitchen, as it was, was not a bad size, but it had no real place for a table and no heating. It felt disconnected from the the rest of the house, the only access from the house was a door at the side of the dining room, the first thing you saw was the cellar door, the kitchen felt like an after thought. The dining room was wasted space, and more of a thoroughfare than a room in its own right.

The decision was made to remove the wall in between the dining room and the kitchen, extend out by 1-2 metres, but keep the concertina doors to the living room. This way we would have a large dining, sitting, watching telly, cooking kitchen (the big f**k off room) but a living room in which could become part of the space or be closed off as our cosy escape. This was to become our whole ground floor, it was really important we got the space right, how we wanted to use it ensuring all the plans had our life in mind.

The Plan

It was time for the professionals. We had a family friend who works in ground works and construction, he helped us with the planning permission queries, worked with the council to get our building regulation notice and made sure that we had everything in place. The drawings were then completed; as far as renovations went this was straight forward, in theory it was just one big rectangle. The biggest concerns were the steels and the foundations. We have water manholes in our garden and we had to ensure that access was still possible, the foundations could not disrupt or block this access.

The steels are where it gets real, when you know if everything you want can be done. Oh the steels, those glorious girders that were literally going to hold our world up. From the drawings, we enlisted structural engineers to ensure all the calculations were right and the steels were going to be spot on.

Isn’t it pretty?

The last part of the floor plan was the decision to create another doorway, deciding that the sliding doors at the back should not be the only access point to the back of the house – our gorgeous British weather and some very large trees would only cause a gale throughout the house every time those doors were open. The back of the house is also where we park our car so practicality won over. We placed french doors where there used to be a window. This was not part of the original plan but once it was decided we couldn’t believe they weren’t. They just made so much sense and fed my Crittal fantasy just a little.

Materials were fairly easy for us to decide. As the extension was only small in relative terms, the easiest thing to go for was a brick build, we chose reclaimed brick.

Our beautiful reclaimed bricks

They were the perfect choice, I didn’t want the perfection and smoothness of the red brick, I wanted the extension to look like it had always been part of the house in some way.

It was always sliding doors to be fitted in the new extension for me, Mr P and family thought we were going to go for bi-folds but I wanted the cleaner lines that I felt sliding doors could give. It isn’t the widest of space, and I did not want multiple frames blocking the light and the clean lines. Bi fold doors also have to fold somewhere, sliding doors would give us maximum space in and outside of the house.

Sliding Door inspiration from Pinterest

For the doors we picked black aluminium, with black handles. I must have been asked by everybody if I was sure about this – what is it with people and worrying about black? Black is awesome. I love Crittal Doors, but alas, we could not stretch to the expense, so we picked the best flattering imitation we could.

There would also be two large Velux in the lean to vaulted roof of the extension for extra light, for extra air, for well, just extra.

The light

And so it began…………

On Wednesday January 10th 2018 the first spade went in the ground.

The first spade

For the first two weeks all the work was outside, digging and setting the foundations for the extension at the back of the house. Even before the first speck of dust inside the house was created I wasn’t quite prepared for the dirt and mess that would be created.

After a few days of muck, digging and concrete the breeze blocks started. After the breeze blocks came the beautiful bricks. All of a sudden the new part of our house was beginning to take shape.

Two weeks after the first spade, the wall in between was being dismantled, the ceiling torn down and the old kitchen was ripped out, all of the beige, orange and yellow glory was gone.The wall in between take down was a big day. This was the day that would tell me if all the decisions up to this point had been the right ones.

Monday 3rd February was the day of the steels and the insurgence of the steel stilt.

It was at this point, it all became a bit much. The overwhelming feelings were weighing down on my shoulders and our standard of living was suffering. Bear in mind we had been living with a grotty kitchen and sitting on blow up chairs for three months our standard of living bar was not raised that high. It was time to move in with my parents, to retain our sanity and keep our jobs.

Who lives in a house like this?!

The steels fit perfectly and I loved them. I loved the way they looked, I had admired renovations with exposed steels for some time, but more on that later.

This was the first kink in the road day, too. The house had been through a few extensions before it became ours. The kitchen had already been extended once before , from a galley kitchen to the rectangle that we inherited, the bedroom above, which I think had begun life as a bathroom, had been extended at the same time. In our removal of the ceiling and the wall in between we learnt that the bedroom was currently being supported only by a flimsy timber frame, to make this safe we would need more steel.

What it also meant was more money, but thank goodness we actually decided to extend when we did as we may never have found out about the shoddy workmanship that was under our feet and over our heads – not until it would have been too late that is. Part of our original plan was to leave the steel beams exposed, I have always loved that particular look, and I was looking forward to getting them painted and lit. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be, due to our differing ceiling heights and needing additional steels it would all look too uneven unless the ceiling was fully boarded, steels boxed in and plastered.

There is steel under there. Beautiful plaster.

It’s funny how plans change, I was so sure I wanted exposed steels and now sitting in the finished room I cannot imagine them. I suppose some things are just meant to be.

We didn’t have too many other wee surprises, especially in comparison to many renovation stories. There are two fires on the ground floor of our home, unfortunately both gas as the chimney was long closed during earlier renovation works, and now with the loft extension to think of reinstalling the chimney would just be one step too far for us. We would work with the gas fires we had. We were not going to replace them straight away to keep costs down, but then on our gas safety check the gas was cut off to the burner fire, it was condemned and if we wanted to use a fire in the winter it would need fully replaced. We had a gas fitter on site to relocate the gas pipes for the kitchen and the boiler, and upon his advice we went ahead and replaced the fires. We live in a warm house, our soak radiators heat our space very very well. Yet, there is nothing more cosy than when the fire is on; I even love a fire inside on a summers evening, when the heating hasn’t been on it just takes the chill out the air. The improvement in the aesthetic was not lost on me either. Another instance where fate, or dodgy gas, steps in to give you exactly what you need.

