Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The truth about freelance writing

How to become a freelance writer
On Thursday I participated to a Guardian's Q&A on freelance writing in the company of esteemed colleagues covering different topics and media.

I rarely blog about my day job, but this discussion makes fascinating reading for the beginner and the more experienced scribbler alike. It's about surviving as a freelancer rather than writing as a hobby and it paints a different picture from those upbeat writing and proofreading courses you see advertised everywhere.

A way with words, sound grammar and excellent spelling are not enough to guarantee success, the hard bit these courses don't prepare you for is to sell your skills in a saturated market, where young writers are prepared to write just for exposure (a link and a byline) while those living in developing countries can churn articles for a fistful of dollars.

If you are still keen on becoming a writer, your best bet is to choose a less popular topic or something really niche like medical writing (you will need a scientific degree, though). Brush up your maths and go for finance, you can't go wrong there! Travel, beauty, interiors, fashion, music and any popular topic are swamped by experienced writers chasing fewer opportunities. You have been warned!

Testing, testing... moisturisers for problem skin - Part 2

Busy mums don't have time for lots of potions and lotions - BMB's Twitter party proved that we mummy bloggers rely on a handful of essentials, among which are moisturisers. Here are two more moisturisers for problem and very dry skin. If you missed Part 1 with the reviews of Gloves In A Bottle and Skin MD, just click here.

Simple Derma Intensive Relief Cream

Simple Derma

Simple Derma is a moisturiser for very dry, sensitive skin so it's also suitable if you are prone to eczema and dermatitis. Children can use this cream too, so it's a great product the whole family can share.

Before I tested it, I washed my face with soap and didn't use any products for a day so my skin was like fine-grade sandpaper. I massaged in a blob of Simple Derma and although it did take longer to sink in than other moisturisers I have tried, my skin ended up glowing and looking well dehydrated. 

As creams that are too thin won't protect problem skin, the fact that it doesn't sink in instantly is actually an advantage - this means this product is offering good protection.

As expected with a hypoallergenic cream, Simple Derma has no perfume and no colour.  It felt slightly greasy on my fingers but it does do what it says on the jar! It's available in three different sizes: 50ml, 125ml and 350ml. The 50ml format retails at £2.34 from Boots.com, which is a bargain!

Salcura Zeoderm Dry Skin Repair Moisturiser
Salcura Zeoderm

This is a Class 1-medical-device cream that retails at £8.99 for 50ml. It is not cheap, but this is a natural moisturiser free from paraffin, petro-chemichals, steroids, lanolin, alcohol and parabens.
Salcure Zeoderm is in fact an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal cream for dry skin, eczema, psoriasis and skin allergy conditions. It also works on urticaria, latex allergy, acne, wounds, burns and blisters.

I have dry skin but don't suffer from any itch or burning skin, so to test its soothing properties I applied it after I removed my upper lip fluff, a procedure that usually stings this very sensitive area and leaves it red and blotchy (brunettes do have this unwanted hair problem).

The moisturiser did its job as the burning sensation vanished. I applied it to the rest of my face to test its hydrating potential. Overall it took a bit longer to sink in than other moisturisers but didn't leave me with greasy or oily fingers.

As I do my hair removal in the evening, I applied it before bedtime and woke up the next morning with plump, hydrated and lovely skin.

The only thing that is slightly offputting is the yellow colour, which must be due to one of the ingredients (I don't think the manufacturers would use an artificial colorant in a natural cream).

Watch this space for more reviews...

So that's it for the moisturisers for problem skin, more reviews of moisturisers are in the pipeline. Thanks to all the PRs for sending samples and replying to my queries promptly. These products were not unsolicited offerings - I chose to review them on the basis of their properties and affordability. This is a Crème de la Mer-free zone!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Dingle dongle... surving when the internet connection is down

T Mobile dongle
I am not a techie but have heard of broadband dongles and brushed them off as I try to switch off from the internet when I'm on holiday (I'm online on most weekends so sometimes I just need to have a break from the web), but necessity made me reconsider them when my internet service failed.

What to do when the home internet connection dies?
I have always been a very happy customer of Virgin Media Broadband, which is fast and offers a great package with phone and catch-up TV. I also have a Virgin Media mobile phone. But last weekend my internet connection started to wobble, going off during the day and coming back at night. I didn't worry too much and a call to the customer service number revelead there were no problems in our area, so we thought it was a glitch and a readjustment of the cable brought the internet back. Except that the internet connection died on me on Monday at 10.30am. Luckily I'm not working on any urgent project at the moment, so we called, got the same answer and decided to go for a cycle to enjoy the great weather. When the internet came back at 8.30pm I worked till late to catch up. I'm no stranger to working in the evening, so I coped.

