My Little Duke

neal's yard remedies

Strollin’ solo in London

Blogging, Fashion, TravelSteph DukeComment

Many of you will know that for the last few months I’ve been a brand ambassador for the British clothing company, Boden. Within this community came the opportunity to attend Boden’s Autumn/Winter preview in London … I grabbed it with both hands!

Was I terrified? Yes.

Did I feel like an imposter? Absolutely, yes.

Would this opportunity come again? Probably not.

I’d already been on a solo trip to Brussels in March, so travelling alone wasn’t my biggest fear. Imposter syndrome was. But I put the Boden event out of my mind and concentrated on planning my 2 days solo in London.

The trip was just before my birthday so that felt like a good ‘excuse’ to justify such an excursion. In reality, I didn’t need to justify it at all. What an opportunity to not only attend the exclusive preview, but to visit my Auntie for the first time. Looking back, I don’t know why I’ve never thought to go over and stay with my Auntie before? Flights to London can be bought very cheaply and my Aunt lives in Surbiton, just a short train ride outside of the city. I’ll certainly not be leaving it too long before visiting my Aunt again!

I’d booked an early flight on the Tuesday morning and a late flight home on Wednesday night. However, I was flying from Dublin. If I’d booked earlier, I could have flown from Belfast, but in order to get a decent price for my flight, Dublin was my best option. I’d flown solo from Dublin to Brussels, so knew I could do the early drive down and late drive home again ok. Not 100% ideal obviously, but I really didn’t mind. I’ve driven to Dublin numerous times and I always use Quick Park for my car. Once you’ve done it once, it’s no trouble.

Following my trip to Brussels I’ve been challenged to be more conscious about reducing my environmental footprint. I vowed to take both my coffee keepcup and water flask with me – and more importantly – use them! I filled my flask at the free water station at the airport and used my keepcup for my morning coffee.

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Matt had bought me a new travel bag for my birthday as I was panicking about what bag to bring with me. I needed something that I could carry around comfortably for the two days – but something that I could fit all my stuff inside! Thanks Ryanair for the ‘challenge’ to pack light. It was a no brainer about what bag to buy – a Madlug Day Bag. It was the perfect shape and size, and with every purchase, the cost of that bag covers a free bag for a child in care. Now all I had to do was fit all my stuff in. Staying with my Aunt meant that I could borrow some bigger/heavier items such as shampoo, straighteners etc – so I really only had to pack the basics. I actually surprised myself with how little I managed to bring! And after travelling with a toddler, flying solo with a backpack brings a wonderful sense of freedom and ease!

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I’d pre-booked my Stansted Express train tickets online and knew how to get to the train from a previous visit, but when I arrived at the gate I was told that the train wasn’t running and I’d need to get a bus. I made a mental note of the other people around me who were also travelling to Liverpool St station and stayed with them as we headed to find the bus to take us where we needed to go. Thankfully there was a bus to take us to Witham station and then we’d be able to catch a train straight to Liverpool St. Our Stansted Express tickets were still valid for the rerouted journey and it was all relatively painless, despite being on my own. I’d purposely travelled on the Tuesday morning rather than the Wednesday so I wouldn’t have any panic about getting to the Boden event on time. Such a wise decision! The cancelled train didn’t cost me any extra cash, but it did cost me time in getting into the city. Despite being up and travelling from 3am, I didn’t actually make it to Liverpool St station until almost noon. But I definitely felt relieved when I’d finally made it into the city. The day was now mine for the taking!

Despite having gone to Brussels solo, there wasn’t ever any chance to go exploring by myself. Our schedule was a tightly packed one, whereas my ‘schedule’ for London was pretty fluid! I had a few places that I hoped to tick off my list, but keeping the trip flexible was my priority. I was just excited to have the *very rare* space and time to stroll the streets of London with zero expectations or responsibilities.

I could do what I wanted, when I wanted.

I could eat what I wanted, where I wanted.

Amazing.

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I am someone who actually quite enjoys her own company. My Auntie couldn’t comprehend how on earth I wouldn’t be bored and tried to convince me to see if I could get an earlier flight home! I assured her that my time in London was highly anticipated and quite blissful to me!

On my arrival in Liverpool St station I headed straight into the Neal’s Yard Remedies store. One whiff of those diffusers and I was instantly relaxed! Next stop was the Krispy Kreme van. I nabbed a bench to enjoy my donut and make a plan of action. The weather was pretty miserable so I planned to head straight for The Sky Garden as it was only about a 20 minute walk away.

