Champagne Lifestyle, Cava Budget

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Sitting outside a city pub one sunny weekday evening a few years back, I was told that, as a single (speaking in marital status terms) person, it’s “impossible to live in London on less than £25k a year”. I immediately called bullshit on that one. At the time, I was earning a hell of a lot less than that in my Publications Assistant job in a theatre and still managed to live comfortably while enjoying plenty of the good stuff. And even though I’m earning a bit more now (although really not much, as I took a pay cut to change career), I still have a bloody great time.

The first thing you might think is that I’m super good at budgeting. Truth is, I’m really not. My history of being sensible with money is sketchy at best, and although I’ve got a fair bit better as an ‘adult’ (ha), I’m still not the best at sticking to budgets. But thanks to finding a relatively cheap place to live and learning to make amazing meals from little more than tomatoes, chickpeas and rice, I just about have enough left in the month to both save and spend. However, beyond just making my money work, there are ways I put a little more fun into my life and treat myself without actually having to touch my monthly salary payments...

NB: This might sound like a bit of a 'hey look I'm gonna brag about getting free stuff' post. It's not (much), as I'll let you know in the final paragraph.

Competitions: A few years back, I discovered a hobby referred to as ‘comping’ – that is, taking part in free-to-enter competitions as a hobby. Sounds a bit weird, and it gets some negative press, but having won £12k worth of prizes in the past 12 months, I don’t really care. Some of my best wins include a GoPro, three (yep, THREE) iPads, a £1000 Reiss voucher, hair extensions from one of London’s top salons, a few hotel stays and tons of beauty and fashion prizes (okay, that was the kinda braggy part. BUT READ ON, DEAR FRIENDS). Every now and then, the rag papers will put out a story about someone ‘winning their life’ – but they gloss over the huge amount of effort that goes into it. Entering hundreds of comps every week, thinking up creative ideas for effort-based comps. You definitely won’t just enter 50 competitions and win a telly unless luck’s REALLY on your side – but I find the anticipation, and the ‘YOU’VE WON!’ email so exciting.

Blogging: Ah yes. If you’re reading this, chances are you know I have a blog. I started putting words and pictures onto this little space back in 2013, when blogging was becoming a ‘thing’ and I had no idea that people would actually offer you things in return for writing about them. I’ve never really had a huge urge to turn my blog into a career – something which now seems quite unusual if Twitter chats are anything to go by, with passionate and dedicated girls (and guys) who’d chew off their right arm to be a pro blogger (which could make typing that blog a pretty laborious affair). But even as a ‘smaller’, hobby blogger, the experiences and things I get to try from writing a blog have made a huge impact on my life. It's not so much about getting free 'things' so to speak, but experiences - being able to regularly spend evenings out with great company without having to fork out for dinner and drinks that I can't really afford. The things I get to do that I wouldn't otherwise because of this little space of internet hugely enrich my life. (and I wouldn't get to do those things without lovely people like YOU reading my blog. Thank you, tons)

Free/Cheap Stuff: Who doesn’t love a freebie? Sometimes, it’s just fun to embrace the things in life you can do for free. I keep a regular eye on the Skint London Twitter account for events or goodies for free or a couple of quid. I have quite an active mind, and like to DO stuff rather than, say, sit in a park and lap up nature all day long – but if you look online, in your local paper or on noticeboards, chances are there’ll be something to do that doesn’t involve spending loads. Free/very reduced food in new restaurants, apps and coupons are in plentiful supply if you keep your ear to the ground and an eye to your Twitter feed.

As I mentioned above, this might all seem like a bit of a BRAG post – but it’s not, really. I put in (quite a lot of) work for the things I get to have, and anyone can do the same. Although I’m obviously not at all as disadvantaged as many less fortunate people out there, and there’ll always be someone skinter than I, taking as much advantage as possible of the things that can inject a little extra fun into my life is a priority. There’s something very satisfying about getting something for ‘free’.

