Weekly wanderings 3

Friday, 31 October 2014

This week, we put into practice the 'in sickness and in health' part of our upcoming wedding vows as I came down with the flu, and in the latter part of the week, Rich's back problem flared up once more, putting him in severe pain.

With Rich only able to get comfy by lying sprawled out on the hard floor, and me curled up in a ball on the sofa most evenings, we made a very sorry sight! But at least we were truly able to empathise with one another.

Inevitably, there wasn't much physical wandering around Doha this week...
Instead, from our positions on the sofa and floor, our minds have been mainly with our families at home in the UK as they have been through a really difficult week, with various illnesses and problems which put the trifling problems of flu and a bad back into perspective a little.


I spent the day mastering HTML, and making the final changes to my blog layout, including adding categories to each post, as well as an about me and contact page. I'm really new to this, but have found it so much fun to finally get my blog looking a little prettier. I'd really welcome some feedback from you more seasoned bloggers on the look and feel of the site as I do feel like I'm feeling my way through the dark at the moment - please do drop me a comment or email if you have any tips or comments on what you think currently works & doesn't!


We had a wonderful day, full of food in all of our favourite places. I can't get enough of the W Hotel in Doha for food on a Saturday - it has the perfect combination of great food, great service and great prices.

Here's a picture of that perfect Lemon Panna Cotta for you to drool over one more time...


I was starting to feel grotty, but we had promised to babysit for little Lennox while our neighbour Ally was at work, and Miriam was out celebrating Austrian National Day at the Intercontinental Hotel. We ordered pizza to their flat from the Armani Caffe and spent the evening catching up with our buddy, Casper the black lab.


Who knew you could get winter flu in the desert? Well I am living proof that you can, and unfortunately, it is no less horrendous than the flu you get back home. After a feverish nights' sleep, I woke up feeling dreadful, and try as I might, I just couldn't make it to work. Luckily for me, Rich came home as early as he could, and whipped up some impressive Mexican delights in the kitchen in a bid to tempt me to eat in order to keep my strength up.

And it was awesome...I hate Fajitas, said no Juan ever.


I managed to make it into work, but had to leave an hour or two early, as I was still feeling like a walking zombie. I headed straight for the sofa, and spent the next 3 hours snoozing, punctuated with breaks every now and again for a bit of Sense and Sensibility reading, nail painting, Pinterest browsing, magazine perusing and ASOS purchasing.


Still feeling rotten when I returned home from work, we attempted to steam off my sickness (and ease Rich's back pain, which by this point was starting to worsen) in the hot tub. An hour later, looking like prunes, we concluded that even a mammoth jacuzzi session wasn't enough to heal us cripples.


The last day of the working week rolled around at last, and we celebrated the beginning of the weekend with homemade strawberry and blueberry American pancakes, smothered in thick maple syrup.

It wasn't the best way I've ever celebrated the night before Halloween, but the evening was giving me the crepes. Bu-doom-doom-chhh!

I'm now writing this blog from my usual position on the sofa, with Rich slumped in front of me. A pathetic sight indeed...but in times like this when we're feeling ill and coming to terms with difficult things back home, I wouldn't want it to be any different.

Happy Halloween to all of you celebrating tonight. I'll leave you with a picture of my nephew Ollie, my favourite friendly skeleton, who is going on his first trick or treating session tonight with my sister in law, who will be dressed in an identical costume. TOO CUTE!! X

6 things I've learnt about...wedding planning

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Just under 2 months ago, Rich asked me to be his wife. The very next day, we jumped on a plane back to the UK to celebrate with family and toast the occasion with friends. Everyone we met kept advising us to, "forget about the wedding planning for now - just enjoy being engaged!", but we didn't listen to a single one of them.

Within a week, we'd planned out every minute detail of the day, booked the wedding and reception venues and met with the vicar. Within two weeks we'd booked the band and the photographer. Now all that is left is to send out the save the dates we've chosen, finalise arrangements for the flowers and the dress, and then I think we deserve to take a break for a little bit!

