It’s the most wonderful time of the year…nearly!
Amid all the Black Friday madness, I’ve found myself constantly searching for Advent Calendars on Amazon Prime.
I feel like this year has flown past and Christmas is thrusting itself in our faces faster than you can say “yule log”. This is a time for giving and a time for presents for a lot of people. Gift guides are everywhere and everyone is worrying about The Day, December 25th.
I’m here to remind you that there are 24 days that come before that. We all deserve a little treat and advent calendars are the best way to treat yo’self this festive period.
Whether you’re buying for yourself (I mean, why shouldn’t you?) or you feel like giving a love one a little spoiling every day, Amazon Prime is full of goodies waiting to bring you Christmas cheer each morning in December.
Top 3 Under £30
First up is the Kinder Egg Surprise Calendar. For all you chocolate lovers out there, this will bring you daily joy along with a little mental challenge to keep your brain on its toes in the chilly winter!
If chocolate isn’t your thing, why not pick an advent calendar that will last you the year round? This Build Your Own advent calendar from Haynes is a great alternative for the innovator of the family. Each day gives you a new piece of equipment and you’ll be able to spend that boring down-time between presents and dinner on Christmas Day creating two or three of the twenty-four games you can make from this kit!
PS Don’t forget to order batteries too!
If chocolate isn’t your thing and, like me, you have the engineering skills of a turtle, maybe a different kind of surprise every day is more your thing. The SIX calendar will give you a different item of jewellery each morning, keeping you glam through December and satiating the magpie need to absorb all the shiny things.
Top 3 Under £20
The dark nights and cold weather can be hard work; there’s nothing better than a little self care and pampering to keep your spirits up in the cold! Bomb Cosmetics has surprised us this year with their offering featuring samples of some of their best sellers!
We have a few of our own traditions in my family for Christmas and After Eights are one of them! They seem to just appear in my mum’s cupboards around early December and keep in stock till the new year. If you fancy something a little indulgent and refreshing every day that also makes a great aesthetic addition to your mantelpiece, the After Eight Big Ben advent calendar needs to be yours!
We all seem to associate Christmas with beautiful smells and soft lighting so what better than a Yankee Candle Advent Calendar? Yankee are renowned for being shiny scent masters and this does not disappoint! From spiced white cocoa to sparkling cinnamon, you’re guaranteed to have your home looking, feeling and smelling festive throughout December!
Top 3 Under £10
If you’re looking for a calendar for the little human in your life and don’t want to add to their festive sugar intake then Play Doh have a great solution. They’re Doh-Vinci calendar has everything you need to create your own Christmas scene on the big day, with little tasks each day to keep your little human focused along the way!
World Master Chocolatiers Lindt have given us this simple but divine offering this year. For those of us who want something better than sub-par chocolate coins each morning but don’t want to break the bank, this comes in a pack of 2 so you can treat yourself and your loved one! ORrrr treat yourself twice!
Having added our first fur baby to our family this winter, I couldn’t do this list without including an option for the puppies at Christmas! Good Boy have a meaty calendar that’s bound to make daily treats that extra bit special this holiday.
Summer days turn into winter nights and Happy Holly turns into an old miser. So I take anti-depressants in winter.
I have suffered on and off with my mental health my whole life. I have seen 10 different doctors who have given me 10 different diagnoses. From Borderline Personality Disorder to “you just need to cheer up a bit”, I have been told so many conflicting things that I’ve given up asking doctors. Pretty much every year, I end up taking anti-depressants in winter.
I don’t ask them what’s wrong with me anymore – I now tell them. I go to whatever GP it is that day and tell them. “I feel blue. I haven’t been to the gym in weeks. My skin has turned to crap. I don’t want to socialise.This week I haven’t eaten more than two vegetables. No, I don’t want to harm myself. I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to go outside though.”
I think diagnosing mental health illnesses is one of the toughest jobs GPs have to do. With a 5 minute window to see each patient, and every single person’s symptoms so different, they almost never get it right. However, in the last 3 years I’ve seen a significant improvement in doctors’ responses. Especially young doctors. It seems like people under 40 just get it so much more.
My birthday is at the beginning of November.
Right after the clocks go back and it’s dark when we all get home from work, I start to withdraw from the world. I can’t remember a birthday where I haven’t had a bad period.
Don’t get me wrong, my friends and family are always amazing at making sure I have a great birthday. Not just presents or parties, but at making sure I know I’m loved and supported. I only have good people in my life.
It’s just that no matter how many people call me or text met o tell me they’re happy I made it another year, I can’t help but feel worthless and insignificant. Maybe not on my actual birthday but between bonfire night and Christmas, I generally have at least one meltdown. Lying in my bed, sobbing heaving tears until I’m almost physically sick.
I’m smart. I know I have a good life.
I may not be rich financially but I am in other ways. I have an amazing family, a wonderful girlfriend, and some of the greatest friends a girl could ever want. I have a nephew who thinks the sun shines out of me and now I have a puppy who thinks I’m one of the two best things on the planet.
