Monday, 7 December 2015

The Sugar Tax

A proposed levy of 10-20% on high sugar products has been rejected by David Cameron. This isn't the end of the matter though, some MPs are convinced that the only way to reduce sugar consumption is to tax it. The idea is not only unfair to those of us who consume sugar in moderation, but fails to tackle the real issue. People will not suddenly give up their sweet fixes because of a price increase. For one thing a 20% rise on a 70p bar is still only 14p. For another, they could just switch to a cheaper brand or be more tempted to take advantage of bulk buy discounts. However, the most compelling reason that it will fail is that sugar is addictive and people will be willing to pay that little bit more to get their fix.
If the stick is not the answer then what about the carrot? The positive steps which the food industry could take to encourage us all to eat better. We need to tackle the issues that make people choose the high-sugar options to really solve the problem. 
For example, a difficult thing about eating healthily is the cost. Go into any supermarket and a single bar of chocolate will be, roughly, 70p. Go to the fruit section and a pot of pre-prepared fruit will be at least £1.50. Now, of course, you could prepare fruit salad yourself but that takes time, it takes planning and it's expensive to buy all the fruit in bulk. Not to mention the short shelf-life of fruit so if you're a single person it can end up being a waste. That chocolate bar is suddenly very appealing. 
The obvious answer is therefore not taxation but an analysis of why people choose sugary foods and what we can do to encourage them to make better choices. A sugar-tax will fail because if the healthy option is still the less attractive option good auld sugar will win the day. 

Don't cod yourself, brown sugar is bad for you too

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Third Year Realities

Now I'm in the winter of my student years the glitz and glamour of fresher lifestyle has worn off. With that comes the realities of being in the third, and final, year of my degree.

1) In first year the answer to any financial question was the extremely generous overdraft Halifax afforded me. Now that I'm in third year the reality that I have to have that fully paid off in 18 months is upon me so rather than gleefully shoving my card into every available reader I'm trying to work out if there's a way I can possibly graduate in the black.
2) I go out, at best, once a week. And I feel an enormous amount of guilt for it the next day because I have so much work to do that lazing in bed nursing a hangover just isn't cricket.
3) My definition of a night out has changed, in fact it has drastically expanded. An evening in the pub is now sufficient to tick the socialising box on my weekly list of goals.
4) Eating out has gotten fancier because it's less guilt inducing to spend money and time on a nice meal. A girl needs to eat.
5) I legitimately tell my friends that I hate my life and want to die on a weekly basis. I don't fully mean it, but the prospect of an eternal rest does sound pretty good.
6) Social media feeds my anger and resentment; everyone in the world is having more fun than I am.
7) I miss my family more, and not just the home cooking and laundry service. I miss doing the crosswords with grandad, reading the Sunday paper as a family (we rotate the supplements, we don't all crowd around the one) and I miss my cats more than I thought humanly possible (so much so that I insanely show pictures of fattie-bom-battie cat to anyone with eyes).
8) I will not entertain the following: crap nightclubs; melodrama; booty calls; attending an event for free food; recommended reading; and grade grubbers.
9) After two whole years of buying ice, and complaining about buying ice, I've finally bought an ice cube tray so I can have homemade ice.
10) The future is looming and it's frightening as hell. How can some of my friends be ready to jump into 40 hour work weeks?

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

What The November 2015 Spending Review Means For Us

I'm back again with a real look at what the Spending Review means for us, the everyday folk. Let's not faff about, it breaks down like this:

First Time Buyers: There's a focus on low-cost buying with starter homes being sold at a discount, the Help To Buy: Shared Ownership scheme, and the Right To Buy (for Housing Association tenants) scheme. Also an emphasis on building new homes and an extension of the popular Help To Buy scheme. Higher Stamp Duty will be imposed on additional residential properties.
Culture: Free admission to museums and galleries will remain. Manchester will be getting some lolly for a number of projects, Birmingham and Plymouth get a look in too.
Sports will profit too as funding (bribe money? Our own State sponsored doping scheme?) will be increased in the hopes that we'll go for gold in Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.
NHS: £10 billion real terms increase between 2014/15-2020/21, however this will have to fund a 7 day service. Social care and mental health were specifically mentioned.
Rail: Regulated rail fares will be frozen and customers will be entitled to a refund if trains are more than a few minutes late.
HS2: Happening.
Roads: Resurfacing plans for over 80% of the strategic road network. War on potholes declared.
Pensions: Raising by £3.35 per week. I texted my grandad with this news and he replied We can go on a cruise.
Tampon Tax: The 5% tax will remain while the UK can negotiate with the EU to have it abolished. Until then the money raised from the tax will go to women's health and support charities. A great result.
Devolution Revolution: Perhaps my favourite term of the entire Spending Review and I'm guessing George Osborne's too as it's used 6 times in the document. Let's pick it apart bit by bit:
Northern Ireland - Holla holla cash dolla! Also corporation tax is to be devolved; the NI parties have settled on 12.5%. In other news the Republic of Ireland is weeping. The government are supporting plans to extend flight routes from Derry to Dublin (why?).
Scotland - Further extension of powers, budget increases, flight path from Dundee to Amsterdam being supported (presumably to discourage Dundee residents from nipping to Glasgow for a bitta smack), and the City Deals are well underway.
Wales - Same auld jibe, more powers more money etc. Infrastructure is set to improve so more people will have the opportunity to leave. Cardiff might get a City deal, but the fact the Review refers to that as "ambitious" suggests it's not set in stone. Wales will also get a new prison which is delightful news for the sheep (because I imagine all Welsh crime centres around sheep - sheep rustling I mean).
England - The government are selling massive cuts off as an opportunity for local government to go power mad.
The Northern Powerhouse: An insane amount of bonuses and benefits going on. There's so much that I can't fit it in here, but if you live in the North then rub your hands together greedily.
Students: It's a mixed bag. The loans are increasing, but the grants are being scrapped. At this point it's just a drop in the ocean. On the bright side, students will be able to borrow up to £8,000 so they'll end up with more money in their pockets even if it's more debt to their name. Also, the loans will be extended to part-time students and loans will be available for second degrees in STEM subjects.
Postgraduate wise, the loans for taught Masters will be coming in for 2016-17 and will be available to all under 60. The repayment rate will be reduced from 9% to 6% of earnings over £21,000.

Full policy report here.

Review: Marilyn Manson @ Manchester O2 Apollo

It was the final night of the Hell Not Hallelujah tour and Marilyn Manson outdid himself. This was my fourth time seeing him (it would have been the fifth if Alt-Fest hadn't been such a disaster, not that I'm still bitter). It was surprising to see him play the Apollo because it's such a small venue in comparison to the neighbouring MEN Arena, but it made for an intimate show.
The opening act was Krokodil. Don't worry if you haven't heard of them because neither had I, or anyone around me. In fact, a quick internet search brings up desomorphine so I'm guessing the rest of the world is unenlightened too. They performed well but their music genre didn't fit the mood. They had a screaming style of singing which seemed too heavy to be supporting Manson. Also, it would have been better if they'd introduced themselves when they came on stage as I'm still unsure of how to pronounce their name.
After Krokodil the speakers blasted The Devil is Real by The Louvin Brothers; this was then juxtaposed with The Devil is a Lie by Rick Ross ft. Jay Z. It was surreal to have a sudden blast of rap music. We began to wonder whether we were at the right gig, whether we'd confused our Marilyn Mansons or perhaps that this was a sign Manson was going through a mid-life crisis. Whatever the reason, it got the crowd laughing.
Manson then opened the show with Deep Six, one of only two songs from the new album that were played that night. Playing to his strengths, Manson tailored the show as a celebration of the band's past musical successes. Like a well oiled machine he delivered each song with confidence and edge. It truly was a defining moment in Manson's career. Finally he seems to be over his personal struggles and has channelled his energy into finding himself as an artist. He no longer plays to shock value, preferring quality to controversy.
The show ran smoothly and the performances of note were Angel with the Scabbed Wings, Antichrist Superstar and Cupid Carries a Gun. For Antichrist Superstar he wheeled out the old faithful podium but this time the bible ripping was replaced by a self-lighting bible. It was a stage prop, not a divine act, but it brought something a little bit new to a much loved classic. Another source of theatrics were the stilts used during Sweet Dreams. These were not only fantastically creepy but also gave everyone in the crowd a good view of Manson. It was nice to break from craning my neck for three minutes.
The show was fantastically delivered throughout, with less pomp and ceremony than usual. Manson seems to have disposed of all gimmicks and is finally letting his talent do the talking. On top of all that he threw in some crowd interaction - something which has been sorely missing from his past performances.
There were only two flaws on the night: the smoke machine was OTT and meant that the other band members were quite difficult to see, especially the drummer; also it would have been good if Manson had taken a minute to share the spotlight. In any band it's easy to focus on the singer but the members of Marilyn Manson are all extremely talented. They don't need an ego boost, I'm sure, but seeing as the stage was so smokey a special mention wouldn't have gone amiss. In saying that, my desire to give them each a clap is most likely borne out of British politeness so perhaps I should retract that criticism on the basis of transatlantic differences.
Finally, as this is a fan's perspective, the merchandise was all very good. There was a selection of t-shirts, although it's disappointing that there weren't more skinny fit options. The whole oversized t-shirt thing is acceptable if you're a teeanger but, as I'm sure most female fans agree, I want something that's more fashionable and fitted so I can display my fantastic music taste on a regular basis.

