Six Months of Nothing New

We’re half way through 2017, and as I am also half way through my buying nothing new challenge, I thought it was probably time for another update.

So, how has it been going?

First of all, I should ‘fess up to my tumble off the wagon. I bought a new tablecloth. I am weak. A local friend runs a wonderful textile business, Etoile Home, and sadly she is closing it down. That meant piles upon piles of delicious bargains popping up in my Facebook and Instagram feeds, and in the end it turns out that, like Oscar Wilde, I can resist everything except temptation. Oscar-leaf-Tablecloth__yellow_WThe tablecloth I bought is yellow, which always gets a massive tick from me, and stain-resistant (another tick), and was reduced to £10. And I’m not even remotely sorry, because I love it so much!

In other new purchases, both children have had (yet more) new shoes, and I also acquired a bright red Ariel wig as Anna was jointly playing the lead role (not-so-stealth boast) in her school’s production of The Little Mermaid. And then last week, when the thermometer in Sophia’s bedroom was reading 28 degrees, but she was still refusing to go to bed without her sleeping bag, there was an emergency purchase of a JoJo Maman Bebe muslin sleeping bag. I even forked out for next day delivery. I’m pretty sure anyone parenting a toddler during a heatwave would agree that your night’s sleep being (further) compromised is an emergency, and anything which mitigates this is totally justified.

Luckily, it was the Walthamstow Village Jumble Trail – one of the highlights of my calendar – the weekend the heatwave descended, and I managed to get a really good quality John Lewis fan for Anna’s bedroom there. Along with a barely worn Joules skirt for me for 50p, a beach ball for the paddling pool for 50p, a pop-up fairy castle tent for £2, a Zara dress for Anna for 50p and 4 pairs of pyjamas for the children (3 of them brand-new with tags) for £5.

This was the same weekend that husband and I had managed a sneaky night away together in Amersham, and I hit charity shop gold.
Amersham is a very well-heeled, well-to-do little town on the edge of the Chilterns, and I bagged a duck-egg blue Hobbs cashmere sweater for £7, some ultra-comfy animal print trousers for £7, and the star of the show, a brand-new-with-tags Toast dress, for just £25. I know this adds up to nearly £40 of spend, but the items would come to almost £300 new. vintage alphabetAnd whereas I’m not averse to the odd Primark bargain, I do think that one thing this year has taught me is that it is better value to scour charity shops or jumble sales, or stalk eBay, for really amazing clothes from more expensive brands you love, rather than spend the equivalent money on cheap treats.

We’ve had a few Sell or Swap delights as well – a lovely framed vintage-style alphabet poster for Sophia’s room, and a pile of gorgeous age 3-4 Mini Boden clothing for me to stash away for next year. mini boden clothes

Seeing everyone’s sales bargains on Instagram is tough at the moment, not to mention the emails continually popping up offering discounts of 40%/50%/60%. We won’t even get started on the fact that I’m missing out on the Boden sale! However, I can’t really complain. Thanks to charity shopping and jumble trailing we have all enjoyed plenty of treats recently, spent a lot less money, and had the satisfaction of supporting good causes or making a little extra money for friends and neighbours with the purchases we have made.


Baby Broadway

Life with small children is all about the routine. You get up at the same time (early), provide three meals and two snacks to a fairly rigid timetable, and woe betide you if you’re late for nap time or bedtime. It’s book bag on Tuesday and Friday, running kit on Tuesday, choir practice on Wednesday, Toy Library on Thursday. Any breaks to the routine generally involve impromptu wake-up calls at 1am (3am, 5 am etc) because someone is teething or has a bad dream, or an unscheduled trip to A&E for a bumped head.

Which is why it was a bit surprising this Tuesday at 11.30am to find me in a local church, along with a lot of other parents and under-fives, singing along to hits from the shows performed out by bona fide West End artistes. I only found out about Baby Broadway last week when a friend shared a link on Facebook. To me it is quite simply an idea of genius. Parents/carers take their small children along to a concert of greatest hits from shows like Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat  and Grease. It is totally informal, with children able to crawl/run around to their heart’s content, and audience participation actively encouraged.

baby broadwayI was far more excited than I should have been to discover not only that this concept existed, but that there was actually a concert happening in Walthamstow this week. It cost £9 for me, and was free for Sophia – not the cheapest morning’s entertainment, but so worth it. I didn’t get to sit down for a single minute of the hour-long concert because Sophia was so excited to be in a new environment with lots of other babies that she certainly wasn’t going to waste a second sitting on mummy’s knee. She loved the music though, and I loved the chance to have a proper sing-song. My only regret was that it was in school time and so I couldn’t take Anna, because she would have absolutely adored it. It is fair to say that my husband does not share my passion for old-fashioned musicals, but I am gradually trying to indoctrinate Anna, with remarkable success. The programme for Tuesday has given me some ideas for new films to try as well – perfect for the still-long winter evenings.

