Thursday, 16 February 2012

The biggest party on Earth*

Tomorrow, the biggest party on earth, the Rio Carnival kicks off.

This time last year I was sitting in a bar on a street corner (curiously christened Corner Bar, by us, over the course of the week) with my mate Kim sipping probably my 15th Caipirinha and wondering if the rocket-fuel strength would eventually numb the pain of my ridiculous sunburn. 
So original
I was at Carnival and it was going to ROCK!

Major Brazilian food group
Day one had consisted of arriving late at night, complaining about our room, moving twice, sleeping for about twenty minutes, jumping up, seeing sunshine, grabbing our bikinis and heading straight to Copacabana beach for general guidebook reading, Brazilian flag sarong purchasing, beach seller shooing, copious Caipirinha drinking and then almost psychotic levels of Haviana flip flop purchasing (we realised we had no cash or cards on us to enable to purchase the seven pairs each we attempted to) en route home to get ready for our welcome meeting (“stay off the beach after dark, don’t lose your Sambadrome ticket, it’s like gold dust, speaking of which BUY GLITTER!”) and our “getting to know everyone else on the tour” buffet dinner.   
It rained a lot!

On that day we also got so sunburnt I can even describe the pain or hideousness it caused. So I won’t!

Our third Amigo, Michaela, arrived later that night whilst we were asleep (one of the only times we actually slept whilst the mood was out!) and we found our little group complete.  
amazing what you can find on the streets of Rio
Over the coming days our time was a blur of visiting Sugar Loaf Mountain in the pouring rain and seeing nothing but clouds; dancing amidst complete carnage and madness under the Lapa arches (more rocket fuel caipirinhas helped) in samba clubs, in roadside cafes, in the back of taxis and barefoot in puddles in the street; snatching a three-second glimpse of Christ the Redeemer as the clouds cleared at the top of Corcovado Mountain, and cracking up as we, as the complete originals that we are, yelled “JESUS CHRIST” at the top of our voices (and for the rest of the trip at every opportune moment); taking an opinion-changing trip in to the Favelas to meet a group of young artists and their global phenomenon miniature Favela (we refused to do the “human zoo” style tours); more street dancing as we found the first of many street parties; feeling completely bemused by some rather mediocre football after buying the wrong tickets (a.k.a. duped!),  but loving the local fans’ enthusiasm and chants; getting dressed up in bits and pieces of discarded costumes from the official carnival route so we looked, erm, colourful as we walked the red carpet at the Gay Gala Ball – the biggest and craziest of all the carnival balls and, in fact, probably ever; consuming nothing for days save for Tangfastics and M&Ms from home, chips whilst standing in the street and breakfast at 8am on our way home from some street party or other, oh and the strongest caipirinhas ever tasted; being flabbergasted at the sheer fancy dress brilliance displayed by every person in Rio (even commuters) over the Carnival weekend; watching street dancers perform Capoeira in the streets by Ipanema Beach, seeing our new friends on the TV in our room as they performed in the carnival dressed as peacocks (the single biggest regret of my life is not paying the extra $500 to join in!); looking at the Rio skyline from Guanabara Bay on a big group boat trip; and finally, attending the main night at the Sambadrome.

Ticket to the craziest party you'll ever go to!
The Sambadrome. Blew. My. Mind.
Feeling the samba vibe!

I think we got there at 9pm and the party started at about midnight as the Premier League of the country’s samba schools sent their entries down the half-mile strip.
There are a number of schools that compete over the course of the weekend and each school has their own time to parade and their supporters, much like football fans, know what time they’ll come on and arrive in the school’s colours and cheer and dance and sing along to the school’s chosen song for the strict 45 minutes (I think) that they have to make their way along the strip. Fireworks would announce the moment that the first dancer from the school had entered the strip and then the same tune plays until the last dancer leaves. And they sing and play it all live! Wowzers! Each school has to have a number of different components in their parade, there are strict section boundaries, dancing areas and choreographic requirements, there are specified roles for each dancer, singer (even for the tourists who pay to partake – you can’t let the side down!) and float. The dance, song, costume choice and story all have to gel as part of one over arching theme. There’s just so much more to it than dancing down the road and I wish I’d read up on it before I got there… for a person like me, who LOVES tradition and history, it was just mesmerising to watch, and hear, and FEEL!
Life regret: not taking part in Carnival
I can’t even put in to words the energy in that structure. For seven hours straight the three of us stood (and sometimes sat) on the concrete steps at the end of the strip and samba’d our hearts out. We watched the sun set and rise over the surrounding hills, we watched Cristo Redentor appear in the distance as the sun went down and his illuminations switched on, we ate questionable burgers, we pilfered some crazy head gear, we got soaked as it started to rain, but my word did we have the times of our lives.
When I flew home (alone, the other two amigos stayed on for a few extra days) I truly felt like I’d been on a life changing trip. Not least because I felt like I’d never be able to summon those energy levels again, or that I’d ever recover from the extreme exhaustion that I felt (not to mention the three respiratory infections I contracted in the aftermath).

