Channel: Lifestyle – Metro
Browsing All 44194 Browse Latest View Live
Mark channel Not-Safe-For-Work? cancel confirm NSFW Votes: (0 votes)
Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel.

The Towelkini is the ultimate combo-outfit for summer (but be prepared for staring)

Two models wearing Aria McManus' Towelkini in golden yellow and bright pink
Don’t count on tanning your stomach (Picture: Aria McManus)

One of the most annoying things about hitting the beach is forgetting your towel at home.

It means lying on hot sand (or worse), having to air-dry after a swim and not having anywhere to put your stuff.

You no longer have to worry about that – thanks to the Towelkini, a towel-cum-beach-outfit.

The unusual fashion piece looks like two towels sewn together, with holes for the legs, arms and neck.

Don’t count on tanning your stomach or back though, as the rectangular shape covers both.

It also has a whole for the bum (for toilet visits, we presume?) so you’ll need to wear some form of bottoms.

The product was created by conceptual designer, Aria McManus, who is based in New York and actually first released the Towelkini in July last year.

‘Towelkini by Aria McManus melds the two essentials for all things beach, no need to carry a cumbersome towel and an easy to lose swimsuit — here they come as one, materialized as ideal,’ the item description reads.


While it gets points for originality, there are some obvious concerns with the Towelkini.

There’s the aforementioned guaranteed odd tan lines.

Then there’s the issue of temperature.

As you chill out under the sun, the fabric – which is made from ‘the finest grade of terry cloth’ – will heat up, making the wearer sweaty (and probably a little uncomfortable).

It’s also pretty pricey at £156.45.

The Towelkini by Aria McManus in bright pink
It’s a stylish colour (Picture: Aria McManus)
The Towelkini by Aria McManus in golden yellow
You’ll look like a golden crisp (Picture: Aria McManus)

However, it does look super comfy – sort of like a summer version of a snuggie blanket.

Customers can choose from two colours: Hot Pink and Athletic Gold, and it’s one-size-fits-all.

If you’re feeling inspired and don’t want to splash the cash for what is essentially a stylish towel, invest in a small sewing kit and some cheap towels, and simply do it yourself.

Or just remember to bring a towel next time you go to the beach – and avoid staring from other beach goers.

MORE: Brace yourselves, someone has created handbags that look like Crocs shoes

MORE: Woman shames Pretty Little Thing for bikini that can only be used for ‘poolside posing’

MORE: Clothing brand slammed for making separate Instagram page for plus-size and minority women

7 Insta-worthy and affordable swimwear pieces for summer

Compilation of swimwear including one leopard print swimsuit from River Island, a floral bikini set from ASOS and an orange bikini from Boohoo
Perfect for the ‘Gram(Picture: Boohoo/River Island/ASOS/Missguided)

Summer is almost here (even if the weather doesn’t agree with us).

That means your Instagram account will soon be bombarded with people practising their ‘shmile’ and perfecting the strandid pose while on holiday.

But not all swimwear is worthy of the ‘Gram.

To help you gather the ultimate amount of likes and story views, we’ve put together a list of affordable yet Insta-worthy swimwear that will attract attention to your feed.

In The Style, £12.99

Floral bikini from Dani Dyer's line for In The Style
If it’s good enough for a Love Islander (Picture: In The Style)

If there’s someone who knows how to work an Insta story, it’s the Love Island crew.

Winner Dani Dyer even launched her own fashion line with online retailer In The Style, which now includes a budget-friendly swimwear range.

The tropical print bikini is flirty, fun and frilly – exactly what the ‘Gram demands.

Sizes go from 4 to 16, but women with big boobs, beware – there’s not a whole lot of material to the bikini, so a nip slip is a possibility.

River Island, 28

Model posing in River Island deep plunge neck swimsuit in leopard print
This year’s hottest print (Picture: River Island)

Animal prints are having a moment.

Well, actually, it started with leopard print skirts galore, but soon escalated into what can only be described as full-on animal print madness.

Leopard, zebra, snake, tiger – fashion brands have taken their inspiration from exotic jungle creatures.

This leopard print halter neck swimsuit from River Island is right on trend, which means it’s perfect for Instagram, of course.

Missguided, £20

Model in floral bikini set from Missguided at ASOS with frilly detailing on top and high-waisted bottoms
Frilly, flirty, floral (Pictured: Missguided/ASOS)

Whether you love it or loathe it, summer fashion always includes floral patterns.

And this mix and match set from Missguided is one of our favourites in 2019, featuring a plunge neck with ruffle trims and tie front.

It’s selling fast, with sizes 14 and 16 already sold out, but you can still get it in a size 4 up to a size 12.

The top costs £12, with two pairs of bottoms to choose from. Go with high-waisted or high leg, both sold at £8 respectively.

Boohoo, £15

Model poses in plus-size bikini in orange colour
Orange is the shade of 2019 (Picture: Boohoo)

If you have big breasts, it can be difficult to find a bikini that’s both affordable and stylish – as many high street brands only carry sizes from S to L, which rarely fits anything above a D cup.

The Boohoo deep plunge bikini set is available in sizes from 16 to 24, and also features one of the hottest colours of the season: orange.

It’s also currently on sale, with a 25% discount taking the price to just £15.

Keep things simple and let the bikini speak for itself, though do add a pair of mirrored shades if you want to spice things up a notch.

Pretty Little Thing, £45

Model wearing neon bikini by Zaful sold at Pretty Little Thing
Dare to show some skin (Picture: Zaful/Pretty Little Thing)

The V-shape bikini style is getting a lot of likes this season.

This set really is the ultimate Instagram piece, because you can’t even swim in it – it’s only suitable for ‘poolside posing’.

Interestingly, Pretty Little Thing came under fire earlier this week, as a customer complained the colour seeped out of her bikini when it came into contact with water.

To stay on the safe side, stick to tanning and taking pics in this one.

H&M, £37.98

Brunette model wearing leopard print bikini set from H&M
More leopard? Yes please (Picture: H&M)

Ah yes, leopard print again.

We love this balconette top from H&M, because it’s an excellent choice for women with bigger breasts.

The fully lined bikini has padded cups to ‘lift and shape the bust’, as well as adjustable shoulder straps and is available in sizes from 38D to 38F. And it must be popular, given some sizes have already sold out.

Meanwhile, the mid-waist bottoms have been designed in a hipster shape, with drawstrings on either side of the hips.

New Look, £19.49

Model posing in purple snake swimsuit from New Look
Slither into summer in this (Picture: New Look)

Last but not least is New Look’s neon snake print swimsuit.

The piece features a belted clip front waist, along with adjustable straps and a very flattering fit.

It’s also available as a bikini set, if you’d prefer that style.

Currently available in sizes 6, 8 and 10, but stocks are running low.

MORE: Brace yourselves, someone has created handbags that look like Crocs shoes

MORE: Woman shames Pretty Little Thing for bikini that can only be used for ‘poolside posing’

MORE: Clothing brand slammed for making separate Instagram page for plus-size and minority women

The hairy truth about PCOS – the condition that makes me feel less of a woman

The hairy truth about PCOS - the condition that makes me feel less of a woman
The hairy truth about PCOS (Illustration: Ella Byworth for metro.co.uk)

What is PCOS? For me, it’s something that makes me feel less of a woman.

Sorry for the bleak opener.

The more scientific explanation of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is that it is a condition which affects how the ovaries work.

Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance that affects their overall health, fertility, and appearance.

We have an excess of androgen, which can cause excessive facial and body hair, acne, weight gain, thinning hair on the head, abnormal bloating, irregular periods, and difficulty getting pregnant.

So, things get real sexy around here.

PCOS affects one in 10 women in the UK, but its cause is unknown.

The syndrome differs from person to person.

My story involves a lot of fad diets, wax appointments, anxiety and emotional outbursts.

In the hope of normalising the symptoms women face with PCOS, I want to share the nitty-gritty struggles that some of us with the condition feel embarrassed to talk about.

Having PCOS and feeling like a healthy human being at the same time can come at a serious cost: an investment of time, effort and money.

And sometimes, I can’t hack it.

Sometimes, I don’t want to wax my neck. Sometimes, I’m too tired for a doctor-approved fitness class. Sometimes, I just want the bloody chocolate bar.

Unknowingly, I began my PCOS journey at 12 years old.

I ate the same food at school lunchtime as my friends and went home to healthy, balanced meals in the evening. Still, my slender frame ballooned. I went from a size six to a size 10 within a year. I was putting on weight rapidly, particularly around my stomach.

Everyone told me it was simply puberty happening.

PCOS causes hair to thin where you don't want it to thin and to grow where you'd rather it didn't
PCOS causes hair to thin where you don’t want it to thin and to grow where you’d rather it didn’t (Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler for Metro.co.uk)

I went on my first fad diet at 13. I obsessively watched every single thing I put in my mouth and sat up late each night, researching which diet to try next. When none of them worked, I simply starved myself.

I laid on my bedroom carpet counting to one hundred stomach crunches every evening after school, desperately trying to flatten my stomach, and every time I looked in the mirror naked, I wanted to be sick.

I never thought of myself as having an eating disorder though. I naively, and rather crudely, thought, ‘Surely people with eating disorders are thin?’ I’m not thin.

According to studies, nearly all women with the condition will experience the side effect of weight gain that is difficult to manage.

Dr Kerry Marson says  between 40 to 60 per cent of people who have PCOS are obese.

I didn’t realise it at the time but not eating was the worst possible thing I could do to my body. PCOS means my metabolism is already naturally slow and I’m already prone to putting on weight, so messing with crash diets has affected my metabolism in the long term.

I was finally diagnosed with the condition when I was 22, 10 years after my first symptoms. It was a relief to hear that there was a name for my heartache.

But that was to be short-lived when the doctor explained how I could manage the PCOS side effect of weight gain. He calmly went through the list:

‘Don’t touch sugar. Don’t go near carbs like potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, bananas, starchy vegetables, most dairy products, red meat, juice, dried fruit and peas.

‘Avoid alcohol too.

‘You should probably only drink water and green tea.’

Not so calmly, I asked in my head, ‘Are you fucking joking?’

‘Oh, and you should be working out five days a week for 60 minutes per day,’ he added.


