Being a student carer is challenging, but you’re not alone

Photo by Sue Zeng on Unsplash

Written for The Uni Bubble

Ever since my dad was made redundant from his job in 2013, everything changed for my family. My mum had to start working full time and my brother and I had to step in with helping around the house. It wasn’t until 2018 when he was fully diagnosed with ‘dementia with neurodegenerative disease’, but it was long before that when we knew there was something seriously wrong.

Early onset dementia refers to a person who is diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65. It’s a very difficult disease to diagnose because there is so little known about it, and it can be a lot less black and white than the different varieties seen in the elderly. Equally, everyone’s experiences can vary so drastically as there’s no set timeline and each person’s progression is completely unique.

Receiving a diagnosis ended up being an uphill struggle for my parents as the consultants kept on pushing to diagnose my dad with depression due to its ability to cause memory loss in hard working individuals. After he had to stop driving, he received a diagnosis of ‘cognitive impairment with a functional component’. These long, vague words gave my father no springboard to achieve government or charity support, so we were left to our own devices. When we finally received the necessary diagnosis, containing that all important ‘d’ word, doors were opened for us. Support groups were available and memory enhancing drugs were on offer, but we had already learnt how to manage on our own.

When I left for university for the first time back in 2018, things were a lot different to how they are now. My dream had always been to go to university and study English literature and there was no way my mum would have considered asking me to stay at home to help out. She always wanted me to have as many opportunities as anyone else and to reach my full potential.

This wasn’t a problem as, in 2018, his condition was steady, and he was living a relatively busy life. With his weekly volunteering at a local national trust site and his attendance at fully equipped support groups, his brain was being frequently stimulated. My brother wasn’t working, so he was able to stay at home to keep my dad company when my mum was at work, offering priceless support. We are a very close family so, operating as a team came relatively naturally to us and we were all happy with our lives.

A local charity called YAC (young adult carers) were also a great help to me and my brother. He received frequent support from them, and we often went along to group activities where we were able to socialise with other young carers. If you’re a young carer, I would definitely recommend looking into what local support there is for you because, there’s nothing that compares to being able to speak to someone in a similar situation, especially a situation as unique a situation as mine and my brother’s.

During the first year and a half of living away from home, I didn’t consider the situation at home too intensely as I was wrapped up in my own bubble. My family were doing well at the time and I kept in regular contact and visited as often as possible. Even though I was away from home, both my mum and I found our phone calls a massive help as we could support each other from afar. Not many people can relate to our struggles or offer any valuable advice. So, for me and my mum, having each other to talk to and confide in helped to keep ourselves sane and level-headed.

The hardest thing about coming home was noticing the changes in my dad. It’s difficult to comprehend what it feels like to wonder whether the next time you see your father, he will remember who you are. His brain was getting foggier, short term memory getting worse, long term memory more confused and his every day movement was getting slower and slower. He was always really happy to see me, which was very reassuring, but with a degenerative disease like dementia, it would always make me leave wondering, what will happen next time?

The entire lockdown and coronavirus debacle significantly sped the disease up further than we could have anticipated. The lack of brain stimulation from any outside sources mixed with the confusion of the pandemic really took its toll. For someone with dementia, a whole new experience can be really challenging. The idea of social distancing and mask wearing was absolutely mind blowing for him, he just couldn’t wrap his head around it. It often made him angry and upset when we needed to be firm with him about staying away from people, he just thought we were being unreasonable.

Due to our inability to leave the house, the months spent at home were intense and I was given a whole new insight into my family’s lives. Where I would usually come home for a short period of time, I was faced with the constant reality that my family face. My mum balances work and care for my dad extremely well, but I could see that it was starting to take its toll on her mental and physical health. My brother was continuously keeping one eye out for my dad, so he was finding it harder to relax and enjoy himself. After the months I was there, I was fully brought up to speed in what I needed to do and how I could help everyone. I had been able to lift a few weights and allow everyone to relax a bit better.

I felt very guilty when I left after lockdown. After being at home for so long, I had been fully moulded into the family lifestyle and, in leaving, I felt like I was ripping myself away, leaving raw edges. I was excited to go back to uni, study and see my friends, but I didn’t want to say goodbye to my family.  The bond between us had grown so much stronger, and I wanted to be home, where they needed me. But, I had to go back to return to in person teaching and live out my last year.

I kept the family skype calls up, but unfortunately, I couldn’t visit due to the intensifying COVID situation, which made things slightly harder. I needed to put my studies first and remember that it was okay to do so. I made the choice to go to uni and I needed to commit to that. My mum wanted me to be out there living my life and having fun, so there was no need to wallow and miss being at home.

I’ve made the decision to stay at home next year, gain a qualification via distance learning, get a part time job and be there for my family. You never know how things will change, especially when it comes to a degenerative disease like dementia, so I don’t want to take my chances and be away for another year. Being a student carer is hard, but it’s important to look for what support is on offer. You never know who is there to help.