The Hardest Choices

Aside from the dust, the mess and the chaos, there were parts of renovations that I had no clue about at all, and wasn’t told when I was researching mood boards. There is a part of the renovation which is called the first fix. If you are an experienced renovator you will be well aware of this. I was not. This is the point you must decide where all utilities are going. Our renovation included a brand new kitchen with gas and water in completely different areas to where they had been before. The kitchen design itself had to be completed at the same time to ensure that the water and gas pipes were all going to be in the right place for the kitchen to be installed. We had to decide where every light switch, every socket and every light was going to go.

I found this very trying and difficult to say the least. I had mood boards of colours, sofas, kitchens and all the things I wanted to make pretty.

Mood Board. All companies highlighted and includes images from Come Down to the Woods and My London Home

Yet I had no idea on the placement of pendant lights over an imaginary island, should we have spots and if so how many? What other parts of the room need lighting? The questions just kept coming. After the building plans, and the structural engineers all plans were done by myself, with nudges from Mr P and family. The pressure to make the right decisions was real. Me and Mr P got our heads together, took a deep breath and followed the rule that I have for most of my life so far, speak to your parents and then go with your gut. My Dad was a huge part of this renovation, not only our sounding board, but pretty much our project manager, being on site when we couldn’t, helping push the builders when they needed it. My Mammy was the one keeping me sane and encouraging me to go with my instincts.

Attention to detail is hugely important; The love is all in the details. Everybody’s attention detail is different and what is important to you will not be important to others. It was important throughout the house that it looked like us and was our style not necessarily what would look good to others. Anyway, we had a list of things to choose:

  • Gas Supply
  • Water Supply
  • Electricity supply – if you are doing a kitchen redesign you need to think about supply to a kitchen island, cooker hood, strip lighting, work lighting. Do you need to upgrade your fuse board – we did.
  • Sockets – where and what?
  • Spots – where do you want them, are they the main source of lighting or work lighting?
  • Any other lighting – wall lights, pendants, lamps etc

Heating – we had to think how were going to heat the room aside from the aforementioned fires. Underfloor heating was given a great deal of thought. Cost vs need. We had always thought underfloor heating would have been a given, but we had already lived in the house for three months, we knew it was a warm house. Even the old afterthought kitchen with no heating was never really that cold. The decision was made against the underfloor heating and we started to look at radiators. Radiators to me are a necessary evil – the only ones I had looked at with longing eyes were the old Victorian cast iron beauties. We could have gone down that road but were concerned where we would be able to place them between all the doors and windows that our room would have. Then I found soak.com. Immediately I fell in love with their tall traditional triple panel anthracite radiators – these had all the charm of a cast iron radiator, with a slightly more industrial look, but all the heat. They fit perfectly on the wall spaces we had, and I just love them. Yes I love the necessary evil.

One of the four Soak.com radiators

From the beginning of the renovation my Dad spoke about lighting on repeat, for him it was so important that we got the lighting right. In my head I had thought about the beautiful Swoon pendant lights I wanted, the Om Mudra wall light I had my eye on from Rockett St George (I had these delivered months before the actual kitchen was delivered)

I kept harping on about about how much I hate spots, they are so uncool, not beautiful not my vibe bla bla bla. How glad am I that nobody listened to my brattish ways, and forced me to pick where I wanted spots. We picked white spots, these blend in to our room painted in Farrow and Ball Blackened, we ensure they as flush as humanly possible to create the glow without the glare. We would have loved fully recessed spots but due to our steels and the ceiling issues we had there would not have been enough depth in all areas; if you want to read a real masterclass in kitchen lighting then you need to read this on Kate Watson-Smyths’ awesome interior blog. Back to the spots I have no idea why I created such fuss, I still have my beautiful pendants and my beautiful Rockett st George wall light but I also have spots to highlight the working areas, to bring light when it is necessary and offer a little subtle glow when needed.

It is important to note here that where we could in this renovation and since throughout the house we have changed normal switches to dimmers. Dimmers make a huge, a missive difference to all lighting and particularly to spots. Dimmers offer you options when it comes to making your lighting work that little bit harder for you; by creating layers of lighting the room can be seen, literally, in its best light.

Light switches. Never did I think I would take light switches so seriously, and agonise over which ones would create the perfect look. I didn’t have to agonise for too long when I fell in love with Dowsing and Reynolds and the switches below.

Dimmer Switch Love

After seen no other switch would ever come close.

We also changed all our plug sockets to matt black; with some of them also being Usb inclusive sockets – don’t know how we lived before. These ones below:

Since the big f**k off room was finished, we have replaced all other sockets and switches to matt black (oh apart from two that were missed by the electrician, but will be remedied on their next visit). The power really is in the details, the finishing of the room makes it complete.

All skirtings were fully replaced; there was no original coving left in this part of the house we chose at this stage not to replace it, to keep the ceilings high and to keep the flow from the new part to the old part clean lines. In the living room we have two curved walls, almost pillars at the bay window, had we put in coving this could have looked messy and clunky; in the end these curves were the biggest part of the decision. What was a very remarkable note of the renovation was the way the skirting around these curved part of the walls were dealt with. When we moved into the house the skirting was simply squared off around the curve meaning there was a triangle of filler and dirt; you also didn’t want to get too close with your ankles for fear of broken bones. One of the joiners in the renovation team took the time to change this for us and we will be eternally grateful. He painstakingly cut slithers of skirting board and applied them one by one until there was a full curve, they were then delicately filled and sanded down by hand until they were smooth enough to be painted.

Curves are beautiful

No photos unfortunately of the unpainted curve, the joiner did the work so under the radar and without drama it was completed and painted before we had a chance to catch our breath. I cannot tell you the smile these curves right down to the skirting board give us on a daily basis. Good tradesman are really something to behold.

Colour

Now we are talking. The fun part. Colours and everything coming together was the part that had been in my head for months and months. I had mood boards that had been collated 3 months before hte first spade went in tot he ground.

