A Belfast Child Returns

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Some say troubles abound

Some day soon they’re gonna pull the old town down

One day we’ll return here

When the Belfast Child sings again

The lyrics above are from the song ‘Belfast Child’ by Simple Minds. My mum played this song to me when I was young. Though I didn’t really understand the significance of the lyrics at the time, it touched my heart and I knew my mum was trying to share with me the sadness she felt about the conflict and tragedies that had become synonymous with her hometown of Belfast. Mum would often talk about The Troubles and the acts of terrorism that had marred her childhood. For those that don’t know, The Troubles refers to thirty years of violence and dispute, from 1968 when my mum was twelve, until 1998, between Protestant unionists (loyalists) who wanted to remain part of the UK, and Roman Catholic nationalists (republicans) who wanted Northern Ireland to be part of the Republic of Ireland. You can read more about the history here Encyclopaedia Britannica. My mum and her family were Protestant loyalists. During The Troubles, the British Army were stationed in the country in a peacekeeping capacity. In 1972, when my dad, a British Army soldier, was deployed to Northern Ireland, he met my mum, then aged sixteen. He was twenty-four years old and newly separated from his first wife, the mother of his two daughters. The separation had not been his idea. Mum, who had lost her father when she was eight and her mother the year before when she was fifteen, felt she was old enough to take care of herself and all she wanted in life was to get married and have a family of her own. Mum and Dad met when her friend, who was dating a friend of my dad’s, invited mum to a disco (this was the seventies…). They fell in love but the course of true love was not smooth. Dad went back to his first wife for a while to give things a last go for the sake of his daughters. Mum was devastated, pined for Dad but accepted he had left her to try to do what he considered to be the right thing. When Dad returned to Belfast, with his first marriage completely over, Mum and Dad reunited, married in Belfast on the 20th December 1975. I’m told I was conceived on their first wedding anniversary as I arrived into the world nine months later in September 1977 when Dad was stationed in Hanover, Germany. My Irish Grandmother’s name was Elisabeth. I was given the name Lisa as a tribute to her (Lisa is a short form for Elisabeth, the more common spelling in Germany and Northern Europe) and a nod to Elvis Presley’s beloved daughter Lisa Marie. My dad was a huge Elvis fan and his idol had passed away the month before I was born.         

My earliest memory of being in Belfast must be from around the age of six or seven. At this time Dad was stationed in Ballykinler, less than an hour’s drive from Belfast, where Mum’s family lived. Mum was the youngest of six children (and Dad was one of four kids) so I had lots of aunties, uncles and cousins growing up. One day Mum told me she was taking me to my Auntie Miriam’s house and I remember feeling excited. However, before we got into the taxi, Mum became very serious and she instructed me not to speak at all until we were safely inside my auntie’s house. She explained that I was not allowed to speak as I had an English accent and if my voice was heard, or I said anything about my dad being in the Army, I could put both my dad and my auntie and her family in danger. It was genuinely frightening as a child to know that just by uttering one word I could cause terrible things to happen to people I loved. As Mum chatted away with the jovial taxi driver, I sat mute and looked out of the window, too scared to make eye-contact with the driver. I assumed he must be a bad man if I wasn’t allowed to speak in his presence, not fully comprehending that wasn’t necessarily the case but Mum was just trying to minimise the possibility of incriminating questions and risk of repercussions. I was rewarded with a chocolate bar at my auntie’s house for my good behaviour. I couldn’t always understand what my auntie, uncle Herbie or cousins Ruth and Robert said to me as they spoke fast and their Belfast accents were strong, but I knew I was loved and there was a lot of laughter, and cuddles for me, in their house.   

While Dad was based in Ballykinler, Northern Ireland, we lived in the barracks for security reasons. To go to the local primary school in Tyrella, I had to pass through a security check point and my name was ticked off when I left for school and when I returned to the barracks. It didn’t seem strange to me or my friends that we had to do this and it was only when I was older that I realised why we had had to do this and the risk we had faced being the children of British Army soldiers in a place of conflict. We moved every one to two years, usually moving between the UK and Germany, and we didn’t return to live in Northern Ireland again, though we did visit once more as a family when my cousin Ruth married and I was a bridesmaid. I was twelve.

It was around the age of twelve when I began to notice my mum’s drinking. My mum was a vivacious outgoing person who loved to pop round to friends’ houses for a gossip and a glass of wine. She would get drunk and emotional, tell me she loved me and would cry about her lost parents. It was uncomfortable but I thought all mums were like this. I was her shoulder to cry on, forced to be the adult in the relationship. Over time, the rows between Mum and Dad increased – they had a couldn’t live with/couldn’t live without relationship with Dad leaving the family home multiple times – and Mum’s drinking became a problem. The root of the issue was her grief at losing her parents at a young age, grief which she had never properly dealt with. At sixteen she had felt old enough to look after herself and live life on her terms but as I entered my teenage years, Mum seemed to unravel. Seeing how young I was made her realise just how young she had been when she had gone through so much turmoil and loss in her family, and her country. Creating a family of her own had been a distraction but buried feelings always eventually rise up and everyone has different coping strategies. Mum’s coping strategy unfortunately was drinking. I didn’t realise that it had gotten out of hand until I caught her having a sneaky drink in the morning. When you have to start your day with a drink, you are in trouble. I tried to talk to her and asked her to get help but she insisted she didn’t need help as she wasn’t an alcoholic. She was a devoted and loving mum but alcohol changed her. The reality was she was a lovely person to be around until 6pm and then after that, she was best avoided. Our home became a battleground and I couldn’t wait to escape to university when I turned eighteen. I didn’t return home very often after I left as I found it too stressful and upsetting. Sometimes she would send me sweet handwritten letters and cards telling me she was proud of me, loved and missed me. Sometimes she would get drunk and leave me abusive voicemails. I loved her but wanted her to sort herself out, to face her demons and find some happiness.

It wasn’t to be. She threw my dad out and isolated herself. Mum passed away at home alone, aged fifty in 2007; her death was caused by her long-term drinking. Her body wasn’t found until weeks after she passed. I had told my dad beforehand that I was concerned I hadn’t been able to get her on the phone for a while but that wasn’t that unusual for mum and he said she would get back in touch when she wanted to. When she passed, I know he regretted not going to her home to check on her. Though her death was a shock, I felt relief that she was at peace. Some of Mum’s siblings came to her funeral and after Mum was cremated, my auntie Miriam took Mum’s urn back to Belfast and her ashes were scattered where she wanted them to be: on the graves of her mother and father. The Belfast child returned after all.          

