Sunday, 24 September 2017

A night with Vitality & Michael Caines

Last night I was treated to one of the most special nights out I’ve ever had, courtesy of Vitality, Great British Chefs and the man himself, Michael Caines. As an avid competition enterer, I have huge amounts of faith in the law of averages and that for every train journey spent frantically entering competitions, one day, something excellent will come of it. And this was an excellent prize.

In the last couple of years, both my desire and ability to cook has massively developed – thanks to having my own kitchen, and realising that cooking is extremely therapeutic. So, the chance to be shown how to cook properly, as well as be cooked for, by a double Michelin Star chef was really exciting. The chance to bring one of my oldest and most foodie friends, Shabnam, along too, made it even more so.

Arriving at Divertimenti on Brompton Road, we didn’t really know what to expect but quickly found ourselves with champagne in one hand and canapes in the other. We were given the chance to browse the shop, admiring all the beautiful kitchenware that “we’ll buy when we’re old and rich”. With consomm√© consumed and beef cheek bonbons devoured, we made our way to the cookery school to be greeted by Michael and his team. I had expected that we would be making 3 different courses, eating them as we went along, but Michael had already prepared our starter which was ready for us to enjoy. I’ve made a mushroom risotto, but it didn’t taste anything like this one. It was very rich and creamy without being too heavy, and topped with roasted quail and a quail’s egg which was a delicious added touch.

Then it was our turn: steamed salmon with cauliflower and saffron couscous. Whilst Michael demoed the recipe too us, I wasn’t convinced I was going to like it. Couscous? Mayo? Cauliflower? But we got stuck in, didn’t make too many mistakes, and it was delicious. I’ve never had couscous that tastes of anything but slightly fruity dust, but this has definitely converted me. It was ready in 20 minutes, and it was great to learn a recipe that’s something I can practically make again at home.  My knowledge of wine doesn’t go much beyond “this is Lambrini, not wine” and I’d never really realised the impact of having wine that is very well paired with your food. We were given a glass or two of Domaine des Gandines Macon Peronne 2015 to enjoy with our salmon, and it was hands down the nicest wine I have ever tasted. I may be a wine convert, as well as a couscous one.

Just as we were finishing our main, the Vitality team upped their game and presented us all with half an hour and a £50 voucher to spend in store. For Shabnam and I, it was like a kid in a sweet shop. After huge amounts of deliberating and working out the best, and best value combinations, I settled on some really sleek salt and pepper grinders and a more rustic pestle and mortar – two items that have been on my (very middle aged) wishlist for some time!
Desserts are my best friend and my nemesis. I want everything but lactose intolerance means that I often watch everyone else have everything, and I have a cup of tea. Not today. We were presented with some autumn berries, icing sugar, berry sorbet, lemon and pistachio curd, pistachio nuts, meringue, edible flowers and lavender scented honey; and Michael demonstrated how we might present it, professionally. We had to make our own plates, and there was to be a prize for the most artistic. I don’t take competition lightly, and have never spent so long arranging berries, so when I was awarded a £150 voucher to use in one of the Great British Chef’s restaurants, I was over the moon!

The rest of the evening, spent enjoying our dessert, sipping one of the most unusual, smoky cocktails I’ve ever seen, smelt or tasted, and having a Q&A with Michael, was wonderful and relaxing. We felt like true VIPs, not only having sampled lots of delicious food but being so well looked after. We left feeling very full, with our chosen voucher purchases, a goodie bag including a signed cookbook from Michael, petit fours from Michael’s new restaurant and some other cooking treats, and having had a really fantastic night. Thank you Michael, Vitality and Great British Chefs for a very special evening, and I can’t wait to go and spend my restaurant voucher!

Sunday, 17 September 2017


What do we want?
Not to be sexually harassed on the tube.

Where do we want it?
In which ever damn well coach we want to sit in.

I’m talking about women only carriages, the idea that’s been floating around since Chris Williamson’s proposal that they should, at least, be considered in the last few weeks. In the last year, 1,448 sexual offences have been reported on trains – more than double the number reported in 2012-13 (whether that’s more actual incidents or more reporting, we do not know). From this stems the ingenious idea of women only carriages: by segregating women on public transport, they cannot be sexually assaulted.

