Monday, 5 December 2016

Catfish - Our Experience

So we may be slightly obsessed with Catfish the TV show. Have you seen it?

Our love of Catfish (and Nev and Max) has made us slightly more wary of online followers, but in this day and age, safety is paramount - so we don't think that's a bad thing.

From the Urban Dictionary:
The phenomenon of internet predators that fabricate online identities and entire social circles to trick people into emotional/romantic relationships (over a long period of time).
Possible motivations: revenge, loneliness, curiosity, boredom

Here's the thing - Laura is too nice. I mean that in the nicest way, but online you have to be slightly less nice and slightly more wary. I am writing this post as a cautionary tale and not to scare. Take it or leave it, your choice, but I thought it was an experience worth sharing.

Our blog has first and foremost been a space to share what's going on with us with anyone who is interested. It started as a project for our family abroad and has grown and evolved in a number of different of directions. The full story of our lives can be tracked through the blog - but at a highlight level in most cases. Couple this with our Instagram and you get a more daily dose of us :) add in Twitter and you'll find I love a good rant about trains and a re-tweet of anything LGBT related, and finally if you want even more of us you can head to our Facebook page that keeps track of all posts.

We may be slightly over-exposed online, but as it's all managed centrally it's easy for us to update and we have different audiences on each social media platform so it works well for us.

We don't know if Facebook, as the most established platform, has the widest viewer range, or if it is easy to find our page. It doesn't really matter. On Facebook you can receive public messages and over the years we have received the loveliest messages, photo-shopped images of us and on occasion some hatred. In the main though it has been positive so we have left the option open to message us.

However, when people start searching and adding our personal Facebook accounts I personally draw the line, unless we know the person pretty well from an online point of view. Laura is a little more open and has accepted friend requests in the past. In most cases this has been absolutely fine but in the case of one individual this allowed contact on a whole new level.

Instagram is also a source of random messages. Again our experiences have been both positive and negative but on this platform to a more extreme level. The positives are that we have made and met genuinely amazing friends through firstly comments on pics, then moving to messaging before eventually meeting up.  The negatives are the number of accounts that spam us or are created just to send homophobic abuse.

It was on Instagram that our catfish story begins.

A few weeks ago, a new account was created to send us a message saying 'you are disgusting gross gays'. We ignored the message and a few days later the same account commented on a  picture saying 'can I ask you a question'. On seeing the comment we deleted it, and decided to block the account.

The next week a new account started following us that looked to be posting photos of photos, and a lot of the same photos. There is nothing wrong with that, but we noticed as it seemed odd. In this day and age posting a photo straight from a phone is almost easier that taking a picture of a photo. We thought nothing more of it until the account started posting 'can I ask you question' on our pictures. This account was very complimentary, but then started messaging us on Instagram asking us to email them. It was all a bit strange.

It just so happened that at the same time the random who had added Laura and subsequently me on Facebook started sending the same message via FB messenger. The only thing was that the person on Facebook was a man. The Instagram account was a lesbian, posting photos of her and her girlfriend.

Loving Nev's face!
As similar messages kept coming from both accounts, we decided we needed to investigate. We tried reverse searching the Instagram photos on Google search (thanks Catfish The TV Show).....nothing. On the hunch that it was the same person, we tried to look through his friends, but came up short again. Then Laura had the long shot idea to look through the guy's photos on Facebook, and lo and behold there he was with the girl from the Instagram account.

A quick search on her FB page showed she was very much with a guy and the tone and style of writing didn't match our messages. A scroll further and the same guy who had friended us had commented 'can I ask you a question'.

Boom! We had our confirmation that this guy was behind the lesbian Instagram account.

We Facebook messaged the girl to let her know about the Instagram account and she had it promptly shut down. It turned out that guy had been harassing her and her family on social media and so she had blocked him. The Instagram account was potentially revenge.

We then followed suit and blocked the guy on every platform we could.

It is not clear what the reason for contacting us was, why emailing him was a requirement or if there was any malice. It started as fairly innocent messaging and didn't go into anything inappropriate (although we have had a few of those requests) but it does show that you have to be careful.

In the case of this girl the Instagram set up with her photos was following 500+ accounts, mostly lesbian couples. We know that he was messaging at least one other account and had commented on other photos. It's just awful to think her identity was being associated with something she had nothing to do with.

Having watched Catfish we know that it could have been way worse. As in most cases, the guy was probably lonely. The stories he had made up were easy to pull apart and while we tried to be kind the messaging was an interference. We don't message our family as often as he messaged us.
We hope that he learns from this, hopefully the account was shut down before anyone else got involved but please be careful with who you message with and reply to. If there is cause for concern, don't ignore it. Most importantly if you suspect the images on an account don't belong to the person, tread carefully.

Have you ever been catfished?

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Eness cosmetics - perfect gifts!

How's your Christmas prep going?!

We have the tree up, everything else is a work in progress but the tree is up! Thankfully we have finally been paid.....was November a super long month for anyone else? And so the shopping can begin.

A while ago we were invited to check out a new store opening in Birmingham - Eness. The easiest comparison to make is that it is like a Bodyshop, except way less overwhelming and prices are much better value. The store is divided in ranges and then each range is divided into products, so if you love a flavour you can buy the whole range of products easily.

It's all so pretty
Products include nail cream, hand cream, body powder, body lotion, tissue oil, deodorant, foam bath, body wash, body spray, soaps, hand wash and scented candles. They have a men's range too. Body lotions start at £4.50, nail creams £3.50, Body Butters £5, tissue oils £6 - all affordable in our book.
The prettiest range of all

We thought now would be an appropriate time to mention the store in case you were looking for any family friendly gifts for Christmas (or any occasion). We ended up bringing home the Strawberry body lotion, some Rose Tissue oil (great for scars / stretch marks etc) and the Diamonds body lotion because it was so pretty. The products smell delicious and have lasted really well.

