Five top tips to beat dark thoughts

“A great cause of the night is lack of the sun….”*

Our latest in the series of mindfulness offers Five Top Tips to beat dark thoughts….

1: Relaxing with candles, gentle music and soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salts can help to draw out toxins through the pores and aid a good night’s sleep. It can also help to dispel dark thoughts. The bathroom here is a Fidget design at the Cedar Manor Hotel 

Coach House suite bathroom small

2: Have an adventure. A change is as good as a rest. Go away somewhere, maybe just for a weekend or a month or more. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are taking yourself out of your normal environment and you are totally immersed in exploring somewhere new. If money is tight, stay with family or friends and maybe even reconnect with old pals. Adventures can be small ones, you don’t have to climb every mountain.

3: Become a dancing queen or king. Even just watching that sequence will lift the spirits. It’s fun, enjoyable and exercise. You could take up classes in salsa or tango, or just dance around the kitchen while cooking dinner.

4: Try writing it out of your system. I tried a creative writing workshop for the first time, and the different ways in which we applied each exercise proved to be excellent at focusing the mind and making me think in a different way. The quality and creativity that I produced at just a one-day day workshop was amazing. And follow the most inspiring wordsmith @RobGMacfarlane on Twitter for his word of the day

5: But do seek help if things are getting too much. If you have never had depressive symptoms before, you don’t necessarily understand what’s going on. If you feel overwhelmed, helpless, despair, can’t think straight, can’t make decisions, can’t be bothered, feel anti-social, tearful, think introspectively a lot and feel low, then you should go and talk to your GP.

*Shakespeare: As You Like It





This above all: to thine own self be true*


This week we look at the conflicting demands of technology that are a barrier to mindful living

Is your phone is constantly, pinging, whistling and demanding your attention, day and night? This is very distracting and not good for your brain, as it is constantly being bombarded with ‘splinters’ of information, some of which is utter drivel and quite frankly useless bits of information.

Manage your tech interactions and take control by switching the sound alerts to silent for the various social media sites. Then you simply allocate specific times of the day to dip in and have a look. This applies to emails too, in order to improve your productivity, personally or in business. Set your boundaries, be committed and manage it properly.

bath text

Sometimes you need to switch off the tech altogether. Phones, iPads, computers and TVs are all visually and audibly stimulating. They should be switched off at least an hour before bed, to let the brain calm and get off to sleep, particularly for kids. It’s recommended that children should only be on tech for a maximum of two hours a day. It is also suggested that we should not sleep with tech on the bedside, due to radio waves interfering with the brain waves and development. Research is under way on this but why not choose to be on the safe side. If you use for phone as an alarm, put it outside your bedroom door, or in another room, and buy an alarm clock.

Poor memory? Foggy brain? About to say something…and ‘poof’ it’s gone? This is because your brain is overloaded and simply doesn’t need to remember non-essential things. It can also be age or menopause related. If you are concerned about this go and talk to your GP.

Otherwise, learn the value of the –to-do list. If you are struggling to remember things, use to do lists on your phone or a small note pad.

But if you don’t manage to be perfect, don’t beat yourself up. Research, understand and make changes. Stuff in life happens. Official stats say that one in four of us will suffer a mental health event at some point in our lives.  But we are more aware of it and have a better understanding, which can only be good for everyone.

If you still feel your job is stressful, then remember that life is not a rehearsal, and we are only on this planet once. Do yourself a huge favour and consider making a change. This can be very scary but can literally be life changing, put a spring in your step, the love back in life and you may be a much nicer person to be around. Life is too short.

Maybe it’s time to give something back? Ever wonder why you feel good when you have helped someone? That’s because the endorphin release in your brain is massive. So volunteering for a good cause or helping some needy people, can have huge feelgood benefits. It’s also contagious. If you help, then people like to help in return.

And instead of staring at a screen….relax in front of a fire, watch the flames and listen to the crackles. If you don’t have a real fire, go find one in a cosy pub and relax. This is great mindfulness.




