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Metro.co.uk: News, Sport, Showbiz, Celebrities from Metro

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    Ricky on his way to visit a hospital (PA Real Life/Collect)
    (Picture: PA Real Life)

    A former security guard quit his job with just £240 to his name to become a real-life Spider-Man after his dead grandmother visited him in a dream.

    Ricky Mena, 35, launched his non-profit business, Heart of a Hero, following the dream, during which they watched a movie together where the Marvel comic character helped terminally ill children instead of fighting crime.

    Ricky, from Pittsburg, California, USA, whose wife, Kendall, 24, does the company admin, said: ‘In this film, rather than fighting crime, Spidey was helping kids in less fortunate situations find happiness in life. My grandmother turned to me in the dream and said, ‘That’s exactly what you should do’.

    ‘Even though I had hardly any money, I knew when I woke up that I wanted to be just like that Spider-Man.

    ‘I was so excited when the first superhero suit I ordered finally arrived – being the exact same height and weight as Spider-Man in the comics, it felt perfect.

    ‘I stood in front of the mirror and felt like it had chosen me, as much as I had chosen it. That was 2014 and I haven’t looked back.’

    Since starting Heart of a Hero, Ricky has helped bring a smile to the faces of 11,000 sick children – even following one to England for treatment – mostly visiting them in hospital, wearing his £400-£500 Spider-Man costumes and bringing them gifts.

    As his administrator, Kendall sifts through hundreds of messages from parents of poorly children, sent to his social media, asking him to visit them and bring some much-needed joy.

    Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)
    (Picture: PA Real Life)

    Now Ricky does graphic design work and Kendall works as a personal trainer, to fund their lives and enable them to devote most of their time to running their hero venture, unpaid.

    When he started out, Ricky was still working as a security man in a bar, until an experience in October 2014 changed his life forever.

    He recalled: ‘Rylan, a young boy I got to know and visited on many occasions, sadly passed away. His father asked me to carry his casket. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You never think you’ll see a child die right in front of you.

    ‘When the funeral was over, I went straight to the bar to start my night shift, even though my friends said I should call in sick. I knew I couldn’t because I was desperate for the money.

    ‘I cried and cried before I started my shift – I was a total wreck. That night there was an altercation at the bar and I got punched straight in the face. That punch was all I needed to knock my head into shape and make me leave my job.’

    Ricky has recruited several volunteers who also dress as superheroes, to visit sick children alongside him.

    Thanks to donations, he now has a collection of 12 Spider-Man suits.

    Explaining why he does it, he said: ‘Spider-Man shows peace, inspiration and fun. It turns into therapy for the kids to have someone to laugh with.’

    And his role comes into its own at Christmas, when he has a separate festive crowdfunding page specifically for gifts. He buys things such as brand new bikes and huge cuddly bears for children whose parents cannot afford them.

    Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)
    (Picture: PA Real Life)

    Although he has help from donations, Ricky and his wife say they still struggle, as he tries to make extra money on the side by doing freelance graphic design work.

    Ricky, who wears a Santa hat and coat on top of his Spidey suit during the festivities, said: ‘Christmas is a tough time to do what I do. I remember all the kids we lost throughout the year, but I still love the spirit of giving and bringing children in need the gifts they deserve.

    ‘Any child in need – sick, poor or bullied – deserves a magical Christmas. I love showing up outside their houses with a truck of huge teddy bears and bikes and handing them out.

    ‘I’ve seen kids scream and cry with excitement. A single mum of four who couldn’t even afford one gift fell to her knees and sobbed when I knocked on her door and gave her kids five expensive gifts each.’

    Meanwhile, Ricky has forged some very special bonds with children he has visited and their families.

    Remembering one little girl, Zamora, who passed away aged nine following a two-year battle with a highly aggressive and incurable brain tumour – he recalled going to the UK with her and her mum, Marisa Martinez, in March 2017.

    Ricky bought a plane ticket to London so he could be there for the child when she received what her parents believed would be better treatment.

    Marisa praised Ricky, saying: ‘He couldn’t do more if he tried. He barely has any money but uses all of it to help others.

    ‘He wants to change the world for children. He’s such a beautiful person and an angel in my life.

    ‘He was with Zamora only a few months before she died, but I know it meant the world to her. He doesn’t showboat about it, he just genuinely wanted to be there for us.

    ‘Zamora’s dad, Marc Lusinthi, 49, had to go back to the US for work, leaving me alone with Zamora and her younger sister Xavia, now nine.

    ‘Ricky helped take Xavia to school when I couldn’t be there – he was a huge help to our lives.’

    But for Ricky, who wants his own kids in the future when he is more financially stable, there is nothing more satisfying than bringing a smile to the face of a child who is suffering.

    He said: ‘I’m not an angel, or a superhero, I’m just human and able to spot when children need some extra light in their lives.’

    You can donate to help fund Ricky’s charity here.

    MORE: Where did the Christmas stocking tradition come from?

    MORE: 12 Burgers of Christmas: 12 of the best festive burgers available in London


    Man quits job with just ?240 to his name to become a real life Spider-Man, granting poignant wishes to children in needMan quits job with just ?240 to his name to become a real life Spider-Man, granting poignant wishes to children in needhattiegladwellmetroRicky on his way to visit a hospital (PA Real Life/Collect)Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)Man quits job with just ?240 to his name to become a real life Spider-Man, granting poignant wishes to children in needMan quits job with just ?240 to his name to become a real life Spider-Man, granting poignant wishes to children in needhattiegladwellmetroRicky on his way to visit a hospital (PA Real Life/Collect)Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)

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    The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland need someone to rehome a dog and her seven puppies saved from Romania in time for Christmas.See SWNS story SWBRdog.A rescue charity which saved a dog and its seven puppies from a ?kill shelter? is facing Christmas heartbreak unless someone can rehome the mum. The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland had previously fundraised to bring a badly neglected dog from Gran Canaria to the UK in time for the festivities.They named her Noelle but she was so poorly she tragically died during surgery before she was able to head to the UK for a new life.So the small charity decided to honour Noelle by saving a Shar Pei and her litter of seven puppies which faced death in horrible conditions in Romania.
    (Picture: Shar Pei Rescue Scotland /SWNS)

    A rescue charity which saved a dog and her seven puppies from a ‘kill shelter’ are facing Christmas heartbreak unless someone can rehome the mother.

    The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland had previously fundraised to bring a badly neglected dog from Gran Canaria to the UK in time for the festivities.

    They named her Noelle but she was so poorly she tragically died during surgery before she was able to head to the UK for a new life.

    So the small charity decided to honour Noelle by saving a Shar Pei and her litter of seven puppies which faced death in horrible conditions in Romania.

    The dogs will be coming to the UK in January and they have found ‘forever homes’ for six of the puppies – but no one has come forward to help the mum, named Hope, and the final male member of the litter.

    The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland need someone to rehome a dog and her seven puppies saved from Romania in time for Christmas.See SWNS story SWBRdog.A rescue charity which saved a dog and its seven puppies from a ?kill shelter? is facing Christmas heartbreak unless someone can rehome the mum. The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland had previously fundraised to bring a badly neglected dog from Gran Canaria to the UK in time for the festivities.They named her Noelle but she was so poorly she tragically died during surgery before she was able to head to the UK for a new life.So the small charity decided to honour Noelle by saving a Shar Pei and her litter of seven puppies which faced death in horrible conditions in Romania.
    (Picture: Shar Pei Rescue Scotland /SWNS)

    The charity now faces leaving the mother and male puppy in Romania unless they raise money and find a foster or adopter in the UK to take them.

    Gina Mccallum, who runs Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland, said: ‘We were devastated when Noelle died so we decided to put the remaining funds raised for her towards helping the mum and her litter of puppies in Romania.

    ‘She was a stray and in Eastern Europe strays are treated appallingly. They are taken to kill shelters and many died in the most agonising way.

    ‘It is why we try to help dogs in places like Romania and Hungary and Mama Pei and her puppies have been our Christmas appeal.

    ‘People have kindly donated to help pay for their food and treatment in Romania until they are ready to travel and we’ve found loving homes for six of the puppies.

    ‘But we need someone else to come forward to save Hope and her final pup. She’s only three years old and she has been such a good mum to the puppies.’

    The dogs are scheduled to make the 2,000 mile trip to the UK on 8 January.

    The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland need someone to rehome a dog and her seven puppies saved from Romania in time for Christmas.See SWNS story SWBRdog.A rescue charity which saved a dog and its seven puppies from a ?kill shelter? is facing Christmas heartbreak unless someone can rehome the mum. The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland had previously fundraised to bring a badly neglected dog from Gran Canaria to the UK in time for the festivities.They named her Noelle but she was so poorly she tragically died during surgery before she was able to head to the UK for a new life.So the small charity decided to honour Noelle by saving a Shar Pei and her litter of seven puppies which faced death in horrible conditions in Romania.
    (Picture: Shar Pei Rescue Scotland /SWNS)

    Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland needs to raise £1,100 to transport Mama Pei and her litter to the UK and cover the documentation costs.

    The rescue helps dogs living in the worst conditions. Many are saved from ‘doggy death row’ at kill shelters.

    Gina added: ‘It has been a really challenging year in rescue and I would like to thank everyone who has helped.

    ‘Shar Pei are lovely dogs but we find many are neglected and mistreated in the UK.

    ‘On the continent, in places like Hungary and Romania where animal welfare isn’t as good as it is in the UK, Shar Pei are often living and dying in the most appalling conditions and we help them too.

    ‘We would love to give Hope and her final pup a new life in the UK so if you can help please get in touch.’

    People looking to donate to help save the pups can do so via Paypal using the address sprss@aol.com, Facebook or their fundraising page.

    MORE: Canicross is the new fitness craze that lets you work out with your dog

    MORE: Couple shocked when dog goes for a trim and comes back almost bald


    SEI_45027950-d70bSEI_45027950-d70bhattiegladwellmetroThe Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland need someone to rehome a dog and her seven puppies saved from Romania in time for Christmas.See SWNS story SWBRdog.A rescue charity which saved a dog and its seven puppies from a ?kill shelter? is facing Christmas heartbreak unless someone can rehome the mum. The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland had previously fundraised to bring a badly neglected dog from Gran Canaria to the UK in time for the festivities.They named her Noelle but she was so poorly she tragically died during surgery before she was able to head to the UK for a new life.So the small charity decided to honour Noelle by saving a Shar Pei and her litter of seven puppies which faced death in horrible conditions in Romania.The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland need someone to rehome a dog and her seven puppies saved from Romania in time for Christmas.See SWNS story SWBRdog.A rescue charity which saved a dog and its seven puppies from a ?kill shelter? is facing Christmas heartbreak unless someone can rehome the mum. The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland had previously fundraised to bring a badly neglected dog from Gran Canaria to the UK in time for the festivities.They named her Noelle but she was so poorly she tragically died during surgery before she was able to head to the UK for a new life.So the small charity decided to honour Noelle by saving a Shar Pei and her litter of seven puppies which faced death in horrible conditions in Romania.The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland need someone to rehome a dog and her seven puppies saved from Romania in time for Christmas.See SWNS story SWBRdog.A rescue charity which saved a dog and its seven puppies from a ?kill shelter? is facing Christmas heartbreak unless someone can rehome the mum. The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland had previously fundraised to bring a badly neglected dog from Gran Canaria to the UK in time for the festivities.They named her Noelle but she was so poorly she tragically died during surgery before she was able to head to the UK for a new life.So the small charity decided to honour Noelle by saving a Shar Pei and her litter of seven puppies which faced death in horrible conditions in Romania.SEI_45027950-d70bSEI_45027950-d70bhattiegladwellmetroThe Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland need someone to rehome a dog and her seven puppies saved from Romania in time for Christmas.See SWNS story SWBRdog.A rescue charity which saved a dog and its seven puppies from a ?kill shelter? is facing Christmas heartbreak unless someone can rehome the mum. The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland had previously fundraised to bring a badly neglected dog from Gran Canaria to the UK in time for the festivities.They named her Noelle but she was so poorly she tragically died during surgery before she was able to head to the UK for a new life.So the small charity decided to honour Noelle by saving a Shar Pei and her litter of seven puppies which faced death in horrible conditions in Romania.The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland need someone to rehome a dog and her seven puppies saved from Romania in time for Christmas.See SWNS story SWBRdog.A rescue charity which saved a dog and its seven puppies from a ?kill shelter? is facing Christmas heartbreak unless someone can rehome the mum. The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland had previously fundraised to bring a badly neglected dog from Gran Canaria to the UK in time for the festivities.They named her Noelle but she was so poorly she tragically died during surgery before she was able to head to the UK for a new life.So the small charity decided to honour Noelle by saving a Shar Pei and her litter of seven puppies which faced death in horrible conditions in Romania.The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland need someone to rehome a dog and her seven puppies saved from Romania in time for Christmas.See SWNS story SWBRdog.A rescue charity which saved a dog and its seven puppies from a ?kill shelter? is facing Christmas heartbreak unless someone can rehome the mum. The Shar Pei Rescue of Scotland had previously fundraised to bring a badly neglected dog from Gran Canaria to the UK in time for the festivities.They named her Noelle but she was so poorly she tragically died during surgery before she was able to head to the UK for a new life.So the small charity decided to honour Noelle by saving a Shar Pei and her litter of seven puppies which faced death in horrible conditions in Romania.

