Hello and a very warm welcome to my newly relaunched blog. I'm Paul a 40 year old family man from the UK. In this complex, information overload 21st century world, too often we lose sight of what's really important. Here I want to celebrate life, share inspirational stories, throw the spotlight on charities and causes close to my heart. Looking forward to sharing this journey with you all.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Be part of a very special delivery service!

It's always great when you can connect up previous blog entries and themes, and I’m pleased to say that today’s post is a prime example of that.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about the tireless campaigning being done by Serena Low to raise awareness globally about epilepsy as well as much needed research funds.

If you get chance, please take a look at her blog and if you are on twitter please click on the pink ribbon on the right hand side of this page to show your support.

So while I was on her site, I took a look at the links to see if there was an epilepsy charity that I could support in the UK. I clicked on some of the links and in the process discovered that one of my absolute favourite comedians Russell Howard, was about to run the London marathon along with his sister and his younger brother Daniel who has epilepsy, in support of the National Society for Epilepsy.


Pleased to report that Russell finished the course in a very impressive four hours and 20 minutes, and is more than half way to achieving his £10,000 fundraising target – see link below

And now to the third link in this particular chain of positivity.

Russell also happens to host his own weekly topical comedy show called Good News. Having seen the marathon footage, it reminded me that I had one of his shows recorded on Sky plus to catch up on.

As the title suggests, one of the key elements is the show, is that every week, in the middle of all the gags and topical stuff, Russell always takes time out to share inspirational stories.

I have to say that this particular feature really captured my imagination.

He told the story of an incredible young lady called Vikki, who for the past 7 years as been essentially bed bound suffering with severe Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

Rather than dwelling on her own condition, she drew inspiration from all the cards and post she was sent to cheer her up and how much they meant to her and came up with the idea of Postpals.

Basically, all the sick and seriously ill children registered with her site get post and gifts sent to them from all over the world.

In her words “When I first became bedbound I was sent so many cards it wasn’t long before my walls and ceiling were covered, it became my reason to wake up each day. 
It was this that gave me the idea for Post Pals, although I hoped it would "catch on" I didn't dream it would touch as many lives as it has, both families with seriously ill children and of the volunteers around the world. I'm so very proud of it! I do the running of Post Pals from bed with a laptop, and my room (and I confess a big chunk of my parents house) looks like a cross between a mail room and a toy shop!"

Please , please take a look at the site - if this doesn't move you I really don't know what will. 

Everyone of us can play a part, as well as post, people can send emails, donate to support the service. What could possibly be more rewarding than knowing that a few minutes of your day could mean so much to a poorly little one.

Thanks for reading

Monday, 26 April 2010

Let me get some running shoes and lead you through the streets of London!

Last Sunday, one of the most inspirational events in the British sporting calendar, the London Marathon celebrated it's 30th running. 

I can well remember as a 10 year old sports fanatic, being glued to the screen throughout the very first running, as we were taken on a whistle-stop tour round all the great and historic treasures of the city. 

Then at the finale, as they ran through the 385 yards of the Royal Mall, the two leading runners joined hands and crossed the line together. A moment of true sportsmanship to mark the beginning of a very special annual event.

From those 6,000 or so runners who took part in the very first race, its popularity has just grown and grown - this year a record 36,000 runners completed the course, and in total nearly 3/4 of a million runners have completed the gruelling 26 mile event. We

But whilst it remains a serious athletic event, attracting the very best runners from around the globe, its enduring success is founded on the incredible efforts of the masses of runners who take part to help numerous different charities . 

According to race organisers, it is now established as the largest single annual fund raising event in the world. Estimates of the total annual amount raised are between £40 and £50 million and well over 75% of participants do so in support of good causes.

So I think you'll agree a very positive way to start the new week.

Continuing on the theme, one of my fellow online writers, Mr Ivor Reveley, is preparing to face a very special running challenge of his own, starting next weekend in London. As I've written in a previous entry, Ivor is taking part in a gruelling challenge to run the 90 Kilometres from London to Brighton over the May Bank Holiday weekend on behalf of CASPA - Children on the Autistic Spectrum Parents association.

