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27th July 2012.

7 years in the making.

The world watched as London got ready to perform during the Olympics & Paralympics. And perform it did.

I adore athletics. And the Olympics. Proud of being a Londoner born and bred. Having the Olympics in my hometown is a dream come true.

Everyone has their personal experiences of loving the Olympics, so I won’t share all of mine.

As 2012 draws to a close, here’s some of my highlights. 🙂

Me top left, blue jacket and glasses!

Me top left, blue jacket and glasses!

Olympic Opening Ceremony Volunteer Performer

It was a difficult few months trying to fit work in and to begin with my London Marathon, but from being cast this January, I was ecstatic at the chance to perform at London 2012’s opening ceremony. The days leading upto showtime were highly pressurised, trying to juggle my paid job with the ever-intense weight of opening the show and the rules and regulations we had to abide by…it was all I could do to not want to go in a cave until the 27th July. But, WOW, what an experience! Truly proud to have performed in ‘Thanks Tim’ in a tribute to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world-wide-web, dancing in London throughout the ages. This pic was minutes from bursting through trap door 10 below the middle of the stage, and reminds me of making friends with the other lovely volunteers who alos worked so hard, and how exciting it was to perform to billions…London, the hub of the world right then!

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Doreen Lawrence

Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony attempted to tell the story of Britain revealing a country forged in the actions of ordinary people. Carrying the Olympic Flag to it’s pole, the traditionally symbolic bearers included Muhammad Ali, Ban Ki-moon (the UN secretary general), Ethiopian athletics veteran Haile Gebrselassie, Shami Chakrabati (director of Liberty), Sally Becker (known as the Angel of Mostar), Marina Silva (who has fought against the destruction of the rainforest), Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee (who has worked to try and end Liberia’s civil war), and musician Daniel Barenboim. But the most emotional moment was seeing Doreen Lawrence. Her son Stephen was infamously murdered in 1994 by racists, the investigation of which was heavily flawed and full of difficulties, leading to the first time reports labelled much of the police as ‘institutionally racist’, setting about key changes in the way crime was reported and significant areas in the judiciary system. Doreen led much of this change, campaigning tirelessly so that her son’s death, something that could never be equalised, was not in vein and so that his memory lived on, in the Stephen Lawrence Foundation and beyond.

Doreen Lawrence - bottom  left.

Doreen Lawrence – bottom left.

Super Thursday Paralympics

It’s difficult to say my favourite part of the Games. The ticketing purchasing was genuinely designed to be fair and give priority to Londoners, but the overloaded servers turned it a nightmare. Having got nothing the first time round, Greco-Roman Wrestling & Beach Volleyball in the second chance window, I was delighted to get a the Gymnastics All-Around Men’s Final a few months before the Olympics. But my ‘holy grail’ was getting the Men’s 100m Final. I couldn’t rest until I did! And finally, and with days to go, albeit through an expensive hotel package deal with Thomas Cook (although 50% cheaper than a few days before!), I got 2 tickets. Seeing Usain Bolt, Christine Ohurogu, Robbie Grabarz and more were awe-inspiring, as were the other events and also the many free events like the Triathlon. But I wanted to share a Paralympics moment. I got tickets to the Opening Ceremony and an Excel Day pass for power-lifting, boccia and more, but delighted to get 3 different athletics events…and way before the bandwagon jumpers during the 2 weeks! Including on Super Thursday 6th September, ParalympicsGB won silver (*just* pipped to gold in the last minutes!) in the discus with Dan Greaves, and gold for sprinters Hannah Cockroft & Jonnie Peacock and long-distancer David Weir.

Closing Ceremony

From the epic, fantastical wonderland of Danny Boyle’s Great Britain, to the Olympic Closing Ceremony musical jamboree. Showcasing the best of British talent…One Direction, Jessie J, Kate Bush, David Bowie, George Michael, Tinie Tempah, Taio Cruz, Annie Lennox, Spice Girls, Pet Shop Boys, The Kinks, Emile Sande, Elbow, The Who and many more. Some thought it low-production value, but it was unashamed pop at it’s best, ‘A Symphony of British Music, the party to end all parties after the greatest Olympic show yet.

Spice Girls

Spice Girls – Hi, See, Ya!

Liu Xiang’s Tragedy

China’s premier track and field athlete won gold in Athens 2004 (China’s first ever athletics gold), but was cruelly denied a chance to defend his 110m title title on home ground in Beijing 2008 when he pulled out due to an achilles injury. London 2012 and the pressure was on. Weeks before, he had pulled out of the Diamond League London Grand Prix which was on his 29th birthday, due to muscle pain. During the London 2012 110m heats, he sadly crashed at the first hurdle due to the achilles injury. But rather than pull out, he was determined to finish the race. Hobbling along unhelped, he hopped all the way the final hurdle, kissed it, and then crossed the finishing line, being met by fellow athletes. Leaving the track in a wheelchair, Feng Shuyong, the head of China’s track team, was quoted by state media as saying, “What Liu Xiang did today reflected the true Olympics spirit…winning is not so important, participation is what matters.”

Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Attar makes history

Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Attar made history in the 800m heats by becoming the first woman from her country to compete in athletics at the Olympic Games. Though finishing last 43 seconds behind the heat winner Kenya’s Janeth Jepkosgei (although 1500m is Sarah’s forte), the 80,00 strong crowd cheered her finish. Attar, who holds Saudi Arabian and American dual nationality, told the BBC that she competed “to make a difference” and hopes “it sparks something amazing”.

Friendly Passengers & Selfless Volunteers

Forever seen as an unsocial passage through the rat-race, commuters and more revelled in the Olympic spirit, and one of the enduring memories of London 2012 were all and sundry socialising with those from all over the world about winning, losing, origins, opinions…and sharing in the human spirit. Even the train drivers were full of joy! And the games wouldn’t have been the same without all the friendly games makers, many of them volunteers, in their tell-tale uniform, helping make London 2012 the success it was.

The Armed Forces

Although G4 security staff did their bit as well as they could, the shortfall resulting in the unfulfilled promises by management meant there was a huge last-minute void. The armed forces kindly stepped in, and the gents and ladies proved how serviceable they were by being the perfect hosts to the world, making GB proud. Bravo them!

On Her Majesty’s Service. ;-D

Team Heathow

One of the many volunteering opportunities was to welcome the Olympians and their teams to London Heathrow, London 2012’s official airport. After a few training sessions including being informed on different terminal’s structures and being issued an airside security pass, shifts to welcome the arrivals ranged from 6 hours to 8 hours, starting from 4am up to midnight! It was great to meet the different athletes from different countries. I was proud to volunteer, in spite of trekking over 2 hours from one side of London to the west! All volunteers got this lovely official regulation IAAF momento baton from the government too.

