How to Have a Wedding on the Cheap

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Wedding_rings1

Hurrah! You are about the become betrothed to the person you love. Commiserations! You are skint and that situation is not going to change anytime soon. There’s only one thing for it. A scrimpy, savey, wedding on the cheap. All corners will be cut,  all pennies will be pinched, all buffet items will be from Iceland (or lower). But if you simply don’t know where to start with your budget nuptials, here are a few tips to get you going.

THE ENGAGEMENT

-...Лучшее,_конечно,_впереди!-_-..._The_best,_of_course,_ahead!-_)_(3527495977)Before you can even begin to think about your miserly wedding, you need to plan your miserly engagement. The ring is going to be the biggest outlay, so you need to start hunting for bargains. Remember that ‘second hand’ is just another word for ‘vintage’.

Find a classic deco sparker on eBay (obviously being careful and researching exactly what you’re getting) or take a trip to the Jewellery Quarter in either Birmingham or London. Or perhaps you can gently suggest that their may be a beloved family heirloom that can be used for extra emotional resonance. Worth a try.

THE PLANNING

Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_signing_the_registerThe important thing to do is organise a budget and then stick to it like a fly to a toffee wrapper. Before you prioritise an Auntie or look at a edible centrepiece, make a painfully precise plan of everything you want and everything you need. Some things you can’t do without (someone to officiate, some form of wedding ring) and some things you can definitely do without (wedding photographers cost a fortune).

But even if you are taking the economically astute option, don’t skimp on the things that mean the most to you or your partner. Whether it’s a fancy dress, lashings of booze or a bouncy castle; make sure you don’t have any regrets when you look back on your special day.

THE STAG/HEN

640px-Male_stripper_San_Francisco_January_2009This is a modern phenomena that completely baffles me. Once upon a time the prospective bride or groom would be taken to the pub a couple of days before the ceremony, thoroughly inebriated and maybe have a few things drawn on them.

Nowadays, everyone’s jetting off to the Seychelles or having a fortnight in Vegas for celebratory reasons. I didn’t sign up for that! Listen all you extravagant bachelors and bachelorettes, no one appreciates this. No one.

People are already forking out for the wedding, for gifts, for new clobber and possibly chipping in for the honeymoon. Just go paintballing. Or karting. Or I know a place that does rather a nifty zombie thing that is unbelievably well priced.

WHEN TO DO THE DEED

coupleThis is where you can make a major saving. You’ll be splurging a big chunk of cash on the venue, so if you can book it on an horribly unfashionable day, say midweek rather than a weekend, you can bag a bargain.

Pick a midweek day in January or February and the savings will be even more mighty. What’s wrong with a winter wedding. If it’s good enough for Billy Idol, it’s good enough for you. Plus a wedding in the week has the added advantage of keeping the guest list lean.

Not everybody is going to be able to make it and the fewer the better, as we say in cheapo wedding circles.

FRUGAL FOOD

800px-Jeunes_Mariés_dans_le_parc_dAk_Saray_(Shahrisabz)_(6018352949)You would not believe how much it costs to stick food in front of a load of freeloading relatives who will probably moan about it anyway and possibly steal various items of cutlery. Another, riskier, option is to have a picnic in a public park. Though not if you’re planning a winter wedding perhaps.

But if the weather looks good, just head from the service to some wide open space, lay down some blankets and crack open the bubbly. You can even get people to bring a few things along, pot luck style. You can still have the speeches and toasts and cake cutting and all that palaver, but with squirrels in attendance.

Get a friend or relative to knock you up a cake and even more moolah can be stashed.

PICKY PICS

640px-Boda_principios_S_XXI can’t believe there’s such a roaring trade in wedding photographers. It really does seem like a blast from the past. But any regular viewers of Don’t Tell the Bride will know that any price quotes from snappers will tend to provoke the response ‘HOW MUCH?’ usually in a broad northern accent.

Once upon a time, the mysteries of taking a well composed shot were kept from most of us. But now we can all take award-winning pics on a phones without thinking. Just stick it on the invite: ‘Please take pictures and send them to us’. You’ll get a much broader vision of the day.

DRESS DOWN

Russian_church_wedding_in_Toronto,CanadaFor some, the dress will be non-negotiable. But you can have a fancy schmancy frock without having to give Wonga a ring. Via eBay, you can have the perfect dress run up in China and shipped over pronto. Yes, I know, that sounds well dodgy, so do plenty of research. An evening spent scrolling through testimonials will be worth it if you can save a bundle.

If all of that sounds too worrying, there are a whole host of second hand wedding dress retailers such as Preloved and Confetti, plus the usual Gumtree and eBay options. Even Oxfam now has a bridal department.

ASK FOR HELP

Major_Alan_G._Roger_at_Same-Sex_Wedding_CeremonyDoes your brother-in-law play slap bass in a funk band. Do you have a nephew who fancies himself as a DJ? Is your Gran a Dynamo-style street magician? Throw discretion to the wind and get anyone who can do anything to muck in.

This could mean flowers, catering, entertainment, venues, make-up, hair, transportation. Don’t be shy and do be cheeky. I mean, you won’t be asking for any more favours until your second wedding and that’s probably years away.

How to make the perfect Martini

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The Martini was invented in a time when cocktails were simple, subtle concoctions; the work of alchemists rather than acrobats. Few drinks can match either its strength or sophistication. One martini and all the worries of a stressful day have dissolved. Two and you’re James Bond, getting ready to fleece SMERSH operative Le Chiffre at baccarat. Three and, well, gentlemen do not speak of what happens after three Martinis. Except to say, it’s never pretty.

The Martini is the cocktail that built the Western world. (Image in Public Domain via Wiki Commons)

The Martini is the cocktail that built the Western world. (Image in Public Domain via Wiki Commons)

In moderation the humble Martini remains the king and queen of cocktails. There are only two real ingredients; gin and vermouth. And it all begins with finding the right gin…

Look at the labels

With gin and tonic, a heavily flavoured spirit like Bombay Sapphire will shine through the fizz. With a Martini, you can afford to go for a gin that’s less crowded with big flavours; something more subtle.

You can get a good idea of what flavour to expect from the labelling. London gin is a spirit distilled with a selection of natural botanical ingredients. There are up to eight of them and one of them must be juniper berries. It can’t have anything added after the distillation process expect for  pure water or the tiniest amount of sugar. Common examples are Gordon’s Dry London Gin and Tanqueray.

Distilled gins are produced in essentially the same way, but may have natural flavour added afterwards. Hendricks and Bombay Sapphire both fit this bill with some (natural) flavour added post-distillation.

Then there’s just “gin”, which can be any old lighter fluid with essence of juniper and other flavours added after the fact.

We’re going to go out on a limb and suggest that London gins are the top choice for a martini base. They’re less fruity, more subtle and infinitely more drinkable than their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cousins.

The bottom line is this. The best Martinis taste of gin, so regardless of what others tell you (including us) the best approach is to just choose a gin you really like.