Yes, all of this is super speedy. Call it having a good understanding of what we like and don't like, being marvellously efficient, or simply OCD...but (without wanting to blow our own trumpets too much), I think the two of us have got this whole 'wedmin' thing nailed.

That doesn't mean, of course, that we haven't experienced a fair share of mishaps along the way. Here are 6 things we've learned (more often than not the hard way) about planning a wedding.

1. You are going to blow your budget

Everyone starts off with a figure in mind for the big day, and I hate to be the one to break it to you but unless you are the most frugal, organised and downright stubborn person in the world, that figure is going to end up being inflated somewhat. Maybe you forgot that your second cousin once removed now has four children rather than three; maybe you didn't realise that most wedding suppliers commit daylight robbery on a daily basis, or maybe you fell in love with a few extra bits 'that will just make the day' along the way, but one way or another, it's gonna happen. The key is to let yourself have one or two splurges on important things, and then try to make it up by cutting back elsewhere. 

For us, music and memories mean a lot, so we've ended up going for a high end photographer...

Image courtesy of Brett Harkness wedding photography

And an amazing band, whose lead singer just happens to be the lead vocals on Artful Dodger's 'Please Don't Turn Me On'.

Image courtesy of Live It Live Music Ltd.

We might have to end up making our own table plan, and having a few less flower arrangements than we originally intended, but it will be worth it.

2. This is a two person job

I am constantly surprised when women say, "I did it all by myself. He was just there to give me the nod when I'd made the decisions", or even worse "He was just there with the cheque book at the end...". I am so pleased that Rich is really hands on, and wants to play a part in every decision that's made. There's so much to do that I wouldn't know where to start otherwise!

When it's the most important day of your life, everything has got to be perfect for both of you. I'm also a big believer in starting as you mean to go on, so that means joint responsibilities, a lot of compromise, and working together to make a huge task seem lots more fun than it would have been if you were doing it on your own.

A two person job also means that you shouldn't forget that it's a wedding for you two, and you two only, and nobody else should take over decision making. We are very lucky because both our families have been very supportive of the decisions we've made so far, bar some very subtle, very amusing, very slight emotional blackmail from someone who shall remain nameless (MB!) over the guest list. 

3. But you might need to enlist a few more to help you along the way

Planning a UK wedding from the Middle East would be a huge hassle if we didn't have the help of some super wedding planning gurus, in the form of our mums.

Of course, there's so much that you can do online these days. My current favourite sites for wedding inspiration are EtsyThe Wedding Party and Not On The High Street but I'm discovering more every day.

However, there are some things you just have to do face to face and that's where the mums come in. Mummy Bags is meeting with the village vicar this week to finalise some arrangements for us. 

She's also been sending us links to some beautiful flowers...

Image courtesy of David Austen Roses

While Christine has been whetting our appetites with pictures of stunning cakes.

Photo: courtesy of local Norfolk magazine

Thanks for being superstars already mums - we couldn't do this without you!

4. Location is everything

On my wedding morning, it's so important for me to wake up having had a long, comfortable sleep in my own bed. Knowing that I can trot through to the kitchen, hug my mum and eat my favourite cereal while looking out over my favourite view is kind of a big deal to me.

Hathersage Church where we are getting married is 5 minutes down the road.

And then we're heading on to somewhere that means an awful lot to both of us.

(Apologies for the PDA).

Chatsworth House in the heart of the Peak District is where my favourite book, Pride and Prejudice was made into a film; where my relatives have come for walks and afternoon tea for decades and where one of my flower girls once dropped her knickers and went to the toilet in the middle of the lawn (I kid you not!).

Pick somewhere that means something to you, and not somewhere that will just look good in the pictures. If you're lucky like us, sometimes you can get both!

5. Lists will suddenly become important

I have always been a list-maker. There's nothing more satisfying than a To Do list covered in ticks and red lines. My wedding has made me take this obsession to a new level.

