Tuesday, 30 August 2016

H&M Picks

It feels like it's been a long time since my last fashion post so today I decided to share my top H&M picks of the moment. It's a strange time in fashion because the shops are just starting to get their winter clothes in and there are tons of reds and greens and fur and pleather around, but at the same time summer's not quite over so you can find a good range of items in all sorts of styles. I actually threw a lot of clothes out at the beginning of the summer (we're talking like three black binbags full, it was intense) which was really liberating so I think it's time to invest in some new pieces for the colder seasons. To that end I was browsing the Divided section of the H&M website the other day and there were so many nice things I just had to share my favourites with you!

Top with lacing, £7.99 // x
I really love this sort of boho chic trend that's been in a lot of shops lately, and I think tops like this are the perfect way to embrace the trend without going over the top with the off the shoulder tops and floaty trousers. It's simple and classic and such a nice colour for autumn and winter - it would look great with just about anything, from black jeans to a patterned skirt.

Rib-knit cardigan, £7.99 // x
This is a really simple piece but the colour is so bold and bright, I absolutely love it. I don't think mustard yellow suits me particularly well but then again it doesn't look completely horrendous so I definitely want to get a few bits and bobs in this colour for autumn.

Ribbed top, £3.99 // x
Stripes are such a classic pattern and tops like this are so versatile: you can wear them with any colour and they look great with skirts and jeans. I think this one has a particularly Parisian vibe which I love, and you really can't go wrong with that price!  

Sunglasses, £6.99 // x
My current pair of sunglasses are also from H&M, they're round with mirrored bits at the top and I love them even though I don't think they suit my face. These ones, on the other hand, are a bit less round and owl-like so I think they might look a lot better.

Wool hat, £14.99 // x
I've definitely included a hat like this in a picks before and I LOVE how they look, but I still can't bring myself to go and buy one because I honestly don't know how often I'd wear it - I think it's more of a put-it-on-for-a-photoshoot type thing rather than an actual accessory, or at least it would be for me. Having said that, if I found a nice one for a good price (Primark, I'm looking at you) I think I might just have to get it.

Satin bomber jacket, £29.99 // x
Bomber jackets seem to be everywhere this season and while I don't think they're very me or go with my style particularly well I can't help myself from lusting after them in shops, especially super cool patterned ones like this. I think you'd have to keep the outfit underneath really simple, no patterns and just nice neutral colours because this really is a statement piece.

Loose fit trousers, £7.99 // x
I hate wearing jeans because I find them constricting, but that can be problematic in autumn/winter when it gets colder because there are only so many times you can wear skirts and dresses. So something like this would be ideal because they're a loose fit but also a nice wintery colour which makes a change from all the floral and brightly coloured ones you see nearer summer time. 

Printed tote bag, £3.99 // x
How cool is this bag?! Really really cool is the answer because look at that print. I actually have a top from New Look that's quite similar (I call it my witch top) and I wear it all the time because I love it so much. This type of bag is also so handy if you're just nipping to the shops or something because you don't need to carry a whole backpack or other big bag, you can just throw the essentials in.

Dress with lacing, £14.99 // x
This dress is one of my favourite colours and if you look closely you can see there's some boho lacing on the front which makes it a win-win. I think it looks a lot better on the model but it's basically just a really nice autumny dress - it reminds me a lot of a dress I had from Laura Ashley when I was about 8 or 9. 

Patent brogues, £24.99 // x
I really want to invest in some nice brogues this season because I think they're both practical and stylish which is the best combination when it comes to footwear, especially when you have to do a lot of walking which I will next year since I'm living about half an hour from lectures. I like that these ones have a slight heel as well as the light brown piping effect which means they're not too black, if you know what I mean.

Backpack, £24.99 // x 
Last but not least, this pleather backpack caught my eye. I have one quite similar to this already (which I bought at the beginning of uni last year when I realised my beloved Michael Kors bag just wasn't going to cut it) but after a year of use it's looking a bit worse for wear so something like this would be ideal to replace it.

And those are my top picks at the moment! Which is your favourite?


Saturday, 27 August 2016

Mega Book Haul: Part 1

So despite being on a self-imposed book-buying ban this summer I have nonetheless managed to acquire quite a lot of books, far too many to include in a single haul post hence why this is coming to you in three parts. I honestly don't know why I bother telling myself I won't buy any for the time being because I invariably break my own rules so I suppose I might as well embrace it!

