Miscellaneous · Personal · thoughts · Uncategorized

Generation Busy

This post has been a long time coming. I unfortunately lost my job last month, and while I’ve been offered another job, it doesn’t start until the end of the month. What that means is that I’ve had a lot of time to sit around and think. At times it’s been frustrating and boring and, let’s be honest, having an income is nice, but on the other hand it’s given me pause for thought about what it means to be busy.

At the moment I’m listening to Brené Brown’s lecture series ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, inspired by her TED talk of the same name. It’s been one of my favourite TED talks since my counsellor in third year of Uni recommended it to me, but the full lecture series is even better. Honestly, in that classic “who would you invite to a dinner party, dead or alive” scenario, Brené would be top of the list – she’s insanely clever, sassy without being snarky, and I just generally think we’d get on pretty well.

One of the things she discusses is our fascination with being busy. How we get a kick out of being able to reel off a list of things that are taking up our time and attention, how we brag about the hours we’ve put in at work, and how, if we admit that we’re feeling pretty relaxed about life, people don’t seem to know how to respond. In western culture, being busy to the point of meltdown is something of a status symbol. We endlessly compare ourselves to our peers and beat ourselves up if we suspect that we’re not making the most of our time.

It’s something that I witnessed all the time as a student. “How many words have you written yet?” was a hot topic of conversation and people would loudly moan about spending full days in the library and not leaving until they were thrown out at 2am. I don’t think these comments are helpful to anyone. Beneath the complaints is insecurity. Often people say these things not to vent their own genuine frustration or to encourage empathy, but to assess the competition. To find out how hard others are working. To see where they sit in the pecking order. To quell the universal voice of shame that insists we are only worthy of feeling joy if we’ve suffered the hard graft and “earned” it through tangible “success”. The culture of studying to the point of exhaustion is something that’s only going to get worse as Universities like my own introduce nap pods and 24/7 opening hours.

My main cause for excitement upon graduation was the thought that I could finally leave my work at work and have time to indulge my passions outside work hours. For the most part, I’ve been able to do so, but I can’t help but suppress that niggling feeling that I should be doing more. It makes me feel so stressed when I see people my age without an inch of wiggle room in their daily schedule, because I can’t help but compare myself to them. It think it’s a generational thing. There’s much more competition among us millennials to find full-time, emotionally rewarding work, and we must resort to filling every second of our time with activities, projects and courses that will enrich our employability. All this is often on top of paid employment that pays the bills in the mean time. Is it any surprise that, in a recent worldwide study of young people (defined as being 15-21 years old, but probably with similar trends just outwith this age bracket), Britons exhibited the second-worst mental wellbeing?

I’m sure to some, this kind of lifestyle provides good motivation and is perhaps even desirable. But in my opinion, it’s sad that the economy has gotten to the point where this is seen as a normal way to survive. Where’s the time to reflect? To be kind to ourselves? To work smarter, not harder? We often have to push ourselves to exhaustion just to be seen as competent, but with no support system to keep our wellbeing afloat. Mental health services are vastly underfunded, meaning not only a lack of services, but less money put into campaigns that encourage us to be open about our mental health. The vulnerability required to reach out and say “actually, I think I’m overworked” or “I need some time off to get my mind in order” is seen as weakness when really, being able to tap into your own emotions and ask for help is one of the bravest things you can do.

It’s time we stop glorifying this kind of exhaustion. I’m fed up of feeling a deep sense of shame when I’m not “busy enough”, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Health · Miscellaneous · Personal

How I learnt to continue worrying and love the results

Whether or not you suffer from anxiety, I’m sure that almost everyone has experienced that fight-or-flight sensation of an adrenaline rush. It starts as a flurry of butterflies in the stomach, rapidly spreading to your head and infiltrating your thought process. Panic can set in. It’s in that moment you must make a choice which will either further your journey in life or make you miss your connection altogether.

I’m sure every anxiety sufferer will be used to living their life constantly on the edge of this sensation. From a more rational perspective, this nervous response can seem completely unwarranted, but when you’re trapped in the moment, it feels like one wrong move could end the world.

