Thursday, 14 December 2017

10 things you must know before you travel to Japan

One of my friends is teaching English in Japan so I was keen to take advantage of the cool travel opportunity while also spending time with her. However, even with my previous travels and my friend to guide me, things still took me by surprise while I was there!

Therefore here are my top 10 tips you must know before you travel to Japan!

Mt Fuji from the Chureito Pagoda @orange.girl.deb

1. No credit cards

Like, anywhere! Cash is still very much a thing and most places won't even have a card machine. While I was doing my travel prep shopping (hello travel mini section of boots) I exchanged a bit more than I expected to spend so that I had an emergency fund. I was super glad I did this as I didn't really believe how sparse card payments would be so I only exchanged more money begrudgingly. Most places will offer a buy back guarantee so that if you have spare at the end of your trip then you can just swap it straight back again. It did make me feel rich while I was carrying 10000 yen notes.

You also can't just hand people money either! You have to bow and put it in a little tray next to the till for them to pick up even in restaurants. I have no idea why. Sometimes they hand your change back to you (bow again and take it with both hands if you can) but sometimes that goes in the little tray too and you have to pick it up as tipping isn't a thing! The little tray clearly has more complicated rules than I understand.

2. Vending machines are awesome

I arrived at 10am having spent the previous 16 hours on a plane so I was in need of coffee. Ami instantly pointed me towards a vending machine. They are literally everywhere and each one will have about 30 things on offer some cold and some hot. I'm not talking hot drinks like a hospital waiting room coffee, but proper already sealed pre-prepared drinks which are vended at a lovely toasty temperature! Once you get over drinking a coffee from a normal bottle its actually really useful and means you can reseal a warm drink and put it in your bag rather than lose an arm all afternoon to hold your starbucks. I got quite into the lemon tea which was sold everywhere but you could also get milky tea, coffee, soup, and ramen too!

Taken from 'Cool Japan Guide' by Abby Denson which was a great book!

3. Rubbish is hard

So now I've had my toasty beverage and I want to throw away the bottle.... well there just aren't bins. You have to find another vending machine that will have a bottle recycle attached to it. Even in people's homes you have to split waste into paper, plastic, PET plastic, burnables, food waste, and goodness knows what else. I found myself contemplating "does this burn? is it paper? paper burns but it goes in paper not burnables? its got a plastic layer so is it plastic? what's PET? what am I doing with my life?!" Some places insist you put your name on your bin bag so that if it contains incorrectly sorted waste then it can be returned to you to try again!! Who knew you could be incompetent at throwing something away?

I do hope however that all this rubbish sorting is for a good amount of recycling. David Attenborough keeps telling us that we're killing the oceans with plastic and I really don't want to make David sad. On a side note how good is Blue Planet II???

4. Shoes need to be easy

This was something that completely bamboozled me at the first restaurant we went to but I quickly got good at. You have to be able to put on and take off your shoes quickly and ideally without touching them or falling over. Houses, hostels, and some restaurants will have little steps where you need to stand with your back to the step, slide your foot our of your shoe, and step backwards onto the raised platform. Outdoor shoes can NOT go beyond the little step. Slippers are a must, as are presentable socks so I made sure to pack matching pairs with no holes! I had packed tall boots and converses which hardly got worn as they both need significant touching to get on and off. Plus you need to be able to put shoes back on when your legs have gone to sleep from sitting cross legged on the floor at the diner table.

5. Prepare for rice

While I'm talking about restaurants I will talk about food. I was really impressed with how tasty the food was while I was out there. You get to have a lot of fun with your food unlike the UK. We cooked our own okonomiyaki (a kind of chunky omelette pancake thing), we ordered sushi on a conveyor belt including natto (fermented soya beans), and I ate a cartoon character (gudetama)! You can also pick crockery up to have food close to your mouth which felt excitingly naughty (I know I am very sad). Most of it was lactose free so I had no issues there and for the most part it was low fat too! The only issue was it's low everything else as well. Most meals you get:
  • soup - usually miso or a broth
  • while sticky rice
  • a protein thing - usually fish or pork but about a quarter of the portion size I would expect at home
  • pickles
  • something else - cinnamon omelette/ lemongrass tofu/ something unidentifiable but tasty
So while everything was nice I felt a little lacking in vitamins, protein and fibre. Each of which showed increasingly throughout my trip and my little sniffle turned into a large cold, my flight aches didn't heal, and well.... I was reminded why fibre is an important part of any diet.

At all the convenience stores (called Kombinis) you can buy a plethora of tiny bottles of supplement drinks to offset these dietary deficiencies. I didn't see any protein ones but certainly vitamin and fibre drinks were widely available. What was also on offer were a range of drinking aid supplements which apparently help your body cope with alcohol. We got some prior to a night out and I deliberately drank it before I googled to see what was in it -  beef liver and turmeric if you're interested but how they managed to make it taste like orange soda I will never know. I have no idea it it made any difference at all but even a placebo effect is useful!

6. Look up

I haven't even got through the first day and I'm already on #6 of things you need to know! It really is a different world in so many ways but, to my surprise, it wasn't alienating. My first day passed in a surreal combination of over stimulation, confusion, laughing, and jet lag! 

We headed into Tokyo city for dinner. We stepped into a building and Ami instantly headed for he lift. I was confused but she explained that different floors had different things on them and we were headed to a restaurant that occupied the entire 8th floor! It seemed such a strange thing for restaurants and shops to be up in the air without it being a shopping centre or a place of work. 

So for the rest of my trip I was constantly looking up to see what was on each level of the buildings. There didn't seem to be any theme to buildings either - a building could be a pet shop on the ground, clothes shops next, and then restaurants and bars too! 

7. You're now a Gaijin 

In Yoyogi Park @orange.girl.deb
Gaijin literally means "outside person" and anyone who isn't Japanese will fit into this box. Initially I assumed it just applied to westerners or Caucasian people but on closer inspection there don't seem to be any people of colour in Japan! Or at least very few. Being a gaijin means people stare at you. I never felt uncomfortable with the stares and they felt more out of curiosity than hostility. Even while walking through some touristy areas or right in the city centre where you'd think that seeing a white woman wouldn't be that unusual, eyes looked at me.

