Sunday, 13 March 2016

Opinion Piece: Homelessness

Living in a big city like Manchester really opened my eyes up to the creeping crisis of homelessness. I'd never seen as many homeless people in my life, they literally dotted the stretch from Piccadilly Gardens right up to the main train station.  I'd never been asked for as much spare change, I'd never looked at so many sleeping bags late at night, cold, tired faces bundled up, trying to keep out the cold.  I was becoming acutely more aware of this very real, very great issue.

A few weeks ago I visited Brighton for the first time.  It wasn't my intention to spend the evening buying hot drinks for folks living on the streets, but it was something I did and it's something I broach carefully with others when telling them about my trip; simply because I want to spread awareness and a little insight but I don't want people to feel I am standing on ceremony for doing something very small for a few people.  Myself and my mum happened upon a chap with a Staffy, bundled up underneath a sleeping bag.  He simply asked if I had a light for a cigarette, which I gave him.  I couldn't simply stand above him, so I bobbed down and handed him the lighter.  This simple act inspired me to offer him a hot drink; he looked freezing.  Whilst my mum popped in the shop to buy him a drink, I started chatting to him, we talked about how the primary industries such as mining and steel works had dried up gone; he was from Newcastle.

Further down the street was another man, this time from Plymouth.  He told my mum about how he was ex-Army, how he had a child, how he binge drank occassionally, how he had mental health problems.  He had come to this place to be by the sea, to be away from his family in quite a self-less act. He also told her that every person who is on the streets had put themselves there and that the ones who ask for money are normally using it for drink or drugs.  How much of this was true, I don't know.  None of us agrees with giving money to someone to fund an ultimately destructive habit and the homeless charities of the UK advise to buy food or drink for people rather than give money.  However, if this is your only solace and only relief, what would any of us do if someone gave us money when faced with relentless nights on the street?  It's difficult to know.

I couldn't help but want to help buy these people a hot drink.  It was a luxury I took for granted every day, so I bought him a hot drink whilst he chatted to my mum.  He said he would change his life - I truly hope he does.

Ultimately my opinion on homelessness had changed.  The man from Plymouth had told my mum that if you're homeless, you've probably put yourself there.  It was an opinion I didn't fully agree with.  It could happen to any of us, life can come crashing down around us. 

I've been approached by the same people in town who ask for money to get home (multiple times, they never remember me) - do I give them money?   Generally not, they ask multiple people for that £0.70 bus fare, are they homeless?  I don't know.  They're generally not sat down and looking cold and dejected.  For some people I would give money, but it's not overly often.  I am happy to lend a light, give them a cigarette or buy them a hot drink or sandwich - a million times over.  I agree that giving money is not the way to solve a problem like addiction - but how do we solve this crisis?  It's illegal to beg, they generally get moved on - what if they don't have a family to help them?  How do the ones who are truly stuck in this cycle get out?   

What I do know is I've had difficult times in my life when it would have been easier to give up, but I've also had amazing friends and family to pick me back up.  I could have been in that position.  Any of us could.  We have all had traumas, losses, struggles and heartbreaks.  I have just been fortunate enough to have support.

I guess what my rambling is trying to say is simple - be a good person and think about these people; I hope slowly we can improve homelessness and the lives of those stuck in this place, once and for all.  

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Gig review: Levellers 'Beautiful Nights'.

Band: Levellers
Venue: Doncaster Dome, Doncaster
Date: Thursday 3 December 2015
Support: Ruts DC, Dreadzone

It's no secret that the Levellers are my favourite band of all time.  For years I struggled with the notion of having a 'favourite' band as my musical taste evolved and developed so much, I simply couldn't choose.  I was introduced to the Levellers at an early age; raised by environmentally and socially conscious parents, how could I not, for the Levellers stand for so many of these concepts, from their song lyrics to their personal backgrounds.  I think the Levellers was one of my first gigs as a child.  Since that time I've seen them live on numerous occasions and always felt assured by the memory (and thought) that each gig is special, enjoyable and they always deliver.  Better still, every year they hold their own festival Beautiful Days in the gorgeous Devon countryside, taking festival goers back to a better time when festivals were about good music, an enjoyable environment and atmosphere. No corporate sponsorship, no increased levels of capacity...bliss.  