However the same thing happened on Tuesday and I started to have jitters (a bit like withdrawal symptoms - I am an internet addict). Then my partner, who also works from home on some days suggested that since it wasn't too busy workwise, we could do another cycle ride in the sunshine and catch up in the evening. Same thing happened on Wednesday - I had stuff to do with my daughter so I didn't mind too much but on Thursday I was due to contribute to an online discussion on freelance writing and I needed the internet.

After finding out that our local library had wi-fi I relaxed, but thought of sounding an internet forum for options. I waited until the internet connection was up again at night then posted on ukpress, where there had been a conversation on mobile broadband for trips abroad. Steve and Jaspal suggested Mi-Fi from 3, which sounded great but a bit expensive for irregular use (I still have a connection I'm paying for and I think that despite their denial of local problems, they are doing some work as the city is crawling with Virgin Media vans, which we spotted on our cycle ride).

Hey dongle... problem sorted
My partner (my unpaid IT manager) investigated dongles and found a great deal at Argos for a T mobile dongle at £8.99 (half price offer). We loaded the minimum of £5, but just £2 bought us 30 days. So I did my chat on freelance writing on the Guardian's site (where of course I was talking about digital writing most of the time) and use the dongle again yesterday when our connection switched off. My partner called again and it seems there was a problem, which Julian from ukpress confirmed on Thursday.

I'm quite impressed with the dongle, I downloaded a huge folder from a client, which comprises several videos and the speed has been just marginally slower than my normal connection but as fast as my old BT broadband line. My partner is monitoring the bandwith use on the dongle to see if it's cheaper to use a dongle instead of having a fixed line connection (or whether we need to keep it as a backup). Right now I'm using my Virgin Broadband, but I don't have to worry if it decides to switch off - I will grab my pink stick (you just plug it in the slot you'd use for a memory stick and voila')!

Last but not least: I paid for this product and this is a genuine customer's review. None of the above companies sponsored this post.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

March competitions round-up

There are lots of competitions online, but some do have strings attached - you are signed up to persistent marketing emails or boring, useless newsletters. I recently entered a competition from a holiday operator and after getting the catalogue, I was harrassed via phone and email for several weeks to book a holiday with them, which really put me off even looking at their catalogue.

In this day and age, I'm surprised some companies still think that giving leads (that's us, the competition's entrants) the hard sell will generate sales. We are all aware that a competition is a way to get emails of prospective customers but a pushy approach is guaranteed to turn people off. It just reminds me of pushy encyclopaedia sellers knocking at my mother's door in the 1980s.

Rant over, here is my pick of competitions:

B-Smart Britax pushchair

Knoll House Hotel
A Butlins' holiday

Good luck! 

See you in April for another round-up of competitions!

About this post: this is an editorial feature - no money nor goods exchanged hands. If you want me to feature a competition as a sponsored post, I am fine with it, but I will have to declare the sponsor.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Babies... the cutest (and most intriguing) movie ever!

Parenting around the world
Four countries and four babies, from birth to their very first steps... BABIES is beautifully photographed and directed. While you follow the progress of these four children from babyhood to toddlerhood, you experience their culture and witness very different parenting styles. I loved the breastfeeding scenes and the interaction with the babies with various farm animals! Another scene that was very interesting to me as a Western parent is witnessing how an African mother copes with baby's poo - what an eco-friendly way to deal with it - no nappy or toilet paper needed, just an empty cob... And there were nail-biting moments too, as some of the babies do very grown-up things I wouldn't even entrust to my toddler!

Babies - click here for more info
Meet the BABIES
The babies' names are Ponijao, Bayarjargal, Mari and Hattie, and they live in Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the United States. The film captures the funniest, most carefree and poignant moments - unique and at times universal incidents all children share in their first months of life.

Meet the parents 
BABIES, which is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 28 March, is shown in selected cinemas (click here to find out your nearest cinema). In November and December 2010, screenings of BABIES were organised for the parents and children who starred in the film. The little stars have grown up and are now aged between three and a half and four years old. The parents were asked for feedback and here are
the different perspectives of the mothers and fathers from Namibia (Tarererua and Hindere), from the United States (Susie and Frazer), from Japan (Seiko and Fumito) and Mongolia (Mandakh and Purev).