Ivor's 16 year old son Matthew has Autism with complex additional needs. 

Ivor not only helped found the charity which started out as a small parental support group but is fully committed as the chair and trustee of the charity, organising special events and workshops for young people with autism.

You can read much more about how you can get involved and support their efforts at http://fourdaysrunning.blogspot.com/

Also a big thank you to a much more established member of the blogging community, Mandy Southgate, who took the time out to meet with Ivor and highlight his efforts on her own Emm in London blog at http://missus-emm.blogspot.com/2010/03/running-for-autism.html

It really means a lot when people like Mandy take the time out to help us relative minnows in the blogging universe to get much needed publicity and support and she's also been to visit my recent blog entries around the Makomborero Zimbabwe project I highlighted last week. Really, I'd highly recommend to take a look at her work - all of us blogging novices can learn a huge amount from it!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Making a difference in her own back yard - please help end this cruelty

Another fellow review writer Angie who I know from dooyoo (http://dooyoo.co.uk), recently got in touch with me to ask if I could throw the spotlight on animal cruelty and more specifically the appalling conditions in which Battery Hens are forced to exist. 

Although I always try to buy free range labelled eggs, having read this, in future I for one am 100% definitely going to make sure I never purchase any eggs that doesn't make it absolutely clear that they are free range.

It is a clearly a cause to which she is very personally committed to, even to the point of caring for ex Battery hens at her own home. Despite her best efforts over the past year, sadly, the emaciated bird "little red" shown below in the picture  recently lost its fight for life.

Here's an extract from a review she wrote about the plight of these birds which she has kindly given permission for me to reproduce here. 

Although it really makes for uncomfortable reading, please do take a look and if you can please pay a visit to the websites of the charities highlighted.

"As an owner of 3 ex battery hens and very passionate about their plight I have decided to write this in the hope that it may do some good and save a few hens from suffering. 

Battery egg hens live in a tiny cage made of wire, the space they have is about the size of an A4 sheet of paper, so they hardly move. All they can do is to eat, drink and lay egg after egg. Deprived of normal chicken behaviour they will pull out the feathers of hens in nearby cages.

Lights are kept on for longer to encourage them to lay more, this puts a great deal of strain onto their bodies and causes more health problems.

Injuries are common and often not noticed or treated. Broken legs and torn ligaments are not uncommon.

Without being able to scratch around their nails grow long causing more discomfort.

Between 14 and 18 months the hen is of no more use because her egg production drops. At this stage one of 2 things will happen, either she will get lucky and end up being taken by a hen rescue organisation or she will be taken to slaughter and end up in dog food and baby food...yes that's correct baby food!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Makomborero Zimbabwe - a quick correction


 Just to let you know in last nights blog I incorrectly posted the wrong URL for the Makomborero charity home page - it should be http://www.makomborero.info - Thanks to fellow blogger Emm for spotting that one.

Also here as promised, are some of the pictures that aren't visible on the previous entry:

For some reason I can't seem to edit the original blog , and I don't want to lose the comments I have, especially as I have one from the Albertyns on that entry, which will take you directly to their blog.

Building in progress:




Please go and say hello to Mark and Laura , I know your support would mean an awful lot to them.


Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Following a dream : Makomberero Zimbabwe - a truly inspiring vision

Tonight, it’s my absolute privilege to help spread the word about a very special educational charity initiative.

One of my old University friends recently got in touch to tell me about the bold and visionary project called Makombero (meaning blessings) that is now finally getting close to becoming a reality for Mark and Laura Albertyn. 

They are native Zimbabweans, who have spent the last few years working in the UK, but have always with the dream to set up an A-level school back in Zimbabwe. It has taken some time to get the funds together but now finally they are heading back to Zimbabwe this summer.

