Why We Are About to See an Entrepreneurship Boom in the UAE

As the world gets to grips with a virus that it doesn’t fully understand, stock markets plunge and soar, and political institutions across the globe continue to tremor, it’s easy to see the future as unpredictable. 

However, amid all the uncertainty, one trend has remained constant. Small or medium enterprises (SMEs) are part of a fast-growing business sector that specializes in ‘strengthening productivity, delivering more inclusive growth and adapting to megatrends’, according to an OECD report.

The COVID-19 crisis has been the catalyst for several megatrends across the world — including increased home working and use of technology — and SMEs are in a prime position to capitalize. One of the leading SME hotspots in the global arena is the UAE. 

The impact of SMEs on the Emirati economy is difficult to overestimate: 94% of registered companies are start-ups — employing the vast majority of the private sector workforce — while SMEs alone make up 40% of Dubai’s GDP. As such, the UAE government has stated its ambition to enhance the performance of the SME sector in the future.

It’s likely that the industry is set to flourish in the post-COVID landscape, and there are four clear stimulants that make the UAE the perfect breeding ground for entrepreneurship.

Government guidance

The UAE government recognizes how crucial SMEs are to the economy. Their initiative, the National SME Programme, provides financial support to entrepreneurs as a way of helping them to grow their idea and overcome obstacles.

Operating under the guidance of the UAE SME council — a group of government-appointed experts — the programme can be broken down into three important fragments:

  • Financial support: Direct state funding gives start-ups the means to survive an uncertain economic climate via grants and subsidized taxing measures. 
  • Knowledge sharing: Participants receive access to business expertise through workshops and seminars, as well as a specialized database that contains market information.
  • Use of cutting-edge methods and facilities: The programme provides pioneering technology and business tools that give entrepreneurs a springboard towards achieving their goals.

Such support from the nation’s government underlines their desire to be at the forefront of the global SME industry. By pooling together the best resources and talent into one accessible programme, the country is helping to create scalable enterprises that are well-prepared to deal with the demands of a volatile post-COVID world.

Social entrepreneurship

Aside from government involvement, the UAE boasts a thriving social entrepreneurship sector, with many businesses set up to nurture budding SMEs. 

Like the government, they focus on providing start-ups with the tools to thrive in an unpredictable business landscape, but with one key difference: a tailored plan of action that pinpoints what that enterprise needs to succeed. 

CE-Creates is a prominent example of this type of venture. They focus on incubating new startups so that they are well-placed to deal with volatile marketing conditions. 

They achieve this via two principal methods: building resilience and ensuring sustainable growth.

CE Director Samer Choucair outlined this approach in a recent interview with Haykal Media. Businesses under CE’s stewardship become more robust due to efficient cost-cutting measures, such as ethical waste management and sourcing of materials. They also follow key Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria that makes them more attractive investment prospects. 

Their portfolio contains companies in the refreshment, clothing and transport industries with strategies aimed at thriving in a crisis-hit business world. Their green mobility start-up, ION, promotes ‘sustainable transport solutions’ in the ongoing battle to curb carbon emissions, while another, industrial clothing specialist Shamal, focuses on optimal outdoor clothing for workers in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, where temperatures can reach over 45c. 

Ventures like CE-Creates use their know-how to add immense value to promising startups. The UAE’s vibrant startup scene is a perfect environment for them to invest in SMEs and offer them strategic guidance in developing industries in the post-COVID era. 

A focus on technology

The COVID-19 crisis has sped up technological development. With consumers more likely to use services digitally rather than in person, it is imperative that start-ups embrace tech innovation. 

SMEs in the UAE benefit from being part of an ambitious digital sphere in 2020 with investment set to soar in the near future. Artificial intelligence (AI), an industry expected to generate $2.9 trillion of business value globally by 2021, will be at the forefront of the nation’s business mind, and the UAE hopes to be one of the leading Middle Eastern nations when it comes to adopting AI solutions. Their AI program aims to make the nation a major tech hub, and SMEs will incorporate low-cost solutions, such as chatbots and machine learning, into their business plans, vastly increasing productivity and customer service.

Fintech is also something that the UAE has embraced. Projects such as the Fintech Hive combine the technology and finance spheres; uniting companies from the two sectors and offering mentorship and funding. Hundreds of UAE startups applied for Fintech Hive’s program in 2020, reflecting a growing demand for SMEs of this nature. 

As the world economy staggers through the worst pandemic in a century, businesses are reaching out for the comfort of digital innovation to guide them through stormy economic weather. The UAE’s status as a hotbed for technological growth makes it an ideal home for SMEs looking to utilize tech in their operations. 

Sustainable development

The COVID-19 outbreak heightened the already high demand for sustainable development. Lockdown measures had a severe economic impact across the globe, but it also showed positive environmental effects. One report estimated that there were 11,000 fewer air pollution-related deaths in 2020 compared to the previous year.

It has led to concepts such as Green Capitalism dominating corporate agendas to reflect public demand for a cleaner planet, and the UAE government has shown commitment to related causes. It set up the National Committee on Strategic Development Goals in 2017, and a recent Oliver Wyman report reveals how the country plans to become a leader in cleaner business processes.

SMEs, such as those listed under CE-Create’s guidance, are often organic by nature, and respect environmental and ethical concerns. In the UAE, they stand to benefit from progressive government initiatives, such as the Dubai Green Fund, a Dh 1 billion project that aims to finance ecological projects at low interest rates. SMEs can also apply for funding from different private sector sources, such as Masdar’s green credit facility: the first in the Middle East.

A focus on environmental awareness is imperative for new SMEs, and the UAE provides the perfect conditions for such entities to survive.

A hotbed of homegrown entrepreneurship

A key method of assessing a nation’s suitability for startups is a PESTLE analysis, which takes into account political, economic, social and technological factors that contribute to success. The UAE appears to score highly in several of those areas through the following:

  • Government funding, providing political and economic weight to the chances of SME success, as well as enhanced expertise and financing in the private sector
  • A commitment to sustainability and a greener post-COVID business world
  • An eye for technological advancement through the likes of AI and Fintech.

Such factors contribute to making the UAE a hotbed for SME talent in 2020, and offers reassuring stability to aspiring entrepreneurs following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What We Can Learn From the Writing of Anthony Bourdain

An article for Craft Your Content

Anthony Bourdain was the rock ‘n’ roll star of the culinary world. He made his name in the white-hot hell of New York kitchens, and was known for his cavalier style and love of French cuisine. 

He also loved to write. He found it therapeutic, a way to gather his thoughts and ideas away from the gleaming knives and fiery threats of the cookhouse.

But his passion for the kitchen also glowed through his writing. He treated words the same way as he handled ingredients—with a deep respect for their flavor, but a commitment to simplicity over fuss. 

Writing the way he spoke, his style was no-nonsense and to the point, almost aggressive. After his death in 2018, he was hailed as the “Hemingway of gastronomy” and it’s easy to see why: Both men wrote honestly and directly, and had little time for nonsense.

