Travel, TV

Visit Seville and imagine yourself in the exotic locations of Dorne and Meereen from Game of Thrones

With its blissful warm climate, strategic history and regal architecture, Seville looks fit for the big screen. Throw in some real world tribulations having been founded by the Romans, conquered by the Muslims then enduring the Spanish Civil War and it seems reality mirrored fiction when the city was selected to film the more exotic locations in Game of Thrones.

The city still carries an air of pride and importance, in fact Spanish royalty still have a residence at Real Alcázar which is the Royal Palace and Gardens and should be your first stop too. The site has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and the palace’s walls faithfully depicts its myriad of monarchs and influences. From its Arabic occupancy to late Middle Ages Mudéjar then jumping to the Renaissance, Baroque and the 19th century in it’s very own Game of Thrones. Oh, and have you heard of the executed royal? The alleged brutal murder of Muhammed VI, with his blood told to stain the palace’s marble floor to this day, is the sort of backstabbing that George R.R. Martin could have used for inspiration and makes it perfect to masquerade as the Kingdom of Dorne.

Inside the palaces at Real Alcázar

Inside the palaces at Real Alcázar

Even the climate is a natural fit. With average summer high temperatures of above 35c Seville is considered the hottest city in Europe which makes it ideal for Dorne as the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms. Granted, the plotlines may have been somewhat tedious but the Kingdom of Dorne always appeared the most opulent in the medieval-era world, Dornish outfits were majestically coloured and the surroundings had a brilliant exotic, indulgent charm. Most of that extravagance has been garnered over centuries and centred on Real Alcázar which played the Water Gardens of Dorne, the private estate of the House of Martell during series five.

The fountain in Real Alcázar Gardens where Myrcella and Trystane are filmed strolling

The fountain in Real Alcázar Gardens where Myrcella and Trystane are filmed strolling

The fountain as depicted in the show

The fountain as depicted in the show

The show first visits the Martells in episode two after Trystane has been betrothed to Myrcella Baratheon. The pair are playing in the gardens below as Prince Doran Martell has a feisty chat with Ellaria Sand on the terrace overlooking Mercury’s Pool. The terrace itself is outside King Pedro’s Palace and out of bounds to the general public though the gardens, including the Italian ‘Grutesco Gallery’, are well worth exploring.

Mercury's Pool in the Real Alcázar Gardens

Mercury’s Pool in the Real Alcázar Gardens

In episode five Jamie Lannister arrives to attempt to retrieve Myrcella from her beloved Trystane and runs into Ellaria Sand’s daughters; the Sand Snakes, in the gardens next to Pavilion of Carlos V before all of them are apprehended by Martell soldiers. Another elaborate location is the beautifully lit domes of Maria de Padilla’s Baths where Ellaria secretly convened with the Sand Snakes to plot revenge for Prince Oberyn’s death. While the Martells were known for their promiscuity, fittingly Maria de Padilla was caught up in her own Thrones-esque plot as King Pedro’s mistress.

Maria De Padilla Baths

Maria De Padilla Baths

The baths as depicted in the show

The baths as depicted in the show

Episode nine featured The Ambassador’s Hall where Prince Doran received Jaime along with Myrcella, Trystane and Ellaria, though the star of the show is the hall’s gorgeous gold ceiling. The palace must have been manna from above for the producers as such glorious elegance would have been impractical to reproduce. From the Arabic three arches to the domed ceiling, ornate furniture, exquisite plasterwork and coloured Moorish ceramic tiles, all they had to was shoot as the backdrop was so sublime. Later on the in the same episode, Ellaria finally swore allegiance to Prince Doran with the paved courtyard of the Patio de las Doncellas in the background.

The Ambassador's Hall at Real Alcázar

The Ambassador’s Hall at Real Alcázar

The Ambassador's Hall as depicted in the show

The Ambassador’s Hall as depicted in the show

For those wanting to venture a bit further, there are two other filming locations outside of the city. Santiponce was once considered one of the most important cities in the Roman age and the ruins themselves are free to visit for EU citizens. The Italica ruins have been an attraction since 1989 when it was declared an Archaeological Site by a decree of the Andalusian Regional Government. Most importantly, the amphitheatre was used as The Dragonpit in the finale to season seven which saw Cersei Lannister face up to Jon Snow and Danaerys Targaryen. The ruins are about a half hour bus ride away on the M170 which is a local bus you can catch from the main bus station at the Plaza D’Armas up to every 15 minutes for €1.60. Keep gazing out of the window as the rolling hills on the approach through the village of Camas can be likened to those in Gladiator and you can see why the Romans took a fancy.

