Posted in bloggers, family, Feminism, Lifestyle, relationships, women

Mind Your Own Business

We live in a society that is ever more conscious about being politically correct. We use gender neutral pronouns, we try and respect other religions as much as our own, we recognise that men and women were created equally and that the latter deserves as much respect as the former. Its an enlightened world where people have rights, they said.

Why then can’t the rest of us who live in this so-called enlightened world not enjoy the right for people (under the guise of concern) to butt out of our business?

One of my friends tweeted a few rules of politeness once, and I have never agreed with a tweet more. It said that one should never ask questions of a sensitive nature unless the other person opens up about it first. These sensitive questions include, but are not limited to, the following:

a. how much they earn in their jobs
b. marital status
c. if married, whether or not they ever plan to have kids
and other questions that are just damn intrusive, nosy and rude.

I personally feel fine and content with my lot in life, but there are a lot of people that struggle with not being able to fit into the mould that hundreds of years worth of tradition has created for us: mother, homemaker, wife. I struggle with it sometimes myself. Its not a very pleasant feeling to sit around a dinner table and have your friends talk about their respective partners and all you’re able to contribute was your latest trip to Croatia.

I get so angry about it sometimes. When people get together its like there’s a list of questions that they have to tick off to assure themselves that they’ve had a proper catch-up. Real friends don’t do that. Real friends catch up to listen and offer support. The people you should keep in your lives will not make you feel any less of a person just because the trajectory of your life happens to be different from theirs. I am eternally grateful that I still have a handful of those friends who, regardless of the fact that at most parties I am the only one not carrying a baby carriage, make me feel proud of everything else I’ve accomplished anyway. You guys know who you are.

The point is that the world has no right to your heart, to paraphrase a line from the brilliant song ‘Burn‘ from the musical ‘Hamilton’. The world has no right to your struggles, it does not get to judge you. No one gets to define or limit who you are especially if they can’t get past their own narrow worldview to remember that you are a person first. Not a girlfriend, a wife, or a mother. You are you: and that has, is and should always be enough.

Posted in Books, Dystopia, murder mystery, Politics

Book Review: The Last – Hanna Jameson

A post-apocalyptic version of And Then There Were None.

This was how the bookseller at my favourite Waterstones branch sold this book to me while I was paying for the four other books I’d already bought at the till. Needless to say, I left the bookstore that night with five books instead.

I love stories where characters from all walks of life find themselves in a single room or house or hotel. I think it creates a really interesting dynamic when you force people who would normally ignore each other on the street to interact on a daily basis. Add the apocalypse, the threat of starvation, cannibalism and murder and you get a really interesting read.

A professor of history who happened to be on a business trip in Switzerland finds himself in a hotel with twenty other people after a nuclear bomb destroyed half the major capitals of the world. They’re all stuck there, cut off from the Internet, all their iPhones and laptops dead or dying, and without a clue as to the survival of the rest of the human race.

So he thought to record the events after Day One (the apocalypse) for the sake of posterity, and most of his scribblings were about the rationing of food and water…until the day they found the body and realised there was a murderer in their midst.

The Last is a book that is as interesting as it is disturbing, the latter mostly because – with the way politics is these days – it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to believe in the possibility of a nuclear war ending life as we know it. The subtext was so clear that even I, who barely follow the news these days, could see the rebuke of Trump’s administration and the not-so-subtle dig and protest against his policies and everything the horrid man stands for.

Although there were certain parallels to Agatha Christie’s seminal work, this book was far from being a retelling or just another version of And Then There Were None. I was surprised by how little it actually focused on the murder, although Jon – the professor – became fixated on solving the mystery for want of something better to do.

To me, the book was more a story of survival than it is a mystery. It touched on the many different ways we find to cope with loss and grief, and the lengths we’re willing to go to in order to change our situations for the better. I liked how it asks readers to think about how much of our humanity we’re able to keep when the outlook is so bleak that you almost see everyone as an enemy, or as a potential source of sustenance.

I liked the juxtaposition of the extraordinary and the mundane. The joy of listening to music for the first time in a long long while against the scene where the survivors raid the nearest pharmacy for supplies. The happiness of seeing children play versus the sorrow of burying a little girl’s body. Getting drunk and high with your fellow man versus doing CPR on someone who tried to take his own life.

So was I a bit disappointed that this was nothing like And Then There Were None? Maybe.

