Meeting The Makers – Jewellery Crafting Masterclass with The Goldsmithy

This weekend I did something I never thought I’d have the chance to do. I attended a masterclass in jewellery making with a group of MK Bloggers at The Goldsmithy in Stony Stratford.

I love jewellery and though I don’t always wear a heap of it, I do wear quite a few rings on my fingers every day.  But (shame on me) I’d never really considered how they go from molten metal to something pretty and shiny. Despite a good friend being in this business, I’d never thought long and hard about it and had no idea what all the tools and such on her instagram bench photos meant. But today I was going to find out!

The Chapman family of Stony Stratford really opened my eyes to the art and passion of those doing it right. We arrived at their workshop bright and early, and after being introduced to Paul and Glenn, Paul started telling us about the history of their business.

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Glenn started his training in 1972, with Cartier, and down the line went into business himself, creating intricate bespoke pieces for people – their main focus being to create long-lasting, great quality, unique jewellery that people will want to wear every day. Paul, his son, is 3 years into his 5 year apprenticeship and you can tell he shares the same passion as his Father. You know each piece is a labour of love, just by hearing them talk.

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We started the class with Paul melting some silver down and telling us we’d be creating a ring from this. The raw metal seemed so dull and not like anything you’d want to put on your finger!

Being VERY accident prone, I was intrigued as to how I could possibly have a go at this, but hearing that ‘slow and steady’ is the general rule of thumb set my mind at ease a little!

At each stage, the whole group had a change to give creating this ring a go. From shaping, to filing, smoothing, to polishing.

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After the molten metal was moulded into a stick shape, it was stretched out using this mangle-like contraption. Paul stretched it to the point where it broke, just to show us how NOT to treat metal. These guys really take care, and using science and maths are able to create a piece of jewellery that really lasts – and the only way to do this is by knowing what mistakes can be made and how to avoid them!

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Filing, shaping, smoothing. So many tools, all with a purpose!

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I even had a go myself!

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This is tough work – slow and strong pressure filed down the tiniest amount of metal from this ring. My hand hurt very quickly and I barely scraped the surface!

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Within the space of an hour or so we’d created a rough ring. A little more shaping and filing and it was time to polish.

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And there it was! Nice and shiny! You can see the bottom edge has been left raw, to show the difference between the side we filed and how it started.

The most important thing I took away from this class is the passion Paul and Glenn have for gold smithing. They do this properly. They want you to bring in your heirlooms or your bespoke ideas and together create something unique and sentimental. They’ll work with you to ensure that family piece you keep in the drawer is created into something that still holds a huge place in your heart. And with 60% of their customers having a go at the bench, they’re allowing the wearer to have an amazing bond with the finished article.

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Using their extensive knowledge of gold smithing, they’ve even created a solution for arthritis sufferers, by adapting your ring to have a hidden hinge and clasp so you can pop it on your finger comfortably and securely and avoid any pain you might ordinarily get from putting your ring on or taking it off. Amazing! As well as offering cleaning and polishing services, these guys have such skill, if you have an idea for a piece you want, they’re the guys to go and speak to.

During the class we had the opportunity to sample some brunch foods from the fantastic Cameron’s Kitchen in Stony Stratford.

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We also went away with an amazing goody box with bits and pieces from local companies, including The Goldsmithy, Whitespace Studio, Popaball, Beeswax Wraps, Giraffe, Peel Juice Bar, Hello Stationery, Pasha Turkish Bar & Grill, Beauty Box By Alyson, Revolucion De Cuba, Rocky Road Treats and Maaya!

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It was a truly awesome experience, and meeting Paul and Glenn from The Goldsmithy was such a treat. These guys know their stuff, and instead of picking up something from a chain jewellers that isn’t made as well and could be found on anyone’s finger, why not visit your local gold smiths? They will work with you to create something unique and meaningful – and if you visit The Goldsmithy there’s a good chance they’ll let you have a go at making it yourself!

 

Thanks to The Goldsmithy, MK Bloggers and Brand Mission for this amazing opportunity!

 

Hosting a Share A Meal for World Vision UK

Back in September I shared World Vision UK’s latest campaign, Share A Meal. If you missed that post, head back if you want to read all about it.

This past weekend was my turn to host my Share A Meal meal, and I decided to make it Italian themed! Since my guests were vegetarian and I make a darn good tomato linguine (if I do say so myself!), it made sense to build a menu based on that!

Our new kitchen is a very social space, so I started the cooking once we’d settled in, whacked on a playlist on our Echo and we took the time to catch up whilst I cooked.

