2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,500 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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BeKindtoyourmind – mindfulness comes to Sale West

Bekindtoyourmind is a community interest company based in Manchester offering classes in Sale West and beyond, with the aim of reaching out to help people in the community suffering with their emotional well being.

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Mindfulness offers peace of mind

Their mindfulness classes and workshops work with residential, public and commercial sectors, in both group and individual settings, inviting the attendees to look at their thoughts, feelings and emotional states from a different perspective.

Set up by husband and wife team Thom and Julie, Bekindtoyourmind classes have been running on Sale West for over a year.

BeKindtoyourmind at Sale West Community Centre

BeKindtoyourmind at Sale West Community Centre

Thom said, “I’ve been a resident of Sale West since I was 12 years old and as I grew up I identified with a lot of the issues that people who live on the estate struggle with. I am proud of where I live and when I discovered the revelation of mindfulness it was only natural for me to want to share the tools and concepts that have made such a positive impact to my own well being with the community.”

The response from the community has been very impressive to say the least – the first session saw 19 people attend, the majority from Sale West. Thom has been encouraged with the growing numbers since, explaining it normally takes around three or four sessions for people to ‘get it’ before they feel empowered to take back control of their own lives and make clear, proactive choices.

Thom is especially thankful to Marie Price and Dan Shelston of Trafford Wellbeing / Housing Trust, as well as Irwell Valley Housing Association for the support and encouragement they have given him, including funding from the latter which enabled him to undertake training in order to become a fully qualified mindfulness teacher.

IMAG0026When asked for ‘top tips’ for getting the most out of mindfulness, and if it is something that anyone can master, Thom replied, “Mindfulness is about learning to ‘BE’ rather than ‘DO’.

“Our society constantly promotes ‘doing’ – reaching goals, making lists, setting agendas, thinking of new ideas, etc. There’s nothing wrong with this, in fact if we look around we can see that it has produced things that make our life easier and enjoyable, but too much of this ‘driving’ part of our nature is the cause for much of the stress, anxiety, depression and other states that hinder our well-being. Now, if we can learn to ‘BE’, meaning to accept things as they are at this very moment and to pay attention to what we are doing right now, we begin to soothe our minds and give the thinking mind a rest. 

“Mindfulness is very easy to learn and once the concepts are grasped it becomes a valuable part of life that can help us to become more calm and content, as well as helping us become more resilient towards states of mind that cause us suffering.”shutterstock_95792515

Bringing mindfulness to Sale West is obviously important for Thom, I asked him how he thought the possible closure of the community centre would affect the classes held there and while he said people could adapt if it was a temporary situation but it would be “a sad day for the people of Sale West” if it were to be permanent.

Thom said, “ I believe the community centre has the potential to be the pulse of Sale West. With the right people, right ideas and right services it can literally change lives. The nucleus it already there, it just needs some fresh ideas. I was motivated to offer my services to the community and wouldn’t want to move away from Sale West but if I’m pushed, I’m pushed. I’d have to take my services elsewhere and that would contradict my initial drive for starting Bekindtoyourmind.

After attending a Bekindtoyourmind session at the community centre I agree it would be a terrible shame to lose such a fantastic service.

Costing just £3 a session, on a pay-as-you-go basis the classes are exceptional value for money. I was made to feel welcome and have never seen the Sunshine Café looking so cosy with dimmed lights, incense, the lot – wonderful.

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The session began with a mindfulness chocolate eating exercise – we had to really take our time, noting the smell, texture and, last of all taste. I really enjoyed this part although when eaten in a mindful manner, one chocolate was definitely enough J

Moving on to a mindful meditation I was soon relaxed and feeling calm for the first time that day, maybe a little too calm as I almost slid off my seat and was squinting when the lights came on at the end of the hour long session.

I can’t recommend Bekindtoyourmind highly enough and would encourageimages-2 copy everyone to give it a go – after all there’s nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.

Bekindtoyourmind currently run two weekly classes with plans for more in the future. Monday they are at Sale West Community centre on Newbury Avenue for an hour with the class starting at 7pm. On a Thursday they hold a class in Timperley, in the meeting room at Timperley Village Library, again for an hour and also starting at 7pm.

They also offer mindfulness workshops at a discounted rate of £40, held at the Friends Meeting House, Park Road in Sale – for more details or to book please contact Julie@bekindtoyourmind.co.uk

For more information visit www.bekindtoyourmind.co.uk or find them on Twitter @kindmindgb

This article first appeared in the launch edition of Sale West Voice Magazine 🙂

Mindfulness double page feature in Sale West Voice Magazine

Mindfulness double page feature in Sale West Voice Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

Sea Life Manchester – fun with the kids?

After hearing great reviews, and realizing it is only one junction up from us on the motorway, we recently decided to take our youngest 2 boys, aged 8 and 12, to visit Sea Life Manchester for a family day out.

 

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Sea Life Manchester is a fascinating little aquarium that makes the very most of the relatively small space it occupies right behind the Trafford Centre in Barton Square.

We chose a Sunday morning to visit, working on the theory that it wouldn’t be too busy – a theory that paid off as it was really quiet and we didn’t even have to queue to get in, always a bonus when you have kids with a very short attention span.

