When You’re Let Loose In London For 24 Hours

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Since I split from my husband I have relied on my friends more than I ever had before. When I was married my husband was my best friend and I definitely neglected my female relationships in favour of this relationship. One of the best things about splitting up has been re-discovering the connection I have with my lady friends and I couldn’t be happier with the brilliant examples of womankind I am surrounded by.

Unfortunately one of the best friends I have is all the way in New York. Kirsty is the one I went to when things with my marriage went tits up and Skyping her is the first thing I want to do when I have a terrible date or rubbish day.  When we’re together we always have an absolutely wonderful time and I can hand on heart say that I know I want her to be in my life forever. I never laugh more than when I’m with Kirsty.

We met in one of the first weeks I lived in London, having dinner with a mutual friend. Because I was the country mouse transplanted to the big city Kirsty took me under her wing, introduced me to people and showed me the ways of the London world. I remember meeting her for dinner for the first time at Mildred’s in Soho and she’d just finished scouring Primark; she had a brilliant on-the-side eBay business selling on 99p glasses for a tenner and was frantic because everywhere had sold out and she had orders stacking up. I remember feeling wide-eyed and in awe at this exuberant, confident chatty woman who took me to dinner and talked my ear off.

She has remained my friend ever since, even helped me get a job at the place she worked, and though slightly less frantic and chatty these days (I like to tell her like a good stilton, she’s matured with age and is very cheesy) she is still one of those people whose spirit lifts you up just by spending time with them.

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Enough Kirsty loving, she’s going to have an unbearable ego when she gets round to reading this. LOVE YOU DARLING.

Anyway, because of the nature of Kirsty living on the other side of the planet it can be difficult for us to get together.  She has fleeting visits to the country every few months and this time I had her for a whole 24 hours. To say I was excited is an understatement, and even more so because we’d planned to jampack that whole time with FUN!

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We started at Chuan, the spa at The Langham, at 10 am. The order of the day: body scrubs, back massages and mini facials. I had a foot massage that sent me to sleep (woke myself up snoring like the classy bird I am) and then onto the spa for a dip in the pool, jacuzzi and sauna. I do mean a literal dip: that thing was freezing so we promptly retreated to the bubbles of the jacuzzi and the serenity of the heated beds. Lovely.

Now, I like the changing room at my gym. It’s always clean, the shower is super-powered and the hairdryers are excellent. But the one at Chuan spa was simply out of this world. The shower had about 12 heads and a million knobs, there were not only hairdryers but hair straighteners and every sort of beauty product was there available for you to use. Oh, and slippers. You know times are good when there are hundreds of pairs of slippers at your disposal.

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Relaxed, we went from the spa to Soho house for a lunch of calimari, caesar salad, chips and some other things that I don’t remember. That’ll be the Prosecco. Of which there were lots… yay! I told you, there’s nothing I like more than sitting down to drink a bottle of something chilled and fizzy with a really interesting person and Kirsty, you’re no exception.

Kirsty had a conference call to make so we headed back to our hotel three sheets to the wind. I don’t know about you but I find I get my best work done this way, and she seemed to be more hilarious than normal during her call. I of course spent the time flashing my bra at her, retrieving champagne and offering my own terribly important insights into her terribly important business. The dream team, that’s us.

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We were put up by the marvellous people at Novotel at their Novotel Waterloo hotel. We had a room that was really generously sized by London standards; big enough for a huge bed and a desk that came in very handy for all the proper bizness that Kirsty was carrying out. We stayed on their shopping package, which meant we were greeted with glasses of Champagne (Taittenger too, very lovely) and a goodie bag for a trip to the shops. We had Westfield VIP vouchers (discounts, yo!), treats for our feet for when all that walking got too much, water and a brilliant breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

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The hotel bar was absolutely beautiful and we enjoyed a second glass of champagne while we waited for our cab. My favourite thing might have been this London skyline rug, though. Absolutely brilliant.

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The hotel was really well placed for where we wanted to go; we hopped in an Uber (best taxi service ever: if you want to try it this weekend use the promo code ‘sh99c‘ and you’ll get a £20 credit to your account, as will I, whee!) and on a whim headed to Heron Tower. We did the touristy thing and gawped at all the sights on our way passed: The Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Tower Bridge. Ace. There’s nothing I love more than being a tourist in lovely old London.

I’ve never been up Heron tower before, heights aren’t my thing, but on such a girly night out a fancy bar seemed to be the way to go. Let me tell you, that lift up to SushiSamba is a total headfark. I ended up clutching on to Kirsty’s arm, whimpering on the floor, not really sure what to do. My ears popped twice. In short, it was pretty awful but the view was just about worth it. Check this out:

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That doesn’t go any way to demonstrate just how stunning it was. Truly beautiful, a trip up the Heron Tower is definitely one for the ‘to do’ list. Fear of heights or not, I’ll definitely be back. The food at SushiSamba was incredible; we hadn’t booked and were seated at the bar, feasting on tuna sashimi, rock shrimp tempura and cucumber cocktails. It was pricey but worth it and the restaurant itself was beautifully decadent.