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Using my trusty Le Creuset pan (I love that thing!) I was able to make dinner easily, all in one pot which saved on the washing up and meant everything was a lot simpler.

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I chose to serve non alcoholic white wine, since I knew if I started drinking whilst I was cooking, we’d be eating burnt mush by the end!

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Dinner was served (albeit sloppily!) and we all had the opportunity to think about the simplicity of the food we were eating, in the comfort of a cosy house and how by eating this meal and coming together we could be helping people who were less fortunate than us.

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Next course was Sicilian lemon tarts, which I’ll admit were not made by me, but by Mr Iceland…..

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They were rather tasty nevertheless!

We finished the meal off with espresso martinis, though the creation of these was a little eventful when my makeshift cocktail shaker (a cheap Starbucks sippy cup) developed a large crack in the bottom and thus my kitchen sink got a good drink of our martinis….

Alls well that ends well, though, as my Costa sippy cup acted as a back-up and we ended up with some so-so martinis that still tasted good even if they didn’t look exactly how I wanted them (I think I need to invest in an actual cocktail shaker!)

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As the evening wound down, conversation turned to how my guests could use this meal to help World Vision UK. By visiting the Share A Meal site and clicking the Donate Now button, my guests can donate the value of their meal to World Vision UK. These donations will go towards helping vulnerable children in Uganda, who can’t feed themselves. No child should go without food and safety, so this money will help to provide a little more to those who need it.

At this time of year, when people are gathering together and sharing good food, it’s so easy to make your gathering a charitable one. For less than you’d pay for a meal out, by donating the cost of the meal you’ve eaten (or hosted) to World Vision UK, you’ll be making a difference.

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And don’t forget, by hosting, you could end up winning a meal cooked for you by star baker Selasi!

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See the World Vision UK Share A Meal site for more details on how you could win!

If you decide to host a Share A Meal event, I’d love to hear all about it. Please let me know in the comments!

 

EVENT PHOTO PROVIDED BY WORLD VISION UK. ALL OTHER PHOTOS ARE MY OWN.

Creating My Home Cinema aka Making the Most of a Scary Movie!

SPONSORED FEATURE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH PANASONIC

If you read my blog regularly you’ll know I’m a massive film buff. You might have seen I’ve already started to share some of my old horror movie posts, ahead of some new ones coming up, all in the name of October and Halloween. So when I was asked if I’d like to talk about the new Panasonic 4k TV range, I of course said yes!

The first TV in my bedroom was about 4 inches square, had an aerial you had to move around. If you watched it at the wrong angle everyone looked like they were in negative. I then upgraded to a little tube tv which also had an aerial so when Channel 5 came in, I had to get up and re-tune it every time I wanted to watch Sunset Beach.

I have a vivid memory of going to a friend’s house to watch a show I’d watched many, many times, and they had a widescreen TV (which we didn’t have in our home), but they’d not tweaked the settings so everything was set to widescreen – even full screen shows – so my favourite characters were stretched and looked so odd. I supposed they’d gotten used to it, but I was baffled by the idea that people would happily watch things in a way that was, let’s face it, just plain wrong!

Times have changed immensely since then. Not only are televisions so much lighter to carry and sleeker in design, but they’re also incredibly intuitive and even customisable. Not to mention with the addition of apps, YouTube has simply become just another TV station to me.

But when it comes to my film viewing experience, I’m a bit of a geek. If I’m going to watch a scary movie, it needs to be perfect – how can you expect to get the required scares if there’s glare on the screen, the sound isn’t perfect or there’s actually ghosting on your ghosts?

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When me and G-Man decided to upgrade our old Panasonic TV from 42″ to 50″ a few years ago, we did our research, and ended up sticking with the same brand. I say we, but to be honest Gary’s such an AV geek that he did most of it, and then said to me “we’re getting this one”. Which I was fine with!

One of the things I love about our TV is that the blacks are REALLY black. Meaning, and especially for horror films, that you’re seeing things as dark as they were intended when they were filmed. So if films like Paranormal Activity are your thing, you’re going to see the dark shapes and changes exactly as you would in the cinema, with no additional shading or shadowing that could possibly spoil your experience.

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Another majorly geeky thing we did with our TV as soon as we got it, was to set up our own personal picture settings profile. There are loads of suggested setting changes on places like AV Forums and YouTube, specific to your make and model of TV. These people have done all the hard work for you, so you can simply make the settings changes to the darkness, red, green and blues etc (and make sure you take off the default IFC setting which alters the frame rate you view things at and smooths the movement) and then apply this custom profile to each HDMI slot you use (so Sky, DVD player, console etc…) I know, after doing this, that I’m watching everything the way it was intended to be watched! It’s so important to me.

