Friday, 15 September 2017

Get stuck in: Voices of Ireland (no, not the TV show)

Soon, I'll be starting a new series, comprising interviews with Irish people and people living in Ireland from all backgrounds. These will encompass young entrepreneurs, musicians, and anyone with a story to tell.

While I have some great people lined up, I'd love to hear from you with some suggestions. Who would you like to hear from? Feel free to name names, or just professions or callings that you're interested in. Or, don't wait for someone to nominate you, contact me yourself!

Get me on twitter, Instagram, Facebook - even good (old?) email.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Get stuck in: Friend with social anxiety #GreenRibbonIRL

Today's blog is the first response from the submissions received in my previous post. I'm still accepting submissions for Green Ribbon month below, as outlined in my previous post.

Hi Virtual Papercuts, Your blog is great and addresses so many different things well done! My question is I have a friend who has anxiety, it mostly occurs in a social context, how do you help them without making them feel anxious?
Thanks for your question and encouragement!

The first point I’d make is that it is difficult to advise without knowing whether or not your friend has confided in you that they suffer with anxiety, or if you yourself have noticed that they appear to be anxious. If they have disclosed to you that they find social situations daunting and triggering, my first advice would be to ask them if there’s any way that you can help, or make things easier for them. Often, people know themselves what helps them best.

While my anxiety is more general, I do find social situations quite daunting, and before therapy etc, they were definitely one of the biggest sources of worry for me. Something I still prefer to this day is not to arrive to a group gathering alone. I am lucky enough that I’m usually attending social things with my boyfriend, and if I’m feeling particularly funny, I will ask him to meet with me even around the corner so that we can arrive together, if we're not both arriving from home. If it’s the case where there isn’t an option to meet with someone else beforehand, and especially if it’s a venue I’m unfamiliar with, I might look at pictures of the layout online, and will always want to know who in the “party” to expect on my arrival, and know where they’re sitting. These days for me, the most anxiety inducing part of social gatherings is usually the arrival, so if I set myself up well, I will have relatively plain sailing. If my “entrance” has been particularly stressful (no-one responding to texts with requested info, having to wander for a bit before finding the group), I might throw a quick “hi” at people, and excuse myself to the loos to take a moment for myself to breathe. This gives me a chance to get my bearings, and remind myself I can always excuse myself for a breather at any stage if the gathering proves overwhelming.

I suppose my advice for you, as a friend, is to keep an eye on your friend and make sure that if you offer to be a support in social situations that you actually make yourself available as a support. This might sometimes mean interrupting a fun conversation you’re having with someone to accompany your friend for a walk around the block for some fresh air and open space. It might mean asking someone to watch your drink while you meet your friend at the bus stop and walk in with them, because their anxiety has meant that they’re 2 hours late (even at this stage, a half hour late is on time for me). Only offer what you're comfortable to deliver on, and nothing that will visibly put you out in any real way, because anxious people feel like a burden by their very existence, and don't need to feel like they are any additional effort!

I think this is some good, but definitely not exhaustive, advice for you as a friend. It would be interesting to get a question from someone who has social anxiety themselves, as my advice to them would be very different!

It's #TimetoTalk, so I'd love to see a discussion in the comments on social anxiety, and even little things from non-anxiety suffers that make them feel nervous about social situations.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Get stuck in: Mental Health & Green Ribbon month

Mental health is becoming a more freely discussed topic in Ireland. As someone who deals with mental health issues, it is very heartening to see the conversation become more open, and that more people may feel they can ask for the help that they need. As May is Green Ribbon month, I think it's #TimetoTalk.

I definitely want to share my own experiences in order to help and inform, but I don’t think it would be exceptionally compelling to simply spew out 10+ years of battles with my brain all in one go. I would like to open the floor to you, and ask you to submit any questions that you have.

My own struggles have been with depression (then) and anxiety (now), and I would love to share my experience for anyone who is currently struggling, has a loved one who is struggling, or field questions from people who have no personal experience with mental health struggles, but are curious and want to be more empathetic. I definitely also plan on covering common misconceptions, so if you are someone who deals with some mental health problems and there’s a constant misunderstanding that really gets your goat, let me know.

