Thursday, 31 March 2011

Small Businesses and Hand Made Goods

In recent years there has been a boom in the craft industry, with more people than ever jumping on the bandwagon to sell their homemade goods such as jewellery, cushions, clothes, toys, you name it.

You can buy so many of their crafts online now that shopping for one off, hand made items has never been so easy.

The market is bursting at the seams with new products, as long as you know where to find them.

The Internet offers so many craftsmen and women to sell their wares, so we thought we would fish out some gift ideas for her, or for you.

The Spotty Dog Shop

This has the cutest jewellery and is perfect for when you want to find a loved one a beautiful gift. The ‘party’ charm bracelet to the left is adorable, and so colourful that it can be worn with anything. The prices are relatively cheap compared with big brands such as Topshop and Accessorize.

Munch Cushions.

Authentic Harris Tweed cushions come in adorable designs. This cushion maker wants to make tweed a fashionable fabric again by using the material in bright hues like oranges, pinks, reds and yellows. There are a number of designs, including striped, checked and characters like ‘Oscar Owl the Outlaw’. For the children All the designs are hand made to order and range from £25 to £30.

Gilly’s Handmade Cards

A selection of adorable and wonderful looking cards, they wouldn’t look out of place in your local Paperchase. The shop includes everything from wedding invitations to get well soon cards. Collections include; Rocks, Pebbles and Beans. These particular cards have amusing phrases and collages that make scenes to go with them. Such phrases include; “I’m Nuts About You’ and ‘Just Bean Married’. All the designs are hand made and inexpensive, with most being under £4.00.


A collection of handbags made from vintage and retro fabrics. Prints range from the downright garish to simple pastel florals, but all are well made and look lovely. All the bags are one of a kind due to being made form the vintage fabrics, and are also hand made. Some have bows while others have buttons; each one is never the same. These are unique and stylish, and even though they are made from the old, they are very modern and perfect for the style conscious among us.
Prices vary, but are between £20 - £50.

The Soapy Cauldron.

These handmade wonders certainly put Lush into shame. They have a huge range of beautiful smelling bath items, including bath bombs, moisturisers, pumices, body scrubs, bath salts, baby products, the list goes on. We particularly like the gifts section, where you can find some great deals, as well as the pretty soap cakes. The prices are cheap and they include various oils and scents to make your bath time as relaxing as possible.

Helen Steel Designs.

Helen Steel is a textile designer who makes cushions, tea towels, brooches, cushion covers, purses and lavender sachets in cute designs. We particularly like the lavender birds as they not only smell nice, but they look good too. Any of these products would be a perfect present for your mother, grandmother, or even your sister.

There are many online shops and societies that showcase hand made goods from small businesses. Supporting them will boost our economy and ensure that more people get interested in crafting their own goods. Small businesses are becoming more common now, but they need to stay afloat. They provide us with an alternative to the money-sucking high street chains like Primark and Debenhams and allow people to work from home, doing what they love.

To find more hand made goods, go to:

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Some Spring happiness...

Since blogging about springtime being wonderful and so on, I have been taking pictures at every opportunity. I mainly take images of flowers, but recently I have also been taking landscape shots. Do let me know what you think :)

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Madness of Spending Cuts

( This is a feature that I did for You Magazine for one of my assessments. It got a first.)

All over the world, Dementia sufferer numbers are rising at a worryingly fast rate. Kyra O’Reilly investigates how this could affect the NHS and the public’s future.

An elderly woman sits in a chair in the corner of a ward, playing with the hem of her paisley skirt. She looks around, but doesn’t see the reality. She thinks she’s in another time, long ago, folding up the washing at home.

She doesn’t realise she’s seeing her grandchildren when they visit, and sometimes she hardly recognises her own daughter. One day, and it may be quite soon, she will not remember her husband, who she has been with for 45 years. After that, even her own face could scare her.

