WHAT TO DO IF... YOUR HOME IS FLOODED
Donna Clark, 38, lives in Cockermouth. Her house was devastated by the floods that hit Cumbria in November, which caused a total of more than £100m worth of damage to more than 1,000 homes
"It's weird to have nothing to your name. It makes you feel like an orphan. Hopefully my landlord will be able to claim on his insurance and get the house fixed, but it is likely to be six to 18 months before I can move back in. It is a good idea to check your insurance if your house is at risk, because some companies have a £20,000 excess on flood damage. Some people round here can't get insurance at all.
"I'd advise people to heed any flood warnings. The river was high on the Wednesday, and we'd been warned that it might flood, but as we'd had warnings before but never been flooded I thought we'd be fine. I live on a road next to where the two rivers [the Cocker and the Derwent] meet, but I put up sandbags, and there had been new flood defences built recently. I ordered sandbags when the water was rising, but as my neighbours hadn't called, they didn't get any. You have to be self-reliant in this sort of situation; if you think your house is at risk, call the council and tell them what you need.
"At two o'clock on Thursday there was no water on the street, but just half an hour later the water was spilling over the top of my Wellington boots. It was hard to stay upright, and a real struggle just to get to the main street. I was really scared of being knocked off my feet and swept away. The water was really dark brown and moving with such force.
"Luckily I'm single so I didn't have any kids with me, and I'd sent my dog to a friend. There were people down the street who left their dogs at home and couldn't get to them for days; they must have been terrified. If you are going to leave them in the house, make sure they are upstairs and have plenty of food and water.
"Everyone should have a bag packed with at least three or four days' worth of clothes, socks, underwear and the like. Toiletries are really important, too, so make sure you have shampoo and deodorant. I had to go and stay with a male friend, so he didn't have any female toiletries. And think about where the most important things are, such as your passport, driving licence, credit cards, and put them to one side so you can grab them quickly. Think about what is most valuable to you, and what you'd like to save. The most upsetting thing for me was losing my mum's jewellery. She died when I was 20 and the gold cross she gave me for my 18th birthday and all the rest of her jewellery was lost. I also had an album with all my photos of her in it which was ruined. I collect 1950s and 1960s memorabilia, too, which all got lost. I've been collecting for years, and that was part of my identity, but it got washed away.
"Everything has been ruined. I was confident it would be fine, so I just left things downstairs on the work surface. When I get the chance to move back into my house I will move more of my belongings upstairs in case it happens again.
"I've not cried about losing my things, but I've cried about how nice everyone has been. For anyone else who finds themselves in this situation, I'd tell them that people want to help, so let them. I went to the clothes bank and they gave me shampoo and toiletries, the Trussell Trust food bank have been giving me whatever food I need, and the Red Cross gave me a set of pans. I come from London and have lived in Kent, but up here there is a community like nothing I've known. The floods have brought everyone closer. I've got lots of friends in the same situation, and it has helped me get to know people I didn't know before."
WHAT TO DO IF... YOU CATCH SWINE FLU
Dan Carrier, 36, is a journalist and single father from north London. He suffered from a virulent attack of swine flu last summer, which took him more than a month to recover from
"I started to feel ill on my way back from a music festival but thought I was just run down and suffering from having spent a weekend in a field with 10,000 people. Hours after I got home, the temperature hit me and so started what was one of the nastiest experiences in my life.
"I've had the flu before but this was nothing like the normal two weeks when you feel exhausted, can't eat, are shivery and stay in bed; this was much worse – I was beside myself. I lost all concept of time and was delirious with the high temperature, which lasted more than a week. Even after that, every time I thought I felt a bit better and would stagger to the sofa, I'd just collapse again. It's really important to take paracetamol regularly to keep the temperature down as much as you can, and make sure you've got someone who'll make you drink loads of fluids.
