All the Hotel Is A Stage: The Townhouse, Stratford-upon-Avon

churchstreet__OH_003 [TIF 18942190804]In an archived statement from Shakespeare and Company, the scribe states: ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.’ And so we’re greeted as angels at The Townhouse in Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon.

It ticks all the right notes from the off: it’s accessible by both train and car (with easy and discounted parking); the lighting is not electrifyingly bright; and the receptionist is friendly.

Located in the town centre, it’s a two minutes’ walk from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, five minutes’ walk to Shakespeare’s birthplace on Henley Street and five minutes in the other direction to the Holy Trinity Church. Shakespeare’s school, which is still open to young students today, rests beneath the hotel’s typically white façade.

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My partner and I recently stay over in one of twelve bedrooms, each offering super king sized beds, en-suite bathrooms, Nespresso machines, and complementary WiFi.

We’re not newbies to Stratford-upon-Avon – we’ve both visited as children with our schools. We know where to go and head to Shakespeare’s birthplace on nearby Henley Street maintained by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust (shakespeare.org.uk).

Here, on a beautiful spring afternoon we watch short outtakes from Hamlet played out by local actors (a man and a woman) in Shakespeare’s verdant garden. It’s camp. And fun, and witty too.

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That evening we take dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. We’re told that all food is freshly prepared in the kitchen and the chefs work closely with local suppliers to source the best produce where possible.

Lunch is also available 12pm – 3pm in the restaurant, and dinner starts early for the pre-theatre crowd. There’s a pre-theatre set menu every day 12pm – 3pm & 5pm – 7pm with 2 courses for £12.50 and 3 courses for £14.50, too.

We take dinner at 8pm. I go with the Cotswold Mozzarella with Honey, Balsamic Figs & Prosciutto (£7) and the Cotswold Lamb Rump, Cream & Garlic Cannellini Beans, Red Wine & Anchovy Crumb (£17.50). The Cannellini beans are a highlight. My partner’s Todenham 10oz steak (£28) is very succulent, too.

There’s a great terrace out the back for a cigarette afterwards and a thin slice of coutyard with enough room for several tables and chairs.

Bed beckons, and we both sleep well.

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The following morning I am smoking in the terrace and see the fresh produce waiting outside for the kitchen.

After we have breakfast at 8am – my partner has homemade bread with butter and I take a full-English.

From arrival to departure, The Townhouse is delightful in that it brings to life some of the wit, charm and romance of Shakespeare. The view from the third floor where we stayed overlooks other Tudor cottages in their white with black striped get-ups. It’s hard not to feel some of the magic of a great writer of times gone by here.

The Townhouse is located at 16 Church Street, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6HB. For more information or to book visit www.stratfordtownhouse.co.uk

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Research breakthrough offers improved vision for healthy eyes in Ophthalmology Times Europe

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A new breakthrough in ophthalmological research signals major potential implications for motorists, train drivers, pilots and sportspeople

Irish-based research holds out the prospect of even sharper vision for those who already have good eyesight in a study of over 18 years-worth of work with over one-hundred subjects.

While most ophthalmologists focus on restoring sight, a new study has been published that actually improves healthy vision. Titled CREST (Central Retinal Enrichment Supplementation Trials) the research was conducted by the Macular Pigment Research Group at Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI). Based at Carriganore House in Waterford, it’s part of the School of Health Sciences at Waterford Institute of Technology, set in a small city on the south coast of Ireland (like many small centres since the advent of the internet and the consequential levelling of the academic playing field, has developed a worldwide reputation for vision science.)

New ways of seeing are emerging from the first rigidly-designed study of its kind, with results culminating in 18 years’ work, the latest research funded by the European Research Council involved 105 volunteers undergoing complex tests of vision over a 12-month period.

Lead-researcher Professor Nolan has authored over 80 peer-reviewed research papers, with a research focus on the impact of carotenoid supplementation on and his colleague Professor Stephen Beatty has been involved in ophthalmic research since 1994, and has published over 150 peer-reviewed papers.

