so you think you’ve had a bad date?

I’m sure everyone’s been on a bad date. Up until the start of this year, I hadn’t really had any bad experiences – or rather, after a few bad boyfriends, coupled with a tendency to get anxious around strangers, I had managed to avoid letting any boy come within 5 metres of me. The comfort zone is however there to be challenged, so I’ve been through a string of what you can only call ‘interesting’ experiences (a banker offering to pay to take me home was one of these highlights), which really peaked with a boy who slid into my dms a few weeks ago. Looking back, it is entertaining, but I also want to show how dangerous the influence of social media (particularly Instagram) can be, and how fake everything we’re idolising online really is.

Like I said, I’m always apprehensive when people ask me out and usually do my best to make excuses and get out of dates. Not to be swayed by pretty people, the boy in question was a 9. A 9.5, my housemates were shrieking, and declared that there was no way they would let me out of this one. He’d asked me to gym with him, which turned into a walk in the park, and later some food. He was admittedly as beautiful as his pictures in person, as an ex-topless Abercrombie door model, and general underwear model. 

Straight away, he told me his goals were to travel the world for free as an influencer, and to document it on Instagram and YouTube. I didn’t think much of it; everyone has big dreams. He also loosely mentioned he had a foot fetish, and with all my recent marathon training, my toenails are looking a bit questionable – so I stuck a bunch of fake toenails on before our second date.

He’d offered to make me protein pancakes after I had dinner out with my friends (is there a better way to win me over?!) When I arrived at his house, he was making the pancakes – topless. Despite being perfect and chiselled and very gym-honed, it seemed very staged and fairly cringeworthy. Whatever, I was getting pancakes. Halfway through watching a film, he turned and stared at me, all wide-eyed, before putting one of his vlogs on to ‘show me what he does’. (I pretended like I hadn’t avidly researched him and watched it twice already). He then asked if I knew of Jay Alvarrez and Alexis Ren. Who doesn’t? The power couple took the internet by storm in 2016, posting couple travelling vlogs, making us all lust after their dreamy life; beachy, summer sun and extra sexual. It was at this point that I realised that I wasn’t even really on a date, but more of a business interview.

He next pulled out his modelling casting book, and I had to leaf through the pictures of him, ooo-ing and aaaa-ing to try and feign admiration, although I was incredibly confused and a quite put out by this level of narcissism. He forced one of the pictures of himself upon me, despite my attempts to refuse, and insisted on signing it (who leaves a date with a signed picture of the other person?) He proceeded to tell me that he had discovered me on Instagram, and that I had a lot of POTENTIAL, but wasn’t quite there yet. He repeated that I had the potential to be a ‘strong powerful woman’, but was at this stage not quite good enough, just a ‘baby’ – albeit ‘cute’ one. I was told several times that I inspired him, that I resembled Natalie Portman (not complaining), but that I would have to lose the fake tan (not happening). A ticket to Bali in two weeks on time was on offer; I didn’t have to pay for anything, just bring myself, and I guess whatever brand I represent.

After playing Jay Alvarrez and Alexis Ren’s vlogs, nodding away enthusiastically, (he gave me a sly sideward smile and said that I could do their sex scenes too – if I wanted to), he put on some of the Victoria Secret models’ workout videos. Whilst in no way skinny-shaming, or body-shaming in any form, these girls are incredibly thin. It has taken me years to build up self confidence in my shape, and I am fairly open about my past with body image and eating disorders, yet I was completely taken aback at the suggestion that I needed to be thinner. I just sat in silence, watching these models work out whilst the boy was grinning away and telling me how together we could achieve this look. These videos were briefly interspersed with an old video of Rihanna’s; the grin turned into a frown, and he said that she had become ‘horribly fat’ nowadays. A little too shell-shocked to say anything, I ‘suddenly remembered’ that I had to be up early, collected my things, and called an Uber. I closed the door on calls reminding me of the flight to Bali in two weeks-time.

It’s safe enough to say that two weeks have passed, and I am not in Bali. (My fake toenails have also popped off). Maybe some girl somewhere would have taken him up on his business proposal, but the thought of travelling with someone I’d met a week earlier, who’d sourced me as a business project, and repeatedly told me that I needed some improvements, filming intimate footage for money, is pretty sickening. I guess I was inadvertently groomed in a strange, new, 21st century version of profiting out of girls, thanks to our obsession with social media. I have come away laughing – eventually – and my skin is pretty thick, but after being sourced and unknowingly interviewed to be an insta-wife, I take this as a lesson on being aware of how fake, staged and fictitious the lives of your favourite Instagram stars are. 