I haven’t been back to Belfast myself since I was a child. Over the years, with grandparents and my parents’ passing, I have lost touch with my extended families. I am only forty-two now but with Dad’s passing last year, I am very conscious of the lack of family in my life. When you have been brought up taught that family is everything, it’s hard not to have those kinds of bonds in my life. I could easily pass cousins in the street and not recognise them. It’s a shame and I’ve decided to do something about it. Belfast is very much a city on the rise today with many tech start-ups moving there post-Brexit. Money has been spent regenerating the city centre and attractions such as the Titanic Museum make Belfast an appealing weekend city break. I am going to Belfast to retrace my mum’s footsteps and to see if I can reconnect with some family members. I remember the stories she used to tell me about her High School, her old haunts, and I want to see for myself what these places look like today. Only after you lose someone do you become aware of all the things you wish you could ask them. I’m grateful that Mum and I had a strong bond when I was growing up and that she shared so many stories with me so at least I have her memories.     

When I look in the mirror I see my mum. When I was a child people always commented on how much I looked like her. I used to feel embarrassed and irritated by my lack of distinctive identity, as if it was assumed that because I looked like her that I must be like her in personality and qualities. I wanted to be my own person, an independent spirit without Mum’s failings and weaknesses. We can be harsh judges of our parents when we are teenagers, lacking understanding of how life’s complexities and changing tides can impact and change a person. Now older and bruised by some painful life chapters myself, I feel more compassion for Mum. Never able to admit it out loud, Mum was an alcoholic and her struggle with personal demons made life at home challenging growing up. I never doubted how much she loved me though and I treasure the handwritten letters and cards that she sent me after I left home. I feel ready to explore my Irish heritage and I am proud to carry the resemblance as I return to her hometown.

I will keep you posted about my journey and will write a destination guide for Belfast for those readers who enjoy my travel posts (see more travel posts here Flight Path). 

Take care,

Lisa.

 

Inconvenient Truths

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Last edited: 2nd April 2020

This post links with If You Know, You Know; Dear Dubai Ex: Closure; Cyberstalking: A Protest; In Control: Warning Signs of a Controlling Partner; How To Date An Arsehole; It’s Not Me, It’s You; Get Lit (Not Gaslighted…); Invisible Scars and Gaslighting Survival Guide.

Note: To protect myself and others in my life, my solicitor has advised me not to reveal my current location or workplace. I can confirm that I’m safe, well and happily getting on with my life. I will also not reveal the identity of my ex/boss. He knows who he is and all that he has done. As of April 2020, my ex/boss continues his attempts to communicate with/contact me, though he has been warned that my solicitor will proceed with legal action if he does not stop. I would like this chapter to finally close so we can all move on in peace…

Watching the movie ‘Bombshell’ the other night, it got me thinking about the way women are often vilified when we have the audacity to say the things out loud that others don’t want to hear and the strength that it takes to stand up for yourself against vehement opposition. I can relate, though my situation was not as straightforward as the workplace sexual harassment presented in ‘Bombshell’ and unlike in the movie, there has been no ‘victory’ at the end of this story.

In October 2015, I agreed to a consensual relationship with my married boss. Yes, you read that correctly. Consensual and he was married. I told you it was complicated. I did not know that he was married when I met him but I did know he was married when we began the relationship a short while later. He was the initiator, beginning with flirtatious work emails, progressing with sliding into my FB DMs and later, asking for my phone number to chat on WhatsApp as FB was apparently not as discreet for him. After being called to his office for a work chat, he told me he had been happily married for 16 years and he was not leaving, but he had feelings for me he wanted to explore. At the time I was touched by his honesty. I know now it was manipulative bullshit, designed to get what he wanted without appearing to be an arsehole. That is the moment I entered into a relationship that took me a long time to get out of and nearly destroyed me. We agreed we would take things slow and thereafter messaged constantly. I struggled with the morality of the situation, disappointed with myself at being involved with a married man. For that reason I refused to sleep with him but we did kiss in his office. In a hot and heavy moment, he asked me to take things further but I declined. I was stupid to get involved with him but not stupid enough to do that – not with my married boss in Dubai, where adultery is illegal. We were off and on for years. One of us would get an attack of guilt, usually me, and end it. There would be periods of not speaking which probably would have led to the end of the relationship had we not worked together, but when you are seeing each other almost daily, within a few weeks, one of us would begin messaging again. It was an emotional affair. I was pestered for more intimate moments, with him messaging to ask if I was still at work as he wanted to see me but I never allowed myself to be in a room alone with him again without other people around to make sure we didn’t cross the line. I was loyal and faithful to him, and always understanding of his personal situation. I respected the times he couldn’t chat as he was with his family. I didn’t call him. We WhatsApped when in work then switched to work email out of work hours to ensure we weren’t caught. There was no intent to cause harm to his family or his marriage. It is a situation that should have fizzled out eventually with no consequences.

However, we worked together and over time, our personal relationship became toxic, which negatively impacted our professional relationship. He allowed his personal feelings for me to impact the way he treated me as a colleague and it is for that reason I reported him to our CEO and eventually went public. No one should tolerate working in a toxic environment. In the beginning when our relationship was good, he was very supportive of my teaching career aspirations. He was complimentary, encouraging, and spoke highly of me to others. I was on track for a promotion and he told me I was obviously next in line. But then there were times when he would bring his personal feelings into the workplace. For example, he would get upset with me if he thought I was being flirty with male colleagues and there would be some sort of punishment – a snarky WhatsApp or refusal to reply to messages. I had to speak to male colleagues for work but he would watch me when I was speaking to them, making me feel uncomfortable even though I was doing nothing wrong. Then there was the time we had a huge row as I had told him I wanted to end the relationship. A few days later, I needed professional support for a work matter but he completely refused to support me. Had that been any other colleague, he would have supported them. When I spoke to him about it, he admitted that he was upset with me due to our row, he thought I would know that, and he knew he had gone too far on the spectrum by not supporting me at all when he should have. Unfortunately this was not a one off. It became a pattern in the relationship. If he was upset with me, he would find a way to punish me at work and would undermine me to students, parents and colleagues. I felt I always had to keep him on side and please him to be able to work in a happy environment and progress in my career. In the final year I worked for him, there were work matters I needed his help with. He would give me advice, tell me he had my back, but then he didn’t. Contradictory statements were made which caused conflict between myself and my colleagues. He threw me under the bus with parents when there were issues. Nine years working in a school with excellent results for the subject I led gave me a certain amount of autonomy. In the final year it all changed. The quality of my work was questioned. I was told I had become difficult to manage and unsupportive of the kids – anyone who was not a yes person was perceived difficult to manage and I worked tirelessly to support my students. I had gone from being the golden girl on track for the top – called a ‘passionate and inspirational teacher’ by a school inspector in my final year of teaching – to a problem that needed to be forced out. I was only a ‘problem’ because I knew my boss was not the good guy devoted husband and father he likes to portray to the public and I’m a strong woman unafraid to speak her mind. The constant rows and perpetual mind games I endured from my ex/boss took their toll and I had a breakdown, leaving Dubai for a week to get my head together. He had done something particularly cruel and when I asked him to leave me alone at work, he didn’t. I felt trapped. Like I was being smothered with no way out. The only way I could get some space was to leave for a week. He was full of apologies, knowing he had gone too far, but something had broken in me and I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to go back to finish the year for the kids I taught and to get the money I was owed to be able to go travelling – my ticket out. I resigned, intending to leave at the end of the school year and make a new life for myself. I didn’t make it through the year. His behaviour didn’t change, no matter what I did privately to try to sort out the situation between us. I was desperate for it to stop. For three years I kept my mouth shut (only confiding in a few close friends) and put up with his manipulative and controlling behaviour at work. I considered reporting him when I still worked for him but he is a very popular man and I didn’t think I would be believed, though I had collected evidence (emails, Whatsapps, a voice recording) throughout the relationship in case I needed it; I knew by getting romantically involved with my boss I had put myself in a vulnerable position and one day I might need to defend myself. I was right.