Bourdain’s books are a tour de force in two worlds: the literary and culinary. His nonfiction titles, from his debut, Kitchen Confidential,  in 2000 to Medium Raw 11 years later, all stay true to the same maxim: He treated the reader with respect, he didn’t patronize them, and he spoke exactly as he saw. 

Like cooking, writing is a craft. Bourdain knew that using certain techniques were key to forming that secret recipe of captivating writing that leaves readers hungry for more.

For this reason, if you want to improve your writing and wish to convey a clear, concise message to your audience, then Bourdain’s work could be the inspiration you’re looking for.  This applies to any type of writer, but particularly copywriters for whom treating words as ingredients to conjure up fruitful sales copy is an essential skill.

Start off With a Bang

Here are some chapter openings from Kitchen Confidential.

“Burning with a desire for vengeance and vindication”

“Who’s cooking your food anyway? What strange beasts lie behind the kitchen doors?”

“They were assembling machine guns for sale in the employee bathroom when I arrived”

As diverse as these opening salvos are, they all have one thing in common: They grab your attention.

Whether a reader or a diner, Anthony Bourdain knew how important it was to stir his audience’s curiosity. Just like the first bite of a dish has to make the diner crave for more, so an opening piece of text has to hook a reader. Let’s be honest, you want to know why he’s simmering with revenge, or which “beast” is cooking your food, and you’ll turn the next page to find out.

I consumed Bourdain’s book in a few hours because I wanted to know what happened next. Like the children in Hansel and Gretel, I wanted to see where the sweets led to, and Bourdain cunningly laid these anecdotal morsels out in just the right places to keep me turning pages.

As writers, we should aim to make our readers react with interest. Starting off with a story is an excellent way of doing so—we all love a good tale, after all, and if it’s something your target reader can relate to, then even better. 

Directly engaging the reader is also a smart thing to do. “Who’s cooking your food? Everyone wants to know that. Finding something relevant to them, something that provokes their curiosity, is a surefire way of hooking them.

And if you’re struggling to start off with a bang, then at least name your chapters or subheadings well. Here are Bourdain’s first three: 

  • Food is good
  • Food is sex
  • Food is pain 

Who doesn’t want to read about that?

Speak in Your Own Voice

Writers often adopt an artificially formal writing voice when putting pen to paper. A stately tone may serve a purpose if you’re aiming for a particular style. For example, maybe you want to write a flowery ode to the love of your life. And that’s fine.

More often than not, though, the “therefores” and “whences” look a little disingenuous. It’s not something we typically say in 21st-century English, and it may leave readers scratching their heads.

Bourdain knew exactly what voice he spoke in. He called it Kitchenese; a  simmering stew of spicy adjectives and bitter expletives that he slung onto a page just as easily as he’d bellow it out in a chaotic kitchen.

This cookhouse dialect may sound rude, and it was. And it was also great fun to read. 

Consider the following excerpt from Kitchen Confidential:

“If you look someone in the eye and call them a ‘worthless puddle of badger crap’ it doesn’t mean you don’t like them. It can be—and often is—a term of endearment.”

As much as it might not be to everyone’s taste, such honest writing resonates with readers. It feels like the writer is speaking directly to them, rather than from behind a veil of pretentiousness. 

Also, shooting from the hip and writing down exactly how you feel is not only therapeutic, it’s easier to do. Rather than thinking about the perfect adjective or the prettiest prose, just getting your thoughts down on paper or screen helps us overcome a huge obstacle.

It’s why “writer’s block” is overrated as a concept. Some even say it doesn’t exist.  If you’re ever stuck for what to write, just put down what’s on your mind. It might be the best thing you’ve ever written.

Let’s not Overcomplicate Things

In a similar vein to the previous point, it’s easy to pepper our prose with elegant expressions and fancy flourishes when we write. 

Problem is, as pretty as they are, they can stodge up our writing and make it a chore to read. We all like the odd show-off word, but you can have too much of a good thing. Like an overelaborate dish, sometimes the taste doesn’t live up to its frilly appearance.

Bourdain knew the dangers of overcomplicating things. In fact, he didn’t really like fancy terms. Take the time he went out with a family friend to try his first ever oyster, a true personal epiphany out on the salty flats of southern France.

“We put-putted out to a buoy marking his underwater oyster parc…”

Which verb would you use?

My first instinct was “cruised,” but that gives the image of a huge ship. A little more thought conjures up “drifted,” but then this adjective lacks a sense of purpose. 

I’d never have chosen “put-putted” in a million years, but it’s perfect. It captures both the sound of the small engine and the nimble speed at which they sailed. 

I don’t care if it isn’t a real verb, and neither did Bourdain. It just works.

On a similar note, Bourdain had a knack of summing up a complicated situation in just a few words. 

Living on the U.S. East Coast in the mid-1970s, it was easy for a young chef to fall into ways of excess. You might think his reminisces of such a time would involve a long description of the highs and the lows of a hedonistic lifestyle. But then, you might be wrong:

“Essentially, I treated the world as my ashtray.”

In just eight words, Bourdain paints a detailed picture. We can gather that he smoked a lot—probably various substances—that he treated people badly, and that he had little respect for his surroundings. 

The ability to write things succinctly is a key skill for any writer. Finding the right phrase is hard, and it’s easy to go off on tangents, but keeping your reader’s attention is crucial—and a clever, frugal use of words is central to this.

Say What You Feel. Nothing’s too Trivial if You Feel Passionately About It.

Ever used a garlic mincer? 

Well, Bourdain hated minced garlic. In fact, hate doesn’t do it justice: He loathed it. 

“I don’t know what that junk is that squeezes out the end of those things, but it ain’t garlic.”

Before laying a glove (clove?) on minced garlic purveyors with this knockout blow:

“Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.”

I’d never thought about the sin of using this utensil before reading the book. There I was, using a garlic mincer, blissfully unaware of the anguish this would cause to a famous chef on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Inspired by Bourdain’s passion, I only slice my garlic now. It does taste better, or maybe it’s my imagination. Either way, it’d make him feel better, so let’s call it my small tribute to him.

Sometimes the most interesting stuff that we write about are the little quirks that inspire us to laugh, to cry, to love, to hate.

Don’t be afraid to include the trivial stuff in your writing—if you’re passionate about it, your personality will shine through.

Readers Like to Learn Things. Give Them Something to Digest.

We read nonfiction books for many reasons. To switch off, to use our imagination, to remember past events. But perhaps the number-one reason is to gain knowledge.

A good writer knows that to get someone to pick up their book, they need to offer them something. It could be a life skill, interesting facts, or a tantalizing secret. In a similar way, chefs or restaurant owners will often instruct waiters to give diners a little background info to the delightful creation that they’re about to tuck in to. 

Bourdain offers access to a world most people don’t know about with the very name of his memoir: Kitchen Confidential. Such a title tempts the reader to find out more, to turn the pages and pick up a secret or two.

It’s a theme that the chef-turned-writer continues throughout his book, strategically placing nuggets of information along the way to force the reader into an involuntary “ohhhh, I never knew that.” 

