Thursday, 10 April 2014

Travel Photography: Your Passport to the World by Maxine Bulloch

Not that you may need an excuse to, but carrying a camera can feel like a license to talk to anyone.  They say that strangers are friends you haven’t yet met, and that is so true.

There’s a common perception that travel photography means going away to far-flung places, or certainly going on umpteen holidays, taking pictures of astounding scenery, or capturing a culture far removed from what is usual for you. As nice as this would be, it is on the whole inaccessible and unrealistic to most, as there are things such as budget and responsibilities to consider, as well as that little thing called a job which we do to support our hobbies and interests.

Here’s the thing: the only difference between travel photography and ‘staying put’ photography is that generally you’re more inclined to take pictures when you’re in a foreign circumstance to capture that ‘foreignness’. Which means really that if you want to, you can find foreignness and points of difference in your everyday life and consider travel a daily occurrence. Even a trip to the shops can be classed as travelling, and when you bear this in mind, the possibilities for travel photography are endless!

A great idea I heard about a while ago is to make sure you always have a trip lined up. Not only is it something to look forward to, but the moment you’ve booked tickets the trip feels like it’s started already. So far this year I have been on one big trip to Kazakhstan, and lots of smaller trips around the UK.

Kazakhstan was incredible, surprising and different. Obviously I wanted to capture much of it on camera, but one of the things I’ve learnt is that you have to be mindful of the circumstances you’re in when you have a camera in your hand. Traveling solo makes you hyper aware of yourself and the situation, and to a certain extent you want to remain inconspicuous. I like to observe and be the fly on the wall, but a lot of the time you get noticed by others, and your presence can dilute the impact of that which you’re trying to capture.  It is a tricky dilemma, but I managed to devise an alternative way of capturing what I saw which was the ‘shot from the hip’ method, where I didn’t look through the camera to see how the picture was composed but rather held it at hip height and hit the shutter button whenever something ahead looked interesting.

Of course this didn’t always result in a good shot: a picture of three pairs of black boots, or a street worker throwing salt towards the camera to clear snowy roads: but I did also get lucky with a straight shot of a Kazakh lady perfectly posing at a bus stop in her fur coat and hat, and a pigeon feeder hiding amongst the trees. Of course, the boot and salt photos were not what I envisioned but actually the imperfections of these images make me like them even more.

 Projects such as these give a focus to photographing adventures in a foreign country, and I would really recommend setting yourself on-going projects that can be continually added to. You’ll find that the theme and way you look at it evolves, and makes the whole project richer.

Smaller trips this year have included weekends in Brighton, Norfolk and Broadstairs, as well as day excursions around London including the beautiful Columbia Road Flower Market in Hackney. I’ve looked at themes like the old shop fronts along the beachfront in Brighton, and got portraits of the flower sellers in the market.

My current project is called #wetravel.  I take portraits of people I stop on the street and ask them a few questions related to travel. I’ve met some amazing people so far including one guy who speaks Shona (the native language of Zimbabwe) and British Sign; a lady who leads tour groups around the world, and a man who spent time when he was young rearing bulls in the outback of Australia.

This is it really, the best thing about travel photography - the chance to meet new people and learn about their lives.

Maxine Bulloch is a freelance photographer in London, England, working in PR during the day. For more information, visit Follow Maxine on Twitter and Pinterest.

Friday, 4 April 2014

12 Marathons, 12 Months by Becky Beard

The 28th August 2014, will mark four years since I had an accident that left me wheelchair bound, unable to walk and talk or even bathe alone. For three months, I suffered from seizures every 3-8 minutes caused by fluid on my brain after being crushed at a festival. Doctors were unsure of the cause and as a result, could not tell my family if I’d walk or regain my independence.

To say I’ve since made a full recovery would be an understatement. On April 13th, I will run my forth marathon of 2014!

I started running in January 2013, after being offered a last minute place in the Virgin Money London Marathon by the charity, Breast Cancer Care. With just 88 days until the race, I was repeatedly told how ‘mental’ I was for accepting the challenge, mainly because I couldn’t even run to the end of the road when I said ‘yes’. After the initial shock had faded, everyone around me was very supportive and helped me to raise over £11,000 in those 11 weeks. Having lost my Nan to breast cancer, and living with a family member with secondary breast cancer (which can be treated but not cured), my family is no stranger to the support that Breast Cancer Care provides.

I completed the marathon in just over five hours and within seconds of crossing the finish line, I wanted to do something else to raise more money and awareness. I spent many late nights secretly planning the concept of Team Run 12.

Several months after the marathon, I announced to my family and friends that I was going to run twelve 26.2 mile marathons in 12 months. I committed myself to raising at least £25,000 for Breast Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK. I then began the search for six people who would each join me for one of the twelve marathons.