Please, please, please take a look at the charity's website http://www.makombero.info and also their blog at  http://albertynzim.blogspot.com/, it tells the story much better than I ever could. There you will find details of how you can get involved, support, volunteer, donate and become a part of this community adventure. 
Here's a few pictures taken from a recent presentation about the project



An assembly in progress:

As soon as I heard about their remarkable plans it really struck a chord with me. 

Back in 1981, my Dad took up a job at a steelworks in Zimbabwe, and we all moved out there to live for a few years until 1984. As you can imagine for a young lad of 10 or 11 who had barely ventured out of his home village let alone overseas, it was an incredible experience for me. At the time, there was such a positive feeling of hope for the future in newly independent Zimbabwe, and that was most noticeable for me when attending the local secondary school. For so many of the pupils there with me who had previously been denied access simply because of the colour of their skin, it was a huge deal, and they were really motivated to learn. I will never forget the spirit of learning of my fellow classmates. I was one of only a couple of white kids in the class, but it was absolutely never an issue, it was all about working hard to achieve that much prized education.

Whatever your views on the politics involved, as has become so painfully apparent in recent years, the people of Zimbabwe have suffered terribly with the horrendous effects of famine, disease and economic hardship. Two people, two proud Zimbabweans are determined to make a difference

And I applaud them for that, from the bottom of my heart.

Thanks for reading

Monday, 19 April 2010

My only "Son"shine!

A couple of days have passed since my last blog entry, but don't worry I'm back, refreshed from a long weekend break and raring to go, just that little bit busy again with work today.

A warm welcome to any new readers and followers - it's very encouraging to see people stopping by even when I'm away. My target of 300 followers by the end of the year is looking very achievable with nearly 50 followers in all now, more than half of which have joined in the last week or so. Please keep the comments coming and get in touch about any special charities you would like me to support. I've already got at least 3 more charities suggested by fellow writers out there that I'll be highlighting in the next couple of weeks.

As there's only time for a short piece today, I decided to have a quick trawl around the web to find a quote or two to help lift the gloom of the start of another working week. My favourite one that sums up the spirit of this blog comes from the late Dr Leo Buscaglia (1924 –1998)...an author and Professor at the University of California who was also affectionately known simply as Dr Love.

"Don't spend your precious time asking 'Why isn't the world a better place?' It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is 'How can I make it better?' To that there is an answer."

Then again, sometimes when I’m looking for real inspiration, rather than go trawling around for inspired quotes and insights from the great and the good on this planet, I find the answer much closer to home. When seen through my son's fresh, imaginative mind, suddenly the world seems a very different and much simpler place.
Here's a few of my absolute favourites:

“I’m not a lazy lump...I’m a tired lump!"

"Mummy you are delicious, Daddy you are tasty, granny you are a haddock!"

“Daddy, my nose has just done a trump”

“Grannie's hat is on to keep her ear wig in” (she has a hearing aid!)

“I’m decoratoring beautifully mummy” says he as he put up the baubles on the christmas tree

"Daddy stop reading with your mouth full."

“When I’m a big daddy like you I’m going to be strong, tall, and messy”

When asked what does daddy do all day, he replied in my defence “Daddy does mess!”

But even at his cheekiest, somehow always manages to redeem himself....

“I’ve got the best family in the whole world ever”


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Epilepsy awareness - please support Serene's fantastic blog!

One of the key aims of this blog is to highlight the brilliant work being done by others in the blogging community to support the causes that mean the most to them.

Today I want to bring your attention to the fantastic work being done by Serene Low over in Malaysia, who has worked tirelessly for nearly a decade to promote the awareness of epilepsy around the world.


In her words:

"I have been an epilepsy activist for 9 years. It is extremely difficult and challenging for an individual to promote epilepsy awareness single handedly but it is not totally impossible. Through epilepsy awareness work I had come to know of some wonderful and inspiring people whom I look up to and who had opened doors for me to reach out to the public.

Roughly 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy. Epilepsy is 3 times more common than multiple sclerosis and more than 3 times as common as Parkinson's disease and cerebral palsy. One person in 50 will develop epilepsy at some time in their life. One in 20 will have a single epileptic seizure."

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Making a difference - my first donations!

