Thursday 28 May 2015

Yorkshire Tea - One Million Trees Program

Yorkshire tea is my tea of choice.  I've drunk it for years and when I gave up caffeine 18 months ago I tried many different brands but Yorkshire decaf was the one I settled on, giving the roundest, fullest flavour.

Now there's another reason to love Yorkshire Tea as well as the taste.  They have teamed up with The Woodland Trust (and enlisted the help of The Gruffalo) and committed to plant 1 million trees both here in the UK and in Kenya where they source their tea.

The people at Yorkshire Tea have always had a passion for trees - it's such a key part of what they do - and have already planted 3 million trees over the years and been instrumental in saving large areas of rainforest too.  Now, they pledge to plant 500, 000 trees in the UK with the help of the Woodland Trust's schools network, and 500, 000 trees in Kenya over the next 5 years.  It's part of their big aim to become carbon neutral by 2020.

Image: Yorkshire Tea

100, 000 trees have already been planted at schools across the UK fuelling children's love of the great outdoors.  Tom Blair, Brand Manager at Yorkshire Tea says:

"With the help of The Woodland Trust's school network and the popular Gruffalo brand, we're hoping to encourage the next generation to think about the importance of trees..."

Look out for the special promotional packs of Yorkshire Tree in store now. Specially designed by Axel Scheffler, The Gruffalo replaces the traditional Yorkshire landscape on the new boxes.  Author Julia Donaldson has also penned a special rhyming couplet to support the campaign and features on the reverse of the box.  This is the first new Gruffalo copy Julia has written in over a decade.

Follow the news on the website, play interactive games and print out activity sheets, and keep up to date on social media using #yorkshiretree

Disclosure: We were sent a hamper of tea products and a Gruffalo mug to help spread the word.

Thursday 21 May 2015

Putting colour into your music with View Quest

There used to be a time when you had to compromise on aesthetics when it came to having audio equipment in your home.  Sticking out like a sore thumb, your stereo or radio was something you'd rather hide away.

Now, thanks to View Quest, your home can be full of your favourite sounds and still look amazing.

Classic designs and a huge range of colour ways combine with cutting edge technology to give you DAB radios you'll want to show off.

Take this Christie DAB radio, with bluetooth compatibility it has the smart function of a rotating display screen meaning you can choose to display it either portrait or landscape depending on your preferred look and space available, with no reduction in quality of sound.

With a premium real enamel finish and high quality leatherette  surround in a choice of 11 vibrant colours, the Christie is one of the most beautiful and tactile radio’s around blending in perfectly with your decor.

It's so easy to control, even a technophobe like me can easily work it and it has a useful alarm feature and countdown function making it ideal for use in the bedroom or kitchen.  It even has the option to program more than one alarm time and differing times for weekdays and weekends making this a perfect bedside clock.

Hook up your smartphone wirelessly through the bluetooth function and you can play your music through it with perfect sound quality from the ultra-wide speaker driver and innovative digital sound processing technology.

It comes with a mains cable (my only slight grumble is that the lead is black, a white one would have been more compatible) and it does have the option of battery operation although you'll need to purchase the battery separately

Competitively priced at £99.99 it's a winner in our house and is rarely off!

Many thanks for View Quest for gifting this to me.

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Colour a child's life

If the recent political debates have shown anything, it's the stark contrast in this country between the haves and the have-nots.  The economic divide is getting wider and whilst there are many in the UK who are thriving and living comfortable lives, there are also many who are not.

Often it's the children who suffer the most, forced to live in squalid conditions, sometimes even dangerous conditions.

What kind of a childhood would it be to live here?  Bare floorboards, a dirty mattress for a bed, no bed covers, a dirty sheet nailed to the window for a curtain, no natural light...

I've been called to action.  It's no use just moaning about these injustices, it's time to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  Kiddicare has joined forces with the charity Kids Company to make a real and practical difference to families lives with the Colour a Child's Life campaign.  They have invited me along as a volunteer for a day with one of their families, to help renovate 2 children's rooms.

It's not just about having a nicely decorated home to live in.  This kind of fresh start can be a real catalyst for change.  Often the poor living conditions can exacerbate health problems, impact on self-esteem and confidence, impact on school attendance and performance and a whole host of other knock-on effects.

Children are reliant on those who care for them to create a safe, clean and nurturing home environment. Sadly, lots of parents are unable to sustain an appropriate standard of care due to poverty, mental health difficulties or substance misuse. 

These children and their families are living in local authority accommodation where social work departments are at breaking point and demand outweighs resources, leaving children in chronic poverty and neglect. Often young people leaving the care system are given their own flat, only to find that it is barely habitable.

