How to capture better digital photos of your children and other adults, using natural light


This gallery contains 35 photos.

In this brief guide I am going to share some tips I have learned from professional photographers, and from a number of courses and private lessons I have been on. Before I even start, the first and foremost thing worth … Continue reading

Why housing needs to be talked about by everyone?  

Housing became a political issue during the 2015 election campaign but it needs to get even bigger with the general public. 

The reason why people don’t talk about housing is because it sounds complicated and difficult to tackle. 

But it isn’t necessarily. Housing can be as simple as:

everyone needs a home 

we all need to be able to live somewhere we can afford

we all should be able to have some form of asset (housing is one of them) or skills that enables us to participate in the economic activity 

some people cannot afford rents or house prices and they look for help. They register with local authorities and wait for a long term to have a subsidised house 

some people can only afford a portion of their house and they look for a product such as shared ownership 

some people can afford to buy and they do 

a supply of different products and types of housing is needed to cater for all the different needs. 

So all these situations are about housing. Something that affects everyone. 

However not many people talk about it in these terms. 

The housing sector which is all the social landlords, including councils as landlords and all the people that are employed by them, together with housing charities, think tanks, pressure groups, social activists are passionate about housing. 

They are passionate because they believe in the purpose of their work. Which is to manage homes and communities and give their tenants, who need some help, support for a better life. 

The housing sector needs to talk passionately about housing outside the sector. 

“We want people to be enraged by the education issue”, said during the CIH Housing conference 2015, Jo Denye from Teach First. 

Teach First have managed to become the leading graduate recruiter in the UK in the last 12 years. They attract and retain talented, high flying graduates who want to give something back to the community. 

Housing needs to be able to talk to students about housing with passion and have a leadership programme in place for the talented students who want to make a contribution. 

The social and economic case is there. We just need to shout about it and have a strong offer and clear language in place for everyone.  

Outsiders – how does it feel to be on the outside?

Is it good to feel an outsider or we shouldn’t give it too much importance? After all as long as we feel good within ourselves the notion of ‘outsider’ shouldn’t apply – you cannot be an outsider in that regard. But when we think about society and what everyone can achieve, it is easy to see and define some as outsiders, those who don’t benefit in the same way to the benefits of society as others. Is that fair, how can that be changed? Here is my view of outsiders.

New Year celebrations, as they used to be in Albania and how it is today for me in England

What is a big thing and has just passed? Christmas in England and New Year in Albania, some traditions and perspectives

Laura's Little Things

New Year celebrations are a big thing in Albania, much more than in the UK. This is because of the communist past where Christmas could not be celebrated and instead all the efforts and the attention were on New Year. We had Father Christmas (wearing the same red suit and a white beard) but he was ‘Babagjyshi i Vitit te Ri’ meaning the ‘Old Man of New Year’. So he would come on New Year’s day and give children presents. He would also represent the old year that was about to end and in a popular children’s theatre the old man is replaced by a young man, who brings along the new year and also hopes and a new start for everyone.

We also had the tree but again not the Christmas tree but New Year’s tree. And on New Year families would celebrate together, cooking big meals and turkey…

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New Year celebrations, as they used to be in Albania and how it is today for me in England

New Year celebrations are a big thing in Albania, much more than in the UK. This is because of the communist past where Christmas could not be celebrated and instead all the efforts and the attention were on New Year. We had Father Christmas (wearing the same red suit and a white beard) but he was ‘Babagjyshi i Vitit te Ri’ meaning the ‘Old Man of New Year’. So he would come on New Year’s day and give children presents. He would also represent the old year that was about to end and in a popular children’s theatre the old man is replaced by a young man, who brings along the new year and also hopes and a new start for everyone.

My son standing by our Christmas tree in London

My son standing by our Christmas tree in London

We also had the tree but again not the Christmas tree but New Year’s tree. And on New Year families would celebrate together, cooking big meals and turkey, and the traditional homemade bakllavas and kadaifs (sweets of turkish origin in Albania but very engrained in the culture). The main blocks of Christmas celebrations were there but under a different name and happening on a different date.

