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The power of social media: couple turns to Twitter to help grant dying friend’s last wish

24 Aug

A couple have launched a Twitter campaign in a bid to help grant their dying friend’s last wish to visit Anfield.

Erhan Sahin, 25, and Lucy Dance, 27, both work at The 3 Steps pub in Uxbridge and are rallying support in the local community and online to help Sid, one of their most loyal customers, go to Anfield. 

The 3 Steps pub, where Sid goes to watch the Reds

Colin Hawes, 51, is affectionately known as Sid because of his love for the Sex Pistols singer Sid Vicious. He was recently told he only has 2-6 months to live after he suffered a stroke and doctors discovered a fatal brain tumour and terminal lung cancer. 

Mr. Sahin said: “He’s the biggest Reds fan I know. I’ve run this pub for a year and a half and he’s never missed watching a game here, whether it’s the Premier League, the Champions League or a pre-season friendly.” 

“I’m constantly on the internet trying to find people to appeal to. We’ve emailed every address we can find for LFC, but we’ve been told that the next available slot on the waiting list isn’t until March 2015, and Sid doesn’t have that long left.”

Since finding out about Sid’s diagnosis, the duo have created the hashtag #helpsidgotoanfield in a bid to help send the Steven Gerrard fanatic to Anfield before he passes.

Colin Hawes, who dreams of watching the mighty Reds at Anfield

Mr. Sahin continued: “We haven’t told him about our efforts because we don’t want to get his hopes up, but we would love it if he could go to a game and even meet one of the players.” 

The hashtag has gathered considerable attention online, including re-tweets from Liverpool MP Stephen Twigg and @BrainTumourOrg, the UK’s leading Brain Tumour Charity.

Ms. Dance added: “Sid is a lovely man. He has no family of his own apart from his brothers. He is highly regarded in our community and very, very brave.

“Even though he has been given this awful news he still comes into the pub to watch his beloved football games.” 

“We understand this is a big ask. But it would make a very sick man very happy and he would be so proud to watch his club play live.”

If you can #helpsidgotoanfield, call Erhan on 07852768221 or email [email protected].

How Tough Mudder changed my ideas about body confidence

6 Aug

This column has also been featured by The News Hub and can be viewed on their website here.

Battling through the world-renowned mud run gave me more than just cuts and bruises

As a young woman growing up in the 21st century, I’m well aware that the mainstream media is infiltrating my ideas about what the female body should look like. Thirty squats a day and I could achieve the thigh gap. Cut down my calorie consumption to get V-shaped abs. Repeat lunge sets with weights to achieve an instant butt lift. From music videos to Facebook memes to billboards: the modern media is constantly trying to convince me that I’m chasing slightly behind the latest coveted body goal.

Despite the diverse array of body shapes that exist in the world, media firms and advertising agencies are cropping, cutting, highlighting, fixing, shadowing, blurring, streamlining and photo-shopping the hell out of their images to subscribe to the singular Barbie-Doll criterion of the female physique.

Meme by

Meme by

I know I should be exercising because it’s healthy, because I enjoy it and because it’s part of making the most of the one and only life I have. But there’s still a part of me that’s guilty of exercising with the intention of chasing those media-induced body goals.

I’ll go to the gym if I can’t fit into my favourite jeans and I’ll only leave once I’ve burned enough calories. One of my most energising workout motivations is knowing I’ll have to wear a bikini on an upcoming holiday and I’ll start a panic-induced gym regime after watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Whether I’m playing netball or running on the treadmill, I’ve always got an ingrained sense in the back of my mind that as long as I’m burning calories, I must be moving in the right direction.

But I recently completed Tough Mudder and have started to gather very different ideas about fitness and the female body.

For those who don’t know very much about Tough Mudder, its creators describe it as ‘Probably one of the toughest events on the planet.’ Valiant participants are let loose on a military-style 12-mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test mental and physical strength. The obstacles test common fears such as heights, fire, water, electric shocks and claustrophobia- sometimes separately- and sometimes all at once.