The Amphitheatre at the Italica ruins in Santiponce

The Amphitheatre at the Italica ruins in Santiponce

The amphitheatre as it appeared as The Dragonpit

The amphitheatre as it appeared as The Dragonpit

Danaerys Targaryen as featured in The Dragonpit

Danaerys Targaryen as featured in The Dragonpit

The same spot in the amphitheatre

The same spot in the amphitheatre

The entrance to the amphitheatre was also used to feature The Hound

The entrance to the amphitheatre was also used to feature The Hound

The entrance to the amphitheatre as depicted in the show

The entrance to the amphitheatre as depicted in the show

If large, open-air arenas are your thing then you should also visit the bullring at Plaza de Toros in Osuna which was Danzak’s Fighting Pit in Meereen in episode nine of series five when Daenerys Targaryen escaped on the the back of her dragon, Drogon, after an ambush attack by the Sons of the Harpy. You will have to imagine the dragon but the bullring itself dates from 1904 and is one of the widest and most prestigious in Spain, still seating around 5000 spectators. Osuna is about 85 minutes away on a coach from Plaza de San Sebastian and costs €8 one-way, though you could get the roomy, air conditioned train for €3 more. The train trip is also a far cry from Britain’s equivalent as the ticket price stays consistent and the Renfe train itself even comes with vending machines.

The Bullring at Plaza Del Toros in Osuna

The Bullring at Plaza Del Toros in Osuna

Filming the bullring as Danzak's Fighting Pit

Filming the bullring as Danzak’s Fighting Pit

The sheer variety of historical landmarks combined with it’s easy accessibility and warm climate make Seville a great destination for a mini-break. Given the brutal history that the Andaluscian capital has endured makes it a no-brainer that the city was chosen to masquerade as Dorne and Meereen. Even without your own dragon, there are few better cities to immerse yourself in the show.

Advertisements
Standard
Travel

Safari Bingo at The Maasai Mara

A safari trip to the Maasai Mara must be pretty high up many bucket lists and mine is no different. Kenya’s most famous national park is teeming with wildlife and you have probably already seen it without realising. Those migrating herds of wildebeest charging across river banks, trying desperately to avoid the waiting crocodiles with commentary provided by David Attenborough. That would be the Mara River during The Great Migration as thousands of wildebeest travel from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Mara in Kenya between July and October, I went to see what all the fuss was about.

The first thing that strikes you about the Maasai Mara is its sheer vastness. Ideally this is best seen from above and there are regular flights out from Nairobi to ‘the bush’. I booked with Safarilink which has two daily flights out to Maasai Mara from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. You COULD drive out for 5-6 hours yet flying in a thirteen seater Cessna Caravan was an experience I was not going to pass up. This remains the closest I am likely to get to a private jet, albeit for an hour long flight so I sat right at the front and gazed at the confusing flight instruments. About as close as you can get to sitting with the pilot.

DSC05657

Cessna Caravan

From a few hundred feet in the air you can clearly see the herds of zebras, wildebeest and giraffes meander across the plains. Then there is the topography of lush greens, pale browns intersected with ravines. Not a skyscraper or car park in sight, and you can barely make out the runways below.

DSC05931

Our destination was the third and final stop making the plane the equivalent of a long-distance shuttle bus. As the plane homed in on Mara Keekorok there was clearly no terminal, no duty-free and no café; merely a local market ran by tribes members and a hut which acted as an admission gate to the park itself. Ah yes, the fees. For tourists the cost is $70USD per day which seems excessive but this is far better than your average day at the zoo.

DSC05701

We were picked up by our two kindly, knowledgeable guides; Korbin and Benson, and soon enough we were away on our first safari trip. A bright lizard sunning itself on a rock and a lion family lazing under a sausage tree were our immediate highlights. After a couple of hours we arrived at Simba Lodge and were given a hearty welcome. The rooms are mainly constructed out of wood which blends into the surroundings. There are the usual trappings of a hotel room with a kettle, shower room and comfy double bed. Most impressively, the room featured an outside balcony overlooking the stream below. We really were in the middle of the bush as a hippo was enjoying the late afternoon sun on the opposite bank, only an electrified fence separated me from the wildlife. The monkeys were still lolling around the swimming pool though.

DSC05936In order to best see the majesty of the bush it is best to get there early. With my mobile alarm set I woke to the sound of birdsong, surely the best wake-up call on Planet Earth as Attenborough would say. Then watched as the red morning light diffused from sunrise. What became obvious over the next few days was the familiarity of the bush. On the first morning we were greeted with a family of giraffes mingling with zebras. We soon found out that due to the successful policing of the poachers the animals really did not mind us. Giraffes stared at us with a vague interest then continued munching on foliage. Strangely, considering their prevalent role in The Lion King, warthogs and meerkats were easily the shyest of animals we encountered.

