Wednesday, 28 September 2016

An Evening with The Eve Appeal

My regular blog readers will know that women's reproductive health and gynae cancers are matters close to my heart, having shared my cervical cancer experience and subsequent infertility with you here on my blog and also via the Huffington Post.

So I was particularly proud and excited when the invitation to attend an event at The Detox Kitchen in association with The Eve Appeal pinged into my inbox recently. The Eve Appeal is a charity whose main aim is raising awareness and funding research in the five gynaecological cancers – ovarian, womb, cervical, vaginal and vulval.

Athena LamnisosCEO of The Eve Appeal charity, had read my article via Twitter and subsequent tweets around raising awareness, and so invited me along to the event. Of course I immediately accepted and attended last night, accompanied by one of my besties, Kez Wells.

The evening was fantastic from start to finish: we were warmly welcomed with a glass of bubbly and some delicious healthy canapes, before mingling with fellow supporters of the charity and actress/comediennes Jane Horrocks and Helen Lederer.

Athena kicked off with a passionate speech about the vital work of the charity, highlighting the fact that 21000 women are diagnosed with gynae cancer in the UK each year, with 21 dying daily, before handing the floor over to Cherry Healey

Cherry, TV presenter and author of Letters to my Fanny, gave a lively talk about the importance of knowing the various parts of our own anatomy as women, and the cringe-factor that we still feel when discussing what goes on "down below." Despite having had a child and being in her mid-thirties, she still experienced embarrassment when talking to her doctor. This gave her the impetus to confront the stigma and write the book - one which I've now added to my ever-increasing reading list.

Next up was Caroline Presho, whose life has been greatly affected by cancer, (despite never having had it herself), due to her family history and being a carrier of the BRCA mutation, giving her and her sister an 87% chance of contracting the disease themselves. She told her moving story - culminating in a preventative double mastectomy and partial hysterectomy - with humour and grace. Fortunately she was able to have 4 children prior to the surgery, but spoke of her obvious concerns for her own 2 daughters; full credit to her for sharing her story and campaigning to educate and protect others. Find further information and support over at The BRCA Umbrella.

There was just time to have a gorgeous manicure (I opted for brick red polish complete with tiny heart-shaped diamantes) by mobile beauty specialists Perfect 10 using Essie products before the raffle was drawn...which I won!

I was presented with a gift voucher for a pampering home visit by Perfect 10. I can't wait to get it booked into my diary - I'm off to Ibiza at the weekend so am eagerly eyeing up the full-body massage, which will be very gratefully received after an exhausting weekend's clubbing.

There was just time for a informative chat with a few of the Eve Appeal's staff about the essential work they do before it was time for us to head out into the autumn evening, carrying our 'Stop Ovary Acting' tote bags filled with period-related supplies and a host of goodies courtesy of Pinkparcel.


A huge thank you to all at The Detox Kitchen and The Eve Appeal for an inspiring and memorable evening, full of invaluable information which I will definitely be using in the future in my ongoing mission to help other women avoid gynae cancers.

You can support the valuable work of The Eve Appeal by donating here :-)

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

Monday, 26 September 2016

Feminism: Don't Fear the F-Word

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As a little kid watching 1970s shows on our huge walnut monstrosity of a tv set, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: Wonder Woman. With her strong Amazonian figure complete with glossy black mane, no-nonsense stance and superhero powers she was the embodiment of Girl Power, long before the term was coined.

I don't recall the exact point I lost interest in her and other strong female characters (remember Supergran, the badass in a bobble-hat?) and my focus shifted towards hair, make-up and boys, but it's with sorrow that I picture my lively superhero impersonations screeching to a halt; that moment when I stopped leaping off furniture, homemade cloak flapping behind me, and started flapping over more important preoccupations instead, such as...looks...and...weight?

From birth we're drip-fed a steady stream of gender stereotypes; tiny writhing bodies immediately swaddled in either a pink or blue blanket in the hospital. At that moment our fate is sealed: it's dolls for girls, cars for boys.

