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Miracle Mascara and Fab Facial Oil

Today, I bring you something for the eyes, and something for the skin.

Everyone brace themselves – I think I’ve found my perfect mascaras. I know, I know – you’ve all been waiting for this day, wandering and hoping. I want to thank you all for supporting me through my struggles, it’s been emotional.

Mascara is my absolute make-up staple. As a natural blonde with grey/blue eyes, my lashes are practically invisible so I need help to make my peepers pop. Many brands have served well, but few manage to achieve the pretty, fluttering effect I’m looking for, and all too many have furnished me with the dreaded clumped spider look.
Back in August, I asked my sister for some mascara for my birthday and Em presented me with Mascara Terrybly in Moka Brown, ‘a growth booster mascara’ from By Terry. The packaging claims it is a ‘lash-Lengthening intensive serum’ that will transform lashes day after day. It also uses ‘Lumicoat® Care Technology’………which is probably a thing.

I’ll admit, I was dubious; I haven’t used brown mascara since borrowing a cheap one from my mother and ended up looking like I’d put mud in my eyes. This new box promised the gloop would condition and boost growth while it decorated, but it wasn’t the big ‘volumising! Lengthening! Separating! Orgasming!’ advertising extravaganza I was used to.

I didn’t use it for a couple of weeks until one day, when I was in a hurry and was in the mood for minimalism, I gave it a go. A couple of coats and a feline flick of eyeliner, and I was out the door. The masarca slid on very nicely, with no clumping, and the colour was a luscious natural brown. In the seconds I spent applying it, I was impressed but too rushed to pay proper attention.
Cut to me in the bathroom at work. While washing my hands, I glanced in the mirror and literally did a double take. I mean, obviously I am constantly gorgeous, but I couldn’t believe my actual eyes. My lashes were bright, delicate and pretty. I don’t know how, but the mascara had given me the sort of fluttery, girlish eyes I’d been looking for. Perhaps it was the colour or the boosting wonder tonic, but FINALLY I could pretend this is how I look first thing in the morning.
The more I use the mascara, the better my lashes look. I don’t normally believe fancy packaging and claims of revolutionary technology, but this stuff clearly works. Such a fantastic find does not come cheap – it’scurrently £32 online from Space NK. But the results are remarkable.

But a woman can’t live on day mascara alone! And that’s why, when I was recently in duty-free territory en route back from Vegas, I bagged me a tube of Lancome’s Hypnose Doll Eyes mascara in black.

The key to  a good mascara is often the brush; the Doll’s Eyes wand is a thick cone with a traditional, hearty bristles (I’m not a fan of rubber brushes these days). It coats every lash and gives a full fan effect, without clumping or overloading. It is lovely on its own, but is particularly good for enhancing a smokey, feline eye.
Lancome is a touch more reasonable on the wallet, at £22.50online, though Lancome frequently has excellent special offers in department stores. Bag a tester whenever you can.

And now, for my final thought. Or product. Whatever.

It is….facial oil.
I have previously told you ALL to moisturise every day and night, no matter your skin condition. You need to look after your skin as early as you can, or you will be sobbing about your wrinkles long before the rest of us.
One of my secret weapons has been the occasional use of facial oil at night. Massage a few drops into your face and neck before bed, and wake up crease-free.
Last month, I was invited to a Neal’s Yard Party by the lovely Miscriant and discovered the sensation that is the Rose Facial Oil. I am big fan of Neal’s Yard products (read Miscriant’s round-up of their work here), as they are organic and very good quality. Their thicker than usual lotions and creams do take a little while to get used to if you have sensitive skin, but I don’t know anyone who has not been converted after a couple of weeks of use.
The Rose Facial Oil was an obvious choice for me, as I knew my current stash of facial oil was running low. This concoction is outstanding (it also has a handy tincture dropper in the lid), and I’ve been treating my skin to it at the end of busy days and even longer nights. Every time I wake up with incredibly dewy, softer than silk skin. Use it, ladies, and thank me later.
Currently £18.50 online, but I strongly recommend you host a NY party for your friends as you will get a lot of great testers and can sample their many products.
Don’t feel like shelling out for the fancy stuff? For an even cheaper option, pierce a capsule of evening primrose oil with a pin, squeeze onto your fingertips and massage into your face. This version is a bit rich, so don’t use more than one capsule. 
Here endeth the lesson.