Once again a warm welcome to all my new and existing followers!.

Since joining up with Blog catalog a week or two back I've been lucky enough to make some fantastic contacts within the online blogging community, spread wide across the world.

So I think it's high time that I provided a recap on what I'm trying to achieve here, as well as an update on how things are going so far

What's it all about?

For the benefit of those newcomers, here's a quick bit of background on this blog. Like most of us out there, I lead a very busy life, juggling precious family time with demanding work commitments. I've always had a major passion for writing, and over the last two years in particular through online review sites and the like, I've dedicated a lot of my spare time to dipping my toes in the murky freelance earning waters.

After coming through a serious health scare in the last few months, I've been able to make a lot of positive changes to my work / family life balance, have changed long standing poor dietary habits and rediscovered a balanced exercise routine, which has made a huge difference to me in so many ways.

In simple statistical terms to date I've lost just over 30 pounds since December but the real impact in terms of rediscovering my energy and passion for life is immeasurable.

As for my writing, I had always had this dream of just packing in the IT day job, and throwing all my efforts into a rewarding freelance career. As soon as I'd made it big, then I could really give something back, support all those charities and causes that have meant so much to me over the years.

Guess what? 

In a sudden wave of inspiration it hit me.

 Right now I get to write about whatever means something to me.

If I go down the all freelance route, being realistic the chances are very high that I would have to prioritise finding ways to scrap and scrape a living , writing about things that really don't interest me, just to get by.
What do I love best about writing online - the feedback, the sense of community, the freedom to write what and when I like  - it's certainly not the financial reward!

So I dusted down my original entirely purposeless blog, and came up with a theme that I could really believe in.

In March 2010 , Make a difference was born. Sharing positive, inspiring stories, highlighting amazing charities and fundraising initiatives.

And my own personal commitment.

Every single penny that I earn online, whether that be from existing review sites, spare time surveys, adsense revenues, cash back shopping etc. - I will give directly to charities.

Donations update

So I've gone through a number of my existing online earnings sources which had reached payout threshold levels and as a result these are the donations I've been able to give so far.

The grand total so far is (drumroll......) £81.40!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Do something amazing today!

Here in the UK, there's a regular TV campaign running to encourage more people to sign up to Give Blood.

Image via Wikipedia

It features well known celebrities who have needed emergency blood transfusions either for themselves or for  those closest to them - the tag line - "Do something amazing" has a real resonance.

Before I start putting the case forward, I think it's only fair that I share my own limited experience with you. I've only actually given blood myself on one occasion to date, so I'm certainly not coming at this from the "I'm doing this - why don't you" point of view.

Quite honestly, I've always been extremely squeamish when it comes to medical matters, and particularly the sight of blood , so as you can imagine it took a great deal of self-coaxing to get me to the place where I was ready to go through with it.

In reality, once I'd got over my own anxieties it really was very straight forward. At the time I was living in Britain's second city, and I saw posters advertising a drop in centre not far from where I'd been at University.

They were really fantastic at settling the nerves - first a little pin prick test to confirm everything was ok and to get the blood type. Then just a case of sitting back on a bed, left arm strapped up and connected, two or three minutes as the blood was pumped through (during which I can honestly say I didn't feel a thing - even though I made a point of not looking at what was happening) and then it was all done and dusted.

Obviously as you are typically up to a pint of blood lighter, it's best to take it easy over the next 24 hours, especially in warm weather, and to stay off the alcohol during that time. There's plenty of tea and biscuits to get that extra bit of sugar in after the event.

As I've written here before, I was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure, so clearly that puts me in one of the risk groups that aren't suitable for donation. Heavy drinkers, pregnant women , underweight and elderly are also precluded from giving blood.

Most people can give blood. If you are generally in good heath, age 17 to 65 (if it's your first time) and weigh at least 7st 12Ib you can donate. You can give blood every 16 weeks, that's approximately every four months.