Some of these revelations rocked the culinary world at the time. Bourdain shared the insider knowledge that you should never order fish on a Monday—most chefs make their seafood order on Thursday—and that brunch is a byword for bad restaurant staff as the best ones are needed for the busy evening shifts.

Empowering the reader with your specialist knowledge is one of the finest gifts you can give as a writer. And Bourdain was very generous in that regard. Perhaps it provides an insight that inspires a journalist to pen an article, or even just gives someone an anecdote to share with friends. 

Follow his lead and bring your ideas to the table.

Glaze Your Writing With Some Bourdain Magic and Watch It Sizzle

OK, that’s enough culinary puns for … a few moments. But it’s true that the two crafts of writing and cooking have a lot in common, which may be the reason that Anthony Bourdain excelled at both. As such, he was in prime position to offer up some gems of wisdom for budding writers.

Let’s sum it up like this:

  • Get their attention. Smatter your text with eye-catching chapter titles and spicy opening sentences. If something sounds delicious, then the reader is going to want to consume it.
  • Be yourself. Flowery adjectives and haute-cuisine terminology might look tempting, but if they lack substance and authenticity then readers won’t like it.
  • Keep it simple. The Italians are famous for making basic ingredients taste amazing. It’s similar with words. The way you use them is the key to their magic, not burying them in long, winding sentences that dilute their power. 
  • Speak from the heart. You can tell when someone’s speaking from a deep place. Pouring your heart and soul into anything, whether it be a pasta dish or an article on robots, is a key factor in making it great.
  • Offer some food for thought. Most of us want to take something away from each experience, find out something we didn’t know before. Pepper your piece with fun facts and nuggets of knowledge.

Like with great cooking, writing needs a little expert insight to turn a good piece of writing into a memorable one. By drawing on Bourdain’s experience of both the culinary and literary worlds, you can turn your content from bread-and-butter prose that pays the bills to words that melt in the mouth and stay in the memory.

5 Bertrand Russell Pearls of Wisdom That Will Help You Become a Better Writer

A website article for Craft Your Content

Feeling self-conscious, struggling to translate your thoughts into words, or just not being able to write consistently. If you’re a writer, you’ll be familiar with all of these issues.

The craft of writing is something we shape and hone over a long period of time. Often, the enormity of this task causes us to shudder; “how can I get to that level?” is what we often ask ourselves when reading the work of greats such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce.

While incredibly difficult to hit such heights, striving to reach them is a noble task and gives us the potential to create great things.

Taking inspiration from the work of master thinkers can provide writing help to take us to the next level. Often, their musings can be applied to our writing in order to make it more thoughtful, more challenging, or simply better-written.

Take Bertrand Russell, for example; a British philosopher with an unconventional outlook on life. Growing up in Victorian England in the late 19th century, society was firmly entrenched in old-fashioned ideas of class and religion. 

But the young Russell rebelled against such notions.

Like a plant turning towards the sun, he aspired for the light of knowledge and understanding the world around him; free from the societal norms of the time. It led him down paths of discovery, a lifetime of learning and to a mind like a treasure trove of wisdom.

This fantastic mind is still with us today in the form of more than 60 books (and over 2,000 articles) in which he covers a wide range of topics, from Western philosophy to mathematics to modern languages. In this wealth of material, there is an abundance of knowledge which we can make use of to become better writers.

So, if you’re looking for that jolt of inspiration to resolve your writing issues, take heed of Russell’s pearls of wisdom to help you climb the literary ladder.

Pearl 1: Push the Boundaries

 Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.’’ The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1951)

Most of what we think and write comes from the society we’re part of. Societal constraints lie heavy on our words, pushing us into pigeon-holes and repressing our true feelings. As writers, we often struggle to express radical, or even taboo ideas for fear of being ridiculed.

Bertrand Russell was a true eccentric of his time. Imagine being a pacifist when Europe was fighting two World Wars (he was even imprisoned for it); of being an anti-imperialist at the height of the British Empire; or openly supporting gay rights 40 years before the UK repealed its ban on homosexuality.

By saying these words, Russells wants us to recognise that holding unconventional views is fine: It might just mean that you’re the first person to come up with a certain idea. However, it could upset people who are not prepared to accept it into their own world view.

Russell often cited the words of his friend, Albert Einstein, which support this point.

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds”

Einstein himself was famously unconventional in his thinking and often clashed with powerful figures of his day. These two great minds had strong views, and were not afraid to voice them out loud, even if there were dangers attached.

The Bottom Line: Writers are often considered great because they were visionaries: They saw things long before the average person did. Strive to be one of those writers. Challenge the status quo.

Pearl 2: Make Yourself Heard

“The fundamental cause of all trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Mortals and Others (1996)

The loudest voices are often the ones that get heard. But arrogance isn’t a sign of wisdom, as several modern-day examples prove. 

The same fact was true in Russell’s time. The rise of facism in Europe was a consequence of people following the bold claims of authoritarian strongmen; flamboyant speakers with evil ideas, who had the audacity to take center stage and lead the world down a dark path. 

In contrast, the very essence of intelligent debate is the awareness that any idea can be challenged and proved wrong. Nobody can or should claim to know the answer to everything; we’re just trying to find the best solution for the time being.

The thing is, an intellectual “umming and ahhing” over an idea doesn’t inspire people in the same way as a brash ringleader promising false visions of a golden future.

But us writers shouldn’t be discouraged, according to Russell. If you have doubts about your work, then that’s fine—it means you have the intellect to self-criticize and question what you’ve written. 

The danger is that we keep progressive thoughts hidden, and give way to the ill-informed “cocksure” contributors who dominate the conversation.

The Bottom Line: Reflect on your work, and edit it accordingly, but don’t let doubt stop you from sharing your content. You might be letting fools take your place.

Pearl 3: Prepare to Be Proved Wrong

“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.” 1964 interview with the New York Post

Bertrand Russell grew up in a Britain that valued pride above most things. To “keep up appearances” was a big thing in society; people often went to great lengths to look immaculate in public, such as wearing their “Sunday Best,” even when struggling in poverty. 

The great novel of the 19th century, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), shines a light on this world of honor and social status, and points out that an excess of ego can hold a person back, such as in the case of Darcy, whose pride nearly costs him the love of Elizabeth.

Russell sang from a similar hymn sheet to Austen. He saw pride, and its cousin stubbornness, as twin dangers. In fact, in A History of Western Philosophy (1945), he went as far to say that “the intoxication of power” that they both bring is “the greatest danger of our time,” clearly referring to the thinking behind the conflict that had just scarred the world.

By saying this, Russell is stressing the need to be humble. None of us likes to be wrong, of course: it’s human nature. But digging our heels in and refusing to accept reason just stops us from progressing; and our writing suffers as a result. Like Darcy in the novel, swallowing our pride can lead to better things.

The Bottom Line: On the flip side of boldly making yourself heard (Pearl 2); don’t go too far the other way. We should always look to improve, and to do this we need to accept when we’re wrong. Pride comes before a fall, after all.