Choosing the right vermouth

There are two alcoholic ingredients in a perfect Martini and the other is dry vermouth. This is a fortified Italian wine that’s also flavoured with natural botanical ingredients. The classic choice of cocktail experts is Noilly Pratt; a vermouth with a sticky feeling in the mouth and a flowery, spicy taste.

If you’re after the vintage Martini flavour, pair Noilly Pratt vermouth with a vintage London gin brand like Beefeater.

For a cleaner, more contemporary Martini that lets the gin shine through, use Martini Bianco vermouth. Yes – the stuff your grandma drinks with lemonade at Christmas. It has a pleasant, grassy lightness and you’ll have less oil floating around in your glass.

Go for a London dry gin when picking one for yoru Martini - and stick to the top shelves... (Image in Public Domain via Wiki Commons)

Go for a London dry gin when picking one for your Martini – and stick to the top shelves… (Image in Public Domain via Wiki Commons)

Marrying the ingredients 

The earliest versions of the Martini – back in the late 19th century – had equal amounts of vermouth and gin. The ratio has evolved over the years, with less vermouth favoured as our palates evolved towards more savoury tastes. The classic ratio now is the 1950s version; six parts gin and one part vermouth. Even that’s too much vermouth for some.

Ernest Hemingway preferred the “Montgomery” ratio of fifteen to one – after Field Marshall Montgomery whose troops were outflanked fifteen to one in WW2. Alfred Hitchcock said he made his Martinis with “five parts gin and a quick glance at a bottle of vermouth”.

To make the martini, partially fill the bottom half of a cocktail shaker with ice. Add six measures of gin and one of martini, then take a long spoon and stir the mix. James Bond prefers his Martini shaken – but that method “bruises” the gin and disperses the vermouth. Stirring gives you a smoother cocktail.

Finally, attach the top half of the cocktail shaker and pour into cocktail glasses, fresh out of the fridge.

Garnish and variations

For a classic Martini there are only two possible garnishes. A twist of lemon peel is old-fashioned and classy. For the full Mad Men effect, though, the only possible garnish is a stuffed olive or two. Spear them on a cocktail stick and lean them drunkenly in your drink. After all that preamble – here’s our recipe for the perfect Martini; a mixture of modern (with a relatively new organic gin) and 1950s hey day (with Martini Bianco and olives) :

  • 6 parts Juniper Green Organic London dry gin
  • 1 part Martini Bianco
  • Stir over ice
  • Garnish with 2 stuffed olives in a chilled cocktail glass

That’s it. Perfection in a glass. There are variations you can try… For example, a spoonful of olive brine in the mix is a “dirty martini”. Plop a silverskin onion into the glass instead of an olive, that’s a gibson.

James Bond finishes his fifteenth Vesper Martini of the day, before karate chopping some ninjas in a volcano.

James Bond finishes his fifteenth Vesper Martini of the day, before karate chopping some ninjas in a volcano.

And, by the way, James Bond’s classic Martini isn’t even a Martini. It’s made with vodka rather than gin. The closest thing to a real martini that Bond drinks in the books (and the movie Casino Royale) is his own invention – a Vesper.

‘Three measures of Gordon’s; one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel.’

Kina Lillet is a dry vermouth, difficult to get hold of in the UK, so if you want to try a Vesper, you can substitute Martini Bianco. The result? The vodka dilutes the botanical flavours in the gin and the lemon peel gives it a clean, more citrusy finish. The ratio of spirit to vermouth is eight to one, so it’s subtle all round.

And it tastes even better when you’re at the card table, in black tie.

So You Want To Be The Pope

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Kruisheren_uden_bij_paus_pius_xii_Crosiers_from_Uden_Holland_with_PiusXIIIs your food cart that sells ‘Hot Bitter Sausages’ not doing so well? Are things looking dicey at Snappy Snaps? Are your parents losing patience with your vocation as a ‘Action Poet’ and are planning to kick you to the curb? Sounds like you need a new career. Have you considered becoming pope? The money’s decent, the uniform’s thrown in and you get your own mobile. Sounds pretty sweet, doesn’t it? So what steps do you need to take in order to get in that big golden throne and wearing that pointy hat? Just watch and learn…

BECOME A CATHOLIC

Procesion_semana_santa_jpereiraI know, right? I had no idea. I always assumed that line about ‘is the pope Catholic?’ was just a crazy gag, but it turns out the pope IS Catholic. So you need to be Catholic too. So firstly, you have to believe in God. If this doesn’t apply to you, then being a pope might not be your thing.

If you find that you do believe in God, but were raised in some different branch of the church, or another religion, you’ll need to begin the RCIA or Catholic education classes. Research and find a local Catholic church and Priest that seems nice and they’ll point you in the right direction.

After a series of classes, you’ll be baptised, confirmed and receive your first Eucharist. Hurrah! If you’re married, you may have to become ‘Catholic married’. Though if you’re married, you ain’t becoming pope.

BECOME A PRIEST

Antichrist1Great! You are now a Catholic and on the right path to your ultimate goal of poping. OK, next up, you need to become a Catholic Priest. As well as having a calling from God (very important) you’ll also need to be male (at time of writing), unmarried and willing to remain celibate for the rest of your life.

You’ll usually need to be a practising Catholic for at least five years and working in your local parish for a while. Then you’ll have to get educated. This means either eight years at a seminary (priest school) or four at a university to get a degree then four more at a seminary. There you’ll learn philosophy, Latin, Greek, religious law and public speaking.

Once you’ve graduated, you have 180 days to decide if being a priest is really for you (a cooling off period if you will). And after all that the local Bishop has to decide you’re worthy before he’ll ordain you. Once the Bish has called you to Holy Orders, you’re away! Just find a parish that will have you and start priesting!

BECOME A BISHOP

Urban_VIIOK, you’ve been a totally kick-ass priest, delivering Mass like a superstar and helping out in the local parish. But you’re a Catholic gunslinger with ambitions. Next stop: Bishop. Firstly you need to make sure you are over 35 and have been a priest for at least five years. Then, guess what? You’re going back to school.

Unless you already have a Doctorate (usually in Theology) you are going to need one. So it’s off to University (a Catholic institution will gain you extra brownie points) while still keeping up your priestly duties. Once you’ve sorted all that out, you play the waiting game. Bishops work on a strict ‘one out, one in’ policy, so you need to wait until one retires or dies before a vacancy opens up.

And that’s all you can do. There’s no application process, you just have to wait to be asked by the other bishops. That’s why you need to be a superstar priest who has made a name for himself. You’ll be placed on a list of potential candidates then the big fella from Rome, the Apostalic Nuncio, picks his top three appointees. Then the Congress of Bishops in Rome selects the best one, with the Pope himself having the final word. Get through all that and, congrats! You are now a Bishop.

