Thursday, 20 August 2015

Confessions of an Egalitarian

In his brave Edinburgh show, journalist, poet and wit, Lloyd Evans, opines that the most offensive thing you can say to a feminist is: 'Congratulations, you've won!'
You can do what you want, go where you want and be who you want (ie: what more do you want?).

I have been mulling over this ever since. I take his point that the point about a cause is that it should seek to obsolete itself, not turn into an entity in its own right which then has a territory to preserve and this has also previously crossed my mind.

For example if Cancer Research ever succeeds in finding a cure, you would expect them to close their offices and start refusing any further donations within days. You would hope the same with Oxfam, once they had solved world hunger, etc.

And yet it seems that causes really do prefer to become permanent entities and fixtures in our lives rather than seeing it as their moral duty to bring an end to the need for their existence, and as quickly and efficiently as possible. Rather, they seem to expand and expand with more and more highly-paid staff who appear to do less and less, except find ways to keep their jobs going indefinitely.

And I am still not entirely convinced that feminism is any more preferable to chauvinism as neither gender claiming superiority over (or denigrating) the other equates to equality, much though I acknowledge that the female race was once so disadvantaged that we did need a campaigning vehicle to 're-advantage' it. However in this country I think those days are gone and an individual should get a job because they are the the right person for the job rather than to fill an artificial gender quota, irrespective of their fitness for a role. Some disastrous female appointments have ensued, which just make our gender look bad. Then again there have been disastrous male appointments throughout history, so how bad should we really feel?

One curious fact that Mr Evans neglected to use in his show is that 'being female' has now become desirable enough for increasing numbers of men to undertake surgery to become us! Imagine that happening in Victorian times (even if the surgical expertise existed), when women were but the property of men, with even the wealthiest living lives of unbelievable societal and professional stricture. We were corsetted in more ways than one!

I am a grateful recipient of all the suffragettes and feminists have achieved since those days, enabling me to have total freedom of expression, the vote and all the opportunities and choices I now enjoy. I for one, am happy and content. The only person who has held me back in my life is me and that is a fact of the past now.

As for other countries, is it our business to act as if we were still an empire and dictate to them how they should run their society? Or is it up to the women of each society to do what the women of Great Britain had to do to win what human freedoms they seek? I have so many qualms about us interfering in the affairs of other nations, no matter that I might disagree on a personal level with how they run their countries and treat their citizens.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Militant Breastfeeding - a mother's view

Following the fatuous comments of a BBC Solent Radio DJ last week to the effect that only unattractive mothers felt the need to get their breasts out in public to feed their babies, there has been somewhat something of a media furore on the subject.

Last night I asked my 76-year old mother (an ardent advocate of breastfeeding and fully paid up member of the National Childbirth Trust when we were little in the early 70s and breastfeeding was deeply unfashionable) what she thought.

Now bear in mind that this is a woman who also successfully fought for home birth for us both in an era where this was also deeply unfashionable. Futhermore her best friend in the vegetarian movement, Frances Howard, wrote one of the earliest pamphlets extolling the health virtues of breastfeeding - Breast is Best - of which there were always a stack of copies in our house as my mother used to give them to her Yoga class ladies (she is also a Yoga teacher of some 50 years standing).

To my surprise, my mother replied that she finds the whole concept of breastfeeding in public 'bizarre', and firmly believes that both mothers and babies need quiet and privacy for this activity and why would a mother want Joe Public gawking at her while she did it?

She also worried that the modern trend for 'militant breastfeeding' was turning the public against breastfeeding rather than genuinely promoting it, particularly among shyer and less confident mothers who might choose to bottlefeed rather than risk doing something portrayed as controversial, even though it is actually the most natural means.

I was glad to hear that, for all her staunch views on the subject, she basically agreed with me that breastfeeding should remain a private matter between mother and baby.

In addition why would any mother want to risk some creepy DJ staring at her and judging her attractiveness and presumably whether he'd give her one, despite the kid dangling from her nipple?
Or indeed the breed of man who jokingly remarks 'oi, that baby is stealing my milk!' upon noticing a nursing mother in the local cafe. At least one of my acquaintance admits that this is his first thought.

My mother concluded by saying that the best thing the NCT could do was carry on lobbying for breastfeeding facilities to be provided and maintained in all public places. I asked how she had managed in the early 70s.

'Well I always fed and changed you before we went out, took dummies for you both wherever we went, and if we were going to be out for more than a couple of hours I used a breast pump. In emergencies I would simply ask the shop or our host wherever we were if I could borrow a room for a few minutes. Or go behind a tree or bush. There are always ways.'

Ways of breastfeeding without compromising the human rights, sensibilities and freedoms of others? Why isn't my mother with her full collection of Sheila Kitzinger tomes in the bookcase head of NCT?

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Adoption of Reconciliation...?

A colleague in her twenties, *Jenny, shares a flat with three female flatmates in a nearby town. Friends since childhood, Jenny is the only one of the four whose parents are still together.

Of Jenny’s three friends and flatmates, one sees her father a couple of times a month for a meal or cinema outing, interspersed with weekly phone chats, and the other two do not see their fathers at all. Their fathers have moved away, remarried and started new families. One sends his daughter Christmas and birthday cards but makes no effort apart from that. The other has apparently told his daughter bluntly; ‘I have a new family now. You’re my past.’ and wants no contact at all. 

Needless to say each flatmate has been affected to a greater or lesser degree by the outfall from their parents' break-up and the flatmate who has experienced total paternal rejection is, not surprisingly, the one most affected in every aspect of her life as her friends/flatmates find themselves consoling her over one disastrous relationship after another and her daily struggles to hold down a job and control her weight whilst feeling worthless most of the time, despite plenty of assurance to the contrary.

As a caring and loving father who has not seen his (similarly aged) daughters for three and a half years now since they decided to reject him and take their mother’s side following an acrimonious divorce (not of my partner’s choosing, much as he accepts his share of responsibility for the marital breakdown), my partner finds himself in the opposite situation. Although in his early 50s, he has borne much emotional trauma and not a few health issues as a result.

