MENTAL HEALTH IN THE NHS – WORKING ON PREVENTION

I received an email a little while back, stating that my DNA was being shipped to Milton Keynes. I had largely forgotten that, a good 5 years ago now, I participated (donated? I’m not entirely sure what the correct term is) in a wider project named Charlotte’s Helix. Charlotte Bevan sought to collect samples from over eating disorder 25,000 sufferers in a bid to begin prioritising the need to research one branch of mental illness which is demonstrating itself to be evermore genetic. Charlotte passed away in 2014, and the project has slowly continued in her absence.
I think my DNA is now in Milton Keynes (sort of exciting). From what I gather, the NHS National Institute for Health Research has asked BioResource centres to transfer DNA collections to a different location, and connect different pools of data for a wider field of research. It sounds like things are (hopefully) progressing.

Once I’d investigated the email enough to decide it wasn’t spam, having really forgotten my 2013 trip to the King’s College Maudsley NHS trust, I’ve been pressed to write a little more about my own experience with the NHS. It’s a love hate relationship, as you will come to discover. I gave my DNA in to Charlotte’s Helix, hoping that one day, we will have the knowledge to combat mental illness from a point of prevention and preparation. Following the same line, although dissociating from genetics, I also really hope that one day, the NHS might be better set up as to red flag people who require treatment, and provide an improved service, as to increase the chances of recovery, in cost effective methods which have already been researched by BEAT, and will be provided below.

Under NHS England waiting times targets for eating disorders, under-18s who are classed as an emergency should receive treatment within 24 hours, urgent cases should be seen inside a week and non-urgent cases within four weeks. I’m not entirely sure what the exact categorisation for ‘urgent’ is, but I’m guessing that it is developed established according to a critically low bmi, and life threatening vitals. These targets are largely not being met. Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow cabinet minister for mental health, has continued to voice disapproval surrounding the lack of direct funding to mental health sectors, drawing attention to the 2016 BEAT report mentioned below. BEAT is honestly a blessing in the campaign for awareness, recognition and funding towards all forms of eating disorder.

Now I’m definitely approaching this more from the eating disorder point of view, over anything depression/OCD related (else this blog post would end up well over 10,000 words, and I’ve already been told you get bored if over 800, and/or in the absence of pics…)
I was lucky to get into treatment for these other issues mainly on account of how low my weight was, and went on to receive private treatment thereafter.
A little researching shows that referrals for depression are commendably improving; 88% of people are waiting less than 18 weeks for a referral to talking therapy, with the 2016/2017 performance statistics showing a reduction in waiting times and improvement in recovery rates.

I think however that I will lead you to BEAT’s somewhat sobering statistics, tied in with my own experience.

BEAT; Delaying for years, denied for months research

  • People wait on average 3 ½ years between falling ill and starting treatment
  • Only 14% of people are referred within four weeks of their first GP visit. Even if you, or a carer, implores the GP for a referral on to a specialised centre of care, it isn’t happening unless your weight is low enough, so for many sufferers, it’s a case of starving a little bit longer before you can be seen.
  • Gender is particularly appalling. Males wait on average 28 weeks on average for a referral, vs 10 weeks for girls.
  • 27% of sufferers did not begin receiving treatment for over 3 years post initial referral
  • It isn’t even smooth sailing once you get a referral. The time between initial GP appointment and referral is usually another 12-18weeks.
  • As if these delayed statistics were not bad enough, every stage and delay is doubled for those over the age of 19, no longer under CAMHS’ wing.

Before I continue, I just want to say that I really don’t hate the NHS. I’ve just had some really interesting and variable experiences. I was told that I wasn’t sick, nor that thin, a few times before getting my own referral (if I get as far in my lifetime as raising a little bit of awareness in how to engage with and respond to even symptoms of disordered eating, particularly in commenting on the weight of someone exhibiting sign of a hugely competitive illness, I will be incredibly happy).

I’ve endured quite a lot of torturous and disorganised CAMHS therapy, and been passed between about 12 employees in total. Outside of mental health issues, I’ve had some really bad and outdated advice over the contraceptive pill, and a poor, googled false diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. All this aside, 6 years of treatment for depression, anxiety, and eating disordered related treatments – according to calculations provided below – puts me at a debt of over £500,000.
Were I not quite so lucky, in America for example, my access to treatment would have been all the more limited. American statistics place a 30 day stint inpatient at around $30,000, with many inpatient clinics running for 90 days – and then bearing in mind that many sufferers will end up inpatient on multiple occasions. The entire recovery process ends up taking several years, on average. Inpatient, followed by extensive outpatient treatment and support easily places the individual in hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical expenses. BEAT suggests that this cost doesn’t just sit on the individual.
Carers end up with an average annual cost of £32,672, taking into account time off work (the most evidence based supported form of treatment for eating disorders is family based), and specific foods such as high calorie Ensures (trust me you’d rather have peanut butter).

2015 BEAT calculated eating disorders to cost the UK economy £15billion per year, £4.6 bil directly to the NHS. This is obviously a huge and ever-increasing figure, particularly when considering the current pressure to cut NHS expenditure (figures show that whilst the Government states mental health spending is at new, record levels, the actual income of mental health trusts in England is currently lower than it was in 2012, when taking inflation into account).

Whilst this extremely expensive inpatient, treatment should generally be regarded as a last resort (replaced instead with the solid support of specialised outpatient clinics), services in the UK are so strapped, that children often end up being sent hundreds of miles away from home. Cherry on the cake sort of trauma, when on top of battling a life-threatening illness, they end up isolated in some far-off part of the country.

For all the faults I find in the NHS’s current approach to dealing with eating disorders (minimum bmi required for any treatment, over a year long waiting lists, the greying GPs from the dark ages who are still insistent that mental health is really all fabricated, and that they’ve seen skinnier so you’re fine), I am extremely glad for the safety net and treatment that we do receive under the NHS – as is my mum for not getting us into half a mil of healthcare debt.

The NHS is not always good, it’s definitely not perfect, but the services are (in the long run) there for sufferers, and hopefully with recognition and awareness we can work on improving the treatment services provided.

BEAT puts forward two comparable patients, to demonstrate the effectiveness – both in terms of cost and, more importantly, psychological assistance and recovery – of a faster method of response and treatment to an initial diagnosis of eating disorder. I wish I was savvy enough to make little graphs or flow charts to demonstrate their paths, but unfortunately my GCSE IT lessons were dropped for CAMHS (I use this excuse whenever someone tries to get me to use spreadsheets).

