Arctic Monkeys: Embracing Change

Like many Arctic Monkeys fans, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a new album since album number five, AM, exploded into our lives five years ago. I remember that I had just moved into my student house, ready to start my second year of university, and we would be ecstatic every time our favourite Sheffield nightclub, Leadmill, blasted out ‘R U Mine?’ or ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ on a night out.

Since then, I’ve enjoyed seeing Arctic Monkeys perform at Leeds festival the following summer, before seeing Alex Turner back up on stage at Glastonbury in 2016 with fellow musician Miles Kane as part of their band The Last Shadow Puppets. Having first seen Arctic Monkeys at Leeds Festival all the way back in 2005 after the release of their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, I am no stranger to Alex Turner’s transformations.

And that’s why this transformation into Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino feels like no surprise at all, especially to fans who are familiar with Humbug, Last Shadow Puppet’s Everything You’ve Come To Expect and Turner’s  solo EP Submarine. You only had to glimpse at the teaser artwork for Tranquility and the band promo photos to know that we were about to be invited into a new chapter in Arctic Monkeys’ lives.

While I’m not surprised that the new album has divided fans, I am always baffled when fans declare how they feel personally ‘betrayed’. Something that always frustrates me about the relationship between fans and bands is how some fans believe that music is made for them. Indeed, some musicians in the industry (with the push of their producers I’m sure), churn out music that they know will sell. But for bands like Arctic Monkeys, it’s never been about this. Bands who are passionate about their music never began writing and recording music with the intention of selling millions. Hell, the majority of them didn’t even expect to sell tickets at their local venue. For them, music is their creative outlet, it’s how they express themselves, and it’s what they truly live for.  Therefore they do not owe us fans anything.

Sure Arctic Monkeys could have chosen to create a sequel to AM knowing it would satisfy their long-awaiting fans, but I’m glad they chose not to. Otherwise, I would be worried that they had lost their musical direction entirely.  In his recent interview with Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1, Turner admits that  “The guitar had lost its ability to give me ideas. Every time I sat with a guitar I was suspicious of where it was gonna go. I had a pretty good idea of what I might be which is completely contrary to what I felt when I sat at the piano.” (NME).   

I absolutely loved Alex Turner’s interview with Annie Mac. It was fascinating to hear his thought process behind Tranquility and reassuring to hear that he still has so much creative energy and passion to put into his music. After listening to the new album a few times, I’ve been able to appreciate Turner’s poetic lyrics all over again. If anything, these songs are his most sophisticated yet.

I’m happy that Arctic Monkeys are passionate enough about their music to take this new direction and I’m so excited to see them live once more in September!

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Knowing when to say ‘no’

Today I woke up from the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. If you’ve ever experienced sleep problems, you’ll understand how you can enter into an endless cycle of bad sleep, which can last for weeks or even months sometimes.

It’s got me thinking again about just how important it is to look after your mental wellbeing. I focus all my time into eating healthily and going to the gym several days a week to keep in good physical shape, yet I’m terrible at remembering to focus on my mental health. When my body is desperate for a rest and a good night’s sleep, I guilt trip myself into another gym session so I hit my target number of days for the week. I’ve become so used to channeling my stress through exercise, I forget that sometimes a good rest is just what my body needs.

I recently found out that I was going to be losing my job and it was really difficult knowing I was going to have to go through the whole job hunting process again after having so many job rejections over the summer. It then came to no surprise that it took a toll on my mental health and sleep, as I was so anxious about finding work again. And with stress and a lack of sleep, of course I then ended up running myself down with a cold. After feeling ill now for just under two months, I’ve since found out from the doctors that I’ve got CMV virus, caused by a weakened immune system. So now I’m beating myself up for obsessing over staying in shape and being sociable, instead of looking after myself when I first starting to feel ill.

I’ve always gone through life choosing to saying ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ to things, which during my school and university years was partly due to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). My dad always encouraged me to enjoy travelling, festivals and experiences, even if it meant being in my overdraft for all of university. While I’m now grateful to be out my overdraft, I’m pleased that I filled my university and graduate years with so many wonderful experiences, rather than worrying about saving money all the time.

Yet this week I’ve enjoyed saying ‘no’ to things and indulging in some guilty pleasures. I’ve had a week off the gym, binged-watched a lot of Netflix, eaten heaps of pasta, had a a fresh hair cut and colour, bookmarked a load of clothes I want to treat myself to on payday, and even booked a flight to Amsterdam for my birthday weekend. While it’s great to eat healthily and exercise regularly, sometimes indulging in a little ‘me’ time is just what the doctor ordered!

