Saturday, 31 July 2010

Boys, don’t do it! Top men’s summer fashion faux pas

Last year I had a go at us girls, and this time I’m having a go at the boys! Seriously though, it’s meant to be light-hearted, so don’t get too annoyed boys :-)

1. Bin Laden sandals. I would describe these as a heavy leather Jesus sandal with a chunky rubber tractor-tyre sole. I'm afraid I can't find an exact photo of what I mean but in my head I can see them loud and clear. They can be found as slip-ons, velcro-fastening, buckled or mules, but what they all have in common is that they’re hideous! A man can be beautifully decked out for summer; white linen shirt, bermudas that show off great calves, maybe the odd bead strung on a leather thong (not that kind of thong) – then you look down to his feet and he’s ruined it with BLSs (abbreviation). Perhaps my aversion to this type of footwear has something to do with the amount of time I’ve spent ‘in that part of the world’, indeed ‘my part of the world’ but it doesn’t matter if you’re a beard-free blondie – no-one can get away with this awful footwear that looks like a kind of saddle for feet.

2. Bare torsos. By bare torsos I mean naked chests on public transport and in restaurants – even beach restaurants. I don’t care if you have a six-pack or have specially shaved your chest for the occasion (which you see a lot of in Spain). It’s just not necessary!

3. Cut offs. Ok, it’s not fair to put this on the list as almost every boy I know wears cutoffs, but I have some inexplicable issues with them. Shorts I love, trousers too, but cutoffs, meh, luke-warm. Either get your legs out or hide them away. They seem to cut people off at the most unattractive part of the leg. To be fair, I hate cutoffs on myself too, and as a woman I have no idea how to make them look good. Wear them with flat shoes and I look like a slightly-bottom-heavy waddling duck (IMHO), with heels and it’s sort of a brunette slightly slutty Doris Day. Can’t win. Or maybe the Doris Day thing is a good look? If any of you ladies have any tips on how to look good in these then let me know!

4. ‘Holiday uniforms’. This means that special combo of garish sloganned T-shirt, tall towelling socks, white trainers, polyester bum-bag (fanny-pack) and a baseball cap. I know it's practical, but...

5. Other scary footwear: apart from the old bin ladens I have a few more to add to the list: a. Crocs – I know they are comfy, but unless you work in a hospital please do not wear them. b. Those ‘walking sandals’ (black canvas with velcro) unless you are actually walking.

Looking back at this list I can see that I’ve practically left men with nothing wear in summer, and while I understand I don’t really have the right to play at fashion police, please let me indulge in saying what I love men to wear in summer: Short-sleeved shirts in cotton or linen, khaki or chino shorts, nice flip-flops, crisp white Ts, canvas pumps, summer deck-shoes, cotton summer scarves for when it gets chilly, a touch of hawaiian or surfer look here and I expecting too much metrosexuality? Or maybe I think we live in a Davidoff Cool Water ad? Perhaps the boys also have a list of what they’d like us to wear? High-heeled strappy sandals, tiny skirts, butt-skimming shorts and boob tubes? Or maybe, and hopefully, they’re not as demanding as me and they just want us to be comfortable :-)

Who would you most like to have a 121 with?

As much as I like group activities, I have to say my most natural state of interaction is one on one. I don't think this has so much to do with the fact I'm a little shy, it's more that I feel I get so much more out of a one to one; I see a facet of the person I'd otherwise miss, and vice versa.

Whenever I think of one 2 ones I remember this mobile phone ad with Kate Moss, it's 12 years old and she seems so different from who she is now (aren't we all?). She was all Johnny Depp and freckles, and these days I'm afraid to say I find her just a tiny bit rough - nothing to do with her age you understand - more to do with this image of a chain-smoking, coke snorting, bleached out It Girl.

I decided to write about this as the other day I had a really nice unexpected one to one with someone. It was actually with a director in my company, someone who is a little gruff and in your face and not afraid to be tough with you. He told me how brave he thought I had been in a particular situation unrelated to work, and how he perhaps couldn't have coped under the same circumstances. I was so touched that this person had even noticed my predicament, let alone admired my ability to cope with it. It was a little moment that cut through all our day to day pretending and posturing and portraying the right image.  That's what I like about one to ones.

And who would I most like to have a 121 with? I'm not sure to be honest. Hundreds of names come to mind; Mandela, Darwin, Cleopatra, Rumi... I even wonder what it would be like to have a 121 with my mum aged 20 or myself aged 60! But deep down I know the most insiring 121s are likely to come from people I already know, those in my outer circle, those I barely know and those who are yet to come into my life - and the thought of all the moments we might share is quite heartening :-)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Barcelona again

Lately I keep finding myself in lovely hotels - but alone and for work. As I write this I'm sat by a pool on a hotel roof in Barcelona, looking over the mediterannean, the Sagrada Familia and Norman Foster's 'gherkin'. It would be easy to feel lonely in such circumstances, but I kind of secretly enjoy these moments. I find it hard to explain, but there's something kind of anonymous and self-indulgent about days like this; a solo martini rosso at 4pm 'just because', long uninterrupted baths before my fellow colleagues arrive, strewing my clothes messily over the couch. No neighbours to be annoyed by, no food to cook, no clothes to wash. Tomorrow there will be long hard meetings about a book we're working on, but for now I'm just going to enjoy today and these lovely views :-)

