Quick Style Fixes for Busy Mums

It's not vanity. It's self-respect.

Archive for the category “Why I love Bristol”

Old haunts – good for the soul.

What I didn’t realise about motherhood, until it happened to me, was how many cogs I had to adjust in my brain. I couldn’t just put myself first – there was a small, sometimes shouty prawn that told me she was more important.

This meant I had to wave goodbye to some aspects of my old life. The problem, though, with sacrificing things – my job,  lie-ins, instant gratification, a decent pelvic floor – is getting carried away.

I made so many adjustments and sacrifices I forgot I didn’t have to lose everything from my old life.

Am I the only one? Do we only think we’re good mums if we constantly toss our loves, pastimes and hobbies on the sacrificial flames of parenthood?

It’s early days, but I’ve found myself going back to old haunts and old interests recently and finding the whole thing really UPLIFTING. I’d even go so far as to say it’s felt SPIRITUALLY CLEANSING. I feel stronger. 

Here are some things I’ve rediscovered over the last month or two:

  1. The pub in my old hometown. A lunchtime drink and a walk by the canal. Amazing.


  1. Messing around on the Clifton Downs. I used to come here all the time when I’d just moved to Bristol, marvelling that I’d swapped this:Commuters in LondonFor this:

clifton downs


But after I moved to South Bristol and got married and had a kid, I stopped going, I have no idea why. It was one of those mental barriers that needed to come crashing down. Anyway I recently took P. and bought us both an ice-cream, and after I’d taught her how delicious the chocolate cones were, she left me alone to read a section of my newspaper in peace! It had been at least three years since I’d spent an afternoon here and I couldn’t believe I’d left it so long. Definitely one of my spiritual homes and I’m glad I reconnected.

the downs

  1. Spending a few hours in Bristol Central Library. This is one of those places I used to spend hours in. Recently, I read about a series of events about writing being held in the library, and managed to go along to one of the sessions one sunny Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago. I hadn’t been in for years, having stuck to my local, much smaller library, but as soon as I walked in it felt amazing. And I spotted this little post-it note on the wall:


  1. Cycling the Bristol Bath cycle path. This place meant a lot to me when I first moved to Bristol, and I would try to cycle along it at least every couple of months. Hadn’t been back for about 5 years and as soon as I got on my bike I started grinning like a fool and didn’t stop, not even when I swallowed a bug. Look at this view!



I know it’s really, laughingly simple. Pubs, libraries, bit of grass, and cycling. Like I said, it’s early days, but I feel inspired.

Partly I think it’s just time – now P. is two years old, things are much easier in terms of where I can take her and how portable she is. But I can’t wait to try out other stuff and adventures on a domestic scale that I’d felt were out of my reach before.

What’s your experiences of visiting old haunts since you’ve become a mum? Do things feel just the same, better, or worse? Where would you love to go again if you could?



Why Easter totally kicks Christmas’ butt. And pretty clothes.

Easter is my new favourite Holiday. I can’t believe it’s taken me 35 years to fully appreciate it.

It’s got all the good stuff – chocolates, rabbits, daffodils, two days off. And none of the bad stuff, like hyperventilating in Debenhams on Christmas Eve.

It’s easy to celebrate with a 2 year old, and it doesn’t have to  be expensive. Here are some things we’ve been up to:



Man, these are fine. They take minutes to make, and even very young children will love stirring and spooning the mixture into paper cases. P. concentrated very hard on patting the cornflakes tightly into them, which made me feel like an AMAZING PARENT as I was encouraging her MANUAL DEXTERITY & CONCENTRATION. We had so many left over we gave a massive box to her childminder this morning. *pats self on head*

The health benefits are also manifold, because dark chocolate, as everyone knows, is good for everything, and cornflakes are enriched with Vitamin B, which is good for flagging energy. Oh I’m sorry – I’ve finished the lot. Total cost: about £4.00 Time: An hour – making and scoffing


Like these decorative eggs, £1.00 for both. I know – criminal.


They sit, somewhat reluctantly, next to P.’s mad home-made egg.


And this flowery table-cloth for £2.75:


Which ordinarily B. would never allow in the house. Luckily he is as desperate for sunshine and flowers as the rest of us, so I’ve exploited his temporary weakness and we now even have breakfast on it. It feels like eating in a meadow:


Total cost of charity shop bargains: under a £5.