Six years ago, this woman was the picture of health. She was full of fun and laughter. Her memories were vivid and she was life and soul of family gatherings. Now, she is confused, scared and feeling alone. In her moments of ‘sanity’, she can get violent because she doesn’t know where she is and why she is there. Other times, she rocks back and forth, imitating the rocking chair she used to have.

The chances of you knowing someone with dementia are very high currently, and it could be higher still in the future. Dementia is a psychiatric syndrome that causes severe memory loss, as well as causing a decline in normal brain functions like language, judgement and understanding. Experts fear that the NHS and care homes alike will not be able to cope with the rising number of cases.

Richard Sharples, a specialist doctor for elderly mental health, said: ‘[Although] real progress has been made in making medical professionals aware of the need for the early detection of older person’s dementia and significant progress has been made recently in allowing psychiatrists to prescribe anti dementia drugs in the early phase of the illness, psychiatrists are under pressure from primary healthcare trusts, not to do scans and to cut down on prescribing anti dementia drugs.” This is simply because scans and drugs cost too much currently to take care of the number of dementia patients.

The most common form of Dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which 62% of dementia sufferers have. However, there are several other kinds, including vascular dementia, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

According to a recent report from Dementia UK, there are currently 750,000 people in the UK with dementia, two thirds of which are women. It has been estimated that by 2021, that number will increase to 940,000, and by 2051, that number will have risen to a staggering 1.7 million.
With these figures, the question is; how will this affect the healthcare system?

Currently, there are many jobs at risk in the NHS, including doctors and nurses. With the NHS in danger of being the next to face monumental spending cuts, this number of frontline staff could drop perilously low. The NHS has taken a hit this year already, with staff having a pay freeze and wards closing in several areas.

Mary*, a senior staff nurse who wishes not to be named, said: “The pay freeze is the government yet again kicking us nurses [when we’re down]. We always take a low [pay] raise anyway and they feel they are safe to do this as nurses very rarely strike- we are humane. I believe the NHS services will continue to go downhill. Targets will not be met by [tired] staff and places will continue to close.

“I have been a nurse for 33 years and it has never been such a stressful job as it is now. There was nowhere near as much time spent in the office. There were not so many rules, regulations and targets to meet.”

“There are too many extra jobs that [nurses] are expected to carry out on a daily basis for running of the ward. And [we have] to meet expectations of hospital trust and statistics.” Said the 49 year-old,”Far too much time goes on paperwork/computer work and not enough on quality patient time. This all has a knock on effect.”

The fact that there is not enough staff in the wards and nursing homes is one that urgently needs to be addressed, as dementia can be dangerous in certain circumstances. For example, if a sufferer spills a drink and then forgets it, they could slip over and injure themselves. The staff that take care of them should be able to notice and clean it up before this happens, however, if there are too few staff, something this simple can easily be missed.
Another dangerous situation could be if a patient is confused and lashes out at a member of staff. Mary has had some of her patients bite her, tear her hair out, nearly break her arm and try to strangle her. If there are too few members of staff, or many of them are on ‘one to ones’ (which is where the patient has to be watched all the time in case of a suicide attempt), then a staff member could be in danger of their own patients.

According to Mary, despite being elderly, scared patients can muster a lot of strength. “[The staffing conditions in my ward are] appallingly low to dangerous at times. There have been a number of occasions recently; if it had not been for the expertise of the nurses, serious injuries could have occurred,” said Mary.

It seems that the main issue fuelling the staff situation is the amount of funding the NHS gets. Without the right funding, and a larger amount of staff, the NHS will fail to properly take care of its patients. And since this number is set to rise astronomically, this could be endangering many people who should be getting the help they need.

Richard Sharples said: “There is an urgent need for better care of patients who are in hospitals. But we need to understand care pathways, multi disciplinary care planning. There needs to be urgent thinking and research into better ways of providing social care.

“For example, there could be more 24 hour care at home or people caring for patients in private homes as a retirement job. Purpose built villages with facilities that care for patients throughout the course of the illness and improved provision of care for patients with challenging behaviours would all be much better than the current care we are giving them.”