Months of training commenced, various injuries left me bed bound but I made it to the first start line in January this year and ran 17 laps of a 1.63 mile course. I then ran a tiny cross-country marathon, got very lost en route to the finish line and ended up running over 30 miles in gale force wind and rain so icy that it left red marks on my skin. The third marathon wasn’t any easier. I ploughed round the course, at times knee deep in mud, after a week bed-bound with the flu. After several weeks rest I’m feeling prepared to go back to where this all started: The Virgin Money London Marathon.

I often get asked if I ever want to just give up. There are days when I wake up and think ‘I just can’t do this anymore’, runs when I just want to stop after half a mile and walk back home, times when eating my body weight in carbs before a race is more of a chore than a guilty pleasure and days when blisters stop me from being able to even wear shoes. In those moments, I have to force myself to remember why I am pushing my body and mind to their absolute limits.

The reason?  Someone is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes. Cancer Research UK is working to find a cure, to save more lives. They are working on treatments and promoting awareness to help improve survival rates
Breast cancer is the UK’s most common cancer and over 55,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease every year.  Breast Cancer Care is the only specialist support charity helping the thousands of women waking up to the harsh reality of breast cancer across the country every day. Its specialist nurses, local services and emotional support network mean there’s always someone to turn to for information and support.

Both charities are making a huge impact on the lives of those living with cancer and Team Run 12 and I want to be part of that. To make a difference.

Alongside the fundraising, I’m actively trying to encourage those around me to be more active and do more for charities they support; and whilst my blistered, toe-nail-less feet might not be the best advert, it seems to be working. I may be living a very different lifestyle to that of your average 22-year old but in years to come I will be able to look back on this year with pride and a great sense of achievement. Pain is temporary, pride is forever.

If you’d like to follow Becky's journey, please visit, like on Facebook or follow on Twitter @team_run12. You can also make a donation here:

Friday, 28 March 2014

The Hot Tub

As a spa recommendation service, when it first came to starting up a blog for Spabreaks, there were two routes that we could have gone down. We could have written about spas all day, every day, or we could talk about wellbeing in the way it actually affects us every day.

As a brand, Spabreaks is very down to earth. We work with a luxury product, yes, but the variety is sweeping and offers something for everyone. Our wider belief is in the idea that wellbeing should be enjoyable, accessible, and definitely shouldn’t be intimidating, which, when faced with an ultra bendy yoga instructor who can touch her little toe with her nose, can very much be the case.  At the core of our belief is the idea that your wellbeing isn’t something that you can put to one side, only dedicating an hour or so to it at the end of the day, like the washing up or something; it’s what you’re living all the time!

So with all of this in mind, The Hot Tub was born of a desire to start a positive conversation and has since become a lifestyle platform with everything from spa reviews and treatment explanations (because most people don’t know what Shirodhara is until they’ve had it, and why should they?), to recipes, exercise tips, book reviews, tried and tested products, and celebrity interviews.  It has become a place to explore and discuss and share all the little things that individuals and brands and we ourselves are doing, that contribute to or help with our everyday lives.

Happily, it seems to be a conversation that other people want to join as well, and so it is that guest writers and interviewees have included Sally Gunnell, Natasha Devon, Rosi Prescott, Martel Maxwell, Emily Hartridge, Jessica Ennis-Hill, and Gaby Roslin, to name a few.  Everyone who is a part of it has given a unique and interesting contribution to the wider wellbeing chat, and many also joined in with our #bekindtoyou Women’s Wellness Week in September 2013, which encouraged women in particular to do one thing to be kind to themselves every now and again.

A number of our contributors also come from our social networking platforms.  We love hearing from Spabreakers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest in particular, about the recipes they have made up, triumphs and tribulations, their favourite books, favourite products, and lots of other areas of their lives besides.  We have even had a few pieces called ‘A Day in a Life’, which is always about an ongoing condition that people are living with such as MS, Diabetes and Depression.  These are all people who have come to us through the wider community and are happy to share their experiences, which is a wonderfully supportive thing to do.

Body confidence and general feel-good factor are, of course, an essential ingredient in The Hot Tub’s message, but we try to keep it down to earth, or at least acknowledge when something is faintly ridiculous. Perhaps the most important thing about The Hot Tub is that, while we endeavour to be objective at all times, we operate on a general principal of ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’.  It’s all too easy to tear down people and their ideas; we’re not interested in being like that and try to make everything either positive, informative, or helpful in some way, even if it’s just because it’s something that’s quite interesting to know – for example, I love knowing that Jessica Ennis-Hill wears a full face of make-up to train, just because she loves make-up!

