Thursday, 29 June 2017

Amazing Swimwear Finds at Asda

A short rant about swimwear manufacturers incoming: why do bikinis for women with breasts have to be so bloody awful? Each year, ahead of my summer holiday, I embark on my least favourite shopping activity of the year - finding swimwear. It's always a horrible business. It doesn't matter when I choose to undertake this soul destroying but necessary task - the day I go bikini shopping will be the day I look my most hairy, most PMT-ish and most pasty. And I always seem to be wearing clothes that prove the most fiddly to get on and off which will only add to my general feeling of irritation. 

But the the thing that really annoys me? The fact that in 2017 it appears to remain an impossible task to buy a supportive, stylish, well made two-piece for under £100. Go into most high street stores and you'll be confronted with racks and racks of gaudy, poorly made items that will do absolutely nothing to boost your body confidence. It makes my heart sink. 

Despite that fact that, generally speaking, the modern world is more accepting of different body shapes than it used to be, a silly myth appears to persist amongst the people who make swimwear: that women are one size all over. So, if you're a size 12 in your clothes, a size 12 bikini will be adequate for your needs. This is, of course, madness. I don't know many people who have size 12 hips, boobs and bums. It's so completely illogical when it comes to breast size, as you can be the size of twiglet and still have big boobs, so a one-size-fits-all-body-parts just doesn't make sense. 

Then there are the shops that refuse to acknowledge a cup size over a C - &OtherStories, I'm looking at you (you may be under the impression that everyone who shops in your stores is a boyishly figured Scandinavian model, but that's simply not the case. I'm a 40-something lady who loves your aesthetic but your bikinis don't go anywhere near the average sized 40-something lady.) 

At the other end of the scale are the brands who actively target the more generously endowed....and they, to be honest, are equally as bad. Who said that women with a larger cup size want to be trussed up in some fussy, frilly get-up that recalls a scene from Butlins circa 1956? It seems there's an idea amongst swimwear designers that girls with boobs are a bit 'cheeky' and a bit wacky, so the swimwear that targets these customers is all loud prints on push-up tops and big pants. 

Why does no one cater to women who want a discreet alternative, in a simple style and classic colour? And the padding!!! What's with the bloody padding? I hate anything that's padded or push-up but swimwear designers seem to have decided that it's a must for the modern woman. Ugh. 

Having tried on bikinis from a range of manufacturers, and at all price points, it also baffles me that the fit can be so wrong on so many of them. Tops described as "supportive" are often unflattering and constrictive. They can often draw attention to the area of your body you least want attention drawing too. Even expensive swimwear can be made from horrible, saggy material that thins at the sight of chlorine and loses its shape with even the teeniest bit of wringing out.  

Then there are the bikinis that actually break on holiday - I spent a memorable holiday in Greece with a safety pin attachment on my back thanks to a clasp that melted in the sun. I mean, it's a bit of a no-brainer - you kind of need a bikini to withstand hot weather conditions, no?

But there's no way I'm spending £100 on something I'm going to wear approximately 6 times in a year. Trust me, I've spent a few quid on swimwear in the past, and they all go the same way - you just need something to last you for your couple of weeks in the sun, something you'll enjoy wearing and which will - if you're like me - offer at least some support for messing about the swimming pool with your kids. In my case, I don't want a loud print or cheap feeling material - I want the three Ss: Simple, Stylish, Supportive. 

So imagine my surprise when on a random trip to Asda I came across not one but TWO pretty brilliant options? I honestly can vouch for the quality and fit of these two bikinis. You can buy the tops and bottoms separately, and while the tops are sized rather than cup sized (eg 10, 12, 14 etc) they are both supportive and flattering - I sized up to a 12 and found the coverage perfect for my needs. 

Of course, the proof will kind of be in the pudding - it's hard to judge swimwear on functionality from the confines of a changing room, but I was really, really surprised how good these two options felt on. I think the price points speak for themselves too...

The zip and mesh detail give this one a sportswear vibe which I like. A really good fit on me and I love black. Available with matching bottoms. All in, £12. Buy here. 