The bookseller sold this to me under false pretences but at the end of the day, I am not that upset about it because while I was expecting this book to be just another murder/mystery I ended up with something more profound and certainly far more interesting instead.

It was well-written, funny, smart, emotional, political and almost painfully poignant. This is the kind of book that makes you think, that scares you because it hits far too close to home – which also means this is the kind of book that everyone should be reading right now. These are troubled times, and anything that makes people conscious about it, anything that starts a conversation that could maybe lead to change – anything like that I consider to be an absolute win.

Recommended for all you fans of the apocalypse, The Walking Dead and that movie where Sandra Bullock was blindfolded half the time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Posted in bloggers, Celebrities, london, Medical, Movies

A Day in The Life of a Wannabe Film Star

Lights. Camera. Action.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to work with the crew at BBC to do some test shots on a documentary that they’re planning to pitch to Netflix. The idea is to go into operating theatres around the world and follow surgeons around to give viewers some insight of what they see and go through on a daily basis. Needless to say, they needed the perspective of a subject matter expert, which I just happen to be.

The production team emailed us to say that call time was at 8am, far too early to be out of bed on a Saturday morning when you’ve been drinking the night before, but what do you do when the promise of fame awaits? My friend (another subject matter expert) and I arrived at the mock operating theatre to find it mostly empty because the crew were still figuring out how to get all their fancy expensive equipment into the building.

So, just like Robert Downey Jr probably does when he’s on the set for a Marvel Film, we said we were going to get coffee and breakfast and asked them to please give us a ring when they were ready for us. Only, unlike RDJ, we actually had to pay for our coffee and breakfast.

Around 9am we got back to the “set” and met the producers, our director, and the very intimidating director of photography. We also met the. man who designed and made the body we were going to pretend to be operating on for the day, a body that was an eerily accurate and anatomically correct replica I might add.

We got into our costumes. I say that as if this was a special moment but what it actually entailed was putting on scrub suits and caps, the same thing we do day in and day out for work. The other extras (production managers who got roped into playing some of the roles because they didn’t have the budget as yet for real actors) got a huge kick out of it though, and they were really chuffed at the thought of being part of the surgical team for the day. It came as no surprise to me when they admitted to being huge fans of Grey’s Anatomy.

Thank you Shonda Rhimes for single-handedly making our profession more attractive than it probably is.

We didn’t get a script so my friend and I sort of had to make things up as we went along. He had the starring role because I volunteered to be the nurse, so he ended up playing the surgeon. They took lots of shots of him walking in corridors, gazing at the horizon and scrubbing up. I spent a lot of time tweeting and facebooking the entire experience while I waited for my five minutes of screen time.

I imagined that was how Jeremy ‘Hawkeye’ Renner probably felt on the set of the Avengers movies, constantly waiting for them to finish capturing yet another shot of Captain America and his shield. Lol.

I have to say, from watching behind-the-scenes footage and documentaries, I already had the vague impression of the amount of hard work that goes into making any kind of tv episode or feature length film. I mean, the Game of Thrones crew subjected themselves to doing 55 night shifts just to give us the Battle of Winterfell.

Talk about dedication. I’ve done night shifts and at the end of three nights you almost start to lose your sense of self. I really could not imagine doing 55 of them. I don’t care if I get to work with Jon Snow or dragons, night shifts are brutal.

The cameramen, the grips, the lighting director and all the rest of the people who are basically in charge of making the actors look good really are the unsung heroes of the film industry. I’ve seen a small sliver of the precision and attention to detail that goes into making these things and I was very impressed. A bit annoyed that they were nitpicking over each and every shot so much that we overran by about an hour, but impressed nonetheless.

Every shot had to be perfect and stylised. It took about ten takes just to shoot a sequence of Russel washing his hands, and another ten of me dropping a scalpel into a kidney dish. They were using lingo that I didn’t really understand, talking about how the shot needs to be sharp and the camera needs to be slanted and they needed more than a thousand frames – they might as well have been talking Latin for all I knew.

There was also a bit of tension and drama. Artistic people have an artistic temperament. Also, put a bunch of perfectionists in the room and you will inevitably end up with an argument or two, but its the kind of professional bickering that leads to something productive.

I didn’t realise how drained I was until the director finally said “Cut!” on that lost shot and I realised we were done for the day. I wasn’t even really acting, just miming something I did and have done for so long now that I can probably do it in my sleep. Can you imagine having to shoot an emotional scene, (or a love scene! lol) over and over again because the lighting was wrong or the director didn’t get the angle he wanted? I don’t know how actors do it.