It’s funny how we use the word “suffer” when talking about anxiety. For the most part, that’s what it is. It can absolutely cripple you. But as someone who is on a steady path to recovery, I’ve learnt to embrace my fears and worries. Recovery is beautiful in so many ways, but the best thing about it, I’ve discovered, is that it clears your mind and makes you realise how your thought patterns don’t always reflect reality. Problems that once seemed to consume you can be looked at objectively, assessed, and ideally, overcome. It doesn’t always mean finding solutions, but rather ways of bending the problems to your will. It’s like standing up to your brain. You learn that it’s okay to turn around to that negative committee in your head and say, “hey, you’re not more powerful than I am. I gave you life and one of these days, I will kill you. So, you’d better shape up and do as I say, because I’m coming to get you!”. Embrace this, and it becomes easier to usurp power from the voices and command them, rather than them commanding you.

By playing this game that is recovery, I’ve levelled up and acquired the power of control. It’s a great power to have when defeating the boss. Whenever I feel anxious, and like I’m not good enough, I can now turn the situation on its head and say to myself, “what do I need to do to use this to my advantage?”. When I worry I’m not making enough progress with university work, or in my singing or piano, I thrive on this anxious need to be better and work harder, because I know I am capable of more. When things go wrong, I no longer wallow with my negativity and blame myself. I think, “what do I need to do to make sure I don’t lose out here? What do I need to do to gain experience from the situation?”. In small doses, which I have learnt to control myself, the anxiety of perfectionism can be healthy. I’ve made such great improvements in all areas of my life just by using my anxiety as a weapon with which to fight, rather than a monster from which to flee.

I realise it’s all very well for me to say “this is what I did and it really helped, so you should do it too!”, but in reality, recovery doesn’t work that way. Everyone goes through it at their own pace, and everyone has different coping mechanisms. But this is mine. And I really hope that I can help someone by putting it out there.

You are not your illness. You are your personality, your spirit. You are powerful and with perseverance, you are the master of your own mind. You are you. And in the immortal words of Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, “you’re your problem, but you’re also your solution.”

Miscellaneous · Personal

So this is the New Year!

I can’t quite believe that it’s 2014 already and that my blog turned one year old 11 days ago! Time definitely does fly. I’m also only one view off 5,000, which I realise isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but when I started this blog, I really did not expect that some student’s rants about mental health and life and culture would actually attract any interest. So, thank you for sticking with me, and a Happy New Year to you all.

Now, I’m not so keen on the concept of New Year’s resolutions. Part of me says that if I want to change, I will do it at my convenience rather than simply because there is a new number at the end of the year. Part of me says that making up resolutions just because you feel obliged to only means that you’re setting yourself up for failure. The entirety of me says that to make a change in your life, you must really want it and work for it, rather than just making yourself empty promises, which only lead to disappointment.

However, every year, like the hypocrite I am, I find myself writing a whole bunch of resolutions anyway. This year, I think I’ve kept them achievable, as they’re all things I’ve wanted to do for a long time now. The change of year, to me, just acts as a reminder that time is gradually slipping away and that my choices must be acted upon. These are long-term plans to which I’ve simply assigned a starting date – hopefully I won’t need an end date, planned or otherwise. This year, I aim to:

1. Get away from the screen more often. Like a huge number of people in my generation, I am hopelessly addicted to technology. I spend hours and hours on my laptop each day, achieving very little, then when I go to bed, I must check my phone one last time from under the covers. And for what? Certainly not for any real purpose. It may seem fun at the time, but it just leads me to a huge sense of guilt when I look back at the end of the day and realise I’ve done virtually nothing, when I could’ve been doing something much more healthy. Technology is great, of course, but I’m fed up of it sucking me in every day.