“Our bodies are our gardens…”*

This week’s post about mindfulness takes a walk into the garden

There are all sorts of theories behind “grounding”. I occasionally go out into my garden and walk on the wet or dewy grass, because I like how it feels on my feet, I think about it and enjoy the sensation, just walking around the garden. This is mindfulness.

walking on grass

Be happy in yourself. Why do some people feel they have to ‘prove’ themselves, be demonstrable, confrontational or point the finger? When you are asked something or perhaps even be criticised, be confident in your own conviction, rather than argue back feeling like you have to raise a point. Simply reply with ‘Yes, I’m happy with what we are doing/ the decision I have made/ where I am at…’ etc… This can both defuse a situation and also say, in a polite way, it’s none of their business anyway.

Play music. Anything you love and makes you feel good, though preferably something upbeat or calming, (not thrash metal, then), even when you’re in the garden or hanging out the washing. Just as helpful, try listening to a podcast, a story or interesting talk show, or an audio book. This can be a very positive experience.

But a note of caution: avoid sound overload. Don’t have multiple sounds, music, tech, iPads, TV all going at the same time, easier said than done when you have kids. Contemporary open plan living is very social, but needs to have noise boundaries. So for everyone’s sake, don’t overload the brain with clashing music and noise. Manage it in a calm way, by allocating kids to other rooms and / or implementing time frames.

And don’t forget to laugh! Just by laughing more endorphins are released, so naturally it’s good for combating stress and rebuilding neurones. Laughing is contagious. Research shows that in work areas where employees laugh and enjoy play time, productivity increases, defensiveness decreases and teamwork improves.

*”Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners.” Iago, in Shakespeare’s Othello




“Lay aside life-harming heaviness…”*


In the second of my musings on mindfulness, let’s start with the physical. Exercise is really good for combating stress, anxiety and depression as it releases the feel good endorphines, increases neurone production and combats cortisol production. So start the day with some Pilates stretches on the living room floor

Avoid emotional triggers, whether it’s a violent movie or one that makes you blubber. Put any potential confrontational situations at arm’s length if appropriate, or deal with it if you have to, then box it off and move on. You may then need to do some meditation, mindfulness or read to really take your mind off the problem and calm the anxiety reaction.

Take time to learn meditation and breathing exercises, which can be hugely beneficial in calming the mind, or try a Sound Bath, a form of relaxation through music vibrations.

sound bath

Understanding yourself and what you are dealing with is an essential part of healing yourself. For a lighthearted but fascinating read try Sane New World – Taming the mind by Ruby Wax and her second book Frazzled which is equally brilliant.

Cuddling, stroking and talking to a pet is very calming and good for mindfulness. And if you have a dog the exercise is great too. But if it’s needed,  CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) can be very beneficial if you have some issues (past or current) or stress triggers that you are struggling to deal with. It may be an incident that happened in the past, which is putting up barriers and stopping you from moving forward in personal or business life. Talk to your GP about this.

And finally, try to avoid being reactionary. If you are stressed or anxious you already have a heightened level of adrenaline, so a relatively minor passing comment can irritate and annoy you. STOP. Do not react straight away. Think about what has been said, then try and look at it from the other person’s perspective and why did they say or do that.. If it’s a text or email, read it several times as you can sometimes miss inferences or even words, that may affect how you react. Go away and think about it. Then if you need to reply or comment, do so in a calm, understanding, non-inflammatory way, saying ‘I do understand, perhaps….”. This quite often can defuse a situation from the outset, and reduce your own adrenaline reaction.

*Lay aside life-harming heaviness: Richard ii



To sleep, perchance to dream

Mindfulness – where the likes of Philippe Starck, Prince Harry and Ruby Wax converge, because mindfulness needs to be about mindful living. And as a designer who has worked with people at all extremes of the stress-level spectrum, it seems right to put some ideas into action.

For the next few weeks I’ll present a series of short blogs which might help….beginning with the most important need in all our lives: good sleep.

townhouse bedroom

Do you wake during the night and can’t get back to sleep? Instead of fighting it, get up and go to  make a warm drink (without caffeine – decaf tea or just hot water) and snuggle up on the sofa with a duvet and watch some quiet and calming TV. No horror movies or anything that will trigger adrenaline. This should take your mind off whatever thoughts keep playing in your head. Eventually you’ll feel sleepy and switch off, back to bed. Or you could read, or listen to a meditation app,  whatever makes you concentrate on the here and now, and switches the chatter off in your brain.

I read before I go to sleep… until I’m falling asleep. Other ideas include burning a few bay leaves on a plate to reduce anxiety; they smell great too. And of course yoga is great for detoxing, meditating and calming the mind as well as the body.

