Over the last few months I have slowly been plodding through a quarter life crisis. As thirty approaches existential dread started to seep in and I found myself desiring a new direction in life. Some impulses demanded to restart existence by moving to Korea; others wanted a whole new career path to find fulfillment. Most options seemed exhausting, so I settled on cultivating house plants because they’re much less time and attention consuming than dogs or children. Like most things in life I find the path of least resistance the most comfortable and determined to find the lowest maintenance flora possible. After some time experimenting these are the plants I would recommend to any budding botanist.
Probably the most relaxed plant in the world. If a cactus was a human being it would be the most stable stoner to exist. They’re so low maintenance that mine have survived being dropped from a second floor window and a semi accidental watering of day old coffee. If you can treated a cat in the ways I’ve raised these plants you’d be quickly arrested.
The stability of succulents and cacti, alongside their plethora of shapes, sizes and colours make them fantastic first plants. I’d recommend to any novice or person working through commitment issues because no matter how hard you try to kill them these plants are for life.
A relative of the cactus, (and technically a succulent) Aloe Vera is more temperamental to care for than their spikier cousins. Everyone I’ve spoken to has had a horror story about them falling apart or exploding their antibacterial bodies at inappropriate moments. Fortunately, mine has been nothing but a success. Since purchase it has grown twice the original size and seems to show no signs of slowing. It’s developing at such a ridiculous pace that I will soon need to register it as a room mate.
Keeping them comfortable is a breeze. They thrive on a fortnightly watering, light dusting and a thick atmosphere of depression. The watering itself relatively simple. Most house plants prefer to be stood in a tray of water, plant feed and a medium glass of Merlot over night, rather than dampening the leaves directly. By morning you’ll find their roots have guzzled the cocktail, moistening the soil and given the foliage a handsome purple hue.
After the success of rearing ready grown plants I decided it was time to create life from scratch. Lacking a laboratory and ready supply of lightning I turned towards seeds. Firstly I tried sunflowers but their soil quickly became mouldy so I threw them into the compost. Next I tried tomatoes but their vines immediately withered in my north facing room. Lastly, I trialed a £1 basil growing kit containing just the compost and seeds.
My growing technique is fantastically easy. Just stick the container in a bin bag, on its side next to a radiator. Take the plant out after a week and place it near the window. Surprisingly in a month it’s managed to sprout, grow several inches and has visible leaves. Naturally, I wouldn’t endorse this for other living beings but if you want your own pesto and the glory of creating life without changing nappies then it’s worth a shot.
Circe is Madeline Miller’s second retelling of ancient Greek legend. The novel introduces us to the title character Circe, an underdog nymph and daughter of the sun Titan, Helios. We follow the minor immortal from her creation to final scenes as she is interjected into the lives of some of Greek mythology’s most prominent players. But even when placed in the path of famous beasts like the Minotaur; heroes such as Odysseus; and the proud Olympians Athena and Hermes, Circe carves her place among the illustrious cast.
The legend of Circe is often forgotten outside of Homer’s Odyssey, however Miller paints fresh layers onto one of the lesser characters in the Greek Pantheon. We are given an imaginative retelling that is overflowing with tragedy, magic and destiny. Such a story allows Circe to steal the pages, upstage the most famous characters and cement her place in legend. A must read for anybody with an interest in mythology.
The Graphic Guide series take the complete works of writers or a subject and turns them into a basic introduction. For Lacan, they lead you through his biography and key concepts and demonstrate how they matured over the course of his career. The information is broken down into easily accessible paragraphs, accompanied by visual aids and humour to cement your understanding of his theories. This approach is particularly helpful for English speakers who often receive the psychoanalyst/philosopher’s dense works in translation. ‘Introducing Lacan’ gives clarity to the often muddy and sprawling sentences that form the writer’s original French texts. I’d implore every school, college and university to purchase a complete collection of these graphic guides to coax their students into complex writers and their concepts.
