28th February 2018: International Day of Hygge

I love the hygge trend. I’m definitely someone who loves home comforts, cosy blankets and cups of tea. Hygge can also translate as self-care. As someone with a chronic illness, I have to take care of myself, and there’s nothing I love more than snuggling on the sofa, surrounded by candles and soft throws and that feeling of being at home.

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February 28th is International Day of Hygge. On that day, people will be sharing how they go about embracing hygge, using #internationalhyggeday.

Last year I wrote a blog post about how to bring hygge into your office. The 28th falls on a Wednesday, so I’ll be at work all day, then attending a Pilates class, which is something that greatly helps my fibromyalgia.

I’m all about embracing hygge in small ways every day, so I’ll make sure I take a proper tea break at work, sitting and meditating and just being in the moment. In the evening, we’ll have some good comfort food, maybe roasted lamb chops. I’ll make time for reading, snuggled up in the car on my lunch break or curled up on the sofa in the evening before bed, fighting off the winter with a hot drink.

Hygge is literally about enjoying life, acknowledging joy, and creating a cosy environment. It’s the little things that make your day just that bit better. For ideas on how to embrace this day, visit How To Hygge The British Way.

What will you be doing on International Day of Hygge?

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Challenging big companies to reduce plastic

Unless you live under a rock, you will have seen the latest news about just how bad plastic is for the environment. According to some studies, plastic pollution is having a huge impact on our oceans and sealife, with creatures swallowing tiny bits of plastic all the time. You only have to search for ‘plastic pollution’ or ‘plastic ocean’, and you’ll find a variety of different articles, detailing just how bad this problem has become.

Now, big groups of activists have joined together and are fighting back. One particular petition is aimed at big companies to ban plastic cutlery and straws, and has almost 150,000 signatures. The petition states: “Globally, we throw away 500 million straws a day, and according to PlasticOceans.org, we dump 8 million tonnes of single-use plastic in our oceans yearly.” Those are incredibly (and infuriating) figures.

Pressure is also being put on British supermarkets to reduce plastic packaging. As detailed in my recent blog post about my journey to becoming more environmentally conscious, we as individuals can only do so much. Big companies must take more responsibility.

Not only have I signed the petition above, and similar ones, I also contacted Tesco and Asda about their plastic use. I will be contacting other supermarkets and big companies too, but these are the first responses I’ve received.

Asda:

