Category: Blog


Healthy times are here – minus the vitamin pills

One “health” blogger and adviser’s daily intake of vitamins

Now here’s some food for thought.

Real food, too. Which probably makes quite a change for many of us in these vitamin-fuelled times.

At least you can now count me out of the millions here and worldwide who are buying vitamin supplements in ever-increasing numbers in the hope, and even belief, that they will improve  their health, both physical and mental.

A couple of months ago I went cold turkey.

No tapering, no slow withdrawal. I simply stopped, and the blister packs and bottles have sat on the kitchen bench untouched ever since.

And here’s the punchline: it’s been a long time since I have felt as good as I feel now.  The proof – and the bonus – has been in the unsolicited comments made by friends and family about my healthy glow and my steady display of  a newfound energy.

The initial decision to curtail my daily vitamin intake was a true spur of the moment action. There was no pre-thinking. No reasoning behind it.

It was only after some days/weeks of feeling less lethargic, of sleeping far better, of being more active that I began to ponder the reason for this return to normality.

There had been no change in my daily routine, no reduction in work-related activity and the diet (i.e. my intake of food and nothing to do with any weight loss or body changing plan) remained as it has always been.

Only one thing was different: the total absence of any vitamin intake. It was the only possible answer.

The absence of iron capsules (I was told I am anaemic), D3 (sunlight for someone who makes a point of getting outdoors every day?), turmeric (because the full-page ads seduced me), probiotics (to improve the digestive health of one who is a stranger to gut problems?) and valerian (a sleep aid for someone who is in Dreamland within minutes of turning out the light?) has made not the slightest difference.

The sub-text to this is to wonder whether, as I felt so much better without them, was it possible that they had actually been having a negative effect rather than the huge benefits that are claimed by this multi-million pound industry?  An industry that commands an ever-growing allegiance from an estimated 40 per cent of the UK population?

After all, its sales of some £445 million a year are largely built on claims (read the labels) rather than scientifically tried and tested research.

Most simply state they are a food supplement.  And anyone who is getting their five-a-day and avoiding excessive levels of fat, salt and sugars doesn’t really need to “supplement” their food intake.

So, as we troop unceasingly into our high street “health” stores or click their online equivalents, maybe we are shelling out our hard-earned on pills, potions and powders that are nothing more than placebos.

It’s just a thought.

I’ll leave it with you while I nip out for a run … got a couple of testing races coming up.

 

 

 

 

 

Postcards No.7: at the crossroads on the Costa Brava

lloret-de-mar

An uncrowded beach, family-run inns and guesthouses, fishing boats and genuine local cuisine: a place familiar to millions but unrecognisable in this postcard scene from the 1950s.

There were none of  the earlier mentioned struggles of recollection when I turned to the next two postcards in my time-worn pile.

So much to remember here. So many highs. Such a crush of never-to-be-forgotten places, people, events and incidents enjoyed in a couple of weeks.

And memorable on a different level for being a time of decision-making; truly the crossroads on my journey through life.

One cannot help but wonder, and doubt, if the boozed-up thousands who nowadays

Lloret de Mar 2

Truly unspoilt: Lloret de Mar in the day before the tourist hordes.

throng the high-rises, restaurants, bars, discos and clubs of this grossly overdeveloped strip of once idyllic Catalan shore derive even a smidgen of the happy and abiding memories that have been mine for more than fifty years.

These were fifteen days of wonderment, unabated pleasure and a simmering of youthful romance.

It was where I learnt how to make a salad dressing – something in those austere days unknown and almost unheard of unless it oozed as a thick cream from a Heinz bottle.

This was thanks to another lone, but more worldly, traveller living in our small guesthouse only a few steps back from the beach. He called for vinegar, olive oil (surely to be used only for medicinal purposes), a shallow dish and condiments.

I watched fascinated as he melded them into an unctuous concoction, part of which he spooned over our salads and the remainder he invited me to use as a dip for chunks of newly-baked bread.

It was my initiation into a world of food I never knew existed and which has given me lasting pleasure ever since.

The culinary wonderment continued. As the message on one postcard naively notes, “I had a meal the like of which you’ve never seen, consisting of prawns, shrimps, mussels and squid in a rice dish plus chicken. Paella it is called.”

I also commented, “The way these people eat is unbelievable.”  A comment probably resulting from a visit I made to the legendary Los Caracolas (Snails), already then more than a century-old and still today the haunt of the world’s movers and groovers.