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    This bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.
    This bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain’s worst place to wash (Picture: Victoria Plumbing/SWNS.COM)

    A bathroom with a brown suite and floor-to-ceiling floral tiles has been crowned Britain’s worst bathroom.

    Hundreds of people submitted photos of their bathrooms in a competition run by Victoria Plumbing to find the worst in the country.

    TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen plumbed then went through all of the submissions and picked the final four.

    The public voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain’s worst – turning their noses up at its taps, badly tiled bath and overall 1970s vibe.

    One of the UK's worst bathrooms. A bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.
    This green bathroom made it into the top of the UK’s worst bathrooms (Picture: Victoria Plumbing/SWNS.COM)

    Sarah Smith, a 42-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago.

    She said: ‘Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer.

    ‘My brown bathroom was clearly someone’s pride and joy at some point as it’s as good as the day it was put in many years ago.

    One of the UK's worst bathrooms. A bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.
    It’s no surprise this one made the list… (Picture: Victoria Plumbing/SWNS.COM)

    ‘It is very dark in my bathroom and it is not a relaxing place to take a bath. I look forward to brightening it up and it looking fresh and clean all the time.’

    Green and brown were common themes among the finalists of the Victoria Plumbing competition, with avocado suites, carpeted floors and bathrooms with no flooring at all making the cut.

    Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen said: ‘Badly designed bathrooms are a sign of low self-esteem.

    One of the UK's worst bathrooms. A bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.
    This one is nearly as bad as the brown and floral. (Picture: Victoria Plumbing/SWNS.COM)

    ‘When you’re faced with a bathroom that looks absolutely repellent first thing in the morning, how are you going to face the world with a smile on your face? It’s practically impossible.

    ‘The big thing with bathroom design is to keep it practical, keep it cleanable. Anything too fussy, too frilly or too porous will end up becoming a boutique hotel for mould and germs.

    ‘Finally, floral is fine in a bathroom, but try and pick flowers that actually look like flowers rather than leftover cabbages.’

    One of the UK's worst bathrooms. A bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.
    So. Much. Green. Too much green. (Picture: Victoria Plumbing/SWNS.COM)

    The competition follows research by Victoria Plumbing which found 34% of Brits would like to update their bathroom while one in five admit they’re embarrassed with their current one.

    The survey also revealed 61% of people changed or renovated their bathroom when they moved home.

    One of the UK's worst bathrooms. A bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.
    The other side of the worst bathroom – the brown and floral suite (Picture: Victoria Plumbing/SWNS.COM)

    Joe Pascoe, senior marketing manager at Victoria Plumbing, said: ‘Our search for the nation’s worst bathroom came from wanting to communicate a simple message: that people shouldn’t keep putting up with bad design.

    ‘From exposing dated, coloured suites to wallpaper that isn’t fit for purpose, we wanted to encourage people to get their bathroom shame out there and begin the healing process.

    ‘With Christmas just around the corner, we felt that now would be the perfect time to gift the owner of Britain’s worst bathroom a much needed upgrade.’

    MORE: It’s definitely OK to take a fitness break over Christmas

    MORE: Grandma stitches granddad’s ashes into seven teddy bears for their grandchildren


    IT'S A BARF-ROOM! Britain's worst bathroom has a brown suite with flowery floor-to-ceiling tilesIT'S A BARF-ROOM! Britain's worst bathroom has a brown suite with flowery floor-to-ceiling tileshattiegladwellmetroThis bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: IT'S A BARF-ROOM! Britain's worst bathroom has a brown suite with flowery floor-to-ceiling tilesIT'S A BARF-ROOM! Britain's worst bathroom has a brown suite with flowery floor-to-ceiling tileshattiegladwellmetroThis bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.One of the UK's worst bathrooms. A bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.One of the UK's worst bathrooms. A bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.One of the UK's worst bathrooms. A bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.One of the UK's worst bathrooms. A bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.One of the UK's worst bathrooms. A bathroom with brown suite and flowery floor-to-ceiling tiles has been crowned Britain's worst place to wash. See story SWBRBATHROOM. Having a clean and modern bathroom makes life more relaxing while boosting the home?s desirability when it comes to selling. But even the most talented estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on these bathrooms, which are anything but suite. Hundreds of Brits submitted photos of their bathrooms - leaving TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to plumb the depths of bathroom despair and whittle the list down to a final four. The public then voted the brown bathroom in Norwich as Britain's worst - turning their noses up at its suite, taps, badly tiled bath and overall feel of the 1970s. Sarah Smith, a 43-year-old mum-of-two from Hellesdon, Norwich, moved into the house with the winning bathroom a year ago. She said: "Many people have asked me if I feel embarrassed. No was my answer. ''My brown bathroom was clearly someone?s pride and joy at some point as it?s as good as the day it was put in many years ago?.

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    Photo Taken In Aachen, Germany
    (Picture: Getty Images/EyeEm)

    It’s just one of those situations that you’re never sure merits laughter or tears.

    Thankfully, this fishy saga had something approaching a happy ending, even it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

    Lanice Powless was travelling through Denver International Airport with her much loved pet fish Cassie, a vibrantly colored male betta.

    However, it wasn’t long before the college student found herself on the wrong side of stringent Southwest Airlines policy, despite Transport Security Administration regulations that allow fish on planes.

    The official policy declares that ‘live fish in water and a clear transparent container are allowed after inspection by the TSA officer’.

    Yet, as airport staff discovered the fish, they turned it into lost and found, according to a report by Fox News.

    ‘The fish was found on concourse C at the airport last week by an airport employee and turned in to an information booth (as is common with lost and found items),’ runs the official statement provided to the outlet.

    Though it wasn’t a case of stony hearted abandonment on Powless’ part. After her request to leave her fishy mate in the custody of a friend was denied, things started to get slightly desperate.

    Still hoping to make her flight, Powless started turning to strangers waiting for different airlines, to see if they’d promise to take appropriate care of her watery charge.

    According to the same reports, she did manage to find a willing savior, though it seems probable that someone – allegedly – left the fish in the airport concourse.

    Staff at the airport ended up taking care of the fish and even shared an updated photo, hoping to reach Powless.

    And miraculously, they’ve since confirmed that the fish has been picked up.

    ‘Our great customer service team took care of Cassie until we could reunite him with his owner. A friend of the owner picked up the fish on Tuesday,’ the statement read.

    Something rather heartwarming about the whole fiasco, isn’t there?

    MORE: Fish and chips as you know them could be about to change

    MORE: Woman loses toenail after trendy fish pedicure

     

     

     


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    Bride and groom holding their hands together
    (Picture: Getty Images/Moment RF)

    We’ve had a lot of brilliant bridal moments in 2018.

    There was the bride who threatened to delete her friends on Facebook for refusing to pay £2,000 to attend her wedding. The bride who planned to hold a polygraph party after her weight-based dress code went viral.

    Today’s bride’s actions aren’t so clearly right or wrong.

    She posted her story on Reddit to ask if she was, in fact, the asshole, and the results showed that she was not.

    But some parents might disagree with that verdict.

    You see, this bride kicked a crying child and their parents out of her wedding.

    The bride, who goes by buildingtile, explains that her wedding invitations had clearly stated that children wouldn’t be allowed at her wedding. Despite this, a family friend and her husband turned up with their infant and toddler.

    The bride put up with it during the ceremony because, well, she was busy getting married.

    But when it was time for the reception, the presence of the kiddos started to grate.

    ‘I had many other guests and didn’t really feel like dealing with it so I asked our event planner to go over to them and discuss whether someone was picking up the child as the reception (and wedding, frankly!) were not supposed to have children,’ writes buildingtiles.

    ‘I mean, everyone was drinking and loud and rowdy and a crying child and another little one running around was not part of the plan. (The infant already had to be taken out once during the wedding ceremony because of fussiness and the toddler was, from what I could see, already appearing cranky).

    Rear view of little bridesmaids with balloons running in garden
    (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

    ‘My event planner went to talk to the couple. I could tell they were arguing with my event planner though so I went over to help him.

    ‘I think they thought I came to rescue them because they started going on about how rude my event planner was. I explained that I had actually sent him over to discuss the children. I reiterated that the event was child-free and said that I had stated so clearly on my invitations.

    ‘The wife gave a sort of apology and then assured me that they were capable of minding their own children to make sure they didn’t get in the way of anything.

    ‘I said that wasn’t really the point. That’s when my now-husband comes over and he and the other woman’s husband begin going back and forth and things got a little heated.

    ‘Finally I snapped and said that they just needed to go, which, thankfully they did without much more noise. Still, the whole scene was incredibly embarrassing which is exactly what I wanted to avoid.

    ‘I really hate that my wedding day had to be somewhat marred by this incident. According to my mother, everyone was talking about it and I guess enjoying a little dramatic entertainment.’

    So basically, kids turn up, bride kicks ’em out because kids aren’t allowed.

    She asks: ‘Was I the a-hole for making them leave?’

    Overwhelmingly, Redditors declared that the bride was not the a-hole.

    ‘I have a baby,’ wrote one commenter. ‘When I get invited to things like weddings, I scour the invitation and sometimes check in just to make sure it’s ok to bring the baby.

    ‘If no babies are allowed, I get a sitter or don’t go. I would never think to impose on someone’s day like that.’

    Another wrote: ‘They are the assholes for thinking they and their little crotch-spawn were special and exempt from the event guidelines.’

    So, there you have it. If a wedding invite says no kids, don’t bring your kids. Easy.

    MORE: Bride walks down the aisle with her childhood teddy bear in her arms

    MORE: The 19 best tipples to gift this festive season to make it even more merry

    MORE: Same-sex couple create gay wedding Barbie doll set for niece


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    Fairy lights, festive theatre and the best shops in the land – London is always popular for a weekend break around Christmas and New Year.

    Whether you’re planning a last-minute dash around Liberty’s, fancy a trip to Winter Wonderland or want to see a panto, there’s no shortage of entertainment.

    Twixmas (the bit between Christmas and New Year) is another great time to visit if you know you’ll end up with a wad of vouchers or have the balls for Boxing Day or early January sales.

    If you’re planning a London weekend break there’s no shortage of options when it comes to hotels.

    Here’s some suggestions across the city, for a range of budgets.

    Jumeirah Carlton Tower

    Jumeirah Carlton Tower’s afternoon tea (Picture: Jumeirah Carlton Tower)

    Looking for labels and fizz? Head to this gold-hued five-star hotel in the fancy pants part of London with its pretty but tasteful decorations.

    They serve a Christmas afternoon tea and delicious dates, rooms come with their own iPads and Molton Brown toiletries, while the mini bars are stocked with Laurent-Perrier.

    Nearest tube? Knightsbridge.

    What’s nearby? Harrods, Harvey Nichols and designer stores.

    Cost? Rooms at Jumeirah Carlton Tower start from £325.

    They also have a Festive Family Time package including accommodation for children, butler service, breakfast, Champagne and festive toys, cookies and films from £702 until December 31.

    Best for: Those looking for unabashed luxury and a lovely spa and pool.

    Royal Lancaster London

    Royal Lancaster London’s Park Suite. The hotel also serves a festive afternoon tea (Picture: Royal Lancaster London)

    This stylish five-star hotel hotel with views of Hyde Park and beyond has recently had an £85million facelift.

    There’s a ginormous Christmas tree in the lobby, pastel furniture and arty decor in the rooms and their Thai restaurant, Nipa Thai, is renowned.

    Nearest tube? Lancaster Gate.

    What’s nearby? Notting Hill and Hyde Park. Hop on the Central Line one way to Oxford street, or the other to White City for Westfield shopping centre.

    Cost? Rooms at Royal Lancaster London cost from £219 per night.