The colour of the kitchen is where it all started. I had been lusting after the dark kitchens of Devol before we even bought our house, Erica Davies then started her kitchen renovation and I fell in love, the obsession had started. A black kitchen had been my original focus, but with Erica Davies kitchen and Mr P’s favourite colour of navy I was beginning to be swayed in the blue direction.

Researching kitchens is a minefield; so much choice. As it is for many budget was a huge deciding factor; we had already spent tens of thousands on the actual renovation. We wanted to make sure that we had the style and quality we were looking for but couldn’t afford to go to the more bespoke end of the market. One of my many evenings obsessively trawling the internet I came across DIY Kitchens. Their website is great, you can wander around their showroom from the comfort of your computer to get an idea of the options they have on offer, you can look at customer testimonials, kitchens that have been fitted, basically anything you need to know you can get on their website. I will also note here that their website is also where you go to design and pick your kitchen but more on that in another post. We paid a visit to their showroom in Wakefield, it is a kitchen theme park, 32 kitchens of all styles and colours, I won’t say too much here as I am going to write a separate post on the kitchen itself, but as soon as I walked up the stairs in the showroom and saw the kitchen at the top I knew that was the one I wanted.

So Navy, well to be precise Farrow and Ball’s Hague Blue was one of our colours, we now just had to pick the rest.

The walls of the kitchen I wanted them to be light in contrast to the dark kitchen. With the sliding doors, french doors, Velux and existing windows we were doing everything we could to bring the light in from the northerly side of the house, I wanted our colour choice to maximise this. I am not a colour expert in any stretch of the imagination but I definitely was veering towards the cooler end of the white scale. Men, definitely the ones I had to ask, find the scale of whites bemusing, I questioned my life choices when Mr P stated that surely white is just white, as multiple squares of paper were painted various shades of white, stuck to walls or thrust under his nose. Grey white walls and crisp white skirting boards and woodwork have always appealed to me. Think Parisian apartments, with paint colours that look like they have not changed over the years, yet, remain clean and beautiful. For this reason I was drawn to Farrow and Ball Blackened with Wevet woodwork; against each other the Wevet ensures the Blackened looks cool and grey without greying the room out. To this day I still love the combo.

Hague Blue. When you fall for this colour you fall hard. I knew I wanted a dramatic living room; glamourous and cosy were the two words of the room. Hague blue would give me the drama I was looking for and the perfect canvas for the gold, brass and metallic hues I knew I would be attracted to when accessorizing. All of you dark interior lovers out there will know when you start sharing your ideas with people, there are some, who look at you like you have three heads when you mention a a dark room; painter and decorators up and down the land rolling their eyes. It is now the room that everybody loves, the room they gravitate towards and the room that gets the most oohs and ahhs. It currently has a Wevet ceiling; it will be interesting to see how long it remains so. The skirting boards were also painted Hague Blue to ensure the drama was room wide.

Leading to the living room there are concertina doors that we retained to keep a space that we could close off to make cosy should we wish. These were originally a stained pine; the fireplace in the living room was also the same stained pine. These too, could have been painted in the Hague Blue but I decide to go another complimentary dark colour that had been a favourite for years and years, Railings. With black blue tones, this was the perfect compliment against both the Hague Blue and the Blackened depending on what side of the doors you were looking at. There were also two wooden windows that needed to be brought into the colour scheme, painting these Railings brought it all together.

All of our paint was bought from Decorating Centre Online, using their colour match service. Until this renovation I really had no clue about what paint went with what. Helen and her team guided us on what we should be using for the kitchen space, living room space or woodwork, taking into consideration wear and finish. Often, I had heard that colour match services never quite lived up to the depth of colour the likes of Farrow and Ball could provide. You could not tell the difference between the tester pots of the real thing and the paint we bought from Decorating Centre Online. The cost and the different types of paint we could get colour matched gave us the choice to do what we really wanted with our renovation, and since throughout our home.

Our Home

I never dreamt that we would have renovated; I can’t say it was ever a definitive plan. We fell for an area, then a house, and finally what we could do to make it a home. I have the utmost respect, literally worship and hands down, to those that tackle real renovations. Those who do the work themselves I could not admire more. What the renovation has taught me (and the reason I think it becomes an obsession and an addiction) is how it feels to make a place your own, to really think about how you use your home and how you want to live. We still have lots to do through the house but up to this point it has been totally worth it.

So there we have it, through lots of dust, tantrums, steels, plaster, paint and dreams I got my one big f**k off room – it’s all ours and our house has started to become our home.

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Paris: According to Us.

Christmas Day 2018 I was surprised by Mr P with a boarding pass for a flight from Manchester to Paris on April 1st 2019. I cried, not because the boarding pass couldn’t possibly be real, because for the second year in the row we had made the decision we were not doing Christmas presents; for the second year in a row I did receive a Christmas present, for the second year in a row Mr P did not. We do not spend Christmas Day together, choosing to spend the day with respective families but I am entering into a completely different type of post.

I can’t really think of anything nicer than a surprise trip to Paris apart from a surprise trip to Paris where your best friend MB, had also been surprised on the same Christmas Day, with the same boarding pass (albeit hers said from Glasgow) and we would be meeting in Paris as a four ready to spend some quality time together. The boys did good.

Where we stayed; The Apartment; The Area

I am a hotel girl, I love love love hotels. I can spend one night in a good hotel and feel like I have been away for a week. I love the feel of a hotel room, I love meeting in the hotel bar before you go out and I love the nightcap before you retire (fall in) to bed. I want to order room service and realise that the m&m’s I ate last night from the minibar cost more than my flight. A hotel it was going to be, until we started looking and we stumbled upon an apartment, just the one apartment in particular, Exclusive Loft in Le Marais, on booking.com. Once we had seen this, we couldn’t quite get it out of our head, it was booked. 

