Dry Skin? Have you tried macadamia oil?

Last night I was despairing at the state of my skin.  I had a huge dry patch on my forehead where the car’s heater vents have been blowing straight into my face.  It would probably be a lot worse if I didn’t wear sunglasses like ALL THE TIME.

So I thought I’d try putting macadamia oil on instead of moisturiser.  I got mine from Aldi last year, but you could try this with any light oil such as grapeseed oil, olive oil or coconut oil.

I put a fair amount on my face and neck, but not so much that it didn’t sink in within a few minutes, because the worst thing you can do to dry skin is to swamp it with greasyness, that just leaves you with dry skin and spots, which means  the dry bits have to get drier while you avoid oils until the spots go away.  It’s just a bad time.

I went to sleep and when I awoke, I was pleased that my skin had regained its moisturisation and suppleness, because we all know that oil has the potential to just make you look like you bathed in a chip pan, whatever skin type you have.

I washed it off with some warm water, because I have found that spots are caused by grease getting trapped in my pores.  I rarely have spots.  I reapplied it today, more lightly, as a base for foundation – it was an idea I got when I heard someone say that younger people don’t need primer unless they have very dry skin, and I thought, what would be better than moisturiser and primer for dry skin?

The night before
The night before
The next morning, after washing my face.
The next morning, after washing my face.

Well I tried it and I’m completely sold.  Instead of expensive primer full of silicones and whatnot, for everyday wear, I’m going to use my macadamia oil as primer.  It’s amazing.  *UPDATE: Photo below* I don’t have any photos because I lost my phone yesterday (and there has been major drama while I’ve been searching for it) and so I can’t take any pictures, but if you have dry skin and find that your foundation creases when you first apply it, try a light oil on your face, like coconut oil or macadamia (or almond) oil, apply only a small amount, your face shouldn’t be an ice rink otherwise the foundation won’t stick, and see whether it improves the smoothness of your foundation.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that it makes my face feel cool and refreshed, and the foundation feels much more breathable than usual, which is a nice bonus! I use the Benefit Oxygen Wow foundation in Ivory.

This is what my foundation looks like with using Macadamia Oil as a primer instead of moisturiser and primer.
This is what my foundation looks like with using Macadamia Oil as a primer instead of moisturiser and primer.

Oils not to use: Sunflower oil, any animal based fat calling itself an oil, mineral oil, baby oil, vegetable oil, castor oil, aromatherapy “scented” oils (they’re too strong for the facial area unless being used under the direction of an aromatherapist who will usually dilute them with a carrier oil such as the grapeseed oil I mentioned earlier).

Only use a very small bit of coconut oil because it’s thicker than some of the others that I said were good to use.

Update: I’ve now added before and after pics of using macadamia oil on bare skin and under foundation.

Is Fear of Leaving Empty-Handed Making You Shop?

Fear of Leaving Empty-Handed

Have you ever gone into a shop and browsed, only to feel like the woman behing the counter is watching you, and like you can’t leave empty handed? That compulsion to buy something?

It can get a bit ridiculous. When I first left home, I had to know what was inside every shop, I think it was just curiosity and an enjoyment of the time I could spend doing it. However, I seemed to keep leaving the shops with an item or two. Sometimes three. Sometimes these items were fairly expensive. Always I didn’t want or need them. I couldn’t understand why I kept doing it until I got stuck in a particularly cloying boutique.

It was the kind of shop that calls itself a boutique, that sells things which are labelled in squiggly handwriting with the name of some unreadable (and unremarkable) “designer.” The window display had been some pretty hats, and for some reason it lured me in. I wondered what else they sold.

I went inside. A particularly sour-faced older lady in the over sixty category, wearing a very unattractive floral print dress (prints had been out for about 10 years by this point, and wouldn’t ever make a comeback in the garish incarnation she was sporting) and a necklace that seemed to be garotting her neck fat. She glared down her nose at me and didn’t say a word. I looked around to see what the shop sold. There was a lot of things that the older lady might wear to watch a regatta or go to a wedding. I could see the Queen shopping somewhere similar. Nothing had any price tags on. I started to panic because there was nothing in the whole shop that I could buy. Not a single thing. Everything was repulsive in some way or another. I felt too hot, the temperature was stuffy and the artificial floral air freshener was catching in my throat. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t buy anything, so I looked obsessively at every single item, pretending to be interested, and I had an epiphany – I didn’t have to buy something in order to leave. The exit was right there, all I had to do was be brave and walk out. I suddenly realised that when I came into shops like this I tended to worry that sour older women like that would just see my school uniform and assume I was shoplifting when I wasn’t, causing unpleasantness. She couldn’t stop me for shoplifting – because I hadn’t shoplifted anything. It didn’t seem like such a silly worry at the time, so I had to take a very deep breath, close my eyes, pull the door open… and I was back on the street, walking away, never to see the inside of that awful place again.

I felt like I’d escaped from a spider web.

For years, I felt very uncomfortable when trying to leave a shop without buying anything, although it wasn’t unmanageable. I did still find it quite difficult, however, and there were a few times I ended up leaving with something I thought I wanted to buy, but if I’d really thought about it, I wouldn’t have bought it. It all came to a head in my first year of university. I’d just got my student overdraft, and I saw a dress in the window. It was sparkly and pale pink. I went inside to try it on. It didn’t fit particularly well and it had a huge design flaw that made my legs look terrible. Additionally, it was actually a very unflattering pale peach, and made my skin tone look dead. Oh, and it was also £250. But do you know what I did? I bought it anyway. I didn’t find out about the colour until I got back to my room; they must have had some very odd lighting on it in the shop.

I got it home still feeling really pleased with myself about buying the dress, pleased that I was now the sort of person who could spend £250 on a dress without thinking about where that money would come from. Pleased, in short, that I was able to participate in consumerism at a higher level than when I lived at home. I equated spending power with success.

It was about seven or eight years later that I finally realized that I had made a poor choice. The years came and went, I never actually wore that dress to any of the variety of functions I attended, at all of which it would have been appropriate, because I was afraid of someone spilling something on it, or standing on the hem. Every time I tried it on I would look in the mirror and feel very pleased with myself for having such a nice dress. Through the bad times, the times when I was working at McDonalds and when I was unemployable because I couldn’t walk, I would try the dress on and feel the same way I had when I bought it – like I was going places. I felt like anyone with a dress like this must be on their way up in life. I loved it. And underneath that thought process, I also hated it. I felt like it was a tangible reminder of my own weakness, my inability to not buy things, something I knew was a personal failing even as it made me feel happy. The feeling grew on me that I had never worn it, and time was always moving forward, and it was just taking up space in my life. I didn’t need it, and I didn’t want it. Every time I altered the hemline or changed the drop of the skirt, it still didn’t look right and I couldn’t put my finger on the reason.

The bottom line was, it was an expensive waste of money and it was also an overpriced and poor fitting monstrosity that I would never have occasion to wear.

When my wedding day came, I pulled it out. The most expensive dress you ever wear, we are told by the Wedding Industrial Complex, is supposed to be your wedding dress. Well I wasn’t going to spend £250 on a wedding dress, but I also didn’t actually like that dress and didn’t want to wear it in public. I think the peach colour had progressively faded from the moment I bought it and when it came to my wedding year it was a really yellowish peach that made me look positively anaemic (which I was, but I didn’t need to look like I was). My actual wedding dress was £10. When I first started minimalizing the house, six months after the wedding (we haven’t been married anywhere near a year yet), that £250 dress was one of the first things I got rid of.

Do you know how good that felt? It felt better than when I bought it. I felt like I’d unhitched a cart that I’d been dragging behind me for years. I felt lighter and more moveable. It’s several weeks later and I’m still glad I got rid of it.

The fact that I was able to get rid of it means that I am putting that part of my life – the naive thoughts that being able to consume more expensive items equates to success and happiness – behind me, I’m committed to minimalizing my life and letting go of the things that are weighing me down.

All my sandbags will be cut loose, so I can soar amongst the stars.

No longer am I afraid of leaving empty handed. I don’t need to buy things to prove to shop assistants that I have spending power. I know that I can buy anything I want to, but that doesn’t mean I have to use that power. In Kung-Fu, it is taught that true wisdom is knowing when not to fight. So in minimalism, we learn that true wisdom is also knowing when not to purchase things.

I think this is probably linked to FOMO – or fear of missing out.  Sometimes I worry that if I don’t buy something when I see it I’ll never get back to buy it when I really need it.  This is an obstacle I’m still trying to overcome.  But that’s okay, because minimalism is a journey, and it starts with choosing which pair of shoes to wear to take that single step.  Unless you’re a centipede.  In which case you can wear all of them.

[wellness] The False Concept of Cooking

I’ve always been a big fan of eating whole, unharassed, clean vegetables. I really love the simplicity of it. I think it’s one of the things I love most about my rabbits – we can pretty much eat the same food. However, I didn’t always know how to eat. My biggest mistake when I first became vegan was that I tried looking for foods in the supermarket that were beyond the fruit and veg aisle. I found myself frustrated with the conventional foods and convenience foods in the parts of the supermarket that I’d always bought food from, the fact that dietary staples such as Packet Pasta (an example would be Kraft Macaroni), vegetarian frozen food, vegetarian chilled ready meals, curry sauces, snacks and even drinks were full of animal products. I had many a meltdown in the supermarket where I would just walk out of the shop and sit in my car and cry, because I didn’t know what to do, I was certain I wasn’t going to eat that crap, but I didn’t know what to eat.