Our Havianas at home on Copocabana
I still look back in sheer disbelief at how lucky I was to experience such a thing. Sometimes I pinch myself as I’m sure that it was all a dream, but I know that it wasn’t.
The feathers and glitter I keep finding in my flat are the first clue that it was most definitely real.
And the shivers that run down my spine when I hear, and feel, that samba beat remind me that even my wildest dreams couldn’t top that reality.
Completely C-Rio-azy!!
Check out my pictures here
* except for my birthday, oh and my wedding, obvs!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

This Weekend: Victory Rolls, fascinators and a "celebrity" party!

So this weekend saw the close of the Thirtieth Birthday marathon with two birthday celebrations, a hen party, some girlie lunching and (not nearly enough) sofa surfing!
It all started at lunchtime on Friday when I headed over to Sarah’s hen celebrations part 3 (or 4, I’ve lost count. I love how birthdays and hen parties are no longer just a single-event event in my world! Part 1 is here) which was a Vintage Patisserie tea party.
In case we got lost...

At about 2.30pm I was announcing myself to the reception team at her office and at 2.34pm precisely I was sitting in the make up chair, holding a china teacup filled with prosecco having my hair curled in to Victory Rolls listening to vintage tunes, being served  cute sandwiches and homemade cakes and scones, waiting for my faux beauty spot to be placed delicately on my cheekbone and deciding which scented oil to choose for my hand massage.

Beautiful Katy Boo

Rocking my Victory Rolls

Claire looking Stylish!
I was in my element, and I can neither confirm nor deny that I went all crazy fangirl about meeting Angel… (OMG – I got your cookbook for Christmas, OMG – I love your hair/make up/outfit/music choice,  OMG - I loved you on Dragon’s Den, OMG – which was your favourite Dragon, OMG – can I work for you, OMG – can I friend you on Stalkbook, OMG – I have the same crockery as you… etc etc)

I wish I could do it every Friday. I’ll tell you all about it in more detail in a dedicated post.
Eventually Sarah’s boss kicked us out and we proceeded to take ourselves, in all our forties glory, on a bit of a bar crawl around various areas of London, chatting drunkenly on squishy sofas (now we’re house-buying, I’m checking out sofas everywhere we go!) at The Oyster Shed, sampling the lychee martinis and gin-based cocktails at The Waterloo Bar and Grill and The Book Club, respectively and then taking ourselves rolling in to a cab and trying to remain upright en route back to Claire’s house for some much needed sleep.
So much for our chilled out post-patisserie pyjama party plans!
Saturday morning saw me wake up with The. Worst. Hangover. I’ve ever had. Actually – I tell a lie, I think it was actually the third-worst hangover I’ve ever had. Either way, it was a bad-un!

Some cheese and ham croissants, a shower, a team hug, some prosecco for the pain (which didn’t really help) and we were ready to go on our private fascinator-making party – my birthday present from my Disney Princesses, my buy-one-get-one-frees and their Mamma Bears! So, essentially, this was If Carlsberg did Birthdays: Part 6. Again, I’ll do a full review in a separate post!
Our tutor arrived, set up her materials all over Claire’s (rather Stylish) lounge and we spent the next five hours cutting, stitching, ironing, bending, stretching, edging and modelling various bits of sinamay, feathers, netting, and ribbon whilst stuffing our faces with Magic Cakes and prosecco!

