Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Budget 2017

The budget is an exciting time of year for some of us. I've always enjoyed the showmanship that the news puts on, with lots of excited looking business correspondents and clips of various politicians played against a background of chart music.
But enough about my questionably enjoyment of fiscal policy. Let's knuckle down and talk about how this budget could affect you. As always, this is just a gloss of takeaway points for the average twenty-something who doesn't enjoy wading through 86 page long documents, not a lengthy examination to be taken as gospel.

Tax - The threshold at which people begin paying income tax will be raised from £11,500 to £11,850. This is a £70 tax saving, not too shabby! Hammond reiterated the pledge to hitting £12,500 by 2020. The higher tax band moves to £46,350, with a commitment to £50,000 by 2020.

Living/Minimum wage - Over 25s go from £7.50 to £7.83 on their living wage, whereas 21-24 year olds will get £7.38 per hour and 18-20 year olds will receive £5.90 per hour for minimal subsistence. The mind boggles at this system. 

ISA - The ISA rate is frozen at £20,000. This is a type of tax-free savings account, but with rates still eye-wateringly low it's hard to care.

Stamp duty - Return to sender! As of today, there's no stamp duty on homes bought by first-time buyers in England, Wales or NI. But there's a catch - the homes have to be worth between £300,000 and £500,000. Some of my southern readers may be struggling to work out the problem there, but our friends in the Northern Powerhouse get it. 

Cars - Do you work for a progressive and innovative firm that supplies the electricity to power your equally forward-thinking car? If so, the tax that they pay on this perk will be abolished in April 2018.
There's also going to be hella investment into charging points for electric vehicles.
Can't drive? Don't send off for your provisional just yet, the Government want to see driverless cars on our roads by 2021. 

Fuel - Fuel duty remains frozen. This is good news for drivers and non-drivers alike, because nearly every physical thing that we buy needs to be transported, which ultimately feeds into the ticket price.

Choo choo - The 16-25 railcard, which offers holders 1/3rd off rail travel, will be extended to 26-30 year olds. Very handy for millennials as high rental costs have effectively turned us into a generation of eternal teenagers who need to travel home every few weeks to do laundry and steal tinned soup from our parents' cupboards. 

Plastics - England has just about overcome its rage at the 5p plastic bag charge, but plans have been announced today to look into how taxes can be introduced on other disposable plastics. Hopefully food producers will stay ahead of the curve by working on reducing their packaging now.

Education - We've gone maths mad today. There's investment into lessons, extra money for helping students who are resitting their maths GCSE, as well as more money for maths centred secondary schools. Maybe Diane Abbott could enroll?
There'll also be a scheme that'll see £600 go directly into the school kitty for every pupil that takes A Level or Core maths. Note Hammond's use of the word 'take' and not 'passes'.

More education - Do you love intelligence but hate humans? 450 funded PhDs in AI have been announced.

Pay for your education - There's been an issue with student loan over-payments. Yes, really. SLC and HMRC are going to look into it, but in case you don't quite trust them it might be worth logging into your SLC account and seeing what's going on. Unless, of course, you're a recent graduate, in which case you'll be met with debt that's more than your yearly income.

NHS - £6.3bn more to NHS England. It's never enough though, is it?

Northern Powerhouse - I don't think I've ever loved a phrase more. There's loads of money going into the railways which, combined with these new railcards, means that there'll be no excuses for remaining in one's own city.

Devolution goalz - Scotland up £2bn. Wales up £1.2bn. Northern Ireland up £660m, but they've no Executive to spend it.

The goodies - Cigs will go up by 28p, so why not quit now? Tax of alcohol has been changed to increase the price of strong white ciders and perry, so if White Lightning is your tipple of choice you're down on your luck (even more so than usual). If your vice is beer, cider, wine or spirits you can rejoice because they have all been left well alone. 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Interest Rates Rise but Remain Uninteresting

Big news broke in the financial world today as Governor Mark Carney announced that interest rates would rise for the first time in 10 years, from 0.25% to 0.5%. Whilst this has send the markets into a tizzy, it can be difficult to know how it affects the average person if, like me, you've never known a rate rise during your adult life.

Have no fear, today's blog post isn't going to be a storm of economic terms or an abstract analysis of the UK's financial health. It's going to set out why the Bank of England (BoE) decided to raise the rate and how it'll affect you. It's not going to leave you with a master's in economics, nor does it claim to be the full picture, but if you just want enough information to be able to say to your friends, "Rate rises, am I right?!" then this will be enough.

Interest Rates
Interest rates affect the amount banks pay when they borrow money. Banks then pass this cost onto the consumer. Higher rates means that the price of borrowing increases. So the amount of interest paid on a bank loan, a mortgage, a credit card etc. increases. However, it also means that the interest paid on savings increases too.

Rates were significantly higher before the financial crisis. When the bottom fell out of the economy, the BoE dropped them from 5% to 0.5%. They remained at 0.5% until 2016, when they were further lowered to 0.25%.

It should be the other way around but I can't find a
gloomy financial forecast stock image.

Why Change the Rates?
The big drop in interest rates, seen back in 2007, was in reaction to the financial crisis. It was a strategic move to increase the average person's spending habits by making it cheaper to borrow money. At the same time, saving money became less attractive because the whole point of putting money away is that it's meant to grow through interest payments.

The BoE doesn't like us to squirrel away all our money during recessionary times because it's better for the economy if we go out and spend. Why? Because if we're spending money then we're supporting businesses. Businesses employ people. People pay taxes. Some businesses pay taxes too. Taxes fund public expenditure, like hospitals, roads, schools, etc.
If we don't spend money, businesses fold. People lose their jobs. Public finances shrink, so there's less available for public services. Basically, the economy dies. It all comes back to the fact that money itself is worthless and it's value only comes about when it's spent on real things, like goods and services.

The overall aim of adjusting interest rates is to try to achieve 2% inflation. Inflation is the measure of growth in the cost of goods and services and it indicates the health of the economy. It's a delicate balance because we want the economy to always be expanding, but we don't want it to go too fast. If the economy was a pot on the stove, 2% inflation would be simmering nicely, whereas anything lower won't cook the food and anything higher risks boiling over. Incidentally, a recession occurs when inflation is negative; the economy contracts.

Why the Change Today?
In the wake of the Brexit vote, when we were all told that Pandora's box had been opened, the financial forecast was so dire that the BoE decided to drop the rate again. Today though, Governor Mark Carney expressed a reserved confidence in how things are going when he announced the decision to restore the 0.5% rate. This is down to low unemployment, a strong global economy, the UK's finances doing well, and the fact that the general public have been out spending their money instead of burying it in tins in their back garden.

