Thursday, 17 April 2008

Godchild: Murder, decadence and Victorian London

Recently I've become addicted to the Godchild manga series about a nobleman, Earl Cain, who becomes head off the cursed Hargreaves family after the apparent death of his father.

But his father is very much alive and leads Delilah, a secret society bent on causing destruction in London.

Cain, the handsome but eclectic noble (he collects poisons) finds himself investigating mysterious deaths as he tries to uncover the truth about his family.

Godchild is a dark, Gothic tale about the more sinister world of the upper class and is a gripping read, both with its fascination with death and the story's re-working of well known nursery rhymes.

As villains go, Cain's father Alexis is an excellent puppet master pulling the strings behind the scenes whilst his half brother, Doctor Disraeli, takes much pleasure in inflicting cruelty.

As manga's go, this series has one of the best endings, both flamboyant and menacing, sad and hopeful, Godchild delves into the more murky side of friendships, revenge and betrayal and asks if hate could ever be something else.

I will miss this series, only Godchild could make the bourgeois world of the wealthy so entertaining and suitably devilish.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Saying Goodbye to dEUS

The moment I realised that journalism had taken over my life was when I opened up the Metro newspaper to discover that one of my favourite bands, dEUS, are playing London tonight - and I didn't even know anything about it!

It was too late to buy a ticket and I stumbled off the tube train absentmindedly, a little taken aback by the shock, but on reflection, it was only then I realised how much my life has moved on.

My journey with dEUS began when I was 17 and a decade later I still love their music, being a teenager was tough but music gave me something to believe in and dEUS's music somehow found it's way into my cynical teenage heart and stayed there ten years later.

Not many bands can make you believe in the world that much more, but dEUS have this very special charm, although they have a different musical style with every album, they always somehow still manage to, "Sound like dEUS."

Walking around London, I felt a little saddened by my own realisation, Tom and his music was always there, even when sometimes my own friends weren't, I hope that one day I will see them play, but I feel that my own life may be moving in another direction.

The road ahead is full of promise, even I don't know where the future may lead, but I wish for a little kindness on my journey.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Switch: When manga goes NYPD Blue

Anyone remember NYPD Blue?

I'm showing my age here, but the manga Switch has a similar feel to the TV show as the series follows two rookies working for the Narcotics Control Division in Japan, as they bust some drug dealers in this visually impressive gritty manga.

Let's start with Kai Eto, the childish looking new recruit who arrives late on his first day on the job just as his colleagues are about to bust a bad guy.

This earns him the nickname, 'Good for nothing,' from Hal Kurabayashi, his cigarette smoking, dead pan talking partner, as the unlikely duo try to stop the distribution of Dragon Speed, the new drug being trafficked by the Ryugen syndicate.

Before you even get to the end of the first chapter, you find out Kai has a very violent side and this is only the first of the many surprises hidden in the manga as the duo encounter turf wars with the local police.

Switch packs more than a few punches along the way as Kai and Hal go undercover in the celebrity world to track down the Ryugen, but these guys are more than a match for our heroes.

Slick, engrossing and fast paced, Switch is a detective mystery that keeps you hanging until the very last page, it's been a long time since I've read a manga this good never has there been a manga so street and so good!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

It's a Host Club thing!

Okay, I just wanted to do a post with the words HOST CLUB in my title just to see how many people visit my blog - did I lure you?

I've been reading the recent manga scanlations for Ouran High School Host Club and although it's a fun and silly manga today's post is about the surprising things I've learned from this series:

1) Good friends will always be there for you - Tamaki, the self proclaimed Host Club king is frankly a bit of an idiot, but he's a foolish idiot, so we forgive him!

But when the Newspaper Club at the school try to tarnish his name (naughty, naughty - bad journalists!) his club mates protect him as he was the one who brought them all together.

2) You shouldn't hide who you really are - Tamaki teaches Hunny that no matter how much he tries to hide his love for fluffy toys and cakes by doing martial arts, he would only be lying to himself, so Hunny embraces his cute side and is more happier for it.

3) Being different builds character - The twins, Kaoru and Hikaru, have always been in their own world and being the same causes a big fight between the twins, but as they start to embrace their individuality they realise that no matter how they try to show the world they are different from each other, they will always be twins and that is something they should feel proud off.

4) Try new experiences - One of Tamaki's motto's which I have recently adopted, is to explore the unfamiliar and to do more of the things that make me smile.

