Friday, 30 December 2016

Social Media Detox Diary - Roundup

During this last week I've continued to procrastinate and generally avoid work (it was Christmas to be fair), but at least I've engaged in better quality distraction. Without facebook, I read more articles online and used the internet for more purposeful things. I don't miss endlessly scrolling, although for the first 24 hours I suffered what can only be described as physical withdrawal symptoms (reaching for my phone every 10 minutes only to have nothing to do). This made me realise just how much of my life I waste online.
I can reactivate my account today but I might give myself another few days of radio silence. The only thing I'm anxious about is that deleting your account makes it look like you've blocked the person who's searching for you. It's a massive design flaw which I'm pretty sure facebook purposefully chose to stick the knife into anyone who dare leave. On the other hand all my friends know that I'm 22, not 12, and I don't go around blocking people for seemingly no reason.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Review: Benefit Boi-ing Concealer

Described as 'industrial strength' I was excited to try Benefit's Boi-ing Concealer and had geared myself up for a beauty miracle. After convincing the store assistant that, no, really, I need the lightest shade Benefit offers (I assume the poor girl was blind because how else would you think a ginger woman would need anything other than milky-cream?) I went skipping home to play with my new face paint.

Shade Light 01
Starting from a bare face I used it to cover a minor blemish and as a skin tone evener around my nose, chin and forehead. I applied the concealer using my fingertips because I was covering a large surface area, but if you want a really precise application I would recommend a small brush. The product is rich and creamy, without being oily or greasy. After applying the concealer I put on my foundation (Clinique Even Better). The two products worked well together even though they're different brands; there was no cakey effect or uneven blending. The makeup stayed put for the whole day and I was fairly chuffed...until a few days later. My skin broke out something chronic as a result of using this product. By way of making sure that it was the concealer I left it a few days and then applied it to my forehead only and, yes, it was definitely the concealer.

I brushed this experience off as one of those things because I have sensitive skin, but the next time I was in Benefit I thought to mention it to one of the assistants (who looked to have ruddy fantastic quality skin might I add) and she said she had the same problem. She told me that she uses Benefit's primer, which seals off your pores, before using the concealer so it doesn't have such a bad effect. I was speechless at the thought of powering ahead with a product which gives you minor breakouts and declined to buy the primer. The point of this encounter is that the Boi-ing concealer has the potential to irritate your skin, regardless of whether it's sensitive.

The Verdict: This is a 1* product because it causes the problem it's meant to cover up. The RRP is £17.50/€24.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Social Media Detox Diary - Day 4

Christmas day was yesterday so, like any normal person, I was too busy eating my weight in cake and watching subpar television with my family to be bothered about facebook. Strangely, my tablet had been receiving messages from messenger, even though I requested that messenger be disabled too. I couldn't read them but I could see the first line and who had contacted me. It made me feel like I was quasi-cheating, but I used this to know who had messaged me and then got back to them via other channels. It just goes to show that facebook will not let you leave without a fight.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Social Media Detox Diary - Day 2

My worst fears have been confirmed, my inability to concentrate cannot be blamed on technology. I regressed to circa 2006 methods of distraction yesterday by putting on a DVD and vegging out on the sofa. On the bright side, without my phone offering much by way of distraction, I paid attention to the entire film. I'm determined to see this detox through, maybe my brain just needs a 24 hour adjustment period.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Social Media Detox Diary - Day 1

Master's life isn't so much busy as it is a never-ending minefield of deadlines. Every time I sit down to write I lose myself to endlessly scrolling my facebook feed. It's not that I'm overly active online, on the contrary, I mindlessly look through everything and post little of my own content. It's frustrating to waste time on something so fruitless; during one of my stronger moments I told facebook that I wanted a break and I deactivated my account for 7 days.
I'm mildly concerned that all the time I waste online is a part of who I am and that I will just find another avenue of distraction. Surely everyone in the nineties didn't have a super attention span which was destroyed by social media; but what did they do? I've also realised that I will be facebook-less for Christmas Day but I can't decide whether that is a good or bad thing. My biggest problem right now is that I keep reaching for my phone and then remembering that it has nothing to offer me. At least the battery life will last longer.

Even the concept of blogging this journey is a distraction. Somebody. Please. Help. Me.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Autumn Statement 2016

In the aftermath of Brexit, we all knew that this year's Autumn Statement would be seminal. Only 6 months since the spring budget and we have a new PM, a new Chancellor and a new crisis to deal with. The Statement was very interesting because it was the first time in a long time that the PM and the Chancellor haven't appeared to be on the same page. May has been speaking about a fairer Britain for all, but Hammond is singing from his own hymn sheet with sensible financial planning to see us through Brexit. The latter will benefit everyone in the long term, but it doesn't make for a razzle dazzle Statement.

National Living Wage: A whopping 30p extra per hour if you're over 25. 21-24 year olds have only been awarded an extra 10p, but it budges them over the £7 mark to £7.05 
Income Tax: The tax-free threshold rises by £500 to £11,500; this is ahead of what the last budget promised us. The highest tax band will now apply at £45,000 instead of £43,000, which is a nice help to the squeezed middle. 
Renters: Sayonara renters' fees! Excellent news for students because they are a group who tend to move around a lot. 
Student Loans: They're still looking to sell the pre-2012 loan book. No sympathy from the £9,000 fee students. 
ISA: An increase on the ISA limit, from £15,240 to £20,000. It's good to have somewhere to put that extra 10p per hour. 
Future Transport Technology: Hammond has thrown the reddies at driverless cars, green buses, and charging-points for electric vehicles. 
Infrastructure: The promise for major investment in Britain's infrastructure continues. Roads, road safety, public transport, and an Oxford to Cambridge expressway will all be receiving attention. 
Devolution Revolution: Although Hammond didn't sing the words of Osbourne's number one hit of the Autumn Statement 2015, he was humming along as he promised £800m, £400m, and £250m to Scotland, Wales and NI respectively. 
Corporation Tax: Unsurprisingly, the plans to cut it to 17% are still going ahead. Very much needed to retain big businesses. Ireland weeps. 
Fuel Duty: Fuel duty has been frozen for so long I wonder if it will ever be raised. It's good news for motorists anyway. I doubt it will make a tap of difference to public transport fares. Taking a holistic view, it benefits us all because the price of transporting goods is factored into their price. 
Insurance Premium Tax: Motorists, make sure to retain all those pennies you save on petrol because you're going to need them to pay your insurance. It goes up by 2%. Hammond stated with a straight face that it's up to the companies whether they'll pass it on to customers. 
The Arts and Heritage: Tax relief for museums and galleries continues for another 5 years. Financial support for cultural and heritage projects. This includes £7.6m to repair Wentworth Woodhouse in South Yorkshire. During hard economic times it's easy to forget about these kinds of things, but once they're gone they're gone. 
Soft Drinks: Forthcoming draft legislation on the sugary drinks tax. 
Musical Chairs: The Autumn Statement is to be abolished and replaced with an Autumn Budget; the Spring Budget is to be abolished and replaced with a Spring Statement. 

Friday, 28 October 2016

A Guide to Applying for a Master's

It's practically November, so if you want to do a master's degree then you should already know what course you want to do and what university you want to do it at. Applying to your chosen course isn't an easy process. This isn't down to a grueling application process but your own nerves. As someone who has been through it before, I'm going to share a few tips I picked up along the way.