  • Patient 1) Seen at GP. Waits 3 months for a hospital referral. Receives referral in the post, and must wait 4 months until seen at hospital and diagnosed with moderate anorexia. Patient 1 receives dietitian/doctor appointments bi-weekly and is put on waiting list for individual therapy. 6 months later, patient 1 begins individual therapy, however they are now so ill due to prolonged wait that they must enter inpatient for 6 months. Their bmi is restored to a healthy level, and they are discharged from hospital and begin extended family therapy for 6 months + = £83,807
  • Patient 2 ) Having suffered for two years, seen at GP and referred immediately. Referred to intensive outpatient, followed by 6 months of 5 day a week day care (outpatient) – 7 months of family and individual therapy = £40,716.
    Loosely, BEAT stipulates that the current and painfully slow system of treatment costs more than twice as much in the long run, as well as obviously taking far longer to assist the sufferer back to recovery.
  • I’ll save you the extended details, but my experience looks not dissimilar to patient number 1, other than my mother fighting tooth and nail to prevent me from being sectioned; hence no inpatient, just an extra 5 years of family based and individual therapy added on. Much in the same way as patient 1, I was not that unwell when initially referred. Still extraordinarily sad, dysfunctional, and vehemently in denial, but probably at a bmi of around 17. The first response my family had from taking me to multiple GPs was a very finite ‘she’s not skinny enough’. I feel like some things, even for those completely obtuse to mental health, are self explanatory – calling someone even potentially borderline, or undiagnosed, ‘not unwell enough’ is pretty obviously included. It triggers a ‘not yet’ type of clause, which the sufferer will then often be pushed to achieve.

    So, to conclude, I do wish the NHS was funded adequately, and that enough of those resources were pooled towards mental health. I wish sufferers didn’t have to wait as long, and suffer the consequences of being shifted from service to service. I wish those services were more up to date, and that even GPs were trained more in how to assess and deal with disordered patients as the first port of call. I am however still deeply grateful to the blanket of care provided by the NHS, and hopefully, with charities such as BEAT working hard to disclose and promote awareness surrounding better paths for treatment, we can work towards a more efficient and swifter form of treatment, which in turn should prove to be a cost-cutting method with more benefits for the patient at the end of the day.

    Please do check out Charlotte’s Helix!
    Either for any donations (I’m still trying to persuade people to do the 3 peaks challenge with me…), or as a sufferer/past sufferer of anything eating disorder related, OR even as someone related to a sufferer, if you’re willing to give some DNA for a great cause!

    AIMLESS WANDERING

    dedicating this to Nessie & Tab since I miss them both terribly, despite my unrelenting protests when actually forced to walk them. Plus, a flood of dog pictures can only be a good thing for readership numbers

    I occasionally get asked why I don’t blog regularly more, and to be honest, I tend to often forget that my little star-studded space still exists. I’m also never lacking (admittedly pathetic) excuses as to why I end up going months without posting anything – mainly related to a constant blanket of writer’s block which I hope will one day lift itself.
    After speaking a little more openly about my experiences with mental health on Instagram, I’ve had a fair few requests to write more on the topic, plus a bunch of requests for more info on how I train, so I’m going to do my best to oblige (although despite all the inquiries, I actually don’t have any personal training qualifications, and have not yet stooped to shilling £10 booty building programs and touting Herbalife. We’ll see how my morals survive if uni gets anymore difficult).

    It does make me inanely uncomfortable at times. After trading handles with someone on a night out, I was drunkenly faced with a bunch of boys commenting on my before/after picture, saying how awful I looked before, if I still considered that attractive. It isn’t exactly the drunk scenario I hope to end up in, and part of me worries terribly about how people might come to prejudge my current state by my past. To an extent I pay a price for the exposure, but one that I’m also happy to carry.

    I’ve been asked a lot for my tips and tricks in battling mental health issues. As anyone will tell you, it’s not a clear path. It’s probably the most clouded and obscure path there is. Think thick moor fog, Woman in Black style, and no headlights. Nonetheless, there are a selection of habits that helped me, amongst which I would put purposeless walking – something that becomes more and more of a rarity and a luxury in today’s culture.

    I’m definitely a little bit lazy nowadays. Whenever my family bring up the annual Christmas stroll, I do construct a good counter-argument (why the hell does anyone who doesn’t own a dog go for walks? I could totally justify it when we had an army of terriers, and several pony-sized labradoodles cowering behind said terriers, but without a dog to be walked, I’m always in firm support for Christmas naps and whatever sad vegetarian Christmas food ends up being provided). That being said, I spent a lot of time walking alone, when I was in one of my less positive stages of life.

    Before I continue, I have to make it clear that no music was involved – god forbid. How does one walk, in the twenty-first century, without Spotify blaring down your eardrums, I can practically hear you objecting already. I would absolutely agree. I can now hardly walk the two minutes down the road to pickup snacks at Sainsbury’s without my headphones on. That being said, I think that constantly listening to music on the go sort of cancels out a lot of deep thoughts.
    Slow, purposeless walking, often in a scenic setting, has been linked to a therapeutic state of deep thought (not even a Buzzfeed source, I swear). Dickens wandered endlessly at night, brooding up many of his infamous novels, as did Wordsworth, the renowned poet who I am sure many of you were blessed (literally blessed, for the focus on religious topics) in A Level studies. Forrest Gump covers nearly a continent and grows an impressive amount of facial hair, demonstrating quite aptly the many, many benefits of extended walks.

    I’m not shooting down music. I love the Spotify discover weekly (my mind was to a degree blown by the news that Spotify weekly was not the same for every user, and tailored individually. Who knew) and do get a little excited when it updates every Monday morning. I also love podcasts. I do however think that constantly listening to something does remove an element of the scope for deep thought that we get in silence. Starting to think about – during the day – the things that more often than not kept me up at night, started to give my mind a chance to reflect, and come to terms, with certain memories and thoughts.
    This really isn’t a quick process. In my previous home, based in the middle of nowhere, deep in Devon countryside, there was the perfect 5km trail setting off from the drive way. I walked this consistently once (sometimes twice) a day for 6 months, and at least twice a week for 6 years. I could probably walk it blindfolded and not end up in any potholes, even now. I’ve dragged a load of my friends around this track too, come rain and shine. I’ve walked in wellies in Winter, and even once (very, very bad decision) barefoot in Summer. I’ve tried running, decided I’m very much not a runner, and returned to aimless wandering. You get to enjoy nature, and watch the seasons change (a rarity and something that I now miss, living in a city), as well as giving your thoughts free rein for a little while.

