Why Snowflakes Are Dangerous

No, I don’t mean the fluffy stuff that falls during winter or that adorns a multitude of Christmas card scenes (although when they turn into ice flakes they can sting in minus temperatures, and impair your vision during a nor’easter). The contemporary meaning of a ‘snowflake’ or a ‘special snowflake’ is aimed primarily at the millennial generation who tend to think they are always right (usually with no evidence or a theory), struggle with criticism, and cannot accept when they are wrong or have made a mistake, and who have escalated levels of entitlement. However, snowflakes aren’t solely millennials as some are now seeing this kind of behavior as acceptable, and is spreading to all generations. This is dangerous, especially as millennials are now becoming parents to the next generation and encouraging this blinkered and narrow mindset of behaviors.

It’s dangerous too, as many are bosses, teachers, and who publish their views online and in print, and thus influence the masses, including those who are easily manipulated or ones that aren’t so bright. Slowly this kind of attitude has become acceptable, even though it is essentially a derogatory term, however you want to dress it up. The problem is many snowflakes don’t wish to listen, and it only takes one other to agree with them for them to assume they are right and everyone else is wrong. Often people choose not to engage with them, mainly because it’s a waste of breath and effort to try to rationally discuss things with people who can only see a single viewpoint, but the danger here is that with no one challenging them, again they presume they are correct.

I’ve stumbled across various snowflake outbursts and just ignore them, but recently I decided to challenge one because it was so ludicrous and it could have cost some unsuspecting innocent their job. On Facebook someone was having a rant about a beauty counter not giving her some foundation samples. The responses were mainly in the region of people encouraging the poster to complain. One even went so far as to say write to the area manager and call them to report them for refusing to give out samples! I decided it was time to step in—a few said it depended on the counter and if there were samples available or not, and others were all for getting the counter personnel in as much trouble they could muster. I simply and logically told them all that a free sample is given at the discretion of the staff member, therefore, just because you are there doesn’t mean you are entitled to receive a sample. What if there really were no samples, what if they were the wrong shade or for the wrong skin type? The danger is that that snowflakes encourage one another; my response got one like, and the post encouraging people to call the area manager to complain because a free sample was refused had over a dozen likes. I can tell you now the area manager would do something (rightly or wrongly as brand image is important) because it’s a power trip, even if the staff member was right in not handing out non-existent or incorrect samples. Companies hate complaints, and while some will ignore petty ones, while some will go overboard under the guise of a faux sense of power.

A snowflake may think they are entitled and that they are being lied to, and don’t think of the consequences. That staff member may get fired, warned, turned down for a promotion due to an exaggerated and unsubstantiated accusation. Is that right, reasonable, or fair? All I can do is shake my head at snowflakes, because the more people that agree with them (other snowflakes) then they will just carry on behaving in such a manner, thus they may influence the next generation of ultra snowflakes. I call upon all out there to challenge a snowflake when they are being basically a Prima Donna in order to save society. One can disagree on many topics (I accept many will hate Marmite as long as they accept not all vegetarians like zucchini) and still be civil, and that’s part of being a rational adult human being.

Too many vloggers, and Twitter stars, think they can get away with saying and doing anything, because they appeal to a certain sector of society. An apology is too late, but perhaps it stems from an inflated sense of ego and adulation due to the number of followers they have, or plain inexperience and naivety? Just because someone is popular doesn’t mean they are right, just as the most expensive face cream may not be the best in the world, or the most famous champagne the best tasting one on the market. The same goes for celebrities; they are free to express their beliefs and opinions, but it doesn’t mean that they are right, nor do some assume that they are. As accusations fly around social media accounts once a celebrity endorses or criticizes something, snowflakes need to get they were just expressing a viewpoint—something we all as humans are theoretically free to do. I have a feeling some snowflakes are going to get crushed into slush before they figure out life isn’t perfect, not everyone is going to agree with you, and that learning to accept you are wrong and criticism is called growing up and becoming and responsible member of society. I ignored snowflakes before, but I realize now by ignoring them they have mistaken that as others agreeing with them. Time to catch and save those delicate, and fragile snowflakes now before it’s too late.

How To End A Friendship Quickly…

Easy, claim you’re a Trump supporter (or if you are in the US say you voted for him) and people will think you are crazy, and end your friendship. This may also work if you have been trying to end a relationship, and didn’t know how. It seems to have worked as many friendships have indeed ended, and family rifts that never existed appeared in the last few months.

God Help The USA…I didn’t watch the inauguration of the latest US President—I make it habit to avoid watching mistakes if I can help it. It was like watching your best friend going back to her cheating mobster, criminal, and abusive husband after buying her off with a new house, and a promise to change things. You know it’s just talk, and you’ll end up picking up the pieces again, so it’s a case of waiting, and bracing yourself for the worst.

The Women’s Marches that occurred around the world in protest created more unity and support from the public, as far as Antarctica. Although I’m not a protester, I’m glad people are using their voice and are speaking from a need to unite rather than from fear. What concerns me (and they are in the minority) are the people who are misinformed and who spread hate among their fellow citizens. People may lose their healthcare with the repeal of the ACA, but the ones who cry this is a good thing can afford their own healthcare and are in good health—they don’t need it, but that doesn’t mean one day they won’t need affordable healthcare. Maybe then they will think beyond their selfish needs if they become unemployed, lose their jobs and home, or face bankruptcy and can no longer afford healthcare?

From time to time I scour Facebook for reactions, and it does appear that Trump supporters tend to write in capital letters (obviously unaware that you only use it for the first letter of a word!) and use the same phrases over and over—it’s like a cult. Trump has brainwashed a percentage of the population, and while the rest of the world can see it, many are in a state of denial. Who can save them? While Hillary Clinton maybe no saint, to call her criminal is ironic against a man who has several hundred pending court cases against him. Clinton has none, and as Secretary of State, her actions were protected as she was acting on behalf of the government and not as an individual. A friend of mine said last night that by not voting Clinton in, a World War was prevented, but they could provide no evidence of this. It was just an opinion based on misinformation. Quite the contrary, a World War is more of a threat with someone in charge who has no experience of governance and a basic understanding of politics.

