Please Don’t Punish Yourself, By Punishing Labour.

Love this post. No-one should suffer further, for another 5 years and potentially more.

Turning the Tide

I totally get why leave voters are angry with the Labour Party right now.

In the last General Election, Labour pledged to respect the EU referendum result. In the intervening two and a half years the Labour Party has changed it’s position on brexit. A combination of pressure from the grassroots, in conjunction with pressure from remain supporting MPs, has resulted in a policy to hold another referendum on any deal, including one that has been negotiated by our own party.

Feeling betrayed, leave voters are planning on casting their votes for leave supporting parties. Unfortunately this General Election is not another referendum. A vote for the Tory Party is a vote for more cuts to public services, more poverty, more inequality, lower pay, and most importantly it puts our NHS at grave risk.

The Labour Party is not a remain party, whilst it might seem that way to some…

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Felt Like Writing A Post…

… and then I changed my mind. Happy Christmas to everyone and all my lovely followers, anyway… I hope you are surrounded by love this Christmas. We’re going to do pass-the-parcel… and try not to cry at the empty space in the room. It’s been a hard year and will be a tough Christmas for many. Thinking of you.

Paul & Me on Honeymoon

Paul & Me on Honeymoon

Love to you all

TT xxx

Posted in Families, Grief, Life's Rich Tapestry, Mindfulness, Paul, Relationships, Uncategorized, Widowhood - Gutted of Essex | 11 Comments

Paul Mitchell – My Husband – The Love Of My Life

Paul - Waiting  to race at Santa Pod...

Paul – Waiting to race at Santa Pod…

This is the hardest post I’ve ever had to write. Never thought or even considered I would. I doubt it’s something anyone in a beautiful, close marriage or relationship ever contemplates.

But… for my readers who don’t already know, the devastating news is that my husband, Paul, died suddenly from a massive heart attack – officially at 12.20 a.m. on Friday, 21st June. I was with him.

His mum has lost her firstborn son, his children have lost their adored dad, his step-children “their hero”, his brothers and sister a great brother and brother-in-law, and all family and friends have lost a wonderful man and mate.

His business-partner, “brother” and close mate, Pete (who Paul called “Blue” or “geez”), is carrying on the good work, whilst as shocked, shaken and distraught as the rest of us. We are all getting through this together and with love.

To lose the love of your life is not something anyone really dwells upon nor is prepared to face. I am immensely proud Paul chose me as his wife, after grieving for his own first wife, Jan, who also died suddenly in 2002, and far too young.

Hooking the front tyres at launch - Shakespeare County Raceway...

Hooking the front tyres at launch – Shakespeare County Raceway…

Paul was well-known and popular in the drag-racing field – at one time British Champion in his Class – a master mechanic, bespoke engine-builder (mostly for American and classic cars), known for his love of tea, cake and biscuits and also for his love of military, aircraft and tank history as well as World War I and II history. There are tribute threads to Paul here and here and here.

And films: Two Lane Black-Top, Pearl Harbour, Memphis Belle, Blade and American Graffiti being some favourites. And TV: Band of Brothers,  sci-fi and Star Trek and Dr. Who and Homeland and American Pickers and Pawn Stars and Antiques Roadshow and Deadliest Catch.

And music: funk (James Brown was king), Big Country, soul, reggae including UB40 who we saw live four times, and (you may be surprised, here) also Cajun, which he was playing in the truck a lot lately – Dewey Balfa.  And ‘tiffling’, tidying and mending things. And walking the dog. And always, always driving, cruising, enjoying… Ohhhh, there’s lots more…

He was the kind of man other human beings aspire to be: loving, relaxed, dependable, ever-helpful, funny with a surreal sense of humour, and with some wonderful personal catch-phrases people remember. Of this, he would have said “shit happens”.

We originally met at school and liked each other, walking together the twenty-six miles to Southend on Sea one time for a sponsored walk, aged sixteen both of us. But, at our school, you would never hear the last of it (massive mickey-taking)  if you ‘became a couple’ so nothing ever transpired, though we knew we liked each other and we moved in the same crowd. Later, when I’d been a divorced parent, alone with my children for ten years or so, we met again at a (gasp) 30 year school reunion in Marbella. We got on automatically, just chatting, and later dated.

After a few weeks, we told each other the very worst things about ourselves. We needed to trust – because we both had children to think about if we were to get involved. Despite our worst features and mistakes, etc., we decided we still wanted to be together. I’m glad we did that, though. The rest, as they say, is history…

Tea, of course, at Sandringham...

Tea, of course, at Sandringham…

Obviously, my world has shattered – as well as that of his mum, his and my children, and his family and friends. It’s impossible to come to terms with Paul’s death just now. It’s hard to think beyond this moment, which is good, because the thought of a possible number of years without him is unbearable.

I still expect him to walk in, say “Hello, blossom,” and hug me. I can hear his comments and classic funny remarks about programmes if I switch on the TV. I keep going to call him on the phone during the day, as I usually did. As well as chatting and joking all day with him, I have a special End Of Day chat with Paul every night before sleep. So… you know…

We’d had a wonderful day on the Thursday 20th June. It was my birthday – I’d been down with the dog to Paul’s workshop and we were singing along with YouTube and doing the actions to The Supremes: “Stop In The Name Of Love”. We had a fairly modest carvery meal in the evening, sang all the way back in the truck, and settled down with a box of birthday strawberries to watch the telly.

All this with no warning or sign at all. It was the end of a perfect day. That is something with which I can comfort myself at times but, obviously, I’m in the early days of grief and this post is very difficult to write. That perfect day became my, and others’, world’s worst day within minutes.

Paul Preferred Jeans and Tee-Shirts but here he is, impeccable in suit, at a family wedding...

Paul Preferred Jeans and Tee-Shirts but here he is, impeccable in suit, at a family wedding…

Right now, those stages of grief I’d researched for my fiction writing may come in waves all in one day, sometimes within an hour or minutes. But one thing’s for sure: he remains in my heart and mind, all around me, and I hear Paul gently guiding me still, and – you know me – I talk with him all the time.

The family have been amazing, supportive and loving – when all our hearts are broken, and our worlds ripped apart. The funeral was hugely attended, so that fifty people spilled outside to watch on a screen and hear through speakers. I felt as though I was greeting people at our wedding again, with Paul always nearby. When he had your back, all was well. Grief does weird things.

There was a mark of respect when all the American and classic cars were started up together at the crematorium after the funeral service. Apparently, there were complaints about the din. Paul would have laughed at that. And the flower arrangement sent by mates saying “Shit Happens” in carnations.