2. Create more. This is kind of related to the last one. I have a real passion for creating things, in all shapes and forms. It’s who I am. It’s how I grew up and what courses through my body. However, because of my slight addiction to my laptop, I rarely pursue my creative whims anymore. As I step away from the screen, I will instead step towards a notebook and pen, my art journal (another recent hobby I’ve picked up), a cake tin. Anything that results in something I can look back on and feel proud of bringing into existence with my own bare hands is a winner for me.

3. Get into Honours. Not so much a resolution as much as just something I need to do for my degree. Graduating after three years with an ordinary degree isn’t the end of the world, but I would feel so disappointed in myself if I didn’t make it onto Honours and get to stay for another year. I work so hard, and I hope my work will pay off, but there’s always that niggling voice inside my head saying “you need to really strive for this! Don’t just assume that you’ll do well – you need to make sure you do!”. The prerequisite for Honours is 50% or above for overall marks in second year, which I’m already achieving, but in my opinion, learning is not something to be lackadaisical about so I’ll still keep pushing myself.

4. Stop wasting money on unhealthy snacks. This is a real downfall of mine. I have this habit whereby if I’m walking past a shop or café that sells chocolate/cake/pastries/cookies/coffee with lots of cream and syrup, I will feel an overwhelming urge to make a pit stop. Even if I’m not hungry, even if I have no real craving to give into, I find myself scouring the aisles for something to snack on, because “why not?”. Well, I’ll tell you why not: because it’s a waste of money and there’s no need for it. I’ll allow myself to buy healthy snacks if I need them, but otherwise, that money could be put to much better use.

5. Explore new places. I originally wrote this resolution with the idea of all these glamorous travels in my head, but in reality, I don’t think that’s likely. I’m hopefully going to go to Cambodia next year, so that’s something to save up for, and I’d much rather save up for that trip than waste the money going places which are less of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, just because I probably can’t afford to go abroad this year, doesn’t mean I can’t explore. There are whole pockets of Edinburgh I still need to explore (I’ve never even been up Arthur’s Seat!), not to mention the rest of Scotland (and indeed, the UK as a whole) that lies practically on my doorstep. Time to broaden that experience!

6. Do things that scare me more often. Too often, I am held back by a lack of confidence and my horrible ability to turn absolutely anything into a “what if?” disaster scenario. I need to stop worrying as much and throw myself into things. If it turns out badly, then I can be scared because of past experience rather than misinformed preconceptions. If it turns out well? Well, even better. From introducing myself to new people, to applying for things which challenge me, to telling people how I really feel about them, I hope to be able to say that I’ve done them all by the end of the year and have learnt from experience.

What are your New Year’s resolutions?

Health · Miscellaneous

Little Christmas Pleasures

Like most people, I love Christmas and always have done. However, last year, it wasn’t so great for me. Having just been diagnosed with depression, it was difficult for me to get into the Christmas spirit – I didn’t enjoy the run up, as I usually do, and the big day itself was even worse. My family stressed me out, I didn’t want to get dressed up (as I usually do) and see people, and I ended up in floods of tears trying to hide away from it all.

This year, I’m feeling better – not completely, but certainly enough to find pleasure in things – and am trying desperately to rekindle that Christmas magic that I knew so well before I was ill. I’ve found that throwing myself into things and getting involved with the festivities has really helped me to push any negativity that I’ve been harbouring to the back of my mind.

I’m not saying that what I’ve done will work for everyone, as we all have different thresholds of what we can and can’t cope with when depressed (especially at a time as hectic as Christmas), but I’ve definitely found all these little activities have lifted my spirits. Here are some things that you might find helpful, as I have.

1. Go ice skating. I went ice skating at the local Christmas market last week and it was great fun! I was apprehensive about it, as I hadn’t skated for about five years, and to make matters worse, it took a while for any of my friends to appear. I thought about taking a rain check, I really did. But in the end, I went ahead anyway and despite fifteen minutes of not wanting to leave the barrier at the edge of the rink, I was soon gliding around and laughing heartily with adrenalin. For me, it was almost impossible to feel sad when I was concentrating so hard on keeping my balance and chasing my friends around the rink!

