If, like me, you are a fan of the well drawn cozy mystery, then Brocanteers, this morning you are in for a treat.
One of the things I miss most about my Mum, is our shared love of a good book. So many hours were spent comparing the contents of our Kindle and swapping paperbacks (but never the dog-eared kind: for Mum simply refused to read anything that looked like it may have been read before so all books sent her way had to be pristine or they would find their way to the bin!) and it was through her that I discovered Agatha Raisin and a fined honed appreciation for a well-drawn cozy mystery.
Now let me state here and now, cozy mysteries abound. There are endless variations on the murder most horrid theme, with amateur sleuths popping up everywhere from the library to the bakery, but most, in my humble opinion, are really rather rubbish. A strain to get through as you battle with frequent late-night doses of the “I really don’t cares” and grumble to yourself about the often, frankly appalling writing.
And then you happen across something wonderful. Or rather your Mum’s lovely sister, Barbie, does and is kind enough to step into you Mum’s shoes and guide you towards a set of cosy mysteries that have you guffawing and chuckling under the stars as you sit in your reading chair on an oh so hot night.
For with T.E.Kinsey’s Lady Hardcastle series we are blessed with fun, wit, mystery, a hilarious, heartwarming friendship between the two main characters (the Lady herself and her companion Flo), that makes a mockery of that which traditionally exists between employer and employee, and a cast of peripheral characters I am convinced have been drawn partly to poke fun at the genre of the cozy mystery itself.
What is so very special about the Lady Hardcastle mysteries, is a rather beguiling combination of easy read banter and a mystery that leaves you guessing, alongside some perfectly drawn (and often laugh out loud funny) dialogue and a set of characters you simply cannot wait to learn more about. For Lady Hardcastle is a woman with a past only hinted at. A woman blessed with derring do and a sharp imagination, while her companion Flo is the prefect foil for her, with her slightly sarcastic tongue and ability to reign in her employer’s more preposterous flights of fantasy.
So while I have much to do today, with a list as long as my arm and jobs coming out of my rather annoying, and frankly quite deaf ears, please let it be known that I would rather be hopping around the villages of Gloucestershire with my new favorite amateur sleuths.
Lady Hardcastle and the really rather fabulous Flo are quite the finest company for a Summers afternoon. So read ’em and chuckle.
Get the Lady Hardcastle mysteries on Amazon.Com here and Amazon.Co.Uk here. (P.S: They are currently FREE with a Kindle Unlimited Subscription, something I cannot recommend highly enough if you are a voracious reader.)
It’s official. I have bad taste.
Oh yes indeedy. If you have been questioning my taste for a while now, there is now proof that those who consider themselves the arbitrators of good and bad taste have got my card marked. You see when the designers on the Big Brother set this year were producing the cottage of nightmares, I do believe they must have come round and rooted about in my linen cupboard.
The set this year is designed as a rather pink village. Complete with beauty salon (the bathroom) and cafe (the kitchen) and there are two bedrooms: one an ode to good taste in peach and blue and the other, the graffitied, apparently abandoned delight you see above.
Now let it be said that I will no more apologize for watching Big Brother, than I will for who I vote in the General Election (heck, that could start a kerfuffle), but even I felt a bit discombobulated when I realized that the designers had layered the beds of those supposed to be suffering, with duvet sets, quilts and cushions that I OWN.
Yup. I am Alison and I have shocking taste.
Case in point? This moss green velvet cushion I grabbed at rather greedily in Marks and Spencer a few months ago, and ran home to pop on a chair in a rather redundant corner of my bedroom. Thrilled with myself I was. Thrilled!
And now here I am, suffering the slings and arrows of the TV set designer who has summarily declared that such a cushion and the other items I am frankly not willing to own up to possessing now, are the stuff of nightmares and will be used to PUNISH those housemates who will be denied the pleasure of true luxury.
The shame of it. The absolute shame of it.
