Supermarket comparison

Let’s do a supermarket comparison – Waitrose or Sainsbury’s? Which is cheaper to shop in? The simple answer is Sainsbury’s. Waitrose opened in Haywards Heath, West Sussex a year ago. Lured by the aesthetically pleasing environment, friendly, helpful staff and general tidiness of the store as well as the temptation of a free coffee in their mezzanine cafe I started to make the odd purchase here and there. I was in danger of becoming a Waitrose shopper because I liked the overall ambience of the store. I have to say that the Waitrose shopping experience is a pleasing one and it specialises in many luxury ranges which is appealing. The colours are calming, the customer service desk is located near the entrance and the staff smile as you enter. There are artistic displays of food on stands. It all looks very appealing and stylish and the shelves are neat and tidy. And so I decided to do a price comparison with the nearby Sainsbury’s, which is only a 5 minute walk from Waitrose because I wanted to start shopping in Waitrose, knowing the experience was a nicer one.

I compared the prices of about twenty items on Friday 4th May 2018. Waitrose hikes their prices on many goods. My comparison is like for like. Overall I found that most goods were more expensive in Waitrose. My guess is that shoppers of Waitrose don’t care about this. They go there for the experience and niche range of certain items.

Pack of 4 cans of Heinz baked beans – £2
bag of 5 limes – £1.50
Leerdammer 8 slices – £1.80
8 Club biscuits – £1
Whole cucumber – 45p
Penne Pasta – 40p
Double cream – £1.10
Hovis Soft white bread loaf – £1.05
Dolmio – £2.40
3 peppers – £1
Muller Corner pack of 6 – £2
Lurpak – £3.75

Pack of 4 cans of Heinz baked beans – £2.75
Bag of 5 limes – £1.70
Leerdammer 8 slices – £1.40
8 Club biscuits – £1.44
Whole cucumber – 52p
Penne Pasta – 89p
Double Cream – £1.10
Hovis Soft white bread – £1.05
Dolmio – £2.65
3 peppers – £1.15
Muller Corner pack of 6 – £2.59
Lurpak -£3.75

Considering going to Cuba?

Cuba is a communist island just ninety miles off Key West, in Florida. The United States imposed an embargo against Cuba in the 1960s following the missile crisis and because of this and the future actions of American administrations it’s bereft of modern interference. A timewarp it’s stuck in the 1950s, unchanging, dilapidated yet magnificent, a rich dichotomy of many cultures, which will remain the case, it’s predicted for the foreseeable future because President Trump has reversed the progress talks on ending the embargo that Obama initiated. Now is, therefore, a perfect time to visit this fascinating Caribbean island. Two tips to kick this blog off: Cuba operates a closed currency. You can only change your money while you’re there. There are two currencies: one for the locals (CUPS) and one for tourists (CUCS). Be careful in street markets because you might end up being given the local currency. Take sterling or Euros. Change money as you go because you can’t take it home with you. Don’t take American dollars, because you’ll pay a high exchange rate. Learn a bit of Spanish or take a Spanish speaking person with you. Outside Havana English isn’t widely spoken.

I’m mesmerized by the scene as we emerge from Havana airport, still laughing with my group about the airport security staff dressed in short skirts, stilettoes and fishnets. I fumble for my camera, dropping the arm of the blind person I’m supposed to be guiding through the busy concourse, wanting to capture it all in one hit. Palm trees line the road, rustling in the pleasant March warmth. Bougainvillea trails down walls and a rainbow of 1950s American cars sexily glides along, the drivers in panama hats, their arms hanging out. I feel as if I’m in a movie set, maybe ‘Mississippi Burning’ or ‘Selma’. ‘Joanna,’ our Geordie Traveleyes tour guide shrieks, ‘Don’t abandon your VIP (visually impaired person) in the middle of the road.’ Whoops, I needed to focus on the task in hand. I rapidly become known as the David Bailey of the group.

I’d like to be able to sum up what Cuba is like, but that’s hard because it’s a mixture of lots of things and different experiences I’ve had. My first impression was colonial India but it’s also fifties America meets nineteen seventies Spain. Some of the hotels have that 1970s Costa Brava feel to them and lights might go out or the water runs cold, but generally not in good hotels. Cuba has flecks of Istanbul running through the decor and mosaic tiles and notes of war torn Syria, in that some areas of the city are completely dilapidated. Wherever you walk in Havana you hear the deadened roar of the old cars, like kids’ bright coloured sweeties in such wonderful and varied tones of green, blue, yellow, pink, all gleaming and in pristine condition and set against pastel buildings glinting in the sun. Out of Havana we saw more beaten up wrecks and old Russian Ladas.

