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Metro.co.uk: News, Sport, Showbiz, Celebrities from Metro
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    Black girls hike group
    ‘In the Peak District, we were told to “go back to the ghetto”‘ (Picture: Black Girls Hike)

    A woman set up a walking group specifically for black women beause she felt that outdoor activities were not welcoming spaces for people of colour.

    Rhiane Fatinikun, from Greater Manchester, was on a train riding through the Peak District when she was so inspired by the stunning scenery she knew she had to create something to make nature more accessible.

    ‘My mum raised me to appreciate a nice view, we took the scenic route everywhere. While I was admiring the view from the train, I just said to myself; “I’m taking up hiking this year”.

    Black Girls Hike group
    ‘Black Girls Hike isn’t just a walking group, it’s a safe space for black women to be themselves without being misunderstood’ (Picture: Black Girls Hike)

    ‘I posted a video on my Instagram and tagged it BGH and a few days later I set up the Instagram page @bgh_uk.

    ‘I made it exclusively for black girls because there’s no diversity in the outdoors, it’s a space that’s accessible but not really inclusive.’

    Rhiane says there is a chronic lack of representation in the world of outdoor sports – from shows to advertising and magazines – she rarely sees faces that look like hers.

    Walking should be the most accessible activity – you don’t need fancy equipment, training or expensive sports halls – but she says the lack of visible diversity makes walking groups unappealing for women of colour.

    ‘Black people tend to live in urban areas, getting out into rural areas can be intimidating for some. You stand out and don’t always get the best reception,’ Rhiane tells us.

    ‘On one of our walks in the Peak District, we were told to “go back to the ghetto”.’

    Rhiane on a walk
    ‘There’s no diversity in the outdoors, it’s a space that’s accessible but not really inclusive’ (Picture: Black Girls Hike)

    Rhiane is happy that progress is happening, but she still thinks that the efforts by big brands to create diversity often feels more tokenistic than authentic.

    ‘Some are getting it right, but naturally, progress is slow,’ she says. ‘It’s not something that can be changed overnight.

    ‘Representation matters, it’s important to see people you identify with – that’s what inspires people.’

    Rhiana works full-time in an office as a civil servant, so her free time is incredibly important to her – it needs to be fulfilling. Hiking ticks that box – and not simply because of the health benefits of walking.

    ‘Everyone knows the outdoors is great for mental and physical health,’ she says, ‘and so is building community with like-minded individuals.

    ‘Black Girls Hike isn’t just a walking group, it’s a safe space for black women to be themselves without being misunderstood.

    ‘Offices tend to be predominantly white environments. Being able to explore the outdoors in a safe space, with people who share your experiences and not having to worry about microaggressions or casual racism, is refreshing but also essential for our well-being.

    Black Girl Hike group
    ‘Representation matters, it’s important to see people you identify with’ (Picture: Black Girls Hike)

    ‘We all need that time out. Hiking has uncovered a sense of adventure I didn’t even know I had.’

    One of the most satisfying things about setting up Black Girls Hike has been the reaction from the women who have joined. Rhiane says getting positive feedback from black women from all walks of life has been incredibly uplifting.

    Rhiane has connected with women with no hiking experience or low confidence and has seen how they are able to flourish in a supportive environment.

    ‘This group has encouraged me to get back into the countryside,’ wrote one woman on the group’s Facebook page.


    ‘By creating a safe, non-judgemental group of women, it has been great to explore my back yard.’

    ‘I started BGH to challenge myself. Bilateral sciatica and excessive walking usually doesn’t mix,’ added another. ‘But with the help of my crutch and this phenomenal group of women of colour, they supported and encouraged me to finish the walk, with lots of belly laughs, storytelling and song.

    ‘It’s amazing to be out in nature and feel accepted and not judged.’

    Another said: ‘So fortunate to have come across BGH, a place where women of colour can experience nature and sisterhood, without feeling like the odd one out.’

    MORE: Mums launch ‘Christmas tree decorations of colour’ with black Santa and angels

    MORE: Mum spends four years building a Christmas village in her garden for less than £100

    MORE: Woman saved by colleagues after having a brain haemorrhage at work Christmas party

    BGH 3-2415BGH 3-2415

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    Mum wraps son's entire bedroom in wrapping paper and blames it on naughty elf
    The prank took over five hours (Picture: CHARLOTTE PRESTON/ CATERS NEWS AGENCY)

    The elves are up to their old tricks again, and seem to really love wrapping things up.

    Last week, they wrapped up this man’s kitchen, which nearly ended in a divorce for the couple in question.

    This week, they’ve taken on Conrad Preston’s room, using the help of his mum Charlotte.

    The 27-year-old wanted to prove to eight-year-old Conrad that his two elves, Noelle and Buddy, are keeping an eye on him ahead of Santa’s visit.

    Searching for creative prank ideas online, Charlotte came across one where someone had wrapped their tree up under elf orders.

    The mum, from Barrowford, Lancashire, decided to step it up a level and wrap up her sons entire bedroom, in a feat that took a number of hours.

    It did appear to work, though, as Conrad has promised he’ll be an absolute angel in the run-up to the big day.

    Mum wraps son's entire bedroom in wrapping paper and blames it on naughty elf
    Even the walls were wrapped (Picture: CHARLOTTE PRESTON/ CATERS NEWS AGENCY)

    The prank, which took five hours and five rolls of wrapping paper, left Conrad shocked at the elves’ mischievous ways.

    Charlotte, a receptionist, said: ‘I saw a tree covered in wrapping paper that someone had done and blamed on their elf on the shelf, so I knew I had to give it a go myself.

    Mum wraps son's entire bedroom in wrapping paper and blames it on naughty elf
    Conrad knows to behave now! (Picture: CHARLOTTE PRESTON/ CATERS NEWS AGENCY)

    ‘Because Conrad is currently having his bedroom decorated, a lot of the furniture was already out of the way, so myself and my brother decided to wrap it up.

    ‘It took us a total of five hours, one broken tape dispenser and cost £7 due to us using five rolls of wrapping paper.

    ‘I have definitely outdone myself in comparison to the other years I have done this – it was definitely the most extreme!’

    Much like the couple in the previous story, we hope the paper won’t go to waste, or at the very least will get recycled. We’re sure the elves don’t look too kindly on throwing out perfectly good wrapping paper.

    Are you pranking your loved ones this Christmas? Share your story at MetroLifestyleTeam@metro.co.uk.

    MORE: Do home teeth whitening kits work and are they safe?

    MORE: Lil dude Flathead is getting loads of love for his adorable ears

    Mum wraps son\'s bedroom in wrapping paperMum wraps son\'s bedroom in wrapping paper

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    What it's really like to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital
    Some men have an infuriating reluctance to ask advice, attend regular screenings, or cause ‘a fuss’ (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    Content warning: This piece contains graphic descriptions of bodily functions.

    ‘You need to get your f*****g act together.’

    It was not the kind of thing I’d expected to hear from my GP, and I’m confident it’s not the sort of advice he regularly gives to the old dears and sore-throated children waiting in the surgery, but I’ll be forever grateful he said it.

    Let me take you back a bit…

    I have had pretty minimal need of healthcare in my life so far, I’ve had nothing but great service from the NHS, but I’m also aware that I don’t have the kind of complex condition or care needs that often highlight its failings.

    We are all very quick to eulogise about the NHS, but we would be wise to consider those who have found it frustrating and inefficient, a bureaucratic battle for support, one that can take over your life.

    Not only have I been very lucky, I’ve also never been reluctant to seek out help on the odd occasion when I needed it.

    Some men, and I think it is especially older men, have an infuriating reluctance to ask advice, attend regular screenings or cause ‘a fuss’.

    Maybe it’s a generational thing, but the stress and after effects of keeping things to yourself invariably falls on other shoulders to bear, which I’ve always thought was kind of selfish. But then I’d never really had anything to worry about, so who am I to judge.

    And then it happened.

    Before leaving for a golf trip to Portugal, I went for what bore all the hallmarks of an absolutely classic trip to the toilet.

    Most folks go for a classic toilet break between three times a day and twice a week. How I envy those twice a weekers! How much spare time they must have! I bet da Vinci was a twice a weeker.

    My record is probably double figures dawn to dusk – no wonder I didn’t invent the helicopter. I’ve probably got IBS but when you work from home most of the time it’s not that bad, it breaks up the day, and anyway, since ‘Pale Ale + Bang Bang Cauliflower gate’, I know the worst triggers.

    Anyway, all was going swimmingly, before I felt something odd.

    In 37 years one gets used to a broad spectrum of toilet sensations but this was a new one on me. So I paused before flushing for a brief hello.

    How to put this.

    Well, you know sometimes when you’ve forgotten you ate beetroot, and you have a brief panic before you remember you ate beetroot and the relief is overwhelming? Well, that, except I hadn’t eaten beetroot.

    To put it more plainly, it looked like I’d been shot in the arse.

    Has anyone ever caught an STI from a toilet seat?
    It looked like I’d been shot in the arse (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    So after Googling myself into an early grave, I left for Portugal. As luck would have it, my annual golf trip is made up of two comedians, a travel agent, a dairy farmer, two journalists and, here’s the kicker, 18 doctors.

    Though the dairy farmer kindly offered to don his long plastic glove, I turned instead to the surgeons, urologists and GPs that gathered in the clubhouse.

    The great thing about medical folk is that, it’s impossible to put them off their dinner. And so they quizzed and advised over pizza and Sagres, and the resounding opinion was that it was probably nothing, but best check it out.

    And so four days later, I sat in my GP’s consulting room ready for the usual advice about booze. I used to drink far too much, and I’m sure it’s writ large somewhere in my notes, but since then, I’m much more in control due to a number of key initiatives, The No Spirits Protocol, the Two Days Off A Week Directive, The Hundred Days A Year Campaign, Dry Jan and a No Beer Stronger Than 4.5%abv Policy.

    But this time the tone was different.

    ‘You say you have a fiancé? If you start a family do you want to be the kind of dad who drinks five pints a night?’

    This seemed more serious than it had been in the past, and then I realised why.

    I’m 37 years old and I’m bleeding out of my arse.

    I suddenly felt incredibly fragile, and had the overwhelming feeling that I was made of organic matter, stuff you could damage, things that one day wouldn’t repair. I mentioned my cunning plans and achievements, Dry Jan! Days ticked off! My numerous initiatives! And will remember his reply for the rest of my life.

    ‘All that is irrelevant if the level you are drinking is toxic to your body.’

    I paused, thinking of the pathetic red crosses on my Queen calendar. He moved in for the kill.

    ‘You need to get your f*****g act together.’

    I’d sworn a few times when describing my symptoms and, like all good communicators, he’d used my language to try and get through to me.

    It worked.

    It felt like something clicked during a discussion we had, and it made me think just how important our local practitioners are. Not just as a resource, but how they speak to us, the words they use, the questions they ask and the tone which they adopt.

    After all, the vast majority of our experience with the hulking labyrinth of the NHS will begin with a GP. They are the gatekeepers and referrers to the scans, drugs, consultants, examinations, X-rays and tests that make up the majority of the health service.

    So how they talk to us matters hugely, luckily for me, mine nailed it.

    As a result of his thoroughness, the blood tests I had revealed I have an overactive thyroid.

    This is completely unrelated to the bowel issue, but when the symptoms were read out to me, it was like they’d distilled my personality into a condition: anxiety (tick), mood swings (once cried at a property restoration programme), aversion to heat (I have a 10 point plan to cope with summer), fast heartbeat (sometimes I can feel it in my teeth), weight loss (I can still fit into a T-shirt I bought in 1996), difficulty sleeping (see heartbeat) and fatigue (If I don’t have a daily nap, property restoration programmes can be a real rollercoaster).

    So I’ve now got pills for that, and am preparing to lose my colonoscopy virginity. I’m referring to the prep for it as ‘fast and blast’, as I write the fast bit is well underway and I should be blasting by about 7.30am tomorrow.

    I’ll let you know how it goes.

    MORE: I nearly died but was still presented with a £93,000 bill for my treatment

    MORE: The introvert's guide to being a stand-up comedian

    MORE: There’s no rush quite like being told to ‘f*** off’ while on national radio


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    Simon chapple
    At the peak of his addiction Simon, now 47, was drinking more than three bottles of wine a day (Picture: Simon Chapple)

    When Simon Chapple had his first sip of wine at 14 years old, he thought it was ‘revolting’.

    He never could have predicted that ten years later he would be downing at least three bottles a day.

    And at the height of alcoholism, he couldn’t have imagined that today, at the age of 47, he would be a sobriety coach helping thousands of people quit booze.

    Simon’s relationship with alcohol started like most of ours – first small sips to seem grownup, then sneaky teen trips to the off-license.

    It took him two decades to realise something wasn’t right.

    ‘I didn’t really pay attention to the effects of alcohol until I started taking the remains of my dad’s wine to my bedroom while I was in my mid-teens,’ Simon tells Metro.co.uk. ‘It was at this point I was starting to drink more regularly.

    ‘I started to enjoy the sense of euphoria and relaxation that washed over me from the first glass. Little did I know this was the start of a slippery slope that would see me heading downhill for over twenty years.’

    Like so many of us, Simon, from Surrey, began to drink more heavily in an attempt to soothe his anxiety, which gradually became overwhelming.

    Soon the occasional rebellious drink became a regular routine, with Simon and his friends holing up in the house of whoever’s parents were out and sinking cans of beer all afternoon, or heading to local pubs that didn’t ask for ID.

    No one said anything, despite Simon regularly staggering home stinking of booze and evidently hammered. That’s just what teenagers do, right?

    simon chapple having a cocktail poured into his mouth by a stranger
    He started out with partying but later spent his days drinking alone (Picture: Simon Chapple)

    The problem was that those alcohol-drenched days and nights weren’t one-offs or your classic ‘teenagers figuring out their limits’ incidents. They kept going well into Simon’s adulthood. And more importantly, they stopped being fun.

    By his twenties, Simon was downing booze not to have a great time, but to deal with the overwhelming anxiety that was taking over his life.

    ‘When I drank my worries and the anxious feelings seemed to fade away,’ he explains. ‘It was like a magic medicine that made everything seem fun. After a couple of glasses of wine I would become carefree and would feel like I was full of laughter and joy in a world that otherwise was starting to feel rather dark.’

    At 25 Simon moved into a home with his then-girlfriend, now wife, Michelle, having scraped together enough money for a deposit.

    That marker of adulthood didn’t mean the end of Simon’s growing drinking habit.

    Simon got work at an insurance company, married Michelle, had children, and started a business. To the outside world he seemed perfectly fine – turning up at work every morning at 7 and progressing to a managerial level.

    But in secret Simon was in a dangerous spiral. Not even becoming a father at 30 could put a stop to his drinking.

    empty bottles of wine and beer
    The aftermath of one of Simon’s nights out (Picture: Simon Chapple)

    ‘If I had a stressful day I needed wine, if I had a good day I needed wine,’ Simon remembers. ‘No matter what kind of day I had, I needed wine. There was always a reason and there was always a bottle in the cupboard, I made sure of that.’

    In his thirties, Simon began to sense that his drinking had become a problem – but that was a reality he wasn’t yet ready to confront.

    He says: ‘I would often Google things like “am I an alcoholic” and “how much alcohol is safe” and then skim past any search results that would scare me until I found something that would put my mind at ease.

    ‘I used to do this all the time and have since learned that this behaviour is called “confirmation bias” where we choose to look at only what we want to see in order to reinforce our beliefs, even if those beliefs are actually wrong.

    ‘I was drinking two to three bottles of wine a day plus a couple of beers with my evening meal. To hide my drinking, I would buy wine boxes which made it easier for me to hide the amount I was getting through.’

    Every day Simon would buy a box or bottles of wine, then every night he would drink.

    simon chapple on his wedding day
    Simon at his wedding, where venue staff begged him to stop dancing on the tables (Picture: Simon Chapple)

    He remembers only a ‘handful’ of occasions over the course of two decades when he didn’t drink – and those were times when he was in hospital after an operation and he was physically unable to get hold of booze.

    What he had thought was a saving remedy from the pain of anxiety was rapidly destroying every part of his life.

    The drunken haze caused Simon to keep picking fights and arguing with his wife. His anxiety was ever-present and intensifying, making it impossible to go to work.

    Before long Simon’s days were spent lying in bed, skipping work, and drinking wine alone.

    Life was terrible, but Simon couldn’t see that alcohol was a huge part of why.

    ‘I always believed I had a special love affair with red wine and it was truly helping me get through each and every day and injecting happiness into a life that was otherwise lacking,’ he says.

    ‘I put drinking in front of everything. It had complete power over me.

    ‘I also used to be snappy and argumentative after drinking, especially with my teenage son, which led to friction and conflict. I was also snappy and argumentative before drinking as I just wanted to get started on the wine, as I believed it was what made me relax and de-stress.

    ‘I was never fully engaged or present. I was preoccupied by wine-o-clock as that was what was most important to me. I would put it before everything else.’

    Simon at a festival
    Simon drank to soothe his anxiety, but soon found alcohol was making his mental state even worse (Picture: Simon Chapple)

    At the age of 44, after another day spent at home alone, paralysed by the fear of normal daily life, Simon realised he needed a drastic change.

    ‘One morning I was at my computer and noticed my hands were shaking and I couldn’t stop them,’ he says.

    ‘Before long (and after a few searches on Google) I realised it was probably my drinking that was causing it. This was the moment where I knew something had to change. I didn’t want to end up in an early grave.’

    ‘The only problem was that I had no clue where to start.’

    The starting point, it turned out, was hiring a manager to run his business so Simon could take some time to focus on his own wellbeing.

    The thought of being without alcohol filled Simon with ‘complete dread’ and the first attempts at sobriety were tough.

    He tried cutting back at first, drinking only on certain days of the week or watering down his wine, but within a few days he would be right back to his usual drinking levels.

    Then he found a book, This Naked Mind by Annie Grace.

    Simon Chapple's transformation after going sober
    Simon when he was drinking (left) and after 30 days sober (right) (Picture: Simon Chapple)

    ‘I felt like I had nothing to lose so I got myself a copy and started reading,’ Simon explains.

    ‘As I worked through the chapters of the book I felt like all my beliefs about alcohol were being examined and challenged and I could feel some of them unravelling.

    ‘I learned things that I could never unlearn and I knew that after reading that book I would always have a different view about alcohol.

    ‘I started to get quite excited about what a sober life might look like for me. I had read so many articles and blog posts about the positive effects of not drinking that were making me become more and more motivated to explore the alcohol-free world.

    ‘I wouldn’t say I was ready to quit drinking at this point but I had certainly become ‘sober-curious’.

    simon chapple holding a be sober shirt
    Simon trained as an alcohol coach and started his own sober community, Be Sober (Picture: Simon Chapple)

    ‘In particular I had been astounded to read that alcohol can make anxiety much worse and given how much I was drinking it was no wonder mine was off starting to go off the scale.’

    The more Simon read and the more he learned, the closer he came to feeling strong enough to go completely sober.

