About Soraya Auer

I am a journalist and student documentary filmmaker.

Anna Auer, 9.12.1920 – 12.3.2012

A grandmother who thought sugar was good for you.

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Near our home in Switzerland.

Death has an odd way of getting people moving. Maybe it’s a bit morbid to think when one person dies and stops moving, others don’t stop, but if you think about it – it’s exactly what happens. You’re either driving back home from the hospital or old age home to sort through the deceased’s possessions, organising a funeral or trying to just get away. People just move.

I found out this morning that my grandmother died and I am back where I was two hours ago – in bed. I was sat on the edge of the bed, with the phone in my hand, listening to my mum say she had ‘news’. My mother was calling from Washington, I was sitting in Bangladesh, my dad was probably trying to sleep somewhere in Switzerland and my grandmother’s body was in an old age home in Germany. We seem to have a habit of being in different countries on a regular basis, and now is just not a good time for our way of life. Usually yes, it’s very exciting and most certainly a privilege, but it’s not conducive to family life.

I can’t quite run to the airport just yet because I don’t know where to go. My father has yet to arrive in the small village where he grew up and where my grandmother will presumably be buried. So here I am. Not moving, not jumping into action. I would do what I normally do on a work day, wake up late.. stream an episode of New Girl or The Big Bang Theory.. take a shower.. eat lunch and head to work (I’m not just lazy, my work hours start late) but I don’t feel like moving. I’m actually feeling inspired to write, so that’s action in a sense, right? I’m not sure if inspired is the right word, but here goes.

I call myself a writer because when I was a kid I used to avoid doing work by writing stories. You can be a writer and not have a job or be paid for it. It’s more of what kind of person you are than what you do. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. In the empty pages of my school diary, I used to write down a scene between my heroine (obviously I’d want a girl to be the badass hero, (subconscious) feminism and all) and her nemesis or her frustrating father (yes, as a teenager I drew from my own life a lot). I used to take such pride in reading novels and recreating the worlds in my head and then writing my own version, as if I could improve on the greats I was reading.

But my reality is that I rarely write like that anymore. I think I have a chronic condition – I seem to procrastinate anything I’m supposed to do. So when writing wasn’t something I had to do, I’d procrastinate my science project by scribbling down another chapter. But as soon as I decided to study Creative Writing – hey presto, my will to write evaporated. It was like I’d sucked all the fun out of my hobby and – if my arrogance will be forgiven – my ‘talent’.

The one thing I thought I was good at, I gave up on. In the five years since I’ve not willing touched pen (finger) to paper (keyboard), I have found so many other ways to procrastinate what I used to do to procrastinate. It’s ridiculous. It’s stupid. My parents think I’m the writer in the family, that’ll I’ll write down all their stories and give them life for others to enjoy. There’s this expectation in myself, that I’ll write novels once I get my act together. How the hell am I to write my grandmother’s story now that she’s gone? I’m probably not.

So after a long-winded six paragraphs of unstructured self realisation – let me start by writing about my grandmother. A stocky German woman who fed me mars bars under the dining table (which didn’t have a tablecloth to hide me), spoon-fed my dog (much to my frustration), and almost licked her plate clean at every meal time (much to my father’s frustration).

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Staying in bed seems to run in the family.

If I’m honest, I hardly remember the woman the way she was. The last years of her life were spent effectively diminishing. She had broken her hips three times by the age of 70, most of her family had died or fallen out with her, she lived a solitary life in both her own home and in ours, she slowly lost her mental ability to distinguish between the plant pot and the cutlery drawer, and had to move into an old age home because her son and his family’s nomadic existence couldn’t house her anymore.

There was so much more to Anna Auer than the vague memories I have of her. She lived through a world war on the wrong side, saw her husband-to-be become a ‘coward’ in the eyes of the army because he didn’t return after an injury, she worked hard as a cleaning woman to support herself in a bombshell of a country, she suffered as no mother should when she buried a stillborn girl, she smothered her next and last child with love and attention, she and her family were accidentally poisoned by wild mushrooms, she watched her son and husband drift apart as one would leave the room after watching the news while the other entered to watch the sport, she supported her son in his desire to leave the small world she knew for Greece, England, the US and Egypt, she accepted a foreign bride (probably reluctantly), she eventually left her small world to see things for herself, she found her husband dead in his chair, she moved in with her son and followed him to India, Bangladesh, France and the UK. She lived for 91 years.