In ballet class I was always cast in the male roles due to my height; other girls wore frilly tutus and frothy frocks, pink ribbons in their hair, whilst I was coaxed into plain shirts and pedal pushers with my hair slicked back, since my beanpole frame fitted the stereotypical "boy" mould.

Later, as an impressionable teenager I'd bury my head in Mizz, More or Just Seventeen magazines, my young mind absorbing the endless images of waif-like models (so-called "heroin chic") like a sponge, as the hollow-eyed girls gazed dolefully up from the page. We know that social media creates anxiety and distorted body images for today's children, but back in the early Nineties we had much the same message, albeit it on paper rather than online: girls must be thin and pretty, above all else.

So it was with a heavy heart that I came across this Facebook post by dismayed dad Matt Frye recently, in which he juxtaposed two current magazine covers: Girl's Life and Boy's Life. Spot the difference. So boys, you can 'be what you want to be', whilst girls should busy themselves with creating 'dream hair' and how to 'wake up pretty.' Gah. Several celebrities came out to decry Girl's Life in articles like this one and a graphic designer redesigned it as she saw fit in another. This blatant sexism simply highlights the fact that decades later, nothing has changed. Not. A. Thing.

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Am I coming across as a feminist here? I certainly hope so. The F-word often has negative connotations, conjuring up stereotypical images of snarling bra-burning lesbians chanting man-hating mantras as they hold placards aloft, revealing hairy armpits which they refuse to shave as it's "demeaning to women."

In recent interviews both Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Kardashian deftly swerved the f-word, denying outright that they are feminists - thus doing a major disservice to women everywhere. They both claim to support equality, so why don't they have the balls to use the word? I myself fall on the side of Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham and the awesome Caitlin Moran, all of whom are vocal feminists:

MORAN: (Reading) So here is the quick way of working out if you are a feminist. A - do you have a vagina? And B - do you want to be in charge of it? If you said yes to both, then congratulations. You're a feminist.

So I'm a feminist, yes, but not a femi-nazi. It's Girl Power, not Grrr Power. I believe that women are equal to men, not superior or worthy of favouritism. To say that you're anti-feminism or "not a feminist" to me means you don't believe that women should be treated as equal to men. Of course, you don't have to be a woman to be a feminist. President Obama, father of daughters, penned this powerful essay in support of feminism. Feminism clearly benefits men too.

Whilst researching this piece I came across a Facebook group entitled Women Against Feminism. Wait, what?! The Suffragettes would be spinning in their graves. If women aren't going to support other women, what hope have we got of redressing the balance? It astounded me to read that only 29% of American women and 42% in the UK would describe themselves as feminists. Really, girls? <face palm>

So can you be a feminist and work in beauty (as I do), peddling anti-ageing creams to women, thus perpetrating the "younger, prettier, slimmer" message? Well, I want to look and feel good, just like anybody else - male or female - and I also believe that women and men should be treated equally. You can wear mascara and want equality too: the two are not mutually exclusive. If anything I find a bold red lip gives me just the confidence I need to send some old-fashioned misogynist scarpering with a flea in his ear.

Since we're on the topic, let's look at how I came to be in this industry in the first place. Having breezed through my GCSEs and A-levels with top grades, I opted not to go to uni and instead applied for jobs in the banking sector. I had the intelligence, although perhaps not the confidence, required to work there.

My first-ever interview, at the Citibank tower in Lewisham, was conducted amidst a sea of testosterone-charged men on a busy trading floor. To an outsider (me) they looked as though they were drowning as they made frantic gesticulations, barking orders into phones. I was eighteen; the guy opened the interview by demanding aggressively: "give me examples of when you've been under this kind of pressure," as he tipped his head towards the chaos. It was downhill from there.

Next up was Deutschebank in the City, and despite the intimidating all-male environment I made it to the second interview...where the interviewer proceeded to ask me out on a date. I declined. I didn't get the job.

