Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Winter Blues

The past few weeks I have been down. You know that feeling where you are overwhelmed by the sense that ‘something is missing’ but you’re damned if you know what that ‘something’ is? It feels like a battle to drag yourself out of bed in the morning, and a mission to get to work. Well I had a prolonged attack of emptiness last week. What the reason was I think was a classic case of the winter blues, we had several days of uninterrupted gloom, and several of my friends complained of the same ailment: a nagging sense of misery and overall blahness. Unfortunately, my usual antidote for these days is comfort food. Usually cheese. Which is not good -- it gives me nightmares. Other ways I have found which give me a temporary boost are: shopping (that then makes you poor), and watching feel good films. Good strategies for short term relief of the winter blues, but really I need something longer lasting.

I had read in Prof. Richard Wisemans book “:59 seconds. Think a little change alot” that a sure fire way to perk up your mood for a prolonged(ish) period of time was to write a gratitude list. In keeping with the title of his book, he recommends taking less than a minute to write 5 things you are grateful for. At the time my mood was so low, I barely managed an “I am grateful for a nice warm cosy bed”. Anyhow, I managed another 4 (I am grateful that I have: decent friends, fun friends, and reliable friends and that some friends were all 3 combined, was the pinnacle of the list!). It actually helped. He also recommends small acts of kindness, and that for long term happiness it truly is better to give than to receive. For example, experiments show that when people spend a bonus on family or friends they are happier for longer than those who spent said bonus on themselves. Well, I usually phone my extended family on Eid, and sometimes a leetle part of me thinks that maybe for once they could call me, but not this time. I kept Wisemans advise in mind, and reminded myself that the people I am called are much older than me, and actually really enjoyed my phone calls.

Another book that has been my constant companion in times of blueness is the “Dont Be Sad” book by Dr Al-Qarni (not sure of english spelling). It tackles the issues of the dark side of humanity (depression, anxiety, loneliness, low self esteem and their ilk), with an Islamic theme to it. Al-Qarni is a well read man and quotes many non-Muslim thinkers and psychologists (Freud and Ghandi to name two). He includes many inspirational narratives, hadiths, poems, verses from the Quran as well as quotes from philosophers and psychologists. This book is a slow read, because each small paragraph leaves you with much to think about. The main things of this book that I remember is again the attitude of gratitude, to remind ourselves of what we have, and how others may suffer more. To remind ourselves that not everything that we hate is bad for us, to accept the past, to SMILE (again mentioned in the Wiseman book, if you cant smile, bite on a pencil it apparently has the same effect) and penultimately to behave in this world as travelers, with our final destination yet to come. I remember going through a phase of loneliness, and randomly picking up this book. I liked how he put a positive spin on this state, that being alone is not necessarily a bad thing, and that much can be achieved through being on ones own.

So, what suggestions do this blogs dear readers have for beating the winter blues?

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Taking the road less travelled

Snippets of conversations:


“Why dont you quit your job and go live with your parents?”

my parents are only temporarily living in another country, why should I follow them?

“Why dont you quit your job and go live your parents?”

*sigh* InshAllah


“Why dont you work for company X? I have contacts there?”

why should I? it is not exactly in my field? and my current job requires more skills and I find it more exciting.

“Good pay and it is where your parents are now, and a better chance of finding a husband!”

but I like where I work! and anyway my parents only temporarily ...




[This conversation or variants of it continue for MONTHS until]

OK! I will apply, and because of your contacts I will get an interview. I will then charm their

socks off at said interview and get the job! Then, when they offer me it, I will say NO. Would that make you look good in front of your contact?


[conversation killed]


“Your brother wants to move to the city where your parents are and is looking for a job there”

why dont you use your contacts in company X and get him the job?

No, company X is not challenging, its not fair on him to work there.

[No, this was not based on differences in our personalities]


“You are crazy! who would leave their parents?!”

First, they left me, and second, you actually DID leave your parents and flew half way across the world!

That’s different, that was where my husbands work is.

and MY work is here!!!

Leave this work, find something where your parents are.

They dont have my field in that country, and I am still junior so I cant start up a company there.