An Albanian speciality which remains popular is the festive New Year’s eve TV programme with songs and comedy sketches that would accompany families’ dinners until the early hours of the morning. And also the fireworks a modern addition, where almost everyone will fire fireworks from their balconies or terraces at midnight on New Year’s eve.

Our representation of New Year was wider than just the year’s end, as it incorporated all the Christmas imagery but with a different meaning and messaging. And it had the positive message of the start of a new year that would bring excitement and joy.

Communists don’t celebrate Christmas!

You may not know this but Albania is the only country ever that has banned religion and made it illegal. The communist leader Enver Hoxha persecuted and eliminated thousands of priests and religious activists in an effort to eradicate what Marx called ‘the opium of the people’ when referring to religion. Of course this was a criminal act that caused the death and sufferance of thousands of people and it remains a dark moment of our history.

So being a child in communist Albania at Christmas time was a curious thing. My grandmother was religious, with the Orthodox church and she was also born in Corfu (from Albanian parents who had immigrated in neighbouring Corfu from the south of Albania).

She had two important dates in December, the 14th of December the date of celebrating the patron of Corfu, Saint Spyridon and Christmas day.

Llukumadhe look a bit these, made by my mother

Llukumadhe look like these, made by my mother

For the first she would cook ‘llukumadhe’ a type of pancake that we would eat with a lot of sugar until we (children) would feel our bellies exploding.

For the second we would have a family dinner and she would burn candles in secret. Of course we couldn’t say anything to other people about these events as this could compromise my grandfather’s position (he was a military doctor that had studied in Russia and fought with the partisans) and consequently everyone else’s (his children, my mother’s, father’s etc.). So we had to be quiet and secretive about it.

As a child I was never encouraged to believe in Father Christmas as it wasn’t part of our beliefs. Babagjysh, the old man of New Year was a positive, religion-free figure that brought hope, a new beginning and happiness and as a child I had some feelings for him.

Christmas is back in Albania

Since the change of regime in Albania in the early 90s, religions are no longer illegal. For historic reasons before communism, people in Albania followed three main religions – muslim (brought in by the Ottoman invasion in the beginning of the 15th century), orthodox (introduced in Albania earlier as part of the Greek Church) and catholic (even earlier with the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church). So after the ‘communist religious blip’ we are back to where we were before, with most of the population being muslim, a smaller percentage catholic and an even smaller one orthodox.

Because religion has not had a very strong role in people’s lives in Albania, Christmas as a religious celebration is celebrated by a minority.

The occasion however as a general public holiday and festive day is celebrated in a different way, for example a Christmas evening booked at a restaurant with live music and a lot of dancing (dancing is a strong part of Albanian traditions).

The long journey to Christmas in the UK

I try to be weary of generalizing and I know not everyone is the same and the ways people celebrate Christmas in the UK can be different. But for almost everyone and judging from conversations and what people say on social media, Christmas is a big ordeal!

It is a big occasion when families get together and there is a lot to organise from the shopping list, to the christmas menu, the list of presents, decorations for the house, the tree, christmas music etc, etc. And there is the whole christmas branding, adverts, lights, supermarket offers, retail sales, etc. It is quite easy from an outsiders point of view to associate Christmas with commercial opportunities (for businesses and consumerism for consumers). But behind that there is a genuine element of spending time with your cousins, brothers and sisters etc something that doesn’t happen often.

My son is the youngest one and this is one of his favourite activities, going for a walk with the dog, his cousins, parents and aunties and uncles

My son is the youngest one and this is one of his favourite activities, going for a walk with the dog, his cousins, parents and aunties and uncles

Even my mother who since I started living in the UK has attempted to learn a bit of English following a ‘Learn English’ book for children said that she read in her book about a little boy who said ‘I love Christmas as it is the time when I see my cousins, who I don’t see very often, only once a year’.

So there is the family spirit and it is the one I have appreciated the most in my last 4 English Christmases.

New Year celebrations in London, candles and Hawaiian theme party

Our New Year celebrations this year in London, included a Hawaiian theme party

When it comes to New Year celebrations, New Year has less importance and is often spent with friends organising themed parties where everyone dresses up in the chosen theme.