TOP 10 THINGS I LEARNED FROM LIVING IN HOSTELS FOR 6 MONTHS

I tend to forget that I lived in hostels for 6 months. I’m kind of a creature of habit (in case you hadn’t realised). I do like a good routine. The barista where I go to get coffee every morning knows my name, as does the candy shop owner where I mass buy watermelon flavoured bubble-gum on the regular. I’m pretty easy to track down in daily life – which is pretty surprising in contrast to the year I spent living out of a backpack. Nonetheless, I still remember the tips and tricks I learned from hostel-hopping across the world.

  • Do your research. I wasn’t really intending to backpacking, or definitely not for quite so long when I started off. The first proper hostel I did stay in was the Arts Factory in Byron Bay. Have you seen The Inbetweeners movie? You know when they arrive at their hostel in Australia and their faces just drop? That’s the one. I probably would have loved it a lot more had I now returned to stay, but it was just a little overwhelming at the start. I chose it off Hostelworld because the pictures looked quirky. Quirky to say the least. A cockroach fell on me whilst in bed. A man with a cockatoo (big white bird) toured around the communal kitchens and played the didgeridoo. I woke up to someone passed out in the toilets. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been fun, but a bit of background research (or rewatching The Inbetweeners) would have meant I probably wouldn’t have chosen such an intense hostel for my first stay.
  • Choose mixed dorms. They are so much more fun! Admittedly this worked well until I was semi harassed/assaulted twice whilst trying to sleep in Cairns (and reluctantly stayed in all girls for a few weeks thereafter) but mixed dorms generally have a much more upbeat and enthusiastic vibe. Everyone tends to be more keen to mingle and go out and explore (not saying all-girls are boring…).
  • Get people to add you on Facebook. Maybe you’re not as bad at names as me. Faces I can recognise, but names go completely over my head no matter how many times they’re repeated. I spent a whole week in Ho Chi Minh with this guy whose name I don’t just not know now, but really didn’t know at the time either, and became too painstakingly awkward to ask for it (this proved awkward upon multiple occasions of the week). If you meet any cool travellers, you can hunt them down to explore via social media whilst also having a sure-fire method of not forgetting their names.
  • Expensive isn’t always better. Especially if you want a good atmosphere. Some of the best hostels I stayed in were in Vietnam for between $1-$5 a night. 
  • Check the amenities. I’m not trying to sound prissy, but aircon became my best friend. I spent a week in Sydney in a hostel without aircon whilst it was 40c and the hottest week of the year, and never again. Sleeping wasn’t really sleeping, but rather profusely sweating away in my bunk all night, and having mild arguments with the girl below over which way the fan was to be turned. I also ended up sleeping outside on a mattress (with a bug net), surrounded by stray cats on Gili Air by accident after not researching properly, so I can’t stress this enough. 
  • Bed bugs! I’m now a self-declared bedbug expert after having two infestations in 6 months. I know it’s kind of irritating – when you first get into your room, you want to throw down your bags, whip out a change of clothes and head out to explore with whoever you’ve found – but a quick once over glance at the sheets prevents a horrible aftermath. Bedbugs leave small squished blood trails on the mattress. I was asked twice in Seminyak what skin condition I had after being bitten all over, and had to pay £30 (a LOT in Vietnamese money) to have my backpack and all my clothes steam pressed.
  • Facebook groups. If you haven’t met anyone to explore with in your hostel, or have particular areas you want to go with further afield, every traveller’s city tends to have a backpacker’s Facebook group. My favourite was the one in Bondi. I traded in my suitcase for a backpack. People used to post what they were about two escaped pets, two very vibrant and rainbow coloured parrots who were incredibly tame – weekly posts on the Facebook group showed that the parrots actually belonged to a known someone, and whilst they might trespass on your balcony for a bit, they always returned home (this made spotting the two parrots all the more exciting).
not one of Bondi’s infamous free parrots, but a parrot nonetheless
  • Don’t sit down in the shower. Admittedly, this one is pretty common sense, but I like a good sit down to think things over, and consequently came home with ring-worm all down the backs of my legs. (Ring-worm isn’t a living creature, as ominous as it sounds. Think more of an exotic eczema).
  • Hostels almost always have a lost and found. Benefical for when you want to save money, and nothing quite as exciting as a half-used tub of aloe vera.
outdoor mattress in bali
  • Occasional breaks from hostels are okay. After sharing a dorm with 40 people for a while, I stayed in a cheap villa by myself in Bali for a week. I was heinously excited, and it was great for a night (a double bed becomes such a luxury), but surprisingly enough, I ended up kind of lonely and missed the cacophony of 40 snorers. Nonetheless, a break here and there is still good if you need some private space.

