“Give us our sausages back!”

They’re wholly consumed by Brexit and at loggerheads with each other, other parties and the rest of the world. The dire state of the NHS barely gets a look in, let alone the housing crisis. It’s safe to say our government is in turmoil.

On the other side of the channel, however, our francophone friends have different priorities. In France, a new law last month sent vegan sausages, beetroot burgers and cauliflower steaks to the slaughterhouse. No longer can they adopt names associated with their meaty rivals. The proposal came from MP Jean-Baptiste Moreau. According to the carnivore, naming vegetarian sausages as ‘sausages’ is misleading. That’s an insult to French people. Surely they can distinguish between a juicy beef burger and Linda McCartney’s meatless version.

Why have they done this? I refuse to believe it’s to protect the naive shopper from mistaking a vegan sausage for a pork one. With 200,000 cattle farmers and Europe’s largest cattle herd, France boasts a mega-meat industry they are desperate to preserve. It evidently feels threatened by their plant-based opposition. Such futile measures from the meat community should be regarded as a compliment to the vegan and vegetarian opposition.

This attack against vegetarianism is unwarranted. What about chocolate eggs? They’re not eggs. Or peanut butter. There’s no butter in that. And even Walker’s Roast Chicken, Prawn Cocktail and Smoky Bacon crisps are suitable for vegetarians. The meat industry display serious double standards, too, with the labelling of chicken ‘drumsticks’; you’d have a hard time playing the drums with them.

Names are arbitrary. What does the word ‘sausage’ mean anyway? Is it referring to its content of pork or just meat in general? Is ‘sausage’ describing the long rounded shape? Sausage dogs are not made of pork, as far as I know, so I assume the name comes from their elongated bodies.

But fear not! If the vegetarian suppliers can play their cards well, I reckon they could get round this naming dilemma. Just spell ‘sausages’ phonetically: ‘sosijes’. And ‘steak’ can be ‘stake’. Some suppliers have already played with words; I recall seeing ‘tofurkey’ on the shelves at the supermarket.

All that matters is whether the customer is being deceived. With ‘vegan’, ‘vegetarian’ and ‘veggie’ boldly printed across the packaging, there is no concern of deception. Such products even have a designated aisle in the supermarket. What is wrong is labelling horse meat as chicken or beef. Or being served reindeer instead of beef kebabs, which is what happened to my parents in Finland. But thank you, French government, for humouring me with your desperate attempt to keep sausages, burgers and steak meaty. A giggle is all you’ve achieved.

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The A Word

Yep, I’m back in hospital. Once again I’ve been beaten by my eating disorder. With too much time on my hands, I’ve decided to keep my brain busy completing some online courses, the most recent titled ‘Understanding Autism’…

I’m sure you’ve heard of autism. Perhaps a member of your family has been diagnosed. Or you have a friend you suspect to be ‘on the spectrum’. We all have our own ideas about the condition, some facts and some mere misconceptions. But what has been agreed on is the two defining features:

  1. difficulties in social communication and interaction
  2. restrictive and repetitive behaviours

Autism is not a new phenomenon, despite the recent surge in diagnoses. The earliest reference to observations of autistic behaviours was in the 18th century in a feral child, ‘Victor of Aveyron’. The term ‘autismus’ was coined by Bleuler in 1910 and was believed to be symptomatic of schizophrenia. It has since been recognised as a single entity, albeit the breadth of presentations and co-morbidities that accompany it.

But learning about common autistic traits, striking similarities became apparent between my anorexic cognitions and those of autistic people.

An eye for details

I’ve always been a sucker for the details; those insignificant nuggets that build the bigger picture. Focusing on those nuggets can be tiring and time-consuming but diverts my attention to my body insecurities and drives my need for control over my body. An inability to consider the bigger picture makes me impulsive and reckless. Similarly autistic people often exhibit hyper-focus whereby they hone in on specifics as a way to avoid confusion and prevent becoming overwhelmed.