Grim Visages – Face Painting for Grown-Ups

Some people let their inner child out at Christmas. I let mine out at Halloween.

And also when I’m drinking gin and eating chicken at 1am and I find out Psycho is on TV.
My delightful friend Al (follow her on Twitter @algriffs) took a jaunt to the British Library at the end of October for a special evening party celebrating their sensational exhibition Terror & Wonder: The Gothic Imagination.
Terror & Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, by British Library
Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination (Pic from The British Library)

The invitation was to The Sorting, and promised a funeral-inspired experience with actors, music, DJs, bar and a late night opening of the exhibition.
And there was more: “We invite you to be the guest of honour at an extraordinary funeral: your own! Do you dare to go on?
“An appointment at the funeral parlour with the local undertaker awaits before you discover your final fate. Will you be a saint or sinner? Angel or Devil? Join other travelling souls as they negotiate their way through the macabre afterlife in this fun and exciting experience created by award-wining theatre company, Les Enfants Terribles.
“Humility is key as we invite you to atone for your sins and purify your soul through the seven levels of purgatory.”
And one of my favourite bands – Tankus The Henge – were playing, and I was damned if I would miss out.
Before we could attend, we needed suitable attire. Al and I agreed to go with doll-like & dark fairy macabre outfits: black puff-ball skirts, boots and heels, big hair and Nanny Ogg style-tights. But clothes would not do alone. So we sought out a local expert – my sister Emily, face painter extraordinaire.
Em is an English teacher by day but also does traditional story-telling at kids’ parties and festivals in her spare time (as she is a very talented orator). To branch out, she started learning face painting and has become extremely good at it. This angers me, as I cannot draw for shit.
Here are some of her designs.

See? She also sings too, in a band called Curious Hour. It ain’t fair.

When Al and I arrived, Em was in the middle of her own Halloween party for her son Leo and his friends at her London home but she still made time for us.

Her son Leo is four in January so it’s sort of the first Halloween he can really appreciate. I’ll be honest, being at at the ones’ party…was fantastic. I love Halloween as it was our family’s favourite holiday when I was a youngster. We loved dressing up, we loved the darkness, we loved the games, the cackling, the scary music, the grim costumes. Above all, we were macabre – Em and I didn’t do cutesy stuff. We did ghost stories and horror films. To see Leo taking part in this family tradition filled my heart with joy.

Also Em and husband Andy instantly handed us a glass of wine when we entered, saying ‘trust us, you’ll need this’.
Time was not with us, so Em gave us a crash course in grim make up. She gave us both primer so the base would stay up for longer. I then applied my own base foundation (Bare Minerals) and very dark smokey eye make-up, before Em added a pale, ghostly base. 
So far so basic, but then came the blending. Using dark brown, she hollowed out my eyes, my cheek bones, my nose, and my clavical (a crucial addition I would not have thought of myself). She also shaded my forehead and hairline.

The Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloweenThe Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloweenThe Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloween

This was the effect. Deathly, no?

The Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloween

Then came the time for the stitches. Em had found a design for a Bride of Frankenstein look, which she whipped up in a lightening speed for the two of us. 
A red, angry line for the gash and silver white marks to represent the painful ‘pinch’ marks of the staples. 
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween

Masterful work.
During this time, Leo had found the candy stash. Em and Andy strictly limit his sugar on most days, so you can imagine the effect of having ten mini-chocolates in one go had on him. Imagine the sound of a downed helicopter with its blades still spinning while it occasionally puts on a Darth Maul mask and yells ‘together we can rule the galaxy!!!!!’

Still, we were ready for the horror ball.