In order to be super-organised, it's worth investing in one book to keep your endless To Do Lists, Guest Lists, and Idea Lists all in one place - and so that you can organise all of the best of this:

Into one, secure, easy to access place.

Even better, buy yourself a wedding guide which sets out exactly what you should do in which period in the lead up to your wedding. We have the Debretts Wedding Guide, which has not only encouraged me in my list-ticking obsession, but which has some really handy chapters on all of the traditions you should stick to pre, during and post-wedding.

I've also been making sure I stick to the lists in the Guide For Brides from my beautiful bridesmaid Romana.

6. Pinterest will become your best friend

Anybody who knows me well will know that I have developed a bit of an unhealthy obsession with Pinterest recently. It's an endless source of ideas and inspiration, and I just can't seem to tear myself away from it.

For those of you that are new to Pinterest, I urge you to set up an account, and have a play around. It doesn't matter who you are or what you're interested in, you can search for literally anything from the millions of the 'pinned' photos on the site, and start to make your own interest boards. Or just use it to nosey around other people's!

I use it for all kinds of things, from quotes to pictures that remind me of England, to fashion ideas, to travel inspiration, to things to inspire me in my work (take a look here). But my wedding board will always be my favourite.

If I keep sticking to rules 1-5, then I think it just might be.

Weekend eating: a Doha review blog

Sunday, 26 October 2014

It's no secret that our favourite thing to do on a Saturday is eat. Large breakfast spreads, roast dinners, three course meals that drag on long into the afternoon so that lunch merges into supper which merges into one last evening snack... But we're OK with that.

This Saturday however, I feel that even Rich and I did ourselves proud. I woke up in the early hours of the morning (9 am) craving pancakes and immediately begun my research to find somewhere to fill the void.

Just a few tweets later, and we were sorted.

As a communications specialist, social media is an important part of my job, so you can imagine how impressed I am when a company goes the extra mile to deliver a top notch social media experience for their customers. It's becoming more and more common - you just have to look to the likes of WholeFoods with their genuine care over customer experience, XBox with their 'Elite Tweet Fleet' and my absolute favourites, Innocent Drinks with their hilarious customer engagement and banter and you can see that companies are starting to take this stuff seriously. And the W Hotel Doha is no exception.

Unfortunately, we got held up on FaceTime to a friend and let the side down somewhat.

Feeling bad, we rushed to our taxi and hot-footed it to the W Cafe where we met Ice, Head Tweeter (official title) for the W Hotel, Doha.

Who also happens to be a bit of a ledge.

Having apologised profusely to Ice and all of the staff for arriving too late to enjoy their impressive pancake efforts, we weren't expecting them to pull it out of the bag for a second time.

But they did. And that of course, is what great customer service is about.

Doha people, get yourselves down to the W Cafe for breakfast (preferably before 11.30am) - brilliant fluffy American pancakes, crepes and the biggest pot of tea you will ever see. And of course, on the way, don't forget to drop a tweet to Ice. He's just moved to Doha from the US of A so make him feel welcome!

Having enjoyed our appetiser, we decided it was time for the real deal, and feeling pretty lazy, we walked approximately 20 steps to the door of our favourite Italian, La Spiga.

We'd heard that they had added a few items to their Express Menu and couldn't wait to sample a few of them.

Tender Beef Carpaccio

Salmon Tartare, an old time favourite

Rich and vibrant Sausage Penne

The most delicate and beautiful Cheese Ravioli with Sage and Truffle

Pretty as a picture Chocolate Pudding

And exquisite Lemon Panna Cotta with Mint

All washed down with the lightest, fruitiest Valpolicella you'll ever drink (or in my case, the only one I've ever drunk...but it was bloody good).

The best bit? For QAR95, this really is the best and cheapest place for lunch in Doha on a Saturday.

We left the W the way we always do, with full stomachs and happy faces.

Before we knew it, the sun had slipped behind the horizon, and it was time for our next meal.

Amazingly, we were both hungry again.