In the foyer there is a map of the aquarium and a really impressive tank to whet the appetite before we were offered a family snapshot at the bargain price of £20. From there it was straight into ‘Turtle Beach’, an amazing experience offering insight into turtles – how they live, reproduce and other

Ernie the turtle was a great hit

Ernie the turtle was a great hit

interesting facts. Packed with impressive CGI style graphics and delivered by a very enthusiastic young lady it was possibly the highlight of our visit.

My boys were really impressed to learn that the temperature of the sand the eggs were laid in actually determines what sex the turtles will be when they hatch and my youngest is now hoping for a turtle egg for Christmas.

Once the talk was over we were free to wander around the aquarium at our own pace, which, left to our boys would be incredibly quick as there wasn’t really much to keep older children as interested as we had hoped, apparently if you’ve seen one fish, you’ve seen them all – well, according to my youngest anyway.

Our visit coincided with the opening of a new attraction the aquarium have unveiled called Sea Stars and for me it really added value to the day. There are several eye-catching displays that all have massive windows and they are full of the most amazing starfish, including my personal favourite, the Giant Pink starfish.

The area also boasts an impressive pop up display where we could all climb through a sea tunnel right in the middle of one of the biggest displays for what turned out to be a tentacle-tastic-close-up view.

As with every display at Sea Life, there are plenty of facts alongside the display offering interesting facts – some you would probably rather not know but the kids will love, like the fact some starfish turn their stomachs inside out to eat.

About two thirds of the way round we discovered a small soft play area, of course the boys jumped straight in, abandoning shoes and having a great time. This lasted 5 minutes before they tired of running around what is really a play area suited to much younger children although, judging by the various ages of the kids playing and the fact there were no staff to be seen, there is no age restriction in place.

From the ball pit we moved onto the Touch Pool where the boys stroked crabs and touched several less than impressed looking shrimps – not my cup of tea but they loved it.

Sealife Manchester

There’s plenty of fish, as expected…

Last but by no means least we entered the underwater ocean tunnel, culminating in a beautiful Mayan-esque rock sculpture. We had to wait to get a photo at this spot, there seemed to be a pile-up of people with smartphones snapping away furiously, but it was worth it as it really is rather beautiful.

We exited the tunnel right into the gift shop, much to the kid’s delight – not a word I would use to describe how I felt once I had seen the prices.

Sea Life Manchester also offers a SeaTREK experience, boasting to be Europe’s first seabed walk and costing £60 per person. Divers are surrounded by hundreds of fish, sharks, rays and even Ernie, resident Giant Green Sea Turtle.

Tempting as it sounds we declined on this occasion, we were all fished out and just couldn’t plaice, sorry, face, another hour of fishy fun, however up close and personal, instead we headed home after our fun family time.

My overall view is Sea Life Manchester is a good place to pass an hour with young children but is

Sea Life Manchester

The tunnel

overpriced and a little dull at times for the older ones. As a family of four we paid just under £50 admission for what was a very quick visit – even by our standards.

Plenty of pretty fish to look at but none of the creepy crawlies and snakes that the other, bigger Sea Life Centre venues offer and disappointing to see that the much smaller aquarium size is not reflected in the rather oversized prices.

Ideal for fish enthusiasts maybe – not so good for a family looking for a cheap, fun day out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sale west through the years

Back in 2004 the Manchester Evening News ran an article about a notorious estate in Sale, titled ‘No-go estate that defied the odds’, going on to say it had been described as ‘an island of deprivation in a sea of affluence.’

 The estate they referred to was Sale West, or the ‘Racecourse Estate’ as it was known back then, with many of the roads named after UK racecourses.

Manor Avenue

Manor Avenue

 

Built amid high optimism in the 1960’s, as part of Manchester regeneration, the Racecourse was constructed on agricultural land and used to move people out of areas surrounding the city centre in questionably named ‘slum clearance programmes.’

This solved a couple of problems for the council hierarchy, or ‘Manchester Mafia’ as they were called by a few in the know.

Firstly, it freed up land that could be used to build luxury homes for the high

Manor Avenue Overspill estate 1964

Manor Avenue Overspill estate 1964

earners willing to pay extortionate rent or sky-high mortgage rates, turning low income generating neighbourhoods into almost instant cash cows. Backed up with a drive in the 90’s to repopulate the ‘new and improved’ city, and with property prices at an all time high, there was some serious money made from people eager to live near the centre.

Sale West signSecondary, and perhaps even more controversially, there were some areas where residents were deemed by the council ‘the least involved with their neighbourhood’ or ‘least accessible for social professionals’. Hulme, Gorton and other parts of East Manchester were targeted, resulting in many families being offered, and accepting ‘a new home on a new estate’, relocating to Sale West.

Supposed to be ‘a jewel in the crown’ of Manchester council’s estate programme, the Racecourse faced problems from the beginning and quickly became a hotbed of crime and antisocial behaviour.

Built as a so-called overspill estate, owned by Manchester but situated in Cheshire, Sale West proved to be anything but the gem anticipated by the council. Residents found themselves feeling detached and cut off from services while violent crime was quickly on the rise.

Manor Ave

By the mid nineties, many of the properties were run down or empty and the
area had become neglected. The only bus on the estate was cancelled as drivers refused to venture there any longer, sick of smashed windows and abuse from the local youths.