We were greeted by our host at the apartment, which was convenient and comforting. The host also adjusted the check in and check out times as best as they could to suit our flight times; this way we had more time to enjoy our break. We could not believe the location, bang smack in the middle of Le Marais, in the 4th arrondissement. Le Marais is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Paris but is fast becoming one of the most fashionable. The streets surrounding the apartment were steeped in history, smells of food and wine, and fashion – the majority of shops surrounding our apartment were selling very pretty items from jewelry to beautiful cloths, materials and bags, but 90% of them were for trade customers only; very interesting if you are a buyer. 

The apartment itself was just wonderful. The front door opened on to a stylish kitchen and living area. The pictures we looked at on booking.com literally are exactly as the apartment looks in real life. There was a place to sit and relax, peruse one of the many books on offer. There was a dining table for the four of us to sit at. This was actually one of my favourite things and a serious selling point for us. We all wanted to relax as well as see Paris. The ability to get up when we wanted, without the pressure of having to organise the night before what time we wanted to meet for breakfast. The ease of this made our trip all the more pleasurable. As it went in the mornings, everybody got up exactly when they wanted. On the first morning I very much enjoyed five minutes quiet time just me and my coffee(freshly made in the fancy Nespresso coffee machine) on the sophisticated sofa, enjoying the warm bask of the feeling that I was in Paris. From that first morning and the continuing two, one of the boys went to the local boulangerie on the corner for croissants, pastries and baguettes.

The table was set, the coffee was made, the juice poured and we sat and ate and talked and laughed. For me this was a real-life point, a real memory; when something so normal is elevated it makes your soul feel good. We would then all get ready in our own calm time and by midday we would be out pounding the Paris streets, ready for the next sight, the next delicious food and definitely the next drink. 

After getting organised in our own bedrooms with wardrobe space, hangers, beautiful interiors, wonderful bathrooms. I will stop here and appreciate the bathrooms for a moment, they were both a great size and wonderfully decorated. Privacy with bathrooms is high on my life necessity list. Two of our party were particularly excited about one element of the bathrooms – the Dyson hairdryer. I wouldn’t like to say that it was the highlight of the break for MB, but think it was going to be hard for her considering it had reached such dizzy heights a matter of hours into our visit to Paris. 

What we ate

Anyway, after we had ooohed and aaaahed at the marvellous apartment we would call home for the next 3 nights and four days. We set out to explore. First, we were hungry and thirsty and not necessarily in that order. 

Our first port was about a 3-minute walk from the apartment to a very busy cross roads, that had at the heart of it a cafe Les Art & Metiers that currently had the sun beaming down on it. Luck was on our side, as we were being sent messages from home of the turn in the weather and possible snow in April, we managed to find ourselves seated at a table on the pavement, being warmed by the glorious sun. 

It didn’t take us long to decide that the drinks were to be champagne and beer, and the food order was to be four Croque Madames, we decided Madames over Monsieurs as we were famished, we wanted something to soak up the champagne and the beer, and we wanted sustenance for our ongoing afternoons stroll in Paris. 

The champagne was French, crisp and cold, the beer was large, cold and with perfect fizz. The Croque Madame was delicious, fresh, comforting and carb loaded. The waiter was attentive and perfectly Parisian. We could not have asked for a better first afternoon in Paris.  

If you were to ask the boys what was their favourite day or memory of the trip they would both say the Tuesday late afternoon into Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, we had spent the afternoon on the Champs Élysées, ate patisserie at Pierre Hermé the Pierre Hermé x L’occitane to be precise. The patisserie was beautiful and delicious.

For us, Champs Élysées lacked the warmth that we had found elsewhere in Paris, if you are looking for large designer boutiques this is the place for you.

We decided to get the BatoBus along to Notre Dame, that way we could take in all the sights along the river, and look up at the all the awesome bridges, that punctuate the Seine.

Getting off the boat, we wandered a little looking at the little stalls that line the side of the river, selling books and art. I will be haunted by the old copy of the Hunchback of Notre Dame for €80, that I never picked up, we live and we learn.

I was desperate for a comfort break and I could tell that the boys were beginning to count the hours from the last time they had indulged in a beverage. I suggested that we pop in to the lovely, very Parisian looking bar, on the corner at the end of the bridge directly across the river from Notre Dame. La Frégate. As soon as we entered the bar, we all fell a little bit in love, with the dark wood, red leather, and bustling waiters, it was the Parisian bar we had been waiting for. We managed to get a table for four right in a corner by the window. The waiter was quick to attend and we ordered red wine and a cheese board for the girls, beers and Croque Monsieurs’ for the guys. As our drinks arrived, we looked outside and the heavens had opened, the rain was literally bouncing off the ground as we watched Parisians and tourists alike run for cover. Serendipitously we had decided to enter that bar at that time because within ten minutes every spare seat they had, had been taken by slightly soggy people. One glass of wine, turned into another. The food was delicious and typical of what we wanted to find in our Parisian bar, the bread was fresh and delicious, the cheese was strong and moreish and the red wine was intoxicating.

Second comfort break in and us girls arrived back at the table expecting to leave when it seemed the waiter and the boys were conspiring against us, or simply with each other, to stay and enjoy the atmosphere we found ourselves in. Our waiter was attentive and definitely made us feel at home, regaling us with tales from Paris to Brazil, and he also kept us happy with a constant feed of warm cheese Choux buns. I cannot tell you how good these were, little bites of fluffy cheesy heaven. There is no pictorial evidence of these little bits of heaven, so they or may not have existed, either that or as we were so well lubricated they never lasted very long in their basket. Needless to say we never made it inside Notre Dame to visit, instead we sat in the bar, talking, drinking, eating and laughing. Four friends catching up, spending time together, listening and responding. Did I mention the laughing? Literally thought we were the funniest people in the place. Eventually we left at 10.30pm after arriving around 5 pm. We walked back to our apartment (probably more staggered than walked) but not before we stood in front of Notre Dame complete in slightly drunken awe. The photos that accompanied this of three of my favourite people posing on demand in front of the beautifully lit monumental building are definitely among my favourite photos ever; since our trip I have looked at them fondly, not before laughing, at the sheer splendidness of that evening. 

