UK 2015 Birchbox Reviews: April

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On Monday, my April Birchbox arrived. Birchbox is a beauty subscription box; each month, subscribers receive a box with approximately five sample or full-size beauty or skincare products. This month's box's theme is "Royally Good" in order to celebrate the birth of Kate and William's baby which will happen at some point this month. There are two styles of box, a pink one to celebrate if it's a girl and a blue one to celebrate if it's a boy. I received the pink box, but I think the baby could be a boy, so we will see.

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This month, we had the option to select a Laura Mercier product. I've previously received the foundation primer, so I decided to try the eye pencil. My review of the products is below.

Laura Mercier eye pencil in 'black violet': This eye pencil is in a dark violet colour, and I love the colour. The application is not ideal, however, as the product seems to be too hard. I had to keep layering it on my skin in order to get the colour to take. I think I would love this product if the application was better; I received one in a 'clay' colour in one of my subscription boxes, and I love it.

Lola Barcelona nail polish in 'Garcia': This is a Birchbox-exclusive brand, and the colour is hot pink. The product went on smoothly, but I found the application with the brush a little fiddly compared to other brands. I am not too keen on this colour, and I do have a few similar shades in my collection.

Percy & Reed Volumising No Oil Oil: This is a hair product which promises to tame the hair without being oily. The product does not leave an oily residue, and it did seem to give my hair the extra volume.

Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish + Muslin Cloth: This cleanser and polish is a product that I've previously tried as I have received other samples of it. The product is also recommended for sensitive skin types, and I know one person who has difficult skin conditions and allergies that uses it without any issues.

Pommade Divine Nature's Remedy Balm: This nourishing skin balm clears up problem (dry or damaged) skin. My skin is in a decent condition at the moment, but on my test application, it did make my skin feel a little more nourished. The product also smells nice. It's the type of product that needs repeat use over time in order to determine how successful it is.

Imedeen Derma One: This month, subscribers got a selection of vitamin pills to take, and the one I received was to boost skin's health. I was not excited about this product, but I would have liked to have tried the energising vitamins or the mask that I saw others receive instead of this.

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Overall, I'm feeling underwhelmed with Birchbox again. In my opinion, Birchbox has been missing the mark for me. I have one more box before my annual subscription is up, and I don't think that I will be renewing as I've not really been keen on over half of the boxes that I've received.

Early last year, I had fun discovering as many colourful masks pasted up on various walls throughout London as I could. These colourful masks are made by French artist Gregos, whose work is popular in Paris. Last year's masks are covered here: Street Art Masks by Gregos. The masks feature the artist's face with different poses. Many of the masks from early last year are now gone, so I was happy to see that the artist returned this spring and left more masks for me to discover. I discovered some last week before meeting up with ex-colleagues, and I returned last weekend to locate as many as I could.

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Last spring, there were approximately fifty masks, and this year, there are the same number, according to the artist's Facebook page. I did not find fifty as several have been stolen, and I could see where they should have been from other photographs on the artist's Facebook page and by looking at the location to see the glue where they would have been. Some are also located in Camden, but I did not get to go there.

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To see more work by Gregos, visit his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gregos-Art/118749327867?fref=ts 

Last week, street artist JimmyC painted a new mural on the corner of Brick Lane and Fashion Street. I covered JimmyC, whose real name is James Cochran, a couple of years ago when I discovered a lot of his murals in east London from that year and his high-profile Olympian portrait of Usain Bolt. You can read about him here: Street Art: JimmyC. Toward the later part of last year, he painted a few new pieces (here), and these included a portrait of a female on a wall near Shoreditch High Street (JimmyC Street Art: New Inn Yard, Brick Lane, Hackney Road).

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The new mural is actually painted on the Joe's Kid cafe wall. This wall has previously been used by street artists, and JimmyC's work is a welcome addition to the area; I do hope that it remains for awhile.

The style is JimmyC's 'dot' style, which he commonly uses in his work. According to JimmyC's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Jimmyc.artwork), the subject of this new piece is the cafe's owner, Danni. She is three years old in the painting, and she is with her grandfather, Joe. Joe owned a cafe in the east end in the 1930s, and this is who the cafe is named after.

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The piece came as a surprise to me as I was in London last Thursday evening to meet up with ex-colleagues for their leaving drinks, and I wanted to check out as much street art as possible in the short time. This diversion on Thursday highlighted many more new pieces of street art, which I will be posting in the coming days, so do keep checking back as I am very excited about posting more excellent pieces. Street artists have certainly been busy in London over the past month.