Today their latest research demonstrates, for the first time, that supplementation can optimize vision in people who do not exhibit eye disease. The results of this study have important implications for those who rely on their vision for professional reasons, such as high-performance sportspeople like golfers, hurlers, cricketers, tennis and baseball players,, motorists, train drivers, pilots, police and military marksmen and those involved in quality control.

Speaking to Ophthalmology Times Europe about his work, Professtor Beatty says: “Of the 105 subjects, 53 received daily supplements while 52 received a placebo (the control group). The outcome unequivocally demonstrates that those receiving macular carotenoids – lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin – enjoyed meaningful benefits to their visual function. The improvement recorded was primarily in people’s contrast sensitivity – how much contrast a person needs to see a target (i.e. how faint an object can you see).”

Whereas most research in this area has focused on corrective action for those who have already suffered vision loss as a result of eye disease, this new study concentrated on those with strong and healthy eyesight, and yet found marked improvements in vision among those who received specific dietary supplements such as MacuShield over a year.

“In other words,” says Professor beatty, “and again for the first time, there is now a robust evidence base in support of supplementation in any attempt to optimize a patient’s vision, and this is especially important for patients eager to achieve maximum vision.”

The improvements in visions were observed after 12 months of supplementation with Macushield/Macuhealth. This formulation (10 mg L, 10 mg MZ and 2 mg Z) is commercially available as Macushield in Europe and as Macuhealth in North America, and remains the only formulation shown by level 1 evidence to confer these benefits in healthy eyes; this observation is unsurprising, given that the formulation (Macushield/Macuhealth) contains MZ, the carotenoid that is dominant in the central fovea where vision is sharpest and where oxidative stress is greatest.

So what’s the science behind eye health supplement Macushield? Professor Beatty tells us: “This finding is consistent with reports in patients with age-related macular degeneration, where it has been shown that continuous supplementation is required for best results.[7]  The observed improvements are realised, we believe, as a consequence of the filtering properties of macular pigment (this pigment is located at a pre-receptoral level, and it screens visible blue light, thereby attenuating the vision-degrading impact of blue light [i.e. chromatic aberration and light scatter]) and as a consequence of macular pigment’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (thus facilitating neural efficiency and the visual cycle).  In fact, these findings are unsurprising, given the macula’s evolved ability to selectively accumulate just 3 of the 60 carotenoids in a human diet.  In other words, it is no accident of nature, and we now know that these carotenoids are located at the macula in order to optimise vision.”

Prof Stephen Beatty adds that there are also significant quality of life implications emanating from the research findings – “There has been an understandable focus in research to date on aiding those with failing eyesight as a result of disease. What this latest work demonstrates is that people who are free of eye disease (especially if they are lacking the nutrient in the eye) will experience improved vision as a result of appropriate supplementation. Clearly this will enhance one’s quality of life in everyday activities, such as enjoying a pleasant view, but these improvements in contrast sensitivity will also make it easier to read printed text, thereby easing eye strain and fatigue in the workplace and at home. In short, these findings have important implications for those seeking maximum visual performance, whether for work or leisure.”

In the context of a double blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial (i.e. level 1 evidence), that supplementation with a formulation containing lutein (L), meso-zeaxanthin (MZ) and zeaxanthin (Z) in a ratio (mg) of 10:10:2 results in improvements in contrast sensitivity (i.e. appreciation of faintness) at two spatial frequencies (i.e. target sizes) in healthy subjects.  These improvements in vision are equivalent to a full line of vision at those spatial frequencies, and are therefore clinically meaningful.  This intervention, which consists solely of naturally occurring nutrients already in the human food chain, represents the first means of improving eyesight in normal subjects since the invention of spectacles.