I wrote blog post ‘How To Date An Arsehole’, to get him to realise what he had put me through, to hopefully get him to stop (the original version included more specific details about the relationship). As a result of writing that post, I lost my job and home. I had to leave Dubai immediately to avoid arrest (for using inappropriate language and contravening the moral values of the UAE). I told the company we worked for why I had written the post and that I wanted to make a formal complaint about my ex/boss. He needed to understand that his treatment of me had been unprofessional and it’s not OK for a boss to abuse his position of power by mistreating a colleague due to an inappropriate relationship. I was asked to write down some details, ‘though you might feel differently about making a complaint once you go travelling’. It was clear from the get go I was being manipulated and fobbed off. I sent a long email attaching some screenshots that proved the inappropriate nature of our relationship, giving specific dates, details of incidents, and names of people we worked with who knew about the relationship. I was told by HR to ‘trust us to deal with him’. Despite the fact I had had to leave my job immediately after being suspended, I was open to agreeing to a fair resolution for my complaint. An apology from my ex/boss and his resignation (not necessarily immediate – I would have agreed to him working an extra year to wrap up his affairs) would have suitably dealt with the situation. However, no one called me. No one followed up my complaint. I was expected to shut up and go away. I didn’t. I stopped protecting him, for the sake of his family, when I realised he had lied and scapegoated me to keep his job.

Operation Cover Up went into action to try to stop me telling inconvenient truths and to let my ex/boss get away with all that he had done. Unknown to me at the time, there was a plan in place for his progression within the company and me opening my mouth was problematic. I was threatened with defamation (though I can prove what I’ve said), I was lied to (told they would deal with him) and I was forced to sign an NDA. To stand up for myself and protect other women, I blogged about my experience and publicly proved there had been an inappropriate relationship. He was excused and promoted; I was villainised just for telling the truth. It was all my fault apparently.

People hated me for going public and the online abuse has been horrific. They don’t seem to understand the ordeal that I have been through since I met this man. Getting involved with him was the biggest mistake of my life and all attempts to deal with him privately always failed. Even when I went public, he continued to find ways to contact me, and try to manipulate me. I didn’t even sleep with this man yet the relationship proved disastrous to me. I refused to suffer in silence and I will not apologise for that. It’s one thing to go through a bad relationship; it’s quite another experience for the person you loved to exploit his position of power and damage your career because you don’t want to be in a toxic relationship with them anymore. No one is above accountability. The relationship began consensually but it was not consensual by the end. I emailed him privately to ask for closure in July 2019 but I didn’t get it as I have written about in blog posts Dear Dubai Ex: Closure and Cyberstalking: A Protest.

So how did this story end? My ex/boss kept his job and he is still married, living in Dubai, like he has done nothing wrong. As of April 2020, he continues his attempts to communicate with/ contact me. On the day he first declared his feelings for me, he told me he ‘prided himself on appearing to be a good husband and father’. Note the use of the word ‘appearing’. Despite all that he put me through when I worked for him and all that he has done since I left, I can say with certainty that he is a loving and protective father. I hope his daughter is never treated by a man or an employer the way he treated me. Perhaps then he would understand why I fought so hard to stand up for myself and be heard, and why I blogged about the emotional abuse in our interlinked personal and professional relationship to help others who may be in similar situations. After a year of travelling, I am settled in London (*see note above) and have changed career from teaching to hospitality. No doubt his version of events is very different to mine. Evidence speaks for itself. Meeting with a police expert in cyberstalking/ coercively controlling relationships and a solicitor in the UK was a game-changer and confirmed for me what I always knew – that I was right to speak up and take a stand. I was brought up to have integrity; taught that when you do something wrong and cause harm to others, you have to take responsibility for that. I have made mistakes in my life and I own them, making apologies when necessary. Decent people don’t lie and talk their way out of situations they are responsible for or scapegoat other people. I am only responsible for my actions, not the actions of others. Everyone has the right to work in a safe workplace free from abusive behaviours and discrimination. If that is not your experience, speak up for yourself and for others. Even if you don’t get a ‘victory’, like we see at the end of the movie ‘Bombshell’, living your life free from abuse, knowing you told the truth, is the real victory.

The world needs to stop treating women like villains when they tell truths that are inconvenient. Stop expecting us to be good little girls who shut up and go away just because what we have to say does not suit your agenda. Don’t silence us with NDAs before listening to us; we will only shout louder to be heard. I rest my case.

Foodgasm

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If you are a fellow foodie, I don’t need to explain to you what a foodgasm is. The gastronomes amongst you already know the sense of excitement that comes with the anticipation of trying a new dish or cuisine – whether from a market stall selling homemade eats, a funky food truck, or a Michelin-starred restaurant – and the explosion of pleasure that comes when your taste buds are aroused. Even when the appetite has been momentarily sated, a true gourmand will always hunger for more. My hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner and it would be fair to say that for as long as I can remember, food has dominated my life. I don’t cook but I love to eat.

My happiest and longest relationship to date is my love affair with food. Partners have come and gone in my life but food has remained a constant that rarely lets me down. Food has never sexted other women behind my back or cheated on me. Food has never tried to pressure me into having a threesome to spice things up. Food has never told me that I would be more desirable if I lost two stone (that’s 28 pounds for my American readers) or left dirty underwear and used condoms on my bedroom floor. When intercoursing with food, I have never had to fake it to protect fragile egos – the orgasmic delight relished when savouring flavours is always genuine – and involving food in sexual intercourse is guaranteed messy fun. If you haven’t yet tried an iced lolly vaginal kiss or a mint chocolate sauce blow job you should; they always seem to go down well. My relationship with food is no one night stand; it’s the real deal. A marriage of devoted fidelity and undying love.