  • Begin the application early, but don't rush to submit it. Take your time to consider it. It can be daunting at first. 
  • To avoid feeling overwhelmed, break the application down into manageable chunks. Only complete one section at a time. 
  • Check the grade requirements for your chosen course. If you're likely to make it then you only need to apply to that university. Unlike your UCAS or CAO application, there's no need to hedge your bets. If you're on a borderline grade then consider applying to another university with a lower requirement, for your own peace of mind. 
  • Take advantage of your university's resources. Now's the time to meet with your personal tutor to get their advice, send them drafts of your personal statement and generally stress out in front of them. 
  • Create an academic CV. It's a slightly different layout to the one you use to apply for jobs. Again, use your university's resources. They literally pay professionals to help you, or rather, your fees literally pay these professionals. 
  • Choose who you want to be your referees and send them a courtesy email in advance. It's best to pick your personal tutor and a teacher who knows you. Don't go back to someone from first year just because you got a good grade in their module. 
  • Earmark some money to apply. A lot of universities charge a £50-75 application fee. 
  • Don't freak out about the personal statement, universities are more interested in your academic and extracurricular achievements. However, if there's something that's held you back you should make sure to disclose it. 
  • Ask a friend to proofread everything. 
  • Try to forget about your application once you've submitted it. The length of time that it takes to receive a response isn't an indicator of whether you'll be accepted. There's no rule of thumb about how long is 'normal' to receive an offer. 
  • Once the stress of applying is over you need to crack on with funding applications. What's available will depend on where you're resident now, where you'll be studying, and what you'll be studying. Search the internet, ask your personal tutor and ask the careers advisory service. If you're going to go to a different country then make sure to change the Google search engine you're using, for example for the UK, for Ireland etc.
One final piece of advice is that, if you meet the grade requirements, you're highly likely to get it. This is postgraduate education, not The Hunger Games. So try not to worry. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Review: Pamper Therapy Sponge

Let me begin by tell you all that I never use makeup sponges, but I was really excited to try the Pamper Therapy one because I'd heard great things about it. It's really easy to use. You wet the sponge and squeeze out the excess water. Then you dab it into your foundation and gently roll it over your face. Doing this prevents the sponge from slurping up all your make up. I used about the same amount of foundation as I would normally use.
The wider base of the sponge is best for doing large surface areas, like your cheeks, whilst the pointed tip is good for more precise areas, like around your eyes. I was really impressed at how quickly it applied foundation and how even the finish was.  The sponge is also super soft and was delicate against my skin. It was so gentle it reminded me of a baby's toy.
It isn't suggested on the box, but it's well known that you can use these kinds of sponges to apply perfume. They're really handy if you're using miniature bottles that don't come with a pump spray. I would still wet the sponge because it will stop your perfume being absorbed too much. If you are going to use a sponge for this purpose make sure to keep it separate from any other sponges you use on your face in case the perfume irritates your skin.

Pamper Therapy is selling their sponges on Amazon for £7.46 and they're running a 15% discount if you order two. This sponge would make an ideal stocking filler for Christmas. It would also be a good 'secret santa' present. Or you could treat yo'self and yo'friend for no reason at all.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Budget 2017

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the budget happened weeks ago seeing as so much of the 'leaked' information has been over-discussed. Truly it was a budget for everyone and no one. The government are in too much of a shambles to deliver any hard policies. Most of us will only gain the price of a sandwich per week. On the other hand, we should be grateful that this wasn't another austerity budget. Hopefully this is the steady beginning of better times.
It's worth remembering that budgets don't operate in a financial vacuum. This budget might not put much into your pocket, but seeing as sterling is flatlining we can all pop up north for a bit of Christmas shopping. Shop prices will soon adjust to account for Brexit, so if you're planning on making some savings do it this side of the new year.
Okay, financial advice over, here's what we saw.

USC: This is perhaps the smallest cut to taxes that can still qualify as a cut to taxes. USC has gone down to 0.5%, 2.5% and 5%. A grand total of 0.5% has been brushed off the rates (I feel the term 'shaved' wouldn't reflect the gentle nature of these reductions). The band at which you begin paying 2.5% has been moved from €18,668 to €18,772 - a meagre €104.
Pensions and social welfare: Payments are up by €5 per week, which is €260 extra per year. Whether you'll actually get the full €5 will depend on the type of social welfare you receive, for example, if you're on Job Seekers' and you're under 25 you'll only get a couple of euro.
First time buyers: FTBs will benefit from a tax rebate scheme whereby up to 5% of the purchase price will be refunded, up to a maximum of €20,000 (so a house that costs €400,000). Snag, it's new build only. Snag, you need a mortgage, cash buyers are excluded (perhaps not a massive snag for the majority). Snag, it won't apply to houses which cost more than €600,000.
Here's the kicker, Noonan, the absolute joker, came out with a line about how demand for new houses will increase the supply of these houses. Which completely ignores the current housing crisis which is about more than FTBs. It's about the families who are living in small flats that they bought during the boom years, before they had children, who are now trapped in negative equity. It ignores that the building sector actually IS building those luxury little starter homes in fabby-doza apartment blocks, it's the family homes supply that's banjaxed because yuppies will pay out their backsides to escape the dire rental market. All the Minister for Gobshite has done is introduce a measure that will support the building industry, keep the property market bubble inflating, and carry us off into cloud cuckooland.
In a country that already has a great supply of demand, it's a wonder he managed to float that one past the Dáil. Next he'll solve a drought with a bumper pack of disposable cups.
Corporation tax: Remains at 12.5%, as it should. The operating costs in Ireland are significantly higher than other EU countries. Please no one kid yourselves that if we raised it to come in line with our continental cousins that we'd experienced a rise in revenue. There'd be a globalised-company-sized hole in the figurative door to mainland Europe.
Gardaí: 800 new gardaí are on the books. Let's just hope they're paid properly otherwise it'll be more strikers on the front line.
DIRT: It'll be coming down to 33% by 2020, so be sure to bank all your USC savings.
Sugar Tax: This won't be introduced until 2018. The brilliant thing about this measure is that they didn't even try to disguise it as an independent decision. Expect to see new legislation that has been, shamelessly, copied and pasted from British law.
Some have hailed this as disappointing and that it shows that there's no real commitment to tackling obesity, it's all about introducing another tax. Those people are absolutely right. Of course the government have no desire to change the nation's health, look at their own expanding waistlines. If you can't tackle your health how on earth will you improve 4.5 million people's health?
Cigarettes: Who is still buying packets of cigarettes? They've gone up 50c
Goodies: Alcohol and fuel were left alone.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Nutritional Yeast, the Next Big Food Craze?

Nutritional yeast, it sounds awful doesn't it? But it's been a while since coconut oil happened and we're due a new food craze any time now. Before I stumbled across a recipe which called for this I had no idea what it was. I imagined it came in a block, like the kind of yeast you'd use to make bread (if you weren't using powdered). It doesn't, it comes as a tub of flakes.

Here comes the eye-opener: there's different elements and types of yeast. I know, mind blown. There's active yeast which is used to make beer and to bake with, there's an inactive part of that yeast that makes up nutritional yeast, and there's also a fungus kind of yeast which can lead to illness. Don't substitute active baking yeast for nutritional yeast or you'll end up with a foaming mess.

Nutritional yeast is insanely good for you too, especially if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. In one 5g portion you get Thiamin B1, Riboflavin B2, Niacin B3, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 and so much more good stuff. The nutritional label is posted below for anyone who wants more details. The woman who served me in my local health food shop told me that the body's absorption process is more efficient because the yeast itself has already absorbed these goodies. As an added bonus for celiacs, the flakes are also gluten free.

It's not available in supermarkets so you'll have to go to a health food shop. Holland and Barrett stock it so it shouldn't be difficult to find. I paid €4.35 for this tub. In the UK, Holland and Barrett are selling it for £3.29. It's a very reasonable price.

After all of this information, and the fact it has 'nutritional' in the title, you'd be forgiven for assuming it's disgusting to look at and eat. Nutritional yeast flakes are a light yellow colour. They smell quite pleasant, like bready-cornflakes. The packaging describes the flavour as cheesy and nutty, which is true, but it depends which foods you add it to.
When the flakes are added to a dish during cooking or sprinkled on soup they contribute a background hum of flavour. When I sprinkled some on cottage cheese they added a strong cheesy depth to the food. The lesson there is if you want a more intense flavour pair it with bland food, but if you're only after the nutritional benefits add it to flavourful dishes.
Overall it's extremely pleasant and extremely good for you, so if it's going to be the next big foodie craze it's one you should jump on now.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Review: Clinique Pep-Start 2-in-1 Exfoliating Cleanser

I picked this product up as an alternative to my beauty staple, the Clinique 7 Day Scrub. It promises to be gentle enough to use twice a day, although I think that's excessive for even the best exfoliating cleansers. Like all Clinique products it's fragrance free.
The Routine: Before I used this product I removed my makeup with a makeup remover wipe and washed my face with soap. Why wash your face before using a cleanser you ask. Anything that exfoliates is too harsh for the delicate skin around your eyes.
While my face was still wet, I rubbed the cleanser into my skin. The exfoliating balls aren't visible but when you rub the cream against your skin but you can feel the fine beads gently working. As I mentioned before, I took extra care to avoid my eye area.
The Good Bits: It's definitely gentle and safe to use every day. I wouldn't go as far as saying it should be used twice per day. If you have oily skin the overstripping of your face will only lead to excess oil production. Seeing as this product is aimed at young people (under 30s) this should really have been made clear on the packaging.
The cleanser foamed nicely, without creating too much of a lather. The exfoliating beads are small, plentiful and effective. Some other exfoliating washes I've used have a sparse amount of large beads which roll around your face like useless plastic boulders.
The Less Good Bits: As I've mentioned above, one of my beauty staples is the 7 Day Scrub. I like that product because it has an instant wow factor; you can feel the difference to your skin from the first wash. Pep-Start doesn't have this effect, but this is probably because it's so gentle. It's better than any other 2-in-1 I've used, but it's not as good as the 7 Day Scrub.
The Price: The RRP in the UK is £16.50; in Ireland it's €23. It's certainly the most expensive product of its kind, as other products sell for £5-10, but Clinique is a premium quality brand.
The Verdict: It's certainly a good product and great for if you want to shave time off your routine because it saves you having to cleanse your face and then use an exfoliator. It's better than other 2-in-1 brands and I would even go as far as saying that it's the best of its kind.
The Future: The UK is looking to ban the plastic microbeads used in these kinds of scrubs and exfoliators, but Clinique have confirmed that this product contains biodegradable beads and they've also reformulated the 7 Day Scrub to include the same.