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It might seem like a lot of effort (and it is a little effort) but you’ll be so much happier with your viewing experience.  And wow, this is all without even beginning to mention the clarity of a 4k display and how bright and beautiful the colours are. I can’t wait for the new BBC Blue Planet series to begin, because the trailer looked breathtaking on our TV.

When buying a new TV it can be so overwhelming. There are so many brands, all offering special things and so many different prices. But when it’s all said and done, and you’re in your living room it’s just you and the TV – and you want the best viewing experience possible.

We’re made up with our TV and the little cinema we’ve created in our set up. We just need to get around to getting some kind of surround sound system set, and my horror film binge sessions will be that much more enthralling!

DISCLAIMER: Though this post is sponsored by Panasonic, this TV was paid for by me and my opinions and choices are honest and my own.

Share A Meal with World Vision UK

I love food, and I love sharing food. Coming into the Christmas period (let’s face it, it’s really soon) we start to think about family, getting together and sharing food and drinks. But it’s easy to forget those in other countries facing diversity.

To promote awareness, World Vision UK have launched the #shareameal appeal to raise money for the refugee children in Bidi Bidi, Uganda, along with Great British Bake Off’s star baker Selasi.

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Selasi recently visited Uganda to see how we could make a difference.

“It’s heartbreaking to see pain and hunger etched onto the faces of orphaned children and hear their harrowing stories of rape and violence. It is vital that, as a community, we come together to do what we can to help provide these kids with a better future.”

Thousands of children flood into Uganda’s refugee settlements, escaping civil war in South Sudan. Many of these having seen their parents murdered and having to walk for weeks without food or shelter. This is a dangerous and frightening trek, having to hide from fighting to avoid being killed. They are along, traumatised and hungry.

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And this of course is something we just can’t relate to. But we can help, and World Vision UK have come up with a way we can help bring aid to these children, in a way we can relate to.

World Vision UK help feed these children and find them foster families, to give them a new start. However, global funding just isn’t enough and so to raise money, they’d like you to take part in #shareameal.

World Vision UK invite you to be inspired by Selasi and host a dinner party. It can be as small or large as you wish, just as long as you’re sharing a meal. Following the meal, you and your guests donate the value of the meal to World Vision UK and that money goes to the children.

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They’ve even made it really easy for you, but putting together a pack that includes everything you need – invitations, an exclusive recipe from Selasi and thank you cards for your guests too!

Visit http://www.worldvision.org.uk/get-involved/share-meal/ to download your pack!

Now, if this wasn’t fun enough, they’re also giving you the chance to win a meal for two, cooked by Selasi himself! To enter, simply post a picture of your Share A Meal event on Instagram using the hashtag #shareameal and tagging @WorldVisionUK! For more information visit www.worldvision.org.uk/shareameal

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So all that’s left to do is start planning your meal and who you want to invite.

With so many holidays coming up, you could host an American-style Thanksgiving, a Christmas themed meal, something for New Years or simply use some of the fantastic Autumnal ingredients that are starting to appear in supermarkets.

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It’s an excuse to show off your repertoire AND help the refugee Children in Uganda.

I’m already planning mine, so keep an eye out for my post about that in the next couple of months!

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Event photos provided by World Vision UK. All other photos are my own.

Infuse My. Colour Wash – Tried and Tested!

A few weeks ago I was sent a bottle of the new Infuse My. Colour Wash in Copper to try. I’ve been colouring my hair for 18 years now, so I’m always willing to try new products, techniques and anything that will help the condition of my hair and make things easier.

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The Infuse My. Colour Wash colours were created to be 100% vegan, contain no sulphates, parabens or silicone and were designed to boost your hair colour in between colouring.

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Since my hair is red/brown with copper highlights I went with the copper colour, but they do a whole range of colours to boost all tones and shades.

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My aim was to see whether I could bridge the gap between colouring sessions, and tone my mousey blonde roots to blend with the rest of my colour, as I intend on letting my hair grow out a bit before re-colouring again.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know I wash my hair backwards so for the purposes of using this product properly I decided to wash my hair the conventional way, to give it a fair go.

The method for using this, is to use the product as normal shampoo, wash it out as soon as the hair is coated, without waiting any time, and then condition as normal.