"After the first few days, when I kept feeling worse and worse, I called my GP, who told me not to come in but to call the flu helpline instead. The person on the other end of the line did what felt like a box-ticking exercise and asked me things like: 'Do you feel ill, quite ill or very ill?' She then diagnosed me with swine flu and prescribed Tamiflu, but my sister, who's a GP, said it was too late to bother with it so I didn't take it. Ring the flu line early otherwise don't bother wasting NHS money getting Tamiflu; just stay in bed, rest and take paracetamol.
"My son Luc, who'll be six soon, spends half his week living with me but it just so happened that the week I first got sick his mum was away for the whole week, as were my mum and dad. I didn't even have the energy to organise alternative child care, but luckily I've got friends and other family to help out. Luc was really good and played in the lounge a lot, but there was obviously a time when I needed to be in quarantine and was just sleeping all the time. People would come round, pick him up for the day, take him out, then bring him back and put him to bed for me. They'd leave me big bowls of soup outside my bedroom door, it was really sweet.
"Once you've got the symptoms, quarantine yourself and don't be selfish and try to go out, because you'll just infect everyone else. You'll feel so bad that it's impossible to cook for yourself, so make sure someone can help look after you if you live on your own. You've just got to accept that you're going to be knocked out for a month and make arrangements for other people to help you with everything. I was actually on annual leave for some of the time but I've still never had so many days off work. Even after a month I didn't feel myself. I'd walk to the shops and have to go back to bed for a sleep straight afterwards. I tried to go on a camping holiday with my sister more than a month later because I thought the fresh air would help me recuperate, but ended up coming home because I was so exhausted.
"Lots of children in Luc's school were off with swine flu before the summer holidays, so I think if he was going to get it, he would already have had it. But, if there's a second wave and the school or the GP advises me to vaccinate him, I will. I'm definitely not worried about the vaccine safety. But otherwise I'm not going to do anything different with him. If he gets it, we'll cope with it. I do worry about the strain on the NHS so I don't think everyone should get the vaccine. But people with health problems that make them more risky, I think they should take the advice and get vaccinated. Otherwise prepare for a really horrible month."
For the NHS helpline, call 0800 1 513 100 or visit nhs.uk
WHAT TO DO IF... YOU GO ON A REALITY TV SHOW
Lorraine Tighe, 37, was a contestant on series five of the BBC's 'The Apprentice'. She received much tabloid attention for her personal life. She came fourth in the competition
"I decided to enter The Apprentice because I'd got divorced and had then been out of the workforce for nine years looking after my daughters, one of whom had been sick with meningitis. My background was in sales, so I had some skills that were transferable to the show, and I thought it was a great opportunity to get back up the career ladder.
"It was the most terrifying experience of my life. The tasks are filmed back to back, so you get little sleep and have a constant fear of the next task. I didn't feel I needed to get too pally with anyone, and I don't think any of the others felt they did either. That's the mindset you have to have.
"I was totally myself, but I wouldn't advise it. To get to the later stages, you need to be extremely manipulative, and often it's not right to come out and say what you think. For instance, I told Sir Alan I was a slow-burner. I was just saying that in my twenties I was sharp as a razor-blade and I can't be as sharp as that now, but that doesn't mean to say I'm stupid: when I get it, I get it. He said he had no time for slow-burners but I thought,'What do you want, a scatter-gun approach?'
"I hated the fame that came with it. My experience of the press ruined it for me. The News of the World got a story about an ex-partner [alleging that he and Lorraine were swingers] and twisted it on me. I became fodder for the tabloids and it caused me to become quite ill, for two or three months. Some of the comments written about me on the internet were really over the top, too – 'I want to smash her face in she's so ugly.' I was naïve. Anyone going on TV should remember it's all about ratings and not about individuals.
"After the show I had to have about four or five months' break from work, and stayed completely away from any exposure, and went for long walks and rebuilt my life. For the first time, I realised a £100,000 job is not the most important thing in my life, and that I didn't need to prove myself any more. I'm about to start a new job for a charity, Business and Education London South, which encourages vulnerable young people to stay in education. I'm taking a 60 per cent pay cut and for the first time in my life I think I'm going to be really happy.
