Feel Good Friday #5

Do you remember writing your letter to Santa? I remember sitting at the kitchen table poring over the Argos catalogue with a pen in hand, ready to circle the many toys which grabbed my attention. Oh, the possibilities! 

Maisie from Norfolk had a much more selfless approach to Christmas last year, asking Santa for 'money please so I can give it to Anglian Air Ambalance. All I want is them to save daddys.' Back in 2010 Maisie's dad, Justin, was involved in a life-threatening motorbike accident which left him with a broken pelvis and fractured skull. He was airlifted to hospital by the East Anglian Air Ambulance after immediate life-saving treatment at the roadside by the on-board medics.



Justin struggles with his injuries on a daily basis but said he and Maisie's mum, Lisa, were completely taken by surprise when they found the letter lying on Maisie's bed. The letter read: 'To Father Christmas, Mummy wants me to think about my list. I know you don't normally give cash but please, please, please can you tell everyone that wants to buy me something I don't want presents I would like money please so I can give it to Anglian Air Ambulance. They saved my daddy thats all I want is them to save daddys. Love Maisie Moody age 8.' 

When Maisie's letter was first picked up by local press back at the end of December, she had raised £100. Now one month later Maisie has managed to raise £1,070 for the EAAA. She even visited the charity's headquarters at Norwich Airport to hand over the donations in person. 



Lisa said Maisie was 'very, very pleased' with the donations.'We are still getting more donations coming in and she really wasn't expecting it,' she said. 'She thought she would just get the usual amount of money she gets for Christmas. She was so excited to go up to Norwich and see the helicopter and give them the money'.

She added that Maisie had sent thank you letters to all the people she knew had donated, with a special note at the bottom to say 'she hoped it would save other daddies'.

Um. Excuse me. I think I have something in my eye.

Away Game

This post isn't about football, I promise. 

A couple of Thursdays ago I hopped on the train after work and whizzed through to Edinburgh for Away Game, a fundraising spoken word event held by The Grind and Untitled. Away Game was the latest in a series of spoken word events the journals teamed up to hold in aid of local food banks. The first event, Home Game, was held in Falkirk back in November, followed by Glasgow event 423 in December.

Away Game was held in a wonderful venue called Summerhall, which used to be the Royal School of Veterinary Studies, but is now a creative hub for the arts with studio and workshop spaces. The event was held in a former anatomy lecture theatre, which, controversially for a vegetarian, may be my favourite spoken word event venue so far. The lecture theatre was decorated with soft fairy lights, with miniature packets of sweets (I had Parma Violets) nestled amongst the bulbs.





The writers and poets speaking at the event were Gordon Legge, Cee Smith, Samuel Best, Bethany Ruth Anderson, Dickson Telfer, Karyn Dougan, Paul Tonner, Elyse Jamieson and Stephen Watt. I'd seen some of the speakers at previous events and was excited to watch them perform again - and to discover new gems, of course!

Particular favourites included Paul, who read a hilarious poem about how much he loves toast and a charming story about "wanting to marry a girl who smells of Parma Violets", and Stephen, who read a beautiful poem dedicated to his late grandmother and another about... er, not being able to "get it up in Paris".


I of course have to mention Samuel Best, my boyfriend, who read a new short story, and also performed with our friend, Dickson, who read (and then sang) a short story from his new collection, Refrigerator Cake.

Here is a photograph of me looking goofy as I watch Sam perform. The look of love, eh?







The event was rounded off by a performance from The National Poet for Scotland, Liz Lochhead. To have Liz support their event - she mentioned that she wanted to help such an important cause - was an incredible achievement for the organisers and a definite highlight of the evening.

Away Game helped raise around £250 to support local food banks. This is in addition to the hundreds raised at previous events held at the end of last year. While I regularly attend spoken word events, there was something particularly special about the events which The Grind and Untitled held together: original, entertaining and I got to go home with that special feeling that only comes from doing something to help other people. Congratulations again to both journals for pulling off such an incredible project.

If you've never attended a spoken word event before, please add it to your 'Things to try in 2015' list. It's wonderful to hear stories and poetry charge off the pages and come to life in front of you. There are so many writers out there - Dickson Telfer, I'm looking at you - whose writing you can't fully appreciate until you've seen them perform their work. 

Come on, fairy lights, sweets and storytelling - does it really get better than that?

Feel Good Friday #4

I want to add a little bit of a trigger warning that this post does cover difficult topics - but there's a positive ending, I promise.