My already shaky self-esteem was shattered at this point and I questioned both my ability and suitability for working in such an environment. It completely turned me against it. I saw an ad in the Evening Standard for a London make-up artist, applied and instantly got the job. I was surrounded by welcoming, like-minded women and fitted straight in.

To balance the argument, I should add that some female school friends of mine did get banking jobs and have been very successful, so maybe it was me. One is a partner at a prestigious London accountants; she is part of the mere 29% of women at the top. Forbes reported last year that it will be 118 years until the gender pay gap is closed. Great, only 117 to go then...

Whilst chatting to my girlfriends about this topic, they recounted countless tales of sexism and discrimination which they've experienced over the years in their traditionally male-dominated roles, such as being treated as secretaries, not having their hands shaken...or simply being ignored in meetings altogether. It would seem that it's still very much a patriarchal society in which we live, as  this FT article highlights.

A recent report found that more than half of girls and young women have experienced sexual harassment at school or college in the past year, with teachers often dismissing it as 'banter.' Teenagers, particularly girls, are suffering from a depression epidemic, with a major government study finding 37% of girls feel unhappy or worthless (15% for boys) and another revealing that HALF of young women 'lack self confidence and fear for their futures.'

This data saddens and concerns me greatly. I don't have children of my own, a fact that I've written about extensively (and society has a problem with, despite the fact that I'm not childless by choice), but my partner has two daughters - and I care about yours. Laura Bates, who spoke out recently about why every girl needs a feminist dad, has written a brilliant manual for girls entitled Girl Up which comes highly recommended by some of my girlfriends with daughters.

As adults, we have a responsibility to demand equality for the next generation of women. Are we going to sit back and accept the status quo? Do we want our girls being treated as second-class citizens - patronised, underpaid and belittled throughout their lives? It's time to take a stand. For the sake of girls everywhere.

I've always applied the old 'fake it 'til you make it' method to get by in life. Just imagine if we could fill the next generation of women with enough self-belief that they don't have to fake it.

At all.


 H&M's empowering new She's A Lady advert


 Always #LikeAGirl campaign

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How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

23/1/17 Update: My Tweet to Piers Morgan gets 203k views after he claims to be a feminist on Good Morning Britain (following his comments against the Women's March) and makes The Sun Online. Which certainly livened up my morning commute :-)


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Thursday, 22 September 2016

Familiarity: Contempt or Content?

It's the age-old routine: girl meets boy, they fall hopelessly in love, move in together, get married, maybe have a couple of kids....then spend the rest of the relationship bickering relentlessly over whose turn it is to cook/clean/take the rubbish out/(insert tedious menial task here).

Gradually the humdrum and repetition of everyday life erodes the excitement in the relationship like the sea wears down a cliff-face, until what was once the burning fire of red-hot passion becomes a barely smouldering pile of twigs (only the twigs have more chance of being rubbed together). The only things blazing now are the rows. Cue the painful break-up, the division of x number of years' accumulated keepsakes and dust-gathering nick-nacks, then it's back to a life of singledom...until you lock eyes with that hottie on the number 269 bus, that is. And so the perpetual cycle continues...we humans are ever the optimists, at least.

The news hot off the global press and translated into every language known to man is that the Brangelina brand is no more; in brutal scenes reminiscent of Fight Club, expect to see a battered and bloodied Brad in one corner of the boxing ring whilst an angry Angelina clings victoriously to their forlorn-looking football team of offspring in the other.

This revelation roused mixed feelings within me: if a couple of pampered Hollywood A-listers with all the trappings and luxuries afforded by their stratospheric movie-star salaries can't manage to keep the dream alive, what hope is there for the rest of us mere mortals?