Pearl 4: Don’t Obsess

 “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” The Conquest of Happiness (1930)

The “stream of consciousness” method, used by greats such as Jack Kerouac and Virginia Wolff, is a powerful idea. To directly translate your thoughts onto paper or screen as you write is something of a miracle. 

It might seem impossible, but every one of us can try it. Place yourself in front of a blank page, think of a topic, and write everything you can think of for one minute, without stopping

OK, finished? That’s your very own stream at work. Maybe you’re surprised by how good it is—a lot of people are.

The above is an example of what we can do if we just allow ourselves to write. It should be said that even the likes of Kerouac and Wolff would have scrutinised and edited their work afterwards, but to obsess over it lessens its effect: It takes the power away from our original thoughts.

Russell knew that to obsess was dangerous. By saying the words above, he is promoting the idea of thinking intensely, but not letting the activity consume us. 

In his book The Conquest of Happiness (1930), he believed the best way to deal with a difficult topic was to think about it intensely for a certain period of time—similar to the creative outburst we experience in the stream of consciousness method—and then to leave it for a while. After some months he would then “return consciously to the topic and find that the work has been done.” 

Here, the philosopher is stressing the importance of devoting time to our work, but that it should be put on the back burner if it becomes too much. Rather than continue to obsess over it, we’ll often come up with fresh ideas after taking a break.

The Bottom Line: What we write is important to us, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it; but obsessing will cause more harm than good. Take care when researching your work; ensure grammar and punctuation are correct; proofread it multiple times; but don’t let it consume you.

Pearl 5: If It Feels Good, Do It

 “Anything you’re good at contributes to happiness.’’ Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind (1969)

Being skilled at something feels good. And if it’s something you love doing, then you’ve found the holy grail.

However, a surprising number of us don’t use our skills in the right way, if at all. Most of us have taken on a dead-end job at one time or another: It pays the bills and puts food on the table. Sometimes we have no other option.

Despite this, Russell believed that we should all devote time to our talents. He often promoted the virtues of hobbies: “a friendly interest in things’’, he said in The Conquest of Happiness, “is an important way to create the conditions in which happiness can grow,” and he himself was a keen mathematician who considered Euclidean geometry a pastime from the age of 11, according to his autobiography. Each to their own.

It’s something we should take on board as writers, of course. Even if you’re not a keen Euclidean geometrist, if you’re able to remember the script of Love Actually word-for-word, then write about it. If you’re an expert on Guatemalan geography, then put pen to paper. Often, a topic close to your heart is enough to infuse your fingertips with energy and an unstoppable flow of words.

The Bottom Line: Engaging with this inner flair, however obscure it may be, is a surefire path to a contented soul. And contented souls are often the ones that go on to produce great things. Write about something you’re good at: It’ll make you, and your readers, happy.

Use These Nuggets of Wisdom to Boost Your Writing Skills

While our creative process may seem like a minefield of confused thoughts and inconsistent writing at times, these issues can be overcome.

Words of wisdom from the finest minds in history can help us immensely, and Bertrand Russell’s lifelong quest of knowledge and truth marks him out as a great source of inspiration.

Putting his advice into practice will help you to become a more thoughtful, considered writer.

Be bold enough to do what makes you happy, even if it means you stand out from the crowd. But bear in mind that your work isn’t so important that you need to lose sleep over it—learning and writing are continuous processes; what we believe today, we may not tomorrow.

Here are Some Good News Stories for You

Because Heaven Knows We Need Them

A British government official once famously spoke about ‘a good day to bury bad news’, but in these times of ‘Covid-this and Corona-that’ we run the risk of putting good news six feet under.

After all, it’s easy for us to get lost in a maelstrom of miserable messages, a blizzard of bleak bulletins, and a whirlwind of worrisome words; but what about the rays of light that poke through the gloom?

Here are some newsworthy gems to help you get through – as a wise person once said: be happy, it drives people crazy. 

Swedish Princess volunteers in a hospital

Old-time fairy tales often feature a dashing prince coming along to save the day, but the heroic deeds of princesses have too often been overlooked. 

Maybe the tide is turning. Real-life Princess Sofia of Sweden deserves her place alongside the likes of Mulan and Pocahontas for her hard work helping hospital staff during the pandemic.

After completing an intensive course to become a medical assistant, Sofia now helps out with disinfecting wards and kitchen duties—not tasks that you’d normally associate with a royal.

It makes a refreshing change from the actions of some of the world leaders during the crisis. Maybe a course in volunteer work should be a prerequisite for starting a political career? 

The Himalayas become visible for the first time in years

As lockdown descended upon the world and the streets became silent, something stirred in nature. Wild animals ran through Spanish streets, air pollution plummeted in Indian megacities, and a haze lifted from some of the planet’s most beautiful places like a veil.

One of the most spectacular examples was in the Punjab region of India, where the snow-capped peaks began to poke through the horizon in towns over 100 miles away.

Countless other examples have emerged, such as the curious case of a jellyfish gliding through Venice’s shimmering blue waters – a concept that probably hasn’t been considered in the last 1,000 years or so.

Perhaps one positive result of the crisis will be a newfound emphasis on cleaner living – who knows?

Garden stroll for Colonel Tom

When World War Two veteran Captain Tom Moore set out to complete 100 laps (2.5km) of his Bedfordshire garden on his zimmer frame, he set a target: to raise £1,000 in sponsor money for the UK health service, a fine amount in itself.

Little did he know that he’d raise that amount in no time. And, as the 99-year-old walked, the donations kept coming, and coming…and coming. By the time the pensioner reached his 100th birthday several weeks later, he had raised an incredible £30 million as the world took the story to their heart.

Captain Tom has now been made an honorary colonel, with Queen Elizabeth II among the 125,000 people sending him a birthday card. He even recorded a charity single with Michael Ball that immediately hit number 1 in the UK chart, making him the oldest person ever to do so. 

Three cheers for Colonel Tom!

Celebrity classes with the BBC

The British Broadcasting Corporation is an institution in the UK, providing top-class TV, internet and radio content to its nation, as well as the rest of the world via its website.

A tiny (or bite-sized) example of this is a host of online classes for kids, given by celebrities via BBC Bitesize. Wildlife expert and national institution Sir David Attenborough leads the way with an insight into the natural world, and the series even has footballer Sergio Agüero teaching youngsters how to count in Spanish.

Free Mental Health Support in New York

Many people speak of the obvious physical effects of the virus, but less attention is given to its effect on mental health, whether it be relatives of those infected or people who are simply scared to go outside.

For this reason, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that over 6,000 mental health specialists had registered with a programme offering free online consultations to those who need it.

The workers offer a wealth of background experience, from helping people deal with insomnia to behavioural problems like gambling addiction, and Governor Cuomo praised their compassion, calling it a ‘beautiful’ thing.

Everybody needs good neighbours

One of the big fears coming out of the pandemic is that barriers will be put up between countries; strictly controlled borders and heightened security at airports, for example.