Prof John Nolan, Principal Investigator for the CREST study and founder of the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, added: “All of us involved in this research are tremendously excited about the outcome – not only from a scientific perspective but also because of the significant benefits it will have for a wide range of people. Many people may already consider themselves to have ‘good’ eyesight, but now we know that many of these would benefit from appropriate supplementation. To take the example of drivers on our busy roads, improvements in contrast sensitivity, such as we have seen in our study population, would allow for earlier and more accurate detection ofmoving and non-moving objects in our field of view, and will therefore improve driving safety. Sportspeople – especially those in fast ballgames – also stand to benefit greatly, and we were delighted to have Noel Connors, the Waterford senior hurler and All-Star undergo testing at our vision research centre.”

“This is a game-changer for eye care professionals,” concludes Professor Beatty. “Put simply, if a patient asks his/her ophthalmologist/optometrist “Is there anything else I can do to make my eyesight better?”, the eye care professional can now confidently invoke this level 1 evidence base and reply “By taking appropriate supplements that contain lutein, meso-zeaxanthin and zeaxanthin.””

Read the full version with graphs in print here: ote1016_016-019_macushield

14 reasons to visit the Cotswolds published on Metro Online

Rise with the Lark, play with penguins, get creative in the countryside or doodle a design under a blossom tree.

Whatever wholesome fun takes your fancy, the Cotswolds are a fairytale dream of charming landscapes and crafty pastimes.

Go for exotic wildlife, rolling hills and the quaintest of villages smattered with thatched cottages and olde worlde watering holes.

Here’s 14 reasons you need to visit The Cotswolds this weekend.

1. Chavenage House, Tetbury

(Picture: Chavengage House)
(Picture: Chavenage House)

Majestic and grand, Chavenage House was used as a setting for Lark Rise To Candleford, the great British drama set in the 19th century.

2. The Gordon Russell Museum, Worcestershire

(Picture: www.gordonrussellmuseum.org)
(Picture: http://www.gordonrussellmuseum.org)

Gordon Russell was a design pioneer.

Experience his objet d’art at this museum dedicated to his discerning work.

3. Birdland, Bourton-on-the-Water

P-p-p-pick up a penguin! Birdland has the only breeding group of King Penguins in the country.

Spike the King Penguin, who was hand-reared, is a popular resident with his own Facebook and Twitter following.

4. Tewkesbury Heritage Centre

Fun for all the family, and free to boot!

Wandering through this 17th Century building will take you from the days of the earliest local settlers, through the Wars of the Roses, the Civil War and the industrial revolution and into the present day.

5. Burford village

14 reasons you need to visit the Cotswolds
(Picture: Getty)

I love Burford for its cute boutique shops, alley retreats behind the high street and pubs.

Experience craft-brewed and locally-brewed beer and friendly publicans as well as tasty food – the 16th Century Angel pub and restaurant’s my favourite for that!

6. Sudeley Castle and gardens

14 reasons you need to visit the Cotswolds
(Picture: Getty)

Perfect for a picnic, the 10 gardens at Sudeley feature creations by landscape designers Lanning Roper, Rosemary Verey, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, Charles Chesshire and Sir Roddy Llewellyn.

7. Gloucester Cathedral

14 reasons you need to visit the Cotswolds
(Picture: Getty)

Enjoy the sound of the choir or light a candle for a loved one in the splendid surroundings of this cathedral – which also starred in the Harry Potter films.

(Picture: Getty)
Look familiar? (Picture: Getty)

It’s easy to find in the centre of the city, and you can while away hours simply adoring the opulent interior and exterior.

8. Gloucester Docks

14 reasons you need to visit the Cotswolds
(Picture: Getty)

Drink or eat in modern bars and restaurants set along the old brick docks in Gloucester.

9. The Cotswold Falconry Centre

14 reasons you need to visit the Cotswolds
You can see a bald eagle, owls, hawk and falcon (Picture: Getty)

Experience an hour or two of flying owls, have them land on your hand and feed them.

It’s genuinely something different and fun for all ages at just £45 a head.

10. The Dovecote cottage, Tewksbury

(Picture: www.holidaylettings.co.uk)
(Picture: http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk)

Charming and romantic, send a love letter to your partner through one of the original pigeonholes that adorn the two double bedroom walls, or contemplate life in front of the pond outside.

The cottage is reasonably priced, and in a good rural yet central location for exploring the Cotswolds.

