Category Archives: Christmas

A home for everything festive

Backpacking | 10 things I really missed on my first Christmas in Australia

imageI’m just days away from my one year travelling anniversary and I’m not going to lie, I’ve missed some pretty important things in that time. From birthdays and anniversaries, to my sister’s graduation, and my best friends making huge life changing decisions about their careers and love lives that force them to move across the country. The world doesn’t stand still when you jet off to the other side of the world, it’s easy to forget that life as you knew it carries on and the people you leave behind continue to grow and change. And it’s okay, most of the time, because we’re so damn distracted by the beauty and epic nature of the travelling life we have chosen, we kind of forget about what’s going on at home. We have our moments when we get a rush of homesickness as we sit in a hostel hallway on the phone to mum and dad, or catching up with our best friends over FaceTime – and we do, we really do feel it. But then, more often than not, that fleeting feeling is gone, dancing away on a warm breeze like it was never there. You see, it’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that our life as a backpacker is all about living in the present, and pining for what once was just doesn’t have much of a place here. Yes we all have days where we wallow and we miss home, but you’ll notice those were the days when we didn’t have much on, when we were a bit bored and allowed ourselves the time to think of home uninterrupted.

There will always be certain times that bring up a wave of emotions for backpackers – perhaps it’s the birthday or the anniversary of the death of a loved one, perhaps it’s a certain holiday or something happens at home. For others it can be as simple as the first time they spend Christmas away from their families on the other side of the world. I’ve seen countless articles posted on backpacker Facebook groups lately about all the awesome things about spending Christmas in Australia but I wanted to talk about the other side of this experience. It’s not rosy and lovely for everyone who is away, and I think it is important for backpackers to realise that it’s okay if they don’t have an amazing time. Everyone at home always thinks we’re out here having the most incredible time 24 hours a day, and most of the time that is true, but there are rubbish bits as well. There are times when it rains, we feel like crap, get ill, break down and have rubbish moments just like we would at home – and when we have to spend the holiday that is all about family half a world away from everyone we love most, it can be a bit pants. Every moment is what you make it and while some people will have the time of their life celebrating this Christmas away from home, others will find it a little harder.imageI had no idea where I would be spending my first Christmas away from my family, I didn’t know who I would be with or what I would be doing. For all I knew it could have been anything from a BBQ on the beach to a homemade roast with friends – the reality will be a little different. You see, I’m still living and working in the outback to get my second year visa. I took this job knowing full well it would mean spending Christmas and New Year away from my friends, mainly because I was so desperate to make sure I had my visa days sorted early and could really relax for the final five months of my first year. I don’t regret that decision because I only have six weeks left to work out here and then I will be reunited with all of my amazing Darwin and East Coast pals, and we will more than make up for lost time. But in the meantime that does mean I’m feeling a bit lonely this Christmas and because I’m not surrounded by all my closest friends it’s making me think of what I’m missing out on at home. I’m pretty close with my family and between them and all my friends at home, we have a mountain of Christmas traditions that I know I’m missing out on. But don’t worry, there’s no chance I’m going to let it ruin my Christmas in the outback because when on earth will I ever get the chance to experience this again?

10 things I really missed about a UK Christmas:

1. The build-up: from the UK’s Christmas adverts to Christmas shopping and finding the perfect present for someone special. From hearing festive songs played in the supermarket, to planning the food for Christmas Day and the countdown to finishing work.
2. The weather – it’s rubbish, cold, wet and miserable outside. It’s dark at 3pm and much as we all complain about it, that’s part of Christmas. It gives us an excuse to wear extra sparkle when it’s dark outside and that chill in the air gives all the more reason to get all snuggled up inside.
3. Nights spent drinking and laughing with friends in boiling hot pubs with steamed up windows, not thinking about work the next day or how cold it is outside.
4. Family traditions – putting up the Christmas tree and decorations with my dad while we blast the Christmas songs, festive baking with mum, a trip to Winter Wonderland with my sister, the Royals on Christmas day.
5. Family gatherings – when family from all over the country get together for a day of food, wine and fun at their annual Christmas party. A chance to catch up and have everyone together.
6. Festive food – the mince pies and puddings, the roast lamb and beef, Yorkshire puds and roasties, and cheeseboards, oh god, the cheeseboards. It’s too hot out here to really gorge like we do at home and the stuff they sell just isn’t the same.
7. Christmas TV in the UK is great – from soap specials to period dramas like Call the Midwife, comedy shows like Gavin and Stacey and The Royle Family, classics like The Snowman and all those great movies from Elf to Home Alone and Cool Runnings.
8. Christmas jumpers! What is Christmas without wearing the worst jumper you can find, or a snuggly onesie that makes you look like a reindeer, or great big wooly socks? It’s just not the same on a bikini.
9. The actual day – getting drunk with your family, seeing the surprise on someone special’s face when they open their gift, the aftermath when you can’t move because you ate so much…
10. The bit when your head feels like it’s going to explode – too many people, too many parties, too much food, too many hangovers – you’re almost glad to see the back of the holiday season.