    He considered taking a break, but knew that his all-or-nothing personality meant he needed to completely cut himself off from booze.

    Simon’s journey to sobriety had false starts and lapses, like anyone else’s, with tears, negative self-talk, and the belief that he was doomed to be an alcoholic forever.

    But with every day sober, things started to feel lighter. He could see a stronger and happier version of himself and knew that refusing alcohol was the way to get there.

    Those sober days turned into weeks, then months, then years.

    ‘Since that day I have not had one alcoholic drink and I have also never looked back,’ says Simon. ‘It was the best decision I have ever made.’

    Part of Simon’s recovery was journalling, which he did online on a website he created, Be Sober. While this started as a private way to keep track of his progress, soon the site attracted comments from people who were finding Simon’s words helpful on their own journeys.

    He started to share the techniques and tactics that he found useful, then created a Facebook group, also called Be Sober, where people trapped in the cycle of addiction could seek support. The group now has more than 7,000 members.

    the sober survival guide book by simon chapple
    His first book, The Sober Survival Guide, is out now (Picture: Elevator Digital)

    Simon contacted Annie Grace and went to the US to train with her to become a sobriety coach, going on to offer guidance to thousands and speak at events about his transformation.

    This year Simon released his first book, The Sober Survival Guide, aiming to help people on their path to freedom from alcohol.

    He hopes that by sharing his own story he’ll encourage others struggling to take the steps towards healthier, happier lives without booze.

    Today, Simon calls both alcohol and anxiety ‘a thing of the past’.

    ‘Since quitting alcohol my relationship with both my son and wife have improved so much,’ he tells us. ‘I now find pleasure in the smallest things and love family days out and spending time with them both where I am fully present, engaged and enjoying our time together.

    ‘Stepping away from my business has enabled me to do what I love and discover what I am truly passionate about.

    ‘My life mission has become sharing the benefits of an alcohol-free life and helping anyone who wants to make a positive change.

    ‘I am free and find myself in a place of peace, calm and happiness, all from making the decision to quit drinking.’

    Simon's ten steps to sobriety:

    Step one: Change your mindset about alcohol so your thinking changes from “can’t have” to “don’t want”. The way I did this was by reading sober books.

    Step two: The first 30 days are the toughest. Sign up for the free 30-day Alcohol Experiment, write down your experience and start getting really curious about everything that’s happening.

    Step three: Join Facebook sobriety groups so you have support and accountability.

    Step four: Arm yourself with alcohol-free alternative drinks. There are hundreds available and it’s great fun exploring them all.

    Step five: Pour away your alcoholic drinks, you don’t want them in the house.

    Step six: Avoid temptation. If you’ve got any boozy nights out arranged for the first 30 days, I’d suggest avoiding them because you might be tempted to drink. When you feel strong enough, carry on as normal.

    Step seven: Be passionate. Think about it like: “I’m a sober rebel, I’m doing something amazing, I’m not feeling deprived.”

    Step eight: Don’t worry if you slip up. It can happen, don’t beat yourself up, learn from it and move on.

    Step nine: Stay engaged as the weeks and months roll by. You’ll see loads of positive changes to your body, your mind and your life. Keep reading books and keep engaged with Facebook groups.

    Step ten: Find new things to do with your time. When you stop drinking you’ll have a lot more time on your hands. You’ll also feel a lot more motivated and enthusiastic to go and do stuff, and you want to fill the void. If you were going to the pub every night, you might join a bootcamp or something like that instead.

    Need support? Contact the Samaritans

    For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

    MORE: I gave up drinking alcohol and it changed my entire life

    MORE: Spill It: How a 29-year-old sober activist avoids drinking for a week

    simon chapplesimon chapple

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    A cat in a Christmas tree
    Look after your cats this Christmas (Picture: Getty)

    If you’re a cat owner, you’ll know that Christmas is stressful for two reasons: One, because you have to leave the warmth of your house to face the business of the festive season to buy your loved ones presents, and two, because you’re going to spend at least 25 days picking up baubles and branches that your cats have knocked off the Christmas tree while attempting to climb it.

    But it’s not just the odd bauble rolling around that you need to be concerned about – you also need to be mindful of the type of Christmas tree you buy, and how dangerous some decorations can be to your feline pals.

    For example, if you’ve bought a real Christmas tree and your cat likes to have a nibble, you’ll need to be cautious of your cat ingesting part of it, as some oils produced by these trees can be toxic and can make your cat poorly.

    Fertilisers and plant food can also be harmful to cats. You’ll need to make sure you pick up any fallen needles to save them injuring delicate cat paws.

    Decorations can also be an issue. While baubles can be fun for your cats to chase, glass ones can shatter easily and cause them to wound themselves, while tinsel can cause serious illness if ingested due to the blockages it can cause.

    Funny grey tabby kitten investigating the decorations on a Christmas tree
    Baubles can be tempting… (Picture: Getty)

    According to Cats Protection, in some cases, this can even be fatal.

    But don’t panic – all of this doesn’t mean you can’t put a tree up – it just means you need to be a bit more proactive about making your tree cat-safe.

    Cats Protection has lots of ideas on how to make your Christmas tree cat-safe.

    This includes covering any wires leading to the tree by using plastic cardboard tubes and making sure you switch your Christmas lights off at the mains when you’re not home.

    You should also make sure your Christmas tree has a sturdy base or secure it with weights to stop it from falling over.

    Any hanging decorations should be hung closer to the top of the tree, out of reach of your cat’s paws, and avoid using glass baubles or any decorations that could break easily and cause harm to your cat.

    A ginger cat sitting beneath a Christmas tree, investigating the Christmas presents. Taken from above.
    Don’t leave any cat presents under the tree (Picture: Getty)

    To be super safe, you could ditch the tinsel and swap it for ribbons. But if you want to keep tinsel, just make sure you keep it out of your cat’s reach and don’t let them ingest it.

    Cats Protection adds that you shouldn’t place any presents for your cat under the tree – especially if they contain catnip, because this will just make your cat manic.

    It’s important that you take safety precautions to look after your cat this Christmas.

    It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or make your living room look festive, but remember Christmas is a stressful time for cats and so they may be over-active as it is.

    There’s nothing worse than a poorly cat and a huge vet’s bill at Christmas.

    MORE: Why you shouldn’t dress your cat in a festive outfit this Christmas

    MORE: Fashion brand Boys Get Sad Too raises awareness of male suicide

    Cute grey cat sitting on the chair near Christmas treeCute grey cat sitting on the chair near Christmas tree

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    Newlyweds pictured in front of their dream home they decorated
    This couple decorated their dream House for £300 with Poundland and B&M Bargains (Picture: Jordie Turner)

    Jordie Turner, 22, and his new husband David, 47, totally transformed their living room into an Insta-worthy dream house.

    The couple, from Cornwall, saved by having a small, minimalistic wedding with a blush pink and rustic theme.

    The venue was an empty room that was filled with stuff they owned and took eight months of planning and a whole week to put together.

    And when it came to their home, Jordie and David, who is a caretaker at a primary school, decorated using the same DIY skills.

    Interior design enthusiast Jordie took the lead and used products from budget brands such as Poundland, B&M and Home Bargains, hunting for bargains on Facebook Marketplace and trying his hand at DIY.

    Jordie, a hairdresser, told money-saving community LatestDeals.co.uk: ‘Ever since a kid, I was never satisfied with how things looked and there was something inside me that always had the urge to change things up and move things around.

    ‘When my husband and I finally got our own place I was so happy that I could have my first project in bringing a home to life the way I wanted.

    He added: ‘Obviously money was tight after just getting married so I had to come up with ideas that wouldn’t break the bank.’

    Jordie always knew they wanted white walls for their living room but wanted to bring in light colours to not leave it bland.

    Drab living room
    Before (Picture: Jordie Turner)

    Jordie, who also shares his interior tips on Instagram soon found inspiration in Poundland and built up his dream home using buys from Argos, B&M and Ikea.

    ‘Keeping everything light and minimal with a splash of colour was exactly what I wanted,’ he added.

    ‘I wanted all white furniture, so recycled some old furniture, found some from Ikea, and even added my own touch to things using self-adhesive film.

    ‘Our sofa was from Facebook Marketplace: a DFS sofa which was in immaculate condition due to hardly getting used. It cost £100 and would’ve been £499 brand new.

    ‘So my tip is for anyone searching Marketplace waiting for the right sofa to come up: wait! The wait is so worth it.’

    Blush pink living room
    After (Picture: Jordie Turner)

    The lounge cost them roughly £300: The sofa was £100, a brand new carpet was between £100 and £120 and the rest was either recycled, stuff they already had or bargains finds.

    ‘I love how the end result looks,’ gushed Jordie.

    ‘We’ve come so far on a budget and it’s personal. Not everything is shop-bought. Most of it is our own renovations.

    ‘I’m always trying to work out the cost of things and see if I can create something the same but for a much lower price.’

    Couple on their wedding day
    They also had a minimalist wedding to save costs (Picture: Jordie Turner)

    Jordie reveals that he often chops and changes his interior tastes, swapping between trends like shabby chic or an industrial style, so he’s pleased his living room can act as a blank canvas.

    ‘I’m 100% happy with how it looks, it’s beautiful. It’s better than I envisioned.

    ‘We’ve had thousands of compliments which means the absolute world. Who knew my work would make others fall in love with our home?’

    Picture of decorator Jordie
    Jordie, who shares interior tips on his Instagram, did most of the decorating (Picture: Jordie Turner)

    The thrifty shopper also had advice for others hoping to save on costs.

    ‘My top tips to anyone out there on a budget is that it’s more than doable, it doesn’t have to be from expensive shops, it doesn’t have to be an expensive brand of paint, it doesn’t have to be brand new furniture.

    ‘All it has to be is getting what you want for less. Check discount stores, use your imagination and see what you can use that you already have.

    ‘Search the internet for inspiration. And don’t be scared to try something different. If it means waiting, the wait is worth it.’

    Please enjoy the pics of their wonderful new home:

    Grey living room with two dogs
    Their dogs are fans (Picture: Jordie Turner)
    Their wedding had a similar colour scheme (Picture: Jordie Turner)
    Cute pot (Picture: Jordie Turner)
    Grey interior
    Jordie says the trick to good finds is to be patient (Picture: Jordie Turner)
    Grey living room
    Is that a tree trunk? (Picture: Jordie Turner)
    Everything is very well matched (Picture: Jordie Turner)
    Dining table
    That plant again (Picture: Jordie Turner)

    MORE: Mum creates amazing DIY playroom for son with sensory processing issues for £80

    MORE: Mum creates amazing DIY playroom for son with sensory processing issues for £80

    MORE: Man shares how he saved £570k and retired at the age of 24

    Couple who made INSTAGRAM Dream House for ?300 with Poundland and B&M BargainsCouple who made INSTAGRAM Dream House for ?300 with Poundland and B&M Bargains

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    Beth Allen
    Beth has lived with emetophobia and anorexia since she was 10 (Picture: Beth Allen/Metro.co.uk)

    Beth Allen was 10 years old when she first developed emetophobia – an intense fear of vomiting, or seeing other people being sick.

    It started when her family fell sick one Christmas from a nasty vomiting bug.

    The mental health vlogger and speaker from Newark, Nottinghamshire, says the whole experience was so traumatic that the severe fear of getting sick like that again started to ‘play on a loop’ in her head.

    Beth, now 23, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I can remember it clear as day as if it were yesterday.

    ‘There was a lot of tension in the house as my parents were trying to cope with being ill and looking after my sister and me too.

    ‘Once I was better, I was terrified that it would happen again. I started to wash my hands more frequently, avoid people who had said they felt ill and shut myself away in my room where I felt “safe”.’

    Her fear of being sick started to ‘take over’ her life from that point.

    ‘I didn’t want to do things teens do like parties and drinking’, she says.

    ‘I went to one party and a friend of mine threw up because they’d drunk so much.

    ‘That was enough for me. I rang my parents, crying down the phone and they came and got me.

    ‘I started avoiding going out at all. The winter was especially terrifying for me. I missed out on a lot.’

    To cope with her fear of vomiting and how she isolated herself, she started self-harming at the age of 13.

    She says: ‘I would self-harm because I was SO scared. It was like being in a trance and once I was calm again I would feel so guilty of the damage I had done to myself.

    ‘I scratched my chest so badly and I could only wear high-necked tops. I still have the scars now.

    ‘The pain of self-harming distracted me from my mind telling me I was going to be sick.’

    As well as self-harming, her fear of vomiting started to affect her relationship with food and she developed anorexia because of it.

    To avoid feeling sick, Beth became picky about her food, especially meat. She would question how long it had been cooked for and would poke it around her plate.

    Beth while she was unwell
    Beth suffered in silence for three years (Picture: Beth Allen/Metro.co.uk)

    Sometimes she would chew her food and then spit it out in the bathroom where her parents couldn’t see her.

    Eventually, all of this control over her food lead her to develop body image issues. She quickly lost weight and she felt like she had to keep going.

    Beth says: ‘It was like a war in my head.

    ‘My emetophobia would be so obsessed with keeping me clean and away from anyone. Anorexia wanted me to be this perfect person and purge what little I ate.

    ‘It almost felt like the two hated each other and simultaneously worked so well together.’

    For Beth, daily life was terrifying. She felt like a prisoner in her mind and she thought about being sick every minute of every day.

    ‘It was that constant,’ she says. ‘It was the first thing I thought when I woke up and the last thing I thought about at night.

    ‘I’d wash my hands at least once an hour. I questioned everything I touched.

    ‘I would never go out unless I had to. And every time I did, I would come home crying and panicking that I had caught something.’

    Beth the night she broke down
    Beth the night she broke down (Picture: Beth Allen/Metro.co.uk)

    Almost everything was a trigger for her but Christmas time was especially problematic as it reminded her of the bug where it first started.

    ‘I can remember my sister getting ill one time and I stood outside barefoot in the snow rather than being inside the house,’ she says.

    For the first three years, Beth didn’t speak about her phobia or eating disorder.

    Her family knew about her struggles with emetophobia but she says they didn’t understand it at all.

    However, they organised for her to go to therapy and she was also referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for cognitive behavioural therapy when she was13, then 15 and then 17.

    Beth described it as being like a ‘sticking plaster’. It would work for a short time but then old habits would come back.

    ‘I wasn’t dealing with the root of the trauma’, she says.

    ‘I know that for my family, dealing with me in that moment of panic was very hard for them. I didn’t tell any of my friends for fear of being seen as weird. It was a shameful thing to share in my mind.’

    It wasn’t until Beth was 21 that she finally sought proper help for her emetophobia and anorexia.

    Beth and her boyfriend
    Her boyfriend encouraged her to get help (Picture: Beth Allen/Metro.co.uk)

    She adds: ‘I was getting in the bath and looking at my body and I just broke down. Not just weeping but that deep cry from the pit of your stomach.

    ‘I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore. It was do or die – literally.

    ‘My boyfriend, Phil, 42, found me on the bathroom floor and we both decided it was time to do something properly about this.

    ‘He assured me I was worth more.’

    Beth saw a doctor and was told that she would be admitted to an eating disorder unit if she didn’t put weight on in the next three months.

    She was breathless all of the time and struggling physically and mentally.

    She was offered therapy on the NHS but due to the long waiting lists, her parents decided to pay for Beth to have it privately – something she has continued for the last two years.

    She says: ‘It took a year to untangle the memories and trauma and another year to build this stronger version of myself.’

    A full body shot of Beth
    Beth has now been in recovery for two years (Picture: Beth Allen/Metro.co.uk)

    Over time, Beth has slowly managed to put on small amounts of weight, a few pounds at a time. She says it was hard for her and a ‘real battle’ to challenge the obsessive thoughts.

    She continues: ‘I did it with the patience and love of my other half and my family.

    ‘I made friends through my recovery too which was wonderful. When I finally got help, I had something called humanistic integrative therapy, which bases itself on healing the mind, body and spirit.

    ‘It’s a very deep level therapy but it’s so worth it in my experience.

    ‘My therapy sessions are now once or twice a month, which is a huge step for me, especially at this time of year with so many bugs around.’

    Beth adds that recovery has been a ‘massive rollercoaster’ for her – though it has been mostly positive.

    She says: ‘It’s about remembering that recovery isn’t about getting rid of the feelings but learning how to cope with them and that’s when their power dissolves and they almost disappear.’


    If you suspect you, a family member or friend has an eating disorder, contact Beat on 0808 801 0677 or at help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk, for information and advice on the best way to get appropriate treatment

    Need support? Contact the Samaritans

    For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

    MORE: My GP told me to get my act together

    MORE: These iconic female athletes are ready to ‘fight for the future of girls in sport’


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    Christmas background with a coffee machine, Batman blanket, bourbon bottle and duffel bag
    What to get for the one who’s notoriously tricky to buy for (Picture: metro.co.uk)

    It’s a truth universally acknowledged that men are impossible to shop for.

    With Christmas fast approaching, most of us are scrambling to put the finishing touches on (or begin) our festive shopping.

    We’ve covered what to get for your mum, dad, your grandma and even your pets (yes, our dogs need presents too).

    But there’s one special person in your life you may have not sorted a gift for – the boyfriend.

    After all, you’re not his mum – you can’t just get him socks or pyjamas. He is your partner, an equal, a grown human being. So you’ll need to get him something that’s not too generic and suits his personality.

    Why not go for personalised tech or a shout-out to a sports team? If he’s into experiences then we’ve also picked the ultimate driving adventure.

    Here are 12 top treats you can get for your boyfriend this Christmas:

    Elton Insulated bottle 750ml, Kambukka, £33.95

    Kambukka water bottle in black
    (Picture: Kambukka)

    This sturdy bottle comes in three lid settings: ‘push’, ‘always open’ and a ‘locked’ position so you can drink on the go.

    It’s perfect for warm weather as the product is said to keep beverages ‘ice-cold for up to 21 hours straight’.

    Personalised Family Chef Chopping Board, £24.99, NotOnTheHighStreet

    Personalised chopping board
    (Picture: NotOnTheHighStreet)

    This is the idea gilt if your partner is the one who does all the cooking

    Or maybe he lives in a flatshare and someone’s always nicking his chopping board and cutting all sorts of stuff on it. We can’t promise that they’ll stop using it but at least they’ll feel guilty doing so.

    Personalised Men’s Slogan Apron, £28, NotOnTheHighStreet

    Personalised apron for men
    (Picture: NotOnTheHighStreet)

    Alternatively, go for the personalised apron. You don’t have to go with ‘host with the roast’, choose from the suggestions or come up with your own witty one-liner. We believe in you!

    Triple Supercar Blast, £95, Virgin Experience Days

    Flashy cars on road
    (Picture: Virgin Experience Days)

    Ferraris are expensive, we won’t suggest you gift your boyfriend a flashy car but give him the thrill of driving one.

    With this experience from Virgin, he’ll be able to test-drive the likes of a Lamborghini, a luxurious Aston Martin or a Porsche.

    Amazon Basics Canvas Duffel Bag, Khaki, £33.03, Amazon

    Duffel bag
    (Picture: Amazon)

    This is ideal for the traveller going on a 2-3-day weekend or business trip. The duffel bag has compartments for clothes, toiletries, and can be used on a plane as a carry-on.