The first part contains the books I ordered on Amazon to have sent to my grandparents' house in England where I picked them up when we went to visit earlier in the summer. They're just a select few titles that have been on my to-buy list for ages and ages so I took advantage of some low prices and having the option of UK delivery to tick some off the list.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides // The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

It's no secret that I'm a major fan of The Virgin Suicides, which Jeffrey Eugenides is perhaps best known for, so it was only a matter of time before I got my hands on these two. And they look really interesting too: the protagonist of Middlesex is intersex which is something I've never come across before in a novel so I'm interested to see how the author tackles that topic, while The Marriage Plot, quite aside from the stunning cover, is set in the 80s and is about a group of college students which just about redeems it for smacking of clichéd chick-lit love triangles.

Reckless by William Nicholson // The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

I love novels set in World War 2 or immediately afterwards and I have a certain fondness for the Cuban missile crisis when it appears in books - according to the blurb Reckless manages to tick both these boxes so I'm excited to get stuck into it. The Paying Guests just looks like a cracking good novel: it's about a widow and her daughter in the 1920s who are forced to take in lodgers and what happens when a young modern couple move in with them. Apparently it's also a crime story so that gets bonus points in my book!

Rise by Anna Carey
How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

Lastly I ordered Rise, which is the third in a trilogy by Anna Carey. To be honest I can't quite remember what it's about because I read the first one years ago, but I do know it's one of those YA dystopian deals which I used to love so much and at some point I planned to get the second and third so I'd have them all. I'm definitely going to read the whole trilogy through at some point anyway. I also have no recollection of why I ordered How to Build a Girl but it looks really good and the cover is quite striking. Last but not least, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust is the latest in the Flavia de Luce series which I'm sure I've raved about somewhere on my blog before - in a nutshell it's about an 11-year-old amateur sleuth and chemistry whizz who solves crimes in the small town of Thornton Lacey where she lives. The difference with this installment is that Flavia has been sent off to boarding school in Canada, which I'm not quite sure how I feel about because I dearly love the established setting - but I suppose we'll see.

And that's the first part of this colossal book haul - stay tuned for the next ones!


Thursday, 25 August 2016

My Trip to the UK: a Holiday in Three Parts

I'm finally back from spending two weeks in the UK which partly explains why I haven't posted in a while. Aside from WiFi issues (I didn't even have a mobile signal most of the time in the Yorkshire Dales, let alone proper internet) I always feel kind of strange if I blog somewhere other than my room at home - I can't explain it, it just makes me feel oddly uncomfortable and I'm not always able to sit for hours just banging away on my keyboard and fiddling around with photos. Anyway, apart from my trip to Ireland in July this was my main holiday for the summer so I thought I'd chronicle it here.

For the first part of the trip my mum and I stayed with my grandparents in Norfolk for a few days, which we do every summer and some other holidays in between. There's always a shopping trip to the nearest big town involved and this time was no exception, although since I've been living in the UK I've noticed I'm far more able to be restrained in my shopping and just get a few nice bits and bobs instead of having a major spree every time. Having said that I was on a hunt for a few specific things, mostly for my new student house at uni, such as a duvet cover, some kitchen utensils and other homeware items. These few days were also a great opportunity for me to practice on my rollerskates which I haven't been able to do at home since we live on a bit of a hill, whereas my grandparents' road is nice and flat with smooth pavements.

The next stop was Durham where I go to uni, and this was the most exciting part of the trip for me as I was finally going to (sort of) move in to my new house! We brought loads of stuff from home to leave there, as while my dad is going to drive me up for the start of term I thought it would be a good idea to take some stuff - like bed linen and storage boxes - in advance since I had a car to fill anyway. The house comes with a lot of stuff in it already including most kitchen items from saucepans to cutlery so there was very little to buy in that area, although there were a few essential items missing such as a toaster and a colander. I got to work straight away making my room my own with a bright duvet cover and throw and also changing things around a bit like taking the curtains down (I never close curtains and there's a blind anyway) and moving the furniture. Obviously I'd seen the house before when we viewed it back in January but in the intervening months I'd forgotten the detail of how it was and what was already there, so this was also a chance to assess the place and work out if there was anything else I ought to bring when I move in properly in October. For instance, I realised there's a perfect place for my pink fluffy fairy lights now I've taken the curtains down: I'm going to wrap them around the curtain pole. I'm planning to do a whole post about decorating my uni room and possibly a house tour so I won't go into it too much here.

Apart from pottering around the house and crashing out in front of the Olympics we also did a few touristy things, went to my favourite café/restaurant, figured out the buses and did a bit of shopping. It was really nice for my mum to see the city a bit as although she's been before way back in February of last year when we went to look around, at that time I wasn't 100% sure I would be going to Durham as I hadn't yet got my EB results.