But this takes money, and it may be that it is not just tax payers’ money that this may end up coming from. The relatives of dementia patients already have a lot to think about, but it may fall on their shoulders to also take care of them if there is still not enough staff.

“Spouses [and other family members] are finding it more and more difficult and impossible to get any assistance without paying for it. Or worse, if the person with mental health problems becomes acutely unwell and has to go to hospital,” said Mary.

Jessica is a 20 year-old accountant from Hampshire, whose grandmother was diagnosed with dementia and is now in a care home. She found this out when she was quite young, and therefore did not fully understand what was happening.

She explains her experiences: “I don’t really get to see her, but when I do she often isn't sure who I am, but then after a few regular visits she remembers me. She knows who my mum and aunty are ‘cause she sees them the most.

“Because it gets worse gradually you hardly notice it, and it’s when you haven’t seen her for a while that you realise how bad it is. But you just try not to let it get to you because you could become quite upset.”

Alison, 56 is Jessica’s mother, who has strong views on the way that people with dementia should be treated: “I think there needs to be more appropriate care homes, with people correctly trained for dementia and not just for old age. There aren’t enough carers in the homes that know what to do with dementia sufferers to help them.”

Mary and Richard both agree that there are problems with the way that care homes are run. Mary said that there are very few homes for elderly and mentally ill and fewer still if they have specific problems like aggression. This is because they will not be accepted in most homes.

It is also increasingly difficult to get funding for these people. If they have no money it has to be decided by a panel if they meet the criteria for continuing healthcare. If they say no, the relatives are basically out of options.

The NHS could be in danger of not taking care of a number of patients properly, and it seems that they need to make changes quickly, not to mention get the funding to make these changes.
Mary had many ideas on how NHS care could be improved. She said: “With Dementia care in particular I would set up homes that really do care and treat people as if it was their home.”

She talked about a recent documentary that showed such a home, where the staff did everything with the dementia sufferers, to their pace and abilities, they would do in a normal home. For example, they would help them do the washing, cooking and cleaning. The staff loved their jobs, so they didn’t leave and had great morale. It really showed in the faces of the people they were caring for. However, there was a waiting list to get in.

“I believe all homes should be like this in the future. With the more difficult to place person a more specialist unit should be available with specialist staff who could rotate their posts if they wished. Also, I feel more money could go into dementia research and see if we can detect early and find earlier treatments that are effective,” Mary said.

The NHS is in real need of funding as medical care as it is being spread ever more thinly. It seems that it is up to the public need to get involved in order to make sure that their care is in safe hands.

Richard Sharples said that “most care homes are now being run by large private firms for profit this trend needs to be reversed and more care homes should be publicly funded.” He said that public funding is the way forward because the training of staff in care homes is known to be poor and that care is worse in private homes.

He goes on to say: “[Private homes] also use more bank staff, which is bad for patients and staff as there is no job security, low pay, bad hours, no pension plan or sick pay provision. Private homes are not accountable to the public regulations for older person’s standards. Private firms place an emphasis on improving familiar by making homes look like hotels to gain custom in direct contradiction of proven research about how to provide a purpose built homely home.”

In the future, we may see the decline of dementia wards and care homes, with relatives replacing the carers who were properly trained to understand and help dementia patients because the number of staff to patients is too low. We may also see the decline of dementia healthcare in the NHS simply because there is not enough nursing staff or people willing to study for these positions.

A general climate of fear about possible impending cuts to staff numbers is bad for the team morale, so managers need to improve communication with staff and how they manage change. The NHS also needs to take charge in this issue, to let the public know how this is likely to affect them if it does happen.
Richard Sharples said: “There is a trend to separating ward and community teams. Some examples are; by closing local wards, by appointing a single consultant and by placing patients out of area because local ward is full. This could lower the quality of care for patients and the quality of support for carers. This entire issue needs to be well known to the public so there is hope for future dementia sufferers.”