The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween

We then journeyed to the exhibition, where photography was limited but I managed to grab some sneaky snaps. The set up was that we were all at a funeral, but had been plunged into purgatory. As we explored the exhibition, we would have to face and conquer the seven deadly sins to be in with a chance of getting into heaven…and avoiding falling to hell.

As you explored the library, there were various ‘stations’ were actors carried out games based around the seven deadly sins – there was gambling, drinking contests, fake confessions, burlesque and old-timey photo booths, all led by very creepy actors. Anyone who completed a task at each station got a stamp on their special name tag.

The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting

The Gothic exhibition itself was a joy – books, cuttings, images, footage and models celebrating all that is dark and unsettling in the world. Al is more of an authority on early Gothic literature, where as I am more familiar with the romantics and Gothic cinema, so we served as good mutual guides.
My cousin Jack and his wife Amy were also attending and in the middle of our exhibition browsing, Jack got dragged off by a freaky priest to confess his sins. Poor priest got more than he bargained for with Jack; so, so much porn to confess.

The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting

By the end of the night, the master of ceremonies called on the crowd to reveal if anyone had achieved seven stamps.
Just one man had succeeded, but even his great work was not enough to save us all. And we were left to the fate of Beelzebub…or Tankus The Henge. Cue the music!
A splendid night, with some expert assistance. And, of course, there was plenty of room for more photos…

The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The SortingThe Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Exhibition is showing at the British Library until 20th January 2015.

A Very British Safari

Get your Christmas lists out, and throw them away. I have a new idea for you.

Sometimes, you’re just sitting there on a Friday afternoon thinking, “hmmm…I wish I could go on safari. In England.”
No, tiny darlings, I haven’t lost my mind. For such a feat is possible. In the heart of Kent, no less.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to do some work through my day job with the screamingly lovely people at Port Lympne Reserve in Lympne, Kent, and they kindly invited me along to a press night showcasing their safari accommodation.* It was the end of the season but once you’ve read this, you will have the edge on booking up the entirety of the 2015 season in advance.
Hence my reference to the Christmas gift. See? See? It all ties together.
I’ve been visiting Port Lympne for years, as it is glorious day out for anyone. Set on gentle slopes over looking the Hythe and Romney Marsh coast, you can wander around its giant enclosures and across its stretching plains, or you can just sit outside the Port Lympne mansion, pretending to be a king.

Port Lympne is an enormous wild animal reserve run by the Aspinall Foundation, home to scores of exotic animals big and small such as monkeys, gorillas, lions, tigers, wild cats, hunting dogs, black rhino and cheeta. It also has a safari plain where giraffe, antelope, deer and buffalo roam free. It has sister park, Howletts near Canterbury, where more animals gallop and roam, including elephants. The Aspinall Foundation is a registered charity involved with various conservation projects, including breeding, education, ecosystem management, and the rehabilitation of animals into the wild. Take a look at their website to learn more: http://www.aspinallfoundation.org/conservation
And after a day of animal spotting, you can dine at the restaurant or stay the night.
But wait…stay the night? In a wild animal park? Yep, Port Lympne has a unique offer in that it is the only park of its kind in the UK (and possibly Europe) that gives people the chance to stay in the heart of the reserve. You can bask in luxury at the mansion, or rent Livingstone Cottage for up to eight people if you wish, or the more adventurous amongst you can go ‘glamping’. 
This what I’d be doing for the evening –  staying at the luscious Livingston Lodge, which offers an overnight stay in some seriously swanky tents with an evening and morning safari, four course meal, entry to both Port Lympne and Howletts and some serious banter thrown in. 
Image courtesy of Port Lympne Reserve
I started my trip at 4pm on Friday evening, leaving my car near the mansion and checking into the Lodge reception. The attentive staff took my bag (to deliver to my tent) and handed me a glass of champagne. I then had time to laze on the sofas and chat to fellow guests over drinks before our guide called us to action and we piled into the safari truck for our 90min evening safari.

We were blessed with a gloriously golden evening, with clear October skies (though do bring a coat along no matter what the weather – it gets nippy once the sun goes down). Our truck trundled through the park, pausing beside the black rhino while our guide explained their work to protect this endangered species.

