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 Well millennials claim they’re as outdated as sending Hallmark cards (which, BTW, destroy the other Amazon).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.’

More from Sonia on her websiteTwitterFacebookInstagram

The Laughing Toastmaster: Green Room Gossip

Green Room Gossip - Sonia Aste

As Toastmasters we visit a lot of Green Rooms doing public speaking. Personally, I’d prefer if they were white and padded (especially before an important gig), but at this point in my ‘thriving’ public speaking career, I’m just glad there’s a ROOM.

After being squeezed into corridors, cubbyholes, and janitor’s closets (it’s amazing how little space mops take), I can boast there’s a Green Room. And toilet paper in the Ladies’ Room! Success at last!

Now let’s not confuse ‘Green Room’ with the evergreen section in your local Garden Centre. A Green room is defined as: ‘A room in which speakers can relax before and after they perform on stage’. ‘Relax’ is not exactly the word I would use. More like, ‘She’s hyperventilating, looks like she’s going to pass out’!

I didn’t, but it was close. Where’s a brown paper bag when you need one? Plastic bags won’t do. You’ll not only hyperventilate but asphyxiate and die. Plenty of time to do that on stage.

I like Green Rooms. They remind me of my true love: chocolates. They come in all shapes and sizes and bigger is definitely better.

Take the last corporate event I did. The Green Room was a huge seminar suite filled with posters praising the benefits of hard work:

  • No Shortcuts: WORK FOR IT!

Very inspirational. I must remember to follow them one day.

For quirky Green Rooms, the winner has to be a B&B room in York, annexed to the conference room we were performing in. One speaker took a shower, the Keynoter took a nap, and I took all the biscuits. Hey they were free!

Close second is a Curry House in Birmingham, hired for an office party award ceremony. The Green Room was beside the kitchen. I wasn’t exactly on top of the stove but close enough to go on stage smelling like Chicken Dopiaza. Turned out the audience went ballistic and wanted more and more! Curry.

My personal favourite? A large brewery near Chicago. Was it the tank’s reflexion that made all the speakers shine? Or the fact the audience was doubly intoxicated due to what I call ‘alcohol osmosis’?

Green Rooms have rules too. As far as I know these remain unwritten, so for the benefit of all you rookies out there (in public speaking that means anyone with less than 101 years’ experience):

  1. Don’t be a jerk… but be prepared to meet a few.
  2. Avoid asking ‘Is this the Green Room?!’ With a smirk on your face. Go back to point 1.
  3. Don’t brownnose the event organizer … too much. A little ‘mocha’ nosing is expected, but most people will see through ‘You’re the best person in the world!!’ And those who don’t are best avoided.
  4. Fans and groupies are not allowed in the Green Room. My grandmother is in Spain so not a problem for me.
  5. Don’t be greedy. The organizer has kindly put out drinks and refreshments for ALL the speakers. Taking the Gin and Vodka bottles home is not cool. Plus, I have yet to be invited back to that specific event.
  6. Be nice to the host/MC. They have the power to introduce you as: ‘We believe in giving new public speakers a chance, I’ve never seen her before … so anything goes’…
  7. Don’t believe speakers that boast about how they have won all the speaking competitions in the world, especially if you’re performing in the cafeteria of an accounting firm in Sunderland. (See point 8).
  8. Do boast that YOU have won a Toastmasters’ speech competition as the name of our organization carries a lot of clout. Never mind it was third place at club level and there were only three speakers.
  9. Don’t say, ‘You really bombed!’ to the Key-Note Speaker (even if it’s true). Don’t be tempted to give them an evaluation (even if they really need it). Do say ‘Have you thought of joining Toastmasters’?

And finally,

  1. If you have an issue with any of these rules – ignore them like I do.

Sonia Aste is a Harvard MBA, Engineer, MEng, writer, public speaker, and comedian. She’s a Toastmaster at Riverside Communicators Club
More from Sonia on her websiteTwitterFacebookInstagram

The Laughing Toastmaster: The Geeky Feminist

The Laughing Toastmaster: The Geeky Feminist Who says the age of miracles is past? Here’s one for you: I’m a GEEK! Me, the woman who has spent her life trying to be ‘cool’ but always ends up with parsley stuck between her teeth. Last week I successfully completed an after-dinner speech at an IT conference, making me … Read more