Mooching around London & a giveaway winner!

This weekend was one of those all-round fun ones with lots of things planned (that go to plan). On Saturday I met up with friends and their gorgeous little Shih Tzu Buster to go desk shopping in Islington.

Instead of scouring the junk shops we visited Criterion Auctioneers, an auction house on Essex Road with a huge floor of furniture and collectables. There were some lovely old pharmacy tins, a handful of gilded religious icons and old Elvis posters but I decided to be restrained and save my money for a fish finger sandwich and a cider at The Old Queen's Head where we sat amongst stuffed stags heads on the walls and glass domes filled with old doll parts.

I've blogged about my love for the amazing-but-expensive Camden Passage in Islington before so was more than delighted to take another stroll down it on Saturday. I spied a shop I've never seen before: Issy's Milky Way is a fifties diner and milkshake bar in a palette of pastels and stripes. We didn't get a chance to pop in but looking at the photos of their cakes on their Facebook page is making me want to make a date there ASAP.

The Passage also holds the fabulously weird stall outside Loveday Antiques which over time has become my favourite. This week, they were selling old incorrect education posters, bits of threadbare taxidermy, strange metal contraptions, some very steamy projector transparencies and all manner of small vintage toys.

The last photo, for those of you who are familiar with it, will indicate we ended up near Brick Lane browsing the Old Truman Brewery sample sales and sipping hot chocolate at Rough Trade. And still, after all these amazing shops and stalls, my purse was still firmly planted in my satchel. It was quite a novel experience not to be engulfed in a haze of post-spending guilt!

And finally, the winner of my phone cover giveaway is...drum-roll please...Jasmine from Jaz XO! Congratulations Jasmine, I'll be emailing you now. Thank you to everyone who entered!

An illustrated giveaway.

My old phone cover was looking a little tatty so when I received an email asking if I'd like to try our one of the covers from Iconemesis, my iPhone, in it's cracked Cath Kidston case, thanked me.

In collaboration with some of the greatest illustrators and artists around at the moment, they have created some truly desirable covers for both the 3G and 4G iPhones. I chose one of the many Fifi Lapin covers for it's pastel palette and thankfully it turns out to be as functional as it is beautiful.

Sturdy and well made, there are a huge range of other artists' to choose from- Gemma Correll, Cat Sims, Sarah King and Jonny Packham to name a few.

The very nice people at Iconemesis have also offered one of their lovely cases to one of you! All you have to do to enter is like the Iconemesis Facebook page, pick your favourite case design and let me know in a comment below with your email address. The competition will run until next Sunday 29th January and is open to all followers, including international ones.

Project Take 10: Zign at Zalando

I love a good Mary Jane. Even if they have been totally bastardised by high-street shoe chains as of late, they still remind me of sixties babes, Courtney Love circa Hole and a host of illustrated Enid Blyton's from my childhood. Thank you to Zign at Zalando for making a Mary Jane with a wearable platform in something other than pleather. In a beautiful pink suede, they don't look like I've just resurrected from my nineties school shoe collection. Or maybe they do, but I love them regardless.

I decided to run with the sixties theme and give myself a mini-hive and wear the heels with a polka dot mini from Primark and, inspired by Jen's recent love for a sparkly cape, a sequin over-sized collar from Peacocks, a sale bargain bought for a fiver.

Are you a fan of the Mary Jane or do they remind you of uniforms and school days? This month everyone went for a totally different type of shoe, from warm winter boots to loafers, so make sure you take a peek at my fellow Take Tenners and their style.

Susie (Take-out in Couture)
Sherin (Hi-Fashion)

Vicki (Magpie Girl)
Sarah (We Shop)
Harriet (Where's Harriet)
Sabine (Psynopsis)
Jen (A Little Bird)
MJ (Dreaming Spires)
Paula (Pink Bow)

Pick & Mix

This week has been very busy and full of exciting things, which has meant little time for sitting down and spending my free time blogging. We all feel the bloggers guilt sometimes don't we? I have it by the bucket load at the minute, so thought I'd give you a little update on what I've been up to.

