Saturday 29 April 2017

Do you like my new haircut?!

New hair! 
After having pretty much ignored my hairstyle since we departed England in the autumn, it (unsurprisingly by now) really needed a good cut! I considered going back to e-Hair, but before I had gotten around to booking in I spotted a notice at the Roma Salon offering a free haircut so I popped in there to get more details.

I met Georgia who looked at my mop and didn't run away screaming so I booked in. Free appointments can be booked for Wednesday or Thursday afternoons and I did need to leave a £10 deposit which was returned at the end of my appointment. As a trainee, Georgia did apologise for being slower than the fully-trained hairdressers, but I always felt confident with how my haircut was progressing and I am delighted with the end result! Even Dave said he thinks this is the best style I have had in the fourteen years he has known me - praise indeed! I did ask how much I would have paid, had I paid, and the wash (with deliciously marzipan-scented Aveda shampoo), condition, cut, blow-dry and straighten would have been £21 off-peak or £32 salon rate. I liked the atmosphere at Roma and love my new style so I will definitely be returning to Georgia to maintain this look - considerably more often than every six months too!

If you choose to give Roma Salon a try, please mention my name (Stephanie Burton) when booking! The salon is on Torwood Street in Torquay.

Friday 28 April 2017

A Weekend in Bristol - St Anne's Wood

Paul Gulati gateway 
We made a beautiful discovery in Bristol last weekend and, best of all, it was free! St Anne's Wood in Brislington is relatively new in natural history terms having grown up since the Second World War when the majority of this area was farmland. It languished for a while, but was subject to an ongoing regeneration effort in 2013 which is resulting in a serene natural space. Himalayan Balsam plants have been ripped out and coppicing undertaken, and regular cleanups now help keep litter to a minimum although we two two instances where, in a practice we commonly see in Spain, people must have deliberately walked a distance into the wood, past a number of bins, simply to dump an armful of their rubbish. Sometimes I really do despair! The trail, workshops and new paths and entrances were joint funded by Bristol City Council’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund, the Neighbourhood Partnership’s Wellbeing fund and the Heritage Lottery. Ideal for getting away from the city bustle for a while! The Wood follows Brislington Brook and there are maps and further information from 2013 and 2014 on the Brook Trail blog.

St Anne's Well 
I loved the whimsical entrance gates. These were created by local blacksmith Paul Gulati and are great fun. Fairly steep steps lead down from the pictured gateway to the brook. I was amazed how traffic noise seemed to just vanish as we descended! I would have been easy to imagine ourselves way back in history, especially as a small re-enactment group appeared between the trees dressed in Medieval garb! This area was once part of one of the most important pilgrimage routes in Britain with the now neglected St Anne's Well being a focal point for locals and travellers alike.

For a much shorter 'pilgrimage', you can spot each of the nine plaques set up within the Wood. They each give brief information about historical sites such as the well, or about flora and fauna that can be seen nearby. If you are visiting with children, take paper and pencils with you because these plaques are apparently also intended to be used for the ancient practice of brass rubbing. I remember doing that on a school trip many years ago!

Brislington Brook 

Wednesday 26 April 2017

A weekend in Bristol - Blackbeard to Banksy Walking Tour

Pixel Pancho street art, Bristol 
We were back in Bristol this weekend just gone visiting with Dave's family. Bristol is still my favourite of the UK cities I have visited because I love its creative vibe and enthusiasm for independent businesses. There's a strong motivation towards sustainable living too which could well get a real boost on May 5th. If you live in Bristol, South Gloucestershire or Bath and North East Somerset, vote for The Green Party's Darren Hall to be your Metro Mayor! Far from an insignificant or decorative role, the Metro Mayor will command a £1billion budget over the next 30 years and will shape the West of England’s landscape by deciding where new homes, amenities and transport routes will be built.

El Mac street art, Bristol 
Dave's daughter, Gemma, always finds us something great to do when we visit her city and this trip was certainly no exception as she booked us onto a fascinating walking tour. The Blackbeard To Banksy tour incorporates history and street art, two of our favourite topics, so its two hour duration absolutely flew by. It is led by local artist Duncan McKellar who both knows his subject well and imparts this knowledge in an engaging and entertaining style. He took us through Saxon alleyways and to pubs famed for their pirate or literary connections. We also saw the largest, the tiniest and the most famous street art in Bristol. The first two photos on this post are of huge works created for the See No Evil street art festival on and around Nelson Street. The second two are of phenomenally detailed images painted by Ben Wilson onto pavement chewing gum blobs. Really!! We also admired the iconic Banksy on Frogmore Street, Well Hung Lover. Excellent value at just £7 per person, I would highly recommend the Blackbeard To Banksy walking tour to both tourists and Bristol natives!