 I'm really hoping that once I've got through my latest check up ok, and the home BP monitor is certainly indicating that, I'll be able to sign up to give blood on a regular basis. Would certainly be nice to post an update to this blog on that front

When you think about it , this really is such a simple yet amazing thing to be able to give another human being the chance of life. So if you are thinking about it, and like me are based in the UK ,please take a look at the website.


Monday, 12 April 2010

Becoming masters of our own destiny

I have to confess that I am a huge fan of sports in general. I just love the rush of excitement, the waves of emotion, sharing those experiences with hundreds, thousands maybe even millions of other people out there, who just like me are caught in the moment.

Last night I watched the final few hours of the US masters, one of the four major tournaments of the world golf calendar. Now I realise an awful lot of folk out there don't share my passion for the sport of golf or any kind for that matter, but before you reach for the proverbial remote control of blogs and click elsewhere - please stay with me on this.

Especially with the very public downfall of a certain Mr Woods in recent times, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the beautifully controlled and ordered bubble that is the immaculately presented Augusta National golf course is the very last place in which you'd find inspirational TV viewing on a Sunday night. The return of "grouchy Tiger hidden passions" was very much a circus side show compared with the real story out there.

Phil Mickelson, a genuine fans favourite, who plays with a true spirit of adventure and personality, emerged triumphant in the last few holes, recording his 3rd victory in this most prestigious of tournaments.

But beneath these bare record book facts lies a very human and deeply moving personal story.

His wife Amy was diagnosed with Breast Cancer aged just 37. In a further cruel twist of fate, only a short while later Phil's mother Mary was also diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

After a short time away from the game, Phil resumed playing on the demanding world golf tour. For the last 11 months, his wife and three children have been unable to follow him. Even this week, though they had travelled to Augusta, she had been too weak to make it on to the course to watch as she continues her battle against an agressive form of the disease.

As he walked up to the 18th green, unbeknown to him, Amy was there waiting with the children. Watching the two of them embrace, as she clutched her hands in front of her face shaking with emotion, seeing Phil wrap his arms round her and hold her so tightly as a little tear rolled down his face, no one watching could fail to be anything other than deeply moved.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The simple pleasures are always best :)

Just back from a fairly bracing day out with the family over at Skegness, a classic "kiss-me-quick" style British sea side resort.

You know what, despite all the noisy and rip-off funfair and slot machines, it still had all the ingredients of a classic day out at the coast.

Early season means empty beaches, and despite a chilly old wind, it was so nice to just run and chase around my little lad across wide sprawling stretches of golden sands. Just running up and rolling down sand drifts, it doesn't really get much better than that.

Even in amongst the tackiest parts of the central pier amusement area, there was a real old-fashioned carousel of horses- and guess what - that was the only ride he wanted to go on over and over again.

He loved his donkey ride, leading the charge, then rounded the day off dipping toes in the icy wash of the incoming tide and putting his home made flag on a good old fashioned sandcastle.

Throw in some fish chips and mushy peas, a tray of seafood and an ice-cream treat, let all the fresh air in, lie back and look at the crystal blue sky. Happy days!

So renewed energy to take us into another week. Just to give you a heads-up on the next couple of blog topics, I plan to move on from "life savouring" to life saving - simple things that can make such a massive difference like giving blood and putting your name on the organ donation register. I'll also recount my own experiences of becoming a "Baywatch wannabee", when I trained to be a lifeguard.

Later in the week I plan to give a first snapshot of where I'm up to on the donations of online earnings front, certainly hoping to have well over £80 cleared by the end of this first month. Every penny counts!

Thanks again for all your support, and a warm welcome to all my new followers from this last week

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Walking in a Whitby Wonderland!

Once again another busy family weekend so I’m afraid not too much time to write today. 

I was a very proud daddy as our little man was awarded his first swimming badge today for swimming 5 metres. Michael Phelps – watch this space!

As the weather looks like staying sunny for a day or two more at least, we've decided to head to the seaside tomorrow as a special treat for him.

The beach has always been one of my happy places, and I do think it’s important to make the most of every opportunity to go and do the things you love most whenever you get the chance.

