The 30 List

The 30 List: Things I need to do before I turn 30 (according to my 18 year old self)

When I was 18, I wrote two lists for myself. One of them was the list of things I wanted to accomplish before I was 20. The second? The bigger list, of things I wanted to do before I was 30. This was a very long, but very concise list of everything I hoped to do before I was “old.”

The day before I turned 28, I decided to revisit this list. I didn’t have a copy of the original any more, but I was surprised to discover that I could remember nearly every item that had been on the list, despite the fact I hadn’t even considered this list since the day I turned 22.

Unconsciously, this list had been shaping my life for the past six years. Become a professional ice skater – yep, I have worked as a professional ice skater for three years in total. The first time I set foot on the ice? I was seventeen years old and didn’t know my Salkow from my Lutz. I’ve had competent skaters ask, “how old were you when you started? I was six. Didn’t you love the friends you made at the rink?” In an environment where everybody has to constantly outdo everyone else, it really doesn’t go down well to tell them I started skating at seventeen (in fact, I didn’t tell them, for the first year). In the skating scene, that’s like… leaving school at eighty! I retired after three years due to a back injury. I lost six months of my life to that back problem, although it affected me for years afterwards, but before that happened, I’m glad I got to tick off one of the most unattainable-seeming points on my list.

Train as a teacher – done. I wanted to be a teacher, applied three years in a row for History, but kept getting turned down for two reasons – firstly, my degree is in archaeology, not history, a distinction (that’s irrelevant to teaching high school) that only history graduates care about, and secondly, although I’d volunteered as a teaching assistant for a year during sixth form, I apparently didn’t have enough school experience. When a friend got their application fee refunded, due to a government scheme to get more maths and science teachers, I decided to send my application to some science PGCEs. There was also a dare involved, and anyone who’s dared me to do anything will tell you I can’t say no to dares.

Three of the four colleges dismissed me out of hand, and I don’t blame them – my total qualifications in science related subjects at the time consisted of two GCSEs grades C and C, and a failed maths AS-level that I was nonetheless very proud of, since it had taken me three tries to get my maths GCSE (first time – missed coursework deadline, second time – wasn’t allowed into the exam, third time – got a high B).

Three weeks after sending my application to the fourth of a list of about ten providers, I got a phone call. Someone who ran a PGCE wanted me to come for an interview. Long story short, I got offered a place, including a fully funded year learning physics and chemistry, then passed a fully funded PGCE in chemistry. I spent the best part of a year working in secondary schools, then gave it all up to work in a supermarket. I still do supply work sometimes, when I feel like it, but mostly have decided it’s not worth the mental anguish. I was mildly annoyed and highly amused that they never did refund my application fee.

Learning to drive with a full (non-automatic) licence – oh this one took some doing. After giving up on three separate instructors since age 15, I learned the best way to pass a transportation related qualification is to effectively strand yourself in an unpleasant location until you can drive out of there. I moved out of a shitty Edinburgh council high rise (sublet by a creepy, lecherous alcoholic) three weeks after I passed my driving test, but only because I couldn’t get a McDonald’s transfer any quicker. That was a bad year, but everything had to happen and I did get some great writing material from it. Also, passed the driving test first time with three days left on my Theory Pass Certificate. I’m often a late winner.

Be on TV – maybe I should have clarified this one better, but I feel my responsibility to the hopes and dreams of my eighteen year old self has been fully enacted. I signed up with The Casting Suite back in 2007, and in the space of a month got work as an extra on TV and in a film. My television career consists of being shocked at a dropped coffin for a sketch in the Friday Night Project where I worked with James Nesbit (yeah, me and 200 other extras).

My glittering film career was playing a student (another extra role) in a film called The Oxford Murders – one of those box office flops; it could have rivalled The Da Vinci Code, but it didn’t make any money because the marketing was awful and nobody knew it was out. Shame really; I felt Eliah Wood’s performance had been a little wooden, but John Hurt gave an excellent performance (on and off camera), and the actual plot and script were really strong, as an adaptation of a mathematical mystery novel. Mostly, it was a day spent sitting on a chair, but there’s a split second cameo of me with red hair in the final cut, in a long lecture theatre scene. I decided film work was boring and London was the place you had to be to actually get paid or participate in projects that weren’t grassroots, so I gave it up as I had two years to go on my degree.

Languages – I have learned French, German (Austrian) and Italian this decade. I’m not fluent, but I can get by, and languages are a journey, so I intend to expand my knowledge as time goes on. I haven’t learned Greek or Japanese to anywhere near the extent I was hoping, and my Swahili is still non-existent. I’ve clearly wasted my life.

Get four A-levels – I actually left school with two (history and geography) and an AS (Drama; also the failed Maths which didn’t really count). So I studied and did exams for two more while I was doing my PGCE. Just to prove that anyone can learn anything, one of my additional A-levels was my longtime nemesis, maths. The other was psychology. I’d actually wanted to do physics or chemistry to make myself more employable as a science teacher, but none of the private candidate exam centres could supervise the practical components. Having dyscalculia, I was damn proud of getting a D on A-level maths. At 50% marks, that’s classed as a passing grade on an A-level (indeed, so is an E, at 40%). The French course that I studied at uni last year is equivalent to a fifth A-level, and the Chemistry course the year before my PGCE is equivalent to a sixth. Why? Because I love learning, and find tangible measuring points an integral way to assess my understanding against an established baseline.

Publish a book – I’ve done this twice. There was a dubious erotic novel which I got paid for, the details of which I will spare you, and a parody of the Famous Five, which I didn’t get paid for. The parody was self-published, the erotica was through a quality-controlled publishing house. I’ve also been paid to work as a writer for a research project which needed some reading passages and comprehension questions. The grand sum of £25. Which they PAYE taxed, sending me a cheque for £20.

Travel around Europe – I’ve done this twice, too. Once on interrail, which was a glorious way to waste a second student overdraft, which was readily given to me in the pre-recession months. The second was a more responsibly funded driving holiday, which involved my MPV campervan conversion from a Citroen Xsara Picasso (I really must do more on that before Morocco).

Work as an archaeologist – I have and I haven’t. I’ve been on digs, excavating the past, interpreting it (as much as you can) and bagging, tagging and EDM-ing. It’s far and away the best social life you can ask for. I’ve also worked at some awesome heritage sites such as Rosslyn Chapel. What hasn’t happened yet is getting PAID to work as an archaeologist, which I believe was the spirit of this task, if not the letter, so really I can’t tick this one off.

Buy a house – This one seemed like it was going to get left off the list, it seemed like the unattainable one, but in the end, it was easy. I and my partner saved large portions of our PGCE bursaries and put them down on a house the minute we graduated, using our job contracts as proof of our financial standing.

Ironically, three months later, neither of us were working at the same schools, but we make our payments and I feel very lucky to have gotten this mortgage six months before the rules were tightened – nobody would possibly lend to us under the new rules, and we’d still be trapped in rental hell, with some complete stranger owning our house and feeling free to turn up and nag at us every month or so, a task landlords willingly give themselves to, for the modest compensation in rent of about 250% what we’re paying in mortgage plus all those nasty deposit, letting fees, credit checks and whatnots.

For digital nomads with parents, it probably seems odd to want a house, but I don’t have the security of mom and pop boxing my worldlies in their attic or garage until I’m “ready to settle down.” For me, owning my own home gives me a safe base from which to explore. When you consider Attachment Theory, it’s actually what everyone needs (the safe base, not necessarily in the form of a house) in order to explore the world without taking too many risks (avoidant) or being paralyzed by fear (anxious). Plus it’s nice to have somewhere to hang street art and keep bunnies.

And the things I didn’t complete yet (although, two years to go):

1. See the pyramids. I’d like to drive there but I can’t seem to get a suitable circuitous route that doesn’t involve long time on a boat. The land is all in the right places but for some reason (mass genocide, and all the other tragedies that accompany it) it just doesn’t work.

2. Go to Antarctica. I’ve probably missed out on this one – I have no skills to offer to the British Antarctic Survey and no pressing reason (as far as they’re concerned) to go. I’d love to do some archaeological surveying to test the Atlantis Theorem of Rand Flem Ath, but without the backing of a major government (and let’s face it, no-one’s going to give me money to investigate a Fringe Theory or pseudoscience, even if my rationale is sound), I’m never going to be able to investigate. To just go on the survey as a member doing things they actually want people to do, you need some sort of qualification or skill. You also need to be able to commit to a particularly awkward timing of departure, length of stay, and return, which gives me exactly one opportunity of timing before I turn thirty, and I’d rather spend next year doing something else since being in Antarctica without being able to do my survey will just be frustrating.

3. Get a Master’s Degree – so I did a PGCE, which is a postgraduate qualification, but it’s not a full Master’s Degree, and I have little interest in topping it up to an MEd because that feels like cheating and defeats the point of getting a Master’s. I haven’t done this yet because every year masters’ fees just go up disproportionately with inflation, so I can never save enough to pay for the course. For some perspective, my house deposit was not enough to pay tuition for a Master’s degree in Archaeology the same year. I doubt I’ll have the money for a full time course before August 2015, so I won’t have an MA or MSc before I hit 30.

