What to Watch on Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix.com

Netflix

has over 94 million subscribers and nearly 15,000 titles available to watch. Whether you're suggesting "Netflix and Chill" with someone, hibernating for a bit of self-care or just need some background noise there's probably something on there for you to watch.

I've been using Netflix for about 4 years and have watched a fair amount of the shows and movies on there, but there are a handful of them that I return to again and again. So, if you've got a little time to kill and want something to put on, here are my favourite shows and films that are currently available to stream on Netflix!

Shows

Let's start with a couple of series on Netflix that I've really enjoyed. They are all on Netflix UK, and most (if not all) are available internationally.

Peep Show

Let's start with a classic, shall we? Peep Show is about the somewhat antagonistic friendship between two flatmates (played by David Mitchell and Robert Webb) who met at uni but have very different ideas about adulthood. Uptight, serious Mark and bohemian sexual deviant, Jez, are the perfect example of odd-couple comedy, though are ultimately both equally hapless in pursuit of love and success.

I've watched Peep Show from start to finish more times than I care to count and can quote it word-perfectly. In fact, my Tinder profile briefly read "Mark Corrigan in the streets, Mark Corrigan in the sheets". Why, yes, I am still single.

Hemlock Grove

When a girls's corpse turns up in a small town, suspicion is immediately thrown at new arrival, Peter Romancek. Peter has his own secrets, but so does eminent local family, the Godfreys. Letha Godfrey claims to be pregnant by an angel, Roman's father died under suspicious circumstances, and who is Shelley?

Right, ok, hear me out because this show is a bit... silly. The acting is sketchy, the scripting can be a little off and the entire premise is utterly daft, BUT if you're into supernatural mysteries with an attractive cast (including a pre-IT Bill Skarsgård) and plenty of WTF moments then it's worth a try.

Fawlty Towers

Basil Fawlty and his wife, Sybill, run a hotel in Torquay with sarcastic chambermaid Polly and incompetent (but well-meaning) waiter, Manuel. He's from Barcelona.

Another British comedy, this is one of the greatest shows ever, in my humble opinion. Granted it's a little dated in places, but Basil Fawlty's snobbery and ineptitude will never not be funny. If you want to try one episode, "Communication Problems" is one of the strongest half-hours of television in history.

Gilmore Girls

In a lively Connecticut hamlet a spunky single mum named Lorelai raises her gifted and talented teenage daughter, Rory. With the support of the townsfolk and the often fractious involvement of Lorelai's wealthy parents, these two young women navigate school, work and relationships.

I'm in the middle of a re-watch of Gilmore Girls now, and I'll be honest, it's a slightly different experience as an adult than it was when I was a teenager. My views on the behaviour of the characters has changed and I'm starting to find Rory very annoying... but overall it's still one of my favourite shows from my adolescence and for that it retains a place in my heart. Oh, and Lane Kim deserved better.

American Horror Story

An anthology show comprising six-and-a-bit seasons to date, American Horror Story tells a new tale in every season. Starting with the disturbing tale of the Harmons' haunted California home and with themes like infidelity, motherhood, disability and feminism, this show has a little something for everybody. Unless you're scared of clowns, in which case give season 5 a hard miss.

I'm the first to admit that some seasons of this show are a little dodgy, but obviously I've watched it all multiple times anyway. I still think it's one of the most inventive shows on television, and the campy bizarreness of the whole thing is part of the fun. If you want to just pick the strongest season, I'd go with the second - AHS: Asylum is definitely the standout. 

Honourable Mentions

Other shows I've loved include Stranger Things, The Office, The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh, Horrible Histories, Black Mirror, Call the Midwife, Orange is the New Black, Doctor Foster, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Blackadder, iZombie, Girlboss and Outnumbered

Movies

Again, these are all available on Netflix UK (at least at the time I published this post...)

The Invitation (2015)

When Will and his girlfriend are invited to his former home by his ex-wife, he is uncomfortable right from the outset. As the awkward dinner party continues, and strange guests appear at the house, Will starts to wonder if something sinister might be afoot. Does somebody have dark motives, or is Will simply affected by spectres from the past?

To carry on the horror theme for just a second, this film does an excellent job of inducing a creeping sense of dread and paranoia, and the final act rolls out some true gasp-worthy moments. Scary without resorting to torture porn, this is one of the stronger suspenseful films of recent years.

Anastasia (1997)

When evil wizard Rasputin is scorned by the Tsar, he makes a deal with the devil to spark a revolution, resulting in the death or exile of the Russian royal family. Princess Anastasia is lost, presumed dead, and her devastated grandmother escapes to Paris. Years later, amnesiac orphan Anya meets conmen Dimitri and Vlad, who convince her that she could be the lost princess, but Rasputin isn't finished yet.

This is probably one of the greatest non-Disney musicals. The songs are beautiful and the animation is stunning. I also really appreciate that the love story is secondary to the personal journey that Anya is on, and her quest to find where she belongs is the crux of the film. If you've never seen it, you should. If you have seen it, watch it again.

 Bachelorette (2012) 

Overachiever Regan is unmanageably jealous when her high school friend, Becky, announces her engagement. The wedding reunites Regan with her old friends, promiscuous wild card Gena and ditsy, tactless Katie. The night before the wedding causes a huge amount of damage to the dress, and the three bridesmaids end up on a wild goose chase to set things right before the big day.

The plot might sound frivolous but my favourite thing about this film is how unlikeable the central characters are, while still managing to earn some sympathy with the viewer. The comedy (and plot) have some seriously dark moments, which stop this from being just another wedding movie.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Five friends go to a lake retreat for a weekend, but as night falls the hot youngsters are besieged by bloodthirsty killers. So far, so formulaic. But why do we keep seeing a bunch of office workers organising something big, and why does that guy keep going on about mermaids? 