I have thought about planting sweet-peas for years, but somehow never got round to it. Then, thanks to issue 7 of The Simple Things, which has SIX PAGES OF TANTALISING SWEETPEAS – and becoming a mother, and ‘between jobs’ – I just went right on and did it.

I now have four little teepees in the back garden:


The kitchen windowsill has become a temporary incubation site:


And in the summer, my house is going to be full of jam jars of the stuff. (Photo: The Simple Things.)


Total cost: £15 – £20 to enjoy all summer.

Finally – if you’re in Bristol this weekend, you should go to the Chocolate Festival. It takes place over Saturday and Sunday, ENTRY IS FREE and there will be chocolate smeared over EVERYTHING. You can see pictures from previous events here.

If it was remotely warm, I would be wearing this Collins Avenue dress, £39.95, which would look fab with boots and tights.

joe brown

But as it is, I’m lusting after my favourite ‘mad 80s’ jumper from Therapy which I have already tried on and it looked great. Reduced to £17.50, I’m desperately trying to think of excuses to get it. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a job in children’s telly?


As well as this stunning Ted Baker coat, which I spotted in House of Fraser. Gorgeous, no?



A quick look online reveals it’s ‘only’ £229, so I may just admire from afar with a pained expression.

I just love it. One more glance? Go on then.

ted baker


Are you a lady? And what I wore.

Have you heard of Rachel Johnson? She’s a Sunday Mail columnist, ex-editor of ‘The Lady, woman with family in high places. (Boris Johnson’s her bro.)

She’s fronting a TV documentary about ‘ladyhood’. I think she’ll be asking what makes a lady. I’ll be watching because I’m interested in feminism, ideas of female identity, how we construct our behaviour – all that sort of stuff. 

Anyway, I’ve had a think. I’m half-lady.

I care about manners but I know there’s other stuff like happiness and anarchy which is sometimes just as important. I’m not going to tell Polly 100 times a day to say ‘thank you’ – gratitude can be shown in lots of different ways and it doesn’t always have to be verbal.

On the other hand, if husband walks into the kitchen and switches radio stations without EVEN RUDDY ASKING ME I will go all prim and proper and say “Manners don’t cost anything.”

If I’m at a playgroup or party (rare) and somebody seems lonely, I’ll try to smile and chat – which makes me a lady, apparently (A lady always puts others first or makes a beeline for people at a party who seem left out) But I have had moments when I would rather just huddle with people I know, or stare into space/read an edifying book instead.


If I meet someone for the first time, I try to put them at ease, which I suppose is lady-like. But I do this by asking them lots of questions about themselves – because I’m an ex-journalist and old habits die hard – which can sometimes seem rude or intrusive. (I’m sorry if you’ve been at the receiving end.)

In some ways, motherhood has brought me closer to being a lady. Sometimes I am more considerate, respect parents more, and try to teach P. about those values too. But I do get bloody tired, snappish and self-centred, which probably isn’t in The Manual of Ladies.

My  blog, twitter feed, and an interest in online ‘sharing’ probably removes me from True Lady Status too, as most ladies are famously discreet and private (Just look at Kate Middleton, a very modern ‘lady’.)

So I suppose I’m half-way between these two ladies:



Which is probably the right place to be. It’s good to have choices.

What about you? Are you a lady? Has motherhood made you more or less lady-like, or do you think the concept is outmoded and restrictive? I’d love to know. How to be a Lady is on at 9pm on BBC4, 28th March. Read more about it here.

Finally – at the weekend I went along to the 48 Hour Fashion Fix at Cabot Circus, Bristol. This was my first event I’d attended as a blogger so I had little idea of what to expect. In the end, it was a Jolly Time Out. There was a big beauty bus, pop-up fashion shows, I met some lovely bloggers (hello!) and at the end we all ran in the rain to drink bubbly and eat calamari in a free bar. Thank you very much!

The lovely Gina Dyer took a snap of me, so here is what I wore:

me at cabot

Black Heels – ancient Russell & Bromley ones, M&S green jeans, Warehouse brown coat, black satchel from France – husband bought it while we were ‘courting’ – that’s when I knew he was a keeper. A few people have asked about my lipstick, it’s an Avon Extra Lasting lipstick and you can buy them online at the moment for £4. They are bloody good.

What did you do at the weekend?