Instagram is shadow banning sex positive content and it’s not okay

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

Originally written for Quench magazine

Shadow banning, also known as stealth banning and ghost banning, has been around since the 1980’s and is used to block comments and posts by certain users. Recently on Instagram, many accounts that use the platform for sex work and education have found their accounts have been shadow banned, limiting their reach and customer base. Despite the fact that this shadow banned content isn’t violating community guidelines, it’s deemed as “inappropriate” enough to be given a limited viewing due to its “sexually suggestive” nature. Users aren’t usually informed when their content is being limited, causing feelings of confusion and hurt when their posts generate no engagement.

Instagram refuse to comment on their explicit reasoning behind the blocks, making it even more of a struggle for sex workers to adapt their work to prevent shadow banning and still cater to their audience and business needs. The rules appear so vague and blurred, making us question; how do they differentiate between women in lingerie, or women in bikinis and even fitness models? I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Savage x Fenty and other lingerie adverts containing scantily clad women on my Instagram, so what’s the difference between that and an exotic dancer promoting their stripping businesses?

So many people from all walks of life and all different professions rely on Instagram to promote their business and make money. From selling art to books, t shirts to cakes, there’s a lot of money circulating the social media app, and they are all supporting small businesses in the same way. Who should get the vote on which businesses are more important and which entrepreneurs have more right to gain engagements and sales?

Annie Brown is a digital marketer and feminist activist who is working to transform ‘Lips’, her sex positive magazine, into a social media site where users can feely embrace their sexuality. However, she has faced a lot of challenges on Instagram due to posts being deleted and demoted within the algorithm. She says that “Bots can’t tell the difference between erotic art and pornography. So now with Instagram [demoting] ‘suggestive’ content, they’re basically saying, ‘We don’t care if it’s art, we don’t care if it’s activism, we don’t care if it’s self-expression.’”

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

This provides a really important insight from inside the industry as we can get to the bottom of the fundamental issues. The Instagram of ‘Lips’ is full of liberating posts from members of all communities, educating and empowering sexuality and it is important for young people to witness and learn from this empowerment in a positive way. The site also provides a form of education that gets missed in the general school curriculum, especially surrounding topics regarding LGBTQ+ sexuality. Due to the increasing number of dangerous and harmful sex information circulating various corners of the internet, it is even more important to provide good, trustworthy and educational sites, presenting young people with the full picture after a limited school education.

In September of 2020, an Instagram account for ‘School of sexuality education’ claimed that they were deactivated with no explanation other than that they didn’t follow “Community Guidelines” and that “sexually suggestive content isn’t allowed on Instagram”. These actions and allegations are against an account that prides itself on its fun, educational tone and anatomically correct language. They carry out vital education on a wide range of nitty gritty sexual topics that schools shy away from. For example, their Instagram is littered with reminders about consent, offering free resources and pointers for help. They offer a diagram entitled ‘3 ways to make inserting a tampon easier’ along with pro discharge and masturbation paraphernalia. These are vital lessons and reminders for all generations, especially those who missed out on a well-rounded sex education at school. It’s important for Instagram to distinguish between these sites and the negative ones, as they risk doing more damage than good.

The algorithms are catering against sex work and sex education and its harm is widespread. Whilst sex workers are unable to increase their customer base or sell their products, vulnerable people are being blocked from accessing the information they need. By taking away and blocking these accounts, many will remain unaware of the pleasures of sex, whilst members of the LGBTQ+ community will find it harder to access safe, informative accounts. It’s such an important issue and there is no question that Instagram needs to step up and address this in order to avoid any negative repercussions that they are inadvertently responsible for.

The History of Gay bars and Their story of liberation

Gay bars have always served as a central pillar to the LGBTQ+ community and have always taken their place as one of the few spots where the community could truly express themselves. Unsurprisingly, evidence of gay bars dates all the way back to the 18th century, but the first ‘official’ gay bar is assumed to be ‘The Zanzibar’ in Cannes, France, opening in 1885 and running for 125 years until it recently closed. Europe was at the heart of gay culture in the 19th century with Paris being known as a ‘queer capital’ along with other European cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin and London.

“Soho was able to become a firmly established gay capital allowing the community to party in peace”

We can get a feel for underground gay bars and clubs throughout the Victorian period as literature often gives us an idea of what the scene was like and how it has adapted. For example, London’s Soho was always synonymous with underground gay culture, acting as a basis for the dark deeds in gothic works such as ‘The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and ‘The picture of Dorian Gray’. Oscar Wilde himself was well known to frequent Soho and he was made liable for his actions when he was arrested for ‘sodomy’ and gross indecency’. However, less than a century later, there was a real shift when homosexuality was decriminalized, and Soho was able to become a firmly established gay capital allowing the community to party in peace.