    Best for: Stunning views of Winter Wonderland and New Year’s Eve fireworks.

    Park Plaza London Riverbank

    (Picture: Park Plaza London Riverbank)

    Fans of CS Lewis and Christmas in general will love the hotel’s Ultimate Christmas Suite (also pictured top) – it’s an indoor winter wonderland of fairly lights, fake fur and snow.

    Inspired by The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, you can’t help but feel festive thanks to the glittering trees, sleigh and stockings.

    Nearest tube? Vauxhall.

    What’s nearby? Tate Britain. For shopping, take the Victoria line to Oxford Street.

    Cost? Park Plaza London Riverbank’s Ultimate Christmas Suite costs from £159. You can book it until 27 December. Standard rooms cost from £119.

    Best for: Bringing out your inner child and rereading festive favourites in a comfy bed.

    Royal Garden Hotel Kensington

    The hotel’s Christmas afternoon tea costs from £31. The venue also serves Christmas lunch and New Year’s Eve dinner at its Chinese restaurant Min Jiang (Picture: Royal Garden Hotel)

    A classically British hotel, with elegant decor and pleasant staff.

    You’re practically hanging over Hyde Park here, with views of the greenery below, which makes for a surprisingly calm city break.

    Nearest tube? High Street Kensington.

    What’s nearby? A London high street more manageable than the giants – with shops including L’Occitane, Waterstones, Whole Foods and M&S, plus The Ivy for a fancy lunch.

    Cost? Rooms at Royal Garden Hotel Kensington cost from £195.50 per night.

    Best for: Pretending you’re a minor royal popping in to Kensington Palace for Christmas

    InterContinental London – The O2

    The hotel’s bar, restaurant and rooms have great views (Picture: InterContinental London – The O2)

    With festive shows such as Disney On Ice, not to mention gigs from Peter Kay and The 1975, coming up at the O2, this hotel is handy if you don’t fancy the rush to catch your last train home.

    It makes for a fine stay even if you’re shunning the O2 itself – the hotel’s Peninsula Restaurant serves up stunning meals with a gorgeous view.

    Nearest tube? North Greenwich.

    What’s nearby? The O2! For shops, hop on the Jubilee line to Westfield in Stratford or Canary Wharf with its four, smaller malls.

    Cost? Rooms at InterContinental London – The O2 cost from £195, including breakfast. Their New Year’s Eve dinner costs £75.

    Best for: Utterly beautiful meals and a room with a view to retreat to after a show.

    Le Meridien Piccadilly

    The Tomb Of Set I cocktail at Maskelyne & Cooke, the magic-themed bar at Le Meridien Piccadilly (Picture: Le Meridien Piccadilly)

    A great place for fearless shoppers and theatre-lovers alike, this hotel’s location in the heart of tourist London is excellent, and there’s a lovely pool too.

    Their bar, Maskelyne & Cooke is great fun, with decadent snacks such as mini beef Wellington, inventive drinks and a magician performing table tricks.

    Nearest tube? Piccadilly Circus.

    What’s nearby? All the big shops and shows. In Soho you can get Christmas gel nails at a Nail’d It salon (quote #CostaChristmasNails for 20 per cent off).

    Cost? Rooms at Le Meridien Piccadilly cost from £234 per night and you can also book a magic masterclass.

    Best for: Impressive cocktails and magic to make your head spin.

    Mercure London Hyde Park

    The lobby (Picture: Mercure London Hyde Park)

    Celebrating London on the big screen, this has film memorabilia in the lobby and tickets to Electric Cinema in Portobello.

    Rooms are compact but pretty, and breakfast includes very good quality pastries.

    Nearest tube? Paddington.

    What’s nearby? Hyde Park and Paddington station.

    Cost? The film package, which includes breakfast, cinema vouchers, popcorn and a guide to locations used in the original Mary Poppins, runs until February 28, cost from £163.

    Best for: Film fans.

    DoubleTree by Hilton London – Tower of London

    The Narnia-themed bar (Picture: Hilton)

    Looking to learn about old London? This is well-placed near The Tower Of London and St Paul’s Cathedral.

    There’s also a Narnia-themed roof top bar here, with swish views over the city.

    Nearest tube? Tower Hill.

    What’s nearby? The Tower, complete with its seasonal ice rink. Foodies should head to Borough Market, for vintage fashion, Old Spitalfields Market.

    Cost? Rooms at DoubleTree by Hilton London – Tower of London cost from £92 (as part of Hilton’s winter sale which offers 25 per cent off more than 400 hotels until January 31).

    Best for: History buffs.

    Waterloo Central Travelodge Plus

    (Picture: Travelodge)

    Flat screen TVs, comfy beds and Kit Kats in the tea kit – this may be a cheaper option but it’s all you need.

    The hotel recently had a refurb so everything’s shiny, and the £8.95 buffet breakfast is good quality with lots of options.

    Nearest tube? Waterloo.

    What’s nearby? The Old Vic, currently staging A Christmas Carol, and the Young Vic.

    Cost? Rooms at Waterloo Central Travelodge Plus cost from £49. Outside London, Travelodge is selling 2million rooms for £29 per night until October 21 2019 (excludes Travelodge Plus).

    Best for: Budget-conscious theatre-lovers and those travelling into London Waterloo.

    Ibis London Canning Town

    (Picture: Accor Hotels)

    Right opposite Canning Town tube, this no frills hotel boasts a cheerful bar on the ground floor and quiet rooms above.

    There’s a late night pizza menu and all the basics.

    Nearest tube? Canning Town.

    What’s nearby? Not much, but on the Jubilee line the O2 is one stop away, or take the same line into the centre of London for all the shops you need.

    Cost? Rooms at Ibis London Canning Town cost from £43.

    Best for: Super-savers looking for a well-connected stay.

    MORE: Every year reindeer visit a care home to bring festive cheer to elderly residents

    MORE: Oh great, here are the alibis cheaters will use to see their lovers over Christmas

    MORE: 12 Burgers of Christmas: 12 of the best festive burgers available in London


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    Pippin, The Dog Who Became The Face Of The WeRateDogs Account, Has Died
    (Picture: Twitter/WeRateDogs)

    You may not know Pippin’s name, but you’ll remember his face.

    That’s because for the last three years, its been this dog’s face accompanying those hugely-shared ratings of dogs all over Twitter.

    Pippin is not the creator of WeRateDogs because, well, he’s a dog. The creator is Matt Nelson.

    But since the account’s inception, Pippin’s face has been the Twitter account’s profile picture, making him the face of the dog reviewing account with more than 7 million followers.

    Now, sadly, he has passed away.

    The WeRateDogs account shared the news with photos of Pippin as a puppy and on his birthday, writing: ‘This is Pippin, but you know him better as my profile picture.

    ‘He was the catalyst for the kindest online community ever and his intense expression will never be matched. Pippin passed away this week due to complications of old age, but he’ll live on with every post. 15/10.’

    If you’re not familiar with the rating scale for dogs, it’s worth noting that 15/10 is an honour given only to the very best pups.

    Matt Nelson has never given a rating higher than 15, and previous recipients of the high score include Smiley the bling therapy dog who passed away last year, Piper the airport K9, a therapy dog who visited survivors of shootings, a dog who saved his owner from a rattlesnake, and Justice, who provides support to survivors of sexual assault.

    Matt told BuzzFeed that he found Pippin’s headshot by typing ‘funny dog’ into Google images then buying the rights to the photo, which was in an iStock collection.

    When the WeRateDogs account grew in popularity, Pippin’s owners got in touch and made friends.

    This week Pippin’s owners let Matt know that their dog had passed away.

    He’ll live on forever on the internet and in our hearts.

    MORE: Will you adopt this dog to save her from a kill shelter?

    MORE: Will you help these rejected dogs find a home in time for Christmas?


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    How Satanists celebrate Christmas
    (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    Most of us have an angel on the top of our tree.

    But here might be some who’d prefer something a little more devilish; Satanists.

    Far from being a celebration of all things occult, however, many Satanists will be enjoying their roasties and gifts right alongside everyone else.

    Satanism is a maligned and misunderstood religion.

    People tend to have an idea that Satanists are into sacrifices and doing drinking blood. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

    LaVeyan Satanism is one of the more well-known movements, which we’ll speak about here due to the fact there is more written about the ‘rules’ than any other denomination. That said, as Satanism has no one set of doctrines, people can identify and live as Satanists and find that the tenets of the LaVeyan Church don’t apply to them.

    These tenets are:

    1. Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence.
    2. Satan represents vital existence instead of spiritual pipe dreams.
    3. Satan represents undefiled wisdom instead of hypocritical self-deceit.
    4. Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates.
    5. Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek.
    6. Satan represents responsibility to the responsible instead of concern for psychic vampires.
    7. Satan represents man as just another animal who, because of his ‘divine spiritual and intellectual development’, has become the most vicious animal of all.
    8. Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification.
    9. Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years.

    Essentially, Satanism is a philosophy that focuses on the here and now rather than a higher power.

    It’s similar to humanism in a number of ways, but recognises the ‘bad’ emotions we might feel and embraces them. The r/satanism subreddit says it best: ‘While Humanists may try to live like Bill & Ted and be excellent to eachother, a Satanist recognizes that emotions like anger, even hate are natural to the human animal and we shouldn’t feel guilty for such natural inclinations.

    ‘While Christians may turn the other cheek when wronged, you can be sure that a Satanist will have their revenge, with interest.’

    In terms of the idea of sacrifices and other rituals associated with Satanism, these myths were often perpetuated by certain Christian groups to promote a fear of the religion.

    The type of magic that Satanists believe in could range from the human magic of persuasion to changing your own mental state to prompt an outcome.

    Most Satanists love life and see children and animals as wholly pure, vowing never to harm them.

    So, when it comes to Christmas, there is nothing all too different to speak of. Christmas traditions often stem from Pagan ones, so as long as the birth of Christ isn’t the focus of the day, it can still be enjoyed by those who follow Satanism.

    Eating good food, drinking nice wine, and gift giving with family are all common themes amongst the Satanists I spoke to online, since they embody indulgence and the richness of life in the moment.

    Some Satanists might choose not to celebrate at all, since it’s centred on the self and that person may simply not enjoy the holiday season.

    You might not want to get into any Christmas arguments with a Satanist, since there’s every chance they’ll get their sweet, festive revenge. Otherwise, though, you’ll have a brilliant Yuletide.

    Here are what some Satanists told us over on Reddit:

    ‘I don’t celebrate Christmas. But I do participate in certain aspects because it’s fun. It’s a secular approach. I take the Christ out of Christmas’

    ‘I’ll be spending time with my family and giving gifts. Yule is just one of many pagan celebrations that has been misappropriated by Christianity so I see no harm in taking part and doing it my way.’

    ‘I will spend time with my family, eat the awesome Yule food (with many of the dishes predating Christianity in Sweden, hail Odin!) and get a bit tipsy. So yeah, I’ll celebrate Christmas. In a very secular way.’

    ‘I do as my fiance loves it. She was raised a secular atheist so it’s not like we’re actually honoring Christ, and the traditions far outdate Christ anyways.’

    ‘I don’t celebrate Christmas. I exchange gifts with my family because it’s expected and I think they would be upset if I didn’t participate, but that’s as far as I extend myself for the holiday.

    ‘I don’t enjoy Christmas at all, I think it’s mostly just a huge scam and it makes doing regular shit like going shopping a huge pain in the ass, and then almost everything is closed for 2 days, which is annoying if you’re not observing the holiday. I do like getting a few days off work though, so that’s the best part for me, haha.’

    ‘Sadly, I don’t celebrate on 25 December because I live in a strictly orthodox community where it’s celebrated on 7 January and it’s completely different. I’ve always envied those who get to share presents on Christmas morning.’

    ‘I won’t be doing any celebrating outside of what my Catholic housemates insist upon, but I will be enjoying the extra hourly pay and Christmas bonus (and tip money!) from my employer.’

    ‘I’m gonna hang out with family and give/receive gifts. Nothing religious about it to me.’

    ‘Spending time with family, getting and giving gifts, eating and all the other Christmas things. It’s always a really nice time of year. It’s a holiday season for many different cultures and here in America it’s mainly a commercial thing.’

    ‘I join in the festivities because it’s fun, but it’s not about the birth of Christ for me, it’s about sharing closeness and revelry with the people I love and respect.’

    MORE: Witches at Christmas: Meet the women who celebrate with spells

    MORE: Where to buy cheap Christmas jumpers for the festive holidays


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    (Picture: Battersea Dogs and Cats Home)

    Okay, so you’ve left it a little late and realised that all your partner/parents/kids want for Christmas is a cat.

