All I Want for Christmas…

… Ok so maybe not all I want, but as I’ve been shopping around for friends and family (honest!), I keep seeing things I wish I could treat myself to!

Anything by Tatty Devine

I’m a massive fan of innovative perspex jewellery designers Tatty Devine. I used to live around the corner from their Brick Lane store, which was lethal for my bank balance and I had to limit myself to window shopping most of the time. My sister loved the crazy glasses I bought for her birthday, and on special occasions I get out my massive mayor’s chain.

My favourite piece of theirs has always been their classic keyboard necklace. It’s as tinkly-looking as the real thing and, being monochrome, would go with anything. Recent designs I’m also lusting after include the ivy vines necklaces and the honesty seed pod stem necklace.

On another note, how cool are their models? Far from the ethereal editorial types, the girls on the website look like they wear the jewellery on a daily basis – I want to be them!

Original artwork

I’ve just moved to North West London and I’ve finally got a room I want to invest a bit more in – it’s large enough, for a start and it’s a lovely size (unlike my former ‘shoebox’ in Shoreditch). I’ve spent weeks buying things to make it into my own space, with a sofa, rug and coffee tables (inspired by the amazing makeover Dad’s wife, Deb, did on my old bedroom in Goudhurst, I’ve even got candles in the fireplace).  The one thing I haven’t done is successfully screwed my new mirror into the wall… there may have been, ahem, an issue with a drill…

What I’d really like to do now is get some amazing artwork to put up on the walls. Currently I’ve got a framed season three Skins poster that I got whilst I was at Channel 4, but there’s so much bare space it needs more! I’d love something by my friend Brendan Kearney (I gave this brilliant cat print to Deb when I moved back down South). I definitely need to retrieve my Get Frank artwork by Kate Hindley too – It’s one of the best presents I’ve ever received – I’ve never had the chance to hang it somewhere because I’ve moved so much in the last 18 months. Hopefully that will all change now! Anything from Girls Who Draw would make me ecstatic – ditto, Lizz Lunney.

Smelly stuff

As always, I’m craving bits and bobs from Lush – we don’t have a bath in my new flat but their hand creams, shower gels and hair products are still high in my estimation. Perfume-wise, I’m missing my lunchtime trips to House of Fraser with the Channel4.com Lifestyle girls (Abi, Annabel and Emma… oh and Tom as well, if he insists!). We used to casually stroll through the perfume section, spritzing ourselves in preparation for the afternoon – my scents of choice being Lola or Oh Lola! by Marc Jacobs. I do love good old fashioned nostalgia!

Xbox games

Now I’ve set up home with my beanbag and Xbox, I’m in dire need of new games to play on it. I’m keen to get my mits on the latest Tekken, Skyrim and LA Noire.

Drink!

Now, I don’t mean to sound like an alcoholic but… I really want a cocktail cabinet and things to go inside it! Stop judging me – it’ll be for your benefit when you pop round for a mojito or two.

Togs, clogs and face paint

I’m obsessing over Topshop and Zara. One can never go wrong with Mac.

In essence, I want something for my neck, something for my walls, something for occupying my brain and something for my face! What are you hoping for this year?

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The Groupon Experience

Not too long before I changed jobs and moved house I was approached by bargain voucher website Groupon, who wondered if I’d be up for trying out one of their offers and writing about it.

I originally discovered Groupon from one of those site popups – which is usually enough to put me off investigating further. However, the popularity of the website is now growing and the number of people I know that use the service has greatly increased – my new manager at Sky is one of their biggest fans!

Alongside national deals, the site runs vouchers for local businesses all over Britain. You can browse the site for new daily deals based on your chosen location (such as West London) and also subscribe to daily updates so you can find out about deals as soon as they’re launched. Offers vary from cosmetic procedures (dental implants, laser lipo and high-end hair removal solutions) to dining deals and domestic bargains (beanbags, for example). All deals are heavily discounted, with some offering up to a whopping 90% off!

Unlike other voucher sites, you pay for the deal on the Groupon site and either register your code online at the relevant website (if it’s a product rather than service or experience), or print out the voucher and take it with you to whatever you’ve bought. You’ll also need to book if it’s restaurant/salon related.

