Oh my Dog

What do you call a world without dogs? A Cat- astrophe! Ha! Ha! I love this joke and laugh every time. Until I think about it and then it’s not so funny. Imagine a world full of cat owners? They can be so … catty! Double Ha! Ha!

Fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, yes, it’s a VALENTINE TRIBUTE TO OUR POOCHES! So, if you’re a cat lover you might want to stop reading and go work on your self-esteem, because as sure as heck your kitty ain’t gonna give it to you. It’s a well-known fact a cat’s main mission in life is to erode your self-worth with floods of rejection.

It’s no joke. Last year a study found that dogs’ eyes evolved to appeal to humans. Another study (mine) revealed cats’ eyes evolved to … judge you. And always find you wanting. Now I’ve been rejected by many people, the last thing I need is to be shunned by an animal.

That’s why I love dogs! Dogs are life’s answer to my lack of self-esteem. Forget stupid advice about ‘having a positive attitude’ or ‘focusing on your achievements’. Sounds like a lot of work for one futile, pointless lifetime.

In contrast, a dog will INSTANTLY make you feel like you are the SUPER-SPECIAL-MOST-IMPORTANT-HUMAN-BEING-IN-THE-UNIVERSE. No ifs, no buts and I don’t even have to ‘embrace my inner love’ or any of that idiotic malarkey. Just dangle the keys in front of your pooch and it turns into American Cheerleader:




Cats on the other hand (no offence to my Gallic cousins), cats are French.  Show them the keys and they look at you as if to say, ‘I’ll show myself out. It’s called a cat flap you imbecile’.

Now I come from a long line of dog lovers. Ever heard of ‘White Privilege’? Well, that’s dog poo compared to my family’s practice of ‘Dog Privilege’. For example, last Christmas my Dad’s Labrador got a silver-plated collar. Me? I got a shower gel. 

It doesn’t stop there. As Catholics we pray to St. Rocco, the Patron Saint of Dogs, ‘Bless our dogs and deliver us from temptation of ever having a cat’. Ever heard of a patron saint for cats? No. Because cats aren’t Catholic. They have all these lives? We suspect they might be Buddhists.  

Before you judge me as a ‘catist’, someone who believes a particular animal species (dogs) is superior to another (cats), let me tell you about my dog Maki.

Maki is a wise and wonderful ‘Water Dog’, a breed affectionately known as ‘The King of Dreadlocks’. Water Dogs became popular in the Obama administration, as the official ‘White House Dog’. It made history as the first democratically elected Rastafari!

Dog-whistle politics aside, Water dogs need a lot of space. The White House Lawn is perfect, my tiny flat in London is not. My Mum comes over from Spain, looks at the space, looks at the dog, raises her eyebrows as only Madrid mothers can, and says (OK, shouts), ‘That dog is suffering! It belongs in the ‘caserio’ (a big farmhouse). I’m taking the dog back!’ I protest, ‘You can’t do that! It’s MY dog, MY life, MY decision!’

Never disagree with a Spanish mother. It’s like when I tried to argue with the Toastmasters judges about not placing in the contest. Their look of contempt was a direct order to: ‘DROP IT’. 

So, the dog’s back in Spain. But he’s happy! Herding, hunting and enjoying life. Because dogs need to work. Hence the phrase ‘working dog’. Ever heard of a WORKING CAT? No. They’re French. They are permanently on strike.

Finally, almost 8 years into the Brexit-dog-poo-process… I might be barking up the wrong tree but don’t you think the results would have been different if the referendum had included dogs?

Imagine if they said, ‘German shepherds, French Poodles, Spanish Mastiffs – they all have to go back to where they came from!’

Even the most die-hard Brexiteer would have changed their mind and voted for the more compassionate doggy command: ‘STAY’.

Cat people still reading this?  Time to get a dog.  


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

2024: Relatively Clean

2024 is here. Toastmasters are putting the finishing touches on their New Year Resolutions. Each resolution includes a detailed project plan, meticulous milestones and that stubborn self-assurance that makes people dislike us. 

Meanwhile the rest of the world are downloading last year’s list, that will do, thank you very much.

Me? I have one NYR: ‘I will never have my cousin Kathy over again’. Not being petty, but she overstayed her welcome … after the first minute! She took one look at my flat and instantly began praising the merits of decluttering and housecleaning, which she claimed had helped her succeed and create the life she wanted.

I thought how boring! In my fantasy life I want a male stripper cleaning up after me, but I didn’t interrupt her tidy enthusiasm, thinking she would leave it at that.

But no, she’s American and has never encountered the words, ‘subtle’ or ‘polite’. She turns to me and says, ‘Your New Year’s resolution HAS to be to clean this place up! It’s a dump!’   

She continues, claiming a grubby home affects all aspects of your life, including finances and sex. I’m not sure how that works, unless bank interest rates are linked to airing your dirty laundry? As for sex, add the word ‘clean’ to it and it begins to sound like a chore.

To my utter horror she hands me a copy of ‘The Life–Changing Magic of Tidying’ (Best Seller – 13 million copies sold) and says ‘This book will change your life’. Well, it definitely changed our friendship. 

I felt like giving her ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Minding Your Own Business’ (Best Seller by Sonia Aste – Gazillion Copies Sold), but I haven’t written it yet. So instead, I just complained about her to my sister, which is a lot easier. I kept thinking, ‘Two more weeks with this condescending cleaning freak?’

I’m not going to lie, there’s been a couple of ‘minor incidents’ related to being untidy. Like when a box of books fell from the top of the closet causing a slight concussion (OK, two stiches). Or the time I lost my purse, cancelled all my credit cards in a panic only to find it behind the vodka bottles.

In contrast, Kathy’s house is hyper clean and tidy. It’s so clean the ‘white glove’ test wouldn’t be allowed, unless she washed it first. This is a woman that washes her Fairy Liquid bottle! In her house even Mr. Muscle has self-doubts.

The thing is she enjoys it. I’ve heard her proclaim, ‘Housecleaning gives me a sense of accomplishment’. Accomplishment?! That’s like people that love doing their tax returns! Surely something went seriously wrong with their DNA sequence. 

Besides, cleaning is sooo overrated! Look at rhinos mating. They don’t let a little mud stop them from getting on with the job, proving Kathy’s spotless suggestions just muddy the waters of pleasure.

Now take my great aunt Carmen. Her house is not yet, ‘Hoarders, Buried Alive’, but it’s in the mail. ‘Junk’ mail that is. Nevertheless, I love visiting her because she’s living proof that happiness has nothing to do with your home looking like the ‘Immaculate Conception’. (I was raised a Catholic – trust me that’s clean.)

What if I have to clutter-surf to get to her toilet? There’s comfort knowing there’s enough loo rolls for every backside in the world and sufficient bars of soap to clean at least one Glastonbury festival goer.

My great aunt went through the Spanish Civil war, so all that ‘stuff’ reassures her and gives her joy. She hoards items that were scarce in those years, like coffee, olive oil, hand grenades. A little scary, but no more terrifying than Kathy plastic coating her Chesterfield sofa ‘So it doesn’t get dirty’.

Maybe it’s just a matter of finding a middle ground. Somewhere that’s comfortable, but still leaves you with joy and happiness. Something like, ‘Keep my home relatively clean’. I’ve already started on this NYR. As a first step I’m throwing away things I don’t need. First to go ‘‘The Life–Changing Magic of Tidying’ (13 million copies sold). Minus one.

Happy New Year.


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

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

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

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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