But the crisis has also brought out the best in some nations. As Italy struggled through its worst period, neighbouring Germany and France decided to pitch in, offering to take in Italian patients. There were even cases of people being air-lifted over the border for treatment.

It offers a heartwarming glimpse, along with the other pieces of news in this article, of what can be achieved if we work together—rather than put up walls and barricades.

Maybe if we do that then more good news stories will follow.

Why Ethics Will Play a Huge Role in Digital Marketing Post-Covid-19

                                                     Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

The Covid-19 outbreak is a history-defining moment for the world, in much the same way as the two world wars and the Great Depression were in the 20th century.

As the world struggles to adapt to a post-Covid economy, it’s imperative that businesses find resourceful marketing ideas that not only help their performance, but also to benefit society as a whole.

Ethical marketing is not a new concept, having played a part in many huge online sales campaigns up until now, but it could be time for it to take centre stage. 

Here’s how a shift to a more principled digital marketing approach will prove to be an effective business strategy following the crisis.

Purpose-led strategy

The backbone to any ethical marketing drive is to develop a strong purpose-led strategy. 

But first, what is a purpose-led strategy? 

According to Bill Theofilou, senior managing director for Accenture Strategy, it is based on solving a problem for a consumer, and reflecting their values and beliefs.

Developing a deep relationship with customers in this way is something that is likely to become crucial in a post-Covid society. 

People will seek brands that contribute to a better world, and firms that behave ethically, through conduct towards staff and contributing to good causes, will resonate more. Businesses that do the opposite may well suffer a grave hit to their reputation. 

A shift in focus

Some of the biggest companies in the world are already leading the way. Coca Cola recently placed a huge ad in Times Square promoting social distancing, while Unilever’s Dove focused their Real Beauty campaign on the mask-marked faces of health workers under the tagline ‘Courage is Beautiful.

It marks the start of a wider trend, which has resulted in a number of manufacturing facilities, such as distilleries, contributing protective equipment and sanitary products to frontline workers. Quite simply, the public is demanding more social awareness from companies.

The entertainment industry is playing a big part in this drive. Initiatives such as the Sony relief fund, which has pledged $100 million in the fight against the disease, are becoming customary among large businesses in the field. 

In the UK, the first ever virtual Grand National took place in April, raising millions for the country’s health service (NHS), and, while it’ll never replace the real thing, there’ll almost certainly be an increase in online punters in the future: as well as much-needed awareness of how important the NHS is to the country.

In other areas of the betting industry, land-based casinos are taking a hit after being forced to close temporarily.  Many people find the rapidly-improving virtual equivalent almost as exciting and may stick with them after the crisis subsides.

 A knock-on effect of this could be a focus on online safety. Sites that follow responsible gambling guidelines will be looked on more favourably than those that don’t. 

It’s part of a wider trend in ethical gambling which has seen concerted efforts from countries, such as Sweden and the UK. Both countries have recently introduced tougher gambling regulation in an attempt to fight unscrupulous practices and betting addiction.

In the fashion industry, lesser-known brands have shown a charitable spirit. TOMs shoes, for example, have upscaled their buy-one-give-one campaign that has donated almost 100 pairs of million shoes to disadvantaged people. Underwear producer ThirdLove are even donating a 1,000 sets of bras to US health workers, alongside thousands of surgical masks. Both companies’ websites are dedicating their landing pages to the heroic efforts of these workers.

Digital marketers will need to adapt to the trend, as well as its resulting change in consumer behaviour, and could benefit from taking a more ethical approach as people appreciate the effort to keep them safe as they play online.

Making positive use of online media

Of course, not every business can reach out to millions of people, but even for smaller firms, it’s clear that a more ethically-driven focus is going to shape the marketing landscape for years to come. 

Online advertising has had a reputation for pursuing clicks; ‘click-bait’ articles, being a prime example of this. The average person is the daily target of many online ads, something that has sacrificed building long-term trust with the customer. However, this could change. 

Changing the nature of these ads, focusing on empathy and generosity, could make a huge impact. Making a donation to charity every time someone watches the ad, or buys the product, is one such way; or highlighting an important ethical issue within the ad to raise awareness.

An active social media presence is also going to prove essential. Tutorials and daily tips on topics such as ‘how to stay healthy’ are ways businesses can demonstrate that they have good intentions in mind, as well as putting an emphasis on human well-being. Companies that do this are more likely to build their reputation and perform well.

An eye on a post-Covid world

The current trend towards a more ethical style of marketing is not a fad. Several studies suggest that this is something that was already underway before Covid struck the planet: the outbreak has merely accelerated it.

Resonating with a customer’s moral side is not just a question of looking good as a company, it will also determine a business’s success in the long term. An ethical outlook will most likely generate a higher level of engagement in a post-Covid society – it’ll also give the company pride in what they’re doing. 

The one question that businesses should be asking themselves in the months to come is not ‘what can we get from society?’ but ‘what can society get from our marketing campaign’?

Here’s a Subtle Trick to Add Power to Your Writing

Laurie Lee was the master of it. You can be too

By Dan Marriott.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

They say some writers paint pictures with their words.

If so, Laurie Lee created masterpieces worthy of the Louvre: great sweeping works of vivid colours and characters that dance into life.

He was a poet at heart; a wordsmith who used his talent to fill readers’ minds with bright scenes of his past; but he could also write hauntingly beautiful novels.

Reading his seminal work Cider with Rosie brings that home. It’s a roller coaster ride of childhood recollections in the idyllic English countryside, where Lee hits you with a stream of lucid memories and a sense of childlike wonder at the world around him.

Taking pride of place in his literary arsenal is the ever-powerful simile.

Lee was a master of it, using it to evoke emotion and nostalgia, and to paint vivid scenes in the reader’s mind.

If you’re struggling to inject a spark into your writing, then well-worked similes can infuse your words with energy.

But how can you use them to maximum effect?

Here’s a look at how Laurie Lee did it.

Pack them with emotion

‘It was knife-edged, dark and a wicked green, thick as a forest and alive with grasshoppers that leapt through the air like monkeys

Knives, forest, monkeys. It could be an action movie, but Lee uses that sense of danger to etch out his feelings of being dropped off a handcart into a patch of long grass as a toddler.

Note how much work the similes do here. Comparing the grass to a ‘thick forest’ instantly gives a sense of both danger and rural beauty, while monkey-like grasshoppers convey the narrator’s small size, as well as the surrounding chaos.

Takeaway point: Use similes to illustrate multiple emotions in just a few words.

Choose the right verb

Another hazard of a damp, rural English upbringing — water. Floods of it.

With his family’s house built into the side of a hill, the young Lee stares in wonder as great gloops of it seep into their kitchen during a particularly heavy deluge.

‘It slid down the steps like a thick cream custard’

The viscous texture of a thick cream custard shows just how much debris it must have carried; sweeping mud and sediment along with it.