On December 16th 2012 a 23 year old female student and her male friend boarded a bus in Munirka, a neighbourhood in the south of New Delhi, after going to see The Life of Pi. There were six men on the bus, including the driver, all of whom repeatedly beat and raped the woman. The men also tried to murder her friend, a young software engineer, by beating him unconscious. The two friends were thrown from the bus and left for dead. The woman died thirteen days later while being transported to a hospital in Singapore. The man luckily survived.

While this high profile attack turned the spotlight on violence against women in India, and forced Indian authorities to introduce tougher laws to protect women, these types of attacks continue to happen on a regular basis. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, a crime against a woman is committed every three minutes.

























Fast forward three years and Sakha Cabs is a new project determined to make a difference to the lives of female commuters in India. Sakha Cabs is a cab service driven by women for women. The project is run by Meenu Vadera, an advocate for women's rights and development with a MSc in Social Policy and Planning from the London School of Economics, who wants to make public spaces safer for women.

Meenu says 'Public spaces are not safe for women and, apart from other measures that are required, one important factor is to have more women out on the roads, and on public transport, driving buses, autos, taxis. The fact that there are more women on the roads will make roads safer for women.' 

The business plan behind Sakha Cabs goes even further to improve the lives of vulnerable women in India, employing women from the poorest communities in New Delhi. The women are given months of intensive training on driving, map reading, first aid and self-defence, as well as classes in English conversation and women's rights.

























Khushi Prajapati is a 24 year old woman who has worked with Sakha Cabs for over a year. She is the eldest of four sisters and is now able to help pay for their school fees and supplement the household expenses using the £150 she earns a month.

About her job, Khushi says 'The beginning was difficult as I  was doing a job which only men did. Drivers would stare and pass comments at me. But the support from Sakha and my parents helped me overcome it all. Now girls from my neighbourhood want to become chauffeurs like me.'

As well as helping to make commuting safer - which provides women in New Delhi the freedom to travel, work later hours or see friends in the evenings - Sakha Cabs is helping to build confidence of women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some of the women working for the company have walked out of abusive relationships after receiving their training. 

Perhaps the most significant change which Sakha Cabs has the courage to tackle is the refusal to accept female taxi drivers have no place in a male dominated industry. By encouraging women to take on new roles, Sakha Cabs is challenging outdated assumptions of what women can and cannot do, tearing down age-old barriers and providing women with more opportunities than ever before.

Staying on track





























Yesterday was tough. Yes, it was "Blue Monday", and, yes, I feel like such a statistic for writing this, but I can't deny that I really did feel all of my New Year enthusiasm shrivel up and go back to bed. It might have something to do with the weather: after the first exciting flurry of snow and the 'IT'S SNNNOOOOWING!' texts to my friends, I am now thoroughly fed up with the slick and dangerous ice rink which Glasgow streets have become. I now have to shuffle to work, determined not to fall in front of bus stops crammed full of strangers (who, in my darkest moments, I'm sure are watching me inch past, internally chanting 'Fall, fall, fall, fall'). 

As well as the cold, there's the dark. I think Glasgow must be averaging four hours of daylight a day (I'm not even kidding). I'd buy myself one of those natural sun lamps to help with seasonal affective disorder, but, you know, it's January and I'm poor.

So, yes, January is hard.

But the thing is, up until yesterday I didn't feel so bad. Okay, so I wasn't enjoying my walk to work turning into a particularly low budget Takeshi's Castle challenge or my frankly pathetic bank balance, but, to be honest, I was feeling surprisingly chipper. I had distracted myself with events and seeing friends and focusing on all the little things which make January not-so-bad.

I want that back, badly. That's why I thought I would put together a little list of ways to reinfect myself with the New Year enthusiasm bug. 

  • Tick off a project. It's easy to feel like a big fat failure if you've already broken your New Year's resolutions only twenty days into January. But don't give up entirely. Set yourself a small, tangible target: 'eat five different types of vegetables this week' is so much more achievable than 'get fit and healthy in 2015'. While my ultimate goal might be a Pinterest-worthy flat, tidying out the spare room is probably a good place to start.

  • Write a letter to a friend. The postcards above were purchased on my recent trip to Glasgow Cathedral and have now been sent to the Scottish Borders, Wales and Northern Ireland. I don't think my granny in Northern Ireland gives a chuff if I'm feeling blue in January. I think she would tell me to catch myself on and count myself lucky. Whether your friends are the 'a problem shared is a problem halved' type, or the Irish tough love type, there is something very therapeutic about writing a letter to a friend (and something exciting about waiting for the letter back).