"For 20 years, I was frustrated about not achieving what I wanted to, but now I'm being, rather than going. In that respect, going on TV was an invaluable lesson. When you are on a show like this and get to the later stages, you think you're going to get something out of it, and that's not the case. I thought I'd get hundreds of job interviews and that didn't happen. I can cope with it because I'm older and my daughters are the most important things to me, but I know other contestants have experienced an incredible comedown."
WHAT TO DO IF... YOU WIN THE LOTTERY
Falguni Patel, 30, from Neasden, north-west London, won £250,000 on a National Lottery scratchcard in April. It is dwarfed by the £90m Euro Millions Lottery win shared last November by a Welsh couple and a syndicate in Liverpool, but is a more likely outcome for those who continue to buy tickets and scratchcards
"I bought the scratchcard from my parents' shop. They have a newsagents in east Acton, west London, and I happened to go there on a Saturday morning because I was picking my mum up to go shopping. I don't normally buy Lottery tickets but occasionally I go in and ask mum what new ones are out. It was a Deal or No Deal card and as I scratched off the panels I didn't even look at them but just handed it back to my mum to check through the machine. A message came up that said 'Contact Watford' and she knew it meant the prize was at least £50,000. We couldn't believe it. My mum looked down at the card but couldn't see what it said because of her glasses. Then dad came back and said it was £250,000. We just kept thinking it must be a joke and that it couldn't be real.
"The three of us went to the head office together and saw videos of people who won millions and ended up bankrupt. I just couldn't understand how that happened. The Lottery gave us an advice pack and I didn't want to blow it, I wanted to get something that might increase in value in a few years' time. I kept the cheque in my bedroom for 10 days before I cashed it. I just kept seeing all these banks closing and was really scared to put it in. Every day I'd open the drawer and check it was still there. When I went to the bank to ask their advice they couldn't believe I'd been keeping it in my bedroom. They stayed open late so I could run back and get it.
"My brother Pryank was studying in America and he was really anxious about his student loan, which was something like £100,000. We were worried about what to do and had been considering re-mortgaging the house. When we phoned my brother to tell him the news about the win, he just didn't believe us. He was gobsmacked.
"It wasn't millions, but it was a considerable amount. It would have been easy to blow it, but I wanted to be helpful. I wanted to use it to help my family. First we paid off most of my brother's student debt, then we cleared my dad's credit card and put some money away as a pension for my parents. After that we wanted to work out how to invest it sensibly, so my mum went to India in May and invested it in two properties.
"We also looked for physiotherapy and private healthcare for my younger sister Mayury, who is disabled. Her legs are paralysed and we've always wanted to be able to get her the best care. My advice to anyone who wins the Lottery would be just not to go and splurge it all in one go. It's nice to be able to help people, especially if they are your family – why not?
"This year we've gone all out for Christmas and got a new plasma TV fitted, and my mum is getting a diamond ring, which she really deserves. Next summer we'll probably go for a family holiday, which will be nice. I haven't really bought anything just for myself; everything has been for all of us, whether it's the family car or the family TV. There's nothing I really need and anything I've ever needed, my family has provided for me, so I'm really happy to give back. The National Lottery told us to be aware that charities and others might come to us for money. At the beginning we decided not to tell everybody but as word got out we began to get phone calls from people we'd never even heard of. We even got a call from someone claiming to be my mum's friend, but she didn't know who she was. I don't know whether these calls were to get money or just to be nosey, but they were weird. We didn't get anyone directly ask for money but then we only talked about it if it came up in conversation. That's what I would advise people to do – don't go around broadcasting it to everyone, just try to be discreet about it.
"I teach English as a foreign language part-time and have my own pamper party business called FalMay, so I've also invested some of the money into the business for marketing and to expand it a bit. I've got a business mind and I just want to see what return I can make, because I don't want to be back at square one again.
