Monday, 29 July 2013

Changing Rooms

At the end of last year, my brother Mike bought a beautiful little cottage, right in the heart of Lympstone. It was perfect: 30 seconds' walk from the beach, right by the pub, very spacious and with very little structural work to be done. However the decor was, how shall we say...? Not to his taste. Maroon and owls featured quite heavily, and that was just the bathroom.

Mike and his girlfriend Lizzie have been working very hard to get the cottage up to scratch over the past few months. Mike works away during the week so they have devoted many weekends to the stripping of wood chip wallpaper, sanding of skirting boards and papering of walls. 

So, when Mike and Lizzie headed off on a well-deserved holiday, we thought it would be fun to lend a hand and transform one of the bedrooms to take the pressure off them. To add to that, we knew Mike was planning to pop the question while they were away, so unbeknownst to Lizzie, it was to be a bit of an engagement present too! (She said yes - hurrah!!)

Here are a few shots (post wood chip stripping) to give you an idea of what we were dealing with.

This little project of ours happened to coincide with the heatwave, which made for rather uncomfortable decorating conditions, but the copious amounts of rollering and sanding in a room of sauna-like temperatures more than made up for the hours I was missing at the gym!

It was really great fun, incredibly satisfying and we very much enjoyed our end-of-day pints at The Globe as our reward.

There's still a little way to go - photos on the walls, new carpet, curtains etc - but I think you'll agree that it's now looking one heck of a lot smarter!



One of my favourite parts of the process was finding this dressing table from The Children's Society shop on Fore Street. It had already been given the Farrow and Ball treatment by the previous owner, so after a little bit of TLC (artful distressing) and the teaming up with this mirror, (which I found in the pile for the tip!), a lovely getting-ready area was finished.

I painted the mirror in Fired Earth's Oak Apple emulsion. The closest stockist to Exeter is Darts Farm. The staff are very friendly, incredibly helpful and - writing from experience - have patience with the most indecisive of customers!

Mike and Lizzie were absolutely delighted when they returned, and rendering my brother speechless made all of the hard work worth it. So, there you have it - that's what I've been up to the past few weeks!

Congratulations to the happy couple!


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Charlie Tweed

(A still from) The Meadow (2013).

At Exeter Phoenix until 31st August.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Sara Stratton

Sara's work can be seen in the Exeter Phoenix cafe bar until 3rd August...

A Tenner in My Pocket - Magdalen Road

Well known for its independent spirit and friendly atmosphere, Magdalen Road can satisfy most needs in one neat little street. Insiders A & B spent a lovely couple of hours there one sunny Friday checking out what £10 will get you. Rather a lot, as it turns out…

Gifts & Homewares

Whether you’re on the hunt for the perfect present or looking for yourself, Magdalen Road will not let you down. For vintage and retro-styled homewares, Bel Green is a gem (it’s also a café, should you need a pit-stop). 

Remember those bowls your granny made steamed puddings in? Well, Bel Green stocks those, among many other delights, with lots of lovely stuff for under £10, including a classic hand mirror (£9.50), a pair of TG Green soup pots for £9, handmade pottery mugs for £9.50, tea towels for £6.50. Tonnes of stuff. And although they overstep the funds by 50p, the Rob Ryan mugs are ideal for when you need A REALLY BIG CUP OF TEA.

At Leela, we were rather taken with these glass bud vases for £4.95(and the sweet peas smelled incredible). 

Devon jeweller Ruby Horologie makes these quirky and original pendants and earrings (£10) that have watch parts inside tiny phials. And just in case the weather turns, you can buy two pairs of Bamboo Socks for £9.

Leaf Street specialises in bespoke, local handmade gifts, and is one of those brilliant shops where you are guaranteed – GUARANTEED – to find the perfect present for even the most troublesome person. We love these mugs (£10) and coasters (£7.50) by Exeter-based Giddy Sprite. There are also cute fabric badges (£6.95) by Poppy Treffry. Don’t forget to look downstairs, where there is pre-loved clothing for sale.

And who doesn’t love a bunch of blooms? At St Leonard’sFlowers there were delphiniums for £3.50 and sunflowers for the same price, and a generous mixed bunch with a gloriously vivid gerbera at its centre for £9.50.

And if those lovely flowers put your walls to shame, check out eco champions Earthborn Paints, which are free from dangerous chemicals and come in a range of gorgeous colours with excellent names like Paw Print, Fruit Salad and Smidgen. You can pick up a tester pot for £4.25 at Duo Interiors.