Here’s an article I wrote last year about the magical seaside resort of Whitby – enjoy!

All dressed in black for a day at the seaside! 

Over the years, I have spent many a glorious family weekend sampling the delights of the traditional fishing
port of Whitby, a genuine treasure of the North Yorkshire coastline, tantalisingly within reach of Newcastle, York and Scarborough. It's a town rich in maritime tradition, popular with young and old, steeped in history and reeking of premium freshly caught fish and chips.

Fittingly in the very place where the famous Dublin born 19th century novelist, Bram Stoker found the inspiration, amongst the haunting cliff-top Abbey ruins, to write his masterpiece of Gothic intrigue Dracula, the local gemstone is Whitby Jet ; dark, opulent and magical in every aspect.

And believe me, if like us you happen upon Gothic weekend, if you go down to the beach that day you're sure of a big surprise. There's really no better way to keep those unruly little ones in check than the sight of 100's of gothic afficionados roaming through the streets beautifully bedecked in splendidly dark apparel , "better be a good boy /girl now otherwise the vampires are gonna getcha!!"

Friday, 9 April 2010

Feel good Friday - spreading the word!

Here in the UK most of us have been bathed in sunshine for the last few days and it looks set to continue into the weekend.

The little things , really add up to make a difference.

And slowly but surely things are really coming together for getting this blog and my messages out there

I posted an article http://socyberty.com/activism/turning-pennies-into-millions-making-a-difference/
on international review site triond last week, and it's made the fabled "hot content" list - which I've never got close to on previous review writing attempts. 
See also link https://www.triond.com/explore

Over on my regular UK review site dooyoo, I've found out today that they've published a short interview with me to help promote what's happening http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/community/ - sorry it's not visible to non-members

And last but not least, I've finally had time to take a look at http://www.blogcatalog.com/ and realised just what a brilliant way it is to network with fellow bloggers - here I can find other bloggers with common interests - volunteering / beliefs and causes, join up with groups, discuss, it's just what I was looking for to take my blog on to the next stage. So a warm welcome to any new readers to the blog that have come in from that site - I certainly intend to spend time getting to know the community members over the coming weeks and months.

There is so much still to learn and explore, but once again, a sincere thank you to all of you who have been kind enough to provide comments and follow my blog so far, and I really look forward to sharing more good news as things develop

Have a Great Weekend!!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Luxury of Time

Tommorow is promised to no one. Life is too short. We don't have the luxury of time.....
Phrases that we all recognise and understand only too well.

Linking my most recent couple of posts together, today I want to share with you a truly inspirational account, of an ordinary woman, who's fundraising achievements truly deserve to be celebrated.

I’m sure many of you will already be familiar with the incredible story of the late Jane Tomlinson CBE who despite being diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of just 26, was so determined to fight it, she essentially took up running from scratch and went on in the last few years of her life, to raise a remarkable £1.85 million pounds through completing a series of seemingly impossible challenges, such as the London Marathon, Triathlon, Cycle rides across Europe and America.

Now I’ve taken part in a fair number of half marathons and other endurance events over the years, and to me the whole concept of being able to even consider these events let alone competing and completing them whilst continually suffering the effects of painful ongoing treatment for cancer is completely astounding.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Celebrities in just getting on with their every day lives shocker!

As it's another ridiculously busy week day once again I'm afraid I'm  short on time to write up some fresh material. This is a piece I wrote as a kind of an antidote to the seemingly endless media obsession with the frequently trivial goings on in the desperately attention seeking lives of minor celebrities.

My point here is that when all's said and done they are just people, subject to the same human frailities as the rest of us. So here's my alternative take on the world of celebrity. Please let me know what you think.

Celebrities in just getting on with their every day lives shocker!
I concede it’s perhaps not the most attention grabbing of headlines.