Two of my favourite skincare products

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Why Brexit Isn't Reflected in Retail Sales (yet)

In the aftermath of Brexit economic forecasts predicted a downturn in customer spending, but this week's statistics, released by the Office for National Statistics, showed that this prediction was incorrect. Retail sales are up 1.4% on June 2016, and 5.9% on July 2015.
Brexiteers are holding this out as evidence that the UK's decision to leave the EU will not create the economic apocalypse the Remain Campaign promised. A number of matters complicate this. The most obvious being that the UK hasn't actually left the EU yet. Article 50 has not been triggered. Whilst there has definately been a slowdown in foreign investment and a number of large corporations are looking outside of the UK for new bases, the fact remains that the UK is still in the common market.
Therefore, the UK still enjoys tariff-free trading. The prices in the shops have not increased. This brings us to the fundamental point: the prices have not changed so the average customer has no need to change their spending habits. The papers may be full of doom and gloom about the UK's economic outlook, but the average Joe only cares about what the money in his back pocket can buy him. Until he sees a change there he won't change himself.
What's more, as a country that's only beginning to comfortably put the recession behind them, the average person's expenditure isn't lavish enough that they can suddenly decide to cut the fat because it simply isn't there. Big ticket purchases made in July 2016 were probably planned a year in advance, or more. People aren't going to put off buying that new car or washing machine after saving up for so long just because the economic forecast is bleak. It's been bleak for years.

Turning now to the value of the pound, which has dropped significantly since the referendum, the real impact of Brexit is brewing. Right now the weakened pound isn't being reflected on ticket prices. This is because companies plan their product purchase prices months in advance. Additionally, a lot of big businesses agree to buy currencies at a set rate  as early as a year in advance (it's usually more expensive than the day's rate, but it provides a kind of insurance for this situation). This is the reason why we don't see a reflection of a volatile currency market in our everyday shopping.
The pound is now set to stay weak, with some forecasters going as far to say that it will reach parity with the euro within 18 months, although other analyists predict it hovering around the 90p mark. This means that businesses will have to absorb these costs or pass them onto the customer, and there's no prizes for guessing which one it will be (don't be too hard on businesses, for a lot of them the weakened pound would completely erode their profit margin).
What does all this mean? Very simply, the prices in the shops will begin to increase. When this happens the average person will have to adjust their spending and that's when Brexit will start coming out in retail sales. If anyone is thinking about making a big ticket purchase my advice would be to do it now, while you can.

Therefore, neither side is correct in toting the July 2016 retail sales as proof of Brexit's success or failure and the sooner they all stop holding it up as word from our lord sterling, the better.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Layers of Failure Responsible for Dublin's Housing Crisis

Anyone who lives in Ireland knows that there is an unprecedented housing crisis happening in its capital, as well as mounting mini-crises in other cities around the island. Supply and demand are completely out of kilter. The unfortunate thing about housing issues is that they can't be solved quickly. The drafting of blueprints through to the key-in-the-front-door of any large scale property development takes years.
This leaves students, like myself, who need accommodation with a near impossible task. There are no easy or quick solutions; the end of the housing crisis will only come about when a broad range of properties are built.

The government shoulder a large portion of the blame for the current state of affairs. There has been a severe lack of investment into construction over the last five years; it's a dangerous game that they're playing. A housing crisis generates inflation of rents and property values, which leads to economic inflation. Economic inflation is associated with strong economic growth, so it makes it look as if Ireland's doing well for itself. The government can then roll out this line come election time.
The problem is that this leads to what is known as a 'property bubble', and bubbles always burst. The thing about politics is that it's very short-term, politicians are more worried about keeping their seat in the Dáil than they are about tomorrow's Ireland.

So, we have this base line of failure from the government not investing in housing. Who else is to blame? Property developers. Developers are more concerned with the end price of units than they are with the needs of a city. They want to maximise their investment so, understandably, concentrate their efforts on upmarket housing that will attract a big ticket price, made even more valuable because of a) the lack of housing and b) the grotty condition of what's available. If you've been paying €1,200 a month to live in a hole you'll be so blinded by damp walls that you'll take on whatever rent/mortgage your wage can get you because you're desperate to escape.
Whatever about morales, you can't exactly blame the players for a broken game. The planning permission stage should help stop people from being priced out of living in the city, and to be fair it sometimes does. But if people get knocked back from building yuppie apartments that doesn't mean they'll submit plans for affordable family homes.

The final layer of failure is the sticking plaster that the government has placed on this gaping wound. Schemes such as allowing homeowners to earn up to €12,000 tax free from renting spare rooms to students are not only failing students, but are insulting. Many homeowners charge a small fortune to begrudgingly allow a student 'guest'. Rules such as curfews and having to leave Friday morning while Monday morning firmly remind students that they aren't welcome. What's more, most students aren't children. The idea of paying to stay in someone's spare room hampers the idea that college is a time of independence and learning to care for yourself. It robs them of the personal growth higher education is meant to give them.
I know this because, at 22, I'm not prepared to take a step down in life and become someone's disliked lodger. I'm not prepared to pay €200 a week to be told when I can put clothes in a washing machine or put up with howling infants. I don't want to reply to an advert that tells me I can eat dinner "in the kitchen because we have family dinner in the dining room". And I don't think a governmental response that's the equivalent of smacking my independance in the face is the appropriate way to combat a housing crisis that comes up year after year, bigger and uglier each time.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Ireland's Proposed Sugar Tax

When I first wrote about the UK's proposed (and later introduced) sugar tax I knew that it was only a matter of time before Ireland followed suit. Not because we're one of the fattest countries in the EU, but because we're one of the most creative when it comes to hidden taxes.
There's a whole debate surrounding whether this tax will be of any use to the Irish public. I fleshed out some of the main issues here; an increase of, at most, 23% is actually a relatively small amount of money. People can lessen the costs by switching to generic brand or buying in bulk. From a health perspective, this tax would be ineffective.
Swapping to diet versions of sugary drinks would evade the tax, but it would only be marginally better for health. After all, it's not just weight that fizzy drinks attack. It's the teeth. The acid in these drinks erode enamel and contribute to tooth decay. Artificial sweeteners bring their own problems, which I won't go into here but as a gloss think increased hunger from the brain being tricked by signals from the tongue caused by the drink's sweet taste into believing that food is coming. Stomach acids starts a churning, but no energy is delivered.
If the government is serious about improving the nation's health, which I don't believe it is, the answer is to encourage the food industry to provide better alternatives. A fine example of this is the lack of availability of small bottles of milk. Milk is great drink because it contains calcium, which helps strengthen teeth, and protein, which helps us feel full and avoid snacks. It's especially important for growing children and women. However, it has its drawbacks. No one wants to drink room temperature milk and it doesn't keep very well outside of a fridge. The current lack of 200ml bottles means that people see milk as a drink you have in the home, not on the go. Where smaller bottles are available, or advertising has been spent on putting a milk product across as an on the go drink, the milk is laden with sugars, i.e. flavoured milk.
Another problem is the lack of education about the benefits of plain milk. The diet industry scaremongers people into thinking that semi-skimmed is responsible for all our spare tyres (when in actuality diet drinks are more to blame).
The National Dairy Council haven't sponsored this blog post. That long milk plug was about highlighting the other measures that can be taken, in conjunction with a sugar tax, to help improve the nation's health. It's exactly this kind of pro-active, long-term thinking that the Irish government won't engage in. They're only interested in lining the coffers.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Ghostbusters Reboot Review