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Summer nights

This evening it was my friend Carlos's birthday picnic (always celebrated in the Retiro park and always on 26th July). It was a lovely night, and we had full moon, which made it specially atmospheric. As ever, there was a Galician touch with Ribeiro wine, empanada (tuna patties) and a tarta de santiago. Walking home it ocurred to me that the Retiro was truly beautiful by night, devoid of people, the moonlight making the topiary trees look almost fairy-tale like... that was until this huge marauding alsation (spelling?) came hurtling towards me. Luckily my friend Catherine is much less of a scaredy-cat when it comes to big dogs and she literally held my hand and stood in front of me, thus protecting me from the moon-crazed animal. Or perhaps I'm exagerrating the whole incident with the 'happy' dog and I'm the moon-crazed one. Happy days :-)

Sunday, 25 July 2010


Excuse the cheesy headline. Yesterday I went into Sol to see if I could find a few bits and pieces for my Bali trip. Unfortunately everything in the shops was either sales leftovers in huge sizes or the new winter collection. Still, I managed to pick up a couple of longer-term staples, one of them being a watch. I haven't worn a watch for years, they irritate me and being able to constantly check to time on my wrist does nothing for my already slighty highly-strung nature, a couple of posts ago I even banged on about how wearing a watch allowed people to judge you and salesmen to decide how to pitch at you - and then there was my bucket list post where I admitted to coveting a vintage gold Rolex. Watch issues! But yesterday, in El Corté Inglés I kind of fell in love with a tiny black watch from Agatha. I think the reason I like it is that it was just so tiny and cute and simple that it didn't feel like a watch and was more like an elegant little piece of costume jewellery (photo above, which doesn't really do i justice) that would go with everything I wear.

After the watch purchase I was in the mood for more black accessories so I went to my lovely Hakei and picked up this belt :-)

Continuing the theme of black, at my yoga group dinner yesterday I teamed both of the above items with a black strapless dress I bought years ago at Adolfo Dominguez and I found a black Coccinelle bag at the back of my wardrobe that I hadn't worn for years as I thought the strap made it look old fashioned - it had never ocurred to me before to tuck the strap in and turn it into a clutch. Voila! New bag for $000

Ok, enough shallow ramblings about my cool accessories ;P I have to pay homage to the members of my yoga class for yesterday, one of them is an excellent chef  and together with a couple of the students had prepared the most delicious summery meal for us - cold soups - salmorejo (a kind of thick gazpacho) and ajo blanco (almond soup with a touch of garlic) followed by an octopus and lime leaf bulghur wheat salad, Japanese marinated tuna, juicy ribs, then organic raspberryies and muffins to finish off. To die for.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Yummy Frozen Goodness

I've never tried frozen yoghurt before. Does that sound strange to readers from the States where I'm guessing it's really well-known? Well, I finally got to try it the other day in Madrid's newly inagurated frozen yoghurt bar - Ö! My Good - in Alonso Martínez. I'm not usually a fan of yoghurt, which I realise is almost unheard of, but I was so hot and bothered in the 37º sun that I thought I'd give it a try as I was in the neighbourhood. And O! my was it good! The decor was all super minimalist and cool and the yoghurt was great - more refreshing than ice-cream with a sort of creamy but tangy taste. The toppings on offer are a mixture of mouthwatering and healthy: everything from white chocolate buttons to goji berries and pineapple - personally I went for blackberries, chocolate brownie bits and caremalised soya seeds - topped off with a little complementary grated lime rind. Sounds odd but it worked. Final verdict? This sin't a substitute for ice-cream, but it is a yummy alternative. Best of all it's virtually fat and therefore guilt-free :-)

Calle Sagasta 32, Metro Alonso Martínez

Yoga blog is no more

Probably no-one noticed, but I killed off my yoga blog. Well, I didn't really kill it off, I just stopped writing and hid it from view. It's funny, I thought that because I love writing, I'd like writing about anything, but with the yoga it just wasn't happening. It's not that I've stopped doing yoga, far from it, I'm doing it 3-4.5 hours per week - yes lazy old me is somehow managing to do that! I think the real reason is that I just couldn't think of what to say and my posts were looking something like this: day 1 - 'Ok, today I did yoga and I couldn't touch my toes', day 2 - 'Err, I still can't touch my toes...', day 3 - and so on.... You get the picture. I don't know what I was expecting in so little time! So for the moment, I'd rather practise it and not write about it. While I mightn't have made huge leaps in terms of yoga, I'm doing a bit better with my blogging. I love technology, but I'm kind of clumsy with it. However, thanks to all the lovely people on line who share their blogging knowledge with their more ludditic peers, I am slowly picking up little ways of improving the blog, like the post signature I've just added. If you'd like add one and don't know how (and you're using the blogger platform) here's a tool I found really helpful. Happy blogging (and reading) :-)

Madrid is the hottest place to be this summer - thanks to the World Cup!

