White Chrysanthemum – please read this book.

I have recently read ‘White Chrysanthemum’ by Mary Lynn Bracht, and this is why it should be the next book you read. 

I’m bad for sticking to the same set of authors when reading outside of my English Lit degree. Elif Shafak and Khaled Hosseini have my heart when it comes to choosing a new book. But what the likes of ‘Three Daughters of Eve’ by Shafak and ‘A Thousand Spendid Suns’ by Hosseini taught me was that I cannot fall for a book set solely in the twenty-first century UK. I just can’t get sucked into a book that is set in the surroundings I already live in and know about.

‘White Chrysanthemum’ by Mary Lynn Bracht appealed to me because not only was it not set in England, it wasn’t set in the Middle East, which is where my reading generally centres. ‘White Chrysanthemum’ is set begins on the Jeju island off the southernmost tip of Korea, in the year 1943. The Second World War is well underway and Korea is under control of by the Japanese.

The book got another tip from me by being set in two completely different times – 1943, as I said, and 2013. I felt Bracht used this technique which is very common nowadays to successfully show the cause and effect of the Japanese occupation of Korea. As a history student, I’ve studied various aspects of the Second World War, but never from the perspective of the other side of the world. Previously, the Japanese role in the war seemed distant and uninteresting to me, but god, how Bracht’s novel has changed that.

This novel is beautiful.

We are introduced to the Jeju island and haenyeo women – free divers. These women are the bread-winners of their families, diving for long periods of time without any breathing apparatuses – a culture that has been alive for hundreds of years. A strong female community, the novel starts with a feeling of female empowerment. This makes the path the novel goes down all the more shocking. The novel is ugly, too.

The two main characters are sisters, Hana and Emi. Devastatingly, we see precious little of them together. It is only after Hana’s abduction that we see how close they were and how special their relationship was. Though we only witness Hana as a sixteen-year-old, we watch Emi grow from the age of 9, never knowing what happened to her sister. Hana’s abduction and the devastation of Emi’s life of turmoil – the cause and effect. Emi suffers a fate worse than death; watching everyone she loves disappear as a result of war.

‘White Chrysanthemum’ is horrifying, repulsive and addictive.

Bracht uses sixteen-year-old Hana as a tool for educating and sickening the reader as we are taken on her journey through abduction and rape. Hana, like two hundred thousand women during the war, was forced into sex slavery. She was a ‘comfort woman’ – a woman to rape as ‘good luck’ before Japanese soldiers went off to fight. Morning till night, men queue up at Hana’s door, as well as the other girls in the brothel-like captivity. She is raped constantly, all day, every day, for the duration of her captivity.

Bracht doesn’t let us miss a single second of the agony or a detail of the shame inflicted on Hana. We witness her being broken in a way she will never be fixed. We can’t look away when the doctor comes every other week, to check her for disease and effectively disinfect her vagina from the remnants of hundreds of rapists. We are forced to watch Hana and the other girls wash used condoms in a barrel of water, unable to cry out about how wrong that is. Even reading it hurts. I couldn’t put this book down.

The difference between Hana’s life and that of the majority of ‘comfort women’ is that she survived. Bracht almost blushes at this in her author’s note, where it is clear she felt a human connection to Hana. After the horror of Hana’s life, I wanted to thank Bracht for indulging in a happy ending with her survival. I promise I haven’t ruined the novel for telling you that Hana survives.

It is only at the end of the novel that you truly realise that Hana was just a symbol.

A symbol for two hundred thousand women and girls that suffered the same fate. I have no idea why we do not study this at university. It should be on syllabuses everywhere. We should pay our respect for those destroyed lives, both the dead and the survivors. We have learnt so much from the Second World War about conflict, and the point of learning about wars is to prevent them happening again. Learning from our mistakes. How are we supposed to learn from those mistakes if no one knows it happened?

Thank you, Mary Lynn Bracht, for this novel. Please read this book.Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 15.05.08

Canary bliss

My boyfriend and I have been on a few trips in the short time we’ve been together, but never out of the country, so going to Lanzarote was so exciting. I don’t like flying but was looking forward to Dom being able to reassure me of what the plane was doing, as he’s an aerospace engineer. This was all well and good, until he got a little carried away with lessons on thrust and drag, which went straight over my head. Sorry Dom!

On the airport transfer, we sat nervously as the bus pulled up outside each hotel, sometimes hoping it was ours, other times praying it wasn’t. We’d gone cheap, and knew it was over a miles walk from the coast, but it was a four star and had good reviews. Finally, we pulled up outside a gargantuan, sandy walled hotel, one whole side of which was glass. Our mouths dropped as we pulled round the corner to see ‘HOTEL BEATRIZ’ in large letters above the glass entrance – our hotel.

