Friday, 30 December 2011

Greetings from the middle of nowhere... Quite literally.

I just thought I'd let you all know I'm having a thoroughly lovely time, doing country things in the countryside...

It has everything you need for such an excursion.

It has a dog:

It has a fire:

And it has my bestie:

Isn't she a beaut?

More to come tomorrow!



Tuesday, 27 December 2011

*This post is best enjoyed with a hot cuppa and something sweet to munch on*

I attended a little Boxing Day tea party yesterday. It was magical. The main attraction was Murzynek, a traditional Polish cake. It was absolutely fantastic. We were also treated to panettone, which was made to order in Milan (my Ma ordered 20, half of the proceeds went to the charity Kids for Kids, and they were enormous, beautifully wrapped, and made amazing gifts), sugar cookies and coconut macaroons. Who says over-indulgence stops after Christmas? Not me. No, indeed. 

Murzynek is an amazing slightly chocolatey cake, best served straight out of the oven... I had two slices - one served with raspberry compote and vanilla ice-cream, and the other with the traditional Polish chocolate glaze. Both were amazing, but if I had to choose again, I'd probably go for the first... Actually, no, I'd just have both. Again. Sorry, waistline.

Yes... Definitely go for both...

If you'd like to try your own hand at making Murzynek, I found a recipe here (I haven't tried it, but have used other recipes from this blog and they were fantastic). If you're feeling lazy, here's a cheeky helping hand from Dr. Oetker - it's ok, I won't tell.

Here's a little outfit snap - my face is super blurry, but my skin is currently enjoying a massive outbreak in protest of my wicked eating habits, so that's ok.

Two-tone jumper - ASOS; Chords - H&M; Brogues - Russell and Bromley

Also, how darling is the tea set? I really need something like this, so I can throw tea parties of my own. The gold leaf detailing is, in my eyes, perfection. Sorry I couldn't get a better picture.

Charm bracelet - gift; Ruby ring - Wendy Mink; Stacked rings - Chanel; Emerald ring - Antique; Silver bracelets - Tiffany; Pearl bracelet - Van Amstel; Watch - UO

My tea set was a gift for my Christening - it looks like this:

image credit

Adorable, but only really suitable for throwing tea parties for wee folk or woodland creatures.

Thank you to Jola for hosting this delectable event; you put my baking skills to shame.

Ladies, don't claim I don't show you the best food porn.

Now, I must away; I'm off for a jolly in the countryside for a few days. Adieu!



Monday, 26 December 2011

I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas... I certainly did! I thought I'd share my favourite gifts with y'all... Because I'm nosy and I want you all to return the favour! If you've posted, please leave me the link? Indulge my curiosity?

My family and friends were oh so good to me this year, and Father Christmas spoiled me rotten! So here we go, the best Christmas presents of 2011...

I was given a beautiful man's cable-knit jumper from Polo, and a gorgeous little two-tone jumper and silk scarf from Asos by my Ma, as well as an iPhone 4S (which I'm now struggling to get to grips with). I  also received two new baking books, so you can expect many more cake-related posts in the near future, as well as two of my favourites, One Day by David Nicholls and Room by Emma Donoghue, to replace lost copies. A pair of brogues from Russell and Bromley - I used to work there, and lusted over these all day in the stock room. At last they are mine! Dirty Dancing - screw Jagger, I want a man with the moves like Swayze! A harmonica (family tradition), and an owl cushion. The owl is part of a pair, I actually got the other one last Christmas so now she'll have a companion. I was also given some flowers, which is just really lovely, Christmas or not... Fresh flowers never fail to put a smile on my face.

Without a doubt though, the creme de la creme was a beautiful pearl and black diamond Van Amstel bracelet from my big brother. He spoils me so much, but I'm under strict instructions not to tell his girlfriend, as he only got her slippers and he doesn't want her expecting jewellery next year. Annoyingly, my camera skills aren't up to taking a picture of it, I'll work on it and post as soon as I get an acceptable snap. 