imageimageI do have to just add to this post that I did still have a pretty fun Christmas thanks to some really good friends I’ve made here in Charleville and a huge thanks to them for not leaving me alone. I ended up having a turkey roast at a friend’s house with her family, spent the day enjoying drinks followed by two Christmas parties. Boxing Day followed with more drinks with friends and a party at the Bowls Club with everyone in town and a lot of fun was had. It was better than I could ever have expected and that’s all down to the wonderful people in this town who have made me feel so welcome.

What’s your favourite thing about a UK Christmas? Have you had a lovely Christmas? What was your first Christmas away from your family like? 

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Backpacking | Christmas while travelling solo and winter dreaming

imageIt’s easy to forget when you’re living in 30-40 degree heat that Christmas is a-coming and that it’s already nearly November! But I had a huge reminder last week when I spotted the first box of mince pies in the supermarket – needless to say, I squealed with excitement! Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know I absolutely love Christmas – everything about it, from the decorations, to the music, from buying and wrapping presents for people to the alcohol and food, oh god the food. So the fact that I’ll be missing a traditional Christmas at home with my family this year and will be spending it in sunny Australia is pretty strange. This will be the first Christmas I have spent away from my family, and with so many friends booking flights home, you can tell there’s many who can’t cope with the separation over the holiday period. This Christmas, I actually have no idea where I will be, I’m currently organising my regional work and am due to leave and start it over the coming weeks. My three months will take me through to January or February which means I could be spending this Christmas in the outback somewhere in Australia with another family altogether. A strange prospect, but one I am actually quite excited for – I love the idea of experiencing Christmas as others do – it will be another amazing experience to add to my collection.

Christmas while travelling solo can be a scary prospect – it’s that whole being thousands of miles away from all you loved ones, those home comforts, and everything that is traditionally Christmas for us Brits. I’m talking about looking outside and seeing frost on the ground, or at least feeling a chill in the air, about the moment the smell of roast beef wafts up the stairs and draws your out of your bed, when you get to see the smile on your dad’s face as he opens his present, or when everyone starts arguing over what to watch on TV. Or that moment in the mid-afternoon when everyone’s eyes are drooping and someone is snoring in the corner. Christmas is special, there’s no doubt about it, and it can be hard when you have to spend that first Christmas away from everything you know – but it can also give you the freedom and the opportunity to start new traditions, to try something different. I love to push my limits every single day, to take more chances and to try new things because I think each time I do this it grows me as a person. By staying out in Oz over Christmas, I not only save a fortune on flights, but I also get the chance to see how others live and to see if I am capable of creating another little family in time for it to feel like home, or at least a good substitute.imageI’ve already spent Christmas Day on the beach in Mauritius with family eating curry before, so the heat shouldn’t really be a factor, but when it comes to Christmas it does feel strange to have a warm or hot day for it. Let’s be honest, Christmas is never that cold in the UK, but we associate it with wrapping up in scarves and gloves for a brisk Christmas Day walk to let your turkey go down. We love the idea of a snowy and cold Christmas, and every year I know we all pray for it to happen – no matter how old we are. Immersed in the heat and humidity of Darwin, I thought it strange when I was contacted by Igluski to write for them – but ever since then I can’t stop thinking about being cold. It didn’t help when a friend flew to her next destination and left me with a bag of clothes including the comfiest and softest set of sweatpants and a hoodie – I didn’t realise quite how much I miss wearing snuggly things like this until I tried them on – it was like wearing a cloud! I love the sun and the heat, but there’s definitely times I miss being snuggled up in bed with an actual duvet and a mug of hot chocolate – more for the cosiness of it all. I keep fantasising about winter holidays and love the idea of learning to ski or snowboard – I was actually supposed to go on a skiing trip when I was in Sydney but it was going to cut into my money for the east coast so I put it on hold for a while. But it hasn’t stopped me longing to try…

I think my ultimate wintery holiday would best spent one of two ways – either I would head to a ski slope somewhere in Romania or somewhere equally beautiful in Eastern Europe, an area I’m real,y excited to explore, where we would stay in a fabulous ski resort. I’d learn to ski and snowboard, make snow angels and drink hot chocolate in warm clothes, then the nights would be spent drinking wine in a hot tub under the stars – that would be my favourite part. The stars always seem the clearest in colder places and I bet they would be stunning to see. Either before or after the skiing, we could go off exploring the country, visit castles and the countryside nearby – meet the locals and learn about the country. But then there is also the other option – which I would love equally – of going to a festival like Snowbombing and getting the chance to party the weekend away to all my favourite DJs in these stunning surroundings while getting the opportunity to learn to ski and snowboard during the day – a perfect festival/holiday balance. I guess it would all depend on who I ended up going with… I better start planning the guest list! To book your ultimate ski break – click here.