Even the pets, who Paul called “the kids” (now our own kids are independent) are affected. Harry the dog misses Paul loads and is finally allowed to sleep on our bed. Beryl does appear subdued but then she’s one subdued cat, not given to drama.

Now that Paul’s death and this devastating, disorientating, desperate sense of loss has happened, it’s confirmed many things. The most important thing in life is love – for without any love at all, life is more about endurance than living. It’s important to go on, as he has shown me how.

There are still loves in my life, the chief ones being the children. My heart is breaking for the children and Paul’s mum, while I try to get through this myself. But I’ve promised not to let down Paul or myself, family and friends, and to do the best I can.

I’ve been extremely lucky to have been able to share Paul’s life so intimately, constantly loved, encouraged and cared for by him so powerfully, and taught by him not to take life too seriously.

Some people will never find that kind of love, so I’ll be eternally thankful for the precious nine years we spent together and all the love that we had. Rest in peace, my darling Paul.

I’ll leave this post with some photos…

In the Champagne Region, France, on our honeymoon...

In the Champagne Region, France, on our honeymoon…

Buick GS emerging from one of Paul's fierce burnouts...

Buick GS emerging from one of Paul’s fierce burnouts…

Paul with puppy Harry...

Paul with puppy Harry…

A favourite picture of Paul and his kids...

A favourite picture of Paul and his kids…

Paul driving much-loved Suburban

Paul driving much-loved GMC Suburban

Comments welcome, as always…

Posted in Beryl And Harry, Families, Grief, Health, Life's Rich Tapestry, Paul, Relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Ruby Wax … and Mindfulness?

Sane New World – Anyone?

Sane New World - Picture from

Sane New World – Picture from

What do we say when asked what we’d wish ourselves or our loved ones? “A happy life” or  “I just want them to be happy” is the usual answer. Okay, aside from the lottery wins and superpowers.

Having mentioned Mindfulness – or yes, banged a drum about it – in a couple of blogposts, I can’t help noticing discontent and unhappiness in various quarters, some close to home. I notice this because I relate to and recognise it.

My life used to run on frenzy, stress, busy-busy, the “must be, should do, you’re crap,  supposed to be, gotta do this, gotta do that”, let down, disappointed, endless auto-pilot, dopamine rat-run. I’m exhausted just looking at it. And when that overwhelmed me, I’d crash and burn, often with unhelpful depressive or mildly hypomanic episodes which could last weeks or months. My life’s not perfect now but I accept it – fine and flawed – as it is. It’s nothing remotely like The Mentally Hellish Years; and that radical change has come about in a short space of time.

So today I’m throwing my hat into the ring to write something specific about Mindfulness with some words here, and a link to my Amazon book review for Sane New World: Taming The Mind by Ruby Wax. Currently available on Kindle and in hardback only, the paperback will be out in early 2014.

Ruby firstly takes a look at current neuroscientific knowledge. Then writes about it so that people who aren’t neuroscientists can understand it. Handy information for me, whose brain and thoughts never seem to stop and sometimes hold mad firework displays of their own.

In the latter part of the book, Ruby goes on to talk about Mindfulness, “for the four-in-four” humans not solely the one-in-four with mental health issues, and about how we can use it to help “rewire” our brains for our benefit. Mindfulness is not “ever about relaxation”, she says. Ruby defines Mindfulness in the classic way:

“Mindful means intentionally paying attention, in the present moment, in a non-judgmental way (you don’t snap at yourself when you notice you might not be in a good place).”

I know Ruby Wax isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And I’m no Wax sycophant. There’s a Marmite reaction among my friends and relatives. But I’m interested in saving my life, and poor mental health can spoil our enjoyment of life, and for some can be life-threatening. Ruby Wax is a woman who’s put her money where her mouth is as far as mental health is concerned. I personally can’t abide Anthony Robbins’ (he of the walking on hot coals fame) or Wayne Dyer’s ‘motivational writings’ on success. I’m not sure their ideas of what constitutes success are compatible with  mine – but it’s all subjective, I guess.

Ruby Wax’s book isn’t like that. This isn’t about rushing out and being an entrepreneur, or telling yourself you’re wonderful in the mirror every day. Last year, Ms. Wax and others set up Black Dog Tribe with the aim of helping to eradicate mental health stigma and open communication channels for anyone suffering those mental slings and arrows. She’s now studied as much as she possibly could to learn about the brain, how it works, the life of the mind and Mindfulness (based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, see video below) with Mark Williams at Oxford.

Much more research needs doing but this book does its best to enlighten those of us who want to know the current research status, can’t or haven’t the time to grasp those neuroscience textbooks and websites, and who want to know what’s going on Up There, what we can do to deal with negative mental bombardments; how to be happy or at least happier.

Details from FOCUS Post

Details from FOCUS Post

Make what you wish of all this but I’m sure you’ll have noticed one thing: Mindfulness is being discussed more and more frequently in this frantic 21st century. Learning those simple-but-now-routine techniques came at the perfect time for me.

Here’s a review I’ve posted for Sane New World:

Want A Happier Life? You’d Be Crazy Not To Read Sane New World. Yes, I Mean That.

So three courses were the start for me: one of Mindfulness-Based CBT and two of Mindfulness – I took a second because I had to miss some of the first because I couldn’t concentrate; they kindly arranged for me to do the second because it’s important to attend all of the eight weeks. At those times, I had to work hard to pay attention. But it was interesting how my mildly high mood stayed steady and manageable over that five months. I learned a lot about my thoughts. Ruby says:

“Thoughts are not who you are, they’re habitual patterns in the mind, nothing more, and as soon as you see them that way, they lose their sting.”

Mindfulness - by Williams and Penman - Picture from

Mindfulness – by Williams and Penman – Picture from

Mindulness practice helps me see thoughts that way: “the noise of a radio in another room” and they can’t actually harm me. It’s my reactions to them that are harmful or unhelpful and which I’m learning to change. Like the drowning woman grabbing the lifebelt, then using it.

I don’t meditate daily, more like weekly, (I can manage short daily cd meditations of 2-5 minutes, or a breath-centred couple of minutes if anxiety throws itself at me) but I do try and consciously do a few daily things, washing up or dog-walking or anything, in a mindful way, paying attention. That in itself can be meditative.

In Part 4 of the book, Ruby gives us the practical side: the easiest exercises ever (you have all the equipment, they’re free, and some take just five seconds to do). This is the last subject I want to spoil by revelation. It’s best to read the book and then *thinks* start! But here’s something similar from my Mindfulness course:

Try eating a raisin mindfully (not merely chomp it once and gulp it down), feel it with your tongue, just taste it for a while and be fully aware of all sensations and thoughts.  Yes, just one. It’ll be the best raisin you ever tasted.

