Sunday, 29 September 2013

Why Art Envy Isn't All Bad

 * I sent this post in as part of a columnist application last year - as it's unpublished I thought I'd share it with you now*

Mum has often told me that she’s amazed I still make comments about my school days, which ended, well, a fairly long time ago. None of us can help the memories that stick in our minds though, and one of those I found hard to forget, was that I always wanted to be better at art.

My sister ended up with the artistic genes, while I was given the gift of the written word, which is great, but it’s something that has always frustrated me. My memories of my school art lessons include a photo frame I was very proud, of being wrecked in the kiln, and spending copious amounts of time drawing folded bits of paper and toilet rolls. Who knew there were so many ways to draw paper!

Perhaps that’s where my art envy started. I wanted to learn, but I wanted to draw something interesting, get the paints out, or spend another term in the pottery room, instead of progressing from paper to playing cards in drawing class. I had found the art mediums I enjoyed and I wanted more.

One Of My Christmas Card Designs
When I left school and university, and started going to our local street theatre event, and viewing local artists work on our art trail, the memories came back. The sheer imagination and randomness of St Theatre performers, the skill of the pavement artists whose work brightens up the national papers, even people that can draw their dog, or a flower in the garden, stuck in my mind. I wasn’t greedy, at the time I just wanted a little of what they had. Eventually though I had to accept that my drawing skills were, at best, basic. I can draw a good stick person though, oh and a passable Robin.

I don’t think art envy is all bad though, it got me thinking in a different way about creative hobbies. I wanted to be artistic, without having to draw or paint. I ended up getting hooked on card making. Craft is just as valid an art form as any other, and now I can play with sequins, pretty papers, and toppers to my heart’s content without having to worry if my pig looks more like a mouse, or my face shading on a portrait looks more like an overdone tanning session. I’m learning new techniques, I’ve had occasional comments and photos in craft magazines, and I’ve even found a craft/art form where I can get away with occasional stick people! 

My First Go At Stencilling
It’s natural in school to be burdened with frustration when you can’t do something, or do it well, but when you grow up you think differently. There’s no such word as can’t when it comes to art. It took me a long time to be a happy creative, but there’s one in all of us, it’s just a case of finding the right outlet. But if you do end up sticking to stick people, maybe your creations will go viral. There are 235 million Google search results on the topic after all!

Please share your artistic links, stories, failures, successes below, would love to see them.  

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Comment - The Mental Health Patient Costume

Hey everyone,

I woke today to find social media awash with comments on Asda, and the 'mental health patient' costume they had listed for sale, and then withdrew in embarassment after barrages of complaints. Normally I stick to less sensitive issues when I write a comment post on here, but felt compelled to write my thoughts on this.

Mental Health is a cause very close to me, I have written about it with my professional writer's hat on, and had experience with mental health problems. I would never under estimate the stigma that can be attached to these issues, or what people go through, whatever degree of mental health problem or illness they have. 

That said, I wasn't exactly stunned or shocked when a quick search online showed me the outfit in question which has generated so many heated tweets and media debate. The outfit itself is nothing new, people have been buying or creating blood stained clothes, and wearing wild masks for years, and many shops on the high street will be selling similar items in the run up to this year's scare fest. How many cheesy horror movies have we seen with these kinds of characters portrayed in them too? If we are blaming a costume label for making the stigma worse, are we then blaming other aspects of Halloween too - the media, the 'Hollywood' portrayal of horror, guys on a night out in town dressed as a character from Psycho? Is there any proof that controversial Halloween costumes make the stigma worse? These are all questions that have been rolling around in my head.

What we have here is a lesson learned as far as branding is concerned. Asda were absolutely right to withdraw it after the controversy it caused. It was silly and insensitive, and had I seen it on a shop shelf then I'd comment it was tactless. In hindsight could they have sourced a product with a different title, or hidden the existing mental health patient branding - absolutely - but did it surprise or effect me in any way? no, not really.

I walk out of here, into the sunshine, feeling no different than I did yesterday, and will no doubt feel tomorrow. Look at the context in which the product was released to market in - Halloween - full of stereotypes created by the aforementioned movies and myths - then consider all the people that could be walking down the street on Halloween night in similar costumes. Any one of them could have mental health problems/illness - would they say this a true sign of stigma - or pinning existing stigma on to something new?