This has been quite a controversial film, so instead of a general review I'm going to break it down point by point to flesh out exactly where this film went right and where it went wrong.
Cast Melissa McCarthy was the biggest name in this film and as one of the leading 'funny girl' actresses out there she was a perfect pick. Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon also starred and performed their roles well.
Female Probably the most headline-grabbing feature of this film, or certaintly the most concentrated on, was that this was an all female reboot. In the run up to Ghostbusters release it seemed as if this would be some kind of extended girl power flick, but it wasn't at all. Watching the film I didn't find myself thinking for one moment about the fact that the characters were women. It was just a film which happened to have women in it. It wasn't a feminist power-movement; it was just another film.
Plot The plot was well thought out and held the audience's attention. Basically there's a baddie who is trying to release a load of spooks on New York. The Ghostbusters must take him down. Having an female lead cast throws a fresh light on some of the humour of the film, but unlike a lot of comedies that star women, it's not gender exclusive comedy.
Script This is where the film really fell down for me. The comedy was hit and miss. Whilst there were some funny lines, made better by the actresses immersion in their roles, there was an over-reliance on one dimensional toilet humour. Thinking back to the original, it failed to deliver that same level of clever, yet accessible, comedy.
There was also a painful portrayal of the black character, Patty, as this streetwise, sassy woman juxtapositioned against three university educated white women. As far as comic relief goes, yes by all means add a sassy character, but don't make the massive boo boo of relying on that cringey stereotype of 'the black woman with street smarts'.
Special effects This element of the film was fabulous. It updated the 1984 film's look and delivered ghosts that were luminous and theatrical. Ghostbusters has never been a film that's designed to scare, so flamboyant and humorous spooks really hit the nail on the head.
There were also some great shots of the city being taken over by the ghosts and, again, these were funny and fantastic, and completely in line with what you'd expect from this franchise.
The Original Quite a few nods to the original film were made, most notably an excellent soundtrack which covered the most famous songs. Lots of cameo appearances too.
The Film's Success The film hasn't been very successful. At the time of writing, it's yet to make back its production costs. There are a number of contributors to this.
The advertising of this film has not been there. Sure, before it's release the trailer received a great deal of focus because of the controversy (sadly, even though it's 2016 this is the correct word) around rebooting the classic film with an all female cast. When the film itself was released, however, there seemed to be very little word about it. The Waterloo Station stunt was a good idea, but limited in its reach. More television advertisement would have been welcome. Social media also lacked.
Another bullet to the chest was that, upon its release, it received a lot of very critical reviews. Part of this is likely down to it being very difficult to live up to the original. Not only has the 1984 film stood the test of time, it stars beloved actors that have done the same. What's more, it's a film that's usually shown around the holidays so many people associate it with Christmas, close family times, childhood etc. So the 1984 film has got the benefit of being really good, but also the experience of the film and the nostalgia factor. It's a solid 10/10. Any new film would struggle to live up to that. Sexism also comes into play, although I think it faces more sexism from the people who haven't seen it rather than from people who have.
The combination of these two factors led to an intense amount of ridicule and impossible to meet standards. I think people from both sides of the debate have been too critical, but for different reasons. Because women don't usually get lead comedy roles there seems to be an intense scrutiny with some groups seeing it as women have yet to prove they're funny, and with other groups not wanting to be labeled as only liking the film because it's an all female cast. This has led to a tough challenge for Ghostbusters, one which it was never going to be able to meet.
The Future The film definitely seemed to line itself up for a sequel, but considering its lack of success it's doubtful one will be given the go ahead. It's a shame because it was a decent film and it does make headway for women being given broad comedic roles that doesn't just have them making jokes about bras and boys.
The Verdict It's worth watching, but go with an open mind. Hopefully it's the beginning of more female led films that appeal to a mixed gender audience.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Battle of Bikini Shopping

Bikini shopping. It's an absolute minefield. I would even go as far as saying that it's worse than trying to book a flight with Ryanair. To start with, who do you bring with you? You can't drag along any old friend because you're basically going to be stood in front of them in glorified underwear (which is fine on a beach, where everyone is semi-nude but not in a look and judge me situation). You can't exactly bring your mother because at the heart of bikini shopping is looking as shaggable as possible; it would be too weird to ask what your bottom looks like from the back. The easiest option is to brave the battlefield yourself and rely on your own judgement, because when have you ever bought anything that didn't suit you?
Of course, you're not really alone because surely every shop recognises that this is a painful experience for 99% of us and will do everything they can to ease that (short of providing a glass of champers at the fitting room entrance and lighting so dim you can't see your hand in front of your face). OH NO WAIT, that's the exact opposite of what they do. From the moment you get into the swimwear section you realise that you have walked onto the battleground with a water gun - and the other side have atomic bombs.
First of all, the sizing is horrendous because 70% of what is on offer is done by clothes size instead of underwear size. I would love to meet the size 8 top-and-bottoms woman, I really would, because then I might get to meet other fictional characters, like Santa and the Tooth Fairy. And the ridiculous claims the manufacturers make! I kid you not, I was holding a bikini top with "tummy control function" today. The only way I can fathom that one is if I free-boob it and tie the top around my waist.
Not to mention the colours. A tip for the industry, know your audience. Very few Irish women are going to be able to pull off fluorescent anything. Even less will look anything other than ridiculous in ruffled bikini pants or tasseled anything. Don't put a flamingo pattern anywhere near someone's bum. The only reason I can think for offering such lurid items is that women need something to one up men's Hawaiian shirts.
But of course, I've saved the worst for last; the dressing rooms. It's hard enough watching yourself undress in front of a mirror at the best of times, but throw in the harsh lighting and the fact that you're topless behind a curtain than never fully covers the entirety of the doorway and you have the recipe for a mental breakdown.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Ireland: Brexit's Biggest Loser

In the aftermath of Brexit, politicians in the UK and Ireland are trying to piece together a plan to deal with our murky future. George Osborne has taken a proactive approach to ensuring the UK remains an attractive place to conduct business and FDI; Enda Kenny has made the schoolboy error of believing that Arlene Foster would agree to anything with 'all-Ireland' in the title.
Osborne announced that Britain would cut its corporation tax to just 15%; following this the whole of Ireland shuddered because, that's it, we're truly scuppered. Ireland has been coasting on its 12.5% corp. tax since the Celtic Tiger was a cub. Operating costs in Ireland are some of the highest in Europe. Our infrastructure is barely above ass-and-cart level. Geographically, we're cut off from mainland Europe. Even our internet is lacklustre with many rural spots not even having access to broadband.
It has been suggested that because we're still part of the European Union (however long that may last) and we're a nation of first language English speakers (or so say the people who've never been to Cork) we'll still retain a competitive edge. I think, however, that's pushing it a bit. Plenty of French and German people speak excellent English. Plenty of Irish people would emigrate to a Paris or Berlin office if enough euros were offered, so our labour value isn't as solid as some would believe.
Ireland really needs to up its game. Dublin needs housing. The whole island needs decent trains and (toll-free) roads. Cities that aren't Dublin need investment. We need to capitalise on the fact that all that stands between us and America is the Atlantic (liberal us of 'all').

On its own, this would be a hard enough obstacle for a country that's only just crawling out of a recession. When it's added to our, frankly gross, over-dependence on the UK for trade the whole thing becomes a financial hurricane that's going to blow the country off the map. Why, oh why, in 43 years of European Union membership have we not managed to make better trade relations with the other member states?
This problem is best seen through an industry; the agri-food sector makes up almost 8% of the Irish economy. Out of this, 41% of exports go to the UK. If free trade isn't agreed we are going to suffer. Quite frankly, it's slack that the government didn't foresee the possibility that, one day, the UK might stop being our best customer. We've put all our eggs in one basket and now we're crying because there's a hole in the bottom.

What does the future hold? Not to sound like I have my head in the clouds, but I believe the UK will be okay in the long-term. It's always been known as a hub for business and its contingency planning is top notch right now thanks to post-crash measures. I'm aware that this sounds dangerously like blind faith, but, I mean, what else have we got?
Ireland, on the other hand, didn't get a say in Brexit but will be hit harder and longer than the UK. And, really, isn't it a bit of our own faults?

