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Strong Women: ‘Having a stoma bag is no hindrance to living life to the max – I’m about to my first Ironman’


Strong Women is a weekly series championing diversity in the world of sport, fitness and wellness.

Women are often bombarded with a singular image of what it means to be a woman on mainstream platforms – but the reality is that women of all sizes, ages, races and abilities can be fit, strong and love their bodies.

A Sport England study found that many women are put off from being active because of a fear of judgment.

We want to remind women of the beauty, strength and power that can be found in the diversity of the female form.

Caroline Bramwell was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis which left her malnutritioned and weak – her business suffered, she even struggled to be a mother to her children.

She decided to have surgery to have a stoma bag fitted to alleviate her pain and symptoms. Now she is embracing everything life throws at her.

Caroline Bramwell running
(Picture: Caroline Bramwell)

How did your ulcerative colitis (UC) diagnosis impact your life?

I was pregnant with my second child when I was diagnosed – I was in the first trimester.

I had initially worried that the bleeding was potentially a miscarriage, but it was coming from the back passage.

I had been to the doctor and I was referred to a consultant at hospital. They suspected UC, but couldn’t do an internal inspection by colonoscopy until I was more than six months pregnant, as we didn’t want to risk the baby.

After Natasha was born, by C-section, I lost two stone in weight over two weeks.

The disease inflames your large intestine and this reduces your ability to absorb nutrients, so I was becoming malnutritioned and fatigued by the blood loss.

The only way to suppress this autoimmune disorder was to be put on a course of steroids.

This became a long yo-yo of trying to wean down off the steroids and then managing another flare up when it kicked back in.

This went on for four years after Natasha’s birth, with the disease becoming harder and harder to get under control.

Caroline with her family
‘As a mother I felt like I was becoming increasingly invisible’ (Picture: Caroline Bramwell)

How did your illness affect your ability to be a mother and life your life?

As it became harder to control the disease, I would not be able to travel very far.

The fatigue meant I would have to rest in the afternoons, I ran my own PR and marketing agency and my two members of staff had to cover for me.

The disease leaves you with lack of bowel control, I was spending hours in the toilet doubled up in pain. The attack could come on at an instant, and I would have to find a toilet immediately.

I knew where every public toilet and shop was that I could dash into. I even knew every wall, tree and bush that I could potentially dive behind – such is the immediacy of the disease.

This meant that I could not go out and meet potential new clients, which meant gradually the business was shrinking, with no new business.

The medications also created a fogginess in the mind and I wasn’t making the best decisions. As work was drying up, I had to let my staff go.

As a mother I felt like I was becoming increasingly invisible.

When Natasha was born my body couldn’t produce enough milk to feed her, so she was bottle fed from two weeks.

Rolling around on the floor playing with my children – I have a son, Robert, who is two years older than Natasha – was impossible as the movement would trigger an attack and I would have to dash off to the toilet.

Caroline with her two kids
‘I wanted to lose the weight and to get my freedom back’ (Picture: Caroline Bramwell)

All I could do is sit on the sidelines while my husband, Craig, did all the ‘rough and tumble’ playing with them.

We went away for a weekend to Butlins when the children were five and three years old, but the family would have to just hang around waiting outside the toilet for me for 30-60 minutes at a time.

In the end I spent more time cooped up in the chalet on my own, in pain and in tears, whilst my family went off to have fun without me.

There was no quality of life for me, and my family were missing having a mum.

Tell us about your decision to opt for drastic surgery

One of the down-sides of long-term steroid use is weight gain. I had bloated out over four years on the large concoction of medication, to the point where I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror without crying.

It was this all-round poor quality of life for me, and for my family, that made me come to the decision to have surgery to have my large intestine and bowel removed and to live with a permanent ileostomy.

This is where the end of the small intestine protrudes through the stomach wall, and I wear a stoma bag to collect body waste.

A few months after my surgery, having suffered with the side effects of osteoarthritis from the steroids, I decided I wanted to get the old me back again.

I wanted to lose the weight and to get my freedom back. I knew this would mean regular exercise, but I had always been a couch potato.

I knew that I was never going to get out and lose the weight if I didn’t set myself a goal and make myself go out.

So I signed up for a charity cycle event – cycling from London to Paris in 24 hours. I did this as a relay with my friend, Doreen, who was a keen cyclist.

Carline at the finish line of one of her cycling events
‘Going through such awful times with UC, I have a renewed outlook on life’ (Picture: Caroline Bramwell)

My surgery had been in March 2009, I signed up for L2P24 in November 2009, and hired a personal trainer to get me fit for it.

I rode into Paris in July 2010 and watched the final stage of the Tour de France. I went on to ride another 24-hour charity event – Newcastle to London – two years later.

How has fitness helped you?

Initially fitness and regular exercise shook off the vestiges of the osteoarthritis.

I became more supple and the aches and pains went away. It was great to feel slimmer and fitter.

Being able to cycle those 270 miles to Paris proved to me that I was back.

Having my stoma bag is no hindrance to living life to the max.

Going through such awful times with UC, I have a renewed outlook on life. Our bodies can do so much more than we ever thought. I had a new appreciation for exercise – I was both physically and mentally fitter.

Being under water had been a fear of mine since a bad experience when I was a child.

If I got out of my depth, was splashed, or let my face go under, I would have a panic attack and hyperventilate.

Five years ago, having completed the cycle events, I wanted a new challenge.

My children swim like dolphins, so I decided I should learn to swim properly so I could spend time with them in the pool – making up for those lost years when they were tiny.

I went to my local swimming pool and joined the Learn to Swim group.

At first, my biggest hurdle was to put my face in the water; I found wearing mask-like goggles gave me some confidence and I had to learn to blow bubbles and breathe out under water.

It was very scary! Once I’d got the hang of it, I was off. I loved it.

I’d never realised how surreal it felt swimming under water.

Caroline after cycling from London to Paris
‘I was probably being swept along by the thrill of it rather than my athletic prowess’ (Picture: Caroline Bramwell)

You went from learning to swim to completing half Ironmans in just a few years? How did you get there?

After two months of swimming lessons, I thought: ‘I can cycle, I can swim… maybe I could do a little triathlon?’

It just seemed like the next step for me. I wasn’t looking to do anything massive; just a little local event, perhaps.

My ethos in life and business is to surround yourself with those you aspire to be like, so I joined the North Devon Tri Club.

I thought if I wanted to be a triathlete, I should train with triathletes. It was only at the first swim session that I realised just how far I would have to go to do what these guys do.

I started off with our in-club triathlon; I was terrified, but it was just us and I made it all the way round, albeit 20 minutes behind the last competitor.

I loved it, I loved the camaraderie and the thrill of achieving a triathlon.

Whilst my children had been my motivation to get me swimming, I met 2x Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington, at our local Park Run. Her story inspired me to go further.

As my fellow club mates were signing up for bigger events, I joined in too.

In all honesty, I was probably being swept along by the thrill of it rather than my athletic prowess. But for each event I finished, the more I wanted to do.

From those local sprint triathlons, I have been racing in Half Ironman events for the last three years – last year alone I competed in Outlaw 70.3, Ironman Staffs 70.3 and Ironman Weymouth 70.3.

Caroline speaking at Triathlon Festival
‘A “strong woman” to me is someone who is resilient’ (Picture: Caroline Bramwell)

On 14th July this year, I will be on the start line of Ironman UK in Bolton – going for the full Ironman. This is 2.4 miles open water swim, 112 miles bike and 26.2 miles run.

As people heard about me doing these crazy distances with my ileostomy, I had such support; hearing how my story was inspiring others inspired me to push harder – it still does!

Seeing others with and without an ileostomy pushing their own personal boundaries is my on-going motivation.

In the last couple of years I have been fortunate enough to have been sponsored by Ileostomy & Internal Pouch Association (IA) and HUUB wetsuits.

IA is the charity I turned to for support when I first confronted the suggestion of surgery and I am so proud to be able to return their generosity and represent them.

I now get asked to speak at events – from corporate and health industry, to stoma care groups, triathlon festivals and in schools to inspire youngsters.

Why is fitness so important to you?

I have learnt that being fit, at whatever level, keeps you feeling young and alive.

When I was ill I thought my life was over, but here I am doing so much more than I’d ever dreamed possible.

Keeping active keeps your mind healthy too.

I love the adrenaline rush and the sense of achievement. No-one can take that feeling away from you; it bouys you up when you have your ‘off’ days – knowing how much you can do.

I think all women owe it to themselves to be the best version of themselves. It doesn’t have to be at the extreme levels I go to, but getting outside and moving is stimulation for the mind and body.

A ‘strong woman’ to me is someone who is resilient. Someone who is comfortable in her own skin; a woman who has the will and determination to make changes and take chances if the situation arose.

Life isn’t always a bed of roses; we have upsets and knock-backs. But every woman deserves to be her own ‘strong woman’.

MORE: Strong Women: ‘I’m an MMA fighter – I don’t want to be judged by how pretty I am’

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I’m marrying below my expectations and I couldn’t be happier


Love, Or Something Like It

In Love, Or Something Like It, our new Metro.co.uk series, we’re on a quest to find true love.

Covering everything from mating, dating and procreating to lust and loss, we’ll be looking at what love is and how to find it in the present day.

My heart sank when I found out the tired green Vauxhall Astra belonged to Bill.

We’d only just met in a cottage in Cornwall – invited there for the weekend by mutual friends – but he’d already caught my eye.

He was tall and broad-shouldered with the air of a gentle giant, but could I fancy a guy who drove such an average motor? I’d so hoped that the shiny Range Rover or the smart VW Transporter van – both symbols of success in my mind – would be his.

Bill grew on me over the weekend, especially when he gave me a fireman’s lift over a stream. But the more I found out about him, the more I questioned our compatibility.

My heart sank when I found out the tired green Vauxhall Astra belonged to Bill (Picture: Katherine Baldwin)

I was a former political journalist who’d travelled the world with prime ministers. I had a degree from Oxford University and spoke a few languages. I prided myself on my drive.

I’d expected to date and eventually settle down with another ambitious A-type, perhaps a fellow Oxbridge graduate, a lawyer, doctor or banker – someone who could afford a shiny Range Rover even if they didn’t have one.

Bill had studied at Portsmouth Polytechnic and worked as a mechanical design engineer. He clocked in and out of his job, went for bike rides after work and preferred an easy life to climbing the career ladder.

