At break in point

Christmas is an amazing time of year for most people, unless you are an independent retailer and then its a stressful nightmare.

Financially the Christmas period is a juggling game of cash flow, with goods arriving in August which may not start to sell until late November/December. That’s at least three months of stressful bills with few sales until a few weeks before Christmas, when it all kicks off.

It is a hectic and stressful mixture of predicting pre-ordered stock that you hope to sell, mixed in with massive overheads such as business rates, utility bills, wages etc. It’s that age old saying “If you’ve not got it, then you can’t sell it.” On top of all that financial stress, you have the added stress of sending out goods to people on tight deadlines hoping that they don’t get lost in the postal network and hoping customers don’t pretend that they haven’t had the goods when they have. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve caught people out on fraud!

It is truly a fine art balancing everything and still offering the best customer service you can, whilst keeping a roof over your businesses head!

Well it’s the Thursday before Christmas, December the 20th, and I’m sat feeling like death on the sofa after coming home an hour early from work. Long days and nights working are taking their toll on me. I’ve a low immune system and I’m having treatment tomorrow and god, don’t I know I need it. Two other staff members have had a day off each due to illness, but I work for myself so taking a day off work isn’t an option, especially at Christmas. So I carry on the best I can covering their job roles and my own.

Suddenly the door bell rings and its my friend holding out a packet of cough sweets. I’m thankful as now someone’s in to make me tea, but mustering up the energy to become sociable is harder than I think. Like a vegetable I’m sat there unable to do much as Tams, my friend, runs round fetching me tablets, food and drink – my husbands gone to Milton Keynes snowboarding with the staff and team which when you are this ill, is a blessing as I just wanted to die quietly on the sofa.

We nattered, but Tam’s knew I was slowly dying from a cold and kept saying she’d leave. I had treatment in the morning in Oxford which I had to get up early for, and had zero energy. I remember sat wondering how I was going to even manage getting up in the morning at that point.

Unfortunately we hadn’t sat down and nattered just the two of us in months, so had lots to talk about, but I was extremely concerned that she was going to catch this cold from me, so didn’t want her to stay long. We’ve said goodbye 5 times by this point, but one of us would say something which would keep us chatting a bit longer. I said that night there was a reason for her spontaneously coming round.

Suddenly my phone rings, my home one. We both looked shocked as Tam’s knew it would be one of two people calling; My mother or our burglar alarm company. Looking at the time and knowing I was ill, the likeliness of it being my mother was slim. I answered the phone and asked them to repeat who they were.

I looked shocked, as I stood up reaching for my jacket and keys. “A sensors gone off, I need to go.” Tams instantly said she would come. Half of me thought its one sensor, not two, so it’s most likely a box which has fallen in the warehouse. I know I’m going to have to drive fast and safe because its wet. I make sure she’s got her seatbelt on for the ride.

It wasn’t long before some boy racer was at the side of me trying to race me. I decided to go another route as I didn’t want to cause him to have an accident, let alone me.

We joke that its going to be a box fallen over and that I’m going to want to kill someone on Friday morning, but in the back of my head I think this is going to be a real call, as I wasn’t on the phone long enough to know if two sensors had tripped.

We get closer to the warehouse and I ask Tams to look, as we drive past a car park which is behind our warehouse. There’s a small silver car driving around – looks like a Vauxhall Corsa, the old shape one. It could be nothing, but it could be something?

We drove into our warehouse car park, my eyes adjusted, I couldn’t work out what I was seeing as it was raining but shouted to Tam’s to call the police. My hand firmly on the horn as I wanted to scare anyone out from inside the wrecked building, but no one came.

The warehouse shutters were ruined. I couldn’t work out what had happened. At first I thought we had been ram raided but later on discovered that 3 men had spent about 2 hours in the rain ripping the shutters apart on and off. Was it worth it for them? Well for about £4k’s worth of damage they took less than £100 in total, which divided by three people wasn’t really worth all that effort?

Even the kids at the skate park knew that most people pay by card. What stupid idiot thought that it was worth spending two hours in the freezing cold and rain for the till float?!

Most of the items in our shop are £100, so no one comes in with much cash, its just that simple! Plus all cash is secured off site in the bank!

We sat for a couple of minutes in the car calling friends and family over to help, while we waited for the police. Two friends even kindly left the Cotswolds to come to my rescue. To them I will be eternally in their debt.

In just minutes the police arrived closely followed by the police dog – Swindon police were amazing.

I sat there thinking I’d rather go in first than a police dog or officer – I wouldn’t want anyone or anything getting hurt especially a dog for our shop! A very beautiful, bouncy happy German Shepherd came out. The only thing he found was a tennis ball thankfully belonging to our shop dog Abbie. The men had left only minutes before I had arrived we later saw on CCTV.

I scrambled though the wreckage of our shop front and into the office then shop and broke down in tears. The adrenaline left my body and the shock hit.

I can’t tell you how crushed I felt looking at all the damage. 18 years of hard work making ATBShop into something our family could be proud of in ruins; Skate park and two shops for all to enjoy, smashed up in a matter of hours, made everything we had ever achieved feel worthless. I remember crying out “Its not worth it any more” as I covered my face with my hands feeling so overwhelmed. Tears rushed down my face. I was in pain, but it wasn’t physical. My heart broken. This building called ATBShop is our life’s work, practically our home and someone wanted to take that from us for their selfish greed of not wanting to work.

Standing there wet and cold from the rain, tired and very ill I felt like I couldn’t go on. Stood in a room full of people I felt so alone.

These vile humans will never know the extent of damage they have caused for the pitiful amount that they stole. Not just the £4k’s worth of shop front they’ve smashed and destroyed, £100 till they took and smashed over the floor and cash float they stole, but the fact that I didn’t get my treatment that week from Oxford. That I’m still so ill from being stood in the cold and rain I’m amazed I’ve not got pneumonia for the 12th time. The phycological damage of being on edge from the break in. They ruined our family’s Christmas. It was already hard enough drawing the energy to celebrate Christmas with a family member terminally ill, but this just pushed us into a worse fragile state.

These pathetic individuals are the lowest life form in my books; Stealing from a small family run business, who’s main aim is to only do good, keep children off the streets and into active sports. If you knew our family then you will know we are the kindest people you’ll ever meet and would literally do anything for anyone.

Thankfully we have insurance to cover this damage which will cost us approximately £4k, but this could have cost us our business and our staff their jobs if we weren’t insured, all because of a couple of people wanted to steal rather than to work. Totally disgusting and extremely callous.

It wasn’t long before everyone had raced over to our aid. I don’t have friends… I have super heros. My life long friends Ant and Sam had travelled an hour from the Cotswolds to help. I told them I’d be ok, but they said that they would come and help as I was on my own with Tams and the police. My pensioner parents had left their beds in the dead of night to come in, and the boys left the snowdome to come back and try to piece back together what was our beautiful shop front.

Even my wonderful neighbours walked our dog and tucked her in for us that night, as I had to leave Abbie at home wanting to keep her safe.

Felling hurt, crushed and ill, we dusted ourselves down and picked ourselves back up and fought back to open for midday the next day. It was hard as I was working on less than two hours sleep by the time we got back home and had to wake back up to get in for work. I have to say I hardly slept for those two hours and spent the day spontaneously crying which is very tiring .

I had to keep telling myself that yes there are some terrible people out there, but there’s also some truly amazing people who are out there, who have supported us.

Lots of people keep asking how they can help us. All we will say is please come in and support us by shopping with us. Buy a coffee from us, use our skate park, buy your next scooter or skate board from us. Pay and have your skis or snowboard serviced, just use us. Whether you snowboard, kite, mountain board, scooter, skate, longboard, surf, or wakeboard rider, then pop in and support us – its that simple.

We don’t need a go fund me page or crowd funding account, we just need people to come in and use us and we will be fine and will fight back so this doesn’t happen again. We have fitted more sensors and added even better CCTV and monitoring sensors so this won’t happen again but it was surviving the emotional stress that was the hardest and one that I still won’t get over.

GoPro, the camera you never knew you needed

So when you are offered an all expenses paid trip to Silverstone to watch the Moto GP courtesy of GoPro – “The headline sponsor” for the weekend you can’t say no! I wasn’t there to blag freebies, or drink champagne in the VIP but to get to know the GoPro brand and ethos behind this multi national company.

To date this single handily is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Not because I got to drink champagne and watch bikes all day, and come second in Go Karting at Dakota, but because I learnt about one of our biggest brands which we sell at ATBShop.