This was countered by a certain frisson of satisfaction that though UN ambassador and collector of children Jolie works hard to straighten her halo and fool us with her faux-angelic persona, even she wasn't immune from an unexpected visit from the bitch known as Karma, who'd been waiting in the wings for just the right moment to requite Jennifer Aniston's heartache. Revenge is a dish best served cold...and Jolie looked like she hadn't eaten for a while.

It's been twelve long years since Ang broke the code by persuing the then-married Pitt (using the same modus operandi in which she previously ensnared the engaged Billy Bob Thornton), so I'm sure Jen couldn't resist a wry smile as she watched the news unfold yesterday that all was not hearts and flowers in the Jolie-Pitt camp. Ahh, the sweet smell of closure. I must confess, having always been Team Jen, I gave Karma a mental high-five myself.

I remember reading somewhere that the characteristics that attract you to someone will eventually be the very same traits that will drive you apart. I tend to agree. When I first met my (ex)husband, I admired his laid-back approach and laissez-faire attitude. Whereas I was hyper to the point of bursting blood vessels, bulldozing my way through life, he took everything casually in his stride. I figured we'd bring out the best in each other, balance each other out - and for several years, we did. But gradually those differences began to niggle and get all out of kilter: he felt like I was constantly nagging him, whilst I was frustrated at his ridiculously sloth-like pace. I guess you can figure out the rest...

It seems that the old proverb Familiarity Breeds Contempt really is a thing: the more we get to know someone, the less respect we have for them. Depressing huh? On the other hand, familiarity can also breed 'content' - that cosy domesticity as you snuggle on the sofa in your saggy-arsed onesie watching a film...or enjoy a quiet meal together without any uncomfortable silences (since you're both probably looking at your phones). The knowing looks that pass between you can speak a thousand words; the years of interwoven stories and mutual memories. There's nothing quite like that special moment when you catch each other's eye and dissolve into peals of hysterical laughter.

Relationships can be like a game of snakes and ladders: one minute you're winning, on top of the world...and the next sliding down the slippery slope to Single Street. So, how to stop the content descending into contempt?

Listen, I'm not gonna patronise your granny by teaching her to suck eggs - we all know that a little appreciation goes a long way. These points are merely an aide-memoire so I don't end up being plunged unceremoniously back into the shark-infested waters of the dating pool myself:

1. Show appreciation and communicate - little things like buying their favourite chocolate bar on the way home from work, subscribing to their favourite magazine, sending a few messages throughout the day. Put down your phones and really listen to each other. If you get into a heated argument, let it go (easier said that done, I know). You may "win" the argument...but it'll be a hollow victory when you lose your partner.

2. Spice up your life - who doesn't love a surprise meal or a cheeky weekend away?

3. Those that play together, stay together - when you see your partner dressed up, making people laugh and being the centre of attention it's bound to remind you why you fell in love in the first place.

4. Absence makes the heart grow fonder - after a day/weekend of pursuing your own hobbies or interests (and I'm not talking hookers and weed here, Brad) you'll have more to talk about when you regroup.

5. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) - life's not about acquiring more stuff. In my opinion, it's about having fun whilst living within your means. Don't overstretch your finances with material goods, or by buying the biggest house (you think) you can afford. I fell into that trap myself with my ex, and it resulted in miserable late-night trips to Wickes to buy plumbing stuff and lost weekends spent schlepping round Habitat and Homebase, as we rapidly emptied the contents of our joint account. It was like a bottomless pit of expense. We all know money worries can be the death knell for relationships. By using your free income for doing rather than having you'll be creating memories instead of landfill.

So if you don't want to go the same way as Brad and Angelina, take heed folks. Please feel free to share with me your top tips for harmonious living.

Meanwhile, over in LA, Jen and her new husband Justin Theroux seem deliriously happy. But then it's early days...

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This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post UK.

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Rise and Shine, it's Urban Decay!

Now if there's something guaranteed to make me leap out of bed and into the shower in a desperate frenzy to get ready in the morning it has to be:

a) Tom Hardy brandishing a loofah
b) a holiday  or
c) gorgeous new make up

Since Tom's out of town and I've still got two weeks 'til Ibiza, it must be the third option...