He explained that losing the excess weight which PCOS itself brings helps lessen other PCOS symptoms and reduces the risk for developing serious health complications that impact women with PCOS much sooner than people without it.

Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are some of the biggest additional health concerns people with PCOS may face.

The hair growth was also a killer for my self-esteem.

When you have PCOS, areas typically affected by this excess hair growth may include the face, arms, back, chest, thumbs, toes (yep, that’s right) and abdomen.

Mine was on my upper lip, chin, and my neck. I’d tried plucking, hair removal cream, threading, and waxing to deal with it—now, I get waxed every week. Even then, it’s sometimes not enough—the hair grows in velvety thick, dark patches.

While I salute anyone who embraces this symptom, I fight with it each day. It makes me feel unattractive and desperately insecure.

I was painfully conscious every time I batted away a boyfriend as he went to kiss my neck; of every time I decided against wearing my hair in a ponytail; of every time I walked in daylight, panicked that the person next to me would notice the hundreds of black hairs on my face and neck.

Laser treatment usually doesn’t work for PCOS sufferers, but hopefully when I have the money saved, electrolysis will.

There is no cure for PCOS yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to eliminate some symptoms and, generally feel better.

I used to be incredibly ashamed about the effects of PCOS, but over the last few years, I have found simple ways to help control the hormone imbalance and feel more comfortable in my own skin again.

Looking after myself is key, so a healthy diet and lifestyle is a must – boring, but it really does work against PCOS symptoms.

PCOS sufferers are advised to avoid sugar altogether because sugar spikes our insulin levels and, as insulin is a fat-storage hormone, it concentrates fat, particularly in the belly region.

Spiked high insulin levels also tells our ovaries to make more testosterone, making more unwanted, excess androgens, which in turn produce more nasty symptoms like excess facial hair, weight gain, anxiety, acne and fertility problems.

To get the androgen levels down, women with PCOS are advised to go for foods rich in omega-3 – such as flaxseed, salmon, walnuts, sardines, and chia seeds – and avoid foods high in refined carbohydrates.

Regular exercise also decreases the amount of insulin needed to lower blood sugar.

Doctors can offer different medicines that can treat symptoms, too. The pill which I’ve found helps with weight maintenance and anxiety is Metformin.

There’s no point in glossing over it: Having a natural hormonal imbalance is tough.

There will be fragile moments where you don’t feel like being kind to your body – I can’t tell you the amount of times where out of sheer frustration, I’ve binged on chocolate while sitting in bed watching endless episodes of Sex and the City.

Still, PCOS doesn’t have to have a hold over my life. It is something in my life that I work with. I have ways to manage my symptoms.

And now, whether I am having a good or a bad day, I find power in remembering that I am the one in control.



I painted vulvas in public loos to show no two vaginas are the same

Artist Oliwia Bober sits in front of toilet doors she has painted with vulvas
I hope my paintings will start and normalise the conversation around vaginas (Picture: Viva La Vulva Bathroom Takeover)

We have made real progress with body positivity but there’s still a taboo surrounding female reproductive organs.

The only place we see vulvas these days is in porn, and we shouldn’t underestimate the part it plays in creating false expectations about what vulvas actually look like.

In porn they often lack diversity in shape, size, length of labia, colour and pubic hair, which creates a very uniform picture of what female genitalia looks like, with little room for deviation. This creates unrealistic expectations: of what women think they should look like, and of what men expect from their partners.

The images we see on screen are often lit, adjusted and retouched to enhance their appearance, the vaginal equivalent of Photoshop.

While porn provides a starting point for doubt and dissatisfaction, the cosmetic surgery and beauty industries make us believe our feelings are justified by offering up purchasable solutions to problems that aren’t really there.

From douches to intimate sprays, exfoliators to pills, there seems to be a quick fix for everything. Yet all they do is create a sense that what is normal needs fixing.

Vulva art takeover in the bathrooms of London
There’s still an aura of taboo that surrounds the female reproductive organs (Picture: Viva La Vulva Bathroom Takeover)

And this doesn’t end with our vaginas. It seems like the entirety of the female body is fair game to be picked apart. Body hair, breast size, stretch marks and wrinkles – all are deemed unpalatable unless they appear to meet idealised standards (or don’t appear at all).

The result is an endless cycle of shame and embarrassment followed by pressure to buy products intended to alleviate those feelings. Many of these only produce temporary results, most are entirely unnecessary and none do anything to treat the root cause of women’s insecurities.

Sex education should go some way to combat this – but only if you were one of the lucky ones that got a good one. Education in school is still extremely limited and still focuses almost exclusively on biology.

Vulvas and vaginas are relegated to the realm of reproduction and male pleasure, while female orgasm and the day-to-day experience of having periods are more or less omitted.

It is almost as if the vagina is never seen beyond the context of the penis. The messages this sends to young girls is clear: that vulvas are only valid when seen through the prism of the male gaze.

Boys, meanwhile, are taught that they have agency over women’s bodies. That women’s bodies are there for their consumption and gratification and any other process remains shrouded in the mystery of ‘women’s issues’.

Artwork showing colourful vulvas
The most important goal was to show variety, that no two vulvas are the same (Picture: Viva La Vulva Bathroom Takeover)

We get the message that penis size varies loud and clear, and while of course this can cause anxiety among boys and men, women don’t get to even have their own conversation.

We are therefore left to grow up questioning whether our vulvas look ‘normal’. And without any examples beyond what porn has to offer, men aren’t able to offer their female partners much in the way of reassurance or support.

If I, as a heterosexual woman, find these messages lacking at best – and damaging at worst – I can only begin to imagine the impact they must have on non-binary people and people who don’t subscribe to the hetero-normative narrative.

It was the shame and taboo around vaginas that inspired me to create paintings of vulvas in the toilets at two London venues as part of Bodyform’s Viva La Vulva campaign.

I painted vulvas across the walls and cubicle doors, building up the images with layers of colour to delicately mimic the folds present in vulvas.

The most important goal was to show variety – that no two vulvas are the same, and that each and every one is totally normal.

I believe that the best way to eradicate the idea of a ‘correct’ vulva is to show plenty of real life examples.

I hope my paintings will start to normalise the conversation around vaginas and allowing friends and to talk about their vaginas without feeling it was dirty or taboo. It would be a great starting point in supporting each other.

The best we can hope for is that the messages we’ve been told can be unlearned so that the next generation grows up with a more positive and open attitude.

MORE: States and countries that have banned abortion, after Alabama passes bill

MORE: Man asks how it’s possible to bleed from a period during the night if ‘the body shuts down'

MORE: University agrees to give out free sanitary products after student used own money to provide them

You Don’t Look Sick: I get asked if I’m sure I have terminal cancer’


Living with an invisible illness isn’t easy – you live with a whole range of symptoms and problems but often people don’t understand you are ill because they don’t see them.

You Don’t Look Sick is our weekly series looking at the issues around living with a long-term condition that people can’t see.

Alejandra Solis Leal is 38. She has stage 4 terminal breast cancer.

The mum-of-two was diagnosed last year.

She says that as the chemotherapy she has had hasn’t led to her losing her hair and she still does day-to-day things like taking her kids to school, when she meets people, they don’t always believe that she is dying.

Alejandra, who works as a publicist, explains: ‘My dentist asked if there were any changes in my health so I told him, he laughed and I laughed, and then I cried and then he stopped laughing. He was mute for a while, and said “but you look fine, you have hair… are you sure?”

‘After that he didn’t want to charge me, but I explained that I didn’t want pity and paid the full amount.

Alejandra at home
(Picture: Robert Binder for Metro.co.uk)

‘The worst is when I go to the hospital with my mum and dad or anyone who is older than me.

‘People always approach me saying: “It’s so good of you to take time off work to come to this appointment with them.”

‘They assume that my parents are the patient and I have to explain that I am the one who is sick.

‘When some people find out they ask if I have the correct diagnosis. I’m like: “yes, a doctor told me.”’

Katie first started to experience symptoms around Christmas time 2017.

She explains: ‘I started feeling a bit funny, I was out of sorts and I didn’t feel right. January came around and I went completely off wine and I was overheating constantly.

‘I was having a shower and thought I would check my breasts just in case. I ended up finding a lump.

‘Initially, I thought I was just being paranoid, but I decided I should probably see the GP just in case.’

Katie was sure it was nothing but made the appointment and the doctor felt that she needed to be referred just in case.

Alejandra with her two children and husband
Alejandra with her children and husband (Picture: Alejandra Solis Leal)

‘My husband and I agreed that something wasn’t right. We thought it could be early onset menopause, although I was only 37 so I was too young,’ she says.

‘I went to my referral appointment at the hospital in February 2018 and a lovely Scottish woman did a scan.

‘We were having a lovely chat all about Game of Thrones when all of a sudden, her face dropped, and she looked concerned.

‘All of a sudden there were four doctors in the room. They looked worried and told me that I would need a mammogram and a biopsy.

‘I just kept asking “what’s going on?” I knew something was wrong.

‘The woman told me that they would come back to me with my staging and a treatment plan, so I guessed what it was.

‘She wasn’t actually allowed to diagnose me there and then as it wasn’t certain, so I said to her “If I have cancer I am going to need my mum who lives in Mexico, do I need to tell my mum to come to England?”

‘She said it would be a good idea to ring my mum, so then I knew. I had cancer.’

Alejandra with her mum
Alejandra and her mum (Picture: Alejandra Solis Leal)

Two weeks later, Alejandra was officially diagnosed with breast cancer, and the day before her daughter’s fourth birthday, she had a mastectomy.

She says: ‘After that I was terrified, but I felt ready to undergo the follow up treatment. I even had my eyebrows tattooed on and had a wig fitted in preparation for when I lost my hair.

‘But at my next appointment, I was told that they found more tumours than they expected in my scan.

‘They then scanned me for everything and they found that it had spread into my bones and that it was stage 4. It was incurable.

What are the signs of breast cancer?

Some of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • a lump in the breast
  • a change in the size or shape of the breast
  • dimpling of the skin or thickening in the breast tissue
  • a nipple that’s turned in (inverted)
  • a rash (like eczema) on the nipple
  • discharge from the nipple
  • swelling or a lump in the armpit
  • pain or discomfort in the breast that doesn’t go away


‘I was completely horrified when I found out. I didn’t want to believe it. I felt like I was watching a movie, a very surreal one.