5) People aren't there to be used - Kyoya, who runs the Host Club behind the scenes has always thought that people are there to be used, or to make profit, but Tamaki competes against him in a race to remind him that sometimes its good to do useless and foolish things with nothing to gain.

Kyoya comments that he already knows this, otherwise how else could he hang out with them?

Given the club's outrageous antics, Kyoya has a point.

6) Host Club is the ultimate Cosplay Club - Seriously, to end on a light hearted note, even rich boys do cosplay (although some will deny it.)

Don't believe me? Just type cosplay and Ouran host club into You Tube and this is what you get.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Credit crisis hits UK consumers wallets

Consumers in the UK could soon be strapped for cash as the effects of the credit crisis starts hitting our wallets and here's what you can do about it:

Today's cover story in The Times focuses on how the effects of the credit crisis will hit millions of families

Normally a cut in interest rates will bring the cost of mortgages down, however, many banks have decided to increase fees and charges which will see most mortgages going up, especially those on variable rates which will see a rise in demand for fixed rate mortgages.

Holiday makers
Anyone going abroad this summer will get less for their money, especially if you are heading to Europe as the pound slumps against the Euro, so make sure you get your currency commission free.

So far, banks are keeping current interest rates, but this could change by the end of the month, so keep an eye out on Best Buy savings tables and look at online accounts which often have higher rates than branch accounts.

Cost of buying fuel is going up but drivers can check petrol prices in their area to find the cheapest deal at a local petrol pump.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

My work in Zest

A couple of months back I went on a three week work experience placement at Zest magazine to learn more about how a magazine is put together and the work I did is now appearing in the current May edition of the magazine.

Turning to the back of the magazine, I sourced the celebrity quotes for the Fit and Famous page which focused on the model, Heidi Klum, and this was where I learnt that research skills are vital for a journalist.

It was a lot of work finding good quotes but it was nice to see a celebrity who is actually happy with her body image and has a healthy appetite towards food.

If you squint, you will see my name along the right hand margin, seeing my name in print again is a great feeling and I am really proud of the work I have done.

I also compiled The Life Workout, which is a three page special on a particular theme, this issue it's about how to boost your brain power.

This involved finding brain teasers, looking at recent medical studies, sourcing copy and interviewing a life coach on how to remember names.

Smart spending to encourage saving!

As my blog mostly focuses on saving money, today I thought I would look at the opposite side of the spectrum - spending:

1) What do you spend your money on? - Most budgets just look at the basics such as rent, electricity, food but it's always worth customizing your budget to reflect your life.

If you have a big hobby, put that on the list and if you are a student, don't forget all that cash that goes on stationary and books, anything that's a big expenditure, jot that down too.

2) Where can I get a better deal? - Now create a new column on your piece of paper and think, where can I get a better deal? if you buy a lot of books, a recent find has been The Book Depository, which often undercut Amazon prices and gives free delivery which will save a few quid each time.

3) Explore the alternatives - Keep going through the list with more ways to get things cheaper, love labels? check out TKMaxx, buy a lot of DVDs? hire them instead or start your video club amongst friends if you all have the same tastes.

4) Rank your shopping list - Start prioritising your spending, putting the most important item at the top with an 'A' - often you will find the things further down are less important and perhaps things you can live without, so shop online instead and you can save even more money, freeing up time on the weekend for more fun things.

5) Build up the piggy bank - Take all the cash you have saved and put this in a piggy bank, every time you don't buy a magazine or resist that takeaway, put the cash you would have spent into the bank and see how much you can save, last month by doing these hidden savings, I raised an extra £50.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Wasting food costs Brits up to £400 a year

You may be surprised to learn that chucking leftover food into the bin costs British household's on average between £250 and £400 a year.

Today's blog happened by accident, as I'm home at the moment my mum was telling me to get off the computer and do something 'useful', what actually transpired to be: "Go cook lunch", as we all often waste food, today's blog is all about what you can do with your leftovers, so here is my recipe for spicy chicken bolognese:

Put two tablespoons of oil into a wok and dice up one small onion adding 1/2 teaspoon of chili and a 1/4 spoon of turmeric and garam masala followed by half a red pepper and cook for a couple of minutes.

Now peel and chop some button mushrooms, vegetarians can also add courgettes, carrots and chickpeas instead of meat and cook for five minutes.

In goes two chicken breasts to feed three very hungry mouths and cook for another five minutes until the chicken is tender.

Now cook the pasta according to packet instructions, I find boiling a kettle full of water first and adding this to the pot first speeds up the cooking time and remember to add a pinch of salt.

