The additional need for charity at Christmas

Three young children sitting on some steps. Text reads "charity at Christmas"

Like many people, I think I become more aware of the need for charity at Christmas time.

I support charities year round. Don’t get me wrong, I think the very fact that charity has to even exist is abhorrent. Avoidable disasters like Grenfell; disasters the government should be paying for – people run the London marathon for charity. Illnesses like cancer (which I believe there is a cure for…whole other post) – people running around local parks in a pink tutu raising cash for “research”.

I’ve posted my opinions on charity before. The government wastes thousands on crap like Brexit (also posted about this before) but expects the public to pick up the tab for REALLY IMPORTANT SCHIZZLE.

Anyway, this wasn’t a post to promote previous posts! Or to lambast the government (OK, maybe a little bit). It was to talk about charity at Christmas.

Back to the first paragraph

I am a regular charity supporter. It makes me feel good about myself (sorry, not sorry), and I hope the money goes where it should. But something about Christmas makes me extra generous. Especially to those in society who don’t enjoy Christmas in the same way as me. Last year I did a reverse advent calendar and donated food stuffs to charity. I’ve done the same this year (not the advent calendar, but a supermarket basket full of food in the local food bank collection).

One of my new colleagues (still bleating about having a new job, whatcha gonna do?) came to the office with some present tags from charity KidsOut. Her son goes to a local day nursery and they were supporting the charity. There are a mix of tags. Some show just an age and gender, some show an age and gift request, and others show a name and preferred present. KidsOut is a charity supporting children affected by domestic violence; many of whom will have escaped a violent home with a parent and have no presents to open.

My tag was for an 11 year old boy who requested a diablo. What with me being old, I thought this was a technological present I had never heard of. Imagine my surprise when I googled it (don’t judge me) to find it’s an old school toy made of wood and string!

I couldn’t resist bringing it into the 21st century (and to make that boy the envy of his friends!) so I bought a light up one that changes colour as you spin. He deserves something a little bit special, don’t you think?

Christmas happens for everyone

Back to the point of my post. Christmas happens for everyone – in varying degrees. There are people like me and the husband who have enough money to buy gifts for each other and donate to charities to help other people. There are people like the homeless who I saw on the streets where I live and gave money to yesterday. And there are children who, through no fault of their own, will wake up on Christmas morning not only without presents; but without a bed, a bedroom, clothes or their favourite teddy bear.

The other point of my post is that charity and goodwill isn’t just for Christmas. It’s lovely to try and help people have a slightly better time, in line with our own Christmas. But shit like this happens every month of the year. The UK police recorded a 23% increase in reports of domestic violence crime in the year up to March 2018. Many of those cases will involve children.

This isn’t a guilt trip post. Far from it. It’s not even an awareness raising post. We all do our own thing.

But do think of others. Not only at Christmas but year round.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

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A December city break: Rome at Christmas

Close up of the Colosseum with text saying Rome at Christmas

I can’t believe it’s a year since we were in Rome for my birthday! Weirdly, Rome at Christmas isn’t that Christmassy. More to the point, that’s why I chose it!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite clearly Christmas in the city, There are fairy lights in the streets, big trees in large piazzas and decorations in shop windows and restaurants. It’s more that the sole focus isn’t Christmas, if that makes sense? Some cities are renowned for being Christmas destinations, with markets and winter wonderlands and the like. While that’s absolutely wonderful, and I do love a Christmas destination, I wanted my birthday to be more about my birthday than celebrating Christmas.

Clear as mud, right?

I suppose what I’m saying is, if you were looking for a Christmas getaway to give you all the Christmas feels, then Rome probably isn’t it. If you’re looking for a winter break with a healthy smattering of Christmas and loads to do, see and eat, Rome is perfect.

Now I’ve got that straight (!!) here are some Christmas pictures we took around the city during our 4 days. There are trees, street decorations, fairy lights and garlands. And seeing these make me want to go back!

Did you see my other posts about Rome?

Rome part 1

Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica

Colosseum and Roman Forum

Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Spanish Steps

Where we stayed and ate in Rome

I cannot wait to go back to this beautiful city! Next time I’d go when it was slightly warmer but not high season to be able to take advantage of lighter nights and outdoor cafes. Perhaps May or late September. That said, I would definitely recommend a visit in December, because the city isn’t too busy and hotel rates are reasonable.

Have you ever been to Rome?

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5 things I learned whilst I was out of work

Hand writing list with a laptop in the background. Text: "Lessons learnt whilst being out of work"Being out of work was not a fun experience for me. Not that unemployment should be fun. But I had a decent pay out so I wasn’t poor, and I have friends and family around me for company, so it could have been a good time, I guess.

