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

Elite Gym and Fitness, Koh Samui

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The best gym I dropped in at in Thailand was no doubt Elite Gym and Fitness on Koh Samui. The gym has two branches; Classic & Exclusive. I initially visited the Classic gym in the evening and all I can say is that it truly takes bodybuilding back to basics. Located in a warehouse, the Classic gym offers a huge variety of machines and one rack on the ground floor, with a bit of floor space and cardio equipment on the upper level. The doors were wide open and industrial fans in use although even at 7pm it was still sweltering – you hardly had to lift a finger before you started dripping. A stray cat also wandered in during my workout which I had to stop a set of tricep extensions to pet, no less!

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I honestly found the lack of air conditioning far too difficult to work out in properly, and was told by one of the girls on the counter (who was kind enough to also gave me a lift to the Fisherman’s Bay after I was done with my curls) that the Exclusive gym was fully equipped with air con. The gyms are within a twenty minute drive of each other, and the Exclusive more catered for classes and those who tend to wilt a little under the local conditions.

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Elite Gym and Fitness Exclusive caters again more towards bodybuilders but there are a few benches and one rack, and all sorts of machines, many of which I hadn’t come across before (cue my attempts to get in the seated dumbell raise machine the wrong way- the trainers found this hugely amusing and were nice enough to set me on the right path). Private cardio cubicles are also spaced out around the main workout area, just in case you’d rather no one watch your cardio face.

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The gym attracts a mix of locals and tourists, offers classes such as spinning and yoga and also has a massage service. They also sell peanut butter and oat protein shakes and preworkout, as well as ‘macro meals’ – something I thought I’d never find in Thailand – such as chicken salads or protein porridge.

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Both open 6.30am – 10pm, the Elite Gym and Fitness gyms are both amazingly equipped and you can really pick and choose whether or not to sweat out your sins with stray cats in the Classic, or be a little more pampered in the Exclusive.

Exclusive is located, ironically, on top of McDonalds on the main Chaweng road; 202 Moo 2
Classic is located near the Tesco; 9/23 Moo 6

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.

On your siblings having kids

There will come an odd occasion when your cherished siblings will spawn.
You will always remember as quick to snitch to mummy when you stole the last cookie, for pinching your thighs under the dinner table, and stealing your glitziest mini skirt to take to a thirteen year olds slumber party. You’ll know quite how poor their judgement can sometimes be, for leaping head first into the stream in the heat of summer and ending up being hauled out with a cracked open skull, poking at bees nests, or bringing greasy haired rocker boys home from high school under mother’s disapproving gaze. You may know all this, and you can certainly just hope that they’ll bring a little more judgement into play when it comes to raising their own.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all my siblings. I now also adore all my little nieces and nephews (although I haven’t actually come face to face with one of them, beyond Skype, as he lives on the other side of the world). It is just terribly hard to imagine them as parents. I am personally semi blessed & half cursed in being surrounded with considerably older half-siblings. On one hand they are notably wiser and there were far fewer skirmishes when we did live together, growing up. On the other hand, it is slightly similar to having a posse of parents. There’s much less giggling in cahoots over having hidden daddy’s car keys, or gossiping over illicit teenage acts. Any talk of teenage crime receives a multitude of stern stares from across the dinner table.

Or at least it was. My brother was the first to bear his little boy (not physically bear that is, not quite a natural phenomenon). Seeing him with a mini-him did confirm quite what a wonderful father he is, and will be. It’s all the teasing of play of my childhood, but on a minimalist level with plenty of cuddles and care. Believe it or not, your siblings can actually change a nappy, even if they protested furiously at even clearing out the dishwasher, or cleaning up cat sick hidden in the study. My sister quickly followed suit with her daughter, even though we’re still at the stage of partially swapping and sharing clothes. Having just spent the Christmas period with my sister, her hubby and newborn, I was exposed again to just how tender my siblings can be. Clearly getting pregnant flips some sort of serious switch in the brain – or maybe they just save the brutal tormenting and ‘typewriter’ (which involves being pinned to the floor and repeatedly jabbed on the chest, courteously of my brother) for me nowadays.

Baby Amara

Christmas 2015-5

It’s not fun being ill anymore

I used to love skiving off school for a week. Although conventionally shy and never the girl with hairbrush in hand, belting out Beyonce lyrics at pre-drinks, I excelled in the dramatic field when it came to feigning sickness. I would flounder from sofa to sofa, quivering with the unidentifiable flu and moaning softly every so often for the full effect. If anyone asked me if I was feeling well enough to return to school for the afternoon, I would just peer out from under the covers with quivering eyelids to communicate what a ludicrous idea that was. By Friday lunchtime I would have miraculously recovered and be fit and ready for any year 7 sleepovers or play dates gracing the weekend.

