Personal Stories

My favourite places in the world

Whenever I talk about my passion for travelling and seeing the world, the same question comes up time and time again: what is the best country you've been to? I always falter and I'm pretty sure it makes people think I'm making up my anecdotes as I'm going along - I'm not, promise!

Having now passed the halfway mark of my 20s (sob) and on the trajectory to being ‘thirties in transit’, I've finally come up with an answer for the question. I realise that it actually depends on different things and, if the asker is seeking recommendations, what they're after too. 

For the food: Morocco 

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A far cry from just couscous and tagines, Morocco's dishes are packed with such incredible flavour. At home, you'll never see me order a salad when I'm out (though I'm a sucker for the salad buffet at Harvester lololol), but here I couldn't get enough! From roasted, and of course, seasoned, eggplant to salsa-style tomatoes, every vegetable was prepared in the most mouthwatering way. My favourite dish of the trip was a bean soup in Chefchaouen, with added olive oil - it tasted like a bowl of houmous but 10 times better.

For the people: Cuba

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I still cannot get over the sheer kindness of the locals in Cuba. By their own admission (well, by my tour guides admission), they live a simple life, yet provide such a warmth in their personalities. On my first day, my bank card didn't work, meaning I was stranded with no local currency, and the host of our casa particular in Havana (as well as my parents and a couple fellow travellers) went out of his way to help me sort it, even providing Wi-Fi for free after the quota had timed out. Our second host in Vinales, who I took to calling Tia, was just as lovely, creating huge breakfast spreads each morning and chatting with us for ages despite our minimal vocabulary in each others' languages. In Playa Larga, the casa manager took the time to learn each of the group's names, addressing us by them whenever he needed us, despite us being there for less than 24 hours.

For the landscape: Iceland

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Iceland is otherworldly in the winter; you feel as though you are on a different planet. The rugged white terrain stretches for miles and miles, especially when driving in the countryside. Þingvellir National Park boasts hot water springs and baths - in which my hair froze rock hard but I was as snug as a bug in a rug in the 36-degree water - while watching huge shards of ice float down Jokulsarlon Lagoon or standing tall, glimmering and contrasting with the black lava sands of Diamond Beach, really is breathtaking.

For some history: Italy

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Italy is unrivalled in its historic sites. Rome is the UNESCO World Heritage site that obviously springs to mind first, with the Colosseum (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World), Pantheon and Trevi Fountain all within walking distance of each other, but all over the boot you'll find notable sites or hidden historical gems in the form of churches, piazzas and more. I took time to accidentally-on-purpose get lost within the cobbled alleyways of Venice, admire the castles of Naples' bay (the mussels were to die for, FYI), wander around the arena in Verona, and gawp at Milan's Duomo, and these have stuck with me.

For the beach: Croatia, Australia and Cuba

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To be honest, I can't choose one particular trip for this; I've been to quite a few beaches - especially for a Londoner - and they each differ. The paradisaical white-sand beach of Cayo Levisa in Cuba was gorgeous, yet I was positively surprised at the beauty of the rocky beaches in Hvar too. Australia, thanks to its varied terrains, offers a range of different beaches, best enjoyed on a coastal walk, for example, Bondi to Coogee, and Manly to the Spit.

Go on, where are your favourite places?

A spotlight on side hustles: Photography

Images: Arron Watson-McNab (@facesplaceslaces)

"Choose a job you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life."  We've all heard that saying, right? Well, Confucius, it ain't always that easy. We may not have known what we love back when we were studying, sometimes you've gotta hella graft for ages before you can properly achieve what you love, and sometimes what we love might have changed.

More and more, people aren't just doing their nine-to-fives, but also have a passion project - a side hustle, if you will - that they maintain in the hope of it becoming their main job in the future, so they achieve this elusive notion.