My own brain stopped me from throwing myself into it wholeheartedly; I was very aware that I didn’t know when I would get a new job and therefore my next pay packet, so being sensible was the right way to go.

In all I was “off work” for 14 weeks and 6 days. A quarter of a year! Prior to that I couldn’t have comprehended that amount of time not working. Looking back now, 2.5 weeks into my new job, it doesn’t seem like I was off for that long. I didn’t really do anything of value or substance.

I did, however, learn a few things. In no particular order, here they are:

1 – I love going bra-less

I’ve never been troubled by bras. I don’t have huge mammaries so support isn’t an issue. I don’t get back pain. I don’t get straps cutting into me. My size is well catered for in the major high street shop, so I don’t have to spend a month’s mortgage payment on a new boulder holder. But when I didn’t have to wear a bra (and when I say “have to”, I mean based on society’s demands and norms for a woman) it was wonderful.

The advent of autumn meant digging my fluffy jumpers out of hibernation and, let me tell you, a soft fluffy knit against a bare nipple is a delight! I wore a bra as little as possible during those 14 weeks. It’s only now, being part of the rat race that demands a certain level of underwear, that I realise how fucking annoying bras are.

2 – Monday blues exist even without a job

You’d think the one benefit of being out of work would be not having to get up for work on a Monday. There has to be some advantages to not having a job, right? Actually though, for me, Monday was an ever present reminder that I didn’t have a job to go to. After a weekend with the husband the house felt quite empty when he left for work, friends were bemoaning being back in the office after 2 days off, and I was embarking on another week of no-one wanting to employ me. Sounds dramatic but Monday was the worst day of the week for me. Ironically, in my new job, I’m currently excited to go to work on Monday. Long may that last!

3 – I hate housework

I’ve always known this, really. I’m no Mrs Hinch! But when you’re working it’s easy to say “I’m too tired to do housework”, or “I deserve two days off after a week at work”. I had all the time in the world to clean our house top to bottom, but I just find it so unsatisfying. I believe a house is for living in, not to be a show home. I did do home improvements, as I said I intended to in my to-do list, but they were more around home improvements than Zoflora! Don’t get me wrong, we don’t live in a stinky hovel, but anyone who does housework “for fun” is barking mad, if you ask me.

4 – I can pass ridiculous amounts of time on the internet

I’m not much of a TV person, really. I enjoy watching it, but wouldn’t think to put it on when I’m at home alone. Similarly with music; I love listening to it but I don’t think to put the radio on or play CDs. I’m quite happy just bumbling along and keeping myself occupied. There’s always something to look at on the internet – be it losing hours debating with strangers on Twitter, scrolling oodles of photos on Instagram or playing a-bit-crap-but-super-addictive games. Occasionally I’d choose to read a book instead, and feel great about it, but mostly the lure of absolute shite on the WWW was too much to ignore. Bit pathetic really.

5 – I need to work

A conclusion from points 3 and 4, I’m not great at being off work. I’m not rubbish, I wasn’t climbing the walls or anything (apart from the odd bad day where I despaired for my future). But I don’t know how people can not work. I don’t mean those who have no choice; through illness or parenting or the like. But people who are affluent and don’t need the money. Lottery winners, for example. I don’t know, maybe it’s different when you have money and no worries about where your next pay packet is coming from. Perhaps you can fill your life with hobbies and lunches and stuff.

I just felt my brain was starting to decay, my social skills were diminishing, and I had no purpose. I’m not saying you need a job to feel worthwhile, Of course you don’t. But, for me, work has always pretty much been a constant for me. And without it I felt a little bit lost.

So, there you have it! Five deep and meaningful (!!) insights into my jobless life. Let’s hope I don’t revisit redundancy-town any time soon!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Athens. Not pretty, but pretty awesome!

When we first decided to go to Athens, we hadn’t booked to go to Rome. Bear with me here! The appeal of Athens was the ancient history and the architecture. It would be somewhere quite different to other destinations we’ve visited.

Then we went to Rome for my 40th birthday and soaked up all the ancient history when we visited the Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica.

We witnessed amazing architecture at the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

And, all of a sudden, we were worried that Athens might be a little bit samey. Call me a heathen, if you like, but you can have too much of a good thing. Temple fatigue is a thing, as we found out on our trip to Penang in Malaysia. You stop appreciating the beauty and detail if you see too many too quickly. We didn’t want to not appreciate Athens.