11. The Cotswolds Distillery

(Picture: Cotswolds Distillery)
(Picture: Cotswolds Distillery)

Visit a craft distillery within the Cotswolds Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Here, they produce a range of spirits including whisky and gin. Tasting tours start from £6 per a person.

12. New Brewery Arts, Cirencester

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Put pen to paper in a creative writing class or channel your inner Zandra Rhodes with a textile course.

13. Court Barn Museum, Chipping Camden

(Picture: VisitEngland.com)
(Picture: VisitEngland.com)

Set in a 17th-century farm building and telling the arts and crafts story of Chipping Camden, The Court Barn Museum adds a splash of creativity and colour to your countryside adventure.

14. Painswick Rococo Garden

Wed in a fairytale red house, get lost in a garden maze a la Alice in Wonderland or daydream under a cherry blossom in these gardens founded in the 1730s.

14 Reasons Staffordshire Is The Best Place to Live Published on Metro.co.uk

lama Sept 2014

From Friday nights out endorsed by Pete Tong to TV’s Victorian pottery museum plus a rolling expanse of countryside with roaming monkeys – Staffordshire’s got everything you need. Plus, it’s all affordable.

1. Gladstone Pottery Museum

It’s been in the news ever since Hollywood hunk Russell Crowe took to Twitter to discover the origin of his Gladstone teacup. Now the Gladstone Museum can boast an appearance on the BBC TV programme 24 Hours in the Past.

2. House prices

Buy a four bedroom house for under £150,000. There are plenty of options in Staffordshire – from Victorian terraces to 1930s semi-detached houses.

(Picture: Flickr/barnyz)
(Picture: Flickr/barnyz)

3. Appetite

Transforming ordinary people and places into works of art or one-off performances, Appetite is a three year programme that aims to get more people to experience and be inspired by the arts.

4. Swoon

Mixmag called the clubnight ‘the best Friday dance night’. Pete Tong declared much the same on Radio 1. And Channel 4 immortalised the night on its BPM show. DJs include Roger Sanchez, Jon Pleased Wimmin and residents Mark Rowley and Angel.

5. National Memorial Arboretum

Pay your respects at the National Memorial Arboretum. Since planting began in 1997, it’s been a special place honouring those who have served, and continue to serve. Not just a cemetery, it includes 150 acres of woodland areas too.

(Picture: Flickr/Tim Ellis)
(Picture: Flickr/Tim Ellis)

6. Llama trekking

According to the website ‘you feel calmer, walking with a Llama!’ Visit this Llama farm to groom one of a handful of delightful Llamas, take your favourite for a walk and then reward your Llama at feeding time – you’ll have a friend for life!

(Picture: Flickr/Marie Hale)
(Picture: Flickr/Marie Hale)

7. Oatcakes!

Oatcakes, the local delicacy are sold in every shop and bakery in Staffordshire. They’re like savoury pancakes, only made with oats. Buy for a pack of 6 for under £2, and serve with bacon and cheese.

8. The Annual Literary Festival

This year, the second Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival brought a fantastic range of writers to the city giving local people the opportunity to find out more about the art and craft of writing and the joys of reading.

9. Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin

Local registered clown and Stoke City Football Club’s kit-man circa 1990, Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin’s life was immortalised in BBC drama Marvellous, which won a host of BAFTAs.

10. Mental health services

Mental health provisions on the NHS in Staffordshire are among the best in the country. Patients at Harpland’s Hospital find themselves with fantastic treatment – such as Compassion Focused Therapy and group CBT. St George’s in Stafford boast a Recovery College in the pipeline, too.

11. Weston Park

More famous for hosting V Festival, the stately home also offers sleep overs and dinner on occasion, beneath a gorgeous George Stubbs painting.

(Picture: Flickr/Mark Freeth)
(Picture: Flickr/Mark Freeth)

12. The Staffordshire Hoard

We have the largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found.

13. The Monkey Forest

Monkey around with one of 140 Barbary macaques roaming free in 60 acres of beautiful English Forest. Watch the monkeys playing on the ground and in the trees. Guides are positioned along the paths and there are hourly feeding talks.