Following the rules

Not just rules though, my own rules. Whether that is a calorie limit or my exercise regime, sabotaging these will send me into mental turmoil. Likewise, an autistic person may have to shut the door a certain number of times or use the same coat peg everyday at school. Inability to do this could trigger a meltdown.

Calculations rather than intuition

If my body tells me to eat, if it tells me to stop running, if it tells me to rest, I won’t listen. No longer do I rely on feelings to inform my choices. Instead I rely on meticulous calculations to determine my eating and exercise routines. Although autistic people tend to be more aware of their own feelings, they may lack intuitive understanding of feelings of others. Different, perhaps, from my own lack of intuition, but nonetheless a lack of intuition!

So if both anorexics and autistics possess such like traits, could we have the same, or overlapping diagnoses? Might anorexia be a manifestation of autistic traits, particularly focused on food and exercise and our own bodies? Or are autistic traits prevalent throughout the whole neuro-typical population, simply to a lesser extent than in autistic individuals?

One of the discussions within my course was whether autism was a ‘single thing’ if certain autistic traits were commonplace amongst non-autistic people. I suppose I am addressing a similar question by suggesting a relationship between autism and anorexia. However a point to bear in mind is that autistic people engage in repetitive and restrictive behaviours because of the pleasure and satisfaction it provides. I would argue that this is not the case for people like myself, who have anorexia. Broadly speaking, our rituals are fuelled by fear and anxiety.

As I mentioned above, the first defining feature of autism is difficulties in social communication and interaction. One hypothesis is that autistic people lack ‘Theory of Mind’, the concept that others have different thoughts and feelings to our own. This understandably causes great difficulty in social situations. Anorexic individuals, on the other hand, tend to focus largely on perceptions of others, whether or not these are accurate. From experience, though, I can vouch that social interactions can be tough. Total preoccupation with disordered thoughts renders it impossible to feel part of the conversation, instead watching as an observer. Could this loneliness resemble the social difficulties those with autism experience?

There is no denying that sufferers of anorexia tend to have elevated autistic traits. An interesting study was published on this topic. (Excitingly one of the lead researchers was Simon Baron Cohen, the cousin of Sacha Baron Cohen, also known as Borat or Ali G!) One can only hope that such observations will support identification of interventions for the conditions or help diagnose individuals who may have one or both of the conditions.

Update: a second chance

If you were misfortunate enough to miss my review of walks near Tottenham (I know, niche…), feel free to catch up here…

I’m a firm believer in second chances. And with new year optimism, how else better to spend a chilly Saturday afternoon than return to the defamed Walthamstow Wetlands with Daddy Nugent? Perhaps we’d fair better in the coffee queue at the Engine House than on our last visit, when we stood no chance amongst the opening weekend enthusiasts. Perhaps a trustee Americano would impress more than the wetland’s wildlife deficit. Perhaps the £10.6m investment would be justified.

Initial inspection fooled us to believe the queue was short. 20 minutes later, we conceded it was not, but persevered. It allowed time to inspect the cake display. In support of Veganuary was the ‘Vegan Pistachio’ loaf cake, an alternative to their Millionaire Shortbread. Though they really were for millionaires at prices that certainly busted by budget. I’ll let someone else judge the taste.

Like the cakes, the coffee was equally pricey. Gosh, you must think I’m incredibly negative, writing such a scathing review… But wait. The coffee tasted pretty decent and lightened the blow of spending £2.70 for a baby-sized Americano. And the makeshift till was pretty cool; an iPad on a stand.

A quick google unearths a number of reviews, with a surprising majority being five-star ratings. There was one, however, that incited a giggle amidst my disappointment. According to Zee A, it’s ‘worse than a park’, with ‘odd ducks’ and ‘some trees’. A good summary, I’d say.

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The Apprentice: the Final [Straw]

Sugar calls it a gamble. I call it a cop out.

Over 12 weeks, I fought Joanna’s corner, grimaced alongside Karen and Claude and inadvertently grew to love Elizabeth. I could only possibly have got more involved if I had been in the boardroom. So to say I was disappointed by the Apprentice final would be a ludicrous understatement.