P&G’s ‘Thank You Mum’ campaign
Olympics have to be corporate to be funded, unfortunately more than perhaps some people are comfortable with. But this is a necessity for the most part. One of enduring campaigns that struck a cord with many and for me was P&G’s tribute to Mums…most of the athlete’s would not be where they were today without the loving support of their Mum. A Facebook wall by P&G was set-up inviting everyone, not just athletes, to post why they loved their Mum’s so much. The TV campaign was very touching, and the moment sponsors P&G got Michael McKillop to be presented with Paralympics gold in T37 1500m by his mother on the podium – a first in the history of the Games – was beautiful. I thought of my Mum during being on stage on the Opening Ceremony, as I did and others too I’m sure during the P&G campaign and Michael’s presentation.
London 2012 Paralympic Games - Athletics Monday 3rd September

BOOM!

It came. You saw. We (mostly) conquered.

Weeks of charity-requests and months of training now over for everyone, after 2012’s Virgin London Marathon took over the streets yesterday on Sunday 22 April, and my first ever marathon. 🙂

Laying shattered on t’sofa on St. George’s Day (wanted to go out and celebrate this!…my leg’s had other ideas), here are ten thoughts summing up what I thought of the whole rollercoaster, surreal, life-encompassing experience!

WHISTLESTOP LONDON SIGHTSEEING…BY FOOT!

‘Twas a beautiful morning yesterday, and heading out to Greenwich Park, one of London’s best viewing-points, was a sight. Thousands of runners…and what a way to see London! From the park, to Woolwich, through Charlton, around The Cutty Sark ship back in Greenwich, onto my home in Bermondsey, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf & Docklands, back to the Tower of London, then the City of London, past my old school, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Embankment, Waterloo Bridge, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and The Mall.

Phew!

26.2 miles…! 42 kilometres! Until you do it, you can never appreciate the enormity of the distance covered as you take in some of the world’s most iconic structures. All while running! Nuts!

36,705 PEOPLE

This year was (I read but cannot find the source!) the THIRD biggest turnout for the London Marathon. 36,705 is nearly twice the capacity of the O2 Arena. Running with so many people, publicly pounding the London roads, like being on some mass exodus. It’s an army!

Copyright of EPA.

FANCY DRESS BRIGADE

Running a marathon’s tough. Running a marathon in a costume?! This year’s marathon didn’t fail to deliver on ‘wacky race’ attire. From banana-men, super-heroes, firemen (phwoar), rhinos and more, they were awesome. My favourite, Bagpuss!

Copyright of WEINN

CHARITIES

It seemed the vast majority of runners were running for a cause. When you zone out and forget what you’re doing running down the street, looking up and seeing heart charities, cancer charities, and other’s all being represented in earnest was impressive. My favourites were the kid’s charities and the hospices, especially those running in memory of loved ones.

The London Marathon holds the Guinness World Record as the single largest annual fund raising event in the world, with an estimated almost £50 MILLION being raised for the day. Since 1981, the 1st London Marathon, an estimated half a BILLION POUNDS has been raised for good causes.

INJURIES

From hamstring injuries, blisters, subungual haematomas to tarsal fractures…and that was one leg! I’ve never needed so much physio! And on race-day it was evident others had also suffered, with compression tights, taping and bandages in abundance. And still all soldiered on to the finish line!

HITTING THE WALL

4 hours, 9 minutes, 10 seconds. Finishing in 13,213 place out of 36,705 runners. The top 36%. But I didn’t reach my goal of a sub-4 hour marathon!

A good (slowest time) estimation in the runner’s world is that your marathon time can be gained from your half-marathon time doubled, then 20 mins added. I ran the Silverstone Half Marathon in 1 hour, 46 mins and 45 seconds, so by that equation I would finish in under 3 hours and 54 minutes at the latest.

Obviously not an exact science, but combined with finishing a 21.5 mile training run in a good time and not seeming to ‘hit the wall’ ever, it seemed definitely possible yesterday.

Plagued by injuries in training, I was well equipped with analgesia along the route and amongst all the many bits of advice read over the months, the most important is to NOT RUN TOO FAST to begin with, the most common cause of ‘hitting the wall’. It’s not the first 6 miles of a marathon that are important, it’s the last 6 miles!

What is this wall? Simply speaking, your body’s fuel is glycogen. Your muscles store glycogen but have a limited supply, and when this runs out (e.g. during running) your body is forced to convert fat stores to glucose instead, a much slower process…and resulting in suddenly not being able to move a muscle. There are other aspects too such as your CNS response, your psychological strength, etc.

You store glycogen after you eat complex-carbohydrates like potato, pasta, rice etc. So it’s important to saturate your body’s reserves prior to a marathon.

Starting out, I made sure I didn’t run too fast, kept hydrated but not too much, thought I consumed enough sports-drink throughout, and reached the half-way mark at a respectable time of 1 hour 54 mins and 13 seconds…enough to keep energy in the bank for the final 6 miles.

Mile by mile, keeping my pace constant. Getting knackered / bored (and desperate to see some supporters!) after mile 14, I kept going. Then mile 18, started feeling sick. ‘OK, you’re just tired, keep going’. Mile 19, still felt tired. Mile 20, legs starting to burn. Mile 22, the realisation I’m losing the sub-4 hour goal. Mile 23, foot fracture starting to hurt. ‘These analgesia tablets are taking ages to work!” Mile 24, just wanting to stop SO badly, legs desperate to plod. The finish line taking AGES to come! Every part of me struggling, until finally crossing the finish line.

‘What happened?’. My legs were in pain and I found it difficult to force myself to maintain the modest running pace I had begun at. I thought it was the pain of injury which I was expecting. But I hadn’t experienced this in training. By 1pm I felt boiling, found myself running with my eyes closed, grabbing at jelly-babies and Twix bars from the hands of spectators…not to mention hallucinating!

And then I saw my results on the official page:

My Virgin London Marathon 2012 Statistics

Constant pace until 35 km (21.7 miles). Then bang, dropped. I struggled to run faster than my new slower pace, although it remained constant till 40 km and then the finish.

I heard about serious runners and celebrities hitting the wall, and checking out their times they had the same pattern.

Maybe I hit the wall. Maybe training once or twice a week wasn’t enough? Maybe I didn’t hydrate enough through the race. I won’t rest until I break 4 hours, because I know I can…one day! But until then, for my first marathon I’m chuffed I didn’t stop for a pee break NOR stop running once, from the start till the finish line.

CELEBRITIES

James Cracknell, chef Michel Roux, newsreader Sophie Raworth, chef Gordon Ramsay, TOWIE / The Only Way Is Essex, Ed Balls just some of the celebrities out in force, also raising money for charities. Nell Mcandrew was the fastest celebrity this year with 2 hours 54 (WOW!). And a special mention to Fauja Singh (lives in my home town Redbridge!) for his last marathon, at a record-breaking 101 years old!