Time to rise and shine for Urban Decay!

Of course, I have tons of make-up. If there was a national make-up drought and women had to make do with our existing supplies, I could quite easily get the entire female UK population glammed up and runway-ready every day for the next decade without so much as a liquid liner running dry. My make-up cup doth runneth over.

But that's besides the point. There's nothing like the magnetic pull of a mirror-perfect compact twinkling at you in the department store beauty hall, sparkling under the dazzling lights as it beckons you over to play.

Having worked in the beauty industry for more than two decades, you'd think I'd have built up an immunity by now, but no, I'm still a sucker for a slinkily-packaged product; it's appeal hasn't tarnished one iota. The novelty simply never wears off.

So, like a magpie, I was powerless to resist the draw of Urban Decay's Naked Skin Pressed Powder compact as she shimmied and gleamed seductively from the cosmetics counter recently. I was innocently flapping on past on my lunch break, blinkers on, head down, trying not to get sucked in. Before I knew it I'd stuck my beak round Debenhams' door and liberally applied the pressed powder from the tester in Medium Light, along with a slick of Razor Sharp Longwear Liquid Liner in Retrograde, an iridescent purply-black. Unfortunately, I fell instantly in love with both...

With a deep sigh I handed over my debit card (it's £23 for the compact, £16 liner) and hurried back to work before I could be tempted by the remainder of the sexy selection of Urban Decay products, who were posing and pouting like Thai hookers as they tried to coax me into sampling their wares.

Back at work, I caressed my purchases in their premium, glossy packaging and checked the results again in different lighting. Still perfect. Hours later and my flicks are still on fleek: my ridiculously watery eyes haven't made a jot of difference to the liner. It's still absolutely pristine. My face is semi-matte, the powder still doing the tricky task of warding off a shiny face without being cakey.

The next day, my new purchases are put to the test when my sister and I take her toddler son to Knole Park in 30 degree heat. The park is home to herds of deer, who take a keen interest in our picnic; before we know it we're surrounded. We take cute deer selfies before the mood turns menacing, and we're snozzled (a word we created to describe the snorty nuzzling that takes place) then stampeded by the curious creatures. We are crying with a mixture of laughter and terror as we charge through the long grass to make our escape. 

Back in the safety of the car, I check my make-up: despite sweating, laughing, crying and being mounted by deer, I'm surprised to say it's virtually perfect. Now if that's not putting the products through their paces, I don't know what is.

Hat's off to Urban Decay: I had no i-deer (groan) just how good your products were...

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Costa Rica Chica

My fourth blog, written in February 2016, documenting the adventures of the 3 musketeers (ok, volunteers, but that sounded better): De Mama (my mum), Andy (my partner) and I, as we travelled to San Jose, Costa Rica, to help disadvantaged children living in the capital, having fundraised in the preceding months. We then travelled around Costa Rica exploring the volcanoes, rainforests and beaches. The best trip ever!


Sam Goes Solo

My third blog, Sam Goes Solo (aka No Emotional Thais: New Beginnings...Happy Endings?) was written in 2014, when I went travelling around the Thai islands on my tod....


Mummy Mission

My second blog, Mummy Mission, was a short-lived infertility blog; the blog may have been short, but the journey was looooooong (7 years to be exact)........


World Wide Walsh

My first ever blog, written September 2008 - March 2009 :

A 6-month round-the-world backpacking adventure with my then-husband Liam...


Saturday, 17 September 2016

A 'Dam Fine Weekend

The alarm rudely shakes me from my slumber: 2.30am. I groan and roll over, noticing the bed is empty. Andy's not only up, he's showered, dressed and sitting by the front door next to his suitcase. Someone's excited for our Amsterdam city break....

An hour later and we're on the road, hurtling towards Gatwick and a three-day break in the buzzing (in all senses of the word) city: it's time for a spot of Amsterdamage.