Saying Goodbye

What started off as an exciting and promising 2018 soon took a turn for the worse, as we sadly lost my grandfather, Bill Todd. While we all knew grandad was no longer his young and vibrant self, nothing ever quite prepares you for another loss, no matter how old or sick an individual might be.

I’m lucky in the sense that it’s now been nearly 12 years since I last lost a family member, and while it still struck me hard, I know I’m much better equipped to handle a loss than my 11 year old self. I also take comfort in the fact that my grandad was a lucky man, having met my grandma when he was just 15, celebrated their platinum wedding anniversary and met his first great grandchild, Alexandra, just less than a year ago. And at the grand old age of 92, I think he would agree that it was a life well lived.

I was nervous to attend the funeral, after recalling painful memories from the two I attended as a child. But we all shared wonderful memories of grandad and I actually learnt a lot about his life that I did not know before. For me, it’s hard to imagine a young Bill Todd when I hold such fond memories of hiding his slippers with my sister and cousin and the feeling of his bristly beard when he kissed us on the cheek. Yet at the funeral, I heard stories about an adventurous sailor, a practical and passionate father and a liberal man and husband, who chose to look after his children so my grandma could pursue her dream of being a social worker.

I’m so grateful that I got to spend so many years with my grandad and share such special memories with him. It’s also been so wonderful hearing from other family and friends who had been so touched by him. I’d like to end this post with grandad’s favourite toast, which he used to give at every family get together:

Here’s to us, to all of us, may we never want owt, noan of us, me neither!

                        

 

 

Another year gone

Every year it seems that almost everyone I know is ready to leave behind the year and begin the new one. They start reeling off the usual resolutions and promises to themselves to eat healthier, join a gym and stop drinking so much. While I’m looking forward to what 2018 has to bring, for the first time ever, I don’t feel quite ready to let go of 2017.

It feels strange thinking that this time last year I was getting ready to embark on what was to be the best four months of my life, backpacking around South East Asia with my friends. And while I feel sad that I’ve got nothing as exciting planned for 2018, it’s fantastic to look back at the year I’ve had. It’s unbelievable how fast the year has gone, but as it turns out, time really does fly when you’re having fun!

As well as it being a fun year, I also feel as though I’ve learnt a lot in 2017, so I thought I’d round up a few.

The unfamiliar world really isn’t as scary as you think

Before getting on that plane, I was absolutely terrified of flying by myself to an unfamiliar country where not everyone speaks my language, and I remember worrying that everyone around me was going to try and mug me. Of course, a few days in I soon realised that this was not the case at all and that in general, most people are good and want to help! This goes for lots of countries of course, and it’s sad that the news is constantly making us feel as though the world is out to get us. And while there is still a lot of bad in this world, there’s always a lot more good outweighing it.

But you still need to be careful

When I first got back to England, I felt pretty confident and safe being back in familiar territory, surrounded by friends and family. Yet it’s easy to become naive and forget that danger is still out there. I recently moved back to Sheffield, where I hold fond memories of university life and the city has always felt like a second home to me. However, I recently experienced a pretty scary incident with a strange man, who catcalled and chased me through one of the underpasses. I’ve never ran so fast in my life and it’s safe to say that the incident left me pretty shook up after. Luckily, I happened to run past a van full of police right around the corner, who were so helpful in helping me to file a report. They even drove me around the area to try and find the man, before dropping me off all the way to the door of the pub where I was meeting my friends. It upsets me how much this has knocked my newly gained confidence and has made me realise how vulnerable I still am. However, it’s really reassuring to know that the police force are really understanding and keen to help.

No one’s life compares to yours, so you shouldn’t compare yours to theirs

I feel like this is something I have to continually tell myself every year, yet it’s something many of us are often guilty of. With apps like Instagram constantly showing us pictures of our tanned friends travelling the world, it’s easy to wish your life was like theirs. Even when I had the privilege of travelling for a few months, I ended up being envious of my friends who were travelling for a over a year. It was hard to come back to reality and know that they were still out there experiencing incredible places. Yet I’ve also had friends tell me how jealous they’ve been of my travels, and so I keep stopping myself to think about how lucky I’ve been to experience a few months.

You will always find a job, even if it feels as though no company wants you

As expected, I had some pretty bad holiday blues once I was back in England and I soon got pretty down when I was job hunting and struggling to find work. Eventually I secured a temp job at Nottingham Trent University, which I really enjoyed. Sadly it came to an end though, and I was back to job hunting. At first I felt quite positive, as I secured several interviews after months of applying. When I didn’t get job offers after the interviews however, it really knocked my confidence. As anyone who’s been in that situation can tell you, every rejection really hits you hard, especially after you’ve put so much effort into an application and interview. You start to wonder if you’re really good enough and you take it very personally. However, as I was down to my last two interviews, one of them offered me a job back in Sheffield where I was keen to move back to. Suddenly I had a hectic couple of weeks finding somewhere to live and  getting ready for the new job, but that just made it ever more exciting! Now, I’ve moved in with some lovely housemates and have found a job I really enjoy going to each day, so it’s important to remember that you will get there in the end.