Theres no point faking it:

So there’s a lot of “fake” or “imitation” GoPros on the market – you know the ones which look like a GoPro, but don’t take photos or videos like a GoPro. They don’t even sit on your helmet or the mounts like a GoPro. I honestly don’t know why people buy them? This is where I say, you get what you pay for. This isn’t a sales pitch by the way; Its just that I’ve seen a lot of fakes on the market, owning a skate park and none come close to a GoPro for usability and quality. You don’t even get access to free editing like you do with GoPro, which after speaks for itself. Hands down – save your money and buy something worth using.

Like a virgin:

Ok I’m a shamed to admit, as someone who likes to “vlog” on “insta” and Facebook, that I’ve never heavily used or setup a GoPro on my own until this day (Moto GP weekend). Owning a shop which sells GoPro’s is also something I shouldn’t admit to either.

I know I’ve lost all your respect right here but bear with me.

This trip to watch the super bikes race at Silverstone has changed my whole world when it comes to media and how I can collect, edit and display it.

Before this weekend I thought GoPros were for “pro’s” – pro surfers, pro skateboarders, pro snowboarders and for people jumping out of planes. The truth is “Yes” they do take a frigging awesome adventure or extreme sports shot, but they also take an epic everyday video or photo. They are perfect for anyone who owns a social media channel as well – Got a Facebook or insta for personal or work? Then you need a GoPro camera in your life – especially if it says the words Hero7 on the side.

The new Black edition Hero7 is of course my favourite and one I’m aloud to shamefully brag that I now own one! Its loaded with all the gadgets to make either a novice or a pro extremely pleased with their purchase.

So you’re now sat there wondering how this could work for a pro and a novice right? Well its “simple”… and that’s the beautiful part of it. So simple to operate, that even a child could use it. Touch screen and simple settings make for an easy life.

Keeping the Voice Controls from the original Hero5 and adding them back onto the Hero7 range, again helps you use it. This little gem of a control works well for people using mount and fixings; so you don’t have that gormless face in each shot of “Is my GoPro recording?” We all know what I’m talking about here.

Anyway this is old hat stuff but part of the whole ethos of making it user friendly. I even think my technophobe of a mother could use it!

Voice Control is standard across the entire Hero7 range, but I want to talk about the new cool shit which is going to blow your mind on the Black Edition!!!

First off its Black for 2018 – yes we’ve been lied to in the past when they sold us a Black and it was grey, but they’ve done it and I can confirm the Black is … well Black! 10 points right there GoPro!

So for us at ATBShop, 2017/18 has been the year where the karma gimble has been everything in our edits. We love that smooth flowing motion and want it in every clip. This had previously come with a hefty price tag until now.

GoPro have come up with what they are calling HyperSmooth technology and its amazing. I mean this is Steve Spielberg shit right here in the hands of Joe Blogs public at high-street not Hollywood prices. No need to add an expensive add on or accessories to this camera – this shits built in and its going to blow you away!

Watch the edit below… this is incredible stuff.

I remember watching it just before we left the hotel for Moto GP and there was a wow from us all. We were hyped and couldn’t wait to see what else was on this camera.

Next exciting point is the live feature! God, it’s crazy to think that GoPro is stepping into the realms of social media by partnering up with one of the biggest players – Facebook. It makes sense being 2018 and all that but no other camera does this that isn’t a phone. You can now live stream with the Hero7 Black straight onto your work or personal Facebook accounts! How rad is this? Lets Face it, the Hero7 Black camera is going to be better than your scabby iPhone camera when the Hero7 Black can shoot in 4k. It even saves the live video to the card in the camera at full resolution.

I now know what you are thinking, and don’t worry the clever men and women at GoPro HQ even managed to make their camera shoot in landscape and portrait making Hero7 even more suitable for you favourite social media apps like snapchat and Instagram.

I can see you all looking at throwing out your iPhones camera as redundant pieces of technology as I write this; well don’t yet, as the GoPro haven’t included a phone yet.

I also loved the time warp motion time-lapse video feature which GoPro have. Its Hollywood right there again in a compact camera that fits in your pocket.

There’s a million other bits I could talk about – but you just need to come and try one for yourself! ATBShop have trained staff and demo cameras to try before you buy so don’t be shy people!

Remember, just because it says Pro on the box – doesn’t mean its for the Pro’s. This camera isn’t expensive for what is loaded on to it and its capability’s. If anything this camera should come with a warning as it will make you all look like movie stars having fun with the family!

For all the full specs on the GoPro Hero7 Black, Silver and White check them out on ATBShop’s Website.

Family tip – buy the silicone sleeve and lanyard if you’re off on a family adventure. Its £20 but keeps the camera safe and easy to use.

Also check all the GoPro apps out. They are free and GoPro have spent millions on them and they work, turning your family holiday into a mini movie with zero effort!

I knew that GoPro had apps to help you edit, but didn’t realise how simple they were to use. The app does everything and makes you look like…well.. a Pro!

Last time I checked it was 2017? Well in that case why are we still using Palm Oil?

Munching though a Heston Pie from Waitrose I couldn’t quite tell what flavour I was tasting. I leapt from my chair and started to rummage into the recycling bag. I couldn’t work out the taste of a particular flavour from the pie and it was driving me mad!

I started reading off the ingredients allowed, until I glanced at the words “Palm Oil”. I can’t tell you how disgusted I became with not only Waitrose, who’s meant to be the market leader in all this ethical crap we buy into, but Heston, a well known, and much loved celebrity chef.

In my early 20’s I used to work for a business connected to top celebrity chefs. I met in person many of these famous celebrity chefs, who inspired me to be a better person with their whole take on fair trade, locally selected, organic, ethically sourced food. Remember, its trendy to care about food, and where its sourced from. Ordinary people take a pride in their food – its instagraphic after all. Food is much more than just a square meal… it’s an art form.

I reached for my phone and started tweeting. That’s all you can do isn’t it? Vote with your feet and send an angry tweet?

We should all be lobbying our supermarkets, manufactures, chefs, pubs and MP’s… but we don’t. Our lives are too busy to worry about large forests vanishing over night. We don’t see it in our lives so it’s not really happening.

Ignorantly you don’t have to know anything about cooking oils to know how bad Palm Oil is, after all its destructive effects are constantly feature in the press and plastered across our social media channels. You’d have to have been living in a remote island for the last 10 years alone, not to know about the destructive effects this little edible oil causes. For more info on palm oil just google or check out this article here.

Palm Oil isn’t just bad for your health, because its high in saturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fat – meaning it could promote heart diseases, but it’s bad for our environment. Mass deforestation, animals on the brink of distinction and the biofuels from this plant based oil then turn out to be three times more harmful than traditional fossil fuels.

So why are we using what some call the “Environments silent killer” in our foods? Why are we using 66 million tons of it a year? Because people do not stand up for what they believe in? I’m writing this blog and sharing a link to educate you in the hopes that one day there won’t be the sale of this vile oil. One voice makes some noise but a crowd makes a movement.

Share, shame, petition and pledge never to buy “Palm Oil Products.”

Justice for Grenfell, how we helped.

Only a handful of you will know that I have a second line of work. When I’m not looking after and running a skate park and a successful online store, I’m a presenter. My early career in radio, scraping an existence and a living finally blossomed into well paid presenting work in the corporate world. The majority of my presenting work now comes from London and the surrounding area. I love London, not just because of its plentiful work, but also because of the people who live there. I have a mixture of very wealthy and very humble friends in this city, and the one thing that unites them all is the diversity; It’s good to be different.

I love how everyone is accepted and anything goes. You’d walk down the street thinking something looked totally normal, when in fact if you had that same look of fashion, specialised shop, or event going on in another town, or city then it just wouldn’t work.

On Tuesday the 13th of June I had work in London. It was one of the hottest days of the year and I’d stayed over with one of my closest friends. Andy, or my Hertfordshire husband, as he’s also referred to on the count that I used to stay with him more than my actual husband, had put me up for the night. We boarded the train and raced into London. An 8am start in Trafalgar was waiting for me. The day was long and a massive success for our client. After work, Andy collected me from my hotel where I had been working, and we set about finding dinner. Alfresco had to be the tonight’s choice, for the weather was too good to do anything else. Somehow I lost all track of time and found myself driving back home to Wiltshire at 1am, still buzzing off my London experience. London had been too kind and I didn’t want to leave.

The next day a very sleep Diana was greeted with a huge mug of coffee in bed. My wonderful husband knew just how to wake me – this was to be a two-sugar day for sure. Scrolling through Instagram I saw a post by George Clark (Channel fours Restoration Man, to name just one of his many successful TV shows). I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Post, after post of a huge tower block engulfed in flames. This wasn’t a third world country, but London in 2017.

