Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Roar-some 5th Birthday

Right-o, I'm just going to dive straight in with this one if that's alright with you.....

We've had a crazy-busy old time around here lately - one big reason is that our gorgeous boy had a big birthday.

The birthday boy before school

In March our boy turned 5 (that's half of ten as he keeps reminding me!) and this was his first birthday since starting school.

We are very lucky in that the school have a great system whereby you can hire out the hall for parties.

This genius idea allowed us to hold a joint party with two of his classmates directly after school on a Friday - this meant that practically the whole class was able to make it and it suited most parents for convenient pick up etc.

The added extra bonus is that our boy's favourite teacher of all was hired to put on a sports party for the children - I call him the pied piper of children since they all adore him.

We decided on a dinosaur theme - who doesn't love dinosaurs?!
This was probably the easiest and most stress-free children's party we've ever had.

Division of labour was sensible:
One mother on food - mini packed picnics for each child
One mother on party bags - a couple of dinosaur themed mini goodies and a lolly!
One mother on cake - guess who!!!!

We will get to the cake in a moment but I should let you know that I was also on balloons. We made the dash to the balloon shop on the morning of the party and chose purple and green balloons (Joker colours) - this meant driving around a clown car for the rest of the day without being able to see out of any windows!

Now for the cake - one cake for three dinosaur mad boys. I put some serious thought into this cake since it wasn't just my boy's special day and I felt more pressure than I usually would...I decided on a stegosaurus since it was easily recognisable.

Now all I had to do was figure out how on earth I was going to achieve this.....I roughed out some sketches to decide how I would make a cake-jigsaw into something resembling a dinosaur and just how much cake I would need.

I knew that a couple of children don't like chocolate so I decided to make half chocolate sponge and half vanilla.

Then I would cement everything with vanilla buttercream and cover with shop-bought fondant - I'm sorry to admit that this is the one area where I never make my own.

I know I usually bang on about from scratch but putting together a cake like this is enough work already. (Besides which I have made my own in the past so I know how to and am therefore allowed to cheat - k?)

It sounds a bit like I know what I'm doing but please don't be fooled - I baked the cake in advance so it could dry slightly making it easier to carve and then I made a shit load of buttercream (that is a technical term).

I used a half and half semi circle for the body and then winged it for the rest, shaving off bits as I went until I was happy.

With a smooth crumb coat I then left it again to harden slightly before returning to cover with rolled fondant (I can feel Mary Berry's eyes on me as I write this - lest we forget Enwezor). I used white fondant for the claws, teeth and eyes with dots of gel icing for the pupils.

Excuse the washing basket with carrier bag (wtf?!)

The biggest challenge was the spines of our stegosaurus, I considered a few options but I had very specific requirements.

My perfect match needed to be: strong enough to retain shape and position; sturdy enough not to go soggy buy absorbing moisture and still tasty enough to eat!!!

I plumped for gingerbread (love me some gingerbread!) I made three different sized templates as I wanted the spines to be graduated in size. Rolled out the gingerbread, cut enough (plus loads of extras just in case) then scored to add detail.

This was what I was most nervous about but I was thrilled with how they turned out and I think they did look authentic.

There you have it - I stabbed them in where I thought they looked good and a dinosaur was born.

The party was a success and the children were very excited and impressed by the cake. Most of all they all said it tasted yummy and there was enough left for all the adults to enjoy too - hoorah!

Have you made a dinosaur cake? I bet you had a better strategy than I did didn't you?! Do share if you have as I'd love to see.

Until the next time, from my Little Stormtrooper and me, "May the Force be With You" 

Friday, 6 February 2015

Um....Is it February already????

Hiya, *raises hand in a shy fashion*

Remember me? I know it's been a while but you know - life!

Ok, let's think....December:

School play, my boy winning an award for reading at school, Christmas holidays, meeting Father Christmas, loads of baking - ACTUAL CHRISTMAS (as my boy took to calling it!), New year, my mum giving us all a scare by being really really ill and then going backwards and forwards for a while before being - ok now I hope!

Little Christmas jig never hurt anybody

Then....new year, back to school, back to routine and, um - here we are in February without me even realising it!