In Montmartre, we settled into another corner table, this time a pavement table, in the sun; this time the complimentary blankets were greatly received and wrapped around our legs. We ordered small beers (to take the edge of the night before), French onion soup, a cheese burger and moules mariniere – a few more boxes ticked on our Parisian adventure. I never took the name of this restaurant, as we were still in a hungover just seen Sacré Coeur haze, so if anybody would be kind enough to tell me the name of the red restaurant on the right hand said of the square walking down from Sacré Coeur I would be grateful. If you go and see this restaurant, get the French onion soup or the moules.

Our last day also fell on MB’s darling husband, Mr B’s birthday so we planned a slightly more birthday-ish brunch than we had the other days – he would have been happy with nothing, which makes it all the more enjoyable to do in my opinion. Think cake, cards, sweets and the first choice of croissant. Anyway, we had until about 5pm that day to see and do what we wanted, so we decided on more walking which took us to a lovely lunch at the Louvre. The weather that day was one of those days where if you got a spot in the sun, then you could bask in it as it warmed you to your bones, if you got a spot in the shade then those aforementioned bones were positively jittering. It just so happened the one of Louvre restaurants has a balcony, The Cafe Marly, that is very well enclosed within the stone arches and its supporting pillars. The outside tables are nestled either in front of the balustrade or between the pillars.

It had socially set tables with comfy cushioned chairs; proper china, silverware and crystal wine glasses. You can have your lunch whilst gazing over at the awesomeness of the Louvre and all the building has to offer. The food was delicious for half of us and small for the other half, the other half particularly enjoyed the cocktails. I think the salads are a very good order, the Salad Nicoise was fresh, salty and delicious with the perfect egg on top. The Chicken Ceaser Salad also went down well.

There are definitely worse spots to sit and take in the majesty of Paris, yet also people watch at the ordinary happening around you as every tourist bustles to get the perfect photo. It was the perfect Paris lunch to top our few days, before we headed back to the airport.

What we did

Our destination on our first afternoon was to the river, via the Louvre and Tuileries Garden, and then on to the Eiffel Tower

As our chosen mode of transport was by foot, it was repeatedly commented that it was hard to get over the scale of the buildings both in their intricate detail and decoration, but, also their size. The boys could not get over the size of the Louvre , without even going inside and getting lost along its halls. Tuileries Garden in the beautiful April sun, which was reaching 21 degrees at this point was full of lovers kissing on benches (this happens a lot in Paris), co-workers having picnics on the grass, families enjoying time in the warm open air all the while tourists are buzzing round taking as many pictures with selfie sticks as they possibly can. Continuing our walk along the Seine it became even more apparent how good people are at using this city. There are locals in suits, dangling their feet over the riverbank with their bottles of wine and plastic cups enjoying an after work drink, there are many many runners up and down the Seine making you wish you yourself were a runner but then you don’t have the Seine to run on every day, and there is us walking, chatting, looking and soaking up every last ounce of sun and Paris river air. After stopping for another drink, at one of the many bars that appear along the Seine and the all important comfort breaks, we headed to the Eiffel Tower , who had been gazing down at us during our last twenty minutes or so of walking along the Seine. 

Mr B took it upon himself to be our personal navigation system, although at this point it felt like he was playing chase the Eiffel Tower. Either way he found us the best route in, I have been to the  Eiffel Tower before, but, previously I approached from the river side through the amusements and lucky lucky men. This time by chasing the Eiffel Tower Mr B had found the perfect side street to approach the Eiffel Tower, as if she was born out of the streets and grew into the sky.

Where she had always belonged but looked like nothing else around, a place that allowed her to be seen as majestic as she is. I know a lot of people, particularly Parisians would disagree, but I personally can’t quite get over the engineering feat, and I think she is beautiful. I also like sparkly things and when she lights up at night, she blows my mind. 

We all decided we were going to summit, this was something I previously did not do. My last experience was a lift to the restaurant, a lovely dining experience and back down again. I have to admit this time certainly took my breath away. After queueing for some time, we made it to our turn in the lift. The first lift goes up one of the legs, it had not occurred to me at this point that even the first level was quite high and the lift is perpendicular and could send someone quite queasy. Needless to say by the time I got out the first lift, I was feeling weird and when I looked at the mid-height bar that was between the people and the great outdoors it seemed my legs did not want to move. The other three in the party were absolutely fine and marched on ahead to get the next lift to the summit, stating we can look from this view on our way back down. I could not be the party pooper nor could I listen to them regale of the views they saw from up there, and the ‘you should have seen it’ ‘you would have loved it’ ‘I wish you had been there’ and so on and so on. So up they, and I, went. 

The summit lift, was the longest lift I have ever been in, and the noisiest, every clunk I envisioned the worst possible things. As my panic rose, the lift driver (would they be called a driver? an attendant? they seemed more important than an attendant) announced that we are at the summit. We stepped out and the first thing that hit me was the air, we had been lucky and it had been a beautiful day, the temperature had dropped this evening, it was still only April after all, but the air up here was clear, crisp and you were able to take in the deepest breath. For some of us this deepest breath was more important than for others. The picture and the presence of Paris was immense.

We arrived at the summit just after dusk, when the sun had just disappeared for the day so we saw Paris come alive by lights, for a magpie like me it took me to a very happy place. 

Talking of magpies, I have a serious gypsy gene that draws me to every sparkly, some would say tacky, I would say kitsch souvenir, that on after exiting the gates I have to succumb to one of the lucky lucky men, for a light up Eiffel tower. Now currently looking fabulous in our home. 