If you found that this review wasn't enough for you then you can head to my Twins of Evil Review or my review of Marilyn Manson's 2012 appearance at the O2 Apollo in Brixton.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Puppy Promise

We've heard it a million times before: a dog is for life, not just for Christmas! Yet the message doesn't seem to be getting through to people. This Christmas, Dogs Trust are imploring people not to give puppies as presents because what's December's joy quickly turns into the misery of January.
Owning a dog is a massive responsibility. As many of you know, I'm a cat lady but I have owned dogs in the past and nothing really prepares you for how much work it is. Before you get a dog there are sooo many things you need to consider and I'm going to outline some of the main ones here.

Have you got the space? It's not fair to keep a dog cooped up in a small space. Ideally you should have a garden.
Have you got the time? Working full time? What's your dog going to be doing while you're at work? Okay, it's lovely to have a furry face to come home to, but it's extremely unfair to leave them alone all day waiting for you. And are you going to want to take them on walks the second you get back from the office?
Dogs take looking after! I'm not just talking about the obvious daily walks, there are so many other considerations. Grooming for instance and daily feeding. You can't suddenly decide to spend the evening out of the house and leave your dog without dinner. If you go on holiday you'd better factor in kennel costs so that your dog is well looked after, or arrange for someone to come look after them, or search for a dog-friendly hotel!
Not to mention the mess. Dogs will chew your slippers and destroy TV remotes. Puppies will make more mess than toddlers. And accidents! Even the best of dogs will have the occasional in-house accident and it's not pretty. Obviously, letting your dog out into the garden often is the best way to prevent this but even that creates its own problems. No one wants poop on their driveway!
Breed is important. I'm not talking about prestige here. Breed affects the size of your dog, their temperament, their medical requirements, even how much walking they'll need! If a massive Golden Retriever is your dream dog you'll need to factor in the extra space it's going to need and the long walks too.
Have you got the money? Food costs way more than you'd think and accessories will burn a hole in your pocket too. To give you an idea, we used to spend £50 per month on food and treats for our two Rottweilers and that's a good five years ago. There are also other considerations like the one-off fee to get your dog neutered or if you decide to enrol your pet in obedience classes.
Insurance is essential. Don't even think about cheaping out on this because if something happens to your pet they need to see a vet as quickly as possible. It's not fair to make a dog go without medical treatment because you can't afford it. Pay the insurance and always be safe.
How certain is your future? What would happen if you lost your job? Are you thinking about having children? Dogs live a long time so ideally you should be looking ten years into the future and still seeing that dog in your life.

If after all that you think you couldn't give a dog a good home don't put your own wants before their needs. Just because the time isn't right doesn't mean you'll never get to own a dog. Being a responsible adult means making hard decisions and putting an animal's welfare before all else. If you're still dog crazy consider sponsoring a dog until the day comes that you can give one a home.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Review: Flat Pak Wine

What is it? A reusable pouch which holds 750ml of liquid (an entire bottle of wine). It's a lightweight alternative to glass. 
What's it for? Flat Pak Wine says it's for "anywhere glass is not allowed". Once you think about it, that's a lot of places (coaches, concerts, sport matches etc). It's also great for if you don't want to carry a heavy bottle around. For instance, if you enjoy fishing or camping (I do not) or even if you were just having a picnic in the park (now that I can do).
Another use, which isn't suggested but is totally foreseeable, is sneaking drinks into places. I myself hate how when you go to a concert you're forced to drink out of plastic cups because once the crowd gets going your drink splashes everywhere, and I always go to the front of a crowd where it's so hot that not being able to have a bit of water for two hours is murder. The Flat Pak Wine could easily be stashed in a bra or down a trouser leg.
Don't forget to use a funnel otherwise it's half a bottle of wine in
the Flat Pak Wine and half a bottle of wine on the floor
How effective is it? This is the bit I was skeptical about, because the last thing you want is to get somewhere and realise that your bag is sopping wet, especially with alcohol because of the smell. To test it out I filled the Flat Pak Wine with water and carried it around in my handbag. It got smooshed and knocked about but it didn't leak. Result.
How much? It's usually £9.99 but is on offer at the moment for £6 from Amazon. Amazon will do free UK delivery if you spend over £20. They're also having a two for £9.99 promotion at the moment (one for you one for a friend, or two for you) and you can grab the discount code from their Twitter page.
Verdict It's a handy little item worth buying. Dare I say these words in's also a great stocking filler or secret Santa idea.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Review: Cat Collector App

Collecting Cats is a Japanese game made by HitPoint. Those two pieces of information will forever stay with me because after I'd first heard about Collecting Cats I mashed the two names in my brain when I was searching for it and googled 'Hit Cats'. I wouldn't recommend that, folks.
The game is very simple. You have a garden in which you can lay out food and toys so that cats will come to visit you. You can photograph and name the cats, which is adorable. They'll bring you silver and gold sardines, the currency of the game, as a thank you. If you save up your gold sardines you can expand your garden. Sometimes the cats will even bring you special presents.
The most off-putting part of the game is that it isn't in English. On the other hand, it's very easy to navigate so this won't prevent you from playing the game but I imagine it's more enjoyable if you can read Japanese.
The main menu reads as follows: cats, this is where you find the photo album with the records of your visitors; the shopping basket is where you shop for food and toys; inventory; camera; return to garden; sardines is where you can buy in-game currency for real money; settings; news; and the last icon is where you can get help and change your decor.

The game is very low-maintenance, much like cat ownership. It takes about thirty seconds to check in on your garden and do anything that needs to be done, photographing new cats or leaving out food for example. You can check in as often as you like, but generally it's good to leave a few hours between.

There are only two improvements I'd like to see in this game. The first is an English language version, for obvious reasons. The second is being able to interact with the cats. It would be nice if you could pet them, groom them and give them accessories.

If you would like to assert your own status as crazy cat person you can download the game for free from the App Store or for Android. Search 'HitPoint' (not 'Hit Cats'), or if you can speak Japanese search 'ねこあつめ'.