Do people really believe (Trump’s campaign manager) Kellyann Conway’s phrase of alternative truths? In plain English, that is called a lie—when people delude themselves with what they choose to believe. If it’s not a fact it’s called an opinion and not a truth, and while we are all entitled to opinions, there are things that are factual. The problem is many people don’t wish to accept them. I hear people cry that Trump was democratically elected and to get over it, but was he? Was the election rigged, with the reports of hacking from multiple sources, how can one honestly say it was a democratic decision? Each time Conway opens her mouth, I have to stop myself laughing. I pity her in that she doesn’t see how stupid she looks, then she did look stupid in her outfit on inauguration day, where people have compared it to what the cartoon character Paddington Bear would wear.

Friendships have been strained, and I have a few friends who voted or who supported Trump, and I honestly don’t know how to speak to them. What people don’t understand is that what Trump represents (racism, and discrimination, among the most prominent issues) reflects their beliefs too. Two are immigrants; one is well off and another poor, and their only reasoning for supporting Trump is the classic phrase of crooked Hillary. Well, Trump has conned many more people, over decades, so I don’t know how they can’t see that. Many want and hope for change—the change they want is material as in more wealth, and that simply isn’t possible for everyone. I don’t know if the voters will admit they made a mistake or blame something else when it doesn’t happen, but I suspect the former.

I’m not in any hurry to return to the US, and I wonder how to broach the topic of who voted for whom when I greet family and friends. Meanwhile, as protesters march in unity, how much good will that do except to annoy Trump. Shouldn’t these people have come out and voted rather than stay at home, and I read somewhere someone said they voted for Bernie, again, all they did was reduce Clinton’s vote and gave Trump a hand. I remember voting Conservative (in the UK) not because I liked the candidate, but to keep Ed Miliband (Labour) out. It’s called tactical voting, something that either Americans don’t understand or know they can do. It’s a lesson many Americans won’t forget, and while some people say ‘give him a chance,’ well, then what? Grin and bear it, and then suffer for a few years? No one wants another World War, but often those who start them are ones with no experience and a grandiose sense of power. Oh, and Trump is half German (both grandparents were German, thus his father was German) and half Scottish, so it may well be in the genes. I expect more of a war on words across the media and social media, but how useful and constructive is that, and is that going to create jobs and ensure those who need healthcare get it?

I don’t wish to lose any friends, so I’ll keep quiet if the topic arises and signal a halt, and make it known that I don’t support Trump’s policies (what policies) or beliefs. It’s not even political, it’s about moral and common decency and choosing to admire someone who is dishonest. Maybe I just don’t understand humans, but perhaps people are just more greedy and selfish than I thought? I don’t think for a moment Ivanka and Chelsea are still friends, and I think that’s wishful thinking on Ivanka’s part. She can try and salvage her own reputation, but the key word is try.

The End Of ‘Salem’

I mean the television show and not the city (town really) north of Boston. The last four episodes will be shown in the New Year, and while some of it is fantasy and far fetched, the fact they have used the real names of some people as characters has been controversial to say the least. I honestly didn’t think the show should have lasted more than two seasons, but watched the third (and last) out of curiosity to see where the writers were taking the plots. No one should be disappointed or surprised in it ending, because it was inevitable, and while I enjoyed some parts of the show, there were too many elements that I could never accept or get a grasp of.

  • The accents ~ What I found annoying is that nearly everyone had an English accent or a version of a New England accent except for the odd child actor and one of the main characters, John Alden who spoke in a Southern twang. It just lacked credibility and consistency, as in those days people had all arrived from England and would be using an English accent.
  • The characters bore no resemblance to their namesakes ~ People need to remember that the characters don’t depict the real life characters back then with the exception of maybe Rebecca Nurse (but she was old in real life when she was hanged). Cotton Mather was no hero, but one who tried to gain favor and power by spreading fear; Mary Sibley was in fact the one who could have been responsible for the Witch hysteria when she told Tituba how to bake a witch cake (she was the sister-in-law of Samuel Parris), John Hathorne was a rogue, and Mercy Lewis was very simple.
  • The set and costumes were good ~ However, trying to recreate Salem back then was never going to be easy, and the costumes were too elaborate for a Puritan colony. Nice, but unrealistic. The woods were realistic, and many of the woods still look like that in Salem.
  • Historically, some things were accurate and others were not, but the witch rituals are fantasy. One thing that was true was the role religion and fear played in the community. People did listen to what was said, and believed it. People were easily brainwashed with religion, now they are brainwashed with social media.

I’m not sure how the show will end—will the devil take over the world? Will Tituba change sides again, and how can John Alden save them? I struggle to find a favorite character; Anne is annoying and stupid; Cotton is a weak alcoholic, but he did love Gloriana and try to save her; Tituba, I like her ability to survive, but I would never trust her, and I don’t see the point of Isaac or Mercy in season three at all.

I actually used to live in Salem, and it still milks the reputation or rather infamy of it from the Witch Trials. Can there be a happy ending? Theoretically Tituba and Mary are dead (magic has given them life again), and if the devil is playing chess with God, then why isn’t he doing anything? How many more times can John Alden get shot and stabbed and not die, and why does he walk into a clean home each time he comes back from an adventure?

