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!

    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

    New Year in Sydney

    I do hold Christmas as something slightly sacred. The ominous descent of climate change may indeed have ruled out the days of two feet of snow piled up against the kitchen door, of being snowed in and unable to drive down to Waitrose on Christmas eve to pick up the turkey. Nonetheless, Christmas comes as a day for families. Although every year brings the ruthless defence of my bedroom when waves of family flood the household consistently losing and ending up twiddling my thumbs on the sofa at 3am over a rerun of Love Actually, I still support Christmas a time for family roasts and present confusion (cue my grandma opening a bunch of dog toys and feigning extreme gratitude).

    This year I ended up a little further afield. In Sydney, to be precise, which comes out at about 10,725 miles. Living with my brother nonetheless so family was present, although after spending the morning opening presents under the cool breeze of the aircon, I journeyed out to a Sydney ‘Expat Christmas Picnic’. One of the things I love about Sydney is the inclusion of travellers. Several Facebook groups that I joined organise regular meetups for those visiting the city, ranging from BBQs to a recent floatie/lilo party. You can post openly on the groups if you find yourself lonely one afternoon, and have instant replies coming from nearby travellers or locals keen to meet and greet and provide amusement.

    Expat or expatriate is a noun or adjective used to describe a person currently residing in a foreign land, whereas the more commonly used immigrant is a noun used for someone permanently residing in a foreign land. Immigrant holds more permanent connotations, for expats, their length of stay remains unclear. This is common for many travellers harbouring Sydney – a transient stop along the way to South East Asia, or a pitstop after Balinese temples. Hence the organisation of the Sydney Expat Christmas party, which was this year’s Christmas destination. Breathtaking views out from the Sydney Observatory hill over the Harbour bridge, bottles of white wine and the friendly blur of accents in the background served a certain change from the usual mince pies and drunk uncles.

    I didn’t quite expect to spend my New Year on a catamaran mere hundreds of metres away from the Harbour bridge firework display either, but impromptu events seem to come hand in hand with the connections between expats and travellers across Sydney. We were told that the boat is normally chartered out at sizeable cost for private hire over New Year, but that this year the demand was absent so the owners had nevertheless decided to moor out near the bridge and welcome a posse of vaguely connected strangers aboard their boat. I therefore have the unprofitable generosity of these people to thank, as I’m certain my other plans (a mild exaggeration as my plans extended as far as admiring the fireworks from the soft nest of the sofa) wouldn’t have had me on a yacht in any sense.

    There was a true sense of community in the mooring areas below the bridge (our neighbours to the left had come all the way from America in a fairly small vessel; the neighbours to the right had been moored there since the previous morning) as well as an equally amusing level of conflict and drama between boats. (This included a fair deal of fist shaking and threats to sue should a certain boat come any closer to ours). It was all quite exciting, not being a huge seafarer myself, I fancied our vessel as being a prominent Battleship target. I was even wholly up for wearing a captain’s hat and taking charge of the wheel (controls? Rudder? I’m not entirely sure of my boat linguistics) but was instead humbled to the task of clearing away empty flutes and strawberry ends.

    Returning to land turned out to be more of an issue than expected due to the sudden rush of boats all desperate to leave after the midnight firework display, but we were set ashore in Pyrmont and I braved a frenzy of drunken youths tossing bottles and weary homebodies who don’t usually stay up past 10pm all traipsing the streets to get home.
    The firework display in Sydney is like no other, especially from our prime vantage point at sea. The fireworks were set off from four points to provide an encapsulating display from all angles. Admittedly, fireworks do never look as impressive caught on camera, but I’ve done my best to capture a few of the striking moments of the night sky.

    Breezing out to Australia for my gap year, I was all ready for the blazing sun, blue seas and colossal waves topped with sandy haired surfers. Having found that the middle of Sydney didn’t cater to this field, we made out for Bondi and were unfortunately greeted by dismal skies which gradually developed into a cataclysmic pouring of rain

    (I didn’t think to bring any rain gear with me so a towel sufficed in place of an umbrella. This is also a prime example of the time I waste tailing behind stray cats all over the world)

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    The rain then progressed into a good old thunderstorm, fairly common round these parts, so the beach day and plan for tan enhancements was written off in favour of lunch and lurking at the back of Bondi Wholefoods, peering out at the skies.

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    The cafe was fairly quiet, it being mid afternoon, but passers by started flooding in with the rain, sheltering from the outside tables in the collection of plush chairs and assorted cushions within.

    I have nothing bad to say about this little cafe apart from a little disappointment at them having run out of the mixed salads on offer! The service was swift, and the staff really friendly in providing the well sought after wifi and accommodating for us swapping tables three times to escape the rain. I went for the avocado toast (buried under the rocket), and Alice the sweet potato wrap.

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    The menu is extensive, and not vegan would you believe it, but based rather on whole and healthy. Other options include cacao berry pancakes, a pesto chicken sandwich, or a huge list of smoothies with health boosters such as maca an spirulina. They also have an amazing variety of raw snacks and cakes, and a shop section selling all the upmarket goodies such as buckinis, tea and organic fruit and veg. I’ve personally fallen a little in love with carob chocolate and the Banjo bears sold here.

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    After lounging about and waiting pitifully for the rain to cease, we gave up, sprinted for the bus stop under towels and gave up on Bondi until slightly sunnier weather shows.

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    open 7 days a week, 7am-7pm!
    30a Hastings Parade
    (Corner Wairoa Avenue)
    North Bondi Beach
    NSW 2026

    Peanut Butter Problems

    I’ve gained quite a reputation over the recent months, and for good reason. I’ve turned up for nights out equipped with small Tupperware pots of peanut butter. A friend, whilst scrolling through my Tinder matches, pointed out a rather large and alarming facial deformity on one of the boys. Even I was a little puzzled – although found on second inspection that this was just in fact a stray smear of peanut butter on my screen. I’ve been collecting empty jars of Nuts-n-more and have been repeatedly asked why. Unfortunately I can’t even really answer that question myself. I suppose the 40 odd empty jars of peanut butter are some claim to my peanut butter throne/proof of the large quantities I manage to get through.

    A creature of habit, I’ve stuck to Nuts-n-more (particularly the salted caramel variety) with a ferocious devotion. I have however strayed afield on the odd occasion, and have decided to spread my peanut butter knowledge far and wide, to promote the best of the nut butters and save you all from making similar mistakes.