In the same way that Scream subverted the horror genre back in the 90s, Cabin in the Woods takes all the tropes and cliches of the genre and creates an absolute gem of a film. Just scary and silly enough, it's worth a watch even if you're not that into horror.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

A star policeman is sent to a small west country village and starts to suspect that there may be a seething criminal underbelly underneath the veneer of harmless friendliness, and things get a bit... explodey.

One of the Cornetto Trilogy featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, this is one of those films that I can watch when I'm in any mood. If I'm grumpy it'll cheer me up. If I'm happy I enjoy the shameless silliness of it. It just makes me laugh. The fact that it was filmed in Wells, where I have been multiple times, kind of adds to the experience.

I hope I've given you some ideas of things to watch, or at the very least reminded you of something you've enjoyed. Happy viewing!

(This post is not sponsored.)

How to Help Animals on a Budget

Animals are one of the best things about this little planet we live on. I'm fortunate enough to work in the pet insurance industry, and the company I work for donates pretty big chunks of money to animal charities on a regular basis. It also means we're allowed to bring pets to work, as you may have seen from my "Dogs in the Office" threads on Twitter. I'm also the proud caretaker of four rescue bunnies, who all come from pretty terrible backgrounds.

Working with animal charities, I've learned a lot about how they operate and what the average person can do to help wild animals and homeless pets. If you're on a budget, but still want to do something, here's a few things you can try to contribute to the wellbeing of animals for cheaps, or even for free.

1. Feed your garden visitors

We're heading into the cold part of the year, where wild-growing food is in slightly shorter supply and wild birds and animals start to struggle. Nuts, seeds, dried fruit and mealworms left on the ground or on bird tables can stave off hunger for birds and squirrels. If you have spare dog or cat food going, then foxes and hedgehogs would enjoy it, though meaty types are better than fishy types. If they aren't eaten within a few days, you should make sure to throw them away before they go rancid. Leaving out water dishes is also a good idea, especially when ponds, lakes and rivers start to freeze.

2. Leave your leaf litter and log piles

If you have piles of sticks or logs lying about in your garden, consider leaving them where they are over winter, and tidying them up next summer. These piles may look a little untidy, but they provide great shelters for little creatures. Throw some leaf litter over them to attract bugs which'll help feed the residents. And, if you're having a bonfire, be really, really careful and make sure there are no chilly animals hiding in your log piles before you set them on fire!

3. But DON'T leave any other litter

Making sure to get rid of your rubbish appropriately costs nothing, but can quite literally be a matter of life or death for an animal. It's scary how even a paper cup in the wrong place can be a deathtrap for an unsuspecting fox or rabbit, and discarded plastic inevitably ends up in the ocean, destroying ecosystems. I'm making an effort to generate less waste, but I make sure to recycle what I can. If you want to go above and beyond, you could go litter picking in your local area and take care of other people's careless rubbish. It's not a particularly fun job, but you'll feel good knowing you could have saved an animal's life with every piece of rubbish you collect.

4. Get educated, and educate others

I am a bit of a liability in pet shops... I'm surprised I'm not banned. Call me a killjoy, but I take pride in deterring people from buying rabbits. Having owned rabbits for three years, all rescued from homes who abused them or just got bored of them, I feel very strongly that rabbits shouldn't be housed in or sold from pet stores, especially while there are an estimated 76,000 rabbits in rescue centres, looking for homes. If I see people shopping for a bunny in a pet shop, I tell them this. I also tell them that they are terrible pets for children. They don't really like being held, they live 8-12 years, should be kept in neutered, opposite-sex pairs, need daily attention and can cost around £11,000 each to care for over their lifetime. If there is an animal you care about, you'll also feel like you need to protect them. Knowing about their needs and sharing the info with others can only help, and with the popularity of social media it's easier than ever to help inform people. Even just sharing videos from animal welfare content creators like The Dodo can help spread awareness.

5. Maybe try not eating them

I'm not suggesting that everyone must immediately go vegan. As much as I think that would be a good thing for the planet and for the animals, I also know it's just not possible for everyone. However, if you do eat meat/animal products, if it's possible to cut down even a little then you will make an impact. Similarly if you currently use products tested on animals or made of animal products then you could consider switching them out for cruelty-free alternatives. It's a small change for you, but a huge change for the lives of animals.

There are plenty of other ways to take care of animals without just donating to a charity (though, of course, you could do that too!) If you'd like to see more posts like this, let me know!

Self-Harm: Why I Did It, and How I Quit

Trigger Warning: 
This post discusses eating disorders, various methods of self harm and suicide. Please read with caution.


First things first, I have bipolar disorder. My psychiatrist suggests that this might have been triggered or caused, at least in part, by being sent to boarding school at the age of eight, where I was bullied horribly.

My first memory of hurting myself out of rage, upset and frustration was pulling my hair out in clumps. I'd never heard of self-harm (or, more specifically, trichotillomania) , and I was confused by my own behaviour. Now, I know that not all trichotillomania is self-harm, as such, sometimes it's a compulsive behaviour that even feels satisfying despite the ill-effects, but in my instance I'd pull out so much hair at once that I'd even bleed. I'd hide the clumps, not understanding why I'd done it but feeling ashamed and frightened. I was nine.