DSC05737

As far as action went we looked to have had narrowly missed a cheetah catching his dinner as a fresh wildebeest corpse soon had its ribs exposed. On another morning all appeared serene as a pack of zebras grazed on one side of the road. On the other side a lion cub slowly crept over the brow scouting for breakfast and suddenly the zebras were on high alert. Likely due to the interests of public decency we vacated the area to let nature play its gory course.

DSC05858

On several occasions we were late to the action yet even then you could see the inner workings of the bush. When the chase was over and the hunters had had their fill the other predators join in. Before carrion becomes toxic the vultures actually play a responsible role in the bush’s upkeep. Rotting corpses can pollute the land and poison wildlife, before that happens the vultures pick the bones clean. The ecosystem in perfect harmony.

DSC05783

With the safari trip itself ticked off the bucket list, the next list was The Big Five or, as I like to call it, Safari Bingo. On the first day I had managed to scratch off an African lion, elephant and cape buffalo. Feeling pretty smug with a solid afternoon of safari spotting we soon went off-road. Of course, we were not the only transport on the plains as Korbin and Benson slowed down to excitedly talk to another guide. They could have been discussing the latest boxset or what they were having for dinner such is my lowly grasp of Swahili. Soon enough we edged off-road and thankfully there was a reason to suffer all those bumps. The sun was going down and soon enough we would have to have departed the park and got back for dinner. Yet the reward far outweighed the risk, within a few minutes our guide pointed into the trees and a dark grey silhouette could be seen. At last count there were three rhinos on the Mara, somehow in the 1,510 km² vastness we had managed to spot one. Only when I realised how unlikely our encounter was did I really begin to treasure it. Our return to the lodge was innocuous enough, until we mentioned the rhino. Some workers had been at the lodge for months, maybe years without seeing one, we had only been there for a few hours. The bingo card was nearly complete and the first day had ended with a buffet dinner including dessert, I was on holiday after all.

DSC05775

The second day was more of the same but I could appreciate how the Mara changes during the day. From mating calls and playfighting Gazelles in the morning to herds of wildebeest minding their own business. On the second day  I took a break from the wildlife to visit the natives. The Maasai tribe inhabit southern Kenya and are resident on the game parks. Indeed, the nearest tribe was pretty much next door to the lodge and for the afternoon we got to know their local customs. We were welcomed with the males bouncing to a rhythm and soon learnt about their cattle and goat herds. Their leader, James, spoke faultless English as my Mother asked about their interaction with the wider world; the internet, education and inoculations. We were then shown their clay huts, means of making fire and a herbal remedy for all ailments which made for an insightful afternoon.

DSC05797

On our final day we had a full day safari with a picnic and ventured a bit further. A thunderstorm had left mud patches across the terrain which had mainly dried out during the morning. However, by early afternoon some mud remained meaning many transports got stuck and part of the entertainment was cheering them get towed out. As we got closer to the Mara river the sheer volume of wildebeest kept mounting up but we had missing The Great Crossing as the hippos, crocodiles and Egyptian geese looked kinda bored. There was one vacant box on my Safari Bingo card and with a few hours left I managed to tick it off as we spotted a leopard lazing up a tree. I felt like shouting ‘BINGO’ but that would have woken him then scared him off.

DSC05940

The final morning was also my birthday yet I kept this quiet to enjoy the majesty of the bush waking up. The giraffes and zebras grabbing their breakfast, the wildebeest slowly meandering across the plains and the lions huddling as a family. Well worth a trip, even if it isn’t on your bucket list.

DSC05927

Standard
Politics, Uncategorized

General Election 2017. I Still Believe In This Country, But Not Under This Current Government.

Let me begin with a disclaimer, politics is not really my thing. Yes, I take an interest in how this country is run and how, in general, the world is becoming increasingly ridiculous. I also know people who are a lot more articulate when it comes to understanding and explaining affairs of state. Most of us get our facts from the media but my patience for impartial news is wearing thin to the extent that I do not believe it exists anymore. Since a young age I have have maintained this heavy scepticism, especially when newspapers and television become our primary sources of information when election coverage ramps up.

My main concern lies in an estimated ¾ of the current mainstream media in the UK being privately owned, ergo I don’t believe most of what is being printed being anything close to objective. The Government had an opportunity to investigate the media but dropped the Leveson II Inquiry. I do not believe the media were let off the hook without a compromise, a government able to ignore unwanted facts is a prerogative of unchallenged power. Avoid headlines. Read the manifestos and make up your own mind.