Hawaiian party decorations in our flat in London

Hawaiian party decorations in our flat in London

New memories similar to the old ones

Without wanting to sound nostalgic I feel that although it is in a different time and space my son’s memories of Christmas will be quite similar to the ones from our New Year’s celebrations.

What he loves the most is seeing his grandparents, their dog, his cousins, being with everyone around and spending that leisurely time in each others company.

For me, my best memories of New Year were similar, the spirit of everyone coming together, celebrating and having some special food and special time. Presents were never a strong part and I hope we manage to teach that to our son, that Christmas is not about the presents only. This may prove hard as for children naturally the unwrapping of presents on Christmas day is at the heart of the excitement but we need to try our best to emphasise the importance of the company of each other, instead.

My cousins and I had our favourite activity during New Year celebrations – playing with cards and betting small amounts of money. The excitement of winning (and misery of loosing) was what kept us playing until our banks were empty. The other one was on 1st January, we would go around to our relatives houses to try some of their baklavas and also be given a small amount of cash. This was part of the tradition and we would have it every year. After doing the round of the houses we would sit down at a cafe and enjoy an ice-cream or some other sweet, in a ‘civilised way’ we would call it, like our parents would do.

I am sure my son and his cousins will have their own stock of memories built over the years.

After all that is what Christmas and New Year (in the Albanian way) are about, spending time with your cousins!

My son and his cousins playing a game of closing their eyes before opening some of the presents

My son and his cousins playing a game of closing their eyes before opening some of the presents

Christmas day 2013 walk; my son with his younger cousin; is a special photo for me that best conveys the joy of Christmas

I have included this post as part of the Daily Post theme – Happy, happy, joy, joy as this post is all about happiness at special times of the year, Christmas and New Year.

Albanian traditional costumes at the British museum

My ‘photo a day’ project has slowed down (quite considerably given that I haven’t posted a photo a day for the last two weeks) and instead of posting every day I will be posting photos that I take when I can.

Doing such a project should be fun and not stressful so I will not be harsh on myself. If I cannot do it every day that means I cannot do it and will perhaps start again when I will have a bit more time (when is that likely to be? 🙂

In the meantime I will continue my photography work, posting on the blog and writing about other things that I do as usual.

So this post and the photos are from a day of celebrations for the Albanian Independence Day which is on 28 November 1912. So this year was Albania’s 101 year of being independent from the Ottoman Empire. Albania became independent later than its neighbors as it was particularly difficult for my country to organize a strong opposition to the ottomans but also to territorial ambitions and plans from its neighbors in alliance with the big powers of the time (Russia, Austro-Hungary, France, Britain, Italy) to divide Albania between its neighbors.

But as a typical fairy tale (really?) it all ended well and our patriots declared the independence in the southern city of Vlora. The actual borders were not definitive until 1920 and in actual fact Albania lost significant territory in the south to Greece, east to Macedonia, north to Montenegro and most importantly all of Kosovo, to Serbia. That’s why as weird as this may be Albania is the only country (in the world?) that is surrounded by Albanian populations on all of its borders.

That is history and on to the present modern day, Albanians celebrate this important national day quite pompously in Albania and in different ways in other countries where Albanian communities live.

The Albanian community in London organised many celebrations, lead by the different community groups such as Shpresa programme, Nene Teresa, Ardhmeria etc. The one we went to was organised by Ardhmeria in collaboration with the Albanian ambassador in the UK. The author of a book about the war in Kosovo was also invited and presented his book ‘Flying with kites’ which can be bought on amazon for those wanting to learn more about the conflict.

And finally the photos I took of beautiful Albanians that live in London wearing Albanian traditional costumes. But also of other people attending the celebrations.






20131217-143341.jpgI have posted these photos on Facebook before so they will not be new for my friends there. I wanted to share them on the blog too with other blog friends.

Let me know what you think.

Elina Duni quartet plays songs of love and passion in London

Albanians in London has been spoiled in recent months. After the fantastic brass band Tirana Fanfara and old master of music Hysni Zela playing in London in October, another great Albanian singer Elina Duni came to play at the Southbank yesterday, part of the London jazz festival.