(Picture: Flickr/Pete Birkinshaw)
(Picture: Flickr/Pete Birkinshaw)

14. Transport links

If you do tire of Staffordshire, Stafford train station is under 1.5 hours from London Euston, 45 minutes from Manchester and under half an hour from Birmingham New Street.

See my article on Metro.co.uk here – over 400 shares and counting!

Rewd Britannia – published in Fused Magazine

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Fatherhood has not fettered the fire in rapper Rewd Adams. His latest offering, Hunger Pains 2, stands testimony to this. Inspired by real life and peppered with a theme of love, Hunger Pains 2 is more melodic and mellow than his previous releases, but by no means is it any less passionate. His lyrics, sometimes wise beyond their years, are punctuated by the sort of philosophy you find down the pub on a Friday night – he’s even made a video on a camera phone filming one such night for his track Hair of the Dog. But his lyrics – his first port of call when setting about making a track – are also punctuated with a Buddha-esque compassion that comes only from walking in well-worn shoes. Shoes that his previous, more venomous work, under the name Skandal, alludes to. Fused caught up with the man to delve a little deeper…

Your new mix tape Hunger Pains 2 is very uplifting & melodic – intentional? What vibe were you going for?
I’ve always leant to the more melodic side of rap, I’m a believer that it keeps the listener engaged and that’s ultimately the aim for me as an artist. It was a conscious decision to base a lot of the songs around the theme of love, which is something I’ve not done before and it definitely made the project a more cohesive listen.

What came first in putting this mix tape together, writing? Can you explain how it got made?
Yeh. I normally start with writing, beats are an important factor because every beat will give me a different vibe and inspire different feelings and concepts. I wrote most of the demos at home and recorded the final versions at Kilamanjaro studios with Chemo (bad boy engineer).

You did an album about struggling to make ends meet (How Not to Make a Living) – does the internet hinder or help you from making a living?
Haha yeh I was pretty pissed off at the time. I don’t think anything or anybody hinders you making money other than yourself you know? There’s always ways to make money whether in music or not. The Internet is just a tool for artists to use for their benefit if they take the time to learn how to use it properly. Most of my sales have been digital so the Internet hasn’t hampered any of my revenue.

Biggest influences?
Life, my family, everyday people and conversations I have with like-minded individuals.

Do you work with any artists stateside? Are there any frustrations to being a “UK Rap Star” rather than one based somewhere else?
Thanks to the Internet yeh, I worked with a producer called Sinitus Tempo on the new project who blessed me with a great instrumental for the song ‘loyalty’. I’ve produced for a cat called Avatar Darko from Seattle as well. I’m slowly building up some contacts and I hope to continue to work with artists and producers all over the world.

Did you know in China they have a genre called C-Rap! What do you make of it?
No I haven’t heard of it, I’ll be sure to check it out…. Wait! C-Rap!? Doesn’t that spell crap?

Hunger Pains 2 features buses, hangovers, etc – inspiration from real life?
Haha 100% unless it’s a fictional character or I’m writing through the eyes of someone else all my music is in person. If I haven’t lived it I can’t really draw much inspiration from that situation. And I prefer to keep it as authentic as possible.

What’s next for you?
At the moment the plan is to keep promoting the new release, keep pumping out videos and do shows while pushing Hunger Pains 2 to as many people as possible.

Download Hunger Pains 2 on iTunes. See the post on FusedMagazine.co.uk.

Yes, you can always be happy! Published in the Mail on Sunday

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Rummaging through charity shops, going for a walk through the forest, tending to my little potted garden, or enjoying every bite of a six-course meal at the 17th Century Weston Park with my partner – these are all things that make me feel happy. I do them as often as I can (well, the last one was a pretty special occasion, to be honest).

I list these things because, for me, moments to savour have been hard-won. I have paranoid schizophrenia and have even spent time on a psychiatric ward. I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life.