As we are all told as children, the real joy of Christmas is giving... So I got my family Kigus, as I already have one, and as far as I'm concerned they are essential loungewear. I'm happy to report that my Ma and all of my brothers have been converted, and are still pottering around the house dressed respectively as a kangaroo, a penguin, a Japanese fox, and a lion. 

Here's a family portrait from Christmas day: 

Usually, we dress up for Christmas - these were much better for vegging out in after a massive roast. I think I started a new tradition. Winning.

I hope that you all had truly magical days surrounded by loved ones, and that you enjoy the holiday!


P.S. I took the plunge, and am now on Twitter. You can find me there at @monatheninja. Leave your names if you'd like me to follow you? 


Friday, 23 December 2011

This is hilarious and just so, so resoundingly true in my dealings with men and my Ma, I wanted to share it with you before I switch off for Christmas...

image source - I think you can click this to make it bigger and better

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all of you... Thanks for following me, and for all of your comments and kind words over the past month. I hope Santa brings you all something amazingly decadent, because you all deserve it, and also because I want to read all about it on Boxing Day...

Eat, drink and be merry. I expect you all to thoroughly over-indulge.



To my absolute delight, I discovered today that I was given the Versatile Bloggers Award by Scarlett at Optimistic but Never Quite Elegant. I know, I know, to you old hats at blogging this must sound really lame, but it's my first one, and it's really exciting, so cut me some slack, and let me have my moment.

Here are the rules:

(1) You must thank the person who awarded you the award including a shout-out with a link on your blog.

(2) Share 7 random facts about yourself.

(3) Send the award on to 15 other bloggers whose blogs you like to read and let them know about it.

So firstly, thank you so much Scarlett! Everyone go check out her blog if you haven't done so already, her outfit posts are wizard, she has great style, and her reviews are really well-written.

So, seven facts...

(1) I once saw a dress in the Buy, Sell, Exchange in Notting Hill. I had to have it, so I did odd-jobs around Portobello for the day to raise the cash. By the end of the day, I was still £20 short, so I swapped my shoes for the dress and walked home bare-foot. That, my friends, is dedication. 

(2) I still, at the grand old age of twenty two, can't walk in stilettos. A friend told me I looked like I was "stabbing kittens" last time I attempted it. I'm still not quite sure what he meant. 

(3) I was undefeated in the Girls Chess Team at school (wow, I'm cool!)

(4) Mona isn't my actual name. I "decided" that I wanted to be called Mona when I was three, and I was such a stubborn child, it stuck. Under pain of death, I would not tell you my real name. It makes me shudder.

(5) I'm half-Chinese. Hence studying Mandarin, sometimes dressing a bit too cutesy, and my unashamed adoration of all things Hello Kitty related. Also half-Scottish. Hence my supreme tolerance to the cold, sometimes dressing in way too much tartan, and my unashamed adoration of deep fried Mars Bars.

(6) I told my Ma and my brothers about my blog, although I haven't let them see it. My brothers fail to understand why anyone would give a shit about what I wear or get up to; my Ma is convinced I'm going to get murdered by an internet-stalker. Classic.

(7) When I was seven, I accidentally cut off my middle brother's toe in a door. They sewed it back on and he made a full recovery, but he was quite insistent that I shared that, to see how quickly my followers ebb away... Over-sharing?

And the fifteen twelve (EVERYONE ALREADY HAD IT, OK?) bloggers, all of whom I think are pretty fab:

Sophie at Sophie etc.
Katie at Fireworks
Rosie Anna at Rosie Anna
Ellen at Ellen Atlanta
Stella at Stellaah
Laura at White Winters
Charlotte at Charlotte's Web

Read them. They're much, much better than mine. Promise.

If I've passed it on to you, and you already have it, ignore me, I'm a lunatic. If I've forgotten you, send me an abusive email and I'll grovel at your cyber-feet.

Thanks again, Scarlett. You're a total doll.

TWOSLEEPSTILCHRISTMAS!!! I hope you're all feeling as excited as me right now...



