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And the winner of the Illuminated Canvas is…

14 Oct


I absolutely love these LED canvases from Illuminated Canvas, and since I am the only person certain of never winning a Muddy Stilettos prize (*sniff*) I have already put in my order for a the beautiful Christmas angel (see it here).

Ah, but you might not need to reach into your pockets for a canvas at all.

Did you win the competition? Well, if you’re name’s Rebecca Jones from Oxford you did!

Come and claim your prize lady! Congratulations.

The rest of you, sorry this time, but don’t despair. My new giveaway goes live along with my new blogazine (hopefully tomorrow, but it may roll over into Tuesday depending on design glitches). Trust me, you’ll LOVE my new competition, and I really hope you’ll fall head over heels for my new look blogazine too.

Watch this space…

Hero x



Your social life sorted: The Muddy Guide 15 – 21 September

15 Sep

Sorrryyyyyy this is late. Having a crazy old time of things, what with the new Muddy Stilettos blogazine launching in two weeks (*squeak!*), trying to find time to talk to advertisers, chucking three kids in and out of school and trying to keep my alcohol consumption within moral limits.

Anyhow, here it is, in all its glory. Your social life sorted for the week. Have fun and please, if you do any of the things on this list, write and tell us about them in the box below this post. Mi comment boxa e su comment boxa and all that.

Edward Lear exhibition, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2o Sept 2012 – 6 Jan 2013

I confess that I didn’t know much about Edward Lear until a press release to this exhibition plopped into my in-box, but the Ashmolean’s brand new Exhibition Happy Birthday Edward Lear: 200 Years of Nature and Nonsense sounds captivating.

Lear is one of the most notable artists and popular writers of the Victorian period (I know, who knew?!), best known for his literary nonsense in poetry and prose, though he saw himself primarily as an artist.  I’ll be taking a sneaky pre-peek on the 19th so I’ll report back then but I’ve never had a less than interesting experience in the Ashmolean so I’m expecting great things. Frankly for £4 (and free for kids) you can afford to take a punt on it.

£4/£3 concessions | Free to under-18s/

Julius Caesar, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, 19-22 September

The RSC’s acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar comes to Aylesbury straight from the West End, starring a whole load of buff men wearing not very much. See you in the stalls! Tickets £10-30

London Design Festival, until 23 September

Milk Concept Boutique’s exhibition Be Seated

Are you a doer-upper, Grand Designs voyeur or hardened interiors pro? There’s something for everyone at the London Design Festival, now in its tenth year. Furniture, lighting, ceramics, architecture, fashion, interiors, graphic design and crafts are all lovingly covered in over 300 events.  The organisers recommend planning your visit carefully before you go – great advice because the range of this festival is truly gobsmacking. It’s not easy though. I’ve just spent half an hour trying to choose one brilliant event over another and have basically decided to sleep in the Truman Brewery for the next week.

Keeping it Local, Oxford’s Castle Quarter, 15-16 September

Muddy Stilettos gets all warm and toasty about community spirit, and Keeping It Local has it in spades. Over 100 exhibitors, from makers and bakers, gardeners to performers, will come together in Oxford’s Castle Quarter to showcase the best Oxfordshire and adjoining counties haveo offer. As you’d expect, there’s plenty for kids to do from pony rides, story telling, animal petting and face-painting while you concentrate on the important stuff like heckling the Morris Dancers.

10am-5pm both days. 1p entrance fee per person.

Jazz at St Giles,  St Giles Church, fortnightly from Saturday 22 September

I’m loving the idea of these new fortnightly Autumnal jazz concerts held at the 12th century St Giles church in central Oxford on Saturday nights. Featuring top class jazz musicians performing two sets with a 20 minute interval (yes, refreshments are available, you old lushes) the concerts will raise funds for the church, proving the famous adage that ‘jazzliness is next to Godliness’.

Tickets are available on the door, or book online at .  Tickets £10/concessions £8. Doors open: 7.00pm
Performance: 7.30pm

Luminaries at LASSCO, Milton Common, Thursday 20 September

I love LASSCO Three Pigeons, the architectural salvage experts nestled on the edge of Milton Common, with their quirky treasure trove of Grecian pillars, stuffed animals, Victorian door knobs and glorious chandeliers.

