Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Guest Blogger: Sarah Beeny, founder of Tepilo.com asks if now is the right time to be putting your home on the market?

Traditionally there are busier and quieter times of the year for house selling. These are based on what much of the population is doing. December is quieter as everyone builds up to Christmas but the market tends to pick up in the New Year - equally August tends to be quiet. However in these more uncertain times, I personally recommend that you don't wait, as despite what you endlessly read, the truth is nobody has any idea what is actually going to happen in the market. If now is a good time in your life to sell, sell now, as you never know, the market may have moved down if you wait.

There are many random statistics about how many seconds it takes us to make up our minds about a person or place, but the underlying truth is that buyers decide whether they like a property very quickly indeed. So, without doubt, the first impressions of a house are very important. I believe that the way a house looks from the front is one of the most valuable selling tools around. What you don't want to do is to put off buyers before they actually reach the front door.

Fifty years ago, city society was very different from today; people took pride in washing their steps, polishing their brass letterboxes, even scrubbing their bit of pavement. Nowadays, though, it tends to only be the inside of our homes that we lavish ‘tlc' on, abandoning the space beyond the front door as if it didn't exist. Even if it's not littered with bits of car engine, crisp packets or drink cans, it generally doesn't match up to the sparkling interiors within.

It need not take a great deal of money to make the front look cared for. Just picking the litter up is a start. Follow that with a lick of paint and bit of weeding and planting. If you have a communal front door, whether you're trying to sell or not, my theory is that it is often easier to scrub the common parts yourself than to argue with whoever's turn it is.

Of course, you can give a house a complete façade lift, changing the front door and windows, replacing dilapidated drainpipes and gutters, or even adding cladding. It's pricey, but it can often add substantial value to a plain or uninteresting property in a sought-after location. But whatever you do, remember the outside of a property remains a reflection of the inside. If you're selling, make sure it looks smart. The front of a house is a statement to the world about how you live.

Here are my top things to do to your home before putting it on the market


* Clean the windows - inside and out.

* Clean the whole house - if you smoke, stop smoking inside and clean all ashtrays - if you have pets, wash their beds. Pet and cigarette odour are the two smells that come up most often in ‘put off' smells list.

* Look at your kitchen and bathroom from an outsider's point of view - if they are really manky, do something about it - often it only requires bleaching the grout and cutting out and re siliconing - get in behind the basin and loo and get scrubbing there, too.

* Deal with outside - start on the street - what do you see - potential viewers will stand and pause just there too and it's their first impression.

* Don't argue with neighbours about who is going to do what - check if they don't mind and get on and clean it up yourself.

* De-clutter - as if you haven't heard it before, but use this as the perfect moment to move the piles of stuff you don't use to a charity shop - if you do a good clear out in one go, you will be better about getting what you don't need to a suitable recycling unit or charity shop where someone might actually use your silly unwanted nonsense. You are then able to clear surfaces - this will give a much greater sense of space and almost more importantly, less of the feeling that the house is rather hard work to live in.

* Outside space - however small, in fact even more importantly if it's small - outside space is a real luxury and one that should be cherished, especially in an urban setting.

* Give it a clean - get a few cheapie pot plants and look out for an inexpensive table and chairs to show you can use the space.

* Small rooms - like small gardens it's rather more important to dress small rooms well, otherwise people may not be able to really envisage how the room could work.

* Try to avoid putting things just inside the door of a room - you ideally want to be able to get inside a room before you trip over something.

Tepilo.com enables buyers to sell or let their home with no charges or commission.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Guest Blogger: Alison Cork, home expert, writer and broadcaster, on her Christmas at home.

Categorically, Christmas has to be my favourite time of year. On the one hand , I genuinely do find it a time for reflection and almost meditation. But on another level, it’s all about noise and happy activity.

I’m a sucker for ritual, and regardless of faith, I think Christmas presents a fabulous opportunity to be with family, take time out, and indulge in some time honoured traditions.

When it comes to decorations, I always choose a theme – this year, in the sitting room at least, it’s Decadence! I am going for the rich pinks, purples and turquoises of the orient, and as far as the tree is concerned, the more decoration the better. Minimalism is OUT.

I am particularly fond of peacocks, and have seen some stunning and really inexpensive peacock inspired decorations at Wilkinson, Matalan, House of Fraser, Angel At My Table and others. One thing I saw at Fortnum and Mason was a bejewelled peacock tree topper – cheap it was not, but I am lusting after it something rotten. Retailers really seem to have pushed the boat out this year –take a look at Tesco and Sainsburys too.

In the dining room I’m going for a White Ice theme, and will be hanging a myriad of white baubles from the central chandelier. Over the mirrors I’m going for the silver eucalyptus wreaths from B&Q! A completely white and silver table with my silvered fruit centre piece and walnut place name holders will finish it off nicely.

At which point my mind turns to food. I think this year it’s going to be very trad, with a turkey and trimmings. Boxing Day will be beef and Christmas Eve some sort of salmon and prawn dish. I have a fantastic recipe for trifle, and on the drinks front, its Gluwein (mulled wine) and Lidl champagne for me – it beat all the other supermarkets on taste (according to Which magazine) and costs half the price. For festive cakes and chocolates, you can’t beat the selection at Aldi and Lidl.

In terms of traditions, we have a bit of a hotchpotch. My mother is German, so we always have a special dinner on Christmas Eve, and indeed, as a child that was when we opened our presents. We also celebrate Hannukah, which begins on the 21st December this year. Then there are presents on Christmas Day. So basically, we start on Dec 21st and keep going until New Year – it’s never quiet in our house!

Finally, my preparations would not be complete without involving Henry, our six foot bronze stag who lives in the front garden. Henry gets his own tree and looks for all the world as if he is just stepping out of the Scottish woodland. Passers by love it and so do we. Christmas really is my favourite time of year.