The racecourse had developed a terrible reputation but hit an all time low in March 1997, when local shopkeeper, Ian Marshall confronted two robbers in the off licence he ran on West Parade and was shot dead.

Police were under intense pressure to produce a result following criticism of their lack of response to the previous problems on the estate and very quickly David Ashberry was arrested and charged with the murder, later being sentenced to 14 years in prison.

IMG_6245Measuring a lofty 6 foot 4 inches tall, David has always maintained his innocence, a claim backed up by several witnesses at the scene who, when questioned by the police at the time, stated that there were three robbers, all masked and all definitely under 6 foot. He is currently fighting to clear his name and is supported by a group called Freedom, which works with people who claim they have been wrongly convicted.

Informants on the estate at the time spoke about a dark blue car being involved and refuted claims made by police that Ashberry was ‘obsessed with guns and had a shrine to them in his flat.’ These claims turned out to be totally unsubstantiated, no firearms of any description were ever linked to him and Ashberry was eventually convicted on the only evidence they had against him, a statement written by a woman who lived near the scene of the crime.

The murder of local lad Ian was the final straw for many residents and when the council were approached by Irwell Valley in March 2000, offering to buy the troublesome estate from them it was ‘warmly received’ by all involved.

Following Irwell Valley Housing Association success in securing the estate or ‘stock’ as they refer to it, the transfer of Sale West Estate, formally the Racecourse, from Manchester City Council, a long term redevelopment master plan was drafted, including improvements to existing houses, demolition of so called ‘hard to let’ properties and redevelopment of various vacant land sites dotted around the estate.

When Irwell Valley took over Sale West around 80 per cent of properties were considered long term ‘unlettable’ by Manchester City Council, over 70 per cent of residents were dependent on social benefits and vandalism, youth congregating and empty, abandoned properties were the top three priorities highlighted in a local area consultation.

Manor Court

Manor Court

By this time buses and taxis had totally stopped venturing onto the estate, segregating residents and instilling the ‘no-go’ zone mentality further still.

Manchester City Council had allowed the estate to fall to wreck and ruin, merely displacing the problems and never really solving them – at the expense of the residents they offered a ‘fresh start in a great place to live’.

Irwell Valley pioneered a scheme called Gold Service back in 1998 and it had proved to be a great success when implicated in other ‘troublesome’ estates they managed so it was no surprise when they launched it on Sale West soon after acquisition.

The Gold Scheme is a great example of the housing associations entrepreneurialism – developed to ‘aid regeneration of deprived areas into more pleasant places to live’, it focuses on residents rather than housing stock, defining them as local customers and putting their needs first on the regeneration agenda. So far so good.

The concept is that ‘good’ residents are rewarded with additional services and amenities. By providing these ‘perks’ the association tries to increase the involvement of residents and, in doing so, their attachment to the housing association and neighbourhood.

This explicit distinction between good and bad tenants has forced local governments to rethink some of their equality-based housing policies.

The assumption behind the scheme is learning by moral example: seeing the benefits neighbours receive triggers residents to comply with the behavioural rules set by the housing association in order to become eligible for the same rewards. This will not only improve the behaviour of residents but also the reputation of the area to outsiders, this in turn, they hope, will attract new and especially affluent residents to the area. Best garden competition anyone?

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It’s no coincidence that the new, private houses were built around Sale West around eight years after Irwell Valley took over either. The association believes that ‘middle-class groups will only feel at home in deprived neighbourhoods when the behaviour of antisocial residents has changed’.

First they addressed these issues using the Gold Service system and then, when they felt the time was right the new houses went up creating a new revenue source offering ‘housing specifically designed and priced for middle class families’.

Another strategy employed by Irwell Valley to create ‘a pleasant place to live’ is attracting the right kind of people to buy the properties, people who can serve a as good role models to the other residents, interesting fact – employees of the city council and social services were given priority when the new houses were released for sale.

Sale West is definitely more than a ‘pleasant place to live’ today, but how much of that is really down to Irwell Valley and their almost Orwellian strategies to build a better society

watching us watching you

watching us watching you?

That is not to say that they haven’t assisted; the money spent on housing has gone some way to make them more habitable, although many are still plagued with damp and mould that Irwell Valley are slow to respond to, to say the least.

Gardens are generally neat and tidy, the Gold Service embraced by 90 per cent of residents and antisocial behaviour reports are at an all time low.

This is despite the fact that Irwell Valley has slowly but surely reduced the ‘extra’ services they offered at the start of their take over. They opened the Phoenix Centre in Sale, providing training, help with interviews and access to educational funds – open only to those residents who had achieved Gold BUS STOPService status with the association. This closed in 2005, not long after they withdrew the very successful estate Rangers they had employed to help with both anti social behaviour and general maintenance of properties, gardens and communal areas.

The ones really responsible for all these changes and more are the people who live on Sale West. The ones that have a sense of pride in their community and will go the extra mile to make sure it’s a great place to live, because for them, pleasant just isn’t enough.

The future of Sale West is again in the balance, this time from the threat of budget cuts severing many of the amenities they still have. The library,

Coppice library

Coppice library

community centre and youth club all face closure as Trafford council attempts to make massive savings, seemingly at the expense of those already under increasing pressure.

