Happy International Women’s Day! Being a feminist and being a travel addict can sometimes cause problems, from the politics of travel safety advice to the never-ending stream of sexist travel campaigns (ahem, Air New Zealand flight safety video featuring bikini-clad girls…). However, when you dig deeper, you’ll find enlightened feminist views across the world.
Today, the International Labour Organisation published the ILO-Gallup report, revealing that 70% of women and 66% of men (from nearly 149,000 people surveyed) would like women to be paid for their work. These positive findings included support from many women in countries where paid employment is rare, such as the UAE.
Last night, for the princely sum of £5 (plus free Prosecco, guys!), I joined a room full of other ambitious 20-somethings and 30-somethings to learn about the barriers blocking our creativity. The venue, Angela Hartnett’s Cafe Murano in Covent Garden, was the ideal backdrop to a Grazia Collective panel of talented women from across the literary board.
“Give yourself permission for the first draft to be rubbish.” Laura Jane Williams
This wasn’t an evening of airy motivation talks about releasing the novel inside us all (bleurgh), or patronising sermons on ‘how to live your best life’ (further bleurgh). It was aimed at any kind of creative woman who struggles to get their project off the ground, whether because of time constraints, work-life balance or the propensity to procrastinate.
Amid last year’s mental health scandals – including spending cuts, insensitive comments from politicians, and crisis care failures – there was a big step forward in tackling the stigma of psychological illness. It came from a newly-opened museum and charity: Bethlem Museum of the Mind, in Beckenham, Kent, recently nominated for the 2016 Museum of the Year award.
Yes, the name might sound familiar. Bethlem is the fourth site of the notorious hospital better known as Bedlam. You won’t find power-crazed doctors leaving patients in chains – a stereotypical mental image associated with the ‘madhouse’ of earlier centuries – but you will find a place where modern mental illness is explained. What’s more, entry is free, and it’s open to everyone.
Lawrence Durrell once said that “Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection.” I’m a big advocate of travelling for wellbeing, but I’ve also blogged about what it’s like to be away when you’re depressed, and how you can get through it. One big issue remains: finding travel insurance to cover depression can be a bit of a nightmare because, as the FCO says, it needs to be declared as a pre-existing medical condition. That policy will protect you from any health-related issues that may crop up during your trip, but you’ll pay a lot for the privilege.
I’m sick of reading the flippant phrase ‘post-travel depression’ – something millennials are obsessed with, describing it on forums and websites as ‘so real’ and ‘so intense’.
‘Depression’ is an all too casually misused word, bandied about in frustrating but not earth-shattering moments, like when your football team loses or you find out Zayn is leaving One Direction. Equally, if you feel deflated after a trip to Bali, you’re not depressed and you don’t need this post. I want to draw attention to tangible clinical depression, which is about as much fun as sticking pins in your eyes, and affects one in five adults during their lifetime.
The website says it best: ‘At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death.’ Not to discuss the weather, or your latest celebrity crush, but something much more dramatic and important that affects us all. You know, the big impending sense of doom that we Brits are generally too polite to talk about.
Death Cafe is a unique not-for-profit franchise, spearheaded by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz in 2004, pops up all over the world. The UK-led website (inspired by Crettaz and run by Jon Underwood) lists 1325 previous meetings, which have been held everywhere from San Diego to Stratford-Upon-Avon, and from Brisbane to Beijing; it’s hoped a permanent cafe can be established in London soon.
Now we can admit we’re not safe from pouting posers in the shadows of a city gallery or on a sun-bleached Thai beach, perhaps it’s time we all acknowledged the growing trend of the self-absorbed holiday. You know, the one where the background is fairly immaterial, an all-inclusive resort or a luxury yacht is hungrily booked up and the tourist doesn’t actually have to tour anything. They might venture out on a very occasional excursion, but it will mainly be an exercise in creating photo opportunities (starring themselves) and trying not to engage with anyone who doesn’t speak impeccable English.
There are many conventional ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, but staring at a naked man with a group of strangers beside you probably isn’t one of them. Neither is it very conventional to then sit and discuss with said strangers the eight critical moments in your life when you really became aware of your body, but that happened too. Don’t worry, I haven’t joined a cult – I was one of the participants at Philip Cowell’s workshop on life writing (with the addition of a nude model), held as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love.
If you thought British police love their paperwork a little too much, you’ll be astounded by the number of Cuban policemen and women it takes to file a report, especially when computers are scarce. During the six hours I spent with my sister across two stations reporting being robbed on the Malecón, I also realised that officers are reluctant to solve crimes in the rain, their squad cars are on the verge of breaking down, and they don’t need cigarette breaks because they can smoke where they like. Who needs museums when you have all this to experience?
Obviously the title’s a bit of a giveaway here, so I’ll cut to the chase: my first 24 hours in the Cuban capital involved being a victim of robbery on the Malecón, breaking down in tears several times in public (there goes any semblance of street cred) and subsequently spending six hours across two of the city’s police stations with a big language barrier to overcome.
To say this was no picnic would be a massive understatement; despite reading up on the topic of poverty and crime in Havana, I was hardly prepared to have my bag strap cut from me with a knife, and in broad daylight. Whilst this isn’t the topic I wanted to talk about first when blogging about Cuba, it’s one that I just had to start with, because it altered everything.