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    BRAND Nuts-n-More (Salted Caramel)
    TASTE One of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Not too sweet, but then again I do have a desperate sweet tooth and this is probably the sweetest out of my peanut butter collection. Melt in the mouth soft caramel taste.
    TEXTURE You have to stir like hell upon opening to mix in the upper layer of solid oil. I made the mistake of once pouring it out and the result is a thick and grainy spread which you can’t really do much with – mixing it in leaves it smooth and spreadable.
    NUTRITION 100g for 553cals, 35f 23c 35p
    PRICE Various, £7 on Musclefood.com

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    BRAND Nuts-n-More (White Chocolate)
    TASTE Not as good as the caramel but still really pleasant and sweet – less discernible as white chocolate and more overall sweetness.
    TEXTURE A little thicker than the caramel.
    NUTRITION 100g for 582, 36f 27c 36p
    PRICE £7 on Musclefood.com

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    BRAND Dr Zaks (Salted Caramel)
    TASTE One of the runners up for second to Nuts-n-more, although I’ve found taste can vary between batches of this. Dr Zaks has a slight burnt caramel taste which is quite pleasant.
    TEXTURE Grainier in texture than most other nut butters but otherwise smooth and spreadable, but does usually require ardent forearm strength for stirring in the excess oil on top before opening.
    NUTRITION 100g for 590cals, 44f 10c 35p
    PRICE £9.95 for 3 on Musclefood.com

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    BRAND Proper Nutty (Smunchy)
    TASTE Recommended by a friend and not my usual style (there is a sad absence of artificial sweeteners here…). However I do feel like the picture of health when eating it, due to the absence of salt and sweetener.
    TEXTURE Smunchy, get it? I’m not a big fan of crunchy peanut butter but the half/half here is a nice change.
    NUTRITION 100g for 632cals 53f 4c 28p
    PRICE £3.99 on Amazon

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    BRAND GoNutrition Whey More Nuts (Cinnamon Spice)
    TASTE Alright if you’re a big fan of cinnamon, which I am, but lacks sweetness in favour of full on cinnamon blast.
    TEXTURE Very thick, not quite crunchy but not smooth either, I’m guessing due to the presence of whey.
    NUTRITION 100g for 512cals 35f 8c 51p
    PRICE £9.49 on Amazon

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    BRAND Peanut Butter & Co. (Cinnamon Raisin Swirl)
    TASTE Probably on par with Dr Zaks as my second favourite peanut butter (and probably due to the higher sugar content and absence of infused whey!) The cinnamon flavour here is light and sweet, the peanut butter itself darker and aromatic, with the extra treat of little raisins floating about inside.
    TEXTURE Doesn’t need mixing as the oil doesn’t seem to separate, but thicker than their other flavours – more for spooning than pouring.
    NUTRITION 100g for 500cals 34f 40c 18p
    PRICE £6 on Amazon / sold at various

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    BRAND Peanut Butter & Co. (Mighty Maple)
    TASTE Super sweet with a very light taste of maple.
    TEXTURE Sort of ideal peanut butter texture; not too runny but neither too thick.
    NUTRITION 100g for 562c 43f 37c 18p
    PRICE £6 on Amazon / sold at various

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    BRAND Pip & Nut (Crunchy Maple)
    TASTE Like I said I’m not huge on crunchy nut butters but this finds a good balance between the less processed, health advocating side of peanut butter life, and subtle maple sweetness.
    TEXTURE Although runnier than most other peanut butters, this doesn’t require stirring – runny enough to pour on to things.
    NUTRITION 100g for 588c 46f 14c 26p
    PRICE £6 for 1 on Amazon or £13 for 6 (I don’t know…)

    I’ve dabbled in many other peanut butters but these are the only survivors in my cupboard. I’m keen to continue reviewing any others that I try, and of course would never be adverse to reviewing any peanut butter posted my way!

    no hints or anything…

    Sleep Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

    I have always struggled to sleep. We rant and rave about the teenage generation who stay up until the early hours dancing round the streets or ogling memes in bed. Even the pre-teens are absconded for arguing over bedtimes, begging for another fifteen minutes of telly time before bed. I, however, would take myself up and off to bed before even the set 8 o’clock. My parents found this hugely amusing, the child putting herself to bed before the set bed time. I was always anxious of what would come about could I not sleep; a sort of anxiety about the world ending if I was tired. This would often (and still does) turn into a vicious cycle of clock-watching. You calculate the hours of sleep that you’ll get, should you fall asleep right now, and panic slightly, only to find yourself tossing and turning in an increasing state of restlessness at 3am – you’d only get four hours of sleep should you fall asleep now so is there even point to it?

    The word insomnia has been thrown around in regards to my sleep patterns. I’m physically incapable of napping, for one, unless on the brink of exhaustion. I can lie awake for hours in periods of stress, not even thinking of whatever’s causing me stress but rather a myriad of thoughts all at once. Like remembering to buy hummus tomorrow. And googling that catchy song I heard on the radio earlier. I struggle to sleep in new places. I’m also heavily reliant on good sleep, and even then can find myself exhausted during the days.

    My sleeping patterns this year have been worse. At one point I was going to bed at 4.30am and waking up at around midday. It’s hard to argue with your body clock, when you go through the daylight hours listless and yawning, and suddenly feel all ready to rise and grind come 11pm. This does however make life hugely inconvenient. Waking up pre 10am would lead to a sure fire day of hell, and I was still spending a good 2 hours lying in bed like a vegetable, waiting for sleep to embrace me.

    Feeling particularly exhausted and poorly rested a month ago, I researched sleep clinics in my area. I will admit to paying £95 for each appointment, of which you are supposed to attend 6, when there is an app available (Sleepio) and books on the issue. I do however think the price made me more likely to commit to the treatment.

    Sleep Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or Sleep CBT is a non-medicated form of treating insomnia.
    To begin with, you put Sleep Hygiene as a priority. You alter your lifestyle to encourage good sleep, by doing things such as limiting caffeine, turning off screens before bed, sleeping in a dark, quiet bedroom and putting your phone and alarm away at night.
    Stimulus Control encourages your body to associate the bed only with sleep. So no lounging around in bed on your phone or reading books. You have a set bedtime and alarm time. The biggest and most daunting factor is giving yourself 20mins to fall asleep; if you haven’t done so, you take yourself up and out of bed and partake in a non-stimulating activity, like reading or drawing, until you feel tired and return to bed. This is repeated until you fall asleep within the 20mins.
    Relaxation also comes into play, and you’re taught methods similar to meditation to help you sleep.

    The most difficult section of the CBT is Sleep Restriction Therapy. As an insomniac, your body has probably set itself to strange sleeping patterns, and the purpose of the CBT is to change those to a more natural pattern. The first 14 days of engaging in this were actual hell. It takes commitment, acceptance that you’re going to feel like a zombie, and loving support of your family and friends to turn a blind eye to your quivering upper lip when you accidentally tip over a cup of coffee. Your body resists the initial cycle of giving yourself 20mins to fall asleep, and as I was to set my alarm for the earliest I had to wake up for work (8.30am), I was getting around 5hrs sleep per night. This continued for a few days, driving me into more exhaustion, until I began to fall asleep on the third time back into bed. Then the second, and finally the first time I went to bed. This was indeed amazing after months of at least a good 2hrs pre falling asleep, but at the cost of moping around the house craving my bed and crying over trivial frustrations.

    That being said, I pursued with dragging myself out of bed (it takes a good deal of willpower to get out of a nice warm bed when you’re truly exhausted, and accustomed to lying in the dark patiently waiting to fall asleep). Three weeks later and for the past week I have gone to bed at around 11.30pm, fallen asleep within 20mins, and woken up at around 8.30am, either by alarm or of my own accord. I’ll have to keep you updated on progression, but I have begun to feel much more energetic during the days, and tired only an hour or so before bedtime. I still experience a little anxiety creeping into bed every night, that it’s all been a little too good to be true and that I’ll spend the next few wakeful hours growing more and more anxious over an inability to sleep, but so far so good. I’m also confident in my ability to fall back on the stimulus & restriction methods should I enter into another difficult sleeping pattern, to get myself back on track.