Setting goals for 2018

So after an awesome year (despite a few lows), I’m welcoming 2018 with open arms. I think I’ve learnt to like myself more throughout 2017, so I won’t be adopting the ethos of ‘new year, new me’. Instead, I’ve just set a few personal resolutions, which I fully intend on achieving!

  1. Complete Veganuary (and see where it takes me) – As you may have seen in one of my previous posts, I went vegan for a week in summer. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy I found it and so I’ve decided to try a bit longer this time and go vegan for the whole of January.
  2. Learn to do 1-5 pull-ups – I’ve been a regular gym-goer with a keen interest in weight training for a couple of years now, yet I’ve still never been able to do a single pull-up without the help of an assisted machine. So I’ve set myself this goal to see if I can finally achieve one.
  3. Be on my phone less – This one is slightly harder to measure objectively like the other two, but it’s something I’m keen to try and keep up. When I was travelling, I enjoyed the freedom of not being on my phone all the time and when I came back, I continued to not be on it very much. Yet after a few weeks of settling back into my old lifestyle, I found myself on my phone more and more. So I’d like to try and take this back a notch.
  4. Visit two countries – Of course the temptation of further travel is constantly niggling away at me, yet I want to stick with a job for a little while yet and save up some money. However, I’m keen to plan two trips away in 2018, whether it’s a long weekend or an action-packed two weeks.

Happy New Year!

 

King: The Month of Horror

With the recent film adaptations of Stephen King’s IT and Gerald’s Game being released in the run-up to Halloween, I’ve been getting so excited for the spooky season.

Despite being an avid reader with a keen interest in the horror genre, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not read as many Stephen King novels as I would have liked. I’ve seen numerous adaptations of his films over the years – Secret Window, The Green Mile and The Shining just to name a few and the only books I’ve read are Carrie and On Writing. So I figured what better way to get into the Halloween spirit than to honour the king of horror himself, and embark on a Stephen King reading month throughout October!

I didn’t have any particular novel choices in mind before I started this, but I was keen to pick a few that I knew next to nothing about. My choices were also limited to those my sister already had in her bedroom (as I decided to start this challenge a few days into October). Anyway, here’s how I got on…

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon 

I decided to start the month with one of King’s shorter novels, and opted for one I’d never heard of before: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. The novel reads like a stream of consciousness; told from the perspective of young baseball fan Trisha McFarland, who becomes lost in the woods after separating from her mother and brother.

I found this novel to be quite different from my experience with Stephen King so far, and going by the final line of the blurb: ‘There’s something else in the woods – watching. Waiting…’ I expected some more supernatural elements to the story. Instead however, I found myself enjoying how realistic the story line is. Although there were no scary characters attempting to kill or abduct Trisha, King manages to tap into the primal fear of one being left utterly and entirely alone in the wilderness, having to rely on your wits and instincts in order to survive.

The woods feel noisy and claustrophobic, and despite Trisha’s bravery, King unsurprisingly still manages to build the tension and fear of the ‘not even remotely human’ thing that’s following her, which she continuously refers to as ‘it’ (sound familiar?)

At times, I forgot that Trisha is nine years old, as she is ballsy, practical and swears more than your average nine year old! My nine year old self certainly wouldn’t have been able to survive that ordeal, that’s for sure. I found it interesting how Trisha often seemed to adopt voices that mimic adults, like when she tells herself “Don’t start that.” Of course, this becomes a more regular occurrence as she starts hallucinating and engaging in imaginary conversations with her baseball idol Tom Gordon.

While it may not be the most Halloweeny of King’s works, I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and I thought that it was different to other King stories I’m already familiar with. One quote in particular which stood out for me and summed up the story nicely has to be, “There is a point at which people who are cast upon their own resources stop living and begin merely surviving.”

Misery 

For my second choice, I opted for a more traditionally scary novel, which I’d heard of before but didn’t know much about. And I absolutely loved it!

Misery follows famous author Paul Sheldon, who after suffering through a car crash, wakes up a captive in obsessed fan Annie Wilkes’s house. After finding out he’s killed off her favourite character in his book, Annie forces Paul to write a new book, bringing the character back to life as he lays bed-bound.

I can just imagine how painful parts of this novel would have been for King to write, as he imagines being forced to burn his greatest work of writing to date in exchange for painkillers. And yet by the end, you feel so satisfied by the destruction of Misery’s Return. 

