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A honeymoon to remember


Whilst working at Reading Chronicle last summer I had the following feature published in their annual Wedding Planner magazine.After months of stressful planning for the wedding of your dreams, a honeymoon is essential for every newly married couple. It is a chance to spend quality time together and reflect on the past chaos and celebrate a long and happy future. If planned properly it can be a once in a lifetime opportunity to choose an extravagant holiday or experience you have always longed for.

Before setting off to the travel agents it is important to consider your budget. Yes, for the perfect honeymoon it can be expensive with the average cost now well over the £1500 mark.   However, whatever you choose to spend, there are plenty of options out there to ensure you make the most of the honeymoon period. And, you could always add travel vouchers to the wedding gift list, that way your guests can treat you and all that’s left for you to worry about is the destination.

Perhaps relaxing in an exotic country with glorious sun, white sand and clear blue sea is what is needed. With everyone gathering around, keen to offer advice and help you plan wedding it may be that seclusion and alone time with your partner is all you hope for. You need to choose a country where the weather will be hot at the time of year you are planning for and a hotel that meets your need to be pampered. There are many all inclusive honeymoon packages available in islands such as The Caribbean, The Canary Islands, Mauritius or places like Dubai. If you can’t decide on one destination then why not consider a cruise? Wherever you choose, be sure to let the locals and hotel staff know that it is your honeymoon and then prepared to be lavished in luxury…or at least receive a hamper on the house!

It might be that you would prefer an action packed honeymoon hiking in a jungle, experiencing a safari in South Africa or having a cultural adventure in India to create everlasting memories. If you wish for a selfless and rewarding experience with your partner then volunteer honeymoon’s are becoming increasingly popular. The UK charity Globalteer offer volunteers an opportunity to spend a couple of weeks rebuilding communities in developing countries. Whether you work on schemes with Cambodia Kids or Thailand Animal Rescue, the challenging shared moments with your partner will take your relationship to new depths right from the start of your marriage.

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May 9, 2010 Posted by | Features, Portfolio | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to lose those Bournemouth winter blues


This is a feature about Bournemouth that I wrote for an assignment in January 2010.

The clear blue seas are sparkling under the bright rays of sunshine and the sandy white beaches are warm under the feet of masses of tourists. Bronzed sunbathers lie still as children laugh and squeal building forts and castles around them. Beach balls, rounders balls, volleyballs can all be seen flying through the air being dodged by the squawking seagulls that are on the hunt for discarded picnics and Harry Ramsdens’ fish and chips. Tiny heads can be seen bobbing in the waves watching the jet skis and the speed boats further out in the distance. The mums are paddling their baby’s feet at the edge of the water while couples, young and old, walk hand in hand along the sea front.  It’s a typical August afternoon on Bournemouth beach- why would you want to be anywhere else?

But what about when those dark, cold winter months draw in, when it’s time to put away the swimwear and suntan lotion for another year? I asked Bournemouth locals how they rid themselves of their winter blues when the tourists have fled and the beaches are bare.

“As much as the beaches are wonderful in the summer, I love how in the winter you can go for nice peaceful strolls along the promenade”, Joy Whittingham, a professional woman from Moordown, told me during one such stroll on a chilly November afternoon. The waves of the sea looked rough and the beach in the cold, crisp weather did not seem as inviting as in the summer but Joy found the quietness a place she could escape from her usual busy lifestyle and be at one with nature. As we continued along the beach we noticed a dog being set free from its lead onto the spacious sand, she added: “I know that many locals enjoy how they are able to walk their dogs here when all the visitors go home”. In the winter the locals can enjoy having the seaside back all to themselves and are allowed to take dogs to the beaches from 1st October to 30th April. Also bike riders can cycle along the prom during the out of season months without having to worry about making room for the summer tourists.

However, just because the holiday makers have packed up for the year, it is a mistake to think that the sea is not swum in during the winter. Bournemouth Spartans Winter Sea Swimming Club runs from October to April where swimmers of all ages ranging from 10 to 90 get into in the icy cold sea every week. John Brookman, the club’s treasurer said: “We go for a swim every Sunday morning in the winter months. We don’t wear wet suits as we are communing with nature. Although, it is the annual Christmas day fancy dress dip which draws in a crowd of a few hundred.’ The annual Christmas day dip into the sea on the east side of Boscombe pier has been taking place since the club was formed in 1951. Crowds of 300 have been known to gather as the swimmers arrive dressed in extravagant fancy dress ready to be judged by the mayor of Bournemouth before making their dip at 11.45 am. The costumes in the past have often been crazy such as a Reindeer, a pantomime dame, and Neptune, but most opt for the more comfortable attire of Victorian style swimwear.  Dave O’Donnel, Chairman of the club, said: “come along and try it as anyone is welcome. Don’t say no until you’ve given it a try.” But if the biting cold of the water isn’t for you, spectators can feel smug as they watch the event from the warmth of their woolly hats and winter jackets.