I realise this stance may court some controversy, but given the reaction, I am taking the risk of airing my views. Retailers can and do make mistakes - but do the effects really run deep, or is it the people that judge mental health problems, rather than these products we should be concerned about?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Best Hotels In London

*sponsored post

I live just 40-45 minutes away from London and I’ve visited for pop concerts, family outings to tourist attractions such as Madame Tussauds, and shopping in and around Oxford Street. There are a few things I’ve yet to cross off my wish-list though, which made me wonder what hotel choices are available for anyone who wants to pack more into their trip and combine it with a hotel stay. Here are some of my favourites.
Best For Families

I grew up in a family of four, so a family friendly hotel was definitely top of mum and dads list when it came to travelling with my sister and I. I think some of their values have rubbed off on me, but I have my own ideas too.

Source - Trip Advisor
I think the Holiday Inn Chessington ticks all my boxes for quality, service, and something different.

Right on the doorstep of the Chessington World Of Adventures Theme Park (a plus!) , this hotel also wins for its African theme, rooms with views over an animal packed nature reserve, and one of my must-haves, a swimming pool.

It looks like all the family is catered for in the Zafari restaurant as well – so this one is a winner.

Best Luxury Choice

It was hard to pick one touch of luxury, so I’ve gone for two :
Saint Georges Hotel would be great for me as a West End musical is on my to-do list, and this hotel is in a great location for that. It’s also a short walk away from London Zoo, another on my list. I’m a bit of a fan of any kind of hotel facility with a view, so the 15th floor restaurant and bar appeals here, as does the light dishes and sandwiches on sale in said bar, as it’s nice to have a relaxed dining option. Some of the bedrooms have a London skyline view as well.

St Georges Hotel - Source - Flikr -Ewan Munro
My other choice is Browns Hotel, part of the Rocco Forte Group. I won’t go into the history of the Forte Hotel dynasty, and its changes of ownership etc, but it’s a brand I know. This hotel is 175 years old, and I like the idea of staying in a place with a story behind it. Other plus points include the Afternoon Tea (yum), and all the little touches they have in place for children. I would definitely bring my nephew here – children get their own room service, junior bath accessories, spa treatments, and either a copy of the Jungle Book (written by Rudyard Kipling during a stay in the hotel), or age related magazines.

Best Budget Hotel

Ok, I am thinking a bit outside the box with Safestay London, as it seems to be a mix of hostel, posh hotel, and budget accommodation all mixed into one – take a look at their website and you’ll see what I mean. But the pictures just jumped out of the page at me, so I had to mention this one.
Although aimed at travellers, I think as long as you don’t mind bunk beds, this would be a cool place to stay for anyone. I love the funky d├ęcor for something a bit different, and there are various room options too, so you can visit on your own, with your family or a group, or just meet new people in a dorm style stay. Free breakfast, a bar, Wi-Fi, and easy access to London’s attractions, are other plus points. 

One To Watch
 I thought I’d end the blog with a ‘coming soon’ choice that I discovered when searching for luxury hotels. Does anyone else fancy staying on a great big Yacht moored on the river Thames? If so look out for the new Sunborn London. I’m not sure I’d like a cruise, but the entertainment options, and rooms planned for this floating hotel sound great.

These are some of my favourite choices, but feel free to join the debate if you’ve stayed in a great place in London – rockstar service, budget beauties, or anything else you recommend.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Oriflame Triple Core - 3D Lipstick Review

 When I see make-up ads on the television the sceptic in me isn't always convinced by the claims made by various brands - you know the ones, where mascara can give you thicker full lashes, and lipstick that makes your lips plumper. There may be science behind the claims, but I personally haven't seen that much difference when I've tried out different lipsticks and lip glosses in the past.

So when I was invited to try out Oriflame's Triple Core 3D lipstick, I wasn't convinced I'd get the "optical illusion of fuller lips" that the catalogue promised. I did relish the chance to try out a new Oriflame product though, as Mum used to go to Oriflame parties, and I even delivered their catalogues around my local area for a while.

There are five different shades available ranging from Berry Pink, to Red Coral and Nude Peach. From looking at the pictures in the catalogue, I would pretty much try all the shades, but the one that arrived in the post for me to try was Berry Pink.

My first impression was one of surprise as I was expecting something a darker with hues of red or purple in the pink after looking at the catalogue photo's, but this is a more girly pink colour.