Today, I am largely recovered (the psychiatric term is in remission). I’m committed to my care plan – things I do to maintain my stability, which I devised with my community psychiatric nurse.

Alongside tablets, I have weekly psychotherapy sessions, and considering the things that make me happy – in fact, I write them in a journal – is part of this.

It’s a simple trick but highly effective, and both listing them and taking time out to actually do them is part of a type of therapy called compassion-focused therapy (CFT), which I have written about before in The Mail on Sunday.

Increasingly, research shows that counting our blessings can have a positive effect on a range of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, which affect millions of Britons.

MADE TO MEASURE

Happiness is a buzzword. In 2010, David Cameron announced his plans to invest £2 million in creating a ‘happiness index’. The scheme, run by the Office of National Statistics, is supposed to give another measure of how well we are doing as a nation, besides just looking at the economy.

Other countries do this, and when you suspend your cynicism for a moment, it does make good sense – after all, we know money doesn’t buy happiness.

According to the latest results, 33 per cent of UK adults rated their happiness at a ‘very high level’ last year, which was an increase of two per cent on the previous year.

Research published earlier this year from the San Diego School of Medicine revealed that 37 per cent of schizophrenic patients were happy most or all of the time. That compared with 83 per cent of ‘normal’ respondents.

A worrying 15 per cent of the former group said they were never or rarely happy, while no one in the comparison group ticked that box.

On one hand, this shows that happiness and living with serious mental illness needn’t be an oxymoron. But happiness is clearly more of a struggle for some of us.

And the pursuit of it has become something of an obsession. More than 50,000 books are listed on Amazon with the word ‘happy’ in the title. Many of them are self-help books, perhaps geared towards making us happy.

Making my own happy book, in which I record the good things in life – whether they are kind words from friends and family, or lovely memories – serves the same purpose. It’s part of my own CFT, which I started earlier this year.

Having tried other so-called ‘talking treatments’ including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness, I have found the approach works really well. Of course, whether it suits you is highly personal, but for the past five years CFT has been offered on the NHS for people with a variety of mental health problems.

Like mindfulness, it’s largely inspired by Buddhism but also has its roots in CBT, which helps patients change the way they think and therefore behave. As Professor Paul Gilbert, one of the pioneers of the method, explains: ‘It’s similar to CBT, which works by helping patients to consider their negative thoughts and come to more realistic alternative views.

‘But while CBT focuses on changing behaviour in a neutral, practical way – such as using timesheets to plan the day more productively – in CFT the focus is more on being kind to yourself.’

LIFTING THE GLOOM

If this all sounds rather Polyanna-ish (and I’m not ashamed to say I’m a fan of the book and films), experts are quick to point out this isn’t simply a matter of saying ‘Think happy thoughts and you’ll feel better’.

As Dr Martin Seligman, the father of ‘positive psychology’, says: ‘Psychotherapy traditionally is where you go to talk about your troubles, [but it can also be where you] go to talk about positive emotion, your strengths and virtues, and how to build more meaning into your life.’

His methods have been shown in placebo-controlled trials to have an impact on symptoms of depression.

In one such trial, 500 healthy volunteers were recruited to take a range of online tests while undergoing a ‘wellbeing evaluation’ over a six-month period.

One of the exercises that proved most beneficial in terms of boosting mood was ‘three blessings’: each day, participants were asked to write down three things that went well that day, and say why.

This test was given to depressed patients. An astonishing 94 per cent of severely depressed people became less depressed, and 92 per cent said they became happier, with an average symptom relief of a whopping 50 per cent.

A control group, which was not given the exercise, did not have the same turnaround.

One of the symptoms of my illness, which started in my teenage years (I’m now 34), is that I become consumed by the idea that I have done something dreadfully wrong, to the point where I won’t leave the house

I have found in the past that therapy that required me to focus on the negative things in my upbringing, for instance, was almost traumatic. So, given that I have a tendency to feel so bad about myself, it’s no surprise CFT is a boon – and I believe it could well be for anyone whose mental illness might lead to similar feelings of causeless guilt or self-hate. It’s worth chatting to your GP if you feel it might be right for you.