Elina Duni quartet is formed of 3 musicians that play piano, cello and battery and the jazz vocalist Elina. The quartet came together in Switzerland where Elina immigrated from Albania at the age of 10. ‘Switzerland is my second beautiful home’, she told the audience yesterday.

Last night’s was Elina’s first performance in London. The band is very popular in Europe, especially in Switzerland, France and Belgium and have received positive critical acclaims. Mixing old with new, they have created a unique style that transfixes the audience.

Elina sings old Albanian folk songs, re-worked by her and her band and executed in a unique style that blends Albanian traditional melodies with jazz sounds.

Although lyrics are in Albanian, Elina takes care to give a summary of the meaning to the audience who is then invited on a musical journey that goes from plaintive and melancholic sounds to soaring joyful rhythms.

Elina’s quartet has enchanted european audiences and it was about time the British public discovered her. She is a great jazz singer, beautiful and very charming on stage, with great vocals and able to improvise, in true jazz style.

Not having heard of the band before, a member of the audience said ‘their music sounded as something coming from very far’.

The exotic and ‘from somewhere else’ feel of the music was felt not only by the British audience but Albanians too, because of the jazzy execution of old Albanian songs. It did also bring back memories and emotions from another time for Albanians there were there. Although quite melancholic and dealing with themes of exile and separation, Elina’s music also talks about love and passion, joy and hope.

We wish to see them again perform in Britain and bring their mix of old Albanian music with contemporary jazz on stage again.

The latest album Matan Malit (beyond the mountain) can be purchased on amazon.


Albanian brass band plays in London

After the Romani and Serbian folk comes the Albanian folk, in a unique fusion with modern electronic beats, that produces a new genre of Balkan music.

The two bands at the heart of this unique collaboration the Albanian Fanfara Tirana and the London based Transglobal Underground, have launched a new album ‘Kabatronics’ and are on a European tour to promote their music. These bands bring new breath into the ‘Balkan music’ genre popularized by Serbian musician Goran Bregovitch and film director Emir Kusturica and take it to new heights.

After taking part at the Cardiff World Music festival, the biggest in its genre, they were on show in London where they electrified the audience.

Their music, organically mixes the sounds of the Albanian kaba (tuba) and clarinets, percussion, electric guitar and sitar. On top of that two musicians who would have nothing in common, sing with their very own different styles: the Albanian old master of music ‘Hysni Zela’ and London based ‘Tuup’, complimenting the former’s lyrical singing with his own deep voice and ‘talking’ style.

This ‘marriage from heaven’ has been made possible through music manager, Olsi Sulejmani, founder of World Music Management agency based in Italy.

If you missed the concert you can always buy the album

Or check out videos

It is explosive!

Here is an article I wrote for an Albanian newspaper Mapo, but it is in Albanian.

‘Djemtë’ e Fanfara Tirana, me muzikë kaba në Londër




Bashkëpunimi unikal midis Fanfara Tirana dhe Transglobal Underground, ndez publikun Londinez

A little exception of writing in English in this blog, this is the article I wrote for the Albanian newspaper Mapo about Fanfara Tirana and Transglobal Underground which I thought I’ll also share on the blog.

Në shfaqjen e tyrë në Londër, bashkëpunimi i suksesshëm midis grupit shqiptar Fanfara Tirana dhe grupit londinez Transglobal Underground, që përcjell melodi të muzikës tradicionale shqiptare përzier me ritme elektronike, reggae dhe dab, e ekektrizon publikun. Shfaqja e Londrës është e dyta në Britani, pas pjesëmarrjes së dy grupeve, në festivalin ndërkombëtar të muzikës në Cardiff, Wales.

Ajo që ne njohim si muzikë dasmash është kombinuar me stilin e Transglobal Underground, i njohur në Angli për miksimin e tingujve europiane, lindore dhe afrikane, në atë që quhet world music. Frut i këtij bashkëpunimi një vjeçar është albumi ‘Kabatronics’, me muzikë tradicionale por ‘të modernizuar’, i hedhur në treg në fillim të vitit dhe i promovuar gjatë një turneu të gjatë nëpër Europë, pjesë e të cilit janë dhe shfaqjet në Britani.