    Like I said earlier, it’s not a quick fix. It takes more than one hike to start working on deeper issues, but I’m a big fan of walking; (as much as I might sometimes come across as a very cardio-adverse sloth). You don’t even need any deep-rooted mental issues to tackle to get into it, or to reap the benefits, and I’ve only grown to love it more, the more I travel.
    You don’t even really need a dog (although these are a massive, four legged blessing).

    Meeting your Maker

    Amongst my halfhearted attempts to be productive on my gap year, I did send random tales off to a bunch of short writing competitions. One did make it through to Hammond House publishing (having a little book nestled somewhere in our living room bookshelves with my name inside is pretty exciting, although I have since then decided to shed the extra ‘e’ from my surname – hopefully it still counts as mine).
    A bunch of friends asked to read it, and since it wasn’t made available online, I thought I might as well post it here, albeit 2 years late (as you can tell I’m in the depths of revision, thinking back to a time when I could write about things I actually enjoyed…)

    It is pretty weird, I won’t lie. My slightly morbid fascination with life after death definitely filters through.

    This is also the unedited version – I’m really, really lazy when it comes to reading my own work through, and got an email afterwards admitting that someone else was thankfully going to smooth it out before publishing. It is also about 4000 words, and I don’t have any cute pictures to break it up for you (still half one of the essays I have to do tonight).

    For anyone who read the Spiderwick Chronicles as a kid, I think the strange, grouchy soul creature is definitely a Thimbletack inspiration.

    ——————–

    Meeting your maker
     
    Christie’s  Auction House, 1905
    Sale; ‘Assemblage of Items of Unknown & Unexplained’
    Lot 332
    ‘A collection of writings on pieces of worn parchment, supposedly produced from the mouth of Teresa Yearnet at birth (Wyoming, 1823) and held in possession of family since’

     
     
    There must be a backlog on today’s order. The wheeze and groan of the Vivifium suggests the ominous possibility of a shutdown. The last time so many orders cam through was international chaos, as I recall. A national outrage, a mad whirl of blame and urgency to find someone to point the finger at, politicians scarpering left right and centre in a desperate bid to shift any question of their own faults. Terrorists were an unlikely choice as the perpetrator in this case. Unfortunately, global warming provided an equally unsatisfying option. You couldn’t string Global Warming up in public and give him a good lashing. You couldn’t pierce Global Warming’s ankles and drag him around the city, leaving pools of ashen cloud in his wake. Global Warming couldn’t be hung, drawn and quartered on national television, in front of the faces of millions of wide eyed viewers, kipped back on sofas across the world with a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. Fists would curl, biscuit paste momentarily forgotten beneath the pallet as the executioner drew closer. The people wanted bloodshed. They wanted pain, the pain of others, to pay for the pain of their children and the pain of their mothers and fathers and semi forgotten aunts who – as they were alerted to by delayed air mail -had suffered an extensive and prolonged death when trapped beneath the falling rubble of a three story flat in some far off country. Reduced to the misery of starvation from the barren, dry fields of the East and the rising supermarket prices of a loaf of bread in the West, the people wanted to objectify something tangible, a name spat with anguish over the dinner table discussions, a face plastered with crude graffiti slurs through central cities. This barbaric witchhunt, the striking of torches and savage idealisations was always the more appeasing option against blame on their own shoulders.
     
    Now where was I? My mind’s constantly slipping. Everything else operates like the machinery I’m surrounded by. The smooth slip of the cogs and bolts on a low order day, allowed to lean back and appreciate coherence of the machine. Everything fitting together in unification, moving slowly and smoothly in a way that humans could never possibly fathom. Like I said, today doesn’t seem to be a low order day by any means. The machine already groans and heaves with the weight of the souls being poured through to the left. My heart aches a little for the lost critters. On the quieter days they can float through, the transient and peaceful experience narrated in picture books for the young in a bid to educate them on life after death. The gift and curse of eternal vitality means that I’ll never personally float through the Earth and this place myself. I’ve contemplated asking to experience the ride, perhaps as a late birthday gift or raise, perhaps? I’ve studied the teeming office buildings clogged with corporate humans, the conflict and rivalry in desperate bids to reach the top, feeding of office bonuses to find the newest car model and weekend getaway pool house. He might find my request amusing, endearing even, and let me float through the tubes for a few peaceful moments in reward. He might also double the orders and jack up the heating in scorn if I asked, so I relent. You see, the journey doesn’t always seem quite so peaceful. I pity the souls, the impermeable vapour like substance which constitutes their half time bodies packed together like goggle eyed sardines. They wriggle and inch along the tubes, looping through the last section of my bureau, mouths stretched in wretched open O’s. He hasn’t given them eyebrows, not for this section of the journey, but if they had they would most certainly be downcast, furrowed in fury or quivering in blinding fear. Occasionally, one will end up wedged right against the glass of my bureau, jammed into position while a steady stream of souls drift on behind it. I’m not entirely sure why I was given the small section of viewing glass into the pipes. An aquarium of my own, I can watch the listless life drift by. Perhaps the glass section was installed in case of emergency, a blockage of some sort. I suppose my role would include the part time plumber, ready to leap in and usher the half dead along. Thankfully his technology has proved flawless thus far, for which I am grateful for heaven knows what I’d find to use as a plunger.
     
    It takes the souls a while to wind round the tubes, up from the resting places of their material vessels and into the skies. The matter of time has always puzzled me; whether the looping tubes provide a ride lasting only seconds or thousands of years. Although I’ve no need for sleep, he’s factored in shifts for my working schedule, giving me a generous amount of time in each day for my own affairs. I’ve considered requesting a companion for my lonely little office, something to rub itself around my legs and curl up under the generators, but I’ve never asked what happens of the animate pets kept and mollycoddled by humans; whether or not there’s a bureau somewhere else, some other chamber with someone like myself returning them to the living. I suppose it would be rather a lot of hassle, having one little furry soul set aside to inhabit my office. My working hours are busy, endless. The duty of an entire hive of honeybees performed by one little tired bluebottle. Turning on all the generators is an issue of its own. He must have overlooked the height of the series of knobs and levers when creating my sturdy little legs, for I hardly reach up to half the height of many. Fortunately, my little bureau comes with a sturdy wooden stool. Convenient, perhaps he placed the stool there intentionally, and amuses himself at my scrabbling around, balancing on rickety legs to wake up the machines. Or perhaps just coincidence, for the stool matches the scarred wooden table in the centre of the room. On it sits a fist sized paperweight depicting a jolly panda bear wearing a festive hat, enscribed with ‘Happy Birthday Emily – Detroit Zoo’. God knows how it came to be here, the only possible solution I can think of is it somehow being dragged along by someone in the tube and deposited here. I hate to think of the blockages it might have caused for my predecessor.
     