How Rates Affect You
Let's get down to the effects of the change in interest rates for the everyday person. The worst hit by rate hikes are home owners because it pushes up the amount charged on mortgage repayments. Luckily for millennials, none of you can afford your own home anyway, so you won't experience this hike. Those with savings accounts will benefit from increased rates through higher interest payments.

Putting things into context, a 0.25% increase isn't going to make a pauper or a millionaire out of any of us. UK Finance have said that it'll equate to an extra £12 outlay per month for people with an £89,000 balance on their mortgage. However, in this context, size isn't everything. The fact that the BoE have broken their 10 year streak by putting interest rates up is significant in itself. In statement from the Monetary Policy Committee (the people who decide the fate of the rate), there's a definite sense that we won't be waiting another 10 years for the next rise.

Obviously, the more you owe on your mortgage the more the rise will affect you.

Going Forward
Rising interest rates are a good thing because they mean that the economy is performing. The BoE aren't rushing things and have stressed that they'll be playing this situation by ear. They're not being overly-cautious, the fact of the matter is that no one really knows how Brexit is going to pan out. Whatever happens, it's going to have a major impact on the economy, which has a direct effect on the amount of money in our pockets.

Doom and Gloom or Ray of Sunshine?
If you're looking for a one line summary of how you should feel about this news story, basically, it's fine. We're all fine. Not that meme with the dog surrounded by fire fine. Actual fine. Not good, but not bad.

No, things really are fine. 
Other Remarks
It's interesting to note that the Monetary Policy Committee is a 9 person team made up of 8 men and only 1 woman.

Friday, 20 October 2017

A Guide to Applying for a PhD

This time last year I was navigating the minefield that is applying for a PhD. Spoiler alert, it all worked out and I'm currently in the first year of my DPhil at Oxford (DPhil = PhD). Now that the ocean of emotion has washed away, I can share my advice with you all. Get yourself a hot beverage and settle into your chair, it's going to be a long one.
  • Do a master's first. It will give you experience in postgraduate education, especially conducting independent research, thus making you a better candidate for a PhD. It also gives you a one-up on funding applications, which are highly competitive.
  • If you're applying for a subject that requires you to put forth a research proposal it's a good idea to begin working on it ASAP, especially if you're taking a master's because you'll be busy with your classes and exams around the submission deadlines. 
  • If you're flexible about your research area, it's a good idea to check out what projects universities are interested in. There will often be generous funding available if you're willing to mould to fit their interests. As an added bonus, it may lead you into an area that you love but would never have considered before. 
The only way to research productively is in a coffee shop in
full view of other people. Isolated research reaps no results.
  • The application form is often long and tedious. You have been warned. 
  • Don't copy and paste elements from one to another. Universities can spot bland general comments a mile off and they don't take them well.
  • A lot of application deadlines are in December or January, but some universities accept them on a rolling basis. Make sure that you do your research well in advance and write down the closing dates so that you're not caught out. 
  • Spread your applications across a number of universities. Acceptance rates vary from subject area to subject and university to university, so I can't give you any detailed advice on how many to make. However, I can tell you that the best way to find out what's normal for your subject is to ask others in your field (groundbreaking, I know). 
  • Universities will often automatically consider you for internal funding opportunities, but some schemes require additional applications. This is tricky because the deadline for applying will be before you know whether you've been accepted. You can waste a lot of time on funding applications, especially if you're applying to multiple schools. At the same time, you're going to need funding. Apply for as many as you can, but be aware that it's a never-ending source of work.
  • The decision-making timeline is a joke designed to play with your nerves. If you haven't heard back after a set date it's no indication of success or failure. 
  • Check your spam folder if you use Gmail. I should have found out that I was accepted to Oxford on St. Patrick's Day, but I didn't receive the news until a month later. A month is a long time when you spend the majority of your waking hours obsessively picking apart your value as a person. 
  • Rejection can be hard to process, but don't beat yourself up. Often it's nothing to do with the quality of the candidate or the idea, but whether the university is interested in that field (for courses that require a research proposal). 
  • If you've put in multiple applications and your first response is a rejection it can be easy to lose hope, but try not to obsess about it and wait to hear back from everyone before you freak out. 
Schrödinger famously wrote terrible checklists.
  • When the offers start rolling in it's a good idea to take a step back and think about what you really want. One school might offer better funding than another, but what quality of life can they guarantee? Location and culture are important factors for consideration. If you have the time, take a trip to the different campuses and see which one gives you 'the feeling'. 
  • Further to this point, but so important that it requires its own bullet, is accommodation. As a victim of the Dublin housing crisis, I can personally attest that the quality, price and location of accommodation is the most important non-academic consideration. Nothing could have prepared me for the carnage that was house hunting before I began my master's.
    The questions you want to ask are: does the university offer housing? Does it offer a service to help incoming students find housing? What is the private rental market like? What is the average cost of renting? If renting privately, who will you live with? How far are you willing to commute?
  • Finally, if you've been rejected by the university you had your heart set on, take some time to consider your options. If you have offers from other universities, ask yourself whether you're happy to go there. As mentioned before, visit them and see where you find yourself.
    If you decide that you're not ready to give up on your dream school, consider taking a year out of education to work. Your application may benefit from a year's relevant work experience and it will give you time to work on a new research proposal (if your subject requires one). Taking this route may be difficult to accept at first because you feel like you're putting your life on hold, but concentrate on the positives i.e. it will help you to prepare financially for a PhD.
Overall it's a nerve-wreaking time. I won't gloss over my own experience. I was incredibly stressed and a general misery to be around, but now it's just another chapter in life. And remember that you're not alone, everyone who wants to pursue higher education has to go through this.

Matriculation

Friday, 22 September 2017

A Guide to Writing your Dissertation

If you're going on to study at postgraduate level chances are you'll have to write a dissertation as part of your assessment. Likewise, some undergraduate degrees require a dissertation or an extended project to be written during your final year.
It's a daunting task, but it's not impossible. As part of my master's I had to write a dissertation that was maximum 25,000 words, excluding footnotes (!!!). When I first heard that I almost died, then I wanted to cry, and then...well I pretty much danced between the two for a while. But, luckily for you, I got through it and can now share my pearls of wisdom.

My baby

Beginning with your first month of class, you've probably have had ideas floating around your brain all summer. Now is the time to leisurely research them and sketch them out on a piece of paper. There's no need to cling vehemently to the original idea; your research question is often fluid at first. It's also better if you chose a really specific question and explore it in detail, rather than attempt a broad stroke across one area.
Once you've narrowed down the question, set out a chapter plan and the headings within each chapter. It's amazing how much easier the project looks once it's broken down into manageable chunks.