With tired legs and hungry tummies we decided we were too tired to walk home, the 16500 steps we had done that day had been enough. We walked towards the taxis when a little fairy light covered tuk tuk stood out to us and before we could say Bonjour Monsieur we found ourselves hurtling around Paris, listening to French opera music, lit by blue fairy lights and holding on for dear life. 

That little tuk tuk took us directly to the end of the little street our apartment was on, and stopped outside what turned out to be a wonderful café providing delicious burgers and fries that the boys ordered and brought back for us to eat with a glass of fizz, on the sofa watching Netflix after exhausting ourselves on our first day in Paris. 

The morning after the night before (the best bar in Paris) gave us a slightly slower start, we headed on foot from Le Marais to Montmartre. We found going on foot everywhere was, yes tiring, but you got to see parts of the city you would not have necessarily seen otherwise. Streets that held beautiful buildings that housed people’s homes, each area holding its own businesses and much different to the next. On the walk to Montmartre we knew we were getting close as the streets became steeper and steeper until we arrived at one of the staircases that leads to the Sacré Coeur, with a big inhale in and best foot forward we climbed the stairs.

Yes, I want you to think we were amazing for doing this with a hangover. I had never visited Sacré Coeur before, I had often dreamed of the soul and the spirituality, and it did not disappoint. Being an old romantic I could not wait to see what Sacré Coeur and the bohemian Montmartre had to offer. Everything about Sacré Coeur fills the soul. From the views that look out over the whole of Paris, the magnificent building itself from the outside, to the ethereal beauty inside. I am not a particularly religious person but I find a calmness and stillness that comes from a religious building very intoxicating. None more so now than Sacré Coeur. I enjoy and look forward to the moment you light a candle, and take a moment to think of the thing that comes to your mind, whether that be a loved one, a wish, a loss or a dream; to take pause is a wonderful thing to do.

After drinking in all the atmosphere Sacré Coeur had to offer, we headed to the cobbled streets of Montmartre. We turned a corner and there was a group of football supporters clinking beers and chanting football songs. There were kids running around the square, artists lining the street, with shop owners and waiters chatting and laughing, all whilst trying to barter you into their shop, restaurant or to paint you. Everything you would expect. We took it all in, perused the shops, buying the obligatory tea towels, perfect Lautrec prints, a snow globe (I love a snow globe) and a little wind up music box that I completely fell in love with. This little box, when wound, plays La Vie En Rose and can transport me right back that square. This magpie never leaves empty handed.

On the same day, once we had changed into our glad rags we were picked up by our taxi and swept through the crazy busy Parisian streets back towards Montmartre for the Moulin Rouge. The iconic windmill, not as large as in my imagination, draws you in to the Moulin Rouge doors.

The decor is gorgeous, like you have stepped into a 1940’s movie set, the lush red velvet enhancing the gold facades to create an atmosphere of glamour and grandeur.

The queuing to get in, held back by big burly bouncers all dressed in black slightly takes away from the glamour but all is forgotten once you are inside. The tables are packed in and the dinner service is pleasant, the food tasty and better than average, but fast and attentive is putting it better than abrupt. But you do not come to the Moulin Rouge for the culinary experience. We were well looked after, kept watered and were ready for the show when the time arrived. The show itself is as sparkly, camp and boobtastic as you would expect. The dancers, both female and male, are beautiful and talented, the other performers all amaze and draw gasps from the crowd. It may not be the Baz Luhrman spectacular but it is a spectacle and very entertaining. If you can sit back, enjoy the entertainment and the beauty then please go. 

How we got there and got around

The guys had booked us flights with Air France and it could not have been more perfect as we were due to land in Paris within twenty minutes of each other. The only downside for us was we actually flew out with Fly Be in conjunction with Air France , the plane was smaller than we thought, therefore, the carry on luggage we had did not fit, our luggage ended up in the hold. I will state at this point I have vowed to check in my luggage at all times now, the stress of fitting all of my toiletries into one of those teeny tiny little plastic bags to just be pulled aside for my case to be gone through is just an anxiety step to far from me, very pleased for the security but not for me. So its checked in luggage for me. The flights were pleasant and got us to where we needed to be.

We had pre-booked a taxi, but after a multi-lingual argument between myself, the taxi driver and his boss on the phone, the pre-booked taxi left without us in it. I had been told to book the taxi through booking.com, as it saves time at the airport, you know your transfer is sorted and it is often cheaper. Obviously in this instance it did not work out. I got half of my money back, I am still arguing about the other half. So read the small print before you think it is a good idea. 

Anyway, we were soon on our way in a very nice airport taxi, that actually ended up cheaper than the pre-booked taxi, and got us directly to our front door. All’s well that ends well. Those of you who have been to Paris before will know how far away Charles De Gaulle airport is from Paris City Centre. On a good day in a car this would take at least thirty-five minutes, when I was first in Paris five or six years ago it took about forty minutes, this time the traffic was immense. It took one hour and fifteen minutes for us to get to our apartment. The good thing is the airport taxis are flat rate, so the thirty-five-minute journey would cost the same as the seventy-five-minute journey. 

Apart from the taxi that took us back to the airport, we used one further taxi company on the night we went to the Moulin Rouge, G7 taxi, the service was online, quick, the driver was lovely and took us through the very busy Paris roads to the Moulin Rouge. There are many boat tours and buses that pootle up and down the Seine all day everyday, we chose the BatoBus as our means of travel for one day, it cost €17 each, and we could hop on and off as many times as we liked, as it sailed from Jardin Des Plantes down to the Eiffel tower and back again. Apart from that we walked, we walked and we walked some more. For us this was the best way for doubling up sight seeing and commuting. The average street in Paris is a sight in itself, you do not always have to go to the tourist hotspots.

If you see a little tuk tuk with blue fairy lights, belting out opera – get in, enjoy the ride and hold on tight.

Paris for me is…….

Thomas Jefferson said “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life”. To me this sums up Paris, Parisians are mingled in their everyday life among the tourists who are seeing all these things for the first time, I believe both are as equally in awe of this beautiful city. 