I fancy her clothes and Gap printed shirts

What I loved about Bristol when I moved here from London seven years ago was that, when meeting someone for the first time, what you did for a living was never the first topic of conversation. People were much more concerned with what you did for pleasure, what you did at the weekend, and whether you liked cider.

Bristolians, by and large, place more emphasis on inner happiness than the outer trappings of success. That’s why the city has a reputation for being nonchalantly stylish, and that’s why I love it so much. It’s not about being immaculately groomed – it’s about carefree dressing. You need clothes that will take you from work, to the pub, to a gig, or to the coast at the weekend, at a moment’s notice.

So most of the Bristolian women whose outfits I have blogged about have a certain ‘Bristolian essence’ which I would best describe as nonchalant, cool, a bit scruffy, occasionally androgynous, and infinitely versatile.

And as a means of showing what I mean, and showing off a bit because I’ve learnt how to make an online collage, here is a quick snapshot:-

Scruffy Chic

And then this morning I met a woman whose outfit again sums up all those things I have come to love about my city’s style. Yes, it’s a new  ‘I fancy Your clothes!’





I love this look – everything really works, the bleached out grey jeans and the battered Bertie boots are perfect together. The woven belt, bird-print Gap shirt and soft cardie have a Little House on the Prairie feel, updated with an edgier vibe – which can only be a good thing.

CarolAnne’s Quick Style Tips:

“When you’re a mum, don’t try to dress for anyone but for yourself – you can still wear what you love, you don’t have to worry about dressing ‘like a mum’. Even I was a pregnant this was something I’d aim for, I never wore maternity clothes, I’d just buy bigger sizes and wore everything really tight! If you loved fashion before, don’t give up on it now, and sooner or later you’ll feel comfortable in your own things again.”

CarolAnne’s bird-print shirt was the killer for me, and who would have thought it would come from Gap? Now there’s a shop I haven’t thought about or visited for a couple of years. This bird-print shirt made me rethink my bias and am I glad I did.

A quick scroll through their printed shirts online shows that someone, somewhere in Gapland knows how to design a good printed shirt. And to top it all off, some of them are on sale. Here are my top 5:

Shrunken Boyfriend Shirt in Blue, £29.95


Teacup Print Shirt, £29.95

Teacup print popover shirt - red

This is beautiful, £29.95:

New tailored print shirt - navy print

This Polka Dot shirt has a seventies feel that I dig a lot. £19.95 on sale:

Pocket popover shirt - polka dot

This has got a Cat Print. Need I say miaow? £29.95

Fitted boyfriend cat print shirt - neon pink

You can see the whole collection here and remember – hanging up a shirt in the bathroom while you have a hot bath is almost as good as ironing it.

Where I say affronted.

I meant what I said. No new clothes for me this year. (Man, it is hard.)

That doesn’t mean I can’t browse online, though. Particularly if I want to look at a thing of beauty. Like a People Tree dress. On sale.

Regular readers may know that I love this label, having written about them here. Here. And here.


Their clothes are perfect for mums – you might even say they were made with mums in mind. Why? Because these are the sorts of clothes that look better with a few curves inside them, you get me? In other words, if you’ve got meat on your bones, you’re going to be a knock-out in a People Tree dress.

Also, they’re not made of silk, crepe, nylon, or any other fabric you can only dig out for a wedding. As most of their dresses are made of jersey or cotton, you can throw them on in the morning with seconds to spare and still look fab. And chuck them in the wash after feeding a toddler.


I know we’re in the middle of an arctic freeze, but let’s think about spring, let’s think about summer. They’re out there, somewhere, and wouldn’t it be nice to have some lovely clothes to greet them? Take advantage of the sales NOW and reap the benefits in a few months time.

This is my pick of the People Tree sales items:

Jersey Stripe Dress, £29

Coral stripe dress

God I love this Olivia Bow Stripe dress, £33.60:


I’ve lusted after this Rosabel dress before, and now it’s £17.40. INSANE! (It’s times like this I hate my shopping embargo.)


This checked skirt would look lovely in the summer, with a simple short-sleeve shirt or vest. And it’s £13. I’m affronted I don’t have it.


Finally – this isn’t on sale but I’ve fallen for it. Would look so gorgeous with some jeans. Cotton sweetpea top, £35.