‘They told me that my prognosis was 4 to 5 years, but I know people living with metastasis who have gone on to live for 15 years upwards, so I am hopeful.’

Now, over a year on from diagnosis, Alejandra is learning to live with her terminal diagnosis and tries to keep life as normal as possible.

She takes oral chemotherapy tablets to try to stop further spread of her cancer. It is already in her spine, femur and ribcage.

Alejandra in hospital going into a scanning machine
Alejandra in hospital (Picture: Alejandra Solis Leal)

She says: ‘Most days I’m ok, I get my kids to school, I meet friends for coffee, do chores around the house and rest.

‘My energy levels whilst on oral chemo are quite low. I take those for 21 days and then have a week off. I’m also on hormone treatment.

‘Bad days are bad (though thankfully these aren’t very often) – my third week of chemo is the worst. I just feel exhausted, so I tend to drop my kids at school and go back to bed.

‘I am lucky that I have very few symptoms and side effects from my treatment and I look the same as normal but sometimes it’s really hard – people treat you the same as always, but often I am battling fatigue or joint pains.

‘They are part of the invisible side of my illness, people have limited sympathy because I’m not outwardly struggling.’

Alejandra has had a huge amount of support from friends and family, as well as from people online.

She says: ‘I am very lucky to have an amazing support network, my husband is great and my mother-in-law lives down the road.

‘I also have incredible friends, plus of course my family in Mexico who come and visit often.

Alejandra who has stage 4 breast cancer
Alejandra has terminal breast cancer (Picture: Alejandra Solis Leal)

‘My Macmillan nurse is called Sharon and she’s lovely. I got assigned her the first time I went to the hospital.

‘She’s been right there with me through all the treatments – literally! She held my hand all them all. She’s the first person I call if I am worried about anything.

‘She’s my best friend at the hospital, she also sorted out my counselling sessions. People sometimes forget about the emotional side of being diagnosed with cancer and having treatment, so having a counsellor has been really important for me.

‘There is also a huge online community on Twitter and have made many e-friends. At my last hospital appointment I was looking around the waiting room, feeling sorry for myself and I noticed that the majority of the people in the waiting room were very old.

‘I just thought to myself, “why am I here? I am young, I have children.” I was feeling so angry and cheated by life.

‘I tweeted about it. In response to my tweet I got over 300 people sending me their photos all agreeing with what I was saying.

Alejandra and her husband wearing masks
Alejandra and her husband (Picture:

‘They were all young, they were all stage 4 and living with cancer. Like me, they agreed that the ‘Hollywood stereotype’ tells us how someone with cancer is meant to look – wearing a head-scarf, or with no hair or eyebrows. As a result, because we don’t look like that, some people don’t believe I have cancer.

‘You, Me and the Big C’ was one of the first things I followed and the girls’ openness really helped me to understand that you can live life with a stage 4 diagnosis.’

Alejandra started a blog called The Very Honest Diary of a Mum Dealing with Cancer to help her process her thoughts about her cancer,

‘I find writing it really therapeutic. It normalises my diagnosis and also helps people around me understand what’s going on.

‘It then makes the conversation normal, we can talk about everything else without having to go into the whole cancer disaster because they’re keeping up to date with that side of things by reading my blog.’

Part of why she writes about her journey is to show that anyone can be going through cancer and we need to stop judging them.

She says: ‘It would be helpful if people stopped judging others – you never know what the other person is going through.

‘A mum at my children’s school drop off once asked me why I was ‘so grumpy’, but I wasn’t grumpy, I was feeling awful and just taking the kids to school was a massive effort.

‘In the end, I just said I was tired as I couldn’t be bothered explaining.’

Alejandra is also working with Macmillan on their Let’s Talk About Death campaign to open up the conversation about how prepared we are for what happens after we are gone.

How to get involved with You Don't Look Sick

You Don’t Look Sick is Metro.co.uk’s weekly series that discusses invisible illness and disabilities.

If you have an invisible illness or disability and fancy taking part, please email youdontlooksick@metro.co.uk.

You’ll need to be happy to share pictures that show how your condition affects you, and have some time to have some pictures taken.

MORE: You Don’t Look Sick: ‘I had seven strokes in 24 hours when I was 20’

MORE: You Don’t Look Sick: ‘I thought only old people got arthritis, until I was diagnosed at 28’

MORE: You Don’t Look Sick: ‘People say ME isn’t real but trust me – I deal with it everyday’

MORE: You Don’t Look Sick: ‘I have sickle cell anaemia but people think I’m lying when I say I’m ill’

My Odd Job: My gardens for Chelsea Flower Show are made with blood, sweat and tears


I have no formal qualifications as a garden designer, but this year will be my 10th designing a show garden for the Chelsea Flower Show.

Show gardens for Chelsea are a labour of love. Run by the Royal Horitcultural Society (RHS), the show lasts a week and gets international coverage, so the individual gardens are a chance to showcase your work to the world and inspire trends for the coming year.

Kate Gould working on a show garden for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019
This year will be my 10th designing a show garden for the Chelsea Flower Show (Picture: Susannah Ireland)

As it is a competition, designing a winning garden puts you at the front of the horticultural world. There will be blood, sweat and potentially tears – as well as a huge amount of fun and laughter.

I always think of a show garden a bit like an iceberg; there is a great deal of work to be done during the build but there is an awful lot of preparation that goes on before and once the show is over, too. You can put a year of your life into a show garden that is viewed for only a few days.

Day to day, I run my own garden design business. We do a lot of work in towns and cities and always have projects on the go, from tiny courtyards to large estates. But planning for Chelsea starts almost as soon as the previous show has ended so it can feel like your feet barely touch the ground.

If I am working with a sponsor, a lot of planning time will be spent on initial ideas, explaining my thinking and how it reflects their brief. It is the same process as any garden design really, except that the plans and information generated will form your application to the RHS. So no pressure!

Kate Gould in her show garden for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to design (Picture: Susannah Ireland)

Then there is usually a nail-biting wait while the application is considered. If you are lucky enough to be approved then the ‘Chelsea machine’ starts immediately in terms of final material selections, trees and plants.

Inspiration for my designs comes from many places. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I am constantly observing my surroundings and absorbing the space, plant combinations, textures, finishes and materials used in unusual ways.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to design just as long as the proportions of the various plants fit together. The only true taboo is to sow the wrong plant in the wrong soil or situation – it’s horticulture’s cardinal sin!

I am enormously lucky to work with a brilliant team who all contribute to the design process with extremely can-do attitudes, but building a show garden is tough work.

Kate Gould working on a show garden for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019
After show week there is breakdown when the efforts of a 16-day build are reduced to flat pack in just five days (Picture: Susannah Ireland)

When we are preparing a show garden for Chelsea we work 16-hour days (let alone the off-site pre-Chelsea preparations).

It would be lovely if all we had to do was design and build a garden, but after show week there is breakdown when the efforts of a 16-day build are reduced to flat-pack in just five days.

No matter how much planning you do for a show garden at Chelsea Flower Show, there is always something that comes out of left field once you start to build.

I’ve come across bits of the old marquee, manholes and a water pipe in various locations that have all had an impact on the design and progress. I remember cutting up 3.5 miles of fiber optic cable into 75mm lengths and into 75,000 pieces for a garden wall, which was pretty nuts. It’s all brilliant fun but we hold our breath until the last screw and plant are in place.

Kate Gould stands in her show garden for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019
I have been known to have a sneaky speed nap in a garden (Picture: Susannah Ireland)

I have always approached show gardens knowing that they are loved passionately for a few days and then live on in our memories, blisters, splinters, cuts and bruises ever after! Perhaps the hardest bit is standing still for 12 hours during the show, talking to people and sounding sensible while trying to keep from falling asleep. Adrenalin can only get you so far and I have been known to have a sneaky speed nap in a garden.

The long wait from judging to medals day, and the terror of opening your medals card, is far more stressful and exhausting than any of the build days.

The reveal of the medal can bring either tears of joy or sadness – but generally it’s just relief.

People are often intrigued as to how I became a garden designer. I was working full time in a general admin role and needed some creativity in my life, so I started looking for an evening class like pottery or sculpture, and somehow stumbled onto a garden design course instead.

Kate Gould in her show garden for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019
Younger generations are slowly realising how rewarding it is to plant something and watch it grow and thrive (Picture: Susannah Ireland)

No two days are the same (apart from an over-enthusiastic consumption of coffee) and I could write a book with the oddities that I have been asked to design into gardens or that I have seen, many of which are possibly not actually printable. I once found half a dead pigeon and a boomerang in my bag after leaving it too close to some roofers on site who thought it would be funny to pop these in.

I am also completely prone to do stupid things, especially when Chelsea is approaching; I have left the handbrake off a car and filled another car with the wrong fuel. Replying to emails at speed with auto-correct is also both dangerous and sometimes downright embarrassing.

Gardening has a reputation for being a pursuit for older people (perhaps because older generations have more time to garden) but younger generations are slowly realising how rewarding it is to plant something and watch it grow and thrive.

I am also well aware that garden maintenance isn’t a sexy statement, but the key to creating a beautiful garden is hard work. You can put together a great design, but if it’s not cared it’ll turn into a weed patch pretty quickly, as well as a complete waste of money.

Our private gardens are becoming ever more important to the environment, especially in urban areas, so being able to attract wildlife, bees and butterflies may encourage young people to garden themselves and hopefully it will grow their appreciation for how much we need plants.

How to get involved with My Odd Job

My Odd Job is a new weekly series from Metro.co.uk, published every Sunday. If you have an unusual job and want to get involved, email aimee.meade@metro.co.uk.

MORE: Kate Middleton teases upcoming Chelsea Flower Show garden in new pictures

MORE: My Odd Job: I’m the world’s only doll’s house interior designer

MORE: My odd job: I’m a third generation lion tamer and I’ve been training big cats since I was 15

Woman gives birth then goes into menopause after bowel cancer diagnosis at 35 weeks pregnant

Sima Davarian gave birth and went into the menopause after being treated for bowel cancer
Sima Davarian gave birth and went into menopause after being treated for bowel cancer (Picture: PA Real Life)

When pregnant English teacher Sima Davarian saw blood after going to the toilet, she thought it was piles – swellings inside or around the anus containing enlarged blood vessels – a common problem during pregnancy.

