Welcome to the Ex-Official Blog of Writer, Presenter & Crafts Expert Momtaz Begum-Hossain which stopped being active on 31st August 2016.

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Tuesday 27 December 2011

I'm off on my hols!

I’m writing this blog while finalising my packing, as I’m off on holiday this evening! After spending six years in a row at the same New Year’s Eve party, I’m finally doing something different; heading to the shores of Bali via Malaysia, for two weeks.
Going on holiday is very special. Some people go on lots of holidays, others hardly go on any; and some folk will never go on a single holiday during their lifetime. I didn’t go on my first holiday until I was at university as there was no ‘going away’ culture in my family, (apart from two trips to Bangladesh to visit relatives when I was 4 and 15.)
I haven’t been to a huge amount of places, but I appreciate everywhere I have. While thinking about my New Year vacation, I looked back at some old holiday snaps taken over the last decade, to get me in the holiday mood. It stirred up some great memories that I want to share.

1. Best day trip: Paris, France

I first went to Paris on my 20th birthday and was deeply unimpressed. It felt like the most unromantic place in the world. It was grey, cold and grab (admittedly it was December). A few years later, after spending £15 in Boots, I was given a ‘Buy One Get One Free’ voucher for Eurostar (this must have been the ONLY time they have ever ran this deal!). I returned to Paris; this time on a blistering summer’s day and it turned out to be the most fun day trip ever! A heatwave penetrated through city and the streets were thriving with shiny, happy people, basking on a fake beach and enjoying the outdoor street showers. I picked up a gorgeous 5 Euro dress at the flea market, and feasted on delicious pastries. All in all, it was a fabulous day…but it ended very sadly. On route back to Kent, our train hit a deer. It lost its life, as did the train. We were stranded for five hours with NO FOOD (as the announcement came that we weren’t going anywhere, they shut the cafĂ© – something I will never understand). In the early hours of the morning we were eventually escorted off the train and walked a mile along the track until we boarded a new train. I arrived back in Brighton just as my shift was starting at M&S.

2. Best adventures: Mexico

I left my heart in Mexico, so I went back to reclaim it. My first trip followed on from my Geography fieldtrip during my second year at university. I did a project on Los Angeles, (Does the Hollywood Dream really exist?) and Las Vegas, (Is Las Vegas really a 24 hour city)…I know! They don’t exactly sound academic, but that’s Geography for you. If you think out of the box, you can get away with anything!
Afterwards I popped over to visit a friend studying at a Mexican University, I’ll never forget arriving and eating her freshly cooked quesadillas – yum! Later I returned with friends and explored the East coast. We had countless adventures in beautiful weather and ate amazingly. It’s my ambition to retire over there.

3. Best city: Barcelona, Spain

Similarly as I stepped foot in Barcelona on another birthday, I felt so at home that I ended up returning to the city again, less that two weeks later! As well as incredible art, architecture, tapas, entertainment, shops….Barcelona is one of the few places in Europe that catches December sun.

4. Best surprise: Scotland

On the way to Scotland, I bought a rain mac. I’ve never needed one before but I was convinced there would be constant down pours. To my extreme shock, in the space of a week there was none. In fact I ended up being there the one week of the year where it apparently doesn’t rain, despite what the forecasts say. I travelled all across the whole top coast of the country and to the islands of Skye and Stornaway. It was utterly beautiful, peaceful, quiet and full of craft. There were weavers, artists, patchwork designers; all crafting away in quaint houses, where anyone can pop in and take a look. It really was like a dream world.

5. Best company: Norfol
Going on holiday with the boys was the closest I’ll ever get to going on holiday with The Inbetweeners…you wouldn’t want to do it, but you know you’ll laugh so much that you will loose years. This was an August Bank Holiday camping trip involving dodgy driving, rain soaked bbqs, encountering unfriendly locals, discovering charity shop bargains, and five people being squeezed into a one man tent, where ‘gas’ was a major issue…I kid you not! Despite this, I’ll never forget the antics and the taste of the veggie sausages for breakfast – wow!