While I can only speak of my personal experience (and so my views will not be all encompassing), I personally find it easiest to relate when the subject is humanised, and I also hope to create a discussion so that there are many views to consider and learn from.

For anyone who is interested, I would encourage you to submit your question in the contact box below. I will be choosing from the questions and writing a blog post in response, and you will remain completely anonymous.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Food review: La Cucina

In the premises of what used to be Lost Society on South William Street, La Cucina is in the basement of what is now Farrier & Draper. As it was my (strapped for cash) turn for "date night", and my stomach can be somewhat temperamental, I chose what looked to be a tasty Italian restaurant with a very decent early bird menu. After the meal, it is safe to say I would have paid a lot more based on how tasty the food was!

For starters, I chose something similar-ish to my "go-to" Caprese salad, which consisted San Daniele ham, buffalo mozzarella, vine tomatoes and fig preserve. As someone who could happily sit and eat a ball of mozzarella, I was in absolute heaven with this starter. The ham was beautifully salty, the mozzarella was creamy and heavenly without being too rich, and the sweetness of the vine tomatoes brought everything together. I tried the fig "preserve" (to me, it seemed like just a sliver of fig, possibly dried) for a few bites, but found it to be slightly too sweet. I feel in combination with a saltier cheese, it would have been a really nice addition.

Prosciutto – pro-SHOO-toe Bruschetta – bru-SKE-tah

My companion chose the bruschetta to start, which was a mix of classic, meat, & vegetarian options. Since we couldn't quite remember what was contained in each of the options and for fear of accidental mushroom ingestion by me (blegh), I tried only the "classic" - tomatoes, basil, & garlic. Again, I could have happily sat and eaten nothing but that for the rest of the evening. The tomatoes tasted as if they had just been picked - beautifully sweet and juicy, but not sickly. In fact, that's something that we noticed as the food was brought to our table - the aromas were so strong and fresh.

When choosing mains, we resorted to Google for some of the options (both "cep" and "chanterelle" are types of mushrooms!), and I settled on the Pappardelle which was a ragu of pork, nduja (sausage), garlic, tomato, & shavings of Pecorino Romano (cheese). I wouldn't usually associate pork with pasta, and it even took me a while to realise or remember what meat I was eating. I imagine it was a very slow cooked ragu, with the pork so soft and juicy, and melt in the mouth. The pappardelle pasta was, again, very fresh and cooked al dente as is to be expected in an Italian restaurant, but definitely not chewy, as has been my experience in the past. My one critique would be that I feel I had only 3 or 4 bites of sausage in the whole plate, but I must be honest in saying that I didn't miss it, because everything else was so tasty.

Pappardelle Risotto

The other choice at our table was the Risotto, with butter poached prawns, baby spinach, saffron, preserved lemon (not too sure what that is...) and radicchio. As someone who isn't the biggest fan of prawns, I tasted the rice only, and to my taste it was quite lemony, but I have reassurances from my fellow diner that the prawns were cooked to perfection.

At this point, I was very full, but my partner had spied a dessert that we had to try - mixed berry panna cotta with mini donuts (emphasis on the mini donuts). I would consider myself someone who does not have a sweet tooth, and it's not often that I would order a dessert, but I was definitely interested to try a bite of this so we shared. It turned out to be exactly what I like in a dessert - the sweetness of the panna cotta was cut by the tartness of the mixed berries. The mini donuts were kind of a weird addition but somehow worked; they weren't stodgy at all, just yummers.

Panna cotta Receipt

One 2 course and one 3 course meal from the early bird menu came to €47 (not including tip), which feels very reasonable based on the quality of the food and the accompanying atmosphere. I used OpenTable to make our booking, which advised that bookings were strictly for 2 hours, but we never felt rushed, and enjoyed chatting and listening to the funk and disco playing in the background. My one small pet peeve would be that it seems to be part of the recent trend where light is uncool (as experienced in The Blind Pig & The Chelsea Drugstore), so it was quite difficult to read the menu, but nothing that a little light from a phone won't fix.