Here’s before I started with the colour wash:

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A nice picture of my dusty scalp…. But as you can see, I have quite a lot of warm tones in my hair, and then some lovely boring mousey roots poking through at the top.

So how did I get on? Well, I love the bottle. You get a hefty 270ml for just under £14. The cap is a push top, which means you don’t have to faff with unscrewing the cap and you can squeeze the product out. Because it doesn’t contain the nasties, it doesn’t lather as much as a standard drugstore shampoo, however you can spread it through your hair easily, and it smells amazing – like fresh, clean apples!

The product didn’t stain my hands or my bath tub, but I did feel I needed to scrub under my nails afterwards.

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My hair felt lovely during washing, and after, and I was able to comb my wet hair through easily. The water ran clear very quickly and no staining was left on my towel once I removed it.

On inspection of my hair after blow-drying, I saw no difference. There was maybe a little bit of a copper sheen to the red/brown colour underneath my hair, but honestly, there was no change. My roots were still the same colour, but I knew that part of my hair would be stubborn. So I decided to try again the next time I washed my hair.

The next time I washed my hair, I decided to mix it up a bit. I went back to reverse washing, popped on an Aussie 3 minute hair mask to the lengths of my hair, and then the colour wash all over, on top. I left this for a couple of minutes and washed it all out.

After drying my hair, I could see more of a difference. The blonder highlights in my hair were definitely more copper toned, and I felt like my hair was more of an even colour. My roots, however, were again completely as they had been previously. I mean, this isn’t a hair dye, and I know my hair is stubborn when it comes to colouring – I can usually only get a decent colour result using permanent dye.

Here’s the ‘after’ pictures:

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You can see that my roots remained the same colour as before, however I think you can tell from the picture above that the lengths of my hair were definitely more copper-toned.

The next time I washed my hair, I used my normal shampoo and conditioner and all of the copper colour I’d added washed out. So if I was going to maintain the copper colour I’d added, I would need to use this every time I washed my hair.

For the cost of this product, I wouldn’t be able to maintain this, but as the odd one-off for a particular occasion, it would be wouldn’t be bad.

I found the Infuse My. Colour Wash to be most effective on the areas of my hair that had been highlighted. But the change was very subtle and only happened once I’d left the product on for a number of minutes.

As a shampoo, it left my hair feeling lovely, and conditioned. I was happy that the ingredients would be good for my hair, and I would have no reservations using this regularly, from a hair care perspective.

I think if you had naturally strawberry blonde, or coloured ginger hair, or if you had highlights you wanted to turn peach/copper then give this a go. It’s a wash in/wash out solution and would help you make a change to your hair without the commitment. If you were looking for something that would be a little more long-lasting and possibly to help with root regrowth between colouring sessions, I’d probably not use this product.

But overall the pros outweigh the cons. I work my hair hard, and I like what I like. My choice for hair colour is unconventional so I can’t expect products to work just for my requirements.

If you have bleached blonde, or platinum hair, I’d love to see what results you could get from using the Infuse My. Colour Wash in the various different tones. If you’ve already used this product, I’d love to hear how you got on!

I also captured my trial of the Infuse My. Colour Wash on film, and have popped it onto my YouTube channel, which you can see here!

 

The Infuse My. Colour Range can be found at Boots and retails at £13.95. I was supplied this bottle for free by My.Haircare, in return for an honest review, which is what I’ve provided.

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Bears on Stairs with World Vision UK

Back when I used to take part in running events, I would raise money for charities close to my heart, but since giving that up due to injury I haven’t really been active in that respect either. When you’ve got a mortgage to pay, charity ads on the tv asking for money and people with clipboards knocking on your door, it can be easy to brush aside the work they’re doing to help others, whilst we get on, blinkered, with our own lives.

But it’s not just money that charities work to gain (though of course that’s really *really* nice) – they work incredibly hard to be heard and to spread awareness of what’s going on – sometimes far away and sometimes close to home. And even if you can’t afford to donate money, it’s so easy to donate your time.

All this week, World Vision UK (the world’s largest international children’s charity) are actively raising awareness about the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda, where over 700 children arrive each week after fleeing the long-standing civil war in South Sudan.

These children are leaving their homes, separated from their families, often sick or injured, the majority having seen their parents killed and not knowing where they are.

Tomorrow, the 27th July, 700 teddy bears, each one representing one of these children, will arrive at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, and be placed on the steps to raise awareness of these children’s plight. The event is on for a few hours in the morning, so if you’re in the area please pop by and show your support!