The architecture in Paris really does take your breath away. You could choose to not go and see any of the tourist sites and you would still be blown away with the architecture, the beauty and the history. It’s the very ordinary in the extraordinary. The city is there to be used, seen, lived in and enjoyed. If you haven’t been, yes take your wallet, but please go. Paris I love you and I will see you soon.

Paris is always a Good Idea – Audrey Hepburn

Daisy Jones & The Six

by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This brilliant book is ridiculously cool. Being a New York Times bestseller is always a good start. It had me dreaming of long hair, bare feet and dancing, whilst singing Tiny Dancer. Whenever I have been to see live music there has been that one girl singing and dancing with a tambourine or Cabasa, that everybody can’t take their eyes off; this book is that girl.

You have not seen anything until you’ve seen Daisy Jones dancing on a piano in a fur coat with no shoes on singing “Mustang Sally”.

Graham Dunne

Daisy Jones and the Six tells the story of how a 70’s band got together, and ultimately broke apart. It lets you into the psyche of Daisy Jones, and all that love her, The Six and all the talent and personalities.

Imagine the best rock documentary about your favourite band, the band that wrote the songs that made you feel that you were understood. This book is that documentary. The interview style of writing draws you in like you are part of the secret. This may be seen as annoying or hard to follow. Critics would say that it may not give the character stories depth of description. For me, I felt that I was earwigging on other people’s conversations, other people’s lives; I had access to behind the scenes, to a party that I had not been invited to.

 The conversation and the story are given new depths and directions because every situation is described by more than one character, more than one voice. You are given a virtual reality, three hundred and sixty degree view of every celebration, cross word and truth told. All be it, not everybody remembers the truths in the same way. This for me is the beauty.

The characters feel real from the start. I wanted to be Daisy Jones and I wanted Billy Dunne to love me. The reader feels this way even when you know Billy Dunne is just another narcissistic, needy, tortured music man. Daisy is a little rich girl, although an ambitious one, with an outstanding beauty and an even more outstanding voice, that wants to be loved. But, the one big difference between Daisy and other would be groupies, is her inner strength, self-confidence and awareness of her own being. Daisy knows who she wants to be, and that certainly was not secondary to any other person.

“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse.
I am not a muse.
I am the somebody.
End of fucking story.” 

Daisy Jones

It is quotes like this, that raise the book from having another male lead controlling the narrative. Daisy is the subject of the gaze as well as the gazer; Billy is the subject of the gaze as well as the gazer. This is seen throughout the interaction with all the characters, the way they look, and communicate with both Billy, Daisy and each other. The female characters in the book are fundamental to the success of the band, and therefore the book. With the rock and roll girls Daisy and Karen sitting alongside Camila holding together her man and her family. The book is set in the decade of the Equal Rights Amendment, Gloria Steinem marching forward with female liberation, emancipation and equal rights for all. It is no surprise, and wonderful that the female characters are portrayed as multi faceted, complicated and far removed from the epitome of rock and roll groupies.

 I am not going to sit around sweating my ass off just so men can feel more comfortable. It’s not my responsibility to not turn them on. It’s their responsibility to not be an asshole.

Daisy Jones

The balance between complicated tortured souls and a likeability for both Daisy and Billy lends accuracy to them being both leading lady and leading man of the band and their lives, but with enough likeable realness that the reader roots for them from beginning to end, even in some of the darker moments. The group of characters from the band and entourage add a perfect level of truth and insight that brings authenticity to the relationships. 

Daisy and the Six is a love story, not just a love story between star crossed lovers but between individuals coming together for a dream, beginning with brothers and ending with an extended family. Like any good family story, there is love, laughter, betrayal, fun, sex, births, deaths, dramas and the boring bits in between. They may not all have got their happy ending, and it is still up for discussion of why things fell apart, but they sure did have fun getting there.

Even though the band is fictitious I found myself anticipating their next single. I would love to hear a Daisy Jones and the Six album. 

This is my first read of a Taylor Jenkins Reid novel, but it has whet my appetite and I will not be surprised if another of her novels lands on my bedside table sooner rather than later. If you too want a wee look of where you could head next, have a look here taylorjenkinsreid.com  

We were great. We were really great.

Daisy Jones

Whilst reading this book the music was constantly in my mind, so here is a wee top ten to get you in the mood………

Finding The Future

Friday 13th October 2017, we moved into our home,which at that point was most definitely just our house.

I had lived in a city centre apartment for 9 and a half years, which was fabulous, and I love it. Mr P moved in with me there. We had a lovely life there.

We made the decision in early 2017, having been together for 2 and a half years we wanted to start thinking about our future. The conversations led us to imagining what our future might look like. I fantasised about an old house with fires and room for my books. Mr P spoke of trees and eventually getting a dog. At this point it was also important for him to find somewhere that was all about us.

The apartment sold within weeks. We had started looking for our home, we could move anywhere we wanted to really, if it was within driving distance of work. We pinned our apartment location on a map, and drew a circle 10 miles in all directions, this was where we would start.

In my dreams of a future house I always imagined the country, but when the reality set in of it maybe happening, the idea of not being able to walk to a shop, for a coffee or the local pub ground us to a halt. This move had to be about us imagining our future, we did really sit down and ask ourselves what we thought that would look like and what are the things that would make us happy.

We looked and looked, and nothing felt quite right. We started driving round areas rather than looking at specific properties and one sunny afternoon in May we stumbled across the village we now call home, under 3 miles from the glamorous city apartment. We sat on a little table in the sun in front of the bar with bi-folding doors, with two cold beers and thought well this is the life. The life we imagined started to feel like it could become a reality. Major problem, and no surprise houses don’t often come up for sale. There was one house that suited our budget and the type of property we were looking for. We booked a viewing, we didn’t like it. We went in a huff.

