27/02/2015

Glenmore Lodge Introduction to Winter Skills Part 1







I now know 4 major things about winter mountaineering:


  1. Crampons are God's one true creation.
  2. Whereas winter boots were birthed by the devil.
  3. You must never, ever put your gloves down. 
  4. Layers will be your new lord and saviour.

Slightly religious twist on that list, I'll admit. Last weekend, my dad and I headed to Glenmore Lodge in the north of the Cairngorms National Park to take part in some winter mountaineering skills training. Both of us love to hike and love the hills; but lack the skills to stay safe in deep snow, ice, and winter unpredictability. The course is aimed at people who can hike in summer, but have no winter experience. AKA, moi. It was meant to be mum and I, but very sadly she caught a virus the day before we were going.

We headed up to Aviemore on Friday evening; stopping to admire the incredible star visibility near the Cairngorms (we saw Jupiter. And Orion was completely clear). Upon arrival we settled into our lovely room- with complimentary mountain picture (the image was different in every room... I did ask!)-, then popped to the bar for a drink before heading straight to bed.

The wall in our room




One of the hallways- so cool!
Bright and early the next day we shoveled some breakfast down our throats before meeting Matt, our friendly, knowledgable, and mildly eccentric instructor; and the rest of our group. First on the itinerary was how to pack a bag. This may sound boring as hell; but in the mountains under-prepared = good-as-dead. The general theory here is pack everything you may ever need; in reverse order of when you might need it. Keep food handy (this is my kinda advice); pack multiple layers; pack more gloves than your hands can... handle, I guess. The outcome of this was that my winter hiking backpack was roughly 1984293 times heavier than a summer daysack.

We then headed on a long hike (5-6 mi) up and around Cairn Gorm itself, with the promise of learning winter skills along the way. We were introduced to the wonders of crampons- metal spike soles that allow you to dance on black ice like you are the winter fairy-, and spent much of the day deciding as a group when to pull them on or off. We also learned to traverse steeper snow slopes by cutting steps. A great deal of discussion also focused around snow types. Different types require different walking techniques, and carry different risk. We learned about how to identify slopes and snow at risk of avalanche; and how to avoid these slopes navigational-y. All day long we also carried avalanche transmitters that reveal your position to rescuers. I got back at night only to realise I hadn't turned mine on... Oops. That's step #1.

Putting on or taking off crampons






Lots of rime ice on the weather station

Top of Cairn Gorm (second from left)

Once back and refueled on tea and cake; things were no less hectic. We had a lecture at 6.45 pm, then dinner, then a lecture at 8 too. The 6.45 lecture was about winter navigation. The key takeaway here is not to rely on any landmarks that aren't huge productions of mother nature- paths, streams and buildings disappear in snow; elevation does not. Though elevations can be harder to see, so don't walk off a cliff, and can change shape with snow cornices. The team leader suggested learning your pacing, and timing. Learn how long it takes you to reach certain short distances in certain conditions. Learn slope directions and angles. Then you can navigate using these and your pacing. Another good idea is to keep in mind what lies past your target- what happens when you have gone too far? We also covered the thought that maps are not infallible.

Contours= everything

Visibility/snow makes is harder though- how steep would you say the THREE slopes in this picture are?


Interestingly (for me), most navigational mistakes are human psychology- someone is cold, lost, in a 'descending' mindset, wants to get out of the wind and takes a directional shortcut or doesn't properly consult their compass. The Cairn Gorm is a great example of the potential impact of this: if you walk off the wrong edge there are 20-odd miles to anything at all. Take a map, a compass, a spare map. GPS and phones are nice but electronics die. Some even freeze. The instructor also told a story of a rescue where the man had been relying on his iPhone for directions, and then broke the screen. Humans need to challenge themselves and their assumptions in navigation. Even the centre leader recounted a tale where he got lost and found himself thinking, "well these must be the cliffs so I go past these...", and after forcing himself to check against his maps and compass he found that he was in completely the wrong place.  Learn to say no to yourself.

By that time we were starved. Luckily, the food was great at dinner- squash with spinach stew or pork chops. Both were served with roast parsnip and sweet potato mash, then optional sticky toffee pud. Extremely tasty. I went for the squash and didn't end up having cake- sounds insane I know but there was cake in the packed lunches, cake in the afternoon refuel, and cake at dinner too! I was all caked out.