So upset has he been over the loss of his daughters I have (not entirely jokingly) suggested that since there are clearly rejected adult children out there as well as rejected parents like him, maybe he should start a ‘late adoption’ agency so that rejected parents and rejected adult children could all be matched to the parents and children who really need them and value that relationship in their lives. Such 'adoptions' would also benefit from a blame-free zone since there would no history between them.

None of us can control what others think, do or choose after all and blood is not always thicker than water, particularly if certain family members are not open to any kind of forgiveness or reconciliation or another member of the family is coercing them or giving them no choice but to take sides through threats of dire consequences if they re-establish contact.

Ultimately, no one should allow their lives to be ruined by decisions that others have made, particularly if, like my partner, an individual has been prepared to do everything within reason to offer the olive branch and help the healing process commence, but has been blocked and prevented from doing so at every turn. 

I am not a child of divorce myself, but a child of dysfunctional parents who had their own unique ways of screwing kids up and making them feel worthless so I have some understanding of difficult family situations. It took me many years to come to terms with my upbringing and realise who I was so that I could finally be at peace with them.

As the serenity quotation goes;

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

*Jenny is not the real name of said colleague.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Oxford Outrage

While the photo scarcely does justice to the scale in real life, this is the block of flats being built next to my partner's mother's bungalow in a leafy Oxford suburb.

A perfectly respectable 1950s family home was demolished to make way for them.

Despite the artists' impression looking like a prison block (always bad news if even the artists' impression can't make a building pretty!) and the official complaints of both my partner's mother and various neighbours that it was unsightly and of inappropriate scale and style for the street, planning permission has somehow been granted.

Even the builders have apologised to my partner's mother and agreed it is 'hideous', which is saying something.

Unfortunately this scenario is all too common, not just in this suburb, but in suburbs up and down the country. Worse still, these are to be marketed as 'luxury flats' yet are pug ugly, of eggbox proportions and possess the small windows of prisons, despite the modern preference for 'spacious, light and airy'.  Further down the road a spacious relatively modern care home was closed and demolished a couple of years ago to make way for a disproportionately-sized nondescript block of contemporary flats, its balconies ornamental, too small to be used as working balconies. In Oxford city centre a whole development of disabled people were kicked out of their 1990s purpose-built low-impact homes in order for high rise eggboxes (and a larger Westgate shopping centre and multi-storey car park) to be built.

A friend recently rented such a flat in a new development elsewhere, owing to an emergency need for short-term accommodation, but moved out the moment she could owing to a leaking roof terrace she could not use and a second bedroom which fit only a double bed and nothing else, most of the space being taken up by an awkward corner containing a 'designer' triangular window with broken blind. Amusingly several neighbours tried to convince her to buy their flats when they heard she was renting. Many residents it seemed, had believed the developer's spiel, but found them less than ideal once they took up residence and a year later, were desperate to sell up again.

Naturally my partner's mother has been approached with a view to selling her modest bungalow, doubtless to face the same fate as next door. Indeed the developers would have made an even greater killing if they could have secured hers too and doubled their plot size. To her credit she declined and is determined to continue living there as long as she is able.

She has the full support of her family.

And while her own property may be of minimal architectural merit, it is at least appropriate in scale and of low impact to the streetscape, surrounded as it is, by greenery back and front including a tall hedge. It also suits her lifestyle as an older person and is a good space for family gatherings with its large living room and rear garden. Now she will enjoy no privacy in her overshadowed back garden along with the no peace she has had since the builders moved in several months ago. Luckily her husband is no longer around to see it. It would have distressed him greatly.

A former councillor friend often says 'You can spot the civic corruption in any town or city by its ugliest and most inappropriate developments.'

Which isn't to say that we don't need more housing, just that there are wider debates to be had and certainly a lot more public consultation about where housing goes, how it impacts existing communities, townscapes and facilities and what it should be like/how it can genuinely be more affordable without proving a blot on the landscape. Letting developers build more and more flats for wealthy young professionals is not helping anyone but wealthy young professionals.

Locally we note that a seafront petrol station has just been closed in Hove and is in the process of being demolished for housing. Who decided that this petrol station was surplus to requirements? I used it regularly and it always seemed busy with a small co-op attached, the only one in the area. The next nearest petrol station is around 2 miles away. In Patcham another petrol station is currently being demolished. Having targetted every suburban pub and stray bungalow, it seems Brighton and Hove developers have now moved onto targetting petrol stations. Even the one by Hove station has undergone two changes of management lately. I fear the worst.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


Following the death of my writer friend Margaret at the age of 90, last week I attended her funeral in Coventry.

No mean and mumbled half hour at the local crem for Margaret. It was a beautiful hour-long tribute in her local historic church immaculately arranged by Margaret herself some ten years previously (yes, that's how well organised she was!). Embossed invitations arrived through the post as if to a wedding, a heavenly choir sang her favourite hymns and little slips of paper inserted in the order of service booklets requested the contact details of all who attended. Surprising revelations in her son's eulogy about the secret passion for fancy dress and how Margaret was held at gunpoint twice on her travels over the years when venturing to regions where angels fear to tread.

I'm now half expecting a thank you note from Margaret through the post as that's the kind of lady she was!

A sumptuous spread awaited us in the flower-festooned church hall next door afterwards replete with wine waiters. All her photo albums were on tables. I was fascinated as I'd never seen the young Margaret before.

Struck by how lovely some of the photos were (one distinctly regal!) I discreetly snapped my favourites above when the opportunity arose as I knew Margaret wouldn't mind, being a fellow writer and documenter of life. In addition I have often been to funerals and seen at least one special photo I have never seen before and am likely never to see again, but felt it unseemly to bother the grieving loved ones for a copy.