Groupon also run incentives to get more users active on the site – by successfully recommending friends to the site, users can currently earn £6 credit for redeeming on vouchers on the site – so if you recommend ten friends, that’s £60 for you to spend.

Having finally settled into my new place in Willesden Green, I decided to finally take Groupon up on their offer and see how far the £20 credit would go. Having my friend Charlie‘s housewarming to attend I took a gamble on a £19 KMS conditioning treatment, cut and blow-dry at Gregory’s Hair and Beauty salon in Northfields. Payment with my code was swift and easy and I was instructed that my voucher would be available the next day (once the deal had closed). An email arrived in my inbox the next morning completed with the aforementioned voucher so I sent a message to the Gregory’s, who rang me back a mere hour or so later to book me in. Amazingly, I was able to get an appointment for the next day. Not-so-amazingly I forgot that the Picadilly Line would be closed and I’d need to get a bus replacement service to Northfields…

Pesky travel issues aside, everything else about the experience was entirely plain sailing. My stylist Paula washed my hair, put the conditioning treatment on and sat me under one of those retro heaters for several minutes with a cup of tea and a magazine – bliss!

The results of my blow dry

After a quick trim, Paula asked how I’d like my hair dried. I decided to go against poker straight, but also tend to get disastrous results when hairdressers attempt to dry my hair into its natural curly style (they usually use too little product and go big on the frizz), so I asked for something slightly wavy.

My hair is quite coarse when straightened so it never looks perfectly glossy (Cheryl Cole-like one might say), but overall I was genuinely happy with the results. I did have to overload on products once I got home to try and keep the frizz at bay, which wasn’t entirely successful, but the cut itself was fantastic and has gone smoothly back to curls once washed.

Back to my curly 'roots'

At the salon, Paula how the salon became involved with Groupon. It seems that there’s quite a lot of interest in being featured on the site and the company asks many questions of the businesses apply. This could be to maintain quality control, to make sure that the deals sell and are worth hosting or a combination of the two (and more reasons besides). Ultimately, Groupon has been brilliant for Gregory’s. They’ve been featured multiple times with different treatments and have gained plenty of satisfied new customers. They also offer all Groupon customers the same treatment, at the same cost, for life.

Needless to say, I’ll be going back to both the salon and to Groupon!

Have you tried Groupon? What are your experiences of the site? Let me know below or send me a Tweet.

Stories Beat Stuff UK

Even though I’ve not had a telly, it’s been hard for me to miss the recent vibrant campaigns from Tourism New Zealand.

Arguably, New Zealand is one of those dream destinations – a place that most would go to, but most would also see as beyond their reach or means. Tourism New Zealand often run competitions on their Facebook page – a recent one asking users to ‘match the emotion’ to a series of images from the country. Needless to say, I hit the ‘like’ button before you could say ‘Lord of the Rings’.

The latest campaign from Tourism New Zealand requires a bit more effort than the aforementioned example. Stories Beat Stuff is a competition that requires would-be adventurers to submit an image or video depicting what they’d trade for a trip of a lifetime in New Zealand. (See the rather enthusiastic example below for inspiration!) It’s all about the memories and the tales you’ll be able to tell into your old age.

Up for grabs are two experiences; Summer Rhythm will see a lucky winner and their friend/lover/relative (the choice is entirely theirs!) whisked over to NZ for two weeks. There, they’ll road trip it across the coast line and end things at the three-day Rhythm and Vines festival – and because it’s the other side of the world, it’ll be summer too – so you can camp without fear of chilling your toes off! The other experiences is being touted as ‘Beaches and Boats’, a luxury, sand and sun soaked January break packed with opportunities to sunbathe, swim with dolphins and party ’til dawn.

For more details about the competition, click here.

Having not had a holiday for over five years now, I’m intending on going all-out on the campaign trail to win the Summer Rhythm package. I had a big, long think about what I would trade – and what is most precious to me (shoes, guitar, computer and my recent discount IKEA sofa all came to mind!). Eventually I made the following video:

Basically one of the reasons I’ve not been on holiday is, aside from a financial issue, a big time thing. I’ve moved around the country, worked in three different offices in the last year and had more housemates than I can name (probably). I guess I’ve had work-related blinkers on, seeing it as a necessary route to survival and have hardly had time for anything – or anyone. The opportunity to spend two incredible weeks, packing more adventure than ever before, is hard to resist! The fact I’d get to spend it with a friend makes it even more special.