Unfortunately long term bouts of sickness and setting up semi permanent residence on the couch are no longer feasible. Life seems slightly more exciting than continuous episodes of Home & Away, or Antiques Roadshow (god bless daytime television). There’s also the matter of A Levels, and general life. So, come Sunday night I was fairly perturbed to be feeling ill. By Monday this had worsened, and I decided to take myself off to A&E since there was a murmured mention of appendix pain being isolated solely to the right of the stomach. I’ve been to A&E twice before and it’s always hideously exciting, sat on a squeaky plastic chair getting to ogle various degrees of fascinating injuries in the waiting room. On the first occasion, I snapped a glowstick and got an interesting amount of glow in the dark liquid in my eye (being quite young, I still can’t fully remember if I did this on purpose, to see if my eyes would glow in the dark, or if it was an honest mistake). On the second occasion I slit open my finger on a tin of cat food and the sight of flesh made me a little weak at the knees. This time I did have to drive myself, the true early stages of committed adulting starting to arise. However no one was fully pleased to see me as I wasn’t in any way near expiry. I got a tap on the wrist for taking the wrong sort of medication, asked pleasantly what I had eaten for lunch, reminded to drink enough water and take some fresh exercise. All and well I spent the rest of the evening under the covers bemoaning life and scrolling instagram continuously, hoping I would sleep off my pain. The next day followed suit, and come the following I dropped back in to the doctors to have some bloods taken.

I suppose I’m every doctors worst nightmare – before coming into your office I have scrolled WebMD thoroughly, and diagnosed myself with at least 5 possible illnesses, alongside covering all varying degrees of treatment and efficiency. My best true diagnosis to date was coming in to tell the doctor I had moo-co-co-lees. She looked at me a little perplexed, until I showed her my lips whereby I was left a little red faced when told that my pronunciation from online readings didn’t quite fit mew-co-seals, or rather mucoceles.

Anyway feeling considerably better after my GP visit I duly headed to the gym haven the next day, necked my preworkout and set about my deadlifts to receive a call stating that I may indeed have appendicitis. This mixed with a questionable amount of caffeine was indeed an interesting combination. Followed by my third doctors visit to the week, I was sat pleasantly in the waiting room when a nurse came, smiling cheerfully and attempted to insert a canula into my arm as routine procedure. This wasn’t quite what I had expected, having been told by my GP that it would just be a quick scan to make sure it wasn’t appendicitis (the quick scan turned out also to be not quite so quick, as there was a flurried explanation of cameras going into all sorts of holes). As it turned out I don’t have appendicitis (curse you WebMD), quite thankfully as I was nowhere near as sick as the poor people in the ward. I also avoided both scan and canula and left with only a slightly sore vein from another blood test.

Either way, I’m certainly quite thankful not to be plagued with appendicitis or anything more serious and have learned a lesson as not to glue myself to online self diagnoses at the slight ache or ailment.

(Once a hypochondriac always a hypochondriac).

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 passing my driving test & celebratory noodles.

Living in a fairly rural area, the best part of five years have been spent trekking to and from a very rural bus stop (so rural that in fact it has not even reached the marked title of an actual bus stop, and remains a bend in the road that you have to sweet-talk the bus driver into a quick standstill. Failure to do so leads to being dropped in the next lay-by, and having to tackle a bramble bush headfirst. This is followed by several muddy fields either plowed or filled with curious sheep, all the while feeling like a miniature Bear Grylls).

Thus the past five years of my life have been ruled by bus timetables (I can tell you exactly when the 55 passes the stop prior to my colonized bend in the road, and time myself to be ready and waiting approximately four and a half minutes in advance).
There have been few occasions when the bus has simply not arrived, or dismal Sundays spent meandering the high street and stranded in town, due to the one-every-three-hour rule on the day of rest. The mile in between my house and my bus stop has also proved perilous in the dark, when matched with a glaring pair of red headphones yanked up to full volume and cars not fully expecting a schoolgirl wandering country lanes in the dark. Countless arguments have arisen with my mother, over wearing the fluorescent & flashing battery powered vest she kindly purchased (ever the agreeable teenager, I stated that I would rather end up face first in a bonnet than sink to such crimes against fashion). Countless arguments have also arisen over mad dashes to the bus when the agreeable teenager forgets to set a timely alarm, with numerous pitiable pheasants taken on the death toll of such morning pursuits. This is all without mention of the extortionate fares of £7.50 per day, making my gym-goings suddenly very precious.
Having struggled under the woes of a teenager, a Rapunzel stranded in her rural castle, you can imagine my delight at receiving my first car after my seventeenth birthday, accompanied with driving lessons. These extended over the next customary 6 months, or 40 hours expected to pass ones test. These then extended for an additional 6 months.