Have you spent Christmas away from your family? Tell me about your experiences. Have you been on a skiing holiday – what is your favourite skiing destination and why?

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This was a collaboration with Igluski.com

From the darkest days to the happiest new year

cheersAs New Year approaches, I wanted to take the time to write a post about how thankful I am to be ending the year on such a high. It hasn’t been the easiest year for me, and it had a pretty rotten beginning that even forced me to take a time out from blogging. I remember feeling the lowest I ever have back in January and February, wondering what the hell my life had become and desperately looking for a way out. It was pretty horrible, and I won’t lie, it makes me pretty sad to look back on it now because for a short while I became a very different person. Over the months that followed, I gradually got my life back and started to be happy again – how did I do it? I started making plans for my future, I threw myself into work and saved hard, and then, I booked a ticket and planned to travel the world. It’s not an option that is available to everyone, but having that goal and that hope of a better 2015 was really what got me through and I’m so happy I made that choice.

I’m not alone in this, I know so many people who seem to have found this year a bit of a struggle. For some it was horrible and totally out-of-the-blue break-ups, for others it was a crisis at work or even redundancy, and for some, it was just realising that they weren’t where they wanted to be in life. Everyone has dealt with it in different ways, and every single one has made it out the other side with a smile on their faces.

I’m really proud to know so many people who have not only survived a difficult year, but who have made it their bitch.

I hope that I can count myself among them, and that’s why I have thrown myself into blogging and saving – my main two pastimes for the year. I like to think it has really paid off with huge blogging milestones like being recognised by a complete stranger on a night out, being chosen as Blogger of the Week for two large blogging publications and being shortlisted out of over 2,000 entries for the individual travel blog section of the UK Blog Awards. I’m really proud of all this, and it is a wonderful feeling to have all your hard work pay off, but it wouldn’t have happened without your support.

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So I’m saying goodbye to 2014 – the year of survival and hard work. And welcoming in 2015 – the year of success and happiness. I’ve done nothing but work hard and pay my dues this year and I plan to take back 2015 as my year of following my dreams and pursuing what I really love. It’s time I did something that is just for me, not for anyone else. I think it’s time we all did the same – have you been putting something off because you’re scared to jump? Well no more. This year let’s all take a risk – let’s all go after that dream and make it our reality. Life is short and this year has flown by, so why let another year disappear without reaching that goal, or even setting one? Everyone I know seems to be setting themselves goals at the moment – some are getting engaged and planning a wedding, others are heading off to university, or are planning a big move and a new job… all very inspiring individuals. Me? I’m planning to be happy, to see things I haven’t seen before, to experience cultures and see the world. But without an amazing group of friends, family and blog supporters, I don’t think I could have dreamed I would be in this position a year ago. So this post is to say thanks to all of you guys for all those times you listened and all those times you gave me the push I needed to start making my dreams a reality.

How do you feel looking back on your 2014? And what goals have you set yourself for 2015?

Ab Lucy sign off

My perfect Christmas

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My first proper go with my new GoPro camera!

Hope you guys all had an amazing Christmas! It’s been a busy one at the Ruthnum household but I’ve loved every second. I even got my Christmas wish that it would snow, real flakes scattered across my car, and just enough to throw a snowball at my boyfriend. Christmas Eve was spent at the pub surrounded by friends, catching up and having a good sing and dance to some classics. Christmas Day was spent with the family – early rise for a trip to the coast to watch the charity swimmers dunking themselves in the freezing waters for a good cause, then straight off to see the Royals at Sandringham. We had an okay view, but definitely not as good as last year’s! Before a huge roast, lots of lovely presents and an afternoon relaxing in front of the TV – pretty perfect if you ask me! The next couple of days were spent much the same way with the boyfriend and some of his family – but now it’s back to reality as I get on with my final preparations for travelling – it’s just a week now until I fly! Here’s a selection of pictures that sum up last week for me:

 Christmas Eve

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Christmas Day

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The whole family at Sandringham

xmas dad

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Charity swimmers

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Amazing Tetris costumes

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My love, my life, my everything…

Nice Wills, grumpy Wills..

Nice Wills, grumpy Wills..

Presents

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A couple of fab presents for travelling

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Love this travel wallet for all my documents

 

Boxing Day

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And a couple from the weekend…

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Is this the best Christmas card for a blogger or what?

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My hands were as steady as a rock in the Jenga championships!