    We don’t blame them. Cats are great.

    Rather than hurriedly trawling the web for kittens for sale, why not make Kevin’s Christmas wish come true?

    Kevin is a cat currently living at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. All he wants is a loving family in time for Christmas (so do feel free to pick him up early).

    Just like Kevin McAllister, Kevin the cat was left all alone at home. He was found after his family moved house and decided not to take their cat with him.

    (Picture: Battersea Dogs and Cats Home)

    Sad, lonely, and abandoned, Kevin was lucky to be found by a neighbour, who took him to Battersea where he could be properly cared for.

    After getting the all-clear from the vet, 11-year-old cat Kevin is now ready to move into a new home with a family who’ll give him all the love he deserves.

    Rachel Saunders, Cattery Manager at Battersea, said: ‘Here at Battersea we get hundreds of strays brought in every year and sadly a number of those are cats that have been left behind when their owners have moved away.

    (Picture: Battersea Dogs and Cats Home)

    ‘We understand that people’s circumstances change and they may no longer be able to care for their pet, but we urge anyone in that situation to bring their cat in to a rescue centre rather than leaving them to fend for themselves.

    ‘Kevin is a very sweet cat with a playful side that belies his years. We would love to see him find a new home before the end of the year.’

    If you’re keen to give lovely Kevin the home he deserves, get in touch with Battersea.

    (Picture: Battersea Dogs and Cats Home)

    And don’t give up if he’s already been snatched up – sadly, Kevin’s not the only cat who’s been left behind when an owner moved away.

    Earlier this year a cat named Tyler was brought into the shelter after his owner moved overseas with no warning, leaving the cat inside the house with no one to care for him.

    There are a load of cats in shelters who’ve had a rubbish time, and who desperately deserve all the love you could give them. If you are planning to add a cat to your family this Christmas, head to shelters before you go kitten-shopping.

    MORE: Christmas advert for RSPCA will probably make you cry – in a good way

    MORE: Sad news: Pippin, the face of WeRateDogs, has died

    MORE: Will you adopt this dog to save her from a kill shelter?


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    London is set to be buzzing this New Year’s Eve with thousands expected to hit the capital to ring in the new year in style.

    But if the idea of getting squashed in a crowded nightclub at midnight doesn’t suit you, don’t worry.

    There’s dozens of great New Year’s Eve events going on, from the most exclusive parties and shows to swanky dinners and shows.

    Here’s our top picks to kickstart your 2019 with a bang:

    Jimmy’s Lodge by the river 

    Jimmy’s Lodge is offering a NYE party to remember with bottomless booze and food as you watch the fireworks from the exclusive ticketed area on the Southbank (Picture: Jimmy’s Lodge)

    Jimmy’s Lodge is offering a night to remember with bottomless booze and food as you watch the fireworks from the exclusive ticketed area on the Southbank.

    For £150pp, you can enjoy unlimited booze, including cocktails and champagne, from 7pm to 2am downstairs as well as some delicious canape dishes, a selection of street food and even croque monsieurs at midnight.

    Neil Diablo will be playing al fresco on the decks as you watch the spectacular views of the fireworks.

    There’s also still opportunity to book one of the igloos if you and your friends feel like getting fancy. It is pricey though, £3000 per igloo, but if you split that between 10 pals, it’s £300per person.

    If you’re after a more casual evening, there’s also a £75 ticket available which includes canapes, a selection of street food and bubbles at midnight.

    To book, visit Design My Night and enter the discount code JIMMYSNYE.

    The Nutcracker at Royal Albert Hall 

    The Royal Albert Hall is hosting two special performances of The Nutcracker on New Year’s Eve, which is guaranteed to be a treat for all (Picture: The Nutcracker)

    Still not over the Christmassy feels? The Royal Albert Hall is hosting two special performances of The Nutcracker on New Year’s Eve, which is guaranteed to be a treat for all.

    Created especially for the Royal Albert Hall, with impressive period costumes, stunning lighting and projections by Tony Award-winning 59 Productions, this Christmas classic is brought to life by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s world-class dancers and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

    The orchestra will be conducted by Koen Kessels, the music director of the Royal Ballet, and the show features acclaimed principals Celine Gittens, the first mixed-race ballerina to star in Swan Lake in Britain and Brandon Lawrence, who has been nominated for two National Dance Awards.

    There are still spaces to book for either the 12pm (matinee) show or the 4pm show and tickets cost between £35 to £85.

    Click here to book.

    NYE at InterContinental O2

    Ring in the new year in the swanky Eighteen Sky Bar at InterContinental O2  (Picture: Intercontinental O2)

    Ring in the new year at the swanky InterContinental O2, which is offering a number of packages for guests to celebrate with delicious food, champagne, music and fireworks.

    Restaurant and bar packages start from £75pp, which include champagne, canapes and live music in the spectacular Eighteen Sky Bar, to tasting menu experiences at the award-winning Peninsula Restaurant.

    For those wanting to spend the night, the hotel has also launched Luxury New Year’s Eve Getaway packages which includes overnight accommodation with city views, bubbles on arrival, complimentary breakfast, late check-out and a special tasting menu experience at the Peninsula Restaurant.

    For more information and to book, visit iclondon-theo2.com/Christmas or contact the hotel on 020 8433 6868.

    Bunga Bunga party, Covent Garden

    Bunga Bunga party
    Don Silvio and his gangsters are throwing the ultimate New Year’s Eve bash at Bunga Bunga in Covent Garden for £90 per person (Picture: Bunga Bunga / Facebook)

    Don Silvio and his gangsters are throwing the ultimate New Year’s Eve bash at Bunga Bunga in Covent Garden.

    After entering through The Don’s secret meat locker, you’ll be treated to a Belvedere Espresso Martini followed by a four-course Italiano feast as you enjoy the sounds of the live band ‘The Bunga Boys’ and performances.

    Following the NYE countdown, you’ll get a glass of Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV Champagne and at 2am, you’ll get a slice of ‘power-through pizza’ to keep you going until 4am.

    Tickets for dinner and party are £90pp while after-party tickets are £25pp. You can book them here.

    Hotel Indigo, Leicester Square

    hotel-indigo
    Situated on the ninth floor, you’ll enjoy an evening of music, small sharing plates and canapes to sample, bottomless house drinks and unrivalled views of London’s most impressive architectural icons. (Picture: Hotel Indigo)

    Located at one of London’s most iconic addresses, Hotel Indigo at Leicester Square is inviting guests to ring in the New Year in style with a spectacular rooftop extravaganza.

    Boasting the only rooftop terrace in Leicester Square and situated on the ninth floor, you’ll enjoy an evening of music, small sharing plates and canapes to sample, bottomless house drinks and unrivalled views of London’s most impressive architectural icons.

    The rooftop is guaranteed to be one of the best views to watch the fireworks as the clock strikes midnight with the celebrations continuing until the early hours of the morning.

    Tickets start from £225pp, which include canapes, small plates, sweets and unlimited house drinks.

    For bigger groups, the venue has created a special package priced at £2,200 for a table of 8 people, which include canapes, small plates, sweets and unlimited drinks. Tickets can be purchased directly here.

    The Carnival of Light at The Troxy

    The Carnival of Light at The Troxy, Tower Hamlets
    Expect huge, light-inspired creatures roaming the crowd, stunning live dances, acrobatics and circus performers at The Carnival of Light at The Troxy (Picture: Facebook)

    The Carnival Of Light is a New Years Eve party with a twist.

    Taking place at the Troxy, it’s set to be a visual spectacle from 10pm to 3am, featuring a one-off, headline DJ set from Jaguar Skills.

    thumbnail for post ID 8276984The Tory party faces years in opposition because of Brexit, George Osborne warns

    Expect huge, light-inspired creatures roaming the crowd, stunning live dances, acrobatics and circus performers, set against the backdrop of dozens of lantern installations, incredible laser shows, huge UV displays, light costumes, indoor fireworks, CO2 and confetti.

    There’s also going to be live parades move through the venue, including the illuminated Chinese Dragon, fire performances, psychedelic body paint dips, neon balloon drops and more.

    Tickets are on sale from just £25 and upwards and can be bought here. 

    Luxury dinner cruise on The Thames

    City Cruises, River Thames
    For the best view of the fireworks, book a luxury dinner cruise on the Thames (Picture: City Cruises)

    City cruises are running a number of dinner cruisies on New Year’s Eve which put you in a prime location to see the NYE fireworks.

    There’s a five-hour long New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner Cruise, which includes a glass of Champagne on arrival and another at midnight, a half-bottle of wine per guest and a delicious four-course dinner menu followed by live entertainment.

    The boat departs from Tower Pier at 8.15pm and prices start from £379pp.

    For the ultimate New Year’s Eve experience, there’s a five-course Gala Dinner onboard the R.S. Hispaniola. Champagne will be served on arrival and at midnight and there’ll be live entertainment. The champagne reception and dinner starts at 7pm and prices start from £1098 for a table for two.

    Tickets can be booked here.

    Dinner and party at ONIMA, Mayfair

    ONIMA
    This new Mayfair restaurant is offering a signature a la carte menu with special edition Mediterranean-Asian flavoured plates followed by a live band and DJ (Picture: ONIMA)

    ONIMA, Mayfair’s newest venue, is hosting a New Year’s Eve celebration like no other.

    The elegant and exclusive two-storey restaurant is offering a signature a la carte menu with special edition Mediterranean-Asian flavoured plates followed by a live band and DJ to take you into the early hours of 2019.

    The NYE dinner and party package is £180pp and starts at 9pm until 3am. Just dinner is £90pp and starts at 6pm until 9pm. Early reservations for both are necessary.

    Sushisamba, Liverpool Street and Covent Garden

    LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 12: Models pose at the SUSHISAMBA Covent Garden grand opening party in partnership with Cool Earth and co-hosted by Vivienne Westwood, Jo Wood, Leah Wood and Daniel Lismore on November 12, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for SUSHISAMBA Covent Garden)
    Surround yourself with the colour of swirling Carnaval Samba dancers, feel the drumming batucada and dance the night away to the DJs’ grooves at Sushisamba (Picture: Getty)

    SUSHISAMBA, the iconic Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian restaurant, is hosting exciting celebrations in both Liverpool Street and in its newest location, Covent Garden.

    Inspired by the Brazilian tradition of Réveillon, surround yourself with the colour of swirling Carnaval Samba dancers, feel the drumming batucada and dance the night away to the DJs’ grooves as the night unfolds with music.

    A standing ticket costs £75pp and includes entry from 8pm, a welcome cocktail and a selection of canapés.

    Seating is limited and available on a first come, first serve basis.

    Sink The Pink and ice skating party at Somerset House

    SINK the PINK party
    Sink The Pink is taking to the stage over the ice rink at Somerset House for New Year’s Eve (Picture: Luke Dyson)

    The ultimate party is taking place and it’s happening on skates right in the middle of the Somerset House courtyard.

    LGBTQ collective Sink The Pink are set to take the stage over the ice rink as you skate with a front row view.

    You’ll watch and incredible show by a group who will perform group and solo numbers throughout the evening to all the big bangers, as well as a special new routine.

    Sink The Pink co-founder Glyn Fussell and co-founder of the Glory John Sizzle will be on hand as hosts, while DJ Jonbenet Blonde will be on the decks to ring in the new year.

    Tickets are £50pp or £70 including skating. To book, visit somersethouse.org.uk.

    Gala dinner with a view at Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard

    The Shard
    Shangri-la Hotel is hosting a gala dinner to remember on the 34th floor of the Shard (Picture: The Shard)

    This luxurious five-star hotel is hosting a gala dinner to celebrate NYE in style on the 34th floor of the Shard.

    Guests will be treated to a three-course menu along with live entertainment.

    Can I please get illos of two people sleeping on separate sides of the bed back to back? and any other ideas you have for sexless relationships @ellabyworth Metro illustrations Ella ByworthAn open letter to the person who needs to leave their toxic relationship

    Dishes on offer will include a salad of native lobster with sweet citrus and fennel, goose liver terrine with gingerbread and compressed pear, roast partridge with creamed celeriac, armagnac sauce and a fillet of beef with wild mushrooms and truffled red wine.

    Tickets cost £420pp, which includes a glass of Champagne on arrival or £520pp  which includes wine pairing with each course and a glass of Champagne on arrival;

    To book, contact the hotel on 0207 234 8000 or email london@shangri-la.com.

    You can also book a whole New Year’s Eve package, which includes the New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner, the New Year’s Day brunch and breakfast and a City View Room for prices starting from £2, 645.