Ultimately it is a love story of John and Mary, and Cotton and Gloriana to a lesser extent in that love can conquer all. Maybe it’s all a dream and Mary wakes up after giving birth, and John returns from war to find Mary dying from childbirth? To be honest it was getting a little silly with the devil wanting to marry his mother, Isaac trying to kill Mercy, and Anne who doesn’t have a clue what she is doing. Surely the residents of Salem must be wondering who this young boy is and where had he been all this time? Maybe they are oblivious to it all, and I don’t think much as changed—Salem is as corrupt today as it was then, and that’s from experience. I want a happy ending, and even though I despised Cotton Mather in real life, he appears to be the only one who knows what is going on in the show! I want to see him find Gloriana and for her to tell him what Anne did. Will the hero and heroine save Salem and the world? Maybe this is prophetic of what is happening in the USA now? Perhaps it will all end with the devil taking over?

Thoughts On The Crisis In America

Is it that bad, or am I being a tad dramatic? I’ve been told I can be a drama queen, but right now America is unstable, and I’ve never seen Americans behaving so ‘un-American’. Politics aside, what I don’t understand is why Americans are being mean, rude, and pretty much nasty to people that they don’t know online if they don’t support Trump in becoming the next President of their country. Surely freedom of speech means everyone is entitled to their own opinion without being attacked? I’m sure many of the former Presidents are shaking their heads too.

What I don’t understand is this opposition to a recount and the hostility towards Jill Stein. She has a right to a recount, and has followed the procedures, which the states in question have altered on a whim. Why allow a recount only to prevent people from having it once they make an application? Only people or groups that have something to hide would try to block a recount, and cries of it’s a waste of money and time has no validity—it’s not tax payers money, the people involved are volunteers, and those state officials, well that’s their job.

Then there is the CIA declaring that they have evidence that external forces (Russia) have interfered with the election process, and the GOP want it investigated, but not Trump. Something isn’t right here. One should be concerned if the CIA have evidence, and one can only surmise that Trump is dismissing it because he doesn’t want people to dig any further. Besides that, surely if Russia or any hackers wanted to prove they could hack into any system, wouldn’t they have released Trump’s emails too?

There has been the smell of foul play on more than one occasion, but it still beggars belief as to why people voted for someone with no experience, who mocks minorities, has no actual policies, and has proven to be untrustworthy? Are 25 percent of Americans not that bright, were they conned, or did they hate Clinton so much they voted against her on purpose? Either way it’s a concern, and I have a couple of friends who admitted they voted for Trump, and to be honest I don’t have a response for them. They know I do not share that view. I cannot fathom why they would support him, and their response is always Clinton has done bad things. Newsflash, so has Trump, but isn’t it better the devil you know?

I had another conversation with an American friend who wouldn’t say who she voted for, but she simply said that change was needed. That’s what people say when they don’t want to admit they voted for Trump in fear that people will judge them as racist. Again, of course if you support a racist, you are in fact saying that is acceptable behavior. There is no grey area here—if you support someone who has settled fraud cases, been racist and rude to minority groups, you don’t get to say you aren’t racist if you voted for them. You enable them and have voted for the whole package. I’m also tired of people saying, “Give him a chance…” or “Let’s wait and see…” because so far his choice of cabinet has included racists, and those with far right policies. If you look back to Hitler’s era, all the politicians took the same stance, to see if he would back down and gave him a chance. We all know how that turned out with World War II, millions dead, and 70 years on, people are still suffering from the after effects. Are we on the brink of WW III or Civil War?

Many of my friends supported Bernie Sanders, and he seems a decent chap and one that had the best interests of the country at heart, but he was never going to win. Not from a lack of experience, but his hands would have been tied with the Republican majority in Congress. I’m glad he is a Senator in Vermont, and is a great state that I would choose to live in. He can do good things there, and I hope he speaks out and challenges those in Congress for the people. I’m not a Socialist or Liberal, but I know right from wrong.

Looking at the Constitution, there was no failsafe for foreign or external interference as back then all votes were counted by hand in person (as it is done in the UK). Today, with electronic voting and a population far greater than the Framers had to contend with, there needs to be some protection for the electoral system. What exists now is not enough. If there is proof there was interference, then it renders the election void and invalid, but the system doesn’t have a means to directly resolve that situation. Congress could pass an amendment, but is there time, and would Trump oppose? In the UK if there was evidence of tampering, then action would be taken, but as votes are hand counted it would be very difficult to do.

Many look to the faithless electors and while each state can choose the electors and how they vote, for the states that force them to vote according to the popular vote in the state, that defies the very essence of the Constitution. Electors should be free to vote for whom they wish without fear of reprisals from the state legislature. That is why the Electoral College was set up, so that the elected voters could vote freely without pressure or coercion. Theoretically, states that impose fines or punishments are acting unconstitutionally even though the SCOTUS (Ray v. Blair, 343 US 214) held that the Constitution does not require electors to be free to choose and may be pledged to make a specific vote. However, that defies the concept of the Electoral College, where electors are not supposed to have any political bias according to Alexander Hamilton (The Federalist Papers 68) and also the dissent from Justice Jackson. Votes from a state can also be rejected, but only if both houses agree to this and is formally objected in writing by a member of each house. This occurred during the 1872 election where the Arkansas and Louisiana votes were rejected due to irregularities.

The closest we get is the Twentieth Amendment:

“Section 3. If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

However, it’s vague and open to interpretation, because who declares an election is void? Surely Congress must if evidence is presented to show that there was tampering? One thing we can all agree on is that America is unstable, and the people are divided. Sadly, the US doesn’t seem such a great place to live or to visit right now…

My American Tipping Nightmares

Everyone loves American tourists, as they are renowned to be big tippers, whereas most American servers despair at European tourists as they have a reputation for not tipping generously. Let me give you an insight as to why this is so, and why when British people tip in the US it can bring on a bout of anxiety. Having lived in both countries on and off, I see the dilemmas and cultural differences, but that doesn’t influence my preference to tip or not. I only really grasped how important the tipping culture is in the US when my cousin, who used to be a maître d at Indochine and 150 Wooster (a while back now) in New York City, told me if people didn’t leave at least 20 percent as a tip they would chase them. I realize now that she wasn’t joking, but you must understand in most countries, restaurants do pay their staff the minimum wage, and not like the US where the minimum wage is allowed to be made up with tips.

