I have lived in South East London (right inside the green circle) for my whole life. It’s a 25 minute overground train journey to Central London (referred to as Central for short). The squiggly black line in the middle is the River Thames (pronounced “Tems” – please note my pronunciation guides are half serious, half satire on my own ridiculous accent).
When I travel to other countries, I seek out the places the residents love to spend time, so I thought I’d share with you my favourite 5 London spots. Please feel free to comment with your favourites- either in London, or in your hometown!
1. Greenwich (pronounced “grenitch”) Park
Greenwich Park is just 15 minutes drive from my house and I’ve always loved it. My Dad always drove me here when I was feeling anxious, we used to pick chestnuts there in the autumn (I still try to) and it still makes me feel calm, like a landmark touchstone. Apart from beautiful views, I love visiting the Royal Observatory (where I used to work), and walking down the hill into the town and visiting Greenwich Market or walking by the river.
2. Borough (pronounced “burra”) Market
Food heaven, what more could you want? Endless stalls of enticing produce, my favourites are the Thai coconut pancake stall, and the cheese stall. There’s also a great takeaway pasta place which can’t be beaten. Plus there are brilliant restaurants around the market too, including one where everything on the menu involves chocolate!
3. Southbank Centre
There’s so much to do here, some of the best theatre, author talks, free art installations, a shops which are great for presents that are a bit unusual, endless restaurants, but my favourite thing is how much of the building you can access and just relax in. One of the top floors has a children’s library play area where little ones can crawl and run around, and another floor has sofas overlooking the Thames where I’ve spent hours reading a book, I’ve even fallen asleep there and no one has bothered me.
4. Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop (Covent Garden)
I love the buzz of Covent Garden, but this toyshop is so special. At the back of the picture you can see their speciality- cardboard pop up theatres, I love just going and looking at the craftsmanship of them. Plus there’s always a selection of toys which feel nostalgic but are still fun today, and you wouldn’t find them on the high street.
5. Cecil Court
Visiting this road is a must-do for any book lovers. It’s lined with shops rammed with antique books, first editions, as well as old second hand books at reasonable prices. There are also shop fronts with antique trinkets and a costume jeweller which has provided bling for films and tv shows, including Downton Abbey if you’re that way inclined. My favourite shop on this road is Marchpane, which specialises in children’s books, my most treasured copies of Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales First Editions are from there. It’s rumoured that the road was J K Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley of Harry Potter fame, I’m not sure if it’s true but it feels magical anyway
If you visit any of these places on my recommendation please do comment and let me know!
Today I woke up to an excited household. My parents were watching Pope Francis’s meeting with the Jesuits in the Philippines. My Mum is from the Philippines, and my Dad studied with the Jesuits there. Several of the Jesuits in the room are personal friends of theirs. I joined in watching the video, feeling happy that Pope Francis had experienced that Filipino sense of humour which I’ve grown up around.
Minutes later, this article came up, and my happiness quickly dissolved into anger:
I was brought up as a Catholic, and stopped going to church regularly when I was about 15. This article has reminded me why I don’t subscribe to Catholicism anymore. I’m always respectful of other people’s faiths, but as this is the one I’ve been brought up in, it angers me.
I have been a feminist for as long as I can remember. This doesn’t mean man-hater, it means I believe in equality between everyone. Banning contraception perpetuates inequality between men and women, and saying people aren’t fit to bring up a family just because of their sexuality is just sick.
I think it’s absolutely appalling that in this day and age, we have someone with so much influence in parts of the world, enforcing a ban on contraception. How is the world ever meant to beat the outbreak of HIV/Aids if we have the head of a church saying using contraception is wrong?
Long before I stopped attending church, I was very uncomfortable with how patriarchal it is. I would refuse to say parts of prayers which use ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ as a shorthand of referring to the whole human population.
It didn’t take me long to expand this thought to realise that the whole message throughout Catholicism is that women aren’t the same as men.
Women caused all the sin in the world
Women are only worth a mention during a catholic mass if they’re a Virgin
Women aren’t good enough to become priests
But I don’t think my ideology is limited to feminism, it’s a basic human right that we are all equal, and to have control of our bodies.
