The Sunday Times: Katie Glass: with no family, I’ve learnt to embrace my festive freedom

The festive season used to conjure painful memories for Katie Glass. Now she enjoys not having anyone to answer to.

When I was younger, Christmas was agony. I was a teenager when my family fell apart: within a year, my mum and stepdad separated, I moved out of the family home and my relationship with them disintegrated. A few years later, my father died. During that time I found anything family-related difficult. And Christmas was unbearable.

For most of the year I got by without family. On birthdays I made my own fun with friends, I bought my own eggs at Easter and avoided Mother’s Day. But December — when Christmas descended, the shops shut and my diaspora of friends scattered home — always felt like the cruellest month. The festive season, after all, is about family. Everything, from the mince pies in Tesco to children’s toys in shop windows and adverts featuring happy families scrabbling for their favourite Quality Street, was a sad reminder of what I had lost. Some years I went to the family homes of friends, others were spent with extended family, and I always had fun. Not having my close family around meant I built relationships with other people, which I was grateful for. But there was always a moment — when they were arguing over their gran’s plum pudding recipe or snuggling up to watch EastEnders — when I’d have to sneak off with something in my eye and the feeling of missing my mum.

I thought I was doomed to hate it for ever. But, over time, my attitude changed. It helped that for years I worked in hospitality. I’d volunteer to do as many shifts as I could and spend December 25 frantically ferrying roasts, then getting drunk with the chefs. There’s nothing like serving squabbling families to put your situation into perspective. But mostly, among the ragtag crew drawn to catering, I didn’t feel like such a misfit. I found friends with their own reasons for not going home. Among journalists that also turned out to be true. And gradually, instead of hating it, I began to embrace my freedom. Now some of my favourite Christmases are the ones I’ve spent with friends.

There are advantages to a family-free festive season. The biggest relief is you can be yourself. You don’t need to worry about how much you drink or revealing your true thoughts about Brexit. You don’t need to mind your Ps and Qs, as I was reminded when I spent last year with my ex’s parents and got told off for “swearing like a sailor” by his mum.


The Sunday Times: County lines — a new form of modern-day slavery

Inner-city gangs are trafficking children to sell drugs in towns and villages across Britain — a practice known as “county lines”. Why are their victims being criminalised?

I used to worry about his education and what he’d want to be when he grew up. Now I worry he could end up dead.” Sarah looks down at her hands clasped tight on her lap and starts to cry. “I don’t know what it’s like to have a son pass away, but that’s how it feels — that sense of loss.”

Theirs had been a “calm, loving family”. Sarah and her son, James, had always been close. Her family doted on him. “Spoilt rotten,” Sarah says, remembering how “every weekend, without fail, we’d get together as a family for dinner and he’d be doing a little performance”. They had a good life in London. Sarah worked in the City. Sometimes James would join her at her office, playing on the spare computer, legs swinging under the desk. They took holidays at their second home in Spain and did things together every weekend. But when James started secondary school, things changed dramatically.

Well-mannered, bright and popular, it was in sports that James shone. He represented the school in rugby, basketball and football. In hindsight, Sarah wonders if her first warning should have been how out-of-character it was when, one week, James refused to go to practice. He just didn’t feel up to it, he told his mother, who reassured his coaches he would be back next week. Then he refused to go again. “Initially, I thought maybe he was doing too much, with training in the week and matches on weekends. I thought perhaps he needed a break.”

Then James started coming home late. “Really late for a 14-year-old — 8pm, 9pm, then, on a few occasions, after midnight,” says Sarah. He’d make excuses — claim practice had overrun, or he had been with mates. “He was getting older and I assumed it was the usual teenage stuff of wanting to hang out with friends. I got upset with him, but that only seemed to escalate the situation.” James started disappearing overnight, then for weeks at a time, returning dirty, dishevelled and anxious. He refused to say where he’d been. His mother tried “everything”. She grounded him, confiscated his mobile, questioned him: where was he going? Who was he with?

“Nothing worked — he would go out anyway,” says Sarah, explaining that, by then, James’s behaviour had drastically changed. “He would spit in my face and call me names. It’s so hard to expect anyone to imagine it. What I didn’t know then was that normal parental boundaries wouldn’t work, because he was under duress.”

One day when James was 15 he jumped out of a window at their home and disappeared for three months. Frantic, Sarah searched his bedroom, finding a train ticket to Norfolk. Not long afterwards, she heard that James had been spotted at a mainline station. Sarah reported her son missing to the police, but it would be months before she learnt the truth.

James had become a victim of an alarming and underreported form of modern-day slavery affecting British teenagers. Police and local authorities call it “county lines”. It involves young people being recruited by inner-city gangs, put in cars or on trains, and trafficked hundreds of miles away from their home to seaside towns and small villages. Once there, they are given a mobile phone through which to sell drugs, usually crack and heroin. By running these telephone lines in different counties, city gangs have expanded their operations outside the saturated markets into new territories.


Image: GETTY

The Sunday Times: Katie Glass Reviews Olaplex, A Repair Treatment For Hair

This week’s beauty guinea pig, Katie Glass, gives her bleached hair some love with an in-salon hair treatment.