But when the 37-year-old from Devon, who was 35 weeks pregnant, went to the doctors, they found a small lump in her rectum and took a biopsy.

The mum-to-be said she was nervous but not worried, thinking it was pregnancy related. Unfortunately for Sima though, it turned out to be bowel cancer.

She had to wait until her baby was born to have more tests and start treatment which included a colostomy – diverting her waste into a stoma bag.

Five days after the diagnosis, their daughter Mathilda was born by caesarean, leaving both Sima and husband Michael feeling like they’d been robbed of the joys of a natural birth.

Though Sima is now cancer free, the radiation treatment she had at the start destroyed her ovaries – causing her to start menopause early.

The combination of being a cancer patient and a new mum had an exhausting physical and mental toll on Sima.

Sima having chemo
Sima having chemo which ruined her ovaries (Picture: PA Real Life)

‘It was surreal, strange and traumatic,’ said Sima, ‘It was very, very difficult to become a new mother in those circumstances. In a way, it felt as if giving birth had become a medicalised experience because of the cancer.

‘Everyone was taken aback by my diagnosis. It was shocking for everyone around me, family, friends and work colleagues because they all knew I was a healthy person.

After Mathilda’s birth, doctors gave Sima a couple of weeks to recover as well as to spend quality time with her new daughter before commencing treatment to tackle the tumour.

Despite knowing it would leave her infertile and unable to have any more children, Sima followed the medical advice and had radiation therapy every day for a week, before having surgery a week later.

‘I had an abdominal perineal resection, which means surgeons took away my rectum, anus and the descending colon to make sure they removed all the cancer in a six-hour operation,’ she explained.

‘It was brutal, but we knew it was for the best. Because I was so young (34 at the time), they wanted to be as thorough as possible to ensure it could never come back.

‘But it was becoming hard to untangle being a patient from being a new mother.’

Sima and her family on their way to the Canaries
Husband Michael had to be very hands on with dealing with Mathilda while Sima rested (Picture: PA Real Life)

Though the idea of living with a stoma bag was difficult for Sima, she had to become used to it.

Doctors told her it was necessary not just to remove all the cancer but to make sure she goes onto live a long, healthy life.

As doctors found cancer cells in Sima’s lymph nodes following the colostomy, she also needed four rounds of intense chemotherapy, making looking after a new baby very hard.

She said: ‘The chemotherapy knocks the stuffing out of you.

‘It was a hard slog just to get up in the morning. My immune system was battered and I was running on empty.

‘That meant Michael had to be even more hands-on with Mathilda, doing the night feeds and so on. It was tough on all of us.’

Sima and Mathilda in hospital (PA Real Life/Collect)
Sima was given some time to bond with the newborn before starting treatment (Picture: PA Real Life)

For the last three years, Sima has been taking hormone replacement therapy to compensate for the loss of oestrogen.

But she has struggled to come to terms with menopausal changes such as rapid changes in temperatures and fatigue, as well as a generally low mood, which a woman does not usually experience until she hits her mid 40s to 50s.

She said it was extremely difficult for the family to get by, especially as chemotherapy often left her exhausted and unable to look after their child.

Signs and symptoms of bowel cancer

The NHS reports that more than 90% of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit – going more often, with looser stools and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
  • blood in the stools without other piles (haemorrhoids) symptoms – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids
  • abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss.

Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.

If you have one or more of the symptoms of bowel cancer, and they persist for more than four weeks, you should see your GP.

Thankfully, she has now recovered but wants more people to know that bowel cancer can affect people under 40.

‘It is very sobering to have a brush with your own mortality at such a young age,’ she added.

‘It is crucial for other young people talk about bowel cancer, which is more often associated with an older generation. It’s important to remove any stigma about it to learn to talk about uncomfortable things.’

For more details on the condition, you can visit Bowel Cancer UK.

MORE: Woman who ‘looked pregnant’ with a tumour the size of a watermelon has it removed from ovary

MORE: People affected by bowel cancer tell their stories to show the disease does not discriminate

MORE: Mum’s terminal bowel cancer was dismissed as IBS

Woman born without a nose and mouth celebrates graduation

Cassidy Hooper was born with a congenital birth defect
Cassidy Hooper was born with a congenital birth defect (Picture: WBTV)

Cassidy Hooper was born with a very rare congenital disorder that meant her eyes and nose never developed.

But she never wanted that to hold her back. Her mantra throughout life has been ‘I don’t need it to be easy, I just need possible.’

And last week, she graduated from college with a degree in Associate of Arts.

Now 22, Cassidy, from Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., went to a school for blind children and had a pretty hectic life full of activities.

She was on her high school’s track team, helped out as an usher at concerts and worked with charities.

At the age of 17, she had the last of 12 surgeries to create a new nose for her, using bones from her ribs.

After her surgeries, she went on to study at Central Piedmont Community College.

On Thursday, she got to walk across the stage in her gown and cap to collect her degree.

Cassidy has now graduated from college
Cassidy has now graduated from college (Picture: WBTV)

She told WBTV: ‘I got out there and I realized, wait a minute, this is actually happening?!

‘Am I dreaming or am I awake?! It just shocked me at how fast the time went.’

Now Cassidy is looking towards a career in radio broadcasting, something she has wanted to do for years, but she is also considering working in worship ministry.

This summer she’s planning to work with her high school in Raleigh.

Go Cassidy!

Girl’s strawberry birthmark on her face ‘disappears’ thanks to blood pressure tablets

On the left, Chloe as a baby with her birthmark and on the right, Chloe now
Chloe was born with a strawberry birthmark but was treated with blood pressure tablets (Picture: Caters)

When Chloe Lambert was born, her parents Jean, 38, and Michael, 39, thought she had a bruise on her forehead.

But she was later diagnosed with hemangioma (a strawberry birthmark), and as she reached six months old, it had grown to the size of a grapefruit.

The birthmark was treated with propranolol – which is traditionally used to treat high blood pressure – as it can reduce the amount of blood flowing through it.

It caused it to gradually shrink and by 2014, Chloe, then five, was ready for her first of three plastic surgeries to remove the birthmark.

Chloe, now nine, has a faint scar running down her forehead and her parents are sharing her story in a bid to raise awareness.

Chloe and mum Jean when she was a baby
Chloe and mum Jean (Picture: Caters News Agency)

Jean, from Milton Keynes, Bucks, said: ‘We were so happy with the results from the blood pressure tablets as it reduced her birthmark significantly.

‘Chloe’s birthmark was huge by the time she was six-months-old and we’d often be stared at in the street by strangers.

‘We knew we couldn’t wait until she was old enough for it to disappear on its own.

‘The medication caused the mass to reduce in size and by the time she was five years old, she was eligible for her first surgery to remove the birthmark was classed as inactive.

‘We’re so relieved it’s all over now as there’s no chance it’ll regrow.’

The family want to speak out about Chloe’s story to reduce the stigma around birthmarks and to get people talking about them.

Chloe's birthmark disappeared after she took blood pressure tablets
Chloe now (Picture: Caters News Agency)

She added: ‘The stigma is horrendous, I would have complete strangers saying “it’s such a shame, she would be such a pretty baby without that,” while staring at her in her pram.

‘To me she was perfect but to everyone else she was ‘broken’.

Jean says the treatment changed everything and she feels lucky that they were treated before the birthmark had more of an impact on Chloe’s health.

‘Thanks to them, Chloe no longer has her birthmark and it didn’t grow any larger,’ she says.

‘It was already causing her right eye to droop down and would no doubt have been more damaging to have left it until now.

‘Even though our journey with Chloe’s birthmark is over, I do still offer support online for others who are in the same position we’ve been in.

‘I think it’s important that people know about the options, we were very lucky to have been put forward to take the blood pressure medication but not everyone is.

‘I often use Birthmark Support UK on Facebook which is a great way to connect with those in the same position.’

MORE: Woman gives birth then goes into menopause after bowel cancer diagnosis at 35 weeks pregnant

MORE: You Don’t Look Sick: ‘I had seven strokes in 24 hours when I was 20’

Man says his ex wrote a how-to guide for his next girlfriend but no one is impressed

Smiling man sitting on sofa using cell phone
(Picture: Getty)

If you could leave a note for your ex-partner’s new partner, what would it say?

Something along the lines of ‘don’t date this person,’ or ‘these are the serious red flags’, right? You might even leave some groan-worthy things they do like chewing super loudly or not washing properly.

But apparently, one woman had only kind words to share about her ex-boyfriend as she left a how-to dating guide for his next partner.

While it’s very possible that the poster and boyfriend in question, Jacob Brown from California, U.S, wrote it himself, the nature of the note didn’t sit right with a lot of people.

They commented in their droves saying some (a lot) of the things on the list were highly questionable.

The three-page guide lists his food preferences, what he enjoys doing in his spare time, his fondness for back rubs and trampoline parks.

Sounds familiar right? Maybe like a guide you wrote for your dogsitter one time?

People on Twitter were not having any of it and wondered why a grown human being had to come with instructions.

In the note, his partner supposedly wrote: ‘His favourite colour is red in case you want to buy him anything specific.

‘He really seems to like Popeyes a lot in case he gets hungry because boys like to eat.

‘He loves wearing his robes, like literally anywhere and everywhere he goes so don’t hesitate to get him a new one.

‘He likes to have his back rubbed/massaged so be prepared, your hands may cramp but he loves it so you have to keep going.

‘He likes when you can chill with his boys and just drink with them and be cool.’

Sounds innocent enough doesn’t it, albeit a little cringe-worthy? But the note took a dark turn as the woman did bring up some of his bad side.

She wrote: ‘You will constantly hear negative things about him from people, but just ignore it, trust me, it ain’t worth the fight.

‘His room is always a mess so either you get used to it or you help him clean.

‘When he’s having long days, just be there for him, don’t add more stress.

‘Most importantly, be all about him, the last thing he wants to hear is that you got with one of his boys or anybody in general.’

In case the new girlfriend and reader of the note is curious, like the rest of us, why the woman broke up with him, she indulges us in the letter.

She added: ‘You’re going to have to learn how to overcome big obstacles that come your way and that’s where I f****d up, I can’t do that for him but he’s so perfect and I hope you are “the one” he’s always talking about.’

