10 reasons to love Oxford

A mini break to Oxford is just the ticket

We’re not really the city break types- Mr MT and I. No, we tend to go for a coastal town whenever we get a few days to escape the housework and DIY, but then again we don’t often get a kid free, dog free pass!

Our original plan was to head to Paris for a few days while the daughterlings were away on their week long Scout camp (away together at the same time for the first time ever!) but an out of date passport and not enough time to use our airmiles once the passport did turn up meant we had to change our destination.

Oxford had never been on my radar before but when Tim suggested it I thought why not? We’d been on-line all day trying to work out a way to get to Paris or Palma or anywhere abroad and the timings just weren’t working out and I had pretty much had enough of on-line holiday searching!

We hadn’t been away on our own since Beau was 3 months old (and she’s now 13!) other than for weddings – when our time was not our own, so it was enough just to be out the house let alone without kids. We chose what we wanted to do and most of it would have bored the girls to death. We also did some very long walks – like 20,000 steps in a day kind of long, looking at architecture and visiting libraries etc – so not their scene at all.

A few years ago when we went to Norfolk Darcey said she specifically didn’t want to go to any more “hashtag places”. It took us a while to work out that she was talking about English Heritage places. The logo for English Heritage looks like a red hashtag and we had a years membership and she had had enough of old houses!

So after a beautiful mini city break here are the 10 reasons why you’ll love Oxford too.

1.The Bat and Ball

When we first looked for a place to stay in Oxford we saw some great glamping Teepees set near the river in the beautiful countryside but as it was the first week of the summer holidays there was no availability.  We also checked out the Malmaison which looked great but was out of our price range as it was so central but parking is a nightmare in Oxford so we looked a little further out and found a real gem. The Bat and Ball pub is an old coach house in Denton about eight miles from the city centre. On one side is the pub with traditional beams and flagstone floors. The land lady greeted us as soon as we walked in and took us up to our room on the other side of the building.

There are just five rooms all small and quite basic but clean and neat making it the perfect base for us. We were up in the roof and it was just what we needed. Not too expensive, had WIFI and was near to the Thornhill park and ride and breakfast was included too.

On our last night we had dinner there and it was really, really good. Amazing flavours, very friendly service and good prices. Five stars from us. 

2.Park and Ride

  1. Like Cambridge, Oxford is a really hard place to find parking spaces and when you do it’s £1.10 for 20 minutes.  We knew this but practically everyone we came into contact with told us to use the park and ride at Thornhill, which we did and it was so easy.

    We paid for parking then bought a ‘one to go!’ ticket for the bus which is a return journey for two people to the town centre. The return ticket was just £4.80 for both of us so it worked out much more economical but it was also really quick. We never had to wait for more than 5 minutes for a bus in either direction. AND the bus had usb charger points in the back of the seats! How great is that? 

    I wish my local shopping centre had this set up – it’s really clever

    3. The Architecture

When you think of Oxford you think of the University and all the amazing buildings that are housed within their colleges. The very first universities were started within churches dating back to Henry VIII’s time and that’s what Christ Church– one of the most amazing buildings is.

Everywhere you turn there are tall church like buildings with spires, turrets, gargoyles and the most incredible architecture. You can easily walk around the town centre and see all the main places of interest. We loved the meadow gardens at Christ Church (seen above) , The Radcliffe camera and The Bodleian library ceiling – just incredible and the Hertford bridge – the bridge of signs.

We did a lot of walking around the town and the houses are also stunning – from the larger homes backing onto the canal – complete with moorings, to the small cottages with their checkerboard brickwork and amazing foliage growing up them.

4.The White rabbit

No sooner had I recorded an Insta story that we were in Oxford than recommendations of things to do and places to eat came flooding in. One was The White Rabbit pub with it’s award winning pizzas. That’s where we headed on the first night and we can attest that the pizzas are fab.

The pub is small and buzzy and when we got there at 7.30pm on a Monday night it was packed. We had to squeeze into an alcove table with another couple – that was the last available table!