Arron Watson-McNab, 26, works full-time as a therapy assistant at a prestigious London hospital, as well as freelancing as a writer and photographer. His side hustle is photography - Faces, Places & Laces - while Dwain Caulker-Johnson, 25, is a part-time retail worker, whose passion is making music, under the stage name DeeWain. Amy Deeprose, or amybakesuk, 26, is a design engineer who uses her design knowledge in the cakes she bakes on the side. In a three-part series, I have quizzed them on how they manage their day-to-day jobs and maintain their side hustle, and how they hope to develop it in the future.

This week, Arron's up. Intrigued by the others, too? Then check out Dwain and Amy, as well.

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How long have you been shooting images?

I got my first camera back in 2015, as a gift to capture my time spent working in America, but I would say it’s only been in the past year that I’ve started to take photography more seriously.

So, was that trip how you got into photography, then?

I've always been interested in photography, but never had the tools. While working in America, I found myself often going for strolls and taking photos of pretty much everything. This progressed to trying new angles, getting creative with my surroundings and learning about my camera to having a story or purpose behind some of my shots. From then, it just continued and I found a style, which my brand states neatly - Faces, Places & Laces. Alongside people I meet and places I go, my love for trainers found its way into my portfolio.

What motivates you to make time for your photography?

It’s like therapy for me. London is hectic at best of times and I have always searched for something to take me out of that madness. Holidays are great and I also meditate, but venturing out with headphones in and my camera in hand in my new favourite escape, especially as it speaks to the creative side of me.

How do you get your name out there?

Events, mostly. I am always looking out for cool events or attending galleries. I occasionally work in coffee shops, which has led me to meet some really fascinating people. Instagram is a great tool for photographers, as well, however, I much prefer connecting face to face. I will often stop people on the street for some of my projects and always meet really interesting people. Just this weekend, I met someone with their own brand looking for pictures, two club promoters who invited me down to shoot at their next event and an individual who was pretty well-connected in the sneaker scene. You never know where opportunities come from! Talk, share your stories and always have a business card on you.

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What return do you see?

Personal satisfaction, mainly. I love the process of creating and seeing the outcome come out how I pictured it - it is always very pleasing. Financial gain is, of course, always a benefit, but the opportunities that have presented themselves outweigh that significantly. I am grateful to be in a company that has given me the chance to shoot individuals that I have been following for years, then, in addition, have them complement or use my work. That feeling is great!

What challenges have you faced juggling the photography with your full- and part-time jobs?

It’s not finding the time, or it’s being motivated to use the time efficiently. After a long day at work, finding that energy and mindset to go and do a photoshoot, write, blog or find new opportunities, as well as general life - cook, clean, go to the gym, see friends - is hard to maintain. Opportunities have been missed, friends let down and there have been countless late nights and early mornings, but love for the craft gets me through.

Do you invest any of your own money into your venture?

Yes, always investing in my development and photography is an expensive hobby. I am very fortunate to have the support of friends and family who all recently contributed towards a new camera for my birthday. I will forever be grateful and stunned by the amount of backing I receive!

Do you consider your photography a business? 

I am beginning to. Previously, I just enjoyed the process and never believed my work was up to a standard to make a business out of…I still doubt it now. However, I have had some very kind words from individuals in a variety of industries that have provided me the confidence to see this as a business. People need photos, those photos make money, thus the creator of those photos needs compensation. Simples!

What is your long-term career goal?

Currently, I am pursuing two, it seems. Firstly, [I want to be] a photographer, although I’m not quite sure where exactly I picture myself as a photographer. I have a deep-lying love for music, so mixing my art with capturing the journey and progression of artists would be cool. Plus, I’m so fascinated by the process of art - how an idea is transformed into a song/drawing/[item of] clothing/building - so, that would be cool to capture.

Secondly, I've headed back to uni to do a masters in Physiotherapy this year. Long-term, I would love to work with elite athletes, possibly track their recovery from injury [to recovery] in a series of pictures… who knows.

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to turn their hobby into their job?