We needn’t have worried. Athens is a great destination in its own right and there was plenty to fill our 2.5 days there.

After the initial not so good first impression, we woke up on the Sunday morning raring to explore.

Changing of the Guards at Syntagma Square

Syntagma Square is home to the Hellenic Parliament building, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb is s guarded by two Evzone soldiers, and a changing of the guard ceremony happens every hour. Each Sunday morning at 11am there is also a much larger changing of the guards ceremony and procession. The road is closed and crowds gather to watch the spectacle.

Every step made by the Evzone guards is monitored by a military official who walks alongside them (you can see him below, in the blue beret). At first we thought he was there to keep the crowds back, but then we noticed him looking at the height and angle of their steps.

It’s worth getting there slightly early to grab a good spot, or do as I did and wheedle your way opportunistically through throngs of people. Seriously though, if you want to see the actual Changing of the Guard on the square rather than just the procession, get your shit together and don’t arrive at 10.55am like we did.

Hop On Hop Off bus tour

I’ve said it before, many times, if I’m on a city break and there’s a bus tour then I’m all over it. Such a good way to see the highlights of a city and choose when and where you want to spend more time. Most cities will have different bus operators vying for business. Where possible we usually go for the red City Sightseeing buses because we’ve used them on multiple occasions and always been happy. They’re reasonably priced and the commentary (available through provided earphones in multiple languages) is always good too. Athens was no exception; we paid 25 euros for a ticket which included one day free (48 hours from time of purchase) and both the city and beach routes. The city route covers the obvious tourist attractions, while the beach route takes you out to the Athenian Riviera for sea views and sandy stops. We chose to stay on for a full loop of the bus tour, to get our bearings, then hopped on and off later for places we wanted to revisit.

Plaka district and Roman Agora

Athens is split up into multiple different districts, which have their own characteristics. We were staying steps away from the Plaka and Monistiraki districts. Plaka is renowned for being picturesque with lots of restaurants and shops to browse. After completing the City sightseeing bus tour, which we started and ended in Syntagma Square, we wandered through Plaka. Here we stopped for pictures of the Agora, not bothering to go inside, with a view to heading back to Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of the Zeus which we’d seen on the bus tour.

We didn’t realise at the time that the Agora was included in the Rome Pass we later bought. That said, the pictures were pretty good from outside.

Then we had a Plaka pit stop for wine and ice cream (me) and beer and cheese pie (husband), before heading off on the next part of our sightseeing adventure.

Arch of Hadrian

One of the things I find crazy about cities like Rome and Athens is the history that just pops up in the middle of the city. Hadrian’s Arch is right by a busy junction of a main road, and it’s just there. There is no cost to view the attraction.

200 metres walk away is the entrance to the Temple of Zeus. This costs 6 euros (well worth it) or is part of the 30 euro city pass which is valid for 5 days and 7 attractions. Bearing in mind that entrance to the Acropolis is 20 euros, you only need to do 3 sites (including Acropolis) to make this worthwhile.

Temple of Zeus

This place blew me away. Maybe because it was my first time up and personal with Greek columns and ruins. Maybe because it was there I realised that columns are built in sections because we saw one that had fallen and disintegrated into its original pieces (who knew?) Maybe because I’m an excitable sausage who wants to see everything in the world. But it was fab. You know something is good when you take so many photos of the same thing. Here are a few.

Panathenaic Stadium

Because of the aforementioned excitable sausageness, and FOMO, I suggested we walk the “short distance” from the Temple of Zeus round to the Panathenaic Stadium. We’d passed it earlier in the day, on the open top bus tour, so I knew it wasn’t very far. Everything feels longer in 30 degree searing heat though! The Stadium hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and is the only stadium in the world made of marble. Honestly though, it was a bit underwhelming. We didn’t bother to go in (it wasn’t included in our city pass and didn’t seem worthy of shelling out extra cash for). But at least I can say I’ve seen it!

The Acropolis

We’d decided to do the Acropolis on the second day, getting there early to avoid the heat and the crowds. You can walk up to it, but it’s on a hill and again it was scorching hot, so we used our hop on hop off bus ticket to go as far as we could. There was still a steep incline to the entrance, and the marble tiles were quite slippy underfoot.

I always thought the Acropolis was the temple on the hill. It wasn’t until we started researching that I realised the Acropolis is the hill itself; the area. The main large temple is the Parthenon. There is also the Temple of Athena and Erechthion on the same site, once you’ve passed through the grand columned entrance.