How would Bill fare at a London party with my Oxford pals or my former colleagues from Parliament? What would my friends think of him? And how would we build a life together if I always strived for more while he was content with his lot?

Like many women, I’d been socialised to ‘marry up’ – to find someone wealthier, more powerful and more successful than me. This idea of partnering with someone of higher rank and social status goes way back, to the days when women relied on men’s legal protection and earning power to protect them.

Within my lifetime, women had still been expected to go from their father’s care to their husband’s without even considering a career of their own.

Katherine and Bill
How would Bill fare at a London party with my Oxford pals or my former colleagues from Parliament? (Picture: Katherine Baldwin)

Despite all the advances of feminism, old attitudes take years to change and they are deeply ingrained: try and think of a romcom, even today, that doesn’t end with the woman bagging the man of her dreams.

I was especially susceptible to the romantic fairy tales because deep down, I wanted to be taken care of – rescued, even. I had an ingrained sense of financial insecurity that dated back to my childhood after my parents divorced when I was eight and money was tight. I’ve had an irrational fear that I’m going to end up broke and living on the streets ever since.

My low self-esteem impacted my romantic life, too. If my partner impressed my friends, maybe I’d feel better about myself. I could bask in his reflected glory. And so I found fault with every guy I met who didn’t measure up – wrong car, too short, lived in the wrong part of London.

I’d still be doing the same today – rejecting lovely guys and holding out for someone who doesn’t exist – if I hadn’t taken the time to build my self-esteem, learn to take care of myself and heal my past wounds. Instead, as you read this I’ll be marrying Bill and I couldn’t be happier.

We began dating after that weekend in Cornwall. And as I lowered my defences, our relationship flourished.

We did most of our courting under canvas, camping at music festivals in Dorset and on a sheep farm in Suffolk. We hired a campervan one Christmas and explored North Wales, enduring snow and driving rain, amid sunny intervals. We also spent a lot of time outdoors cycling – it was a shared passion, and Bill was someone I could share it with.

Katherine and Bill
In reality, I need someone gentle, kind, solid and supportive, who will help me heal old childhood wounds (Picture: Katherine Baldwin)

There were times I wanted Bill to make big, expensive gestures, like I’d seen in the movies. I imagined him showering me with jewellery or taking me on a surprise foreign trip. I was a romantic at heart and I thought such extravagance would show he truly loved me. But as our relationship continued, it dawned on me: Bill and I were happier lying on the grass outside a tent and I already felt secure in his affection – he didn’t need to prove it to me.

Slowly, I began to see that the person I always thought I wanted to be with – the go-getting guy in the sharp suit – wasn’t actually the person I needed.

I used to think I needed to feel on fire all the time, on edge and breathless. In reality, I need someone gentle, kind, solid and supportive, who will help me heal old childhood wounds.

I now believe that love is a choice – a conscious choice two people make when they’re ready to mature emotionally, understand what truly makes them happy and walk through their fears.

I choose to love Bill, every day, not because of an impressive CV, a shiny car or his earning potential, but because of how I feel when I’m with him.

That’s what clinched it for me. With Bill, I am able to be myself entirely. I feel at peace, at ease and at home. In previous relationships, I felt insecure, afraid the guy would leave me for someone else. Or I experienced turmoil, always wondering if I’d be better off with someone else. With Bill, it feels entirely right.

Any worries I had in the past about what other people would think of our match have disappeared. I understand why many high-achieving women are reluctant to choose a partner who’s achieved less after fighting so hard and long for their own success – it goes against the grain and against long-standing tradition. And we want our peers to approve of our choices. But ultimately the key to true love is to find someone who makes you happy.

My family and friends all love Bill and see how good he is for me – and I’m sure of that, too. I even feel more secure and stable, even though he doesn’t have a job and I’m self-employed. And the more I get to know him, the more I discover his hidden talents. He’s really creative and brilliant at building and fixing things.

I never imagined I’d get married at 48 to a 53-year-old out-of-work engineer, but it feels entirely right. Since Bill first caught my eye in that cottage in Cornwall eight years ago, he has changed my idea of what I thought love was. In the last place I expected, I have found my life companion.

Katherine Baldwin is a relationships coach and the author of How to Fall in Love

Last week in Love, Or Something Like It: As a queer Muslim woman, falling in love is a political act

Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2019/06/22/queer-muslim-woman-falling-love-political-act-10017332/?ito=cbshare

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MetroUK | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MetroUK/

Write for Love, Or Something Like It

Love, Or Something Like It is a brand new series for Metro.co.uk, published every Saturday. If you have a love story to share, email rosy.edwards@metro.co.uk

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What to do if you have unprotected sex at a festival

feet poking out of a tent
Have fun, but remember that there’s help if you need it (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

Woken up in a tent that smells of stale beer, sweat and regret?

You’re not the only one; festivals are breeding grounds for casual sex and it’s understandable.

There are thousands of people, all of whom are there to have a good time, listen to music and party – and where there’s alcohol, there’s lowered inhibitions.

If it’s a longer festival, like Glastonbury – which ends tomorrow night – you’re also spending days in a camp ground with these like-minded souls and there’s a strong possibility that you might meet someone.

We’re all for having a good time (both in the bedroom/tent and outside of it), but it’s important to stay safe.

If you’ve had unprotected sex and are concerned about the consequences – especially if you’re in the middle of a field – here are some tips on how you can access sexual health services without having to leave the festival.

All festivals, whether week-long or day events, are required to offer medical assistance and first aid on site.

However, what services will be offered depends on the length of the festival.

For instance, at Glastonbury, there is an extensive offering including but not limited to an emergency department, X-ray facility, doctor and nurse consultations, emergency dental, psychiatric and substance misuse services and two dispensing pharmacies (where you can likely buy condoms and emergency contraception).

Other festivals, such as London-based one-day events like SW4 and Lovebox have medical teams on-site, but as you’re not staying over and these are in close proximity to hospitals, the teams generally only deal with minor injuries or incidents relating to substance abuse or excessive alcohol consumption.

If you have unprotected sex at day festival, it’s recommended that you visit your local GP or a walk-in clinic for help.

Meanwhile at Isle of Wight Festival, which is held at Seaclose Park in Newport, festival-goers have access to doctors, nurses, paramedics and emergency care practitioners. What’s more, you can also find a hospital, a walk-in medical tent and pharmacies on the festival grounds.

If you’re unsure what services are available at a festival, you can find this information on the brand’s website – or if you’re already there, ask a team member or security staff for help.

Above all, if sex is on the agenda and you’re concerned about sexual health, pack condoms.

That way, all you’re taking home from the festival is great memories.

MORE: Woman creates review website for contraception so you can see how it affects others

MORE: Yes, you really can be a ‘grower’ or a ‘shower’

MORE: Missed out on Goop? Here are some other wellbeing festivals to go to

Why do cats love boxes?

tortoiseshell cat in a cardboard box
A very good cat in a box (Picture: Getty)

Why are cats so obsessed with boxes?

It’s a question that pops up pretty regularly if you happen to have a cat in your house.

Every time you do some online shopping your cat will invariably climb in the empty packaging.

If you get them a thoughtful gift they’ll be far more interested in the box it came in.

And if you leave out anything box-shaped – your laundry basket, your suitcase, a drawer – you’ll soon turn round to find your cat curled inside.

We’re not complaining about this phenomenon. It’s pretty cute, even if it does result in our clothes being covered in fur.

But we do find ourselves asking why cats are so in love with the concept of a box.

Turns out there are proper, scientific reasons. Cats aren’t just weirdos with a penchant for cuboids.

cat poking its head out of a cardboard box
A little window is always appreciated (Picture: Getty)

Matthew Pearson, cat adoption officer at the Mayhew, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Cats love boxes because they offer them somewhere nice a cosy to sleep, they provide a hiding spot to feel safe in and feel secure. It’s the same reason why they like perching on high spots too.

‘They also afford them a place where they can pounce out and attack prey from too. Cats love a good ambush so a box provides great cover.

‘Also they are just nosey creatures so the allure of a box to investigate is always normally a bit too much of a good opportunity to pass up on.’

It’s all down to evolution and how cats behave in the wild.

As Cats Protection explains, wildcats living in the outdoors and hunting prey for food need safe places to rest and take shelter from the elements.

They’d need spots that would keep them hidden from their prey and from larger predators, where they could snooze without worrying about being attacked. If that spot is high off the ground, even better.

Close-Up Portrait Of Cat At Home
Cats like to peek out of boxes (Picture: Getty)

Obviously domestic cats don’t need to hide from larger predators indoors, but that hardwired desire to retreat to enclosed spaces lives on in every feline.

A box provides a cat their own special area, helping them to feel relaxed and in control of their environment. In a box they know they’re safe, comfortable, and can sleep as much as they like.

‘Being able to control their environment in order to feel secure is something that makes a cat very happy,’ explains Cats Protection.

‘[A box] allows them to find a safe and private place to rest, away from the busyness of modern life, such as noisy people and other pets, and, if turned on its side, it provides an elevated place to sit and watch said world go by.’

Sounds dreamy.

Science backs all this up.

A study by veterinarian Claudia Vinke in the Netherlands found that having access to boxes significantly lowered cats’ stress levels, allowing them to become accustomed to their new surroundings faster and more comfortably seek out human company.

The lesson here: give your cat as many boxes as they like, especially when introducing them to a new environment or new people.

Just as we need the space to retreat and hide away, cats need to know they have a box to rush to if the world becomes a touch overwhelming.

Cat Week

In honour of Catfest, we will be partnering with the festival to bring you seven days of the funniest, cutest, coolest and most amazing cat content.

Until Saturday 29 June, read stories about all things cats, including kittens abandoned on rubbish dumps to fantastic cat art, and everything in-between.

Catfest will include cat-themed literature and film plus live music, poetry and crafts. There will be rescue kittens, talks from cat experts, Instagram cats and an auction as well as cocktails, cake and much more. Tickets have sold out, but you can still get involved on social media.

Part of the proceeds from the event will benefit Erham Rescue and International Trash Cat & Dumpster Dogs to help cats and kittens as well as street animals in need.

Are you the owner of a fantastic cat? Then tweet us your cutest kitty pics @MetroUK and @MetroUK_Life for a chance to be featured!

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Let’s stop pretending to actually enjoy the hot weather

metro illustrations
Hot weather sucks and it is entirely reasonable to be miserable the second the temperature rises (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

Today is set to be the hottest June Day in the UK on record. So prepare yourself for all the cliches.