4. Excavate Xi Huangdi’s burial site in China – I don’t like to relegate things on this list as impossible, I believe the very act prevents you from thinking big and achieving your dreams. I like to be unrealistic (for a given value of real) but I don’t like to consider anything as impossible. This, sadly, was the exception. I can’t get to China, I don’t speak any Chinese (C or M) and anyway, they haven’t changed the law to allow anyone (even natives) to excavate Xi Huangdi’s tomb. It is very sad, but there is absolutely nothing I can do to get around this one, and good archaeology is just decomposing to waste. I don’t think I will ever complete this in my lifetime.

5. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro – I’ve actually got a huge laundry list of mountains I should have climbed by now. Unfortunately, I’ve had to take a rain check on mountaineering for a long time due to the back injury I got when I was 23. I haven’t had an “episode” (period of time when my back won’t even let me move) for about 13 months, although I get occasional twinges still, mostly due to good management (see article, once it’s posted).

Everest, Kili, Matterhorn, Mount Olympus, Mont Blanc, even Ben Nevis and wee Ben Lomond have had to take a back seat. I did successfully climb Pen-Y-Fan in South Wales in 2012, followed the very next day by Lord Hereford’s Nob on the English-Welsh border. At the summit of Pen-Y-Fan, I cried tears of joy, because I thought my awful problems were over. Another severe episode in late 2012, followed by one in April 2013 and another in November 2013 have prevented me from further attempting anything that might require an airlift to get back out of.

I have had to accept that this just hasn’t been my decade for achieving physical fitness and endurance goals – I haven’t cycled or ice skated since my back injury, either. I still remain hopeful, since I haven’t needed my hiking sticks for support since November 2013, that I might be able to tick off at least one of these mountains before I turn 30. One thing’s for certain, I envision a day when I have the time and support to get up these mountains. After all, if double amputee Mark Inglis can get up Everest…

6. Circumnavigate in a boat. So it turns out you need special skills for this. I don’t know how to sail, navigate or even use one of those fancy radio-ma-jigs. I’d love to learn and then tick this goal off at some point in the future, but I don’t think now is the time to do it. One of the keys to my success at this list has been pragmatism – you have to relentlessly pursue your goals, but there’s always a trade off. There physically has not been time in my schedule to learn sailing this decade, except at points where I would have been incapable of doing so due to ill health. Sailing is also pretty expensive. I’ll carry this forward, though, because I really really want to do this, particularly stopping at islands and coastline that would be otherwise inaccessible or expensive to get to.

7. Skate the fjords of Finland. I’ve always loved the idea of ice skating as a practical and useful means of transportation, as well as the beauty of manipulating your body within the parameters of the forces acting upon it to produce stunning physical artwork. To be fair, anything to do with skating’s got my vote (except TV shows. I love watching the Olympics, it’s inspirational and educational, but I dislike Dancing On Ice – why watch other people skating on Saturday night during primetime when you could be out on an actual rink, skating? It’s as baffling as travel documentaries). Using frozen waters as a route to get from one place to another, camping on the ice, has all the excitement of trekking combined with the sheer joy of ice skating. This is one thing that will be on my lists until it’s happened at least once.

8. Music – Grade 8 flute. This was a massive failure. I lack the self-teaching-of-music ability to actually learn music on my own, and I’ve struggled to find a teacher or do the exams. Earlier this year, I finally decided I didn’t want to try and cram seven grades of music into two and a half years before the advent of my next decade, so I sold my flute. I still have a fife and a piccolo, but you can’t do grades on those.

What next?

With two years (one year, 48 weeks – eep) to go before my 30th birthday signals the onset of my fourth decade of life, the real questions are what am I going to do between now and then; what else can I cram into my twenties? What is going to go on my new list of things to do before I’m thirty? I feel the list of mountains deserves at least some attention. I also feel that educational goals have been given a lot of time and energy, so perhaps the final couple of years should be spent on something else. I’d love to focus on travel, but obviously the cost and time investment mean I need to pick carefully.

Do you have a list? What’s on it? Do you find lists motivating? Tell me about yours in the comments.

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Caring for long hair

Caring for long hair:

The best advice I have ever been given about caring for long hair is this:

“Treat your hair like your grandmother’s best antique lace.”

Obviously we don’t want to put it in a drawer and dry it flat, or only use it at Christmas, but there is a lot of wisdom and insight in this quote.

Your hair is, really truly, as delicate as antique lace. It is dead from the moment it leaves your head. Not only that, but it is barely anchored to your scalp, and it’s relatively easy to pull out any individual hairs.

I was told by a friend that (biological) male hair roots are deeper than roots of (biological) female hair. Perhaps that explains why there are so many rock gods still sporting trouser-length hair thirty years after their prime! Women’s hair tends to be finer, too – the individual hair shafts are slightly thinner than in men’s hair.

Ways to care for long hair and help it grow faster:

Massage, gently: I have been told by a hairdressing guru that the reason that men get receding and thinning hair (apart from genetics) is because they stimulate their hair follicles less. Since this guru is now retired, still sporting an amazing mop of hair, I would be inclined to believe him. Women, who statistically are more likely to choose to have longer hair than men, tend to poke and prod at their hair with brushing, straightening, massaging the shampoo and conditioner in; all this activity keeps the hair follicles stimulated. I did an experiment last year, where I massaged my hair twice a day for a month. It grew two inches in thirty days. I didn’t do anything else differently, such as changing my diet, so this really can work. One thing I’ve been warned against is over-stimulation – massaging too roughly or too often can have the opposite effect, as it causes an abrasive action that harms the hairs near the scalp, which will lead to more hair loss, so make sure to only do this in moderation.

Wash weekly (unless you eat oily fish): To keep your hair in its best condition, you should reduce the frequency of washing. Daily hair washing is reserved for owners of a number two buzz cut, and hair shampoo sales reps; it says “suitable for daily use” on your shampoo, not “use daily.” The key word is suitable – it means the product is gentle and won’t cause a product build up as quickly, it doesn’t mean you truly ought to use it daily (unlike moisturizer, which you should definitely use every day). Your hair produces natural oils, and by washing them away too much, you not only strip the hair of its protection (which means you need to use more oils you bought from the beauty store – hey, who’s really cashing in on this “wash your hair daily” rubbish? The hair product companies), but you also cause a negative feedback loop – your scalp detects that it feels too dry (un-oily, not non-wet) and ramps up oil production, which you promptly wash away, and it keeps on going. After a couple of weeks of feeling like your hair is super-greasy, it will settle down to a less aggressive oil production schedule. Also washing less frequently means that when you brush your hair, the oil gets further down the shaft to where it is needed – the ends of your hair. This will make your hair look stronger, shinier and less brittle. But if you eat an oily fish, wash your hair the same day, because that smells nasty!

Brush carefully: Remember the antique lace? Be very gentle, like you’re trying to brush the tail of a baby squirrel. Or something else super-delicate. Start at the ends of your hair; grasp your hair part-way down to support the strands, so all the pull of the brush doesn’t rip any hair out, and gently brush the ends. When the ends are totally tangle free, move up inch by inch, until your hair is detangled carefully. This minimizes hair breakage and loss (think about how a lever works – this is the same, if you put force on a long hair it’s got more chances to break than if you put the same force on a shorter hair) because there is less force being put upon your hair’s shafts.

Choose your brush carefully: I didn’t believe the first ten people who told me this, but the eleventh? I listened. Get thee a Tangle Teezer! Don’t get a cheap knock off, don’t get something with a similar sounding name that looks totally different, the brand is Tangle Teezer and it’s an investment in your hair. Even with a Tangle Teezer, I would still brush as outlined above. I know some people just drag them through from root to tip but obviously if you care about your hair, you need to use brushing techniques and good brushes that will minimize damage – a brush on its own won’t fix your hair, but when you use it properly, it gives less breakage than a plastic vent brush (my previous preferred type). I keep hearing amongst older hair growers that boar bristles are good, but I can’t really recommend them because a) I’ve never tried them and b) they come from a dead animal, and you’re rubbing that through your hair! Ewww! Before I get a plethora of snarky emails about hair products, they have this list on the side of the packet called “ingredients,” and because I used to be a chemistry teacher, I actually know what those long words mean and where they come from, most of them are synthetic by-products of the petroleum fractional distillation process (think Vaseline, mineral oil, and anything ending in “-ane” or “-ene”) if they’re really long words, and the industry is leaning more towards animal-free products these days anyway, so no, I don’t inadvertently put dead animal crap on my hair. If you want to know the real meaning of “all-natural” I’ve got an article here: What Is All Natural?

Take supplements: Obviously before changing your diet and exercise routine, consult a doctor blah blah blah, but seriously, I saw loads of people recommending omega 3 fish oil, so I was all like “can’t I use omega 3 non-fish oil?” The internet didn’t know, so I bought some omega complex linseed oil from the supermarket, nothing fancy, and tried it for 2 months. It accelerated my hair growth by about 50%, so I’m going to be possibly the first person on the internet to say through anecdotal evidence that the vegan sources of omega complex are good for your hair. If I’d bought a more expensive, cold pressed refined whatnot, it probably would have worked better because it would have been more concentrated in the amino acids which are a large part of why this works (amino acids are building blocks of protein, which is what hair is made of – that’s exactly what keratin is, it’s a protein). You need very specific amino acids to achieve faster hair growth, hence my uncertainty as to whether the flaxseed would work or not, but it did so yay.

Exercise: See above about doctors. Exercise increases your metabolism, meaning that if you eat right and exercise, those building blocks will get to where they need to be faster, which will mean you’re ready for more of them sooner. Don’t overdo it though – over-exercise, particularly coupled with under-eating (or INAPPROPRIATE eating) can cause hair loss, eek!

Minimise stress: So easy to say, so hard to do. Most of us wouldn’t ever be stressed if we had a choice about it; don’t get me wrong, I know it’s unrealistic to say “remove all stressors from your life.” What you can do, though, is change the way you manage that stress. For example, meditation, kundalini yoga, mindfulness, exercise, inspiring and calming music, and of course, making time for things you enjoy. I have a big list of planned articles, and stress management is on the list.

Consider whether your contra^ptive pill is causing hair loss: I won’t start on all the things that the pill can cause that most people aren’t warned about, because obviously it has some amazing benefits – regulating your cycle, clearing up acne, boob growth, oh and I guess stopping you from getting pregnant! If you’ve got one that works for you for mood swings, PMS, PMDD or any other life improving reason, keep it, it can take forever to end up on the right pill, and that process can be stressful. I do not advocate stopping medication if it’s doing the job and helping you in some way. However, if you’re just using it for pregnancy worries, and you haven’t really looked around, it might be worth considering an alternative method because the pill sometimes causes hair loss which stops long hair from looking as long as it really is, and thinner hair is more prone to breakage because there are less individual strands to disperse the forces from everyday life.

Use coconut oil: I’ve seen a lot of different sites touting a plethora of different oils, but if you like your hair to stay icy-pale, use coconut oil; I have tried two brands of argan oil (one courtesy of a gift, the other a freebie) and I’ve used extra virgin olive oil (it was The Last Big Thing, based on the anecdotes of a woman who lived to be 117 years old, who attributed this to lack of stress and lots of olives and olive oil, so it obviously became a health fad but it’s gone out of fashion now, probably because they can make more money selling you some other oil that isn’t as readily available in the supermarket); while they both do the job well enough, the problem is that they are coloured oils, and while the inherent colour might not be the thing doing it, something in these oils definitely makes my hair yellow/orange after I use them. I have tracked this over time and it’s definitely the oils that do it – argan oil is the worst for this. I think it’s something to do with the antioxidant properties, which, if you are a bleach blonde, you will probably know are what makes hair orange, e.g. if it’s gone green (from being oxidised in the sun by UV light) you use tomatoes or tomato ketchup to fix it (antioxidants), but if it’s not green, the antioxidants in tomatoes/ketchup make hair orange. So instead of them, use coconut oil, it’s colourless and doesn’t react with the hair colour molecules, which is my kind of protective oil. I buy mine from Sainsbury’s, the Lucy Bee brand, I’ve had it for a year and I’m only halfway through a jar. You can also get it from Amazon or Holland and Barrett. Make sure it’s got all the right labels that float your boat – pure, cold pressed, extra-virgin, and whatnot, so you’re satisfied with it. Someone recently raised a concern about whether it was watered down if it doesn’t specifically say “pure” on it. Nope, it’ll all be coconut if that’s what the ingredients say (do check them). Also, look up the coconut oil bleaching method (just type that into youtube) if you want to try it – I can’t recommend because I haven’t done it myself, but it certainly looks interesting.

Plaiting your hair/using protective styles: I got this from Afro-Caribbean hairstyling sites, basically a protective style is one you can put your hair into that protects it from traction and friction in everyday life, so a plait (or a set of plaits) would be a protective style, a ponytail would not because it leaves the individual strands vulnerable to the entire world. This is particularly sound advice at bedtime. Do be careful with how you tie off your plait though – a very tight hairband can cause traction alopecia, which nobody wants!

Silk Pillow/night cap: I bought a couple of scarves for outside, a silk pillow for at home, and a night cap for if I am away. I found silk to be helpful; it reduces friction compared to cotton so your hair doesn’t get stuck on the pillow, and it’s also got bizarre chemical properties (chemical as in, the fundamental chemistry of silk, I’m not saying it’s got “bad chemicals” in it) that cause it to interact with anything that touches it, mean it can help with healing your skin and protecting your hair.

Snag Free Bobbles: Hairbands that don’t have metal clasps have reduced hair damage and split ends when I tie off a plait. They’re more expensive than regular ones; get a good feel of the connecting glue before you buy, as some of the cheaper ones have thick, sharp glue splodges where they connect, which is almost as bad as the metal bits on regular bobbles. I like Scunci brand.

And finally, the things that didn’t work:

1. Biotin: This was my biggest disappointment, and an expensive mistake. I found it to be not only useless for my hair, but also caused my skin to break out, left me irritable and moody, and basically had a caffeine effect on me – super energized an hour afterwards, then in tears twelve hours later from exhaustion and over-blowing some silly problem. This one was definitely not for me, which I was really disappointed about because I heard such good things. My biotin was only 500 micrograms per tablet, I tried various different doses (800 should be optimal according to one study, 5000 according to another study) and just had to write it off as a bad job. I decided any hair growth effects from the supplements were probably being reversed by the stress they were causing me by unseating my emotions, resulting in a net gain of zero. I even tried them alongside other B vitamins, as suggested by a handful of reviewers on Amazon, and that didn’t make any difference either. I guess my biotin levels are naturally as high as they’re going to get.

2. Nope, it was actually just the biotin. Every other piece of info I’ve ever read on hair growth and caring for long hair has been pretty helpful.

Mirabell Gardens and Palace: Breaking all the rules.

Mirabell Gardens and Palace: Breaking all the rules.

Mirabell Fountain
The curious origin of the streams of water…

It’s bad form to start at the beginning when you write a travel piece. This is the special exception: The fountain, facing away from us as we entered Mirabell Gardens, was a half naked woman who appeared to have two streams of water pointing in opposite directions around her chest area. It looked like her tits were leaking. I got two or three photos because I thought it was so bizarre. I walked around the fountain and when I reached the front, I saw there were actually her hands, directly in front of her chest, and she was holding two bluebirds, who were facing away from each other. The water was actually coming from their mouths. It does raise some questions about why anyone would just loll around half naked in a pond with birds in their hands at chest height, but we’re taught not to really question it if it’s Art, and this had at some point been Art. I could imagine the Georgian upper classes viewing this fountain with the same disdain with which recent audiences have treated work by Damien Hirst. Having said that, there’s a lot of stuff like this dotted around Western Europe.
The mystery thus solved, we moved on, into the gardens. Needless to say there were flowers everywhere; flowerbeds formed geometric patterns. Sitting on a bench to eat lunch, we were treated to being harassed for money by a beggar.

“Haben sie zwei Euro?” A man asked with a Turkish accent. He didn’t look particularly poor, but clothing obviously isn’t the best indicator. He waved a paper at us.
“No thank you.” I replied. The beggar glared at me, then did the one thing that guaranteed he wasn’t getting a sale from either of us. In a Western country, with (almost) equal rights, he ignored me and looked to my husband, waiting for an answer, still proffering the paper. We both stared at him in disbelief.

“NO THANK-YOU!” My OH said loudly and slowly.
“You want to buy a paper? Two Euro?” He asked, in English this time.
“NO…THANK…YOU.” He repeated, even more loudly and slowly. My other half has no compunction about talking at people in English until they’re imbued with the gift of speaking his language. It’s usually incredibly humiliating for me, as I’ll try to speak someone else’s language and fall silent before submitting to requesting if they speak English. This time, however, I just let him get on with it. After all, the paper that the guy was flogging was still in German, no matter what language he tried his sales pitch.
“You got a Euro for the bus?” He asked, still not taking the hint.
“No. Go away.” My OH replied loudly. He’s usually very polite but I think the man’s sexism had rankled him.
“Fifty cents? Fifty cents for bus?” He shook his coffee cup in my OH’s face, at which point my beloved just turned towards his sandwich and resumed eating.

The man started shouting a tirade of abuse at us, then walked off and started the exact same routine at the very next bench. I wondered, with his amazing command of colloquial English expletives, why he was wasting his effort trying to sell German-language papers to English tourists instead of making a mint teaching at an English Language School. I felt a little dirty inside, having broken my personal rule of letting my OH act like a tourist.

After lunch we decided to check out the famous Mirabell Palace, mentioned in guide books and internet must-see lists as “Mirabell Palace and Gardens.” Disappointingly, it turned out to be a council offices, which wasn’t open to the public. Not even a toilet to be had.

There was a thoroughfare which was quite pretty, and which led us across a car park and ultimately caused us to end up at the Austrian Hair Supermarket, which was as it sounds – a shop the size of a supermarket that only sold hair products. A self-inflicted platinum blonde, I just love hair products. I love finding new ones that do good things to my hair. I had bravely left home without so much as a hairdryer, let alone straighteners or a curling wand, so anything that would improve my hair’s appearance was very welcome. Thank-you, inaccurate travel guides everywhere; the hair supermarket was one of the shopping highlights of the entire trip. Across the road, there was a toilet.

I’m breaking another travel writing rule here, but I have to tell you about this toilet. As I was approaching the toilet, an older woman barged right past and into the toilet. The door swung closed and I wasn’t sure whether it was a single toilet inside or many. I decided to wait for her to finish, even though I didn’t see any lock on the outside of the outside door.

A good ten minutes later, I was still waiting. I decided to check inside. There were two cubicles, as I suspected. The older woman was sitting on one of the toilets, trousers down, cubicle door wide open, bags, rucksack and hiking poles spread about in front of the sink. I decided to step over the bags and I went into the other cubicle, as she kept speaking an unidentifiable, possibly Eastern European, language at me, getting louder. I locked the door and started cleaning the toilet seat, as she kept banging on the cubicle wall and shouting at me from the next toilet. I came back out again to see what she wanted. She just kept shouting in a foreign language.

Eventually, she declared, “Pissing!” at the top of her voice and I just gave up and left. I waited for her to be finished as she clearly wanted the entire toilet block to herself for some bizarre reason that I couldn’t fathom. Some people just can’t share toilets apparently. When she was finally done, I burst into the cubicle I’d prepared earlier and locked the door firmly. I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m sure you know the kind I mean.

Later, when I was washing my hands, I thoroughly checked the cubicle containing the toilet she’d used. The lock worked perfectly, there was plenty of toilet roll. The outside door also happened to have a bolt on the inside that she could have used for privacy, presumably in case women wanted to use the baby change station on the opposite wall to the sink. I couldn’t help but wonder what she would have done at a pay-per-cubicle toilet, where people would have been more reluctant to leave, as it would have meant forfeiting the toll paid for use of the toilet. I still can’t work out what her problem was. Tourists.

[Wellness] Overview of types of milk allergy and intolerance

An overview of the different types of milk allergy and intolerance:

Most people these days assume that when you say “milk allergy” you mean “lactose intolerance.” Some people know these are different, but even milk allergy/intolerance sufferers can be pressed to explain which milk ailment they’ve got. Of course, in an ideal world none of us would have to explain because my ideal world would not include any dairy products. At the present time, when you’re trying to work out which of these illnesses (and these are just the ones I’ve found out about, I’m sure there are others – contact me if you know of any so I can add them) is the cause of your inability to eat dairy, it’s made even more difficult when the doctors themselves sometimes don’t actually understand what they’re saying or what all the different dairy allergies and intolerances look like. For simplicity, I call all these different illnesses “milk ailments” collectively, so you know that I’m referring to all of them, not just cow milk allergy. I have at least two separate milk ailments, but I’m unsure what the second one is. Without paying huge amounts of money for allergy testing, I will never find out.  UPDATE: September 2015: I now know I have #7 and #1.

Here’s an overview of the types of milk allergy:

1. Lactose Intolerance
2. Galactosemia
3. Alpha-S1 Casein Allergy (cow’s milk)
3a. Antibody Mediated Allergy
3b. Non-antibody mediated allergy
4. Milk Soy Protein Intolerance
5. Fermentable Carbohydrates Intolerance
6. Disaccharides intolerance
7. A1 casein intolerance

Lactose Intolerance:
This is the classic milk ailment that most people have. Basically, we didn’t evolve to consume dairy products after weaning, so (according to certain statistics) 60% of the European descended adult population, 90% of the African descended population and 95% of the Asian descended population can develop lactose intolerance under the right conditions. It’s caused by your body reducing lactase enzyme production after a certain age. Lactase is the enzyme that digests lactose from milk. Lactose intolerance comes in two forms:

Lactase deficiency, a.k.a. hypolactasia:
Many people with this ailment have a threshhold of how much milk they can consume, after which the effects are uncomfortable.

Congenital lactase deficiency:
However, there is a variation of this, where the sufferer lacks the gene for lactase production and so has no lactase enzymes whatsoever. This person cannot even eat tiny amounts of lactose without feeling the effects. As a baby, they cannot even have breast milk.

As an adult, these two forms of lactose intolerance produce the same symptoms and cause the same problems in life, especially if you live in a country that eats a lot of dairy. Because it’s the best known of all the milk ailments, it’s the one people assume you have when you tell them you can’t have dairy. Pro-tip – if the lactofree works for you, you’re lactose intolerant. If it makes you horribly ill instead, you have a different milk ailment.

Symptoms: Bloating, diarrhea, gassiness, feeling very uncomfortable, all the symptoms of lactose intolerance are LOWER INTESTINE symptoms. “Anyone (except for young children) who gets vomiting, burping, heartburn, or other stomach ills, should look for a different cause.” http://www.stevecarper.com/li/LI_v_milk_allergy.htm
Unfortunately, to get your doctor to look for a different cause, you might have a real fight on your hands, particularly in the UK where allergies are not taken seriously (they only kill you, after all).

What do you need to do if you have lactose intolerance:
Avoid dairy. If you can tolerate a small amount of milk, you can experiment and find out your limits. Be sure you don’t have any kind of milk allergy before ingesting any milk! There are also lactase enzyme capsules available on the internet, I have tried these (that’s how I found out I was also lactose intolerant) and found that they definitely do help you to break down the milk. Instead of getting all the lactose intolerance symptoms that I usually get within 30 minutes of eating dairy, I only got the secondary symptoms that I get from my unidentified milk ailment (probably either galactosemia or non-antibody mediated allergy), a few hours later. You can also get special milk that’s cow’s milk but has been predigested with lactase enzymes. I haven’t tried the milk, but I did try the cheese. In the UK it’s marketed as the “Arla Lactofree” brand. I got very ill, but again, it’s probably great if lactose intolerance is your only milk ailment.

Galactosemia:
In the US, this potentially deadly genetic disease is routinely tested in infants. In the UK, this doesn’t happen. I asked six doctors if they could tell me the symptoms of galactosemia, none of them knew, and they all mistakenly said it was the scientific name for lactose intolerance. This is incorrect. In individuals with Galactosemia, the lactose itself is tolerated just fine – the enzyme lactase breaks down the lactose molecules and produces two smaller molecules – glucose and galactose. This is how we get glucose for respiration, and this happens in healthy individuals AND individuals with galactosemia, but NOT in individuals with lactose intolerance. In galactosemia, it’s the galactose that’s not tolerated – it cannot be broken down further, so it builds up, causing toxic levels of galactose-1 phosphate in various tissues. This can cause liver damage, renal failure, cataracts, brain damage and ovarian failure. It is most prevalent in the White European population at a rate of 1 per 60,000, and the traveller population is worst affected at 1 per 6000 (although since it’s a very small minority group this statistic might be flawed).

Symptoms:

Children: Usually, you will find out fairly soon if your infant has galactosemia. It causes jaundice, failure to thrive, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea.

Adults: If, like me, you were brought up on soya milk, you may not ever find out whether this is the cause of your milk ailment. It is certainly the most serious non-allergic response to milk, and not enough people in the medical profession know the signs.

What do you need to do if you have galactosemia: Avoid milk. In fact, avoid anything containing lactose. You may be okay with “lactofree” products but personally I wouldn’t risk it if you value your major organs. Galactose is also found in sugar beets and gums (gellan gum, xanthan gum, for example) and mucilages, so this is one problem where you may require the services of a qualified dietitian with experience in galactosemia. If you’re vegan, make sure they take this into account when meal planning, some health professionals can be insensitive about such things (whilst others can be fantastic).

Alpha-S1 Casein Allergy (Cow’s Milk Allergy)
With this allergy, often it’s really obvious from birth that you have it. But not always. If this is you, you cannot have any milk containing product, may contain milk, made on a line handling milk, and if it were me, I would avoid anything made in a factory handling milk. The actual part of the milk that CMA sufferers are allergic to is a protein called alpha-S1 casein. It’s in a lot of things. There are other milk proteins and other parts of milk that you can be allergic to (you can actually be allergic to anything in the world, they don’t tell you that when they’re trying to fob you off with lactose intolerance). While it’s become common in the past few years to call it “Cow’s Milk Allergy,” most sufferers will need to avoid any and all milks, even sheep and goat. This is the one that people also refer to as “milk allergy” just to confuse you – there are other types of milk allergy but this is the one people always assume you mean.

There are actually two types of milk allergy that I could find any information about: antibody mediated allergy, and non-antibody mediated allergy, and they have different symptoms. When allergy helplines and doctors tell you that you don’t have a milk allergy if you don’t go into anaphylaxis, they actually are only talking about an unusual specific reaction to the antibody mediated allergy.

Antibody Mediated Allergy:
The symptoms of this always arise within an hour of consuming milk. Basically, your body produces antibodies and believes that any Alpha-S1 Casein proteins are actually invaders, so they fight them off and these antibodies are what make you ill.

Symptoms: Skin rash, hives, vomiting and gastric distress, stomach pain, respiratory problems, wheezing and runny nose are all symptoms of this, as well as (very rarely, but can happen) anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is: difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, swelling of the face and neck, call 911 or 999 immediately when this happens. It’s life threatening. If the person involved has an epi-pen, now is the time to use it. It’s really easy these days – just jab the pen against the outer thigh of the person having anaphylaxis. This isn’t a “cure” they still need to go to hospital. An epi-pen just has adrenaline in, and doesn’t actually stop the reaction, it just gives the body adrenaline to help survive. The real treatment is Diphenhydramine, one of the many types of Benadryl. This is what they’ll give to the sufferer once they get to hospital. If you have some Benadryl syrup with the word “diphenhydramine” on the box, this could help if they can still swallow. Anaphylaxis sometimes happens so quickly that you can’t do anything other than stab that epi-pen, call an ambulance and hope like hell that your loved one will be okay. Other times, the sufferer has time to articulate the problem. What is common to both situations is to ALWAYS take anaphylaxis seriously. It’s far better to be safe and have irritated ambulance staff on your porch than to have a dead loved one. See http://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk for more information about anaphylactic shock.

What do you need to do if you have antibody mediated cow’s milk allergy: Totally avoid any and all dairy and milk based products, check ingredients regularly and carefully (they often change), look for words such as:
milk, lactose, milk proteins, whey, whey powder, cheese, butterfat, buttermilk and casein, and if a word is in bold on the back of a packet, look it up on your smartphone before putting the item into your trolley. Never EVER assume a product or food is milk free unless it’s a pure unadulterated fruit or vegetable, or you’ve checked the ingredients yourself. Sometimes, other people will tell you that something is milk free when it isn’t. Sometimes, they just don’t understand what they’re reading on the back of a food packet (it’s a learning curve) and sometimes they do understand, but don’t believe they’ll be doing you any harm (particularly people who don’t understand that your ailment is different from lactose intolerance.
Badger your doctor for an epi pen. You can’t always control your food, sometimes a restaurant accidentally cross contaminates or doesn’t realise that whey (for example) is milk. If this is the case, you want to be as safe as you can. There was a manufacturing/supply issue with epi-pens across 2014, there are alternative brands as well (which a lot of doctors and pharmacists don’t know about), read about them here: http://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk/living-with-anaphylaxis/medication. Hold onto your prescription if you can’t get it fulfilled, and check back sporadically – they’re usually good for at least a month, often longer, before they expire. Your other option is to find an online source for an epi-pen and get one through them. Some places can issue prescriptions and if they are licensed by a Pharmaceutical Governing Body then they are NOT selling inferior medicines (don’t believe the anti-online-pharmacy hype). Check they can legally ship it to your country and that they’re not going to put it in an unpressurised cargo hold if it’s being transported by plane – it can shatter the vials that connect to needles, rendering the whole thing useless. My friend once went to Peru, left his insulin in the checked-in baggage, and when he got to the (rather remote) archaeological dig he was on, he needed insulin, so he opened one up to use, to find that every single vial was shattered. He was trapped in the middle of nowhere in Peru with no insulin. He had to be airlifted to hospital and nearly died. Make sure this doesn’t happen to your epi-pen.

Non-antibody mediated allergy:
Recently, a body of scientists have discovered that there’s a second type of milk allergy, which doesn’t involve IgE – the antibody that causes the problems in antibody-mediated cow’s milk allergy. The mechanism is poorly understood and research doctors can’t decide whether this is an allergy or an intolerance, just to further confuse matters. Some of them think this is a separate type of allergy that still has an allergic reaction, just not using the same specific antibody causing the problem in the previous allergy. Others believe it’s another form of lactose intolerance, although the problems associated with lactose intolerance are all lower intestinal problems, and the problems associated with non-antibody mediated allergy are very different. Because the problems take place in a part of the digestive tract that doesn’t actually digest milk sugars, the argument that this is lactose intolerance is invalid, and the idea of a generalized milk intolerance just oversimplifies the digestive process. Mostly, because there’s no money to be made from these types of allergies, I think reseach councils don’t care enough to fund research into milk allergy. Milk is a complex substance, with many components of very different types (remember it’s supposed to be a complete source of nutrition for calves) so the idea that we are just “intolerant to milk” or “allergic to milk” rather than being allergic to one or more of the milk fats, milk proteins or milk sugar is a silly one. Coherent and conclusive information about the medical classification of non-antibody mediated allergy was non-existent, so you will have to make your own enquiries. Some of the symptoms are similar to the antibody-mediated allergy – stomach pain, vomiting, gastric distress, skin rash. The reaction can be delayed by up to 72 hours.

What to do if you have non-antibody mediated allergy:
Avoid milk in its entirety, including lactofree products and anything containing whey, casein, butterfat or lactose, because they really don’t know which part of it makes you ill and it’s not looking likely that they’ll find out any time soon. Coconut milk (despite some confusion on the parts of certain companies) is just fine unless it contains a specific additive. Don’t worry about getting an epi-pen; it won’t be of any use to you.

Milk Soy Protein Intolerance:
Milk soy protein intolerance is another one with very little information on the topic. It’s basically a reaction to the proteins found in milk and soy. These proteins damage the inside lining of the digestive tract. It affects infants, and in these cases, solid foods are introduced at a later stage. Foods also need to be introduced in a different order. The best resource I have found on MSPI is here: http://www.choa.org/Child-Health-Glossary/~/media/CHOA/Documents/Child-Health-A-Z/Special-Diets/Milk_Soy_Protein_Intolerance.pdf
There is evidence that MSPI can continue after weaning and even through to adulthood, although this is rare. It doesn’t show up on a blood test, which means it is diagnosed purely by symptoms. Children with MSPI cannot have goat’s or sheep milk products, although people who have confused this with lactose intolerance will suggest it.

What are the symptoms:
Bloody stools, vomiting, diarrhea, irritability and weight loss.

What to do if you have milk soy protein intolerance:
Avoid anything with either milk or soy (soya) in. This includes all of the following:
Milk, butter, cheese, cream, buttermilk, milk solids, milk powder, milk protein, malted milk, condensed milk, evaporated milk, milk derivative, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, skimmed/powdered milk, dairy solids, non-fat dairy solids, yoghurt, whey, casein, caseinate, sour milk/cream, curds, custard (unless dairy free) butter oil, ghee, butter fat, soy flour, soy lecithin, soy protein, soy protein isolate, textured vegetable protein, soy beans and soy caseinate

Fermentable Carbohydrates Intolerance:

All carbohydrates are sugars – carbohydrates is just the scientific word for sugar. We often associate carbs with pasta, rice and grains, but in fact, any sugar is a carbohydrate.
Fermentable carbohydrates are a specific type of carbohydrate which ferment during digestion; they are supposedly easier to break down because they are short chain sugars. Some people are intolerant to them; lactose and galactose are both short chain sugars, and they come from milk.

What are the symptoms of fermentable carbohydrates intolerance:
Bloating, cramping, gassiness, burping, diarrhea or constipation.

What to do if you have fermentable carbohydrates intolerance:
Managing a fermentable carbohydrates intolerance can be complicated, it requires a lot of restrictions from a wide range of foods. This booklet explains what you need to do if you have fermentable carbohydrates intolerance:
http://www.hamiltonhealthsciences.ca/documents/Patient%20Education/LowFermentableCarbDiet-trh.pdf

Disaccharides Intolerance:
Disaccharides are a specific type of carbohydrate (sugar). When your body doesn’t produce enough isomaltase and sucrase enzymes, it can’t absorb disaccharides. Watery diarrhea and abdominal discomfort are the main symptoms, and it isn’t a life threatening ailment. Lactose is a disaccharide, because it’s made of glucose and galactose. Lactose is found in milk which is why I have included this intolerance here, because it’s a very rare but often overlooked intolerance.

What to do if you have disaccharides intolerance:
Find a qualified dietitian, or request a referral to one, depending on what your health insurance or local health administration covers you for, because there are so many disaccharides in existence that it’s a very complicated condition to manage.
More information can be found here: http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/c/congenital_sucrose_isomaltose_malabsorption/intro.htm

A1 Casein Intolerance:

This gives you all the gastric distress, possible skin rash, sickness, diarrhea, and other lovelies, but it’s not an allergy, it’s an intolerance.  The theory goes that back in olden times (technical term), cows used to produce milk with the A2 casein type.  Cows that aren’t from western/central Europe or America still seem to produce milk with A2 casein type.  However, cows from western/central Europe, The Americas, Australia and New Zealand all produce A1 casein, which is a genetic mutation (but was discovered first so is called A1 where the other one is called A2).  Some people come from ancestry who never evolved to tolerate A2 casein, they cannot digest that protein.

What to do if you have A1 casein intolerance:
First, eliminate any chance of it being an allergy by seeing your doctor!  Then, test this theory by buying yourself some A2 milk (available in most supermarkets in the milk aisle) and having some of it e.g. in a hot chocolate.  If you get lower intestinal symptoms from A2 milk, but none of your other “usual” symptoms, you may also have lactose intolerance.  If you get no symptoms from A2 milk, where you usually get symptoms from “normal” milk, you probably have A1 casein intolerance.  Take your findings to your doctor so he can put this on your medical notes.  If this is the case, you can buy broad-spectrum enzymes that may help you digest normal milk products, otherwise, you should be ok with authentic feta, halloumi, and paneer, because these are made in countries with A2 cows.

Conclusion:
If you know milk is making you ill, there are many different problems it can cause. Doctors often use the rule of “parsimony” to diagnose people – the idea that the most common/simple explanation is most likely to be correct. Obviously, this means most people get diagnosed with lactose intolerance, and since most of these conditions require you to avoid milk, the symptoms abate when you do. While avoidance of milk is paramount, you must keep pressing your doctor for a conclusive diagnosis and testing, because the more people they wrongly diagnose with lactose intolerance, the more common it looks on statistics. I would estimate 20% of people diagnosed with lactose intolerance have a different or additional form of milk ailment, and that because doctors aren’t investigating, the rate of occurrence of these other milk ailments looks artificially lower than it actually is. Print this article to show to your doctor if you need to, but make sure your illness is correctly diagnosed.

Limitations of this article:
This article draws on what is currently known about illnesses which are made worse by consumption of milk. I can only write about what I can learn about from research, and I am sure there are other forms of milk ailments which could be included in this article, but which haven’t been named in places where I could find them. I’ve found that trying to research different milk ailments is very difficult – search terms only bring up the exact thing you searched for, so related illnesses aren’t discussed in the majority of articles.

Hair Dye 101: Bleaching your hair

Ag (silver) and Pt (platinum) blonding 101

“It started as a sudden fancy…” Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

I believe that we are inspired to take our hair to its blonding limits. It sometimes feels like a labour of love – certainly, the frustrations and disappointments that can be felt if it all goes wrong is akin to losing a sporting event or getting an unexpectedly low mark in an exam, compounded by people’s negativity and their failure to understand that a slight mistake isn’t proof this was a bad idea, it’s an opportunity to learn. The triumphs and successes are commented on by far more people than any other colour. There’s something very special about a good blonde, it has the power to delight, uplift and inspire awe and wonder like no other hair colour. I can wax lyrical all day, white blonde, Ag and Pt blonde are my favourite colour range. They are where science and art meet to create perfect harmonics with beauty and perfection in a delectable barbershop quartet. Okay I’m done with the poetics.

To start blonding, you need to think like a hairdresser. A highly imaginative and intelligent colourist. Think you’re up for it? If not, go to an actual hairdresser (not an average one; just because they did Sheryl up the road’s highlights does NOT mean they know how to take your hair to within an inch of it’s physical limits. If you want above average hair, you will need to either get an above average hairdresser, or do it yourself).

It’s not arrogant to think you can colour your own hair, and here’s why – you have lived with this hair for how many years? You know what you’ve done to it, you can’t lie to yourself, you know where you chopped that fringe when you were twelve, which bits still have henna on them (get these cut before you start colouring, henna and bleach don’t mix), how often you comb your hair when it’s wet or overheat the straighteners when you’re in a hurry. You know what shampoo and conditioner you use, and how often you REALLY use that protein spray you bought. Most hairdressers take a history of your hair, but they don’t have the time or memory to go very in-depth. And here’s the thing. You can tell them you colour your hair every 6 weeks, and they’ll say “it’s in good condition, let’s bleach it with SUPER STRENGTH” and they’re not the ones who have to go home with ruined hair. You do. I get my hair cut by hairdressers (although I’ve done that myself in the past). I don’t let them colour. I used to, but they just crapped on my trust and took my money anyway and left me to go home with awful hair several times, from several different hairdressers, in different parts of the UK, so I just don’t trust them to colour. The hairdresser who cuts my hair even got in on the action this year. She tried to tell me I could bleach my hair more, that it could take another round of maximum strength 40 vol peroxide. I could see signs that she couldn’t, that told me this was a terrible idea. I did a test strand, and lo and behold, it burnt clean in half. What she didn’t see was the red wasn’t my hair colour, it was cuticle staining from the last time I let a hairdresser colour my hair, 2 years ago (this was a trainee who needed to do it to qualify so I have never told them how badly they wrecked my hair). Or perhaps she was hoping I’d come for a colour correction.

There are two ways you can bleach your hair:

1. None of the hair currently on your head has any colour on it or has been coloured in the past, unless all the coloured bits have been totally cut off.

2. You have coloured it, even if only an inch of colour is left.

Method 1: None of the hair currently on your head has any colour on it or has been coloured in the past, unless all the coloured bits have been totally cut off.

Do not follow this method if someone else coloured it for you, if you have got highlights, ombre or any other sort of colour, even if it’s the same colour dye as your natural colour. I’ve got another method for you, why follow the wrong one?

Firstly, you will need the following items:

1. A box of hair colour. I would use a pre-lightener such as Belle Blonde or Born Blonde on fresh hair as they are easy to use and work well enough.

When I box dye, it takes 3 boxes to cover my hair. Mine is waist length and very thick. Make sure you buy enough.

2. Something to cover yourself with, such as a bin bag (sexy!) especially if your hair is long. Hair dye can burn your nipples. Just saying.

3. Something to cover the floor with. Another bin bag or some sheets of newspaper will do.

4. A clock, watch, or VERY accurate sundial. I sometimes use my laptop so I can listen to music during the development time.

Your natural haircolour will determine how long you need to leave the dye on for. I would do a strand test if possible, following the instructions on the packet. Here’s why: people are often shocked by the range of colours hair goes through before it finishes at blonde. If you see your hair turning orange, would you panic and wash the bleach off? If you’ve seen it all on the strand test, then when your whole head of hair starts going through a series of colours you’ll not even worry.

Note: Wash the pre-lightener off at the maximum time, even if your hair isn’t as light as you want it. While most of the product will become inactive before the development time is over (meaning that if you leave it too long it’ll start to go patchy), there’s still enough active product on your scalp to cause damage. Wash it all off, let your scalp recover (I recommend at least a week, and two if you can wait that long) then pre-lighten again if you need to. While your hair won’t “heal” itself, your scalp will, and that can make the difference between being a healthy blonde and being plagued with hair loss and permanent scalp damage.

Once your hair is as light as you want (for platinum and silver, you need your hair to be a very pale yellow before toning), move on to toning your blonde hair.

Method 2: You’ve got some other colour on your hair:

If your hair has a COLOUR (e.g. red, black, brown) on it, you need to use a colour remover before bleaching, then wait two weeks before bleaching (because the bleach will re-oxidize any remaining colour molecules in your hair and it’ll go very dark and possibly greenish, see how colour remover works for details). The reason to use colour remover is that there’s only a certain amount of bleaching a hair can take before it melts. Colour remover stinks and washing it out is tedious and it leaves your hair so dry but its an important step, particularly for darker dyed hair. It doesn’t bring your natural colour back, it just gets rid of dye colour, so once that’s done, you’re ready to bleach.

You have two options, I prefer to pre-lighten then blue-bleach because pre-lightener is idiot proof and takes it to just enough blonde that if there are patches of brown it’s less conspicuous until you fix it, which is always good on your first step. If your hair is light, you’re probably done after pre-lightener and ready to tone, but this is unlikely.

After pre-lightening, get some powder bleach, in the UK, Jerome Russell’s B*Blonde Maximum Lift Powder is for sale everywhere, and depending on your CURRENT hair lightness (I know, the box says natural, it assumes you haven’t just prelightened/colour removed etc), use either medium or high peroxide cream. Peroxide comes in percentages. Medium is 30vol, high is 40 vol. If you’re not sure, go for medium, you can always bleach it again if it’s too dark. If you go too high, you can burn your hair off, this is called a chemical haircut and you can’t dye your hair again once it’s happened (but hairdressers will tell you they can “fix” it by putting more peroxide-filled chemicals, or worse, semi-permanent colour, on your hair). Once your hair has been damaged that badly, it cannot be repaired (see also: how to fix hair that’s turned to chewing gum). We’ve all wrecked our hair, it’s a rite of passage. But you’re going to try not to, so go for medium if you’re unsure.

Mix the bleach in a bowl (I use a pyrex glass bowl, most people use plastic ones that are specially made for hair dye) and use a spatula (non-metal), so your brush doesn’t get full of lumps of unmixed powder that lands on your hair and makes a splotchy mess later. Once it’s mixed, apply it to your hair according to the instructions (usually brush on lengths and ends first, then roots 20 mins later because roots develop much faster. I find this hard so usually just leave my roots to do on a further application when the rest of my hair is dry and not tangled up in thick creamy bleach, it’s more of a faff but my hair would be much shorter if I just yanked it around and treated it like a Stretch Armstrong), basically wait until your hair is the colour you want, and wash it off. Let hair dry. Congratulations, you should have some pale yellow bleached hair, and if it’s pale yellow, contrasting with your complexion and looking a bit unnatural, you’re ready to tone!

[Rabbit 101] Getting a Rabbit

Rabbits 101: Getting A Rabbit

This is a post for people who want a rabbit, showing how to get a rabbit, where to get a rabbit, and how much rabbits cost, as well as where to put them and more.  It’s not intended to be a definitive discussion of rabbit welfare or the rabbit sales industry, but is intended for people who love the idea of having a hoppy bundle of fluff in their life.

I want a rabbit!

Are you an adult? Are you a responsible adult? Do you tidy your room/home regularly, wash up, vacuum etc? Will the addition of a mess-making critter who can crawl into the tiniest of holes cause you any problems with meeting your other responsibilities in life? Do you have time to give the rabbit all the love and attention he needs to lead a fulfilling life? Think about this carefully, take the time to introspect. Do lots of research after you finish this article. Make sure a rabbit is the right companion for you.

Rabbits are NOT good pets for children, they end up sad, lonely and unwanted as the children “outgrow” them, and unlike the Betsy Wetsy dolls, these are living things which can live up to 20 years: My aunt was 24 when her bunny, which she’d acquired at age 4, finally passed away in the 1970s; my sister in law’s childhood rabbit lived to be 17 in the 1990’s.  I can’t comment on the lives these rabbits led and I don’t condone giving rabbits to children.

Are you committing a lifetime of love and affection to your bunny, to love them no matter how your life changes over the coming two decades, for better or worse, to always put their needs first and to make sure that your home is their forever home? Children cannot make these sorts of decisions, to look after something for a period of time several times longer than they have been alive themselves, it’s unfair to blame them when you bought them a pet that you can’t be bothered to look after, as the adult, YOU are the responsible party.  They say “I want” you say “when you’re older.” Disappointment is part of growing up. Animal abuse charges don’t have to be.  If you get a rabbit and you have children, make Nibbles a whole family pet that everyone is involved with.

How do I buy a rabbit?

Generally, you walk into a pet sanctuary or pet store and say, “one rabbit please.” Unless you are trying to buy more than one rabbit (two are ideal), in which case you would change “one” for “many” to say “many rabbits please.” Specifying a number of rabbits helps the volunteer or shop assistant to match you up with the right new friend. Make sure you have met and handled your rabbit before agreeing to take them home.  Remember, just because two baby bunnies get along now, it doesn’t mean they still will when they’ve been neutered.  You will still have to work at building their relationship while hormones disperse.

Adoption centres will ask you lots of questions – more below. Some pet stores won’t let you handle the pets before purchase – it’s important to know whether that rabbit is just going to hate you every waking minute of its life, turning your happy idea of snuggly bunny fun into a rage-filled plethora of biting and scratching, stomping and ignoring. Don’t get a bunny who doesn’t like you. Yes, some bunnies take time to adjust, but if it tries to kill you straight away it’s not meant to be. Take Fifer, for example:

Fifer was an adoptable bunny. When I got Fifer, I asked if I could handle him, and the store manager gave me a Look, I wasn’t sure why, then he unlocked Fifer’s enclosure. He reached in to pull him out, Fifer stomped and ran away, the store manager didn’t back off, and dragged him out (his poor little claws were futilely raking across the sawdust and he was clearly distressed), they clearly had a grudge going on. Fifer started fighting, scratching, biting, wriggling, never stopping until he’d shown this man that he was a Free Bunny. I was dubious that Fifer would be a good addition to our herd. I asked if I could handle him. The second he passed to me, Fifer stopped struggling, snuffled my nose in greeting, and snuggled up for a very long cuddle – throughout the adoption process, Fifer was in my hands, pressed against my neck, just content to be still and to snuggle. The moral of the story? Sometimes a rabbit just loves you. Other times, they just hate you.

If a rabbit is attacking you, he doesn’t like something about either the situation or you. Try a different rabbit. Also, it might sound obvious, but if you’ve just been around your friend’s house, petting their dog, don’t go straight to get a rabbit. Rabbits are pre-disposed to fear the smell of dogs (this can be overcome if you want them to live together), and it won’t make a good first impression on a vulnerable prey animal to turn up smelling like one of their predators. It makes sense, really.

Where should I get a rabbit from?

PETA have a very hard-hitting advert from a few years ago. A “model family” brings home a brand new pedigree dog, they’re all petting and adoring it. Then a PETA worker knocks on the door with a delivery. Someone says “what is it?” The response “This is the dog you killed.” A body bag that’s dog sized is thrown on the kitchen counter.

The message they were trying to convey? They were trying to show that, every time a brand new dog from a breeder is bought, a lonely adoptable dog doesn’t get that exact home. So they get put to sleep because there aren’t enough people to rehome adoptables. The same is sadly true of rabbits; there’s too many unwanted rabbits (visit http://www.dailybunny.com/daily_bunny_d8 to see a round up of the adoptable rabbits, updated daily, with lots of links to adoption centres across the world), people buy them for Easter, for Christmas, for summer – any time a child is sad and wants a present.

I know someone who got rabbits when her parents divorced, one parent trying to buy affection. Of course, she didn’t want the rabbits, didn’t know the first thing about looking after them, and the poor things had to be rehomed. It makes me very sad to know the sheer number of unwanted rabbits in the world, and begs the question, why would you get a rabbit if you didn’t want one? But then, people think cats and dogs are more important than rabbits, and they’re unwanted all the time, and people think human babies are more important than any pet, and look how many unwanted children are in the foster care or adoption systems. This is why you need to make sure you have enough responsibility and are ready for this 20-year commitment.

Adoption Centres:

These are places where you can adopt pets. They often have a range of pets, and volunteers are often trained in looking after them, but can’t really advise you on what pet is most suitable to you; you need an idea of what you’re looking for. Do you want a giant rabbit? A tiny one? A super-fluffy one? A standard shorthair? Up ears? Down ears? Three legs? A tail? Rabbits will arrive at an adoption centre in a variety of different states, if aesthetics are important to you, don’t get a rabbit that you don’t like. In an ideal world, it really wouldn’t matter what a rabbit looked like, and every rabbit would have a loving home, but we don’t live there. Some people will only date blondes, other people will only keep pet rabbits with lop ears. If that’s you, make sure you’re happy with how your rabbit looks – you’ll be seeing a lot of each other once you move in together. It’s better to come across as picky to an adoption centre than to take a rabbit home, only to get rid of them in six months because you don’t like them. The adoption centre will ask you questions, such as “do you have any children?” “do you have any other pets?” “where will your rabbit live?” etc. Be ready to answer these so they know you’ve thought about it properly and that you have made your home ready to receive a rabbit – if all goes well, you might take a bunny home today, are you ready?

Questions that are not ok, and which should probably make you consider a different adoption centre, include anything about you being part of a Protected Group – race, gender, transgender status, sexual orientation, etc, and anything else that makes you feel uncomfortable. Do rabbits care if they’re rehomed by gay couples? I certainly don’t think so (two of my rabbits are living as a gay couple, their bond has been unbroken through nine years, I think they’d be happy to be taken out on PRIDE marches).

I think that a shared familial love between owners and pets, and an ability to meet the pets’ needs, is more important than what colour you are or what gender you are attracted to. Some people feel differently. Don’t bother adopting from these places – it’s sad for the animals that they have to be denied loving homes, but aside from litigating, I don’t think there’s a lot you can do, and even then I’m sure we all know they’ll just deny you a pet on a technicality.

When my family went to adopt a dog, back in 1996, we went to our local dog shelter. They disliked my mother on the grounds of her disability, talking to her loudly and slowly, and surprise surprise, they decided to call and say that we didn’t pass the home inspection (they didn’t even turn up). I hope that dog got the home it deserved, but the dog we adopted instead, from a woman who found him abandoned in a shed, was Dylan, who I’ll tell you about sometime. Basically he was the most awesome living being I’ve ever had the absolute privilege to spend time with, and I’m glad to have known him as my family dog for 16 years. So these things do turn out ok, even if you’re not white, middle class able and heteronormative.

Private Sellers
These come in two categories: People who have to get rid of an unwanted* rabbit and people who are actually breeding rabbits to sell.

DON’T BUY RABBITS FROM RABBIT FARM BREEDERS!! Buying them makes people believe this is an acceptable way to make a living. It is not.  It contributes to rabbit overpopulation, and breeders often keep rabbits in overcrowded, unclean conditions where every mealtime is a fight for food.  On top of that, they tend not to allow the weaker or less attractive bunnies to live long, because they won’t fetch a price worth the food they’re fed.  The ones who sell to pet stores are inspected by animal welfare and often also by the pet store, depending on the scale of the store.  Small time breeders with one pair of rabbits, and accidental litters are different, but use your judgement and ask questions.

*When I say unwanted, I don’t mean they don’t love their rabbits, because some people love their bunnies very much and circumstances have forced them to find new homes. When we got Sebastian, Neville and Cleo, the owners loved them dearly but had to move to Australia for work. You can’t take rabbits to Australia – they’re classed as a pest – so all three rabbits needed a new forever home. Other people, on the other hand, have decided their store-bought bunny doesn’t match the new wallpaper so have decided to get rid. And there’s all the permutations in between.

There are sites like Craigslist and Gumtree that often advertise unwanted rabbits, generally the genuine ones will be free or just a delivery fee. The breeders can charge stupid amounts of money. Sometimes, people with unwanted rabbits will charge for them. Meet a few bunnies, see who you like, and take them home. Sometimes they will come with all their equipment – Cleo, Sebastian and Neville all came with hutches and carry boxes for taking to the vet etc, as well as bottles and bowls, hutch blankets to keep them warm and other accoutrements. I think we paid petrol as they helped us move them.

Pet Stores

Pet stores have two ways of acquiring rabbits: The first is that people with litters of bunnies can sell them to the pet shop. The second is that people who farm rabbits can sell them to the pet shop. The difference is the scale of operation. Some pet stores only buy from particular breeders, which can mean long transportation times for the rabbits, other pet stores will buy from anyone, which can mean the rabbits are carriers of Rabbit Hemorraghic Disease which can kill rabbits. Make sure, if you’re buying from a pet shop, that they have checked the health of the rabbits, and done everything reasonable to ensure these rabbits are in good healthy happy condition from birth to now.

We bought our first rabbit from a pet store called Pets At Home, which is a huge chain in the UK. A lot of people like to denigrate them because they’re a large chain, but they’re actually a good place to get a rabbit and they vet their breeders. We wanted to adopt a rabbit, and had been searching for a bunny for two months, as we knew that buying a brand new rabbit meant denying a home to an unwanted rabbit, but there weren’t any rabbits up for adoption at all (this is common in the town we lived in at the time), and during that time we grew to love Banacek, who would greet us when he saw us by the second week. His litter had a sign saying “not available until Mothering Sunday (date)” and, although we’d been visiting weekly, we couldn’t make it back again until the Tuesday due to work commitments; I was worried that all the bunnies would be gone before we got there (every rehome we’d found and called people about had been gone before we could go to meet them). Banacek was still there, he came to greet us, and pawed at the side of the enclosure as if to say “get me out of this crazy place, anyone would think I was an animal the way they’re keeping me in an enclosure!” We took him home. While I know that buying a brand new rabbit isn’t optimum, at the same time we had taken all reasonable measures to try and adopt a rabbit, and living with Banacek over the past two years, I’ve never once regretted our decisions either to buy a store-bought rabbit or to let him live indoors as a house rabbit. Sometimes buying is the best option for your circumstances, and if you live somewhere where unwanted rabbits aren’t an issue, and can’t get an adoptable, then maybe a store bought rabbit is for you. I’m sure some people will say “wait for an adoptable to come along” but at some point you have to say “I’ve waited long enough” and get the rabbit of your dreams.

Where to put the new bunny?

So you are on the verge of getting a rabbit – where should you put them once they get home?  Have rabbit housing ready before you get the rabbit – I know this sounds obvious, but in the moment we can sometimes forget and this can be a bit embarrassing.  I would recommend getting a starter home for your rabbit if you are planning to build a big indoor enclosure, so they can acclimatise to the house and you can work out the best housing arrangements for their personality.  If you are only planning to buy them one home, don’t bother with a starter home, go for the best you can afford.  A rabbit hutch should be at least 6’x2’x2′ (6 foot width) for a small rabbit, so they can comfortably move around.  As long as they’ve got 12 feet of floor space, the length and width can be configured differently, such as two four foot floors, both two feet wide, both having a height of two feet.  The height must always allow bunny to stretch from back legs to nose in case he jumps or stretches in his hutch, so he doesn’t break his spine and die.  This is recommended at two feet for a normal size rabbit, obviously you can go a bit smaller for a Netherland Dwarf (they’re tiny) but go much bigger for a giant rabbit.  Remember there’s no rule that says an outdoor hutch can’t take pride of place in your lounge!

Conclusion:

At the end of the day, make sure you’re happy with the rabbit you’re bringing home.  If that’s an adoptible, store bought or a freebie from your friend’s litter, that’s fine. The most important thing is providing a loving, stable and nurturing home environment for your new companion (and getting them registered with a vet), and honouring the commitment to take care of them for their entire life, doing all you can to find them a new, loving home if you cannot keep them for some major life reason.

Introductions and Rules

Welcome to invokedelight.  It’s a place dedicated to wellness, hair, beauty, travel, health and rabbits.  Basically, I had the idea of starting a beauty blog back in February, after becoming inspired by some of the amazing and creative vloggers on Youtube.  The problem was that the market was oversaturated.

It gets worse each day, especially since so many vloggers have come out as having no other source of income other than the advertisements on their videos.  Everyone’s trying to get their hands on that cash cow, and over about the last two months there’s become an inverse correlation between the number of new vlog channels appearing and the quality of those vlog channels:  For the layman, as the number of new channels increases, quality of videos decreases.

I wanted to share creative, fun and interesting beauty ideas, make up designs etc with people, so other people could benefit from my skills.  What I couldn’t work out was a) what makes me different from all the other beauty bloggers/vloggers out there?  and b) was this going to be a 9 day wonder that I got bored of?

Life went on, I got distracted and moved on.  Recently, I had an epiphany.  I was reading an article by the great Steve Pavlina and I suddenly realised what I wanted to do.  I wanted a complete website that didn’t just cover make up tutorials and reviews, but also covered all the other aspects of my life that might be of benefit to someone else.

After some brainstorming, I grouped these into four broad categories: hair and beauty; travel; rabbits; health and wellness.  Health and wellness was actually founded from my milk allergy, but I decided to expand it to include articles that would be suitable for a general audience, including nutrition, exercise, meditation, and other things that can make you feel healthy and well.  Interspersed in all these are going to be tutorials, discussion articles, advice, lists (love ’em), product reviews and photos.

Some examples of things I am going to write about: how to bleach your hair to white blonde, a review of Rapid Lash (when I’ve finished the 8 week period of time before I’m supposed to see results), how to plan your rabbit’s new housing, how to turn a people carrier into a campervan, the role of Vitamin K in the body, an overview of the different milk allergies and intolerances, travel writing about actual destinations (as well as practicalities of driving to your place of holiday), and much more.

My site is aimed at anyone who wants to know more about those four categories.  Each post will start with “Hair” or “Beauty” if it’s hair and beauty related, “rabbits” if it’s rabbit related, “wellness” if it’s health and wellness related, or “travel” if it’s travel related.

Rules on commenting:

Keep it polite.  Don’t feed back with “hearsay” arguments – if I’ve explained something scientific, and you have opposing beliefs, I want to see evidence backed up by an independent study, not some sciency sounding words put about by a cosmetics company.  You may get lambasted or mocked if I’m feeling pissy when I read any unfounded unscientific crap.

If my work offends you, ask yourself why.  Is it challenging something you thought to be true?  Where did you come by that information?  How secure in that knowledge are you?  Am I invoking a paradigm shift in your thinking?  Or do you have a rational opposing point of view supported by an independent study?  Are you going to remain in the dark or embrace the learning?

Please also be aware that I am writing this for a general audience.  That means that I don’t want to scare people off by talking about the hydrolysis of 2,4,diethyl-whatevers, so I will try to explain my science in ways that are understandable to the average person with a high school diploma.  Usually I’ll link to studies which explain things in more complicated terminology so my science-loving amigos can check my sources and read science to their heart’s content.

Lastly, I’m a busy person.  I don’t always have time to read and respond to comments, but I would like to.  Sometimes I don’t catch them, and will reply when I do, other times I just don’t know what to say or think a short comment such as “nice article” or “interesting” doesn’t really need a reply – just assume I’ve said “thanks!” with a happy smile on my face.  Additionally, I make it a rule not to feed the trolls.  I don’t know what they eat, for starters.