    Paperweight aside, I haven’t seen another soul – bear with me, I see plenty of souls but not necessarily of the living variation – since I was installed in the bureau. Since my own creation. The creation of the creator. By the ultimate creator. It all gets terribly confusing if you try and differentiate us, to ‘meet your maker’, so to speak. One could conclude that I run the real business around here, up all hours sorting out the souls and defining their features before posting them back down to the Earth. However, one could also ascertain me as a mere employee, though I’m hardly paid beyond the salary of my existence. I’ve pondered what happens when my time runs out, my wages finished. The average lifespan of a human may be 71 years but I don’t think I fall into the homosapien category and I’m sure I’ve already been around over ten times that already. I’ve had all sorts of peculiar fantasies about my demise. The tube might split open and suck me into the flow of souls. I’ve never checked the ceilings in my bureau, so maybe those will open and I’ll be plucked out from the room by some gigantic hand. It tickles me just thinking of the possibilities. No need to brood over what is to come, however, I have far too much to focus on at present. Like I said, todays orders seem to be particularly overdriven. The last occasion on which there was such a huge number of souls passing through was the result of three earthquakes and a tsunami within the space of a week. Natural disaster galore, I worked day and night to get the souls in ship shape condition for their return and rebirth. It was exhausting, both physically, for my little hooves tearing up and down between screens, and mentally. It’s awfully disconcerting knowing that you sent a soul back down to the living missing an earlobe just because you were a little tired that day.
     
    My task is an arduous one, but generally consistent and wholly rewarding. I stand as the main pilot for the Vivifium, the largest (and only) life generator I’ve ever seen. In the hours of running, the machine rumbles and groans as if alive itself. It pulls the wayward souls through the tubes by methods of extreme suction, drawing them all the way up from the Earth to my workshop. The rest is up to me; wipe clean whatever physiognomy the living world left behind, and work with the clean slated soul left in its place. You could call it a form of art, if you like – although I’ve never been much of an artist. My creativity wasn’t encouraged with brand spanking new sets of crayons and felt tips, and the glorious freedom of being able to colour outside of the lines. I’m not sure I was privy to any form of childhood. I don’t appear to age and wrinkle like the human colonies below. Whoever made me just installed me in my prime, thinking it witty to mix my genetics with something strange and faun-like. Provided with no mirror in my little abode, the glass panels of the soul tubes provide a dappled reflection, bristly hairs running down my legs and furled horns on my forehead. I suppose having an actual human up here running things would be slightly perverted. Anyway, my artistry is an unusual one. In fact, I’m not entirely certain you could call it art, but I like to think of the creative flair I bring to my job. The Vivifium stands studded with multiple screens, with hundreds of buttons and levers jarring out from the wall, over five times wider than my menial height. Now you probably understand the conundrum involving my little hooves and the stool. The main screen is placed in the centre of the beast, an interactive display which allows me to ferret through possible features and physicalities and install them on to my soul.
     
    You didn’t think you were just born naturally did you? Goodness gracious no. Someone laboured away up here to make sure that your heart shaped face has slightly slanted eyebrows. The trill of your laugh, why I could easily have granted you a hoarse cackle but I was feeling pleasant that day. One blue pupil, one green – why, maybe my fingers slipped, or I was feeling a little adventurous that day. I made you tall. I made you small I gave you those slender legs you thought you inherited from your mother’s side, and widely bridged nose which I know you hate, and have decided can only be a curse from a distant great Aunt. The Vivifium displays indistinct silhouettes of the parents to whom the next soul is being delivered, which I make effort to incorporate in my creations. I can’t help it, though. Sometimes my little fingers run astray. God knows how many marriages I might have broken up, sending an albino down to dark haired parentals. The expression ‘gingers don’t have souls’, is in my eyes really the pinnacle of human wit. Of course they have souls! I installed the damn things. I watched the little quivering soul on the screen take shape and form, the transient particles of whatever they’re made out of up here take form as I flicked through the hair colours on offer, deciding on a darkish russet red with a few streaks of gold. Every being has a soul. Or humans, as far as I know of, I’m not personally responsible for the mammals, or the fish, or the plants, but I’m sure someone around here is putting in the work to differentiate each and every being.
     
    Some will demand my method of choice and selection highly unfair, but I do try my best. That little girl in the playground will descend on her classmate during break time, cornering her and yanking her white gold plaits in frustration. Those glossy curls that all the little boys keep an eye out for in kiss chase, dainty little fingers and a high pitched trill of a voice she pulls out for morning hymns, the little nightingale. Little do they really know that gifts often come accompanied by a variable curse. In this case, I have the little nightingale the most vicious temper imaginable to man. The sort of horrifying temperament that goes off like a shot at the slightest irritation. A hot fired disposition, one that will cause a wave of apologetic glances round the monthly dinner party table to the occupational parents, after the shrieking and the hurling of a plate of peas at the wall. Doors will be slammed all through her teenage years, and young suitors might be frightened off by her orchestra of insults upon ordering the wrong bottle of house red. Her temperament may even be her downfall; where her beauteous voice might carry her career, her temper may well be her undoing, as she flounces off stage from an early performance after someone admittedly turned up the aircon a little high.
     
    Whom shall be granted the greatest gifts, and who shall be born with a fated curse? That is a question which drapes itself over the Vivifium, a great weighted cloak of death in its own right. Whereas the decision is ultimately left to my own bristly little fingers, I was left an ambiguous set of instructions. Sitting on the table you see, beside Emily’s paperweight, stands ‘Percival’s Guide to the Formation of Souls; a Guide to the Course of Creation’. Quite a hefty hardback, I doubt it scooted along the tubes and rather like to think that someone left it here for me. My predecessor’s hand’s probably brushed the worn pages, following the minute cursive writing. It all comes out fairly formulaic in the end. Once every so often we have to ship out a great man – distinguished from the ‘common herd’. Seneca seemed to know what category he had been folded into. You didn’t think that Achilles just happened by chance? Although that wasn’t entirely of my era or creation. My predecessor favoured the philosophical gifts, and I assume can be thanked for the likes of Pythagoras, and Plato. Who made Herodotus, well I’m not entirely sure. The guide presents a keen link between gift and curse, so, like my little songbird, no human will appear too blessed. Glorified, but to a conservative level. Achilles, for example… well, we all know the tale. A stroke of genius for whoever worked the Vivifium before me. I would never have thought to incorporate the tendons. I’m a little less creative in my intertwining of gifts and curses. Stevie Wonder, for example; I swapped everyday sight for a flare with lyrics. Cruel you might say, but look where it got him.
     