Not content with the uninspiring contents of the kitchen cupboards, and feeling far too lazy to head to the supermarket, we naughtily agreed we would head out for food once again. Now I know what you're thinking - 'you lazy, decadent expats! Nobody ever eats like this in London!!' - and you would be right. But I am taking this opportunity to state publicly that the austerity drive starts right here. Rich and I are quite literally eating into our wedding fund.

Nevertheless, for that night at least, we were going to make the most of it. We hopped across the way to our favourite poolside restaurant, Mykonos at the Old Intercontinental. 

This place has such a chilled out vibe - with live music, beautiful views and casual but attentive service.

We went for our two favourite dishes to share.

Prawn Saganaki in a crispy bread shell

And beautifully layered and moreish Vegetable Moussaka.

After we'd scraped our plates, we rolled down the path to the beach full of contentment.

We'd just experienced all of the elements of a perfect Saturday.

Check, check, check and check.

Weekly wanderings 2

Friday, 24 October 2014

Socially, this week was a little calmer than the last, but both Rich and I had extremely busy weeks at work with a few long days and late nights. But we still managed a few wanderings outside the four walls of the office too. As a result, we've rolled into the weekend absolutely shattered, but satisfied.


I was all ready to go out to meet some friends. Rich had finished work and was planning on picking me up his way home. I sat down on the sofa, started watching a vlog on Apple TV while I waited, and it just felt so good! Needless to say, by the time Rich walked in the front door, I was ready to change into my PJs and spend the rest of the night in that spot, with pizza and a glass of red wine. After a long, hard day producing The Keys & Gray Show, I think he was secretly relieved.


We had breakfast at Alison Nelson's Chocolate Bar followed by halal sausages and steins at the Grand Hyatt to celebrate Oktoberfest. A brilliant day all round, which was improved yet further when we woke up the next morning sans hangover. Result!


Work was followed by an evening of blogging, FaceTiming and catching up on some reading because plans were put on hold as Rich was called into work at the last minute. 


We got excited when we discovered a new restaurant on the Pearl which we were yet to try. Sormani is a fine dining Italian restaurant and gastronomic delight, near to 1 Porto Arabia, with views over the sea and the city beyond. 

It has a sister restaurant in the heart of Paris and a WHOLE SECTION OF THE MENU IS DEDICATED TO TRUFFLES! If this isn't enough to tempt you, I'm not sure what is. Unfortunately, the bill was pretty steep, so best to save this one for a special occasion.

We followed our food with a beer and a gossip with our favourite neighbours, Ally and Miriam.


Tuesday was all about work. We were putting the final touches to our business plan for the following year, and a lot of time and dedication was required to get things just right. My colleague Agi and I had a good laugh when we accidentally turned up to work in identically coloured outfits.


My very good friend Ben came to Doha for just one night on a stop-off on his journey between Tanzania and Nepal. Having not seen him for well over a year, it was brilliant to catch up on his news, and hear some of the stories from his amazing career break which is taking him all the way across Africa and Asia. He's been doing some brilliant things for the world in the process. Have a little read of his blog and be inspired! We quaffed burgers at Gordan Ramsey's Opal...

And then descended to Oyster Bay for shisha on the beach. We just can't get enough of that place!


Another long day for both of us, followed by a looooong sleep which was very much needed. 

There's much more in store for tomorrow, but you will have to wait until next time for that.

Have a great weekend all!

6 things I've learnt about...relationships

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past 47 days, you will all know by now that I got engaged last month.

Now is probably as good an opportunity as ever to apologise for the gratuitous posts on Facebook, the shots of champagne glasses conveniently held by the left hand for optimum ring exposure on Instagram, the tweets about where we've got to with our 'wedmin', and the endless pinning of a variety of blush coloured bridesmaid dresses THAT ALL LOOK THE BLOODY SAME on Pinterest. And don't even get me started on the blog posts. I know all of this wedding chatter is excessive, but I can't seem to help myself. I may be a little bit excited about it.