**Since publishing this blogpost the app has received an update which allows you to play in English!**

Monday, 28 September 2015

How To Raise Your Children To Be Free From Sugar

Sugar, a modern day evil. Every ailment that afflicts man can be traced back to those food-like granules. It is as addictive as cocaine, and not half as slimming, so why would you ever let your child near this poison?
If you truly wish the best for your child you should never allow them to come within a snifter of the stuff. Of course, the modern parent knows the difficulties of this so should you decide to shield your young from the white stuff you must decide to do so at birth.
The first few years will be easy as you will be fully in control of your child's food. The impossibility of protecting your child once they mix with less enlightened individuals at school speaks for itself, which is why you should go down one of two paths instead.
If you are lucky enough to live in an area with good food knowledge, such as a D4 postcode, then you and other like minded parents can form a no-sugar-school. Sourcing staff will be difficult; it goes without saying that teachers must be vetted to make sure that they are truly committed to the cause. A packed lunch will be essential, in case any canteen staff were to laxly skip the intensive label reading required of all foods which come onto school grounds. There should also be a 'no sharing' policy, this is to ensure that if one child becomes accidentally infected with a sweet tooth that the outbreak would be contained.
For those of you in a more rural community, or where good living is not widely accessible, the only option is to homeschool your child. This has the advantage of giving you full control over the risk of your child being exposed to sugar. It is a sacrifice you must make and if you are not prepared to do so, why did you have children at all?
Alongside the mandatory State curriculum you should also educate your child on the perils of sugar so that when they are old enough they can choose to continue abstaining. This will involve a heavy form of scaremongering, you should be prepared to expose your child to disturbing images of disease, tooth decay, and obesity. You must also train your child in the art of label reading; sugar takes many forms and can elude the less exacting. Finally, you must also educate your child in the superfoods which can take sugar's place. It is essential a child knows both how to use and how to pronounce these foods, we do not want another quinoa epidemic.

This lifestyle does not come easily, but it is the only way to ensure your child is truly healthy. If you would like further advice on the correct way to raise your child please keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming article on how to deal with their inevitable gluten-intolerance.

Hell is filled with refined sugar demons

Friday, 18 September 2015

5 Awkward Moments with the Hairdresser

1) Recently I was in a salon where the chairs at the sink fully recline. Combined with the built-in massager it was meant to create the utmost relaxation, but I couldn't help feeling a little strange at being sprawled out horizontally in public. For one thing, where do you put your hands?
2) Any question involving hair terms. I don't drop legal bombs into our conversation. Please keep the hairdressing jargon to a minimum. 
3) Reaching for your drink whilst the hairdresser is touching your hair. You can only grab it without interruption when they're getting the hairdryer. And then where do you put it once you've had a sip? Better to die of thirst. 
4) "Would you like ...?" I don't know. Yes? 
5) At the end when the sylist asks if you're happy with the cut. Even if they'd taken a hedge cutter to my hair I wouldn't be able to say no. I don't know whether this is because there's no point in complaining - you can't exactly glue it back on - or good old fashioned British politeness.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Costa Says 'Cover Up'

A woman was asked to cover up in a Costa shop in Sutton after entering wearing only a pair of leggings and a sports bra. The woman claims she had no other clothes with her so she was asked to leave. Was this fair? Yes, for a number of reasons.
A sports bra isn't suitable attire for a Coffee shop. We've all heard of the 'no shoes no shirt no service' rule and this is a simple application of that. It makes no difference that she was a woman, as it would also be inappropriate for a man to be topless in a Costa.
The woman tried to defend herself by claiming that, because she was a personal trainer, a sports bra and leggings were her regular work attire. I don't see why being a personal trainer should give her the right to wear what she wants. It wouldn't be okay for a Page 3 girl to wander about in her underwear because it's her work gear. It wouldn't be okay for a builder to turn up to a nightclub in scruffy building site clobber. Your occupation has nothing to do with a business's dress code.
The only thing Costa can be faulted on in this situation is that they served her for a sit down coffee in the first place. They should have been clear about their clothing policy from the offset to avoid this embarrassment.
Some may argue that everybody has the right to wear what they want, and they do to an extent, but when you enter a business you do so on their terms. If you don't like these terms then you're free to take your business elsewhere. There are plenty of gym-bunny friendly cafes.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Ashley Madison 'Scandal' is Hardly That

We've all heard about the hackers who released the details of the users of Ashley Madison, a website targeted at hooking up unhappily marrieds with other unhappily marrieds (because an office affair is sooo 2002). With the news that 1.2 million members are British it seems like everyone is having an affair. Or are they?
95% of the 1.2 million are male which strikes as unbelievable because in a marriage you generally have two unhappy partners, so where are all the unhappy wives getting their jollies? No, this figure tells us that the majority of Ashley Madison users aren't married in the first place. Think about it, you're a man who wants to have sex but not get into anything serious. Having an affair with a woman means you get all the pent up, frustrated sex but at the end of the night you'll turn her back over to her husband. You don't have to endure family outings, household chores, listening to her talk about her day, nights out with her friends, or trivial fights. As the affair is secret you're unlikely to get enough time with her for her to become clingy, and she can't sneak off to call or text you all the time as it would be too risky.
Yes, to some men this is the dream. In fact it's exactly that. It's a dream, a sexual fantasy, that they believe a website can deliver to them.
Of course, there will be some members who are using the site to have an affair, but hold your moral fire. When all this first came out a woman went on the news and explained her case. She was in her sixties and caring for her husband who had Alzheimer's. He couldn't have a conversation with her, he couldn't have sex with her, he was a shell of the man she married. She was lonely and used the site as a way to meet a man.
Now, some may say she could join any number of support groups if she wanted social interaction but she obviously wanted something more. She wanted sex. Which is shocking, obviously, because whoever heard of a person with sexual desires?!
We can't make a judgement on her affair because there are too many difficult factors. On one hand, her story pulls at your heart-strings. She's a full time carer - that's not an easy job for anyone, but especially not for an elderly person - who's lost her husband, and she has lost him. His essence is gone even though his body remains.
On the other hand, she made a vow to him that was meant to last a lifetime. What would he say if he could? I don't know. It's not my place to judge.
We also mustn't forget that some couples have open marriages, and not just because they're sex mad liberals. Some spouses are unable to have a physical relationship and don't mind their partner outsourcing that activity.

What I'm saying is that we should all take a step back from the Ashley Madison scandal. Of course some people will be on there as a way of having an affair behind their spouse's back, and those people are disgusting. However, the percentage of the 1.2 millions members who are actually doing this is probably low and it's also nothing new.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Bin The Cup Charge

England is set to begin charging for plastic bags this October. Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the Republic of Ireland have no sympathy for England as some of these places have had a bag levy for well over a decade. In fact, there's an air of it's about time.
A plastic bag levy is a great idea. We all use far too many of them, we take them when we don't need them, they end up littering our streets and causing environmental problems. In other words, they're a bit of a menace. A small levy on bags is a proven way to decrease the amount taken from stores (and therefore the amount that end up as litter) and also has provided a boost to charities in some countries (here's looking at you, Ireland, with your 22c levy which goes straight into tax revenue).
So we can all agree that, as far as extra charges go, the bag levy is a good idea. However, there's always someone who wants to take it too far. Wales has voiced the idea of introducing a charge on the disposable cups we use when we buy a hot drink. They believe it's the next step in being green. It's ludicrous for a number of reasons.

Forget the cup, just pour your
hot liquid into me

Firstly, unlike the a carrier bag, a cup is necessary part of the product. You can't buy a coffee and have it poured into your hands. Therefore you have to pay the levy. Unless of course you bring your own cup, which brings me onto point two.
Unlike a carrier bag, a cup cannot be easily transported on the off chance you fancy a brew. There's also the issue of carrying around a dirty cup once you've finished your drink. Handbags are already teaming with bacteria (don't look into this you'll frighten yourself), we don't need drips of tea adding to the mess.
Thirdly, unlike carrier bags, disposable cups are biodegradable. It is true that some are better than others, but a way to tackle this is to legislate that all disposable cups must meet certain standards. A lot of cups are made up of recycled material, again legislation could lay down a minimum percentage for this.
If we don't say no to the cup levy then we will be heading down a path of putting a levy on everything. A line needs to be drawn between product and frivolity otherwise we could end up in a world where you have to pay for the box your Weetabix sleeves come in.
As an alternative to a levy there should be more of an incentive for customers to bring their own cup. For example, in Starbucks if you bring your own cup you receive a 25p discount off your beverage. Some other stores offer a free drink when you buy one of their own reusable cups. Another idea could be to offer double loyalty card stamps.
In short, we need more carrot and less stick otherwise 'being green' will become synonymous with 'being a pain in the proverbial'.

I rely too much on coffee jokes

Monday, 10 August 2015

6 More Things I've Learnt As a Cashier

Last year you may remember that I wrote a post about the ten things I'd learnt from working with the general public. Well, just when I thought I knew everything there was to know about working a minimum wage job life went and hurled the following discoveries at me.