For me, here at BrocanteHome, 2017 has been all about streamlining my business so that you my readers can enjoy the site without having to do battle with complicated navigation, or the kind of techie problems that all to frequently make the site evaporate altogether (damn you Bluehost!)…
You see over the past few months I have come to the shocking realization that I am not Superwoman and though this is a fact that utterly appalls me, I know that if Brocantehome is to continue to grow (and Oh Me Darlings thank-you, it’s finally growing: an overnight success it was not!), we all need continuity and simple ways of accessing all my lovely content.
The process started with The School of Life – a place for all my memberships and digital products to live and I know it has made a huge difference to all of you, and has meant that I am now able to focus solely on content without the constant worry that you were struggling to access everything in one convenient place.
Then came The Pep-Talks, currently exclusive to my Salon Members but something I have found so utterly rewarding because I know YOU have found them so very helpful, that over the next week I will be opening them to all, so everyone can have the chance to spend an hour or two with me on Skype working through their domestic issues on the road to a life less ordinary…
And finally today I bring you The Edit. A collection of all the scrumptious, puttery little somethings we covet as Brocanteers. While there have been versions of The Edit before, I have never quite thrown myself into creating a place to browse both the whimsical and the domestic practical in the same way, and over the past few weeks I have been steadily putting together a collection of Amazon recommendations and stock of my own (yikes!) so that you can discover the Brocante best of all things lovely, in one pretty place. Yup – from this day forward I am navigating the interwebs so you don’t have to…
The Edit is currently divided in to nine “Collections”…
The Comfort Drawer
In The Comfort Drawer you will find a collection of all the little somethings we need when we choose to practice extreme self-care and overwhelming personal kindness. From aromatherapy oils, to eye-pillows, coloring books and pink chocolate, there is something for every occasion: whether we want to indulge, wallow or throw our very own little pity party…
In The Library you will find the book recommendations that live in the sidebar and will on a weekly basis make their way in to a dedicated collection so you can always browse for literary inspiration should an early night and a cup of cosy cocoa come-a-calling.
The Housekeeper’s Cupboard
In The Housekeeper’s Cupboard there is a growing collection of good quality domestic tools and organic cleaning products, because if we are to truly elevate the art of housekeeping, we should do it with the very best tools available to instill a sense of worth and pride in our daily efforts…
In The Boudoir we focus on both sleep and intimacy. Because we are whole women and both are essential to our well-being. So you will find everything from great pillows to mood enhancing massage oil, to make the very most of the time you spend in your bedroom.
In The Wardrobe you will find a tiny collection of pretty dresses, vintage inspired accessories and retro bikinis. Chosen for their sheer pretty, The Wardrobe will feature an eclectic collection of desirable pieces for our vintage-loving souls…
In The Apothecary there is a myriad collection of oils, lotions and potions to help you create a well-being routine that enhances both health and beauty. Because our well-being matters, using good products is the kindest way to look after ourselves and buying something fragrant and scrumptious is quite the finest way to treat ourselves.
In The Desk you will find a darling little range of desk accessories, planners, cards, journals and cameras. whether you simply sit down to write a letter or run an entire business at your desk, there is something pretty and oh so useful for everyone.
In The Mat you will find a collection of products collated to enhance your spiritual well-being. With everything from the best of yoga-mats to crystals, oils, jewelry and tea, you can start to build the kind of life-enhancing rituals that shore up your mind and help you achieve balance.
And finally in The Pantry you will find a collection of healthy (but indulgent) basics and scrumptious little edible treats. Because life isn’t worth living without good food now is it?
Each week, there will be new products and collections added to The Edit and I hope you will come to use it as a starting point when you find yourself in need of a little domestic retail therapy…
Thank-you as always for continuing to support BrocanteHome. I am always seeking to give back as much as I am capable of in gratitude and as the years go by my vision for how life can be for all of us, becomes firmer.
This then is a life less ordinary.
Now here’s the thing: I rather feel as though I am betraying my cause if I do not announce that it is NOT ok to be a Crap Housewife, but oh what a hypocrite I would be.
Because someday’s I too, am a crap housewife. Some days my sausage casserole looks like Jessica Rowe’s. And yup, mince has long been my fallback ingredient on the days when I would rather boil my head than cook up something truly tantalising.