Let’s recap… The classic primary school ideology that ‘everyone’s a winner’ was reenacted by Lord Sugar on Wednesday night. That’s right: both Sarah and James won his investment! So we had an Apprentice episode without a firing; what happened to Sugar’s shotgun? The producers tried to spin it as an Apprentice first, or gamble, as Lord Sugar called it. But it was quite possibly the death of the only reality show that I can bring myself to watch.

It was not just the double win that weakened the Apprentice’s credibility; Rhod Gilbert’s spin-off show got increasingly desperate. For starters the Apprentice Awards were pathetic. Bushra won the award for ‘Best Nonsense’, despite being the driest contestant of the year (after Sarah of course). And upon her trophy collection, she again cracked a lame joke that not one member of the audience laughed at. Cringe. And then there was a tribute to… wait for it… the candidates’ house landline. I know… Even comedian Russell Kane failed to save the show.

Perhaps it was fatigue that led Lord Sugar to surrender to both Sarah and James. Perhaps it was his hard sugar shell cracking to reveal a soft, chewy centre. Whatever the reason, I am similarly weak; I know that, by next year, my bitterness will have subsided and I will be back on the sofa ready to watch a new series (if it survives). Because, let’s face it, no one watches the Apprentice to see who wins. We watch it to cackle at the cocky candidates humiliating themselves; to revel in their demise; and to cheer as Lord Sugar points a stumpy finger and says, ‘You’re fired’.

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Me after watching the final…

Walking on Sunshine

If I learnt anything from four months in hospital, it was the pricelessness of a few hours of freedom. Judgement day, a.k.a ward round, took place every Monday and it was then any weekend ‘release’ would be granted. With pressure to spend the few hours well, weekend planning tended to involve consultation with Google and lengthy discussions with Daddy Nugent. Without fail, we’d go for a stroll to get as much fresh air as is possible in Tottenham. The areawas coincidentally where Daddy Nugent was born and bred, so he had many a story to tell.

“This is where I got this scar,” Daddy Nugent told me, boastfully pointing to his knee. “Got into a fight during a football match!”

And then there wasthe former strippers club next to his childhood church. I’d rather forget that one, to be honest.

I now feel my expertise of Tottenham’s parks and open spaces warrants a blog post. So it is with great pleasure that I present my rankings to you (from worst to best) and hopeyou are inspired to grab some walking boots (trainers or even crocs will do) and get out of the house.

=5) Walthamstow Wetlands

2.5 / 5

Having been closed to the wider public for 150 years, my expectations were high; perhaps too high. Frankly overrated, it was nonetheless an interesting experience. We explored the area on its opening weekend, with not much to explore but a bunch of reservoirs.

The wetlands would have been positioned higher in my list had it not been for thecrowded, gentrified cafe/reconverted Engine House that deprived me of a coffee. With my four hours freedom quickly diminishing, I was not going to spend it in a queue. I was however presented with some free badges, that I proudly showcased back at the ward!

=4) Woodberry Wetlands

2.5 / 5

After struggling to find the entrance, I was surprised by its pathetic size. Ideal for a short walk, I suppose, but with three hours to play with, perhaps not. Never mind. It meant we could venture further…

3) Finsbury Park

4 / 5

Nearby to Woodberry Wetlands, we were saved from boredom with a stroll around Finsbury Park- the actual park that is located in Finsbury Park, not just Finsbury Park… Oh gosh this is getting confusing!

Home to an expansive cafe overlooking a boating lake, the queue here was more amenable than at the Walthamstow Wetlands. There’s also a running track if you’re the athletic type. And if that’s not enough to tempt you, you can veer off down the Parkland Walk. The 2.5 mile stretch takes you from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace, showcasing the multiple faces of Haringey

2) Clissold Park

4.5 / 5

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Battling it out for first place is much-loved Clissold Park. Despite difficulty pronouncing the name, I embraced its childish feel and fell slightly in love. The goat enclosure had me on my knees, feeding them grass through the gaps. The toddler beside me almost lost his ham sarnie too.