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If you can’t make it, you can show your support in other ways! World Vision UK are asking for you to take a photo of your bear on the stairs using the hashtag #BearsOnStairs. By using your instagram or twitter platform and the hashtag, you’ll be spreading the world and showing your support to these children.

If you’d like, you can watch the event at St Paul’s on the 27th, by logging into Facebook and watching live on World Vision’s page.

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To find out more about how you can help South Sudan refugees, on World Vision UK’s crisis appeal page. Here you can educate yourself on what’s going on, and donate if you feel you want to.

I look forward to seeing your #BearsOnStairs – spread the word!

Playing Tourist with London Duck Tours

If you’re a regular reader of mine you’ll know I’m a big fan of London, and visit whenever I can – especially in Summer. So when I was asked whether I wanted to play tourist and go on a London Duck Tour, the answer was a resounding YES!

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I’d heard of Duck Tours before but wasn’t really sure what they were, having just seen the big yellow boat-like vehicles cruising through the streets of London. I was definitely intrigued. Me and hubby arrived at the Southbank on the day of our tour, and basked in the gorgeous sunshine until our transport arrived.

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The DUKW vehicles (affectionately referred to as Ducks and painted an appropriate yellow) are so-called thus: D = First year of production code “D” is for 1942, U = Body style “U” utility truck (amphibious), K = Front wheel drive, W = Two rear driving wheels (tandem axle). These vehicles were used to carry supplies and were most suited for this due to being able to go on both land and water. Fitted with a lovely roof, they are very accommodating on both grey and gloriously sunny days.

We hopped onto our Duck, Titania (all the Ducks are names after female characters from Shakespeare plays) and got comfy in our seats. Our tour guide Mark quickly gave us a brief of the journey ahead and then we were off!

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The tour started in Waterloo, then Westminster;

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Parliament Street, Whitehall, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall, Piccadilly;

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Grosvenor Place and Buckingham Palace, MI5 and Lambeth Bridge before splashing down into the Thames next to MI6.

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We then travelled by water past the Tate Gallery, underneath Lambert Bridge and then turned around beside the Houses Of Parliament before heading back to dry land. Back on solid ground, we passed through the Vauxhall area and then back towards Waterloo.

Considering I’m a regular visitor to London, it was great learning so much about places I’ve seen many times, as well as noticing things I’ve never seen before and travelling through parts of the city I’ve never seen. I even learned that the Thames isn’t as dirty as I’d once thought, and its only the colour it is due to the constant churning of clay and soil on its bed. Who knew?! (Well, obviously Mark, our guide knew….)

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I loved the tour. Our guide was informative, funny and really knew his stuff. I honestly felt like I was on holiday, and the time we spent on the water was so relaxing!

I’m so pleased I got the opportunity to take this tour. I’ve seen that London Duck Tours also do themed tours including James Bond and D-Day. I might have to look those up! I visit London so frequently it’s so easy to forget about the landscape and history surrounding you in such a fast-paced environment. I LOVED playing tourist!

I was given the opportunity to take this tour for free by London Duck Tours, but at under £30 per adult ticket I’d say it’s worth every penny, for such a unique way to see and learn about London. You can find out more about their tours, and buy tickets and vouchers here, at their website London Duck Tours

Have you ever been on one of these tours, or even one of their themed tours? I’d love to know what you thought. Leave me a comment below, and tell me about it!

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I was given two tickets to the London Duck Tours for free, in return for my honest review of the experience. All views are my own and totally unbiased. If you like the look of the tours, go try one and see for yourself!

Fresh From the Teafields

I’m a weird tea drinker. Most of you will know I love my tea, but my habits come with some quirks. First of all, I really have to be in the mood for a cup of tea. I adore drinking it, but I usually won’t have it during the day because it relaxes me to the point where it’s all over. Secondly, I’m not a fan of green tea. I just never got over the whole ‘vegetable water’ thing. Thirdly, I can only drink my black tea with milk – I know this is wrong to some people, but that’s just how I like it. I won’t drink PG Tips, I only like Earl Grey as my every day tea of choice. Lastly I take my tea with coconut milk instead of cow’s milk and Sweet Freedom instead of sugar.

With these confessions out in the open, it’s time to get down to business. In around June a wonderful tea company called Teafields sent me a huge parcel filled with samples of their teas. I was overwhelmed. Ever since I’ve been promising them a blog review, and I feel terrible it’s taken me so long to get it done. BUT as previously said I have to be in the mood for a cuppa and I wanted to give these teas the attention they deserved. I will admit I didn’t get through all of them, as there was just one green tea that I haven’t sampled, mainly due to the fact I just don’t get on with green tea (but it’s the prettiest green tea I’ve ever seen!).