But that country is rich, they can sponsor and they are always looking for new business ventures ...

I am junior and ... Inshallah


[Same people as conv 4]

How come you uprooted the kids and moved to a new city? You were happy where you were

For my husbands career progression. So what are you going to do when your contract ends.

Look for a new job, I am applying all over the world, its really exciting, even though a bit scary ...

OMG!! Go to your parents! Find a man! Do something for yourself

[or a common variant: its time to think of yourseld, find a husband]

who do you think I am thinking of? My family does not need the salary... I work because I enjoy the work!


[This is a bit of an oldie but still...]

If you choose that profession no man will want you*

excellent! a filter for the egotists.


I want grandchildren!

Ok Mum, let me just nip out to the shops.


[I hate the pressure building up inside me]

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Eid Mubarak!

This is just a little post
wish everyone
a blessed and happy
Eid Al-Adha!

Eid Mubarak!

and don' forget Imaan Networkings Eid party on
the 5th of December 7:00 pm
further details can be found at:

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Hijab Threat and the Airport

I wear a headscarf, usually wound tightly around my head so that if there was anything untoward hiding under there it would show up as a clear bump. Certainly I could conceal alot more in my padded bra than between my rather fine hair follicles... so can someone tell me WHY airports in the UK have taken to inspecting my headscarf and ONLY my headscarf at the security barrier?

It is not intrusive and only takes a few seconds.But the ramifications of people seeing this being done I think are massive. This check is so devoid of logic that it can only mean an attempt to demonise the headscarf and give it a sinister vibe.

So here is the deal I want to make with my fellow scarf wearers, when asked at the aiport to allow a headscarf check, do not refuse but insist on one of the following:

1- a private room where the check can be carried out. I do this and even offer to take it off (in front of women) if they are that worried about, but not in front of other people.

2- a FULL body check so that onlookers do not think that it is the headscarf that they are worried about.


Monday, 9 November 2009

House Sharing and House Hunting in London

I think one of the main lets call them ‘adventures’ I had in London has to do with accommodation. When I moved here two years ago to embark on my new career, I could neither afford nor did I want to live on my own. In this big city I thought house sharing would be the quickest way to meet people, and get to know London. In these two years I ended up moving 3 times, have lived in 3 different boroughs and have experienced life both North and South of the River. I have been in a lodger in an ex-council flat, a tenant in a fancy yet freezing terraced flat, and finally a head tenant/pseudo landlady in a modern cosy (I am never moving again so will love it) flat.

The house hunting bit in itself was stressful, as much as I enjoy nosing about other peoples houses, and seeing how others live, the worry that I may end up tied to a 12 month lease with druggie/loud music at 1 am loving/rude/smelly neighbors always weighed heavily on my mind. Yet I have been rather fortunate, in that my ability to ‘thin slice’ has been honed rather well over the years, and my split decisions (which are a requirement when house hunting) have yet to fail me... I say yet, I always worry the monster is lurking round the corner.

Now, whether I was looking for a house share or advertising for a flat mate, I started off down the Muslim route i.e. looking for a Muslim house mate. My reasoning was two fold, I expected (and expectation is the devil by the way) that our lifestyles would be compatible, and as such certain issues would not need to be mentioned, and the other was to avoid conflict. When I first moved here I succeeded in finding a house share where the landlady was Muslim, and the other housemate was not. I got on famously with both of them, and I am still great friends with the landlady (I think I see as much of her now as when I lived with her), but here was where expectation failed me. My concept of ‘no boyfriends’ got convoluted in my head to ‘no boys’ (as in spending the night), since I did not see why it mattered to me what relation the boy sleeping in the room next door had to the girl sleeping next door? But I discovered that this is not an opinion that is shared by many women (including Muslim women), so both housemates had their (may I add pleasant and polite) brothers to stay (for may I again add, a short period of time). I never complained as it wasn't against the preset house rules, and it was very rarer anyway. But I decided that for next time I would clarify this point, just in case they had brothers who liked to visit more often, and who were not very nice.