Today I’m having a little break and I have a guest post from Yuli Linssen-Kaminitz at who makes some suggestions for cool things to do in Madrid, whether you live here or you’re just stopping by. I can tell you from personal experience that the rabo de toro (oxtail) and tomato salad in Casa Lucio, is to die for and that a friend recently spotted a well-known Spanish actor on the roof terrace at The Penthouse ;-)

Sunday 11th of July is a date which will be forever etched in the hearts and minds of Spaniards – as well as all the expats that have made Spain their home. For the first time in history the Spanish national football team won the World Cup. The Spanish team has a huge international following, and from the moment the tournament ended, fans, Hispano-philes and journalists from all over the globe rushed to get to Madrid and join in the celebrations and enjoy the unique atmosphere of Madrid de fiesta.

In light of this historic event, and the unique way of Madrileño way of celebrating in style, it’s easy to understand why Madrid is suddenly the hottest place to visit this summer. For those of you who are lucky enough to have scored some days off, here are some of the coolest Madrid hotspots for strolling, dining, drinking and partying!

1. “Casa Lucio” (Restaurant) - Cava Baja 35, Madrid:

Start your break in one of the most well known places in town. Located in the trendy La Latina neighborhood, this hot spot has been frequented by celebrities from all over the world. The decoration of the place is traditional and cosy - on entering the restaurant you’ll feel as if you jumped back in time to the 19th century. However, it is not the authentic decor that draws customers here time and again - it is the simple, yet delicious menu of traditional Spanish fayre. Try some of their house specialties, “Madrid-style callos” – in other words tripe - or the “huevos rotos” and you won’t be disappointed.

2. “Buddha del Mar” (bar, lounge, restaurant and a club) – Ctra de la Coruña, Madrid, 28040:

This is without a doubt the most fashionable and glamorous nightspot in Madrid at the moment. Breathtaking Asian décor, verdant surroundings, a brilliant sound system and a general ambience of liberty and luxury - will all make your evening a truly special one. Start the night with a light selection of tapas and a cocktail, rest a little in the chill-out area and prepare yourself for an all night pumping party!

3.”The Avenue of Art” (galleries, museums) - El Paseo Del Prado, Madrid:

After a long night of partying, you might feel the need for a spot of culture. The Paseo del Prado is a regal-looking, green boulevard right in the centre of the city and is home to some of the most famous galleries in the word. Visit the Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums – which house priceless works of art by Goya, Velázquez, El Greco and many more. And, if you plan your time wisely, you can even make it to the Reina Sofía National Museum where you can see a plethora of more modern works such as Picasso's breathtaking masterpiece, Guernica.

4. “The Penthouse” (Tapas and cocktail bar) - Plaza Santa Ana 14, Madrid 28012:

There is no better place to sit with a cold beer or a good glass of red wine and watch the stunning sunset. This uber-chic roof terrace has views over the entire city and is located in one Madrid’s most upscale hotels. It is easy to understand why this spot is so incredibly popular - the décor is pure opulence - well appointed leather couches, lavish white exteriors and startling illumination. Reserve a table for an early drink and snacks, mingle with the beautiful people of Madrid and enjoy the moment. Carpe diem!

5. “Marula Café” (bar, club) - Caños Viejos, 3 (corner with Bailén, 17), Madrid:

The perfect end to your city-break is surely celebrating Madrid-style, which means partying in a big way. The Marula café is a funky nightclub which offers a wide variety of music- soul, jazz, Latin, house and much more. Once you've danced till you drop, take a rest on the perfectly located terrace - just beneath the Puente de Segovia—the awe-inspiring bridge on Calle Bailen—offering striking panoramic views of the bridge’s sweeping arches.


Zurich-based company can help visitors find hotels in Madrid. The company’s online portal makes it easy for visitors to locate hotels, compare prices and secure rooms immediately. They also specialize in discount rates on hotels all over the world that range from simple hostels all the way up to celebrated 5-star venues.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Bucket List movie

I posted my bucket list here (in the post below) a couple of days ago, then last night something odd happened. I couldn't sleep as it's 40 degrees here in Madrid and I have no A/C so I made myself a little midnight snack (popular Spanish drink horchata - tiger nut milk  - and some dark chocolate digestives..mmm) and looked for a movie to watch online. And what should I stumble upon but The Bucket List, with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Of course I was then obliged to stay up half the night and watch it! My verdict? Almost inevitable for a 'mainstream' film covering things to do before you die, it was a little sentimental. If you haven't seen it I won't give to much away, but given the age of the two protagonists you can imagine how it might unfold. And one weird thing struck me - that in all the sites they visit they are the sole visitors... and I'm sure anyone who'se visitied the pyramids or Taj Mahal can vouch for quite the opposite. Plus, to me it looked like they weren't really visiting these locations - they seemed 'bluescreened' in, which was a shame - I would like to have seen them enjoy the hustle and bustle around these sites. Still, I enjoyed it, it made me shed a tear or two and gave me a little food for thought for my own bucket list :-)

Saturday, 17 July 2010

What's on your bucket list?