These are some of the reactions from Twitter:

Jacob paid no mind to the haters though. He wrote: ‘It’s literally the best thing I’ve ever got in my life.’

If it really is true and his ex did write it, perhaps it’s expert level shade.

If so, we stan a satirical queen.

MORE: Women in relationships have 30% fewer orgasms than their male partners

MORE: Men and women share the acts on their sexual bucket lists

MORE: Why do we stay in bad relationships?

Women share the dumbest things they’ve heard about periods, reproductive health and their bodies from men

Women reveal the dumbest things they've heard about periods, reproductive health and their bodies
(Picture: Twitter/Getty)

It’s easy for men to go most of their lives without having to think about female reproductive health.

But if the bleak times we live in are anything to go by then it’s imperative they pay more attention to how the female body works.

So one mum decided to start the conversation on Twitter asking people with uteruses the silliest things they’ve heard on the topic from men.

She wrote: ‘Women, what is the dumbest thing a man ever said to you about sex, reproductive health, menstruation, etc? Let’s laugh at these dummies together!’

And laugh, we did.

While it’s not funny to laugh at people’s genuine curiosity or well-intentioned questions, some of the ignorant statements expressed were by men in the medical field and from those in positions of power. So we have no choice but to laugh.

Twitter user Joyslin revealed an ignorant and inaccurate comment deployed by a man she slept with one time.

‘I bled a *little* on a guy while having sex in college and apologised when I noticed. He screamed at me that this “can only happen when you have an std,” kicked me out of his dorm, and Facebook messaged me accusing me of giving him AIDS for like a month.

‘He was a medical student.’

Another woman interacting with a medical professional wrote: ‘I went to a thyroid specialist and when I mentioned that I don’t get a period because I take birth control continuously, he wondered if that was safe because “wouldn’t it all get backed up there”.’

Similarly, another said: ‘Pre-med [student] thought that since trauma-related vaginismus is a real thing that any woman raped whose vagina didn’t clamp up was actually biologically willing. Her body wanted the powerful conqueror sperm, he argued, else it would clamp up tight.’

Other gold tweets were about female orgasms, virginity myths, and pregnancy.

‘My dad banned me from wearing tampons because they would “take my virginity” and also I would be used to “walking around with a penis between my legs.” Logic that he still fully believes,’ wrote one daughter.

While another said: ‘A man said pregnancy was a positive experience because women get “boobs and the body they’ve always wanted by gaining weight”.’

Another user shared her own story saying: ‘Dude had a headache, and I offered him Advil. He pauses and asks “will the medicine know where to go? You know, because I don’t have girl parts.” My man, Advil is not specific to menstrual cramps.’

Some of them were a bit more innocent, given the age of the statement speaker.

‘When I was about 15 a boy told me when women orgasm their vaginas shut tight for up to an hour afterwards during which time the penis couldn’t be freed. And this was why it was safer for women not to orgasm.’

There was one wholesome tweet among the horror: ‘When I was 11 and he was 14, my brother asked me if periods happen on the weekends too. When I said yes, he just shook his head and said “I’m sorry”.’

Imagine not having periods on weekends. The dream.

MORE: Man asks how it’s possible to bleed from a period during the night if ‘the body shuts down’

MORE: Man thinks women only need seven tampons per cycle and have nine periods a year – here’s why he’s very wrong

MORE: Man says his ex wrote a how-to guide for his next girlfriend but no one is impressed

Mum-of-four says all her mixed race children have different skin colours

Mum who gave birth to twins with completely different skin colours reveals how she's constantly asked if they are adopted
Mum-of-four Sarah was surprised to see her twins had different skin colours (Picture: Instagram/chi_aysia_jones)

Mum of twins Sarah Jones was completely surprised to find that her two newborns had different skin colours.

Son Malachi has darker skin with brown eyes and black hair while his sister Malaysia is light skin with blue eyes and blonde hair.

The mum-of-four revealed that all four of her children look different – a result of gene variants which control the amount of melanin or pigment is produced in the skin.

The chances of a parent passing more of one variant to one child and more of another to the other are very rare and have a one in 500 chance of happening.

But after a complicated pregnancy and two miscarriages in six months before she finally became pregnant with the twins, Sarah was just happy to be with them, though she didn’t expect them to look so different.

However, she’s had to deal with people on the streets questioning whether the children are adopted, have different fathers, are hers.

Babies Malachi and Malysia, one who is brown and the other white
Sarah’s two other children look different too but she didn’t expect her twins to (Picture: Instagram/chi_aysia_jones)

‘When I first saw the twins I didn’t pay attention to their colour because I just saw my kids so the difference never really just stood out to me,’ Sarah told Metro.co.uk.

‘Even when people addressed their skin colours I was just amazed how one picked up all recessive traits and one picked up dominant, it makes them so unique

‘Now I get comments from people asking why I have a dark-skinned and a light-skinned twin.

‘The first few weeks after they were born, you couldn’t see the differences in how they looked. But as they began to fill out, to everybody’s amazement, they were total, polar opposites.

‘A lot of nurses didn’t know how to approach me with certain questions. I got statements like, “I’ve been a nurse 23 years and have never worked with twins like them” and “is it weird having a white twin and a black twin?”

Sara's four kids who have different skin colours
Sarah’s other children who also look different from one another (Picture: Instagram/chi_aysia_jones)

‘When we’re out in public I’ve gotten questions like “are they adopted?’ “Do they have the same father?” It’s amazing the things I get asked. They’re constantly getting looks from people, but they are always adored.

‘This experience was by far my best journey in life. I wouldn’t change it or them for anything in the world. My now six-year-old, being dark skinned, and my now two-year-old, being fairly fair-skinned, my babies fit right in with our family. All four of my kids are total opposites, but best friends.’

Malachi and Malaysia in their walkers
Malachi and Malaysia were born premature but now continue to grow healthily (Picture: Instagram/chi_aysia_jones)

Before she got to meet the babies though, she faced a lot of complications.

Sarah learned that her cervix was shortening and during the third-trimester things got worse.

The twins arrived prematurely at 28 weeks with Malaysia weighing 1lb 15oz and her brother weighing 2lb 7oz meaning they had to stay in hospital for longer.

The fight wasn’t over though as Sarah, a single parent, had to take care of the underweight newborns alone.

‘The next couple of days, weeks, and months were tough on this mama and her little warriors,’ she said.

‘There were a few episodes of terrifying moment where my little girl stopped trying to fight for mommy, but she pushed through.’

The twins in their car seats
The twins continue to grow into their different features (Picture: Instagram/chi_aysia_jones)

Family members were shocked when they first got to meet the tiny newborns.

‘When I finally got to bring them home from the NICU, family and friends were shocked. No one could believe it. They were spoiled rotten and continue to be as they grow and days pass.

‘They couldn’t be any more different from their hair colour to their skin, eyes, their attitudes and little personalities.’

Twins as babies in their car seats
(Picture: Instagram/chi_aysia_jones)

Sarah urged other parents to cherish their babies now, before they grow up too quickly.

She wrote: ‘Having twins alone is rough, but also a blessing and such an amazing experience. It flies by – so everybody in this situation, pray and appreciate every little second because they seem small now, but you’ll blink and they’re adults making life decisions.

‘Cherish them now, every moment you have with them.’

MORE: Woman gives birth then goes into menopause after bowel cancer diagnosis at 35 weeks pregnant

MORE: Primark’s new model is representing the beauty of darker skin

MORE: Mum bullied for rare condition that causes large moles is signed to modelling agency

Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck added to road signs to encourage kids to be roadsafe

The road signs featuring mickey and minnie and donald duck
The new road signs (Picture: Ben Queenborough/PinPep)

When kids first learn to walk and then run (usually as fast as they can away from you), you need to start thinking about road safety.

It can be hard to get them to pay attention to signs and rules.

Now, Britain’s official road sign designer Margarent Calvert OBE has teamed up with Disney and road safety charity Brake to create a range of signs featuring Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck, to try to encourage kids to pay attention and to learn about road safety.

The special signs, inspired by the Disney shoe Mickey and the Roadster Racers, are being released for schools and nurseries alongside new guides that aim to teach kids about how to be safe on the road. The signs and guides can be downloaded online.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of drivers going slow around schools, and the special signs feature important ‘hacks’ to help parents teach their kids like holding hands and walking not running.

As well as the signs and guides to help make kids more road-safe, Disney Junior UK has also released a new Parenting Hacks podcast to help parents educate their children on the importance of road safety featuring presenter and mum-of-two Helen Skelton, parenting expert Sue Atkins and Dave Nichols, Community Engagement Manager at Brake.

A lollipop person with a road sign featuring mickey and minnie mouse
The signs were created in collaboration with road safety charity Brake (Picture: Ben Queenborough/PinPep)

Margaret Calvert OBE said: ‘The Mickey and the Roadster Racers inspired designs are a fun take on my original ‘children crossing’ signs, which I hope will help teach young children important lessons of the road.

‘It was an enjoyable challenge collaborating with Disney Junior and Brake on an important subject, and by using such recognisable characters I hope they help to capture the attention of children, and parents too.’

The mickey and minnie signed outside a school
Designs were created by Margaret Calvert OBE (Picture: Ben Queenborough/PinPep)

Dave Nichols, Community Engagement Manager, Brake comments: ‘Our vision is a world where all children can enjoy safe and healthy journeys, which is why we’re always working to improve the safety and welfare of children on UK roads.

‘Teaming up with Disney Junior and Mickey and the Roadster Racers is a fantastic way to help young children and those who care for them raise awareness about being safe on our roads. Having the support of Britain’s official road sign designer is a powerful way to have these iconic characters give children a voice and call on grown-ups to drive safely.’

MORE: Mum-of-four says all her mixed race children have different skin colours

MORE: Women share the dumbest things they’ve heard about periods, reproductive health and their bodies from men

Daughter worries she gave her dad herpes and ruined her parents’ marriage after using his razor

A razor being washed under a running tap
She sued the razor to shave her pubic hair and put it back (Picture: Getty)

There’s lots of things we want to try and keep from our parents – but sometimes you find yourself a little caught in your lies.

One woman was left with a bit of a difficult situation when her dad got herpes and her mum left because she thought he was cheating on her.

Her parents don’t believe in sex before marriage and she didn’t want them to know that she wasn’t sticking to their rule.