2. Unleash your inner child. You’re never too old to embrace the art of making paper snowflakes. It’s fun to see how many different designs you can come up with, and they look great – who’d have thought that randomly snipping folded-up paper would be so satisfying? You can stick them up around your home (I’ve got mine on my windows) to liven the place up a bit.

3. Bake some Christmas goodies. Baking is always a great distraction – you can work out your aggression on the batter or dough, measuring out the ingredients and following the recipe keeps your brain engaged and away from grey thinking, and at the end of it, you’ve got some tasty treats which you can proudly say that you made yourself. It’s a win-win situation, really! Christmas allows for lots of lovely flavours, from warming spices to wintery fruit. Yesterday I made gingerbread, using this recipe by Nigella Lawson, and it’s absolutely delicious. I can’t stop eating it…

4. Make yourself a big, warming meal. Chilli con carne is a particular favourite of mine for this purpose – you just cannot beat it on a cold, winter night. Finding the motivation to cook proper meals can be hard when you’re feeling low, but if you cook up a big enough batch when you can manage it, then you can freeze the rest and then you don’t need to worry about preparing meals for the next few days. It’s great to snuggle up with a warming meal and a film.

5. Go carolling. Singing releases endorphins and has been proven to lower feelings of depression, even if only temporarily, so what better time is there to get out there and sing loudly and proudly? Most of the time, carolling is done for charity, so you can seek comfort in the fact that you’re not only making yourself feel better, but also helping others.

6. Try your favourite coffee shop’s Christmas specials. Go to your favourite coffee shop, order yourself a big mug of whatever you fancy (I particularly like the gingerbread latte from Starbucks and the praline latte from Caffè Nero), find a corner where you can see all around you, and just sit with your drink and people watch. I find this always calms me down – I love getting lost in my thoughts about what everyone else’s story is. It can be a great distraction and help you to slow down and notice the smaller pleasures.

I hope these tips help some of you, but if they don’t, please don’t worry about it too much. Everyone has the right to feel and respond to their own emotions, so if you find that you still can’t feel festive, this does not mean that you never will. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean that you are obliged to be happy. You just need time and space, so that you can allow yourself to recover in your own time. If you catch yourself feeling sad at Christmas, let yourself be sad at Christmas – those who really care will understand, and those are the same people who you will benefit from being around at Christmas.

Take care everyone!

Miscellaneous

Dropping the “F”-bomb

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a few simple words spill out my friend’s mouth which I never thought I would be too shocked to hear yet by which I was completely taken aback. Those words?

“I’m not a feminist.”

Each word, innocuous on its own, combining to form a definitive sentence with a surprising sting at its core.

I pride myself on my ability to accept the opinions of others, but feminism is an issue close to my heart and as such, I found this revelation from one of my closest friends slightly unpalatable.

“Why?!”, another friend and I gasped, in horror.

“I don’t understand why it’s still an issue – women are pretty damn equal with men now!”

Stop. Stop right there. This is exactly why progress in society’s attitude is slow and requires constant pressure for any change to take effect. There is not only one taboo “F word” – “feminism” is still seen as a dirty word by many people, who are under the impression that the feminist movement is all about hating men and fighting – often very rudely and aggressively, in the mind of those who believe these stereotypes – for equal pay, the vote etc. So these issues may be resolved, or at least almost resolved, in our developed world, but let’s get some perspective here.