Something which may have more of an impact for other diners is that, as La Cucina is in a listed building, it is currently not wheelchair accessible. I have been advised by Farrier & Draper management that they are currently working on a solution for access to their main bar area from South William Street via portable ramp, as well as the lower main bar area where food can be served. It is unclear whether or not there are accessible toilets in either La Cucina or the main Farrier & Draper building, for persons with reduced mobility. I found management to be quite responsive when I raised this query, so I would encourage anyone to contact them if you are interested in visiting.

I will definitely be visiting La Cucina again, and it will be added to the mental list I go through when feeling peckish in town with friends.

La Cucina (Farrier & Draper) ¦ 59 South William Street, Dublin 2 ¦

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Fillum review: Lion

I have been a bit too relaxed in my cinema visits recently, and it seems that everything is on its way out just as I finally find the time to see it. Not only was I forced to choose between Fences and Lion last Tuesday, I also had to make the very difficult decision of pancakes or cinema! As a lover of pancakes, my cinema choice had a lot to live up to, and luckily it turned out to be the right choice.

Entertainment Film

Lion is a "based on a true story" film about Saroo, a young boy in India who is separated from his family without knowing the name of where he lives, or even his own surname, and subsequently adopted for a life in Australia. As he grows up, though he seems to be content, new experiences and people in university bring back memories of his lost life and childhood, and he takes to Google Earth with memories from two decades prior, in the hopes of retracing his steps to find his childhood home and, with it, his family.

Before seeing Lion, I knew little of the story, other than the basic plot and cast, and specifically that the boy playing young Saroo was adorbz. Though my expectations were not particularly high, I was looking forward to seeing how the story played out, and anticipated some tears on my part. These tears cannot always be taken as endorsement, however, as I am a renowned crier, having recently burst into tears at the trailer for the live action Beauty & the Beast (which, in my opinion, does not look remotely appealing).

I was very happy for my expectations to be exceeded, and to experience an unexpectedly intimate and quiet film. With such a big story, set in big places, it would be very easy to push it through the Hollywood machine to churn out a film with as many sharp highs and lows as possible but instead, this extraordinary story feels very understated and personal. We spend the first half of the film with young Saroo (Sunny Pawar), his brother Guddu, and his family. As much as I grew to love them, it did not feel difficult to let go of young Saroo and meet him as an adult (Dev Patel) as the goodwill I had for Saroo travelled with him through the ages.

Entertainment Film

One of the main strengths of the film, other than the pitch perfect tone, was Dev Patel's performance as adult Saroo. Not being overly familiar with his work, and more so his appearances on TV chat shows, I was concerned that I would be constantly reminded of the actor, and not the character. Even though his Aussie accent isn't perfect, I found his portrayal of Saroo completely believable and altogether 3D as a character. He was an open, warm, and unselfconscious Aussie who we slowly realise feels quite at odds with his outward appearance. As he allows himself to remember his childhood in India, and begins to search for his family, he is pained but never once feels angsty or tortured, even as he isolates himself from his friends and loved ones. How the story is told cinematically (specifically the way Saroo's past and present interact with each other) is another great strength, and again it is Patel's performance which helps to keep things from being saccharine and overdone.

Though it doesn’t feel like an emotionally manipulating Hollywood story, this isn't to say that I didn't cry throughout the film - in fact, I believe the American students to my left and the young couple to my right may have believed me to have some personal stake in the outcome of the film, there were so many tears shed! In saying that, I see this as another testament to the unassuming feel of the film, as I didn't feel at any point that I was supposed to cry, and rather that the whole film was quietly moving as we go on an emotional journey with the characters.

As I've said, I'm a bit behind in my cinema going and it looks like Lion might be leaving cinemas quite soon, so I would encourage you to check your local listings and catch it before it goes. It's (another) PG film which doesn't feel cut or watered down, and deals with an extraordinary story while somehow making it feel very personal and, at times, relatable. The film and story is also a great example of why it's never appropriate to ask someone who doesn't look like you where they're really from, because they may not know the answer.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Fillum review: Hidden Figures

I’ve been very impatient to see Hidden Figures and so I recently went to my first ever Cineworld Unlimited screening. I’m a big fan of Janelle Monae and have been really looking forward to seeing if acting is something she excels at as well (spoiler: yep!).

