A Cantankerous Christmas Carol

How’s your Christmas looking? If it’s full of sparkle and joy, please stop reading this and go sing Mariah Carey’s, ♫ All I want for Xmas is youuuuu …♫

If, on the other hand, you’re muttering, ♫All I want for Xmas is youuuuu … to shut up already with that festive cheer! ♫ this article is for you! I aim to provide top, tinselly tips, so that die-hard Scrooges (like me) can feel fully justified on being anti-Christmas!

Let’s face it, it’s been a tough year. We’ve had the cost-of-living crisis (on going), the housing crisis (on going), the Brexit-mess-crisis (all but forgotten). The plethora of strikes these past months has taken ‘industrial action’ to an industrial scale! Not to mention the government’s re-re-re-shuffle, which is like the child’s game of musical chairs, but with more tears and tantrums.

If that wasn’t enough, we face the festive season with its ‘forced to be happy’ mandate and its stupid songs that are downright deceitful!

Case example, ♫ Santa Clause is coming to Town♫

Not anymore, he’s not. Not with immigration at an all-time peak. Even if he applies for a working visa, it’s gonna take ages to process. Plus, don’t the reindeer have to go into some kind of quarantine?

Which leads to, ♫ Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer … ? ♫

Red nose? I hope it’s not Rhinophyma (aka ‘whisky nose’) and a case of drink-driving. That would be a PR disaster for Santa. Not only would Rudolph have to attend the drink-driving rehabilitation (DDRS) course (they clearly accept all kinds of animals), but children would miss out on their gifts.

Not that kids care anymore. Most of them pretend to believe in Santa so their parents won’t start crying. You tell a child, ‘Be good or Santa won’t bring you anything’, they’ll answer, ‘I’ve already ordered it through Amazon’.

Nothing is sacred! Remember those captivating Christmas carols we used to sing? Well millennials claim they’re as outdated as sending Hallmark cards (which, BTW, destroy the other Amazon).

Take, ♫ Frosty the Snowman, was a very happy guy! ♫ Today he’s having a major meltdown due to global warming.

Or, ♫ We Three Kings of Orient are, following a yonder star ♫ Following a star? For goodness sakes guys, wise-up and get a satnav.

As for Justin Bieber’s ♫ Mistletoe ♫ It’s going to be banned. Too many unwanted kisses. #MistleToo

If this sounds a bit un-Christmassy, I apologize because there’s more. Mainly the ‘Covid Enquiry’, which this year was voted number one ‘Christmas Downer’, along with the smell of Brussel sprouts (before and after eating).

But they say the last thing you should lose is hope (and your undies at the office party), so it’s time to take the reindeer by the horns and enjoy what the festive season has to offer! Scrooge Spirit Style!

Start by singing ♫ Feliz Navidad … ♫ while you wait to clear the 3-hour immigration queue to enter Spain, France, Portugal and all other EU countries! Thank you, Brexit!

Next, get your ‘British Museum’ advent calendar. Every window opens to a stolen item some country or other wants back. Spoiler alert: the 25th opens up to the Nativity Scene in front of the Parthenon Marbles.

Great news! No need to buy presents. Climate change has made it OK to recycle gifts! I’ve been doing it for years. In fact, my family has been passing around a Ferrero Rocher box for decades.

As for the wrapping paper, my mom always hoards it and uses it the following year. We used to call her a cheapskate, now she’s a national hero!

Finally, why not poke a hole at all the insufferably idiotic inflatable XMAS Santas in your street? Just to prove that all this Christmas sparkle and joy is just a lot of hot air.

Because if there’s one year when one should NOT feel guilty about indulging in the anti-Christmas spirit, it’s most certainly this one.

With that in mind, I raise my glass and leave you with my favourite (edited) Christmas Carol,

♫ Do you see what I see? A star! A star! Dancing through the night, it’s the alcohol I’m drunk as a skunk! It’s the alcohol I’m drunk as a skunk! ♫

Merry Christmas, everyone. —-

Sonia Aste is a Harvard MBA, Engineer, Meng, and a proud Toastmaster at Riverside Communicators Club.  More from her on websiteTwitterFacebookInstagram

First Time Hosting

TJXpressions hosted the Table Topics and Humorous speech contests for Area 61 last month. This is the first time that we have organised a contest to be held at our premises which was really exciting. We proposed the idea to the committee a few months ago and off the back of this we had a small enthusiastic team from TJXpressions alongside representatives from the Area council planning the contest.