‘Play it cool’, we told ourselves, trying to act as if we belonged in the marble-floored reception with high ceilings and plush sofas.


Getting to our room, we discovered the reception area was almost a ruse to make you initially fall in love with the hotel. Faded pink, textured wallpaper clashed with the deep green carpet, and we were devastated to find no kettle! (As it turned out, I didn’t have a single cup of tea for our entire weeks stay – don’t worry, I’m getting checked out by a doctor!!) Nevertheless, we had a lovely large balcony on the top floor of the hotel, with a view to both the pool and sea.

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It was one o’clock by this time, and we realised we hadn’t eaten since 5am. So we headed down to the town of Costa Teguise for food and to kick off a weeks worth of drunkenness. Our first meal was something I have always wanted to try, squid ink seafood paella. The ink made the dish entirely black and although this meant it didn’t look appetising, it tasted delicious!

Before heading out, I had donned my brand new, Birkenstock inspired, sandals. This was a huge mistake. By the end of the day, I had at least eight blisters on my feet, each more painful than the last. This meant I spent the ENTIRE holiday limping, reapplying blister pads and generally wishing I could be pushed in a wheelchair!

Costa Teguise is on the windy side of the island which, although we still tanned, made it incredibly irritating to lie by the pool for the first few days. Instead, we discovered balcony-bathing! As we were on the top floor, the sun came straight into the balcony, and the thick walls blocked out any wind.

Balcony-bathing came with another pro – topless sunbathing! After caking my boobs in factor 50, it was the most liberating thing! Couldn’t have done that in the fancy hotel on the coast with glass balconies I’d been eying up, ha!

Another way to escape the wind was to explore more of the country, which took us to La Graciosa, an island off the coast of Lanzarote containing only 800 inhabitants and no real roads!


The island was a paradise. The travel company only did trips there on Mondays, which I like to think is so that the island doesn’t become too touristy, but I don’t know for sure. There were a few cafes at the dock, a tiny police station and medical centre, and that was pretty much it, save for petite white houses and bungalows with flat roofs either side of sand roads. It was the most beautiful, untouched island.

We walked (I limped!) forty minutes along the coast until we found our perfect spot, all of this done with only passing a couple of people. The island is volcanic like Lanzarote, so most of the coastline was rock pools, but we finally found some sand. It was bliss. Crystal clear water looking out onto the rolling cliffs of Lanzarote. Perhaps it was this beauty that made us slip up on sun-cream, which led to Dom burning his arm pits – yes, I know, his arm pits.

Driving on the other side of the road is something I’ve never done before, but as Dom hadn’t been driving long enough, now was my chance. We hired a Skoda Citigo which I named Stacey. She was beautiful, but by far the least powerful car I have ever driven. Driving up a mountain, cliff edge to the right, I got down into second gear to climb the hill and, where my little Citroen would diligently power up the hill, Stacey the Skoda ground to a stalling holt. Very embarrassing and scary, with frustrated Spanish drivers behind and a sheer drop to the right.

Our last day took is to the Timanfaya National Park to go up the volcano. We were taken around on coaches and bloody hell it was terrifying. The coaches wound tightly round the corkscrew roads up the volcanos – roads that I would have been scared to drive a car up! I was horrified when I looked backwards to see a double-decker bus behind us, weaving along the exact same dicey road. I don’t know anything about driving a bus, but I know that driver took a double-decker where no double-decker should ever go!IMG_4071

Lanzarote was beautiful. Full of sangria, carbs and sun. A week of relaxation and exploration, which was forgotten incredibly quickly when we got back to where we parked the car at the airport at 12:30am to find my trusty Citroen would not budge. We didn’t get home until 3:30am, and I was in work the next morning. What goes up must come down, I guess.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Twenty Seventeen Reflections

With five days left of 2017, this might be a little early to do my reflections, but I highly doubt anything is going to happen in this weird period between Christmas and New Year, when no one really knows what day it is, so here we go.