Even then it can be difficult to try to find the common good amongst all the promises. I find it easier to present politics as a fairytale; good v evil, The Force v The Dark Side, government for the few v government for the many. Thomas Jefferson saw it as a battle between aristocrats and democrats. The aristocrats are ‘those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.’ The democrats ‘identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe.’ Once you realise how nepotistic the media is and concentrate on policies the picture becomes a little clearer. Judging by the recently published manifestos, it is not difficult to work out which party fits which description in this general elections and why I still believe in this country, but only if the current government was removed.

I believe in a £9 p/h minimum wage and a tax freeze promise on wages for those earning less than £80,000.

I do not believe in zero hour contracts.

I believe in eradicating rough sleeping and raising corporation tax to £26bn. I also believe in Excessive Pay Leverage, in taxing the top 5% and those earning over £80,000. I also believe in giving HMRC more teeth to go after UK companies who plough their profits into tax havens. The rich must pay their dues before a social crisis.

I believe in renationalising the trains and bringing them back under Government control. I also believe in free wifi on trains and freezing rail fare prices before reducing them gradually while investing in infrastructure. Over £100 to visit London before 9am is for the few, not the many.

I believe in renationalising Royal Mail and the National Grid.

I believe in scrapping university tuition fees, a higher education should be a right and not a privilege. However, the Tories have announced plans to fund new free schools (academies and grammar schools) by raising tuition fees. The Conservative manifesto states; “We will make it a condition for universities hoping to charge maximum tuition fees to become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools”. Universities themselves are concerned, Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, said “Universities need higher tuition fees simply because the government has cut their funding by over 80 per cent. If the fees of students are used to get more academies and free schools off the ground, this would be like robbing Peter to pay Paul but it would also side-line local parents and governors who might prefer to work with other sponsors.”

Meanwhile, free school meals for children from lower income families would be scrapped despite thousands spent on kitchens. In effect, our education system is becoming a system of entitlement.  To put figures into perspective, Tories gave a £100k tax cut p/a to 13,000 millionaires while they are removing school meals from the mouths of 900,000 kids. Dickensian.

I do not believe in a new Dementia tax for the elderly. This would mean elderly people who are receiving social care to fund the entire cost until they reached the last £100,000 of assets which the state would allow them to keep. Of course, the Tories have now made a u-turn but their intention was clear; taxing the vulnerable. The u-turn itself is also telling, going back on a repugnant proposal only because going through with it would cost them votes. The Tories even bought up Google advertisements to try and hide the ‘dementia tax’ as if the blunder was all but a figment of our imagination.

I also believe in maintaining the triple lock state pension guarantee and means-testing of winter fuel payments up to £300. I believe in caring for the elderly, not stripping them.

I believe in a properly funded NHS with free car parking, not one involving private consultancies. I also believe in restoring nurses’ training bursaries. I do not believe in dismantling the NHS piece by piece. I do not believe Jeremy Hunt has a conscience.

I do not believe in the loss of Disability Living Allowance. I do not believe in the rise of food banks. I do not believe in starving the poor and the needy.

I believe in a new Minister for Mental Health.

I do not believe in Boris Johnson as a functioning adult, can you imagine him negotiating with the EU as Foreign Secretary? The alternative is Keir Starmer LLB, QC and Barrister who is Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. A man with actual experience of persuasion in a court of law. No-brainer.

I believe in interest-free loans for homeowners to improve property.

I do not believe in unethical arms exports to the likes of Saudi Arabia, not with their human rights record.

I believe in banning the UK ivory trade, the Tories removed that pledge from their manifesto. Horrifying.

I do not believe in borrowing over £700bn over seven years with zero investment.

I do not believe in taking the internet under government control but a toughening up of punishments for online abuse.

I do not believe in fox hunting, Theresa May does.

I believe in renewable energy and clean air, not fracking. Germany has it right, not wholesale nationalisation but letting councils decide how to supply their energy and not relying on a few providers.

Strong and stable? What about the weak and vulnerable? I believe in fairness, I shall be voting Labour.

Standard
Lifestyle, Opinion

Katie Hopkins – The High School Bully Given The Airtime She Desperately Craves

Let it be known that this has proven to be one of the hardest things I have ever committed to page. Put bluntly, there are certain people that should never be given the oxygen of publicity, the banteriffic Dapper Laughs as a recent example. Katie Hopkins also falls into this category and I am reminded of that luminous pink slime in Ghostbusters 2 which gets stronger the more hate it receives. I really do not want her to be an inspiration for anything, let alone my own writing, yet the poisonous witch is on her own personal crusade to inspire people to lose weight. Or so she thinks.