    Dinner at ZELA London, The Strand

    ZELA is located in the vibrant West End at the ME London Hotel on The Strand – the perfect location to start the night before heading to see the fireworks (Picture: ZELA London)

    This new restaurant backed by Cristiano Ronaldo, Enrique Iglesias and Rafael Nadal is putting on an impressive soiree with a special menu to showcase a unique blend of Japanese and Mediterranean cuisine.

    Along with craft cocktails and live music, ZELA London is going to be a night to remember.

    The restaurant, which follows ZELA Ibiza, is located in the vibrant West End at the ME London Hotel on The Strand – the perfect location to start your night before heading to one of the epic NYE parties.

    Fireworks with a view at Novotel, Canary Wharf

    Novotel is running a special NYE package for £389pp which includes a guaranteed view of the fireworks with window seating on the 38th floor (Picture: Novotel London)

    Novotel is running a special NYE package for £389pp which includes a guaranteed view of the fireworks with window seating on the 38th floor, unlimited house spirits and mixers, cocktails,  prosecco, wine, beers and a bowl food buffet served from 10pm until midnight.

    Alternatively, why not have dinner at Bokan 37 restaurant, which is offering a set menu for £99 per person.

    Tickets can be booked here.

    MORE: London shopping weekends – 10 festive hotels for Christmas, New Year’s Eve or the January sales

    MORE: Two-year-old boy born with a heart condition is controlling a street of Christmas lights with his heartbeat

     


    NYENYEtanveermann1Bunga Bunga partyhotel-indigoThe Carnival of Light at The Troxy, Tower HamletsCity Cruises, River ThamesONIMALONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 12: Models pose at the SUSHISAMBA Covent Garden grand opening party in partnership with Cool Earth and co-hosted by Vivienne Westwood, Jo Wood, Leah Wood and Daniel Lismore on November 12, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for SUSHISAMBA Covent Garden)SINK the PINK partyThe ShardNYENYEtanveermann1Bunga Bunga partyhotel-indigoThe Carnival of Light at The Troxy, Tower HamletsCity Cruises, River ThamesONIMALONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 12: Models pose at the SUSHISAMBA Covent Garden grand opening party in partnership with Cool Earth and co-hosted by Vivienne Westwood, Jo Wood, Leah Wood and Daniel Lismore on November 12, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for SUSHISAMBA Covent Garden)SINK the PINK partyThe Shard

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    (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    When I saw that PureGym had asked a trans woman to leave the women’s changing room, I wasn’t surprised. Prejudice still has a far greater impact on society than we like to think it does.

    The story reminded me of my own experiences when I came out as a girl at secondary school.

    I wasn’t called by my name or pronouns, and I wasn’t allowed to use the girls’ toilets or changing rooms. Back then, I was shut out from sports by my school, and now I am shut out outdated bigotry, particularly aimed at trans women.

    It’s comforting to assume that the vast majority of transphobia happens in faraway places like America, but the reality is that it’s just as common here in a country as inclusive as the UK.

    In fact, the same arguments we see now directed against trans people were not that long ago being used to attack lesbians and gay men. There are lots of accounts from the 80s of lesbians being told they aren’t real women and being excluded from such spaces.

    As recently as this year, there were stories of butch women being made to feel unwelcome in women’s spaces, highlighted in a video by the LGBT organisation, Stonewall. Trans women may be at the centre of this argument, but it absolutely still applies to the cis lesbian and gay communities as well.

    It’s easy to see the parallels between then and now, and to conclude that we haven’t progressed very far at all.

    As with my school, I feel the appropriate response here would be to lawyer up and sue PureGym – but this isn’t an easy or cheap thing to do, and does very little to temper the feelings of unwelcome that the company has created.

    It’s also worth acknowledging that the very kind of trans woman this would impact is the kind least likely to be able to afford this type of legal process or to find an accepting alternative.

    It often confirms internal biases that maybe we are wrong and, when we are removed, a problem that’s fixed.

    This is absolutely a class issue.

    The more you look like society’s idea of an acceptable or conforming man or woman, the more likely you are to be able to fully use spaces like gyms.

    But to achieve this requires money for things like facial surgery or to skip the ever-growing lines for transgender treatments, such as hormones, by going to a private doctor.

    It wasn’t until very recently that I felt comfortable getting involved in sports at all. I feel lucky that my current university has sports teams and areas for ‘womxn’ – an inclusive term created by radical feminists, which signals that any kind of woman is welcome and can participate fully.

    We also have events around campaigns like ‘This Girl Can’ – which promotes the message that women and girls should work out, irregardless of body type, and in an environment free of judgement.

    PureGym advertises under the slogan of ‘everybody welcome’ but it’s easy to see how the company could learn a lot from places like my university, as well as the wider female sports movement, who are truly aiming to deliver for everyone.

    The many women (and that includes trans women) who face prejudice, misogyny and violence every day will never have the rights and the spaces that we deserve unless we stand together against the few who would like to exclude us.

    This is just a small part of a greater need to encourage all kinds of girls and women to get physically active, and to feel welcome engaging in sports. But, for now, it’s clear that contrary to its mission statement, PureGym is part of the problem, not the solution.

    It’s sad to think that I could be valued less as a customer to a company like PureGym, and sad to think that instead of challenging transphobia, it’s easier to just remove the trans people.

    It often confirms internal biases that maybe we are wrong and, when we are removed, a problem that’s fixed.

    I’m grateful I don’t fall into this category – but maybe I would, if I ever found myself in a similar situation to the poor trans woman who was asked to leave.

    My heart goes out to her, and my hope is that one day we can live in a world where such problems don’t exist; one where if a bigot has a problem with us because of how we look, they are asked to leave – not us.

    Pure Gym were approached for a comment and a spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘PureGym’s mission is to make fitness accessible to all and ‘Everybody Welcome’ is at the heart of everything we do. That core principle underpins our clear guidance to staff when supporting transgender access, which is itself based on industry guidelines.

    ‘In addition to male and female changing rooms, our gyms offer separate changing facilities and we support members to use the changing facilities that are best for them and take into consideration other members. PureGym has a zero tolerance policy on any transphobic behaviour from staff or other members.’

    MORE: All I want for Christmas is a UK that is safe for trans children like my daughter

    MORE: Trans people are being killed. Action must be taken now if we are to protect the next generation

    MORE: We could have used a trans survival guide growing up: By writing one we hope to make today’s teens feel proud of who they are


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    Can I please get illos of two people sleeping on separate sides of the bed back to back? and any other ideas you have for sexless relationships @ellabyworth Metro illustrations Ella Byworth
    (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    To the person in a relationship that isn’t making you genuinely happy, I hope you find the courage within you to leave and focus on yourself.

    When you’re in a toxic relationship – and by toxic I mean a relationship that is constantly bringing you down, making you doubt yourself, and bringing you more moments of sadness than joy – it’s like your self image totally changes.

    You become so used to being with someone who doesn’t fulfil your needs that you end up forgetting all about what you deserve.

    You lose the person you once were, forgetting everything that made you happy before you were with someone who didn’t.

    You begin to doubt yourself. You feel unworthy. Unwanted. Unlovable.

    And it’s strange, because when you’re with someone who makes you feel this way you still seem to stay – because you convince yourself that you’re the problem. If you’re with someone and unhappy, maybe that’s your own fault. Who else is going to want you if you can’t seem to do anything right with this person?

    Don’t think about that. That’s your insecurity and self-doubt talking.

    Don’t let your happiness be defined by someone wanting you. Don’t let your happiness depend on the offerings of another person.

    Find the love within yourself.

    If you are in a toxic relationship, I hope that you one day find the strength to leave. I hope that you one day find it within you to realise enough is enough.

    I hope you find the courage to realise that you are deserving of love and happiness.

    I hope that when you do finally leave, you take time for yourself. You look back on all of the sadness you felt being with somebody who was supposed to lift you up, who was supposed to remind you of what an amazing person you are, and realise that you are worth so much more.

    You are worth so much more than someone who cannot see your worth.

    You are worth so much more than someone who makes you question whether you are good enough.

    You are worth so much more than someone who makes you doubt who you are.

    (Picture: Phébe Lou Morson for Metro.co.uk)

    And you are worth so much more than someone who has a negative impact on your mental health and wellbeing.

    It’s difficult leaving a toxic relationship. No matter how unhappy you are, it seems that when it comes to an ending, you see everything through rose tinted glasses.

    Suddenly, the other person wasn’t the problem – you were. Suddenly, they look like the most amazing person in the world.

    But this initial sense of loss will pass. It will. I promise.

    A relationship takes two and nobody in one is ever perfect – but don’t try to find reasons to stay with someone if it just isn’t working.

    If they just aren’t right for you, aren’t what you need, or fail to make you happy, don’t question whether you should feel this way or not – take it as it is.

    Deep down, no matter how many times you tell yourself ‘it will get better’ or ‘they will change’, you know it’s not true.

    Maybe you’re in an unhappy relationship but you can’t tell that it’s toxic. There is a difference.

    Unhappy relationship happen. You lose the love and you’re both ready to call it quits.

    But a relationship becomes toxic when it’s unhealthy. If your partner is constantly bringing you down, if you’re made to feel unattractive, if you’re being controlled, if you’re being made to feel like you just aren’t enough.

    Don’t stay in a relationship like this. It is so detrimental to your health, and no matter how many times you tell yourself it’s ‘better than being alone’, it really isn’t.

    Yes, the first few weeks or months may be hard. You’ve grown used to being around someone – it doesn’t mean you enjoyed being around them.

    When you leave a toxic relationship, you open a whole new set of doors to finding yourself. To revisiting things you enjoyed before, to meeting up with people you stopped seeing. To spend time by yourself and learn to live in comfort with yourself.

    It may seem scary, but I promise you, being alone and happy is better than being in a relationship and miserable.

    And when you’re finally over the initial, temporary heartache, you’ll come to realise that.

    MORE: What it’s like spending Christmas Day with strangers you met online

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    How to stop saying sorryHow to stop saying sorryhattiegladwellmetroCan I please get illos of two people sleeping on separate sides of the bed back to back? and any other ideas you have for sexless relationships @ellabyworth Metro illustrations Ella ByworthHow to stop saying sorryHow to stop saying sorryhattiegladwellmetroCan I please get illos of two people sleeping on separate sides of the bed back to back? and any other ideas you have for sexless relationships @ellabyworth Metro illustrations Ella Byworth

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    Imagine waking up on Christmas morning to the sound of a lock being turned and a heavy steel door being flung open.

    Imagine opening your eyes to a sparse cell, with a few frayed photos tacked to the wall and a stainless steel toilet and sink in the corner instead of a tree. Imagine pulling on your grey, prison issue uniform and descending the metal staircase to the breakfast hall.

    Imagine beginning Christmas day away from your loved ones, but surrounded by hundreds of other inmates dreaming of home.

    This is the reality for over 80,000 people in the UK who will spend Christmas day in prison this year.

    Former member of the Manchester underworld Cody Lachey has spent two Christmases in prison. One at HMP Manchester, better known as Strangeways and another at private Manchester prison, Forest Bank.

    Cody explains that Christmas in Strangeways felt like any other day. The inmates ate in their cells and remained on lockdown for 23 hours. The only exception was a tree in the prison’s central rotunda and a Christmas meal consisting of ‘anaemic chicken, watery gravy and roast spuds you could have put a window through with.’

    Cody is now a criminal justice and prisoners’ rights campaigner, giving talks at universities and regularly posting to his YouTube channel Ex Con Cody. The former member of both the Gooch and Noonan Brother’s gang reveals that in the two prisons he served in, inmates could not be sent presents. They could not receive incoming phone calls and any letters or cards had to be photocopied due to incidences of letters being soaked with psycho-active substance spice.

    cody lachey
    (Picture: Cody Lachey)

    Issues such as substance abuse and drug dealing remain rife in prisons. Senior Prison Officer and National Executive Committee member of the Prison Officers Association Andrew Baxter tells us: ‘These things don’t stop just because it’s Christmas. Nor do assaults on staff or disruptive behaviours.’

    In his 29 years as a prison officer at three prisons, Andrew has seen many Christmases inside.

    Officers do not receive extra pay for holiday shifts and the cuts to prison budgets have resulted in drastic understaffing. When discussing the controversial subject of inmates being served luxury Christmas dinners, Andrew explains that there is no extra food budget. This means that in the weeks preceding Christmas, the meals are of a lower quality than usual to stretch the funds.