From Durham we drove to the Yorkshire Dales, which was where the Grand Family History Tour began. As a bit of an explanation, my mum is very into her genealogy and over the years has traced our family back through various different lines, sometimes as far back as the 16th century. Apparently some of our direct ancestors originally lived on a group of farms in a remote region of the Dales so that was where we were headed, stopping at a grand total of eleven churches and their associated graveyards along the way. Don't get me wrong, I love a good amble through a decaying and ivy-strewn graveyard as much as the next person but after about 5 or 6 different ones I was beginning to lose track of them all and also getting reluctant to risk my ankles trampling over the uneven ground in search of the gravestones of the long dead ancestors my mum was so desperate to find and photograph. Apart from that it was a lovely trip through some beautiful countryside, mostly thanks to the glorious weather which improved the experience no end. The best part was that I discovered that churches often have book sales at the back, so I came away with several stacks of extremely cheap books which I'll show you in a haul soon.

Finally we drove on to Cheshire where a different set of ancestors are apparently from. This part of the holiday involved rather less churches and rather more shopping, for which I was grateful. On the first day we went into Chester in the morning and walked along the city walls, which are the most complete set in Britain and offered a lovely view of the city, before heading to the main shops. Chester is so interesting because a lot of the buildings are really old, with many dating from the Tudor period (aka my most favourite era) and there are long stretches of the high street which have the original double-tiered layout of shops which basically means you can fit a lot more shops into the space. The next day we went to a couple of churches and had dinner in a lovely tapas restaurant in a building that was once owned by our ancestors a few hundred years ago. The decor was absolutely gorgeous and the food was even better so it was a really nice experience all in all: we had nachos, patatas bravas, bruschetta and salad nicoise and it was divine.

Last but not least we went back to my stay with my grandparents for a few more days before heading back home. We didn't really do much else of interest there as we were mostly recovering from the days spent touring the country, but my mum and I made the compulsory trip to our favourite arts, crafts and antiques shop in the next town over where we spent ages wandering through the rooms and admiring the eclectic mix of old and handmade items. We arrived back in Belgium late afternoon and the heat told us it was going to be an extremely hot next few days!


Tuesday, 2 August 2016

UK Uni Application Advice

So it's somehow already August and that means it's the time of year when students about to go into their last year of school are having to think seriously about university - at least that's how it works for UK universities which is the system I'm familiar with. As someone who has gone through the whole process in fairly recent memory I thought I'd put together some tips for the whole process and explain my rationale behind the choices I made at the time in the hope that it might help anyone who is facing some tricky decisions in the near future. In a way I'm currently reliving the experience because while my brother still has two full years of school to go he's already starting to look at the courses available, so naturally I offer my two pennies' worth at every opportunity whether he wants to hear it or not!

A small selection of the library of prospectuses I accumulated

Basically speaking I think there are four main things to consider when narrowing down the long list of universities, so I've divided the rest of this post into sections. I'm also just going to briefly summarise my situation so you have an idea of where I'm coming from with my thoughts and perspectives on all this: I've lived in Belgium for nearly my whole life but I am actually English and I've always known I wanted to go back to the UK for university. However, not having an extensive knowledge of the country or indeed a school which was really geared up for the transition (we had some careers advice sessions but it was pitiful) I didn't really have any preconceived ideas about where I wanted to end up specifically. Also, I did the European Baccalaureate instead of A-Levels which was fine in the end but the two systems are very, very different and it just made everything a bit more awkward in terms of the grades universities typically ask for. I also knew I wanted to study geography because while I didn't love the lessons at school I realised that all the topics I was really interested in fell generally into the spectrum of geography, specifically the human side of it. Finally, I knew that despite the trickiness of moving from the European School system into the UK system I was capable of aiming high in terms of a university's academic reputation. In the end I applied to Cardiff, Southampton, Bristol, Exeter and Durham, receieved conditional offers from all five and eventually accepted Durham as my firm choice and Exeter as my insurance. Then I got the grades I needed to Durham and the rest, as they say, is history.

Okay, now onto the actual advice!

The course
You'll be able to find some of the more common courses, such as business, English literature, physics, history, maths, economics and law at nearly every uni (although some unis have a better reputation for a particular course than others, which I'll get to in a minute). However if you want to study something more specific that might already narrow down the list for you - linguistics, for instance, isn't offered in a huge number of places, and neither is American studies. I was surprised to find geography wasn't offered universally given that it is a standard school subject, but that helped in a way as I was able to rule our some places (like Edinburgh and Bath, for example) simply because it wasn't available there. So if you already have a concrete idea of a slightly unusual course it's worth looking to see which universities offer it.

