#ProjectHappyJanuary: Week 3/4 (and an apology)…

Now. A small thing we need to address. The eagle eyed amongst you may notice that this is now the penultimate week of our little New Year happiness initiative, #ProjectHappyJanuary. And that last week, by and large, should have been week 3. But, for several reasons, week 3 went otherwise awol, which I shall explain forthwith.

  • Reason 1: I had a stinking cold/virus/flu all of last week and was not very well, hence I was lacking in energy to write any new blogs.
  • Reason 2: By the time I had the energy to write Week 3’s blog, it was very much the end of Week 3, and thus a pointless exercise.
  • Reason 3: When I looked back at my themes I had mapped out for the blogs each week, I realised that two of them shared a similar theme, and as such I have decided to merge them into one supergroup for next week’s fifth blog (and indeed the last in the series).

    So, with all this in mind, consider this as the week 3 blog in spirit, but very really the week 4 blog. Explanations over, this week our focus is mood boards.

    A frequent tool at the disposal of creative types – fashion designers, architects, new tech start-ups – the mood board does what it says on the tin, or rather board. For boosting morale and wellbeing, it’s a place on which to project ideas, inspiration, and bring all round good positivity into your everyday life.

    This is a particularly good one you can do, because it’s something you can continue even beyond January, so is a good new pasttime to take up into the bargain. To create a mood board, you’ll need the following:

    • 1 large cork pin board (available at most arts and crafts shops or pound stores)
    • Drawing pins
    • Some coloured card
    • Scissors
    • Felt tip pens

    1. Cut up the coloured card into squares about the size of Post-it notes – aim for about 8 x 6 cm.
    2. On the cards, write up little quotes in felt tip pen, or inspiring pieces of text, or little poems or song lyrics that mean something to you. Really this is for you to be absolutely creative and just go with whatever you want.
    3. Once you’re done writing up, it’s time to start pinning them to the board. Again, whatever way you feel is key here – the picture above will give you an idea of what you’re aiming for.
    4. Place the pin board in a central position that will be immediately noticeable – so maybe by your bed, or in the kitchen. The idea is it should be in a noticeable place so it’s the first thing you see – i.e. when you get up in the morning.
    5. You don’t need to necessarily fill it up with stuff there and then. You can add to it as you go along. You can put on photos, or printouts or even cuttings from newspapers and magazines.

    As I said, this is a really good one to do even when January is over, so is a nice little New Year’s resolution into the bargain too. Do let me know if you take up the mood board challenge and Tweet me your efforts using the hashtag #ProjectHappyJanuary!

    The last #ProjectHappyJanuary will be up next Monday – hope to see you then.

    😄 😄 😄 😄

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    He’s on his way back: the mighty return of Ed Sheeran

    New Year’s Day, 2017. Just shy of two weeks ago, the world had just waved goodbye to a year of political unrest, the deaths of numerous icons like David Bowie and Prince, and Ed Balls doing “Gangnam Style” on Strictly.

    And as it woke up recovering from the all night hangovers, the social media accounts of singer/songwriter and all round good pop egg Ed Sheeran, which had been dormant since finishing his mammoth world tour in December 2015, were active again, as he shared the following short video.

    Two weeks later, and his new singles “Castle on the Hill” and “Shape of You”, which were released in the early hours of last Friday morning, and are his first new material in over a year since the release of the chart slaying “X” album in 2014, are occupying the top 2 of the iTunes chart in no less than 60 countries. 

    By this time on Friday, he’ll have sold over 200,000 copies of both singles – outselling the rest of the UK top 40 combined – and will be the first artist in UK chart history to debut in the top 2 positions with brand new material (“Shape of You” currently leads the way for number 1).

    My first encounter of Ed was, I suspect like most people, back in the summer of 2011. His debut single proper “The A Team” was all over the radio waves. I genuinely thought it was Damien Rice when I first heard it. Only until I saw him perform it acoustically, a wave of ginger tufts and blue eyes and soulful, gravelly tones on the now defunct hangover telly giant T4, did I put two and two together.

    That autumn, as I returned to university for my final year, he was about to release his debut album “+”, and my student’s union had booked him to do a gig over that year’s Freshers Fortnight. He also filmed the now legendary “Lego House” video that same night alongside Harry Potter star Rupert Grint. I remember being gutted that the tickets sold out for the gig as quickly as they did, but I also remember feeling like I was witnessing the birth of a superstar. The “+” album subsequently went onto be his first million selling album.