2017 has been the best and worst year. The most surprising year which has come with the most change. I had my heart broken, I began a placement year, I ran a half marathon, and I found someone new. All things that I never thought would happen.
1)    IT IS OKAY TO MOVE ON. This is definitely the biggest thing I have learnt this year. There is a lovely quote by Rupi Kaur that I can relate to more than anything – “I feel apprehensive cause falling into you means falling out of him and I had not prepared for that”. I felt guilty and like I was betraying all I had convinced myself to be true over the last four years, but it was not betrayal, it was doing what was best for me. It was starting again and hugging happy memories goodbye.
2)    I can do what I set my mind to. When I told my dad I was going to run the Birmingham half marathon, his first words were “you’ll never do it”. But then I went and bought some new trainers. And then I was training three to four times a week. I ran 5 miles, then 8 miles, then 10 miles. And then I ran 13.1 miles. I’m not being dramatic when I say blood, sweat and tears went into the training. There were blisters and shin splints, and tears whilst struggling to run 6 miles because I thought I would never be able to run 13.1. But I did it and smiled the whole way round. It was the most insane experience and I can’t wait to do it again in Liverpool.
3)    TAKE YOUR BLOODY MEDICATION! This is something I have really struggled this year. To be honest, I haven’t been on Citalopram properly since June, despite still being prescribed it. I don’t know what I find so difficult about taking it every day. 1 pill a day – how hard is that? The first couple of months off it was okay because some was still in my system, but this convinced me I was okay and didn’t need it. But as time went on, it’s meant my moods are a rollercoaster, huge highs crashing to lows, in way they haven’t been since before I started on Citalopram. My new year’s resolution is to stick at it, and I’ve taken it every day for the past week, which is good for me lately.
4)    Life after uni is fab! Though I haven’t graduated yet, I’m doing a placement year, so am kind of getting the experience now in full-time work. And I love it! Every weekend I’m visiting friends doing placements around the country, and a Christmas without revision is INCREDIBLE. I love my job and it’s made me even more motivated to go into PR/Communications. The thought of going back to uni is terrifying as I can’t remember anything of what I originally planned to do in third year, but hey ho!

2018 will be better.

  • Take Citalopram every day
  • Liverpool Half Marathon 
  • Find a dissertation topic (oh god)

Berlin Exploration.

As a history student, Berlin has always been near the top of the list of cities I want to visit, and for my 21stbirthday I was lucky enough to be whisked away to the city on a Groupon voucher and RyanAir flight with my mum.

Mum and I have more of a sisterly relationship and where anything to do with travel is involved, I am the adult. I’d been so busy in the run up to the trip that I hadn’t managed to do any research on things to do or how to get around. As a result, my first thought upon exiting the Schönefeld airport was ‘oh crap’. I had no idea how to get to the hotel, or what we were going to do during the weekend.

It truly baffles me to think that people used to travel without mobile phones, let alone data roaming. Had our trip been 10 years ago, I think mum and I would have had to sit in the airport and wait for our plane home, as we would have had no idea how to get around. While I attempted to turn on my data roaming, we followed a crowd and hoped for the best.
Walking into the airport train station felt like going back in time. We joined one of about 15 queues for rusty looking ticket machines and purchased weekend passes for the train, tram and bus. This turned out to be incredibly worth the money! However, unlike London, where it is impossible to travel without some sort of ticket, we probably could have gotten around all weekend without one. There were no barriers at any stations, no ticket collectors, and when you tried to show your ticket to the man on the bus, he often glanced away. Perhaps it says something about German culture and a feeling of duty to pay, unlike us Brits who are always looking for a freebie.
Of all the Groupon hotels we have stayed in, this was the most basic and furthest out from the city, at a forty minute commute. When we arrived, we were horrified to find there was no kettle. ‘Generously’, they had provided us with a glass bottle of water which was clearly labelled ‘€2.50’. Needless to say, it was left unopened.

The ultimate highlight for me was visiting the Reichstag and going to the top of the dome. I’ve always wanted to see the Reichstag and it was actually a little surreal. One of the places you learn about at school and always seems a distant reality. I remember uttering ‘wow’ in awe when we turned the corner from the Brandenburg Gate and saw the intimidating, powerful structure. I was shocked to find you could go inside for free. For this sort of attraction in London, you would pay £30 each and wait in line for up to three hours. The ticket for the Reichstag said to arrive fifteen minutes early, and when we did, there was no queue. We showed our passports, went through an airport-like security scanner and that was that!

 Entering the Reichstag was, however, a little anticlimactic. Walking up the many steps towards the colossal pillared building evoked thoughts of all the history that had gone on in this very place. Getting to the top of the steps I immediately noticed an almost clinical feel. Everything was very modern and immaculate. On the inside, you would never suspect the building has been there since 1884. The organisation of the visitor’s area was very precise. There was no chance a visitor could see anything they didn’t want you to.

It had been raining all day until we got to the Reichstag. Somehow, luck was on our side and the sun came out just as we got to the rooftop. It was beautiful. The sun shone over Berlin and we even felt a tiny bit of its warmth, under our many layers.

A friend of mine had recommended seeing the city by boat so, powered by the fact she’d also mentioned the tour boats have bars, we hopped on. Sailing down the river, we got close up views of the Reichstag and the Chancellery building – two buildings that could not be more different. The Chancellery building is one of the largest government headquarter buildings in the world, and ten times the size of the White House (thanks Wikipedia!). It was only opened in 2001, so is very different to other government buildings like Westminster. The building is slick and cold looking, serious and intimidating, and clearly built with German precision. A world away from the historical beauty of the Reichstag.