Whilst this was the first time that TJX would be holding a contest, it was also the first time for the TJX representatives organising a contest so this was all new to us! I have competed in contests previously and supported by filling various roles at contests, but this was my first opportunity taking on the role of Contest Chair. I can now share how naïve I was when it came to realising the number of considerations and logistical arrangements that need to be ticked off when planning a contest. It has given me a greater awareness and admiration of the depth of event planning that is required to run a Toastmasters contest.

On a more personal note, stepping up as Contest Chair was definitely a push outside of my comfort zone and I reaped the benefits of this. Taking on the role of contest chair helps with building your own skillset around event-planning, hosting and networking. I thought the most challenging part for me would be hosting but in the end it was actually the organisation in the run up to the event. I relied heavily on the support of the contest team and it’s vital to remember that successful contest planning cannot fall to just one individual. Your team is there to help you, lean on them when you need guidance or if you are feeling stretched with the workload. 

We publicised the event within our company and we have had several interested guests come forward ever since. It was great to build awareness of the club through this contest and to have this as a showcase for TJXpressions to demonstrate the vast offering of the club. Like most things, contest planning is the most challenging when you’re doing it for the first time. But now we are aware of what the process should look like and have learnt from any takeaways/feedback, we know that we have all the tools and connections needed to ensure we could run another Area contest successfully.

I kept reminding myself that the most important thing was to make sure that I enjoyed the contest on the night and that I didn’t let any planning stresses get in the way of this. It’s crucial to embrace an event which is a celebration of excellent public speaking skills and it also avoids undermining the efforts that went into making sure this contest went ahead. Ultimately these events are the pinnacle of displaying our local speaking talent and it supports them with their development journey. With teamwork, past learnings and enthusiasm for our Area members’ growth, I’m confident that TJX could run another successful contest in the future.

Victoria Evans
President, TJXpressions

A Toastmaster’s Thanksgiving Toast

It’s November and that means Thanksgiving for Americans who have so much to be thankful for! Like chunky chocolate chip cookies, plentiful pecan pies and bountiful buffalo wings! Last time I asked for the latter the take-away container was bigger than a London flat! 

On this side of the Atlantic many Brits will also celebrate the day, as it marks the plight of the Pilgrim Fathers who admittedly, were the first ‘anti-Brexiteers’, as in they voted to leave … the UK. In many ways the Mayflower crossing was similar to Brexit: costly, never-ending and like many UK politicians, many didn’t survive.


Politics aside, I’m a Thanksgiving fan! If the Pilgrim Fathers were running away from religious persecution, Thanksgiving gives us a chance to run away from ‘Health Gurus’ persecution and do what is innate in every human: PIG OUT! Oink, oink, burp, burp, ‘I want more!’. 

My love for Thanksgiving started when I was a child and my family moved from Spain to upstate New York, to a town so near the Canadian border. that we were considered ‘exotically foreign’. (Unlike my cousins who had moved to Texas and were called ‘idiot immigrants’). Canadian influence was so great no one thought ‘socialism’ was the end of the free world, as many crossed the border to get free medical care.

Thanksgiving Dinner was proof that we were fully integrated and living the American Dream. My family and I felt like we were part of Norman Rockwell’s ‘Freedom from Want’, except louder and browner.

I still love that painting although today many argue it’s not politically correct. There are reasons for this. Let’s start with granny’s apron. It’s our feminist’s view that if grandma is wearing an apron, so should Grandpa! Why isn’t he helping? The fact that all he’ll do is carve the bird is turkey sexism! 

Another offending theme is the lack of ‘Diversity and Inclusion’. Where are the African Americans, Asian Americans, Oriental Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Aussie Americans and Swedish Americans (who are, by the way, whiter!). My humble suggestion is to paint the UN assembly having Thanksgiving dinner and add some drag queens to be safe. As for the LGBT community, they’re probably in the painting, but locked up in the closet. It’s the 1940’s.

Let’s not forget the turkey itself. Animal rights groups want proof that the bird was free range and locally sourced from a humane farmer. Extremists insist the bird should be replaced by tofu. Apparently, you can carve tofu into a turkey shape.

Then there’s my American cousin Katie, who celebrates Thanksgiving in a big way. I say big as she is a plus size model and ‘YES!’ she is going to eat four helpings because it’s her livelihood! Katie finds the painting very offensive as it does not show any ‘curvy size’ eaters.

Which leads me to the final point. The painting’s name: ‘Freedom from Want’. Well, that’s a downright lie, isn’t it? In today’s Western World a turkey, couple of celery sticks and some jelly won’t feed a five-year-old.