TRAIN THE BRAIN

Of course, being unhappy is not reserved for psychiatric patients such as myself. Suzanna Halonen, a Surrey-based coach, trainer and self-proclaimed ‘Happyologist’, says that happiness is a challenge for everyone.

She explains: ‘Often people forget about happiness and think it’s something they can delay until retirement. But in fact you can choose to be happy every day. It’s a bit like a habit and you can train your brain, just like you work out muscles in the gym. Your brain can become stronger in its positivity, making optimism more natural.’

Labour MP David Lammy, who is chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics, agrees, saying: ‘In Britain, public satisfaction with life has hardly changed since 1970. Despite all the social, technological and medical advances we have made since then, we are still no happier or more fulfilled as a nation.

‘That should be a real concern for our national leaders and can involve anything from campaigning for fair pay to promoting good planning in new houses and finding ways to tap into the potential benefits of things like positive psychotherapy.’

As well as choosing to spend time doing things I enjoy and listing them, I keep a folder containing treasured letters and emails, which I have printed out, and mementos and greeting cards that have brought a smile to my face.

If a rain cloud of unhappiness does float along, I take refuge in this folder – something I work hard to keep up to date.

I force myself to read it cover to cover, and once I’ve finished, my mood always changes dramatically. It works a little like an umbrella giving me shelter when a cloud blackens my mental sphere.

But I’m sure everyone would benefit from spending some time working towards a happy state of mind. If I can do it, anyone can.

Belle & Sebastian preview in Fused Magazine

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Rewind to 1996, and Belle & Sebastian’s debut album, titled Tigermilk, is the staple for any art school student worth her weight in Gouache. It starts with a song called The State I’m in, and so the storytelling begins.

She makes models of the Velvet Underground in clay, she fills her pockets with pharmaceuticals to fix her brain, and only one sticks around as he’s rendered incontinent in bed. So here is the Belle & Sebastian protagonist, too uncool perhaps for the fashion brigade on Liberty Hill and steeped in tragedy.

The sound is soothing and the melody upbeat. The lyrics layer irony and teen angst, sometimes simply moments from everyday life (such as a cold cup of tea tasting of washing up liquid), over a guitar.

But we don’t want anything else from the Glaswegian band who beat Steps to a Brit award in 1999.

They’ve appeared on the soundtracks to Adam Curtis’s The Power Of Nightmares, Todd Solondz’s Storytelling, and Juno – a climax to the storytelling is a teacher looking up some girls skirt. Belle & Sebastian’s clout defies the critics’ who so often say they’re a shy and retiring ensemble.

Fast forward to 2014, and they’ve cut their ninth album called Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. Songwriter Stuart Murdoch’s lyrics have very rarely been first person – at least, they haven’t until now. The opening track is Murdoch’s life, at least the life he led just before Belle & Sebastian was born. House-bound and with chronic fatigue syndrome prior to the formation of the group, it’s a period he has drawn on before. But never has he written anything as direct as ‘Nobody’s Empire’ – side one, track one of the new album. He says it’s the most personal thing he’s ever written.

There’s a great quote last year from Bob Stanley that sum the band up: “It’s all about trusting in the restorative power of pop music. If you’d trust anyone to write a great Europop song about Sylvia Plath, you’d trust Belle & Sebastian.”

Belle & Sebastian play at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham on the 10th May 2015. Tickets are priced at £25.

For more information or to book visit www.thsh.co.uk.

Chemical reaction: top five perfumes in TNT Magazine

Can fragrances really affect your mood? Erica Camus investigates…

The beauty industry claims that perfume can have a powerful effect on our energy levels and moods. With this in mind, I decided to test five fragrances to see whether they really could transform her mood.

Versace Eros Pour Femme
Mood: desire
Verdict: the middle top notes of citrus have featured in much of the research on aromatherapy, and they do lift my mood. There’s something very rigorous to the scent, echoed in the medusa head embossed on the packaging. The musk and woody notes add a veil of something more mysterious. My mood is slightly sultry, yet I feel energised – enough to wink at a stranger perhaps, or at least pull my partner close for a kiss.