And soup... forgot the soup!


The 8 pm Avalanche talk was also all about psychology. The speaker gave the calculation for avalanche risk as: Hazard (weather, snow conditions) + Party (experience and skills) + Landscape (slope and aspect) = Decision. The inital focus of the lecture was on planning- researching the back weather forecasts (as the previous weather greatly effects avalanche risk), red flag snow types, and rising heat after heavy snowfall and strong winds. Then we were taught to beware slopes of 30-40 degrees (represented by 6-10 contours/cm on map) that face away from the wind direction (as all the deep snow is blown onto these). We also discussed the most dangerous snow type- windslab. This snow breaks in large fractures, and is very weak. You can see it if large clumps crack and fall away together as you step on it. The phrase to remember is: Steep, deep and weak.

But its mostly about humans. Most avalanche accidents are caused by humans. The danger scale begins with humans- avalanches caused by them become likely before natural ones do. Again the question is, are you big enough to say no to yourself or others? Even if you want to get home, or impress the group leader, or prove yourself a mountaineer? Even if you are tired and sore and cold and don't want to check the slope angle? Are you going to be wise enough to say, "guys, this slope is a bad idea". Like in navigation errors, more people caught out on the descent. You also get group and individual human heuristics. Heuristics are dangerous, they are a bad way to make decisions in winter situations. People think, "well loads of people are around". Or experience the familiarity fallacy, "I come here all the time!". There is also wishful thinking based on the level of commitment to the hike, "I'm sure its fiiiine". There are a million of them: its sunny; this is the only day you've got. Groups make particularly bad decisions- the quiet members go underrepresented, peer pressure leads to risk taking, there is competition within the group and between groups, and people are saving face. The instructor told us people literally walk past or through avalanche debris and think, "huh".

If you are worried about avalanche threat where you are: turn around, stop, go home via a safe route. The mountain will be there some other time.

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Check out part 2 next Friday! Sorry this is so long but we learned so much.

Do you hike in winter?

24/02/2015

Eating Out Healthily in Glasgow: Martha's

Martha's is a great addition to the Glasgow food scene. Its entire brief is 'fast food that isn't homogenised muck'. It's healthy fast food.

Both images from the MyMarthas website


I ate... Thai Veggie Curry main box- a box of coconut milk based curry with sweet potato; squash; peas; red lentils; and carrots, served over wild rice. This comes with a side of their special slaw (no thick mayo here, only natural yoghurt and lemon dressing). I also had the C-Moregreen smoothie- spinach, celery, mint, orange and mangos.

Om nom nom nom


Was it expensive?

Martha's isn't too expensive, but it certainly isn't the cheapest option either. Most main boxes are around £5. The dish I ate was £4.95. Its easy to wrack up the money when you get to the tills and see the delicious vegan brownies they sell... The smoothies are also expensive if you sit in, which irks me as they do not have to wash the containers as they are disposed of for every customer (they do recycle them all).

What else was on offer?

As it specialises in healthy food, you would struggle to go particularly unhealthy unless you only ate from the crisps stand.  Martha's has many more 'main box' options- mostly flavoured spiced dishes served over brown rices or noodles. There is a daily main box special. Additionally, any main box can be served as a flatbread wrap instead of over a carbohydrate. They also sell salads, and an ever-changing list of daily soups. Their menu has full calorie and vegetable/fruit content information, along with indications of particular 'superfoods'. There is a huge range for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free eaters.



What did I think?

Martha's food is reliably very tasty; healthy; and flavorful. I do think its advised to take out- the menu is cheaper then, and the atmosphere can be a little sterile, with staff whipping away boxes just after you've taken the final forkful. The cafe does have gorgeous decor, but it is optimised for fast eating. Definitely if you are after a quick lunch with a pile of healthy options, in the centre of town, this is the place to swing by. Its very busy at lunches; but apparently does a mean breakfast too.

To clarify: No one paid me anything in any way, nor was I encouraged, to write about this place. 

20/02/2015

Muay Thai


My office is currently doing an informal 'sport swap'- trying out each other's sports . We are a surprisingly active bunch for such busy folk.  First up was one of the guys in my office, who does Muay Thai and mixed martial arts. On Monday therefore I agreed to head to Muay Thai with him and one other PhD; also a newcomer to the sport.