Kids Company's Colour a Child's Life campaign has worked with many families such as the Barton family.

When Kids Company staff first visited the Barton family’s flat they were unable to see the floor underneath a mass of clutter. Each room was dirty and disorganised. Paul, who had just turned eight, rarely left his bedroom. He spent most of his time lying on a thin, battered mattress watching TV.

The light was permanently shut out by an old duvet cover that was nailed over the window frame.  The walls in his room were saturated in damp and mould due to an external leak – the probable cause for his asthma.  His sister Veronica, who was eleven, had a slightly better bedroom, yet it had not been decorated during her lifetime and was covered in woodchip wallpaper which had yellowed. Veronica had written her name in thick marker pen next to a small love heart she’d drawn. A series of fist marks were indented into her bedroom door.

During the Colour a Child’s Life intervention it became known that Paul had less than a 30 per cent school attendance. Both he and his sister survived almost exclusively on high sugar snacks including Coke Cola, biscuits and chocolate bars. The children’s mother, Sue, suffered with learning difficulties and struggled to offer the care her children required. Nether child had ever met their father. When a CaCL was suggested to the family, they became slightly unsettled. They’d become used to their chaotic environment.

In just two days, volunteers and Kids Company staff were able to perform a total transformation. With careful consideration, the clutter was sent to the skip. The damp and mould was treated, the leak repaired and the broken door replaced. Each room was decorated with a colour scheme chosen by the family. Flat-pack furniture was assembled including new beds and chests of drawers. Carpets were installed and soft furnishings put in place.

During the renovation reveal, Veronica screamed and ran into her bedroom. Paul didn’t say anything, but walked over to the window and drew the curtains a few times. Sue was delighted and thanked each volunteer for “the kindest thing to ever happen.”

Kids Company’s support to the Barton family is ongoing. Both Paul and Veronica take part in art therapy and attend their Arches II centre in Camberwell.

With corporate partner Kiddicare, Kids Company will assess the needs of the family, and staff who specialise in cleaning, decorating and carpentry are assisted in renovating the home by volunteers.  New furniture and soft furnishing is provided, damp issues addressed, decorating completed and a safe, vibrant environment is delivered to the family, with their input on what they'd like.

Thousands of children, young people and their families have benefited from Kids Company’s Colour a Child’s Life program, gaining confidence, self-esteem and a greater sense of stability. The effect on their daily lives is never short of remarkable.

Kids Company’s Colour a Child’s life project is uniquely effective in its service delivery. The team is innovative and flexible in their approach, and each project is tailor made to meet the needs of the family or young person involved.
So, in a couple of weeks time, I'll be donning overalls and rolling up my sleeves in the hope that my small part will help make a difference to a child's life.  Hopefully we'll see some amazing transformations like this.

Check back in a few weeks time for a progress update.  

Thanks to Kiddicare for inviting me.  

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Cromer and Sheringham Crab and Lobster Festival

We had a to-do list as long as your arm this weekend, but it had been a tough week for everyone so we decided to sack it all off and go out for some fun instead. 

The Cromer and Sheringham Crab and Lobster Festival was on this weekend and some advertising had caught my eye, so a trip to the seaside it was. We hurled buckets and spades and an empty cool bag in the boot and headed off on the rather mammoth drive. Predictably none of our ice packs were in the freezer, so I nipped into the supermarket and picked up a bag of ice, ignoring the Old Man's protests that it would never last - it did of course. Win to me. It worked perfectly but ugh what on earth do they put in that ice?! 

With The Kooks blaring out of the stereo and the car windows open this felt like the first day of summer. 

Do you want to go to the seaside? 

Hell yeah!

The festival is in it's fifth year and attracts over 20,000 visitors to the two towns.  There's so much going on with events over many venues including live music; trails; cookery demonstrations; children's entertainment and stalls.  In truth our whistle-stop tour of Cromer wasn't enough time to enjoy everything and when we go back next year we'd look to stay overnight.  Some of the evening events looked brilliant, the lifeboat museum had combined it with the national Museums at Night campaign for example and on the Friday night there was an opening concert on the pier.

First up we visited the guys from the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority.  And they were indeed an authority, showing off native crustaceans from the Cromer coast and beguiling us with fascinating facts like how to tell a male and a female crab apart, and how female lobsters carry their eggs around on their underbelly for around 10 months - it's actually all very fascinating and you can read more about it here.