Resembling something out of 9/11 I felt sick as I then started to read the NEWS. Babies being thrown out of windows, people jumping to their death avoiding flames and toxic smoke, families trapped in burning smoked filled rooms, People frantically waving for help from their windows trapped with no way out. This was real life horror. I felt helpless and sick. Like many, I wanted to help and knew I couldn’t. A massive wave of guilt crept over me. I’d had such an amazing time in London while others were suffering. I know it sounds stupid and I wasn’t even close to the fire, but if I had of then I would have been there trying to help. That’s the type of person I am.

So many people sacrificed their lives that night. I read a firemen’s blog from that night. It ripped me apart reading how they had to make split-second decisions on whom and how to save people. If you get the chance please read their story, as it gives you a factual account and insight into how lives were saved that night, and how deadly the condition were fought.

My day just dragged at work as I kept this wave of guilt hanging over me. I decided I needed to do something and with the help from my staff we set up a donation station at the ATBShop Skate Warehouse (our little indoor skate park in Swindon). I urged people to give what they could in the form of clothes, food, and toiletries. I asked people to donate on the official ‘Just Giving” site if they wanted to donate money. I called our extreme sports community via social media asking for help and support and they answered. In fact, the BBC even called to interview ATBShop on our efforts.

Generous families from all walks of life supported our cause. Children’s designer clothes with tags still on, a huge mixture of food, toys still in their boxes, fresh toiletries and bags more of much-needed aid arrived. The news changed explaining that Grenfell Tower had been overwhelmed with donations and wasn’t accepting more aid. Luckily, we had stated from the start anything unwanted would go to the Prospect Hospice in Swindon – another amazing worthwhile cause! I think people just wanted to feel as if they had helped. Like me, they had watched the NEWS and were moved. The giving of these donations almost felt like therapy.

Finally, Saturday evening came, when we were to drive down to London with the collected aid. Our vehicle loaded with more than just emotion, we ventured into London to help support the victims of the fire.

As we drove ever closer to Kensington, through a break in the London skyline, we could see the tower for the first time as we came off at a roundabout near to Kensington. Our Satnav still voicing out directions, and still a good 15 minutes away from the location, we felt numb at the sight.

The grim remains of a charred building seemed to stand almost alone in the London summer red sky. Thinking back now, I wouldn’t have even have recalled if there were any other buildings surrounding Grenfell Tower, as your eyes drew onto this now iconic building, which stood like a burnt out car.

Hollowed out, with its chard remains, the crimson evening sky pierced through the now dark brown tower. A skeleton of the skyline is the only way to describe this building. The beautiful summer dusk light shone where every windowpane once stood, acting as a chilling reminder of nights past. Forget what you’ve seen in the NEWS, nothing could prepare you for this sight.

We parked and started to walk towards the tower. Worlds apart we walked past a mixture of council houses, and houses that we knew would cost millions to live in. It’s reported that flat prices in this area fetch on average £1.3 million, so when you hear Grenfell Tower had over 120 flats inside, your thoughts on how much a private block would fetch on that site sends a chill down your spine. I remembered by husband saying… “Just wait until they demolish that building and put up luxury apartments.” I dumbfounded replied that there would be a massive outcry if that was to ever happen. Stuart then said “They are selling off the NHS at the moment and no one cares. Give it a few years and this will be sold off for private land.” I knew he was right. Government’s are clever like that.

The closer we walked, the more somber the atmosphere became. For such a noisy city, the silence was almost deafening. Voices so quiet and softly spoken were all that you could hear through the heat of this London evening. Missing signs seemed to lead us to the tower – attached to fences, phone boxes, doors, post boxes and photo booths. In fact, there was no space left uncovered. Any surface area an A4 photocopied a piece of paper could be stuck to, there was a photo or a handwritten note attached.

Walking further into North Kensington you could see piles of makeshift shrines laid scattered around the area paying tribute to friends, family, and strangers. Doorways were full of flowers and cards; walkways were lit by candles and decorated with handwritten messages. Mountains of toys piles high in tribute to children lost in the fire just broke my heart. I reached for my husband’s hand – he just held my hand tighter as we walked in closer past the cordoned off police area in front of us. Taped off access only to the surrounding flats prevented us walking any closer in.

We ventured around and onto station walk where masses of people gathered like a congregation on the street. Everyone looked lost; this was a community still in shock wondering around, searching for answers. A man with a drum started to play. A few taps in he would stop. The music just wouldn’t come. There just wasn’t a tone for the sober mood, which shadowed over the street where we all stood like a grey cloud.

I lit a tea light; I offered more to strangers who stood staring in disbelief. It may sound silly, but I had this sense of just being there was helping. This community wanted to know people cared as they grieved and waited for answers. We all came to their side, to show our love and support in the only way we could. It didn’t feel much, but it felt as if it helped.

Suddenly a group of talented children began to play violins. “Near, my God, to me” played flawlessly by these children, who seemed to pull a crowd of lost souls together. Everyone stood together united in grief. Some recorded them on their phones; others rocked their children in their arms. Hearing and watching the children play crusted me. This was the song used in the Titanic film as the last song played before the ship sank. For everyone who stood there watching this was raw emotion finally tuned.

As you walked further in, all walks of life pulled together handing out food and drink from all sides of the road. From biscuits on a tray, to fully cooked hot meals, it was all free to anyone and everyone. Makeshift picnic areas loving laid out on the floor for all. This was a caring community responding to a disaster with a lack of government help.

There were no charity’s branded volunteers, or government officials, just ordinary people piecing a broken community back together the best way they could.

This multicultural, gathering of faith, race, and society saw first hand, was breathtakingly beautiful in light of such a horrendous tragedy. The kindness hit you like a bullet, making you want to hug and thank everyone you saw for their kind efforts.

Reading the walls of comments, half filled with anger and half filled with sorrow, it had everyone thinking about how this fire could have happened in such a developed, sophisticated country? There are just so many factors to take into consideration. This small kitchen fire should have never ended this way.

Firstly was there a fire alarm, and if so was it loud enough and did people hear?

One of my firefighter friends asked how many of us hear a fire alarm when we are out and about and think nothing of it? I know recently I’ve been to the hospital for treatment and have heard an alarm go off several times and thought nothing of it. If you lived in a tower block and heard an alarm would you react and rush out or just think “kids” if it was in the early hours of the morning?

Was it true fire crews couldn’t get close enough to the building? They were there it’s been reported in under 6 minutes from the first call, but many reports explain how fire crews struggled to get onto the site, due to narrow gates and cars badly parked.

We are also discovering that gas pipes, apparently were laid to the entrance of the building and had been reported several times as a safety concern. As a building with only one shared exit and entrance – this does raise serious safety concerns.

What about the “Stay Put Policy”. One thing for sure, we learned nothing from the 6 people who tragically lost their lives in the 2009 fatal fire in Lakanal House, South London – another council run block of flats. This “Stay Put Policy” only works where flats are contained and fire safety is carried out to it’s very best. Yes, it is maybe for the best if a flat is correctly fitted with fire safety doors and the correct amount of “fireline” board – that residents stay in their flats until fire crews can get to them safely and out of a building without any injury. No one wants people hurt trying to escape causing more distraction away from putting out a raging fire. However, badly fitted insulation, and dangerous cladding just gives no one a sporting chance, along with a lack of fire doors and fireline board.

Although there are so many hindering factors to how so many people died from such a small fire, for me the cladding of the building had to be at blame. Every firefighter I know said the same thing. The building fire just spread too quickly – like nothing they’ve ever seen.

It has been widely reported that the fire crews put out the original fire, but somehow the cladding caught and then spread the fire up and outside of the building.

In the first few days’ reports came to light stating that the cladding was 100% safe, despite chunks of burning insulation raining down on Kensington. The cladding, however, had been signed off by a fire expert team, so should have been safe. The focus shifted quickly to how the cladding was fitted. Could too much of a gap be to blamed? All of the corporate companies involved in the 10 million pound refurbishment raced round to pass the blame.

Residents annoyed that they were told cladding designed to help “insulate” the building could now have been the sole reason why so many died. Listening to residents, they felt cheated as the main reason behind the cladding was more for aesthetics, rather than energy saving. Who would, after all, want to overlook a block of 60’s styled run down flats when they’d just paid over a million pounds to live in the area. Kensington council said that the cladding was mainly designed to save residents money on their heating, but if you’d believe that then you’d believe anything.

Angry signs and banners littered the surrounding areas to the tower demanding justice and answers. “Tories have blood on their hands” read one signed. Angry residents asking why a private limited company, who appeared not to care, could be left in charge of so many lives; This is government privatisation at its very worst, and with more privatisation on the Tory horizon, no one stands a chance.