My next move was with my brother, so naturally we had expectations of each other, and being siblings neither of us felt obliged to honour them. So that was that, we had big arguments, resolved nothing then promptly laughed at ourselves and (largely) forgot about it. If anyone knows of a better way of sibling interactions please do let me know. We had decided on a flat that was equidistant from our workplaces, which still left me facing a daily hour commute to work each way. Initially I enjoyed it and finished quite a few books, but after a while, believe you me, it becomes tedious. Especially with all the delays, sudden cancellations and being dropped off 3 stops before yours in a flipping snowstorm (well it was a storm by London standards). So when he left for sunnier pastures, I immediately started looking for somewhere within walking distance of my office. While flat hunting if I had to so much as LOOK at a tube to get to work that flat was crossed off the list. I saw some lovely flats in the skankiest of places (anyone fancy living between 2 flyovers?), beautiful flats which were out of my budget which the estate agent wanted to rub in my face, and really awful flats which were being rented out at £1000+ a month simply because of ‘location’. By this time I was looking for a flat, not a houseshare, because I wanted the perfect place and planned on then looking for a the perfect housemate. I finally settled on a modern flat with lovely views, a secure entrance, and a 20 minute walk from work, a better location than some of the horrid flats I saw. My offer was accepted (you are allowed to put in an offer on a rental, I found this out by accident) and I moved in within two weeks. I hired a mover from gumtree (£55 for a move that was 30 miles across london!), and started looking for a housemate.

I thought that would be the easy part, well naivety is still endearing isnt it? I advertise for months, on the salaam.co.uk forums, on gumtree, on muslim-ads.co.uk, and finally on moveflat.co.uk. I even trawled through the profiles of people seeking houseshares on these sites and contacted those who I thought may be interested in the flat. I tried several different rewordings of the advert, eventually hitting upon the winning formula of less is more, and even withdrew my one and only ‘rule’, the ‘no men to spend the night’ rule. I received a few emails from Muslim women, most wanted a discount which I could not offer, and others ceased emailing after a while (no explanation just silence, which I did not appreciate, I would have preferred some feedback). Eventually I interviewed two women within a few days of each other, the first a Filipina was very reserved and the only time I elicited a reaction (one of surprise) was when I mentioned the men rule and that I was a Muslim, I did not hear from her again. The second was a Portugese lecturer of language, who I ‘clicked’ with straight away. I had been advised by my friend and ex-landlady not to make an offer straight away, but to hedge a bit and say that I would get back to her. This went out of the window, when I mentioned the men rule, instead of humming and saying she could live with it, she was evidently delighted with it! Like me she was uncomfortable with men in the house, and thought this ‘rule’ made it an ideal place for her. She was also very considerate about the fact that I was Muslim, and even asked whether I would mind if she had the odd glass of port or wine in the house! This really impressed me, I do not have an issue with alcohol consumption, and joked that the only scenario I would be uncomfortable with would be someone coming home so drunk she threw up all over the living room! This lady is not that type at all (very clear from her manners), and I offered her the room on the spot and she accepted. Within 4 days she had moved in, and I am really pleased she did, I find her very easy to get on with.

I had prayed alot for a decent person to share the flat with me, and I have heard somewhere that when we make the Istikhara prayer, then if the thing you are praying for is good for you it will happen easily and quickly... certainly worked this time!

If you’re looking for a house mate or a house share check out these websites:


www.salaam.co.uk, on their noticeboard section you will find both accommodation and prospective housemates. The site is run and is targeted at Muslims.


www.moveflat.co.uk, this has the best format, and is targeted at professionals.

Any other suggestions are welcome, and will be added to the list.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Birthdays and Bicycles

I had a really eventful week! I had a birthday and have crossed over into a new decade, and I finally rode my bicycle! And I am not sure which is more exciting! My bicycle is a beautiful ridgeback rapide speed womens bike, that is three years old, and used to belong to a Newzealander in London who rode it for over 20 miles every day. I found her on gumtree, she was the first bike I looked at and it was love at first sight! I bought her immediately, and had a canny time getting her across London. The journey took over an hour (usually it is a 30 min journey) and included tubes, overgrounds and DLRs.