Something we did not expect was to find it so hard to communicate with the locals. Not that either of us speak a word of German except for ‘guten tag’, ‘auf weidersehen’ and ‘danke’… Our first embarrassment came whilst trying to use a public toilet in a museum. We pushed and pushed at the door of the women’s toilets but it would not open. A cleaner came up to us and we signaled that we could not get in. We were bewildered when her response was to start tapping the picture of the stick woman, in a way that seemed to suggest she thought we did not fit the category! We awkwardly nodded, and she gave the door a gentle pull… Yes, apparently in Germany, doors open and close differently.

I’m not a big meat-eater, so perhaps that’s why I was unimpressed by German cuisine. We mostly ate in Italian and Asian restaurants, especially after our attempt to go authentic failed miserably. On the first night, we swanned into a candlelit restaurant near Alexanderplatz, where we were greeted by an aproned waiter who took our coats. Mum and I gave each other the ‘we can’t afford this but let’s go along with it’ eyes, and sat down at the seats that had been pulled out for us. One look at the menu and we knew we’d made a mistake. Surprisingly, ‘Boiled beef’ and ‘stewed veal’ didn’t appeal.

Oh, what would a mother-daughter city break be without plenty of shopping trips? The Mall of Berlin (what a name, ey?) did not disappoint. Like magnets, we were pulled to the delicate, unmissable fairy lights, and especially the golden glow of the Lindt shop. We made various purchases from Lindt, mainly because with each purchase you got a free Lindt ball! I blame it on the cold that I struggled to shut my suitcase for the flight home – it forced us to shop more – whoops!

History, architecture and shops aside, the first thing I think of when I remember Berlin is the cold. Another European city off the check-list, thanks mum!

Goodbye to the Pill.

I was sixteen years old when, not even a month into a relationship I would be in for three and a half years, my mum marched me down to the local GP to get me put on the pill. Bish bash bosh. A tablet a day for the rest of my life, unless I wanted to get pregnant and die.
At eighteen, I finally went to the doctors to get help for my anxiety and depression, which had begun at the age of sixteen. I was immediately put on Citalopram, which I had to take each day with my pill. At nineteen, my dosage was upped to 30mg, which meant two tablets.
So that’s three tablets a day. As well as vitamins C and D (also for my moods), and an Antihistamine. So let’s recount: 6 tablets a day. Also known as, a pain in the ass.
I changed pills to Millenet after about two years, as my PMS was out of hand, but to be honest I think it was just my general moods, no matter what time the month was. Each day was a struggle. Exercise helped, but only till I got home and was left alone again. I tried counselling twice, I tried yoga and meditation. I just wanted to feel ‘normal’.
In January, my world was turned upside down when my boyfriend of three and a half years and I broke up. Going from being in a serious relationship to not being was a bloody shock. Once I had got over the worst of the upset, I began to think to myself, why am I taking all these pills? What is the point? I realised that I didn’t really know my adult self without some sort of unnatural hormone inside me. So, four months ago I decided to stop the pill.
Its been fifteen weeks since I cut out the contraceptive pill. I have never felt better.
In four years I have not been so happy and content with my life, and I fully believe it is a result of my coming off of the pill. Admittedly, things in my life are pretty good right now. I’ve just started my internship which I love and am meeting new friends every day. I love living in Birmingham. But usually, my anxiety would find a way to ruin it all. I’ve gone from having a breakdown a week, to going stretches of 5 weeks without a single one. I feel positive about the future, motivated and at peace with life in a way I haven’t for four years.
I know I have no scientific proof that the pill caused my anxiety and depression, and of course I still suffer at times. But the fact is that I can trace my anxiety back to being put on the pill. I was put on Citalopram a year after the pill and, to me, the correlation is insane. I have even downed my dosage of Citalopram with the aim of coming off it altogether by next year. I would never have considered it 15 weeks ago, but now it seems so realistic.

I’m not saying this would work for everyone. I had a good chat with my doctor before coming off the pill to make sure I would be okay if I did so, and if I want to go back on it, which I’m sure I will eventually, I need to wait long enough so there is no risk of blood clots. A bit of a pain, yes, but I feel I know myself so much better than I did when I was on the pill, so it has been so worth it.