I say free in inverted commas as I’m talking in monetary terms, not time. I spend a lot of time working (pretty damn hard) for things that would usually cost money – but I love blogging, love scouring the internet for freebies and cheap things, love the feeling of productivity when I’ve caught up with all the competitions I can. I actually feel like if I had the money to buy all the things I wanted to have or do, I probably wouldn't appreciate them anywhere near as much. There might be people out there who call me a ‘sponger’, or just plain ‘sad’, or a ‘cheapskate’. But when they’re spending every single evening drinking cheap wine watching Netflix and I’m out sipping prosecco and meeting new people, who’s REALLY winning? You don't have to be rich to live your life to the fullest, you just need to put in some time, effort and know where to look.
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A Photography Evening With Manfrotto

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Manfrotto Lumie LED lighting
Manfrotto Lumie LED lighting for bloggers

When I first started out blogging, it was very much from a ‘love of writing’ perspective. I didn't really think much about the images that accompanied my words. I've always written things – from a million ‘first chapters’ of novels that never got any further, to music reviews and personal online journals depicting the life of an overemotional teenager. But ever since I got my beloved Canon 600D, the photography side of blogging has been something that’s really inspired and excited me. I’m still very much learning all the time and trying new things, so I was pretty chuffed when Manfrotto invited me along to the Sanderson to check out some of their ranges and pick up some photography tips.

Manfrotto Lumie LED lighting for bloggers
Manfrotto Lumie LED lighting for bloggers
Manfrotto Lumie LED lighting for bloggers

One of the main things Manfrotto were showcasing that were super blogger-relevant were their range of Lumie LED lights. I quickly realised when I started taking my photos seriously that good lighting is absolutely key to great photos. Natural light is always best and my go-to, but sometimes an extra boost is needed to get the shot. Manfrotto sell three LED lights in varying strengths, and they can be mounted on a tripod or onto the top of your camera for easily directing light to the place you want it. Unlike a softbox type setup, they’re really portable so great for taking food shots in dark restaurants or snapping close ups of products.

Manfrotto Digital Director demonstration
Manfrotto Digital wide angle lens for iPhone

Along with the LED lights, there were also some other interesting Manfrotto products on display. I was pretty taken by their Digital Director, which allows you to connect your camera up to an iPad and play with settings and edits there and then – no more taking a million photos and hoping one comes out right! Unfortunately, I don’t own an iPad and at £399.95 it’s a bit out of my price range at the moment – but if you’re serious about photography it’s definitely a great bit of kit. For more casual photo-takers, there are also a range of Manfrotto iPhone lenses to clip on and create instant filters, wide angle shots and more.


As with any great blogger event, the team had put on some tasty canapes and I bumped into the wonderful Erica (photobomb extraordinaire), and also met Mike – who I’d actually followed on Twitter the very same day, coincidentally! There was also a fab instabooth element where you could tag Instagram photos with #blogmanfrotto and print them out as a little keepsake.

And finally, if you’re inspired by the range and thinking of picking up some snazzy photography accessories for yourself, I also have a Manfrotto DISCOUNT CODE for all you lovely readers. If you spend over £20 before the 31st August, pop in the code MAN017 and you’ll get 15% off your order – yay!
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Statement Skater Dress Wishlist

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When it comes to dresses, skater style always wins it for me. They work on pretty much any shape, emphasise your waist and make me feel super fun and girly. When it comes to fab skater dresses, AX Paris always have some of my favourite ranges. They're also really affordable, especially when you're using an AX Paris discount code. I've picked out a few of my favourites - as you can see, florals are a huge favourite of mine. I like to give them more of a 'tough' edge by pairing with DMs and a leather jacket. The best thing about the skater dress is that it's such a simple shape, and I can always find one to suit any occasion - the Floral Plunge Dress would be great for hanging out by the beach, while the Gold Rose Metal Kick Out Dress would be a fantastic choice for a night out or fancy dinner.

What do you think of my skater dress picks? What type of dress do you normally go for?
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Getting Up Close & Personal At London Zoo

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ZSL London Zoo Gorilla Kingdom
ZSL London Zoo Tiger Territory feeding demonstration
ZSL London Zoo Reptile House
ZSL London Zoo Reptile House lizard
ZSL London Zoo Giraffe
ZSL London Zoo Gorilla Kingdom exhibit
ZSL London Zoo Gorilla Kingdom
ZSL London Zoo Meerkat
ZSL London Zoo In With The Lemurs exhibit
ZSL London Zoo In With The Lemurs exhibit
ZSL London Zoo Penguin Beach feeding demonstration
ZSL London Zoo Penguin Beach

I’ve always loved going to the zoo, something about it brings out the big kid in me and I first visited London Zoo a couple of years back. What I love about ZSL is that they manage to balance a great visitor experience with real compassion for the animals and giving back through their conservation efforts. Last weekend I went back for a return visit - and definitely enjoyed myself just as much as I did the first time!