When the black cloud creeps in, all that disappears
All the logic melts away with the tears. I turn off my phone and shut out anyone who might try to help me.
Usually after a few hours, the cloud runs out of rain and starts to dissipate. The tears start to dry. I go to the bathroom to get tissue and think how ridiculous I look, face puffy. Why have I been crying for 2 hours in my beautiful big bed? I have a roof over my head. I have more than some people could ever dream of. Get a grip, Holly.
I give myself some time to recover and either eat or sleep.These are my only comforts in winter. I just need to hide from the world andfeel nothing.
The next day will be brand new. I live life normally but every day, I take a little weight on in my soul until eventually the scales tip and I find myself in bed again. Each day / week / month / year is different.Sometimes it can be months between The Bed Day; sometimes it’s only days.
I have tried
Every natural remedy, yoga, walking, talking, everything. The only thing that works for me is the drugs. Having been on medication for my Asthma since I was a small child, I try to avoid talking more drugs. I have weaned myself off my asthma medication;luckily my symptoms have lessened as the years have gone by. I refuse to take any contraceptive pill anymore, no matter how bad my periods are.
This though, this is the one I have to give in to. According to the doctors, I can take up to 6 weeks for symptoms to alleviate once you start taking anti-depressants. I usually notice within a week. Not a huge difference – I’m not bounding out of bed singing musicals at the top of my voice. Just the little things. I actually go to the supermarket and buy myself a nice dinner. And actually manage to cook it. I might even enjoy it.
Within two weeks, I’ll be back in the gym. Within 3, I’ll b edoing 6am sessions and revelling in the beauty of the sunrise. By the time Christmas comes around, I’ll actually be excited for the office Christmas Party.
Though my depression is cyclical and linked in with events in my life, it is still clinical depression. What a lot of people don’t realise is that clinical depression is a physical illness, which manifests in the mind.
At its most simple,depression can be considered a chemical imbalance in the brain.
It is well documented, however, that the illnesses are most commonly triggered by a variety or combination of factors including genetics, environmental or social triggers,trauma, stress and so on.
There are arguments that depression is caused / worsened by low serotonin levels. There are also strong arguments for the reverse. The medical profession is still so early in the research stages & I’m no expert. So let’s just say depression and low levels of serotonin go hand in hand.
In the same scope of anti-biotics being able to treat a chest infection, serotonin can be very successful in treating the clinical aspect of depression. Depending on an individual’s symptoms, triggers and levels of imbalance, prescriptions of serotonin can be a great kick-start to getting back to “normal”.
For me, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) just work. They alter how my body absorbs serotonin and re-balance my chemicals. The wires start to slowly untangle and I find myself laughing more often. I don’t have to force myself into the shower. I enjoy the sunshine or want to stop and take in the beauty of the autumn leaves.
There’s a couple of brands that don’t agree with me.
As with any drug, there are side effects and a couple of the types don’t work for me. Just like certain types of contraceptive pills don’t work for everyone. It’s been trial and error but I’ve found what works. I won’t say which ones trigger me and which ones work because everyone is different; your choice of drug should be an educated decision between you and your doctor, not from me!
Come springtime (usually before Easter), I consult my doctor and start weaning off the medication. I could continue to take it year round but I like to give my body a chance to do things nature’s way if I can. There’s been a few years where I haven’t come off them due to events in my life at that time. But if I can come off them and not slip down the dark slope again, then I do.
“Small Talks Save Lives”
I’ve been so impressed over the last couple of years with the traction of open conversations about mental health. From social media campaigns to celebrities admitting their struggles, to programmes being implemented in schools, the face of mental health is changing.
We all know people struggle and we’re starting to talk about it. The phrase “it’s okay not to be okay” is becoming commonplace and employers are understanding the importance of being supportive. It’s hard for people who haven’t had any mental health illnesses to be empathetic but if we keep talking, tweeting and writing about our individual issues, we will help. Someone might read my symptoms and realise their colleague is struggling. Another person might watch Professor Green’s stories and finally find the courage to go to their doctor and ask for help.
If you’re struggling, the help is there. You just have to ask for it.
If you urgently need to speak to someone, the Samaritans are available 24/7 and it’s completely free. You can call them from the UK on “116123” and the Samaritan you need will be waiting at the end of the phone.
If it’s non-emergency and you’re feeling like you need help,please make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible. Remember, you won’t hit it off with every doctor you meet, the same as you won’t like every person you have to work with. So if the first one isn’t the right one, please do ask for a second. Or third. Or however many it takes to find The One. You have every right to do so and you deserve the doctor that will help you change your life.
MIND are a wonderful charity whose website is full of resources to help, along with details of your local MIND centre and the services they offer.
CALM is a mental health charity catering specifically to men. Men are more likely to commit suicide than women, yet much less likely to ever discuss their problems or ask for help. The Campaign Against Living Miserably is there to help you gents turn your worst hours into your finest.
Friends, family, co-workers, online – you never know where support can be found until you ask for it. You deserve to be happy.
Remember what Oprah says – “This too Shall Pass”.