If you’re working, you’ll hear people wishing they were outside on ‘a day like this’. You’ll be struck with an urge to head to a pub garden and have a pint in the sun. People will suddenly appear in actual summer dresses and shorts, without tights.

We will all express joy at the wonder of nature, crowing about lapping up the sun and treating ourselves to an ice cream or six.

We are lying to ourselves. Hot weather in Britain is not a joyful event in any way, shape, or form.

It is absolutely miserable, mostly because British people truly lose their heads when the temperature rises. We don’t know how to act, we don’t know what to do, and we fool ourselves into thinking we’re laid back, chill people who will actually enjoy sitting out in the garden and blowing up a paddling pool.

It’s time to face the reality of a hot day in the UK: it’s f***ing awful.

Anyone working may say they wish they weren’t trapped inside. They are wrong.

If they had the day off, they would invariably spend the day at home, watching TV and grumpily wriggling around on the sofa every 20 minutes or so to say it’s too bloody hot.

We don’t have aircon (unless you’re really fancy), so the moment we wake up the day is miserably hot and sticky. Your legs will stick together with sweat. All of your clothes are doomed to itch and cling and feel unbearably tight. Walking around naked sounds dreamy, but it’s even worse – you chafe and stick and feel very much like a large ham left out on the dining room table.

You’ll tell yourself you should be outside, but… you don’t really want to head out there, do you?

metro illustrations
There’s all this pressure not to ‘waste’ a ‘lovely day’ like this one, but whatever we do it’ll be wasted (Picture: Erin Aniker)

It’s probably even hotter out there. You won’t have unlimited access to tap water or a cold shower or sticking your head in the freezer for a few moments of peace.

And what exactly should you do outdoors? British people aren’t outdoorsy types. We’re TV, tea, and biscuits types. We are hideously unsuited to hot weather and have no idea how to make summer plans beyond ‘we should be outside, I think?’.

There’s all this pressure not to ‘waste’ a ‘lovely day’ like this one, but whatever we do it’ll be wasted.

We either stay inside and feel like we’ve made the wrong call, or we go out and are confronted with the reality of our dreamy sepia-toned visions.

Because the truth is, you will not sip beer in a pub garden, peacefully looking out from behind your sunglasses.

You will arrive at the pub to find it absolutely heaving. All outdoor seats will be taken by an assortment of stylish mums with giant jugs of Pimm’s and lad lad lads wearing football shirts.

You will awkwardly hover by a table in the hopes that someone will leave soon.

You will wait ages to order a pint that ends up not being cold enough, and then remember you don’t even really like beer.

You will feel that you have to stay for a while, but as your palms get clammy and the sunlight gives you a pounding headache, you must eventually give up and go home. But that would be admitting defeat, so instead you will stay out, hating every moment but telling yourself this is a lovely summer treat. It’s not.

Illustration of someone sitting on a bench
The awfulness of a hot day relies on the idea that we should all be having a great time (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

Or you could attempt a trip to the park to do some nice sitting. You will search desperately for a shaded area, entirely defeating the point of ‘making the most of the sun’, but be unable to find a spot thanks to the crowds of teenagers and small children eating tubs of melted chocolate treats from M&S.

If you do manage to plonk yourself down somewhere, you’ll almost immediately wonder when it’s acceptable to leave again, knowing full well you’ll just play on your phone in the exact same way you could do in the comfort of your own home, but with the fun bonus of getting sunburn on your neck and ant bites on your feet (hobbit-ish feet that are quite clearly not sandal-ready and that will cause you a deep, unspeakable shame).

You’ll decide to venture out for some food, braving the horror of public transport – others’ body heat creeping through you and your sweat slick on the pole to which you hang on – only to find that every cafe is rammed and no food sounds like a good idea. Burgers, pizza, a kebab? All too hot to even consider. A salad? Miserable.

You will force something down and feel even hotter and more bloated, wanting only to curl up under some blankets but knowing this will cause you greater pain.

The awfulness of a hot day relies on the idea that we should all be having a great time, when in reality, deep down, we know that we hate the heat.

We hate the sweat and the discomfort and the inescapability of it. We hate wearing floaty linen and long for boots and jumpers. We’d really prefer to have our usual Sunday roast rather than attempt the faff of a nice picnic.

We force ourselves into routines that don’t fit who we are one tiny bit, because if we don’t we feel like summer spoilsports.

I say it’s time to end this madness.

Hot weather sucks and it is entirely reasonable to be miserable the second the temperature rises. It’s uncomfortable, it makes you feel gross and a bit sick, and there’s far too much pressure to do things that aren’t nearly as fun as they sound.

Oh, and it reminds you that the earth is burning and we’re all hurtling towards the the end of the world. Great.

Let’s just admit the truth: Hot weather is awful and we’re all just going to stay inside and groan until it’s over.

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MORE: Climate change will cause more summer heatwaves in the UK

Should you rub your cat’s belly?

A fat tabby cat sprawled out on a couch with its stomach exposed
Even if they expose their tummy to you, it doesn’t always mean they want you to touch it (Picture: Getty)

Cats are very individual in their needs and preferences, more so than other pets.

Those who have had a feline will know that if you’re not doing something the way he or she wants you to, it’s only a matter of time before you find out (watch out for the claws).

If a cat doesn’t want a cuddle, you won’t get one.

If a cat doesn’t want to play, you’ll be ignored.

And if a cat doesn’t want you to touch them – don’t.

When caring for a pet, it’s important to respect their boundaries and there is one area in particular on their furry body that most cats don’t like humans to go near: their belly.

The belly – which can include both the sides and chest – is often a no-go zone because it’s where cats carry their most vital organs.

‘Cats can get quite stimulated or excited when they are playing or in “hunting mode” and it’s generally not advisable to touch any cat in this state,’ Cats Protection tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Even when touching a calm, relaxed cat, there are many places on the body that are quite vulnerable or sensitive.

‘Cats that roll on to their side or back and expose their belly are communicating that they feel relaxed enough in the person’s presence to expose such a vulnerable area. The best response is to verbally acknowledge the cat’s greeting, rather than stroke or tickle their tummy.’

According to Cats Protection, many cats also don’t like being touched in the following places:

• Paws
• Under the legs (i.e. armpits)
• Back legs
• Bottom half of the back, especially if it’s stiff or painful
• Base of tail
• Genital area

It’s not just where you stroke them, it’s also how you do it – cats do not appreciate having their fur stroked against the normal direction.

‘Cats can be very subtle in their body language and can be difficult to “read” as they have not evolved the many visual communication signals that are seen in social species, like dogs.

‘Spend time watching your cat – see how they move and interact with their environment, their facial expressions, body postures and vocalisations in different situations – and you can start to build a picture of how your cat is feeling.’

Young bengal cat on its back on carpet and having its tummy tickled
Feel proud if your cat lets you touch its belly – it’s a sign of trust(Picture: Getty)

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home recommends spending quality time with your feline to find out exactly what he or she prefers.

When stroking them, consider the intensity (if it’s a soft tickle or long stroke) and frequency, as well as duration.

Recently adopted your feline? Before you head straight for the closeness, simply sit near them or engage in an activity in their vicinity, and see how they react.

Alternatively, pick up some toys and strengthen your bond through playing together.

Once you feel comfortable, proceed to more intimate cuddles – but pay attention to your cat and what their body language is telling you.

If the cat claws, scratches or bites, stop immediately.

Showing their belly to you is a sign of trust, so respect their choice.

And if you’re lucky enough to have a feline that lets you near their most precious area, be proud – it’s the biggest compliment they’ll ever give you.

Cat Week

In honour of Catfest, we will be partnering with the festival to bring you seven days of the funniest, cutest, coolest and most amazing cat content.

Until Saturday 29 June, read stories about all things cats, including kittens abandoned on rubbish dumps to fantastic cat art, and everything in-between.

Catfest will include cat-themed literature and film plus live music, poetry and crafts. There will be rescue kittens, talks from cat experts, Instagram cats and an auction as well as cocktails, cake and much more. Tickets have sold out, but you can still get involved on social media.

Part of the proceeds from the event will benefit Erham Rescue and International Trash Cat & Dumpster Dogs to help cats and kittens as well as street animals in need.

Are you the owner of a fantastic cat? Then tweet us your cutest kitty pics @MetroUK and @MetroUK_Life for a chance to be featured!

MORE: 16 stunning black cats who are looking for their forever homes

MORE: Jeffree the cat helped young boy with Asperger’s cope with the sudden death of his father

MORE: Animal charity offers students the chance to hang out with cats while they revise for exams

MORE: Rosie the kitty helps owner Deborah through grief after husband dies from cystic fibrosis complications

MORE: Man proposes to his girlfriend by tattooing ‘Will you marry meow?’ on his bum

MORE: How to take your cat for a walk

Plus-size woman branded a ‘whale’ by trolls refuses to stop celebrating her body in bikinis

Megan pictured wearing a chic black dress
Megan spent years following fad diets (Picture: MDWfeatures / @mmmeganfisher)

For years Megan Fisher used to obsess over weight loss.

She even considered surgery to change her body, having spent her teens being bullied for her size.

But now, at a size 26, Megan is the most confident she’s ever felt, and she’s enjoying her new sense of self-love by posing in her collection of 50 bikinis for Instagram.

Teacher Megan, 28, always felt insecure in her body growing up. Throughout her teens and twenties she thought that happiness depended on losing weight and tried every fad diet she could find.

She was living with a boyfriend who didn’t make her happy, working at a job she hated, and felt absolutely miserable.

Megan pictured in a colourful bikini
She even considered surgery to change her body (Picture: MDWfeatures / @mmmeganfisher)

In January 2014 she was getting prepared to have a gastric bypass when she discovered the body positivity movement and was immediately inspired. Megan realised she could be happy at her size and didn’t need to lose weight to change her life.

She left her boyfriend, quit her job, and moved to New York. It was the scariest thing Megan had ever done, but it changed everything for the better.

Through learning to love and look after herself and accept her body, Megan is now confident in her looks, and feels comfortable showing off her bod on Instagram in one of her 50 bikinis.

She faces cruel messages from trolls who call her a ‘whale’ and tell her she’s going to die young, but Megan refuses to stop celebrating her body. She hopes that by sharing her photos she’ll let other women know that their weight shouldn’t hold them back from feeling great.