The USP Olaplex is the first treatment that is said to repair broken bonds in your hair. This means if, like me, you have blonde ambitions, you can keep bleaching your Cinderella locks without looking like a scarecrow.

How does it work? Currently my hair is a sorry combination of grown-out balayage and sunburnt ends, with enough frizz to rival that time Monica looked like she’d had a perm in Friends. Still, wildly optimistic, I hope using Olaplex means I can force my hair through another round of colouring without it breaking off in my hands.

Poor Barry, the senior technician at Radio Salon in east London, looked desperately at my crispy split ends and warned me not to expect immediate results. Olaplex isn’t a quick fix. Unlike normal conditioning treatments, which smooth hair superficially, it works from the inside out, building bonds to add strength. Barry calls Kim Kardashian Olaplex’s unofficial ambassador, because it’s how she keeps her hair in such great condition, while subjecting it to constant colouring.

What does it feel like? In the salon, Olaplex is a two-step treatment. If you are planning to add LA beach-blonde balayage to dark brown hair, brace yourself for five hours in the chair. First, the treatment is mixed into the bleach, then added to the highlight foils. The second round of Olaplex is applied all over, then washed out. There’s a version for home use that involves a less faffy application, but has fewer active ingredients.



The Sunday Times: Doga: bend, stretch and . . . do stop sniffing the others

Doga — yoga with your dog — is the latest thing in exercise. Katie Glass and four-legged friend join a class in search of inner peace, with added yapping, licking and nibbling.

If ever, during the honeymoon period of a romance, you and your partner are tempted to buy a dog — a soft, velvety black, wet-nosed puppy that you name after a character from your favourite TV show — here’s some advice: don’t. The double-doodle I bought with my ex-boyfriend is now 20 months old and the product of a broken home.

Poor Stringerbelle — a mix of goldendoodle and Labradoodle — has found herself the subject of a custody battle and a bitter doggie divorce. After months of arguing, I reluctantly rolled over and let my ex keep her, accepting occasional visits.

Like most divorced parents, I spoil my baby when I see her. I worry she blames herself for the break-up and I compensate by overfeeding her Bonios. Combined with my own post-break-up Häagen-Dazs habit, our weights are threatening to spiral out of control.

And so it is that, looking for healthier ways for us to bond, I stumble across doga — dog yoga — which, among hipsters and the cast of Made in Chelsea, is a thing. A doga class looks just the ticket, somewhere Stringerbelle can find inner peace while Mummy works on her revenge bod.

Don’t expect your pooch to be doing the downward dog, though. As Mahny Djahanguiri, the founder of one doga studio, DogaMahny, has explained: “I’m not stretching dogs out. It’s a human yoga class and your dog is off-lead.” It’s about relaxing and nurturing a relationship with your hound.

Some doga classes involve using your furry friend as a yoga block; others require you to lift them up. Since, like her mother, Stringerbelle is pretty but not petite (she weighs more than three stone), I decide against the latter and opt instead for a doga-lite class — a human hatha yoga session embracing canine consciousness.

We are told to arrive early for a meet-and-greet with the other dogs and humans before class, and turn up at a bright warehouse with wall-to-ceiling windows, green with plants and sweet with wafting incense. We have not even stepped into this peaceful Zen paradise before the barking begins.

Rover (whose name has been changed to protect his reputation), the resident dog, takes immediate exception to Stringerbelle. What ensues is a headache of yapping and nipping. In the mayhem, it’s impossible to say who the culprit is, but someone has sprayed on a yoga mat.

Eventually we find a space as far away from Rover as the studio allows. This happens to be near the shrine, where Stringerbelle immediately starts licking the candles. I give her my socks to chew to distract her, then settle down barefoot and try to relax. “Try to focus on your breathing,” the teacher advises, over Rover’s barking.



The Sunday Times: Katie Glass: This #MeToo stampede threatens to bury the most serious sex allegations

The shadowy world of sexual harassment has been thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks.

What began with the outing of Harvey Weinstein as a Hollywood sexual predator turned into a wider conversation about sexual abuse in all walks of life. As more disclosures of sexual impropriety have been made, however, what they have led to is not clarity but more murky confusion.

As the roll call of Weinstein’s alleged victims went on, the actress Alyssa Milano suggested on Twitter that all women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted should tweet their experiences using the hashtag #MeToo, to give people “a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. It went viral. #MeToo was everywhere. Stories tumbled out from normal women, every voice making the last feel less alone.

Initially, I found #MeToo moving. Some of the things friends shared were more upsetting because I had never heard them. It prompted me to look back in anger at my own uncomfortable encounters. I thought about the editor who drunkenly shoved a clammy hand on my thigh, lunging at me in a cab, when I was a cub reporter; about the married lech who hassles me so aggressively at industry parties that I’ve avoided them, and warned other women about him.