Yesterday, Ed and I went to see another bunch of wedding venues- 2 duds and 1 absolute beauty. Cripps Barn (above) is a stone barn in the Cotswold's with huge outside gardens, a bonfire, forest, the option to camp and some very pretty interiors. We still have a few more to see but this is looking like the favourite so far, even if I think it's a bit too polished for me.

One thing that has really got to me whilst looking for venues is the strictness of some of them. If I'm paying thousands of pounds in hire and catering costs I expect them to be a little more negotiable to the whims of a non-traditional bride. One of my wishes is to have a desert table, with cakes made by friends and family, macarons from Laduree and all of our favourite puddings. This is looking more and more impossible since most venues don't allow you to bring any outside food in which, in this age of austerity, seems particularly mean. The search continues for the perfect run-down barn in the south of England so if anyone has any hints or knows of any secret barns available, please let me know and save my nerves.

People have been going on about Pinterest for ages, but it was only after looking at the ridiculous amount of bookmarks I have on file that I decided to give it a go and, predictably, I'm now hooked.

It's fantastic for bringing together all of my wedding inspiration so if you fancy having a browse and following me, or if you have a Pinterest account too, let me know. You can find mine

Instagram of the week. Still loving it:

1. New Dorothy Perkins sale coat, £15 down from £69

2. Centrepoint on Tottenham Court Road, early morning.
3. Man with a golden pyramid on his head, Waterstones, Oxford Street. Amazingly, this guy is a cult London figure, which I found about after stumbling on this blog post here. I love London eccentrics.
4. My fawn bookend sadly lost it's partner in crime last weekend, smashing to the floor. If anyone spots any more, please let me know as he's very lonely.
5. My new Miista sparkly flats were bought courtesy of their ingenius Twitter promotion, whereby the higher the tweeter's Klout score, the higher the percentage discount was applied. I managed to bag the last of these for £14 down from £99!
6. A boy in a dog hat. More precisely, Ed in a dog hat bought for him by 'Santa'. Just for the lolz.

Finally, I was delighted to see that I'd been nominated for a Company Blog Award in the 'We Love Vintage' and 'Overall Winner' category. I'm under no illusions that there are far bigger and more popular blogs out there so I'm not asking you to vote for me, but I am asking you to vote because it would be fantastic to see a blogger I know picking up an award! You can vote here and as many times as you like so hop to it.

Collars and scarves

I saw these beautiful collars on Fiona's blog and knew I had to know more about them immediately.

They are designed and made in London by bright young thing's Cleo Ferin Mercury, who make them alongside their amazing silk scarves under collections entitled 'Icons' (featuring Bridget Bardot and Beyonce), 'Les Histoires D'amour' and the latest 'The Animal Friendly'. The latter features the brilliant Hibernate With Me arctic fox, badger and hedgehog collars and I can't get over their cuteness.

Talking of collars, how do you like this crochet collar I plucked off a particularly hideous charity shop dress? The dress was a couple of pounds and I was more than happy to pay it despite relegating the rest of the dress to the remnants pile. Just a tip if you see a lovely collar on a less-than-lovely dress, they're generally always quite simple to snip off.

The Useful Groupon (etc) Guide

When Groupon asked me to do a review for them it seemed utterly pointless. Everyone I know is thoroughly fed up of me raving about it to them or anyone who'll listen. You poor readers haven't escaped my enthusiasm either, I've written about Groupon on the blog previously to share my own fantastic experience of using a voucher to visit Drink, Shop, Do.

So, I thought, what can I offer you instead of my usual 'I Love Groupon' viewpoint?
How about a run down of how I get the best out of Groupon? They, and all the other identikit sites around, play host to some brilliant deals and money-saving vouchers but there are some pitfalls to watch out for.