My travel planning series continues with the Europe Travel Bucket List. Depending on how the dreaded Brexit goes, I want to get in at least one European city break next year. If Brexit goes badly, this plan might go awry but lets plan for the best outcome. If I end up having to apply for a visa to go to Paris, I’m going to be p*ssed off and shall be sending the bill to Theresa May and her cronies.
Politics aside, there’s so much of Europe that I haven’t even begun to explore. I’ve been lucky enough to see a few places in France, Spain, and to Rome in Italy but there’s so much more to see! We have the blessing of living in London and having 5 airports less than an hour away so travelling to Europe is pretty quick, easy and affordable.
So where is on my 2019 Europe Travel Bucket List?
Croatia is up first. This is another one that’s been all over every Facebook and Instagram over the last few years, and rightly so. With Split & Dubrovnik offering rich history, rustic scenery and boasting some great hotels, Croatia has various options for a city break. I often search for images of Plitvice Lakes National Park and imagine how in awe I would be strolling through its lush greenery and steep waterfalls. Croatia also has the island break option down with places like Mljet and Solta making me reach for my swimming costume and oversize sunhat.
Next up is Romania. I have the pleasure of working with some really lovely Romanian people. I’ll admit that before I got to know them, Romania had never been in my travel plans. Seeing pictures of where they grew up, and where they spend their family holidays when they go home always has me straight on Google. One of the gents I work with recently had an operation back home and went out to the monasteries in the mountains to recuperate. Whilst they may be a haven for Christians who need to recover from the pressures of life, you don’t have to be religious to be able to enjoy these retreats. They offer rest, relaxation and reflection – all surrounded by scenery straight out of the Sound of Music.
Like England, Germany has a rich history. The unmentionable aside, Germany ticks all my boxes: food, museums, architecture. If you’re looking for a weekend city break, Germany has so many options. Most cities are less than 2 hours’ flight from London and average about £100 – the price and time you’d spend getting a train to another city in the UK from London!
Berlin is the obvious choice, with the spectrum of architecture from the iconic TV Tower to the 800 year old St Nicholas Church transitioning from ultra historic to ultra modern.
Frankfurt hits my list, purely for my love of sausages. The Sachsenhausen area has all us foodies covered, with the concentration camp offering a more sobering choice for the historians among us.
Fussen isn’t quite a city but it has to make the list! Close to the Austrian border, the scenery is Sound of Music meets Frozen. A true princess a heart, I love a good castle and the areas surrounding Fussen offers a multitude of regal residences, including the Neuschwanstein Castle – supposedly the model for the design of the Disney Castle!
Being the closest to England, France makes the most sense for us Brits to travel to. You can fly, get a train, get a boat – some have even swum there! I visited Paris a couple of years ago with my girls, to celebrate us turning 30. I absolutely fell in love with the architecture and the food. More bread and cheese than you can shake a selfie stick at? Yes please!
The Loire Valley is on my list, and not just because we’re heading there next year with M’s family! 800 square kilometres of greenery, rivers, castles and wine lands – I was sold before they mentioned the Chateau we’ll be staying in!
I’d love to travel to Normandy and visit Mont St-Michel. I vaguely remember going there as a kid but the memories are hazy and mostly of us moaning about how much walking we had to do. I want to explore the markets and play the race against the tide for the road again.
Nice is also high on the list. We all love a good beach from time to time and the Promenade des Anglais offers 7km of coastline to stroll, run or cycle through, as if one were in the Victorian aristocracy. Nice is also home to a variety of Jazz clubs offering food and music to make your soul happy. From cobbled market streets to the Three Cornices, Nice can satisfy the most eager or relaxed of travellers.
Of course, the list doesn’t end there!
Unless we have a lottery windfall, there’s no chance we’ll even get to try all of the above but in the event we do hit the big numbers, there’s so much more I want to see! I want to eat brownies and cycle round Amsterdam, experience the truest form of tacky in Benidorm, consume pasta in Florence until I burst and see just how much cold I can handle in Iceland.
Where have you travelled in Europe? What recommendations do you have?
I think my travel bucket list grows every day. The last few years have bought me some amazing travels, which I’ll treasure for a long time. My girlfriend whisked me away to Rome for my birthday in 2016. In 2017, we managed to get to Barcelona for a weekend for her birthday, as well as taking a short break in the mountains in Turkey.
In April 2018, after a lot of planning and saving, we pulled an amazing trip out of the bag; two weeks in Cape Town! We did everything that one should do in Cape Town and so much more. M grew up there so I was lucky to have a super experienced tour guide. Whilst in SA, we took a weekend trip to Knysna where I got to spend a day at an elephant sanctuary.
So what does 2019 have in store?
Well, depending on how successful we are at saving, it could involve a lot. Over the next few years, we have big plans. Like serious grown up plans. Kids, buy a house, the works. So 2019 might be the last chance we get to be young and reckless.
The ultimate travel aim splits into three: Asia, Europe and the UK.