In line with its classy but slightly out-there aesthetic, the company has introduced a’Luminaries’ series of evening talks, the first of which was about the Antarctic explorer Frank Wild (!), but the second of which, container gardening, has infinitely broader in its appeal. Paul Williams, former Head Gardener at Bourton House and now consultant, broadcaster and author, is dropping by on 20 September to spill his trade secrets. Apparently there’ll be practical demos with pots, plants, compost and ‘quite a bit of mess’ according to LASSCO’s gleeful owner Anthony. Bring your own trowel for acccurate mud-flicking.

£10, including a glass of wine. 6.30pm for a 7pm start. LASSCO Three Pigeons, London Road, Milton Common, Oxfordshire OX9 2JN United Kingdom Tel: 01844 277188.

Chilterns Countryside and Food Festival, Ashridge Estate, Berkhamsted, Sunday 16 September

Can you stomach another festival? This one has all the usual attributes of kids crafts, ferret racing and local produce stalls, but plays its trump card in its location – the Ashridge Estate, which is stunning even by Chilterns standards. When all the bushcraft, sheep shearing and traditional beardy weardy woodcarving gets too much for you, take a deep breath, step into 6 miles of glorious forest and remember what you’re really celebrating.

10-4pm, £3 adults, children free. Ashridge Visitor Centre, tel: 01442 851 227

Fab interiors shop – and the SALE’S ON!

1 Sep

When I was in Amersham last month I popped into an interiors shop, not really expecting much, just nosing really. It’s taken me a month to get around to writing about Su Chases Interiors, but turns out that’s a good thing as the SALE starts today. Whoopee!

So the shop… Looks pretty small from the outside, but goes for miles once you’re past the initial room. The style is predominantly country house (which is not my rather Sixties-tastic style) but nevertheless I saw plenty I wanted to buy, from beautiful candles and cushions to a whopper of a clock that would look great on my outside wall.

I really like shops that show some intelligence and understanding of their customers, so appreciated the fact that as I went through or climbed up the stairs to different areas it reflected the various rooms of a house – so there was a bedroom, living room, kitchen, alcoves, outdoor space etc.

The shop is painted a twee pink on the outside so you can’t really miss it down the High St in Old Amersham, and it’s gratifyingly close to both Chatterton’s and CocoMarie fashion boutiques, plus Seasons cafe across the road for replenishment. What more do you want, blood?!

Su Chases Interiors, Red Lion House, High Street, Old Amersham, Bucks, HP7 0DP. Tel: 01494 721626.

REVIEW: Broughton Castle, North Oxfordshire

19 Aug

I always get excited when I come across new bits of the county, and this week I happened across Broughton Castle in North Oxfordshire – gorgeous for a romantic stroll or a day out with kids.

Privately owned, the 14th century Broughton Castle, complete with moat, is prettily situated a few miles outside Banbury, and though not grand like Warwick, or a romantic ruin like Corfe there’s something really charming about it. I think the real pleasure in it is that it feels quite laid-back and untouristy and ‘do’able –  because some days you’re just not in the mood to flog around a castle for 6 hours are you? It took me and Cass, my 3 year old, one hour to zip around the interior of Broughton (though obviously older children or adults less eager to spot frogs on the moat’s lily pads may well take longer!).

Even in that hour there was plenty to admire though, from the stunning handpainted wallpaper (above) and the cannonballs fired at the castle during a Royalist seige in 1642 to a ghostly Joshua Reynolds painting, or the armour on the walls of the Main Hall, and the tiny Council Chamber at the top of the castle –  ‘a room that hath no ears’ – used in the 1630s by those who opposed Charles I’s autocratic rule. Is your O level history coming back to you at this point?!

The stunning hand-painted wallpaper – it covered two rooms

Tapestry on the walls. Blink and you’d miss it as it’s quite faded.

Broughton Castle has also had its 15 minutes of cinematic fame – several times over in fact – with Shakespeare in Love (the current owner is related to the Fiennes family) and The Madness of King George both using the castle as setting. Three Men and a Little Lady was also shot here, but there you go, you can’t win them all.

The grounds are gorgeous, with plenty of love seats, those goddam lilyponds in the moat, grandly-planted borders and elderly trees that offer just the right amount of shade on a sunny day and flat stretches of grass for children to bomb around on.