Here's where I cheat and add a jar of Dolmio Spicy Bolognese sauce and if you like things extra spicy just chop up and add some fresh chillies to the mix.

Turn down the heat and allow to simmer for five minutes adding some fresh coriander leaves towards the end to give the recipe an extra kick.

Hey presto! Spicy chicken bolognese, for more information on what to do with your leftovers, click here.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Shopahalics get out of debt guide

If you're finding that credit cards and wanting the new 'It' handbag is taking over your life, then this guide is for you, to help you on the road to financial freedom:

1) Reality check - Okay, lets do the scary part first, open up all those letters from the bank and the credit card companies and jot down on a blank piece of paper everything you owe, sometimes you have to see the bigger picture, before you can take action.

2) Tackle your debts - Before you even think about saving, make clearing your debt your top priority as the interest on your cards will cancel out any interest on your savings.

Now put your debts in order, start by paying off the most expensive debt first whilst paying the minimum on the others and when the first card is cleared, move onto the next one.

Alternatively, transfer all your cards to a 0% credit card, this way you will be paying off the actual amount rather than just the interest.

3) Make a budget - Write down all your essential expenditure like gas, electricity, rent, travel, food, card repayments and minus this from your monthly wage - what you will have left is your monthly budget, divide this by four and now you will know how much disposable cash you have per week.

Leave all your credit cards at home and pay for everything with cash, this will give you a real sense that you are actually spending your money.

4) Cut back everywhere - Think of all the ways you can save cash: borrowing magazines/books from friends rather than buying them, only having one evening out per week, breakfast at home and taking a packed lunch to work will all help to save cash.

5) Get all the freebies you can - Now that you are on a budget, grab all the freebies you can, a friend of mine always gets samples from the beauty counters from department stores, even carrying a small pot in her handbag, so that if they say they don't have samples, she will squeeze the cream into her container.

I know this is cheeky but its saving her a fortune on skincare, also check out the internet for free samples too.

6) Swap shopping for culture - Instead of shopping, look at whats happening in your city that's free, London is free is a great website for free and fun things to do, so see whats happening in your own city.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Counting the cost of Loyalty Cards

Gone are the days when shoppers were just loyal to their one favourite store, open up your purse or wallet and most likely you will find two or even three cards, but do these cards offer value for money and how you can make loyalty cards work for you?

1) Avoid points temptation - If you always buy from a regular store, a reward card could be good for you if that's where you spend your money anyway, but don't be too tempted by points alone, look at how much you are spending first and look online for promotional vouchers which can cut the money you spend in the first place.

2) Supermarket sweep - Food shopping is usually one of the biggest bills of the week and with food costs increasing, its worth having one or two 'loyalty' cards for the different supermarkets and check out My Supermarket first to compare the cost of your weekly shopping at the different stores and then take your card with you on your trip.

3) What will you use your cards for? - One of my friends who has a Boots card uses her card for a specific reason, rather than spending the points during the year, she uses her points at Christmas time combined with the 3 for 2 deals on presents to reduce the cost of Christmas shopping.

If you have a Boots card, it's also worth bulk buying essential toiletries at their triple-points weekends to get more points on the things you most frequently use.

4) Coffee addicts - Keep your eyes peeled for loyalty cards in places you wouldn't think to find them, both Caffe Nero and Starbucks have cards too if you simply have to get coffee on the run.

5) Student discounts - Student discounts seem to shrinking but students who use their NUS card to claim discounts can save money at places including Amazon and Superdrug.

6) Beware the loyalty credit cards - I was once nearly sold a 'loyalty' credit card in a shoe shop, of all places, so be wary of anyone approaching you with a clipboard, they are usually only after your money!

Store cards often have higher rates than bank cards, these cards are okay for people who can pay off their balances on time, but if you are prone to overspending, keep away, these are an easy way to rack up even more debt.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

China Comics Now: Rebellion, gangsters and philosophy

Although I've read lots of Japanese manga and the Korean equivalent, manwha, I must confess I know almost nothing about Chinese comics, so it was with more than just a little curiosity that I visited the Manhua - China Comics Now exbibition yesterday.

Comics by their very nature are a visual art form but what I saw were very stylised images: glossy rich colours by Benjamin depicting rebellion gothic-rock style, pictured above, to super cute bubblegum pop characters, all the way through to the more gritty underworld of Hong Kong gangsters.