Probably the best hangover cure ever. All that craftiness made me completely forget about my banging head and shaking hands! Considering how hungover we were, I was really impressed with our creations!
On completion of my hat (to be worn at Sarah’s wedding), I packed up my stuff and took myself out in to the freezing cold to prepare for the final 30th birthday party of the most packed birthday month of all time!
the colour shcme!
The last of the Birthday Belles, Anna, had her party in Chelmsford, with a black and white theme – and so, obviously, the last Birthday Belle was dressed in her favourite colour: bright red! We spent the night dancing like crazy people, in clothing highly inappropriate for the temperatures (how old is too old to dress like Sally Bowles?), posing with inflatable numbers (it never gets boring!), trying to match up all the boy banders with their fellow members for “band” photos (got to love a famous person mask – especially when it’s Gaga!), and generally feeling like we can’t possibly be this old… or maybe that was just me!
Guess who's the Birthday Belle tonight?
At 2am (two hours later than I expected, or needed!) I rolled in to bed, sporting various injuries and finally got a hug with Mr G after not seeing him for what felt like weeks, and I slept like a baby until Mr G had to go to work.
Two fifths of Take That
So Sunday saw me do nothing more energetic than meet Kim B at our fave brunch place for a long hangover lunch, and tea and cake session, before a spot of dress shopping (lots of weddings come up – I need to plan plan plan my outfits!) and then some unashamed sofa surfing.
I have lots of personal admin to deal with and a list of about a hundred chores, but they’re all just going to have to wait whilst I recover from the last month of partying with a cup of tea, a hot water bottle and some Sunday night telly.
I am getting on a bit now you know… I just don’t have the energy for housework and partying. Something has to give, you know!
Sally Bowles outfit, Gaga face. Time to go home!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

This weekend: birthdays, fringes and snowbombing

I met up with my Tea Shop Luvvies for what was meant to be a normal Friday night Fish n Chip and Cosmopolitans date, and turned in to If Carlsberg did Birthdays: Part 5 when they produced two boxes of presents.

Fish n chips for five!
Box one, from Jennalicious, contained the cutest books, a “make and do” book called Everything Alice – I can’t wait to move and make and do everything in it! The other, an Edward Monkton book about the Shoe of Salvation, and a cute Union Jack pin (for all the parties that I'll be having - obvs!). I love Edward Monkton’s barmy ramblings – so much in fact that we had one of his books, about dinosaurs, as a reading at our wedding.  Box two one that was so big it required two Luvvies to carry it! Obviously the whole pub turned to watch as I opened the largest Selfridges box I’ve ever been close to, let alone been the recipient of. Inside was a teapot, milk jug and sugar bowl and two tea trios (a teacup, saucer and cake plate) from the Royal Albert 100 Years collection, a collection to celebrate their centenary with remakes of the popular designs from the last ten decades. The Luvvies chose me the Polka Rose design from the 1930s (pale green and white polka dots on the outside, white with pink and red roses on the inside) which couldn’t be more lovely – or more me!

I can’t wait until we start setting up home and I can start using them!!
We spent the rest of the evening eating our favourite fish and chips, drinking French martinis and Cosmopolitans, chatting and giggling until we were the last table left in the restaurant and, as with every time we go there, the staff ask us to leave!
Saturday I let Mr G sleep off his night shift in preparation for the big night ahead and took myself off in to town to my fave hair salon ever to be reunited with my fringe. Oh how I’ve missed it! Mr G however, has not. For some reason he hates the fringe, despises it even. When I walked back in he actually reeled and sighed "ohhhhh, friiiiiiiiiinge". No joke. Unfortunately for him, I like it, so it's staying.
The re-appearance of the fringe!
A spot of window-shopping to pass the time saw me succumb to what every magazine/fashion blog/stylist is telling me to do – I accidentally purchased a pair of coloured skinny jeans. They weren’t as bright as they could have been, in fact they’re a bit tame, in a mulberry colour. But I’ll have to work up to the bright green and blue pairs I've seen…
When I thought Mr G had had enough sleep I returned home, packed my bags and we set off for Uxbridge to celebrate Natasha’s (one of the Birthday Belles from last week’s celebrations) 30th birthday. Unfortunately I hadn’t spent enough time packing my bags, and ended up with a rather risky outfit choice, and no back up, in case I changed my mind on the green dress/polka dot tights/blue sparkly peeptoes/pink bag mash up. I added the tights when I realised that my idea about bare legs wasn’t a good one – I’m from Essex, not Liverpool. On reflection in the car, en route, I realised that my choices would actually make me look a bit like a children’s TV presenter. Too much of the crazy, not much of the classy!