     Of all the gifts I could give, you might very well question why I choose music. It’s a little lonely up here, you see. Percy’s handbook and my paperweight make for listless compatriots. A little furred friend to keep me company, now that wouldn’t go amiss – I do wonder who takes care of all the little souls of the cats and the dogs of the planet. Probably a little gremlin near here, in a bureau very much like my own. Surely redirecting one animal soul along the pipes and dropping it off in my office wouldn’t be too much to ask, but then again I’m not sure how I would care for the creature – if it needed care, unlike myself. In the absence of companionship, I do yearn for music. Sometimes, a little humming noise can be heard transcending the glass panels of the soul tube. A music festival having jacked up the speakers a little high, or a concert upon which the police have not yet descended in a desperate bid to turn down the volume and for heaven’s sake let the locals sleep. If I can’t be granted a phantom feline friend to curl around my legs and get in the way of day to day Vivifium runnings, I would wish for a set of pipes. Isn’t that how the folklore runs? A fawn and his pipes. I could yodel and jig, and send out a stray accordion of notes whilst keeping the Vivifium running at a smooth pace, sending out my allotted souls. It sounds wonderfully romantic, don’t you think?
     
    Of course, there is the small question of human error when it comes to the creation – and recreation – of souls. Or not human, shall I say, but fawn error if we’re being precise. Percival’s manual unfortunately offers little assistance as to what to do in the event of natural disaster.The more the world seems to turn against it’s inhabitants, the higher the tides swell and the mountains shake. In turn, the more souls flood my walls, anguished faces pressed up against the walls. Terrorist attacks contribute to this, of course. I didn’t stop to sweat after 9/11, issuing out warm shades of skin tone against flighty characters against those with fat knuckles and almond eyes. All this palaver led the machine to shudder and groan, grinding to a halt. The central screen upon which I filter through all possible traits and qualities flickered and turned an alarming shade of blue. They don’t call it blue screen of death for no reason. Of course I dived into the depths of full blown panic. ‘Turning it off and back on again’ doesn’t really work up here since there’s no magical switch powering in through the backrooms and fuelling the reincarnation of my souls – I’m honestly not too sure how this place is powered. God-currents probably don’t need to be piped in through wires. Anyway, the threatening blue screen of death resulted in quite the anticipated outcome. I’m moderately grateful for the blue skinned gene to have turned out a dominant and inheritable factor, and must say I quite enjoy applying a washy shade of blue to my newborn souls whenever Kentucky pops up on the screen.
     
    The humans can’t seem to blame themselves for the ever rising strain of the dead heaved upon the Vivifium. As I said, rather have the local deputy hung drawn and quartered. Splay the faces of the revolutionaries on live tv and blame them for the ever rising death roll. The shame of slowly polluting your own planet seems too true to bear, so like all of us, even the less-human residing in our little offices somewhere high in the sky, they shirk around the issue. Why, more might be dying but let’s have a round of applause for the birth rate now folks. One in one out would be a fair system I concede. Unfortunately, Fair and Square rarely turns up to Churchill’s meeting table on time – he’s always preoccupied with Vegas’ casinos, trying to keep the tables running at a marginally lawful rate. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, all that must die does pass to the ground below – the tangible composition, at least. I don’t suppose anyone has to supervise the slow degradation of the skin, the fingernails and those pretty gold locks I opted for on that little girl. I don’t like to think too much about material death, the wasting away of my masterpieces. Would Gaudi like to see the Sagrada Familia sink to the floor? Ashes to ashes indeed, or a great big pile of rubble. Or Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl, how would he appreciate his paint-strokes going up in flames. Let’s hope she would put up her dainty hands in defeat and flee off into that dark canvas before the flames really took hold. The art and effort I put into each of my souls, sculpting them, defining them. Even the everyday human, the Steves and the Plain Janes, the blank faces that slide out from under umbrellas on rainy New York sidewalks.  Or the indistinct faces rolling past on the subway – did someone once said that all these strange faces make up the characters in your dreams. Praise be to my creativity, my ability to throw together a smattering of freckles, a stubbed nose and a tendency to inquire into overly personal beliefs, but you didn’t think yourself capable of matching and making and binding together a whole set of personas surely? You lot have far too much to worry about down there as it is, with getting your articles in by Monday morning in fear of your new boss, you daren’t comment on this nouveau hairstyle for what have you to know about the ebb and flow of fashion tides. Plus, the young ones always bite quickly, swift in sacking those old enough to cluster round the desks at lunchtime and cluck over the best current deals on washing powder. What else is playing on your mind… let’s see, I should know after all, I decided to give you a fear of sudden loud noises, and an aversion to raspberries. You have to worry about the world blowing up on Thursday, according to the tabloids, and the price of tea in China would be a more tolerable woe than the rising oil costs. The everyday fear of having not turned the hob down after cooking your porridge, and the whole house having burned down to embers by the time the evening bus rolls into your road gives enough stress as it is.
    Quite overwhelming really, it’s lucky you have me to sort your dream faces out and give you one less thing to twiddle your fingers over.
     

    I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing all of this, or who will come to read it. It’s not like I can post it off down the tubes in a bottle. Nor can I stuff it down the mouth of some unsuspecting soul, to ferry it down to Earth for me. Can you imagine the horrors, pulling out a wad of my scribbling’s from the mouth of some unsuspecting newborn. They would be heralded as the new Jesus, I’ve no doubt, the son of… well the fawn in the sky. They need something in which to place their faith, you see. Something to carry them through the dark days and someone to thank at tea time, and I just know that the Vivifium and my little hairy legs don’t exactly fit the bill for the saintly position. Imagine my face, splayed and worshipped on every street corner. I’m sure my unidentified master would have crafted in some form of communication with the world below, if he so willed it. A string phone, for example. Why, I could bestow my wit and witticism upon the population through the quaint connection of two rusty old cans. Soup, even. Although I’m sure my master’s technology is a touch more dexterous, considering the size and scale of the Vivifium. I’m assured means of communication would have been installed, had the broadcast of my voice to the people below been of necessary consideration. Thus, my job remains a quiet one, uncharted to the thousands of souls I let slip and slide back down to the world below.