1) There is an insatiable urge to keep talking to people if they say something halfway interesting. For example, I once served a man who was from Philadelphia. My reply to this should have been, 'Lovely', but instead I said, 'Oh, like the Fresh Prince' because a twenty year old television show was the only thing I could connect to Philadelphia.
2) People often ask me for directions, car advice and product advice. You may think that working in a busy petrol station would I mean I would know the answers. You would be wrong. I was trained to use the tills and nothing else.
For some reason admitting I don't know these things, even though it's clearly outside of my job remit, gets customers quite annoyed.
3) The worst thing you can say is 'I don't know' so it's better to lie. Lying on the spot isn't something I've ever been good at, and honestly I think most customers know I'm lying, but for some reason people prefer for me to offer them some ridiculous explanation than admit my lack of knowledge. A lack, I might point out, which is usually not my fault because I am a cashier.
4) People talk to me like I am a complete moron but soon change their tune when they discover I'm going into my third year of studying law. I mean you can literally measure a change in the tone of their voice.
5) There are two questions I have to ask everybody I serve: do they have a loyalty tag and have they bought petrol.There's a huge emphasis on asking this (yes, I'm talking about multiple CAPITAL LETTER SIGNS in the breakroom) and I'm fairly brilliant at asking everyone *smug look*. The downside to this is that it's become automatic and I now chant it, sometimes several times, at customers. It's scary that I can say words without even thinking about it. Words should require thought.
6) People will pay the guts of €20 on confectionary, but when you tell them that there's a 22c charge on plastic carrier bags (which has been in place since 2002) they lose their minds. Instead they will struggle on without a bag, and drop half their purchases on their way out.

My job is nothing like Clerks

Friday, 31 July 2015

The Male Pill

There's been a load of hoohah recently about the male contraceptive pill. Yes, it is now no longer up to those of us with a hoohah to take the daily no baby sweeties. Or at least it nearly is. The male pill hasn't hit pharmacy shelves yet.
After decades of bearing the contraceptive brunt you'd think women would rejoice at this. In actuality the response has been along the lines of *shock and/or horror* we can't trust MEN to take the pill! Heavens to Betsy!!!
Some go further and suggest that men would lie to women about being on the pill so that they could forgo a condom. The cynic in me says that if you can't trust a man to tell the truth about the pill why are you letting him inside you at all? In fact, if a woman truly believes that the man they're about to have sex with is such a repugnant liar (but has such a pretty face) then she should 100% make sure to use a condom because, you know, sexual health.
Not trusting men is an invalid, and quite frankly insulting, argument against the male pill. Men are not incompetent children who cannot organise themselves enough to take a pill every day. The more women criticise them and dismiss their capabilities the more we encourage the downright sexist practice of assigning chores based on gender.
It's time we stopped looking at contraception as a one person job - after all it takes two to make a baby. The only foolproof method of preventing pregnancy is abstinence (and that's no fun) so surely we should start putting the onus on both genders to do what they can to prevent 'little surprises' that come with 99.9% effective methods. When the male pill becomes widely available let's employ it as an extra precaution to help close that 0.1% gap. No one person is more responsible than the other for preventing pregnancy.

Paddy worried that this might be the beginning
of having to wipe his own arse too

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Review: Go Set a Watchman

If I had to summarise Go Set a Watchman into one sentence it would be this: the weight of expectation bears too heavy a burden.
I have read around a dozen reviews of this book and they all carry the same tone of disappointment. Harper Lee's biggest hurdle is her own success, To Kill a Mockingbird of course. The general consensus is that Watchman doesn't measure up, that it's outdated, and that core Mockingbird characters have been decimated.
This is what I have read, however it is not what I have found. This review is not a grand literacy breakdown nor is it expert opinion. It is the opinion of the average reader. The reader who did not re-read Mockingbird before beginning this book (I made do with a revision of old school notes and, yes, I re-watched the film - a crime in the reading world), the reader who is not knowledgeable in the politics and history of the Southern States of America (Irish history lessons focused on our own Southern divide), the reader who is reading because it is their hobby. If you consider yourself to be one of these readers then don't be put off by the bad press surrounding Watchman.

The book begins with Jean Louise Finch, Scout, returning to Alabama on one of her regular visits. Now twenty-six she is not longer the tomboy child we once knew; she may have changed her outer appearance but inside she has retained her firecracker nature and strong moral compass. Straight away we see that she is still outspoken and direct, but as she is now an adult she has learnt to pick her battles. Do not mourn the Scout of old, this is what growing up is all about.
Watchman takes a while to get going; the first one hundred pages set the scene more than anything else. Once it starts though things get very ugly very quickly. There is racial divide in Maycombe and the whole thing makes the modern reader very...uncomfortable. The language and ideas expressed by characters belong very much to a world of the past and to look upon them now evokes disgust. It makes for a difficult read in places.
It appears that almost the entire town has descended into racism. What's more is Atticus, once thought to be the epicentre of fairness and morality, is revealed as a racist. In Mockingbird Atticus is shown to uphold equality in criminal justice, but Watchman shows that this ethos does not spread to equality of the races. His calm explanation of this comes later in the book and it hits a nerve with the reader because, as 21st century thinkers, we're not used to outward racism coming from respectable members of society. Our lives are not free from its disgusting plight, but its source is usually not people we consider to be pillars of society. It springs from the mouths of the uneducated, from the dregs of society who aren't good enough to sit in the gutter. We expect the upright and functioning to shun that talk, and we are shocked when they don't. This is why Atticus and his speech come as such a blow.
Drawing out such a reaction from readers is what makes Lee such a good writer. Watchman makes the reader feel; the feeling is not pleasant. It is one of crushing disappointment in seeing our hero fall from grace. It mirrors how Jean Louise feels upon discovering that her father is not God, he is human and he capable of being - and is - wrong. It makes us want to close our eyes, cover our ears and sing to block out the gritty truth: this is once how people thought. This is history. No amount of trashing this novel, no amount of comparing it to Mockingbird in an effort to feed it to the dogs will change that. Open and frank racism that makes your bowels wrench is what this book provides and Lee certainly didn't pluck it from thin air.
We as readers have so much in common with Jean Louise in Watchman. We shared her innocence throughout Mockingbird and built the same idolisations that she did. Seeing as we were so captivated by the original, so invested in Atticus, we too feel the hard blow at seeing that he is not the man we thought. We have looked behind the curtain and found the Wizard of Oz is nothing more than a little man.

Another major theme throughout Watchman is coming of age. Besides from the harsh lesson that we all eventually learn, that our parents are imperfect and that no man should be idolised, there is the physical transformation of Jean Louise. We see her grow and mature through flashbacks. The Mockingbird-esque flashbacks are beautifully stitched together and are heartwarming and hilarious in places. My personal favourite was Jean Louise's first school dance and seeing her face the pressures of womanhood head on, in a way that only Scout could do.
Of course, no coming of age is complete without a first love. Lee provides this in the form of Hank, who early on is introduced as the man she is dating. Atticus loves him like a son, but unfortunately the ugly head of racism rears its head as does class divide.

From page one Go Set a Watchman enthralls the attention because of Lee's captivating writing style. Even basic scene setting was composed with masterful literacy skill. It is an excellent book once you stop comparing it to To Kill a Mockingbird.