Find some more great Christmas tips and tricks from Alison on AlisonCork.com. Find home and garden bargains at HomesandBargains.co.uk and recommended and vetted tradespeople at ProblemSolved.co.uk

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Guest Blogger: Nicky Sherwood, Editor of FromBritainWithLove.com

If you’re about to embark on your Christmas food shopping, it’s likely that you’ll be paying close attention to the provenance of your ingredients... maybe you’ll choose organic, free range, locally reared, or you may even buy direct from the producer. But what about the rest of your Christmas shopping list...?

At FromBritainWithLove.com, the guide to buying British, we’re here to help you find an alternative to mass-produced generic high street offerings, and discover beautiful products made by Britain’s talented designers, makers, artisans and craftspeople. By shopping local you’re not only helping to support local businesses and the wider economy, but also cutting your carbon footprint, and best of all you’ll be giving an original and distinctive gift that has been created with love and is sure to be received with pleasure. Here I’ve selected a few of my festive favourites...


I love the idea of a Christmas decoration which is brought out year after year and becomes part of the family. This Nativity Tea & Egg Cosy Set by Cornish designer Poppy Treffry is handmade using a vintage 1930’s Singer sewing machine, and has heirloom written all over it.

If you’re buying for little ones, take a look at new children’s knitwear label Picaloulou. Made from British farmed Merino and Alpaca, each limited edition garment is made by a dedicated team of local knitters, and is sure to be passed on to future generations.

One of the advantages of buying locally made products is that you can often get your gifts personalised by the maker. At The Stylish Dog Company, which sources all of its products in Britain, even your pooch can have his bone and eat it with this appliquéd linen Dog Stocking.

When it comes to gift wrap I favour simple over bling, so this cheerful polka dot print on brown craft paper by Hampshire-based designer Sophia Victoria Joy gets my vote.

For the ultimate in eco-friendly seasonal greetings, why not send a personalised Christmas e-postcard by Bristol-based designer Rachel Goodchild? For an annual subscription of just £5 you can send an unlimited number of e-cards and choose from over 150 original designs.

Men are notoriously tricky to buy for, but I think any man worth his gadgets would be delighted with this jaunty red leather iPad sleeve from family-run leather company Tusting, who have been producing fine English leather goods since 1875.

One of my favourite gift companies, Biscuiteers are known for their stylish iced biscuits, but they’ve recently brought out a range of iced cakes which are just as pretty and would make a fabulous centrepiece to your festive dinner table.

These are just a handful of British made Christmas gift ideas from some of the talented businesses you’ll find on FromBritainWithLove.com. Discover hundreds more in our Directory and celebrate the wealth of talent that exists on your doorstep this Christmas!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Watch the video from our Website of the Year 2011 Awards Reception

The Good Web Guide's third Website of the Year Award 2011 was announced by Jo Malone MBE on 16th November. Aimed at small web-based businesses and organisations, the awards provide online enterprises the opportunity to gain recognition and support for their businesses. WeFund scooped the top prize and was awarded the accolade of Website of the Year 2011. Runners-up included The Rare Tea Company and designer dress rental service, Girl Meets Dress. Parcel Monkey was awarded the People's Choice Award.

The shortlist of twenty-four sites demonstrated innovation, passion and a commitment to harnessing the full power of the web, some that you will definitely want to bookmark.

The 2011 Awards Reception was held on 16th November at The Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. Find out more about the award here.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Guest Blogger: Olly Smith, Drinks Ambassador at The Ideal Home Show at Christmas

This week, I'm the Celebrity Drinks Ambassador for the Ideal Home Show at Christmas (16th-20th November) and, although I have yet to receive any formal attire - surely ambassadors wear red sashes and twinkly medals - I couldn't be more chuffed for the opportunity to share my Christmas drinks tips.

I passionately believe that you don't need to spend a fortune to enjoy great wine. Try Cuvée Chasseur 2010 from Waitrose for just £4.13 a bottle (you can get a case delivered from waitrosewine.com). It's a brilliant vibrant fruity red from the south of France that I'm delighted by. Great value, top flavour and the perfect wine for mulling - fruity, light and delicious! This year, I've created a brand new recipe especially for the Ideal Home Show at Christmas. It's simple to make and utterly delicious - you can find it at the end of this blog.

If you're hunting down drinks for Christmas parties, I've found a sensational white wine bargain at Majestic - Aspen Pinot Grigio 2011 from Australia, just £4.99 and, for a party tipple, it is light, refreshing and perfectly simple. As for fizz, Prosecco has been a big hit this year but if you hurry to Tesco.com, its bubbly Tesco Brut Cava is just £3.79 online at the moment - perfect party fizz. If you're after a beer, Thornbridge Brewery gets my vote - its Jaipur IPA is an intense citrus spanker and its Wild Swan is light, easy and refreshing - smashing beers from a leading brewery.

In my book Eat & Drink, I pair recipes with drinks to show how the combinations can unleash a hidden dimension, a playful sense of adventure and deliver extra enjoyment with a touch of ingenuity. Parkin with Mincemeat Ice Cream paired with my Chai Latte recipe is one of my favourite winter treats. And if you pop along to the Ideal Home Show at Christmas, I'd be delighted to sign you a copy of my book and share more tips with you!

For more info on the inaugural Ideal Home Show at Christmas visit
idealhomeshowatchristmas.co.uk. You can also ask Olly your drinks questions on Twitter, Facebook and through his website, ollysmith.com.

Olly's Mulled Wine Recipe

Red Wine 1 bottle Cuvée Chasseur 2010 from Waitrose.

Port 50ml

Orange Juice (no bits) 100ml

Half an orange studded with 4 cloves (Cloves are a powerful flavour so I prefer to keep it subtle. You can add more cloves if you wish to boost the Christmas flavour).

1 cinnamon stick

1 star anise
1 vanilla pod halved lengthways

Dark Muscovado sugar 100-120 grams depending on taste (I love it sweet!)