Travelling for a year full-time, and past travels, means I have been able to sample flavourful treats from many different countries over the years. As I have made my way through a global food court, I have learned that my British palate can’t handle too much spice – a chilli in a Sri Lankan devilled chicken absolutely kicked my arse; I couldn’t speak for ten minutes after ingesting – and if I don’t know what it is, I’m not eating it (no animal eyeballs or genitalia or otherwise meat of unknown origin for me, thank you). A vegetarian for thirteen years, I used to refuse to eat anything with a face but an unexpected encounter with chicken fried rice one night (a takeaway mix up) led to me going back to the dark side. Cook me a perfect fillet steak with pepper sauce and I am yours, no questions asked. I would be a terrible vegan – my life motto is ‘Everything is better with cheese’. The diverse culinary experiences are amongst my most treasured travel memories. Living in London, I can luckily dine in restaurants that cover a gamut of cuisines but there is something quite special about being able to eat a dish in the place that it originated. Parma ham in Parma. Khinkali in Tbilisi. Oaxacan cheese in Oaxaca. Okonomiyaki in Japan. The list goes on. When you travel, don’t seek out the same restaurant chains you can eat back home. What is the point of travelling if you are going to do that? Eat local and you will find your tastiest authentic nosh.

Regular readers of my blog will already know that I have had a midlife career change from teaching to hospitality. When I left teaching in 2018 I was certain that it was time for us to part ways and I wanted to do something else. Life is too short to stay in a job you don’t enjoy. I gave myself a year off work for a much-needed rest and absolutely loved my travels. With time to think about what I wanted from life, my strengths, my goals, I knew I wanted to return to hospitality. I had done bar and restaurant work to support myself through my studies before I was a teacher and liked the social aspect of such work. I was even asked to join the management trainee programme for an upmarket seafood restaurant I worked for but I had already accepted my first teaching position and thus my career choice was made. However, watching TV programmes such as Chef’s Table, Masterchef Professionals and Great British Menu gave me an appreciation of chefs and I developed a fascination with the food artistry found within Michelin-starred restaurants. The first chef who got me excited about food was Heston Blumenthal, an inventive British chef awarded the coveted three Michelin stars. It became a dream of mine to one day work within a restaurant with a Michelin star and I’m happy to say I’ve made my dream come true.

In Italy and France, hospitality is viewed as a serious career choice but in the UK, there is snobbery about hospitality. It is often perceived as something people do until they’ve worked out what they really want to do which is a real shame, as working at Michelin level and the relentless pursuit of perfection that goes with that, is very demanding. To succeed in a Michelin-starred restaurant, you have to be dedicated, able to pay attention to detail, have excellent food and beverage knowledge and be willing to work long hours. My first fine dining job was working for Fred Sirieix (of ‘First Dates’ and ‘Million Pound Menu’ TV fame) and Chris Galvin at Galvin at Windows, a Michelin-starred French restaurant on the 28th floor of the London Hilton on Park Lane. It was surreal meeting Fred for the first time as I’ve seen him so much on TV but he was exactly as I expected: a charismatic and highly driven perfectionist. He is the king of hospitality, keen to inspire others to provide first class service. Chris Galvin is an award-winning chef with over thirty years experience. He is also one of the nicest men you could meet. My three months at Galvin were intense – there were highs and lows, laughter and tears – but not a bad way to begin my fine dining career. Working there has opened doors for me. If you have watched the latest season of Masterchef Professionals UK, you will be familiar with judge Monica Galetti and chef Ollie Dabbous who allowed three contestants to cook in his kitchen at Hide Above, the top-floor restaurant of his Michelin-starred HIDE restaurant. A few weeks ago I was offered a position at Monica’s restaurant Mere. I was also invited to do a trial shift at Cornerstone by Chef Tom Brown, awarded London Restaurant of the Year 2019 by AA Hospitality Awards. It was a tough choice but I am thrilled to be joining the team at Hide Above. When I watched the Masterchef Professionals episode featuring HIDE, I had no idea I would be working there myself a short while later. The restaurant has a beautiful interior, the largest wine list in Europe, and serves food that wows. Art on a plate. It’s an amazing opportunity and a lovely surprise to be given a position there #proud.      

The main perk of working in Michelin-starred restaurants is getting to try the incredible food for free. That’s a foodie wet dream. Is eating food better than having sex? That’s a good question. Depends on what you’re eating and who you are sleeping with. Fortunately, you don’t have to go Michelin star to have a foodgasm and you don’t have to have sex with someone else to have an orgasm. Both are pleasures that make life more enjoyable and are happy experiences you can give to yourself 😉 Combine the two and that’s my idea of heaven.

Take care,

Lisa.

If You Know, You Know

Last edited: 13th January 2020

This post links with Inconvenient Truths; Cyberstalking: A Protest; In Control: Warning Signs of a Controlling Partner; Dear Dubai Ex: Closure; How To Date An ArseholeIt’s Not Me, It’s YouGet Lit (Not Gaslighted…)Invisible Scars and Gaslighting Survival Guide.

When you first meet someone and you feel that ‘Wow’, the butterflies in the stomach, the magnetic pull towards them, the ‘I want to know everything about you’ impulse, it’s a special thing. Love makes us feel alive but it also makes us blind. When you have strong feelings for someone, your judgement becomes flawed. Realising that the person you have invested time, energy and love into, has repeatedly lied to you, manipulated you, betrayed your trust, is clearly not who they present themselves to be, is absolutely devastating. You blame yourself for not seeing the signs sooner, for accepting their lies, for being gullible, but it’s not your fault. You can’t beat yourself up for not knowing what you didn’t know.

In other blog posts I have written about my emotionally abusive, narcissistic, controlling ex not because I want to portray myself as a victim, but because I am motivated by a desire to educate and help others. I do not want anyone else to go through what I did. In October 2015 I blindly fell into a romantic situation that in the five years that followed caused utter havoc in my life, extreme emotional and mental distress, and nearly destroyed me. All because I fell in love with someone who is not as nice as the image he likes to portray. So many people have told me over the years that he is such a good man and implied that I must be responsible for the toxicity and abuse within our relationship. They are welcome to believe whatever they want. I have a collection of emails, WhatsApp messages and a voice recording that prove otherwise; the evidence speaks for itself. I know what I have been through and the impact the relationship has had on me and my life.