Megan showing off her body in an orange bikini. THIS SEXY plus size woman used to obsess over weight loss and even considered SURGERY to find happiness but now at size TWENTY-SIX feels her most confident showing off her skin in one of her FIFTY bikinis - despite being branded a WHALE by cruel online trolls. Teacher, Megan Fisher (28) originally from Pennsylvania, USA, never felt confident in her body growing up and didn???t have the confidence to approach boys due to her low self-esteem. After school Megan found herself in an unhappy relationship where she was living with her boyfriend at the time and was in a job as a bank cashier that she didn???t enjoy. Ever since she was 14, Megan thought that the key to happiness was losing weight and tried countless fad diets over the course of her teenage years and early twenties including; Atkins, keto, paleo, Isagenix and even starved herself. Instead of trying another diet and falling off the wagon, Megan decided to leave her boyfriend and job and moved to New York City in 2014. Despite it being the scariest thing she has ever done, the move changed Megan???s life as she learnt how to be independent and discovered her passion for teaching. In January 2014 Megan was going through pre-op preparation for a gastric bypass which was scheduled for the following month when she discovered Tess Holliday and the body positive movement and realised that she too could be happy and confident in her UK size 26 and 21st 6lb body and didn???t need to lose weight. Since this realisation, Megan feels her most confident when she???s wearing one of her 50 bikinis, crop tops and short shorts that show off her incredible curves and shares her body positive pictures on Instagram to encourage other women to ditch their body insecurities and love themselves. Whilst she has received an outpouring of support saying she has inspired other women, cruel trolls have labelled her a ???whale???, ???cow???, and told her that she???s going to die early but
Discovering the body positivity movement changed everything (Picture: MDWfeatures / @mmmeganfisher)

‘I was unhappy with my body because I did not know what happiness even was,’ says Megan.

‘I would never have worn a bikini until I moved to New York and found my new mindset of self-love. In high school, I was so self-conscious of my body and truly believed I would never be able to have a boyfriend until I lost weight.

‘I was too afraid to talk to guys in high school because of how I felt about my body at that time.

‘I never had plus-size role models in my life growing up. Sure, I had plus sized people in my life who I loved but they were constantly trying to lose weight themselves.’

Megan showing off her curves in a black lacy bikini
Now she shares photos of herself wearing bikinis with her 9,000 followers (Picture: MDWfeatures / @mmmeganfisher)

Megan is grateful to have found the body positivity movement before she went through with surgery, and hopes that she’ll provide that moment of inspiration and support for other people struggling with body image.

‘If I post pictures of myself normalising things society says fat girls can’t do like wearing a bikini, crop tops, travelling, dating attractive men, hiking, being fashionable, being happy and eating food in public, [I can] help others as well,’ she says.

‘My goal is to be the role model I needed when I was younger.

‘I first went to the beach in my bikini with my family on a small lake so it was kind of a stepping stone to being at a large public beach. The first time I did that, it felt freeing. I got some stares, but I was so happy that I didn’t care why they were staring at me.

‘I think one of the hardest things has been trolls on the internet who will find certain pictures of me and comment hateful things calling me a whale, a cow, telling me I’m going to die, or that I’m promoting obesity.

‘At this point, it’s so played out and my health is between my doctor and I. I block all trolls, but I had a post go viral from the movement @i-weigh where I was not in charge of moderating the comments and it was tough to see how far we as a society have to go with our mindset of fat people just enjoying their lives.

Megan proving that plus size girls can wear bikinis in a stylish white one-piece
She wants to show everyone that fat girls can do anything (Picture: MDWfeatures / @mmmeganfisher)

‘Currently, I’m living my best life and posting it online for all to see.’

Megan’s 9,000 followers are given photos of the teacher unapologetically living her best life – travelling, wearing whatever she likes, and having fun with friends.

She wants to show everyone that fat women can do anything.

Megan says: ‘I am truly my most confident in short jean shorts with a crop top or in a bikini. I love showing off my skin now. If you don’t like it, you can look away.

‘If I can inspire any woman to try on a bikini, or wear a crop top, or try anything that scares them a bit, then I believe my work is worth it.

‘I think some of the best advice I could give others is first of all, if someone isn’t paying your bills, then they get no say over what you do with your life.

‘If it makes you happy, then go for it. You truly cannot make everyone happy, even if you’re wearing a large paper bag hiding all of your curves, so why not wear something that makes you feel amazing?’

MORE: We’ll never achieve ‘true wellness’ if we’re all too hungry to get the job done

MORE: MenTal(k) Health: ‘I wear my scars with pride for the LGBT community’

MORE: Woman bullied for being ‘the fat girl’ wants to show plus-size women they can have great sex lives

Bride is fuming after guest brings two toddlers along to her child-free wedding

Sad bride sitting with her hands on her forehead while a bridesmaid stands behind her giving her a supportive touch on the back
‘We made it very clear we did not want kids at the wedding’ (Picture: Getty)

Couples spend months, sometimes year, planning their wedding to make sure every detail is just right.

Unfortunately, there’s one aspect that you can’t fully control: the guests.

This is exactly what one bride realised during her wedding ceremony – arguably one of the biggest moments of her life – and the experience was overshadowed by two toddlers crying in the background.

According to the bride, who had spent two years organising the event with her now husband, the pair had explicitly stated that no young children were allowed, with the exception of her niece, 10 and nephew, six, who were acting as flower girl and ring bearer.

His cousin, who the bride said she isn’t on good terms with, ignored the instruction and decided to bring along her two kids, aged one and three, who then proceeded to cry and fuss while the  couple were standing at the altar tying the knot.

‘We made it very clear we did not want kids at the wedding,’ she wrote.

‘In fact, the wedding reception was at a casino and kids couldn’t come.

‘We made one exception though. My niece and nephew who were the flower girl and ring bearer were in the wedding and were invited.

‘Everyone else knew about no kids. Fast forward, in the middle of the ceremony, I hear kids crying. At the end of the ceremony, I see that it was my SO [significant other’s] cousin who brought her two little kids (ages three and one).’

After the incident, she turned to Reddit to vent her frustration, and asked how to approach the situation.

‘Am I in the wrong for being mad at them for bringing their kids?,’ the bride wrote.

‘They didn’t even ask us if they could, they just showed up with them.

‘Have any other brides, friends or family members been involved in a similar situation? Anything I could do now about the situation?’

Most people were sympathetic and agreed that it was a bad move on the cousin’s part, but that the bride would be better off just taking the high road.

‘Eh, you certainly are in the right to be annoyed, it was very rude,’ one person commented.

‘But it sounds like she did this intentionally to be rude and get under your skin. I don’t think it’s worth saying anything.

‘First of all, she was looking for a reaction, so giving her one will probably make her happy.

‘Second, I don’t see that it will accomplish anything. She already did it, it’s over, but if you make a scene about it, she can turn ought [sic] around to make you look bad.’

Someone else agreed: ‘I second this. In fact if she ever mentions it, say you were having such an amazing time you didn’t even notice they were there!’

One even suggested she should have ‘kicked them out’.

Several comments from the Reddit thread
Most people agreed that the bride had a right to be upset (Picture: Reddit)

Another believed this is the right course of action, too, but that if the same thing had happened to them, they would exact their revenge.

‘This is the better way to go,’ they wrote.

‘Me, I get salty, so I’d probably wait until we’re at a family function in her hearing, and someone talks about planning a wedding or something, and just drop “if you don’t plan to have children there, make sure not to invite cousin! She’ll just ignore your wishes!” with a smile and a laugh.

‘But I’m bitchy. Don’t be like me. The high road is the better road.’

Some people also shared their own tales of wedding woe, including a bride who had experienced a similar experience with a bridesmaid, who brought her baby along at the last minute.

She wrote: ‘I had a bridesmaid do this to me.

‘I made it very clear that I did not want children at the wedding and she waited until the day before I was leaving to travel to our venue to tell me that she had never been comfortable with leaving the baby with her mom and so she was going to come with the baby.

‘I have nothing against someone not be comfortable leaving their baby, but please communicate that to me!’

The incident was so bad, it ruined their friendship.

‘She ended up being late to getting ready, late to the venue, we had to postpone pictures to wait for her to get there, I didn’t see her at all during the reception and she left early,’ the user added.

‘To this day, she will not admit any fault in the situation and sadly we are no longer friends.’

However, while most Reddit users who commented on the thread were supportive of the bride’s plight, one disagreed with her choice not to let children attend – especially as she had allowed the ring bearer and flower girl to be there.

‘Then it’s not a childless wedding,’ they wrote.

‘Either you’re concerned about kids crying and ruining the adult theme go on or you aren’t. Having some kids there is countering any argument you could make for a childless event.

‘That’s your right. Still makes you an a*****e.’


What do you think?

MORE: I’m marrying below my expectations and I couldn’t be happier

MORE: Man proposes to his girlfriend by tattooing ‘Will you marry meow?’ on his bum

MORE: Bride has to order second wedding dress after online shopping fail

Mattel launches a black Barbie in a wheelchair and people are loving the diversity

Image of black Barbie in her wheelchair with the pink ramp in the background
There’s a new Barbie in town (Picture: Getty/Mattel)

2019 has been an important year for Barbie.

At a time where people are pressuring big brands to be more inclusive, Mattel – which has previously been heavily criticised for its limited offering – has decided to expand its popular doll range.

Earlier this year, the brand launched its first-ever Barbie in a wheel-chair and with a prosthetic leg, and now designers have taken things a step further by creating a black Barbie with natural hair in a wheelchair, so that no girls or women feel excluded.

Other past additions include a hijab-wearing Barbie, as well as a range of differently shaped dolls to reflect real body types (and move away from the brand’s original Barbie who sports an impossibly thin waist and humongous breasts).

Black Barbie in her wheelchair
It’s the first-ever black Barbie in a wheelchair offered by Mattel (Picture: Mattel)

The new product has just been released in the US and people are raving about it on Twitter.

‘She’s black, she’s using an awesome wheelchair, and the hair is on point,’ one person wrote.

‘Welcome to this new Barbie, who will represent so many beautiful girls! This is amazing.’

Mattel originally released a Barbie in a wheelchair (she was white) in the 90s, but later discontinued the product because the doll didn’t fit in her doll house.

Understandably, one person asked whether this issue had now been resolved.

‘Does she fit through the doors in barbie’s playhouse?,’ one woman tweeted.

‘Because the last time they made a wheelchair it didn’t.

‘Instead of modifying the playhouse… they stopped making the doll.’