Olly's Mulled Wine: Method
Pour the orange juice into the pan and add the Dark Muscovado Sugar.
Dissolve to make an even syrup.
Add the orange studded with cloves.

Gently pour in the red wine.

Warm up gently but do not boil or you risk losing the booze.

Add the spices.

Gently warm for 8 minutes but do not boil.

After 8 minutes, add the Port - it boosts and enriches flavour and colour.

Gently stir and leave to warm for 2 more minutes.
Remove the orange and spices and serve warm in glass mugs with an orange twist for a garnish.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Guest Blogger: Tamie Adaya blogs from her desk in California

My only decision as I amble towards my kitchen each morning is whether to have a cup of PG Tips or one of my own homemade chai brews. My morning bliss formula is Tea + Walkers Shortbread + BBC World Service.

I created the Hotel Shangrila in Santa Monica, California, for young-minded sophisticates of any age, who, like me, wear many different hats. Shangrila exists, in part, as a cultural crucible where I expose my guests to whatever I'm inspired by at a particular time; in turn they inspire me. It's a cultural exchange of sorts.

In 2012, I'm launching a restorative lounge at the Shangrila partnered with ILA Spa products, which utilise wild-harvested natural plant and mineral ingredients and follow traditional, sustainable practices. Hotel Shangrila is a convergence of culture and sensuality at the ocean and my version of the 'hotel spa' seeks to complement that by capitalizing on Shangrila's streamline-modern architecture, lush green courtyard and zen-like ocean-front atmosphere - a modern-day Sybaris.

On the wall to the left of my office desk hangs a gift from rock 'n roll photographer Lawrence Watson: a framed large-scale print of Liam Gallagher draped in a vintage Union Jack. The window to my right frames Santa Monica's Pacific Ocean sunsets. I have old blighty to my left, world-class edible sherbet sunsets to my right, and rather too much work straight ahead on my desk.

Tamie Adaya is the owner of the Hotel Shangrila in Santa Monica and blogs on her cultural inspirations for The Huffington Post and Tamie Adaya.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

What's the Next Step for Crowdsourcing? Read our latest blog for The Huffington Post

Trawling through entries to The Good Web Guide's third Website of the Year Award recently, it was gratifying to see an overall improvement in the quality of website entering our award and intriguing to note an increased number of sites entered that are using crowdsourcing as their model.

Defined by Wikipedia - the crowdsourced encyclopaedia - as "sourcing tasks traditionally performed by specific individuals to an undefined large group of people or community (crowd) through an open call," crowdsourcing uses the web to invite small contributions from multiple people and, in doing so, fund projects, build content, create ideas, solve problems or perform tasks that traditionally would have been completed by one person or organisation, or, in some cases, may not have been achieved at all.

Driven by the rise in and uptake of Web 2.0, crowdsourcing embraces social media as a way of directing communication and encouraging collaboration that can be advantageous when applied to many different scenarios. This has been particularly true for the consumer, who - via sites such as Groupon and Crowdity - can now enjoy much larger discounts on events, products and services than they could before by simply spreading the word amongst their friends and using the power of the group or crowd to drive down prices.

In Australia, an interesting development of this idea is currently being applied to energy companies via a new crowdsourcing business, One Big Switch, which uses "the power of group switching" to help consumers get the best possible deals on their energy bills. As British energy companies continue to hike prices, despite increases in their profit margins and many people facing fuel poverty this winter, this is something that is clearly needed in the UK.

To read the full blog, visit The Huffington Post. And do feel free to share the article on your social media pages, or use the comments section to give your own views on the subject. 

Monday, 31 October 2011

Guest Blogger: Polly Robinson of Food Safari on British Sausage Week

There’s seems to be a week for everything these days, and believe it or not 31st October - 6th November is the 14th British Sausage Week! Staggeringly over 5 million people eat sauages in the UK every day but very few of us think about what’s gone into them.

Cheap sausages can be made with as little as 30% pork and 20 per cent mechanically recovered meat, a process that sucks it from the bones and mashes it to a slimy paste. Other ingredients include 15% water, 30% cereal rusk plus 5% additives, flavourings, colour, sugar, flavour enhancer and preservatives. That’s to say nothing for the welfare of the pigs.

On Food Safari’s Free Range Pig in a Day we teach people how to make sausages from scratch, starting with a visit to a free range pork farm, Blythburgh Pork. Like home-made bread versus cheap bread, home-made sausages have a much shorter list of ingredients. We use 80-90% pork, a little rusk and water and let people be as creative as they like with other flavours from leek and blue cheese to chili and cumin.

If making your own sausages is a step too far for you, then take time to read the label or better still buy from a butcher who can tell you exactly what’s gone into your banger.

Loopholes in the law allow a sausage filled with imported meat to be labelled British, even if it has only been made or packed in the UK. Look out for the Red Tractor or the RSPCA Freedom Food label as some guarantee of the animal welfare.

What is the difference between organic, free range, outdoor reared and outdoor bred? It’s worth taking a bit of time to understand the labels. The RSPCA and the pork industry are working to standardise these terms and encourage the supermarkets to adopt them, but at the moment there are no clear definitions.

My preference is for Free Range, such as the excellent Blythburgh Pork, which we visit on Food Safari. The pigs are born outside and remain outside with plenty of room to roam, play and forage producing a slower growing more tasty pig.

Outdoor reared pigs are outside for about half their lives before moving indoors or to enclosed pens, they won’t necessarily have access to pasture, but will be kept in an outside pen with plenty of straw bedding. Outdoor Bred is a rather looser term, meaning the piglets are born outdoors but are moved indoors (to unspecified conditions) to be finished after about 4 weeks.

As you tuck into your sausage and mash or toad in the hole in British Sausage Week, it pays to think a little about what’s gone into your sausage.