In terms of the writing process, routine and structure are key. A helpful tool can be, what I call, the algorithm of pain. This involves setting yourself a daily word target - say 500 words. I recommend not including footnotes in this number, even if your final dissertation word count does. This is because it will make the days that you include new sources imbalanced in effort. Divide your project's length by your daily target to calculate how many days it will take you to write it.
Once you know this you can begin estimate your dissertation's timeline for completion. Needless to say, the earlier you start writing the less pain you need to go through each day. Of course, extra time ought to be allotted for editing, but this will give you a rough idea of when your dissertation will be over - this in itself can be a great motivator.

The flip side of start early, work calmly is not to overwork yourself. Whilst it's tempting to push yourself to do better than yesterday, the human brain is not a machine. Unless you're really on a roll (in which case you probably won't even be looking at your word count), you need to learn to close the books too. Leave the library, have a conversation with another human being, eat. Taking care of yourself and your mental health is as much a part of the writing process as research and, er, writing.

Getting a bit drunk helps too.

Related to this point is your dissertation deadline. Whilst most universities allow you the summer to write it, some don't. I went to a university that wanted my dissertation to be handed in at the end of June, a mere month after my final exams. I had to balance my six classes alongside my dissertation, which meant that I had to factor in revision periods to my plan.
If you find yourself in this situation, allot yourself extra time to get reacquainted with your dissertation and materials. I generally spent an entire morning re-reading my work and my notes to get back into it all.

It's also important to not beat yourself up for missing targets or self-imposed deadlines (chastise yourself for missing university ones though). I aimed to have my first chapter written before I returned to university after the Christmas break. Instead of 4,000 words I only managed 500. It wasn't down to poor time management, I spent extra time on my studies for my modules. Life doesn't always go to plan, it's how you handle it that counts.

No one's writing process is so artsy and Instagrammable. 

Postgrad students especially suffer from the affliction of perfectionism, but if you're to get timely feedback on your work you need to quell that voice inside of you and send through a true first draft to your supervisor. This is especially important for your first chapter because you could be making a glaring mistake in your method. It's better to be given editing advice when you haven't already spent your soul writing the piece.

Another important piece of advice is not to leave your bibliography until the end. When you're writing a >5,000 word essay it's normal to leave the bibliography until the eleventh hour because it's only a mater of going over 100ish footnotes, a lot of which will be ibid or cross-referencing. When you're working on a substantial piece you need to get savvy, unless you want to lose a few hours of your life to something as mind-numbing as mechanical editing. Have a separate Word document that you add to as you go along.

The final arduous task will be getting someone to proof-read your work. There are two options for this: swap with a friend or pay a proof-reader. If you go for the latter you don't have to read anything but there's a hefty price to pay for that luxury. Whatever you do, don't proofread your own work. It's umpossible.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Review: Ambr Eyewear Glasses

As a postgrad student, a social media accounts manager and a Netflix enthusiast, eye strain is a a regular feature of my life. My eyes tire easily and often feel sore, even dry. They're also prone to becoming alarmingly bloodshot.
To counterbalance the ridiculous amount of time I spend staring at screens, I've installed a blue light filter on my computer and my phone. This works by tinting my screen red, which is slightly annoying to look at. I've also swapped to a large-screened desktop. Taking these steps has definitely improved the situation, but my eyes still suffer.

I first heard about Ambr Eyewear Glasses when I was flipping between radio stations in the car. There was an interview with the founder of the company, who explained that the glasses filter out 55% of the blue light emitted from electronic devices.
The glasses use clear glass so, unlike the filter installed on my devices, they filter out the blue light without changing the colour of the screen.

After hearing about these glasses I knew I had to give them a go. Here's how I got on.

The website: Because Ambr glasses are only available online there's a lot of guesswork involved in choosing the frames right for you. Going forward, they really need to invest in a virtual trying on feature; although it should be noted that they offer free returns so it would be possible to order a few styles and send back the ones you don't like if you don't mind the hassle of returns.

Style: Currently they offer 4 styles of glasses, with a few colour options for each style. All of the styles are quite large. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the lenses need to be large to fully protect your eyes, especially if you're looking down at a device like a phone or a tablet.
I picked the Aurora glasses, which are the smallest. I liked that I could pick a 'Tortoise' design over standard block black because it's better suited to my colouring.



Fit: The glasses claim to be unisex and one size fits all - note my use of the word claim. They're too wide for my face, so if I suddenly turn my head they slip slightly.
I only wear the glasses for an hour or two at a time so I can cope, but if I was an office worker who was staring at a screen all day I think I would find the fit annoying. Glasses should be so comfortable that you can forget you're wearing them. Quite frankly, Ambr should dispense the notion of one size fits all and offer more sizes.

Performance: These glasses are fantastic. I turned off all my screen filters with no ill effects. Even more impressive is that I could play on the PS4 without any ramifications on my eyes. Usually a one hour session leaves my eyes disgracefully bloodshot, to the point that I avoid going on it unless I'm really in the mood for a game.

Prescription: Ambr glasses do not incorporate prescription lenses, so they're only suitable for people who don't need glasses to look at screens. Unless, of course, you were to wear two pairs of glasses simultaneously.
During the radio interview that I listened to, Ambr said that they're in the midst of sorting out a prescription option.


Price:
The glasses range from €38-€49 and they all come with a sturdy case to keep them safe. There's free delivery to the UK and Ireland, which is a massive bonus.

Verdict: I don't love how these glasses look and I wouldn't want to wear them in public for the sake of some short-term computer work. If I was an office worker, however, I'd have to learn to deal with my own vanity for the sake of my eye health.
Fashion aside, their functionality is all there, even though their fit leaves ample room for improvement. For these reasons I'm scoring the glasses 3.5/5.

General Remarks: I like that Ambr have tackled a widespread problem using a clever, but simple, solution. My complaints are all related to the wearability of the product, which I think really takes away from how good it could be.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Review: Breakfast by Bella Granola



As I previously mentioned in my Granola Topped Porridge Bread recipe post, the good folks at Breakfast by Bella recently sent me some of their product to try.



I'll begin with my own tastes in cereal, so you'll know whether we're on the same page, then I'll talk a bit about the Breakfast by Bella brand, and finally I'll tell you how I got on with the granola.

Breakfast by Faye

Breakfast in my house means one thing: a nutritious meal that will keep you going all morning. I typically buy plain cereals like Weetabix, Shredded Wheat, or porridge oats, but every now and then I push the bounds of excitement by opting for Cornflakes.