Paul makes several attempts in the novel to escape his room when Annie leaves, and I found myself feeling so tense during these moments that Annie was going to return any minute. King really masters the art of suspense building, particularly when Paul experiences a hint of freedom as a policeman shows up at Annie’s door. The gory scenes were so visual in my mind, I found myself wanting to squint away from the pages, and the terrifying character of Annie Wilkes is one that will continue to haunt me I’m sure!

In true King fashion, we’re left with a tense uncertainty about whether or not Annie is truly gone, as like Misery Chastain, she continues to haunt Paul’s psyche: ‘”You can’t kill the goddess. The goddess is immortal. Now I must rinse.” 

‘Salem’s Lot

I found it a bit harder to get into ‘Salem’s Lot, however this may have been due to being rundown with a cold when I started reading it! Once I did get stuck in, I enjoyed King’s take on the classic vampire/’living dead’.

The novel is told from a series of perspectives, particularly focusing on character Ben Mears, who is returning to the town Jerusalem’s Lot where he grew up. There are a few instances of residents going missing and suddenly dying, before Ben and a few others discover that they’re turning into vampires.

With so many different interpretations of vampires nowadays, I enjoyed how King’s vampires followed a more traditional form; they’re allergic to garlic, they fear sacred water and the holy cross and they can be destroyed through a stake to the heart.

Yet this doesn’t make them any less terrifying, as King of course doesn’t spare us any of the gory details: “She felt his teeth and he was biting her, sucking and biting, drawing  blood”, “Danny Glick slipped through his bedroom window and plucked the baby from his crib and sank his teeth into a neck still bruised from a mother’s blows.”

Like many other traditional and modern vampire storiesthere’s a sexual element to the vampires in ‘Salem’s Lot, and this only adds further to the disturbing nature of the novel, for example when Jimmy tells Ben “And when she was doing it, I liked it, Ben. That’s the hellish part. I actually had an erection.”

Overall, I really started to enjoy this classic vampire tale as I continued to read it, and it’s exciting to still find creatures like vampires scary.

Dreamcatcher 

After a busy month of reading, I finished Dreamcatcher just in time to celebrate Halloween! Dreamcatcher tells the story of four friends who have reunited for their annual hunting trip, only to find themselves caught up in an alien abduction. Known as the Ripley or byrus, the alien acts as a parasite; possessing whichever human is unlucky enough to become its victim.

When it possesses character Jonesy, it goes by the name of Mr Gray, and it’s interesting to read the perspectives from both characters, living inside the same body in Jekyll and Hyde fashion. As Jonesy still has some control, he’s able to work with his friends and the military to fight the Ripley.

Like many of King’s novels, Dreamcatcher is very bodily and grotesque, as the byrus causes its victims to produce gas and excrement which smell “something like mine-gas trapped a million years and finally let free,” and “something contaminated and dying badly.” As a reader, you find yourself scrunching up your nose in disgust!

After reading the novel’s blurb and finding out it was set in Derry, Maine, I was straight away reminded of It, especially when I knew the novel was centred around a group of friends. And sure enough, I was pleased to see that King references It when Mr Gray/Jonesy discover a plaque honouring “THOSE LOST IN THE STORM…LOVE FROM THE LOSERS CLUB,” above the chillingly red letters “PENNYWISE LIVES.”

I felt overall that Dreamcatcher was an interesting take on the alien parasite, and King really forces us to draw on the grotesque, physical aspects of horror, rather than the terror.

Final Thoughts

I think I chose a good selection of Stephen King’s novels, with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Misery featuring more realistic scary situations, while ‘Salem’s Lot and Dreamcatcher delved into the realm of the supernatural. With some of the novels being years apart from each other, I also found it interesting to see how King’s writing has changed over the years.

All in all, I’ve really enjoyed my month of horror, and I’m certainly keen to delve into a few more Stephen King books I’ve got lying around!

7 Days of Vegan

While veganism is by no means anything new, the popularity of vegan and plant-based diets is certainly on the rise. Be it for ethical or health reasons, many people are choosing to reduce their meat and dairy consumption, leading to new terms like ‘flexitarian’!

I’ve always led a reduced meat diet; I first went vegetarian when I was 8 and continued for about 9 years before choosing to eat meat and fish right before I went to university. Now, 5 years later, I’ve been vegetarian again for about 8 months. I’ve always found a vegetarian diet pretty easy to maintain, and I’ve slowly been trying to head towards a more vegan/plant-based diet. As I’m primarily vegetarian for ethical reasons, it seems wrong for me to still be consuming dairy products when I’m still aware of the horrible conditions and procedures animals have to live through in order for me to enjoy my delicious cheese!