Ignore the moaners on the reviews going on about sizing issues - just go and try this on. I found it a perfect fit and it offers the coverage I want without making me feel matronly. This top comes in at just £4. Yep, you read that right. Buy here.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Three Great Interiors Outlet Stores

There's a certain irony to writing a blog post about outlet stores when the summer sales are about to kick off, but bear with me - these three places are good to keep on your radar whenever, and can be combined with other activities if your children simply won't countenance a whole day looking at discount furniture. 

It's important to note that each of these places should be visited with an open mind - you can't go expecting to find any one specific item, but if you have more general requirements and like the idea of finding an unexpected bargain these places are worth the trip out of town (they are all within an hour of Bristol.)

 John Lewis Outlet, Swindon

If I was being mean, I might say that this place is perhaps the only reason to visit Swindon. But actually, the John Lewis outlet is right next to a rather good train museum, STEAM, which is most useful if you have children who are into that kind of thing - ie: you can shop, they can play trains for the afternoon. 

There are some serious bargains to be had at this outlet, from discounted white goods to end of line home accessories. Again, you can't come expecting to find a Miele dishwasher on display, but if you're thinking of updating your washing machine, TV or bed there's usually plenty on offer to tempt you.

Items are returned goods, end of lines or ex shop display and as such they may have the odd scratch or mark. When our washing machine conked out we rang the shop ahead and found that there was and identical one on sale - it just had a slight dent on one side. We took a chance on it and got it delivered by John Lewis without having to visit in person. 

The highlight of our shopping adventures at the outlet has to be our Halo Groucho leather sofa which to buy new comes in at a hefty £1299. The slightly scratched (but all the better for it) sofa we picked up cost just £600 and is a perfect addition to our compact living room.

The store is part of the larger Swindon Designer Outlet where you'll also find bargains from the likes of M&S, Next and Reiss.

Find out more here

Kilver Court Designer Village

I hadn't expected to find so many nice things for the home at Kilver Court, an upmarket retail village in Shepton Mallet. Synonymous with discounted Mulberry goods, we visited on a recommendation from a friend who'd had a lovely afternoon at the adjoining secret gardens. While not free to enjoy, the gardens here are absolutely stunning and a good place for shopping weary kids to let off some steam. They're tranquil and beautifully framed by an aqueduct, with a central lake and pretty rockery to complete the picture. 

Quite a different experience to other designer outlets, Kilver is a much more relaxed shopping experience, with a selection of old mill buildings housing a variety of different departments. One side is dedicated to clothing with high-end brands such as Toast, Joseph and Whistles on offer.

But the highlight for me was the charming three storey section filled with homeware, next to the Harlequin Cafe. This isn't the place to come looking for big-ticket items, but if you're after accessories, towels or kitchen ware, it's a real treasure trove of lovely stuff. 

On my visit I picked up an amazing bargain - a glass cabinet identical to one I'd seen in Graham & Green - that weekend it was reduced from £100 to £50 (the Graham & Green version costs £300.) It's a little bit scratched and a tad flimsy but it makes an ideal TV stand and receptacle for the kids' playstation and Wii games. 

Kilver is also brilliant for bargain buys for your garden. As well as stunning flowers and plants to buy, the brilliantly-named Wiggly Shed shop is a cornucopia of pretty things for your garden - pots, vases, bee houses and much more. 

Find out more here

Graham & Green Outlet Store

Located in a non-descript trading estate on the outskirts of Chippenham, this place is worth a detour if you happen to be spending a day in Wiltshire. You could combine a visit with a morning at the lovely Castle Combe or Lacock - both are within easy distances of the store. 

Very much a factory space filled with discounted and damaged stock, this is a place for people who like to rummage and can see the potential in pieces that might need a bit of TLC. We spotted a lovely large size copper floor lamp, normally £175. But it had been used for a photo shoot and was, rather inconveniently, missing its springs. 

After negotiating the price down from £100 to £80, we decided to take a punt on it (the sales assistant assured us we could find the right springs online; in actual fact, we contacted a Graham & Green store in London who very kindly sent us replacement springs free of charge - major customer service brownie points!)

I also spotted some gorgeous chandeliers, cushions and bedding - items I've often lusted over when their catalogue pops through my door, but which I didn't - on this occasion - have a requirement for. I did buy some cute pineapple candle holders (a couple of quid each instead of £8, slightly damaged), though. Bigger furniture items are available too - I spotted some lovely sofas and those stunning mother of pearl pieces that make my heart beat a bit faster every time I see them. 