"The last bit of money left, which is about £55,000, I have invested and saved so I can use it as a lump-sum deposit to get property here. But I wouldn't want to leave home, I love living with my family. One bit of advice I heard and would pass on is that if you spend all your winnings on a fancy house and car, you must think carefully whether you can afford the maintenance on them."
WHAT TO DO IF... YOU LOSE YOUR JOB
Like many people in the legal, City and financial industries, Lauren Kaye, 33, was made redundant last year. In her case, the news came in August and she has spent the time since working in a very different environment
"I had a feeling I would get made redundant, but I didn't know for sure. I was working as a media lawyer in London and the company had just been taken over. I'd been working there for three years and I loved my job. It was August and I'd just been off sick with swine flu which had caused my Crohn's disease to flare up. so I'd been off for about two weeks in hospital. Then, on my first day back, I found out I didn't have a job any more.
"It was a total shock, but then within a week I'd booked a flight to Central America. That's what credit cards are for. I thought to myself: I'm 33, I don't have any ties and I don't have to find a new job; I can use this as an opportunity to do something totally different.
"Anyone with a job like I had – in the City or for a law firm – should have a plan B that they'd like to do if they get made redundant. I did, so when it happened I knew it was time to put it into action. I had been skiing last March for the first time and I really enjoyed it but had thought to myself that I would never be able to get that good if I only did it once a year. So it seemed like the perfect opportunity to spend a chunk of time in the mountains. The job I ended up getting was to work the forthcoming ski season with Crystal – the same company I'd been on holiday with.
"It was really sunny during the week while I was organising everything, so I spent the days sunbathing in Regent's Park. I stayed in London for the whole of September, going away on breaks with friends. I'd already planned a week in St Tropez and to go to Bestival. My feet did not touch the ground.
"Within a week of not working I couldn't imagine how people had time for a full-time job. Every day there was someone to meet for lunch or something to do; it was the best few months. I did a two-week French course and then I went to Central America for five weeks. I flew to Nicaragua and travelled around Costa Rica and Panama – it was something I'd always wanted to do.
"When I got back I had a week in London putting away my summer wardrobe and getting out my winter stuff. Then it was time to head to the mountains. I arrived in Les Arcs in early December to begin working as a rep and it's fantastic. It's like nothing I've ever done before. I'm not normally someone who likes the cold or early mornings but when I get up at 6am and see the view of the sun coming up over Mont Blanc, it seems worth it.
"Six months ago I was working at a computer all day, every day. The stuff that's happened has given me an opportunity and who knows what I'll be doing this time next year; I've got no idea. Everyone back home thinks I will take another law job, but to be honest I don't really know, because once you're off the hamster wheel, you don't want to get back on. I did enjoy my life but it was very conventional, whereas now I realise what else is out there. You get ground down by living in London with the stress of daily life, but then all of a sudden you remember how to smile every day. The people I worked with are some of my best friends and they say they're very jealous when I email them now – it's good to keep in touch with old colleagues. I feel like my health has improved massively even though I'm working hard, because I'm not stressed.
"If one of my friends got made redundant tomorrow, the first thing I'd say is don't panic. The worst thing to do is to jump straight back into getting another job – it's better to see it as an opportunity to do something you've never done before. It's also important not to see it as a rejection of you personally, because it's not. Trying not to get cross with the people who've put you in that position is also crucial, partly because there's no point, but also because they've actually given you a chance. I know lots of people are married with kids and wouldn't be able to do this, but if you're given the opportunity to try something different, you should just take it."
WHAT TO DO IF... YOU BECOME AN MP
Chloe Smith became the country's youngest MP, aged 27, last year. The Conservative member for Norwich North, she was elected to the seat when the local MP Ian Gibson (Labour) stood down during the expenses furore
"My advice to anyone who wants to be a new MP in 2010? First of all, be sure, if you stand as a candidate, that you want to win and are ready to fight in case the contest should happen to come earlier than expected!
