On Being a Victim of Fraud

As I walked away I knew something wasn’t right. I think I knew deep down that what had just taken place wasn’t normal or didn’t quite sit well. Within a small chunk of grey flesh there was a screaming light, but a light that knew it was too late to do anything. The deed had already taken place. So the remaining 95% of my brain ignored it and instead focused on either fighting off train travel exhaustion following the London Paddington to Swindon commute, or pumped me full of feel good endorphins to convince me otherwise.

As I entered my house I felt relief at being back after a two hour journey across capital and country. I also felt a little niggle grow bigger and bigger, a small light turning into a flame that turned into a small voice. Stupid girl, stupid girl.

But it was only once I’d made my tea, unpacked my bag and lowered myself to my king size bed that I suddenly realised what had happened thirty minutes prior. A cocktail of emotions poured from my mind and into my exhausted body, filling it with hollowness and shock.

“I’ve been scammed.”

Since moving to London I’d been on my guard so much with criminals and scam artists. Working and living in some of the biggest tourist hot spots, the central location comes with it’s warning labels. But Swindon? A small town I’ve lived in for almost four years. Swindon? How? How could it be possible? How could I have been so foolish?

Stupid girl, stupid girl, stupid girl.

But she came up to me in a real flap, she said she needed the money to get a train to Reading to collect keys to her house she’d lost. Stupid girl. She said her name was Sarah and she needed to borrow my phone to make a call. Her Aunt was old so no surprise she didn’t pick up. She said she didn’t know what to do or where she could go. I offered her £10 cash but she said she needed more and suggested we go to an ATM to get more funds. Stupid girl, stupid girl. So I offered her £16, all I had in my purse. Stupid girl. She asked for my bank details but I said no, because I’m not stupid, and instead exchanged numbers. She then took her phone out and called me, despite claiming to not have a phone. I was so caught in the moment of it all, so overwhelmed with tiredness and her stress, how was I to spot this at the time? Stupid girl, stupid girl, stupid girl. We then parted on good terms with her telling me to text her in a few hours as a reminder to get details for the money transfer. Stupid, stupid, stupid girl.

I sat on the bed, texting my family and friends in rage that this could happen. I then lay awake all night feeling nothing but irritation and madness at myself for being so easily fooled. Conned by a middle aged lady with a pathetic dramatic act that must have been used before. Curiosity welling inside me, at 2am I Google searched the Reading-based number of the relative she’d called earlier. The search results came up with one place, The Thames Valley Probation and Rehabilitation Centre. The sour taste of bile in the back of my throat kept me awake until dawn accompanied by a gritty squawk in the front of my mind.

Stupid girl, stupid girl, stupid girl.

The bile taste lingered until noon when, on calling the probation office, they told me there was nothing they could do and the voice quietened down just recently after I made an appeal on social media and discovered I wasn’t the first, nor worst, affected by the middle-aged scam artist. I logged my incident with the non-emergency police line 101 and hung up knowing there was nothing more I could do. Providing the police with new information such as her mobile number and age (she’d stated she was 36 when previous victims thought she looked mid 50s) made me feel I’d contributed towards the effort. Still a stupid girl though. The voice gets quieter as the 95% of the skull-imprisoned decides to reassert its authority over the pessimistic portion. 24 hours is long enough.

Sitting here now, typing this piece to a backdrop of classical music and my friend practising her violin I realise for the first time in my life what it must feel like to be a victim of fraud. I look around my room and it’s a mess, as if the moment I realised what had happened to me became the moment time temporarily stopped. My suitcase is half unpacked, by bedding scrunched up from where I’d been tossing and turning in the night. The money taken off me was trivial compared to what someone people go through and it could have been a lot worse (at least I don’t have to face cancelling my banking cards or worrying that I could have my identity stolen at any moment). If this Sarah reached out to me now would I happily send my personal details over via text so she could supposedly transfer me the money? Would the risk really be worth the price of a rail ticket?

Until yesterday I assumed all con artists now operate online, that they’re all pale-faced, digital savvy youths who live thousands of miles away in cellars with banks and banks of computers. Until yesterday I assumed that victims of fraud fell into older age brackets, that young people didn’t fall for such silly tricks. Well now I know I was wrong and if nothing else I’ve paid a middle aged woman £16 to teach me that lesson and quite possibly make me a more understanding and empathic human being.