It’s hard to imagine that the islands that cultivated Shakespeare, JRR Tolkein and JK Rowling have a strong tradition of literary censorship. I’m not referring to old restrictions placed by the church or crown to protect their institutions against opposing propaganda. But a whole back log of banned books leading right into the twenty first century. In fact, 2018 marked the fifteenth anniversary of England’s last book ban being lifted. In honour of this I have compiled a reading list of once unlawful texts that you can proudly display on your bookshelf, rather than hide under a loose floorboard.
Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr
Published in 1964 Last Exit to Brooklyn is an unconventional novel. The reader is dragged through an uncompromising set of stories that describes the lives of those residing in the New York districts. In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.
Spycatcher by Peter Wright
Originally published in Australia Spycatcher is the candid autobiography of a British Intelligence Officer. A large portion of the book’s content covers work of MI5 agents during the cold war. Given the sensitive content it became immediately controversial leading the British government to prohibit the publication of the book as well as implement press gag orders in order to restrain reporting on the autobiography.
Unusually, Spycatcher managed to stay publishable in Scotland an copies began to trickle down over the border. Given the ineffective banning of the book the ruling was eventually overturned. After all, national security secrets are not worth safeguarding if the rest of the world has access to the text.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita is probably the most famous and infamous book on this list. The novel depicts the criminal relationship between a literature professor and a twelve year old girl. Given the dark subject matter it’s not surprising that censorship was the initial response to Nabokov’s work. Britain first declared Lolita an obscene text in 1955 and publication of the book remained criminal for four more years. Following the lead of France and the USA the novel became accessible to the public, however the initial English publisher Nigel Nicolson was forced to resign from his role as a Tory MP.
My first encounter with watercolour pencils was in an art supply kit. The kind you receive for Christmas as a kid containing pencil crayons, a couple of erasers and sometimes a few pieces of charcoal. Of course, I had no idea what to do with the water colour pencils and after a few failed attempts neglected them to the bottom of the box.
Recently, I stumbled across a set in a craft store and wanted to unearth the purpose of these mysterious objects from my childhood. So, I purchased a beginner sample of twelve pencils and some water colour post cards. For the first few weeks my efforts were appalling. But I persevered and discovered that I could replicate a half decent rock. With bit more practice I was producing pretty impressive formations. However, whilst stone circles, cliff faces and craggy boulders are great, I started to become a bit bored of the only subject I could successfully capture. I found the solution on the internet.
Like every other skill there are online resources from masters in their field. After hours of studying their techniques and practice I am beginning to appreciate the diversity of water colour pencils. Their hybrid nature allows you to use them as a regular pencil crayons but with bit of water you can layer into effective, blended painting. Versatility is their main strength. With few drops you can move from a fluid landscape into fine detailing with a dry pencil. This adds a depth and boldness to your creations that cannot be obtained using pencil crayon or water colour paints alone.
Another great aspect of water colour pencils is how portable they are. With just a few hues you can create on the go without having to carry a canvas and other art supplies. Being able to transport such a versatile and effective tool becomes a blessing on long journeys or if you want to paint outside the home.
I would have uploaded a few of my own attempts but I have no aptitude for art. Rather than let my hobby level efforts deter you from water colour pencils I’ve included some tutorials by professionals. Their tips and insight into watercolour pencil techniques will hopefully entice you into getting started.
Blizzard has recently released their latest expansion for the World of Warcraft Series, Battle for Azeroth. It wasn’t long before online recommendations pointed me towards it. The trailers, available cut-scenes and information about the new content were enticing. However, I have always been apprehensive about signing up for WoW. As a frequent player of MMORPGs I have sampled various titles from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons. I played them for about a month, grew tired and turned to something else. Naturally, I was worried I would end up in the same scenario with WoW. To investigate I decided to dedicate some time to the free trial to discover if I could justify spending about ten Great British Pounds a month on World of Warcraft.