What makes Tough Mudder so gruelling is that it requires a combination of physical strength and mental grit to see participants through to the end. I could never have jumped into a pool of ice and water, pushed myself over the edge of ‘Walk The Plank’ or crawled through a trench of live electric wires if I didn’t have the mettle and courage within to just shut my eyes and go for it. What’s more, I wouldn’t have had the energy or the strength to complete the course if I’d been on an unbearable juice diet.

Not only am I proud to have simply survived Tough Mudder but I’ve come away from the course with a life-affirming realisation about body confidence. Having battled through one of the world’s toughest obstacle courses I’ve realised that body confidence isn’t about what my body looks like, but what my body is capable of. While the media would have me believe that I’m always one step behind achieving the perfect body, Tough Mudder showed me that I already have what it takes to be strong. DSC03520

From now on, when I play netball, go running or hit the gym, I’ll be training with a purpose and a new set of goals. I won’t be thinking about the fastest way that I can slim down and look skinny. I’ll be working towards new ways that I can overcome challenging hurdles and develop my strength. The media are targeting women and girls with relentless propaganda that’s pushing our body ideals down a particular path. Thanks to Tough Mudder, I’ve realised that there’s nothing more empowering than taking over the reigns and going in my own direction.

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Tough Mudder 2014: Vlog, blog & photos from the hardest day of my life

5 Aug

Last weekend I completed Tough Mudder 2014 in Yorkshire, England. I’d spontaneously pledged to attempt one of the world’s most renowned mud runs just two weeks before the big day and I had no idea how gruelling it was going to be. I’d been imagining myself lolloping around Yorkshire’s fields, bounding over inflatable obstacles and feeling the wind rushing through my hair as I mastered gentle physical hurdles. I imagined wrong.

Tough Mudder photo 1

Minneapolis/St. Paul Legionnaires brace themselves for a water landing after being shot off the Fire in the Hole obstacle. Photo by Tough Mudder

For those who don’t know very much about Tough Mudder, its creators describe it as ‘Probably one of the toughest events on the planet.’ Valiant participants are let loose on a military-style 12-mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test mental and physical strength. The obstacles test common fears such as heights, fire, water, electric shocks and claustrophobia- sometimes separately- and sometimes all at once.

My boyfriend Dan is a reporter for the Harrogate Advertiser and was asked to attempt Tough Mudder for a two-page spread in the newspaper. Lucky for me, he was given an extra ticket for a companion to accompany him through the course.

We’re pretty ordinary people as far as strength and athleticism goes. We go to the gym when we can, eat relatively healthy and play for local league football and netball teams. Unlike many of the rugby teams and military squads who sign up to TM, neither of us have ever attempted an obstacle course- never mind a military one filled with 500,000 litres of mud. Having undertaken no Mudder-specific training, by the time Friday night rolled around we were pretty nervous about the next day…

When our 7am alarm pierced through our peaceful slumbers on Saturday, getting up and making breakfast felt like going through our morning routine in autopilot. The fear and uncertainty of the tortuous path ahead was bearing down on me like never before. My stomach was doing flips in the car…

An hour later we followed the flashing signs reading “TOUGH MUDDER –>’ and pulled in to what looked like a lush country estate. We found our way to the media tent and pinned our race numbers to our bright orange shirts. After taking a couple of snaps at the entrance, we left our belongings at the bag drop and joined the hordes of people by the stage for a short warm-up.
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One thing that reassured me was the varied demographic of people taking part, from single participants to groups of 20, men and women, young and old, big and small. Before we were all unleashed onto the course, we had to get down on one knee and take ‘The Mudder Pledge’ at the starting line. Placing our hands on our hearts we recited the following lines at the top of our lungs:

“I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.

I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.

I do not whine – kids whine.

I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.

I overcome all fears.”