However busy your day, it’s really important to get some ‘me time’ perhaps with a friend so you can chat about stuff (problems or not, preferably fun things to talk about). Too much time alone, even when out for a walk, can lead to ruminating and dwelling on your problems. So better to share your walk and be less introspective.

Do something mindful that you enjoy. Take up a hobby that makes you spend an hour or half hour concentrating solely on that thing. It could be art, playing an instrument, knitting, making something, model making, colouring by numbers, or trying out a new recipe. This helps to rebuild neurones in the brain which counteracts the cortisol produced by the amygdala gland in your brain, which tells the body to send out adrenaline. Cortisol is your stress chemical for inducing ‘flight or fight’ and it can get into a pattern of being easily triggered, so you need to break that cycle. It’s not a quick fix, you need to have faith and just stick at it for many months to really feel the benefits.

four poster pic

Four poster bed design by Fidget for the award-winning Cedar Manor Hotel at Windermere

Which brings us back to good quality sleep. If your partner, is a noisy snorer or restless, this can wake you and your brain chatter switches on. If you don’t get enough sleep, you feel sluggish and thoughts can become unreasonable, situations can blow out of proportion. On occasions it may be worth sleeping in another bed or another room or even on the sofa if necessary. As long as you are comfy, not too hot or cold and get some quality undisturbed sleep.


A birthday tribute to the queen of design

You know the bold chevron and geometric patterns that are everywhere now? Well, guess who started that trend? Yes, Mary Quant back in the fifties and swinging sixties, along with block panels of colour and bold stripes. I reckon stripes will be coming back in soon, too.


Mary Quant was the first ‘designer’ I was ever aware of when I was just eight, introduced to me by my mother. Even though she was highly successful and at the height of her career a couple of decades before I was born, I was captivated and blown away by this bold graphic style, bright colours and of course the iconic stylised daisy logo.


Me and (above) my style guru…..

Mary, who studied Illustration at Goldsmiths College London, was a self taught designer, a game changer in the fashion world. She opened her first store in 1955, Bazaar, on the Kings Road in London and frequented by the Chelsea Set – a group of young artists, film directors and socialites interested in exploring new ways of living. Her cutting-edge designs were on the covers of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, and she mixed with the new trendsetters in society, the Rolling Stones, Beatles and photographer David Bailey.

With her cottage-industry approach, the rails at Bazaar were continually refreshed with short runs of new designs, satisfying the customers’ hunger for fresh, unique looks at competitive prices.

She also offered a radically different shopping experience with loud music, free drinks, witty window displays and extended opening hours creating a ‘scene’ that often kept going late into the evening. Young women travelled to Bazaar to enjoy shopping for ‘something different’ in a much less formal environment.

Quant’s first collections were strikingly modern in their simplicity, and very wearable. Pairing short tunic dresses with tights in bright, stand-out colours – scarlet, ginger, prune and grape – she created a bold, high-fashion version of the practical outfits she’d worn as a child at school and at dance classes. She’s also said to have invented the mini-skirt.

By 1957 demand for Quant’s clothes had led to the opening of a second Bazaar store on the King’s Road, in a space designed by Terence Conran. 

In 1966 she was awarded an OBE for services to British fashion and in 1990 she was awarded the prestigious Hall of Fame Award by the British Fashion Council, recognising her outstanding contribution to British fashion, and became a Dame in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list.

 In 2006 Quant’s iconic mini-skirt was included in a range of stamps by Royal Mail celebrating a decade of iconic British design alongside images of Concorde, the Mini car, the anglepoise lamp, the red telephone box, the Routemaster bus and the London Underground Map.

Mary also invented hot pants and was the first to use plastic coated fabrics and PVC with her ‘wet look’ fashions, and the fabulous Mondrian boots which, as shoe addict, I simply adore and would love to get my hands on a pair.

Go Go Girls arrived with their Go Go Boots and the Daddy Long-leg boots with their zip off leg section turning them into ankle boots. Her fashionable rain boots made of the new high gloss plastic fabrics were described as ‘waterproof, durable and indestructible’.

From the late 70s onwards, the business moved into mass-production high quality womenswear, alongside coordinated interior designs for British manufacturing company ICI, including bedlinen, carpets, paint and wallpaper, diffusion ranges such as swimwear, hosiery, jewellery, the Daisy fashion doll, and popular ‘Paintbox’ make up brand and skincare products.