The pizza menu was great and I opted for a gluten free base. It was deelish and I couldn’t tell it was gluten free at all. Definitely worth heading there for a meal. Highly recommended.

5.Morse country

We love a bit of Morse, Lewis and especially Endeavour and to be in Morse country was pretty cool. There are loads of places where the series’ were filmed including the very much recommended Turf Tavern. We found this pub almost by accident (we were warned it can be tricky to find) when we were at the Hertford bridge. We saw a little alleyway that leads down to the pub. It was remarkably large with loads of seating inside and out and it was packed out. We didn’t stop but it was great to find it.

You can do a Morse tour- if you’re that way inclined. We were not!.

6.The Perch

This is a pub that was recommended to us by three separate friends and we thought that it had to be on our hit list. Tim looked at the map and we decided to take the longer country lane route. That was a forty minute walk though the countryside that was lovely but by the time we got there we were Hank Marvin. We both joked that it had better be as good as everyone said – and it better be open! It was.

The Perch is a very old pub, partly thatched and situated along the river. There is a very large garden with a terrace and permanently covered pergola bursting with seating. It was a really calm place – probably because it’s in the middle of nowhere! Well behaved dogs are allowed in on leads and there were plenty of them (I love a dog to say hello to) We both ordered burgers- Tim’s was a fat cheese burger and I ordered from the vegan menu. Vegan menus seem to be an everyday occurrence in Oxford. I think that’s great. Half the time the meals are the same as the non-vegan but adapted. I should point out that I’m not Vegan- I tried it for 3 months once but can’t live without eggs! I live for eggs!!! But I am avoiding certain foods and when I eat vegan I seem to be a lot happier (read: less bloated and uncomfortable!)

Anyway- I ordered the beetroot burger and it was huge and delicious and very purple. The chips were giant! I mean the biggest I’ve ever had. Triple cooked (oh so on trend!) I couldn’t finish it al! Probably one of the best places we ate.

7. The Canal

The canal runs just outside of central Oxford. A short walk out of town and you’re in the countryside. We walked a few miles along the canal and it was great to do a spot of house watching – you know-  when you say which house you would or wouldn’t live in?  The houses all had moorings at the end of their gardens, some with fantastic decking, some with very wantable studio summer houses.

There are moorings along one side of the canal with a mixture of traditional narrow boats with Romany style paintings and some not so traditional that looked like they were being held together with string!

We walked along the canal twice during our short stay. It’s really peaceful down there. Loads of willow trees and wildlife. Very cool and relaxing away from the city.

8. The Museums

There are two main museums that were recommended to us in Oxford. The Ashmolean and the Pitt River. The Ashmolean is an archaeological finds museum which I have to say wasn’t our cup of tea – I mean once you’ve seen one plate that’s been dug up you’ve seen them all haven’t you? No matter what country they were found in! We covered a few floors but quickly moved on to the Pitt River museum. I have to mention that we had a lot of things we wanted to see that day so time was limited anyway.

The Pitt River museum was really interesting with dinosaur skeletons to keep kids happy and lots of great facts. There’s a hall at the back which is five floors tall and bursting at the seams with curiosities. Every cabinet was full- from weapons and keys to masks and traditional costumes. We both enjoyed this museum a lot.

9. The Motte

It’s not every day that you come across a Motte. In general if I saw a big mound of earth that looked like a very tall hill in the middle of nowhere I wouldn’t bat an eye lid but having spent many hours helping both the daughterlings with their history homework about Motte and Bailey’s I was pretty impressed to actually see one in the flesh- recognise it and then find out that the one in Oxford dates back to 1071! Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out this website!

10.Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace has been on my list of places I want to visit for a while. I did a Pink Ribbon charity walk when I worked at Woman & Home which took us on a 27 mile walk around the grounds and ended right outside the entrance – but I didn’t get to go inside!