Library of Fragrance Coconut spray (available at Boots)
Mood: feeling free
Verdict: as the cheapest of the fragrances I tried and tested, I now use this as an air freshener for the reason that it creates a tropical backdrop to my terrace house interior in Stoke-on-Trent! Coconut in general is enjoying a renaissance right now, as a superfood, and I was drawn to it simply because it’s fashionable. But found it also gave me a sense of freedom when sprayed liberally around the house.

Leighton Denny Light & Dark perfume, (www.leightondenny.com)
Mood: confidence
Verdict: absolute oils featured in this special mix include an uplifting mixture of pepper, myrrh and incense, for a warm welcoming unique fragrance, which can be worn day and night – as its name suggests. At its heart is gardenia, jasmine, lily and rose, merged with top notes of mandarin, grapefruit, peach and white pepper to “stimulate confidence”. While the packaging is a little bit dull for me, I do use this perfume as a “prep” for leaving the house. With such a mixture of exotic scents, it leaves me feeling dressed and my confidence is boosted a modicum.

Chanel Mademoiselle (available at Selfridges)
Mood: nostalgia
Verdict: I’ve used this perfume since my glory days, on the fashion desk of the Daily Telegraph. It was gifted to me at an event hosted by Chanel. The reason I’m including it is because it brings back powerful memories for me, evoking nostalgia. But if you’re too young to have your own perfume archive raid your Mother’s beauty cabinet – you’re sure to find something that brings back memories of a special time.

Lanvin

Lanvin Rumeur 2 Rose (available at TK Maxx)
Mood: generosity
Verdict: a new version of Lanvin Rumeur – and a new edition to my bathroom. Its main drawcord is rose, lending itself to a charming and romantic feel. It’s lighter, fruitier and sweeter than the original and aimed at younger audience. With orange, rose, magnolia, jasmine, patchouli, and musk base notes, it’s the perfect beginners perfume for students with memories in the making. Wear it on campus in the day – you might be in the mood to give your lecturer an apple!

Supercity Aparthotel’s suite dreams

Blowfish by Mauro Corda (low res)

Long gone are the days where one could rent out a luxury apartment in central London for less than £2000 a week. Peanuts get you nothing (or a shared dorm in Earl’s Court).

Indeed, the average 5 star hotel will set you back around £400 a night. Or add an extra digit and try the Ritz, for a cool £1600 a night.

Enter luxury living in swish serviced apartments, or ‘aparthotels’ as one group with three different locations call themselves.

Supercity Aparthotels offers, they say: “luxurious and affordable stays for those visiting the capital, providing guests with a home away from home in the heart of London.” Budget wise, think cashews rather than peanuts though.

You can chose between central locations including Templeton Place or Nevern Place in Earl’s Court, or The Rosebery in Clerkenwell.

On a recent trip to London I stayed in the latter, The Rosebury. As a former hipster it made sense. I booked out a one-bedroom apartment and had a friend stay with me. You see, the new breed of serviced apartments are all self-catering, so I needed to bring a friend to cook me breakfast in the morning (he rustled up a mouth-watering sausage and bacon fry-up in case you’re asking!)

My stay at Supercity was about as close to real-London luxury living as I might get on my measly budget. At £140 per night, with two of us paying £70 each, it worked not much more expensive than your standard Ibis or Travelodge – but here is cooler (the Rosebury is in Clerkenwell after all and you don’t need to be a former hiptser to know what that postcode means!)

The place was small, but perfectly formed. It sort of made sense that the coffee table was strewn with Taschen books and this was reflected in the minimal Ikea-style décor with an art student twist adorning the walls.

We entertained friends on the night, bringing back a few bottles of Rioja and had the room and facilities to entertain. We drank until the small hours, lazing around on the sofa and enjoying the open-plan kitchen. Several bottles later I crashed. And I’m pretty sure I slept on a Waitrose cashew.

For more information, or to book, visit http://www.supercityuk.com