All over the world, underground gay bars sprung up and despite being widespread, they all contained the same values and were carried in the hearts of the entire community. Homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967 and the decriminalization in the US spanned from the 1960’s to the early 2000’s, resulting in underground gay bars acting as the only place to experience liberation and freedom. Visiting the bars were always a high-risk activity and those who attended faced the danger of public humiliation and loss of jobs, friends and family. This goes to show how important and liberating these bars were due to the risks that people were willing to take in order to express themselves.

“They felt like their only safe haven had been forcibly penetrated and that it was time to create places where members of the LGBTQ+ community could freely meet up and be themselves”

One of the most notable events for the US’s LGBTQ+ community was during the sexual liberation of the late 1960’s and the pivotal point of the Stonewall riots. After the police raided Stonewall Inn, a series of aggressive and violent riots were sparked in order to combat and demolish police brutality. They felt like their only safe haven had been forcibly penetrated and that it was time to create places where members of the LGBTQ+ community could freely meet up and be themselves. The lack of justice they had experienced had forced them to grow a thick skin so many of them were ready to fight for their freedom with violence, and eventually, they reached success.

For the community, the bars were not only places to feel liberated, they also became places to mourn and grieve. The AIDS pandemic of the 80’s devastated the world, but specifically the LGBTQ+ community, and their communal spaces became unique in that they were able to talk to people who felt the same anxieties and pain. The clubs became places for songs to be sung, dances to be performed, interviews to be held and money raised, all in aid of the AIDS crisis.

“Friends and family of the victims compared the attack to the invasion of a church or sacred space, and that truly expresses what these institutions represent for those who attend”

Despite all the progress that was made over the decades, from the illegal clubs to the legalization of homosexuality, the community still faces devastating blows. The 2016 Orlando shooting in Florida was an event that rocked the entire gay community and it originated at the heart of their club scene. The clubs, despite being their safe space, had been invaded and friends had been lost. Friends and family of the victims compared the attack to the invasion of a church or sacred space, and that truly expresses what these institutions represent for those who attend.

These bars are the bloodline of the community and have been for centuries. Even through times of need, they have been institutions where they can get together, laugh, cry and express themselves. The bars will continue to evolve and change with the times but their values and their meanings will remain the same. After all, everyone needs a room of one’s own.

An Immersive History Lesson: Touring the Globe

Photo by Federico Scarionati on Unsplash

Travelling should not just be about a tan or memories, it should also be integral to your educational journey as you learn about the world’s history and culture. Everyone loves a beach holiday, lazing about in the sun, grabbing a beer or cocktail from the bar, but it’s important to register where you’re holidaying and recognise its rich, diverse heritage and lifestyle, whilst you reap its benefits. It’s easy to fall into the bias of educational travel as something you did on a school trip as you reminisce back on that wet and soggy trip to Ypres or the Berlin war memorial. Although, the vital thing to remember is that educational travel isn’t just about those traditional locations, but also about the culturally diverse corners of South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. There is more to learn from the societal developments across the world than anyone could comprehend or realise, whether it’s learning about an ancient tribe or a large array of incomprehensible animals. These lessons are vital to allow ourselves to grow and widen our knowledge of the world. However, it is of course still very important to take a trip to more educational sites such as Auschwitz or Chernobyl as they have the power to stir up an emotional response and realisation that is impossible when learning about the events in a classroom or detached environment.

The Menin Gate in Ypres Photo by Zieben VH on Unsplash

Visiting Ypres was one of my most memorable high school trips that we undertook when learning about the First World War. Referred to as “Wipers” by British troops, it was home to several battles between British, Canadian, French and German soldiers, including the well-known Battle of Passchendaele. Walking amongst the trenches and bomb craters provided a much more rich and full education of the First World War as it allowed me and my fellow classmates to truly appreciate the gravity of the situation as we came to terms with its reality. The Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing offered an insight into the numerical value of lives lost. I believe that the sea of uniform white graves provided the best and most pertinent history lesson of the magnitude of the World War.

Pripyat, a city associated with the worst nuclear disaster in history, is rapidly becoming a top tourist destination. Located in northern Ukraine, it was home to the Chernobyl disaster, caused by a nuclear accident in 1986 and resulting in an exclusion zone of around 2,600 km2. There are many reasons why you should visit Chernobyl and its educational benefits range from learning about the risks of nuclear power to experiencing a culture that no longer exists. You can walk through a town frozen in time from the Soviet era, witnessing the architecture and getting a sense of the lifestyle that was led in these forgotten times. It is deemed safe to visit despite the historical radiation and you can pay $100 – $500 for guided tours which give you a historical and informative insight. If you’re into dark and educational tourism, this is definitely one for you.