Tim and I have been to a few of the Treasure houses of England (well 4 of the 10 now) and we knew that when we got to Oxford that it was the perfect opportunity. Treasure houses are all incredibly grand places with amazing history and usually the same family still lives in the mansions and have done so for many generations (I say mansions I mean palace/castle/manor type houses. Think Downton Abbey but bigger!) The Twelfth Duke and Duchess of Marlborough still live at Blenheim today.

Blenheim Palace was incredible inside.  Literally bursting with classic art, murals and sculptures. Winston Churchill was born there. It was by mistake as his mum went into labour when she was at a banquet there at seven months pregnant and couldn’t get home in time. The Churchill exhibit was really interesting. There are also regular tours which are great as you get all the behind the scenes stories which I love.

For me the biggest downside to Blenheim was the cost. It’s £24.90 each admission and although you can convert your ticket into year long pass the chances of going back again are minimal. I thought this was a bit steep. We walked around for a few hours but as it was torrential rain most of the day we didn’t get to see much of the garden. I hope we can go back again within the next 12 months to make it more worthwhile but we’ll just have to wait and see. I do think the place is spectacular and would recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting day out.

So there you have it. 10 reasons why you’ll love Oxford. If you are going to Oxford any time soon let me know where you go and if you go anywhere I have recommended.

Have fun

EmmaMT xx

EmmaMT

So, what’s it like at the prop house?

10 tips on visiting a prop house for the first time

Have you ever been to a prop house? They’re pretty amazing places full of random homewares, all kinds of furniture and every conceivable style of china, glass wear and cutlery.

A few weeks ago I bumped into a couple of stylist friends who’ve just gone freelance and they were telling me that they had never been to a prop house and were asking me what the set up is before they get their first big commercial shoots. Shooting as a freelancer as apposed to the way you work in-house on a magazine is very different. It’s funny how quickly you forget about those scary emotions when you first go it alone. I remember how petrified I was on getting a fantastically big job a few months after I left Woman and Home. I was commissioned to style a pull out magazine for The Mail. It was all homeware offers and it was a massive 10 day shoot covering most rooms in the house. I was nervous about the styling aspect but the prop hire was one of the things that was freaking me out most.

The budget is HOW MUCH?!?!?!

On being told I had a budget of £6,000 – yes £60000 I had no idea how I was going to finance this. I must add that this was the first and last time I was given such a whopper of a budget. Having never done this kind of shoot before I thought I had to lay out for the props myself but it turns out I should have asked for an advance – something I didn’t find out till later and once I had put it all on a credit card. (They did pay me the advance quickly so my credit card would be cleared in time after the shoot – thank goodness!)
Up until this point I’d paid for prop hire on a credit card. I just assumed that was how things were done. They are not.

Get an advance or get them to pay!

Now I don’t pay for prop hire at all. I always ask the client to pay. It’s so much easier and makes the expenses on a shoot much more simple.

So, back to my conversation… my friends were asking about how you hire from a prop house- as that was where I was headed after our catch up. I’ve been asked this a few times over the years by other new freelancers. It can be a kind of a confusing place. There’re so many forms to fill out, payment to organise, couriers to be booked and that’s not even mentioning how you actually get the products you want. I thought it might be useful to do a video while I was at the prop house. A kind of walk around so you know what to expect when visiting for the first time. You can see that at the end of this post. So here’s what you need to know.