When I was a teenager I wore baggy orange T-shirt dresses, black and white striped tights and monkey boots. I hadn’t realised the ‘modern day’ link with Mary Quant until I look back now, but it was to go on and influence me all through my life as my own design career unfolded.

As a professional designer, the eye catching stripes have never left my side, both in interiors and graphically in branded design. I love the simple shapes, beautiful proportions and clean lines which portray a confident image.

Mary’s style is still influencing today with over 300 Quant cosmetic stores in Japan, and the likes of Boden clothing, Alessi design products… and my own Fidget Design.

Mary Quant… Eighty four years young and still going strong. I salute you!


How to use colour therapy as spring approaches

Spring is on the way, one of my favourite times of the year, as colour comes back into our lives. But how well can you handle colour?

Audrey Hepburn, who was never seen in mis-matching colours, took the theme for her whole life, and would eat by colour to maintain a good balanced diet. But apart from eating your greens – and blues – you need to know how to use colour confidently in design.

audrey hepburn

Putting together complementary colours and creating a balance of hues, and the strength of colour, can make or break the look you are wanting to achieve.

A quick science lesson: colour is derived from the spectrum of light and has three components – lightness, saturation, and hue.  With these components, we get the theory of colour.  The lightness is based on light versus dark, or white versus black.  Saturation is based on the brightness v dullness, or warmth v coolness of the colour. Hues are what make the colour we see and name.

What matters more to us is the impact of colour. There is actually a treatment – chromatherapy – which uses the effect of colour to bring about physical and other changes, and has proven health benefits. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right colours to have around us. But what’s “right” is always personal preference.

So even though I love spring, and gardens filled with bright yellow daffodils, I don’t particularly like yellow as a colour. But it is making an impact on the design scene now, and there are ways to warm to it. For me, it has to be muted tones like mustard yellow, or soft creamy custard. My entrance hall is a very rich petrol blue, and to add some spring colour zest I’ve added complimentary muted yellow accents.

How do you add the right splashes of colour to give vibrancy and balance? Simple touches can create a stunning effect, and adding colour to your interiors can really enhance the enjoyment of your space, whether it’s energising, uplifting or calming. Do you know, for example, that prison cells now tend to be painted a soft pink for its calming effect on the inmates?

In commercial environments colour can be really exploited to create visual impact and draw the eye, enhancing a company’s visual branding, but this would not necessarily be applied in the same way for your home, where you’re living with the effect day after day..

A version of this article first appeared in Lancashire Life magazine


A bold approach to planning in our world heritage site

calatrava in new york

How bold can we be, Windermere?

Whatever else we think about the genius of William Wordsworth, he was the man who deemed that the railway line should not be extended further into the Lakes than Windermere.

And the millions of visitors who have travelled here by train since have emerged at a station which is really little changed since Wordsworth’s day. (Reminder: he lived from 1770  till April 1850.)

Now, I know that those millions of visitors (from all over the world) love going to see where Wordsworth lived at Rydal Mount, to see the couch on which he lay in pensive mood to write his poem about daffodils, and see the garden that he planned.  But as TRAVELLERS perhaps they need to see something more up to date at Windermere station.

There have been some changes, of course: the original train station is now part of Booths supermarket. The current train station has been redesigned/refurbished and extended a couple of times since then, and it fought off plans to close it altogether at one stage.

So rejoice at the plans to transform it into a gateway fit for the World Heritage site that the Lake District is now.

Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, working with the Lake District National Park Authority and other organisations, is exploring options for enhancing Windermere Railway Station to increase its current capacity, and improve access.

Proposals include measures to improve access to and from the station for all modes of transport, including the local bus network, helping to increase links to local attractions and businesses and improve onward travel to the lake and other destinations.

Great! But what will it look like? Wouldn’t it be marvellous if the planners used some imagination and designed and created a gateway worthy of the best in the world?  I offer to you, planners, the inspiration of Santiago Calatrava. He’s the Spanish architect, structural engineer, sculptor and painter, known for his bridges, his museums, stadiums and …. railway stations. Like this one here below in New York, Oculus, designed to bring light down into the subterranean rail station and shopping centre.

calatrava in new york

His best-known works include the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Turning Torso tower in Malmö, Sweden, the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas, Texas, and his largest project, the City of Arts and Sciences and Opera House, in his birthplace, Valencia.