After hearing about so many benefits that come from a vegan I diet, I decided to eat fully vegan this week for a number of reasons:

  1. To find out whether I could even do it!
  2. To finally try out some recipes from the multitude of vegan cookbooks we’ve got floating about the house
  3. To see if I can spot any health improvements, such as better skin, more energy etc.
  4. To see if I can still enjoy weight training and fitness on a vegan diet

Admittedly,  I already knew that I may find this challenge easier than most, as I’ve already eaten many vegan meals due to living with my sister who’s been vegan for nearly 2 years. However, as a massive lover of cheese and eggs, I still knew that the week would be a challenge!

As I’m also a keen lover of the gym and weight training, I’m also interested in finding out whether I could sustain a vegan diet and still get enough protein and energy to build muscle. I don’t tend to hear about many vegan weight trainers, but maybe this is something I need to do more research into!

Monday

So my first day wasn’t off to the best start as I’d had an awful migraine Sunday night and I woke up head-achy and tired. Therefore my meals were pretty unadventurous and not too healthy, but I plan to experiment a lot more further into the week!

I was also super hungry from not eating much the night before, so for breakfast I opted for crumpets with some vegan soy butter we already had in the fridge. I’m not the biggest fan of butter anyway (although I am partial to a hot buttery crumpet), so this was a pretty easy switch for me.

I ended up missing lunchtime as I’d been out on a long 4 hour walk, so I just had a piece of toast with some vegan cheese spread, which was surprisingly really tasty! I’ve tried vegan cheese in the past and found it to be very plain, so I was surprised that this spread tasty as cheesey as it did.

As it was a super hot day, it seemed rude not to have a BBQ at teatime! My sister had some falafel mix, so we made that up into two burgers, which we ate with couscous and salad. I’m already a bit fan of falafel, so these were super tasty, although I can find falafel pretty dry without any kind of sauce or mix. I found out the guacamole we had in the fridge wasn’t vegan, so I just had ketchup instead.

This meal was a struggle for me as my dad and his girlfriend BBQ’d some halloumi, which is one of my favourite types of cheese!

Tuesday

Yet again I woke up with a headache, so I opted for the same breakfast as yesterday – crumpets with vegan butter.

Thankfully by lunchtime I was starting to feel okay again, so I decided to put a bit more effort into my meal! I’d recently tried the Fry’s meat free chicken strips and they were really yummy, and not dry like a lot of meat free products. I fried this up in some sweet chilli sauce and ate them with some spinach, watercress, rocket, tomatoes and celery, dressed in lime.

I was still a bit hungry after, so I finished lunch off with some hummous and carrot sticks – which is always my go-to snack.

My meal at teatime was a bit of an odd one (we’re currently waiting on an online food delivery, so there’s not a great deal in the house and I had to improvise). I made a Mediterranean style quinoa and chickpea salad with chopped tomatoes, cumin and some other spices, and had it with spinach and some vegan fish fingers which we had lying around in the freezer. It tasted okay, but it certainly didn’t look nice enough to photograph!

Later in the evening I had a bit of a sweet craving, so I enjoyed some delicious dairy free vanilla ice cream, which honestly tastes as good as the real thing. I don’t know how they make it that creamy without dairy!

Wednesday

As I was off to the gym that morning, I had a big bowl of porridge made with soya milk and chia seeds mixed in for extra protein. Usually I’d have honey on my porridge, but as I couldn’t have that this week, I mixed in a spoonful of peanut butter for some taste.

We were still waiting for our online shop to arrive, so lunch was another random concoction. I had chickpeas, quinoa, cumin, celery and tomatoes mixed with some falafel and sweet potato balls, topped off with lime juice and sweet balsamic glaze.

By teatime the food shop had finally arrived, much to our delight! I decided to cook one of my favourite vegetarian stir fry recipes by Jamie Oliver, adjusting it slightly by taking out the honey and swapping the egg noodles for rice noodles. I love this recipe as there are so many flavours from the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, chilli and lime, and you can add as much veg as you like. However I have to say that the honey really does add to the recipe, as it helps the sesame seeds and cashew nuts to stick to the tofu, although I still enjoyed this vegan version. The photo does not do this dish justice I’m afraid!

Thursday

Again I wanted another good breakfast, so I opted for porridge and banana with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. I’m not usually a big fan of cinnamon, but this actually went really well together.

For lunch, I made a variation of a Mexican bowl idea I found online, with tofu, black beans, sweetcorn, avocado and salsa. We only had a few of these things in, so I had tofu fried in chilli powder and taco spice, kidney beans and salsa. I tried to use avocado, but the ones we’ve got sadly weren’t ripe yet, which is always a pain! But it tasted good nonetheless. As the dish was missing some of the most colourful ingredients, I didn’t even think it was worth photographing this one.