Will Young was behind me during the end as all I could hear was people screaming, ‘It’s Will Young!’ every minute. He’s a good guy, but perhaps having enough of hearing that propelled me to race ahead of him and beat him! Here’s his time:

WILL YOUNG London Marathon 2012 - 4:37:23

And I beat Iwan Thomas, former world-class GB athlete in 400m! 😀

IWAN THOMAS London Marathon 2012 - 4:13:18

DEATH

This isn’t a highlight. It’s awful. By now you’ve heard of Claire Squires, 30, who died just minutes from reaching the finishing-line. She was raising money for The Samaritans, possibly inspired by her brother who died from an overdose a few years ago. She had raised £500 until then. With the public hearing of her death this has rocketed, after donating just now I’ve seen it’s nearly at £200,000. Here’s her fund-raising page if you’d also like to: Claire Squires

SPECTATORS

The London Marathon would not be the same without the spectators. That’s half a million of you all out on the streets! When you’re ‘in the zone’ it doesn’t make a difference, but when you need that energy drink, jelly baby, or chocolate, boy does it help. And going through London the regional differences are fascinating, from the well-to-do Greenwich gang, the boisterous Bermondsey boys, the City slickers to the heaving throngs along the Embankment, it’s a lovely thing for people to do. Unfortunately I missed seeing my sister, Royston and Oyvind though, and they tried 3 times as I searched in vain! 😦 But I managed to see a few friendly faces which was a nice surprise. And while the crowd were, shall we say, shying away from pronouncing my name to begin, at the end while I was struggling, it was all I could hear for a couple of miles. So thank you!

MIND

I ran for Mind, a mental health charity. I’ve blogged about them before. They’re excellent. We probably all suffer from mental health issues at least once, but are ashamed to talk about it, unlike heart problems, cancer, diabetes, even HIV these days. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being strong for too long. And thanks to ALL OF YOU, you’ve helped me raise nearly £3,500 for Mind! Smashing my target of £2000. And if that wasn’t enough, gorgeous Stephen Fry himself donated too! (I’m still gobsmacked about that!). Best of all, I’ve met some lovely people while training for the London Marathon, all with their own story to tell, all determined to raise money for a good cause. And it was so good to run with thousands of other people on the day, who all had their reasons for doing it too.

PLEASE sponsor me if you haven’t already done so! Link here: Fiez’s First Marathon

And lastly, I ran for my dear Mum who died a few years ago. Any pain I felt in the last few miles, I forced aside knowing how great and loving a mother she was to my sister and I, and how good a person she was to everyone. My hero.

So, same time again next year…? 😉

From ‘The Telegraph’ newspaper

R.I.P Amy. It’s particularly sad when someone dies before their time. Especially when they had so much potential, and especially when life got too unbearable and loved ones couldn’t seem to help.

We were all anticipating the 3rd album. For that spark on stage again.

Clearing out my bug-ridden PC, I think that’s why I had recently forgot I was lucky to see Amy. A personal appearance at The Astoria on 14 Apr 2007, at G.A.Y. no less! The photos and videos I took reminded me that I hadn’t completely forgotten, but for many reasons for me that was practically another lifetime ago.

Amy Winehouse – Astoria – 14/APR/2007

I almost never went. Some friends were not available, others couldn’t be bothered! At the eleventh hour I thought, “Screw it, I’ll go on my todd”.

I’m so glad I did. I met a guy and a girl also going (not seen them since) and we had a blast on the balcony!

I have no detailed photos or sharp clips though. They are only about a minute each in length, only a taster. It was a far cry from my usual trigger-happy, ready-to-record collection of gigs now. Coupled with the fact that my battery had run out of juice.

So you may be disappointed if you expect even average quality.

Amy Winehouse – Astoria – 14/APR/2007

But the graininess instills a rawness to it that makes it seem more real. And that her voice and character still come through is a testament to her prowess. Her voice still so strong and so arresting.

Watching the clips last week felt very eery, I guess you’ll feel the same. The lady singing before us had sadly passed away suddenly at 27 (or unfortunately perhaps not so suddenly if you think about it). In a venue that is now no more after being demolished for the Crossrail project.

Knowing I was also 27 (meaning she was 23…!) while looking through my camera lens at her was alarming. But mostly, 2007 was the last year my Mum was alive; any event whether banal or stupendous in 2007 I can’t help hold as painfully sacred. Events like perhaps going home and telling my Mum about the concert, listening to her reaction, and then tucking our conversation away in some corner of my memory, maybe as nothing particularly special, completely ignorant that in months to come the change in my landscape would be nothing short of alien.

Amy Winehouse – Astoria – 14/APR/2007

I hadn’t seen these clips since 2007. But apart from feeling sad, there was a bittersweetness. And seeing Amy reminded me how much she entertained everyone that night. The room was filled with happiness at her kookiness and her power. She was such a laugh, joking with the crowd. And I hope you get that from watching them too, which is why I wanted to share these clips for anyone who loved her, as short as they are. Hopefully a warm fuzzy feeling of how great she was!

Amy Winehouse – Astoria – 14/APR/2007

I also wanted to promote MIND, the mental health charity. It’s an umbrella organisation to deal not only with addiction, but all mental health issues, depression, anxiety, minor to major, the lot. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to it. Sometimes it goes unnoticed compared to other tangible physical diseases. But it’s devestating when someone feels isolated, having seen loved ones suffer and also been affected.

Sometimes all it takes is to share one’s worries with a loved one, to feel on top of the world again. But for many people, this simple act of opening up, which most people engage in, seems to not be an option. And that’s when small problems can spiral out of control, and often they need not. And it’s not just drug addiction, other reasons for feeling low, which is normal for all of us at some time or another and usually we pull through it, can be left unchecked until, in some cases, it’s too late.

Click here to be taken to the MIND Charity.

Right now, someone else who isn’t famous is going through this. Maybe your neighbour you pass by every day. Your work colleague. Family member. Trying to put a brave face on it. Maybe you?

Depression isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being strong for too long.

So, whether you liked the clips or thought they were crap! ( :-/ ) …have a look at MIND and donate if you like. Or maybe someone needs your support. Or maybe you do, but are too scared to ask for help. We all need help sometimes.

CONGRATULATIONS to Prince William and Kate Middleton on their big day!

It’ll be information overload for a few weeks. But here are the facts you really want to know! (Perhaps. 😉 ).

Ahh. (Courtesy of Mario Testino).

* Although only 29 years of age, Kate will be the oldest bride to marry into the Royal Family. Princess Diana, was barely 20 years old when she married Prince Charles in 1981. Statistics show that marrying at this age means that Will and Kate are less likely to divorce.

* William and Kate are 12th cousins once removed according to The Daily Mail (!) (ancestor Sir Thomas Leighton) or 15th cousins (descended from Sir Thomas Fairfax) according to other sources – from the 16th century.

* David Cameron wants the nation to “get on and have fun and celebrate our country” this Friday, advising councils to allow the British public to throw street parties. Around 4000 applications for street-party licenses were received and an estimated 2 million people will be celebrating on the streets.

* Among the 1,900 guests include (make of this what you will!) Victoria and David Beckham, rugby coach Clive Woodward, comedian Rowan Atkinson, director Guy Ritchie, Kanye West, the landlord of Kate’s local pub, TV presenter Ben Fogle….as well as two of Kate’s exes and four of William’s (including Jessica Craig, Olivia Hunt, and Rupert Finch…heterosexual pairings btw! 😉 ).