6. Best memory: Zurich, Switzerland

Going on holiday with my dad was an absolute honour. He dreamed about travelling but didn’t have much opportunity to see the world. About a year before he got unwell, I escorted him on a trip to Zurich to visit my sister. In the beginning the non-traveller in him was a bit moany, but once he settled in, and laid eyes on the breathtaking scenery, he was utterly relaxed. We definitely bonded on that trip, and looking back at all the photos makes me feel very happy.

7. Best food: Cork, Ireland

I’ve had authentic curry in India, classic tagine in Morocco…but the one culinary memory I shall never forget is the brown bread of Ireland. It was the most delicious bread I’ve ever tasted and I asked for extra portions every where I went. Eventually I found out the brand and bought 10 loaves. I froze them all but sadly none of them tasted as good back in London!

8.Best forgotten: Elba, Italy

Camping in Europe in February was never going to be one of my best ideas …not checking out the accommodation proved to be another. We turned up to find the only camping resort in the island closed for refurbishment and were forced to pitch our tent on the beach (The spot was outside a closed bar). It was the coldest, longest night of my life, during which time I got no sleep and had to ‘improvise’ when it came to going to the loo. Definitely best forgotten! 

9. Best relaxation: Hammamet,Tunisia

Many a traveller turns their nose up at ‘package holidays’ but whatever your opinions, the truth is they are easy, convenient and can be very cheap. Curious as to what the ‘package’ is all about, a few years ago I decided it was time to roadtest one for myself and thus ended up in a popular tourist resort in Tunisia. While I’ll admit the evening entertainment shows got a bit grating and the group water aerobics sessions didn’t get me sweating, I can say with my hand firmly on my heart, that I had a great time. It was just what I needed. Long hours at work meant I had no time to read guidebooks or undertake planning. I wanted an easy trip; and that was what I got. The rejuvenating effects were instant.

10. Best luxury: Costa Blanca, Spain

When you’re a journalist there are two types of press trip you can find yourself on. The first is when you’re part of a group of journos, usually hosted by a tourist board or organisation, who take you around in a mini bus, organise your whole itinery for you and feed you local specialities. The other type (‘best type’) is when you go alone or with a guest, and are treated like a VIP at an exclusive establishment. Last year I was pampered for three days at a 5 star resort in Spain. As soon as I arrived I knew I would probably never be in this situation ever again (I can assure you, nothing similar has happened to me since!). I blissed out for the duration, sampling massages, taking frequent dips in heated pools, undertaking relaxing activities like tai chi and dining on the most divine of dishes – every meal, which was complimentary, came to over 100 euros…I could never imagine an existence where I could afford that, but for those three dreamy days, Barcelo Asia Gardens was my personal heaven.

And so to Malaysia and Bali. My friend Janine won a pair of flights to the destination of her choice, she picked Kuala Lumpar in Malaysia and gave me her other ticket. To say I feel blessed in an understatement. We have no plans other than have booked our first night in both locations.
I’m treating it as a complete holiday. No work, no crafting, no writing, no blogging and probably no tweeting either! It’s just going to be me, her, and a whole blank canvas of exploration.
Whatever you have planned for the next few days, I hope you feel as positive about 2012 as I do. I can’t wait to share how I welcomed it in - normal blogging will commence upon my return in mid-January.

Monday 19 December 2011

My trip to The X Factor final!