Find out more here

Top photo courtesy of Kilver Court. 


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Eating Out in Bath: Tapas Revolution

There is a lovely tapas restaurant in the coastal town of Calella de Palafrugell that encapsulates everything I love about Mediterranean food. Just moments from the beach, it's a simple, unpretentious place that doesn't require you to change out of your sandy sandals or beach dress to gain entry; it's the sort of restaurant you can wander into direct from your sun-lounger when the promise of an ice-cold cerveza and plate of glistening olives can be resisted no longer.

Featuring a counter top heaving with tempting morsels of deliciousness, Calau, as it's called, is my favourite kind of eating place, a restaurant where you can try a multitude of dishes and just keep on going till you're full, with a glass of rosado to wash it all down with. Forget Michelin-starred restaurants - when I imagine heaven, I imagine a limitless supply of fluffy clouds and kittens, and tapas restaurants on every corner.

As such, you won't be surprised that I was pretty excited to hear about a new tapas restaurant that has recently arrived at the thriving Southgate quarter in Bath. Having sampled a few of the other additions to this part of the city, I was interested to see Tapas Revolution adding to the mix with the promise of authentic tapas using ingredients sourced from artisan producers in Spain. 

The seventh opening in a small chain, Tapas Revolution has the rather dashing Spanish TV chef, Omar Allibhoy, as its figurehead. With fans including Gordon Ramsay (who calls the chef 'the Antonio Banderas of cooking') and a whole raft of celebs (he's made tapas for everyone from Johnny Depp to Prince William) I was curious to see if his offering would stand up to to the glitzy endorsements. 

I was also - as a bit of a gin lover - interested to hear that Tapas Revolution "honours Spain's position as the biggest consumer of Gin and Tonics in Europe." I knew there was another reason why I've always felt that Spain is my spiritual home...

Taking inspiration from the bustling tapas bars in Madrid, Barcelona and Spain, the feeling I got on entering the restaurant was certainly Iberian - despite its contemporary twist, the interior pays homage to traditional Spanish style with its wine barrel tables, Feria posters and encaustic tiles. It's always nice when the staff feel authentic too - our waitress reminded me of an actress from a Pedro Almodovar film which added an extra frisson of excitement to our experience.

But it's not just about looks, of course. Lunchtimes in the UK can't always be as unhurried and languid as they are in Spain, and we were on a tight schedule to get back to Bristol in time for school pick up. Obviously, the norm with tapas is for each dish to come as it's ready, but there were no long gaps in between and everything we ordered arrived with plenty of time for us to enjoy the merits of each dish. 

We had a pretty broad spread of tapas favourites, washed down with a 'porron' of crisp rose. With generous portions served piping hot, both me and my guest were seriously impressed with the quality and value - most dishes come in at around the £6 mark, with the most expensive tapa (a platter of jamon and chorizo Iberico) priced at £13.75. 

I took literally minutes to devour a plate of crisp calamares - some of the best I've had this side of Seville - while the boquerones served in a reduction of Asturian cider were just amazing. I tend to gravitate towards fish dishes when perusing a tapas menu, but we also had some lovely manchego with quince jelly, crispy patatas bravas, croquetas de jamon and chorizo a la parilla - this was another highlight. 

A delicious slab of grilled chorizo and pequillo pepper served on olive-oil brushed bread, this dish made we want to immediately check the price of EasyJet flights to Madrid. 

You'd think we'd be full after that line-up, but we somehow couldn't resist the lure of one of our favourite puddings - Crema Catalana. Let's just say that I made pretty good use of that "extra spoon." 

Finishing off with a restorative espresso, I could easily have meandered out into the sunshine, found a deckchair and succumbed to another favourite Spanish tradition - the siesta - for the afternoon. 

Sadly, Tuesday afternoons in term time aren't really conducive to that perfect encapsulation of Spanish languor. But I'm hoping my next visit to Tapas Revolution will be a little less hurried, with the chance to sample some of the other mouthwatering dishes - and exciting sounding gin cocktails - on the menu. 