    As with most things in life, consistency seems to be key, and I do really recommend trying out Sleep CBT if you suffer from insomnia, either the pricey but supportive route via therapist or the apps available.

    Great Expectations vs Reality

    Book before film is my usual mantra.

    The thought of paging through Game of Thrones, having watched the series seems tiresome. Harry Potter may have played true to word, if not better, but I found The Golden Compass a little disappointing after having His Dark Materials read to me before bed every night.
    An element of the beauty in literature is the individual interpretation; the characters you create within the little movie reel running within your head. Having now read Great Expectations, and consequently binge watched the BBC tv series, I must say that I am highly disappointed in Estella’s hair colour.

    Stellar. Star. Shining painfully white and bright, should it not? Who am I to dabble in the casting and feud between brunettes and blondes, but I imagined her akin to Miss Havisham; lustrous white curls and sharp blue eyes. An ice queen conviction (fancying myself as similarly coldhearted darling but forever wishing that my Tinder game was better), she ran as a blonde in my head. Miss Havisham, similarly, didn’t play true to word. Returning to Harry Potter, I immediately cast an aged Mcgonagall in my thoughts, bent and crooked with yellow skin. The actress in the BBC’s adaptation exhibited a far more youthful fragrancy, akin to what perhaps Estella should have displayed. White as a ghost she was, you can give her that.

    We can all understand the need to chop and change scripts when condensing hundreds of pages and thousands of words into less than two hours. The BBC went a stage further and allowed a generous three episodes to cover Dickens’ novel, but the Aged P sadly didn’t make the cut. Wemmick was not only left parentless (without the weathered relative we all have in residence somewhere, to whom one must speak VERY LOUDLY, and with whom naps are considered prime entertainment), but with very little mention as to his humble abode at Walworth. My brain hereby struggled to create its own interpretation of Walworth. A miniature manor situated in London with £1million in todays money buying you a few inches of floorspace in somebody’s attic, and an old mattress if you’re lucky. Home grown rhubarb and a drawbridge? Surely the council would have off with your heads before the morning canon could be fired. Either way, I was excited to see what the BBC had envisioned for the miniature country manor to which Wemmick withdrew, and disheartened by the name only being mentioned in passing.

    That isn’t to say that the adaptation has not its perks. Douglas Booth’s lips, for one, are primed to rival those of Kylie Jenner. A top class male model right out of the forge, surprisingly clean and well groomed considering his situations, but displaying an artistically sweaty chest for effect. The character of Herbert also surpassed my expectations, with a fond smile and soft spot for his sweetheart. The ending could also be deemed more satisfactory than that of Dickens’ novel – we wait expectantly throughout for the young pair to exchange kisses and swan off into the sunset, only to have Dickens’ ambiguous ending leaving a wistful parting as likely as tying the knot and running off into the sunset.

    All in all, I have spent the week engrossed in the brazen humour and flamboyancy of Dickens’ characters, and three hours of yesterday engulfed in blankets on the sofa enjoying the BBC miniseries. Whilst the BBC adaptation lacks some of the literary artistry and witticism, and particularly lacks one particular Aged Parent knocked back at the fireplace, it does provide a concise tale of young Pip, in his exploration of values and the heart.

    Maitreya Social, Bristol

    Exeter doesn’t unfortunately offer a a budding vegetarian community, and after touring Thailand’s vegan cafes and chowing all the tempeh I could get my hands on, I was rather missing a good dosing of vegetables. Luckily enough my sister lives in Bristol with her clan, and also hoping to migrate the great seas (from Devon to Somerset) in the coming months, I thought an exploration into Bristol’s vegetarianism would also be worth the visit.

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    Maitreya Social offers purely vegetarian food, with vegan options available. The menu is mainly plant based (so less of the tofu and tempeh I come to love and more vegetables on vegetables, with a glazing of some other pureed and sautéed piece of veg). The creativity of their dishes is their standpoint; the smoked aubergines with whipped tahini and date molasses were the star of the meal here. I have a soft spot for slightly burnt food (who doesn’t feel for some carcinogens here and there), and am partial to anything smoked and barbecue flavour. The glaze and pomegranates balanced out the savoury with a touch of sweet.

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    We also shared the smoked cauliflower with curry dahl and pilau crackers, which was pretty tasty for a curry dish although the actual cauliflower seemed to be a little undercooked – or under smoked?

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    Maitreya is worth the trip if you’re out and about in Bristol, offering tasty vegetable dishes and a casual setting, although they encourage bookings since the seating is limited with a quick turnover. Mains are all under £11 which is certainly cheaper than a sirloin. They also offer vegetarian catering in the Bristol area if you’re trying to convert your event-goers to the vegetable side of life.

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    open 6pm-11.30pm Tuesday-Thursday
    10am-11.30pm Friday-Saturday
    10am-4pm Sunday
    closed Monday
    89 St Mark’s Road
    Easton
    Bristol
    BS5 6HY

    Catmosphere Cat Cafe, Chiang Mai

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    As previously mentioned, I was hit by a rather hard bout of jet lag whilst in Chiang Mai. My one true mistake was conceding to early afternoon sleepiness and curling up for a little cat nap. Feeling refreshed four hours later and ready to tackle dinner, I was in fairly high spirits, unbeknown to the sleeplessness that was to follow. After spending the entire night tossing and turning, my friend instructed me quite pointedly that I simply couldn’t come elephant trekking without a night of restful sleep, which was probably for the best considering I felt (and looked) rather fried, with a slight twitch to my left eye. I dragged myself off to the hospital and found some sleeping pills to knock me out in future, returned to the hostel and caught a coupe hours of blissful sleep in midday privacy, and woke up a little lonely and also ravenous. After relocating one of the vegan retreats we had visited previously, I decided to take myself off on a solo mission to find my biggest comfort; cats.

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    Catmosphere is located a little way out of the centre of Chiang Mai, an easy taxi ride or a thirty or forty minute walk in my case – practical tanning. Plenty of hipster clubs and cafes can also be found in this area so it’s worth the trip.

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    You have to wait at the door to be allowed in, having previously washed and sanitised your hands and stripped your shoes for a comfortable pair of spa slippers to be allowed into the magical cattery kingdom. Catmosphere houses about 20 or 30 felines from various backgrounds, purchase or rescue. The menu provides quaint illustrations of the inhabitants with matching names. The cat café runs a space theme, with CATstronauts galore.

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    The café is free to enter if you purchase a drink or sweet baked snack, with teas and iced coffee available, or 100 baht if you’re there for the felines and not the refreshments. You can sit and play with the cats to your heart’s content, some of whom scrabble about chasing feathers or leaping in boxes. Others provide a more relaxing companionship and will simply curl up in your lap and purr. The free water on offer was snapped up by one of the kittens before I could reach it.

