q&a with graphic designer and musician Nick Koch


What a joy to welcome the incredibly talented and creative Mr Nick Koch to the Salt and Sparkle Q&A!  I've had the pleasure of knowing Nick and his family for a number of years.  He sings with a mystical rich voice that evokes memory and hope.  Nick is a guy who walks joy and hope into a room.  He's fun, full of mischief and has a huge and very exciting future a head of him.  You can connect with Nick on Insta or Facebook, or hire him to do some work for you by shooting him an email.

Who are you, what’s it like being you …

That’s a big question. Where to start? Well… my name is Nick Koch. I am a creative designer currently based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I currently work for a local design agency called Mammoth as a Digital Designer. Before that I spent 4 years at Flint Studios, whom I joined as a graduate.

I primarily work in UX/UI design for websites and digital products, however, I have a love for anything digital, & non-digital. Basically I just love being creative. From App design and Film, to branding,print, music and the occasional bit of woodwork if it’s a collaboration of beauty and function I’m into it.

Outside of my day job I am usually looking for a new challenge, a new adventure or satisfying my wanderlust. 

In the past couple of years I have run my first marathon, done my first solo skydive, walked the Camino de Santiago, hiked the Rockie Mountains in Colorado and nearly broken my pelvis skiing (it’s a long story, let’s just say the ego can be a cruel master at times).

That’s a little bit about who I am, what’s it like…well at the minute it’s pretty awesome but the adventure is only getting started.

 Where are you from, where are you based …

I was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I have spent nearly all my life in this small part of the apart from a brief spell in Scotland. 

During the week you’ll find me in the Mammoth Digital Department. At the weekend…who knows

 Talk about your work ...

So, I am a creative designer primarily working in the digital sector. My daily work is usually User experience design(UX), User Interface design (UI) and website design however I also work in video and animation. Website design is great because the industry is so young it feels like it is changing and progressing every day. The web was only invented in 1994, that’s only 22 years ago! It is in it’s infancy and it’ super exciting to see where it will go in the next 5-10 years.

 What are your future plans ... 

Hopefully to keep progressing in what digital technology and design has to offer. I wouldn’t want to limit myself to one particular area as there is so much to discovered. However, Augmented Reality is something that I am finding increasingly fascinating at the moment. The recent Pokemon Go trend that exploded this year has shown that the general public are willing to adopt the technology. It may have been a very crude adaptation of it but it showed that there is a market for it. I think that it will be really exciting to see what developments there are in the next 5-10 years and I would love to be at the coalface of that.

One of my main goals is to expand my horizons beyond Belfast. As great a city as it is and it has really progressed in the past 10-15 years I think a person needs to immerse themselves in different cultures in order to grow as a person and learn more about the people and the world around them.

I would love to return to Colorado and live and work in that culture. It has a thriving creative and tech community and has one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. Seriously, if you haven’t been I highly recommend it.

However, I am willing to go wherever the wind may take me and opportunity arises.

 How do you find inspiration, who you are inspired by ...

I take inspiration from everything, mostly through the people around me. I love working with other people and collaborating. I love coming up with an idea and discussing it with someone, getting their view of it and creating something even better together.  

Describe your space ... 

A calculated mess. Covered in sitemaps, website questionnaires, at least 3 cups/glasses at a time (1 for coffee, 1 for tea, 1 for water). I have always been suspicious of someone who has a perfectly tidy desk. I currently work on a 27” 2011 iMac during the day and a macbook pro at weekends, evenings or when inspiration strikes.  I recently moved back to a laptop as I felt I needed to get out of the office more and this let me do that. I think this is really important. I don’t think 9-5 at a desk is conducive to being creative.

 How are you feeling today ... 

Pretty good. Enjoying answering these questions! Need to go for a run though.

A non-negotiable in your life is …

Be true to your self.

I have learnt a lot about following my instincts in the past couple of years.  There will always be people who will tell you not to do something and we tend to listen to them as it’s a safe option. I don’t know if this is a nonnegotiable or something I’m trying to learn, but, I want to try experience as much in life as possible and do what feels right for me. 

Most encouraging words you have ever heard ...

I think I find actions more encouraging than words. The most encouraged I ever felt was when i was offered my first design job. When you are a student you are full of self doubt about your skill. To have someone to say they were willing to pay me for my skills was massively encouraging. 

Your work life philosophy is ...

I never want to hear the words, “That will do…” In everything I do it needs to be with intent, purpose and to the best of my ability. I’m trying to learn to improve everyday.

What is your favourite smell ...

hmmm, good question, Christmas day is a hard smell to beat.

Who do you like to listen to, what’s playing just now ...