This weekend has been a no-brainer: Andy is a 'Dam virgin and having secured the August bank holiday Monday off work, a quick search of flights threw up returns with Easyjet for £200 each. Pricier than at other times, but not bad for a peak weekend in the height of summer, when the rugrats are off school and pushing the prices skywards. Next, over to my trusty app to locate a top-rated hotel. When choosing a hotel I tend to go with customer reviews rather than star ratings necessarily, and it's always served me well. You don't need to go 5-star to get an amazing experience; often it's the less obvious places with lower stars but brilliant reviews that I like the best. Which is just as well seeing as I'm Sam Walsh, not P Diddy.

Volkshotel, in the East district of the city, looks interesting and is ticking lots of boxes : a cool lobby bar/cafe, classy rooftop restaurant and nightclub with panoramic views of the city, plus a secret basement cocktail bar and club. Chuck in a sauna and hot tubs on the roof and this little gem is sounding right up our Straat. A quick check with the hotel's own site tells me it's cheaper to book directly, so I do that and a few clicks later we're all set: 2 nights at £90 a night. So for under £300 each we've got ourselves a cheeky lil jaunt organised - sweet!

After the compulsory rip-off breakfast at Gatwick which sets us back almost as much as the trip itself, it's a short hop across to the Dam, and we arrive in less than an hour. At Schipol airport we purchase a 3-day travelcard for €25 each and then it's a short journey by train and tube to our hotel. The underground in Amsterdam is immaculate - I dread to think what tourists make of our bio-hazardous carriages in London - and there are little LEDs on the tube map which show you which station you're at as you travel - genius! We could use these back home, to avoid the mass pile-ups at the bottom of the stairs as clueless tourists squint at the tangled spaghetti of tube lines.

We jump off at Wilbautstraat and the hotel is directly opposite, so we check in, check out the hotel facilities and chill out for a bit before heading to the lobby bar. The sun is shining, the lobby is trendy and the Sauvignon is cold - what more can we ask?

We relax and take in our surroundings: there's an industrial, warehouse feel - all concrete walls, exposed pipes and quirky soft furnishings. The staff are all good-looking hipsters, and there are arty types lolling on sofas tapping away into Macs and generally being creative. The East of Amsterdam is the cool, creative district of the city - much like East London, I guess. The building itself used to be the headquarters of a newspaper and there are little touches that hark back to this: the hotel has it's own free newspaper, Volksnews, for example.

After our liquid refreshments, we jump the tube for the few short stops into the centre of town to explore the city - almost being mown down by the hundreds of cyclists whizzing past our noses in the process. We squint in the bright sunshine to check the coast is clear to cross, our nostrils twitching like Bisto Kids due to the fragrant aroma of cannabis being carried on the breeze.

The quaint cobbled streets are flanked by tall skinny townhouses which look a bit battered and wonky, as though they've been affected by the wacky baccy too. The reason for this design is that as the city is built mostly on water (the River Amstel), by having higher levels there is always a safe place to go in case of flooding: to the top of the building. They also purposely lean forwards; the narrow staircases make moving furniture in and out very tricky, so instead large items of furniture are winched in - by tilting the building forward during construction it ensures that said furniture doesn't collide with the front of the house. So there is method in the apparent madness.

It may only be an hour from London, but the atmosphere and laid-back culture of the city is a world away: coffee shops abound with plumes of blue smoke billowing from the entrance, prostitutes pose in the doorways of the Red Light District casually proffering their wares. I must say, the girls look a lot more buff than the last time I visited; this lot have been working out by the looks of it! The last time I was here most of the women looked a bit...dare I say....jaded. These hookers are no strangers to a spot of BodyPump and regular HIIT workouts judging by the muscle definition (not that I ever go to a gym myself, y'understand - I just follow fitness bloggers in the hope of getting in shape by proxy). Or perhaps it's a case of needs must - they look like they won't be taking any grief from lairy punters, that's for sure...

