Tuesday, 21 December 2010
Friday, 17 December 2010
This is a sponsored post...
Here's something I can bet you didn't know about me; my dad grew up living above a Cooperative shop in a small Northern town, which his father managed and which provided a community hub for the locals when supermarkets as we know them today were the stuff of fantasy or tales brought back from across the Atlantic by tourists. I don't know this for certain but I imagine grandad knew all his customers by name - because, back then, that's how things worked in small towns - and that he exchanged pleasantries with them whilst carving them the requisite slices of ham or slicing them the right weight of crumbly Wensleydale.
Dad left that small Northern town more years ago than he might care to think about, but my grandparents stayed on and some of my earliest memories are of visiting that flat with it's icy concrete steps in winter, feeling the heat from the bars of the electric fire burn my chilblains, and huddling under nylon-topped quilts, sheets and blankets... (Why is it always cold up North in my memories, I wonder?)
Since then, the Cooperative has become more than a store and a savings scheme (remember the stamps?); it's now also a mainstream bank that punches above it's weight not only in terms of customers but in terms of ethical codes of practice, holding true to it's name and remaining a body run for the benefit of all it's members than just for a small handful of share-holders.
I was particularly interested to learn about their initiative The Cooperative Community Fund. This is a charitable foundation which receives donations from a group of public-spirited members who chose to give a percentage of their twice yearly share of profits to be used for the benefit of the larger community in their area. This year's total was £1.2 million and is to be allocated within the geographical area that money is received from.
Projects are allocated by postcode, and grants vary from a minimum of £100 to £2000. That may not seem a lot in today's world of high finance and telephone number mortgages, but even that much can make a positive difference if spent wisely.
Why was I asked to write about this? Because they are looking for applicants. I was tasked with thinking about an example; something that money could be spent on in my local area that would have a positive long-term benefit on the community (note: a group does not need to have charitable status to apply for one of these grants), will address a local issue, support co-operative values and principles, and ideally be innovative in it's approach.
Hmmm. I live in Russia, remember. 'Co-operative' is not a word that get's bandied around very often here; it smacks too much of pre-1991 and communism. 'Every man for himself' is more like it, if I'm honest. You only have to travel on the metro in rush-hour to see that. Unless of course you're talking about in a family environment, where everything is shared equally and one person's trouble is the problem of all. The problems arise, however, when a person has no family, for whatever reason that might be. I've recently become involved with - in a very minor way - a charity that helps with that, giving orphaned children not a home or care, because that is already - to a point - provided by the state, but which helps to give them the tools to deal with the outside world once the umbrella organisation looking after them moves them out of their institutions into a semblance of every-day life.
Now unfortunately, £2000 isn't going to provide much tuition for these children (teachers need to be paid, overheads need to be funded), but what it could do is provide them with some interactive tools to help them practice budgeting - even in gaming form, for example - and which might simulate some of the real-world decisions they could be called upon to make once they leave their 'home'. I read recently about a new computer game which simulates the effects on the world of certain environmental policies; make the wrong one, for instance, and India is flooded or Spain becomes a waste-land. I'm not a gamer, but I'm sure there must be similar games out there which do the same job but with real life situations.
And whilst it may not seem like a very worthy way of spending this type of grant, anything that could stop the young people I'm writing of being persuaded to swap their government-funded flat for a new wii, for example (and this does happen), and then finding themselves homeless as a result because they had no proper understanding of the ramifications of their decision, can't help but have a positive effect on the local environment, surely?
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Thursday, 16 December 2010
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Monday, 13 December 2010
Friday, 10 December 2010
- Hair lightening cream for moisturiser (realised after the first smear that this was not going to deal with my dry skin - or indeed make any difference to my freshly shaved legs..)
- Spicy tomato ketchup for normal (Boy #2 was NOT impressed)
- Potato starch for corn flour (the former does not make good shortbread)
- Tuna in oil for tuna in salt water (yeuch - Russian tinned tuna is not the best quality to start with, so throw in cup of oil as well and...)