Stupid girl.

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I’m The Classiest Thing to Happen to Swindon Since Billie Piper

With a title like that you’re probably thinking one of three things, “too right Alice is”, “this girl has got right up herself since she set up a Facebook page. Who is she, Donald Trump?” or “huh, I did not know Billie Piper came from Swindon”. Either way, I’m going to say it loud and proud* (*not in real life you understand? Just online).

Two weeks ago was carrying an unzipped suitcase down the stairs when all my belongings tumbled out. At that very moment I thought to myself “you really are a piece of something” and now I know what that something is. It’s pretty obvious that I am the embodiment of class and comedy gold (I’m also the embodiment of a minor caffeine addition and sleep deprivation, but I’ll leave that to the obituarists).

Backtracking a little, with a name that translates as “Pig Hill” not a lot of celebrities have graced the streets and houses of Swindon. Case in point: when was the last time you saw Jude Law in the Canal Walk McDonald’s? Exactly. And don’t get me started about the fact Canal Walk is no where near water. I’m going off on a ranty tangent here, but Swindon needs to have a serious rebrand. Why not change the name to, say, “Swingdon” and make the place full of jazz or “Richdon” (subliminal messaging for the dumb rich people)? I pay you enough ruddy money in taxes, sort it out council.

Until a new name is implemented or Jude Law decides to unleash his offspring into the concrete jungle that is Swindon’s Tented Market (really, it is made of that – WHO WORKS IN BRANDING?!), then I’m going to claim the title of classiest female to grace Swindon. Sure, I spill tea quite literally everywhere and yes, I can be reduced down to a child-like mentality when presented with new pillows, but given my competition is Billie Piper then I think I have good grounds for asserting my case. For anyone not in the know, Piper made her name in the late 90s/early 00s as a pop star and then as an actress (more commonly known for playing Rose Tyler in the reboot of Doctor Who). She’s good, don’t get me wrong, but Swindonians don’t half like to harp on about her like she’s a big claim to fame. You know who my local town of Stratford-Upon-Avon had? Shakespeare, that’s who. Trust me, there’s no beating that, however competing against this I think I could take Piper on:

(Seeing bins melt into men, billboard cartoons come alive and rhino bouncers? Yep, it’s called a standard Saturday night out in Swindon.)

I write stuff, good stuff, and despite my frequent Calamity Jane moments I like to think I represent a good role model. I walk to work, go to the gym, I even do the occasional bit of baking. I tell you what, get Anthea Turner (star of How to Be a Perfect Housewife) on the phone, she’ll support me (and in doing so knock back Feminism to 1969 but hey, we’re talking about me here.)

In short, I’m a ruddy aspirational professional.

And you know what? I think my presence is having an effect on this town. For instance back in 2014 you would never see this type of thing out and about:

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You might have come across a cider can or an empty beer bottle, but never a wine flute carefully placed on a window ledge. It’s a sign!

Not wanting to brag, but I’m the classiest thing to happen to Swindon since Billie Piper.

(Disclaimer: before writing this post I had consumed a large, strong, coffee. This may explain pretty much all the comments made in the above. Do I regret them? Not at all.)

Francesca Martinez: “At Least I’m not a Pot of Hummus or Donald Trump”

For The Ocelot – Wiltshire What’s On Magazine

 

When it comes to mutually exclusive, ‘disability’ and ‘comedy’ are two words which you would normally expect to be in the taboo corner. So why do I find myself laughing at a “wobbly” lady’s failed attempts at cherry knocking?

Welcome to the hilarious and wonderful mind of Francesca Martinez. Born with cerebral palsy but waging a one-woman mission to have it renamed ‘wobbly’, Martinez sheds a brutally comedic look on her experiences growing up in an able-bodied world. Without blinking, she sweetly comments ‘funny how the girls who used to bully me now want to add me as a friend on Facebook. F**kers!’ before taking a long sip of water. It makes you wonder why anyone would pick a fight with Martinez. Not because she’s funny or a genuinely lovely person, but because under the smiles is a deeply vengeful personality.