I'm not sure Tapas Revolution is doing anything truly revolutionary but who cares - it's certainly doing Spanish classics, friendly service and warm atmosphere really, really well. And that's absolutely muy bien by me. 

You can find Tapas Revolution at 20a St Lawrence Street, Southgate, Bath. Visit the website for more info here.

With many thanks to Tapas Revolution Bath and Neil Reading PR, who kindly offered me a complimentary lunch. I have not been paid for writing this post and all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Win a Print With Peskimo!

Wall art is my thing. I can spend hours online looking at prints, pictures, maps, photos - basically, any form of decorative adornment for walls. Testament to my obsession is an incriminating trail of holes that pepper most of the walls in our house - my love of moving pictures around but lack of skill with a hammer doesn't make me very popular with the other half.  But there's nothing I find more relaxing than pottering about with a cup of tea in hand, rearranging my gallery of photos and pictures.

Luckily for me (though my husband might disagree) there is a wealth of shops in Bristol to feed my obsession for screen prints and lino cuts - you'd don't have to travel far to stumble upon a window filled with gorgeous pieces for your home, whether you're looking for something Banksy-inspired and urban or a prints with a more illustrative aesthetic. 

There are some great shops on Gloucester Road (Room 212 is one of my favourites) and Stokes Croft, while Clifton is home to another of my must-go places, the Soma Gallery on Boyces Avenue.

The latter stocks one of my favourite local print-makers, Peskimo, a husband and wife team I've got to know through working at Aardman (Jodie and David regularly lend their creative talents to a variety of Aardman projects). Their gorgeous pieces combine all the things I love - bright colours, retro styling and cats (amongst other animals.) I have several of their pieces in my home and now you can be the proud owner of a Peskimo print by taking part in my competition over on Instagram!

I have two lovely Panda Riso prints (pictured above) to give away - here's how to take part:

1. Visit my Instagram page at @luisa_m_sanders*
2. Like my competition post and follow both myself and Peskimo (they are tagged in the post)
3. Tag a friend in the comments box too!
4. Competition closes at 7pm BST on Saturday 10th June 2017

Winners will be announced in the comments box on the Instagram post. Good luck! 

*Please note this competition is not affiliated with Instagram. Terms & Conditions: Two individual winners will be picked from all entrants who meet competition criteria; no cash equivalent; competition winners will be announced by Saturday 17th June 2017


Friday, 2 June 2017

Family Camping in Devon

Things I like: walls, being warm, running water, privacy. So, based on this short but not inconsequential list, you'd imagine that I might have a bit of a problem with the concept of camping. If you add in the fact that I'm pretty useless at following diagrammatic instructions, have a very low patience threshold and don't much like insects, you can easily see that me and camping aren't really natural bedfellows.

But here's the thing - I absolutely love being outdoors. And you know what camping does? It makes you be outdoors pretty much all of the time. I don't come from a camping family but when we moved back to the West country after a decade in London, buying a tent was one of the first things we did. With access to an incredible wealth of coast and countryside on our doorstep - coupled with significantly reduced income after we became parents - I was ready to embrace a brave new world of tents, fleeces and blow-up beds. 

Some 12 years on since our first camping trip to Cornwall - an interesting experience with a sleep-averse two-year-old - I've come to really love it and truly relish that first trip of the season. Bringing down our gear from the loft provides a feeling not dissimilar to unearthing the box of Christmas decorations; while I know in reality each camping experience - just like each Christmas - will bring its own challenges, I love what that box of head torches, plastic plates and sleeping bags signifies: family time, relaxation and a temporary suspension of normal routines.

That's not to say I enjoy putting a tent up or relish cooking a family meal on a camping stove - both these activities can colour my language quite strongly. And I'm definitely a fair-weather camper - I've spent enough evenings wearing five layers of clothes and sitting in a sleeping bag to know that my Mediterranean temperament isn't suited to harsh outdoor weather conditions. But when the weather's on your side, you've got all the gear and you're sitting in a field as the sun sets, glass of rose in hand, there's really nothing like it. You just don't get the same experience in a 5-star hotel (well, you might, but I wouldn't know.)

For our first trip of this season, we headed to Devon and the lovely Strawfields camp site, just outside Ilfracombe. The antithesis of those very regimented, characterless sites filled with rows of tents and caravans, Strawfields is a much more rustic, natural affair. Limited to just a handful of pitches, there are two fields you can camp on, both overlooking the the unspoilt Devonshire countryside. 