Image Source - Creative Commons

Whether or not to post my bucket list – the list of things I want to do before I kick the proverbial something I’ve been ruminating over for some while now. On the one hand, my list is a source of inspiration and action – once things are on the list I do actually start working towards those goals that I see as most achievable (e.g. my recentish visit to Marrakech and obsession with yoga), but the list is also a trigger of stress at times. I look at all the items and feel a bit overwhelmed. What if I don’t do them? What about the goals that would widely regarded by others as unrealistic? What if people think my desires are petty? What if I become one of those annoying types who are always on about how they want to ‘live a life full of passion’ but are so busy ticking items on their list that they don’t have the time to stop for a breather and enjoy it. And I think we’ve all known someone like that, Mr/Ms 'I've done I’m going to do bla...'... Er, spending 6 months backpacking round a continent getting high is not necessarily doing it - I think it’s the verb do that gets me...meeeooow, I'll put my claws back and take a chill pill now.

Still, for slightly unfocussed types like me, I still think the benefits of writing it all down outweigh any disadvantages. Without it I could easily end up on my sofa watching Sex and the City reruns for the rest of my life! Or at least that’s what I tell myself. And as for sharing it, well I guess that’s what having a blog is all about. Bucket list is also perhaps not the best name for my the odd mix of must-see sites and random aspirations I'm posting here.

Do I have any bucket list tips? Just one. Although you can’t really include them on the list, do congratulate yourself on the things you ‘did’ without even realising they could be life goals – in my case I’d definitely include living abroad, seeing Michael Jackson in concert and standing (well, sailing) at the point where the blue and white Niles meet in Khartoum before coursing north to Egypt. In fact I have a whole pre-bucket list that serves as a great pat on the back on down days :-)

So, here it is – the good, the bad and the materialistic - bucket list:

1. Go to Japan.
2. Go to India.
3. Go to Bali – (ok, I cheated, this was never a life-dream for me, but as I’m going this summer I pretty much have to include it!)
4. Do a yoga retreat – ditto Bali :-)
5. Go to China.
6. Spend the night in the desert (this is a huge one for me).
7. Visit old Dongola and Meroe in Sudan (where my dad’s family came from).
8. Visit the USA.
9. Go on a safari.
10. Go to the sacred music festival in Fez.
11. Go to the Womad (world music) festival in Caceres.
12. Visit Lebanon.
13. Go to the (alleged) source of the Nile (Lake Victoria)
14. Visit Thailand and eat Thai street food.
15. Visit all 7 continents.
16. Travel across Russia, Mongolia and China on the Trans-Siberian Express.
17. See Madame butterfly at the opera.
18. Go diving.
19. Climb an active volcano.
Stuff to learn:
20. Learn to make Pastilla (a type of Moroccan savoury-sweet pastry).
21. Get good at yoga.
22. Be able to do push ups (It’s ridiculous, I can’t even do one).
23. Learn to hold a tune.
24. Learn to make sushi.
25. Learn to meditate.
26. Learn to take great photos.
27. Learn French.
28. Do an illustration course.
29. Improve my Arabic.
30. Host Christmas for my family.
31. Meet ‘the one’, if such a thing exists, and have lovely kid(s).
32. Write down my Sudanese family’s history.
33. Be more openly loving towards my family.
34. Run my own business that pays me (erm, undisclosed amount) per year.
35. Be a designer of something.
36. Write and publish a book. A proper book. 
Health and beauty:
37. Have perfectly healthy kidneys. This probably isn’t achievable, but by having it on the list it helps me remember to stay as healthy and fit as possible.
38. Have some cool photos taken of me (yes, I’m vain)
39. Spend a weekend in the Cuadalie, Marques de Riscal spa in Álava.
40. Get laser depilation (sorry to mention this here male audience).
41. Be more proactive.
42. Be more focused. This is a hard one for me.
43. Be more assertive.
44. Have more self-belief.
44. Become a better spoken communicator.
45. Feel happy behind the wheel.
46. Live in my dream house, a penthouse in Alonso Martínez.
47. I freely admit here that I wouldn’t mind a vintage gold Rolex. Bling
48. Be a minimalist

If you’re lacking in ideas but feel the urge to create/expand your list, here are a few (525 to be exact) ideas from a blog I sometimes refer to for inspiration (why you'd have meeting Donal Trump on your list I can't quite imagine, but I'm sure the author would feel the same about my inclusion of laser depilation!)

If any of you have lists and would like to share I’d be delighted to see them :-)

A birthday breakfast in Madrid

My heavy-handed approach to butter and mustard.

Pain au chocolat

Belgian bread at Le Pain Quotidien
This photo is from

My friends and I are huge fans of breakfast. Whether it's a greasy British fry up, a dense slab of campesino bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil, or something that slides into brunch like eggs benedict followed by carrot cake. When I'm on my own, I'm guilty of missing breakfast, but back in my 'cooking days' I would occasionally have people round for creamy scrambled eggs or on one momentous occasion (can't remember what that was) a brunch of home-made sweetcorn blinis, smoked salmon and that creamy, gherkiny dip, liptauer. I do sometimes wonder what happened to that girl that loved cooking, and wish she would come back and make me stuff. Bring out the violins :p

Today was another memorable morning meal. We had a little celebratory birthday breakfast for my dear friend Catherine, who is queen of breakfast and all things wholesome and orderly :-)

At the birthday girl's request the 4 of us made it to Belgian bakery-come-eatery Le Pain Quotidien on Gran Via for 11am. We started off with big bowls of coffee and pain au chocolat - which were good though our francophile friend Kate said the pastries weren't quite up to Parisian standards. Could anything really ever be up to Parisian standards? Following this were boiled free-range eggs with 'soldiers' of gorgeous organic bread, excellent home-made hummus with just the right balance of earthy cumin, cloying olive oil and sharp lemon, and thickly sliced ham with mustard, tapenade and more of that great bread - all washed down with freshly-made lemonade, apple and ginger juice, and OJ. I really had to restrain myself not to order the whole menu here, one of their specialities seem to be tartines - toasted slices of organic bread topped with goodies like curried free range chicken with mango, harrisa and red fruits chutney, or the equally delicious-sounding marinated tuna with hummus and chives.