In the end, travelling is less down to where you’re staying, and more the people you meet. Hopefully, with these few tips and tricks from what I personally learned and the mistakes I made, you can hopefully quickly learn to love life out of a backpack!

SEASIDE

It’s what you British like to call summer-time, and you’ve dragged me to the sea. You wouldn’t believe it. The canopy of clouds is too thick for any sun to pierce its way through. Were we still in LA, on a beach day back with my family, the beach would be littered with scantily clad tourists and sunbathers. Here, we are alone. Almost alone, if you discount the faint silhouette of a man and dog tossing a ball to and fro. I don’t mind it. In fact I think I prefer it. I can hear the wind and the waves and a few stray gulls and your laugh piercing these sounds of the sea as you toss something my way.

I feel saltwater seeping into my old worn welly, but I don’t mind that either. I scrunch up my toes and it seeps slightly further into my socks, a slightly cold and prickling sensation. Your mum lent me these. Pulled the well-worn boots out of a cupboard with a delighted smile and told me I was going to love the British seaside. It took a little to win her over. I paid due care in saying please and thank you, and complimenting her cooking, but what really won her over was when I got down on my hands and knees whilst she was weeding, and asked questions about the clematis and rhododendrons. You were in the shower. I could see her face light up, the formal mask she likes to hold up around me soften. I know she’s apprehensive. They blame me a little for your jet-setting lifestyle. You always spend a lifetime in the shower, enough time for her to point out the late-Spring bloomers, and rant about the peat-laden soil in the area. After that she was warmer, brushing my shoulders as she walked past, or filling up my mug of hot coffee without asking. She pulled those wellies out of the cupboard with gusto, assuring me that despite the temperature and the dubious looking skies, we would have the best time. Alongside the wellies, I’ve been clad in a thick tweed waterproof, just the sort I imagined your family to have lying around. I almost look ready enough to go out and shoot something. 

Something slaps me on the chest, and I look up. Your light peals of laughter have increased to cackles. Following the unidentified object, I find myself peering at a lilac-hued pile of what appears to be slime. Upon closer examination, I realise that it is in fact a tentacle-less jellyfish. I think you see the annoyance flash across my face, as your laughter slows and you gesture to the tide line.

“They don’t sting. These ones are harmless”.

I roll my eyes, but take a step closer to the streamlined section of beach where the water meets the sand. Hundreds of these lilac-blue blobs line the tideline.

These guys must’ve been unlucky. Happens when the tides change, or it’s too cold”. 

I didn’t know you were a jellyfish expert. I guess that sort of thing happens, when you have tweed jackets in your cupboard. I pick up a loose piece of driftwood and prod one delicately. This triggers fresh amusement on your face. 

“They won’t bite. Or sting. Such a big group of them, it’s called a bloom”.

A bloom of jellyfish. How poetic.

You take a step closer, and I narrow my eyes. I don’t want to be hit by anymore harmless-or-not-so-harmless dead jellyfish. But, you pause, smile, then press your lips against mine. I can taste the salt in your kiss. You pull away, looking almost bashful, and entwine an arm around mine. 

“Come on”.

We meander back to where the car is parked, bracing against the strong winds and the gulls, and the lone man and his dog. You’ve promised your mum you won’t let me leave without tasting the finest ice cream the British seaside has to offer.

BULRUSH – BRISTOL

Bristol seemed like a big-time thing, when I lived in Exeter. It boasted of whole extensive shopping centre – even with with a Hollister! You have to understand that this is the ultimate dream, as an Abercrombie/Jack Wills drenched youth. Admittedly I was a little older when we did end up moving, and the whole Hollister novelty had slightly worn off (considering the sexual assault claims, I guess those topless models weren’t so good after all). Nonetheless, Bristol seemed a whole deal more exciting than Exeter (until I moved to London 6 months later, where there is an abundance of Hollister/Abercrombie stories, albeit very tired and you-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead). Particularly for food – voted the vegan capital of the world last year!