“I agreed to do the project because I never went to hospital for any of my pregnancies and it meant I could be cared for by a doctor. I am very poor and I’d never have had the means to go to a doctor otherwise. It was very interesting to be filmed at the same time as other women from different countries.” (Tarererua)
“The production company paid Tarererua’s hospital bills without asking me for anything. I didn’t need to sell a goat. We were paid for the shoot, but we only agreed to do it for the sake of Ponijao’s future. Before starting filming, Thomas brought us many things like flowers and food. He chose my wife from among many others. He was very welcome!” (Hindere)
The shoot: “I was happy during the shoot. Thomas filmed from morning to night. We only stopped for lunch. We worked together like we were part of a family. We were happy when he came to shoot. He made sure he always checked if everybody was healthy and happy. He brought us what we needed; food, mainly. He took care of us. To me, Ponijao is a star. This was the first time I’d ever seen her on a screen. She is very happy and joyful in the film. I want her to be healthy. I’d like her to live in a nice place, in a better home so that she can take care of her own children as we have done for her with the money we got for the film.” (Tarererua)
On the other cultures: “The development of the other babies is different. I think they have better living conditions. Their mothers feed them well. They eat healthy food and they are in good health. But I was surprised to see that they don’t look after them, they are alone. I was afraid the little American girl would hurt herself when she fell from the car in the park. As for me, you can see I’m with my children. The happiest one is the little Mongolian boy, even if he just plays on his own with his roll of bathroom tissue.” (Tarererua)
What the children think: “Ponijao was very happy to see the film. She saw herself as a baby and then crawling! She’s proud to say she’s been in a film with her brother, sister and mother. You don’t see me in the film, even though I was sometimes there during shooting. It’s not only the women who look after the babies; the fathers do it too, but the men are always very busy looking after their herd.” (Hindere)
Surprising and funny sequences: “I was surprised to see the American mother put a pump on her breast to extract her milk and be able to nourish her daughter. Here, we wait for the milk to come of its own accord. It can take two days. In the meantime, we give the baby goat’s milk. I found that very interesting.” (Tarererua)
Family facts:
  • The family are members of the Himba tribe.
  • They live in Epembe, near Opuwo, in northwestern Namibia.
  • They breed cows and goats.
  • Hindere (the father) is constantly moving around to find water for his animals.
  • They live in very close harmony with nature.
  • Ten children in the family, including a newborn. The eldest, Tjombinde, is almost 26 and Ponijao, the second-youngest, is three-and-a-half years old.
  • Tarererua was around eight months pregnant when the director met her for the first time.
  • Tarererua is divided between her desire for a nice house in a town and continuing the Himba tradition, and passing that on to her children.
  • Only one of the couple’s children goes to school but their mother would like to send two more.
  • Ponijao’s character: A strong sense of family, at ease with herself, very photogenic, loves dancing, prefers playing with a food sack than with a real toy!