So, on a windy December day, myself and my mum went to Doncaster to see them live, again.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the Levellers, their music is a sort of folk/alternative rock often politically and socially driven lyrics.  It is melodic and often anthemic.  

So a collective audience gathered, the support acts were Ruts DC and Dreadzone.  I didn't get there to see Ruts DC but Dreadzone are another of my favourite bands and my god can these guys deliver.  I love it when a band sound great on studio recorded albums, well produced, great vocals etc but it's so much better when their live sound is infinitely better and more atmospheric live and these guys are one of the best live acts I've ever seen.  Their music is a kind of fusion between dub, reggae, folk and rock and my word it gets you moving! Superbly talented musicians and absolutely sublime live.  Even managed to have a little skank which was fun! 

I love the buildup to a Levellers set, collective excitement, the knowledge that it's going to be an incredible night of dancing and singing!  Enter the Levellers, much older and greyer but still as charismatic.  Opening with England My Home the crescendo of fiddle and collective excitement and off we go! Audience moving instantly!  Then on to What a Beautiful Day.  It was a fantastic night, so much dancing.  I think my favourite instrument has to be the fiddle, especially when they played 'Mutiny', you can get into such a gorgeous sort of folky groove and dance to it however you like, avoiding the infamous mosh pit though! Jon's fiddle playing has made me want to be a fiddle player myself.

Another great note was Simon.  Although Mark (lead singer) has such a beautiful voice, Simon's voice always adds something a little special. 

To finish they played the punk anthem 'Liberty Song' and had everyone jumping around!

The Beautiful Nights tour was a sort of amalgamation of their songs, not specific to one album, so they did a variety of tracks from their 27 year career span so far.  The set list is below if you fancy a gander.  I love the Levellers, their politics, their festival and their outlook and they do seem like gentlemen to the last - they even wander round Beautiful Days and have a football match with the kids on the Sunday.  Even though most people I meet haven't heard of them (apart from my folks and a decent portion of friends), I will always love them and if you haven't heard of them and fancy a gander, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

 Set list

England My Home
What a Beautiful Day
Our New Day
Fifteen Years
World Freakshow
Far from Home
Sell Out
The Shame
This Garden
One Way
Too Real
Truth Is
Carry Me
Dirty Davey
The Cholera Well
The Riverflow


Battle of the Beanfield
Liberty Song

If you want to check out the Levellers, here's a great starter track to showcase their live prowess:

Levellers 'One Way' Glastonbury 1994 

Thanks for reading, happy Levelling!


Sunday, 29 November 2015

Update & Lush face mask review

Hello there!

Sadly I've not had much time to blog that much as life has been a little hectic and busy for the last year (hence the date of the last post) but I'm hoping to transform this blog into a variety of outlets, for product reviews, political views and discussions, gig reviews, environment news and animal rights news.  The first post is a lighthearted and relaxed one, reviewing a Lush product I've bought recently in the skin care department!

Now, I have not always been blessed with the best skin, which is a bit of a nightmare sometimes, I have combination, spot-prone and sensitive skin.  As you can imagine, skincare can be a minefield at times. 

I am a big lover of Lush products.  100% vegetarian (a lot of their stuff is Vegan too) and fits in with my ethical stance as a!

I went on a trip to Hereford with my mum recently and we decided to stop off in Lush.  I've tried a few of their fresh face masks but I noticed a rather pretty pink mask called 'Rosey Cheeks' last weekend.  Each mask generally dictates what issues and skin types it tackles, this one was aimed at reducing rosiness and calming skin.  So we treated ourselves to a Lush pampering evening with face masks.  Yum.