* Around 40 foreign royals have been invited, including the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the Sultan of Brunei, the Emperor of Japan, and kings of Malaysia, Tonga, and Thailand.

* President Obama has not been included due to the high costs of additional security, but will visit the UK in May for a royal dinner and ball to pay his respects to the newlyweds. Sarah Ferguson has also been snubbed, oh dear. :-/

* Senior Royals and dignitaries will be shuttled between Buckingham Palace and Westminister Abbey in minibuses…not Prince Charles though, he’ll be chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce style. (Get him! 😉 ).

* Male military guests will be required to wear their armed forces dress uniform, while women have been advised to wear elegant afternoon dresses with or without a smart coat or hat.

* Prince William’s Mum got married at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1981. Like Princess Diana, Kate is following in her would-be mother-in-law’s footsteps by not promising ‘to obey’.

* The Wales-Middleton union will be the 15th royal wedding conducted during the 1,000-year history of the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, to give Westminster Abbey its formal name. Victoria’s granddaughter, Patricia of Connaught, chose to marry her naval aide-de-camp Alexander Ramsay in 1919. Only then did the trend for 20th-century royal weddings begin.

* Prince William and Kate Middleton are said to have chosen the abbey for its beauty, historic and recent personal royal connections and intimacy.

* In particular, Prince William’s mother Diana, Princess of Wales had her emotional funeral service here. 29th April 2011 will surely be an important day for him in many ways when he places a wedding ring next to his mother’s engagement ring on his bride’s finger.

* After the royal couple’s first press conference, Kate wants to be known as Princess Catherine. If she and William make it to the throne, Kate will be the sixth Queen Catherine of England. (Get her! 😉 ).

* William and Kate are allegedly going to be the first royal couple to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement.

* William and Kate’s wedding reception will have 600 chosen guests enjoying a lunchtime buffet – his parents celebrated with a 120-guest breakfast hosted by the Queen.

* Kate will spend her last night as a single woman at The Goring Hotel in Belgravia – the Queen Mother called it her favourite hotel and in 1952 most Royal guests for the Queen’s coronation stayed there.

* William will not wear a ring but Kate will wear a gold ring passed down to William from the Queen, traditionally sourced from the Clogau St David’s mine at Bontddu in North Wales.

* Lookalike agencies can be in huge demand. And having ‘Wills & Kate’ on the books could be the holy grail of all lookalikes. Easyjet recently ran a competition, the 2 winners of which winning free flights for a year (Wills & Kate on Easyjet?!) Out of 20 finalists, Simon Watkinson, 29, from London and Orsola Rossi, 29, from Milan have been crowned the most convincing Prince William & Kate Middleton lookalikes across the whole of Europe. Simon and another Kate lookalike – Jodie Bredo – feature in this T-Mobile Royal Wedding viral ad…love the song choice!

* It’s the Royal wedding of media firsts — first to be announced on Twitter, have a soundtrack released online within hours of the service and the first Royal wedding to have its own flood of smartphone apps. But no 3D… this time. All guests have been warned to switch off mobiles during the service and NOT to update Twitter. (Ha! Hopefully! We’ll see! 😉 )

* The royal couple have asked their guests donate to charity instead of buying gifts – one of 26 charities. Click HERE to see them!

* The Metropolitan Police have been carrying out extensive security checks around Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Police have been checking every possible threat from the inside of traffic lights to inside the street-gutters. The operation is costing an estimated £20 million.

* 80,000 commoners will flock to London to cheer on the happy couple, up to a billion are expected to tune in at home. It’ll be a media beast — 8,000 TV and radio journalists, CNN is drafting in an extra 50 US staffers to add to its London desk of 75, the BBC has stationed 850 staff and Sky and ITV have 460 between them.

* The Queen is said to have sent out ‘save-the-date’ invitations via fax machine. Cute!

* Kate might get called a tart – it’s a tradition for Royal brides to get a pudding named after them, in 1947 there was the Bombe Glace Princess Elizabeth and in 1923 the Fraises Duchesse Elizabeth.

* William has invited several individuals recently saved from homelessness by his late mother’s charity, Centrepoint. He apparently wanted to include those who have touched his life in some way.

* According to it’s statistics, the alumni of St Andrew’s University, where the pair met, have a 10% chance of marrying a fellow alumnus.

* Kate has shunned riding to the Abbey in the glass carriage used by Princess Diana on her wedding in favour of taking a car — either a 1950s classic used by the Queen or the Phantom IV used by Charles and Camilla during the infamous incident at the student fees protests last year. But the newlyweds will take Charles and Di’s carriage on the ride to Buckingham Palace.

* The Royal Wedding route will include The Mall, Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall and Parliament Square.

Likely Royal Wedding Procession (courtesy of Google and http://www.direct.gov.uk).

* Burglary is expected to rise significantly on Friday due to the mass public partaking in street parties while forgetting domestic security. Thieves are likely to use the occasion as a prime opportunity to target people’s houses. Be careful people!

* If William had wanted to marry before his 25th birthday he would have required the consent of his grandmother The Queen!

* Gamblers can take a punt on all things Royal wedding — topping the polls at the moment are bets on whether Harry will lose the rings (38/1) or end up drunk (33/1), and what colour of hat will be worn by Her Majesty.

* The organizers of the Rugby World Cup have invited the couple to spend their honeymoon at the tournament in New Zealand.

* When (assuming so!) he becomes King, William, at 6ft 3ins, will be the tallest monarch ever.

* The economy is set to experience a hefty boom due to amount of consumers spending on celebration products such as: bunting, decorations, alcohol and party equipment. This is estimated to generate an extra £480million to retailers across the UK…!!!

* Memorabilia Meltdown!!! Fridges embossed with a giant photo of the Royal couple, a Kate and Wills meat pie and a limited edition Princess Catherine engagement doll, who has her own Facebook page and sold at Hamleys toy store, are just some of the options. Japanese toy line Sylvanian Families has designed rabbit replicas of the royal couple, to go on sale in the UK around the time of the wedding.

* The see-through Charlotte Todd dress that Kate wore in a charity fashion show at St. Andrews University back in 2002 was recently auctioned off for £78,000. It is supposed that this modelling moment for Kate was how she first caught the attention of the young Prince.

* The Royal couple have opted for wedding music that includes Westminster Abbey Choir, Chapel Royal Choir and the London Chamber Orchestra over celebrity performers.

Courtesy of Mario Testino

* The wedding flowers will be white gardenias, lily of the valley, delphinium and roses — all grown in Britain — and will stay in Westminster in the week after the service to be seen by the public. Kate’s bouquet will include a sprig of myrtle, known as ‘the herb of love’, in keeping with a tradition started by Queen Victoria in 1840. The wedding bouquet will go on the tomb of the unknown soldier, a tradition started in 1923 by the Queen Mother on her wedding day.

* Michelle Mone from Ultimo wanted to design the wedding day lingerie and even sent designs to Kate, but the regal bride is more likely to be supported in undergarments by Rigby and Peller, the Queen’s corsetières.