One of the most popular areas in the zoo is Gorilla Kingdom – and I love the way ZSL have made the whole area really informative. Turns out I’m definitely shorter and a LOT lighter than a fully grown gorilla, unsurprisingly. After a bit of shuffling so I could actually see the gorillas over the heads of the tourist horde, watching them wander around and interact was a bit magical. They actually seemed really ‘human’ in their ways of walking and mannerisms – and strangely graceful, despite their size and weight. In even more exciting news, one of the female gorillas had recently had a baby, so we got to check out the whole family!

We also got to see the tigers chowing down on their lunch – we managed to get a much closer spot than I did last time, although we did have to crane our necks a bit around an awkwardly positioned tree. Last time I went, the one thing I missed out on was the penguin feeding – we just stood staring out at far away flippers in the grim, cold weather (not that the penguins probably minded). This time round, we arrived at Penguin Beach when the feeding was in full swing – and they stuck around for a swim afterwards. FYI, I bloody adore penguins.

Something ZSL London Zoo does really well is bringing visitors up close and personal with the animals. One of their newest exhibits, In With The Lemurs, lets you walk through the lemur enclosure, getting almost close enough to touch (but don’t, they’ll tell you off) the little critters. And even take a selfie with one if you’re that way inclined.

Visiting tourist-y spots in London can be pretty expensive at times – but with 365 Tickets, you can save cash on the usual gate prices. Although 365 kindly provided our tickets, they would have been £19.80 each, saving £10 in total off the usual entry price. Considering we were there for pretty much the whole day, that’s pretty good value. We also kept our costs low by bringing our own lunch – Conor made up some sandwiches and we picked up crisps and grapes for a mid-day picnic. We had a really fun day – thankfully, the weather was beautiful and we managed to organise our time so we saw the displays we wanted. I’d definitely go back every few months if I could!

Have you ever been to London Zoo? What were your favourite animals/exhibits?


*Tickets to my chosen attraction of London Zoo were kindly given to us by 365 Tickets in exchange for writing about the day
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Cooking With Gizzi Erskine & Visiting The Saturday Kitchen Set

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Gizzi Erskine BRITA Cookalong
Gizzi Erskine BRITA Cookalong Chicken Orzo Soup

Last week, I was lucky enough to win a pair of tickets to a small, intimate ‘cookalong’ event with chef, food writer and totally my newest girlcrush Gizzi Erskine. The evening was hosted by BRITA at the Cactus Kitchen in Clapham – aka the place where they film Saturday Kitchen. It’s definitely not the kind of thing we’d do normally on a Friday night, but I took Conor along for a slightly more unusual weekend activity. And gin. Lots of gin. 

Gizzi Erskine BRITA Cookalong Gin Vodka Cocktails
Gizzi Erskine BRITA Cookalong Avocado Salmon Canapes

Although I've done a couple of cooking events before, we rocked up at the Cactus Kitchen not knowing what to expect – would it be full of serious foodie types? Would we accidentally set the kitchen on fire after one too many glasses of bubbly? Upon arrival, we were taken to a lovely lounge room and made to feel instantly comfortable with glasses of bubbles, canapes and a fantastic barman whizzing up gin and vodka cocktails - we even introduced him to our off-menu choice of gin, elderflower and prosecco. Because off-menu's how we roll. The other pairs at the event were a mixture of ages and levels experience - as we found out later, not everyone there was a super chef or a mega-knowledgeable food type. The whole thing felt pretty chilled and relaxed, and the lovely team regularly checked up to see if we wanted more drinks (the answer was always yes, obviously).

Saturday Kitchen TV set tour
Saturday Kitchen TV set tour

Before we donned our aprons and got busy in the kitchen, there was a chance to have a quick nosy around the Saturday Kitchen set. Thanks to me being one of those London millenial types who've shunned paying for a TV license in favour of iPlayer and Netflix, I've only seen the show a couple of times, but it was still really interesting to see the set. I even stepped BEHIND THE KITCHEN bench, and did my best James Martin impression (I do not do a very good James Martin impression at all). The set is actually a lot smaller than I'd expected - just a long, quite thin room - but I had severe kitchen envy at how bloody lovely it was.

Gizzi Erskine BRITA Cookalong
Gizzi Erskine BRITA Cookalong Chicken Orzo Soup
Gizzi Erskine BRITA Cookalong Chicken Orzo Soup

After Gizzi introduced herself and talked to us for a bit about the Better With Brita campaign and her own ethos on cooking great food from scratch, we headed to our workstations in our pairs. The first dish on the menu, our main course, was a Chicken and Orzo soup - made entirely from scratch with fresh ingredients that had already been measured out ready for us to use. Can this happen every time I cook? Although we'd sort of hoped we'd be able to have a bit of a cook-off, we worked pretty well as a team (despite the odd bit of bickering and the slightly burnt chicken skin that was definitely my fault). I actually found out that Conor's a bit of a whizz in the kitchen - so no getting out of cooking me dinner from now on! The soup ended up being really tasty - we sneakily asked for some extra chilli which was definitely a good idea as it added a bit of extra spice to our quite lemon-heavy soup. Although I normally associate soups with warming winter comfort food, the citrus edge to this one makes it a great summer dinner too.