1) River Lea

5 / 5

A hidden gem. Winding all the way from Luton to the Olympic Park and beyond, it’s got quite a history and, more importantly, plenty of coffee shops. Though my memories of our multiple visits will forever be marred by Daddy Nugent’s ‘breast milk latte’ tale. Don’t even ask…

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Lined with barges, Daddy Nugent couldn’t resist a chitchat with the barge owners, who thankfully were friendly and accepting of his curiosity about their homes. A highly recommended stroll, although beware of the cyclists out to slaughter you!

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A beginner’s guide to the Notting Hill Carnival…

As I begin to write this post, I’ll let you in on a secret: I know NOTHING about Notting Hill Carnival, apart from the fact it takes place on 27th and 28th August this year. I’m clueless as to what it entails, why it takes place or who the target audience is. I assume it takes place in Notting Hill, but then again I would have thought China Town was in China. So if you too are clueless, let’s together discover the secrets of the much-loved Notting Hill Carnival…

  1. I can confirm that the Notting Hill Carnival does in fact take place through the streets of Notting Hill. But it also extends to Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park, so I was wrong to make assumptions. Whoops.
  2. It is a celebration of Caribbean culture. Showcasing the best food, the BBC predicts that five tonnes of chicken, 30,000 corn-on-the-cobs and one tonne of rice and peas will be eaten at the carnival. Whether you’re a fan of reggae, hip-hop, salsa or dub, you’ll be sure to get ‘lost’ in live music, as Sister Sledge would say.
  3. Carnival’s initial purpose was to unite people. Following racial tensions, epitomised by the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 and murder or Antiguan carpenter Kelso Cochrane in 1959, activist Claudia Jones was the mastermind of the Caribbean Carnival. It took place indoors on a chilly January day in 1959 and was televised by the BBC. As popular as it was, it was not until 1966 that the true Notting Hill Carnival was born.
  4. Being the largest street party in Europe and second largest in the world, it comes with a logistical problem: toilets. A 2015 survey of locals found that 46% said lack of temporary toilets was a concern as visitors were instead using their doorsteps to relieve themselves. Nice.
  5. Following the Grenfell disaster in June, tribute will be paid to the victims. On Sunday and Monday at 3pm, a minute silence will be observed to pay respects to the countless, needless deaths.

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Meet Marla

Husbands aren’t renowned for buying the most exceptional presents for their wives and my dad is no exception. He has however exceeded himself in recent years. A trip to New York; a flashy Merc, and, most barking mad of them all, a puppy! How else better to bring a lust for life and energy into our home to mark mum ageing another year?!

It was interesting initially with a cat AND a dog in the house, although it was obvious who ruled the roost. Pepper the cat did. She died shortly after, so full attention fell on Marla. But it didn’t take much attention to notice the little rascal she would become…

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The green gloop gave the game away..

Of utmost importance to Marla is food. That became clear with the pea and ham soup incident within the first few weeks… It was the green gloop running down her face that gave the game away. It’s logical that summer dog walks can be tricky with picnickers scattered across the park and toddlers feeding the ducks. Many tears have been shed due to Marla’s incapability to restrain herself near food. Her favourite victim is the unwitting toddler-usually male- from whom she’s nabbed sandwiches, biscuits, bags of crisps and any bread they may be feeding to the ducks. But it’s not only the juveniles she targets. Early one Sunday morning, a football coach was less than pleased to find his bacon sandwich demolished by Marla. It was my mum who bore the brunt of his anger…

“Wait till I see that dog next time,” he shouted.

But her favourite place for food is the Priory hospital. Hospital food isn’t the tastiest but it hasn’t stopped Marla venturing into their kitchens on several occasions, escaping through the park fence and into the neighbouring hospital grounds. Oh, and the pub. She’s been there too for chicken and chips.

Worth a mention is Marla and her dear friends Black Jack and Casper, our neighbours’ cats. Marla adores them and practically pees herself with excitement every time she spots them sloping idly along the garden fence. Instantly she leaps from the sofa, bombs out the door and to the fence. Quite amazingly, she then springs up and down trying but failing to reach them. Never has and never will she actually get closer than 2 feet to the cats, but that doesn’t dampen her go-get-‘em attitude. Black Jack and Casper peer smugly from the safety of the fence, admiring her perseverance. Or stupidity.