Or try for a few seconds, building up in time, being completely present; fully listening, in conversations with family or friends.

Everyone will have their own preferences as to how to do mindfulness or be mindful but Wax’s book was the icing on the cake for me. It explained what changes were going on and how they were taking place in the brain. How, living mindfully and aware of whatever mental or physical state I’m in, I now have an early “warning system” for depression or anxiety episodes. 

All this has meant more contentment – no longer habitually/internally screaming want, want, want and need, need, need in the dopamine-led life. If those  thoughts come, I now have awareness of them, and know what to do – not merely react as humans so often do.  Instead, I have a richer (not in a Tony Robbins way) way of living and “being”, where I, like Wax, may still wake up thinking bleakly but I can handle it – often laugh at it; it doesn’t ruin or control my whole day.

My former occasional erratic concentration and focus (this wretched Age of Distraction) have improved and I’ve no reason to believe that, if I keep practising, this won’t continue. There may yet be even more healthy and positive effects. It’s early days for me. One thing none of this has caused is more unhelpful or negative thoughts. The old thoughts crop up, of course, but:

“Regulating the mind is like driving a car and constantly having to shift gears to adjust to ever-changing road conditions… The car can be on automatic or manual, same with the mind; you can choose to respond automatically or you can choose to override it.” (my italics)

If you struggle with habitual negative thoughts which affect your self-worth; your emotions and feelings; your behaviour and how you live life (anxious, suffering depressive or anxiety symptoms or obsessive thoughts, or addictive behaviours) and you truly want to change those things, end the pain,  and stop bashing your head against a nail-studded wall, then I believe this is fundamentally one of the best answers we have for now – at least outside of chocolate.

My Shrink Gave Me Mindfulness Treatment And I Tried It - Cynically

My Shrink Gave Me Mindfulness Treatment And I Tried It – Cynically…. Picture from

You are not alone, you’re a human being, and Ruby’s written a funny, accessible, practical manual to help you change these things. She and I may sometimes seem crazy. But we’re not daft. As Kabat-Zinn says, we do Mindfulness like our lives depend on it.

Your habitual thoughts and behaviours won’t change – or rewire themselves – merely by reading someone’s blog post, or even by reading any book on these matters, but they will if you put in the practice. For me, that meant reading about it first, then learning to practice mindfulness on courses, meditation from cds. I waited four years for an NHS course, mainly because I moved area whilst waiting. But that doesn’t matter now. It’s the best present (literally, in all senses of the word) I’ve ever had.

Life can only improve with this stuff. We can’t expect to be happy all the time – that’d be inhuman. I had a Luddite rant on my last post. But I’m over it, which is a huge improvement. Our life can be happier, if we choose and if we put in the spade work. No-one came to our house with a parcel for me and said “here’s that happiness and contentment you were looking for.” I spent years wishing for that or a Harry Potter scenario to happen. “You’re really adopted – and look! Patrick Stewart is your dad!”

If that painful, esteem-diminishing discomfort-zone is the one you want to keep, you go ahead. You’re welcome to it. Take my words or leave them. But don’t say I never tipped you the wink! It’s too late to suggest mindfulness for my mother but, if there’s one thing I’d recommend to our children for a more easily managed life, Mindfulness would be it.

So, some observations, a review of Sane New World, and sharing on my blog something helpful and of practical use. It would have been mean of me to keep it all to myself. If it helps one person, I’m glad. And I’m not always happy, clicking my heels as I hum a merry tune. Far from it but, after only eight months of mindful living, reading, listening, learning and practice, I’m a much less , distracted and stressed human than I was.

Of course the old Default Thought Dungeon – with all its torturous-thought-implements – crops up but, even at this stage, it doesn’t have the same undeserved power.  I am more equipped to notice, observe, identify,  control and manage them now. So they no longer frighten the life out of me. Interesting phrase!

Here’s an introductory video from Jon Kabat-Zinn explaining Mindfulness in a nutshell. There are many more on Youtube, including guided meditations and talks on living mindfully:

Like F. Gump, that’s all I’ve got to say on that, at least for now. Unsurprisingly, Mindfulness has helped with those occasional times of poor focus and distractibility (see Focus post) and I want to pay attention to writing the book.

Have you read this book or similar others? Cynically? As convert? Or as a desperately unhappy person seeking relief from the old default mental autopilot? (I was the last one). Have you taken a mindfulness or mindfulness-based CBT course? Did it change your life? Or (as I have thought in the past) is it all rubbish from smug, new age types trying to make a buck? I think not but I’d love to hear your comments.

Posted in Depression and Anxiety, Families, Health, Life's Rich Tapestry, Mindfulness, UK News Topics, Uncategorized, You Saw It Here Last: Books, You Saw It Here Last: My Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Unsnarkism: How To Be Happy In 5 Easy Steps

Sometimes, I have quite enough of cynicism, snark, or whatever they want to call it – particularly on the internet and on tv. So I step away. A short while ago, the writer, Rebecca Bradley, wrote this post. Well, joy of joys. It was refreshing to see a simple post about happiness. I agreed with Rebecca’s five choices, and suggested it would make a great meme.

Here’s Rebecca’s five: 1.  Drink tea. 2.  Eat chocolate. 3.  Do that thing you really want to do. 4.  Love hard. 5.  Stop and read a book.

That’s all she put. Rebecca’s now remembered my casual suggestion and has tagged five people including me for thinking of it. Ah. Thanks, Rebecca! So now I’ve to think of my five.

It’s a struggle because I can think of zillions of things, my list is very personal to me and you would no doubt have a zillion others. Perhaps it’s age, an addled mind, or that I’m easily pleased, but I found mine needed main headings and sub-sections [pause to laugh at self]. They’ve varied throughout the phases of my life, so I’m just going to have to say I agree with Rebecca’s and prioritise my current vast list.