As such, the verb he uses is perfect: this syrupy water doesn’t flow, it ‘slides’. A languid motion that also carries a threat; a hint at something out of control, like a car ‘slides’ across ice, for example.

They may be subtle, but minor details such as this help the scene jump off the page at the reader.

Takeaway point: Pair the simile with a suitable verb to really hit home.

Be unconventional

Lee had a gift for making mundane actions appear miraculous.

Here, he starts by giving water a divine status — appearing ‘pure’ out of the ground — before hitting us with a stunning analogy:

You could pump it in pure blue gulps out of the ground, you could swing on the pump handle and it came out sparkling like liquid sky.

Comparing it to the sky, another natural element, reflects his child-like wonder at the water’s glistening light and sense of infinity.

‘Sparkling like liquid sky’ may sound like a psychedelic Beatles lyric, but it makes you feel as if a remarkable event is taking place when, to an onlooker, it’s just a child playing with water.

Takeaway point: Don’t be afraid to push the boat out. Left-field similes can be the best ones.

Let there be light

Light is a powerful tool to use to add drama to your writing. In Lee’s case, he uses it to illustrate the brightness of a rural world, free from the pollution and artificial lighting that dominates city life.

‘I remember, too, the light on the slopes, long shadows in tufts and hollows, with cattle, brilliant as painted china…

The contrast of the long shadows and the white cattle brings to life a vivid natural scene in the reader’s mind. Decorated china, or porcelain, is traditionally seen as a thing of beauty, as well as a status symbol, and adds prestige to something as humble as a country animal.

Takeaway point: Using light and shadows works wonders when setting the scene. Add a well-worked simile to empathise this.

Describe motion accurately

When writing about movement, we’re often spoiled for choice. A bird can glide or swoop, a tree can rock or sway.

Lee lets a simile to do the work for him:

Bees blew like cake crumbs through the golden air

Of course, he could have just said ‘the bees were blown through the air’ — but this sounds like they’re being propelled by the wind.

By comparing them to cake crumbs, he captures their lightweight motion perfectly, drifting lazily in the summer haze.

More subtly, seeing them as the dark colour of cake crumbs suggests he’s looking at them in the sunlight, or the ‘golden air’ that he describes.


With Laurie Lee, these similes are just the tip of a creative iceberg: his stories are crammed with metaphors, striking imagery, and fascinating characters.

For further reading, I strongly recommend getting a copy of Cider with Rosie, as well as ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’, a remarkable account of how he travelled through Spain on foot as a teenager in the 1930s.

Hopefully his work can inspire you to take your writing to the next level.

How We Can Avoid Another Pandemic – According to Bill Gates

By Dan Marriott

The COVID-19 outbreak has seen the onset of a global health crisis. Sweeping across the planet like wildfire it has infected millions of people, many of them fatally.

Amidst all the confused talk from public figures, there has been one high-profile voice that has remained constant since delivering a prescient TED talk in 2015

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, used the platform to warn the world of the imminent threat of a global pandemic. He said that countries around the world were not doing enough to prepare for it, with some even going as far as to cut funding for virus programmes.

His words have been proven true.

But there are positives to take out of this grave situation: we can take steps to avoid this happening again. This article is going to look at Gates’ recommendations in more detail to find out exactly how it could be done, according to the entrepreneur.

Investment in research

One notable feature of the crisis has been the number of myths about Covid-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, that have circulated online. Misinformation is a threat and has further contributed to the spread.

Gates knows how to avoid this. He talks about identifying symptoms for the virus like you would for any illness or disorder, whether it be the common cold or even problem gambling—with science. 

To push this further, he says, there needs to be a sustained level of investment in biological research, particularly from richer countries. Vaccines need to be developed and tested quicker than the predicted 18-month period at the moment. Governments must carry out detailed simulations of future outbreaks so they can test different response methods and assess the results. 

There needs to be an emphasis on ‘germ games, not war games’, to quote Gates; with research and development being at the centre of international political discussion.

Investment in healthcare

One of the most serious effects of the 2020 outbreak has been the huge strain placed on health systems across the world, including in some of the richest countries. 

Nowhere is this more stark than in the U.S.A, where hospitals are struggling to afford important drugs and ventilators needed to help fight the virus; despite the country’s status as the richest on the planet. President Donald Trump even announced an extra $2 trillion spending on arms a few months prior to the outbreak, although the actual amount is believed to be lower.

Bill Gates has cited healthcare as the key weapon in tackling COVID-19, not guns and bombs. What’s more, he said it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the military spend of ‘G8 countries’, and also the estimated $2.7 trillion hit to the global economy as a result of the virus.

His suggested measures include:

  1. Investing in epidemiologists – medical expertise that was lacking during the Ebola outbreak
  2. Forming stockpiles of crucial equipment needed to treat and test patients
  3. Training up doctors and nurses to boost countries’ emergency response systems.

It wouldn’t just be rich countries that adopt this approach. According to Gates, it’s essential that poor countries do the same, as this is where the next outbreak could happen.

If they can’t afford it then rich countries should step in to help, as it will ultimately protect them, too.

Implement a military-style response system

The combined might of the global military forces is easily enough to destroy the planet many times over. Yet arms spending continues to escalate. Quite simply, we live in a world that is an expert in warfare.

However, we can use such knowledge to our advantage. ‘Not missiles, but microbes’ is Gates’ quote. Using a war response system, highly sophisticated army logistics could be used to deploy key medical personnel to emergency locations, allowing them to deal with patients quickly. 

It is something we know how to do already. NATO, for example, already has mobile units set up that train regularly for emergency situations, such as field hospitals, but this has to be stepped up significantly and implemented worldwide.

This type of task force would be known as a ‘medical response corps’, a highly effective team of experts who are on constant stand-by.

Combining the military with the medical could save countless lives.

Social distancing and technology

On a positive note, Gates has praised people who have carried out social distancing where they can, whether it be by staying indoors or following essential separation rules.

To avoid the spread of a future pandemic, these tactics would have to be adopted from the very start. While there are certain workers that will find them impossible to carry out much of the time, such as health professionals, the rise in teleworking and social technologies will help people to maintain their distance from each other.

Social technology informs people of outbreaks as they arise, and also to check on the health of vulnerable loved ones. It explains the rise of virtual platforms such as Zoom and House Party, and further progress in this field over the next few years will greatly help the fight.


“If there’s one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic,” Gates said in 2015 “it’s that it can serve as an early warning – a wake-up call to get ready.”

The world’s governments ignored Gates’ advice the first time around, with devastating consequences.

If they fail to take heed of his comments a second time, then we might be hit with a virus much worse than COVID-19, and this is something we can’t afford to contemplate.

A Part of Spain You May Not Have Heard Of

It’s not all about the Mediterranean…

Photo by Alberto Gasco on Unsplash

What comes to mind when you think of Spain?

I’m guessing I won’t be too far off the mark if I say a word beginning with ‘S’. Sun, sea, and sangria easily roll off the tongue.

And you’d be in tune with most people, of course — the sunny south of Spain did attract the majority of the 82 million people that visited the country in 2018.