My boy has gone from strength to strength at school and started playing rugby which he loves. His class performed their first assembly at school which was awesome and they were all fantastic.


I'm making a bigger effort to stay healthy this year and so far so good. Back on the gym schedule, and we're all enjoying some new healthy foods - even the boy who has ramped up his eating skills lately and been trying loads of new things which is awesome.

My brilliant husband has been working like a madman since before Christmas and busting his gut for us but hopefully the light is at the end of the tunnel a little bit with that one and the gruelling schedule will ease off a little very soon as we have some serious fun to catch up on - hooray!

We've been enjoying getting to hang out with my big brother lately which is one of my favourite things to do and I just love the relationship he has with my boy - they are so cute together.

Oh yeah - there's one teeny thing I forgot to mention - our family got bigger just before Christmas


The Mini Schnauzer

Double Trouble

Look at this little guy - he is just adorable. It has been brilliant for my boy to have a best friend around all the time. They are already thick as thieves and that's just what we hoped for.

Oh yeah and the other addition to our family was this teapot - so fricking cute!

Isn't she puuurrrddyyy?!
This feels like one of those dick-ish round robins that people send out before Christmas - only this one is after Christmas so you're not allowed to call me a dick - ok?!

Anyway, now we're all back up to speed normal service will be resumed.

In a bit yo!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Next Christmas Wishlist

Season's Greetings to you good people of the virtual world....

For those of you who have been reading my ramblings since last Yuletide you will know how much I adore Christmas and so naturally I am in happiness overload as it's now December and that means full systems festive!

The good people at Next.co.uk got in touch recently and asked me to create a Christmas Wishlist - I love a bit of window shopping so I got stuck in perusing all the goodies they have to offer. I actually love how going through the website is just like it used to be flicking through that big old Next Directory - showing my age again I guess - eek!

Well here we are, the 10 things I love at Next:

To take you from left to right:
  • A stunning matte black leather jacket - this would go with literally everything!
  • Super cute navy brogues - classic with a twist for the girl about town
  • My boy would look adorably cosy in this fair isle set
  • This blouse is a gorgeous contrast of feminine pink with utility styling
  • My husband would look very sexy in this chunky knit cardi - love me a man in a cardi
  • This lace glass trifle dish would be perfect for my Italian Christmas trifle which I make every year for Christmas day - the dish I make it in is cracked so I would love a special one
  • I love that the Next Varsity range has the emblem N - my boy's initial and he has lots in this range which he gets very excited about
  • This Christmas Rules sign would look so gorgeous in my hallway so everyone knows the rules when they come to our house!
  • I'm so into burgundy right now and this skirt is elegant with an edge - right up my street
  • I simply couldn't not pick something tea related and how sweet is this set?!

So there you have it - my pick of gorgeous gifts, treats and xmas goodies from Next - oh and they might even pick me to win one of these items - I promise I've been a good girl this year and so have my boys. 

Well, you better believe that this is just the first of a jam packed festive line up here in my Virtual space so until the next time - the countdown is on and we're only three weeks away people - that deserves a big WOO and an actual HOO!!!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Ox Pasture Hall, a review

Hello loves - I'm glad to see that we all survived Hallowe'en in one piece!

I'm here today with a review of a hotel. Yes, I was very kindly invited to stay in a stunning 4 star hotel in exchange for a review in my Virtual Rhiality. So here goes.....

A little while ago I travelled to Yorkshire, 3 miles outside of Scarborough to be exact and visited the stunning Ox Pasture Hall.

I could wax lyrical for some time about how beautiful the grounds are and how picturesque the Yorkshire countryside is. It's no wonder that so many people choose Ox Pasture as their wedding venue - the photo opportunities would be amazing whatever the weather!

stormy skies

sunshine prevails
the long and winding road
However since I didn't get married there last week (shocker!) I'm going to stick to the hotel itself and share my experience with you. I hope the photos will tell you the rest :)

Let me start by saying all the staff I met were incredibly polite, nothing was too much trouble and they found that perfect blend of attentiveness which doesn't turn to bothersome. The second thing which I have to mention is cleanliness - I know I sound like an old fuddy duddy but this matters to me a lot! I'm always surprised when I visit somewhere of a certain standard when things aren't totally clean - I'm not getting all "four in a bed" about it but I mean normal things like dust. Anyway - this is a long winded way of saying every inch of the hotel was spotless and that makes Rhia a happy girl.