RRP £17.99/€23.99

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Celtic Phoenix

I heard a brilliant term coined on the radio the other day: The Celtic Phoenix. It's a metaphor for the revival of the Irish economy from the ashes of the Celtic Tiger. The phrase implies more than that though, it's about history repeating itself.
The Phoenix can already be seen in action. We as a nation officially feel able to declare that the recession is over and have done so for around a year. Technically the recession was over long before this, but we didn't have the confidence to admit it. Until we could see the effects of economic recovery we wanted to hold off on any drastic statements in case we jinxed it.
It started slowly, as recovery always does, with a few little luxuries being thrown into the weekly shop. Those beetroot crisps. antioxidant packed smoothies, a superfood fruit you're not really sure you're pronouncing correctly; it was suddenly okay to spend twice as much on these items than you would have on their ordinary counterparts. Why has recovery started here? As a nation we've really laid on the guilt over the going ons of the Celtic Tiger. We've been made feel ashamed of anything and everything we've bought during our time with money, so much so that we now have to justify our spending when it's anything other than essential. What better place to start than your health? It is your wealth after all. And so you down that €3 shot of wheatgrass without remorse.
The health foods were only the beginning though. Now we've gained a bit more confidence in our financial security we're making the bigger purchases. The 152s are already taking over the roads. The designer handbags are setting up camp in women's wardrobes. People are going to America not because they've been prised from their mammies' clutches in desperate search for work, no they're going for fun. And returning!
The only question now is will we lose the run of ourselves again? And the answer to that is, of course we will. People don't change. Heading into this with the austerity measures still in the forefront of our minds we might not lose the plot quite so quickly, but it will happen.
You don't think it will? You believe the people have more sense this time around? Well, I'll leave you with this final demonstrative point. Any time there's a bout of sunshine we all run into the garden and stay there all day, completely naked except for a teatowel on our faces. We lie there from dawn til dusk. Then we come inside and discover that we've gone red raw. We have to admit that we don't suit the sun, we can't handle the sun and that we really do need to take precautions and wear suncream. We repeat this mantra until the sunburn disappears and so too does our hard learned lesson.
The same applies to our finances. We'll be careful at first, but as soon as we put a bit of time between ourselves and the recession we'll go right back to three foreign holidays a year and €8 pints.

Remember when Ireland had its own plane? 4.5 million people
and we needed a private aircraft for our government. We could
have at least tried to timeshare with NI.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Review: Taylor Swift at 3Arena

Who: Taylor Swift, aka Tay Tay
Where: 3Arena, Dublin
When: 29th June 2015

Tickets to this event were like gold dust, and it's no surprise when you look at how Swift has soared in popularity over this last year. The 3Arena was filled with 13,000 fans all eager to here her sing, but because of the size of the venue it didn't feel claustrophobic. This is so important as when you're standing the worst thing is to feel like you have a hundred thousand people on top of you. At no point in the night did it feel like the crowd was overwhelming or out of control, and I think a special kudos should be paid to the security staff here for maintaining crowd order and stopping problems before they began. So often we only focus on who is playing a venue but before I even talk about Taylor I want to commend everyone who worked that night for the excellent job they did looking after all the concert goers.

The worst part about a concert is usually the wait for the show to begin because it's all of the standing and close body contact without any of the show to distract you. I love that Swift thought ahead and played us videos while we waited. We saw exclusive behind the scenes footage, learnt some 1989 trivia and got to see more of the girl behind the music. And her cats (which obviously drew major bonus points from me as Ireland's craziest cat lady). Videos were also shown between songs while the crew were changing the set which, again, was a great idea because it gave a good lead on to the next song by giving us some back story and also a look into Taylor's life (but more importantly there was more cat footage).

The setlist focused mainly on her 1989 album but threw in old classics such as 'Love Story' and 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together'. Swift kept things fresh by giving these songs a new twist which made them seamlessly blend into the 1989-focused night, There's always a danger when an artist messes with well loved songs that the new mix will mar the sound, but it worked really well on the night.
Swift's performance throughout the night was thoroughly on point. She kept the mood light and seemed ecstatic to be there with us. Every one of her songs were delivered with the perfection we've come to expect, but she maintained an air of realism. I've seen artists who are so concentrated on delivering their performance it's as if they're singing to an empty room, but not Swift.

The only thing about the show that I didn't enjoy was the inspirational speeches she kept making. They were all very positive and peppy. She spoke about loving who you are, not focusing on the negatives you see in the mirror and having good friends. All lovely stuff. But I've already been through puberty so it had a substantially less powerful impact on me. I get why she did it. There were younger fans there and those words will have meant a lot to them. It's certainly a better message to be sending to young girls than you'd better be thin and put out or no one will like you but equally I feel she dwelled on it a bit too much because once you're in your late teens/early twenties (as about half the fans there were) hearing those sort of things is just cringey.

One thing I will hold Swift up for though is her ability to make it through an entire show without swearing, without stripping down to her pants, and without dancing as if she was on a pole. It's so refreshing. Swift doesn't need those cheap tricks because she already has talent, both as a singer and as a musician (she played both the guitar and the keyboard on the night, although not simultaneously). It's nice to see that talent shining through.
However, just because she didn't bare all her flesh doesn't mean she didn't look incredible. I lost count of the outfit changes she did but each was as fantastic as the next. My personal favourite was a pink co-ord with LED lights which flashed in time with the music (sounds beyond tacky but I guess you had to be there).
The back up dancers were also dressed sharply. The highlight of their outfits for me was when Taylor was singing 'Style' and they came out in Heelys. Who said Americans don't understand irony?

All in all it was a wonderful night and well worth the drive across the country, the hours of waiting, and the sizeable dent in €100 for the ticket.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

6 Sad Truths About The Irish Summer

1) You'll find yourself in a jumper in mid-July. Even if the weather picks up enough to risk wearing a halterneck top you'll still be clutching a cardie under your arm all the livelong day.
2) At the first sign of sun your mother will be washing every item of clothing the family owns, all the towels, all the bedsheets, your neighbours' gear, the local GAA team's kit, the clothes again (just to be sure) and she might buy some new things just to wash those too.
3) If it's too hot to cook (anything above 14 degrees) you'll enjoy 'a lovely salad' every evening. This dish stars iceberg lettuce, a boiled egg, tomatoes that will leach water all over your plate, lashings of Heinz salad cream, and if your mother is feeling especially fancy you may see some pasta salad from Supervalu's salad bar.
4) Our seasons are out of sync with the rest of Europe's so what we call summer is spring in other places. A rose by any other name would still be as rainy and overcast.
Of course, you could always catch the classic farmer's tan. The deepest shade of brown clashing with milkbottle white is overdue to come into fashion.
5) If you want any hope of catching a decent tan you'll have to leave the country. If you manage to afford this luxury it's guaranteed that the second you step on the plane Ireland will become a tropical paradise until the moment you arrive back.
6) We all become a bit excited when new potatoes start appearing with dinner.


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The 5 People You'll Encounter in the Library

The Model Man or woman, their sole reason for attending the library is to distract you. Look at that outfit, look at that hair, look at that ass. Exams are a stressful time; you're frustrated at your lack of course knowledge but now you're frustrated in a different way. Concentrate on your notes and maybe think about that one rugby game you saw...actually, ladies, maybe don't think about that one rugby game.
The Ghost The only sign of this person is their unattended notes on the desk reserving their territory. There's no sign of them hours later when you leave. There's rumour that the ghosts don't even exist. Instead they're a cruel joke invented by malicious librarians.
In case you're wondering, 4 hours is an acceptable amount of time to wait before you draw phalluses on their belongings,
The Social Media Butterfly They arrive to the library, spread out their notes and check their Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Yik Yak. Once that's over they'll check-in online and tag all their friends then post photos of themselves revising hard in the library. You secretly hate them for taking up a seat but it's hypocritical to Yak about them.
The Nerd This person is the personification of every nerdy cartoon character you've ever seen. Glasses or no glasses, they not only know the library staff by name but get invited to their staff do. They bring their own laptop and in the final week leading up to exams they'll bring their own table and chair. Do not try to compete with this student, they will stay longer, revise harder and achieve more than you can ever dream of. But if it makes you feel better they have 0 Yakarma points and even less of a social life.
The Night Owl Why does the library open all night? Surely no one is revising at 3am? Surely every sane person would be in bed at that time? Surely no one is so sadistic that they would revise during a time the entire country was sound asleep?
You are surely wrong. The night owls arrive when the last nerds are leaving and cram their way through the wee hours. A rare breed, they only frequent the library during the crunch week before exams. The other 50 weeks of the year they're found drinking 90p shots and making you question how they go into university in the first place. You envy their commitment and ability to cram, but also hate the bastards for getting decent grades with only one week of revision. As Chandler would say, hell is filled with people like them.