    PICKYWOPS

    No, I’m still not vegan, but pizza is always a tricky topic. With so many vegan friends, and the rowdy chorus of someone yelling ‘cow pus’ or ‘hormones’ whenever dairy is pulled out of the fridge, makes vegan options seem slightly more appealing. Everyone has seen at least half of cowspiracy, right?

    Pickywops only popped up last year, but it has attracted a fair crowd (we spotted two Made in Chelsea stars on the way in – really rubbing shoulders with the elite). I’ve only visited the Peckham outlet, but it is small. Actually, small is probably an understatement. With space for for about 8 customers, book ahead or you’ll end up eating pizza on the tube back.
    The Peckham venue is also fairly difficult to find. A little flag earmarks where you have to turn in to a small departmental corridor of mismatched shops (including a protein store in case you get peckish after), with Pickywops at the rear.

    Yes, vegan pizza isn’t exactly an oddity in our current thriving vegan culture. You no longer have to bring your own vegan cheese to Pizza Express and bat your lashes at the waiter – they now offer their own (although I’m always a little dubious about vegan cheese – cashews and cheddar are not synonymous). Pickywops’ menu is extensive though. It doesn’t just stop at the coconut mozzarella, vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast. They also feature a collection of fake meats, in case you’re trying to bring your meat eating friends round to the dark side. They aren’t half bad, either.

    Having been in a few times now, I do slightly embarrassingly get a wave of recognition on the way in. Nonetheless, the owners and pizza-meisters Cristiano and Andrea will give you the whole spiel on entering. They have it drawn up on the blackboards too, in case you get lost on the run down of quite how unprocessed the flour is, or the health benefits of getting a turmeric base over spirulina.

    I mean I’ve eaten a lot of pizza. Who hasn’t. That doesn’t mean that I can’t tell good pizza from bad. I’d definitely rather eat out than I would warm up listless Sainsbury’s margherita and pick off the pineapple (and probably microwave the leftovers for breakfast the next day).
    Sure, Pickywops probably doesn’t taste like your average takeaway pizza, and the cheese is definitely something that takes a little getting used to if you’re big on mozzarella, but they do taste pretty good. Promoting environmental upkeep and eating pizza in the process does come as a pretty good combination.

    (I would just suggest not wearing anything Canada Goose or fur like the sinful vegetarian I am if you do decide to visit, as quite a line up of PETA leaflets surround the till – I have had to slink out quietly in shame after paying)

    Shopping Palace,
    Unit (7)347 North End Road
    Fulham
    SW6 1NN, LONDON, UK
    open midday-11pm
    until 6pm monday & tuesday

    Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at Sanderson

    I’m definitely not a regular for afternoon tea. I’ve only recently been able to get my head around the concept of brunch. It’s all a bit of a weird timing, isn’t it? As a creature of habit, brunch and afternoon tea alike bring to the surface an array of questions. Do you eat breakfast? Or lunch? How tipsy is acceptably tipsy, when sitting in your Sunday finest, sipping a herbal tea in the other hand and surrounded by scones?
    I will admit that I have a good deal in common with the Duchess of Bedford, who invented the concept of afternoon tea in 1840 as it is said she consistently felt peckish around 4pm and couldn’t endure the long wait between lunch and dinner; (when am I not hungry). Plus, when am I equally not up for trying new things (I definitely survived a lot more adventurous struggles whilst travelling last year), so afternoon tea seemed like a small feat.

    As you can see from the pictures, I was running on about three hours of sleep after a pretty heavy night prior. Still smiling though. The afternoon tea at the Sanderson is, as you can see, Mad Hatter themed. The dishes are black and white and quirky, the teapots wear their own little hats, and a tiny ballerina spins for you in the sugar box. You have to give it to the Sanderson, the aesthetics are impressive. Brightly coloured mushroom marshmallows top your cake stand, with matching jam of hearts, and chequered chocolate pieces. All very Alice.

    All nibbles on offer have quaint names, like tweedle dee lemon curd financier, and Alice’s cinnamon, apple and peach ‘drink me’ potion.
    Unfortunately, style definitely took over substance on this occasion.
    Whilst the sweet pieces were pleasant, they weren’t mind-blowing. The savoury sandwiches were a letdown (both surprisingly soggy and stale at the same time). I did give my preference as vegetarian at the start, but somehow a small caviar sandwich still managed to slip its way on to my cake stand – in turn, the waitress was lovely and apologetic, and brought out free bubbles (normally 10 extra). The herbal tea selection was probably the highlight, all displayed on fitting card decks.

    At £48 per person, the Sanderson provides a quirky visual afternoon out, but I wouldn’t choose to back, as after all, accompanying the Duchess of Bedford’s 4pm stomach rumbling – you are there for the cake, and the cake wasn’t amazing. Nonetheless, I’m glad to have ventured out for my first afternoon episode, and am thrilled to have found a sophisticated afternoon venture in London on which to continue blowing my student budget.

    Sanderson Hotel
    50 Berners St
    Fitzrovia
    W1T3NG
    London
    12.30 – 4pm mon-sat
    1 – 5pm sun

    FALSE LASHES

    I promise I’m not turning into a beauty blog. For one, I’m not entirely sure who would take style tips off of me. My wardrobe consists of a mass of gym leggings, pink (faux) fur coats collected off eBay for a fiver, and piles of cat socks. I don’t think my fashion tastes will be gracing the pages of magazines anytime soon (although I’m still desperately waiting for someone with a camera to hit me up in the library for the tab’s best dressed).

    Nonetheless, my areas of expertise do indeed contain a fair few ventures into beauty products. I’ve experimented with five years worth of fake tan, been through numerous trends involving coconut oil in pretty much every way, shape or form imaginable, and thought I might as well bestow last year’s findings on false eyelashes on my small readership.

    I suppose it was just sort of a weekend impulse. I’ll hasten to add that prices for anything in London seem to soar, be it your avocado or your eyelashes. Salons will charge £70-£100 easy, whereas £20-£50 seems pretty much standard elsewhere. That being said, I’m not adverse to traipsing Gumtree and taking myself off to strangers’ <i>salons</i>, which usually involve letting yourself into the backdoor of some sharehouse, making your way past a horde of yapping pugs, and settling down on someone else’s bed whilst they apply your lashes and tell you about the weather.
    The lashes take between 40mins – 2hrs to apply, and are stuck on to your own eyelashes with some very resistant glue.