Birmingham International Half Marathon: 8 weeks to go

8 weeks to go. 56 days. 14 training sessions. Eeek.
This weeks training:
Monday: rest
Tuesday: 40 minute run – 3.42 miles
Wednesday: 30 minute run – 2.65 miles
Thursday: rest
Friday: 35 minute run – 3.32 miles
Saturday: rest
Sunday: 5.5 mile run
I had a break-through in training this week. It was the first time I actually began to feel like maybe I can get through this half marathon without walking. Overall, I’m feeling more motivated than ever to train properly and complete the half marathon.
Training stepped up to 5.5 miles this week. It was the furthest I have ran for three years, when I did my 10k. I ran it in 59 minutes, averaging 10:44 minute miles, which I am very happy with.

In the last few weeks I have started changing my diet to fuel myself properly on training days. Using all the knowledge GCSE PE equipped me with, I make sure to eat carbs before training and protein after. The carbs I eat are always complex, like sweet potatoes and brown rice (sorry for the lack of technical terms, my GCSE’s were 4 years ago!). I fill every meal with green veggies and drink as much water as I can. I’ve definitely noticed the difference since eating properly. I feel I can train for longer and the training I do is more worthwhile. 
One thing I am struggling with is running around the area of Birmingham I live in. Each run means getting beeped at by lads in cars on average 3 times in 30 minutes, plus the added extra of getting invited back to some charming men’s houses – what for, I can’t imagine! I’ve started sticking my fingers up at beeping cars, and telling men that shout where to go (I doubt they can hear me through my panting). Due to where I live, my weekday runs are confined to town roadsides, which is not the most enjoyable. But it gets the job done.
On a Sunday, I try and mix things up. I’m usually at home in my village in Leicester on a Sunday, so running in the countryside is lovely. Pervy men are replaced with cyclists who encourage you on with a thumbs up, or neighbours who tell you to keep going. It also means I can run on varying terrain, which is important as I have had problems with my knee in the past.
This week’s 5.5 mile run was just lovely, and shockingly I am not being sarcastic. The weather was not too hot or too cold, and I felt so strong the whole way. Half way through, untrimmed footpaths meant I had to hurdle stinging nettles whilst running uphill, which was less than ideal. Only in the last 10 minutes did I start to feel blisters emerging. I was still mouthing the words to ‘Footloose’ in the last mile, which I’m sure is a good sign. 

Next week’s long run is 7 miles, and I’m in London for it. I’ve found a 7-mile route around the city centre, called the Grand Tour, so I’m actually excited for it. If I finish it, I’m going to treat myself to a new Fitbit – watch this space.

—– I’m running the Birmingham International Half Marathon in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. It would be amazing if you could sponsor me, which you can do by clicking here xxxxx —–

Birmingham International Half Marathon in T-14 weeks

On 17th July I signed up for the Birmingham International Half Marathon, taking place on 15th October. I planned to blog after each week of training, but only now, in week 4, have I had time to post one. 

So this is it, I am signed up for my first ever half marathon! It has not sunk in yet that in 14 weeks, on October 15th, I will be running 13.1 miles… The furthest I have ever run is 10k (6.2 miles), but that was about three years ago.
In true ‘all the gear but no idea’ style, last weekend I headed straight to Sports Direct and bought a brand new pair of running trainers – pink, of course.
I am going to be following a 12-week training plan I downloaded from BUPA. I will be training at least twice in the week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) plus a longer run on a Sunday. I can currently run 3 miles, so that will be my baseline. As I have 14 weeks to go, I am using the next two weeks to make sure I am at the right fitness level to start the plan, and get myself used to exercising more frequently, especially as I have been doing less cardio recently in favour of weights. For the last year, my treadmill cardio has been interval training: 45 second sprint, 30 second pause/jog.
Today was my first day of training, but due to health issues I wasn’t able to start with the 30 minute run at a regular speed I had planned. For the last two weeks, I have been suffering with light-headedness and general weakness to an extent that I have been nervous to drive. I’m also suffering aches and pains in my back as well as my right knee, from an injury I sustained last year in New Zealand. Today, I went to the doctors and had a blood test for anemia, thyroid problems, and a few other potential causes. I am so desperate to find the problem as the sooner I know what it is the sooner I can fix it and start training properly!
Week 14 Training, Tuesday:
·      Exercise:
o   20 minute speed walk (6.3 on treadmill) on varying inclines up to 4.5%
o   10 minute run (7.5 on treadmill)
·      Distance: 2 miles
·      Time: 30 minutes
·      Calories: 190
I felt surprised with how well I coped with today’s training, after I had blood taken this morning and felt particularly ill at work today. I needed to be very careful as over-exertion can make you feel light-headed even if you aren’t ill, so today’s training was very light. It felt so great to get out of the office and put my running shoes on, even if I was on the treadmill. For the 20 minute speed walk I used a programme on the treadmill where I was ‘running’ around the Grand Canyon. I’m not going to lie, the pixelated treadmill screen did little to transport me from the poorly air conditioned, sweaty gym with hot pink walls, but it was a nice idea. The inclines varied depending on what part of the Grand Canyon I was ‘running’ on.
The 10 minute run was just enough before I began to feel faint. I did notice the benefit of my new trainers. They are my first pair of road-running trainers and are incredibly lightweight and well padded.