Eness are a ethically responsible company that focus on making products without cruelty. To the earth or to animals. Even better because the company actually work to protect black rhino's so your purchases support a greater good!  

You can check out the full range available and the Christmas deals on the website here! (See if you can spot yours truly on the news page!)

Birmingham is their first UK store and it's well worth checking out if you are in the city, but they have plans to expand - not that you need to wait as you can buy online. Perfect for Christmas - see :)

Anyway if you try it let us know and if you have any great idea for gifts or shops to check out leave a comment - we love random suggestions!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Magical Lantern Festival Birmingham

It's almost Christmas right? Well Birmingham is certainly in full festive mode. The German market is up and open in the city centre. The Christmas lights have all been turned on in the surrounding areas. And now the Botanical Gardens are glowing with lanterns. It's all so pretty.

This is actually the first year the Magical Lantern Festival is in Birmingham (there are also events in Leeds and London). It officially opens on the 25th of November but we were lucky enough to attend the preview night.

Covering the 15 acre site at the Botanical Gardens a trail guides you from display to display. The set up is gorgeous and when you aren't looking at the beautiful lights you are able to enjoy the stunning surroundings. We will be back to check out the Botanical Gardens during the day at some point!

There is a clear Chinese theme, so keep your eyes peeled for the star signs and pandas. You'll also spot Santa. And in true Birmingham fashion there is even a bull just like the one outside the Bull Ring.

Our favourite was the fairy dress for sheer beauty and scale it was impressive. 

These are just a small selection of the lanterns on display as we didn't want to show everything in case you do go.

There is plenty of food available - you can even get flavoured marshmallows that can be toasted over a fire. Our favourite was a raspberry and champagne. We also really wished we had been able to try the nutella & marshmallow or the white chocolate & jam sweet crepes but ran out of time.

There is also a tea room at the venue should you need to warm up after walking around.

A couple of things to think about if you do plan to go. Parking! There isn't much so if you do drive look to park on the street (not right outside the gardens). Alternatively there is parking advice here: TRAVEL. 

What to wear! Waterproof footwear is essential as the trail takes a slight detour through areas covered in leaves and it is already a little muddy.

If you do go let us know what you think. The event runs until the 2nd of January. Adults tickets are £13.87 (inc booking fee), children are £9.62 (inc booking fee).

Christmas is coming!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Do it for the dogs!

So I mentioned in a post the went up a few weeks ago (here) that while in Boise for a wedding Laura and I signed up to do See Spot Walk, a charity walk raising money for the Idaho Humane Society.

It's not an organisation that we had ever heard of or seen much about until Julia - Laura's school friend - donated a art work to them to promote the walk. We loved the t-shirt design so much that we were happy to sign up just for the t-shirt.

In signing up we got reading about the great work the Society does and wanted to find out if we could help on the day. It turned out that they needed dog walkers to accompany the dogs that were available for adoption so we signed up.

In all honesty I had no idea how the day would go, part of me feared that I would want to leave with the dogs and part of me feared I would spend the day in tears. In fact both those fears came true but I pushed through knowing that the money we donated and the time we were giving were benefiting the Society and therefore the dogs.

We picked up Rudy from the dog carrel. He was sweet, excitable and desperately wanted to be friends with every dog and human he could find. Compared to Bisbee, Rudy was a big dog. Where Bisbee struggles to reach my hip Rudy had no issue reaching my face. By the end of the 2 mile walk I was exhausted.

We walked with Laura's school friend Kelcie and her dog and even with 3000+ other dogs around Rudy stayed close and well behaved. He was clearly happy to be out and about and won us over quicker than we thought. He had two tricks that he insisted on performing - sit and lay down - for treats and when I had to walk him on stage for the adoption mutt strut he added 'smother me in kisses' to his repertoire.

When it was announced that any adoption made that day would have the fees covered both Laura and I burst into tears - unfortunately it happened just as I was about to go on stage. Sadly we don't know if Rudy found his forever home that day but we did see a few other adoptions agreed. We are planning to stay in contact with the Society to follow Rudy's story. If we were based in Idaho we know we would have taken him home in a heartbeat. I think Bisbee is secretly relieved there is an ocean separating us.

To anyone who has adopted a shelter dog - thank you. We had always planned to rescue a dog until Laura was bitten by a dog in Thailand, that changed things. Understandably Laura gets nervous around energetic, bigger dogs and we wanted to know exactly where our first dog had come from so we could be confident from the start. Who knows when it comes to our next dog we may be able to do things differently. Until then we will support and donate in any way we can.

While we appreciate that many of you reading this live no where near Idaho we wanted to highlight the cause of dog protection. We understand there are many situations that lead to a dog needing to be re-homed and are grateful to everyone who volunteers in some way - you are stronger that Laura and I.

By the end of the walk we sat in the car and cried for a full 5 minutes, feeling somewhat helpless that we could do no more and sad that Rudy would be heading back to the shelter. We are terribly emotional dog owners - poor Bisbee often has us crying on her declaring our undying love.

Even the MASSIVE cinnamon bun didn't make me feel that much better.

I mean even this advert made to make you smile brought a tear to me eye.... a happy tear but still. I need to get a grip!

Do you volunteer anywhere? Or have a rescue pup?

We donated our first fivers (the UK launched a new plastic £5 note and you donate your first one to charity) to Birmingham Dogs Home and the Dogs Trust. This is a short video from them full of feels.

Maybe make your Christmas present request a donation for somewhere or make a donation on behalf of someone - i'm sure every little bit helps.