Polly Robinson is the founder of Food Safari, which offers 'field to fork' experiences in Suffolk ranging from visiting farms or going wild food foraging to off-shore fishing or behind the scenes visits with artisan producers. www.foodsafari.co.uk

Monday, 24 October 2011

Guest Blogger: Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation on Tech4StartUp Britain

Last week was Tech4StartUp Britain Week; a schedule of events where companies, large and small, offered their top tech tips to start ups and growing businesses. Hosted by national campaign, StartUp Britain, topics covered ranged from how to get online, making the most of mobile, and becoming a Twitter pro.


What quickly became clear was how technology that used to be only accessible to large businesses is now being made freely (or at low cost) available to start ups and micro enterprises. At the kick-off event held at Microsoft on Monday, we heard from James Akrigg on how the cloud is enabling small businesses to work how, where and when they want with services on a pay as you go basis that meet most budgets. On Wednesday it was time for Wendy Tan White and Joe White of Moonfruit to demonstrate their newly launched and incredibly impressive Shopbuilder which provides small business owners with a professional presence on the web, including replication to Facebook, for an affordable price. Tools and techniques previously only available to large companies with big budgets are now opening up to the benefit of thousands of start-ups.


The tools and tips demonstrated throughout the week had a clear focus; they were aimed at helping small business owners save time and money. Mark Shaw www.markshaw.biz, the UK’s leading Twitter expert, showed how to use this free tool to promote your business and engage with clients (ie increase sales) and Ural Cebeci of Skype www.skype.com presented on how this global voice over IP tool connects you with partners, suppliers and staff without the need to travel (saving time) and with skype to skype calls being free, it’s a money-saver too. Whether starting or growing, small business owners focus on how to increase revenue, make the most of hours in the day, and keep overheads to a minimum. The majority of the presentations focused on these key needs and I guarantee attendees will be testing out their discoveries this coming week!


During the week I listened to many speakers as well as presenting myself to an event of Country Homes magazine readers interested in starting a business. In promoting tools such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as powerful promotion channels, I was asked the question as to how much time it takes and which the most effective tools to use. This brings me back to a final key theme of Tech4StartUp Britain speakers which was their advice to experiment; it’s quick, easy and cheap to try a number web and social media tools and platforms and work out which ones work best for you.
Let’s embrace the tools being created to improve our business performance and keep minds open to constant experimentation!

With thanks to Arabella Dymoke of The Good Web Guide who was one of our top guest speakers of the week.

Emma Jones is founder of small business support company, Enterprise Nation www.enterprisenation.com and co-founder of StartUp Britain www.startupbritain.org

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Should Restaurants Forbid Customers from Taking Photographs of their Food? Our latest blog for The Huffington Post

It used to be considered bad manners to take photographs in a restaurant. Now, it seems like everyone is doing it and some restaurants are beginning to put their foot down.

Recently, an article on the site of Australia's Herald Sun newspaper reported that Grossi Florentino, a smart Melbourne restaurant, had admonished a diner after it spotted her trying to take photographs of her lunch-time tortellini. "If the photographs aren't taken well or aren't taken properly, it can be very misrepresentative," said Guy Grossi, owner of the restaurant, adding, "pictures of half-eaten dishes can be misleading ... and there are other patrons dining, so we are very cautious and sensitive."

He's not the only restaurateur for whom dining photography is a touchy subject. In New York, David Chang of Momofuku Ko in East Village and César Ramirez, chef at Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, have both banned photography in their restaurants and several other New York restaurants, while not quite adopting an out-and-out ban, keep a watchful eye on diners who may become too snap-happy.

But are they right to lay down the law in this way? Is taking photos really offensive to other diners? And does it matter if photos, taken by paying customers and shared online, are less than perfect?

To read the full blog, visit The Huffington Post. And do feel free to share the article on your social media pages, or use the comments section to give your own views on the subject.

Guest Blogger: Mott Green, founder of The Grenada Chocolate Company on Chocolate Week

Here I am in London’s Bonnington Square, my favorite home away from home. Staying with the Coady-Booths, of Rococo Chocolates. Together we are formulating our GROCOCO CRU chocolate bar, made from beans grown on our joint venture farm in Hermitage, St Patricks, Grenada and made into chocolate right there too.

I slipped right through Gatwick with 10 cocoa pods I picked up three hours before I flew out of Grenada on Sunday evening and am looking forward to sharing our chocolate and cocoa pods and stories with the chocolate-loving public at Chocolate Unwrapped this weekend. We will also be launching our two new chocolate bars there, the Salty-Licious (71% dark chocolate with Himalayan salt) and the 100% cocoa bar (surprisingly not bitter and full of flavour!)

The most exciting recent development at The Grenada Chocolate Company is our partnership with The Tres Hombres, a Dutch Brigantine square-rigged, old fashion sailboat with no engine at all. The Tres Hombres moves cargo from Europe to the Caribbean and back sustainably using only the power of the wind. Teaming up with them, we will be moving eight tons of our chocolate bars from Grenada to NYC and the UK, offering North America and Europe the first sustainably delivered chocolate bars, made on the cocoa farm in the deep tropics and brought to market with only wind power!

Because it is a life-long dream for me and to make sure the chocolate remains in perfect condition, I will be taking the whole journey myself from March to May, 2012. Charlie Boxer of Italo is hosting a tasting this Friday afternoon, as well as planning to join as crew on the way back from Grenada with the chocolate shipment. You will be able to follow our movements as we will be putting the journey on our website when we set off… Watch this space! www.grenadachocolate.com

Mott Green is the founder of The Grenada Chocolate Company

Monday, 3 October 2011

Guest Blogger: David Gilston of Once Was England on 'Yesterday's Best'

Bounding forth from the past into the present, from the refreshingly chilly concrete bunker of the Churchill War Rooms, back into this unseasonally foreign, October sunshine, one bagged the wisp of a thought as it wafted through the rippling green haze of London's St. James's Park. It was this: since time immemorial, ever since our nocky, loin-clothed ancestors scratched their charcoaled fingernails across the musty cave walls of Cheddar Gorge, we Englanders have been driven to record, to pot and to pickle history, our history; for today and tomorrow, for ourselves and Johnny Foreigner.