Memories Make Me Happy - Our Cat Coco In The 90s

Memories Make Me Happy – Our Cat Coco In The 90s

So here’s my own list of How To Be Happy In 5 Easy Steps:-

  1. Know myself Very Very Well – Which helps me to be myself completely, and to accept myself, imperfect but unique human being, as I am. It stops me comparing myself to others, and draws compatible people, places and things to me, and me to them.
  2. The So-Called ‘Little Things’ – In no particular order, these can be: a hug, a smile (to or from me), a wonderful memory, honesty, coffee and toast in bed, gnocchi, just being well, birdsong, thoughtfulness, seasons, going drag-racing and being part of the crew (aka tea-maker) being mind-blown by others’ talents, reading in bed in our RV during a wild storm, baby animals, chatting with friends, family or pets, wearing scent, following the ISS on Twitter, seeing the funny side of things, new pretty shoes, snow, my notebooks (Moleskine, all sizes) not regretting the past or worrying about the future, being totally uncool, a personal letter or card in the post, learning – I am the eternal student, empathy, small achievements, freshly washed bedding, old black-and-white films, any animals, playing, silence, going through photographs, replacing the word “should” with “could”, kindness, Christmas lights on local houses, cute, daft or crazy pets, sunshine, Caramac, seeing our children, a bargain, spontaneity, being grateful for what I have, finding things I thought were lost, Pinterest, storms, being in ‘the zone’ when writing, excellent tv or film, Paul being around on Sundays, a Caramac, chatting, Sam Cooke’s voice, tea and cake, music through headphones, encouragement and enthusiasm, playing guitar, a Badedas or Jo Malone or even Radox bath, and many more, etc., etc. Random, or what? I said my list had zillions of things and maybe that’s another thing to be happy about.
  3. Getting Out Of Self – having said 1 above, this is important for me and includes: being creative in some way (writing, dancing, brainstorming, cooking, gardening, singing, drawing, knitting); literally going out (from the smallest dog walk, to seeing our children, family and friends, to travelling anywhere); experiencing nature, art, music or science; and last but not least to do something, however small, for someone else, and not tell anyone about it. All of that deals with any self-absorption, self-pity, self self self!
  4. Have a “Time To Put Something On My Head” – Yes, that is indeed what I said there. This excellent idea was introduced to me by Paul, my husband. Especially during times of stress or frenzy, I take a minute or two to put something on my head. It can be literally anything. A stapler, a book, a cd, a cup. What happens is I forget whatever else may have been on my mind; it’s hard not to smile or laugh; and the instant I do it, it seems to force me to take a deep breath, relax and be happy. It’s great fun to watch Paul and various other engineers or customers do this in his garage. Especially if they try to keep a serious face.
  5. Great Books - Easy Reads - Excellent to Practice

    Great Books – Easy Reads – Excellent to Practice

    Mindfulness – With the NHS, I did two courses of Mindfulness quite recently, based on this and this. How fantastic is our NHS? Because I came to understand and appreciate for myself what ‘they’ mean by ‘be here now’ ‘being in the moment’ etc., which was always difficult with a mind prone to anxiety and depression. It’s made a huge difference in my life. If I practice it every day, all the other things in 1 to 4 above or in life generally are richer for it and more pleasurable, so of course it makes me happy.


Okay, so I cheated. Just a bit (ahem) – but it’s my list. You make your own! Just writing it all down made me smile.

Yes, there are negative things and times in our lives. I accept that.  Jesus, I’ve had my fair share. I’ve had my snarky reactions in negative times or towards negative events. But I don’t think any snarky witticism I bring to unhappy circumstances is ever truly helpful.

If I don’t like something, I try to change it, or change my attitude towards it, or do something about it. Simples! Well, it is if I can remember some of the positive things and stop all that whining and whingeing just long enough to do something mindfully, say.

Sadness is sadness (bad things happen) and sometimes I just have to sit with it till it goes – and I’m not talking about your actual depression here. That’s quite another thing.

But in my life, it’s these things, often the little things, which help me deal with the tough stuff. I’ve learned periods of huge stress can send my mind and thus my thoughts either way, up or down.

Daily Mindfulness has given me much improved awareness and insight as to the way my thoughts can control my feelings, if I let them. I now keep mostly well and untroubled – and that’s on my list as “just being well”. I can now identify and enjoy happiness for what it is, not as a threat. And that bonus makes me happy.


I’m not going to be tagging anyone in this meme (especially as I’ve “done it my way”) But I’d like to thank Rebecca for remembering my suggestion and, if anyone fancies running with this great subject in their own way, I’d love to see any resulting posts, or comments here below.

I’ll leave you with this unsnarky number from Bobby McFerrin. About time it was given an airing…

Videos: YouTube / Photos: My own

Posted in Depression and Anxiety, Life's Rich Tapestry, Mindfulness, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Sharing: Kodak Moments by @AlarnaRoseGray

Hello Pepi by Alarna Rose Gray

When I noticed the new blogpost email for blogpal and Australian Twitter friend, Alarna Rose Gray, I did the usual thing: I read it immediately. 

Alarna, who is the author of the charming Pepi rhyming books for children, is one of those writers who touch my heart. I rarely ever leave her website less than delighted, refreshed or moved in some way. She has a wonderful gift.

She’d recently returned from a trip to Bali and posted this: Kodak Moments. It’s a pleasure to be able to share it with you – and hopefully also spread a little  delight your way. I loved it.

Alarna posted a number of beautifully illustrative photographs from the trip, which included a few days at Bali’s Elephant Safari Park. Who doesn’t love an elephant or 31? There were moments when she couldn’t take a photo and … well, have a read – and enjoy.

You’re welcome! 😀


Posted in Life's Rich Tapestry, On Writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Puffed Out? Smoke Relief E-Cigarette Review

The Start

Smoke Relief E-Cigarette

Smoke Relief E-Cigarette

Like many who grew up in an age when smoking was cool (even advertised), we’ve struggled – via many attempts and methods – over the decades to quit smoking. The record was two years before succumbing to the wretched fags again.

Finally, we conceded that it’d be great if we could at least cut down as much as possible. Paul knew people who’d happily taken up e-cigarettes, so we fancied giving them a try. Choosing a brand from the various types online was a nightmare. I started looking at products.

Serendipitously, I was given the opportunity to review Smoke Relief e-cigarettes (“America’s No. 1 Electronic Cigarette”) which made my first selection easy, or I’d still be looking at products online at this moment. I’d not been well and was forced into some R&R and stress-reduction, so when ours arrived, I didn’t have to break the R&R to try them.

The Smoke Relief website at gave us the information we needed before we tried these e-cigarettes. Here’s an excerpt from Smoke Relief’s site:

“Electronic cigarettes are the smart alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. And you can use them legally indoors…You get the same cigarette taste and nicotine boost, but the “smoke” generated is completely harmless…”

“Each electronic cigarette consists of a battery, an atomiser and a cartridge containing vegetable glycerine, nicotine and flavouring…When you draw on an e-cigarette the experience is just like a traditional cigarette. You taste the tobacco ‘smoke-like’ vapour that is created and your body receives the nicotine. It is as close as you can get to the whole smoking experience. In fact a lot of people prefer it…”

Smoke Relief Deluxe Package

Smoke Relief Deluxe Package

The Smoke Relief people sent enough supplies  for us both to have at least a week’s trial – thanks SR. Enclosed in the Deluxe kit are:

  • Deluxe Charger Box (looks like a cigarette packet)
  • 2 x Lithium-ion cigarette batteries
  • 5 x 18mg tobacco cartridges* (aka cartomisers – look like a filter)
  • 5 x flavoured cartridges (we had cherry, apple, vanilla, peach and cappuccino)
  • USB cable and charger with AC adaptor – works from pc or AC plug socket
  • USB dongle for direct charging of cigarette battery – works directly pc-to-e-cigarette

*We had 10 tobacco flavoured cartomisers as we were sent enough for a double trial.

