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?


10 Things The US Presidential Election Has Taught Us About Americans

It would be unfair to tag a whole nation of immigrants based on the outcome of the vote for President, but I’m afraid it’s how the rest of the world views and judges Americans on their beliefs and standards. A President typically embodies and echoes the morals and standards of the people, and is a person that is looked up to; that parents use as a model figure for their children to aspire to. I doubt that many will use Trump as a model citizen, but while some Americans admit that the world is laughing at them (yes, they are correct) others are crossing their fingers and everything else and suddenly praying that their vote for change was not an arrogant mistake on their part. The world is praying with you. I saw a meme declaring ‘good luck’ from the people of Germany (#BeenThereDoneThat).

  1. Not many people understand what the Electoral College does ~ It’s slightly worrying that the majority of the electorate had no idea what the Electoral College does, and people have called for it to be scrapped. That’s nigh on improbable as it will take an Amendment to repeal the Amendment in the Constitution that outlines the electoral procedure. However, it was implemented as a means to ensure there was an impartial body to vote for the President as well as giving the people a say. Sadly since only 20 states allow electors to vote without being bound to the popular vote, the other 30 electoral states that bind the electors have effectively voided the legitimacy of the Electoral College. Ideally, states should not bind any votes, and is theoretically unconstitutional.
  2. Conservatives say they aren’t racist ~ Republican supporters are pretty rude and hostile towards Liberals and call them cry babies, whiners, moaners when they are merely expressing their opinions. It’s a little hard not to see them as racist when the KKK officially endorses Trump and members campaigned for him.
  3. Liberals call Trump supporters stupid and deluded ~ Not all Republicans though, because a few have come out opposing Trump. They may not all be stupid, but could have been brainwashed.
  4. 25% of the electorate have mental health issues ~ That is 25% of the electorate that registered and bothered to vote. It’s hard for the world to understand how any sane person would vote for a renowned con man and fraudster to govern their country and to represent them. Clearly they need help, but maybe they don’t have healthcare, oh, but once the Affordable Care Act gets repealed then more people won’t have access to healthcare, so the insanity continues.
  5. Gary Johnson didn’t know what Aleppo was and people still voted for him ~ Well, it’s only the headline news where millions of people have been killed and where refugees are from. It appears people voted for him not because they thought he would be a good President or would win, but purely because they hated the other candidates and wanted to say they had voted. Why make a non-vote to ease the conscience?
  6. Americans believe what they read on social media ~ Social media is a means of expression, and a place to say what your think as well as being a medium to convey facts. The problem is many people cannot differentiate between them.
  7. The Mexican Wall ~ This was a standing joke, and no, there will be no wall, and no the Mexicans aren’t paying for it either. I recall chants of people supporting the wall. They were fools to believe it was ever going to get built.
  8. Immigration, illegals, or Muslims? ~ Whom do the Americans want to keep out? It seems everyone; they don’t want anyone but Americans living and working there, but they have a Green Card Lottery that allows people to apply and to become automatic citizens, and most of these people aren’t really qualified either as it’s a lottery as long as they have the right ethnic minority background. The thing is all Americans are immigrants, except for the Native Americans who were already there.
  9. Americans are afraid of recounts ~ Jill Stein spearheaded a campaign to ask for recounts in states that did not tally with predicted outcomes, which were then blocked. Why were Americans afraid to admit there may have been fraudulent votes? A recount would prove that the electoral process was working, whereas people only block things when there is something to hide. Why bother having a state law allowing a recount and then to change it when someone wishes to apply that law?
  10. The F.B.I., C.I.A., and D.N.I., all agree there is evidence of foreign interference in the election ~ Even Republicans in Congress agree there is evidence to support this. The only people who don’t believe this are Trump supporters and Trump himself. There have been major cyber hacking incidents already, and it’s not improbable or unlikely given that hackers chose to only reveal the Democrats emails and not the Republican ones that had been hacked. Most hackers do it to prove they can hack anything rather than to make a political statement. American systems can be hacked!

Americans don’t have it as bad as they think, which they will soon discover the hard way. Meanwhile, it’s hard to look to America and its citizens without derision, but as a laughing stock. It happened in Italy with Berlusconi, and it was a matter of gathering evidence to impeach him. Many believe this is the case with Trump. Now, if only those former students who stupidly signed up to Trump University didn’t settle, then Trump would not have been eligible for office. However, the mere fact they were silly enough to sign up for a non-accredited institution says it all.