Mattel's new black Barbie doll leaving her house in her wheelchair by using the pink ramp
The new product comes with a pink ramp, so Barbie can get into her house (Picture: Mattel)
A close-up of Barbie, showing off her black hair and silver sunglasses
Many people praised Barbie’s hair (Picture: Mattel)

Thankfully, the new and improved item comes with its very own ramp, so Barbie doesn’t have to worry about getting into her house.

Her wheelchair is also as close to the real thing as possible.

Mattel worked with wheelchair experts at UCLA Mattel Children’s hospital to ensure the toy was ‘modeled after a real, rigid frame wheelchair’.

 ‘The product comes with a ramp to make the play as seamless as possible with current offerings, including the Dreamhouse,’ Mattel told Yahoo Lifestyle.

‘The wheelchair does not fit with every Barbie accessory currently, but will moving forward.’

What do you think?

MORE: What would Barbie look like if she really celebrated her 60th birthday?

MORE: Owning a Barbie in a wheelchair made me feel accepted

MORE: Owning a Barbie in a wheelchair made me feel accepted

Sleeping with a fan on might make you feel worse

fan for hot weather
Why you shouldn’t sleep with a fan on (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

When it’s unbearably hot in the summer, it’s tempting to stick as many fans as possible on full blast so you can bloody well get some sleep.

It’s too hot with the covers on. It’s still too hot with them off. So you’ll point every fan you can find at different section of your body in the hopes of snoozing.

But that might not be such a great idea.

Sleeping with a fan on full blast might help to cool you down, but it could also trigger some other issues that are just as annoying as sleeping in your own sweat.

The Sleep Advisor explains that while fans circulate air, they also circulate pollen and dust. If you struggle with allergies and hay fever, that’s a recipe for an itchy throat, streaming eyes, and a bunged up nose.

‘Take a close look at your fan,’ they say. ‘If it’s been collecting dust on the blades, those particles are flying through the air every time you turn it on.’

Then there’s the impact on your skin. That constant blast of cool air on your skin may feel refreshing, but it can also strip your skin of moisture. That’s problematic if you have a tendency for oily skin – when the skin is too dry it will overproduce sebum, which will mix with dirt and sweat to cause irritation and pimples. Oh dear.

The Sleep Advisor also points out that having the fan on all night could even leave you with aches and pains in the morning, as the cool air causes your muscles to tense up and cramp.

man sleeping in bed with a fan on the windowsill
It’s going to be a hot one (Picture: Getty)

If you’ve got fans pointed at your head all night, prepare for a sore neck in the morning.

Don’t rush to banish your fans, though, as they do pose some positives.

First off, if fans are the only way you can get to sleep, that’s not to be sniffed at. You might also find that your hay fever and allergies aren’t bothered by the circulated air – it really depends on your sensitivities.

You can combat dryness with an extra load of moisturiser before bed, and make sure to stay super hydrated throughout the day – that’ll help with any blocked sinuses, too.

Fans aren’t universally evil, and whether or not you should use them at night really does depend on how your body reacts. If you feel great in the morning, keep doing what you’re doing. But if you’re dry, scaly, and sniffly when you wake up, your fans might be to blame.

If that’s the case, there are some other ways to keep cool at night in the summer.

Try popping your sheets in the freezer for a few minutes before bed, fill a hot water bottle with icy slush, or keep a cold water dipped flannel close by to press on your pulse points.

Oh, and sleep naked. That’s an easy fix.

MORE: Let’s stop pretending to actually enjoy the hot weather

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You can do yoga with reindeer at a ranch in Alaska

Running Reindeer Ranch Reindeer yoga
Ever fancied doing yoga with reindeer? (Picture: The Running Reindeer Ranch)

Ever been in a yoga class and thought: ‘yeah, this is fun, but I do wish there were more reindeer here’?

No, us neither. But someone, somewhere must have had this fleeting thought, as there’s now a place where you can do yoga with a load of reindeer.

Perfect for anyone who just doesn’t fancy yoga with dogs, cats, or miniature pigs.

Us UK-based vinyasa fans will need to make a bit of a trek to try reindeer yoga for ourselves, as the only place currently offering the option is the Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The ranch is offering hour-long reindeer yoga sessions throughout the summer.

Picture: Running Reindeer Ranch Reindeer yoga
The Running Reindeer Ranch lets you do your stretches as reindeer roam and graze (Picture: The Running Reindeer Ranch)

Each class begins with a safety talk so no one does anything silly (trying to do yoga while sitting atop a reindeer if not a good idea, for example), followed by an hour of hatha or vinyasa yoga surrounded by baby and adult reindeer.

The reindeer won’t be super involved, to be clear. They don’t have to do the yoga poses themselves, and are free to roam and graze as they please.

 Running Reindeer Ranch Reindeer yoga
Some of the reindeer might get involved (Picture: The Running Reindeer Ranch)
Running Reindeer Ranch Reindeer yoga
This one’s nailing a stretch (Picture: The Running Reindeer Ranch)

But anyone who fancies giving the reindeer a stroke or nuzzling their nose is welcome to. The instructor may also involve the reindeer in ways other than them just being a cool view, asking guests to tune in to the sound the reindeer are making or socialise with them.

If you’re not keen on yoga but do fancy hanging out with reindeer, you could always opt for the ranch’s reindeer walks instead.

As the name probably gives away, these involve going for a stroll through the forest with tame reindeer. Sounds very cute.

And if you like the sound of yoga but not reindeer, you can take your pick from, well, literally any other yoga class out there. There are quite a few without a reindeer in sight.

MORE: Six yoga poses that can help to relieve period pain

MORE: How learning laughter yoga changed my life

Beyond pad thai – How to eat like a local in Bangkok

Bangkok Chinatown by Night Photo Credit: EatCookExplore.com
Bangkok Chinatown by night (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

First timers in Bangkok can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer choices of places to eat, unfamiliar dishes and Thai only signs.

The best way to navigate this is to be guided by a local.

Saiphin Moore of Rosa’s Thai Cafe took us around some of her favourite Bangkok eateries, telling us: you have to eat street food! It’s a must, especially at the night markets. This is when Bangkok comes alive.’

And so we began with a street food safari in Yaorawat, Bangkok’s bustling Chinatown. Have pad thai if you must but there are so many more dishes to discover.

Rolled noodles

Kuay Jab Nay Lek , 362 Yaowarat Rd, Khwaeng Chakkrawat, Bangkok

Thai Rolled Noodles Photo Credit: EatCookExplore.com
Thai rolled noodles (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

Possibly the best Thai noodles you’ve never heard of. These are unusual rice noodles that are like long rolled macaroni. Order them in soup or dry and take your pick of toppings including tripe, intestine, kidneys and meatballs, all served in a peppery clear bone broth.

For maximum impact, you have to add all the other condiments on the table – sugar, chilli flakes, vinegar. This Michelin rated stall is very popular with locals, so be prepared to queue.

Tom yum soup

Tom Yum Soup Photo Credit: EatCookExplore.com
Tom yum soup (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

Tom Yum is a hot and sour, layered with flavours of lemongrass, kafir lime leaves and fish sauce. In Bangkok, you’ll find the southern version with coconut milk. Try tom yum prawn or with some noodles.

Som tam papaya salad

Thai Papaya Salad Photo Credit: EatCookExplore.com
Thai papaya salad (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

This hot, sour and spicy papaya salad is everywhere in Bangkok.

Made with shredded green papaya, dried shrimp, chillis, lime, tomatoes, fish sauce and lime juice and usually served with sticky rice, look out for the rare ones that add pickled baby crabs.

Deep fried flowers

Never Ending Summer, 41/5 Charoen Nakhon Rd, Khwaeng Khlong San, Bangkok.

Deep Fried Flowers at Never Ending Summer Photo Credit: EatCookExplore.com;
Deep fried flowers at Never Ending Summer (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

Deep fried flowers are found in many Thai dishes. Today it’s harder to find as foraging is rare. Here, they serve a variety of colourful blooms in a crispy tempura light coating with a dipping sauce.

Boat noodles


These noodles got their name from being sold from boats on floating markets. They are rice noodles in a soup, served with pork and beef and meatballs.

The soup is enriched with nam tok, usually from pigs’ of cows’ blood, and is usually garnished with herbs, bean sprouts, garlic, chilli flakes and pork crackling and basil.

Khanom jaen fermented noodles



Another unusual noodle dish with many regional variations.

Fermented rice noodles are served with a spicy fish-based broth or a peanut sauce. You top each dish with a boiled egg, salted mustard greens, bean sprouts and fresh herbs. Add the soup and of course, don’t forget the condiments: chilli flakes, chilli paste and sugar. Full of fresh flavours and umami. This will be your new favourite once you’ve had it once.

Grilled squid

Grilled Squid Bangkok Street Food Photo Credit:EatCookExplore.com
Grilled squid Bangkok street food (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

You will smell these barbecued squids before you see them. These stalls are dotted along the main street and the squids are grilled to order. When ready, they’re chopped into bite-sized pieces and drenched in a hot and spicy dipping sauce.

Crab dip

Sri Trat, 90 Sukhumvit 33 Alley, Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Bangkok

Crab Dip Sri Trat Photo Credit: EatCookExplore.com
Crab pip sri trat (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

Sri Trat is one of the new wave of Thai restaurants, featuring the cuisine of the South East of Thailand. Elevating home cooking using authentic Thai recipes.

The crab dip they serve here is iconic. It is a pot full of herbal coconut herbal sauce made with lump crab meat and crab roe, served with a basket of fresh herbs and vegetables like baby aubergines and four angled beans for dipping.

Betel leaf wrapped deep fried Ruby fish with tamarind sauce

Sri Trat

Fried Ruby Fish Sri Trat Photo Credit: EatCookExplore.com
Fried ruby fish Sri Trat (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

A variation of the popular snack Miang Kham, usually filled with dried shrimps, peanut, coconut, ginger, lime and chillis. This reinvented dish uses pieces of fried Ruby fish as the main ingredient which is wrapped with all the other condiments above and drenched in a tamarind sauce.

The combined textures and flavours create the most delicious morsel.

Roast duck rice

Prachak Roast Duck, 1415 Charoen Krung Rd, Bangkok

Roast Duck Rice Bangkok Photo Creidt: EatCookExplore.com;
Roast duck rice (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

A popular Thai Chinese dish, five spice roasted duck on rice is a one plate meal. You will find this at most food courts but no-frills Prachak is reputed to the best. They’ve been around for over 100 years.