Y'all should be revising not procrastinating

Saturday, 2 May 2015

The 5 Stages of Exam Month

1. Denial  You tell yourself it's only the beginning of the month. You still have loooads of time. The Netflix subscription lives on. Readership of my blog remains high.
2. Anger You realise your exams are at the end of the month but this only leaves you with 3 weeks of revision time. How could university do this to you? You thought you had time! Nights out are replaced with library trips. You become demonic whenever anyone asks you how your course is going.
3. Bargaining This is twofold. You begin bargaining with yourself through a series of bribes and study rewards, Starbucks and takeaways become the centre of your life.
You also bargain with the higher powers. If they only let you get through this set of exams you will never let this happen again/build a church in their name in a third world country.
4. Depression The amount of time until your exam and your retention of course knowledge are way out of sync. You feel hopeless and begin working out what's the lowest grade you could get in these exams that would allow you to still get a 2:1 overall. You don't even procrastinate online anymore, instead you stare blankly at the wall in between staring blankly at notes.
5. Acceptance It's exam day. If you don't know it by now you never will. There's only a few hours left until this will all be over for another semester. Best case scenario is you pass, worst case is you repeat the year. Sure no one ever died from a fail.

Sorry guys, I suppose you were looking for a happy ending...
but this is real life

Friday, 17 April 2015

Review: Weightless

Weightless is the debut novel by Sarah Bannan. It first caught my attention six months ago as a book to watch out for, but it wasn't published until March of this year.
Reviews have compared it to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides which is one of my desert island books. I've read it so many times the pages are sick of seeing my face. It's a captivating piece of literary gold that I cannot recommend enough.
Both The Virgin Suicides and Weightless are debut novels written in the first person plural...and this is where the comparisons end because Weightless is so far removed from Eugenides's masterpiece that I cannot begin to think why anyone would even sit them next to each other on a bookshelf. The Virgin Suicides captivates the reader from the offset and leaves them hungering for more. I have read the book more times than I care to admit and I still find some new clue, some new motivation for the girls' suicide on every read.
In its own right, Weightless is an enjoyable book but comparing it to The Virgin Suicides is like putting a standard bar of Dairy Milk next to Belgium's finest chocolate offerings.
The story centres around a new girl, Carolyn, who moves to a small town in Alabama. Our narrators are a group of her high school classmates who are neither popular nor unpopular but that middle class of not disliked.
In the beginning the girls are in awe of Carolyn; she wears the right clothes and is naturally beautiful, she displays talent after talent, is intellectual and is lusted for by the boys. As the story develops we see this novelty begin to fade and the girls show resentment for Carolyn and what she represents, namely the way she highlights the backwardness of their own town. This brings out their insecurities.
Brand prevalence is striking in the beginning but tails off as you get deeper into the book. This may be because as the girls get to know more about Carolyn they stop relying so much on assumptions relating to her brands. Their obsession with brands, which they often mention they do not own themselves, helps create this built up value and idolisation of Carolyn which leads to her later downfall.
The narrators are unreliable in an obvious way. They talk a lot about what 'they say' but often will tell a story and the differing gossip which chinese whisper-ed from it. They offhandedly repeat anything they hear. This demonstrations the culture of the high school, no one wanted to be the one to speak out and set the record straight. They're happier having a new piece of gossip to mindlessly chatter.
As the bullying escalates so too does the girls sympathy for the bullies. This protection foreshadows the events to come. After Carolyn's suicide all of America looks onto their town with critic and disgust and the justifications from our narrators become stronger. Stepping back, we can see why they might do this. On a personal level, our narrators are the people who prop the popular few up in the pyramid of social hierarchy and the ones at the top are the reason Carolyn kills herself. Had they spoken out and broken social order the stability and power the bullies had, which allowed them to so mercilessly torment Carolyn, would have been broken. Indirectly our narrators are responsible for her death.
On a broader look the disgust shown by the country through the media is a reflection on the girls themselves. Their town is a part of them and its faults are their faults. Though they mock it they embrace its ideal and traditions.
Their guilt shows through references to councillors and their story-telling. Often they say they were watching Carolyn with concern or that they wanted to call her over, in actuality they did nothing and it's this silence that helped create Carolyn's isolation. However, they justify themselves by claiming that they had good intentions.

The book was like being in a meadow: enjoyable yet boring. Bannon's writing skills creates vivid mental images that easily sucks the reader in but she fails to stir up any lasting interest. There's no mystery in the book. It's clear from the outset Carolyn is going to kill herself, or at least die, and it's clear that the bullies will be the reason. The entire book was watching this very slowly play out and I mean slowly.
Our narrators are one-dimensional onlookers and the storyline is based completely on Carolyn's death. Sure, there's some revealing text about the town and its culture which goes a way to explain why everyone became so protective after the suicide and why no one stepped in beforehand. It also sheds light on their selective and biased narration. Overall though it doesn't do enough to stir up any interest nor does it spur the reader on to read more. I found this book highly put-downable and I can't stress enough how far a cry it is from The Virgin Suicides. There is no mystery, no suspense, no questioning.
Was it an enjoyable read though? Page to page yes, as a book no. I neither regret reading it nor do I regret buying it but there's nothing within its pages that would make me want to recommend it.

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Benefits of Coconut Oil

I was first introduced to coconut oil two years ago by my grandmother who got onto it after reading that it could help prevent against alzheimer's.
If you've never had it, coconut oil has the consistency of butter and, obviously, is made from coconuts. Its popularity has boomed in recent times and now most large supermarkets stock it. Due to this the world of coconut oil is expanding. Recently I saw a cacao and coconut oil blend (a healthy answer to chocolate spread) and it's also been incorporated into cold-pressed nut bars. As an added bonus it's 100% vegan. The uses and benefits are well known but here's my experience.

As a butter and oil substitute. This is the easiest way to introduce coconut oil into your diet. Use in the same quantities to add a twist to your meal. It's great as an oil replacement in cooking and I love coconut oil and honey on toast for a different and yummy breakfast.
Note that the calorie and fat content is very similar to that found in oils and butter. Coconut oil offers far more health benefits though and is way lower in saturated fat. Nutrition is more than just calories!
As a conditioner. Apply to your ends and leave for 10 minutes before washing out. This left my hair feeling soft and healthy, and I could even smell the coconut as I blow dried it.
As a moisturiser. One word: greasy. I wouldn't recommend this unless you suffer from chronically dry skin. Definitely only apply at night.
Mixed with sugar as an exfoliant. Sugar can be very rough on your skin. Useful for your legs and feet though as they can take a bit of toughness. A warm shower will remove most of the oil and therefore the grease issue. A light layer will be left behind which is amazing for your skin as a long-lasting moisturiser.
For oral hygiene. Pop a spoon of coconut oil in your mouth first thing on a morning and swill it around. It's meant to pull the nasties from your teeth and gums and even whiten your teeth. Better oral health with a great smile? Bring it on. Remember not to spit it down the sink though as the oil can resolidify and block your drain.
It can help lower cholesterol. This isn't a problem I have (it would be worrying if a 21 year old did) but there's no harm in thinking ahead or recommending it to older relatives.
As a suntan oil. Insanity. Coconut oil has zero SPF and, as mentioned above, is hella greasy. Get out your factor 30 in you're lucky enough to be on a beach and keep the coconut in the pina coladas.

If any of that sounds like your thing swing by your local health food shop or check your supermarket's aisle. Remember, only buy virgin coconut oil as this is the one which offers health benefits.
If you're on a diet don't be put off by the calorie content. Coconut oil has been linked to effective weight loss and is an appetite suppressant.  Talk to your local health food shop assistant or herbalist for more advise as to how you can incorporate it into your diet.
One final benefit is coconut oil is solid at room temperature so there's no need to refrigerate it. This will free up precious shelf space in the battle that is a shared fridge.