Before Marla, we had always been cat people, so I am familiar with their middle finger attitude. It’s one thing I miss about my feline friends but not enough to give up Marla! She’s like- no, is– a little sister: maddening but the best addition to the family we could ever have wished for.

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School’s out, scream and shout!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist a High School Musical mention…

All done. Never again will I be late to form, answer ‘Yes sir’ to the register or try and stay awake in assembly whilst Mr El-Sayed fails miserably at being inspirational. Though I haven’t forgotten his reminder that us year 13s are on the ‘home straight’ now!

You’ve guessed it. I’m no longer a ‘school girl’. I don’t think I am as sentimental about the occasion as some of my peers. In fact I relish the idea of a fresh start, assuming university is my next destination. Nevertheless, I considered it a good opportunity to reflect on the past 14 years and how I have come to feel ready to depart.

If ever there was toddler keen to start school, that toddler was me. I strutted through the gates on my first day of reception, beaming with pride. The big kids didn’t phase me and I had no intention of kissing Mummy goodbye. Nor did I wave.

My initial keenness curtailed but I remained resolute to be the perfect pupil throughout primary school. Fear of losing a minute of golden time was enough to give me nightmares and I daren’t imagine being sent to Miss Whincop’s office. Primary school would not be primary school without petty rows and my experience was no exception. Taking things too personally was a habit of mine, so when I was told by a fellow classmate that my dinosaur bone discovery was in fact a tree root, I was deeply offended.

My primary school happened to be the ‘breeding ground’ for my secondary school so I transitioned alongside the majority of my class. Despite the security of my solid friendships, the ‘big kids’ seemed more daunting now than when I started Walker. It probably didn’t help being called a ‘prick’ by a sassy year 11 within the first few weeks. I would have mistaken it for a compliment had it not been for Megan, who informed me of its vulgar meaning… My moment of shame was calling dear Abdirahman an idiot. Mr Glasbey reduced me to tears when he sent me out for a ‘talking to’. He didn’t even raise his voice; the stern look was enough to leave me inconsolable for the remainder of the day. After that such incidents were kept to a minimum. My only detentions were with Miss Sriraman and Miss Cho who -in my opinion- took remembering exercise books far too seriously…

I sometimes regret not being a tad more ‘wayward’. Had I actually voiced some of the my more scandalous thoughts, maybe I’d have more captivating tales to tell my future children, like the stories my parents have proudly confessed to me.  Then again, that’s not me, so I guess I’m pleased I stuck true to myself, even if that meant being a wee bit strait-laced at times.

So I survived my free education. And with my first exam in a week, only time will tell if it was taxes well spent. Fingers crossed!

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The Replacement: Bathos of the Century

I’ve slept on it and I’m still as confused as if I too had swallowed a fistful of pills. I’m referring to BBC’s The Replacement, the three-part drama that concluded last night, and disappointed millions whilst at it.

Let me recap what I did get. Ellen is a successful architect who is pregnant and fast-approaching maternity leave. She employs a temp to oversee the finishing touches of her new library but her overly-friendly Replacement, Paula, begins to seem amiss to Ellen. Paula is very protective towards the unborn baby. Intrusive, even. And they become obsessed with each other. We are left wondering which lady is the mad one. Is Paula trying to take over Ellen’s life, or are Ellen’s motherly instincts turning into paranoia?

The first two episodes were excellent. A delectable psychological drama is totally my thing! Difficulty came with watching the characters -bar Ellen- lapping up Paula’s artificial sweetness.

‘She’s evil!’ we wanted to shout.

So that brings me to the first severed end: Kay. Paula apparently killed Ellen’s best friend and colleague, Kay. But why did Kay phone up Ellen from the new library late on the night of her tragic death? She knew something. Something that had to be said in person at the library – the one place Ellen was banned from entering on risk grounds. Best friend, my arse.