Machu Picchu Photo by Federico Scarionati on Unsplash

On a more cultural context, the Inca trail to Machu Picchu can teach a traveller a lot about the 15th century Inca civilisation. The citadel is located in Southern Peru and remained unknown to modern society until 1911 when discovered by Hiram Bingham. The Inca trail normally takes about four or five days to complete and a tour guide will be able to educate you on the history of the Incas and their lifestyle and architecture. It’s important to visit sites such as these in order to preserve the history and learn about the grounds in which the modern day is based. Similar to the Ancient Egyptians and their Great Pyramids, Machu Picchu depicts the excellence of those that came before us and all that was achieved in their respective civilisations.

Booby Birds on the Galapagos Islands Photo by Andy Brunner on Unsplash

Conversely, places such as the Galapagos Islands allow an education on flora and fauna that is completely unique. Distributed on either side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean, the islands are known for their tortoises, iguanas, lizards, penguins and their 56 species of bird. The wildlife here was made famous by Darwin and his theories of evolution. When visiting you can learn about his theories whilst experiencing the environment in which they were born. Not only is the Galapagos incredible for learning about nature and evolution, the islands are filled with geological features, such as volcanoes, which offers a whole new educational aspect. The limited population of the islands means that the vast majority of the natural elements remain untouched, resulting in the Galapagos being the perfect place to educate yourself on nature and Darwinism.

Whilst all these locations and holiday destinations offer educational benefits in a multitude of areas, you can also weave a lot of fun into your trips. Of course, both the Galapagos and Peru’s Machu Picchu can offer sea and sun, whilst Belgium and Eastern Europe are filled with vibrant cities and nightlife. You can drink and party to your hearts content just about anywhere on the planet, but it’s important to brush up on their unique and individual cultural backgrounds to get a well-rounded and full experience!

Remembering 9/11

Photo by Anthony Fomin on Unsplash

Written for Quench magazine

They always say that you remember where you were when you heard about a life changing event, and I think 9/11 is one of those occasions. I was just a one-year-old baby when it happened, cradled in my mother’s arms, as a breaking story suddenly bombarded all news channels. Having just heard something on the radio, she rushed to turn on the TV, just in time to watch the second plane slice into the south tower of the World Trade centre.

In just three hours, 19 individuals hijacked four US airlines, killed 2977 people, sent two of the US’s biggest cities into chaos, and brought the world to a standstill. Citizens of 78 countries were affected and it’s regarded as the deadliest terrorist attack in human history and the deadliest incident for fire fighters and law enforcement in the history of the United States. The scale of the attack stretched far beyond the US and the world is still reeling in its repercussions today.

For the new generations who were not old enough to experience its shockwaves, it’s easy to disassociate from the horrors that occurred. But the most important thing to realise is how many people are still affected today. Whilst a lot of schools teach their students about 9/11 in detail, there are a large number of informative books and films that have been released. Many of them are extremely heart wrenching and difficult to get through, but they challenge todays generations to understand the sense of loss felt by our parents, grandparents, and neighbours all over the world.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011), although often criticised for using a tragedy for a heart string tugging effect, was nominated for two academy awards. The film focuses on a young boy dealing with the loss of his father after he fell victim to the attack on the World Trade Centre. It allows an insight into how many ordinary lives were affected and the extent that they had to live with their pain. It’s important to remember that the 3000 people that died would have created hundreds of thousands of grieving friends and family who would have all experienced differing levels of trauma and mental health issues.

Understanding the specific and long-term effects of the attacks on families not only increases our insight into the implications of terrorism, but it also sheds light onto those who have used their new influences to create public awareness and change. Thomas Burnett Jr is well known for his heroic actions on flight 93 as he and a few others managed to prevent the plane and its hijackers from creating further acts of terror in the US. He told his wife over the phone that “We’re waiting until we’re over a rural area. We’re going to take back the plane” and not to worry because they’re “going to do something…” He and three other passengers; Mark Bingham, Todd Beamer and Jeremy Glick went down in history as they successfully overpowered the hijackers and crashed the plane into a field in Pennsylvania. Thomas Burnett’s wife, Deena Burnett, went on to releasing two novels including ‘Fighting Back’ about her experiences of losing her husband and livelihood to such an awful event.

It’s people like Thomas Burnett and his wife who represent the innocent lives lost and the effect that terrorism had on the everyday citizen of the United Sates.

The Submission is a novel that takes a different angle on the aftermath of 9/11 and offers a completely different perspective. Based in 2003, a group of judges must agree on an anonymously submitted design that will become the September 11 memorial, built on the site of the World Trade Centre. Once agreed, they open the envelope and revealed the name of the architect. Mohammad Khan. The name created seismic shockwaves across the judging panel as they question whether they can still award his design. When I first read this novel a few years ago I was taken by the insightful perspective offered by the author, Amy Waldman, and it encouraged me to consider those who were affected by 9/11 due to the colour of their skin.