One deduced that this habit was as English as tuppence, that it should be branded the 'Tiptree Syndrome'and that our nation's most favourite blend is called ‘Nostalgia’; a sugary, thick cut conserve that is each and every Englishman's relish. Instantly recognisable by its sturdy, rose-tinted jar, it is best spread thick when one feels all colly-molly, with its invigorating flavours of better times past. Now is an especially good time to twist open its lid.

These days it would seem, the world is rather fond too of the taste of ‘olde’ and what once was England. This fashion season, from Hoxton to Harajuku, one can see legions of Tricker-booted, Barbour-jacketed young buffers swagging the sidewalks; fellows for whom all things English are now most proper and champion. What a bit of jam!

Dam silly, you might say. I say, it’s a jolly kick up the collective corybungus for those who’ve forgotten from whence they came from. To paraphrase old Winnie, a country that knoweth not its history simply has no future. Here, here.

David Gilston is a British designer and brand developer whose blog Once Was England "harks back to a disappearing age in our history - the time of the gentleman - when people ate faggots and tripe, drove Rolls Royces and Bentleys, had their clothes made with their tailor and holidayed by the sea." Read the full GWG review of his blog.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Guest Blogger: Jo Casley of furniture & design website, mydeco.com

This week marks the end of London Design Festival 2011, bringing to a close a smorgasbord of design delights, with almost 300 different events taking place across the capital.

The Festival is always a fun and inspiring – if hectic – fortnight, and this year it was especially interesting to see London’s design highlights through the eyes of a group of American design and style bloggers, here as part of ‘BlogTour 2011’ – the first cultural exchange of bloggers between the UK and US.

I had the priviledge working with Modenus who organized BlogTour 2011 on the London itinerary – and boy, did we squeeze a lot in! Here are a few highlights.

Textile Field by French designers Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec at the V&A museum is a creative and beautiful installation in the gallery’s Raphael Cartoons room. The gigantic upholstered boards reflect the Raphael canvas’ colours, and encourage visitors to view the wonderful paintings from a totally new perspective – sitting or lying down. It’s immersive and a very comfortable way to view art! (See it at the V&A until October 20th).

Image credit: Textile Field via Creative Review 

Also at the V&A, a real highlight for me was the interactive Beyond The Valley takeover in the Clore study, where visitors could experience the digitally printed wallpapers and fabrics, and design their own on special iPads.

Image Credit: Anna Zeuner at Arts Thread blog

Designersblock offered a rare chance to see inside a fascinating London building, the Farmiloe building in Clerkenwell. Originally a Victorian bathroom warehouse, it used to be the most heavily reinforced building in the city! A great place to see energetic student design.

 mydeco.com is the site set up by Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane-Fox of Lastminute.com fame. It aims to make home design easy by giving visitors the chance to visualise new furniture in their homes and the opportunity to compare and shop for products online. www.mydeco.com

Friday, 23 September 2011

Why Bloggers Rule the Roost - our latest blog for The Huffington Post UK

In The Times' Saturday magazine last weekend, new fashion editor, Laura Craik squeezed into a designer dress, climbed into a pair of towering high heels and took centre stage in her own feature. These days, she said, fashion editors don't have much choice but to get in front of the camera and model the products themselves and this is thanks largely to fashion bloggers, who, "without a budget, created their own visual content" and made their blogs "all the more compelling for it."

Editors and traditional publishing outlets have been trying to harness the power of the blog for a while now - by forcing their writers to step into the limelight, by launching their own blogs and by inviting bloggers to write for them - but brands too are actively courting bloggers in their attempt to extend and add value to their publicity.

To read the full blog, visit The Huffington Post. And do feel free to share the article on your social media pages, or use the comments section to give your own views on the subject.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Guest Blogger: Clare Macnaughton - A Modern Military Mother

When I met my RAF pilot husband, nicknamed Hagar the Horrible, for his Viking warrior status, he was a vibrant, bouncy energetic shade of yellow. I was deep shade blue as I had broken my leg and couldn’t walk. He burst into my life, loudly declared “hello, dream date”, swept me off my feet and we rode off into the sunset. Over time and evolution, rank, role, combat and age Hagar lost his colourful brightness and moved into an intransigent black and white.

First, because I loved him so, I tried to be a bit of black and white, but it was too rigid for me, so then I adopted a steely shade of grey. Eventually, I could bear it no longer and I went for pink and green, sometimes red, sometimes purple, turquoise and yellows. I wanted to roll myself in colour and tiptoe barefoot through the tulips. I couldn’t live with black and white anymore.

The difficulty with black and white is that the military precision is such that it doesn’t allow for flaws, fun and chaos. It’s very restrictive and our two children, our son, The Grenade, aged 8 (nicknamed so because when he younger he could destroy a room in 20 seconds) and The Menace, our daughter, aged 3 (called this because she quietly goes about her business silently creating disaster in her wake) can’t breathe in the rigidity of Hagar’s need for order, structure, command and control.

It’s harder when he returns from war because the war is run like a well-oiled machine. The focus is time, precision, prepping, delivery and execution – everyone know their place and their role.

Hagar returns; he is tired and angry. He doesn’t even know he is angry. He thinks it’s ok to shout but we don’t shout in anger here. We have been rolling in sunshine, colour and laughter, while he sweltered in the darkness. I give him a spoon; a wooden spoon and I take him to a light room for him to breathe out the dark smoke and breathe in the white light.

Life is complex, post war and we watch out for loud bangs and tired, grumpy Hagars. We try and bring him back down to earth with beauty and life. Meanwhile the battle continues on. Peace and love.