Not to be side-tracked by my questionable fashion choices as a teenager (a Jack Wills onesie still lurks at the bottom of my wardrobe), I’m more here to talk about the food options. No, still not a vegan, but when pressed to decide on tasting menus at Bulrush, in Bristol, I opted for the vegan one. It’s rare that a Michelin starred restaurant offers a complete vegan alternative – and by that I mean actual, thought out dishes, as opposed to the meat option minus the meat. I’m not massive on nouveau cuisine. Sort of in the same sphere as my attitude to alcohol, I was always told that my tastebuds would mature, and that I’d start to appreciate wines and spirits (which still really hasn’t happened but doesn’t stop me shotting them straight), I was told that I would come to appreciate a fine foie gras, or gazpacho (the devil of cold soups), or pate. None of this has unfortunately taken place, and whilst vegetarian, I’m still happier with a bowl of pasta than tiny dishes of mousses and extractions and foam (imagine this all said in the deep and soulful Masterchef voice over).

white asparagus and fried nori and whatever the meat eater was having…

Still, not one to turn down a treat, I was more than happy to try all of Bulrush’s 9 courses as part of their vegan taster. As mentioned before, the menu is tailored accordingly to vegans, and not just the steak without the steak. Situated in Cotham, Bulrush prides itself on organically sourced ingredients, and high-end, well thought out and beautifully executed dishes. I remembered to snap a picture of the menu, because my memory isn’t that good. As you can see, the dreaded gazpacho was indeed present (although cleverly disguised under the name tomato consommé) but it actually wasn’t half bad. My favourite course was admittedly the bread, served with vegan cream cheese which lo and behold actually tasted like cream cheese. The only let down was personally the ‘scarlet elf cap in fermented cep broth’, but as those close to me know, I really do hate mushrooms so mushrooms floating in mushroom water was a bit overwhelming, and my distaste lies with my own mushroom-related fears rather than the dish itself. 

After 1 ‘snack’, 6 savoury courses, 2 desserts and a truffle, you are pretty full – don’t be deceived by the small portion sizes. With the wine pairing, offering 5 glasses in between courses and of course dessert wines to match, you might even lose sight of what exactly you’re eating. Not to fear, for Bulrush exceeds not only in food but also service. Aside from the menu, each dish is clearly explained upon presentation, as is the wine. All waitstaff were incredibly attentive, and you’re given the choice to eat at your decided pace, either eating and relaxing at a languid pace between courses, or having the food as quick at it comes (permanently hungry, I opted for B). The atmosphere remained relaxed, and a polite eye was turned to my mother lecturing me about my career prospects (getting paid to blog remains an unlikely dream…)


21 Cotham Road South

Bristol

BS65TZ

Lunch: Thursday – Saturday 12.30pm – 2.30pm

Dinner: Tuesday – Saturday 6.30pm – 8.30pm

Closed Sundays & Mondays.




ON RUNNING

I am definitely not made for running. I famously tried once to run (slowly) for three days in a row – having not really run at all prior – aged 15, and ended up in bed all day, projectile vomiting on the fourth. My body finds running disagreeable.

A podiatrist who treated my feet several years ago and prescribed me incredibly expensive insoles (one of which I also famously managed to lose on a night out last term. How one manages to lose a shoe and insert at 3am on Oxford Street remains a mystery. Bins were scavenged and checked the following morning, to no avail). My arches were declared a lost cause, and my pronation a source of distress. I was told I would be able to walk a more pain free if I always remembered to wear my insoles and promised to buy supportive footwear (I unfortunately have not touched a supportive sandal since), and abstained from heels (something I have also failed to do). Running was off the cards unless I bought a second and equally expensive pair of insoles in a different shape, with vague threats about my Achilles coming away from my foot.

Fast forward to the second year of uni and I became a little bored of in-gym cardio. It’s pleasant sometimes. I can go on my phone, and don’t break a sweat. There’s air-con, and no chance of running into pedestrians. I already spend enough time as it is in the gym though, and decided I wanted to see a little more of London – and what better way to do it than at a pace.

Okay, admittedly a slow pace. I ran like a snail to Hampstead Heath in September. It took me 20 mins and I was very out of breath afterwards. I caught the tube home. Those of you that have followed or dabbled in couch to 5km will know that it isn’t easy, starting to run. Most people don’t keep up the commitment either, but I’ve come to enjoy it as a designated period for thinking things over, blasting Spotify, getting out into some greenery in the midst of London, and seeing about 20 dogs a morning. Unfortunately I’m such a massive creature of habit that I have now run the exact same route consistently for 8 months, but I’m still pretty happy.

tan enough to hide how red I am

Running a half-marathon was initially my friends’ idea. I’m pretty passionate about mental health awareness and would like to raise both funds and awareness. It seemed like a pretty obvious way to combine the two. I didn’t really train as such, just continued to run for an hour, 2-3 x a week around Hampstead and back. I did the equivalent distance of 26km once the weekend prior and found it pretty gruelling – and that even with a coffee break in the middle.

