Thursday, February 2, 2017

Harry Potter at Warner Bros Studio Tour London

Last Christmas I decided to give memories instead of presents to the kids. They get too much stuff as it is and half of it gets broken or discarded within a month, so I went a different route. Trips.

The eldest was the easiest. She had fallen under the spell of Harry Potter that year and spent at least 4 months walking around with her head in a book, bumping into lamp posts and past friends, occasionally looking up to see where her dinner was or to eye her mother disdainfully for asking her to put her book away.

So what better way to ease the poignancy of finishing the last book in the series than a trip to Warner Bros. Studios - the home of Harry Potter.

And as my sister lives just 20 minutes away it couldn't have been easier to plan.

The look on Kaya's face when she got the voucher was, as they say, priceless. But when we actually got to where the bus pulls up - it was even better.

And it continued to get better and better throughout the day.

We explored the sets of each of the films, learning about dragons and owls and special effects.

 We were taught how to wield a wand and fly a broomstick.

We wandered down Diagon Alley, visited Privot Drive, and jumped aboard the Hogwarts Express.

And of course we got to taste actual butter beer. This is how good it is...

The detail involved in the making of the films is mind blowing. Like for example the tens of thousands of wands that were individually inscribed with the names of their owners. Or the handwritten letters that the owls carried - which turned out to be too heavy for them so had to be done all over again on lighter paper. Now that's commitment.

The sets, the costumes, the detail, the magic - it really was amazing.

For a fan, or indeed their mum, it's definitely a highly recommended experience.

More info:
A transfer couch service runs from Watford Junction Station
Loads of parking available at the studios
Staff are all extremely helpful
Queue to get in - approx 25 mins
Tour time - approx 4 hours
A family ticket costs £118

Disclosure: Warner Bros Studios gifted us tickets to the tour in exchange for a review. All words, pictures, daughters and opinions are my own. For more information head over to their site. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

One word 2017

I gave up making New Years Resolutions some time ago. Those lengthy lists of tasks I would once again fail at within a couple of weeks brought no positives.

What I adopted instead was the One Word movement, a fabulous way of keeping your focus on what you want for the year ahead. The idea is simple - you choose one word that embodies your hopes for the year ahead and then you come back to that word throughout the year as a way of refocusing yourself on your chosen path.

In 2015 my word was Fresh - "Fresh starts, fresh air, fresh food, fresh thoughts". 

Last year it was Depth - "From focusing on meaningful relationships with friends and family to putting my all into new projects instead of half-hearted attempts of 'could do better'.

I still like those choices, and I'm hoping to hang on to them both for the year to come too.

But if 2016 taught me anything it's that you never know what's around the corner. Because just as I was launching in to my 'new year, new me' January I was told that I was to be let go from the job that I'd worked in for over 5 years. It was a terrifying time and the support and understanding of friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers is what got me through it.

So I made some plans, signed up to a course, wrote, networked, and joy of joys managed to land myself an absolute dream job not too long later,

2016 was also a year of music, love, travel, accomplishments and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, giving up alcohol. I never, ever thought that I'd be doing that.

And so with lessons learned and reflections considered I've found my word for 2017. It's an odd one for me to be honest. My word this year is - Goals.

It's not a word I would have chosen a year ago. It's a bit too direct and forthright. But now it just seems right. And while I mulled over 'perseverance' and 'belief' - I realised that they were both simply tools for me to achieve the goals - so I've gone straight for the target instead.

Whether it's work goals, writing goals, fitness goals, or family goals - for me having the long-term accomplishment in sight will help me put in the short-term work.

This time next year I want to be able to list the projects that I stuck at and achievements that I ticked off.

2017, I think I'm ready for you.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Could you live off-grid? #COL

Recently I spent a weekend in Dingle, on the remote West Coast of Ireland. We went for a walk on the wild headlands and stopped to stare at the small islands across the cold stretch of grey water.

A few remote houses dotted the largest one. Not more than five, on a tiny, rugged, remote rock in the middle of the sea.

