Edinburgh Princes Street Gardens

Captain Obvious Award of the year goes to me for that title; I’d like to thank myself for being so oblivious to the hassle involved in moving over 270 miles away. 

When we got the news that I’d been accepted into the University of Edinburgh, we found ourselves stressing about this huge list of things we needed to do. We made a start on a good chunk of them and began putting things into place. After we got back from Canada, we headed up to Edinburgh for a few days; Daz got a job and we tried to look at a few flats.

Tried is the key word in that sentence because despite wanting to look at around 10 places, we only saw one. Now, a lot of that is down to our naivety; places go in Edinburgh fast and we thought the best thing to do was to try and book viewings when we were up there, rather than a week or so in advance. The one place we did see, we fell in love with and we’re waiting on references to come back, so hopefully we have somewhere to live!

We’re trying to get things organised but without knowing 100% whether or not we have this place, we can’t change details or do super important stuff like telling Sky to sort our internet out so we can watch Game of Thrones the day it comes out. (You know, important first world stuff.) It feels like living in limbo a little bit.

The biggest surprise by far is how little time we have. Like most people, we get two days off a week (which clearly is not enough time to ever get things done – I want to adopt the Netherlands’ 29-hour work week.) but damn they are flying by. On top of that, we’re trying to organise seeing people before we move, which leaves so little time to get things done, especially as we both work weekends. 

Stress aside, we are very lucky because we have family and friends who offered to help us immediately, which has relieved some of the hassle. These are some of the people we’re going to miss the most and will happily accept into our spare room whenever they can get up to Scotland. 

When we are settled in Edinburgh I might do a blog post on “x dumb things you shouldn’t do when you’re relocating”. I don’t know about anyone else, but as I’ve lived in the same town for almost 25 years, I had no idea what to expect about moving to the other side of town, let alone another country.

Anyway, that’s just a little update on how the Edinburgh situation is going. I will be joyous when I attend my first day of my masters and will breath a huge sigh of relief because things will pretty much all be sorted. (Apart from my degree certificate because the University of Wolverhampton are incapable of doing anything that actually makes any sense to the rest of the educational world.)

Have you ever moved far? How did you find it?

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Sunset from the Bow River Loop, Canmore

When we were in Canada, one of our goals was to see an amazing sunset, and Canmore finally provided us with one from the Bow River Loop trail.

We tried hard to chase sunsets but the sky was just not in our favour, over and over again. The sky would either go a darker shade of blue, completely cloud over, or it would rain torrentially.

On our first day in Canmore, we discovered the Bow River Loop, a 20-minute flat walk around the Bow River on the edge of town. As we were sat in our hotel room one evening, we spotted colour creeping into the sky and dashed out to the car and down to the trail.

Red and orange clouds over Mount Rundle, Canmore

Pink clouds at sunset over Mount Rundle

Canmore Engine Bridge

Golden light bathed the mountains and forests surrounding the town and we almost ran down to Canmore Engine Bridge to set up the camera. It wasn’t long until we were treated to a pink, red, and orange display lighting up Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain. I loved the way streams of light seemed to shoot out of the top of the mountain and paint patterns in the sky.

We stood there for a while, taking photos and trying to take in the awe-inspiring sunset, and were pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who started conversations with us. Considering both of us hate small talk, we loved the way people talk to each other on the street.

Everyone has heard the stereotype that Canadians are friendly, and it was true of the majority of Canadians we spoke to. Canadian hospitality has got to rival Southern hospitality because we felt welcomed and at home everywhere we went.

Sunset over Cascade Mountain from the Bow River Loop, Canmore

Canmore is one of our favourite places in Canada. The locals say that Banff is where you go to visit and Canmore is where you live. It’s a fairly quiet little town, about 20 minutes from Banff, on the Bow River with plenty activities to choose from, such as; hiking, kayaking, stand up kayaking, climbing, snowsports, and more.

If you’re ever in the Canmore or Banff area, it is well worth taking a stroll around the Bow River Loop at sunset. The trail in general is well worth a visit in general, whether you’ve got half an hour spare to take in some spectacular views, a few hours, or the whole day; the Bow River Loop connects to other walking and cycling trails, so you aren’t going to be short of things to do.

Sunset over the Three Sisters, Canmore

Where’s the best place you’ve watched the sun set?

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Marmite on toast - buying from companies with unethical parent companies

I am a label reader; when I’m in the shower, in the bath, waiting for something to cook, I’ll be reading the labels on whatever I’m using at the time. A few weeks back, I was reading the label on the back of my beloved Marmite, when I noticed they are owned by Unilever.