Since the attacks were made by the Islamic group Al-Qaeda, the whole of the United States turned against the Islamic community, labelling them all as terrorists. In 2001, after the attacks, President Bush announced the ‘War on Terror’ and declared that you were ‘either with us or against us’. These allegations have continued until today and innocent citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have been subject to bombing and war raging in their countries. A paper on the Cost of War estimates that around 480 000 – 507 000 citizens of those three countries have died as direct consequence of the post 9/11 wars. This is incomparable to the US losses of September the 11th and, whilst no death can be justified or disregarded, it’s clear that an incomprehensible number of innocent people have died. If there is anything the new generations should reflect on from the 9/11, it’s that, it didn’t start and end on that day with the 3000 lives in the US. It’s that the war has been stretched thin across our timeline and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of our neighbours in the Middle East, and their lives should be remembered too.

However, the war on terror is much more than the wars raging between opposing forces. It extends to every prejudice a brown person has faced as a consequence. Every single casual racist remark or inequality within the workplace is part of the problem and the reason why these wars are still going on.

Hubbox review

Before October I had never heard of Hubbox before, and now I’ll never forget it. The décor was warm, cosy and inviting with its dim and low lighting. The furnishings were wooden and there were red neon signs dotted on the walls. The restaurant gave off classic burger joint vibes with a modern twist giving it an originality that intrigued me.

The staff were engaging and showed a clear interest in their customers, which, in a COVID cautious world, was a welcome change. They stayed attentive throughout the evening, consistently offering their services and successfully providing us with a continuous flow of drinks. The music was enjoyable and, although a little loud, added a nice background noise to the conversation. I felt right at home!

After so many wins for Hubbox, the food and drinks did not let the side down. I ordered the kali chick chicken burger and swapped out the grilled chicken breast patty for a buttermilk fried chicken breast. The taste combinations were amazing with a chorizo jam that offered an intense and rich flavour alongside the chicken. The chipotle mayo created a light level of spice, whilst the guacamole and rocket cut through the richer, oilier flavours and produced a subtle palette cleanser. I love fried chicken more than anything, and I felt the crunch worked perfectly amongst the flavour combinations. I also manged to sample some of the big kahuna beef burger which was an absolute meat feast with two 4oz patties and a mountain of pulled pork. Topped with an onion ring, it was a real treat and great value for money. For me, the chicken burger took the cake, but if you are a mega meat lover, the big kahuna is the one for you!

The sides were just as good, and, although arguably expensive for sides, were definitely worth it. I got to try the mother clucker fries which were skin on fries topped with buttermilk fried chicken, cheese sauce, sour cream and Korean BBQ sauce. They were amazing and did not hold back on the toppings. The chicken was delicious, and the sour cream and BBQ sauce complimented each other perfectly with their respective cooling and rich tones. We also ordered nachos which were a classic crunchy portion of loaded tortilla chips. I really enjoyed them but I have to admit they were not as generous with the quac as they could have been and, next to the fries, were marginally disappointing. But then again, with such big stars on the menu, there will inevitably be something sitting in the shadows.

 My favourite drink of the evening was the Long beach iced tea which had a delicious orangey, alcoholic twang and went down with a dangerous ease. The espresso martini was equally enjoyable and acted as the perfect digestif to such a filling meal. The bar definitely lived up to the food! I can’t wait to make Hubbox a regular haunt of mine, it’s original menu definitely makes it my new favourite burger joint. Its vegan and veggie menu makes me excited to take some of my veggie friends so they can try out its versatility. Its location is already calling out to me for a day out in the bay with a Hubbox burger and beer!

The Do’s and Don’ts of kitchen sustainability

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Originally written for Quench magazine

With hard hitting programs such as David Attenborough’s recently released ‘A life on our planet’, climate change and its impending doom has been successfully brought to the forefront of our minds. It is understandably hard to live a completely eco-friendly life when it is so easy to remain uneducated and unaware, but, as the new generation, it’s so important to lead the way and live a sustainable lifestyle. Of course, not all of us have the means or ability to make a big and noticeable change, but it’s the little things and mass awareness that can have the best long-lasting effect. We need to pave the road for a sustainable way of living with the hopes of a bright, stable and permanent future so that the new generations can live the lives they deserve. I know that it seems difficult and expensive to get started on your sustainable living, so I’ve comprised a budget friendly and easy do and don’t list of how to act in and around your kitchen in order to stay sustainable. Every little helps!

Do…

· Recycle! – It seems like an obvious one, but it never fails to amaze me how little green recycling bags have been put out on bin day. If you are still feeling confused about what you’re supposed to recycle, have a look on your local council website and you will be provided with a full list of what is meant to go in those green bags. It might be worth putting a list on your fridge to remind those who you live with. You could also benefit from popping a recycling bin in your bathroom to avoid all those cardboard toilet rolls going in general waste. It’s important to remind your housemates to recycle but remember to ask nicely!