When I visited London in the middle of April, I came across new work by French artist, Thierry Noir. He was one of the first grafitti artists and started by painting his characters on the Berlin Wall. Originally, I covered his first work in London here: Thierry Noir. To my knowledge, this was his first visit to London, and he collaborated with fellow street artist Stik. Last year, the artist came back to London, and I watched new artwork appear on Rivington Street (Thierry Noir's New Murals on Rivington Street). The artist is in London again.

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The shop front on Shoreditch High Street opposite BoxPark has been painted by Thierry Noir. The shutter has not been painted, but the walls on either side of it have been. 

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I love the use of colour added to the streets, and the work is simple yet effective.

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 Perhaps additional pieces by Thierry Noir will be appearing over the course of the next few weeks.

The wall on the corner of Brick Lane and Pedley Street finally had new street art on it when I visited the area last Thursday. Of course, the bright and colourful piece by Bicicleta Sem Freio (covered here), which appeared at the beginning of September last year, was going to be a difficult piece to beat. The new piece is a collaboration between Guido Zimmermann and Hannah Adamaszek. It features two peacocks. Hannah's is the one on the left, and Guido's is the one on the right. 

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Hannah was in London for the Femme Fierce grafitti festival (covered here) in Leake Street tunnel in March, and she was one of the 150 women who contributed to the walls of the tunnel. According to her website, she saw that Guido Zimmermann was going to be in London and agreed to collaborate with him, choosing peacocks as their subject matter. Guido's work primarily focuses on animals, and he enjoys personifying them.

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Unfortunately, I found the piece with a bad message across it, which I've had to edit out of the above photographs. The message read that the work was boring and belongs in a gallery. However, art is subjective and everyone has their own tastes. I felt that damaging the piece soon after it was painted was disrespectful to the artists, particularly as they wish to create artwork, let people enjoy their artwork, and to gain exposure so that they can put their talents to use. Everyone has their own tastes. Bringing art to the streets is perfect; the walls act as a gallery and it brings the artwork to as many people as possible. These days, many do not often get the chance to visit a gallery, but if they see the artwork and enjoy it, this may encourage them to make an effort to visit a gallery at some point. Adding art to the streets can also make the area more attractive by replacing a boring wall with a work of art. 

For more information about Hannah Adamsazek, look at her website: http://hannahadamaszek.com

For more information about Guido Zimmermann, look at his website: http://globalstreetart.com/gz

En Masse is a group of street artists from Montreal. Their name means 'all together' in French, and the group was founded by Tim Barnard and Jason Botkin in 2009. It is now under direction from Botkin and Rupert Bottenberg, and the group are active in the world of art and not limited to producing art on the streets. According to their website (1), the group strives to produce collaborative artwork that creates a collective style and vision which enables enhanced creativity from the group, and they've worked with over 250 other artists internationally.

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The group visited London and spent the last week painting the Village Underground mural. The result is a strking black and white mural with many different faces and other imagery. When I visited it on Sunday morning, an artist was completing the final touches on the far right-hand corner of the wall. Some detailed photographs of some of the faces that I found impressive are below.

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The work actually reminded me a little bit of Amara Por Dios' work at the beginning of the year, which I covered here: Amara Por Dios: Village Underground. She also used black and white to convey several abstract faces. I am unsure if En Masse would have seen her work prior to creating theirs, but it's a great piece and a piece that I want to spend time to look at in order to see all of the different faces.

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For more information about En Masse, view their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/enmasse

1) En Masse. http://enmasse.info/about/ [12 April 2015].

A Visit to the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

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On our first day in the Burren National Park in Country Clare on the western side of Ireland, we headed to the Cliffs of Moher and arrived just before the attraction was due to close. We had a quick look around the visitor's exhibition centre, where we saw some information on the sea life, bird life, and plant life in this unique area. We did not get to stay here for long as they were about ready to close up the centre, so we made our way up the trail to the sea cliffs, named the Cliffs of Moher.

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The Cliffs of Moher are 214 meters high at their highest point, and they extend for over 8km over the Atlantic Ocean along County Clare. Below is an image of them looking southwest.

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We walked up to the high point where a tower, known as O'Brien's Tower, was constructed in the mid-1800s for tourists to enjoy the views. The tower was not open when we arrived. 

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cliffs of moher

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We took in the views along the tower, stopping at the point where we saw warning signs about the footpath becoming unsafe. We then backtracked to the other direction to see views of O'Brien's Tower and the other cliffs and sea stacks. 