Chatting with her in a in a stylish coffee shop in Swindon’s Old Town, without warning Martinez’s conversations divert from the trivial to the deeply philosophical. Two sips into my moderately priced Americano she states that the root cause of unhappiness is the consumer-based drive to always want better. ‘We want to look prettier, be thinner, have a better mobile phone, a better house. Our society is so aspirational we never stop and think about what we have. Once you stop and reassess those things you realise that life could be a lot worse,’ Martinez poignantly observes, before quickly adding ‘for example, I could have been a Rice Krispie…or Donald Trump.’ Cue another timely sip of water. ‘We’re all trapped in toxic bonds of our own making so when you think about it breaking yourself away is actually a form of civil disobedience.’

Having taken most of her life to discover and liberate herself from the evil clutches of self-loathing, Martinez is keen to spread a message of positivity. ‘I spent years thinking negative thoughts and my only regret is that I’ll never get that time back,’ she comments, ‘I do a lot of talks at schools nowadays where I ask students to put their hands up if they’re happy with their appearance. It’s really sad when no one raises their hand so I tell them “you’re in the prime of your lives. This is as good as it’s ever going to get!”’

Spending an hour in the company of Francesca Martinez is a delightful, if not insightful, experience. It is a testament to her abilities that in her presence you can see beyond the disability to the woman who lies beneath. Perhaps put more succinctly by the wobbly expert herself, ‘if I was retarded I’d have voted for UKIP’.

 

Francesca-Martinez-comedi-014.jpg
Francesca Martinez

 

 

 

 

If I Don’t Post It, No One Else Will

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Million-Dollar Question.”

(Before you ask, the question was not “if I have $999,999 and I add $1, how many dollars will I have?”, it was “why do you blog?” Well I was in Swindon’s beautiful town centre on lunch…

swindon

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Truly a centre of chavs beauty paving slabs.

Swindon is a landlocked place, with no sea or lakes anywhere near it. So imagine my surprise when, full of November gloom, I saw a video of fish playing on the said screen pictured above. A video that bore no relevance to Swindon, the time of year or even this country:

Not even the pigeons are interested.

In a spookily empty area I found this video both random and hilarious (as you can probably hear in the audio). Only on a blog can I upload and post random insights such as this.

If I don’t post it, no one else will.

(You’re welcome.)

Educating Alice (#EducatingAlice)

The day after my last blog post I walked into the office to get the standard review/critique from my number one fan, Steve (aka my boss). ‘It was good, but again Swindon is not mentioned. You haven’t mentioned all the good things that are here!’ ‘So, overall, B+ for effort?’ ‘Oh I wouldn’t go that far.’

So, here I am, writing ten things positive about Swindon. Because who doesn’t like pigs on hills?

1) There are nice coffee places

The team’s desire for me to write something positive about Swindon actually goes back weeks. Backtrack to the day after my post on when I visited my sister in Cardiff (http://wp.me/p5kuli-2I) and there was uproar among staff (well between Steve and homeware buyer Lucia which is as close to an uproar as we ever get). The pair of them, unknown to me, had been furiously texting the day before over the comment I made that Swindon doesn’t do nice coffee. A couple of hours into the working day and a calendar invite springs up in my inbox titled “#EducatingAlice” (yes, this is such a big deal a hashtag was created for it #SoCool #YouKnowYouveMadeItWhen).

Scroll forward a week and a chunk of the team took me out to coffee at Swindon’s Darkroom Espresso…

10990803_10152587539161050_8914475361385716545_n (Left to right: Steve, Lucia, Sarah, yours truly, Lorna, Catherine)

(On a side note, Steve pointed out that this was a very good photo of him and mumma Bennett commented that Lucia, Sarah, Lorna and Catherine looked really pretty/lovely. “Have you missed someone mum?” “Oh yes, Steve looks like a nice guy too.”)

Following this outing I now have to admit that Swindon does have at least one nice coffee shop within walking distance from home/work.

2) Swindon has the cheapest petrol in England

Headline says it all really. This information comes courtesy of Steve/the internet.

3) The name ‘Swindon’ is believed to derive from the Pig (swine) market that happened on the hill (don)

The tops of hills = wonderful views (= awesome) and pigs = bacon or babe (both of which are awesome).