    The last prison Andrew served at, named Holme House in Durham, had extended periods of association (time outside cells) on the day. The officers also organised table tennis and pool tournaments with prizes of £1 canteen credit for the winners. The total prize fund for 190 prisoners was £10.

    Cody also mentions tournaments being held at Forest Bank, where he served nine and a half months for assaulting a police officer. He said: ‘We’d have five or six hours of association. You can play games, there might be a table tennis tournament or pool games where you could win £2 phone credit or a box of Celebrations. It’s all about keeping prisoners occupied.’

    At Forest Bank, Cody was on the cleaning team, paid £10.75 per week. At Christmas, the team pooled their wages to buy extra treats including crisps and chocolate cake.

    ‘We’d gamble amongst ourselves, on the lottery or football scores,’ says Cody. ‘We’d bet a pound, but because we couldn’t deal with money, it would be a bottle of shower gel or a pack of ten Rocky bars.’

    While some prisoners try to, as Cody says, ‘make the best of it’, Christmas is the time inmates are most affected by being away from their families. Andrew says he’d had prisoners ask him to keep their TVs over Christmas so they wouldn’t be reminded of the festivities outside.

    Cody shares that at Forest Bank, he found his best friend crying in his cell on Christmas morning because he couldn’t be with his children.

    Being away from family and loved ones is hard enough at any time. At Christmas, it’s hell

    As much as prisoners are deprived of their family at Christmas, their loved ones are also bereft of them. South London senior nursery manager Marcia Kent, 39, describes visiting her then 19 year old son, Dylan on Christmas Eve as ‘a horrible experience’.

    At the age of 18, Dylan got involved in an organised drugs network as part of their county lines scheme. This is where young adults and children are used as drug mules to transport drugs across counties. Dylan was sent to Weymouth for his first drop and was apprehended by the police. At his trial, he was sentenced to 22 months for holding cocaine.

    ‘When they took him down, I couldn’t breathe,’ said Marcia. ‘They’re your child and all you want to do is protect them. At first his father and I were so angry with him. He came from a stable home, had always had support.

    ‘But he’d limited his chances even more than they already were as a young black man.’

    Dylan spent Christmas 2016 in Devon prison, HMP Portland, where Marcia visited him with her then nine year old daughter, Laila.

    Marcia tells us: ‘The prison was old and freezing. There were no decorations or anything. Laila was beside herself crying, wanting him to come home for Christmas. But of course I couldn’t make that happen.’

    At HMP Portland, prisoners were allowed a maximum of four CDs and Marcia was also able to hand in new underwear and books for her son. As Dylan was sent to a prison several hours away from his family, his mum was only able to visit around once a month and said the Christmas visit felt different.

    She said: ‘You’ve got that run up to Christmas and everyone’s getting excited. But seeing him there that day, it was just horrific. He felt it too.

    ‘Usually when we left, he’d just say “bye” and turn away. This time he stood and watched us go. It was the most awful Christmas. I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to listen to Christmas songs. I felt like part of me was missing.’

    Many people believe there is inherent racial prejudice within the criminal justice system. The government’s official statistics can be interpreted as supporting this. 25% of the UK’s prison population is from BAME backgrounds, while this group accounts for only 14% of the UK population. The smallest prison grouping is women, who account for 4.6% of UK inmates. The 3,869 female UK prisoners are housed across 12 prisons. This includes HMP SEND in Surrey where David Challen will visit his mother for her eighth prison Christmas this weekend.

    ‘It never gets any easier,’ said David, 31. ‘You have to go through three sets of doors and you’re searched properly from head to toe. You see little children as well. It is heart-breaking. For a lot of these children their first memories will be of being patted down by a stranger.’

    David Challen pictured at Portobello Green, London, UK. (Picture: Rii Schroer)

    David’s mother Sally Challen, 64, was sentenced to 22 years for murder, after killing her husband Richard with a hammer in August 2010. David says that he has never received any support or counselling from the prison services.

    David tells us: ‘Christmas is the hardest time. Imagine not being with your parent at Christmas and their location is not in a cosy home. It’s in a cold, hard cell, surrounded by other screaming prisoners.

    ‘Your mother doesn’t belong in that scenario. The fabric of your soul is torn apart whenever I think about it.’

    David has a landline dedicated solely to calls from his mother. He also uses a web based system called Email a Prisoner, where messages can be printed off for inmates. ‘But it’s not the same as actually being there with them,’ he says.

    During visits, David explains that no physical contact is allowed except a hug when greeting and departing. Prison rules permit him to hand in books and extra clothes. But gifts or treats are not allowed, aside from getting his mother a cup of coffee and a Fry’s chocolate cream from the canteen. Prisoners are also allowed to purchase presents for their visitors using their meagre wages from their prison jobs.

    One year after his visit, David was given a present from his mother which he said was ‘like a raffle prize. It was a wicker basket all wrapped in plastic and full of things. There was a teddy bear in it, which completely set me off.’

    David will be spending Christmas with his partner John, 25, his brother James, 34, and James’ girlfriend Jen, 31, along with Jen’s family. When asked if he is able to enjoy the day, he responds: ‘Yeah, you are. You somehow find a way to protect yourself.

    ‘I feel guilty not sitting there thinking about her, but I know it would tear me apart and she would want us to be happy. If your loved ones on the outside are suffering it makes the suffering twofold for the person inside.’

    Following the 2015 legislature that named Coercive Control as a serious crime, Sally’s case has been revisited. It has come to the light that Sally Challen was the victim of extensive gaslighting throughout her 31 year marriage. An appeal against her sentence is scheduled for February 2019, having already been postponed twice.

    David, who has been campaigning for his mother’s release along with his brother James says: ‘My mother had to go to prison no matter what, because she took someone’s life and that’s something that we never shy away from. But when she was convicted, it was without any understanding of domestic violence in its entirety. I had hoped that she would have been with us this Christmas as the appeal was originally scheduled for November.

    ‘People underestimate how much of an emotional toll it is to have a parent or family member in prison, especially at this time of year.’

    Over the Christmas period, our thoughts tend to extend to the disenfranchised and people on the edges of society. Although we sympathise with the elderly, the lonely and the homeless, people in prison aren’t typically considered. This is largely because their situation is believed to be of their own making.

    But prisoners do not cease to be people once the prison gates slam shut. Should paying a debt to society override basic observations of a worldwide season of good will and charity?

    Cody puts it best when he says: ‘People are in prison because they’ve made bad decisions and done bad things. But you can’t underestimate the effect of circumstance on these decisions.

    ‘Being away from family and loved ones is hard enough at any time. At Christmas, it’s hell and putting on a Christmas dinner and a few games doesn’t mean we’re not serving our sentence.’

    MORE: Experts explain why you don’t feel Christmassy

    MORE: How Satanists spend Christmas


    Metro IllustrationsMetro Illustrationsgillianfisher22cody lacheyMetro IllustrationsMetro Illustrationsgillianfisher22cody lachey

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    National Rabbit Day: round-up of best rabbit sex toys
    (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    Attention, all: Lovehoney has just launched a sale with loads of daily offers, just in time for Christmas.

    Because what’s more festive than a glorious orgasm?

    You’re likely going to spend a lot of time over Christmas and New Year trapped indoors with nothing to do, so really, a sex toy is what you desperately need for the festive season, Twixmas, and beyond.

    Handily enough, today Lovehoney launches their big festive sale, from now until 14 January.

    There’ll be stacks of offers daily so it’s worth checking the site each day if you’ve got your eye on something in particular, but there’s also 50% off selected sex toys and lingerie across the site.

    Lovehoney said: ‘We are running our biggest Christmas and New Year sale ever.

    ‘As well as these headline discounts which will run for the full course of the sale while stocks last, we will be doing a range of different deals daily – so it is worth visiting the site because there are bargains to be had across the full range of products.

    ‘New half-price lines will be added on New Year’s Eve and there will be a huge final clearance in the last week of the sale in January.

    ‘This is our way of saying thank-you to all our loyal customers.’

    Here are some of the best sex toy deals on offer right now.

    The Desire Magic Wand Vibrator – WAS £99.99, NOW £50

    Lovehoney sale
    (Picture: Lovehoney/Getty)

     

    Fifty Shades Freed Clitoral Suction Stimulator – WAS £79.99, NOW £39.99

    (Picture: Lovehoney/ Getty)

     

    Annabelle Knight Wow! Powerful Vibrator – WAS £19.99, NOW £9.99

    (Picture: Lovehoney/ Getty)

     

    Broad City In the Mood Lipstick Vibrator – WAS £16.99, NOW £8.49

    (Picture: Lovehoney/ Getty)

     

    Nexus Revo 2 Rechargeable Rotating Silicone Prostate Massager – WAS £119.99, NOW £71.99

    (Picture: Lovehoney/ Getty)

    MORE: Boots is selling sex toys that you can add to your cart right now

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    National Rabbit Day: round-up of best rabbit sex toysNational Rabbit Day: round-up of best rabbit sex toysellencscottLovehoney saleNational Rabbit Day: round-up of best rabbit sex toysNational Rabbit Day: round-up of best rabbit sex toysellencscottLovehoney sale

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    Grece, Cyclades, chat des rues. // Greece, Cyclades, street cat
    Street cats in Cyclades (Picture: Tuul and Bruno Morandi)

    In case it’s not clear: We love cats.

    We love their soft tummies, their little pink noses, and their paws.

    Spotting a cat when you’re out and about is a moment of true joy, especially when you’re somewhere far from home and nothing feels familiar.

    So naturally, we’re big fans of La Grande Odyssee de Chats, a new book that celebrates street cats around the world.

    Travel photographers Tuul and Bruno Morandi have been traveling the world snapping pictures for eighteen years. Along their way, they’ve met plenty of feline friends, and have made it their mission to document their lives as well as human residents.

    Their new book showcases how cats have taken over, how wherever you go, they’re there.

    Take a look.

    A fluffy tortoiseshell sits on steps in the Greek island of Cyclades

    Grece, Cyclades, chat des rues. // Greece, Cyclades, street cat
    (Picture: Tuul and Bruno Morandi)

     

    A ginger puss has a snooze in Selcuk, Turkey

    Turquie, province d'Izmir, ville de Selcuk, site arch?ologique d'Ephese // Turkey, Izmir province, Selcuk city, archaeological site of Ephesus
    (Picture: Tuul and Bruno Morandi)

     

    One Greek street cat judges their chances of making an ambitious jump

    Grece, Cyclades, chat des rues. // Greece, Cyclades, street cat
    (Picture: Tuul and Bruno Morandi)

     

    Gotokuji temple in Tokyo, Japan, makes the perfect sleeping spot

    Japon, Tokyo, temple sanctuaire d?di? aux chats // Japan, Tokyo, cat temple
    (Picture: Tuul and Bruno Morandi)

     

    In a town on Kenyan island Lamu, cats aren’t shy around humans

    Kenya, archipel de Lamu, ville de Lamu patrimoine mondial de l'Unesco, chats des rues // Kenya, Lamu island, Lamu town, Unesco world heritage, street cats
    (Picture: Tuul and Bruno Morandi)

     

    While in Tangier, Morocco, this cat is entirely unbothered

    Maroc, Tanger, chat dans la Medina // Morocco, Tangier (Tanger), cat on the Medina (old city)
    (Picture: Tuul and Bruno Morandi)

    A stray serves as a creative companion in Kolkata, India

    Inde, Bengale-Occidental, Kolkata, Kumartulli district, sculptures en glaise des effigies Hindou pour la fete de Durga Puja // India, West Bengal, Kolkata, Calcutta, Kumartulli district, clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses statue for Durga Puja festival
    (Picture: Bruno Morandi)

     

    A squad goes for a stroll by the boats in Shikoku, Japan

    Japon, ?le de Shikoku, pr?fecture d'Ehime, ?le de Muzuki, ile aux chats // Japan, Shikoku island, Ehime region, Muzuki island, Cat island
    (Picture: Tuul and Bruno Morandi)

     

    The heat in Chefchaouen will make any kitty sleepy

    Maroc, Region du Rif, Ville de Chefchaouen, La medina bleue, chat des rues // Morocco, Rif area, Chefchaouen (Chaouen) town, the blue city, street cat
    (Picture: Tuul and Bruno Morandi)

    MORE: Can you make sure Kevin the cat isn’t home alone this Christmas?