Kylie - i-D 1991 - wearing a corset designed by the royally approved Rigby and Peller.

* Some pop stars will feature on the DVD of the Royal Wedding. Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley has recorded a duet of ‘True’ with Irish pop princess Carol Anthony.

* William’s no-bake chocolate crunch cake, a childhood favourite, will contain 1,700 McVitie’s biscuits and more than 18kg of dark chocolate.

* Two of the horses taking part in the ceremony are named after Prince William and Catherine Middleton. The horses are part of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.

* The couple WILL re-enact a kissing photo-op on Buckingham Palace balcony.

* Despite not making it on to the guest list, rapper Snoop Dogg (left, below the Beckhams), sent William a wedding gift, a song called Wet, which he composed for the stag do.

* Four stylists — James Pryce, Richard Ward and their two assistants — have been drafted in to monitor Kate’s hair throughout the day.

* Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who will marry the couple, is hard of hearing in one ear, unable to drive and at school had a note permanently excusing him from PE.

* The bride has commissioned four pairs of shoes for the day with varying heel sizes but will walk down the aisle in a pair of silk slipper flats.

* Cake-maker Fiona Cairns, behind the multi-tiered wedding cake iced in 16 different blooms, first met Prince Charles 10 years ago at a Fortnum & Masons event in London when his opening chit-chat was “Do you do wedding cakes?”

* A recession-conscious Queen has opted for ‘two bite’ buffet canapes for her 600 guests at the Palace rather than a sitdown meal. The lucky 300 guests invited to Prince Charles’ do later in the day will be treated to an organic three-course meal served up by award-winning Swiss chef Anton Mosimann.

* Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen, is the name emerging from royal quarters as the designer of Kate’s dress.

Happy Royal Wedding Day everyone! XXX I wonder if they’ll be dancing to this?…

SOURCES: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk , http://www.foyles.co.uk , http://www.guardian.co.uk

Who doesn’t love their Mum’s food?! I’m no exception.

My Mum loved to cook. She sadly never met a lot of my nearest and dearest (passing away recently), whom we’d both always wanted her to meet. She would have totally loved to cook for all of us.

So, I thought it would be good to share some of my (the few that I know! 😦 ) Mum’s recipes with everyone, so others can enjoy her food and know of her.

First up…prawn curry!

I love Indian sub-continent food…that’s home food for me! Such dishes often need many hours of preparation with ingredients and cooking methods many people may not be used to. But the beauty of this dish is that it’s really rather simple. From students to connoisseurs…all can enjoy!

Feeds 4 hungry people.

Prawn Curry

INGREDIENTS

* 1 large chopped onion.
* 3 chopped green chillies (or less if you’re sensitive!)
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon pepper
* 1 heaped teaspoon turmeric powder
* 1 heaped teaspoon red chilli powder
* 4 cloves of crushed garlic
* 4 teaspoons chopped ginger
* 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
* 5 tablespoons of sunflower oil
* Fresh coriander
* 2 cinnamon sticks
* 300g basmati rice
* 600g to 650g peeled prawns

Salad

* 1 red onion
* 1 cucumber
* 1 chopped tomato
* 1 fresh lemon
* Coriander
* Large live yoghurt tub
* Cumin seeds

Chopping Board

RECIPE

Heat the oil on high in saucepan.

Add onion to oil and brown.

Add the green chillies, salt, pepper, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, garlic and ginger, keep heat on high for a few minutes while stirring.

Add the tin of tomatoes and cinnamon sticks and stir for a few minutes.

Turn the heat to a simmer, add the prawns and cover. Cook for 45 minutes or until sauce is fairly thick, stirring and tasting periodically.

During this time, rinse the rice well and allow to soak for 15 minutes, before adding to boiling water in another saucepan with a pinch of salt. Allow to simmer, stirring periodoically, for 30 minutes or until rice is tender. Drain in a sieve before serving.

For the salad, chop the tomatoes, cucumber and red onion and a sprig of coriander, and toss well with a dash of lemon juice. Mix 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds with the yoghurt.

A few minutes before the prawns are ready, chop a twist of the coriander (about 2 tablespoons), add to the curry and stir.

Serve the prawns with the rice and salad, and garnish with some coriander. Yoghurt is traditionally served with Indian food to aid digestion, so make sure you add a few table spoons on the side!

Nom nom!

I look forward to tasting your efforts!

Enjoy!

Love Fiez (and Fiez’s Mum) X X

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year all!

Hope everyone enjoyed time with loved ones and ate loads. 😉

I had Christmas on my own this year. It’s normally a time for families of sorts to come together. I had a reflective one.

And I also took part in something I had wanted to do for a while.

Sadly we’re all no strangers to seeing homeless people on the streets. And maybe for some Christmas can be particularly difficult.

Crisis is a charity for homeless and rough sleepers. Like other such charities, they work year round to help provide accommodation and improve lives for those affected in this way. At Christmas, many charities have a particular push, and for the past 39 years Crisis have launched an increasingly successful campaign.

From 23 – 30 Dec, Christmas Centres are opened across London that offer vital companionship, food, warmth, and a variety of important services that homeless people often are unable to access.

The charity estimates that this year, more than 2,500 guests will visit their nine centres across London; for some this might mean leaving homelessness for good.

After applying online, I found out that there are different volunteering roles. I had wanted to be a ‘service volunteer‘ – those who provide a particular service to the homeless guests, such as hairdressing, podiatry, legal advice to name a few. Many guests are also in urgent need of dental treatment, which is what I offered. However, luckily for the guests (but sadly for me!) I was informed that this was full, I had applied too late!

So, I plumped for the ‘general volunteer‘ role, and as this was my first ‘Crisis at Christmas’ I was more than happy. This includes greeting guests, providing companionship, giving out clothing and toiletries, feeding guests and more. You have to do a minimum of two 7-8 hours shifts on different days, and so after picking my days and submitting all necessary details, I was set!

My first shift was at a Day Centre in Stratford. After an introduction, we were allocated different roles randomly. It was a great to see so many people eager to volunteer. And it was clear to see that the senior volunteers were really passionate about bringing everyone together, and it was nice to be part of a team. And the place was teeming with guests; chatting, watching performances, playing games, eating, having a wash or just chilling. It was nice to see so many people happy, but sad that there were so many.

So…my roles! First up!…toilet duty. (Great!) Well, someone has to! We were all rotated at 1.5 hourly intervals and worked in pairs. So I cleaned the toilet-rooms, and then monitor the cloakroom, help carry food and equipment, and man the registration desk. In between I had a chance to speak with the guests. That was the best bit for me. It was great to chat together, especially when so many repeated the same thing, ‘we only ever see people’s knees’. If I don’t have money I apologise and say so, and was told that is so much better than just being ignored. But even when I give change, after hearing of some of their stories, it can feel like just a drop in the ocean.

Crisis also have Residential Centres over the same period where people can stay over night. As you can imagine, these are hugely sought after, and sadly after just one day there were no more spaces, leaving the rest to take comfort in the Day Centres, but from which they must leave come nightfall.

