This time of year can be brutal. In fact my friend Marco accurately dubbed the time from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day as “The Mean Season”. A time when being single is never more obvious or inconvenient to all around you. And the horrific climax of the mean season should be no surprise… Valentine’s Day. I have never liked Valentine’s Day. I think for me it falls into the category of being told what to do…and when to do it. Also, if you are only reminding the people you love how you feel 1 day of 365 due to the social pressure of a greeting card company than I think you need to re-examine your relationships. In fact, I think I will start a petition to replace Valentine’s Day with a second Halloween, which I personally think is a genius idea.
Brits tend to be far more discrete when it comes to their celebrity worshipping, that is say compared to our Americans friends where there are people literally sitting in folded lawn-chairs outside the stars homes selling maps to their homes. There was no obvious map to the stars in London, and as I am not a tween interested in following some snapchat story about where the latest boyband de-jour might be hanging out I decided to create my own little self guided tour of London celebs and see if I could find the homes of some of London’s elite and infamous. Here is who I found.
Since Downtown Abbey I have become obsessed with British period dramas, a genre I am now addicted to mostly thanks to Mathew Crawley (sigh) and Colin Firth (double sigh) as Mr Darcy. So in my binge watching I discovered you would be hard pressed to find in any aristocratic storyline some outing that didn’t have at least one scene around a shoot or hunt. The British elite, royalty, or even peasants (not pheasants) like myself dress in their scratchy wooly tweed and their rubber wellies as they step out on the English countryside, guns and dogs by their side as they prepare for one of England’s longest standing traditions, the shoot.
I hope and trust 2019 is off to a great start. I was planning on doing Dry January, you know give my liver and some other internal organs a well deserved break…but my only New Year’s Resolution was don’t make any promises you cannot keep. So sorry Ban-uary, I am coming to you with a glass of Chardonnay by my side, 4:45 BST.
As I was recapping 2018 it was a big year of change for me. I have moved house, I lost 20 pounds (although gain five back over the holidays) and I have officially changed my Facebook status to single by dropping another 170 pounds. I have a shiny new outlook on my life and I know this time is my time..and that makes me feel happy and empowered like the skinny legend I have become.
Like Neil Sedaka sang, breaking up is hard to do. Now I know that not all breakups are created equal. There is the amicable “it’s not you it’s me” to the “I curse you and your entire bloodline” but the principles are the same to getting past it and moving on. But even if you knew your conscience uncoupling was inventible, a ticking time bomb it can still hurt like a son of a bitch. It can cause the strongest of us to lose ourselves in a vat of Ben & Jerry’s with vodka chasers all the whilst singing All By Myself into a brush handle. Now in my humble opinion that’s a totally acceptable solution for the short term but trust me sooner than later you will actually need to wash your hair, leave your flat, and get your ass into the land of the living. So what is the fastest way to do that?
London is known for its drinking culture. Raising a pint or two with your mates as you unwind from your day, a shaken not stirred martini or just cuz it’s Tuesday. Nothing in my opinion is more British than a friendly “tying one on”. So it is not surprising that London took 3 of the top 5 spots at The World’s 50 Best Bars competition this year. The judges comprised of more than 500 drink experts around the world. I convinced a girlfriend (I think all I had to say was “cocktail”) and we were off to explore this list and see for ourselves what makes them the World’s Best Bars.
Ever since I read Eat, Pray, Love (confession, I never got passed the “Eat” part) I was obsessed with Italy and the idea of exploring that incredible country. The food, the wine and the glourious picturesque landscape. As I was needing to make a hasty retreat out of London (a blog for another time) and looking for a journey that was not only great for the soul but a treat for the rest of my senses I decided to do a three day solo trip to Cinque Terre, my own mini version of Eat Pray Love. I am calling it “Eat, Drink, Repeat and I think I decided I want Chelsea Handler to play me in my movie adaption unless of course if Charlize Theron is dying to play me.
London is a ever fascinating town. There is always something to see or something going on. No time is this more true than in the spring. They refer to May and June as "the season". Royal events, galas, Royal Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon and regal garden parties. Of course the dress, protocol and the invites to attend are strict and are hard to come by. But I am going to let you in on how this Canadian girl came to London and got invited to these royal events... became the Queen's biggest stalker ...AND more importantly how you can too.
When you talk about a bucket list adventure for me riding the Orient Express was right on top of that list. I mean what other trip has been at the centre of a murder mystery best selling novel and several movies. The Orient Express is everything that you would think it would be. Glamorous, romantic and a very special adventure. Come onboard as I take you inside the world's most famous luxury train ride, The Orient Express. I even found a mysterious man with a moustache to rival Poirot.
Set aside the coffee, this is a job for alcohol. What happened to me??