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    T shirts were also available, so of course I had to snag my own. The cat café also runs a cinema club, where you can share some popcorn with some pussycats over classic films.

    open 10am – 8pm

    Huaykaew Rd
    Amphoe Mueang
    Chang Wat
    Chiang Mai 50300
    Thailand

    Karma Kafe, Ko Phangan

    I’m still dubious about how one pronounces Ko Phangan and have been laughed at upon every attempt. Nonetheless the island is serene, the least touristy of Koh Tao, Ko Samui and itself. We stayed at a resort where I had insisted that a fan room as opposed to air conditioning was worth the drop in price. We did as a result spend the night sweating profusely, trying to convince ourselves that the breeze from the fan, blowing stray hairs over to the left, then back to the right sides of our faces was just like the soothing wind of nature (which it very much was not).

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    Ko Phangan boasts a huge number of vegan restaurants in Srithanu, which turned out to be a thirty or so minute drive from the port, Thong Sala, and where we were staying. Taxis on Ko Phangan were less abundant than in other areas, with most people turning to scooters as an easy way of access around the island. I didn’t venture out in hiring a scooter myself, but I don’t think a license or experience is required to do so, with scooters on offer for miniscule amounts of money, two or three pounds per day from our hotel.

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    We decided not to risk a scooter journey but instead hitched a communal taxi to Srithanu, and explored several quaint jewellery stores as well as picking up some well needed after sun in the local pharmacy. We ended this little exploration in the Karma Kafe, with stylish décor and dark wood. The sign in the toilet was hugely amusing, something along the lines of ‘don’t flush toilet paper / sanitary products / kittens and puppies / your ex’s belongings’.

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    The food here was also one of my favourites amongst our travels. Hungry, as usual, I ordered two mains. The first was a rice bowl with the most deliciously spiced pumpkin, the second a burrito with beans and the same tasty pumpkin and squash puree. My friend ordered raw tacos, slightly let down upon discovering that the tacos were in fact not the crispy carb shells back home but cabbage bowls, but still insisted the dish to be worth the initial disappointment.

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    If out and exploring Ko Phangan and brave enough to hitch a scooter trip, Karma Kafe is well worth the trip!

    20/18 moo 8, Koh Pha Ngan, Surat Thani 84280, Thailand
    open 12-10pm

    Atsumi Raw Cafe, Phuket

    We landed in Phuket town centre to find it a little disappointing, hardly blue seas and white beaches but rather a busy and jostling city with little in the way of vegetarian foods on offer. A good distance from the beach which was more of a port than somewhere where we could expose our pasty British skin, the only vegan café I could find was a fair drive down to the South of the island of Phuket, near Rawai.

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    We originally had planned to alter our hostel accommodation and move from Phuket town centre to the more tranquil beaches tripadvisor promised us of Rawai – this was later altered again to the fantastical nightlife and equal beach opportunities offered by Patong, on the West. It was rather dark and dreary on arrival, with my friend imbued with a desperate cold, both of us hungry and damp. We set out on a fairly expensive taxi ride to Atsumi raw café, planning to also check out Rawai and assess if a hostel swap was worth the cost.

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    The café is situated on the side of a main road so easy to locate. It is linked with the Atsumi Wellness Centre, where yoga, detox and even fasting plans are on offer (fortunately we came for the food, not the fasting). A café is situated to the front of the restaurant, with the dining behind. The food here was absolutely superb, perhaps the best raw options available. I chose a vegetable burrito in a corn tortilla, with an array of sauces. After travelling for the day I was decidedly hungry and do have to admit that vegan food is not the most filling – so I moved on to a raw Caesar salad, with cashew cheese to follow. My stomach still growling, I ended the meal with a raw vegan brownie. I’m not a huge fan of raw desserts and would rather eat an actual brownie over mashed dates, but it did certainly taste like the picture of health, filled with cacao, banana and almonds.

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    The food here towards the higher range of all places we visited, but the service was swift and wifi even faster, so if in Phuket, Atsumi is definitely worth the trip, perhaps tied with a yoga session to really hammer down on the health.

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    99/1 Moo 7, Wiset Road Rawai district, Phuket, Thailand
    atsumirawcafe@hotmail.co.th
    Tel: +6676289224

    open 9am – 8pm

    Vegetarian Travels in Thailand

    I’m not a vegan but sometimes I pretend to be. Several times whilst travelling Thailand I’d insist I was a vegan, GIN JAE, probably with a very doubtful pronunciation to our restaurant caterers. My travelling partner wasn’t always keyed in to my attempts to ensure our food wasn’t peppered with cunningly disguised meatballs or fish sauces.
    ”What? No you’re not Liv you’re vegetarian, questbars aren’t vegan anyway”, would come answering back. My backpack did actually come back a full 3kgs lighter thanks to my daily consumption of protein bars and products in a vain attempt to protect my mini muscles, in a country where chicken, fish and rice dishes are available left right and centre but vegetarian protein is limited to eggs, or tofu if you’re lucky and looking straight ahead.

    However, with a little help from tripadvisor and the Instagram #veganthailand hashtag, I was able to source out a huge number of brilliant vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants all across Thailand. Less appealing to the locals but filled with fellow veggie travelers and harems of yoga lovers, with great manes of dreadlocked hair and sunkissed skin (and usually a shiny iPhone, seeking out the available wifi like ourselves as these restaurants are usually a scale above the local haunts in price), Thailand offers a great range of vegetarian friendly cafes and restaurants in all main areas.

    I hope to review several of the restaurants we visited over the course of the next few weeks, whilst the delicious meals are still fresh in my head. Here are a few samples of my favourites;

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    Rustic and Blue, Chiang Mai

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    Chalong, Phuket

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    Greenlight Cafe, Ko Samui

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    Pud, Ko Tao

    Fed by Water

    I’m not really the sort of person to just drop into the nearest restaurant, give the menu a quick scan and order a speedy dinner. This is reinforced by my vegetarianism, having had one too many pea risottos with it seeming to be the most popular vegetarian option at any traditional pub style diner. Fed by Water, in Dalston, is somewhere I’ve had my eye on for months, having browsed the tripadvisor reviews alongside instragram uploads for delicious looking vegan options of pasta, pizza, and an array of salads.

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    In all honesty, I didn’t even notice the restaurant’s mantra upon first inspection; fed by water. I assumed water connoted the natural world and this was some vague praise for ethical veganism. The restaurant instead prides itself on using only purified water. As stated on their website,

    “FED’s filtration system is based on an active carbon filtration which removes impurities like lime scale, chlorine and unwanted bacteria, while retaining the minerals and nutritional elements present in the water”.

    This is in turn claims to boost the nutritional properties of all food and drinks on offer. I’m not wholly convinced by basing the entire restaurant concept on filtrated water, it seems to be an attempt at finding some niche style of branding, but the website does also encourage recycling and an environmental awareness.

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    Many will turn their nose up at veganism for the banal thought of resigning themselves to a life of undressed salad leaves, or, like FreeLee, so many bananas you might indeed turn yellow. The potato detox and other fad diets have shocked many into categorizing vegans as pitiful people who exist on a sad diet of sad salad leaves. Fed by Water demonstrates how this need not be the case for a vegan diet; you could call it vegan junk food, if you like, with no restrictions on pizza toppings for even your meat eating friend who couldn’t possibly cope with a pizza without salami. ‘Fake’ meat options are readily available in the form of seitan carpaccio and salami, and cheese is swapped out for cashew nut equivalent. The novelty of these huge pizzas is increased by the availability of black charcoal dough, just in case you want that gothic snap for your food diary.