At around €10 a tub it's a bit of a payout but,
 unlike butter, doesn't go off for ages

Saturday, 4 April 2015

France Bans Skinny Models

French MPs have voted on an outright ban of models with a BMI of less that 18. For those of you who don't know, your BMI - 'Body Mass Index' - is a measure of your height and weight. A 'normal' BMI is between 18.5-25 and if you fancy checking out yours click here.
France is well known for being the fashion capital of the world and this has contributed to the country's anorexia problem. This new law will impose fines of up to €75,000 on agencies who continue to use unhealthily thin models and staff can face up to 6 months in prison. Additionally, it will now be a crime to not state when a photo has been retouched. Failure to do so will result in big fines.
I say hurrah! And I stick my hand in the faces of agencies who are shouting about confusing thinness with anorexia. Yes, I do believe someone with a BMI of 17 can be healthy and naturally slim. A prime example is Kate Moss, a skinny-minnie all her life with no signs of an eating disorder. However, you'd be flat out lying if you claimed all models were naturally thin. The ugly truth is so many of those girls (and boys) are pressured to lose weight and a quick internet search will bring up horror stories that would put you off fashion for life.
This law will help tackle the pressure those models are under but I'm not so naive as to think it will end the culture of sickeningly thin models. I'm sure the major fashion houses will continue to use girls who look like their last meal was a grape, three months ago, which they shared. However I do think it will help change the highstreet's image, either because they don't have the bags of cash needed to pay all those fines or because international companies won't want endless lawsuits which could impact their overseas business. Once you change perceptions at street level you can really make a difference. Not all French girls read Vogue, some read normal magazines that show normal highstreet clothes. And once a 'normal' BMI becomes the norm then maybe there'll be less children who grow up thinking thin is in. Okay, so the move is unlikely to be a booming success straight away. But go 20 years into the future and we might have a generation that looks back on our Twiggy culture with disgust.
The move to clearly labeling a touched-up photo as what it is, a fake, will also drastically change the way the French are advertised to. I have no doubt it will make little difference to the images but having it printed in black and white that this is not real will surely aid those who feel inadequate next to these pictures. Again, I'm not confident that this will make any difference to the current generation but given time fake images may become guaffed at and ridiculed for being the falsity that they are. Equally, I'm sure photographers will become ever more exacting with their technical skills to avoid touching up photos at all and modeling agencies will become ever more cut throat in the quest for the models that don't need re-touching.

Moving away from the fashion world, perhaps the most interesting clause in this health bill is a fine of up to €10,000 and a year in prison for promoting anorexia online. 'Pro-ana' websites have long been a problem in the eating disorder world and can fuel a sufferer's desire to be thin by normalising and potentially encouraging their dangerous behaviour.
I'm sure some of you will wholeheartedly agree with this new rule, but personally I struggle with it. On one hand, these websites are sick and can aid the already sick into becoming sicker. On the other hand, the website's creator is likely to be a sufferer too. They need help, not punishment. The details haven't been released yet but I hope as an alternative to imprisonment the French courts will be able to impose a mandatory stay in an eating disorder clinic.
It will also be very difficult to enforce these rules. Even if all French pro-ana websites were taken down there are still millions of others across the globe that won't be subject to this law.

What does all this mean from Britain and Ireland? Well, seeing as both countries have some of the highest obesity rates in the EU it's a wonder that there's enough skinny people to fill those modelling roles. It's not inconceivable that similar laws will be enacted here but Ireland definitely will be one of the last because Ireland already has a brilliant fashion culture that celebrates healthy looking women.
Back when I was a teenager, Kiss (Ireland's only magazine for teenage girls) banned size 0 models. Popular fashion magazines U and Stellar regularly use models who look like they've eaten within the last 24 hours. Even the magazines that come free in the papers use realistic, healthy women. That's not down to legislation though, it's down to a culture of no messing and while French chic might be universally revered I myself prefer realism...and cake.

Isabelle Caro, a French anorexia sufferer and model who died in 2010

Monday, 30 March 2015

Brewing Up a Storm

There's something to be said for a good cup of coffee. Get it right and you have something worthy of poetry; get it wrong and you'll need a wide array of add-ins to mask your crime.
The question is, how do you make the best coffee? Like everything in life, the answer is not clear cut. Here's a handy guide to the different ways of making coffee and what each method can offer you.

The home coffee bar: This is a smaller version of what they use to make coffee in proper coffee shops. It gets major points for its professional appearance, although not all models are aesthetically equal. Some are downright ugly.
It's also the most expensive type of coffee maker (expect to drop a few hundred pounds/euros). And it runs the risk of making you look like a pretentious arsehole or bring out the instagramming hipster in you.
The best way to own this machine? Discreetly. Don't talk about your coffee bar, offer people a coffee without mentioning the coffee bar, don't talk about the process of making 'the perfect cup of coffee', don't diss other brewing methods, and never talk about your beans because you will, I repeat will, make your friends hate you.

The drip coffee machine: This brewing method once ruled the coffee world and it's my personal favourite on appearance. I love the classic glass pot that slowly fills with coffee and the way it evokes memories of favourite American TV shows. It fills your kitchen with a coffee aroma within minutes which lets the entire house know that the coffee is ready.
A decent machine is highly affordable with most of the top brands selling for under £60/€80. You can brew a large amount of coffee at a time which is good for multiple drinkers...or, let's be honest with ourselves, an outright coffee binge. There's also a hotplate which will keep your coffee warm until you're ready for a top-up.
Most modern machines use reusable plastic filters, although I myself own a machine which takes the disposable paper ones. The biggest drawback with this is that filters can be difficult to buy these days, but on the other hand they require less cleaning and are biodegradable so I throw mine onto the compost heap (coffee grounds are excellent for your garden).
The drip coffee machine brews a nice cup of coffee, but it's not as flavourful as other methods. You can always add in more coffee to boost the flavour but it does end up being a bean eater.
Also, if you're going to use this brewing method expect to wait up to 10 minutes for a full jug to brew. Some machines come with a timer option, which is handy.

The cafetiere: Perhaps the easiest way of brewing fresh coffee is the humble cafetiere. Prices range from dirt cheap (you're looking at maximum £20/€25). It's the most time efficient method of brewing and can be easily tucked away in a cupboard.
If I'm being completely honest, and I don't want to be because I LOVE my old-school drip machine, the cafetiere makes the best tasting coffee. It really lets the oils from the beans mingle and infuse with the water.
Drawbacks? You don't yield the massive batch of coffee you do with the drip machine, although that can be ideal for one person, or two people who aren't as addicted to coffee as myself. In saying all this, it's always possible to make more coffee and the cafetiere is fairly easy, if a little messy, to rinse out.

The pod machine: I want to love this method, I really do. The branding that has gone into these machines is fantastic, it's an impressive bit of kit for your kitchen, it beats all other brewing methods on speed, there's no technical skill required, the novelty factor alone had me counting my pennies to see when I could afford one...but, and there's always a but, if you're looking for a quality cup of coffee they rank last.
I was heart-broken when I found this out because I so wanted one of these beautiful beasts in my kitchen. I so wanted to be the girl with the coffee pods. I craved easy, barista style coffee with a spoon of novelty. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
However, if you want a latte, cappuccino, hot chocolate or something with sugary caramel syrup then this is for you. Basically, as long as there's something to cover up the taste of the bad coffee then this is a good coffee machine. In one way it's for the best, the pods are an environmental nightmare, and the machines themselves are expensive to buy and expensive to run.

The stove top percolator: This was the first type of fresh brewing kit I ever owned. I was lucky enough to be given a rather expensive one by a former Gaggia worker, but they've been known to roam Amazon for under £10/€10. They're darling to look at, whether you opt for a funky brightly coloured one or a classic Italian style.
They can make a good cup of coffee, although I found there to be a lot of trial and error. They take about as much time as a coffee machine, with a fifth of the yield. It does fill your kitchen with that delicious coffee aroma though, which (besides from actually drinking the coffee) is my favourite part about brewing.
However, they're extremely annoying to clean. First of all you have to wait for the pot to cool enough to be able to disassemble it without causing second degree burns (mine is made of thick, good quality metal so this takes ages) which means it's sitting on the side, staring at you, waiting to be washed. Then you have to disassemble the entire thing and wash each part thoroughly. Then dry it and reassemble. It's not as simple as bunging it all together, there's a little rubber ring that has to face a certain way (and I never remember which) otherwise your next cup of coffee will be a total failure.
It's no good for multiple brews because it takes too long to cool.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Budget 2015

I watch the budget with the same enthusiasm as a GAA fan watching the All-Ireland Final and the Conservatives did not disappoint today. First of all, we need a round of applause for perhaps the best television advert for a Parliamentary announcement ever made, ever. Check it out here. Seriously, hats off to Sky News on that one.
We should also take a minute to congratulate George on his few sly jokes. From pink vans to second kitchens it was, okay it was far from a riot but it sure gave us all some comic relief.
Now down to the numbers and which numbers really matter to us, because it's all well and good being told we're saving so many million here and so many million there but at the end of the day I only care about the state of my own purse.