Gaslighters are highly effective convincing manipulators. They are adept at discrediting those who speak up about them. I am aware of the lies that have been told about me but here are the facts which I can prove:

  • My ex/boss initiated the relationship
  • He kissed me in his office during school hours
  • I refused to sleep with him as he was married
  • He sexually harassed me in the workplace and asked for sex on his desk
  • He refused to support me professionally if upset with me personally
  • There was retaliation in the workplace when our personal relationship was not good
  • He damaged my career and my relationships with co-workers when I worked for him
  • I tried to leave the relationship multiple times but he would always talk me round
  • He lied to and manipulated me throughout the relationship
  • He has cyber stalked me since I left him last year and has been reported to UK police

When I left my job and Dubai, where we lived, to get away from him, I had thought that a difficult situation in my life was over. How wrong I was. How naive. I quite rightly reported my ex to the company we had worked for for his professional misconduct and expected him to be held accountable – after all, I had been told by them to ‘trust us to deal with him’. I didn’t trust them and I was right not to. After seeing a statement by the CEO proclaiming how proud she was of him, and his continued attempts to manipulate and control me did not stop, I began speaking out publicly about my experience. This is 2019 – NDAs can no longer be relied upon to stop women telling the truth. Had I been left alone to get on with my life, I probably would have shut up and gone away like so many trolls told me to but I’m afraid no man gets to damage my career and wellbeing, scapegoat and villainise me, and harass and cyberstalk me when I had to leave my job and my home in Dubai to get away from him. That’s not a situation that anyone should stay silent about and was certainly not one that I was willing to tolerate and accept. How a woman – who refused to sleep with her married boss – in this day and age can be punished for speaking the truth whilst the man concerned is protected and rewarded for his abuse of power is unbelievable. The refusal to be honest, to take responsibility, and lack of accountability, is on him and the company. Shame on all of them, those who continue to condone his behaviour, and those who tried to shame me and trolled me for speaking up when they do not know everything that happened in the relationship, or its aftermath, or how many times I tried to resolve the situation amicably. I didn’t deserve how I was treated by him personally and professionally when I worked for him and I do not deserve to continue to be abused when I am getting on with my life. It is not OK to villainise women who find the strength to walk away from, and speak up about, abusive situations just because you don’t like what they have to say. Pretending the truth does not exist does not make it go away. My ex/boss is the one who has continued the situation and ignored requests to stop. Actions speak louder than words and his actions since I left him seem to indicate he feels he can still do whatever he wants and get away with it. However, no one is above accountability and what is done in the dark always comes to light.

I left Dubai over 18 months ago. Nearly two weeks ago I had to change my email address as yet another unwelcome email was received – containing porn and information only relevant to my ex and I – despite repeated requests to be left alone and warnings about legal action. Being cyberstalked is not simply annoying. It is not flattering. It’s not harmless. It is definitely not romantic. It is weird. It is frightening. It has been deeply upsetting and I cannot understand how someone I loved could put me through everything he has put me through over the last five years. I completely misjudged him and feel that I never really knew him. I fell in love with a facade. Had I known when I met him what he was really like and how fucked up our relationship would be, I obviously would never have gotten involved. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. To live my life in peace I had to change my phone number, change my private email address, disable blog comments, restrict followers on my blog and Instagram and make everything as private as I could. You don’t know how easy you are making it for someone to track you, to monitor you, to invade your life, until it becomes an issue. I urge others to rethink how much information they share publicly – you have no idea how vulnerable you are to cyberstalking and identity theft until you find yourself the target of someone who wants to abuse the power they have.

As a result of my blog and Instagram many people know what I have been through, and the identity of my Dubai ex. I won’t mention his name here. If you know, you know. I hope by speaking publicly about our relationship, I have prevented him from doing this again to another colleague, or to another woman. I also hope that he seeks help, and if he can’t be honest with others about the things he has done, that he has at least been honest with himself to learn from this. Everything we experience in life is an opportunity to grow and become a better person. I am not the same person I was: I am stronger, wiser, more resilient, more humble. Because I know what I want in life and all that I have been through, I will never allow myself to be in a similar situation again. I have reclaimed my privacy – though my Instagram is public again, my settings ensure only people I follow can interact with me. I am sure karma will take care of him eventually. Even when you think you have gotten away with something, the Universe is always watching. 

Only people who have been in toxic/emotionally abusive/coercively controlling relationships themselves know and really understand how damaging such relationships are, and will be able to empathise with my experience. Just because someone appears charming, kind and loving in public, it does not mean that they are not capable of abusive behaviour in private – appearances can be deceptive as I have painfully learned. He and I both know what happened between us; only one of us has told the truth. There have honestly been times when I have seriously wondered if there was much point in going on with my life but each time I felt that low, I found a reason to be hopeful and kept going. Now living a life radically changed to my old Dubai life, I’m so glad I did, and I hope sharing my story helps others. 

Take care,

Lisa.

Cyberstalking: A Protest

Last edited: 13th January 2020

This post links with Inconvenient Truths; If You Know, You Know; Dear Dubai Ex: Closure; In Control: Warning Signs of a Controlling Partner; How To Date An Arsehole; It’s Not Me, It’s You; Get Lit (Not Gaslighted…); Invisible Scars and Gaslighting Survival Guide.

Some supporters of mine created a Twitter account ‘I’mwatchingyou’ and held a 24-hour Twitter protest on November 1st to highlight my situation* (see note at the end of the post). Regular readers of my blog will already be aware of the circumstances that led to me leaving Dubai in April 2018 (About Me explains) and what I have been dealing with since I left. I did not expect to still be dealing with my ex and the aftermath of our relationship in November 2019, and nor do I want to be.

Numerous times I’ve been trolled, told to shut up, go away and get over it. I’ve been portrayed as the psycho ex who refuses to let go, who vindictively wants revenge. Anyone who actually knows me well knows that I’m not THAT person. I am someone unafraid to speak up, to fight for my principles and what I feel is right. I’m a Libra and to me, fairness and justice are everything. I was brought up to treat people as I expect to be treated. I don’t like confrontation or discord – but if you screw me over and don’t do right by me, I will stand up for myself. In October 2015 I became involved in a complicated personal situation that was to prove to have catastrophic consequences for me in the five years that followed. I met a guy at work and we clicked immediately. I couldn’t believe my luck – a handsome, smart, funny man liked me! When he made it clear he was attracted to me and began to pursue me, I was thrilled. I had no idea when we met that he was married, he was not wearing a wedding ring, and I was shocked when his circumstances were revealed. He had certainly not acted like a married man around me. The attraction between us and the feelings we had were strong and I allowed myself to get emotionally involved with him, though I refused to cross the line by sleeping with him. That was the beginning. To say that this particular relationship ended badly would be an understatement.