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Anyway, click on the Teafields website and you’ll see this isn’t any ordinary tea company. It screams quality. They call themselves a British (yay!) boutique tea company and this pretty much sums them up. Not only do they have an amazing selection of tea, but they’re all hand picked and within the descriptions of the teas you can find out where they’re from, the altitude they were picked from and even the temperature you should brew their teas at. AND they’re beautiful. I have to say it was a joy to shoot the teas and now I get to share them with you!

So, here goes!

Royal Breakfast

Royal English breakfast originates from Africa and India. It looks so pretty and I really enjoyed it. A smooth drink, I had mine with some eggs on toast one morning and thoroughly enjoyed it. Once brewed it was a beautiful golden colour. It has a very slight bitter edge to it (which I enjoyed!) so I had mine with some sweet freedom and a splash of coconut milk. This would be a perfect introduction to boutique teas for someone moving away from standard teabags.

Jun Chiyabari

Jun Chiyabari is exclusive to Teafields and is handpicked in the early hours of the morning in Nepal. It had a delicate flavour with earthy tones. Well worth a try, even if it’s simply for its decadence.

Jasmine Pearls

 

Jasmine Pearls are a scented green tea. Each pearl is hand rolled in China and this keeps their unique pearl shape. Brewed at 80c so as not to burn the flavour, this was the most pleasant green tea I’ve ever tasted. It was light, calming and very refreshing. Teafields also sent me a sample of their hand stitched tea bags with these pearls inside, photographed below. Look how beautiful they are, and Teafields are the first UK brand to have these teabags!

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Imperial Gold

Imperial Gold black tea also came in these stunning little bags, and once brewed had a citrus-like edge to it. Refreshing and light, I drank this is coconut milk and Sweet Freedom. I really enjoyed this one, and it was an easy drink.

Flowery Earl Grey

The most stunning of all the teas was the beautiful Flowery Earl Grey. I almost couldn’t brew it because it was so pretty. But I pulled myself together and got on with it. It didn’t disappoint. This Sri Lankan tea brewed beautifully creating a lovely delicate earl grey which would be suitable for every day drinking, but I would just save it for special occasions 🙂 It’s too good to spoil yourself on every day!

Emperor Sencha

Empora Sencha frightened me a bit. Looking like blades of grass, I really didn’t know what to expect. This Japanese tea was brewed at 70c and created a tea with a roasted scent. The taste was fresh and refreshing and not so scary!

Darjeeling 2nd Flush

Darjeeling 2nd Flush (2nd flush meaning second harvest of the season) I’m actually drinking as I write this. It has a fresh, ‘dry’ taste which I really enjoy and has a pleasantly fragrant flavour…. BUT

Darjeeling 1st Flush…. Darjeeling 1st Flush was the winner of all the teas for me. This was an easy drink, flavourful and really took me to tea heaven. It seems I’m a darjeeling girl! Once brewed it was very very light in colour and once milk was added it was the palest tea I’d ever drunk, but it really came across with flavour and I just can’t get enough of it!

If you’re a tea fan, you should really be treating yourself to some of Teafields teas. Some of their exclusive options are on the expensive side, but the cost really does show in their flavour and quality. You could even buy some as a gift for a tea lover – it would really spoil them and they’d thank you for it. Oh and the guys at Teafields are the most friendly bunch, so hit them up on twitter @teafieldsteas.

This being my first venture into boutique teas, I’m so pleased I’ve had the opportunity to try (and photograph) these beautiful teas, and I feel I’ve learned a huge amount about their origins too.

Thank you Teafields for letting me sample your products, and sorry it’s taken me so long to share – it was worth the wait for me, I hope it was for you too!

 

Tea samples were sent to me, at no cost, for sample and review. All opinions are my own. All photographs are copyright Erin Mason Photography.

 

To Be A Girl

I became familiar with WaterAid during my second visit to Glastonbury music festival. Not only does this charity work hard all year every year to provide safe, clean water in less privileged countries, but they also provide clean safe toilets at this music festival. These volunteers spent a portion of their time on the world’s happiest farm cleaning up and freshening the lavs – all with a smile on their face and a flourish of Fabreeze. They got major kudos from me.