There’s also a tea room opposite the castle, selling fresh cakes and tea. The interior was a bit of a letdown – too cantine-y, with cottage pine chairs, bright lighting and plastic sheeting – but take your coffee outside and look at the view as you ponder whether to go back for a second slice of coffee cake.

Parking is next to the 14th century church which forms part of the estate and is well worth going in if you like that sort of thing (Mr Muddy can’t stand it, I love it).  There are original wallpaintings, and several effigies, including that of John of Broughton who died in 1315 and who built both the church and castle. It was repainted in Victorian times in the Medieval style.

Unfortunately I didn’t get time to check any nearby pubs out and there are no lunch options at the castle. If you’re taking kids, I’m sure no one would object to you bringing out some sarnies on the lawn (maybe call before you re-enact A Year In Provence on their private turf though).

The other thing you could do is head to Bloxham, about a mile and a half away. It’s a picturesque village and there’s a well-regarded pub there called The Joiner’s Arms with elegant interiors, a kid-friendly menu and pretty outside area with decking. I haven’t tried it myself so can’t vouch for the quality of the food, but the signs are good. Check out their website here and see what you think, and please let me know if you venture inside.

Bloxham’s Bread & Milk. Ooh, it’s good.

Alternatively, head to Bloxham’s fantastic deli Bread & Milk, which I definitely can vouch for as I stopped off there with C and collected all manner of lovelies –  delicious cheeses, quiches and pies.  

What a great day. That’s it. I’m exhausted. Pass me a Curly Wurly and the remote control.

PLEASE BE AWARE: the castle is only open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from 2-5pm in August. And from September (until the 12th when I think it closes to the public) it’s back to Wednesdays and Sundays only.

Broughton Castle, Broughton, Banbury, Oxon OX15 5EB. £8 adults, £4 children 5-15. Under 5s free.
Bread & Milk, 15a Church Street, Bloxham, Oxfordshire, OX15 4ET. Tel: 01295 721641.

Your social life sorted: The Muddy Guide 17-23 August

17 Aug

You’ll be pleased to know that this week is looking very perky for social stuff. Have fun and if you try anything, please let me know about it in the comment box at the end of the post. Go on, share the love!

Bike Blenheim Palace, 18-19 Aug

Inspired by the British cycling team? Time to blow the garage dust off your old hybrid (or for the men, that £2,000 bike you’ve been on twice in the last year, haha!) grab your children if you have them and head down to Blenheim Palace’s festival of cycling which will be just gorgeous. There are events such as Bike Polo and the Brompton marathon that might amuse, but most importantly you can do your own thing and ride the 6.5km or 2.5km pathways around breathtaking scenery all weekend. Click here for full details.
Family riding 11.30-5pm, Saturday and Sunday.

Banbury Food Fair, Saturday 18 Aug

Banbury’s fine lady upon a white horse. Cheer up love, you’re the star of the nursery rhyme!

I was in Banbury yesterday, and was talking to a lovely boutique owner who was bomoaning the lack of people who shop in the town. Banbury actually has plenty going for it – some lovely old buildings, not to mention a certain fine lady upon a white horse. But like many provincial towns it has fallen foul of horrible town planning, too many chain stores and bad parking.

However, it is blessed with plenty of gorgeous countryside and therefore tonnes of local produce, so if you’re in the area or live nearby, it will be worthwhile supporting the Banbury Food Fair. Expect the usual accoutrement of demos, competitions and local stallholders, plus the Banbury Flower and Produce Show in which local people fruit and veg growers, jam, chutney and cake makers compete in over 90 classes in the hope of winning an award. It all sounds wonderfully Midsomer Murders. Look out for the retired major with an oversized marrow – there’s always one! For more info, click here.

English Youth Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty, Aylesbury Waterside 24-25 August

This is an early heads-up on this ballet as it will be too late to give you notice next week. I had all the grace of a small elephant as a young ballet dancer, but perhaps if I’d seen a show like this (yes mum, it’s all YOUR fault) I would have got the hang of it a bit better.  Sleeping Beauty is ideal for taking little dancers too – there’s a matinee on Saturday for the littlies and of course seeing young ballerinas is in itself inspiring.  Obviously it’s no Bolshoi, but then neither are the prices – at £24.50 top-end tickets for a two hour show, it sounds like good value for money.;

Towersey Festival, 23-27 August

Who knew that The South still had such a fervent fan base?