There you go! My Christmas whittled down to a few pics – hope yours was as special as mine. I’d love to hear what you guys got up to. Why not comment telling me about your favourite Christmas moment, or the best present you got this year?

Ab Lucy sign off

 

An evening at The Library and panto fun

IMG_7325Happy Christmas Eve everyone – hopefully you’re reading this before heading out to the pub with your mates or settling down with the family for some delicious food. I’m spending Christmas Eve catching up with friends at the pub – some of them I haven’t seen for several months so it will be a nice evening. Of course, the only thing I seem to talk about at the moment is food and I couldn’t resist another cheeky restaurant review with a sprinkle of extra festive cheer. I was gifted tickets to the Norwich panto, Peter Pan, at the weekend and couldn’t resist a visit – I love pantomime and Peter Pan is one of my favourite Disney’s. We thought it was a perfect excuse to check out another one of the city’s fine eateries, and made sure we booked a table for The Library after being turned away once before because it was too busy. A few people had recommended it, and as an independent restaurant, we were keen to try out the steaks. So, dressed up in our Christmas jumpers, we rushed over there and were welcomed into the lovely building – it really is very nice in there. Despite several Christmas parties being held at the same time, it was never too loud, and the whole room was warm and inviting, with books lining the walls. A pretty good place to take a bookworm on a date.IMG_7327We started with panko bread crumbed king prawns with smoked chipotle dip,
crushed avocado, tomato and coriander salsa and micro herbs (as you can see above) this dish was delicious and a perfect sized starter. I loved the chipotle dip and the salsa – both really complimented the dish and the flavours of the prawns. We shared this dish and another, the wood-grilled duck breast salad with navel orange, chicory, green peppercorn vinaigrette and crisp croutons. This was also nice, although we didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the prawns – we both disliked the taste of the chicory, but ate around it and enjoyed the duck meat. We were glad to have tried it, but slightly regretted not going for the bruschetta instead. The dishes were washed down with some Pinot Grigio and the mains quickly followed.

We both went for the Ribeye 8oz steak with the red wine sauce, it was served with hand-cut chips, corn on the cob and onion rings. The meat was perfectly cooked and seriously juicy – we went for one medium and one medium-rare – and although mine was a little fatty, it definitely didn’t leave me with a smaller steak. The sauce was amazing and went really well with the meat, and I can’t rave on enough about how much I LOVED the chips. Now I don’t usually like chips, and so far I have only found the ones here and those at the Bicycle Cafe hitting my standards, but these were crispy and fluffy, and I finished every single one. The onion rings were really crispy and tasty, and I loved the addition of the corn-on-the-cob – these seriously aren’t served enough! Unfortunately, we were running a little late so we couldn’t stay for dessert, but I’m sure they would have been delicious.IMG_7328We dashed over to the Theatre Royal for Peter Pan, which was a brilliant show full of flying children, fairy dust and fun. I loved getting to see Curly from Coronation Street as Captain Hook, and CBeebies favourite Sid Sloane as the dame – just hilarious! It was a lovely evening filled with “he’s behind you” and “oh no it isn’t” – perfect for the weekend before Christmas. It really got us in the festive spirit, even if the woman sitting next to me wasn’t joining in! I have to say that although this was a fabulous re-telling of Peter Pan, it did lack a few of the traditional panto features that I did miss. But having already had my fix of panto fun in Lynn, I didn’t mind too much. Who can when Peter Pan is flying around the stage, out of the clutches of a giant octopus?! I’m now feeling VERY festive and after finishing all my Christmas wrapping at the weekend – I’m now chomping at the bit to get Christmas underway – there is a lot of food to eat and a lot of fun to be had.

Hope you all have an amazing Christmas!

Ab Lucy sign off

24 festive films to watch this Christmas

still-of-will-ferrell-in-elfThere’s nothing better than snuggling up under a blanket when it’s snowing outside. Feet cosy in fluffy socks and Christmas tree lights sparkling against the windows, a mug of steaming hot chocolate in your hands and a cracking selection of Christmas films to watch. Let’s be honest, Christmas films are up there as one of the best things about the festive period – not only is there a great selection – but you’re finally off work and have the time to be lazy and stay in watching them all. Okay, so the picture I painted of snow falling outside is probably not very realistic, these days it’s more likely to be a sunny day for Christmas, but it’s so much nicer to stay in and watch a film when it’s chilly outside. Everyone has their own favourites, and even after all these years there are loads of Christmas films I haven’t seen – but I wanted to share with you some of my favourites, just in case you’re looking for some suggestions. Of course, my boyfriend considers himself a bit of a movie buff, so I couldn’t write this post without consulting with him! Wolfy has had plenty of input into this list and I’m sure he’ll be making sure I watch a few I haven’t yet seen this year as well.

So what festive films are my favourites?