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I exited Liverpool St holding my umbrella in one hand and Google maps in the other, arriving at The Sky Garden about 20 minutes later.  There was a lady at the door and I asked her if I could get a ticket. With a sympathetic stare she informed me that tickets needed to be reserved at least 3 weeks prior to a visit.

Awesome.

Great start Steph!

I was totally gutted. The lady told me that they allowed walk-ins after 6pm if I wanted to come back then. So I shuffled my way into an entrance porch around the corner, sheltered from the rain, and reassessed the situation. I needed somewhere, not too far away, to wait out the rain for a bit. I remembered a cool coffee spot from my last visit to London with mum and Phoebs. We couldn’t go in last time because Phoebe was having a pure meltdown, so today seemed like a perfect opportunity to go! I could grab a coffee, escape the rain, and read my book - I’d borrowed Jen Chillingsworth’s ‘Live Green’ from a friend. It was a perfectly compact size for travelling and I was so excited to read it.

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Armed with my umbrella and Google maps once again I headed towards London Bridge. Thankfully the rain was easing and it wasn’t long before I recognised where I was, spying London Grind in the distance. The time was now 1pm and it made sense to grab lunch here. The staff were incredibly friendly and made me feel so welcome. I found my spot and ordered a G&T, cheeseburger and fries. Sure, why the heck not? The place was absolutely buzzing. I stayed and enjoyed the vibe at Grind until almost 2.30pm, making a plan of action for the afternoon, reading and enjoying a free flat white! There was a time when I would never have dared to sit anywhere on my own. I would have felt really awkward. How times can change! I was perfectly content for that hour and a half. And I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that G&T and cheeseburger! Happy early birthday to me!

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After thanking the lovely girls who served me I headed out and towards South Bank. It was mizzling on and off but it didn’t make the walk too unpleasant. You just have to get on with it when you don’t have any other choice. And, even in the rain, South Bank was class. There was a real buzz about the place, with loads to see en route along the water. I stopped at The Globe Theatre, totally mesmerized, imagining myself as one of the crowd, watching Shakespeare back in the day. I checked out some cool shops at Bargehouse and Oxo Tower Wharf, enjoying a nosey in the Noodoll store, picking Phoebs up a wee present before heading towards the iconic London Eye.

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Unbelievably, the sun began to try to peek out of the clouds and I was able to put my umbrella away for the first time that day. The area surrounding the London Eye has loads to see and do, I leisurely took it all in before heading across the bridge towards Trafalgar Square.

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The time was now 4pm and I was due to be at my Aunt’s for tea around 6.30pm. I hotfooted it through St James’ Park after stopping briefly to see the guards on their horses at Horse Guards Parade.

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My last stop on day one was the infamous Peggy Porschen’s.  I can’t really call myself a proper ‘Instagrammer’ if I visit London and don’t go to Peggy’s, right?!

I jest.

I totally jest!

But, genuinely, I wanted to go for a right ol’ nosey. I had heard that the coffee was good but those famous cupcakes actually weren’t. So I decided to just see for myself.

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The whole area was actually really lovely and pink Peggy’s could be seen from quite a distance away. I could also see people getting their perfect ‘shot’ in front of that flower-adorned door! I stood and watched a number of very glamorous girls preening and posing – some actually not even going in to make a purchase! I sneakily managed to steal a few shots, careful to crop any posers out (!) before going in to order. I didn’t have long and the tables inside were all full, so I braved the cold and sat outside with a coffee and cupcake. Cue more preening and posing – honestly, every 3 minutes there was someone new taking their turn at the door! Once again, I just watched, taking it all in. I did, however, brave asking my waitress to snap a quick picture of me. I knew I’d have major regrets if I didn’t! I’ve made that mistake before.  Well, what I didn’t bet on was the sheer skill of said waitress. Clearly, she’d done this a million times before. Not awkward at all, she snapped away, clearly aiming for a perfect shot, cropping out the people who were in the queue and everything! I should have known! Anyway, time was moving swiftly on and I had a train to catch so I ate and drank up quickly. The coffee was indeed fine. The cupcake left much to be desired. It was awfully dry and definitely not award-winning.

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Checking my trusty Google maps, I headed swiftly towards the nearest station. This was the first time I’d used the train to travel and my contactless card to pay. Talk about handy. Tap to go in, tap to go out – zero hassle. I was well impressed and hopped onto the train … a little too hastily! I checked the line information above my head only to discover I was on the line to Chessington, rather than the line I needed to get to Surbiton. Thankfully the lines are clearly marked and I just jumped off at the next stop and on again when the next train came along. Doing that a few years ago definitely would have threw me, but I’m 100% more brave than I was mid-20s. Not more brave in all things mind you!