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Feeling full we decided to head over to Shoreditch House, where most of our early friendship was cultivated over espresso martinis and stories about BOYS. Not much has changed really (though this time more tequila was involved and it was me rather than her telling stories of BOYS) and the evening was spent being borderline annoying to our fellow revellers (crashing the British Fashion Council’s Christmas parties was one of the better ideas we’ve had, I feel). We ended the night in reindeer antlers, crawling into bed back at the Novotel at about 4am. It was an awesome awesome night and I haven’t smiled, danced and laughed that much in a long time.

IMG_4570It’s probably a good thing that Kirsty only comes over once every six months because it took me a solid 5 days to recover from our day of excess. Ugh, the curse of a hangover when you’re no longer 23.

But I really really really can’t wait to do it all again in six months time.

BritMums Live Hangover 2013

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All the Alices: An Essex Wife and My Life My Son My Way

BritMums Live is undeniably the highlight of the Blogging Social Calendar. It’s a weekend where members of our community come together to share and learn, to chat and discuss. It’s not just the highlight of my Blogging Social Calendar though, it’s one of the highlights of my year.

BML 2013 was slightly different for me. I didn’t go armed with tons of business cards and a highlighted seminar schedule. I went with the simple aim of having fun with some of the most wonderful women I know, women I may not have survived the last six months without.

Oh, and the wine. I went for the wine.

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It’s Charlotte
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Gorgeous Vicki of Honest Mum and Mummy’s Got Style 97887d40da8b11e2a73f22000a9e28ad_7

My roomie Steph

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Fangirling over Cherry Menlove

I deserve a big wrist slap for only attending three seminars but I met Cherry Menlove (total writing hero) and sobbed at the keynotes section of the weekend. I gave Jennie an overdue hug (and hoped she felt the love I was giving her) and was profoundly moved by the tribute to a member of our blogging community, Multiple Mummy. We really are a magnificent group of women and though we communicate mostly via computer screen the friendships we share are really unshakeable. Feeling so much unity in a room of women (and a couple of men) belting out a song for a much loved member was an incredibly humbling experience. I will never be able to listen to ‘Firework’ without remembering Kerry, the special bond we as a community share and remembering that it’s OK to live every day of life to the absolute fullest.

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Alison was as lovely as you’d expect
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These two have got me through the last six months – Bryony and Steph

So, big thanks to those wonderful people I spent the weekend with: Bryony, Steph, Isra, Ruth, Alison, Aimee, Charlotte, Aimee, Bianca, Sarah, Jenny, Kelly (have I forgotten anyone? Probably). Had I won the BiB award – it’s probably a blessing I didn’t thanks to the evening’s wine intake – my acceptance speech was going to include something about how in the crappest year of my life this blog and the community of friends I’ve made through it have got me through in one piece. If I didn’t have you wonderful ladies in my life, you know who you are, I would be a completely different person to the one I am today.

Apologies to those I sobbed on (I’m calling wine and oestrogen overload) and I’ll see you next year! Will make it to more seminars. Promise.

Big thanks to Silentnight cot mattresses who sponsored one night of blissful solo hotel sleep for me this year!

Getting Away For A Weekend

 

When we go away as a couple now – just the two of us – there’s a whole host of reasons to get excited. A car journey with conversation and music rather than whining, clothes that don’t have to provide easy boob access for feeding (Dresses!!), a lie in, bathtime without plastic cups, wine, prosecco and Pimms, lots of other grown ups… going away as a family is awesome too but there is something so very wonderful about remembering who you were before you had kids.

 

 

This weekend we travelled with my little brother and his fiancé Erin to a mutual friend’s wedding in Suffolk. I’d spent a long time preparing for the weekend, expressing what felt like a lifetime’s supply of breast milk for Hux and whispering to him how much we loved him, that we weren’t abandoning him and that we’d be back before he knew it. I was pretty heartbroken to leave him though I knew a night away would do us good and he’d be in very safe hands with his Grannie and Grandpa. I didn’t have the same worries for Elfie who had spent the previous two days saying “Gaga? Sleep? More?” every five minutes. I.e. Please can I go for my sleepover at my Grannie’s house now please?

 

 

It’s safe to say we had a blast. So much so that I chucked my DSLR in the boot of the car as soon as the wedding ceremony was over so we could get on with the serious business of enjoying ourselves.