Fortunately, Sale West is a
community that gains its strength from the people who live there, becoming the desirable place to live Manchester city council first envisaged when it was built; not from schemes and incentives that are dangled carrot-like in order to get them to comply however, but rather from the determination of many to make a change and that’s something that no amount of budget cuts can ever take away.

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Photographs taken by Kim K Photography. All are subject to copyright and may not be reproduced or used without permission and correct attribution 🙂

 

The edited version of this article first appeared in Sale West Voice Magazine

 

 

 

Mindfulness – A new way of thinking?

Rain hammering on the windscreen, traffic at standstill, kids bickering in the back and the Frozen soundtrack stuck on repeat again – what better time for my phone to ‘ping’ to let me know it’s time to be mindful.

Mindfulness offers peace of mind

Are you looking for peace of mind?

Just to clarify things a little, I am not a hippy, my children have never eaten organic quinoa and I am not at all eco friendly or spiritual – truth be known I’m rubbish at recycling and am cynical to a fault.

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Be in the now

 Chances are that either you, or someone you know has recently started the practice known as mindfulness. With roots in Buddhism and an array of handy downloadable apps to help you practice at leisure, mindfulness is a form of meditation focusing on ‘being in the now’ that has, in the space of a year or so, gone from being ‘another faddy craze for the eccentric, modern day hippies’ to a new and extremely popular ‘pseudo-religion’ across the UK, one that could have been tailor made for the west, it sits so well with our secular ideals.

Trying to find peace in a hectic, digitally dependent and often rushed world may just be a matter of thinking differently and, after a week of sessions, I’ve discovered that mindfulness may be the way forward.

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It can be difficult to be self accepting in a world where Kim Kardashians bottom makes the 6 o clock news

It’s all about being in the present moment – being aware of your breathing, body and surroundings as well as emotions and thoughts. Mindfulness involves viewing both yourself and others with compassion and kindness, in a totally non-judgmental way. This is something that many of us struggle with, in a society where Kim Kardashian’s derriere makes the evening news and we are constantly bombarded with adverts and imagery telling us how to be thinner/taller/less wrinkled; being nonjudgmental of oneself is a refreshing, if not long overdue concept.

Being mindful is a way to cultivate a ‘less emotionally reactive awareness’ to thoughts and feelings, the inner self-talk many of us struggle with – or, as in my case, the constant chatter of a busy brain. Mastering mindfulness means learning to be aware of what’s happening without becoming overly preoccupied with any of it and the benefits have been well documented, backed up with scientific research following years of studies, mostly carried out in America.

Over in California many schools have embraced the mindfulness technique, with some very impressive outcomes.

Twice a week the children at an Oakland school have a mindfulness class – 15 minutes of calm each session, in what is otherwise a very busy schedule. The class begins with the sound of a Tibetan

Mindfulness can be practised from any age

Mindfulness has proven benefits for children too

singing bowl as the children close their eyes and focus on their breathing, guided to try and imagine ‘loving kindness’ in the playground. The results speak for themselves as teachers have reported an improvement in the behavior of many pupils, with less violent outbursts and an overall calmness for those that were struggling with anger issues.

So, what about here in the UK? Mindfulness classes are popping all everywhere and the NHS have even started to fund sessions for depression in some long-term sufferers, as an alternative to costly medicinal remedies and interventions that appear to be less than effective.

Military personnel, professional sportspeople and several prisons have already incorporated mindfulness in their regime so it may only be a matter of time before it makes its way into our classrooms, rather like yoga did a few years ago.

This can only be a good thing; the UK has seen a rise in the number of children being excluded from school due to behavioural and anger issues, anything that can address this at an early age and equip these children with the tools they need has to be a positive step, after all, prevention is always better than intervention, especially when it comes to kids behaviour.

Children that have received mindfulness training in America show greater compassion, more self-control and better behaviour overall so if we can help our children to slow down and take time to think, they can often discover that they actually have the answers within themselves. Parents and teachers tell children a hundred times a day to ‘pay attention’ – but are we expecting too much if we have never taught them the skills to be able to do this and spend most of our time over stimulated with no time to catch our breath?

Mindfulness education is like ‘talking yoga’, training for the brain and, while it shouldn’t be seen as a quick fix as it does take time to master, initial findings show that it can also help with other, more serious issues such as depression and self-harming behaviours like anorexia or bulimia.

Mindfulness is like talking yoga

Mindfulness is like yoga for the brain

Even the celebs have been getting involved in the mindfulness pandemic sweeping the nation, there’s an ‘all-party mindfulness group’ in Parliament which Ruby Wax helped launch and Madeleine Bunting from the Guardian newspaper has recently suggested it should be mandatory in all schools.

It may appear that mindfulness is a new thing but it was back in the 1980’s when the Dalai Lama first sparked a conversation about science and Buddhism that lead to the creation of The Mind and Soul
Institute, dedicated to studying contemplative science. In 2000 he launched a ‘new’ sub discipline of contemplative neuroscience called mindfulness, inviting scientists to study the brain activity of expert Buddhist meditators – defined as having more than 10,000 hours of practice. Now that is dedication.

These observations revealed that consistent mindfulness practice could actually cause physiological changes in the brain, even creating an increased volume of tissue in some areas and rewiring some brain circuits, producing positive effects on mind, brain and body. Ok, so it may take rather a lot of practice to achieve this level of enlightenment but it all sounds very positive – seems that science is finally confirming what the Buddhist monks have been trying to tell us for years.