The ban on contraception reinforces inequality. By condemning birth control, it condemns women to perpetual inequality. They’re unable to take ownership of their own bodies, and firmly puts them in a subservient bilogical role of maternal nurturers. Because if women weren’t busy having babies, maybe they’d get ideas and want to be leaders!
Before I decided to stop attending the Catholic Church regularly, I tried to find a compromise. My logic was that as there’s an ‘actor’s church’, maybe there’s a feminist church. I googled feminist catholic church, and my horror escalated as I browsed through the results:
I literally wept while reading this. How could I continue to be part of a church which teaches people to think in this way?
As it seems women don’t stand a chance in the Catholic Church, it seems that gay couples have even less of a chance.
If heterosexual couples are such an ideal family configuration, then why can’t the same be replicated by a homosexual couple? Isn’t the key to it having loving parents? Why would it matter if a kid has two Dads, two Mums, or just a single parent?
It feels so much more personal that the pope has reinforced these messages in a country to which I attribute half of my heritage. They are a step backwards into times which humankind has since evolved from.
Wake up Catholics, it’s 2015.
Disagree with something I’ve said? Feel free to comment, I like a good debate!
This is me when I was a baby. You might notice there’s a feeding tube going into my nose, although it isn’t very clear as this was the late 1980’s when real life wasn’t even high-definition yet. The tube is important as when I was a baby I struggled to feed. It turned out that this was because I had an intolerance to cow’s milk. My doctor prescribed that I should be fed heavily with SMA Wysoy Soya Milk. Unfortunately this was to be the cause of a very serious problem which still affects me 24 years later. I decided to write about it here because my condition is one that very few people are aware of, yet it could easily effect any child in your life. Therefore I ask that after reading this you share it as widely as you can, if my story can help to raise awareness it’ll make everything I went through seem more worthwhile.
It is a little known fact that Soya milk contains a high level of a hormone called Phytoestrogen. This mimics the female sex hormone, Estrogen. As I was fed Soya milk several times a day, it meant that I was having a dose of hormone which was the equivalent of several contraceptive pills per day. My parents were unaware of this at the time, and the negative affect it had on my health, would not be detected until a few years later.
The first symptom I remember having, is when we were on holiday in the Philippines. I was 4 years old and kept complaining of a pain in my knee. Back then I described it as a ‘bendy knee pain’. I remember it being a sort of painful weakness which meant I couldn’t walk for long distances. I’m unsure what order the events which followed took place in as I was so young, but they all happened within a few months of each other:
When we returned from the holiday my parents took me to a doctor about the leg pain. I was given an X-Ray and it was discovered that my bone age was several years beyond what it should have been. This means that my bones had matured too fast. In the same period of time I went into puberty aged 4. My menstrual cycle began, and my body started to develop as it only should have at the normal age to go into puberty. I was referred to the Endocrinology Clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital, where Dr Richard Stanhope was put in charge of my case. After an MRI scan it was found that a cyst had developed on my Pituritary Gland (the gland which controls the release of hormones). I was diagnosed with Precocious Puberty, which is an early onset of puberty.
If left untreated, puberty would’ve continued and I would have stopped growing by the age of 9 as my body would have thought I had reached adulthood. I was given a course of monthly injections to slow my growth down, the idea being that this would slow the rate of puberty. My body continued to develop but at a slower rate, and my menstrual cycle stopped. The injections were stopped when I was 12, and it was thought that I would then continue puberty at a normal rate and have a growth spurt. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. When I finished the treatment I was just over 4ft7 (146cm). I didn’t grow at all, I was offered the option of having a bone stretching operation which would’ve meant breaking both of my legs, and adjusting pins on a metal cage to increase the gap between the bones by millimetres every day, thus giving me a few more inches of height. I decided that being taller wasn’t worth not being able to walk for a few years. I began a course of daily human growth hormone injections. This was meant to kick-start my growth, and we were hoping that I would at least reach the height of 5ft. After giving myself injections in the thigh every day for a year, there was no change in my height. Dr Stanhope kindly extended my course for a further 6 months, but there was still no change.