As our final ‘HOO-RAH’ bellowed to the skies, the host wished us luck and announced the start of the race. This is it, I thought. No turning back.
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We soon approached the first major obstacle, the Arctic Enema. I could hear people screaming, ‘THREE…TWO…ONE…GO!’ and as the initial buzz drained from my veins I realised that my most dreaded obstacle was already right in front of me: the ice pool.

tough mudder 2

A Mudder emerges from the Arctic Enema Photo by Tough Mudder

Mudders have to climb up to the edge, jump into a cloudy-brown pit of 0°C water and swim underneath a row of tyres that obstruct the exit. As we tentatively climbed up the ladder to the pool’s edge, we could hear Mudders ahead screaming and moaning as their bodies caught up with the drastic temperature change. But it’s not the physical challenge of Arctic Enema that makes it so unbearable- it only lasts 30 seconds- its the mental grit required to plunge yourself into a pool of freezing, muddy water without being able to dip your toe in first.

Having survived the Arctic Enema I felt like I could conquer anything. Good job, too, as 10 more miles of the course lay ahead, including 500,000 litres of mud, 1,735 feet of vertical gain, 24 more obstacles and a 12 foot drop into yet more muddy water.

Halfway through the course, Dan and I had scrambled through industrial pipes, bobbed underneath barbed wire, clambered over walls, swam in mud pits, rolled down hills, lugged chunks of tree trunks across a field and even carried each other across the ‘Hero Carry’. We were feeling pretty tired, but were relying on an intense adrenaline rush that was seeing us through even the toughest of obstacles. I was covered in mud from head to toe and my eyeballs suddenly looked neon-white as I smeared the mud away from my face.


A Mudder scrambles through Electric Eel Photo by Tough Mudder

As we approached ‘Electric Eel’ we could hear the sound of electric currents zapping human skin. This dreaded obstacle features live wires hanging down from a barbed wire frame, ready to send 10,000 volts of electricity into even the most agile victims as they crawl through the mud on their elbows. I made it to the end of the frame and began to think that I’d overcome the odds until I started to haul myself out of the mud and a wire caught my shoulder blades. I unleashed an unstoppable yell to cope with the pain and my body shuddered forward without my permission. I’d learned a valuable lesson about underestimating Tough Mudder- and I learned it the hard way.

We’d come 10 miles and I thought we’d seen it all. We’d been zapped, frozen, and smothered in mud. The muscles in my arms and legs had started to numb. My joints were creaking under the weight of my sodden clothes and all I could think about was which takeaway pizza I was going to reward myself with in a matter of hours…

That is, of course, until I found myself at the edge of the 12ft ‘Walk The Plank’ obstacle and all I could think about was plunging to my imminent death. As I chickened out of the timed jumps over and over again I started to feel a lump forming in my throat. A crowd of spectators was gathering at the water’s edge and fellow Mudders started slapping me on the back and telling me I’d be okay. I looked behind me and saw no way of climbing down the plank frame without causing utter humiliation and regret, so I shut my eyes and shuffled along the platform. Without thinking, I took a huge breath and forced myself over the edge…

Picture shows TM Skipton Photowall Saturday. / Steven Schofield I came to Skipton on Saturday prepared to run the 12-mile course and bypass every obstacle. I emerged feeling battered, bruised and exhausted- yet stronger than ever before.  Tough Mudder isn’t a competition, but a test of each and every individual who takes part. The beauty of it is that this is my Tough Mudder story- and there are millions of Mudder Legionnaires all over the world who have their own unique story to tell.

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Stop The Traffik call for amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill

10 Jul

Stop The Traffik (STT), a global activist group dedicated to the prevention of human trafficking, is calling for an amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill, which was introduced to the House of Commons on 10 June 2014. 

The Modern Slavery Bill would provide stronger resources to detect, punish, and prevent the spread of modern slavery. The bill includes proposals to ensure perpetrators receive suitably severe punishments and to close gaps in the law to enable the police and Border Force to stop boats where slaves are suspected of being trafficked.