I mean my dad did warn me, one day you are going to go to bed and when you wake you'll be 50. Maybe I am freaking out as I have a birthday looming. I’m in my 50’s... but I still feel like I’m in my 20’s…until I hang out with 20 years olds…then it is like nope…I am in my 50’s. I mean who the hell is this person staring me down in the mirror…wait is that a chin hair? Shit really???
I can try and see that silver lining and feel grateful that wrinkles don’t hurt (physically) but in the end I am not 20 anymore and not all of that is bad. Just recently I was having that conversation with a friend…the one that asks,
"If you could go back in time what advice would you give your 20 year old self?
The list was interesting. Aside from invest in Apple and buy real estate the conversation was a cathartic one ripe with the wisdom that can only come from a having some mud on the tires. It has been said, life’s tragedy is we get old too soon and wise too late. How very true.
Like most little girls I had a very strong imagination growing up. I played with dolls, I dressed up like a princess and I imagined (pretty much solely thanks to Disney) that someday my prince would come, riding his white horse and whisk me away from my little split-level bungalow in North Toronto to his fabulous castle with a Michelin Star chef and a full time masseuse... and of course live happily ever after. But what every Disney Princess did not know was that behind the castle gates, after that sun had set there lurked the in-laws...ohhhh the Royal in-laws. With their pending pre-nup, royal wedding planner and most importantly the countless rules and regal protocol for marrying into their family.
LONDON'S MOST FAMOUS ALBUM COVER LOCATIONS ~ RE-VISITED
It was Mick Jagger who said anything worth doing is worth over-doing. I would like to add that it is also worth redoing and revisiting. So with my strong love of music and exploring London I went out to re-visit the locations of some of the most famous album covers in music history and see just how they look today. Some were not that easy to find... but others you could not miss.
I have enough clothes and shoes...said no woman EVER!
They call it "retail therapy" for a reason and that's because shopping releases endorphins, reduces stress and is cheaper than a psychiatrist. Shopping may even help you live longer (like you need another reason). So in the name public health I have incorporated shopping into my daily healthy lifestyle and started exploring London's markets.
I love the feel of the markets, they have textures, grit, smells, and personalities that you are not going to find strolling down Oxford or Regents Street. Don’t get me wrong, I love that shopping experience too but it you really want to get to know London you cannot do that without experiencing her fabulous markets. You noticed I referred to London in the feminine…that’s because anyone who has so many shoes has to be a girl.
BRACE YOURSELF... MY "HAPPY AS SHIT" PLAYLIST WILL CHANGE YOUR DAY
I am going to share with you something that only one other person on the planet knows about me, and because of it he thinks I am a little crazy. Every morning I when I wake up I hear music in my head. No, not voices but actual songs. Actually they are never the whole song but rather a continuous repeat of the chorus generally. Sometimes the song in my head makes sense as I may have heard it somewhere the day before but other times, most times it a random song that comes out of nowhere and will haunt me all day until some other song replaces it. This morning's song was Hell's Bells by ACDC, no idea where that came from...... I think they call that an earworm or brainworm where some involuntary piece of music (usually the same 8 bars) continually repeats in my brain until I go insane....but for me it starts the moment I open my eyes.
As a North American living in London you have a certain vantage point, you're able to see what is uniquely British AND what is not. While the Americans or Canadian's tend to look for the newest, biggest and shiniest next thing the British celebrate the oldest, dustiest and longest standing. It is proudly written in gold glided letters outside store fronts "established in" or on a historical plaque telling you who was "nearly done in" at this place hundreds of years before you were even born.
I have heard it said that London's history can be measured by two things, churches and pubs. Since I am pretty much an atheist (unless of course if I am flying through turbulence) I thought why not visit the oldest places in London where one can throw one back, get sozzled and wet your whistle...
LONDON'S OLDEST PUBS
So here is where things get a little cloudy like a pint of Hoegaarden. London's oldest pub? It depends on how you define "oldest"? Is it the oldest name...building...location... license...? Trying to find the definitive answer could lead oneself to drink so I have decided on a collection of the oldest noteworthy pubs of "ye olde" distinction. Just so you know the term "ye olde" is just marketing.
A Day With London Fashion Designer Charli Cohen and Suki, Her Instagram Famous Pomeranian
London and Fashion. Two words that go together like ….er...London and Fashion. I love fashion and its crazy scene, its colourful people and its ever changing landscape. I was raised by a mother who was a fashion model turned photographer, my father a fashion editor/writer and I started my early days as a model in Italy followed by short career as a wardrobe stylist in the film industry in Canada. I was surrounded, raised breathed and weaned in fashion's colourful flamboyant fabric.