“The project offered a universal vision of childhood. We thought it would be interesting for Hattie to be in contact with other countries. All these babies are growing up according to their own culture. You see life for what it is and it opens up horizons for us. It would be good if at the age of 12 or 13, Hattie could travel to meet up with the other children in the film.” (Susie)
The shoot: “It was extremely exciting taking part in the project but we didn’t want to have a camera crew on our heels all the time. I know what that means as I work in the movie business! We asked that Hattie be filmed only as a baby, without getting too involved in our lives.” (Frazer) 
“We didn’t want to be filmed during the birth. We had a contract stipulating that the natural needs of the baby would be respected such as eating and sleeping. We would have pulled out immediately if that hadn’t been the case. Frazer even shot certain scenes himself. He could separate out our life and that was great. It wasn’t like we always had a film crew hanging around us. Hattie isn’t a star. She’s just a child with a child’s needs. She’s afraid of nothing. She tries things out and if it doesn’t work out for her, she carries on regardless! She watches carefully and nothing upsets her. It’s wonderful to see her discovering the world around her. I loved hearing her make her first sound. I also loved the scene where she peels a banana, bites it from the wrong side, discovers that it tastes bad, spits out the piece and throws it away. At the time, we couldn’t tell her but she got it anyway. She won’t do it again!” (Susie)
“The scenes in the hospital were poignant and hard to watch. We had a bad experience with Hattie’s birth. She had a little trouble breathing and the doctors had to clear fluid from her lungs. She wasn’t in danger. In the hospital, there were lots of monitors and doctors. There were also premature babies who were really in a bad way. Fortunately, Hattie wasn’t in that situation. She took some antibiotics and came home three days later.” (Frazer)
On the other cultures: “I’ve never been to Tokyo but I identified with the Japanese mother in her way of educating her child: going to the park, to the zoo, taking her child to daycare because she has a job. In Namibia, children grow up in a different culture. The traditions are very strong. Ponijao has the same necklace as her mother and the first thing she wears is a loincloth. Namibian children are more indulged than ours are. We don’t have that kind of freedom. In the United States, if you saw a child lick a dog’s tongue in a park, there’s be a dozen parents who’d yell at it to stop. In Namibia, nobody panics; everything is simple.” (Susie)
What the children think: “Hattie felt very involved in the subject of the film. She pointed at herself when she appeared on screen. She loved the scene when she’s jumping up and down in her bouncy chair, and the one where she’s looking at the cat. She also found the sequences where the other children were having their hair cut very interesting. She was captivated by seeing the little Mongolian boy taking a pee. Her curiosity drove her to ask if it was a girl’s pee or a boy’s one! She was also very surprised by the rooster walking through the Mongolian baby’s bedroom.” (Susie)
Surprising and funny sequences: “The film is full of amazing scenes. There’s the one with the little Japanese girl who tries to understand how her toy works. She manages to do it by accident, starts again and can’t repeat it. She’s overwhelmed and lets you know it! The scene with the goat in Mongolia is amazing. She drinks the water from the baby's bath and he doesn’t mind at all. When he hears his mom yelling at the animal, he looks closer and seems to realize there’s something unusual going on. It was also very interesting to see the Namibian mother coat her stomach with that red powder and put it on her son’s head after having cut his hair with a knife.” (Susie)
On the experience: “Thanks to this project, I was able to observe Hattie more attentively. It’s very interesting to see things from her point of view. It was like being at the theater, even if a film crew was there. But in watching the film, I felt Hattie wouldn’t have anyone to emulate. She’s an only child. This occurred to me when I saw a scene with the Mongolian baby. Everybody around him is sharing so much with him. It was beautiful to see!” (Susie)
Family facts
  • They live in Oakland, near San Francisco.
  • Susie, the mother, is a professor at Stanford University (California).
  • Frazer, the father, is a cinematographer. His first feature as a director (EVERYTHING STRANGE AND NEW) won awards in many festivals in the United States.
  • Neither grew up in Oakland, but they have lived there since they went to university in the early 1980s.
  • One child: A daughter, Hattie.
  • Hattie’s character: A curious, energetic child who is shy at first but very sociable after five minutes. She loves telling stories, going for bike rides, painting and doing gymnastics.
“I was pregnant when we first heard about the project. As this was our first child, I saw the possibility for an amazing and unusual experience for the whole family. My husband and I work in fashion. We know what a shoot is but appearing in a documentary is very different. I didn’t imagine this film would be released all over the world!” (Seiko)
“The project had meaning. For people of my generation, being a father means a lot. My own father was very busy. He didn’t put much energy into his relationships with his family and educating his children. Twenty years ago, Japan was very focused on economic development. Women didn’t work and mothers took care of the home while fathers worked hard elsewhere. Now, our country is richer. We have more time to take care of our families.” (Fumito)
The shoot: “Obtaining authorization to film in Tokyo is very difficult; it was very hard for the team to shoot outside the apartment and they weren’t allowed to film in the hospital. At no time was shooting a problem for us. We let them do what they had to do and they were extremely considerate. But sometimes when they wanted to shoot, Mari wanted to go to sleep!” (Seiko)
“In the film, we witnessed the first steps of a great star of the future! My favorite scene is the one where she is in the toy shop in her stroller. She looks around, her eyes wide open. She seems like she’s looking for something in particular. It’s very cute.” (Fumito)
On the other cultures: “I think I am quite a lot like the American mom in my beliefs. We’re both the type to take classes or meet other families with children. On the contrary, the Namibian mother takes care of her baby all on her own. She is pretty silent, but you feel like she loves him a lot. It’s a society that seems more closed in on itself but there are no doubt very strong links binding the members of that family.” (Seiko)
What the children think: “Mari recognized herself when she watched the film. She knew it was her, she recognizes her own face. We film her all the time and show her the movies. But she didn’t really like seeing herself on screen as a baby because now she’s a big girl!” (Seiko)
Surprising and funny sequences: “I wondered why the little Mongolian boy is tied to the bed with string. I think it’s very cold there in winter. Maybe it’s to keep him warm?” (Seiko)
On the experience: “I found the film very moving. A lot of love emanates from it. You also see the physical and emotional evolution of the children. That’s a common denominator for all the families. I hope the public will feel the same thing.” (Seiko)
“The film offers a wonderful look at the evolution of four babies. When people see it, they will understand the power a child has over its life.” (Fumito)
Family facts
  • The parents work in fashion.
  • When Mari was born, they lived in a small apartment in Tokyo, in the Shinjuku neighborhood in the northeast of the city. A year and a half ago, they moved to Minato-Ku in the center.
  • One child: A daughter, Mari
  • Mari and her cat are very close. He was already there before she was born. She is very authoritative with him and sometimes they squabble, like cats and dogs!
  • Mari’s character: She’s curious about everything, constantly looking for new sensations and new places every day. She gets a thrill out of being frightened, she has a very good appetite and looks after her dolls like a mother!