After moving to college and having lots of sex, she got herpes.

She took medication and thought it was fine.

But when she was visiting home a few years later, she secretly used her dad’s razor to shave her pubic hair because she forgot to bring one home.

But a few months later, her mum calls her and tells her that she has left her dad. When she speaks to her dad, he has a rash on his face and tells her that he has herpes but he has no idea how it happened.

Despite it being pretty impossible medically as the virus doesn’t live outside the body for very long, she wants to know if you should tell them about her having the sexually transmitted infection first.

In the post on Reddit, she says: ‘I go to college and it’s not like I’m racking up the kills, but I experiment a little as I was very shy growing up. I also learned that I’m supposed to shave my pubic hair? I never was comfortable talking about sex with my friends growing up so it was news to me.The guy actually didn’t make a big deal of (what my close friend referred to as a bush) it but acted surprised so ended up talking about it. Anyways I started shaving my pubes no big deal.

‘I continued to be somewhat promiscuous and a one night stand turned into be me getting herpes. Awful, but the medication I take now really suppresses my symptoms and makes it very unlikely to pass it to others. Apparently not.

‘Let’s skip to me coming home for Christmas during my 3rd year at school. A boy I had a crush on in high school was going to be at a party I was going to. I was given somewhat late notice and only had a couple hours to get ready. I figure who knows what’s going to happen, but I’ll give all my areas a good touch up.

‘I realize I don’t have any razors at home so I use a disposable one of my father’s. F*CK I’m rushing and I cut myself a little. I go to the party, we don’t hook up, no big deal.’

A woman shaving her legs with a blue razor
She forgot to bring her own razor and thought she wouldn’t do any harm (Picture: Getty)

Using your dad’s razor seems a little gross but the poster didn’t think she had done any harm of course. Until that call from her mum.

She adds: ‘A couple months go by and I get a Skype call from my mom (she refuses to get an iPhone). She’s hysterically crying and she’s moving back to our home country. My parents are getting a divorce. I have no idea what happens but she gets interrupted with another call and says she’ll call me back.

‘My parents have been together since they were both 18 and I’m freaking out. I FaceTime my dad. He answers and his face is covered in a rash. He’s telling me he has herpes, but he never cheated and has no idea how this happened. We talk for awhile and I’m confused and mad and don’t know what to believe.

‘It takes me 2 full weeks to realize this could have been me. By this time my mom has actually flown home to stay with her sister. I start googling things and realize this is a possibility, and that the herpes could have been dormant so he didn’t have symptoms instantly.

‘The dilemma: There’s a lot of moving parts to this. My parents do not think I’m sexually active and it would be a big disappointment to admit this let alone say I have herpes. Maybe my dad cheat I don’t know. Ok he didn’t cheat fuck I have to tell them.

‘Long story short, I tell them, my mom moves back and I didn’t entirely ruin my family. It took a lot more work than this makes it seem but that is how I gave my dad herpes.’

Of course, there is the possibility that it wasn’t her at all and her dad did actually cheat. Or that there is another explanation entirely. According to the NHS, passing herpes on through anything other than skin to skin contact is unlikely.

The virus doesn’t live for very long at all outside the body and they say you can’t catch it from towels, cutlery or cups so it’s pretty unlikely to have been passed on through a razor.

Still, maybe not the best idea to steal someone else’s razor for your pubic hair without them knowing. As other people on Reddit pointed out, the razors are disposable for a reason.

MORE: Mum-of-four says all her mixed race children have different skin colours

MORE: Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck added to road signs to encourage kids to be roadsafe

New mum hurt by boyfriend leaving her alone in hospital after a c-section to go have brunch

Mother holding her newborn baby in hospital room
(Picture: Getty)

After childbirth, new mums most likely want some alone time with the newborn and their partner if they have one.

Sadly for one mum, that wasn’t an option, despite having a boyfriend with whom she shared another child.

The 35-year-old explained how her partner of three years left her alone in hospital a mere 30 minutes after having an unexpected caesarean.

The mum-of-two said she was betrayed by him especially after stipulating that he stay with mum and baby for a day or two to help them adjust.

To make things worse, not only did he leave them to go to work and tend to their livestock, as a farmer, he decided to host some friends at home.

A day after his second child was born, he decided to have brunch with his friends, leaving his partner alone once again.

Happy friends toasting drinks while sitting at table in restaurant
Meanwhile the dad was having brunch with his friends (Picture: Getty)

‘When I got pregnant a second time, I was first happy but increasingly scared,’ the mum wrote on a now-deleted Reddit post.

‘I made my boyfriend promise me every day during the pregnancy to be there for me and not skip out on us. I told him he needs to stay with us through the first day or two after birth.’

She explained that they were expecting some friends to come over and stay but she unexpectedly went into labour before they arrived.

So, the dad had to entertain them and also feed the livestock, which the mum said she didn’t mind.

But she insisted that he come back when he finished with his duties. Instead, he bought the entire group with him and they all admired the baby ‘for ten minutes’ before heading out together.

‘No chance talking to him in private, also I was still in pain,’ the mum went on.

‘So my boyfriend told me: “I have to go but just say the word and I will come back (we live five minutes away from the hospital).

‘Late at night [the pain] got worse, so I wrote a message: “Please come I feel horrible and need you.”

‘He was already asleep and did not hear it. I waited an hour or so and then I called. He was asleep. A little later the hospital called. He was still asleep.

‘The next morning he read my message, saw that I had called, saw the hospital had called and decided it was not an emergency because ‘then they would have called again’ – and went to work.

‘He did not call or message me. Afterwards, he had a nice brunch with friends. He arrived when all was well again and after the guests had left.’

She revealed that since having their daughter, she has opened up about the way he treats her, something the couple argue about ‘every two months’.

The poster said her partner acknowledged that it would’ve been better if he’d been there but he couldn’t have known and that she should’ve called more or worded her text better.

‘So I have a grudge for all of this and I cannot get over it,’ said the mum. ‘I explained several times that I need an honest apology. The “but”- explanations don’t seem/feel right.’

Redditors said the argument keeps resurfacing as it hasn’t been solved and for that to happen, the dad needs to own up to his mistakes.

Sound advice.

MORE: Wife complains that husband has picked a name for their future daughter chosen by his ex-girlfriend

MORE: Woman charges boyfriend £38 if he doesn’t make it home by 5am

MORE: Man asks if he’s wrong for ordering sushi in front of pregnant wife who asked him not to

Woman almost lost her leg after developing a flesh-eating bug from banging her leg

Sophie Mason in hospital
Sophie in hospital (Picture: Sophie Mason / SWNS)

A woman almost lost her leg after banging it against a baby gate and developing a flesh-eating bug which ravaged the limb and left her in a coma.

Just before Christmas last year, Sophie Mason, 34, tripped and hit her right thigh against a metal stair gate.

At first she thought it was just a bruise but soon it started oozing pus and when she started to throw up, she realised something was wrong.

She was diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis (NF) – a flesh-eating bug, and she was placed in an induced coma as the infection had caused her organs to start to shut down.

Doctors discovered the bang had triggered Necrotizing fasciitis (NF) – a flesh-eating disease which results in the death of parts of the body’s soft tissue.

The mum-of-one – who cares for her autistic six-year-old son Max – said: ‘A little knock to my leg almost resulted in me losing my whole limb.

‘It’s terrifying to think that it caused a flesh-eating bug which could have killed me, but I’m thankful that I’m still here today.

‘Despite the damage the disease as caused, I feel lucky that I survived it and I’m still around to look after my little boy.’

Sophie was walking upstairs with a pile of clean laundry when she tripped and hit her leg – triggering the condition.

 Sophie Mason, nearly lost her leg to flesh-eating bacteria and sepsis, pictured in hospital before her skin graft
Sophie’s leg before her skin graft (Picture: Sophie Mason / SWNS)

Sophie said: ‘My sister, Sara, 39, was coming over from Australia – where she lives – with her kids for the festive season.

‘I was going upstairs to put my son’s Christmas bedding on when I tripped on the duvet and banged my leg on the baby gate.

‘It didn’t cut the skin, it was just a bang, but it did hurt.

‘As it wasn’t overly painful, I just carried on and didn’t give it a second thought.’

But shortly after that, Sophie felt unwell – but she didn’t connect it to the injury and thought it was a bug.

But soon after the incident, Sophie started feeling unwell.

She said: ‘I was really poorly.

‘I just thought I had a bug and had come down with something.

‘It was terrible timing as my sister had flown half way around the world with her three kids to spend Christmas with us and I was so sick.

‘On Christmas Day I couldn’t even stand up and I spent all day in a separate room to my family.

‘My dad, Paul, 68, was trying to get me to go to hospital, but I didn’t want to make a fuss.’

On 27 Sophie was so ill, she was was rushed to Salford Royal Hospital, Greater Manchester.

Sophie Mason had necrotising fasciitis
Sophie had a flesh-eating disease (Picture: Sophie Mason / SWNS)

Sophie said: ‘I was delirious, everything was a bit of a blur. I was told my organs were shutting down.

‘Medics were trying to put canulas in me and all swarming around me, but I was so out of it I thought I was on the TV programme Casualty.

‘I thought they were all actors, that’s how deluded I was.

‘To stablise me they had to put me in an induced coma – which I stayed in for a week.’

Doctors performed tests and eventually discovered Sophie had developed NF – a severe flesh-eating disease which spreads rapidly. Typically, the infection enters the body through a break in the skin such as a cut or burn.

Sophie said: ‘At first they didn’t know what was wrong because what I had was so rare.

‘Due to my age and the fact I was fit and healthy, I seemed to baffle doctors for a while.

‘It was only when the flesh-eating bug started eating away at my skin on my thigh on my right leg that they identified what it was.

‘What started as a bruise became bright red and dead hot when I first became poorly.

‘Then it turned yellow, soft and was oozing with puss.

‘Doctors knew it was an infection of some kind after they looked at my leg and my wound started spreading.

‘Weeks before I had cut my toe, they realised I might have had it for weeks and the bang just made it active.

Sophie Mason in hospital
Sophie was in a coma for a week (Picture: Sophie Mason / SWNS)

‘I had been at a charity event at the local rugby club and had cut my feet after wearing heels as the bar had rubbed away at my skin because they were new.

‘It was painful, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time.’

