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!

Beautiful Brisbane

Beyond the hustle and bustle of Sydney (although diminutive in comparison to the constant rampage of Oxford Circus, and other central London strongholds), lies Brisbane, a little north of Sydney on the Eastern Coast of Australia. The third largest city, below Melbourne, Brisbane hosts a population of 2.35million – although you would hardly know it. I arrived on Easter Friday, to be greeted by eerily quiet streets. Travelling to the Greyhound bus transit area, memories of Twenty-eight Days Later flashed through my head, so quiet were the urban streets of Brisbane. That of course was partially due to the bank holiday, but even so, venturing out further over my five day stay in the city, I was often astonished at how calm and empty the streets were.

Brisbane is in this right beautiful; it holds not the elegant architecture I so love in Edinburgh, nor the elaborate buildings in Barcelona, but instead promotes a modern, clean and classy impression. Gleaming skyscrapers line the banks of the Brisbane river, the streets are spick and span, and free wifi is in abundance throughout the city. The CBD (central banking district, for those unaccustomed to Australian city terms) is on the Northern side of the river; a few interlinked pedestrian streets with the typical high end malls such as David Jones and Myer, and high street stores such as Zara and H&M.

A short stroll along the Victoria Bridge provides not only breathtaking metropolitan views, but also lands you right beside the GOMA. This was decidedly one of the sightseeing highlights of my time in Brisbane. The city prides itself on this gallery, and although understandably the exhibitions are constantly changing, my visit was timed with a live exhibition showcasing numerous finches (birds) local to Australia, harboured in a spacious room, flitting between coathanger installations and chirping. Signs outside the exhbiiton assured the public of the welfare of the birds, and standing in a room surrounded by a hundred twittering little feathered creatures was certainly a sight to behold.

GOMA is conveniently situated beside the Queensland Museum & Science Centre, a hit with all the young ones for its interactive science exhibitions, and for taxidermy fans like myself (bad vegetarian, I know). My personally favourite was the giant squid – be sure not to miss out on this pickled deep sea delight!

I would like to be able to pass on superior knowledge as to getting around Brisbane on public transport, but the truth is that the one bus I caught thoroughly confused me. I tried to pay the driver, accustomed to the simple tapping on and off of Sydney’s Opal system, and was waved through with a grunt. Later googling led me to discover that some of the central bus lines are in fact free to the public, but if that was the case around the CBD or if my particular bus driver took pity on my helpless tourism, I’m not sure. Nevertheless, the CityCat and CityHopper ferry lines run along the Brisbane river, the central two being free, and are encouraged either for swift transport and equally swift free wifi onboard, or for a nice scenic tour along the river.

I can’t offer much in the way of accomodation advice, as a true backpacker I was hosted by the YHA in Brisbane. A collection of hostels are all grouped together on the Northern side of the river, a 15minute walk from the CBD. I can certainly vouch for the YHA as being a brilliant hostel, very clean, with small, airconditioned dormitories, on of the best kitchens I saw in Australian hostels and a good lounge room. Between these hostels and the CBD lies the Roma Street Parkland, a built up artistic park area hosting numerous green fields and tropical plants (also home to a huge amount of large lizards which pop up and out of bushes and potter about as they see fit). I would highly reccomend a stroll through the parkland, if only to come face to face with one of these scaley inhabitants.

Besides the Parkland, Brisbane’s City Beach was my favourite area to kick back and enjoy the sun. Some would screw up their nose at a fake beach, but the area is so well kept, the lagoon so clear and the sands so white, that it is hard to complain about this idyllic oasis. (Free wifi is again in abundance, to power through those hours of sunbathing boredom).

There are plenty of other tourist attractions that I didn’t drop in on in Brisbane, such as Mount Coot-tha and the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, but I hope my own choice and roundup on Brisbane convinces you to give it a visit!

The Grounds, Alexandria

I’ve been a little quiet, plus Bondi has been a little boring. As per any seaside town, there is very little to do in perpetual rain (or at least sunbathing is ruled out, so my afternoons are suddenly a little empty). Thus, where Sundays would usually be spent beached up on a towel, soaking up the sunshine, I suddenly have a very free day. A little Instagram touring of the local brunch hotspots drew me to The Grounds, and despite being an hour’s bus journey from home base, the thrill of Sydney’s $2.50 opal limit on Sundays encouraged the expedition.

Popping off the bus right in the middle of an industrial centre, I’m not sure quite what I was expecting. It certainly wasn’t chickens, pigs, goats, and an abundance of greenery. The Grounds capture a little bit of wilderness and farmlife, and have stuck it right in the middle of Sydney’s suburbs. Thought up by a creative entrepreneur alongside a coffee guru, it’s no wonder.

The Grounds boasts numerous little internal venues to choose from for food. We went for the Café, for a hearty breakfast (avocado toast as always), but The Potting Shed offers a more upmarket dining experience, whilst the The Garden does soda and burgers, and the Bakery…well, you guessed it. The Grounds also offers weddings, with one taking place during our leisurely stroll (rather waiting the hour and a half required to snap up a table – buzzers were provided to allow you to try lose some time before food!).

The food was of course delicious, the service swift. The menu offers an array of homemade breads, meat dishes as well as plenty of vegetarian options. Coffee was also very upmarket, with fully trained baristas and an endless menu.

The Grounds offers an exciting and unique experience, perfect for weekend outings for all the family. Despite being based a little out of the way, the abundance of plants will fill you with fresh air and leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated before your return to the city, full of good food and perhaps with a rainbow rose in hand.

Open Monday – Friday 7am-4pm
Weekends 7.30am – 4pm
7a/2 Huntley St
Alexandria
NSW
Sydney

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