On my second day there we got all the stares by renting kimono in Harajuku (an area of Tokyo) and going for a walk to a large city temple - the Meiji shrine in Yoyogi Park. Some people stopped us and asked for photos which was fun, and some people took our photos from afar which seemed rude to be honest. A couple of times older ladies approached us and told us we looked nice so overall the reaction seemed positive! I was unsure about renting kimono as it is literally cultural appropriation for a pair of white women to wear traditional Japanese dress for fun - cultures are NOT costumes. But I was assured from multiple sources that the Japanese encourage tourists to experience their culture including the clothing.

That being said, you can never stop being a gaijin it seems. Even if you spent 60 years in Japan or were born there - if you have international features you will never be Japanese and accepted fully into a community. This seems sad from a British point of view and I guess another thing I didn't understand while I was there.

8. Do you know where your towel is?

Sadly this doesn't mean that the Japanese are all Douglas Adams fans but it genuinely means that most people carry a little towel with them wherever they go. Ami gave me one when I arrived and it has Mt Fuji on it - super cute. But this is actually something really useful... I'll explain. 

Toilets are everywhere in Japan - it's wonderful! They're all free and clean and always have loo roll! The Japanese must not know the struggle that is struggling to find 30p to visit the loo at Euston station while desperately trying not to wet yourself or be trampled on by the huge queue backing up behind the turnstile. There are loos in kombini, in train stations, by the side of the road, on trains,everywhere! Its a glorious buffet of commodes. However what nearly none of the loos had was a way to dry your hands! Hence the little towel. 

What was more worrying though was that a lot of them didn't have soap either so may people simply don't bother to wash their hands,.... gross. It now makes a lot more sense why so many people wear face masks as genuinely the lack of hygiene combined with how expensive non-prescription medications are means that it must be super germy everywhere. I kept my towel and wished I had brought hand gel.

9. It's beautiful 

This one struck me time and time again no matter where I was. The country genuinely is beautiful. The countryside was beautiful with its autumnal foliage, the mountains were beautiful with their snow capped peaks, the cities were beautiful with not a 70s concrete monstrosity in sight, and even the suburbs were beautiful with little winding streets and a peaceful stillness that I've only ever felt before on a mountain top in Brazil. Design seems to have been considered a lot and even when an environment hasn't been artificially designed it seems to have developed organically to be in balance. I wish I had more skill with a camera as some of the views were stunning.  

Walking up to Chureito Pagoda @orange.girl.deb

10. It's weird but safe - go with it

My last and final thing you must know before you travel to Japan is probably the one I would recommend most - its weird but don't worry just go with it! I am good at watching my back while away and keeping myself safe but none of my danger spidey senses kicked in at all this trip! Well actually no, a guy approached me at a club purely because I was white which made me uncomfortable but he left once I found my friend and even then you get creepy dudes in the UK so I wouldn't count that as a unique experience to Japan. 

Other than that, the trip was a brilliantly surreal experience without any hint of a dangerous situation. And when I say weird I do mean weird. Literally everything we did has something that was at the least slightly comical/strange. I saw an indoor carnival with giant robots, I went to a real pokemon centre, I visited a giant statue of a rabbit setting a raccoon on fire, I met Nathan Fillion (!), I ate at a restaurant based on a sad egg, and I observed some of the most weird and wonderful social etiquette just to name a few! But if I had been somewhere else I might have worried about safety and I might not have had such a rich experience. 


My Week in Japan:

Day 1 - Tokyo
Visited: Royal palace, robot restaurant
Ate: ominomiyaki
Highlight: meeting Nathan Fillion

Day 2 - Tokyo
Visited: harajuku, Meiji shrine, Club Camelot
Wore: kimono
Highlight: being dressed in a kimono and 7-Eleven karaage chicken (not simultaneous) 

Day 3 - Tokyo
Travelled: Shinkansen (bullet train)
Felt: hungover 
Ate/Highlight: The best ramen ever

Day 4 - Komoro 
Visited: shopping mall
Ate: natto sushi at sushiro
Highlight: buying all the things at Daiso (100 yen/66p shop)

Day 5 - Komoro
Visited: Nowhere I was ill
Felt: Ill
Highlight: Nothing I was ill

Day 6 - Tokyo
Visited: Pokemon Centre, Gudetama cafe
Ate: giant apple, gudetama, matcha tea, pork and sake
Highlight: the restaurant host having an Arsenal shirt above the bar!

Day 7 - Mt. Fuji
Visited: Lake Kawaguchi, Kachi Kachi Ropeway
Ate: gross rice stodge on a stick and then Japanese Curry and beer
Highlight: autumnal colours round the lake

Day 8 - Mt Fuji
Visited: Chureito Pagoda
Ate: matcha kitkat
Highlight: Waiting for Mt Fuji to peep out through the clouds

Monday, 23 October 2017

Paris: Swinging Belleville rendez-vous

Forever ago I went to Paris. Ok not actually forever but like a few months.... July. Wow how far away is July?!

Originally, Sam and I were going to go for a yoga break in Portugal, when that was a bit pricey we rearranged to a weekend in Rome but by the time we went to book flights they were too expensive so we ended up in Paris. I've never been so I was actually thrilled with the turn of events that took us there.

I do believe we had the most cliché time in Paris.... and it was excellent!

We had croissant and espresso for breakfast in a quiet cafe watching the downpore and somehow the Parisian streets looked even more romantic for the rain. Manchester in the rain looks like an ashtray when someone's spilt their pint in it but Paris was effortlessly picturesque for the inclemency. The rain continued as we stood in a queue for the Louvre and it got really un-romantic really quickly. The Louvre reminded me of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in the way its sheer size is intimidating. I was also annoyed that I was a few months too old for a free ticket (26 and under) however Sam was delighted. We spent the morning soaking up as much culture and history (and rain) as possible and I felt drastically under dressed next to Parisians. How do they manage to make jeans look so stylish?

Continuing the tourist theme we went on an open top boat tour of the city and now know far too much about the bridges of Paris. I was also thrilled to note our guide had a copy of The Great Gatsby in her pocket which when combined with her fringe, round glasses and red lipstick made her the epitome of how I imagined she would be.