We celebrated with cupcakes, cocktails, pink balloons, old school garage and a spot of late night snow bombing.
I laughed so much during our 2am snowball fight I could barely stand up… but I still fared better than a few others, who shall remain nameless, who spent a lot of time flat on their backs/faces in the snow!
Sunday Brunch
A skid and a slide back to the hotel  (sparkly blue peep toe stilettos are not conducive to remaining upright in snow) and we slept right through until check out, missing breakfast, so we packed the car up, drove home through the melting snow and got home to find a clearing party shovelling snow down our road. I love how the snow unites people! I grabbed some more sensible shoes from home (having forgotten to take anything other than heels with me) and we headed out for a late breakfast at our favourite brunch spot in town, then went shopping for baking ingredients and I spent the afternoon making cake pops whilst Mr G snoozed on the sofa in front of the rugby and the local kids made snowmen in the road and in our gardens.
Snow at home
Tea sets, afternoon baking, and Sunday snoozing - how very grown up. Snowball fights and bundles at 2am in the street – less grown up!
Life is about balance after all!

keeping my balance - just!

Friday, 3 February 2012

If Carlsberg did Birthdays – Part 4

Waking up at 9am on a Sunday is never ideal, but waking up at 9am on a Sunday, having had only gotten in to bed less than five hours previously (see part 3), and after a run of three late nights (see part 1 and part 2), was painful but knowing that there was a bacon sarnie with my name on it, being cooked at my parents’ house made it easier to drag myself out of bed for Part 4 of the proceedings…

The Family Day
Some highlights include:
  • Hangover breakfast
  • Watching Mr G snooze in the corner knowing his job was well done!
  • Champagne and presents with the family
  • More balloons, banners and chocolate roses
  • Reading my birthday book (and crying)
  • Watching the tennis en masse
  • Fave dinner
  • Cake
  • Getting to bed before midnight for the first time in three days!
Poodle jumper and Tatty Devine Lolly necklace (Thanks Laura)
A quick shower, a barmy outfit selection, as much light-reflecting concealer on my eye bags as I could manage without looking like a cast member of TOWIE, some yelling to wake the sleeping Griffiths in the flat (Mr G and my sister in law Kate) and we were ready to go!  

A quick debate with Mr G about him being unfit to drive, a swift detour to take a still-pyjama clad Kate home and to get petrol and we were away… with me at the wheel!

all tuckered out!

Within three seconds of walking through the front door I was munching on a bacon sandwich (white bread, no butter, brown sauce), slurping and Innocent smoothie and a cup of tea.
Within three seconds of walking through the front door, Mr G was curled up in a little ball in the corner snoozing.

A relaxed morning and afternoon followed of tennis-watching, champagne-quaffing, birthday present opening (yet more gorgeous presents), general birthday present admiring and discussions on birthday money spending plans (current thoughts are the blue lizard Pippa bag or a cherry-red evening bag from Aspinals) .
Eventually, the tennis came to a close, and we settled down en masse for my choice of dinner (traditional in our household!)  - so I picked a starter from years ago, that my mum cooked for a dinner party, and promised to cook for me, and never did: grilled goat’s cheese on puy lentils and salad, topped with grilled, vine tomatoes. This was followed by my all-time fave homemade meal - my mum’s homemade lasagne and avocado salad with her homemade dressing – the recipe has been passed down through the Italian side of the family, and Mr G has made it his life (culinary) mission to replicate it for me (too cute). It was yumma!
We rounded it off with a good old family debate (traditional Christmas-style) and some more cake and candles, which went beautifully with tea (or coffee, for those that needed it!) and some sofa snuggles as I settled in to read my This is Your Life (so far)… book from my friends and family.
And the tears began to flow.
a proper tear-jerker!
I put a similar book together for Kim on her 30th and the words people wrote made me well up then. But when the words were personal to me I found it very hard to keep it together.
Special memories, stories from days gone by and words of love and friendship all pulled together in one place and surrounded by photos (cleverly pinched from my external hard drive – Christ – there’s over 250,000 photos on there, so that took some dedication!) took my breath away.
And that is all I can say about that, without welling up all over again.
balloons and banners (and massive slippers)
Eventually, Mr G and I made our weary way home, and flopped in to bed almost the instant we walked through the door.
I think the last time I was that shattered, emotional and happy was after our four day wedding rave, so I think I did well to match it, you know, seeing as now I’m getting on a bit!
cake number four - yumma!
Happy 30th to me – and the HUGEST thank you to my wonderful husband, friends and family for every last thing you did. The detail, the thoughtfulness, the planning, the collusion and the secret-squirreling.
I love you all!
Mwah x
So there’s more to come as my girls got me a little “experience” for my birthday to go with my gift, and that is happening next weekend, so I suppose that’ll constitute Part 5 of the proceedings and I’ll be reporting back on that as soon as possible. Until then….
chocolate roses

Thursday, 2 February 2012

If Carlsberg did Birthdays – Part 3

Not content with two days/nights of celebrations (part 1 here and part 2 here), my friend Lucy and I decided to extend the party in to the weekend with a big bash for all our friends and family.
The invite pictures!