My simple taste is down to the fact that I was never allowed add sugar to my cereal as a child, let alone buy something like Coco Pops or Frosties (although I could use honey to sweeten things because I grew up with health enthusiasts, not monsters). Now that I'm older I can obviously eat whatever I want, but years of being in the good habit of having a sensible breakfast means that what I want is pretty much what I've eaten for the last two decades.

In terms of granola, I never buy it. I tried it years ago but it was too sweet for me. Sometimes when I'm in the supermarket I pick up a packet, but upon reading the sugar content I put it right back down. Another problem I have with granola is that I found it to be quite crunchy and hard, which makes me worry about chipping a tooth - I'm not hypochondriac, I recently chipped a tooth whilst eating nuts.

So, basically, going into this review, I'm not a granola lover because I like a healthy cereal that poses zero risk to my teeth.


Breakfast by Bella

Breakfast by Bella is a new company that was started in 2017. They're an online-only business run by Bella herself.

In their own words, they're "aim[ing] to bring you products that are refined sugar free and made with gluten free and organic ingredients, containing none of the nasties associated with artificial preservatives and colourings."
Straight after reading this I knew that their granola wouldn't be the same as the sugary stuff I'd tried years ago, and their focus on health made me interested in seeing what a granola that was genuinely good for you would be like.

Breakfast by Bella also has an Instagram page where loads of cool granola creations are posted. Looking at it evokes a mixture of awe and envy. For this blog post I had to try and create artsy photos of my food, which is not something I particularly excel at.
What I especially like about their Instagram, however, is that it gives you new ideas about how to eat granola and what to team it with. It turns out that in a bowl with milk is the equivalent of socks with sandals.

The Granolas

I was sent three flavours to review: Nutty Nosh, Peanut Butter Me Up, and Cacoa Crazy. They come in resealable sachets, which is great for keeping the granola fresh. Nutrition wise, they're all made with organic British ingredients, and they're gluten free and vegan too if you need those boxes to be ticked.

Breakfast by Bella also promises that their granola is refined sugar free. After some serious label reading, I was surprised and delighted to see that they're not too sugary either - after all, a jar of raw honey is refined sugar free but it's not how I want to start my morning. Nutty Nosh, Peanut Butter Me Up, and Cacao Crazy contain 3.8g, 4.4g, and 5.4g of sugar respectively. To put that in context, a teaspoon of sugar is 4g.


Nutty Nosh was my favourite of the three. This granola is a made up of oats that have been baked with rapeseed oil, and sweetened with Canadian maple syrup and cinnamon powder. As the title suggests, it contains nuts: almonds, brazils, cashews, walnuts and hazelnuts to be precise.

Nutty Nosh was fabulous because it was subtlety sweet and there was a generous amount of nuts mixed in there. This is really important because I'm a horrendous person who will often pick out the nicest parts of food, so when I say there was a generous nuts to granola ratio I mean that there was enough for a nice portion and for my greedy little hands to pinch extra.



The Peanut Butter Me Up is, again, oats baked with rapeseed oil. This time the sweetener is agave syrup. And there are some redskin peanuts in there too. I found this one to be plainer, which is why it went well with my granola bread recipe. I typically paired it with cinnamon or cacao powder.


Finally, the Cacao Crazy granola is made up of oats baked with *drum roll, please* rapeseed oil, raw cacao powder, raw cacao butter, coconut sugar, agave syrup, cacao nibs and pure vanilla powder.
It's the sweetest of the three so I preferred this one as a sweet snack or pudding, rather than as a breakfast. From the ingredients list you can see that's it's a totally acceptable healthy breakfast, but it worked best as a sweet treat for me.
I enjoyed the chocolately flavour. I've eaten cacao nibs before and found them to be really hard on my teeth, but the ones in this granola must be milled finer because there was no unpleasant crunch.

Verdict

Overall I was very satisfied with all the granola flavours because they weren't too sweet, nor were there any hard clusters. In fact, the consistency reminded me a lot of muesli because it was fairly soft, although there was a pleasant crunch to it.
It was also a lot of fun to make artsy yogurt bowls, even if my skills don't quite match that of Bella's.

I'd recommend this to anyone who's into health foods and playing about in the kitchen, or people who are on the go and want something to fill the void without inducing food guilt.

Price

250g of Nutty Nosh or Cacoa Crazy sell for £4.95, and the same sized pouch of Peanut Butter Me Up sells for £3.95 (available here). I've checked with Breakfast by Bella and they've said that whilst P&P will currently set you back £3.50 they're in the middle of brokering a deal with Royal Mail to secure free P&P. Until then, they'll cover the postage costs if you spend over £20.

If you want to buy in a physical store, keep an eye on your local Fenwicks.

Unfortunately, they only ship to the UK right now but international delivery will begin soon.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Granola Topped Porridge Bread - Vegan Version

My granola topped porridge bread recipe can easily be tailored to suit the vegan lifestyle. Here's how.

Granola Topped Porridge Bread



Ingredients: 
1 tub dairy alternative yogurt*
1/2 banana
1 TBSP dairy alternative milk*
1/2 TSP salt
1 TSP agave syrup or maple syrup
Dash vanilla essence
2 tubs porridge oats**
2 TSP bread soda**
Breakfast by Bella granola (I used Peanut Butter Me Up)

*Use your favourite, be it almond, coconut, soya etc.
**make sure to check that these items are gluten free/processed in an area free from gluten if needs be

Method:
Empty the yogurt into a large mixing bowl. Whizz the banana in a food processor or with a hand blender until smooth, then add it to the yogurt and stir. Add the milk, salt, agave syrup/maple syrup, and vanilla essence. Mix well.
Fill the empty yogurt pot with porridge oats twice. Stir until it's combined with the wet ingredients. Then add the bread soda and mix well.



In a cup, mix together an extra blob of agave syrup/maple syrup with a dash of water. Lightly brush this over the top of the bread before sprinkling on granola, but avoid creating a thick layer.


Empty the mixture into a 1lb loaf tin. Bake in the oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 45 minutes. Take the bread out of the oven, remove it from its tin, and then bake on a tray for a further 10 minutes.



This recipe should help to to create your own perfect loaf, but I must stress that it's all about what suits you. Play about with the recipe and see if you can improve it. I once baked the mixture in muffin cases instead of a loaf tin to get a more lunchbox-friendly bread.

It's worth mentioning that this type of experimenting is how I came up with the vegan version of porridge bread in the first place, which I've made many times as a way to mix things up in the kitchen. Although, because I've only just thought of topping it with granola the pictures above are of the non-vegan version, so apologies must be made for this.