BECOME A CARDINAL

Vetements_cardinal_GamarelliA Cardinal isn’t a promotion exactly, but runs concurrently with your bishoping. Getting bumped up to Archbishop wouldn’t hurt your chances either. Again, this isn’t something you apply for but just get selected due to your awesomeness and look after your own diocese, plus help out the regular old bishops in the surrounding area. Then the politics starts.

There’s definitely certain places that get more cardinals than others (there’s around 200 out of the current 5000 bishops), so look at the diocese that have spawned more cardinals and try to get a job there. Once more, it’s up to the man in the hat to pick cardinals, so you need to impress the pope with all your fabulous activities. If picked, you get a new scarlet zucchetto (skullcap thing) and scarlet biretta (four-cornered silk hat) and a nice new ring. Well done, you are now a cardinal. You main duty is to pick a new pope when the time comes.

BECOME POPE

PopepiusixOK, you’ve done all the hard work. You are now a cardinal with your dainty, silk-clad instep firmly in the door at the Vatican. Now you have to wait for the current pope to die or retire (usually die). You’ll then be summoned to Rome with your fellow cardinals to participate in the papal conclave.

You are locked in (usually inside the Sistine Chapel) and cast multiple votes, writing the name of your choice on a piece of paper, which is read aloud, speared with a needle then burnt (hence all the stuff with smoke). Black smoke means we have no pope. White smoke means, yes we have a pope!

Ballots are cast up to eight times a day until a single cardinal has two-thirds of the vote. If it’s you, hurrah! You are the pope! Now the fun starts. You get to pick your own name (I’d go with Jensen, Pope Jensen sounds nice), pop out on the balcony to meet your fans and get fitted for all your new bejewelled thingies and whatnots. It’s been a long hard road, but it’s worth it. You’ve reached the pinnacle, you can get no higher. Unless you decide to be God, but that’s a whole different process altogether.

How to pack for a year abroad in just two bags

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If you’re planning a year of travelling – then you’ll have to learn how to pack. Like the snail and the tortoise, you’ll be carrying everything you need to survive.

Where do you even start? Fortunately for you, we’ve been around the block (world) a few times and in our travels have formulated the ultimate packing list. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you pack for a year abroad in just two bags.

You may be carrying a bit too much there... (Photo by Mike Burns used under a Creative Commons license)

You may be carrying a bit too much there… (Photo by Mike Burns used under a Creative Commons license)

Choose your Bags

Your main bag is for anything you don’t immediately need. Most long term travelers choose a back-pack, because you never know when you’re going to have to carry all your worldly good from one place to another. Suitcases are far too heavy and cumbersome. You may not need as big a bag as you expected though… a 45-50 litre back-pack is probably all you need – keeping in mind that you’ll be strapping a sleeping bag to the top.

Try not to buy your bag online – you’ll need to make sure it’s solidly made, has enough pockets for and – of course – it fits comfortably. Waterproofing is essential.

And a word about sleeping bags even though this piece is called “how to pack for a year abroad in just two bags”. Spend a decent amount on getting a lightweight, well insulated sleeping bag. Cheapo, bulky old sleeping bags will not cut it. You’ll thank us later.

Your second bag we’ll call your “breakout bag”. This is where you put all the stuff you need ready access to – and that will change, day to day. A shoulder bag is best, satchel or messenger style – at about 15 or 20 litre capacity. Go over that and you may risk having to stow your bag in the hold on some flights. Again, go for robust rather than pretty – this bag will need to go through a lot with you.

Pump Down the Volume

When rucksacks can go up to 80 litres, these bag sizes may seem modest. We say, travel smart – not hard. Follow these tips to keep our packing down to a minimum:

Use vacuum bags. These are readily available online and from hardware stores now. They’re plastic bags you pack your clothes into. Fold everything neatly, put them in all in a vacuum bag, suck the air out. You’ve saved yourself tons of space.

Wash every night. Your clothes that is. Try to confine your packing to three full changes. One on, one drying and one in reserve.

Ditch your excess. You’ll pick up extra bits and pieces as you travel. Every time you acquire a new t-shirt, ditch one from home. Give them away as gifts to your new mates.

Always have water. Wherever you are, wherever you’re going – make sure you have at least half a litre of drinkable water in your breakout bag.

Renew your list. Below, you’ll find our list of things we think you need to pack for a year’s travel. Try to keep this inventory constant. That means, replenishing it when it runs out and refreshing items (especially clothes) as they wear out or you get fed up of them.

Vacuum packing your clothes will save lots of valuable packing space. (Photo by  Jackson Boyle used under a Creative Commons license)

Vacuum packing your clothes will save lots of valuable packing space. (Photo by Jackson Boyle used under a Creative Commons license)

The List

This is our travel list, hard won and road-tested. Some will be amazed at how little we’re taking. Hardcore travellers will see it as excessive… We think we’ve reached a happy medium – or at least, a good place to start.

Clothes

Most of the list is clothes – and most of these will stay vacuum packed in your bag until you need them. What this list doesn’t include is what you’re wearing (so you can add another pair of socks, pants, a t-shirt, a day shirt and a pair of jeans to the list).

What about a coat? We’ll advise buying a waterproof, waist-length jacket from an outdoor store. If you can get one with a tough exterior and a removable lining, even better.

One purchase you might think superfluous are the flip-flops. You’ve clearly never shared a shower with other back- packers… And even if you’re goign somewhere hot, don’t forget what your Mum said. Always take a jumper.

  • 1 pair thermal underwear (top and bottom)
  • 2 pairs of underpants
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 2 vests
  • 1 dress shirt, smart top or dress
  • 1 day shirt
  • 1 sweater/hoodie
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair linen/cotton trousers
  • 1 pair jogging bottoms
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 3 pairs of heavy socks
  • 3 pairs of trainer socks
  • 1 pair of black dress socks
  • 1 pair of tough trainers
  • 1 pair of dress shoes
  • 1 pair flip flops
  • 1 medium sized towel
  • 1 hat (preferably waterproof)

Toiletries

Make sure you have a big enough, waterproof bag to stuff all your toiletries into. Nothing fancy or bully either. A big leather shaving kit might look nice in GQ, but it won’t last two minutes in the shared bathroom at the Phuket Happy-Time Hostel.

Keep toiletries down to a minimum and go for compact packaging. Use shaving oil instead of foam, for example. A few drops goes a long way. Take a deodorant, but get a compact roll on. Make sure you always have sun-block in your toilet bag, and chuck it into your break-out bag if you’re going out for the day. A bad sunburn could take days off your trip…

  • 1 toothbrush
  • 1 tube of toothpaste
  • 1 safety razor
  • Shaving oil
  • 2 replacement blades
  • 1 small bottle of shower gel
  • 1 flannel
  • Deodorant
  • Sun block
  • Plain moisturiser

Medical

Your medical needs will vary depending on any pre-existing conditions you may have – but there’s a minimal kit you should take with you. Sticking plasters are fine for minor cuts and grazes, but deeper cuts may need washing out and bandaging until you can get treatment. That’s why there’s a bottle of clean water in the medical pack, soldier.