While I didn't get what was going on, I knew it wasn't "normal", and even at that age I could put together the fact that I did it when I was most miserable. I linked my misery to wanting to do something destructive, so I tried to find something else I could do. I settled on tearing up bits of paper. I carried notepaper in the pockets of my school uniform and when I was teased or bullied or homesick I'd take some out and tear it in half, and in half again and again until I had a pile of tiny squares, and then I'd throw it away. I even kept paper under my pillow for when the other girls would say horrible things to or about me after the lights went out. I remember getting in trouble for it when the matron changed my sheets and accidentally littered my dormitory with confetti.


Time passed, and I changed schools. I was marginally happier, and at the very least I was somewhat occupied. I would sometimes pull out my hair absent-mindedly, but strands, not fistfuls. I still do that now when I'm very stressed, but as long as it's only occasionally I try not to let it worry me too much. 

However, in about 2005, something happened. I got a subscription to a teen magazine, which did a feature on "the new epidemic: cutting". I'm sure it was well-intentioned, and maybe for the people who'd already heard of the self-harm via cutting it might have been helpful. But for me, who'd never heard of it before, it read like an instruction manual. While the article said "Girls who cut turn to it as a form of release" I read "Cutting will give you release". I'm in no way suggesting that the publishers intended to advocate cutting, but that's certainly how I ended up interpreting it. It even mentioned different tools and instruments people used to hurt themselves. To this mentally-ill 13 year old it was like a how-to guide.

It was around about this time that cutting, and other forms of self-harm, became common knowledge. TV characters were doing it, rumour abounded at school about which girls might be doing it, it was on everyone's lips. Magazines and news features meant to raise awareness in order to keep people safe, but really all it did was spread the word.

I cut myself quietly over years. It was never a cry for attention for me (not that doing it for attention invalidates it, generally the people crying for attention are just crying for help). It was about taking control of the pain on the inside, because when I felt pain on the outside too I felt less of an unmanageable division between my brain and my body.

My body was another problem. From a very (and I mean very) young age I was made to feel like my body was repugnant. I was tall for my age, and very wide-set. There are photos of me from my childhood where I looked fairly chunky from the front, but if I turned sideways there was nothing to me. However, as I got older and my hips got even bigger, my boobs started kicking in and I started to binge-eat whatever I could buy with my pocket money as a "fuck you" to anyone who'd ever commented on my weight, I actually started to get fat, which only made things worse. Their taunting and snide comments started to, for want of a better phrase, gain weight.


This resulted in me starting to make myself vomit. At first just after I'd binged, but then I started doing it after every meal. I was a self-harming bulimic for over a year. It sounds a little backwards, but this extreme behaviour is what led me to have a bit of an epiphany about cutting.

It struck me that, to my mind, I was putting myself through forced regurgitation to make myself thinner, and by extension more "attractive". It suddenly seemed strange to be mutilating myself one minute and trying to make myself "pretty" the next. I resolved to stop adding to my map of scars, purely because it was counterproductive to my ultimate goal of trying to be attractive to other people.

However, like quitting any addiction, it wasn't as simple as deciding to stop. I needed a substitute, a surrogate. This is where the article that started it all actually came in handy, because it had listed suggestions for things to try in order to quit, which I'd remembered for all those years. When I was at home, I could fish ice cubes out of the freezer and squeeze them in my fist. When I was back at school I did the same with hard or sharp objects which were slightly painful to grip but wouldn't penetrate the skin, like pinecones or rulers. I'd hoard elastic bands up my sleeves and snap them against my wrists. Over time I weaned myself off this dependency too. 

I finally quit purging when I was caught by a teacher who I loathed (the feeling was mutual) and was, frankly, too scared to do it again in case she caught me, because she made it very clear that she had her eye on me.


I won't lie to you and say that I've been entirely successful in putting this past addiction behind me. I have had slips when life has seemed especially unbearable. I have made attempts on my own life. I have resorted to making myself vomit. But not often. Not compulsively. And of that I think I think I can be proud. 

If you're struggling, I can only recommend seeking help. I know it's hard and it's scary, but there are professionals out there who could make a huge difference to your life. If you're not able to do that, but you want to quit, then I can tell you that my method of substituting cutting and hair-pulling for other, less-destructive habits was helpful. In my experience at least, it will made it easier to eventually quit. I promise, no matter how impossible it might seem to finally break the addiction you can do it, and you will.

I'm a Bad Person - But I'm Trying to Be Better

I wrote a while back about how I used to be racist, and how I grew up and, through my life experiences and because of wonderful people I have met, my worldview drastically changed. Living with white privilege (or any privilege) means constantly adjusting to be the best ally you can be, and I don't always get it right.

I'm a bad person, and this cup of coffee is part of the reason

What does coffee have to do with being a bad person, you ask? Read on!

Taking a hard look at your own behaviour can be really difficult. Facing up to your own bad habits and mistakes isn't an easy task, but sometimes it's the first step to making improvements to your lifestyle and the way you treat the world around you. I know I don't tread as lightly or live as nobly as I can, or should. So, in the interests of becoming a (slightly) better person, here is a list of reasons that I'm a bad person, and how I plan to better myself.

(Ok, maybe "bad person" is a bit strong, though maybe it isn't. But whether you think these things make me objectively a "bad person" or subjectively "morally wobbly" that's your call.)

1. Using non-cruelty-free makeup

If you asked me how I felt about non-CF makeup I'd say "There's no real excuse for using makeup tested on animals, especially if you call yourself an animal-lover. There are so many options and awesome CF brands, there's no reason to support brands that are complicit in animal abuse." Yet, if you looked in my makeup box or even my handbag you'd find a ton of lipsticks from Rimmel and Maybelline and Urban Decay, which either sell in China (and therefore their products are tested on animals) or are owned by parent companies which do the same. If I think about someone forcing my animals through the torture of cosmetics testing I fill with rage and sadness, so the fact that I've knowingly supported companies that pay for animals to be used in this way actually makes me feel a bit sick.