Something my aunt told me recently, when I told her a vegan friend has found out she’s gluten intolerant, was “she’s going to have to learn to cook then.”

This is the big myth that keeps us all subjugated and enslaved to a world of shit food.

You don’t have to learn to cook. You don’t need to learn to cook.

You need to learn to eat.

A lot of “so you want to be vegan” type books (apologies if this book is real, I’m categorizing a type of book here) tell you that you need to eat more whole foods, that you can get “meaty” foods like tofu, Facon (fake bacon), scheeze (fake cheese) and so on, to replace the meat in your food.

Meat loss is not the problem.

All these eating books have built up the idea that you need to replace the meat with a solid, meat-textured object, that you only need to check the ingredients are animal free, and that if you do, POP! You’re vegan.

This type of eating is unsustainable, and really it undermines the fundamental principles of veganism. Instead of trying to find foods that you used to eat which happen to be vegan, and attempting to subsist off those (beans on toast anyone), or trying to “veganize” foods which are not vegan, or imitate foods, here’s a staggering thought:
How about try eating totally different foods, including lots of fruit and vegetables, and see where that takes you?

I’m only being slightly sarcastic here because it wasn’t until my mum died of cancer in December that I realised what I’d been doing wrong with my eating habits this entire time. We all do it. It’s so ingrained into us from birth that we must eat a particular way and when we question it we’re told it’s because of nutrition and when we get ill we’re told it’s because we’re not eating a particular way. On paper, I’ve always thought I understood this concept of “changing the way you eat” and thought it just meant, “stop eating animal products” and “move away from meat and two veg nonsense.” It’s so very much bigger than that.

What if the answer was to totally break free from all the things you think you know about cooking, all your kitchenware, all your dishes, steamers, microwave, etc etc? And then, once you’ve started listening to your body, identifying what it needs, and acting on it, you could maybe add some of those things back in?

After I got the news about my mum, I couldn’t eat anything other than raw vegetables for a week.

I didn’t understand why. My 22 year old sister, across the country, was spontaneously having the exact same problem. We both fundamentally knew, no matter what anyone told us was the cause of our mother’s death, that food was the key. In our house growing up, a meal would be chicken nuggets and chips, with maybe a tablespoon of tinned peas or sweetcorn. Snacks were crisps, biscuits and in summer, home-made ice lollies made from that stuff you dilute. We never had real fruit juice, fresh vegetables or fruit. Sometimes at Christmas there would be tangerines. When we went to clear her house, we found receipts for food shopping. Ready meals full of processed meat and other junk. I had changed the way I ate when I first left home at 18. Moving in with an Aunt while I finished school had been a culture shock. The idea of eating two freshly cooked vegetables with the evening meal literally astounded me. I felt so healthy. I didn’t even consider the possibility that this was only a moderately healthy meal. I still filled my face with chocolate and crisps, now adding biscuits and cakes to the list.

Sometimes, when I’m reading about nutrition and I come across some of the delicate balances of nutrients that we humans need, I wonder how it is that some people are still alive. I wonder how my sister and I didn’t grow up with some serious developmental disorders due to what we were eating.

I went to university. I became vegetarian. I felt like I’d never been healthier. I swapped sausages (which I’d always detested) for vegetarian sausages. Chicken nuggets became vegetarian nuggets. Chips (fries) were still chips. Pot noodles and spaghetti hoops were still the same too. Crisps (potato chips) were still a daily dietary staple. So was chocolate. I struggled with my weight, constantly fighting to get down to a 10 (US6). I exercised and didn’t understand why I was tired all the time. It literally didn’t occur to me that my poor diet was making me ill.

Fast forward two years. I became vegan. I took the “3 week vegan challenge” and, once the three weeks were up, I never really got round to eating eggs or dairy again. I felt healthier, stronger, happier, more outgoing, my grades soared and I was finally on track to get the degree classification I’d been obsessing over for the past two years. Never had I felt better. All my life, I’d been plagued by stomach pains, stomach cramps, trapped wind, bloating and a constant feeling of nausea. I had actually associated that nausea with feeling full. When I became vegan, after the first two weeks, all these problems went away. I realised that it wasn’t normal to feel like this, and that I had the power to avoid it. That was when I first started wondering if I was lactose intolerant. I had a few false starts in the first year; every time I slipped up, I felt the familiar nausea and pains in my stomach. It became a big decision-making factor in what I ate. And nothing vegan ever made me feel like that.

Two years later, I’d become quite ill. I’d been working at McDonalds and eating fries for lunch every day, or a hash brown if I was on the breakfast shift. Milkshakes started creeping their way in. And ice creams. Soon I was feeling sick all the time again, and I had forgotten why this happened. I thought it might be gluten, I was adamant that it couldn’t possibly be milk. After six months off gluten and feeling only slightly better (probably because my favourite food was pasta and cheese sauce), I had to concede that it was milk. I was being sick several times every day. I got very ill with a mobility problem and was in bed most days, with no money to buy good food. I finally cut out milk and, while some of my problems improved, others got worse.

I had cut out milk, but I hadn’t replaced it with anything. Yes, I was drinking soy milk instead of regular milk in my tea, but there was also the lasagna, mac and cheese, yoghurt; I had replaced them with totally different milk-free foods, but I hadn’t replaced the nutrients. Primarily, the protein.

I didn’t realise this until a fitness instructor was sat next to me at lunch one day and she looked at my food, tapped the plastic container and demanded “where is your protein?” in a particular tone that the written word cannot emulate. I looked at my food. I looked at her. Nettled at criticism of my food, I said, “I have protein with my evening meal.” She told me it wasn’t good enough. We never spoke much again, but in the back of my mind it got me thinking. Where was my protein?

I got wrapped up in other things such as teacher training, and my nutrient stores got even more depleted, until one day, early last year, I realised I couldn’t carry on. I was working 70 hours per week and not getting enough time to eat. I got diagnosed with anaemia and I knew it wasn’t the only problem. I looked at all my proteins in the cupboard and I could have cried. Quinoa, advertised as a complete protein, is one of the worst sources of protein of everything ever. White pasta has more protein. My Quorn, a vegetarian substitute for meat, which I was only eating for the protein because I hated the stuff, but it said on the label “good source of protein” was the second worst offender. In some cases, less than ten grams of protein per 100g. I believe, after years of false advertising, that they changed the labelling in the last 3 months because it’s a terrible source of protein. Nuts, textured vegetable protein and tofu all did a lot better. Nuts were the best. And lentils were really good as well. Mushrooms were another shocker, with hardly any protein in them. As a comparison, I looked at the meat that my boyfriend kept in a particular freezer drawer. The salmon, lamb, and chicken were all good sources of protein – but even the salmon was not as good as peanuts and pistachios.

I went around all the foods in my kitchen and I felt like my eyes had opened. I suddenly had a basis to found my dietary principles on. I was still eating a lot of processed and convenience foods, but I figured at the time that it was fine as long as I got my protein. However, I had noticed that I was struggling to get my five-a-day fruit and veg.

That was where I was at when my mum died.

Then my attitude to food was turned on its head even more.

Instead of eating for “taste” or “favourites” or “comfort” how about eating for nutrition? So, eat things that will enable you to get 45g of protein a day, eat enough things containing vitamins and minerals, get your 90g of carbs and 70g of fat. Ensure that the protein includes the right amounts of each amino acid, and that the fat contains essential fatty acids.

As long as you are doing that, it doesn’t matter how you eat. You can eat that as a meat eater, a vegetarian, a vegan, raw vegan, fruitarian or sproutarian (sorry, juicearians, if you even exist, it’s impossible to get all your nutrients from your specific diet).

When my mum died, and I was just eating vegetables, I began researching raw food diets because they have almost become fad diets. I did a series of articles on them, which explained what they all were and weighed up how easy it was to get each nutrient from each diet.

I then took that one step further and identified ten vegan sources for each nutrient, because I was sick of people saying that it was an unhealthy diet.

While I was researching all these different diets, I became very attracted to fruitarianism. I thought the ideals of the diet were beautiful, and reminded me of a renaissance garden of Eden type fantasy. Having researched it, though, I knew it wasn’t the healthiest diet to follow 100%. I know that some people do anyway, but on the other hand there are people who eat nothing but junk food – neither of these is optimal but it won’t kill you straight away, so people keep doing it. I felt myself changing inside. I felt that fruit was the answer. I had never really been interested in fruit before, so this was a revelation.

A typical fruitarian meal
A typical fruitarian meal that I ate.

So at the moment, I’m a 60% fruitarian, 40% vegan (cooked). For this reason, I eat breakfasts and lunches that are fruit and nuts. Some days, like proper fruitarians, I will graze throughout the day. Other days, I feel the need for a “conventional meal” so I prepare all my fruit and nuts and put it in a bowl to eat. It makes me feel like I’ve actually eaten, and is easier to keep track of what I’ve eaten.
Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve felt like I’m functioning at a much higher intellectual level than before – no, I don’t mean it’s made me smarter, I mean, I was struggling with processing power, my brain wasn’t processing things very quickly and was struggling to take in new information. Not only that, but I was feeling very tired through the day, pretty much four hours of tiredness, followed by four hours of wakefulness. Since I’ve been eating fruit for my daytime meals, these problems seem to have disappeared.

