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“You couldn’t do what I do by fucking around with tarot cards and pretending to read auras.”

This confession comes from a 43-year-old psychic medium who, for this article, wishes to be known as Sandra*.

If you’re one of her clients, Sandra appears as a gifted clairvoyant who has been practising for almost 15 years and whose grandmother possessed the “second sight”.

But to those who know her best, she confesses much of her art is a mixture of social media research, clever decoration, and sizing people up. Or, what harsher critics would deem, a scam.

As a friend-of-a-friend, Sandra has agreed to chat about the most sinister of her dark arts and even perform a reading — promising to reveal any tricks she employs along the way. …


How ancient techniques can allow you to unlock the full potential of your memory

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If you’re anything like me, information isn’t adhesive — it fleets from your memory as quickly as it enters. In an interconnected and online world, we are inundated with a constant flood of information that our untrained minds attempt to store with a frankly dismal success rate.

The temperamental, unpredictable quagmire that is your memory is quite capable of blanking on the name of somebody you know well, but equally capable of remembering verbatim some philosophical quote from a university lecture many moons ago — our memory seems to work enigmatically.

So, when contestants, named “memory athletes” enter the halls of the World Memory Championships they are faced with daunting memory tasks, such as The tapestry of Me, where competitors attempt to remember a 50-line unpublished poem in 15 minutes, or, Speed cards, in which they must memorise the order of one shuffled deck of playing cards as quickly as possible; the record for which, is an unfathomable 13.96 second(s). To the layman, it’s a struggle to pinpoint exactly how this is even possible. …


Overly zealous drug laws are putting lives at risk

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“If we went out raving and we were both going to take Es but you scored the E, and I took it willingly and died, the argument is: ‘should you be held legally responsible for my death?’”

It’s a pretty simple question, posed by Chris Brady from The Loop, a drugs-testing and harm reduction service. It cuts to the core of an issue that, as a sometime recreational drug-taker who has had a few misadventures with drugs but thankfully survived to drone on about it, I’ve thought quite a lot about.

I’m not really sure if I’ve ever nearly died, but one of the times I felt closest I was surrounded by my mates, pleading for help, while they laughed. …


Ethics aside, which is less harmful to the environment?

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There’s a good chance you’re rocking some faux fur at the moment or at least have some tucked away in your wardrobe somewhere. Maybe it’s that red fluffy key chain or the inside of your winter jacket, your fuzzy earmuffs, maybe the lining of your bag, or those boots. Faux fur is dominating the fashion industry as the alternative to real fur.

It appears to be the more ethical choice for British shoppers because no animals are harmed in its production. After all, from #veganuary to the ban on plastic straws, environmentalism is totally in vogue right now, right?

Many big fashion houses like Chanel, Gucci, Versace, Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo, which originally popularised fur in the fashion industry, have recently turned away from using exotic animal skins and real fur, and are now using synthetic versions and fluffy faux furs. And at the other end of the market, clothing stores like H&M, Primark and Forever 21 are regularly updating their inventories with ethical fashion in mind, to keep customers with a lower budget up to date with the latest trends. …


The live-action remakes miss the magic of traditional animation

Disney continues to roll out live-action adaptations of their animated classics with Dumbo failing to fly, The Lion King rising hopefully over the horizon and Lilo & Stitch glimpsed out in the deep space of the future like a distant planet. “Live-action” isn’t exactly the best way to describe these movies — every single character in The Lion King will be digitally animated — but it’s clear that the term refers to the batch of copyright extending remakes the House of Mouse is pumping out.

These remakes have had a mixed reception. This is as much down to our nostalgia for the classic as it is the film-makers execution but, without reviewing every single one of these flicks — that is without having to sit through them again — and reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of each film, here is why the originals will always have the advantage. …


The music legend who knew Stevie Wonder, Burt Bacharach and Elvis tells us how he ended up living in a small town near Leeds

“We’re a proper pub; we smoke, we drink, we swear,” says Julie Lockwood, pointing to a neon-lit sign which reads “Fuck off” in a newly refurbished, saloon style bar dedicated to her father’s memory at The Lion.

The Lion is indeed a proper pub. Found in the heart of Castleford, labourers wearing paint-stained overalls file in throughout the afternoon to sup lager and play on the fruit machine. One worker sits alone at the bar in a grey vest singing along to Stop Crying Your Heart Out by Oasis. …


It’s all about fun and self-expression — and never wearing jeans

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“You have emos, you have punks and you have rock persons. I am a chap.”

Daniel Hutchinson, 33, is the epitome of a British gentleman or what you might call a “chap”. By celebrating the English eccentric gent, chaps like Hutchinson are on a quest for good manners and are against the banality and homogenisation of popular culture. It is not only just a sense of fashion but an ethos.

As he strolls into the café, He is wearing a grey-herringbone tweed suit with a handkerchief in his left breast pocket, a black tie with white dots and sharply pressed trousers. He takes his hat off and neatly places it on a lamp revealing his combed-back hair. …


Remembering a great show that’s not good enough to be rebooted, reimagined or ruined

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Remember when all television was at a set time, on a set channel, on a set day? Remember some of the clockwork rituals which accompanied it?

American wrestling, recorded in the middle of the night to be enjoyed after school with your tea, on a fuzzy VHS recording, fingers crossed it wouldn’t cut off before the main event. The Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to help transition from children’s TV to adults. Sometimes a chippy tea and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Saturday night with Shooting Stars, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and the ultimate cult show, Red Dwarf, well past bedtime, even for a Saturday. Match of the Day if your parents let you stay up to watch it. …


Why toxic relationships are so hard to leave

I was in a toxic relationship for five years. It started right from the beginning, with my ex chatting to people behind my back — but I ended up forgiving him. However, the level of trust it ruined and the amount of insecurity it brought to the surface meant our relationship was never the same again.

The missing trust wasn’t the only “toxic” part. It’s everything else that came with it. We would constantly fight. We became distant. We stopped spending time together. We stopped going out. And, if you read my last column, you’ll know we stopped having sex.

My friends and family would tell me to leave; that it wasn’t healthy and it was ruining my mental health. And they were right. But I couldn’t find it within myself to leave. …


How sourdough bread is rarely what it claims to be

Food is political. This has always been the case, but recently the way we view food through a political lens has shifted. Andy Burnham talking about “posh coffee”. An Australian millionaire telling millennials to stop buying avocado toast. Politicians deliberately aligning themselves with well known high-street brands, whether that be Byron Burger, Greggs or Nando’s.

It is as if we have moved away from analysing the politics behind the industrial process of food manufacture, and now instead apply political and class associations to ingredients or products en mass. When it comes to sourdough bread, things get a little complicated.

Bread is the oldest recipe in the world. It’s flour, water, salt and a raising agent. Every country, every culture, has its own form of bread — it underpins everything — and indeed, that ancient recipe is closely replicated in what we call sourdough today, the key difference in it being the use of wild yeast that ferments slowly, versus industrial yeast that does it in a couple of hours. However, this ancient recipe now has a much loftier, trendier reputation. Sourdough is artisanal. Sourdough is a lifestyle choice. And crucially, sourdough is four quid a loaf, so no wonder it comes with this built-in middle-class cache. …

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The Overtake

All the best comment pieces and personal essays, featuring top journalists and some newbies too

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