I understand why #MeToo feels empowering to women whose sexual boundaries have been trampled, but I also feel cynical about it. Like the slogan “Je Suis Charlie”, which became the hashtag for comments on the terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015, #MeToo risks reducing a serious issue to a social media trend. I worry, too, that while the case against Weinstein seems black and white, in the tsunami of sexual experiences now being shared online things have become a grey swash.

The #MeToo hashtag has been used both by women telling stories about serial and serious sexual abuse, and about what might sound to some like ham-fisted passes or dysfunctional dates.


The Sunday Times: A personal battle against an invasion of mice

Of all the embarrassing articles I have written — the confessional columns about my relationships, my break-ups, my sex life, that time I admitted fancying Russell Brand — none has felt as humiliating as this: confessing that I have mice.

No one admits to having rodents. I ask friends. I ask neighbours. They are all in denial. Perhaps mine is the only flat they ever visit? Perhaps they really love the interior design?

If anyone does acknowledge a past problem, they always start by insisting how spotless their home is. “The man from Rentokil said mine was the cleanest place he’d ever seen,” one person, unprompted, begins.

So perhaps I should start by breaking the mouse-shaming taboo. Anyone can get mice. Especially in autumn, especially in London, and especially when you live in a period property on a busy street crammed with pizza places and chicken shacks, as I do.

I first hear the scratching at night. I know immediately that it’s mice and my breathing stops. I don’t like to think I’m a coward, but I am petrified by the thought of small paws creeping around me at night. I wrap myself in my duvet, praying that they can’t gnaw through 10.5 togs, and frantically begin googling solutions.

The mouse is the pest equivalent of the common cold or hiccups. Everyone has a theory about how to get rid of them; few of them seem to work.

I start by scrubbing the flat from top to bottom, then buy my first line of defence: peppermint oil (£15 from Amazon). This gets mixed reviews. Some claim mice are repelled by the smell, others suggest that, being inquisitive, they are drawn to check it out. Still, I take my life in my hands and douse the whole flat in it. That evening, surrounded by the stench of toothpaste, I hear rustling by the bin.

Then I try psychological warfare, ordering electric buzzers (£17), which emit a sound so high-pitched that only vermin can hear it. (Apparently, as an added bonus, they repel teenagers, too.) For two days the mice disappear, but my paranoia only grows. The problem with mice is that even knowing they — with their tails, downy feet and sharp teeth — are near sets me on edge. Every shadow becomes a furry threat; every squeak evokes panic. I start sleeping with the bedroom light on and the radio playing.

Then — nightmare of nightmares — lying in the dark, I catch sight of a brown blur darting under my bed. I flee to the living room and jump up onto the highest thing in the room: the desk. I consider checking in at a hotel, but instead I curl up there and give up hope of ever sleeping again.



The Sunday Times: Former Man United star Rio Ferdinand on his wife’s death, fatherhood and new beginnings

Rio Ferdinand is not an emotional man — which is not to say he is not friendly or kind.

He is sweetness from the moment I arrive: making me coffee in a magnificent kitchen he seems unfamiliar with; worrying where we’ll be comfortable to chat — “Is here OK? Would you prefer there?”; offering me a lift to the train station afterwards, and nattering on the way about his girlfriend’s dog. It’s just that those “touchy-feely kind of soft emotions” have never come naturally to him. As he states plainly in his book: “People have called me cold all my life.”

This makes it especially startling that he has written (with the help of the journalist Decca Aitkenhead) a book that is an achingly raw and emotional account of his grief after losing his wife. Rebecca Ferdinand was first treated for breast cancer in 2013. It returned aggressively in 2015, metastasising to her liver and bones. She died within weeks, aged just 34, leaving Ferdinand behind with their three children: Lorenz, Tate and Tia, who were then nine, six and four.

The BBC documentary that he made about her death, Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, was watched by 6m people when it aired in March and has been seen by millions more on catch-up. I imagine, like me, everyone cried. There is something uniquely devastating about watching a man known for his tough sportsmanship howl like a wounded child. The book is equally unbearable at times. Ferdinand recounts how he told his children their mother was not coming home and tears streamed down their faces as they wailed: “Why? Why? Why?” He tells how, paralysed by his inability to help them, he looked out of the hospital window begging the universe: “Could someone please help me?” And how he held his wife in his arms as she died.

Worse is hearing how Ferdinand’s children tackled grief. He buys them bottles of Rebecca’s Hermès perfume, which Tate drenches his bedroom in. When they chose Rebecca’s favourite songs to play at her funeral, they asked if they could dance along in the church, like their mum would have. “If Rebecca’s death had been my loss alone, I think I could have found a way to cope,” he writes, but “when I watched my kids lose their mother, and was helpless to comfort them or know what they needed — that was more than I could bear.” Against his instinct to retreat into himself, he forged his way through the documentary in order “to help me help them”.

The Ferdinand family lives hidden at the edge of London. “A gated community inside a gated community,” the taxi driver says, dropping me off outside a vast modern house worth millions. It is both indicative of the privacy Ferdinand values and testament to the success of a boy who grew up on a Peckham council estate and become one of England’s greatest footballers. He is a former England captain, and was the world’s most expensive defender when Manchester United signed him, at 24, for £30m.