Despite this illness forcing me to take it slow this week, I am feeling very positive. Exercise works wonders for my mental health, so training for this race is going to benefit me both mentally and physically. I am excited to see and record the changes in my body and mind over the next 14 weeks. As for sponsorships, I as yet only have £1 I donated myself to check my text donations work!

Tenerife: Beach Balls and Beer Bellies.


Five years ago, when I last visited Tenerife, I was about to turn sixteen. My fourteen year old brother and I got drunk for the first time in our lives on all-inclusive alcohol, which we got hold of using an adults wristband. He threw up black, slimey sick on our hotel room floor. I fell in love with each and every boy my age that I saw.

This trip was a little different. Firstly, my now eighteen year old brother didn’t come, and it was just my eight year old brother and I, along with mum and dad. This time, getting off the plane in Tenerife felt a little like getting off a plane in Skegness, only Skegness in a major heatwave. Crimson beer bellies and bottle openers shaped like willies. Signs for McDonalds 10 metres away, alcohol served with breakfast, photos of what your cocktail is meant to look like, but never will, on the menu. In other words, a holiday for people who want a tan, but don’t actually want to leave England.
I flew out on the Friday separately to my family, and within ten minutes of landing my mum informed me that on Sunday we would be going to our hotel’s sister hotel to a meeting about buying a villa there. ‘Are you joking?’ I asked. There’s not a chance my family would ever consider that, or be in the financial position to do so. ‘No,’ mum said, ‘if we go, we get a free breakfast and £50 off tickets to Siam Park!’ That’s more like it, I thought, anything for a freebie.
The trip to the sister hotel was lovely, if you could convince yourselves the over-exaggerated smiles were genuine, and not just because they wanted you to buy a villa. On arrival, John (a Scottish expat who had emigrated to Tenerife with his third wife just 6 months ago) shook hands with my dad, my mum and I, and high-fived my brother. The receptionists asked us for our life stories and told us theirs in thickly-coated, northern accents. They told my brother he could go and use the hotel Wii, or watch a DVD, or connect to the WiFi, like each option was a special previledge we couldn’t get in England. ‘I think we’ll just go in the pool’, I said.
Like most girls, I set my mind on finding my Spanish prince. Pickings were scarce. Between a sweaty restauranteur who shouted ‘eat here, Barbie!’ at me down the street, a twelve year old boy who made a ‘call me’ sign at me whilst I was on a run, and a cockroach which I swear was giving me the eye, my choices were not exactly plentiful. I chose to stick with my one true love, sangria.

And wasn’t it good. Didn’t you hear? A litre of sangria a day keeps the doctor away, or at least that’s what I was told. Oh, and then there was the pasta. Mum and I very rarely eat carbs with dinner at home, so Tenerife was a good excuse to splurge. Creamy prawn, tomato, garlic and spinach pasta helped keep the boys away – the garlic was cut in thick slices instead of crushed. Though I said earlier that my heart wasn’t won over in Tenerife, I forgot about Canarian potatoes! Potatoes boiled in two tablespoons of salt and very little water, also known as perfection, or obesity.
I also mentioned earlier that we got £50 entry to Siam Park, Tenerife’s waterpark. I’d been before and was incredibly excited. Last time I went to Tenerife, Oscar was too young to go on any of the bigger slides with me – now, he was just too scared. So my dad was forced to accompany me. The only one I could get him to go on was a steep, wavy slide which you road down on your belly. £50 off was not enough to convince mum and dad to buy fast-track passes, so we joined the mile-long queue up an incredibly steep hill, in nearly forty degree heat.  
Dad is 58, and good for it. You can tell he likes his beer, but Oscar keeps him active. Not, it seems, active enough, however. The hour queue, in which we stood facing forwards, up a steep hill and therefore stretching our ham strings, led to him limping for the next two days. When we finally reached the top, we got down on our bellies (on mats) and tried to push off. Dad went flying. Meanwhile, I flopped around like a fish out of water trying to push myself off and down the slide. Not very flattering, and perhaps another reason why I didn’t find my Spanish prince.
On the fourth day, mum was horrified to discover she had let her eight year old son burn on his back. He was promptly shoved into a water t-shirt which he was not allowed to take off, despite the zip at the back irritating his skin. In what may have been a way to punish herself, mum burned also. She decided to buy a t-shirt to cover up, so we marched down to the shops. T-shirt choices were almost as scarce as the Spanish princes. Did she want a pink tee with a bejazzled kitten on the chest, or a bright red one with Bart Simpson mooning? She settled with the kitten, and thankfully wore it insideout.