In the evening we made homemade pizzas, using a really simple frying pan pizza recipe. I can’t believe how easy this was to cook – you simply fry each side of the pizza dough for 5 minutes, add your toppings, then grill the finished pizza for another 5 minutes. I added peppers, onions, oregano and vegan mozzarella cheese to mine, and I was surprised by how cheesey the mozzarella tasted. And it actually melted too, which I find most vegan cheese doesn’t do. It tasted good, although I think we made the bases a little bit too stodgy, so next time I think we’ll use less flour than it suggests in the recipe.

(I admit, it certainly doesn’t look appealing the picture haha, but homemade pizzas often look quite messy!)

Friday

For breakfast I had my usual porridge and chia seeds, but this time I had it with some delicious blueberries. I’m still missing having honey on my porridge, so having some sweet fruit on top helps.

For lunch, I went into town to meet some old colleagues for one of their birthdays. I was keen to go for a vegan meal out during this week, so I was excited to give it a go. We ate at Turtle Bay, which surprisingly has lots of vegan options to choose from. I went for the spiced chickpea and mushroom wrap with a portion of sweet potato fries, and it was so tasty.

As I was pretty full from lunch, I just got a portion of chips at the pub later on as I enjoyed some drinks!

Saturday

I woke up on Saturday pretty hungover, so I ended up having a late breakfast/brunch. I just wanted stodge and comfort food, so I had beans on toast topped off with some Henderson’s Relish.

In the afternoon, me and my sister decided to do some baking, and chose the ‘Fudgy Wudgy Blueberry Brownies’ from Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I was amazed by how gooey and rich these brownies ended up without using butter – they were delicious! We used coconut oil instead, but the taste of blueberries and chocolate really come through. I’ll definitely be baking these again.

For teatime, I was keen to try out a recipe from another vegan/plant-based cookbook, and decided on the Dahl curry from Niomi Smart’s book Eat Smart. I’ve always wanted to make a curry from scatch, so I thought this was a great time to give it a go. Inside the curry we had lentils, tomatoes, coriander, garlic, onions, ginger, coconut oil and lots of spices. While the curry was nice, I think it could have definitely done with some more flavour, as none of my family like a mild curry, and I found the recipe didn’t quite leave us with enough sauce. So next time, I think I’ll adjust the measurements slightly!

Sunday

For my last day of vegan week, I started off with porridge, chia seeds, blueberries and grapes with. I’m actually starting to get pretty used to porridge without honey, so maybe I’ll stop being so reliant on it for breakfast!

Our avocados are finally ripe, so for lunch I had some avocado on seeded toast – one of my all-time favourites! Usually, I’d have poached egg as well with it, but the toast was still pretty nice with just a bit of cracked pepper on.

As I had tons of lentils  left from the Dahl the night before, I sought out some vegan lentil recipes online and made a lentil, quinoa, spinach and chickpea stew (as the weather has already started turning cooler today!) Despite missing a few of the ingredients, this actually ended up being so tasty, and loads more flavoursome than the curry the day before.

Food for thought

All in all I’ve really enjoyed this week, and I’ve found it a lot easier than I thought I would. Other than a couple of moments where I nearly ate chocolate or added honey on my porridge without thinking, I didn’t find myself desperately needing eggs or dairy.

I’ve also felt pretty healthy all week, and still found that I had plenty of energy for the gym. So it’s great to know that changing my diet in the future won’t affect my exercise regime.

In conclusion, I think I’ll certainly make the effort from now on to reduce my dairy consumption and experiment more with vegan meals – there’s still tons of recipes in those cookbooks that I’m now dying to try out!

 

 

South Thailand: Scuba Diving, Songkran & Full Moon Parties

It felt strange to be back in the hot streets of Bangkok where we’d began our journey. Although this time around, I arrived feeling at ease and like a more experienced traveller than I once before. It felt odd to be the one dishing out tips to tourists who had just arrived at our hostel, rather than being the one receiving them!

But we were only back for the night, and we soon met up with our friends Stacey and Joel again to book a bus to Krabi. I was excited to move away from the cities and enjoy some time with the sea and sand.

Ton Sai & Railay Beach

Instead of exploring Krabi Town, we hopped on a tiny motorboat to Ton Sai Beach where we’d booked two bungalows on stilts to stay in. It truly felt like we’d finally arrived on a remote island as we carried our huge rucksacks over our heads and waded our way through the sea.

While a lot of people choose to stay at Railay Beach, (which is about a 20 minute walk from Ton Sai), we opted to go for the latter, as it’s cheaper and less busy. The island is so small that there are just a few places to eat and stay, and all the electricity gets turned off at about 10pm. But that just makes it the perfect place to relax and it was nice to enjoy a few days completely disconnected.