She wasn’t exactly the easiest woman to get on with, and I don’t want to rose-tint my knowledge or memory of her. I sometimes thought of her as a burden, because at times when she was supposed to be the adult looking after me, I was the one making dinner and helping her up to bed. We spoke in a jumble of German and English, neither of us could speak the other’s language properly. I mixed up ‘his’ and ‘her’ in German and she never corrected me because she knew what I meant. She used to have habits that drove my dad crazy (but then again, he’s very particular, much like her). She didn’t have a close relationship with my mother and they barely saw or spoke to one another (to be fair to my mother, none of us saw much of her because of her work). She lost touch with much of her family and her husband’s family stopped speaking to her after they fell out with my father. No doubt about it, she was a lonely woman. I’m not saying I was the golden grandchild that always spent time with her when no one else would. I wasn’t. There were times when I would sit with her and have banal conversation and answer the same question four times, tell my dad to not shout at her because she was disturbing him while she talked to herself or to the dog, help her move things in her room, make her a snack, sit with her at the hairdresser’s, and hug her and say ‘I love you’.  There were also times when I would tell her to hurry up in the bathroom and sent my dog to keep her company so that I could go out with friends. I wasn’t exactly devastated when she had to move out. I was a selfish teenager.

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Oma with Cuddly, our first dog, at our home in India.

I guess movement is not the only thing that comes with death. There’s also regret and wondering whether what you did was enough to value that person. In the last few years, I used to joke about how senile my grandmother was and how her marbles had rolled off – was that appropriate? Or is it excused because it’s a ‘coping mechanism’? She had dementia – a disease she couldn’t control. It’s not her fault she didn’t like seeing pictures of her husband, because after 20 years, she didn’t recognise him. It’s not her fault she couldn’t function by herself or live with us anymore. It’s not her fault she didn’t know sugar wasn’t good for her and that’s why she eventually lost most of her teeth. Okay, that last one had nothing to do with the dementia so it was probably her fault.

She lived a life. A ‘full’ life, as a few people have told me. Whatever that means, I just hope she didn’t have too many regrets. I regret a few things about our relationship, but that may well be because I just don’t remember clearly what I did or didn’t do for her. I wish I’d learnt her language properly, I wish I’d been able to care for her myself, I wish she could’ve had a better relationship with both my parents.

Regardless, she was a woman who, I like to think, did things in her life she hadn’t expected to – like live in India, see her son happy in a life outside her world, found love and companionship with a dog (which I don’t consider to be a consolatory prize to those things with a person!!) and reconnected with family she thought she lost.

I spent her 90th birthday with her, and despite not recognising me and wondering “why is that girl smiling at me” – she sang a whole Christmas carol and had joy on her face. I can’t fully remember her the way she was when I was a child, so I’ll remember that moment instead. Oh that and the fact that she kept saying “what a handsome young boy!” to the teenage waiter. Whether she was senile or not, she had a sense of humour and a laugh I will never forget.

What I have written here isn’t really for any other purpose than for me to say what I need to say about a woman that was in my life. She did what any grandmother would, love and spoil, but she also gave me a presence I will never forget.

I would say I’d pray for her, but I’m not religious so why should I start now just because death paid a visit to some close to me. I’ll write for her because like I said, I’m a writer, not because that’s what I do, but because it’s who I am. And this is my way of making sure something real of her doesn’t die.

The internet is a beautiful thing, I still haven’t left my bed but at least something of me, even if it is only words, is moving.

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This is was the last time I saw her, getting a smile out of her.

Press Association story: Ex-surgeon relives attack aftermath

By Soraya Auer – published by Press Association

A retired heart surgeon who helped save the life of a police officer after a frenzied knife attack described today the bloody scene he stumbled across.