On my final day, I was treated to a trip to the hotel my family would be moving to when I left. We had been staying in a 3 star apartment, and the splurge had been saved for the 5 star all-inclusive hotel when I left. The hotel boasted two nudist areas (because one just isn’t enough), basketball courts, tennis courts, and a handful of restaurents. Walking in to reception and looking up, you see what appears to be a ceiling full of water. That is, until you start to see bodies in the water, and realise the swimming pool is on the roof top. Thank god it wasn’t the nudist pool.
I watched, green-eyed, as mum and dad handed their passports to the Spanish lady on reception – one of the first actual Spanish people we saw on the trip, it felt like. ‘Where is her passport?’ the lady asked, gesturing to me. ‘She’s not staying here’, dad replied. Thanks, dad! As what I can only guess was supposed to be a condolence for not being allowed to stay at the hotel of dreams, I was allowed a glass of welcome orange juice reserved for guests on check in, win!

I exaggerate, of course. It was a lovely holiday. Thanks for reading! 

‘I am not ok’

 The day before a second year university exam: not the most convenient time to have the worst panic attack you’ve ever had. Anxiety, sadness, exhaustion and worry curdled together and exploded inside me. It’s never been that bad before. Bad to the extent I was pulling my hair, gritting my teeth, and shaking all over. Bad to the extent that now, four hours later, I am still feeling weak.
I was home alone, but the loneliness was far more than physical. I was falling into a hole that I didn’t even care if I got out of, just as long as the pain ended. I closed my eyes and waited for the tears to stop. The darkness of my eye lids was comforting and eased my breathing. I managed to send a text to my friend, ‘I am not ok’. Within two minutes, a reply. ‘I’m coming over’.
It seems that it is at times when you think you are at your lowest, you have the opportunity to realise how special the people around you really are. But if you don’t speak first, you might never find out. It takes a special person to drop everything and come round just to make you a cup of tea when you’re crying, and I am lucky enough to have someone like that in my life.

No matter how many videos you share, quotes you tweet; no matter how many Mental Health Awareness day’s there are, some people will never understand what it’s like to suffer from mental illness. And lucky them! They’re lucky enough to have never felt a black dog walking behind them, or like everyone in the room hates them. Some people will say that you’re attention seeking, that you’re pathetic, that you’re weak. But you’re not. You’re fighting a battle no one else can see. And they’ll never see it if you don’t speak out.

A Veronan Love Affair

‘Buona notte, bella’, Alissio smiled, shyly. Picking up my empty limoncello shot glass, he opened the dishwasher. I looked at his deep, brown eyes and wished I could have got to know them better. Thanks Groupon Mini-Breaks, I blame you for my failed romance. Alissio, a drummer from Rome, working as a bartender here in Verona. How very cliché. The city, the food, the people. Verona is truly the city of love, and I was trapped.

I should note that I was visiting the city with my nan, who is age 69. This, however, does not mean the trip was any different to if I’d visited with a friend my own age. We shopped, we drank, we ate. We visited Dublin together last year, and it was a weekend of Prosecco-fuelled shopping trips and 2pm cocktails. A lot had changed in the year for us both, and though we still enjoyed our limoncello nightcaps, we were more conscious of making the most of every second of the trip. 
I spent the first thirteen years of my life a vegetarian, living on pizza and pasta, so travelling to Italy for the first time felt a little like returning to my mother-land. Desperate to get a taste for authentic Italian food, we sought advice from the hotel receptionist, Francesco. He recommended a little restaurant in the centre of the city called Ristorante Greppia, and it didn’t disappoint. As we couldn’t decide what to have, the waiter gave us half of our top choices on one plate. Buttery pasta topped with truffle was a delicate accomplice to pumpkin and red wine risotto, washed down with a bottle of rosé. The waiters were impeccable. It felt like they made it their mission to help us taste their best dishes, and I never wanted to leave.