Another fruitarian meal
Another fruitarian meal that I’ve eaten

I’ve started eating fruits I never would have considered before – I always used to worry about buying fruit, because like many people, I would constantly buy it, eat a small amount, then it would go off, then I would throw it away. I got so mad at my wastefulness that I stopped buying fruit for years after a particularly bad incident with a bunch of bananas. Making a commitment to eat fruit during the day eliminates this problem because the fruit just gets eaten. I’ve gone from having no fruit in a week (just veg) to having four to six pieces in a “meal.” I enjoy food shopping a lot more and I finally feel like I’m getting enough of everything. I’ve also stopped skipping meals since I’ve been seeing fruit as a viable alternative to regular meals – before, I would often skip breakfast and lunch on the basis that I would look in the cupboard and feel like I just didn’t have the food I wanted to eat – but I didn’t know what food I was craving.

Another thing I really like, for why I skipped the raw vegan step entirely, is that you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment or cooking skills to be a fruitarian. Raw Vegans cheat a bit and use all sorts of weird and wonderful food processing techniques to make their food look and taste like “real food” whereas fruitarians just accept their food in the shape and size and flavour that it comes in, and eat it whole and unaltered. I really feel like it makes me connect with what I’m eating and where it came from in a way that raw veganism could never do for me.  I’ve found myself drinking a lot more water since I’ve started eating fruit, too, which generally improves my wellbeing.

I don’t think I am never going to be a full-time long term fruitarian, because I feel that other foods also have value, but I do enjoy a good fruit fest and think that if you’re having the same problems that I was, the addition of fruit and nuts to your balanced diet could be your answer.

Car Camper Review: The Citroen Xsara Picasso

Reviewed: The Citroen Xsara Picasso Camper Conversion

I saw three people walking their dogs in the park last week; there was a sturdy man with a labrador, a young lady with a Jack Russell and a mum with a sausage dog and a pushchair. It struck me how similar dogs and cars can be.

I bought a Citroen Xsara Picasso to convert into a campervan. It has probably never won any of those car industry awards. Words like sporty, hot hatchback, sexy, and muscle car, have probably never before occurred in the same sentence as Citroen Xsara Picasso.

Our trusty Citroen Xsara Picasso after we spent our first night in it, in central Germany.
Our trusty Citroen Xsara Picasso after we spent our first night in it, in central Germany.

Let’s face it: It’s a mum car. It’s a car for a busy mum to pile half a nurseryload of kids into, while they scream, fight with each other, eat things they really shouldn’t and generally spread their sticky contagion onto everything they touch. And some things they don’t.

The Citroen Xsara Picasso is not associated with adventure, excitement, road trips (except to see Nanna), or campervan conversions. Historically, that life prospect has always gone to the rather more upmarket middle class MPV people carriers – the seven seater Ford Galaxy, Seat Alhambra, and Volkswagen Sharan trinity, as well as the Delica, Previa, Lucida and Emina. As one step down from the stunningly expensive “VW Anything with the letter T in the name,” the adventure potential of seven seaters first became a phenomenon in Australia and New Zealand, where car camping is quite common and popular, and has since spread to Europe, as people carriers have now been around long enough to occupy a more reasonable price point than, say, ten years ago.

After much serious consideration of all the vehicles listed in the previous paragraph, and one that wasn’t (the Mazda Bongo/Ford Freda badge bouncer), I decided the ones within my price range were all crap, old, probably dangerous, possibly ex-taxis (due to the extreme mileage) and definitely not worth a second glance. I halved my budget and bought a Citroen Xsara Picasso for £695. Now all of my friends laugh at me when I visit them. But that’s fine because I’ve got an awesome car campervan and they don’t. They all wonder why I sold my VW Golf. They just don’t understand the economics of the shit car, a minefield I’m far more comfortable with than all that car finance nonsense that I had with the Golf.

The pedals and driving position are more like driving a Transit van than any car I’ve ever driven, this is added to by the gear stick and handbrake placing. The engine sounds van-like when you start it as well. The acceleration is poorer than the VW Golf, but if you over-rev and pull off the clutch quickly you can still outrun most things at the traffic lights. The clutch’s bite is quite high and it corners like a drunk sailor – I’ve never had to take a corner so slowly in any car ever. The top speed (as tested on the German Autobahn where there’s no upper limit) was 148kph (approximately 92 mph – I converted the speedo so I didn’t get any speeding tickets whilst abroad), after that, the vehicle starts to feel very out of control and I got the distinct impression that the metal panels would bend out of shape and parts might start flying off if I went any faster. Aside from that, the noise from the engine got ridiculously loud, which is usually a bad sign, so I slowed it down. A good motorway cruising speed in Europe was 126kph (78mph), and the car seemed to like to sit at this speed, so it’s certainly twice the acceleration and speed than most of the campervans I get stuck behind on the roads in the Peak District National Park when I go home to see my aunts. I would have preferred to take my VW Golf, whose statistical top speed was 136mph (about 250kph), as I’ve always wanted to go to the Nurburgring but there was no point in the Citroen Xsara Picasso. However, I sacrificed mechanical perfection for accommodation space which I still believe is a bit of a priority in a campervan. It’s just a shame that with all our motor vehicle technology, it still has to be a trade off.

I only put the simplest conversions in when we went to Europe – there was blackout blinds for the windows and a bed. No storage, no bathroom facilities and no kitchen.

I did the windows with silver insulating bubble wrap, which is £7.99 from Homebase or more expensive from other DIY places. I basically cut out the shape of each window and attached the window shades using gaffer tape. I’d bought velcro to do them better but didn’t get a chance to put it in before we left. The pros of this method was that it was cheap, easy, and the silver reflected the sun. The cons were that the gaffer tape made one or other shade fall off a window every night due to condensation, and the shades stopped adequate ventilation even when the windows were open. Since we returned from Europe, I’ve put real curtains into the ‘van instead.

I bought a cheap memory foam mattress topper from Ebay for £17.99 to put in the back to sleep on. It was cheaper and comfier than getting a bunch of roll mats, and was cheaper than a double air bed (and more convenient). My partner is 6 foot 2 inches so it certainly has sleeping leg room. I liked how cosy it was, but it did mean we had no storage, something I’m working on before I go to Morocco. I would say one of these mattresses on a wooden bed frame with underbed storage is the best plan.

We stored all our stuff by moving it onto the front seats at night. I’m still amazed that we didn’t get robbed since we usually camped in motorway service stations or the occasional German Parkplatz. Some of our stuff stayed in the back footwells, and towards the end of the trip it was hard to stretch out to sleep because we’d acquired stuff on our journey and storage was woefully inadequate. I’ve bought some shoe holders that I’m going to cut up to make back-of-seat storage for smaller items, and combining this with a storage-friendly bed frame will make our camper more suited for longer travel trips.

As an additional bonus, after being told by one garage that it was almost a write-off, allegedly needing more repairs than the sum of its car parts, our Citroen Xsara Picasso car camper recently passed its MoT (road safety test) which means it’s going to be able to go on exciting adventures for another entire year!! The moral of the story? Cheap cars are great. And never trust the first opinion if they tell you it’s going to cost over £1000 to fix your car. It actually cost us £250, which is less than we could buy another old banger for. Yay for campervan bangernomics!

Since passing its MoT, we took it to the Lake District to Scafell Pike to see whether it was also going to be any good as a day van for outdoor activities. With two rear seats removed, there was plenty of room for all our waterproofs, crampons, walking boots and gaiters to dry out while we drove home, and the rear hatchback style boot door was perfect to shelter us from the torrential rain as we undressed out of our outer layers when we got back from our abortive mountaineering. After giving up on Scafell Pike (the footpath was washed away, heavy mist was closing in on us, the map got wet through and disintegrated, the GPS signal was lost, and it was too rainy for me to get my phone out to take pictures) and turning around when we were halfway up, the Picasso gave us a nice space to warm up, dry out, and find a route to somewhere that served decent and cheap food, then it gently propelled us home again.

Even the car park was soggy.
Even the car park was soggy.  And that’s our road here, in the centre, middle distance.  It was also waterlogged.
It was raining so much that I couldn't get my phone out to take pictures once we were out of the car!
It was raining so much that I couldn’t get my phone out to take pictures once we were out of the car!

As a side note, despite what all those “respect the mountain” websites say, you don’t need crampons and an ice axe to tackle Scafell Pike in February, you need galoshes or a snorkel and wetsuit.

If we’d done all that in a normal car, it would have still been drying out a week later, but the Citroen Xsara Picasso has enough room inside that it takes a lot of water to make it get damp, and when it does, it dries out easily if you drive round with the windows open. Even after an overnight sleep with two adults in the back it is relatively easy to de-mist, and the damp never seems to linger, unlike in my VW Golf, where the seatbelt used to get mouldy from the damp – and we only ever slept in it the once.

Remember those dogs I was talking about in the first paragraph? Our car was the mechanical equivalent of a sausage dog – smaller, easier to park but with wider cornering and less living space than a real campervan, and without the yappy bite or the hardcore acceleration of a higher performance car. But it did the job and it was cheap, and now we know what to work on before we go away again, and just how simple a campervan trip can be. Certainly if you only want a weekender, the Citroen Xsara Picasso is underrated and has a lot of potential, and I’d choose it over a tent in a heartbeat.  The only thing I’d change?  The annoying internal lights.  And a working CD player.  But we bought a boom box to workaround that.