My own twist on porridge bread is to turn off the oven after 45 minutes and leave the bread to sit in the warmth until the end of the hour because I prefer a tackier consistency. This is why the bread above is slightly uneven in its colour. I'm sure I'd score me nil points on GBBO, but home baking isn't about slavishly adhering to a recipe. It's about creativity and tailoring things to your own taste.

Granola Topped Porridge Bread

Porridge bread is a real superstar. It's gluten free, more filling than regular bread, and so easy to make. Because it is naturally plain, I like to experiment by adding different flavours. Some successful past creations have included: apple and cinnamon; almond; and a chia seed and millet superbread.

I was recently sent some Breakfast by Bella granola to try out and review. One morning, when I was munching on porridge bread topped with granola (see below), I had some baking inspiration and created this recipe.

Plain porridge bread topped with dark tahini,
homemade gooseberry jam, and BBB's
Nutty Nosh granola 

Because so many of the Breakfast by Bella fans are vegans, I'm also going to post a vegan version of this bread so that everyone can enjoy it.

Granola Topped Porridge Bread



Ingredients: 
1 large tub fat free yogurt
1 egg
1 TBSP milk
1/2 TSP salt
1 TBSP honey
Dash vanilla essence 
2 tubs porridge oats*
2 TSP bread soda*
Breakfast by Bella granola (I used Peanut Butter Me Up)

*make sure to check that these items are gluten free/processed in an area free from gluten if needs be

Method: 
Empty the yogurt into a large mixing bowl. Beat the egg in a separate cup and add to the bowl, keeping a little back for late. Also add the milk, salt, honey, and vanilla essence. Mix well. 
Fill the empty yogurt pot with porridge oats twice. Stir until it's combined with the wet ingredients. Then add the bread soda and mix well.



Lightly brush egg over the top of the bread before sprinkling on granola. Use enough so that the top is covered, but avoid creating a thick layer.

Empty the mixture into a 1lb loaf tin. Bake in the oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 45 minutes. Take the bread out of the oven, remove it from its tin, and then bake on a tray for a further 10 minutes.



This recipe should help to to create your own perfect loaf, but I must stress that it's all about what suits you. Play about with the recipe and see if you can improve it. For example, I once baked the mixture in muffin cases instead of a loaf tin when I wanted something a bit more portable.
My own twist is to turn off the oven after 45 minutes and leave the bread to sit in the warmth until the end of the hour because I prefer a tackier consistency. This is why the bread above is slightly uneven in its colour. I'm sure I'd score me nil points on GBBO, but home baking isn't about slavishly adhering to a recipe. It's about creativity and tailoring things to your own taste.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

My Experience with Facial Sun Creams

When other people see the temperatures rising they immediately think of lounging out in their garden, barbecues and fruity ciders. I, on the other, begin to crank the wheels of worry because of my skin's inability to deal with sunlight. It's the price of being a redhead.
It's not just burning that I'm wary of, it's freckling. Yeah, sure, they're super cute, but they're my body's way of telling me that I'm getting too much sun. Plus, while freckles fade in the winter months they're really hard to fully get rid of. Fast forward twenty years and they blight your skin.
In my quest for protection I've tried countless sun creams with varying degrees of success. One area I've had particular difficulty with is my face. It's the most important area to protect, but it's also the trickiest for a lot of us because of the delicate nature of facial skin. Additionally, if your skin is prone to sensitivity - like mine - heavy or oily sun creams can make you break out.
With this in mind, I thought I'd share with you all some of the sun creams I've tried.

Available here
Soap & Glory - Make Yourself Youthful Sunshield Superfluid SPF 50 (30ml)
Application: You're meant to apply this on top of your moisturiser on a morning and then put on your make up. Sounds great, but it requires re-application every 1-2 hours. Who has time for that? And who wants to build layer after layer of sun protection on their face?
Appearance: Gives the skin a beautiful glow.
Packaging: It's neat plastic bottle and lightweight design make it ideal for popping into your handbag, not surprising seeing as you'll have to have the thing glued to your person.
Price: €20.99 from Boots
Verdict: It's a great way to liven up dull skin, but as a sun protector it's too much fuss to be practical. 1/5

Available here
Clinique - City Block Sheer SPF 25 (40ml)
Application: It goes on before your make up. One application will do for the whole day. It's notable that this is only SPF 25. It's marketed as an everyday product, not as sun protection for your holiday. In Ireland and the UK, unless it's a real scorcher, it should be enough. An SPF 40 version is available too; it's called the "Super City Block".
Appearance: It's slightly tinted. I found that it makes foundation appear heavier, so it's a good idea to reduce the amount of foundation you use when using this. The product is on the oily side so this wouldn't be suited to anyone with greasy skin.
Packaging: The tube sits upright when not in use so the wonders of gravity will help to ensure that you get the most out of your product.
Price: €24
Verdict: It made my skin break out, so it's difficult for me to give a fair appraisal. My skin is fairly sensitive so this wouldn't be a guaranteed effect for other people. To use the tube up, I only applied it to my cheeks and neck (they're my skin's safe haven) and it was absolutely fine there. My own view of this product is therefore a 2/5 - but yours may vary.


Ultrasun Anti-Age Face SPF 50+
Application: Once a day, but I'm yet to find information on whether it can go over or under moisturiser and make up. I use it by putting on moisturiser after cleaning my face, waiting for at least five minutes, applying Ultrasun, and then putting on make up.
Appearance: It dulls the skin immediately. To counteract this, as well as putting on foundation I've started to use a highlighter. Yet another thing to put on...
Packaging: Its easy pump bottle is small and can be put into a handbag. But it's once a day, so you don't need to bring it anywhere.
Price: £24 from their website. For Irish readers, M&S sells it in store (not listed on their website) for around €35.
Verdict: Because I combine Ultrasun with a highlighter its dulling effects aren't noticeable. However, my skin is left permanently covered in products. I don't mean that it's sticky or greasy, but I'm aware I'm wearing several things and I don't like that feeling.
Apart from this it's a very good sun protector and, most importantly, doesn't make my skin break out. I wore it every day for a week whilst on holiday and my skin was actually better on the flight home than it had been on arrival. I give it 4/5.