Thai crispy pancakes (Kanom Buang)

Crispy Thai Pancakes Bangkok Photo Credit: EatCookExplore.com;
Crispy Thai pancakes (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

They look like tacos but are sweet pancakes, usually found on street food stalls. They are usually topped with egg yolk threads.

Mango and sticky rice

Boon Sap Dessert, 1478 Charoen Krung Rd, Khwaeng Bang Rak, Bangkok

Mango Sticky Rice Photo Credit: EatCookExplore.com;
Mango sticky rice (Picture: EatCookExplore.com)

Thai mangos are sweet and perfumed and when in season, you will find this dessert everywhere. Sliced and served with sweet sticky rice and drizzled with thick coconut milk.

How to get there and where to stay:

Getting to Bangkok

Flights to Bangkok with Thai Airways start from £505. There are two daily flights from London Heathrow. Take a taxi or train into central Bangkok.

Where to stay

The Hua Chang Heritage Hotel is a contemporary hotel located minutes away from the Siam Square, MBK shopping mall, canal boat and Sky Train station. Prices from £70 a night.

We tried affordable swimwear for women with big breasts and here’s our verdict

Four models in swimwear including a woman in a pink crinkle swimsuit, a woman in a black lingerie-style swimsuit with sheer lace panels, a woman in a strapless bikini top and a woman in a fitted blue dotted bikini as well as a large floppy hat
You no longer need to choose between style and affordability (Picture: Getty/ ASOS/ Bluebella/ Pour Moi/ Boux Avenue)

If you have breasts that go over a D cup, you likely know the struggle of shopping for clothes that fit properly across your chest.

To make matters worse, the items that usually do fit well can be very expensive, especially when it comes to lingerie and swimwear.

Many high street brands are yet to offer more inclusive styles for women with bigger breasts, but on online retailers are rapidly expanding their lines to suit different body types that are both affordable and stylish.

But what about the fit? We tried four different swimwear options to find out.

Blubella More Ionian Swimsuit, £46

Blonde woman wearing a black swimsuit with sheer lace panels
‘It’s beautiful, but the middle section just isn’t long enough’ (Picture: Bluebella)

I love the design of this Bluebella swimsuit – the intricate sheer lace detailing makes it look less like swimwear and more like a sexy bodysuit.

Had I been able to wear it to the beach or pool, it would have definitely garnered some attention.

However, sadly I was left sorely disappointed by the fit and wasn’t able to take it for a test swim.

The bottom half fit perfectly and was very flattering, but the middle section just isn’t long enough – both of the were too far down on my body, making my boobs look saggy.

It comes with adjustable straps, but this made no difference.

Admittedly I have a long upper body, so perhaps it would work better on someone with a shorter one?

Available from 30DD to 38G (some sizes are sold out).

Pour Moi Mini Maxi Bikini, £38

Brunette model in blue dotted bikini with a floppy hat
‘The best way to describe this bikini would be pretty, but solid’ (Picture: Pour Moi)

The main thing I love about the Pour Moi bikini is that it is very jazzy; the colours are really bright and the print is lovely.

It’s very different to the type of thing I would usually pick (high-waisted black bottoms and a plain top, which if I move too much, I will pop out of).

There was certainly no chance of my boobs making a bid for freedom in this bikini top as it came up a little bit high.

This could be a great fit for women who are in need of a bit more coverage or who want to jump off the side of a cliff without exposing themselves, but as the most activity I will be doing on holiday is eating copious amounts of pasta, it’s not a top I think I will be wearing much.

The bottoms, on the other hand, were delightful – and there is a high rise style for women who prefer that.

The best way to describe this bikini would be pretty, but solid.

Available from 32D to 42G.

Boux Avenue Sierra bikini, £36

Model wearing leopard print bikini
‘I tried it on and not only was it super light, but it was genuinely supportive and flattering’ (Picture: Boux Avenue)

I’m used to ordering in size 16 and above because of my large boobs, as I’ve never really had the money to spend on a luxury, high-end bikini before.

My eye roll was probably audible when I got asked to try a new bikini made for busty women – believe me, I’ve heard it all before. It’s like when you get something ‘spicy’ at the supermarket when it’s mild AF.

This leopard bikini from Boux Avenue was such a relief, I tell you.

I tried it on and not only was it super light, but it was genuinely supportive and flattering. How can it be all of those things at once?

I’m desperate to try it after having had a swim on a beach and see just how light it is. Just waiting for someone to send me on holiday to try it out.

Available in 32B to 36F (some sizes are sold out).

ASOS Design swimsuit, £26

Model wearing neon pink crinkle swimsuit
‘The neon pink colour is to-die-for’ (Picture: ASOS)

I’m in love.

I’d been looking for a pink crinkle swimsuit for ages when I stumbled upon this version from ASOS, but as it’s only offered in ‘one size’, I was concerned that it would be too small or that my breasts would spill out the side (like they usually do in swimsuits).

The material is remarkable; not only does it form around your body but it also keeps everything in place.

Plus, the neon pink colour is to-die-for.

Sadly this shade is now sold out, but there is a similar style in pastel orange that I’ve got my eye on, too.

I’m going to live in this swimsuit during summer.

Available in one size (sold out).

MORE: Seven Insta-worthy and affordable swimwear pieces for summer

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MORE: Matalan is selling matching swimwear for the whole family

Why you should sleep naked

Illustration of two people lying in a bed together
(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

Unless you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning at home, you’re going to feel the heat tonight.

The UK heatwave will continue well into the evening, with temperatures set to remain above 17C throughout the night.

As you’re attempting to fall asleep in sweltering temperatures, your first instinct might be to whack the fan out. But beware, as sleeping with a fan might make you feel worse.

The better option might be the most obvious one: to take your clothes off – and wearing your birthday suit has significant benefits beyond just cooling you down.

It could help with skin problems

If you suffer from eczema or other skin problems, sleeping in the nude could potentially improve your condition.

Furthermore, it can also keep your skin moisturised and hydrated.

It could prevent yeast infections

It’s good to let your vagina breathe sometimes.

According to WebMD, 75% of women will at some point get a yeast infection – and some experts claim that going nude at night could help prevent them.

If you’d rather keep your knickers on, go for breathable fabrics like cotton.

You could fall asleep quicker – and get a better quality of sleep

Sleeping in the buff cools down your body temperature, which in turn gives signals to your body clock that it’s nap time.

Alternatively, if you’d rather not get your kit off, you can also purchase cooling pyjamas or bed sheets.

What’s more, by cooling down your body temperature, you’re improving odds of having a good night’s sleep and not waking up throughout the night.

It can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety

So, you’re naked, passed out and the quality of sleep is improved.

These combined factors offer yet another benefit.

Healthy sleep patterns can improve mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Avoid getting a fungal skin infection

Not only could a night without sleepwear assist with eczema concerns, but it also reduces chances of getting a fungal skin infection.

Candida yeast cells thrive in moist environments, such as armpits, so hot weather conditions where you’re more likely to sweat will make it easier for them to develop into an infection.

You could improve your sperm production

When you’re overheated you don’t sleep as well and testosterone levels reduce as a result.

If you’d rather not be naked, swapping to loose boxers is another option to help boost sperm production.

You burn more calories

It might sound odd, given you’re not doing anything, but with the right body temperature you could burn calories in your sleep.

During the night, your body releases the human growth hormone which repairs cells. But if it’s too hot, you could experience a rise in stress hormone (cortisol) instead.

When the body temperature is cooler, it burns fat, rather than storing it.

It could benefit your relationship

Aside from the fact that being naked together could lead to you having sex – which in itself is good for your health – this isn’t the only reason it’s good to go nude with a partner.

When you sleep or cuddle skin to skin, your body releases the happy hormone known as oxytocin. According to a survey by Cotton USA, 58% of the participants who slept naked were happy in their relationships, compared to those in pyjamas (48%), nightgowns (43%) and onesies (38%).

However, there are always two sides to a coin; for some people, being naked can increase feelings of anxiety, which in turn can lead to poor sleep.

While sleeping naked does definitely have substantial benefits, it’s not for everyone – and that’s perfectly OK.

Do whatever works best for you.

MORE: Sleeping with a fan on might make you feel worse

MORE: Let’s stop pretending to actually enjoy the hot weather

MORE: Science says there are six types of sleeper, not just night owls and morning larks

Can you overdose on hay fever tablets and how many should you take per day?

pills on a background
There’s always a risk with any medication (Picture: Getty)

With the weather like it is, we all want to go outside and enjoy the sun. For hay fever sufferers, though, it’s not that easy.

The high pollen season is well underway now – running between around March and August – and recently the count has been extra high.

Those with hay fever and asthma were warned by the Met Office to take precautions when out and about – for many people, that means taking antihistamines.

These little tablets help to ease the symptoms of allergies – such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, or sneezing.

Although they’re extremely helpful, you still need to mindful when taking medication.

woman sneezing into tissue
Don’t let this be you (Picture: Getty)

Antihistamines – how many can you take?

There are two main types:

  • The older kind – such as chlorphenamine, hydroxyzine and promethazine – which can make you feel dizzy.
  • The newer kind – such as cetirizine, loratadine and fexofenadine – which are non-drowsy.

The side effects of each of these will differ, with the older kind you should avoid using heavy machinery as they can affect co-ordination and judgement, as well as giving you blurred vision. The newer kind can give you a headache, a dry mouth, or make you feel sick.

You should always check the packet of any medication to see the dose you should have. For example, for one-day-type medication (surprise, surprise) it will be one a day. For other over-the-counter types the maximum will be three tablets per day.

The maximum amount for you to take will also depend on your age and size, and whether you’re taking any medications.

If you take more than the recommended amount, it is possible to overdose. In serious cases this could cause tremors, palpitations, seizures, and hallucinations.

Just because it’s over the counter, doesn’t mean there’s no risk.

If you think you’ve taken too many hayfever tablets, or are concerned about mixing them with your current medication, please seek medical attention, even if you feel fine.

Overdose symptoms may be delayed, and it’s better to get the advice of a professional.

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My Odd Job: Google Doodles may only last a day but they take months to create


Google Doodles are the entertaining, educational and sometimes spontaneous changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate events, anniversaries and human achievements.

We gather annually to decide which events will be celebrated with a Doodle and our inspiration comes from numerous sources, including Google users from around the world.