I stood for a long time contemplating life on that island. The same people day in, day out. No electricity, no shops, no roads, no pubs. What would you do there? What would you miss? And why would you choose it when just a jump across the narrow stretch of water was the mainland?

Flogas recently spoke to 910 Brits and found that 85% of people have, at some point, considered moving away from the city to live “off-grid.” That's a massive number of people looking for escape. 

Other findings from the survey included

          Most people prioritise running water, electricity and gas for cooking and heating as top priorities, but around 8% don’t see them as a priority at all in a remote area.

          80% of respondents think that living in a remote area would suit them.

          Almost half of respondents would miss their smartphone within a week!
(A week??! Try an hour!)

          Running water was voted as the most important service, followed closely by gas and electricity.

          Men were found to have more of an urge to break away from society than women (34% of men vs. 28% of women).

          An impressive 77% of people are confident of their abilities to change a gas canister.

          25% of people are confident of their ability to self-sustain, ranking a local shop as a low priority when living in isolation.

          25% of millennials often want to get away from society.

Could you do it? Would you do it?

Hand on heart I know I couldn't. A week off grid maybe - but anything more than that sounds a bit too much like hard work. There's too many things I'd miss. Not least of all you lot!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. Find out more about Flogas and their business gas prices here. For more on the survey see #IWouldMiss

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Family made simple #spon

When you picture 'family' what do you see? A mum, a dad, 2.4 children and a dog?

Turns out things have changed in recent times. The nuclear family has imploded and, according to a new survey bSlater & Gordon Solicitors people now define 'family' in a much broader sense. In fact 27% of people surveyed saw family as 'anyone you wanted it to be' and 15% of them had at least one step-sibling. 

Family has undoubtedly become a messier, more complex entity. Often it is a hodge podge collection of parents, sons, daughters, brothers, step-sisters, in-laws, exes, cousins, nieces, nephews and friends. 

But that doesn't mean necessarily mean that families are any less happy than before. Often they are even more content. In the same survey 49% considered there relationship with their family 'very good'.

Of course it's not all hugs and roses. Especially at this time of year. Christmas is often the time where the knives come out - and not just for the turkey.

But whether yours is the perfect poster family which hazy instagram shots of family walks on windswept beaches, or you are the one that always seems to get caught putting the bins out in your pyjamas and shouting at the kids that your all late... the fact is that we all have good days and bad days and deep down love nothing more than cosying up together under the fairy lights with a tin of celebrations.

Slater and Gordon (@SlaterGordonUK) are celebrating the loveable, complex modern family over the coming weeks with the hashtag #familymadesimple. Why not tag them with pics of your own unique family - whatever form that comes in.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Top tips for a good night's sleep #spon

I think I've mentioned before my love of bed. Warmth, comfort, peace (sometimes) - it's my haven at the end of a long day.

Over the years I've learned what works best for me in terms of keeping the bedroom a sanctuary. Toys strewn on floor? No. Thick curtains? Yes. Cluttered desk? No. White bedding? Yes.

It's amazing how a few changes can turn your room into the perfect place to sleep, rather than a place you go to toss and turn and wake up even more tired than you were eight hours ago.

So here are my top tips for getting a good night's sleep (when the kids leave me alone).

1. Clear out the clutter. 
You should breathe out a sign of relief when you walk into your bedroom at the end of the day. Not sign in despair at the state of the place. Clearing out the clutter clears the mind and soul too.

2. Say no to technology. 
TVs, iPads, phones - try to get rid of them all from the bedroom if possible. Countless studies have shown that the brain waves are disturbed by using devices before sleep. Also, the blue light that screens omit have been shown to mess with sleepiness and alertness, and suppress melatonin levels. Which brings me to...

3. Himalayan salt lamps.
They provide a warm rosy glow that encourages the brain to switch off. They also claim to have lots of benefits with regard to improving air quality, mood and concentration. 