[beauty] MAC Extreme Dimension Review

MAC Extreme Dimension Review, with somewhat excessive amounts of pictures to show you what I thought of it.

Two days ago I read this mascara reviewed by Maria at mariamakinitup, and I was so taken by the amazing results that I had to buy it myself.   Before today, the best mascara I’d ever come across was the L’Oreal Million Lashes Mascara.  I didn’t think any mascara existed that could be better than Million Lashes.

So today I went to get Extreme Dimension from the MAC counter.  I tried it out in-store before I bought it.  I was very impressed and totally agree that this is worth £19.

This is what it looks like boxed and unboxed:

MAC extreme dimension1 MAC extreme dimension2

This is what the brush looks like (sorry, my flash broke after this one and I wasn’t able to get another picture of the brush)  it’s one of the rubbery plasticky spiny brushes such as the one found in Max Factor Masterpiece Mascara, but the spines are shorter, thinner and more flexible meaning exceptional definition on all lengths of lash:

MAC extreme dimension3

The awesome thing about this mascara is that it lengthens your lashes using special fibres, but unlike a lot of these that I’ve tried, the fibres that MAC uses don’t fall off through the day, so you don’t end up looking like an out of date Christmas tree after a few hours (unlike another brand I tried, which retails for about the same price).

Another thing I loved was that it didn’t add too much volume per application, meaning you can layer this to make your lashes as long as you like without all that clumping and lashes sticking together that I’ve gotten from my previous mascara if I try to do more than 3 layers, so the MAC extreme dimension is really buildable too.

This is what my lashes look like with no mascara on, so you can see that I don’t have inserts/extensions:

No mascara at all.
No mascara at all.

In all the next four photos below, I have NOT curled my lashes.  I also have NOT used Rapid Lash (or any other serum) for about 3 weeks because I ran out and haven’t gotten round to buying any more yet.  Throughout this review I did not use any lash primer.  The length and curl you see in the next 4 pictures is 100% coming from the mascara.  I put MAC Extreme Dimension on both eyelashes in three coats to assess length, buildability and clumping:
MAC extreme dimension4 MAC extreme dimension6 MAC extreme dimension7 MAC extreme dimension8

The length was astounding, with virtually no clumping either.  I didn’t think the third coat added a lot to the second coat.  I decided that it was impossible to show you how good it was by just showing you photos of it on my lashes, so I curled my lashes and took some comparison photos as well.  As you will see below, there’s not much difference in two or more coats, so two coats is probably all you need to get these results (which will save you mascara, and therefore save you money, because you will run out less soon than if you use loads of coats unnecessarily).

If you want to know what it looks like with curled lashes, here are some photos after I curled my lashes and reapplied it in various different ways so you could see how the comparison photos were taken.  On the left hand side I’ve used my L’Oreal Million Lashes Mascara (which I only recently discovered and am VERY impressed with anyway, which just goes to show how amazing this MAC Extreme Dimension mascara is), on the left hand side I’ve used the MAC Extreme Dimension.  In this first photo, I’ve applied one coat of L’Oreal Million Lashes (so you can see from my next photo that I haven’t faked the results by using less of the comparison mascara, so it’s all a fair test), and on the right there’s two coats of MAC Extreme Dimension.

This is MAC Extreme Dimension on the right and L'Oreal Million Lashes on the left, only one coat of Million Lashes.
This is MAC Extreme Dimension on the right and L’Oreal Million Lashes on the left, only one coat of Million Lashes.

In this second photo, I’ve applied a second coat of L’Oreal Million Lashes (left) and there are two coats of MAC Extreme Dimension (right):

This is with two coats of each.  As you can see the MAC Extreme Dimension is still winning.
This is with two coats of each. As you can see the MAC Extreme Dimension is still winning.

Here is a second photo of two coats of Million Lashes on the left and MAC Extreme Dimension on the right:

This is another photo of L'Oreal Million Lashes (left) vs MAC Extreme Dimension (right).
This is another photo of L’Oreal Million Lashes (left) vs MAC Extreme Dimension (right).

The MAC Extreme Dimension gives much more length and is the first mascara I’ve ever used that genuinely gives a “false lash effect” that so many other mascaras claim to do.  In the words of the Scottish weather forecasting service, it’s phenomenal!

For everyday use, I will continue to use Million Lashes, but for evenings, events and date nights with my husband, I will be using the MAC Extreme Dimension; isn’t there just something special about being able to look even more amazing after a day at work?  If I didn’t work as a teacher, I would wear MAC Extreme Dimension every day, as it is just the most amazing thing I’ve used on my lashes, like, ever, but sadly, I have to set a good example and I think this look is a bit over the top for school – and that’s a good thing, I’ve never found a mascara that delivers so well before, or one that shows up so good in photos!!

As far as value for money goes, I’ve spent £10 and £12 on mascaras recently that I’ve left unused after the first use.  I used a No7 mascara for my wedding because I was worried about spending too much money on a mascara that wouldn’t give me good results.  I wish this mascara had been out this time last year then I would have been able to wear it on my wedding day, because this mascara is truly special.  I will definitely be getting it on my eyes for my First Anniversary party in a few months time.  I predict this would also make a fabulous mother’s day or birthday present for any woman because the appeal of the false lash effect that this product gives is universal.  I just can’t get over how good this product is, and am so glad I saw Maria’s review otherwise I never would have heard about it because everyone is so dismissive of MAC mascaras but they’ve really hit the target with this one!

The only downside to this mascara is that it only comes in black, but if you’re like me, you probably love the blackest black mascaras anyway.  There was a trend last summer for coloured mascaras again and I’m so glad it’s over now because honestly they never show up how they ought to and the colours they come in just don’t seem to suit anyone, so I’m fully supportive of a mascara that only comes in black, although I know some people prefer brown or navy, I think they would dull the effect of this one.

As a final comparison, this is what it looks like with Extreme Dimension vs no mascara:

Extreme Dimension (right) no mascara (left).
Extreme Dimension (right) no mascara (left).

What do you think, will you be trying MAC Extreme Dimension?  Which mascaras are you loving at the moment?  Let me know in the comments!

[wellness] Are you getting enough vegan nutrients?

The Ultimate Overview of Vegan Nutrition

Having had a merry old Veganuary and nearly being at the end of Vegruary, I have been giving some thought to the things I eat and the quantities in which I eat them.

I renewed my pledge to eat vegan at the beginning of this year after doing some very in-depth research into food sources for all the different nutrients and making sure that I knew a) How much of each nutrient I needed and b) Where I could reasonably be expected to get this from on a day to day basis.  I do still struggle to get enough fat, but I generally get a lot of fruit sugar which converts to fat which should help me with the chronic underweight problem I have been struggling with for the last five years.  Two months in it feels like its helping.

As a female, I need the following nutrients every day (some of these vary from time to time depending on my needs and activity levels, and the US and UK figures didn’t match most of the time either so I’ve generally gone with the US figures as they’ve sounded more reasonable for a lot of things, but in some places I either used the UK figures or went with what I know has been working for me – eg protein is 5g more than the UK Recommended Daily Allowance because that’s what I need):

50 grams of protein.  This should proportionally come from specific amino acids which I’ve listed in the chart accompanying this article.  I get mine from lots of lentils (which also count towards your five a day – yay, but are totally lacking in essential amino acid methionine – boo), nuts, seeds and tofu (which is actually more of a treat than a dietary staple these days).  When I’m training for outdoor pursuits, I need more protein as protein = muscle.  When I’m growing my hair I also need more protein as protein = hair.  Protein in fact makes most of the things in the human body so you need loads of it to fix stuff and grow stuff.  Protein is made of lots of amino acids, which are the things in protein that your body needs in different amounts, so it’s not enough to eat protein – it’s got to be the right sort.

70 grams of fat.  This comes from oils such as coconut oil, sunflower oil and vegetable oil in the vegan diet.  It can come from olive oil as well, although you shouldn’t fry with it as it requires a fairly low temperature before the molecules break down and release free radicals.  Fat is where you get your essential fatty acids, however, so you do need some in order to get those, which are also called Omega 3 and 6, although you can supplement with linseed oil or flaxseed oil. UPDATE: Also nuts are good sources of fat (sorry for omission)!

90 grams of sugar (aka carbohydrates).  This should mostly come from complex carbohydrates such as starchy foods like pasta, rice (GF), potatoes (GF), with extra healthy points if it’s wholegrain rice/pasta.  I also like amaranth (GF), quinoa (GF), pearl barley and noodles.

18g of fibre (fiber, in American).  This is easy peasy as a vegan you don’t really need to think about it (unless you’re a juicearian but I’ve made my thoughts on that very clear).  All fruits and vegetables count towards this and you don’t need to faff around with All Bran or other nonsense because it’s in the plants.  In fact, my dentist could tell I was vegan a few years back by the wear on my back teeth because of having such a high-fibre diet.  I don’t worry at all about this one because I did track it for a while but almost everything I eat counts towards my fibre intake.