In terms of long terms of long-term effects, I am still the same height as when I finished my treatment. My feet stopped growing long before that, ending up at a child’s Size 13 in UK sizes. I developed Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which means I have an irregular menstrual cycle. I was also hospitalised when I was 17 after a cyst on my ovary burst. I have struggled with my weight since I was a child, despite doing ballet several times a week and swimming every week I have never been able to lose weight successfully. I developed hyperflexible joints which means, due to the size of my feet being disproportionate to my weight, I twist my ankles regularly and fall over.
I believe that the hardest struggle however, has been psychological. Imagine dealing with teenage mood swings before the age of 5. My Mum often says that this was the hardest part for her, as I would argue like a teenager and she’d struggle to remember that I was still a child. One episode that I clearly remember is fighting through a dose of anesthetic which I’d been given to keep me still during an MRI scan, screaming about how unfair it was that I had to do it. Additionally, I had to deal with answering questions from other children about why I look different, there were even rumours amongst parents that I had been pregnant as a child and that’s why I had stretch marks. Teenagers have a lot to cope with in any case, but I had huge decisions to make about my future, and even had to discuss possibilities that my fertility would be affected. I don’t know if these were contributing factors to the anxiety disorder and depression I’ve suffered with as an adult, but I feel that the psychological damage done by my condition has been the most permanent.
Before writing this blog post, I was horrified to find that the exact brand of soya milk I was prescribed, is still being prescribed to baby girls that are lactose intolerant. I’m not saying that every child will be affected in the same way that I was, but I believe that parents should be told about the hormone content in Soya Milk. They should be aware of what exactly is going into their child’s body, and be able to make an educated, informed decision. My case is not one of a kind, and there are several articles on precocious puberty and soya milk from reputable sources suggesting a strong correlation. I often wonder how different my life would’ve been if I had been given the option of having another lactose free milk, like goats milk. What seems like such a simple thing, might have made a huge difference in my life.
The care I received at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and the advice my parents received from the Child Growth Foundation, made this difficult process a lot easier. I owe a depth of gratitude to Dr Stanhope for his treatment and care for the 11 years that I had to be seen at Great Ormond Street. I remember my times in hospital with fondness, even though I was often very unwell and kept overnight to have various tests and scans done. It is my aim that through this article I will raise awareness of my condition, but I’m hoping in the long-term to be more involved in providing support to children going through similar struggles, and to raise money to help research into growth disorders. Please subscribe to my blog to keep updated on how you can help.
Graduation was always going to be a happy day. I’d worked hard for 3 years, achieved First Class Honours, my parents looked like they were going to burst with pride, and we all scrubbed up well in the cap and gown. Just before the ceremony, I was surprised when I started feeling this knot of terror in my stomach. I quickly realised it wasn’t about getting up on stage, I’d even worn tiny heels to avoid falling flat on my face. This anxiety was something else completely. It was about what this graduating business symbolised. Mainly that this meant the end of my nice stable routine of commuting, assignments and complaining, and that I had nowhere to go in September.
For a while I forgot about the horrible feeling, enjoyed the day and felt quite proud of myself. However, it’s never gone away. In fact I can feel it right now.
I felt the first twinges of this bluesy feeling when he had a particularly demotivational careers talk in our final year. They showed us the statistics of what last year’s graduates are doing now. Barely any of them were in a job that has anything to do with English or Creative Writing, many of them were working in retail or bars. We were told if we were lucky we might get a job in a museum, which is what I was doing before I spent £21,000 on a degree.
I was determined not to let this get me down. I knew that I’d have to make looking for a job a priority. I started looking for a job way before I graduated. I always knew that it was going to be hard. I’m a realist and I’m not kidding myself about the struggle I face as a graduate, with a Creative Writing degree. I signed up for as many useful websites as I could, wrote a killer cover letter, polished my CV and set up a good routine of applying for as many paid and unpaid positions as I could.