When I started running I knew I wanted to run for them one day, but supporting Macmillan Cancer Support was a more immediate and stronger pull for me at the time. During some recent research into charity work for my job, WaterAid was one of my first online stops. I quickly became familiar with their current campaign ‘To Be A Girl’. Whilst reading their site I was reminded of the fact that I have it so lucky, as a woman in a wealthy, established country.

 

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I think we’ve all felt lazy and decided not to go out, felt chilly in our living rooms and moaned that the heating isn’t high enough, felt annoyed that our period has fallen on the weekend we wanted to go swimming. It’s nothing compared with what girls, and I do mean girls not women, have to contend with daily around the world – and they do contend with it, and often with a smile.

In Madagascar girls as young as 13 years old travel daily to collect water and carry more than their body weight just to provide for their families. In some cases they drop out of school because this job is so important. Imagine how much you lift at the gym, once or twice a week for ten minutes. Now imagine lifting your body weight, carrying this on your back, walking up long steep hills with this load and then going back for more?

In India, girls entering adolescence are forced to go to the toilet in the open, and in front of men because there’s nowhere else safe to go. Open drains and prying eyes force some of the girls to use nearby fields to escape the humiliation. They choose fields where the crop is high so that no one knows they’re there.

But the case that hit me the hardest was that of Radha in Nepal. I’ve been to Glastonbury three times now and on one occasion I was on my period. With no proper showers back then and only long drop toilets it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. I managed to stay clean and hygienic and luckily was able to carry on as normal, more or less. But in some areas of Nepal a tradition called Chhaupadi is still observed. This tradition, linked to Hinduism, teaches that menstruating women are impure.

Radha outside her Chhaupadi hut

For the seven days of her period Radha is ‘chau’ or ‘an untouchable menstruating woman’ and considered lower than dogs. Because of this she is sent out to a hut, known as a ‘goth’ and isn’t able to interact with anyone else during this time. Each of these huts will house up to three or four women but have no warmth but also no ventilation so lighting a fire is impossible without risk of suffocation from the smoke. The huts are so open to the elements that animals can get in and bite or attack the girls, and it’s not only animals that can get in. Despite these women being seen as unclean and impure, men can still get inside and rape them. The true extent of these attacks is not known since very few are officially reported.

Chhaupadi hut

Radha isn’t allowed into her temple as it could anger her Gods, she can only eat boiled rice and isn’t allowed to touch other women for fear of her ‘polluting’ them. Her sister will throw her food to behind the toilet area where she waits. In villages like Radha’s it’s even believed that during menstruation girls are possessed by evil spirits, and that if they touch a man or boy, he will start shivering and get sick.

Despite women disliking Chhaupadi it is continued and perpetuated by women and men so it’s very hard to break the tradition. In 2005 the Supreme Court of Nepal stated Chhaupadi was a violation of human rights. yet it carries on in these more remote areas. Taboos surround menstruation. It’s not a subject anyone wants to talk about. A post I wrote mentioning periods a while back received my lowest response and for some reason I felt the need to write a disclaimer warning readers before they read anything unsavoury. But right now I say ‘pah’ to that.

Girls are experiencing this kind of treatment every day, right now. WaterAid is working hard to educate these people and so I want to educate you. Periods are a fact of life. They’re nasty, no one likes them, but they’re natural and if dealt with properly can be clean and painless and a total non subject.

WaterAid’s aims are to replace the silence and shame of menstruation with pride and confidence in these girls. They want to equip women and girls with the knowledge and means to manage their periods hygienically and with dignity. They want to provide the means for safe disposal of sanitary waste. And all of these initiatives to educate, need to raise awareness amongst girls AND boys. It’s so important.

The purpose of me writing this blog today isn’t to guilt my readers into donating money. I was so effected by what I read that day on their website, that I knew I needed to spread the word. I had no idea any of this was happening somewhere on our little planet. Yes there’s worse things going on, but this is such a basic subject with a simple fix – though it’s not going to be easy. And it does cost money – so if you feel you want to help the effort please feel free to go and donate. You can donate HERE if you’re in the UK and the government will match your donation if it’s made before September 9th (amazing!) or you can donate HERE in the US. There’s also loads more information about WaterAid and their To Be A Girl Campaign through those links.

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If you can’t or don’t want to donate now, then don’t worry. There’s plenty of time in the future, and maybe you’ll sponsor me on my next charity run when I support WaterAid. I know that when I have a period, and start to feel sorry for myself, I’ll be thinking about those girls who don’t have clean water to wash, or the privacy to go to the loo and stay clean, or even the support of their family to comfort them when they’re feeling at their lowest and most vulnerable.