10 tips on how to hire from a prop house

  1. Get an account : The first time you visit a prop house you will need to set up an account. This is pretty simple. They just want to know who you are, what your company name is (ie Emma Morton-Turner – thank you very much!) address and contact details. They may ask for all of this on headed paper. You have to sign their T&C’s form which is basically once you’re set up and hiring you’ll be asked ‘Who’s the hirer for these props?” and you can just say your name rather than the company you’re hiring on the behalf of as they probably won’t have an account.What's it like at a prop house?
  2. Sign in. When you arrive at the prop house don’t forget to sign in – and then out. It’s a safety thing. You can then walk straight past the reception desk and have a look at the props.
  3. Trolley’s: Most prop houses have trolleys or baskets for you to put your props in. It’s a bit like shopping where everything you need is in once place and you have to give it all back again afterwards. At Superhire there are trolleys that you fill. Once you have selected everything you need you park up your trolley near the desks at the front where the guys who organise the loans sit. On their desks are stickers. Write your details : Name, job reference, company hiring from(client) and the all important collection date on it and place it on your trolley.There will be a LOT of trolley’s. Park up then bring your props to the attention of one of the staff. They need to know that you are there or they might not realise there’s a new loan to be arranged. Usually, they’ll just acknowledge you, ask which trolley’s yours, ask who the hire is for (you/client) and when the collection is for and then you can leave.What's it like at a prop house?
  4. The paperwork: Once you’ve left the prop house the staff will go through your hire and list every item on a hire sheet. This is then emailed to you and you can see what the loan is going to cost. This is where you agree to it or ask for items to be removed. I have had to remove super expensive items in the past as they’re cheaper to buy. Ask for an updated invoice if you remove items.What's it like at a prop house?
  5. The payment: Once you’re happy with your hire list the prop house will need a PO on headed paper to be sent. This is an example of a PO. It needs to say who you are hiring from, the date you are collecting and the date you are paying and the total amount including any credit card charges. The client must be the one who sends this on headed paper. It is basically the hire company’s  t&c’s saying that you will take care of the props and are insured and if anything gets damaged you are responsible for repair or replacement. This is why the client MUST be the one to send the PO. They must be responsible otherwise that £1000 antique vase that gets knocked off a shelf is your responsibility to pay for.
    Once the PO has been sent the hire can be paid for. This is usually done over the phone with a company credit card. Most prop houses will charge £5 for paying with a credit card. Payment can also be made by a BACS transfer but make sure that it will clear before your collection date. 
    It’s also good to know that there’s a minimum hire fee of £25+VAT so if you only need an item or two it can be less expensive to buy it – especially when you take into consideration the courier costs.What's it like at a prop house?
  6. Get your timings right . You can hire props for the next day (or even the same day if there’s only a few items and you’re taking them away with you) but the guys who check it out won’t be very happy with you. Always try and leave at least 2-3 days between selecting the items and collecting them. You can organised loans a week before your shoot. Stylists who set up TV programs book whole room sets months in advance.
  7. Be organised: Make sure you have a list. Pretty obvious I know but in the past I’ve gone with a long list with everything I need for each shot on it but now I put everything into sections so all the china, furniture, accessories, random stuff I need in one list not all jumbled up. That way it’s easier to walk around and find things without it taking all day. I learnt the hard way.
  8. It takes time: Expect to be at the prop house for a few hours. Prop houses are like time warp machines. I don’t think I’ve ever borrowed something and it hasn’t taken me at least 2 hours to get it sorted. If you’re borrowing furniture AND accessories it will take some time to plan and organise travelling between different floors. 
    Hiring furniture will often mean you will need to source from one floor then go and physically get someone who will organise your loan from another floor, take them back to the furniture so they can label it up then go back to their desk to see what it costs to hire. There can be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing!
  9. Returning props: Most prop house loans are for a one week hire. Go one day over and you have to pay the whole hire fee again. I’ve negotiated discounts on a second week’s hire fee when props were returned on the 8th day but it was tricky!
  10. Share the costs: Make sure the client knows what the courier fees are going to be. Clients who are new to prop hire are often surprised buy the additional costs. As a very rough figure on a recent shoot my couriers recently charged £475 to collect from Superhire prop house, hold overnight, deliver to a london location in the morning then collect from the location later that day and return to the prop house the following day.What's it like at a prop house?