So, umm, yeah. I’m not exactly advocating crap housewifery. I’m just saying that some days we are all channeling a little Jessica and it would serve us well to accept it. You got me??
A house full of broken glass. An Anthropologie tumbler destroyed by little hands. A glass lamp shattered across the living room. A lantern flung across the garden by the wind and smashed in to tiny pieces. But then they do say bad luck comes in threes don’t they?
A weekend abundant in boyish masculine energy. Finley, Stevie, Gabriel and Clarry. A parade of scooters round the garden. Feet, big and little charging up the stairs. Chocolate stuffed in to their pockets, though they think I cannot see it.
Clarry. Blonde and pure. Two nights sleeping next to him in our bed. Ste evicted to make way for this little darling. His steady breathing a kind of meditation. Remembering the heat of a little one’s body. The weight of him as he drifts off to sleep. Remembering what it was to Mother so intensely. To see wonder at everything. A bath red with bubbles he shrieks with joy about because Alison has strawberry water! Irrational delight because afterwards I wrap him up in London Tower Pyjamas still warm from the dryer, and he declares them a hug and ask to stay for another ten days because he love my house and he loves my Finley and my bath is the best bath in the world.
Today though I need strawberry bath all of my own. In fact hiding in the bath all day long might just be the answer because last week I bit in to a piece of toasted pitta bread and my back tooth crumbled. So today I have to have it filled and while the rest of the world attends the dentist without palava, I hate it with a vengeance and have worked myself up into something of a frenzy.
On days like this I feel like the little girl I am not. On days like this I want my Mum. Because Dad has taken the boys home, and Ste has sensibly refused to take the day off to accompany me to the dentist and has assured me that fear isn’t real and that the dentist will be kind and yes, I will of course manage the big new car and I will soon get used to pressing a button instead of pulling a handbrake and won’t I be downright thrilled with myself when I arrive home in the big car with a tooth filled having survived both ordeals? And I say yes and consider smothering him or keeping Finn off school so that there will be someone to hold my hand.
But of course I don’t. Because I am preposterous but I am not that preposterous. And so I get out of bed and tidy the weekend away. I carry my latest vice – empty, teeny cans of Fevertree Mediterranean Tonic Water – to the recycling bin and tut at the length of the grass because the lawnmower has died and we cannot find a gardener for love nor money to manage that which we don’t seem to be able to find time for. Then head back into the house to stand stock still to try to work out where the music is coming from until I decide it must be in my own head.
A busy week ahead. Work piling up and digging me between the ribs. A house that needs a hug. A lamp to be shopped for to replace that which was my Mums and that I will miss for always. Early nights much needed to shake off a headache above my right eye resisting the repeated administration of lavender. The delivery of a dishwasher we have been losing our marbles without. A book making me gasp with so many truths. The gluten free diet my bizarrely sweaty endocrinologist is now insisting upon because my gluten antibodies are raging and my thyroid apparently eating itself. A night in a Brazillian restaurant planned for Friday with my bestest ladies and the weekend at a beer festival with my Barbie.
Would it be terribly ungrateful to say that sometime I long to step off the hamster wheel that is own, lovely life?
But now the dentist. A couple of Kalms popped and my own pep-talk on a loop in my brain.
All shall be well and all shall be well and all shall be well. Won’t it?
There are things in this life that I decide without which, life will not be worth living. This is partly because I am a spoilt little (big) Madam, and partly because I am a Drama Queen. Not for me the “wouldn’t it be nice to haves…” of this world.
No Siree, I am right there deciding that if something is wonderful I have to have it or else everyone I know will have to suffer the slings and arrows of my outrageous mis-fortune.
(These kind of ludicrous dramatics are why you love me right??)
So anyways I was losing an hour or six to wandering around Facebook when I happened across the Penna Keyboard and within an instant I was suffering from a bout of the got to have its so bad that I developed an earache.