BUT I've fully committed to only replacing my used makeup/cosmetics/bath and beauty products with cruelty-free, vegan alternatives. I haven't totally settled on whether I'll continue to use CF brands owned by non-CF parent companies, but what I can say is that I won't be buying from brands that sell in China and therefore allow mandatory animal testing of their products. I've already ordered some stuff from Tarte! What's more, when I've finally moved into my own house, I also plan to use CF and vegan cleaning products in my home.

2. Using an ad blocker

This might not sound like a "bad" thing on the surface, but using an ad blocker means that the producers of online media you consume, from news sites to blogs and YouTube videos don't get their ad revenue. Some creators rely on these paychecks to survive, particularly YouTubers. If I think about it, it seems unfair that I'd undercut the earnings of people whose work I enjoy and admire for the sake of saving 30 seconds, or avoiding a banner here and there.

BUT when I can afford it I do contribute to content creators whose work I regularly watch/read via Patreon or other similar schemes, and I plan to get organised so I can whitelist certain sites to allow their ads. I also buy merch that my favourite musicians/YouTubers bring out, and retweet/share sponsored posts that my friends do. In fact, my beautiful new header was done by my blogging friend, Kelly. Check out her work and hire her, she's awesome.

3. Contributing to "fast fashion"

I think it's fair to say I'm not very "trendy". I mean, I'm secure in my sense of style, but my style isn't exactly stylish, if you catch my meaning.

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen me rant recently about how modern life prizes convenience over ethics, and this is very true of the fashion industry. Most of us know that in order to produce large volumes of clothing very cheaply, companies rely on exploitative working environments for their factory labourers. In short, this means sweatshops, pitifully low wages, dangerous working conditions and, in some cases, slave labour and the forced employment of children. If this is something you care about on any level, I highly recommend you do some research - it really is eye-opening. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I put my disgust at the abuse of vulnerable, impoverished workers aside for a cute, cheap item of clothing.

BUT I'm trying really hard not to let consumer culture get the better of me, and to only buy clothes from charity shops or ethical companies. I also want to try my hand at making my own clothes and I want to focus on being more inventive with clothes I already own instead of feeling a constant need to buy new things.

Yes, my beloved car is also part of the problem...

4. Speeding

In all fairness, this is not on purpose. I am a fairly new driver, and a generally absent-minded person. Now and again if I'm driving alone, or it's night time, or there are no other cars on the road, I just don't pay as much attention to my speed as I should. This may sound like pretty average behaviour, but really there's no excuse for it, especially when you bear in mind that excessive speed is the 2nd most common cause of car accidents. Every time I get in the car I think to myself "remember your speed" and yet on most journeys I find myself at least a couple of miles over the speed limit.

BUT fixing this bad behaviour is simply a case of paying more attention. Apple's new update even means that the Maps app shows the speed limit of whatever road you're on, which will be a help. Considering how anxious I used to be about driving, careful motoring should be in my nature.

5. Wasting resources

Laziness isn't an excuse, but it is the reason. I leave things plugged in, I leave the tap running while I brush my teeth, I leave the shower running while I condition my hair, I drive when I could feasibly walk or take public transport, I don't use food in my fridge and have to throw it away, I use plastic straws... the list is, to my shame, somewhat endless.

BUT, first things first, I've ordered these reusable straws so I can stop using plastic ones, and plan to take my reuseable coffee cup with me when I go to coffee shops. I will start turning the tap off while I'm actually brushing my teeth or conditioning my hair, and I'll try and be more organised about making food, using food scraps and turning appliances off at the wall when they're not actually in use.

Ok, so maybe doing all of these things just means I'm a fallible, lazy product of consumer culture. But I don't have to be a fallible, lazy product of consumer culture. I hope that writing all this down and owning up to it is the first step to making myself accountable and doing a better job.

Things I Learned Working in a Kitchen


When I was 19 I dropped out of uni (for the first time... more on that in another post.) My parents said I could come home as long as I found myself a job, which was fair enough, and went back to uni in September, which I did (with disastrous results, but again, more on that another time). I moved back to Wiltshire and started applying for every job I was remotely interested in. My only work experience was volunteering in a charity shop and occasional waitressing at school events, so I wasn't exactly massively qualified, but eventually I got hired as a "Kitchen Assistant" at a local chain café/restaurant. I'm not going to name it, because I don't want a lawsuit on my hands in the unlikely event that they ever read this post. You'll see why.


Anyway, I was hired specifically to cover the bake shift, which meant getting there on the very first bus (which took over an hour) and baking cakes, assembling sandwiches, and helping with breakfasts. The place was horribly understaffed, so I was often asked to stay and cover other shifts, which meant I was regularly doing 14 hours shifts, 6 days a week which was not only exhausting but completely illegal. I quit after a month because I got another job offer, but despite my short stint in this role I learned a few things which I thought I'd share.

1. Commercial kitchens aren't as clean as you might think (or hope)

I thought a kitchen where food was prepared for public consumption would be hospital-level clean. I was wrong. It wasn't infested with vermin or anything, but it was definitely scungy around the edges, and the big bags of ingredients weren't as tightly sealed as you'd expect. Other people in the kitchen wore their aprons outside to smoke, which kind of defeats the object of wearing one for hygiene. Granted, this was just one kitchen, but given that it had a 4-star hygiene certificate I shudder to think what standard all other kitchens are at. Also, I once grated my knuckle off while grating apple for a cake and my boss told me to just "pick out the bloody bits and use the rest" which is just gross.