Samad Tadjkarimi, 65, was returning from Christmas shopping in Ealing, west London, when he found Pc Paul Madden, 23, lying in the street with “horrendous injuries” to his neck.

He said: “As I turned my head round, I noticed an officer lying on the pavement – lots of dark blood on the right side of his neck.

“I turned my attention to him immediately and I compressed his neck, holding it.”

Pc Madden was attacked by John Onyenaychi, 30, near Ealing bus station after the officer recognised Onyenaychi as a suspect for a previous knife attack at a taxi office.

Mr Tadjkarimi, who had retired from Harefield hospital three weeks before, said: “Although he (Pc Madden) looked pale, obviously due to the volume of blood lost, he was calm. I reassured him that he would be fine and the ambulance would be there any second.”

Onyenaychi, of Wise Road, Stratford, east London, was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder, causing grievous bodily harm with intent, robbery and attempting to cause grievous bodily harm.

The Recorder of London, Judge Peter Beaumont said: “Paul Madden would have died within 2-3 minutes – such was the loss of his blood – without the help he received from the passing retired doctor.”

The judge praised Mr Tadjkarimi’s quick-thinking and awarded him £500 for “undoubtedly saving PC Madden’s life.”

The retired surgeon, originally from Iran, was reluctant to be hailed a hero.

He said: “I am very pleased that he (Pc Madden) survived. It’s very humbling that my intervention perhaps contributed to the outcome of possibly saving his life – a very brave young officer.”

He added: “It’s my duty, I guess. I’m sure anyone in my profession would do the same.”

When asked what was going through his mind as he used his bare hands to stem the flow of blood from Pc Madden’s neck, he said he thought of his own family.

He said: “He was the same age, virtually, as my son.”

Before Mr Tadjkarimi dealt with Pc Madden’s injuries, he attended to Police Community Support Officer Piotr Dolata, 27, who had also been stabbed by the knifeman.

“I saw a young officer, blood pouring from his face, with blood also spurting from his scalp.” Mr Tadjkarimi said.

He put pressure on the 6in (15.2cm) cut and bandaged it with the help of members of the public.

Mr Tadjkarimi came to the UK in 1973 after completing his medical training in Istanbul, Turkey.

His 21-year-old son, a medical student, is following in the footsteps of both parents, as his mother is also in the profession.

Mr Tadjkarimi joked: “I’ve tried to dissuade him and it didn’t work. It must be in the genes.”

Could you pass my handbag – I mean – er my dog

Ten-year-old Alfie, a Chihuahua, is a former resident of Dogs Trust Harefield, and was rehomed by staff member.

It’s easy donating last season’s sequined purse to a charity shop or shoving it to the back of the wardrobe – it’s more problematic doing that to a miniature dog.

Animal welfare charities are warning of a celebrity trend, set by the likes of Paris Hilton and Coleen Rooney, that has caused a rise in abandoned ‘handbag’ dogs. People are realising, too late, that while fashionable for a day, keeping a canine under their arm, is not always practical for life.

Animal charity The Blue Cross has seen the number of abandoned toy dogs more than treble in five years while the Dogs Trust had a 44% increase from 2009 to 2010.

Four-month-old Pomeranian, Poppy, was bought last Christmas Eve by a 17-year-old boy. He got bored and passed her on to his mum, who had to bring Poppy to work with her. Within a few weeks, Poppy came to the Dogs Trust in Shoreham.

It is unclear whether it was Orlando Bloom’s Yorkie ‘Frankie’ or Mickey Rourke’s Chihuahua ‘Jaws’ that inspired that particular teenager to get dog friendly for his man bag.  What is clear is that animal charities have cause to believe people underestimate the needs of little dogs.

Ryan Neile, an animal behaviourist at The Blue Cross, said: “People assume that just because dogs are small they require less exercise and mental stimulation, but this is often not true. All dogs need appropriate outlets for their behaviour, otherwise they may become bored, frustrated or stressed, which could result in behaviour problems, such as being destructive in the home.