There are women being stoned to death in the Middle East for driving, for choosing their own romantic partners. There are women, frequently from central and eastern Europe, dancing provocatively and being leered at in Amsterdam, forced into making a living from their bodies as a result of trafficking, yet being seen as some cheap, tourist gimmick. There are young girls in war-torn states who must risk their lives just trying to better their quality of life and prospects by going to school. There are women, worldwide, having words of hate rammed down their throats, telling them they were to blame for their sexual assault, whether it be because of their clothing, alcohol consumption or simply because they were being friendly towards men.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Feminism isn’t some local coup which can easily be solved by allowing women the power to tick a box on a sheet, or to collect a fatter paycheck than once was possible. It’s much bigger than that. It’s a global issue which we all – men and women alike – must push for every day. The fact that we still have songs like ‘Blurred Lines’ highlights this. Catchy as it may be (and I will confess that yes, even I have downloaded it), how is it possible that such morally ambiguous songs are still the norm in pop culture? It’s not just in music: films, sports, websites, you name it – there’s still an overwhelming attitude that females exist for the sole purpose of pleasing males. On the flip side of the coin, there are films targeted at women which celebrate being powerful and sexy and having men wrapped around one’s little finger (Sex and the City, I’m looking at you!), but let’s be honest – while these films are empowering and often enjoyable, they often err on the side of portraying women as being somehow better than men. Again, this isn’t what feminism is about. It’s about us all being equal and gender being removed from the equation.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need feminism, but the reality is, the world is not some middle-class, white-washed, first-world town.

It’s a beautiful yet tainted minefield of inequality. We can only tackle the issues if we’re willing to remove the cotton wool from over our eyes, or, if necessary, have it ripped off to reveal the harsh reality that lies before us.

Miscellaneous

Do’s and don’ts of starting university: from one fresher to the next

I can barely believe how fast the past year has flown by – it seems like just yesterday I was settling into my new Edinburgh home, saying tearful goodbyes to my family, being thrown together with a hotchpotch of new friends and navigating the intricacies of a whole new education system. I don’t quite feel old and responsible enough to be starting second year in a matter of weeks! Nevertheless, I do have some words of wisdom to share with those of you about to start your university journey…

Do try to get as involved as possible in freshers’ week. If you’re moving into halls, then great – you’ll already be provided with a group of people with whom you can go out and explore your new home. Admittedly, it will probably be drunken exploration, but if you’re not a regular party-goer, fear not! There are hundreds of events on in freshers’ week, meaning there really is something for everyone to get stuck into.

Don’t worry if you don’t necessarily get along with the people you hang around with in fresher’s week, as the chances are, you probably won’t see much of them afterwards. It’s a slightly different scenario if they live in your halls, but even some of the guys from my halls that I went out with during freshers’ didn’t get anything more than a vague smile of recognition for the rest of the year. The best friends you will make will be the ones who you have to go out of your way to find and with whom you share interests. Which leads me onto my next point…

Do join a society! In my experience, this is the best way to make friends – all my best friends at university are in the music society, and I feel blessed to have found them because they’ve always been there for me, not to mention that we have the greatest nights out! It can be awkward approaching new people when you know nothing about them, but at least a society means you have a common interest. Most societies involve teamwork of some kind as well – from singing the same part in a choir, to dancing in partners, to holding each others’ hair back after one too many glasses of cheap white wine (!) – so you’ll get to know people really well, very quickly.

Don’t leave the studying til last minute. Sorry to nag, but really, it’s wise to brush up on your notes little and often, rather than go to a lecture then forget about it until a matter of days before the exam. It’s stressful and your memory doesn’t work as well when put under pressure as well. I speak from experience. While I still passed (hooray for the 40% pass mark), I really wish I’d started earlier in the year. This year, I’m going to be more organised!

Do remember to register with a doctor. Most universities have a health centre, and it’s good idea to get in there and register within the first week to avoid disappointment – it really is first come, first served. Even if you’re a hardy type who never gets ill, I can guarantee that “freshers’ flu” (caused by the new environment and an influx of new people) will hit you at some point and if things really take a turn for the worse, it’s good to know you have somewhere to go. Starting university can also shake up your mental health – as I learnt the hard way – and if you start to feel like things aren’t going right, it’s crucial that you have a doctor on your side as your first port of call.

And finally…

Don’t forget to be yourself! Cheesy, I know, and I apologise, but this is really the best thing you can do. School can often inhibit your personality, but once you’re at university, nobody cares how weird and wonderful you are because there will almost always be some who is just that little bit more of an oddball! And you know what? Even that “oddball” can find friends for life and thrive. So just go for it and forget about those who held you back before!