- Salted salmon steak for normal (just too horrible to even begin to describe. Christ knows how the Russians cook it, but there must be some secret way to use it or it wouldn't be everywhere masquerading as an edible foodstuff)
- Russian hard cheese for non-Russian. (Because - and apologies to anyone who likes the local version here - Russian hard cheese is rubbish. Think; the blandest edam you ever tasted, take away the flavour, and bob's your uncle).
- Sweetened fruit juice for non-sweetened (Kids on a sugar high just before bed, anyone?)
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
- Swimsuits are not required. Nerves of steel, a devil-may care attitude, and previous form as a hockey player used to nakedness in an all-female changing room are good substitutes if you have them. Otherwise, just grin and bare it (boom boom).
- A fading mark from your g-string bikini suntan is acceptable, however (note: this badge of honour is unrelated to size of the woman concerned).
- Take your own towel. In fact, bring two. Especially bearing in mind my previous comment about swimsuits not being required. You have to sit somewhere in the sauna, and I didn't notice the attendant sluicing down the wooden steps after each new shift of customers came in... (Plus, that bright red spot on your buttocks from sitting on a too-hot step is not attractive, really).
- Listen out for the warning call that they are about to lock the door of the sauna from the inside. (yes, you can get out). If you don't then race into the industrial-sized facility and secure a spot you will end up having to wait another half hour to do so. And if you don't get there early enough you will end up having to sit next to the furnace (ow), or on the step below a lady with - how can I put this - rather less inhibitions than you. Should that happen, do not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around to glance behind you.
- Make sure you have your own very attractive felt flower pot hat to wear whilst in the sauna to protect your hair from the heat. (These can be purchased in a range of fetching pastel colours and with appliqued motifs from the check-in desk at the entrance). I know, it's counter-intuitive to sit there naked in god knows how many degrees whilst wearing a hat - and obviously, it looks hilarious - but trust me, it works. I still have hair.
- Said hat also gives you some degree of protection when the sauna attendant (invariably rather impressively muscled in the upper arm region for reasons which shall become apparent by the end of this post) flicks water over the assembled masses inside. Well, I say water; it also contains some kind of pine-scented herbal brew that helps to 'cleanse', but which also stings like crxp when you misunderstand her instruction to close your eyes just before she throws the mixture about in a manner worthy of the pope at high mass.
- Try not to sit too close to the sauna attendant, both for the reason mentioned above but also because, when she whirls a damp towel around to move the hot air around the room (hence the upper arms worthy of Madonna), that thing goes at quite a pace.
- When one of the friends you are with dares you to stand under the cold water splash situated outside of the sauna, just say no. That's all. If you do take her up on her dare, however, make sure you have firm hold of her wrist so she can't step away as she pulls the cord...
- When another friend suggests it would be a good idea to have a body scrub, and you decide 'in for a penny, in for a pound' and go for it, do try not to act all surprised when you realise that the lady giving you the all-over scrub will also be unclad (see how I'm trying to avoid using the 'n' word here?). Apart, of course, from her gloves, which feel as if they're made from a slightly less abrasive version of wire wool - but only slightly.
- And when she walks towards you holding a hose trickling warm water, keep calm. It's not what you think... (unless you're thinking soap doesn't work without water. In that case, you're spot on).
- Do not laugh as she scrubs your feet and your toes tickle - remember, you still have to roll over so she can do your front. All of it. (Like I said - never been so clean).
- And finally, do not speculate with the friend lying on the next table who is also having a scrub about just how unlikely the 'naked client, naked scrubber' situation would be to happen back home. The ensuing giggles are not dignified. Although, of course, neither is lying starkers on a table whilst being scrubbed all over by a naked woman wearing gloves made of wire wool.
Monday, 6 December 2010
Friday, 3 December 2010
Thursday, 2 December 2010
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
This is a Sponsored Post
You may have noticed, I've started to do a few more sponsored posts recently. I held out against this for a long time, and that wasn't hard, what with the plethora of offers to review the latest online war game and more recently the chance to take my dog to a red-carpet event for pets (note to any pr's reading this, I don't own a dog, never have done, have never claimed to, and much as I like them, am not likely to change that situation anytime soon...).