The various charging options (and car charging is possible if you buy a simple USB adaptor) mean that we’ve not lacked a charged e-cigarette at any time. Good news for those who dread running out or have the screaming ab-dabs when they do. To clarify, the box has to be charged but should last a while (at least days – 10 days for us) before a recharge is needed and the cigarette batteries should also be charged as required.

Our Review 

  • Ease of use: When the box arrived, we saw screw fittings, USBs, a box with a button and a light, lead and plug, so we were expecting a hoohah to accompany it. Wrong! It was a doddle; it’s easy to charge the box, which is itself a charger – so we could take it out and charge on the go, although we didn’t need to; and it’s no bother to charge the cigarette battery itself. Simply screw into the charger box. Takes a couple of hours to charge. 
  • Meanwhile, with the small pc usb dongle, we could charge a cigarette directly on the laptop, even if the charging pack itself was charging, or another cigarette battery was charging within the pack as it charged. There’s really no bother. Then it was simply a matter of choosing a flavour of cartomiser to screw to the cigarette battery and we were on our way.
  • Once we’d chosen a flavour – we both tried tobacco first, shameful addicts that we are – we realised we could keep that flavour until the cigarette itself indicated that we needed a new cartomiser (the filter with the flavour and nicotine) or swap to another flavour if and when we wanted. Once opened, the cartomisers keep going for at least the equivalent of 20 ‘usual’ cigarettes, whether we swapped them about or not.
  • Smoke Relief Pack - Charged with Cartomiser & Battery

    Smoke Relief Pack – Charged with Cartomiser & Battery

    Next, our first drags: a revelation. We loved seeing the grey ‘ends’ light up red (endless fun). We coughed with the first inhalations, then realised we were trying to smoke them like our previous tobacco cigarettes.

  • We developed a kind of “hold vapour in mouth for a split second before breathing into lungs” technique. This stopped the coughing. There was also the “couple of tiny puffs rather than one giant puff” technique.
  • The flavour was fine, indeed just like tobacco. The strength of nicotine we tried was 18mg – there are other strengths, including 22mg, 12mg – and 0mg for those trying to quit entirely. We may only need 12mg.
  • After a couple of Smoke Relief’s e-cigs, we got the idea. We could already tell that there wasn’t that bitterness we find with ordinary tobacco, nor any irritation at the back of the throat. Together with the smoking rituals of holding fag/e-cig and inhaling, there’s also the effect, the hit, of smoking. Presumably because of the nicotine level, we didn’t inhale on the e-cigs as much as on fags – they reckon about 7 drags for one fag or e-cig.
  • Neither had we had to light anything, or use a smelly, filthy ashtray (my bugbear). Further, the Smoke Relief e-cigs didn’t leave a hovering layer of smoke in the room, make our furniture or clothes smell or affect anyone else. The vapour quickly evaporates – we could put these e-cigs down on any surface, free from any burning-the-coffee-table misery.
Smoke Relief Laptop Charge

Smoke Relief Laptop Charge

  • With one ‘pack’ between us (but also a USB dongle), Paul could charge his cigarette in the pack and I used the dongle, so that was useful even if it looked as though my laptop was smoking. Actually no vapour appears whilst charging.
  • We wanted to cut down so, first of all, we replaced every alternate fag with the e-cig. Sometimes, it was actually handier to use the e-cig, for example when in the kitchen or bedroom.
  • Eventually, we were preferring the e-cig to a fag in many situations, for example while driving or on the phone. It is technically legal to “vape” anywhere where cigarettes are usually banned but the instructions do suggest it’s “polite to ask permission from the owners or people responsible for the space.” Fair enough…
  • The pack is handy – a tiny bit bigger than a normal cigarette box – and is as portable as a classic cigarette packet: handbag, jeans pocket, car door pockets, etc. Both box and e-cigarette have indicators (the e-cig flashes red) when a recharge is necessary.
  • We tried the other flavours. Peach was a bit Avon-calling/scenty for me but we both liked Tobacco, Vanilla, Cherry and Cappucino. They’re certainly different. I wouldn’t usually smoke menthol but Smoke Relief can also provide refills for mint-fans.
  • General benefits: We and guests don’t have to smell – so much – of tobacco, no foul ashtrays, cleaner/fresher house, no going out in the rain to smoke, no lighters to bother about, no fire risk, etc. etc. etc.
  • Health benefits: We certainly cut our usual tobacco consumption by at least half and most days down to a third. We do give more consideration as to whether we actually want a fag or an e-cig at all. We are taking in much less harmful smoke, tar and toxins than we do when smoking nothing but tobacco fags. We found no side effects, only positive ones.

    Care For a Fag & Ashtray - Or Smoke Relief?

    Care For a Fag & Ashtray – Or Smoke Relief?

  • Cash benefits: We also found that the e-cigarettes lasted longer than expected – we were only taking 2 or 3 drags when we wanted a cigarette, rather than the 7-8 we would have with an old style cigarette –  so they worked out even better value than at first thought.
  • The starter kit was expected to last at least a week (15 refill filter/cartomisers between us) and lasted over two weeks between us.  Previously, we were smoking between 10 and 20 per day each. Now, we have more than halved our tobacco intake and are both down to between 3 and10 tobacco cigarettes a day.
  • The old problems with patches(irritating/restless sleep/peculiar dreams)/inhalers (no vapour)/gum (no joy/vile flavour)  have been removed. We smoke far less, which must be healthier.
  • We find we’ve saved between  £40 to £60 per week between us. And Smoke Relief have created a very clever brand here because…
  • We haven’t suffered at all for it!

The Conclusion

You can probably tell that Smoke Relief’s e-cigarettes have been a great, genuine success for both of us and, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, we’ll be ordering our refills very soon. These e-cigs have exceeded all our expectations. We truly expected to suffer or feel deprived – in the way we have with other NRT products. If these had been an Amazon product, we would have given 5*.

The Smoke Relief e-cig glows red, it’s easy to use/charge, odourless, mess-free, it produces harmless vapour and satisfies the craving … what’s not to like? With many general, health and cash benefits, if you’re thinking of trying an e-cigarette, this one’s a no-brainer and I’m happy to recommend it. It’s about as close as you can get to smoking, without the guilt.