With the right funding, and the right decisions being made by the government and the NHS, there may be hope for people like the confused and lonely woman in the corner of her ward, and for their families, who they may be able recognise for that little bit longer.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Film Review for a Niche Title - Black Swan

Black Swan is a film like no other. Set in the all too real world of ballet, Nina (Natalie Portman), a shy young perfectionist, replaces Beth in the role of both the White Swan and the Black Swan in a new adaptation of Swan Lake. As she works hard to portray the Black Swan, strange things begin to happen to her. 

Nominated for 5 Oscars, the film has something for everyone: suspense, drama, intrigue and a spattering of horror. This fairly short film is well paced so that no moment is wasted. The dance aspect is beautiful, though due to the intrusively close-up hand held shots, you do not often see this.  

Black Swan is visually stunning; with remarkable special effects that are so real you recoil with the memory. Mirrors play a large part in the film, and the way in which they are used is very clever, albeit rather overdone. The monochrome set and dress for the entire film gives it a dreamlike sense to begin with, which only intensifies as you watch. 

It is also controversial, with the oppressive relationship between the worried mother and the rebelling daughter turning cruel when Nina slams her door purposefully on her mother’s fingers. The sex scenes are sometimes disturbing and uncomfortable; the film shows the ballet director seducing Nina at one point. In fact, the story is based rather a lot on Nina’s virginal state. Another scene shows female masturbation whilst yet another is a lesbian sex scene, both involving the main character. 

Director Darren Aronofsky does a brilliant job of blending high culture with the surreal and horrific. Although the film is very different to many others, we can draw parallels between Black Swan and his other films. The paranoid quality of both Requiem for a Dream and Pi can clearly be seen here. The Wrestler is very much like Black Swan, due to the main character showing devotion and obsession in their profession. The characters both push their bodies to the limit in order to be the best.

If put into a category, Black Swan is first and foremost a psychological thriller, though many would argue that it is in fact a horror. By the end of the film, you are certain that the main character must be insane. But even then it is unclear what she hallucinates and what she does not. She seems to imagine a double of herself that haunts her throughout, making her feel vulnerable and scared. Her constant practising cripples her physically and mentally. Her hunt for perfection by the exploration of her dark side slowly drives her insane.

It is vague as to what is actually happening to Nina until the finale, where she hallucinates that she sprouts black swan wings. We clearly see that the audience cannot see the wings that she believes she has. The plot of Swan Lake is then cleverly intertwined into the poignant ending that almost brings a tear to your eye.
The film is relatable for many people who compete in dance, and yet at points it is overtly sexual and quite grotesque due to the body horror that is used. The film is not one for the squeamish, as there are scenes that would make anyone’s stomach turn as well as horror-like sequences. The most disturbing scenes are ones where she hallucinates bizarre things happening to her: she peels back the skin on her finger, her legs seemingly break to look like swan legs and she violently murders her colleague.

Natalie Portman is clearly the best actor in this film. She is perfectly cast as the protagonist, and portrays the transition from the white swan’s innocence to the black swan’s sexuality very well. She can do no wrong in the scenes where she hallucinates scary, violent and sexual encounters and appears incredibly na├»ve when she depicts the sweet and innocent girl at the beginning of the film. Her captivating performance means that we travel through the story with her. Her emotions are ours and she displays them without making her insanity too obvious.

On the whole, Black Swan has the mark of something special. It cannot be suitably labelled or easily forgotten. It is a compelling and dark story of perfection, sexual repression and mental illness.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

DIY - The Lazy Man's Way

In every man’s life, there are a few things that they are depended on to do. Bring home the bacon, remove spiders from baths and are just a few examples. DIY is one of these all important things men are meant to be good at. And if you’re not handy with a hammer, you may feel that little bit less of a man. So, for those of you who aren’t so great with a drill, and would rather sit down with a cold beer and the football, here’s your go-to guide for taxing tasks.

Putting up a Shelf.

The main problem you face when putting up a shelf is getting it in the right position. So, instead of doing it yourself, get whoever is making you do DIY to help you. After all, they know where they want it and they have a great view. One really useful tool for this task is a level, so the shelf isn’t askew. Floating shelves seem like the simplest to put up, and they look pretty good too, so everyone is happy. For best results, get your resident helper to read the instructions and relay you the basics. This will take less time and cause fewer arguments.