Such was the case with a magical photograph of an ex-boyfriend at his funeral two years ago that I wished I had photographed a copy of. I suppose I am sentimental like that. I like to have a keepsake that makes me smile when thinking about a lost friend or loved one. And actually I prefer a nice photograph to any physical keepsake.

The photos of young Margaret reminded me of a nursing home where I used to visit my Great Aunt. Each doorway had a framed photograph affixed to the wall next to it containing a favourite photograph of the resident when young. This was not just an aide memoire to those residents who were losing their memories and looking for the right bedroom door, but a stark reminder to the mostly young care staff that their clients were also once young and to encourage them to see them as people like them who just happened to have lived longer, and not merely as they were now. It seemed to work. An ethos of respect permeated the home and Great Aunt Alice was well cared for.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Heritage Heroics


It has never been cheap or convenient to save the nation's heritage. That is not the point (though personally I would argue that, contrary to developer's claims, it is almost always cheaper to restore what exists than to demolish it and erect something unworthy in its place with little more than a 50 year life expectancy, as the majority of new builds have. Fewer, if they fall out of fashion before that).

But to get back to the point. Once all the battles are finally fought and won to save a historic gem, it is invariably to the gratitude of the local community that the survivor still stands and they discover a new pride at the piece of local history in their midst. 

Such is the fight ahead to save the oldest commercial building in Brighton in the Laines, Tucked away and forgotten behind a modest and somewhat neglected 18th century building housing a branch of Timpsons, Puget's Cottage, which annexed the late Hannington's Department store represents an architectural 'Miss Havisham', virtually untouched for more than 150 years. It is only now that another attempt is to be made to straighten out the squiggly historic charm of the Laines by bulldozing an additional passage through to aid commerce that it (and Timpsons) have found themselves in the wrecking ball's path. 

And fair enough, neither will ever win any beauty contests when compared to, say, the Brighton Pavilion, but they can certainly enjoy an uncovering of charms and add a unique selling point to the Laines which would be lost if the developers were allowed their somewhat unimaginative and brutal way to make it look like just another shopping street.

But this is not an 'either' 'or'. For no.16 North Street next door could easily accommodate a ground floor 'Hannington Lane', preserving not only its upper floors, but the threatened buildings at 15, and offering a much more gentle and true-to-the-spirit of the Laines alternative. Windows or access into the historic courtyard could be built into the passage and the oldest commercial building put back to commercial (or tourism) use. In fact it would be a much cheaper scheme from the developer's point of view. 

Brighton and Hove City Council planning officers recommended rejection of the demolition permission, yet somehow it went through and is now, thanks to the local Brighton and Hove Historic Commission, being appealed through the Home Secretary. Rather disappointingly, not to mention alarmingly, one local heritage group The Regency Society has spoken in favour of demolition of this listed building as its chairman seems to think allowing the scheme through is 'more important' to Brighton. However it is not an 'either' 'or' as previously stated. It is actually a situation where everyone can have their cake and eat it, so what's stopping them?

On a more positive note, and following my previous blog, Save the Hippo! detailing the history of the building and saga, this week came the wonderful news that the Brighton Hippodrome is almost saved! Almost, as it is now in the hands of what we hope will prove a good and sympathetic owner - the Academy Music Group. This is largely thanks to the heroic efforts of local MP Caroline Lucas, Save the Brighton Hippodrome and Our Brighton Hippodrome Facebook campaigns who worked tirelessly to highlight the building's plight and fund raise. A fantastic example of what people power can achieve! All that remains now is to draft a sustainable business plan for the future and carry on pushing until it opens its doors again. However there is no reason to suppose the Brighton Hippodrome cannot be just as successful as its surviving and thriving sister Hippodromes in Birmingham, Bristol and elsewhere.

And what act could fail to be inspired by performing in a building cheered on by the ghosts of Max Miller, Laurel and Hardy and a whole host of old time stars..?

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Margaret Grant-Smith 1924 - 2015

I received some sad news this week. My fellow writer from Earlsdon Writer's Group (when I lived in Coventry in the 1990s), Margaret Grant-Smith, died. Margaret was a retired business studies teacher (orderer of the first computer in Coventry for the Coventry Technical College, apparently) and the politest lady I ever knew.

Exceptionally well-spoken, Margaret combined an old world charm with a mischievous girly giggle which belied her years.She was also surprisingly adventurous, having gone to Africa just after the war and lived and worked there for three glorious years in her early 20s, leaving her with a lifelong love of the continent.

Then her father became ill and Margaret dutifully returned to Coventry, first to help nurse him, and then to live with her mother, getting a job and helping her financially after he died.

Eventually she met Leslie, a Scottish aircraft engineer, who became her husband. They bought a newly-built 50s house in the suburbs and had two children. Leslie developed parts for the landing gear of the newly invented Concorde supersonic jet. The family lived very happily for several years.

Tragically when the children were still young Leslie contracted an aggressive form of cancer and Margaret lost him in 1971 after only 15 years together.

Left to raise the children alone, Margaret asked the Technical College (for whom she was already tutoring a few hours a week) if they could increase her hours. They did, so at least Margaret was able to continue paying the mortgage and they could remain in the family home.

Years later Margaret discovered that Leslie had been among hundreds of military servicemen who had undertaken chemical warfare exercises during their time in National Service. A significant number went on to develop cancers of various kinds and die young, but at the time everyone assumed Margaret's husband had just been unlucky. Certainly the soldiers themselves had been given no reason to suppose that the exercises they were participating in posed any danger to them long-term.

Margaret found widowhood hard, not least the hurtful fact that a number of female friends seemed to avoid her as if worried she was going to pursue their husbands now that she was a widow. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Although she enjoyed a few dates (with single gentlemen) in subsequent years and told me she received a couple of marriage proposals, Margaret was to remain single for the rest of her life - another 43 years - taking the view that no one could match up to her Leslie.

However Margaret didn't let the grass grow under her feet. She was an intrepid traveller, both at home and abroad, took up writing and was an active member of her church and community. She treated herself to a brand new car at 75 and even embarked on a screen writing course at her local university at around the same time. She also doted on her children and grandchildren and was equally cherished in return. Though it was amusing to note her slight consternation at her young grandson taking the informal liberty of christening her 'Nanny Marg'.