A few years ago, my friend was doing a short stint of travelling in Thailand. I flew over and met her at the end of her trip and we got in 10 days. We got in some serious R&R at a gorgeous hotel on the island of Koh Samui, and a few days of hectic tourist fun in Bangkok.
I absolutely fell in love with Thailand. I totally get the hype. The people are warm; their hospitality and welcome is outstanding. The food is phenomenal. One of the best meals I’ve ever eaten was 80p noodles from a beach bar. The scenery is indescribable. It’s the epitome of an exotic paradise. Plus, they have elephants. Do you sense a theme here?
I just know that M will love Asia. The vibe is so chill. The heat, the sand, the scenery, the food. It all lends itself to absorbing culture and relaxation. It’s so far removed from our lives. I want to climb a mountain with her, drink fresh coconut water on the beach with her, drink cocktails and party in the sand till dawn.
Asia in general is probably the most affordable area of the world where you can travel about, see everything and do everything without breaking the bank. Flights from the UK can get pricey but if you’re willing to have a layover and a bit of a wait, you can get return flights around £500 per person. Internal flights between islands and countries can range between £30 and £90. You can easily spend that on one dinner in London!
Accommodation can be sought from £1 per night to £1000 per night. Whatever your budget, there’s an option. I’m the first to admit, I’m a princess at heart. I won’t be sharing a bunk bed in a room full of 10 strangers, no matter how cheap it is. For the sake of keeping costs low, I will take the Thai equivalent of a Premiere Inn, which is likely to come in around £15 to £50 a night, depending on where you are.
Food in Asia is crazy cheap. Like the most I spent on a meal in Koh Samui was £20 for about 5 courses including cocktails. You can get a decent lunch on the street almost anywhere for less than £1, as long as you can accept that the vendor won’t have London’s standards and health and safety certificates.
Where in Asia is on my 2019 Travel Bucket List?
I’d love to see more of Thailand. Phuket looks stunning. There are several more ethical elephant sanctuaries that I’d like to visit. I could plan a whole two week trip around them! I’d like to do some island hopping. Koh Tao, Koh Panang, Ko Phi Phi, Koh Lanta. A night or two in each place would suffice but I’m fairly sure I could waste months just strolling around the beaches, sipping coconut water and reading in the shade.
Bali is next up, for so many reasons. I’ve been wanting to go to Bali since I was about 21 and the last 9 years, it’s really exploded as a must-see tourist destination. From cheeky monkeys to Indian Jones style temples, Bali may be tiny but it has so much to offer. I do worry though that it’s become over developed and inauthentic, as all the holiday companies scramble to cater to the average European tourist. I think I’d only spend 3 to 4 days in Bali.
Vietnam is another place that seems to be gaining popularity amongst travellers. If you’ve visited London in recent times, you’ll see that there’s a Vietnamese Pho restaurant on almost every street. Ha Long Bay looks like a scene straight of a shipwreck movie and a place where you can forget that real life exists. Ho Chi Minh City seems to be a tropical version of London and I’m always fascinated how other cities compare to my home’s Capital.
Last up in Asia for my 2019 Travel Bucket List is the Phillipines. From what I’ve read, and the travels of my friends, I think that the Phillipines ticks all my requirements. Food, scenery, things to do and people. Filipino hospitality is supposedly a big rival to the Thai. Their food is odd but I’m game for trying some lechon. Maybe not one for the vegans though. Like much of Asia, their islands offer scenery that England could never dream of competing with. It’s home to some of the best underwater scenery too, with a multitude of options for snorkelling and scuba diving. Count me in.
Have you been travelling through Asia? Do you have any recommendations for me?
10 Ways to Upset Bar Staff
(and guarantee you wait longer)
I have worked as bar staff for years, on and off. I thought when I became an estate agent, my days of serving a customer were over. Then I met M, and became a Pub Wife. So I still have to serve front of house, occasional evenings and weekends.
I’ve done it all. Pubs, restaurants, nightclub, coffee shop, rugby stadium, champagne reception at the Brits, you name it. I have so many fantastic memories of these times but those positive memories are all of the great people I worked with.
Not all but most bad memories are of customers. People so often forget that their servers are not just robots that produce food and drinks magically from thin air, we are people too!
When you’re out with friends and family having a good time, maybe having a few (too many) drinks, sometimes behaviour can slip. So in order to make sure you don’t ruin the day for someone else, here’s a list of things that we can’t stand, and that you can stop doing today to stop being a dick.
1 – Not knowing what you want when you get to the bar
The bar staff have rushed to get through the 4 previous orders because they can see you’re waiting, and stand in front of you. Don’t stand there looking like a deer in headlights because you came here to ask for something and you don’t know what it is. Most likely you’ll drink what you always drink. A customer asking for recommendations on brands or beers is always welcome though!
2 – Putting chewing gum / rubbish in an empty glass
You chose to have chewing gum. If you are not prepared for the disposal of your chosen gum when the time is right, that is your problem, Mr Customer. To put it into a glass makes you one of the worst types of human. The person who clears your glass away is now going to have to spend 10 minutes trying to wash it out (and probably get soaked in the process) or spear it out using a straw, so that it doesn’t go into the dishwasher and end up in someone else’s glass.