Thursday, 22 December 2011

So, as previously mentioned, a friend of mine recently asked me to participate in a music video for a local band, Yours & Mine. The friend is Oscar May, a wonderful freelance photographer who I used to sing with in the church choir when we were kids. Oscar left the obscurity of our little hometown and has found great success in the big city. I hadn't seem him in years, apart from randomly bumping into him a few times over the last couple of years, on trains and at music festivals... But I thought it could be a giggle, and would certainly be an experience, so I ambled down today...

The song we were making the video for was called Crying, it's being released as the band's first single in February. I was asked to show up in "indie going-out" clothes, which left me rather stumped, with going-out make-up, too. I had a hospital appointment (damned wisdom teeth!) beforehand, so I threw some outfits and my make-up into a bag, popped on my chords and my Christmas jumper, and headed out. 

When I arrived at the shoot after my appointment, everyone was super-welcoming; it was great seeing Oscar, the band were lovely, but the other girls... The other girls were lovely, don't get me wrong, but they were all so cool. You know, amazing clothes, striking faces, shaved-bits-off-the-side-of-their-heads cool. I felt like such a dweeb. I felt like I'd taken the wrong turn on the way to a Star Trek convention, and accidentally wound up at some underground secret rave in Shoreditch instead. They were all wearing their going-out clobber, as instructed, so I asked where I should go and change.

But I was told I shouldn't change. The band liked my "look", so I had lots of saline drops put in my eyes to get the 'crying' effect, and was shoved in front of the camera. So the other seven girls have been shot in their high-heels and corset tops. For my part of the video, I'm in a brown beanie and a Mrs. Weasley jumper. Awkward. 

My "look" - excuse my panda eyes

I thought I'd removed all of the fake tears before I left, but on the way home I was stopped by several old dears to enquire whether I was alright - I got home, looked in the mirror, and realised that I was still dripping eye-drops from my very mascaraed lashes, and looked like I was weeping all over the show. Serious panda eyes. 

The video's being released in February - I'll put the link up so you can all have a good old chuckle at me... Don't feel bad, I'd do the same!

So, interesting as my day was, and as friendly and welcoming as the people were, I have never felt like such a dork in my life. Being surrounded by musicians and perfectly proportioned beauties left me with a striking impression of just how nerdy I actually am. Needless to say, it was with great relief when I got home, had a cuppa with some bread and jam, and listened to my Harry Potter audiobooks. A model I am not. 

image credit

Yes. Quite. And thank you Stephen Fry.


EDIT: Seriously, though. Check out Oscar's stuff. It's beautiful, and he's pretty much the best thing that's come out of my hometown since Tales of the Riverbank.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

So you know Crazy Cat Ladies? I think we've all come across one or two in our time... Well, I think I may be becoming a Crazy Bunny Lady.  I've already mentioned Bella, but I didn't tell you that I brought her home to be a companion for my other Lionhead Rabbit, Toby. 

Toby and Bella
Toby doesn't usually look like a fuzzy pig... But Ma tried to give him a haircut, and (evidently) it went a bit amiss.

I'm obsessed. Rabbits are just so darn cute. Despite the fact that everything I own is covered in straw and fur, and my arms are covered in scratches. I still think they are the most wizard pets (apart from my pup).

Here are some outfit snaps... Thank you to littlest brother for taking them, and to big brother for the camera.

By the way, I'm not just outrageously overdressed to sit in the garden crooning over rabbits. I'm going to a carol concert this evening, followed by an evening with a fire, mince pies, mulled wine, and good friends. I saw this dress in H&M recently, and for a steal at £15. I knew it would be mine. There was just something so irresistibly Florence Welch about it. My brother told me it was a "Granny dress." I said, "PUH-LEASE! Granny chic." Bah, some people, eh? 

Hat - H&M (a bazillion years ago); Dress - H&M; Bag - UO; Ring - Wendy Mink  
Biker Jacket - Zara; Snakeskin Bangle - Jimmy Choo; Ankle Boots - Kurt Geiger

How do you wonderful ladies feel about the hat? I found it yesterday in Narnia (i.e. the back of my wardrobe) and though I haven't worn it since I was about sixteen, I thought it was screaming for a come-back.