My lovely cousin picked me up from Surbiton station and brought me to her house to stay the night. We were at my Aunt’s by 6.30pm and I enjoyed a home-cooked meal, another wee G&T and a lovely catch up with my cousin and Aunt. We watched TV and I rested my weary feet. I felt truly thankful for my day in the city, but moreso for the rare time with my Aunt.  Not only did she make my dinner and put me up for the night, but she also ironed and hung up my Boden dress for the next day. I was ever so grateful.

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Day 2

Wednesday morning brought beautiful sunshine and I enjoyed catching up on a bit of sleep before breakfast and then packed up my bag for the day. My cousin dropped me back to Surbiton station for 10am and I got the train straight to Waterloo and then a tube to Covent Garden. In less than an hour I was back in the city centre, a Pret almond croissant in hand and headed for Boden HQ.

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I really tried not to think too much about the event for I knew I could easily talk myself out of it! As I approached the door I 100% faked what little confidence I could muster and walked inside. I was greeted by two lovely ladies - one ticked my name off the list and the other took my bag. It sure felt good to give my wee shoulders a break! I nipped to the loo to fix my hair only to find Elle Wright (@feathering_the_empty_nest) standing waiting at the bathroom door. Well, I nearly died. Ok, that’s totally melodramatic, but trust me when I say that I had a … ‘moment’. Instant imposter syndrome kicked in and I thought ‘what on earth am I doing here?’ Of course I tried to act real cool, totally not acknowledging the fact that I’ve been following Elle for quite some time. She’s only got like almost 112K followers. No biggie.

I tried to calm myself down in the loo and totally gave myself a wee pep talk in the mirror.

I can do this.

I can do this.

I exited the bathroom and headed straight to the cutest coffee cart I think I’ve ever seen.

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With a Boden-branded, oat flat white in hand, I nervously made my way upstairs, not knowing who on earth I might run into next. Yet, I need not have been nervous at all. The whole event was so relaxed and as soon as I saw the setup I was straight in for a look at the beautiful A/W collection. Some of Boden’s in-house designers were there and it was incredible to get a chance to chat with them and see them in action. There were delicious canapés and drinks to enjoy but I was far too nervous to take anything!

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I did eventually pluck up the courage to chat to Elle, and to the lovely Sally (@gettingstuffdoneinheels) as well. Gosh, they were so kind while I blabbered on about being too star-struck at the loos to introduce myself! It wasn’t long before we were joined by some familiar faces and I finally began to relax. Part of the preview involved the opportunity to get a personalised Boden printed plate to bring home. Designer, Author and Illustrator, Lisa Stickley was busy illustrating people’s pets and portraits during the event. I cannot tell you how chuffed I am with mine.

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Feeling extra brave after the event I made my way round the corner to Neal’s Yard. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. Neal’s Yard was looking particularly pretty. I’d contacted the Neal’s Yard Remedies store prior to arriving to see if I could go ‘live’ in store to demo a hand treatment. Legit, I walked around the shop for ages before finally introducing myself and having to do the ‘live’! I was definitely feeling the fear and doing it anyway! The staff were lovely though, and very accommodating; I met with Abigail to get ready for the hand demo. I still can’t believe I went ‘live’ on my Instagram in the store while getting a hand massage! Abi and I chatted about some of NYRO’s products and health benefits, before giving a tour around the store and a peek out at the Neal’s Yard courtyard.  I wish I had recorded the full conversation I had with Abigail. She had a wealth of knowledge to share and it was wonderful to just get the chance to chat all things NYR with her. Thank you Abi!

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Lunchtime had been and gone by the time I emerged from Neal’s Yard. Abigail had recommended that I swing by Petersham Nurseries in Covent Garden for a nosey then I made a beeline for Arket.

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I was absolutely famished, so grabbed a coffee and a cinnamon bun to get a little energy for some shopping and strolling. I really loved Arket and bought a few wee bits – my turtle bags came from there. It was great to just explore in the sunshine. What a difference from Tuesday’s dreary weather!

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Mid-afternoon saw me strolling through Carnaby and checking out the famous Liberty London. I could have stopped and snapped at every turn. I was totally in my element.