Up close, rhinos have a curious grin and are very mellow – adorable really. Horrible to think how freely they are being slaughtered in their wild so people can harvest their horns. You know what, people? THE HORNS ARE HAIR. THEY ARE HAIR. HAIR IS EVERYWHERE, STOP KILLING THE RHINOS.

Okay…okay…I’m calm again.
On we went, watching the barasingha, red lechwe antelope, and a fine dazzle of zebra before entering the main safari plain. Here there are no fences or trenches – deer and zebra were free to wander straight up to the truck and gaze at your gawping faces. Giraffes chewed on tree leaves in the distance, deer bounced about merrily, everyone pointed at a buffalo having a wee. 

Eventually, we rolled to the top of the hill to our bedrooms for the night. And truly these are bedrooms. The tents stand atop wooden stilts behind a sturdy wooden fence and gate, overlooking the plain below.  


Rhino right behind our tents. Behind a very strong fence.

The tents are millions miles away from your festival nightmares. Made of hearty canvass and waterproof coverings, you don’t even have to stoop to get inside them, and they’d keep you warm even if you only had an old sack and a bottle of whiskey with you. They come equipped with beds (two singles or a double for the snugglers), heaters, bedside lights, clothing rails, comfy dressing gowns, and a vanity mirror. A veranda with chairs and blankets invites you to pass the evening gazing at the staggering view beyond.

I was staying in Gorilla tent…I knew I should have shaved.

First things first – dump bags, and head to the lodge to grab a beverage. Guests can hang out in the lodge until dinner, or sit on their private deck in peace and quiet. Tea and coffee are complimentary, and all else is added to a tab that you settle at the end of the night. I grabbed a beer and headed back to my veranda to watch the sun set.

I settled into my chair and instantly reached for my phone to start tweeting. NO! I snapped. This would not do – the plains of Africa had been recreated on the Kent coast and I was glued to a tiny computer screen and trying to think of witty safari based puns. I threw my phone into the tent, and made myself switch off. All there was, for the next 30mins, was golden sunset, glistening sea, and the languid gallop of deer and zebra in the distance. Bliss.
Obligatory feet up picture

At 7pm, I returned to the lodge to catch up with the staff and to see the chefs prepare our feast. I was lucky I did – as we went out out onto the veranda to enjoy the moonlight, a tower of giraffes walked right past the building, pausing to peer at us curiously.

See! See here!
The lodge itself is extremely cosy and comfortable, with a huge fire pit serving as our barbecue. Dinner is a veritable feast, laid out buffet style around the tables.

The starters included couscous, a tomato salad, smoked salmon, coleslaw, fresh bread and hearty sausages. This was followed by the main course – another buffet of deliciousness. Dishes included beautifully pink beef, Peri Peri chicken, garlic prawns, ratatouille, stuffed mushrooms, and mountains of aromatic rice. 

I barely had room for pudding, which included Amarula panna cotta and a…I think there was a cheesecake? By this stage I was blind with food, and they hadn’t even put out the cheese course.
The entire meal was outstanding, and the lodge had a lovely atmosphere, with everyone chatting and joking over their meals. As I said, it’s a great venue for couples but I could seriously see myself returning with a gaggle of friends and having the run of the place. The staff were also very attentive and friendly.
As the night drew in, I found myself shattered from the bounty of food, drink and animal-antics I’d been treated to. I hit the hay at 10pm, drifting off in my cosy, comfy bed to the sound of two antelope, somewhere in the distance, calling each other.
The next morning I rose early and ventured outside in my dressing gown to see three zebras strutting past my veranda. I waved. They didn’t wave back. I suspect they were busy.
I joined my fellow guests for a huge buffet breakfast at the lodge – full English, cereals, fruit, toasts – before packing up and boarding the truck for a mini-morning safari on our way back to the main lodge.
I haven’t stopped telling people about my stay since I returned. This is a great venue for an extra special overnight stay – it’s perfect for couples (who don’t mind chatting with their fellow campers over dinner), but it would also be a great option for a civilised hen party.
The glamping tents reopen in April but you can book in advance should you want to give someone a spectacular Christmas gift. 
Also, if anyone out there is thinking: “hey! I have this really big family AND I want to stay longer than one night – what’s in it for me?!!”, well….you’ve got some attitude problem, pal. But never fear, The Elephant Lodge, elsewhere in the reserve, offers larger accommodation for groups and families on longer stays.
And if you can’t wait to stay at the park, you can stay at the mansion or Livingstone Cottage all year round. If you have enough friends and feel like splurging, rent the entire mansion for a not too pricey VIP experience. What’s more, Port Lympne’s accommodation options are set to expand next year. Soon the park will offer smaller eco-pods for a rustic option, and also treehouses.
Go, tiny darlings – be one with the beasts. www.aspinallfoundation.org/short-breaks 