4) Wagamamas is a five minute walk away

I do have a tendency to take things for granted. The super snazzy shopping outlet is one example of this. Today, a group of us went to Wagamamas for lunch as part of ‘Educating Alice’ which enabled me to experience the restaurant for the first time (although based on this it was really ‘Educating Alice, Lorna and Barbara’). Photo time…

IMG_2582(Left to right: Barbara, Lorna, Catherine, Helen, yours truly. All of us are in universal agreement that we’ve all looked better.)

Nice dining, and I got a pile of food left over for my dinner this evening (a combo of my, and Lorna’s, leftovers. You can take the girl out of University…).

Following this we trekked some 50 yards to get ice cream from the Thornton’s outlet shop. I have to admit that compared to my normal lunch of cheese sandwiches and a yoghurt (on a crazy day it’s chicken), today trumps them all.

5) My pottery course at the local college

Over the past few weeks I’ve really come to enjoy my Monday evenings thanks to the pottery course I’m enrolled in and, as of last Tuesday, I will be continuing next term also. It’s given me a chance to learn a new skill outside of work. Forget attractive men, I now spend my evenings looking at good-looking pots! (And there is something I never thought I’d say in my life).

I’m about the 8th week in and I’m still learning the ropes with different clay techniques. And while I have several items still in development and one success story (there will definitely be a post dedicated to that one), there have also been a fair share of failures. Week 2 coil pot will always have a piece of my heart. Week 2…

10924741_10152537560526050_7716595791527569380_nBut, post firing (week 3)…

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Tutor Belinda thought it was probably due to a trapped air bubble in the base which exploded in the kiln. Still, RIP coil pot, you will never be forgotten.

The people on the course are all friendly, and it’s just nice to be able to unwind and not think about anything. Plus there aren’t many places where if something goes wrong you can screw the clay up, throw it on the table and make something beautiful out of the mess.

6) The Magic Roundabout

Love it or loathe it, you have to acknowledge this piece of roundabout engineering:

7) It is easy to get to other places

I won’t dwell on this one as it has been extensively covered in a previous blog post: (http://wp.me/p5kuli-1V) but I have to admit it has been a big plus factor when I’ve wanted to explore places outside of Swindon or get home. There’s also lots of pretty Cotswold towns nearby. As a Cotswold girl myself that’s certainly no negative.

8) Urm, Swindon contains the word ‘win’…?

8.5) Potential team outing to Swindon’s indoor crazy golf course

(TBC, depends when Catherine gets round to planning it. I’m told it’s a must as part of #EducatingAlice. I’ll keep you posted on this one).

9) Thanks to an enthusiastic, active individual, Swindon now has a brilliant social group for young professionals

34 members and growing, with lots of events going on. I hear the person that created it has also sweet talked venues to providing drinks deals and pizza for free. She sounds like the kinda gal I’d like to be friends with. Find out more here: 

Swindon 18-30 Professionals

Swindon, GB
34 Young Professionals

Have you just recently graduated and/or moved to the area? If you have, and you are aged 18-30 then come and join us for social activities to meet new people and make friends….

Next Meetup

Cinema (Focus) and Nandos at Regent Circus

Thursday, Mar 12, 2015, 6:00 PM
10 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

(Look, if I can’t plug my own social group here where can I? #ShamlessPlug)

10) I live with friendly housemates and work with a crazy but loveable bunch of people who do random things like celebrate my birthday by wearing hats:

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And you know what? I wouldn’t change them for any town, anywhere.

Attempts at Sophistication: This Will Go One of Two Ways…

So, I’ve now been in Swindon cracking on six months. Alice reminiscing moment: this time last year I spent a week doing solid dissertation research, including eight hours in Warwick archives on only a snack bar (I painfully discovered that they only had coffee sachets and an out of date cuppa soup. In my defence you look at this site and tell me you wouldn’t assume they’d at least have a bar of chocolate for sale: http://heritage.warwickshire.gov.uk/warwickshire-county-record-office/visit/) It was also the week I interviewed these lovely people:

IMG_5652 Interview Pic 1 Interview Pic 2 Interview Pic 3

Ok, so, left to right: Anne Fox, Coughton Court volunteer, Lisa Parry, Coughton Court property manager (also one of my internship managers), Jeffrey Haworth, National Trust curator, and Lord Hertford, Marquess of Hertford and owner of Ragley Hall. Anne fed me with so much cake I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk out the door, and I’ve never really shut up about my interview with Lord Hertford.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, half a year in Swindon (one extreme to the other). So, in December I realised I’d been here for a few months. The job was/is going swimmingly and my colleagues were/are hilarious (the toy and game buyer lifted her top to show me her dress underneath this week, such is her desperation to feature in my blog. Don’t say I never mention you Lorna).