It is a retro inspired, wireless, bluetooth keyboard for your iPad. It comes in beautiful colors, with old-fashioned chrome key caps. And better than that it makes typewriter noises when you type! For isn’t the world a lesser place now modern keyboards are so sulkily silent? Isn’t writing that much harder without the tap, tap, ding to give form to our words? And wouldn’t it be downright fabulous to have a keyboard that didn’t look so terribly modern in our scrumptiously vintage houses?
So yes. I want one and I want one NOW. Never mind that I don’t actually own an iPad.
Yes. Never mind that particular, very minor detail.
Money. Ouch. Yep that’s all. Ouch.
I envy those people who can stretch a tenner out for a week and started saving when they were six. But it just isn’t me. I can’t quite manage frugal, because frugal seems so darn dull. But I am now a fully-fledged grown-up and there is just no getting round it: one cannot avoid making sensible financial choices all ones life. So there comes a point when frankly becoming sensible overnight, despite drama, death and all the other things that are sent to try us, is simply not something we can afford to dither about it.
And so Ste and I decided to get sensible.
It wasn’t pretty. There was much argument about what sensible looks like and it turns out we have vastly different opinions about what constitutes essential, but we are mostly on the same page when it comes to how we want our future to look and we are both committed (after a season of dilly-dallying, job loss, moving house and worry) to securing that future for ourselves and our boys.
Six months later we are in a much, much better place. Six months later we are taking money very seriously indeed (beyond the wine bill!) and though it takes more commitment and daily attention to detail than I had visualized. month on month our situation is improving.
We began by learning about money. We read and read and read. (My favorite – Kate Northrup’s Money: A Love Story and Ste’s -Tony Robbin’s Money: Master the Game). Ste took out a subscription to The Investors Chronicle and did a crash course in stocks and shares and is now having a fine old time cautiously dabbling with his pension pot, and I took a long, hard look at the potential of BrocanteHome and had terribly grown-up conversations with accountants and book-keepers and bank managers.
Because we are grown-ups. And this isn’t about managing our pocket money but about making sure we can eat when we are stoop-backed and wrinkly. Because money is energy and it shouldn’t be the thing standing between us and true contentment.
The other five things we did…
We Became Slaves to YNAB.
I know. You have heard me rave about YNAB before. And that is because it is FABULOUS. I have been using it on and off for a few years now, but never quite with the same commitment that Ste and I are now using it. We check in daily, have created a month’s spending grace (through sheer hard work!), have pots in which to save for everything from a holiday to our wedding, update the app’s on our phone whenever we buy anything at all, and reconcile all bank accounts each and every evening so we don’t miss a thing…
We Agreed to Share Everything (Almost).
This is I’m sure the cause of much debate at the beginning of the financial relationship of every new (middle-aged!) couple. Whether to have joint accounts or maintain our independence. In the end we decided to have a bit of both. Because we like to have our cake and eat it. A joint account was necessary to make YNAB work smoothly and to be able to track exactly what this life of ours costs, but we both saw the necessity to have our own money too. The kind that doesn’t need to be explained, but is also available should it be needed for the greater good.
We Joined The Utility Warehouse.
I wasn’t happy about this at first. I was in fact deeply skeptical about hanging all our hats on the one hatstand, but The Utility Warehouse has simplified EVERYTHING to such a degree that I cannot help but rave about it. Not only have we saved significant money by having phone, broadband, gas and electricity on one bill, we have now added our mobile phone contracts and home insurance to the same bill and the joy of monitoring only ONE BILL is unsurpassed. Not to mention the free light-bulbs throughout the house, the cashback card, the Gourmet Society Card and much more besides.
Sometimes somethings really are so good, they are true.
We Made Big Lists
This is something Ste and I have done almost since we met: once monthly we sit down with our BIG LIST and focus on exactly what we want out of life. We add anything and everything from a new car to finding a gardener and then we close our pink book and put it away until the next month. And here’s the thing: somehow we manifest our little dreams.
This has been astonishing to both of us. But each month as we tick through the things we have created together as a couple we kind of sit and stare at each other in amazement. It is I suppose the Law of Attraction at work, but even if you don’t believe in matters of an airy-fairy nature, making a Big List helps you focus as a couple on what you both want out of this life.