As well as the Christmas dip, there are many events in Bournemouth to mark the festive month such as Christmas concerts and pantomimes but it is the Christmas Market in Bournemouth Square that draws in the tourists in the winter. The square sparkles with Christmas decorations in every colour that cover the 50 alpine stalls offering the traditional German Bratwurst (Sausages), sweets, crepes and coffee as well as gifts for all the family. In the centre of the market, which is open from the 19th November to the 3rd January, is a German alpine bar with a beer garden for shoppers to escape from the festive chaos. Hannah Bedwell, a student from Poole, is one of the many shoppers relaxing in the beer garden, with shopping bags surrounding her as she sat drinking her glass of mulled wine. “I think Bournemouth is great for Christmas shopping anyway but the market just adds such a merry atmosphere to the town. It’s great to watch the other busy shoppers while I get to take a break and enjoy my drink.” While speaking to Hannah, in the background is the familiar ‘sound of the Salvation Army brass band playing ‘Joy to the world’ and carol singers could be heard singing along. The town really does have a joyful atmosphere at this time of year.

So from my discussions with the locals it seems that in the run up to Christmas Bournemouth continues to thrive. I thought perhaps once January arrived and the busy Christmas season was over then the winter gloom would set in. This was not the case.

Fraser Smith, aged 22, from Winton, told me about the temporary ice rink at the Bournemouth International Centre which last year sold over 60,000 tickets. It’s open from 17th December until 21st February and is set to be just as popular this year. He said: “it was such a laugh last year, I went a few times with a group of friends and although I love the summer at the beach it was a really fun substitute in the winter months. It’s a shame it’s not there all year really.” After the rink is removed there are still a couple of dull months to go before summer peak sets in, right?

Wrong. Local motor car racing fanatic, Gerald Whittingham from Moordown, told me that “In the winter I personally look forward to February when the Sunseeker Car Rally is in Bournemouth.” The event is the largest and fastest motorsport event in the South of England and runs over the weekend from 26th to 27th February. The event has pulled in large crowds over the past who are keen to watch their favourite national rally drivers live in action. Enthusiastically Gerald continued: “The race starts at the Seafront Special Stage and runs through here twice so that is the best place for onlookers to wait around. They race right through Bournemouth Gardens up to the Seafront and off towards Boscombe.” Many families love going to the event as children, young and old, love the high speed races and exciting atmosphere.  

In the final month before tourists once again begin to take over the town, entertainment at the BIC will keep your diary full. March 2010 has all kinds of concerts from celebrity pop star Peter Andre to the beautiful classical singer Catherine Jenkins. Shows like ‘Oklahoma’ are set to be very popular and audiences will be moved by ‘The Soldiers-the coming home tour’.

So, it would seem that Bournemouth is the place to be whatever the season. However, if these winter events and activities still do not cheer you up and a fix of sunshine is in desperate need then why not take advantage of one final perk of living in Bournemouth during the cold months. You can always book a flight at Bournemouth’s Airport and migrate over the winter to a hot and exotic destination.

May 9, 2010 Posted by | Features, Portfolio | , , , , | Leave a comment

A right royal achievement


For an assignment in January 2009 I wrote a feature interview about Karen Murty (wife of footballer Graeme Murty) about how she uses her status as a WAG positively.

If asked to imagine a footballer’s wife, it is likely the image of a stereotypical ‘Chardonnay’ will appear in your mind. A Gucci obsessed woman, full of self importance who at every opportunity grabs fame and fortune off the hard work of her husband. Karen Murty, wife of ‘The Royals’ (Reading FC) captain Graeme Murty, subverts this representation with her casual fashion, down to earth nature and willingness to express her family values and love for using her status as a ‘WAG’ to help others. She can now proudly boast her Sue Ryder Care ‘Woman of Achievement 2008’ award for her hard work within the community as co-founder of ‘Royal Families’, the fundraising organisation set up by the wives and girlfriends of the players. Karen explains the success since the organisation was established and her charitable plans for 2009.

On arrival at the exclusive development near Basingstoke where the large, modern, family home was placed, a warm greeting was made by Graeme followed by a wide smiled welcome by Karen. She was carrying and doting on her nineteen month old daughter Freya Caitlin. After I was comfortably seated on a luxurious brown leather sofa in the ivory schemed, open plan kitchen, I witnessed the loving and playful nature of the family . After lots of cuddles between Freya and Graeme he had to rush off to his busy schedule, leaving Karen to explain more about her work with ‘Royal Families’.