Margaret's writing could be unintentionally priceless. A certain drawing room play of hers involved what were supposed to be contemporary teenagers grappling with contemporary issues but they were so proper and correct in their speech and manners, the whole thing came across as a Noel Coward play gone wrong! I was in secret stitches every time Margaret recited a scene and would have loved to have seen it actually staged as it was a unique style! And it's not as if Margaret did not frequent the theatre. She loved the theatre and was open-minded to most artforms, so while she was old fashioned in some ways, she was also lively-minded and in touch in others.

While her home remained a tribute to the 1960s in its decor, it was spacious and comfortable and Margaret loved it, particularly the garden. When I first knew her in the 1990s, she had a rather unlikely canine companion inherited from her adult son. Not a dog Margaret would ever have chosen for herself, she and Suzy became the most devoted of companions. Sometimes Margaret would host Earlsdon Writer's meetings at her home and Suzy became legendary for letting out a pained groan when someone's work wasn't very good, much to Margaret's embarrassment. She turned out to be a surprisingly good literary critic! When Suzy died, Margaret had her portrait painted from a photograph and it took permanent pride of place above her mantelpiece, somewhat incongruously next to her late mother's china cabinet collection.

The last ten years of Margaret's life were a struggle with series of TIA mini strokes leading to a downward decline, much as she kept gracious and proper to the end, if somewhat confused. She had to give up her car at 87 much to her chargrin, and, one by one, most of her other activities though she walked in the nearby park every day for as long as she could. I felt sad that I lived so far away and could not visit more often though she was lucky enough to be surrounded by good neighbours, her church friends and frequent family visitors. Sadly she didn't get her wish to die in her own home as, by the final few months, she needed a nursing home, but she remained stoic throughout, her strong faith seeing her through. RIP Margaret - what a wonderful world it would be if there were more like you.

I will end this tribute with one of Margaret's charming poems from her collection 'The Mixture Varies'

Uncle Jim

Aristocratic Uncle Jim
Impeccable manners, a charmer
No one would have guessed him
To be a practical joker

He visited England frequently
For suits from Savile Row
Took my parents out on the spree
A nightly extravagant show

Returning home to his African farm
He sat on the stoep for sundowners
In the last glow of the evening calm
Next day to join big-game hunters

The calamity had no portent
He would not tell and I was banned
From asking what caused the accident
That robbed him of his right hand

Back to England sooner than planned
To Harley Street of course, A perfect fit
The best artificial hand
I thought him brave to be proud of it

Then he'd delight when meeting people new
To shake them warmly by the hand
But not without undoing the screw
One lady fainted to the ground

But time again, he'd feign surprise
"That damned loose screw!' he'd cry
And profusely apologise
All this before he lost his eye

Monday, 8 June 2015

A Murder In The Family

Recently my partner's mother told us she had just lost her cousin Peter in Canada.
He was a fit and well retired professor in his early 70s who had recently been on a hiking trip when he was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of cancer. Within three months he was dead.

This led to the story of his life.

His mother Trudl (Heidi's aunt) had been one of three sisters. Each sister was blonde and glamorous but Trudl had been blessed with the beauty and luminescence of a film star.

As a young woman in 1930s Germany she worked in a department store and quickly found herself promoted to model for their women's clothing range, her posters all over town and in the newspapers. She caught the eye of a wealthy widowed factory magnate some years her senior. They were married and she had two children, both boys.

The family enjoyed an enviably opulent lifestyle until WWII broke out. Soon after that the factory was bombed and the family lost everything. To make matters worse, shortly after the end of the war Trudls' husband died of a fatal heart attack.

Widowed and broke and with the city in ruins, Trudl decided she needed to find a better life for herself and her boys.

The opportunity came to go to Canada for a modest passage and Trudl seized it.
Still young, she quickly found fashion modelling work again and rented a small apartment in Toronto. Her boys were enrolled into good schools and soon learned English.

Trudl was naturally popular with men and soon found a handsome and charming suitor who purported to be devoted to her.

All was well at first and the family were very happy. Gradually though, Trudl realised how possessive her boyfriend was. He also drank far too much and would be aggressive when drunk. Occasionally he would hit her and they split up several times but he would always apologise profusely, promising to get help for his problems, and she would always take him back. This went on for some years.

Eventually Trudl's relations back home in Germany told her they missed her and begged her to return home now things were better economically. They also knew she was not very happy with her man.

Her boys had now left school and with the eldest at university and the youngest
about to start, Trudl felt she could leave them to finish their education and they could join her in Germany when they had finished if they wished to.
She made the mistake of telling her on/off boyfriend of her plans, no doubt assuming this would be a means of letting him down gently since he knew how much she missed her family back home and they missed her.

Two days later she was found with a bullet through her forehead, her boyfriend dead beside her with a gun in his mouth.

Her boys were devastated but somehow managed to finish their university education and go on to lead successful professional lives, They also both married and had children and grandchildren.

It was obviously some years since Heidi had last thought of her aunt (whom she had only known as a child before her aunt emigrated), but Peter's death had brought it all back.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Visiting Time

When can I go home?
This is your home Mum
How long have I lived here?
Two years Mum
Where’s Dennis?
Dad died Mum
Two years ago Mum. You didn’t want to live on your own, remember?
Where do I live?
You’ve got a nice little flat just down the corridor Mum
I want to go home
This is your home Mum
How long have I lived here?
Two years Mum
Where’s Dennis?
Dad died Mum
When did that happen?
Two years ago Mum.
What did he want to go and do that for?
I dunno. It’s sad isn’t it? Have another piece of cake Mum

Saturday, 25 April 2015

A Recycled Victorian Writes...

I've often joked 'I know I was enormously rich in my last life. Work came as such a shock!
But finding out who I was and what I left myself is another matter!'