· Share essentials – I am constantly buying a bag of potatoes that is way to big for my consumption and there is always one or two left that go rotten or mouldy. It’s the same for things such as bread and carrots. I’m not a big eater and I have found that sharing these food items is much more economical and sustainable.

· Meal plan – Far too often do people buy ingredients with no real plan of when they’re going to use them and the sell by date comes and goes. One way to resolve this food waste is to plan your meals at the beginning of the week and buy your ingredients accordingly. Equally, I often find that I buy an ingredient for a meal and then what I don’t use ends up going off and being thrown away. By meal planning, you can work out what to do with the rest of the ingredients without them going off!

· Swap meat for veggies – meat production is a massive strain on the environment for many reasons and the best thing we can do is reduce our consumption. You don’t need to go full vegan or even full veggie, just try and have meat free days 3-4 times a week. If everyone did this it would lower popular demand and reduce the need to farm and deforest massive chunks of land.

Don’t…

· Forget your bags! – Anyone else guilty of that huge pile of plastic supermarket bags in your kitchen? You get to the supermarket after forgetting to bring a bag, you reluctantly buy a new one and bring it home, promising to remember next time. But do you remember next time…? It’s super important as the amount of plastic waste that is building up across the world and in the ocean is something that needs to be urgently stopped.

· Buy ready meals – The steps that the ready meal takes from production to your kitchen table are horrific. Due to the fact that it’s precooked, there’s no way of inspecting the quality of any of the meat and veg. The meat is most likely mass produced in an unethical environment and the veg is very unlikely to being organic. Equally it comes packaged in mountains of unnecessary plastic which just ends up being thrown into the ocean. If you make your own meals, you can monitor how much plastic it’s packaged in and make sure the ingredients are ethically sourced.

· Use cling film – Keeping along the theme of plastic waste, cling film is among the worst of the single use plastics to come out of the kitchen. With so many different options to replace cling film such as silicone stretch lids, beeswax wraps and reusable sandwich bags, there really is no excuse to stick with the single use option. Have a shop around and thoroughly research all your options before you succumb to societal norms and purchase your next roll of clingfilm.

· Think you can’t make a difference – Too many people fall for the trap that their kitchen habits won’t make a positive change. The important thing to remember is that if we all manage to stay sustainable, we can change the norm and encourage a new generation of sustainability. Unity in the masses is the only option!

The art of charcuterie

Originally written for Quench Mag

In this day and age, the average cheese plate will no longer do. It’s all about the charcuterie boards.

The term charcuterie comes from France, directly translating to ‘delicatessen’ and involves a branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products. Although the term specifically refers to the cooking of meat, the connotations of a charcuterie board have extended well beyond that. A charcuterie board of the 21st century would classically be bursting with cheeses, fruits and breads as well as the cooked meats, offering a diverse and complex meal. They are all the rage right now and we have to wonder why.

Over the past 5 years, you may have noticed a growing trend of artfully designed cheese boards on social media and I believe that it’s because of this that the art of a charcuterie board is the new way forward. Instagram accounts such as @cheeseboardandchill and @cheeseboardqueen have amassed thousands of followers whilst @thatcheeseplate has reached an incredible 260k. Tik tok has also become overrun with cheese board makers as they post quirky videos of the steps they take to create these beautiful boards.

“Cheese plates can be an important form of artistic self-care.”

The founder of @thatcheeseplate, Marissa Mullen has even gone on to releasing her own bestselling book called That cheese plate will change your life which delves into the art of cheese boarding. On their website they’ve even stated that ‘Cheese plates can be an important form of artistic self-care.’ The book also includes the method of ‘cheese by numbers’ which is a simplified formula designed to help an amateur foodie in creating a perfectly well balanced and bursting board.

The key steps are: Cheese, Meat, Produce, Crunch, Dip and Garnish and the idea is that you lay out your board following this order in a step-by-step, fool proof fashion. I decided the best way to test just how easy this method was to simply try it myself! I love cheese and charcuterie a lot and I’ve often enjoyed making up a board for my family, so I was excited to increase my skill level. But most importantly, who doesn’t want a great excuse to use cheeseboard making as a form of artistic self-care?

As I am a student and cheese can be very expensive, I knew this had to be a budget board. So I popped into Tesco in hopes of finding some cheap and tasty goodies and I wasn’t disappointed!

The photos above depict the steps I followed when making my charcuterie board. I started with cheese – Camembert, cheddar and manchego. Followed by meat – chorizo slices. Then produce – grapes. Crunch – The corner deli co’s smoked paprika corn and The artisan bread companies tomato and sweet paprika bruschetta. Dips – caramelised onion chutney. Garnish – sprigs of rosemary.