“We never expected to raise so much money”, exclaimed Karen when discussing the achievement of raising over £112,000 in the first year of establishing the organisation with Amanda Hahnemann (wife of goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann) following Reading’s promotion to the premier league in 2006. She laughed, “when asked in a press interview how much we intended to raise, I randomly said £60,000 as a target and Amanda nearly fell off her chair saying she would have said £10,000. Well you’ve got to aim high haven’t you?” A champagne tasting session kick started the partner’s events in the first year and its success was followed by a Valentine’s Day ball, a race night and a golfing day. Although, Karen commented, “The champagne tasting was the most funny as each glass was a full one.” The money was split evenly between the two local charities ‘Parents and Children Together’ and ‘Berkshire Women’s Aid’.

Karen believes that the wives and girlfriends can use their status as footballers’ wives positively in order to make the events a success. “We can turn around and say the players are going to be at the events and then give them a kick up the backside to go,” she joked. ‘Royal Families’ had a lot of media attention due to their originality Karen explains, “lots of footballers’ wives raise money individually but we are the only club to do it collectively.” When questioned about why this is the case and the motives behind their hard work she replied, “well, my reasons are quite selfish really; I love it when you see the smiling faces of the people you give the money to.” However she continued “charities which are family related are especially important to us because we are very family orientated”.

The three large family portraits centrally positioned on the wall above where Karen was seated highlighted the importance of family in the Murty household. Karen was a dedicated teacher before having Freya, yet she informed, “I’m happy at the moment. I’m not interested in going back to work until a lot later on.” With a smiling, thoughtful expression she claimed, “I don’t want to miss a thing. So far I’ve been there for every single first.” When discussing how happy Graeme seemed playing with Freya, Karen recalled their family Christmas 2008 when he was unable to play in the Boxing Day match against Cardiff City due to his recent leg injury. “Had it been a couple of years ago he would have been really arsy all Christmas break as he hates not being able to play but having Freya here has really softened him.”  Christmas was relaxing and special this year according to Karen, “we had a quiet family Christmas with my sister and brother-in-law, Graeme didn’t have to leave for training Christmas day and he could have a proper Christmas dinner as he didn’t have to do the whole carbohydrates load up!” With a childlike grin she explained her meaning of Christmas, “we made it really magical for Freya. I love the magic of Christmas and having the family together”.

The ‘Royal Families’ website states that to date they have raised more than £200,000, yet, according to Karen, there is still more to give in 2009. “This year the main focus is going towards the charity Graeme is patron of, ‘Swings and Smiles’, as it’s his testimonial year with the club” Karen explained. The charity’s vision is to create ‘a place to play’ for children with special needs. “We’re definitely going to do another bowling night and the R-Word (Reading’s version of Gordan Ramsay’s F Word) was excellent too,” Karen revealed in encouragement to anyone interested in taking part in events and helping the organisation. Then she pointed down at the royal crest printed on the pink hooded jumper she was wearing, “these are sold in the RFC shop and the money goes to Royal Families and also the money from each sold calendar.”

 Karen beckoned me over to the window where her sparkling ‘Woman of Achievement’ award was proudly and deservedly placed and joked, “it’s not just Graeme who has trophies!” Then a well behaved Freya called her Mummy into the living room where she had been playing with a friend of Karen with new Christmas toys; a toy piano and a children’s kitchen set. However, among such lovely toys it is a little football she was fixated with, kicking and passing it to Karen. “She takes to football naturally, although I would have liked her to be a dancer like I was,” Karen laughs. Whether Freya is gifted with football or dancing, with such an inspiring mother as Karen Murty it would be no surprise if she too dedicates her life to helping the community.

May 7, 2010 Posted by | Features, Portfolio | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The final mile


For our professional writing unit we were given an assignment to write a short story…so I thought I would publish my attempt!

Inspiration for this story came as I observed a frail old woman who was getting off the bus struggling with her shopping bags. It made me wonder where she was going and whether she had anyone to meet. Then my thoughts led to who she may have been in her younger life and the experiences she may have had. I realised how quickly life moves on and how everyone will one day be in the same situation. As health care is constantly improving and people are living longer I feel it is important to improve the quality of life for the elderly which is reflected in this story.