Our breakfasts are usually followed by a session of window shopping on C/Fuencarral (a digestive aid I say) and more often than not a stop at another cafe for refreshments. In this case, our favourite little vintage bar, Lolina, where we enjoyed raspberry and strawberry juice and a few good laughs (photos below).

P.s. have a great weekend everyone!

Felicidades to the lovely birthday girl :-)

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Wine tasting in Madrid

I've been meaning to try out wine-tasting for pretty much the past 6 years - but there's always been some 'valid' excuse not to (time, money, going teetotal for abit, no-one else wants to go etc). Don't get me wrong, a lot of wine has been tasted during my years in Madrid, but little attention has been paid to colour, to bouquets and to woody Well, the other day, one of the lovely girls at my yoga class suggested going for a lesson at the vinoteca she's been studying at and it was the most fun I'd had in ages! For the paltry sum of 10 Euros we had a lesson on the basics of wine tasting from the lovely Antonio, then got to taste one white and three reds - all the while excitedly jotting down notes on the forms he'd laid out for us. Contrary to what I'd been lead to believe about wine tasting - we swallowed everything and there was none of that spitting it out stuff that I'd seen on TV programmes. After the main technical tasting bit, the 8 of us were invited to polish off the 4 bottles which he accompanied with some great jamon ibérico, tuna salad, cured manchego cheese and the best preserved red peppers I've ever tried. Needless to say, by the end of it, we'd all made friends and were more than a little tipsy. In order to assist one of the tastings you have to either be a student at the school, or be invited by a student (as was our case) - but after having such a great afternoon I'm actually considering doing the beginners course which works out at 75 euros for 4 2 hour sessions - for anyone else who's interested you can check out their website - I know it all looks a bit basic, but it's because they're in the midst of moving premises and I can promise that the quality of the tuition and the wine was spot on :-)

P.s. It's right by metro Almendrales - no I'd never heard of the station either - but it's about 6 stops from Sol on the yellow line.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Count down to summer

Image sourced via Creative Commons

In Spain we are lucky enough to work what is know as the jornada intensiva in summer, which means that in late June and all of July we work an 8-3 schedule instead of the normal 9-6. I've been doing this for a couple of weeks now, and I can't begin to say what a difference it makes to quality of life! I now have time to pop by art exhibitions at the Reina Sofia in the afternoons, do an extra yoga class, meet friends for an aperitif on one of my local terazzas or simply just go home and take a guilty nap or watch Anthony Bourdain re-runs on the sofa :-) It also gives me time to make the finishing touches on planning my trip to Bali this summer - as I mentioned a few weeks ago my accomodation and the yoga retreat is all but sorted out I just need to get myself a new suitcase and some Bali-esque clothes. I'm not sure that I really need a new suitcase - but as I'm travelling alone I do sometimes get a little worried about some 'new friend' putting something in my bag and things getting a bit Bankock Hilton (there's also this programme on Imagenio called encarcelados en el extranjero, translated roughly as 'banged up abroad' or something which has made me somewhat paranoid!). So, I figure a hard-cover suitcase wouldn't be a bad purchase, preferably Samsonite who have a great discount outlet in Las Rozas shopping village. Along the same lines of better safe than sorry I need to compare travel insurance quotes online before I go. Perhaps my favourite pre-trip purchase is going to be the clothes - I'm not going to buy much - but I would like a few essential items before I go, I know I can probably buy great stuff out there, but before jetting off I at least need to get a new bikini, cute flip flops, a beach cover-up and a sun hat.  Holiday clothes shopping list to follow ;-)

Friday, 9 July 2010

My 'rules'

Image source - Creative Commons
As an opening caveat to this post I have to say I HATE RULES! Impose a rule on me, and while I might be meekly nodding my head and smiling at you, inside I'm saying WHATEVER and waiting for you to leave the room before I do just the opposite ;-) I am, sometimes to my own detriment, fiercely stubborn and won't be told what to do. I do however, have a few self-imposed rules...which is what this post is about.