Rezultati edhe pse në rrymën e muzikës Ballkanike të popullarizuar nga Goran Bregovitch, krijon një degë më vete që nuk është eksperimentuar më parë. Fuzioni midis tingujve të kabasë së Shqipërisë së jugut, klarinetës, perkusioneve, pianos, kitarës elektrike dhe kitarës tradicionale indiane, tingëllon si një fuzion organik, ku të gjithë anëtarët e grupit luajnë në simbiozë. Dy këngëtarët që këndojnë herë më vete dhe herë bashkarisht, Londinezi Tuup dhe mjeshtri i madh i këngës popullore Hysni Zela, mund të duken sikur nuk kanë asgjë të përbashkët por në skenë prodhojnë një harmoni perfekte, në sfondin e fuzionit të tingujve që vijnë nga anë të ndryshme të botës. Idenë e bashkëpunimit midis dy grupeve e vuri në jetë Olsi Sulejmani, themelues i agjensisë World Music Management bazuar në Itali, i cili duke njohur muzikën e të dyja palëve, e drejtoi grupin londinez drejt grupit shqiptar. Pjesa tjetër tashmë i përket historisë.

‘Djemtë’ e Fanfara Tirana veshur me xhaketa të kuqe e syze të zeza, frumëzyar nga flamuri shqiptar prodhojnë një efekt visual, ndërkohë fustanella e bardhë e Hysni Zelës, impozon respekt për një kulturë dhe traditë të vjetër. ‘Veshjet tradicionale janë pjesë e mrekullive tona’ thotë Hysni Zela, ‘por mrekullia e vërtetë është polifonia’. Mjeshtri i madh i cili dhe pse në pension, bashkëpunon me Fanfara Tiranën, tregon se si tingujt ai i kërkon nëpër fshatra, ‘pasi kënga është në popull’, thotë ai.

Një anëtar tjetër i grupit dhe organizator Xhemal Murraj na tregon për pritjen e publikut anglez që ka qenë shumë e ngrohtë. ‘Bashkëpunimi me një kulturë tjetër dhe një stil muzikor shumë të ndryshëm, ka qenë pa vështirësi’ thotë ai, gjë të cilën publiku e ndjen.
Ndërkohë muzikanti i Transglobal Underground, Tuup, e shijon bashkëpunimin me muzikantët shqiptarë dhe pëzierjen muzikore që ata kanë arritur. Në skenë Tuup kërcen duke lëvizur lehtë shpatullat, një mënyrë kërcimi karakteristike shqiptare dhe tregon se këtë formë ‘e ka kapur nga anëtarët e grupit’ dhe pse nuk ka qenë ndonjëherë prezent në ndonjë dasëm shqiptare. Ai duket se do ta ndjekë këtë këshillë dhe thotë 3 cilësi i pëlqejnë më shumë të shqiptarët ‘respekti, ngrohtësia dhe vlerësimi i gjërave të mira ne jetë, ushqimi, pijet dhe prezenca femërore’.

Përballë një përzierje sa të çuditshme po dhe aq tërheqëse, sa ai i Tirana Fanfara dhe Transglobal Underground, publiku ndjehet i ‘çarmatosur’ dhe nuk mund t’i rezistojë tingujve gati ‘ngjitës’ që të bëjnë të hidhesh e të kërcesh. Përballë një pjesëmarrje mikse, angleze, italiane, shqiptare e të tjerë, siç është tipike e Londrës kozmopolite, koncerti dhe albumi ‘Kabatronics’, morën pritjen që meritojnë, entuziazëm, energji pozitive dhe zbulim i kukturës shqiptare në një këndvështrim të ri, larg stereotipeve. Kjo muzikë është një nga ambasadorët më të mirë të Shqipërisë jashtë vendit.

I urojmë dy grupeve dhe bashëkpunimit midis tyre sukses të mëtejshëm dhe shpresojmë që dhe publiku shqiptar të ketë mundësi t’i shikojë në koncert. Albumi Kabatronics, mund të blihet në Amazon. Gjithashtu në youtube mund të gjeni video të dy grupeve dhe të albumit Kabatronics.