So that’s what I’d give… my time!

Ok, ok! I know what you’re thinking – you’d give your time for the holiday! You’d work… on the holiday? Well potentially, yes. I could be an ambassador for Britain or Tourism New Zealand, representing the Tourism New Zealand website  (which is a-may-zing by the way… check out the flickbook-style podcards as you scroll down the page). I’d also give up my time over here, working for charity or doing as requested – I’ll even put it in the hands of people who comment on my video entry, or Twitter or even this blog post.

The competition is open now and closes on the 31st – but don’t worry, the campaign will be running for the next 12 months and they’ll be plenty more opportunities to win over on the Tourism New Zealand Facebook page.

So will you be entering? Or have you got an idea for what I should give up my time to do? Let me know, as always, below…

This is a Sponsored Post – but don’t worry, if I don’t like it, I won’t write about it!

Viral video by ebuzzing

All Quiet on the South West Front

It’s my last day at Channel 4… Again!

I really hope to be back one day, but for now I’m heading off to Sky to work as an Online Editor. I’m not going to lie – I haven’t got much of an idea what I’ll be doing there, but I imagine it’s similar to being an Online Producer!

I’ve been running around london with my friend Tash for the past couple of weeks attempting to find a well-located flat (without damp or peeling wallpaper) where I can commute to West London from but it’s been an absolute nightmare. Properties go so fast – and for so much money – that we’re getting quite desperate. In one week I will technically we homeless. However, I’m lucky that I have a friend who said he’ll put me up for a while (thanks, Tom!).

Another issue I’ve found is that all of the agencies aren’t limited in what they can charge tenants – and what for. With such a limited market at this current time they can do whatever they like and there’s no regulation. One agency told us they charged admin fees of £175 per person (Dexter’s), another a week and a half’s rent (so that’s £450 if you’re looking at £300pw – I’m looking at you Ludlow Thompson) and others charge multiple fees – Haart charges £242 per property, plus £70-something in ‘referencing fees’ per person and then £130 for an inventory charge at the end of your tenancy.

And here’s the thing; agents are under a legal obligation to protect the deposit, they’ll give you a pretty standard contract with a few details changed (such as the landlord’s name) for the contract and they technically have to do an inventory too. How that’s worth so much is beyond me – I understand that they have a business to run but it prices new professionals out of the market.

I was going to put an offer in for a place with Tash that we found with Haart. This was a great little two bed in the Clapham area priced at £285pw between us.

Then we had to factor in the charges per person:

£121 property admin

£72 referencing fees

£926.25 (half of the deposit, which was six weeks’ rent)

£617.50 in rent upfront (for one month)

Grand total per person = £1,736.75

Ultimate total = £3,473.50

(I think it’s safe to say that that’s nigh on impossible for a recent graduate.) I have been housesharing for a long time and it would be nice to live with a friend I’ve known prior to moving in – but perhaps it won’t work out this time.

Back to the houseshare websites I go…

Tourism in Tynemouth

On Saturday I headed out to the North East coast to check out the lovely town of Tynemouth.

Without realising, I’d actually had some chips in the area before when visiting friends before making the move proper to Newcastle. However, I didn’t really get to explore the many kitsch giftshops or the Metro station market. My friend Matt was quite shocked at this, and defying the grey skies and miserable rain, gave me a guided tour that began with roasted med veg and goats cheese paninis at Hugo’s bar/restaurant.

I kind of forgot to be ‘touristy’ and make like Pete Hall (ie take the hallowed foodie picture) so you’ll have to make do with a sample of the leftovers!

It came with chips too!

After lunch we went to Gaf, which stocks one of my favourite t-shirt brands, Lazy Oaf, plus loads of other delights such as scented candles, solid perfumes and cards. I even tried on some glasses, but they certainly weren’t as pretty on me as their rosy tint suggested…

Gaf - marvellous and fabulous in equal measure

Rose-tinted Yoko glasses are not a good look on me!