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Do Television Chefs owe a Duty of Care?

Cooking shows on television are as popular as they have ever been. Some have a half hour programme dedicated to cooking and baking, others get a five minute slot on a morning television show, others sweep the country into a foodie frenzy with a fast paced competition. But in an age of expanding waistlines and education on the dangers of obesity, is it time for these chefs to take on a some responsibility and to show their audience how to cook healthily?
Many people would agree with this, but there are others who will, quite rightly, point out that we are autonomous beings. There is also the well-founded argument that a calorific meal as part of an otherwise balanced lifestyle won't do anyone any harm. This is all true.
The other side, however, is that many people struggle to eat healthily. In fact, the main bugbear of dieters is that traditional diet food can be bland, or at least less appetising than a triple chocolate fudge cake. So when their favourite television chefs are loading on the lard it makes the whole lifestyle harder.
Those who command prime time television ought to recognise what the people need and show them how to make sensible, everyday food that is still bursting with flavour. The ability to make such food is far more skilled than adding together large amounts of fat and sugar. Accordingly, the chef who can show people how to ditch the excess oil and ramp up the flavour is a better chef than one who shows the people how to shove delicious chocolate inside of more delicious chocolate.
Some cookery shows have already picked up on this, but they tend to be few and far between and are trying to capitalise on the clean eating fad rather than promote a general healthy lifestyle. In a world where money doesn't grow on trees, some chefs also seem to forget that the average person cooking for their family haven't got the budget for chia seeds and birch water. They need to know how to make the cheaper cuts of meat taste like the prime cuts, they need to know how to make a smoothie for less than 50p a portion, they need lunchbox savvy recipes that will have their workmates peeking into their box with jealousy.
Television icons ought to take these concerns on board when designing their shows. I'm not calling for a cake-ban, instead show a variety of meals - both everyday and treats - with the average food budget in mind. We all like to watch the technical abilities that go into the more luxurious dishes, but perhaps it's time to get creative with the more mundane dishes too.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The 5 Stages of Brexit Grief

Denial - The denial stage hit me as soon as I saw Farage's face with a banner which read "Leave" on BBC 1 at 6am yesterday morning. I was getting ready for work and literally stopped in my tracks to stare at the screen. A wave of non-acceptance came over me and I spent the entire morning in a kind of haze. I work in an Irish petrol station and I repeated the news to a few English people, in a way, just to make sure that what I had heard was correct.
Anger - Social media lit up yesterday, as did mainstream news channels and online media outlets. Anger reared its head through a number of groups, most markedly the young voters who have accused the older generation of making a decision that they will not have to live with. Stripping away the niceties, basically a generation who has retired (and so is unaffected by EU worker protection) and will die soon will not have to deal with the economic fallout that is Brexit, yet they have led the vote to leave.
16 and 17 year olds are also - quite rightly - enraged at not having a say in a decision which will affect the following decades. General elections come and go, but referendums are forever.
Scotland is very mad too and is threatening to leave the UK; NI are making a few shouts as well. As my grandfather said, it's more like DK now (Divided Kingdom).
Bargaining - A petition for a second referendum has received over a million signatures. Some are claiming that those who voted to leave did so as a protest and never expected the result that came. There may be some truth to this, but seeing as ballot papers don't come with a separate box to give an explanation for your answer it's difficult to know the true extent of this. A second referendum is only slightly more likely than ignoring the referendum result altogether. Seeing as Cameron has stepped down, I think we can say with certainty that we are leaving the EU.
BBC London last night reported that London, which voted to remain, have ideas about remaining in the EU and separating. I have dubbed this Lexit; it will not happen. It's just reactionary politics.
Depression - 48% of voters have not got the result they wanted. The pound has taken a hit and the FTSE has taken a tumble. The economic impact has hit further afield, with the DAX smarting from the UK's decision as well. Frexit (France) and Nexit (Netherlands) are on the cards. Italy is a well-known eurosceptic. Junker has come out saying that Brexit with not be an "amicable divorce".
The bottomline is depression at the referendum result.
Acceptance - The leave campaign has won and we must begin the process of leaving the EU. The future is uncertain and there are legitimate fears which must be faced.
We don't know who will be leading us through this. Borris would be a disaster; Theresa, perhaps, a winner. George could be a candidate, but who would want to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer after him? It's a job that involves a lot of public hate. Michael Gove has also been tipped.  A dark horse may even enter the race, only time will tell.
Tentatively, I dare say, we will be okay. We will regroup and recover. It may take years, but it will happen. The EU, I'm afraid, is going to suffer a worse fate, but I suppose that's not so much of our concern anymore. Our 24 hour panic-period is over, we must now pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and carry on.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Life is Normal Again

I can confirm that my life is back to normal now that my finals are over and my results are out. I won't bore you with the details, but here are the headlines:

  • I have a law degree
  • I'm taking a master's in International and European Business Law in September
  • I'm moving to Dublin - but I have no flat yet
  • I'm still the editor of the QUBSLJ and my days are filled with reading hella amazing pieces written by UG students
  • I have had zero creativity over the last few months because of the stress of finals and university life, but I'm slowly coming back to life. 
I wish I could write something more exciting, but you guys were never reading my blog for sex and drugs and rock'n'roll lifestyle. When my brain gets back into gear I'll be write something wonderful, but, errrr, until then *eyes shift uncomfortably*.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Thoughts on the Fresh Meat Finale

The finale of Fresh Meat was brilliant. Rather than write an overview of it (which would just be fabby-doza repeated 500 times) I think it's better to examine how each character came out of the episode, and the series overall, and the strengths and weakness of that. Just for fun, let's go alphabetically.

Howard - perhaps the most feel good ending was Howard's. He gets the first class degree that he deserves and displays clear confidence in his ability to move to London. This isn't something that magically appeared; he's been steadily growing his social skills throughout the four series and it's become especially prevalent during this last one. It was fantastic to see his parents and his cringing, and it finally explained why, in series 3, he was so adamant that his mum couldn't come in to give him his birthday card. It also explains why he felt no remorse; traveling from Scotland isn't the same as bobbing over from two streets away.
Josie - there wasn't any big finish for Josie's character, but university wasn't ending for her so one wasn't called for. She has shown signs of growing up, demonstrable through planning to move in with Sabine. Admitting that she likes JP is also a big step, although when he behaves like an absolute tit you can see the reservation. It looks like she's stayed in the house (you can see her wallpaper in the background of the deleted scene Skype call), which answers the question of what happened to JP's house.
JP - seeing JP stand up to Tomathy was brilliant, not least because JP is incapable of the London lifestyle his brother leads. This is probably the character that has grown the most. At the beginning of the show he was a one-dimensional fool; his desperation for sex was seconded only by his desperation to be liked. When he refuses to be Josie's secret he shows that he's come so far and developed some serious self-respect. How well being an estate agent will do him remains to be seen. It's highly questionable whether he'd be able to cope on such a (relatively) modest income.
Kinsley - seems to have ended up with a pipe dream, but perhaps it will make him happy. You never know, he might be right and his new employer might love his blend of music and chat and give him a radio slot during the waking hours. It's really cute that the three boys end up living with each other and this will probably prevent him from stress-killing JP.
He seemed to cope quite well with the idea of Vodstock being a disaster, or at least it seemed that way when compared to his meltdown in the last episode. Is this a sign of growth? Or just an inability to panic any more?
Oregon - even allowing for her slacking off during her presidency, it doesn't quite add up that she got a 2:2 (remember how studious she was in first year?) especially when all the scene of her cramming and hiring a tutor are considered. Additionally, it makes no sense that she was SU president and a third year as presidency is meant to entail a sabbatical year. They (Vod, if I'm remembering correctly) even mention her taking a sabbatical if she becomes president in series 3.
Now she's off to trek a foreign country in the hopes of becoming a writer. On one hand, this is an obvious dead end. She's traveled before and it hasn't changed her life for the better. On the other hand, this is indicative of her character. She came off her gap year with notions of reinventing herself as 'Oregon', and traveling with Vod was responsible for her wanting to become a leader, so perhaps this next set of travels will at least bring change, even if it doesn't bring a book.
Vod - Vod started the show as a character who was so cool it hurt but underneath it all she cared a lot. Like JP, she was desperate to be liked. It's just she was a lot more likeable. Vod couldn't bear to be thought of as anything other than a legend, and you can see where that comes from when you look at her lack of family support. Hers was a good ending, because she got a good grade and has a happy demeanor, but I'm not sure how well it will actually turn out unless she does end up carrying on her education and becoming a really cool teacher. In the deleted scene she's gone away with Oregon which seems like she's just repeating more of the same and won't settle down. On the other hand, she has her degree in the bag so a few years of wanderlust might be what she needs to expel her energy.