Enjoy the process of working hard on something you genuinely have a passion for and say yes to every opportunity available. Alongside this, depending on the hobby, there will be a stage where you’ll have to take a step back and study the business element of your craft. Just be prepared for it.

Check out Faces, Places & Laces today.

A spotlight on side hustles: Making music

Images: Arron Watson-McNab (@facesplaceslaces)

"Choose a job you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life."  We've all heard that saying, right? Well, Confucius, it ain't always that easy. We may not have known what we love back when we were studying, sometimes you've gotta hella graft for ages before you can properly achieve what you love, and sometimes what we love might have changed.

More and more, people aren't just doing their nine-to-fives, but also have a passion project - a side hustle, if you will - that they maintain in the hope of it becoming their main job in the future, so they achieve this elusive notion.

Arron Watson-McNab, 26, works full-time as a therapy assistant at a prestigious London hospital, as well as freelancing as a writer and photographer. His side hustle is photography - Faces, Places, Laces - while Dwain Caulker-Johnson, 25, is a part-time retail worker, whose passion is making music, under the stage name DeeWain. Amy Deeprose, or amybakesuk, 26, is a design engineer who uses her design knowledge in the cakes she bakes on the side. In a three-part series, I have quizzed them on how they manage their day-to-day jobs and maintain their side hustle, and how they hope to develop it in the future.

This week, it's Dwain. Intrigued by the others, too? Then check out Amy and Arron, as well.

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How long have you been making music?

It's always been a hobby of mine, but seriously, it's been eight years.

How did you get into it?

I've always had music in me. I played the piano when I was young and I use to sing, too, but I didn't really get into it properly until university, really. I performed at an open-mic in my first year. After that, people were telling me that I should do something with music, but honestly, I didn't know what to write about and I wasn't good. However, at uni, I'd gone through different experiences and the only way I could express [how I felt] was through music. I started from there and just kept studying my craft. Now, I've got so many things to write about because I've seen a lot. 

What motivates you to make time for it, though?

Just the fact that music is a universal language and that it enables me to relate to people that I've never met before. Words are powerful and people believe in them, so I have to put the medicine in the message because I know my lyrics can inspire people to do greater things.

What return do you see from your music?

For people to feel moved by the music, that's the biggest thing, really. If people are coming up to me and saying that one of my songs or projects affected them in a certain way, I've achieved my goal, to be honest. 

I'd love for that feeling to expand though, so I can build a following big enough to sell out arenas one day - the 02 is my main goal. The idea of performing in front of your own fans on a big stage is mind-blowing. 

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What challenges have you faced so far? 

I heard Will Smith say in an interview, "the fight to remain positive is the toughest fight you'll have," and that is the biggest challenge in this industry; you literally have to give everything before you get any kind of result back. The hardest thing is to keep going knowing that you're putting your best foot forward, but you're being ignored - but you have to keep pushing. Self-belief is so key to all of this.

Not having money is frustrating, too, but I can't get too mad because I'm doing what I love. I always tell myself that as long as the music is good, that's all that matters; the rest will come.

Also, the music I make is quite unique to the rest of the urban scene, so I have to accept that not everyone is going to be used to my sound, which can be frustrating. But I'm happy my music is different and I can create my own lane.

Do you invest any of your own money into your venture? 

Yes. I only work part-time, so I can make more time to study my craft, record, shoot videos... but most of my paycheck goes into my music. 

Would you consider your music a business? 

Technically, yeah, I'm getting paid for performances now, so it's a business. But I'd love to get into the music business properly. I've got dreams of owning a label!

What is your long-term career goal?

To be known as an elite artist. A legend. I want to be known as the guy who came and shifted black British music culture and did it my way. I'm coming for everything. Awards. Big tours. Classic albums. Classic moments. Everything.  

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to turn their hobby into their job?