But despite this I felt my evenings were lacking. I’d gone from being this clued up, academic who would yell scholarly quotations at those who supported the death penalty, to an individual who by 6pm was in an oversized hoodie and watching Teen Mom 2 (you know, something I could really relate to). I was doing nothing but upholding the Grimgrad title I’d given myself. Something had to change.

So what has changed Alice? Well, I hear Teen Mom 3 is starting soon on Viva… But in all seriousness I have done a few things. I started writing this blog (which I think everyone will agree is the best thing since sliced bread). I’ve also started a pottery course. This Monday will be week four of a ten week course. I have no pottery experience but in week two I made this:WP_20150119_20_25_49_Pro

It certainly isn’t about the start a new arts and crafts movement, but I was quite proud of it (next week I’ll start glazing it). Mumma Bennett gets the award for best reaction: “You know, we always knew when you were running around the garden with mud pies you’d accomplish something.” “really?” “No, but seeing this has reassured us”. I expect to be writing more on my pottery in the upcoming weeks. You ain’t seen the last of Alice and her mishappen pots yet!

A couple of months ago I also restarted my favourite pastime of going to coffee shops in culturally interesting places (e.g. Cardiff, Oxford, Bath) and reading a book. Right now I’m reading Wild Swans, which is all about three generations of Chinese women living under Communism.

This is how I think I look doing this:

This, though, is probably what you’re picturing/what I actually look like:

On top of this I’m also going to try to make a start on my Spanish language CDs which I’ve had knocking around for a while. I did it at GCSE but since then my Spanish has boiled down to ‘piso’ (piss-o) AKA a flat, gato (cat, not to be confused with the French, gato, meaning cake). That and shouting “tortoise!” whenever Captain Jack goes to the Island or Tortuga. Hopefully by April I’ll be able to construct a few sentences. Perfect timing for when I go to the Turkish/ Greek Island of Cyprus.

As my title sums up, I hope doing all this will enlighten, educate and sophisticate. One thing is for sure, I’ll either come out of this as a graceful lady like the ones in Jane Austen novels, or I’ll come out like Jane Eyre. Jane is an annoying, whining, poor, girl who throws the attempts of the rich Mr Rochester to lady-fy her in his face when she runs away across the Yorkshire Dales, taking no provisions with her and leaving her money on the coach. WHO DOES ANY OF THAT?! She ends up moaning about being hungry for the next two chapters. Oh dear Lord, no matter how bad it gets, I hope I’m never Jane Eyre. If anyone sees hints of Jane Eyre in me please stage an intervention before it’s too late.

Right, I better go. We have a slight issue developing here. Nothing big, just water coming through the ceiling. Standard Thursday night really. Until the next time.

My Housemate’s a Mermaid: The Post you Came to this Blog for

Before you read this blog there are three things you should know about me. 1. I like tea and coffee. 2. I love my hats and dresses. 3. My housemate is a mermaid.

Yes, you heard right.

I live in a shared house located in the fine town of Swindon (Wiltshire, England). A town renowned for its stunning beauty, charming residents, and it’s thriving young professional social scene. Hah, who am I kidding? It’s none of those things. I’ve now been here almost six months and I’ve learnt just two things. We have this guy who writes his unique take on poetry on the pavement in the town centre (aka the resident ASBO burner), and we have trains. You can leave Swindon in any number of directions on a train and get to somewhere a bit more favourable in no time at all. Cardiff, Bath, Bristol, Oxford, London, all of which take no longer than an hour 15 minutes to get to by train. A town that makes it easy for you to leave. I like to think that if Swindon was a person he/she’d be a Psychologist’s dream patient, but alas it is not. It’s a rapidly expanding town with little of architectual significance other than this piece of road engineering known as ‘the magic roundabout’

Yes, that is indeed five mini roundabouts positioned around one central roundabout.