The Day Centres close at 9pm. Transport is often arranged to take people back to an easier location. This bit sucks. As much as they appreciate somewhere to stay in the day, you can feel rotten knowing they’ve got to go back to the streets at night. But they were cheery all the same, singing songs and making jokes (some very blue ones at that!).

So my first shift was over. Volunteers are normally required to do all their shifts at the same centre. But hit by a bad cold over Christmas, the thought of also travelling to Stratford again but with limited public transport wasn’t exactly appealing when I just wanted to stay at home and make the most of the 4-day weekend! If you’re ill you can of course stay away, but it wasn’t a flu and I felt I made a promise. And what I felt was nothing compared to how some of the guests sometimes feel.

The Day Centre in Bermondsey was supposedly fully-staffed…but as I live in Bermondsey, was a bit poorly but wanted to volunteer, and it was a possibility that some volunteers might cancel (as is the way), it was seen as probably totally fine if I go there first thing in the morning and explain.

So at 8:30am, Christmas Day I rocked up to the Bermondsey centre (having slept at 5am from a fun night at the 2 Brewers before…! :-/ ). I was told I could of course stay – hoorah! But even better…some of the dentists were based here. Explaining I was a dentist, I was warmly encouraged to make myself known to the clinicians, and luckily for me this time, I was informed they were actually under-staffed. Win-win!

I got to do what I had wanted originally after all! And as a bonus, I met a friend and fellow dentist – Soureya – who also happened to be volunteering her services (and who also had a cold!). Oral hygiene & dietary advice, smoking cessation information, scaling & polishing, restorations and extractions was what I achieved for the different guests over the whole shift. It was good to see the difference it made, and hear about the other services they had that made them feel good, whether a haircut, podiatry or even massage. The government have recently launched centres making it easier for the homeless to access dental care, starting in London, so it’s nice to know that when Christmas is over hopefully dental services for the homeless won’t be.

After the shift, I made it just in time for a late Christmas lunch at Balan’s restaurant in Soho. At the window, I coincidentally saw a homeless ‘Big Issue’ seller. I looked at the mince pie and christmas cake left on my plate which I was too stuffed to finish, and hoping I didn’t appear patronising, signed to ask if he wanted it…I was glad he said yes! His name was Jay. We had a chat after, and I gave him some change on leaving. Not expecting him to jump for joy – I was after all buggering off to a home and yet he was still on the streets – I nevertheless thought he looked a little disappointed. I had to turn back.

Sorry, that’s all I have. Is that OK?
Oh thanks, it’s just I needed some more.

I told him about Crisis and where I had been in Bermondsey, and I wondered to myself if there was anywhere similar nearby (there wasn’t unfortunately). Bless him, I knew he was wondering if I could take him there, and I explained they close at 9pm, and so I wouldn’t want to take him there if he’d be stuck with nowhere to go.

Oh, no problem. I just need £18 for a place I know at Victoria where I can get food and a shower and somewhere to stay overnight.
Oh, sorry, I’m out of money!’
OK, well, if you have a card and draw out money, I could wait?
Oh, it’s just I’m in a rush!’
OK, well, would it affect your life much if you were £18 less off? It would make a huge difference to me.’

Hmmm. Being 100% honest, I was trying to think of an answer! LOL. But I couldn’t. He was right. And even if he was lying about exactly why he needed £18, it would help him much more than I needed it at that point.

OK. Just stay here, I just need to get to my car. I will draw out money for you and come back, don’t move!

I got to the car and was about to pull-off, when there was a knock at the front passenger window, before the door opened. It was Jay.

There’s a cash machine just there!

And he sat in and closed the door. I won’t lie…I did think, ‘Oh goodness…I bet this looks great‘. But, who cares! He looked so comfortable, bless him. I drew out £20 for him and dropped him off at the corner. He gave me a ‘thousand blessings’, and we shook hands and wished each other a Merry Christmas. Driving off back to my flat, I thought it a funny coincidence meeting him after volunteering. I wondered what he would do over this period and felt sad, but after our encounter I did feel a little less alone over Christmas.

*********************

CRISIS

This is kinda off the record, but there was a lady I met there who’s story particularly touched me. She’s American, hasn’t got on with her family there, and came to the Stratford centre having just had an operation in London which she owes the hospital money for. She’s got by with some donations from people she knows here. I got her email address and promised her I’d try and help her out too…so if you’re interested in donating and want to know more, feel free to contact me! But otherwise, if you fancy doing something different next Christmas, or even throughout the year, you must check Crisis out! They are always looking for help and it’s great to see a good difference being made. www.crisis.org.uk

Albert Kennedy Trust

This is a great charity that for many years has helped lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans young people to live in accepting, supportive and caring homes, providing services to help individuals who would otherwise be homeless or in a hostile environment. www.akt.org.uk

Shelter

Since 1966, Shelter has helped the homeless by giving advice, information and advocacy, and by campaigning for political change to ensure a world where everyone has a home. www.shelter.org.uk

***********************************

HAPPY 2011 ALL. Have a happy and healthy year! XXX

12th of December 2010.

Just another day.

I guess I imagined I’d be with my Mum.

Perhaps driving with her to my Grandparents, looking over to me with a slight hint of pride sitting with her son at the wheel.

Or helping her cook her infamous lamb biriyani for my close friends that she (and I) had so longed to meet, to know an important part of my life, looking after everyone as always. Both watching contentedly as people close to my heart enjoy her food, eating with us.

Taking her to a museum, both eagerly discovering, say, the ancient Egyptians, or enjoying a West-End play, or simply spending time with her in town, arm in arm, proudly showing her off to the world.

Or at home, she’d be listening, enraptured, beaming, as my sister spoke excitedly about her hard work paying-off in her demanding job, or how I got an ‘A’ in my latest assignment.

I could be sitting with her in the living-room, me obsessing over the latest pop artists on T4 or X-Factor, my Mum half-frowning at me, half-joining in.

Or maybe…she would just be there…while we were chilling at home…her pottering around or feet up on the sofa…just her presence, but such a powerfully loving, warm, pure and immensely beautiful presence.

But, all this and more are bittersweet fantasies, endlessly evolving in my mind, since my Mum died unexpectedly 3 years ago today.

Memories have always been important to me. Actually, massively so – half the time I’m in a constant state of playback of past experiences.

I think this is why I’ve found it particularly cutting. I remember speaking to someone shortly afterwards who said that after his Mum passed away many years ago, the pain never goes, you just get try and get used to it. ‘Blimey’, I thought, ‘this bodes well’. Actually…he was so right. Well, for me at least. Of course, everyone dies. Bereavement and mourning are a fact of life, always very sad, but the final rite of passage. Everyone who’s ever lost someone always feels pain, but I guess it all depends on different circumstances, some people’s are worse than others.