Gizzi Erskine BRITA Cookalong Cactus Kitchen
Gizzi Erskine BRITA Cookalong Sticky Banoffee Pudding

For dessert, we made a Sticky Banoffee Pudding - unfortunately for Conor, he absolutely HATES bananas so this one was left mostly in my mildly capable hands. Although he did get extra ice cream to go with the salted caramel sauce! Using the MagiMix processor was a bit of a highlight for me - a food processor has been on my kitchen 'want' list for ages - so I whizzed up all the ingredients and popped the mixture in a baking tin. Apart from opening my oven mid-bake (which is a big baking no-no!), I was impressed at how well it came out (and we went away with leftovers. Lots of leftovers)

Gizzi Erskine BRITA Cookalong

I loved how friendly Gizzi was and how much fun she made the cookalong - she's super down to earth and definitely the kind of person I'd want to go down the pub with (seriously though, we should definitely be BFFs). The whole thing was an incredibly awesome way to spend a Friday evening, and we also left with a BRITA filter each - I remember when I lived with my parents, I used to love my mum's - and having one of my own definitely makes me feel a little bit more like a CAPABLE ADULT. We're definitely going to be recreating the chicken and orzo soup again too!
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Weekend Wishlist 25.07.15 - H&M Home

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H&M Homeware inspiration wishlist
The other night I came to the realisation that I haven't done a Weekend Wishlist in bloody ages - and
they're something I actually really enjoy putting together. Basically, it's window shopping WITH A PURPOSE. Sometimes, it results in me doing ACTUAL SHOPPING without much purpose too. It's something I'm going to get back into the swing of again, and after getting slightly caught up with obsessing over interior blogs, I decided to dedicate a whole post to H&M's gorgeous home section.

When it comes to homewares, I don't really buy into a million useless knick-knacks that serve no purpose other than making your room look like a Pinterest photo (when it's tidy, anyway). Ever since the days of my mum telling me off for bringing home yet another cuddly toy from the car boot, I've grown to appreciate decorative things that are also actually USEFUL. Despite having a ratty old laundry bag, a lot of my dirty clothes seem to find themselves chilling in my floordrobe pile, so I'm hoping a super snazzy new laundry bag would inspire me to actually put them in the right place.

I could probably buy myself new bedding every week, as there's no feeling as good as brand new sheets, and I love this grey double duvet set. I have a lot of love for jacquard style patterns, and teamed with a cosy woven blanket, they create the perfect bedtime vibes.

One thing I do like to have in my room is candles, although I rarely buy super expensive ones as it's just as much about the look as the smell for me. That's why I love this glass candle stick - I can pop an inexpensive long candle into it and it immediately looks like a more expensive one! And okay, I do love a good scented candle too - Garden Rain just sounds beautiful and a great antidote to my sweaty, overheated room in the summer.

Finally - I have rather a lot of what I affectionately refer to as 'stuff' floating around my room, so storage is a bit of a priority to stop things looking messy and cluttered. Enter the H&M Metal Box, which would be super useful for putting all kinds of knick-knacks in - from makeup to general odds and ends. And as I have quite a lot of floor space in my room, a fun cotton rug could definitely be a way of brightening up my dingy, rented house carpet.

Where do you like to shop for homewares?
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Being a Victim of Crime in London

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Ever since I moved to this fair city, I’ve always felt pretty safe. When I first let others know I'd be washing up on the shores of the Thames, I did have some concerned people in my life worrying about crime and all-round DANGER. However, despite having my Oyster card taken from my hand a while back (which resulted in a lift home in the back of a police van, which makes for a good story), I’ve never particularly felt unsafe in the city I call home. Even walking around at night, especially in busy areas, I generally feel pretty confident and safe. Last week, that confidence was shaken.