Stay focused, stay disciplined and stay positive. Have a plan and speak things into existence - I believe in the law of attraction and your thoughts becoming things.

In my field, Instagram is so useful, but the best way is to find your pocket and feed it. Keep releasing good music consistently as you never know who's listening. Use different media outlets too - in my genre, there's GRM, Link Up, and SBTV.

Get what you deserve from this earth, too, because no one is going to just give it to you. It's going to require a lot of sacrifices, but as long as you're making progress, that's all that matters. Let go and let God.

Check out DeeWain on Spotify today.

A spotlight on side hustles: Creating and baking

Images: Amy Deeprose (@amybakesuk)

"Choose a job you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life."  We've all heard that saying, right? Well, Confucius, it ain't always that easy. We may not have known what we love back when we were studying, sometimes you've gotta hella graft for ages before you can properly achieve what you love, and sometimes what we love might have changed.

More and more, people aren't just doing their nine-to-fives, but also have a passion project - a side hustle, if you will - that they maintain in the hope of it becoming their main job in the future, so they achieve this elusive notion.

Arron Watson-McNab, 26, works full-time as a therapy assistant at a prestigious London hospital, as well as freelancing as a writer and photographer. His side hustle is photography - Faces, Places & Laces - while Dwain Caulker-Johnson, 25, is a part-time retail worker, whose passion is making music, under the stage name DeeWain. Amy Deeprose, or amybakesuk, 26, is a design engineer who uses her design knowledge in the cakes she bakes on the side. In a three-part series, I have quizzed them on how they manage their day-to-day jobs and maintain their side hustle, and how they hope to develop it in the future.

This week, it's Amy. Intrigued by the others, too? Then check out Arron and Dwain, as well.

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How long have you been baking and how did you get into it?

It's been 10 years. During my college A-level exams, I began baking cakes and learning to decorate them as a means of stress relief from revision. Then, when the baking got too much, the revision seemed like a break, so it worked out quite well.

What motivates you to make time to bake, though?

Enjoyment, stress release, people wanting to eat cake… Also, it's a creative challenge!

Do you see any return from it?

At the moment, I have only been baking for friends and family, but this helps spread my reputation by word of mouth, so when I eventually start running it as a proper side-business, it will mean I have a larger portfolio to do so.

This is legit a cake!

This is legit a cake!

What challenges have you faced maintaining your baking on the side?

Mainly time. Given that I work full-time, if I have a large cake - such as a wedding cake – I’ll have to take a day off work, or plan my schedule carefully, which can sometimes mean a full working day, followed by six hours an evening over a couple, or more, days baking and decorating for an event.

Also, creating content for social media can be a bit of a challenge; making cakes can cost money and isn't something that’s as quick as some people might imagine, so having new content is something that can be difficult.

Do you invest any of your own money into your venture?

Yes! On equipment mainly - though sometimes, I’m given a small sum of money towards consumables. However, I am usually giving my baked goods as presents. 

Do you consider your baking a business?

While I still feel I am learning, and don't have all my ducks in a row just yet, I feel it cannot be one. However, when I have decent enough portfolio and some qualifications under my belt, it definitely could be - many people have suggested it should!

What is your long-term career goal?

To run my own business part-time cake-making, alongside other business ventures, either in products or management.

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to turn their hobby into their job?

Have a loose plan for a transition period where your hobby won't be a business, but you can use that time to grow your network - it's here where you may invest a lot of your own money. Taking jobs for a small fee, or free, is often necessary, too. Also, the best people to start networking with are your friends and family, and it grows from there.

Definitely make sure you have [an adequate] cash-flow and a business plan that's adaptable, and remember, if you survive a year as an actual business, then that's a massive milestone!

Order an amybakesuk creation - or set her a baking challenge - today.