When evaluating if a game is value for money then we have to consider the amount of content available, and whether it is engaging. Since its inception in 1994, WoW has grown considerably and currently boasts a total of seven expansions. This provides players with a strong arsenal of backstory and gameplay to explore. In an RPG this is an essential element because it allows new players fully immerse in the universe from its early releases like The Frozen Throne right up to the latest title. Furthermore, Blizzard has split the character creation into two distinct sides, with multiple races and classes. This not only deepens the amount of content and lore available, but also provides several different opportunities in which you can tackle the game.
Most entertainment is now packaged as a subscription service: Our music comes from Spotify; films and television from Netflix; even snacks and toiletries are sent through the post to save a trip to the supermarket. Why should gaming be any different? Of course, the real question is whether WoW is value for money. Taking a browse over the price of new releases you see an immediate price difference. Most recent titles come onto the market upwards of thirty pounds (assuming there is no additional downloadable content). If you find yourself enjoying the game you’ll receive an average of four days worth of game-play. On a purely financial comparison WoW comes in cheaper than buying a new game, whilst assuring that you are making your way through the kind of content that you already know you enjoy.
After three weeks of exploring the free trial I have found that the pleasure in WoW comes from the immersion. Overtime, you and your friends have explored the world of Azeroth, enveloped yourselves in its rich lore and developed your skills throughout each expansion. What Blizzard offers, in their most famous title, is a fantasy world that can be continuously explored and challenged. The addictive nature as well as the frequency of fresh content sells a monthly subscription, often making World of Warcraft cheaper and more rewarding than buying a new game once or twice a month.
In the life of every frequent traveler there comes a time when you’re left waiting at a layover airport for most of the day. No matter how carefully you align your flights it’s the only affordable or available option and you make the purchase. There isn’t enough time to commit to a full day at your pit-stop destination and the delay is too long to stay in the airport.
Two months ago I found myself in this same situation. Despite careful planning I had to take a seven and a half hour wait in Frankfurt. Instead of sleeping away the time in the airport lounge I seized the opportunity to sample my third German city of 2018. I’d like to share my experience exploring the best of Frankfurt in just over five hours, whilst spending less than thirty Euros.
Regardless of your destination getting from the airport to the city center is usually pricey via public transport, . Before you’ve even reached your location a large chunk of the budget has already been eaten. Fortunately, Frankfurt offers affordable deals in order to get you around the city. A same day return to the airport cost around fifteen euros. This ticket also allows you full access to the tram system. Overall, this is a great deal, it saves you time mapping your way to destinations, whilst encouraging tourists into the heart of the city to enjoy the attractions and businesses available.
Food & Drink
I’m always astounded by the food prices in Germany. If you are frugal with where you shop than you can feast for a surprisingly small amount. This doesn’t mean sacrificing the quality of your meals for quantity. After all, one of the fundamental pleasures of travel is another country’s cuisine but scaling yourself back to street food may be the answer. Like every other German city Frankfurt seems to have mastered easy eating. On every corner there is an option: curry-wurst; kebab or falafel. It’s hard to walk past bakeries without being drawn to the bargain price and enticing smell of freshly baked bagels. To accompany this German beer and regional soda is ridiculously cheap. Just don’t drink and eat too much, you want to be comfortable on the flight later.
If you’re like me then you will have blown your budget on food and have little left for sightseeing. Thankfully, Frankfurt has plenty of things to explore for free all within a few hours walking distance or a quick hop on tram away. In your few hours you can enjoy the botanical gardens, the Euro Tower or Borse. If the weather is in your favour then I would head straight to City Hall Square. Here you will be greeted with iconic German architecture and witness the Römer– a medieval structure that has been Frankfurt’s city hall for around six hundred years. The square also houses an impressive statue of Lady Justice. This bronze figure enhances the calm and and inspiring atmosphere, especially when the town bells are ringing.