But what if I mentioned a land of witches?

A green and misty region, covered with lush forests and rugged mountains?

A landscape which is more likely to be subjected to a torrent of rain than a dose of sun?

A land that has more in common with Celtic folklore than with flamenco?

It even has its own language.

Doesn’t sound very Spanish, does it?

Well, it certainly exists. It’s called Galicia. And more and more people are beginning to view it as Spain’s glittering emerald in its crown.

Having lived here for a while now, I’ve seen firsthand why Galicia is held in such high esteem. In this article I’m going to share with you some of my best picks of the region.

It has one of the world’s most famous walks…

Friedrich Nietzche once said that ‘all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking’ and Galicia offers one of the most inspirational routes on the planet.

Millions of people have followed the Camino de Santiago over its 900-year history. It’s a series of pilgrimage route that lead to the alleged burial place of St James, one of Jesus’s disciples. Hikers from all over the world have followed its winding paths, including historic figures like Charlemagne and Pope John XXIII.

Walking the path has been described as a unique, even spiritual, experience by many people. Brazilian author Paulo Coelho wrote a novel about it calling it ‘his voyage of self-discovery’.

Tip: 780km not enough? There’s an extension route that leads to Finisterre. Walk to a lighthouse there that’s perched on the cliff which the Romans believed to be the edge of the world.

On the trail itself, it’s more likely that you’ll hear woeful tales of blisters and cramp as the miles take their toll, but the incredible scenery along the way is sure to make it all worth it.

…and this leads to one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe

The focal point of the Camino de Santiago. This has been the end goal for centuries of weary pilgrims, trekking from all over Europe to get to this place of monumental importance.

Galicians are rightly proud of this heritage site having constructed a supremely handsome Gothic-Romanesque cathedral there. Its main entrance, The Pórtico de la Gloria, is one of the most beautiful in Spain, adorned with 200 sculptures of historical figures.

To visit there for the first time, at the height of tourist season as I did, is a surreal experience. Cheers fill the air as throngs of walkers enter the square; it’s not uncommon to see a pilgrim, almost delirious after weeks (or even months) of trekking, fall to their knees in wonder at the sight before them.

Tip: Head there for sunset — the fortress glistens in the twilight over Plaza Obradoiro.

There are more than 750 beaches

Only southern Spain has great beaches, right?

Wrong.

Scattered carelessly around the Galician coastline, it’s easy to stumble upon some of the most majestic bays in Western Europe.

Tip: Need to switch off? Head to Sanxenxo. It has the highest number of European Blue Flag beaches in Spain.

From the crystalline waters of A Lanzada to the jaw-dropping natural rock formations of As Catedrais along the 1,500 km of rocky, undulating coastline, it’s little wonder that locals say it could take you years to discover all of it.

And it’s this vast landscape that makes the next Galician speciality possible. Some might even call it the region’s highlight:

It boasts some of the best seafood in the world

Photo by Pau Casals on Unsplash

Seafood has traditionally made up a large part of the local diet. Galician chefs take great pride in showing off what the region has to offer, much to the delight of visiting food-lovers.

Staples such as vieiras á galega (breaded scallops) and the classic pulpo á feira (boiled octopus) have been lovingly honed to a high degree of excellence over many years. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting such a myriad of flavours from such simple ingredients (oil, garlic, paprika and salt) when I first sampled it.

Tip: Ask for the Albariño wine — the perfect accompaniment for your seafood. It’s so good they even throw a street party to celebrate it in the summer.

There’s a theory as to why Galicia’s seafood tastes so great- many people say its because of the elements of freshwater and seawater that collide to make a perfect habitat for a vast array of sea life to thrive in.

The epicentre of this natural fusion is also arguably the region’s most beautiful area…

Its magnificent Rías Baixas

As a newcomer to the area, one of the questions I asked Compostelanos was which part of Galicia was unmissable. One answer kept appearing time and time again — the Rías Baixas.

This is a coastline described by many as a paradise — the Romans even described a collection of islands there as ‘the islands of the gods’ — and its difficult to see this as an exaggeration when you visit there.

A collection of coastal inlets hugging the Atlantic coast, the Baixas lure beauty-lovers all year round with their mix of scenic villages, sandy beaches and mouth-watering food.

If all that’s not enough, it also boasts a stunning city, Pontevedra, one of the most scenic in Spain.

Tip: The peninsula between the Rías de Vigo and Pontevedra is particularly breath-taking.

The Gallego sound

Photo by John Hult on Unsplash

How can I write about Galicia without mentioning the music?

Sharing strong Celtic ties with Ireland and Scotland, the shrill wail of gaetas (bagpipes) can be often be heard floating through the air throughout Galicia. It’s a culture that can be traced back to the ancient migration of the Celts around 2,500 years ago and is a vibrant part of life in the region.

Traditional music nights happen regularly with other instruments such as the pito pastoril (shepherd’s whistle) and the pandeiro (hand drum) being played live. Talented musicians gather, often spontaneously, to perform the ancient music every week.

Tip: The best one in my experience is at ‘As Crechas’ in Santiago. A friend described the atmosphere as ‘like the dance scene from ‘The Titanic’’ on our last visit.

Morriña: /muˈriɲa/

  • sentir morriña de su tierra — to feel homesick for your country

It’s the word Galicians use to describe how much they miss home whenever they’re away. Maybe it’ll become part of your vocabulary, too.

6 Extreme Adjectives to Kick-Start Your Spanish Vocabulary

Turn your español up to 11.

Bland.

Mild.

Dull.

It’s fair to say that these are not words normally associated with Spanish.

It’s a colourful and vibrant tongue, naturally designed to allow its users to express their emotions freely.

Writer Laurie Lee described hearing it for the first time when he hiked through Spain as a teenager.

As he woke up one morning, he overheard a group of old washer women ‘firing off metallic bursts of speech that bounced off the rocks like bullets’.

He fell in love with the language from then on, listening in wonder at the vibrancy of it as he walked.

With this in mind, sometimes the standard, ordinary vocabulary they teach you in Spanish class just doesn’t cut it. ‘Muy bien’ is nice but it’s also slightly dull and can sound repetitive.

When I first arrived in Spain, an American friend told me:

Don’t be afraid to be a little more extreme when you speak Spanish, it helps you get along.

It was wise advice.

Here are 5 extreme Spanish adjectives to add a kick to your vocabulary.

  1. When you’re having that once-in-a-lifetime experience

You’re at a place that is often referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.

Set against a backdrop of the spectacular peaks of the Sierra Nevada, the ancient Alhambra palace glistens in the glory of the setting sun.

You contemplate the 800 years of history this place holds — the intricate design of its towers, the stunning beauty of its gardens.

‘Qué piensas?’ whispers your Spanish friend and guide.

‘Bien’, you reply.

*Record scratch sound*

Doesn’t quite cut the mustard, does it?

‘Bien’. It could even be considered offensive to a local, proud of the jewel in the city’s crown.