"The community, of course, wants to select the best candidate to be their local MP. Meanwhile, the cameras roll up and the newspapers take an interest. So, be sure you know why you are the best person for the job – and that you can explain that, time and again, to the local and national media. Be sure, most of all, that you can say it with passion and pride to everyone who you seek the honour of representing.
"Try to get a few outfits together and comfortable shoes that will withstand a month of campaigning. One thing I did when I became an MP was get together with some other female MPs in purchasing some bright-coloured things to wear at Prime Minister's Questions.
"I remember I made sure that I came to London the night before my first day in Parliament. The last thing I wanted was a late train from Norwich making me late. If you were to be successful and be given that responsibility of becoming an MP, don't even think about asking for a map of Parliament on your first day. It's practically an official secret. Do, instead, ask the policemen you see – they enjoy welcoming new MPs.
"Don't rush into the Commons and open your mouth. It's a heady experience to take your seat, but it's worth learning from your new colleagues about the traditions, the horrors and the pleasures of speaking in the chamber before letting rip. Do, however, enjoy writing and delivering your maiden speech. People sometimes think that the Chamber can seem very empty when they see it on TV. But one of the first things I realised very quickly was the range of work that you must do as an MP, from a whole variety of meetings in my constituency, to a further variety of meetings in Westminster and hours and hours of preparation for those dates.
"As anyone who has entered a new job – let alone one in the public eye with public responsibility – knows, the phone won't stop ringing and the emails will pour in. So don't try to do everything in your first month. It's not possible. Do, instead, try to pace yourself and deliver the important things first.
"Overall, you have to enjoy yourself – especially now. The General Election will be on us soon, so make the most of the brief rest before it. Get out with family and friends and do normal, enjoyable things. Get to the supermarket and lay in all the vital supplies before your face becomes instantly recognisable from posters bearing your photo and your slogan. Get things done before you have to do them forwards, backwards and in high heels."
WHAT TO DO IF... YOU WANT TO LIVE OFF-GRID
Michael Rea, 64, and his wife Dot retired to the Shetland island of Unst in 2001 and now live in a zero-carbon house. In the past year, the couple have lived near off-grid, with heating costs of just 50p a day for their 180sq m home in the most northerly part of the British Isles
"We had always wanted to live in a truly sustainable way and we decided that we wanted to put a lot of energy-efficient technology into the house.
"I'd read a lot of articles on climate change and I could see that probably in my lifetime there were going to have to be major changes in the way that we live, because we cannot go on consuming materials at the rate we've been consuming them.
"At that point we weren't actually considering erecting a demonstration project. I always think out of the box; I don't like to do what everybody else does. So I started researching, and then I found out about [AIM-listed company] Energy for Sustainable Development. We had meetings and it went from there. We wanted to show that anybody could build a zero-carbon house – we didn't want it to be a 'grand design', we didn't want it to be an expensive build, we wanted to keep it within the reach of anybody who could afford a modest mortgage. And we wanted to show that everything we'd installed in the house was within reach of people. Now, with the energy we generate from wind and solar power, we are at the stage where we should be able to go completely off-grid this year. We may even be able to supply some of our surplus power to our neighbours on the island.
"Of course, with climate change happening we get residual aftermath of hurricanes that emanate from the Caribbean, so you have to ensure that whatever you build is going to stand up to the most severe wind conditions you can imagine... the rain can be horizontal and the wind absolutely unbelievable. You will not get anywhere more severe in the UK than Unst; it is freezing cold outside now – but in the summer it is paradise.
"I think the low point was when I had to do quite a lot of the physical work myself. I'm not a young man anymore – I should have done this when I was 30. One of the most demanding things, at 64 years old, is walking around with huge blocks of stone and dry-stone walling, I didn't expect to have to do that – and trench digging and all sorts of physical tasks – at my age. The high points are that everything has achieved what I originally thought it would. And the other nice thing is that we can help people when they want information, because otherwise they think they've got to go to a consultant and they get ripped off.