And the more I hear about it, the more furious I get because since when, in the 21st century, was gender segregation the answer? As a young woman, who occasionally travels on trains, alone, at night, I sometimes feel intimidated. I've been verbally abused on trains, I've received rape threats, I’ve witnessed a man openly masturbating, and I’ve been intimidated by groups of drunk men who insist on sitting as near to you as they possibly can and, quite frankly, chatting shit. I agree that it’s not acceptable. But those are a handful of instances, and I use the train and the tube nearly every day. 99% of the time I do not feel threatened, and only move away from someone because I’m too jealous of their McDonald’s to watch them devour it. By creating women only coaches, we normalise sexual assault (or verbal, or harassment or any kind of unpleasant and unacceptable experience) on public transport, treating it as an inevitability. We also normalise the idea that all men are sexual predators, and should be avoided when travelling alone. We tell women and girls that they are unsafe unless they are sitting in a particular carriage, and we obstruct their freedom to sit wherever they want. We treat men like criminals, who cannot be trusted to travel home without touching someone up.

Women are not the only people who fear and face violence on public transport. Post-Brexit vote and, more recently, post-Manchester and London Bridge attacks, there have been reports of increased racial attacks – namely Islamaphobic attacks – sometimes on public transport. What if the Labour MP had suggested that, as well as having women only carriages, we would also have Muslim only carriages? Or maybe gay only carriages? Or racist white people only carriages? Would that be deemed acceptable? No. Because, yet again, segregation is not the answer, and marginalising groups who have worked and protested hard for their right to be respected members of society, safe in their own communities, it is nothing but a backwards step. Indeed, it ignores the fact that men may also feel unsafe travelling alone – maybe threatened by sexual assault, or robbery, or from being beaten up by other angry, drunk passengers and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How do we enforce this is another question on everyone’s lips. How do we make sure that there are no men in the women’s carriages, and does that require having more guards on trains (a topic there is already huge amounts of discussion…and striking about)? Is it the responsibility of the woman to position herself in this carriage, and who do we blame if she is sexually assaulted whilst sitting in the ‘normal’ carriage? Is it her own fault, and are we simply reverting to a system of victim shaming? And are we saying that ‘anything goes’ in the ‘normal’ carriages? Are these carriages available at any time of day, or just late at night – because, let me tell you, it doesn’t need to be dark for someone to feel vulnerable.

Women only carriages encourage women to be afraid of men. They act to demonise thousands of innocent men. They fail to recognise other vulnerable people. They promote segregation as a necessary, and sexual assault as a normality.

Today, should our greatest worry to be MIND THE GAP or to MIND THE MEN? 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Graduate to Grown-Up: bringing it home

Over the last few weeks, we've heard from 7 graduates, 5+ years down the line about their experiences after university. I've learned that what you hope or expect to do on your graduation day won't necessarily be what you end up doing 10 years later and that, usually, everything does work out from the best. I've spoken to entrepreneurs, turning their hobby into their career, or creating their own job because the right one wasn't out there for them. I've discovered that people do jobs that I never really knew existed, and heard from people juggling their jobs alongside parenting, charity work, travel, blogging and...other jobs. I am always astounded by what people manage to achieve in such a short space of time, and thrilled that people have managed to make their jobs work for them, and are living happy, fulfilled lives. 

So to finish it all off, I thought I'd bring it back to me. Part of my reason for doing both The Graduate and Graduate to Grown-Up blog series was to help myself. This time last year, I was curious what other recent graduates were up to, and realising that others were doing a huge range of things helped me qualify my decision. A year later, I feel a teeny bit closer to grown-uphood, but I wanted to better understand how I would get the rest of the way there. I wanted reassurance that, over the next few years, things would probably fall into place and that, hopefully, I'll work out where I want to be and what I want to do. 

Luckily, that's kind of what's been happening. I graduated not really knowing what I wanted to do and, since, have had a go at a couple of things. But it wasn't really right, and every time I came back to thinking about what I actually wanted to do, I kept coming back to teaching. I am really interested in education, I like learning, but I don't want to be an academic. So, at pretty late notice, I applied to go back to university this September and study for a PGCE in Secondary Geography. It's been a bit of a whirlwind few weeks of tests and prep and interviews and having to make a super quick decision about whether this was 100% what I wanted to do, and accept my offer. And here I am, no longer writing marketing material, and desperately trying to understand what these oil field maps are, but buying stationery and getting back into academic reading. 