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Having worked in my local Topshop for 6 years in my late teens/early twenties, I couldn’t not take a nosey in the big Oxford Street store: a DJ, nail and hair bar, café and bubble tea stall are just a few ‘extras’ you can expect to find there. But, I definitely felt like I was beginning to fade a bit, so I took a wee seat with a bubble tea (so weird btw) after purchasing a few hairbands. As you do.

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It was now 4.30pm and my flight home wasn’t until 10pm so I made the decision to make the most of the good weather and use the tube to head towards London and Tower Bridges. I walked along the water from London Bridge towards Tower Bridge and it was glorious in the sunshine. Keeping a close eye on the time I made my way on foot across Tower Bridge (so glad I did) and down the other side of the river. I soaked it all in and snapped pictures like a maniac. My phone was on the portable charger by this stage!

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It was just after 6pm when I came full circle and arrived back at the entrance of The Sky Garden. The queue outside was small so I stood in line, deliberating whether I had time to go in or not. I had to factor in the time to walk to Liverpool St station and catch the Stansted express back to the airport. As I entered through the building I could see another queue going through security a little further ahead. My gut was telling me I just didn’t have the time. I listened to my gut, and for the second time in two days, I walked away from The Sky Garden! I’ll just book ahead next time! I managed to get to Liverpool St station and make it quickly and easily onto the Stansted Express. I’d called into an M&S foodhall en route and grabbed a sandwich, crisps, sweets and chocolate to snack on after suddenly realising I hadn’t eaten that much that day. I’d been more focused on what I was doing and seeing and wanting to make the most of my time! I munched away on the train as I headed to the airport – much needed fuel for the last leg of the journey. I still had quite a way to go to get myself home.

I was through security at Stansted by 8.15pm and admittedly felt a wee bit gutted that I probably would have had time to do The Sky Garden (albeit at a push)! So I settled myself and took a dander round the stores before perching up with a glass of fizz and maltesers while I waited for my gate. It felt like a nice way to say “cheers” to what had really been a brilliant trip.

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By the time I arrived home it was gone 2am and I was more than ready to see Matt and Phoebs and to crawl into my bed. 

Looking back, it all seems a bit surreal. I still can’t quite believe I actually went to London … by myself.

That I navigated the trains and tubes.

That I attended the Boden A/W preview.

That I did a ‘live’ in Neal’s Yard Remedies, Covent Garden.

That I didn’t get lost or panic or freak out!

It might sound silly to some but I definitely felt like I was exercising my ‘brave’ mode most this trip!

I can’t conclude this blog without thanking a few people, without whom, this trip would never have happened. Firstly, to Boden: thank you for extending ‘little old me’ an invitation to attend – I know I shouldn’t say that but it’s definitely how I felt on the day. What a wonderfully unique opportunity - one I do not take for granted. My only regret is not taking the opportunity to chat more to Mr Johnnie Boden! Next time perhaps?!  Secondly, to my Aunt and cousin: thank you for opening up your home and taking time to pick me up and drop me off. Thanks for the lend of your straighteners El! Thirdly, to my husband, Matt: thank you for believing in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. Thank you for pushing me – in love - to take opportunities like this one.  And lastly, to YOU: thank you for reading my blog and for investing your time and energy into following along on my journey. Thank you also to all you lovely people who gave me advice on where to go and what to see. I’ve a long list of places now for the next time! Milk train is top of that list! In all seriousness though, thank you again and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like any more details from my trip. Until next time London!

 

Neal's Yard Remedies - November edit

Beauty, BloggingSteph DukeComment

It’s been a whirlwind few months with Neal’s Yard Remedies so I thought I’d give you a little update on my journey so far.

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I joined Neal’s Yard in June with a view to enjoy the 25% consultant discount and perhaps do a small amount of sales. I planned to do a ‘launch event’ as early as possible to make back the money I’d invested in the kit, that way I wasn’t out of pocket and had a lovely range of products to enjoy. I hadn’t even heard of NYRO until recently and was immediately intrigued by their brilliant incentives, career opportunities and flexible working hours … not to mention their company values, ethics and commitment to source and produce organic products.  You can read more about how/why I joined here.

Many of you know that I resigned from my teaching post this time last year and have been enjoying this season of spending time at home with Phoebe, alongside other social media-related business. So when the opportunity to join NYRO presented itself and it seemed to fit in nicely with what I was already doing, it felt like a no brainer. The low start up cost was obviously appealing - I joined for less than £50! Immediately I received my own replicated website that I could start selling from right away and gained access to the most incredible bank of NYRO resources.