But STT is calling on its members and the general public to demand an amendment to the bill. The draft contains no measures to address business supply chains, which would require large businesses to report on human trafficking and slavery within each stage of production.

STT is urging MPs to support an amendment of the Companies Act that would include supply chain legislation within the bill. This would make retailers obliged to detect human trafficking within their production line, making it easier to provide relief to the millions of workers who are exploited within industries every day.

The UK Coordinator for STT, Heather Knight, said, ‘One year after the Rana Plaza disaster, the government looks set to be turning its back on the 21 million exploited people who generate the yearly 150 billion USD illegal profits estimated by the International Labour Organisation.’

‘The government imposes supply chain integrity for tobacco, hardwood, ivory and pharmaceutical businesses. Why not for the treatment of people?’

The initiative to amend the bill shares common goals with STT’s ‘Make Fashion Traffik-Free’ campaign. It encourages fashion retailers and large consumer brands to investigate the source of their materials. Many retailers do not know where their materials come from, or choose not to make this information public.

As part of the campaign, consumers can take an official STT information postcard into their favourite retailer, write to local MPs or publicise, circulate and promote the ‘Make Fashion Traffik-Free’ Protocol booklet via social media and throughout local communities.

Ruth Dearnley, CEO of STT said, ‘Cotton made by trafficked young women and girls may be in the t-shirt I am wearing today. It may be in the clothes in your wardrobe at home, but at the moment we just don’t know.’ 

Dearnley continued, ‘As consumers we have a powerful voice, we can use it to urge companies to change their behaviour so that they can tell us that the clothes we are buying are Traffik-Free.’ 

The Liverpool branch of STT was set up by Brenda Garner in January 2009. Since then, the group has raised awareness with school children, students, taxi drivers, hotel staff, NHS and housing professionals.

STT Liverpool’s campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking amongst taxi drivers was born out of a conversation between a driver and a local STT volunteer, and it has since been accepted as a national campaign at STT’s head office.

Brenda said, ‘We want people to know the signs and what to do if they suspect anything, so that our city region becomes a hostile place for traffickers to hide their victims.’

For more information about STT, visit

Watch STT’s ‘Are you a #fashionvictim?’ video here: 


Pope Francis provides inspirational model for New Year’s resolutions

29 Dec

As I stood in the kitchen and pressed the cookie cutter into gingerbread mixture, I muttered along to the Christmas hit blasting from the radio. Abruptly, as if the music induced a brainwave, Mum turned to me,
“You know what, I was thinking the other day about just how hard it must be for people who have nothing at this time of year,”
“What do you mean?” Came my expectant reply.
“The TV and the radio constantly give out the message that this is the time of year that everybody has to be especially happy. It must make this time of year especially hard for people who have nothing.”

TIME magazine recently named Pope Francis their ‘Person of the Year’ for 2013. Since his election in March, the new Pope has fearlessly injected a moral revival into the Roman Catholic Church, which is often associated with perverse clerical hierarchy and advantage.

The Pope has displayed unwavering selflessness and humility that has sent waves rippling not only around the Vatican, but around the globe. Believers and atheists have been able to unite over his simple yet powerful message that the world needs a ‘poor church for the poor’. Many have dubbed his refreshing and positive influence as, the ‘Francis effect’, providing a timely answer to my Mum’s speculations about the lives of the less fortunate members of society at this time of the year.

On top of his uniting message to help the poor, the Pope has been leading by example, preferring a Ford Focus over the customary white papal Mercedes and the Vatican guesthouse over the papal apartment. He has chosen to tread in his own bog-standard black shoes rather than the traditional red papal slippers, and has refused to wear the symbolic red cape, too. Pope Francis is sure to go down in history as one man who truly practiced what he preached.