"We've got these rogues, well they're not rogues, they're thieves, liars and cheats, cheating people out of very large sums of money. I got an email a few months ago from a gentleman who'd spent £17,500 on solar pipes when he thought he was spending £17,500 on photovoltaic (PV) cells.
"A house such as mine should only cost about £200,000 to build, and I spend hours each day replying to emails from people seeking advice on becoming self-sufficient. What we've learnt over the past two years is that there is a hunger from people to know what they can to do to reduce their carbon footprint and their energy bills; we have a massive number of emails from all over the world.
"My most valuable advice would be to insulate your house well. Choose the right sort of insulation for your house and go for something that is green-certified. Don't be put off by cost – you don't need to spend a fortune to make your house energy-efficient. Explore the different types of heat pumps available. And, finally, beware of cowboys selling high-priced products that may not be what you actually need.
"This is probably the biggest single project I've ever done, but, of course, if we can do it here, where everything has had to be imported on to the island, then anyone can do it elsewhere. I advise visiting my website zerocarbonhouse. com for more information."
WHAT TO DO IF... YOU SIGN UP FOR A MARATHON
Alistair Gurney, a 27-year-old accountant from London, ran the Bob Graham Round last year. The 74-mile route covers 42 peaks in the Lake District, and runners must complete it within 24 hours. It is widely noted as the most difficult long-distance race in the UK
"Once I'd decided to do the event I found the training regime easy to stick to. I went on the Runner's World website and entered details of the event I was doing and how much training I wanted to do, and it devised a programme for me. It is crucial to make a training schedule and write it down; if it isn't written, it isn't real. A schedule gives you targets. Even more important is recording your runs so you know you are improving as you train. If you have one slow run and feel demoralised, you can look at all the others you've done that week and see they are better than when you started.
"There were some days when I missed a run, if I'd got stuck at work late or couldn't drag myself out of bed in the morning, but generally I stuck to my programme. If you fall off the wagon and miss a few runs, just forget them. You won't be able to catch up, so just move on and do your best with the next run. Don't be tempted [to force in extra runs to make it up], because it will mean increasing the volume of training too fast, which is when you tend to get injured or ill. I got proper shoes from a running shop; the staff actually watch you run and understand your needs. I was lucky and didn't have any major injuries, but lots of my friends who run have been prevented from running by injury, so I was wary of it. And if you do get injured, rest only gets you so far; get someone to treat you who understands joints and movement – a physio or a chiropractor.
"I'm interested in sports physiology, so I researched the effects that training and the food you eat have on your body. How much you have to modify your diet really depends on what you eat now. If you train a lot, you will need to eat a lot. Losing excess weight does help, but not eating enough will make you tired and lethargic and stop you training. In the six weeks leading up to the race I had no social life, as if you are drinking you are never going to get up in the morning to run. I was running several evenings a week and had to reduce my calorie intake too; that would have been difficult to sustain that for a long time.
"I was doing the event with a friend, which helped to motivate me, as if I failed I wouldn't just be letting myself down, but him too. Running with people is good for competition if you are doing a fast run; the company can also be nice on a long run if you are training a lot – there is a limit to how much 'me time' anyone needs and conversation can take your mind off the developing pains. That said, I do like being able to daydream and have a proper chat with myself devoid of interruption, and for the same reason I run without music.
"I built my training up from about 15 miles a week to 60 miles a week. It is important with any training programme to start slow and build up volume and speed gradually. I'd spend most weekends in the Lake District or Peak District, running. It was nice to get out of London but onerous at times, and I felt like I was always tired. It was definitely worth it, though, and I'd recommend that other people try to push themselves and do an event they find challenging, too. Running long distances is fun, satisfying, stress relieving, and one of the only sports in which you will always improve at a rate proportional to the effort you make. I felt a great sense of achievement, and it has inspired me to do more difficult events; I'm thinking of doing a long cycle race in the summer now."