Tax-free personal allowance would rise from £10,600 to £10,800 in April 2016 with a further rise to £11,000 in April 2017. A great start, although a while off yet. National Insurance contributions for under-21s will be binned, with the same happening for apprentices in 2017. Also, for anyone who hates doing their annual tax return...the whole thing will be scrapped! That's great news for us but hard luck for the accountants!

There's no plan to cut tuition-fees. This is something I will admit I don't care about anymore. I'm already paying the top rate so, while in principle I agree with lowering them, they can't buy my vote by doing so after I leave uni. Selfish? Yes. Equally, I don't think it would be fair to everyone who's been paying the top rate for the last few years to do a sudden U-turn.

A 'Help to Buy' ISA will be created. The government will top up every £200 you save per month with an extra £50 (max top up is £3,000). An excellent way of helping people get onto the property ladder, although a £200 per month saving is unrealistic for struggling families or single people. Young couples are far more likely to benefit from this.
Keeping on the ISA track, they will scrap the current system of ISA allowance so if you use up your entire allowance and withdraw money you will be able to put that money back in later during the year. Definitely a saver-friendly move.

We also have some great investment into children's mental health services. Anyone who has watched the news over the past few months will know this is a hot topic and an incredibly underfunded service. Children have been kept in police cells because of the lack of places in NHS facilities. The £1.25 billion promised could help do some good work.

There's also hella investment into infrastructure; mobile phone coverage and broadband; science; postgraduate education; and a rake of other new and exciting things. This one is great because it not only powers jobs but brings the UK to the forefront of design and innovation. Be a leader not a follower, am I right?

And now for the liquids, we all like this bit don't we? This, this is where you feel the savings or the pinch. Happy days though, we're set for some savings. Yet another fuel duty freeze. Not so impressive when you think the price of fuel has been falling anyway, but pretty good when you remember it has been frozen since 2011 under the coalition.
There's a penny off a pint, a 2% duty cut on spirits and Scotch whisky, and a freeze on wine duty. There's also a 2% duty cut to ciders. So it looks like whatever your tipple is you have a reason to toast this budget.

Of course, all of the above is dependant on the Conservatives being elected. I'd like to keep my blog free from political debate - I have enough headaches thank you very much- but I will say it's a hell of a budget to beat.
This was only a summary of the highlights, check out the official full summary here.

I tried to put a serious picture to this post, I seriously tried, but
this was just too perfect

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Review: Clinique Beyond Perfecting Foundation + Concealer

My grandmother almost had a breakdown in Debenhams when the Clinique lady informed us that they were discontinuing her favourite foundation because of the impending launch of Clinque Beyond Perfecting foundation + concealer.
Getting my hands on a bottle was no mean feat. For the first month all shops were sold out of the lighter shades. Thankfully, my grandmother spotted a bottle of alabaster in Galway and sent it up to me.
To give you a perspective on my make up needs, my skin type is normal with an inclination towards dry skin if the weather's bad. I never suffer from oily skin.

My first impression of the make up was Jesus Christ, look at that applicator wand! It is huge! I'm not a fan of using wands and sponges when applying foundation. Besides from the smoother effect using that your fingers gives, I'm ever mindful of the fact they're a germ trap. Bacteria are gross anyway, but bacteria on your face breeds spots so my concern is justified.
I like to use a very light but not watery foundation. I'm blessed with reasonably good skin so there's really no need to use anything heavy. I found this product was thick without being heavy, but it still wasn't as light as I would have liked. However, if I was trying to cover up blemishes then this would be ideal as it provided coverage without cake.

My favourite thing about the Clinique range is that they cater to the paler skin tone. Other brands (I'm looking at you, Rimmel) print 'ivory' on the bottle but what you actually get is orange. Clinique also match your colour based on whether you have pink or yellow tones so you end up with the most natural looking make up.
The concealer combination didn't really seem to add much to the overall effect. I tried using a dab on a blemish, letting it dry, and then applying the make up all over but I found I got better results the next day when I used a separate concealer.
My make up stayed put throughout the day and there was no need for reapplication.

This foundation + concealer retails at £25/€33 which is very reasonable for such a good quality foundation. My experience with Clinique foundations is that a bottle lasts a long time with careful usage.
I would recommend this to anyone who likes a thicker coverage, suffers from an uneven skin tone or breakouts. If you're like me and use foundation to give a nice finish to your skin rather than need it to cover problem areas it may be a bit much for everyday use, but an ideal make up for the evening when you prefer something a bit more substantial.
Shade: 2 alabaster

Monday, 16 February 2015

Review: 50 Shades of Grey

Let me begin by saying that I have read 50 Shades of Grey, so my expectations for this film were already low. However, somehow the movie was even worse.
The dialogue was clunky and the cringe factor was high. The things Ana and Christian said sounded false, ridiculous and read straight out of a porno. During some of the most sexually explicit lines of the film the audience weren't on the ends of their (slightly moist) seats, they were laughing. 
There were also huge jumps in conversation. Everything would be normal then suddenly Mr Grey would say 'come' or 'I fuck' and they were at it. Sorry, no, that isn't a plotline; that's just soft porn.
  The production was a GCSE media studies teacher's wet dream. A few examples: the symbolism of their last names (she's Steele because she's a strong woman), his apartment block being a symbol for his massive erect penis, and not to mention the pathetic fallacy. It was all so obvious; it was embarrassing to think that it had been put together by adults. Not to mention the complete overuse of camera shots that hovered around characters' fully clothed genitals. You don't need to direct my vision to Jamie Dornan's arse, believe me it's already there.
  Another irritating thing was Jamie Dornan wasn't nearly as naked as I thought he was going to be, especially when compared to how often Ana had her kit off. In fairness, he rocks a suit like no other man but I could have done with 15% more nakedness from him. In half the sex scenes he kept his trousers on, although we were treated to a delightfully cheeky shot of his base at one point.
There was also a bit of gasping when Ana's mighty bush was revealed, and the thing was rather impressive. Moses himself would have loved a burning bush that size (burning with passion, in case you didn't get that). In a way I'm quite glad they opted for bush, bush revival is overdue (read: waxing is painful and expensive).
 But the prize for most irritating thing about 50 Shades goes to the way Ana kept biting her lip. It's not sexy! No one looks good biting their lip, it's a cheap porny way to appeal to men that I'm not sure they even appreciate. And talk about overdone! Within the first five minutes of the film she must have needed to nip back to her dressing room for Vaseline...although they might have kept a tub of that in the red room.

I hate to give this title out so early in the year, but 50 Shades is the worst film of 2015. I really can't see how anything will be worse than this, unless they manage to churn out the sequel before the year is out (please God, strike down whomever would be responsible for that). The entire experience was toe-curlingly-cringe-worthy because, in essence, I watched soft porn with 100 other women (and also one man).
However, I would still recommend you go see it. HEAR ME OUT! This film is so's funny. I've already had hours of conversations about how truly terrible it was and been in tears with laughter over my friends imitating scenes. It's worth the 2 hours of pain just so you can join in the laughter at the end.

One final note, many people have been quick to diss this film for "glorifying domestic violence". Before you jump on that wagon please read the book or watch the film, don't just read excerpts online (anything can sound bad taken out of context) or repeat what your friends tell you.
Personally I don't think there was abuse towards Ana in 50 Shades. I can see how other people would interpret it in different ways, and that's fine, but please actually read/watch it before you form your opinion. There definitely was abuse though, in the form of Christian admitting he'd been a submissive at age 15.