Pretty digits

A few years ago, a wise friend encouraged me to keep my fingernails painted. I think the idea was that the regular sight of pretty nails would cheer me up, even while in the darkest mood. Pretty much ever since, nail painting has become a regular habit – it’s one of the only things that keeps me sitting in the same spot and quiet for a decent length of time. (Although I can guarantee that within minutes of applying the top coat, I will immediately need the toilet.)

Of late, I seem to have stepped up my manicuring efforts somewhat. True, a couple of years ago I experimented with the newsprint manicure, but generally I’ve gone with simple, one-tone, talons. With the advent of Instagram, a cult of manicure photography appears to have developed, which has only served to encourage my ambitions. Last year saw the advent of crackle top-coats and magnetic varnish. Thanks to fellow vicar-in-training Alexandra, I discovered the genius that is a coat of glitter – it transforms a dodgy manicure into a thing of beauty (that occasionally acts as a throwback to the 90s). Thanks to Becca’s Facebook album of nail art, I was inspired to get to work with humble cocktail sticks to add accents to my nails. Then Cathers sent me a link to a series of nail tutorials and the dye was cast…

The article made mention of the ease with which nail art supplies can be found on eBay. I checked, and sure enough you can buy artwork brushes for less than £2 (including postage) as well as a myriad of nail art stickers. I duly stocked up and got to work.

The brushes have yet to be experimented with yet, but the stickers were irresistible and formed part of what I like to call a Polynesian manicure. (What can I say – it’s January, it’s nearly 5 years since I was last in the Pacific and London’s rather dreary.) They are great, but don’t last for long – two days tops – but do at least serve the purpose of impressing all that see them.

Pretty Digits
From top left: Polynesian manicure; festive nails; Christmas leopard print; 
90’s glitter; & episcopal purple.

Top nail art tips:

  • Let each coat dry thoroughly. It’s soooo hard to do, but is worth it in the long run.
  • Cheap varnish rules. Barry M (found at Boots & Superdrug) does an excellent glitter range.
  • The Aladdin’s cave that is Savers even has crackle glazes for a £1. (And yes, they work.)
  • Glitter varnishes benefit from both a coloured base coat and a clear top coat.
  • The stickers are massively finickity – but worth it.
  • You can mask nails (to paint with contrasting colours) simply by using Scotch Magic Tape – as long as your base coat’s dried thoroughly.

As with so many things in my life, this is now verging on an obsession. However, do not fall under the misapprehension that I’m wasting my valuable time playing around with toxic paint-pots. This is a purely recreational, relaxation exercise with the added bonus of creating something pretty. Honest.

Prior preparation and planning

The 30th birthday cycle continues. This Saturday – the first celebration of my academic year and thus the beginning of an intensive season of 30th’s – brings a classic themed party. Literally classic, as my friend’s returning to the 1930s and hosting a black tie themed event. A perfect excuse to dress up. (Next weekend brings another 30th, this time wine tasting – also excellent.)

However, when you think about it, the 1930s is actually a tricky decade to style. The 1920s were distinctive in their flapper dresses; the late 1940’s and early 1950’s were the epitome of glamour. All I can think of in terms of the 30’s is the outbreak of WW2 and uniforms. Still, the beauty of black tie is that as long as you’ve got a fancy dress and the right accessories, the only historic aspect you need to be accurate on is your hair.

Tonight was my first free evening in over a week (and my last in about the same length of time – honestly, my diary is horrific right now, though generally in a good way) and therefore my only opportunity to discover, practice and perfect a decent 1930’s hair-do. So I’m now sat in my PJ’s, sporting a rather elegant hair style that made doing the washing up feel far more glamorous than usual.

It’s all thanks to YouTube and the wonder of hair tutorials – particularly this woman’s. [Favourite moment in one video is an annotation that states “people ask how I manage to keep my arms up so long – it’s because I work out a lot”…] I began withHow to do a pin up hairstyle’ and failed to put enough ooomph into my tresses to get it to work properly. ‘Pin up hair tutorial’ proved more successful (yes, I realise they sound the same, but there were significant differences) but it was still clear I needed more volume.

Thus, it looks as though I’ll be spending a significant amount of Saturday with my head covered in rollers. This wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the fact that I’ve got a meeting in central London from 10.30 till 4pm – still, I’ve travelled on the tube in rollers before, no doubt I can cope with doing it again.

I guess what this post really needs is a photo of the hair. Thing is, hair photos are always tricky – even with the  iPhone 4’s double facing camera – so this is the best of a bad bunch:

The fact that the bags under my eyes are so noticeable in this photo terrifies me. 
Clearly the effects of no two-day weekends for weeks & weeks are beginning to show.

Those hair combs are today’s Primark acquisitions – along with some pseudo pearl bracelets & necklace, a brooch and some shoes – the beauty of being able to stock up on a vast quantity of ‘vintage’ accessories for a lot less than £20! All I need now is a final decision on the dress (not that I’ve got many to choose from) and some seriously red lipstick…

Cupcake extravaganza

You won’t be surprised to hear that cupcakes featured heavily over my birthday. There were quite a number of cupcake cards, Mim gave me a 24 hole mini cupcake tin, and birthday celebration #1 was a feast of cupcakes in the park on Sunday afternoon.

Annabelle provided a veritable banquet of Hummingbirds:

Gill made glittery cakes while Claire baked fruit-filled beauties (got to get those vitamins in somewhere!) and I made a determined attempt at the title of Cupcake Queen, with three varieties. This was a feat of some organisational skill. Bearing in mind that I’d just spent seven days camping, I didn’t have time to bake the day before – so I baked them two weeks ahead, stuck them in the freezer and iced them on Saturday night. Brilliant forward planning, if I do say so myself.

I present to you: Red Velvet and Marshmallow cupcakes courtesy of the Hummingbird book alongside Brownie cupcakes (this recipe, put into cases & frosted).

Marshmallow cupcakes are things of beauty. I’ll let you into a secret, you get the gooey marshmallow centre by scooping out a little of the sponge and adding melted marshmallow. It’s a fabulous surprise when you bite into them and it helps when there’s bit of gooeyness in the frosting too. (They went down very well at church later that evening when I distributed the leftovers and made a number of new friends.)

As well as making fabulous cake, Claire created special cupcake bunting – instructing me to find a picnic spot ‘near small trees’ but not divulging why until she arrived. Thus we had a very beautiful corner of Regent’s Park in which to gorge ourselves on sugar. Oh, and she even had lovely cloth napkins to place the cakes upon – folded into lilies. Yes, lilies. The other friends were so intrigued by this that a demonstration was demanded and Annabelle suggested I film it, so here for your viewing pleasure, is a tutorial on turning napkins into water lilies:

Three favourite moments –
(i) “It’s like afternoon tea meets Blue Peter” (Absolutely true.)
(ii) “I’m so going to do this for my next dinner party!” (Oh Annabelle, I still can’t get over the fact that you’d had a dinner party, let alone that at your next one the napkins will be shaped like lilies!)
(iii) “It works better with the paper napkins” “Well, if you use stiff linen napkins it works even better…” (Sorry, was that just a paper versus linen napkin moment? Oh dear.)

I love my friends – even more than I love cake. Now, all I need to do is prepare some special karaoke numbers for birthday celebration #2 on Friday…