Clare Macnaughton is a Modern Military Mother, juggling a busy career as a writer and marketing consultant with a husband serving in the RAF and two small children. amodernmilitarymother.com

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Guest Blogger: James York, founder of Blokely

Never before has the average man had access to, let alone needed, so much lifestyle information. But if 'knowledge is power', why are the majority of male-centric publication's readerships falling like dodos off a cliff?

One could make assumptions about the proliferation of the internet or boldly claim that men 'just don't buy magazines anymore'. But it might be that they simply don't relate to what they are being presented with. Put simply, their personal aspirations are not congruent with the market model in which the word ‘aspiration’ has been synonymous with the content.

Aspiration doesn't require economic value to play a part and, instead of reinforcing male self-confidence and virtues, it has latterly, and inadvertently, threatened to turn the masses into expensive-shoe chasing, self-conscious paranoids. It's interesting to see men rebelling against what risks becoming a contrived consumption-driven paradigm. They are defiantly showing that, whilst all life's frills have a rightful place at the table - few put them at the head of it all.

 Modern men have become cynics, impervious to these expensive and colourful lifestyle peacocks that dance in front of them so blatantly. And while they still buy clothes and shaving products, try to find wives and lovers and watch movies, more of the same unattainable, aspirational content is the last thing they require.

Let's take a step back and get back to value-adding practicality - the flint-like tools of male lifestyle. Afterall, the pace of falling readership in the magazine world runs in parallel to the fortunes of Western economies over the last ten years. Perhaps the market needs to reflect that? Be ready for the next boom and bust. There is a remodelling of collective identity taking place in reaction to the new realities of modern digital life. It's a measured approach to consumption and the choices available. Now, the ambition is to be secure and avoid repeating the mistaken attitudes that got the economies of the West into such a pickle in the first place.

James York is the founder and editor of men's lifestyle online magazine Blokely. www.blokely.com

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Our first blog for the Huffington Post

Our first blog for the Huffington Post UK, written by The Good Web Guide's editor, Emily Jenkinson, has just been published.

The blog, which looks at the rise of video broadcasting online and how this is threatening the written word, is the first in what will become a monthly blog spot on the Huffington Post UK in which Emily will look at online trends and news stories.

Do feel free to share the article on your social media pages, or use the comments section to give your own views on the subject.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Register now for the Guardian Activate Summit on 22nd June 2011

Anyone interested in joining the Guardian Activate Summit at Kings Place, London on 22nd June 2011 should register by tomorrow to gain 20% off tickets.

Activate is a platform, created by the Guardian Newspaper, Guardian News and Media as a way of "harnessing and employing technological and social innovation for human betterment." Bringing together some of the world's most influential figures, it aims to discuss and debate the influence of technology in different areas across global society and how can it help make the world a better place.


Now in its third year, this year's Activate will see speakers including Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay and Omidyar Network; Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation at the US State Department; and Sobia Hamed, Founder of DataGiving discuss subjects covering The Future of Democracy in a Networked World; how data can save the world; and ways of creating sustainable and effective models for tech-led social innovation.

To find out more, read speaker interviews online and register for the summit, visit www.guardian.co.uk/activate/london

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Uniqueness of Everyone and Everything

The internet celebrates an egalitarianism of feeling. No one viewpoint can ever be said to be more enlightened or of greater importance than any other. As a result, online culture, or so it appears to me in the non-Geek constituency, is reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s technologically advanced but culturally barren Brave New World.

‘Crowdsourcing’ or ‘the wisdom of crowds’, to quote two contemporary expressions which locate the creative impulse in the mass, can stifle individuality. It does not automatically follow that unfettered access to a machine of self-expression leads to the expression of anything of particular value.

We are all critics and journalists and writers and photographers and filmmakers and artists now. What matters to us is that we allow for the possibility of mass creativity. But will any of what we are rushing to produce with our new technologies have any significance beyond this moment in time?

Garan Holcombe

Friday, 8 April 2011

Make Do and Mend

If, to use current parlance, a ‘creative’ has produced some ‘content’ which you would like to ‘consume,’ shouldn’t you pay for it? Or should you simply continue to download songs and films illegally and pretend that you are a revolutionary intent on destroying the old bourgeois world of controlling intermediaries?

There is nothing new in sharing artistic work. We once copied tapes and films. Those of us who still read borrow books from one another. The P2P impulse, at first sight, might appear to be a communitarian one offering an appealing resistance to the dogma of individualism. But it leaves us with a problem.

How are the people who live by their imagination to make money in a time of romanticised theft? Is it not the moment to bring to an end the Manichean conversation about Corporate Bad Guys versus Online Good Guys? Surely the ones we should be worrying about protecting are not those who receive, promote or sell, but those who make.

Garan Holcomb

Friday, 18 March 2011

Spoilt for Digital Choice

Flirtbox.co.uk has the great benefit of being free. Setting up a profile is painless. Within minutes you have a presence on the site and are ready to flirt and be flirted with. My introductory e-missives to Beautifulsweetlittlething and HuskyDarlingtonLady were ignored, but the lovely Julia84 responded almost instantly to the message I sent her.

We had so many interests in common: film; music; literature; travelling. George Orwell was her favourite writer. She listened to the Velvet Underground and Ella Fitzgerald. She worshipped Casablanca. She wanted to live by the sea and learn to sail.

Our early exchanges went well enough. Cari84 would choose Rick over Lazlo. She agreed that the Velvets were much better with Nico. Not that she put any of this in full sentences of course. Full sentences are not the stuff of this sort of chat. The latter sentiment went something like this: OMG! vu w/ nico? vu w/o nico? erm??? idk. w/ nico. Not only did this fail to make me lol, there was absolutely no chance of it making me rofl.