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    Morocco, Chefchaouen town, the blue city, street catMorocco, Chefchaouen town, the blue city, street catellencscottGrece, Cyclades, chat des rues. // Greece, Cyclades, street catGrece, Cyclades, chat des rues. // Greece, Cyclades, street catTurquie, province d'Izmir, ville de Selcuk, site arch?ologique d'Ephese // Turkey, Izmir province, Selcuk city, archaeological site of EphesusGrece, Cyclades, chat des rues. // Greece, Cyclades, street catJapon, Tokyo, temple sanctuaire d?di? aux chats // Japan, Tokyo, cat templeKenya, archipel de Lamu, ville de Lamu patrimoine mondial de l'Unesco, chats des rues // Kenya, Lamu island, Lamu town, Unesco world heritage, street catsMaroc, Tanger, chat dans la Medina // Morocco, Tangier (Tanger), cat on the Medina (old city)Inde, Bengale-Occidental, Kolkata, Kumartulli district, sculptures en glaise des effigies Hindou pour la fete de Durga Puja // India, West Bengal, Kolkata, Calcutta, Kumartulli district, clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses statue for Durga Puja festivalJapon, ?le de Shikoku, pr?fecture d'Ehime, ?le de Muzuki, ile aux chats // Japan, Shikoku island, Ehime region, Muzuki island, Cat islandMaroc, Region du Rif, Ville de Chefchaouen, La medina bleue, chat des rues // Morocco, Rif area, Chefchaouen (Chaouen) town, the blue city, street catMorocco, Chefchaouen town, the blue city, street catMorocco, Chefchaouen town, the blue city, street catellencscottGrece, Cyclades, chat des rues. // Greece, Cyclades, street catGrece, Cyclades, chat des rues. // Greece, Cyclades, street catTurquie, province d'Izmir, ville de Selcuk, site arch?ologique d'Ephese // Turkey, Izmir province, Selcuk city, archaeological site of EphesusGrece, Cyclades, chat des rues. // Greece, Cyclades, street catJapon, Tokyo, temple sanctuaire d?di? aux chats // Japan, Tokyo, cat templeKenya, archipel de Lamu, ville de Lamu patrimoine mondial de l'Unesco, chats des rues // Kenya, Lamu island, Lamu town, Unesco world heritage, street catsMaroc, Tanger, chat dans la Medina // Morocco, Tangier (Tanger), cat on the Medina (old city)Inde, Bengale-Occidental, Kolkata, Kumartulli district, sculptures en glaise des effigies Hindou pour la fete de Durga Puja // India, West Bengal, Kolkata, Calcutta, Kumartulli district, clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses statue for Durga Puja festivalJapon, ?le de Shikoku, pr?fecture d'Ehime, ?le de Muzuki, ile aux chats // Japan, Shikoku island, Ehime region, Muzuki island, Cat islandMaroc, Region du Rif, Ville de Chefchaouen, La medina bleue, chat des rues // Morocco, Rif area, Chefchaouen (Chaouen) town, the blue city, street cat

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    Everyone would like to have got their Christmas shopping done and out of the way before Christmas Eve, but there will be plenty who leave it to the very last minute.

    It might be that you just have one or two bits to pick up, maybe you are stocking up on drinks for Christmas Day, or perhaps you like to really put the pressure on and buy all your presents just hours before you have to hand them over.

    thumbnail for post ID 8277262Las Vegas favourite to host Tyson Fury's rematch with Deontay Wilder

    Depending on where you are and what kind of shopping you have to get done, there will be a range of closing times on Christmas Eve.

    However, we have done our best to round up some of the key opening times you will need to know for 24 December.

    Oxford Street. West End of London. Westminster City. London. United Kingdom

    Asda

    The larger stores will close at 7pm, although check the Asda store locator for your local outlet’s times.

    Sainsbury’s

    You have plenty of time at Sainsbury’s as the bigger stores will stay open till 11pm. Check the Sainsbury’s store locator if your local shop is a smaller one.

    Tesco

    This will change depending on the size of the store, but the big stores will be closing at 7pm. For smaller stores, check here.

    Iceland

    Stores will close at 7pm on Christmas Eve.

    Morrisons

    Most Morrisons will close at 6pm but double check the Morrisons store locator to be sure.

    Aldi

    Aldi will be closing at 6pm on Christmas Eve.

    Co-op Food

    Most Co-op Food stores will close at 9pm on 24 December.

    Waitrose

    Most stores will close at 6pm on Christmas Eve.

    John Lewis

    Most stores will close at 5pm but you can check your local one here.

    Marks and Spencer

    Many stores will close at 5pm but check your local one here.

    MORE: Lovehoney is offering 50% off in their Christmas sale so you can get some sweet deals on sex toys

    MORE: New Year’s Eve in London: Events, parties and fireworks to ring in 2019 in style


    Christmas scene, Grafton St, DublinChristmas scene, Grafton St, Dublinphilhaigh26Christmas scene, Grafton St, DublinChristmas scene, Grafton St, Dublinphilhaigh26

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    Christine’s tree is pretty glorious. (Picture: Christine Farrell)

    You’ve probably guessed this already from our What I Rent series, but we are deeply nosy people.

    We love looking at other people’s houses and in their cupboards. Nosing around where someone lives is like looking into their soul.

    So naturally, we greatly enjoy beholding other people’s Christmas trees.

    We can’t be the only ones standing on our tiptoes to peek in our neighbours’ windows on our way home, just to see how much tinsel they’ve used.

    For your (and our) enjoyment, we’re inviting people to share their Christmas trees with us in all their glory – whether they’re brilliantly huge and decorated in baubles or a bit less sparkly.

    Take a gander at the trees below, and if you fancy including your tree in this article, tweet @MetroUK with the #MetroMyTree hashtag.

    Deputy editor Alex’s only Christmas tree this year lives on his desk. But isn’t it cute? (Picture: Alex Hudson)
    Natasha sprung for the fancy baubles (Picture: Natasha Salmon)
    Hollie’s kept things traditional, and we like it (Picture: Hollie-Ann Brooks)

    Jen’s colour scheme is red and black. V bold. (Picture: Jen Thomas)
    This little guy’s name is Bertie (Picture: Almara Abgarian)
    ‘a thicc Christmas boi’ (Picture: Nick Reilly)
    Bonus points for the dog (Picture: @meandmymhmatter)
    A houseplant plus baubles works perfectly as a makeshift Christmas tree for Natalie this year (Picture: Natalie Richardson)

    Everything a Christmas tree should be (Picture: @thespooniemummy)
    Unconventional but lovely (Picture: @MisterRat)
    All gold, everything (Picture: Sofia Petkar)
    ‘I like my tree like I like me: Big, bold, and covered with as much glitz as I can find!’ (Picture: Miranda Kane
    The perfect size tree for a flat in London (Picture: Rebecca Lewis)
    Rachael calls her tree ‘hideous#, but we quite like it! (Picture: Rachael Phillips)
    Peter’s tree isn’t the star here – it’s all the lights we’re most impressed by (Picture: Peter Lewis)
    Joe’s family has gone more minimalist (Picture: Jane Roberts)
    A massive star on top is essential (Picture: Laura Abernethy)
    Jess tells us that she and her mum used to visit a shop in Spitalfields every year to buy wild and wonderful bauble (Picture: Jess Austin)

    Again, if you’d like your tree featured, give us a tweet with #MetroMyTree.

    Merry Christmas, one and all.

    MORE: How to protect your Christmas tree from your cat

    MORE: How Satanists spend Christmas

    MORE: Experts explain why you don’t feel Christmassy


    christine farrell-380fchristine farrell-380fellencscottchristine farrell-380fchristine farrell-380fellencscott

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    Dubai is admittedly not for everyone, but if you like shopping, good food and fancy hotels it makes a decent break – even at Christmas, which it has embraced visually with its bright trees, if not spiritually, for obvious reasons (it’s a Muslim country).

    As a tourist, sometimes all you want is a mani-pedi at a fancy spa, not a trawl round a billion museums, although I enjoyed my trip to Dubai Museum when I stayed.

    There’s enough expats, tourists and, I suspect, people who just like the excuse to fling as many fairy lights, strings of tinsel and balls of glitter about for Dubai still to feel festive over Christmas and New Year.

    Plus you can have turkey on the beach.

    Christmas brunches are particularly popular, and New Year’s Eve fireworks are not on the small scale.

    Wafi Shopping Mall in Dubai – there’s no shortage of Christmas trees or malls here (Picture: Getty)

    The first thing to get your head round here is that, like America, car is king. There are lots of massive roads rather than walkways so getting around often means taxis.

    Having said that, I travelled on both Dubai’s Metro and buses and found both to be clean, pleasant and easy to use.

    The second is the fact everything seems to be based around hotels and malls.

    As a Muslim country drinking isn’t encouraged so the malls play the role pubs do in Britain – spaces to meet friends and have fun.

    This brings me on to the third thing – the drinks.

    As a Brit who doesn’t really drink, I loved the fact people were congregating in cafes, by fountains, in restaurants, cinemas, ice rinks and aquariums (all of which you’ll find in the malls).

    At first it felt a bit 12-year-old’s birthday party but, at the risk of sounding puritan, I didn’t miss the drunken louts we routinely put up with here.

    Dubai Mall (Picture: Getty)

    I spent time wandering round The Dubai Mall. It includes Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, an indoor waterfall, ice rink, virtual reality park, ‘haunted house’ Hysteria, which is currently running a Nightmare Before Christmas horror experience starring Krampus, open-air cinema, indoor cinema, and more than 1,300 shops and 200 places to eat and drink.

    Another thing on drinks – everyone buys bottled water and there weren’t obvious drinking fountains as there are in America which, given you’re in a desert, is a bit odd. Still, I drank tap water and appear to be alive.

    If you will insist on drinking booze there are bars and clubs, and most of the hotels have licensed bars so there’s no shortage of fancy cocktails and hard liquor. The Irish Village pub is known for its festive celebrations. It’s illegal to drink under the age of 21 or be drunk in public.

    The dancing fountains at Dubai Mall – definitely worth a visit (Picture: Getty)

    The unmissable thing to see here – which has its entrance in The Dubai Mall – is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

    The tourist experience is called At The Top – tickets cost from £28. However, if you want to get to the highest public point, the At The Top Sky lounge on the 148th floor costs £117 and is quieter.

    Alternatively you can book breakfast, afternoon tea or dinner at the restaurant in the Burj Khalifa, Atmosphere, which is 122 floors up.

    The Armani Hotel takes up 11 floors of the Burj Khalifa, if your thirst for labels extends beyond the shops.

    Heading to Dubai Mall at night to see the fountains at the back dance (like Vegas but on a smaller scale). Displays start at 6pm then run every 30 minutes until 11pm. The Burj Khalifa also lights up.

    Mall of The Emirates (Picture: Getty)

    Mall Of The Emirates is a smaller mall but features top cinema experiences including Theatre By Rhodes, which combines gourmet food and the silver screen.

    For even more festive shopping there’s a huge Christmas markets in Jumeirah.

    Madinat Jumeirah’s runs to December 28 and includes a German market, snowball zone, gingerbread house-making station, mini train, stunning tree and Father Christmas.

    In Business Bay, JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is among the hotels getting festive with seasonal food and drink served until Boxing Day.

    While the shopping’s great, it being Jesus’ birthday and all, it’s worth noting there’s no shortage of Christian churches either.

    These include the inter-denominational Holy Trinity Church, St Mary’s Catholic Church and Emirates Baptist Church International.

    Where to stay and how to get there

    The rooms offered incredible views (Picture: DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai Business Bay)

    I stayed at DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai Business Bay.

    It was a lovely property, the highlights being the large rooftop pool, the incredible views of Burj Khalifa and its nighttime light show, and first rate food.

    The breakfast was decadent, with a huge buffet offering everything from homemade hummus to perfect poached eggs.

    For cocktails and shisha there’s Bay Club – the bar area by the the pool, and there’s also a popular spa.

    The rooms were understated and restful, with lots of woody tones and bright white freestanding baths.

    One nice touch was the subtle sofa beds – smart but good for families.

    The hotel’s free shuttle bus running through to day to and from Dubai Mall and the nearby beach was handy too.

    Rooms at DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai Business Bay cost from £96 per night.

    The hotel is hosting a Christmas Eve buffet, a Christmas BBQ brunch and New Year dinner at its My Square restaurant.

    From now until December 31 there’s a lunchtime Turkey Takeaway at its Oud Lounge and music, drinks and hot dogs at Bay Club on New Year’s Eve.

    The rooftop pool at the hotel (Picture: Hilton)

    I flew from London Heathrow to Dubai with Emirates.

    The trip takes about seven hours.

    Flights run six times a day and cost from £379.