A word about Superhire

Superhire is one of the bigger prop houses. It houses a number of prop hire companies under one roof :-

  • Furniture hire : Anything and everything from pub stools, vintage school desks, sofas, beds, dining tables dressers etc
  • Small hire: Anything not furniture from seasonal items, china, glassware cutlery, bar accessories, candles, office equipment, old bicycles, Christmas, everything!!
  • Modern props – Super modern styled furniture and accessories including on trend vintage/industrial items, backdrops
  • Old Times: Think antiques roadshow
  • All clear images (within Modern Props)  : Works of art that are cleared for photography and filming. Some are really large.

Hiring from any of these companies will require a separate PO and payment. I will often hire from 2-3 of these companies for any one shoot.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to return the props to the correct department. Although rogue vases destined for modern props that end up in small hire should find their way back to the correct floor this rarely happens and it will end with a ‘lost prop’ invoice for the replacement of that item at full price. Been there done that! Don’t like it!

So I hope that gives you a clear idea of what a prop house is like and how to navigate around one and hire your props? The last time I was at Superhire I did a quick video walk around so I could share it with you so you can see the different departments. Have a look at the video. I hope it’s useful.

Till next time

EmmaMT x

EmmaMT

The scariest launch I’ve ever styled!

Bricking it at the OrbitBricking iI’ve done quite a few press launches now and I would say I’m a pretty calm and collected person. I’ve been a stylist for over 16 years so not much really phases me. I’ve waffled my way through magazine planning meetings and dealt with missing props on big Christmas shoots but nothing really prepared me for the launch I took part in back in September last year. I was asked to style a launch at the Acelor Mittal Orbit at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park in Stratford for DeLonghi.

The client was Clarion Communication and this was the third press launch I had styled for them. The product being launched was the Avvolta breakfast range consisting of a beautiful toaster and kettle. The design has the effect of ribbons beings wrapped around each appliance and they really are stunning.

Each appliance is a solid colour – black, white or red and then has a clear band of acrylic wrapped around them giving the item depth and a deeper colour band. You have to see them up close to see how gorge they are. 

The reccy

The Clarion team behind DeLonghi arranged a meeting at the Orbit and I have to say it’s such an amazing structure. I had seen it from the A12 on my way to shoots north of the river many times but had never seen it up close before- let alone gone all the way to the top! If you get the chance – do it. It’s spectacular.

We met with the Orbit event organiser and the aerial artists. Yes. aerial artists! That when I started to feel queazy. When I arrived I didn’t know anything about the event. I didn’t even know what the launch was for or what their plans were. Their plans were big!

As it unfolded the idea was to create an art gallery feel at the launch on the viewing platform and the aerial artists were to be doing a performance hanging high up in the centre part of the Orbit on silks – 374 ft up. That’s when I started to feel a bit queasy.

Bricking it at the Orbit

We went up in the lift and the view as you step out at the top is incredible. You know that you’re going to be high up but it’s truly spectacular. There are two giant curved mirrors which are works of art and turn the view upside down depending on where you stand. We later found out that the mirrors are worth £1,000,000 each and the phase “Don’t touch the mirrors” was soon used by the whole team- regularly! The room is round and it has a square hole in the middle with floor to ceiling windows so you can look down at the twisting structure below. That’s where the artists were going to be dangling. OMG!

My task was to hang a curtain in front of the windows in the centre that would be dropped down and reveal the products and the artists. I was going to have to somehow secure a curtain pole to the ceiling of this amazing structure!!!

The props

When it comes styling a launch like this you have to make sure you answer the clients brief whilst making sure that the products take centre stage. After the reccy I went away and drew out what I thought the room should look like. Around each window in the centre would be two plinths to display one colour toaster and kettle. The main colour theme for the whole launch was red so we had red twice.Bricking it at the Orbit

Along the far wall I devised a stream of ribbons hanging from the ceiling and some criss cross ribbons at two windows which were going to be situated behind two easels showing off Avvolta inspirationsBricking it at the Orbit

The big job

The hardest part of this launch for me was the curtain. How do I attach a curtain pole to the ceiling and how do I make the curtain stay up and fall down when needed and not pull the ceiling down at the same time?