    Superstar seems an odd title to give Ed. Not in a glib way, of course. But, largely because the impression I get watching interviews with him, and from speaking to anyone who’s met him, is that he is the least starry superstar there is. This is a man who, when asked what his highlight was of a year in which he’d taken in two million selling chart toppers (“Sing” and “Thinking Out Loud”), a second multi platinum album and awards galore, said that having afternoon tea with Van Morrison was the standout moment.

    There is a very honest, unique relatability to what he does, and the music highlights that. Who else would pen an ode to their hometown with such nostalgic warmth and wit as he does on “Castle on the Hill”? Who else delivers such biting cheekiness to his critics but he on “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”? And who else delivers such brooding emotion as he does on “Bloodstream” or “Small Bump”?

    And perhaps more outstanding, is the fact he has achieved all this with just one instrument alone as his backing. His documentary film, “Jumpers For Goalposts”, released in 2015, is a spine tingling must-see for anyone who appreciates good music. Seeing him pack out Wembley Stadium four nights in a row with just him, his guitar and loop pedal (we’ll pretend Elton John wheezing his way through a duet with him didn’t happen) is pretty f***ing amazing.

    Doubtless, as he readies the release of his hotly anticipated third album “÷”, on which both his new singles will feature, we’ll continue to hear plenty of that relatability by the bounty. And we’ve also resolved with ourselves that we’ll go see him live this time around – before his career goes even more stratospheric.

    Ed Sheeran’s new singles “Castle on the Hill” and “Shape of You” are available to stream and download now via Atlantic. His new album “÷” is out later this spring. Twitter: @edsheeran

    #ProjectHappyJanuary: Week 2

    So we’re now on week two of a new year, and thus on the second week of this here blog’s new initiative, #ProjectHappyJanuary. If you missed it last week, this is our one man/blogger mission to make the first month of a new year suitably awesome.

    Last week was all about bringing a bit of joy to loved ones, and this week is all about bringing joy to ourselves. It can be incredibly easy, with the days still short and dark and cold, to sit in darkened rooms and let the four walls get to us. So this is my little guide to embracing a lighter, more joyful lifestyle.

    When the Christmas decorations are down and packed away, first thing I tend to do is break out the candles. Oh yes. Usually I’ll have been plentifully supplied with a batch of fresh scented tealights – although these don’t have to be scented, standard ones work just as well. 

    Home value stores like Wilkinson or B&M Home Bargains often stock packs of 100 regular tealights for as little as £2, and placed in some inexpensive holders will add some friendly, warm light to your immediate surroundings. 

    It’s also a prime excuse to invest in a quirky light fitting. My most recent one, pictured above, is this carnival style lamp I got from Not on the High Street – again, inexpensive but looks great and makes for a real talking point.

    When the TV schedules and radio airwaves are cluttered with repeats or the same playlists of music, it’s always key to have some feel good stuff to wind down with or listen to on the go. These are just my personal choices, but hopefully they’ll give you a bit of inspiration.

    FILMS

    • Amelie (2001) 

    This French language film has English subtitles, but ups the heartwarming factor to 10, as Audrey Tautou stars in this charming story about a simple Parisian girl practicing random acts of kindness.

    • My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2003)

    One of the proper laugh out loud, romantic comedies of recent years, Nia Vardalos and John Corbett star in this tale of weddings, interfering families and ten bridesmaids in turquoise meringues for dresses.

    • Friends with Benefits (2011)

    Sharp, sexy and very funny, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis put in great turns here as two friends that try to eschew the unrealistic stereotypes of romance with a no strings attached approach.

    MUSIC

    • Stevie Wonder – “The Definitive Collection”

    There is something about Stevie – and Motown music generally – that I find so passionate and uplifting. Songs of his like “Sir Duke”, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and “Signed Sealed Delivered” are real good mood boosters for me because of their soul and energy.

    • Girls Aloud – “Ten”

    OK, I do realise I’m cheating here slightly having two greatest hits albums on my list of feel good music, but the mighty Aloud never fail to get me going, especially on early mornings where my energy might be at its lowest possible berth. “Biology” and “Love Machine” in particular, with their hotch potch structure and bonkers production, are as infectious as anything.