I’ve always been a ‘yes’ girl, eager to do, see, try, and go to as many things and places as possible…even when my workload says otherwise. I found myself in this situation last Sunday when my friend Kizzy sent me a text message:
Kizzy: Do you like The X Factor?
Me: I’m planning to watch the final tonight (inside thinking ummmm, yes but I can’t admit it too pubically, even though I clearly just have)
Kizzy: Do you want to watch it live?
Me: (inside:……but she’s going with her cousin, does she have another ticket….I’m so behind on my work, I have a chandelier to make by tomorrow…most of which I was going to do in front of the TV yet I replied…) YES! 
And the next thing I knew I had an hour to get glammed up and hot step it to Wembley. Kizzy’s boyfriend works behind the scenes on the show’s lights, which anyone who watched it will agree, are pretty spectacular. Her Gary-Barlow-obsessed cousin had been excited for weeks to be going with Kizzy, who managed to get free tickets courtesy of the boyf, but sadly was unwell. So there I was in her place, slipping inside the Arena minutes after arriving, while for miles ahead, queues of public were freezing their fingers off.
We were given two garishly coloured bands and told to wear one on each wrist. They didn’t seem to do anything, there were no buttons, levers or cords to pull. It was most peculiar, then at the stroke of 5.30, everyone’s bands turned on. At this point people were just milling around, waiting to go inside, and we started cheering from the sheer shock and surprise of our wrists coming alive and being controlled by someone/something(?) else. 
We had no idea where we’d end up sitting  and were ecstatic to discover we were five rows from the front at the right hand side of the stage, which is where all the action takes place. While it looks like everything is ‘central’ when you see in on TV, the action was actually right of centre. Westlife were practically touching distance when they came on stage. (Not that I would want to touch Westlife but I was seated next to another guest’s mum who went crazy for them : ) ) 
Being so close to the stage made you feel like you were part of the special effects. Every time the pyrotechnics blasted out you could feel the burn of the flames. 
When you’re sitting at home you assume TV presenters have spent all day learning their lines but of course (and having done a course in TV presenting myself I know this…though that’s another story!), it’s all about the autocue; which Dermot was reading, again, on 'our end' of the stage. 
I heard various accounts after the show was broadcast from people who hated watching it at Wembley, saying it seemed to be better quality in the TV studio. I even listened to a chap on the radio rant about how the Arena had no atmosphere and the singing was lost in such a large space. I can confirm that in the live moment, there was a definite electric excitement in the air. Especially being able to see the off-camera antics. For example when you see Dermot chatting away; else where on stage, the sets are changing and the contestants are composing themselves. Marcus wore the biggest smile whenever the camera was on him but he also spent a long time just focusing and not smiling at all.
Then as the first chord hit, he switched into character….really fascinating to observe. 
I don’t know what it felt like watching it at home, but the advert breaks seemed to take forever…they felt really long…we didn’t see them. Instead we got views of the judges having their faces powdered (seriously…does it really take three people to make Kelly look gorgeous??!). There was also an off camera presenter providing audience entertainment so we didn’t get bored…though it mainly involved him asking members of the audience to come on stage and sing….most of those that volunteered were children and singing kids are really not my cup of tea : (
As ever, Little Mix were terribly styled. Seriously…why is Perrie dressed as a circus ringmaster…it’s unflattering and looks ridiculous. And I’m not even the kind of person that judges people on their clothes but we all know that LM are styled by someone, who probably gets paid loads. I doubt the girls have much say. Yet each week they looked awful. The semi finals the previous day were the worst. They were dressed head-to-toe in washed out denim...need I say more? I really hope that they change their stylist asap. They need someone who know’s how to flatter them and turn them into role models. They should be inspiring trends; not making people go off fashion.
The highlight of the entire evening and what made getting home and staying up excrutiatingly late to work, and then spend the next day like a zombie; was the set by Coldplay. I’m not a Coldplay fan. The hatred started when I saw them perform in Cardiff at a Student Radio Association conference back in 2000. They were a support act to an indie band who have since disappeared. People barely knew who they were but I was soooo bored because Chris Martin, the singer, seemed so big headed. He spent the entire set bigging himself up, it was cringeworthy but I guess it proves that self-belief can change your life. He thought he was amazing and, he’s now a billionaire - clearly we could all do with some of that positive attitude. Back to the songs… I wasn’t really listening to the music but as soon as they began playing; 20,000 wrist bands turned on and it was like being in a complete dreamlike, magical world.
The light-up bands were provided by Coldplay to enhance the live music experience by increasing audience participation. I wouldn’t say I felt like I was participating, I just felt like I was ‘experiencing’; and it really was a gig experience like no other…or perhaps that should be stadium experience like no other?
It was certainly epic.I watched the songs back and while it looked good, in real life it really was something else: something very special.
Another epic moment was waiting for the results…

And then before you knew it, the stage was brimming with ex-contestants…

…and rainbow confetti..
So my completely unexpected Sunday night which could have ended with me lounging on my sofa chilling in my PJs while working, actually turned into a night of momentous glamour. Kizzy and I had so much fun, cheering, dancing and waving our wrists. I feel so lucky to have been there. It’s certainly going down in my list of ‘wow experiences.’
Speaking of wow, this is what Cannonball should sound like (not the winner's single version): 
(All photos by me apart from the ones of me that Kizzy took!)