Joking aside, the very idea of reincarnation once scared the bejesus out of me. However I have come to warm to it more over the years and wonder what else can explain how very different we all are, even when from the same family with the same parents and background. My sister and I for example are chalk and cheese. Apart from our hair colour, we have absolutely nothing in common. I don't hate her. I just don't know what to say to her when we meet and she is similarly tongue-tied with me. Sad but true.

There are some individuals who literally seem wise beyond their years - 'old souls' whilst others can get to the end of their lives and still not have the sense they were born with or who seemingly never learn a single life lesson, repeating their mistakes over and over again. We've all known examples of each I am sure.

The other day I picked up a remarkable book in a second hand bookshop; 'Through Time Into Healing'. It was by a Yale-educated psychiatrist called  Dr Brian Weiss. Dr Weiss started off as a normal clinical psychiatrist - no interest in or knowledge of reincarnation whatsoever. The subject simply wasn't on his radar. Then a few years into his career a remarkable thing happened. After he sought to help his patients through hypnotherapy, he accidentally regressed one to a time seemingly before her birth and found that she was describing a realm she appeared to be inhabiting between lives. She then went still further back to what sounded like a previous life. Dr Weiss was astounded. Almost as astonishingly, his patient went on to be completely cured of the neurosis she was suffering from, a result Dr Weiss seldom witnessed through standard psychiatric techniques and hypnotism. A good level of improvement in the patient's condition was often the best that could be hoped for.

Intrigued Dr Weiss began (with their consent) experimenting on other patients to find out how far back they could go and a whole new world unfolded  - or to be accurate - many lives.

Women who came to see him with obesity problems often found themselves experiencing a previous life where they had starved to death so were overcompensating in this life. Or they had been sexually abused in either this life or a former life and had subconsciously gained the fat to protect themselves against exploitative men finding them attractive. Trouble was this defensive barrier often kept nice men at bay too and they found themselves lonely as well as suffering health problems as a result of their weight. Again these patients were completely cured once they had had hypnotic access to glimpses of their previous lives and former selves and came to find themselves much more compassionate and understanding to their fellow humanity as a result, where once they might have been somewhat bitter and judgmental.

Those patients with asthma often regressed to lives where they had died in a fire or been suffocated under the contents of an overturned cart for example, those who couldn't stand to have anything round their necks in this life might find that they had been strangled or hanged in a previous life. Birthmarks in this life often indicated fatal bullet or arrow wounds in a previous life. The list went on and on.

One male commerical pilot in this life sought out Dr Weiss to find out why he was so paranoid about constantly checking the right wing of every plane that he flew to make sure it was not falling off.  He subsequently had a vision of himself piloting a WWII fighter plane with the right wing shot off and spiralling to the ground, his last moments spent cursing himself for being the victim of 'friendly fire'.

All Dr Weiss's past life patients found that they left his sessions with a far wider perspective on humanity and life itself, irrespective of their religious persuasion, and impressive results always followed in terms of healing - when they felt they could let go of whatever residual memory or grievance was causing their suffering or symptoms in this life and began to see some kind of pattern or logic attached as to what might have brought them to their current situations and circumstances.

Something Dr Weiss found over the years was that subjects always seemed to return with the same 'soulmate group', though genders and relationships may change - ie a father in one life may become a brother in another and the gender of the subject themselves often changed too. Close friends could also come back as family or significant colleagues or vice versa. Even enemies were often previously known to us and we have to work out our issues with those too. (maybe that explains the school bully who hated me on sight when I started High School but I didn't even know her name until she fought me in the corridor and we both ended up sitting in the Headmaster's office).

We apparently all choose our lives before we are born, choosing the circumstances, our families and what we are intending to learn spiritually to advance us. Free will can vary certain factors but the blueprint is basically there.

This of course can seem hard to swallow when terrible things happen to some people and hard and hurtful times happen to us all, but Dr Weiss doesn't claim to have all of the answers. Except love. He believes that only complete love and complete forgiveness of ourselves and others can free us of any negative patterns and behaviours we may have accrued over our lifetimes (past and present) and therefore heal and smooth the path for our future life and lives.

Dr Weiss regressed himself to a life which appeared to date from Babylonian times in which he was a powerful high priest who had set off with high ideals in his youth and then become corrupted by money, wealth, sex and power in middle age. A subsequent life in mediaeval times found him a prisoner, being beaten to death whilst refusing to recant his religious beliefs, including reincarnation. In his current life he feels he has been given a wider perspective of spirituality and a mission to help others in a different sense - ie to find their own spiritual journey - and healing through it.

Dr Weiss risked much ridicule in medical circles when he first started sharing his findings and publishing his books (many a medical professional has been cast out of the profession for less, so most have a habit of waiting until retirement if they have what others could consider barnpot theories to share), However much to his surprise it didn't take long before people started writing to him to share their theories and stories and he even found eminent peers beginning to take an interest in some quarters. He has even been on the Oprah Winfrey Show - twice! Today he is the 70-year old guru of past life regression and universities all over America have been inspired to begin exploring past life regression and its possible therapeutic potential in the field of psychiatry. 

One particularly interesting part of the book was Dr Weiss's assertion that all the major religions used to embrace reincarnation in their belief systems, but these elements were excised from the Christian and Jewish faiths many centuries ago by high-ranking religious officials who feared that they would have less power over the people if the people were permitted to believe they had more than one life. Moreover they decided to denounce reincarnation as heresy and persecute any stubborn believers, so that one might offend a Christian or a Jew to this day by raising the subject.

As for me, I've always been highly attracted to Victorian times, the architecture, the clothes, the literature, the human advances made during those times. I await Dr Weiss's hypnosis CD through the post with interest to find out if I'm right! And what could be the reason that I've always had such sensitive skin and been terrified of hospitals?

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Four Vitamin B12 Tablets A Day Keep The Grey Away!

Not that red hair goes grey as such. It fades and fades to strawberry blonde, ash blonde and then white.

