Sunday, 29 September 2013

Hooked by a hook, why I'm not a Trebus, a craft project & a competition

I have always been a secret squirrel, never a minimalist. I like to keep stuff - so my partner has annoyingly nicknamed me Trebus. Unlike Trebus, I do like having some empty space around me and being able to find things, so I'm a great fan of storage: shelves, cupboards, wardrobes, chest of drawers, baskets, sheds, you name it, I have got it! Over the years I must have spent a fortune in Argos, Homebase, Ikea and B&Q as I lived in several different houses (owned and rented). However I also like going around charity shops, so I have bought and done up old furniture to use as storage. 

But what about small things to keep at hand or in view? That's when the humble hook comes into its own. So I jumped at the chance of reviewing a variety of hooks from Command, which you can buy from retailers and online. I do recommend visiting its website beforehand, which offers useful information, decorative inspiration and a tempting competition

Hooks are not only handy for everyday living but also great for special occasions (think Halloween, Christmas, Easter...) when you'd like to stick something on a wall without leaving a mark. That's what Command hooks and strips can offer you - damage-free hanging - which is perfect when you are renting a place and don't want to lose part of your deposit because your pictures or Christmas fairy lights left a mark or, worse, a hole on a wall. 

Win, Win! Check out for a chance to win one of three £150 Photobox vouchers and a 3M Command product kit.

Crafting corner: let your imagination run free

Forget hanging kitchen utensils or coats in a hallway, you can use hooks to create your own wall art. This pictorial tree would work really well to display family pictures - no hammer and nails required! 

Step-by-step guide to creating a memory tree
1. Choose the area in your home you wish to update: it could be a bare wall in your living room, a child’s play room or even your study. You will need to purchase a tree wall transfer in order to start off your design, unless you want to paint your own. 

2. Plan your colour palette. We worked on a cream wall and chose a brown tree transfer, so decided to keep our decorations to neutral creams and browns. You don’t have to stick to one or two colours though – why not go for a bold design?

3.  Pick out some items to hang on your memory wall. Perhaps you could focus on a specific event, such as your wedding, holiday or birth of a child - you could even turn it into family tree! Think about the shape of the items you are hanging and try to balance the display in terms of the composition.

4. To hang photo frames or canvases, you can use Command Picture Hanging Strips. You can take a small birdcage and clip photos or quirky post cards to it, and then hang it using a Command Clear Hook so that it blends in with the wall, or perhaps use the Command Clear Mini Hooks to hang lighter items such as a little trinkets or lighter cardboard decorations. These don’t leave any marks on your walls and remove cleanly and easily - perfect if you decide to swap or move any of the items at a later stage. But before you do, check the pack to work out which hooks suit each of your decorations the best, weight-wise.

5. Once you have decided on your arrangement, try laying out all of your items on the floor to see if the design works before you hang it. 

6. If you are using Command hooks or strips, it is recommended that you put them onto the wall and leave them for an hour to ensure that they stick before you hang your items. And there you have it! A beautiful memory tree that looks great in any room and is completely unique to you. 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Guest post: top tips for a comfortable and beautiful vintage home

The vintage look is still in, but if you are not keen on old furniture or antiques, it doesn't have to be musty interiors with back-breaking furniture and rigid, scratchy fabrics, writes Jessica Christian from

You can easily incorporate a vintage feel into your home while retaining all modern, hedonistic comforts. It is surprisingly simple to retain the best of mod cons while injecting vintage glamour, especially since mainstream manufacturers have taken notice of our love of vintage elegance and are creating stunning reproductions. 

Quality reproduction furniture can look as good as old pieces, but comes with user-friendly innovations such as soft-close drawers, easy-clean surfaces and stain-resistant fabrics - the colourful take on the chesterfield sofa pictured above and the elegant cabinet with slender legs are attractive examples.

But it's especially in the bedroom that we crave comfortable charm. In the old days they knew how to inject style in a bedroom - think thick linen sheets, handmade quilts and embroidered pillow cases... These were indeed beautiful, soft to the touch but not easy to maintain - delicate embroidery doesn't fare well in a washing machine.  However you can indulge yourself by choosing easy-care quality fabrics, a multitude of decorative pillows and luxurious blankets and throws. Bedding and bedroom furnishings are available in such an enormous range of colours, sizes, fabrics and patterns that you are spoilt for choice.
You can also add small touches of vintage appeal here and there. An embroidered footstool in an empty corner or even a neat stack of old suitcases positioned to form a stylish bedside table can impart a delightful and ageless je-ne-sai-quoi to your very own boudoir.