3 – Clicking / Whistling
If you click at bar staff to get their attention, you can pretty much guarantee you’re going to wait a lot longer than you would have. Servers are humans, not animals. Clicking at them the way you would a cat or a horse is not going to entice them to you. It’s basically scientifically proven to induce amnesia, in fact, with a person simply forgetting which customer was next just from hearing the click.
4 – Being vulgar
This is mostly one for the straight men among you. Just because I work behind a bar, doesn’t mean I’m promiscuous. Even if I am promiscuous, it doesn’t mean I want to sleep with you. I might have put make up on this morning because I feel like it. I might smile at you because being friendly is part of my customer service ethic. That does not, however, invite you to make lewd comments about my body. It does not allow you to ask for my number, ask if I fancy a nightcap, ask for a “pint of you” or anything along a similar vein.
Please, just let me do my job without the borderline sexual harassment.
5 – Forgetting your manners
Saying please or thank you won’t cost you any money but will guarantee to make a difference to the bar staff’s day. Being impolite will most likely bring negative karma to you too. Why would someone go out of their way to enhance their service to you, if you’re being rude? Please take your bad-mannered self out the door and away from me, thank you very much.
6 – Getting in the way
I’m not saying don’t stand at the bar and enjoy your drink. We welcome you to take a look at the artefacts in our site, to soak up the history and atmosphere. However, if I’m trying to walk through the pub holding 4 plates of hot food, that are probably making my arms ache and burning my skin off, dear lord Please don’t just look through me. Be kind, take a step to the side and don’t make me undertake acrobatics to get these fish & chips to table 14.
7 – Interrupting a serve mid serve
The gentlemen I’m serving just asked me for 3 Kronenbourgs, 2 Kopperbergs, a vodka lime and soda, a vodka lemonade and blackcurrant, a mottle of Merlot with 3 glasses, 2 glasses of pinto blush, 3 fish and chips, 2 bags of chilli crisps and four portions of olives. If you interrupt with “can I just have a …” I am definitely going to forget all of the order. My customer will already have forgotten. He’ll have to ask his entire group again what they want. This will all lengthen the process, just leaving you longer to wait for your cube of ice.
8 – Sighing and moaning because you weren’t served next
99% of the time, I’m right in who I serve next in the queue. Unlike a shop, bars don’t have an ordered queuing system. Everyone gathers at any point they like at a bar that can be anywhere up to 30 ft long. Having done my job all day and night for years, my peripheral vision and 7th sense is pretty good. Occasionally, I am wrong. I might go to the man to the left of you who arrived for seconds earlier. Maybe he was actually looking at me when I came to who was next and you were chatting to the person behind you, facing away from me. Either way, I’m just a person who isn’t perfect. I’m also a person who has to work another 9 hours on my feet. You’re the person getting to enjoy the beer I will pour for you in under two minutes. Just chill bro.
9 – Tell me how fun it must be to run a pub
As bar staff, our job is to create an environment for other people to have fun in. That does not mean our job is fun. Yes, sometimes we get to have a laugh with each other or listen to a cool new indie band or enjoy a massive glass of wine that a regular bought. The rest of the time, it’s 13 hour working days, climbing over people who won’t move, guessing that you actually wanted a vodka soda and not the lime soda you ordered, changing a barrel of cider and getting showered in sugary spray, shouting at the chefs and guessing which pie is vegan and which nuts are which. Fun is an adjective rarely used to describe our job.
10 – Try and convince us to have a lock in
It’s midnight. We’ve rung the bell for last orders 15 minutes prior. We’ve also rung the bell to announce closing time. Don’t now try and come and order more drinks. Please don’t try and ask for free drinks and a lock in. If I came to the bank you worked in at 6pm and asked you to stay open till 5pm and give me £100 cash for free, how would you respond? We’ve been open 12 hours. We were here for 3 hours before that. Please, just let us sweep up the garden, wipe down the tables, refill the fridges, stock the shelves, polish the cutlery, tidy and mop the bar and go home.
Have you ever worked in a bar or restaurant? Feel free to vent all your frustrations in the comments below!
I realised recently that I’ve been writing and my readers don’t really have a clue who I am. I thought it was about time we got to know each other. I’m Holly and I’m 30. I live with my girlfriend and work in property. I’m also obsessed with the number 23, and even have it tattooed on me. That’s the basics, here’s the rest!
For someone with a pretty stable life, I’ve moved a lot in my 30 years! I was born in South West London and grew up in Hastings. I moved back to South West London for university. 10 years later I moved to Essex to live with the love of my life. Now we live in Wapping in East London!
My mum is my hero. She raised me and my brother on her own, alongside studying for her degree to become the amazing English teacher she is today. She’s a fantastic mother and friend to me. Mumma is kind, honest, accepting, funny and has the most beautiful smile!
I’m obsessed with pigs and sausage dogs. These are pretty much the only animals I’m not allergic to. Now we’re no longer renting, M and I intend to adopt a sausage dog by the end of the year.