We packed up, said our goodbyes to the crew, and made our way to Leicester Square and ended our short-lived stint in the entertainment industry over Chinese food. We looked back on the day and laughed over the experience. It was a glimpse into a world that is beyond our reach, a taste of what life would have been like if we’d been blessed with the self-confidence and talent of a movie star.

We came to the conclusion that there was a reason why we weren’t Hollywood stars, and we had better stick to our day jobs.

So, that’s a wrap on Angela the actress, folks. Thank you BBC for the experience and good luck on the documentary!

Posted in bloggers, Health and Well-Being, Nursing

The Battle Against Genetics

A couple of months ago, after having a few sleepless nights where I was convinced I was having a myocardial infarction (heart attack) I finally decided to just get it over with and have a full cardiac check-up to find out what’s really going on. I went to my GP and to nobody’s surprise, my blood pressure was elevated.

He had me monitor my home blood pressure for a week, and sent me to all these tests that would basically rule out other underlying conditions that might be causing the high blood pressure. I was simultaneously relieved to be actively taking steps to get to the bottom of this condition and terrified at the thought of what they might find.

I was breaking out in cold sweats while they took an ECG and blood tests and kidney scans and all the other investigations that needed to be done to come up with a diagnosis. At the end of the day it all turned out to be normal and essentially what I had was a case of stage one primary hypertension. No big deal, let’s get you on medications that you’ll have to take for the rest of your life, thank you, next patient please.

I tried to treat the diagnosis and subsequent treatment as a kind of joke, and God knows it must seem funny to other people for someone who’s relatively young to be on maintenance medications. But underneath the humour and the bluster, there was a real sense of shame. I feel like I’ve somehow failed, like I’ve lost a battle that I’ve been fighting my entire adult life.

You see, my family has a history of heart disease. Its one of the reasons why I’m so paranoid about it. Every single person in my family has taken or is currently on cardiac medication in one form or another. My father, aunts and uncles are all on different kinds of anti-hypertensives. This is the future that I’ve always known I had to look forward to.

I remember having a blood check at 21 and discovering my cholesterol levels were elevated. I mean, I love to eat and I know my sweet tooth will probably be the death of me, but I remember looking at my friends who consume food by the buckets and finding out when they had their cholesterol check that it was all normal…and I felt betrayed by own DNA.

Like how is it fair that a woman who weighs at least 20 pounds more than I do, and who doesn’t obsessively watch their weight or think about what they eat, would have normal triglyceride and LDL levels? LDL is the bad cholesterol by the way.

Anyway, long story short, it was a rude awakening to the fact that you can try to modify your lifestyle all you want but there’s always going to be a risk that your genes will get the better of you.

I suppose it doesn’t help that I eat when I’m stressed and I feel like I’ve been perpetually stressed (and therefore stress-eating) since I was 19.

Anyway, I found it hard to accept and talk about this change in the first few weeks after the diagnosis. Like I said, there was shame and there was also the fear of judgment from other people who might think, serves you right for not dieting and exercising enough. This wasn’t all unfounded by the way; the nurses and GPs I met at the clinic all made some kind of comment that implied this was somehow all my fault.

And in a way I suppose it is. I mean, you can’t blame genetics for everything. Your genes will predispose you to a certain condition but there are ways to actively prevent it from coming to fruition. I am now paying for years and years worth of neglect and lack of respect for my body.

I suppose that’s why I’m sharing my story. Its a cautionary tale against being blasé about your health as well as a message of encouragement to eat healthy and stay active.

Don’t let a future of anti-hypertensives become part of your narrative. It might be too late for me at this point but its not too late for you or for people you know. Stay healthy. Be strong. Live well.

Posted in Travel

The Moments That Take Your Breath Away

I don’t often stop to think about how fortunate I am to be able to travel the world, to see all the places that I only used to read about in books, and to experience things that are on most people’s bucket list. I take for granted that I live in a city that in its own right is also a sought-after travel destination, as well as a place that allows me easy access to Europe and the rest of the world.

I admit to sometimes getting carried away by the social media hype, and sometimes I have to consciously remind myself that it doesn’t matter if you don’t get the perfect instagram shot, that what matters is immersing yourself in the moment and appreciating the opportunities that come your way.