20th Century Fox

Hidden Figures focuses on three black American women in the 1960s who work for NASA as computers (people who compute – yeah, that’s where that word came from!). The three main characters are based on real life women - Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), & Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) - who are working at the height of the “Space Race” between the USA & the Soviet Union.

There was a lot more laughter than I expected, with each of the leads feeling very familiar and identifiable, and quite modern in their attitudes to their own personal success and self-worth. Though on the outside the issues they encounter could broadly be put down to racism (and sexism), I really enjoyed the portrayal of three very different women, each fighting their own separate battle in their own individual way.

Though based on true experiences of the three women, the story is definitely dramatised, with timelines being shifted in order to provide all three leads with satisfying arcs which did not, in real life, take place at the same time.  In the cursory reading that I have done since seeing the film, the women in real life seem even more impressive than their fictional counterparts, so the changes made in the film are not exaggerating anything that the women did not actually achieve. I feel like there is still more story to be told about all three of these women, so it makes sense to condense some of their biggest achievements into the space of one film.

Something I liked less about the film was the attempt to make the white characters “redeemable”; without going into detail, I didn’t think it was necessary (or, let’s be honest, realistic) to have some of the white characters, such as Katherine’s & Dorothy’s bosses (Michael Keaton & Kirsten Dunst, respectively), be redeemed by their actions as soon as they suddenly realise that the women they work with are actual humans. Excuses are often made that these “white saviour” elements are added to ~challenging stories so that white people don’t feel maligned by the portrayal of the people they can most easily identify with. I can understand why it might be difficult for Joe Public to identify with NASA mathematicians, but the white characters are no more socially or intellectually accessible, and I think it is a cop out to imply that all of the women’s obstacles are removed once their white colleagues are made aware of the struggles that they face. In media, it’s frustrating that people of colour seem to have to exist in relation to white people, when their full stories can be told without an allied white person in sight.

20th Century Fox

In my own cinema experience, I found it jarring and disheartening that, while there were many moments intended to illicit laughter, the audience in my screening also laughed at the “separate but equal” coffee pot set out for one of the main characters when she is the only black woman in an office full of white men. I understand that laughter can mask or imply discomfort, but it also made me consider that some people really may not have sat with and absorbed the realities of that time, and therefore it may be more difficult for them to see the remnants of this discrimination in present day.

On a lighter note, Pharrell’s soundtrack had me bouncing in my seat (the song over the end credits is especially striking), the clothing in the film was beautiful and I covet it all, and Mahershala Ali is very, very easy on the eyes (and ears).

I would highly encourage everyone to see Hidden Figures – a PG film about smart women empowering themselves. It has been out in cinemas since 17 February 2017, and if you’re interested in preview screenings like the one I went to, you can sign up to Cineworld Unlimited using my Recommend a Friend code, and we both get a free month paid subscription, worth over €20. That code is RAF-70EL-68QZ-16WK-03XG.

Are you looking forward to Hidden Figures? What other films are you looking forward to over the next few months? Moonlight & Prevenge are both next on my list!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Netflix recommendation: Ethical clothing & The True Cost

I've recently started to think about where my clothes come from.

I've never been mad into clothes, I wouldn't really know anything about the latest trends unless by osmosis from my guilty pleasure interest in celebrity gossip, and I definitely couldn't be bothered to try them. There could be times where I had had a particularly difficult week in work, and in order to get pumped for the weekend ahead, I might look for a new dress or skirt or top. As a self-confessed cheapo, I would look in the usual places of Penneys (Primark), H&M, New Look, Forever 21, Bershka, etc. I figured, if I chose something especially outlandish or 'on-trend' and never wore it again, or if it was one of those materials that probably wouldn't survive the wash, well, it didn't exactly break the bank. I would look at people who seemed chained to brands, and feel secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) smug that I had paid as much for my whole outfit as they had for their t-shirt. As someone who hasn't really changed in size since my late teens, I still have clothes from 10 years ago that I could easily slip into tomorrow (though my clothing tastes are less technicolour these days), so when I finally do decide to do a clear out for the charity shops, there is a lot to go through and feel charitable about. If I got use out of them once or twice, and then send them to charity shops, it's basically a win/win, right?