Birthday Belles Party Time!
Highlights include:
  • Buying a house (fingers crossed!)
  • Birthday cuppa with the inlaws
  • Two birthday lunches
  • Party time, surprise cakes, 100 or so family and friends and giant balloons!
  • Party Time!!
So part 3 picks up with us waking up, faaaaaaaar too early in our snugly hotel room in London, packing up to the sounds of street sweepers and shops opening, checking out and heading back to Liverpool Street to get the train home. However, after all that (once-upon-a-time) Michelin-starred food and highly priced alcohol, we felt it was only right to grab a McDonald’s breakfast, you know, just to even things out a bit.

On reaching home, we did a frantic round of unpacking and tidying, before dashing off to a house viewing. It was the second time we’d viewed the property and it was one we really both liked, so…. We put in an offer.
It was rejected.
Now, I’m not one for faffing about with money. In my post about our ridiculous wedding expenditure, I explained that my attitude is that if I’ve worked hard, saved hard, have the funds there and ready to go and I know in my mind what I’m willing to pay, then I save myself the stress of the haggle and just pay. I’d be awful on the Apprentice in the negotiation tasks (I would however be bloody excellent in the other areas – obvs!). So I suggested to Mr G to offer what the vendor wanted – a wee chunk under the asking price – but still well under our budget - and he accepted!
So it seems that before lunch we managed to buy a house.
YAY! Turning thirty and buying a house – all very grown up! However, there was no time for celebrations as my parents-in-law popped in en route to town to drop in my birthday present and to have a cuppa and following that we had two birthday lunches to attend in town.
quick drink at the venue before the party
First off we stopped by the party venue (for later that night) for a spot of lunch and catching up with the other birthday girl, Lucy, and our pals. After some food, fizz and chats we then made our way to the other end of town to meet up with two other birthday girls, Natasha and Anna, for a spot of pink cava and tapas before rushing home to begin the party prep!
tapas and cava with the other Birthday Belles
So much birthday loving.
A shower, some fancy hair styling, some glittery eyeliner, hot pink lippie and a spangly dress (a replacement for the original one that broke) and I was ready to party!

At 7.00pm Lucy and I were back at the party venue with gigantic balloons, a bag full of pom poms (now christened “Amazeballs”), various other decorations and our Event Manager voices ready to go. A quick reccie of the rooms and we had our decorating team mobilised pinning, sticking and hanging white embellishments everywhere and anywhere whilst our international DJ, (not so) fresh off the train from Paris, arrived to set up.
giant balloons
We just had enough time for a raspberry bellini, a mini photo shoot to capture our outfits and decorating handiwork and to stash some dressing up props around the venue and then the party started...
birthday dresses - front view
birthday dresses - back view!

…and it went…
…and went…
…and went!
Having been told originally that we only had the venue until midnight, it was 2.30am when the bar closed and about 3am by the time we’d walked to the other end of town (with gigantic balloons in tow) for some after-party dancing.
The four Birthday Belles
After two days of surprises I certainly didn’t expect any more, especially as Lucy and I had planned the party ourselves, but out of the blue came a BIG FAT chocolate cake (and a million cupcakes of assorted flavours on cute stands and in cupcake bouquets) and a “This is Your Life (so far)” book from my friends and family.
Well, I had to stow the book away for a private moment as even the first page had me welling up.

Surprise cake and cake bouquets
There’s not much I can say, other than how we were completely overwhelmed at the all the birthday love, and at how many of our friends and family made the effort to come and celebrate with us. I tried to learn from my mistakes at our engagement party, and to keep circulating. After that event, I was a bit upset that I felt like a bad hostess for not spending more time with each of my guests, but equally didn’t get to eat, drink or dance, so this time I kept working the room, but made sure that I got some proper partying in too! 
the tear-inducing book!
I rolled in to bed elated, exhausted, a bit battered, scratched and bruised (damn shoes and sequins), but largely sober at about 4.30am and quite frankly I think our party ROCKED!
Once again, I was in the Totes Emosh zone… maybe I wasn’t as sober as I thought…
as it says - Thirty and Fabulous!
Part 4, on its way tomorrow! And yes, there were other people at the party, but I can't bear to show favouritism, or miss someone important out by mistake, and I couldn't find a good "whole party" picture so I kept it to pictures of the Birthday Belles and the party dresses, balloons and cake - the three key ingredients for a good party! Facebook pals, click here for the party album!