It might not offer all mod cons, but vintage furniture is superb. Made to last in seasoned wood by expert craftsmen, it can last for centuries if properly cared for. Soft modern cushions can take the edge off the unyielding hardness of solid wood. Salvage yards, auctions and second-hand shops can unearth vintage treasures.

What if you are on a tight budget?

If you cannot afford to replace your furniture and are pushed for space, you can achieve interesting effects by injecting vintage style through paint and accessories. A dado or picture rail instantly adds old-fashioned charm to any room, including a narrow entrance or bland corridor.

Accessories can really jazz up a room and ooze vintage vibes - just think of orange, brown and cream chevrons… the Seventies, right? Cream, soft rose and dusky blue – the fabulous twenties! And do you remember seeing photos of Eighties' petrol blue and dove grey power suits? Each decade has a distinct colour palette - a good place to start if money is tight.

This article was sent by Jessica Christian. Visit her blog for more interior decorating tips. 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Toyota travelogue 2013: from England to Italy

Our Toyota will be 10 years old in October - in the past five years we have been taking a few continental journeys from England to Italy through France (once through Belgium), which have been documented on this blog and a newsletter (see links at the bottom of this post).

We started travelling with a toddler and we now have a school-age child and a lighter boot - you can well imagine what it is like to travel with a young child with the travel cot, buggy, bulky car seat, etc... This year we have been able to take back oil, wine and other continental delicacies (madeleines, langues de chat, saucisson sec, Mont St-Michel biscuits...) that took our fancy. 

This year, the itinerary was: Cambridge, Laon, Dijon, Grenoble, Asti, Lyon, Reims, Calais. Calais has a surprisingly nice, clean beach and great facilities for kids as it has several free playgrounds for all ages (from baby to teens) just opposite the beach. It was kind of interesting to walk around the beach, pick up shells, build a sand castle and see big ferries come in and leave.

First stop: Laon

Laon's cathedral - a pilgrimage hotspot in the Middle Ages
Laon, part of the old walls
Laon - this sign tickled our funny bones
Laon, The Templars' Chapel

On the French motorway: two of the best aires

Aire d'Urvillers

    Aire de Jugy

    Second stop: Dijon

    Dijon: main park

    Dijon: old buildings in the prime shopping area

    Third stop: Grenoble
    Grenoble: the old fort 

    Grenoble: a church angel

                                   Fourth stop: Castagnole, near Asti
    Castagnole: the baroque church

    Castagnole: the tower

                                                         Fifth stop: Lyon

Lyon: the farmers' market (Sunday)

Lyon: the Japanese tea stall at the farmers' market

Lyon: a stunning square close to our hotel

    Sixth stop: Reims
Reims: the cathedral

Reims: the Art Museum

Friday, 13 September 2013

How to see the positive side of rejection (aka hurray, I didn't get that job!)

Now, now, who got that job?

Nobody likes rejection, me included. I'm a proactive go-getter so if I work hard on a job application (not only researching the company/organisation involved but also preparing presentations and undergoing various tests if I reach the interview stage), it's a real downer to be told, "We loved your presentation, but we found a candidate closely matching our requirements, bla, bla".  Often I get zero feedback and I wonder, "Why not?". But not for long.

Thanks to the internet it's remarkably easy to find out who gets the job you have been applying for, if the organisation/firm doesn't make an announcement on its website, then you just do a search on LinkedIn. Another way is to work for that organisation in another capacity. More than once, I didn't get the job but I ended up working there through a temping agency. That's how I found out that a couple of jobs I applied for went to internal candidates. Grrr, the internal candidate, what's the point of advertising such a job? I don't see the point, no matter what the law says.

Then there is the annoyance when you find out that the job went to somebody younger, a 'man' (I have nothing against men, I quite like them, I'm just fed up of this gender divide nonsense) or, intriguinglysomebody who is not 'better' than you, like somebody less experienced... Something my partner told me once comes to mind: "In business people hire people they like or they feel comfortable working with". So the winning candidate might not be 'better', but more likeable. Not a compliment, but it's understandable. You can't please everybody.