If distraction is the pre-eminent condition of our digital age, then mindfulness is the most logical response and one of the major strengths lies in its universality – the ultimate goal is simply to give your attention fully to what you’re doing at any given moment.

There is no need for equipment or fancy work out gear, you just need to assume a comfortable position and relax, think Buddha, feel calm – and don’t forget to breathe.

Available to everyone regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs, culture or financial situation, mindfulness was previously unheard of by the west until fairly recently although its roots are firmly based on ancient Buddhist wisdom. Having said that, the practice is still as relevant today as it was back then, maybe more so, as we attempt to balance the daily demands modern day life presents us with.

One man who has realized the potential in disseminating mindfulness, and the ‘need’ for an app to facilitate it to the digital masses is Andy Puddicombe, inventor of the hugely successful Headspace.

 

Headspace has taken the world by storm

Headspace has taken the world by storm

The fortysomething former Buddhist monk from Bristol, who has a degree in circus arts, has, according to the New York Times, ‘done for mindfulness and meditation what Jamie Oliver has done for food’. This looks set to be an understatement as already, just 4 years after launching the digital health platform, he is worth around £25million with Headspace used by more than a million people in 150 countries.

The Headspace programme, dubbed ‘a gym for the brain’, offers guided meditation resources online which are also accessible through the downloadable app. The first ten days are free, after which users have the choice to either subscribe or continue with the free content, although to get the most from the app it needs to be followed daily, using the 365 sessions of audio content included in the subscription.

Techniques utilized by Headspace combine elements of both calming and insight meditation, to bring about ‘greater calm, clarity and improved feelings of wellbeing and happiness’. Sounds good, right?

Mindfulness is not about idealism or having the perfect life – it’s about embracing the life you have and living in the moment. Taking time out to think and reflect on a situation may even offer new ideas or ways of tackling issues that a busy brain wouldn’t have come up with. My own 8-year-old son summed up his thoughts on what mindfulness means to him with this awesome quote that I think we can all learn from: “ Mindfulness means not hitting the boy who annoys me every day in the mouth like I want to sometimes, it means thinking about why he is acting that way and then moving away

Disney may be on to something...

Disney may be on to something…

from him to take time out and calm down. I don’t get in trouble when I do it that way.”

I’m not suggesting for a minute that we are all fighting a constant urge to ‘smack a workmate’ but I

know there are times when I personally would have acted/reacted in a different way to a situation if I had just taken a minute to think and reflect on the outcome.

Back in the car with the rain still hammering and the kids now sulking I decide to take the advice

being offered by the oracle known as Disney and, as the song reaches its dramatic chorus, I take a deep breath, exhale and ‘Let It Go’ as I take a moment to be mindful…

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KATY B AND BECKY HILL RAISE THE ROOF @ THE ACADEMY

There’s countless ways to warm your cockles in Manchester on a cold Saturday night in October, my personal favourite would be a tough call between a spicy curry from Ziya in Rusholme or standing directly under the sub-woofer at the Academy while it pumps out a little drum and base.

Who better to push said woofers to the limits than dubstep princess Kathleen Brien, better known as Katy B?

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Got the ticket n t-shirt, all ready to go…

Relatively new on the scene, Becky Hill played as the support act – and what an act she gave, kicking off the night with some great new material from her upcoming debut album as well as the smash hit of the summer ‘Gecko’ with Overdrive.

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Becky Hill was sassy n pitch perfect

Pitch perfect vocals, sassy swagger and unfaltering cheekiness first seen during her stint on The Voice UK, Hill had the crowd jumping along to her impressive solo set.

And then came the headliner, the opening riff of ‘Hot Like Fire’ burst through the amps, sending the crowd soaring to their feet. A medley of recent hits and ‘5am’ made the atmosphere explode, setting the bar incredibly high for the rest of the evening

The crowd were enthralled as she belted out club classic ‘Easy Please Me’, showcasing her vocal talents further before bringing it down for the ever popular ‘Crying For No Reason’ followed by a heart-rending and emotive performance of ‘Everything’, which she dedicated to her older brother Andrew, who sadly passed away in September following a tragic accident.

The Academy took on a night club vibe

The Academy took on a night club vibe

 

The pace soon picked up again and by the time the backbeats of ‘Aaliyah’ were rolling, the Academy was in full swing once again. A kaleidoscope of Lasers and strobe effects gave a real nightclub feel whilst the crowd danced along to ‘Easy Please Me’, showing their obvious delight as she mixed it with Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo-Wop (that thing)’.

Katy was supported throughout the gig by a group of 4 backing dancers who, to be fair, deserve a mention of their own. Beautiful and perfectly in step with the star, they helped take the show up to another level, giving an almost arena like feel to what was really quite a small venue. Along with the stunning lights and laser action it was a feast for the senses that had the crowd mesmerized from the outset.

The stand-out track of the night, and possibly Katy’s best track to date, was ‘Still”- taken from her latest album she belted it out in fabulous style, managing to sound fantastic while busting some moves that Britney could only dream of. Amazing.

There is definitely something endearing, almost wholesome about Katy, a bit like a Blue Peter presenter crossed with a modern day Judy Garland, with her infectious smile and bouncing auburn curls – although I doubt Ms. Garland ever had backing dancers and breaking beats like this songstress.