Overall the ending was brilliant (have I mentioned that?) and it has been said that the idea of a film hasn't been dismissed. It would be great if it centered around a reunion ten years into the future.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Fresh Meat Finale Drinking Game

I was going to write a piece on how Fresh Meat is a modern classic that touches on the contemporary issues of student life, but then I thought I'd act in true student style and write a drinking game instead.
Drink every time...

  • Kingsley says something pretentious about music
  • JP wears red trousers
  • Vod doesn't swear in a complete sentence (I don't want you all to die)
  • Someone on screen takes a drink
  • Howard wears a classic jumper
  • Josie mentions pharmacology 
  • JP rhymes 
  • Oregon changes her hair 
  • JP and Josie get it on 
  • If anyone's parents appear 
  • The Old Stoic (JP's posh pseudo-friends) boys appear
  • If they all sit around and talk about that first day when they all sat around and drank tea (like Kingsley said they would) 
  • Sabine appears 
  • Kingsley mentions his mum
  • Tony Shales tries to win Oregon's affections
  • Howard gets a first
  • Vod mentions drugs
  • Anyone fails an exam
  • There's a happy ending, and then cry miserably because it's all over
  • Down your drink if there's a group hug!

 This game is best enjoyed over the course of a full four series binge. Of course, you can always revisit my interview with Dale Jones, aka 'Gary the goth' if you want a bit more Meat on your plate; if you can still see after all that Samuel Bucca, that is. 

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Review: Miss Fit Skinny Tea

I'm a lover of the health food shop and I will throw a fistful of euros at anything that claims to improve my health. I especially love a teatox as it puts me back on the healthy eating track if I've had a slip but also leaves me feeling energised and renewed. I was excited to try Miss Fit Skinny Tea as it's an Irish brand and I try to buy Irish whenever I can. Here's how I got on.

The Tea: The first thing I thought when I opened the tea was oh hell. It's loose tea, which is fiddly and annoying as you have to clean the infuser. You fill the infuser once every morning and make about 2/3 cups from it.
Sounds lovely, but this will leave your cup looking mank. I had to designate one cup to the teatox and then bleach it at the end of the fortnight because of the tea stains. Even the infuser will discolour if you don't give it a good scrub.
Another problem with loose tea is being unsure of exactly how much to put in the infuser and whether it will be the correct mix. Common sense tells you that, much like cereal with berries, the contents of the tea will settle into layers and won't be evenly mixed.

The Taste: There's only one tea to review here, unlike other teatoxes which have a morning and evening tea. If you like herbal tea then you'll likely enjoy this. It has a mild flavour, but make sure you get a goji berry into every infuser to add sweetness. It really makes a difference.

Restrictions: I was surprised by the free eating plan Miss Fit Skinny Tea provided as it was less restrictive than other teatoxes. At first I thought whoopee, but after two weeks I realised it was also less effective.
In fact, the whole plan was far too relaxed. It suggested giving up alcohol, but then says "[i]f you find this too much to give up, that’s OK, substitute soft drinks in spirits with soda water/tonic water and a DASH of cordial". Hang on now, if you can't give up alcohol for a have problems. Also how can you expect to detoxify your body if you continue to load in toxins? This was a real red flag.
You're meant to avoid citrus fruits, except for the liver cleansing lemon, lime and grapefruit, but it's not explained why you need to do this. Also, that only leaves oranges. What's wrong with oranges?
Besides from avoiding fatty meats, the plan is just basic healthy eating. It suggests replacing dairy with non-dairy substitutes, but then says unsweetened yogurt is okay. That doesn't really make sense as why is yogurt okay but not milk? They may have an explanation for this (I would guess because of healthy bacteria in yogurt) but, on the other hand, they might have plucked it out of thin air, or Instagram.
Finally, this is a minor point, the eating plan varied the use of ok, OK, and okay. That's not okay. That shows ineptitude and low business skill.

Results: None worth speaking about.

The price: You can purchase directly from the Miss Fit Skinny Tea website where a 14 day teatox will set you back €24.99/£18.26 plus €5/£3.65 for the infuser plus €1.99/£3.65 for P&P, if you're some kind of fool that is.
You can also buy them in certain stores around the country. I wouldn't recommend it, but if you're dead set on trying this then either keep a look out in your local health food shop or chemist, or email them to ask for a list of suppliers.

A Final Word: Miss Fit Skinny Tea boasts about how its product doesn't produce a laxative effect like some other teatoxes can. It specifically points at Bootea. I've reviewed Bootea and I can tell you, don't worry. Two friends of mine tried Bootea, after reading my review, and the world didn't fall out of their arses either. The warning is there in case you experience that as a side effect, it's not guaranteed.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Answer to The Holylands

If the 17th of March is a day for drinking and celebration, the 18th of March is a day for moaning and whining. And yes, residents, I'm looking at you.
We can't pretend that the actions on the 16th of March - namely the bottles thrown at the police - were right, but we also can't pretend that such behaviour is the norm of the Holylands. Scenes from the St Patrick's Day celebrations paint the place quite badly but it's an isolated incident on one day of the year.

What is more concerning are the residents calling for Stormont to take action against it and the universities' promises to have officers roaming around the place (which basically equates to a fun police). Reports on the matter are entirely one-sided and exaggerated. One resident claimed that "every night during term time" there was "drunkenness" and "nastiness". Having lived on Agincourt Avenue for a year I can attest that the majority of students go home every weekend so immediately the idea of drunkenness every night is defeated. Admittedly, Monday and Wednesday nights would be loud (thanks to Fly and The Bot) but besides from that the place was fine. I've never seen nastiness, high spirits due to high spirit consumption yes, but nastiness no.

When interviewing a landlord, BBC NI asked whether he should be doing more to police his tenants. Sorry, but what part of a tenancy agreement includes your landlord becoming your quasi-guardian? The interviewer had the cheek to suggest that he should be out making sure they're not drinking on the street or dropping litter. Why on earth should blame be apportioned to a private landlord? Do we not have the PSNI to ensure that people aren't drinking on the street? Are there not council wardens who watch out for litter bugs? A landlord has enough to worry about without playing daddy to Carmel Street.

The real kicker is the way that the reports have dismissed student input. One boy suggested having more bins about the place to reduce the amount of littering. The interviewer all but laughed in his face. Why? He made a good point. There used to be a bin outside my house and every morning it would be overflowing with rubbish from the night before. If that's happening on a regular basis what can the council expect when large crowds gather? A bit of foresight, perhaps bringing in a few temporary skips for the day, could have saved a lot of hassle. The fact is, a lot of the people in the Holylands would use a bin if it was convenient.

Finally, it is true that the Holylands cause problems but instead of throwing more disciplinary measures and CCTV at the students we need to go to the root of the issue. Students live there because it's cheap, but the houses are often cramped and in disrepair. No one is going to respect a shoddy place. In addition, the Holylands has a huge student population in a small concentration. All this creates an environment for havoc. If the universities really want to tackle the issue they should focus on creating more affordable student housing (frigg off, John Bell House) so instead of one giant disruptive area students are dispersed and integrated with the rest of Belfast.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Budget 2016 Breakdown