I also need the following vitamins:

Vitamin A: 700 micrograms (with an upper limit of 300 micrograms because vitamin A can cause cancer in long-term high doses).

Vitamin B complex: B1 (thiamine) 1.4 milligrams (upper limit 50 milligrams); B2 (riboflavin) 0.9 milligrams; B3 (niacin) 14 milligrams; B5 (pantothenic acid) 5 milligrams; B6 1.3 mg per day; B7 (Biotin) RDA/DV currently undecided by health organizations, should be sufficient in the average vegan diet, excessive supplements can cause unpleasant side effects such as acne, greasy hair, mood swings and water retention; B9 (folic acid) 1 milligram, although when I start trying for a baby I will need more and will supplement; B12 (cyanocobalamin) (no Daily Value or Recommended Daily Allowance established).

Vitamin C: 40 milligrams per day, no upper limit.

Vitamin D: This utterly depends, see my article on Vitamin D.  I aim for 10 micrograms which is what the US dietary guidelines state, even though the UK ones say 5 micrograms is sufficient.  Since I’ve increased my vitamin D intake, I have noticed a whole raft of problems such as fatigue and irritability have gone away and I’m more cheerful, energetic, and getting things done.

Vitamin E: 15 milligrams per day.  I don’t worry too much about Vitamin E because my skin tells me when I need to eat more Vitamin E, by drying out.  Then I crack out the avocados.

Vitamin K: 90 micrograms per day.  I regularly exceed  this though, and I make sure to never take Vitamin K and Vitamin E at the same time of day (I usually wait at least four hours between eating a meal with one and the other), because they fight each other for absorption and your body will preferentially absorb the Vitamin E, making you think you’ve got enough K when you haven’t.

And the following minerals:

Calcium: 700 milligrams per day.  Soymilk is fortified and tofu often is too.

Copper: 2 milligrams per day.  Should be easily available in the food I eat.

Iron: 18 milligrams per day because I’m female.  Men only need 8 milligrams.  Don’t ask me why.  The NHS also says women un the UK only need 14.8mg but that just goes to explain this anaemia epidemic they keep pretending isn’t happening, so they can sell you iron supplements which are pressed with pig gelatin (EWWWW.  Sidenote – the two supplements are ferrous fumarate and ferrous sulphate; ferrous fumarate are gelatinous and very non vegan and non halal and non kosher, ferrous sulphate are vegan, both can be bought over the counter at pharmacies without a prescription in the UK, they both provide the same amount of ABSORBABLE iron).

Magnesium: (this is a DIFFERENT mineral to manganese – look them up on the periodic table if you don’t believe me, Manganese is Mn in the transition metals and magnesium is Mg in group 2): 270 milligrams per day (UK) or 310 milligrams per day (US).  I go for the US figure.  This is easily acquired through vegan food.

Manganese: (this is a DIFFERENT mineral to magnesium – look them up on the periodic table if you don’t believe me, Manganese is Mn in the transition metals and magnesium is Mg in group 2).  This is very easily acquired through vegan foods so be careful not to overdo it.  I need 2 milligrams per day, but am safe up to 11 milligrams.  I did look into this and found that, in spite of what the NHS website says (it says the upper limit is 4mg), there are apparently no adverse effects shown from excessive manganese and the tolerable upper limit was set artificially on flawed data from a narrow demographic and small sample size anyway, and also it’s impossible to get less than about 6mg from the vegan diet because it’s in nearly everything we eat.

Potassium: 3500 milligrams per day.  Don’t overdo it.  It’s the same potassium that they drop into water and that burns with a lilac flame (remember high school science??), and turns the water alkaline, so be careful.  I will get an article written on the whole pH alkaline diet fad that has been circulating, but I need to look into a few more things before it will be ready.

Phosphorous: 550 milligrams per day (UK) or 1000mg (US).

There are other minerals but generally even most of the ones I’ve mentioned here will take care of themselves.

Here is my table of all the sources of these nutrients.  I tried to get up to 10 sources, but where there are less, it’s usually because there are poorer sources but you’d have to eat a lot of them.  For Vitamin D, the sources listed are all there are (unless you want to waste huge amounts of money on algae, which hasn’t been proven to have absorbable Vitamin D in it anyway).  Remember D2 is abundant in the vegan diet, but D3 is not, the daily value doesn’t distinguish between the two.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge. Click again on enlarged picture to zoom so it’s readable.

Obviously this isn’t a complete essay on the entirety of vegan nutrition, and your mileage may vary based on age and gender, but this table is the culmination of my research in this area so far, and I thought it might provide a helpful starting point for people who are struggling or who are wondering why they are craving chocolate all the time (see the amount of nutrients in cocoa powder to find out).  I will continue to research this area and write more articles on it.  Happy Vegebruary!

[hair] Silver toning routine

I thought I’d show you all my silver toning routine today.  I last toned my hair about a week ago, and took lots of photos for you.  I’ve done a video in real time of how it’s done but here it is in pictures:

1. I get Directions Silver Toner.  In the past I’ve always bought three tubs but this time I only used one and a half.

This is what the tub of silver toner looks like.  I use a pyrex dish for mixing/containing messes whenever I color my hair.
This is what the tub of silver toner looks like. I use a pyrex dish for mixing/containing messes whenever I color my hair.

2. I washed my hair then wrapped it up in a towel for ten to fifteen minutes – this diffuses the moisture out of the hair to leave it damp but not dripping (diffusion: movement of a substance from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration).

3. I went back to the bathroom, opened the silver toner, scooped it out with my hand and splortched it onto my hair until it was completely covered in purple.

This is what the lengths of my hair looked like when covered in toner
This is what the lengths of my hair looked like when covered in toner
And this is what the top of my head looked like.
And this is what the top of my head looked like.

4. I covered it in a white plastic bin bag so it didn’t stain my skin or my dressing gown.

Mmm this is a sexy look (not).
Mmm this is a sexy look (not).

5. I left it for about twenty to twenty five minutes (enough time to drink a cup of tea).

6. I rinsed it off and conditioned with the Nice N’ Easy Colourseal Conditioner (it comes with hair dye or you can buy it separately from almost anywhere that sells shampoo).

7. Ta-da!  Finished result:

silver hair using directions silver toner for lightest white blonde hair directions silver toner6

It didn’t take on my roots because they weren’t light enough.

Here’s the video if you want to watch it for more specific application techniques:

[rabbits] Looking after a sick bunny

Looking after a sick bunny.

Last weekend, we tried to introduce Sebastian and Fifer to each other. They were doing ok – they were in an enclosed space of neutral territory, and I was in with them while my husband manned the exits, so we could stop them at the first signs of a scuffle.

Fifer has a history of bad behaviour towards other male rabbits. He was very well behaved, just sat there ignoring Sebastian, which is a good sign in rabbits. Sebastian seemed to be ignoring him too. Then, after ten full minutes of being side by side, ignoring each other, Sebastian tried to bite Fifer. Fifer, being much younger and also a wild rabbit, reacted very quickly to dodge the attack, and the next thing we knew, Fifer appeared to have most of Sebastian’s head in his mouth (they’re approximately the same size so I have no idea how he managed this except that I watched him do it). I broke them up and put Fifer back in his run, he had lost some fur, but seemed ok, then went to see to Sebastian. He didn’t actually seem hurt, his eye was a tiny bit scratched but there was nothing major going on. I was more worried about their emotional states.

Fast forward one week, to Saturday afternoon, and Sebastian’s eye has a lot of what we thought was catarrh on the surface, as well as being red and irritated around the eyelid. Since our vet closes on Saturday at midday and doesn’t re-open until Monday, we thought we’d wash it out with warm salt water and keep checking on him, but there wasn’t a lot else we could do and we didn’t think it was an emergency.

Monday came, and we got stuck with another job out of the house all day, and didn’t get to check on him until five o’clock. Luckily our vet’s is open until 7. By now, his eye was still covered in the white stuff and also was swollen almost shut, the edge of the eyelid was even more red and inflamed than before. I got him an emergency appointment at 5:30 and got him straight there.

His eye is so badly hurt that the vet can’t actually see into the back of it to know how badly it has been affected. She gave us antibiotic eye drops and anti-inflammatory painkiller, and some rabbit-safe wormer in case it’s caused by a parasite that can cause them blindness. We were told he should be kept separate from all the other bunnies. He has a big ulcer on the surface of his eye and inflammation under the eyelid and in the tear duct, and these could all be masking further symptoms inside the eye that would make it clearer as to whether it was trauma related or parasite related.

That is how poor, elderly Sebastian came to be staying in the bathroom again. We always put sick bunnies in the bathroom because the houserabbits aren’t allowed in there (unless they are sick) so it’s neutral territory, and we can cover the door with a whiteboard so the rabbits can’t get to each other, and it’s a small enough space that is bunnyproofed that means we can get at the sick rabbit when it’s time to administer medication. But it’s still large enough that they have enough room to hop around (it’s 2.7m by 3.5m, so even though we’ve narrowed it a bit with cardboard there’s still loads of floorspace because we don’t confine our rabbits in small spaces unless it’s during a car ride). The room is very easy to control environmentally as well – temperature and flooring are easily changed to keep rabbits comfortable when they are ill, injured or recovering from neutering.  This time round, we blocked off the toilet with this cardboard so he didn’t get behind the toilet as I don’t think it’s very hygienic and he seemed to make a beeline to hide behind the toilet last time we had him in, which was with his brother Neville before he died.