A few outfits from January so far…

DSC03354 (2)

Knitted jacket: Sonia Rykiel

Jeans: M&S

Snakeskin Pumps: M&S

DSC03372 (2)

Black and White cardigan: F&F at Tesco

Pink shirt: New Look

Jeans: M&S

Heels: M&S

DSC03399 (2)
Dinosaur headpiece: Karl Lagerfield. Or I found it on the floor at a Science Museum in Bristol. One of the two.

Scarf: Present from mum.

Northface fleece: Aaaaah – just writing that makes me feel warm.

Green jeans: Them again. M&S.

Stay warm, ladies, but dream of spring.

Mirror, Mirror….

Happy New Year!

The end of 2012 brought a whopping revelation. Let me explain…

I found a full-length mirror in B&Q with magic properties. It was one of those that makes you look thinner than you actually are.

“Let’s buy it,” I said at once. Can there be a better ego boost than a mirror that lies?

I spent a wonderful hour with a glass of wine and all the clothes I’d given up on, trying them on in front of the Magic Mirror.

The results stunned me. All those clothes I’d written off – the jeans I thought I couldn’t pull off, drab jumpers, dresses I’d got bored of – they were all transformed by this mirror. (And, quite possibly, my wine.)

Suddenly I felt ashamed.

All year, I’d felt compelled to keep buying clothes, convinced that no matter how much I bought, my wardrobe was always incomplete. Now I saw how wrong I was.

I have loads of lovely, more than adequate, really quite fabulous clothes. And most of the time, I completely ignore them, failing to see their potential.

No more.

Because I’m going to focus on what I have, not what I want to have. I’d like to not buy ANY CLOTHES IN 2013.

Not even from charity shops.

Not even on sale.

Not even – AAAARGH – if it’s from Marks and Spencers and I can’t believe the price.

No shoes, no coats. No dresses, no bargains. ( I am still allowed make-up, the odd bit of jewellery, and maybe a hat.)

You may shake your head. You may think: “The girl’s gone mad.”

But I believe this will make me stronger. Here’s why:-

Sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses. Sometimes you have to appreciate the clothes you really have. And sometimes, you just run out of money (and space.)

Whoever said “Necessity is the mother of invention” was right. When you impose a limit, you have to use your imagination.

This might make me evolve my style. It might help me find loads of new looks for old clothes. I might finally learn how to dye things.

I will definitely save money. And now I’m meant to be an adult, I’ve heard that’s a good thing.

I may – and I am prepared for this – just live in the same jeans and t-shirt all year, but with the help of my Magic Mirror,  that will be OK.

So, in a melancholy adieu to the beauty of consumption, here is my final sartorial swansong for December 2012. These four beauties will be the last thing I buy for 12 months. I think they’re worth celebrating for that very reason.

Cream Brogues. These were £4 in a charity shop. I love them. B. hates them. I can’t think why.

Cream brogues

Blood-red heels. These are the shoes I’ve been searching for my whole life. I found them in M&S, reduced in the sale to £25. I can’t talk any more about M&S as I might cry. They look much vampier on.

Blood red heels

Checked skirt This is a Jigsaw skirt and cost £5 from the Best Boutique in Bristol. Yes, £5. Looks fab with the heels.

Jigsaw skirt

Monsoon lace dress This was a birthday present from B. It also came from The Best Boutique In Bristol and cost £33. The straps are designed to be worn off the shoulder and it has great internal boning and it looks like a dream, doesn’t it?

Monsoon dress

Finally – here was my first outfit of the year. Photo taken in the Magic Mirror, as you can see.

(Unfortunately it doesn’t allow good self-portraits – will stick to husband from now on!)

This was for a pub lunch with friends on New Years Day. Ignore the bloated, hung-over face please. Focus on the shoes.

New years day outfit

Shirt dress – Not sure what label it is, another charity shop find last year. Great for hiding a belly from Christmas. I love khaki but I’m not sure it loves me. But this was the first time I’d worn the shirt out, in my new spirit of adventure.

Jeans: Levis Curve. Shoes: M&S footglove.

Have you made any style New Year resolutions? Have you ever imposed a shopping embargo on yourself? Let us know!

A gorgeous natural moisturiser

Do you love herbs? Do you like having skin?

Then you need some Lyonsleaf products in your life.

Lyonsleaf are Ben and Vicky Lyons, some thoroughly good eggs who own a small holding in the Mendip Hills. They have pigs, sheep and herbs on their land, from which they make sublime skin products.

You can find out more about them here.