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Neal’s Yard provide their consultants with everything they could ever need to help them run a successful business: social media graphics, business tools and stationery, a supportive online community, training (both free and paid, online and in-person) and more. The earning potential is more than I think I even realised when I joined, but is obviously hugely dependent on how much or how little we choose to do as an independent consultant. But the choice is ultimately ours … there is no Neal’s Yard police officer going to come and knock down your door, no menacing manager pushing for sales, no constant competing against colleagues - just total flexibility, a wonderfully supportive community and zero pressure.

Sometimes I still cringe when I post something Neal’s Yard-related on my Instagram. I never want to be that person who bombards followers with ads or pushes product down people’s throats! You know that just isn’t me. But I do have to remind myself every so often that My Little Duke began as an online shop. My entire journey with MLD started with sales! It has been quite a journey for MLD over the last few years and I’m still a bit overwhelmed by the encouragement, support and opportunities that have come my way. I’m grateful for it all - even if I do moan about IG sometimes!!

I still pinch myself some days when I’m picking Phoebe up from school or when we’re sitting at the table in the afternoon doing scissor work or writing skills. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … I never thought this would be me, I never imagined my life take this turn, I never thought I ever even wanted to be in this position. Yet here I am. It hasn’t been easy, I’ve mentioned this before … so any extra income I can create … be it through an ‘ad’ on Instagram, or the odd paid collaboration or through NYRO … it all helps. I’m currently testing out a few other avenues too - there’s a lot of trial and error going on these days!

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But I’m four months into my blue bottle journey now and starting to realise that I could make a good go at earning with Neal’s Yard Remedies. Last month saw me recruit over 10 new consultants to my team and receive a promotion to Senior Consultant! Crazy! I was even on the Top 10 Recruits list for October - this covers the whole of the UK!! What?! I’m absolutely not telling you this to boast … once again, you know that’s not my jam! I’m telling you this because there might be some of you reading along thinking, “I’d like this” or “I could give NYRO a go too”. It really is a wonderful opportunity and you know I’d never promote something that isn’t genuine. My wee team is growing and you would be warmly welcomed if you fancied joining us. Northern Ireland is making herself known in the world of NYRO these days and it’s an exciting time to be part of such a successful and growing company!

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The current joining offer (and the last chance to join before Christmas) finishes tomorrow (Nov 5th), so if you are thinking about grabbing it or giving NYRO a wee go, don’t delay! The mini-kit is an absolute steal at £45 – a full size pot of Wild Rose Beauty Balm is £40 alone! Some of my newest recruits have joined to earn a little extra money during the Christmas season, some are using products from the kit as Christmas gifts and some are just keen to enjoy 25% discount for themselves! However, one common thread is the craving to be a part of a community, to step out of comfort zones and be a little bit brave. I never ever thought four months ago that I’d be heading towards becoming a Team Leader with a team of almost 20! I never thought I’d get to enjoy so many vouchers, discounts and freebies! And I never thought I’d sit in a training session bubbling with passion and enthusiasm to be part of a company I hasn’t even heard of less than a year ago. You can read about becoming a consultant and/or join here.

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I’m always here to answer any questions you have, don’t ever feel like you are bothering me! I’ll never ever pressure you into joining, hosting or buying! But if you do want to know more about NYRO then you’ve three ways to do that:

1.     Join – like I’ve already mentioned … become a consultant!

2.     Share – be a host and get some friends & family over. This next season is the perfect time to be a host! Why not host a ‘shop & sip’ party – friends/family can get some Christmas shopping done and you get to enjoy some free shopping of your own!? As a host you’ll get a free full-size product, free and half price shopping and the opportunity to enjoy a free treatment. Get in touch to nab a slot before Christmas!

3.     Shop – if you haven’t already, become a customer. I want to say a heartfelt thank you to anyone reading who has ordered from me during these last four months. I earn 25% commission on my sales and like I said previously … every little bit extra helps me to be able to work from home. I really appreciate your custom. And if you haven’t yet shopped with NYRO, why not start today? You can view my online shop here or contact me and I’ll pop a brochure in the post to you! You can order directly from my website or I can add your order in with my own weekly deliveries – that way, you just might get a wee freebie or two!!

So there you have it! Four months in and I’m a little overwhelmed but very much enjoying my NYRO journey. I’m hopeful for a busy Christmas season and excited to see what next year has in store. As always, thank you for reading my blog, I just love having you around.

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