I think what makes it quite tough is that since late primary school, a distance developed on my part when I realised I was gay. Sensing early on the social taboo, but then the far greater family and cultural and (gravely misinformed) religious view, the idea of being close when I might be disowned was too painful, and unsafe. And so although I still was a part of the family and enjoyed good times, in my heart of hearts, it was always from a distance.

Desperately wanting to be honest, be open, just be me, but too scared of rejection. But I’ve always said, as harsh as it sounds, that I’d rather be disowned than be dishonest. After years of damage, when I came out to my parents for good (I initially came out at primary school…but in short, it wasn’t taken seriously), it was like being reborn…a feeling I’m sure others can relate to. It was the most difficult but proudest moment of my life.

Of course, it was an ongoing process, and there were some very difficult times. But to finally know that there were no secrets, that she knew who her son was. No sinister ‘elephant in the room’. I was ecstatic. Nothing could ever compete with that relief and happiness. And very slowly, I started to reform broken bonds, making up for lost childhood. It was a massive learning curve for her which she was still on, and I was immensely proud at how she dealt with it, in her way. One can’t expect ones’ parents to get used to it overnight.

And so I hoped to take her out, show her my friends she had always wanted to get to know, or my partner, go out with her, anything and everything. I could be 100% relaxed and feel at home in my family once more. The one thing so many take for granted, the only thing I had wanted for so long, was now finally coming.

But a few months before she passed away, life suddenly descended into darkness. There was a lot of pressure on our extended family, but particularly my Mum. All families have ups and downs. There are a couple of incidents that were our toughest times, but we pulled through. But, this time, regardless of my Mum’s death, was shaping up to be yet another. I shan’t elaborate here, but again we all tried to pull through.

Less than 24 hours previously, I had met her at my flat. Unfortunately my last moment with her was to be a brief hug in the cold. Dropping some stuff over, my Dad asked my Mum if I could come downstairs rather than meet me in my flat. ‘Thanks Mum’, ‘OK darling, Dad’s tired, we have to go’, ‘OK, see you later’, ‘Bye, see you later’, *HUG*, ‘Love you’, ‘Love you’.

I remember on the day she died, something horrible I had recently heard she experienced as a child particularly gripped me that morning, and I solemnly vowed I absolutely had to get justice for her while she was alive. And then, hearing it on the phone, the words that broke my heart. Running out into the street at night, finding taxis who’d agree to take me home, seeing my sister’s telling face at the doorstep, then rushing upstairs seeing her laying on the bed, blood on the pillow near her face. She still smelled so strongly of ‘Mum’, that comforting, loving essence. Her skin still so silky soft. She went to sleep in the afternoon, and my Dad found her a few hours later. The coroner said she was healthy and didn’t know why, but perhaps her heart. I think the hospital misdiagnosed her a few days previously. A few weeks after my Mum died, my Granddad also died.

We all face hurdles…I’ve faced a lot that other people also have, and a lot that people haven’t. But I feel you must always tell yourself that there are people in a worse-off situation. Because it’s true. But even though that doesn’t help sometimes, you have to, otherwise you’d be bitter, be unsuccessful, be defeated. But thank God / Cosmos, like a lot of us, I’ve got through them, and achieved, and then one can finally appreciate the good in one’s life, and enjoy life.

But with my Mum taken away, it was difficult to keep telling myself the same thing. She was barely 60 years old, I was in my 20s. Her parents were still alive. After years of being trapped, I had only just started to develop a full content relationship with her after coming out, sharing our life the way we were supposed to, the way others did and perhaps took for granted. She had devoted her life to making everyone around her happy, putting others before herself, and I wanted to devote the rest of my life to making her happy. And the last few months of her life she was tortured with sadness.

That was the moment I thought, ‘No, f**k this. What the f**k just happened? My Mum’s been robbed from me. I’m supposed to live my life with her. We’ve been through such a difficult journey, and now we deserve happiness. We need to make loads more memories. Good happy memories. I wanted her to meet all my friends. It’s not fair’.

And so the memories I had became like gold-dust. Such memories with my Mum are worth more than all the money on the planet…and then some. From waking-up, to going to bed…her face, her voice, her laughter, her kindness, her joy…infiltrate my mind, my soul. Painfully sometimes.

In the absence of creating new memories with her, I have a desperate need to share past memories with others whose lives she blessed. Of course, something we all do when we lose a loved one. Regaling tales, swapping anecdotes, reliving. That’s all I could do.

And so we move on, try to adjust. Make the most of our lives, with those important to us. Knowing I could never do that with Mum, I hoped to do that with those she was important to too.

So memories. To try and make up for missing out on them. Unfortunately, the other thing I was relying on seemed to give way. My sister and Dad together with me in my family home. My Mum’s extended family together with us three. But my Mum’s family and Dad grew resentful of each other. My Dad entirely refurbished my family home. And then he remarried within months, and then left the country.

‘So what did I have left?’, I asked myself desperately. I never say never, but it’s unlikely I’ll have my family back to how it honestly ought to be. I feel it didn’t have to be that way.

If anyone else is going through a similar experience, this is what I hope helps. Some of what I always did, some of what I’ve learned since.

Talk to friends. Maybe a counsellor might help?

Share your memories with your loved ones. In some cases your family may implode and you can’t. I tried to find at least a few people with whom I still could.

Tell those important who hadn’t met them, all about them. Share what made them special.

Make good memories! With people in your life who are still here.

Surround yourself with positive people. Try to distance yourself from negative people.

Try to be around those who truly appreciate you. And make sure you tell people whom you appreciate exactly that.

Live your life respectfully and try to do what you can to make those who you’ve lost proud.

I don’t think my Mum got enough of the appreciation and support she deserved and so selflessly gave others. And we never had enough of a chance to share life and for her to meet my friends. But I hope by making her proud and letting people know about her, it’ll make her and me happier.

Hope this helps anyone else who is going through a tough time.

R.I.P Mum. Love you and miss you forever. X

My latest blog is inspired by a practice, it’s simplicity and good-naturedness I may have taken for granted that non-Muslims also understand, in a seemingly ever-increasingly ‘phobic’ world.

Halal meat.

Now, half my friends eat pork, don’t eat halal food, get intoxicated etc, and like other Muslims, I really have no issue with that because it’s none of my (God-damn! 😉 ) business. People observing my way of life can either join me or not. It’s not my business to preach and indeed I’m not blogging to convert anyone, just to be clear.

But over the years, likely to be exacerbated post-9/11, I have heard rumblings of discontent over this practice, culminating in a piece on The One Show in September this year where a particularly disgruntled member of the public was speaking about why many British people are against halal meat. Initially surprised years ago when I first heard that people could possibly have an issue, this very soon changed to not-being-surprised-at-all considering people can be just plain prejudiced, particularly post-9/11.

Negative Islamic stories in the media being the norm these days, I was nevertheless surprised to first hear in 2009 a mini-uproar at KFC’s plans for some of it’s chains to serve halal chicken. Mainly because, Muslims who before couldn’t get themselves a fix of some of the ‘Colonel’s’ fried-chicken now could, it wouldn’t stop non-Muslims from eating it and it would surely be better for KFC’s profit, so everyone’s happy….no?