Female lobster carrying eggs

I have a love/hate relationship with crabs.  When I was a kid I remember swimming out in the sea with my mum.  It was one of those flat beaches where you could swim out for miles and still touch the bottom.  Well, this one day I inadvertently put my foot down right on top of a bloody great crab which then proceeded to go into attack mode and attached it's vice-like pincer grip to my instep.  It was pure agony, especially as the salty sea water came into contact with the puncture wounds and I had to lift my leg high into the air like a very inelegant synchronised swimmer with the crab fiercely attached so my mum could remove it.  As my leg went up, my head went under and I very nearly drowned.

My payback to these vicious crustaceans is eating them.  Preferably with a spritz of lemon juice in a nice crab sandwich - delicious!

We visited the demonstration area and were shown how to dress a crab (I've never understood that expression.  Surely undressing a crab would make more sense?!).  The Old Man was keen to have a go so he was given his own crab to wield a knife at, and although it's probably not the neatest ever dressed crab, he did a pretty good job and felt confident enough for us to buy a whole crab to bring home - that's currently sitting in our freezer, so I hope he can remember how to do it when the time comes.

As well as all the crab and lobster, there were tonnes of other local food stalls at Evington Lawns, right near the sea-front.  Real ales; local apple juice; freshly squeezed French lemonade;  local cheese; breads and pastries; cakes; fudge; honey; pickles and preserves all made for a scrumptious stroll, savouring the samples at each one.

This lavender cheese was just divine, made from local cow's milk by Norton's Dairy, it is flavoured with delicate lavender, chervil and rosemary for a sublimely fragrant soft cheese.  It certainly made it into my cool bag to bring home.

There were displays by the local beekeeping association, as well as lots of honey and honey-related products on sale and Ruby tried her hand at rolling a beeswax candle.

We'd sadly missed the paella and by the time we got there were greeted with what must be one of the world's largest paella dishes completely empty - some poor sod must have had the job of washing that up.  We made do with delicious crab sandwiches served up by appropriately dressed staff, and washed down with a refreshing bottle of local Bramley apple juice.

Everywhere and everyone was decorated to the theme and it was a really vibrant festival atmosphere. There was so much to see and do (and eat!) we could have stayed for hours, but sadly it was a five hour round trip so we had to cram in what we could.

We headed over to the pier, one of Britain's oldest with roots going back to the fourteenth century, although in those days it was more of a jetty.  The pier as you see today dates from 1901.

It's always a popular haunt for crabbing, but over the festival weekend competition hots up for the championship and there's always people happy to show off their catches.

After an obligatory ice cream and a go on some of the rides, we took a stroll along the beach, watching the seagulls and admiring the pretty beach houses.  

Just time for some fish and chips by the sea front from No 1 Cromer, before heading home.

It was a glorious day and we ended our foodie road trip with a pit-stop at a cute caravan by the roadside on the way home to stock up on some fresh local asparagus to add the the haul.  It combined rather nicely with the crab in a homemade quiche which we scoffed for tea last night.

We'll definitely be back to sample more of the delights that Cromer has to offer and will be making a date in the diary for next year's festival.

Linking up with Time Traveller.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Forest Live Concerts - Win Tickets to Tom Odell

Last year we went to Bedgebury Forest in Kent to see the Modfather, Paul Weller.  I can honestly say it was one of the best live gigs I've ever been to. The setting, the scenery, the atmosphere, the company and of course the music all  made it a night to remember.  When he sneaked his old mate Roger Daltry onto the stage and they belted out Substitute and I can't explain the place went crazy and everyone was up dancing from teeny bopper toddlers to ageing mods.

You can see some great footage here, including the moment Daltry duets with Weller on the iconic Changingman track.

There was something about the mix of audience that made it feel like a glorious celebration.  Picnic blankets laid out, families enjoying the atmosphere, kids on shoulders and die-hard mods trying to see the stage through their mop-tops. One couple gave up their cool box so a young fan could stand on it for a better view of his hero, and the whole ambience was laid-back and friendly. There's something about outdoor venues which automatically feel more relaxed and festival-like.

This year, Forest Live have a huge range of acts lined up to play at some of the most beautiful locations across the country and we can't wait to go back to Bedgebury this year to see Paloma Faith.

Acts playing this year include The Vamps, Spandau Ballet, McBusted, Robert Plant and Tom Odell and I've got a pair of tickets to see Tom Odell to giveaway to one lucky reader.

Attending a Forest Live concert doesn't just mean you get to experience great music though.  Income generated from ticket sales is spent on protecting, improving and expanding England's woodlands and increasing their value to people and wildlife.  Over their 14 year history, Forest Live has made a huge contribution to a wide range of projects from wildlife conservation, to access and improvements for visitors.