Strawfields also offers a safari tent and shepherd's hut to stay in, as well as a couple of cottages at the other end of the site. During our stay we had a field all to ourselves - that's the kind of camping I love. With space to spill out and room to run around and kick a ball about, this was a wonderful bonus for our family of claustrophobic city dwellers. 

Another big advantage is that Strawfields provides fire pits - an absolute necessity if you want to enjoy being outdoors for as long as possible. Seriously, a fire pit changes everything. They truly enhance the camping experience, not just by keeping you warm but by providing a focal point to your evenings. There's something so lovely about seeing your normally phone obsessed teenager entranced by the vision of a flickering fire, plus, of course, you get to toast marshmallows on it. 

At the risk of sounding saccharine, we've had some of our most memorable family moments gathered round a camp fire - there's something so very simple about building and sitting round a fire that I defy any parent not to get a bit mushy after they've spent an hour or two sitting in its glow, children happily distracted from their gadgets.

Rustic but pretty toilet and shower facilities are provided - I was able to get a hot shower each morning, plus there are a proper flushing loos on the site. Forget concrete shower blocks, trailing the smell of strong bleach; the facilities here are made from natural materials and look out across the fields. 

Nearby you'll find plenty of things to do. While I found Ilfracombe itself a little unappealing, you don't have to travel far to find less commercialised options. Saunton Sands is a huge expanse of beach, backed by sand dunes and dotted with colourful beach huts. This part of Devon is very much surfing territory, with the famed Croyde beach also nearby should you want to get your fix of wetsuit-based watersports.

We spent a lovely day at the tranquil Lee Bay, much more my kind of beach. Located in a pretty cove about 15 minutes drive from Strawfields, this beach makes a wonderful place to explore at low tide (though you do need to be aware of tide times as some of the beach gets cut off at certain points in the day.) With just a cafe overlooking the cove, it's a quiet, undeveloped spot and I loved it. 

There are highly regarded coastal walks on offer around this area, too, though we were too lazy to countenance doing anything that energetic on this trip. Instead, we opted to travel inland to Exmoor where we spent a restful afternoon hanging out at the legendary beauty spot Tarr Steps. Characterised by an ancient clapper bridge that crosses a crystal clear Exmoor stream, it's an idyllic place for a paddle and a picnic. There's also a great tea room and pub overlooking the stream should you fancy partaking in the tradition of a Devon Cream Tea. 

En route to Tarr Steps we stopped at the Guardian recommended Royal Oak pub in Withypool, a truly authentic Exmoor pub serving outstanding pub classics - we loved it. Exmoor is a spectacular place for a drive or a walk - I'd liked to have explored this lovely corner of Devon a bit more, but we'll leave that for next time.

If you're a camping virgin or perhaps a reluctant camper who just hasn't quite got the concept - and I truly can understand why you might feel this way - I would thoroughly recommend investing in the right gear and a box of camping essentials you can stow away in your loft so they're good to go for your next trip. I can't recommend getting the best sleeping gear you can afford highly enough - cotton, duvet-style sleeping bags have transformed my enjoyment of camping. We have this one from Coleman - can't say I find it aesthetically pleasing, but it's totally snuggly while allowing your skin to breath. Good airbeds are another game-changer.

You'll need all the obvious extras - chairs, camping stove, etc - but I've found it really useful to have a dedicated box of camping essentials. At the end of each trip I top up as necessary so we always have the following items - all of which I guarantee you'll need - in our camping box at all times: 

  • Loads of torches and head torches for night time loo trips
  • Lanterns
  • tea towel
  • J cloths
  • Baby wipes
  • Melamine crockery and standard kitchen utensils and cutlery
  • Lighter
  • Corkscrew (really important)
  • Matches
  • Water carrier
  • Tea bags (also very important)
  • Food basics - salt, sugar, oil etc.
  • Tin opener
  • First Aid kit
  • Washing line and pegs
  • Dustpan and brush
  • Toilet roll
  • Bin bags
  • Washing up bowl and washing up liquid
  • Antiseptic wipes
Happy camping! 

For more information about Strawfields, visit the website here.

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