Because of its elevated position you can see the Acropolis from many areas of the city. Here it is seen from the Temple of Zeus.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

This stone stepped theatre is built into the side of the Acropolis hill. It has been renovated in recent years and you can see modern lighting rigs and speakers as it’s used for concerts, but it’s still very impressive. You can’t walk into the attraction, it can only be seen from a viewing platform, but there is no cost and it’s well worth a stop. As with most of the ancient ruins we saw, the real amazement comes when you remember just how old they are, and how they were constructed without modern tools or machinery.

The Parthenon, Temple of Athena and Erechthion

The first thing I noticed as I walked towards the Parthenon was the proliferation of scaffolding. You don’t see that on tour operator pictures! There is an ongoing, lengthy and expensive restoration project going on to save the integrity of the building. Some of the columns are weak and damaged. Previous restoration work in the mid 20th century, actually made the situation worse. Parts of the area, therefore, are quite the building site, with loud and noisy drills and work people, plus temporary project office buildings dotted around. And the site was crawling with visitors – I can’t imagine how busy it must be in high season. It was this part of our trip that contributed in some way to my previous rant about tourists. Such an amazing piece of architecture and history, yet for some people just a backdrop for their own photoshoot. Infuriating.

Also on the site are the Temple of Athena and the Erecthieon, both dating back to around 400 B.C. and of course the views across the city are pretty great too!

Hop on hop off bus tour – beach route

As I mentioned earlier in the post, the red Citysightseeing bus operates two tours – the city one which we’d done on Sunday, and the beach one which cost just an extra 5 euros. For a change of pace we took the beach tour on Monday afternoon. There wasn’t lots to see, it’s more useful if you actually want to get off at one of the multiple beaches, but with the route only running every hour we decided to just do a loop for some sea air and sea views, before heading back to the city for a late lunch.

Ancient Agora and The Temple of Hephaestus

Not to be confused with the earlier mentioned Roman Agora, which was built later, the Ancient Agora is a vast area which would have been a central point within Ancient Greece. Municipal buildings, commercial and residential dwellings would have sat alongside each other. There are excavated drainage channels, statues and pots.

The most impressive structure inside the Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus; which remains largely as built. It’s incredibly well-preserved because it was in use from the 7th century until 1894, although building started in the mid 400 BC years. Again such craftsmanship and accuracy for the time is hard to fathom, and today it sits in the middle of a more modern Athens which has grown around it. Amazing.

Also in the Agora is the Church of the Holy Apostles, which can be dated back to the 10th century.

Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens

On our last morning, before heading off to the airport, I went into the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, which was right opposite our hotel. Although it looks quite new, construction started in 1842 and finished in 1862 (which is new, by Ancient Greek standards!) While the outside is fairly minimal in sleek white marble, inside is quite opulent, with beautiful painted domes.

So why isn’t Athens pretty?

I said this in the title of this post, and feel it deserves more explanation. There are parts of Athens that are picturesque, and certainly lots to see. But overall, as a city, it’s not beautiful. The effects of the financial problems can be seen in many areas of the city, with shops closed down and shutters vandalised. The contrast was clear looking out from our hotel – directly in front was the Acropolis, to the right was the Metropolitan Cathedral, but the left was a building which, at one point, would have been beautiful, but now looks burnt out, abandoned, and covered in parts in safety netting.

By saying Athens isn’t pretty I’m not detracting from it in anyway. It’s a wonderful place to visit and I would recommend it. Just don’t expect the pretty architecture of Prague, or the refined elegance of Nice, for example. But if you like ancient history, ancient ruins and good food, then it’s definitely up your street!

Have you ever been to Athens? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments!

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Skulls aren’t just for Halloween!

Skulls are an integral part of Halloween decorations. Of course pumpkins are the main feature associated with Halloween, but with the date being celebrated with horror and gore, dead bodies and bones are also part and parcel of many films, parties and dsplays.

We don’t decorate our home for Halloween anymore. We used to, in the early days of living in the flat. We’d have small Halloween parties which would usually end in absolute carnage, and I used to love buying fake cobwebs, spiders, skeletons and the like.

I’d hoped, when we moved to our house, that we’d get Trick or Treaters. But we’re tucked away in a hidden corner of a quiet cul de sac with no passing traffic, so my dream of doling out sweets to cute little kids was not to be!

Because of that, and the fact we no longer have parties (I don’t think our livers could take it!) I don’t bother with decorating the house for Halloween anymore. I don’t even bother with pumpkins – they’re just so messy.

I do sometimes cook something Halloween themed – you can see my recipe for eyeball meatballs here.