There are a few patriots that have been trying to save the country from what is an inevitable downfall, but then again, that is the role of Congress. In ye old days anyone in the way would get murdered, these days they just get paid off by selling their soul to the devil…

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 Love/Hate Relationship With Beauty Boxes

Beauty boxes aren’t new, but with social media and the internet it has allowed the beauty box business to thrive with special offers, and the young generation to refer their friends with free marketing. Birchbox made it popular again, but who is silly enough pay for a box of free samples? Throw in a pretty box and the young and gullible will, and add a full sized product and it becomes a bargain. I love my beauty products, but I’m not so hot in surprises as I like to know what I am getting which is why I don’t like beauty boxes unless I have a good idea of what will be in it. Can’t people see why they never tell you what’s in it? It’s not so you can have a surprise, it’s so they can put whatever they want in it and it makes sure you buy it and can’t return it.

Basically, you are paying for the box or bag it comes and the shipping, as samples are by law not to be sold. The craze is dying out slowly, as more boxes are cropping up with the same samples, or the odd full sized item, which is often a discontinued item. To the savvy shopper they will know that, but as the target audience is the young 18-30 year old age group who probably don’t have a huge beauty arsenal, or can’t afford premium brands they won’t mind. They are being taken advantage of, and I highlighted this in a Reddit thread only to be attacked by people telling me I get $5 back in points for each box and to stop moaning. I bet they aren’t so cocky now as Birchbox (since July in the US) have stopped that and only offer points when you purchase, and when you do the first reviews. Not such a great deal after all now, and am sure they are eating their words. In the UK, they still offer £5 worth of points for the reviews, but I can see that disappearing in the near future.

What I am tired of is companies talking down to you as if you are an idiot, I mean do I want a spoiler or not? Why would any sane person not want a spoiler and to know if they are going to get value for money? I bought a 6 month subscription to Birchbox for half price, and most months my excitement lasted a total of a couple of minutes, and like many people most items got left in a box and never used. I know this as I joined a few swap clubs and everyone has the same things to swap, as no one wanted them. To add insult to injury, the Birchbox customer service is a joke, so much so that I will dedicate a whole article on them, and report them to trading standards later on.

Many of these makeshift companies  work around small print and loopholes, designed to wear down a beauty enthusiast when things go wrong. The winner there is LookFantastic, where the beauty boxes are at least all the same, but their customer service is so poor that they force customers to prove that an item is faulty or that it hasn’t been received. They auto renew subscriptions with no notice (not technically illegal, but not ethical), and store your card details even if you delete them. When you are right, they don’t apologize and make you jump through hoops to get a refund. I had my card debited for an order I never placed, never got an apology, and only got a refund after quoting trading standards laws as there was no order number generated, thus unsolicited goods must be refunded at their own cost. No matter how amazing the contents of a beauty box is there is no way I would trust them with my money again.

Then there is the unprofessionalism—companies pretending they are beauty experts when they curate the boxes. Knock it off; we all know that they compile a box from what samples or products they can get hold of. One company pretends to have a beauty editor who was a professional make-up artist (Love me Beauty), whereas if you look up her credentials she is a shareholder of the company and left University not so long ago. All the blog posts are about what she does (gym visits, what she has baked, and the coffee she drinks), and barely has any credible information. The items they actually offer are limited, and the customer service so bad they don’t allow any visitor posts on their Facebook page. I hate companies pretending to be professional when they are not.

Another company has such a bad website (Cohorted) I just won’t buy from them, as well as pretending they are beauty experts. I can’t take them seriously when they spell the name of the company wrong (Molton Brown was spelt Molten Brown over a dozen times). They post the wrong photo with the description of the item, they ask you to pay a month in advance to pre-order a box, and the recommended value of the limited offer boxes they sell are grossly inflated; it just smacks of unprofessionalism. These companies won’t last long, and people are getting sucked in, but not I. I pity those who have been, and judging by the reviews, there have been a few.

There are some decent boxes that I buy, but I pick what I like and would rather buy a limited edition one where I can see what I am getting. I haven’t been tempted by the beauty advent calendar craze either—surely people can see that they are sample sizes just packaged nicely? Maybe some people aren’t that bright, but I haven’t found one that is genuinely great value yet, but they sell out and the business is all about money. Me, I’d rather spend my money on what I will use. Recently I bought a great value spa week box  (£20) with an Elemis face cream (30 ml) that was worth more than the box alone (£50). It’s no surprise that one sold out within days. Now that’s called a bargain beauty box, with full or half sized products.