With the endless ridiculously distorted hyping of so-called celebrity figures in today’s media, as an antidote I’ve decided to share a few of the various real-world encounters I’ve had with some well known folk.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to ramble on about the time I helped choose some tropical fish for George Clooney or played cards with Sasha Distell - really I’m far too discreet…. :)

Quite the reverse really, I want to celebrate the terribly ordinariness of the vast majority of such encounters and also pay tribute to the other people in these situations who most likely recognise said folk but don’t launch into hysterical behaviour as a result

Monday, 5 April 2010

A grand day out!

Last day of the long Easter weekend today and rain or shine am determined to make the most of it and get out and about. Those little extra chocolate treats definitely need to be burned off, so we're heading for Robin Hood Country, into Sherwood Forest to another National Trust property called Clumber Park.

As it's our first time out, will no doubt be giving it a write up in due course, but in the meantime, here's another article I wrote on a brilliant family day out up at Alnwick Gardens in Northumberland.

This place is about as near as you'll ever get to a Garden "Theme Park".

10 years ago, the Alnwick Garden, the brain child of the Duchess of Northumberland was nothing more than a run-down, overgrown and overlooked area within the grounds of Alnwick Castle.

The Duchess quickly set about following her dream of creating a public space for families and people of all ages to enjoy.

She established a charity trust fund for the project, and managed to persuade the (apparently) renowned Belgian international landscape gardeners Jacques and Peter Wirtz to apply their talents on a very grand scale.

The result is a spectacular outdoor venue that appeals to keen gardeners and family fun seekers alike. The Garden is now firmly established as a very popular visitor attraction in its own right. 

Image via Wikipedia

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Happy Easter!

It's Easter Sunday and once again we've been out and about as a family.

 Today we were at Belton House, a wonderful National Trust property we are fortunate enough to live very close to. Normally the adventure playground and tea rooms are more than enough to keep us occupied and justify our membership, but on top of that today there was a special Easter Egg trail around the gardens.

The Orangery at Belton House:

My wife was more than pleased to lead our quest, especially as she has once again given up choccies and crisps for the 40 days and nights of lent!

While we were there today, I spotted a leaflet on Volunteering, and it gave me a timely reminder that rather than simply use the blog to highlight good causes and raise funds, I also want to use it to encourage people out there to consider getting involved directly in the charities. Your time can make all the difference.

Back in the early 1990s I spent another life-changing 12 weeks on the Princes Trust Volunteers programme, a community volunteering scheme for 16-25 year olds here in the UK. When I get the chance I'll write an entire blog dedicated to the subject, but as it happens included in the course is a one week volunteering session with the National Trust. We went down to Cornwall, and built wooden fences to protect the local sand dunes, and for me it was a fantastic way to combine the benefits of being outdoors and learn some practical skills, so I would encourage anyone with a particular interest in nature or conservation to consider giving it a go.

For more details visit the website at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/volunteering, or you can contact the Volunteer co-ordinator at your nearest regional office.

Just remains for me to wish you all a very Happy and peaceful Easter holidays - go easy on the chocolate!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Making a splash!

Well this Easter weekend is definitely shaping up as one for the indoor attractions. This morning was my little lad's regular swimming lesson. As he's been going once a week since he was 2, he's really doing well now, with so much confidence in swimming underwater and the like. 

We do the lesson together, then his Mum comes in with him afterwards, giving me the chance to swim a proper length or three. So another mile clocked up this morning , and all in all it has been absolutely pivotal in helping me get moving on the weight loss front, there really is no better exercise for you in terms of maximum aerobic benefit with a minimal risk of injury. I would encourage any one out there who hasn't been swimming for a while to give it a try again. Right now in the UK, under 16s and over 60s get to swim at any participating leisure centre, absolutely free of charge. Family fun, that does you all the power of good.

Which leads me nicely into another article I wrote about the benefits of swimming 

So come on "water" you waiting for?

Wise words Rolf

In the utterly immortal words of the mighty Rolf Harris

"Kids and water - they love it!!" 

For those of you who've never had the privilege of witnessing his classic public service ad dating all the way back to circa 1973, you're no doubt wondering what on earth the wobble-board supremo is going on about....