In the evening, yes I am still talking about the same day, we booked tickets to go to to a La Nouvelle Eve Cabaret! I'd never been to a cabaret before and was excited to be all dressed up. Unfortunately our performance was also attended by about 100 Contiki people so I felt a little sorry for the performers who clearly worked very hard to perform to an audience who were only just conscious. Sam and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves among the feathers, rhinestones, and boobs - what more could you want?! There was also a hilarious clown, a spooky mime, and a kind of robot who worked with lasers that I couldn't for the life of me work out how he did it!

Body Goals
For the rest of our trip the rain cleared so we explored the city. We conveniently timed a packed cheese baguette with seeing the Eifel tower and disregarded the no drinking rule and opened a bottle of red to boot! We made sure to see the Arc de Triomphe, visit a boulangerie, drop in on Notre Dame, visit a museum (slightly unintentionally), and eat at a michelin star restaurant. All interspersed with copious amounts of coffee. Come to think of it, most of what we did was eat and drink in various iconic locations!

What struck me was how different everyday life seemed to be for the Parisians. We went to a fresh food market and marvelled at the range available and how many people seemed to be doing a genuine grocery shop. It made my weekly tesco order seem very impersonal since I don't even go to the supermarket but here were people talking to butchers, bakers, and probably candlestick makers. Likewise the bars were just as full as they are in England but everyone seemed to be deep in meaningful conversations with their peers not drinking hard or trying to pull...

Perhaps everything just sounds more sophisticated in French?


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Indochinese Peninsula - a new series begins

Welcome to another travel post. I feel there will be a few of these coming over the next few weeks as we launch into another series on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, in addition to some time in Paris, a new exercise kick, and a slight change in work! See I've been busy.

It began, as many of my adventures do, on a whim. There was a January sale and I sat down with Mark to pick a holiday. We didn't have anywhere in mind so set rough dates and price bracket and saw what looked good! Mark hasn't done much travelling but after dipping his toe in last year with a motorbike tour to Italy he had the travel bug and was keen to do more. That isn't really fair is it? Motorbiking half way across a continent is more than dipping a toe - I'd argue that was more like wading away from the shallows? Look, I've got myself all confused in a metaphor and I haven't even got to the plane yet. Anyway, as a relative travel novice Mark was bamboozled with the imposing cost that adventure holidays take. The initial package then long haul flights all add up but thankfully I wore him down and we booked onto something called the Cambodian Traveller. Flights soon followed and then we forgot about it to be honest. Booking for August in January means there's a long time to wait.

We did some initial shopping to get Mark kitted out with some of the travel basics like walking boots and a big backpack. We even tested the boots out on a walk in the lake district which was honestly one of the most unpleasant experiences I have the misfortune to remember (despite efforts to drink a whole bar afterwards). It took blood sweat and tears to get me up and down that sodding mountain but the boots were golden.

If you don't take a photo of your plane wing do you even fly?


August rolled round and soon we were all packed up and ready to go. I was surprised at how comfortable I felt packing my pack again. I hadn't used it since Morocco so it was like seeing an old friend again. I'm not quite as attached to my pack as Johnny from Hotel Transylvania, but its up there. Mark got hung up on how to split his cash and were to store it in his luggage (inside a sock) but other than that it was non-eventful. The flight took forever. By the end I was so claustrophobic and achy, I forget how bad it is each time I fly long haul. Minor perk - lactose free meals looked a lot better than the regular ones and came early so that's something.


We arrived into Ho Chi Minh late on Saturday, having left early on Friday, and were bundled into a car and taken somewhere. I'm always amazed at how much you just have to trust people when you're away. This man could have been anyone, he didn't have our names just a sign with the travel company on. We got into an unmarked ute and drove. Could have been anywhere but fortunately we were dropped off with all our luggage (and fingers and toes) at a rather nice hotel. After being ripped off by the hotel exchange rates we found a spectacularly average Chinese restaurant, had something even the menu described as mystery meat, and then fell into a bed big enough for 4.

View from the Hotel roof
Sunday breakfast was surreal as there were clearly a lot of travellers at the hotel but with no way of knowing who was with what tour we helped ourselves to breakfast and got on with our curry..... yes our breakfast curry. Even after our whole trip I couldn't quite understand breakfast curry. We took a bus early that morning and having spent many hours to get to Vietnam, we promptly drove out of it and into Cambodia. 6 hours and two boarder checks later (out of Vietnam and into Cambodia are separate and a little drive apart from each other) we arrived into sunny Phnom Penh!

After a quick freshen up we bundled into some tuctucs and set out on a tour of the city. Phnom means a mound and Penh was a kick ass woman who defended the city from a flood a long time ago. She also built a beautiful temple on top of the hill therefore it's called Wat Phnom (temple on the hill). We also saw the Independence monument, a statue to the old King, and some markets. All the while in our tour, our guide was explaining the tip of what we would learn was a very turbulent and harrowing past the country has had in very recent history.

Our tour family in front of Wat Phnom

Would you?

We went to dinner in outreach restaurant where they employed parents of underprivileged children so they could go to school. This was our first real taste of Khmer (Cambodian) food so we dived right in and ordered the tarantula. Mark ate one but there is something so inherently repellent about large spiders that even with the full knowledge that they were dead and suitable for eating, I couldn't bring myself to touch one. I ate a leg.... that counts right? The rest of the group were equally horrified but a couple of brave souls helped us finish the 3 we were served.

A couple of drinks later we headed back to the hotel for a well deserved sleep in preparation of what was to come tomorrow....


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Stovepipe - the hidden hat hostelry

I needed coffee. So many of my adventures start with that simple sentence that my caffeine addiction really should replace "Once upon a time" or at least be an addition. This is one of them. There are more caffeine fuelled exploits here and here and if you're feeling particularly retro (I mention using msn non-ironically) here.

Once upon a time, I needed coffee. I ducked out of the arndale and was heading into the northern quarter when my partner asked me where I would like to go. "What about here?" I asked as we walked past the window. "Has this always been here?" And like the room of requirement, Stovepipe revealed itself. I don't mean that the place is literally hidden but it looks so incredibly at home nestled into the high street between a red brick pub and a music trade shop - how much more Mancunian can you get? I was entirely surprised to hear the bar had opened only a few days before!