    Movie night for two (two films and snacks), £25, Cineworld

    Surprised man watching movie with friend
    (Picture: Getty)

    The best kind of gift is the one that benefits you. And with this one, not only do you get to go as a plus one, you could probably choose the film you watch.

    And it comes with snacks. Don’t have a film you want to watch? No problem, it’s valid for six months.

    Personalised Hooded Batman, £44.99, Custom Gifts

    Batman blanket
    (Picture: Custom Gifts)

    The popularity of Batman has endured and there’s nothing that will stop the caped crusader being popular.

    So you might as well get your boyfriend more Batman merchandise, like this personalised cosy blanket.

    Angle Razor kit, £85, Moramma

    (Picture: Moramma)

    Apparently this one has won an award and also looks very slick.

    It’s perfect for wet shaving and beard trimming and the blades are easy to recycle, with no plastic to worry about.

    The razor is milled from aluminium with a brass pin. Every kit comes with a matching stand milled from aluminium and a silicon anti-slip foot.

    Arsenal (and Liverpool FC) Lavazza coffee machine, £89, Lavazza

    Arsenal coffee machine
    (Picture: Lavazza)

    Chances are your boyfriend likes football, and if he’s a Gunner (or you are) then this is perfect. Not an Arsenal fan? No problem, they also have a Liverpool one.

    The special edition Tiny machine has the class and the character of the club, is compact and above all practical. Press a single button to prepare and drink some luscious coffee.

    MrCB Touch Wireless Earphones, £49, Toxic Fox

    Personalised earphones
    (Picture: Toxic Fox)

    We know Airpods are expensive so if you’re looking for something that’s Apple-friendly (and Android) and looks the part, these personalised earphones make great gifts.

    Design your own little character and add your name so people can’t mistake it for theirs. It also has a five-hour battery life and a chargeable case where it quickly gets juiced up.

    (To be super #couplegoals, get a matching girl one).

    Makers Mark Jumper Pack, £29.95, 31 Dover

    Bourbon bottle with Christmas jumper on top
    (Picture: 31 Dover)

    This one is for the bourbon-lovers and it comes with the most festive Christmas jumper.

    Maker’s Mark is one of the most recognised small-batch, handmade Kentucky bourbons out there, known for its distinctive bottle and trademarked red-wax sealed neck.

    Aged for six years, the use of winter wheat gives Maker’s Mark a soft and mellow flavour profile.

    Zippo Leather Toiletry Bag, £22.99, Amazon

    Toiletry bag
    (Picture: Amazon)

    No, he can’t keep putting stuff into your bag when you go away. Gift him this toiletry bag, to be filled up with his own skincare products, because he can’t sponge off your moisturiser forever.

    And it comes in a wee gift box which should make wrapping it that much easier.

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    boyfriend gift guideboyfriend gift guide

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    The best food and alcohol subscription boxes for last minute gifts
    Give a gift that keeps giving (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

    If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping or just don’t know what to get someone, a subscription box is a great idea.

    You can pay for a few months (usually three, six or 12) depending on your budget and it keeps giving throughout the year.

    They often get to try different types of their favourite thing and if they like it, it’s a gift you can just renew again and again.

    We’ve covered everything from coffee to marshmallows and even bacon.

    Most of them come in the post, giving your loved one a little monthly pick me up.

    They’re also perfect for a last-minute gifts as you can pay online in minutes, meaning you don’t need to go anywhere or wait for delivery. You could even buy it on Christmas morning.

    Just print something out to let the person know what they’ve got and let them know when their first box is due.

    Coffee subscription, Monmouth Coffee Company, from £31

    Coffee subscription, Monmouth Coffee Company,
    (Picture: Monmouth Coffee Company)

    Each month you get 250g of a coffee that they think is great. You can choose from whole beans or ground coffee for different devices. There’s also an option to add another bag each month and you can set it up for three, six or 12 months.

    Brownie and cookie subscription box, The Bakehouse, from £14

    Brownie and cookie subscription box, The Bakehouse
    (Picture: The Bakehouse)

    Who doesn’t want brownies and cookies to arrive every month? These guys do just brownie or just cookie boxes too but we love the option to have both. Every month you get four brownies in different flavours and three cookies.

    This is a monthly payment of £14 (plus £2.50 postage and packaging) but you can cancel at any time, depending on your budget for the person you are buying for.

    Vegan gift subscription, Borough Box, from £29.99

    Vegan gift subscription, Borough Box
    (Picture: The Borough Box)

    For the vegan in your life, get a monthly box of new plant-based goodies. It includes 8-10 snacks, drinks and sauces from different brands, all without meat or dairy ingredients. You can choose from a one month, three month or six-month subscription for this one.

    Discovery club food gift, Borough Box, from £34.99

    Discovery club food gift, Borough Box
    (Picture: The Borough Box)

    This box is great for someone who loves to try new foods and flavours. Each month, they get 7-10 items. The idea is to highlight new products and food innovation. There’s one, three or six month subscription options.

    Beer subscription, HonestBrew, from £22.90

    Beer subscription, HonestBrew,
    (Picture: HonestBrew)

    HonestBrew send out a selection of craft beers every month. You can choose from mixed styles or IPAS and pale ales. There’s also a choice for now many beers you want to include – six, nine or 12. They focus on supporting independent craft breweries and it’s a great way to try drinks from across the world.

    Gin subscription, Craft Gin Club, from £49.99

    Gin subscription, Craft Gin Club,
    (Picture: Craft Gin Club)

    We have a whiole gift guide for the gin lover but if you want to give them something they can enjoy every month, try this subscription box. It includes a bottle of the spirit, mixers, other gin themed foods and a magazine.

    Dram club – Whisky (three months), Master of Malt, from £89.85

    Dram club - Whisky (three months), Master of Malt
    (Picture: Master of Malt)

    Buy someone this box and they get five different 30ml drams delivered through the door every month. They also get two Master of Malt crystal tasting glasses to drink them all in.

    Recipe box gift card, Hello Fresh, from £29.99

    Recipe box gift card, Hello Fresh
    (Picture: Hello Fresh)

    If you’re buying for someone who claims they don’t have time to cook, Hello Fresh is a great option. You get easy to follow recipes and ingredients that are pre-measured so they can put together a tasty meal in no time. Buy a gift card so they can use it whenever suits them.

    Snack box gift vouchers, Graze, from £13.47

    Snack box gift vouchers, Graze
    (Picture: Graze)

    Graze boxes contain four snacks and it all fits through a letterbox so you don’t have to worry about someone missing a delivery. The giftcard gives them a certain number of boxes depending on your budget.

    Bacon subscription, Cure & Simple, from £11.90

    Bacon subscription, Cure & Simple
    (Picture: Cure & Simple)

    Yes, you can even get monthly bacon deliveries in the post. Cure & Simple offers everything from American style smoked streaky bacon to Whisky smoked back bacon.

    You can choose various options and the person can redeem them in different ways – for example, a gift card for six packs could mean one pack for six weeks or two packs for three weeks. It’s completely flexible.

    Cheese subscription, Pong, from £22 per month (minimum three months)

    Cheese subscription, Pong
    (Picture: Pong)

    Pong sends four kinds of cheese of approximately 50g to 200g each month. Expect seasonal cheeses from the UK and the rest of the world. You can choose from three, six or 12 months and there’s even an option to tailor it slightly.

    Those who don’t like goat’s cheese or blue cheese can remove it and veggies can get a specific box. You can also choose the premium box wth one extra special cheese a month for £7 more.

    Charcuterie Club, Cannon & Cannon, from £33

    Charcuterie Club, Cannon & Cannon
    (Picture: Borough Box)

    Each month this box of cured meats is focused around one producer, allowing the person you’re buying for to try a range of charcuterie. They will get four to six handcrafted meats.

    Three months of pasta, Pasta Evangelists, from £51

    Three months of pasta, Pasta Evangelists
    (Picture: Pasta Evangelists)

    If your loved one is a pasta fan, this could be the gift for them. The most popular product is three months of pasta and you can choose how many servings you get in each one. The box includes delicious fresh pasta in different shapes and flavours for them to try. It includes a nice gift certificate so you have something to give them on Christmas Day.

    Tea subscription, Bird & Blend, from £7 per month

    Tea subscription, Bird & Blend
    (Picture: Blend & Batch)

    A good budget option, this subscription includes three teas to try and some nice illustrations. Each one makes up to 10 cups so you can get up to 30 cups a month. Subscribers also get to try new blends before anyone else.

    Biscuit tin three month subscription, Biscuiteers, £100

    Biscuit tin three month subscription, Biscuiteers
    (Picture: Biscuiteers)

    Gift someone a box of delicious and beautiful biscuits every month for three months. Each box has a different seasonal design and they come in a box decorated in the same style. The biscuits last for about a month.

    Date night subscription, The Spicery, from £26

    Date night subscription, The Spicery
    (Picture: The Spicery)

    This subscription gives someone romantic meals that they can cook together. It includes fresh spices and recipe cards, giving a couple something to create together.

    Tasting Club subscription, Hotel Chocolat, from £60

    Tasting Club subscription, Hotel Chocolat
    (Picture: Hotel Chocolat)

    Every month, the Tasting Club member can choose a box of their favourite type of chocolates – classic, high cocoa, mellow, fortified or rare and vintage.

    Fudge subscription (three months), Stirrd, from £34.99

    Fudge subscription (three months), Stirrd
    (Picture: Stirrd)

    Give some tasty fudge every month. The box is letterbox friendly and the contents change every month so the person receiving this gift can try lots of different flavours.

    Marshmallow subscription, The Naked Marshmallow Co, from £30

    Marshmallow subscription, The Naked Marshmallow Co
    (Picture: Naked Marshmallow)

    And finally, this gourmet marshmallow gift subscription looks delicious with flavours including chocolate orange and raspberry and prosecco. The present giver gets to choose the flavour for each month. For an extra £3.75, you can include marshmallow toasters and skewers so they can create a gooey treat over an open flame.

    MORE: What to get for gin lovers this Christmas, including gift boxes, hampers and personalised bottles

    MORE: Ethical gifts to get the eco-conscious person in your life this Christmas

    Best alcohol chocolate food subscription giftsBest alcohol chocolate food subscription gifts

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    Anxiety gifts
    We’ve found the perfect gifts (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

    Christmas is just around the corner, and if you’re still yet to buy your presents and you have a friend or loved one who suffers with anxiety, we’ve got some perfect gift ideas for you.

    From alarm clocks to self-care kits to weighted blankets, we’ve devised a list of gifts that would be perfect for any person in your life who has anxiety.

    Of course, you don’t need to make it all about their mental health condition – but these gifts are a nice way of showing them that you’re thinking about them, and that you care.

    Lumie Bodyclock Spark 100 Wake up to Daylight SAD Light, £63, John Lewis

    Lumie alarm clock
    This is the perfect way to wake up (Picture: John Lewis)

    This alarm clock is perfect for people with anxiety stemming from seasonal affective disorder.

    The clock gently starts to brighten 30 minutes before your alarm time, waking you naturally as it reaches full brightness.

    Waking up with gradual light has been proven to boost mood, productivity and energy levels, so that you feel brighter and ready for the day ahead.

    You can also wind down gradually with the sunset feature that lasts 30 minutes.

    Fading light is a signal for the body to produce melatonin ready for sleep, so the sunset makes you naturally drowsy. Realistic lighting fades through pink, orange, red then turns off or stays at a soft glow if you set the nightlight feature.

    Calm at Work Gift Box, £18, Friend In A Box

    Calm at work gift box
    We love this gift box (Picture: Friend In A Box)

    This gift box is for those who deal with stress and anxiety at work.

    This Calm at Work gift set features a little book of Calm at Work, a tisserhand de-stress aromatherapy rollerball and a mini bar of chocolate.

    Fortnum’s Famous Tea Bag Selection Gift Set, £15.95, Fortnum and Mason

    Tea gift box
    Tea anyone? (Picture: Fortnum and Mason)

    Sometimes, the only thing that can help you relax is a nice cup of tea – so why not buy someone you love a gift box full of the stuff?

    The gift set features 60 tea bags, including 10 tea bags each of Royal Blend, Breakfast Blend, Afternoon Blend, Queen Anne Blend, Earl Grey Classic and Smoky Earl Grey.

    Anxiety Bracelet, £6.99, Etsy

    Anxiety bracelet
    This bracelet is very sweet (Picture: Etsy)

    This lampwork heart beaded bracelet looks like a normal, pretty bracelet to anyone else, but you can write a supportive message on the packaging so your friend will know how much you mean to them. Isn’t that lovely?

    Little Bag Of Tokens Mindfulness Gift, £12, Etsy

    Mindfulness tokens
    These tokens are a lovely idea! (Picture: Etsy)

    A cheep and cheerful gift, each bag of tokens costs £12 and comes with nice, supportive messages on them.

    The Comfort package includes: ‘Mistakes are ok’, ‘Think happy thoughts’, ‘Believe in yourself’, ‘This will pass’, ‘You can do it’, and ‘Proud of you’.

    A Month of Mindfulness, £20, Not On The High Street

    A month of mindfulness
    FIll your month with mindfulness (Picture: Not on the High Street)

    This mindfulness guide features soothing bath salts with essential oils, an oak wooden card holder, an A& note card with an envelope and 25 inspirational cards for you to read throughout the month, for an epic month of mindfulness.

    A Year of Mindfulness, £19.95, Amazon

    A year of mindfulness
    Or how about a year? (Picture: Amazon)

    This gift features a jar, with 52 mindfulness tasks inside for every week of the year.

    Simply take one task a week and try to follow it for the whole week. The cards are simple and should be a little fun.

    The Anxiety Journal, £9.99, Oliver Bonas

    Anxiety book
    This book sounds amazing (Picture: Oliver Bonas)

    This book is practical, supportive and uplifting, and has been designed for anyone who struggles with anxiety, whether that’s in the form of phobias, generalised anxiety or day-to-day worrying.

    It was written by Corinne Sweet, a psychologist and pyschotherapist who encourages CBT techniques and mindfulness exercises to help you understand your anxiety better.

    Positive Gift Box ‘Focus On You’ Gift Box, £25, Not On The High Street

    Focus on yourself gift box
    Focus on yourself with this gift box (Picture: Not on the High Street)

    This gift box is bound to make anybody feel happy, even if for a little while.

    It features two positive notebooks titled ‘Yes You Can Do This!’and ‘No Such Thing As Cant!’, a sticker set with six positive stickers, a fudge box including vanilla salted caramel and chocolate flavours, a set of three sparkler set and a jasmine and mint bath bomb.

    ‘You Are Loved’ Charm, £6, Not Another Bunch Of Flowers

    You are loved charm
    This is sweet (Picture: Not Another Bunch of Flowers)

    A gorgeous little charm made of pewter to remind that important person in your life that they are loved. It can be worn as a necklace or a bracelet – or simply carried as a good luck charm.

    Vive Le Color! Colour Therapy Kit, £10.99, Not Another Bunch of Flowers

    Colour therapy kit
    The perfect colour therapy kit (Picture: Not Another Bunch of Flowers)

    Colouring is calming and relaxing, and these brilliant colouring book sets make fantastic get well presents for those in hospital or recuperating at home.

    They contain 96 pages of beautiful patterns and designs to colour in to your heart’s content.

    The book also comes accompanied by a collection of 8 colourful pencils in gorgeous tones ideally suited to its theme.

    You can choose from a variety of themes, including Harmony, Energy, Vitality, Serenity, Peace and Meditation.

    Sleep Well Essential Oil Spray Mist, £15.95, Not Another Bunch of Flowers

    Sleep spray mist
    Sleep well with this mist (Picture: Not Another Bunch of Flowers)

    This mist is perfect for a peaceful night’s sleep.

    Aromatherapy mist sprays diffuse natural essential oils into your home, not only to they smell amazingly fresh but they are also beneficial to your health and wellbeing.

    This lovely essential oil room spray is all natural and free from synthetic fragrances and nasties and is perfect for helping you to relax and sleep.

    It features lavender, sandalwood and mandarin to promote relaxation and restful sleep. The mist is presented in a handy pump top bottle and beautifully packaged in a box.

    All you have to do is lightly spray in the room or over bed linen and allow the mist to settle and enjoy its benefits.

    Self Care Pamper Kit, £21.99, Not On The High Street

    Self care box
    We all need some self care once in a while (Picture: Not on the High Street)

    The set features everything you’ll need to relax and pamper yourself.

    The set is complete with a skin moisturising bar of freesia soap and aromatherapy rose bath salts. The set also contains amethyst bath bomb and unscented mini candle. Each product is completely natural and uses essential oils to nourish the skin.

    Premium Weighted Blanket for Anxiety, £59, Therapy Blankets

    Weighted blanket
    This blanket is amazing for anxiety (Picture: Therapy Blankets)

    This weighted blanket is a medical product that, by its weight, stimulates deep-seated receptors important for the development and proper functioning of the human body. The compression of sensory duvet brings relaxation and tranquility, makes fears disappear, and soothes the body ready for night regeneration.

    Worry Stone, £3.50, Etsy

    Worry stones
    A very thoughtful gift (Picture: Etsy)

    Of course, these stones haven’t been proven to take your worries away for good but they’re a nice, cheap and thoughtful gift.

    The description reads: ‘A beautiful Love Heart shaped worry stone with individual velvet pouch. Keep them with you to replace your worries with calm and peace. Just rub the smooth, cool stone…keep it in your pocket! ‘

    Calm Candle, £7.50, Marks & Spencer

    Calming candle
    Why not buy a calming candle? (Picture: M&S)

    This calming candle is crafted with sweet orange and lavender essential oils, with a note of cedar wood and clary sage.

    This candle is meant to be super calming, so light it one evening and settle down with a good book and a cup of tea.

    MORE: 15 of the best Christmas gifts for fitness lovers

    MORE: 19 purrfect Christmas gifts for cats

    (XX) gifts for people with anxiety(XX) gifts for people with anxiety

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    In case you need some joy brought to your morning…

    Meet Joan, an 89-year-old resident who asked for a visit from an attractive man with ‘a large chest and big biceps’ – and had that wish granted.

    Joan and her friend Pauline were absolutely delighted when a stripper dressed as a fireman arrived at Glastonbury Court care home in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and treated the ladies to a dance.

    Thankfully the wonderful occasion was captured on video, so we can all watch Joan and her pals having a giggle as the stripper waves his belt in the air.

     care home resident Joan with a stripper after her wish was granted by the management
    Joan asked the home for a man with ‘a large chest and biceps’ (Picture: Care UK/PA)
    Care UK of Glastonbury Court care home employees with a stripper after a residents wish was granted by the management
    The care home delivered (Picture: Care UK/PA)

    Speaking after the dance, Joan said: ‘I thought that he was amazing – I wish he could visit us every day!

    ‘He made me feel like I was young again, I loved every second.’