The Event organiser for the Orbit said it was fine to use plaster board raw plugs and screw into the ceiling but I wasn’t so sure. What if I break it – it’s a national monument after all! How would I do that anyway? And how do you make curtains fall down on cue?

I had a good few sleepless nights over that curtain pole I’ll tell you – and I usually sleep like a log!  I have a background in product design so I tend to see these sorts of problems as completely solvable. Team that with a husband who has worked in builders merchants for years and knows all about all sorts of tools and equipment. I could do this. Couldn’t I?

Well it turns out I would have to! As soon as I decided that maybe I needed a set builder to help I couldn’t find one who was free. After a conversation with one who told me that this curtain set up is called a Kubiki curtain where it drops down and he could do it for £2-3/k. Two thousand pound! For a curtain!! Turns out it is done electronically with a remote and you simply push a button and the curtain pole releases the curtain. That was out of the question. I had to do it.

THE curtain!

A Kubiki curtain is when a curtain pole is used to support a curtain which has ringlets at the top. Each ringlet sits on a spoke and when you’re ready the pole moves forward and the curtain drops off the spokes and gently falls to the ground. Easy right?

Did I mention that the curtain had to be four meters wide to hide the whole of the front window? I managed to make a very light weight curtain pole in four sections using a thin piece of wood with pipe clips holding it in place. The curtain pole was made using a thin white plumbers tube. I knocked nails into the tube at regular intervals then matched the rivets on the curtain to the nails. Then all I had to do was set it up.

In the end the ceiling didn’t need any screwing at all. I just used wire threaded through the holes in the ceiling  to secure the wooden boards in place then popped the curtain pole into position. The problem came when I did a test run the night before the event. The curtain kept dropping down before I’d put the last panel on. Oh SHIT!

The solution

I worked out that if I placed a piece of ribbon over the nails and attached them from behind we could cut them to release the curtain for the drop down. The only worry was that we weren’t going to get a trial run. To say I was stressed out would be an understatement. I didn’t know if it was going to work. No – one could talk to me while I was setting up the curtains and at one point I said to the client “I really wouldn’t talk to me right now!” as I was up a ladder fiddling with ribbons and curtain poles. – Sorry G!

Launch day

The plan from the pr’s point of view was to gather up the guests at the base of the Orbit, bring them up together in the lift and give them coffees and breakfast canapés then do the speeches, watch a short video then drop the curtain to reveal the products on plinths and the arial performers. All the guests were standing right next to the curtain. One person’s shoe could have sent the whole thing down! 

The guests stood around chatting for much longer than expected. My lovely and very calm assistant Kasia and I were positioned behind the curtain ready to cut the extra ribbons and give the curtains a tug if they did’t fall. The PR’s were positioned along the front of of the curtain to stop anyone from touching it. It could have done at any moment. I was bricking it!

One of the PR’s was standing behind the curtain with us with a walkie talkie to ensure the music for the arial artists and the curtain drop was perfectly timed. It felt like ages that we had to wait to drop that curtain and all the time seeing peoples elbows poking the curtain. I felt sick. When we finally got the go ahead Kasia and I cut the two central curtain ribbons and then the outer before I had to give the curtain a gentle tug for the whole curtain to drift elegantly down. It worked! Pfew!Bricking it at the Orbit

I’m not afraid to admit that I actually shed a tear of relief once we had pulled it off.

Here’s the video of the event.

After the curtain came down everyone stood and watched the artists who were mesmerising. I can’t believe they dangled 114m up. So brave!

The guests had the chance to go down the Orbit slide which is the tallest and fasted slide in the world – or so I was told. I was just happy with a fallen curtain.

EmmaMT x

Curtain drop video :Gareth Griffiths

event photography:

Crazy curtain styling: EmmaMT

Assisted by Kasia Borowiecka 

Additional event set up: Emma Fishman & Bethan Reen 

EmmaMT