Thanks for all your comments about Twitter yesterday. If my spies are correct (and they usually are), I'm getting a high-tech, no buttony type phone for Christmas to replace my indestructible, rubber-clad Nokia with a torch on top. So after Christmas will probably be a good time to become a Tweeter/Tweetee/Twit, or whatever you're supposed to call them. 

*Yes, another social platform to stalk well-dressed people and hassle folk with my inane ramblings!*

But seriously, thanks. You girlies are the bestest.

Also, a friend of mine is shooting a music video tomorrow, and he's asked me to be in it! Eep! After various assurances that I won't have to dance, I agreed... So I'll let you all know all about that tomorrow.



Tuesday, 20 December 2011

I saw my hairdresser Sarah yesterday. Sarah is amazing - she listens to what you want, is really speedy, always gives me great hair, comes to the house, and only charges me £10. I want to marry her a little bit. I think my favourite thing about her is that she just gives you a simple cut - last year, I was living in Beijing and developed a bit of a Tony and Guy habit. They left me with Disney Princess silky smooth flowing locks every single time, but the next day it would always look like a bag of crap in comparison, because I can't style it myself. We called it the "Tony and Guy comedown". It's a little what going cold-turkey from crack probably feels like. Whereas Sarah just does a great cut that I can just leave (although she does beg me to brush it, occasionally), and it will just continue to look the same.

Anyway, she informs me that this is what a proper blunt fringe should look like, as opposed to the abysmal hack-job I've been doing myself, usually after consuming a bit too much wine and deciding it needs a tidy-up, all term at university:

Also, I bought this Wendy Mink ring from the website Cocosa a while back, but I just got it back from the jewellers after having the size altered. I adore it. I think it will be perfect for adding a little something to my duller, every day outfits, and for making myself look like a crazy magpie lady when worn with lots and lots of other rings. And it will double up as a pretty effective knuckle-duster. Bargain...

I'm toying with the idea of tweeting... Not for personal reasons, I don't actually think I have any friends that do it, but as an extension of the blogging thing, it sounds quite useful... I am, however, instantly suspicious of anything that I don't understand, so I was wondering if anyone had any useful links or have posted about how to use Twitter? Do any of you tweet? Care to explain it to me?

I'd be very, very grateful for any help...



Sunday, 18 December 2011

My camera has had it... So please forgive the lack of photos in the next week, they'll only be shoddy Photo Booth snaps or maybe the occasional proper shot if I can beg, borrow, or steal a camera from a friend. I'll be picking up a new camera when my Christmas money comes through...

Here's a shot of my new jumper! It's super warm, pretty grandpa chic, and has lots of extra room for after-Christmas turkey belly. Which I fully intend on acquiring...

Yup, still painfully awkward having my photo taken...

Before my camera totally gave up on life, I did manage to get some snaps of our tree, which is, I think, absolutely beautiful... All the decorations came from Katrina Phillips, a beautiful shop which can be found at Number 99, Portobello Road in London. I've done several stints working in Katrina's shop over the last few years, it's my favourite place to work in the world. I plan on doing a proper post about it soon, because it's full of treasures and everyone should know about it (it was featured this year in Vogue's secret address book). For now, these will have to suffice...

This is the whole tree, in all it's glory... My pup insisted in getting into the shot too, vain thing.

My Ma does seem to have slight schizophrenia in regard to Christmas decorations though - while the inside is (in my opinion) beautiful and classy, the outside is full of neon fiends like these.

And she wonders why we're not more popular with the neighbours.

He's smirking because he knows he's making the neighbours laugh at us.

What's your Christmas decoration style? Are you a fan of bedazzled Christmas houses, or do you prefer more a more traditional, classic aesthetic?

I hope you're all having perfect, lazy Sundays.



Saturday, 17 December 2011

I'm finally home for Christmas! Today's travelling was rather eventful - I managed to snag myself a cheap First Class ticket off the Trainline a few weeks ago, and I don't know what the other passengers were more disapproving of; my sneezing and coughing and generally spazzing all over the first class carriage, or the fact that Bella the bunny (who has become a permanent fixture in Chez Mona) freaked out if left in her travel hutch and insisted on sitting on my lap for the four hour journey. We must have looked quite a spectacle.