Overall, we want to celebrate a diverse mix of topics that reflect Google’s personality, teach people something new and, most importantly, are meaningful.

I am always blown away by the feedback the work receives on social media.

A school teacher once said that they started the day by showing a Doodle to their class, encouraging them to celebrate the featured cultural moment. Surprisingly, other feedback includes people raving about our more random creations, such as when we featured the falafel or the vacuum.

There is a team of illustrators (we call them Doodlers) and engineers behind each and every image you see.

My Odd Job - Google Doodler/ Matt Cruikshank
I love the idea of people discovering something positive that combines technology with a personal artistic touch (Picture: Jerry Syder/Metro.co.uk)

Doodles greatly vary in how long it takes to create them. A static illustration can be finalised in as little as a week, but a GIF will take around two or three weeks.

Even longer are interactive ones, which are powered by VR and AI, or are gamified. Anyone of these can take months to complete.

A recent example was the one we did for Georges Méliès, a trailblazing French illusionist and film director. It was the first time we had worked to create something interactive with VR 360°.

He was a pioneer of revolutionary filmmaking techniques and the VR team wanted to show that we also can do something revolutionary. The team tried to imagine what Méliès would do with that technology today.

My favourite part of the job is doing deep-dives into the various topics for research. What I look at varies based on the subject, but for example, if it were a well-known writer or poet I would read various books, essays and texts on them to try and understand exactly who I am trying to capture.

My Odd Job - Google Doodler/ Matt Cruikshank
I jump at any opportunity to make an illustration move, as it takes me back to creating flip books as a child (Picture: Jerry Syder/Metro.co.uk)

With writers especially, I don’t want to have to resort to a picture of them sitting at a desk, so reading their life’s work helps with ideas.

A Doodle that really captured my interest was the celebration of marine biologist and conservationist, Rachel Louise Carson’s 107th birthday. The final illustration was inspired by a quote from her book, Silent Spring, ‘In nature, nothing exists alone.’

But aside from that, there are a few creations that really stand out, my absolute favourite being the Doodle for the 100th Tour de France. The image came to me of using the two o’s in ‘Google’ as the wheels and I was inspired by the early 20th-century tour posters and images of cyclist with moustaches.

It was a moving graphic – I jump at any opportunity to make an illustration move, as it takes me back to creating flip books as a child – so it recognised the heritage of the Tour de France while pointing to the future.

The Doctor Who theme was definitely the most unusual. It started life as a request from a huge fan at Google. The idea seemed daunting – 11 Doctors, 50 years of adventures, countless enemies and time travel, all condensed into one Doodle.

But we loved the idea of science fiction, technology, learning and fun coming together, so we set about creating a multiple level game, which gave people the opportunity to control the much-loved characters.

Google values our work for a number of reasons. We are always looking to educate and entertain the people who visit Search and we are also keen to celebrate a variety of human achievements.

Personally, I love the idea of people discovering something positive that combines technology with a personal artistic touch.

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.

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You Don’t Look Sick: ‘Don’t tell me my mental health condition is just attention seeking’


‘You don’t look sick’ – it’s a phrase that people with invisible illnesses and disabilities hear all the time because people can’t see their condition.

It’s also the name of our weekly series. Every week, we speak to someone with a hidden condition about the symptoms they live with, the support they have and the judgement they face when they are out and about because they look healthy.

Robyn Moore, 43, from Hampshire, has post-traumatic stress disorder – an anxiety disorder caused by experiencing very difficult events.

Those with the condition often experience nightmares, flashbacks and physical symptoms like pain, sweating, feeling sick or trembling.

Robyn was diagnosed with the condition in 2016 but it was triggered by a sexual assault some years before.

She suffered from flashbacks, started to withdraw from life and struggled to cope with her symptoms.

Robyn Moore who has post traumatic stress disorder
Robyn Moore has PTSD (Picture: Brooks Kraft/Apple)

Because her condition is a mental illness, she says people don’t always understand how much of an impact it has – and that made it harder to get help.

‘I’ve been told that I am an attention seeker and have been asked several times “why is she always crying and withdrawn?”‘she says.

‘It made me feel very uncomfortable and I felt like I had to keep everything to myself and bottle up my emotions.

‘Just because there are scars that are not visibly seen, does not mean that they are not there.

‘Stigma stopped me from finding help for many, many years but therapy, talking, tenderness and playing tennis changed all of that.’

The immigration officer was diagnosed in 2016 as friends and family were worried about her mental health and supported her with getting help.

She had symptoms for many years, following the traumatic assault, but was too ashamed to talk about them and by keeping them bottled up, she found that they got worse.

She says: ‘Ultimately, I was too ashamed to talk about my symptoms or what had happened to me, and by not doing so I began to experience flashbacks, became withdrawn, alone and just wanted to give up.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder which you may develop after being involved in, or witnessing, traumatic events.

The condition was first recognised in war veterans and has been known by a variety of names, such as ‘shell shock’.

But it’s not only diagnosed in soldiers – a wide range of traumatic experiences can cause PTSD.

Symptoms include:

Reliving aspects of what happened

Alertness or feeling on edge

Avoiding feelings or memories

Difficult beliefs or feelings


‘For a long time I didn’t want to deal it and I became very isolated. When I started to experience flashbacks, I became very down.

‘Sadly my condition became worse and during 2016, I became very unwell and was unable to work for some time.

‘I had battled so hard with my own mind for so many years, that in the end it could not cope.

‘I realised then that having someone help you doesn’t mean you have failed, it just means you are not alone anymore.’

With the support of family and friends, she started seeing a psychologist every week, who has been working with her ever since.

She says talking through her feelings has been an incredible help but Robyn has also rediscovered a love for tennis – something that she says has saved her.

Robyn with Wimbledon Doubles Champion Jonny Murray
Robyn with Wimbledon Doubles Champion Jonny Murray (Picture: Robyn Moore)

She says: ‘I have worked very hard to keep going and find ways to cope. For me, tennis saved my life.

‘In 2016 I started watching a summer of tennis, and my passion for the sport returned.

‘As a young girl, I was fairly good – I was school champion – but I had not stepped on a court for years.

‘I was inspired by strong female players like Jo Konta. I purchased a ball machine (and called him Roger!) and I spent hours on court just hitting ball after ball.

‘I began to play matches, had coaching and really enjoyed learning and laughing whilst playing the sport.

‘Tennis helped steer me away from the constant battle in my head and more importantly, I realised that I did not feel so alone anymore.

Robyn Moore hits balls at the Hurlingham Club in London
Playing tennis has helped Robyn cope with her PTSD (Picture: Brooks Kraft/Apple)

‘At this point, I knew that so much more could be done to help people very much like myself.’

After developing her love for sport, Robyn set up the Breakpoint challenge in partnership with Bright Ideas for Tennis – a charity that supports people to get out and play tennis.

The idea of Breakpoint 2019 is that Robyn will hit 200,000 tennis shots in 30 days across 46 venues. She has played for eight to 10 hours per day for 30 consecutive days.

She’s counting the shots on the Swing app on Apple Watch, with the final shots being struck on the prestigious courts of the All England Community ground in Wimbledon today with Pat Cash.

Robyn has already raised almost £30,000 of her £100,000 target.

She says: ‘The challenge is designed to help raise awareness of mental illness, and to support a charity that would assist people to gain access to free tennis sessions, thus helping them overcome their own personal challenges.

‘Sadly there is still too much stigma attached to a mental health condition – particularly in adults – both young and old. I know…..because it has happened to me.

‘I am immensely proud of what I am trying to achieve. It is unique, terrifying, exciting. But this is not only a personal journey for me, but one that I know can help many.

‘I am extremely grateful to Bright Ideas for Tennis for believing in me and seeing that now is the time to help improve the quality of life for anyone with a mental health illness, disability or impairment.

‘In my case it is tennis and a fuzzy yellow ball that helped save my life, but it does not need to stop there. All it takes is one smile, one laugh, one hand on your shoulder and one thumbs up.’

Robyn hopes that on her journey around the UK, she can raise awareness of PTSD and other invisible illnesses and get people talking about them.

She says: ‘I am hoping that by sharing my story and raising awareness with the Bright Ideas for Tennis charity that I am able to encourage others to not feel so alone and seek the support and help they need.

‘I have met some wonderful people in my journey and I appreciate how difficult it can be, but getting outside, being active and through something like tennis you can feel less isolated which helped me and I know can help others.’

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.

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How to grow plants when you don’t have any outdoor space

A windowbox
A windowbox is your friend (Picture: Getty)

If you don’t have any outside space, you can still grow a few things.

Of course, there’s always house plants but if you want to grow plants that need to be outdoors, think about window boxes and hanging baskets.

It can be a bit daunting to think about what is suitable.

Freddie Blackett, Co-Founder of plant delivery service Patch, has some tips: ‘First, always consider the natural environment that your space most closely matches, as all plants are at home in different conditions.

‘Some will prefer lots of sunlight, whereas others like shady spots, for example. Some won’t put up with windy conditions too well whereas others will be in their element. Choosing plants that suit your space means they’re more likely to thrive.

‘Remember that outdoor plants often experience more seasonal changes than their indoor counterparts, such as by only flowering for a couple of months each year or dropping their leaves over winter. This could affect whether you want to choose them for your space.’

Annuals are plants that grow from seed, flower, go to seed and die within the space of a year. Once they’ve died, you’ll need to replace them.

Biennials are plants that complete their life cycle over two years. In the first, they’ll usually just grow leaves. In the second year they’ll also produce flowers and seeds, after which they will die, and need replacing.

Perennial plants put out flowers and seeds year after year, although they have different lifespans. Some will last for a few years, others will pop up again and again for decades.

Evergreen plants will keep their leaves green all year round. Some may look the same all year, whereas others may flower.

A hanging basket
A hanging basket doesn’t need to be in a garden (Picture: Getty)

Freddie explains: ‘In urban gardens where space is often in limited supply, you probably want to make the most of it, making it really beautiful, rather than one that looks rubbish for months at a time.

‘Evergreen plants will look lively year-round, but rarely offer much by way of colour or flowers. Seasonals can provide this, but also need to be replaced from time to time.

‘Annuals look great for a season or two but then need replacing. Most spaces look best with a little bit of everything – some reliable evergreens to provide structure and interest all year, some seasonal and perennial plants to enjoy when they are at their best and annuals for a little shake-up every year.’

It’s not just about the plant – you need to think about the container too.