The same week as I graduated I went to the Jobcentre. I knew it was going to be hard but wasn’t quite prepared for the extremity of their attitude towards graduates. Just before my first interview I overheard two of the ‘advisors’ talking about how they hate graduates, because they assume that they’re better than everyone else and don’t deserve help when they wasted so much money on a ‘piece of paper’. I took a deep breath and went through the interview as if I hadn’t hurt anything, but saw the face fall when I mentioned that I was a graduate.
A week later I had my first sign on day, my advisor was an hour late to see me after eating her lunch, chatting to her friend the security guard, and not checking to see if I was there to see her at all. She used a really rude abrupt tone with me throughout the session, demanding to know why I hadn’t worked during my degree, dismissing my answers as not good enough excuses. I had to repeat my answers several times, there were several points at which she seemed to be judging me and I felt intensely uncomfortable. By the end of the session I felt belittled, and like all of my confidence had been knocked out of me.
By the time my third interview rolled around I was dreading it. I’d applied for double the amount of jobs than they required from me per week. The woman I saw was actually quite friendly, until she casually said that she can’t sign someone on if they’re on drugs. I was completely baffled about what she meant, and then she said “Well you’re clearly stoned, your eyes are bright red.” I was so shocked. I quickly explained that I had severe hayfever, showed her the medication I take for it, but by then the damage had already been done.
This post graduation feeling can be described as a general feeling of hopelessness. This generation has been brought up to expect the worst, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. I’ve always lived by the motto that ‘Success is the best revenge’, but in this case it feels like the path to success is going to be like going uphill during a rock slide. I’m determined to get a job as soon as I can, and as far away from the Jobcentre as I can, but I’m yet to receive any replies from my applications. I was prepared for that, but combined with Jobcentre’s attitude towards me, my morale is lacking a bit! The sense of not knowing what’s next is really unsettling.
I would love to know if other new graduates are having similar problems. Please comment with your own experiences, and hopefully there’ll be some good news stories too!
My Mum is an extremely cautious person. Telesales are lucky if they get more than 10 seconds on the phone with her.However, yesterday she fell victim to a credit card scam which was extremely well thought through. In hindsight there were several clues which would have alerted her to it being a scam, but it was executed in such a way that it played on her confusion, and manipulated her psychologically so that it seemed like a convincing situation. I’ve decided to write about it here in case anyone reading this finds themselves in a similar situation.
Yesterday afternoon, Mum received a phone call from a man who called himself ‘Martin Benton’. He claimed that he was from her bank, and alerted her that two large transactions had been attempted using her card. He asked her if she had used her card that day, then said that someone had used her card to spend £245 in Argos, and that the bank had stopped a further £500 from being taken by a camera website.
Here’s the clever part, he then told Mum to call the number on the back of her card, and gave her an extension number which would bring her straight to his direct line at the Fraud Department.
Mum called the number straight away, another man answered, he asked her for the extension number and then ‘Martin Benton’ came back on the line. He told her to cut her card in half and put it in the envelope, and gave her a reference number to write on the front of the envelope. He then said that they would send a courier to pick it up and bring it to the Hertfordshire headquarters where they could then investigate what had happened.
The next part I didn’t hear about until a few hours later, but as soon as Mum said it alarm bells rang VERY loudly in my head:
‘Martin’ said that in order to verify the card, Mum should enter her pin number in the phone keypad. He told her to leave one second between each button press. Once she had done this, he said that the courier was nearer to our house than he thought and to look outside. Mum confirmed that there was a silver car outside and Martin said that it must be the courier.
A heavy set man with thick dark hair, who looked mediterranean in ethnicity, approached our house wearing a leather jacket. He was reluctant to come close to the door. Mum tried to hand him the envelope, and he said ‘What’s this?’ Meanwhile ‘Martin’ was still talking on the phone, distracting Mum from how dodgy this all seemed. She asked the man at our door if he was the courier, then ‘Martin’ asked to speak with him on the phone. Mum passed the phone to the courier, who then nodded at whatever ‘Martin’ said, and took the envelope and drove away.