Somehow its status among the rich and famous passed me by; I was simply in awe of the setting, the atmosphere  – and the food. This was fine dining in extremis, but done with not a single hint of snobbery or elitism. How could there be when little ol’  twenty-something me from the back-blocks had not only passed through its doors but also could pay the bill.

These explorations into the culinary world were not the only steps into unknown territory. There was my first attendance at a bullfight  (okay, each to his own) and being enraptured by the whole extravaganza.  Call it my Hemingway period.  “Will go again,” said my postcard home.

Diane and Me, Lloret De Mar 1950s

Catalan cellar nights: with Diane [get that jacket and tie!!]

Then there were the night-time excursions into the cellar bars for copious wine and Catalan folk music. This was usually in the company of locals of my own age as I broadened my knowledge of the language that I had already been trying to learn back in England.

Again there was a wide-eyed comment on the postcard: “Just got in at 3.30 am – early by their standards.”  And again, “I’ve seen the fishing fleet return three times now at way past 3 am.”

Back then the local boats would pull up on the beach and unload a haul of anchovies. Today?

Nearly always throughout this Spanish interlude I was accompanied by Diane, a delightful young woman I had met back in Worthing. She worked in her family’s travel agency which was right at the forefront of  what became a massive explosion in packaged holidays.

Already they had built their own villa in the hills above Lloret as a base from which to run holidays to a handful of guesthouses in the area.  It took little persuasion to get me to book one of their Lloret de Mar packages, especially as Diane would be there to escort and guide me.

Coincidentally, not only had I been learning Spanish but also contemplating changing careers to become a tour host, preferably based in Spain.  The money was good, the commission a bonus and there was a long break in the off-season when I could teach English in Spain.

The two weeks in Lloret took me closer to making the change, especially when the involvement with Diane deepened (siestas at the hillside villa, Sunday family lunches at her home back in Worthing,  the hint of a job with the firm … and more, suggested Diane).

It was touch and go.

Then family intervened. Let’s just say mum and dad were not best pleased to have me decamp to live among a lot of foreigners, drifting around Spain, an uncertain income and, above all, that big no-no of “no security.”

Back then parental control and influence were far stronger. Not like these free-wheeling times when even pre-teens seem able to dictate terms.

So I relented and, as is often said, the rest is history.

But I can’t help wondering down what paths I would have wandered if I had followed my passion.  And what did become of Diane?

One thing is certain; I would be making a big detour around what the once alluring Lloret has since become.

More memoir surprises

Family history never ceases to surprise and delight.

It is an endless journey into the unexpected.

Skeletons leap from cupboards and sudden contacts from hitherto strangers breath life into people who so far have been mere names clinging precariously to the family tree.

This week, emails from out of the blue have unearthed another bag of surprises and added further grist to the memoir that is becoming an ever-expanding work in progress.

Overnight I find I am related to two sisters who met prematurely early deaths; one was an alcoholic, the other a drug addict.

A third relative from this same Welsh ancestral cluster spent years in a mental asylum after undergoing cross-examination in a sensational society murder trial.

From cursory reading it appears that Aunt Eva was employed as a nursemaid for the murdered woman and was accused of somehow having access to the arsenic used as the killing agent.

The common thread here is that many of their male line served in the Great War and either came back maimed, often in hidden ways, or simply never returned, in some cases their bodies not even found on the battlefields where they fell.

Their wives and families were left to struggle on tbe best they could.

Happily, more recent descendents have become absorbed into suburban respectability with not a black sheep to be found among them. At least, so far.

But one cannot help wondering what the next generation of family historians might eventually dig up.

 

 

A Paris interlude: Postcard memories No.3

Concorde: up, up and away.

If there is any validity in the saying that “every picture is worth a thousand words” then my hoard of old postcards could generate sufficient information to create an entire book.

Whether of fact or fiction is open to debate. As reported in previous posts on this topic, two attempts to match the facts recorded on the postcards with my memory of those distant times have ended in failure.

No matter how much I try, I cannot recollect any visit to the Channel Isle of Jersey nor any periods of residence at the address to which several cards were sent.

Better results are being achieved as I peruse many of the others and try to sort them into a vague sequential order. Memories are being stirred, names recalled, places and incidents remembered.

However, as most of the cards are undated and the postmarks are often blurred or lacking details of time and place, they still provide only a random retelling of my life before the internet, mobile phones and messaging.

Among those that ripped the memory bank wide open was the one (pictured above) depicting that marvellous flying machine, ill-fated the Concorde.

This was mailed as I was about to depart from Paris, a place I used the postcard to describe as “this strike-bound city”.

I had arrived there a few days earlier from Australia at the end of what I wrote of as being “the longest supersonic flight yet made”.