In the UK, people generally tip 10 percent and round up at the same time; if the bill is £18, most people would leave £20 because it would look mean to ask for 20 pence change, so in fact the tip is 12 percent. People do tip 15-20 percent for exceptional service, but still round up rather than calculate an exact amount from a percentage. However, in the US, 15 percent is deemed normal for average service, and 20 percent is considered the minimum one should leave. If the bill is $32, then a 20 percent tip would be $6.40; some people would round it up to $40 making it 25 percent, but most calculate it exactly to the cent.

Then there is the tip jar that I struggle to understand—I get why they exist in cafés and diners where you go in to grab a coffee or a sub, and will leave a tip if the service in general was good, but not self-service restaurants. Do you feel guilty if the jar is sparse and you opt to take your change rather than put it in the jar? I did at first (and watched them watching what I chose to do) and got over that quite quickly. I was once in a self-service organic café where the line was long (20 minute wait), basically as there was one cashier taking orders and the money, and it wasn’t a cheap café either. I paid by card and there was still the option to add a service charge on the slip, which I added zero to without hesitation, as well as a tip jar glaring me in the face. Why should I tip when the cashier never even looked at me and I hadn’t even got my order yet? How could I ascertain how much to give when I haven’t received any actual service? They yell when your order is ready; you have to collect it and then clear up after yourself too. I can’t see any reason why I should tip in a place where the only interaction was to place an order and pay for it, and everything else I did myself?

My British friend, Sara and I would hang out at a local café to use the Wi-Fi (and feel a bit guilty), but would order coffee, tea, a muffin, and banana bread. When it came to the tip, both of us would sigh and wonder what to leave as it was a regular hangout. The bill came to just under $15, and we had been there for a couple of hours. We spent 10 minutes discussing and calculating the various percentages, unsure whether we should tip precisely or over tip. We worked out 20 percent would have been $17, but to wait for $3 change would have looked too cheap, so we ended up leaving $20 which worked out to be a 40 percent tip. The service was fine and friendly, but the whole experience was more about how the servers would perceive us than how much we wanted to leave, and caused so much anxiety we ran out as soon as we could.

Another awkward situation arose when I offered to buy a pizza and beer for a friend who had helped me out, I mean that’s not expensive to share a pizza and have a drink each? The question is whether to tip on drinks or not, and most people say not to, because they are bringing you a drink. What I find annoying is the breakdown on the check of the food, beverages, tax, and service charge, and then suggestions for tip amounts. We ended up with a pizza a couple of sides, and he had several beers. He suggested I leave 25 percent as a tip as the server was someone he knew. I was opposed to leaving so much as we didn’t get any special treatment and the service wasn’t exactly fast in a quiet local place. So the pizza and beer ended up costing me $60 and I have to admit I begrudged the tip, which was equivalent to buying another whole pizza pie. To me a tip should to equate to buying the server a drink, not a whole meal.

I learned my lesson when it came to ordering in a pub though; there was one side of nachos and the rest was drinks. The service was bad and slow, the server had no idea of what wines there were and we ended up having to go in and get someone to take our order. Again, the American friend advised us when it came to tipping that it should still be 20 percent despite the slow service and the fact we only had drinks. The tip equated to another glass of wine, and I put down what I wanted (10 percent) and told him if he wanted to look good by tipping well he could make up the rest. I make no apology for failing to tip because someone expects it and because of the minimum wage law loophole that exists.

I’ve since found not all states are as bad, the following states pay a full cash minimum hourly wage to tipped staff;

California $10, Alaska $9.75, Oregon $9.75, Washington $9.47

(https://www.dol.gov/whd/state/tipped.htm)

If these states can do it, why can’t others? That means that tips are given in addition to the wages, just as it should be, and how it is in pretty much the rest of the world! Maybe it’s time for the US to understand how uncomfortable and awkward tipping is in a situation that is supposed to be relaxing and fun? The general rule of double the tax is fine in Massachusetts (6.25 percent), but works out to be nearly 20 percent in New York. For a Brit that’s way too much, and now I opt for 10-15 percent and round up to the dollar as a compromise. I think I would rather stick to states or establishments that pay their staff well because they value them rather than feel obliged to pay the staff wages via a tip.

It really is so much simpler in the UK—you pay the price you see on the menu, and then tip if you want to, knowing the staff still get paid (admittedly not always that much, but at least minimum wage), and I have been to places that have service charges included who remove it when the service was bad without asking. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s fair and transparent. You can read what the tipping etiquette is on most websites (and it differs greatly), but if it is written by an American in a city, that opinion will differ greatly from someone in a less populated area. A tip is not, and should not be classed as a wage; it’s not the responsibility of the customer to pay wages, but employers have a loophole that allows tips to be counted towards the hourly minimum. It’s their choice to pay the staff or not, and those who do pay at least the full minimum will have happier and harder working staff, and customers who won’t be made to feel guilty if they don’t tip 25 percent.

My 10 Most Memorable Moments in Life (So Far…)

I’ve had some close shaves in my time thus far, and those were memorable as in to remind me not to do that again. There have been some good and fun times too, and with each experience you learn more about your strengths, and find ones you didn’t think you had. I’m in my fourth decade, a little bruised from the ride so far, but you learn to pick yourself up and appreciate things more, and also realize what is really important (and am still learning). I could tell you, but it’s something we all need to discover in our own way.

