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7 apps I’ve been using in lockdown (none of which involve exercise)

Everybody’s screen time time is up, but we don’t need to feel guilty about it. There is a lot to be gained from apps, whether that’s learning, relaxing, or cooking. Here is a collection of my favourite 7. None of them involve exercise, and all are free.

  1. PictureThis, for the newly green fingered

Nature is at it’s most vibrant at the moment, and perhaps a little more wild and unkempt than usual. I don’t know if I would have made the concerted effort to go and experience this beautiful spring we’re having if it wasn’t a once a day lockdown treat. This app is like Shazam for all things botanical. You just take a picture of the plant and upload it to find out the details of the floral displays growing along your walk, or in your garden (especially useful for first-time kitchen gardeners – that’s not a weed, its a potato!) You can also look at a map and see what other users have seen growing nearby (or anywhere in the world, for that matter). It will also tell you where the plant’s name comes from, what it symbolises, and it’s a guide to its growing preferences.

2. SuperCook, for the lazy or thrifty cooking newbie

If your local supermarket is out of Heinz…

Lockdown is making home chefs of us all, but with limitations of what’s available from the shops. I have been searching for weeks for bicarbonate of soda to no avail, and eggs are just an urban myth to me now. This app asks you to add the food you have in your storecupboard/fridge/spice rack to your digital ‘pantry’, either by scrolling through the list (neatly categorised into dairy/meat/baking & grains etc) and selecting what you have, or using its voice recognition tool so you that you just dictate what you see in your kitchen. Then, it pulls recipes from all over the internet, that you can make without leaving your home or buying anything new. I can currently make 4,475 things, which holds a refreshing feeling of potential.

3. BlockuDoku for the anxious type A

Terrible placement of blocks created for illustrative purposes only

This is like a really peaceful version of Tetris. You do have to change your mindset from best game to come out of the 80s in that 1) there is no time limit to make decisions, 2) you get rid of 3×3 cubes, as well as 9×1 rows, and 3) there is no gravity – your blocks don’t descend from above. You can also see what would happen if you placed the block where you’re thinking and then change your mind. It’s satisfying, soothing, and takes you to such a safe place that I used to look forward to my commutes, just so I could play it. What a sad little life Jane, I hear you cry. Perhaps so. But my dishwasher loading skills have greatly improved, so who’s laughing now?

4. Bird Song Identification AI, for the wannabe twitcher

I have never seen either of these birds with my own eyes

It’s like Shazam but for bird song. The user interface is pretty beta, and it said it was 99% sure it heard a Eurasian Eagle-owl hoot 11 times, when the only thing that was making a sound was a wood pigeon. Still, if your daily walk is often accompanied by birdsong, it’s a great way to find out which extra shy birds are hiding in the canopy, and it satisfyingly loads them into a stream for you to read more about, and playback their song. 

5. Vivino, for the borderline alcoholic who wants to justify their drinking

Whispering Angel’s cheaper sister

Again, another Shazam type app, but this one shows you the average rating for the wine, plus price, and taste notes just by scanning the bottle’s label. I used to use this in the supermarket, but now with the queues building and a social responsibility to get in and out as quickly as possible, I scan my booty once back home to work out which one to drink first. The better wine should always go first, before your tastebuds get drunk and don’t give a shit about notes or noses (not that they do when I’m sober). You can also use this to decide what to select if you’re getting home deliveries of wine. My wine aficionado friend says anything over 4 stars will be really good. It’s also worth mentioning there is a serious wine community here and that your comments on the wine are public. Note to self: they are not notes to self. ‘Not as nice as the one last night’ does not help anyone.

6. Duolingo, for those optimists planning trips already

Fun fact: croissant in English is ‘croissant’

Yes, I may well have got an A in French GCSE with no revision (pause for applause), and I may well have been fluent in French until the age of 3 (pause to absorb impressed face of the reader), but there’s no time like lockdown to brush up on lost skills or make good that lie on your CV about being of ‘conversational’ level. Plus, the lessons are really easy. They asked me to translate the sentences ‘un croissant’ and ‘une pizza’ the other day. Feeling pretty good about getting that right, 15 years post failed attempts at verb congregation. 