I got home to see my Ma, my three brothers, and my biggest fan, my pup.

Sorry about the weird photo, (1) I am useless, and (2) I think my camera got a bit broken in my bag today? Nightmare.

He's quite an odd little creature. I am frequently told that he resembles an ewok (Star Wars? No?), and he suffers from serious abandonment issues (I, along with my siblings, went to boarding school so he hates the term time because there's no-one to play with him). He is the most incredibly loyal, protective dog though, and it's nice to know that no matter how many dates I ruin in one way or another, I'll always have this little guy to stare at me adoringly. It's like having a second shadow in the holidays.

To make my triumphant return all the better, I've just inherited a knitted man's jumper, which was shrunk in the wash and no longer fit's my Ma's-friend's-cousin's-husband, or something. Seriously kitsch, seriously brilliant.

To top off my general feeling of well-being, despite being horribly infected with flu virus, Robin Hood is playing on the Disney Channel right now. I'm watching with my brothers (this was my top Disney film as a kid), which really makes me feel like Christmas is coming, and soon!

image credit

Thanks for all your kind wishes after my last post! I'm sure I'll make a speedy recovery now I'm back at home and can have some down-time.

Do any of you have adoring pups at home? And what are your favourite Disney movies?



Friday, 16 December 2011

So far, my courting with the boy has been somewhat of a comedy of errors. Last night, I skyped with a friend, discussed date tactics, and showed him the five outfits I was considering wearing. He asked me if I just had any "nice, normal girl clothes." So my confidence was slightly knocked.

I did, however, promise an outfit post yesterday, so here goes, my Outfit of the Day...

PJ's - damn straight.

I woke up this morning and promptly realised I am dying of flu. I'm all achey and phlegmy and basically disgusting. I asked to rain-check with the boy, who took it upon himself to come round and check on me, because he's lovely like that. He was even polite enough to try and pretend I still looked nice, despite my hugely red nose and the fact that I look like small animals have burrowed in my hair. And I was wearing bed socks...

Also, a horrible incident involving the death of a friend's pet occurred, and as my friends and I were all too useless to deal with it, the boy offered to go and bury it. 

So, in short, I've spent the day in bed, hacking up a lung, and the boy had to go and dispose of a dead rabbit in a field for me. So much for acting nice and normal.

If he asks me out again, it will be a proper bloody Christmas miracle.

Hope your days were slightly more successful!



Thursday, 15 December 2011

Sorry for all being so quiet on the blogging front, but, as anticipated, this week has been a nightmare. A nightmare which has mostly consisted of me doing this: 

image credit

It's quite tempting to just forget the whole university thing at times, but (1) I actually, deep down, love my degree, and (2) my skills consist of making cupcakes, licking my elbow and spending way, way too much of my overdraft on shoes.  I am not employable.

It'll all be over for the year tomorrow at 4pm, but tomorrow night I have a date (!) so I have to laugh and smile and act like a normal person, when all I want to do is curl up on the floor and weep from sleep deprivation. However, it is the first one, and that may scare him off a tad. It should make for a good outfit post, though... "What I wear to convince potential beaus that I'm not, in fact, totally mental". My neighbour has banned me from wearing what he dubs my "Granny clothes". Brilliant. 

I'm heading home on Saturday, ready for a month of making mince pies, drinking lots of red wine, playing Monopoly and cuddling with my dog. I may even throw the odd bit of revision into the mix, who knows?

Also, a quick hello and thank you to my new followers! It has brightened my day seeing new faces on my sidebar, and I promise I'll be much more attentive once the term ends...



Monday, 12 December 2011

It's that time of year again. It feels like the end of term, but alas, not quite. All I want to do is ice-skate, wrap presents and drink mead at the Christmas market, but no can do, I still have an oral exam and two presentations to get through. Then it's straight home for me.