Any publicity is good publicity but I really do not want to help promote her dangerous new show, ‘Katie Hopkins: My Fat Story’. This is a woman who craves attention like The Daily Mail designs hate-fuelled headlines. A brief synopsis then; woman goes from 8st 12lb to 11st 13lb and back again to prove how easy it is to lose weight. No surprises that this is due to air in the first week of January when many are ruing those extra treats during the festive period. To have Hopkins choose to pile on the pounds to then smugly declare how easy it is to lose the weight is close to insulting yet she has history here.

Alarm bells should be ringing that her initial claim to fame came from The Apprentice, a show that rewards selfish, egotistical behaviour with a bumper business deal. This is a woman who really does not care what people think of her and seems to revel in the hatred that her poisonous views provoke. Anyone that can anger Holly Willoughby has to be a special case.

Let’s just check out some quotes from the show shall we –
Re: putting the weight on she said, “After I put on my first stone, I stopped having sex with my husband. As a fat bird, I stuck to my pyjamas and getting naked in the dark. A fat belly is not an attractive thing, fat people aren’t sexy”. This is to paint a poisonous picture of what the ‘universally perfect body’ is (hint, it doesn’t exist). There is a significant proportion of men who fail to find skinny girls sexy, are you going to try and persuade them otherwise Katie?

Later on she said, “It is just ridiculous what people do to themselves. Fat people, I mean I really I don’t know how they look at themselves in the mirror.” So ‘fat-shaming is in and beauty is not in the eye of the beholder then apparently. What this also spectacularly fails to note is that despite what Hopkins may hope, a significant amount of obese people are actually comfortable in their own skins, presumably by the support of their loved ones who actually do like seeing them naked.

According to Hopkins; “Being fat is hard work. You can’t be that fat and happy. If you’re too lazy to make a change then you’re going to be fat.” This is a mercilessly naïve statement which fails to address those that really do want to lose weight but for various reasons struggle. Some suffer from low metabolism rates as well as low self-esteem after trying various diets and not losing much weight. Some are suffering from crippling bouts of depression and find it hard to face the world, let alone go out for a run. Some lack the skills and time to cook healthy, nutritious meals for themselves.

If Hopkins really wanted to encourage obese people to lose weight she would, hopefully, be displaying a modicum of compassion. She would at least be trying to be helpful and sympathetic to obese people, maybe come up with a few healthy eating recipes of her own. Presumably we have seen this before and gotten bored of such noble behaviour from the likes of Jamie Oliver. Yet however disturbing her views on obese people are her methods are worryingly flawed, rapid fluctuations in weight have been proven as dangerous on the body, particularly the heart. Following Hopkins’ example is certainly not encouraged by any health practitioner.

Hopkins has the assumption that obesity is caused by apathy. In 2012 she told an obese woman that she wouldn’t employ her because fat people are lazy. This documentary is her chance to prove the misguided view that obese people are unwilling to lose weight. That is disputable, it can be incredibly difficult for a lot of people, it was for me.

Back in 2005 I was forced off alcohol and decided to go on a diet to lose some much needed weight. I had the time and know-how to cook my own meals but the most important thing was that I had the moral support of friends and family. The last thing I would have wanted was to see some smug TV personality tell me it’s easy. This isn’t an attack on freedom of speech, rather an attack on the editors and TV executives that allow her to be heard. Everyone is entitled to their view yet Hopkins is the high-school bully gifted a dangerous amount of publicity. The real contempt should not be aimed directly at her but at the media that continues to give her airtime.

Standard
Opinion

Gillette. The right advert to highlight the wrong men.

‘Boys will be boys’. That’s such a flippant thing to say. A pre-packaged excuse for all kinds of obnoxious, rude and bordering on violent behaviour. He had a fight at school, he mocked someone over having a salad at lunch then knocked it off the table… No. More. Simply being a boy should never be a standard reason to get away with something. Boys should know better and so should the Dads.

‘Don’t be a dick’ would be a more apt slogan for men in 2018. Even then there are some men who just cannot help being a dick. Take a look at the backlash following the new Gillette advert. #GilletteBoycott is growing apace as those men who feel their masculinity has been questioned throw their shavers away. Seriously, ‘men’? Is this how fragile your egos are that you’ll willingly throw away a razor you spent good money on (probably too much good money on) to make a point to yourself?

‘You can’t tell us what to do’ seems to be the general message from the likes of Piers Morgan who deemed Gillette after the advert as, ‘man-shaming’ (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6594295/PIERS-MORGAN-Im-sick-war-masculinity-Gillette-just-cut-throat.html). Sigh. It’s telling that Morgan should set the tone for so many so-called men when he tends to bully guests rather than interview them, unless you’re Donald Trump which says a lot about the men he aligns with. He calls the advert ‘supremely patronising’, almost as if he cannot see the underpinning issue and is unwilling to face his own condescending manner. Also likely because he feels a pang of guilt at some of his own questionable behaviour.