These are the tips I use for every deal I buy:

1) Be sneaky. If you're buying something that needs to be booked in advance, for example a hair cut/a pedicure/a hotel stay etc. OR you're buying something that you want to be able to use at a specific time, for example a wax before a holiday/a restaurant deal before a theatre performance etc. call the business before you buy the deal! This is especially important if you can see that 300 other people have bought the same deal. You don't want to buy the voucher to then find out they can't fit you in until the arse-end of 2013. The company may not take the booking until you have the security code from the voucher, so you may need to be quick in buying the deal and calling them back, but at least you won't be taking a totally blind risk.

This also goes for physical products bought. I bought the above books on the 5th December, hoping to get them in time to give one to my Dad as part of his Christmas present. However, by the time the voucher went 'live' and the delivery time of 1-2 weeks had passed, I was already home in Luton and miles away from my wonderful Leon cookbooks. Don't buy anything you may need straight away, the companies will often be packaging hundreds of orders and will have factored that in to their delivery estimates!

2) Get on early to beat the crowds. A pretty obvious one, but Groupon is usually one of the first websites I visit everyday. Their daily deal email's are sent out between 2-4am so the deals are updated by the time I hit my desk at work and I browse them while I eat my breakfast.

3) READ THE T&C's. Again, obvious, but seriously if you don't read them you may be wasting your money. Some deals aren't applicable for certain areas, certain dates, sometimes postage isn't included, you may need to purchase more than one deal etc. Just make sure you read them because even if it's a bargain, if not used, it's a waste of money.

4) Check the expiry date. Or should that be, remember the expiry date! I've bought deals in the past, usually restaurant vouchers, which I've printed out, stuffed in my purse and then completely forgotten about for months. I try not to buy things that I won't use within a month or two so that at least I can book them straight away and schedule it in my diary so as not to forget it.

5) Research. Groupon is pretty huge now, and hence popular and reputable companies/businesses are being signed up to sell their wares. However, I often see deals for salons and restaurants I've never encountered before and hop straight onto Google to research the hell out of it before I even consider buying a deal. I had my nails done recently thanks to a voucher, but when I arrived it was in a dingy, freezing basement with staff who could speak no English and did a shabby job on my acrylics. If I'd have researched it, I would have seen that a dozen other people had already written of it's crap-ness. Learn from this and never be tempted to dive straight in.

5) Look further afield. We recently went to Bath and as soon as the train tickets were booked I stopped by Groupon to see if their were any relevant deals for the dates we were there. I managed to find a great restaurant deal which meant we were saving money on our mini-break with a touch of luxury dining thrown in.

6) If you're not happy, complain! If the salon/restaurant is not up to scratch, either before or after you've used the deal, make sure you complain to Groupon. I had extremely rude service from a hair salon about a year ago, when they couldn't handle the number of customers buying the deal and effectively hung up on me. I complained to Groupon who refunded my money very quickly and without quibble. Even if you've used the deal but it wasn't what you were expecting, or you felt you were treated differently to other customers because you were using a voucher, call or email Groupon to let them know. It may not get you your money back every time, but feedback is always useful.

I hope this has been helpful for anyone just starting to use websites like these. In the interest of variety, my other favourite deal websites include: KGB Deals, Living Social (especially their instant deals!) and Wahanda (for health & beauty)

If anyone has any questions or additional tips about these types of websites feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll answer them in as an edit to this post.

P.s These Leon cookbooks are what I bought with the voucher that Groupon gave me to post a review. They are incredibly beautiful, and every page is a graphic dream. They are probably the most visually stunning cookbooks I've ever seen but I'm yet to make anything from them just yet, so I'll update you on their usefulness in the near future!

The Annual: 2011

2011 was an amazing year but not one for sticking to resolutions in. I didn't lose weight and I didn't stop smoking. This year, I'm not making a single resolution. I just want to learn as much as I can and have a good time doing it.

The first thing to change in 2012 has been the layout of this blog thanks to Faye from All These Pretty Things. There are still a few tweaks to be made but I love the clean lines, so do let me know what you think.

Thank you to all those who've given advice and kind words over the last twelve months, it's been a brilliant year and I've loved sharing some of it with people who are still interested enough to keep reading!

Here's to an exciting, prosperous, inspiring and full of love 2012!