Mine was beginning to fade at a rate of knots. Then I read that Vitamin B12 was good for hair. I took a couple of tablets a day for six months and noticed my hair was getting darker. I upped it to four a day (like Vitamin C, you cannot overdose on Vitamin B12 as the body exudes what it doesn't need). Now a year later my hair is back to the shade it was when I was a teenager. With the help of Silica and Biotin vitamins, it is growing stronger and thicker again too.

I am not on any sort of retainer from a vitamin supplier for sharing this with you. I merely share it because I am a nice person who likes to share what I find helpful. Similarly I find that Kelp tablets are good for regulating hormones (we have a dire shortage of Iodine in the modern western diet), Iron tablets give me nice rosy lips and enhanced circulation, Vitamin C shortens colds and hastens healing.

Vitamin B complex helps prevent ladies' troubles, Zinc, men's. Biotin can help non-insulin dependent diabetics from deteriorating to injectable diabetes. Vitamin D is good for depression. And bone strength.

All this is from friends' anecdotal evidence as well as personal experience, so of course it counts for nothing in provable terms.

Then again there will never be any in-depth medical research carried out on vitamins as it is impossible to patent them so drug companies are never going to spend millions on food supplements that they cannot own and profit from. Though they obviously perceived vitamins as enough of a potential threat to drug sales to try and get the EU to ban them for public sale more than once and I have signed a slew of petitions against this outrageous infringement of consumer freedom over the years.

Rather it is up to each of us to be our own guinea pigs to see what helps our own body to function at optimum level and what doesn't. And really, unless you are determined to overdose on a substance to a ridiculous degree, you can easily decrease a vitamin dosage if you notice any adverse effects. Indeed there is less risk of side-effects than there is with pharmaceutical drugs, not all of which obey the doctors' Hippocratic oath of 'First, do no harm.' Which isn't to say pharmaceutical drugs do not have their place in treatment and healing, obviously.

I once watched a ridiculous TV debate about the Bristol Cancer Centre where one cancer sufferer had overdosed on carrots to the point that she had assumed an orange hue and was blaming the clinic for her own stupidity (or desperation). However much to my surprise no one challenged her as to whether this was her own personal choice or she was actually following the Clinic's guidelines on how many carrots she should eat (clearly not, judging by the way the show seemed weighted against giving the same debate time to those advocating the use of alternatives, no matter that those trying the alternatives had often exhausted conventional options and were at the end of the line, so any improvement would be tantamount to a miracle).

So there is no regulating for common sense whatever people imbibe, which is the only sure means of guaranteeing safety.

However with natural vitamin content in our food having declined by 45% since WWII owing to intensive and unnatural farming methods, supplements have become an essential item for many of us, no matter how healthily we try to eat. Simultaneously as we age our bodies synthesise what vitamins we consume less effectively meaning we can become even more deficient. For example many men no longer absorb enough zinc to keep their prostate healthy so may need to take a supplement to help. In old age the individual's diet may also narrow in variety which means there are increasing numbers of false/positive tests for dementia when actually the individual is vitamin-deprived.

Personally I am mystified as to why so much attention is devoted to calorific and fat intake when vitamins and minerals are at least as important, yet their levels are seldom listed on foodstuff labels. Indeed if one eats food of low vitamin/mineral content, that is the very time the body creates an artificial hunger to induce one to eat more to compensate. I therefore maintain that if all food were of high vitamin/mineral content and food value, we would automatically eat less of it, so there would be no need for diet foods (not all of which are of high nutritional value, even if they are low-fat).

On a final note, if you want to try the Vitamin B12 as an experiment for yourself, do let me know how you get on. I'd be fascinated to know it if works for you as well. Let's conduct a mass experiment (for humans on humans) here.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Save British Home Stores!

I was sad to hear that retail Tsar, Sir Philip Green, has sold off BHS for £1 to a little-known investor group called Retail Acquisitions as it has been losing out to inferior rivals.

I used to love BHS. It was the best place for funky bathmats, bedding and tops. It also had a great lighting department with attractive functional lights. I even had a business store card with them to keep the Oxford College I then worked for in attractive bedroom lighting,

Where they have gone wrong over the years is that when they get a winning product which sells like hot cakes, they invariably never re-stock it!

Several years ago I fell in love with a new line of brushed cotton duvet sets in attractive grey/white or navy/white checks (ie not covered in flowers or utterly plain like most brushed cotton). I went back at the end of the week to purchase a set and all they had left was the set on the display bed. It took a lot of persuading but they finally sold it to me. Much to my amazement this best selling product was never replenished or even re-released with a new twist.

Last summer I had a similar experience when I noticed a cute white blouse covered in little blue boats in my local BHS. However there were none in my size either in store on online. Again, they were never re-stocked despite their obvious popularity.

I bought my favourite ever pair of trainers in BHS - with the flexible soles that I like - in block silver colour with no horrible logos or clashing colours. They were much admired, but again there were only a few pairs on display and only one pair in my size or I would have happily bought several pairs.

BHS has a tradition of doing nice stuff at reasonable prices. It is unfortunate that so many (largely) cheap and nasty new rivals have sprung up to dazzle consumers (though I'd love to see a wash-by-wash product longevity comparison). My one and only foray into a Primark yielded a pack of socks which did not even last one wash, let alone a season.

Looking to the future, BHS need to do more to cater for those who don't necessarily want to walk around in low-cut spaghetti tops and barely-there skirts.
Where are their fabulous funky maxi dresses with classic straps or even cap or mid sleeves? What has the fashion industry got against sleeves? Not everyone has killer elbows or knees (no matter what their age). Not everyone wants to expose their cleavage at all times either. Where is the classy clothing that you can actually wear to the office as well as to the garden party? No one seems to be catering for this market.