Chewing gum art by
Ben Wilson, Bristol 
Coincidentally, part-way around the tour, Duncan recommended a Lebanese restaurant, Mezze Palace, as a great place to dine. We had eaten there on the Friday evening and I am more than happy to second his opinion. It doesn't look much from the outside, but I loved the stone wall decor inside and the low curved ceiling. The food is good too with generous portions we struggled to do justice to! If you're down by the harbourside and getting peckish, I'd suggest a visit to The Pi Shop too. It's an upmarket pizzeria. We shared two pizzas between four for our lunch after the walking tour. The one with Wye Valley asparagus and sheep's cheese was absolutely delicious!

Monday 24 April 2017

Upcoming gigs and theatre trips

In a complete change of plan, we are now not going to see Ocotillo in Glastonbury on Wednesday although the gig is still happening so if you find yourself nearby, step into the Hawthorns in the evening! Having driven to Bristol and back this weekend, we just couldn't face another four hours in the car! Instead we will be staying very local and strolling to T.O.A.D.S. production of Death In High Heels at The Little Theatre on St Mark's Road in Torquay. We were last there for the excellent comedy One Man Two Guvnors last summer. Now we will see a thriller set in 1930s London. Behind the glamour and gossip of a small Regent Street couture fashion house, secrets and lies are rife, and when a murder happens this fuels more gossip and lies! The play begins tonight, the 24th April and runs all week. Tickets are available online or via the theatre Box Office and we're going on Thursday!

Rebecca Loebe 
Saturday night will find us at Starcross near Exeter to see Austin, Texas, musician Rebecca Loebe alongside young singer-songwriter Luke Jackson who is from Canterbury in Kent. We saw Luke play once before, back in 2012 supporting Paul Brady at Lewes Town Hall (of all places!). Rebecca's music is pretty new to us although we know Austin friends of hers well so we are looking forward to discovering her songs. The Devon gig is at St Paul's Church in Starcross from 7.30pm on Saturday the 29th of April. Tickets are available for £11 online or will be £12 on the door.

You already know from last month's roundup that we're going to see the Hot House Four at Wellies Wine Bar in Torquay on the 4th of May and Charlie Dore at Kingskerswell Parish Church on the 20th of May (more details of these two here). I was also excited to see a Rachel Ries gig briefly advertised for the Crown And Sceptre in Torquay, however sadly due to illness all gigs at this venue are cancelled for the foreseeable future. Rachel Ries, performing as Her Crooked Heart, does have another Devon gig though so we will be venturing to Kingsbridge on the 27th of May to see her. The venue is essentially a house concert and will be held at a barn called The Hatch. Contact for more details and to reserve your seat!

So that's our live entertainment for April and May so far. Let me know if you're coming to any of these too and in the meantime, have a scroll through these South West gig listings from WeGotTickets and see if anything else catches your eye!


Wednesday 19 April 2017

Kiva loans to Tibet and Lesotho

Lala in China 
I've been so busy since we got back from Spain that, for the first time in ages, Kiva Repayments Day completely slipped my mind! Usually I eagerly anticipate it for several days beforehand, but it wasn't until the first 'You have money in your account' email arrived that I realised the 17th of the month had rushed around again already! Despite being unprepared, I did get lucky with my loans for April. I have lent to two new-to-me countries, China and Lesotho, which brings my total for countries lent to up to 70.

Chinese loans are quite rare and loans to Chinese women practically fabled, so I was delighted to spot A Loan To Lala before it was filled. Lala makes traditional warm Tibetan clothing for children. She wanted funds to expand her workshop by employing five more staff.

In Lesotho, innovative business African Clean Energy provide alternative cookstoves to low-income communities. Traditional cookstoves generate severe health and environmental damage like respiratory diseases and black carbon (a severe contributor to climate change). ACE cookstoves are smokeless and ensure near complete combustion of fuel, eliminating black carbon. I lent to the Molungoa Group to buy their cookstoves.

I still have a few more repayments due by the end of this month so hope I will get to make a third loan before May. Would you like to join me on Kiva too?

Molungoa Group in Lesotho 

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Crocheted motifs sold on Etsy

Crafter's Embellishments
Gift Pack - SOLD! 
This time last week I was celebrating my first handmade goods sale since I reopened my Etsy shop. Now I am happy to let you know that I had a fantastic sale this week too - 78 little crocheted motifs and they went to a repeat buyer. Don't get me wrong, new customers are great too! but there's something especially rewarding about knowing someone likes my work so much they want more of it! I sold ten sparkly red hearts, eight moss green leaves (now sold out), ten tiny orange stars and a Crafter's Embellishments Gift Pack. The Packs are great as a treat for yourself or to actually give to a craft-minded friend. For £10 I choose an assortment of fifty crocheted motifs from my stock, making sure there are no more than five of any particular one so the recipient gets at least ten different styles to spark their creativity. The motifs can be sewn or glued so would be suitable for older children as well as adults. If you can't choose between all the embellishments in my shop, buy yourself a Gift Pack!