And We Stopped Playing Small.
If you have experienced financial trauma of any kind you will know that thereafter there is the potential to play it safe for always thereafter. To imagine that somehow you do not deserve better. That better is scary so better the devil you know and all that jazz, right?
But Ste and I have been playing small all our lives and it was time to swap up the goldfish bowl. To believe that we could be more, do more and have more. To believe in ourselves and to stop harboring the frankly ludicrous notion that a stint in debtors jail was just around the corner if we so much as dared to dream…
So we gave each other a good talking to. We made plans. We stopped leaving money to chance and good fortune and decided to believe that we too, were finally grown-up enough to create the life we want.
And the upshot of all this? Today we are picking up a new, straight off the forecourt, car. A shiny, white object of loveliness that was one of the first things we wrote on our Big List when we were both chugging around in sheds on wheels. We dreamed it up and we made it happen.
I am so proud of us.
Fit to burst with excitement in fact. Mostly because this new car has got massaging seats and frankly I may just spend the rest of my days just driving around the vicinity for the sheer pleasure of it…
All of a sudden I’m a social elephant. Known for laughing too loudly and falling asleep on the sofa when the taxi takes an age to arrive and I am up way past my usually preposterously early bedtime. Not only are we attending parties past ourselves but we are also, spurred on by the success of our last effort, in the midst of organizing another.
Oh yes. Not content with nearly sending myself to an early grave throwing the last “NOT AN ENGAGEMENT PARTY”, I am here to tell you that Ste and I have agreed to throw another. The conversation went thus:
Ste: Lets have a do for my birthday.
Me: Maybe a barbecue?
Ste: A BARBERDOO!
Rachael: Lets make it a Gin Barberdoo!
And so it was that the Gin Barberdoo was born and I went into an organisational flurry and it was declared that each participating couple would attend carrying a different bottle of gin and we would have a little tasting session and thus find ourselves throwing our very own Gin Festival in our own back garden!
I swear too much fun is going to kill me. And frankly I don’t know what I did to deserve such a busy social life.
But anyways, I decided that if I was going to do it I was going to it properly and so I opened up a board in my very own copy of Trello for Housekeepers and set about planning with aplomb.
First up the invitations. While word of mouth is my usual modus operandi, this time I worked in conjunction with Paperless Post to fashion the perfect Gin Barberdoo email invitation, to be issued in a timely fashion to all those we are inviting. A rather darling way of issuing invitations because one does not have to remember to buy stamps and troll to the post office nor engage in long phone conversations merely to invite your favorite peoples. (I’m social, but honestly? I’m just not that social.) Win win right?
Oh so much more than that actually. For not only can you customize card designs from everybody from Oscar De La Renta to Kate Spade, you can also add pretty backdrops, choose your envelope and line and address your card to your chosen recipient. And so I played with all manner of designs, for in among all the many cards for everything from garden partys to weddings, to baby showers and birthdays there was quite a collection for those of us throwing barbeques!
But I am Alison and I am nothing if not floral and so it was that I settled on a happy, summery, floral design and customized it to feature the words Gin Barberdoo and lo and behold I was issuing invitations for our very own gin festival!
Next up, came the gin. For here’s the thing: we cannot have the world and his wife turning up with the same bottle of Bombay Sapphire when there is a world of beautiful gins to be tasted: and so a kind of gin themed Secret Santa was organised and our invitees chose a number and got a corresponding gin match and thus we can be sure that there will be a range of gins to taste alongside the fabulous collection of mixers I am currently in hot pursuit of (Aromatic Fevertree y’all?)…
All this and the food. For people who plan on tasting a multitude of gins need something hefty with which to line their stomachs and while most barbecues are a feast of burgers and sausages, this is a Barberdoo and thus things have to be done a little differently and so grilled mackerel, chill king prawns, panzanella and grilled halloumi it is…
Now if only I could invite you all…
This post was brought to you in co-operation with Paperless Post.