Alongside conventional medical remedies, you’ll notice some essential oils in our med kit. These don’t take up any room and provide effective natural remedies to all kinds of issues. Clove oil numbs the pain of toothache. Tea tree is antibacterial and can be used on spots, cuts or added to a bath. It’s even good for athlete’s foot. Lavender’s also antibacterial, but smells nicer – use a combination of the two. Lavender added to a base cream (like a plain moisturiser) makes a good, impromptu after-sun cream. Lemon oil, diluted in water or a carrier oil, can be spread on the arms and legs to discourage insect bites.

As for peppermint tea bags? It may sometimes be difficult to stay hydrated when you’re travelling. Peppermint tea kills two birds with a single rock projectile. The water you drink will be boiled and peppermint settles the stomach.

  • Plasters
  • Gauze pads
  • Bandage
  • 1 bottle washing water
  • Ibuprofen/Paracetamol
  • Bottle of witch hazel
  • Clove oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Lemon oil
  • Peppermint tea bags
  • Antibacterial cream
  • Antibacterial gel
  • Full supply of any prescribed medication
  • Menstrual supplies

Tech

Smartphones are amazing aren’t they? They do everything; take photos, connect to the web, download emails, play your music, get you stabbed in an alleyway in Bangkok… Oh.

See, while smartphones are amazing, they’re also very desirable, expensive and easy to lose. We’d advise selling the iPhone and downgrading to a collection of more modest tech. You may be carrying more around in total, but here’s the thing – you won’t need all these items all the time. And none of these things will cost the earth to replace.

For example, pick up a basic mobile when you begin your travels. You know, one that just makes calls. Before that, get onto eBay a pick up a used Kindle or Kobo eReader. It’ll set you back between 30 and 40 quid. As for music? Dig out your old iPod. It’s amazing how well they’ve kept their value – and they’re ideal for the beach.

Need a laptop to check emails or update your diary? Go for a Chromebook. Official prices start at £199, but you may find cheaper on eBay or Tesco. They’re lightweight too.

One final bit of tech you may not have thought about; external batteries. Everyone remembers (or should remember) to back their chargers, but an external back-up battery could save your life when you’re stuck in the sticks with no juice on your phone or iPod.

  • Basic mobile phone
  • 2nd hand Kindle
  • 2nd hand iPod
  • Chromebook
  • Power converters
  • USB leads
  • Dual USB wall charger
  • External battery pack
  • Padlocks

Comfort

Your comfort requirements will vary, but here’s our take on what’s essential packing for the long haul.

Zip-lock bags could save your life. They have a hundred uses, from saving food from the breakfast buffet to keeping a wet flannel from soaking your bag. You can use them to squirrel away some washing powder, carry around a smaller med kit for a walk or to pack them full of complimentary tea bags.

Similarly, a lightweight waterproof sack or “dry bag” will be ideal for the beach or as a place to stick your valuables as you investigate the local area. A couple of energy bars and a bottle of drinking water are essential for your break-out bag, anywhere you go. Sometimes a bus trip the guide told you would take a couple of hours may go on for quite a bit longer… Moist toilet tissue may seem like a luxurious addition, but they’re for much more than just wiping your bum. You can use them for freshening up on long journeys, wiping your face or mopping up spills too. They’re tougher then normal tissues too.

Everyone recommends earplugs for hostel stays and resort hotels. One night in any of those will tell you why. An eye mask is a good idea too – and one most people forget. You’ll sleep through anything. Don’t bother with electric grooming items of any kind. Say goodbye to straighteners and hair dryers. This is back-packing, not Magaluf.

  • Zip-lock bags
  • Waterproof sack
  • Disposable tissues
  • Moist toilet tissue
  • Chocolate/Sweets/Energy bars
  • 1 bottle drinking water
  • Travel wash laundry liquid
  • Earplugs
  • Eye mask

Documents

Though you can access most of your order info, tickets and booking details online, it’s a good idea to have print outs of everything. If you booked tickets using a special pass (as a student or young person, for example) make ssure you have those too. Keep them all in a folder – or in your dry bag.

  • Tickets
  • Bookings
  • Papers
  • Passes
  • Passport and other ID
  • Printed itinerary

That’s it. All packed and ready to adventure around the world. Just remember – don’t go mad on buying souvenirs…

How to Survive a Comic Con

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1200px-20140118174713IMG_5618_M_-_Desucon_Frostbite_2014_-_matiast1

Look around you. Are you unable to leave your property due to piles of comic books? Do you have more action figures than Facebook friends? Are you wearing a cape? If so, you may well be a self-proclaimed nerd, geek, dweeb or Big Bang Theory cast member and a visit to a Comic-Con (or a Comic Book Convention to the confused) is almost certainly in your near future. Not that there’s just comics. Now these Cons feature movie stars giving previews of their latest efforts, panels on TV shows, signings, toy sales and all sorts. But if you’ve never attended one before, or you’re being dragged along by what we refer to round here as a ‘reading friend’, then here’s a quick guide on being there and not going insane.

BEFORE YOU GO

Apparently you can’t simply dress like Captain Violence and saunter into your local convention centre like you owned the place. Depending on which Comic-Con you’re attending (a stipulation that applies to most of these tips) there will almost certainly be a complicated membership registration/badge purchase system implemented. This will have to be done well in advance, as will, if you’re visiting one of the bigger conventions like San Diego, hotel and air-fare. These nerds have computers remember and they’ll book things up with the speed of Tygra (or whatever).

NOW I HAVE MY BADGE/PASS THING

Hang onto it for dear life. At the larger Comic-Cons, you have to wear your badge at all times. If you forget it, you’ll be ejected. If you lose it, double ditto. If your badge has a scannable barcode on it, be wary of who you let have a go on it. It contains your name and mailing address info. And remember, your badge gets you into the convention but doesn’t guarantee you’ll get into any panels or signings. You’ll have to queue or possibly buy additional tickets for that.

SHOULD I DRESS UP LIKE A LUNATIC?

Sure! But remember, Comic-Con days are LONG. If you simply have to wear the Sean Connery thong from Zardoz, you’ll be in that thing all day. And you’ll be doing a lot of walking, so comfy foot wear would be preferable to Catwoman style heels. If you’re desperate to get into something super early and plan to queue up outside, it might be chilly/raining/baking hot, so dress accordingly. And even though you can’t go anywhere without your blaster, many Cons don’t like your weapons to look too realistic and they certainly can’t be functional.

WASHING

I have no idea why, but every guide to Comic-Con is at pains to stress this point: shower. I don’t know if it’s the sweatiness induced by seeing the creator of Hagar the Horrible or the long hours crammed together in tiny meeting rooms, but make sure you start and end each day with a vigorous cleaning and apply lashings of deodorant, with some back-up in your bag for additional applications.