2. Baking for a living makes you really hungry... at first

This might sound obvious, but being surrounded by the smell of cakes baking does mean your stomach is growling for your entire shift, for the first few days. Then the effects of seeing food in such huge quantities means you start seeing food as just inventory and your appetite sort of vanishes.

3. Poached eggs are really easy to make

They can be tricky little suckers, but once you've cooked 100 or so in a few days you get the hang of it. My best method is to use a deep frying pan, put the water and a splash of vinegar in and stir it until the water is swirling around at a decent pace. Then crack the egg straight into the centre. The motion of the water will keep your poached egg in a tidy little ball. No cling film or silicone moulds for me!

4. Customers ask some really dumb questions

My favourites were "Does your wholewheat toast contain wheat", "Do you have any vegetarian chicken salads" and "I know it's three minutes until you close but you have time to make seven burgers?"

5. People will joke about spitting in your food, but they probably won't

When dealing with the aforementioned stupid customers, or unreasonably picky customers, we all made the odd silly joke about adding, ahem, bodily fluids to their plates, but to my knowledge nobody ever actually did anything untoward.

6. Some dishes are just money down the drain

The biggest mark up is on pasta meals, especially "pasta bake" dishes. The sauce is bought in huge buckets and is mixed up with pre-boiled pasta before being chucked in the microwave with some bulk-bought grated cheese on it. It's your money, you do what you like, but it'll cost you pennies to make exactly the same thing at home, so paying upwards of £7 for it is a bit extravagant.

7. Communication is key

In a kitchen if someone says "That's hot" or "Move", you need to listen. Especially as seasoned waiters and kitchen staff have Targaryen-levels of heat tolerance, so if they say something is hot it'll melt your skin off. In dangerous environments you also learn the perils of lack of communication, like the time I was helping with the washing up and stuck my hand in a massive cooking pot to scrub it and shredded my hand on a smashed glass that the waiter had forgotten to mention. I have a pretty serious phobia of broken glass, so this resulted in a full-blown panic attack. Bad times, my friend. Bad times.

8. Sometimes you have to say "no"

As I mentioned earlier, I was constantly asked to stay way after my shift and work extra days, and MAN was I knackered. I do appreciate that for some people putting your foot down with your boss and turning down overtime isn't necessarily an option, and that's crappy. But if you're working so hard it's making you ill or putting you in danger then you need to put yourself first. In my case I ended up quitting, but maybe if I'd felt more comfortable setting boundaries and only working my allocated hours I might not have been as burned out (and might not have grated my knuckle off...)

9. The right music can have healing powers

If you're going to be in a loud, hot, dangerous room for 14 hours on the trot you need the right playlist to keep yourself going. I've never appreciated music more than I did in that job. Though, a fistful of chocolate chips out of the supply cupboard helped in emergencies...

10. It's ok to quit a job if it's not right for you

Even now that I have a job I'm generally happy with I've always got one eye on job listings. You never know what might be out there, and if another opportunity comes along that's better for you then it's totally ok to chase it. I'd never quit a job before and the nerves and guilt I felt were off the charts. I felt like, by leaving, I was letting everyone down, but ultimately life is too short to turn down better offers. This isn't specific to kitchens, I suppose, but it's important anyway.

So, would I ever work in a commercial kitchen again? Probably not. Was it a wasted experience? Definitely not.

My Favourite Songs


Shakespeare called music "the food of love", but I call it food for the soul. Music has helped me smile when I thought I couldn't, and helped me cry when that was the only thing I could do. It's helped me find new friends and deal with losing lovers. Music is always there when I need it.

We all have specific songs we turn to at different point in our lives, so I thought I'd share with you the songs I play when I'm in need of soul food.

When I want to feel like a strong woman...



Throw The Fear - Tom Rosenthal

As I see it, this song is a love letter to daughters, and the lyrics are all about growing up and owning your girlhood as it develops into womanhood, as well as coping with life's setbacks. Tom Rosenthal is one of my favourite musicians anyway, but I listen to this song probably three or four times a week.

When I'm feeling bitter...



Somebody More Like You - Nickel Creek

This song is dripping with sarcasm and perfectly exemplifies the stage of a breakup where you start to loathe your ex for their inadequacies and failures. It's the perfect mix of measured politeness and scathing hatred, and singing it loudly in the car through my hurt tears is sometimes exactly the right remedy.

When I need to smile...


Henrietta - The Fratellis

I have been listening to the Costello Music album for 11 years, which is kind of frightening, but I vivdly remember hearing this song for the first time and being weirdly thrilled by the weird rhythm and raunchy language. Even now, the "Hello!" in the intro puts a whacking great grin on my face, and I can't help but yell/sing along.

When I want to slam the door and shut the world out...



Barfight Revolution - Margot and the Nuclear So and So's

Margot and the Nukes are a band I stumbled across while I was going through a particularly horrible bout of insomnia at university, and having listened to one song (As Tall as Cliffs, if I remember rightly) I devoured everything else they'd released. The noisy moodiness of this song is like an audio file made by the worst of my misanthropic, sleep-deprived darkness, and playing it loudly is just what I need on those bad, bad days.

When I want to dance...



Glue - Fickle Friends

I'm not much of a dancer, but the odd jump around my room is called for, and this is one of the tracks I'll choose. It's harmlessly cheerful, and had enough of a beat for me to jiggle around to.

When I need to cry...



Sick of Losing Soulmates - dodie

We all know how it feels to lose a friend or a lover, and this song from Dodie Clark turns that frustrated, hollow despair into a mournful pop-folk number that always helps me get my therapeutic cry face going.

When I need to get pumped...



Crazy = Genius - Panic! At The Disco

This is a song that I generally play right at the beginning of a night time car journey. The energy of the song is usually just enough to sustain me for the rest of a dark drive.