Sophie had to have the wound cleaned before she could undergo a skin graft procedure.

She said: ‘Where the infection was I had the skin removed from the area, my flesh was scrubbed down and the wound was quite deep.

‘Thankfully it missed the muscle.

‘It was an open wound so I had to have a vac machine on it for six weeks to help clear it.’

Unfortunately, she developed sepsis, triggered by the infection and couldn’t have a skin graft until she was well enough.

Sophie said: ‘When I woke up from the coma I was hallucinating.

‘My friend came to visit when I was out of ICU and on another ward.

‘She said: “Oh my god, only one in four survive what you’ve had”.

‘I laughed and asked my mum: “What’s wrong with me then?”

a picture of Sophies leg before she had a skin graft
Sophie developed the condition after bumping her leg (Picture: Sophie Mason / SWNS)

‘She had to tell me, I just thought I’d had sepsis, I didn’t realise I’d been battling a life-threatening flesh-eating bug.

‘I had been told a few times, but I’d been so out of it I couldn’t retain the information.

‘It was a real shock when I first saw my leg.

‘I didn’t look at it for ages as I couldn’t face it.

‘But when they told me they nearly had to take it off, I just thought: “It’s better than having it amputated”.

‘I worried I’d never be able to walk again and started panicking, worrying how I’d take my son to school and run around after him.’

But Sophie made an amazing recovery and was able to leave hospital after eight weeks.

She said: ‘I couldn’t have a skin graft straight away because I ended up with sepsis.

‘They moved me to Wythinshaw Hospital – which is a specialist hospital specialising in burns and plastic surgery.

‘They were treating me like a burns victim because of how bad my injuries were.

‘They took a skin graft from the back of my right thigh in an operation which took two hours.

‘Every time I had the wound cleaned – twice a week – I had to go under general anesthetic as it was too painful to have done while I was awake.’

Sophie was discharged in February, but had to still go back to the hospital every two days to have the bandages on her leg changed.

She said: ‘I couldn’t stand up. I had to have physio with crutches and learn how to walk again.

‘I can walk now, but at first I couldn’t even get out of a chair.

‘I’m still not driving properly.

‘It’s been really tough. It was absolutely awful, but I just kept a picture of my son with me and kept saying to myself: “I’ve got to get home to him”.

‘I tried to be as positive as I could be.

‘All the doctors were saying: “You can have cosmetic surgery in a few months” as my leg is absolutely ruined, but now I don’t care as long as I’m alive.

‘I’m really pleased with my progress, I feel like I’ve bounced back.’

MORE: Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck added to road signs to encourage kids to be roadsafe

MORE: Daughter worries she gave her dad herpes and ruined her parents’ marriage after using his razor

Man calls off his wedding after his dog ate chocolate and alcohol at fiancée’s hen party

A dog with chocolate
(Picture: Getty Images)

We all know hen parties (or bachelorette parties in America) can get a bit out of hand.

A few drinks down, surrounded by your best friends, you can be pretty irresponsible.

But one bride-to-be’s bachelorette party ended in disaster when she got drunk and forgot to put her fiance’s beloved dog in another room.

When the party got going, she was too busy to notice the dog enjoying all the leftover chocolates and alcohol on the coffee table – making him ill.

Luckily, the dog was ok but her husband-to-be decided the incident was the end of their four-year-long relationship and he wanted to call off the wedding.

The 28-year-old man posted on Reddit to ask if he was in the wrong for doing so.

He said: ‘On Saturday, fiancee had a bachelorette party at home. I stayed with my parents but I left the dog with her because she likes having him there. However, I made sure to tell her to put the dog in our bedroom once the party gets going.

a man holding his dog
The man was very close to his dog (Picture: Getty)

‘5am on Sunday I get a frantic call that something’s wrong with the dog. She was drunk, so I told her to get a taxi and go to the emergency vet clinic.

‘When I got there, she looked like she hadn’t stopped crying for hours and she couldn’t even speak. Two of her friends were there so they told me my dog is alive but not well. I felt sorry for her for an entire 10 minutes while waiting for the doctor.

‘But then, the doctor told me my dog ingested large amounts of alcohol and chocolate edibles. The girls apparently thought it would be cool to leave everything out on short coffee tables, leave the dog to wander around instead of putting him in our bedroom, and then get wasted and not notice he was going to town with the booze and edibles.’

He explained that when they got home, he told her to pack her things and get out of the house and his life.He added that the wedding was off.

She left but two hours later he got lots of messages from her family telling him he was ‘insane to do this to her after four years’

He added: ‘They started off defending her, but it quickly turned into insulting me.’

He said that his family and friends agree that he overreacted.

The couple argued and he asked her to leave (Picture: Getty)
The couple argued and he asked her to leave (Picture: Getty)

He explained: ‘My mom said: “Well, it was a mistake, she didn’t do it on purpose, besides – the dog didn’t die!” Lucky me, eh? My dog didn’t f*cking die!

‘My sister was appalled that I cancelled the wedding “over that?!” and even my best man said I might have overreacted. Yes, our relationship has had ups and downs, but it’s mostly worked fine.

‘I am so disgusted at my fiancee that I can’t even imagine looking her in the eye, let alone spending my whole life with her. She isn’t f*cking 17, she is 27!’

He also said that it wasn’t the first time she had done something a little irresponsible

He said: ‘She likes to text while driving, she always leaves stuff on the electric stove (like kitchen towels, the cutting board etc.) even though she has turned on the wrong burner and burnt whatever was on it several times in the past, and similar DANGEROUS things.

‘It’s not something I hold against her in the sense that I would ever mention in a fight, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried that she might end up killing herself or someone else. For example, my dog.’

After lots of comments from other people on Reddit pointing out that maybe this wasn’t really about the dog but more because he didn’t trust her to look after herself and other things.

He later added an update :’Posting here kind of triggered me to conclude this isn’t about the dog at all. She is negligent and irresponsible and I don’t want to stick around and possibly see our child die in a car accident some day because she was texting or she forgot to put his seat belt on.

‘I’d rather be an asshole now than spend years of my life worrying every time our child is left alone with her. If she’d accidentally killed a person while texting and driving, I would also leave her. I guess I realized I don’t want to spend my life with someone who has such blatant disregard for human (or animal) life.’

MORE: Woman almost lost her leg after developing a flesh-eating bug from banging her leg

MORE: New mum hurt by boyfriend leaving her alone in hospital after a c-section to go have brunch

Innovative theatre group lead behind Platform YP reveals how she broke away from the traditional 9-5 confines

Tracey at Platform YP
Tracey Eley founded theatre group, Platform YP in 2004, when she was just 21

When it comes to multihyphenates, 36-year-old business owner Tracey Eley practically rewrote the rulebook.

Singer-dancer-actress Tracey launched an independent theatre school 15 years ago in Wokingham, Berkshire, adding entrepreneur-teacher-manager to her job title and is now responsible for over 200 performing arts students on a weekly basis. Did we mention, she’s a mum, too?

Since founding Platform YP in 2004, Tracey has bolstered her team with five teachers, who work flexible hours to meet the six-days-a-week of demand for students aged 3-19 years.

Then there’s the big shows that the students produce, meaning all teachers need to be synchronized on choreography, backing tracks and harmonies.

Realistically, Tracey doesn’t want to waste her teachers’ time on weekly get-togethers, especially when they could be spending it enriching their students. But she’s discovered that to run her team seamlessly, she doesn’t have to stick to traditional staff meetings.

Instead, Tracey uses a variety of remote working techniques, like sharing videos online, co-ordinating her class schedules on digital spreadsheets, using Dropbox to collaborate with her team, even when she’s ‘out of office.’

Tracey Eley
15 years later, they now welcome up to 200 students every week
Tracey Eley
Tracey and her team of five teachers put on performing arts classes six days a week
Tracey Eley
Students aged between 3-19 years attend the classes in Wokingham, Berkshire
Tracey Eley
Classes take place throughout the week, by different teachers, but the team needs to be synced on choreography, routines and songs

‘Now my students inspire me every day. Some of them will start off very quiet, not be able to speak to you and then all of a sudden you look at them and you think: what an amazing young person you’ve become.

‘They can get up in front of a room full of people because of the skills they learn with us. It’s a fantastic feeling.’

Since teaching modest classes of 15 students, growth at Platform YP has been phenomenal but she admits that the hard part is managing five, self-employed teachers on almost every night of the week.

That all changed when Tracey introduced Dropbox to her staff, which empowered them to coordinate in ways that worked best for them and their schedules.

Tracey Eley
That’s why they’ve been focussing on flexible ways of working
Tracey Eley
Now the team can work successfully using Dropbox

‘Dropbox was new to my staff when I started using it as a business tool. Now we use it instinctively for sharing ideas and notes, and it transcends outside of the office, using it at home and with family and friends, too.

‘Dropbox’s Smart Sync means we are always on the same page.’

Tracey says: ‘What I love is that I get a notification straight to my phone when any changes have been made to the documents we share.

‘Not only that, but I’m not hunting to find the specific document, links are often sent in emails that take you straight there and it’s all in one location.’

Tracey Eley
The students regularly put on shows, getting a chance to display their talent

Tracey’s staff has established a working routine that works best for them, enabling them to learn stage routines in their own time, at their own pace.

‘It makes our team more flexible,’ says Tracey. ‘A lot of our teachers will be teaching the same things, on different evenings, in different locations with different students so the fact that we’ve got Dropbox saves us getting together or popping into each other’s classes to check we’re aligned and making progress.’

Tracey adds: ‘It doesn’t matter if we’ve not seen each other for weeks, we’re still teaching the same things and moving along. We know then, that when it comes to a show, we’ve taught all of the students the same thing, to the highest standards.’

With seamless systems in place, Tracey feels confident about expanding her team and realising her dream of renting a permanent studio space where she can teach full-time.

‘It would be mean we could essentially have a Sixth Form College for those students who wanted to go on and study this full-time.

‘We could be teaching our own Performing Arts BTEC, which I would absolutely love.’

Tracey Eley
Tracey is now working towards permanent studio space, where she can teach a BTEC


To learn more about how Dropbox is re-imagining work visit www.dropbox.com/flow

We can always rely on the humble sarnie to make everything feel alright again

Food writer Helen Graves holding a wooden board with two sandwiches on it
Sandwiches are part of the ritual of everyday life (Picture: Helen Graves)

Some find comfort in a fluffy jacket potato, others a steaming bowl of noodle soup, but for me nothing compares to a sandwich.