Inside it looks like a bachelor's living room with dark chesterfield sofas, upcycled wooden shelves, and industrial columns. Of course the expected stovepipe hat is pride of place amongst other knickknacks and books, but there are elements of whimsy scattered about. The whole effect creates a grown-up but relaxed comfy feel, devoid of gimmicks or themes that are prevalent in attention hungry NQ establishments.

I settled down in a particularly cosy sofa with a soy flat white and tried to forget the din of the arndale. I spotted they stocked Manchester's zymurgorium gins and a couple of marmalade G&Ts later we were enticed by the board games. An hour further on (and still no closer to understanding how to play the Hobbit board game) we left, but only to return a few Saturdays later with some visiting friends.

Six of us settled down to lunch. The restaurant is running a reduced menu pre-official launch (I'll get to that later) but there was still a mix of cooked breakfasts, sandwiches and salads on offer all of which arrived promptly and were very tasty! However, the eggs benedict, although came as described on the menu, is served with spinach not bacon which makes it eggs florentine in my book. The sandwiches are mighty especially the club, the salads are fresh and well balanced, but by far and away the stovepipe brekkie is the most impressive. The photo below doesn't do it justice.

Stovepipe Brekkie, Beetroot and Walnut Salad, Eggs Benedict

After lunch we settled into that common post meal activity; a game of Zombies - another one of their board games. Again this had complicated rules which were confounded by trying some of hand made cocktails. The menu was enticing enough for the men to abandon any attempts at outdated masculinity so had pornstar martinis and raspberry prosecco 1897s both of which they said were delicious. I particularly enjoyed the espresso martini (see caffeine addiction earlier) and the stovepipe own larger was pretty good! The result of all this is their games need a maximum drinks suggestion on the box. There also may be some zombies that fell through the floorboards...

All in all I suspect I will be returning to Stovepipe. There's good food, a fabulously stocked bar, and staff that are always happy for a chat and a giggle. They're having an official launch this Thursday (15th June) with free drinks so you can go and see for yourself. Its RSVP so drop them a line on their facebook or instagram.


Full disclosure: Stovepipe approached me about writing a review after I first visited for a coffee by chance. I was not (and am not, nor will be) paid for this post however I received free round of cocktails when I returned. Stovepipe had no input into this post. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Be proud of height

Martin Harvey/Alamy Stock Photo

Today I had this conversation:

Person At Meeting: You are tall aren't you? I don't remember you being this tall last meeting.
Me: Oh well I'm in heels today *points at black patent T-bars*
PAM: *looks* yes but you must be tall, taller than me anyway
Me: Well I'm taller than most people, don't worry about it

Does that seem a normal conversation to you? It did to me at the time but the more I think about it the more angry I get at myself.

Firstly the initial comment is a fairly well meaning, if slightly misguided, attempt at small talk. However it is slightly odd to respond to. "Yes I am" seems a bit of a conversation killer. "No you're just short" is only true some of the time. When someone points out I am tall I usually respond by sarcastically pretending I had no idea but this wasn't someone I knew well enough to class this as banter rather than rudeness.

So apparently I came up with an excuse?! I am tall for a girl in this country. Wikipedia thinks that the average height for a woman in the UK is 5'5. I am just shy of 5'10 so I am statistically tall. I like to think of my height as 10% extra free so why did I feel the need to justify why I appeared tall? There's nothing wrong with me being tall so why did I do that?

Then, to make it worse, PAM (who is male for the record, PAM stands for person at meeting, not a lady called Pam) points out I am taller than him and I feel the need to apologise for that again and reassure him that its nothing to be worried about! For goodness sake. He wasn't bothered that I was taller than him yet still I felt the need to add in the extra provision as if my height was somehow disrespectful to him.

Where did that come from? Why am I ashamed of my height so much that I think other people are offended by it? If anyone genuinely is bothered that I am taller than them then that is their insecurity not mine. This however is my insecurity that I am bothered if other people may be bothered by my height. How impossibly British is that? 

Maybe it's because he was a man and in a self depreciating moment I succumbed to the patriarchy and thought women couldn't be taller than men? Perhaps it is from being tall and therefore "different" through school? Tall women are in celebrity magazines and runways so it should be a desirable thing. Many of my short friends would love to be taller and find their height to be distinctly inconvenient. 

So, note to self. Be proud of height. It isn't bothering anyone else, and if it is - I shouldn't care!


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Tanning and Paleness

I am a pale girl. Typical English rose complexion with that near translucent skin that makes me look slightly ill in strong lighting. I'm sure every phlebotomist I've ever seen has rejoiced in my visible vascular system. I however do not.

For the majority of the year I rock my paleness. Manchester's climate is particularly mid-tone grey and therefore I am not at risk of burning not reflecting so much white that I look spectral. However, every now and again a miracle happens and the sunshine comes out and I suddenly feel self-conscious.

Some people rock pale in a Dita Von Teese way. But that's not a look that you can just wake up and chuck on - the pin up girl highly styled look takes time and upkeep. Neither are something I want to do. Especially with my naturally blonde (and unnaturally highlighted) hair.

Some context to this: I grew up in Essex home of the oompa-loompas with hair extensions. I went to school in a full face of make up from the age of 13 and the smell of Johnson's gradual build up fake tan moisturiser still brings back school flash backs. Even better if there's a faint wiff of lynx.

Only tanning where your dress shows

So recently I have started fake tanning again. I fake tanned myself as any true Essex gal knows how to do. I have also had my nails done and eyebrows professionally sculpted. I do wonder if in conforming to conventional beauty standards and I am betraying my self confessed strident feminist declaration. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being tanned if you truly want to be for yourself, there is however something wrong with changing who you are for anyone else.

I did some thinking and am still undecided if I feel better about myself while more styled because I genuinely enjoy it or if I just feel more socially desirable. But I know for one thing it did make getting ready for a wedding a whole lot easier! If the only good point from fake tan and nails is that it means you can get ready for a wedding in an hour and a half (including shower with hair wash); then I'm all for it!