Several blog posts explaining and outlining dangers had been met with threatening legal letters from the private company in charge of Grenfell. KCTMO legal team explained legal action would follow if more slanderous comments were made on social media. I can’t help but hope these people are held accountable and brought to justice in this soon to be very complex legal case of corporate manslaughter. The fact that the former Conservative housing minister, Gavin Barwell apparently delayed a fire safety review for four years on the Grenfell Tower, just adds to the fact that the Conservative party had failed these people over and over.

Did you know a fire sprinkler system would cost just under £140k to install? Yes, you may think that’s a lot of money – but not when you think they had just spent around 10 million on making the building look nicer, you realise that 140k is nothing. After reading up on sprinkler systems, I found that it is very unusual for anyone to die in a building fitted with them, and pretty much unheard of that double figured deaths have accrued. With all this in mind, you have to ask yourself why were they not fitted as standard in large buildings, regardless of age?

Nicolas Paget- Brown, the Conservative council leader, said with all the renovation work being carried out on the building, that residents didn’t want any more disturbances. Yet there is no evidence of any such discussions between the council and the residents apparently. I personally can’t see GAG – Grenfell Action Group, turning down sprinklers after they had been reporting fire concerns since 2013.

Apparently, there’s been no fire report in the last four years even though GAG had expressed concerns that fire equipment was out of date and that fire extinguisher equipment had been condemned and that rubbish was building up in stairwells.

It’s also not well known that a Kensington council amassed 274 million after years of underspending, yet decided to give a £100 refund to all their top rated council tax payers. That massive amount of money could have gone into retrofitting such safety devices, which would have saved lives. This is North Kensington looking after their elite and not their most venerable.

Our drive back home after what felt like a pilgrimage to London left us thinking about everything. There are so many unanswered questions, and the first one being that no one knows to this day how many died in that building. I heard a lady stood “waiting” for news explaining that her sister was in the tower on a baby shower that evening. How many others were at that party? There’s other unconfirmed news that hundreds are still unaccounted for, yet the media said it will be less than 100? A family of five recently turned up unharmed and unaware of all the drama, which they’d caused, but where are the others? Lilly Alan famously ranted to Jon Snow, live on Channel Four NEWS that far more were missing than first thought for; yet the media downplayed the true scale of this horror.

The residents still complained openly during our visit that the media wasn’t giving a fair and balanced account of what happened that night and how many were thought to be dead. The math just isn’t right and the likes of Lilly Allan aren’t having any of it and are publicly standing up for those with no voice.

The media lapped up this NEWS story for days after the fire, twisting and exploiting ever piece of factual evidence to sell papers. Take the fireman’s helmet, which went viral. Everyone’s first thought was that the fireman had written his name on his helmet for identification purposes.

“You know it is not going to be good when you are told to write your name on your helmet before you go in.”

Everyone’s first thoughts were that the firefighters could now be identified from their helmets if things went really bad inside the building, and you know that’s how the papers were going to play it. However, the facts were that around 200 fire persons were needed that day, which was horrendous, and the point the fireman was trying to make – In other words “You know it’s going to be bad if 200 firefighters are here. ” The fact that they had all been asked to write their names on their helmets was so when they were on break they could identify their kit quickly for when they had to go back in. That’s why it was a first name written and not their last name. However, the media dramatised the events, which famously backfired on Twitter.

If the media can make you believe one thing then they can make you believe anything. Newspapers and media groups associated with the Tory party had already been kicked out of Grenfell for poor NEWS coverage by angry residents. You only have to read blogs and social media to get a real feel for how bad the NEWS coverage really was that night and thereafter.

Looking forward, it’s going to be hard to prove commercial manslaughter, and hold those only interested in profit to account. You only have to look at cases such as the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, to realise big companies can get away with literal murder. We must hope that this inquiry doesn’t drag into years, like the Hillsborough disaster. People forget, and the public will lose interest, and those murdered will be forgotten. This has to be acted on and kept in the public eye. So far the residents have complained of very little support – which was so beautifully orchestrated by Tressa May last week. If our very own Prime Mister can’t sort her act out over safety concerns to meet with victims, then what hope do we have?

I did like the meme that followed, where the queen ask Ms May to hold her crown – “She’s going in.” It is nuts to think that Prince William and the Queen can go into Grenfell along with the likes of top celebrity’s and Mr. Corbyn, yet May couldn’t. This Tory government appears to be a disgrace before, and now after the fire.

All we can hope now is that a transparent investigation can take place and that vital lessons can be learned from this disaster. Already fire checks have been carried out on several buildings which are now deemed to be unsafe. Like a ticking time bomb residents across the country have now been warned to evacuate, displacing lives and families. The effects of Grenfell to its victims and potential victims represent something of a war stricken community in its self. We talk about cuts and austerity, but these cuts have cost the country more than just millions its cost lives which you can’t put a price on.

With various politicians now backtracking on huge safety policies and legislation, can we really trust those in power to hold a proper investigation? Only one person has so far resigned over this disaster where many more really should have gone. Only time will tell if justice will prevail.

Thank you for reading my blog. I’ve only skimmed over the huge complexity and touched on parts of significant interest in this disaster because I felt, like many that Grenfell needed a voice. If you to want to help then please keep supporting Grenfell by writing letters to your local MP’s about fire safety so we can get a change in legislation, which can save lives.

A funeral and a car chase:

Today was the day we said good-bye to a dear family friend. Eddie, as he was more fondly known amongst all of his friends and family, was a lovely man who met my Auntie Jean whilst away traveling alone on holiday.

My lovely Auntie Jean could never leave anyone out, and after spotting this handsome chap who sat alone on a table, she instantly invited him over to join in with herself and her friends. That was it, Eddie became a life long companion to Auntie Jean and as they say “The rest was history.”

Auntie Jean’s family welcomed Eddie into their lives where he was accepted by all as a loving and caring companion for Aunty Jean. My mother and father holidayed with the pair several times and have a world of funny stories and beautiful memories.

Somehow 15 wonderful years flew by until Eddie peacefully passed away at home in the care of my Auntie. To say it was a shock was an understatement -although his health been deteriorating for quite some years, his departure from this world was sudden and with no warning, peacefully passing away on the sofa with no pain.

A fond farewell for this well loved family friend needed to be planned over the coming weeks, and his hometown of Doncaster was chosen for his funeral and final resting place.

auntie, but one of a fanatic friendship forged over many years with my parents and grandparents – We are all still regarded like one of the family -invited to birthdays and events, so paying our last respects to Eddie only seemed right, even if it meant traveling halfway across the country to do so.

My parents and I drove up to Doncaster, Eddie’s hometown separately. They chose to stop over at a hotel for the night to break up the journey, whereas I chose to stay with one of my best Friends- Kate a newly qualified teacher in Derby.

After a long day at work and a long drive, I arrived in Derby. Kate and I sat up chatting until we went to bed at 11 pm as it was a school night and I had to get up to travel an extra 1 hour and 20mins at 8 am the next day.

The roads were terrible as it rained all day. There were many scary moments of aquaplaning, flooded roads, motorways and “A” roads. Cars would sit in your boot, metaphorically speaking wanting to overtake but never actually committing. Fortunately, I arrived safely in Doncaster. The funeral was lovely and worth the stress of the roads to say good-bye. I’m not going to lie, I did cry a lot, it was very emotional, as everything became very real. We all had such raw emotion, as we said our last goodbyes. For me the worst part was seeing the real love from my Auntie Jean for this amazing man – it literally broke my heart as we all did our best to comfort her.

After the two funeral services and wake, I set about driving back to Derby to say goodbye to Kate. Still full of emotion and tired from the long day I battled back to Derby. The roads were hell as drivers battled flooded roads. The motorway was dangerous as I struggled on several occasions to stop the car from aquaplaning. I had fully accepted that there was a very high possibility my car was going to get written off that night. Even now I could never fully describe how scared I felt driving. Someone must have been watching over myself and the rest of my friends and family, as it was a miracle we all arrived safely.

My phone started to lose battery as I approached the outskirts of Derby, nearly 2 hours after leaving Doncaster.

Annoyingly my phone was also my Satnav. I continued into Derby driving aimlessly around hoping to recognise a building or a road, which would lead me back to Kate’s house.

After what felt like an eternity, I gave up driving around Derby town centre aimlessly and succumbed to a pub in the hope of finding electricity to power my phone.

I pulled the car into a dark wet car park and walked into what looked like a “Hungry Horse” Pub. I was so tired I hadn’t even read the name of the pub. I ordered a latte after plugging my phone into the wall socket and waited for the phone to charge up.

After about 5 minutes of charging, my phone came to life. I was saved!!! I called Kate to explain my reasons for being so late and went on to explain I hadn’t a clue where I was. After sending her a location off my phone Kate explained in detail how to arrive at her home.