    This isn’t the first brilliant request from residents at the care home.

    care home resident Joan (right) with a stripper after her wish was granted by the management
    Joan and her friend Pauline (left) had a great time (Picture: Care UK/PA)
     care home resident Joan with a stripper after her wish was granted by the management
    ‘I loved every second’ (Picture: Care UK/PA)

    Previous granted desires to the home’s wishing tree initiative have included a trip to the beach at Felixstowe, shopping trips, and afternoon tea.

    Sharlene Van Tonder, home manager for Care UK, said: ‘Most people expect life in a care home to be a certain way, with residents watching television and doing a bit of knitting.

    ‘Here at Glastonbury Court, our ethos is about helping people to enjoy more independent and fulfilling lives in the way they want to, and we’re keen to ensure that there are no limitations so that every day can be different and fun.

    ‘It’s fair to say this isn’t the typical kind of visitor we have at the home – but based on the response, he was one of the most popular.’

    MORE: Mum wraps son’s entire bedroom in wrapping paper and blames it on naughty elf

    MORE: Mum spends four years building a Christmas village in her garden for less than £100

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    Illustration of woman holding glass of wine at Christmas
    (Picture: Phébe Lou Morson for Metro.co.uk)

    Are you the kind of person who would rather miss a bus, train or even a plane to avoid making small talk with a colleague you’ve bumped into?

    You’re not alone if you dread awkward encounters.

    As much fun as can be had on free booze, Christmas parties can also be very awkward affairs, especially if your work environment doesn’t have many social events.

    Some people even converse for the first time at the annual festive shindig.

    So rather than ask them who the hell they are (or forget their name and then get too embarrassed to ask them again), here are some universal icebreakers that you can break out.*

    *Only to never talk to them until the next Christmas party.


    Not sure if you’ve noticed but there’s a whole lot of political kerfuffle going on at the minute. With that General Election we just had, we’re sure there’s plenty to talk about.

    Some parties might envoke a ‘no politics’ rule, so just be careful of wading too deep into your political views.

    Keep this chat to the early part of the night, before too much alcohol has been consumed, lest you get into a fight. Let’s not forget that Christmas parties have consequences.

    Illustration of two women at a Christmas party
    She’s definitely talking about Brexit (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)


    The thing that’s bought you together; a time of great merriment, eating your body weight in chocolate and getting very very drunk.

    It’s a magical time where all of the above is reasonable everyday behaviour. At any lull in any conversation, you can bring this bad boy up and instantly everyone has thoughts, whether it’s about the last-minute shopping, how much more joyous childhood Christmasses were, or, for the fun sponges, consumerism.


    Talking to your boss or other higher-ups? It might be time to put your best foot forward and make yourself known in a good way, while everyone’s in a bubbly mood.

    Perhaps mention a project or story you’ve worked on or a person you helped.

    You can always use the topic of work as an in before you move on to the fun stuff. After all, it’s common ground.

    Social media

    If something happened to you that you wanted to tweet about then chances are you find it interesting. Social media is a great springboard for discussion.

    Either bring up something you saw on a colleague’s Instagram Story or something you put out into the ether.

    Maybe a time you were hiking in the foothills of Mount Tibidabo?*

    *Yes this is a pick-up line from Friends, only use this if you’re trying to hook up with someone (and maybe not even then, because that has consequences too).

    TV shows

    There are only two types of people in the world: Those who’ve watched Game of Thrones and those who have a life.

    Definitely don’t lead with something as controversial and brave as that last statement, but nothing brings TV fanatics together like a common show interest. This is a good time to collect recommendations and go on about that thing you just couldn’t stop bingeing.

    Lived experiences

    Yes, Christmas parties are a time of great enjoyment but they’re also attended by people you spend a lot of time with who may not be from the same walk of life as you.

    This might be a good time to chat and more importantly listen to someone with a different lived experience from you, especially if that difference colours their experience of the workplace.

    Not all your colleagues may be up for drinking, for example – instead of badgering them about how they can have fun without drinking, why not chat to them about what that’s like?

    Or better yet, share a Pepsi with them, if you’re not too tempted by free bevvies.

    Illustration of black woman looking confused
    Not everyone has the same experience as you at work (Picture: Ella Byworth/mylo)

    Something interesting you read

    Preferably something on Metro.co.uk, from our unbiased opinion. Whether it be on social media, in print or online, articles, long-reads, and research can inspire many a discussion.

    Memes/viral content/Tik Tok

    On that note, viral tweets and/or memes are often hilarious. In fact, a common meme interest might signal a similar sense of humour which is a prerequisite of a friendship.

    Or show them your favourite Tik-Tok video. They don’t know what that is? Explain to them what ‘ok boomer’ means.

    By the end of the night, you could be saying ‘hey look at us, who would’ve thought? Not me.’

    Or you might even end up doing the triangle dance.


    If Instagram bios are anything to go bio, everyone’s a foodie. Why not mention the, hopefully, great spread you just ate? Or what you’re preparing for the big day?

    Or literally anything to do with food. Everyone eats.

    Perhaps you’re doing veganuary? Chat to someone who’s done it or is a full-time vegan.


    What was on your Spotify Wrapped? What on earth is ‘Pop Rock?’ So many questions. This is a great topic no matter who the audience and is often the only time everyone thinks their taste is superior.

    Conspiracy theories:

    Slightly more niche but drink has the effect of making one find entertainment in the weirdest of things. Sit down with a work bud and discuss whether Avril Lavigne is actually dead, or if Stevie Wonder is really blind. Or if you want to get deep: the moon landing.

    Don’t become that conspiracy guy though.

    Secret Santa

    Did you just loooove that childhood fave album you got? Chances are you’re standing with the person who gave it to you. Make them feel appreciated, say you loved it.

    And if you didn’t, then just let it collect dust like all the other presents you’re either going to regift or eventually throw away.

    So there you have it, all the topics you need to become a conversational wizard.

    MORE: People reveal why they were disciplined or fired after their work Christmas party

    MORE: How drunk are you allowed to get at your work Christmas party?

    MORE: People are sharing stressful Christmas stories to combat the pressure to be perfect

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    People serving food at soup kitchen community dinner
    There are around 2,000 food banks in the UK (Picture: Getty)

    Many people will have woken up this morning feeling helpless and hopeless. For reasons that don’t really need explaining.

    If you fall into this category, it can be tempting to react by switching off, disengaging, frantically looking at flights out of the country. But this isn’t the only way.

    Once the initial blow has worn off and the disappointment has dissipated – it might be more productive to investigate the practical ways you can help the most vulnerable people in society.

    Helping feels good, and is more important now than ever before. So when you’re ready to shake off the despondency, take a look at these positive ways you can contribute.

    Volunteer at a food bank

    There are around 2,000 food banks in the UK and they provide emergency food to people living in poverty.

    You can donate to food banks – they are always looking for non-perishable, in-date food, so think tins of beans and tuna and vegetables. But volunteering at a food bank could be even better.

    Between April 2018 and May 2019, a record 1.6 million food bank parcels were given out across the UK. The Trussell Trust network has 28,000 volunteers working across its food banks and couldn’t function without their generosity.

    Food banks rely on the support of local communities to help end hunger.

    Volunteer to help the homeless

    According to Crisis, 57,890 households were accepted as homeless in England last year.

    As well as the visible homelessness we see everyday, there is also a problem with ‘hidden homelessness’, as many people who are not entitled to help with housing, or who don’t approach their councils for help, aren’t counted in the official statistics.

    On average, homeless people die at just 44 years old.

    You can help by volunteering at charities – helping to raise money, giving advice on helplines, or whatever transferable skills you have to offer.

    Smiling volunteer
    57,890 households were accepted as homeless in England last year (Picture: Getty)

    Befriend a family

    Become a Befriender means you can offer a reliable and supportive relationship for people who would otherwise be socially isolated.

    That includes children and young people, families, people with mental ill-health, people with learning disabilities and older people.

    Befrienders are carefully matched with disadvantaged families to provide them with practical and emotional support.

    You’ll get full training before you start, and it requires weekly two-three hour visits to families, for a minimum of six months.

    Become a reading volunteer

    If you want to help children to develop their literacy skills and ensure they have better prospects in the future, this is a great scheme.

    Bookmark’s specially designed six-week programme offers one-to-one support to an individual child. You can even bring in books from your local library to challenge and inspire your reader.

    You’ll help by reading with your allocated kid in 30-minute sessions, twice a week, at a local school.

    Help fight loneliness in the elderly

    More than two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone. More than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.

    You can help by providing companionship and conversation just a few hours every week.

    Age UK runs some brilliant programmes that encourage older and younger generations to spend time together – because intergenerational friendships are good for everyone.

    Friendly nurse supporting an eldery lady
    More than two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone (Picture: Getty)

    Inspire a child as a volunteer mentor

    The Kids Network runs a structured mentoring programme that supports 8 -11 year olds in London with their social and emotional development before they transition into secondary school.

    You’ll hold weekly one on one sessions of one-three hours.

    The aim is to build confidence, resilience and help your matched child to manage their feelings through a series of fun and positive experiences and activities.

    Volunteer on Christmas Day

    This is a particularly tough time of year to be living in poverty, living with illness, or living with loneliness.

    Giving up a few hours of your Christmas Day can light up someone else’s life – and you can even make it a family activity.

    Volunteer at a soup kitchen, an old people’s home, or simply head out on Christmas morning with warm food and blankets for anyone spending the day on the streets.

    MORE: Black Girls Hike is diversifying the great outdoors: ‘Nature is accessible, but not inclusive’

    MORE: All the things to talk about with a colleague you don’t know well at the Christmas party

    Friendly nurse supporting an eldery ladyFriendly nurse supporting an eldery lady

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    Jeff was inspired to tackle period poverty after hearing stories from his partner Louise Cooke. the chief operating officer at Faith Hope and Enterprise (Picture: Kennedy News and Media)

    A reminder that there are good people doing wonderful things in the world.

    Jeff Williams has been given the title of ‘Tampon Man’ and received heaps of praise after he nipped out to buy sausages, only to return with thousands of sanitary towels to help those in poverty.

    Jeff, 55, had only planned to pop into Morrisons for some sausages but ended up spending more than £75 on tampons and pads after learning about period poverty.

    Now Jeff is hoping to make picking up trolley-loads of pads a Christmas tradition.

    The IT manager was inspired to help out those on their periods after his partner Louise Cooke, 54, came home from a day of work at charity Faith and Hope Enterprise, providing supported housing for those in need.

    Louise told Jeff that some of the women she helped were unable to afford sanitary products and so used a sock in place of a pad. Naturally, Jeff was horrified. He knew he needed to do something to make a difference.

    Jeff said: ‘My partner Louise came home last week really upset which she doesn’t often do. She actually cried and she was just rolling through her day.

    ‘And one of the things that really struck me was one of the women had said “I need a sock” and that’s what it was about – she was menstruating.

    ‘She didn’t have anything, she didn’t have any money and she uses socks and a lot of the women do – or [use] whatever they’ve got around.

    He loaded up on tampons and pads for the less fortunate (Picture: Kennedy News and Media)

    ‘The following week I went down to Morrisons for some sausages for lunch and I ended up with a trolley stood there staring at the tampons with no idea which size or what kind.

    ‘And I just piled a whole lot into the trolley with a packet of sausages.’

    Since the death of Jeff’s mum in 2012, Jeff has created his own festive tradition of buying something for a stranger in need each year – as he doesn’t have a mum to buy a present for anymore.

    This year, learning about the reality of period poverty prompted Jeff to focus on providing sanitary products for those in need.

    Jeff shared photos of his trolley – along with the story of why he’d bought all those pads – on Facebook, where the post is inspiring thousands to do something kind.

    He wrote: ‘I got so many funny looks walking around Morrisons today with a trolley overflowing with sanitary towels and tampons but nobody dared to ask if I was okay lol.

    ‘I was shocked when I overheard Lollo last week saying that some of the women housed by her charity in Derby and Belper have so little that they often have to use their socks because they have no money for sanitary products.

    ‘It’s such an overlooked aspect of poverty and homelessness.

    ‘Here’s at least a small relief in dignity over the Christmas period. Sorry for the pun.

    ‘I don’t have a mum to buy for at Christmas anymore so since she died I always try to find a way to spend it on a stranger in need – on my mum’s behalf. It makes me incredibly happy.

    ‘Don’t forget to do something nice for a stranger this Christmas.

    ‘Oh, and yes, DO post it on social media in the hope it encourages others to do the same.’

    What a stash (Picture: Kennedy News and Media)

    The post ended up being shared more than 53,000 times and receiving 9,100 comments, as well as earning Jeff the title of ‘Tampon Man’.

    Jeff says he received some funny looks for buying period products in bulk, but it’s all worth it to know he’s lending a hand to someone who needs it.

    ‘The looks I was getting,’ he said. ‘As I put the first pack in, a woman standing next to me with her grandma or someone gave me a look.

    ‘I put another pack in and then I grabbed two handfuls and more and more.

    ‘She said to the old lady ‘are these the ones you normally have’ and then they just stopped and stared at me, and then they just walked away. I was fine with it, I knew what I was doing, of course.

    ‘I got some milk and other bits and pieces and went to the checkout and there was a massive queue.

    ‘So I was passed by a lot of people, all of them staring at me, staring at the trolley, staring at me and moving on.

    ‘[People were] just puzzled. But no one dared ask me if I was okay or if my partner was okay. I was thinking maybe they think I’ve got a woman bleeding to death at home or something.

    ‘The trolley was literally overflowing. I’d packed them all in at the bottom nice and tidy and then I’d thrown a load on top and they were the ones that kept falling off.

    ‘The checkout lady was playing poker face, which I guess they’re trained to do.’

    Jeff hopes that his small act of kindness will create a ripple effect, encouraging everyone who sees his gesture to do some good of their own.

    He added: ‘It’s been rarely refreshing – the first few thousand comments were from women but then a few men started coming in and a lot of people have said that they’re going to do the same.

    ‘It’s an invisible and very personal poverty problem so it’s not really talked about and no one really considers it.

    ‘I’m not professing to be some kind of expert in it but I know when Louise told me about it I was horrified and I’m in a position to do something for these women at least.

    ‘Now Louise and her daughter call me Tampon Man and the guys at work call me ‘Sanitary Man’ like I’m a superhero and that’s my superpower. I don’t mind – it’s all good.

    ‘The main thing is it’s highlighted this issue that obviously has hit a lot of nerves and a lot of women and I’m glad to say men have really jumped on it and pushed it.

    ‘As far as raising awareness they’ve credited me but they’ve done it by pushing this post around.’

    MORE: Seven practical things you can do to help vulnerable people – if you’re feeling helpless

    MORE: Disabled student couldn’t get into polling station because of four-inch step

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    Split image of Robbie Crawford's daughter lying under her Christmas tree-pee and a photo of the tree-pee on its own
    Talk about a festive tree (Picture: Robbie Crawford)

    If you think your holiday decorations looks festive, this creative mum is about to put you to shame.

    Robbie Crawford is planning a party for her entire family this year and decided that a regular Christmas tree just wouldn’t do.

    The genius idea struck the preschool teacher as she was telling her students about her Native American heritage.

    As she was thinking of ways to make the event just that bit more special, she looked to the corner of the room and saw the tipi that she had set up for the class.

    And voilà: the Christmas ‘tree-pee’ was born.

    ‘My family decided that they were coming to my house for Christmas,’ Robbie tell Metro.co.uk.

    ‘All 19 of them were going to be staying with me for two days.

    ‘When guests come to my house, I try to make it fun for everyone, especially the kids. It brings me pleasure to create adult zones and kid zones, making it enjoyable for elderly family members, as well as young rambunctious children to be under the same roof.

    ‘I do a lot of special touches to decorate for the kids. I set up activity tables, build-a-snack food bars, electronic games projected onto the wall, bears, balls, balloons…whatever I can think of!

    ‘At the preschool where I work, I was teaching one of my favorite units where I am able to share with my class information from my Native American heritage.

    ‘Each night that week, I had been prepping my house for all the guests who were coming so I was in Christmas mode. I looked at the tipi in my classroom and thought, “that’s the shape of a Christmas tree”.’

    So, how did she make it?

    The original tipi that Robbie Crawford used to create her Christmas tree-pee
    The original tipi from Robbie’s classroom (Picture: Robbie Crawford)

    The thrifty mum from Missouri, US, used the wooden frame of the classroom tipi and attached some branches that she had saved from an old tree.

    She attached the branches with the help of a stapler, and dressed the tree with leftover wedding decorations and non-breakable baubles.

    The project took her two hours to complete.

    Robbie says: ‘I don’t have much money (did I mention that I work in a preschool?) but poverty is the mother of invention and creativity is her father.

    ‘My creativity kicked into full gear. I had an old broken tree that I saved because the branches were nice quality and I knew I could do something with them. I had burlap left over from a wedding that I decorated.

    ‘I put all these elements together in my mind and dreamed up an awesome Christmas play fort my little nephews.

    ‘With my nephews’ adorable faces in my imagination, I set about making this tree-pee when I got home. I knew when they saw it, they’d scream in delight, jump around, crawl in and declare me their favorite aunt. This was my inspiration.

    ‘I loaded up the tipi in my car, gathered all my materials from my garage, and created a tree-pee in two hours. I called to let my sister’s boys know that I had a surprise waiting for them when they got to my house for Christmas.’

    Robbie Crawford's hand is visible, stapling together her Christmas tree-pee
    She used parts of the original tipi and attached branches that she had saved by using a stapler (Picture: Robbie Crawford)

    ‘I took pictures and posted it [on social media], just like I do all of my projects but for some reason, this idea took off.’

    Unsurprisingly, people are loving Robbie’s jolly creation.

    Her Facebook post has racked up over 80,000 shares so far, along with 7,500 likes.

    ‘I love it. Awesome idea!,’ commented one person.

    Someone else wrote: ‘I’m obsessed with this tree-pee!!!.’

    Robbie also says that people have contacted her to tell her that they’ll be making their very own tree-pees this season.

    ‘What is really special is all of the people who have written me about how they plan to use this idea in their homes,’ she tells us.

    ‘Several have said they have children with disabilities or special needs and this space will be so satisfying for them during the busy Christmas season.’

    Robbie Crawford
    ‘What is really special is all of the people who have written me about how they plan to use this idea in their homes’ (Picture: Robbie Crawford)

    Robbie adds: ‘Some have decided to use it for their pets. Some want to hide their presents inside the tree-pee since they have limited floor space in their tiny apartments.

    ‘A native American lady wrote me that this will be a wonderful way for her to pay homage to her ancestry.

    ‘Who would have thought that when I was just trying to bring joy to two little boys, this idea would have brought joy to so many others? I’m so happy about that!’

    In fact, the response has been so positive that Robbie has created a Facebook page dedicated to the project, asking others to share photos of their own tree-pees.

    We’re pretty sure Santa Claus will approve (we wouldn’t even be surprised if he took a nap under the tree on Christmas morning).