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    We shared the carbonara and ballox between two – salads also still on offer in case you are a leaf loving type of vegan. The portions are generous, with plenty of beautifully flavoured pasta sauce and salty pieces of seitan. It didn’t quite live up t my memory of bacon but came the closest I’ve been in six years.

    The star dish were the veggie and cheese balls, accompanied by grain salad, avocado puree and charcoal infused bread. The highlight of Christmas dinner was always stuffing for me, and you can imagine by disappointment, upon my first vegetarian Christmas, in discovering what exactly stuffing was and where it came from. These balls tasted very much like the stuffing I remember, and almost aromatic. The cashew cheese spreads were also individual and delicious.

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    Prices are moderate, £12.95 for the salad and £13.95 for the pasta. Arriving just a little after four for an early pre theatre dinner, the restaurant was fairly quiet, and service faultless. With commendable ethics and enticing food, Fed by Water can’t really be faulted. Whether or not your free bottle of purified water does taste any different from the tap water back home, I’ll have to leave up to you.

    Open everyday, 11am – 11pm

    FED BY WATER™
    Unit 1b Dalston Cross Shopping Centre,
    64 Kingsland High Street E8 2LX
    London, United Kingdom

    God’s Own Junkyard

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    Ever fancied seeing your name in shining lights, Hollywood style? I’m sure you had that little niggling dream in younger days. Swaggering down Broadway, the leading lady in an array of West End musicals. You might also have come to the bitter realisation that this would progress no further than a far off dream after year seven drama lessons, whereby your teacher might have eyed you up with a furrowed brow and expression of mild pity as you desperately tried to bring Oliver to life for the school’s seasonal production. Never mind that, you surely did your best to bring a wholly convincing re-enactment of a goldfish to the table instead, ferreted away to one of the smaller parts with a reassuring smile.

    Well, acting talents aside (I bet you’ve also been the weakest link to any Christmas table charades game too), having your name in shining lights is certainly possible in one area of London.

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    God’s Own Junkyard is a gallery for the bright and dazzling neon art, the likes of which can be rented out to feature in films, such as Tomb Raider 2 and Tomorrow Never Dies. Situated a little out of the middle of London, the gallery can be found a short walk from Walthamstow Central tube station (although google maps turned this into a scenic half hour expedition through suburban London).

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    The inside of the industrial space is truly bedazzling. Neon pieces cover the walls, ceilings, and lie dotted around the floor-space for an overwhelming burst of colour and light. The gallery features numerous huge and awe-striking pieces with quirky phrases such as ‘Sail Away with Me’ and ‘Are you getting enough?’ The art seems to find a sweet balance between gaudy provocation of the many erotic shops in which the pieces were once found, alongside the bright eyed amazement of any child taken to his first carnival, where many of the other, more innocent signs also stem.

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    Alongside these huge constellations are smaller and sweeter designs, simple love hearts and crowns, small enough to stand on a nightstand.

    Many of the pieces have been created by Christopher Bracey, a British neon artist who sadly passed away two years ago. He allegedly stated that most of his early commissioned work for instigated by the rising sex industry, benefited by the allure of his luscious and alluring signs. His death was voiced through Twitter with the touching and poignant message, “Just wanna let you know I am actually in Gods Own Junk Yard”, fitting to his life works, and the gallery continues to be run by relatives.

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    If out and about in London, I would highly suggest a trip down to Gods Own Junkyard to visit the neon delights. It is however only open on weekends, but the included café, the ‘Rolling Scones’ makes it well worth the excursion for the ability to sit down to a cheery slice of cake and take in the glittering lights.

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    Of course, you can also rake out a small fortune to purchase one of the delectable installations, although the prices don’t come cheap, one of the more known pieces, ‘Don’t Worry’ sold for £40,000 back in 2014. Many of the pieces are however up for hire, if you do fancy your name in shining lights, perhaps for your 21st if not a star studded career.

    Gods Own Junkyard
    Unit 12
    Ravenswood Industrial Estate
    Shernhall Street
    London
    E17 9HQ

    ON NAIL BITING

    People tend to box together nail biters as a certain category of person. Nibbling away at your fingertips surely indicates anxiety, a shy and feverish complex, and a fear of the world eased a little by tearing at already raggedy hands. Even as a self confessed nail biter, I consider the habit horrendous. Gnawing away at your nails at a public bus stop, or sliding your tongue over a torn hangnail at work is so unsightly. Not to mention the number of germs and bacteria lurking under your nails, as I recall the DailyMail (fantastically credible source) blaspheming the number of germs upon gym equipment, far more than inhabit your toilet bowl.

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    why I cannot be left to paint my own nails

    Despite the pressing knowledge of how unattractive a habit nail biting truly is, coupled with a standard attempt at hygiene, I haven’t been able to break my own bad habits. Starting young, my parents tried desperately to pull my fingers out of my mouth as a child, coating my hands in vinegar (for which I developed keen taste, licking off my hands like a placid kitten) and tabasco (which resulted in yowls and screaming, after which nail biting was accepted as less of an ordeal). Even today, it offers a pleasant distraction when sitting idly, waiting for a delayed appointment. Immersed in thought, in exams for instance, absent minded chewing away at a nail seems to beckon on answers.

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    False nails have offered a short and bittersweet solution to this issue. If, like myself, you’ve never had particularly long or attractive nails, you’ll understand the delicacy added by a set of acrylics. Your hands seem more defined and dainty, even if coated in calluses from the gym. Not overly expensive either, £25 will buy you a set lasting several weeks, plus you’re able to release your inner fashion atrocities in glitter varnish or questionable designs.

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    Sadly my long running streak of fake nails and fewer hours spent examining hangnails came to a tragic end yesterday, as whilst trying to balance chatting and a barbell (two things which don’t go hand in hand), I managed to clip one of my nails backwards, splitting my fake, and real nail in the process. I soldiered on through my workout with a grimace and a taped finger (because apparently stuffing dirty hands in my mouth is acceptable, but a small cut is considered desperately unsanitary). It seems that this would be the end to my short spell of fake nails which don’t couple particularly well with regular exercise, nor typing, hence the lack of posts. As a miniature mid year resolution, I’ll be commencing yet another attempt at giving up nail biting in a desperate attempt for princess hands.

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    on the post exam slump.

    I’ve been a little quiet round these parts; exam season has been in full swing (and to top that off, I’ve justified my excessive anxious nail biting as a result as reason behind having a constant false set of nails which makes typing increasingly difficult).

    When you’re knee deep in exams for which the entire year has revolved around in preparation for, the end can seem so far from reach. Nights drag on, particularly if you like to tie your studying to the clock. Switching up one subject to another at 6 o’clock. Exchanging back at 8. Your tastebuds also take a light vacation, too fixated on books beneath you or a screen in front of you to focus on any mealtime. You hit mini ‘walls’, reminiscent of the wall marathon runners cajole over – not that I’ve engaged in any particularly arduous running. Sitting bleary eyed staring straight ahead, or practicing your new world record level of procrastination. Tidying up the kitchen has never felt so fun.