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Running across the Ponte Vecchio at 3 a.m. alone. This was a magical moment for me as I ran home as I lived Oltrarno, and I marveled at the beauty of Florence. No one else was around; the moonlight shined on the Arno, and the streetlights lined the cobbled streets lighting my path home. I could hear my own footsteps as I stood in the middle and imagined the historical events that had occurred on the bridge; Giuliano de’ Medici being stabbed there on his way to church, and had Leonardo Da Vinci or Michelangelo stood where I was now for inspiration? The Ponte Vecchio is never quiet; it is packed each day full of tourists and traders. For a few hours between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. it’s empty, and if you ever get a chance to walk across the bridge alone, do so. I was coming back from a party, and for a few precious moments I had the bridge to myself.

Watching the sunrise on Lipari Island. Lipari is the largest of the Aeolian Islands in Italy. I’d intended to visit for a couple of days and ended up staying a couple of weeks instead. I bumped into a lady called Hermione Del Bono on the hovercraft over; she was English and had met an Italian on holiday when she was younger, and moved to be with him. She offered to let me stay in her hotel (Hotel Carasco), but I was happy to stay in the Youth Hostel, which was a castle. However, due to events (see the volcano tale) I took up her offer. One day I woke up and saw the sunrise from my hotel room, which was over looking the sea and watched the brightest and largest sun rising from the horizon and the sea. Due to the position of the island, the views were clear and unobstructed. It was one of the most beautiful things to watch, as the sea was still and the sky completely clear. I hope to be so fortunate to see such a sight again.

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Clinging to the side of the volcano on Stromboli. This was the day I nearly died, and made a pact with God. I learned some huge lessons in one day, but the whole tale can be a short story in itself. I climbed the active volcano in Stromboli, except the weather was bad, raining and windy, and no guides would take us (not advised), so we went alone. That wasn’t clever, but there was a group of us. The thing was I was at the end of the group helping a slower member, and we were told to follow a different path by the man in front of us. That was a mistake as we ended up climbing on molten ash (which is dangerous and slippery), and we both nearly slipped off the edge. We managed to climb into a crater, but the group had left us, (as the way down was on the other side). It got dark, and windier, and it wasn’t safe to climb down or go any further. Watching an active volcano erupting in front of you barely meters away was incredible, and was definitely not planned. I remember watching the sun rise, with the volcano still throwing around some lava, as gulls flew around. I’d prayed to survive, and I now had a bargain to keep with God.

The lengths I’ll go to for a cheap bottle of Stolichnaya. I used to plan my flights to stop in Dubai for the excellent Duty Free. Usually I had a couple of hours to browse and planned my purchases on my way back to save carrying it around. However, my plane was delayed, and left me only 30 minutes for me to get my connecting flight. What to do? Get the £3 bottle and risk missing the flight, or have faith in my abilities. Somehow I managed to get off the plane, run down to the shops, buy the Stolichnaya (I knew where it was, but no time for anything else!), run and pee (I hate toilets on the plane), and then find my other boarding gate. I did it in 20 minutes, but the ironic thing is the bottle stayed in my freezer for 5 years!

Having my first independent place.  My first place was a house share in London with some University friends. I moved in on my 21st birthday, to a three storey house complete with two cats—George and Arthur. The owner (Noel) was renting it out and going off to Bequia to sail on a yacht to nurse a broken heart, and wanted tenants to look after the cats as well. It was a great place, fab parties, and Concorde would wake me up each morning.

Lying alone (very ill) with gastroenteritis in the Marco Polo in Kathmandu. I’m not sure how close I was to dying here, but it wasn’t good, and the hospitals there were not safe. I had left my trekking party and was going to venture alone; maybe spend time in a monastery or do smaller treks. I was alone, but the illness didn’t hit me until a couple of days later, and I think it was from some ice I had in a drink. A girl who had been on the same bus getting into Kathmandu knocked on my door after a few days to ask if I wanted to go out. I struggled to get out of bed and let her in; her name was Frankie, and she saved me. She had rehydration salts and looked after me. I couldn’t eat for 2 weeks, anything I drank came straight out, and I was shivering with a temperature. Frankie is a dear friend still, but if I hadn’t had the courage to speak to a stranger on a bus, and then tell her where to find me if she wanted to have company, I don’t know what would have happened to me. I was weak, vulnerable, and no one knew where I was in the world except a girl I had briefly spoken to on a bus.

Getting my motorcycle leg (muffler) burn in Bali. A split second mistake, when my Japanese friend, whose English was poor didn’t hear me yell, “Stop!” when she took off on a hired moped for the day, when I was still climbing on. It hurt, there’s a scar, and more tales to go with it. It did however persuade Emirates (it was well bandaged) to bump me up to Business Class, as I said if anyone bumped into the wound, I would need medical treatment.

Being in the gravel trap at Copse in Brands Hatch. I was working at Brands Hatch as a hostess for an event, and we were allowed to drive around the circuit as a perk or to have a pro driver take us around. I opted for a driver take me around to do a lap, and we ended up being in the gravel trap at Copse—a famous corner in Brands Hatch on the Grand Prix circuit. We had to be towed out by the crane, and I loved every second of it. The driver on the other hand was a bit embarrassed, but that was a once in a lifetime event, where many famous drivers have exited a race from ending up in the gravel trap at Copse.

Making a cup of tea for Stirling Moss. If you haven’t heard of him, he is a legendary Formula One racing driver who was a guest speaker at an event I was organizing. When asked if he needed anything, all he wanted was a cup of tea with milk and one sugar.

Surviving being snowed in during a Nor’easter. I once lived on a beach in Massachusetts, and there was a Nor’easter arriving. I’d not experienced one before, and made sure I had stocked up on chocolate and snacks. My landlady lived next door and told me it would be fine, and if the power went we’d figure something out. I was literally snowed in. I woke up and the windows had at least 8 inches of snow (there was no light), and I couldn’t open the door, as there was nearly 2 feet of snow. I watched from the back glass doors the sea crashing onto my deck; I wasn’t frightened, but watched in awe how the sea and the snow were in control.