The review:  This mask was amazing!  Firstly, it smells divine, a subtle but beautiful rose scent and lovely powdery pink colour.  After washing my face, I covered it in the mask which is very smooth and feels lovely just out of the fridge.  Left it on for about fifteen minutes.  It does dry quite quickly (ergo you feel a bit like a mummy).  Washing it off was a dream, it feels really soothing as there are no abrasive or exfoliating bits in it, which in this case was lovely. 

Even though its intention is to reduce rosiness (not sure if this would target users with Rosacea or just people whose skin has a penchant for going red in colder months?), I found this mask to be a soothing, calming delight after a long week and my skin can get a bit red when it's cold, I did notice it is less sensitive than usual but I haven't suffered with redness this year, so can't say whether this has had an effect.  It left my skin feeling mostly soft (slightly dry in places but as I have combination skin, this wasn't really an issue) and clean and I'm not sure if it's improved my skin's complexion but it is so soothing that it's eased my sensitive skin and left it feeling pretty darn good.

Downsides?  Can't really see any.  I suppose it is ever so slightly drying but that seems to work fine with my combination skin.  I do put a night cream on the areas of my face that are dry, so that would possibly work if you are prone to dryness from skin products.  These fresh masks do need storing in the fridge and have short shelf lives, but they're perfect to split with a mate and at around £6.00 a tub, they're good value for money as you get quite a few out of the pot.  I've been using this every three days since last weekend.

Verdict: Pretty lovely, soothing and calming for tired skin.  Let me know your thoughts on the face mask and your comments!  I didn't need the benefit of its rosiness calming but hopefully it will calm such redness in other users, however, I'd recommend it on the soothing basis described above, a good old all rounder!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Mockingjay Part One: Film Review.

 Release Date (UK): 20/11/2014
 Rating: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, Julianne Moore.

Caution: Contains spoilers for the other books and films.  
When I started reading the Hunger Games back in early 2010, I never imagined it would produce a set of blockbusting films in the subsequent years to come.  Not to say it wasn't worthy of a book to film deal, the story, characters and plot are incredible; I just didn't imagine it.  I remember being recommended the book by a fellow book blogger, Sophie, on one of her mailbox posts and I was thoroughly intrigued.  A book about the future, a book about a dystopian society where inhabitants are split into districts, serving a power-hungry and oppressive capitol. A book about a society which makes young 'tributes' fight in a dangerous and televised battle to the death?  

So, three books and two films later; here we are.  Whilst I did enjoy the first two films, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire; Mockingjay was truly something else.  I elected not to review the first two films (you can see my book reviews on my alternative blog for books here (The Hunger Games) and here (Catching Fire)

 I remember taking an age to read Mockingjay, because I was so worried about how it would end.  It was a book that broke my heart into a million pieces for many reasons.  Part one of the film, has done the same; here's my review.

On a freezing, rainy Friday morning I got up to see Mockingjay: Part One at the cinema in the midlands, where I live.  It's one of those fancy cinemas with comfy, nice seating and leg room.  Coffee in hand, I prepared myself, as I've done for so many of the final films in my favourite series', for a few hours of immersion in fantasy. Catching Fire taught us one valuable lesson: the victors of the Hunger Games, who are promised prized fame and fortune, never truly escape; because no one escapes these vicious games.  The Mockingjay book already set the bar quite high - watchers and fans of the series and those who had seen Catching Fire, already know that this book/film is where all the events come to a head; when secrets are realised and a fresh rebellion is ignited.  

Katniss is now in District 13, a district that everyone thought was destroyed in the last uprising with a band of rebels who formulated a plan to get her out.  Katniss is now a symbol of a new uprising, a new rebellion.  But where is Peeta?  The Capitol is angry and it's only a matter of time before fresh conflict begins...

This film was absolutely astonishing.  I really don't know how else to describe it. Whilst the first two films and books have all the action and emotion of the games and of Katniss' new relationship with Peeta; this is something else.   Where the districts were once silently oppressed and tributes made examples of, in a war raging arena serving as an example to all, the threat of war and rebellion is echoing in the districts.  Katniss is to be the face of a cause, but with her spirits diminished by the last games and Snow's silent menacing threat of retaliation, it's difficult to see if she will be able to hold up.