    This entire year has felt like a build up, a slow climax untoward the June exams.
    The finger blisters induced by a really awkward style of writing and tearing through ten pages per essay have finally started to heal over. I no longer need to scrape off concealer by the barrel from beneath my eyelids, having snoozed tranquilly through the past week. I braved a cold turkey cut on my caffeine addiction, having fuelled morning exams with a twitchy attentiveness. However, despite all these positive attributes accompanying the end of year and term time, there is a certain slump, an anti climax. Hours no longer hold purpose with no more need to quench my brain with knowledge. I don’t need to set an alarm, hence the continuous snoozing. I’ve now completed Orange is the New Black and Game of Thrones in a very short space of time, my two bucket list style rewards for finishing the year, which now gives my life very little purpose beyond Netflix. It is a gradual and slightly painful relax back into reality, realising that the hours you’ve dedicated to your books in the previous months, the grappling with inner will to force out a couple extra hours and elation at putting down your pen at the end of every exam, has very little contribution to the real world. Momentous as the finishing line might seem for you, life moves – and has moved – on without you. You now no longer have an excuse to get out of walking the dog. It’s also probably time to visit your nan and remind her of your existence, having holed yourself up for the past few months.

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    post exam celebrations and a shocking reminder of what we all look like with makeup on

    What I’m trying to say is that it’s been all quite a build up, a hell of a lot of stress (resulting in a hell of a lot of tongue ulcers, which, according to my WebMD self diagnosis and inner hypochondriac are caused by stress in question) for quite the post exam slump.

    Whilst still in the process of catching up on a years worth of sleep, I’m hopefully going to be a little more active in the blogosphere, with Thailand on the cards in a few weeks, and feeding my superstitions by diving at tables and other wooden object whenever someone mentions results day.

    On a sports massage

    I don’t really have any excuse for neglecting my blog, only that it’s that time of year, as it is for any student in education at the moment (granted it’s been that time of year since about October, whence forth I resigned my Friday nights away from tequila shots at local clubs, and slung back a pair of heels for a pair of slippers all in favour of studious commitment).
    The libraries are filled, the online student forums buzzing. I’m still a frequent visitor at both university libraries in Exeter, but have been told to contain my minor fury at never being able to find a tidy little seat to rattle away at Hamlet upon, not actually descending from the uni. The fresh scent of newly cut grass and the fragrance of Spring is mixed with stress. Pre exam stress, to be precise.

    I have a tendency to get overly anxious in the coming months pre exams, thus my mother suggested a relaxing spa day to soothe the woes (and the consistent tongue ulcers I’ve had since Christmas, which I’m diagnosing as another stress induced plague). An afternoon of plush dressing robes and massage oils did sound extraordinarily enticing. Unfotunately the waiting list at the local country club was a month long, as I’m envisioning the hordes of stressed students flocking upon the spa baths, with a round of golf to tip off the evening.

    Not to be put out, I booked a sports massage – considering myself a powerlifter-in-progress and recognising the fair amount of damage I’ve done to my body in learning the ropes of weightlifting.
    As the Sims have taught us all, the true key to a lover’s heart is furiously massaging their back. That being said, I’ve always struggled to find the so called ‘knots’ when kneading someone else’s flesh. My masseur did not however have quite the same issue. I can only attempt to convey a level of white pain of having a knuckle or elbow ground down on a tender spot on your back. The science behind it was explained and was truly intriguing, although I could only vaguely attempt to pass on this knowledge with metaphors of untangling knotted hair or spaghetti. There were several points during the session where I thought I might be brought to dry heaving, with my face planted through the massage hole and thankfully pointed at the ground.

    I’m not entirely sure I would label the experience as relaxing. There were certainly no tall glasses of iced water with fresh cucumber slices, deep, chanting music, nor yankee candles.

    That being said, my back certainly does feel like ready kneaded dough a day later, which can surely not be a bad thing.

    Jamie’s Italian

    I am a notoriously picker eater, as I think I’ve loosely described in other posts. I’m sure I’ve caused countless waiters notable irritation at requesting the pine nuts not adorn the salad, although no I’m not allergic so the kitchen need not send out a warning flare should I break out in hives. Having spent a great deal of these past few years thronged into domesticity, I could at thirteen scour a supermarket shelves, set loose like a bloodhound to a scent trail, and return obediently to the master with a basket full of undoubtedly the cheapest offers (fairy liquid tablets are notorious for making this as difficult as possible with their mismatched deals). I also prepare and organise my own meals, nowadays half eaten out of scrubbed Tupperware dishes like a true frugal busybody. Any form of travel, for instance through Paddington station, no longer requires the frantic hand signal and mad dash into M&S or YO-Sushi for train snacks – whilst the attendant drolls on over the boarding train status – as my handbag is neatly crammed with hopefully leak-proof Tupperware finery.
    Following my brother moving from the UK to New Zealand, there was talk of his girlfriend having joined the local Tupperware conventions, and having reached the status of a proud host of many Tupperware parties. I’m patiently waiting to reach a similar level, Empress of convenient plastic lunchboxes.

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    Of course I must sometimes reach out beyond the slightly hairy forks lurking at the bottom of my handbag. Exeter isn’t unfortunately rife with restaurants, people tending to instead flock to local pubs which aren’t always veggie-friendly, unless you want that Steak & Chips without the steak?
    Jamie’s Italian was only opened recently, in 2015, but has fast become one of my favourites. Expanded over two floors, you can dine amongst the friendly chatter between booths on the lower floor, or in the slightly more secluded upstairs. The atmosphere is relaxed and intimate, the lights dim, the odd cured leg of animal swinging in the breeze from the kitchen décor.
    Order a ‘plank’, and it’ll often come propped up on two very authentic retro pasta cans, for the full effect.

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    The menu is broad, and caters appraisingly for meat eaters and vegetarians alike, alongside the fussy fingers who really just care for a bowl of tomato pasta at the end of the day. Portions are also available in half sizes, for the gaggle of office ladies watching their waistlines in the lunchtime run, or full for those with neverending black hole of a stomach, when it comes to pasta.

    The staff are undeniably efficient, this I noted from the word go. After an interesting run in with YO-Sushi in the first week of it’s opening (I don’t blame the new staff, looking at battered tofu you wouldn’t always think that the white jelly substance does require cooking), I’m a little dubious over visiting newly opened restaurants. However the staff were so avidly attentive, more so than most other chains. The presence of the specials board adds a classier aspect to your meal, which will be recited by your waiter or waitress of the evening, with an added recommendation of their own.
    (I do sometimes wonder if they do truly have the time to try every special, to advocate the duck as really so divine)

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    Nonetheless, my latest Jamie’s venture was equally tasteful. Being boring I opted for the squash salad with ‘whipped ricotta’ for a second time and yes all pine nuts were scarpered away from my dish.