Useful tools include: Hammer/drill, screwdriver, spirit level, pencil (for those all important nail marks)

Changing lightbulbs

This is a pretty simple undertaking, and we’re sure that most of you are capable of doing this. But, for those of you who are more than a little accident prone, there are a few golden rules to light-bulb changing:
Use a step-ladder. Using the right equipment means that you won’t be falling off a chair and hurting yourself. Breaking bones should not be in the job description.

Get someone to help. Why? I hear your incredulously cry. Because that way, you don’t need to worry about taking the light-bulbs up there with you. No light-bulb confusion saves time and energy, which means more football for you. Win.

Make sure you’ve got the right light-bulb before you do anything. Again, this saves precious minutes that can be spent doing lazier things. Your other half/ mum/ home owner will love you more when the light-bulb you choose doesn’t cause unsightly bulb overhang.

Painting and Decorating

We think this a pretty difficult skill to master. In fact, it’s more of a woman thing to do. However, if you’ve been roped in to doing this mission of a chore, then we have some pretty good pointers for you.

The single most important thing you could ever do when you try painting and decorating, is putting a dust sheet over the floor, the furniture, everything. If you’re undertaking a makeover of epic proportions, we propose you clear out all the furniture completely so it leaves you with a little more working space.

The next preparation is chiefly to do with the miracle device known as masking tape. Put it along the edges of your coving, door handles, light switches and then you don’t have to worry about ‘cutting in’ (painting that straight line at the edge of your coving etc by hand).

Of course, you should always remember to read the instructions for wallpapering, as it can be mighty difficult to do when you have no clue.

We hope you gain something from this handy DIY guide, but if you didn’t really get it, there are some websites that may help you out too:

This article was written for a men's magazine as part of my Magazine Journalism course, I hope you all liked it and will give me some advice/ criticism/ praise in your comments. Thank you.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Travel Writing Piece - Magazine Journalism

Dear Reader,

Charles Bridge
The Czech Republic is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It is a glorious country, best known for its mountainous and forested landscape that is both wild and tranquil in equal measure. It is a place that yearns to be discovered and appreciated.

Prague, or ‘Praha’, as the locals call it, is a bustling city, full of beautiful buildings in a host of styles. From gothic exteriors to enormous murals, there is much that should not be missed. The city seems steeped in history, with a plentiful supply of statues and buildings.

Prague seems to welcome its tourists, as it is packed with shops selling T-Shirts, Russian dolls (some even painted as English football teams) and many other country-related products. Taxis and horse drawn carts were seen everywhere. And on the famous Charles Bridge, otherwise known as Stone Bridge, there are caricature artists, musicians, souvenir sellers, jewellery sellers and other interesting artworks of Prague.

Glassware seems to be a speciality in the Czech Republic, as many of the shops were selling vases, chandeliers and decorations as well as trinkets like miniature flagons and ornate perfume bottles. Of all these souvenirs, my favourites were the tiny glass flowers, intricately wired together and settled in their own equally minuscule vases.

Among the many places to see in Prague, there are a few that really caught my eye: The Charles Bridge (mentioned earlier), Prague Castle, Old Town Square, with its Astronomical Clock

There are many things to see and do in the Czech Republic, from visiting a number of baroque buildings and statues to going climbing in the hills and forests. However, if you really want to go exploring in the great outdoors, then the Tisa rocks are definitely worth a visit. Situated in the Usti nad Labem Region, the sandstone rocks have been eroded away to form strange and interesting shapes. Several of the rocks can be climbed on, and if you look hard enough, you can often find hiding places or carved out tunnels to climb through.

This is a serene and beautiful place to explore on a bright and sunny summers day. Comfortable shoes with a good grip are a must, as well as a good level of fitness. Nearing the end of the trail, you will also find a small restaurant that is sure to appease your appetite.