So, that’s a pit-stop guide to Swindon. Trust me, it’s all you’ll ever need or want to know about this place, well, unless you actually live here. In my opinion Swindon’s slogan should be ‘Visit Swindon: Because lets be honest, it could be worse’. Expecting a call from the tourist board to call any day now…

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, my living arrangements. I live in a three storey shared house in Swindon. I live with four other people (making there five of us altogether), all living under the banner or pretence that we’re all ‘young professionals’. When it’s been a long day at the office it has become our thing to remind each other of this simple fact. It semi works. Four housemates to talk about and no time like the present, so lets get to it.

Becki – AKA the Shire Mermaid / Mermaid Aura

Becki

Who better to start with than the very person my blog’s title revolves around. The person who I have to thank for grabbing your attention, and adding some spice into my otherwise mundane life.

Becki works in CCTV for her day job, doing tough 12 hour shifts which are either 5am-5pm or 5pm-5am.

Job summary: monitoring CCTV cameras, providing security for buildings.

It’s a job which denies her any social life and tends to lend itself more towards a slow rather than fast pace, but it pays the bills and funds her real passion; the world of fantasy and mermaids.

When I moved into the house in August, Becki had two tails, few bikinis and a Mermaid Aura Facebook page. That was it. This winter she is currently working on building her mermaid profile, starting off by renaming herself to the Shire Mermaid. This is to reflect her well travelled background, but also to weave her way into the Lord of the Rings fandoms. I don’t know much about Lord of the Rings (yes, I know I deserve to be shunned) but the closest image I could find on google with the words ‘LOTR’ and ‘Mermaid’ was this:

That could easily be a movie poster/still for a LOTR film. I mean you tell me what’s out of place there?

I’ll pop links to her social media sites at the bottom of this post, but here’s a video of her doing a gig for a Cancer Research UK event:

So that’s Becki. She’s recently started investing more into mermaid accessories and an even better, personalised, silicone tail (her current tails are made of material). This tail from America is going to cost her something in the region of $3500. As I would say, that’s a lotta 11p noodles.

Stay tuned in the upcoming months for more information about my mermaid housemate, but for now, onto the next ‘young professional’…

Cherise – AKA the London Loather

Like me Cherise graduated from University in 2014 and like me she also moved to Swindon recently for the sake of a job. Cherice works at Nationwide head office.

Job summary: credit risk analyst for a high street bank, deciding whether or not to approve mortgage requests.

It kinda flies in the face of my university career-based rant in an earlier post, but Cherice’s job at Nationwide is a job on a graduate scheme. Her job will be secure for a year and after that who knows, she may stay at Nationwide, she may move on. Who knows.

What I do know is that she won’t be skipping back to her home city of London, she loathes the place. The traffic, the price of rent, the fact the 2010 London Riots took place just meters from her family house, there’s nothing about the city that grabs her, despite the fact it was the place she was born and raised. Given London is just over an hour away by train, you’d think she would stretch herself a little out of comfort zone and go here frequently. Nope. Ah, but I bet she studied at a London university I hear you say. No again, she went to Coventry University where she studied, wait for it, Maths (bet you weren’t expecting that).

As a fellow London hater with friends who dote on the city, I couldn’t believe my ears when Cherice told me this piece of information about herself. An instant bond was made and I saw that maybe there was hope in the world yet.

I think now is a good time to leave it here. Once again I have food in the oven, and I’ve underestimated how much there is to talk about. I have learnt something from writing this post mind and that is even Swindon can’t be summed up in one sentence. Maybe the Visit Swindon board really should get me involved with the 2015 tourist guide.

Anywho, keep your eyes open for the next post in which I’ll tell you all about my other two housemates and maybe a line or two (or three…) on yours truly. Until the next time, may your days be as light and fluffy as the jacket potato I’m about to eat.

Ps…

If you want to see more pictures/find out more about Becki, her Facebook page can be found here:

Mermaid Aura

And her Twitter:

The Shire Mermaid