Thursday, 1 June 2017

CLRCFF - A Taste Test Review

Remember a while ago I posted this post about CLR CFF? Well apparently I wasn't the only one to order some of the miracle clear coffee as it took over a month to arrive. However, from what I can tell from their website and Instagram I am still one of the first to receive their order.

The cute little bottles are exactly as they look online. There's a slight yellow tinge to the liquid but not even as much as a glass of bubbly. Once it was in my trusty Kath Kidston mug, the coffee looked fully clear against the off white inside - so far it has met expectations.

Ever the scientist I decided to ask everyone in the office to try some so I wandered round our offices with one of the bottles and a stack of paper cups. I managed to convince 10 people to try a sip plus me. The most frequent comment is that this stuff smells weird. Like really weird. It does smell like coffee in a round about way but it also smells alcoholic like some kind of coffee shot or even vaguely like a peaty whisky. I guess alcohol must be used in the process that means the coffee is left smelling rather chemically?

Once you get past the smell it tastes of yummy smooth coffee. It isn't a strong after dinner coffee taste but a smooth breakfast kind of coffee taste. We drank the coffee straight but I had put it in the fridge before hand. The label says to drink at 13-17 degrees so it should have been exactly on temperature after a few minutes out of the fridge in an un air-conditioned office. 13-17 seems an odd temperature to drink "black" coffee at though. I think it would be great to have in your handbag if you knew you were going to be out all day and would have the opportunity to get to a coffee shop and drink a hot coffee? That would be really practical as I often end up with an energy drink in those situations but then you have to deal with the sugar and looking like an angst pre-teen or a caffeine junky.... potentially that last one is appropriate but I'd rather people didn't know that.

It feels rather thin in your mouth as if it was water which if you're used to heavy milky coffee but since I'm a black coffee drinker most of the time it didn't bother me.

There is an after taste. It's rather persistent. It's a smoky tobacco taste that stayed with me past lunch! I think this was more disturbing than the smell which only lasted for a while. My lunch included both a packet of cheese and onion crisps and a palate cleansing Icelandic yogurt - yet still I felt I had smoked a pack of Marlboro's instead. It faded in the afternoon but I was resisting the urge to find gum just to see how long it lasted. Maybe this is another by product of the clearificationing?

Are you enjoying this rollercoaster of a review? Cute bottle - pro. Alcohol smell - con. Coffee taste at room temp - pro. After taste - con. I can't make heads or tails of it either. It seems to be a product that would fit perfectly as an Instagram focused, new thing, health conscious, mid 20s woman (wow don't I sound high maintenance?) but at the same time the flavours seem to be more suited to an old man sitting in a pub on a Sunday afternoon with a whisky and a smoke.

From Instagram @clrcff

I do however have another bottle to try out. Some of the Instagram posts I've seen have had the bottle with some oat milk in it too - maybe that would neutralise the smell and after taste? Some other people have put it into cocktails so maybe steer into the alcohol smell - that might work too? One of the team suggested that it might be good for baking and another person thought it might be better with a sweetener to make it more of a soft drink. So I think over the next few days I will try some of these and let you know how I get on.

Has anyone else tried it yet? What did you think? I'm not sure yet.


Saturday, 13 May 2017

Take Refuge on Mondays

Do you like Mondays? I bet you don't. But isn't that strange? Monday's are after 2 days off so it should be the day we are most well rested - we should feel good on Monday's. Granted most of us are heading back to work, but in a job that the large majority of us chose to take so must not entirely loath the work. So Monday's are the day where we feel good and go back to something we chose - so why are they universally resented?

Well this Monday I broke with that and had the opportunity to enjoy my Monday! A friend was in town for work and therefore we caught up in the evening. I like having the chance to take people round Manchester as it gives me the self indulgence of going to all my favourite places.

So we went to Refuge. I hadn't been to refuge yet but I had heard nothing but good reviews. Plus, I used to live in that part of town and the Palace (recently renamed the Principle) is hands down my favourite building in Manchester. I used to see the red glowing neon PALACE sign on the tower and know that home was in reach. Unfortunately the neon red sign has been replaced with white PRINCIPLE but I might just forgive them because of how much I enjoyed Refuge.

I arrived uncharacteristically early and even though a large group of middle aged women dressed to the nines went into the public bar just before me, there were enough bar staff so that I immediately got served. I took my G&T over to one of the many sofas and tables scattered about the large room and contemplated what on earth the party I followed in was for.

Monica joined me and we had a good chat about life as girls catching up are prone to do. She was tickled pink by the change she got from £10 for two glasses of prosecco and I reminded her that she was not in London and more.

We had intended to just have a drink and then move elsewhere for dinner but we were enjoying ourselves in the aptly palatial setting and found it had gotten rather late. We tentatively wandered round to the dinning room and were immediately seated by the hostess. While en route to our table we walked past an indoor winter garden with actual trees. This place manages to walk the impossible line between impressively extra and sophisticatedly understated with a flare I've not seen anywhere else in Manchester - I was enthralled.

We ate fabulously. Steak, fresh tuna, fries, veggies, and possibly the best dessert I have had in a very long time: Pear and hazelnut tarte tatin with espresso custard. This was recommended by our excellent waiter and while I was apprehensive at first I now am disappointed when eating any other meal. All washed down with a carafe of wine and change out of £50 for the entire bill - is there any surprise that this place is now my favourite?

Afterwards we went to Cloud23 and continued to discuss lives, loves, and laments while surveying what seems like all of Manchester. It was one of those nights that you imagined your 20s would be but have usually been disappointed. So I urge you to take refuge on Mondays.


Sunday, 7 May 2017

NEW SERIES: I'm naff at....

I am all these things

If you're anything like me you're always trying to improve yourself but without much direction, focus, or discipline. For example I am currently I am trying to get into running, restyle my bedroom,  watch my macros, sell off/donate my clothes to get a more modular wardrobe, re-start sweat with kayla, and maintain this blog! And all of that is while still having a full time job, keep a house, and have time for friends and boyfriend. Understandably I am failing. Hard. How on earth can I do all of that at once? I am the cover girl of biting off more than I can chew and have always been. But I tell myself it's ok to find something hard because I will just try another and see if that is easy - surprisingly its not. This means that I chicane between things and generally don't achieve very much.