When I'm feeling smitten...



No One Left To Love But Me - Maisie Peters

You know a song is good when it survives an association with someone you've grown to hate. I played this song to a recent ex who turned out to be a cheating, lying coward. You'd think that would taint the song forever, but no. I still love it as much as I did when I first heard it, and next time I feel myself getting twitterpated you bet your ass I'll be listening to this song while blushing and smiling.

When I feel thoughtful...



On My Own - Tessa Violet

Tessa's most recent EP really makes the most of her wistful vocal tone and pensive lyrics, but as much as I love the produced versions, this video is my all-time favourite Tessa track. I listen to her when I need to get in the mood to write, and it always gets my creative writing brain in gear.

When I want to sing in the shower...



The Honeymoon Suite - Creeper

I could easily have put any Creeper song under this category because their Eternity In Your Arms album is one of the shining lights of 2017 for me, but The Honeymoon Suite is actually an earlier track that didn't make it onto the album. When I first heard it I listened to it on repeat and it's a song I never tire of.

What are your favourite songs? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter! I'm always looking for new tunes for my rotation.

No, I Don't Have to Respect Your Opinions

Cute plant babies soothe my irate soul
I don't want to talk about the politics any more. I don't have anything left to give for now, I just don't. I've run dry.

Instead, I'm going to have to talk about something else. I'm going to talk about this statement, which makes up about half of my Facebook and Twitter feeds:

"I have a right to my opinion. Your opinion is no better than anyone else's."

With respect, that is bollocks, and you know it is.

Imagine a scientist is leading a lecture about Earth's atmosphere. Specifically he's talking about the colour of the sky, and why it's blue. He presents all the scientific evidence, counter-arguments and reasoning, and says, "And that's why the sky looks blue on clear days."

Now imagine someone at the back of the lecture hall says, "Well, I don't believe it. I believe that the sky is made of cheese and that the cheese in question is bright yellow. You're wrong."

The scientist is a bit baffled, but asks the other man, "What leads you to believe this, despite all of the evidence to the contrary?"

The man at the back crosses his arms and says, "I don't need evidence, mate. It's my opinion. You can't tell me my opinion is wrong."

Are you seriously suggesting that the scientist's assertion that the sky is blue is of equal validity to the other man's completely fabricated idea of the yellow cheese sky? Of course not.

This is why I absolutely do not accept this woolly, kumbaya rubbish. An incontrovertible fact, or an opinion based on one, is OBVIOUSLY of more value than one pulled out of someone's arse. Besides which, if you really believe that "everyone is entitled to hold an opinion without being challenged on it", then you can't challenge my opinion that your opinion is a shower of shit.

Ultimately, people who rely on "Well that's my opinion and I have a right to my opinion" only argue that because they have no actual leg to stand on. If you're finding yourself relying on "It's my opinion" then have a look at what you're basing your opinion on, because it's likely to be insubstantial.

Additionally, when you say you "don't believe" in something, bear in mind that if it actually happens/exists, what you mean is that you don't "agree".

"I don't believe in casual sex". It happens. It exists. You can't "not believe" in something if it's real. You mean you don't agree with it.

"I don't believe in homosexuality". You mean you're a homophobe. Because gay folk exist. You don't get the option of "not believing".

"I don't believe in being transgender." Again, hundreds of thousands of trans people have existed through time. You mean you're transphobic. Because, here's the deal. You think by saying you "don't believe" in something you're implying that you can't help what you feel about it. Agreement, on the other hand, is a choice. It's affected by upbringing/environment, but you still choose whether you agree with something.

By saying you "don't believe" in something that you actually don't AGREE with you're trying to shirk responsibility for your opinion. Presenting it as a "belief" not an "opinion" is your way of saying that you can't help what you think, when actually you absolutely can. You're basically saying "I think this thing is bad, but that's not my fault" rather than "I think this is bad, and that's my opinion." It's also implying that your opinion is some kind of immovable spiritual pillar, rather than subject to change or persuasion. Agreement is open to debate, discussion and change. Framing an opinion as belief is an attempt to shut that down.

So by saying "I don't believe in this" you're actually saying "I think this thing is bad, don't try and tell me otherwise."

The implication of "believing" is that there's no concrete/absolute proof of the thing's existence/efficacy, but you put faith in it anyway i.e. you can't know for certain that it's definitely real, or that it definitely works, but something in you makes you think it is/does.

Things you can "believe" in are deities, spirituality, homeopathic medicine, magic, soulmates, horoscopes, ghosts, unicorns, an afterlife.

Things that exist, beyond doubt, are religion, witches, stars, LGBTQA+ people, people who have casual/premarital sex, marriage.

So, for an example of the nuance, you can "not believe" in God, but you can't "not believe" in religion, because it definitely exists.

What you mean is "I don't believe in God, and I don't agree with religion." You see the difference?

(To make it clear, "belief" can also apply to things that exist, but haven't been proven to fulfill their intended purpose. For instance, reiki, homepathy, tarot reading, runes, horoscopes, divination in general etc. So you can "not believe" in crystal healing, but you can't "not believe" in blood transfusions/chemotherapy/organ transplants.)

It's an abuse of nuance, not necessarily intentional, but it's a way to throw a shit bomb and then claim you don't stink.

When you say "I don't believe in being gay" you mean you have a moral objection to it. That's not about belief, not really. It's a choice. Much like you believe in God, but you choose your religion/church. You choose what part of the bible to adhere to and what to ignore. And honestly, that's totally ok. That's your choice. But don't pretend that it ISN'T a choice. Own your opinions, take responsibility.