Cari84 responded quite favourably to the wizened looks my profile photo displayed, but didn’t take too kindly to my failure to abbreviate. 'WTF!' I said, 'I’m fond of the fuller form'. When I mentioned that I wasn’t really six foot four as my profile had suggested, and that my six pack was five cans short, I never heard from her again.

Cari84’s disappearance caused me a monetary despair. I was a dating site non-entity. The only message I had in my inbox was from AmazonEssexGirl who wanted to do unspeakable things with tropical fruit. Few people were clicking on my profile. And the more profiles I looked at, the less my interest was aroused.

The experience of online dating reminded me of when Rebecca Llewellyn stood me up in Cardiff in 1989. But at least this time I didn’t have to spend two hours standing outside Marks & Spencer listening to elderly shoppers discuss the evolution of undergarments. Instead, I logged off, snapped shut the jaws of my laptop, and spent the evening wandering around the house in a state of increasing doubt and self-recrimination.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Say Hello, Green Wave Goodbye

Can social media change the world? Evgeny Morozov doesn't think so, and perhaps he has a point. A tweet might enable one protester to link up with another with a fashionable rapidity, but try throwing one of those micro e-missives at a tank and you'll begin to see the limits of the digital telegraph.

The Green Movement in Iran in 2009 sought to bring down Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following a disputed presidential election. In that fervid hour, when internet evangelists like Jared Cohen rushed to proclaim the protest "the one that social media built," the cliché of choice was that Twitter would transform Iran, 140 characters at a time.

The failed attempt to unseat Ahmadinejad is the subject of Iranian-German filmmaker Ali Samadi Ahadi's film, The Green Wave, which receives its UK premiere on March 25th. Drawing upon techniques seen in Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir, Ahadi animates the work of Iranian bloggers, thus imaginatively recreating moments from the 2009 protest not recorded by TV cameras.

It is clear that the internet offers a novel locus for dissent; it also allows governments, both authoritarian and democratic, a new means of tracking down citizens who are resistant to established authority. Can social media change the world? Why don't you write a blog post about it?

Monday, 7 March 2011

Manufacturing Content

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing and the screenwriter of The Social Network, doesn’t like the internet. “There’s just too much bad information getting out there,” he told the Dairy Goat Journal, “and I have to believe that’s mostly the fault of the internet, which isn’t held to any standards of accuracy.”

Mr. Sorkin’s view is that the internet has undermined the role of newspapers. Surely, that perspective is a correct one. After all, didn’t the print rags once contain all the information we needed to help us make sense of the world around us? I too remember that glorious time when the Daily This or the Morning That would arrive through the letterbox each day. Oh, how we were once enlightened by the informed objectivity of the great columnists! Oh, how we gobbled up the accurate truth like a plateful of nutritious and healthy info-food!

Here in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland commentators such as the Daily Mail's Peter Hitchens and The Guardian's Polly Toynbee, must be allowed to continue to run the information in our lives. There can be no other way. The media class to which the aforementioned duo pertain are interested in nothing other than the purest truth. They are untainted by personal interest, prejudice and subjective political conviction. They wish only to inform. Need it even be said that their work is based on the purest accuracy. Of course it is. That is self-evident. Let us thank Mr. Sorkin then for reminding us bloggering souls of our place in the information order. Ours is not to question. We must simply receive.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Infamy, Infamy, They've All Got It Infamy

We all know that the United States allowed Pearl Harbour to be attacked so that Frank Sinatra could win the Best Supporting Actor for From Here to Eternity. But websites like the insider.org and bilderberg.org will try to convince us otherwise. ‘Wake up’ is the battle cry of the conspiracists. If we refuse this imperative, we must be one of the ‘sheeple,’ or else a disinformation agent in the pay of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Conspiracy theories elevate the importance of the individual: we feel flattered that we are privy to a truth hidden from public view, just as we feel cheated when fed a line from our elders and betters. The websites devoted to the investigation of the shadow government running the world not only satisfy our demand for control and assurance, but also flatter our sense of our own importance. They make us believe that if we, the online mass, noble citizen journalists all, merely swallow the official version of history then we abrogate the essential responsibility of the investigative reporter: to get at truth, whatever it might be and wherever it might be found.

The likes of Alex Jones, David Icke, Alan Watt and Glen Kealey represent a paranoid counter-culture that has extraordinary currency online, particularly on YouTube. They peddle psychological horror as genuine insight and analysis. Their infantile Manichean separation of the angelic and demonic is fine for a bedtime story, but has nothing to offer any considered engagement with real life. When such idealism is allowed to dominate realism the result is a dogmatic refusal to countenance serious intellectual discussion.

I must confess to being a sucker for these clandestine and nefarious games. Plots and inside jobs get my blood flowing like little else on our spinning top of a planet: cover ups; patsies; shadowy figures on oddly named bits of grass; tall buildings that fall as if detonated, fluttering lunar flags, the Bilderberg group. Conspiracy theory is as emotionally thrilling as a Wilkie Collins novel, but as intellectual stimulating as Eastenders. Jump into the matrix and fall down the rabbit hole – to use two of the conspiracists’ favourite cultural reference points – is the way to madness of course. Spend too much time with those who have made a cult out of getting six from adding two and two – and you’ll soon forget your name. One minute you’re asking yourself whether Tower 7 was brought down by a cackling and sinister cabal of Masonic overlords, the next you are sweating pure fear and have forgotten that 1984 (the conspiracists’ bible) was a black comedy.

Oops. That’s the doorbell. I’ll just peep out the window, see who it is. Probably someone selling flannels or horticultural services. Good Google. There are two of them, both wearing black suits and Ray Bans. They look as if they are from elsewhere. Neither is smiling.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Feeding the Troll

Internet message boards are the sites of pitched battle. Threads on YouTube soon become arenas of abuse. On imdb.com there is open war between lovers of art-house cinema and those who favour Hollywood blockbusters or genre films. The arguments follow a familiar line: a poster will declare that Bergman’s Wild Strawberries is a work of artistic genius. Someone else will confess to having been bored by it. After which, a third commenter, horrified at this cultural blasphemy, will say: ‘Well, go and watch The Nutty Professor then.’ At some point, the word ‘pretentious’ will be thrown in; the nationality of posters often becomes an issue. And on it goes until the coffee break of the site moderator is interrupted.