“When we first heard about the project, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be filmed. We were told that we wouldn’t be play-acting, that we should just continue behaving as normal. The idea was to observe our lives and the way our children grow up. We didn’t have to make any effort and nobody wasted our time. I liked that approach so my wife and I decided to agree.” (Purev)
The shoot: “Several times we left the team alone with the baby. We trusted them. We couldn’t stay with him all the time just because the crew was filming. We were very busy with the animals and the household tasks. We just carried on as normal. In winter, to stop the baby burning himself on the stove in the middle of the yurt, we tied his ankle to the bed with string. That way, he had a perimeter of freedom but he was safe when he was left alone. That’s how we bring up our children in Mongolia. To us, Bayarjargal isn’t a movie star. I loved seeing him take his first steps at the start of the film. The rest of the time, you have the feeling that he fights a lot with his brother but in reality, they are very close. They share their food and protect one another. When one of the children here has a problem, they deal with it together.” (Purev)
On the other cultures: The Japanese and American babies seem to be pretty advanced. These countries raise their children within a group. Their parents sing with them. They are very hands-on. But I was sorry for the little Japanese girl because she spends all her time closed up inside. And she has so many people around her! I’d like her to grow up well. But the one who interested me most was the little African girl. Over there, children are raised in the school of hard knocks!” (Purev)
What the children think: “The film talks about me, the sky and the sounds in the sky. It shows me when I fell off my scooter. I got up straightaway. It also talks about my brother who bites me! I didn’t recognize myself all the time. I remember the times when I was riding my bike and I like the bit when you see me learning to walk.” (Bayarjargal)
Surprising and funny sequences: “I liked the simplicity with which the little Namibian girl is being brought up. In the United States and in Japan, children are educated like they are in Mongolia. Even if they are city kids whereas ours are very close to nature, it’s very similar. We can’t be with them all the time because we also have lots of work to do.” (Mandakh)
On the experience: “The film shows very clearly how we raise our children. In Mongolia, they grow up at the heart of the steppes. They are in contact with nature. Their life is peaceful. I like seeing the freedom in which my family lives on the screen. I’d like all the children in the world to experience the internal peace we have. The film also made us think about what we should change here to improve our life. Our sanitation conditions are nothing like what they have in the West. It will help us improve them and organize our home better.” (Purev)
Family facts
  • The family lives in Bayanchandmani, in the center of the country, in the steppes.
  • They have two children, both boys, the youngest being Bayarjargal.
  • They raise cattle and sheep.
  • They live very close to nature.
  • Bayarjargal’s character: He is sensitive, willing, and extremely cooperative. He is honest, attentive to others and likes to pit his strengths against them. He is sure of himself, confident and he loves to play with his brother with whom he is extremely close. He loves riding his bike.

Ponijao (Namibia)
Tarererua and Hindere (Namibia)
Mari (Japan)
Seiko and Fumito (Japan)
Hattie (United States)
Susie and Frazer (United States)
Bayarjargal (Mongolia)
Mandakh and Purev (Mongolia)

Film crew
Thomas BALMÈS: Screenwriter - director - a graduate of the Institut Supérieur d’Études Cinématographiques. Father of three.
1992: Created his company TBC Productions.
2002: Created his company Margot Films.
He has worked with many TV channels including Canal+, BBC, SVT and SBS,
and has won awards at festivals in Berlin, Jerusalem, Nyon, Prague and San Francisco.
2010 BABIES (screenwriter-director-executive producer)
2005 DAMAGES (screenwriter-director-producer)
2004 A DECENT FACTORY (screenwriter-director-producer)
2001 LE DERNIER DES PAPOUS (screenwriter-director-producer)
2000 WAITING FOR JESUS (screenwriter-director-producer)
1999 THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE PAPUANS (screenwriter-director-producer)
1997 MAHARAJAH BURGER (screenwriter-director-producer)
1996 BOSNIA HOTEL (screenwriter-director-producer)
1995 Making of PAR DELÀ LES NUAGES by Michelangelo ANTONIONI