Don’t say ‘bien’, say ‘asombroso’

Literally meaning ‘to overshadow’. A fitting way to describe how the Alhambra dominates the Granadan landscape.

2. When your skin crawls…

Everyone hates cockroaches. The way they scuttle their jet-black bodies around a room, skilfully evading attempts to catch them.

Their favourite food is festering rubbish, they reproduce at a scarily rapid rate and, to top it all off, they’re able to survive a nuclear holocaust.

Did you know that a common way for them to get into your home is by one of their eggs sticking to your footwear?

Nope. Just nope.

Don’t say ‘malo’, say ‘asqueroso’.

Derived from the word ‘escara’ meaning a type of swamp or dung, this is a strong word used to express disgust. It’s even related to creepy-crawlies, with ‘Escarabajo’ being the word for beetle, so someone was thinking along the same lines all those years ago…

3. When you’re at a sporting extravaganza

Let’s talk about football.

OK, I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s a huge part of culture in Spain. You’ll often see a game blaring away in the background of one of the country’s gazillion cafeterias.

The sport also throws up a few gems that are worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time. Take, for example, Barcelona’s Camp Nou. Home to one of the biggest clubs in the world and scene of countless dramatic sporting events, this behemoth of a stadium invades your senses even when its empty.

So imagine being there on match day.

Full to its near 100,000 capacity, the noise that cascades down from the stands as Leo Messi and co. take to the pitch is overwhelming. It’s surely what the term ‘wall of sound’ was invented for.

You can’t hear your friend speak next to you, in fact you can’t hear anything at all.

Don’t say ‘ruidoso’ say ‘ensordecedor’

Literally meaning ‘ to make one deaf’, it does a great job of describing the din of a packed stadium. Get those ear plugs ready.

4. When it’s been a loooooong day

Spanish culture makes it difficult for you to get bored. Its social nature means that there’s normally something going on, especially in the summer months. If you’re not sipping a caña on the terrace, maybe you’re partying at a fiesta or trying out a new tapa.

It also often means eating late in the evening, and going to bed in the early hours of the morning. To top it off, the national work day is among the longest in Europe, disproving the popular stereotype of Spanish laziness.

So it’s hardly surprising when it all catches up with you. Working and playing hard means sometimes you just need to sleep, for your own good.

Don’t say ‘estoy cansado’ say ‘estoy muerto’.

Literally ‘I’m dead’. This might sound a tad extreme, but it’s a common colloquial expression. If you’re burning the candle at both ends (as my gran used to say) then maybe it’s a useful way of summing up how you feel.

5. When you can’t stand the heat

The summer of 2018 was one of the hottest on record and nowhere more so than Seville, where temperatures touched 50c.

Seville is a city that takes summer as a kind of punishment. For anyone brave enough to walk its streets during daylight hours the experience is gruelling. The heat climbs up your legs, overpowering you to the extent that walking is nearly impossible.

Sevillanos know this, which is why you’ll often find the streets empty in deep summer. It’s also how the siesta became such a famous part of Spanish tradition; hiding in a cool, dark room being the only way to escape the oppressive heat.

Don’t say ‘hace calor’ say ‘hace bochorno’

Meaning ‘it’s disgracefully hot’, this is a great phrase to throw into a conversation on a sweltering day  —  if you can find the energy.

6. When you’re feeling claustrophobic

To say Spain loves a good party is an understatement. Every city, town and village has a special time of year where everyone hits the street to celebrate — and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE. Nobody misses out on the fun, which means space can be at a premium.

Take San Fermín, for example. Originally Pamplona’s hometown festival, it has now exploded into an international festival, with almost 1.5 million people attending the 2017 event.

Controversies surround its infamous bull run, but it’s clear that being there is a unique experience. Festival-goers have described being swept along in an ocean of people in the city’s narrow streets, barely having room to turn around, let alone walk or dance.

Don’t say ‘lleno’, say ‘a tope’

Also used to denote a doorstop, ‘a tope’ literally means that nothing else can get in the door, or fit into a certain space: useful for a party that’s ‘packed to the rafters’.

In a nutshell

So, get it off your chest. Say what you really mean — sometimes it’s better not to nadar entre dos aguas (literally ‘to swim between two waters’, or ‘sit on the fence’ in English).

Spanish is famous for its flair and, after all, it’s a well-known fact that it’s healthy for us to express ourselves freely: so take a walk on the extreme side once in a while.

A Quick Guide to Porto: Portugal’s Invincible City

Photo by Daniel Seßler on Unsplash

Porto is a special place.

Don’t just take my word for it; ask the Romans. They gave it its name (derived from the Latin Portus Cale), and placed it right in the middle of their province there.

It’s even how Portugal got its name.

But what of this city, with its handsome streets, spectacular views and mouth-watering bakery treats?

Also known as Invicta (Invincible City), here are a few handy tips for anyone planning a trip there.

SEE
Station São Bento

Now, I’m not one to exaggerate but this is the most interesting train station I’ve ever seen.

If the beautiful Parisian exterior isn’t enough for you, then the 20,000 decorative tiles inside will blow you away.

It took the artist Jorge Colaço over a decade to complete this stunning tapestry. You’ll see various events from Portuguese history depicted here, all in its distinctive blue and white form.

Careful you don’t miss that train, though.

Tip: Take one of the Free Tours to get a full description of this masterpiece. It’s well worth it.

CROSS
Ponte Dom Luis I

What do Porto and Paris have in common? Apart from beginning with ‘P’, of course.

Give up? Well, they both boast monuments worked on by Gustav Eiffel.

When you cross Ponte Dom Luis, Eiffel’s contribution to Portugal, you’ll see that his bridge has some of the most spectacular views in the country.

Tip: Look out for the Old Man mural on the city side of the bridge. It’s in honour of an elderly gentleman who used to sit in the same spot every day, watching people cross the bridge.

EAT
This isn’t for the fainthearted. Picture this:

  • Five layers of bread
  • Lots of meat (sausage, ham, roast steak)
  • Melted cheese
  • A smothering of beer and tomato sauce
  • A layer of French fries

La Francesinha. It might sound like Frankenstein; probably ’cause it’s a monster. Order it if you dare.

Tip: If, somehow, the above isn’t enough, some places offer a fried egg on top. O Golfinho, in Porto’s downtown, is one such place.

DRINK

OK, you knew it was coming; but you can’t go to Porto and not try the famous wine.
Here are three statements about Porto wine but only one is true; can you guess which one?

1. It gets its delicious taste from the Douro Valley, the oldest demarcated wine region in the world.

2. Every bottle of Port has a special seal to prove its quality and authenticity.

3. Its sweetness makes it the perfect companion to a dessert.

Alright, I cheated. They’re all true.

Which is all the more reason why sampling a glass of this famous drink is something you have to do when you visit Porto.

Tip: Want a view with your drink? Visit Espaço Porto Cruz which offers access to a 360º terrace, as well as chocolate and cheese tastings.

So, as you can see, Porto is a city with a lot to offer. Visiting there has never been easier, so what are you waiting for?