I woke up at the unholy hour of 2 in the morning for our Capadoccia Hot Air Balloon excursion. The Turkish heat must have driven me temporarily insane because I became obsessed with the idea of taking the perfect photo, so I changed my outfit three times and spent at least half an hour curling my hair.

Our pick-up time was at 03:45 am and by 4:30 we arrived at a building where we were then sorted into groups. I was very excited to see that there were only four of us in our group and I thought, great, less photo-bombers. We then drove another half hour to Red Valley where the tour company was already setting up our balloon.

At this point it was nearing sunrise and I was getting quite frustrated. I’ve seen many photos of hot air balloons in Capadoccia and I knew the timing had to be right. It wouldn’t do to see it when the sun has risen completely. The whole experience is at its most dramatic during that glorious magical moment when the sun is just about to come up and the colours of the balloons are set against some of the most stunning backdrops you will ever see in your lifetime.

Needless to say I was nearly cursing as full daylight started to set in and everyone else’s balloon was up in the air except for ours. I didn’t want to hassle anyone because I certainly didn’t want them to take shortcuts and compromise our safety. I was not planning on falling off any hot-air balloons that day, that’s for sure. But I was becoming increasingly impatient and irritated from the wait, and I was even more annoyed when I saw a van full of people and was then told they were actually joining us in our basket.

I was also disappointed that, as I was going to actually be IN the balloon, I wouldn’t be able to have any photos with me in it. I was actually very briefly pissed that I wouldn’t have the chance to pose on some balcony somewhere while the balloons were floating up around me.

Thankfully I managed to get over myself and finally decided to stop being so damn pretentious and stupid and to just enjoy the moment.

And dear readers, what a moment it was.

Before I knew it I was climbing the basket and the pilots were blowing up the hot air balloon. We started ascending minutes later and if I had the time to think about what I was actually doing I probably would have been more scared. But as it was, all I could do was marvel at the view. I was too busy soaking in the wondrous feeling of being up in the sky, with the wind against my face, while I take in something that no camera would ever be able to capture.

The lesson here, guys, is that in this day and age where our self-esteem is directly proportional to the number of likes we receive on Facebook, its important to remind ourselves of the reasons why we travel.

We travel to learn about different cultures, to experience the way other people live, and appreciate the fact that despite our differences we are all the same. We travel to fall in love with the people we meet and the places we see, and we travel to have fun.

But most of all, we travel for the moments that take our breath away.

Posted in Travel

Twilight Over Istanbul

Life doesn’t get any more surreal than when you’re cruising down the river that straddles and bridges the gap between two continents, and between two very different cultures.

I love travelling. I’ve left pieces of my heart in all the places I’ve been to and am looking forward to falling in love with the places I’ve yet to see. But I know for a fact that Istanbul, and Turkey as a whole, will always hold a special place in my heart.

For one thing, the people we met were so warm and hospitable. We booked our tour through Chora Travels who were kind enough to arrange all the pick-ups, transfers and domestic flights for us on top of booking all our hotels.

The Turkish people also had a unique sense of humour and an innate playfulness that I didn’t really expect. For example, our driver was chatty and kind enough to tell me that apparently there were a lot of Filipino women working for the hammam places. Thank you. That’s good to know if I ever want or need a career change.

Our hotel could not be closer to the Hagia Sophia if it tried, any closer and we’d actually be in Sultahnamet Square. Although we arrived really late due to stupid European air restrictions they welcomed us with warm smiles and hospitable greetings. They even booked our sunset Bosphorus cruise for us before bringing our bags to our room.

Restaurants open until late in Istanbul on a Friday night. As the owner told us when we asked about closing times, he’ll close when people stop coming to his doors for a meal or when he feels like it. What a marvellously relaxed way of running a business. He gave us free baklava, cocktails with sparklers on it and a cup of Turkish tea that just hit the spot in all the best ways.

When I was in high school my social studies project involved making a replica of the Hagia Sophia. At the time all I knew of it was that it represented wisdom, and that it was the bane of my life as I was born without the artistic gene. So I was really looking forward to visiting this church to see how my art project measured up. Newsflash: it doesn’t even come close to capturing the opulence and beauty of the original.

I love Istanbul’s history. I love the blend of Christian and Muslim influences and how in an almost strange way the city has made that dichotomy something to be celebrated. You can see elements of both in Hagia Sophia’s interior.

