Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Harry Potter and The Freelance Bloggart... By Jamie Williams

Harry Potter is nothing short of spiritual genius. Its insights into the themes of good and evil, choosing the right path over the easiest, and courage in one’s convictions have served me beautifully since I read the books nearly ten years ago. They have provided me with the answer to many of life’s questions and I have grown to see Professor Dumbledore as a total spiritual guru.

It was on Christmas Day 2012 when J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece offered me one of its most valuable pearls of wisdom. I was sitting with a friend watching The Prisoner of Azkaban for probably the millionth time when it came to the scene where Professor Lupin introduces Harry and his classmates to the boggart: a shape-shifting creature that takes on the form of its viewer's worst fear.

In the scene, the class is presented with a large wardrobe with something rattling inside it. One by one, each student approaches the wardrobe, opening its doors allowing the boggart to fly out and immediately manifest into whatever terrifies them most. I watched this scene unfold with a strange curiosity and resonance. Something in this situation seemed familiar to me.

I have recently decided to go freelance. For ages I have I longed for the freedom of self employment; being able to choose my own hours, be my own boss and work wherever I want; amazing benefits that have compelled me to finally taken the leap. Unfortunately however, this freedom has also come at a cost.

The freelance life lies at the extreme end of uncertainty. Financial insecurity, lone working and inconsistent employment are all pitfalls of self employment that can leave the average freelancer quaking with fear, projecting into a future of catastrophe and I am no exception to this.

My head constantly presents me with highly ‘sensible’ and believable reasons why I should ignore my dreams and stay ‘safe’. I am flooded with worst case scenarios that can leave me trembling with anxiety; phantoms that float around my mind until I am wracked with insecurity and doubt. It was then that I had a cosmic realisation that hit me like an Expelliarmus curse.

My head is a wardrobe with a boggart living in it.

Rattling away, it serves as a constant distraction to reality and sanity. Whenever I choose to open its doors, out it flies presenting itself as whatever I am most afraid of that day. Every morning, as soon as I open my eyes, there it is, hovering over me in the shape of whatever is freaking me out that day.

In the story, the boggart is defeated with laughter. Using the Riddikulus charm, it is forced to assume a shape that the spell caster will find comical. I think this idea is revolutionary.  Essentially, fear and insecurity are made up illusions that exist only in my mind. They have only the power I give them and I have a choice as to how much I choose to fan their flames.

In light of this, I have been practicing Harry’s strategy with the boggart in my own head. Every time I find myself in a freelance panic, I just take out my imaginary wand, summon up a strong and determined mind and shout Riddikulus. I have to say I feel a bit ridiculous doing this, but it seems to work. It calms me down and I end up laughing at myself which dispels the fear immediately. If this is what I have to do to have a serene life around self employment then so be it.

As a freelancer I have a dream and I am not going to let anything stand in the way of that dream. Worries around the potential success of my business and fear of the unknown are just crazy manifestations of the fear boggart in my head and it’s high time they buggered off. For all freelancers out there battling their own fears and insecurities I say this for you: Get thee behind me boggart and Riddikulus to you all. I have a vision to step into and not a moment to lose.

Jamie Williams is a professional copywriter and blogger. His blog resides at

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Speak Easy Comes to London, by Helena Fleur Rea, associate editor of This Little Lady...

Over at This Little Lady, we like nothing better than a good cocktail at the end the day. It is the perfect way to catch up with your friends or to kick off a first date if you’re both a bit nervous. But good is the operative word here. While nearly every bar in London will offer you a “cocktail” of some description these days, it is possible that they may consist of over mixed and bitter Mojitos made with fake lime juice, or Sex on the Beaches’ that are basically a blend of over-sweet concentrate fruit juice and little else. 

It is a travesty that, when London is home to some of the best cocktail bars in the world, people are still settling for unacceptable drinks. A great cocktail should be made with fresh ingredients, with patience, skill and love and will be perfectly balanced. In London, places serving fantastic cocktails are in abundance, you’ve just got to know where to look. With this in mind, I’m going to celebrate all the things I love about brilliant cocktails and share some of my secret hangouts for you just in time for a brand spanking new year!