This is Sebastian's setup in the bathroom.
This is Sebastian’s setup in the bathroom.

We have given him the carry case box as we know that bunnies are often scared when they are sick, and he doesn’t have his brother with him for comfort any more, so we need to make sure he has somewhere to hide. Also it makes it easier to get him back to the vets. We have also given him a hay box that he likes to sit in when he’s not being scared.

Here you can get a good look at Sebastian's eye - it's swelled shut, and he's turning it towards us because he's disoriented and scared, and doesn't want to lose his other eye in case we're predators.  This was immediately after we brought him back from the vets last night.
Here you can get a good look at Sebastian’s eye – it’s swelled shut, and he’s turning it towards us because he’s disoriented and scared, and doesn’t want to lose his other eye in case we’re predators. This was immediately after we brought him back from the vets last night.

We have given him a big bowl full of food and fresh vegetables because we know it’s crucial for him to keep eating – as soon as he stops eating, the situation will get a lot worse very quickly. We also gave him a water bowl. We have found that having water in bowls is much better for all our bunnies and makes them feel less like dependent lab animals and more like independent explorers who happen to live with us. Which is how we like it because there are much better ways to get any rabbit to behave than to treat them like an object of lesser intelligence.

At first he just hid in the red box and we were worried that he wasn’t going to be able to find his food and water.  Sebastian came out of his box in the night, and has spent most of the day in his hay box, although when I went upstairs to get a photo, I found him chilling out here on the blue shower mat, which he likes to use as toilet space (I have no complaints since it’s water tight and easy to clean). As you can see, he has pulled the newspaper out of the red box and tipped his food out, in typical bunny style, making himself at home!

Sebastian on the shower mat, having rearranged his living space to his satisfaction.
Sebastian on the shower mat, having rearranged his living space to his satisfaction.

We have given him his medication twice so far, and will give it him again tonight before it’s time for bed, so that he is comfortable overnight.  He wouldn’t accept the syringe in his mouth at first, but when he realised he wasn’t going to be put on the floor again until he swallowed it all, it mysteriously disappeared into his tummy.  I think he just wants to register his discontent.  If he’s well enough to complain about the room service, he’s probably going to be ok.  I hope.

The vet is going to see him again tomorrow morning first thing, even though she’s got other things to do since it’s school holidays. Our vet is brilliant and I know that, whatever happens with Sebastian, she will do her best to help him. She said that if the eye ointment and anti-inflammatory medication don’t resolve the problem, he might lose his eye, but she also said that this might not have been caused by Fifer. It might have been caused by a parasite that can affect both his eyes and cause head tilt. If that’s the case, he might just be suffering needlessly, as he might never be cured, at which point we will have a very difficult decision to make about euthanasia.

My personal standpoint is that it is unfair and cruel to force an animal to keep living and to go through long and invasive medical intervention for our selfish benefit – because, when the time comes that the animal can’t live a happy and wholesome life any more, it’s best to just let them go. Having said that, this will be a difficult decision because at what point do you decide that an animal is suddenly unable to enjoy life or live a fulfilling life? I worry that some people give up on their pets too soon, but I also worry that some people leave it too long and either way, unpleasantness is caused and it’s not fair on the animal. Another part of me knows that as a species, we don’t really have any right to say whether an animal lives or dies, even when they live with us, and even when we have their best interests at heart. So it is still difficult and I don’t think anyone can know what call to make until the individual circumstances of the animal and the extent of their illness or injury are there, in front of them, demanding a decision.

I hope Sebastian will be okay, but I’m ready to hear the worst. I’m just hoping he’ll get better on his own. In the meantime we have made him comfortable, and I hope that we are enabling him to live his life to the fullest until we know what’s going to happen in the long term.  He is ten years old and has had a very happy life, but we would still be very sad to lose him because we love all the rabbits that share life with us and live in and around our house and garden.

[travel] Flamingoland Zoo

flamingos at flamingoland

We saw the first road sign for Flamingoland and I got so excited I nearly steered the car off the road. The second sign and I really had to concentrate on driving because I was jumping up and down in my seat and would have been clapping my hands in excitement if I wasn’t holding the steering wheel.

We parked up and I practically ran to the entrance. I may have locked my car. Not that anyone would have done anything to it – Flamingoland just felt totally safe, in the middle of nowhere, in the North Yorkshire countryside, and there weren’t many other cars parked today because it’s the off season. Tickets were £10 for Winter Entry (December to March) – about a third of the usual price – because the combination zoo and theme park only had the zoo open (and possibly one ride). I am really glad that they have started doing this because going in the off season has many advantages –

1. The tickets are affordable.

2. There are no crowds on the walkways, no queues to see the animals and no jostling or other general annoyances that you get in the main season.

3. The screaming from people on rides is vastly reduced – with just the one ride open, and far less people around the park, the screaming noise is an absolute minimum which is great. I used to live near and work at a different theme park and found the screaming noises from people on rides could get quite annoying at times. I don’t think people have any idea how annoying that is or how much noise pollution it causes.

4. I didn’t want to go on the rides anyway – I only wanted to go to the zoo, so it was lovely that they have the winter opening.

Where did I go first? I went to see the giraffes.

These adorable baby giraffes with their mommy were having a nibble in their play area.
These adorable baby giraffes with their mommy were having a nibble in their play area.

giraffes at flamingoland

giraffes at flamingoland

giraffe eating at flamingoland

I probably spent an obscene amount of time around the two separate giraffe enclosures (that’s six giraffes in total), and I really loved that they all had big sized areas to play in – and that some of them were kept close to the zebras.

zebra at flamingoland

The zebras (who are housed with the ostriches) really seemed to love being near the giraffes and they interact with each other through their enclosures which is really adorable.

zebra at flamingoland

I think they don’t house them together though because the giraffes can probably get a bit boisterous and they’re very tall. I got taken to London Zoo when I was about 17 and they had three giraffes but they were all out on loan to another zoo when I went which was very disappointing, I’ve always wanted to see a real giraffe. I wish we’d got to Flamingoland a bit earlier so we could have participated in feeding the giraffes, that would have been the experience to top all zoo experiences, but they only do it once per day and they only let four people do it each day, and we arrived an hour after they’d finished. I’ll have to look forward to next time.

Then there were the Bactrian Camels. They’re the ones with two humps. They seemed to be people watching, and somewhat unaware that the people they were watching were camel watching. It was funny.

bactrian camel

The tigers were chewing on bones, I was very glad that both they and the lions were behind safety glass. The lions were asleep and didn’t make for a very good photo (the tigers didn’t either due to the glass).

tiger at flamingoland

The flamingos were adorable. They were just going about their daily business enjoying life. It was nice to see different hues of flamingoes because naturally they’re not pink it comes from the beta carotene in the shrimp they eat, and a lot of zoos feed them beta carotene additive to make them pink or they have boring white ones as they lose their colour. These ones were the full range of flamingo colours and I think it must be because their diet was pretty much what they ate in the wild.

flamingos at flamingoland

The penguins were also pretty sweet, although I’ve never been that caught up on penguins. The emus were the fluffiest birds I’ve ever seen, and they came to say hello.

penguin at flamingoland

emu at flamingoland

Another special surprise was the red panda – he lives on his own because apparently they’re very solitary but he was the snuggliest little thing I’ve ever seen!

red panda at flamingoland

After all those animals we took a break and had a coffee – I was absolutely astounded that the coffee shop had soya milk for my tea, but it really made the day that little bit better, especially as it was freezing cold outside.  There were also squishy sofas to sit on.

soymilk cafe flamingoland small

In the gift shop we found this six foot tall giraffe that costs £100.  It was very awesome, but we didn’t buy it.

giant giraffe at flamingoland

There were lots of other cool and awesome animals, of the others, the meerkats have to win out as the stars – there were two enclosures for them, and the second one, in the middle of a children’s play area, was teeming with bouncy excitement, as we got there just as feeding time was happening:

meerkat at flamingoland

meerkat at flamingoland

meerkat at flamingoland

meerkats at flamingoland

 I was very proud of myself because the exit was through another gift shop and I left without buying anything – not even a postcard (which I usually get at places where it’s hard to get good pictures, and which has become a bit of a tradition when I go anywhere now).  I am following through on my commitment to not fill my house with clutter, and I felt really good about it as we left.  We then carried on spending the rest of Valentine’s Day celebrating our relationship.

For Valentine’s Day, we have had a five-year history of not doing anything. Every year I’ve gotten really excited, because I’ve always wanted that *one* Valentine’s Day where we went on a romantic date and ate food and stuff. Just the one. Every single year, life has intervened and made sure we couldn’t do anything on February 14th. It was becoming a tradition that we failed to celebrate V-day every year.  I wanted to go to Bempton and see the puffins but they won’t be back again until the end of march (seasonal wild birds are like that) so I thought it was going to be another year where we did nothing.  When my husband suggested Flamingoland I thought it wasn’t open, and that even if it was it would be £30 each to look at some flamingoes.  I was very pleasantly surprised and it turned out to be well worth a visit with the winter opening hours – and even though it’s school half term (a weeklong holiday for kids) there were not many children at Flamingoland either which was great.