(Not in any particular order)

  1. Love Actually – as Wolfy says “quintessential viewing”
  2. Elf – Santaaaaaaa
  3. Cool Runnings – Plays every year and every single year I watch and I love it
  4. The Snowman – Do I really even need to explain?
  5. The Holiday – Who can resist Cameron Diaz comedy and Kate Winslet’s adorable cottage?
  6. The Santa Claus
  7. The Home Alone 1 & 2 – watched the first one at the weekend
  8. How The Grinch Stole Christmas
  9. Bad Santa
  10. Miracle on 34th Street
  11. The Muppets Christmas Carol
  12. Jingle All The Way
  13. About A Boy – The most heart-warming film about attempted suicide I’ve ever seen… but it finishes at Christmas!
  14. Bridget Jones’ Diary – any excuse, but who can resist Colin Firth in that Christmas jumper?
  15. The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – just a bit of escapism
  16. Edward Scissorhands
  17. Serendipity – Wolfy reckons it is “the greatest love story of our time”
  18. Die Hard – Wolfy cries “it’s a Crimbo movie!”
  19. Nativity – hidden gem
  20. Santa Claus The Movie – classic
  21. National Lampoons Christmas Vacation
  22. Scrooged
  23. Trading places
  24. Batteries Not Included – this one always plays at Christmas!

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And some I still need to watch, but sound perfect for a vintage Christmas…

  1. It’s A Wonderful Life
  2. Meet Me In St Louis
  3. White Christmas
  4. Christmas in Connecticut
  5. The Bishop’s Wife

Any others to add to the list? Tell me your favourite Christmas movies in a comment…

Ab Lucy sign off

Walking in a Winter Wonderland & a Martian Invasion

FullSizeRenderWith my last few days at work well under-way (I literally have just four days left now!!) I still had some holiday to take from work, and I figured how better to spend it than with a trip to visit my sister in London? It coincided perfectly with a weekend trip I had already planned with my boyfriend and his family for a show, and meant I would get a few extra days away and a chance to visit the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, and to head to the Southbank for the Christmas Market. Obviously in true blogging fashion, I snapped as many moments from the weekend as I could in order to share them with you guys. I know that lots of you have been visiting both of these festive delights, and I wanted to share my favourite parts with you – to help share a bit of Christmas spirit.FullSizeRender (3)

FullSizeRender (2)My weekend kicked off with an early start and a train ride sound-tracked by the rather delicious Paolo Nutini and the soulful tunes of George Ezra – both albums I am listening to on repeat at the moment. When I arrived in London, me and my sister headed straight out for brunch at The Breakfast Club, a restaurant I have been dying to try after spotting a few pics of the amazing food on Instagram. I wasn’t disappointed – it was absolutely delicious and just what we needed as we were both ravenous by the time we ate. I had the rather tasty Huevos Al Benny (poached eggs, chorizo, roast peppers, avocado and fresh chillies on toasted English Muffins, with home-style fried potatoes – it was just perfect. Laura went for a veggie sausage sandwich and we also shared a portion of mac & cheese. To drink, I couldn’t resist going for a Green Is Good smoothie (spinach, mango, apple and mint) which just so happened to match Laura’s jumper in colour!FullSizeRender (1)

After our delicious meal, we went over to Southbank to take a walk along the Thames, see all the beautiful sparkling lights and to check out the Christmas market as the sun set. I really love this part of London, it really is beautiful at any time of year and I was there just a few months ago in blazing sunshine – equally perfect. In the middle of the market, we stumbled across the cutest Christmas tree maze and an adorable Rekorderlig shack where they were selling all the brand’s beverages including some rather delicious hot mulled cider which went down a treat. As it started to get dark, we started making our way to Hyde Park, finding that thankfully as it was still early it wasn’t too busy. We managed to avoid the queues and head straight in to mosey our way round the stalls selling pretty marzipan cubes, fake snow and great big greasy sausages. Unfortunately as we were there a bit early, we didn’t get to see any of the bands playing, which was a shame as I find the atmosphere is much better when they have live music. I didn’t think it was quite as well laid out this year, but I’m not sure if that was perhaps just because I have been a few years in a row now and it is becoming very over-commercialised. I would have liked, if I had time, to check out Winterville which is over at Victoria Park. The rest of the evening was spent at a pub in Shoreditch before we made our way to a food market to pick up some dinner – I had a delicious Patty & Bun Jose Jose burger and it was that good it’s actually making my mouth water now to think of it.FullSizeRender (6) FullSizeRender (7)

FullSizeRender (5)The next morning, I met the boyfriend for  a wander round London and a catch-up in a lovely Camden pub, before we headed to a fabulous Indian restaurant to review the food. (Review will be posted on Friday) After a lovely afternoon there, we went to meet his family at Marble Arch, where they had booked us rooms at Victory Services Club, which was really nice. This place had the comfiest beds and, even better complete silence when you closed the door which gave a perfect night’s sleep and was much needed after a busy few days. The staff were so friendly and helpful, we had a great breakfast and the bar was nice and cosy with a roaring fire. Why were we staying there? Well it was a rather lovely Christmas present from boyfriend’s dad and step-mum, who bought the whole family tickets to go and see The War of the Worlds at the O2 Arena on Saturday night. It has officially been almost a whole year since I last saw a show in London, and as a big musicals lover, that was seriously starting to make me twitch. So I was more than excited to be heading there, particularly as this was such a huge show and yet I knew very little about it.