It appeared not. People were up in arms over their ‘freedom’ being compromised and objected to this ‘barbaric’ practice. And the guy on The One Show, before being informed of the practice on site by halal butchers, said he had the right to know if meat he ate was halal or not, as non-Muslims have the right to not take part in this practice.

Hmmm.

So, doing my bit to help people make an informed decision for themselves, here is an attempt to cut through the offal to get to the meaty truth. (Sorry 😉 ).

POSSIBLE MISCONCEPTIONS…

Cruelty

First things first – unless you’re a vegetarian, you could say that sacrificing any animal for consumption is cruel, full stop.

The One Show mentioned that in the West, animals are stunned before sacrifice, and as most halal butchers don’t, this is therefore cruel.

First of all, if no halal methods are available, then Muslims can of course eat what animals they like to survive.

So what is halal sacrifice exactly? It is where animals are slaughtered by a human making a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck, cutting the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides together with the trachea and oesophagus but leaving the spinal cord intact in this initial cut. Within seconds, the blood pressure in the brain falls to zero and the animal becomes unconscious, and so feels no pain as the knife is sharp. And this is done while a prayer is said, which is for the animal and also to bless the meat.

This is fundamental – if the animal feels pain, it cannot be considered halal.

But halal doesn’t stop there.

Animal Welfare

Like ‘kosher’ for Judaism, halal for Muslims means anything that is fit for consumption / inclusion in life that is good and respectful for all.

Most people have probably heard of halal food, where like with kosher, livestock that are permitted to be consumed are sacrificed in a certain way in God’s name to allow them to be fit for consumption. It also bans the consumption of pork, blood, carrion or animals killed by strangulation, being beaten, by predators or other non-halal means.

But the concept of halal is not just for food. It extends through life, complimenting Islamic principles to help guide individuals in living a decent life and in considering each other’s welfare.

In exactly the same way, halal food means the welfare of the animal throughout it’s life is of utmost importance. The privilege of eating animal protein implies a duty to animals from their rearing right through to their slaughter. So battery-hens or stunning cooped up animals on a conveyor belt are equally non-halal. Organic principles anybody? Yup, Islam had them from the beginning.

People’s rights to choose what they eat

I’ve come across some internet forums where people have expressed not only their disapproval of eating halal food, but that it represents an ‘Islamification’ of the West – Muslims forcing their way on non-Muslims.

Not to go off on a tangent, but the vast majority of Muslims don’t want to force people to do anything, because to do so is against Islamic principles.

But coming back to the point, I agree that any place where meat is served should state not only whether it is halal or kosher, but also whether it is organic or not, and other such factors. Totally agree that people should have the right to know what is on offer so they can choose to eat it or not.

But really…let’s be honest about what this exact ‘disapproval’ is of. Is ‘Joe Bloggs’ really that concerned about the welfare of the cow used for his beef-burger or the pig used for his hotdog? Mmmmm? Of course not. OK, of course more and more people these days genuinely are concerned, and so they should be. But I think for a lot of people, it’s more the fact that they just don’t want to feel that, at best, they are ‘encouraging’ or supporting Muslims, and at worst, they just don’t want anything to do with them. Am I right? Am I wrong?

I uphold anyone’s right to have the freedom to live how they please. But not if it’s through ignorance or lying about what the real reasons are.

So there you have it. 🙂

It turns out that some of the KFC branches had to revert to non-halal food as they also had to stop serving bacon on the premises, which led to a big reduction in sales (I know, I know, the Daily ‘Hate’ Mail). And quite right too! It’s simple business and the unwritten ‘law’ of the majority. If more people are going to be disadvantaged / inconvenienced from eating somewhere than those who would benefit, then it’s completely wrong to change things.

But in KFC branches located in parts of town where the vast majority aren’t going to touch bacon products, then why not have it halal? And non-Muslims who may be in the minority in that small town just won’t be able to have bacon – OK, I can see that as seeming unfair, but they can still have chicken if it’s halal, if they want to, and eat bacon elsewhere, it doesn’t make a difference. After all, large numbers of Nando’s are halal and have been for years and most non-Muslims eat there happily side by side with Muslims…when you’re hungry, you’re hungry!

Interestingly, there was a study done on comparing halal slaughter with non-halal slaughter. By no means is this post an attempt to criticise non-halal slaughter, but it makes for interesting reading where it states that ‘stunning’ and the subsequent procedures actually cause pain and not the opposite. See what you make of it, Deutsche Tieraerztliche Wochenschrift (German Veterinary Weekly), 1978; Volume 85: Pages 62-66.

So be a vegetarian, be a meat-eater, but use your (meat)loaf.

Light-Hearted Comedy Bit!

I tried to find the Pam Ann sketch on her dealings with offering halal food…but found this Malaysian skit. It’s a bit weird! :-/ But it’s not afraid to use humour and is actually quite informative, so I like it, hope you do too!

So the spiritiual month of Ramadan has ended and once again Eid al-Fitr is here!

Like Christmas, for Muslims this means rejoicing with those at the mosque, having a huge feast, exchanging gifts and being with loved ones.

I must admit I found Ramadan a bit of a struggle this year…studying and personal battles are always trying and Ramadan can give a lot of inner strength, but when such a month brings family together and one experiences a huge loss and/or change in these foundations, all things combined can leave one feeling a little isolated.

Luckily, Ramadan is also a time for extra charity. And nothing helped more than fundraising again with a group of strangers and friends. Knowing you were helping the needy and starving helped make Ramadan more tangible for me…try as I might I couldn’t phrase that without it sounding so crappily cheesy and cliche! But honestly, making a positive change feels good, even if at the very least it’s a welcome temporary distraction from one’s turmoils.

Ramadan – like many religious periods – invites a hotbed of debate, and this year’s was no different.

And I’m pleased to say I drew strength from these. Actually a few discussions in particular will never go away. I can hold my hands up and say I’m sometimes wrong and sometimes stubborn ( 🙂 ), but it never ceases to amaze me how certain views about equality and human rights I find universal are met with disagreement by some.

So this Eid al-Fitr, I wanted to wish all my loved ones Eid Mubarak and hope God blesses you all.

For those who follow a faith and say you can’t be gay if you are supossed to be Muslim, Christian, Jewish / any of the non-Abrahamic religions, I say God created all people equal. And despite loving another person clearly being poles apart from being a sin, only two people can judge you – yourself and God. May God bless you too.

For those who are atheist and say you can’t be Muslim, Christian, Jewish / any of the non-Abrahamic religions if you are supossed to be gay, I say it is no more wrong to say that than when religious leaders have told the LGBT community that their feelings are unnatural. If someone can happily follow a faith and happily embrace theirs and others’ sexuality, then as you would tell those same religious leaders, live and let live. May the Cosmos bless you.

And to all my friends and loved ones who aren’t Muslim or who are indeed agnostic / atheist, I love you as you. I wish you positivity and happiness over the coming year…and if I’ll be seeing you, then get ready to feast and party! 😀

Love To All, X

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