The more we thought about it, the more the whole situation seemed suspicious. I started googling if this was usual protocol for Natwest. Meanwhile, Mum started seeing holes in the whole situation. Firstly, Mum and Dad hold a joint account, with the exact same card number, yet the man on the phone had insisted that Dad’s card would have a couple of digits different, and evaded any of Mum’s attempts for him to deal with Dad instead of her. Secondly, he had used the name which Mum is known in informal sitatuions, it’s a contraction of her official name which appears on her bank card. Thirdly, she realised that he hadn’t identified himself as being from Natwest, she soon realised that through clever questioning she had given him all of the information he needed. As soon as she ran through the events again in more detail, and mentioned entering the pin number on the keypad, it suddenly became very clear,
The whole situation had been a construct, one huge hoax to get hold of Mum’s card.
After some further Googling, I found an article about credit card fraud which listed the exact thing which had just happened to Mum, you can read it here: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/saving/article-2045512/Conmen-send-couriers-collect-bank-cards-nabbing-PIN-surge-phone-fraud.html
Unfortunately by the time we had realised this for definite, it had been 3 hours since the courier left. The only reason we hadn’t realised earlier, was that we couldn’t work out how someone would have intercepted a call to the official number on the back of Mum’s card. We later realised that all that the conman would have to do is stay on the line whilst Mum called out again.
Mum called the Fraud Department at Natwest straight away. They refused to deal with anyone apart from Dad as he’s the account holder. This confirmed in our minds that it was a credit card scam. Once Dad spoke to Natwest, they confirmed that someone had attempted two withdrawals of £300 at a cash machine in a post office in Euston. Luckily their transaction had been blocked. We called the police straight away, they booked an appointment to send an officer over at 8pm the next day. Mum typed up a full transcript of what had happened, and we explained the situation to the officer, who said that he hadn’t heard of anything like it in this area.
We are lucky that no money was taken from us, but the whole thing has left our family shaken. The more we think about it, the more we see signs where Mum should have realised this was a scam, and she is quite weary of everything.
I urge you to report it straight away if anyone calls you and attempts a similar scam. I hope that writing this article at least helps you and your friends to avoid being conned in the same way. Please spread the word and make sure people like this don’t succeed in preying on vulnerable people.
I’ve written this recipe down in various places for the last few years, and every year I forgot where I wrote it. So here it is in cyberspace forever! This is a great recipe for ham that my family swears by, in our house it’s tradition that Dad makes it for Christmas (and doesn’t cook anything else for the rest of the year). Follow these steps and you’ll have something relatively easy to make and delicious to eat! Merry Christmas!
What you need:
- A ham/bacon/gammon joint
- A large onion, or a few smaller ones
- A carrot
- Some bay leaves (fresh or dried)
- A tin of pineapples (or some Coke if you don’t like pineapple!
- Put the ham in a large pan, cover with fresh cold water and soak for 1-3 hours
- Calculate the overall cooking time. Most hams will now have the weight usefully written on the label. The cooking time formula is: 25 minutes for each lb or 1/2 kg + 20 minutes extra. You will be boiling the ham for half the cooking time, and putting it in the oven for the other half.
- Drain the water the ham was soaking in and re-cover with fresh cold water. Roughly cut the carrot and onion, break up the bay leaves and add all to the water with a sprinkling on peppercorns. Slowly bring to the boil and leave it for half of the calculated cooking time. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 177 degrees celsius or Gas Mark 4, (350 degrees farenheit).
- Drain the joint well, wrap it completely in foil and put it in a roasting tin.
- Leave it until half an hour before the end of the cooking time, (if it’s a small joint sometimes this might mean only 10 minutes after you put it in the oven!). Put the oven temperature up to 218 degrees celsius or Gas Mark 7. Undo the foil and cut the skin off.
- Score the fat into diamonds with a sharp knife and press a clove into the middle of each diamond, sprinkle the surface with brown sugar, if you’re a pineapple fan brush with the pineapple juice from the tin, or you can use Coke to baste it.
- Leave until the end of the cooking time, can be served hot or cold.
- As a twist you can use beer or cider to boil the joint in. You can also make crackling using the rind, cover it with oil and salt then put it under a grill.
Enjoy and let me know if you try it!