    Have you been inventive with your Christmas decorations this year? Get in touch and show us your fantastic creations: metrolifestyleteam@metro.co.uk

    MORE: 16 Christmas gifts for people with anxiety

    MORE: All the things to talk about with a colleague you don’t know well at the Christmas party

    MORE: ‘Tampon Man’ praised for nipping out for sausages and returning with a trolley of pads to tackle period poverty


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    how do you say prorogue
    Do you know how to say ‘prorogue’? (Picture: Getty Images/fStop)

    If you stumbled through 2019 trying to avoid discussions of current events, you’re not alone.

    Loads of us feel the fear of sounding like a massive idiot, whether it’s admitting you don’t totally understand how healthcare works in the US or having no clue how to not mangle Greta Thunberg’s name.

    Frankly, 2019 has been packed with important people and big news that feature tricky words – some harder to pronounce than others.

    Language-learning app Babbel commissioned the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters to find the words even newsreaders found tough to pronounce correctly.

    There’s no shame in making a blunder when it comes to pronunciation – as long as you try and will listen when you’re wrong.

    But because we’re a competitive bunch, we’ve turned the year’s difficult words into a pronunciation quiz, inviting you to select the correct phonetic pronunciation of each one.

    But first, let’s make sure we know what these words mean, as that’s quite important too.

    The words people mispronounced in 2019:

    • Chernobyl: The site of the biggest nuclear disaster in human history in 1986, and subject of a critically acclaimed HBO show that aired from May to June.
    • County Fermanagh: One of six Northern Irish counties which has been the subject of Brexit and the Irish backstop debates.
    • Eliud Kipchoge: Kenyan long-distance runner who, in October, became the first man in history to run a marathon in under two hours.
    • Flygskam: Swedish term translated as ‘flight shame’, which has been used in conjunction with efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
    • Gilets jaunes: Protest movement in France which marked its one-year anniversary in November.
    • Greta Thunberg: Teenage environmental activist who led global school strikes and sailed the Atlantic over two weeks in August to speak at the UN climate summit.
    • Joaquin Phoenix: Puerto Rican-born American actor who impressed audiences with his eponymous role in Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’ in October.
    • Prorogue: A temporary suspension of Parliament enacted by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, which took place over two weeks in September and October after being called by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
    • Siya Kolisi: Saracens flanker who captained South Africa to Rugby World Cup victory in November.
    • Typhoon Hagibis: A category five hurricane that hit Japan in October, causing widespread destruction and resulting in numerous fatalities which interrupted the Rugby World Cup and Japanese F1 Grand Prix.

    Now, on to the quiz:

    1. {{::$index + 1}} {{::question.title}}


    Share your results

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    MORE: What is Christmas Jumper Day about and how long has it been going on?

    MORE: Seven practical ways to help vulnerable people – if you’re feeling helpless

    MORE: ‘Tampon Man’ praised for nipping out for sausages and returning with a trolley of pads to tackle period poverty

    Quiz: Do you know how to say the UK's most mispronounced words of 2019?Quiz: Do you know how to say the UK's most mispronounced words of 2019?

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    Christmas isn't the only time for giving: Here's how to lend a hand in the New Year
    Donations and time are always needed (Picture: Getty)

    Tis the season of love and understanding.

    That’s the message of this time of year, and in the run-up to Christmas you’ll see numerous appeal about how to do your bit for those less fortunate.

    This is amazing, and if you are donating or lending your time to a charity, then well done. But need doesn’t end when the tree comes down.

    The Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank charity, found in their State of Hunger survey that one in 50 UK households used a food bank in 2018-19, and around three million food parcels were given out over the course of the year.

    Figures showed that 4,751 people slept rough across England on any given night in 2017 – a 15% increase compared to the previous year, and more than double the amount in 2010.

    1.9 million older people right here in the UK often feel ignored or invisible, and around n estimated 14.3 million people are in poverty in the UK.

    This is the country we inhabit, and while the warm, cosy glow of Christmas or the result of the recent election that makes you feel something about it, it’s not going to change overnight.

    Charities see a huge drop in volunteers once Christmas. Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director for Age UK, told Metro.co.uk: ‘Christmas is a key time for us, not only to raise awareness of those who will spend the festive season alone with their problems but also to generate much-needed funds for our work, and we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who chooses to support us or gets in touch during this time.

    ‘But the truth is that loneliness doesn’t only affect older people over the Christmas period, and the winter months remain challenging for many older people. Colder weather brings an increase in associated health problems for those in later life and short, dark days make it harder to get out and about, which can leave older people feeling more isolated and alone.’

    Amy Klein, Senior Direct Marketing Manager at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint echoed these statements, telling Metro.co.uk: ‘During the Christmas period, there is a significant fluctuation around offers of volunteers and donations, which is something we greatly appreciate.

    ‘Unfortunately, youth homelessness is an issue all year round – and our work is holistic, and long-term with young people, we are there to provide accommodation, training and all types of support to help young people leave homelessness behind for good.’

    That’s why it’s vital to ensure that support you give doesn’t stop. If you are feeling a pang of needing to get involved to help people, and want to make a difference, here’s how.

    How to volunteer in the New Year

    The first thing you need to do, is decide which cause matters to you most.

    Perhaps mental health is something close to your heart, in which case you could train as a volunteer for Samaritans. Or, perhaps your local area has a dearth of youth facilities, so you’d like to do your part by volunteering at a community-run youth club.

    You can find a list of local charities here, and sort the list based on causes like animal welfare, rescue services, and culture among others.

    Man and child painting wall
    Which charities matter to you? (Picture: Getty)

    As well as working out which charity you’d like to support, you need to work out what skills, time, or resources you have available.

    Some charities will have specific needs in terms of volunteering, which may come in the form of befrienders for the elderly, accounting and secretarial helpers, or PR people who can volunteer to spread the word.

    It may even be that they just need someone to move boxes and heavy items, in which case your brawn will be much appreciated.

    Ensure you don’t overcommit yourself in a fit of desire to help. While it’s understandable in the current climate that you might want to give yourself entirely, stretching yourself too thin won’t help anyone.

    Set a realistic amount of time that you can offer up weekly or monthly, so when you speak to your chosen charity, you can ensure you’ll be truly ready to help when you do sign up.

    Amy Klein says: ‘The need for volunteers does not exist only during the festive period but all year, so we only look for volunteers who are able to make that longer term commitment to providing support for the young people.’

    Consider donating

    While man hours are absolutely necessary, for some charities the biggest hurdle is financial.

    Not everybody has the money to donate, but if you do have spare funds it’s something to consider.

    Mature female in warm clothing, serving hot drink at local voluntary soup kitchen, smiling
    Charities need all different things, so get in touch to find out how you can help (Picture: Getty)

    Perhaps you could set up a rounding-up feature on your banking app (Monzo allow you to do this), where each spend is rounded up to the nearest pound and put in a pot. Every few months or so, you could send it off to a different charity.

    Alternatively, a small standing order that comes out on payday might not be noticeable to you, but will make a big difference wherever it goes.

    And don’t forget to use Gift Aid if it’s applicable, as it really boosts the money that goes to good causes.

    What food banks need

    If you’d like to give food to one of your local food banks, you can give them a ring or check on their Facebook page to see what kinds of items they’re short of.

    All donations are greatly welcomed, but food parcels tend to be made up with specific amounts of items (such as tinned fruit, tinned fish, pasta, tinned vegetables, fresh items donated through FareShare).

    If they’re short on a specific thing, it’s a massive help to bump up that specific stock so that service users can have balanced and full food parcels.

    This tweet is also handy for getting an idea of just what a couple of pounds can get you.

    Food banks also accept essential non-food items such as toiletries and hygiene products, helping people in crisis to maintain dignity and feel human again.

    Remember, whatever goes on in the world, we can change things through banding together and caring for each other however we can.

    You can also lend a hand to Centrepoint’s We Will Be Heard campaign, which costs nothing and takes just a minute. They’re asking people who want to help to join their social campaign and add their name to the campaign calling on the new government to end youth homelessness. Click here to take part.

    MORE: Do you know how to say the UK’s mispronounced words of 2019?

    MORE: Seven practical ways to help vulnerable people – if you’re feeling helpless

    Christmas isn\'t the only time for giving: Here\'s how to lend a hand in the New YearChristmas isn\'t the only time for giving: Here\'s how to lend a hand in the New Year

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    This election campaign has been tough.

    A relentless, inescapable news cycle with commentators spitting insults at each other night and day, toxic debates on every social media platform, and racism being leveraged for political point-scoring.

    But amidst the vitriol, there was still hope. Hope for policies that put human beings first, hope for a kinder politics. And many people woke up this morning to find their hopes dashed in the most brutal manner.

    It’s symptomatic of a country more polarised than it has ever been in most of our lifetimes – and it’s having a serious, detrimental impact on our mental health.

    ‘I was a mess this morning,’ says Hayley, a company director who lives in London.

    ‘I’ve been anxious all week and I can barely breathe today. I booked a therapy session for today as I knew I would need it.’

    Hayley says her anxiety symptoms have been exacerbated by ‘relentless, toxic news’, and as a result she’s seeking help from a mental health professional to help her get through it.

    But that’s not the only thing she’s doing – Hayley is taking steps to distract herself and returning to tried and tested methods to boost her mood.

    ‘I’m throwing myself into work to keep me busy and distract myself. I’m also heading to the gym as it makes me happy,’ she says.

    ‘I’m also removing myself from social media for the next couple of days unless it’s for work, as this is what’s killing me. And I’ve promised myself to work harder, save more, give more and just be a better, happier person as that’s all we can do.’

    Woman getting therapy
    ‘I booked a therapy session for today as I knew I would need it’ (Picture: Ella Byworth for metro.co.uk)

    Hayley has recognised that although it’s vital to engage with the world around you at times like this, it’s also important to step away when you need to recharge.

    ‘It makes you feel angry, confused, anxious and depressed. This can make anyone with mental health issues worse and can also exaberate physical health conditions.’

    Rob, a digital, technology, and advertising specialist, is feeling similarly stressed out in light of the result.

    ‘When the exit polls came out, it was the same sinking feeling as I had waking up on referendum morning. I didn’t know what to expect from either side, but I thought common sense would prevail.

    As a father of three, Rob says the result has made him anxious for their future.

    ‘A future without nation healthcare, without free movement through the EU, without support should they fall on hard times,’ says Rob.

    ‘I am also self-employed at the moment, which makes me anxious that the whole scenario will mean work dries up overnight.’

    Rob says the worst thing for him is the feeling of hopelessness. He feels as though nothing he does can ever change anything for the better.

    ‘Quite frankly, it gives you a “whats the point?” view of the world, and certainly of politics,’ he adds.

    ‘Those in power will find a way to get what they want, regardless of consequences for everybody else. It’s a majorly depressing feeling of despondency.’

    The transition of political power and the uncertainty that comes with that can certainly induce anxiety.

    A study in April found that Brexit uncertainty was having a negative impact on the mental health of 33% of the population (43% of Labour voters).

    Another study found that the referendum may have influenced the increasing rate of antidepressant prescriptions.

    All the evidence points to a desperate need for a break. So maybe, switching off the news and going outside to breathe air and talk to other humans is a good place to start.

    ‘Regardless of your political beliefs, getting trapped in the news cycle can feel disorientating and all-consuming,’ says Brian Dow, Chief Executive of Mental Health UK.

    ‘If you start to feel that way, it’s important that you make time to do the things that you know make you feel better.

    ‘This is different for everyone, so it’s good to know what works for you, but it might be spending time with friends and family, enjoying some fresh air and exercise, or just taking a bit of a break from the news if things feel relentless.’

    It’s solid advice.

    But what happens when you turn the news back on? And many of us can’t afford to simply disengage. Self-care in the form of avoidance is a privilege that minority and vulnerable members of society don’t have.

    Practical tips to take care of your mental health

    • Make time to relax

    If you know that a certain activity helps you feel more relaxed, set aside time to do it – whether it be mindfulness practice, being active by going for a run or swim, listening to music or taking your dog for a walk.

    Even five minutes of relaxation can help.

    • Make time for family and friends

    When you’re on the campaign trail at all hours this might seem impossible, but it can help you feel more positive and less isolated.

    Sometimes just telling the people close to you how you’re feeling can make a big difference.

    • Get good sleep

    Stress can make it difficult for you to sleep, and you may develop sleep problems.

    However, being well-rested can increase your ability to deal with difficult situations, so it is important to get good sleep while campaigning.

    Making sure where you sleep is comfortable and relaxing before you go to bed, including having some tech-free time, can help.

    • Look after your physical health

    When you’re on the move, it can be easy to eat too much of the wrong kinds of food or to eat too little.

    But what, and when, you eat can make a big difference to how well you feel, and physical activity can be important for reducing stress levels too.

    • Use your support network

    If you feel like you need some professional support, you can speak to your doctor. They can check your overall health, and help you access treatments.


    When the things being said by the most powerful politicians – the people who literally run the country – potentially affect your right to exist, your liberty and your safety – a bath and a glass of wine might not shake your anxiety.

    Ilayda is mixed-heritage – her parents are Turkish, Jamaican and Indian. She says the elements of racism she has witnessed in this election campaign has triggered intense anxiety and unease.

    ‘I feel it hugely,’ Illayda tells Metro.co.uk. ‘The place where I work has a huge majority of white, middle and upper class, right wing supporters (who are mostly male). There’s this sense of shame for being a left wing millennial.

    ‘With the result, there’s this sense of helplessness that myself and my direct community are feeling. We did the most we could do and it just wasn’t enough.

    ‘It’s not just the result, but the margins just go to show that the majority of this country don’t care for the working class, for the disadvantaged, for women or Muslims.

    ‘It’s scary knowing that you’re surrounded by, working with and related to people who have these views.’

    Ilayda is describing a common dissonance that can be felt after unexpected or disappointing political result. She says the ‘fear’ she feels when she thinks about how the country voted is fuelling her anxiety.

    ‘It was so hard to get out of bed this morning knowing the circumstances we were asking up to.

    women with arms around one another
    ‘There’s this sense of helplessness that myself and my direct community are feeling’ (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    ‘I’m hugely anxious for myself and my loved ones. In places where right wing politics govern there seems to be a rise in racist, sexist and Islamophobic attacks. There’s a risk of it being unsafe for minorities.’

    It isn’t surprising that she feels this way.

    In March, the Mental Health Foundation warned that the mental well-being of the black, Asian and ethnic minority population ‘might seriously be undermined’as a result of increased racism and xenophobia caused by divisive politics.

    But Ilayda is working hard not to give in to the feelings of helplessness, and is doing what she can to protect her mental robustness.

    ‘I find it comfort knowing that this is only the start,’ she adds.

    ‘National reformation is expected to face adversity I suppose, and I have so much faith in my generation and generations to come who will represent the values that we hope to have.’

    But hope isn’t always enough. If you have preexisting or severe mental illness, the strain of a stressful election can be incredibly damaging – and it can feel inescapable. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone – and that there is help available.

    ‘It’s understandable to feel uncertain about how the election result will impact you or those around you. In this period of change, we need to all prioritise our own mental well-being,’ says Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind.

    ‘It’s natural to feel upset and frustrated when things are up in the air, but if feelings are overwhelming, it’s worth thinking about taking steps to look after yourself or seeking help.

    ‘It doesn’t have to be forever, but a short break from technology and the news might help you feel more rested and able to cope. Instead try setting aside some time each day to do something else you enjoy.

    ‘We also want to reassure the public that we won’t stop until mental health gets the attention it deserves.

    Post-election mental health tips

    If your mental health is suffering today it is crucial to not get caught up in future-catastrophic thinking or ruminating and over-thinking about what might have been.

    Try to support yourself with mental health strategies that you already know work to your advantage. That can be going for a walk or taking a long bath. You’ll know what works best for you.

    Give yourself permission to grieve. Everyone needs time to process change, especially when it was unwelcome. Try to put boundaries in place with yourself and others to prioritise your emotional needs.

    Eat healthy food. Get plenty of rest. Watch comedies on Netflix. Take some time to re-focus your energy.

    Lots of people on social media are talking about needing to drink more alcohol to cope with the election results.

    Drinking increases anxiety; reduces REM sleep needed to process and resolve negative thoughts and is counter-productive. Stay sober. Prize clarity over feeling de-fuddled.

    Sally Baker, senior therapist 

    ‘This Government must fix NHS services, overhaul the Mental Health Act and welfare system, protecting people in the workplace, addressing the mental health crisis among young people and putting mental health at the heart of all policy areas.

    ‘We will hold those elected to account on promises made and continue to campaign to make sure everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets the support they need, and deserve.’

    If you woke up today with the worst political hangover of your life, that’s OK. It’s normal to feel low when the messaging around you is so bleak and uncertain.

    But it’s important to take note of how you’re feeling, and if your dejection is turning into something more substantial – speak to someone about it and get help.

    It’s also good to remember that good can spring from times of despair, and hope is never lost while there are good people capable and willing to do good things.

    Need support? Contact the Samaritans

    For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

    MORE: Seven practical ways to help vulnerable people – if you’re feeling helpless

    MORE: Man who drank three bottles of wine a day to get rid of anxiety shares how he went sober

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    Staff at Viking turned their office into a giant Christmas maze (Picture: Viking)

    While you were sighing about the lack of teabags in your office’s kitchen, these people were crafting a festive workplace of dreams.

    Workers at Viking (the company that supplies office stationery, a fact that will become important imminently) have surprised their colleagues by transforming their office into a giant 247 square metre maze entirely themed around Christmas.

    Their magical creation includes scenes of the North Pole, an elf workshop, Bavarian log cabins, an enchanted forest, and – the cherry on top – a meeting room turned into a snowball pit (like a ball pit, but made to look like snow) with 31,000 balls.

    Now, before you grumble at your coworkers for not doing the same, it’s important to note that all this work was created primarily with cardboard boxes, of which they used 1,152.

    viking office cardboard box maze
    They used 1,152 cardboard boxes, all of which were disassembled afterwards for reuse (Picture: Viking)
    cardboard trees decorating a desk
    Staff spent ten hours working on their masterpiece (Picture: Viking)

    Remember how we said the fact they work for Viking is relevant to this story? Viking sells cardboard boxes. So not only do they have access to quite the supply of materials, but those little elves wouldn’t have got in trouble for wasting company time or using up all the office supplies – especially because the marketing execs then got to use the festivities as a nice little PR boost, promoting Viking as a fun workplace with suitably sturdy cardboard boxes.

    Also, the small group of twelve staff responsible created the maze in ten hours of their own time over the weekend, so they didn’t even get away with dossing about on company time.

    To those employees we say this: If you weren’t in on the marketing potential of this stunt from the get-go, tasked with turning your office into a giant advert for cardboard, wake up, sheeple. You’ve been used.

    Snowman in cardboard maze in Viking office
    Each section was given its own festive theme (Picture: Viking)
    viking office cardboard box maze
    There were cardboard trees, Bavarian stalls, and penguins (Picture: Viking)
    cardboard penguins in viking office cardboard maze
    See? Penguins (Picture: Viking)

    And to anyone thinking ‘ugh, I wish my workplace would let us have a giant maze’, remember that true power and freedom isn’t playing with cardboard boxes then staying late to make up for the time you weren’t working, but in being able to make mazes in your own time, whenever you choose.