The internet mood is one of an anger waiting to be expressed, an offence longing to be taken. Arguments are ‘won’ simply by saying ‘it’s only your opinion so nahhhh.’ The notion that wit, wisdom, patience and self-possession should characterise debate is quaint. Restraint and tolerance are not suited to the adolescent state of the internet, nor do they apply to the querulous times through which we stumble. The statement that we all have the right to an opinion is the ultimate modern argument breaker, splenetic disagreement with the opinion being expressed the current height of riposte.

The notorious problem of online tone makes confrontation on the internet inevitable. A sarcastic remark is seen as direct attack, a point is misunderstood, a row ensues. Mischief making is oxygen online, the superficial anonymity of the system allowing us to bait others without consequence, before we disappear into the electronic undergrowth. Online, we are more susceptible to the trolls within and without. Now, I wonder what the Three Billy Goats Gruff are up to.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

All Voices Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others

Technology has given each of us the opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings with a potential audience of millions, without the inconvenience of having to convince publishers or editors of the worth of our words. Our wise and witty screeds may be ignored, but at least we are expressing ourselves. Isn’t getting into our own grove what it has all come down to online? Mid flickr and blog, I will vodcast my barbaric yawp across the YouTubes of the world.

Whether on blog or social networking page, by user-generated text or image, our view, our take, our opinion is what moves us. Text in. Tweet. Phone in. Email. What do you think? Tell us your story. It may be that you tried a new recipe for shepherd’s pie for dinner last night that involved actual shepherds, or that you recently escaped, under gunfire, from a violent corner of the Maghreb. No matter. Each tale is equal, each teller equally equipped with the means to tell it.

What a load of Simon Cowell. Being witness to a drama doesn’t necessarily mean that we possess an ability to stage it. We each have a story to tell, of course, but it doesn’t automatically follow that we have an ability to tell it. Don’t get stuck with my grandmother whatever you do.

The idea of collective creative parity online is a romantic one, which fools us into believing that we are being listened to, that we matter now more than we ever have before. But the world remains a place in which some have and some have not, some will and some won’t, some can and some can’t. It is not flat, whatever Thomas Friedman and other professional exaggerators would have us believe. We are babbling away like never before, but some voices are more equal than others. The authorities, social, political, economic and cultural, still exist, and these authorities are being influenced by the new priestly caste, the evangelists for the democratic possibilities of technology. Power isn't being challenged. It is simply learning to pretend that it is just like you.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Clearing the mist at Foggy Bottom

In a speech this week at George Washington University in Foggy Bottom, Washington, the World Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined her plan for internet freedom and the US government's commitment to tackling oppressive regimes.

At the beginning of her speech, Mrs Clinton stated the following:

"Perhaps today in my remarks we can begin a much more vigorous debate that will respond to the needs that we have been watching in real time on our television sets."

She then turned to those real time needs:

"A few minutes after midnight, on January 28th, the internet went dark across Egypt. During the previous four days, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had marched to demand a new government. And the world on TVs, laptops, cellphones and smartphones, had followed every single step. Pictures and videos from Egypt flooded the web. On Facebook and Twitter journalists posted on-the-spot reports, protesters coordinated their next moves, and citizens of all stripes, shared their hopes and fears about this pivotal moment in the history of their country. Millions worldwide answered in real time: you are not alone and we are with you. Then the government pulled the plug. Cellphone service was cut off, TV satellite signals were jammed, and internet access was blocked for nearly the entire population."

At this point a noise was heard. A man shouted out: "So this is America?" Mrs Clinton, her eyes moving this way and that, raised her voice, forced her mouth into a defiant aperture of positivity, and, in the attempt to disguise her obvious discomfort, continued:

"The government did not want the people to communicate with each other. And it did not want the press to communicate with the public."

The voice was silenced. The World Secretary of State could once more relax:

"It certainly did not want the world to watch."

You can watch the ejection of the protester here:

You can watch a full video of Mrs Clinton's speech here:

You can read an article on the protester here.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Too Much Information

Norbert Wiener

There was a time when the phrase "too much information" referred to a friend's unusual propensity to reveal a superabundance of intimate detail regarding recent amorous encounters. However, at the beginning of the second decade of the third millennium the cliché has been restored to its primary meaning. But the mere act of expressing the fact that there is too much information now puts us all in something of a fix. In order to make the point that there is too much information we only add to the information. It is surely time to return the words 'knowledge' and 'wisdom' to a central place in our culture. And time is what both of those words require.

The father of modern cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, whose work on the study of feedback helped popularise the idea of the information loop, and hence that most fashionable of notions of being 'in the loop', believed, in the way that only a scientist truly can, in the improvement of the species. This story, as told in James Harkin's compelling book Cyburbia, needs to be read. We would adjust and adapt in response to a continuing stream of information Wiener suggested, improve our direction, evade capture or destruction, move ever onwards with an improved sense of momentum and purpose.

However, in our age of global information witness, when we are all looking at, commenting upon and sharing the same information, the space for the radical, the surprise that refashions a conception of where we are going, unsettles our conviction as to why we are going there and challenges our assumptions as to what we will find if ever we are to arrive at our destination, is shrinking. Perhaps it is now only to be found offline.

According to the OED 'cybernetics' comes from the Greek word kubernetes meaning 'steersman,' 'helmsman' or 'pilot'. The internet, in its current form, encourages us to pilot ourselves in the same direction, towards one another, in a carnival of communality. In the glorious rush of digital feedback, the automatic input and output, who is keeping a look out to check that we are not steering ourselves into an abyss? '