Ultrasun Anti-Age Face SPF 30+
Application: Same as above.
Appearance: Unlike its 50+ cousin, this product has a lovely gloss to it that makes the skin glow.
Packaging: Same as above.
Price: £20 on their website, M&S in Ireland for around €30.
Verdict: Because this Ultrasun product is a lower SPF than the one above, it doesn't have such a heavy effect on the skin. The trade-off, obviously, is that it offers less protection. Some say that SPF 30 is plenty and that SPF 50 doesn't offer much more in practical terms, but this has to be weighed against the fact that most of us don't put on a thick enough layer of sun protection so we won't be getting its full benefits anyway.
As someone who is susceptible to the sun, I wouldn't choose this product for my holiday wear. People who don't feel like sunny weather is a personal attack may be satisfied with it. However, it's great for use when I'm in Ireland because we don't get an extreme amount of sun. Overall I give it a 5/5, with the * that it's not suitable for gingers abroad.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The New Snapchat Update

Snapchat is my favourite social media platform because it has something that none of the others do: privacy. Its ephemeral nature means that all the photo and chat messages I send can be done in safety. Of course, screenshot exists - but at least I get a notification that one of my friends has thought my message worthy of saving. Snapchat's new update, however, has threatened geographical privacy in a way that's never been seen before.
Snap Maps allows users to share their location with their friends. This means that your friends can see where you are on a map of the area. It also brings a hotspot feature, whereby you can see what's going on in areas with high activity. It works a lot like adding images and videos to 'Featured Stories'; you have to chose to submit your content to the public map by sending it to 'Our Story'.

In relation to the visibility of Snap Maps, there's no way to sugarcoat this, it's downright creepy that I can see where my friends are without communicating with them. I can't imagine a situation where I would need this function. Anyone who I want to know my location knows it.

Conversely, there are many ways that this feature can be misused. For example, an abusive partner could use it to keep tabs on their victim. If someone suspects their partner of cheating, they may use it to track their movements. Is a society in which it's okay to watch someone's avatar move around a map, on the notion that 'something's going on', really one that we want to bring upon ourselves?

In addition to these darker activities, there's also the social impact of the location feature to consider. If someone sees that their friends are together on the map, without having invited them out, they're going to feel excluded. It could also exacerbate feelings of loneliness for a person to see a lot of their contacts in town, and therefore having fun, whilst the user watches on from their screen. Anxiety is a plague on the 21st century; is another trigger really necessary?
And how will this affect teenagers? Feelings of exclusion, isolation and anxiety are already heightened in young people. They're particularly vulnerable to the harmful social effects of this update.

Snap Maps does provide the user with adjustable privacy settings that allows them to adjust allows their visibility. However, whilst it's possible to set your profile to 'Ghost Mode' (invisible) it's not really in the spirit of things. People use social media because they want to be open. Stalking your friends' maps without revealing your location isn't going to be fun, or eradicate the social harms mentioned previously.
You could set your location to public for the times that you want to be seen and turn it off later, but the danger is you'd forget. Alternatively, someone could turn on the feature without you knowing as a way to track your movements.

It's not all bad though. The hotspot feature is a great way to see what's going on at events - great for if you're trying to decide where to go in an unfamiliar area. Plus, because the entire public can add to it, there's not the same sense of isolation attached to viewing a large group of people having fun (without you) as there is at seeing your friends do the same. And, if I'm being entirely honest, I can think of one situation that the location feature will be handy for: finding out where the person you fancy is going on a night out and ending up at the same bar as them. If they like you back, it's cute and romantic. If not, you're a stalker.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Election Manifesto Pledges Rights EU Citizens Already Have

A story about a Conservative party election pledge caught my eye this morning: giving power to people to ask social media companies to remove content they posted in their younger days. BBC quoted Labour's response as, "cynically trotting out tough talk that we know will be ultimately meaningless". The article is here.

They're both wrong. Well, actually, one is following the EU and the other has apparently never heard the biggest reformation of European data privacy law to occur since 1995. The power to remove content posted as a child is just one aspect of the 'right to erasure', also known as the right to be forgotten. This right was first recognised by the much loved Court of Justice of the European Union. Yes, those bucks. It's now been written into legislation, the General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (GDPR 2016).
It's amazing how much shame one
motherboard can hold
The GDPR 2016 is a piece of EU law that applies throughout the Union in the same way, so we all get equal protection. It was officially published in 2016, but it's not due to come into force until 2018. Thanks to this law, everyone in the EU will have this right to be forgotten.

Returning to the Conservative pledge, let's take a moment to discuss why it's not as groundbreaking as they're trying to pass it off. First of all, the EU's right to be forgotten recognises that things you did online as a child that bring you shame now and states that being a former Bebo Stunnah is grounds for asking for your picture and any embarrassing comments you left to your other half to be removed. So, basically, the Conservative's pledge.

The right to be forgotten is much broader than this though, because it allows anyone who withdraws consent to data processing to have content removed. Data processing is as simple as hosting a picture or a comment on a website. So, at any time, you can withdraw consent to anything under the GDPR 2016 and ask social media companies, search engines, or any other website to remove material. The GDPR 2016 even covers situations where someone uploads a picture of you and you don't consent to a website hosting it.
Brexit strikes again
As amazing as the GDPR 2016 is, it's only applicable to the EU. So it requires the UK to enact their own law to match its protection. But this is something that's probably going to happen anyway for the purposes of trade agreements. To get a good deal with the EU, countries need to have similar regulatory systems so that neither party is disadvantaged by the other's lax approach to protection. It makes good sense because why would the EU allow someone who doesn't follow any of the rules that they think are important to compete with EU players subject to those rules?

Having now slated the Conservatives for their lack of originality, let's bring some balance to the discussion and examine Labour's nonsensical statement about the pledge. This pledge can't be "utterly meaningless" if 27 EU countries are going to enforce a much more robust version of it next year. It's astounding that they could be blind to a Regulation that's received so much discussion.

To summarise, the Conservatives are promising a watered down version of what the EU has already set in motion and Labour haven't been paying attention. To all my UK readers, hard luck; to all my EU readers, try not act too smug when you're in the UK taking advantage of the bastarised exchange rate.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Analysis of the EU's Draft Guidelines, as Agreed by 27 Member States