IMG_0264As a literature student, I had read HG Wells’ The Time Machine, but had never read The War of the Worlds, so I had an idea of the type of writing that inspired the performance but that was about it. A friend at work had lent me the programme from when he went to see the show, which I flicked through and it certainly helped fill in a few blanks. He also lent me the CD of the soundtrack, which I listened too very briefly on my 10-minute drive to work – but anyone who knows the music and the show will know that is not enough to really get a feel for it. So I was blown away when I finally saw the full performance live on stage at the O2 – the combination of live actors, a full orchestra, a film and a giant mechanical martian spewing fire and lasers across the audience was more than I ever could have believed. It sounds crazy, but it really worked and crazy is good in a story about invading martians! I won’t give away the storyline, but the music really stole the show, Jeff Wayne has really captured the drama, the emotion and the suspense in every single note. This combined with the special effects, and you have a spectacular show on your hands. It certainly is not a show I would have thought of going to see, but I’m so glad I have seen it now so that I understand what all the hype is about. And I’m also very glad that I have short legs and didn’t have to suffer like the guy sitting behind me with his knees up to his chin.


 All in all, it was a pretty good weekend full of Christmas cheer, sparkling lights and plenty of good food – some of my favourite things. I love getting to spend a long weekend in London every now and again – it really gives you much more time to do stuff at a leisurely pace. I can’t stand when you have to rush everywhere and end up missing things. It definitely makes me realise that I could really love living in London in the future.

Have any of you guys been to see The War Of The Worlds? Or Have you been to the Winter Wonderland? What did you think of them? Or are you a big brunch fan and love The Breakfast Club?

Ab Lucy sign off

The true meaning of Christmas

jumperI’m so happy that I managed to regain my love of Christmas after spending my teenage years working at a card shop almost destroyed it. Trust me, unpacking Christmas card deliveries in August and being forced to listen to the same Christmas songs on repeat for months before the big day can do that to a girl. But it’s okay, after a few years away from life in retail, I can safely say my love of the festive season has returned and is in full force as I count down to December 25. I actually had a couple of days off last week which were spent in my Christmas jumper with the Christmas music blaring as I made mince pies and decorated the Christmas tree – perfect! So now I am firmly in Christmas-mode and ready for the big day – although I haven’t actually done much Christmas shopping yet – eeek I better get a move on! Each year, there are certain things that make Christmas complete for me – around these the rest of the details change each year, but without these it isn’t a proper one.

So what are the 10 moments that define Christmas for me?

  1. Hearing the *holidays are coming* music and *gasp* that John Lewis advert
  2. The first mince pie of the season – oh holy cow that one is the best
  3. The day spent with my dad decorating the tree and the rest of the house, with the Christmas songs on full blast and the pair of us singing along
  4. Christmas shopping when the town is glittering with Christmas lights – so pretty!
  5. Baking up Christmas goodies with my mum – mainly more mince pies and Christmas cake, plus mini quiches and sausage rolls – yum!
  6. Spending Christmas Eve in the pub with friends and lots of laughter
  7. A brisk winter walk on Christmas morning with the family, seeing the Royals
  8. Decorating the table for Christmas dinner and pulling crackers while we eat
  9. Spending the night watching Christmas TV and acting like The Royle Family
  10. The traditional Mauritian Boxing Day curry my dad always cooks – so good!

cute pies

All of these moments, and many more, define the Christmas season for me. They are the precious memories I hold close to my heart and the things I look forward to each year. But what ties them all together? They all have one thing in common – family and friends – the ones you talk about those adorable adverts with, the ones you spend time with wrapping presents, eating food and shouting at the TV with… Christmas is all about the ones you love and I think it is so easy for people to get caught up in spending loads, or focusing on their own Christmas list a little too much. Christmas is a time for giving and spending time with people – I for one really look forward to catching up with friends and cosy winter nights with the family. I’ve seen so many articles and blog posts that focus on gift guides and shopping ideas, so many tweets about whatever item people are lusting over and would like Santa to leave behind this year… it just seems to miss the point a little bit! Yes gifts are great, but what about focusing on what the season is really about? Having that time off work to spend time with those special people in your life. I know that’s what I’m looking forward to the most this Christmas.