In all honesty, I'm pretty terrified. I've spent too long reading about people who haven't had more than 3 hours sleep a night since they started their PGCE and have spent 9 hours prepping every lesson, and I'm wondering if someone's invented a way to stockpile sleep. I am lucky enough to have some good friends who are excellent teachers, providing me with reading and resources and tips, and who are bringing me back down to the reality of teaching. I'm trying to work out if there's any outfit that will make me look 10 years older so I won't be mistaken for a year 9 (at a push), and how much stationery I'm reasonably going to need (can justify buying). But I'm also excited. I'm looking forward to learning again, and not just about really theoretical things that don't really exist. I'm looking forward to having a job that isn't just sitting at a desk and doing emails, and I'm looking forward to meeting loads of new classmates, and students, and teachers. What I loved about school was that you're part of a community - more so than in an office - and I'm looking forward to that again. 

I don't think it's going to be easy, but I hope it's going to be worth it.
I'll be a student again, then a graduate, but hopefully it'll be one step closer to becoming a grown-up. 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Graduate to Grown-Up: Olivia

Olivia, age 28.
Studied English at the University of Exeter,
graduated in 2011. 

On the day that you graduated, how did you think the next 5 years would pan out?
For pretty much my entire third year of university, I was of the ignorant assumption that because I wanted to go into some sort of creative role/industry, I didn’t need to plan ahead. While others were filling out grad scheme applications, I was starting my blog and using any spare time to go out for a drink with friends. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me that seeing as I didn’t know which industry I wanted to go into, it would be worth doing some research to find out.

That being said, working on my blog has opened doors and is something I would big time recommend to anyone who is looking to write in the future. I’ve been noticed and offered jobs because of it, I’ve been nominated for awards because of it and I’m certain it makes me stand out when applying for jobs, but it's debatable whether that’s perhaps a little more to do with the fact I write about sex all the time, but who knows?

Anyway, back to your question. I didn’t think that grad schemes were how it worked when it came to publishing or editorial. If I had done an ounce of research, I might have realised that wasn’t the case at all and it would’ve been really valuable. Basically, if I’m honest, I couldn’t see past my nose at the time, let alone 5 years away, but I did have a genuine inkling I might be famous (FAT CHANCE) or that I would easily get a job in a magazine…. (hilariously naive of me) so I wasn’t worried.

Answer to your question: I really hadn’t considered how the next 5 years would pan out. Would go back and plan a little harder, but it hasn’t been detrimental to my life in any way!

What are you doing today, and how did you get there?
Today, I am a freelance digital marketer and copywriter, but I have one major client who takes up three days of my week, then two minor clients who I look after on a Monday and Friday. I basically help small businesses get their voices heard online and help larger business maintain theirs.

I got here by doing lots of different jobs. You name it, I have probably done it. Lots of experimenting has led me here, as well as taking a mahoosive pay cut to do an internship in digital marketing at 26 years old! That role, which led into a full time permanent one within a month, led me into meeting lots of good people and gaining experience in order to allow me to do what I do today.

What's it like being a freelancer?
It's tricky because I'm not totally freelance - I'm sort of part time with freelance on the side. The two days I do a range of freelance work, so I work from hot desks, coffee shops and at home. I am a people person so I need to be around humans as much as possible. Motivation is easy - if I don't get up and work, I don't eat! There's no more turning up and having a lazy day knowing you'll get paid at the end of the month!!

Do you feel like you've found your 'thing', or is there still a lot of experimenting to do?
Totally. Although that could change, I actually love what I do now. I get to be really creative, am in charge of my work load and life, and get to meet lots of great people whilst doing it. An aspect of my role consists of writing chunks of copy, which isn’t for everyone, but that’s the part of my job I probably enjoy the most.

What have been your biggest achievements and greatest regrets of your working life so far?
My biggest regret - turning down a job at a huge retail brand because I had already accepted a job elsewhere. I felt indebted to the other job as I had known the boss for years. I should’ve opted for the retail brand, but whatever! I met some really great people there, which is what life's all about. Greatest achievement - striking up a partnership between a client and MAJOR retailer in my first week of a new job. Good first impression, that was.