Stranded at Lukla Airport. Lukla Airport was (in my day) a cleared gravel path, which doubled up as a landing strip for aircraft, flying in trekkers from Kathmandu to climb on Everest. There was a little shed with a table, a man and a walkie talkie (no airport lounge access) where it can squeeze in a maximum of five people. I recall in March 2000 wandering down to edge of the mountain, looking out for any sign of a plane. That was the only way we would find out if any planes arrived. We took it in turns to look out, as cellphones were in their infancy. I actually had a satellite phone (my brother gave it me as a precaution), but that was no good unless I had anyone to call. The weather had been so bad, the clouds made flying impossible and on day three, the queue for the pool table got longer. My days consisted of drinking my vodka supply (taken in my Sigg bottle for such emergencies) and playing pool with anyone around. It made me realize that life is simple and people survive.

I hadn’t washed for a couple of weeks (water freezes after a couple of minutes) and wearing make-up wasn’t important at all compared to wearing layers, and making sure you had enough batteries for your torch. We got the second plane out eventually, and the plane was like a 5 year old flying a remote controlled plane for the first time. The entire journey was turbulent, and it is the only time I have ever thrown up on a journey as we dodged some mountain tops, and skimmed a few ledges. I was glad to be back on land, and grateful. I didn’t think I needed to do that again, but I went back a couple of years later.


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10 Ways To Stay Sane (The Maverick Guide)

I find that happiness and love are overrated at the best of times, because we can’t always be in a perpetual state of love or happiness, but we can remain sane and balanced—and that’s healthy. It’s not easy though, but in time you learn to become a little more selfish, because staying sane is what enables you to survive, and to see things clearly without the rose tinted spectacles. How do you know if you are sane, or if you are losing that sacred and delicate balance? Read on, and see if any of the following resonate…

  1. Listen to advice, but stop and think about it. Was that advice asked for, given by someone you know and trust, or was it conveyed to you indirectly (like a story)? Some advice is good, and is given in good faith; others give advice from their ego and is usually best discarded. I’ve listened to advice and ignored some, but advice is an informed opinion based on experience and knowledge. When there is no basis for it, it’s hard to accept as good advice. However, no two events are ever exactly the same, and while advice is useful, don’t depend on it. People do give out bad advice, sometimes on purpose, or through arrogance.
  2. Don’t give advice unless asked for, and always add a disclaimer. There are a couple of reasons for this, mainly because you don’t want to get blamed if your advice doesn’t work out. A disclaimer warns people, and lets you off any guilt that you may or may not harbor. When things don’t work out people like to blame or find a scapegoat, and that is usually the person who gave the advice. Don’t get involved unless you choose to, and if you don’t want to offer an opinion, remember you’re not obliged to. The consequences? People may bad mouth you, or stab you in the back, all because your advice didn’t work out for them. Simply not worth it.
  3. Learn to say ‘No’ and mean it, not a British, “I’ll think about it,” which really is a polite way of saying just that. That also means you learn to press reject on a call you don’t need or want to take. I used to feel guilty if I didn’t take a call, and would answer all calls and mutter a garbled message promising to call back whenever I could, but now with auto reject, most people aren’t offended and know you are otherwise engaged. Don’t agree to something for an easy life and feel resentful, and if you don’t want to go out, then don’t. You don’t need to have a reason—you have a choice. Being able to say ‘no’ without hesitation does take time, but is very powerful in keeping you sane.
  4. Eat what you like in moderation, because diets deprive you of the food you find tasty and that you enjoy. I’ve lived among models and dancers who all starved themselves, and they never enjoyed their food (without throwing it up). As long as you are sensible, and have a healthy and balanced diet, you shouldn’t deny yourself the foods you enjoy. Having a chocolate bar, a slice of pizza, or a tub of ice cream won’t kill you, as long as you don’t do it every day of the year. Food is necessary for survival, but eating food you don’t like for the sake of losing weight will get to you eventually. Indulge every now and then, because it will make you happier. Trying to stay thin because of society perceptions isn’t mentally healthy, and at my lowest I was a size 2, and people thought I was ill. Ignore what the media says, because staying artificially thin is dangerous for your health and mind.
  5. Switch off your cellphone at night. You can do it, but it takes will power and self-control, because you don’t need it on when you are asleep. Make your own rules, and in time others will get used to it. Having a cellphone doesn’t mean you are available 24/7, but you have that capacity; it’s for your convenience and not for everyone else. The alarm will still chime when it’s switched off, or if you struggle to switch it off, start with putting it on mute, then put it in its case face down. Your sanity will thank you.
  6. Choose your friends and company wisely. A friendship is a two-way relationship; if you aren’t getting anything in return, then cut them loose. Friendships can be unconditional, but when that is abused (as in you are always there for them, but they aren’t for you), then consider either addressing the situation (they may just not be aware of it) or delete. I do believe in supporting friends without needing anything in return, but if you dread seeing or talking to them, then what’s the point? You need to look forward and enjoy the company you choose, otherwise question why you are spending your free and valuable time in their presence.
  7. Don’t give into revenge. Karma exists, and revenge will make it worse. Think to yourself that Karma will do its job (justice), and trust that it will. Revenge eats away at you, takes away precious time in your mind (and can drive you crazy thinking up plots to get even), and like Darth Vader, you then enter the Dark Side. Staying angry and frustrated (rant and rave to get it out of your system) in the gray zone for a while is normal, but don’t go over to the Dark Side.
  8. Watch a classic movie or cartoon. These days with CGI and stunts, the films and cartoons of yesteryear can bring some balance into your life, when things were so much simpler, and life was less complicated. Chuckle at the old hairstyles and fashions, the sped up fights, and special effects of the time. Simple things like Tom and Jerry chasing one another, or The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy follows the Yellow Brick Road can bring a sense of familiarity and calm, because you know what will happen. They are also a reminder that life goes on, regardless of the era, age, class, or education. All of us humans are in this together, and others will go through what you have, and future generation will do as long as the planet hasn’t been destroyed.
  9. Be kind to yourself. We all make mistakes, because that’s what humans do—learn from mistakes. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and while you may regret some things, it’s not the end. Know that others make mistakes too, and don’t hold onto a grudge, because you are only harming yourself. You can forgive, but sometimes you can’t forget. That’s a human way of building up experiences of what not to do. Forgive yourself, and don’t beat yourself up over what could have been, just make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  10. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t to please others, or to impress. Remain true to yourself, as it’s easier, honest, and people will see through a façade. In the workplace one has to put on a persona, and it’s expected, but other than that, be the authentic you. I’ve met many well-known people who behind closed doors are nothing like their public persona, and they lose a sense of who they really are. Those who maybe impressed; what does it say about them? Are they superficial, and do you really want to be in their company? Fake people do stand out, and they do it from insecurity. Wouldn’t you rather people like you for who you are, rather than what you think they would like you to be? With me, it’s what you see is what you get.