Basically, if you say you "don't believe" in something that is proven to exist, you need to have a little think about your opinions. It might not be intentional, but you're trying to abandon responsibility for your thoughts/feelings/behaviour and deflect conversation.

And, by definition, if you don't agree with the LGBTQA+ community you are homo/trans/bi/aro/queer/acephobic. That is the literal truth.

If you don't "agree" with gender/racial equality then BY DEFINITION you are sexist/racist.

Calling an opinion a belief doesn't change that. You are what you are.

The A-Z of SEO for Bloggers

So, you've got a website. You've heard the term SEO flung about a bit and you want to know how to get started. First things first there are some words that you need to learn to make sense of the complicated field of digital content marketing. Don't worry, I got you covered. Here are the ABCs of SEO.

#

301 Redirect  

If you permanently change the location of a post or page then you'll want to apply a 301 redirect. This means that, if people try to visit that page at the old location, they will end up at the new URL. This is particularly useful if other sites have linked to the original post, because you won't lose the traffic from those links. Also you can be penalised by search engines for having broken links out there, so a 301 redirect helps to avoid that.

404 Error

This is what happens if you don't pop a 301 redirect on your dead links; they end up 404ing. You've seen these before when you've tried to access a deleted webpage. You don't want any of these.

A

ALT Text/Tag or Attribute

Regardless of which platform you use, when you upload images to your posts you should have the option to add a text description to the image. It won't be visible in your post, but the search engines will see this description in the HTML of the post. This means, if you use descriptions relevant to your keywords/content, that when the search engines crawl (i.e. look through) your site they'll see that you have relevant images in your post. This gives you SEO brownie points.

Anchor Text

I did a post a while back about hyperlinks and how the hell to use them, which will tell you a lot more about this nifty bit of code. Anyway, "anchor text" is the words displaying in the post which you can click to visit the URL in the hyperlink. So, for example, "hyperlinks and how the hell to use them" is anchor text for the link to my post about hyperlinks. See what I did there? 

B

Blog

I know, I know, it seems obvious, but actually "blog" doesn't technically refer to your website as a whole. Sorry to be confusing. Strictly speaking your blog is the part of your website where you regularly publish content as posts (which are different to pages, but we'll get to that). Yes, for some people that resides on their homepage, but for other sites that can be on a separate section of the site, for instance for shops or personal websites.

Bookmark

A bookmark can refer to saving a link to a website within your browser, but there are also bookmarking sites like Pinterest. You want your content to appear on these sites because it indicates to search engines that your content is interesting and relevant.

C

Crawl Bot

Also known as "spiders" sometimes, these are computer programs which browse the internet looking for websites and using the information they find to rank the pages.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)

CSS is the huge lump of code which determines how your website looks. You can program this yourself in a programming language (typically HTML), you can buy them from web designers or you can use themes within your chosen platform. Search engines can read this code, so you want it to be clean and uncluttered (in other words not have bits that contradict each other). Ideally you also want it to be unique, so your site doesn't appear to be identical to other sites. The best way to avoid this is to customise your themes to suit you, and to use a reputable web designer if you want one made. 

D

Domain

This is the main web address of your site, so mine is www.elenabjxrn.com. This is important when it comes to buying and setting up your domain, because having your own is an indicator that you're serious, as well as giving you ownership of your content in the eyes of the search engines. If you're still blogging under the domain of your provider (i.e. .blogger.com or .wordpress.com) the search engines attribute your content to Blogger or Wordpress. This also means that any DA score you have, if you're still using their domain, is totally meaningless. In simple terms, if you're even remotely serious about blogging, you need a domain.

F

The Fold

The Fold is the line above which your browser cuts off. In other words, anything you can see on a page without scrolling is "above the fold". Anything underneath is "below the fold". Search engines do give higher ranking to stuff that appears above the fold, and you also want to appear above the fold on search engines. Having lots of ads above the fold can harm your ranking because it's seen as spammy.

H

Headings

Headings are bits of text on your website which are emboldened or larger to show importance. This may be pre-programmed into your platform, so if you're using the "compose" window on Blogger, for instance, you can highlight the chosen text and select the heading type you want to use and it'll be automatically applied. The way this looks in situ will depend on your CSS. If you want to do this in HTML you use H tags, for instance: <h1>YOUR TEXT HERE</h1>. Typically you'll have a range of available headings from 1 to 4 (biggest to smallest). Use these wisely, as they'll not only make your post look a bit smarter, it'll also signpost your key topics to the search engines.

HTML

HTML is a language that most of us will have picked up bits of in our Myspace days. It's what we use to make our website look a certain way. Most of this will be squirreled away in your CSS, allowing you to keep your posts nice and clean. Modern blogging means you don't necessarily need to know a lot of HTML in order to keep a good-looking, functional site, because you can buy templates and there are lots of pre-programmed widgets at your disposal. Despite this I'd really recommend learning the basics so you can play about with your site if/when you need to.

I

Inbound Link

When talking about your own site, and inbound link is a site on another site which leads to yours. These will improve your page rank, especially if the referring site (i.e. site where the link is) has a high page rank itself. This is why you want to make buddies with other bloggers, form brand partnerships etc.

Internal Link

This is a link that takes you from one page on your own website to another page within the same domain. A good internal linking structure can be a handy way to improve your ranking by showing the search engines that your site is consistently relevant. There's more info about this in my hyperlinks post though, so read more there!

Indexed Pages

These are versions of pages of your website that the search engines have already seen and stored. You want these to stay active, of the search engine might penalise you if they go looking for them later.