Speaking of holding up, Jennifer Lawrence is one of the clear victors (no pun intended) of this film.  I doubted her abilities as Katniss in the first film, was more swayed in the second.  As a fan of the books previously, I always envisioned my own Katniss - and I found Lawrence a bit wooden in some scenes in the first film. But Lawrence employs the range of difficult emotions that Katniss experiences - from memories of terror to anger to grief.  She's believable, she's raw.  The emotion is almost tangible from the screen. 
Haunted by her own grief and guilt at leaving Peeta behind and pushed into the underground, structured routine of District 13, Katniss is not the girl on fire that everyone knew - a point made by President Coin (Julianne Moore). But I'd argue if she ever was that girl, unless inspired by the suffering of other people, like in the hospital bombing scene - she can't make it up on screen to be the face of the revolution, she has to be faced with real tragedy to become the girl they want her to be.
 Plutarch Heavensbee (the late, great Phillip Seymour-Hoffman) reassures her that given the right circumstance, she is the face they need to lead the campaign. Moore and Hoffman deliver in this film, Seymour-Hoffman's Plutarch Heavensbee almost menacing, propaganda-spinning genius waging to fight a rebellion.  Coin's deadpan, almost cold attitude is well acted by Moore.

Everyone steps up in this film, Gale is finally given purpose in the all-out invasion to save Peeta's life and Liam Hemsworth delivers Gale's usually longing puppy-dog looks with a new edge of raw emotion in scenes with Katniss. He delivers the heart-wrenching line about Katniss only noticing him when he's in pain; I thought it added an extra dimension to his character and their relationship.  Then there's Peeta, poor Peeta, who is now the Capitol's pawn - Josh Hutcherson's aching, wounded, weary acting is just incredible.  You'll have to watch it to see what I mean.

The film isn't without humour (as found in the loveable Effy Trinket) but packs more heart this time around.  Yes, it's been made into two films (a lot of people don't agree on this decision) but it's worth it - Part One shows us a rebellion and the beginnings of a difficult end, but it's Part Two that will surely pack the biggest punch.  Check out the trailer here:

Lushy goodness: Lush mini-haul.

One of my favourite brands of bathing, skincare and haircare is Lush.  I absolutely adore most of their products. I love the fact that their vegetarian and partly vegan and they don't test on animals.  Here's a cheeky mini-haul and part review of what I got from Lush this week.

 Firstly, I wanted a natural moisturiser that was a bit lighter, I've been using Soap and Glory's Sugar Crush Body Butter (the scent is amazing) but it feels a bit heavy on the skin for an every day use.  I tried a bit of this in the shop and the scent is sweet but subtle.  I tried it when I got home and it feels really light on your skin and the scent lasts all day.  I found this ideal in a moisturiser.  It's £12.95, so a tad pricey for every day use but like most things with Lush, you get what you pay for, and this is divine; it's vegan too.  

I also bought a Rose Jam bubbleroon but I used half of that in the bath last night.  This smells like my all-time favourite Lush scent of the same name, Rose Jam.  It's a lovely rosy, sweet floral scent.  I love Bubbleroons, they're like the perfect hybrid between a bath bomb and bubble bath itself.  

I also bought a Yuzu and Cocoa Bubbleroon.  I can review that right here and now because it's another one of my favourites.  It's meant to be a citrus scent with chocolatey undertones and has cocoa butter and grapefruit in it.  However, I think it smells of a zingy, sweet, orange chocolate type scent.  I only use half a Bubbleroon at a time (unless you want a supremely bubbly bath, then go for it!) but this makes it last and go a bit further.  My skin feels really soft and nourished after using both Rose Jam and Yuzu and Cocoa Bubbleroons, they're both great for a relaxing treat after a long day at work. 

I bought Big Blue, a bath Ballistic which smells very fresh and sort of ocean-y.  This has seaweed, seasalt, lemon oil and lavender; can't wait to try it.  It smells lovely.