Let's get onto the room. I was booked into a suite which sounds terribly grand.....and it was. I loved the decor which was neutral but not the kind of neutral which is devoid of personality - I don't do beige!

Here's a little collage of the room - the gorgeous view - the two tellys!

Gigantic luxurious but unfussy bed. Clean and comfy.
I can really only talk about a hotel room from the point of view of what matters to me so here it is: wifi, impressive room service menu, clean, comfy, spacious and.......tea!!!! My husband laughed at me for taking this picture but I knew this would matter as much to others as it does to me!!

Look - fabulous, enormous dressing gowns and fresh flowers. I love these little touches (And yes, I also got laughed at for taking a photo of inside the wardrobe!)

Let's talk bathrooms - this one was massive with one of those rain showers, an enormous tub and stylish his and hers wash basins.

The hotel has a restaurant and a brasserie as well as a bar with comfy lounge so there are plenty of places to relax around the hotel.

Dinner in the restaurant was incredible. It started with a glass of Prosecco in the bar and was followed by this: a starter of fish cake with a poached egg and pea purée, followed by mediterranean vegetable wellington with seasonal vegetables and was topped off with an awesome chocolate and pistachio layer cake, chocolate and pistachio Arctic roll and a chocolate and banana mille feuille. I could have chosen so many things from the menu which usually doesn't happen to me being a little fussy with food as I am but everything I had was delicious. You get the idea right? 

The next day I had a light breakfast because well, see above! Later that day before leaving the hotel there was afternoon tea, taken in the lounge next to the roaring fire. It was exquisite and there was no shortage of tea - so, you know - bonus!

So what more can I say. I would highly recommend this hotel. I felt thoroughly relaxed after just one night. You are close enough to town but still very much in the country and you are surrounded by woods and wildlife making it perfect for walks in all seasons.

bye bye comfy bed

 Bye Bye Ox Pasture Hall. Thanks so much for everything. I'd love to come back soon.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Top 5 Classic Horror Films

Only a couple of days to go to the Spooktacular night itself and so I'm presenting you with my top 5 classic horror films. These are the timeless ones, even if you didn't see them when they were released you'll still be terrified by them today. These are the ones which you will probably have heard of and chances are you have seen at least one of them. If you only watch one scary movie for Hallowe'en this year - make it one of these.....

As usual - you won't find a rehashed plot synopsis here - if you want to know what happens, watch the movie. I'm just here with the lowdown and I'm hoping, as ever, to avoid spoilers.

1. Carrie, 1976 
Based on the first of Stephen King's novels, Carrie is probably my favourite film based on a King book. By now you'll be expecting this bit: there was a sequel, a TV series and as always, a totally unnecessary remake!

Sissy Spacek and John Travolta star in a film which is probably scariest to me because it's not particularly far fetched. Granted, you have to believe that people can have supernatural powers but that doesn't seem as hard to get on board with compared to the plots of some horror films. Of course I could love this film because I secretly wished 1% of this could happen when I was being bullied at school (maybe 2%). However, lots of people seem to agree that this is a great movie and what's more - it's fucking frightening!

2. The Omen, 1976 
1976 was clearly a great year for being shit scared.

This is another film which I watched when I was much too young and believe you me I had to sleep with the lights on for a while after seeing it. We have all the ingredients for great horror once again: children and religion namely.

The film was famously cursed which helps add to the horror. Gregory Peck heads up an all star cast in what might be the most well-known horror film of them all. There were 3 more films in the series (the last being made for TV) but only the original was written by David Seltzer and it does show. As always there was a recent remake which wasn't as bad as some of them but still seems completely pointless and totally lacked the punch of the original.