Leukaemia Awareness Month: Using grief for something positive

Images: Kerri Walter (@kerriwalterphotography)

Google defines Leukaemia as "a malignant progressive disease in which the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs produce increased numbers of immature or abnormal leukocytes. These suppress the production of normal blood cells, leading to anemia and other symptoms." In layman's terms, it is cancer of the blood where, as more cancer cells are produced, the body is less capable of making healthy white blood cells - the guys that help us fight infections.  

September is Leukaemia Awareness Month (referred to as Blood Cancer Awareness Month on this side of the pond) and, while it is all good and well knowing what Leukaemia is in theory, it is a disease that affects more than just the person's blood: on an emotional level, it is a horrible disease that affects not only the sufferer, but the people around them, too. 

According to the Cancer Research UK website, 27 people are diagnosed with Leukaemia each day, and one in 63 men, and one in 94 women, will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime. Five days before her 25th birthday, Georgia Hutchins passed away from this form of cancer. 

"I didn't know much about Leukaemia when I found out Georgia had it, apart from that it was cancer of the blood. Initially, I thought she'd stand a good chance of fighting it because she was so young and healthy - there was literally nothing wrong with her, yet she was gone within three months of diagnosis," said her friend, Zoey Lewis. 

Zoey & Georgia - Image: Zoey Lewis

Zoey & Georgia - Image: Zoey Lewis

Georgia and Zoey met in secondary school; they sat next to each other on their first day of year 7 and hit it off straight away. Throughout school, they were inseparable, doing normal things all girls growing up in Essex do, along with the rest of their friendship group.

"I can't really remember a situation when Georgia wasn't there when we were growing up," Zoey reflects. "Even if she wasn't in my class, she'd be helping me revise and, after leaving school, she was always at the end of the phone. She would always text us at 6am on Christmas Day without fail and we had long conversations on the phone during every Eurovision contest."

As the girls got older, Zoey recalls that Georgia was excellent at organising things and would be the one to set up a dinner, or other plans, for the friendship group: "you could always count on her; she would never let you down or let you be forgotten."

Georgia was diagnosed with Leukaemia in February 2018 and, unfortunately, Zoey was unable to see her at the time as her immune system was quite vulnerable. However, she seemed quite upbeat and positive on the phone, and was really quite blown away by everyone's response. 

Throughout her illness in the months that followed, meeting up obviously became harder. "I bought her lots of little pampering gifts, which ended up staying at my desk at work because she'd be too tired. Also, if I, or anyone else, had a cold or an illness, we were not allowed to visit in case it harmed her immune system."

On 24th May, Georgia sadly succumbed to her illness. However, despite her grief, Zoey is channeling her energy into doing something positive in Georgia's memory. "I couldn't just let her go without doing something for her as a thank you for everything she did for me in the past. At the funeral, I learned apparently Georgia was so blown away by the care she received that she said she'd be poor for the rest of her life because she'd give all her money away to charity! That was the point I silently said to her, "okay, let's do this"; Georgia had cut off her hair when she was told she'd probably lose it and she donated it to charity. Her bravery and selfless attitude made my shave seem really simple. I had nothing to lose apart from my hair, whereas Georgia had everything on the line."

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"[When I first shaved my head] everyone said I really suited it! The first week or so, I did get a few stares from people on the street, but I don't notice them anymore. I feel proud to know the reason I don't have any hair, even if the people looking at me don't know!"

On a jovial level, Zoey noticed a few things: "wind is a strange experience. Showers are strange, too. I reach for my hairbrush in the mornings automatically, then laugh. I keep going to brush my fringe out of my eyes and tuck my hair behind my ears, or play with my ponytail, forgetting it's not there."

Currently raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust, at the time of publishing this piece, Zoey has raised £3,710 on her JustGiving page alone, but has also done other things, like bake sales, that have added to her fundraising total. "I think Georgia would have been happy with [the bake sale]; she was excellent in the kitchen."

Zoey added: "I'm grateful for the time we live in - I would never have been able to raise this much without the use of social media and being able to reach out to the people I didn't know, but Georgia did."