Endearing and sweet yet with powerful vocals

Endearing and sweet yet with powerful vocals

Growing up in Peckham, Katy attended the BRIT school and has been singing since the age of thirteen, her first audiences being classmates that were wowed by her musical abilities and talent back then.

Emerging from the underground, growing in confidence and talent, Katy exploded onto the dubstep scene; and could often be found increasing her fan base on the nightclub circuit in London as she worked on several collaborations, guesting on numerous well-known tracks. ‘Tell Me’ is perhaps one of her best known hits from this time – DJ NG’s song with Katy’s unique vocal twist makes it still as much of a floor filler today as it was back then.

The crowd were jumping

The crowd were jumping

Inevitably, as all good things must, the show began to wind down as Katy finished her set with the song that saw her rise to fame, ‘On A Mission’, much to the delight of the now sweaty looking crowd.

Thanking everyone for coming, Katy was met with yet more cheers before she briefly left the stage, returning for a 3-song encore starting with ‘Emotions’ before moving onto ‘Perfect Stranger’ and ending on the absolute classic ‘Lights On’.

There was not one person in the venue standing still by this point and everyone was singing along and throwing their best moves on fellow Katy B fans as the show came to a close.

It was a pleasure to see two young ladies doing what they love, and doing it incredibly well. The performance from both was brilliant; full of energy and incredibly uplifting, taking over the charts and the ears of the British public one track at a time, both have increasingly bright futures.

Expect to see more from Miss Hill...

Expect to see more from Miss Hill…

Expect to see much more of Katy B in the future, judging by her performance at the Academy she is a force to be reckoned with, and despite the timely gap between her first two albums – Katy B’s mission has only just begun. Leading into her third album, she has the lungs to put the wind up chart heavyweights Rihanna, Beyonce and Jessie J.

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…and of course, Katy herself 🙂

 

 

 

Who gets to play Santa now we’re divorced?

A look at a report recently published, titled ‘Children, divorce and separation in the festive season’ – How the UK’s divorced and separated parents deal with the practical and emotional demands of Christmas.

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Christmas can be a challenging time for parents, even if they are blessed with a stable family and strong support network, the stress of the festive season putting added pressure on our time, wallets and emotions.

When families breakdown, the challenges are often more daunting and for parents who find themselves estranged from one another, the festive season often serves to bring many of the more difficult scenarios home to roost.

Questions about who gets to spend time with the children tend to rise to the surface again as both sides of the family seek to impose their own wishes. Meanwhile, both parents will always argue that their actions are ‘in the best interests of the children.’

A report was commissioned by Simpson Millar solicitors with these dynamics in mind – they surveyed 1000 divorced and separated parents across the UK during December 2014, to find out their thoughts and feelings as Christmas approaches.

Asking questions such as ‘how do you divide your children’s time at Christmas?’ and ‘Do your children get two Christmases, one with each parent?’ the results are rather revealing.

The report revealed that Christmas arrangements can be difficult and are often a source of added stress. Parents are always trying their best to make sure that the children have as enjoyable and fulfilling a time at Christmas as possible, while trying to ensure that that their own needs to be parents and desire to spend time with their children is satisfied.

The survey reveals a number of fascinating trends about divorced and separated parents around the country.

Almost a quarter of divorced parents spend Christmas Day together

Almost a quarter of divorced parents spend Christmas Day together

It may surprise you to learn that the UK’s mums and dads are a mostly forgiving bunch, almost a quarter (23%) of divorced and separated parents actually spend their Christmas Day together as a family.

The most common approach to Christmas for divorced and separated parents is to take it in turns every year, with 27% saying they alternate who has the children with their ex. East Midlanders were the most likely to do this, with 35% of people in that region taking the kids for Christmas from year to year, as opposed to just 23% of Yorkshire parents.

The first Christmas apart….

For every divorced or separated couple with children the first Christmas apart is possibly going to be one of the most challenging. Loneliness, jealousy over new partners or step siblings involved with your children can cause considerable anxiety, as the report  confirmed.

Asking parents what the most challenging moments during that first year were, the overwhelming response nationwide was ‘remaining on speaking terms’.

41% of divorced and separated parents found it difficult to remain on speaking terms at all and were unable to make any arrangements at all.

The influence of new partners or step children can be very hard to cope with, but some parents are more worried about adult influences, 14% of parents said they were ‘concerned about the presence or influence of a new partner’.

Planning ahead…

At what time of year do parents make Christmas arrangements?

At what time of year do parents make Christmas arrangements?

Most divorced and separated parents make arrangements ‘in good time’ for Christmas, but 24%

described their approach as ‘cutting it fine’ and waited until December to make plans. A small number of parents (4%) said they left planning until the week before Christmas while East Anglian parents were the most organised with 60% making arrangements between September and November.

Really Doing it for the kids?

In a classic pollster’s trick, to ask the same question in two different ways, the survey managed to find out a little more about how divorced and separated parents  actually involve their children in the decision making process.Variables including the age of the children were considered and the results are quite revealing.