Alain CHABAT: Screenwriter and producer
1987: Creation of the comedy quartet, “Les Nuls”.
1994: Creation of his production company “Chez Wam”.
1996: Started out as a feature film director.
César award for Best First Film for DIDIER.
President of the “Les Toiles Enchantées” charity. Father of three.
2010 BABIES by Thomas BALMÈS (screenwriter-producer)
TOGETHER’S A CROWD by Léa FAZER (producer)
2008 UN MONDE À NOUS by Frédéric BALEKDJIAN (producer)
LA PERSONNE AUX DEUX PERSONNES by Nicolas & Bruno (producer-actor)
2006 I DO by Eric LARTIGAU (screenwriter-producer-actor)
2004 RRRrrrr !!! by Alain CHABAT (screenwriter-producer-director-actor)
2002 ASTERIX AND OBELIX: MISSION CLEOPATRA by Alain CHABAT (screenwriter-coproducer-director-actor) 
1997  DIDIER by Alain CHABAT (screenwriter-coproducer-director-actor)

Bruno COULAIS: Composer
Studied violin and piano. Father of three.
2 Victoires de la Musique awards for MICROCOSMOS and THE CHOIR.
Oscar for Best Song for THE CHOIR.
2007: Sacem Music Grand Prix for Audiovisual.
2010: Annie Award for Coraline.
Has composed several operas, mainly for women.
2010 BABIES by Thomas BALMÈS
OCEANS by Jacques PERRIN & Jacques CLUZAUD
2009  CORALINE by Henry SELICK
VILLA AMALIA by Benoît Jacquot
MAX & Co by Samuel and Frédéric GUILLAUME
2004  BRICE DE NICE by James HUTH
2003 THE CHOIR by Christophe BARRATIER
1997 ALREADY DEAD by Olivier DAHAN

Crew - more credits

Original idea                                  Alain CHABAT
Director/Adaptation                     Thomas BALMÈS
Production and                               CHEZ WAM
executive production                     Alain CHABAT
                                                     Amandine BILLOT
                                                     Christine ROUXEL
Executive production                     TBC Productions
                                                     Thomas BALMÈS  
                                                     Jill COULON
Original music                                Bruno COULAIS
Production                                     Martin JAUBERT
Post-production supervisor            Cyril CONTEJEAN
Assistant director                         Jill COULON
Editors                                          Craig MACKAY (AFC)
                                                     Reynald BERTRAND
Assistant editors                          Erica FREED
                                                     Colette BELTRAN
                                                     Pauline CASALIS
                                                     Cédric JOUAN
Sound editors                                Samy BARDET
                                                     Armelle MAHE
Assistant sound editor                   Jérôme FAUREL
Sound re-recording mixer              Thierry LEBON
Music editor                                  Joseph DEBEASI

Babies - the DVD

More info
CHEZ WAM presents: BABIES (Bébés)
An original idea by Alain CHABAT.  A film directed by Thomas BALMÈS
Released on 16 June 2010. Duration:  76 minutes

Images © 2010 Chez Wam/Thomas Balmès. This is a DVD review, sample was sent by Think Jam PR.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Blog carnivals - BMB style

British Mummy Bloggers' carnivals are very popular events - I haven't managed to host one yet and the schedule is well into next year!

The latest carnival is hosted by Very Bored in Catalunya, which boasts a very pretty donkey button (see below). Right now I'd love to be bored in Spain, it's freezing today in old Blighty and the only cheerful thing in sight is a row of daffodils in my back garden.

On the positive side I'm not bored - there is lots to do in Cambridge and I'm looking forward to the Cambridge Science Festival, which was great fun last year. Michela and I even donned white coats and goggles to experiment with acids!

So if blog carnivals are your thing, just head to British Mummy Bloggers... It's such a varied collective that there is bound to be a blog that speaks to you!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Spring has sprung

Tulips from our garden
Daffodils growing around our oriental cherry tree
This year spring has come earlier as we have plenty of bulbs in bloom in the front and back garden. Last year we had to wait till April to see a decent display. I love daffodils and these wonderful tulips our landlord gave us to plant. I try not to pick them but here are just a few Michela and I brought indoor to celebrate nature's awakening!

Michael and I have been on a few bike rides too while Michela was at preschool, we are spending some quality time as a couple while our workload has slowed down. It has been crazy for several months and we didn't have much time together as he was away in London from dawn to late at night and I was working at the weekend. On the workfront it's also getting close to the end of the financial year, so the tax return is looming! But let's think happy thoughts now, Happy Early Spring, everybody!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Testing, testing... Kenco Millicano

Kenco Millicano (container and refill)

I was offered the chance to test a new instant coffee from Kenco and my partner (the coffeeholic in the family) volunteered to be the main guinea pig. However I did sample it in my own way - I might be a dedicated tea drinker but I do like coffee in cakes and poured over vanilla ice cream (called affogato in Italy). So I used the Kenco Millicano to flavour some yummy cupcakes (see recipe below). Along with the sample I was also sent a recipe for a more elaborate coffee/chocolate conction, which you can find at the bottom of this post.