Good luck!

Miscellaneous

Fleeting moments of humanity

Does anyone else ever get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside when you hear or see someone they consider superior to you caught up in an incredibly, down-to-earth, human moment?

It has to be one of the loveliest – yet most inexplicable – feelings ever.

I used to have moments like that when I was at school and would overhear conversations between teachers, but I had forgotten how it feels until a couple of days ago, when I was at the doctors’ surgery.

I went for an open access appointment on Wednesday morning, and couldn’t see my usual doctor as she wasn’t available. I was sitting in the waiting room, with afore-mentioned doctor’s door wide open while she caught up on work and made some phone calls. One of these phone calls was to somebody – a landlord, I would assume, although perhaps not seeing as I don’t know why someone with as high a salary as a GP would rent rather than buy – about how her flat was flooded, and how her bedroom was filled with water but wasn’t sure where it was coming from, nor what was happening with regards to plumbers.

And I know, looking back on it, it seems like the most banal thing in the world, but hearing a little snippet of her life, filled with nervous laughter and punctuated by stumbled words, made me feel oddly warm inside. It’s not so much empathy, but something of that ilk that I’m sure there is a word for, in some language, somewhere. There is something so beautiful about catching someone going about their everyday business and showing their vulnerabilities which just delights me – I can fall in love with a person just by watching them do silly, little everyday things. Not necessarily romantically – I mean, I have no romantic feelings towards my doctor whatsoever – but just in a way that makes me want to get to know them, to find out why they do the things they do. Maybe that’s why I love people-watching so much.

Does anyone else ever feel like this? It’s completely inexplicable but just so simple and full of pure beauty. I wish there was a word for it. Maybe there is, in German or something. The Germans have a word for everything.

You know, we’re a pretty fascinating species, when you think about it.

Miscellaneous · Monthly pleasures

April’s little pleasures

I’ve decided that from now, each month I am going to share with you five things which I’ve enjoyed that month – from things I’ve done, to music, to food, to good places to go for coffee. Here’s what I’ve been loving this April!

1. ‘Bates Motel’

Bates Motel is a new TV show which started airing in the US last month, which I have caught up over the past week. As you might have been able to guess from the title, it’s a spinoff of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ (1960) – a modernised prequel, to be exact. I wasn’t aware it was an update until I started watching it, and despite my initial surprise at Norman Bates (played by Freddie Highmore) sitting at the bus stop listening to an iPod, it does actually work. The plot itself explores Norman’s teenage life, his relationship with his mother (Vera Farmiga) and how he came to be the knife-wielding motel owner we all know. It’s full of suspense, twists and turns – I’ve been on the edge of my seat with every episode. I absolutely love it – it’s just a shame I’ve now got to wait until Tuesday morning to watch the next episode!

2. Distilled witch hazel

I’ve recently rediscovered that miracle solution that is distilled witch hazel. I used to use this as a skin cleanser and toner, but then I moved onto other products. It’s only been in the past month that I’ve started using it again and I had forgotten how amazing it is. Combined with a good facial scrub and some moisturiser, my face feels so soft all the time and it has helped clear up my spots. It’s also good for cuts and bruises – and as I found out last night, razor burn. After shaving my legs last night, I dabbed it on the red bumps left by my razor, and today, they’re totally gone. Genius! You can usually find distilled witch hazel in the medical section of your local supermarket/pharmacy, as opposed to the skin care section – there are some witch hazel products in the skin care section, but these generally just contain witch hazel as opposed to being the solution itself, and they’re more expensive and not as versatile.

3. Lou Reed – ‘Transformer’

This month I’ve been obsessed with this album, old as it may be. I’ve liked The Velvet Underground for a few years now, but bar a few obvious songs (‘Walk on the Wild Side’, ‘Perfect Day’ and ‘Satellite of Love’), I hadn’t heard much of Lou Reed’s solo material. ‘Transformer’ provided me with a perfect introduction. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve listened to it in the past fortnight – every track is absolute genius. If I had to choose, I would say my favourites are ‘Hangin’ ‘Round’ and ‘Make Up’, at least my favourites of the ones I hadn’t heard before: the three I previously mentioned are all on here too. It’s a highly accessible album in my opinion – much as I love The Velvet Underground, their music is often a bit too arty and “out there” for first-time listeners, where as Reed’s solo material is more catchy and easier on the ear. Bonus points for the fact that David Bowie produced it.