3. Village of the Damned, 1960
Based on the John Wyndham book, The Midwich Cuckoos, this might not be one which many of you have seen - unless you happen to have caught the 1995 remake starring Kirstie Alley and Christopher Reeve; which despite having John Carpenter and all his horror prowess at its helm, couldn't capture the haunting terror of the original.

You see I have a thing about the role of women throughout literature, with a particular focus on their mental health and treatment in terms of emotional frailty and hysteria. This is also closely linked with beliefs and victimisation of women who supposedly hold supernatural powers both historically and in fiction. This film and many others of it's time speak to me because of it's connection to my little obsession. The novel was written in 1957, a time when the world was terribly concerned with aliens and science fiction though this story brings that way into reality - in a most terrifying way.

Of course it is dated when you watch it but the principal is just as scary! You really have to trust me on this one and watch it.

4. The Exorcist, 1973
Actually - maybe this is the most famous horror film of all time? I can't decide :/

Anyhoo, it's hard to know what to say about this one. I'm sure we all know about how Linda Blair was too young to see most of the film she starred in, that the story is based on a documented case of possession, that the priest really was a priest and that the whole film was steeped in controversy. Even the original trailer was banned for being too scary and people were fainting left, right and centre at the cinemas.

Now, we may have all been apparently desensitised to movie violence and there may well be some effects in this film which you will find a bit lame but overall it stands up as a really scary film. So there, I found something to say about it after all!

5. The Shining, 1980
Here is another entry based on a Stephen King novel. This one is directed by Stanley Kubrick and stars Jack Nicholson which I'm sure we all know. I've put this film on the list somewhat begrudgingly because actually I don't care for the film too much.

I do like the book and there are so many people who like this film that I couldn't not include it really. It's creepy, it has iconic scenes and horrific imagery that only Kubrick can produce. Either way, this is a film which should be watched.

Special Mention Goes To:

Poltergeist, 1982 
I think this film gets a bit of a bad rep. It's better than most people think - at least that's what I think. Also I'm beginning to realise that I'm clearly terrified by very blonde children!

This movie was written by Steven Spielberg and although it wasn't directed by him it still has his fingerprints all over it.

So, that's it for another round up. Have you seen any of these? Do you think I have chosen wisely? Do let me know in the comments.
3 days to go........are you feeling scared yet?

Friday, 24 October 2014

Top 5 Foreign Horror Films - Friday Night is Fright Night

Not long to go now before it's Hallowe'en for reals and so far I've eased you in gently with Teen Horror and scary films from your Childhood but now it's time to get serious....seriously scary that is....

It doesn't get more scary than foreign horror films. Whether it's the inclusion of scary tales, concepts and characters with whom we aren't familiar or whether you believe the studies which say that it's because we are drawn in and pay more attention when we are reading subtitles there's no denying there are some truly terrifying examples of world cinema out there. So let's take a look:

As always, I'm trying to avoid spoilers and these are in no particular order.

1. Ringu (Ring), 1998 - Japan

To me this is the SCARIEST. FILM. EVER. and therefore my favourite horror film. It spawned a host of sequels and the obligatory US remake. I can't give away any information about this story - doubtless you've seen one of its incarnations so know the basic story but it is simply a ghost story. I've seen nearly all the subsequent versions of this and actually like most of them although they are not on this level - for once, even the American version wasn't totally pants! This isn't just about the moments which make you jump out of your skin but lasting terror which will come back to haunt your brain!

I first saw this film when I was at drama school - we "acquired" the DVD from PrimeTime on Gloucester Road: For those of you who don't know about PrimeTime video stores they were basically Blockbuster Video but with films you actually wanted to see and they had a particularly great world cinema section. Since we were all actors we consumed many movies and this place was like home from home. It's actually sad that PrimeTime stores are no more and now I'm feeling all nostalgic.

I digress - we watched the film and then the DVD was passed around our group of friends. I leant the PrimeTime DVD to a friend many years later and then her dog chewed it so sadly, the disc itself is no more either.

The new millenium was a time when many Asian (mainly Japanese) horror films were remade in America but trust me, you have to watch the original of this first to get the full effect and then if you're anything like me you'll have to consume every Japanese horror movie you can get your hands on (and then you'll never sleep again!!!)