We rocked up to The Griphouse's Muay Thai Fundamentals class at 8pm- not really knowing  what to wear, what would be expected of us, or how scared to feel. Muay Thai is the Thai national sport. All I knew in advance was that it is a fighting art; one rumored to work very well with very little ceremony. It allows the use of boxing, elbows, knees and kicks and therefore has quite the brutal reputation.

After signing in; we nervously queued in a narrow corridor under the decaying ceiling and bright lights. The Griphouse isn't bothered about decor but has plenty of fighting space (for video tours check out this or this). The class before us was obviously advanced- everyone who came out looked like they were either carved out of marble, or grew up scrapping in alleys. Quite terrifying. Our class was decidedly less solidly built; composed of skinny guys, fitness girls in capris, and many totally average bodies.

The gym smelled exactly like a Bikram studio. What do I mean by that? Well, it smelled entirely of other people's sweat. You just have to get used to it fast. It was a large room, with padded floors and piles of boxing equipment. There was also a ring in one corner for the advanced guys. The odd bleep roared through the air, which is their indication to switch positions. The rest of us listened to Guy the guy- the very friendly, very Scottish, trainer.

Image from the Griphouse website


The first thing to do was to warm up. It was hella' a warm up. Jacks, high knees with forward punches, butt kicks, lunges, single leg deadlifts, squats, and burpees for 10 minutes. No breaks. No mercy. Just do it. Guy definitely kept it on the cheery side of things though- no bootcamp insults here. Then we grabbed a partner. Despite coming as a three, we all somehow got an unknown partner. I was fine with a guy who had only been to a few sessions. My experienced colleague got someone a little less experienced than he was, but not dramatically less. My fellow rookie got the love child of the hulk and Jackie Chan. This guy had blood on his shirt. This guy was built like a brick shithouse. He wasn't from the Griphouse; but he sure as hell shouldn't have been in a fundamentals class!

The first practice was the jab cross- a single punch forward with the left hand, then a more exaggerated counter balanced punch with the right (your left foot is forward on the mat, so your right hand has more momentum behind it when you punch. See a demo here). One person has mitts, the other pads to block them. Your hands always return back up to protect your face.

We did several minutes of that, then added Muay Thai roundhouse kicks (demo) using the left leg. You need to draw the left leg slowly away from front first; as in classic stance your left leg is in front of you- the demo shows it at 1:20 but as a switch. Our instructor said it was better to do it quietly and slowly, as a fast switch means your opponent will notice preparation. These kicks sting your bare skin like a bitch. The closest approximation I can make is it feeling like a belly flop onto water, but on your foot and shin. Slap! The aim is to use your upper body to drive the momentum; along with the pivot off the hip. Listening to the noise some of the more talented attendees were making when they connected with the pads was both inspiring and scary- it sounds like whiplash. We then turned these into a combo- jab, cross, then kick.

We then swapped. The role of the pad holder sounds easy but your shoulders are already wrecked. I needed to keep stretching mine out! The kicks also practically reverberate up your bones if they are well placed. I felt very bad for my colleague under the onslaught of the accidentally chosen martial arts master. He later ended up with bruises all up his arms. I had a taste of this when Guy came to demo the kick to me- the difference in force between him and the amateur was astounding. He actually told me at the end of the class that there is very little strength variation. Its all technique and how much power is therefore actually transferred.

We then switched again and did a jab hook set. This hook is deliberately extended, as its intended to reach an opponent without being close to them. We then did a set of right kicks, exactly as the left above. Most people find this easier as there is no draw back and right legs are often more powerful. We created a c-c-c-c-c-combooo of these, as above, for the third and final section.

Lastly was the warm down. Ha. Ha ha ha. Not a warm down. It was a burpees/push ups set. You do burpees whilst your partner does push ups then switch. Its 20 burpees, 15 burpees, 10 burpees, 5, in a descent style block. With push ups in between all, for however long it takes. By the end I could not even do push ups on my knees.