Reading the comics with english translations, I quickly discovered stories about dreams, hopes, fears and trying to make your way in a world which is not only unfair but also unkind, what might appear to be a childlike story can turn out to be a discussion about philosphy and the meaning of life.

Whether its a story about a boy who wishes he could fly or the fable like re-telling of the Tower of Babel, nearly all the comics deal with freedom, choice and dealing with life's unexpected moments.

With such rich art work and intriging storylines, it did make me wonder why we don't see these books alongside Japanese manga in bookstores, because I think these books would make a welcome addition to any manga fan's bookshelf.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Money and happiness: Can money make you happy?

There was an interesting article in the Metro today about the new findings from the Office of National Statistics, that despite the fact that we have more money than twenty years ago, we do not appear to be any happier for it.

So today's blog is an exploration about whether or not money can actually buy you happiness and here are some thoughts on the subject from over the years:

Wants and needs

As reported in Newsweek, economists claim that money can buy you happiness but apparently we get less happiness from satisfying needs than wants and the surprising revelation that Americans who earn more than £5m per year are in fact not that much happier than those who earn $100,000 a year.

The article also points out that:

'...An expanding paycheck, especially in an expanding economy, produces expanding aspirations and a sense that there is always one more cool thing out there that you absolutely have to have.'

So no matter how much we have, we are always left wanting even more.

Can money make you happy?

Another survey by University College Berkeley, which followed high earning MBA students found that if you value money, then it will make you happy.

However the researchers also suggested that everyone should consider the following:

"Will having lots of money impact your well-being enough to justify you spending 12 hours a day, every workday, doing something you hate?"

Money and fame

You only have to take a look at car-crash celebrities like Britney to see that despite her success and wealth, her life is leading her down a bumpy road and that not even money can protect you, if you are your own worst enemy.

The grass is always greener...

But taking a look at an old article in Forbes magazine it's all about us wanting something our neighbour has and the power and security that money can bring.


After much contemplation, I remembered something the singer from the Bluetones once said on the subject of money, that you can still feel miserable in comfortable surroundings, an image of a sulking singer in a plush room sprang into my mind, but I do think he has a point.

I remember an old friend who got a rich boyfriend and suddenly all she talked about was his money (not even the boyfriend got a mention, just the cash), or the old work colleague who always dropped hints that he has rich friends and somehow I kept wondering, is it really that simple?

Perhaps it's all too easy to think you can find happiness at the bottom of your wallet.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Budget troubleshooting

Ever since I started this blog, a number of people have asked me: "Isn't it hard sticking to a budget?"

The short answer is yes, but if you are trying to take control of your finances, don't give up just yet, I will be talking about why you should keep trying along with some of my tips on how to stick to your budget in today's blog:

1) How do I budget? - Everyone overspends on things that they don't really need, so by setting a limit on your spending, you will encourage yourself to be more savvy with the money you do have, whilst stashing away cash for a rainy day or pay off a debt.

Here's how to budget, if you've never done one before, it's basically about spending less and getter more value for your money on what you do buy.

2) Costly lifestyles - If you are always in the red every month, it's a sign that you are living beyond your means and if this has become a regular thing for you, chances are you may be dipping into your savings to pay for your lifestyle or borrowing money (either as a loan or a credit card)which is the quickest way into further debt.

Re-prioritise how you use your money, instead of shopping, start using that money to pay what you owe and once that's done, move that money into a separate account to save for the future.

3) The power of advertising - A friend of mine who has recently gone on a budget has said instead of going shopping, she now goes window shopping, which may not sound fun, but everyday we are bombarded with images of things we are told we should own.

So what do you do when you see something you really want to buy? Take the three day test, walk away and if you still decide you need it after the cooling off period, only buy it then.

But not until you see if you can get it cheaper online, or double check at home to see if you already own something similar.

If you still have doubts about whether you should buy it, think about how many hours it would take to pay for it, spending money is easy, but earning it, well... that's a different story.

4) Reward yourself - When I was re-paying my student loan, I would reward myself for sticking to my budget by giving myself a little treat on the weekend, such as a slice of cake or a book from a second hand bookshop, building small incentives along the way will keep you going until you reach your target.

5) Social dilemma's - This is the quickest way to blow your budget so limit evenings out to once a week and look for cheaper alternatives such as a popcorn and movie evening or a hot pot dinner where all the guests bring along one dish to eat.

If your friends keep pushing you to come out, be upfront and say you can't afford it or that you are trying to save money and suggest one of the ideas above.

If you would like to know more about successful budgeting, check out these handy tips.