    But on a cheerier, less anti-capitalism note, the resulting maze did seem to be a lot of fun.

    People who weren’t in on the project arrived in the office on Monday morning to be surprised by a maze awaiting them.

    viking cardboard box welcome maze
    Staff arrived to at work to find the Christmas transformation (Picture: Viking)
    viking office cardboard maze
    They had to track down their desks – but helpfully there was a map (Picture: Viking)
    cardboard box maze at viking office
    It took some effort, though (Picture: Viking)

    They then had to navigate their way to their desks, which sounds both fun and immensely agitating. We do hope everyone was given time to grab coffee first.

    When they eventually arrived at their desks, each little section had been given its own theme, such as Bavarian log cabins or the North Pole.

    And then, of course, there was the meeting room turned into a ballpit.

    a meeting room was turned into a snowball pit
    A meeting room was turned into a snowball pit (Picture: Viking)
    viking office ball pit
    Oh what fun it is to play during your contractually obligated working hours (Picture: Viking)

    Once all the fun was had, all of the decoration was carefully disassembled so everything could be reused.

    Bob Huibers, Marketing Executive at Viking said: ‘With the dark nights and cold winter setting in, a group of our employees approached us with a plan to do something to help keep up morale in our office.

    ‘The idea for a giant maze is often the thing of fantasy, so we were absolutely blown away by their creativity when they showed us plans for the maze and didn’t hesitate in supporting them in making it a reality for our wider workforce.

    ‘The reactions of employees as they entered work on Monday was a sight to behold. The maze made a great talking point for staff throughout the day, giving something for the team to gel over. Plus, it was a great way to spark creativity – what better way than by holding a meeting in a ball pit!’

    MORE: Christmas-mad mum decorates lounge with seven rolls of £1 wrapping paper

    MORE: How to cope if your mental health is suffering because of the election result

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    Illustration of someone writing an email on their laptop
    ‘Having that time away from your work helps me to relax and reorganise my mind in the morning and it definitely helps my overall mood’ (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    If you’ve never enjoyed a Swedish ‘fika’ before, here’s how it works: you get yourself a sugary snack like a cinnamon bun, along with a cup of coffee, and sit down for a natter with someone.

    While the concept might sound quite basic, it’s an inherent part of day-to-day life in the Scandinavian country – it’s essentially the equivalent of heading to the pub for a pint.

    In the workplace, however, a fika isn’t merely an opportunity to gossip with colleagues.

    Because this practice is ingrained in the work culture, a fika is rarely questioned by superiors and people tend to feel quite relaxed with taking them – though it’s normally limited to twice per day.

    It’s also almost always done away from one’s desk, allowing people to take a break from their work and reboot.

    Studies show that taking regular breaks during work makes us more productive, and it’s also good for our mental health. According to Health Assured, not taking regular breaks may result in anxiety attacks, stress and burnout, among other mental health issues.

    One in nearly seven people in the UK experience mental health problems at work, revealed a recent study by the Mental Health Foundation.

    What’s more, a separate study by Total Jobs revealed that a third of UK workers don’t leave their desk during their work day, and out of the average lunch break, which is 40 minutes, the average worker only steps out for 27 minutes.

    With this in mind, should we be implementing the tradition of a daily fika in the UK?

    Iona Townsley, who works as a PR and content executive at Just Travel PR, tells us that her manager first heard about fika in 2018 and, in an effort to get people to look up from their screens, decided to introduce the practice into their office.

    ‘Now, every morning we take a step away from our desks for roughly 15 minutes, huddle around with a coffee or a tea and indulge in a sweet treat,’ she says.

    ‘This morning we were treated to a homemade chocolate Christmas tree made from Roses and Celebrations.

    ‘It gives the opportunity for everyone in the business to catch up while away from their screens. For example, this morning we spoke about the fallout from the Christmas party which we had on Friday.

    ‘We find that this moment of mindfulness on a morning helps us be more productive as we know where we’re all at with tasks, we have that mid-morning break that lets us go back to our desks feeling refreshed, and helps strengthen our relationship as colleagues.’

    Illustration of a woman and a man having coffee at a table across from each other
    ‘From a mental perspective it both helped and hindered my mental health’ (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    Beyond being a successful way to communicate with colleagues, Iona tells us that having a regular fika has also improved her mental health.

    ‘Having that time away from your work helps me to relax and reorganise my mind in the morning and it definitely helps my overall mood,’ she says.

    ‘This is the first job I’ve ever taken part in something like this and it is quite surprising how much it helps you to destress.’

    Erik Fjellborg who hails from Örebro and lives in Stockholm, runs Quinyx – a company that is focused on workforce management (and how businesses can increase productivity and retain employees).

    He tells us why fika is such a successful method in his home country – and why other countries should ‘take a leaf out of Sweden’s book’.

    ‘We don’t pretend to have all the answers to workplace happiness in Sweden, but as a country known for happiness and productivity we can share some of our insights that may help with optimising employees rather than maximising them,’ he says.

    ‘Encouraging workers to take time during the day to switch off and rest, massively benefits their mental health, wellbeing and productivity.

    ‘But the benefits that the fika break creates aren’t just about the physical – fika plays a vital role in allowing colleagues to connect on a social level.

    ‘Humans are social creatures and creating dedicated time and space for workers to share food and drink with their colleagues has clear mental health benefits. It’s embedded in our culture to think as much about engagement as it is about efficiency.

    ‘There is a misconception that institutionalising breaks in the workplace will be detrimental to productivity, but actually, Sweden enjoys higher levels of productivity than many countries where breaks aren’t viewed in such a positive light.

    ‘Other countries should take a leaf out of Sweden’s book: short breaks and greater flexibility are the answer to long term worker wellbeing.’

    Investing in positive mental health practices in the workplace isn’t just good for employers, but it could also saves money.

    Mental health problems at work costs businesses up to £42billion per year, according to an analysis by Deloitte in 2017.

    Tom Watson, who is the co-founder and chief technology officer at HubbleHQ, implemented fika after a Swedish team member suggested it and has seen successful results.

    ‘Ever since Hanna – a Swedish member of our team – introduced the Scandi “fika” tradition to HubbleHQ, it has been an indispensable part of our week. On Fridays at 4:00pm, we come together to share coffee and cake (or other tasty snacks), and have a good chat.

    ‘While the treats involved are always top-class, the opportunity that fika gives us to chill out and talk is something we have all grown to love.

    ‘As a business, taking the time to forge closer relationships with colleagues has done wonders for team bonding; leading to increased productivity, morale, and collaboration on a day-to-day basis.’

    However, fika is not a fault-free method to improve mental health – and it might not work for everyone.

    ‘I’m not Swedish, I’m Romanian by origin, but I lived, studies and worked across both Goteborg and London so I have a strong opinion on the concept of fika,’ Philip, who works as a senior account executive, tells us.

    ‘I lived in Goteborg, Sweden for two and half years and fika was everywhere, from workplace to university, everyone was sipping on Colombian black coffee like it was Escobar himself selling it.

    ‘We would stop several times a day to get a fika and a cigarette break, outside or inside, it didn’t matter the weather or time.

    ‘From a mental perspective it both helped and hindered my mental health.

    ‘Fika is a great opportunity to take a break from the constant stress of juggling work, have a chat with someone about life and other stuff, even if it’s for 10-15 minutes.

    ‘But, as much as I loved it, I found myself worrying about my work. I always checked my watch, one eye on the boss to see if he’s checking in on me and often just ended up talking about the work that I just did.

    ‘The concept of fika is great, it’s a lifestyle for Swedes that like to take it easy, but for anyone else that is not born into it, it could turn into a bit of a syndrome.

    ‘I dare anyone to introduce it to the UK and you’ll soon end up with a depressed, anxious workforce that will ultimately resent coffee and not enjoy for what it is, which is a 10 mins sip in one hand, whilst in the other clicking on work emails and Twitter.’

    Although the Swedish fika might not be for everyone, therapist Sally Baker explains that a break in itself can have a very positive impact on your brain.

    That doesn’t mean you have to sit down and eat a cinnamon bun, but you can instead get up and move about to boost your brain activity and encourage positive mental health.

    ‘It used to only be smokers who got a break from their desks but more people are taking a walk around the block during their working day,’ she tells us.

    ‘Taking a short walk can improve concentration and the meditative act of walking aids cognition and even stimulates solution driven thinking and a-ha moments.

    ‘Taking short breaks can lower blood pressure and a physical activity can help to change state from negative, stressful thinking patterns.

    ‘Taking breaks with colleagues to eat a snack and have a chat helps end the deadlock of emailing colleagues only a desk or two away. This alternative encourages deeper connection and it can be more productive. Eye-to-eye meetings are the gold standard as they are more nuanced and authentic than shooting off texts, messages or emails on the company’s intranet.

    ‘The very act of making time to eat a snack with work colleagues can help build loyalty and connection amongst co-workers.’

    If you’re unsure of what matters most to your employees and what would help improve their overall mental and physical health: ask them.

    Maybe it’s a cup of coffee and a snack every couple of hours, maybe it’s not.  It might be offering flexible working where possible or introducing company-wide benefits.

    The most important part thing is to build an environment where team members know that they are supported and can have a healthy work-life balance, Sally explains.

    ‘Employers can improve mental wellbeing of their employees by helping to ensure their workers maintain a healthy work-life balance.

    ‘Constantly expecting workers to get in early and stay late ignores the duty of care employers have.

    ‘Workers under pressure for extended periods of time have impaired immune systems and are more prone to anxiety and depression.’

    MORE: The art of coorie is the new hygge

    MORE: Why the Danish art of hygge is massively overrated

    MORE: Should we start asking our friends if they’re in the ‘right headspace’ to chat?

    How exactly should you finish an email? (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)How exactly should you finish an email? (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

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    Embankment Station
    (Picture: In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

    If you go to Embankment station and get on the Northern Line you’ll hear the famous cries of ‘mind the gap’ as you would in other London stations.

    However, at this specific station and on this specific line it isn’t the same announcement you’ll be hearing, and the story behind it is heartbreaking.

    A Twitter thread this week revealed the backstory as a welcome faith-in-humanity-booster at this turbulent time, and it’s given us all the feels.

    The story – told by John Bull – starts with a woman bursting into tears at Embankment in 2016, begging staff to tell her where ‘the voice’ had gone.

    She was referring to the voice of the ‘mind the gap’ announcement, which had been recorded by a man called Oswald Laurence.

    Oswald was the woman’s late husband, and she’d come to Embankment (the last station where it was still played) to hear his voice since his passing, seven years earlier.

    John said: ‘The woman, a GP called Dr Margaret McCollum, explained that her husband was an actor called Oswald Laurence. Oswald had never become famous, but he HAD been the chap who had recorded all the Northern Line announcements back in the seventies.

    ‘Oswald’s death had left a hole in Margaret’s heart. But one thing had helped. Every day, on her way to work, she got to hear his voice.

    ‘Sometimes, when it hurt too much, she explained, she’d just sit on the platform at Embankment and listen to the announcements for a bit longer.

    ‘For five years, this had become her routine. She knew he wasn’t really there but his voice – the memory of him – was.

    ‘To everyone else, it had just been another announcement. To HER it had been the ghost of the man she still loved. And now even that had gone.’

    The staff apologised to Margaret, telling her that there was nothing they could do, as the system was being digitised. But, touched by her story, they decided to see if they could at least find the recordings of Oswald.

    They managed to do more than just that in the end, thanks to some hard work from people across the London Underground network.

    As John said, ‘Archives were searched, old tapes found and restored. More people had worked to digitize them. Others had waded through the code of the announcement system to alter it while still more had sorted out the paperwork and got exemptions.’

    Margaret was then given a CD of Oswald’s recordings, and his voice was later completely restored at Embankment, back where it had been since 1969.

    London Underground director Nigel Holness said at the time: ‘We were very touched by her story, so staff tracked down the recording and not only were they able to get a copy of the announcement on CD for her to keep but are also working to restore the announcement at Embankment station.’

    Margaret isn’t the only one to be attached to the announcements either.

    Elinor Hamilton is one of the ‘voices of the tube’ along with her late husband Paul Sayers, with whom she ran a voiceover company.

    Like Margaret, Elinor still loves to hear her husband’s voice when she travels to London, and said in an episode of podcast Everything is Alive: ‘I actually quite like the fact that obviously nobody else would know that this is so special for me.

    ‘And I just love the fact that he’s still there just getting on with life and directing people to where they need to go – and just being part of the furniture of London.’

    Also like Margaret, Elinor was sad to know that his voice had been removed from some lines.

    She said: ‘He used to be the main voice at Waterloo until about a year and a bit ago and when somebody told me that he’d gone from Waterloo I grieved again as if I’d lost him.

    ‘You know, it affected me that much knowing that his voice was just slowly being taken away.’

    MORE: How to cope if your mental health is suffering because of the election result

    MORE: Christmas isn’t the only time for giving: Here’s how to lend a hand in the New Year

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    We love a crafty DIY – especially if it’s for the benefit of dogs.

    Take this ‘stick library’, created by toolmaker Andrew Taylor, 59.

    Andrew was trimming trees at the side of his house in Kaiapoi, New Zealand, when he came up with a way to put the branches he cut off to good use.

    He collected the branches and sanded them to be nice and smooth, then engraved a box with the words ‘stick library’.

    The idea is that dogs who fancy a game of fetch can borrow a stick whenever they fancy.

    A crafty dad has received praise from pet owners after building a library that all dogs can use to borrow and return sticks at a newly opened pooch park. Earlier this month, toolmaker Andrew Taylor, 59, was trimming the trees at the side of his house in Kaiapoi, New Zealand, when he had an ingenious idea on how to recycle the branches that he cut off. Andrew smoothed down the hardwood branches and put them in a box which he sanded the edges of the to make it safer for dogs to reach into it. Finally, he brought the gift to the dog park that had just opened in his town and engraved it with the words stick library.SEE CATERS COPY
    Andrew smoothed all the sticks so they were safe for dogs to play with (Picture: Caters News Agency)

    Andrew dropped off the box in a newly opened park so all the dogs in the neighbourhood would have easy access to toys.

    The dad’s daughter, Tayla Reece, shared photos and videos of the ‘stick library’ online. We’re glad she did – it’s an adorable idea and one we hope other people will copy in their own local area.

    ‘Our dog Bella had become a stick lover because she ripped to shreds any balls or toys,’ said Tayla.

    A crafty dad has received praise from pet owners after building a library that all dogs can use to borrow and return sticks at a newly opened pooch park. Earlier this month, toolmaker Andrew Taylor, 59, was trimming the trees at the side of his house in Kaiapoi, New Zealand, when he had an ingenious idea on how to recycle the branches that he cut off. Andrew smoothed down the hardwood branches and put them in a box which he sanded the edges of the to make it safer for dogs to reach into it. Finally, he brought the gift to the dog park that had just opened in his town and engraved it with the words stick library.SEE CATERS COPY
    The stick library now sits in a newly opened park (Picture: Caters News Agency)

    ‘While trimming the trees, my dad found himself with a lot of dead branches, and knowing from experience how hard it can be to find a good stick, and that the new dog park was opening soon, he had the idea that he would save them and put them in some kind of box.

    ‘When the park opened on November 30, mum and dad took Bella and sure enough there were no good sticks.

    ‘Dad is the type of guy that is always thinking of things to make, so the next day he found a suitable crate and made the sign for the top.

    ‘He decided to call it the stick library because it implied that you return the stick once you’re finished with it.’

    A crafty dad has received praise from pet owners after building a library that all dogs can use to borrow and return sticks at a newly opened pooch park. Earlier this month, toolmaker Andrew Taylor, 59, was trimming the trees at the side of his house in Kaiapoi, New Zealand, when he had an ingenious idea on how to recycle the branches that he cut off. Andrew smoothed down the hardwood branches and put them in a box which he sanded the edges of the to make it safer for dogs to reach into it. Finally, he brought the gift to the dog park that had just opened in his town and engraved it with the words stick library.SEE CATERS COPY
    Tayla Reece, Andrew Taylor and the ‘stick library’ (Picture: Caters News Agency)

    Andrew’s invention has been a hit with dogs and their owners at the park.

    Tayla invited Kaiapoi residents to meet at the park on 11 December to give the toy box a go – and loads of people came along.

    ‘Approximately 50 people turned up with their dogs and one guy even brought his cat,’ said Tayla.

    ‘As people started to arrive there was a disbelief of how simple the idea was, but it’s one of those ideas no one had thought of.

    ‘All the dog owners appreciate it as they all have experienced the ‘good stick search’ which isn’t always fruitful, it’s an idea that just makes sense to them.’

    Have you completed a strangely brilliant DIY project? Get in touch to tell us more by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk

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    MORE: Dog who ate Christmas bauble did ‘the most festive glittery poop’ the Blue Cross had ever seen

    MORE: Golden retriever puppies caught holding paws at doggy daycare

    Man builds \'stick library\' for dogsMan builds \'stick library\' for dogs

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    Kayla Severi with her puppy Bandit on one side, and her CV on the other
    Kayla wasn’t giving up on getting a puppy (Picture: Kayla Severi/Caters News)

    If you’ve ever begged and pleaded with your parents to get you a dogs/”>dog, you’ll understand the plight of 18-year-old Kayla Severi.

    Her mum, Melissa, 38, said that it was ‘never going to happen’, but Kayla wasn’t going to take a no lying down.

    In one last attempt at getting herself a pooch, the teenager from New South Wales, Australia, came up with an ingenious plan to prove to her mum that she both deserves an adorable Staffordshire bull terrier – and will be able to take care of it.

    She wrote a CV, along with a cover letter detailing her commitment to the job.

    The best part? It worked.

    ‘I have two family dogs already, but my friend sent me a Snapchat of his cousin who is selling some puppies,’ said Kayla, who works as a pizza maker.

    ‘I’ve been wanting one for ages and it’s Christmas, so I finally got the money from working all year and I feel like I’m old enough now to have my own dog and care for it.

    ‘I live with mum, so at the end of the day it’s her house and her rules and if she doesn’t want a puppy, I won’t be able to get one.

    ‘She already said that it wasn’t going to happen, but I didn’t want to give up that easily.

    ‘I decided that my best chances for her to say yes was if I asked her in a really creative way.’

    Creative is definitely the word for it; the CV includes a photo of Kayla, along with her contact detail and a heartfelt cover letter.

    ‘Dear mummy, I am writing to express my interest in owning my own pet dog, a male Staffy that is nine weeks old, the letter reads.

    ‘I am in the financial and mental state to own this animal. I also possess the abilities and qualifications of an animal owner. I strongly believe I am an excellent candidate for this position.’

    Kayla then goes on to list her skills.

    The letter reads: ‘I have excellent time management skills – which I believe to be beneficial for training and exercising the dog. I have hella money – enough to cover the costs of this animal.

    ‘I am your favourite daughter. I solemnly swear on cheesecake and all things holy to take into consideration the time and expenses of owning a pet.

    ‘My best quality is love and kindness – and I love you a lot. I also love this dog a lot. Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my application, and I hope to hear from you shortly.’