To begin with though, there are two tips that I would offer that are essential for truly appreciating all that the London cocktail scene has to offer. The first is to have a benchmark cocktail. Every establishment claiming to be a cocktail bar should have staff who are well trained. This means that even if classic cocktails aren’t on the menu, they should know how to make them – and well. Every time I go into a new bar, I order my benchmark. This means I can instantly judge the skill of the person making it. Because it’s something I’ve had a hundred times before, I know exactly what it should taste like. If it is great, I will then go off-piste and try the house cocktails. If it’s really not, I will stick to a glass of wine or straight spirits. My benchmark is an Amaretto Sour because I have a sweet tooth, but the best to use is probably an Old Fashioned (also Don Draper’s favourite so pretty cool).

The second is to sit at the bar and be sociable. There is a huge amount of skill required for creating the perfect cocktail (I should know having made some shocking ones myself over the years). Show the bartenders the respect they deserve and give them some time. It is likely they will have trained for years and will have a vast amount of fascinating booze-related knowledge. Watch how they make your drink. Ask them what they’re doing. Get to know them. Find out what their signature cocktail is. If you’re ordering a round of shots, get them to do one with you. If you’ve put in the time with the bartenders and showed an interest in what they’re doing, chances are that when you next return they will remember your name and what you drink.  Make friends with them and who knows, they may even let you try some cheeky concoctions on the house.

This is also a great way to find out about new openings. The industry is actually very small and all of the best bartenders in town are friends with each other. They will usually happily point you in the direction of a cool new bar that one of their mates has started working at or managing. Remember that no one gets into the drinks industry if they don’t like to have a good time so the people are fun! Enjoy their company and get involved. Oh, and don’t call them mixologists. They do not like this.

Now that bit is out of the way, here are a few of my favourite little bars in London. I am a fan of the hidden little places that you’d probably never find unless someone takes you there, so I’ll save you the time of trying to find them yourself. You can find full reviews on all of these places over at Enjoy!

Hidden down a little cobbled alleyway off Bond Street, this is still one of my favourite places  in London despite me having propped up the bar here since I was about 19. They have a low turnover of staff which means it’s easy to get to know everyone and all of them are super friendly. I still think these are the best lychee martinis in town, and if you’re enjoying yourself a little too much you can always head downstairs to the nightclub for a dance.

This little gem in Marylebone opened early in the year as has been in full swing ever since. It has the same feel as some of my favourite speakeasies in town in terms of being secretive and hidden, but this one isn’t hard to get in to provided you don’t turn up too late (they get busy – if they’re at capacity, not even the Queen could blag her way in). Enjoy live music while you sip amazing blackberry infused bourbon. The décor is a mix of parasols, miss matched furniture and sewing machines strewn around. Throw some unashamed shapes on the dance floor and take advantage of the full-on house party vibe.

An old grey door with peeling paint, tucked between two Chinese restaurants of dubious quality on Gerrard Street hides one of the slickest cocktail bars in town. Walk upstairs and, depending on the day, you might find live jazz going on or a gorgeous girl on the decks. Beautiful people sip expertly blended cocktails out of crystal coupes and enjoy each other’s company. ECC stands for the Experimental Cocktail Club so don’t be afraid to be adventurous when ordering. It will be worth it.

This place is brand spanking new and only opened last week. It is tucked away in the old luggage room of the Marriot Hotel in Grosvenor Square, but can be accessed through a sneaky side door. Again, this place is very slick. The staff are dressed in bow ties and braces or flapper dresses and 1920s music plays in the background to take you back to the era of the Bentley Boys. Sit at the beautiful marble bar and try one of their martinis.

This is a firm favourite of mine since it re-opened about a year ago. An original rock star’s den where Jimmy Hendrix played his first ever gig and legends like Stevie Wonder and The Who graced the tiny stage when it first opened back in the 1960’s. They have amazing bands play on Monday Tuesday nights, but beware, this place is so much fun that you will lose track of time, and they close at 5am which is just great for all of us who have to be in the office at 9am the next day! Don’t look too corporate and put your best charm tactics to work. This has been called the hardest door to cross in London, but I assure you, it can be done. 