If you could do any job in the world, what would it be?
I would be a fashion stylist or a rockstar, obvs.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?
Well, I’ll be 38. Fuck… that feels so old. I used to think that about being 28 though in fairness and now I’m here I still go out constantly and feel about 16. In all seriousness, I hope I have a baby by then, which feels crazy to say. Not fussed about marriage. Living in London. With a kickass business I’ve grown from scratch. Watch this space..!

What advice would you give to someone struggling through their early twenties?
Say yes to things. Even if it's scary. Even if you're not sure it's 100% what you want to do. All experience is good experience, no matter how random or how old you are. I interned at 26 and did work experience at 24. Also - pursue something you love on the side of your 9-5, you never know, it might turn out to be your full time job one day!

Check out Liv's blog at:

and find her on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Graduate to Grown-Up: Lisle

Lisle, age 27.
Studied Geography at Plymouth University,
graduated in 2010. 

What did you want to do when you graduated from university?
Originally, when I finished my undergrad degree and left Plymouth University, I wanted to go deep into academia, with a Master's and PhD being the jump off points. So, the aim at that point was to make my way into academia via, ideally, field based research in conservation / zoology. 

What did you actually do?
I'm now an international bird/wildlife and photography tour leader for two of the best natural history tour and expedition companies in the world. Both roles involve leading tours (usually 2 or more weeks in length) with a focus on either seeing as much wildlife as possible, or coming away with as many exceptional photos as possible. One of the companies, Heritage Expeditions, runs ship-based expeditions through the Pacific so I work predominantly in the Russian Far East, Melanesia, the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand, and the Ross Sea region of East Antarctica. For the main company I work for, Tropical Birding, I lead tours in places like South Africa, Namibia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, India, Morocco, Ecuador and Costa Rica, to name just a few. Typically I travel 300+ days a year. 

How did you get there, and what's the journey been like?
I began guiding by getting a job on the Portsmouth to Santander (Spain) ferry, showing passengers whales, dolphins and whatever other wildlife I could. I was then awarded a Masters scholarship at the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. During my time at UCT I discovered that I didn't want to be office-based, I didn't really enjoy scientific field work, but I did want to go birding and photograph all day every day. That was the beginning. Next I applied for an Enderby Trust scholarship which each year allows a couple of young people aged 18-30 to join one of Heritage Expeditions' flagship expeditions. I joined the one-off 'South Pacific Odyssey' for which we sailed from New Zealand to the Solomon Islands, visiting various islands in The Kermadecs, Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu along the way. The trip was heavily wildlife and photography focussed, and it was here that I met one of the owners of Tropical Birding. He invited me out to their lodge, Tandayapa, in Ecuador for a 3 month stint and said to treat it as an 'on the job interview'. I did just that, and at the end of my stint I put my balls on the table, so to speak, and told one of the other owners that I was looking for a job guiding. I was offered a job on the spot and I've not stopped travelling since. 

If you could do anything else, what would it be?
To be honest, my current situation is perfect for me and I wouldn't do anything else. I get all the travel I could possibly hope for, and more for work. In between jobs I can book in stops anywhere in the world along the route for personal travel. I get to stay at phenomenal lodges that I wouldn't otherwise be able to, and I get to see some of the most spectacular places and beasts on the planet. I also avoid the trap of paying rent because I'm never in one place for too long, so financially it's a good situation too. 

What's been the highlight of your graduate life so far?
I've had many many highlights but this year I managed to step foot on all 7 continents in the space of 10 weeks. I also crossed both the Arctic and Antarctic Circles in the first half of the year. That's something I never thought I'd achieve. Other highlights have included a night spent watching Black Rhino and Desert Elephant bathe in a dimly lit waterhole in Namibia, snorkelling with Dugong in Vanuatu, sitting with Emperor Penguins in Antarctica, discovering a new colony of bizarre Spoon-billed Sandpipers in eastern Russia, photographing the Mount Hagen cultural gathering in Papua New Guinea, and co-rediscovering a species of flying fox on Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands that hadn't been seen for nearly 100 years. 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?
I don't really know, I haven't really thought that far ahead. If I'm still exploring and seeing the world, I'll be happy. Ideally with a fantastic woman to share it all with.  

Check out Lisle's travel photography at:
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