    To quote Berocca, false lashes will make you feel like you, but on a really good day. They take out the tiring application of winged eyeliner (at least in my case, an exhausting task for my perfectionism), and the woes of lumpy mascara. I woke up after running around all night at a festival, still coated in glitter, but looking vaguely fresh.

    Despite all the benefits of having false lashes on, I will now warn you that after 5 months of wearing set after set of infills, my own lashes were somewhat wrecked. Half had been pulled out, the other half looked fried and broken. Every beautician will give you different advice on whether or not to wash them with makeup remover, Q-tips, whether or not to brush them daily or not at all. I bounced between various methods of care and did (after a particularly bad set) pull out a good few of my own lashes, so do carry some of the blame. One way or another, I couldn’t apply mascara decently for a good 2 months after giving up on lashes.

    My verdict in the end is a mixed review. Probably a good idea for a short holiday or big occasion, if you want to fall out of bed like a fresh-faced goddess and convince your loved one that you don’t look like the Grinch first thing. However, half a year of experimenting with lashes has taught me against them after sacrificing everything underneath.

    on Uber ratings

    The concept of rating, and the decency in rating other humans, is one that has increasingly resurfaced over the past few years. The demise of the ‘Hot or Not’ app around 2015 tends to suggest our apathy to a visible, changeable rating. Whilst other apps based on judging one another on physical appearance have proven prolific (nobody’s looking at Tinder, now estimated to be worth upwards of $3billion), dating apps seemed to have flourished upon the principal of leaving the parties in blissful ignorance. Overwhelmingly unaware of whether or not they have been swiped right upon or disregarded, these apps now operate on a rating-free system – Uber however, stands as the exception.
    It’s a different concept, for sure. Whether or not your driver rolls up in a Honda or a Mercedes will be pretty irrelevant to who you’re taking out on dates this week (unless you have a knack for chatting up your drivers – who knows, that might work in the long run when it come to boosting your rating). You then have to ask yourself quite why we get so caught up in our Uber ratings.

    you can honestly fit so much on a scooter
    I’m sure it’s very different when working as an Uber driver, as opposed to from the position of a passenger; falling below 4.6 stars and having constant poor feedback can lead to deactivation for partners. Considering the increasing number of background checks and licenses required, it would also be harder to reactivate and start afresh as opposed to making a new account after your friend threw up in the back of the cab after a particularly wild night and left you a measly 4.2. Nonetheless, protecting a rating as close to 5 as possible has become a concern for even the infrequent rider.

    It is just a little heartbreaking; intoxicated or not, pouring your heart out in the back of an Uber home, feeling like you’re getting a mini therapy session free. The type of affinity you can reach with your driver, on a slightly hazy 4am trip home particularly on your own is incomparable. It is therefore always a bit of a hard hit when you come out the other side a good few stars lower.

    outskirts of Hanoi
     

    A lot has to do with tipping. I feel like there can be no other explanation. I personally have never thrown up, vandalised, or stripped off in the back of an Uber, in fact always overwork my attempt at charm in wishing them a pleasant evening/marvellous life, but still suffer from hits to my rating in exchange for my unwillingness to tip (taxis are a luxury in themselves…). This tipping barrier does seem to be limited to England. UberMOTO operates on scooters in Vietnam, and too scared to trust my own driving abilities when it came to scooters in Bali and Vietnam, I pretty much lived on the back of other people’s scooters, motorbikes on occasions. 50p can get you a decent 30 minute ride around the streets of Hanoi, or Seminyak. There was less of prerequisite for tips to be given, and thus my rating stayed at a good 5/4.9 for most of my gap year. Coming back to England was therefore a bit of a shock. Quite a lot of silent rides, no free rain ponchos as I was showered with in Hanoi, and yet still grappling hard to maintain a decent 4.8

    different methods of transport…
    I guess I find the recurring interest in Uber ratings for passengers kind of intriguing. People debate their ratings, or screenshot them on to Tinder as a test of good character; someone hovering at a 4.3 is a telltale sign of some shady character. Either way, still a visible numerical rating, Uber’s rating system resonates Charlie Booker’s Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive’, and our fixation on rating one another.

    Studying in London

    I’m not really sure that surviving is the right term. For all the tall talk built up over freshers, mine didn’t quite live up to the infamous tales. Some more commonly spread accounts include missing two weeks of lectures, waking up dazed and confused in strange beds, making a myriad of poor decisions, and ultimately deciding you’re not yet prepared for university and probably only fit to crawl back into your parents’ attic, spending the rest of your illustrious years making a meagre living out of sub par ironing that doesn’t even match your mother’s standard.

    Okay, I jest. After a year of lazy mornings, I do sometimes have to get up before midday. I have once managed to go out the night before a 9am and make it to my lecture on time. (I was heinously proud of myself on this occasion, although everything in the lecture went in one ear and out the other, and it has not happened again since).
    I’ve given myself alcohol poisoning on one occasion (I couldn’t tell you afterwards what the insides of Fabric looked like), and apologised profusely to my housemates for any heavy retching that might be overhead for 6hrs the following day.

    I’ve also taken some very interesting tube rides late at night and received some very strange looks, plus have been introduced to the marvels of the night tube. This, as your student best friend for a budget way of getting home, running 24hrs on Friday and Saturday compared to ending at round 12am on weekdays.
    Despite the widespread fear of Uber’s demise at the start of the academic year, Uber will also be a reliable ally. Just don’t be too rowdy and remember to suck up to your driver on drunken cruises to and from clubs if you want your rating to remain above a solid 4.7

    I would like to spam you all with hideous pictures of my uni cooking; making a can of beans last a week, kitchen disasters in navigating a toaster, but in reality I’m still spending way too much money on peanut butter and remembering to eat my greens. Currently holding an impressive 15 jars of nut butter and very little else, my kitchen cupboard is still something of a phenomenon to anyone visiting our halls kitchen.

    The workload is also tough. I like I’ve been fed a pack of lies by everyone who was so adamant that my first year of uni would be easier than A2. I’ve also been the recipient of numerous consoling pats on the backs from students not attending UCL, for whom their first year doesn’t count. I would highly suggest finding a library buddy and sticking to them like glue to get you out of the house and studying at least some of the time (strength in numbers), and to remind yourself that for over £9000, a couple essays won’t do you harm.