I wouldn’t consider myself a poor driver. I’m not overly nervous, white knuckles gripping the steering wheel and nails furiously nibbled at every red light. Nor am I dangerous, for I certainly don’t tackle sharp bends at ’60 accompanied by a shriek of glee. I do however buckle under pressure (I turned to faithful old Rescue Remedy in my final two tests). The first was failed rather admirably – I simply didn’t pay attention in the navigational section, and came to a slittle confused stop at a roundabout as a result, A cheery examiner, described by my instructor as looking ‘as if she should be knitting shreddies’, told me she was certain I would pass next time).
Sadly this didn’t quite follow suite, and the following three passed with heightening nerves and wallowing disappointment, growing with every trip to the DVLA website.

All that aside, I do now stand the proud owner of a pass certificate, to match my proud owner of car status which, after a year and a half, I finally am able to decorate with garish swinging die (I’m going to signpost that as the plural of dice), and countless tins of fruit pastilles as procedure in any car.
Accompanied by this pass is are the celebratory noodles I banned myself from having a good 8months ago, after the soul crushing failure of my first test. A self confessed picky eater, I do have some credit to my habits and taste. Having scoured the aisles for the weekly grocery shop, cooked and cleaned for about 6 years, I admittedly don’t see much point in eating that which doesn’t please my palate. Hence my Wagamamas order has been nitpicky and consistent for the past few years

phad-thai-no-egg-no-shallots-no-peanuts-whole-wheat-noodles – please !

comes out in a sort of trance, or chant as if opening a hidden door. (Ali Baba reference, which I was continuously placed in front of as a child, in German no less) (sadly they are also not offering wholewheat noodles this season)

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So, after having to turn down several other group expeditions to Wagamamas with an embarrassed mutter about jinxing driving tests and black magic, I finally have my celebratory noodles!

Interpretation of Ariel, by Sylvia Plath

Ariel. A luscious red haired mermaid sadly isn’t included in the identification of the namesake. Rather Sylvia’s husband, Ted, influenced many of the readings through adding that Sylvia rode at a Dartmoor riding school. Having engaged in several long and enduring treks over Dartmoor hill and heath, I’m thoroughly surprised that one shaggy haired moor pony ever bolted in its lifetime. My experience tends to surround hammering the oblivious sides of the beasts, and trying to blindly tear their mouths away from the nearest fern. This all takes place in spitting cold rain, in sodden castoff jeans considered weathered enough to feel the fury of three hours in the saddle. Not quite the ‘substanceless blue / pour of tor and distances’ (you can’t quite see for the next tor through the muggy Dartmoor smog, let alone the great distances. Prayers be with the ten tors volunteers). The spondees ‘stasis in darkness’ and ‘pour of tor’ amplify quite the pace at which the trail pony must have taken up, static scenery turned to a blur of Dartmoor colours (which have a regrettable tendency to revolve around grey and green).

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(my friend aboard a trusty Dartmoor steed)

Some claim the horse to ignite the symbol of male sexuality. I’m not quite sure. We may indeed have fallen so low as to include ‘stud’ or ‘studmuffin’ in the endless list of endearments, or Tinder profile labels, but horses can just as easily be assimilated in the female sense. I was never quite sure on the gender of Falada, my favourite fairytale mount, I don’t suppose they gelded in those days. The words murmured by poor Falada’s head ‘if this your mother knew / her heart would break in two’ do otherwise take the tone of a gentle, doting mare.

Jerusalem was also referred to as ‘Ariel’, as predestined to be destroyed by flames. Another interpretation of the title of choice, tying in to the concluding stanza, and line – ‘suicidal, at one with the drive / into the red / Eye, the cauldron of the morning’. Perhaps the pony has truly taken a turn for the worst, and with the wind up its tail bolted straight through the night until the rising sun brightens Plath’s world – if she has not already plunged off the careering animal in rather a few nightly hours. Otherwise, this reference could indeed be Jerusalem’s flames, come to plague. Much like Troy, you could ascertain. Cities tend to go down in flames.

I’m not necessarily a hardcore feminist. I don’t think this poem sees Plath paving the gender-war either. The allusions to female strength and powder are obvious; ‘God’s lioness’, as if embodying the almighty powder of a Lord within the sleek coat of a female predator. ‘Godiva’, too, the woman who paraded the streets of Coventry, nude and on horseback, to boycott taxation, is an emblem of female strength, on horseback (lets hope Plath herself wasn’t too unclothed, sitting astride her Dartmoor pony. It gets rather nippy in Winter).
Yet, ‘I unpeel – dead hands, dead stringencies’, suggests rebirth and shedding of restrictions. When related to ‘the child’s cry / Melts in the wall’, the mention of an adolescent could possibly be the internal child, in the narrator, or rather Plath, herself. Sitting astride a bolting horse is rather frightening (my mother bought me an ex racehorse in place of a trusty furry Shetland, so I can advise you justly). Perhaps Plath has indeed located her inner sophisticated goddess whilst straddling a wild horse. I just question the feasibility of reaching great epiphanies when grappling for the reins.

Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Nigger-eye
Berries cast dark
Hooks—

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Shadows.
Something else

Hauls me through air—
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

White
Godiva, I unpeel—
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child’s cry

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.

-Sylvia Plath, 1962