Smoke Relief Pack, Charged, With Indicator

Smoke Relief Pack, Charged, With Indicator

I can see  the possibility of quitting for good using this method – by reducing the level of nicotine in the refills we buy, down to zero – but I’m delighted with the reduction for now, as is Paul. It’s a very happy compromise.

Indeed, Smoke Relief do make clear in their Instruction Leaflet that Smoke Relief “is not a smoking cessation product, it is a harm reduction product designed to help you enjoy smoking while dramatically reducing your risk of smoking-related illness.” (my italics)

We think it’s worth the initial investment. The Smoke Relief Deluxe Kit is currently on offer at £29.97 (which comes with refills) and the refills are £5.95 for a pack of 5. One refill is said to equal one pack of fags but we’ve found them to last longer, depending on how much we “vape.” But that’s around £12 for 200 fags, minus tar, ash and pong. I’d love to try mine in a theatre, restaurant, on public transport or in a cinema.

A Mini-Starter Kit is on offer for £9.95 and comes with the computer USB dongle, so you can charge while you work or play, and trial the e-cigarettes quite cheaply. We’ve worked out that any of these products will almost certainly pay for themselves in the first month, or, as we found for the two of us, in the first week.

For interested readers, you can order from here and if you quote the following code, you can get the current great offers plus the further bonus of free postage and packing. The code is: SHIPMYKIT Or visit the site if you’d like more details:

What methods have you tried to cut down or give up smoking? I must’ve tried them all but would love to hear of your experiences, or how you got on with e-cigarettes.


Disclaimer: We received the Smoke Relief Starter Kit free of charge for the purposes of honest review. All photos, opinions (and rough costings) are our own, unbiased and based on our own experience of the product. Video by Smoke Relief (UK).

Apology to Americans: I’ve just realised you may read this quite differently. ‘Fag’ is a common UK slang word for ‘cigarette’! 

Posted in Health, Life's Rich Tapestry, Uncategorized, Weight Issues, You Saw It Here Last: Products | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Learning Curves

Reading, Writing And Breaking Free of Genre

It Started With A Book: The Villages by Dave Hutchinson


So, Dave’s kicked off a Big Thing for me, here. No, not chained me up! This is a metaphorical picture.

Originally, I wrote this review for the Amazon site. If you click the link, the review is the second on the page. There I admit that, for many years and with a few rare exceptions, I’d limited the genres of books I would read. I would literally take a swerve past particular shelves. Not for me were Mills & Boon, Sci Fi or Fantasy, and only Stephen King would do for Horror. Anything else I would read but, I vowed, very selectively – though there was that Michael Moorcock phase from 15-19. There were too many books and not enough time.

The review shows that I learned a big lesson – a ‘gift’ from Dave. To allow my curiousity enough freedom to break through my formerly narrow self-limitations on reading. Books I may have avoided (because of labels given them) opened my mind and gave me amazing new stories to enjoy, and writers from whom I could learn.

I am constantly learning. For a time, I didn’t know that much about Dave Hutchinson, apart from on Twitter. I’d heard of him as a Sci Fi writer – I’ve recently read some wonderful short stories in his collection As The Crow Flies – and member of the BSFA. I went along to a BSFA event and met him.  Prior to that, I’d read his book The Villages while recuperating from surgery, frustratingly grounded. I didn’t write that review until some months’ later, still calling it Sci Fi. Now, today, I probably wouldn’t categorise it at all.

I’ve learned that all fictional labels have something to teach me and, as a reader, I’m entitled to read whatever the heck takes my fancy.


In the months prior to reading The Villages, I’d drafted and redrafted various versions of the current work in progress. Seeking the holy grail. The story that would be Just Right. No perfectionism there, then. All the while, I was trying to make the work ‘fit’ known genres so that my eventual submission letter and synopsis might be able to show that my work ‘belonged’ in a known, popular category, thereby giving it appeal.

I’d tried: A Romcom, A Crime, A Mystery, A Psychodrama, A Paranormal and was about to attempt A Sci Fi and finally allow my piece de resistance, the Big Idea. The Big Idea I couldn’t ‘fit’ into a genre. Those capitals are deliberate. I took pains to work within, and had my poor characters dancing awkwardly about, the conventions of those genres as (I thought I’d been ordered to do) in those twenty thousand books on writing I possess.

You see, way back in the early 90s when my submission mss went by Mammoth Mail, I got used to writing for magazines who usually had their own expectations, rules and guidelines for writers. I wasn’t rejected – except by Duncan Minshall at Radio Four (framed the truly helpful letter) when I was going for the afternoon short story slot. But, of course, I’m not bitter at all, and never, ever mention that to anyone. However, a tangent, but that illustrates how, as a magazine short story writer, I wrote then with particular genres and publications in mind – and how I thought that was the way to go. I got Radio 4 all wrong at that time.

Now I understand how I unintentionally got chained up in the dark and it was  Dave Hutchinson who helped release me. His book, The Villages, is a great example of ‘not trying to write for, or fit a genre’. Yes, I know I reviewed it as Sci Fi – and you could possibly argue that it’s Fantasy. Or Thriller, or Suspense  or Romance. But… Stop! Whatever. I hadn’t worked it all out yet.

Neither could I categorise The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey nor The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (apart from that ever-stretching label ‘literary fiction’), both equally enjoyable. Ha. The blinkers were off. I’d been stifling myself and prohibiting what I wanted to write in order to fit!

I’m the least likely person to say to anyone ‘you have to fit in’, or conform to, anything. I’m not sure I ever have, i.e. in groups, clubs, and such, so I’ve learned to accept myself and others, and am quite happy with that. Yet I was trying to make my writing do that very thing – to fit! And just what, exactly? I’d given myself huge, painful problems.

I would never advise anyone to do that! My own worst counsel, etc. Thanks to Dave – later when I met him, he said something like ‘don’t try to make it fit a genre’ when I wailed about my problem – he could see I’d been driving myself crazy with this. With Dave’s view and some readers’ confirmations, I see where I was going wrong.

This writerly enlightenment (but watch this space) compelled me to start my Work In Progress yet again, with all the enthusiasm of a woman released from her own self-imposed prison. I’ve kept some characters, the main settings and some of the story but there are plenty of ‘ideas previously forbidden or wouldn’t fit’ – and now the story has grown immensely.