However, I know many very talented people who seem to have mastered something that I haven't been able to come close to, and I'm actually remarkably naff at. Therefore I have asked them how they do it - why did I not think of this before?! So over the next few months keep a look out for guest writers posting how they manage not to be naff at things and then I will spend the following week trying to copy them. Hopefully if I uni-task these things over that week combined with their case study of how they do it, I might be able to incorporate them into my life.

There will be guests writing about all types of things I would like to be better at; food, life, sport, learning, all sorts! Hopefully be the end I should be a semi functioning adult with a variety of interests and skills. I can't wait. Keep an eye out for them coming soon!


Monday, 1 May 2017

Literally every damn hour - Water Challenge Week 4

This is technically the end of week 5 not week 4 of the water challenge which sets the tone for the post. I got bored of it. Yes, I started to see skin improvements last week and that's great but I have been busier the last fortnight and therefore haven't always been able to log my water consumption. For example, drinking 3 litres a day means drinking 200ml every hour I'm awake. Literally every damn hour. Who has time for that?! If I was in a 2 hour meeting yes I can take a bottle of water and sip my way through but I work in an operational role which means I am not at my desk that much in a day. Anyway, I got bored and more than that I started to resent the full water bottle on my desk at 5pm meaning I failed to consume my target water for the working day. I still think that I have increased my liquids to over 2 litres each day but I truly doubt of I ever hit 3 litres at any point in the last 14 days.

So against my 3 goals:
  • reduced snacking - FAIL. Maybe people who found they weren't stacking as much were just so full of water they were masking hunger? I think I snacked just as much as before.
  • increased energy - INCONCLUSIVE. I don't think I had a huge increase in energy levels. They may have gone up a little but not massively. I think more I was getting up to pee more and therefore while I was up I may as well do x, y, and z. So maybe I was more productive which gave the illusion of more energy? Not sure.
  • improved skin - WIN. I do think my skin is less oily. It has been 5 weeks so I have been through my full hormone cycle and haven't had much of a breakout this month! My pores are the same size but lets not expect miracles. Less oil and dryness has been a very welcome shift.
So in conclusion: more water is good for skin but 3 litres is impractical with my personal lifestyle. Has anyone else tried this? How did you get on?


Thursday, 20 April 2017

Vino & Vinyasa @ Foundation Coffee House

@fdncoffee instagram
I did something new this week. Well actually, I did two things that I have done many times before but I did them together for the first time.

Vino & Vinyasa! An hour of vinyasa yoga followed by (not accompanied by) a large glass of wine. It's a new event held at foundation coffee house. Have you been to foundation? It's one of the most northern quarter-ey places in the northern quarter and is rapidly becoming one of my favourite spaces. While the nearby Aflecks is the fabulous pinnacle of sensory overloaded alternative culture, foundation is the calming epitome of a newer bread of Scandinavian inspired minimalistic style combined with a menu to match the meticulous décor. Their fruity kale smoothie is a personal favourite for virtuous days and their gin selection is for the other days!

I am usually more of a pilates kind of gal being a scientifically person and prone to the giggles at silly names. However, this time I think yoga was what I needed. Marley from Vida Yoga guided us through some fairly dynamic yoga which I found myself concentrating quite hard on! I like to push myself in most things so I found myself pushing to be as flexible as the person in front of me and as balanced as the person next to me. My mind has been pretty full recently and the combination of being fairly lousy at yoga and a brain full of thoughts created a little bubble of clarity - why do I have to try so hard at everything? Doing the basic triangle pose is fine, I don't need to extend into the bound version. Likewise with what was in my head. Once I stopped trying to extend into mental bound triangle pose it got a lot calmer and more enjoyable.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

CLRCFF - I'm excited

@clrcff Instagram

Is your newsfeed full of clear coffee? Because mine is, and if yours isn't then I am slightly concerned about what google knows about me. If you have missed it it's THIS. So Jesus may have turned water into wine but CLRCFF has created a way to make coffee look like water. Apparently the idea came from the coffee addict owners being annoyed at coffee stained teeth. This is an issue, combined with a healthy red wine habit, which is apparently costing me £300+ at the dentists to remedy - not that I've quite got round to it yet. I might have to swap bleaching my hair for bleaching my teeth. What is it with modern beauty standards with changing colours of things? Hair lighter, teeth whiter, skin tanner, brows darker, eyelashes darker, cheekbones lighter! Gah what's wrong with my natural blotchy pink complexion and my mouse hair? 

Back to coffee. Already articles have popped up in cosmopolitan, the independent, the huffingtonpost, and even a slightly scaremongering article in the sun. They are selling to UK at £5.99 for 2 200ml bottles or £14.99 for 5. Some of the articles comment that it seems expensive but at £3* a bottle and free delivery for the 5 pack seems a good deal. Starbucks is more than that, as is a large red bull (equivalent caffeine content and that comes with all the added sugars and gas in the world). So I've ordered some. The 2 pack for now but I'm excited. I will let you know when it arrives!


* a previous version of this post stated £2 - that was my math fail

Sunday, 16 April 2017

In the name of freedom - Water Challenge Week 3

So in my first post in this series I described my skin as "the epitome of combination skin with oily lagoons and dry dessert both represented within a few square inches. Mostly I'm covered in blackhead craters or minizit bumps creating something akin to the surface of the moon." I think that might be improving!

While energy levels and snacking behaviour have stayed constant I think my skin might be improving due to the increase in fluids. The very dry and flaky patches have cleared and the very oily patches are now just oily. I still have a healthy shine at the end of each day regardless of foundation/ powder. I think I just am an oily person. However, this week it seems less likely that the USA will invade my face in the name of freedom.

Blackheads have been at a minimum with only my reoccurring ones an inevitable constant and I only have two minizit bumps at the moment - one of which lies in the middle of the bridge of my nose behind my glasses so I suspect that ones a constant while I am at work and wearing my glasses for the majority of the day. The other is on my cheek and is very red but I suspect it is all talk as it hasn't developed any further than threatening. This is definitely progress!