I am going to champion Lyonsleaf because their stuff has knocked me for six, it’s under £10, and it seems to be made with thought, intelligence, and care.

I stumbled across their stall one Sunday morning at a market in Bristol. One sniff of their Organic Shea Butter and I was hooked.

The ingredient list reads like something an angel would sing in a wildflower meadow: “Sweet almond oil, calendula, vitamin E oil and organic shea butter, lavender essential oils…”

I slather this on at night, after a hot bath, and my skin does a happy dance. It smells good enough to eat but not in a sickly fake-strawberry way; it smells like a lavender field in your nose.


I have dry skin on my arms and legs but a week of using this and it feels softer and smoother. The product is also suitable for eczema or psoriasis. It’s gorgeously rich and makes your skin smell and feel like it’s been on holiday for about, ooh, a year.

I am running out of imaginative similes but I am very keen to impress upon you how good this stuff is. And I have tried expensive lotions and this is better.

Other goodies that are on my wish list are their Orange and Grapefruit Salt Scrub (£9.50) their Mane Tamer (£9.99) and their Skin Firming Body Butter (£9.99)

If you are a knackered first-time mum, a knackered working mum, a knackered stay-at-home mum, or just looking to show yourself, or someone in your life, a bit of PROPER LOVE, then BUY THIS.

(Image sources: Lavender Field, Helen Dixon photography)

Why I love charity shops and the challenge of the yellow shorts.

One morning a week, P. goes to a lovely childminder, while I work/write/cook/hang loose. It’s a sacred three hours where I get to recharge and she gets to play with a little girl her age and paint. It does us both the world of good.

This week, I spent a gorgeous half-hour drinking coffee and reading a magazine in my local cafe, before having a browse in a charity shop. I love charity shops, musty and dusty or slick and boutiquey, and they have really come into their own once P. was born.  For those who remain unconvinced, here’s a list about why they’re good:-

1. They are full of kindly old women and gentlemen who love babies.

2. If you’re nice to them, they’ll coo and entertain your baby so you can try on clothes.

3. They don’t play god-awful chart music to make your eyes bleed. Instead you can listen to the peaceful chatter of the staff in the back saying: ‘Some tea, Derek?’

4. You can buy lots and lots of lovely clothes for not very much money at all. So even if you make a mistake, it won’t be expensive.

5. You can normally fit in a quick visit on your way to buy nappies.

6. This is one shopping expedition you don’t need to keep a secret from your husband/boyfriend. Not that I do this, obviously. (cough)

7. You’re putting money into worthwhile causes. Amazing!

Yesterday I spotted a pair of high-waisted vintage yellow shorts. When I say vintage I mean the label says: Style Incorporated which to me sounds ancient.

First of all I tried them on with a stripy t-shirt, also in the shop:

That just made me look like a rectangle. So then I tried them on with a fitted little Oasis jumper. This looked better:

But it was some sort of wool mix and was too hot. Pretty though; I liked the studs.

Despite not knowing exactly what these shorts would go with, I had developed a bit of a crush on them. They made me feel a bit 1950s, a bit American, a bit like I could be drinking cocktails before tennis. I love feeling like that, so I bought them. They were £3.50!

I still haven’t quite solved the challenge of how to wear them. This morning I tried a black scoop neck top with a cat necklace from Claire’s Acessories.

Again, not quite right. If you need to do a jaunty pose to make clothes look good, then they’re not right.

Then I tried them on with a sheer polka-dot blouse, bought from my favourite second-hand boutique, Rag Trade (not a charity shop, actually a boutique, and worth a visit, Bristolians.)

But I still don’t think this works, although it’s quite nice.

Now I’m beginning to think that a fitted top, like this Sun Top from Top Shop (£24), might be the answer, although I’d definitely need to have had a Kit-Kat free week, and this I cannot guarantee. It’s lush, but is it too teenage? Would I look like one of those rhubarb sweets, the pink and yellow ones? I don’t know anything any more.

Where am I going wrong? What would you wear with the shorts? I’m beginning to think that Oasis jumper was the best option; maybe I need a thinner version of that. I still think that they will come good.

These sunny yellow shorts have been a godsend today though – P. is refusing to eat in this weather and will only eat toast. I feel like I’ve spent all morning cooking only for her to turn up her nose. Thankfully, these yellow shorts allow no space for moods, so I just glide through the tension like a sunny yellow serene swan.

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