So, Lakes planners, be bold, think big, and look outside of your comfort zone when planning a gateway which will welcome the world. We can create our own dramatic interpretation, that element of the sculptural, while using local materials. And as the Lakeland HQ next door proves, it’s possible to be sensitive AND contemporary.

Meanwhile, anyone interested in the history of railways in the Lakes, and in particular, the part they played in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons stories, will enjoy this


Ready for Romance?

As we creep thankfully towards the end of January, our thoughts turn to…love.

February is the month of St Valentine, and romance is all about stimulating the senses, of course, so here we might have something to learn from Neanderthal man, the first Romantic guy. He had it all worked out.

So let’s get down to some Neanderthal basics; we need to get the combination right for our five senses. Each one of our senses is a trigger for creating a wonderful memory. For example, a real fire – as Neanderthal man knew well – can help relaxation and reduce blood pressure.

Not just supposition, it’s now medically proven. Scientists have discovered a link between a burning fire in the hearth and a “significant” reduction in blood pressure. Flickering flames, combined with the crackle and roar of burning logs, possess a hypnotic calming effect.

Fires also “cement” a bond between individuals sitting next to them. The University of Alabama study may also go a long way to explaining the recent surge in popularity of wood burning stoves, whose sales have risen 300 per cent in recent years.

And of course, fire also provides, heat, light, a means of cooking and encourages people to gather and be sociable. The perfect ingredients for romance.

You can find the right setting for Valentine’s Day at my favourite romantic hotel and restaurant, the Cedar Manor in Windermere. Favourite not least because I designed the bedrooms!

Short on cash but big on love?  Invite him or her to dinner by sending a real love letter – not a text, not an email.

Set the table beautifully. Recreate a romantic restaurant feel, using crisp linen table cloths and napkins, add some sparkle with napkin rings, polished chrome goblets and silver candle holders. Flood the room with tealights.

Write your own poem or a special message around the edge of the plate using a Sharpie pen. Hold hands across the table. Then snuggle down on the sofa against our Love District range of cushions..

The key to romance, you see, is being impulsive and aiming to surprise. Happy planning!


Beating the January blues with interior ideas


New year, same old house. Alison Tordoff suggests some sensory treats to lift the January blues

The decorations are down, and it’s dull and grey inside and out, but your home should be warm and inviting in January. It can be done, but you do need a couple of new year resolutions.

Firstly, clear out the clutter. Unless it has sentimental value, anything that’s not been used for six months should be boxed up, recycled or taken to the charity shop. And that includes clothes.

Use storage with cupboards, blanket chests, tea chests, storage boxes or ottomans.  Making spaces feel more streamlined has a big impact on your emotions. You feel calmer, more organised and energised.

Second, get yourself out for a brisk walk. It’s all too easy to hibernate in winter, but fresh air and some exercise will get the blood flowing, and inspire new ideas.

So here are ten top tips to brighten your home life this month.

  1. Draw the eye to the main focus of your living room, perhaps illuminating a piece of art you can drift away in, or a warming fire.
  2. Don’t put all the Christmas lights away. Last year I was so fed up with the dull grey and wet weather, I kept my main dining room twinkles in place and they’ve been there all year, ready for decorating again with the kids this Christmas.
  3. Always use warm-white LED lamps, especially in nooks and niches to introduce more dynamic pockets of lighting.
  4. Around the house, try mood enhancing LED colour changing or SAD lights, such as those by Mathmos.
  5. You can introduce warm and zesty tones into all rooms, with art and soft furnishings that can be swapped around each season.
  6. You might not want a big decorating project, so what about a feature wall in a room that’s otherwise full of neutral tones? You could paint it a different colour, or use wallpaper on one wall.
  7. Use plants, and bring some greenery indoors. You could make a grouping like a small indoor garden, or if you are feeling adventurous, install a green wall.
  8. Look for inspiration and new ideas, in local galleries, stately homes, hotels, magazines.
  9. TV can become moving wallpaper over Christmas. Try turning it off, and even moving it to a less focal part of the room, then listen to some music instead. I’m lucky – I have my own resident acoustic guitarist.
  10. Escape to the bathroom, light candles around the bath, and soak with a bath tea bag by Bespoke Aroma, made locally – and organically – in the Lakes.

This article first appeared in Lancashire Life magazine