Food & Drink

Morning coffee never tasted so good as at Café Magdalen, where a perfectly made flat white (£2.20) plus a diet-busting slice of moist lemon Victoria sponge (£2.20) set us up for our shopping challenge. They serve delicious lunches, too (and MASSIVE veggie breakfasts) all of which come in well under budget, but we just had time to stock up on Tea Pig Darjeeling (15 pack from £3.49) before heading off.

With a deli, a bakery, a butcher and a fishmonger, as well as a grocer, Magdalen Road really is foodie heaven. Gibson’s Plaice (fish landed daily at Brixham) more than met our challenge to come up with a two-course supper for two for under a tenner: either scallops (75p each) or ½ kilo of mussels (£3) to start, followed by two whole lemon sole for £5.

For ethically produced meat of the highest quality, pop across the road to multi-award-winning Pipers Farm, where you can combine slices of black pudding (£1 each) to your scallop starter – which is a great pairing – or go for chicken dressed with lemon, garlic and thyme for £8.90.

Would you like wine with your dinner, madam? What a daft question… At Smith’s Wines & Spirits, the welcome is as warm as the stock is as varied and budget-friendly. 

Ian stocks more than 50 wines that come in at under £10, and suggested a Chilean Pedro Ximenex (£8.20) as the perfect accompaniment for our fish main course and a L’aristocrate viognier (£9.15) as the ideal match for the chicken. Too tired to cook your own meal? From August, you’ll be able to get a glass of wine and a plate of food for £10, when Ian launches his Cheeky Midweek Suppers at the shop (Tues-Thurs, 6-9pm). What will be on the menu? “Whatever I’ve cooked,” says Ian, who then insisted that we share his BLT lunch, which was delicious, so if that’s anything to go by the Midweek Suppers are going to be a real treat (regardless of the food, you’re in for a great night; Ian is a fantastic host, which you’ll know if you’ve ever been to one of the Magdalen Road Food Safaris, which he runs in conjunction with Pipers Farm, Gibson’s Plaice, Café Magdalen and a visiting chef). Ian’s BLT was on sourdough bread from Oliver's, the new bakery next door. It was so good that we rushed straight round and immediately bought a loaf each (£1.23!).

At E.M. Hills & Sons greengrocers, you can stock up on your five a day for well under a tenner. Look at these redcurrants for £1.79 a punnet – like summer in a box!

At Bon Gout, we found a box of our favourite chocs – salted caramel – for £7.99. And then we had to try the salted caramel ice cream (£2 for a cone); I have to admit that I actually drooled, which says all you need to know about how tasty it is. There’s so much here that fit our criteria – including fruit-packed jams by Waterhouse Fayre for £3.55 – and that’s before we even looked at the deli counter, where there’s anti-pasti, cheese, cured meats… oh, just go in.

Is it time for lunch yet? Oh good, because at The SaltyPigeon you can get two courses – homemade soup of the day or a goat’s cheese salad to start followed by steak and chips or seafood/vegetarian tagliatelle – for £9.95. Bargain. And they have local wines from Sharpham and Kenton on the menu, too.


Time for a pampering session? Call in to Visage House to check out Brenda Anvari’s products, which are all paraben-free and animal-friendly. The hand cream (£9.95) is scented with rosemary and grapefruit and fairly zings with frisky freshness. And don’t leave without having a sniff of the new pomegranate, raspberry and patchouli eau de parfum – it’s like summer in a bottle. In fact, the whole shop (there are treatment rooms out back where you can really indulge yourself) is a sensory explosion, with creams and candles, lotions and potions, all in fresh, summery scents.

At Zamora, there are great offers on treatments if you need some pampering (20% discounts for students, 10% for nurses, teachers and senior citizens), and an eyebrow tidy & shape comes in at a very budget-friendly £9 – very handy until the mono-brow comes back into vogue. For a beauty night at home, you can pick up a pot of Nourish face mask for £10.

And the wild card…

With its amazing antique clocks and time-related paraphernalia, not much comes in at under a tenner at Prime Time, but you can get watch straps and some batteries… and it’s worth a visit just for the peaceful ticking.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Faro, Portugal (cluck cluck cluck)

Last weekend, a very good friend - and Exeter-based jeweller, more on that later - celebrated her last days of 'freedom' in some serious style.