To join this one-off experience, I had first flown from Melbourne to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The Concorde had arrived there bringing European  delegates of an International Monetary Fund conference, or some such gabfest.

Myself and three other Aussie journalists – Frank Gallego, Jack Butters and Charles Sriber – had been invited to join the return flight to Paris.

It was literally an out of this world experience; one of the few that remains bright in the memory.  That soaring take-off, the feeling of the huge surge of power, the weird sense of being confined with only a hundred others in this pencil-thin projectile (only two seats either side of the narrow aisle) hurtling so smoothly way up through the clouds and into the almost translucent rarefied atmosphere beyond.

We were space travellers, peering down on the curvature of the globe far below – a view unlike any experienced in normal flight.

Paris was reached in three relaxing leaps each lasting about three hours; a nine-hour journey to replace the horrendous twenty-four hours or so those of us living Down Under usually endured for visits to Europe. It was made even more pleasurable and memorable by the Michelin-level food and wine that help distract more nervous passengers from the bulkhead gauge showing our progress from subsonic through transonic to supersonic, from Mach 1 and on to Mach 2.

There are, however, other memories awakened by this postcard that go unmentioned in the few words it contains.

This brief visit – a mere three nights in Paris before a tortuous 36-hour journey home – I seized upon to arrange a secret assignation with a “friend” then living in London.

It was soon agreed: we  would meet in Paris.  She could get a couple of days off work – with OPEC, if I remember correctly –  and I had no rigid program to adhere to. My travel companions would be diverted with their own sightseeing.

The best laid plans ….

It was on the morning of the second day that we scurried hand in hand along the Metro platform to board the train. We dashed  through the closing doors of the nearest carriage and plonked down into a couple of seats.

Giggling and breathless we raised our gaze and looked around.  Facing us across the aisle, sagely nodding and with knowing grins, were my three journo colleagues, each of whom was a friend of my companion in collusion.

So much for secret trysts and assignations.

I wonder what memories these other postcards will stir ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rice pudding at The Globe

Rice puddings were a staple of my childhood diet; a thick, glutinous stodge with the only saving grace being the over-browned skin covering its surface. This was the dessert course equivalent of the crackling on the pork or the marrow to be sucked from stew bones.

Beyond that, rice was an unappetising dish, dressed up in its fancy cloak in a failed attempt to make the mundane appealing and even exciting.

In the intervening years, this grain has assumed a far more tasty role as we have become familiar with exciting dishes from the sub-continent, the Orient and even Europe.

Curry and rice,  sushi, risotto, paella and numerous other once seemingly exotic creations have become firmly established on our menus, within the home as well as when eating out. And, of course, and perhaps predominantly, when indulging in that ubiquitous convenience the takeaway.

Yet for all that, it is still that duplicitous dessert – alluring on the outside, such a stodgy mess within – that first jumps to mind whenever the word “rice” is mentioned.

And so it was when I read that Rice is now on the menu at London’s Globe Theatre. Not any old rice, but Emma Rice. She who has emerged through the ranks of the theatrical fringe to become the director of that most esteemed playhouse.

The very name has me running for the exit – or, rather, speeding past the box office without a stop for tickets.

I have tried – oh, believe me, how hard I have tried – to succumb to the allure she holds for many theatregoers; or cultists, as they seem to have become in their fanaticism.

But every time her productions leave me underwhelmed.  Many nights I waded through muddy fields to get to the Kneehigh theatre’s tent pitched in a Cornish meadow to join her acolytes in another night billed as exciting, edgy theatre but which transpired as chaotic, and eventually boring, mayhem.  The final straw was her much-vaunted production of that theatrical classic, Rebecca, which departed the tent and toured the nation’s theatres.

Oh dear, what a mess we weave when we attempt to be different. Such a mishmash. It aimed at times for humour, at times for high drama and at times for farce – and failed on all fronts. Many a ticket-holder departed at the interval, clearly overfed on another Rice pudding.

And before she has even taken the reins at the Globe she has promised to shake things up  That dreary old “innovation” of casting women in men’s roles is to resurface, the audience is to be encouraged to talk and shout, and mewling babes in arms will be welcomed and embraced.

Oh dear, as if  things aren’t bad enough with plays being uprooted from their writers’ original settings for no rhyme or reason, incessant chatterers on mobile phones and the regular explosions of flashlight Instagrammers.

She will cut Shakespeare’s plays to make them shorter (for the TV generation with short attention spans), rewrite the texts to make them clearer to society’s dimmer and dumber members and, of course, disrobe her actors and clothe them in modern dress.