After Gaf we headed over to Raspberry Bazaar, which reminded me of a shop called Salamander in Maidstone – all mirrored trinkets and wooden beads (with incense on the side). Aside from the hippy clothing department (featuring festival-staple label Rico) the whole shop is arranged not by item but by colour… it’s quite a dazzling effect as you walk around the store as if walking alongside a rainbow! I bought a new piggy bank to replace the one that smashed during my move to Newcastle from Birmingham last June.

After Raspberry Bazaar we headed over to the Green Ginger Shopping Arcade which is actually a converted church filled with shops (including a hair salon and a cafe).

Matt modelling one of Raspberry Bazaar's hippy cardigans

Out by the arcade ‘conveniences’ I found a detailed history of the church including a wonderful description of the remaining congregation before the church was converted.

"a congregation composed largely of elderly ladies"

I bought some of my favourite incense from one of the shops and marvelled at a specialist cake decorating shop too. There was a few antique shops as well, selling furniture and smaller items of jewellery.

I think my favourite bit of my camera-touting trip was when we headed over to the market held in Tynemouth Metro Station. The market, which held stalls on both sides of the platform, featured both food and less ‘vital’ bits and pieces, from second hand paper books to vinyls and vintage furs. I snapped up a bow broach for a pound and a small structured handbag with gold detailing and a gorgeous inky blue hue (I’ll feature it on this blog soon).

Tynemouth Metro Station

Some of the lush vegetation on display!

I have no idea what this strange elf is in the above photo but thought it looked curious!

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of football memorabilia with literature on gangs and hooliganism!

Also, there were loads of 'Good luck from...' vintage postcards featuring cats and touristy photos? I have no idea why (answers on a postcard please!?!)

We bought some olives to satisfy my cravings for all things Mediterranean and Matt got some Kate Bush and Joe Jackson to listen to in vinyl format. All in all a rather satisfying trip, culminating in a bubble gum blowing display…

Hubba bubba...

(Please note that the scraping back of hair was just to stop gum getting caught, rather than a permanent ‘look’!)

Where should I go next in the North East?

Skins… an end to controversy?

Recently a post I published on 02/01/2009 has been getting an incredible number of hits.

Presumably because it was tagged ‘Skins’, ‘Frankie’ and ‘controversy’, fans of the E4 teen drama are curiously searching for hints and clues for the new series, which kicked off a week ago.

It seems ironic that I wrote a post querying the chaotic series 3 trailer, then wrote and a more positive blog the following year about the penultimate episode of series 4. This change probably came as I worked over the summer on the Skins website. I even got to visit the set in Bristol, and took part in the filming of Series 4, Episode 1. I also enjoyed the new cast in the ‘second phase’ more than I expected to, and was pleasantly surprised when they were all wonderful people too.

So what of the new series then? A common comment on the last series is that it was considered ‘too dark’. Last Thursday’s opener did away with the wild raves and portrayed a more truthful portrayal of what it means to be 16 and an outsider. Even glamourous ‘Mean Girl’ Mini had a party in a bar that featured nicely dressed teenagers, as one would expect from a ‘sweet sixteen party’ – rather than an ecstasy-fuelled romp. Franky, almost underplayed by former child film star Dakota Blue Fanning made for intriguing viewing, with her unsteady social standing creating a mystery around how our ‘gang of eight’ will finally come together as friends in time for series 6. Thankfully we’ve also been spared a love triangle too!

I’m not sure how long this more realistic portrayal of teen angst and social awkwardness will last, but TV series are allowed to descend into fantasy, aren’t they?

 

Turn up. Trade in. Help Out.

I admit that I feel like a bit of a thief, what with stealing the following from the Amazing Radio blog! But it’s pretty cool news, and hopefully will get more people listening to DAB digital radio. All digital radios come with FM recievers (some AM too if you’re that way inclined) and there are some great quality stations available such as BBC Radio 6 Music and of course, my new employers Amazing Radio.

So Spread the word… and get listening!

Radio Amnesty – Because you’re worth it

Friday, May 21st, 2010 | Kevin Read | Blog

You’ll hear some ads on Amazing Radio from tomorrow. We’ve not carried ads since our Amazing Christmas campaign but this is another great initiative designed to get you a cheaper DAB radio whilst opening up a world of opportunities to children in South Africa.