Completely drained from the day I only took in some basic details from her directions. Something about ‘left’ something about a ‘duel-carriage-way’ a turning etc.

After downing my Latte, I grabbed my phone and bag and headed into the dark wet car park. I switched my phone on to load speaker after programming Kate’s address back in I chucked my phone into my door pocket.

I drove out of the pub car park onto what I had believed to be a one-way duel-carriage-way. After driving halfway up the road it became quickly apparent this was, in fact, a two-way road, as I realised I was heading for another car head on. Checking my mirrors for cars I quickly pulled the car onto the correct side of the road.

I was in total shock I’d been that stupid. Fortunately, everyone was fine, and I was just a little shaken. I saw out of the corner of my eye that the car I nearly drove head on into had turned into where I had just pulled out from. I thought nothing of it at the time, as I pulled up to a set of traffic lights at the roundabout where the dual-carriage-way met.

Then as I looked out of my car window waiting for the lights to change, I noticed a small dark car pull up alongside me. The two men appeared to be staring at me. At first, I didn’t think anything was wrong until I realised they were still looking at me. I felt this was very unusual as normally people look away when you catch them looking at you, but they didn’t.

Then the passenger in the small black car said something to the driver and they both stared at me again. I instantly felt intimidated and wondered if it was the car that I had just pulled out on? Had the car in fact not pulled into the pub car park but instead turned round? My paranoia set in.

The lights changed and my left lane was clear to join the duel-carriage-way, so I began to drive away noticing the black small car had signaled to turn out of its lane and into mine and down onto the duel-carriage-way. I wondered if the car was following me, as each time I turned – they turned. After a couple of turns, I knew it… I was being followed.

I started to panic and was worried that the two young men were going to either have a go at me or damage my car. There were two of them and only one of me. The odds, as they say, were not in my favor.

I quickly realised my opportunity to avoid them as I pulled into a side street. I saw my opportunity as the street I had pulled into had a “T-Junction” at the end. I had seen a car pulling into the end of my street, so I knew with a car parked on my left that they would have to give way to the oncoming car if I pushed through quickly, which would hopefully buy me a few seconds.

My plan worked perfectly – no car behind as I turned out from the ‘T-Junction’. I’d lost them for a second or two. I then saw another turning so pulled in quickly like I was in some criminal movie drama turning off my lights, trying to blend in like a parked car. Lying low, hidden in the darkness I looked through my rear-view mirror as I watched for them to pass. I thought that it being dark and wet that they wouldn’t spot me hidden down another road. I remember feeling quite proud of myself for my quick thinking. Unfortunately being a good driver and being very blonde I’d used my indicator to turn and failed to remember to turn it off, so my indicator was still flashing. Leaving my indicator going was like having a neon sign above my car saying, “I’m here, come and get me!!!”

Thinking I may well have lost them, I sat watching them drive slowly past looking for me. I was unaware at this point that I’d left my indicator flashing as they slowed down. Then as I watched intently through my rear-view mirror, I could see the passenger from their car looking up and down the road and then finally across directly at my car. He had spotted me and pointed directly at my car. I panicked and started up the car. I quickly realised as I slowly drove off that I had, in fact, turned into a block end. I was trapped and panicking even more. I slowly turned the car around and drove towards them but they pulled their car across both lanes of the small road so I couldn’t pass. There was no escape, they had blocked me in.
A million thoughts ran through my head, mostly what they were going to do to me, or my car if they got out and how I would escape. My heart was racing. Should I drive at them or sit still?

They spent a couple of seconds getting out the car, which felt like forever. Their car headlights beaming straight at my car really worried me. I have to say seeing a car pull across the road blocking all exits was very scary. One of the men all dressed in black stepped out of the car, he pulled out what I thought was a phone, like he was going to record something. Their car lights still shining at me, my heart raced as I could barely make out the young man’s face.

Weirdly I didn’t lock my doors but unwound my window to ask what they were doing, and to explain I wasn’t having a good day after being at a funeral. Before I could explain any further, the young man interrupted me.

Pulling out a badge he explained they were undercover police. I shook my head in disbelief. Looking at the car, it didn’t look like and an unmarked police car at all. It was small and what you’d expect young lads to be driving. I was horrified and mortified by their explanation, but somewhat relieved.

Apparently pulling out of a pub onto the wrong side of the road at an unmarked police car was reasonable grounds to stop me. I felt such an idiot. They thought I had been “drink driving”, so had a duty to stop and make sure I was ok and that I wouldn’t hurt anyone with my driving.

I explained that I wasn’t from around Derby and was completely lost in the dark wet streets and that I had pulled into the pub to call my friend, as I was lost and had been struggling driving around on flooded roads since Doncaster. Relieved and full of emotion I tried to hold back the tears.

I must have been talking at 100 miles an hour as they kept telling me to charm down and not to worry.

I explained that I’d only had a latte at the pub, which I think they could smell on me, as I had in fact offered a breath test, which they declined to do.

I then started to panic that the officers would think I had been on my phone. My phone sat live on satnav in my door pocket started spitting out directions again.

I hadn’t obviously been on my phone but was worried that they might well have thought that as a reason for my unusual behavior. It was in fact only seconds before leaving the pub that I was making a call after all.

I at this point just wanted to be left alone to travel on, but the two nice young policemen wanted to make sure I was calm enough to drive. They explained that they thought they might have scared me, so wanted to follow me at a distance to check I was ok and that I hadn’t been drinking.

After a few minutes, I had recovered enough from my police chase drama /ordeal enough to carry on. I thanked them very much for caring and apologised for my behavior.

Still pretty shaken I drove off down the back streets of Derby city centre. Questions flooded my head as I thought… “Why had they not used their blue lights?” “Had they got lights on that car?” “Were they real police officers?”

I guess I will never fully know why, if they were real officers that they didn’t use their lights. I wish now I could have thought to ask. I’m over 99% sure they were police officers because of their badgers, radio’s and the car but I guess I will never be 100% sure as it now seems a big blur.

Thinking back to why I believed that road was a duel-carriage-way was we think down to Kate’s directions. This wasn’t her fault, but in my tired and emotional state, I think I only picked out words such as “Left turn” and “Duel-carriage-way” so had confused myself into believing the road wasn’t two way.

Thankfully no one was hurt and I did make it back in one piece but I still believe that a little someone was watching over us all that night to keep us safe, as everyone’s journey back from Doncaster in the floods was dramatic. All the family phoned round that night to make sure everyone was safe and they all said the same.. “it’s a miracle we are all still alive after that journey!”

I’m dedicating this blog entry to Eddie and the love he gave to us all.

Know what you are eating, Foie Gras Pate the truth

December is when I dive into London and hit all my favourite stores for a days worth of Christmas shopping. I love this mini-shopping spree day, as this is the only opportunity I get to do any real Christmas shopping. I get such a kick out of visiting these old buildings full of real British charm, decorated head to toe in the finest Christmas decorations. I somehow feel like Wendy out of Peter Pan – It is a simply magical experience and one everyone needs to try. I’m not a massive fan of shopping normally and hate on line shopping, as there’s rarely any personality and good customer service behind your purchase. This is why I love to visit stores such as Harrods, Selfridges and Fortum and Mason.

As a previous employee at Harrods- I’ve had the full customer service training which each and every staff member receives regardless of which department they are destined for. The staff just make my shopping trip, as normally nothing is too much trouble, and the customer is always looked after to a high standard. This is something I’ve passed onto all of my staff and hope this is what sets us apart from all of our in store and on line competition. I suppose the irony for this blog post was that I worked as an elf at Harrods one year and that is also why I especially love London at Christmas – because it brings back such fond memories.

However this year my shopping trip was destroyed by a trip into Fortum and Mason’s. On what can only be described as a real life version of “Super Market Sweep”, my husband and I did the rounds filling our baskets with luxury products for our friends and family. Fine teas, wines, mince pies, the list goes on and on. Whilst visiting the food court downstairs I discovered a tin for sale containing Foie Gras. I instantly felt sick. It brought back a terrible memory of a video I once watched in the production of this vile cruel product. My day was instantly ruined. The whole day I kept thinking back to that tin and what those birds must have gone through to make that product.

This link below, narrated by Sir Roger Moore sums up the cruelty. I urge everyone to watch it even though it is distressing. There should be great importance placed on knowing where and how your food is produced.

I have now decided to start a campaign in the hope to totally remove from sale this product from all UK stores starting with Fortum and Mason. In my research into this product I have found disappointingly that Harrods will be my next point of call for a letter. This hurts more than discovering that F&M stock this product as I have previously worked for this company. On a more positive note, Selfridges of London have been leading by example, removing from sale this barbaric item since 2009. I even discovered in my research that they sacked a well-loved butcher who took it upon himself to sell the product under the counter in their main London store like contraband.