But this is what happens when one builds a coterie of adoring followers who will hear not a word of dissent. Oddly, it was Rice herself who mentioned “the emperor’s new clothes” when expressing disdain for prevailing attitudes to mainstream theatre.  Perhaps it might be equally applied to those who so blindly follow this beguiling but mess pudding-maker.

John Jess, Seeker of Justice – the Voyager story

Another challenging editing job has reached its successful conclusion, and one of which I am especially proud.

It was a long time in the overall process with much rejigging, rewriting and tightening of the text. Meticulous and determined research produced a voluminous amount of detailed information, much of it revealed here for the first time, that had to be whittled down, ordered and presented in readily accessible form.

The gestation period for this “baby” was lengthy and arduous,; a birth of extended and sometimes labour.

It is a story that needed to be told, and who better to tell it than the main man’s daughter?  Author Elizabeth McCarthy (Jess)  lived with the stresses and strains of this fight for justice for many years yet manages a dispassionate account of the in-fighting, devious politics and outright obfuscation that dominated her family’s life throughout this saga.

The Voyager “incident” has become a major and tragic event of recent Australian history and one that is destined never to diminish. Its impact on the political and naval landscape will long remain with us and this book adds a vital new dimension to the immense and diverse record already in existence.

http://sidharta.com/title/John_Jess_Seeker_of_Justice

Victory for older drivers

Let’s have three cheers and a quick spin of the Zimmer frame for Ms Justice Simler.

The High Court judge has decreed that age alone is not a reason to remove a person’s driving licence.

It is a decision for that rare quality known as commonsense. There has never been any understandable logic behind the restrictions imposed on drivers simply because of their age. It suggests that a person who is in the best of health and in possession of all necessary faculties suddenly, on a single day, becomes gaga, uncoordinated, hard of hearing and devoid of sight. By having a birthday  they are determined as having lost all ability to control a moving vehicle.

Justice Simler’s landmark ruling reversed a decision by  the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to revoke the licence of a 78-year-old woman after a road accident for which she was held responsible.  Without any supporting medical evidence, the DVLA had asserted that the woman had been rendered unfit to drive by “age-related cognitive impairment”.

The judge said the DVLA had acted solely on a basis of age – that the woman was an older driver. It had ignored clear medical evidence that the woman did not, in fact, suffer from cognitive impairment.

Licensing authorities are not alone in applying this inflexible age-based ruling. Car rental companies are equally restrictive. Until a certain date, I was able to hire a car and enjoy the freedom of self-drive mobility. The following day, I was confined to barracks as it were.  It was as if my ability to drive had  evaporated overnight.

Fortunately I found one company http://www.enterprise.co.uk/car_rental/home.do that has the sense and business acumen to go against the flow without fuss or question or excess charges.

There is no logic in such draconian age-based rules – especially when one regards the lack of driving ability daily displayed by those many years younger. Driving skills, road sense, reaction times and general awareness of other motorists are what need to be assessed rather than  assuming there is a line in our lives beyond which we immediately become senile and decrepit.

At the moment I am fortunately in rude health and in possession of all my faculties. Many others several years (even decades) younger are less blessed. Yet they are the ones who have the freedom to drive without question or impost.

Here’s hoping Justice Simler’s decision will be more than “considered” by the DVLA (and rental companies)  and that regulations affecting older driver – or at least attitudes – will change for the better.

Drive on …

 

 

Well said, Russell

In the last three days I have re-written the same chapter three times. Each time I’ve cut and added characters, I’ve changed the sequence of events, I’ve added, eliminated and altered the backstory, I’ve had new ideas, discarded old ones and drank x cups of coffee. And each time it’s been a little bit better, a little bit tighter, and a tiny step closer to what I actually want to happen. And I look forward to doing the same tomorrow. It’s called writing.

These are not my words, but those of fellow scribe Russell Proctor on the Facebook page of Australian Writers Rock. They seemed to sum up the whole writing bizzo so blindingly well. They encapsulate the whys and wherefores more succinctly, and just as precisely, as anything uttered by most of the poseurs and presenters we have reverently listened to at festivals, symposiums and workshops.

Sometimes there is just too much agonising, analysing and proselyting. As Nike urges the more active among us: Just Do It!

We’re back ….

It’s been a long time since the last post, mostly because of lassitude and techno ineptitude. But with a brand new look, a bit of expert tuition and a wish to write, there’s every chance communication will become slightly more frequent. Meanwhile, there is a book to write and a PhD thesis (not mine) to edit.