The actual half marathon was a lot easier than my practice. I mainly have my running partner (and best friend) to thank for that. We sort of silently yet unanimously decided not to stop, and made it round in 2hrs. We started right at the back-of-the-back, and I cannot stress to you the level of people-dodging that went on for the first half hour as we were packed like sardines – something that I hadn’t premeditated. Other than that, the sheer number of people, both supporting charities, and families ready to support any and everyone, are the main reason it’s so much easier. People are caterwauling and throwing haribo at you and bashing drums and waving signs and egging you on in every way they can, so not stopping becomes easy.

Other than 3 black toes and a severely sprained midfoot, my feet also held up sort of okay.

SLEEPWALKING

Some people have weird habits.

Some talk to themselves (we’ll easily overlook that as the first stage of insanity and view it as more of a cute quirk for now).

Some bite their nails (also me). Some also sleep walk, sleeptalk. I’m not an avid sleep walker, don’t get me wrong. It happens only once every few months, so it’s still a bit of a novelty. 

haven’t surprisingly been caught on camera sleepwalking, so you can have some footage of me in bed instead

One of the girls with whom I shared a room in boarding school bought this niche new app that slyly recorded us all as we slept. Surprisingly, no midnight conversations from me, but I was constantly privy to the light snoring and even more absurd sleep-mutterings of five girls. Maybe my sleepwalking knows when it’s being recorded and decides only to rear its head surreptitiously.

My sleepwalking certainly isn’t a new development. Despite highly protesting a 7pm bedtime and futile attempts to escape, I was also occasionally found dreaming whilst out and about the house as a child. Always on a manageable and slightly entertaining level; I’ve certainly never found myself outside, striding down the street at 4am in my pyjamas, or trying to drive (thankfully, I’m bad enough at driving awake).

only relevant because of the pjs

Sleepwalking appears to be a long-lasting condition (I would use the term chronic but that makes it sound like an insufferable disease, whereas my experience so far has been amusing and hardly detrimental). I did go through a period in halls, in which I woke up once outside my flatmates room, clawing on the door in the middle of the night like something fresh out of The Shining. You probably already know that I touted earplugs for a good night’s sleep in a previous blog post. I’ve also woken up in the middle of the night and found myself stuffing said earplugs into my mouth in a more bizarre episode of sleep walking (thankfully I woke up before anything was swallowed).

As amusing as sleepwalking is, it begs the question of what exactly the cause is, and why only a select few experience the joys of waking up wholly disorientated, midst cooking a haute cuisine meal, or trying to shave the cat (don’t panic – I haven’t made it as far as either of these – yet).

one of us is asleep

Somnambulism is the proper term. Sleepwalkers tend to be out and about in the deep stages of NREM sleep. 1-15% of the population is said to experience these onsets, and it is much more prevalent in children than in adults. The exact cause remains uncertain, but some scientists speculate that it is a repercussion of the brain trying to go from the deepest stage of sleep, directly to wakefulness, without reversing through the stages of the sleep cycle. Alcohol and antidepressants exacerbate nocturnal wanderings,

Sleepwalking horror stories are abundant. It’s pretty easy to bring to the stand as a form of defence for larger scale crimes – for who could surely prove whether or not you were conscious, or comatose, disregarding the blood on your hands.

One thing is for sure – the impression that waking a sleepwalker is dangerous is a common myth. It’s always better to wake your dozing friend if you find them ambling about the hall at night.

AFTERNOON TEA AT THE RITZ

we look almost put together, considering the cirumstances

I think it was almost a year to this date that I last dragged myself out, horribly hungover, for afternoon tea at the Sanderson, and remembered to blog about it. This highbrow venture was swiftly followed by an unplanned trip into Camden and a tattoo to balance out the dignity and decorum, so overall an interesting Sunday.

The concept of afternoon tea remains slightly perplexing to me, and I complained that going at 11.30 am to the Ritz, a year later, was terribly early for tea and cake – especially after going out the night before – but still managed to drown my hungover sorrows in sugar, cake and scones.

You get what you pay for in terms of food and service; every waiter is incredibly attentive and proper. You get your tea poured for you. A glass of champagne was offered – towards which I balked, deeming alcohol to be the last thing my hangover needed – and the respective jokes about hair of the dog were courteously exchanged.

I’m not really at the level of blogging where one whips out a professional camera and teeters on a seat to get good angles of food. It’s more a case of stealing furtive, blurry shots of dishes, and swiftly forgetting what I’ve eaten before I get to post about it. Nonetheless, afternoon tea includes an array of sandwiches, three cake type petit fours, scones, and additional cake if that isn’t a wide enough assortment of cake to tickle your fancy. The menu boasts of a whole 18 different types of loose-leaf tea, and they apparently employ a Tea Sommelier (from what I understand, the equivalent of a wine connoisseur, but for tea), who travels the world just to bring the finest of teas to your doorstep. The Ritz is also one of the only traditional afternoon tea hosts to offer a complete vegan menu (on this occasion, I decided not to force vegan cream upon myself), but I’ve read that it is just as good.