I roll Andy's tongue back up (which is currently lolling on the cobbles like a faulty roller blind) and we continue on to Dam Square, stopping occasionally for various refreshments. A typical Dutch platter of Bitterballen, various meats, cheeses, breads and pickles keeps us going on our rambles around town. We admire the multitude of flowers, rickety buildings, canals and houseboats, before topping up our sugar levels with tea and cake before heading back to the hotel to prepare for the evening's festivities...

We dress up for our Saturday night shenanigans and head up to Canvas bar on the 7th floor of our hotel for a cheeky cocktail before heading into the city centre. Its a balmy evening; the cocktails are delicious, the crowd is made up of model material locals and we sit out on the comfy terrace which is lit with string lights, has stunning 360 degree views of the city and is - in a word - stunning.

 It's tempting to stay here as the hotel club will be kicking off in an hour or so, but we tear ourselves away and make tracks to Nieuwmarkt for a delicious Thai meal at Chao Phraya. We meander around the Red Light District again, stopping occasionally for a drink, before heading to Supper Club for the nightclub element of the establishment, Upper Club. Being one of the top haunts of the city, I wrongly assume it'll be playing house music (the website lists Tech House) but to our disappointment discover it's actually exclusively R&B, my least favourite genre. The club is jumping, but it's just not our scene, so we stay for a while (having paid €15 each to get in) before heading back to our hotel at 2am to check out Doka, the basement club. A colourful peacock of a drag queen toilet attendant shows us the secret entrance (hidden behind some vintage lockers) and we are delighted to discover a super-cool hidden gem of  a club, the DJ spinning funky house and dirty disco beats to an achingly hip yet friendly crowd. Now that's more like it!

By 4.30am it's time for bed and we take the lift to our room to catch some zeds...Zzzzzzzz

The next day we decide to do the obligatory cultural stuff, after a traditional Dutch breakfast in Waterlooplein, alongside the flea markets. I don't know if it's partly due to the mild hangover I'm experiencing, but I find Anne Frank's house particularly traumatic today (my second visit) and am in bits by the time we get out of there. I feel so sad, reading excerpts of her diaries, her burning desire to be a journalist or author and being able to relate to that ambition, as well as angry that she died at such a young age (16) without being able to realise her dreams.

The staircase hidden behind a bookcase which led to the secret annexe which concealed the family

If only she knew that her diaries would be published in over 70 languages and her book is one of the most widely read of all time. The fact that she died in the concentration camps only a month before the end of the war and never got to see her book's subsequent success makes it all the harder to swallow. We watch a poignant video recorded by her father Otto (who was the only family member to survive the war and died aged 91 in 1980), who was handed the diaries after her death and had no idea she'd written them: "Parents never truly know their own children," he said. Needless to say, I'm a gibbering wreck by the time we leave her house...

To lighten the sombre mood, we have a spot of lunch by the canal with a nice glass of wine, and eat a brick-sized slab of carrot cake each (don't judge -we just love cake!) before exploring the city some more, followed by a chilled evening at the hotel, by which time I'm mentally and physically exhausted.

The next morning the sun is shining once again, so we have about a 6-course breakfast (the buffet mentality strikes again) at the hotel (they serve up a feast - really top drawer), before heading to the Van Gogh Museum, where Andy is almost lynched by security for taking photos (we got some good shots though!). Then as it's such a beautiful day we take a lovely long stroll around Vondelpark, before more cake (what can I say - there are delicious-looking bakeries at every turn), the flower market, and a final al fresco meal of Argentinian steak at La Vaca.

All too soon, it's time to go back to the hotel and collect our luggage, before catching the 9pm flight back to London. There are 29 ways to say goodbye in Dutch, but I think we'll settle for "tot de volgende keer" (till next time), as we'll definitely be back.....

Next stop......IBIZA!

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