With high expectations, I anticipated it ‘all to fall together at the end’ (as my dad always assures me when I exclaim, ‘I don’t get it’ during every programme). Instead it all fell apart.

Ian left Baby Lia on the balcony of their flat, foreboding her kidnap by Paula. He popped his carbonara in the microwave and the baby, as predicted, had disappeared when he returned. But can someone please explain (1) how Paula knew the baby would be on the balcony and (2) how the psychopath managed to climb up to the balcony and climb back down holding a cradle.

But the bigger question is what compelled Ellen to get into Paula’s car? To willingly be locked in a car alone with a murderous lunatic seems a silly thing to do. And then to take a handful of strange blue tablets under orders of the same lunatic also seems silly. Come on, Ellen. You’re smarter than this!

Upon waking from her heavy sleep (apparently they were sleeping pills?!), architect Ellen turns mechanic. Not being a mechanic myself, I’m unsure as to what exactly she does but it’s something clever with wires. The car flies through the garage door and Ellen hits the road James-Bond-style.

So it turns out that Paula is insane and Ellen was right all along. Woopee! Bathos of the century. I am baffled as to what the critics saw in it. Every respectable newspaper had nothing but praise. At least fellow tweeters saw the light.

Note to the BBC

I think I will forgive you for such a descent because most of your shows are top-notch. Line of Duty, The Missing, Death in Paradise, to name a few. I won’t mention this again to save you the embarrassment.

X

When swearing doesn’t work

I contemplated whether to write about a particular individual or not and decided for the idea when I realised he probably can’t read anyway. The subject is a little kid who knows my name and I shall call him M.Y. for the sake of his anonymity, not that I really care…

For four years, and for no obvious reason, he jeers ‘Ruth’ in a dodgy accent when he sees me, much to the delight of the pack of hyenas that surround him. Some may call it harassment. Bullying. A pitiful pastime. Whatever it’s called, being the victim of a blatant reject is shameful.

I first encountered M.Y. when, lo-and-behold, he had been kept behind by a teacher who, like the rest of us, was unimpressed with his behaviour. I went to collect some missed work from the same teacher and M.Y. overheard my name. He fabricated the idea that I was the teacher’s daughter…

“Are you Miss Connolly’s daughter?” he sneered at me. I ignored him.

“Oh my god. She actually is Miss Connolly’s daughter!!”

Simple things please simple minds, I thought.

Four years on, he hasn’t changed and continues to jeer my name. As sod’s law dictates, these run-ins are far too frequent for my liking; he seemingly spends his days at the park 30 seconds down the road from me doing God knows what. Forgive me for speculating, but I don’t think he goes for the swings…

I’ve tried ignoring him. I’ve tried retaliating. I tend to avoid aggression but once even confronted him and asked what the eff his problem was. He and his friends responded with laughter and jeering. You can’t say I didn’t try.

Last week I was walking home from the shops and guess what I saw ahead of me on the opposite side of the road? Yes, you guessed. It was M.Y., waddling towards the park with one of his ringleader pals. I’d had enough of his torment so I shouted…

“MEHMET!!”

No response.

“MEHMET!” I yelled again.

No longer anonymous… oh well.

This time he heard and turned in confusion. Who could this be, calling M.Y’s name? Tables have turned here…

He spotted me. I gave him an enthusiastic overhead wave and toothy grin. He stood still. Embarrassment shrouded his usual bullish facade. Out popped his hand from his trousers and he showed off his middle finger to me.

Yesssss, I thought to myself. I’d hit a nerve there. My smile didn’t fade the whole way home!

As it happened, our paths crossed again the next day. I swore at my own bad luck as we approached each other. But I persisted and gave a little friendly wave and sarcastic smile. He put his head down and his mate sniggered. At me or him, I’m unsure. But no jeering. No mocking of my name. No laughing.

I’m still awaiting our next meeting, so it remains unclear as to whether my ‘give him a taste of his own medicine’ technique has tackled his torment or not. Regardless, I must bear in mind that I have real friends. I have somewhere more pleasant to reside than the park. I have trousers that fit me. He has none of these things.