I have a pretty simple palate, even when it comes to desserts (I’ll happily opt for chocolate chip cookies over any nouveau cuisine pudding any day of the week), but was pleasantly surprised by the sweets on offer. I may also have been hungover enough to blissfully fill my mouth with anything sweet.

not wholly sure what this was but some sort of rhubarb/white chocolate mousse biscuit

A universal tip for afternoon tea at the Ritz (or really anywhere) is telling them that one of you is celebrating a birthday. One of my friend’s sort of was (albeit a month late). Any mention of a birthday and you get a free cake, lit candle, and a brief rendezvous of happy birthday on the piano. Not quite as embarrassing as an entire restaurant yodelling happy birthday, and who in their right mind would turn down free cake.

Staging a proposal is potentially also worth a shot – you never know, you might even get a bigger cake. 

the ritz

150 piccadilly

london

£58pp


BOSE SLEEPBUDS REVIEW

I’m going to have to backtrack a little. I got a fair few replies to a picture of Bose’s new Sleepbuds asking my opinion, but I shot them down immensely. However, after sleeping with them in for a good two weeks now I’m converted.

(At least I thinkI’m converted; I did wake up the other night, sleepwalking, and turning them off in the process. I tend only to sleepwalk when really stressed, so either deadlines are really getting to me, or my subconscious doesn’t like the sleepbuds quite as much as I think).

I have pretty bad chronic insomnia. That’s not to say that I never sleep; when managed correctly, it doesn’t get in the way of everyday life. That being said, taking one hour to fall asleep is a treat. Two hours is often average, and in cases of extreme underlying stress I don’t sleep at all. I often get asked what I do in the bleak 8hr period that I’m lying awake in bed, and honestly my thoughts can keep me very busy! I’ve been taught the sleep deprivation methods of getting out of bed after 20mins, if you haven’t fallen asleep, and gradually retraining yourself to see fall asleep within a shorter period, but in all honesty, I’m often too lazy to leap out of bed every 20mins.

I’ve been wearing earplugs to sleep since I started backpacking, as sharing a dorm with 40 strangers is enough of an experience without being woken up by a cacophony of snoring, late night snackers, and those brazen enough to dabble in other late night activities even in a room full of other nomads. Earplugs were all good and well until I went semi-deaf after Shambala, and lost 90% of my hearing in one ear for a month. I was lucky enough not to damage my ear drum permanently, but the combination of the vacuum created by earplugs, and napping in a cold, damp tent did end me up in hospital. I’m now – understandably – a little wary of over-the-counter earplugs.

at shambala, looking a little too blissfully happy considering I spent the next 12 hrs crying in a+e

I was really excited to discover the Bose Sleepbuds – there aren’t many similar products on the market. It is easy to see why. Priced at £229.95, they’re not exactly cheap. The design is pretty flawless, with a 16hr battery life, and sleek, portable charging case. They also fit comfortably in the ear, cause no pain or irritation, and never fall out overnight. They don’t however play music (nor should they perhaps, for then they wouldn’t be sleepbuds), but at the price, it would almost be better to buy a high-end but otherwise normal pair of earbuds and play static noise all night.

Noise cancellation isn’t what you’re paying for here. Instead, you get a choice of 10 different calming, ambience tracks. I personally find the crackling campfire, and moving tides too distracting to sleep, but the ‘warm static’ and ‘altitude’ settings mimic the quiet hum you hear on planes. This then blocks out most surrounding noise (I live in the middle of London and have sirens going past every hour), and the comforting sounds of my flatmates falling into the flat, slightly drunk and armed with take out, at all hours of the night.

All in all, I have no faults with the design; the earbuds are sleek and efficient. They are incredibly expensive, considering they play only the 10 select tracks, but this is after all their intention.

Not just useful for sleeping, I’m also wholly excited to be able to wear them to the library and remain blissfully unaware of quite how much racket I manage to make by eating popcorn in the study spaces.

THE RUIN OF A CIRCUS

I used to love going to the circus when I was younger. Not so pro using animals nowadays but this also isn’t anti-circus propaganda. I think I’ve just watched too much American Horror Story… I would ultimately love to do a piece for every act & animal but kept to a select four for now!