Pope Francis’s message is not simply a Catholic prayer, but a universal call for change intended to unite believers and atheists all over the globe in aid of those in need who are often forgotten amid the festive buzz.

Humanitarian impulses are surfacing across British politics, too, as a unique cross-party statement was issued by Cameron, Clegg and Miliband on Saturday over the fate of four million Syrian children facing fatal threats from the ensuing Syrian conflict.

The political trio, usually at odds with one another said, “More than 9 million people in Syria are suffering this Christmas, in desperate need of our help. Four million of them are children – the equivalent of every primary school pupil in England. This is an urgent humanitarian issue that transcends the differences of party politics.”

As Pope Francis and Britain’s political leaders have delivered powerful messages asking us to think about those in need, millions of people all over the globe will now be collating painstaking New Year’s Resolutions lists. Many of these lists will include the customary ‘achieve washboard stomach’, the hopeless ‘don’t drunk-text my ex’ and an excruciating half-arsed commitment to the 5-2 diet that will drag you on an emotional rollercoaster full of intermittent fasting, splurging, guilt-tripping, fasting and crying into your 200-calorie bowl of pulverized vegetables.

We so often hear about politicians and spokespeople abusing positions of power to meet narcissistic ends. But this is something we can be guilty of ourselves, on a much smaller scale. May the exemplary behaviour of Pope Francis and the humanitarian call for change issued by the British political frenemies affect the way we use New Year as an opportunity for reflection.

When making your new year’s resolutions for 2014, will you choose to strive for that unattainable washboard stomach, or will you seek to reach out to those who have scarcely any means of making resolutions at all?

A Brit’s-eye view of USC’s Halloween: A breath of fresh air

1 Nov

At the university of Leeds, fashion and individuality are held in high regard. From designer brands to vintage wear, faded denim to distressed tweed, metallic leggings to baggy jeans, tartan coats to leather jackets, beanie hats to snapbacks, flatforms to Doc Martens and band t-shirts to geek chic, nobody cares what you wear as long as it expresses character. The more you stand out, the better.

Having become accustomed to this sense of style for two years, coming to USC in August felt like I was drowning in a sea of sorority t-shirts and Ralph-Lauren polo players. Other than one Urban Outfitters shop valiantly shining a beacon of hope near the State House, the only clothes shops within walking distance of campus are Gamecock merchandise stores. Here you can expect to find sports wear, sports wear, and more sports wear in two colours only: garnet and black. This seems to me like the antithesis of Leeds. In Leeds I’ll be digging to the bottom of dusty cardboard boxes in vintage shops to find a unique bargain. In USC, students pick out the first item of clothing they see that screams, ‘I love the Gamecocks too!’ Fashion back home is an attempt to show individuality, where clothing in Columbia is an expression of group solidarity.

But walking around campus on the 31st October is a breath of fresh air. I was leaving the library yesterday afternoon and saw a guy dressed in a full banana suit. I immediately assumed he’d been put up to it by his friends in some sort of Halloween dare. I made my way to Russell House for lunch and saw that he’d met up with his friend who was dressed as a gorilla (top points for coordinated costumes, guys.) At that moment I realized that people actually dress up in the day for Halloween here, too. It’s not only the cashiers at your local Tesco Express that wear devil-horns and witches hats- but everyone makes an unrestricted effort to go all-out.
What felt like a novelty to me was standard protocol for everyone else. As I began documenting this phenomenon for my blog, I decided to ask a couple of questions,
‘So would you say you like Halloween more than Christmas then?’
‘Absolutely,’ came the swift, unhesitant reply. Every single person I asked yesterday said that they preferred Halloween to Christmas.
‘Are you literally just dressing up for Halloween, or is there an event going on somewhere?’ I asked, half astonished, half fascinated.
‘No, just for Halloween. It’s a great excuse to wear what I want, and look however I want. That’s why I love it so much.’