My hat is raised to Selfridges and I hope that Harrods and F&M can see that in 2017 that there is no place for the sale of this horrendous product.

My letter below will be sent tomorrow to F&M and I shall also write to Harrods. I shall be updating my blog with the outcome. Wish me and my one-woman quest the best of luck!

Dear Fortnum and Mason,

I just want to start by thanking you for giving us “Fortum and Mason.” What an incredible store, full of great British enchantment and nostalgia. Renowned as a true piece of British iconic culture, defining British high end retail at its very best, and for this reason one of my first stops whenever visiting London.

You have for years romanticised us mere mortals with you bohemian take on lifestyle, home, food and drink. Creating such magic as marmalade bucks fizz with edible glitter and giving us products such as olive wood and sterling silver honey drizzliers. Whoever would have thought we would have required such decadence in our lives.

It has always been a pleasure to spend money in your establishment, as I adore your quirkiness and sense of style. The very giving of gifts from F&M enables the public to reap huge amounts of selfish gratification and reward; after all who wouldn’t want to receive pure indulgence in gift form?

Until my last visit your store in my eyes was held in such high regard; that was however until I realised you stocked foie gras.

For me as a customer you’ve destroyed the very personification of your store. I can’t believe such a wonderful British institution could have fallen to such an all time low. I would love to know which ill educated buyer from your store ever thought that putting foie gras for sale in your store was a good idea?

Being regarded, as one of the top British food emporiums should come with some large responsibilities, one of which should be the ethical treatment of animals. Fortum and Mason should be leading the country by example, and not putting profit up for exploitation.

F&M’s famed previously for the finest British Royal meat, has hit rock bottom in my books. By stocking and selling foie gras you have done your country, store and British famers a massive disservice, not to mention the copious amounts of birds, which you contribute in torturing on a daily basis.

I should now point out I am not some hippy, tree-loving vegetarian, on a vegan quest to change the world one animal bite at a time, but someone who cares about animal welfare, standards and where her foods comes from. This is something all of us should take a pride in- vegan, vegetarian or not.

You should also know I am the grand daughter of a farmer who cared greatly for the welfare of his farm and have been brought up to respect all animals, regardless of what they were bred for. My grandfather always taught us that farmers should keep their livestock to a high standard of welfare while in their care – sadly this is something none of your foie gras farmers could ever say they achieve due to their cruel farming techniques. There is after all a reason why foie gras production isn’t farmed in the UK and the reason is that it’s just barbaric.
We should all be lobbing parliament for the total removal of this product from UK sale. If it’s too barbaric to be farmed here, then it should be too barbaric to be consumed here.

It may seem hypocritical that I have these opinions, because I am not vegetarian and the outcome for any animal bred for the purpose of food is always death. However, I believe we should not contribute or torture any animal regardless of its final fate.

I’m not too sure if you are all familiar with how foie gras is made? If not I have included a short synopsis from the RSPCA website.

What is Foie Gras?
Foie gras means ‘fatty liver’, a product produced from the livers of force-fed ducks or geese and used to produce foodstuffs such as pâté de foie gras.

Foie Gras production
Foie gras is not produced in the UK, and would be illegal to produce under animal welfare laws due to the welfare problems associated with producing it. The main producers of foie gras are France, Hungary, Bulgaria, Spain and Belgium.

Before force feeding, birds are typically kept in buildings on straw bedding with access to an outdoor area.

The force-feeding period
Force-feeding begins when the birds are approximately 12 weeks old and, lasts for around 12 to 15 days when the birds are then slaughtered.

Most ducks (around 80 per cent) are kept individually in small, wire or plastic cages with their head placed through an opening in the front, so the neck is easy to grasp. During force-feeding a feeding pipe is inserted into the birds mouth and down its throat. A large quantity of food is then delivered down the pipe for 45 to 60 seconds using a motorised or hand-operated auger, or for 2 to 3 seconds using an automatic pump. The birds are usually force-fed two or three times each day.

Key welfare issues
We are opposed to the production of foie gras due to the many serious welfare problems it causes for the birds involved, including:

    • Force-feeding prevents birds from carrying out their normal feeding behaviour.
    • The feeding pipe can damage the birds’ throats.
    • The handling involved during force-feeding can be stressful.
    • Birds’ livers may become 6 to 10 times the normal size and stop working properly.
    • The keeping of birds in small, individual cages doesn’t allow the birds to stand, walk, preen, stretch their wings or carry out their normal behaviours properly.

I would expect an on-trend store such and Fortnum and Mason to be following examples from the royals, who have also banned foie gras from all of their menus at all of their residencies.

I now look forward to your response as to why you have chosen to supply this product and what the future holds for the foie gras in your store. As a prestigious retailer I would hope that you seek to totally remove this product from sale as of immediate effect and cancel any further buying, doing right by the British public and the animals that this cruel product serves.

Kind regards

Diana Von Kirk

Far from normal…

Not many people have a life like mine. There’s never a dull moment. It’s non stop, full on, highly fuelled, bordering on some form of undiagnosed hyperactivity.

Who would have thought our wedding anniversary would have been spent waking up in a Devonshire car park with a group of friends pleading with a ticket officer? If you’ve hadn’t guest it by now, my life is far from normal. We had all traveled down to Westward Ho! for a ATBShop kite demo on the beach. It gives our customers a chance to try kit out before they buy. I often think it’s weird when people walk in and spend thousands of pounds on kit just off our advice. The ATBShop team aren’t what I’d call sales people, but riders. They’re all very knowledgeable, as ATBShop owns an impressive amount of demo kit which the staff all have access to. This means they’ve pretty much tried and tested everything we sell, so know the products inside out. It also helps that some of the guys who work for us are also instructors, so can explain the theory behind the kit and offer flying techniques.

The kite demo weekend was a massive success with brands such as Flysurfer and LiquidForce taking part. This easily made this demo one of the biggest ATBShop had ever thrown.

Later on that Sunday afternoon, I snook off from the demo for a quick surf with a friend. Needless to say my friend and I were far from pro and had been beaten to a pulp my the swell and the board. We had gritty hard sand suck to the side of our faces. So needed to shower.

Washing our hair in a beach car park shower wasn’t exactly the highlight of my weekend but I could honestly say I’ve never laughter so much whilst washing my hair. I did my best not to make eye contact with any passerby, as these showers were very open plan. I could feel everyone’s eyes on us, as we washed our hair next to their expensive cars, whilst stilling donning our 5.3 wet suites. We knew we looked stupid but we didn’t care. The soaps suds were blowing everywhere, including our eyes. The icy cold water was running out of the shower and partly down the road. No we didn’t look like the girls from any of the hair shampoo adverts. This was as far from sexy as you could get.

After the longest 10 minute battle with the worlds coldest shower in the worlds windiest carpark, we each threw on a set of sunnies and then threw our hair into a turban using our towels. Unrecognisable, I could see people smiling at our ridiculousness, but behind our shades we didn’t care. We just giggled like school girls, quickly running back to the car. I literally would have died if anyone I knew had seen us.

Later that evening we set up camp in an Appledore car park. £5 a night gets you a space in the carpark with an amazing view over the estuary and the use of a carpark toilet. No luxury camping here fokes. This was primitive camping at its best and we lapped it up. This was how we were spending our wedding anniversary – with friends in a cold car park.

Tonight’s entertainment would be a dodgy BBQ running out of gas, a defeated hunt for a Fish and Chip shop and late night crabbing.

Like a child I was excited to go off crabbing even though it was close to midnight. Two of the group insisted they were too tired to take part. I explained to Ben (one of our friends) who would be hosting the crabbing soirée that we were bleeding troupes and that he needed to recruit. Ben is the kind of person you don’t say no to. 5 minutes later armed with crabbing buckets and nets, the four of us headed off into rainy mist of Appledore with bottle of Baileys, Captain Morgan and coke. Ben’s recruitment drive had fetched in another two people from the group.

I had been very vocal about winning the crabbing contest – right up until I saw my £4 corner store crabbing set had been trumped by a professional fisherman’s crabbing pot – Ben was going in equipped.

We all quickly realised after throwing our crabbing nets and pots into the harbour that you can catch more crabs at night. I feel a joke could have been inserted here but I know you’re all above that kind of humour of “catching crabs at night.”

We easily caught around 70 crabs or more. Obviously they were too small to eat, but Ben explained he was going to keep some for fishing bait. This upset me as I hadn’t signed up for this and was quickly thinking how I could accidentally knock his bucket into the sea. Fortunately Ben changed his mind before I could conjure up a plan to free the crabs. I’m not a vegetarian but feel terrible when I accidentally tread on a snail, so would have felt bad for the poor little crabs.