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Nothing Noticable - Water challenge week 2

This week passed fairly non-noticeably. I'm still trying to drink at least 3 litres a day but for a couple of days I only managed 2. Energy levels are the same, snacking is the same, skin hasn't broken out but is still as combination as ever. I wasn't hoping for a miracle but I was potentially looking out for smaller pores or less flaky dry patches.

In summary, nothing noticeable happened this week.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

Water Water Everywhere - Water Challenge Week 1

An article appeared on my Facebook feed and although initially skeptical by the end the author claims that drinking a gallon of water a day for a month prevented migraine, removed acne, prevented snacking, and improved energy levels! Sounds too good to be true right? Well given that I am afflicted with sluggish spotty munchy headache syndrome I thought I'd give it a go because at best I'd feel fantastic and at worst I'd just pee a lot.

Handy hint; it is possible to drink too much water. It messes with your organs and flushes out vital vitamins. The girl in the post says she drinks a gallon and, despite the Web address, mentions New York so I'm going to assume she drank a US gallon (3785ml) not an imperial (4546ml). Now I know I drink less than the 2000ml suggested guide and probably only consume 1000-1500ml each day. I'm busy and am not always near a loo but I've never been a big drinker for the sake of water consumption. I remember as a child being told off for not drinking so maybe I've never been so hydrated as I'm about to be!

So the challenge I am setting myself is to drink at least 3000ml every day for a month. All beverages will count so a mug of tea will still contribute to my daily consumption. I'll keep a running log of how I feel and I'll review skin, energy, headaches, and snacking behaviour and post each week. 

Day 1
I plop out of bed with my usual lack of elegance. My energy levels have been worse but I find mornings slow to get going and evenings hard to maintain. This morning is no exception. I have the choice of getting up immediately to get to work at 8:30 or dozing in bed a bit more and arriving at 9. Today the doze wins. Putting on my makeup I frown at my skin. My skin isn't behaving itself recently. I've had acne since a young teen and now in my mid 20s my once pustular skin has turned cystic and the epitome of combination skin with oily lagoons and dry dessert both represented within a few square inches. Mostly I'm covered in blackhead craters or minizit bumps creating something akin to the surface of the moon.

Initially I feel smug as I go to the water fountain for the first time today but that's short lived as I spend the rest of the day peeing every 5 minutes. We'll not quite that often but it feels very disruptive to my day. I don't snack deliberately (trying to shift some relationship weight) but when I get home I devour as much healthy crap cruel sensible weekend me bought at the supermarket. Snack prevention fail. No headache though.

Day 2
Still peeing a lot. It woke me up in the night. I hope my bladder stretches or something. I planned to go to the gym and therefore consume another 500ml but the sofa was too comfy.

Day 3
Today I woke up thirsty?! Perhaps my body has just been waiting for me to drink a lot and now I am it's jumping on the bandwagon. I made it to lunch without snacking but I did count a flapjack as breakfast. It's oats so it counts right? Determination got me through the afternoon not snacking but mostly because of a long meeting rather than not wanting to snack.  I went to a ceilidh tonight so drinking lots of water was easy as it got so hot and sweaty.

Days 4&5
Getting into the habit of constantly having a water bottle with me so it's already easier to hit my target. Still having to get up in the night.

Days 6&7
Both Friday and Saturday night I went out. This doesn't usually happen but there was a friends party and a theme night I wanted to go to. Both nights I drank more than is recommended in one sitting, but both mornings all I felt was sleep deprived not hungover! Perhaps being fully hydrated before drinking prevents that desert inside feeling post night out? Also I think my bladder is adjusting because I managed to avoid peeing in one dodgy bar's loos despite drinking 750ml while there. I also managed to sleep through the night both times without needing to get up and go to the bathroom. I am definitely adapting.

However I had a terrible eruption of zits appear on my chin so it hasn't improved my skin much as yet. Likewise my energy levels aren't significantly different and my food cravings are still very much with me. I haven't had a headache this week though! Hopefully some improvements next week.


Monday, 27 February 2017

Sitting with the tulips

This week I am a lady of leisure. Sort of. There's still laundry, and food shopping, and DIY, washing up, painting, and all the other things that adulthood brings, but I am not at work (see previous post). But I am doing these things on my own. My boyfriend and friends are all at work so I am rediscovering the feeling of independent time. Its great! Not that I don't love spending time with people, but I am enjoying the calm self-absorbed peace of not having to consider any one else when planning my actions. If I feel like walking out the door and popping to the shops, then I can without asking "Want anything from the shops? Remember to put the laundry out!" before I go. I still say bye to Chloe the cat but she doesn't ever want anything from the shops and she never remembers to put the laundry out.

There's a calm peace of being alone in a place you're comfortable in. Right now I am sitting on my bed, on top of the yellow stripy duvet, with the throw pillows scattered around me, the multi-coloured tulip bouquet sits on my bedside in my late grandma's vintage glass vase. There's no thought of where I need to be or what I need to do. I have a list of things to do but I can do them later when I feel more like it. Right now I feel like sitting with the tulips.


Friday, 24 February 2017

Please be aware this inbox is not being monitored

So today is a very odd day. I’ve known today was coming for a while and yet I haven’t known how to prepare or even if I should – today is my last day at work. 

I woke up this morning and didn’t want to get out of bed. This was half because bed was cosy, but also because if I got up then today would happen so naturally if I didn’t it wouldn’t. Infallible logic aside I did get up, made an effort with my hair, and put on a new pair of brown dogtooth peg leg trousers I acquired while supposedly helping a friend shop for a date outfit. These trousers are great, they fit well and are soft and they make my legs look like legs and not sausage meat packs (which the leggings I also tried on did). The only bad thing about these trousers is that they need to be worn with flats and bare feet as they are ankle grazers. Well, I say ankle grazers but due to the length of my legs they were about 3 inches above my ankle. Never the less, this was the effortless smart-cool look I wanted to be remembered for. I stood at the bus stop for 15 minutes in what my phone told me was “real feel” temperature of -4. My toes went numb. Another girl walked past me in a similar ankle grazers and ballet pumps combo and I wondered if her feet were as chilly as mine. The bus was similarly frosty so by the time I got to the office my toes had gone beyond numb to painful from the cold. Damn wanting to look cool on my last day. I treated myself to a coffee on the way in and tried to pretend this day was normal.