Kenco Millicano: what's new?
There are lots of instant coffees about, so my partner was curious to try this new product. This is a summary of the info you can read on the packaging: Kenco Millicano is the very first Wholebean Instant from Kenco. It contains  finely-milled wholebeans, with essential coffee oils locked in, for a smooth, full bodied taste and rich aroma: all in an instant. We've created Kenco Millicano to be just as easy to prepare as regular instant coffee. Simply add a teaspoon of coffee to your cup and add hot water, just off the boil. Each 85g refill pack contains approximately 47 cups.
My partner made a mug of coffee and a lovely smell filled our tiny kitchen. He had a sip and said that Kenco Millicano is a cross between instant and cafetiere coffee (pretty much what it says on the tin). I informed my partner that the retail price is £2.99 for the refill and £3.99 for the tin. He thought it was a bit expensive, but having looked at other brands for instant and cafetiere coffee, the price is actually in between instant and premium coffees. With coffee, as with other foodstuff, you really get what you pay for!

Coffee cupcakes using Kenco Millicano
Coffee cupcakes using Kenco Millicano
Finally it was my turn to test this new instant coffee, so I switched on my cupcake maker and started to assemble the ingredients. The recipe below has been especially altered for these cupcakes - I used a bit more sugar than usual and ditched the vanilla flavouring. The recipe made 16 small cupcakes, which were devoured pretty quickly. Even Michela had a few, not ideal because of the caffeine content but ultimately it didn't affect her sleeping routine, which was a big relief.

Coffee cupcakes
Ingredients: 100g unsalted butter, softened; 110g caster sugar; 2 eggs, lightly beaten; 100g plain flour, sifted; half teaspoon of baking powder; a pinch of salt; 2tbsp Kenco Millicano dissolved into 1tbsp of milk. Method: Preheat the oven to 190C (if baking). Beat the butter and sugar together with a whisk until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the beaten eggs. Add the flour and baking powder gradually and mix well. Add the salt and the coffee mixture. Spoon into a cupcake tin or cupcake maker and bake (or cook) for 12 minutes or until risen and golden. Allow to cool on a rack before storing them into a tin. Tips: You can double the ingredients and make a big batch - these cupcakes freeze well. If you want to ice your cupcakes, mix half a teaspoon of coffee to the icing sugar.

Kenco Millicano, refill and tin
If you have more time on your hands and would like to try something a bit more sophisticated, below is a recipe for indulgent little cakes.

Kenco Millicano Cake Pops  
(Makes 20) Ingredients:  425g tin of pitted cherries (sweet) in juice; 100g dark chocolate - coarsely chopped; 165g unsalted butter  - coarsely chopped; 295g caster sugar; 60ml cherry brandy; 150g plain flour; 2 tbsp self-raising flour; 2 tbsp cocoa powder; 1 egg.  Coating and decoration: 75g of icing sugar; 100g of unsalted butter; 50g of cocoa powder; 250g of melted white chocolate; 100g of biscotti crumbs (or whatever takes your fancy!); edible silver glitter (optional). Method1. Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C. 2. Line a square 8" tray with butter and baking paper. 3. Drain the cherries and set the juice to one side. 4. Take 100g of cherries and 120ml of juice and liquify in a food processor, until smooth. 5. Cut the remaining cherries in half and set to one side. Discard the remaining juice. 6. Place the chocolate, butter, sugar, brandy and cherry puree into a saucepan. Over a low heat, stir until the chocolate has melted. 7. Pour into a large bowl and allow to cool for 15 minutes. 8. Whisk in sifted flours and cocoa powder, then whisk in the egg. It will be runny - but don’t worry. That’s how it’s meant to look! 9. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until firm to touch. 10. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. Coating and decoration:  1. In a large bowl, whisk the butter, cocoa and icing sugar into a nice, smooth frosting. 2. In a separate bowl crumble the sponge into very fine crumbs. 3. Rub in the chocolate frosting until you get the consistency of a paste. 4. Using the palms of your hands, roll into little perfect balls and place on a tray. 5. Leave to set in the fridge for 30mins. 6. Dip the end of the stick in the melted white chocolate and push halfway through the chilled balls. 7. Now dip the entire ball into the white chocolate. Leave to drip before rolling in the biscotti crumbs.  8. Before the chocolate sets completely, drizzle a bit of edible silver glitter onto the ball and enjoy with a mug of Kenco Millicano!  *Nutritional information per serving (96g): Energy 355kcal, Protein 4.2g, Carbohydrate 44.1g (of which sugars 34.1g), Fat 18.3g (of which saturated 11.2g)