While Ton Sai has some great rock climbing opportunities, there isn’t a great deal more to do, as you can imagine for most islands! So we enjoyed a nice hike to a viewpoint before cooling off in the beautiful sea. You can tell that Ton Sai is a haven for travellers, and we almost felt like we were back in Pai when we spotted the hammock-clad bars adorned with psychedelic mushrooms on the walls.

On our last day we took a walk over to Railay Beach, which is great for snorkeling around the rock pools when the tide is out. Drinks are pretty pricey there though, as we’d expected!

While everyone raves about Railay Beach, I think my personal favourite has to be Phra Nang Beach, as it’s a bit less busy, yet the sea is beautiful and there are awesome rocks overhanging the sea.

Phra Nang Beach is also home to a very unusual Penis Cave – yep, you heard me – a cave full entirely of wooden penises. Apparently this is because, “It is believed by the villagers that the spirit of Phranang (Princess Goddess) resides in the cave. Fishermen, before going out, would pledge Phranang for good luck. With their wishes fulfilled, votive offerings would be made at the shrine. Common gifts are flowers and incense sticks, but usually, the spirits of goddess shall be offered special gifts, the lingams.” 

If you fancy a challenging hike, there’s a fantastic hidden blue lagoon right by Phra Nang and Railay Beach. Completely secluded by rocks and accessible only by a steep hike, the natural lagoon is simply breathtaking. Although we made it back covered in mud, it was certainly a highlight for me.

Phi Phi

If there was one island I’d heard about the most in Thailand it was Phi Phi. Although I’d heard wonderful things about it, we’d also heard about how expensive the island is (including the ‘clean up’ entry fee you have to pay to even step on the island)!

As soon as we stepped off the boat, we were hounded by salesmen trying to sell us accommodation. We spent a good hour asking around the hostels to find the best price, before settling on the cheapest one we could find – which despite being the most expensive bed we’d paid for yet on the trip, didn’t even supply bedding.

However we didn’t let that stop us – as we had cause to celebrate! It was Stacey’s birthday that night, and so we soon headed to the beach to start drinking before carrying on into the night. And there’s no doubt that the nightlife in Phi Phi is fantastic – there are so many drink deals, which certainly made up for the accommodation.

Like many people I know, I was set on going to Phi Phi so I could visit the infamous Maya Bay, which was featured in Danny Boyle’s The Beach. However, after some research, we found out that the location has sadly been spoiled by tourism, with tons of boats cramming their way into the bays and tourists having to fork out extortionate prices just to go there for a few hours. So we decided to give it a miss, as we’d already seen our fair share of dazzling beaches.

Koh Lanta

On the boat to Koh Lanta we were approached by a couple of men selling accommodation. We realised that this is something we’d probably have to get used to now that we were visiting all the touristy Thai islands, so we agreed what we thought was a good deal for a 4 person flat with one of the salesman. Although Joel was a bit suspicious over the good price, we couldn’t think of a reason why anything would go wrong.

The room had air con and a TV, and as we’d been hit with torrential rain the last couple of days, we enjoyed a cosy night in watching films. The next day, we made the most of what looked like a sunny day and rented some motorbikes from the hotel next door to head out for the day. We enjoyed a short trek to a waterfall before stopping off for a drink at a viewpoint overlooking one of the beaches.

However, it’s once we returned to the room where Edd soon discovered something was wrong. After both frantically searching our money belts, we found all of our Thai currency gone. Everything else of value in the room (like iPods, cameras etc.) were still there, it was just the money that was missing. As the whole flat was locked by key, we knew that it had to be the owners who were behind the robbery. After confronting them, it was clear that they were crooks and they’d already tipped off the police before we went there. We did some research and found that sadly it’s quite commonplace for tourists to get tricked into staying in these cheap rooms before getting robbed in Koh Lanta and some of the other Thai islands. As angry as we were about falling for the scam, we filed a police report anyway, packed up our stuff and got out of there as soon as we could. We booked a hostel at the other end of the island for the night, before making sure we booked another boat out of there the next day!

We knew that we couldn’t let something like this ruin our time in Koh Lanta, so before getting our boat we got a taxi to Koh Lanta Animal Welfare, a nonprofit charity for dogs and cats. The sanctuary aims to re-home the stray animals on the islands, and all the staff members and volunteers are fantastic at what they do. We got a guided tour round the sanctuary and got to play with the cats and dogs. Being massive animal lovers, this was the best way of cheering ourselves up!

From what I saw of Koh Lanta, I still definitely recommend visiting there. Just steer clear of anyone selling cheap accommodation on the boats and do your research beforehand.