The wedding was gorgeous, in the barn of an old Manor’s estate in deepest darkest Suffolk. The new Mr and Mrs were radiant, there was a fantastic BBQ and we were able to catch up with old friends.

 

 

I enjoyed myself so much that I got sick of the taste of prosecco, necked jaegerbombs like squash and wrote something potentially inappropriate in the guestbook about how I was sneaking off every couple of hours to express  my milk in the car. I still woke at 8am the next day, bright and early all ready for Mummy duty. Lie in, what lie in?! I had itchy feet to get back to my babies but as we were travelling as a foursome I tried to chill out, take a dip in the (claw-footed and free-standing) bath and relax a little.

 

 

I always forget the most wonderful thing about going away for the weekend, and that is getting home to my babies. It’s worth leaving them for a night to feel the absolute joy I get on being able to hug them again. It makes me appreciate them on a whole other level and then vow to never ever leave their sweet faces ever again,  a resolution which lasts until the next 5am wakeup call which is when I start dreaming of country house hotels once more.

 

They were total angels and seemed to have a blast. Elfie today: “Gaga? Papa? Sleep? More?”. Sign me up for another two days of jaegerbombs…

The Montpellier Chapter, Cheltenham

Before Elfie came along Will and I didn’t really take much time to enjoy time as a couple. It had been just the two of us for over six years so there seemed no need to make a special effort having ‘us time’. But this time around spending time as a couple before the new arrival gets here has been much more of a priority and we’ve made a big effort to go out to dinner and do things we enjoy together. At the top of this list is sleeping and eating, and with this in mind we headed for Cheltenham’s The Montpellier Chapter hotel this weekend to enjoy a ‘babymoon’.

A babymoon is a new breed of short break to give parents-to-be the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company in those final precious weeks before their new bundle of joy arrives. I say it’s an excellent excuse to eat good food and nap to excess.

Cheltenham is a destination that’s pretty familiar to me as I grew up in the area and have been back a couple of times since I moved away. It’s a beautiful town to visit (with a million and one festivals including Jazz and Literature if you are that way inclined, as well as the famous racecourse) and in particular the Montpellier District where the hotel is located is lovely – lots of independent shops, cafes and bars. Cheltenham is a quick 2 hour hop from Paddington and is a super base to explore the rest of the Cotswolds.

When we arrived at at midday on a drizzly Sunday I was a little bit taken aback at the grandness of the hotel and wished I was wearing something  a bit smarter than the Converse I was so proud to have done up myself. The reception and lounge areas were buzzing with guests which I definitely wasn’t expecting for a Sunday and our luggage was whisked away by some very helpful staff. Our room wasn’t going to be ready until 2 so we had a coffee, read the papers and browsed the hotel’s extensive library of books. Will commented on the quality, content and volume of the music which apparently was pretty spot on: being married to someone who works in the music biz means that wherever we go he has an opinion on the background noise (I barely notice it) and apparently here it was nearing perfection. The common areas had Bose speakers dotted throughout and he reckoned there would’ve been a sub-woofer thing concealed somewhere, hence the quality of the sound. Zzzzz… I recognized a couple of Lykke Li songs and that was my contribution to the conversation. We headed out to lunch at The Royal Well Tavern just around the corner (more on this place to follow later).

We returned to the hotel after lunch and were speeded through a very painless paperless check-in system by a lovely receptionist before being given the key to our room, where our luggage was waiting. Here’s what we found:

Our ground floor feature room was bright and airy with an in-room bath (which was HUGE) and brilliant rainforest shower. A little intimate you might think so you’d want to make sure you were on good naked terms with your room-mate (being in a relationship for 9 years takes care of that one) but if not there are privacy screens you can use. The room was spotless and modern with furniture that had been designed specifically for the hotel and there were two huge wardrobes which is where our luggage was stashed. When I stay in hotels I often find that there isn’t a place with a large mirror, power points and decent lighting but there were none of those issues here; a well-lit sink area and desk/vanity space provided ample space for me to put my makeup on and do my hair.

There was also a free minibar in the room (another massive plus from me and thumbs up from Will who enjoyed chugging his gratis beer in the bath later that day) with fresh milk (yay! Down with UHT) and another bonus: a pod coffee machine. These gadgets are brilliant and are a great source of entertainment, needless to say Will was pretty wired on coffee pods by check-out the next day.

One thing I loved about our room at The Montpellier Chapter was the technology. These days I feel a bit put-out to pay £150+ a night for a hotel room and not be able to plug in my own source of music (Hope Street Hotel and your crackly TV/radio service take note) but the facilities for a tech-head like me were perfect here. All room info was housed on the room’s iPod which included live bill information (and it was live… I checked as soon as we’d had dinner), spa and restaurant and room service information. Very impressed. A flap in the desk opened to reveal the media centre where you could plug in a plethora of cables to connect to the room’s soundsystem. After a big snooze I used it to plug in my iPhone to listen to my own music whilst I wallowed in the bath with my minibar treat of Coca-Cola.