So do you really need an excuse not to get out there, enjoy some open space and some incredible live music?  There's great facilities on site, free parking and lots of refreshment stalls if you don't fancy packing a picnic. Not even the weather can spoil this great night out.

I'm offering a pair of tickets to see Tom Odell courtesy of Forest Live, he's playing at the following:

19 June, Bedgebury Pinetum, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent
20 June, Westonbirt Aboretum, near Tetbury, Glocestershire
25 June, Dalby Forest, near Pickering, North Yorkshire
26 June, Sherwood Pines, near Mansfield, Notts
4 July, Delamere Forest, Cheshire
12 July, Cannock Chase, near Rugely, Staffordshire

The winner can choose from any of the dates/venues above to see this brilliant singer-songwriter.

You will of course recognise Tom Odell from his hauntingly beautiful cover of the single Real Love which was used in last years' John Lewis advertising, but there's a lot more to him that that.

His debut album ‘Long Way Down’ shot straight to number one. Singles from the album including ‘Can’t Pretend’, ‘Hold Me’ and the gargantuan ‘Another Love’ illustrate a song-writing maturity beyond his years and resulted in him achieving the ultimate industry accolade of ‘Songwriter of the Year’ at the 2014 Ivor Novello Awards as well as previously winning the BRITs Critics’ Choice Award for 2013. Following a succession of sold out headline tours and with ‘Long Way Down’ being certified gold, a packed summer of festival appearances in 2014 included V Festival, Isle of Wight and a show supporting one of his idols Neil Young at Hyde Park. 

So what are you waiting for?  Check out ticket availability for artists including McBusted, The Vamps, Spandau Ballet and Robert Plant on the Forest Live site, and get entering this giveaway to win a pair of tickets to see Tom Odell in the forest for yourself.

This giveaway is open to UK entrants only.  Closes at midnight on 31st May 2015.  One winner will be selected at random to win a pair of tickets to see Tom Odell at their choice of venue/date as listed above.  No alternative will be offered and no refunds or replacements will be offered if for any reason the concert is cancelled.  Travel and any associated expenses are not included.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Paris Street Life

I thought I'd share with you some photographs from our recent stay in Paris. If I'm short on time, I'll always prefer to amble round the streets and explore the locality, experiencing real life rather than be stuck in a stuffy museum or art gallery.

On the Sunday we walked and walked - 12 miles in total, I tracked it on Strava! Pounding the streets seeking out street art and performers and a taste of Parisien life.

Sure, you can ride the Metro to get you from A-B but you'll miss out on the vibrant street scene, the pavement cafes that fuelled our marathon hike and the hidden treasures the city has to offer.

From the buskers and performers such as the musician who bought his whole menagerie of sleeping pets, to the lonely accordion player and the breathtaking football stunts atop the steps of the Sacre Coeur...

Paris busker musician

Paris busker musician accordian player

Paris street performer football skills Montmartre

Paris street performer football skills Montmartre

Paris street performer football skills Montmartre

to the intriguing graffiti and street art, less prevalent than in other cities, you need to seek it out in the   districts of Montmatre, the gay quarter and the Jewish quarter.  Much of the artwork is pasted on to walls making it seem either less renegade and edgy, or showing the artists have a greater reverence and respect for their architecture - you decide.

Paris street art graffiti bull

Paris street art graffiti child with gun child with sunflower

Paris street art graffiti

Paris street art graffiti rat EM

Paris street art graffiti Spanish couple

Paris street art graffiti Je Suis Charlie

Paris street art graffiti Kraken octopus

Paris street art graffiti Kraken octopus je t'aime

Paris street art graffiti spider

One of my favourite sights was this oh-so-French Citroen 2CV with a Bond-esque paint job pootling round the Eiffel Tower.

Paris yellow Citroen 2CV James Bond 007

So soon after the tragic troubles in Paris, there was still a strong police presence, with officers armed and armoured to the hilt.  I couldn't help notice the surrealness of the armed police monitoring a demonstration in a central square, against a street vendor touting his giant bubble mixture in the background.  Such is Paris life.

Paris police bubbles

Paris police bubbles

Heading out to the sprawling flea markets of Saint Ouen, there's so much to see besides the miles and miles of vintage stores.  More installations and street art, and if you're lucky a bride and groom having their wedding shots taken.

Saint Ouen Flea Market graffiti street art

Saint Ouen Flea Market street art installation tin bath mannequin

Saint Ouen Flea Market wedding photography shoot

What do you prefer to see - museum art or street art?