Lake Garda was an interesting experience, if not a failure. The lake is about 52km in length, and is surrounded by small towns. Verona is about twenty minutes from the two towns at the south of the lake, so we headed there eagerly. My nan had memories of a beautiful town called Sirmione and we became determined to find it. We travelled by train, which was a fantastic way to see the rustic Italian countryside. Wooden mills, dilapidated farmyards and picturesque cottages flew by. Our first stop was Peschiera del Garda. After a lot of walking in the direction of the town centre, I asked a restaurateur where the centre was. ‘You’re in it!’ He said. I asked him how we could get to Sirmione, to which he pointed down a little street and said we would be there in five minutes. This answer was proved questionable when I used my Google Maps, which told us it would take us more like five hours to walk there! Had it been a hot summers day, we might not have minded. However, it was only mid-March, and we couldn’t even see across the lake for low clouds. 
Nevertheless, we proceeded. We had lunch on the side of the lake and pretended the day was going to plan. After admitting we could not spend another minute in Peschiera, we retreated to the train station and got a train to Santa Maria di Lugana, the next town. This town was actually even less successful than Peschiera. Though this town had the benefit of shops, it was not quite as pretty, and the weather was getting worse. After popping into numerous shops, we finally purchased two bus tickets to Sirmione, which by this point felt like tickets to the promised land. We sat at the bus stop for what felt like a millennium, and befriended a German couple with rather limited English. At long last, the bus came. We were off to Sirmione. 
Sirmione sits on a peninsular about three miles long, and driving up it I was expecting big things. Getting off the bus, I wrapped my stiff leather jacket further around myself and glared at the clouds. It was getting colder. ‘This way’, my nan instructed, pointing towards a large archway over a moat. The main town of Sirmione sits on its own island. We headed straight to the nearest café as the cold was unbearable, and sat outside under an electric heater. I ordered a hot chocolate and was amazed when a cup of what appeared to be literally melted chocolate was placed in front of me. The rest of the town was pretty much deserted. Gift shops were closed, as were many restaurants. It appeared Sirmione is only in full action during the main summer months. I admit, it was a little difficult not to get frustrated at this, as our whole day had been spent searching for this place.
Frozen and moody, we returned to the hotel and took a shot of lemoncello each. Tonight would be better, we told ourselves as we plastered matching lipstick to our lemony lips. I googled restaurants and chose the one with the highest rating. Ristorante il Canacolo. A wave to Francesco and we were off. 
The moment we walked through the door of Ristorante il Canacolo we knew we were in for a treat, a very expensive treat. A glass of Prosecco was thrust into our hands before we even sat down, let alone asked for one. Walking to our table gave us a sense of what we had to come. A chef in whites with a stereotypical, curly, white moustache stood in the centre of the restaurant thinly slicing an array of antipasti. An older waiter in a tux wheeled a tray of deluxe desserts under our noses.
We were shown to our table and the next five minutes was spent trying to keep up with the waiter reading out the menu for us. It was difficult to concentrate as large table of Italians was seated next to us. They appeared not to have ordered from the basic menu, but instead were being constantly supplied with aperitifs of cold meats and bread as they guzzled endless amounts of wine. The table was set for twelve people, however when we arrived there were only five seated. Throughout our meal we watched more arrive. What surprised me was that the seated people were already eating, whereas in England we would wait for the whole table to arrive before even ordering. 
Eventually, I ordered a pine nut and artichoke pasta, and my nan a T-bone steak. Despite this meal being almost double the price of the one we had the night before, we were a little disappointed. The waiters prioritised the large table of Italians, and didn’t seem to care as much about the two British tourists. A totally different experience to the night before, where we had felt every waiter in the restaurant was there to serve our every whim. 
Rest assured, the service did not stop us from drinking. I am a sweet rosé drinker, and am slowly trying to wean myself onto more sophisticated whites and reds. However, I asked the waiter for the sweetest wine they had, and was shocked (and admittedly, thrilled) when he returned with a healthy glass of dessert wine! I love dessert wine. It conjures up the happiest memories of my fourteen-year-old self and my best friend sneaking into my nans wine store between courses and downing a few mouthfuls of the stuff before returning, giggling, to the table. And now here I was, at twenty, in Italy getting drunk with the woman I used to hide my alcohol intake from! 
Walking back from the restaurant was wonderful. We stumbled tipsily down the main high-street of Verona, giggling and ogling at the brightly lit store fronts of Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. My wine-stained mind delighted in the stars above, my nan talked of wanting a cigarette. ‘We need an Italian dictionary!’ I declared, and strutted powerfully into the news agent. ‘Un dictionnaire, s’il vous plaît’ was met with confused head shaking by the two Italians behind the counter. 
Heavy heads did not stop us enjoying our final day, especially as the sun had finally come out! Our first stop, stalling ourselves from shopping for as long as we could, was the Verona Arena, or amphitheatre. A view over the whole of the city was worth climbing the steps for. The views were delicious, and it was here I made up my mind that Italy was perfect. Disorganised streets were hidden by higgledy-piggledy rooftops of different tones of orange. Old Italian ladies hung their washing from their balconies. I wished to know what their greatest troubles in life were, and what made them happiest in this beautiful city. How could you find a problem in the world when you looked out your bedroom window at where blue sky meeting the boundless, snow-capped alps?
Thanks for reading X