I really enjoyed trying this sport out. I love meta boxing classes- this may be a great full-body progression. I also enjoy being aggressive if I am honest, its half the fun in sprints. The trainer was fantastic. The class was incredibly busy but he never stopped moving around people, giving technique advice, demonstrating and correcting. I think I spoke to him 5 or so times, which is impressive in a class of over 40 people.

By Wednesday my shoulders ached; I had a bruise on my foot from kicking the pads foot first instead of shin first; I had a bruise on my calf from where my partner accidentally kicked me. And I loved it. So much so that I went back on Thursday! A similar deal but with different punches, a more ab focused workout, and more of a focus on combining moves. A series of mid-quad kicks ensured I will be bruised there too!

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Have you ever tried a martial art?

Do you like aggressive sports?

17/02/2015

Blog Love

So, I read a lot of blogs. It's perhaps a problem. It certainly takes up a lot of time.

I've recently found myself moving away from the 'big' bloggers; and unfollowing them too. I just don't seem to find them that interesting anymore. Too much quick switching of brand alliances. Too many people who don't work and essentially train and blog for a living even though they aren't even approaching elite. Call it snobby, but the ones that inspire me are the typical people making it happen. I thought I would cover some of my favourite bloggers in this crazy running corner of the internet world- why I like them, and suggest a post you should read.

Sarah at Dreaming of Footpaths

Sarah at the Saltmarsh 75


Sarah is standout hilarious. She has a way with similes that always makes me smile, and is very honest about running and life. Her blog is very fitness-focused; which I appreciate. It has just developed a saucy little triathlon twist too, after she completed one triathlon and is gunning for more.

Sarah's standouts to me are her hilarious write ups of typical muddy long runs. This post about running with a furry friend made me smile. I also love her write up of the Thames 50/the time a kayaker overtook her in a race!

Caitlin at FIT AND FEMINIST

Caitlin writes with an excellent worldview. She attacks the distinctly sexist aspects of health, fitness and its surrounding culture. She has run ultras, triathlon, multiple marathons. She generally comes across as the sort of woman I'd love to know. She writes so many posts that make me want to grab her and shout 'YES'. Check her subheader, "Because it takes strong women to smash the patriarchy".

I absolutely loved her 2014 New Years post about the cult of the body.

Graham at Glasgow Tae Somewhere...



The key word I can think of here is authentic. Graham writes about the mountains because he loves them. He covers days in the hills, races (mostly trail or long-distance hill), and (only very occasionally) technical gear. I feel like his voice and his passion comes through in every post. As he would say, its braw. I've also met Graham in real life. He's pretty chuffing braw himself!

I love all of Graham's posts about the mountains. These posts about running in the alps make the wanderer in me very jealous.

Sarah at Goldilocks Running



Another Sarah! I can't help it; Sarahs in general are so ace. Sarah started off as a talented little road runner, graduated into being a talented marathoner, and is now a triathlete working it all out on the bike. She's also a busy almost-doctor. I love her blog, and the girl herself is also fantastic. She is honest, charming, and does an awesome internet round up on a Sunday.

Sarah's post about her word for 2015 made me feel really proud of her!

Rhona at Redwinerunner

Rhona At the Hoka Highland Fling


Rhona is a northern belle. Funny, smart, sarcastic (how I like my women). An ultrarunner by nature; she has run some great Scottish races. Rhona's blog is another that is remarkably free of advertisement and agenda. Rhona mostly posts race reports but has started blogging about her West Highland Way race training schedule too.

I really enjoy Rhona's ultra write ups; like this one about the Hoka Highland Fling.

Emily at Sweat Once A Day

Emily is the only comparatively 'large' blogger that makes this list. That's because, aside from the odd joke about her work with a brewery and a few references to Oiselle, I know nothing about her life details. She doesn't fill her blog with froyo. Emily is a very good ultrarunner and posts the most beautiful photos of Oregon and the mountains.

For my favourite post, I'm going to go for her account of running the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim trail.

Autumn at Tinyrunner

Autumn setting her half marathon PB (and winning the race!)


Autumn is another runner that I badly wish I could meet in real life. Very real, very genuine, very funny. She's currently writing some very informative posts on the things people overlook in marathon training. She is also a supreme snapchatter.

I would vote her best post as the account of running an 89 minute half marathon- what a machine!