It’s also become far more interesting and absorbing to me as a result. The characters are allowed to do all the things they would never have done if I’d simply imprisoned them within a RomCom, Thriller or Mystery or Whatever… of my own making. That was my own misconception and I have no-one else to blame. I reckon the next time someone asks me what I’m writing, I’ll say ‘I don’t know’. I don’t think I will know till it’s done!

So now, as a reader, I’m entitled to read (enjoy and learn from) whatever the Hell takes my fancy. But, as a writer, it’s important that I make this promise to myself never to deny or limit myself over genre ever again. I’d have too much to lose and I think it has much to do with my soul.

Just as with reading, as a writer I’m entitled to write whatever I want to write. I think Dave said that. I think many of the books say that. Except I’d formed habits useful to the short stories I wrote years back, and had forgotten to free myself from them.


If this novel’s never published, at least I will know I gave myself the sheer, joyful freedom to write my story, which possibly would defy categorisation or be called multi-genre. Then I hope I’d have a break… and write another one. Should books be as all-inclusive as we would ideally love society to be? I know (say, with libraries, bookshops) categories can be handy, perhaps vital. There will always be labels. They are comfort zones for some but some are most uncomfortable for me.

Genre is for the marketers to deal with, so I’m told and understand. They can give my work any label they like if they’re publishing it! Though I think I’d rather have no label at all. I may self-publish. Who the heck knows? But, for now, write and be damned, I say. Make the break, write first and see where it ‘fits’ later. It may be a different kind of ‘fit’ I was looking for all along. That’s not my business for now. Neither is self-imprisonment or restraint.

The reality is, even if I make huge mistakes and this book is continually rejected, I can learn, I can improve, I’m happy to have my integrity, plenty of ideas, the tools to write another – and three old novels in the drawer. I’ll call them ‘Learning Curves: Books 1, 2 and 3’.

Now, I must get on with it but I’d love to know – what does everyone else think? 

A number of  writers have generously helped me reach this point along the route. Bernadine Evaristo was the first, years back in a Deptford Writing Group. But you will see that I felt Dave Hutchinson, in particular, had given me a gift. It was a huge gift and it has layers and they are constantly unfolding to surprise me. So this is a kind of thank you note, to a terrific writer (and editor and journalist) who I’m so happy to know as a friend. His books, stories and blog aren’t half bad, too. His website is:

Picture credits: Worramu, Sira Anamwong, pixbox77, Sura Nualpradid, Rosen Georgiev and jannoon028 – all at

Posted in On Writing, Reading, Uncategorized, You Saw It Here Last: Books, You Saw It Here Last: My Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Light Show, Hayward Gallery: A Review

This is the slightly fuller version of a review I wrote for the culture geeks at To Do List. They’re into free, cheap and offbeat things to do in London and often promote events I might not otherwise hear about. Or they find deals or free tickets for some amazing and unusual events. The Hayward Gallery’s Light Show could have come under mainstream but cheap and yet offbeat categories. 


Stirring Stuff - Picture Credit:

Stirring Stuff – Picture Credit:

What have you done with your eyes lately? Not that. Come on; they need exercising, delighting, mystifying and mesmerising, don’t they? The Hayward Gallery’s Light Show, with works by 22 artists including Olafur Eliasson, Jenny Holzer, Leo Villareal and Carlos Cruz-Diez, will take your eyes through an extraordinary workout.

From my initial sighting of Villareal’s dazzling Cylinder II until I emerged from Eliasson’s moving, mysterious and magical Model For A Timeless Garden, I was immersed in and captivated by curious and brilliant tricks of the light.

As I wandered through this trippy yet drug-free kaleidoscope of Art meeting Science – sometimes back-tracking as if to confirm what I thought I’d seen – a (more than usual) childlike curiosity was increasingly awakened with each immersing space or boggling installation.

Amazed at artificial light’s brilliance, my mind rattled off questions. How did they do that? Real or illusionary? Is that a ceiling or a light-beam? Why does David Batchelor’s Magic Hour look best when I’m halfway up the stairs? Are we swaying? Is that bottomless? Who spiked my coffee?

Sometimes it felt like one of those crazy houses at the fairground; the one with distorted mirrors, pitch black passages and wobbly floors. While the installations make our pupils and retinas expand, contract, marvel, peer and focus, they also affect our minds, bodies and balance.

By the time I’d been mesmerised and mystified – bathed in colour and light in all forms, wobbled in apparently rocking, rolling spaces, persuaded whole rooms were white when I was certain they’d been pink, or convinced I stood above and beneath infinity yet was invisible in the mirror before me  – my eyeballs were on stalks. Stretched, contorted, shrunken, flipped inside out, frazzled and test-trialled as though they’d been to an ocular gym.

As I blinked in natural light again, I thought of the couple who’d often been beside me as I experienced the exhibition. What the heck was their baby making of it all? He was certainly agog, incredibly quiet – and smiling. But then so were the rest of us.

What is particularly pleasing about an exhibition of artificial light is how, at the end of it, I had renewed respect and awe for the fantastic tricks of natural light – stars, rainbows, shadows, etc. – I can be guilty of taking for granted.

Have you been? I’d recommend it with a thousand glittering, bouncing, expanding and contracting stars. Enjoy your workout.

[Warning: not recommended for those affected by flashing (or other) lights. The jury’s still out on whether it affected my bipolar brain, or not. Only kidding. It could have worked wonders for all I know. I’ve been pretty cheerful since! Thanks to @ToDoListLive]

The Hayward Gallery, South Bank Centre, London SE1 – Until Sunday 28th April 2013.

Advance booking highly recommended. Weekends have been selling out. For same day bookings, call: 0844 847 9910

£11 ticket price – worth every penny – £1.75 booking fee – there are concessionary prices for Seniors, Students and Young People. Free for members.

Video: Lyman Knowles – YouTube

Posted in Uncategorized, You Saw It Here Last: Art, You Saw It Here Last: My Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Butcher’s Daughter And The Horsemeat Scandal

The Joke of Meat Shopping

The current/recent news about certain beef products containing an element of horse and/or bute (or not), questionable meat supply-chains, supermarkets re-calling products, Ikea’s meatballs and the realisation that this may have been going on for years – for all we know – made me think of my real dad, the perfectionist butcher, and how he would be spinning in his grave if he had one.

Actually, dad’s ashes are scattered in woodland near Hindhead in Surrey because, evacuated there as a child during WWII, it was one of the few places he was genuinely happy. Another place was his butcher’s shop. Dad and a friend, Jim, set up two butcher’s shops in Upton Park, East London. Dad’s was in the parade of shops at Queen’s Road Market, Jim’s in Green Street.

