Sunday, 13 June 2021, 4:54 pmPress Release: CEAC
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Afghan-born PSG striker Nadia Nadim helped take her team to victory in the French league last weekend – and then promptly announced she was leaving the club. It’s the latest chapter in her roller-coaster story, told in her memoirs ‘Mon Histoire’. The headstrong striker’s slogan is “dream big” – and she does.
Nadim was just 10 when her father, a general in the Afghan army, was murdered by the Taliban. Living in fear and unable to work, her widowed mother saw little future for her five girls. She sold her valuables to pay a people smuggler to get them to the UK.
She recounts that time and the flight to freedom, without pathos, in her book: the perilous journey on false passports first by plane, locked in a lorry for days with little food and water, the acute fear tempered by her mother’s towering strength.
When the five females finally arrived at their destination and the lorry doors opened, they found themselves not in Britain, but in Denmark.
Nadim’s life, already turned upside down, was to be changed forever as she began to learn the “easiest language of all”: football.
“When I started playing football in a refugee camp as a kid and I fell in love with the game, I didn’t even know that women footballers could reach this level,” she says, relaxing at PSG’s Parc des Princes after a training session.
“But I kept training hard, kept believing, and slowly step by step we’re here,” pointing to the legendary stadium behind her.
‘I hate losing’
Nadim played professionally for Fortuna Hjørring (she still plays for the Danish national team), New Jersey, Portland Thorns, Manchester City and joined PSG in January 2019.
She scored 13 goals in the 2019/20 season with PSG and says she “hates losing”.
In her book she writes about the “fury” that “fuels” her game and that she “didn’t see much of that fire among the French women players”.
In person, in front of the club’s press team, she’s less critical: “You need to want to win and we needed more of that in our team. I think we’ve got there, and I’ve been a part of that, definitely. Our training sessions are now harder than our games.”
On 4 June, she helped the team become French champions for the first time ever.
No more poverty
Nadim’s aunt is Afghan superstar Aryana Sayeed. Fire and ambition run in the family.
Her father taught his daughters to be tough, beating her elder sister when she dared to cry.
“We were like soldiers who always had to get up and go back into battle, no matter who our opponents were,” she writes.
“I definitely have passion in my genes,” she laughs. “My dad was really competitive, being a general, and he played sport himself. My mum was really competitive too.”
Her experience of losing freedom under the Taliban and living in poverty in a refugee camp in Denmark further strengthened the desire to succeed.
“What I’ve been through as a kid forged me into this person I am. I really enjoy winning and I want to succeed no matter what because I don’t want to go back to where I was as a kid being poor.”
Feeling ‘at home’ at PSG
The desire to succeed has driven her ever since.
She played one season at Man City in 2018, but the climate, both on and off the pitch, meant she wasn’t happy in the club.
“Life is too short to be in places and do stuff I don’t want to do because there’s no need for it. Why should I?” she says nonchalantly.
When she got the chance to come to PSG in January 2019, the chance to wear the same shirt as “Zlatan, Mbappé and Silva” was “a dream come true”.
She “felt at home right away” in such a diverse team.
“I didn’t feel like an outsider because I look different, have a different skin colour or different beliefs, because there are so many people like me.
“That’s one of the things I love the most, I’m not the only one standing out,” she laughs.
“Religion has kept me grounded and able to cope with stuff happening around me,” she says, adding that she feels relaxed in the club and prays “as much as I can”.
“I know if you look at me and I’m playing football then you’re like: ‘Oh she can’t be a Muslim’ but I think that’s such a wrong conception of what Islam is or what a religion is. In the end it’s there for you to be a good human being…and I think I am.”
In her book she refers to the “difficulties of being a Muslim in Europe at the moment” because of the way terrorists have hijacked Islam.
“Unfortunately you see trend of Islamophobia and this fear of religion. It’s upsetting because I think a minority of Muslim people are ruining the religion’s name.”
Nadim always knew she needed a second career and began studying medicine while playing professionally in Denmark. She’s now close to qualifying as a surgeon, specialising in reconstructive surgery.
Moving from performing on the pitch to the operating theatre is not such a big leap – one form of intensity will be replaced with another.
“What I love most is the pressure and responsibility that’s on your shoulders. It makes you feel alive. I guess that’s probably the crossover.”
Having been helped a lot through her life, working as a doctor is her way of paying back.
“I’m probably going to be the last person who can make an impact on some person’s life – that interests me tremendously,” she says. “Being able to do that for other people will be amazing.”
And then there’s the money factor. She admits to “living well” but the huge gap between the women’s and men’s game means she isn’t raking in millions. She wants more.