On Friday, I was working until late and decided to get an Uber home, as it was about 2.30am and I was ridiculously tired from a long day. Standing on a busy main road in Islington, I got out my phone and ordered my taxi, which was due to arrive in five minutes time. I put my phone back in my bag while I waited, then got it out to check how long the taxi would be and what the registration was. Y’know, safety things. A bike whizzed close to me and I initially thought the rider had knocked my phone out of my hand and looked to the floor to pick it up – then I realised that it had actually been snatched from me, and was now being ridden away up the A1, likely to never be seen again.

A man passing by at the time saw the whole thing, and immediately came over to ask if I was okay and waited with me until my taxi arrived – in a city where people are often accused of just walking on by, his presence reassured me that not everyone’s a dickhead who wants to steal your stuff. I’d actually only got the phone a couple of weeks ago after my previous one went missing from my bag on a night out – thankfully, I’d learnt from that and taken out insurance.

Although I was pretty annoyed, upset and shaken up by the whole thing initally, I realise that it could have been a lot worse. I'm very grateful that I wasn’t actually physically hurt, or stranded, as my Uber was on its way and I had a spare phone with me. Apparently phone theft is a big issue in Islington, but it’s not the phone itself that most bothers me.

Thanks to some douchebag who thinks they’re entitled to help themselves to my possessions, I now feel less safe in a city I bloody love at night. Particularly, an area I felt very at home in. Before I moved into my current flat, my housemates were burgled. Although the thief didn’t take much, I always imagine the idea of someone being in your home to be worse than the actual loss of belongings. And this is a similar situation.

Despite how this experience has made me feel, I’m determined to not let this affect my life. I’m still going to walk alone in busy areas after the sun sets – although I’ll definitely be keeping my phone safely tucked away and head to a shop/restaurant that’s open if I need to wait for a taxi. I refuse to let these people win – hopefully, the person who took away a little shred of my confidence that night will be caught and face the consequences. And I’ll be happy, safe and continuing to embrace all the wonderful things night time London has to offer.
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A Trip To Turkey (By Way Of Kensal Green)

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Paradise By Way of Kensal Green - Thomas Cook - Turkey
Paradise By Way of Kensal Green - Thomas Cook - Five Senses of Turkey
Paradise By Way of Kensal Green - Thomas Cook - Five Senses of Turkey

With the rain beating down on London town, a trip to Turkey was exactly what was needed to escape the (drowned) rat race for a slice of paradise. But instead of hopping on a flight, I boarded the 18 bus for Thomas Cook’s Five Senses of Turkey evening.

The venue, Paradise By Way of Kensal Green, perfectly set the tone for the evening. I actually live about half an hour’s walk away, and didn’t realise such a stunning venue was sat almost on my doorstep. The Mediterranean vibe of the décor provided a stunning sight, and it made me almost forget that I was actually in North West London, and whisked attendees away to a world of sunny European dreaming. Paired with the opportunity to try out some traditional Turkish dress, it was a treat for the eyes – and the other four senses too.

Paradise By Way of Kensal Green - Thomas Cook - Five Senses of Turkey

The evening’s activities were accompanied by the sound of two members of the Ahenkli music group, who played Turkish instrumental melodies on keyboard, violin and percussion. A definite far cry from my usual music tastes, but I loved the way it conjured up feelings of walking through Turkish bazaars and markets or relaxing in a laid-back local bar. As I was waiting for a drink, I was drawn towards a display of invigorating scents that certainly pleased my sense of smell. Including wonderful aromas such as rose oil and sandalwood, the perfumes were all in gorgeous bottles that would make a beautiful holiday souvenir. I also had my very first experience of myrrh, and can totally understand why it was placed up there with gold in days gone by!


As well as the opportunity to taste some Turkish delights on the menu, the bar served up delicious cocktails – my (rather strong – not complaining!) gin and pomegranate mix upped the holiday feeling to the max, and I also tried out a selection of wines from Turkish regions. Turkey is a wonderful hub for body care products, with its range of beautiful oils and ingredients – so to make skin silky smooth to the touch, we were able to make up our very own face or body scrub, using rose oil, jojoba and sugar to create a beautiful, scented product to take home.


After my little sense of Turkish paradise, my appetite to travel there has most certainly been whetted, and I’d especially love to head to the Dalaman area. The main town is located on the beach, so there are loads of gorgeous golden sands to walk along and stunning seas to dip your toes in. After taking in the beautiful Fethiye harbour (and recreating the steps of James Bond in Skyfall!), I’d hop on board for a 12 Islands Boat Trip, spending a day exploring the beautiful bays of the Mediterranean. Evenings would be spend tasting freshly-made Turkish dishes and drinking cocktails in atmospheric local bars.

Have you ever been to Turkey? Or is it on your travel bucket list?
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