    • Jack Johnson – “In Between Dreams”

    I always refer to this as my “January album”, for no other reason than the fact that unseasonable music is one of the best mood boosters possible. And by that I mean listening to music that reminds you of better times. I can count on my hands the number of winters since I got this album in 2006 where I’ve listened to Jack strumming his ukulele, singing about banana pancakes and trains breaking down and imagining I’m on a hot sunny island instead of snowy rush hour traffic.

    Don’t forget to Tweet me and let me know what your uplifting music and films are, or how you’ve made your living space a bit brighter – use the hashtag #ProjectHappyJanuary when you do!

    The next #ProjectHappyJanuary will be up at the same time next Monday.

    😄😄😄😄

    #CrazyStupidTV: Let it Shine (BBC One, 7th January)

    With “The X Factor” now run aground into a pitiful former shadow of itself (Honey G. Let’s just leave it there, shall we?) and “The Voice” now having flown the nest to ITV where it’s become a harsher, duller version of what it did before (also dispersing of Marvin Humes and Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson in the process. Bad move), it now falls to the Beeb to deliver some feel good Saturday night viewing for the still wintry evenings of the start of the year.

    Step forward then, pop legend and the Captain of boyband turned manband giants Take That, Mr Gary Barlow. Promotion of new Take That music aside, Mr Barlow has been all but absent from our screens since bowing out of being a judge on “The X Factor” three years ago. Now though, he has returned with a new eight week series aiming to find superstars for a new stage show he’s developed.

    “Let it Shine” is looking for five young guys to be members of a boyband who will be in a touring musical, featuring the songs of Take That. So far, so “Mamma Mia”, cynics amongst you may be hollering. On the judging panel is the Captain himself, along with Dannii Minogue, Spandau Ballet and EastEnders star Martin Kemp, and Glee star Amber Riley, whilst Graham Norton and the ever delightful Mel Giedroyc host the whole circus.

    Each auditionee does their little interview with the judges, then gives their performance, after which each of the judges then score them out of 5. If they score a total of 15 or more out of 20 on the lit up walk of stars, they are through to the next round. 

    There is a definite undercurrent of the high camp and spectacle of musical theatre evident in this show, right from Gary’s self penned opening number in the first show that referenced power showers, tabloid kiss and tells, and even a rap (yes, RAP) from Mel and Graham. In fact, the feel good element is what makes this such a refreshing addition to Saturday nights.

    It’s polished and light like its title, and has an old school entertainment feel whilst being very current. The feedback to the contestants is constructive but not destructive, mainly because it’s objective is primarily to find stage stars rather than the latest chart topper (or rather, #149 charter. Again, Honey G, hello to you).

    Some of the successful auditionees on the first show had real potential – namely Gary Barlow superfan Tyler. He was admittedly a little rough around the edges with his song choice of Joe Cocker’s “You are So Beautiful to Me”, but his charisma and likeability shone through, and with a bit of work he could be a contender. 

    Also standing out was Welsh teenager Nicky, who gave a haunting rendition of “Say Something” by A Great Big World, and Jason, who tore the roof off – including a standing ovation mid-performance – for his version of “Run to You” by Whitney Houston. Others that were successful, however, like Jazzie, who sang slash breakdanced his way through Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”, seemed like potential band members. But more in the “standing at the back busting some moves” sense (hello to you, the members of East 17 that weren’t Brian Harvey or Tony Mortimer).

    Future shows promise further audition delights, as well as masterclasses with the contestants from Olly Murs, Kaiser Chiefs, Busted and Melanie C to name but a few. You’d do well to keep an eye on “Let it Shine”. Far from imitating the show Gary was once a judge on, it’s uniquely got the uplifting factor in spades.

    “Let it Shine” continues Saturday evenings at 7pm on BBC One. The first episode is available for UK viewers to watch now on BBC iPlayer. Twitter: @BBCLetitShine

    #ProjectHappyJanuary: Week 1

    I have a very strong feeling it may have been Bridget Jones, the comic creation of Helen Fielding who once said January was awful, just by virtue of the fact everyone is expected to snap back into a normal harsh existence like lean greyhounds after a season of warmth and merriment. Not to mention the overridden cliches of debt, despair and gloominess that accompany it.

    I pondered this more so over a cup of tea this morning whilst packing away my Christmas decorations for another year (read: until mid-November). We begin a new year at a time of year when none of us feel inclined to. The days are still short, the weather very much still chilly and unforgiving. 