    All in all, I do miss Sydney a little. It’s particularly cold in halls and I threw out most of my hoodies before I embarked on last year’s travels. I have however found an amazing new group of people in London, and fall a little more in love with the city everyday. It’s fast paced and noisy compared to the countryside I grew up in, but the streets are always filled, even at 4am, and currently illuminated by the most beautiful Christmas lights (albeit a little early…). There are millions of avocado toasts to try, clubs to wind my way into at the weekends, and coffee shops to frequent – so I’m pretty enthusiastic for the next three years.

    Gili Islands (Bali)

    The Gili Islands sit on the coast of Lombok, an island in Indonesia – favourably close to Bali and a hotspot destination for holidaymakers and backpackers alike. Each of the three little islands has its own, individual reputation. Gili Trawangan (Gili T) is the most known and visited. The party island. Cue the devilish grins of backpackers at the fond memories of shroom-shakes and wild nights, starting out at in the club and usually ending up face down in the sand somewhere in the early hours. Gili Air is known for being slightly quieter (my island of choice), with less of a party scene and more lazy days spent sipping cocktails on the waterfront. Gili Meno, the smallest of the three, is the lesser developed, more for family holidays and quiet escapes.


    The islands are easily reached from Bali. Some tourists decide to visit all three, and perhaps even Lombok. Some set their eyes on one island and make their way over. The journey is accessible and fairly cheap. All hostels offer some form of inclusive transport, usually the cheapest model, at around 500,000 rupiah, or £30 with a return. The Tripadvisor reviews for the cheapest boat transfers are a little disheartening. Lost luggage, immense sea sickness and broken boats – but I discovered none of these. I ended up booking my transfers online, booking the more expensive Blue Water ride over, and for the journey back not booking at all but rather wandering down to the port mid morning and haggling for a cheap ride back to Seminyak. I would recommend pre booking your ferry to the Gili Islands as both ports are a fair distance from Kuta/Seminyak, but wholly recommend trying to get a good deal and leaving your options open for the journey back; there were plenty of people offering me cheaper deals including hotel transfer on the islands.

    No cars are allowed on the island. Or maybe no cars fit (it took me less than two hours to walk all the way around Gili Air). I’m not sure. Either way, the islands are a whole breadth away from the hustle and fumes on Bali’s central roads. Instead, you can rent yourself a little feisty pony and trap to get you and your luggage to your hotel (or, in my case and that of all penny saving backpackers, lug all 20kg through the blistering heat whilst admiring the ponies). I stayed at Bedagang Backpackers, and came upon probably my biggest mistake in booking hostels. Having specified for air con in hostelworld.com upon booking, I was a little confused when shown my mattress on the floor of an open hut, with a little mosquito net to keep the pests at bay. Not quite wanting to embrace the outdoor nightlife, I discovered that they have dorms with actual beds and aircon, or the cheaper mattress option. I spent one very interesting night with some stray cats trying to clamber through my mosquito net and am quite proud of myself for surviving even in the humid heat, before a space in the dorms became available.

    Daytime activities include snorkelling, scuba diving, the short walk around the whole of the island, and tasty cafes. Captain Coconuts serves divine health and vegan food; the stuffed tofu was to die for. The Gili Islands are also an area very unlike Bali itself, where you can order a cheap soft drink and be granted access to lounge chairs free of charge, unlike the haggling over commercial sunloungers on the mainland. From your little sun lounging nest, you can watch the sunset on tranquil waters, or access the infamous Bali swings. The waters nearest to the island are incredibly shallow – think knee deep – so paddling is a must.

    Whilst I only visited Gili Air, I would wholly recommend several days, if not a week to visit all three of the islands. They capture the picturesque landscape many holidaymakers come to Bali in search of, yet may not find on the mainland. Hidden away from cars and with notably fewer tourists, they offer a serene break from the outside world, with all the bounty of cheap cocktails and flipflop trees.

    THE BIT AFTER

    I’ve heard gruesome tales from those who returned from intrepid years abroad about the sombre quality of life they were greeted by upon their return home. Whilst travelling, your life takes on an exuberant and care free air. Each day is different and vibrant. You’ve probably done enough meditation by this stage to feel yourself rather enlightened. Your mind has enough time to stop and breathe, and you start opening your eyes, seeing beauty in the everyday (not just the gold smattered temples and bristly elephant attractions).
    Twilight falling on the hides of underfed cows, grazing loosely in paddocks rimmed with scooters. The split-second pre-thunderstorm where everyone in Vietnam pauses on the roads and shrouds themselves in plastic ponchos, and the myriad of neon pink and green on the streets that follows. Teenagers squatting around the sort of plastic chairs we only use for pre-schoolers, after their own day of studying, sharing pho and jokes in another tongue. Each day brings something new, small memories that you can’t really learn to look out for, but delight nonetheless.

    Of course these are still available at home, albeit a little more conventional, a little less eye-opening. It’s a different culture, one that I have grown up in and therefore the everyday life strikes me as less exciting. I suppose that is one of the greater motives behind travel.

    I strove to wake up early every day abroad. With still a few more precious teenage years to my name, I do love indulging in excessive sleep, but aimed to be in bed early and up as not to waste too much time in dreamland. In the same way post-exam slump hits students, and they find themselves restless and purposeless, having returned home means I lack a little purpose in my days. I no longer have temples to stroll through, or streets to discover. Meals eaten out are no longer a meagre $1 or $2, but rather quite a bite out of the bank account. Harem pants are also no longer in abundance, nor socially acceptable to wear day in and day out (my strolls down to the post office have received questionable looks and knowing eyerolls).

    That is not to say that coming home after nearly a year’s stint abroad is without merit. Having shared a bedroom for the past 8 months, sleeping in the quiet is something of a treat (although, having moved house, I’m currently without bed and enveloped upon cushions on the floor of the study…). Spreading out a little more and no longer living out of a backpack, in dreaded fear of bedbugs or untrustworthy hostel hands is also a luxury. The biggest delight in my case is the access to a kitchen and fully stocked supply of peanut butter.

    Whilst I miss traipsing around foreign alleyways, permanently sweaty and a little sunburnt, I am enjoying my return home. I’ve given myself a few months to transition into a more rhythmic way of life before whatever awaits with University in September. This may seem like a bittersweet curtain call upon my travels, but please watch this space – working internet and plenty of free hours means I finally have time to start drawing up blog posts on various destinations!

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