The Liquids: surprisingly, fuel duty has been frozen again. Huzzah. Beer, cider, and spirits too (nothing else would have been acceptable on St Patrick's Day Eve). However, the wine-ers and smokers have something to whine about, as they're subject to inflation and above inflation rises on existing duties. 
Moolah: I realise a lot of my audience are young people, like myself, and therefore are unlikely to have enough money to be affected by these changes, but what the heck. Let's talk about them anyway. There's a new 'lifetime' ISA which means you can save up to £4,000 a year and the government will top you up a pound for every four. You can only withdraw the cash (with the bonus) if you want to buy your first house or after 60, so basically a pension saving. 
The ISA limit will rise from its current £15-ish thousand to £20,0000. Great, now I can save that full spare £20,000 instead of keeping £5,000 under my mattress. 
Capital gains tax is being cut. Don't boohoo this as a rich person's saving, there will come an unfortunate day when you inherit a house from your parents. Or a good day when you sell your first home to buy a bigger one. 
The 40% income tax rate is rising to £45,000. However, perhaps more relevant is that tax-free personal allowance is rising to £11,000 in April and £11,500 the April after. 
Schools: All schools are to become academies. Same faeces different title. 
Rail: Crossrail 2 in London (because London gets everything) and HS3 between Leeds and Manchester (you can almost hear George Osborne screaming Northern Powerhouse). 
Disability: There are changes being made to the Personal Independence Payments and a reduction to employment and support allowance. I won't pretend to have a firm grasp on this subject, and if you read the budget itself it's not explained very well. It's bad though, and the fact it comes with increased support to get more disabled people into work/support them at work doesn't cover up the dastardliness of it. Disability Rights UK has a response to it here
Business: Corporation tax is being reduced to 17% next year. Business rates are being changed, but I won't break this down. I've always hoped my readership is busy people living their lives, not insomniacs looking for a cure. 
Arts: Museums and orchestras are getting some tax relief. 
Soft Drinks: There's a new soft drinks levy which will be paid by producers, and undoubtedly passed onto consumers. Whilst I didn't agree that the proposed sugar tax would make a difference to people's habits, I do support this. Soft drinks are a menace for sugars and should be a treat. Some people may say that it unfairly punishes those who enjoy them in moderation, but if you truly enjoy them in moderation this new tax will barely affect you. 
The tax is to be staggered, so if a drink has >5g of sugar per 100ml it will be be cheaper than one containing >8g. Put into perspective, the lower band would mean a 500ml bottle of pop could contain up to 25g of sugar, that's 6 teaspoons of sugar! 
However, sugary milk drinks won't be subject to this tax, nor will fruit juices. So there's plenty of semi-indulgent options as well as good auld water. 
Also, the revenue from this tax is to go into schools and sports in England, and, thanks to devolution revolution, NI, Scotland and Wales can do what they like with it. It has been tipped that Scotland will introduce a third tap onto all sinks which dispenses free Irn Bru. 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

A Response to Joan Bakewell

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Joan Bakewell has stated that the rise in teenage eating disorders is down to "narcissism". Making the observation that eating disorders don't occur in poverty ridden countries, mentioning Syria especially, she attributes the UK's own problems with food to mindless self-indulgence.

Nevermind the countless medical studies which have shown a wide variety of factors which influence the illnesses, such as social, economic, environmental, psychological, and familial conditions. No, it's all down to navel gazing.
Let's ignore that 50% of people who suffer from eating disorders also suffer from depression 1 (a surprisingly low percentage if nothing else) which is a recognised mental illness, unlike narcissism. Let's ignore that less than half of sufferers will recover, which for something supposedly caused by trivial narcissism is ridiculous when you consider that some of these people will go on to kill themselves - either through their illness or by suicide. But the real kicker here is ignoring that sufferers often report hiding their bodies and feeling ashamed of their looks the further they enter their illness. Which doesn't really compute with people willfully starving themselves in order to be attractive.
As far as the argument about eating disorders not occurring in impoverished countries goes, I would direct Joan to do some incredibly simple research into psychology; Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs springs to mind. Very briefly, it's the theory that people's needs are stacked in a pyramid. Their basic needs (food, shelter etc) are on the bottom and only once these are met can they move on to worrying about the next set of needs. Sufferers of eating disorders often come from a comfortable background, they don't need to worry about food. Instead they're worrying about a, yes, their appearance, but also education, pressures to meet work demands, pressures to achieve. Eating disorders are a way of managing these pressures. It's far more complicated than a boy or a girl loading up an Instagram account, seeing #goals and deciding to take on a mental illness.

My advice to Baroness Bakewell would be to keep her suggestions to herself, until she has conducted a study which backs up these ludicrous claims. Suggesting possible causes willy-nilly only contributes to a culture of misunderstanding. People die from this, they lose their ability to have children, they sentence themselves to osteoporosis, their mental health is shredded. Many never really recover. Brushing it all aside as some teenage self-indulgence is not only incredibly insulting to sufferers, but serves to highlight Joan's own ignorance on the matter.

beat is the leading eating disorder charity in the UK.

Monday, 29 February 2016

My Journey Through Yoga

On the first of February, my birthday, I joined a yoga class as a kind of new year (of age) resolution.
Week One: I'm quite impressed by the yoga studio. It has hardwood floors and permanently dimmed spotlights, incense hangs lightly in the air and there's soft relaxing music playing. There are different types of yoga classes and my friend tells me we're in the most intense and energetic one. She's definitely telling the truth - after the first class I head straight to town to buy a sports bra.
Everything generally goes well this week. I can get into most poses without extreme difficulty. However, I've discovered that my balance is as poor as I always thought it was and I have a sneaking suspicion I either have short arms or long legs. Towards the end of the week I have a dull ache all over my body, so I must be doing some good. Additionally, I'm permanently hungry. Am probably the only person to put on weight since beginning yoga.
Week Two: I've been so convinced that a limb irregularity is the cause of my inability to touch my feet that I've measured myself against my flatmate. Turns out I'm an averagely sized, inflexible woman. My yoga teacher has definitely noticed this.
Everyone else in the class had a really good body. I'm still running on above average levels of hunger so any benefit my stretching is doing is being massively outweighed by my potato consumption.
Week Three: The constant muscle ache I'd been experiencing over the last two weeks has gone, but my yoga abilities are still underwhelming. I'm seriously considering asking my yoga teacher to look at my measurements because I'm convinced something is off.
I'm starting to get the yoga terminology (I haven't attempted it so far lest I be laughed out of the studio). My favourite class is yang-yin yoga because it has a lot of poses where number one consideration is your own comfort.
Week Four: By now I thought I'd be able to see some physical benefit but after 3 classes a weeks for 4 weeks I've not seen any real change. I know these things don't happen overnight, but 4 weeks seems like a long time with no improvement. I'm a bit jaded about this, and it doesn't help that during one of the moves I pulled a muscle in my arm. It's literally the most painful thing to have ever happened to me during exercise and I legit thought I was going to cry.
Verdict: Taking a holistic view, yoga has been a good experience. It hasn't delivered any great physical benefits but taking that time to focus on myself made me feel calmer and more balanced. However, I don't think I'll be able to continue with classes as they are quite expensive and time consuming. In the future I may take up the practice again.
If you're wondering whether to give yoga a go I would definitely tell you to try it. There are a lot of different types of yoga. Some classes are more active, some focus on restorative moves and some are about balancing the self. It'd be easy to find something to suit your needs.The bottom line is that the practice is very personal and, as pants as this sounds coming from a review, the best thing to do is to try it for yourself.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Why Short-Term Loans Need Tighter Advertising Controls

Around this time last year tighter restrictions came in on payday loans which meant that companies had to take more responsibility about who they lent to. They also had to take action to prevent these loans from snowballing out of control and the legislation placed a cap on how much interest could be charged. It was a welcome change because, at the time, things were getting out of hand.
However, more needs to be done about the way these companies advertise. Like many others, I use social media and I'm being inundated by targeted advertisements which encourage me to take out money. Some feign being helpful and understanding, wanting me to know that their loans are tailored for students to help when times get tough. Others encourage me to be reckless with money and to treat myself to things I can't afford.
This is a real problem because these adverts target the vulnerable during what is still a highly tentative financial time. We're barely out of the recession, and according to most financial advisors it's nipping at our heels hard, but at the same time the media is inundating us with images of wealth and glory. Load up any Instagram account and you're guaranteed to find girls posing with designer handbags and million dollar smiles (they're veneers, folks).
Surrounded by all this wealth and pressure of course it's difficult to open your own wardrobe and see Primark's finest. So what we don't need is a little devil on our shoulder encouraging us to spend now and worry later. The harsh fact of life is that if you're on a low wage you can't afford those things, and if you ignore this and take money out you'll either get yourself into financial hot water or you'll spend the rest of the year spending obscene amounts on interest payments.
Payday loans should be advertised responsibility. In and of themselves they're no more evil than having a credit card, but they should mark themselves out as being an emergency option. If a large appliance breaks, for instance, or if the car suddenly needs a repair. In these infrequent situations a payday loan can be a lifesaver and a valuable service. But the payday loan lifestyle, frequent borrowing for unnecessary purchases, is something to be discouraged.
Of course, there's no where near as much money in the sensible approach so don't be expecting to see it any time soon.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