    And we are almost forced by society at large into making outlandish resolutions at a time of year when our true willpower and desire to sustain these is on a par with a cat stuck in a room full of salmon and prawns. In other words, it’s just not going to happen. Obviously this isn’t the case for our friends south of the Equator, who ring in the New Year in searing heat and sunshine – maybe it is?

    But at this time of year, when lighter days and brighter times are still so far away, we need to be gentler on ourselves, and keep that same warmth and joviality going even with the festive season behind us. Which is why, all throughout January, I intend to bring you, dear readers, some weekly inspiration to make the start of the year a truly happier one. I’m calling it #ProjectHappyJanuary.

    One of the central themes at the heart of keeping this New Year goodwill to hand is that of gratitude and giving thanks. One of the most overlooked customs in recent memory, for me, is the art of the thank you note. Perhaps this is a marker of my upbringing, but no Christmas or birthday has ever passed without me sending out thank you cards or notes to friends and relatives for presents I recieved.

    High street craft shops like The Works do inexpensive but tasteful batches of ‘Thank You’ cards or just blank, open ended cards in a pack of 10 for £1 (pictured above) – just writing these and sending these out to loved ones will let them know their thoughtful gift was appreciated.
    On a similar snail mail note, invest in some good writing paper or a pack of quirky postcards, and send an informal line to a distant friend or loved one. Christmas and birthdays – along with the odd wedding, engagement or other life event – tend to be the only time of year we ever reach out to distant family or friends, which I have to say I’ve been fairly guilty of in recent years. A nice, friendly letter in the post could make all the difference to that friend who may be dreading coming in from a long day to a mat full of bills and junk.

    This is what I’ll be doing this week for #ProjectHappyJanuary – hope that you’ll join me in doing so too. Don’t forget to Tweet me your efforts using the hashtag if you do take part!

    The next challenge for #ProjectHappyJanuary will be up next Monday and every Monday throughout January.

    😄 😄 😄 😄

    #CrazyStupidTV: Ethel and Ernest (BBC One, 29th December)

    Illustrator and author Raymond Briggs’ best known works have forever been associated with December – those of course, being ‘The Snowman’ and ‘Father Christmas’, the animated film adaptations of which have been shown every festive season on Channel 4 since 1982 and 1991 respectively.

    Now though, one of his more recent creations has made the leap to the small screen. Originally published in 1998, “Ethel and Ernest” tells the story of Briggs’ parents, from their first meeting in 1928, right up until their sad passings within a few months between each other in 1971.

    With his parents voiced melifluously by Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent, it starts in off quite humble beginnings, with the early courtship of Ernest, a cheeky, happy go lucky milkman, and Ethel a prim and very proper chambermaid – a role she eventually leaves to wed Ernest and move in with him into a terraced house in Wimbledon Park.

    There’s a cosy, wholesome bygone feel running throughout this. It’s over half an hour longer than “The Snowman” was, but then there is more story to work with and as a format it holds up beautifully well. There’s a very British humour in the instances where say, Ernest is taking out their old Aga and singing the Cockney song “Any Old Iron”, or when they’re watching “Dixon of Dock Green” on one of the first televisions, and debating over good and bad actors.

    However, as is so often the case with Briggs’ work, there is a touching undercut of melancholia that is delivered with such poignancy and respect, particularly in the scenes that focus in on the outbreak of World War II in London, where the young Raymond is evacuated to relatives in the Dorset countryside, all the while with Ernest serving as a fireman whilst bombs descend on the capital, which has a profound psychiatric effect on him.

    But it is also the sadness and devestation I felt with the later years of Ethel and Ernest’s lives that were shown, as health began to fail them both with dementia and stomach cancer respectively. Here we see a bit of Raymond’s own regret seep through – having haughtily pursued an art school apprenticeship which eventually led to the career he now has today, it touches on the idea that whilst we all have moments where we believe we’re above our own station, family and the love this brings is what matters most of all, and that we should never take this for granted.

    If you see in the New Year with one film this year, then make it “Ethel and Ernest”. Even make it a weekly viewing. So life affirming in its outlook, it can’t fail to warm the heart.

    RATING: 5/5

    “Ethel and Ernest” is out on DVD tomorrow from Universal Pictures, priced £9.99.