7. TikTok, for the cool cats and kittens who need to keep their finger on the pulse

Carole Baskin killed her husband, whacked him. Can’t convince me that it didn’t happen.

I can’t floss. Hell, I can’t even dab. I swear it must be an evolution thing, and people over 25 were not genetically predisposed to move their bodies like Gen Z, Gen Alpha or beyond. But you’ve gotta keep your finger on the pulse lest you reemerge from quarantine a Luddite. And there is something deeply satisfying about watching people move so in sync to new snippets of new music (Absolute 80s listener over here), and heartwarming when the olds are invited to do join their grandchildren. Also, where else would I get my Tiger King fix, other than seeing two teenage girls transform themselves into Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin and then rapping about it to the beat of Savage.

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Recommendations Shopping

5 non essential things that make working from home slightly more bearable

Welcome to a piece of content that will not mention the c-word, nor describe anything as unprecedented. Except that is, for describing this unprecedented blog post of mine.

There’s no time like an economic crisis to a) start a side hustle and b) encourage people to buy things! So (legal jargon alert!) I’ve signed up to be a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Now on with the show. Here are 5 thingsI have and ordered from Amazon Prime make the monotony of life a little bit more interesting.

  1. A wooden tray desk, £32 (to further blur those blurry lines between weekday and weekend)

Reminiscent of 1950s school days, this sits on top of my actual desk to stave off scoliosis. I’ve customised mine with vandalism abstract doodlings of a wandering mind, using a biro and a compass, to really tap into that classroom nostalgia. The top can be pitched at an angle, easel style, for those rediscovering their artistic side. It also has a little drawer to hide stationery, secrets or snacks (no doubt you’ll at some point forget about the chocolate bar you stashed away and it will bring twice the measure of joy when you find it again). For weekends, it can be used for bed-based activities like watching Netflix or eating breakfast, due to the charmingly generous way it’s legs will skim your hips and thighs (Joe Wickes who?)

2. Blue light blocking glasses, £11 (because it’s less pretentious than the ones in UO which have zero function)

No one wants to think about their exponentially rising screen time, but it’s happening. But what if there was a way to combat the eye fatigue that blue light projects? Well there is, Kevin! I’ve been wearing fake glasses for a month now, and I can confirm I feel and look more intelligent (click here for #science). It also works wonders on conference calls, hiding those dehydrated eye bags and mascara free eyes.

3. A fancy water jug, £17, (because your Chilly’s is a sad reminder of a time when you were allowed to commute)

Water = increased productivity. So I suggest you mimic the serotonin spike from water cooler gossip with your work BFF with a different kind of thrill. Fill a sexy glass bottle with some fresh mint, lemon slices, or cucumber. Or all 3 at once. It will makes you feel like you’re at a spa, even if you haven’t showered for 4 days (guilty). Stay hydrated, kids.

4. Electric fly swatter, £8 (because staying active is essential)

I’m a vegetarian and a pacifist, but man alive those houseflies inviting themselves in just because my window is open is a fucking liberty. The way they bounce off imaginary boundaries to wrestle in the centre of my room is infuriating. So, I’m going to take their shit sport and raise them – electrocution tennis. Less messy than your regular fly swatter (this stuns rather than kills most of them) it will keep your reflexes sharp if you’re missing racquet sports.

5. Noise cancelling headphones, £37 (because I’m not paying 3 figures just to hear a sick bass )

Lockdown is amplifying everything – from emotions to the sounds your partner makes. Chewing, humming, typing, breathing. Although we work in different rooms, I can still hear my boyfriend clearing his throat through the wall in a really specific 3 beat rhythm. Every. Single. Time. These head phones help block it all out, particularly in addition to using Noisli, a brilliant white noise app that can transport you to cafes, forests, rivers, or even to transport itself.