I was so pleased with the result, it looked almost as decorative as the ones I had seen online. I found that the numbers method worked so well as it offered a clear-cut way of arranging the board and fitting all the food items in. This method is easily applied to any ingredients you want, meaning you can adjust the price point and taste to your preference.

After making this board, I am aware of the things that I felt could be improved on. The colour scheme of my board was extremely orange, saved only by the rosemary, and I believe this is something that could be adjusted by adding to the produce. More colourful items such as cucumbers, figs and strawberries would have added a well needed pop to my board.

Of course we baked the camembert!

The effort involved was definitely worth it due to the impressive reactions of my friends and family, and the board itself was the perfect size for a lunch for two. It offered the variety that a regular cheese board does not, and the idea of produce means you can make it a lot healthier and justifiable.

So. Charcuterie boards… are they the way forward? Many people could have been put off by their complex and boujee look, but Instagram accounts like @thatcheeseplate and their @cheesebynumbers methods have opened this world up to basic foodies like you and me. I would feel confident to present the board I created at a dinner party and would happily bask in my guest’s compliments. They are designed well to offer a perfectly balanced meal/snack with each of the steps bringing something new to the table. I would definitely recommend trying to make one yourself by following this method, don’t be put off by it’s false bravado!

The Coconut tree

Originally written for Quench student mag

As someone who has grown up immersed in Sri Lankan food and culture due to my father’s heritage, the opening of The Coconut Tree in Cardiff was an exciting moment for me. When I walked into the restaurant for the first time, I remember being instantly hit with a cultural punch reminiscent of those lazy days spent in Sri Lanka. The menu offered everything I could have asked for in order to acknowledge a true Sri Lankan foodie experience; parippu, kotthu, slow cooked tuna in goraka spices, coconut sambol and of course… hoppers. I enjoy making my own egg hoppers at home but it is a laborious task and will often result in me spending the whole morning slaving over the hob for my family, so, ordering them from a restaurant is a nice change! At Quench we wanted to get in touch with The Coconut Tree, delve into the background of their restaurant and find out about the inspiration behind their Sri Lankan theme. We were also interested to learn how they had coped with lockdown and what effects COVID 19 could have on their future.

 I was put into contact with the brand director Anna Garrod who was able to shed some light on The Coconut Tree’s origin story and the five young Sri Lankans who wanted to ‘bring Sri Lankan streetfood to the masses.’ The beginning of their journey was accompanied by calls to Ceylon to attain secret recipes from their mums and handmade furniture from their dads. This authenticity is so prevalent in their restaurants and creates such a refreshing experience. They made sure that the menu offered variety with the abundance of vegetarian and vegan options, as well as affordability with the pricing starting at £2.50. This way they have been able to fulfil their mission of ‘true Sri Lankan hospitality that ‘Everyone is welcome to the Table.’ ’ Anna says that Sri Lankans were born making food for an occasion, and, if my family are anything to go by, this is definitely true!

The Coconut Tree own six different branches across the UK, but they don’t see themselves as a chain. They are a group of owners who work in the business every day and night, from cooking to finance, to operations. After their initial opening in Cheltenham, they were picked up by the Guardian as one of the best ‘cheap eats in the South West’ and their business exploded from there. Since then they’ve opened branches in Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford and Bournemouth. Cardiff attracted them as the ‘lifestyle capital of Wales’ and the Welsh’s friendliness and love of eating out! Anna commented on the fact that both Lonely Planet and The Sunday Times listed Sri Lanka as the No1 ‘Best place to visit’ and the benefits it subsequently had on The Coconut Tree’s success and profile. The Coconut Tree are going to be a part of the Castle Eats project at Cardiff Castle, so Cardiffians will be able to sit outside the castle and enjoy a takeaway from TCT al fresco! TCT is located on Mill Lane, next to Côte Brasserie and opposite John Lewis. This is a perfect foodie location, as it is surrounded by some of Cardiff’s finest restaurants and TCT acts as a unique addition to this collection. It stands out with its bold, dark branding and its outdoor seating and bar creates a welcoming vibe, encouraging passers-by to pop in for a legendary cocotail!

An image provided by TCT of their delicious food

On the topic of lockdown and COVID19, the lack of business proved to be a struggle for all small to medium boutiques. TCT’s Cardiff location had only been open for six months, so for them to have come through the worst of lockdown and survived it is a big success for them! Social media acted as a positive method to keep in touch with their costumer base and give updates towards reopening. They started doing takeaways on Fridays and Saturdays throughout lockdown, but have now extended to every night thanks to the extreme popularity they received. They’ve recently opened their outdoor space with plans to start trading inside as well, so it’s onwards and upwards for TCT! They are participating in the August Eat Out to Help Out offer Monday – Wednesday, so it’s the perfect opportunity to get down there and try out their amazing food!