OH YES, YOUR BAG

This is your new best friend, your veritable right hand, your  erstwhile companion. As it’s been mentioned, convention days are long and tortuous and you’ll need supplies. Get yourself a nice comfy backpack and fill it with the following essentials. Water and food will be expensive inside ,wherever you’re going, so bring your own. Obviously take your camera (and have it hand just in case you spot George Takei popping into the bathroom) your phone and your laptop (if you plan to blog) but don’t forget chargers and extra batteries. Hand sanitiser is good if you plans to shake a lot of celebrity hands. If you are into your comics, take along extra plastic sleeves to keep them protected. Oh and a pen, for sudden autograph opportunities.

HANDY HINTS

Research, plan, plot and research again. Know what it is you really want to see/do and ensure that’s what you get tickets for. You may need to get up early or possibly not sleep at all to get in. Have a map and a timetable – as if you wouldn’t. And have back-ups if something you hoped to go for gets moved or cancelled. Keep your eye on social media, especially Twitter, for any unexpected events, sightings or sudden changes of venue. Research a few notable insider Tweeters and make a list of the people in the know. Make sure you have plenty of cash on you, there may well be a cash machine inside wherever you are, but there’ll undoubtedly be a queue. And go outside! If this is a four-day wing-ding, don’t spend every hour lurking in the convention centre, you never know who which celebrity might be lurking in the car park or at the hotel reception.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Other than smell, obviously, there are a few rules of etiquette that apply to most Comic-Cons. Don’t jump the queue, that is a cardinal sin and there’s nothing worse than having a man dressed as Yoda shouting at you (especially if he does the voice). If there’s some sort of free giveaway, don’t descend on the table like a grabby locust and act all pouty if you don’t get the thing on offer. Don’t be overly rude or demanding to someone making an appearance, that makes them not want to attend Comic-Cons and think people like you are the devil. If you’re in a panel, don’t be the individual who asks the stupidest question in the world, such as: Do you like eggs? In general, just act like a human being and all should be well.

How To Travel Homer Simpson Style

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Homer_eating_shrimp2

In their many and highly-comical adventures, the family Simpson have pretty much travelled everywhere. Over 26 seasons they’ve touched down in a staggering number of countries and upset many of the denizens of abroad. And despite the fact that most of these vacations involve Homer getting his head stuck in something, they can prove to be highly educational. I mean, how would we know about Australia’s odd forms of punishment, Italy’s drunken children or Brazil’s monkey problem without the Simpsons? So if you are jetting off to somewhere tropical this summer, here’s how Homer tackled a visit to these foreign nations.

AUSTRALIA

Remember, the environmental balance in Australia is very delicate, so if you are planning to introduce any foreign, invasive species, make sure that you don’t get caught, otherwise the natural punishment is to be kicked with a giant boot in parliament. If you are spotted dropping bullfrogs into airport fountains and decide that escape via kangaroo is the best option remember that their pouches are pretty mucous filled. The national pastime in Australia is a game called ‘Knifey Spoony’ so make sure you have your special gaming cutlery on you at all times. The currency is known as ‘dollaridoos’ with which you can use to buy very disappointing giant beers.  They’ve had electricity for at least 30 years, but don’t mention Paul Hogan or Yahoo Serious. That’s a sore point. Oh and koalas are tenacious. And deadly.

BRAZIL

The most important thing to pack when travelling to Brazil is your scandalously revealing thong, even though wearing it on the beach may cause temporary blindness to passers-by. The money is very colourful and the television programming for children is very revealing. Take an unlicensed cab and you are sure to get involved in a kidnap plot leading to the inevitable dramatic money exchange in a cable car on Sugarloaf mountain. It’s much safer to travel by conga line. Keep on the lookout for roving gangs of monkeys, urchins and enormous snakes. Eat all your meals from swords and, obviously, Brazil nuts are just known as ‘nuts’ over there.

ITALY

If you’re anything like Homer, the main thing you’ll take away from a visit to Italy isn’t the culture, the scenery or the people, it’s the fact that you can buy booze at the McDonald’s there. If you decide to drive around the country, don’t mistake Fellini films for your navigation system which could lead to driving on ancient aqueducts but do look out for giant wheels of cheese that can destroy your vehicle. Don’t worry about actually visiting any historic sites, most can be seen on fast food receptacles, but do worry about drunk children getting in your way. For some reason ‘Kentucky’ translates as ‘whore’ though a ‘vendetta’ is not an Italian vending machine. And you will almost certainly get involved with a murderous production of the opera Pagliacci, so just try to act surprised when it happens.

IRELAND

You might think that travelling to Ireland in a Homer Simpson state of mind means that lots of drinking will be involved. And you would be absolutely right. In fact, always ask for the signature Irish cocktail of Bushmill’s whisky served in a potato and floating in a glass of Guinness. Don’t believe anything that you’ve read about leprechauns, not only do they exist but they roam the streets and are engaged in committed same-sex relationships. As Moe proves, you can easily travel there via mail, just remember to cut out some air holes in your crate. And if you see people wondering the streets of Dublin and celebrating Bloomsday, you’ve pretty much run out of fun things to do.

FRANCE

As Homer has stated previously, France is his least favourite country and is also a fictional magical kingdom, so don’t expect to be heading there anytime soon. But just in case you do plan to visit, remember they are particularly thin skinned and any mocking of the way they laugh could bring about nuclear retribution. As the Simpsons French exchange student states, they are all required to hate us, though as Bart reveals, there is at least one nice French person, it’s up to you to find them. All of their words are either a girl or a guy and expect to see children using straws to drink from bottles of wine.

CANADA

Don’t even bother getting any Canadian money, just take some American dollars as the populous will do practically anything to get their hands on them. The free health care means you can cross the road without worry and in fact try to get injured as it can lead to financial gain for some reason. Pretty much anyone can get onto the Canadian basketball team, while curling is televised in prime time. According to Homer, Canada is ‘all tucked away down there’ in terms of location is is affectionately known as ‘America Junior’. And if all else fails just say ‘Take off hoser’ to absolutely everybody.

AFRICA

We never did find out exactly where in Africa the Simpsons ended up, but it appears to be near the Victoria Falls (Zambia) and the Ngorongoro Wildlife Preserve (Tanzania), though according to them, the names of the countries change all the time anyway. Whatever you do, don’t slap hippos on the butt, they really don’t like it, don’t expect to box with Muhammad Ali or ride in a convertible with two happy zebras. Monkeys are a great source of amusement, nourishment and diamonds, while poachers can be identified by their cargo pants. And if you are eaten by a crocodile, don’t panic. It’s just like going to sleep in a giant blender.

ENGLAND

The English appear to be either dashing handsome princely types in Union Jack waistcoats or vomiting, drunken wastrels with terrible, terrible teeth. Whatever you do, never try to drive around a roundabout, as you’ll be trapped there for hours and, as Marge makes clear, even though England is small you couldn’t fit it all in here. The chocolate is far sweeter than elsewhere and likely to cause hippy-themed rampages on Carnaby Street. Each taxi has its own butler that will serve you tea and you should be met at the airport by the current serving Prime Minister (just don’t mistake him for Mr Bean). And according to Homer, the Yanks saved the UK in Vietnam and shared their prostitutes with Hugh Grant, so we should really be very grateful.