  • Look forward to something. I'm going for dinner with friends on Friday night (it's pay day so I will officially be able to afford pizza again) and, while listening to 1989 for the 887462nd time yesterday, I remembered I'm going to see Taylor Swift later this year. Even if today is grey and boring, remember to focus on the big and little things which are already lined up to make 2015 great.

  • Eat a stroopwafel. I only discovered these last week and now I'm obsessed. Rest one on top of your steaming mug and wait for the centre of the stroopwafel to turn into a gooey caramel mush. I don't drink coffee either so I've been having mine with hot chocolate - it might just be because of the sugar high but it's impossible to feel fed up while devouring daintily eating and drinking a hot chocolate with stroopwafel.

  • Read a book. I'm a bookworm so of course I was going to end with this. If you're not happy with where you are right now, read a book and go somewhere else.   

Feel Good Friday #3

Cast your mind back to 2007. Tony Blair was the UK prime minister. We said goodbye to our favourite boy wizard when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released. After shaving her head and smashing a car window with an umbrella, Britney Spears went to rehab. 

And Jed the lurcher puppy was handed in to the Dogs Trust centre in Darlington.

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Now, after more than seven long years (or 50 dog years), Jed has finally found his forever home, after being adopted by Ian Woodcock and Elizabeth Marsh, from Whitby.

It is estimated that during his stay poor Jed was overlooked by over 14,000 potential new owners. Thankfully, after his unwanted status as "the most overlooked dog in Britain" made national headlines, Ian and Elizabeth visited him at the centre and decided he was the dog for them.

Ian said 'Jed is settling in really well and we absolutely adore him, he is always by my side and we already can't imagine life without him... We are really looking forward to the future with Jed, after so long without a home we can't wait to make 2015 as special as possible for him.'

Beverly Watson, rehoming centre assistant manager at Dogs Trust Darlington, said 'We are so delighted that Jed has finally found such a fantastic home after searching for so many years... I've worked in animal welfare for 10 years and to see Jed get rehomed is undoubtedly one of the highlights.'

I know that I featured a doggy Feel Good Friday last week, but the story of Jed made me smile so much I couldn't resist writing about him. I hope that after waiting for so long Jed has found his perfect match with Ian and Elizabeth.

Five new films I want to watch in 2015

I'm going to put my hands up and admit it - I am not a film buff. I don't read Empire Magazine and I didn't watch the Golden Globes (I did snoop on the red carpet dresses online the next day, but I don't think that counts!). While I might not have a monthly cinema pass, I do actually love watching films - to be honest, it's more the Chatty Cathies and... er, Smartphone Steves (seriously, I've seen people taking selfies in the cinema during films before - that is not okay, people!) that put me off going to the cinema more than anything else. There are so many new releases I'm excited about in 2015 that I might just have to get over my Cineworld aversion though.

Before I start, I want to mention Big Hero 6: I went to see Disney's latest animated film during the special preview weekend at the start of the month, which is the only reason I'm not including it in my list. I thought Big Hero 6 was wonderful, with an original storyline, beautiful animation and characters I fell in love with (can I have my own Baymax please?). I am tempted to go see it again when it is officially released in UK cinemas on January 30th. 

But, to focus on the films I haven't watched yet, here are my top five most anticipated films of 2015:

Cinderella


Goodness me, I have watched the trailer for Cinderella more than I would care to admit! I adore Disney's animated version of Cinderella so I really hope the live action film isn't a disappointment. While I'm not convinced by the casting of Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother (if any actress from Harry Potter was going to be cast in this role, should it not have been the wonderful Julie Walters?!), the trailer has enough romance, sparkle and magic to get me excited. 

Inside Out


Disney Pixar don't disappoint and Inside Out looks to be no exception. I love that they cleverly feature some of their other films in the advert ('Toy Story! Monsters, Inc.! UP!!') to remind us of exactly why we love them. Inside Out looks really quirky and I actually like that the advert doesn't give much away. What is this film about? I don't really know, but I'll definitely be going to see it to find out.

Minions


I'm a sucker for a Minion. Minions looks as silly, funny and cute as Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2. While I'll miss Gru, I still can't wait to watch this (even though it will do nothing to alleviate my desperate need for my very own Kevin, Stuart or Bob).  

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2


There have been no official trailers for Mockingjay Part 2 released yet, so I have included a trailer from Part 1 - because, really, can there ever be too much of The Hunger Games? I'm a massive fan of the books and I can't wait to watch the story climax on screen. I loved the complexities of the final instalment of the trilogy and, as I've been impressed with all of the films so far, I think the translation into film won't disappoint. I know I will cry though - heck, I'll probably sob. If you've read the books, you'll know why.