The majority of parents tended not to ask their children where they want to spend Christmas with, with only 13% saying they did. However, when asked a similar question worded differently – ‘what

important factors when dividing time spent

important factors when dividing time spent with the children

factors do you consider to be the most important when dividing time spent with your children at Christmas?’ a massive 66% of parents claimed that ‘their children’s opinions’ were significant.

Common causes of arguments

The most common thing divorced and separated parents said they argue about at Christmas is the problem of their ex ‘spoiling’ the children. 37% of of mums and dads across the UK said this was the likeliest source of tension and over in Northern Ireland it was an issue for 67%.

As to be expected,  there were several other potential flash points.

Spoiling is a major concern for parents in Northern Ireland, with 67% saying this was a common cause of arguments with their ex partner.

Most common cause of arguments

Most common cause of arguments

Another common cause of arguments (30%)  concerned the presence of a new step-family, 37% of Londoners said they were anxious

about this, but only 17% of people in Wales said the same.

‘Badmouthing the other parent’ was responsible for arguments between 20% of ex couples, a surprisingly low number.

So what next?

Christmas can be a tough time for families after separation – even those parenting together following a less acrimonious separation or divorce or who may have been apart for several years can find it difficult. Much of the problem is the unrealistic expectation society places on Christmas being perfect. Combine this with money worries, logistics of you both wanting Christmas with your kids and the feelings of guilt and loneliness that can be overwhelming and no wonder it can all get a bit much.

Getting through Christmas is an important part of the journey that you and your children have to go through . Even though it can be challenging for all involved there are some things you can do to make it a little easier.

Planning and flexibility 

Don’t pretend it can be the same as when you were together – Allow yourself to feel your emotions.
It’s important to put on a brave face for the children, but try and give yourself a bit of time alone to help deal with your feelings and don’t feel guilty about doing so.

Talk about your feelings as a family and maybe share ideas for a ‘different’ type of Christmas; sometime sharing your thoughts will help you feel closer.

Trying to be 'Super Parent' is exhausting

Trying to be ‘Super Parent’ is exhausting

Don’t try and be super mum or super dad attempting to fix everything. It’s exhausting and pressured for everyone. It is much better all round to stagger the Christmas celebrations so that the children can spend relaxed time with both of you.

It’s only natural to feel especially protective of your children at Christmas, maybe even a little defensive but don’t let feeling guilty mean you give into pester power from the little ones or teenagers pressuring you to spend what you can’t afford.

It’s easy to do this, especially if the kids aren’t living with you. Try and make time for cheap or free ‘treats’ that everyone can look forward to……kids often know that money doesn’t buy love better than their parents do.

That brings me to the old but true cliche – money really can’t buy you love – we know it, but there’s a strong link, especially for mums, between spending money and expressing love so it’s easy to overspend. Thing is most people care more about the thought that went into presents, rather than how much they cost so try and keep that in mind.

What kids’ value the most is relaxed time with their parent/s more than expensive material things

Spend some chilled time with the kids this Christmas

Spend some chilled time with the kids this Christmas

. Overspending  just sets up more problems afterwards which, in the long run, will make things worse for everyone. The more stressed you are about money the less able you will be to focus on your kid’s needs – so leave the credit card at home if you feel tempted to overspend.

Try to set a budget and then stick to it – shopping early and taking practical steps to avoid overspending is crucial.

Talk to the children and your ex about arrangements well in advance – realistic expectations can prevent disappointment for everyone.

Get your family on side and to recognise that doing things a little differently could help everyone deal with loss, divorce, or new family arrangements.

Try not to be too controlling or take things personally. For example, if your ex-partner says they can only see their child for a certain amount of time that doesn’t mean they don’t care. Instead of getting angry, organise things differently next Christmas

Possibly the most important thing to keep in mind at Christmas is that not the time to sort out problems and gripes. Christmas is stressful enough as it is. If possible, wait until things have settled down in the New Year.

Last but not least remember not to be be too hard on yourself – talk to friends about your feelings and allow yourself to work through them at your own pace. It’s normal to find Christmas difficult at the best of times so cut yourself some slack and have some fun 🙂

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The best sex toys to spice up christmas

For ladies and gentlemen finding themselves on Magic Moments’ naughty list this year, it’s time for some serious punishment with a little help from the sex toy gods.

Feeling fruity this festive season?

Feeling fruity this festive season?

Too much roast turkey, bucks fizz and nibbles, there’s so much about this time of year that just screams indulgence, and why shouldn’t it?

As the season to be jolly gets well in the swing, why not delve into an altogether different type of pleasure, when the Christmas lights go out and you find a little ‘alone time’ with your partner, among the busy party schedule?

With the help of the UK’s longest serving sex toy shopping site, Magic Moments, we have put together a tasty selection of Christmas goodies of a naughty kind, that you won’t want to open in front of granny…

Needing no introduction, other than an orgasmic wow, it’s the Intimate Labia Spreader, one of Magic Moment’s most popular couples toys of the year, packing one hell of a punch for a reactively small toy. The Intimate Parts Spreader is a ridged curve that is inserted prior to intercourse, providing mindblowing stimulation to both the G-Spot and penis.

Stylish and incredibly effective, this toy promises to be the perfect sexy stocking filler for you both to enjoy.

Next, find yourself caught in a love affair of a different kind with the Anal Fever Vibrating Love Beads. Add a little spice to Christmas night fun, as lovers of anal play all over the UK are able to snap up this powerful, visually enticing and incredibly arousing love toy online.

