Imagine two nights away from the demands of everyday life with some of your lovely friends in a cute and cosy cottage in the Cotswolds and the prospect of wine, chocolate, cheesy movies and some shoe shopping in Oxford ahead of you.
Well last week I enjoyed just that thanks to my vicar friend who moved away from our village in May last year who invited me to join her at her cottage near Chipping Norton, and the lovely people at Hotter who invited me to do some mother-daughter shoe shopping in time for Mother's Day.
The break was timed perfectly as a treat at the end of half term- I waited a whole nanosecond to reply to my friend's email invitation.
There was so much to look forward to. Chat, chocolate, fabulous food including a cheeky Indian takeaway, some truly soppy (and slightly predictable) films on DVD and a crackling log fire, wine and crisps to indulge in.
Only three of the group invited could make it but having a smaller group of four made it a really intimate weekend where we were able to really catch up with each other's news.
We are all parents albeit at varying stages of motherhood. One has a two grown-up daughters and is very close to earning her Grandmother badge. One has a toddler and is hoping to expand her small family, one has the classic one boy one girl combo with both at primary school and I.... well my children cover almost every stage- primary, secondary and university and my eldest is buying his first home.
One thing we have in common though is we are exhausted. Life is busy with work, family and community commitments. The thought of rest and relaxation in my friend's cottage was a tonic in itself, even before we got there.
Then I had an email from Hotter Shoes.
I love Hotter shoes. Don't be thinking these are shoes only for the very mature community - they do a number of very stylish ranges which combine on-trend designs with the comfort you expect from Hotter.
I own a pair of pink suede "Donna" shoes which bring joy to my heart and a spring to my step every time I wear them. And a pair of uber-comfortable wedges which I defy anyone to describe as mumsy.
Anyway, back to that email. It was inviting me and my mum, or someone who is like a mum to me, to go and choose some new shoes at their Oxford store. Yes. Oxford. Just up the road from our Cotswold retreat. Free shoes. Need I go on?
We quickly inserted a shopping trip to Oxford onto our relaxed itinerary. Now let me explain about the mum thing. I have a very lovely mum who, let me tell you, was extremely disappointed about missing out on new shoes. You may still be able to hear her sobbing quietly if you listen hard.
The thing is, my mum lives in Cyprus so although she was momentarily tempted to fly over for her shoes I did point out that it would make them rather expensive. That left me a mum substitute to find.
I have written about my vicar friend before. She is my friend and my confidant. We shop, pray, laugh and eat together. Sometimes all at the same time.
She has been there for me through the best of times and worst of times. She's not old enough to be my mother but in the absence of mine geographically she is a good substitute.
We have wildly different physiques. I am short and dumpy with size 4-5 feet. She is a veritable giant with size 7-8 extra-wide boats.
So little and large enter the Hotter shop in Queen Street in Oxford city centre and ask for manager Aggie who turned out to be a real ambassador for the brand - really passionate and enthusiastic about the range. Actually as always the entire team in the shop were welcoming and helpful and happy to advise on sizing and styles.
My friend was keen to buy something pretty and after a few false starts found a gorgeous pair of pink flat courts with a cute bow detail. Even the name was pretty - Jewel.
She said she woke in the night afterwards thinking she should have maybe gone for something more demure, a more sensible colour, more vicar-y but decided that this was the perfect opportunity to choose something more fun! Brides- check out your vicar's feet. If she's wearing pink Jewel courts it could be my friend.
I found choosing really hard. I finally narrowed it down to two.
I loved the Hotter classic "Shake" in the funky Rose Bloom colour way and adored the comfort and modern look of the new ultra-light, flexible and soft "Cloud" from the new H92 range. (check out #h92Hotter to see what others make of them)
The Cloud's tailored memory foam insole and stretch top meant no tight spots and this can be very important for me as my darned Fibromyalgia Syndrome can leave my feet feeling every point of contact as pain.
The shake- well the Shake is just adorable and looked so very very cute with my turned up jeans. My friend has them in three colours and says they are like wearing slippers.
Hmmm. Which ones to choose?
In the end I decided to go for the brand new H92 range (in pebble) as they are the newest range for SS16 and thought a review of these would be more useful for my readers.
I wore them a couple of days later, straight out of the box (after giving them a light spray of waterproofing spray as suggested by Aggie) to an event in London.
I stood and walked all day in them and they did not rub, my feet did not hurt or ache and they looked really lovely teamed with my patterned trousers. It's a thumbs up from me- I'm tempted to buy the black version too as I think they'd be really useful.
Back to my weekend. Maybe the best thing about the whole experience was the fun of shopping with my friends. We laughed and shared advice and opinions and then celebrated the joy of new stuff together.
I was sad my mum couldn't be there. We love shopping together and if I could wave a magic wand I would take her to Hotter on Mother's Day and share the fun of shoe shopping with her. Followed by a good coffee and a large slice of cake obvs!
I was also sad to leave the Shake shoes on the shelf. Several friends have told me since they think they are so "me" the designer must have met me!
But on the whole the weekend was about happiness and positivity, even in the face of some tough times, friendship and the shared experience of motherhood.
Thank you to my lovely friends for making it a wonderful break, and thank you to Hotter who added the joy of shoe shopping making it my perfect weekend.
Disclaimer: I was gifted two pairs of free shoes for the purpose of this review. Views and opinions remain honest and my own.