4. Goji berries

I bought a tub of goji berries a few days ago as a revision snack and I’m almost finished them now – they’re delicious and so addictive! They’re widely-known as being superfood, rich in anti-oxidants, up to 22 minerals, 11 amino acids and vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and E: health benefits include protection of the liver and eyes, improved circulation and boosted immune system. They’re also said to slow the ageing process, and supposedly contain 13% more protein than whole meat and more iron than spinach. Have I convinced you yet?!

5. ‘Throat Comfort’ Yogi Tea

I have been totally converted to Yogi Tea. I bought this flavour a few days ago as I wanted to keep a clear voice for my performance exam, and while I’ll admit, my voice still wasn’t crystal clear, this was probably due to the fact that I’ve got a cold – this tea aims to soothe, rather than cure. I wasn’t sure how nice it would be, as it contains liquorice (which I’m not a fan of), but since it also contains fennel, thyme, cinnamon and cardamom, it tastes and smells exactly like mulled wine – delicious! I also love how Yogi Tea bags all have tags with inspirational message on them – I’m going to keep them all and make a collage out of them.

Miscellaneous

The danger of the bandwagon

Today, Margaret Thatcher died. The internet was divided: some people making jokes, some saying “good riddance”, some claiming her to be a wonderful person who did no wrong, and finally, the category which I fall into – the people who felt no strong emotion towards her either way and now reel in astonishment at how her death has caused that potentially harmful political bandwagon to trundle back into view.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a post about Thatcher. This post is about the catalyst behind why peoples’ opinions vary so hugely.

It’s something which I think about regularly – how as young people, we are so easily influenced by what others tell us: parents, the educational system, and above all, the media. Think about how often we adopt opinions just because someone else holds these opinions. It starts at a young age – for example, playground gossip turns people against each other. Think of the classic, “X said such-and-such about Y therefore I don’t like X”. Who’s to say X isn’t actually a really nice person and what they said was misconstrued? Adapted as it was passed along corridors like a malicious game of Chinese whispers? Who’s to say Y wasn’t entirely to blame for any drama caused? We make judgements based on hearsay all the time before finding out for ourselves. It’s a really common flaw and one which I strive not to suffer from.

Now, this brings me back to Thatcher. Half the people, if not more, taking the “good riddance” tack weren’t even alive when she was in power. So what has caused this reaction? Many things, actually: the bias of national curriculum towards liberalism – despite my own liberal leanings, I must admit that often the curriculum (particularly in subjects like modern studies and history) could do with being more centrist in order to let young people decide for themselves who to support politically as opposed to forcing everyone into the same mould – and the media (namely panel shows, although I hate to say it being fond of a few myself) are the two which spring to mind.

To name another more recent example…You know that equals sign profile picture which has taken over Facebook and Twitter recently? Yes, HRC – the organisation behind it – may promote gay rights, but they also have actively silenced organisations campaigning for the rights of People of Colour and have admitted that they will not support trans* and gender-queer rights. I’m guessing there are not many people who support gay rights but would not want the same rights for these minority groups. It’s Kony 2012 all over again.

If our opinions aren’t formed by education and dialectic, rather than pressure from others (who might also not know the whole truth!), what’s the use in having an opinion at all?

Miscellaneous

My “great little places” in Edinburgh

Recently I’ve been exploring my new (ish!) city a lot more and today I thought I would share with you my own ‘Top 5 Finds’ since moving to the ‘Burgh locations, inspired by ‘I know this great little place…’ (http://www.greatlittleplace.com/) but not necessarily listed on the website.