*I wish I could say it was because of my fabulous blog, but to date the blog has only got me free gin and….well, that’s literally the best I could hope for, so let’s not complain.

I Once Was a Vegas Virgin But I’m Not Now

I have returned, tiny darlings.

Forgive my absence, do. I love this blog more than I love a hot gin on a cold Christmas morning, or the pleasure I get from hurling said gin at my staff while screaming ‘gin is supposed to be cold, you horror stories!!!” Being away from you has been difficult.

The reason for my absence has been that I had been blessed with a new job in tourism PR, a delightful one closer to home and resplendent with lovely people and lots of rewarding hard work. Hence I’ve been focused on my various new tasks and ensuring no one discovers my penchant for almonds. Imagine the shame…

There was also a sandwich I needed to eat, and some minor psychotic episodes where I considered not drinking in the evenings. It was a dark time.

But what have I been up to? That’s what you’re all asking, isn’t it? Well, it’s been fairly manic. Faiiiiiirly manic. So I have plenty of blog fodder to bring you, and will bombard you with my tales to make up for my shocking absence.

One thing that happened was this.

Yes, for some reason, in my second week of my new job I was sent to Las Vegas.

A colleague could not go, I have no children (and hence no immovable plans) so was asked to step in for a major trade networking event. I swear, I did spend a long time saying “but…but are you SURE you want to send me? Someone else should get to go, surely? I’m…I…what?”

My six day trip was for work, and I spent half of that working but was lucky to have the sum of a couple of days to explore and take a gander at Sin City. My experience was not typical as I was on business and was not staying in or eating at the sort of budget places I’d normally frequent.

So rather than detailing the ins and outs of my trip, I shall give you my overview and my pitiful Vegas virgin’s guide to surviving the strip:

  • It’s INSANE

All the stories are true – Vegas is one giant mass of excess. It’s huge, a giant sprawling mass of lights and luxury in the middle of the Nevada desert. Caeser’s Palace is the size of a small town, and I am not exaggerating. When I explored The Strip, it took my three hours to cover about 1/4 of a mile as the crow flies; the innards of the big hotels are mazes of shops, sculptures, gambling tables and bars. It doesn’t make sense and you feel exhausted after only a couple of hours. But it’s fun. Oh man, is it FUN.

  • Just do what the jet lag tells you to do

I have never suffered in the past, but Vegas hit me hard. Everything messes with your senses – it’s sweltering outside, and freezing inside. There is no natural light anywhere inside the hotels or casino (even your bedrooms have the world’s greatest blackout curtains), lights dazzle constantly, noise surrounds you day and night, and oxygen is pumped into every casino & some hotel rooms to keep you up and gambling. I had to get up early most days for work, but otherwise I would have just gone with my body clock and slept when it told me and gone out when I couldn’t close my eyes. Either allow a day or two either side of your trip designed entirely for sleep, or just go with it. Vegas does not close, you will find fun, food and drink 24hrs a day.