It’s odd how such a simple thing – putting ingredients between two slices of bread – has become anchored to so much emotion.

I still retreat to the sofa with a sandwich when I need a lifeline and remember each sandwich milestone as if it were my child’s height line etched onto the kitchen wall.

Popping the lid off my Thundercats-themed school lunchbox meant the thrill of anticipation.

Maybe it would be a tuna and cucumber day or Dad’s famous sandwich – a nose-searing combo of cheese and grated onion, bound with mayonnaise, Sarson’s and white pepper.

A true childhood classic and one which no doubt made me very popular with peers in close proximity, a little piece of home wrapped in plastic.

Some particularly nourishing sandwich memories look like this: the greasy familiarity of a bacon bap with a hasty splurge of HP; the nursery comfort of egg mayonnaise on soft white bread; a late night fried egg, edges frazzled in fat, yolk just set; a crudely fashioned chip butty, vinegar on the nose and thick melting butter.

How about the crunch of a few salt and vinegar crisps slipped into a sandwich, and the resulting splutter of potato confetti?

Then there are the leftovers, the carefully arranged layers of Christmas dinner turkey, roasties and bread sauce on a few slices found in the freezer.

There are the pub lunch doorstep wedges filled with cheese and chunky pickle; the thick cut ham with a background burn of English mustard and cheese toastie, made in the classic triangular hot pocket shape (or at least they are for readers of a certain age).

The satisfaction of biting into the soft yet resistant crust, the contrast of textures and flavours, and the healing power of feeling full of lovely carbs.

Sandwiches are part of the ritual of everyday life.

Heck, even Chrissy Teigen has a routine. As usual she took to Twitter to let her followers know about her ‘mean sandwich addiction’ – apparently she can’t get to sleep unless she’s had her nightly sarnie, although she hasn’t revealed her favourite fillings.

Teigen’s followers enjoy her down-to-earth tweets and the sense that she is just like any one of them. Look, she even eats sandwiches, the true everyman food!

In recent years, sandwiches have leveled up.

Now, we take inspiration from around the world where others have made their own traditions. Bánh mi baguettes from Vietnam, sabich (pita bread stuffed with aubergine and boiled eggs) from Israel and bao buns from Taiwan.

Sandwich culture keeps evolving as chefs begin to take it seriously, while Instagram trends such as the Japanese sando come and go.

What remains is the fundamentally soothing power of ingredients in bread.

The satisfaction of biting into the soft yet resistant crust, the contrast of textures and flavours, and the healing power of feeling full of lovely carbs. The familiarity even when flavours are new.

A sandwich might be a ritualistic crusts-off, cut into fingers and eat slowly affair or a frenzied, messy, serves-a-purpose-stop-gap but one thing remains the same – the reliability of the humble sandwich to make everything feel alright again.

MORE: Jazz up your sandwiches with Helen Graves’s 101 Sandwiches

MORE: How to make a Monte Cristo Sandwich

MORE: Teaching kids about food allergies in school would save lives

MenTal(k) Health: ‘This ‘man up’ expression is so problematic’


Many men don’t talk about their health to the point and it can be damaging.

MenTal(k) Health is a weekly series that speaks to men, and those who identify as men, who have something to say about everything from mental health and well-being to fitness and sexual health.

It’s time to open up the conversation.

Psychiatrist and author of Ten to Zen, a guide to quietening the mind and giving your brain a mental workout, Owen O’Kane hates the phrase ‘man up’ as he feels it has a negative impact on the way men see themselves today.

Owen O'Kane sitting in a chair
Owen O’Kane, author of Ten to Zen (Picture: Nicky Johnston)

He says the phrase is ‘bizarre’ but it is fresh in his mind.

He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I had this conversation earlier with someone who flippantly said that men need to “man up”.This expression is so problematic. I asked him what he meant by that and he said “well we’ve got this generation now, that we can’t say anything to them.”

‘Then I asked, “Well what does ‘man up’ mean, then?” and he said “people just need to stop and take stock of what they have and appreciate it. They’re calling it depression, and they’re calling it that…but they just need to man up.”’

It’s a clear point of contention for Owen. Many people of a particular generation seem to dismiss mental health issues as weaknesses.

He explains: ‘This is not about ‘manning up’. The man I was speaking to has clearly never watched somebody with genuine depression and the impact it can have on their lives. I think we need to take stock and understand how these expressions have an impact on the way we think about men and their health.

We need to take stock and understand how these expressions have an impact on the way we think about men and their health

‘It’s about being understanding and compassionate to people who are suffering because it can be debilitating to somebody.

‘Part of the problem is that people often suffer in silence. They worry that if they share this, that’s the kind of response they’re gonna get. My job is to go the opposite way and say “Let’s talk about this because loads of people are feeling this way, lots of people are experiencing it and it’s not a weakness”.

Ten to Zen author posing with book on glossy wooden table
Ten to Zen (Picture: Nicky Johnston)

‘If you saw a young lad who had a physical illness and was in pain, you wouldn’t dream of saying to him “Oh man up”, yet you hear this language being bandied around. Younger guys are very susceptible to this, and the figures are really clear.’

Owen grew up in Northern Ireland, where the suicide rates are high. While women are more likely to self harm, men are three times more likely to die by suicide.

‘The suicide rates are astonishing,’ he adds. ‘There’s an urgency about these conversations in getting people comfortable and breaking down the myths because people are dying.

‘I think that’s partly down to cultures where there isn’t a tradition of truth telling, seeking support and talking and I think it’s important that we start to break the stigma.

‘Growing up in Northern Ireland, I know what it’s like not speaking openly or truthfully and those days are gone – we need to start breaking that down, and stop encouraging people to do the opposite.’

Owen O'Kane author and psychiatrist sitting in a chair
Owen O’Kane wants people to take 10 minutes for their mental health. (Picture: Nicky Johnston)

Living in Belfast during The Troubles, Owen feels he had a unique sense of what anxiety meant. He explains it was one of the reasons for his book, Ten to Zen.

‘I often joke about a lot of what I learned about mental health, because I grew up in Ireland and you could understand anxiety when you live in a bit of a warzone. I think it was a combination of everything to create a programme that could be comprehensible for people to use,’ he says.

Owen is a psychiatrist. He has used his training to work in palliative care, looking after for people at the end of their lives.. He says people spend a lot of their time in regret and wondering how they could have done things differently.

Using his experiences, he began to devise the Ten to Zen programme, a guide to finding ten minutes in your day to give the mind a need workout, as on a typical day the brain gets taken for granted.

‘It’s not just ten minutes out, because anyone can do that, but these ten minutes are you actually doing something.

‘I call it a ten minute mental work out. We’re all driven 24hrs a day by the content of our brains, but most people don’t stop to think that it could use some maintenance, well-being or rest.

‘I created this programme with techniques to quieten the mind and to strengthen it. When you look at the brain as a muscle, you need to strengthen it.

‘The techniques in the first part of the book are about how you get rid of the noise and how to work on a brain that requires more flexibility to get you through life.’

There was a need. People were contacting Owen, asking for practical things to help with their mental health and dealing with the anxieties day-to-day life.

‘There was a theme coming through where people would say, “could you just give me stuff that I can use every day, practically that would help me function.” That gave rise to creating a concept that would be practical and useful for people to use.’

When putting together the programme, Owen found that men have a lot more difficulty with self-criticism than the women on his course, which  makes it difficult to communicate and create healthy dialogue for emotional well-being.

He said: ‘A lot of people struggle with the critical voice. They learn patterns over the years through family and experiences, or they have just developed ways to criticise themselves.They accept it as the norm.

‘I get people to take a step back and say “if this was your partner or someone you love, you wouldn’t speak to them that way, so why would you speak to yourself that way?”

‘With that they can start to begin to let this go embrace themselves and stop beating themselves.

Owen O'Kane is standing with his arms crossed.
Caption: O’Kane (Picture: Nicky Johnston)

‘Negative emotion is deemed a weakness – they say “I shouldn’t feel like this, I should be controlling, I should be strong, I should be the alpha male, I should be able to cope.”

‘But who said that? That we as human beings should be all of those things?

‘My argument is that all of the other emotions come up, but vulnerability, feeling weak, feeling strong, feeling sad don’t. We feel all of these emotions for a reason, and we have to signpost them so we can identify them again.’

In most cases, men try to prioritise the happy emotions and ignore the sad ones unless channeled through to anger and aggression.

Human emotion, is human emotion.

‘We all experience stuff. Culturally, in countries like Britain and Ireland, we believe men should respond in a particular way and that there are certain emotions that are deemed more acceptable for men. You look in magazines and see the stereotypes of what a strong male should be –  we never see stuff like vulnerability. Human emotion is human emotion.’

In 2019, Owen says one of the biggest things that has an impact on mental health is social media, given that it is a place that challenges how people, young and old, perceive themselves in some instances.

‘When I was in my twenties, we didn’t have this explosion of social media that we have now. There wasn’t anything to compare yourself to. As time has evolved we’ve become more insightful and much more aware than we were 20 years ago. We’ve evolved, we use more language and have become more intelligent. We have a lot of instability.

‘For adults trying to grow up and find their feet, it’s not the easiest place to try and do that. For people growing up such as millennials it’s a difficult time.

‘If we look around at social media and magazines…everything is glossy. There’s this real need for perfection, and people look to that as the ideal which is creating a lot of mental health issues.

‘When young people are asked what they want to be when they grow up, the majority say they want to be famous and it’s interesting because nobody is comfortable with ordinary every day living – it’s always something different.

‘They want to be a footballer, a movie star or something but it seems to be we’re starting to believe in the myth that everything is magical and glossy and glittery. That isn’t the real world.

‘More people are talking about it now, so does that mean that there are more people that are dealing with it now, or are people just finding the courage to talk about it?

‘Has this always been around or are we now in a situation where people are reaching breaking point? That conversation is happening now.’

MORE: What is the Mental Health Minute, when is it and how to listen to it?

MORE: Life’s ‘happiest moments’ can negatively impact your mental health

MORE: New 24/7 helpline lets you text if you need mental health support

Browsing All 44194 Browse Latest View Live