For more information about Hot Tub, visit Follow on Twitter @spabreaks and Facebook.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

You Know You’re A Blogger When… by Ellen Arnison

The other morning I found myself standing at the kitchen sink. Three inches of cold scummy water glinted in the sunlight. Congealed grease had set like the skin of a lizard stretched between waterlogged crust islands.

So, what was my instinctive response?

Tip the nasty mess out and reclaim shiny stainless steel with hot blasts and soap? Or leave it to answer the siren call of inbox?

No. Neither.

Instead I was compelled to find my camera to capture the interesting colours on the slime. Yes, blogging about how pretty my slutty housekeeping was turning out was more tempting than restoring some hygiene or doing some paid work.

I realise that it's probably only one of things you notice happening to you after you start a blog.

Here are some others

You know you're a blogger when you tell the entire internet things your husband doesn't even know.

You know you're a blogger when your husband communicates in search terms he knows you'll find on analytics.

You know you're a blogger when you start telling friends what you've been doing and they say: "Yes, I already know, we read it on your blog."

You know you're a blogger when you regularly get invited to events hundreds of miles away that you probably wouldn't fancy going to if they were next door.

You know you're a blogger when the postie thinks you have a serious retail therapy habit during review season.

You know you're a blogger when the up-side of something going wrong is juicy blog fodder.

You know you’re a blogger when you’re hungry but you have to take a photo of your lunch before you can eat it.

You know you’re a blogger when your wardrobe – and your children’s – contain an increasing number of items you’ve reviewed.

You know you’re a blogger when something hasn't officially happened until you blog about it.

You know you’re a blogger when a sense of calm descends when you press ‘publish’.

You know you’re a blogger when you ask your husband to take a photo of your tattoo and he doesn’t even ask why.

Ellen Arnison is a freelance journalist, blogger and writer. To find out more, visit and Follow Ellen on Twitter @Ellen27.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Why You Should Employ A Mum by Donna White, Mummy Central

I've just returned to full-time work after eight years at home, caring for my two boys. That’s a long spell in the wilderness, wiping snot and being forced to watch The Wiggles!

Before motherhood beckoned, I was a career high-flier, earning the same as my husband, managing a team, and getting opportunities to travel the world. I say “was” because that might as well have happened in another life. You see, in the eyes of your typical employer, as soon as you make the decision to spend some time as a stay-at-home mum, you might as well wipe out your skills and experience like wiping chalk off a blackboard.

There are so many highly-talented women out there, taking low-skilled jobs or not returning to work at all, because employers fail to recognise their worth, and won’t be flexible to allow them to fit work around their family commitments.

Me? I suppose I got lucky. Lucky enough to get a job on half my former pay. But with training in new skills that interest me, and which I believe I can build on. I have to prove myself all over again. Starting afresh at 40 is an interesting experience. But listen, I’m not bitter. Nor am I saying mums deserve special treatment. But if she’s qualified for a job – and you’re able to give her a little wiggle room – this is why taking on a mum might just be the best investment you ever made:

She’s never ill - There’s nothing better for building up an immunity to germs than being knee-deep in mucky toddlers. And besides, after so long in a job where there’s no option to take time off sick, a mum doesn’t take to bed with the sniffles. If this woman coughed up a lung, she’d shove it back in and continue with the job at hand.

She has no ego - She’s all about getting results – not accolades. Her life is now about putting the needs of others first. There’s no posturing or looking to be top dog from this lady.

She makes lemonade - Not literally. But you know the old saying: “When life gives you lemons…”
Provide limited resources and impossible schedules and she laughs in your face. Welcome to her world. She still gets things done – and wonders what the hell everyone else is complaining about!

She chooses her battles - Petty squabbles are not her thing. She’s spent enough time dealing with them, and knows not to get involved in office dramas. She’s aware of when to go in all guns blazing – and when not to sweat the small stuff.

She’s eternally grateful - As her workmates are dreaming of a life of domestic bliss, she’s been there and knows it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’ve saved her from a Groundhog Day of soft plays and soiled nappies. And she won’t forget it. She’s so enthusiastic to be back in the world of grown-up conversation and cappuccinos, if you asked her for a kidney she’d give it to you.

She wears many hats - Ever heard an employee whine "but that’s not in my job description." You won’t hear it from her. At home she’s a personal assistant, nutritionist, peace envoy, budget manager, stylist, chauffeur, party planner and so much more. This woman rolls with the punches. If she can do it for you, she will.

To find out more about Donna White, visit her blog Mummy Central. Follow her on Twitter @mummy_central, Facebook and Google+.