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cliffs of moher

There's a large colony of birds that live off the Cliffs of Moher. Puffins are also meant to live here, but we did not see any. We did spot some birds down on the ledge of sea stacks below the cliffs, and I got a few photographs of them (below), but they do not look like puffins.

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The Cliffs of Moher were formed hundreds of thousands of years ago from mud and sand. Some of this made up an ancient seabed where fossils can be found.

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Cliffs of Moher is a beautiful place to explore and enjoy the scenery. I am sure that if we had had more time to spend here, we may have seen some dolphins and enjoy the wildlife more.

On the 15th of March, I headed over to the Leake Street tunnel to see the grafitti. Despite using Waterloo Station daily for the past few years, this was my first visit to Leake Street. I knew that the event 'Femme Fierce' had kicked off the previous weekend, so I was keen to see some of the artwork produced. 

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'Femme Fierce' is an event held by female grafitti/street artists each year. The event is inspired by International Women's Day and the charity supported is Plan UK's 'Because I am a Girl' campaign. It promises to end child marriage and slavery as well as to provide more rights for girls. More information can be found here: http://www.plan-uk.org/because-i-am-a-girl/

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The walls in the tunnel were painted blue during the event, and several female artists took part. Over 150 pieces of artwork were created for the event. Artists include Zabou, Amara Por Dios, Artista, Simoni Fontana, Franie Strand, and Kaleidoscope Eyes.

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By the time that I visited, several of the good pieces that I had seen in photographs had been painted over. Artwork in the Leake Street tunnel is always changing and does not last long at all. The work here changes more frequently than the walls in east London. However, I did get several photographs, which you can see below.

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I'm not sure if the Lego 'Letgo' one above is actually part of the Femme Fierce, but I liked it, and it is dated this year.

More photographs can be seen on InspiringCity's blog at: http://inspiringcity.com/2015/03/14/femme-fierce-2015-packs-the-leake-street-tunnel-as-female-street-artists-paint-it-brilliant-blue/

In addition, check out the event's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FemmeFierceEvents

More Art Pigs by Love Piepenbrinck

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Over the past few months, I discovered some new and older street art little pig sculptures by artist Love Piepenbrinck around London. These are always unexpected and bring a smile to my face. One cute one is a pig-tiger lurking in a corner near Spitalfields. More photographs of the artist's work can be seen in my entry: Street Art: Love Piepenbrinck - Jenikya's Blog

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I was very pleased to discover the location of the piggie advent calendar from Christmas 2013. I thought that I knew the location when I saw the photographs appearing on the artist's Facebook page, but I was incorrect and I only discovered the actual location last spring. Unfortunately, only a few of the 24 pigs remained. And there is one less now as I discovered one of them was lying on the groud and looking very sad so I took it to my desk at work to look after (after receiving permission from the artist). Perhaps I can get some glue from somewhere and paste it back up on the streets for others to enjoy.

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Sometimes I just discover a new one when I am not expecting it, such as the one covered in fabric balls. Other times, it takes a new piece of artwork to paint around the pig in order for me to see it, such as the old flowery one.

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I published the following in another enty, and I was lucky to capture them before they were too weathered and/or stolen. It seems that a lot of these get stolen because I see them posted by other street art enthusiasts and recognise the location, but before I am able to snap my own photograph, they have gone walkabout. My favourite has to be the patchwork one below.

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Have you spotted any of these around London's streets?

Easter Sunday in North Yorkshire was beautiful and warm, and after we had our Easter lunch at the Guy Fawkes Arms, the bloke and I drove down the road to visit Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden. The attractions are a UNESCO World Heritage site and are set over a couple hundred acres of land. I am unsure if the photographs do the attraction justice as it's really a beautiful place, and it would look attractive in any season.

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We arrived in the early afternoon, and the parking was nearly full and the grounds were busy with families with young children. The attraction was hosting an Easter Egg trail for the children, so this was popular but not quite as popular as the previous afternoon when we visited Brimham Rocks.

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On our walk through the fields to Fountains Abbey, we saw a pheasant. Actually, these pheasants were everywhere on the grounds. We did watch a fight between two male pheasants later in the day.

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We arrived with a view of the scale of Fountains Abbey, which was actually a lot larger than I expected. The abbey is one of the largest and best-preserved Cisterian monestaries in England. It ws founded in 1132 by thirteen months who had been expelled at St. Mary's Abbey in York after a disagreement, and they were provided with the land along the river at the present site of Fountains Abbey ruins. On this site, they successfully created the wealthiest monestary of its time.