However, every now and again a product or opportunity pops into my inbox that is not only relevant, but is worth sharing, as when ebuzzing got in touch with me a couple of months back.
What's ebuzzing? In their own words, they are 'part of the Wikio Group and allow you to display videos and publish articles about brands that you like, when you want, whilst earning.'
Essentially it works as follows; a blogger registers to become part of their network (at ebuzzing.co.uk), and whenever a relevant opportunity comes up, they are notified by e-mail to go and take a look at the campaign. There's no pressure to participate, but if you like the look of it you can apply to write a sponsored post using information supplied along with anything else you can find out about the brand. You are of course paid for this service (average fees to-date for a 250 word article, in my experience, are between £30 and £40), and all ebuzzing posts are clearly signposted as 'sponsored'. Essentially ebuzzing rely on the blogger themselves to write about the product rather than simply regurgitating press releases sent out to a random selection of email addresses.
Now this post is the result of one of those opportunities - you may have worked that out for yourself by now - and in addition to spreading the word about how the system works, I was asked to come up with a brand that I would like to work with, to imagine my perfect e-buzzing campaign.
I don't think it will surprise anyone who knows about my addiction to chocolate that the first company to come to mind was Green & Blacks. There's a brand I can really get behind. Not only was it originally set up in a way that provided small cocoa growers with a sustainable form of fair-trade income (although I have to admit I'm a bit hazy on how that works now it's owned by Cadbury's, who bought it in 2005), but it makes a range of amazing products for the mass market - products that I happen to love. The opportunity to write about how buying something so delicious would simultaneously benefit families living in less advantaged parts of the world (assuming that's still the case) would be what you might call a win/win situation...
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Sunday, 28 November 2010
Friday, 26 November 2010
- The 15% with blue tickets were given chicken wings, fries, nachos and ice cream for their lunch. They were also allowed to go up for seconds.
- The 35% with red tickets were given a smaller serving, of rice and vegetables for their lunch, and no seconds.
- The 50% with white tickets were given a very small cup of water and a small cup of rice each, and of course, no seconds. If they wanted more water, they had to leave the dining hall and walk down the corridor with their small cup, which they could refill once.
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
'Imagine you won £40,000', Paypal said. Imagine what you could do with it. And then write about it.
How hard could that be? Well, harder than you might imagine, but here goes anyway.
Imagine; 40 grand, in your hand... Paypal are billing it as a year's salary; all you have to do to enter is to buy something using Paypal and every single time you do so you're given a new entry to their weekly draw.
So I started to think what I might buy with an extra £40,000. Sadly, that wouldn't do the biggies, like putting the kids through university (well, it might one of them, but it's highly unlikely both of them by the time 12 years or so have passed given recent developments), or paying off the mortgage (some hope), but it could certainly make life more comfortable for a while. I mean, I could blow it all in splurges on holidays, a new car, flights back to the UK, a couple of mini-breaks, and perhaps some subtle plastic surgery or dental work (what? What? I'm surrounded by perky Americans who make my smile feel just a little outshone and my chest, well...)
But back in the real world I think my sensible head would take over and I would end up using it to pay for stuff we actually need. Well, when I say that, I mean stuff we need that I could buy from online retails who take Paypal. It would probably get spent on computers for the kids, a new camera, purchases on i-tunes and other such 'essentials'.
The good news of course is that the number of retailers accepting Paypal is increasing. Which also means that I might also get to fritter some of it away on stuff for my own personal Christmas list, a work in progress but which is already taking shape... First indications are that it may include, the new Issey Miyake perfume (which I've heard shouldn't work, but does) and a new toothbrush from Boots, a new necklace, a new dress, & a pair of jeans from Miss Sixty .
Watch this space for updates - especially if you happen to be my Husband...
This, in case you hadn't worked it out by now, was both a sponsored post and a first attempt at steering my Husband - if he reads this - in the right direction for this year's presents. Wish me luck...
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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
This is a sponsored post...