    On Classics & a cinema excursion

    As most of my friends are already aware (due to my extensive yammering on any night out, plus my undue service as a sober chauffeur to and from local night haunts), I’m still unable to drink alcohol on my course of roaccutane until August.
    Sadly not the chirpiest of sober clubbers, I tend to tour my trusted little mini home after dropping the collectives off to enjoy a hazy alcohol induced night.
    Weekends have become all a little droll and bemusing, sat scouring The Tab as opposed to wreaking havoc out on the town. It was on one such article, concerning a fellow sober clubber – albeit by choice – that I decided to roll back the clocks to preteen weekend cinema excursions. This girl claimed university life hardly needed a shot of tequila and a slim picking of lime, when instead she prided herself on having attended all recent movie releases, like a true saint.

    Although I can’t quite afford to budget out a tenner for Vue teen tickets all that regularly, I have decided to educate myself a little more in terms of the visual arts.
    Zoolander 2 was the obvious choice here, for heightening the senses, stimulating the intellect, reaching undiscovered levels of erudite satiation
    I’m sure you can all hear ‘kids who can’t read good’ echoing somewhere in the background.

    Anyhow I don’t wish to spoil the thrilling journey alongside Ben Stiller and his infamous pout, in his sassy quest to regain the love of his son. Something did however strike me while watching the showing – what would someone watching this say maybe ten, fifteen years down the line think?

    I say this while deeply engrossed in Aristophanes The Clouds, as one of my Classical Civilisation texts on Ancient Greek Comedy. The play follows a greed stricken Athenian man, so desperate to outwit debt collectors haranguing his measly fortunes after his son floundered what little they held on racing ponies. He turns to the widely criticised philosophist, Socrates, hoping he too can learn the art of deceiving the world with complex ideologies and spoken intellect. I’ll attempt not to run into spoilers in this field, as I’m sure you’re teetering on the edge of your seat, eager to nosedive into ancient Greek drama.

    One catchesim that has arisen in class is whether or not a modern audience would find thee same humour in the play as a group of slightly inebriated men in togas once did. The play satirises many known politicians of the period, and surely these jokes go amiss on us nowadays.
    While we might all be in fits of giggles at an onstage representation of Boris Johnson, all albino, his drooping and furrowed white brows pedalling around on one of his infamous bikes, we might just struggle to find ‘Cleisthenes’ and his trademark shaven chin – the source of great ridicule for feminine attributes – quite as entertaining, in a production of ‘The Clouds’.

    As much of the plot in Zoolander 2 is peppered with the faces of famed fashion designers, and of course with Justin Bieber’s sunkissed cheeks thrown into the mix, I do question what an audience perhaps a decade down the line would think. The brutal execution of a teen heart-throb might not be equally amusing when the name doesn’t make you think of pet monkeys, beautifully photoshopped Calvin Klein abdominals, and the verification that he does truly not stuff socks down his pants.
    Much in the same way that the satirical humour of the Old Comedies floats over our heads, it is intriguing to see how these timeless plays influence what you pay out to see on a quiet Friday, alongside that extra large popcorn which-you-probably-shouldn’t-have but will still munch through by the time the adverts come to a neat end.
    Just as we need a little footnote to help us laugh along to Cleisthenes and his chin, smooth as a baby’s bottom, we might one day need a little helping hand to laugh along to Justin Bieber’s fated demise in Zoolander 2.

    New year new me.

    I’m not huge on completely revamping yourself and all your attributes on the yearly basis. I don’t think cracking open the champers come midnight, and disillusioning yourself that come tomorrow you’ll have gained the title of office sweetheart, the nicest neighbour on the block, or that one person unable to walk past a homeless person without sparing a penny and countless kind words. Beyond niceness (I’m not wholly sure if that is indeed a word), you’re unlikely to stick to a diet and fitness overhaul if you catapult yourself into an unbearable regime come the morning of the first, when your blood stream is no doubt still frazzled by the myriad of vodka shots you necked the night before. New year, for me, is more of an occasion to step back and appreciate the less thought of achievements of the year before.

    Unfortunately my new years resolution of 2015 (to stop biting my fingernails) wasn’t quite achieved and will also stand as this years resolution. I’m hoping that by 2017 I’ll have pretty talons, and will spend less time in between gym sets furiously gnawing at my fingers. It is rather grubby, I’ve realised, considering all the other sweaty mits that have been plastered over bars, dumbbells and machines. Perhaps come 2017 I won’t have to study English, and could throw myself into the profession of a hand model for earning my millions.

    Beyond quitting the un-quittable, and possibly most revolting habit I have, I’m hoping to move in short term to the local library and throw myself head first into studying for the next half year, until exam season rolls around. Perhaps I should have requested a blow up camping set and stove for Christmas as opposed to a never-ending supply of socks. I may indeed end up the infamous yeti-like creature of Exeter libraries, heavily bearded and rarely sighted, creeping in between book cases. (Unfortunately this is also unlikely as my sister continues to unknowingly fund my Netflix subscription, and evenings are far better spent engrossed in documentaries, head over heels at the sound of David Attenborough’s soothing voice educating me on the development of geodes).

    Last but not least, having undergone another tragic sober night as a result of my commitment to Roaccutane, my new years ended in bed with a good helping of peanut butter and gogglebox. Therefore I was ripe and ready for an early morning gym excursion (early also taken lightly, as yet another resolution is sadly going to be waking up pre-lunchtime, upon returning to my studies). I haven’t set any formal weight targets since I’m not overly education on realistic increments over the next year (100kg deadlift does however seem an attractive prospect). Despite this I’m keen to continue improving my lifts and physique, and bring on all sorts of gains over the next year. Until then, I will continue to embarrass myself and everyone else in the vicinity – or rather attract shame from the onlookers – for my wanton gym selfies and sour pout.

    Enjoy my first for 2016, and may you all have a fabulous year no matter how large or small your resolutions!

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    On having a surname that no one can pronounce.

    Although people have tried, bless them.


    WEE-AY-ELD?
    WADDLE?
    WAY-EL-DA?

    My personal favourite was something along the lines of ‘valkyrie’ at a poetry reading. My cheeks may have risen to an odd shade of scarlet.

    I’ve been asked where I originate from (really the UK), and stopped at border controls (although I feel like this may be more due to my passport photo, in which I look vaguely like a pre pubescent six year old boy with a neat pudding bowl crop).
    One of the classic moments was during a school register, with Miss calling out each of our names one by one, calling everyone’s first name and their surname. Of course she reached my name in the list and paused for a moment, gave me a quick glance, and left it at Liv. Sometimes it is clearly better to act blasé and breeze over it than give out an awkward mouthful.

    I know plenty of other people experience the same issue, tricky surnames aren’t a rare occurrence. I think mine maybe does climb a little higher than the others, mainly as no one (not even myself) seems to be wholly sure how it is spelt. The original surname includes the German letter A-Umlaut – Ä. Those pesky little dots cause a whole lot of trouble, through the pronunciation, which differs from the standard A to a more stringent AY. The struggle arises when moving across continents, between countries that don’t fully share the same alphabet. The question of how my German surname is translated is a rather tricky one. Some of my cousins have dropped half the lettering anyway for a nice well rounded Wald. The Ä can traditionally be subbed in with AE in English, for the same sort of sound. However the pairing of these two vowels does seem to be difficult for some to comprehend. Therefore my parents did both occasionally drop even the E for just plain old Walde – as it states on all my credit cards and passports. Unfortunately I’ve been programmed to sign my surname WAELDE, which has resulted in a few sticky situations at visa inspections when travelling, when I’m unable to even sign my own name correctly.
    That being said, there isn’t a whole lot that I can do now. Plus my go-to running dad joke involves raising a quizzical eyebrow when asked how to pronounce my surname. The waggish response of ‘it’s like WELL-DONE. Without the UN’, would surely go amiss.