“Just because they are small enough to be carried around all day, doesn’t mean that they should be. Due to their size, people forget they are still dogs and they need to be treated and respected as such.”

The charity has seen the numbers of Bichon Frise, Chihuahuas, Shih Tsus, Yorkshire terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Pugs, Pomeranians, Papillons and Cavalier King Charles spaniels rise from just 53 in 2005/6 to 177 in the past 12 months.

Pint-sized pups don’t come cheap either. Pedigree pups can cost more than £1,000 – and that doesn’t take into account vets bills, grooming costs or food.

People also forget what these so-called ‘handbag dogs’ were originally bred for.  For example, Yorkies, and most terrier dogs, were originally bred to catch and fight rats, and Lhasa Apsos were watch dogs for Tibetan monasteries in the Himalayas.

Some dogs are also prone to health problems. Chihuahuas can suffer heart murmurs and Pugs can have breathing difficulties and eye problems. These can result in large vet bills that people don’t take into account or may not be able to afford.

But despite celebrity influences, there are those who love the little breeds for their qualities and not just their portability.

University student Rhona Kirby, 20, from Haywards Heath, said: “I want a Maltipoo – it’s a cross between a Maltese and a Poodle and apparently all the celebrities have them but that’s not why I want them.  I looked into it properly – the Maltese part of them makes them docile and good companion dogs while the Poodle part makes them intelligent.

Rihanna and Jessica Simpson and the blonde girl from Gossip Girl – Blake Lively – all have one. They are everywhere in Hollywood. Vanessa Hudgens has one too but the fact that celebrities have them puts me off. I wanted them because they’re cute and intelligent.”

“I got a rabbit last week instead, only because I wouldn’t be able to manage a dog and work. I didn’t think that it would be fair to keep it indoors nine to five.”

When asked if she’d ever get a Maltipoo, Rhona said: “Definitely, but when I have more time to walk it. I’ll probably wait till I’m married so I’ll have someone else to walk it too!”

Sadly not all potential dog owners realise they haven’t the time to give. Shelby, a two-year-old Chihuahua, was brought to Dogs Trust’s Shoreham centre in August because her owner’s work commitments changed.

Two-year-old Chihuahua, Shelby, at Dogs Trust, Shoreham.

Nicole McCallum, Support Relations Officer for Dogs Trust’s Shoreham animal centre, said: “It’s a common reason in this current climate. Some people have to take on full-time work rather than part-time or have to move away.”

After featuring in the Daily Mail two weeks ago, Shelby got hundreds of calls of interest and the Dogs Trust found her a suitable new home.

Ms McCallum said: “She’s going to a couple – hopefully this week – with experience with nervous Chihuahuas, which Shelby is. She’s very scared of strangers. One of the staff has been fostering her, giving her lots of attention, playing with her, cuddling her on the sofa and Shelby absolutely loves that. Once she’s got past the fear, and has got used to you, she’s really lovely.

“The couple have been excellent. They don’t expect anything from her which is good for her, as it’s just about taking each day at a time. They understand what she needs which is great.”

I, for one, have had Lhasa Apsos for the past 15 years as a family pet and while our nine-year-old pooch Coffee is a little demanding for tummy rubs, she loves to run loose in fields, tell the neighbours’ cats where to stick it, and curl up on my dad’s newspapers.

Coffee sleeps on her back like a human.

New or young owners shouldn’t be put off by the needs of little dogs because they can bring a lot of life to a home.  They should just make sure it is the right dog for their lifestyle.

A dog is for life, not just for a handbag.

The Argus stories in print

The Argus story: Athlete wins Brighton’s 10k beachfront race with a sprint

A leisurely stroll along Brighton’s seafront was not what more than 300 athletes had in mind when they took part in Brighton’s Athletics and Triathlon Club’s inaugural 10K race on Wednesday evening.

Brighton’s Phoenix club sold a record of 450 entries and the excellent conditions of overcast but dry weather helped the competitors as they ran from Hove’s Lawns to Shoreham Harbour’s Carrot’s Cafe and back again.

Dean Lacey, of Cambridge Harriers, won the race in 30 minutes and 24 seconds with a final sprint to keep three seconds ahead of Phoenix’s own athlete Ian Leitch.