Enjoyed by both, you can look forward to a very naughty new year with one of Magic Moments best anal toys.

Take some time for yourself in between the festivities

Take some time for yourself in between the festivities

A remote control vibrator can prove to be the perfect recipe for a good time at this time of year. Ladies, submit to the mercy of your partner in any social environment and prepare for the unpredictable excitement this sex toy provides. Christmas office party, an evening out for cocktails or even a cosy night in with your lover, all are perfect settings for some seriously naughty fun. But shhh – keep it your little secret 😉

Single and happy this December? There are still plenty of solo sex toys out there that guarantee a good time between the sheets. From vibrators and dildo’s for the ladies, to male masturbators and realistic toys for the gents, a more pleasurable and satisfying festive period is just around the corner.

You can find all the toys listed here and much more on the Magic Moments website or call 07809 258127 for more details 🙂

Looking for something a little different this year?

Looking for something a little different this year?

 

Mystery window cleaner rescues elderly Timperley lady from house fire

THE actions of a quick-thinking window cleaner and a working smoke alarm have saved the life of an elderly lady after a fire broke out in her flat on Park Road, Timperley.
Fifteen firefighters and three fire engines from Stretford, Sale and Wythenshawe stations received a call from a window cleaner who happened to see smoke and flames through the window and called 999 early on Tuesday morning.

Image taken by Ben Levy at the scene. (via Twitter)

Image taken by Ben Levy at the scene. (via Twitter)

Cover jets were used inside and outside the property to bring the fire, which had started in the bedroom of the ground floor flat at Mayfair Court, under control.

The occupant, a 94-year-old lady, had managed to escape the smoke and flames because she had a working smoke alarm, which woke her up before the fire service arrived.

A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: “The fire had started in the bedroom. It has left quite bad fire damage and the rest of the property is smoke damaged.

“A window cleaner happened to see smoke and flames through the window and called 999.
“While he was on the phone, the smoke alarm triggered and the woman managed to get out of the flat herself.

“She had a lucky escape.”

The woman was treated for minor smoke inhalation and did not require hospital treatment.
The cause of the fire is still unknown at this stage.

The fire service has put her survival down to a working smoke alarm and the quick-thinking actions of the mystery window cleaner, who they have been unable to trace.

Residents can get a free home safety check and smoke alarms for their property by visiting manchesterfire.gov.uk

Are you the mystery window cleaner, or do you know their identity? Get in touch on Twitter @Taaliah76

Is the government housing scheme all it seems?

A new scheme offering 100,000 first time buyers in the UK new homes with a 20% discount has been announced by the Prime Minister as part of a drive to ‘help people onto the housing market’

Starter home initiative will be rolled out early next year

Starter home initiative will be rolled out early next year

 

Aspiring homeowners will be asked to register their interest in buying via the Starter Home Initiative from the start of next year, an initiative that has been developed to help what some have dubbed ‘Britain’s housing crisis’.

A large part of the project involves a change to the planning system, ‘freeing under used or unviable brownfield land from planning costs and levies in return for a below market value sale price on the homes built on the site’.

Under section 106 developers are obliged to pay money towards ensuring adequate infrastructure for the community. No S106 liabilities means no responsibility to ensure this happens, the land could be bought and developed without suitable access to transport, education, open spaces and libraries that the payments are intended to fund.

David Cameron rolled out the same rhetoric we have come to expect, saying: “Hardworking young people want to plan for the future and enjoy the security of being able to own their own home’, appearing to overlook the 85,000 homeless people on social housing waiting lists in Manchester alone. There may be a need for ‘affordable starter homes’ but the need for affordable social housing is far more pressing.

The reality is that this scheme is not going to increase housing availability, nor improve affordability. Similar schemes in the past have done little more than transfer lots of taxpayer cash into developers’ pockets without really increasing output or decreasing the costs charged for housing. There is no long-term benefit or gain for society from this scheme, unlike real investment in social housing that sees new homes built, rented at rates people can afford and let to families on a perpetual basis.

Is this really nothing more than Cameron’s idea of trying to ‘buy’ election votes?

Cameron offers the same old rhetoric….

When Thatcher sold off council houses in her own bid to do the same it led to the largest shortage of social housing ever, with thousands of homeless paying the price.

The government’s denial of the role of social housing in ensuring our economic needs to be met is both short sighted and self-defeating. The current housing policies are not sustainable, as was shown by the role it played in the economic crash five years ago.

It could be an attempt by the government to delay the UK housing market from collapse. The UK is the highest indebted EU country with an ageing, pension-less population and the younger generation strapped up with increasing student debt, estimated at £44,000 each from 2015. This latest “Starter Home Scheme’ is very similar to other shared ownership schemes – we’ve had ‘buy to rent’, ‘help to buy’, ‘rent to buy’ and now ‘buy for votes’ – short term and perhaps locally they seem like a good idea but from a long term macro economic perspective the raw perspective the raw price goes up to compensate.

We do need an increase in housing stock but I’m not sure this scheme will give us that. If it were really about lowering prices then surely an idea would be to bring down all housing costs by 20%. We don’t need discounted houses, or ‘affordable builds’ – just simply more homes.

We need more affordable housing for all

We need more affordable housing for all

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