The Perfect Cashmere

It’s starting to get very cold in London. VERY cold. The sheepskins, furs (fake and real) and UGGs are out in force and require backup in the form of cashmere.

I find that wool simply won’t do the job when the weather takes a turn for the arctic. You need cashmere. Sometimes I find, even on the coldest of days, that if I wear cashmere with one of my warmer jackets – I can get too hot!

There’s something about its softness and warmth that simply can’t be beaten during the winter months. It feels like snuggling into a warm bath every time you put some on. And from about October to March I live in a selection of cashmere sweaters. Continue reading

The Everyman Cinemas

Hampstead Everyman

The Everyman is something of a north London institution. It combines the comfort of seeing a film in your own home with the full cinema experience.

Decked out with sofas, armchairs and in the case of the Belsize Park one full lazyboy armchairs, you can kick back, order a cappuccino or a vodka cranberry (depending on your mood) and relax. Continue reading

IKEA

I was with my mother and her older French friend with his very chic petite French niece in a flat he had just decorated himself.

My mother and I were sitting on a big red sofa opposite her friend and his niece who were on an identical red sofa opposite us.

As the petite little French blonde sat down in her sweater dress she stroked the sofa on either side of her with each hand and exclaimed to her uncle, “ Ah Ektorp, non? Ikea!”

“Oui” he said gleefully

“I have the same in my appartement. It is ze best.”

I couldn’t believe that two of the most stylish people I had ever encountered were besotted by a sofa from Ikea. So besotted that they knew it by name.

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with IKEA. As I expect does everybody else. There’s nowhere more stressful to spend an afternoon, but when you know that if you can simply get to the front of the queue, take that bookcase home, and somehow persuade your boyfriend to put it together, then all those books, magazines and various other things lying on the floor and everywhere else will finally have a place to live.

I can’t live with IKEA, but I really can’t live without it either. It’s quite the predicament. Nowhere else does such a huge variety of basic functional affordable furniture. So it simply can’t be ignored.

If I tried to deck my place out in head to toe French furniture I would bankrupt myself and still wouldn’t have all the things I need.

When you think about how much furniture even the most basic living spaces require  – bookcases, sofas, armchairs, bed, bedside tables, chests of drawers, coffee tables etc, you have to admit that only IKEA will provide any or all of them while still leaving you enough money for food.

I have sometimes made the rather elementary IKEA mistake of going a bit crazy and buying everything they have in birch… or oak. Whichever one took my fancy at the time.

I’ll start off with a bookcase, then think “Oh wait they have a matching coffee table… and a matching desk!”  It all goes downhill from there and I end up with an entirely birch room. Which looks anaemic and not particularly tasteful. It just functions.

There’s a reason form and function are supposed to live in harmony together, if you focus only on function you’ll be living in an IKEA catalogue. If you focus only on form you’ll be living in my sister’s bedroom, where all her shoes and clothes are all over the floor and on her bookshelves because her very beautiful French wardrobes ran out of space about four years ago.

I started to mix and match my IKEA stuff with more expensive elegant pieces, or would pay a bit more for their slightly better pieces. I go for solid wood wherever I can as I think it looks and feels better. I don’t decorate an entire room in one colour anymore either.

Here are a few of my favourite pieces from IKEA which I think tow the line between form and function rather perfectly. Continue reading

My Favourite Winter Coats

I really rather like winter. Hot chocolate, Christmas lights, cuddling up under a blanket on the sofa and watching films.

Mince pies, mulled wine… I could go on.

But one of my favourite things about winter is that I get to wear all my cosy coats.

I’m a bit of a coat and jacket fanatic – I have an entire wardrobe dedicated only to them. My friends often comment that I turn up in a different one everyday. The reason for this is very simple. Whether you’ve gained or lost a few pounds (unless the change is dramatic), your beloved coats will still fit you. And will hopefully make you look lean and fabulous. Continue reading

Meditate: Session 2

My second meditation session was about self-cherishing or as us mere mortals might refer to it, being self-centred.

Our teacher explained that all human beings want to be free from suffering, and that no human being wants to be free from suffering more than any other.

So why should our suffering be any more important than anyone else’s? Why do we think we’re inherently more important than anyone else?

We always think our suffering is worse because it’s happening to us. If our car is stolen it can feel like the end of the world, but if our neighbour’s car is stolen, it’s a shame, awful even, but they’ll deal with it and life will go on and we don’t really bother ourselves with it.

I had trouble with this concept. Even though logically you can’t really argue against it. My trivial daily disappointments in no way compare with the suffering of a child in Syria or soldiers in Iraq, but I couldn’t help thinking that if I didn’t believe I was important, then who would? If I’m not the most important thing in my own life, then how am I of any consequence at all?

Surely you can’t bring a child up thinking that they are not important, nor is their suffering. They would grow up with terribly low self-esteem. Wouldn’t they?

As Aibileen, the maid, says to the little girl she looks after in the film The Help, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” Grammatical errors aside, this seems to me to be a good mantra to emphasise to a small child. That they are important, not that they are not.

But I can still understand that for most adults, trying to understand their suffering in the context of greater suffering is sensible and could help us to be calmer and more content.

We were supposed to meditate on the fact that our suffering wasn’t any greater than anyone else’s, but I have to admit I wasn’t in the mood that day.

Here’s why. Continue reading

Meditate: Session 1

The focus of my first meditation session in years was love and forming positive relationships.

For those of you who have never meditated, the meditation is normally dedicated to something specific. We meditated on the concept that “everyone is our mother.” I’ll explain later.

The session started with an awkward sing-along to some clunky music for Buddha’s benefit. Then consisted of a talk on the Buddhist approach to love and relationships, about 10 minutes of meditation and questions and answers at the end.

Our teacher explained that love and attachment were different things. Love, she said, is wanting the best for the person you love. Simply wanting them to be happy. Attachment is wanting them to be happy but also wanting them to make you happy. Attachment is not unconditional. Whereas unconditional love doesn’t ask for anything in return.

So it would seem that in most of our relationships (familial, friendships, husbands, wives, boyfriends or girlfriends) we’re all clearly falling more into the attachment camp. This is bad apparently. We should love them unconditionally. Continue reading