Another aspect of the hotel I really like were the cubbies either side of the bed where you could stash the bits you need; I’ve lost so many pairs of earrings via hotel bedside tables and I thought these were a great feature. I am easily pleased, I know.

In-room toiletries were full-size Aromatherapy Associates (great, although because I am a freebie hound I prefer smaller bottles you can continue to sample and take home with you, I’ve discovered some lovely products this way) and a bathrobe and big fluffy towels are provided. On the downside there were no slippers but that’s really nothing to deduct points over. I would have also said that the room can look a bit cold and a padded headboard or little bit of artwork may have been a nice addition but again, this is me being hyper critical. The art in the rest of the hotel is a real feature and worth a special mention; there are over 100 pieces and each room contains an art directory by way of a guide to them all.

We ate dinner that night in the hotel’s restaurant which is led by Consultant Chef Simon Hopkinson (once declared ‘The Best Cook In Britain’) and Head Chef Tom Rains. It was so spectacular that it warrants a post in its own right, and on the night we dined it was pleasing to note a couple with a sleeping baby in a pram by the side of their table. Baby friendliness equals top marks from me.

After a nightcap in the bar which was selected from the extensive cocktail (and mocktail) list we retired to our room to catch up on Homeland and sleep some more. I can pretty much sleep anywhere, Will is the bed connoisseur in our family, and he loved this one. Just the right amount of firmness, a decent mattress topper and Egyptian cotton sheets – perfect.

We woke at 8 the next morning to the welcome knock on the door of a delicious room service breakfast (would give a solid 7/10) and newspaper and then after discussing what to do with our day we decided to make the most of our time off and go back to sleep. It was brilliant.

As we know the area quite well we decided against a mooch round the shops and instead stopped off at Bicester Shopping Village (40 mins drive away) on the way home for lunch and a quick trip to Mulberry. It was a lovely end to a wonderfully relaxing 24 hours away from real life and aside from being very happy to see Elfie again I was pretty gutted it was all over.

Will and I, we are very critical when we eat out or stay away in hotels. Our spare time is precious and we choose to spend our money relaxing in hotels and eating and drinking when we can. The Montpellier Chapter is one of the first locations in a long time that completely exceeded our expectations; the whole experience was flawless and I will genuinely look forward to returning for another break very soon and will be sure to take in the Spa, too. We will also be on the waiting list to try out the next hotel in the group’s portfolio, The Magdalen Chapter in Exeter.

If you are looking for a relaxing weekend or night away in a hotel that values friendly and informal service, stylish surroundings and beautiful food and drink then look no further and book here. Just don’t tell me about it – I’ll be very jealous.

The Montpellier Chapter, Bayshill Road, Montpellier, Cheltenham, GL50 3AS
01242 527788
www.themontpellierchapterhotel.com

Find out more about The Montpellier Chapter’s Babymoon (and other) packages here.

Will and I were guests of The Montpellier Chapter, but if we’d had a crap time I would have told you so. 

Alice Harold, age 26

It’s my birthday today!

I must be growing up; I normally do a relentless 3-month countdown to the 25th July but with one thing or another (motherhood, mostly) I didn’t get the chance.

The weekend has been amazing, I spent it with some of my favourite people doing my favourite things. Eating, drinking, receiving presents and sleeping. And today Elfie had such a good time at the pool that she took a nap on me for half an hour, something she hasn’t done since she was a tiny baby. Best present ever, if I’d have known she was planning it I definitely would have counted down for three months.

Will won Husband of the Year award by surprising me with a 3-day trip to Paris in August (I’ve never been), The Good Food Guide (and a promise to tick off the top twenty before the end of the year as well as all entries in the closest three counties), some books and a year’s family David Lloyd membership (which I’m sure we would have got anyway, but we did all the paperwork today…). He waited on me hand and foot – I took TWO naps and he’s just returned from the chippy – and has been all-round wonderful. Elfie amazingly knew I wanted a magic trackpad for my iMac, what a superstar, my BFF came to see me for lunch and champagne yesterday, my Mum and Dad have promised new trainers for the gym (and gave me an amazing Union Jack guitar-shaped cushion in the meantime) and my Mother In Law sent some gorgeous flowers. I love my birthday.

 

On a roundabout-toy in the park with my Mum, Dad and daughter on my birthday. No big deal.

 

Will made this – it’s a Parisian postcard with my face on it! What a winner.

David Lloyd has an outdoor pool. Perfect to enjoy the dizzying heights of 20 degree british summertime.