Krabi Town

As we were leaving Koh Lanta a day or two early, we decided to head back to Krabi Town as we hadn’t actually explored the town properly before. On the weekends in Krabi, there’s a huge night market selling all sorts of food, drinks and souvenirs. So we enjoyed some beers and delicious veggie curry while watching some live music.

The best thing to visit in Krabi Town has to be Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Tham Suea). Located atop a whooping 1,237 steps, it’s no surprise that the view is utterly fantastic. And while the walk up there is exhausting in the heat, it’s completely worth it.

A friend of Joel and Stacey’s was staying just down the road in Ao Nang, so I joined them to go pay their friend a visit. While Krabi Town feels a lot more like a traditional Thai town, Ao Nang is a lot more expensive and touristy. But it’s the place to go if you want some nightlife! We enjoyed a few rounds of beer pong at their friend’s hostel before finishing with some drinks on the beach.

Koh Tao

Originally we planned to go to Koh Samui next, however we found a cheap overnight boat straight to Koh Tao, where me and Stacey planned to do our PADI Open Water scuba dive course. So we enjoyed a pleasantly nice boat ride being rocked to sleep by the waves before arriving bright and early in Koh Tao.

As soon as the dive schools opened, me and Stacey paid them a visit, before deciding on Crystal Dive, whose PADI course involves one day diving in the swimming pool and two days diving in the sea.Me and Stacey were both excited and terrified about scuba diving. Stacey had had one bad experience with it on holiday a few years ago and I had never tried it before, so I had no idea what to expect.

They say that you’ll never forget your first breath underwater, and it’s safe to say that’s true (although I don’t think my memory will be a good one)! My breaths instantly became shorter and quicker and I felt completely out of control. But as soon as I calmed down and took deeper breaths, I started to get used to the feeling.

One thing me and Stacey never got used to do however was taking off our masks underwater! It just made us feel so vulnerable but luckily our scuba diving instructors were so patient and reassuring that we managed to do it.

And it was all totally worth it! Words cannot describe your first experience scuba diving in the sea. I’ve snorkeled in some amazing locations before (including the Caribbean), and seen some amazing sea life, but it simply doesn’t compare to swimming alongside them. Although we didn’t see any turtles or whale sharks during our course, we did see some bluespotted stingrays and amazing fish.

Koh Phangan

Now we were fully qualified PADI divers, it was time to head to Koh Phangan for the infamous Full Moon Party! We stayed in an awesome hostel called West Side Story where we met fellow traveller Dan who joined us on a hike to a viewpoint before chilling at the beach.

We then headed out to the night market to buy some fluorescent Full Moon Party tops for the following night!

The Full Moon Party is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve never seen so many people on one beach, and everywhere you look there are fire performers, water slides and cocktail buckets. Our friend Edd stayed out so long he ended up missing the boat to Phuket the next day! If you know what you’re going in for (expensive drinks, packed crowds and deafening music until the sun comes up), then you simply have to experience the Full Moon Party at least once!

Phuket

We decided to squeeze in a trip to Phuket for Songkran (the Thai New Year festival). During Songkran, the locals take part in 3 day water fight to celebrate the new year and bring in good luck.

We headed to a local 7/11 to buy the biggest water guns we could find, and as soon as we ascended upon the streets we were attacked left, right and centre by excited locals with water guns and buckets of water.

Instead of spending Songkran in the touristy part of Phuket, we spent it in the local area and it was the best decision we could have made. Aside from a few other tourists, we got to spend so much time with the locals and they took extra delight in soaking us with freezing cold water and covering our faces with coloured paste for good luck. The atmosphere during Songkran is truly unique and my cheeks genuinely hurt by the end of the festival from all the laughing!

Once Songkran was over, me Edd and Raquel explored the more touristy side of Phuket and visited the main town to buy some souvenirs. We also met Jori in our hostel who joined us for a relaxing evening on the beach and for some drinks in the evening. I felt sad knowing that this was the last time on my trip that I was going to see the sea!

Back to Bangkok

So after an amazing time exploring the Thai islands, it was time to head back to Bangkok for the third and final time. We had an extra two nights booked in Bangkok before flying home, so we stuffed our faces full of pad thai and bought some gifts to take home to our families.

And of course we couldn’t leave Bangkok without one last night out on Khao San Road, so we joined others dancing in the street before heading back for our final sleep before the flight.


Looking back at this trip as I’m writing the last post makes me feel so grateful that I got to experience so many extraordinary moments on the trip of a lifetime with my friends. From feeding elephants to spending the night in a jungle, to riding a motorbike through the beautiful Vietnamese landscape, to scuba diving among stingrays, it’s been quite the adventure.

I’ve seen the most beautiful sunsets, swam in the clearest waters and met some of the friendliest local people in the world.

Until the next trip!