It needs to have drainage so make sure there are some holes at the bottom to allow water to escape. If your pot doesn’t have them, you need to drill some.

If the container is heavy, it might not be right to use it high up. Combined with the plants, soil and water it can be too much for a balcony or windowsill. It does need to be heavy enough so it doesn’t fall over if it’s a little windy.

Freddie adds: ‘Certain container materials, such as unglazed terracotta, are porous. This allows more airflow around the plant’s root system, but also means the soil dries out more quickly as the pot absorbs some of the moisture.

A hanging basket
But don’t forget to water them (Picture: Getty)

‘As a result, check the soil more regularly in these pots as you may need to water them more frequently. Frost can be the end of outdoor containers if you’re not careful; if you plan to leave your container outside all year it’s best to go for something frost-proof like plastic and metal that won’t crack when temperatures drop.’

Once you’ve chosen one, you need to plant it properly and give it the right attention.

Containers need more attention when it comes to watering. Avoid root rot by planting in containers with holes and on hot or windy days, check your plants’ soil to make sure they haven’t dried out.

A benefit of container planting is that you can put any potting soil you want into your containers rather than dealing with the particular soil mix that you’ve inherited in your garden. While most plants will be fine with a standard multipurpose compost, it’s important to check if your plant prefers acid or alkaline soil.

If you’re putting more than one plant in a container, it’s important to make sure they like the same conditions: keep shade-loving plants together and in a different pot to sun-lovers, for instance, and those that prefer drier soil in a separate camp to those who like things moist.

Freddie explains: ‘Planting up a container is pretty simple. Once you’ve made sure your container already has drainage holes, add a layer of drainage material to the bottom. Crocks (broken bits of terracotta pots), gravel or even chunks of polystyrene work well.

‘Fill soil to a level that will lift the root ball of the plant so that its top sits just below the lip of the container.

‘You can add some moisture retaining crystals at this point – you can find out more about these in our watering section.we’ll let you know a bit more about these in a later lesson.

‘Next remove your plants from their plastic nursery pots, loosen the roots a little, and pop them into the soil. Fill in the soil around the plants and water them into place, and you’re good to go.’

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Billie’s body hair razor advert isn’t contradictory – it’s a reminder women have a choice

Ad campaign showing female pubic hair
Since 1915, women’s razor brands have treated body hair as an imaginary concept (Picture: Billie)

In 1915, Gillette released the Milady Decollete, ‘the first razor designed and marketed specifically for women’. Over 100 years later, the desire for smooth legs, manicured bikini lines, and polished underarms still plagues women around the world.

But this week something wonderful happened. Billie, the ‘female-first razor brand’ released its latest campaign, Red, White, and You Do You. A concept that attempts to tie together the commemoration of America’s independence from the British monarchy to women’s liberation. It’s a little unimaginative and lacks any nuance, but ultimately it is a message begging to be shared.

Since 1915, women’s razor brands have treated body hair as an imaginary concept. Turn on the television and you’ll see swathes of beautiful sun-kissed women, laying by the pool, shaving their already hairless legs like hapless fools unaware of the perils of razor burn.

Last year, Billie released their Project Body Hair campaign, becoming the first ever brand to show female body hair in a razor ad. Photographed by Ashley Armitage, the campaign luxuriated in bushy armpits, snail trails, and hairy toes, and people were infuriated.

‘There were super vile and toxic comments (mostly from men) saying: “I’d rather die than watch a girl run a comb through her armpit hair again”, and the worst, “WTF is this… you come over here with armpit hair I’m fuckin’ punchin’ you in the pussy”.’ Armitage told Dazed last year.

That didn’t deter Billie, who returned emboldened by the backlash putting women’s pubic hair front and centre. Some were confused why a razor company would even show hair, as though that somehow ruined their bottom line while others, like myself breathed a sigh of relief.

There are a few things my Fijian-Indian descent has gifted me with: a crooked nose, a penchant for tropical fruit, and lashings of thick, wiry hair from the very top of my head to the tips of my toes. The first time I ever took a razor to my skin, I was only 11 years old.

My brown arms began to sprout thick black hair, my face featured the beginnings of what a boy at my school liked to call ‘sideburns’, and the space that once separated my eyebrows began to fade. My parents didn’t want me to remove my hair, not until I was old enough to anyway, so instead, I stole my father’s razors, beginning a lifelong conflict between us over his prized silver Schick.

Ad campaign showing female pubic hair
Feminism, rebellion, and preferences all have one common thread – freedom of choice (Picture: Sofia Bouzidi/ Billie)

And as I’ve gotten older, this inner conflict between feminism, perceived beauty standards, and my own desire to be hairless has evolved. Celebrities like Halsey and Bella Thorne proudly flaunt their armpit hair as a show of rebellion but my body hair looks different. It isn’t delicate, whispy or unnoticeable, it is dark and intentional, unmistakable to any passing stranger.

But for women like me, for those who wax, shave, epilate, and tweeze, these small gestures from companies like Billie represent something more personal: self-acceptance. Women’s body hair is rarely spoken about as a personal issue but always framed through the lens of men’s desires and feminist rebellions.

On Black and brown bodies, body hair is seen as unhygienic and unprofessional. On trans women, body hair can lead to misgendering, violence and gender dysphoria. On fat women, body hair can mean being made to feel invisible. For many, removing body hair means protecting themselves from the harsh realities of the world.

While one razor brand isn’t capable of changing over 100 years of entrenched ideas around women’s body hair, it does signal the advent of change.

‘My boyfriend told me he liked my pubic hair,’ a friend once confessed to me. She thought he was lying for her own benefit. For her, waxing and shaving her delicate areas started to have physical ramifications. From razor burn, irritated skin, and all-out physical pain, in some ways, her body began its own resistance against the removal process.

This isn’t an uncommon story. Many women I’ve spoken to in my professional quest to demystify body hair have told me that acceptance from their partners led to some solace, even as they’re embarrassed to admit it. Always surprised, often suspicious yet consistently relieved, many women will torture themselves over their partner’s pubic preferences, coloured by the images force-fed to us by commercials, the media, and porn.

In 2019, we’re reminded of our autonomy on a daily basis. Billie may be selling a product that removes body hair featuring women with full bushes, peaking out the corners of their underwear, a contradiction that is frustrating until you realise that it’s a reminder of duality.

Feminism, rebellion, and preferences all have one common thread – freedom of choice. So if anything, this is a reminder that women can oscillate between hairy and hairless however and whenever they choose to. Isn’t it time that we did?

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I needed mental health support but eight therapists rejected me for being blind

Ashley Cox
I eventually found a therapist. She was kind, caring, trustworthy and smart (Picture: Ashley Cox)

Nearly six years ago I began having profound thoughts of suicide and it was, by far, the most frightening thing I’d ever experienced.

Though so much time has passed, I can still vividly remember how I felt at the prospect of ending my own life.

Thankfully, through determination, will, courage and support, I have been able to rise from those darkest of times and proceed along a journey to recovery.

But my experience taught me that the disabled community is at a disadvantage when trying to access mental health services. This is despite the fact having a disability means you are more likely to need this kind of support.

I have a genetic condition called LCA (Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis). LCA renders me totally blind in both eyes, with no perception of light or dark, no shapes, shadows or colour – nothing. But aside from this, I am a perfectly normal person.

When I looked into the lack of mental health support further, I was unable to find any specific research into why this is.

According to a British Medical Journal survey, long wait times for healthcare is the biggest obstacle faced by one in four people living with a severe disability.

For me, the experience differed slightly. When visiting my NHS GP I struggled to convey exactly how I was feeling, and it appeared to me that I was seen to be faking it, despite showing obvious signs of distress and scoring high on a PHQ-9 test, a questionnaire designed to quickly assess the severity of depression.

Years later I began reaching out to private therapists. Having no idea where to start, I ventured into an online counselling directory and picked a profile at random. I repeated this process eight times, but each time was rejected.

In every case the rejection related to the disability. I didn’t mention it in my initial email or phone call. In most cases I would leave it until we were making arrangements to meet for a first consultation; in others, I would drop it casually into a phone conversation.

The reactions varied. Some were surprised, others angry at being misled, others became ambivalent.

Most were courteous enough to state their uncertainty in handling the disability as a reason, yet were unwilling to proceed anyway despite assurances that we could work together.

Some were patronising, downright rude, or suddenly had no space available, while one simply hung up without another word.

For me, things worked out OK. I eventually found a therapist. She was kind, caring, trustworthy and smart. A great listener, but honest and willing to challenge my point of view. Perceptive and inquisitive but never patronising.

We must find ways to educate and spread awareness in ways that showcase our ability rather than our inability, and stop using campaigns and press to highlight our differences as disabled people rather than our similarities as humans.

My therapist took my disability in her stride without batting an eyelid. Few could navigate a blind person up a wonky old staircase without a bruised shin or two on their first attempt, but she did so expertly like she’d done so a hundred times.

If anything, those other therapists did me a favour. But others in similar positions might not be so lucky.

I think about a few years prior when I first began looking for a therapist, but never found the courage to make contact. Though to do so may have hastened my recovery, I’m thankful that I didn’t as I’m in no doubt that to face such rejection at that time may well have been the final straw.

But I feel no animosity towards any of them. I do not intend to highlight their rejection in a negative way. It is my hope that by sharing my story, I can highlight the lack of awareness in society that is at the root of this issue.

The Equality Act states that healthcare providers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’, removing barriers disabled people face when accessing their services unless it’s unreasonable to do so.

Therefore, being given an inadequate consultation because of prejudice or lack of awareness surrounding your disability is direct discrimination under the Equality Act.

‘Disabled people should be able to have equal access to mental health professionals, whether they’re accessing care through the NHS or privately,’ Ceri Smith, policy and campaigns manager at disability equality charity Scope has said on the issue.

‘We need to ensure mental health practitioners are fully trained to support disabled patients, ensuring a fair and equal service is available to them at such a crucial time. This will have long term, beneficial effects for all concerned.’

I strongly believe that punitive action is to be avoided where possible, as it only serves to encourage ill feeling and hostility.

We must instead find ways to educate and spread awareness in ways that showcase our ability rather than our inability, and stop using campaigns and press to highlight our differences as disabled people rather than our similarities as humans.

Rather than being quick to punish misunderstanding, we must offer guidance to challenge misguidance.

Only then will we find true acceptance. And only then can we begin to tackle the issues we still face.

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