Promise me you'll watch this film and tell me when you have so we can discuss, k?

2. El Orfanato, (The Orphanage) 2007 - Spain 

Cor blimey, this was a scary film! The first of three Spanish films in this list proves that some truly awesome cinema has come out of Spain in recent years. The fact that this was a debut feature film from J. A. Bayona is incredible and having Guillermo del Toro on board as executive producer clearly helped.

Again, this is essentially a ghost story so it will keep you on the edge of your seat but there is considerably less blood and gore than with some scary movies. As you can probably guess there are children in this film and they can be truly terrifying! All in all this is just a great film which has it all; story, script, classy performances and some impressive visuals. It's no wonder this film received a 10 minute standing ovation at Cannes!

3.    Død Snø, (Dead Snow) 2009 - Norway

Zombies are scary. Nazis are scary. Zombie Nazis are fucking scary.

Excuse the swearing but I defy you to watch this and not swear!

This is definitely one for fans of blood and gore but it is much more than a bloodfest, it's one of the better examples of its type in that it is well directed and well acted.......there's zombies which are Nazis, Nazi. Zombies -- in the snow. Nuff said.

4. Rec, 2007 - Spain 

Our second Spanish offering is a film from which I couldn't look away - as much as I may have wanted to at times! Despite the fact that this film was intended to go straight to video it did get a cinema release and it's popularity paved the way for three sequels and, you guessed it - a US remake (not a very pleasing version).

From start to finish this film was intended to be as realistic as possible in order to be more frightening and it really worked! This was not in a Hitchcockian twisted kind of way to get off on some poor girl's real fear; but genuinely for the purpose of making a better movie.

The actors were not allowed to read the entire script and the movie was shot chronologically so that much of the plot genuinely surprised them. Unknown actors were cast and everything was shot in real locations with no sets used at all- again to make everything appear more real.  As a viewer you are completely drawn into the horror of this film and its zombies and I think this earns a place as my second favourite zombie film of all time. My favourite zombie film is 28 Days Later from which Rec obviously learned many lessons but which hasn't made it into any of these lists because to me it is more zombie, less horror-y whereas Rec qualifies as more horrific and less zombie-rific. So there.

5. Lât den rätte komma in, (Let The Right One In) 2008 - Sweden

1980s Swedish children and vampires - the perfect recipe for horror!
This is a bit of a new take on vampire movies but it does play to the traditional vampiric lore we all know and fear. All in all this film is freakishly haunting. The story comes first, before the horror which is probably what makes this film great. Wouldn't you know it, some American dude decided it was necessary to remake this film but I say to him, "It wasn't." That's actually all I say because I have a feeling he probably won't listen to me. I hope that you listen to me when I urge you to watch this movie and to definitely ignore the other version.

Honourable mention goes to:
El labarinto del fauno, (Pan's Labyrinth) 2006 - Spain 

The last on our list today also comes from Spain and again we've turned to Guillermo del Toro  for both writing and direction.

I don't know whether this strictly counts as a horror film so I couldn't put it in the actual list but it scared the heck out of me so here it is. Del Toro is pretty much a genius to my mind with this film although I can't say I'm the biggest fan of his other works. That may be because he was able to go the extra mile to realise his vision with this film since he was in total control. He even translated the subtitles into English himself to ensure that the story came across in exactly the way he intended.

There's really not much else I can say about this film. It's brilliant because it challenges your expectations. It's also pretty messed up with some depraved stuff in it which I found difficult to watch. Ultimately it's a great, scary, fantastical, magical and violent movie which I want to watch again but which I don't want to watch again - know what I'm sayin'?

That's your lot lovelies. We're fast approaching the big day now and yet I've still got two more top fives of fabulously frightening films for you so make sure you check back, that is as long as you've not already been scared into silently rocking in the corner and chewing on your own hair by these lists.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Top 5 Childhood Scary Movies - Friday Night is Fright Night

Back for more are you?....you haven't been scared enough?