According to their website, Unilever own 255 brands globally across the food and drink, home care, and personal care sectors. Some of these brands include: Ben & Jerry’s (who are bringing vegan ice cream to the UK ‘soon’), Marmite, Simple, Dove, Lynx, Vaseline and a whole boat load of brands you might use / eat every day. I don’t buy any hygiene or cosmetic products sold by Unilever because I disagree with animal testing, but seeing ‘Unilever’ on the back of a jar of Marmite stopped me in my tracks.

How do I feel about buying food a company whose parent company test on animals, or I consider to be unethical?

Surprisingly, animal testing is not just limited to cosmetics and cleaning products. I would never associate food products with animal testing (perhaps that is naive on my part) but while I was doing some research for this blog post I discovered that some food products are not cruelty free. In 2013, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) called out Unilever, Nestle, Yakult and Danone for testing food products on animals to allow them to promote health claims.

That absolutely baffled me. Why? Why is that even necessary?

Let’s take a look at the Ben & Jerry’s example too. I love that they have created vegan ice cream and are planning to bring it over to the UK; I want to support companies who are making being vegan easier, because hell knows I find it very hard. I also really want a vegan version of Phish food.

If I choose not to support companies who test cosmetics on animals, doesn’t that mean I should boycott food brands which are tested on animals? Doesn’t it mean it should boycott food brands which might be cruelty free themselves, but are owned by a company who test other food brands or hygiene brands on animals?

On the other hand, I could support cruelty free and vegan companies for doing good, fighting animal testing, and creating tasty vegan food. Some people choose to do this with cosmetics brands, let’s take Urban Decay as an example. Urban Decay are cruelty free but they are owned by L’Oreal who do test on animals. The argument is that it’s good to support companies like Urban Decay because they are cruelty free and maybe, eventually, in some kinda movie-like way, L’Oreal will go “wow, a lot of people support these cruelty free brands we own, so maybe we should quit being dicks to animals.” That would be amazing, but it doesn’t quite sit well with me. I hate the idea that my money might indirectly end up supporting animal testing or supporting companies with unethical practices.

To counter that again, if you try to avoid food, hygiene, or cleaning products with unethical parent companies your weekly shop is about to get a lot harder, involve ordering from goodness knows how many websites and probably more expensive.

I am between a rock and a hard place with this one and would love to hear your thoughts about buying from companies with unethical parent companies.

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Do not walk off the path at Moraine Lake

One of the joys of photography is getting to share a place, or a feeling, that you love with everyone else; that comes at a cost though when you contribute to destroying that place.

I am not tarring everyone with the same brush at all, but I am fed up of watching photographers, or anyone for that matter, hop over “please stay on the marked trails” signs to get “the best Instagram shot” or one without trees, or plants blocking the view. 

Whether you’re in your home country, or abroad, it’s not uncommon to see signs asking you to stay on the marked trail to protect wildlife and vegetation. Some signs might even explain that it’s humans trampling everywhere which has damaged the area and it needs time to recover. Perhaps the signs need to be bigger because I watched countless people ignore them.

These signs are all over the place in Canada, and by far, the worst place for offenders was Moraine Lake. A few kilometers outside of Lake Louise, the beauty of Moraine Lake is beyond words. It is our favourite place, which makes it even harder to watch people contribute to damaging it.

If you’ve never been to Moraine Lake, let me explain the best view point to you. There is a huge pile of rocks which a path, steps and view points have been built into, which give you a beautiful elevated view of the lake. The problem some photographers seem to have is that there are trees growing in and along this rock pile, which “get in the way” of your view sometimes. So, what do they do? They step off the trail and clamber all down the banks. I saw so many people do it without even hesitating and it made my blood boil. 

It is absolutely possible to get a view of the lake without trees “blocking” the view by staying on the path, and the trees really are part of the environment and part of the view so why are we so into getting rid of them? 

As well as damaging the fragile environment, Daz brought up an excellent point; taking photos from viewpoints off the trail encourages others to do the same to replicate the shot.

Honestly, how many times have you seen a photo and thought, “wow, I’d love to see that view with my own eyes?” I’ve done it loads, and I am always so disappointed when I get somewhere and realise the photographer strayed off the trail to get that shot. That kind of disregard sends a message that it’s ok for others to do the same, whether the photographer realises it or not. We witnessed more than enough people show complete disregard for the protection of the places we visited so people honestly do not need the encouragement.

Our environment is fragile and one of the privileges of photography, for me and others, is that we get to share the beauty of our planet with others and highlight the importance of protecting it. But we’re nothing short of hypocrites if we are doing things as simple as straying the marked trail to get a “better” shot.

Please, stay on the fudging trail because protecting fragile places is more important than Instagram likes. 