This week I restocked the 1.25 inch crocheted flowers so all four colours are again available. I also relisted a trio of beanie-style hats and four wristlet water bottle bags that are perfect accessories for fitness walks. I created new cardmaking embellishments from vintage book pages too. You can now buy handcut circles in two sizes: 9cm diameter ones suitable for backgrounds which are £1 for 20, and 4.3cm diameter ones suitable for layering which are £1 for 25. You can buy 'by the book' or I think a mix of differently yellowed papers looks good together.

4.3cm vintage paper circles 
Now I am crocheting more hearts from various cottons. If you squint at the Gift Pack example photo above (or click through to enlarge it!) you'll see white, black and tiny red hearts amongst the flowers. I plan to get at least twenty of each listed within the next few days. Keep an eye on my Facebook page to be notified when!

Monday 17 April 2017

Early bluebells in Torquay

Bluebells at Meadfoot Green 
Did you have a good Easter? We treated ourselves to slices of homemade Simnel cake from a stall at Torquay Indoor Market and managed to resist the allure of chocolate eggs. I might look to see how much the unsold ones have been reduced by when I pop to the Co-Op later though! I learned that Torquay's branch of Thornton's is closing down in a couple of weeks so there might be good bargains there too. There's a 60% off sale at Thornton's online!

I have enjoyed rediscovering my way around Torquay over the past couple of weeks. Those of you who know my appalling sense of direction will understand how much of an achievement it will be for me to actually learn the whole town! Just before the Bank Holiday weekend Dave and I walked down to Meadfoot Beach where there were actually people - mostly children admittedly - swimming in the sea. In April! Madness!

Looking over towards Thatcher's Rock 

We paused to look out to sea and wondered at what appears to be wall remnants on Thatcher's Rock. Does anyone know if it was ever inhabited or is this just how the rock has eroded? And why is it called Thatcher's Rock? Travelling always brings up more questions than answers, even when I travel at home.

Cutting inland from the far end of Meadfoot Beach, we turned into Meadfoot Green parts of which are anything but green at the moment. Apparently the water board have been digging trenches. The ground is now refilled, but awaiting grass seed. We crossed one of the wooden plank bridges into the woodland and I was delighted to find bluebell carpets. I always think of them as a May flower because I generally see them around my birthday, but here in the English Riviera at least, they are already putting on quite a show. Coincidentally, in my brilliant Rebecca audiobook that I am currently listening to, the second Mrs de Winter had been discussing Maxim's opinion of bluebells the day before we saw ours! Even more profuse here are a white variant that I think are probably Spanish bluebells, not the rare albino British ones. They are eyecatching too, but in a different way and didn't have the same ethereal quality as the blue ones.

White bluebells 

Friday 14 April 2017

Read the book or watch the film?

I've done a spot of eBay listing this week, mostly DVDs, and it got me thinking about the number of books that get adapted to film or televised versions. I wondered whether people who love the movie ever go on to read its book and, vice-versa, if someone loves a particular book, are they more or less likely to see its film version. What do you think?

Personally I choose to avoid films of books I adored because I tend to be disappointed by their adaptations. If I do see and read, I prefer the film first because I know there will be lots more detail in the book and sometimes a completely different ending! This does mean I don't get to imagine characters and locations though because I envisage what I have seen - even when, with films such as Still Alice for example, the main character's appearance bears no relation to the written description. I also tend to use BBC television adaptations as an excuse not to get stuck into some classics, especially the ones with small print and hundreds of pages!

These are the literary adaptations I'm selling on eBay right now: (Click on each photo to visit its sale page!)

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Restocking my Etsy shop and my first sale of April

Crocheted flowers and leaves - SOLD!
My Etsy shop was just getting up to speed before we went away for the winter, but, disappointingly, views and sales ceased abruptly as soon I was shipping from France and, later, Spain. One aspect of our UK return I have been looking forward to is revamping and relisting the items I have for sale and getting back to my crafting again. I was absolutely delighted to be notified of my first sale this morning! Ten crocheted flowers and eight leaves are on their way to Merseyside. (I have more of both appliques available if you like them!)

Yesterday I listed three varieties of tiny star motifs and three varieties of crocheted hearts. All these shapes are ideal for card making and scrapbooking, or they can be appliqued to fabric - the flowers especially look fab sewn onto summer jeans! Click through via the photographs or the Etsy Mini widget to buy!