After releasing the crabs back into the water, we headed off into the car park back to our homes for the night. Yes this was how I was spending my 7th wedding anniversary. The view I woke up to was pretty epic. No £250 a night hotel could ever compete with that view.

Then things escalated quite badly as a ticket warden arrived quicker than the sunrise. Now in my defence we arrive at night and I could barely read the faded sign with my phone. It turned out I hadn’t used enough money, hadn’t used the correct machine or pressed the right button. I call that a hat trick.

If you are staying over in Appledore then make sure you use the correct machine as this nearly cost us £75 a vehicle. Apparently my face was a picture as it dawned on me that I’d made a mistake. Our two friends from the night before – Harry and Ben were both in separate vehicles and had packed up their cars and were just going to drive off and leave Stu, my hubby and I if tickets were going to be issued. They were both sat in their drives seats when I looked over. They were ready! Our T4 looked like an explosion of camping. Clearly there would be no Formula One exit for us. Far too much kit spread out.

Thankfully the warden was a kind man and let us all off with a warning. I didn’t even need to use the line – “Oh but officer it’s my wedding anniversary…”.

This was officially the start of a good week by the sea and a £75 fine would have just tainted the few days off, Stu and I would have had together.

Now this is where I tell you that you don’t need to spend thousands of pounds to have a good time. It’s the people who are around you that make your adventures what they are. It’s cheesy but next time you go to spend a fortune on your loved one think – will I remember this night in years to come. If the answers yes then you’re doing something right.

I’m dedicating this blog entry to my amazing and diverse friend group who I love very much.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Saga

Johnny Depp being accused of domestic violence has got everyone talking. He’s been apart of our life’s for years. He’s entered and infiltrated our homes through DVD box sets, prime time TV and national newspapers. He’s been pictured as a loveable rogue with a kind heart, as his charity work nearly succeeds his acting career. But let’s add some caution here, as we remember that he is not the only kind hearted celebrity to visit hospitals with a dark past.

Many avid Johnny Depp fans rushed out to brand Amber Heard, (his soon to be ex-wife) “Gold Digger” as an initial reaction for accusing Johnny of being anything but nice. With a 23 year age difference between them, she must have been after his money right? I would say no. This pretty model turned actress is worth around 14 million dollars and is quite independent as far as her film career is concerned. She’s more than up and coming, she’s a Hollywood star in her own right.

I believe she is not a Gold Digger, just someone caught up in a whirlwind romance, infused with all the craziness of Hollywood. I mean like you would say no if Johnny Depp invited you out for dinner. He’s most women’s dream date after all.

Us mortals will never know the real goings on behind these Hollywood doors. These A-list celebrity’s live in another world; often an untouchable one as we are about to discover.

The divorce settlement had finally been reached and announced last week. Experts wrongly predicted Amber would walk away with 21 million, instead a mere 7 million was the figure finally reached in return for a joint divorce statement and charges of domestic violence against Mr Depp dropped.

Personally I think 7 million is nothing to buy her silence, when the actor is reported worth 400 million. She’s going to donate the full settlement it’s been announced, to some domestic violence charity, we are told in a press release.

To Johnny Depp fans this slinks of bitter revenge, but to others who sit on the fence a cheap publicity stunt. Some kind of last ditch attempt at rubbing salt into a very open wound. Some would say its a very clever card to play in getting one over the Pirates of the Caribbean star, but to others it’s a massive blow for women and men affected my this type of violence, as justice won’t be served.

Yes 7 million will change lives through the various charity’s she will donate to, but no way near as much as Amber fighting for justice. Accepting a settlement for her silence does nothing to empower any woman or man in her situation; in fact it serves as a massive discredit to herself, her story and to men and women with a similar history of domestic violence.

In fact it undermines the very serious nature to domestic violence. Now people will doubt her story, as there’s no follow up of justice. This will in turn cast a huge doubt on other genuine cases. Silence from an accuser after all just adds volume to the sound of “made up allegation” comments from others.

The general public will never fully know what happened that night or in the build up to that night. Most of us won’t even know about the earlier reports of violence in 2015 which have been in circulation on-line about Johnny’s jealous behaviour to Billy Bob Thornton. Apparently Johnny cut the end of his finger off by accident in a fit of rage and then dipped it in dark blue paint writing “Billy Bob”and then the words “Easy Amber” underneath on their bathroom mirror. This was in reference to her alleged affair with her co actor. Amber insists the allegations of an affair with Mr Thornton are of fantasy and strongly denies the accusation. Whether the whole chopping finger/mirror paint story is totally true we shall never know, but there are graphic pictures circulating on-line of his supposed finger and of the mirror. We also now know he has a scar on that finger too. So we are left to connect the dots for that occasion.

We know Johnny has a reputation for throwing and smashing things up whilst drunk. 1994 saw the Marks hotel NYC fall victim to another one of his vile rages. Johnny was arrested for destroying a hotel room after an argument with then girlfriend Kate Moss. He tried to blame the $10,000 worth of damage on an armadillo which was never found.

Which then leads us to the fact that Johnny never denied throwing the phone at Ambers face in their recent and final argument and their joint statement confirms no one lied. However all charges dropped to a sceptic looks as if it never took place. This is the worst form of publicity that anti domestic violence needed. In my opinion a buy out is an insult to any genuine case of domestic violence. There must have been a reason behind it I’m sure?

Speaking to others who have suffered first hand domestic violence – they can sympathise with Amber. “It’s easy…” one woman said “to sit there from a distance and say what someone should do in that type of situation, but these abusers often make you feel worthless or as if you deserved to be hurt. Sometimes the mental scars are worst than the physical ones, making it hard to speak out.”

There’s either got to be a massive lack of evidence for her not to have pressed ahead – as domestic violence cases are notorious for needing to be air tight cases. Often having no witnesses becomes harder to prove an act of violence actually took place. Alternatively Amber may have had a “I can’t be bothered – I want it all to go away attitude”. I can imagine the press hounding you day and night will take its toll. I mean could you imagine going up against one of the most loved people in the world? Calling them out and shattering their well preserved and well protected personalities. It’s ironic that he did something bad and it is her who has been made out to be the bad guy. Where’s the justice there?

For Amber there may not be any justice, but let’s hope that 7 million goes towards helping others.

Open Letter to Rick Stein

Dear Rick Stein.

Today it rained all day. I know this wasn’t your fault and we were kind of grateful it rained today (Sunday) rather than the day before (Saturday) when our friends beautiful outdoor cliff top wedding ceremony was massive success. This was undoubtedly due to the lack of precipitation. If you were wondering by the way, the catering was amazing, as their staff served us up a yummy organic, locally sourced wedding breakfast in their garden, in a large marquee in the grounds of their family home in Boscastle just looked beautiful basking in the late afternoon sunshine that day.

The next day the rain came in faster than a wedding reception hangover.

I kept thinking there would be a break in the weather …. but no it just kept on pouring.

After a rubbish day of dragging a soggy doggy and slightly hungover husband around Padstow, we retreated to one of Padstows many pubs. The food was as expected filling, tasty and well priced. Now the pub may not have won any awards for its culinary skills and the furnishings did bring out my worst in my interior design OCD (plaid chairs do not look good next to stripy curtains) but it was good honest British pub food served with a smile. I didn’t order anything to eat but did that terrible act where a wife orders nothing and then proceeds to side scrounge off her husbands plate. Well, at least he was my husband this time – You tend to get odd looks when it’s not your husband after all.

After a bit more walking in the rain I built up an appetite and decided I would finally pay the Rick Stein take-away shop a visit. There’s always a massive queue outside, so figured it must be good. Excited I bounced up to the door naïvely thinking that there wasn’t a queue because it was raining. How wrong was I? There was no queue because it was closed and would be reopening again at 5pm. My world was turned into turmoil. Should we stay and wait for the shop to open or get on our way?

We checked the ETA for home on google maps live travel, and it estimated 3 hours. We didn’t know that by waiting for the shop to reopen that the time would later change to 5 hours as an accident would occur on the motorway around Exeter. Unbeknown to future circumstances I decided to wait it out.

I sat waiting for half an hour for the Rick Stein take-away to open with a sleepy dog on the back seat and a sleepy husband in the front seat. This may not seem like a hardship but when you’re sat in a moist set of trainers feeling the onset of “trench foot” kicking in, you wonder if these chips will be worth it? My hair was damp and wavy from the elements and smelt of Swedish fire log and glamping from the night before. I just wanted to get on with the 3 hour journey home and clamber into a warm clean bubble bath and a toasty warm dressing gown chaser.

I told myself these chips were going to be epic and to sit my possible undiagnosed ADHD ass back down and sit patiently for the shop to open. I couldn’t even go for a wander because the rain was still coming down in force. So I had to sit quietly for a while.