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What moments define Christmas for you? What are you looking forward to?

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Top tips for staying in control of your finances this Christmas

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John Henderson

Since it’s December 1, so why don’t we celebrate the start of advent calendars with a Christmas-themed post? After spending the last 12 months flitting between living frugally and saving every penny for travelling, and having a cheeky blow-out here and there – I seem to have struck a good balance between splashing out and holding on to my cash. It’s amazing actually to note the differences between my whole attitude towards spending now compared to a year ago – before I would just pop out on my lunch-break most days and “treat myself” to something for the sake of buying something simply because I worked in town. Now, I still like to buy myself nice things, but I seem to have gained a lot of perspective on how I want to spend my money – in short, I’ve really realised the value of my hard work and the limited funds I earn. How did I do it? Well after booking my travels, I started thinking about every penny I spent in terms of what I would get for it in Thailand or Australia. I realised that paying £50 for a new dress for one night out was ridiculous if that could pay for five night’s accommodation in Asia.

It’s amazing when you start thinking like that how it can affect what you spend – and it doesn’t just work for the travellers among us. If you’re saving for a house deposit you could easily think of what you are spending in terms of the freedom and space you will get. For example, one weekend away with the girls can get you away from from living with your parents for two nights, but it could also put away between £2-300 towards a deposit. Or for those saving up to buy a new car, you could think in terms of buying lunch for work every day costs around £25 a week, maybe more, and over a month that small cutback could save you over £100. Over 12 months that runs up to £1,200 and before you know it you’ve saved a huge wedge of money towards it by just making packed lunches. Wow.

With Christmas coming up quick, everyone is making lists for Santa and proclaiming they’ve been good all year. But what happens if you’re saving hard for something special like me? If you’re planning to start your new year with a bang by travelling the world, buying a house or a new car, or getting married – Christmas can seem like a bit of a scary prospect if you have a lot of people to buy for. And let’s be honest, not many of us manage to put a bit aside each month in preparation, or to spread the cost over a few months of shopping. I’m normally a lot better organised, but I’ve had so much going on lately that all my Christmas shopping is happening in December this year. This year however, that doesn’t phase me one bit and you know why? It’s because I’ve firmly decided that this year, unlike last year, I am not spending the earth on gifts. My friends and family all understand that I will be cutting back a lot this year because of my travels, and many of them have used it as an excuse to do the same.

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PT Money

How am I cutting back this Christmas – and how can you do the same?

  1. Prioritising who you buy for is important. I’ve been known to buy everyone I’ve ever met a gift, whether I am actually friends with a person or not. What’s the point? I’ve cut it back to close family and friends this year.
  2. Spend time with people. Christmas can be a great time to catch up with lots of different circles of friends while you’re all off work and people would much rather spend time with you than have a faceless gift.
  3. Don’t be afraid to say no. Slightly contradicting number two – it’s okay if you don’t have the money to pay for all the meals, drinks and nights out, and it’s okay if you fancy a night in front of the television.
  4. Don’t buy useless crap. I have one rule about Christmas – that I never buy rubbish for the sake of giving a present. I refuse to give half-hearted gifts – you know the bath sets etc, when I can give something special and individual.
  5. Be thoughtful. A thoughtful gift you have spent ages creating means far more than a rubbish gift set – think photo albums, scrapbooks, something personalised and special. They’re often not even that expensive but mean so much more.
  6. Make an agreement. If you and all your girls are hard up for cash – why not agree to do Secret Santa as a group, or decide that no-one does gifts and instead spend some money on a meal out or a night in together?
  7. Buy people things to do. Some of the nicest gifts I’ve had have been gig tickets from my boyfriend, a spa day with my mum, or afternoon tea with the “mother-in-law” because they were an opportunity to spend time with people, and can cost as much or little as you want.
  8. Get crafty. It’s so easy to make decorations, Christmas cards or even gifts, plus it can save you a lot of money. My mum and I cut up Christmas cards each year and use them as labels for wrapping. It also makes your offerings that much more unique.
  9. Get in the kitchen. I love being off at Christmas and having time to bake mince pies and other Christmas goodies. They make amazing presents and are so fun to make. Try out gingerbread men, jams and chutneys.
  10. Remember your Christmas spirit. Most importantly, remember what the spirit of Christmas is all about – not money and things, but being around the people you love, full tummies and smiling faces – that’s all that matters at the end of the day.

Any tips for cutting back this Christmas?