4. White bedding. 
Ever wonder why you sleep so well in a hotel bedroom?

5. Find the right sleeping posture for you. 
For years I slept with loads of fluffy pillows thinking I was in luxurious comfort, when in fact I was damaging my neck. Every body is different so while some people may need three pillows, others can sleep better with none at all. Or you could even check out adjustable beds that allow you to rise and recline at the touch of a button, Nifty. 

6. Epsom salts bath
Any excuse to take a bath - but they really do send you off to sleep. Epsom salts is known to relax muscles so it's a perfect combination. 

Now all you need is a good book and a hot water bottle and your zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post however all words and views remain my own. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Dingle days with Other Voices

Last week I made the long trek down to Dingle for Other Voices.

Having never been I wasn't sure what to expect, it's a strange concept to sell to people, but without a doubt it works. A TV show, no tickets, secret gigs, tiny venues, pubs, clubs, courthouses and churches taken over by music and more. All in a small town hanging off the edge of the western world.

Over the weekend we saw countless bands, singers, musicians and speakers that we had and hadn't heard of. Good food, great walks, and the Guinness looked very, very appealing.

Watch a bit about it here - and then come and see the stunning coastline.

And did I mention I went for a swim? That's what no drinking will do to you.

Monday, November 28, 2016

One Year No Beer: 2 months down, 10 to go...

Two months ago I set myself the challenge of going 30 days without alcohol.

There wasn't one major reason, more a few minor ones, plus I'd been introduced to the One Year No Beer movement and I'm a sucker for a rhyme, so here we are.

I'm a social drinker, usually having a few (or more) drinks three nights in any week. If I go out there is plenty consumed. I love red wine and cold beer. Before the challenge I couldn't possibly have imagined actually going out out and not drinking.

The only other time I did 30 days completely off alcohol was one dry January that was so miserable I promised myself I would never, ever do it again. I even went on BBC radio urging others not to make the same terrible mistake.

So what changed?

One very simple thing. My mind. Instead of focusing on what I was depriving myself of, I focused on what I was gaining. And this really is one of the key pillars of One Year No Beer.

So what exactly have I gained?

Well quite a lot really.

Obviously there have been no hangovers which has given me that holy grail that money can't buy - more time. And speaking of money - I've saved a ton of that too. I've also much more energy, less anxiety, less stress. I'm more ready to take on the world. My skin is brighter, I've lost weight, and maybe even gained a little patience.


In the two months I've managed to fit in finishing a diploma that I had been slowly plodding through up to that point. I've painted two rooms of the house. Ticked off my ever growing reminder list on my phone, and run my fasted 10k race ever. I've now dusted off my attempted novel and am focusing all my extra energy on that.

My app tells me I've saved myself approximately 113 drinks, €570 and 17,370 calories.

And then of course there's the untold health benefits...

Okay, okay, I can see you rolling your eyes. But what about the going out, the fun, the release, the well earned glass of wine at the end of a long day?


It's all actually easier than you think. Many of us see alcohol as a stress reliever, but in fact it just presses pause on it, and then all that held back stress comes back in a rush the next day - worse than before.

The fun can mostly be had without the drink - though so far not that 'lost weekend' kind of fun. But then again, most of those lost weekends are actually lost from memory too - wiped out other than a few random flashes.

So far I've been out to gigs, a festival, dinners and a girls night out and had fun at all of them, with the added benefit of actually remembering them. Sure I'm ready to head home at midnight - but I'm more than happy with that. A good night sleep and you're leaping out of the bed the next day. Best of both worlds. (Annoying aren't I?)

The only thing I've shied away from so far is ordering a steak. Indelibly linked to a big glass of red for now at least.

Next weekend I head to Dingle for a weekend that revolves around live music, pubs and Guinness, I think I'm ready for it.

The future

Those first 30 days passed easily. I actually enjoyed it. So I decided to keep going.

I'm two months in now and planning on having an alcohol free Christmas. After my 90 day target is hit I then weigh up if I want to go for the whole year or not. One Year No Beer. 365 days.

And after that there's just the rest of my life to decide on.

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