The #MeToo movement has made waves to empower women and men to make men accountable for their improper behaviour. Those creepy, longer than necessary hands on shoulders, the staring, the ogling, the crass means of address. The advert points all those behaviours out brilliantly and even gives out instructions for how decent men should react to all kinds of scenarios. If all this is something to rebel against then there’s clearly something wrong with a lot of men.

The primary aim of any advert is to gain the public’s attention towards a product. The brilliant ones are those which fuel public debate around bigger issues. Gillette have pressed that button and the advert goes some way to back its own ‘The Best A Man Can Get’ slogan. Men should be setting better examples and we should do away with the ‘boys will be boys’ stance. The advert is brilliant BECAUSE it insists that men need to improve their actions, their choices. The advert isn’t a difficult watch if you were brought up the right way and the message is a clear one; Men, be nice, be humble. Don’t be a dick and if you do see a man be a dick politely tell him it isn’t cool. It’s not asking for much, it’s not suggesting drastic change, just don’t be a dick. If a man feels affronted by that then they’ve just identified themselves as part of the problem. Hi, Piers.

From the depths of a poisonous Trump presidency it seems that the big US brands are taking a stand. Nike opened the door by having Colin Kaepernick as the face of their newest advertising campaign in September 2018. A bold move following Kaepernick’s (undue) criticism after he took the knee against racial injustice and police brutality. There was a backlash for that too and more toys thrown out of the pram. #JustBurnIt trended as predominantly white middle-aged right wing men cut out the tick from their socks (and creating some natty wristbands in the process) while others simply tried to burn their trainers. This should set off alarm bells to the violent lengths some men will go to in order to prove a point. The wrong point.

The sort of men that hitherto haven’t realised how their attitudes were so misaligned until the right sort of advert came along.

 

Standard
Fitness, Food, Health, Lifestyle

Same Old Me, But Better

It’s relatively candid to declare you’re giving up alcohol for a month when your mouth tastes like something crawled into it overnight and died. Almost as if the crime of three too many tequila shots needs to be punished with extended abstinence. Sure, ushering in the New Year with a hangover usually makes us feel a little sorry for ourselves but is that really why we bother with New Years resolutions?

#NewYearNewYou

Quite why we decide to reset ourselves with the Gregorian calendar is unclear. We could decide to go on a diet straight after Christmas dinner, decide to go on more dates from February 15th and decide to drink less after St Patrick’s Day. However, January 1st is the day when many of us finally decide that it’s high time we became our better selves with  a ten point list of commandments to live by.

You could decide that April 22nd is your day to change. We get a chance to change with the start of each day. Occasionally I get up early enough to see twilight, that part of the day when the birds serenade the morning and you may feel as if you’ve stolen a march on the rest of the world.

twilight1

Street lights go out, bedroom lights come on then the day truly begins. Of course, at this time of year it’s difficult to capture the sunrise yet you do get some truly eerie twilights.

twilight2

 

Judging ourselves from one year to the next only limits us to twelve months when we should be opting for continual growth. I can’t even remember last year’s resolutions though I imagine they were a mix of the specific and the fairly tedious, all equally mundane. Lose some weight, eat less meat, do exercise three times a week, read at least a book a month, travel more etc. Many of us seem to be conditioned to think that if we look better and keep our friends jealous of our movements via Instagram that we’re #winning.

This year may not be transformative, few years truly are. Setting goals usually leads to feeling pressured into hitting them which is why I’m opting for the same old me, but better.

More love, less hate.

More reading, less social media

More laughs, less scowls

More slumber, less stress

That’s it

Standard
Film, Music, Opinion, Podcasts, TV

Top Ten Tings of 2018

Films

Swinging into top spot was arguably the greatest animated film I have ever had the pleasure to see and it only came out a few weeks ago. Seriously, if you’re reading this and unsure whether to drop into your multiplex close the computer screen, get to the cinema and thank me later. It’s jaw-droppingly great.

  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  3. Avengers: Infinity War
  4. Black Kkklansman
  5. Black Panther
  6. Widows
  7. Bohemian Rhapsody
  8. Creed II
  9. The Death of Stalin
  10. Ghost Stories

 

Albums

Testament to how little space there is on my record shelves, I have physical copies of only half of this years top ten. Shameful I know, especially when I have one of the greatest record shops in the land on my doorstep in Beartree Records. In the case of top spot, I may have gone overboard with three yet this is what happens when my favourite band decides to open an exclusive shop in town. Even before hearing the album I had gold, silver and cassette copies but it took an evening in the bath for the long-player to finally hit home. Some albums just need a bit of dedication and judging by the critical reception that gold copy will remain unopened.