How to stay anywhere in the world for free

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Shh. We’ve got a secret to tell you. Being an adventurer, gallivanting around the world and seeing everything it has to offer doesn’t have to cost you the Earth. You don’t have to be a posh toff  to safari in Africa or a trust-fund Tarquin to summer in the South of France.

You could be staying in a house like this. For free! (Public Domain image via Wiki Commons)

You could be staying in a house like this. For free! (Public Domain image via Wiki Commons)

The secret’s this: the most expensive part of any trip is always accommodation, but it doesn’t have to be. You can stay in any country in the world – for free. The types of accommodation on offer range from sharing a hut with Asian villagers to having free run of a Californian villa. It doesn’t matter whether you want a taste of adventure or a brush with luxury. And here’s how.

Work for your room

If you’re prepared to graft for your bed and breakfast, paying your way by working is one way to avoid handing over any money. It’s also a good idea when you’re starting on a trip or need to refill the savings account when you’re on a big trip.

Teaching English as a foreign language and working as a rep are popular choices  we’ve covered before. Other perennial favourites include picking fruit for a place to sleep. It’s a big choice in Australia which, in turn, is a good stopping off point for an Asian backpacking adventure. You’ll usually get lodging in a communal dorm or barn.

If you have the skills and patience, working as a carer for older people is another way to combine vacation and vocation. Craig’s List is full of adverts for live-in carers, whether you’re looking after one person or helping to take care of communal home. Most live-in carers will have their own room.

To widen out your net, try looking through the listings on workaway.info. “Hosts” post jobs that include board and lodgings around the globe, ranging from helping out on an Icelandic ranch to teaching kids how to swim in Jamaica. Adjust your level of adventure accordingly.

Volunteering

When you work for accommodation, you’re likely to get a bit of extra cash in your pocket – but most of the work will be repetitive and unrelenting. For a more spiritually rewarding experience you could give volunteering a go.

A whole industry has grown up around volunteering in recent years, with companies putting together packages in some of the world’s most exotic destinations. These organisations claim to take the hassle out of arranging your trip. If you arrange your own volunteering expedition it will cost you money for flights, transport and insurance – but the actual volunteering part shouldn’t cost you a dime.

Volunteers help with the reconstruction of Nevytsky Castle in the Ukraine. (Publich Domain imge via Wiki Commons)

Volunteers help with the reconstruction of Nevytsky Castle in the Ukraine. (Publich Domain imge via Wiki Commons)

There are several organisations crying out for the help of able bodied young folk like you, eager to see the world and stay in a foreign country for free.

WWOOFING – A big thing among eco warrior backpackers WWOOFING (WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a loose collective of people and farms all over the world. There were 99 countries with WWOOF connections at the last count. Volunteers don’t get payment, but do get food, board and the chance to learn new skills.

VSO and the UN – Both Volunteer Services Organisation and the United Nations have initiatives that place Western volunteers where their help is needed. Digging out a well in an African village will be a short, sharp shock if you’re more used to living it large in Maga – but you’ll learn life lessons you’ll never find at the bottom of a shot glass.

Volunteer Alliance – The Volunteer Alliance is a site where organisations from all over the world can post volunteer opportunities. There’s a small fee required to sign up – but after that you can search for free opportunities (and paid for opportunities too, if that’s what you prefer). It’s global too – so you could find accommodation in return for work anywhere in the world.

Your digs will vary in quality and will usually be shared.

House Sitting

We’re not going to lie. Both the options we’ve looked at so far are hard work. You may not be paying for a place to sleep – but you’ll be paying for a place to sleep, know what we’re saying? Course you do bro’.

What if we told you that it’s possible to get cash-free accommodation without getting blisters on your fingers? Two words: house sitting. That’s looking after someone else’s house while they’re away. And the deal is scha-weet.

With most house sitting gigs, all you should have to do is look after a posh person’s gaff while they’re away on holiday. You’ll be expected to keep the place clean, tidy and secure, perhaps look after some animals but – in most cases – that should be all.

So where’s the catch? In most cases, the deal is pretty catch free – but to find house-sitting jobs, you’ll need to have good references, a clean criminal record and sign up for an agency that can help you track down available properties. Subscription costs can vary – up to £115 a year. But that’s still cheaper than one night in most central London hotels.

Check out online agencies like:

Mind My House
House Carers
Trusted House Sitters

Caretaking

Ever seen Stanley Kubrick’s masterwork The Shining? In that movie (and Stephen King’s awesome source novel) writer Jack Torrance takes his family to a remote hotel in Colorado as Winter hits. He’s there as caretaker, responsible for maintenance during off-season. It’s not too much of a spoiler to tell you that supernatural forces drive him crazy and he tries to kill his entire family.

"I'm sorry to differ with you sire, but you are the caretaker. You've always been the caretaker."

“I’m sorry to differ with you sir, but you are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker.”

Good news! You can do the exact same thing! The going crazy and killing your family part is optional, of course. Discouraged, even. But, looking after hostels and hotels during the off-season is a real thing and a brilliant way to see another part of the world. Plus, you’ll be able to build up a bit of a nest egg for more travelling. While it’s not quite fruit-picking, a caretaking job will take up a few hours of your day, every day.

Again, there are websites that specialise in putting together potential caretakers and the resorts and hotels who need them. A good place to start is The Caretaker Gazette - though you’ll find opportunities on workaway.info too. Like applying for any job, you may need some specialist skills and references.

Couch Surfing

If a bit of light cleaning, fence mending and fending off axe-wielding mentals is still a bit too much like hard work for you – there’s one last and lazy way to stay around the world for free. Couch surfing. A peculiarly Internet-age phenomena, couch surfers hook up online using specialist social networks – and offer accommodation in their homes and flats for free.

The craze was kickstarted by the site Couchsurfing, but there are now popular rivals to try like  the Hospitality Club.

Like other social networks, you create a profile that describes you and your interests. Unlike other social networks, people can review you. It’s a bit like giving you a reference so that other participants know they’re not about to let a total douche-nozzle into their home. Reviews are important too. As you use the service, if you use it in the spirit intended and you get good reviews, you’ll unlock more and more opportunities to stay in foreign climes.

Couch surfing is more than just a way to freeload somewhere to stay though. There’s a lovely core of sharing, hippy philosophy at the centre of the idea, encouraging people to be nice to each other and help out their fellow man and/or woman. Though no payment for accommodation is exchanged, dedicated couch surfers will know to pay in kind, with a gift for the house or by cooking a meal for the host. And, while it’s not necessary to take part, dedicated couch surfers will offer a bed in their own home for other travellers to crash in. It’s certainly a way to meet interesting people…

So, there you go. Proof that travelling around the world – or even travelling to another town in the UK – doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. And a kidney. It’s comforting to know that even in this day and age, you can sometimes rely on the kindness of strangers. Or their desire to have their apples picked without paying you very much. Have fun!