My Updated And Realistic Bucket List

Back in my twenties I wrote a bucket list when I had a cancer scare, and made a promise to myself that if I survived I would find a way to do these things. It took a while to save up, but I did manage to do most of the things on the list; I rode on an elephant (I don’t need to do that again, and now I see that it’s cruel), I’ve walked on the slopes of Mount Everest, I lived in Florence for a while to see first hand what I had been studying all these years, I’ve island hopped in Thailand, and backpacked around Asia by myself. Among the things I didn’t achieve was settling down with a decent blonde haired 6-foot chap who was a millionaire, but maybe that was a little unrealistic at the time.

Sometimes we need these lists to inspire us, and to remind of us of what we are looking for. I felt it was time to update my list, and make it practical, yet still inspirationally awesome in that some may shake their heads at me and scoff, but once you’ve faced death, you realize it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

  1. Build or find a beach house/hut where I can see the sunrise and sunset each day, and where I can write in peace and quiet while inhaling fresh air. Ideally this house will have a freestanding bathtub overlooking the ocean, where I can begin and end each day. I’m thinking somewhere on the West Coast, only because the East Coast has such bitter winters, or maybe an island I have yet to discover.
  2. To reach Mount Everest Base Camp (5,364 metres or17,598 ft). This is a possibility as I have a friend who is a Nepalese Guide with his own trekking company now, and so it’s more about finances and finding the right time to go (https://www.facebook.com/happyharitrek/) I’ve made it to Tengboche (3,867 metres or 12,687 ft) and a little higher, but at the time the weather was too bad for us to continue and we were stranded in Lukla for several days. Also I need to get fit again for such a feat, both mentally and physically. In a way it’s unfinished business, but last time I wasn’t fully prepared, and I hope the next time I am on Everest I will be.
  3. Travel on the TransSiberian Railway; there are several routes you can take, but I would like to share the unique journey with someone special. However, if that doesn’t happen I hope to find a good friend who can rough it enough to enjoy such a journey. I have Russian blood (Siberian) going back several generations, so it will be interesting if I feel anything special once I get there.
  4. To open a spiritual/writers retreat with it’s own organic café making homemade cakes, pies, and soups. I would like it near the ocean, but close enough to a city or town so that food could be donated to the homeless, and that some of them could make a fresh start at the retreat if it suited both parties. I already have a name for the retreat, but it is what I would like to do, in addition to my writing. It would encompass several of the things that are important to me; helping the homeless, having an unconditional space to find yourself, a place for me to experiment with my baking and cooking skills, and a haven for writers and artists to be creative.
  5. Have my books published by a leading publishing house. I have several works in progress, and I would like them to be published by a publisher. It will take time and work (besides finishing the manuscripts, and polishing them) and in the meantime I have to make ends meet somehow. Ever since I was a child, writing books is all that I wanted to do, but I made a mistake; I read advice and listened to others for a couple of decades saying that you have to work and write on the side. That doesn’t work for everyone, especially not in the line of work I was in where I was on shifts, and also on 24 hour call at times. There were days I would work for 14-16 hours, and start at 4 a.m., so it was impossible to write when you are tired and exhausted. I have faith; I have non-fiction and fiction manuscripts, all with different pen names. It’s fulfilling writing and researching—I just hope others feel the same, and that I can live off my writing.

I’ll probably add to this list, but I’ve kept it short because I want the goals to be achievable, and not just things to tick off a list. These are things I am passionate about and have reasons for my wanting to do them. Ultimately we are free to do what we want, but there are at times things that stop us; finances, responsibility to others, health, and confidence. It’s also not a matter of doing things quickly—I want to enjoy the experiences and do them properly, because there is no rush. This is for me and no one else. Part of the whole thing is the excitement and planning, and even having these ideas now, gives me something to aim for and to look forward to.

10 Of My Favorite ‘Only In The US’ American Stores

There are some stores, even though they have transatlantic counterparts where the original American versions are still so much better, for choice and price. Online shopping and international shipping can bridge that gap in times of desperation, but sometimes the real thing matters, and here’s why…