That was two months ago, and since then she has been snuggled into my spare room, and I have looked in on her daily to smile indulgently at her and ring her bell. I even bought a fancy solid bike lock, and a proper bike helmet. The only problem was that I was completely and utterly terrified of riding a bike on the streets of London. After a month Ramadan graced us, and I used the excuse of wanting to conserve energy so that I could make it through the day to avoid taking her out, but once that was over, I ran out of excuses.

So, last Sunday, I woke up early (pre-8 am!), and in a state of stupor that suppresses fear, I got dressed and took the bike out. I strapped the helmet to my head, ignored the muppet sensation, and hopped on the bike... from there it was easy, I guess with age comes a deeper appreciation of childhood pastimes, and the thrill of riding a bike overshadowed any fears I had of cars squishing me. I cycled all the way to Columbia flower market, a Sunday market on the Hackney/Bethnal green border dedicated to, well, flowers and house plants. This is one of my favourite places in London, to get to it from further East, you work your way past the Asian clothes shops on Bethnal green road, then turn right, away from Brick Lane with its famed curry houses and leather shops (v. random combination I think), and then through blocks of slightly run down council flats, and then ti li ling (the sound Disney plays when magic is afoot) columbia road flower market, a small street bursting with colour. On either side of the road, behind the flower and plant stands, are quirky little shops, selling fragrance, second hand china and cutlery, fabric, hand made greeting cards and various other knick knacks. Walking through the market, I feel that the greenery engulfs me. The flowers on offer are standard but abundant, and each tradesman seems to have his/her own favourite plant, and it seems they all sell for a fiver. So you can get a dozen roses or massive oriental flowers for £5. The quality is excellent, and the flowers last a week or two. I particularly like the pepper plant seller, he has these tiny little bushes which sprout tiny little green, yellow and orange peppers, which I am sure are cultivated by pixies. Through the market to your left you will find old style bakeries (Jones something), who make really nice Nicaraguan coffee, which you can enjoy while sitting on a bench outside listening to the busker. Even the buskers there are good, and definitely not annoying, and even I (a busker ingrate) tip (pay?) them in Columbia Road Flower Market.

Later in the week, I made the big transition from one decade to another. I heralded the dawn of this new age, and my new found penchant for dramatic statements, with dinner with some close friends in Gilgamesh, one of the most amazing restaurants in London. It is in the heart of the stable markets in Camden town, and is known for its unique and intricate decoration. Every wall is covered in wood and carved with babylonian art, apparently experts were brought in to create this artwork that tells the tale of Gilgamesh s’ quest for heroism. Everything in the place reflects this, pillars are inlaid with mother of pearl and lapis, the tables and chairs are unique pieces fit perfectly into the overall decor.

Everything about that evening was amazing, we arrived on time, found parking a short 3 min walk from the place. Upon arrival, the friendly hostess guided us through the throng of happy diners, to what we gleefully realised was the best seat in the house! It was a round table, with a curved seat going all the way round (a bit like a waltzer), a step lead up to the self-contained area, which was set in the corner of the restaurant overlooking everyone else. We felt like Queens! The menu is expensive, but funnily enough they had a special offer during October (its like they knew!) of 50% off the set menu. For £20 we got 3 mouth watering starters of Hoisin duck spring rolls, prawn dumplings and salmon salad, followed by a choice of Japanese stir fried beef with Thai green mash or fish curry, and finished off with heavenly (and it was heavenly) sorbet and lemon grass brule. Along with the usual alcoholic beverages, cocktails and soft drinks, Gilgamesh has a list of mocktails (non-alcoholic fruit cocktails) on offer!! As we listened in rapture as the best waiter in the world ticked off these options, he then presented us with the cherry for our ever burgeoning cake, it ... was ... all ... halal!!! We were there for three hours, and were having such a nice time that it was a shock to realise that it was 11 pm when we left.

All in all, this has been, and I insert a very sincere Alhamdulilallah here, one of those really ‘good’ weeks, and hence, dear reader, your subjection to a very smug post :)