Lastly and certainly not least; I bought a solid shampoo.  I was chatting to a lovely Lush sales lady about solid shampoos the other day, when she brought my attention to some new products.  They've released four new shampoo bars, one of which smells like my favourite Rose Jam scent.  Sold!  I picked up a bar of Jason and the Argan Oil (which shares its scent with Rose Jam Bubbleroon, the no longer available perfume, shower gel and Ro's Argan Body Conditioner) and can't wait to try it.  Apparently they have 23% less sodium laureth sulphate in than previous bars, so might not foam as much and maybe not cause as much of a hoo-ha over using such synthetics!  They're great value for money, either way, and with less chemicals - bonus!

That was this week's naughty Lush haul.  If you're a follower or a fellow Lush fan, get in touch with what you've tried and tested and if you have enjoyed any of the products in my haul.  It's always great to hear from people!

Thanks for reading!

N x

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The trip of a lifetime.

In February of next year I will be embarking on my first lone travel experience.  I've travelled to different countries in Europe and various cities in the UK; but this will be my first trip outside of Europe.  I'm embarking on what is essentially the trip of a lifetime.  It's expensive and has taken some careful, regimented planning on my part.  But I feel it will be totally worth the effort.

For years I've wanted to travel.  I considered going to Nepal, India, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  All these countries appeal to my interests.  My dream, since I was a small child, was to visit Machu Picchu.  My mum has this big, coffee table style aerial photograph book.  It was full of pictures of the incredible ancient Inca sites.  I was instantly hooked.  This mysterious, incredible place was somewhere I simply had to go.

After seeing some friends of mine travel around South America, I decided to have a think.  I'm 25 years old, I've never travelled - and these realisations stirred something in me.  My previous partners loved travelling, but never seemed to have the interest or time to do it with me.  I found myself considering exactly what I was waiting for.  There is this great big, incredible world out there; and I realised I was missing it all.  I see the same things everyday, dull, UK life.  It was time for a change.  So I looked at a few trips, asked a new friend of mine (who loves travelling) for some advice - I picked up the phone a few days later and booked a deposit for a tour company to travel to Peru and Bolivia and experience the wonderful lands and ancients sites of the Incas.

Travel insurance, vaccinations, expensive flights, currency, safety, equiptment and various other planning later - there's three months to go and I simply can't wait.  The trip begins in Lima, Peru, taking on tours of the city before travelling into the Amazon to visit lakes and ancient ruins, the jungle and then beginning the three day trek to Machu Picchu, staying in South American houses, camping and much more before finishing in La Paz.

I simply can't wait and I wish I'd done this sooner!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Leaving home and leaving the past behind you.

 In April of this year I moved to a new city, got a new job, a new house and reconnected with one of my best friends, when we'd previously been drifting apart.  I was stuck in a rut, doing the same work, shifts ruled my life and a monotonous endless daily commute was pretty much taking over.

Even though work can be hard, I actually think leaving my home city was one of the best decisions I've made. I've made new friends, discovered a new city and become closer to one of my best friends (and now housemate). I'm planning trips halfway across the world and getting excited about festivals and the future. I've realised you don't really need a man or an excess of friends to be happy, you just need the right people, yourself and the right state of mind to succeed. I don't need the past, I don't need what was painful and difficult, but I'm grateful for everything I've experienced, because I'm stronger as a result.

I miss my family and my two other best friends like crazy, but of course, they all have lives without me.  But I don't really miss anyone else. Maybe one or two others.  I doubt anyone else misses me or gives me a second thought. But that's fine, that's life I guess.  I've learned that the people who care, the people who deserve to be in your life will make the effort to do so and everyone else will just fall away.  But if they forget about you and ignore you, if they breeze in and out of your life like an errant breeze, were they ever worth your time anyway?  Probably not, so I won't waste another minute thinking, blogging or status updating about them. 

So here's to a new future, to making plans, to celebrating life and health and being grateful for what you've got.