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There's Lead In Your Lipstick by Gillian Deacon

While I am an avid label reader and science nerd, trying to understand the confusing words on packaging is hard. Enter There’s Lead in Your Lipstick, which serves as a perfect entrance into figuring out what is actually in the products your using and how to avoid the toxins.

Would you ever imagine that there are harmful chemicals in the products you rub on your face every day, the things you wash with, what you brush your teeth with, or fix your hair with? I think the majority of people, including myself, probably wouldn’t. You would assume that there is some kind of governing body somewhere ensuring harmful toxins are not put in things we use. Unfortunately, it isn’t really the case (while there are bodies, they’re not as protective as you would hope) and the biggest lesson you will learn from There’s Lead in Your Lipstick is that you have to be your own advocate.

Of course, there are some chemicals banned for use in cosmetics but that doesn’t mean that what’s allowed in cosmetics is perfectly safe. Far from it. Luckily for those living in the EU, we appear to have stricter regulations that those in the US and Canada, but again it still doesn’t mean we are actually being protected from things that can cause us harm. (And with the whole Brexit debacle, who knows what kind of laws products will or won’t have to comply with.)

We have no way to measure the impact of an ingredient combined with every other chemical you encounter day after dayAdditionally, the ease of internet shopping might mean that by buying from abroad you’re exposing yourself to ingredients which are banned in your own country. Coal tar is one example. The known carcinogen is banned in the EU but is still allowed in products in the US, where it might be found in anti-dandruff shampoo, hair dye, and soaps.

I have found switching to a toxin-free lifestyle quite overwhelming, but Deacon’s book is the ideal accomplice. She explains the issues with each toxin and what it might also be referred to as on the label, in a really easy to understand way. I was half expecting There’s Lead in Your Lipstick to be a bit of a dry, textbook-style, read but it was far from it; it was equal parts interesting and horrifying. Her writing style is quite conversational, and I finished it off on my flight home because I just could not put it down.

As well as explaining some of the key ingredients to avoid (and giving a handy list of 20 things you really need to avoid), Deacon explains how to avoid them by including DIY recipes and lists of companies and products which are toxin free. Knowing what to do instead definitely takes away from some of the feeling of being overwhelmed because you feel like you’re armed with solutions and starting points. (And believe me, you will feel a little overwhelmed and want to throw away a large chunk of the stuff in your bathroom.) Note that this book does not detail every single ingredient you shouldn’t avoid, though I’d kinda like that book.

The book is split up into sections dealing with different kinds of products, such as hair, face, hands and feet. Two of the best sections are definitely the ones which teach you how to understand labels and deals with the issues with companies being able to use the words “natural” or “organic” pretty liberally without very strict guidelines.

It is sad that it’s surprisingly difficult to buy toxin free products in on the high street (how did the world come to this?). I have a few recipes or products saved on Pinterest but it can be tricky to keep going back to different pages and trying to remember where I saved something, so I like knowing I can pick up this book and flick to the section I need easily.

I wish books like this didn’t need to exist, but with the plethora of chemicals we’re exposed to every day without really realising it, and no one knowing the accumulative and combined issues they can cause over time, books like this are important. If you read one non-fiction book this summer, heck even this year, let it be There’s Lead in Your Lipstick.

I would like to point out that the products in the main photograph are not all toxin free, and NARS are no longer cruelty free either.

If you’ve read this, what did you think of it? Do you have any recommendations?

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On the ferry to Vancouver Island

Our first 24 hours in Canada were a real mixed bag of “thank goodness we’re here” and “WHAT DO WE DO?!”. We emerged from a 9-hour flight having had no sleep thanks to two kids annoying each other and screaming the entire time to find out Hertz had given us a clown car.

Clown car avoided, we relaxed as we got on the 1 headed for Canmore to pick up our camping equipment. This was the moment we had been reminding ourselves of for months whenever we were stressed, “just think about being in the car on the way to Canmore,” we would say to each other. Everything was good in Canmore and we began the drive to our bed and breakfast in Golden.

The view over Golden from Le Beausoleil Bed and BreakfastCue the worst rain either of us had ever seen, much less driven in. You could barely see five metres in front of you. It eased off as we arrived at Golden, to the most welcoming and homely feeling B&B we’d ever been to. (If you are ever in Golden, stay there.) Our hosts at Le Beausoleil B&B were lovely and recommended local restaurant for dinner Eleven22 and boy, was that a good recommendation. It was exactly what we needed after way too long without sleep. To be honest, I’m still thinking about their lemon basil pesto pasta and could go for it right now.