J

Javascript

Chances are if you know what it is then you don't need me to tell you about it. If you don't know what it is then you're probably never going to use it. Basically leave it to the professionals. You're probably not going to use it for a blog anyway, and search engines aren't great at crawling it, so for the purposes of our SEO efforts all we really need to know is that it's a language which can be used to create effects within a website.

K

Keyword

You should, in theory, be able to narrow any piece of content down to a keyword (ideally just the one, but often there will be a couple.) For instance, if you've written a piece about shopping for skinny jeans then your keyword would be "skinny jeans". If you've got a post about how to put together a capsule wardrobe for a holiday you could use "holiday wardrobe". Basically your keyword is your post in as condensed a form as possible.

L

Link Building

This refers to efforts towards getting links to your sites on other websites. This could for traffic purposes, SEO reasons or both. Do bear in mind that any links that you pay for shouldn't actually give you any SEO benefit, so it's best to do this organically, so guest posting etc.

Long Tail Search

This is a long search which will hopefully include your keyword to lead people to your site via search engines. Traditionally these were considered quite uncommon, but with the rise of voice-activated search these are becoming more important; long tail search terms include actual questions, so for instance if someone asks Siri/Alexa/Cortana/Google "What should I pack for my holiday" rather than just "holiday packing". It's helpful to keep these queries in mind.

M

Metadata

These are bits of data that tell the search engine what your site/content is about. Crucially you'll see this with meta descriptions, which not only tell the search engine what your page is about in 160 characters or less, it's also the shortened description of your page that will actually display on search engines and social media. This is an easy way to entice readers and shouldn't be neglected!

N

Nofollow

Again, there's loads about these in my post on hyperlinks, but in short it's a bit of code you add to hyperlinks so that search engines ignore the link. There's a few reasons to do this, look at my hyperlinks post to learn about that, if you haven't already!

P

Page/Post Title

This is the name you give to your content, and it's important that this is relevant to the piece at hand and contain your keyword. There's some science around which words are better or worse for titles, but in short, words nearer the beginning of the title are considered slightly more important, and the totle shouldn't be very long or very short.

Page Rank

This refers to how high you appear on Google. Basically the whole point of SEO.

PPC (Pay-Per-Click) 

This could be a whole post on its own, but ultimately it refers to forms of advertising where an advertiser pays their venue per click to their site, for example Google Adwords. Different venues have different methods for this.

R

Ranking Factor

When we talk about actions or attributes that can affect your page rank, these things are ranking factors. e.g. inbound links, alt tags.

Referrer String

This is a piece of information that's collected when you hop from site to site. through analytics you can see how people are reaching your site and use that to your advantage.

RSS Feed (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication)

RSS feeds are how sites like Bloglovin' pick up your new posts. It's a kind of subscription feed situation.

S

SERP (Search Engine Ranking Page)

So you know when you type something into a search engine and press enter? Well the page you see next is the SERP.

Sitemap

A special document created by a webmaster or a piece of software that provides a map of all the pages on a website to make it easier for a search engine to index that website.

Social Media

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all that jazz. Putting your links on social media is a crucial source of traffic for most bloggers, and some search engines rank these links too so it could be a quick win!

T

Traffic

Readers! Basically clicks through to your site.

U

URL

The web address of a page on your site.

Z

Zebra

Um... they're like stripey horses.

So now if I write more posts about SEO you'll know what I'm talking about! If you have any questions then go be my friend on Twitter and I'll see what I can do! 

Contact

If you'd like to be my internet buddy then you're best following me on Twitter, as that is where I am most active. If you urgently need to contact me for something, or have any kind of PR request, please get in touch via email, to elenabjxrn@yahoo.com.

Why Do I Blog?



Recently I found myself sat at Woking station for over an hour waiting for a connection. As Gilmore Girls buffered, I took in my surroundings and my eyes settled on a pretty standard safety sign, which unexpectedly reminded me of a blog post I wrote almost exactly six years ago, sitting in that exact spot. The sign said, "Please keep back from the platform edge. Passing trains cause air turbulence."

"But wait," I hear you cry, "Your blog isn't six years old!" You are quite right, dear readers. This blog most certainly isn't six years old. However, I've been blogging in some guise or other since I was about 12 years old. First of all I used the blog function on Myspace, before starting a succession of blogs on Blogger.com. Some documented my long-term online "relationship" with someone I met through a Harry Potter forum who may or may not have been a total catfish, and one I started right before I left school and kept for the first two years of university. I posted poems and unfinished song lyrics, and odes to boyfriends past. I had a blog dedicated to my doodles and drawings, some of which I'd like to revisit and redraw sometime.

It's funny looking back on these archives of pre-trigger-warning content, written because I felt like writing was my only way of coping. I talk in detail about my depression (at least five years before I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder), about an event which I now know to be the cause of my PTSD, and about how betrayed I felt when the guy I lost my virginity to fucked another girl on my birthday. I knew nothing about branding or analytics, I didn't really care about page views, bounce rate or adding images to my posts. The only only thing you could call consistent was me starting and ending each post with part of a song lyric, because I was a cool tortured soul.

Blogging, as a while, used to be a form of journaling, a diary you could share. For some I'm sure it still is. It's strange to see how it's evolved into this incredibly complicated and varied industry, for many becoming the main form of media consumption.

As a writer, and a creative, I am fairly secure in the knowledge that my blog will never become my day job, and with the blogging world becoming increasingly competitive I often find myself asking why the hell I do it. Why do I willingly enter myself into this crowded, and occasionally vicious, public forum? Am I desperate to stay relevant? Do I like the sound of my own (digital) voice? Do I even have anything to say?

I'll never be the next big blogger, and that's ok. I guess I'm happy to just be a passing train, and maybe cause a little air turbulence from time to time.