In my efforts to make today normal I didn’t arrange a formal leaving party; neither am I popular enough for anyone to object to my quiet exit. I casually invited anyone I spoke to at work over the last week to come to the pub for lunch today but therefore had no idea who would turn up or even be available. So 7 of us went to the pub and had a lovely and, upon clarification that it is a disciplinary offence, sober lunch. It seemed odd that of my three and a half years at this trust I had only managed to accrue 6 people that would make the time to see me off, which made me sad but then I remembered I had only casually invited people and not made a thing of it therefore I couldn’t expect people to come. I have worked in six departments in my time here and one role was for half my total time therefore that was reflected in the attendance; 5 from the longest role, 1 from the others. It struck me that everyone there was some kind of administration, of all the clinical professionals I have worked with there still seemed to be a divide between them and myself - culture fail. 

I was given leaving presents of flowers, a bottle of bubbles, and some cards which was lovely. I was dreading a fuss or being asked to speak to people, not that I mind speaking in public, but I wouldn’t know how to describe how I was feeling today never mind summarise the whole experience. The afternoon passed sluggishly, as there was only a few emails, key returns, and setting my out of office, for me to do. Upon writing my out of office I was self-slighted at how short it was, surely there was more to say than I had left and for anything contact this person. I stretched the meagre message over as many lines as possible without looking ridiculous and clicked save. 

I left early as there wasn't anything else to do and went to the bus stop. It was warmer so my toes didn't freeze. As I stood there I wondered would that be the last time I used that bus stop? It's a silly thing to worry over but it got to me. It's not just a job I was leaving but my whole weekly routine, the bus route, which bus pass I need, the pubs and cafes nearby, I don't know any of those things about where I'm going. Easy enough to learn over time I guess but it will be a few weeks of disorientating wandering before I get the hang of a new place. At home I made a cup of tea which I realised I hadn't done at work today having taken my mug home yesterday.

Now my leaving flowers are in vases and the prosecco is cooling in the fridge. I'm feeling at a loss of what to feel. But in the words of Will from Notting Hill, today has been Surreal, but nice.


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Good News Everybody!

Good News Everybody! I am no longer facing impending doom - well at least not imminent impending doom. I'm sure my doom will catch me at some point though.

I am starting a new job at a new place with new people and new new new, all the new. I seem to swap from the digital opposites of adventurous excitement and utter dread. At the moment I am leaning towards excitement because a change is so overdue. I think the unease at change is an intrinsically human thing to have but I am determined not to let it hold me back from experiencing new things.

Wish me luck.


Sunday, 15 January 2017

2016 Round Up

Happy New Year!

Yes I'm about two weeks late with that one but I'm still saying happy new year to everyone I meet and email. Now the only problem is I can't remember who I have already said it to and therefore I may be repeating myself. Never mind - surely I am just wishing them an extra happy new year if I say it twice?

So a new shiny year. Where did the last one go? Although looking back I have done so much in 2016 and I think its important to keep track of your achievements and the positives because it can be so easy to focus on the negatives. So here are my 5 super achievements from 2016:

Me and a couple of excellent colleagues

  • I graduated
This is something that has been a long time coming. I actually submitted my final piece of work in October 2015 but somehow that meant I graduates summer 2016. It was still a nice day with lots of hand shaking and of course a silly gown and cap! The only sad thing was that my brother wasn't able to take the time off work to be there which was a shame but I am still super pleased that I graduated.

  • I travelled
    Cuddle the EU bear before we leave
This one is kind of an essential on my list for any year. 2016 was a fairly good one with trips to Scotland, Portugal, Germany, and Ireland. Trips don't have to be for a long time or even to somewhere that far away to be great. Glasgow and Lisbon were with work but I had already been to Glasgow earlier that year as a mini break with my boyfriend, and he also flew out to Portugal to join me after my conference so they count as holidays. Ireland is similar but the other way round, it was his work Christmas trip but I went too which was really fun . Dublin in November is FREEZING but we had a great time wandering round the city and having a night of Irish dancing and Irish drinking! Berlin on the other hand was a classic Ami and Deb travelling fiasco involving all the core elements of culture experience, inappropriate outfits, and drink related mishaps (Part One and Part Two linked here).

  • I was in a wedding
My cousin got married and she was sweet enough to ask me and her sister to be bridesmaids. It was a really nice day with lots of family I hadn't seen in ages. There was lawn games, and photo booths, and lots of fizz all mingled in with a really nice celebration of Lizzy and Danny as they start their lives together. It was refreshing to be able to run away from my normal life and drop into a world where there were hairdressers, make up artists, and running around a posh hotel in a robe was acceptable. I had a blast! Incidentally the hairdresser did my hair so well that even when I woke up the next morning, my hair was pristine! I need this lady in my life more.

From NYE having a blast

  • I moved in with my boyfriend
Or more accurately, he moved in with me (and my cat). This was initially a temporary trial situation as his house contract was ending and I was struggling to make rent on my apartment so we thought we would try it for a month and see how it went. Here we are 6 months later and it's still one of the best decisions of the year. The only downside is that Chloe (the cat) now prefers Mark to me (grrr).

  • I quit my job
This one is fairly new but I quit my job in autumn which came into effect at the end of December. I am finding the transition very stressful as I have not secured another role yet. I am currently in a temporary post for a short time but I am acutely aware that I need to find something else very soon. However, even with the looming threat of unemployment, I still think that quitting my old job was the right thing to do; I wasn't enjoying it anymore, in fact quite the opposite and it had been going on for so long that it wasn't until I hit breaking point that I realised how much I needed to leave. If anything I count this as my biggest (and last) achievement of 2016 as it is certainly the most irreversible one. Whether it was brave or foolish only time will tell but I'm hoping the former as I have done so many foolish things that I feel I am statistically due a brave one.

So I'm feeling much better about myself having thought about this post. I would urge all of you to look at the positives in the last year especially since 2016 was filled with so many bad things too. It is important to remember that life goes on and we can keep trying to make things better and not repeat the mistakes of the past. I hope 2017 will bring more good things too!!