I remember when my dad got his first computer, a North Star Horizon. It was not a family computer, oh no. Back in the dark ages you see (somewhere around 1981-ish, even before the ZX Spectrum appeared on the scene if you are antiquated enough to remember those), computers were not for families. Computers were serious things. They were techy. You had to be a bit of a nerd to 'get' them. The were ugly boxes with integrated floppy disk-drives (if you were lucky) that were noisy, cumbersome, took up entire desks, and dominated the room. Looking too long at it's flashing green cursor could give you a migraine.
And if you wanted to ask it to do anything much more complicated than to play Star Trek (Battle Ships without the sound-effects) or to produce a biorhythm for you (don't ask), you had to know how to talk to it. You had to speak it's language, which at the time was Basic, a fiendish combination of 0's and 1's that sent any sane person over the edge - especially if that sane person was a 14 year old girl who's grasp of numbers was shaky at best.
So I and the North Star Horizon computer didn't spend very much time together, if I'm honest. I glared at it from the other side of the room and gave it as wide a berth as I possibly could. In fact, it wasn't until the early 90's that I really got up close and personal with a computer, and even then the thought that one of them would ever be anything more than something to record profit and loss on, or to word process documents, was about as likely as Patrick Swayze ever saying 'No-one puts Potty in the corner...' (Like the cultural reference? If not, I'm guessing you're WAY too young to understand this post).
Nowadays of course, things have changed - big time. Imagine your daily family life now without access to a computer. The very fact that you're reading this suggests to me that thought is probably inconceivable. We use them to organise our music, to watch tv and movies, and catch up on what we missed when we were out living our lives. We use them to edit movies, to upload them to the internet, and see how complete strangers across the world rate those movies. We use them to make telephone calls, to pay bills, to share news or simply to keep in touch with - or tabs on - friends and family across the world..
And that's even before we think about how they are used in a classic 'work' environment, and how we use them to organise schedules, keep track of appointments, manage our finances, pay bills, and remind ourselves of all the things we have on our to-do-list in our notebooks and never got round to because we simply flipped over the page to write the next list and forgot to check back that we'd finished the previous one. (Or maybe that last one is just me...)
And, of course, not forgetting how we use computers to blog...
You would think, in fact, that we might have reached something of a plateau on how computers fit into our family lives. But of course, then why would I be writing this post? (And 'for the money!' is not the correct answer here)
No, I'm writing this post as a trip down memory lane and because if I was planning on buying a new desktop computer anytime soon I have to admit that this one would be quite high on my list of possibilities.
The new All-In-One desktop from Dell has - and I quote - ' high-definition widescreen display, internet connectivity capability (Wi-Fi), DVD drive, and the ability to connect to TV tuners, cable and satellite boxes and gaming consoles through an HDMI port.'
It appears to have similar touch-screen function to that of an i-pad or i-phone - check the youtube Video to see what I mean - which allows you to use your fingers to draw, colour or leave sticky-notes on the screen (great - somewhere other than the fridge door to remember to check). And on top of that, it's not the bulky desktop design that we're used to, but fits neatly into a corner with a stowable keyboard. And due to it's 23" screen and the fact that it looks so good, it could even make respectable-sized alternative to a standard tv.
Which only goes to show how far we've come from the ugly plastic box that was off-limits to the family, and which used to sit on my dad's desk and torment me with it's flashing green cursor...
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Monday, 22 November 2010
Friday, 19 November 2010
Monday, 15 November 2010
Thursday, 11 November 2010
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
At the parent's in law, still in London. The sounds of 'Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang' drift out from the sitting room where the boys are spending a glorious morning ensconced in front of the box... (don't judge me; it's week 3 of the school holidays. WEEK 3! And it's only July 6th!) Every now and again Boy #1 bursts out into the dining room where I'm tapping away on the lap top to ask pertinent questions like 'It's the same man in this as in Mary Poppins. Does that mean that Bert has two jobs?' and to exclaim 'No! No!' when the pirates sail over the horizon. I'm currently on standby for when the odious Child Catcher appears since I have no doubt my presence will be required to ward off his advances...