In fact no major store seems to be taking much trouble to find out what its customers actually want rather than trying to continually guess, sometimes with disastrous results, not least in the age of internet competition. I used to live near an ice cream parlour which had a flavour petition - if they had more than 50 requests for a flavour they would make it, and if it sold well it would become a new regular, or even all-year round staple. Not far away in the same city was a restaurant which had the philosophy 'You said, we did' re most of its customer service and food innovations. However visit the website of a major store and you will seldom find a 'Suggest new product' option on the email drop-down list or even a 'Compliment us' option when you want to praise them for a product you particularly like so that they get positive feedback as well as customer complaints. Even Sir Philip Green, for all his retail successes, missed a trick or two on these fronts.

Some have cruelly termed it 'Boring Home Stores', but that is not at all true in my experience and I hope everything will be done to steer this business away from the rocks and into a flagship British store once again.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Sewing Lessons for Buccaneers

Is it really over a month since my last blog post? Where does life go?

Maybe I'm waiting for some seamless and erudite narrative to share rather than the few random jottings currently in my head.

However in lieu of any kind of literary opus;

My partner persuaded me to accompany him to his Lewes Bonfire Society AGM this week where I found myself amused by such agenda items as 'Sewing Lessons For Buccaneers' and charity 'Pirate football with Swords' not forgetting the entreaty 'Don't forget to buy my knitted bonfire boys to raise funds' on the way out. We did, for our cat Mr Cheeky to play with. There can't be many AGM's where the use of gunpowder is openly discussed without anti-terrorism squads parachuting in, but in this part of the world, blowing things up is called tradition, notwithstanding the odd extremist who will go as far as taking out a parking meter.

Our first Latest TV show BizBuzz went out on Sunday night, although the first one was simply doing a series of links for the Sussex Business Awards. The next programme is more interesting as we get to interview a series of local businesses. We are producing a programme a month to start with and also writing for Latest TV magazine once a month to tie in.

Things are taking a while to take off with our new business so I have a day job to pay the bills while Oliver works on it full-time and put my other hat on in the evenings and on days off. It is an exhausting life, but luckily I am enjoying both and finding that one role makes me even better in the other and vice versa. Lots of transferable skills in property and PR and both involve a good deal of networking.

On a completely different note, a while ago I met an ex whom I hadn't seen for some years for a drink for old time's sake. He told me that he had lost both his parents the previous year. I sympathised saying how tough that must have been but he didn't seem to want to go into detail. I dismissed this as doubtless being too painful to talk about. The other day, in a rare idle moment, I typed his name into Twitter to see what he was up to and found to my surprise, among the gadget and rugby club tweets, a tweet saying 'Nice 75th birthday lunch at my mum's on Sunday'. Hmmm. 

Monday, 9 February 2015


We live in terror of making mistakes, yet that is the very way in which homo sapiens learn.

A parent can tell a small child not to touch the electric hob plates on the cooker when they are on until they are blue in the face but it is only when the child touches a burning hot plate for themselves once the parent's back is turned that they accept their parent was right and it is a bad idea.

I know. I was that small child. And I've made a million mistakes since,
The only thing I can say in my favour is that I try to learn from my mistakes so I don't make the same mistake twice.

Trouble is there are so many mistakes to make!

Of course there are ways and means of REDUCING the number of mistakes a human being makes, not least by listening to and taking good advice or asking rather than assuming when unsure of something. Or simply by being determined to learn from mistakes and nip any behavioural patterns in the bud (ie if you are repeatedly attracting the wrong partner in your relationships).

When making a major decision, research and planning, or at the very least a list of pro's and cons can be enormously helpful in weighing up the options. On an emotional level, an unwise temptation can often be resolved, if determined to override natural instincts or alarm bells, by asking oneself; 'Does this fit into the 'good ideas' box or the 'bad ideas' box?' If you can't envisage a thing fitting into the 'good ideas' box, you have your answer.

For some people though it seems they use their mistakes to beat themselves up for the rest of their lives and allow regret or remorse to paralyse them from daring to make mistakes or take risks ever again. But what is that in itself but a big mistake? No one learns or progresses through stagnation.

Whatever the mistake, there are normally apologies or amends that can be made and forgiveness (if required) all too anxiously waiting to grant its' plea.

However the biggest stumbling block is forgiving oneself. for no one is a harsher critic than our own ego, whatever its public front of innocence, denial or self-delusion.

This culture of the frustrated perfectionist who has to appear perfect even though they might be falling apart at the seams or inwardly living lives of quiet desperation through not being true to themselves does no one any favours. At the extreme end of the wedge we see a growing number of mental health issues, suicides and even familicides by those who feel their lives have gone so far wrong, there is no way back, no redemption. Even more tragic, many have not even tested the truth of this personal assumption before they take some irreversible action to end their anguish, passing the baton of suffering on to those left behind.

In New Zealand a hundred and twenty individuals nearing the end of their natural lives were asked what their greatest regret was. Almost universally the answer came; 'I wish I'd spent less time worrying.'

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Dress

As a 5'11" individual with shoulders, which females are not allowed to have, it used to be quite a challenge to buy ladies clothes to fit and I would often end up wearing men's jeans and tops.

In my late 20s I decided to embark on a course of evening classes to learn to dressmake.

Here I am (with a friend) wearing the sum total of three years' weekly night classes at my local Further Ed College, though I also made a somewhat physics-defying brown velvet shoulder bag (not seen here).

I just couldn't think in 3D it seems. My long-suffering tutor Christine did not seem too upset that I decided not to embark on a 4th year.

Luckily female fashion for taller girls has since become a little easier to come by.

I still quite miss my dress though (lost in the mists of various house moves).  Maxi with a capital M and made of canvas a sailor would be proud of. I really can't be doing with all these pathetic spaghetti straps, which are no support to a big girl like me anyway.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

What Have The Super Rich Done For Us?

Whilst most documentaries seek to have us envying the super rich, Jacques Peretti's insightful 2-part BBC2 documentary The Super Rich and Us took a different tack by posing the underlying question; What have the super rich done for us?