Overall, it was a lovely day out as part of a magical Valentine’s day (I’m going against the popular opinion here because I actually really looked forward to Valentines day even though I care nothing for the consumerist trappings, I just wanted to enjoy being with someone I care about). I’m glad we got round to doing something this year because it was really special to just spend time with my husband, have a fun day out, and focus on how much we love each other and celebrate our relationship.

We didn’t bother with cards, flowers or chocolates, and champagne would have been out of place, but the zoo was perfect, followed by a nice meal (at a pub, no Valentines day specials for us), and then we went home and watched Kung Fu Panda 2 followed by the extended version of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring, which was about four and a half hours long (and excellent. I’ve seen it before when it first came out and it hasn’t lost its depth, I highly recommend it if you have the time to watch it, or you could chunk it into two parts).

Have you been to any good zoos lately or seen any exciting wildlife?  Let me know in the comments, and remember to keep ’em clean – this blog gets read by pensioners and children as well as twenty/thirtysomethings!

UPDATE!  I have now finished editing the video footage of my day at the zoo, you can see the first video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZEX0NV1qNw&feature=youtu.be
The second one will be out once I’ve finished it.

[minimalism] Planned Obsolescence

Planned Obsolescence (or Planned Obsolesence, but that’s not how you’re supposed to spell it):

My future husband’s microwave was already rusty inside by the time I moved in with him in late 2010. One day in early 2011 I tried to reheat some parsnips. There was nothing special about them, they were bog standard parsnips that we had, in fact, only cooked the night before. It was a good job I had a back problem at the time, had difficulty with the (very steep, unsafe and not up to building code) stairs and was effectively stuck on the ground floor, and that the kitchen was an easy place to be. I watched my food. I am very glad that I did.

At first, I thought there was steam coming from the bowl. Great, my food is cooking quickly, I thought. Then the smell of smoke gave it away. Something was burning. I opened the microwave and saw that the smoke was actually coming from the top of the microwave itself, not the food! I called for help, unplugged it and got the back door open, then had to BELLOW at my future husband to get the damn thing outside and on the concrete before the whole kitchen went up, because he was so surprised that he was just staring at it in disbelief. Between us we got it thrown out where it burned itself out, and was taken to the recycling centre that same weekend because I refuse to live in a house with discarded appliances strewn in the back yard, even a miserable yard like the one in that house.

How had this happened? My future husband grilled me over what I had put in the microwave to cause this. It was just a plastic bowl with some reheatable boiled parsnip. Did I put water in? Yes. And besides, the bowl wasn’t the thing on fire.

We didn’t think we could function effectively without a microwave, given our propensity at the time for microwave rice, so we went to the shop and looked at new ones.

The first thing that struck me was the price. They were the same price in 2011 as they had been in 2002 and 2004, the last two times I’d accompanied anyone to buy microwaves. Not only that, but the wattage was now lower.

I found this interesting. You could buy a low end microwave for £40 in 2002 and 2011. But the manufacturers had redefined the term low-end. In 2002, low-end £40 microwaves were 800 watts. In 2011, they were 700 watts. An 800 watt microwave cost at least £60 in 2011.

You could say that this was inflation. I disagree.

The microwave’s lifespan is almost exactly the same each time. The new one we bought is now not heating things as effectively as before, and the way it’s heating them causes them to need re-heating sooner than before because they are losing that heat energy too quickly. It is now common for me (if I need to re-heat a drink which is usually once or twice a week) to have to re-heat the same hot tea three or four times to finish it, where it used to take one re-heat.

We rarely eat ready meals. Last night, I bought what was probably the first ready meal we’d had in the house in about twelve months. The microwave heating instructions for the meals were aimed at 700 watt microwaves, ours is 800 watt. Following the instructions for both ready meals did not cook them. I had to put them in for an extra minute and a half. The microwave has definitely lost heating output.

I predict that our microwave will not last to the end of this year. This is a microwave that we bought in 2011. I did a quick search of Argos to see how much a new microwave would cost. A 700 watt microwave is now £34.99. An 800 watt microwave is £52.99.

I think I have been the victim of Planned Obsolescence.

Planned obsolescence is the underpinning idea that explains exactly what you’ve suspected for years – that certain products are specifically designed to fail after a given period of time. There is evidence that this has been going on since 1920, around the world. Basically, companies realised that they were not going to make any money from long lasting products with a “lifetime guarantee” because they can only sell to each customer once. If they make a product that’s great but breaks after a few years, they can sell to that customer again and again.

Here are some common examples that had made me wonder about whether products were designed to fail long before I found out this really was a design feature:

1. Printer cartridges. I got my own printer for my second year of university, and I used to be able to use the ink until it started fading on the page, printing thinner and thinner. Then, around about three years ago, after a mysterious printer software update, the printer wouldn’t do faded prints until the ink ran out. After another update, it stopped letting me substitute colour for black (it used to be able to make “composite black.” Around the same time, it refused to print something in black ink because the cyan ink was too low. Despite the fact that it didn’t need cyan to print black, and I even played around with settings for over an hour telling it on different screens to print in black ink only. That’s right, I had to spend £20 on a new 4-colour set (because they don’t come separately) because the cyan had run out while I tried to print something in black. That 4-colour set is always sold separately to black ink, by the way. Once the printer stopped being able to print 100% perfectly by its own arbitrary standard, it refused to print at all.

The second time it did it, it was out of yellow and I was trying to print a serious black ink letter to someone important. Then, immediately after being recharged with 4 new colours (another £20), it refused to print at all. I’d had it 4 1/2 years. I capitulated and bought a new printer which promised cheaper ink and better efficiency.

Cars. Isn’t it interesting how cars from particular decades are built to fail in different ways? For example, the cars from the 1990s were built to rust, but cars from about 2002 onwards were built to not rust. I bought my car last year that was 10 years old, and there was no rust underneath. It’s now 11 and still only has speckles. My previous car had been 6 when I bought it, and it had no rust either. When I sold that, it was 8 and still no rust whatsoever, the underside was bright silver. But my first car had died of rust about 18 months after I got it, aged 13. It was only 5 years older than my current car. Second hand cars from the 1980s were so bad that I remember my mum being annoyed that she had to pay £500 in 1993 for a car that was 5 years old and therefore past it’s use by date. £500 wasn’t as valuable in 1993 as people like to think – can you imagine buying a 5 year old car for £500 – or even £1000 – today and thinking it was anything other than nearly-new? Different things fail on cars in different decades as well – the 1980s was engine failure and electricals, the 1990s was rust and electricals, the 2000s was engine failure again (and electricals, maybe they’re easier to design to fail). Easily dentable bodywork was a big one for a while, and a few years ago every second car was dented somewhere, but it became clear that people would just drive around in dented cars rather than buy a new one and mysteriously they don’t do that any more. Even if you do get a car that’s not doomed to fail within a decade, chances are the manufacturer will discontinue the spares for it soon. It’s all a peculiar pattern that can only be explained by Planned Obsolescence.

Optical drives. The great thing about CDs, the thing that made CD-sized discs really take off, was that you could write the data to them and it would last, even if you put it in a magnetic field, in a hot environment, a cold one or a damp one. In January, whilst clearing out my mum’s house after she died, I found a CD with all my poetry on from when I was 16. That CD had been dumped in a mouldy attic with a leaking roof (even the steel stanchions of the house frame were thoroughly rusty, where they used to be shiny silver, due to the roof leakage) and even its paper label was wet and mouldy. I washed the CD when I got home and put it into my computer. The disc loaded first time and all my files were fully intact, openable, readable, everything exactly the same as when I saved them, twelve years earlier. That’s how good disc-based storage is – their only vulnerability is scratches, which are carelessness. The discs themselves are almost infallible.

So why is it that every pack of writeable CDs and DVDs has duff discs in it? How did they not pass quality control? It’s always a similar number as well – usually about two or three in ten, or five in twenty, will fail while you’re trying to write to them. Is it the discs that are at fault or the optical drives? I am unsure. I did suspect they just put the useless ones in boxes and sold them for two reasons – a) they make money back on the plastic they’ve used and b) they actually make more money than they would if you got 10 working discs because you have to buy more packs of discs to actually get 10 good ones. I strongly suspect the optical drives have a part to play. It’s very mysterious that DVD players, CD drives and games consoles designed to read discs tend to break every four and a half years, the same as microwaves and printers. In the past five years we have had to replace a DVD player, a games console, and a portable DVD player (we didn’t actually replace that, we just got rid). The CD player in my car doesn’t work either, so for road trips I bought a portable boom box that takes batteries – very environmentally unfriendly, but it costs over £100 to get a new radio put in whereas the boom box was £20 and takes batteries I can get in four packs from any £1 shop, and when I calculated how long it would take to recover the £100 in batteries, I realised this was actually just far cheaper.

Consumerism won this battle, but I hope that by not spending the £100 on the new CD player at the moment, I will be able to win my war on frivolous purchases. What is really insidious about the optical drives at the moment is that computers and laptops now don’t automatically come with the ability to play a DVD or Blu-Ray – even if the laptop/PC is equipped with a DVD or Blu-Ray drive! I tried to watch a DVD last year (yep, I don’t watch them very often) and found that, despite the fact that 5 different appliances all had the right shape/size disc, and said “DVD” on the disc drive, they actually couldn’t play the DVD. No. You need a DVD player to do that. The games console will only play DVD games, not DVD films. The laptop will only give you a handy tray to put your DVD down on, while you try to find a scart cable for your DVD player. Five years ago they all proudly multi-tasked and now, realising they can get more money from you, they all solo-task. If your laptop plays DVDs, how can they sell you a DVD player as well? If that hasn’t spent all your money for you, how about a portable DVD player, or an in-car one, for car rides?