    I’m just going to continue on my hunt to marry a man whose surname begins with a G.

    Who wouldn’t want their initials to be O-M-G anyway?

    On other people’s pets.

    A rather unexpected choice of topic for my first post, you might ascertain. Yet, one which has been playing on my mind for some time now, and is frequently resurrected whenever I’m invited over to a fellow dog-owning household, and am greeted nose-to-crotch over the welcome mat.

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    Dogs hate kisses. This is a widely known fact.

    A word of advice is to be highly cautious of anyone who professes themselves a dog hater. A cat-lover myself, I do see reason in feline-cynicism, as understandably not everyone clasps together their hands and coos at the priceless image of their kitten as it retches up a damp hairball on the freshly folded laundry of their significant other. Not everyone is willing to submit to the prospect of sharpened claws sinking into your new pair of Wolford fishnets, at the abrupt reversal from devoted moggy, to brutal wildcat.
    To qualify for the title of enduring cat lover, you tend more to side with admiration and amusement at the individually crafted nature held by cats. Dogs, en masse, are renowned for their unwavering love. You can shave them, pluck them, dye their fur a humiliating shade of hot pink as trending in Parisian poodles, and still they will gaze up at you with eyes so wide and brimming with love, they would curve into little heart shaped corneas, were this a cartoonised episode of Scooby-Doo, or Clifford. You only have to glance at the glowering furry eyebrows of Dan Bilzerian’s infamous Smuffball, to know that cats lack this unconditional and yielding infatuation with their owners, specifically when stripped of their hair and left with a running Mohican and chilly little flanks.

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    Marco showing his displeasure at my unadulterated love and excessive fake tan.

    A step behind the subjugation of pets into these two categories, the stereotypes of the slobbering, gormless dog, and the sharp-witted, only vaguely amused cat (sadly rodents and budgerigars haven’t qualified for this post), is the perception of other people’s own pets. Of course we love our own furry adoptees. Admittedly, no dog is ever as loyal as the elated Lassie, starring in her own television series, nor is any cat as humorous as Garfield. Yet arguably, in the same fanciful style of heavily favourited tumblr quotes, and the tone your mother takes with you when sobbing over your acne, it is their little flaws which make them all the more lovable.
    Obviously, unwavering obedience would be wonderful. This aside, I can’t help but smile whenever our veteran golden retriever turns a blind eye, and swivels her head away and pretends furiously not to hear the call for morning stroll, in hope of shifting off the middle aged tyre hanging at her sides. Similarly, I’m equally repulsed as gleeful over the trail of dead shrews and dormice, left peppered across the hallway each morning by my feline companion. Although the stains of loose tails and innards and intestines are revolting, and I pity the rising rodent death toll, I can’t help but feel a little appreciation (as according to a vague google search on cat psychology, this is my kitten’s way of confessing his undying love for me, or rather the hand that feeds).

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    Whilst I can stand these little imperfections in my own menagerie, I do struggle to plaster on a brave face and gently hustle an overfriendly lab away from my privates when greeted at the door. Similarly, it’s hard to see the attraction in a cat that saunters in at breakfast and teatime, and is otherwise absent from daytime grooming sessions, rather fond of roaming the outside gardens merrily under his own superveillance.
    Yet, thinking back to my previous English house cats (may they rest in peace in the shallow graves I staked out in the garden, 21 a ripe old age for a moggy), and one habit of yowling constantly at three in the morning, followed by the doting attitude our household took to this custom, all these little shortcomings do make our pets more lovable. Perhaps this isn’t quite so easy to fathom when defending your nether region with a barrier of forearms, or plucking white hairs out of the jacket a friend’s cat has decided to nest and bear kittens within (asking for this garment back, when purposefully selected by the queen to bear her furry blessings, was shot down with a cagey stare). Still, imperfections aside, you love your pets like you would your grandma, no matter how many times one misses the litterbox, and the other snores during Question Time.

    On the blog name.

    Of course I was deeply enamoured at the thought of plucking out a blog name, eyecatching and teeming with wit or a pinch of great intellect. I could have some lengthy back story at the ready, casually tossing in a tale of extreme benevolence towards the elderly. Or a foreign word, that could stand emblazoned at the top of the blog in an understated and classy font, loosely translating into something that projects my savvy mentality, or on the contrary, gently mocking since can’t we all empathise with someone able to disgrace themselves for a few stray giggles.

    Alas, sadly the final school year is ticking onwards and I haven’t yet been enlightened with any such slogans, so you’ll have to make do with me and my slaptstick qualities, rather than the blog name, for now.

    Following on from that dampening introduction, the phrase does certainly hold an element of truth. I do rather like stars. Now before I bowl you over with that excellent hyperbole (my rhyming talents clearly aren’t going to win your hearts either), let me affirm that it does at least hold an element of truth. Having a fairly loose reining mother, I’ve always toyed with the idea of getting a stellar related quote inked on my back. ‘A metaphor for the night sky; a trillion asterisks and no explanations’ is my diction of choice.
    There was some confusion over the author of these words, when my mother requested a short list of quotes for some hand painted, inspirational kitchen tiles. I did taper on the authors of each quote on to my little list, for copyrights sake, yet this was apparently lost in translation through several email inboxes. For quite some time I was certain that the quote was thanks to Oscar Wilde. Later ponderings led to the dramatic realisation that O. Wilde was in fact an adapted version of my own surname, Waelde (no hard feelings, I’m well accustomed to a multitude of misspellings thanks to this ruffian tagged on to my passport). Therefore I’d like to publicly relieve myself of the duties of apologising to Mr. Brault, as the dark cloud of stolen words has been hanging over me to the date. Neither myself nor Oscar Wilde are due credit for this astrological quote. (We tend also to turn a blind eye upon the phallic nature of the feline face, when sipping our tea in the new kitchen).

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    There we have it. I’m not head over heels, engrossed in every astrology newsletter, able to drawl on for hours to dinner guests over the complex life cycle of the bright little lights in the sky (I can hardly recall my GCSE physics life cycle dip into them as it is), I can’t point out any more constellations than ‘der kleiner Wagen’ (the little wheelbarrow) and I struggle hideously in discerning a man in Orion, or a pup in Sirius. Despite the listed shortfalls in my nebula knowledge, I did experience warm and tingly feelings when browsing a pre bedtime Buzzfeed article on non sexual fetishes, and seeing ‘Astrophile’ leading the pack, as a person who loves stars. Indeed, I can’t tally off impressive memorised figures, of light years, and light distance, and the number of stars which, incomprehensibly, no longer exist even as we peer up at them on clear nights. Yet, the impassive and stately expanse of night skies do captivate me more than your average Joe (or so I’d like to believe).