I was invited by Kyrenia and her Chief BMaid little sister Milly to Kye's hen do, which would involve spending a few glorious days in the sun... in Portugal.


Milly and Kye's parents own a beautiful property where they spend six months each year enjoying their retirement and the delicious dry air near a small town called Marmalete, just an hour's drive from Faro. It's remote, peaceful and - I don't use this word lightly - stunning.

Faro is a 2.5-hour Flybe flight from Exeter, so if you're lacking in summer holiday ideas if this glorious heatwave should come to an end, then here are a few cheeky snaps to inspire.

We started off, totally giddy with excitement in the lounge on Friday afternoon, waiting for our plane in style...

A few hours later and totally exhausted, we arrived at the villa and waited for the others to arrive with a glass of much-needed ice cold Portuguese wine. I spied the glow of a swimming pool, and my excitement for the weekend was cranked up a notch or two...

In the morning we enjoyed a scrummy breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and sourdough bread, made by an old lady just up the road from Martin and Jutta's villa.

We headed to Meia Praia beach in Lagos on the South coast for a relaxing day.

Milly had arranged for us to recline like film stars on luxurious canopied beds, much more comfortable than a sandy towel on the beach!

Bahia beach bar serves excellent clean-living smoothies, so packed full of fruity goodness they made my mouth tingle.

After an afternoon reclining by the pool, it was time to get ready. Our brief from Milly had included the instruction to 'bring a white dress', so we all got dolled up in our finest, before a night of classy frivolities, fit for our classy bride.

I wore a vintage dress so can't give a link, but for something similar, try Relevant on Fore Street and Willow will be able to hook you up.

As I mentioned before, Kye is a very talented jeweller and here is one of my all-time faves of her designs. Lucky Fran was given this by Kye for her 30th birthday, but if it takes your fancy, check out Kye Tew Jewellery for something similar.

Kye and I had treated ourselves to a pedicure at UK Nails in the Harlequin Centre, the day before we left. It was excellent and very thorough - I nearly lost it through giggling during the pumice stone - and it meant our feet were fit to be shown off in snazzy wedges.

Here we are, in all of our white finery!

L-R: Beth, me, Milly, Kye, Rhi, Charlotte, Fran and Emily

Kye and Milly's parents had prepared a wonderful supper for our Big Party Night, and we couldn't wait to tuck in!

Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine, made from green grapes. It's very light - about 9% - very young and refreshing. Perfect on its own or as a spritzer!

We had a totally delicious supper full of chats, games and giggles, then headed out into Lagos - a 30-minute drive away - for a night of dancing. As it was a hen do, this is as far as the photos go, I'm afraid... I can, however, divulge that Lagos is an excellent night out. Everyone was super friendly and fun, there was no hassle, great music and far too many cocktails. It was great.

On the Sunday, all slightly blurry and tired from the night before, we headed to Montes de Cima to go to Caso do Palmeiral, a B&B owned by friends of the family. When we arrived, the owners Will and Trish had arranged a bit of a spread...

Before we settled down to the incredible-sounding paella, I took myself off to take a few snaps, to show you how gorgeous this place is. 

I met Will and Trish's pooches, too. Bonzo is the happy chap on the right. Trish rescued him from the PUBLIC DUSTBIN; he had no fur and was in a very poorly state. Now look how sprightly he is!!

We sat down to some asparagus, tapenade and olives before the main event...

...which was so scrummy I've taken a few beauty shots for your (my) enjoyment.

As this was still technically a 'hen do', the men dutifully took themselves away to drink beer and chat 'man stuff'.

It was a wonderful afternoon and if you're ever inspired to travel to Portugal, do look Casa do Palmeiral up, it's well worth a look.

The next day we travelled to the west coast, to Amoreia beach. Unfortunately for us, we caught it on a cold day!

No, your eyes are not deceiving you - this is not Hartland! The temperature dropped to 17 degrees and, as we had been prepared for 30 and up, we were a tad chilly...

The cold did give us an excellent excuse to chat, drink coffee, and for me to try some Portuguese treats, namely the Pastal de Nata (front), which is a delicious, custard-filled naughtiness. Sprinkle with some cinnamon and you'll be in seventh heaven... if you like custard and cinnamon, of course.

Just in case the food hasn't swayed you, here's a few more beauty shots of the surrounding area near Faro. 

It's pretty special.

Martin and Jutta, thank you for a wonderful stay, and please let me come back!