The whole idea of encouraging super rich non-domiciles to live in UK with the tax exile carrot of zero income tax or capital gains tax on income earned abroad was the 'trickle down' effect - ie their vast wealth was meant to trickle down to the rest of the economy - a promise made repeatedly by successive British governments.

Over 40 years later this unproven economic theory is shattered by Mr Peretti who demonstrates that the reverse - trickle up - has happened. Wealth has increased among the wealthy and stayed very much in the enclave of the super rich, the prime beneficiaries being the luxury product and holiday providers and the servants and assistants needed to service the super-rich (mostly on lowly incomes themselves). The super rich are not to be found supporting the local pub or cafe or shopping in the local village shop. Meanwhile the middle and working classes have seen their incomes and savings plummet and their bills and outgoings skyrocket. Job security too is a thing of the past with part-time jobs, zero hours contracts and microjobbing now commonplace.

Financial inequality has never been worse with some company CEO's earning several hundred times what their average employee does (whereas once it might have been 10 x times max) and at the other end of the scale people resorting to food banks to eat.

Moreover, among the new super-rich, bankers have found devious ways to manipulate and gamble with our savings and pensions and encourage us to live in perpetual debt to the extent that jobs can be devalued without the threat of us striking as we dare not afford to lose our jobs (if we still have them). A whole industry has been spawned to take advantage of the struggling and desperate through rip-off financial products and gambling outlets.

The  current recession (which never existed for the super rich) is far from over for the rest of us. Our very economy is now in mortal danger by the lifeblood being cut off in so many limbs by the top 1% hogging the vast bulk of the wealth and not circulating it as promised.

Ah well, at least super rich wealth boosts UK economic figures as long as no one enquires too closely as to what their wealth is contributing to the economy, aside from a large black hole in our tax system which public services are now paying dearly for in draconian cuts. Furthermore, though this wasn't mentioned in the programmes;  was there any quality control exercised concerning which super rich were lured to our shores to ensure there were no gun runners, drugs barons or Russian gangsters among them? I am not so sure. They let Robert Maxwell in after all.

A startling fact to emerge in the programme is that up to 80% of the flats in every luxury London block being erected are being snapped up by oversea buyers, some of whom will never even set foot in their new pad - it is purely an investment -  the modern equivalent of gold bars in the bank.

Even Henry Ford recognised that you needed to pay your workers enough to afford the cars they produced or the economy would be adversely affected, hence his brainwave, the Model T Ford. Many companies today have forgotten this basic principle and to ask themselves the pertinent question; Who is going to buy these goods or who will afford these 'affordable' houses?

The top 1% however are not without their worries. Protests are gathering apace and the pitchforks are a-coming if things don't change soon as enlightened early Amazon billionaire Nick Hanauer warns. The world has grown up to be aspirational, not to accept serfdom without protest as we might once have done in darker ages.

A particularly refreshing element of this documentary is that it assumed no obvious political stance, proving that you don't need to be a communist or a socialist to believe that there should be decent economic prospects and civilised living conditions available to all. I was indeed myself a proud marcher in last year's March Against Austerity/Britain Deserves a Pay Rise protest featured in the documentary.

Perhaps Peretti's next documentary can explore how in a so-called western democracy, corporations, not to mention the top 1% super rich, now have more say in how the country/world is run than anybody else and more political muscle than our elected governments.

MatchFit Media

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Save the Hippo!

Charlie Chaplain
Laurel and Hardy
George Formby
Gracie Fields
Sandra Bernhardt
Harry Houdini
Buster Keaton
Lillie Langtry
Laurence Olivier
Vivien Leigh
Max Miller
Sammy Davis Jr
The Beatles
The Rolling Stones

are just some of the stars and acts who've graced the 3,000-capacity Brighton Hippodrome in its 118 year history since first being erected in 1897 as an ice rink with the occasional indoor circus before its transformation in 1901 by Frank Matcham into one of the foremost vaudeville and variety theatres in Britain.

Several decades later came the age of television and London-centric shows and nationwide theatre tours which meant variety fell into decline, despite the heroic efforts of local comic legend Max Miller to keep the artform popular. In addition local tastes were no longer catered for.

The Brighton Hippodrome closed its doors in 1965. After a short spell as a film and TV studio in the mid-1960s, followed by a 40-year stint as a Mecca bingo hall, it closed its doors again in 2007 and is now an empty Grade II listed building 'at risk'

Two ambitious plans to turn Brighton Hippodrome first into a live music venue and secondly (and more ruinously to the original Matcham interior) into an 8-screen cinema 'entertainment hub' with internal shops, a public square and a restaurant on a removable floor, have recently come to naught. However there is every chance of this being 'a good thing' as local opinion and feeling for this forgotten gem has been well and truly awakened and is gathering apace. Brightonions have already lost the finest Victorian pier in England (West Pier). It seems denizens are damned if they are going to lose another Victorian gem and potentally golden USP for the city.

Furthermore Brighton boasts the largest arts festival in England the Brighton Fringe, so it seems ironic, not to mention tragic, that a historic premier arts venue finds itself 'at risk' in our city.

As a performance poet myself, I can only imagine the magic of performing on a stage of so much history and in the footsteps of so many stars. I really do hope that one day it can become a reality for myself and many others too young to have had the chance first time round.

My own proposition is that the Brighton Hippodrome should be a crowd-funded and co-operatively owned venture where stage and theatre management schools can use it during the day and variety bills can fill it at night. The circle has revolved once more since the 1960s. We are now bored with TV and hundreds of channels showing the same dross. We want some VARIETY again! Other cities who have had the foresight to retain their Hippodromes are bearing this out by apparently enjoying excellent takings, so there should be no reason why Brighton Hippodrome couldn't.

Not only that but we currently have a demographic of far too many stag and hen parties pounding the streets out of tourist season which needs to be redressed by encouraging a classier clientele of more theatre goers into town (though of course cheaper night time parking would also help).

For more info visit Our Brighton Hippodrome and show your support on Save the Brighton Hippodrome Facebook page