Helena Fleur Rea is the associate editor of This Little Lady, the lifestyle and fashion blog that has set London alight since its launch in 2009. This Little Lady was set up as a personal blog back in 2009, became more London focused and has now settled somewhere in between the two. JJ and her team of marvellous contributors try their very best to keep you up to date with all the best things happening in London; events, parties, nightclubs, restaurants, art, exhibitions, gigs, festivals and just about everything else. We aren’t looking to write about everything that’s happening. Just the good stuff.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

2012: On the Move - A Look at Luxury Cars, by Simon Wittenberg, Editor of Luxurious Magazine...

Simon Wittenberg, Editor of Luxurious Magazine, the world’s leading online luxury news portal and digital publication, takes a look back at some of the luxury cars which made the headlines during the last twelve months, and reveals what we can expect in the coming year.

Bentley chose Russia’s Moscow International Auto Salon (MIAS) in August for the international debut of the 205 mph Continental GT Speed coupe, the fastest road car the company has ever produced. The British marque also signalled their return to motorsport with the Continental GT3 concept racer, the first time they will be hitting the track since their historic sixth Le Mans victory in France in 2003.

Just before 2012 came to a close, BMW launched their facelifted Z4 sportscar which will be arriving in showrooms from March 2013, 80 years after they first offered such an exciting concept, and will bring a higher level of specification than ever before. The headlights now include white LED corona rings and a white ‘eyebrow’ whilst three new colours of Mineral Grey, Glacier Silver and Valencia Orange have also been added to the specification. Prices range from £27,610 to £45,795.

The BMW Z4 Sportscar

Jaguar uncovered their highly anticipated F-Type two-seater which supersedes the iconic E-Type. Costing from £58,500, customers can choose from three variants of the new model which boasts the company’s most advanced iteration of Jaguar’s acclaimed rigid and lightweight aluminium architecture to date. The company’s Academy of Sports Ambassador and Olympic athlete, Jessica Ennis, made its UK dynamic debut in front of a crowd of over 500,000 people at the Lord Mayor’s Show in London.

The Jaguar F Type

Land Rover uncovered their new generation Range Rover, the world’s finest luxury SUV which retails from £71,295. The latest line-up features an Autobiography 4.4-litre SDV8, Vogue 3.0-litre TDV6 and two Autobiography models powered by the 5.0-litre LR-V8 Supercharged petrol engine. New additions in terms of equipment include panoramic and contrast roofs, and the all-aluminium body enables significantly enhanced performance and efficiency.

At the Paris Motor Show, McLaren Automotive took the wraps off a concept version of their new P1 supercar which is slated to cost in the region of £800,000 when it goes on sale in the latter part of 2013. This followed the launch of the convertible version of their 12 C model, named the 12 C Spider, which made its official European debut in the summer at the inaugural Windsor Concours of Elegance which took place within the grounds of the town’s royal residence.

The McClaren Automotive P1 Supercar

Back in April, Mercedes-Benz presented the new SL 65 AMG, the Stuttgart-based manufacturer’s V12 roadster. The AMG 6.0-litre V12 "biturbo" (twin-turbocharged) engine develops a staggering maximum output of 630 hp and maximum torque of 1000 Nm. The unrivalled performance figures of the new SL 65 AMG translate into an exceptional driving experience: 0 to 62 mph takes 4 seconds with the 125 mph mark achieved after only 11.8 seconds.

The Mercedes-Benz SL 65 AMG

Porsche upped the power stakes of its twin-turbocharged engine by 10% to 550 hp which is housed in their new flagship Cayenne Turbo S 4x4. The five-seater, which makes the sprint from 0 to 62 mph in 4.5 seconds, surpasses the driving performance of many sports cars and is priced from £107,460. In addition, the German luxury marque used the USA’s LA Auto Show in November to unveil its third generation Cayman mid-engined sports coupe, which made its very first appearance back in 2005. The latest version of this model is up to 30 kg lighter than its predecessor, and offers up to 15% greater fuel efficiency, despite its increased engine output and driving performance.