The singers were amazingly talented, both at singing and relating to their pint-sized audience. There were tantrums and rice-cakes galore, none of which detracted from the fabulous singing. I went home on a total endorphin-high, belting out Somewhere Over the Rainbow somewhat louder than I probably should have been. I can’t wait for the next Walthamstow performance.

Fifteenth Day of Advent: Walthamstow

Eight years ago this week husband and I became homeowners and Walthamstowers. To say we’re lucky with where we live would be the understatement of the year. I assumed that I would have a choice – live outside London in a small town/village/suburb and enjoy a sense of community and neighbourliness, or live in London and do without. How wrong could I be. Walthamstow is in Zone 3, 22 minutes to the West End and 17 minutes to the City, but it is the strongest community I could have hoped for.

The day we moved in was as busy and stressful as moving days usually are. Finally at about half seven we realised we were starving hungry and had no food in the house. We popped out to buy a pizza. As we rounded the corner, we heard the sound of distant singing. We walked along, and it got louder and louder, until we came across a group of people, lanterns aloft, standing round the Christmas tree in a small square singing Christmas carols. There was free mince pies and mulled wine, which gave us enough energy to join in the singing before we went to grab a pizza in the friendly little neighbourhood Italian. There and then we knew we had made the right decision in moving to Walthamstow. The carol singing round the tree is an annual tradition, and in fact Anna and husband are there this evening as I type this, glass of wine next to me and sleeping baby upstairs.

Some of the community spirit is online – I have blogged before about the wonder that is Walthamstow Sell or Swap, but equally amazing is Walthamstow Parents where people share parenting highs and lows, get advice about schools admissions, sleep routines or breastfeeding, or seek support on coping with a fussy eater, parenting a child with special needs or managing toddler tantrums. Walthamstow Food and Drink Society is the go-to place for restuarant, or more likely these days, takeaway reviews, advice on recipes, or sharing allotment gluts!

From William Morris Gallery and Vestry House Museum, to the Wild Card Brewery and Mother’s Ruin Gin Palace, Epping Forest to Walthamstow Marshes, a fortnight long Art Trail to some original and unique neon, there’s always something to suit your mood here.walthamstow

But it is the people who live in this amazing place which really make it so special. Back in September, Anna and I held a cake sale to raise money for Syrian refugees. Saturday was spent in the kitchen baking as much as we could, on Sunday she set up shop in the front garden and our neighbours flocked to support the fundraising effort. I ended up frenetically baking muffins which were selling as fast as I could make them. In two hours we raised over two hundred pounds thanks to the amazing generosity of our community. When someone posts on a Facebook group that they know of a mother-to-be who doesn’t have any money to buy things for her baby, or an elderly neighbour who doesn’t have warm clothes for the winter, or someone’s parent who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and needs a wheelchair the response is always instant and overwhelming.

Walthamstow made the national news a week or two ago because our local MP, Stella Creasy, voted in favour of the military action in Syria, and many of her constituents were very unhappy with that decision. There was a bit of nastiness on social media, but the main protest took the form of a peaceful candlelit vigil to which many people took their children, and with which local religious leaders from a number of faith backgrounds were involved. Walthamstowers were motivated by deep concern at what the air strikes might mean for innocent civilian Syrians. Stella Creasy took the time to write a long and detailed letter, hold several public meetings and engage extensively on social media to explain why she felt compelled to vote as she did. On balance I am not convinced that the military action is a good idea, but I do respect the thought Stella clearly put into her decision and then the effort she made to explain it. I also respect the many people who protested peacefully and entered into intelligent and informed debate on the subject, online and in person. Although it was an issue which divided Walthamstow, I felt it is more evidence that this is a community where people care, and engage, think and debate, which is one I am proud and happy to be part of.

Plus, there are a lot of cafes which serve really excellent cake!


Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner…

This is a month of anniversaries for me. Today is my 5th wedding anniversary, and 16th anniversary of getting together with my husband. As always when I think about my relationship I thank my lucky stars that I have the enormous good fortune to be married to my best friend and favourite person.

This month also marks another very significant event; my 10th anniversary as a Londoner.pearly king and queen Annoyingly, as I am very much someone who remembers and marks special dates, I can’t recall the exact date I moved to London, but I do know it was October 2005. My love affair with London is of nearly as long standing as my love affair with my husband. Six days after getting together, at the beginning of our first term at university, we took the Oxford Tube to London for a day trip. Husband is a Londoner born and bred, and is passionate and hugely knowledgable about his city, so he was thrilled to have the opportunity to show me round the tourist sites, and I think my excitement and enthusiasm for them probably cemented our fledgling relationship.