Thank you for contacting us about this issue.
We want our customers to trust that we’re doing the right things on the issues that matter to them. That is why we recently published our commitments to reducing our use of plastic and recycling more.
We’ve already got a strong track record when it comes to reducing our packaging. We’ve reduced out total weight of packaging by 27% since 2007 and are committed to making all our Own Brand packaging recyclable by 2025.
But, we’ve challenged ourselves to look at how we can move faster on this important issue and have identified some immediate actions we can take.
  • Over the next 12 months we will be removing 10% of plastic from all our own brand products as well as continuing to work with our suppliers and other experts to explore new options and find more recyclable solutions.
  • We will be phasing out 5p ‘single use’ carrier bags from our stores in 2018, with a donation from the sale of our “bags for life” going to good causes.
  • We will also introduce a zero profit re-usable coffee cup to provide our customers with a great value alternative to single use cups. Alongside this, we will also be removing all single use cups and plastic cutlery from our head offices in 2018, with all our stores and in store cafes adopting the same policy by the end of 2019.
As part of our longer term work to look at new innovations in plastics and to find different solutions to plastic, we are also working in partnership with the UK’s leading experts in packaging technology at Leeds Beckett University Retail Institute as well as one of our biggest UK suppliers, ABP, on priority projects to develop new alternatives to plastics and more recyclable materials.
Thanks again for taking the time to get in touch and if you wish to read more on our pledge please follow the link below:
Tesco:
Thank you for contacting us.
 As part of our Little Helps plan, we have made the following commitments:
•Making all packaging fully recyclable or compostable by 2025
•Ensuring that all paper and board used will be 100% sustainable by 2025
•Halving packaging weight by 2025 compared to 2007 levels
Our aspirations go further than these targets, and we would like to work in partnership with Government and all of our suppliers to create a closed loop system for packaging.
Across the UK in particular, we see three steps:
1. Materials and design: There is an opportunity to reduce and simplify the types of materials we use in our packaging as part of our product development process in collaboration with our suppliers.
Through the reduction and simplification of the current range and type of materials we accept in our packaging we could create over the longer term a closed loop system based on selecting only recyclable materials.
This in turn can stimulate innovation in the packaging and recycling market through increased demand (e.g. increasing the use of rPET). We will require design innovation from our suppliers, such as greater use of compostable and biodegradable materials.
2. Recovery/recycling: This is one area we need greater innovation and there is opportunity for significant government leadership.
Currently, the inconsistencies in infrastructure and recycling activities between councils make consumer education and closed loop systems impossible to build. We would welcome the creation of an integrated national collection of packaging and investment in innovative recycling facilities. This is essential to a holistic approach to packaging recycling. PRN reform is also a necessary part of the solution and we look to contributing to this process.
We do support developing a cost-effective Deposit Return System (DRS) and are currently working with a number of partners to scope a project to explore how this can operate in practice and at scale. We view DRS as only one aspect of the holistic approach that is required to achieve the broader goals of reducing waste and increasing recycling in the UK.
3. Changing customer behaviour: Behaviour change can only be driven once a recognised and understood recycling infrastructure is in place. Getting this right will support consumer education and practice (failure to do so will lead to frustration for customers and a low take up rate on recycling).
Helping individuals to make the right choices can start with simple, clear and consistent information on packaging supported by other media. We can use marketing and promotions to encourage recycling, use of own containers, and choice of packaging purchase.
These steps will build on the progress we’ve made in recent years:
•In the UK, we have removed polystyrene from our fish packaging and replaced with a more environmentally friendly plastic, avoiding 653 tonnes of polystyrene being used.
•With our meat trays, we have replaced a two layer plastic tray with a single layer plastic, thereby making 84 million trays easier to recycle and removing 96 tonnes of plastic.
•We have made significant changes to the packaging of our wet wipes with a 20% material reduction and removal of 57 tonnes of plastic. This material saving is enough to make over 10 million more packs.
Overall, over 78% of the packaging on all our own brand products is recyclable depending on if the local authority collect it.
Thank you once again for taking the time to contact us.
It seems like they’re all making the right noises, and it’s certainly a step in the right direction, but now isn’t the time to let up the pressure. We have to start putting our money where our mouths are, and boycotting companies that refuse to take responsibility.
I’ve been on a journey to swap my cosmetics and toiletries to cruelty free (and vegan and natural, where possible), deciding to take a moral stand and refuse to give my money to companies who don’t care about these things, so why not do it with packaging waste too? We’ve recently started buying our milk from an old-fashioned milkman, who not only provides milk in glass bottles, but they also take the empty ones away to be reused. We’ve also swapped to Ocado for our shopping, buy our meat and cheese from the local farm shop, and always refuse single use bags.
While this is a lifestyle choice, it also doesn’t make sense to me that people don’t care about the environment. This is our planet, and we won’t get another one. We cannot continue to abuse it.
Let me know if you’ve had any positive responses from big companies regarding their environmental policies!

Blog Tour: False Prophet by Richard Davis

The Bandwagon is thrilled to be joining in with the False Prophet blog tour! You can read reviewer James McStravick’s review below.

A psychotic terrorist has his son. He will do anything to save him. When a rogue cult turns deadly, the FBI call on former conman Agent Saul Marshall. FALSE PROPHET introduces a gripping new series from thriller writer Richard Davis.

Marshall is soon drawn into a cat and mouse chase with the leader of the cult, Ivan Drexler. As the scale of Drexler’s terrorist ambition becomes ever clearer, news arrives that he has taken Marshall’s son hostage. Removed from the line of duty, he must work alone, off-grid.

As the attacks intensify, Saul will stop at nothing to defeat Drexler. But the FBI are questioning Saul’s own part in the carnage. He must work fast to save both his country and his life. Can Saul stop the carnage before it’s too late? And can he save his son?

As wave after wave of attacks break, the clock is ticking for Saul.

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I don’t very often read agency-based thriller books, but this novel will certainly go towards changing that. I think the start of this book really helps set up the over-arcing story, as straight away we know that whoever is involved will do whatever is necessary to get what they want.

There are a few intriguing aspects about the story here, and none more so than that of the cult. This aspect alone truly shows how much the author wants this book to grip its readers; you are fed very small amounts of information about them, and this always leaves you wanting to know more about them and their end goal.

One other aspect I enjoyed but also somewhat felt was double-edged was the pacing. I really enjoyed how fast paced the story was, and I think this helped greatly towards not only making it very easy to read but also very interesting.

Even though I enjoyed the fast pacing I felt at times this hindered the characterisation as I don’t feel we ever fully got to learn about Saul Marshall, his colleagues or the work they carry out. This was more so apparent when Saul reacted in certain ways, and, without knowing him more, it made his reactions feel less human in a way, especially for someone working in the FBI.