How To Apologise (And Seem Like You Mean It)

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We live in an age of apology. Every day some celebrity, sport’s star or politician tells the world that they are sorry for some indiscretion they were caught performing. And as you may have noticed, very often they are not good at it. Especially if they don’t actually mean it. But you can make a verbal recompense for something and appear legitimate. Just try these few simple techniques…

FIND OUT WHAT YOU DID

There’s nothing worse than launching into a fully fledged apology without actually knowing what it was you did. Before you go anywhere near the S word, establish the facts. You can do this by saying, ‘Look, there’s been a lot of crazy accusations flying around, tell me exactly what you heard.’ If they reply, ‘You know exactly what you’ve done.’ then you are screwed and you should throw yourself to the floor begging forgiveness. Otherwise get all the information you possibly can, just to make sure full remorse is necessary. WARNING: Clip has some bad words in it.

SETTING

Heading to a neutral space for apology reasons is the cowards way out. You know that whoever you’re saying sorry to will probably not freak out in a restaurant or Safari Park. As difficult as it may seem, you need to approach them in a place that makes them feel most comfortable. If it appears as if they are being ambushed or manipulated by your choice of venue, they won’t accept what you are trying to say.

APPEAR SINCERE

This might take some practice, but a fake apology is pretty easy to spot. Try to avoid smiling, laughing, juggling or swaying while you are saying that you are sorry. Take a deep breath and proceed slowly. Really slowly. Just. Say. You. Are. Really. Really. Sorry. That’s about the sort of pace you need. Don’t blurt out a speedy ‘Soz’ then start making a sandwich. Make it slow and passionate.

MIND YOUR LANGUAGE

Picking the right words for your apology is vital. You can’t simply say, ‘Did you see Mr Selfridge last night, oh and by the way I’m sorry’. Make sure the person you are apologising to knows that this is the most important thing going on in your life right now and it’s eating you up inside. Don’t make them the focus by saying, ‘I can tell you are really upset, so I thought I’d say sorry.’ That won’t fly. Don’t make yourself the victim, own up to your indiscretions and appreciate the hurt that you have caused.

DON’T GO INTO DETAILS

If you start raking over the details of your apology and explaining why you did the sordid things you did, it starts to sound as if you aren’t really apologising at all. ‘Look, I’m sorry, but here’s why I set fire to it…’ No one wants to hear that. Just touch on any information that’s relevant to your remorse, but don’t try to justify it. That will just lead to further recriminations.

DON’T BRIBE

‘I’m sorry, here’s that puppy you always wanted’. Sounds like a pretty good idea. But offering rewards for accepting your apology makes it seem insincere. As if you know you can buy your way out of trouble, no matter what you do. Just sincerely offer your remorse, talk it through and then suggest getting the person you wronged a great big present. But walking into the room with a wheelbarrow full of caviar could just make things awkward.

BE DIFFERENT

Having taken responsibility for your actions, you then have to promise to adapt your behaviour so it doesn’t occur again. Something along the lines of ‘I don’t think I did anything wrong, but if it makes you happy, I’m sorry’ is what we call ‘not an apology’. You can only sincerely apologise if you identify what you did wrong, own up to it and promise to take steps so you don’t repeat your mistakes.

EXIT STRATEGY

Once you have made your sincere apology, you need to step back and allow your apologisee to process the information. They could react in any number of ways. There could be an instant counter apology and reconciliation, or anger and throwing. However they take the news, you have done your bit and now it is up to them. But think about your post-apology world. You may need to hang around and discuss things further – so don’t make plans which means you need to suddenly run away. Or they might not want to be anywhere near you for a very long time. So have somewhere to go. Like bowling or an air show.

Hopefully, by being sincere, committing to change and not complicating matters, you can say you’re sorry and have it be accepted without too much lasting damage.

Photo Credit: Kalexanderson via Compfight cc

How to buy jewellery to suit any occasion

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Buying jewellery for another person is like buying them underpants – only much, much more expensive. A piece of jewellery is a very personal thing. So why do we even buy jewellery for other people?

Well, for all the reasons that it’s so bloomin’ difficult. When you gift jewellery to someone, it’s special. You’re telling the recipient how you feel about them, in all kinds of subtle ways.

An engagement ring could cost you a couple of month's salary. Best to get it right. (Image in public domain via Wiki Commons)

An engagement ring could cost you a couple of month’s salary. Best to get it right. (Image in public domain via Wiki Commons)

No pressure there, then.

General Rules

Every time you buy a piece of jewellery it will be a unique experience. Just like the person you’re buying for and the occasion that warrants it. But there are some general rules you can use in every situation.

Take a friend

Assuming the purchase is a secret, take a friend with you. It can be an entirely neutral third party or a friend that knows a bit about the person you’re buying for. Either way, they bring a second opinion to the table that will be valuable when you’re planning to spend half your savings.

Match your spending to the occasion

Never spend more or less than you have to. Match the occasion and the circumstances. An engagement ring, for example, is going to set you back a lot of money. Some suggest as much as two month’s salary. Other occasions should be proportionate. A good rule of thumb is to match the cost of technology to the occasion… Is the occasion worth an iPad level of outlay – like a Christmas or birthday? Or a second-hand car, like a 21st or a special anniversary?

Match your spending to the person

Again, the engagement ring test is a good one here. That’s the most money that the majority of people will ever spend on a useless item… Any other spending should be matched to the person and what you want to say to them with the gift. Remember, you can make a statement without having to spend a lot of money by carefully choosing something that’s unique and timeless.

Keep it simple

No one was ever appalled by a necklace that wasn’t garish enough or a bracelet that had too few different coloured stones in it. Look for classic simplicity and you won’t go too far wrong. Think about the person you’re buying for again and their unique style – but don’t try to second guess them too much.

Some classics - like a simple string of pearls - never go out of fashion. (Image by Robynlou Kavanagh used under a Creative Commons license)

Some classics – like a simple string of pearls – never go out of fashion. (Image by Robynlou Kavanagh used under a Creative Commons license)

 

Where to Buy

The high street

There are lots of familiar jewellery shop name that you know from the high street. Look in their windows and you’ll see the same old selection of watches, rings, ear-studs and necklaces from the same old brands. If you have a small budget – or even a medium budget – a high street store may seem like the natural choice. There are definite advantages too. They’re convenient, local and with helpful staff. Also, nothing’s likely to be too expensive.

But you can also think of it like this. High street stores are the Next, Top Man and, in some cases, the Primark of the jewellery world. When you receive a gift for a special occasion, do you want the same thing as everyone else? Unless what you want is an Xbox, the answer could possibly be no. And when you’re buying, how do you feel about spending a couple of weeks wages on a necklace that was assembled on a production line?

That leaves two other choices when buying jewellery. You either have to clench your buttocks and go as far up market as you can – or you go quirky.