I found The True Cost, a documentary on Netflix, to be eye opening in a way that it shouldn't be. That is, we should all really know this stuff already. Maybe other people do, and I've been sitting in my bubble, blissfully ignorant to the significance of my Friday evening clothing purchase. I would recommend watching the documentary because it will explain and present everything in a much more cohesive way, but I wanted to discuss the important bits that I took from it. I had heard, as I assume everyone has, of the terrible conditions that people work in when manufacturing clothes, poor wages, long hours, and lack of job security. I had even vaguely heard of a building collapse which killed many workers, which may have been connected to Penneys (Primark). I hadn't looked into any of this and, to be completely honest, I'm embarrassed to say that I assumed there had to be some part of the story that was not being reported on, because surely it couldn't be the fault of anyone for a building to collapse so suddenly? Surely it couldn't have been foreseen or preventable?

It turns out there were many things that I had never considered, such as the right to unionise, the effect that such low wages and long hours would have on single parents, and the toxic materials that factory workers encounter, as well as the effect that the disposal or treatment of these materials would have on the local population.

Henry Street/

The main thing I took away from The True Cost, however, was how I never considered what happens to those clothes that I send to charity shops when they've done their job for me, or what happens to the clothes that are not sold when there is a new collection (which often seems weekly). Have you ever wondered how, in old films, people seem to fit everything they need in such a small suitcase? Not so long ago, you would buy clothes to last, even getting them made to measure, and would only change with the change of seasons. You take things in or let them out if your size changed, and this would often be done by a local business, and you would mend them if they broke. In such a short space of time, we have evolved into an era of "fast fashion", which demands the latest fashion at the lowest prices, with quality and longevity being almost irrelevant. (I would sometimes want my clothes to rip or dye in the wash, so that I felt I had an excuse to buy more.) It's difficult to know who started the "fast fashion" movement, but there is now an unhealthy co-dependent relationship between the consumer and the fashion companies, where the consumer feels the need to update their look every month, and each retailer feels the pressure to continually churn out new collections at a low price in order to remain competitive. Would you be as likely to pop into Penneys every week if you knew they'd have exactly the same stock as the previous three months? So many retailers rely on casual purchases, where you might even be browsing with a friend, or using it as a meeting point, and still you'll come out having bought something, because why not? Well, that top that you bought and never wore and gave to the charity shop actually couldn't be sold, and was shipped to Africa, where they couldn't sell it either so now it's in their landfill.

I think we have a responsibility as consumers to make more informed decisions. Personally speaking, I am now aiming to not purchase any clothing at all. Any clothing I do purchase (either for a specific occasion or essential items that need to be replaced) I hope to source from an ethical company, and I will aim for it to be sustainable so that it does not need to be replaced again anytime soon. I learned, from a big move a few years ago, that living out of boxes and having only a few skirts, dresses, tops, and hoodies to rotate every week is not a bad thing. In fact, it's actually freeing to not have as many options and, if everything matches, there are still endless combinations to choose from. Going forward with this blog, I hope to enlist the guidance of some fashionable readers with making the most of the clothes that own, and wearing clothing combinations suggested by you that I might not have otherwise considered.

I would advise anyone and everyone to watch The True Cost, because clothing is something that we all have in common. If you're someone who only buys from Dunnes, or M&S, or pay far more money for your clothes that I would have -- you are not excluded. The higher price tag does not mean that the manufacturing is any more ethical than any other retailer. I'm not asking any action from anyone, other than to learn about the decisions you are making. We have a responsibility to make informed decisions, and if you watch The True Cost and still decide to make the same purchasing choices, at least you are doing it with your eyes fully open.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Are you already aware of "fast fashion" and the corresponding ethical, sustainable clothing movement? Have you seen The True Cost and had a different take?