I love music! all kinds. I know that sounds like a cliche but i’ll listen to anything if I am in the write mood. My go to artists tend to be more folk/singer songwriters. I was raised on Paul Simon. On a side note, Graceland is the greatest album ever created and I’ll hear no-one say otherwise. 

I am currently obsessed with the soundtrack to the musical Hamilton, much to the bemusement and frustration of my housemates and friends. I find American history fascinating and the melodies and lyrics that Lin Manuel Miranda created are incredible. He changed the game. 

Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ...

Hmmm tough question. The first one that comes to mind would have to be eating Buffalo steak in Zimbabwe overlooking a waterhole with countless elephant, zebra, and giraffe.


Water, Hops & Barley…& yeast… that’s four…

eh… beer, beer is the best ingredient.

Three things or products that have changed your life...

My first iMac. I borrowed it for 6 months from a design company I was doing a design internship at. It gave me the opportunity to explore design and set me on my way to pursuing design as a career. 

My iPhone. not much to explain. This device has changed everyone’s life.
My Passport.


How do you relax ... 

I feel most relaxed when I am outdoors. There are few better feelings than being on top of a mountain. I wish I got the time to do it more.
But i love music, playing guitar, singing, movies and drinking beer and whiskey with my friends.

What makes you happy, where’s your happy place ...

Being creative with other people makes me really happy! I love collaboration!

Playing with my niece and nephew.

In a local bar having great conversation.

What is your favourite journey, where in the world would you like to visit ...

My favourite travel journey was walking the Camino de Santiago. It is a wonderful journey in learning about yourself and people.

There are so many places i want to visit but my top 3 are 1. Machu Pichu, Peru   2. Cuba (Before it gets commercialised)  3. Petra, Jordan

What do you most value in your friends ...

Trust & Dependability  

What are your favourite words, what are you reading, just now ... 

Oooo… there are so many great quotes. Two of my favourites are from my favourite book, East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

The first is “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

The second I have tattooed on my arm, “Timshel”, which means Free Will in Hebrew. I won’t try to explain it as it’s so much better coming from Steinbeck, but people should look out for this passage.

I am currently reading “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac and the 3rd book from Neale Donald Walsh’s trilogy “Conversations with God” 

Share some words of wisdom ...

Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something. Get out there and experience as much as possible.

And, it’s good to fail.



Thank you for joining us Nick.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


If you fall we fall - mental health photography exhibition by Belfast photographer James McCourt - Go and see this 

Also showing at

Youth Action Centre, 21st January 2017, 7.30pm. 
14 College Square N, Belfast BT1 6AS

The exhibitions will showcase James McCourt's photographs, a chance to meet the team and a live performance of MMA. All print sales will see a donation to a mental health organisation in Belfast.  Hopefully these shows can raise awareness that we all can do something to support mental health.

The photographs are taken by up and coming Northern Irish documentary photographer - a talent to watch this man is going far - James McCourt.

James McCourt is talented.  He has vision. He is doing something to raise awareness of mental health. To help stop suicide.  He is bringing hope to his community by his work is  on an inner city farm in West Belfast City Farm by through bringing hope to a community ripped apart.  First through violence and murder; then through suicide.

James is a man who sees a situation many see as completely hopeless and he brings life to it.  Through his lens.  His words.  And through his ability to say NO MORE.

McCourt is a man who's vision bring hope and life to a place where life has been for too long, far from precious. He uses his creativity as a gift.  He is a Brave with his love for life and his desire to see others realise the potential and gift of their lives to others.

I stand with him and am honoured to publish these pieces of his work.   This is a post that has moved me to tears time and time again.

To choose to support him and a community riped apart by death contact him on his websiteshoot him an email if you have a project you'd like to hire him for, and check out his insta. 

Thank you James for sharing what you are doing with us.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Take Part in the Big Garden Birdwatch the world's biggest wildlife survey!

 Today's guest post is from Amy Colvin from the RSPB NI.


Take part in the world's biggest wildlife survey with RSPB Northern Ireland 28-30 January 2016.

 The Big Garden Birdwatch is a chance for everyone to help nature by donating just one hour to count the birds and other wildlife in their gardens. The data gathered from this survey provides a vital health-check of the wildlife that makes its home here.

For the first time the RSPB have extended the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend by another day to give even more people the chance to get involved.  Visit the RSPB Birdwatch website and spend one hour counting the birds you see at any time during 28, 29 or 30 January.

You can use the handy online bird counting tool on the website to identify and record the birds as you see them directly on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. Or, if you’ve registered in advance, you can fill in a paper survey form and post it back to the RSPB. They’d also love you to log some of the other wildlife you see in your garden – from squirrels to hedgehogs.


As temperatures drop, the natural food available for wildlife becomes scarcer and so birds are more likely to visit our gardens in the hope of supplementing their diets. RSPB NI recommends providing a mix of food sources like seeds, peanuts, sunflower hearts and suet balls to help them keep their energy up during the winter months.