Radio Amnesty 

The lovely people at getdigitalradio.com are offering an amnesty on your poor old radio. The plan is simple, you trade in your old radio and get a discount on a snazzy new DAB radio from one of a host of retailers. For more information on the amnesty and how it works, head on over to http://www.getdigitalradio.com/digital-radios/radio-amnesty where you’ll also find details of how the scheme will help the Children’s Radio Foundation and UNICEF in Southern Africa.

You need this unsigned music in your life…

As all of the acts featured on this post are unsigned, their recordings vary in quality. Therefore get ye to one of their gigs before you make a decision on whether you’d buy a properly produced LP. I’ve always felt very passionately about giving acts a chance in a live environment, as it tends to be more of a testament to their songs and musicianship. For example, many can get access to Garage Band, but not everyone has the money for Logic. When I watch a musician play their own music I know fairly early on into their set if I want to invest in their songs. I also feel cheated when I’ve heard a fabulously produced record, but been spectacularly disappointed with the act onstage. The only type of music I can think of that is not intended for live performance tends to be found in a lift, and last thing I heard, ‘elevator music’ was hardly up there with the greats…

So here are some acts I recommend investing in tickets and travel for. (By all means listen to their demos, but please don’t think of them as the finished product):

Jake Flowers – Bluesy, beautiful, delicate finger spun melodies with understated, sultry vocals courtesy of Shropshire born Flowers. Drums and bass give a welcome added kick whilst lyrics are effortlessly fascinating. Utterly charming, scarily talented.

If you like… Ryan Adams, Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, Mumford and Sons …you’ll love this!

Brilliant Mind – Newcastle bunch who blast out Johnny Marr inflected guitar riffs combined with self depreciating Morrissey-style lyrics without turning into a Smiths pastiche (although I just made them sound like one.) Features divine contrapuntal layers of guitar and organ melodies. Incredibly charismatic as a live act.

If you like… The Smiths, Young Knives …You’ll love this!

Ever Since the Lake Caught Fire – Newcastle rock orchestra with trumpets, occasional female guest vocals, splatterings of saxophone and lashings of indie pop goodness. A force to be reckoned with when live and always a joy to behold.

If you like… The Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Modest Mouse …You’ll love this!

Holy Mammoth Amazing Radio DJ Tom Cotton’s third favourite band (after Radiohead and The National.) A live act that bursts with onstage chemistry developed from years of friendship and experience from touring under different monikers.

If you like… GOOD MUSIC …You’ll love this!

Another thing about Skins.

A year or so ago I wrote a blog post questioning the content of the trail for the ‘next generation’ of Skins, aka series three. It wasn’t particularly approving, perhaps because I was a tad sensitive about a fireworks-in-a-night-club disaster and the fireworks-in-a-pub-lark of the ad (that debuted a few days later) felt a tad insensitive.

It’s testament to the popularity of the show that according to WordPress, that post was one of my most read.

I haven’t blogged properly for a while. I’ve been busy. And somewhat unmotivated – should I be writing this when I have so many other things to be writing. Personally I think that of course the answer is yes; that if something affects me deeply enough then I should rush to my macbook, flip it open and type away. But then other people might be writing and I’ll be saying nothing new – it’s exactly the same with your typical undergraduate essay. At the end of the day, you do it anyway.

So quickly I’ll address the BBC 6Music debate. What this should tell the BBC is that the station needs development and a bit of TLC – and then more people will tune in. They should consider this publicity as good and gain a bigger picture of what people want and expect. Commercial radio is nothing like BBC radio -and thank goodness for that. Although sometimes I feel that the Radio 1 playlist is too similar to sister station 1Xtra and requires a tad more diversity (which is beginning to seep in again with the likes of Mumford & Sons etc,) oh and requires DJs rather than personalities/TV presenters, for me there should be no question of whether 6Music should stay or go. Of course it should stay, and of course all the people who claim to support it should go out and buy a digital radio (or stick a bookmark to the online player in their browser.)

I shall talk about the plans to axe BBC Blast in a post sometime soon – or will post something on 4Talent’s blog. I have been part of Blast. To be blunt, it would be a disaster for thousands of people like me. Opportunities are hard to come by, Blast vastly multiplies them.