So here is my Toastmaster’s Thanksgiving toast, ‘Change the name to ‘Freedom to Ask for More!’ and add the following:

A vegetarian option. Let’s face it those celery sticks won’t fill the gap … where’s the kale? AKA ‘that green stuff that tastes like newspaper’.

A vegan option (otherwise they’ll start with their martyr–no-one-understands-me tweets), not to mention they could choose to die of hunger at your home and no home insurance covers that.

Add the whey free, gluten free, pineapple & peanut free, salt-free, sugar-free, lactose free, yolk free and free- of- anything else- I- have- missed options. You don’t want to be accused of discriminating diners who are ‘Dietary Challenged’.

Oh! And don’t forget to add ham, lamb, cow and pig for out-of-touch-have-no-clue Cro-Magnon meat eaters like me.

I’ll stop now … I’m getting hungry. Time for my double salami, sausage and serrano ham sandwich.

Before I go, here’s my fail proof recipe for kale:

Dye an old newspaper with green food colouring. Dry thoroughly. Shred and drizzle with some olive oil.  

Fools them every time.

Have a great Thanksgiving!


Sonia Aste is a Harvard MBA, Engineer, Meng, and a proud Toastmaster at Riverside Communicators Club.

More from Sonia on her websiteTwitterFacebookInstagram

Living the Dream

Living the Dream

Last week, for the first time, I really felt the benefits of my Toastmasters public speaking training.

I joined toastmasters on the edge of the pandemic, with a mix of online and masked in-person meetings at my local club. Like many of my club mates, I am a natural introvert, who recognises the importance of being able to confidently speak in public. Also, like many in my club I am not a native English speaker, so I treasure the opportunity to improve my English.

I clearly remember my first public speaking experience. I foolishly agreed to be the presenter of my primary school graduation event, where I moderated an evening for my classmates’ parents in the local theatre, whilst also having a role in the musical itself. I was terrified. My mum helped me calm my nerves, but it was not easy, and I embarrassingly stumbled my way through the evening, hoping nobody would remember.

This terrible experience prevented me from taking any speaking assignments for many years, until I ended up in the corporate world, where I got involved in project group discussions and board meetings, and I was asked to present technical projects to increasingly large groups of staff. I found that when speaking about technical topics that I well understood, to a safe, captive audience of fellow professionals, I was not laughed at, and could engage in meaningful debates. I felt my nervousness dropping with every opportunity.

As things go, I then moved into a job that included much bigger public speaking challenges. I got involved in social media communication and online marketing, which initially consisted of writing text messages, often fluffed up with photographs and infographics. But anyone familiar with the online media industry knows that nowadays video rules.

I withstood the pressure to move into video until a few years ago. I started experimenting with explainer videos at events and got immediate success. Supported largely by positive feedback from my partner, I continued making short ‘citizen journalist’ videos from events, which became increasingly well viewed by my online audiences.

This initial success became my reason to join Toastmasters. The type of videos that I produce are basically a series of table topics, where I ask myself a simple question, which I answer from the top of my head, in a single take, which I then immediately post online. Speed of posting and authenticity are critical, so I need to be confident, seem knowledgeable, have a structure, and have a clear take away point. These are all things that Toastmasters teaches, so I am finding great value in my pathway and the feedback I receive at my club meetings.

Now Table Topics is one thing, but full-blown speeches are another. A few weeks ago, I was invited to present at a workshop organised by the United Nations. This annual workshop, about ‘Space technology for the benefit of socio-economic development’ is held in a different country every year. It consists of a series of presentations and panel discussions with specialists from all over the world, and I was selected to be one of the speakers and panellists on the topic of space education, with an opportunity to give a 10-minute speech in front of a global audience of about 200 people, in Azerbaijan, of all places.

The presentation format was very traditional. Five or six speakers behind a table on stage, all working their way through text-heavy PowerPoint presentations on incredibly detailed topics, most of them reading their slides from a laptop in front of them, basically breaking all the rules and ignoring all the good advice that Toastmasters provides.


Remco Timmermans
Remco Timmermans


I decided to do things differently. I removed all but the most essential bullet points from my slides, leaving a few images only. I learned my speech by heart, which I find very difficult and is by far my most frequent topic of feedback at the Toastmasters meetings. I stood up from the safety of the table and my laptop, to face the audience from the edge of the stage, looking them directly in the eyes. I started with a question. I introduced short silences after important points. In contrast to some other speakers, I actually HAD a point. I closed with a simple take away message. I even finished exactly when the 10-minute countdown clock ticked zero. All used all the ‘tricks’ I learned from Toastmasters.