But skulls, on the other hand, are part of our every day decor! The husband loves skull imagery; it’s very prevalent on the rock scene, and the biking scene too. He has loads of t-shirts with skulls on, mugs, hoodies and jewellery.

Here’s a couple of examples that are in our house all day every day – not just for Halloween!

This skull print was a gift the husband received for Christmas last year. It sits perfectly on his record player cabinet, and conveniently hides the door to the meter cupboard too!

Outside, another of the husband’s gifts, this time from his birthday. This isn’t really a threat to anyone, as it’s on the inside fence of our back garden. We can see it from the lounge and it always makes me smile!

The latest addition is this glass skull from Homesense. It’s hollow with a sprayed enamel finish and I bought it with the intention of filling it with fairy lights and using it as a lamp. It doesn’t throw out a lot of light due to the enamel coating, but it does look very cool! We haven’t found a permanent home for it yet, but it will definitely be around all year through.

I know we have other stuff that we still haven’t unpacked from the move, including skull ornaments and a Salvador Dali print. It’s fair to say it’s a metaphorical and literal pattern in our home!

Do you have any particular themes in your home? Or keep occasion decorations up year round? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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People with cancer do not “lose the battle”

Female hands holding a peach rose, with text the cancer "battle"

Last night, as we settled into bed, we saw the terribly sad news that a friend of ours had passed away. Chris had cancer. He died because of cancer.

But cancer did not beat Chris, and he didn’t lose the battle.

Sure, it’s only terminology, just words. But for the people left behind, experiencing the death and pain and emptiness, it’s important. At least it was to me, when my Dad died. I hate that anyone might think my Dad “lost”. That he didn’t fight hard enough, or long enough.

I feel the same now, talking about Chris.

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GIG REVIEW: The Lovely Eggs in Birmingham

The Lovely Eggs on stage with text "GIG REVIEW: The Lovely Eggs"

I hadn’t even heard of The Lovely Eggs before about March this year. As with pretty much all of my musical discoveries, I was introduced to them by the husband. Not in a “he controls what I listen to” kind of way. Just that I’m not that musically minded and don’t actively choose to listen to stuff.

This is Eggland

Anyway, The Lovely Eggs. With tunes like “Dickhead” and “Would You Fuck!” on their latest album – This is Eggland – they’re probably not the most singalong family friendly band, but they are bloody great! A husband and wife duo, they make a hell of a lot of noise for just two people. Last time they played in Birmingham earlier this year, we didn’t go because it was a mid week gig. This time around, last week, was also mid week. But with me not yet rejoining the realms of employment and a few more months of listening to the album under our belts, we decided to head along.

It was a great decision! They’re every bit as good live as listening to the record, and they like to have a chat and banter with the audience in between songs too. Singer Holly veers between venomous vitriol and fairy tale sing-songyness in her delivery. Her Northern accent shines through and adds to the anthemic vine of songs like “I Shouldn’t Have Said That”, while “Wiggy Giggy” has a mind bending psychedelic repetitiveness that has been stuck in my head ever since.

Their don’t give a fuck attitude shines through and you can tell they’re doing it their way, and for the love of the music. They’re not in it for the adoration or pretention, and they actively don’t do fake encores to please the crowd.

How would I describe The Lovely Eggs? A bit punky, a bit alternative, a bit indie, very real and a lot of fun!

 

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5 top tips for successful job hunting

Job hunting: Table and chair with laptop, mouse and a pair of glasses

I’ve been planning to share my job hunting tips for a while, but as I was still sans job it seemed ridiculous to be doling out advice!

The good news for me for the husband is that, 2.5 months since the end of my previous job, I now have a new one. All together now, hurrah! The timing is fantastic, because my redundancy payout is looking less healthy than it did, and with the colder weather coming I was dreading our heating bill with me being at home all day.

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The reason I hardly ever shave my legs

Pink razor. Text: ShavingShaving your legs is a ballache, amiright? Whether you’re in the bath and trying to reach down to your ankles, or in the shower and balancing on one leg whilst resting the other on something to stop you falling over, it’s just awkward. Shaving cream everywhere, stray hairs in bath water, shower water washing off shaving foam before you’ve begun.

Annoying.

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Let’s talk about tourists

We’re all tourists in some shape or form. If you’ve ever visited anywhere outside of where you live, with the intention of seeing a place or an attraction, then you’re a tourist. I know this information hurts hardened travellers – you know, people who have given up their homes and jobs to spend their life savings on a round the world trip; living on dried noodles and sleeping in mud huts with holes in the roof* But it’s true.

Whether it’s a day trip, a week in an all inclusive hotel or living nomadically from country to country, we’re all tourists.

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