There's a darker outer core, what they call a silver shade middle core, and a lighter inner core. I first put it on when I went to the Fling Festival and have worn it quite a few times since.

Good things - I still loved the shade although it wasn't the colour I expected, and it feels nice on my lips, so I think it would be good to wear whatever the weather, with a soothing/moisturising feel. And yes my lips did actually look a little plumper - so it does deliver on illusion as well.

Showing the pink colour and darker core.
Bad Things - I think you have to play around a little using different edges of the stick to get the desired result, and sometimes apply twice to get an all over coverage. I don't think it has the staying power that some of my lip glosses do, as I've had to reapply when I've worn it out.

Overall result - the product seems like it will last me a long time, and although the lipstick does soak in and need re-applying, I do like the shade choices, and would consider buying another colour as a beauty treat - at the launch price of £7.95. I think the price point of £10.95, which it may well go up to in the future, is a bit high.

To find out more about the Triple Core Lipstick, and other Oriflame products, click on to their website. Have you tried this product? do you have a favourite lipstick brand? would love to hear from you if you have.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Race For Life Twilight 5K - Chelmsford Event

When I was at school I hated athletics and was never any good at running. However hard I tried to breath and pace myself I always ended up with stitches. So on the surface it might seem like an odd decision to apply for a Race For Life event, BUT if you do think that then maybe you are missing the whole point of Race For Life.

You don't have to be good at running to enter, you can walk, jog, hop skip and dance the race if you like, and it doesn't matter what time to cross the finish line with. Race For Life is about raising funds for Cancer Research in a safe, and fun way, and of course exercise is great for your health as well.

I have never entered something like this before so I am a little apprehensive over what to expect. But the twilight event appealed because it's in town (easier to get to), and a smaller number of people (1000) which I feel more comfortable with. Also think the idea of getting everyone to glow in the dark with plenty of glow sticks is a lot of fun! I just need you all to send up a prayer to the weather gods so it's nice and dry on October 24th.

To all my friends and extended family who have been touched by cancer in some way - this one is for you. And in memory of my late uncle and his son who both lost their lives to cancer. I guess I better get into training. I'm not aiming to be first across the line - but I don't want to be last either!!! Will post up more of my Race For Life experiences later on. Thanks for reading about such a good cause.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Online Shopping - Quiz Clothing

I thought for this blog post I'd do an organic (non PR related piece) about one of my favourite places to shop online. As I am often in jeans and a jumper in front of the laptop, this online shop serves me well with going-out day/evening tops.

Quiz Clothing

As I don't travel much for various reasons, I do sometimes find a lack of things I like on the high street. I'm probably a bit picky, fussy, and unadventurous, but I know what I like too. My parents once bought me a couple of tops from a Quiz store for my birthday - basic t-shirts - and then I thought I'd see if they had a website, and see what else they had for store.

Quiz is now my new favourite place for tops. They have a nice selection of colours and styles, and longer length with sleeves as well which is always a plus. Some of my favourites have a bit of sequin detail or bling on them, and striking different designs using colours, animals, or lettering. I've had two lovely orders from them recently (one a present) and they both fit perfectly and were really comfortable to wear. They are more going out tops, but can be dressed down for the day as well.

The prices are reasonable, and although I would expect some shedding if my chosen top is covered in glitter, the quality of the manufacturing means I am confident my buys will last for a while too. I'm really happy so far with the quality of the tops I have bought, and now the nights are getting colder, may well be looking for a few cosy things to keep me warm in the coming months, and perhaps another 'going out' top as well.

There's already a few things I've earmarked on the website, and feel this is definitely a company I feel confident in ordering from online.

If you'd like to take a look at any of their latest collections, their website can be found here. Have you used them before? is there a clothing website you find particularly good? why not share your stories below.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Schwartz Grill Mates - Smoky Texan Marinade

Freelancers snack time has become freelancers dinner time this month! I usually profile snacks I can munch at the desk, but when I am finished at the desk, or just want something different to do - I cook. I am by no means a foodie, but do enjoy cooking when recipes catch my eye, and of course it gives mum a break as well.

My target this time was Schwartz Grill Mates - I was itching for the chance to try a packet out as they sounded so yummy! There are 4 different flavours to choose from - Deep South Brown Sugar, Cajun Marinade Mix, Mojito Lime Marinade Mix, and Smoky Texan. What you get is a sachet of powder which you simply add water and oil to, to make your marinade.