So when a opportunity came up to bid on a “Day With A London Fashion Designer” for UNICEF, well it was in my mind sold before the auction had even finished. I wanted this. I thought this would be a fun experience. You know, get a few insider tips, a brief fashion update…and a little bit of a fresh perspective on the world of London fashion as told from the inside. What I didn't expect was to be impressed with this new generation of the conscientious designer, and how through this ethically moral compass fashion and its people are being redefined.
FEAR. That is what I feel every time I ride that first chair lift of a ski trip.
I only learned to ski in my forties so never possessed that fearless, “throw yourself down the hill” childlike freestyle. Skiing was outside my comfort zone and it did not come naturally due my total lack of any inherited athletic ability (or so I tell myself).
Pushing through my fear I learned to ski. It allowed me to experience some incredible parts of the world I would have otherwise missed. All the while creating and redefining my own personal bests. I felt highs that can only come from overcoming fear and emerging out the other side victorious. But fear is multi-purposed. Push through OR beware? As I get older those lines are getting blurred, not nearly as obvious as they used to be. Fear is there to stop you from doing stupid dumbass shit, right?
So How Do You Know What Fear Is Trying To Tell You?
They have gotten you through messy breakups, given you honest fashion advise (sometimes even unsolicited) been there to let you vent..and vent...and vent, hold your hair back when the Tequila shots are making their way back up, got you home safely, cried when you cried and made you laughed when all you wanted to do is curl up with your other best friends Ben & Jerry and drown your sorrows in a tub of Chuncky Monkey. Girlfriends are your life source.. you could show up at their door at 3:00 in the morning with a dead body and they say nothing as they go and grab their shovel.
So now here you are, in a new city and a zillion miles from anyone you knows you shouldn't drink tequila. So you my friend need to get out there and find yourself some new local girlfriends...start dating for friends.
Of course like most things in life I do expect that a little rain must fall but no one warned me I would have benefited greatly from building an ark. I lost both my parents in 2017. My dad on the 2nd day in January and my mother in May on my birthday. They had been married 56 years, 4 months, 26 days. As with any loss the "firsts' of birthdays, holidays or special occasions are particular hard but when it comes to Christmas... well that was my mother's favourite time of the year and her absence is resoundingly deafening.
So how do you do it? How do you find the joy in the holiday season after losing someone you have loved so very much?
If you are anything like me the lack of sunlight as you approach the dead of winter is so unbelievably depressing. Living in London it actually starts getting dark at 3:30 in November AND we haven't even got through the worst of it. So what is that saying, make hay when the sun shines? So in order to survive the long, dark winters you have to make the most of the short sunny days and a road trip is exactly the way to do it.
London has always been an exciting, creative city. Its history, art, culture and subculture has shaped the world scene today and I am not just taking about The Beatles or that Grandad Boy-Band, The Rolling Stones. I was very interested in learning that some of my favourite things (insert Julie andrews singing here) were born out of London.
I have always consider myself a student of the world, you know... open to celebrate the vast colourful differences between one world, culture and traditions and my own. I have been fortunate enough to travel different parts of the globe and I willingly drink in those cultural differences between countries, ....until now.
You think you have learned all there is to know about London history? Been to every museum, taken every tour, listened to every audio guide about the Tudors "this" and the Stuarts "that". Well until you start digging in the London mud, turning over a few rocks your education on London is totally incomplete
Ever bored with London? Ok, that is a trick question. But sometimes you need a get away. Turn down the volume, unplug, breathe fresh air and exhale. New Forest is just the wonderful escape to do just that. Just a two hour drive south of the hustle and bustle of London where the only traffic you are likely to hit are aherd of wild horses taking their own sweet time crossing the street.
An estimated 2 million people descended for two days for The Notting Hill Carnival, one of the largest Caribbean festivals in Europe. With thousands of dancers, performers and some of the biggest and (loudest) sound systems you can carry on the back of a truck, I had to go and let my inner "island girl" out.
I know if you are old enough you will remember exactly where you were when you heard the news that Princess Diana was dead. AUGUST 31, 1997. I can hardly believe that it has been 20 years. I remember setting my alarm to watch the fairytale wedding of Princess Diana to Prince Charles like 750 million others and sadly setting that same alarm 16 years later to watch her funeral.
For those who know me even a little you would know my obsession with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint has gotten waaaay out of hand. In fact there are family members who have suggested that they are concerned for me and my mental well being when I run out of things to paint. Well luckily that day is not here yet. So I thought I would share my obsession and take you through step by step my latest Annie Sloan Chalk Paint project as I repurpose someone else's junk, two old side tables into my personal treasure...all while not spilling a drop of rosé.
I might not be in Canada celebrating my homeland's 150th birthday but boy oh boy did London step up and throw a great party. Trafalgar Square was full of Canadians (and friends who love poutine and beer) as thousands joined in to celebrate Canada Day.