Crocheted stars 
Crocheted hearts 

Monday 10 April 2017

Walking the Tamar Trails

Tamar Trails map 
Now that we are back in the UK, we expect to be in our Devon home right through the summer and probably most of 2017's winter too so we will have lots of time to explore the county! On Thursday we drove over the top of Dartmoor to Tavistock, primarily to meet up with our friends Chris and Marta, and also to go for a walk in the Tamar Trails.

Located in the Tamar Valley, just across the river from Cornwall, the Tamar Trails is a 25km network of family trails and outdoor activities in this unique and stunning area of Devon. It is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site. I already knew about the walking / running / cycling trails, but had no idea I would find so much history too.

Arsenic mine ruins 
We parked at the Scrubtor car park (which is free) and walked along the green and then red routes as far as the Beech Cafe. The trails are all natural, passing through woodland. We paused to examine remnants of the arsenic mines here. Slightly worrying signs warn of the danger of arsenic poisoning and what looked like a large slag heap is still devoid of plant life decades after mining ceased. There is an interesting little information centre in a derelict building which is worth a look in. William Morris, the textile and wallpaper designer, profited significantly from the mine as a shareholder whereas the men, women and children actually working there were paid just pennies despite the risks to their lives.

Chris, Dave and Marta learn about mining 
Midway through our 10.5km walk, we reached the Beech Cafe which is located at Tamar Trails' hub. It was a gorgeous afternoon so we were lucky to get one of the tables outside in the sunshine. The Easter Egg Trail was popular and we saw a happy group returning from the TreeSurfing area. I browsed the running shop - there's also a weekly Parkrun here - before being diverted by excellent tea and cake next door! We can recommend the beetroot and chocolate cake as well as the avocado and courgette cake. Both are gluten free, but if I hadn't been told, I wouldn't have known from tasting them!

Beech Cafe staff and cakes! 
I was glad to have refuelled before tackling the return leg. None of the walking here is technically difficult, but the ups and downs are pretty steep in places! I did find myself inspired to undertake my first short run in months when we got home - two miles in twenty-one minutes with only two very short walks en route. My calves were sore for the next two days though!

Thursday 6 April 2017

We're back in Torquay!

Toulouse street art 
We're back in the UK now with everything unpacked - except for our wooden draining rack which I forgot from the caravan. Fortunately The Kitchen Shop on Torquay seafront had a replacement! Three day's driving up through France was pretty tiring, but the ferry journey was mill pond smooth again so I was very happy about that. My spirits lifted as soon as we got home and I remembered just how much we love our new Torquay flat. It's not so new now of course! The views are still gorgeous and we see the big wheel has gone back up. It had just been taken down when we departed.

We stayed at a Lidotel in Toulouse on the first night of our homeward dash. If you book in here, it's important to specify Ramonville as the town on your satnav. There is a Rue Ariane right in the middle of Toulouse too - you don't want to go there! It was handy for an evening stroll along the canal, but we were underwhelmed by the hotel itself which felt worn and in need of a repaint. Our sink was blocked too. Also underwhelming was our dinner at the Buffalo Grill next door. We have happy memories of eating at a different restaurant in the chain just before Dave asked me to move in with him. They've gone way downhill in the intervening decade though!

The second day was a long drive from Toulouse to Tour and we liked our Ibis Budget hotel for that night. Only about three euros more expensive than the Lidotel, but much nicer looking with a comfortable bed and an excellent shower. We had a wonderful meal at a nearby Italian restaurant, Il Napoli. The hot goat cheese salad was gorgeous, Dave enjoyed his pizza, and we both loved our Cafe Gourmand / Tea Gourmand to finish - a coffee or tea with a selection of delicious mini desserts.

Neither of us sleep well in strange beds so we were both fading by Sunday. I had the extra dread of the ferry crossing too although that fortunately turned out to be unfounded. Having expected it to be a bit naff, we were both impressed by the Premier Inn in Poole. Probably the cleanest hotel room we've ever visited, certainly the biggest of this trio, and the bed didn't feel 'budget' at all. Admittedly Premier Inn was about 20 euros more than Lidotel and Ibis, but it felt like a different world! I slept really well so was refreshed for our Poole to Torquay drive on Monday.

And now we're back in our own home ready for a spring and summer exploring south Devon and, no doubt, further afield! Dave's just booked our Charlie Dore gig tickets at Kingskerswell for May and our Carrie Elkin with Danny Schmidt gig tickets for Torquay's Crown And Sceptre in June, and tomorrow we're off to Tavistock. Some people just can't stay still!

Toulouse street art