But his bleary-eyed, medallion chested pool side appearance has stayed long in my memory, and his message was entirely sincere and still relevant today. Right from an early age, I firmly believe that learning to swim being safe and confident around water is such a useful and important life-skill for all of us.

Bet you also digderee-didn't know alongside all his artistic achievements he was a very talented swimmer, in fact he even won the Australian Junior Back stroke championship!

Friday, 2 April 2010

It's a Jolly Holiday Good Friday!

Well once again not much time to post today, but I guess that's how it should be as it means I get to spend precious time with my family over the Easter Holiday period.

Today was a wet , blustery, washed out day, but we all had a great time. Went over to the family in Scunthorpe, had an indoor Easter Egg hunt for the kids, a lovely bit of dinner and then burned off the excesses trying out our best moves on Wii Dance- thank goodness no one was pointing a video camera in my direction! Back home to the village and a Fish and Chip supper followed by a Jolly Holiday trip with the effervescent Mary Powwpins!

In keeping with the spirit of the season, here's an article I wrote about one of our favourite North Yorkshire family days out - at the beautiful and historic World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey.

Whisper it.

The sun is gradually starting to linger that bit longer, we're edging that bit closer to the Easter holidays, and so I confess that I am now increasingly hankering after a family day out in our glorious British countryside with my personalized picnic-o-meter already at amber alert levels.

Today I'm going to take you on a whistle-stop tour of one of my ultimate favourite destinations, a sublimely peaceful and inspiring place in the heart of North Yorkshire, Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the true national treasure that is Fountains Abbey. 

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Maundy Thursday magicdarts style - with Miles of Smiles

Every year in the UK on the last Thursday before Easter also known as Maundy Thursday, there is a long established tradition, whereby the Queen of England hands out money to people who work for good causes. As it happens , she's not too far from me here in the East Midlands, as she's in Derby today.

Anyway it has given me a very timely reminder that it's time I went through my various online survey and cashback sites to see what existing funds there are ready for cash out so I can get the donations rolling.

I've also found in interesting to see which of these sites allow you to donate your funds directly from their website to charities. The long established cashback co-operatives are very good for this - take for example Quidco , they have links available to donate to pretty much any of the UK registered charities, plus if the charity you want to support is not listed, you can email them to ask for it to be added.

Unfortunately with some sites, you do have to get to the minimum cash out threshold first before you can make donations, and in some cases the only option you have is to request the money first, and then pay out once it's cleared in your funds, but in the end I figure however gradually it comes in, it will all make a difference.

Another one of my fellow writers from dooyoo has been in touch this morning about a brilliant charity that supports children with disabilities called "miles for smiles" link : http://miles-of-smiles.org.uk/ which provides much needed care for her little grandson. It's a small regional charity that has really struggled for funding during the recession, so I'm more than happy to give it any extra promotion that I can.
The lady in question has kindly given me her permission to publish an extract from the deeply moving message she wrote to me - I think you'll agree it's much more powerful and personal than anything I could write here

"I just wanted to mention a charity very close to my heart, Kent Kids, Miles of Smiles. They are a Kent based children's charity, who have supported my young grandson, Miles Griffiths, for over 18 months. Miles was born with spastic quadriplegia, he is 8 this year but cannot sit, mobilise, speak or even swallow due to his condition. 

He is fed via a jejunostomy tube into his bowel (as his stomach does not work) and his care needs are so great that my daughter was unable to continue caring for him at home. She has two other children and was becoming ill with the sheer hard work involved after 6 years care giving with little or no help. 

It was heart-breaking for us all as I am sure you can imagine. Kent Kids stepped in and took Miles into 'Footprints' their residential centre, they supported him financially until Social Services decided to fund him...another story altogether!

We try to do our bit for the charity and support their fundraising ventures, but as you can imagine the current recession has hit the charity's donations very hard. If you would consider highlighting Kent Kids on your blog, I would be very grateful."

Once again, I appeal to anyone out there , particularly those of you with personal links to UK registered charities to get in touch. I promise to do whatever I can to highlight them on this blog - it's what it is here for.