This all seems like just “the way things are?” Think about these two things:

  1. School textbooks. They are designed to be obsolete in a few years – as are all school curricula – overtly this is to “reflect the latest changes” but how much have English or History changed in the last ten years, or maths, or anything else, insofar as it’s genuinely reflected in what thirteen year olds learn? And how many GCSE and A-level specification changes have there been in that time, necessitating new class sets of texts? Having been a teacher now for three years, I can tell you that they don’t use the same textbooks and resources that they did when I first started. Somewhere, the decision makers do this so that children learn that everything has to be recent and relevant, and that anything “old” has no value so when they grow up, they buy everything new.When I was at school, we had French textbooks with pictures of kids with monobrows and shell suits, ten years after both went out of style. I enjoyed seeing things that reminded me of what the world had looked like when I was very small. I grew a sense of nostalgia. We were the very final year group to use those text books, and a new French curriculum was brought in for the children who were a year younger than me, so they were promptly detached from that sense of the past or of connection. There were even promotional posters for the new text books that made people in my class feel like we were getting an inferior French education by using the older texts – parents complained. The joke’s on them – I got an A in GCSE French and think those text books were fantastique. This “new is always better” fallacy is awful though – it trains children to value nothing, and to believe that people from the past were intellectually inferior (unless they’re a Historical Figure). It also makes people think that education is “better” today than it used to be – which is odd because if that’s the case, why are people who had that “inferior” education now the same people designing these textbooks?? If their education was inadequate, why are they qualified to dictate what kids should learn? Of the 62 million adults of various ages living in the UK today (and educated here), how many of them don’t know what the second world war was, or can’t read at all, and is it the fault of the resources, the educators, the parents, the media or the individual? Mainstream education makes children a product of their time as one of its subsidiary covert purposes. It’s very sad.
  1. Your grandma. If your gran was too young, ask your mom about great grandma, especially if she’s from the United States or Germany, both of whom suffered the worst in the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. If she was like my grandma, she would have said “in my day, things were built to last.” and she put her kids in terry towelling nappies and washed them in the toilet before she put them in the machine. She bought new broom handles and new brush heads, and sewed things when they ripped, and kept spare buttons.

Ultimately, the only reason anyone dismisses this as a conspiracy theory in spite of the evidence of their own eyes and wallets and numerous examples, is because of this:

“For planned obsolescence to work, the customer must feel that he/she has had value for money. Furthermore, he/she must have enough confidence in the manufacturer/company, to replace the original washing machine with the modern equivalent machine, from the same manufacturer.”
(http://www.technologystudent.com/prddes1/plannedob1.html).

And if people believe they have had value for money, they don’t question it when the product breaks. Additionally, the companies have to be careful that this cannot be proven, so that they don’t end up the victims of lawmaking to stop them doing this or huge lawsuits. After all, if there’s no evidence, there’s no crime as far as the law is concerned.

The fact that people are unaware or don’t believe this is happening just goes to show how successful the consumerist indoctrination that takes place in schools and through the media has been. Even the headteachers and governors, and the film and television directors, are blissfully unaware of what they are doing because they’ve been taken in by it as well.  After all, they’re also (influential) consumers.

The most pressing question that I can’t see an answer to isn’t “why do my things always break” (which as we have established is part of their design) but “what should I do about it?” This is what I want to try and unpick.

Repair shops are thin on the ground these days, and even if you find one, half the time they tell you things are going to cost more to repair than replace. This forced consumerism is dictating to us where our money goes.

I guess for a lot of it, the fundamental problem is that they have created a need for the item. The microwave, the TV, the DVD player, the games console. You purchase a bunch of pretty specific stuff (such as DVDs or video games, specific foods that work best in the microwave) that only that specific device can operate. Then you get used to being able to enjoy those items regularly, thinking to yourself that this is great and convenient. Then they break and you think you have to buy a new one. That’s right. You think you have to. You don’t actually have to. Can I cook without a microwave? Of course. I hardly use it for cooking since we maybe eat ready meals once a year, I only use it for shortcuts such as defrosting or re-heating leftovers. Can I re-heat my tea without a microwave? No, I can’t. But do you know what? I’m going to learn to be more diligent and drink my tea faster because for 25 years of my life, I refused point blank to re-heat tea, because it affects the taste, it’s a recent laziness I’ve acquired that was borne from a need to not waste tea and has gotten out of control.

I spoke to my husband last night about getting rid of the microwave altogether by not replacing it. The very thought upset him. His first response? To ask me how I would re-heat my tea. Then to tell me that if I didn’t want to use the microwave, I should just not use it, and leave him to it. I don’t think he really understands that’s it’s not about whether it gets used, it’s about curbing our dependence on useful but superfluous devices that we don’t need. Do you know what I worry about? If we get rid of the microwave, it’s almost guaranteed that the cooker will break.

Now lets talk about how planned obsolescence fuels consumerism. The original meaning for the term “planned obsolescence” was to create a need in consumers to buy something a little bit better, a little bit sooner than they would have done. Let’s take the qualifiers out of that and turn it into a straightforward sentence: “To buy something better, sooner.” In modern times the term planned obsolescence has grown to encompass those items that we just know are designed to fail. But due to potential lawsuits from multinational companies nobody dares say anything or prove anything.

When something breaks, you get rid of it. But like with my microwave, what if it’s just outlived it’s usefulness? What if it just doesn’t do the job you bought it for? Would you replace it then? What about before that happens? I only replace things, unless they break, when they stop doing the job I bought them for – or if that job no longer needs to be done. But do I really want to replace them? The thought process goes something like this: “X doesn’t do Y anymore. Z does Y better. Previously, I bought X to make life easier, because Z wasn’t as good. I should buy another X.”

The flawed logic is thinking that we need to replace X. Really, we should actually own a better Z and not have an X at all. For example my bathroom has a bath and a shower cubicle as two separate units. Recently the top of the shower’s electrics box started to melt. I looked into replacing the shower and it was really expensive. All along my thought was, we cannot be without a shower. I even considered the most depressing of all financial packages – the dreaded Bathroom Loan, the epitome of self-indulgence and subservience to the Consumeriarchy (just made it up, d’you like it?) unless you started off with JUST an outdoor toilet.

Luckily my husband intervened. He duct taped the hole in the top of the shower to stop water getting into the electrics. I thought he was crazy. Then I realised this was really helpful – not to fix the shower, but to give me time to think about how to fix the shower. When he took away that sense of urgency I had a chance to think, and when I thought it through, I realised we have a perfectly good bath and we can just get a cheap mixer shower and use it in the bath. In this example, the shower is X and the bath is Z. There was and is no reason for us to have a bath and a shower, except that they came with the house, and I recently found out that the electric shower is apparently increasing our electricity consumption by a whole lot. It’s just another device of mass consumption of my paltry finances.

Sense of urgency is the path to bad decision making. I try not to make decisions when they seem urgent because it’s led to some bad consequences in the past – it always feels like I’m getting good items, but they are always far more money than I would have spent if I had felt like I had the time to choose carefully. I am not usually an impulse buyer, but that sense of urgency from a car write-off, a burning microwave or a melted shower can really make me feel like I need to make a decision fast – which always leads to me throwing money at it until the problem goes away.

To sum up then, stuff’s designed to break. Spending more may or may not prolong its life. Nothing lasts forever – and nor should it – but it would be nice if things lasted as long as they could instead of as long as the manufacturers let us have them for. This most insidious form of consumerism is one that I’m not sure even the power of minimalism can fully overcome.  I would go so far as to say that this is why people think they’re “too old” for particular things – one example I can offer amongst many is that someone I know in their 40s recently claimed they were “too old” to go to university and get a degree, even when I told them of three people who had been over 50 (one over 60) who were at university with me doing the same degree as me (and they all got higher marks than me).  What a shame that human beings can be convinced that they, too, can become obsolete after a certain age.

Resources:

http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/g202/planned-obsolescence-460210/?slide=7

The documentary exposing the Planned Obsolescence society Phoebus: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/light-bulb-conspiracy/

An academic paper which discusses this in detail from an economics perspective (using a lot of economic terminology): http://www.murks-nein-danke.de/blog/download/An%20Economic%20Theory%20of%20Planned%20Obsolescence.pdf

Quote source:

http://www.technologystudent.com/prddes1/plannedob1.html

These are in French but the first is a good overview (if you read French) of the lightbulb conspiracy, as well as giving examples, including a detailed explanation of how the iPhone obsolescence is being carried out (which is linked at the bottom of the first article I’ve linked to, as well as being the second link below these words) The third explains how Nylon/DuPont limit the life of stockings and tights:

http://obsolescence-programmee.fr/exemples-symboliques/le-cartel-phoebus-et-les-lampes-a-incandescence/

http://obsolescence-programmee.fr/exemples-symboliques/iphone-ipad-ipod-et-mac-dapple/

http://obsolescence-programmee.fr/exemples-symboliques/bas-nylon-de-dupont-de-nemours/