I’m very honest. Too honest, sometimes. I always say what needs to be said. When friends come to me for advice, they come for what they need to hear, not what will make them feel better. I’m working hard on the way I say things.
I am a property manager for an estate agents and, when it’s busy, I love what I do. For me, the place you live is your home and the centre of your world. You start and end each day there. If something at home isn’t right, the effect can ripple and effect your whole day. My job satisfaction comes in knowing that my tenants are happy, safe and secure in their homes.
I have a Law Degree. As a child I always wanted to go to university to study law and become a lawyer. The latter part didn’t happen. I almost gave up on my degree, having lost complete faith in the system. I persevered and graduated – I have LLB (Hons) after my name!
Clueless and Legally Blonde are my top two favourite (non Disney) films. Clueless has such a great moral to it, and I get even more of the puns each time I watch it. Legally Blonde was when I fell in love with Reese Witherspoon. Her character epitomises modern day feminism and the story will live on to help women around the world for years to come.
I used to be a bar supervisor in a nightclub. It was amazing, working in a place where people come for the sole purpose of fun. It’s also exhausting! I couldn’t do it nowadays. I can’t function past midnight, let alone at 4am.
I love to read and always have. As a kid I’d prefer being inside with a book to out in the playground. I read every night before bed now. Lying by a pool with a good book on holiday is paradise to me!
I’m in a relationship with a woman. Which wasn’t how I’d planned it. But this part of my life couldn’t have turned out any better. Tinder is a wonderful thing.
I love travelling but I hate flying. This faffing about driving round the runway for an hour before you take off is pure torture to me!
If I won the jackpot on the lottery, the first thing I’d do is hire a yacht, and take my close friends and family away for two weeks. Then I’d invest in property and renovate unloved buildings!
I recently moved into a flat above a pub. Once we’re settled and up & running, I’ll post about our pub. It’s really beautiful.
My happy place is at home with my family. Whether it’s in our flat with my girlfriend or on my mum’s sofa with my nephew climbing all over me, if I’m at home and there’s one of them near me, I’m happy.
I’m very easily frustrated with things I can’t do. I basically don’t like things I’m not good at. For example drawing or running. I’m rubbish at both of these things and both of them piss me off!
I am a feminist through and through. Male privilege is still going strong and don’t try and tell me otherwise.
I have always battled with my mental health. Since I was quite young, I’ve had periods of depression and anxiety. At the moment, I’m on an even keel. It’s a very quick spiral downwards but I have people in my life who know me and know my patterns. They catch me before I fall too far and help me get back on the path up again.
I very rarely manage to get through a meal without getting food down my front. I mean like it happens several times a day.
I still have my childhood teddy bears. They’ve moved every time I have. When life gets bad, or if I have to sleep alone, I still cuddle up with them in my bed. I’m not even a little bit ashamed.
My favourite meal in the world is my family’s spaghetti Bolognese, which has sweetcorn in it. My little brother was THE fussiest eater as a child.
I’m a pessimist at heart. No matter how much I try, I can’t ever fill the glass to even half full, let alone beyond.
I think Karamo from Queer Eye is the most genetically perfect human I’ve ever seen. I want him to be the sperm donor for our babies.
I will be a Spice Girls fan until the day I die. Viva Forever!
Earlier this year, my girlfriend and I went to Cape Town and the Post Office Travel Money Card was our best companion.
We were going for an all-out holiday to visit family and friends. We also planned to do some sightseeing and have a weekend away.
All of this involves spending a lot of money. Cape Town is inexpensive to navigate or holiday in, to the average Brit. However, with what we had planned, and the two weeks we were going to spend, we’d need a lot of cash. In South African Rand, two weeks’ of money was tens of thousands. There was no way I wanted to take all that with us, in cash!
The chance of it getting lost or stolen in our luggage was too high.
Plus, we’re both clumsy and forgetful. I’d be so worried about losing our passports on the journey there, I’d leave all the cash in a bar.
Add to that the crime rates and frequency of muggings in Cape Town and we ruled out cash entirely. We agreed to get some changed up in the UK, maybe £100 or so for tips, water and roadside niknaks. We could get out more as we needed it. Where did that leave us? South Africa may be, technically, a third world country, but Cape Town is as modern as London. Digital money it was!
There was no way I was going to use my Lloyds Current Account card. Every transaction abroad comes with an extortionate fee. On top of that, no matter how many times I’ve told my bank I’m going to a certain country and may use my card, it’s been blocked every time. Cue me in Paris, trying to ask Disney Store staff (and half the tourists on the Champs Elysee) where the nearest ATM is. ATM is not a word that the rest of the world understands apparently.
Maddie has an HSBC account which is supposedly worldwide but hers isn’t transaction fee free. We also wanted to take two options, in case one got lost or stolen. I didn’t want to end up in Cape Town with no cash and no means of getting any!
A colleague at work mentioned a pre-paid visa or mastercard. I had a look online but most of the major ones would incur currency exchange fees and big fees for cash withdrawals.