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My favourite Christmas experiences

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The Ruthnum’s do Christmas

I love Christmas. It’s amazing to read those words from me because as my friends and family know, working at Clinton Cards for several years when I was younger pretty much decimated my Christmas spirit. When you’re counting through orders of Christmas cards and gifts in August, just after getting home from holidaying on the beach, it gets pretty old pretty quick and by the time December rolls around you can’t stand the sight of gift wrap. But no more! Now I consider myself more the reincarnation of Mrs Christmas, planning presents well in advance and taking the time to make them special and personal to the individual, decorating the tree and the house, laying the table and helping with the dinner, choosing the Christmas TV schedule and deciding where we will spend Christmas day is all down to me. My mum and I really love Christmas and always make sure we have a sparkly new Christmas jumper to put on, while my dad and I team up to tackle the Christmas trees and hang the chocolates – not all of them make it to the tree.

Being so set on family Christmases makes it hard for me to understand when I come across families who just aren’t as bothered, who don’t really make the effort despite everyone being off work for what is often the first time in months. But I understand that everyone is different and everyone celebrates in their own way. The Ruthnum’s have had some pretty spectacular Christmases over the years, and it was hard to pick out just the one amazing memory for my entry to the Transun competition to win a family trip to Lapland – in the end I had to narrow it down to a few precious memories that will always stay with me for many Christmases to come:

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With my dad at Christmas

The time I saw Santa Claus

Not a time any youngster will forget in a hurry! I’m not just talking about when you visit him at the local garden centre and he gives you some rubbish present that falls apart on the car ride home. I’m talking about late on Christmas Eve, when I was only young, my parents and I were laying the obligatory carrots and mince pie (with a shot of whiskey) by the fireplace before I headed to bed. Suddenly, hearing a jingle of sleigh bells, I ran to the window and who did I see, but old Saint Nick himself walking down the street! My mum said I better run up to bed quick before he caught me up, otherwise I might not get any presents, and as I lay in bed – I was sure I could hear the sound of hooves on the roof. A child’s imagination is a magical thing, and I will always remember the true magic of Christmas coming to life for me in that moment. It may have just been a drunk guy in a Santa costume, but to me, it was and always will be the real deal.

The last Christmas with both of my grandparents

It was a shock when my nan was diagnosed with cancer, a shock for all of us. It was too late to save her, but without a second’s thought she had every treatment going to prolong her life just enough for one last family Christmas. It wasn’t the easiest Christmas, it was understandably an emotional time for all of us and tensions ran high. It was horrible to see her have to have her roast dinner blended and mashed up so she could manage it, but the fact that she was there, sitting alongside my grandad – no matter how emaciated she looked – meant everything. It is a memory I will always treasure and remember.

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Christmas Day spent on the beach in Mauritius

One of my most amazing and tropical Christmas experiences was spent eating home-made curry with my father’s side of the family on the beach, tanning, on Christmas Day. Later that day we went out on rubber rings attached to a speedboat with my cousin and aunt, and we just had so much fun! It was an odd experience to spend Christmas Day in a bikini rather than a festive jumper, but a welcome change and break from the chilly winter in Britain. It was also a great chance to catch up with family we unfortunately see very rarely because of the distance between us all. A great alternative Christmas and everyone at home was rather jealous.

Christmas Day spent in New York City

New York is one of my absolute favourite cities in the world, it is so welcoming and versatile, so majestic, and I never run out of things to do and see. I was so lucky to fly out with my family to New York on Christmas Day itself a few years ago, we had breakfast in the deserted airport and lunch in Times Square! The whole city was just magical with the most elaborate and extravagant decorations lining the streets and the buildings. Walking down 5th Avenue was just astounding as all the buildings were covered in fairy lights, with the windows packed with festive spirit. My favourite part was visiting Rockefeller Centre where a giant Christmas tree overshadowed the stunning ice rink, which was packed with eager skaters. A truly magical place to spend Christmas that I seriously recommend – particularly as everything is still open!

Last Christmas…

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Christmas family photo

I was having a bit of a rough time of it at work and in life, unsure of what my next move would be, and I luckily ended up with a full two weeks off over Christmas which I hadn’t had since university. I made the most of it and spent loads of time with family and friends, catching up with everyone I had kept missing before. I had an amazing Christmas with my family, greeting the Royal family at Sandringham on Christmas Day, eating mountains of food, going to see two musicals and generally being very merry. With friends, there were nights in, visits to the pub, parties and presents – all making me very grateful for the amazing group of mates I have. Overall – it was a very special Christmas, probably the best I have had in a long time, nothing went wrong and it actually helped me make my next big life decision to go travelling thanks to some special people.

Prince Harry looking hungover and cheeky

Prince Harry looking hungover and cheeky


These five Christmases are just some of the great reasons I have to love the festive season once again and I’m so glad that I have so many people around me who love Christmas as much as I do, and making it special. Fingers crossed I win the competition so that I can make Christmas as special for a few select people as they have made it for me!

What is your favourite Christmas memory?

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