    We can see why her mum might have had a hard time saying no after receiving this fantastic job application.

    In addition to the cover letter, Kayla included a lengthy ‘essay’ with information on how having a puppy could help her mental health and improve her ‘money-handling skills’.

    A screenshot of Kayla Severi's CV, that she submitted to her mum with the hopes of getting a puppy for Christmas
    Kayla tried to convince her mum by pointing out her many excellent qualities (Picture: Kayla Severi/Caters News)

    Kayla said: ‘So, I wrote an 800-word essay about statistics on how a puppy would benefit my mental health and also boost my companionship, responsibility and money-handling skills.

    ‘I made a resume and cover letter as well, just to show her that I’d be well suited for the role of a responsible dog owner.

    ‘I went to the shops and bought her some lollies as well, just to put her in an even better mood.’

    At first, her mum found the situation very humorous and burst out laughing – but she still said no.

    However, eventually – after reading the application again – she reconsidered and Kayla finally got her Christmas wish.

    Her beautiful puppy, Bandit, arrived shortly after.

    Kayla Severi with her dog, Bandit
    Kayla and Bandit will be spending Christmas together (Picture: Kayla Severi/Caters News)
    Kayla Severi's puppy Bandit, with her mum Melissa
    Just look at that handsome face (Picture: Kayla Severi/Caters News)

    Kayla said: ‘When she got home, I’d laid out the lollies and my work on the kitchen table, and then I asked her there and then for a puppy.

    ‘She walked in and saw it and just said “hell no!” and started laughing.

    ‘I just said but I really want it and asked her to have a look at everything I’d done. She finally gave in. It took a lot of convincing, me just asking her wasn’t really enough so I had to try extra hard.

    ‘I honestly didn’t expect my idea to work, but figured it was worth a try. Now Bandit has joined our little family and I couldn’t be happier.

    ‘Everyone has completely fallen in love with him and I’m so happy I had the silly idea to make a resume and cover letter.

    ‘I’d definitely recommend this to other kids for their parents. It worked on my mum, so you never know – it could work on other people too!’

    Take note, people – this is how to get yourself a puppy.

    Because, let’s face it, Santa can only do so much.

    MORE: Dog who ate Christmas bauble did ‘the most festive glittery poop’ the Blue Cross had ever seen

    MORE: Lizzy the Labrador pushes her brother Freddy in a toy car and it’s too adorable

    MORE: Balding puppies nursed back to health with specially-made Christmas jumpers


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    Sandra with her cousin Jackie
    Sandra with her cousin Jackie (Picture: Jackie)

    Mo Fayose, 45, has hosted community Christmas dinners and delivered free meals to disabled and elderly people in Nottingham since 2016.

    It’s now become an annual tradition; this year, she will bring together 50 people from the local area who don’t have anywhere else to turn during the holiday season.

    Mo, along with her family, friends and volunteers, will also deliver 87 meals to people who are unable to leave their homes.

    If you aren’t reaching for the tissues yet, it’s time to get them now.

    During Christmas 2017, Mo became a local celebrity as the Nottingham Post shared a story about her wonderful initiative, along with a photo of Mo and an elderly lady named Sandra, who is now 73 years old.

    Almost a year later, she received a call from a woman named Jackie, who told Mo that Sandra is her long-lost cousin. Jackie had searched far and wide for her family member, but had no luck until she spotted the photo of the pair.

    This was the beginning of a family reunion of epic proportions.

    ‘I used to run a premises where people come for meals and things like that, and Sandra was referred to me by another person comes to my dinners,’ Mo tells us.

    ‘It was close to Christmas, so they were supporting her.

    ‘During Christmas 2017, the Nottingham Post did a picture of myself and her, and the following year in September, I received a call from a lady who said “Please, I Googled the name of my cousin that I’ve been looking for for many years and your picture with her came up. Are you still in touch with her?”

    ‘I was in New York at the time, but we agreed that we would speak more once I got back to the UK and I would speak with Sandra.’

    At the time, Sandra didn’t have any known family members. Her mother and brother had died years earlier, and she lives alone in a flat provided by an independent living scheme for elderly people.

    Mo Fayose with Sandra, Jackie and the rest of the family
    Sandra finally gets to meet her family (Picture: Jackie)

    ‘Sandra spoke to her cousin on the phone, and a few weeks later I went with her to London to meet her family,’ says Mo.

    ‘More of less the whole family was there, including people who live all over – someone came from Lincoln, others from Berkshire and different parts of London,. They all just came together to see her, and even took a picture of their family tree to give to Sandra when she arrived.’

    The reunion had a very happy ending, and Sandra is over the moon about finally seeing her family again and meeting her cousin’s children.

    ‘It was so nice to see them, after all these years,’ Sandra tells Metro.co.uk.

    ‘It was great, so lovely. My family are coming up to Nottingham to see me, too, I don’t know when because I’ve been through a rough patch – I was recently run over and keep losing my energy.

    ‘But I’m going to Mo’s dinner again this year, I made friends there last year. They’re all nice people.’

    Her cousin, Jackie, explains that the pair lost touch after her aunt, Sandra’s mum, died.

    ‘It was brilliant, it was really good because we’d lost track,’ her cousin Jackie, 72, tells Metro.co.uk.

    ‘As children, we used to spend a lot of time at my nan’s but we lost track of Sandra when her mum died. We’d been to the funeral but there was just no communication.

    ‘I’d been promised it from an in-law but I didn’t get that, but periodically I would go online and type her surname, it’s quite unusual.

    ‘So I’d just type in her name and it came up with this photograph of Sandra and Mo at this event that Mo is running for people with Sandra at Christmas. 

    ‘All of my children were there [at the reunion], it was 10 of us altogether.

    ‘She’d met one of the cousins, Andrew, before – he’d been at her mum’s funeral – but she hadn’t met any of my children or my grandson.’

    Sandra returned the following year to spend more time with her family – and she also celebrated her 73rd birthday with them in November, 2019.

    Sandra and Mo Fayose at Christmas
    This is the photo that Jackie saw of Sandra and Mo (Picture: Mo Fayose)

    Mo’s annual Christmas dinner is still a staple event in her calendar.

    ‘We pick up and drop off people all day’, Mo says.

    ‘We’ve got a couple of people who were house-bond for many years, as well as carers and wheelchair users. There are also couples who come along and single parents who would otherwise spend it alone.

    ‘This year, we are concentrating more on delivery because many people are housebound and need the meal, but also because it’s a chance for them to see someone that day apart from their carer.’

    Mo will be doing most of the cooking herself, with the help of her son and two daughters, and also pays for most of the ingredients out of her own pocket.

    ‘I buy the food most of the time myself, it’s very expensive,’ she says.

    ‘I don’t rely on free donations and try to stay away from them, because we like to have everything the same for everybody. If we start to get donations from everybody, it’s quite difficult to count.

    ‘This year, we don’t just have a traditional Christmas meal, but we’ve got chicken, we’ve got beef and chicken curry, as well as Christmas pudding, banana and custard, jelly and ice cream, and more. All the deliveries will include a drink as well.

    Mo funds most of the event herself, which can cost several thousand pounds.

    ‘The truth is I love it, and I’ve got a very, very lovely community. They chip in here and there, a few people have consistently donated money over the last few years – £50 or £100 when they can.

    I don’t feel the constraints of the finances, not when you see that it makes people smile.’

    Well, we know who is going to be on Santa’s nice list – forever.

    Have you got an amazing Christmas story that we should know about? Get in touch: metrolifestyleteam@metro.co.uk

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    MORE: All the things to talk about with a colleague you don’t know well at the Christmas party

    IMG-20181007-WA0001 (1)-f7dbIMG-20181007-WA0001 (1)-f7db

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    Hiker overlooking Moraine Lake in Canada
    We know where we’d rather be right now… (Getty)

    Stuck in a rut? Hoping to make a big life change in 2020? Looking to put the UK firmly in your rearview mirror?

    You’re not alone, as Google searches on ‘How to move to Canada’ have spiked as of late.

    This makes sense, given the country came third place (behind Sweden and Denmark) in the US News & World Report’s 2019 Best Countries List for women, which took into account human rights, gender equality, income equality, progress and safety of 80 countries.

    That’s not to mention its lush landscapes and the fact that one of the country’s two official languages are English.

    But how exactly does one go about moving to Canada, and what administrative and bureaucratic hurdles have to be overcome in order to get there?

    Find out here.

    Canadian flag flying in the sky
    Many look to Canada for a better quality of life (Picture: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty)

    How to immigrate to Canada

    Okay, so it’s not quite as easy as just packing a bag and taking off. First of all, you need to figure out the legal requirements to make the move.

    Have you got family in Canada? Your relatives may be able to sponsor you, as long as they are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

    If you’re a skilled worker, you can also apply via the Express Entry route, which uses a points-based system.

    Person filling out Canadian visa form
    Warning: it requires a LOT of form filling (Picture: Getty)

    You’ll be asked questions about your nationality, age, language ability (namely, French language), education, work experience and information about any job offers.

    After this is completed, you will be assessed and given a score out of 1,200.

    Unless you have a job offer lined up, your chances largely rest on whether or not your job is on their shortage list.

    If you’re looking for a shorter-term move and are aged between 18 and 30, you may be able to apply via the government’s International Experience Canada scheme.

    Person sewing a Canada flag patch onto their bag
    If you’re aged 18-30, you can apply for a two-year visa (Picture: Getty)

    Once your application is submitted, you’ll enter a pool and then it’s pot-luck whether or not you get picked.

    If successful, you can get a working visa for up to 2 years.

    What other countries have free healthcare?

    When thinking about moving abroad, it’s important to think about what priorities are important to you.

    Is it more sun? (Canada might be out in that case). Is it better food? (Canada has poutine to its name, which is saying something)

    For many people, the offer of free and good healthcare is a big factor in whether or not they choose to move somewhere.

    Aspirin tablets
    Canada also has a robust healthcare system (Picture: Getty)

    Unsurprisingly, Canada tops the list when it comes to this factor too.

    According to the Healthcare Access & Quality Index, which looks at health infrastructure, basic mental and physical health, and the availability of preventative care, the following countries have the best healthcare:

    • Canada
    • Qatar
    • France
    • Norway
    • New Zealand
    • Germany
    • Hong Kong
    • The Netherlands
    • Switzerland
    • Singapore
    • Luxembourg
    • Japan
    • Sweden

    Is it worth battling the bureaucracy? We think it might be.

    For more information, you can go to the official website of the Canadian Government or check out this helpful ‘how-to’ infographic.

    MORE: Last Christmas posting dates for Royal Mail 2019 for post abroad to Australia, Canada and the USA

    MORE: Aaron Carter reveals he is moving to Canada for a ‘change of scenery’ while bizarrely hitting out at Americans

    Hiking around Moraine Lake.Hiking around Moraine Lake.

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    Britain’s best Christmas lights display has been revealed, and it’s a total cracker.

    A family from Buckinghamshire won the competition run by a price comparison website, and their masses of hard work has paid off.

    Tony Shepherd, 63, from Marlow Bottom, uses an astronomical 60,000 lights on his family home, all of which are synchronised to 15 Christmas songs. Each song takes 20 hours to programme.

    That’s a whopping 300 hours of programming alone, before they’ve even spent time putting up the numerous strings of lights.

    Tony uses Light O Rama software and hardware to make the impressive lighting move with the music, and people come from miles around to get in the Christmas spirit.

    The lights are on every day from 4pm to 11pm, with the musical part of their display running from 5pm to 9pm each night. They even have a schedule so people can get ready for each song.

    Britain's best Christmas lights
    Each part of the house and garden lights up in time with music (Picture: MoneyExpert.com)

    The Shepherd family run their display every year, and have raises thousands for different charities, with people who come to see the spectacle offering up donations.

    At their light switch-on on 1 December, over 150 people turned out so see the house, and the efforts have raised almost £3,000 this year already.

    As the prize, which comes from MoneyExpert.com, the Shepherds will get £500 towards their – probably astronomical – electricity bill. Tony, however, has decided to donate this to charity.

    Tony Shepherd Best Christmas Lights
    People come from miles around to witness the lights (Picture: MoneyExpert.com)

    Following his win, Tony said: ‘We create our display every Christmas, and it’s become a local tradition for visitors from far afield to come and see our lights!

    ‘We’ve raised over £30,000 for charity over the past three years, so I can’t wait to see how much we can raise for the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust this year!’

    Tony’s win comes after MoneyExpert.com’s research revealed that Brits will spend £222 million on Christmas lights this season, with energy bills expected to increase by a third for households like The Shepherd’s.

    Jason Smith, CEO of MoneyExpert.com, said: ‘Our research found that 1 in 5 British households decorate their homes for the local community. Tony’s epic display stood out as embodying the true spirit of Christmas, in particular as it helps to raise so much needed funds for deserving charities.

    Christmas is one of the most costly times of the year, but it still isn’t too late to save yourself some unnecessary expenses by switching energy providers.’

    Are you going crazy for Christmas this year? Get in touch at MetroLifestyleTeam@metro.co.uk.

    MORE: Elderly woman reunited with long-lost family thanks to community Christmas dinner

    MORE: Dad creates ‘stick library’ for dogs

    Britain\'s best Christmas lightsBritain\'s best Christmas lights

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    Christmas party illustration
    Was is at bad as you think? (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    Most people have at some point or another in their lives woken up with a sore head and memories of a wild night out that makes them blush.

    We’ve all been there; throwing up in unusual places, getting into arguments with friends over something we can’t even remember or just generally doing something embarrassing (flashing a nipple to the bartender, perhaps).

    While friends and family are usually quite forgiving, and will often accept a simple apology, making a fool of one’s self at a Christmas office party is a completely different issue – and it could get you fired.

    Did your boss see you make out with someone in her office?

    Did you finally tell your annoying colleague how much you loathe him, loudly and in front of everyone else?

    Did you get super drunk and stumble around the room, crying on various shoulders?

    Firstly, take a deep breath. Everything is going to be OK, but what you do next could be crucial for your work reputation and for your future employment.

    Here’s what you should do if you embarrass yourself at the office Christmas party.

    Ask yourself: was it really all that bad?

    Dr Jonathan Pointer, a chartered clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, explains that, before you panic, you should take an honest look at the situation.

    ‘When something “embarrassing” happens to us, it is too easy to see it as a huge event, i.e. make a mountain out of molehill, and think that there will be terrible repercussions (such as being mercilessly laughed at forever) and more importantly, that we will not be able to tolerate or manage this experience,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.

    ‘Recognise that we tend to over-estimate risks. In this case, we may think that everyone will have noticed what happened, that everyone will be judging us in ways we would rather they did not, and perhaps even imagine that what we did may have serious repercussions for us.

    ‘In reality, most people probably did not notice much, that what happened was a much bigger event in our minds than in theirs, and that they were probably more focused on their own faux pas to give our embarrassing moment much room for thought.’

    But what if it really was as bad as you imagine?

    Take another deep breath.

    What to do if you’ve definitely embarrassed yourself

    Don’t try to resolve the matter on the same night, if you’re still drunk.

    It’s better to approach the situation with a clear head, Amanda Augustine, careers expert at TopCV, tells us. Start by doing some reconnaissance, so that you have all the information you need.

    ‘In the event that you may need to do some damage control after waking up the next morning with dread and a headache, follow these steps,’ says Amanda.

    ‘Perform a retrospective. Take a moment to take stock of the previous night.

    ‘What did you do or say that may have been damaging and who else was involved? Can you think of anyone who may have witnessed something particularly damning?

    ‘Don’t assume the worst right off the bat. Find out what happened from a colleague you trust before plotting your next move.

    ‘Follow up. It’s important to make any necessary apologies to those who were directly involved or offended as a result of your mishap.

    ‘This is particularly important it if affected your direct manager or peers.

    ‘Whenever possible, do this face-to-face and in a room where you have privacy.’

    Having to deal with an awkward situation where you have to admit that you messed up can be difficult and anxiety-inducing.

    Try not to punish yourself too much, and – if an apology isn’t enough – think of practical solutions to the problems, Dr Pointer adds.

    ‘The tip here is to remember that most people tend to underestimate their ability to manage events in life, both the trivial as well as the more serious ones,’ he says.

    ‘In actual fact, we have the resources both inside and outside of ourselves to survive most things.

    ‘It can be helpful to practice being solution-focused rather than problem-saturated. To do this, we can imagine the embarrassing event in our mind, and instead of stopping the film in our heads when everything is at its worse (for example, imagining that everyone is laughing at us or that we have got the sack!), we choose to actively keep the film playing past that point, and ask ourselves “how would I cope then?”.

    ‘Then notice the next thing that our minds throw up for us, and again ask, “how would I cope then?”.

    ‘Keep thinking of solutions to potential problems, and you will find that you can manage most things in life, and then the embarrassment and anxiety related to it, starts to drop away.’

    An illustration of a drunk man in an office, wearing a Santa hat
    You can’t change the past, but you  can try to do better in the future (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    While you should own up to what has happened, don’t forget to be kind to yourself.

    Dr Pointer says: ‘However, when we have low self-esteem, it can be harder to manage situations that leave us feeling embarrassed, and in some cases, this can lead to feelings of shame.

    ‘This tends to happen when we have grown up being too hard on ourselves, and therefore think that others will judge us as harsh as we judge ourselves.

    ‘If this is the case, then it can be helpful to practice loving-kindness mantras.

    ‘This may seem “over the top” or “woolly nonsense”. However, research shows that doing mantras, whereby we focus on expressing loving intentions towards ourselves and others, is helpful.’

    You can’t change the past, but you can try to do better in the future.

    Rob Sowerby, who is the director of professional courses at London School of Business and Finance, points out that merely an apology isn’t enough: you need to show that you’re serious about what happened, and that you’re going to be on your ‘A-game’ going forward.

    ‘Firstly, apologise to anyone you feel you may have offended or caused embarrassment to,’ he tells us.

    ‘This can go a long way and shows you have an understanding of your actions and that you’re keen to make up to them. This includes all colleagues and – yes (if they were there) – your boss too.

    ‘Secondly, you’ll need to make up for this in your professionalism.

    ‘Be on your A-game for the foreseeable future and look to impress. Replace others’ embarrassing memories of you with one you’d prefer.

    ‘However, remember that depending on exactly how you may have caused embarrassment, some might still be unsure of how you’re going to behave around them.

    ‘So be tactful, don’t force your presence on colleagues in eagerness to make up for the party and otherwise be yourself.

    ‘Lastly, think about the next work party. Remember how you’re feeling now and this will temper your behaviour before you even RSVP.

    ‘Every mistake is a learning opportunity.’

    If your Christmas party is around the corner, and you’re worried about what may happen, remember that the best way to avoid an ‘anxiety hangover’ is to not do anything that you’d feel embarrassed about the next morning.

    Be careful with open bars as well (to help you out, we’ve put together a useful guide on how to be a ‘mindful drinker’ during the holiday party season).

    Then again, no one’s perfect – don’t forget to have fun, too.