The Final Mile

Life is full of milestones. Significant moments that are ticked off on life’s chart one by one. When we are young we look forward to them, anticipate them and even hurry them on. A child dreams of their teenage years and the independence they believe it brings, they wish for their first boyfriend, first kiss. In young adulthood we are desperate to leave home, gain a career, get married and have children. I feel that these things are all hastily rushed into as we eagerly wish for what we are not quite ready for.  In the latter half of life we dread and postpone them for as long as possible. We deny them often, use white lies to avoid the truth of them. But they can’t be avoided in the long run. I know this as I’ve reached my life’s final milestone and it fills me with fear.

It came with a ring of the doorbell.  On my third attempt I’d managed to pull myself to my feet from my armchair where I had been sat watching the evening news. I eventually made my way to the door to let my niece, Sarah, in. She reminded me a little of my younger self as she stood tall and smart in her expensive silk lined business suit.  I noticed her shiny, posh car parked outside and smiled at her success as if it were my own. I was director of L.Davies Advertising Company once upon a time; I was a powerful and respected woman in my day, always busy, always active.  Not that it means much to me now, it’s just a vague and distant memory I’m afraid. She leant down and kissed my cheek as she entered the house and helped me over to the settee. Her affectionate personality then reminded me of her mother, a quality I’d always envied of my baby sister. But in that moment, like six pm every evening, she brought a smile to my day.

Then life checked off its final box.

 “Auntie Lucy, you know I love coming to see you don’t you?” she said softly as she sat down beside me, “but you’re 87 next week, you shouldn’t be on your own. I worry about you in this big house. You should be looked after properly now.”

 She looked at me with a fusion of guilt and exasperation in her eyes. I noticed the dark ring marks under them and realised the burden I’d become to her. And I knew it was time. Time to lose my dignity in ‘death’s waiting room’. Sarah smiled and squeezed my hand; her hand was warm and firm, so full of life. I didn’t say a thing, just listened to her.

“I know we’ve discussed this before and you didn’t like the idea but John and I have looked into some really lovely homes. I know you can afford something really luxurious. Then you won’t have to be on your own here all the time”.

 In that one moment I wanted to set her free. It dawned on me that she should be dedicating her time to her own family. Her two teenage girls needed her and her husband missed her. She should be running her own home instead of spending each evening checking on mine. I love her dearly, you see,  she’s the daughter I never had. She’s the only family I had left. After her mother died unexpectedly three summers ago she’d taken on the responsibility of keeping me company and we’d become very fond of each other.  Although I battled with my private thoughts that moving into a home was giving up, I saw her desperate, pleading expression and found it in myself to answer her.

 “Yes, ok dear”.

I saw her facial expression turn to relief and deep down I was relieved too. I was lonely, I rarely ventured out of the house anymore and I was incredibly bored. I often wondered what life would be like in old age if I had my own children and grandchildren to adore.  I find myself questioning whether I’ve really lived my life to the full- my mind was always set on work and never on settling down.

That night I dreamt that I was thirty again. I was tall and slim with long, blonde hair. I looked strong both physically and mentally; not the frail, hunched old woman that peers back in the mirror at me now. I saw my smooth unblemished hand filling out a mountain of paperwork. Molly, my secretary, brought over my coffee and gave me a list of all my appointments that day. I was rushed off of my feet, my diary was jam-packed and I appeared to be enjoying every minute of it. At that moment my phone began to ring, and ring. Apparently I was ignoring my latest boyfriend.

I awoke to my real phone ringing on my bedside table.

“John and I will pick you up at three to show you a place you’ll just love. Right I must go; I’m late for my meeting”.

Before I knew it I was standing in Richmond Manor’s finest suite. It was larger than I’d imagined and was cosy and warm. A four-post double bed draped in lace was the focus of the room opposite an elegant oak dressing table. Nostalgia filled me as it reminded me of the one that my mother used to sit me and my sister in front of whilst she curled our hair. The walls were decorated with ivory wallpaper and paintings and photographs of grandchildren and family weddings were hung. I wished that I had similar photos to replace them with. John distracted my attention to the large television which he informed ‘had all the digital channels and an internet connection’.  I moved over to the window where bright sunlight was flooding into the room. The manor gardens beneath me were full of blossoming flowers and the lake in the distance was sparkling. I looked down and noticed a little bench where two women, who looked the same age as me, were sat gossiping. They pointed over to the gardener in the distance who looked over and raised his cap to them. I had not expected to find such a friendly and happy environment and in that moment I no longer felt lonely or frightened. I had a sense of excitement that I hadn’t felt in years.

I realised that life’s plan knows best. I no longer feel that this is my final mile. Instead this is the beginning of my happiness to come.  I do have a family who will always care for me and new friends I have yet to meet. However much longer of my journey is left I intend to live to the full.

April 29, 2010 Posted by | Creative Writing | , , | 2 Comments