These can be bought in most supermarkets, garden centres and pet shops. Kitchen leftovers like mild grated cheese, cold potatoes, apples and pastry scraps will also go down a treat.


Register to take part in Big Garden Birdwatch 2017  - children can also get involved by counting the birds which visit their school grounds until 17 February. Teachers can get involved in Big Schools’ Birdwatch.

The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.


Top ten bird species spotted in NI during Big Garden Birdwatch 2016:




% of gardens




House sparrow






Blue tit






Great tit












Coal tit





Top spots to do Big Garden Birdwatch around Northern Ireland:





Belfast’s Window on Wildlife


100 Airport Road West, Belfast Harbour Estate, BT3 9ED

Portmore Lough


George’s Island Road, Aghalee

Lough Neagh Discovery Centre


Oxford Island National Nature Reserve, Craigavon, BT66 6NJ

Lurgan Park


Windsor Ave, Lurgan BT67 9BG

Crawfordsburn County Park


Bridge Road South, Helen's Bay, BT19 1JT

Castle Espie


78 Ballydrain Rd, Comber, Newtownards BT23 6EA

Ballyronan Wood



135A Shore Rd, Ballyronan, Magherafelt BT45 6JA

Prehen Wood


105 Prehen Park, Derry~Londonderry BT47 2

Peatlands Park


33 Derryhubbert Road, Dungannon, BT71 6NW

Knockmany Forest


B83 Knockmany Road, Augher, BT76 0XJ

Castle Caldwell


A47 Kesh to Belleek Road, approx BT93 2AB



A4 Sligo road and A32 Swanlinbar Road, BT92 1DB


*Please note admission is chargeable at some of these locations. Please contact individual attractions for information on prices and opening times.


Thank you Amy - it was a pleasure to have you at Salt and Sparkle talking about a subject very close to our heart - birds. I hope everyone will take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, my nephews and I will be doing it.

That's it for now ...


Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable




A Blessing for the New Year


On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

“A New Year Blessing” John O'Donohue
Benedictus (To Bless The Space Between Us)


a blessing - At the End of the Year


The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline’s longing 
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.

Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.

The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.

The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.

Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

-- John O'Donohue (To Bless The Space Between Us/Benedictus)


Christmas Cheese, Port and Presents from Marks and Spencer

 Cheese and Christmas have two words ever been more synonymous.  This is the time of year to really enjoy rich and creamy cheeses.  Marks and Spencer as always have a wonderful selection.  I particularly like their Christmas gift box with an Apricot, Ginger and Sage chutney, some nutty crackers and four very good cheeses.  

 To this I added Cashel Blue, my favourite blue Irish Cheese - one that always satisfies whether a wedge on a cracker or a piece melting on the top of a steak.  It is smooth, creamy and rich.  

Cashel Blue is made at Beechmount a 200 acre farm in County Tipperary from grass-fed milk, it is a pure and perfect cheese.  And, has been one of Ireland's favourites for over 30 years.

The Marks and Spencer selection of cheeses include a Double Glouster, Gould's mature cheddar, a Shropshire Blacksticks blue and Raven's oak goat's cheese.

I serve my cheeses on a simple Donegal slate plate.


 This Cranberry, golden raisin, clementine and brandy stilton is sweet and smooth, a favourite with those who like their cheeses a little sweeter.

 It works well with the crunchy seeded crackers and a blob of apricot, sage and ginger chutney.

 Cheese Boards are instant meals or snacks.  Serve with chutney, lots of crackers and some smooth things to drink.

 Port and Cheese - that phrase brings back so many memories for me from my days in the little grey toon of St Andrews.  

Grahams "The Tawny" is a perfect present for a porter lover or one to serve with cheese.  It is light in colour with a warming rich flavour.  This deep, golden-amber port haa rich bouquet of orange peel, cinnamon and dried fruits, particularly raisins, prunes and figs. The palate fruity, with cherry flavours and a long, clean finish.


 I especially like its presentation box this is one for Uncle's, Papa's and Daddy's.  It is also great with Christmas Pudding at the end of Christmas Dinner.

 Marks and Spencer Rare Cream Sherry is a bit like drinking mince pies - sweet rich and luscious.  Aged in the unique Solera systems of old oak barrels, it is transformed into a wonderfully complex nutty fortified wine, which is blended with a little Pedro Ximez to add rich, raisin sweetness and luscious body.

 Santa in our house likes sweet sherry and mince pies - what does your santa like to nibble and drink when he visits to leave presents?

 Marks and Spencer all butter mince pies are moist and juicy with plump fruit in the filling, and a light, golden pastry casing.  Oh they are so good, when I was tasting Dad popped in and he said, 'I just keep eating these mince pies they are so tasty.'  A sure sign of success.