If You Photograph Your Avocados You Should Be Banned From Buying Them

Let me begin by saying that I am a health enthusiast. I have a Holland and Barrett's loyalty card, I am a recognised figure at my local health food shop, I haven't been to the doctor for anything less than immense lasting agony in years. So when I tell you I love avocados, alternative medicine and almond butter it comes from real emotion, not Instagram-hype.
Here is the problem, good people like myself are getting eyerolls from the public whenever we discuss our love of a perfectly ripe avocado. It's a simple delight that has been destroyed by over-exposure to social media. Suddenly, our passion has been lumped in with jackasses who have seen this fruit (!) trending on social media and have decided that they suddenly love it too, so much so that they must pose next to it in a sports bra with the hashtag 'FollowingTheCrowd', or, even more popular, 'LookAtMyBreasts'.
The worst of the offenders are the ones who serve up their avocados on toast BECAUSE THAT'S THE WORST WAY TO SERVE THEM! It's so bland and horrible, but because it makes for a pretty picture these idiots suffer their way through a horrible breakfast. Hella likes, 'yo.
Why should I care? I don't use Instagram (no one wants to see my boring life, even I would rather ignore it) so the idiocy that is an endless stream of peanut butter on everything doesn't affect me, however it affects the people around me. Suddenly, people class me as an avocado-on-toast moron, and that just isn't cricket.
So, please, I beg of you. Think of a new trend. Health food has already been claimed by myself and many other lovely people. We have already suffered through years of people peeking into our lunchboxes with ill-disguised disgust. We have already spent a small fortune on daily vitamins and natural supplements. We have already held our noses whilst downing some vile, green mixture that promises to do our cells a major favour (here's looking at you, wheatgrass). After suffering through all of this we do not need to be subjected to public ridicule that stems from your arrogant navel-gazing.
Avocado lover out *drops mic*

Me too, avocado, me too.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Review: Dee's Vegan Sausages

I'm not a vegan, but I'm not stranger to veggie alternatives to meat having spent five years as a vegetarian (and four shoddy months as a vegan). Now I eat meat and fish on a regular basis, but I also cook veggie meals because they taste good and, often, they're cheaper.
When it comes to sausages I never buy the meat version. This is because Gdad used to be a butcher and he will tell you stories about what goes into those fleshy little horrors if you don't buy the top of the range ones. Additionally, they're so high in fat I have to shun them for the sake of my thighs. And, have you tried the Linda McCartney ones? Because I have, and they taste just like Gregg's sausage roll meat without the imminent heart attack or the price tag of upmarket sausages.
Now that you know the background to this review, and that I'm not just a meat fanatic slagging off vegan food, let's talk about Dee's.

Serving suggestion: mushroom, 'sausage', bread,
tomatoes and disappointment sauce.

The product: The packaging is upmarket and reassures you that you're not about to tuck into some hippy-dippy fungus mullarky. However, the product information is more pretentious than a D4 housewife. Taking the front first, vegan is underlined, twice. On the back, Dee asserts herself as a nutritionist - a phrase we all know is an unprotected term, and also a synonym for food charlatan.
The ingredient list tells us not only what's in the sausage, but that the legumes used are sourced from an environmentally friendly crop (did we not assume this?) with no need for irrigation and nitrogen fertilizers. Well, blow me down. I didn't even think to worry about that.
Admittedly, I did wonder what would be in vegan sausages, and I would have assumed it would be a myriad of chemicals attempting to imitate meat. However, Dee's sausages contain a mix of pea protein, beans and seaweed (seaweed having been hailed as a superfood a few years ago), as well as some other bit and bats, so fair play to Dee, it appears to be all good stuff.
How they cooked: They don't hold their shape. At. All. Admittedly I didn't put any oil on them before I grilled them, like the packaging had suggested, because usually things that suggest oil cook fine without it. They stuck to the tinfoil like flies to honey. However, they browned quite nicely. Had I put on oil, they would have probably been aesthetically pleasing.
How they tasted: They first thing I reported to my family was, "You can really taste the seaweed." After that, there is a generic bean taste. For something that is 'spiced' with coriander, pepper and ginger there is an overwhelming sense of eating beany seaweed. Perfectly pleasant, but not something I would clamour for. Probably best served in a sandwich so that the slightly mushy texture goes unnoticed.
Shelf life: Each pack has a few weeks on it, however, once opened they should be eaten within one day. Does Dee know half a can of beans can last up to three?
Serving suggestion: Three sausages, and seeing as six come in a pack, this means you get two servings per pack.
Cost: €3.99!!! FOR BEANS AND SEAWEED. Absolute madness. You'd want a sneaky nip of pampered pork in these bangers to make it worth it.

Final verdict: Not on your life.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Barbie's Makeover

News broke today about the biggest transformation in Barbie's history, the release of three new sized dolls. The prized playtoy will now be available in tall, petite and curvy. What most likely prompted Mattel's revamp of our favourite babe is the backlash against Barbie's - apparently - unrepresentative and unrealistic beauty standards.
Of course, no one has taken a blind bit of notice about tall or petite Barbie, but let's give them some limelight for the sake of it. When scaled up, classic Barbie is reported to be 6ft already so one would wonder how tall this tall Barbie is going to be and, more importantly, whether she will fit into classic Barbie's car. And going by my own experience with off-brand shorter dolls, petite Barbie will likely be treated as a teenager, not classic Barbie's short friend.
Now let's move onto IT girl curvy Barbie. She's definitely all there and will be sure to appear in love rival scenes against classic Barbie, making Ken's smooth areas all tingy. It's great to see these new dolls because they encompass a wider range of beauty, but there's a danger of taking them too seriously and celebrating them for something they aren't.

How will outfit swapping work?

The thing I remember most about playing with Barbie dolls is the intricate stories I used to come up with. I had two Ken dolls to countless Barbies, so these two guys were showered with female affection and cat fights were an everyday occurrence. I had a Fisher Price dollhouse with solid plastic dolls that were less than an inch in height, who were inexplicably my Barbie dolls' cousins. My imagination ran wild every time I picked up those dolls and toys that looked different only enhanced the experience, so it's great that these new different dolls are available. Children will have so much fun thinking of new stories based on these traits. However, this is no major revolution for self-image because, this cannot be stressed enough, a child's perception of body image should come from their parents. Barbie is not the root of all evil, nor does playing with those dolls guarantee to warp your beauty standards. What's important is what you're told everyday by the people around you and, to an extent, the media (although children's programming is generally well censored and diverse). The problem of girls undervaluing themselves does not solely stem from a toy. We are the problem.
Additionally, it's incredibly patronising to assume a child will see a doll and not be able to distinguish reality from make-believe. When I was a child there was a somewhat diverse range to choose from, but the majority of my Barbies (and I had a lot) were the standard blonde Barbie. It never affected me in that I never disliked my own non-blonde hair. In fact, I never owned a ginger Barbie and I never asked for one. Barbies were toys to me, and I suspect to many others. I didn't want to mirror them. I just wanted to create a complicated murder plot involving a large-headed Bratz.

So let's try to keep our cool with these new dolls and not treat them as the end to all our problems. We still need to instill into children that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and that there is no one set standard for beauty. Yes, these toys can aid in that explanation, but it's the communication between parent and child which is paramount to achieving real change.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

My Life as a Desperate Third Year

There are so many brilliant people out there who faithfully read my blog, or at least there's one super-dooper person who spends all day refreshing their browser, and I feel quite guilty for not posting for a while. Well, it's one part guilt two parts fear that you'll forget about my blog and subscribe to some other whiney law student.
For the life of me I have nothing to say, that's why I haven't written in so long. I don't want to bore you with the kind of S-H-I-T-E that passes as writing on some sites, you know those feeds that seem to buzz with idiocy and leave you feeling like knowledge has somehow left your brain at the end of each article (read between the lines on that one). Nor do I delude myself into thinking that any of you give a toss about what's going on in my life unless it ends in embarrassment and/or pain or can at least be delivered with humour. Hence the radio silence.
For the last two months I've been writing essays which count for way too much of my grade for me to waste time having a life. It has been so sinfully boring I have no doubt that God Himself hasn't even bothered watching over me that much. The fruits of my labour are 2.9 essays (still not done, am I ever?) and one joke that I made up during a delusional state of Company Law boredom:

Q. What do gingerbread shareholders want?
A. Profit-eroles!