And it worked. I noticed people in the audience actually paid attention. They looked at me instead of their phone. They replied in silence to some of my reciprocal questions. They seemed engaged, nodding, laughing, clapping after some statements.

But the biggest proof was after the presentation, and after the event was over. Many people came to me to share their positive feedback, saying this was the best presentation of all, and how my point came across so clearly. The organisers told me how much they appreciated my presence, hoping I would consider coming back next year. And most importantly, several key decision makers continued the discussion about the point that I had made, triggering the debate I had intended to provoke.

From Toastmasters to the United Nations. I am thankful for the knowledge and methodology that Toastmasters provides. It may seem simple and small in our club meetings, but the impact is profound and worldwide.


Thank you, Didcot Speakers!

Remco Timmermans
Didcot Speakers

The Laughing Toastmaster – Mind the Mind

Mind the Mind - Sonia Aste

Join the Conversation. It’s Mental!

The 10th of October brings Mental Health Awareness Day, and boy do we need it! Just last week a friend of mine called shouting, ‘Meta (aka Facebook) is an evil plan to RULE THE WORLD by Mark Zuckerberg!!’ I’m thinking … Meta? Everyone knows it’s X (aka Twitter) by Elon Musk!

People are going crazy! Oh sorry – I shouldn’t say that, it’s not politically correct. Instead, I’ll use the word LOCA, (crazy in Spanish), that’s OK, isn’t it? Cause of the song? ‘Living la vida loca’? Such a great song about mental health! Thanks Ricky Martin, you made it cool to be crazy!

I should know. I’ve suffered from depression, which in case you’re wondering is like going on a terrible date. You’re exhausted, can’t wait for it to end but you’re expected to say, ‘Everything’s great’!

Today one in every four people will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives (WHO study). That means in every game of LUDO, one player will be affected. And no, we depressives don’t always play BLUE. 

Statistics have never been higher. Not long ago it was one in every ten people. At least back then I felt unique and extra special! Now everybody is jumping on the mental band wagon and the remote working isn’t helping. You hear things like:

‘Oh, I have desk-phobia! I’m afraid to sit at my desk!’ – that’s not a condition … you just hate your job like the rest of us.

‘I can’t get out of bed. I have climate emergency anxiety! No, it’s not. You just stayed up Netflixing until 4am!

Listen up people! Get your mental health together! Resources are limited and some of us were here first! And for goodness’ sake don’t say, ‘Well, we’re all a little bit mental.’ That’s like telling someone who’s bankrupt, ‘Well, we all have cash problems sometimes.’

They say relaxion techniques help, which is why I took a course called ‘Mindfulness: Creating Inner Peace.’ The only peace I’m getting is if they can help me clear my credit card debt … the course was £150!

Debt collectors aside, MINDLFULLNESS consists of staring into the horizon chanting stuff for hours. That’s all well and good, but what if you have a bladder that’s the size of a walnut? I ended up chanting, ‘I need the toilet, I need the toilet.’

Don’t get me wrong, these techniques help, but there’s something to be said for munching through a jumbo size bag of KETTLE CHIPS (salt & vinegar) until I’m so bloated my face turns into a round, smiling emoji. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper (£2.50).

For those with a sweet tooth, reliable sources say raw cake dough works a treat. Don’t worry about the sickly aftermath, after all, what truly fulfilled life doesn’t include Pepto-Bismol?

What does NOT help is what I call the ‘Happiness Brigade.’ People who insist all we have to do is stay POSITIVE to beat mental health. They’ll say things like, ‘You have so many things to be thankful for,’ yes, but your advice is not one of them. You wouldn’t say to someone with a broken leg, ‘Why can’t you make an effort and go skiing, just start with the kid’s slope?’

It’s time to talk. If you are suffering from mental health issues, come out of the mental health closet and seek help. Don’t wait until it’s so crammed in there you can’t even open the door. By the time I came out there were so many skeletons in there it was like a walk-in graveyard.

For the remaining three at the Ludo board (those not affected), it’s time to listen, something all Toastmasters learn to do with skill. Organizations like MIND, SHOUT, Mental Health Foundation and humble articles like this one are asking you to please join the conversation. Let’s create a world where we can talk about mental health without stigma and without shame.

Now it you’ll excuse me I’m off to dance to Ricky Martin, because despite mental health issues, I can still shake my Bon-Bon.


Sonia Aste is a Toastmaster who’s living ‘La Vida Loca.’

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