Overall I feel the book has some great hooks and reading it is very enjoyable. I think if Richard went into more detail about his characters this would not only make it a better read but also help towards the understanding of certain scenes. I’m very much the type of person that doesn’t like it when a story has an incredibly slow pace but this can sometimes helped along by characterisation. I understand that finding that a good balance between characterisation and pacing can be difficult and I fully appreciate the type of book Richard Davis is trying to create.

With all of the above in mind I enjoyed reading this book and I think Richard can only grow stronger as he writes.

Review originally posted on The Bandwagon on April 24th 2016.

Follow the rest of the False Prophet blog tour!

False Prophet tour poster

The Bandwagon Goes Environmentally Conscious

Last year, one of my personal projects was to go cruelty free and vegan where possible when it comes to my beauty products. I’ve swapped Clinique for The Body Shop, fallen for Sand&Sky’s face mask, and become a regular at Superdrug. But now I want to tackle something else – waste.

Some of you may know that, as my day job, I work in regulatory affairs for a medical company. As part of that, because we’re a small team, we also handle the environmental side of things. We’re certified to ISO 14001, which means we have goals to be more environmentally conscious, and we also have to submit our packaging waste and WEEE data to the relevant authority. We have internal training on the environment, and what we can do to reduce our impact as a company, as well as individuals. This means that I have to be more environmentally aware, and that awareness spills from my professional life into my personal life.

Confession: my partner has always been better at recycling and reducing waste than I am. Being a cynic, I don’t trust our local council to put much effort into recycling. Also, it can be hella confusing. With all the revelations about just how insidious plastic is, I’m now second guessing everything I put into the recycling bin.

reuse-reduce-recycle

The first goal is to reduce. It seems like everything comes packaged in plastic, especially from the supermarket. When the 5p plastic bag surcharge came in, it made us a bit more conscious of how wasteful they can be. Our plastic bags are always reused as bin bags for our bathroom bin, so that’s one plus point, but they do ultimately end up in landfill. So we bought some Bags For Life, and remember to use them around 95% of the time, thus reducing the amount of plastic bags we use.

Another thing we’re implementing is switching to a milkman. Yep, the old fashioned milkman of years gone by, who delivers milk to your front door in glass bottles. Living so close to London, I thought we’d have a plethora of options, but I could actually only find a few milkmen in our area. We’ve gone with Tim Davis Dairies of Braintree in Essex, who will kindly deliver five pints of organic milk to us in glass bottles. (They also take the bottles away to be reused.) We used to order 4 pints from the supermarket every week, plus one or two singular pints for me to take to work. So that’s a huge amount of plastic gone from our weekly shop.

One question that must be asked: Is it more expensive? The simple answer is yes. 1 pint of organic milk from Sainsburys cost 65p. From the milkman, it’s 85p. We’re in the fortunate position to be able to afford that difference, but not everyone is. Until supermarkets wake up and stop producing so much bloody waste, some people have no option but to continue with the cheaper, arguably more convenient supermarkets.

One thing that does actually work out cheaper is Who Gives A Crap, an Australian company that delivers bulk packs of toilet paper to your front door. At first glance, it feels like you’re paying out more, but the toilet paper lasts so much longer, so it does work out cheaper than the supermarket equivalent (recycled paper). It’s super soft, recycled paper, and they use no plastic in their packaging. They also donate 50% of their profits to building toilets. Doing good definitely feels good.

The next step is to reuse. I do have several reusable Starbucks cups that I take to work and in the car. But these cups are too big to fit into our coffee machine, so what do I do? I use a non-recylable cup to put into the machine, which gets thrown away. Well done, me.

To combat this, I’ve bought a KeepCup, a smaller glass cup that will fit inside the damn machine at work, and is easier to transport as it has a lid that closes (though it’s not fully leak-proof). Hopefully this will mean I’ll pop it in my bag every time I go out, and stop using disposable coffee cups.

I have OCD, and part of my OCD is a fear of germs. I don’t like eating off other people’s cutlery, or using their mugs. It makes me feel ill. So going out to eat can be a struggle. One huge factor for me are straws. I hate drinking out of glasses that hundreds of others have touched, so I always get a straw. Which is bad. I’ve bought a set of glass straws from Amazon, which are actually really nice to use, and they’re easy to clean. I just need to find a way of keeping one in my bag without it getting mucky.

The final option is to recycle. As mentioned above, our local council doesn’t recycle everything, so you have to be careful what you put in your bin. They do recycle most plastic, glass, and cardboard, so they’re my first port of call, but I’ve signed up to Terracycle in order to properly recycle beauty and household products, like those pesky packs face wipes come in. There are various other recycling schemes on Terracycle, but those two are ones we could definitely do with using.