  • Bring money

You can stay very cheaply off the strip, and find budget bars and cheap eats in the ‘old town’. If you want to stay on the Strip, either bring your gambling A-game or bring twice as much money as you’d expect to spend. It’s screamingly pricey on the main drag – between $10 and $15 a drink and meals approach $18 for a main. We went to a buffet dinner at Paris, which cost $35 without booze or $45 with. BUT! Whatever you get, will be worth it. The buffet was the biggest I’d ever seen, with every kind of starter, main and dessert. I didn’t drink that night (too tired) but those that did could order all the champagne and gin they wanted. Cocktails are loaded with booze, a G&T has more gin than tonic, and we all know American portions of food are fit for giants.

Though I do recommend the crazy cocktail stall outside of Paris – it’s a guy who will sell you giant plastic Eiffel Tower bottles with frozen cocktails containing a mountain of calypso for $10. It’s…it’s just tops.

  • Everyone is drunk and wants to have sex with you

The old saying “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is chanted like a prayer. Seemingly everyone believes it. Everytime I got in a lift, whether it was 7am or 9pm, there was a drunk person in it, clasping beers and cocktails, swaying in killer heels or heaving into their baseball hats. And this was a supposedly swanky hotel. On one occasion, a drunk girl with her boyfriend insisted on showing me her breasts. In the evenings, when we hit the cocktail bar, men on business or just there to gamble would offer my both a drink and possible intercourse. When I explained I had a partner, they ALL responded “that’s okay! I’m married too! My wife is at home!” Booze on tap and there are always freebies to be had.

  • Don’t bring kids

See point four – this is no place for children. I mean…some parts are just delightful and would dazzle a child but….come on, it’s Vegas.

It looks child friendly. It’s not.
  • Go with friends

I had excellent company and made some great new friends on the trip, but Vegas is an experience best shared with a bunch of you. Not only will you want to share the insanity with your nearest and dearest, but you’ll also need them for physical and mental support. When jet  lag is killing you, or when you can’t face another free cocktail and need someone to say ‘it’s okay to sleep’, OR when you’ve had your eighth gin and are insisting that RED IS LUCKY, you will want a trusted friend by your side. I did miss my beau and my darling friends. I never imagined I’d want to go to Vegas, but now…I sort of want to go back, en masse.

  • Remember it’s in a desert – pack wisely

The hotels are all air-conditioned so bring a wrap, but otherwise think beach wear for the day. It is sweltering outside, and as much as you craze fresh air and sunshine, you won’t be able to stand it for long during the day. I went out exploring at 8am, when it wasn’t as hot and it was fairly peaceful on the streets. But I should have brought more shorts and more light day dresses. Also, you may want to glam up in the evening – but unless you are spending big bucks in The Bellagio and will be dining in only the finest restaurants, you will be rather out of place with the rest of the Vegas crowd. Most people don’t even bother, sticking to slutty tops, jeans, tacky heels and shorts. Dress nicely, but save that formal dress or expensive suit for another holiday.

  • Gamble, but know how to win

Come on, you have to! I only gambled in my hotel, as I did not have the opportunity to go to any others or the cheap gambling halls. The bigger hotels have a catch that the buy in for the tables is higher, and this will go up on Friday and Saturday nights.

I gambled on a Tuesday, and the balckjack buy in was $15 a hand. I wanted to play Texas Hold ‘Em but it was $45 a go, and it’s a much riskier game (but with bigger winnings). I stuck to blackjack, having read up on tactics on the flight over – don’t laugh, it’s very wise to do so. I also walked around a few tables, watching the dealers and the other players before I chose my seat, so I knew what I was up against. If playing Blackjack, pick a table with a few other players, and try to gauge how nice the dealer is. People might not know this, but the dealer’s job is to help you. They will give you advice, they will tell you when to hit or when to stay, based on the averages. A nice dealer will make the experience even better. I went to the table with $100 and walked away with $170 – not much, but a good profit. Simply sticking to $15 at a time. I also walked away earlier than I wanted to. 

It’s all pretty simple – never bring anything to the table that you can’t afford to lose, and talk to friends and pros for advice.

SO! That was my Vegas experience. Any other questions about my trip? Anything else I can tell you about Sin City? Ask me here or on Twitter.