Anyway. Back onto my former topic. At the beginning of tonight’s Effy centred Skins episode, the penultimate of series 4 and the current ‘generation,’ I said to my housemate “I’m not sure if they’ll recommission this.” Not because I think that they shouldn’t, but simply because with each new generation of cast and characters, the concept will become more and more watered down. The original viewers will grow older and perhaps further away as they become less satisfied with characters they no longer consider ‘classics.’ Added to this central characters Naomi and Pandora (sob) have not had their own episodes this year (budget cuts at C4) and fans may be unhappy with this.

Tonights episode was a slow burner. How does one deal with mental illness but retain the usual Skins ‘sheen’? (which is more of a layer of fabulous grime and a hint of smoke.) How do you try and settle the love triangle of Cook-Effy-Freddie once and for all without repeating former narratives? How do you literally make the audience sit up from the calm pace of an occasionally stilted episode and beg for the finale?

In the case of Skins co-creator Jamie Brittain, you take a tip from Dad and you force them to. I still feel slightly dazed, sickened even by the final moments of this evening’s episode. I used ‘sickened’ in place of shock – really I should say shock, but I’m the easily scared type. If you’ve not seen the episode then don’t read on. If you’re not planning on watching and I can’t convince you to then read on and then watch it (4od.)

At the end of the episode we were presented with a typical ‘Freddie-confronts-a-character’ scene. Only, when Freddie tried to leave confronted character’s house (Effy’s creepy counsellor who was somewhat reminiscent of Tony’s admissions tutor in his episode of series 2) The homeowner walked up the stairs towards the tiny landing Freddie could not escape from (locked door) with a pristine, white baseball bat. Cut to white door, frosted glass doorframe. Yells, thuds, bloodsplatter. Silence.

I sat on the sofa watching this and couldn’t move, just for a moment. Although there have been deaths in Skins (the wonderful Chris in series 2, Sid’s father; both beautifully written moments, and of course Sophia in the series opener which I was involved in the filming of,) This however, was something entirely new. There has been an element of choice in the previous deaths with suicide, avoiding medication and hedonistic lifestyles playing a major factor. Murder is something entirely different, a completely original element thrown into the mix and something that could possibly save the series from being known as the least engaging of the four. What was particularly interesting about the last moments of the episode was the trail for the final episode. It seems that Freddie’s 20 year old sister Karen, will be the focus. Karen featured far more heavily in the previous series and I do feel that the final episode will benefit from her return – it also means that the final episode of series 3, which was another love triangle centred episode is unlikely to be repeated in a different format.

I for one will certainly be glued to the TV come next Thursday!

My amazing radio debut and other news…

Today at 1pm my first Amazing Acoustic show will be played on Amazing Radio.

I’m a bit worried about hearing my voice – it’s annoying at the best of times. I’ve kept links short and arranged back to back songs to avoid upsetting Amazing Radio listeners who are used to hearing only music (presenters have been only been on the station some evenings this week – and currently there’s just a few of us.) You can see the presenters here. We each have our own Amazing Tunes page so you can see what we’re listening to and playlisting – and leave us a comment.

Amazing Radio plays only unsigned music which it collects from Amazing Tunes. Artists can upload their tracks onto Amazing Tunes and have the option of purely streaming the tracks to potential listeners, making them available for radio airplay or selling their music for 79 pence. They get to keep 70% of money raised through such sales. Listeners can get their favourite Amazing tracks onto the DAB Amazing Radio station (also online) by tagging them, rating them and generally giving public kudos. The site has a chart too so users can easily see which songs are getting the best feedback.

Other presenters new to Amazing Radio include ex Head of Music/partner in crime Fuzz Chaudhrey, super cool Our Beat is Correct podcast producer Tom Cotton and Trevor Dann, former Head of BBC Music and chief exec of The Radio Academy.

If you miss my show today, it’s repeated Wednesdays at 7pm. I promise to improve as the weeks go on!

In other news, Un Coupe de Foudre, my friend Alex Buckmaster‘s short, no budget (and no time), Custard-Factory-Jay starring film is going to be played at Camden’s Roundhouse Theatre at the opening of their new cinema on the 18th January.

Happy weekend everyone

F