Big names

If you can afford to shop at London’s biggest bespoke jewellers, chances are that you’re not reading this article at all. You are having it read to you, by your personal assistant, as you bathe in bee milk and feast on lightly roasted hummingbirds. We’re sorry to have even mentioned you. Please don’t have us killed.

When you go this far upmarket, you enter a world where pendants cost as much as small cars and watches as much as small houses. If you can afford that, you can afford to pay someone to make all your decisions for you.

Old gold

Which leaves us with quirky. Quirky is good. Quirky is individual and different. It’s not an excuse for cheapskates to spend less on presents for their loved ones at all. Nooo. No sir.

There are two quirky directions you can go in; vintage or designer. By vintage we, of course mean, second-hand. There’s no shortage of second-hand jewellery around but there’s one thing you need to know before you start buying up buckets full of old sovereign rings and chunky white gold necklaces to distribute among your friends. Not all old jewellery is created equal. You still need to:

  • Make sure you match the piece to the person
  • Avoid the downmarket and mass-produced
  • Check carefully with the jeweller to establish provenance (where it came from)
  • Do your research – look up details of the designer and check any marks

Young designers

Another option is to buy direct from an up and coming designer. Lots of extraordinarily talented people with degrees in jewellery design, fine art and textile production are eager for your business . As a result, bespoke, designer jewellery direct from new makers has never been more affordable. Try out:
Etsy - The online craft marketplace is ideal for finding new designers.
Artfire - Similar to Etsy and on the up and up.
Oxfam - Yes, Oxfam. The charity shop collaborates with young designers as well as selling vintage.

The same sites that host new designers are also a marketplace for vintage jewellery resellers. These are people who are steeped in hipness; in tune with what’s hot and what’s not. Of course, there’s a surcharge on top for a service like this. They have to make a living somehow. They have cats to feed and facial hair to wax.

So reluctant jewellery buyers of the world, fear not. Buying bangles and bracelets is easier than cold fusion, but slightly harder than servicing a boiler. And, remember, find out her ring finger size before you spend eight week’s wages.

How To Drink Absinthe and Not Go Insane

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The_Absinthe_Drinker_by_Viktor_Oliva

It is considered the scariest thing sitting behind the bartender’s head. The legends surrounding absinthe have been swirling around for generations. The ‘green fairy’ that poisons the drinker’s mind with Wormwood and causes hallucinations, wooziness and even madness. It’s even illegal, right? No, not for years. The levels of neotoxins contained in the drink and thought to affect mental cognition are too small to cause any trouble. So it’s not as dangerous as some fear, but it is still strong… and delicious! If you prepare it correctly.

WHAT IS THIS STUFF ANYWAY?

Absinthe-glassLike Coca Cola, Cornflakes and Irn-Bru (probably) absinthe may have started life as a medicinal tonic, brewed by a French doctor living in Switzerland. Though Wormwood infused wine had been in the drinks cabinets of the Ancient Greeks. It’s a flavoured spirit, featuring an infusion of herbs and flowers including sweet fennel, green anise and grande wormwood, plus a possible selection of other herbs such as hyssop, peppermint and coriander. The base ingredients will create a clear spirit (which is sold as ‘Absinthe Blanche’) but the addition of these herbs turns the concoction green and adds more flavour to the over-riding liquorice flavour of the anise. The craziness is said to derive from thujone, which is present in trace amounts. But studies have shown these tiny amounts can’t affect you and the reason people got sick and slightly deranged from absinthe abuse is because it has an incredibly strong alcohol content. Like all over-proof spirits, always drink it in reasonable amounts (and diluted but more of that later).

PARAPHERNALIA

Absinthe_spoonsThere is a veritable cult surrounding absinthe, with many famed artists and writers commending the spirit and claiming it inspired their work. In the late 19th Century it rose massively in popularity, especially in France, where Bohemian types quaffed it by the boatload. With all this historic significance and slavish following, lots of lovely bits and bobs have been designed to accompany the preparation of the drink. These include absinthe spoons, onto which you place your sugar cube and drop water and absinthe fountains which provide the chilled water for dilution, plus glasses and other receptacles. Obviously any self-respecting absinthe fiend needs to have all the proper equipment, to try and encourage the Green Fairy to appear.

VARIETIES

640px-Privat-Livemont-Absinthe_Robette-1896Just like gin, you can buy ‘distilled’ and ‘compound’ absinthe, one made from scratch and the other created by steeping the ingredients in another alcohol source. Purists always pick the distilled variety. The original and the best is Pernod Absinthe, first made in 1805 and the brand that all your crazed Boho types were drinking on the Parisian boulevards during the Belle Epoque. They recently tinkered with the recipe and relaunched with a crisper taste. If you are planning to crack open a very special absinthe for a christening or successful parole hearing, Professor Cornelius Ampleforth produces a cold-distilled variety (at a hot hot price) which contains lemon and orange peel for extra tang. And for a good starter absinthe, pick Le Fee, the one with the slightly disturbing eye on the label that you’ve seen staring at you from bartenders’ shelves.

PREPARATION

Preparing_absintheThere is a simple adage that you can apply to absinthe drinking. Don’t over-complicate it. But then again,  don’t underthink it either. When absinthe was re-legalised in the States during the 1990′s, it was marketed as a Jager-style shot drink. Which it isn’t. In fact, that is a terrible idea, especially as most varieties have painfully high alcohol content. It needs to be diluted, with chilled water. And sweetened with sugar. That’s about it. Absinthe spoons have slots which the water sluices through as a sugar cube is held in place. But at a stretch, just use an ordinary spoon or a sieve or fish slice. Add 30ml of absinthe to a glass, place your spoon-like device across the rim of the glass, then very pure, very cold water is dripped over the sugar and into the glass. Usually three to four times more water than spirit is added. The absinthe will grow cloudy (or louche) as the sugar combines with it. Once all the water is added, use the spoon to dump in the rest of the sugar and stir the mixture to dissolve everything. No ice cubes, ever.

DON’T I SET FIRE TO SOMETHING?

Yeah, nobody really knows where that came from. Possibly. some old Bohos hopped up on Wormwood just started setting fire to things because they were wasted or wanted to see some pretty flames. But setting fire to the sugar before adding it to the absinthe just burns the alcohol and effects the taste. It’s known as the Czech method, but purists don’t appreciate it.

COCKTAILS

640px-Absinthe_fountainDespite blathering on about the purity and cultish devotion to absinthe, there are some cocktails that have been deemed acceptable by the aficionados. Perhaps the most famous is Sazerac, where a very small amount of absinthe is used to coat a glass to which rye whisky, sugar and bitters are added. The Green Beast adds a dash of lime juice to the usual water and sugar combo. For traditionalists the Death in the Afternoon was devised by Hemingway himself and combines absinthe and champagne while Absinthe Suissesse adds the almond flavoured syrup orgeat plus egg white and cream to make the most decadent milkshake ever created.