That’s when I stumbled across the Post Office Travel Money Card.
It’s a pre-paid Mastercard that had everything we needed and is specifically for travel! We ordered online and waited around 3 days for it to arrive.
You can add 13 different currencies to the card. Naturally, this time we topped up in Rand but you can add Euro, dollars, Dirham, even Stirling!
It’s accepted at over 36 million locations worldwide. Basically, anywhere that accepts a credit card will accept it, which made it perfect for Cape Town. There’s also no transaction fees which is fantastic.
There is an app for the card. Here, you can see your wallet, the daily exchange rate, top up, see what you’ve spent. It’s just like a normal banking app. Topping up is easy and takes a few minutes the first time while you figure it out, maybe 1 minute after that! The minimum top-up is £50 which isn’t great if you’re on a tight budget but we had saved and planned to spend.
Again though, we were worried about what would happen if the card was stolen, as it’s also contactless, so we kept the top-ups around £50 to £100.
The only real downside is that you don’t get the best conversion rates.
For example, one day whilst we were in Cape Town, the online average was 17 rand to the pound, but the card only offered us 16. When you’re in a country where the pound is infinitely stronger, it’s not really an issue. If, however, you’re in Europe, you might feel a little cheated sometimes.
The app has a secure login so even if your phone is stolen, they thieves can’t access the app. It doesn’t store your card details so you’re well protected. Also, you can top up with any card. So I could load what I’d saved, she could too etc. Or if you’re a parent with a child travelling, you can load onto it as needed!
Although your transactions can take 48 hours to appear on your statement on the app, the balance updates in live time. So wherever you are (if you have phone / internet signal to check the app), you can keep a constant track on what you’re spending.
You can use the card in an ATM as normal – just make sure you choose one that doesn’t charge you, and you select local currency rather than native currency. If you’re in Spain and choose Stirling instead of Euro, you’ll most likely get charged by the Spanish bank for conversion. You’ll be charged from your balance for withdrawing cash anyway so it’s best to take out a lump sum, rather than several different withdrawals. The charges average out about £2 which is much more reasonable than the £5 I was charged in Turkey by Lloyds TSB.
If you lose it or your card is stolen, you can cancel it straightaway, 24 hours a day.
You don’t have to worry about all your money being spent. I’m not sure what happens if you’ve lost your card abroad; what happens to the balance, or how you get the money back or get a new card. Their site isn’t forthcoming with that information which is a little annoying!
We only ran into one issue on our holiday with the card, and it was our fault. We hired a car through Hertz. M can’t drive so I had to hire the car. However, Maddie had ordered the Post Office Travel Money Card, so her name was printed on it. I was terribly jet lagged after a horrific delay (thanks Emirates, won’t be using you again). I’m not sure if it was Hertz’ policy or South African law (unlikely) but the card and the hirer’s name need to match. Luckily, our leasing agent was an absolute legend and resolved it for us.
From restaurants to attractions, supermarkets to bars, we used the card all over. Maybe a little too easily after a lot of rum in LouLou’s. We rarely relied on cash and I’m so glad we came across the card. It made our whole trip a lot easier and a lot less to deal with for old anxious me! Just to confirm, this isn’t sponsored, sadly. I genuinely found this and genuinely thought it was a great idea so wanted to share my travel secrets with you all!
Advice for New Landlords
In my time in the property industry, I have seen too many landlords make bad decisions. Buying a property to rent, or moving away and renting out your place is a risky business. I may not be an expert but my experience does allow me to offer advice for new landlords.
I hope in my lifetime to be able to buy a property (or five) to rent out. This will provide an extra income but also it’ll provide a legacy to leave to our children.
There’s so much information out there for tenants, but I don’t feel like there’s enough advice for new landlords. I’m not in a place to advise on buying a property but I can offer some tips.
When letting a property for the first, or fiftieth time, there’s many things to consider.
Know your Property
You need to figure out what your property is worth. There are many factors in valuing a rental property. Location, size, transport and amenities are the main ones. Different property types offer different things. The more the property and the surrounds have to offer, the higher the price will be.
Know your Target Market
A house in an area near a good school is most likely to attract a family. A super modern flat near a tube station is more likely to attract young professionals. You may know there are certain people you don’t want to rent to. For example, you might not be happy renting to students. Or you might feel your small flat isn’t suitable for a family of 5. Within reason and without discrimination, you need to have a rough idea of who you’re marketing your property to.
How to market your property
Whether you choose a national brand, a local high street agency or choose to market your property yourself, there’s several things to consider. You need to ensure the price is right. Timing is important, too. Summer is a great time to market. January is not. Good quality photos are vital. An online ad is most likely the first place your potential tenant is going to see your property. The pictures (and the description) have to make them want to take the effort to call, arrange a viewing, come and, eventually, live there!
The privately rented sector is one of the most heavily legislated industries. From serving government prescribed information to serving notices and returning deposits, the legalities can be a minefield. If you’re not an expert, you need to seek professional advice. This could come from your estate agents, from a property solicitor or by joining a body like the NLA.