Candice at Wild

Candice is the dream. A wild, dirtbag, ultrarunner who practices what she preaches. She is also a race director of several 200 milers. Because 100mi just was not enough. Candice is a keen yogi, which reminds me that yoga is important and useful, and a pretty incredible athlete.

My favourite posts are the accounts of running the Wonderland trail around Mt Rainer. That is a dream. It makes me want to run away.

There are many, many, other bloggers whom I love, but I will save those names for another day. I particularly love that the blogging community I've become a part of also interacts in other ways- on Twitter, by email. I feel like many of these people have become friends. I feel glad to be part of this community.

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Do you have any blog suggestions for me? 

Who are your favourite bloggers? Why?

13/02/2015

AW14/15 Fitness Wardrobe

Here's one for the fitness fashion lovers. Everyone else, you have my permission to look away and I will shout you back if I post something serious. I had all the opinions last week, so this week is all fluff pieces (kidding!)...

Now, I'm not particularly picky about my day to day look, but I do like looking good in certain situations. If anything, I am much pickier about my fitness fashion than my day to day officewear- Well, I do spend a lot of time in exercise clothes! And occasionally this lycra does end up worn in the office too...

I thought I would highlight some of my winter training clothes and talk about some of the features that make them work for me. This is not all of my fitness clothing, just the much-loved and much-worn pieces.

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Before I begin, this post was well-timed (it was already in the draft stage) because last week Sweaty Betty very kindly sent me the gift of a new running outfit*. It is gorgeous, so I thought I'd review it properly. I love new kit! My friends always take the piss because I need to wear new things immediately. This was no exception and has so far been worn: in my office, on a hill walk, on a long run, to strength train, to do Pilates, and to go to FlyFlexFlow class. It has been washed several times, I promise.






The top is the Pulse Training Top. Its a great spring green/turquoise colour (the website calls it 'mazarine green', Google tells me this is a butterfly breed), with bright coral accents. Like many SB tops it has thumb loopholes, a handy back pocket, and is a longer length- coming close to mid-butt. Its similar to the chill resistor top but doesn't have a fleecy inner lining. Instead, the inner is raw and the outer smooth and soft. Its a merino wool mix so should function as a great base layer. There are also reflective strips at several areas and the seam line placements are extremely flattering. I was a little worried the raw inner edges would rub, but they haven't at all and are much softer than they look. I feel like I'd walk past this top in the store, but as an item to wear its absolutely great, so if you do see it give it a chance!

The leggings are the Slider Training Tight. The material is sensational- velvety without being actual velvet, so it feels great from all directions. I squeaked when I opened the package and saw these, as I had been lusting after the pattern since the SS15 launch. May cause office sexual harassment: three of my colleagues were stroking my legs in the office on Friday... but hey who cares with leggings like these! I adore the pattern; which somehow manages to be both a graphic and watercolour print. Great colour mix too- teal and violet. The waistband is very wide and very comfortable, with a large hidden pocket along the back. They also make your legs and bum look fantastic. I fancy me in these. If I had to be picky and say something bad, I'd note that the very end of the tights were looser on the leg (below the calf muscle). However, this was not at all uncomfortable and still looked great. They also apparently run a little long, but at 5ft 8" this was not an issue.



Thank you so much to Sweaty Betty- what a gift!

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Now onto my pre-existing lycra! No links are affiliate, they are all just for information. Those without links aren't available anymore, I tried to provide similar when I could.

Please note, not side flab- its a bit of the wall!
I actually had no running capri pants until this Christmas (2014). I decided to buy myself some when I saw this super cute MPG (Mondetta Performance Gear) pair in TKMaxx and then, less than a week later, received some from my lovely S.O.'s mum in the form of Skins capris. Oh well, both are great. The Skins ones seem like they are going to be super transparent during dressing, but aren't once on. The MPG are completely perfect. If I had to choose, the MPG are slightly more comfy, but that's because the Skins are compression wear. I don't usually go for florals, but love their watercolour print too.

I obviously don't usually wear just a sports bra with these but wanted to make sure the waist detail was obvious. The bra is the Nike Victory Adjust X-Back bra. Its perhaps a little too un-supportive for fast running but its comfortable and supportive enough for the other workouts I do. I only have one running jacket- a Puma. Its pretty great but I wish it had a hood. It does the job though, I stay warm and dry without being bathed in sweat and without chafe marks. I don't wear it that often as I tend to under- instead of over-dress for the weather!