Well this installment of Friday Night is Fright Night is all about those films which terrified us when we were young. You know the ones you weren't supposed to watch but one of your friends nicked the tape from his big brother. Yes yes - tapes - VHS; that's what they were in those days and if you don't remember them then you probably won't remember being terrified by these films either. I have a feeling that if you didn't watch these when you were a kid they might not have the same effect . I should point out that although I have stated the year of the US cinema release for these films this has no relation to when I watched them since back in the day we had to wait at least one whole year for films to be released in our UK cinemas, then it took literally years for films to be released on video and if you waited for them to be shown on TV then that was another couple of years after the video so, on reflection; there was probably no reason to state the year at all......*tumbleweed moment*...anyhoo on with the post...

Let me know if these are the ones you remember from your childhood nightmares or whether I've missed out your favourite!

Here we go then: Top 5 and remember they are in no particular order:

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984 
Robert Englund stars as one of the most iconic horror movie characters of all time - he even reprised the role 5 more times! Before Wes Craven reinvented the youth horror scene he actually invented it with this frightener and we've all been having nightmares about it ever since. Bonus points go to this film because it stars Young Johnny Depp which is always a good thing! I can't say too much more about this film without giving away spoilers but basically there's this street called Elm Street and it's, well, a total nightmare. Robert Englund also scared the beJesus out of us as the entirely creepy professor in Urban Legend which featured in my previous post.

2. Candyman, 1992 
I remember when the first person at school watched this film and then told us the story on Monday morning - even though we now knew what would happen we all went home and managed to get hold of a copy, or went to a friend's to watch it. Literally the whole school year could no longer look in the mirror. There was a rumour that a bigger boy in my brother's year made his mum get rid of all the mirrors in the house because he was so terrified of Candyman. Watch it at your peril because you may never be able to look at your own reflection again afterwards. Bonus info: Tony Todd who stars in this film and is responsible for all the terror was also the source of evil in the Final Destination films from my previous post - are we sensing a theme? (wait how many times did I say the name of this film...oh ok I'm safe)

3. Hellraiser, 1987
On your right is the poster for this movie ---->
I'm actually not looking at it because it actually terrifies me still!
There was a copy of this in our house when I was younger and even though I knew it would be scary I took a peek - holy shit you guys - it is entirely inappropriate for kids or anyone for that matter. I have since watched the whole thing and I'm still disturbed. I can't talk about it anymore because I have to scroll down so I can avoid this picture.

4. It, 1990
This is where I let you into a secret: you know in American Pie* when they talk about "band camp" and how anyone who goes to "Band Camp" is a total nerd?! Well, I'm one of those nerds - except mine was orchestra camp. Every summer I went to the Lake District to a music course where I played my cello in an orchestra made up of other geeks from around the country - yes: I'm a full on nerd. (*bear in mind that they were playing woodwind instruments which are a lot smaller and more slender than stringed instruments so the answer to your question is - NO and you have a filthy mind!)

Back to the matter at hand - this is technically a TV minis series based on the Stephen King novel. Imagine the scene, for this years' music course I was staying in a log cabin on the banks of Lake Windemere and this was on the telly. I was far too young to watch but watch I did and I. AM. AN. IDIOT! It's fairly common to be frightened of clowns and this is probably the reason why most people are. The master of scary stories doesn't disappoint with this one plus Tim Curry is incredible and totally terrifying! (I absolutely adore Tim Curry - and I'm not the only one so I feel bad saying anything negative about him but curse him for being so good in this role!)

5. Child's Play, 1988
Did someone say Chucky? Is there anything more scary than a doll or puppet? This is another hideous movie franchise which also spawned 5 sequals and even comic books. At one point the series of films strays from the format of psychological horror/slasher movie to become more of a satire but then returns to being truly freaky in the end. This original stars Chris Sarandon who is a brilliant actor and I have to love him because he is the Six-fingered Man aka Count Tyrone Rugan (if you know what that means then you are officially awesome because that is in my opinion the best film ever made)

Well there you have it.....another set of freaky films to get you in the mood for Hallowe'en. What do you think of this list? Have you seen all these? Do they still give you nightmares? I think I'll be sleeping with a nightlight on after reliving this little lot! Next week I will be looking at Classic Horror......come back and join me....if you dare.........

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