You need to make sure that the people that you’re entrusting your property to are worth it. The most obvious check is affordability. Can they afford to rent your property? Rent, utilities, insurances, cars, entertainment… It all adds up. Ensure your referencing (or that of your agency) is comprehensive enough to protect you.
Maintenance and Repairs
It’s inevitable that things will go wrong, at some point. If you buy a property brand new from a developer, you’ll likely have a warranty period of around 2 years. If not, you’ll need to be prepared for everything from minor radiator issues to windows falling out of a building. Yes, that’s something I’ve genuinely dealt with in my time.
If you’re mortgaged, you’ll most likely have a clause in your mortgage that stipulates you have to have landlord insurance. If it’s not a formal obligation, it’s still worth it. These policies come in a wide range and can cover anything from accidental damage to court proceedings for repossession. It’s also worth having repair policies in place, especially if you have a boiler that’s more than a couple of years old.
You need to ensure you take a security deposit, and that’s its registered and protected in a government scheme. I strongly advise for you to have inventories done at the beginning and the end of the tenancy. This helps prevent disputes at the end of the tenancy or offer evidence for deductions if necessary.
The list is almost endless.
I literally work a 40 hour week doing all of the above and more. If you don’t have a lot of spare time in your life, or the knowledge or experience to safely and effectively manage a property, I recommend you go with a managing agent who can take your stress away! I spend a lot of time dishing out advice for new landlords. I thought it would be worthwhile to share! I’ll be expanding on most of these topics in the future, but if you have any questions please do ask!
One Sunday lunchtime during our holiday in South Africa, we jumped in our little car and headed from Cape Town to Kleinmond
We had family there to visit and it’s just under 2 hours out of Cape Town. Cape Town to Kleinmond such a beautiful drive. We drove the main roads out of the city and down the N1. Once you get out of the city, it’s lush greenery and mountains. Then a short drive from the main road, you arrive at this beautiful little beach town.
Kleinmond is a small town in the Overborg region of the Western Cape
According to Tripadvisor, there’s plenty to do in Kleinmond. I wish we’d had more time to check out the forest adventures or the penguin colony in Betty’s Bay! We’d come to see my father-in-law and wanted to spend as much time with him as possible.
As it was, we only had an afternoon so we settled for a walk on the beach coastal walkway. It has some rugged terrain but it’s got a lovely wooden path built into it. The rock formations, the way the waves fall, it’s amazing. I grew up at the seaside with some choppy sea but I’ve never seen such beautiful waves as I did that day.
We strolled from the house down through the walkway and up to the cove. I could have hiked for hours through miles of rugged terrain but we were limited on time, and hungry!
Here there’s a fair few restaurants and shops, mostly aimed at day trippers.
Cape Town has such a variety of great restaurants but Kleinmond has a lot to offer for such a small town!
Some are super fancy, but most have a really chilled beach vibe, which goes well with the surfing clientele that come throughout the years to ride the sick waves.
My father in law has his favourite restaurant there and is a regular face. Kabel Joe’s is right on the peak with a great view. It has outdoor seating and a top deck for those warm days. Despite them preparing to close, they kindly set us up a table and agreed to feed us weary travellers. As with many restaurants on the sea, their focus is on sea food. Their food was completely on point. Huge portions, well priced. Perfectly seasoned, beautifully presented. We couldn’t have asked for more! I had the coconut mussel pot with some fresh hot bread and it was delicious.
If we come back to South Africa in the next few years, I fully intend to come back in Winter. This is whale season! Kleinmond is a prominent location on the whale route and those beautiful beasts can be spotted lazing and playing around near the coasts.
We left to head back to Cape Town much later than I’d planned.
I don’t love driving in the dark. The roads are big and crazy and dark. We decided it would be lighter and safer to go back along the coastal routes, rather than through the mountains. I’ll rarely admit I was wrong but I was so glad we left late. As we hit the coastal roads in the last leg of our journey, we turned a corner and nature presented us with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Cape Town to Kleinmond might be a tough day out with kids but it’s a great road trip for friends or a couple. The drive is easy, the scenery is stunning, and the people are so chilled.
We arrived safely back in our apartment in Century City, where the next night we were treated to another stunner of a sunset. I can’t get over how naturally stunning the sunsets are for a city!
First Time Tenant Advice
You’ve grown and reached that point; it’s time to fly the nest. You have to become a first time tenant at some point.
If you live within 10 miles of a London zone, you – like me – are not going to be able to afford to buy a house until at least the time that Oprah becomes President.
My advice to a first time tenant is to ensure you thoroughly research the 5 areas below
1 – Location, Location, Location
2 – Budget
3 – Property Type
4 – Agency
5 – Pre-moving costs
* Admin fees – usually between £200 to £300 per tenancy. This covers all the administrative work involved in creating your tenancy.
* Referencing costs – usually between £30 and £75 per person, depending on the referencing agency used. This includes landlord reference, employment reference, credit check, Right to Rent check and can include Anti Money Laundering checks
* One months’ rent in advance