We were poor students, so I don’t think we actually went in anywhere, or nowhere you had to pay, but we walked our legs off through Westminster and Soho, Piccadilly and St James, the City and the West End. We took a Routemaster bus, and got the Tube to Angel (just because I liked the name), and had a Pizza Hut all-you-can-eat buffet for lunch, before arriving back in Oxford exhausted and exhilarated in the early hours of the morning. During that day I fell irrevocably in love twice, with the boy and with the city. And clearly constance and fidelity are virtues of mine, because sixteen years later I still feel the same for them both.

I squatted a fair bit with my eternally patient in-laws, but it took another six years before we had our own London address – a tiny two-bedroom flat in a converted Victorian terrace in Clapham. One of the most vivid memories of my life is the night we moved in. A friend of ours had taken pity on our pathetic non-driving selves and hired a van to help us move our stuff down from Birmingham. We were renting furnished flats in those days, so ‘stuff’ mainly consisted of very many boxes of books. Inevitably the loading and the drive down took longer than we’d anticipated, and it was already dark when we arrived in Clapham. We parked the van illegally, and I was left with it to charm any passing traffic wardens while the boys carried the boxes in. Slightly stereotypical  division of roles, but there you go. I sat in the front of this van, gazing at the tall, thin Victorian houses with their brightly lit windows and unknown lives within, and thrilled head to foot at the sense of excitement and anticipation and possibility that London always conveys, and which I was finally a part of.

We were only in Clapham two years before putting down our abiding Walthamstow roots, but I know the memory of that October evening will be with me my whole life.

One of the things I love most about London is that I feel confident describing myself as a Londoner, even though I wasn’t born here. The concept of the world in one city has become something of a cliche, but it is that way for a reason. This city of 270 nationalities and more than 300 languages can celebrate diversity whilst achieving coherence. I can be a Scouser, and a Northerner and a Londoner without a flicker of contradiction.

The last ten years has seen me with three different London addresses, two different London-based jobs and a complete career change, a London wedding and two London babies. I have learnt never to stand on an escalator when I could walk, or walk when I could run. I have learnt that 4 minutes is an utterly unacceptable time to wait for a Tube train. I have learnt the spot to stand in to guarantee a seat on stations I use frequently, and that you don’t make eye contact with people on public transport. I have learnt that Londoners aren’t as unfriendly as Northerners think they are, unless you break any of the rules I just mentioned. And I know that, although Liverpool is my home town, and Oxford will always have a special place in my heart, that although I might bemoan London’s pollution and over-crowding and expense, this city and I were made for each other and I can’t see that ever changing.

Walthamstow to a Tea

I’ve posted before about how much I love where I live. But one of the things I love most about it is that it is constantly evolving and never fails to surprise, and delight, me. Take Sunday just gone, for example.

We’d had a quiet day at home, getting lots of boring but useful jobs done. Anna had decided that cleaning would be fun, so never one to avoid an opportunity to exploit my child, I armed her with a duster and a bottle of polish and let her get on with it. One entire bottle of polish later (thankfully some kind of organic, almond oil based none-child-killing polish) and the house definitely smelt cleaner at least. The wooden floors do have a few lethally slippery patches where polish was accidentally split, but hey. Husband meanwhile had the distinctly less fragrant task of unblocking the outside drain.

At about 4.30pm I remembered I needed to go out to buy milk for breakfast. Husband suggested we all go and get some fresh  (and non-almond scented) air, and perhaps an ice-cream cone. We popped Sophia in the sling, Anna grabbed her sandals, and off we went. Ten minute later we were all licking delicious cones of Gelupo gelato, which one of our local shops has started selling. And I say ‘all’ advisedly. We didn’t buy a cone for our seven-month old, but strapped to my chest in her sling, the proximity of it proved to be too much for her, and she lunged at it, licking determinedly. I know refined sugar isn’t really a good idea for babies under one. Or, I guess, for anyone really. But I didn’t have the heart not to let enjoy a couple of licks. Second-child syndrome, I suppose. I was all about the organic spinach with Anna at the same age.

We strolled through Walthamstow village, past the beautiful Vestry House museum and the old almshouses. And then it all got exciting. There is a restored Tudor house in the heart of Walthamstow village called, imaginatively enough, the Ancient House. It’s a lovely building, and I was very excited when I saw that the gate was open, and there was a sign pointing into the courtyard advertising a yard sale. We went in, just out of curiosity to see inside. In this case, curiosity was amply rewarded. tea setsWe ended up with a gorgeous vintage French tea-set, some pretty Victorian glass bottles, a Victorian tea-cup and saucer and coffee cup and saucer, a Victorian serving tureen and a delightful little forget-me-not pattered cup and saucer for Anna, because she fell in love with it. All for £17. Yes, you read that right. £17! The lady who was selling had a business hiring out vintage china for weddings, and making tea-cup candles, but she has had to move out of her workshop unexpectedly and needed to get rid of stock fast. Very sad for her, but I have to admit we were thrilled to benefit and give a good home to some of her lovely things.

So there you go. Only in Walthamstow do you pop out for a pint of milk and come back with a perfect sixteen-piece vintage tea service!