  1. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino
  2. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
  3. Goat Girl – Goat Girl
  4. Sunflower Bean – Twentytwo In Blue
  5. Miles Kane – Coup de Grace
  6. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake
  7. Dream Wife – Dream Wife
  8. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
  9. Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
  10. Hinds – I Don’t Run

 

TV Shows

There are some TV shows that are considered compulsive viewing. Not simply for plot twists but because you appreciate that most of the country has already seen it and you don’t want to miss out. That was the case with Killing Eve where I would see the show mentioned by friends on social media, then websites. Before long I had recognised Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh before even settling down to watch it. Sadly I devoured it in the space of a week. I am willing to argue that Bandersnatch is neither a film nor a TV show, it’s something uniquely brilliant that I have spent years wondering if it was ever possible (nice one, Charlie Brooker)

 

  1. Killing Eve
  2. Atlanta (S2)
  3. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
  4. The Haunting of Hill House
  5. Narcos: Mexico
  6. Making A Murderer: Part 1
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale (S2)
  8. Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema
  9. Sunderland ‘Til I Die
  10. Luther (S1 – 4)

 

Live Performances

Yes. I’m counting theatre and live orchestras alongside concerts.

Yes. Having seen Hamilton I now fully appreciate the hype (as does the lucky girl who got my spare ticket as I may have made her entire year).

Yes. More bands need to visit Sheffield.

Yes. I probably need to go to the theatre more often.

  1. Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre, London
  2. Arctic Monkeys at Sheffield Arena
  3. Game of Thrones Live at Manchester Arena
  4. Wolf Alice at Manchester Victoria Warehouse
  5. My Dad Wrote A Porno at Sheffield City Hall
  6. Goat Girl at Picture House Social, Sheffield
  7. Flight Of The Conchords at Manchester Arena
  8. Courtney Barnett at Manchester Academy
  9. Sunflower Bean at Leeds Festival
  10. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at Tramlines Festival, Sheffield

 

Podcasts

I really do need help. That my top two podcasts of the year centre on porn and murder indicates that I really have a depraved mind. Strangely, both have mentioned each other during the year as if both appreciate the same disturbed set of listeners. It’s not just me!

  1. My Dad Wrote A Porno
  2. S’laughter: True Crime Podcast
  3. Distraction Pieces
  4. Reasons To Be Cheerful
  5. The Totally Football Show
  6. The Cinemile
  7. Football Weekly
  8. United We Stand Podcast
  9. The Adam Buxton Podcast
  10. Myths and Legends
Standard
Health, Lifestyle, Mens Health, Opinion

Why the moustache? Movember and men’s health in 2018

At its peak, my moustache resembled a cross between a 70s porn star and Fu Manchu. Not necessarily a bad combination yet it itched and I could not resist stroking it like a Bond villain. This is my seventh year as a Mo Bro, essentially the seventh time I have spent November growing a moustache to raise funds and awareness of men’s health. I may look ridiculous, the effect may be off-putting and I don’t care as it is such a worthy cause.

IMG_20181115_151801_981

So far over 1,200 projects have been launched for the benefit of men’s health which includes vital funding for prostate and testicular cancer. However, men’s health is not just physical and of great personal interest is their research into mental health and suicide prevention. Considering that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and in the past year have firsthand knowledge of the pitfalls from depression and anxiety, it needs to be said that men have to talk. Recently, public awareness has improved regarding the need to get mental health out into the open. This includes some thoughtfully made, thought provoking TV adverts and a plethora of academic studies as well as column inches. There is still work to be done.

Research conducted by the Movember Foundation is both staggering and alarming. Just in the UK;

One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime

Three out of four suicides are men.

That last statistic really jumped out at me. Men seem adept at holding in their emotions amid an effort to keep it together but to what end? To impress the opposite sex? To keep in line with what their father told them how to act? Whatever the reasons may be, such reluctance appears flawed, even tragic.

Thankfully, the taboo surrounding mental health is being lifted and men are starting to make their feelings known. On another personal note I can vouch for discussing emotional well-being to close friends and family to open up and let people know what’s going on. Support can be sought from those individuals as well as professional help in the form of therapy. The suffering can only be prolonged if left to manifest and though it takes courage and bravery to tell people, the pros far outweigh the cons.