After a truly restful nights sleep and delicious breakfast of homemade bagels and waffles, we hopped into the car refreshed and ready for eight hours of driving to Whistler. Let me tell you that that joy lasted about five minutes until we got to the junction for highway 1 in Golden. We saw a queue of traffic, cars turning around and no one seemed to be going over the junction to the 1. When we got to the front of the line, we were told a huge mudslide overnight had shut the road between Golden and Revelstoke and there was no real way around.

As we had a ferry booked from Vancouver at lunch time the day after, we really needed to get there and waiting to see if the road reopened later on (which we were told was very unlikely) was not an option. The stress was real.

We were given the suggestions of driving up to Jasper and down to Whistler, or going via Cranbrook and staying somewhere south of Vancouver, missing out on Whistler. Cranbrook seemed a couple of hours shorter so we decided on that route and managed to find a last minute motel in Hope.

It took us about an hour to calm down from that dilemma to realise there was a bright side here; we were going on a ‘proper adventure’ because we had no idea where we were going or what we would see. That excited us and it was all going smoothly until the traffic came to a halt at 2pm on a mountain road.

Traffic randomly coming to a stop because someone saw a bear, a goat, some elk, or something else is not that uncommon in Canada so we told ourselves we’d be moving in no time. Sure enough, we began moving again a few minutes later. And then we stopped.

Stuck in traffic

This was our view for two hours -.-‘

When people begin getting out of their cars, you know it’s not a good sign. We sat there for an hour and a half before seeing a lady in hi-vis, looking pretty pee’d off, who said, “you should get moving in the next half hour. They’ve blasted a hole in the road; don’t ask me why they’re blasting on a Friday afternoon.”

True to her word, we did get moving in the next half hour and we were curious to find out what this hole was. We were thinking it would be a large pothole but no; the entire right handside of the carriageway was missing for a good 3 – 4 metres. I am still kicking myself for not taking a photo of it but forgive me because I was too busy gawping saying “THE ENTIRE ROAD HAS GONE!”

The remainder of our drive took us through some parts of Canada we never expected to see; the Okanagan Valley, which looks so Mediterranean and is full of vineyards. Osoyoos was particularly breathtaking; we just weren’t expecting to see anything like that on our trip. The mountain roads began to feel a little dicey as darkness fell and we were coming up on well over 12 hours of driving (I say we, I mean Daz). We eventually found Hope (literally and figuratively) at about 11pm and fell into our beds after a really half-assed meal of rubbish noodles and Kraft mac n’cheese.

As not to tempt fate, we got up very early the next day and allowed for 4 or 5 hours to do a 1 and a half hour trip, “just in case”. Happily, we made our ferry to Vancouver Island and the rest of the trip was a lot more relaxing.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s this: if you are planning to do a long stretch of driving, check for other routes in case roads are shut and you have to go the long way around. Ah, the stressful side of traveling that Instagram never shows you.

Now it’s your turn, I want to hear about your travel stress.

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Dissertation hand in

Last Friday, I got the news I’d been impatiently refreshing my emails for; I have finished my forensic science degree with a first. 

I’m not going to lie, I am pretty proud of myself. I started university about six years ago now and dropped out after a year and a half because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted. After three years out I realised I loved science and applied to go back pretty much exactly two years ago.

It was nerve-wracking taking a pay cut and starting a part-time job but that hasn’t been as hard as I feared. My part-time job introduced me to a group of people who feel like family to me now; I have made friends for life and I hate to think what my life would be like without them.

I have worked hard and I’ve had amazing support from Daz, my friends and family. University is not something you can do on your own, you need a little bit of help, whether it’s someone making dinner when you’re furiously typing away, asking a friend to quiz you for an exam, or trying to explain your ideas or thoughts to someone who doesn’t really know what you’re on about – a different perspective can so often pick up something obvious that you’ve missed. (I tell you, I could have cried when Daz pointed something really obvious out about my dissertation project that I had completely missed.)

By far, the dissertation was the biggest challenge but it taught me so much. That said, I had no idea how I’d done by the time I handed it in and was convinced that because it was a double module I’d sabotaged my shot at a first. You know what it’s like when you spend so long on something and you have no idea if it’s good or a load of rubbish anymore. I am over the moon with a first, and I had no intention of getting anything less than a first when I decided to go back.

Annoyingly, my university doesn’t do graduation until September (I have no idea why) so I won’t actually get to go to graduation. The idea of a graduation ceremony did make me feel pretty nervous but it also felt like a chance to celebrate hard work.

I guess the moral of this story is don’t let yourself hold yourself back; if you want something, go out there and get it. I think there might be a second moral which is; you don’t have to go to university right after 6th form or college, and it might not even be for you anyway – don’t listen to lecturers or teachers who tell you you have to or should go, it’s your life.

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