Saturday 10 December 2011

How to make & customise: super simple stockings

Stocking fillers are the best Christmas gifts. I’d be happy is Santa delivered me something cheap & cheerful from Poundland...as long as it’s not coal (but I’m not a naughty girl so I don’t need to worry!)
Of course Santa gives the best prezzies to the people with the best stockings. I recently designed stockings for Dog’s Monthly magazine (for the pet and the owner!), pictured above. And below are a selection of handmade stockings to inspire you, made by staff from the V& A Museum. I ran a special Christmas craft workshop for them for their recent away day.

  The plan was for staff to hang them in their work corridor for everyone to admire.

  I gathered lots of spangly materials and let them loose on my supplies.

They beavered away for 1.5 hours. All 25 of them!

To make your own super simple stocking, simply draw two basic stocking shapes on a piece of felt (these ones were just less than A4 in size), and cut them out.

Then pick your embellishments and get crafting! Sew, glue, paint, draw, glitter, bead, sequin, embroider or write…whatever takes your fancy!

To join it together use a basic in and out running stitch all along the sides.
Or a whip stitch which is a diagonal stitch that goes along the sides holding the pieces together.

Finally stitch a piece of ribbon in a loop in the inside corner, to hang up your stocking.

Santa if you’re reading this, here’s what I would like in my stocking this year, (just incase the stock in Poundland is sold out and your elves can swing by somewhere posh):

  1. Chocolate from Hotel Chocolat (any as long as it’s not dark!)
  2. Lip Gelee lipgloss from MAC (they’ve stopped selling it, but you’re Santa, you can make it come back!)
  3. A jar of Chilli Marmite….I’ve got friends who have tried it but I’ve not seen it yet : (
  4. A voucher for TK Maxx (no explanation needed)
  5. A date with John Abraham….well he’s split up with Bipasha, surely you can pull some strings? ...for me??????

Oh and clementines are ok as long as they are sweet! Thanks : )

Sunday 4 December 2011

How to make: Easy Peasy Tree Decorations

Christmas tree decorations are one of my favourite things about December. I love the really lavish ones you get in department stores like Harrods and Selfridges and for more affordable ones, the rows of colourful, sparkling ornaments in Paperchase. Monsoon also have some utterly cute characters and crafty, felty designs. Yet while I like to treat myself to a couple of new ones a year, I have everything I need to make my own at home. And when it takes just five minutes to make each one, it’s much quicker than heading to the shops and spending your afternoon standing in a slow-moving queue.

I discovered this most fabulous of glittery fabric via Hatastic! designer Chloe Hayward, which is ideal for Christmas tree decorations. Chloe made some Halloween horns for my up and coming glitter book, using a sheet of red. It’s a densely covered woven backed fabric that’s hard-wearing enough to be used for footwear, fashion and furnishings. I treated myself to a batch recently. They are sold in Josy Rose, for £2.45 per A4 sheet and the colour chart is  impressive. The sheets can be cut with ordinary scissors and either glued down with a glue gun or carefully stitched through with a very sharp needle. Like felt, they don’t fray, making them not just gorgeous, but versatile too! Hooray!

They can be cut up into any shape you want, or to make it really simple Josy Rose sell die-cut, pre-cut shapes made from the same fabric. If you’re cutting inside them (like the buttons on this ethnic snowman), then use a craft knife and mat.
To make them, cut two equal sizes of felt and take a small piece of ribbon. Stitch your glitter motif onto one side and at the top end, stitch the ribbon in, folded over to create a loop. Use an embroidery stitch of your choice to join both sides together. Running and whip stitch work well.

Keep them minimalist, or bling them up with sequins, gems and glitter glue tubes. Add them to your tree, perhaps against some other homemade decorations, like the hand written wishes currently featured at The Geffrye Museum, or like me, dangle them on your fairy lights.