The EU has agreed upon the guidelines which will be used in the Brexit negotiation process. The document opens with a joke, stating that, "the European Council has received the notification by the United Kingdom of its intention to withdraw from the European Union and Euratom. This allows for the opening of negotiations as foreseen by the Treaty." Of course, we all know that shortly after the Brexit vote the drafter of Article 50 admitted that it was never intended to be used.
The document emphasises that it doesn't want to severe relations with the UK, but that any working relationship will be subject to a degree of compromise. Agreements won't be done on a case by case basis; instead an entire deal must be completed before anything can come into being. An example of this would be a refusal to allow an deal on the movement of goods to commence whilst the movement of workers awaited debate.
The stars have nothing to do with
the number of Member States, but
their order represents unity
Individual Member States won't be allowed to make deals with the UK, which is old news. It makes sense in the context of pure economic relationships between Member States and the UK, but one wonders how the special relationship with Ireland will be handled by the EU and whether it fully appreciates the gravity of the situation. Separate negotiations are banned, so it's reasonable to assume that Enda Kenny can't bob over to London for tea and a chat. Instead he'll have to go to Brussels, who have a significantly lesser understanding of the makings of a good brew. 
The UK's relationship with the EU can only be defined once it has left, i.e. not until the UK are firmly outside the club in March 2019. The EU has stated that interim agreements which are time limited and well-defined may be used to ease the process. This is good news. It means that if negotiations drag on (either because a party is dragging its feet or due to the sheer volume of issues to be discussed) the system won't be thrown into disarray because the timer goes off.
Turning to the substance of the agreement, the EU has underlined the importance of the free movement of citizens and workers to the ethos of the Union. It has stressed the need to come to amicable arrangements which will disrupt as little as possible the lives of UK and EU citizens whose living status is jeopardized by the decision to leave. The UK's position on this is not clear. On one hand, the free movement of people seemed to be a motivator for the leave vote, on the other hand the business community have spoken out about the invaluable source of labour EU workers provide.
On the budgetary side of things, the document expresses a desire to see both sides honour their financial agreements. For example, a UK farmer who was promised an EU subsidy which was due to run for 5 years would still receive their payment.
At least the UK stuck to its sterling-guns 
and there will be no need for a currency change
Ireland gets a special shout out, but not until page 6 (of 9). "Flexible and imaginative solutions" and "the aim of avoiding a hard border" are pledged. It's noteworthy that it's only an aim, rather than a firm commitment.
There's also a corking line about the UK's intention to leave the single market and wanting to agree an "ambitious free trade agreement", which is the equivalent of the EU telling the UK to get on their bike.
A host of common sense stuff is included too, basically spelling out that the UK won't have all the rights and obligations that EU membership confers when they leave, but until then they do. Was it really necessary to put pen to paper on these matters? It's evocative of a student padding out an essay.
To summarise, the ethos of the EU's guidelines is that it will be coming at the negotiations as a single, united party. It will look for a fair deal and seems uninterested in punishing the UK for leaving, however, it's clear that whatever is agreed will not be as advantageous as full-membership of the EU nor will it be the equivalent benefits and responsibilities under a new name. It's a very fair stance and should hopefully lead to an amicable agreement.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Review: Tru-Nut Powdered Peanut Butter

I have a major problem with almond butter, and also sometimes cashew butter. Once the jar is open I can't stop myself and before I know it I'm sat on the sofa with nothing but a spoon and my shame. I can restrain myself around peanut butter, but I still make the mistake of having a few scoops alongside my toast which means that it never hangs around for long. My addiction something I've made my peace with; we all have our vices. In the interests of my figure, I don't buy nut butter very often, so the opportunity to gloriously indulge is infrequent. This window into my life has a purpose, it's the grounding for why I bought powdered peanut butter in the first place.
The product is made by pressing peanuts to express their oils. This creates a powder which can be mixed with water "to create spreadable peanut butter" (aka paste). It can also be sprinkled onto foods or added to shakes. I mean, it doesn't sound appetising, does it? It sounds like a wartime ration. But it has a significantly lower fat content than regular peanut butter so concessions have to be made. Here's how it fared.
It's American style peanut butter, which in this instance
means that it contains added sugar, not that it's deep fat fried
As a spread: To make the spread you mix a few spoons of powder to a spoon of water. It comes together fairly easily, roughly 15-20 seconds. Add the liquid slowly so you don't drown the mixture. Top tip, try using milk instead of water for more flavoursome results. The spread is incredibly smooth and it tastes like regular peanut butter.
As a topping: It doesn't work as a topping, it just gums to the roof of your mouth. 
With a spoon: It was fantastic, in that it was impossible to get through more than half a teaspoon because it absorbs all the liquid in your mouth. I literally cannot overeat this stuff.
Price: I picked up this jar for €5.99 from TK Maxx, but I've seen other brands retail for over a tenner. It's certainly not worth that kind of money.

Verdict: It's the methadone of the nut butter world. By this I mean, it's fine but it doesn't hit the spot in the same way. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Review: Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer

A lot of the reviews I read before purchasing the Dyson Supersonic were written by women who had tried the machine for the first time, but the claims made by Dyson regarding the protection this hair dryer affords your hair wouldn't be apparent after only one use. This is why my review follows 6 continuous weeks of usage.

Design: It's a futuristic and beautiful piece of kit which is available in two colours: fuschia & dark grey and silver & dark grey. Both are metallic.
Weight: 1.8lb....if that means anything to you. It's not light, let's put it that way, but because the motor is in the handle it's easier to hold than a traditional hair dryer.
Heat control: There are 4 heat settings ranging from cool to hot. As much as I would like to use setting 2 (setting 1 being cool), because it would minimise heat damage to my hair, it would take to long to dry my mane.
Airflow control: There are 3 airflow controls, the most powerful of which should come with a red wind warning and a notice to the elderly to remain in their home. A tip if you're going to buy this hair dryer is never to use it on full blast without a styling attachment and a hairbrush to guide the air flow because it will leave your hair in knots.
Ease of styling: It comes with three styling attachments. These include a smoothing nozzle which dries and styles your hair at the same time; a styling concentrator which is for precise section-by-section style; and a diffuser which is meant to reduce the frizz of curly hair. Because all the attachments are magnetic it's easy to clip them on and to change their angle mid-styling.
I use the styling concentrator most often, but I must confess that my blow drying skills are sub-par. Because my hair is naturally straight I tend to just dry it and go.
Hair care: One of the main reasons I wanted to buy this hair dryer was because of its promise to better protect my hair during the drying process. It does this through intelligent heat control which ensures that your hair doesn't get too hot and dry out. I have long hair so it's really important to me to take good care of it because it has to last longer.
Following 6 weeks of usage, I definitely have noticed a difference. It feels healthier, like less of the oils have been stripped out through styling. My hairdresser asked what conditioner I've been using, which I think says a lot about how well this hair dryer has treated my hair. I also used to experience a mild degree of frizz which has now stopped.
Price: £299/€399

Verdict: Let's talk about the elephant in the room, it is very expensive. But it's also very good. If you have hair that needs extra care, maybe because it's long or requires a lot of styling (read: heat which causes damage) then it's probably worth you investing. Whilst the price tag is eye-watering, you'd spend more on a smartphone or a year's subscription to a television service. Through a utility and benefit perspective, this is a very sensible thing to wallop the cash on.
If you have short hair that gets cut regularly then you'd be as well off with your standard £30 hair dryer.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Review: AeroPress Coffee Maker

I first learned about the AeroPress coffee maker when I attended the Northern Ireland AeroPress Championship. I went along thinking it was some kind of latte art competition, but it was actually people making cups of coffee for the judges and none for the audience. Luckily this was straight after exams so my threshold for fun was extremely low.