After several demands for something chocolatey, and my own hankering for some December decadence, I came across a recipe for chocolate milk cupcakes in Making Cupcakes With Lola, which my flatmate gave me for my Birthday (without, she claims, any motive of personal gain in the baked goods department). I donned an apron, for I am a messy, messy baker, and got to work. This is a wonderful little book, if you're a fan of the Hummingbird cookbook then definitely have a look at this, it has some really unusual and wonderful recipes (although, truth be told, I don't think their icing comes out as nicely as the Hummingbird's).  These cupcakes were perfect for a rainy afternoon and went down a treat with flatmates and friends.


100g dark chocolate, chopped
175g butter, cubed
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
100g self-raising flour
2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
a pinch of salt
chocolate sprinkles, to top

120g butter, cubed and soft
500g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk


Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius/350 degrees farenheit/Gas mark 4.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl, by placing bowl over a pan of simmering hot water and gently stirring. When they are melted, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Allow to cool for ten minutes.

Please excuse the state of the kitchen. I'm a student - I live in squalor.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder and salt, and beat until well-mixed.

Divide the mixture between twelve muffin cases (these are larger than cupcake cases). Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted comes out clean. For newbies, don't open the oven before then, otherwise you're cakes won't rise, and you'll end up with a stodgy biscuit-type thing. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool on a wire rack before decorating. 

While your cakes are cooling, take the opportunity to lick the bowl.

Keep your apron on for the bowl-licking. This is crucial.

Now whip up the icing - beat the butter until it is soft and fluffy. Slowly mix in the icing sugar, vanilla extract and milk. The book recommends an electric hand mixer, but I am a student - you are more likely to find a Chinese dictionary or a printer cable in my kitchen than any useful appliances, and so I mixed by hand. If the texture is too dry, add more milk, but slowly - a little makes a big difference one mixed properly.

The recipe then calls for a piping bag with a star nozzle - come on Lola, who do you think you're dealing with, Martha Stewart? - but I decided to ice the cakes with a knife for a more rustic, home-made feel (i.e. I am a student, and if I have the money to spend on bags, you can bet they won't be piping bags). Finish with a liberal amount of chocolate sprinkles, pop on the kettle, and call your nearest and dearest over for tea, cake and gossip. The perfect remedy to a windy, rainy day. 

More enjoyment may be had with the wearing of really snug Christmas jumpers and the Home Alone soundtrack playing in the background.

Enjoy! And if you have a baking-keen friend or relative, then this book would make a wonderful Christmas present...


P.S. As previously mentioned, I have a lot on this week, but please bear with me, I have lots and lots to share with you, just little time for blogging. 


Thursday, 8 December 2011

The website Stylist Pick has been on my radar for a while, but not until today have I actually had a look... The website is still "busy building my personal showroom", but has informed me that I am "free and individual". Which, I must say, surprised me. I've always considered my taste in shoes to be quite classic. As I couldn't view my personal showroom, I thought I'd have a gander at the Cheryl Cole collection, which was released two days ago.

There has already been a lot of feedback on the blogosphere, and most of what I've read has been pretty positive. I, however, am not quite convinced...

Image from here

I'm sorry Cheryl, I think you're very pretty and you've done exceedingly well to have gotten as far as you have done, but I just do not like any of these shoes. And considering how reasonable Stylist Pick shoes are usually, I think these are over-priced. I read that they were made in Italy, which is why they are more expensive than the rest of the website's merchandise, but I just don't think they're worth almost £80 and £120 respectively. 

I'd be interested to hear back about the quality of the shoes - if they are made well and with high-quality fabrics, then I would be more understanding about the pricing, but I do worry that they are only so highly priced because a celebrity was involved in the design process. If anyone purchases or is given these shoes, I'd love to hear some feedback.

I read one comment which did upset me, claiming that they were "very reasonably priced considering that they were designer shoes." I'm sorry, but NO. Being a celebrity does not make you qualified as a designer. As an opinion, I find it insulting to people who have made a career out of studying design to insinuate that all it takes to become a 'designer' is an ok voice and a brilliant PR team. 

So sorry Cheryl, but I won't be purchasing any of your collection. Although, to be fair, if Jimmy Choo released a Christmas album, I probably wouldn't buy it. 

What are your opinions on Cheryl Cole's collection for Stylist Pick? Are you, like me, dubious, or have you already purchased yourself a pair or two?