Lizzy Brama, a marshal for the race, said: “It was the best finish I’ve seen in a long time with Dean only narrowly beating Ian.”

Click here to see this on The Argus website

Askamum story: New parents take inspiration from celebrity baby names

Celebrity and film culture are now strongly informing how parents name their babies.

Babies in a line - baby names

By Soraya Auer

Celebrities are strongly influencing parents when naming their babies, according to an analysis of 23 million page views on a baby-names website.

Pam Satran, the developer of the nameberry.comwebsite, said: “Five years ago, I might have said that the biggest overarching factor was personal meaning, now the biggest factor is celebrities.”

Satran believes the number of searches for a particular name is a better indicator of how parents will act when it comes to naming their child in the more immediate future.

Of the girls names the name Pippa, she explained, rose in popularity after Pippa Middleton caught the world’s attention when she was the maid of honour at her sister Kate’s wedding to Prince William in April. “She seems to have the power of celebrity propelling her name and style,” Satran said.

At the moment, the U.S. Social Security Administration annually tracks and releases the number of babies with a particular name after birth. Jacob, Ethan and Michael were the top boy names for the US in 2010 while Isabella, Sophia and Emma were the favourites for girls.

More unusual names have also been celebrity inspired, such as Elula, daughter of actress Isla Fisher and actor-comedian Sasha Baron Cohen. Elula was not in the database in 2010 but so far into 2011, it is the 38th most searched for name. According to Satran, this is essentially because the celebrity couple chose not to publicize the name until well after their child’s birth.

“There is a culture of the celebrity baby,” she said. “The whole world goes on name watch. By not telling the name, it becomes a big news event.”

Other popular celebrity inspired searches include Flynn, son of actor Orlando Bloom and his Australian model wife Miranda Kerr, Hadley, from the bestselling book “The Paris Wife”, and Mila, which Satran points to actress Mila Kunis’ success in the past year.

Click here to see this on the askamum website

Askamum story: Leeds to become England’s first breastfeeding friendly city

With over half of mums feeling embarrassed to breastfeed in public, Leeds’ council and health services are calling on all businesses and residents to make breastfeeding mums feel welcomed and comfortable.

Three mums with their babies on their laps chatting

By Soraya Auer

Leeds is hoping to become the first breastfeeding friendly city in England with the Local NHS organisations and the support of Leeds City Council.

The Leeds Breastfeeding Friendly campaign aims to promote breastfeeding by making it more acceptable in public, so that mums are comfortable to breastfeed their children when they need to.

Maggie Boyle, of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTHNT), said: “LTHNT helps deliver over 9,000 babies every year and we always advise mums that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for them and their babies.”

A recent UK-wide survey found that many mums are put off breastfeeding in public despite recognising its benefits. More than half of mums were too embarrassed to breastfeed in front of people, a third said they hid in public toilets to breastfeed and more than two thirds said they were ‘blatantly stared at’ when breastfeeding in public.

NHS Leeds has been working with local mums to find out what barriers they face when looking to breastfeed their babies. Leeds officials are calling on all businesses and residents to create an environment in which breastfeeding mums are welcomed, supported and made comfortable.

Leeds also wants to inform and motivate local mums to breastfeed as the number of those who choose to do it is relatively low. Health professionals will be measuring the success of the campaign by seeing if there is an increase in breastfeeding mums.

The campaign hopes an increase in breastfeeding in the most disadvantaged areas will make a significant different to the health and wellbeing within the most disadvantaged communities in Leeds.

“It is really important that mums are given all the support they need when feeding their children,” said John Lawlow, Chief Executive for NHS Leeds. “Now we need the support of local businesses and community organisations. All they need to do is sign up to the scheme and receive a free resource pack including display materials.”

To help local mums find out where Breastfeeding Friendly venues are in Leeds a dedicated website has been set up.

Local businesses and community organisations looking to get involved in the campaign can receive a free resource pack by emailing Sarah Erskine at NHS Leeds.

Click here to see this on the askamum website