  1. Old Navy. While most Americans see this a budget version of The Gap and a place to get basics, I love this store for just that—quality basics at a reasonable price. One of my favorite pairs of black leggings/pants was found in an outlet store and they have served me so well, I daren’t wear them, as I can’t find another pair. There is no Old Navy as yet in the UK, but I am sure they would do well.
  2. Banana Republic. Recently a few branches have opened in the UK, but the online store serves the rest of the country where there are no stores. There is obviously more choice in the US with a store in nearly every mall, and the prices are much better and reasonable. The ambience of the stores in the US is more relaxed compared to the UK, where the brand is new and getting established and is seen as more exclusive than a chain.
  3. Dollar Tree. I love and miss this store, but branches do vary. I was fortunate to live close to some good ones that had a large range of items and also stocked frozen food. Some items were hit or miss, but generally I could find all my basics for the house here, snacks, and some bargain branded pantry staples.
  4. Marshalls. This is another bargain store I would always spend time in browsing, but again I was lucky to find some excellent buys. I bought a pair of Merrells for $35, a king sized Ralph Lauren fleece blanket (in New York) for $25, and way too many pairs of black yoga pants for under $10.
  5. Trader Joe’s. A favorite of many people because of the quality and prices. As a vegetarian it served me well, and it was the only place that sold buttery croissants that I liked. They also have a great wine selection, and their own brands of snacks are healthy and good value. It ticks all the boxes; I just needed one to be closer to where I lived.
  6. Christmas Tree Shops. I used to get the flyer through my door and in the papers all of the time and when I finally went to one I loved it. Bargains and ideas for the home galore and a wonderful selection of international foods. It’s a place you know you will always get good value, and don’t have to think about finding it cheaper elsewhere.
  7. Sephora. Believe it or not there isn’t a Sephora in the UK. The closest is in France (and they are fun too), but the US website ships to the UK. I prefer to browse in the stores, without anyone asking if I need any help, after checking the website for any specials.
  8. Abercrombie & Fitch. Some people see this as a preppy brand, but I have some classic favorites from this store, and they do very comfortable underwear. Comfort is king, and the t-shirts are pre-washed for that precisely. I actually buy the men’s versions, as they are better quality (more durable cotton), longer in the body and also in the leg. When my cargos got too many holes, it was a sad day and trying to replace them with another version, well that search continues.
  9. Panera. Besides the amazingly fresh bakery items, I like the healthy menu options, and that you can eat in casually or takeout. The soufflés and croissants are excellent, but they do sell out fast. They offer some well-priced meal deals, and the portions are generous, so good value for your buck.
  10. Department stores. I have a few favorites—Barneys New York, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, and Bergdorf Goodman. I prefer to shop alone in these places, and browse. While they can be seen as old fashioned, they still are wonderful places to find all you need under one roof.

Americanisms that the British sigh at

As American films, television shows, celebrities, and culture dominate the world, most of us know what common Americanisms mean, or we look them up. On the other hand most Americans don’t bother to find out what the equivalent is in other countries, especially in the UK, so here is a mini guide to what we Brits know, but don’t bother to correct Americans. Why? Simply because we know what they mean and adapt. Here are some of my tales, when there was confusion on both sides. For reference the American word is first followed by the UK term (which came first!).

  1. Projects v Council Estates. I was in New York City when my Uncle mentioned there were some new projects in his old neighborhood. I innocently asked what kind of projects were they. Then they showed me, and I realized it was what is now termed purpose built housing. I honestly thought they were implementing some work or recreational projects in the area.
  2. Blowout v Blowdry. When I first saw this on a Groupon offer, I wondered what on earth they do. I was looking for a blow dry, I mean that makes sense—they blow dry your hair. I must admit I thought it was some kind of misprint as it sounded like an intimate act, but Groupon doesn’t advertise that kind of thing, not in the UK anyhow.
  3. Cellphone v Mobile (phone). While everyone does know what these terms mean (cellular phone) many Americans won’t call it a mobile, and insist on calling it a cell. A cell to me is a prison, and not a mobile phone!
  4. French Press v Cafetière. I had a communication break down when I rented a room and the owner was showing me the kitchen. She told me she had a French Press, which I ignored because I had no idea what it was. Then I saw the cafetière, and mentioned it. “Oh you have a cafetière,” I said, to which she smiled, as she had no clue what I was on about. Somehow we went back and forth talking about the same item and not even realizing it. In the end I never used it.
  5. Cookies v Biscuits. Most people know that UK biscuits are US cookies, but in the US, biscuits are scones. I was surprised to find them on breakfast menus and the worst, as biscuits and gravy. Somehow it seems so very wrong to eat them as a savory dish. Long live the cheese scone.
  6. Sheer Panels v Voiles. I was helping my old landlady with some refurbishing to show her house on an open day, and thought voiles would be a cheap and quick way to add color and hide things. After a day of searching in Target, Pier 1, and Home Depot, I found several. Finally she gasped, “This is what you were on about!” because she had no idea what I was looking for, and spent the whole day being quiet, because she didn’t want to sound silly for not knowing what a voile was.
  7. Open Container v Open Bottle or Can. I was very confused when I saw signs prohibiting ‘open containers’, because I didn’t know what it meant. Surely someone can open a can of soda and drink it? Finally a friend explained it was to stop people drinking alcohol in public, and they use the word container to disguise that fact, but apparently all people know that an open container means alcohol?
  8. Sunnyside Up or Over Easy (egg) v Fried. I ran into this problem when I was ordering breakfast one day. You could choose how your eggs were done, and I just wanted it fried. The server looked at me, and I quickly scanned the menu and it all is said was eggs of your choice. I’d heard the term sunnyside up and said it and hoped for the best. In the UK we just say ‘well done’ or ‘slightly runny in the middle’.
  9. Skillet v Frying Pan. It still amazes me that some Americans can’t figure out what I’m looking for when I ask for a frying pan. It’s simple—a pan to fry something in. The amount of times people have corrected me and said it’s a skillet, and I want to fry something not skillet something.
  10. Trash or Garbage v Rubbish. You’ll be surprised at how many Americans don’t understand the word. In fact it astonishes me. The words are usually interchangeable, but to be trashy in the UK means something is cheap and common, so the word isn’t used often, as it is slang. As a result I try not to get into the habit of using the word trash, and use the phrase bin it, so that people know what I mean. Seriously, I once asked where the rubbish goes in the US to be met with a blank stare.