Making the coffee: There are a lot of steps to the process of using the AeroPress so it helps to have the instructions to hand the first few times you use it to ensure you do everything correctly. The instructions are only one way to make coffee; you can play about with the steps and put your own twist on it (that was the entire premise of the Championship).
Time: Once you have the hang of using the device you can make a cup of coffee in about 90 seconds. This sounds super quick, but during those 90 seconds you're actively doing something. Compared to other brewing equipment that you bang a heap of coffee into and walk away from it's labour intense.

The brew: Words cannot describe how good a cup of coffee this device makes. Flavours that once sat in the background are brought to the forefront. The coffee is so smooth you'll have to stop yourself from removing your knickers. Another bonus to coffee brewed using the AeroPress is that there's no nasty dredges of escapee grounds at the bottom of your cup.

Yield: The biggest flaw of the AeroPress is that is only yields one small cup of coffee. It's not ideal for a two people, or one raging coffee-addict.
Cleaning: I had assumed that such a complex looking device would be a pain to clean. After all, my cafetiere is the bane of my kitchen sink. It's actually super easy. You remove the bottom cap and fire the grounds into the bin. There's a minimal amount of grounds left on the device and it easily washes off. The filters are also biodegradable, which is great for people like me who feed their grounds to their compost heap.

Storage: The Aeropress is a small piece of kit and won't take up much cupboard space.

Price: They're available from Bailies Coffee for £27.99 or The Coffee Store for €32.95. Other retailers are available, but only these two come with my personal stamp of approval.

Verdict: This is a great piece of equipment for all levels of brewers because it makes a delectable cup of coffee and has a medium price point. A tip for requesting your bean grind when purchasing your coffee is to ask for a tad finer than drip grind because a lot of people haven't heard of the AeroPress. As a final note, the filters are sold in packs of 350 and are a very reasonable price, even if you do have to go to the trouble of ordering them online.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Review: T2 Trainspotting

Walking down to the cinema I wondered what kind of mug am I? Here I am living in Dublin, where the streets are lined with drug addicts, and I'm paying to see junkies on the big screen. As if to prove my point, I passed a gentleman smoking Class As out of an empty Coca Cola can five minutes from the theater. There's poetic symmetry there, if you look hard enough.

T2 Trainspotting begins with Renton running on a treadmill in a gym, a picture of health. It's in striking contrast to the opening scene of Trainspotting, when we were first introduced to him as the reckless youth running from trouble. We learn that he's been living in Amsterdam since absconding with the £12,000 two decades ago. He returns to Leith and reconnects with Spud and Sick Boy, who is now just Simon.
Spud's life has plodded along. He has continued to take drugs and they've taken their toll on his life. Separated from his partner and his son, the beginning of the film sees Spud in a dark place which culminates in an attempt on his own life.
Simon is stuck in a rut, or a failing pub to be precise, and has harboured hurt and anger at Renton for leaving him. He grasps at the hope that a new business venture will help him get the lifestyle he desires. His girlfriend/friend (depending which one of them you ask) is the only new addition to the main cast.
Begbie's violence caught up with him at the end of the last film and he's spent the past 20 years in prison. After a daring escape, he's unleashed on Leith once more and soon discovers that Renton's back in the picture. Parallel to this, there is focus on his relationship with son and the grating generational differences which exist within that sphere.
Other characters from Trainspotting make an appearance too. Renton's father plays a short, but touching role. Renton's mother has since passed and we learn that she never gave up hope of her son coming home. Homage is paid to her memory when Renton's shadow casts upon her space at the dining table. Diane, now a successful lawyer, also resurfaces in a scene set in her office. On her desk is a bronzed impression of a baby's hand print, so it can be assumed that she is now a mother. She doesn't wear a wedding band.

Whilst the sequel to the book, Porno, comes out in a number of scenes, the plot of T2 Trainspotting is an original screenplay. It skillfully weaves in references to the original film and retains the clever dialogue that made Trainspotting a cult classic. It's not just cinematography, it's social commentary and cultural expression. It delves into mundane reality and the struggle of those who choose neither life nor heroin. This film exists in the void in between; when youth is spent and there's nothing coming up ahead. It's captivating and soulful, and it will be the best film you see all year.

Rating: 5*

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

How to Help your Friend get over her Bastard Ex-Boyfriend

There's nothing worse than seeing your friend hurt when she's going through a breakup. If he has been a bastard and broken her heart you need to step your best-friendship up a notch and get her through it. Begin with the absolute essentials, a wine and whine night within 72 hours of the split. It's about more than just listening to her cry. She needs to get mad. Call out all of his bastard antics, no matter how minor, and identify a few key themes. Come back to these salient points throughout the night. Stick the knife in, twist, and repeat.
Next, you need to protect her from herself. Social media means we're all connected these days, it's just not always for the best. Obviously the number one concern is that she will torture herself by checking his page. The danger here is that she will see a tagged photograph of him with an unknown female and descend into a murderous crying fit. If she does engage in this particularly gruesome form of self-injury, you need to be there to pick apart who exactly that bitch is and have your yellow legal pad to hand to list all the ways your friend is better.
The other danger of social media is that your friend could be going about her day, happy out, and suddenly he pops up on her timeline and slams her back into that bad place. The nuclear option is to block him; out of sight out of mind, after all. If social etiquette precludes her from this then she ought to mute his profile. They'll remain friends online, and it doesn't send the same message as blocking, but she can live her life without risking exposure to his BS.


Once you've covered the basics you can move onto the next phase: getting-over-him-but-not-really-getting-over-him. Think girls' night out and encouraging her to shift the face off the next man she sees. It's half fun and games half listening to her sob at 2am. Conversationally, things might get a bit repetitive, but let her vent. The key to this stage, however, is keeping her away from rebound men. That means no exchanging numbers or last names, even if she shags someone. Especially if she shags someone.

Breakups are tough and there's no way you're going to be able to take away her pain. It can be hard watching her go through it all knowing that nothing you do can magically fix everything. But you can help her get through it. Whether it's cathartic rage-crying, or getting her mind off the whole sorry situation long enough to laugh at a dumb joke, your presence is more valuable than you think.