Teenage Cancer Trust, along with Clic Sargent, supported Georgia throughout her illness and Zoey plans to also do fundraising for the latter within the year. This stretch has been her first time fundraising for charity and credits her success to Georgia herself: "if she hadn't been so loving and giving, most people wouldn't have given this a second thought."

To donate to the Teenage Cancer Trust on Zoey's JustGiving page, click here.

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Why it's okay to change your career as many times as you want

Images: Kerri Walter (Instagram: @kerriwalterphotography)

So, you've done it all by the book; you've headed to Sixth Form or college, got into a good uni, spent as much of your time interning as you did drinking through funnels, and landed your perfect job upon graduation. Life is good! You're getting paid, you can see a progression path, and your career is turning out to be everything you dreamed of in those 9am (lol) lectures. But what happens when it's not? What happens when you wake up and decide you no longer want to do that career you mapped out for yourself at 16 years old?

This is the position many of us find ourselves in - and not just in our 20s. I have many friends in their 30s, and even 40s, who have lost the passion for what they do and want a change of career, but have MAJOR fears about committing to something new. 

We get ourselves in a panic: will I need to start from the bottom again? Do I need to go back and study? Has everything so far been a waste? Am I gonna be earning less? Will I lose my flat? Would this even be the right decision?! 

Right, let me just say, these thoughts are totally normal. Change brings about uncertainty and your job is a huge part of your life to be unsure about. You spend more time at work than anywhere else, if you're a full-time worker.

Despite following the traditional path myself, earlier this year, I chose to take my writing career in a different direction. Part of the reason I had the confidence to do so is because of my mother. She has had multiple career changes since she was 16 and has excelled in all of them. From telemarketing to midwifery, with primary school teaching in between, she has always landed on her feet. She didn't follow the 'path' and actually got her university degree when I was around 10 years old. Currently a community public health nurse, I asked for her advice...

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At what age did you change careers?

My most significant career changes - from teacher to midwife, then to community public health nurse - were at ages 32 and 48. 

What led you to change your career each time?

There were many reasons! Some were pretty life-changing events, such as moving country, the end of a relationship and wanting a university degree, but then there were the more generic reasons, too, like wanting more financial security. With my career choices, in particular, I wanted to be a specialist in a specific health field and, of course, I wanted to make a difference.

What challenges did you face when applying for these different roles?

With having three children, particularly with one under the age of 16, childcare was an issue, as was the financial strain I encountered with returning to academic study. When I moved into midwifery, I had to face the physical and emotional challenges of working in the NHS, which I wasn't used to. Long 12-hour shifts and night shifts are no joke! Finding a work-life balance can also be hard, especially when you're working, as well as studying.

How have your previous careers benefited the ones that followed?

Education and health are the main threads throughout my working life, as well as nursing, parenting and child development. Teaching gave me the basis of child development knowledge, communication, and good interpersonal skills, while midwifery gave me transferable skills in clinical and evidence-based knowledge for maternity - from pregnancy through to birth and the postnatal period for mothers and babies. My public health sector role has evolved from midwifery in that I deal with issues from birth up to five-year-olds, and with their families. These issues range from parenting to child development, as well as public health issues such as obesity, immunisations, safeguarding and social issues, such as domestic violence and mental health. 

What did you want to be when you were younger? 

A nurse - I used to give my brother injections with knitting needles as practice!

What workplace support have you received when changing careers?

When I did my university degree in midwifery, government funding was available. Thankfully, I was also being paid a nurse's salary to work, train and study when I did my postgraduate diploma to become a community public health nurse.

What advice do you have for people who worry about starting over when they are already established in their field? 

Do it! You are never too old to retrain and start a new career. You can use all your experience and knowledge, as they are transferable skills. Follow your dreams, as you can achieve anything you are determined to do. You can reinvent yourselves as much as you wish to, and make a positive difference to yourself and others in the process.

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