1. Khorwa (women’s clothing) – 52 South Clerk Street, EH8 9JB

Khorwa has been one of my favourite clothes shops for a few years now. It stocks a range of cute and quirky womenswear, with a focus on dresses, from little-known but adorable designers such as Tenki. The price range is fairly reasonable – most dresses are around the £25 mark, and they usually have a sale corner as well where you can easily pick up something cute for a tenner. The only downsides to Khorwa are that because it’s a very small, quiet boutique, you can sometimes feel a bit awkward if there’s no one else there, and it doesn’t do a student discount.

2. Drouthy Neebors (pub) – 1-2 West Preston Street, EH8 9PX

I may be a little biased here given that Drouthy’s (as it is colloquially known) is our weekly post-choir-rehearsal pub, but I honestly think it’s a great wee place. For those of you who don’t understand the Scottish lingo, “drouthy neebors” means “thirsty neighbours”, and I’m sure that nobody could ever really go thirsty at Drouthy’s because the drinks are very reasonably priced (£3 for a glass of wine, around £2.20 for a single vodka plus mixer). They do offer a 10% student discount, but it’s elusive: they no longer sell the discount fobs, so you must be with someone who has one already. They offer free food for larger group bookings (i.e. when we descend after choir on a Tuesday night!) but apparently they don’t serve food otherwise, which is a shame because their chips are amazing. All in all, it’s got a lovely, warm atmosphere and the staff are really friendly so despite it being your basic boozer, it’s a great place to unwind.

3. Elephants and Bagels (café) – 37 Marshall Street, EH8 9BJ

Elephants and Bagels is the more renowned Elephant House’s little sister, and as you’ll be able to guess from the name, it specialises in bagels. These bagels come with a huge array of fillings (personally I like pesto, mozzarello, salami and sun-blushed tomato) and bagel types, so it’s pretty easy to find any bagel you fancy here. Alongside bagels they sell soup, small cakes and biscuits and of course, drinks – their mochas and hot chocolates are to die for, although unfortunately the cup sizes are tiny. They offer a 10% student discount when you buy a filled bagel, and a reward card scheme where you get your 10th hot drink free.

4. Medusa (hair salon) – 6/7 Teviot Place, EH1 2QZ/26 Bread Street, EH3 9AF/34 South Clerk Street, EH8 9PS

I chose to get my hair cut at Medusa because I noticed that although it’s a chain of high-end hairdressers, with equally high-end prices (!), the student discount with Snapfax is incredible. You get 40% off your first visit, and then between 20 and 40% off subsequent visits. This brought a £34 haircut down to just over £20 for me – less than I’d be paying in my local salon back at home! They also offer a perk where if it’s your first visit, you’ll get 30% off your next visit if you return to the same stylist. I went to the Teviot Place salon and I intend to go back – my stylist was friendly and understood exactly what I wanted, even talking me through how she would cut it and making suggestions as to the most flattering cut. The service as a whole was excellent – I got a free cup of tea and biscuit within minutes of sitting down, and unlike a lot of hairdressers, there was no irritating chit-chat so I was left to relax as the stylist snipped away.

5. Jordan Valley (food shop) – 8 Nicolson Street, 9DH

Jordan Valley is a very recent addition to my list, as a friend only introduced it to me a couple of weeks ago. It’s hard to explain exactly what it sells, as it’s just so varied – it stocks primarily Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, but also health food. Most of their stock is vegetarian, and a large proportion is also vegan. As you walk past the shop, you can’t help but notice the hundreds of teas stacked in the window. While Jordan Valley sells a vast amount of tea (tea in every flavour under the sun!), it’s really worth an explore inside as it’s jam-packed with interesting things, from humous in a variety of flavours to quinoa bars to cheap muffins and cakes – I got a chocolate and orange muffin there for only 89p, and it was fantastic: huge, moist and flavoursome. I keep meaning to go back soon to stock up my cupboards with healthy goodies!

Has any else got any hidden gems they would like to share? I’d love to know what your favourite places in your city are, and why!