IMG_20181130_063548_913

My own personal effort in growing a moustache has presented me with an insider account of the benefits of tackling men’s health head on. Sure, the fuzz around my upper lip has meant bus drivers and bar staff have to stifle a laugh. The Half Mo Mast provoked one snide comment, one bemused conversion and several confused glances at The Good Food Show yet I have been quick to point to my 5 Year Mo Bro badge to explain that it’s for charidee. If growing an itchy, embarrassing moustache then shaving half of it off for a day means that more men talk, and even raises money to help the cause, then I’ve done my bit.

If you know someone who’s doing Movember then please donate what you can and search for their fundraising page at https://uk.movember.com/mospace/

If you’d like to donate to myself then you can at https://mobro.co/omarsoliman

Standard
Lifestyle, Opinion, Travel

New Years Resolutions 2018

At some point after posting this I’ll take a look at last year’s list and accept that there are several things I want to change in my life and I simply haven’t bothered putting them into action for another year. I know it is shameful so I’ll try a bit harder this time I promise.

  1. Lose some weight by eating well and exercising more. Simple really and I have begun the New Year by starting Dry January (though I won’t be doing it for sponsorship because that’s pretty lame), walking more and starting to plan my weekly eating.
  2. At least two runs a week, fitness permitting. Obviously when I begin half marathon training this will be pretty simple to follow yet it’s the weeks after that when I need to kick on.
  3. Go out on more dates. This will likely follow the correct implementation of the above two resolutions yet it is galling that I again spent a large amount of the festive period wishing I had someone special to spend it with, especially considering how easy it is seeing how happy couples are on social media. This has to change and I’m determined that I can conquer my shyness and at least ask a few girls out so I don’t face the ignominy of telling my Mum/boss/friends that ‘Operation Tibbles (where I end up living alone with a cat called Tibbles) is going really well.
  4. Eat out more. Again, this will hopefully follow the above resolution. Sheffield has some really fantastic restaurants and I’ve barely been to any of them. Yes, I’m aware I’m a more than half decent cook but it’ll be nice to try some new eateries.
  5. Read at least one book every month. Better still, join a reading club.
  6. Get my ‘Films To Watch’ list down to at least 50 (https://letterboxd.com/wiz52/list/films-i-need-to-watch/)
  7. Limit the time I spend on my phone. After 10pm I should have it off and spend my time in bed reading
  8. Meditate every morning. It only takes ten minutes and has certainly helped my SAD as well as help manage my thinking at work, plus the Headspace app is free thanks to my work.
  9. Participate more in the arts. In December I took part in a ten day study with the University of Sheffield which measured my wellbeing against how much I participated in the arts. One of the points I soon realised was that I really need to go to the theatre more, especially as Sheffield has the Lyceum and Crucible.
  10. Take more care of my herb garden
  11. Smile more
  12. Drink more water
  13. Learn a new skill, possibly a new language such as Arabic
  14. Visit two new countries as I have the holiday days to spare; this could include Iceland, Poland, Turkey, Egypt (yes, I’ve never been) or Cuba
Standard
Film, Music, Opinion, TV

Top Tens of 2017

This is likely not the only ‘Top Tens’ blog post you have seen in the last few weeks and now I’ll add my choices to the mix. The lists fail to include that many leftfield choices though The Florida Project was one film I read a review of then viewed on a whim and now I expect it to win a couple of Oscars (it’s a genuinely remarkable piece of work and I’d highly recommend it to anyone).

Female fronted acts have also dominated my musical choices with gig highlights for the year including the first date of Lorde’s world tour at Manchester Apollo and The Big Moon at Tramlines and Sheffield Plug. I’ve also spent way too much time on Netflix (admittedly without the ‘chill’ aspect) and managed to blitz my way through The Crown, Rick ‘n’ Morty and The Keepers in a matter of days. There’s still several series’ I hope to get through in these cold opening months of 2018 so feel free to comment if there’s anything else you think I’d like.

Films

  1. Thor: Ragnorak
  2. Get Out
  3. Baby Driver
  4. The Florida Project
  5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  6. Paddington 2
  7. Dunkirk
  8. Wonder Woman
  9. War for the Planet of the Apes
  10. The Big Sick

 

Albums

  1. Wolf Alice – Visions of a Life
  2. The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension
  3. Alvvays – Antisocialities
  4. Lorde – Melodrama
  5. Baby Driver OST
  6. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built The Moon?
  7. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
  8. Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
  9. Kendrick Lamar – Damn
  10. The Horrors – V

 

Television Shows

  1. Game of Thrones: Season Seven
  2. Stranger Things: Season Two
  3. The Crown: Season Two
  4. GLOW
  5. Rick n Morty
  6. Bojack Horseman
  7. Riverdale
  8. Making A Murderer
  9. Line of Duty: Season Four
  10. The Keepers
Standard