Buying a box of small samples in a pretty bag or box has appealed to a sector of the demographic, but it is a rip off unless the products are full sized (or special travel sizes), and you know what you are getting. I hate getting ripped off, but love it when I get a bargain. I’ve found a few, and have a good stock of some premium brands, but when a box tries to palm me off with a sachet, that’s the worst. One very sad Birchbox had three sachets in it (out of five products), and when I reviewed it I wished I could have given it a minus. I felt truly ripped off and pitied those who had paid full price. I took little comfort in having paid half price, and also got the £5 paid back in points, and convinced myself that I more or less got the box for free and just paid for the shipping.

Maybe I should I set up my own beauty box business instead as clearly there are many people who will pay for a pretty box of free samples? Customers are demanding better quality of brands, sizes, and importantly customer service, and most are not delivering. I’m ended all my subscriptions, and only have one that can be cancelled at anytime and who also give you a preview before they bill you. If only all companies were like this…

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


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.

Everyday Things That Make Me Go Grrr

Life isn’t always easy, but we put up with things or make the best of what we can’t do anything about. We all have our pet peeves, and grin and bear them otherwise we would be screaming each and everyday. I’m sure most of you can empathize with some of my grrr moments.

  1. Writing an email, when your computer crashes and it didn’t save.   I now have an propensity to over save constantly or opt to write shorter emails in case of a crash. Auto-save can’t be relied upon, but has salvaged some emails, but saving a draft is so much safer and then adding to it later. Over saving may sound a little OCD, but is much better for your sanity in the long run. If it’s important pen and paper is always safer or at least to draft key points.
  2. Trying to open a child proof container, failing and then trying with pliers and any other sharp tool.  Childproof can also mean adultproof if you have long nails. This results in my leaving bleach bottles half open so I don’t have to break a nail or cause any other injury from using a pair of scissors to pry a cap open. I use rubber gloves to depress and sharply turn the cap, and it’s a mission at times and once I hear that click, I’m so relieved. Yes, I have a few unopened bottles lying around because no one can open them, and I’m too embarrassed to ask anyone.
  3. Attempting to open the new pump dispenser on your hand wash bottle and breaking it instead.  Maybe I’m too heavy handed, but I follow the directions on the bottle, only for them to fail me. Backup plan: decant into the old bottle, so don’t throw it away until the the new pump is working.
  4. The ink in your pen running out or dries up At the worst possible time. I use gel pens most of the time or a ballpoint, but why oh why at the crucial point when you need to write down a thought or sign your name does the ink dry up or run out? Shaking, licking, or scribbling furiously to get the ink working again sometimes works (but only for a few seconds), but the only way to solve this crisis is to have several pens to hand.
  5. Being unable to open a plastic bag at the checkout. I understand they are vacuum wrapped, but when you need to open the top of the bag and the cashier is speedily piling up your shopping it doesn’t help. No amount of rubbing or trying to find an edge works, and everyone stares at you in sympathy and are glad it’s not happening to them. If there was ever a reason for bringing your own bags, this is one besides recycling of course.
  6. Having an important conversation on your cellphone when the reception drops. Sadly, this happens more in rural areas, but the fact it happens also means it’s an excellent excuse to end a call that you don’t want to have. I’ve used this on many an ex-boyfriend when they were whining about something or making some excessive demand on my time. On the flip side it’s annoying when it’s a call you need to make as you hold your phone in the air desperately searching for a signal.
  7. Going to the bathroom to find there is no toilet roll left. I do get annoyed at this, but I always carry my own pocket pack of tissues just in case, in public, and at home I bulk buy rolls. Men don’t care so much, but for women it’s crucial. Never be the one to use the last of the roll, and check there is a roll before you go!
  8. Getting caught in the rain with no umbrella, and trying to look as if you aren’t bothered.  Being British born, one thing you do learn is carry an umbrella with you at all times. However, there are times when you accidentally leave a wet umbrella on the bus, or the wind is so strong it blows away or inside out rendering it useless. In the end you carry on walking briskly unaffected and with your head held high, while getting drenched. It’s only water after all…
  9. Finding a Buy one get of free offer, ONLY to find there is only one item left. I love a good offer, but nothing is worse than to find you have missed out and there is only on item left with a BOGOF, or the only items left are damaged or been opened. Grrr…why do selfish people do that?
  10. Wanting to tell a FELLOW passenger to turn their music down by throwing them Paddington Bear stares. I’ve been told I have an excellent Paddington Bear stare (a disapproving long and hard stare), and on most occasions it works, but why don’t people realize that others can hear their music through their headphones? If you have your music on loud and multiple passengers glance at you there’s a pretty good chance everyone can hear your choice of music. Please turn down the volume or invest in earbuds which are less intrusive. Thank you in advance!

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.


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.


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.


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 ( 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.