Tomorrowland


I had to end with a bit more Disney, didn't I? I spotted the trailer for Tomorrowland online tonight and I'm now officially intrigued. While Tomorrowland looks less fairytale, more sci-fi, the trailer has enough Disney magic to keep me interested. I was also reminded of visiting Tomorrowland in Walt Disney World while watching the trailer - and if anything reminds me of riding Space Mountain over and over and over, then it gets serious brownie points.

Which films do you really want to watch in 2015? I'm going to see Into the Woods this weekend which I'm really nervous about - I'm not sure what to expect from a Disney musical featuring Johnny Depp and James Corden! 

Feel Good Friday #2

You may have already read about Kai, the beautiful Shar Pei cross breed who was abandoned at Ayr railway station last Friday. Like a wee Paddington Bear, Kai was found tied to a suitcase of his possessions - food, pillow, bowl and dog toy.

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The Scottish SPCA, who rescued Kai, were able to trace one of his previous owners using his microchip, but unfortunately they sold Kai on Gumtree in 2013 and couldn't confirm the new owner's address. Abandoning an animal is an offence under Scottish law and the Scottish SPCA may seek to have the person who dumped Kai banned from owning another pet - if that person can be found.

So far, not so feel good, is it?

Here's the happy part: since the news of Kai exploded on the internet on Wednesday, nearly £3,000 has been donated through the charity's JustGiving page. The page was set up to help support Kai - who needs surgery on his eyes to correct his inverted eyelids - but "any additional funds will be used to help care for the many sick, injured and abandoned animals at Scottish SPCA rescue centres across the country." As news of Kai quickly spread as far as America, Canada and the Philippines, hundreds of animal lovers have logged on to donate money and offer him a forever home. 

As an animal lover through and through, it is horrible to read how often animal cruelty cases pop up in the news, but the important thing to remember is for every person who mistreats an animal, there are thousands who want to help. People who consider animals to be a part of the family and who want to love and protect them.

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It is because of people like this that the Scottish SPCA, and other charities like them, can continue to rescue, care for and rehome animals who need a little help. I'm proud to be from such a nation of animal lovers. I scroll through the Scottish SPCA Facebook feed and can't help but smile at the photographs of people rescuing animals and donating food, money and supplies every single week.

There are thousands of animals like Kai out there looking for their forever home. I hope the news about Kai and his suitcase has inspired a few more second chances.

Dennistoun Bar-B-Que

Last Sunday Sam and I ventured out to Dennistoun Bar-B-Que to soften the blow of the last day of the Christmas holidays. While a Texan burger bar might seem like a strange choice for two vegetarians, we're actually both self-confessed burger addicts and always keen to find new places which make as much of an effort for the herbivores. I am sick of mushrooms inside rolls masquerading as burgers! 

Thankfully there wasn't a soggy mushroom in sight at Dennistoun Bar-B-Que. With a small menu of six different, and all mouth watering, burgers to choose from, the focus is on good burgers done properly. This is definitely a no-frills burger bar and has more of a 'takeaway with tables' vibe than the city centre burger restaurants. You'll be grateful there's no need to put on any airs and graces when they bring out your burger though - this is not food that can be eaten delicately!







The vegetarian options at Dennistoun Bar-B-Que are just meat-free versions of their regular burgers: this is such as a novelty for me as I've never been anywhere else that does this - and I've eaten more than my (and probably yours too) fair share of veggie burgers. Sam opted for the Smoke Stack which is a veggie burger with cheese, shoestring onions and BBQ sauce. This came loaded with gooey cheese and six onion rings stuffed inside - Sam actually had to dismantle it before he could eat it! I had the Granny Boab's, which is a smaller (but still huge) veggie burger with double bacon and caramelised onion. We shared a portion of fries, which were covered in paprika and chilli powder and absolutely delicious.







While difficult to eat (I'm not joking - they're huge), the burgers were soft, 'meaty' and juicy. The burgers and fries were cooked and seasoned to perfection. I was a little disappointed that the veggie options are more expensive than the meat - we had to add on £2 each to go meat-free - but ultimately I think they're worth the cost. Every bit as good as the city centre offerings, Dennistoun Bar-B-Que is worth heading east for.

And the really dangerous part? They do takeaway...