Just before 5pm the doors opened and I was warmly welcomed by a pretty young girl who was very helpful and welcoming. Order placed… Takea-away collected, I was now well on my way to experiencing my first Rick Stein car park supper overlooking the harbour. I opened the take-away box as if it were a box of jewels. All excited I delved in.

I quickly realised I had succumbed to the hype and felt let down. As an avid coastal visitor, I’ve frequented a lot of fish and chip shops in my time and this was far the worst.

As I tasted the chips I quickly realised that they were below average chips. They weren’t even ok. Had I missed something? I asked for reassurance and the husband even backed up my findings. The dog in her nosy investigative food manner pushed her way to the front of the camper to check out the tip bit options. Abbie loves chips. In fact she loves food, any kind of food; well apart from her very expensive, very health dog food. Forgotten three day old Haribo Tangtastics trodden into the floor and covered in fluff at work, left over stale dog biscuits found rolling around her dog bed, old discarded kebab found in the gutter. You really don’t get to be a solid sized dog by being picky but today she wasn’t feeling a Rick Stein chip.

So that’s three of us that you’ve failed to impress. Was this my karma for ordering a battered sausage with my chips from the man famous for fish. I only ordered the sausage and chips because I wasn’t really hungry, but just wanted to try your fine dining in the take-away format. The sausage was ok, but I found it weird that it was herbed and served with lemon? Was I meant to wash my hands with the lemon afterwards?

I covered the chips in ketchup. If it makes it any better it was Heinz? I ate most of the sausage and chips but I brought the rest home to feed to the foxes. I would have feed the seagulls but that’s not allowed in Padstow and I don’t like to waste food.

Now, I’m the worst cook ever; Swindon fire service can vouch for that fact, but I believe even I could make better chips. I believe the potato it self wasn’t the problem but in fact the cooking oil? I mean it says a lot when the pub chips down the road from you tasted better; which is just an insult to your reputation and the Rick Stein brand.

Now that’s twice you’ve fail to impress me hence the blog post. You won’t remember a young budding broadcast journalist interviewing you at a book signing many years ago. I was so excited to meet and interview you. Slightly nervous; I had been looking forward to meeting you all week – this amazing TV personality/celebrity chef interview was 100% going on my next radio demo. I even asked for you to sign a copy of your latest recipe book which you were selling in Waterstones; Hence the interview. I could see at the time you weren’t enamoured by me, and I felt as if I was an inconvenience to your book signing. Some how in the great rush to get me out the way you managed to lose the book you’d just signed for my brother in laws birthday in a pile of around 100 books. Determined no one was going to open a recipe book addressed to Nicholas, I sifted alone through around 100 books. I found it had been signed twice. Obviously I failed to mention when quizzed by my brother in law over why it contained two autographs, that you’d been quite rude/abrupt with me, and then carelessly lost the book whilst signing other books for your later sales. We just glossed over that part. All he needed to know was that I was interviewing decent celebrities. The fact that the week before a movie star who I interviewed two days running had welcomed me back like family and had invited my colleague and I back for breakfast, was just a stark reminder of how different celebrities can be.

I think you had failed to see I was just doing my job interviewing you and promoting your new book at the time, but also that I was in fact a customer/ fan buying from you.

I hope this time you read this open letter and readdress your chips and battered sausage. You can’t go back in time and make a very nervous young journalist feel better about an interview, but you could see to it that the chips improve for my next visit.

Kind Regards

Diana Von Kirk

PS: Incidentally, if you were wondering who that said celebrity was – it was P.H. Moriarty AKA Hatchet Harry off “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”

In or Out the EU my opinion in the sea of propaganda

After being subjected to a 5 minute “leave campaign” broadcast I thought I’d write a blog entry to help you understand why I believe we need to remain in the EU. I have been overwhelmed and disgusted by the propaganda and plain lies being spread by both sides in this referendum and have had to dig deep and apply some logic to see the real reasons not the scaremongering being spread.

You may have heard me “banging on” about why it’s important to remain part of the EU for my business. In a nut shell ATBShop sells world wide. Shipping to EU counties, can cost us anything from around £15-£30, depending on the size of our shipment. We fill in one shipping label and then boom! It’s sent on its way and we have a happy customer. Where as we often miss out on sales because non EU customers have to pay not just for shipping but for customs and import taxes. This makes shipping an order, cost anything from £30-£60+ mostly due to customs charges. My staff and FedEx representative so you know absolutely love filling in the extra paperwork which comes with shipping to these non EU countries. Oh and when we tick a box by mistake and it comes back two days later to be resent again with the correct paperwork….. Well I can’t describe that feeling either. It’s a joy. I hope you’re getting my sarcasm so far? It’s only a simple example of a larger cost for any business dealing outside the UK. It’s not just export as also we import from inside the EU and outside as far as China. Non EU imports are much harder on cash-flow and come with complex customs paperwork for every shipment, but it’s as easy to order from a supplier in Paris as one in London as many even have UK £ bank accounts to make it super easy. EU trade at the moment is so easy that we now deal with a lot of manufacturers direct to save on the middle men’s cut and give lower prices to customers. Less paperwork and admin costs means lower prices for all of us it’s simple maths that even I can work out!

I’m someone who grew up watching subsides being snatched away from hard working farmers in the Thatcher era, so know how this will effect our country if we leave. Did you know that Cornwall is the most subsidised part of the UK with EU money? This beautiful part of the UK is my second home. I thought I knew a great deal about its economy, but it surprised me to hear how much EU money was spent there. Did you know that Cornwall received 50 million towards the Eden Project. Did you also know that Cornwall’s university received 173 million and that 53 million was spent on super fast broadband down there? I’m guessing not if you haven’t been an avid watcher of news night lately? Do we really think the good forks we have in Westminster will reinvest in our poorer areas as they already have such a good track record of doing in the past? They always seen much better at lining their friends pockets and filling in expenses after all.

A lot of people who are voting leave are doing so because of EU migrants, who they believe are using our NHS. Did you know you’re more likely to be treated by a migrant than to be sat next to one in a hospital bed?

As someone who is at present chronically ill, I can vouch for that statement.

There are just as many migrants coming from outside the EU than from inside. So we are doing so well at managing their numbers that have nothing to do with the EU? The EU migrants are also unable to claim all our benefits until they have put money into the system and are more likely to be working than the outside the EU immigrants. These bold headlines selling newspapers want you to believe that these migrants are stealing your jobs. When really the vast majority are contributing to our economy. Polish shops aren’t replacing UK convenience shops, but more often opening up boarded up shops and adding to our local economy’s by paying taxes, which is more than Google and Facebook are doing!

The leave campaign say “Let’s spend our 130 million a week membership on saving the NHS.” How about just getting one of those big corporations to pay the correct amount of TAX and save our NHS that way?

Also while we are on the subject of migrants, let’s talk simply about the trade deals and how Norway and Switzerland get to play with us in EU Free Trade market (but we still have to do customs forms to ship to them). Did you know because they are non EU members they have to take more immigrants than the UK pro rata to get the trade deal? Also they don’t have a veto vote they just have to follow the rulings. This cracking trade deal also means they also have no say in the trade market either. Wow sign us up now!

One of my biggest fears is loosing our manufacturing in Britain. The “Leave Campaign Crew” can’t deny that jobs will be lost if we leave. With almost 1 in every 10 jobs being linked directly to our trade deal with the EU, we’d have to be totally stupid to walk away.

If businesses like Honda who are based in Swindon find it cheaper to export to the EU from within the EU then the savings could be enough for them to close an entire factory down and relocate to another country if we leave. Now that’s a very scary prospect but one like many that could happen if we aren’t in the free EU market.

I haven’t even touched on on security. You know we as the EU share terra intelligence right? So maybe we should think hard before we throw away all these amazing connections. It’s much easier to share info when you are in the club and get more of a warm welcome.

Also I’m sure Germany and France and all the other EU countries we’ve just told to “go do one” will be so kind to us when we go asking for a new killer trade deal? I’m sure they won’t use us as an example to other EU countries why it’s best not to walk away from the EU. I mean surely they won’t make it hard for us to work, travel or trade right? I mean after all they love us when it comes to Eurovision so I’m sure we will be fine? Errr can any one say “Nil points”?

I could go on and on listing off facts and figures but like me you all need to read and research as this decision will effect us for the next 10 years. You can probably tell I am more in favour of co-operation and reform than knee jerk reform moving out of the club. Please think long term not short term when you mark that box with an “X”. Do your own research not just the stuff that a lot of wealthy people are paying us to read. But most importantly whatever your views put a x in a box on a voting slip, don’t leave it to others to vote then moan about it afterwards.