We moved in with my parents when the apartment keys were handed over. (My parents are wonderful and my best friends, but I didn’t ever really envision living with them again, as four adults. Sometimes lovely, sometimes not). The same week as moving in with my parents, we were emailed Information about a property that had just come to the market. I didn’t like it, I moaned, I was not bothered. Mr P booked us a viewing anyway.

The Saturday viewing came around and off we went, we drove through the village we fell in love with smiling. We could not find how to get to the house, we could see it but not how to drive to it. Abandoning the car we set off on foot, there is the gates for the back, there is the house, but where the heck is the front door? Eventually we found the little private walkway that goes directly to the front of the houses. My eyes were beginning to go into soft focus.

On entering the house, I could see there were a few existing Victorian features. The house was far from nice décor, and there was stuff everywhere. A couple were already in viewing the house when we got there, and a couple arrived after us. The popularity for the area and period houses was becoming obvious. I was showing some interest but still hadn’t been swayed from my previous days moaning’s. That was until I saw one of the couples out in the garden whispering among themselves. Standing in the spare room looking out the window, I turned to Mr P and said, “they are going to put in an offer”, shocked he answered “what do you care”, “We can’t lose this house” I said.

We walked around the house again, this time looking at what it could become, how would we use the space. It had three bathrooms, what period property would we find again with three bathrooms. It had a loft conversion with a possible master bedroom and ensuite for us. Mr P was quick to point out that with me being a very private person but loving family and friends staying at our house, the loft room would become one of my favourite things about the house.

The House : before we touched a thing. Pic stolen from Rightmove

We clutched the property details, smiled all the way back to my parents’ house. I wasn’t even sure why I was smiling. I had not wanted to view the house, and I was very overwhelmed about how much work would need done.Mr P takes everything way more in his stride, thinking we just need to make the decision if we want to put in the offer, the rest can come after the first decision. Meeting my parents in their local, we started talking about the house, the area and everything we thought it might be. My parents booked a viewing for the following Monday.

I remember the call I received from them both as they sat in the car outside one of the coffee shops (well actually my Mum remarked she could see the champagne bar) on the village high street telling me how much they loved the area and they could imagine us walking down said high street. At this point they hadn’t seen the house. You don’t know my Mum and Dad (unless you do, and in which case, Hi!) but they can be particular about what they envision for their children in all areas of our lives. The house looking like parts of it did, I was expecting a call to say “Princess* – what on earth are you thinking”. This has to be said in a sarcastic Glaswegian accent.

*Princess – Yes I know this doesn’t seem like me and I am not really a princess, but it is what My Dad calls me, always has been and always will be. And for the record my parents are Mammy and Daddy to me.

That call never came, what came was a buzz of words one after the other, about what we could do, the space it could be, the bathrooms,the privacy etc. They had the same reaction as I had when I saw the other couple interested. Mr P smiled that he had known all along.

We went back for a second visit and by the Tuesday afternoon, our offer was in and by Wednesday it was accepted. We then had a few months of all the legal stuff, the chain of house moves that had to happen. We started making plans and having surveyors, engineers and builders round to the house (even before it was legally ours), to be certain the plans we had in our head could happen.

On Thursday 12th October 2017 the keys were ours and on Friday 13th we officially moved in.

The Keys to our future

We had found, bought and moved into the house that would hold our future memories. Our growth as a couple and what family may mean and look like to us. To invite our families into our home, host and entertain the way our parents and my sisters had done. To hold hands as we walk to our local pub or pizzeria. Walks along the canal, through the fields, looking up at the trees to remind us there is a world outside the day to day. We had a long way to go to make our house our home but just like that our future had begun.

Start as you mean to go on……

How many times have you restarted your life? How many times has Monday rolled around for it to be the Monday where you change your life? For me this has happened pretty much every Monday since I turned 18, which means this has happened on 895 Monday’s so far. I am determined this is not going to turn into 896 – 896 a indeterminately scarier number than 895, why? Who knows? But the thought of getting any closer to 900 Monday’s where I have not done something other than what is expected is more terrifying than anybody actually reading this.

So here it is the beginnings of my blog, my mind, my musings. There is going to be all sorts on here, nothing specific and everything in random; hence the name herstuff, as this will be all my stuff – thoughts, food and home mainly I would imagine. I can’t even decide what it should be about but why decide, why not post what I feel like, what is interesting to me at that time. Hopefully, it will interest some people, sometimes it might even help people.

My job is nothing to do with this, the polar opposite really and that’s how it will remain. That’s all I have to really say about that.

I am simply attempting to get words down, to start, to do something and hope it can, and by that I mean I, can continue. I am not sure what I wanted this post to be apart from the beginning and beginnings come in all different guises I guess. This one for me is panicked and anxious ferocious typing to simply get it done. Whilst trying to think how I style the home page and the post and where people get pictures from and how done should it be before I publish it etc etc. The anxiety is palpable and I literally can feel the adrenaline.

I feel the need to step away from this for twenty minutes and come back to see if it reads as mad as I feel it feels……….

That twenty minutes actually lasted the best part of three years. So, it must have either been mad ramblings, or the madness of day to day got in the way. I haven’t deleted a word from the above, as that’s what I wanted to write then; even though I feel different about this space now.

This blog will be a way for me to find my voice. I am going to be 38 years old soon (which means I am approaching 1040 Mondays), I have a good career, a loving family, a wonderful relationship, yet I am not sure who I am. When I read articles or scroll through Instagram there are lots of amazing women who feel the way that I feel, but most if not all of these women feel that way as they have become mums. I am not a mother. Yet I feel my voice is quieter, I am not sure what my place in this world is, I don’t feel my body looks the way it did a few years ago, all the things you hear mothers say. I am here to say this can be about life experience, about getting older and about reflection and how you chose your life to look. Although I will still be writing about my thoughts, my home and my first love – food.

So this is me finding my voice, 3 years later than I first penned above, what feels like a hundred years, and 50 lives since I first wanted to start writing.

Right now there is only one thing that matters……..

I have started.