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Testing, testing... moisturisers for problem skin

In December I blogged about beauty for busy mums, following a British Mummy Bloggers' Twitter party. Unsurprisingly, most mums don't have time to beautify themselves on a daily basis and rely on a handful of essentials. These include: moisturisers and cleansers, mascara and lipstick or lip salve. 

Moisturisers for dry, sensitive and problem skin
Many mums find that after having a child their skin is not as it used to be. In most cases the skin becomes dry and sensitive. And if you are an older mum, the dryness can be quite pronounced so you will have to find a product that can hydrate your skin without irritating it. And if you have problem skin, you need extra gentle ingredients, which means going for a fragrance-free moisturiser.

I'm an older mum and have gone from a combination skin (verging on the greasy) to a dry, sensitive skin. At first I thought the change was temporary, but while my body skin has reverted to what it used to be, my face is as dry as the Sahara desert. I also live in a windy area, which makes my facial skin look rough and dehydrated. Some days my skin looks like sandpaper, which does bring any fine lines into relief.

In this past two months I have been trying various moisturisers, sourced through a PR network. I have chosen products that are affordable, so this is a Crème de la Mer-free zone. 

The first moisturisers I tested are made in the U.S. and are distributed in the UK by Abbliss Ltd. They are both long-lasting products, once opened, Gloves In A Bottle has a recommended lifespan of 24 months, while SKIN MD can be used for 18 months - this is pretty unusual as most moisturisers have a recommended expiry date of 12 months after opening.

Gloves In A Bottle - the review 
Gloves In A Bottle
Gloves In A Bottle (£5.21 per 60ml, click here for stockist info) is not a product I have come across before, possibly because this is an American moisturiser that targets sensitive and problem skin (eczema and very dry skin). Women's magazines usually showcase conventional, mainstream moisturisers you find in supermarkets and at chemists. You can find this product at Selfridges and some chemists (and online) - if you want to try before you buy, you can ask for a free sample.

Gloves In A Bottle is hypoallergenic, fragrance- and colourant-free and is recommended by American dermatologists. It also claims to stay put, while conventional lotions come off when you wash. Its website has an impressive array of information on how this cream works to retain moisture. It is suitable for face, body and hands. I tried this product for several days but it soon became apparent that it's an effective moisturiser.

The first time I applied it to my face it gently exfoliated it, so my skin looked hydrated and of a pleasing colour (dead skin cells on your skin do give it a greyish tint). It was quite a strange experience but pleasant as it sank in really well and didn't feel greasy on my fingers. It also felt pleasantly cool and fresh when massaged in. My skin felt softer to the touch and was still soft and hydrated 24 hours later, despite a bitter wind outside and full-power central heating indoors. The label advises to reapply cream every four hours but in my case I found a little went a long way. I don't have problem skin, just dry skin and this cream did the job well and quickly.

So these are the pros, does Gloves In A Bottle have any cons? I can't fault this moisturiser, the only thing that might let it down is that name is a bit weird and the packaging basic and outdated, so if you can't live without fancy packaging and strong scents, this is not for you.

SKIN MD - the review

This American shielding lotion (with SPF15) is suitable for face, hand and body, and claims to be more effective than conventional moisturisers. It is suitable for problem skin and it aims to reduce the amount of steroid cream needed by psoriasis sufferers. There is plenty more information on its website, if you like finding out more about the product and what it does to your skin.

I massaged a small amount into my Sahara-dry facial skin and found it that it sank well and it was instantly effective.  I also liked the fact that my fingers were not oily. Creams that sink slowly and leave you with greasy fingers are one of my bugbears.

I was also pleased to notice that the area around my eyes, which has some fine lines, looked smoother and plumper. So not only it moisturised my parchment skin, SKIN MD also gave it a youthful glow.

As with Gloves In A Bottle, you can order a free sample of this lotion by clicking here. It's on sale at selected Boots stores and at Boots.com (£15.31 per 120 ml). And if you want a product with green credentials, the manufacturer uses solar power energy at their plant.

And the cons? The packaging looks kind of medical and it's not one of the cheapest lotions I tested, still it's not as expensive as a
Clarins, Origins or Clinique daily moisturiser.