Glasgow Necropolis

If you read my Hopes for a new year post, you'll have seen that I want to go on more adventures this year - part of that hope is to explore more of Scotland, including Glasgow. While it might seem silly to want to explore the city I already live in, I think that a lot of people take where they live for granted. I know I'm guilty of spending hundreds of pounds, and my precious annual leave, travelling to other countries to explore their cities, but there are so many places in Glasgow, only a short distance from my own front door, that I still haven't visited. 

As yesterday was one of those perfect winter's days, crisp and dry with bright blue skies, we decided to make a start on my promise to myself, by pulling on our jackets, scarves and boots and heading out to explore more of our own fair city.





The Glasgow Necropolis is a Victorian cemetery to the east of Glasgow Cathedral. It was built in the same era as the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. I think the fact I have visited the Père Lachaise Cemetery but not the Glasgow Necropolis, despite walking past it every single day on my way to work, is a perfect example of why I need to make the effort to see more of Scotland! While a cemetery may seem like a strange place to spend an afternoon, the Glasgow Necropolis is such a beautiful and peaceful place, with views out across the city, that there were a lot of people - families, friends, photographers and dog walkers - out walking while we were there. The cemetery doesn't have a strict layout which means you can take your time meandering up and down different paths while you make your way up the hill. From the very top there is a wonderful view of Glasgow, including Glasgow Cathedral and Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

































After we walked back down the hill we couldn't resist popping in to Glasgow Cathedral for a look inside. Glasgow Cathedral was built during the 13th to 15th centuries and is a beautiful example of Scottish Gothic architecture. While I've always admired the cathedral from outside, I've never been inside before, but it certainly didn't disappoint: beautiful and ornate with high ceilings, stone archways and intricate stained glass windows, I would definitely visit again. As Glasgow Cathedral holds Christmas carol services, I'd particularly love to go back in December as I think it would be a stunning venue to watch a choir. I'd like to point out that there was no service on while we were visiting - I visited Notre-Dame during a service and I felt uncomfortable about other tourists taking photos while standing right next to people who were trying to pray. As it was only other tourists (including a couple from Paris who were talking about Père Lachaise with the tour guide!) in Glasgow Cathedral yesterday afternoon, I was happy to snap a few photographs. I also have to - out of disbelief more than anything - mention the man who was striding around the cathedral with selfie stick in hand!

Feel Good Friday #1

It can be uncomfortable when I first tell people that I want to work in the charity sector. There's often an awkward pause or an 'Oh right... ' in response. I can understand why some people find it an odd choice and are probably thinking 'God, that's depressing'. After all, when you work for a charity, you're dealing day-to-day with issues - like poverty, inequality and injustice - that most people would rather not think about. But there's so much positivity in the charity sector as well: I've volunteered with organisations which help people every day with problems that would break your heart, but the staff are so upbeat and full of passion and drive that it has never felt like a depressing place to work. I want to introduce a Feel Good Friday series to my blog to spread a little positivity, share some of the many wonderful stories from the sector and to remind myself that there is a lot of kindness out there.




















First same-sex weddings take place in Scotland.

The first same-sex weddings took place in Scotland this week, after the new law on gay marriage came into effect in December. Hogmanay marked the first day that the ceremonies could be held, and two couples, Joe Schofield and Malcolm Brown and Susan and Gerrie Douglas-Scott, were married shortly after midnight, before being followed by 15 other couples on the same day. 

MSPs passed the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill in February, making Scotland only the 17th country in the world to legalise same-sex ceremonies. In five countries and in parts of two others, homosexuality is still punishable with the death penalty, while a further 70 imprison citizens because of their sexual orientation.

When asked about their marriage, Joe and Malcolm, a couple of nine years, said 'This is an amazing chapter in Scotland's history which we are all witnessing and can be proud of. Scotland is leading the way in fairness and equality for all, and we would like to thank all those who campaigned so tirelessly for this change.'

Susan and Gerrie said 'We are delighted that, at long last, after 18 years together, our love finally has the same recognition in law and society as all other married couples.'

More than 250 couples in Scotland have converted their civil partnerships to marriage since the law came into effect on December 16.

Tom French, from the Equality Network charity - which campaigns for the rights of Scotland's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities - said: 'It was an honour to be invited to one of Scotland's first same-sex weddings, which really showed what this new law is all about - love, family and equality.'

I would like to wish all of the couples a massive congratulations and all the very best for the future. I can't imagine how I would feel if I was treated differently, or even persecuted, for who I have fallen in love with. While I know we're still a long way from complete equality, I hope that the legalisation of same-sex marriage will be a huge step in the right direction.
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