But is this enough? I’m always of the mind that we can only do what we can do, as individuals. Money, time, and circumstances always factors into these things. There are also some things I want to tackle, but I don’t know how. Receipts, clingfilm, teabags (!). The list feels endless, and you can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed.

The truth is that a lot of these things have to be sorted out by the manufacturers, and by supermarkets. Stop wrapping bananas in plastic, for fuck sake. Start investing in reusable, sustainable packaging. Stop using plastic in absolutely everything. Coffee shops, start recycling your cups (like Costa does), or just stop using disposable ones. Greater minds than mine can come up with decent solutions, I’m sure of it. Let’s make the environment a priority.

My Cruelty Free Journey: Hair

Last time, I wrote about swapping my cosmetics for cruelty free (and vegan, where possible) alternatives. You can read all about it here. Now I’m looking at my hair products, and seeing what I can replace.

animal-testing

I have waist-length hair, with a natural wave and a tendency to frizz. It therefore needs a lot of TLC. I’ve been using various products for years, trying to tame the frizz and define the curls, but I’ve discovered that pretty much none of them are cruelty free. Boo.

Shampoo & Conditioner

Previously, I’d buy whatever was on offer. Shampoo and conditioner can be expensive! Especially when you go through the bottles at the rate of one a month. I’d usually go for Herbal Essences or Tresemme, neither of which are cruelty free.

I recently discovered Noughty, a brand available at Superdrug and through their own website (free UK delivery over £15!). Not only are they cruelty free and vegan, but they also proclaim to be 97% natural. How can one company do so much good?!

I grabbed the Rise & Shine Everyday Shine Shampoo and the Wave Hello Curl Defining Conditioner while they were on offer at Superdrug. The shampoo doesn’t lather as much as I’m used to, but that’s apparently down to the lack of SLS, or sodium lauryl sulfate, which is in things like toothpaste and shampoo, and gives such products the foaming action.

After the first use, my hair is super soft. Like, salon soft. It’s really clean and there’s definitely less frizz. I’ve found my new favourite. My partner gets quite bad dandruff, so I think we’ll try out the Care Taker range once he’s finished his non-CF brands (boo, hiss).

I’ve also started using Superdrug’s Hydrate & Shine Hair Masque (with coconut water) as a more intense treatment. All of Superdrug’s own brand products are CF, so they’re always a safe bet.

I was bought a Phil Smith Be Gorgeous Shampoo & Conditioner (Cocolicious) for Christmas, which I was pleased to discover is cruelty free! It does foam up, smells great, and cleans really nicely. It also came with a little dry shampoo, which is a nice little bonus!

Serums

Frizz Ease by John Frieda has been my saviour these past few years. I use the serum and the curling spray, and it’s one of the only things that really tames my frizz. I also use an argan oil to try to keep my hair under control. But since they’re not cruelty free, I want to find an alternative. I’m open to recommendations!

I’ve used TiGi BedHead After Party Anti-Frizz Smoothing Cream since I was a teenager, so I needed a dupe for that. I started using The Body Shop’s Coconut Oil Hair Shine, which comes in a little tin. When I received it, I thought it wouldn’t last long, due to how long and thick my hair is, but a little really does go a long way. It smells lovely too.

Curling 

Noughty also do a curl defining cream. Instead of the Frizz Ease Dream Curls Daily Styling Spray, which I loved because it wasn’t too heavy and didn’t make my curls go crispy, I’ve been using the Noughty Wave Hello Curl Taming Cream, which I love. It gives me really nice, defined curls, and smells great. It isn’t heavy either, and it works best on wet hair, but a small amount can be used on dry hair too.

Straightening

I do occasionally straighten my hair, usually when I’m on day 3 (I try to wash my hair twice a week). I just iron out the bumps and tame down the frizz, but I still need to use heat protectant. Apparently, Paul Mitchell is CF, so I’m going to check them out when I run out of my current heat protectant (which might not be for years yet).

Hairspray

I try not to use hairspray too often, but I do have a big bottle of Silvikrin I need to use up. Once it’s gone, I’ll probably go for a Superdrug version, or one from a supermarket. Sainsburys own brand is also CF, which is handy for household items as well as beauty products (more on that in a later blog post!).

Dry Shampoo

It appears there was a huge debacle surrounding Batiste this year. They were claiming that they are CF, but some bloggers did some digging and it turns out that they sell into China. (You can read more here.) The deal with selling into mainland China is that they require all exported cosmetic items to be tested on animals before they can be sold there. Crazy, right? So if any company sells into China, they are testing on animals.