Also if you still have no idea what you want to study I would recommend looking at the websites of a bunch of universities to see what's out there, or alternatively ordering a bunch of prospectuses (these are essentially brochures about each university and what they offer) and flicking through them at your leisure. In terms of general courses that leave lots of options open, things like business, economics, history, English, law and geography are always a good bet. Having said that, if you truly have no gut instinct as to what you want to study it might be best to take a year out to work out if uni is really for you or just give yourself a chance to realise what you want out of your education/career.

Once you have decided on a course another important thing is the detail of the course content, which is available to check out on the universities individual websites and of course in prospectuses. This is an important consideration as courses can differ a lot between unis, even if they have the same name or code. So be sure to read the detail and compare it between universities, and if possible get in contact with people who have studied that course. You might also have extra considerations: for example, I originally wanted to apply for only human geography courses as opposed to straight geography, which proved tricky because only three unis in the whole of the UK offered the human-specific course - so I ended up compromising on that which wasn't ideal.

University rankings
It's good to be ambitious about where you're aiming to apply, but it's extremely important to be realistic. Obviously Oxford and Cambridge are well known as the top universities in the country, but if you don't have much of an awareness beyond that (as I didn't) the best way to get a general idea of the esteem institutions are held in is to look at a website which has a list of rankings, or preferably several lists for comparison. I always relied on the Complete University Guide, which is apparently independent and great because you can see the rankings by course too. Of course this may not be the most important factor for you, but it can help to provide some context.

The next step is to check the entry requirements for each course. This can really make or break your feeling about a particular university because you'll know whether the grades you'll need are achievable for you personally - if in doubt, ask a teacher who knows you and your academic performance well. This works both ways too: if you know you're unlikely to get the grades they're asking then it might be better to look elsewhere, but if you're sure you'll easily achieve them then it's worth keeping that uni as your insurance option and aiming a bit higher if the situation is right.

The location
This may or may not be important to you - having a limited knowledge of the UK, I wasn't overly bothered and ended up about as far north as one can be without being in Scotland, but for some people it's a major factor. This can be because they want to stay close to home or actually want to move a significant distance away from it. And then there's the pull of London, which I basically avoided by reasoning that I'll probably end up living or working there at some point in my life so I wanted to experience living somewhere else first. Another thing to think about is travel costs and accessibility. If you go to uni in London then you can pretty much guarantee that there will be some easy form of transport between there and home but other than that it really depends. It takes me about 6-7 hours and £100-200 to get home by train and Eurostar so I knew I wouldn't be going home apart from between terms. This set up worked out more or less okay as for me it was a significant mental step in knowing that I was going to uni in a different country, and so that separated those two parts of my life quite distinctly. On the other hand you might still have commitments at home and need to be back on a regular basis, in which case it's worth thinking about how much time and money that will take.

The type of uni
I realise this sounds vague but bear with me: I mean in terms of the way the university is laid out, which is kind of linked to the location. I tend to mentally divide unis into campus, city, and campus-city and this was one of the other big factors I thought about when I was considering where to apply. Some universities are very much campus-based, by which I mean there is a distinct area, usually some way outside a city, where all the academic building and accommodation are concentrated in such a way that there is a more or less a self-contained area. Others are city-based, so the university buildings can be dotted around the city and might be quite spread out, meaning you need to get public transport to get to lectures. Both of these have their advantages and disadvantages: campus unis can end up feeling like you're trapped in a bubble and you're cut off from the real world, but they can also feel safe and it can be handy having everything nearby. City unis might make your experience more vibrant and interesting, but it can be easy to feel lost and alone in a large place. I really had no idea which I would prefer but it's worth mentioned that it's not always such a clear distinction and luckily Durham fits somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. While there is a campus-type area (commonly referred to as the 'science site') where a lot of the academic buildings are located, some departments have their buildings in quite random locations around the city. The college system complicates it even further as there are 14 mini campuses about the size of schools dotted around the place. The other thing about Durham is that it's so small that in a way the university is the city, but everything is walkable and close by. For me it's the perfect balance between city and campus as you can get out and about easily and feel like you're not always 'at uni', but there's is a still central place where I go for my lectures and academic stuff. It will completely depend on the person as to which you prefer and this is one of the main reasons why I think it's important to go to open days or even just turn up somewhere and have a look around to get a feel for the place and the dynamics. 

I think this post is getting stupidly long now so I think I'll leave it there. Obviously there are loads more factors to take into account when choosing universities to apply to and I've just covered the ones I think are most important here, but at the end of the day it's a very personal choice and not one anyone one else can make but you. Also different factors will be more or less important to different people. Finally, don't stress - you only have to narrow it down to five to begin with and even if you realise you don't like the one you picked when you get there it's always possible to change. I hope this helped in some way and wasn't just a long rambling mess, please leave me a comment if you found it useful and good luck to anyone starting the uni process soon!