 My heart leapt. Finally, I thought. Finally I’ve found Americans who aren’t afraid to challenge the mind numbing sorority t-shirt fad. But my smile turned into a pensive stare as I realized that people at USC shouldn’t have to wait until Halloween comes around to be able to wear what they want and express themselves. Halloween at USC was a breath of fresh air because despite the fact that everyone was dressed as zombies and ghouls and vampires, campus actually felt more like Leeds than it had done in the last three months put together.

So you must be kidding if you think I’d choose an average day at USC over expressive, creative, happy Halloween- even if it meant being surrounded by ghosts and vampires. Here are my Halloween heroes: may their bravery and confidence outshine the string of pearls perching on sorority girls’ necks every other day of the year.

Woody/purple grape hybrid, just go with it

I found Woody’s girlfriend!

A+ for effort, F for colour choice and general Clemson sentiment

A reason to smile in Cool Beans (if their food isn’t enough)

How swarve indeed sir

Winning at life #anddeath

Sinister and sassy

Super casual

The best smile this side of the Atlantic

Nailed it

Girl you got them smeyes down, Tyra would be proud

Don’t come between a man and his food

…and finally, an autumnal shot from President Pastides’ front door.

One picture: The Volleyhens

11 Oct

I was recently asked to choose one picture from my time here that sums up my experience of the states so far. I was equally inspired and agitated, clicking through my iPhoto album despairing because one photo just couldn’t do it justice. Next week signifies the halfway point of semester one and I’ve already taken just under 1,000 pictures. But I kept staring at one picture in particular, and it’s this goofy, fun, ridiculous group photo of my International Intra-Mural Volleyball Team: ‘The Hens’.
An avid fan of team sports, I came to South Carolina rather concerned that the majority of the USA doesn’t know what netball is. I’ve played in at least one netball team since I was 14 and some of my best memories of Leeds are during the time I spent playing Korfball. Knowing full well that USC has neither of these sports, I decided to try something new.

Arriving at USC on move-in day all those weeks ago, I battled my way through the torrential rain to the study abroad office. A volunteer helped me log in to my new student account and we got chatting. It turns out Stefano was a fan of volleyball and told me about the upcoming intra-mural leagues at USC. Two weeks later I joined his team ‘The Underdogs’ and found myself trying out beach volleyball (not very graciously, I might add) I remembered the feeling of frustration I felt back in year nine when I started playing netball. But gradually I improved and began to feel part of the team as one of their token Brits, alongside my Scottish friend Jordan.

As the beach volleyball season only lasts four weeks in tandem with the summer sunshine, I searched the intramural leagues website to see if there were any other leagues I could join. The indoor volleyball league hadn’t even begun yet, so I asked my international friends if they wanted to create a team. As we’re affectionately known as ‘the hens’ already, we all agreed that this would the obvious team name. (Although stellar ideas such as ‘Volleyballin’ and ‘LOLleyball’ were thrown around.) I also invited my American beach volleyball friends to join to make the team a force to be reckoned with.

This photo was taken after our first game. Although we lost, it was a painfully close deciding game in which we all played tremendously, especially considering the team hadn’t played indoor volleyball before. The MVP award went to Colin for his innovative and hilarious cricket-bat technique. We congratulated ourselves with a slap-up post-match meal at Tio’s Mexican round the corner. It was one of those moments I could picture myself looking back on in the future, as one of the best memories from my time here.

The reason I love the volleyhens so much is because they’re a fun-loving team who play for laughs. But at a deeper level, this picture sums up my time in America because it’s something I never would have predicted getting involved in before I left. I’ve learnt how to play beach volleyball, set up my own indoor volleyball team, made American friends, international friends and get to jump around the volleyball court with them every Sunday. It’s the perfect fusion of the familiar and the new: I get to enjoy team sports while meeting new people from all over the globe in a completely new setting. I’ll look back on this picture when I’m home and miss them all so much. But with this picture I’ll know in my heart that I really did ‘go for it’ on my year abroad, making friends and memories to last me a lifetime.  

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