We also briefly visited the Blue Mosque, which was an actual working mosque and thus was closed to the public during prayer times. Having briefly experienced what it felt like to be all covered up in that blistering heat I can now empathise and sympathise with those who are obliged to wear it out of respect for their culture and religious belief. More power to you, I don’t know how you do it.

My second favourite part of our blitzed tour through the city was the Basilica Cistern. Its always fascinated me, especially since I read and then saw Dan Brown’s Inferno. Spoiler alert: they’ve taken out all the water so the term “sunken palace” doesn’t necessarily apply anymore but damn it didn’t take away from the atmospheric feel of the place.

Something you must experience at least once in your life and then NEVER EVER AGAIN is to ride the Istanbul tram at rush hour. It gives new meaning to the term “being one with humanity”. Believe me, there’s nothing like being pressed up against a stranger’s armpit to create the illusion that unity can be achieved in this world.

There’s always that one moment when visiting another country where the inevitable disappointment sets in because reality doesn’t quite live up to the pictures. The Galata Tower is one such experience. Sometimes I think Instagram has both enhanced and ruined travelling for everyone.

On one hand its great to be able to see other people’s travel photos and draw inspiration from it, but sometimes when a place becomes so instagrammable that its filled to the brim with tourists that you can hardly see the structure or take a decent photo yourself I curse all our addiction to social media.

By far the best moment of the tour was taking a cruise down the Bosphorus. Istanbul is the city where East meets West, where Europe ends and Asia begins, and that’s reflected in everything from the food to the architecture. On one hand you get beautiful minarets and lighted mosques, on the other hand its also really easy to find and order spaghetti bolognese.

Watching the sunset over such a beautiful city, and seeing it with the lights shining bright, is something truly spectacular to behold. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the distinct skyline, and of the Galata Bridge when the cover of night takes away the dirt and grime that would normally be visible in the light of day.

To add icing to the cake you are then able to get a delicious meal of mixed grills and kebabs for the hefty price of 70 Turkish liras, which is like 5 GBP.

Yum!!!

There’s so much more to see in Istanbul. In hindsight I should have stayed at least two full days not only so that we can see everything but also because the heat takes a lot out of you so you feel exhausted a lot of the time.

A city is only as good as the people who live in it, and going back to what I said at the beginning, I have never met a group of people who were so eager and willing to please. People who work in the tourism industry in Istanbul give everything they’ve got to making sure visitors have an awesome experience, and that, among other reasons is why I’m definitely going back to Istanbul someday.

Posted in Careers, relationships, Self-Discovery

Growing A Thicker Skin

On the heels of the latest Taylor Swift news, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on my own penchant for perhaps playing the victim and not taking responsibility for my own actions

(Disclaimer: I fully support Taylor in her quest to buy the rights to her music but even a huge fan such as myself can’t help but look askance at the number of feuds she’s had in a relatively short period of time. Love her though!).

I’ve never been a quitter and I can actually tolerate more bullshit than the average person. But I’ve had moments these past few months where I felt like throwing in the towel altogether and saying, that’s it, I’m done. I can’t take this anymore.

You know how they say you can never really run away from your problems? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a version of that advice from people I respect, and it took a while for it to sink in but thankfully, sink in it did.

One of my mentors told me something that I found both profound and sad. He told me that wherever you go in life you will always encounter bullies; the kind that will do anything to hold on to power, who will want to bring you down in order to lift themselves up, who are self-serving, deceitful and just downright malicious.

He told me I had to choose my battles. I found this to be a bit passive-aggressive, probably because I grew up with the notion that I always have to win, I always have to be right. But actually winning and being right are both a relative state and a matter of perception.

Needless to say, its a truth universally acknowledged by all that just because you think you’re right doesn’t mean the other person necessarily agrees with you.

He then told me, in a succinct way that brooked no argument, that I just have to grow a thicker skin, especially if I want to go far in life. You can’t go crying home every time someone was a bit mean to you, or if you don’t get your way. You either decide its worth it and do something about it or you shake it off.

I have a really hard time shaking things off. I’m a dweller, you just have to accept this about me.

But what I have learned this week is that I’m at that age where I just have to put on my big-girl underpants and stand my ground if what I’m fighting for really means that much to me. The ensuing conversation may be singularly unpleasant, but I’ll be able to sleep better at night knowing I’ve finally said my piece.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that you create your own narrative, and you paint the picture of how other people will see you. And I for one would rather be remembered as the one who stayed and fought and gave it a shot rather than someone who got going when the going got tough.