Women also have another disadvantage over men - it has been proven that women don't tend to bullshit. Sorry for the use of the strong word but there has been research saying that women won't apply for a job unless they can tick all the requirements on the job description. I was ticking away, until my partner advised me to stop. And he was right as I got a few interviews for managerial roles. I didn't get the jobs, but from the feedback I got, it was a question of beating stiff competition, there was nothing wrong with my CV.

There is also another scenario, which happened to me recently. You attend the interview and you get a raft of hostile questions. So you do some verbal fencing while wondering:
  • Have they read my CV?
  • Why in hell have they called me for this interview?
  • Is it some sort of strategy to find an emotionally strong candidate?
  • Why am I here? This job sounds like miles away from the job description.
  • I don't like these people, should I sabotage my interview?
  • Why is this woman in the panel giving me the evil eye while the other is as nice as pie? Is it a game of good cop, bad cop?
Feel free to add more scenarios... I'm starting to realise that interviews are either a competitive sport or a performance theatre play. Most of the jobs I go for are contract jobs, so you'd think they are easier to get than permanent posts, but no, it's actually worse! These jobs are highly attractive because Cambridge has a transient labour market. There are plenty of people after them, even people who don't live in Cambridge but are hoping to move here.

But back to that list of thoughts surfacing in my head while I'm being interviewed... If like me you sat there and had similar thoughts, not getting the job is the best outcome. Always trust your instincts,  I haven't and I should learn to. I once got a job after getting the evil eye treatment and it was not a nice workplace. Luckily I had the option of going back to work from home. 

I'm lucky to have a choice, but I didn't when I graduated in 1993, during an economic recession. I had to do jobs I was overqualified for, work for unpleasant people until I made my escape into journalism. I had a wonderful career for well over a decade. 

Out of London it's a bit different, plus the economic/financial recession of 2008 is still having repercussions, whatever the politicians say. There are less opportunities in "the provinces", but things are picking up in digital marketing. 

I could stay freelance but after several years of homeworking I like the idea of being in an office again. I started doing inhouse jobs in 2011,  a bit hampered by restrictive childcare provisions. Now my daughter is in school and has a place at a afterschool club, it's getting easier. Still I'd like to see more flexible opportunities for mums. 

I couldn't stop working, not even when heavily pregnant, so my only option was to volunteer my skills. I'm still doing some volunteering and it's wonderful work, but at some point everybody needs to earn some money.

We all want a better life-work balance, another reason why it's best not to get certain jobs, especially in the corporate sector, which is not child friendly, whatever they say. And most businesses still believe on bums on seats, like remote technology is something out of sci-fi. Maybe we need an app so employers can breathe on remote employees' necks. 

Finally, if you are a male reader, I wish you luck in finding a way to work and see your children grow. It was a big financial sacrifice for us, but well worth it - after several years of working as a freelance consultant, my partner is back on the career ladder and I'm on my way. Like the French songstress sang: Rien, je ne regrette rien.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Spot me at the Creating Cambridge BIG Summer BBQ 2013

I attended this business networking event during the summer. Quite a funny video. I was only drinking orange juice, honest! I'm wearing a floral top and jeans.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Back to school - where has the summer gone?

We went back to the Aire of Jugy -
see updated pics here (link to come)

We came back from the holidays the day before the schools opened and it has been hectic. My partner flew abroad for a business trip a few days later and I have been holding the fort while working from home.

We had a great holiday driving from Cambridge to northern Italy through France and our soon-to-be-ten Toyota didn't break down. What will we do when it does? I will blog about this soon as I have some photos to share.

I have also been networking, which is not innate for me but it's coming along nicely - give me a break, if I were a consummate chatter, I'd be in sales not content marketing (ie writing stuff). If, like me, you are a bit nervous in a room full of strangers, just smile, look around and locate somebody on their own. This trick works very well, I have learnt it at my first business conference from a really smart lady. It's not as creepy as it sounds, honest!

We had a lovely summer in the UK and some rain in Italy courtesy of the Cambridge cloud (a real cloud, I'm not talking about internet storage). It follows us around a bit. But after a few warm days back in the UK, the idyll was over, with cold, rainy days. I just about managed to mow the grass and rake it before the grey clouds arrived.

Well, that's it for now. I have heaps of things to do and a  work file to go through.

Hope you are all doing well and the kids are enjoying school.