I only have a few pairs of leggings, nonetheless I found it impossible to decide which were my favourites when thinking about this post. Like choosing a favourite child. I love the Sweaty Betty (SB) marl Pace Run Tight (+), which are exceptionally comfortable- wide waistband, great pocket, a super-cute pattern. My most regularly worn top is this plain Nike Miler long sleeve, although it frequently maddens me how short it is in the torso. It appears that this doesn't effect the new design (as linked) though- mine is v. old. The headband is a gorgeous plaited wool one that my SO's mum got me. It isn't specifically for sport but it keeps my ears warm!

Yes, my ribs stick out a ton.


The Nike twist leggings in yellow/grey are another favourite, as I just think they look fantastic. They are however not that cosy... and the yellow stripe on the bum is transparent. I recently bought the SB Ultra Run Bra and I'm loving it. Their back bands run a little small but it is very supportive- the boobs hardly move once they are womanhandled in. Despite being tight, it is completely unnoticeable once on. I'm glad I splashed out and bought it. Again, I'd wear a vest or top over it but wanted to show everyone what I meant!



I have the Nike twisted tempo in two colours - grey/black and red/black. These shorts really are cool, and I find them a much more comfortable and flattering shape than the classic Nike tempos, which are sometimes a little nappy-ish. The twisted tempos need body glide on long sweaty outings. I also have the SB chill resistor long sleeve (+) which is soft, long and flattering.

I like to call this one 'the rapture'


The SB Body Map Thermal Tights (+); are currently out of rotation unless I'm up hills or its 6am as they really are thermal. I also have the SB Body Map thermal long sleeve (+), which is well designed for thermal warmth with ventilation, but sadly is shorter in length than the chill resistor. The headband is similar to previous but is a great bright teal.

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Conclusions: So the vast majority of the stuff I have purchased and/or loved is from just two brands: Sweaty Betty and Nike. I think both have fantastic design - how they look and how they perform. SB tends to be a little girlier, whilst Nike sticks to graphic prints. SB has longer top lengths, which I prefer. MPG is one of the brands I will keep an eye on in the future- great design and fit in the pieces I have used and it can be bought cheaply at TK Maxx.

I have been disappointed by Adidas in the past; with see-through leggings and an extremely confusing website- particularly useless in the domain of sizing (their swimsuits are sized by chest size by the way. It doesn't say this anywhere), and delivery (no notification until after order that they deliver by UPS so need a signature. Sad as the leggings are a great design. They also package tiny things in HUGE waste-of-paper packages). I haven't tried many other brands, obsessed as I am with high-end.  I did buy F21 shorts once but, whilst cute, they rode up massively. They're in the charity shop box.

Overall it seems that the following things are most important to me in buying running kit:

  • Comfort & Fit: They shouldn't rub, dig in, fall down, flap about... or any other uncomfortable and distracting verbs you can think of.I like soft, close fitting leggings.
  • Style: I like graphic prints more than anything. I prefer my sportswear not to be pink-washed. I like tops that are a little longer; shorts at a flattering length, and leggings that are tight to the leg. I like flattering (who doesn't).
I appreciate the kit I have is pricier, but its good quality/value and I buy expensive so that it will last and look good. I exercise 5-6 days a week in various ways, so I really do use the kit a lot and the price per wear ends up a lot lower than that of a night out dress!

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What kit aspects are important to you?

What are some of your favourite pieces of kit? Why?

* This outfit was c/o Sweaty Betty; because they are total and complete babes and asked if they could send me a gift. They did not ask me to do anything at all in exchange. I just wanted to post about it because I love it! Therefore all of the posts or social media links are my doing only, this post was not sponsored or requested by the company and is just my honest opinion.
+ The crosses indicate kit I was given by companies and did not purchase. The only kit covered by that + was the set of SB AW14 clothes discussed in this post. All other kit was purchased by myself.


PS: Taking photos of oneself being all fashiony is super awks. Couldn't have done it without my beaut camera-woman. I apologise to anyone on Park Circle we accidentally flashed whilst changing. Please enjoy the below outtakes...