I stayed in the town of Usti nad Labem, which is only an hours drive from Prague. The area is simply stunning, with forests, a river and a lake nearby. It is prefect for the adventurous type as there are lots of places to go hiking. As well as climbing to the small waterfall and the viewing platform in the forest, you can also visit the castle, or go shopping in the town.

There are also plenty of places to eat in the town, from Italian restaurants to takeaways. Meat, I found, was the food of choice in the Czech Republic, and sausages were at the forefront. My favourite food was somewhat like a hot dog; only instead of a sausage was a giant slab of sausage meat.

Usti Nad Labem
The language, if you have never been there before, is fairly difficult to get used to. However, there are plenty of people who understand English there, especially in Prague. When buying food, I found it easier to guess at the meaning by looking at the drawings on the packaging. Child-like, I know, but it worked very well. Of course, you can always buy a phrase book if you get stuck.

And one more helpful hint to aid you in your adventure into Czech: When you travel there, I suggest you take an aeroplane. Sitting in a car for 14 hours, trying not to get lost in four different countries is never a good start to a holiday. Instead, make your journey shorter, more relaxing and more enjoyable by buying yourself that plane ticket.

I hope you enjoy the Czech Republic and all its natural beauty as much as I did.

Wish you were there.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Feeling happy

It's that time of the year again. The first glimpse of what might come in the months to follow. For a few days, we people of Britain have seen the light. Or rather, we've seen the sun. Yes, there may still be a chill in the air, but I for one, am determined to wear summery clothes to go with that warm sunshine that is currently streaming through my window.

I love this time of year. It makes me go all gooey. Winter becomes officially over when the daffodils and crocuses come out. And they have. On my walk from uni today I deliberately went through as much park as I possibly could, just to look at all the flowers. I found some trees that were starting to grow blossoms. And I bet somewhere there's already a tiny lamb on a farm, bleating amicably at its mother.

So for a moment, I would just like to remind everyone to stop and take a look around at the beauty around you. Appreciate the vibrant colours of the crocuses, the many variations of daffodil. Try to find a tree that has started to bud. Nature is a wonderful thing, I wouldn't want anyone to miss it.

Here's some pictures to brighten up your day.

*Please note that these pictures are not my own, they were foudn via google images.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Why everyone needs a bit of 'me' time

Just the other week, I had what one might call 'a nervous breakdown'. Why? Because my work had began to mount up to a tumultuous amount. The pressure of it all was too much to bear, and I let it out in a tearful but very fulfilling 20 minutes.

Stress, if you hadn't guessed, is what I'm talking about. And in the second year of uni, things have stepped up ten notches. I have, on average 11 hours a week of lectures and seminars. It sounds pathetic, doesn't it? Until you find out that most of the rest of my weekday are spent working for the course. On one unit, there is a hand in every week, on two others, the are every two weeks. A big hand in is happening in approximately 3 weeks.

I find that my biggest worry is photography. Each week we have something to do towards a portfolio, and every two weeks we have to complete a photo shoot along with a Journey Log that tells the reader how I came to take the photographs and how I felt it went. It is very time consuming, taking up at least half, if not more, of my Mondays, and various other hours in the week.

So, i had my break down. And now you can understand why. The stress from the workload was making me nervous and jittery. I lost confidence in myself and turned into a sobbing wreck in front of my sister, who luckily had an ear to lend.

After that outburst, I decided that there was really no need for me to feel like my life is a never-ending slog through work, with all too short weekends where I spend my time with my boyfriend. Although these weekends are welcome and relaxing, I sometimes feel like I never stop. To think about things. My mind is always working on what I'll do next. What work I need to finish, what person do I need to please?

I needed time for myself.

As a result of that conclusion, I have decided that at least once a week, I will shut myself in my room and have some sort of creative outlet, or just some 'me' time. Today, I am doing just that. I am finally letting go of my worries for a couple of hours and just enjoying life.

Yes, I still worry about what I need to do. But for now, at least, it can wait until tomorrow.