I used the Smokey Texan Marinade Mix, and did deviate from the instructions a little, as I opted for a 15 minute marinade of my chicken breasts in the fridge (packet suggests 15 minutes, or the fridge overnight). Once my chicken was marinated, I set about making the rest of the meal - this time rice, with tomatoes and peas. I turned on the grill to full to start, then turned it down once the chicken had started to sizzle.

 I popped the chicken under the grill and turned and basted it every 4-5 minutes until it was cooked. Although the packet suggested using 2 tablespoons of marinade for basting, and binning the rest, I decided to use more to see what depth of flavour I got.

The instructions were clear, and I was confident cooking with this product. The end result smelt yummy as well, and I think using the extra marinade gave it a bit of a kick/heat to it which we all liked. A big thumbs up for the chicken, but I have to hang my head in shame, as I cook rice A LOT, but on this occasion it ended up as over cooked mush!

A rice fail, but the Schwartz Grill Mates were definitely a winner -and best of all Mum has gone off shopping so might come home with another one to try.

Do you have any new discoveries food wise? does cooking help you unwind? if you've any thoughts please share them below and lets all feel hungry together!

*this product was not sent for review, it's just one of my favourite new discoveries.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Comment - Boybands Bringing Out Perfume

I have been a pop fan right from a young age, and although my music tastes have changed and expanded a little, they still include acts that would (although sometimes loosely) be termed as boybands. I have been a supporter of Take That since I was a teen, so over the years have brought everything from books and badges, to t-shirts, tour programmes, and I even had a Take That birthday cake one year.

This sort of thing sits easy with me, it's merchandise featuring pictures of the band, or products about the band and their music. It's how things should be. But more recently boybands have veered off course and the marketing machines behind them have had them promoting make-up, condoms (in the case of JLS), and perfume.

I know that these products are still aimed at girls (the majority of a male acts fan base), but they just don't seem relevant to what the act is doing, and to see men promote a product obviously aimed at the ladies just feels all kind of wrong. Although I may be older than the average boy band fan these are aimed at, I feel sure I wouldn't have wanted these items in my teen years either. For me I like a band for the music, and like to buy products associated with what they are, perfume, I am afraid just isn't one of those items.

What do you think? would you buy the item just because of who is behind it? should male music acts be the faces of perfume, or should we just accept it's just another way to make money in the world of marketing machines? Would love to know your thoughts.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Snapbox Photo Canvas Review

Hello all, it's September, and apart from some small blips, it's still nice weather - I would be quite happy if it stayed around the 22 - 24 degree mark for the rest of the year. Perhaps that is a bit optimistic, but I have had the chance to get out in the garden and snap some pics of my favourite little people (that's Wilson and my nephew Joey). They may not belong to me, but they visit lots.

I was lucky enough to be invited to try out the Snapbox photo canvas service recently, which proved to be the ideal opportunity to finally get another digital photo printed, as I really am hopeless at actually printing out my memories.

Fresh Out The Box
The website is easy to navigate and gives you the option of either submitting a photo by email, or navigating through the upload and purchase process on the site. I chose the latter option preferring to do it all myself. I found the software really handy, as when you upload you can select different sizes from the drop down menu, and see a scaled down version of what your photo will look like - useful for deciding if a square or rectangle shaped canvas will be better.

There are 5 different sizes you can choose from - with dimensions including the stretched gallery wrapped canvas, and the real wood box floater frame that each canvas is mounted on. Prices start at £13.99 for a 13 by 13cm canvas, and go up to £34.99 for a 25 by 33 cm version (including VAT).

I played around and finally decided on my chosen photo and size, (another plus point - it's easy to change the pictures and play around with different options) From then my check out process was easy - and then it was a case of waiting for the postman. My order went in on the 22nd and arrived the day after bank holiday so I have no complaints about delivery, or the packaging. My canvas arrived in a plastic bag, shrink wrapped to a cardboard holder and enclosed in a big box.

Waiting To Be Hung On The Wall!

The finished result is pictured here, and I have to say I am very impressed with the quality. It looks great, the frame is very sturdy and hard-wearing, and they have thought of all the little details - attaching a hanging device, and small pads at the bottom to stop it marking the wall. My Snapbox Canvas meets the approval of my nephew as well, who had a winning smile on his face when he saw it!

Visit the Snapbox website and see what they can do, I'd say the service is well worth the money.

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