I didn’t think I could make this festival, but now that Mr Muddy has vetoed our holiday for an ad pitch (yes readers, I have my very own Don Draper, minus the hair and the drink problem), it looks like I’ll be trooping along with the kids. If you’re from further afield and don’t know about Towersey, it’s a really well established festival, with strong musical roots and an unashamed family vibe. Unusually the festival starts on the Thursday night, when you can pitch tents and listen to The South (formerly The Beautiful South), and from then on it’s 200 events over 5 days.  If you still have some wear left in your festival wellies, it’s definitely worth a day trip.

Open House, London. Booking available now.

The exquisite entrance hall to William Morris’ Red House

Like a good nose around? You’ll love this then. Open House only takes place once a year and allows the public access to London buildings that are otherwise strictly private. Admission to most of the properties is on a turn-up-on-the-day basis and includes fabulous buildings such as the Handel Museum and William Morris’ Red House, but for some venues you need to book. The office opened for bookings only yesterday for the Open House weekend over 22-23 September so get in there early and choose your architectural poison.

FOUND: Fab vintage emporium in Bicester (yes, you read it right)

6 Jul

 Anyone who’s been to my house will know I have a weakness for Sixties furniture so I’m always happy to mooch around a vintage store. This one, Paton Place, is like a diamond in the rough of central Bicester, and well worth checking out if you like vintage crockery and clothes, or recycled furniture and accessories.


Paton Place is a large rectangular space that goes deep into the shop, but it’s thoughtfully sectioned so that you start in the ‘kitchen’ (with the crockery), move through to living room (usually a sofa set in front of the fire, though it had just been sold so there was something else there), then the ‘bedroom’ and clothes area (with changing rooms) at the back.

 The owner Rebecca used to own a stall at Portobello market and with her business partner Jan has obviously gives a lot of thought to the ambience of the place, from the styling to the retro music playing and even an honesty box next to the coffee and cake, self-served in vintage china.

Not everything hits the mark, but that’s just the way with vintage stuff. The price points are really good – very little over £100, unless it’s a big piece of furniture – and it’s great to see a little bit of quirkiness and personality in the centre of Bicester. Paton Place has been open for less than a year so go and support it if you’re in the area.
Paton Place, 3 Crown Walk, Bicester. Tel: 07831 702513

I spy a lovely cafe in Nettlebed

26 Jun

When the Little Italy espresso bar opened in Haddenham a few years ago it really transformed the village, immediately making it a much more inclusive place, because the glorious thing about a coffee shop is that everyone can enjoy a brew and a slice of cake, regardless of age or income.

I had that kind of heart-warming villagey feeling today when I went to The Field Kitchen on Nettlebed’s High St, in South Oxfordshire. Like Little Italy, there’s not a hint of chintz to the place. It’s resolutely tasteful in its presentation, down to the Farrow & Ball paint and artfully artisan food crates (below).

But it definitely feels like the hub of the village. The locals are a real mix – there were quite a few sporty types, a few elderly gents and some ladie-who-lunch in there when I arrived. 

I was half-planning to write about this as a cafe deli (part of my research for the region’s 5 best) but this is why I always visit places – it turns out the deli side is a bit of a sideline, and the big draw of this cafe is actually the food. The sweet potato frittata I had was so fresh it was steaming (the waitress is just cutting it in the photo at the top), and the salads, muffins and brioches looked incredible. 

The building is an attractive, high-ceiling former church hall, owned by Ian Fleming’s family who lease it out in chunks, although I’m sorry to break the news that there was no sign of Daniel Craig serving frappucinos in his budgie smugglers today. There’s a cafe in one part, moving through to a rather fabulous, quirky interiors shop, Life, selling everything from exuberant chandeliers through to animal skin rugs, and also a village shop and post office.

Interiors shop Life. Shabby chic delux and well worth a gander.

Realistically you won’t be held here for more than an hour, but if you factor in some of the gorgeous countryside and walks around Nettlebed and its proximity to Henley (only 3 miles) and Greys Court National Trust (a mile or so), there’s a very pleasant morning or day out round here, with some fabulous cafe food attached.

The Field Kitchen, The Church Hall, High St, Nettlebed, Henley on Thames RG9 5DA. Tel: 01491 641831. Open Monday – Saturday 08.30 – 16.30.

Life, address as above. Tel: 01491 642062.

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