If you’ve had a reaction to this post or the information I’m pleased. It won’t be a good reaction I’m sure. If you’re revolted by the subject matter – good. You need educating too and I hope I’ve done a little bit to do this. If you’re feeling bad for these girls and want to let other’s know what’s happening, then share this post, or share the To Be A Girl website on social media. Go on, and spread the word. WaterAid ask what it means to you to be a girl – My answer to this question is ‘being brave and strong’. Part of taking ownership of my answer is writing this post, and hopefully enabling those who aren’t, to get braver and stronger with the help of support and education.

What does it mean to you to be a girl?

 

Photo Credit WaterAid/Poulomi Basu

Like Sticking a Straw in a Coconut

I’m all about the hydration especially when summer comes along. Iced tea has always been a firm favourite when the weather gets hot, but it’s always in the back of my mind that I should maybe try something without caffeine.

Last year when I started running I was on the look out for a drink that was refreshing and tasty but was something other than water, post race. I’d heard a little about coconut water and when I saw Vita Coco in a store I bought one. It’s an odd taste when you first try coconut water, because for some reason you expect it to taste like coconut milk… well I did. My surprise was a positive one and I became hooked! I bought the stuff in bulk from Costco and always had a bottle in my bag to drink as soon as I’d finished a race. I don’t know why but it seemed to bring me back to myself after the running delirium that I usually suffer!

When a friend asked me what they could bring for me to eat or drink at the end of my half marathon a few months ago the only thing I asked for was Vita Coco!

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Since then they’ve brought out loads of flavours and I was lucky enough to be sent a box full of the lovely stuff to try and review so I can share with you how amazing it is. Now you’re probably thinking why Vita Coco – isn’t all coconut water the same? Well, no. I was spoiled by the fact that I chose this brand first, but will admit when out and about I have tried other brands – and other brands are just bleurgh. Some are made from concentrate and taste milky. One I tried tasted exactly like Ferrero Rocher flavoured water (really odd and not at all nice). So I stick to Vita Coco.

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Pictured are all the flavours they sent me, and I have also bought some of their new lemonade flavour myself to try.

Their coconut water is 100% natural, pasteurized goodness which means it’s suitable for pregnant ladies. It’s gluten and dairy free, kosher and is vegan approved. It’s packed full of electrolytes (which is why it’s so good after a run) and contains no fat or cholesterol. All the sugars are natural from their fruit purees and juices. All these factors make it amazing and healthy and really good post workout, but especially post run or bike, I have found.

So what were the flavours like?

Let’s start with plain original coconut water, which is really anything but plain. It’s refreshing and mildly coconutty. It’s delicious and wonderful and you just have to try it! Peach and Mango was the first flavoured carton I tried. I found it really pleasant with the fruit flavours subtle enough that neither overpowered the other. Orange was tasty, even though I don’t really like orange flavoured things it was refreshing and not too acidic. Acai and pomegranate was an odd taste that I couldn’t compare with anything for a long while. I drank it from the carton so I don’t know what colour the juice was but it tasted red and kind of grapey – after a while the only comparison I could make was cloudy honeydew melon! Pineapple was definitely my favourite of the flavoured waters. I’d tried this flavour for the very first time at my half marathon and it was amazing and refreshing. The burst of pineapple and refreshing coconut had echos of pina colada (which I love!) and was amazing on my taste buds after two and a half hours of running and warm water!

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Since then I have bought a load of cartons from Costco as they’ve just started stocking the flavours – and also the new lemonade!

I adore american lemonade so when I heard Vita Coco were bringing out their own version I was so excited. I bought a couple of cartons from Whole Foods and was really pleased with the product. It’s got a very strong lemony flavour, so not subtle like the others so you can only call it lemonade rather than coconut water with lemon. It might be slightly strong for me since I suffer with heartburn when I have very acidic foods but I will definitely try it again!

Vita Coco have made a few packaging improvements since I first started buying it, mainly the screw top on the small cartons. There used to be a foil lid that you peeled back to drink, or stuck a straw into, but now they’ve added a lid which is resealable – good idea Vita Coco! Although saying that it was very easy to gulp the whole lot down after a run!

So the verdict is – drink coconut water and make sure it’s Vita Coco – you’ll never go back!

Vita Coco provided me with some free samples to review, but I have spent lots of my own money on their product in the past and will continue to in the future, coz it’s just so darn yummy! All the opinions in this review are my own. Now go and make some opinions on their product of your own!

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