  1. tigers

The tigers are tired. They lope around the arena, with sore toes and a resilient bout of mange thinning their furling tails. The circus used to employ a vet, you see, but that part of the budget was first to go. They’re sturdy animals, the director insisted. In reality, they were hardly sturdy, having been flown in from all over the world. An Ostrich in York, shivering against the Autumn breeze. Three elephants in Hertfordshire, braced together against the first snowfall. The streak of tigers , who managed to catch a particularly nasty bout of cat flu from some Somerset moggies, four of which consequently now adorn the Enchantress’ cabin, as a ragged bunch of pelts. Even if the animals can’t take the climate, the director stokes them on, jabbing his fists and flogging any mammal who dare refuse his command. (Three quarters of the once stocked menagerie have now either been immortalised in the form of taxidermy, or lie below ground). The Strongman is by far a cheaper method of dealing with the sickly, and those who don’t do as they are told . Not just physically robust, he’s also the only one not to flinch when they drag out the diseased and ailing and give them a swift bullet through the head. No, but the tigers are tired. They want to lie down, to stretch, and feel the unforgiving sun beating down on their stripes. They know the taste of the whip, if they do falter, pause, even refuse to hurl their weight through one of the flaming hoops. An almost balanced choice of pain, between lurching into the hot flames and the bite of the whip. Not that they weigh much, in this day and age. The tiger who came to tea should be fed on succulent meats; fat steaks and fresh blood. A can of putrid sardines has become the likely dinner. A sorry streak of tigers, absent is the dynamism which once propelled them through the flames. Now, they hesitate and waver. They choose between the lash of the whip, and the lick of the flames, and gamble as to the lesser pain.

(A group of tigers is indeed called a streak of tigers. Gaggle of geese. Streak of tigers. Who knew.)


2. circus master

All eyes on the circus master. He takes centre stage, spotlights amplifying his position. He needs the amplification, really. He’s a small man. Barely reaches five-foot-five, even in the scuffed tap shoes, which bless him with that very necessary extra half inch. Boy does he need it. He used to tower over his performers; maybe not in height, but certainly in stature. Holding that gleaming club in one hand, he had the tigers and the trapeze artists eating out of his palms – quite literally, in the case of the latter. Less so now. Murmurs of dissent run amongst the performers, meows of disapproval from the big-cats. Someone must be responsible for the leaking caravans, for the threadbare costumes, empty seats. Someone must be held responsible for the deserted ticket booths, the empty wage envelopes. They’re starting to starve, the performers. They jostle and leer at the circus master – he still has the largest caravan on site, after all. Needs a lick of paint and new upholstery, but otherwise it’s the most in shape of all the make-do scrap in which the others find shelter. They’re starving, you see. They make joke about eating up the little circus master, a cannibalistic outlet of the rage they feel in their hungry bellies. Well, jokes – they say – but someone has already anonymously carved up one of the emus, roasted it on a spit and left the plumage round the back.


3. animal keeper/costumier

But oh, now, for the animal keeper. Or the costume maker? Oh but of course, the funding to have two such roles ran out almost a decade prior, so the two very different jobs have now been amalgamated into one. A stout little man, he himself flounces around in an old purple brocade that hasn’t been washed since the seventies. He hardly has time to feed the penguins, and make sure the final, left over elephant has something more substantial to eat than hedge trimmings. He’s told his second in command – his chef de partie– of the animal world time and time again that no, the elephant most certainly isn’t going to be eating roasted road kill. In any case, the last sorry carcass he picked up looked awfully like a rat, and aren’t elephants terrified of mice? The last thing he needs is for the sorry looking great hunk of a beast to be throwing any temper tantrums. The circus once had a flurry of pretty pretty girls, who flung themselves up on to the back of the great, lumbering elephant. They sold tickets, with their tight curls and cherry-red lacquered lips. And their costumes, oh to think of the costumeshe once made. Tutus studded with tiny jewels, and tight corsets made of the finest goose down. What he would do to be back amongst his old fabrics, tracing dainty fingers through velvets and silks. His fingers are calloused now. A residual layer of dirt seems to stick below his nails, no matter how hard he scrubs. There’s no money for costumes, and no performers to dress. It’s a good thing he and the elephant get on so well, as he spends far more time caring for the great brute than designing clothes for non-existent acrobats.