“I know I have a brilliant mind and I don’t want it to go to waste. As a doctor I’m probably going to make shit tonnes of money,” she laughs.
“If you really want to bring change, you need to have total freedom in terms of finances because in the end if you have brilliant ideas you need investors. And if someone’s hungry on the street they need food, not a hug.” Even if, as she admits, “A hug helps.”
No wonder she’s nicknamed “the bomber”.
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THERE are several clichés associated with Somerset, some truer than others. As a relatively recent addition to this part of the country, I feel I can offer an outsider’s perspective on what really sets the county apart.
So here is my list of the five things which really stand out to me as being very, very Somerset.
If you are on the road for more than five or ten minutes, you are guaranteed to come across a tractor either as it passes you on a narrow road or slowing you down up ahead.
Now, there was a time I would have been angry about getting held up in this way every single day, but here, I like to think these tractors are one of the ways this county forces you to slow down for a bit and just take a breather.
Most people could benefit from a less frantic pace of life and that is one of the many wonderful things Somerset has to offer. The city folk don’t know what they are missing.
And honestly, what’s the point of living surrounded by all this beautiful countryside if we’re speeding through it so quickly, we don’t have time to really appreciate it?
Talking of beautiful countryside, the next item on my list is the jaw dropping landscape largely taken for granted.
Offering variety as well as beauty, one minute you might be nipping through the rolling hills of the Quantocks, a place many people visit as a holiday destination, when a few miles down the road you are surrounded by one of the flattest and most breathtaking areas in the country, the Somerset Levels.
As well as the natural landscape, there are innumerable pretty towns and villages which are a pleasure to behold, such as Porlock, Somerton, Selworthy and Castle Cary to name just a few.
This is something I’m not sure I ever saw until I came this far south-west – people offering their wares outside their homes with an honesty box placed beside for payment.
Popular front garden offerings include eggs, fruit and veg, and plants.
To see this kind of local trade still going strong in the area is one of the most heart-warming sights and tells you much about the people of Somerset.
Carrying on in a similar vein, we come to cider farms. I’m not talking about the big professional set ups, I mean the smaller operations happening in people’s back gardens. They are absolutely everywhere.
If you’re looking for a rustic rendering of one of Somerset’s most famous exports, you won’t have to travel far before you stumble upon a handwritten sign on a piece of cardboard declaring CIDER accompanied by an arrow pointing you in the right direction.
Finally I come to the roads.
I confess when I first moved here, I couldn’t understand why Google Maps kept sending me the back way to everywhere. Through country lanes and, at times, up and down what were little more than dirt tracks. I honestly thought the sat nav had a glitch which meant it was avoiding main roads.
Having spent several years here I have come to realise, dual carriageways are few and far between and if a road can comfortably fit a passing lorry and tractor, and has a white line painted down the centre, then that almost certainly is the “main road”.
It took some getting used to but as the years have passed, it no longer seems strange to be turning up roads which look like a scene from Postman Pat. In fact, I love those roads just as I love the views surrounding them, along with the slower pace life of life, and the array of goods I can purchase from picturesque doorsteps along the way.
I’d love to find out what you find very, very Somerset so let me know in the comments below.
Also, as an adopted resident, share with me your favourite picturesque towns and villages to visit so I can make sure I’m not missing out.
“I have family who have been at this point before and still had to wait a week for an appointment when she found herself on top of a bridge – this post is to raise that awareness that – IT’S OKAY – NOT TO BE OKAY – and you can or should speak out.
“What a trucker – stopping on the hard shoulder and leaving his truck there – to ensure when he did jump – it wasn’t a longer distance to the floor.”
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If you’re looking for a town to enjoy a splendid walk and a locally-sourced latte then you’ll struggle to find a better spot than Usk.
In fact if you go by the Sunday Times’ Best Place to Live guide you won’t find a better spot in the whole of Wales than the quaint Monmouthshire town.
There is a farmers’ market and plenty of independent shops and galleries as well as cafes vying to produce the best fare using local produce. And there’s nothing like enjoying all that goodness in the glorious afternoon sunshine while a 34-tonne articulated lorry chugs down the pavement towards you. Right?
Sometimes you might even get a clout around the ear while you’re walking down the town’s Bridge Street or while taking in the view from the bridge over the river.
“I have been hit multiple times,” said Kathryn Challenger, who has lived in the area all her life – moving from house to house in the same street. “But it gets worse – they come straight over the bridge here and crash into the walls,” she explains from her home directly opposite the bridge. “It’s dangerous and can be quite scary.”
We wait for what feels like five minutes to cross the road at the end of the bridge while two 30-tonne lorries carrying chickens pass by as well as three other equally large vehicles. As they pass the traffic comes to a standstill while the lorries try not to hit each other, the sides of the bridge, and even people’s homes.