Butcher with similar ideas to dad – William Rose in Dulwich

Dad took a pride in his work and took great care about the meat he bought, prepared and sold to his customers. The meat would be precision cut from a great array of knives, cleavers, choppers and saws. Everything in the shop was spotless, all displays carefully thought out, the front window display all but entirely symmetrical (pork chops arranged fat-to-the-left on the left, lamb chops arranged fat-to-the-right on the right) and price-tickets written beautifully by what looked like the hand of a calligrapher. His Christmas window displays were a colourful picture with a row of rabbits hung across the top and pheasants on each side of that, complete with fur and feather.

Dad, who’d learned his trade in the army, had a regimented routine for opening-up and shutting-up shop cleaning. Maple chopping blocks were scrubbed to his satisfaction with stiff metal brushes, glass and marble dazzled. Sawdust was swept from every nook and, as he locked the shop at the end of the day, the tiled floor shone.

He cared from the heart about his trade and, as mentioned, was a perfectionist. He had a rigid routine. At least three or four mornings a week, dad would be up at silly o’clock, read his Meat Trades Journal over breakfast and cup of tea, then depart for Smithfield where he’d purchase meat from his favourite, equally caring and pernickity traders. Dad would then commence his day in the shop from around 7.30 a.m.

By the age of ten or eleven, I could sometimes find myself working in the gloomy back-end of the shop on a Saturday – say, when Auntie Bonnie, who looked after me otherwise, was out for the day. My mum would often work there, too, but I would dread that because she and dad would, every so often come down to the back section and snipe and snark away at each other in the same joyless way they did at home.

Sausage links

Sausage links

Then it would be back to the customers for my dad with a: “Hello! How are you? Want some brawn this week? It’s freshly made.” “A bag of bones for the dog? Certainly!” Mr. Cheery himself with customers, who made a queue that went out of the door and along the length of the shop window. I sometimes wonder, had he  not died at a young age, whether he would have been able to keep the shop going until he retired.

The thing was, though, that all dad’s Smithfield-sourced meat products, minced beef or lamb, sausages, beefburgers, brawn were made with the products he bought from reputable traders and he really knew his stuff (nearly said onions). Oh. So did mum: she would often be found of an evening cooking up and making brawn. Multi-packs of chops marinated in barbeque or mint sauce hadn’t even been thought about then, let alone turned up in butchers’ shops. Dad cared about his reputation and cared what his customers thought of the meat they bought, the shop they bought it in and the service they got.

Take Care With The Butcher's Mincing Machine

Take Care With The Butcher’s Mincing Machine

To tangent off in reminiscence now, dad once told me a scary story about the mincer machine – his mate had lost his arm in one – so I did my bit on a Saturday but very gingerly when it came to making mince. That vision of a minced arm never left me. Health & Safety would have a field-day with this today. I was probably one of the last ten-year-olds to ever work in a butcher’s shop. After mincing, some of the meat was divided off for me to make fresh beefburgers, one little job I did enjoy without fear.

When asked to fetch, say, a leg of lamb from his massive walk-in freezer, I would be terrified that the door with its giant handle and latch would clank shut on me. I’d terrify myself by imagining I was trapped inside it with all the dead lambs, pigs and cows, which hung from their steel S-hooks in the ice-fog. And gradually freezing to death because any frantic banging for help would be unheard. Thankfully, I still have my arms and am alive to tell the tale.

Mostly though, I was only washing up meat-trays in scalding water or making cups of tea for dad and Andy, Philip and mum, his assistants. The best part about a Saturday at dad’s was being able to take long breaks to wander round the swarming market, checking out hair-slides or shoes or even the colourfully explosive fabric stalls to a backing track of reggae.

Gas Record Label

Gas Record Label

The sounds came from the direction of a music stall, or the amazing Soundville Records which stocked the current Jamaican Reggae Top 20 and had listening booths so you could listen before you bought. This is how I ended up with records by artists my friends at school had never heard of, like those on the Gas, Blue Beat and Techniques labels. The ten shillings – 50p – wages (including pocket money) I was paid tended to be spent by lunchtime.

But one thing about this. Dad being a butcher meant that virtually every evening meal was a meat dish and, although I often got bored with the stuff, it seems we could always be pretty certain that if mum had cooked shepherds pie, then the meat she used was pure beef. We never questioned if the meat was actually beef, or whether anything had been added to it.

The main meat-containing convenience food we kept in the kitchen was tinned corned beef, Spam and in the 70s we had Vesta curries when we felt lazy. We didn’t even question such tinned food. Luckily, we lived in times and circumstances when we were pretty sure we knew what we were eating and that was that. For all I know, tinned meat products may have contained questionable contents for years but Health and Safety hadn’t quite taken off then in the way it has now.

The Manual Burger Machine

The Manual Burger Machine

My parents were evacuees in the war years and were growing up in the post-war austerity years that followed. It was ‘make do and mend’ and virtually everyone knew how to throw a few cheap and cheerful meals together. How quickly we’ve become used to microwaved and ready meals. I’m no food snob and as lazy a cook as you could get. We are as accustomed as anyone to succumbing to the powerful lure of the ready meal and a weekly takeaway.

I didn’t react when there was an egg crisis, nor over BSE. Maybe it’s dad and his standards nagging in my conscience, maybe this latest shenanigans about beef in particular, but something in the back of my mind has recently made me more aware of our small local family butcher. We’re by no means well off, so I don’t often buy from him, relying like many on cheaper supermarket offers. Would it be better to have fewer meat meals per week and buy fresh meat from our local butcher (I’m hoping he has the same standards as my dad), rather than continue to give the juggernaut supermarkets the benefit of the doubt – that they have our best interests at heart when choosing the meat and meat products they sell?

The Way of The Family Butcher

The Way of The Family Butcher

I don’t know is my immediate answer. Apparently, since this latest horse meat scandal, there are people resolving to be vegetarian from now on. In the 90s, the kids and I were veggie for a few years, at their request, but we all missed bacon. Eventually, we returned to a carnivorous life and I tried to ensure we all had a reasonably healthy diet.

We all have to eat but I’m beginning to think about the way it’s made so easy and tempting, once we’re in a supermarket, to buy everything there. I’m thinking I’d rather buy a small amount of meat from a butcher (be they ‘traditional’ family butcher or Halal butcher or any other kind of butcher) who cares about his trade and the kinds of product he sells to customers, rather than buy a large amount of meat products from a huge but faceless, supermarket or massive, frozen ready-meal manufacturer where the word care doesn’t appear to come into it.

Have you changed where you shop, how you cook or what you eat as a result of 2013’s Meat ‘Scandal?’ Here’s a few more opinions:-

[RIP Dad – who I sometimes picture meticulously arranging the window display of the Great Butcher’s Shop in The Sky]

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