4. tarot reader

A smattering of hairballs, as she has a sorry tendency to pull out her own during states of crystal-ball-reading induced psychosis, tired and stained corsets strewn across the floor. Remnants of meals shared with the ill-tempered street cat are growing mould on most available countertops. She’s lived in the same caravan for the past 17 years. It’s not a case of attachment; circus wages hardly afford bespoke wheels and embroidery. If she had it her way, she’d have her customers enter into one of those fancy hand painted affairs, with her name in loping cursive on treated wood. Instead, she must entertain them on the front ‘porch’ (as much as one can be said to have a porch without house). One of the younger construction boys – not much to look at, even given her tendency to let her eyes wander onto the strapping young lads who hoist and heave with the tent poles, and master even the wildest of horses – had a tarpaulin sheet pinned down from the caravan, covering the two seats and table from at least the worst of the elements. It isn’t however wholly waterproof, the odd drip just adds to the ominous atmosphere she tries to create when reading of tall dark strangers and twists in the road ahead. Admittedly, she shouldn’t have let her stained and wrinkled fingers grope their way under the table upon which the crystal rests (the boys almost didn’t notice, too entranced with the orb, and the promises of pretty wives and a poker’s fortune). She might have gained herself a little reputation, here and there. She pretends she can’t hear their catcalls when she goes to dinner. Slinks into the communal tent. Grabs her soup and stale crust, and hunches over one of the empty benches in the corner. She only had her tarots read once; for all a lifetime of pawing out cards and glossing over the future, she doesn’t believe much in knowing what lies ahead before you should. Or, having been told her days would be filled with disappointment, she knows that the cards can cut a little too close to home. 

BERLIN

Good evening! I’m always amazed at how much time seems to fly between blog posts – I‘ve managed to go since August without writing anything which is dreadful but in my defence, I have spent most of this university calendar year with my nose in one book or another, and finding time for extracurricular writing is a challenge, alongside 3+ novels per week for a single module.

Weekend getaways are however seemingly not a challenge, as I spent the last few days in Berlin thanks to post new-year spontaneity and the delights of Ryanair last minute flights. I’m going to warn you now that the 6am Sunday flight back was a big mistake, particularly as Berlin Schoenfeld is severely lacking in adequate 4am drunk snacks and places to sleep.

brandenburg gate

I try to remember to snap pictures of restaurants, landmarks or (much to the displeasure of anyone who accompanies me to dinner) food, to get back into the swing of reviews. Unfortunately, I didn’t do quite so well on taking pictures of landmarks, mainly thanks to the sub-zero weather conditions and numb fingers.

checkpoint Charlie, with ‘checkpoint curry’ avaiable at the nearest takeout

With flights at £50 return, only a few weeks in advance, and an Airbnb around £50 a night for a decent apartment, or slightly more upmarket flatshare, Berlin is certainly one of the more affordable European destinations. Whether it’ll be accessible or not in the future is debatable – the first question I was faced with by any and every German was my thoughts on Brexit (pitifully little, I’m not the one to be asked when it comes to politics). We crammed a lot into 2 days, whereas 3 would probably be a better choice to experience more of what the city has to offer.

Tourist attractions such as the Brandenburg gate, Berlin Victory Column, Reichstag Parliamentary Building, Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial architecture are all within walking distance – albeit more 30 mins. The latter is certainly impassive and eerie, interpretations widely debated but generally suggesting the grey, sobering abstract cubes to suggest the unease of a mass graveyard, and a sense of entrapment.

holocaust memorial

Food wise, the aptly named A Never Ending Love Story offered a basic but appetising brunch of pancakes and avocado toast, boasting neon lights and bubble-gum coloured walls as expected to draw in brunching millennials. Food is overwhelmingly cheaper than in London (surprise surprise), and dinner at Saigon Green boasted cheaper meals and a more vegetarian friendly menu than I found in Vietnam itself. Berlin is increasingly heralded as the most vegan-friendly city in Europe, so meat free options can be found on every corner. Even the infamous post night-out doner kebab shop offers numerous vegan options. On the topic of nightlife – I have absolutely no idea where we ended up out, but it was duly underground somewhere, in some abandoned warehouse building. Entering the elusive Berghain was not attempted on this occasion.

avocado toast, but abroad

After spending a continuous year living out of my backpack and traipsing between hostel dorms, I still haven’t returned to the joys of sharing a room with 40 strangers, so have been using more of Airbnb as of late. We stayed in Humboldthain – a little north of the direct centre. Public transport makes all of the suburbs very accessible, and is easily navigated, although unfortunately not contactless. 

My German is a little rusty round the edges at the moment. I can still understand everything, but sometimes I’ll go to speak and it feels as though someone has packed my mouth full of cotton wool, or my voice being 5 seconds behind my brain. Luckily, the German education system means that students excel at foreign languages, and pretty much everyone can speak English better than our basic equivalent of GCSE French or Spanish. So you can bring your pocket guide and put your best Guten Tag and danke and zwanzig Euro on show, but you’ll often find yourself met with a slightly amused English reply.

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