Monday, 5 December 2011

Firstly, hello to my new followers! Thank you for following, it's always super-exciting to see a new face, and I love reading all of your comments!

Today's post is a very short one because I am a total idiot and have left a really long, boring essay until the last minute, once again. It's due in tomorrow at midday. I am going on an essay writing rampage with my flatmate, who is in the same sticky predicament. Sleep, you will have to wait until tomorrow. Tonight, I write. 

To make sure it's not a totally joyless endeavour, I decided to write in my Kigu. Because everything is more fun if you are dressed as a giraffe.

Does this count as an outfit post?

Never. Again.



Sunday, 4 December 2011

So after a hellish journey due to a packed train, I've made it back to my little flat in Manchester, bright-eyed and pink-cheeked after a weekend of arctic winds and log fires. 

I was staying in the Fairfax Arms in Gilling East, a tiny village in North Yorkshire. The village is in a valley, and has no mobile reception. Literally none. It's actually quite a nice escape every once and a while, although once you leave you have quite a lot of explaining to do... Several people are a bit miffed at me for 'ignoring' them. But what can you do?

Cue some dreadful photos - I am working on it. And, ever the optimist, I think they may be getting slightly better?

The Fairfax Arms, in all its festive glory.

Great coffee and pretty Christmas decorations - this is where I posted from yesterday.

The bar - what can I say? I like bars...

Here's a picture I took of the beautiful valley...

We spent today in Helmsley. This is one of my favourite places in England because, attention all Harry Potter geeks, it's the village that Hogsmeade was based on. Which I think is incredibly cool. Although unfortunately they don't actually serve butterbeer. 

The village square - hosts an amazing farmer's market on Fridays, should you ever find yourself in the vicinity!

Hunters of Helmsley - an amazing deli. I can recommend the apple juice, the game pie, and their ice cream. All perfection.

We stopped for a coffee at Porters Cafe, which has a pretty incredible selection of home-made cakes and puddings:

My personal favourite - toffee apple crumble. Divine.

A shot of me taken by my brother.
Hat - ASOS; Scarf - Samantha Holmes; Coat - tailor-made; Fair Isle Jumper - F&F for Tesco(!); Ring - gift; Velvet Skirt - UO Renewal

I'd also recommend the tea-room at the Black Swan - their own blend of tea is delicious, and I'm going to make a bold statement and say that they have one of the nicest log-fires in Yorkshire. It's also a really wonderful hotel; the toiletries they give you smell amazing, and the breakfasts are great. Private events here are also lovely (I held my 18th here, many, many moons ago).

Helmsley is a really lovely village for shopping. They have a proper old-fashioned toy shop, lots of country-wear shops and boutiques, and one of the most amazing, high-end antique shops I've ever been in, Bridge Antiques. The man in the shop was absolutely lovely, letting me and my brother's girlfriend try on anything we wanted, even though we clearly weren't in the market to buy. I must have tried on about £10,000 worth of jewellery. And it was all beautiful. They also sell really gorgeous tea sets and very pretty costume jewellery, too. And if any of you are after a gift for your man/dad/cross-dressing pal, their antique cufflinks are beautiful.

The window-display.

1930's 21-piece tea set, a steal at £78.00 (I know you're reading, Santa)!

Costume jewellery.

Unfortunately, I left there empty handed (1-0 to self-restraint! Yes!), but I did make a few purchases:

Faux-fur collar, Joules - £31.96 after a 20% discount in Browns of Helmsley. I'm considering this an 'investment piece' as I think it will give a face-lift to all my coats and cardies.

Jilly Cooper - Jump! - £1.49 from Oxfam. Because it's alright to read mindless tat so long as it's really, really cheap.

I may have to impose a shopping ban upon myself soon. I can't even bring myself to look at my online banking...

In short, anyone who fancies a weekend away but doesn't want to seriously travel, I would recommend both Gilling East, and Helmsley. They're both beautiful, idyllic little villages, only 40 minutes away from  York. And for any Harry Potter nerds;
(1) Join the club
(2) How can you not want to go to Hogsmeade?

I hope you all had wonderful weekends! What did you get up to?

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