Looking forward, after what was an exciting year for the sector, 2013 is set to be a significant milestone in the history of some of the world’s best loved brands. Aston Martin will be celebrating their 100th anniversary, whilst Sant’Agata Bolognese’s Lamborghini in Italy will be commemorating their 50th birthday in the form of a parade through some of the country's most beautiful cities. Furthermore, Woking’s McLaren led by Ron Dennis will be highlighting the 50 years since Bruce McLaren founded what is now one of today’s most revered and innovative automotive and racing marques.

Luxurious Magazine will be reporting from the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland which opens on 05 March, 2013.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

How To Make People Read Your Blog by Cathy Winston of MummyTravels

I’d been thinking about starting a blog for a while. Which hardly makes me unique – Wordpress alone has billions of blog pages updated every month. Billions. But it wasn’t until I became pregnant that I worked out what I wanted to blog about.

I love travelling, visiting over 50 countries so far, but almost without exception, people assumed I’d have to mothball my suitcase if I was expecting a baby. So, stubbornly, I decided I was going to prove them all wrong and blog about my experiences along the way.

Setting up the blog itself was easy. The big question was how to get anyone to decide to read it rather than the squilllions of other bloggers around…

Don’t think about the readers (too much)

If you’re sitting there worrying about whether people will love your latest post, you’ll probably never get round to writing it. But if you write about what interests you, it will be easier to find post topics and readers are more likely to enjoy it as your enthusiasm will shine through. Besides, it’s tricky to second-guess exactly what anyone on the web wants – someone found my blog recently by searching ‘I am a beautiful llama’. The mind boggles.

Get chatting

Don’t just blog on your own site – find other bloggers who write about something similar and comment on their posts, or join in the conversations on blogs you enjoy. That way both the people who write them and their readers may find themselves heading back to your blog to check you out. Something more witty than ‘nice post’ is a bonus.

Be polite

Reply to your own commenters. If people have taken the trouble to say something about your blog, at least say thanks. Better still, an individual reply is more likely to keep them coming back in future. Chances are you’ll be so inordinately thrilled that anyone’s commenting that you’ll be rushing to type a response anyway.

Shout it loud

Modesty may be a virtue, but with billions of blogs competing for everyone’s attention, you need to let potential readers know you’re out there. If you’re not on Twitter, sign up. Post your blog links in your Facebook status. Get your head around Google +. Pin away on Pinterest. Social media is one of the quickest ways to tell the world what you’re blogging about, while blogging networks are also great to get to know people writing on similar topics.

Searching for the right terms

Writing a post that only focuses on SEO keywords is probably the quickest way to a truly boring read. But don’t forget the search terms people might be using and consider using them in the headline or introduction of your blog, as well as in photo file names and captions. One of my top posts was about whether you should travel with a baby before they have their first vaccinations – when I was looking for the answer myself, nothing came in searches. Now my post comes up first on Google if anyone else is pondering the same question.

Spread yourself around

Bloggers are forever being contacted by people offering guest posts ‘absolutely free’ if they just include a string of links. You don’t want to be this person. But if you do know any other blogs or bloggers who might interested in you writing something for their site (well, like this) it’s a great way to find a brand new ready-made audience. Look out for blog carnivals and link parties as well, which can also help you get featured on bigger blogs.

Have fun

Let’s face it, you’re not going to update your blog every day (or every few days) if it’s a huge chore. Remember why you started it and don’t get too hung up on checking your stats, addictive though it is. However much fun you’re having, don’t forget to use the spellcheck though. Would you struggle through a page of typos?

Cathy Winston is the travelling mummy behind MummyTravels, a 'travel obsessed writer who's never knowingly underpacked.' Cathy has been published in leading newspapers and magazines, including The Independent, National Geographic, Traveller, Top Sante and Red.