Kathryn points: “Look at this one. There are chickens in there. Just a couple of weeks ago one like that went straight into the wall. Sometimes they don’t even realise they’ve done it. But imagine if someone had been walking there.”
The town actually has a ban on lorries coming through that weigh more than 7.5 tonnes – brought in more than 40 years ago after protests over environmental concerns, but issues remain – and residents believe it is due to poor enforcement. Difficulties pinpointing banned vehicles arise because some lorries that are over the weight limit are allowed through Usk to deliver goods.
“Some of them that do come over are ridiculous,” Kathryn added. “I think half of them aren’t allowed to be here – but what can we do?”
There are alternative routes. Lorry drivers could get off at the A449 at Raglan and travel via the A40 or head to the Coldra roundabout.
Residents pointed out that earlier in the pandemic when temporary traffic lights were used at the town’s main Bridge Street road to help social distancing on the narrow pavements – causing traffic pile-ups – considerably fewer lorries used the town as a “rat run”.
Liam Ellis, who drives a 34-tonne truck from Raglan transporting straw to farmers, said he is allowed to travel through Usk, but regularly receives abuse when he reaches Bridge Street – with some motorists refusing to move out of his way in protest.
“It’s not pleasant at all,” he said. “Sometimes I find myself waiting to be shouted at. There is clearly a problem because we’re allowed to drive through there but Usk is an absolute nightmare to drive through. But for me it’s the only logical route to get to my customers.
“A solution could be a separate foot bridge adjacent to the existing bridge so the road at the bridge can be widened for vehicles and people aren’t walking across there. I know it can’t carry on like this. Something needs to be done but I don’t know what the best solution is.”
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There are regular instances of lorries meeting at particularly narrow points in the road before incidents of road rage inevitably ensue. Lorries have also been entangled in scaffolding while resident Angela Colclough said she has seen vehicles “destroy hanging baskets” from the front of people’s homes.
“It’s ridiculous really and it can get you down at times,” she said. “Slowing the vehicles down might discourage them. Perhaps we could do with some speed bumps. The clear answer is another road around the town but I don’t think that will happen now. Why don’t they fine them heavily? If there is no punishment for banned lorries it’ll keep happening.”
Gwent Police said they would only be able to issue fines if they caught a vehicle going across a limit-restricted bridge and then took the vehicle to a weighbridge to find out how much it was over the restriction.
A group of residents and councillors set up a ‘lorry watch’ scheme intended to report banned vehicles to Monmouthshire County Council’s trading standards team but they said they’ve had minimal success in getting banned vehicles punished and have turned attention to “discouraging rather than preventing”.
Councillor Alec Leathwood, who helps run the scheme and was one of the first to get the weight limit introduced in the town more than 40 years ago, said: “I remember lying in the road in protest all those years ago. We’ve been battling for a long time but we’re still stuck with it.
“We had quite a few volunteers but people got fed up because vehicles were being reported and then not much was getting done. We’ve now accepted that there seems to be no way to keep heavy-goods vehicles out but we can discourage them.
“We try to do that by being visible while identifying vehicles that have no right to be here and by campaigning for changes to the road to make drivers aware they’re coming into a very different area. We could also do with better signage so lorry drivers know what the restrictions are well before they get to Usk – not when it’s too late.
“We just hope there isn’t a major incident. Fortunately, so far, we’ve got away with it.”
A spokesman for Monmouthshire council said: “There is advanced warning of the weight restriction on the A466 and A4042 so we would anticipate the majority of HGVs travelling through the town would have a requirement to do so – or are contravening the restriction in the full knowledge of their actions.”
Martin Sholl, the joint owner of Number 49 tea room in Bridge Street, said he’s noticed HGV traffic increasing significantly in recent weeks as lockdown restrictions eased. Authorised lorries that are above the weight limit deliver to the business but he said a balance needs to be struck.
“[Bridge Street] is back to being full again and the challenge we have is when two meet and the wing mirrors are well over the pavement either side,” he said. “It doesn’t just cause traffic issues – we’ve had people hit by them. The issue is this road is used as a thoroughfare and that is unlikely to change until there is better enforcement.”
He said he “isn’t convinced” the majority of lorries that pass through are authorised. “Many vehicles that come through from Blackwood don’t stop in Usk – they use it as a shortcut to the M50,” he added. “I’ve taken photos of some lorries and you just think to yourself: ‘My goodness, you should not be here’.”
Lynne Morgan at Bunnings of Usk builders’ merchants said: “I don’t think there was any point in the [weight limit] ban in the first place. We need the deliveries and I can’t see a solution that pleases everyone.”
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