A few months back, I mentioned that inspired by the blog 1001 rules for my unborn son, I would draw up a few rules for my unborn daughter. In fact I wrote this post ages ago but what with one thing and another I never got round to posting it. Of course I haven’t called the post ‘1001 rules for my unborn daughter’ firstly because I don’t have the time or inclination to write 1001 rules about anything; secondly because I am single and having a daughter feels like a very, very long way off; and thirdly, I’m sure any future daughter really does not need the pressure of following a whole load of rules before she even exists - plus I secretly hope she's as rebellious as I have always been! I apologise in advance if some of these sound a bit preachy or banal, but really these are a just few little pointers I try to (and sometimes fail to) apply, that provide me with a bit of compass help in the crazy map of life. I would never judge anyone else for not having the same ‘rules’....hmm, or would I? ;-) In any case, I’d have to admit that despite rule 7 below, my house doesn’t always smell of roses, in fact it never does. Ok, now I’ve absolved myself of breaking rule number 14 , here goes, 25 (22 really) rules for girls...

1. Always, always wear a scarf in winter. It should be really soft and never scratch your skin.
2. A good base, blush, mascara and lip balm will make you look fresh as a daisy.
3. Buy seamless knickers to avoid VPL. Flesh coloured underwear is a necessary evil under certain garments.
4. People do judge you on the watch you wear, if you don't care about this they can get lost, if you do, don't wear a watch.
5. Don’t save your best clothes and perfumes for special occasions which may or may not come. Celebrate now.
6. Carry tissues and something to freshen your breath in your hand-bag.

At home
7. A home should smell nice. Use lightly scented candles, wood polish, good quality Japanese incense (which isn't smoky like the Indian variety) or even bake a cake (yeah, right). Open the windows.
8. Do not collect things. In this modern, mobile life they will drag you down. Use the one-in-one-out rule when considering what new things to bring into your home. In the words of William Morris, surround yourself only with things that are beautiful to look at or completely useful.
9. Even if you’re not into cooking, have one starter, two main courses, one salad and one dessert that you can prepare well.
10. Have nice, comfy ‘at home’ outfits and sleepwear, you will feel so much less skanky when DHL drop off that parcel or someone pops by unexpectedly. Spain is a really good place to buy an 'oh, I was just lounging around in this ever-so-sexy leisure suit' outfit. For super cheap and fashionable but will fall apart in months try Oysho, or for expensive and fashionable and will fall apart in months, Women's Secret.

11. If he likes you, he will call you back, fast. If you have an inkling that your not that into him or that he’s not that into you, unless you are paranoid, trust those instincts - something is probably wrong.
12. Love, for me, is a verb (ok, if there are any English teachers out there let’s not get into a debate about stative verbs!). Which means you don’t just love someone by passively being in madly in love and having delicious fantasies about the object of your affection, but by doing, by actively loving, and yes that includes taking out the rubbish.
13. I had what I thought to be quite a cool relationship rule here, but have since had to delete it as it blatantly doesn’t work :-(

14. Listen to yourself before you criticize others and ask ‘Am I really one to talk?’ Otherwise we fall too easily into hypocrisy and petty judgementalism.
15. The little things count; a kind word, a pretty flower, a kiss or a squeeze of the hand, remembering a birthday. Most of us have such sporadic control over the big things that in a way I think what sums us up just as importantly at the end of our lives are the small gestures we make and moments we share. Cheesy but true.
16. I'm guilty of this on occasion, but eating in public (e.g. walking down the street or on public transport) does not make for pleasant watching. I only noticed this recently on visits back to the UK, where the constant street-munching is so not pretty. When you have to do so make it as discreet and odour-free as possible.
17. Brash, aggressive, mouthy behaviour is as unattractive in women as it is in men. In public at least, be a lady... (after a couple of drinks I am anything but a
18. Know how to genuinely be and say sorry when you make a mistake.
19. Do people favours and don’t be afraid to ask for them from time to time. No woman is an island. The whole asking favours thing is something I struggle with, but I'm getting better.

20. No matter where you’re going you never need to pack more than 3 pairs of shoes; A comfortable daytime shoe that is smart enough to wear in a sit-down restaurant, an evening shoe, and finally either pool-side or trekking footwear depending on where you going. (I learnt this rule to my peril one shoe-tastic summer in Italy).
21. Try to learn to say hello, goodbye, please, thank you, yes and no in the language of the countries you visit. It will be much appreciated by the locals (usually) and if you can’t be bothered to buy a phrasebook you can get free tutorials on youtube.

22. And finally, don't let me tell you what to do, the rules were meant to be broken :-)

Thursday, 8 July 2010

What's your one thing to do in Madrid?

Sometimes, living here, I forget that Madrid rocks! In this video, Charley Boorman (of 'Long Way Round' fame - that series where he travels the world by motorbike with Ewan Macgreggor) shares his pick of the city's delights - courtesy of Amex. It's a short clip but it shows the Palacio Real, the Retiro park, the Templo de Debod (a real Egyptian temple given to Spain by the Egyptian authorities in the 60's) plus the bear and strawberry statue - it actually explains the story behind what has always seemed to me like quite an odd symbol for a city - but hey, if Rome can have two kids suckling a she-wolf then I guess anything goes.

I won't tell you what his 'one thing to do' in Madrid is, but check it out and see if you agree :-)

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

An evening with me

It's been a hectic week or so and I've been out every single evening for one reason or another. So tonight, I'm enjoying an evening in alone - magazines, a bit of light blogging, then pizza and salad with Top Chef :-)

P.s. the reason I'm bare-legged is because it's 40 degrees here!

Getting a haircut in Madrid – Do’s and Don’ts

Excuse the blurry photo I took of myself post-haircut!