Multiple times during the relationship I ended things and asked to be left alone. My ex would always talk me round and I would be drawn back into it again. I loved him but felt caught in a fucked up web that I didn’t want to be in and couldn’t seem to get out of. He was my boss and there would often be repercussions for me in the workplace when our personal relationship was not good. He gaslighted me to control me and keep me, his ‘special friend’, attached to him, which I have written about in other blog posts to hopefully help others to recognise that they may be involved in a similar destructive situation. He is a clever, manipulative man who told me he always gets what he wants, and he always wants to win. Eventually he pushed me too far, I had enough, and exposed him in a controversial blog post, ‘How To Date An Arsehole’. I lost my job as a result of writing that post. After three years of putting up with his behaviour, I wasn’t going to go without a fight. I asked to make a formal complaint to the company we worked for. They were not interested and just wanted me to go away, despite them knowing I had a vast collection of work emails, WhatsApp transcripts and an incriminating voice recording that proved my allegations. They threatened me with defamation and I had to fight to get the money I was owed paid to me. They only paid me once I signed an NDA (a non-disclosure agreement).

That could have been the end of it and would have been had I received any kind of apology or assurance that my ex would be held accountable. The company had no interest; it did not suit their agenda. I was fobbed off and told to trust them to ‘deal with him’. They gave him a new job in one of their other schools. What a slap in the face. Why it was OK for a married Principal to initiate an affair with a colleague, to kiss and ask for sex on school property and to then gaslight and manipulate when he didn’t get his own way, but not OK for me to tell the truth and expose the behaviour, knowing I can prove what I’ve said, is not something I will ever understand. I blogged about it to ensure that he knows that what he did was wrong and to ensure he doesn’t do it again to someone else. The online abuse I’ve had over the past year has been horrific but I always knew that speaking up was the right thing to do.

At various times I have been prepared to let all of this go and make my peace with it but then something would happen – online abuse attacking me, fake accounts being used to contact me, the bombshell revelation in April 2019 that he was rewarded with a new job when I’d been forced to resign etc. So the cycle continued until I reached a point in July 2019 when I was ready to draw a line under it all. For whatever reason, my ex/boss had been allowed to keep his job despite his obvious professional misconduct and I’d been the scapegoat. That was bullshit but I just wanted positive change and peace in my life after a year of devastating losses and turmoil. I reached out to my ex privately via email, making clear my intention was closure. Even if the company was prepared to condone his behaviour, I wasn’t, but I wished him well anyway. I felt I had mentally and emotionally put the relationship to bed.

Unfortunately, my ex has not allowed me to move on – despite what he may have told other people. I am still writing about the situation because I am still dealing with it. I am still dealing with his attempts to contact and manipulate me. On police advice, I changed my phone number, removed my email address from my blog and Instagram, disabled blog comments, and made my Instagram private for three months. I deleted many blog posts and deleted my old poetry page to prevent him from clicking on ‘our poems’ – he still found a way to access them. I’ve tried ignoring the situation. I’ve tried not posting anything on my blog or Instagram for weeks at a time to see if that helps. I’ve tried to be nice about it. I’ve written about wanting peace, asking to be left alone to get on with my life. A friend has even contacted my ex, and his CEO, on my behalf and asked him to stop. I reported him to the UK police. I wrote Dear Dubai Ex: Closure to publicly ask for the situation to stop. I don’t know what more I can do. The Twitter protest was not my idea but I appreciate the intention behind it, and the support of those who feel I do not deserve how I was treated by my ex/boss or our company.  The people in my life now know how committed I am to moving forward and how frustrated I feel that a part of my past seems determined to keep a connection going with me, or just wants to show me that he can find ways to contact me whenever he wants as he does not like not being in control. He appears charming, kind, an average good bloke, so it has been difficult for others to believe me. What he put me through when I worked for him was not acceptable and it’s not simply my word against his when evidence exists; evidence the company didn’t want to see when I reported him last year and still don’t want to see now he persists in finding ways to contact and manipulate me. Being believed no longer matters to me – I just want him out of my life. 

Cyberstalking can take many forms. Every time a new fake account is discovered, or contacts me, I feel sick to my stomach. I have been advised not to reveal on my blog the full details of the contact or how we know when it’s my ex rather than some other weirdo. He and I know all that he has done. What I can say is that trolling and cyberstalking make you feel vulnerable, anxious, frightened and paranoid. It’s stressful feeling watched all the time and unwelcome contact is both invasive and upsetting. It needs to stop. I have never threatened anyone with legal action in my life and I don’t want to proceed with a court case against someone I loved – but I will, if I have to. Hopefully, it will not come to that. 

Peace, 

Lisa.          

*This account remained active for two weeks and I was not the administrator of the account. The purpose of the protest was to highlight cyberstalking and make public my own experience. The original intention was for the protest to last 24 hours – until it was discovered that someone had tampered with the Analytics i.e. had found a way to remove impressions and engagements from certain tweets, probably with the intention of making us think that the protest had had less impact than it had had. Who knew it was possible to do that?! The account is now deactivated as it served its purpose. 

Dear Dubai Ex: Closure

Last edited: 2nd April 2020

NOTE: After all efforts to resolve the situation with my Dubai ex privately and amicably failed, I wrote ‘Dear Dubai Ex’ to publicly ask him to stop his manipulative and controlling behaviour. Originally posted on the 4th September, this post made clear that I was not interested and wished to be left alone. Further attempts to contact me in various ways were made. Police advised me to make my Instagram private (it was private for three months), disable blog comments and restrict followers to deal with the situation. It has been a difficult journey but the police in the UK have been very supportive. Coercive control and cyberstalking are unacceptable so if you too find yourself the target, collect evidence of the incidents and reach out for help like I did. You can take back control, move on with your life and rise above. As of April 2020, my ex continues to contact me.

This post links with Inconvenient Truths; If You Know, You Know; Cyberstalking: A Protest; In Control: Warning Signs of a Controlling Partner; How To Date An Arsehole; It’s Not Me, It’s You; Get Lit (Not Gaslighted…); Invisible Scars and Gaslighting Survival Guide.

Dear Dubai Ex,

In July 2019 I contacted you privately to make peace with you, to apologise for my part and wished you well. It was a sincere act of closure and I felt such a sense of relief, of lifted weight afterwards. I was optimistic that a painful chapter had finally closed. However, you did some things afterwards that have worried and alarmed me and the situation needs to stop.

When we entered our relationship – an emotional affair – we did not foresee how badly it would end. We can’t change what’s been said and done. There have been faults on both sides post-break up and matters escalated in a way I’m sure neither of us wanted. I don’t regret standing up to you and telling the truth, but I know it has been hard on all of us. If I could go back in time to that moment, during a school Professional Development day, when you told me you had feelings for me and wanted to initiate an affair, I would in a heartbeat – to tell you to get stuffed and decline your proposal, like I should have done then (but said many times after).