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The monestary became ruins after Henry VIII's Dissolution of Monestaries after his disagreements with the Pope over his seeking of a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon from Spain. Catholicism ended in England at that point, and Henry VIII got his divorce and married Anne Boleyn.

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I hope that the photographs of the ruins of Fountains Abbey give some indication of the scale and grandeur of this monestary.

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Great Cloisters

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Cloisters courtyard (interior)

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Frater house (original floor tiles)

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Doorway

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Sculpture

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View of tower and Chapter House

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Nave

After having a quick look around Fountains Abbey, we walked out the other side to walk through the park/gardens. We wanted to visit St. Mary's Church, a church built in the late 1800s, before it shut at 4:00. A trail can be followed around the lake/river to the water gardens and deer park. The part of the trail that we followed went around the river/lake area in a clockwise fashion.

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We saw views over the Studley Royal Water Gardens below us at one point on the trail, and the trail followed the main stretch of the water gardens to the end. 

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We had to exit the grounds to get to the deer park and St. Mary's Church. St. Mary's Church is located inside the deer park. We did not see any deer, and I assume that they must be hiding or sleeping further afield than we walked. 

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Deer park

The church finally came into view, and we went inside and took some photographs. The organ was being played, and they were letting children have a turn at ringing the church bell. This is a gothic-style church from the late 1800s.

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I loved the stained glass windows and the way that the light shone through them, and the ceiling was decorated beautifully as well too.

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After leaving the church, we had to re-enter the grounds. Not far away from where we entered is a bridge to cross the lake that forms the water gardens. The wooden bridge is at the edge with a large lake on one side and the water gardens on the other.

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On the bridge, looking down toward the water gardens

I walked around the Studley Royal Water Gardens. These were created in the 1700s and were styled after mainland Europe's stylish gardens. They would have used coloured gravel and hedges to enhance the garden. Currently, these grounds are undergoing some development with hedgerows being planted to mimic the heyday of the gardens as recorded in paintings.

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Temples and statues make up the unique shaped water features.

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studely water gardens

I loved this place and could have stayed longer, particularly as the weather was so nice. Also, something seemed familiar to me about this place, despite never having set foot on it previously.

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While I was taking photographs at different angles, I noticed a mother and two children looking into the water for fishes or some sort of animal life. I started to look into the water as well, as I walked around the area, and I saw several toads in the water. The bloke was sitting on the side of the bank and did not walk around with me, and he mentioned seeing someone looking at some toads in the grass. At that moment, we happened to see one hopping in the grass toward us. I picked the toad up to take it over to the water, and it did not want to leave my hand. He/she clung on to my hand. I think he/she liked the warmth. Eventually, it left my hand and we watched several toads swimming around and enjoying each other's company.

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Eventually, we left the toads to do their own thing that toads do, and we walked up the trail. This led away from the water's edge and onto the cliff. We went through a tunnel carved into the side of the hill, and this tower was built on the top.

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The tower had nice views over the water gardens. We walked further along, through the trails with trees on both sides. Eventually, we came to this other tower. I've always loved these styles of temple with the excellent views from them. I want one. Unfortunately, the trees are a little overgrown here, so the views were not that great.

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We walked further, and the next spot was the surprise view, known as "Anne Boleyn's Seat". Anne never visited this spot, but it's named after a headless statue. The statue has been replaced, but it was covered up when we visited. The views from here are amazing. Fountains Abbey is in the distance.

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After enjoying the view, we walked back onto the trail, which descended the hill top and went along the lake. We watched a lone swan swimming in the lake, and he was soon joined by a couple of ducks. A fight broke out, and the swan succeeded in chasing the ducks off the water. A few minutes later, another arrived, and he hissed at the swan. The fight between the swan and goose did go on for awhile, and I got some photographs of the goose being chased and attacked, but they didn't turn out well. The goose was also chased off and gave up eventually, and he wasn't happy. He let the swan know it.

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The view of Fountains Abbey across the lake are beautiful.

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We soon made it around the trail to the other side of the abbey ruins. By this time, many of the visitors had left for the day. 

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I went inside the abbey to take some photographs, and it felt peaceful without the crowds.

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fountains abbey

fountains abbey

I stopped to write a couple of postcards here. I sat on the side of the nave where there's stone seating along the wall. I enjoyed the peace and quiet for awhile. There were still a few people wandering about, but this was nothing compared to how busy it had been earlier. This was a good end to a nice day, although my feet were tired by the end of it. 

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