    The night before I stayed at Hilton Garden Inn London Heathrow Airport.

    Rooms are smart and the hotel serves a good breakfast.

    Hatton Cross Tube is a five-minute walk away – you can take the tube to your terminal or the Hotel Hoppa shuttle bus from the door (£4.50).

    Rooms cost from £59. Hilton has a winter sale offering 25 per cent off rooms at properties across the world. Rooms must be booked before January 31, on stays until May 29.

    Top picture: Getty.

    MORE: Why you should take your big holiday in winter instead of summer

    MORE: London shopping weekends – 10 festive hotels for Christmas, New Year’s Eve or the January sales


    Aerial View Of Illuminated City At NightAerial View Of Illuminated City At NightyvettemcasterAerial View Of Illuminated City At NightAerial View Of Illuminated City At Nightyvettemcaster

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    ROCHDALE - JANUARY 9: A shopper pushes her cart outside a Morrisons supermarket January 9, 2003 in Rochdale, Lancashire. The mid-size British supermarket chain, Morrisons, announced its bid to overtake rival Safeway in a 2.9 billion pound deal that would combine the firm with 589 stores and a 16 percent market share. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
    You won’t be doing any supermarket shopping on Christmas Day (Picture: Getty)

    You will need to be fully prepared this Christmas because if you forget to buy the carrots, gravy granules of red wine, your shopping options will be very limited on 25 December.

    With the enormous meal and huge amount of drinking that is done on Christmas Day, it is easy to let some of the ingredients slip your mind.

    thumbnail for post ID 8277787Drew Barrymore gets real about failed marriage: 'I would do it all over again'

    However, it is a very good idea to have a good think about it now, or at the latest on Christmas Eve morning because not many shops at all will open on Christmas Day.

    In fact, none of the major supermarkets will open their doors at all on 25 December.

    Logos of supermarket chain Asda are pictured on the handles of shopping trolleys outside a store in Stockport, northern England on April 30, 2018. - Britain's second and third biggest supermarket chains Sainsbury's and Walmart-owned Asda have agreed to merge, the pair said Monday, hoping to create a ??13-billion ($18-billion, 15-billion-euro) retail king and leapfrog UK number one Tesco. The blockbuster deal -- which is effectively a takeover bid with Sainsbury's acquiring a majority 58-percent stake -- comes as the British supermarket sector faces squeezed profit margins and fierce competition from German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl and online US titan Amazon. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
    Asda is not open on Christmas Day (Picture: AFP)

    Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, Iceland, Co-op Food, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer will all be closed on Christmas Day.

    Your best option for last minute supplies will be a smaller, independent store which may be open on 25 December.

    The big stores are all open on Christmas Eve, and here are the opening hours.

    Asda

    The larger stores will close at 7pm, although check the Asda store locator for your local outlet’s times.

    Sainsbury’s

    You have plenty of time at Sainsbury’s as the bigger stores will stay open till 11pm. Check the Sainsbury’s store locator if your local shop is a smaller one.

    Tesco

    This will change depending on the size of the store, but the big stores will be closing at 7pm. For smaller stores, check here.

    Iceland

    Stores will close at 7pm on Christmas Eve.

    Morrisons

    Most Morrisons will close at 6pm but double check the Morrisons store locator to be sure.

    Aldi

    Aldi will be closing at 6pm on Christmas Eve.

    Co-op Food

    Most Co-op Food stores will close at 9pm on 24 December.

    Waitrose

    Most stores will close at 6pm on Christmas Eve.

    John Lewis

    Most stores will close at 5pm but you can check your local one here.

    Marks and Spencer

    Many stores will close at 5pm but check your local one here.

    MORE: Dubai for the holidays – how sun-seekers and shopaholics celebrate Christmas and New Year

    MORE: Mystery as seal washes up four miles from the sea in Norfolk garden


    Mid-Size Morrisons To Take Over SafewayMid-Size Morrisons To Take Over Safewayphilhaigh26ROCHDALE - JANUARY 9: A shopper pushes her cart outside a Morrisons supermarket January 9, 2003 in Rochdale, Lancashire. The mid-size British supermarket chain, Morrisons, announced its bid to overtake rival Safeway in a 2.9 billion pound deal that would combine the firm with 589 stores and a 16 percent market share. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)Logos of supermarket chain Asda are pictured on the handles of shopping trolleys outside a store in Stockport, northern England on April 30, 2018. - Britain's second and third biggest supermarket chains Sainsbury's and Walmart-owned Asda have agreed to merge, the pair said Monday, hoping to create a ??13-billion ($18-billion, 15-billion-euro) retail king and leapfrog UK number one Tesco. The blockbuster deal -- which is effectively a takeover bid with Sainsbury's acquiring a majority 58-percent stake -- comes as the British supermarket sector faces squeezed profit margins and fierce competition from German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl and online US titan Amazon. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)Mid-Size Morrisons To Take Over SafewayMid-Size Morrisons To Take Over Safewayphilhaigh26ROCHDALE - JANUARY 9: A shopper pushes her cart outside a Morrisons supermarket January 9, 2003 in Rochdale, Lancashire. The mid-size British supermarket chain, Morrisons, announced its bid to overtake rival Safeway in a 2.9 billion pound deal that would combine the firm with 589 stores and a 16 percent market share. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)Logos of supermarket chain Asda are pictured on the handles of shopping trolleys outside a store in Stockport, northern England on April 30, 2018. - Britain's second and third biggest supermarket chains Sainsbury's and Walmart-owned Asda have agreed to merge, the pair said Monday, hoping to create a ??13-billion ($18-billion, 15-billion-euro) retail king and leapfrog UK number one Tesco. The blockbuster deal -- which is effectively a takeover bid with Sainsbury's acquiring a majority 58-percent stake -- comes as the British supermarket sector faces squeezed profit margins and fierce competition from German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl and online US titan Amazon. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

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    As a travel writer, I often get asked, ‘What’s the best place you’ve been to?’

    Always a difficult question to answer, I used to say something like, ‘Oh everywhere is different and each has its highlights.’

    But more recently, the answer has been Italy.

    I just can’t get enough of this country. Maybe it’s because I’m dating an Italian, or maybe it’s the food, but my love of Italy has started to become a little bit of an obsession.

    So I embarked on an Italian road trip, encompassing all the things that make Italy great: gastronomy, architecture, art, beaches and of course Italians (I was travelling with one after all).

    Porto Venere (Picture: Hayley Lewis @alovelyplanet)

    Choosing a route wasn’t easy.

    There is a lot to see, and deciding which parts to include and which to leave out took a great deal of planning and negotiating. But at the end of it, I have what I believe is an ultimate Italian road trip itinerary.

    We skipped most of the big cities – which may cause concern for lovers of Florence and Rome, but the realities of driving through busy Italian cities wasn’t exactly conducive to a relaxing holiday.

    So it’s the smaller towns and villages, along with the beautiful countryside and beaches, that made the cut.

    Our journey began in Italy’s toe – Calabria. It’s a lesser-known and frequented region for British tourists but a firm favourite among Italian holidaymakers.

    Picturesque Chianalea (Picture: Hayley Lewis @alovelyplanet)

    Right at the bottom – the toenail, if you will – is Scilla and the quaint fishing village of Chianalea.

    We spent a few days exploring the narrow lanes of the fishing village, watching the fishermen search for swordfish in their impressively tall ships and enjoying plenty of seafood dinners at the waterside restaurants.

    This turned out to be a great place to unwind and relax before the journey ahead.

    A short drive along the coast and we arrived in Tropea, a popular Italian holiday destination famous for the Santa Maria dell’Isola Monastery, a medieval church perched on top of a rocky cliff surrounded by turquoise water.

    Santa Maria dell’Isola Monastery (Picture: Hayley Lewis @alovelyplanet)

    The beach here is stunning, and there are many restaurants to enjoy in this bustling town.

    The area is famous for red onion and Nduja sausage, so make sure you try some while you’re here.

    From Tropea, we also took a day trip to Stromboli with CST Tropea.

    Stromboli is a volcanic island fringed with black sand. The volcano is still active, and is a popular destination for hikers who can ascend the trail to the summit.

    The black beaches of Stromboli (Picture: Hayley Lewis @alovelyplanet)

    Moving north, we arrived in the region of Basilicata and the commune of Maratea.

    Maratea has two main hubs – the town up in the hills and a beautiful harbour.

    Spend some time exploring both, as well as visiting the hilltop Christ statue (think Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janiero), and don’t miss the picturesque, rocky and uncrowded beaches.

    Maratea’s stunning panorama (Picture: Hayley Lewis @alovelyplanet)

    Although we decided to avoid cities, we made one exception with Napoli. After all, this was the birthplace of pizza!

    After learning how to make pizza the Napoli way at Toffini Academy, we strolled through the city’s lanes and streets and along the Lungomare – a 3km long seafront promenade.

    A 3-hour drive north and we arrived in Umbria.

    We spent our time here exploring the Valle Umbra and the hilltop towns surrounding it. Spoleto is a must visit with its impressive castle and Roman aqueduct.

    One of my favourite towns in the region was Montefalco, home to one of Italy’s most celebrated wines – Sagrantino.

    The dreamy Umbrian countryside (Picture: Hayley Lewis @alovelyplanet)

    This wine is delicious and is only made in this small town and the surrounding vineyards. There are some pretty impressive views from up here too.

    A great way to sample Sagrantino is to take a food and wine class at Moretti Omero, who produce the tasty wine and delicious local cuisine to accompany it.

    Our last stop in Umbria was Spello. Here you will find narrow lanes full of flowers and small shops selling truffles, which are collected in the Umbrian countryside.

    It was difficult to pick only a few places to visit in Tuscany, with so many beautiful towns and villages, but the first stop for us was the San Filippo thermal springs.

    Spend a few hours here relaxing in the hot pools. Heaven!

    Instagram Photo

    From San Filippo, it’s a 20-minute drive to Val D’Orcia, a region of stunning natural beauty.

    If it seems familiar, that’s because a number of movies have been filmed here, notably, Gladiator – these beautiful rolling hills were the location of Maximus’ house!

    A further 20-minute drive and we arrive in Montepulciano, famous for the wine of the same name.

    While here, make sure you visit a winery to sample a glass or two. De’Ricci has a beautiful underground cellar and some excellent wines.

    Growing up, I spent many summers in Lucca and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to return to this lovely city.

    A square in Lucca (Picture: Hayley Lewis @alovelyplanet)

    It’s not nearly as popular as nearby Florence and Pisa, but for me that all adds to its charm.

    A walled city, you can hire bikes and cycle the full perimeter of the city walls, ascend Guinigi tower and admire the tree at the top and lose a few hours wandering the lanes and shopping in the small boutiques.

    Liguria was the final stop on our dreamy Italian road trip.

    Cinque Terre National Park is a popular destination in this region, famed for its picture-perfect villages full of colourful houses.

    Those colourful homes in Cinque Terre (Picture: Hayley Lewis @alovelyplanet)

    Equally beautiful is the nearby town of Porto Venere in the Bay of Poets.

    From here, take a boat trip around the island of Palmaria before having dinner at Locanda Lorena Restaurant on the island, which offers a stunning view of Porto Venere and some delicious seafood.

    Make sure you try the region’s speciality – mussels!

    The unbeatable view at Locanda Lorena (Picture: Hayley Lewis @alovelyplanet)

    Where to stay in Italy and how to get there:

    Calabria:

    A double room at B&B Chianalea in Scilla starts from £72 (€80) per night including breakfast.

    Rezidenza RoMa in Tropea has double rooms from £72 (€80) per night including breakfast.

    Basilicata:

    A double room at Hotel Ristorante Borgo La Tana costs from £116 (€130) per night including breakfast.

    Umbria:

    Albornoz Palace has double rooms from £69 (€77) per night including breakfast.

    Tuscany:

    Locanda San Francesco in Montepulciano offers double rooms from £179 (€200) per night including breakfast and parking space.

    Palazzo Rocchi in Lucca offers double rooms from £112 (€125) per night with breakfast included.

    A double room at Al Tuscany in Lucca starts from £45 (€50) per night with breakfast included

    Liguria:

    Le Ville Relais offers double rooms from £85 (€95) per night including breakfast.

    Ryanair flies from London to Lamezia Terme from £20 one-way, and British Airways flies from Genoa to London from £33 one way.

    Hayley Lewis is a travel writer, blogger and producer. For more on travel in Italy head to alovelyplanet.com or follow Hayley on Instagram, YouTubeTwitter or Facebook.

    (Top picture: Hayley Lewis)

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