But when I say 'it', believe me when I say I'm not actually talking about the wedding day itself. Don't get me wrong, walking back down that aisle with Rich after making a very special vow to each other, then getting drunk with all my favourite people is an awesome prospect. But not half as awesome a prospect as what comes after it - a lifelong partnership with my best friend in the whole world.

Now I promise that that is enough slush (for this post at least). Down to business.

I got into a deep conversation with a friend of mine the other day and she asked me, 'What do you think it is that makes relationships last, while others break down so quickly?' - and after thinking about it for about 5 minutes, I realised that for me, the answer is easy.

1. You should treat your other half as your best friend

Can you tell him your most embarrassing secret which still makes you blush a little even though it happened 16 years ago? You get a promotion at work - is he the first person you call to spread the good news? Do you tell him when the jumper he wants to buy from Reiss is a hideous shade of brown, and he should go for that nice blue one which matches his eyes? He catches the flu - do you cancel your yoga class to go out and buy him Lemsip and rub his feet and listen sympathetically while he tells you how he doesn't think he's going to make it through? OK, this last one is a bit much, but if you can't afford your other half all of the endorsements you bestow upon your best friend (things like trust, loyalty, honesty and selflessness) then you might as well not bother at all.

2. You should recognise and celebrate the small things

He produced a new show; I finished a long report; he survived root canal; I survived a year in Doha.... All of these are great reasons to celebrate. And I don't mean go out for a fancy meal at a five star hotel (although this is definitely an option). I mean, do something special that you wouldn't normally do. Turn off your phones, light some candles, bake cookies together - anything! Recognising each others' small achievements is a way of demonstrating to your partner that you are proud of them and everything they do. It gives them confidence, boosts your bond and is a great way to keep things fresh and new. Importantly, don't forget, this also extends to your achievements as a couple too!

3. You should never go to sleep on an argument

This is the oldest rule in the marriage rulebook, right? But it's amazing how many people forget this. Like most couples, Rich and I have been through a fair few wars in our time (which usually start off with "WHAT time do you need to work until?! I haven't seen you for properly for SIX DAYS!"), but we are very good at battling through them, and getting all of our feelings out in the open before promptly forgiving, making up and moving on. Listening to the other person's point of view is important; trying to understand their point of view and take it on board is vital. You don't have to agree with everything the other person says - where is the fun in that?! You just have to be able to tell them at the end of the day as you get into bed, "I love you with all my heart, but you drive me up the bloody wall sometimes".

4. You should be spontaneous

Back in July, we decided to go on a trip to America. Within 10 days, we'd booked a cross-country trip from Miami to San Francisco and back again, including a few stop-offs along the way. It was a last minute decision, but one of the best of our lives. We made great memories, visited loved ones we had not seen in far too long, and fell in love with some brand new places. Importantly, we experienced all of this stuff together. There is no better bond than the one which is forged from shared experience - and this is amplified when this experience isn't planned months in advance. So book you both in for that dance class that you have wanted to try for ages, surprise him by cooking him his favourite meal when he gets home from work when you'd usually opt for takeaway, and don't hold off on taking that trip to the country for the weekend when your plans in London fall through at the last minute.

5. You should make each other laugh

It's pretty cringey when you and your man start to form your own 'in-jokes' that are inevitably related to something incredibly slushy that nobody else gets - but just so long as you don't shove these jokes down everybody else's throats in public, it's not a bad thing (there's nothing more horrifying than hearing a friend tell her boyfriend to get his 'prickly bottom over here' while they fall about in fits of laughter and everybody else looks on with disgusted looks on their faces...or even worse, tweeting each other silly pictures of their teddies...who does that?!). Even better, if you can make each other find a bit of humour when everything around you seems pretty dire, then I think you've got it made. Rich sometimes just has to pull a silly face, or send me a ridiculous picture text taking the mickey out of my favourite film, and I've forgotten what I was worrying about in the first place.

6. You should love the hell out of each other

Categorically, enthusiastically, insuppressibly, unconditionally, uncontrollably, unreservedly...

If you do all of these things, then you might, just might, have the perfect recipe for a lasting relationship.

Are there any I've missed?