This is something I’ve mentioned before but have been meaning to come back to. Here’s my light-hearted take on getting your hair cut in Madrid:

Don’t expect UK-style ‘customer service’ – in all but the most expensive of hairdressers you will be offered no tea or coffee, you will not be given ‘hair catalogues’ to browse and more often than not you will not get a consultation. In all likelihood someone will wash your hair and the first time the hairdresser sees your tresses they will be wet and he/she will therefore have no idea of your hair texture.
Do expect a great blowdry. I’ve had good cuts and less-good cuts, but one thing that is consistently great here is the news-reader/pornstar blowdry. Ask for ‘las puntas hacia fuera, con volumen’ for Farrah Fawcett style flicks. If you have an event to go to, or just fancy having big hair, DO just have a blowdry, you’ll feel great and it won’t break the bank.
Do expect them to say they’ll only cut off ‘3 dedos’ (3 fingers) only to realise that your hairdresser’s idea of a finger is the thickness of a Lancashire sausage. Isn't that the case everywhere though?
Don’t expect kid gloves. You can get a decent haircut in high street chains, like Marco Aldany, but you may find the treatment a bit rough and ready. If you have knots, they will be yanked rather than teased out of your hair, and your stylist is likely to assume your head has a heat-proof asbestos coating.
Do tip if you want to. A euro is fine, I’ve seen others just pop it into the hairdresser’s pocket so I do the same if their work is good.
In cheaper salons DON’T say yes to all the extras they’ll try to land on you. That means saying no to máscara (masque) and sí to crema (conditioner). The products might be ok, but often some amateurish trainee hair-washer will just plop an expensive hair mask onto the roots rather than ends of your non-towel-dried hair and it won’t take effect.
Do ask for capas finas (fine layers) otherwise your stylist may be tempted to go for ultra chunky ones which may or may not be suited to your hair depending on how thick it is (On average Spanish hair is thicker than anglo-saxon hair so this means the typical layering here is very choppy - which looks great on thick hair, but can leave finer hair looking a little wispy)
If you have dark hair DO ask for 'mechas finas de color caramelo' (fine honey blonde highlights) unless you want thick orange tiger stripes.
Do make use of hairdressing wholesalers – for professionals only in the UK, here you can often go in and buy salon-only products in enormous containers. There’s one on c/Argumosa on Lavapíes – sorry I don’t know the name or number, but if you walk down the street you will see it if you have your eyes open as it’s pretty big – I promise!
Do ask for a baño de colour rather than tinte if you want semi-permanent colour.

If you'd like to avoid all of the above, you can go to Aveda on C/Ortega y Gasset, 2 friends have recommended it to me. Also, if you want to get your hair done by Victoria Beckham’s ex hairdresser go to Lorena Morlote on C/Don Ramón de la Cruz - they used to do Posh’s extensions when she lived here. I went there for a Yuko Japanese straightening treatment about 5 years ago and they cut my hair really well, brought breakfast and massaged half my body. And so they should have to that price. Alas, now I save the pennies by going to franchises like Jofer, but using the ‘rules’ above it normally turns out ok :-)

Monday, 5 July 2010

Anthony Robbins cleaned my house – bad news for bad habits


Ok, I lied, he didn’t, but bear with me while I explain :-)

In an earlier post I mentioned my interest in ‘burly republican* motivational speakers’ and said I would explain myself at a later date! So, here I am - not really explaining myself – more like elaborating on the topic. Disclaimer* I neither know nor care if AR is a
Anyway, back on topic. Call it personal development/self-help/what you will – it’s a subject that gets a lot of flack. And I can see why, one can’t help but think that a lot of the people in the field simply have a little bit of information and a lot of balls and are out to make a buck on other people’s insecurities. Perhaps so, but recently I have stumbled accross a few gems of wisdom. It with more than a little embarrassment that I admit to be in the midst of reading Tony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within (blush internally). I’m not sure how it is on the other side of the Atlantic, but in Europe we can be a little cynical about self-improvement and even when we indulge in it, it’s often on the sly, secretly beavering away only to suddenly appear before friends saying ‘diet? what diet?’, ‘I had no idea I could be up for promotion...’. We are very modest I think :-) And perhaps this is just me being cynical too.

So back to ATGW... I got to the bit in the book about breaking bad habits and was about to skip through it. ‘Bad habits, I thought smugly....well, I don’t really have any’. I'm sure my friends are doing a lot of eye rolling right now- lol. Yes I have plenty of negative traits (an awful sense of direction for example) but as for habits? These sections of such books always go on about people who can’t stop eating, who can’t stop smoking, who can’t stop whatever. And I have some weird and kind of lucky self-control thing which means it’s hard for me to get addicted to food or anything else. Then it occurred to me. My bad habits are the things I don’t do, rather than the things I do. For as long as I can remember I’ve been messy at home. Big deal you might say, but it really affected me, as quite unusually for a messy person, I ABSOLTELY HATE MESS! ‘Then tidy up you lazy ass!' I hear the people cry. But I found it near on impossible, just like the person that can’t say no to that extra slice of cake or who can’t get off their butts to do some exercise. I would have done anything (and I mean almost anything) rather than get out the broom. Of course things would get on top of me after a few weeks and I’d have a big ‘blitz’, but then, much like the crash-dieter, following this, the cycle would begin again and I’d revert to my old ways.