Friday, 28 February 2014

What’s London Reading? by Aoife Mannix

It’s been nearly a hundred years since Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were gunned down in the streets of Sarajevo.  Few at the time could have predicted that this assassination would lead to the First World War and the death of over sixteen million people.  Not to mention the complete transformation of the Western world and the power structures that govern it. 2014 is the centenary of one of history’s most deadly conflicts and an extraordinary number of events are taking place across London to mark this dark and troubled time.

Cityread London is an annual month long celebration of literature in the capital.  While the start of World War I may not be anything to celebrate, the huge number of fascinating and compelling books that have been written about it certainly is. Cityread London’s ambition is to get the whole of London reading the same book.  Faced with the enormous task of choosing one of the many brilliant novels about WWI, we picked two. Louisa Young’s My Dear I Wanted To Tell You and Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful.

As well as being a deeply moving love story, My Dear I Wanted To Tell You is a book that connects the suffering of the Londoners who went to the front with the suffering of those who had to stay behind.  It offers profound insights not only into life in the trenches but on how the war impacted on the society of the time.  It looks at class, politics, power and the position of women.  It shows how no aspect of ordinary life was left untouched by a conflict that continues to impact on us today.

Private Peaceful is a novel for younger readers that focuses on the lives of two teenage brothers sent to the front.  It shows how the First World War destroys their youth and how they are the victims of a society that exploits those who are poor and vulnerable.  It asks important questions about loyalty, bravery and betrayal as well as what kind of world do we want our young people to grow up in?

It’s perhaps tempting to think of World War One as something horrific that happened a long time ago.  Yet a hundred years is just on the edges of living memory.  Terrorist attacks, like the one that killed Archduke Ferdinand, are still very much with us.  Europe is still a deeply divided continent with huge economic and social problems.  It’s difficult for us to imagine the ramifications of current events.  This morning I listened on the radio to the speculation about where the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has fled to and what the Russians will do now the Americans have warned them that any kind of military intervention could have serious consequences. How do we know if this is just one more crisis that will pass or if we stand on the brink of the abyss?

What literature offers us is a way to imaginatively explore the past that is not dusty or dull or irrelevant.  It helps to bring back to life the suffering and courage of ordinary people caught up in events that made little sense to them at the time.  It gives a perspective that allows us to experience what it was like for them and thus to imagine what it might be like for us in the future. Join Cityread London in celebrating the literature of the First World War by reading the books and taking part in the huge array of workshops, reading groups, performances and events that we are running this April.  To find out more visit our websiteFacebook page and Twitter.

Aoife Mannix is the official blogger for Cityread London. She is the author of four collections of poetry and a novel. She has been poet in residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company and BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Unsung Heroes by Anya Harris

The chances are that you know a single mum somewhere, or even a single dad. The chances are also that they are not particularly young, especially unintelligent or went out of their way to find themselves in the position that they are.

Yet, when one hears the term 'single parent' coined, it would not be unreasonable to immediately conjure the all together common image of a young girl, being raised on a council estate, having her babies incentivised by financial gain via benefits from the state.

And it would not be unreasonable because such a portrayal of fecklessness is carefully constructed by the media, despite it actually being a reflection of a mere 2% of those to whom the label really belongs.

This means the majority of us are wholly misrepresented to quite a major degree!

Some of us might take that less quietly than others. We might not be shouting about that awful statistic from the rooftops - our stamina is good, but let's not stretch it - but we might make a little noise in our own corner of the World Wide Web. Which is what I do.

We are still parents with high aspirations for our children. Our intelligence doesn't plummet in some sort of warped inverse relationship to rising divorce rates, yet you'd be forgiven for thinking so because of the way in which we're represented. Many of us are more or less middle aged and muddling along as best we can, in the same ways other mums and dads do. Yes, it's harder, but it's not as hard (or as damaging for the kids) as being in an unhealthy marriage, so we go it alone.

I run Stories of Single Mums as part of my blog - written by warm and inspiring, wonderful women, who have - generally unwittingly - found themselves parenting alone - even for just a while.  Most importantly, it showcases people who are nothing short of unsung heroes, quietly sassy, getting on with raising their youngsters to the best of their ability despite their circumstances.

Some of them have lost their husbands to illness, others, like me, have endured an irretrievable relationship breakdown with our children's father, but each individual voice is very far removed from those knowing no better than blindly milking the system.

We don't need stigma - we've been through enough. We're more easily pleased than most, more grateful for a cuppa and some company, or a glass of something stronger with someone than you can possibly imagine. So that single mum you know at the school gates, or even that single dad somewhere, give 'em a smile, or an invitation over and the chances are you'll make yourself a feisty new friend!

To find out more about Anya Harris and her blog, visit Older Single Mum Blog. Anya can also be found blogging at The Healer Blog and of course, you can follow Anya on Twitter @anyaharris01 and Google+.