I really like Batiste’s dry shampoo, and I do use it a couple of times a week to freshen up between washes, but it’s got to go. Once again, I’ll be turning to Superdrug, which looks like it’ll be cheaper, so that’s another result!

For anyone who’s trying to go cruelty free in the UK, Superdrug should undoubtedly be your first port of call. All of their own brand products are CF, and appropriately labelled, and they’re also decent quality. The Body Shop is also a good option, despite being owned by L’Oreal (a company that definitely tests on animals) for many years. It’s now owned by Natura, and The Body Shop seems to be dedicating itself to becoming fully CF, natural, and ethical (they have a big campaign against animal testing too). So I’d recommend checking the labels of the products to be on the safe side, but I wouldn’t rule The Body Shop out just yet.

Blog Tour: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window is a psychological thriller taking the book charts by storm. It’s being raved about by bloggers and, after receiving & reading my own review copy, it’s easy to see why. You can read my review here.

To celebrate the release, read on for a Q&A with author A.J. Finn.

The Woman in the Window

  1. How long did you take to write The Woman in the Window?

 It took me exactly twelve months to write. I had the idea for the story in September of 2015, and submitted a 7500-word outline to my friend Jennifer, a well-regarded literary agent in New York. She encouraged me to proceed, so a year later, the finished novel was on submission, thanks to Jennifer and my equally well-regarded UK agent Felicity (also a friend—I like to work with friends).

I hadn’t dabbled in fiction since my school days, but I’ve written plenty of academic papers and book reviews. So I assumed that the ins and outs of sentence-level composition—the writing—would pose no problem; it was the characterization and plot-work that spooked me. To my surprise, Anna took shape very quickly, like a figure approaching through mist, dragging her story with her pretty much intact. And it was the writing that proved challenging!

  1. We’ve heard there might be a film The Woman in the Window, what can you tell us about it? Could you tell us who you would love to play Anna Fox?

The film rights were pre-empted by Fox 2000, the studio that made Gone Girl and Life of Pi, and the movie will be produced by Oscar winner Scott Rudin, who made No Country for Old MenThe Social NetworkThe Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, among other movies.

As for casting, I suspect that I could name six actresses only to see the filmmakers cast a seventh! So instead, I’ll tell you whom I would have cast were Hitchcock making the film sixty or seventy years ago: Gene Tierney. She wasn’t a ‘Hitchcock blonde’, or indeed any kind of blonde, and perhaps that’s why he never worked with her; but her life was marked by a series of traumas that would have helped to prepare her for the lead role. And she radiated both steeliness and vulnerability.

  1. How did you create your pen name?

Because I work in publishing, I needed to submit my novel to editors under a pen name, as I didn’t want anyone to buy (or not buy!) the book because they knew me; and I chose a gender-neutral name in order to discourage speculation about my identity. A. J. is the nickname of my cousin Alice Jane, a well-regarded banker on Wall Street; and Finn is the name of another cousin’s French bulldog. I like the name A. J. Finn for the same reasons I like the name Anna Fox: It’s short, memorable, and easy to pronounce.

  1. Do you have any hobbies you could tell us about?

My three great passions are books, films, and dogs. I read voraciously, I love watching old movies (as well as newer ones). I keep active swimming, sailing, and spending time in the gym. I enjoy traveling abroad whenever possible, particularly here in the UK, where many of my friends live.

Unlike the heroine of my novel, I don’t drink much, but I like to cook.

The Woman in the Window is available to buy on Amazon.

Author Spotlight: Siobhan Clark

The Bandwagon presents Siobhan Clark, author of The Children of Midgard, an historical fiction novel based in the Viking era, and described as “a Norse saga by a woman for women”.

The Children of Midgard Cover New 04

The year is 961 and King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark has his gaze firmly set on the Western Kingdoms of Norway where his nephew Harald Greycloak reigns.  Bluetooth has declared Greycloak as his vassal King of Norway and will claim the establishment of the Jomsvikings.  In doing so he will solidify the order, building a keep for the warriors he intends to use to create a fleet of men who will rule the seas under his command.

However, the order is older than one man’s claim and consists of many who have their own destinies separate from the feuding monarchs.  There are men of honour and worth and there are those who seek naught but power and privilege, searching only to prosper from the misery of others.  There are tales of a legendary ring and a child who is said to be the progeny of the All-Father.

The Children of Midgard is available to buy on Amazon. To find out more, visit Siobhan’s website here.

About The Author

scSiobhan Clark is an historical fiction writer based in Glasgow, Scotland, where she lives with her husband.

From a young age, she was introduced to many fictional works by family who encouraged her interest in history, not only of her Scottish/Irish roots, but that of her wider heritage, stretching as far back as the Viking era.