You have every right to feel what you feel; whatever you feel is your entitlement but please respect my requests for no contact, to not be monitored or contacted via fake accounts on social media, and for my poetry – poems I’d made private for various reasons – to not be accessed from my blog without my consent. I could share details and screenshots to prove what I’m saying but I’m not going to do that. It doesn’t solve anything and what other people think or believe is not my business. I heard endless ‘sorries’ from you during our relationship and promises that things would get better; ‘sorry’ becomes meaningless when you hear it so often and the behaviour that called for an apology doesn’t change. Actions speak louder than words. You once told me that one day you would make me hate you. I don’t. I feel no anger or bitterness towards you now. I don’t think you realised that you were being emotionally abusive but ‘I didn’t mean to’ is not an adequate excuse and doesn’t make everything you did OK. You did know, as a married man and my boss, that it was wrong to ask a colleague to have sex with you in your office – especially in Dubai, where adultery is illegal. Even though I did the right thing and refused, you failed to take responsibility and let me be scapegoated when I exposed you. I loved you but did not cross the line by sleeping with you. There should have been no consequences but getting involved with you had a catastrophic impact on my life and career whilst you were protected and praised by the company – who had told me to trust them to deal with you! That was an injustice, hence why I blogged about it – to stand up for myself and prevent you from doing it again – and I’m proud I did so.

Nobody is perfect; we all make mistakes. Learn and grow from this experience. My agenda with my blog is to help other people by sharing my experiences and feedback from readers has been very positive. Some good has been achieved. Moving forward, focus on your family and your own happiness. Don’t ‘keep tabs’ on what I’m doing in my life. Respectfully, that’s no longer any concern of yours. The only times I have contacted you since July 2019 have been to try to resolve the situation and ask you to stop contacting me. When I told you in August 2019 that I didn’t want to see or speak to you again, I meant it. I never look you up online. I don’t ‘keep tabs’ on you. I’ve moved on.

My closure email in July should have been the end of it. It was heartfelt and clear in intent but as you have done so many times in the past, you disregarded my wishes and boundaries. Enough was enough. I reported you and closed myself off on social media to try to solve the situation. Legal advice regarding coercive control, sexual harassment in the workplace and cyberstalking has been illuminating. I am familiar with the UAE’s defamation laws – instead of investigating my complaint, the company threatened me with defamation to try to silence me. It was a risk I was prepared to take to be heard, as I will never return to Dubai. Libel laws are different in the UK. Knowing I can prove what I’ve said, I have blogged about the detrimental impact of our relationship on me, and its aftermath. I don’t need to explain here just how devastating gaslighting, controlling and manipulative behaviour, and cyberstalking can be. Though I’ve been told by my solicitor that I have enough evidence to proceed with a civil case for damages, I have no desire to pursue the matter further. I just want to live my life in peace. After five difficult years, I am happily enjoying a new era in my life so please let go and move on…

Goodbye B.

Poem I wrote during the relationship. Says it all…

LOVING YOU

Loving you is like

Trying to hug a cactus.

You score my body

With short sharp shocks

When I get too close.

Loving you is like

Sleeping in a honey bed.

You wrap around me

With slick suffocation

When I try to escape.

Loving you is like

Writing an oxymoron.

You have no words

With cohesive ideas

When I ask how you feel.

Loving you is like

Climbing a jelly mountain.

You unsettle me somewhat

With longed-for openness

When you tell me I am missed.

Loving you is like

Wearing a stone feather coat.

You weigh heavy on me

With your contradiction

When I am without you.

Loving you is like

A jigsaw with a piece missing

You are here somewhere

With resigned defeat

When you watch as I leave.

Loving you is like

Catching air in a jar

You persist in your absence

With memories unspoken

When the end comes.

Lisa Hawkins

London Calling: A Guide for First-Timers

Check out my Flight Path page for other destination guides.

London is one of the greatest cities in the world and a first-time visit can feel daunting/overwhelming for London novices. I’ve been coming to London for years as a tourist and I made London my home in May 2019. This blog post offers tips and suggestions to help you get the most out of your visit. As Samuel Johnson famously declared, ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’  I hope when you visit that you love this city as much as I do…

USEFUL WEBSITES AND APPS

ARRIVING

Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport are the two main arrival points for international flights. Flights to Gatwick can sometimes be cheaper than Heathrow so it’s worth checking flights destined for both airports to compare.

  • Heathrow Airport – you can avoid the expensive cost of the Heathrow Express by taking the Piccadilly Line on the Tube for under £5.
  • Gatwick Airport – take the Gatwick Express. You could take an National Express coach but it’s a longer journey (90 minutes to London Victoria Station) and not much cheaper than the Express.

GETTING AROUND LONDON

London is a fantastic city to walk around but it is also huge with lots to see and do. London consists of 33 distinctive boroughs but you will probably spend most of your time in the boroughs of Westminster, Camden, Kensington and Chelsea during your first visit. If you are short on time, use public transport to get to key areas which you can then explore on foot.

  • Oyster card – definitely buy one of these. You can buy them from ticket machines in London Underground Stations. You will need one to travel on all forms of public transport. Whilst you can now travel contactless with your bankcard, not all International bank cards work. My bank card works but I feel more comfortable keeping my travel card separate, not flashing my bank card in public. The oyster card can easily be topped up using ticket machines or the TFL Oyster app https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/terms-and-conditions/tfl-oyster-app
  • Don’t bother buying a travel card – Oyster cards have a daily capped rate of £7 zone 1 – 2 on the Tube and £4.40 for unlimited bus travel
  • Download the Tube App and CityMapper App to help you navigate the city.

WHERE TO STAY

  • Wombats City Hostel London – I’ve stayed in many London hostels over the years and this one is my favourite. It was awarded London’s best hostel by Hostelworld in 2019. Great facilities and location. Maximum length of stay is two weeks https://www.wombats-hostels.com/london/
  • Other hostel recommendations: Generator and Palmers Lodge Swiss Cottage.
  • The Hub Premier Inn – if you can afford to spend more than the cost of a hostel bed, then The Hub could be for you. I like the one in King’s Cross. They offer compact and comfortable modern rooms with TVs and AC https://www.premierinn.com/gb/en/hotels/england/greater-london/london/hub-london-kings-cross.html
  • Good Hotel London – if you fancy staying somewhere unique, I stayed at the Good Hotel London earlier this year. It’s a boat hotel with an amazing socially conscious mission. Read about my stay here Good Hotel London
  • LHA Hostels – perfect for people looking to move to London and who can’t afford expensive deposits and rents. A £200 deposit will secure you a place and you can select to stay in a private room or shared room in various properties around London. These hostels are not designed for backpackers or short term travellers (stay at Wombats City Hostel instead) as you need to provide your own toiletries, kitchenware etc. Check out their website here https://lhalondon.com/