So in comes Tony Robbins. Using quite simple methods in the past month I’ve gone from messy Merghani (that’s my surname) to Martha Stewart. Well, not really. But honestly, my house has not been so pristine since God knows when and best of all I’m finding it virtually effortless to keep it that way. His basic principle seems ridiculously basic – you need to get leverage against the habit and for the new behaviour. You have to very very graphically think of all the things you stand to lose by indulging in the undesired behaviour (try to think of exaggerated far reaching negative effects and a LOT of them) – so in my case I would picture myself feeling horrible, unable to find my stuff, unable to invite people round without prior notice so it affected my social life, embarrassment if my family came round, what if one day I had kids and I couldn’t keep the house tidy?? I thought of all kinds of disasterous scenarios. Then you think of everything you have to gain: so I pictured impromtu dinner parties with friends, some of my more expensive pieces of furniture would finally be seen instead of covered in piles of paper, I imagined that with a new level of organisation at home I would be more likely to cook decent meals better which in turn would make me look good, and possibly even live longer (Ok, I’m talking major exaggeration here but that’s how it works).

Another step was to think about the kind of person I see myself as and to ask if that negative behaviour was congruent with that type of person. We all see ourselves as types – the funny girl, the intelligent boy and it’s important for our identity and confidence that we reflect that persona on every level. For example, I like to wear good clothes and generally I’m well-presented and style matters to me. And why not admit it here, I like a bit of glamour. Now would such a person have a messy disorganised home? I think not.

And here’s one final technique, which I think is a really obvious but simple one. Get in the mood. It’s hard to get motivated when you feel below par. So think back to all the things that make you feel good – in my case this is listening to pumping dance music :-) But it could easily be spending time with a pet, calling a friend or going for a massage. I think it would be cheating to include something like eating chocolate cake here ;-) So I put on my favourite music while cleaning - something which people have always done but that I never considered.

Using these methods has changed this little aspect of my life, and the knock on effects have been great: I’m cooking nice healthy meals for myself, it felt great when a friend came to my place for the first time the other day and said how cute it was, I can find my (clean) yoga kit in an instant so I'm never late for class, I feel less anxious, the list goes on. It’s only been a month, but for me 3 months is a habit, so if I can keep it up I really think this will be a permanent change. My example might seem like an odd one, but I’m sure the same could be applied to all kinds of nasty habits from nail biting to overeating. Thanks Tony :-)

Poetry and furniture

Despite a love of words and a love of interiors, for me the two don't mix that well. For some reason I've never been into the written word used as interior decor. I just don't get it when I open a design magazine and see the words pasta and vino stencilled onto someone's kitchen walls. Well, I'm going to eat my words (excuse the pun), as I'm totally in love with this coffee table bearing a beautifully carved (well, hammered)poem, from Sticks and Bricks via DesignSponge. I can just imagine running my hands over those lovely words as I rest my mug of tea on the table :-) The poem is 'a summer day' by Mary Oliver and is a sweet reminder of the fleeting beauty of life and how we need to be 'awake' in order to see it in its full gorgeousness.

Friday, 2 July 2010

I rate... Caudalie skincare

I seem to be rating a lot of products lately. It’s not that I’ve been on any huge shopping spree or that companies are gifting me stuff to review (I wish, on both counts) just that I seem to be enjoying many of the little things I own, and as I’m normally so critical of everything, when praise is due I really like to lay it on :-)

I discovered Caudalie a few months back, I think through the cosmetics review site Make Up Alley which I absolutely swear by (I won’t buy any lotion or potion without checking out the reviews there first). It’s a French line of facial and body care based on the powerful anti-oxidant (and therefore anti-wrinkle methinks) properties of grapes. I’ve been using their ‘energizing’ Pulpe Vitaminée first wrinkle fluid for about 3 months now and I swear my skin has improved loads – much brighter, no-more dray patches, no more evil monster-sized spots (though I’ve probably jinxed it by saying that!). My skinprovements could also be down to other things – washing day and night with Dove soap) and doing tantra yoga – no it’s not that type of yoga. We finish off practice with a full body and face massage – done by yourself unfortunately... I was initially a bit grossed out by massaging myself after working out, but I’ve gotten used to it. Whether it’s the yoga, or the soap, or the lotion, I really like Caudalie – everything smells great and the pricing is quite fair I think (it’s more along the price lines of Galenic than Clarins). Also, Madonna uses it! She uses the Premier Cru range for deeper lines, and if it’s good enough for the queen of pop....

Not satisfied with simply slathering on their creams, I would love to go to one of their vinotherapie spas – which employ the benefits of the nutrients in grapes and wine to make you look and feel damn pretty! They have spa in Spain at the Marques de Riscal (famous Spanish winery) hotel in Bilbao, which was designed by none other than Frank Gehry of the Bilbao Guggenheim museum fame. Spa, good wine and orgasmic architecture – I can’t think of a place that suits me more :-)

P.s. Caudalie products are Paraben free. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I understand it’s something good ;-)

The Marques de Riscal hotel - Source

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