I asked TCT what they would recommend to a first time coconuter and they responded with two new hybrid dishes that they’ve recently added to their menu:

  • Devilled Pork & Pineapple: Mixing two famous Sri Lankan dishes, this spicy, sweet, tangy and sour dish is a vibrant mix of juicy belly pork, red chilli, onion and banana peppers with garlic, spring onion and seasoning. The pork is cooked in the spices, before the veg is finished on a hot plate with the pineapple ‘Achcharu Style’. 
  • Chicken Curried Kotthu: Two of The Coconut Tree’s best-loved and best-selling dishes come together for the first time; Vegetable Kotthu (finely chopped roti cooked with egg and vegetables, cooked on a searing hot plate), topped with juicy chicken off-the-bone in a rich curry sauce made with fennel, cardamom, cloves, cumin, house curry powder, onion and cinnamon. 

They sound delicious and I can’t wait to try them! Everyone should get down to The Coconut Tree to sample their amazing food and cocotails!

Living in the shadow of dementia

Written for Quench student mag

Dementia is such a complex disorder and despite it not being labelled as a mental illness, the effects it has on mental health are undeniable. Whilst my dad’s disease has forced him into a never-ending bout of depression, it has dropped my entire family into a whirlpool of sleepless nights and constant worry.  Although many people are aware of dementia and its unquestionable negativity, you can’t honestly comprehend its effects until you live under its shadow and watch someone deteriorate daily. No two experiences are the same when it comes to dementia, its uniqueness and unpredictability means you cannot compare anyone’s journey.

“Despite these early signs, the official diagnosis ended up acting as a relentless and stubborn struggle for my parents”

 My personal experience with my father’s dementia can be pinpointed to begin the day he got made redundant from his job in 2013. The issues with his mind were persistent enough to affect his ability to work and stay focused, as well as competitive in a corporate environment. Despite these early signs, the official diagnosis ended up acting as a relentless and stubborn struggle for my parents.

There is so little known about the causes of early onset dementia and it is a lot less black and white than the different varieties seen in the elderly, so there were many forces acting against a diagnosis. In 2014 the consultants were pushing for a conclusion of depression due to its ability to cause memory loss in hardworking individuals. This must have been very serious depression for it to cause such significant memory loss… My dad was forced to stop driving and they took away his license due to the concerning behaviour he exhibited on the road. Surely this is a serious cause for concern in a man of 55?

In a correspondence between consultants my dad was described as a ’55-year-old gent’ with an ‘8 year history of cognitive decline’, later followed by a diagnosis of cognitive impairment with functional component. All these long, vague words forced my father into a diagnosis which gave nothing to go on, no springboard for help. The D word was vital to access resources and medication to help him. In 2018, the diagnosis finally came in – Dementia with neurodegenerative disease. Finally, the doors opened up for him and my family. Support groups were available and memory enhancing drugs were on offer. But this 10-year struggle and the reluctance to diagnose came with possibly irreversible consequences and a whole hoard of what ifs. What if he had access to medication earlier? Would the decline have been slower? Less aggressive? What if he had been able to receive better support earlier? Ultimately, pondering on these thoughts can only add to the pain and the healthiest thing to do is to put the 10 year struggle behind us, focus on the now and, most importantly, the future.

“How awful is it when you are forced to sit there idly whilst you watch your parent struggling to string together a sentence?”

The issue is, the present is bleak enough before adding the future into the equation. The whole coronavirus and lockdown debacle has sped up the neurodegenerative disease more than we could have predicted. The activities my dad had been participating in were all cancelled, and he was suddenly stuck at home 24/7. The lack of brain stimulation took its toll and wore down his mind, making it apparent early on that if he didn’t keep busy, the depression he faces would increase significantly and his energy would be drained. He started to sleep most of the day, complaining about the pain in his head and body, worsened by his inability to properly voice these pains.

It makes us all sad when he can’t get his words out. How awful is it when you are forced to sit there idly whilst you watch your parent struggling to string together a sentence? One of the things that has kept him going his whole life was his running. My mum always used to tell me that as soon as they went on holiday, he would be out mapping the route he was going to do later that day. Nothing could beat the high that running gave him. But now, the depression has sucked every bit of energy out of his body, including the energy in his legs that would have carried him over those roads. At the hands of dementia and depression he is unable to do one of the few things he absolutely loves.

Dementia can leave someone as a mere outline of their former selves. I will never know what my dad was like when he was well, but my mum does a good job of describing him. He is an amazingly kind person and the repercussions of his hard work means he is still looking after us now. The most important thing to remember when talking to someone with dementia is that they are still remarkable people and to remember all the achievements and things they did with their life. My dad’s name is Tony Nugara and it will never be forgotten.