THINGS TO DO

Free gems in the city:

  • View London from Primrose Hill, or Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath.
  • Stop by the British Library – the Treasures Gallery is unmissable and free (extra charge for some exhibitions) plus the outside seating area is lovely in the summer.
  • Prepare to be amazed at the Wellcome Collection – a fantastic place that showcases artefacts exploring ‘the connections between medicine, science, life and art’. The free temporary exhibition I visited about the psychology of magic was brilliant.
  • Spend time in one of London’s most-loved galleries – National Portrait Gallery (extra charge for some exhibitions) – I much prefer this to The National Gallery next door.
  • Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – has to be seen at least once.
  • Get an art fix at Tate Modern – a modern and contemporary art fan’s dream (extra charge for some exhibitions) and Tate Britain – housing British art dating back to Tudor times.
  • Peruse thought-provoking exhibits in the Imperial War Museum (a charge to visit the Churchill War Rooms).
  • Lose hours at the British Museum (extra charge for some exhibitions) – home of the Rosetta Stone and other treasures.
  • Shop til you drop in Covent Garden – known for street performers, markets and designer stores.
  • Pause for thought in the ‘Actor’s Church’, St Paul’s Church, when browsing round Covent Garden.
  • Drink tea in the Twining’s Tea Bar, Strand – the oldest tea shop in London (free to look, charge for tea).
  • Visit the V&A (extra charge for some exhibitions) – has 4.6 million items!
  • Mooch around Harrods.
  • Harry Potter fans can get a photo taken at Platform 9 3/4 Kings Cross.
  • Pose with a lion at Trafalgar Square.
  • Swot up at the Natural History Museum – a stunning building housing a vast collection.
  • View London from the Sky Garden – beautiful views of the city but you have to book in advance to visit.
  • Pop in to the neon paradise of God’s Own Junkyard and pick your favourite sign.
  • Walk The Line – London’s first dedicated modern and contemporary art walk http://the-line.org/#/home
  • Have a coffee in a restored Victorian public convenience (free to look, charge for coffee) at The Attendant Fitzrovia.
  • People watch in Leicester Square. Check out actor handprints outside Vue Leicester Square cinema. You may get lucky and see a premiere taking place.
  • Pose with Eros in Piccadilly Circus – a mini Times Square.
  • Stroll round Chinatown – a vibrant area of the city.
  • Imagine London during the Swinging Sixties when shopping in Carnaby Street.
  • Walk through the Baker Street Wonderpass – the city’s most unusual underpass.
  • Head to Hackney City Farm – home to a variety of rescued animals.
  • Drop by the Design Museum (extra charge for some exhibitions) – the recent Stanley Kubrick exhibition was phenomenal.
  • Explore Camden Market – for shopping and food on the go. Grab a beer canal side and people watch.
  • Ride the Emirates Air line, a cable car that spans the Thames.
  • Meander round Little Venice – for some serenity in the city.
  • Another serene space to help you find your inner zen – Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park.
  • Go deer-spotting in Richmond Park – home to over 650 deer.
  • Snap street art – key areas: Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Camden.

Ticketed Places:

  • Tower of London – a history buff must.
  • St Paul’s Cathedral – a visit up to the Whispering Gallery is unmissable.
  • London Eye – the big wheel with majestic views.
  • Westminster Abbey – pay your respects to some historical giants.
  • Jack the Ripper Museum and Walk – a must for Ripper enthusiasts.
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum – again a must for fans.
  • Greenwich’s Royal Observatory – go to stand on the Meridian Line.
  • Stay overnight at London Zoo – book a night at ZSL London Zoo Lodges.
  • Kayak on the Thames with Kayak London.
  • Go up The Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fire of London.
  • Slide down the ArcelorMittal Orbit – the UK’s tallest sculpture. If you fancy a swim, the London Aquatics Centre is nearby, offering one of the cheapest swims in the city.
  • Open air swimming – Hampstead Heath Ponds and London Fields Lido.
  • Picturehouse Central – catch a movie at my favourite cinema.

Tip: look out for small round blue plaques on buildings around London. They tell you where famous writers, artists etc lived.

FOOD & DRINK

You can find all international cuisines and a multitude of drinking spots in London. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Borough Market – one of the city’s largest and oldest markets. Eat a pie at Pieminister or treat yourself to lovely homemade pasta at Padella (be prepared to queue and yes, it is worth it! Their website gives advice about queue times).
  • Rules – oldest restaurant in London.
  • Savoy’s American Bar – longest surviving cocktail bar in London.
  • Netil360 – laidback rooftop bar in East London.
  • Galvin at Windows and 10 Degrees bar – restaurant/bar on the 28th floor of the London Hilton on Park Lane. Both offer fantastic views of London.
  • Dishoom – venues throughout London. Super tasty Indian food in an atmospheric setting. Be prepared to queue. I had a great time at the Kings Cross venue.
  • Abeno – the go-to place for Japanese Okonomiyaki (one of my favourite eats).
  • Hawksmoor – for your Sunday roast dinner.
  • Best fish and chips – the award-winning Poppies (also available for delivery).
  • Best treat meal – enjoy a 5 or 8 course tasting menu at Hide Above, the top floor of Michelin-starred Hide Restaurant, which boasts the largest wine menu in Europe. The interior is stunning and the food is delicious.
  • A British must-try: a sausage roll from bakery chain Greggs.
  • Places with meal deals to grab lunch on the go – Boots, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer.
  • Coffee on a budget – the Pret a Manger chain do a filter coffee for £1.
  • Cheapest food shop if self-catering – Morrisons offers the best range, though places like Aldi, Lidl and Iceland are good for bargain food shops. 

SEE A WEST END SHOW 

  • Get cheap tickets from the TKTS booth in Leicester Square.
  • My recommendations: Hamilton; Book of Mormon; Come From Away – book tickets for under £20 direct with the theatre online. No need to shell out for pricey tickets – you get an excellent view from the back of the Phoenix theatre.

MY FAVOURITE WALK

  • Start at St Paul’s Underground station, visit St Paul’s Cathedral, then walk over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. Lovely views of London from the bridge and tower of the Tate Modern. Facing the Thames, you can either go right, walk by the Globe Theatre to Borough Market, a perfect spot for lunch or go left and you’ll get to the National Theatre and BFI Southbank.

DAY TRIPS FROM LONDON (reachable from under 2 hours).

Other suggestions: Bristol; Bath; Windsor; Canterbury; Margate; Cambridge; Oxford.

IMAGES OF LONDON