 Tea and Toast - is there any better comfort food.  I kid you not, tea and toast seems to cure all ills.  As Storm Barbara batters against my window the driving rain and pounding rain are making great swell for surfers which I can watch from my window.  I am snuggling down to tea and toast.  And, it is an idea for an original Christmas present - fresh baked bread from the artisan range at Marks and Spencer.  I choose Irish Wheatnen and the Pecan and Cranberry loaf, wrap them in a tea towel to allow the bread to breathe and give with some Irish Country Butter and Marks and Spencer sparkling prosecco apricot jam and runny Spanish honey with slices of orange.



 With a love for everything sparkly this conserve makes me think of warmer summer days because of its bright apricot flavour.


 Orange blossom honey from Spain is a realy treat, the thin pieces of orange peel bring a depth of flavour.


 A biscuit from a tin and a cup of tea, right there is another cure for ills.  There's not much a cup of tea and a biscuit can't help.  For 2017 get yourself a selection of teas from Marks and Spencer and this fabulous robin shortbread biscuit tin.  It will brighten the most deary January days.  And while you're at it buy one for friends as well - a great present for bird lovers, next door neighbours and friends in need of something comforting.

 Cranberry and dark chocolate jaffa cakes ... just lovely with a good cup of tea.

 While your buying your Christmas pudding buy two or three more and hand them into shelters or churches that are packing hampers, or have a food bank.  There are more food banks than ever before inthe UK and they really need us to supply them with great products.

This Marks and Spencer Australian Shiraz from the Limestone South Coast is a great one for sipping or giving. A rich Aussie Shiraz packed full of autumnal fruit flavours of apple and pear, and blackberry.  There are warm spicy pepper aromas over a voluptuous yet surprisingly elegant palate.  

I really love this Marks and Spencer Silver Frond vibrant dry Sauvignon that is bursting with ripe gooseberry flavours.  A herbal aromamatic nose with undertones of luscious fresh lime and crushed nettle palate, it is fun and sparkly perfect to liven up any Christmas dinner. It is from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, an area of sun-kissed vineyards set among pristine lakes, rivers and hills – a haven for the Sauvignon Blanc grape to grow. M&S winemaker Jeneve Williams made this wine with local winemaker Andrew Blake of Giesen, sourcing grapes from a number of prime vineyards to really show off the quality and clarity of the region’s fruit.  Grape Variety: 99% Sauvignon Blanc, 1% Pinot Gris

This Marks and Spencer Christmas cake is spicy,  with rich fruit flavours, brandy-laced and royal-iced with sparkling poinsettas.  It is a masterpiece for your table.  

 Matured for eight months, it is filled with port-soaked Vostizza currants that are grown in the mountains in the Aeghion region of Greece, in a microclimate and rich soil that help give them a distinct flavour, while the flame raisins are dried from extra sweet and juicy red grapes.  

 Serve it with a good cup of tea or a glass of Grahams Tawny Port.


Merry Christmas my friends, may your day be full of joy and laughter.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable 


Virtually Instant Fondue

I like to keep things in the pantry and fridge at this time of year that allow me to put together a wonderful meal with ease.  Christmas is a time when people come calling or if you are anything like me you invite people 'come back to ours' after any event you are at - a carol service, closing time at the bar or a bracing walk on the beach.  Having people in my home seated around my table is one of my favourite things year in year out.  I will never tire of cooking for others.

At this for many the most wonderful time of year a simple Christmas Cheese Fondue is a delight.  You can make one from scratch using the fantastic Marks and Spencer range of cheeses or you can make a virtually instant one using this soft French Le Bon Grivois cheese from Marks and Spencer.  I have never known anyone to turn down fondue.

Make a light cross on the top of the cheese then bake in a hot oven, about 220' for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and gooey.

Serve with slices of crusty Northern Irish wheaten bread cut into fingers.  The sweet moist crumb of the bread with the running bubbling cheese.

Le Bon Grivois is a soft round cheese, made of raw milk, and it has a washed rind which is washed every couple of days with salt water. It is matured for three weeks on wooden spruce boards. Soft and unctuous without being too sharp, I love its taste with the nutty wheaten bread.

I always have a pot of soup ready to feed people at Christmas this year it is leek and potato.  I serve it with pieces of crispy black bacon scattered over the top.  Serve a bowl of soup with this Marks and Spencer Le Bon Grivois fondue and you have a delicious hearty and quick meal.

And of course  - with bread and cheese a glass of chilled Sauvigon Blanc always goes down a treat.  This Seaglass Californian sauvigon blanc from Marks and Spencer is fresh and its lemony sharpness cuts through the cheese.

Merry Christmas, that's it for now ...




Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable