Walking: My New Favourite Pastime

I’ve been very lazy this Saturday. Usually I would feel guilty for staying in bed on such a beautiful day; England’s brief stint of summer weather makes you feel as though you should be making the most of every single sun-filled second because you never know when the next opportunity is going to rear its tentative head. However, now that I find myself in a country where hot weather isn’t such a novelty, I’m starting to learn how to ignore the restlessness and just enjoy a rare day of doing nothing. After a week of exploring the city almost entirely by foot I guess it’s only fair to give my legs a little rest!

My friend Grace and I have been settling into Sydney by walking all over it. When you’re new to a city, there’s a tendency to use public transport to get from place to place in order to avoid getting hopelessly lost in the less desirable nooks and crannies that every metropolis inevitably harbours. I understand, and have previously practised, giving into the temptation of hopping on a bus or train from here to there; it’s quick, feels safe and is often air-conditioned (phew). But seeing stop after stop flash past outside your window totally distorts your perception of a place. How can you start to build your memory of a city’s shape and size if you’re constantly being thrust into new areas via a linear route? It’s akin to being satisfied with only placing down the corners of a jigsaw puzzle and leaving the rest of the image incomplete.

London’s tube system is a good example of how public transport can prevent you from becoming familiar with a place. Travelling on the tube is like being blind-folded, spun around several times and then unleashed into a part of the city without any discernible idea of how on earth you’ve come to find yourself there. I’ll admit to the fact that, despite having been born and partially raised in London, it wasn’t until recent years that I started to actually walk from place to place and it’s amazing how much safer I feel in the city since making that decision. Anywhere is going to seem more threatening if it’s unfamiliar and confusing.

Nowadays, every time I find myself in a new setting, my favourite thing is to demystify it by walking and walking and walking. Paris, Manhattan and Amsterdam are tiny in comparison to London! You can walk from one end to the other in a matter of hours and it’s so satisfying being able to experience the change in ambience as you pass through different neighbourhoods – a transition that gets somewhat masked by the convenience of train travel.

Even though Sydney is technically larger in area than London, it has the feel of a much smaller city and the centre is extremely easy to navigate because of its grid system, similar to New York or Glasgow. This makes it difficult to get irreparably lost because you can very easily retrace your steps and you’re never too far away from George Street (the backbone of the city).

My first two weeks were spent pootling around Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, Chinatown and Hyde Park. What’s been good about living slightly further out (I’m currently in Earlwood which is southwest of the centre) is that, once I’ve got that initial train to Central Station, I’ve been forcing myself to spend as much time walking around as I possibly can before meeting people in the evening. It took a little time for me to relax into the concept of walking for the sake of walking. Whenever I’m in London I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of darting with determination to a certain destination with a strict ETA in mind and, even when I’m not in a hurry, the pace of the people around me makes me feel as though I should be rushing. Sydney is very different.

I first noticed this when my OzIntro group and I were walking to the bank in order to collect our debit cards. Bearing in mind that we were a group of roughly 14 people, we were able to stroll on down, starting and stopping at will, from our hostel near Town Hall to Martin Place without receiving a single sour look – there wasn’t a disgruntled huff to be heard! Compare this to London, a city in which I have knowingly continued walking in the wrong direction for a good 10 minutes due to being so caught up in the current of commuters and reluctant to face the inevitable disapproval of the irritable throng behind me that I’ve just accepted the fact that I’d have to duck out at the next alleyway in order to change course. Sure, you get the occasional person running for a bus or power walking to work in Sydney but, generally, the tempo of life here is much more of a saunter than a march.

So what have been the highlights? Here are a few suggestions for you if you’re wanting to tackle the city by foot.

Central Station to Darling Harbour
An easy peasy walk but worth doing if you want to start to get to grips with how the city’s structured. It’s barely a mile and you literally have to walk up George Street and then, after about 10 minutes, turn left at King Street. Walking around the harbour is a treat in itself; this is where you’ll find the aquarium, the IMAX, the Chinese Gardens of Friendship and many, many bars and restaurants.
Check out Cyren for its amazing seafood and wallet-friendly happy hour ($5 beers and a variety of house wines from Monday-Friday 3-6pm), Cargo for delicious $10 steaks (Monday-Wednesday) and have a milkshake the Guylian Belgian Chocolate Café around the corner at Darling Quarter.

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Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee
Not only that, but try walking from Bondi Junction to Bondi Beach first instead of taking the bus. If you go on a Thursday you’ll be lucky enough to catch the market at Bondi Junction. Pick up an iced tea and some scrumptious soda bread from the stalls and start walking; it takes roughly 30 minutes to get to the beach (I’m being generous with timings to allow for the inevitable coffee shop breaks) and the coastal walk will take roughly an hour if you’re walking at a leisurely pace. The fantastic thing about this walk is that, if you’re getting a bit toasty with the exercise, there’s ample opportunity to take a dip in the sea in order to cool off. If you’ve had your fill of sea salt but would still like to have a splash, many of the bays have clubs with swimming pools available for public access. Make sure you stop at the Wow Cow dessert bar at Bondi Beach for some incredible frozen yoghurt, it’s a chain and you’ll find them dotted all around Sydney. We were so bowled over that we walked for three miles the next day (Earlwood to Newtown) in order to reach the nearest one – WORTH IT.

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Redfern to Newtown to Town Hall
This is a long one; we spent the entire day popping in and out of shops and cafés.You’ll find Carriageworks Theatre by Redfern station; a huge converted carriage depot originally commissioned by the New South Wales Government Railways in 1888. It’s honestly one of the most exciting theatres I’ve ever been to and attached to it is Corner Stone, serving amazing bar food and drinks – well worth a look. Newtown is home to the University of Sydney which makes it an extremely lively area filled with good food, quirky shops and entertainment; no wonder it’s currently one of the most expensive areas to live in! As well as thumbing through books in one of the various exchanges, make sure you check out T2, a specialist tea shop which is sure to entrance many a travelling Brit. I have fallen in love with their unique blends and stylish design and the exciting news is that the chain will be making its way over to the UK eventually which I’m sure will be a huge success. On your way back to the centre, make sure you walk through Victoria Park and check out the pool, chill out under a tree with some Cockatoos and catch your breath before eventually reaching Town Hall where you can reward yourself with a coffee in one of the many cafés in the Queen Victoria Building.

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Coping with the Cost of Living

Currency conversion is a funny thing. For Brits, going abroad often means that your savings are multiplied because of a favourable exchange rate; it’s like placing a bet with the guarantee of an attractive return. The British Pound currently converts to approximately 1.8 Australian Dollars, so you can imagine the joy I felt when my tidy little stash nearly doubled after being transferred to my Australian bank account. But a strange, and dangerous, paradox exists whilst actually spending time at your destination and I’ve decided to call it ‘Convenient Conversion Syndrome‘.

So, how do you know that you’re a sufferer? Let’s take eating out as an example:
You arrive at a restaurant and eye up the pricey menu. The numbers listed next to the mains are often in the realms of 18-35 and, initially, this is daunting because you’re used to thinking in GBP. “£20 for a chicken Caesar salad?!” you think whilst feeling your wallet palpably shrink in your pocket. The feeling of panic intensifies as you realise that even the soft drinks will cost a minimum of £4 and god forbid you’d want to have a cocktail at £14. You resign yourself to the reality of drinking tap water for the foreseeable future and commit to a meal consisting solely of a small side salad and possibly a bowl of olives if you’re feeling ostentatious.

But then a wonderful thing happens: you realise that you’re in Australia and that your English money counts for double.

“Fantastic!” you think as you immediately halve the prices in your head, “£10 for a Caesar salad?! How reasonable!” As your wallet starts to swell you allow yourself to consider purchasing not one, but two cocktails! They are only £7 after all. The dessert menu suddenly seems incredibly appealing and you even toy with the idea of a post-meal macchiato. Why not? It’s only £2 and you’re practically a millionaire over here with your fancy pounds.

This is Convenient Conversion Syndrome lulling you into a false sense of security. To cope with the overwhelming prices, you start to convince yourself that it’s really not as expensive as it seems because your lovely British money is worth more Down Under. The delusion lets you enjoy your princely meal without guilt and, when your fork prongs pierce that trembling poached egg, your worries stream away as the beautiful yolk trickles through those valuable cos lettuce leaves.

This is where it starts to get upsetting.

A couple of days later, after a night out and a few more ‘modest snacks’ on the beach (all purchased whilst in your ‘I’m a British monarch’ mindset), you check your balance. Oh dear. It’s not exactly healthy. Your pulse starts to quicken as your brain attempts to calculate how the hell you’re going to survive on so little for such a long time. A premonition of your future in a cardboard box on George Street makes you feel a little bit sick and, as you sit your destitute bum on the nearest bench, you tell yourself that 1 meal a day is really all you need – you want to lose a bit of weight anyway.

Enter C.C.S.

You’re in Australia, you plonker! Everything’s fine, your money counts for more over here. And so, just as quickly as you halved everything on that menu, you double that measly balance figure and pull yourself together – it’s lunch time after all.

This fluctuation occurs as a coping mechanism but it doesn’t really help you in the long run, as you can imagine. It’s best to snap out of it as soon as possible and disregard the conversion rate altogether because, ultimately, it’s far better to be frugal as a backpacker. If your natural reaction to the expensive prices is to recoil in horror, try not to ease the fear by thinking in pounds – it’s a slippery slope.

The best way to combat the cost of living is to make use of hostel kitchens and cook together. Woolworths (still thriving over here) is the Aussie equivalent of Tesco and food is priced very reasonably; you can really get your money’s worth if you shop wisely and make use of the multibuy offers. I’m loving the 4 for $12 offer on delicious soups at the moment – healthy, filling, cheap and very tasty.

Invest in a water bottle. There are loads of drinking fountains/potable water taps; you might as well refill a bottle rather than shelling out $4 every time you want a fresh one.

Do all of your greater city travel in a week. You can buy a multiway ticket (covering all zones and all modes of transport) at only $63 for the whole week. For Sydney, this covers travel to as far out as Newcastle which is just over 100 miles from the city centre; you could make this journey every day for 7 days if you wanted to at no cost outside of that initial purchase. It covers all ferries as well so you’d be able to fully explore all of the beaches/attractions on the outskirts of the city and make the most of your money. If you take your trusty Woolworths packed lunch with you, you’re in for a few very cheap days out!

Get a job. If you’re planning on staying in Sydney for an extended period of time, it would be sensible to have some sort of income so that you’re not bleeding yourself dry before you’ve explored the rest of Australia. Charities are keen to employ fundraisers and, although it may not sound too appealing, it usually pays extremely well and you can be outside talking to people all day long as opposed to being stuck in an office or call centre. The other bonus is that they don’t mind taking people on, on a temporary basis; you wouldn’t need to worry about letting employers down if you plan on moving to your next destination in a couple of weeks.

So, in conclusion, don’t fall into the trap of Convenient Conversion Syndrome! If you’re scared by prices, that’s a very good thing. It shows that you understand the value of money and it’s likely to be an extremely useful trait during your travels. You can have a fancy meal or get wasted on a night out anywhere; why spend money on something so common when holding back could eventually pay off by affording you a trip to one of these amazing places:

20140119-164802.jpg – The Great Ocean Road
20140119-164816.jpg – Whitsunday Islands
20140119-164824.jpg – The Great Barrier Reef
20140119-164832.jpg – Fraser Island

No Worries

The first week is over! How on earth did that happen? Time seems to have flown by because we managed to fit so much in but, at the same time, it feels like I’ve known people for years rather than days. OzIntro was a fantastic way to start my travels and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of doing the same.

I arrived at 8am on Monday morning having had just under an hour’s sleep – but there was no time to yawn. We were picked up and whizzed straight to the Base hostel in Central Sydney, spitting distance from the town hall, Darling Harbour and Circular Quay. After grabbing a quick shower, and trying to make myself look a little less zombie-esque, I met the rest of my group and we stepped out into Sydney for the first time. We really couldn’t have arrived on a more beautiful day. Whatever weather you dream about when considering an Australian summer, that’s the weather we were greeted with. Standing in the gardens overlooking the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House rendered most of us speechless; I know it’s a cliché, but it truly was like looking at a gigantic postcard. The feeling of then stepping into that view and walking up the steps of the Opera House was one that I’ll never forget; after months of research and anticipation, I had finally made it!

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As if walking around wasn’t enough, our next stop was a jet-boating trip around Circular Quay – the perfect refreshment for such a scorching day! 40 minutes seemed to disappear in an instant amidst the splashing, screaming and laughing – if you think you can get away without getting drenched, you’re unbelievably wrong. We all squelched back to our coach looking like cheerful, drowned rats.
I thought I might be able to stick it out and make it through the night without being affected by jet-lag but, come 10pm, I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open and that’s saying a lot considering the fact that we were competing in a quiz at the bar next door to the hostel. It takes a lot for a competitive person like me to hand in the towel, but the bunk-beds beckoned and I slept like a baby.

The rest of the week saw a trip to the aquarium, where I touched chewed up dugong food; surfing at Colloroy, where I (barely) stood up on a board and swallowed several litres of seawater; a coastal walk from Bondi to Clovelly Bay, where the mighty group A trounced group B in a beach volleyball match; a trek up the beautiful Blue Mountains, where I came face-to-face with the deadly Sydney Funnel Web spider and faced my fear of heights; a night out on the party bus, where people drank, danced, made out and spewed (in exactly that order); and, finally, an all you can eat buffet at the top of the Sydney Tower, where I ate kangaroo, crocodile and buffalo. I’m going to write about surfing in detail when I have a few more lessons – I’m determined to improve! It’s a fantastic sport and I never realised until trying it just how difficult it is; it’s also brilliant exercise and I totally understand how it can become a lifestyle rather than just a hobby.

It’s amazing how much happier I feel over here; there’s something about the Australian way of life that loosens you up and allows you to enjoy life. Back in the UK I had just finished my degree and, like many of my classmates, I was starting to freak out about the future. There’s such a massive pressure on young people to compete with each other in order to reach that ultimate goal of being ‘a success’. In England I was under the impression that finding that success meant becoming prestigious, whether that’s in regards to your financial situation or your reputation in whatever industry you’ve entered into. I was prepared to enter into careers that I’m not particularly passionate about simply so that I could earn a decent salary. I realise now that monetary success isn’t a priority for me anymore.

So what’s taken money’s place? Memories and experiences! I want my life to be rich in stories and anecdotes. Whether I reach a ripe old age and pass away peacefully or meet my adrenaline-fuelled doom during the skydive I’ve got planned over the next few months, I know that I’d rather be remembered for what I’ve experienced than for what I’ve earned or how high up the metaphorical ladder I’ve climbed. I don’t mean that I’m not going to put my all into whatever jobs I find myself in over the next few decades, but I want to ensure that I’m working to live rather than living to work.

I cannot wait for the rest of my adventure, especially now that I’ve had a glimpse of how wonderful it is to meet people along the way. I’ve made some amazing friends in the space of a week and I feel extremely lucky to know that I’ll be able to meet up with them along the way. Now commences 3 weeks of living in the suburbs! I’ll be able to see a lot of theatre, fully explore Greater Sydney, celebrate Australia Day, meet even more people and catch up with old friends before travelling up the East Coast. I can’t complain really, can I?

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Writing in the Air

(Posted from Beijing Airport at 14:15 local time)

The adventure has finally begun! After months of waiting, planning and saving, I’m finally on the plane to Australia… well, Beijing. By the time you read this I will probably be back in the air again making the second leg of the 21 hour journey after having eaten some Chinese food in China – I’m under strict instruction from my little brother! I’m writing whilst flying to make time go that little bit faster and it also provides a wonderful distraction from the all too frequent turbulence we’ve been experiencing; eating my beef and rice dinner was an extremely wobbly task.

Let me fill you in on the last couple of months; I ended up not being able to write as frequently as I would have liked in the run up to departure so I might as well bring you up to speed. First of all I’ll briefly mention the fact that I’m now single, might as well address that quickly and painlessly! Ultimately, as sad as I was to see it end, it was the right decision and hopefully a friendship is still salvageable in the long run; long-distance makes things very difficult and sometimes it just doesn’t work out, but that’s no reason to write off a different kind of relationship with someone you obviously get on with. In the end, being on my own for the last month actually allowed me to pay more attention to my friends at home and I was able to pick up a few extra hours here and there at work – both very positive results! Additionally, I can now embark on the trip without feeling like I’m leaving somebody behind and it’s an incredibly liberating change. I’m single with a big smile.

Speaking of smiling, last night I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and came out of the cinema absolutely beaming and with an even more intense hunger for travelling. The uplifting film follows Walter Mitty, a negative assets manager for Life Magazine, played by the adorable Ben Stiller. Walter’s bland, everyday routine is pushed to one side when he plucks up the courage to track down rogue photographer Sean O’Connell (played by a scruffy Sean Penn) in order to retrieve a valuable negative. His search takes him out of his comfort zone as he’s forced to jump from country to country in O’Connell’s wake and the result is enough to make even the most cautious of hermits want to hop on a plane with a backpack. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and its pairing with the wonderful soundtrack makes for some truly breathtaking moments – I urge you to catch it before its DVD release if you can; definitely one worth seeing on the big screen. It was the perfect send off.

There’s nothing like seeing someone else jumping into and out of planes to make you consider your own travel plans. I still don’t have a firm schedule for the full duration of the trip but I do know that I’ll be spending a month in Sydney followed by visiting friends/family in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. I’ll also be hopping over to New Zealand for a minimum of 2 weeks in order to drive around the South Island with one of my lovely uni friends – a recent but extremely welcome addition to my itinerary. The plan is currently to finish in Bali at the end of May for some meditation and relaxation, potentially meeting two of my best friends out there if they can make it, but the joy of having a flexible return is that I can always go somewhere else afterwards if I haven’t fully exerted my curiosity – so, who knows how long I’ll be away for! (Sorry Mum…)

The next time I speak to you, it will be from sunny Sydney after a jet-lagged jet-boat session around the harbour; the perfect wake up call. For now though, it’s 6:50am in Beijing, we have 5 hours left in the air and the turbulence has momentarily subsided; time to steal a little snooze before I’m rattled awake again!

Who Likes SHORT Shorts?

One of my favourite parts of planning for any holiday is figuring out what clothes to take; visualising yourself in the sunny destination looking skinny, tanned and healthy. It’s bound to happen! I mean, I’m going for a run today!… Maybe tomorrow actually, we’ll see… Well, the bikini body is going to be achieved before I hit the beach, let’s put it that way.

However, at the moment, the process has come to a halt. I can’t seem to find any affordable shorts that will actually cover up my bum adequately – apparently bum cheeks are in fashion and have been for the last few years. Here are a few examples of shorts that you can currently purchase on NastyGal:

I don’t mean any offence to the NasyGal models: you all have wonderful bums, truly. But, to be honest with you, I have nothing wrong with my own bum and I still wouldn’t be caught wearing these modern equivalents of a female loin cloth without wearing tights underneath. This style isn’t flattering for most people and it certainly doesn’t cater for those who may be a little less confident with their figures, but you’re really hard pushed to find a decent alternative on the current market. Any item longer than crotch-level seems to take on a much older, unshapely design – why does a preference for modesty seem to equal boyish or baggy?

I’m not a prude by the way, I have been known to wear revealing outfits on nights out at university and I enjoy making the most of what I’ve got but, now that I’m planning for solo travel, I think it would be pretty stupid to walk around with my bum out. I really don’t want that kind of attention when I’m a 21-year-old female, travelling around a foreign country without the guarantee of constant company.

I’d like something more like these, still showing skin, but with no danger of feeling like someone might smack my bare bottom:

I’m still yet to find any nice-fitting examples of the styles above in highstreet or online stores but, as soon as I do, I will be buying many pairs and will post my findings on here.

So why have the hotpants stolen the spotlight? Is it desirable? I’ve been with male friends before when a girl wearing ridiculously short shorts has walked past, and everyone present has winced and expressed a bit of disdain. One guy even went so far as to say that the girl had a ‘hungry bum’ due to the fact that it looked like the material was being eaten by her crotch… an unpleasant description, but then again, it was an unpleasant image.

Well… is it empowering for women then? I know that a lot of girls deliberately avoid the style because of feeling exposed, a feeling that I certainly share. So I would be reluctant to say that the style is progressive for women; it’s impractical, uncomfortable and unattractive in most cases.

So this leaves me with my title question: who actually likes short shorts? It seems to me that most of us would be quite grateful to see the return of mere shorts, at least then bending down to pick something up wouldn’t make us feel as though we’re going to flash our undercarriages.

*Aim: get the word ‘undercarriage’ into a blog post. COMPLETED.

The Internet: Shield and Weapon

The majority of my writing for this blog is light-hearted and, hopefully, uplifting; today I’m actually going to talk about something more serious. Please let me know what you think about the following issue and how it could potentially be resolved, it’s something that I believe everyone has been/will be affected by at some point in their lives and one of the most important ways of combating it is by talking about it.

I’ve just finished watching Teens React to Bullying (Amanda Todd), an episode from a popular YouTube series from producers TheFineBros. The makers broadcast the reactions of different demographics to particular viral videos, usually with amusing results. However, this particular episode indicates to me how powerful the format can really be. Amanda Todd was the victim of severe cyber-bullying; after being complimented on her looks by a stranger on video chat, she was persuaded to flash him, he then used the possession of the photo to blackmail her into performing a ‘show’ for him. A couple of years later, she was notified by police that the photo had been distributed on the internet and the bullying that followed was what prompted her to upload a YouTube video on September 7th (2012) describing her experience as a warning for others and showed her pleading for help or advice. The video received a torrent of abusive comments from viewers; 15 year old Amanda committed suicide on October 10th of the same year.

I had heard about the incident before now, but had never actually watched the video until stumbling upon Teens React. The discussion between the teens about cyber-bullying, depression and the internet is eloquent and extremely thought provoking – I could feel a kind of indignation bubbling away in my chest as I listened to the interviews. Some of the respondents blame bad parenting and the lack of appropriate supervision for the presence of cyber-bullying but I, personally, believe that it’s actually the internet itself that has the most to answer for. It facilitates an even more vicious form of bullying due to the option of anonymity and the evasion of face-to-face confrontation. Essentially, anyone can be a bully; it takes no courage and absolutely no effort because the internet provides a convenient courier service for the abuse.

I’d just like to give you some examples of the, quite frankly, disgusting comments that were left and continue to be left on Amanda’s video. Try to imagine these statements being vocalised, I find it hard to believe that these people would actually have the guts to say their comments to someone’s face. The following comments have been directly copied from the comments section of My Story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harmthese particular examples were posted after her suicide, but the tone of them should give you an indication of the type of messages she was receiving when she was alive.

>”YOU SON OF A BITCH!!!!! YOU SHOULD GO AND KILL YOUR SELF YOU MOTHER FUCKER. I BET GOD WOULD HELP YOU KILL YOUR SELF CUZZ TRUST ME I WOULD YOU KNOW GOOD FUCKIN ASS HOLE!!!!! GO GRAB A KNIFE AND START CUTTIN BITCH!”

>”Amanda deserved to die, she was a slut.”

>”This worthless filthy fucking skank, summed up everything that is wrong with most of todays young generation. Innocent kids like to study, play video games etc, then you get sluts like Amanda, who like to play stuff the muff and lick the dick with somebody elses boyfriend. Amanda’s a pathetic, lowlife, Grade A slut, who deserved every bad thing that happened to her. I hope the maggots enjoy eating away at her miserable rotten corpse.”

>”THANK GOD THIS UGLY BITCH IS DEAD ❤ I WANTED TO BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF HER TOO ❤ good bye slut. attention whore.”

All of the above were posted by separate contributors within the space of one day, a month ago. I’ve picked out 4 of the 197,065 comments that currently appear underneath Amanda’s video and, admittedly, a large percentage of them are sympathetic to her situation, a lot of them expressing dismay about her death and the devastating effect that cyber-bullies can have on their victims. The question is this: what can be done to stop cyber-bullying?

There is a function provided by websites such as YouTube in an attempt to quash ‘trolls’ (defined by Wikipedia as “people who sow discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people”): it’s called the ‘report button’. This may seem like a futile retaliation but, in reality, it can be a very effective way of dealing with these attention seekers. They’re putting on a performance for the rest of the world to be alarmed by and what better way is there to diminish the power they have than by ensuring that they cannot reach their audience? The anonymity of the internet works both ways; these faceless trolls thrive off the protection they receive from the guise of a YouTube username, but YOU can also use this protection to your advantage. If you report an abusive comment to the mediators of a website, you will never be revealed as the reporter but you will have drawn attention to a problem, thereby allowing action to be taken against the offender. There is obviously a line that needs to be drawn because not everything constitutes abuse but it doesn’t take a genius to differentiate between a bit of banter and the barbarity of the comments above.

Amanda Todd’s is just one of so many cases of cyber-bullying and the point of this article is not to just focus on one, isolated incident; I’m more concerned with the state of the internet community as a whole. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, the internet is the last place to go to when trying to find help. Unfortunately, it’s become abundantly clear that it is simply not a safe environment for vulnerable people to air their problems because, for all of the genuine help and advice you might receive, the destruction caused by those who prefer to be negative seems to be far more powerful. The amount of lives that are thwarted by depression, however severe, is quite staggering. In the UK in people will experience some form of mental health problem in the course of a year*; it is unbelievably common and there is absolutely no reason to feel alone or helpless, the fact of the matter is that life divvies out all kinds of emotional trauma and not everybody can cope with the stress that it brings. You might feel better just getting on with life and keeping it to yourself, you might prefer to talk to somebody about it in an attempt to relieve those unpleasant feelings; however you decide to deal with it, just try to go about it in a way that is sensible and productive for you.

There are some fantastic services in the UK for helping you deal with mental health problems, I know that there is a long road ahead in terms of battling with the stigma attached to those problems, but the following organisations are trying everything they can to get there.

If you are younger, or know a child who is being affected by depression or bullying, the NSPCC provide a number of services that can help. If you are a child or young adult yourself, you can contact Childline on 0800 1111. Adults with concerns about a child may call the helpline on 0808 800 5000. Both lines will honour your right to anonymity if you’re worried about the consequence of the call however, as an adult reporting abuse, once the child has been contacted, if they wish for action to be taken, you may be called upon to help them resolve the case.

SANE are a fantastic charity and will offer help to all ages suffering with mental illness. You can call their helpline on 0845 767 8000 for help with any mental health issue; they are there to provide support however severe or mild you think your situation might be.

I’m sorry that this last section is specific to the UK, as I live in England I’m just writing about the services that I have knowledge of and have worked with. However, wherever you are, you should be able to find some kind of help, I believe that SANE actually work in Australia too and Rethink provide support in America.

I’m going to end this in a fairly cheesy way, but I think it’s appropriate as a way of thinking about how an individual is perceived. One of the most poignant quotes that I’ve come across is this:

“Every single person has at least one secret that would break your heart.” – Frank Warren

Told you it was cheesy! Ever since hearing this, I’ve tried to apply it to everyone I meet. You can’t tell what a person’s gone through from merely looking at the surface, in some cases you  might not know a person’s secret despite years and years of friendship, but if you try to think about how this might explain a person’s actions, demeanour and outlook on life, empathy and compassion will be far easier to achieve.

Forgive me for going a bit ‘peace to the world!’ on you tonight, but some things just really push my buttons and this is one of them. If you’d like to discuss this further, please don’t hesitate to comment, I really do want to hear what you think.

*Statistics taken from http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-statistics/


Spiders, Snakes and Sharks

When I booked my flight to Australia in March, I was only thinking about the excitement, sun and cities. I was having wonderful dreams about stepping off that plane and being whisked away on an adventure comprising solely of surfing, beaches, relaxation and happiness (with a little bit of work along the way). However, whenever I mentioned the trip to my British friends, the first question was always something along the lines of: “Aren’t you worried about all of the spiders and snakes and sharks and stuff?”…

…Well, no! I wasn’t until you made it clear to me how terrified I should be. Now my dreams of beach walks and carefree swimming are being infiltrated by all sorts of killer creatures – the serenity of my walk is always foiled by huge spiders falling on my head and snakes snapping at my heels and my afternoon swims seem to repeatedly end with me wading into the open mouth of a giant shark like a gruesome reenactment of Jonah and the Whale. My friends who either live or have lived in the country keep reminding me that it really isn’t the bug dystopia that people expect it to be. There is more chance that you’ll bump into a poisonous spider in Sydney than in Leeds, but that doesn’t indicate a certainty that it will happen and, even if it does, the encounter isn’t doomed to end in a deadly bite or death itself.

In favour of calming myself down a bit, I did a little bit of research. This research started with a YouTube session based on searching for videos of ‘cute spiders’. Not a good idea. This is the first thing I came across:

Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly comforted by Torn80cj’s idea of ‘cute’ and, rather than feeling reassured, I simply felt slightly ill. Add to this the information gleaned from this article and you might be starting to get an idea of the fear that was surging through my body at midnight last night.

However, I then started thinking about the dangers and threats that are present in the UK and how little I am affected by my fear of them: car accidents, muggings, murderers, rapists, diseases, terrorists, ecoli… As the list grew, I started to realise how ridiculous it is to be paralysed by fear and hyperaware of what could kill me. I’ve luckily managed to avoid most of the dangers listed (I must confess being struck down by food poisoning once or twice) and I’m still standing, as are the majority of the population. I’ve got to conclude that if I don’t confront my fear of creepy crawlies, I’ll simply miss out on experiencing the aspects of Australia that I’ve been so excited about. It’s time to toughen up and face whatever the Australian eco system might throw at me.

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