    MORE: Elderly woman reunited with long-lost family thanks to community Christmas dinner

    MORE: Thrifty mum creates Christmas tree-pee and people are loving the festive creation

    MORE: Christmas isn’t the only time for giving: Here’s how to lend a hand in the New Year


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    Dad gets fright seeing baby in washing machine - but it was just a t-shirt
    Thankfully that’s just a t-shirt (Picture: Imgur/ARussianAndHisBike)

    Can you imagine the horror this dad felt when he saw his baby’s face looking out at him from inside the washing machine?

    That’s exactly what happened to a Twitter user a few weeks back, but thankfully it wasn’t his actual baby.

    Instead, it was a t-shirt that featured his child’s face, which proved a huge relief when he found out.

    The image was originally shared by xnned on Twitter, who said they were nearly taken to the hospital with a heart attack after the shock.

    It has since gone viral sharing site Imgur, however, after user ARussianAndHisBike shared the picture with a warning.

    They alerted others from getting a similar fright, saying: ‘Please, if you are ever washing your favorite shirt with a picture of your child on it, just put a warning note on the washer or something.’

    Imgur users saw the funny side, and one said ‘How else am I supposed to wash the baby, Karen?’ while another quipped, ‘It helps if the baby doesn’t look terrified on the shirt too.’

    Dad gets huge fright as wife washes t-shirt with their baby's face on it
    (Picture: Imgur)
    Dad gets huge fright as wife washes t-shirt with their baby's face on it
    (Picture: Imgur)
    Dad gets huge fright as wife washes t-shirt with their baby's face on it
    (Picture: Imgur)

    Some others took a minute to realise it was just a t-shirt, with one saying ‘GOOD GRIEF’ in relation to not seeing the warning that it wasn’t a real baby.

    The photo has now been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, and liked over 3,000.

    In practical advice, one person suggested turning the shirt inside out to avoid situations like this, and mentioned that it’d also have the added affect of helping preserve the image.

    That’s way less fun, though.

    If that didn’t give you enough of a laugh in these trying times, why not have a look at Porridge the naughty dog, who has decimated his owner’s house with his chaotic ways.

    Do you have a funny story to tell? Get in touch at MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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    Fiona Oakes is an extreme endurance runner. She has broken four Guinness World Records and runs in some of the world’s most inhospitable climates, including the polar ice caps and volcanic rings.

    Fiona has achieved all of this with a disability. She lost a kneecap in an injury when she was 17 and doctors told her she would never walk again, let alone run. Despite this – it’s her vegan diet that causes people to question her ability.

    ‘I have been vegan far longer than I have been a runner,’ Fiona tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I actually became vegan when I was six years old, and I have honestly never found my veganism too difficult or compromising to any aspect of my life.

    ‘I think the biggest misconception people have about veganism is that it isn’t healthy – but I’m testament to the fact it is.

    ‘I’ve broken four Guinness World Records for running, having been vegan for 47 years now, and I’m very healthy.

    ‘I built my athletic strength on a plant-based diet, and all this despite my permanent disability.’

    Fiona has faced skepticism and disbelief throughout her running career when it comes to her dietary choices. She thinks it’s vital to change perceptions about what people can achieve on a vegan diet.

    Fiona Oakes running
    ‘I built my athletic strength on a plant-based diet, and all this despite my permanent disability’ (Picture: Fiona Oakes)

    ‘When I ran the Marathon des Sables in 2017, I took a film crew with me who were making a documentary about my life – Running for Good.

    ‘The director asked the guys I was sharing my tent with; “what do you think about Fiona?” And one answer was; “she’s not what I expected a vegan to be like.”

    ‘Remember, this is almost three years ago, before the meteoric rise of vegan and plant-based living, but I can only assume he didn’t expect a vegan woman to be out in the Sahara Desert, running the toughest footrace on the planet for the third time.

    ‘After decades of veganism, my goal when I started running was to break down the myths and stereotypes attached to it at that time, in that it was some way deficient, hardly adequate and prohibitive to doing anything more than sedentary activity.’

    Fiona says that one of the toughest moments of her career was the first time she competed in Marathon des Sables in 2012.

    Having decided to move up in distance from road running, Fiona was going to be the first vegan woman to tackle the race – and there was quite a buzz about it online.

    The event itself is unbelievably gruelling. It’s a week-long, self-sufficiency, multi-stage race across the Sahara Desert, where temperatures can exceed 50 degrees and the terrain is extremely hostile.

    If any sand gets into your shoes it can cause ferocious blistering.

    ‘I have actually known of people’s feet becoming so blistered that they needed skin grafts,’ says Fiona.

    Fiona Oakes
    ‘I won’t go into detail but by 82km, I could actually see the bone sticking out of my little toe’ (Picture: Fiona Oakes)

    What made this first epic race so incredibly difficult, was that one week before the starting gun, one of the elderly horses – from the animal sanctuary Fiona started in the 90s – had stood on her foot, fractures two toes and caused horrendous swelling.

    ‘I won’t go into detail but by 82km, I could actually see the bone sticking out of my little toe,’ Fiona remembers.

    ‘My foot was absolutely smashed to a pulp but I managed to keep going and keep strong enough to complete the race. I proves that anything is possible if you want it badly enough.’

    Running non-stop, for hours at a time – through punishing conditions – seems unimaginable for most of us. Fiona says the real struggle is often mental rather than physical.

    ‘Ultramarathons are a state of mind rather than body for me,’ she explains. ‘Because I come from an elite road running background I am used to running quite high weekly mileage – around 160km – so I have the physical base fitness to carry me through, but the mental side of things in ultras is what is different.

    ‘You have to manage your body and your mind carefully and always try to look for the positives rather than focussing on the negatives – which can quickly seem overwhelming if you dwell on them.’

    She says the intense, multi-stage races take her to some ‘pretty dark places’, and often she has to really battle to keep her demons in check.

    ‘You are out there, day-in day-out, on your feet for hours, really pushing through the pain. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term inconveniences, pain and struggles.

    ‘They teach you so much about yourself and, strangely enough, even though you literally have nothing apart from what you carry on your back, you have everything because you have the freedom and the ability to be there.

    ‘When you return to your day-to-day life, even the most seemingly trivial events – like turning on a tap and fresh, drinkable water miraculously appearing – is something to behold and cherish.’

    Fiona Oakes
    ‘Even though you literally have nothing apart from what you carry on your back, you have everything’ (Picture: Fiona Oakes)

    Fiona says running enriches every element of her life, and she is deeply grateful for everything it brings her.

    ‘I love the freedom of being out in the wilderness and the new and exciting experiences and adventures running always uncovers,’ she explains.

    She adds that it isn’t difficult adapting a vegan diet to enable her to achieve such physical extremes – it’s just about working out exactly what your body needs.

    ‘Like any other diet, the main thing is that you find the correct nutritional balance for your particular lifestyle,’ says Fiona.

    ‘Mine has always been very active. I used to cycle 30 miles each way in to London to work, and now spend any time I’m not running caring for our 550 rescued animals at the animal sanctuary I founded 25 years ago.

    ‘I don’t fixate over my diet, but I have learned over the years to listen to what my body is telling me and act accordingly.

    ‘I don’t think there is one set eating plan which suits all as everyone’s needs are different – but basically I adhere to a whole grain diet including plenty of fresh, seasonal, locally sourced vegetables and fruits.’

    Fiona says that her convinction in her beliefs is what makes her a strong woman.

    ‘For the animals, the planet, other human beings, personal health and the future, my veganism is at the core of all I do.

    ‘It encapsulates justice and compassion for all – something I have always been passionate about.’

    Strong Women

    Strong Women is a weekly series that champions diversity in the world of sport and fitness.

    A Sport England study found that 40% of women were avoiding physical activity due to a fear of judgement.

    But, contrary to the limited images we so often see, women of any age, size, race or ability can be active and enjoy sport and fitness.

    We hope that by normalising diverse depictions of women who are fit, strong and love their bodies, we will empower all women to shed their self-consciousness when it comes to getting active.

    Each week we talk to women who are redefining what it means to be strong and achieving incredible things.

    MORE: Strong Women: ‘I lost all feeling in one side of my body at 28 – but MS won’t stop my fight’

    MORE: Strong Women: ‘We live in a refugee camp and fear for our future – but football gives us hope’

    MORE: Strong Women: ‘Bell’s palsy changed my face and stole my confidence but yoga helped me heal’

    Strong Women: FionaStrong Women: Fiona

    0 0

    ‘I wonder what will happen to the toilets when we hit the storm?’ I mused to fellow sailor Nigel as we eyed the black clouds ahead.

    ‘Well, it turns into a kind of pube soup, with everything swishing around in there,’ he said with a weak smile.

    This was just one of many moments when I asked myself what the hell I was doing.

    I had signed up for the second leg of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and was currently being bashed around somewhere on the South Atlantic on a 70ft boat, on the way from Punta del Este in Uruguay to Cape Town, South Africa – a distance of around 3,600 nautical miles.

    Rough weather during Leg 2 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race
    Rough weather during Leg 2 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race

    For the 16-day voyage, we had no shower, only a hand pump toilet and we had to operate on shift patterns – 4 hours on, 4 hours off.

    Sleeping was also in shifts and we had to ‘hotbunk’ – share a bunk bed with the other watch group.

    We had a very limited luggage allowance and I’d managed to strip back my packing to the absolute minimum, with just 4 pairs of underwear and a warm hat among my most trusty possessions.

    Before we left Uruguay, the founder of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (the man who single-handedly completed a non-stop circumnavigation in 1969) said that where we were going was ‘somewhere where most people haven’t been’.

    Just a few days into the race, I understood what he meant.

    The landscape

    The South Atlantic was one of the most inhospitable landscapes Sadie had encountered in her many adventures
    The South Atlantic was one of the most inhospitable landscapes Sadie had encountered in her many adventures

    I’d been kayaking through remote jungle and trekked across deserts but the South Atlantic was one of the most inhospitable landscapes I’d ever encountered.

    There wasn’t another vessel to be seen as we charged through the waves and there were only a few birds brave enough to surf the whipping winds.

    As we learned a bad storm was set to hit (up to 70 knots / 80 mph of wind), an ominous feeling grew.

    The screens in the navigation room glowed bright red, signalling the bad weather. In a bid to keep ahead in the race, we opted to ride through the eye of it.

    Katabatic winds like machine gun fire peppered the waves with pock marks, before rapidly retreating, preparing to come back for the next round of fire.

    During the voyage, Sadie's boat ventured through the eye of a storm
    During the voyage, Sadie’s boat ventured through the eye of a storm

    What to do in Punta del Este: Clipper Round the World Yacht Race Leg 2

    • L’Auberge – A former water tower converted into a delightful brick and timber hotel, complete with gardens and cosy lounge areas. Also famed for its delicious Belgian waffles
    • Capi – A surf-styled bar in the centre of town, with punchy cocktails and live music
    • Moby Dick – A bar popular close to the marina and popular with the sailing community, with a lively atmosphere and outdoor seating
    • Casapueblo – An incredible structure on the coast constructed over several decades by the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. The Mediterranean-styled building houses a museum, restaurant, hotel and spa
    • Fundacion Pablo Atchugarry Sculpture Park – A park spanning 30 hectares featuring sculptures by the Uruguayan artist Pablo Atchugarry and other international artists
    • Bodega Garzón – A vineyard located on top of a mountain range, close to Punta del Este and the historic town of Garzón. It prides itself on being the first sustainable winery outside of North America
    • Ralli Museum – A contemporary art museum boasting an impressive selection of Latin American art. It is free to enter

    Violent flurries of white froth appeared like spit from the Gods while waves pounded our boat.

    At times, the sun attempted to shine but was smothered by grey. The wind howled, reminding me of the haunting cries of monkeys I’d heard in the Amazon jungle, and it whistled through the sails like blows on a panpipe.

    As 9 metre waves rolled towards us, I thought to myself, ‘if there be a hell, let this be it’. As fellow sailor Diego from Colombia said of the weather one day: ‘It felt like I was drunk, blindfolded and trying to fight five people.’

    I’m more used to the mountains, where if bad weather hits, you can retreat or seek shelter. In the ocean you’re at the mercy of nature and there is nowhere to hide.

    Living with 23 people on a 70ft boat

    Sadie with her fellow sailors on the Punta del Este boat
    Sadie with her fellow sailors on the Punta del Este boat

    As I tried to sleep, waves pummelled the boat, sounding like bomb blasts.

    I was in the top bunk, so my head hit the ceiling when the boat lurched. I had to wedge my mattress against the thin lee cloth to stop myself falling out.

    Condensation dripped from the ceiling as the days went on, meaning everything was damp, even the inside of my sleeping bag.

    As our voyage continued and sleep deprivation set in, tempers frayed among the crew and there were heated words exchanged and tears at times.

    The key pieces of kit for Clipper Round the World Yacht Race Leg 2

    Each Clipper Race participant gets a pair of Musto sailing salopettes, smock jacket, shorts, T-shirt and long-sleeved top. Here are some of the other pieces of kit I used during Leg 2 crossing the South Atlantic, with temperatures fluctuating from 10 degrees Celsius to the mid-20s…

    Sadie pictured in the saloon with teammate Sofia
    Sadie pictured in the saloon with teammate Sofia

    I’d been warned before setting out that the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is 80 per cent about the people and 20 per cent about the sailing. I could see this was totally true. It’s a pretty crazy social experiment!

    There were 23 people on our boat Punta del Este (sponsored by the namesake city we left from in Uruguay) for Leg 2, with the youngest being 24 and the oldest 71.

    Many of the crew were Spanish, including our bubbly skipper Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez, which meant there were language divides at times. The main issue though was living on top of each other.

    In bad weather, there was nowhere to hang out other than the saloon and we all filed in like penguins, our damp, unwashed bodies rubbing against each other.

    Halfway through the trip people started coming down with flu, including myself, and we all put more effort into trying to reduce the spread of germs with extra pumps of the hand sanitiser and coughing into our elbows.

    Sea sickness was also a constant curse, although it was worse for people at the beginning of the voyage and everyone gradually got their sea legs.

    Cooking at sea

    The galley area on the boat where meals were prepared
    The galley area on the boat where meals were prepared

    Despite the rough weather, thankfully the deliciously warming meals continued to roll.

    Our boat was full of keen chefs and there were always some great smells coming from the minuscule galley.

    Before leaving Uruguay we stocked up on fresh produce, using Leg 1 as an indicator of what we would need.

    Things on the shopping list included: 240 eggs, 25kg of apples, 10kg of onions and copious amounts of coffee – thanks to the heads up we got that it ran out on the trip from London to Uruguay.

    We all took it in turns to be ‘mothers’ (cooks) for the day, and we worked in pairs to produce breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12.30pm, cake for the afternoon and dinner at 6pm.

    A Halloween-themed cake cooked on the boat by Mary
    A Halloween-themed cake cooked on the boat by Mary

    There was a cookbook with simple recipes but some of the more experimental chefs went ‘off piste’.

    For instance, Antonio from Uruguay made a delicious stew using some vegetarian sausages he found, while Jim from Derby made a very tasty Asian salad using one of the cabbages which was slowly starting to brown.

    To keep energy levels up (we were told we would burn up to 5,000 calories a day at sea) there were lots of snacks scattered around, with unsalted peanuts and chocolate chip cookies a favourite.

    Many people on our boat joked that the race was the most expensive diet plan going (each leg of the race averages around £5,000 plus training costs), with most people losing round 7kg on each leg.

    Even walking around was exercise as you had to hold on to ropes and hand bars to stop yourself from falling as the yacht tilted over.

    I noticed my abs were tighter along with my arm muscles and my trousers started to feel a bit loose.

    The highlights

    Land on the horizon after 16 days at sea
    Land on the horizon after 16 days at sea

    After 16 days at sea, I can safely say the voyage across the South Atlantic on Leg 2 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race was certainly an experience I will never forget.

    I wouldn’t describe it as ‘enjoyable’, but for me, many of my best adventures are those that don’t seem enjoyable at the time, but you feel a great sense of achievement afterwards.

    At the end of more than two arduous weeks, we’d crossed a vast stretch of water where very few people in history have been before.

    Things to do in South Africa: Clipper Round the World Yacht Race Leg 2

    • Belmond Mount Nelson – One of South Africa’s oldest luxury hotels, complete with outdoor pool, landscaped gardens and spacious suites for families
    • Librisa Spa – Situated within the Belmond Mount Nelson hotel, with signature rose petal treatment, Finnish sauna and plunge pool
    • Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens – Open for more than 100 years, it is considered one of the greatest botanic gardens in the world. It is nestled at the eastern foot of Table Mountain
    • Table Mountain – Take the Skeleton Gorge route through Kirstenbosch Gardens and visit a reservoir complete with a sand beach on the way
    • Constantia Groot – South Africa’s oldest vineyard is located close to Cape Town. The light, syrupy Grand Constance dessert wine comes highly recommended. There are tastings and tours available with two restaurants also on the site
    • The Silo Rooftop – Head to this unique luxury design hotel for spectacular views of Cape Town, top notch cocktails and snacks. Booking is essential for non-hotel guests
    • Stony Point Nature Reserve – Home to one of the largest breeding colonies of African penguin in the world and less crowded than Boulders Beach
    • Zuidste Kaap Restaurant – A cosy, rustic spot with an open fire which claims to be the southernmost restaurant and pub in Africa. Located in the coastal village of Cape Agulhas, around a 2.5 hour drive from Cape Town
    • Agulhas Country Lodge – A homely hotel at the southernmost point in Africa with a cigar lounge, bathtubs and ocean views from bed

    I will always remember the dazzling night sky the day we left Uruguay, with the Milky Way and Southern Cross clearly visible. Then topping things off, a whale came very close to our boat and we could hear it pushing water through its blowhole.

    Leaving Punta del Este as a team with all the crowds cheering was incredible, as was seeing land for the first time after 16 days at sea.

    ‘Land ahoy!’ we all cheered. Jim said as we bounced towards the harbour: ‘I’m just starting to realise what we’ve achieved.’

    Meeting such interesting people from all different walks of life was an enriching experience. We all learned from each other.

    Diego said the voyage made him realise how little we need in life, while David, a veterinarian from Minnesota said he was actually looking forward to going back to work after such a brutal time at sea. A perk of it all I guess!

    Sadie's battered hands after showering after being at sea
    Sadie’s battered hands after showering after being at sea

    Our boat came in second place (out of 11), but unfortunately, we breached race rules by getting too close to shore and we were bumped down to fourth.

    Back on land, a shower had never felt so good and it was good to sleep in a bed with no risk of being thrown out.

    Time is a great healer and as my bruises faded and I watched my comrades set off on Leg 3 of the race, it suddenly looked kind of appealing again…

    I take my hat off to those continuing on the voyage, doing multiple legs or the full circumnavigation.

    The race is set to finish back in London in August 2020. Fair winds and following seas to all!

    Sadie’s place on the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is supported by musto.com, the technical clothing partner for the 2019-20 and 2021-22 editions of the event. More articles on the racing experiences to come.

    Her gym training is sponsored by Anytime Fitness.