The aroma of tobacco mingles with rum wafting through the air, music on every corner, an old lady in a scarf smoking a huge cigar dancing in the street. Old men shaking maracas, young guys strumming guitars and there are other spontaneous performances. Cobbled streets. Chaos. Stray dogs wherever you look, some with government labels on them instructing the public to treat them well. Washing hanging from balconies, knotted cables twisting around the exterior of buildings, piles of rubble as big as a bonfire occasionally blocking a pathway or road. Graffiti like you see in Belfast with a war theme; a boy with a gun, a face in a gas mask. Forlorn looking children sitting on doorsteps, people begging, puppies in cages on the back of bicycles, street traders selling garlic down one street and mango along another.

Our 28 year old local tour guide told us, ‘I will give you the truth, even though I work for the government. Our salaries are low. Most of us earn the same salary. This is my country and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but I’d like to have better opportunities, the type of opportunities you all have.’ He went on to tell us that Cubans inherit their homes and cars from the previous generation as well as domestic appliances like washing machines. They have to make do and mend and look after what they own. If their house is too small it’s too bad. The people who own cars have to look after them because the cost of replacing them is astronomical. An Audi elsewhere would cost $30,000 but here it costs $90,000. The old American cars are worth a great deal and the reason they are still here is because the Americans when they left Cuba left them behind. These cars were tested in Cuba, the theory being that if they worked in this climate they would work anywhere.

I ask the guide a bold question knowing he couldn’t answer. ‘Is there dissent bubbling under the surface? What if students rise to form a movement to overthrow the system?’ ‘There is no movement,’ he tells me. ‘On the whole we are happy. We have free education, free health care, but yes I’d like more but dissent will never happen because the secret police are everywhere, watching us. You do not know if one of your family is a member of the underground police. We must be careful. I cannot continue this conversation.’ He laughs. ‘You British people ask too many questions.’ Wandering down a street in Varadero I get talking to a local woman and ask her if she’s happy with the government. Yes, I know, dumb question but I had to ask. She pulls up her shirt and shows me an unsightly raised scar running down her chest, like a piece of red liquorice. ‘I had a tumour cut out. I’m lucky to be alive. We have free medical care and it’s one of the best in the world. Life isn’t perfect, it never will be.’

Out in the countryside things are more backward and unchanged than Havana. The odd beaten up 1950s car putts along and then the road will be empty until a horse and cart, carrying hay or agricultural workers comes along. There are guava, mango and orange trees. Turkey vultures fly overhead, a mountain range rises in the distance. There are run down tower blocks, with more washing hanging from balconies and shanty towns with single-storey homes that look like garages, easily destroyed in a hurricane. Boys without shoes mess about in the red mud, men work with scythes in the fields and occasionally there are stalls by the roadside selling coconuts or other fruit.

If you want a beach holiday don’t go to Cuba unless you find a good deal, because there are plenty of nice beaches in Europe for a snip of the price. You don’t need to travel far to find a beach in winter. Although that said the water, in March was beautifully warm and the sand was white and soft. Go to Cuba because you want to see the culture and for a glimpse into the workings of one of the only remaining communist countries.

Cuba with Traveleyes

when I booked to go to Cuba with Traveleyes, the world’s first air tour operator specializing in serving blind as well as sighted travellers I received many remarks of pity such as ‘Bless you, what a charitable thing to do,’ ‘you’re good,’ ‘that sounds like a lot of hard work,’ ‘why would a blind person go on holiday?’

Around half the group were sighted and the other half were blind. Each day a different sighted traveller was paired with a different blind traveller. The sighted travellers described what they saw around them, guided them wherever we went and took them to things they could touch, feel and smell. We helped them select food from buffets and showed them around their hotel rooms, helping them to use the safe in the room and making sure they had packed everything at the end of a hotel stay.

The holiday blew my mind away. The very last thing these people needed was pity. Pity directed at them by people who seem to believe they are somehow ‘trapped’ inside a body, that they suffer, or that their life is so hard that they cannot possibly enjoy life like the rest of us and have the same goals and aspirations to travel and see the world. The more I thought about my friends’ comments the more irritated I became. I had no idea how much a blind person could enjoy life and just how independent they are until I spent time in their company. It was a rich, poignant and deeply humbling experience and that’s before I even begin to tell you about Cuba. I took two visually impaired people into the town one day. They could only see light and dark. At the end of the day they said ‘Joanna, you’re more blind than we are.’ I had no idea which bus we needed to get back to the hotel, but they knew the colour of the bus because they’d asked the driver. They also knew that we’d missed our stop because they had an inner sense that we’d travelled too far. But it was about other things too. They were more sensitive to their surroundings, listened and used their senses whereas I take things for granted and think I understand situations but actually some of the time I miss what’s really going on.

The visually impaired people on the trip had a range of different eye conditions and heartbreaking stories of denial as their sight declined, not wanting to go out with friends and making excuses not to join in. Tragically many had lost their sight during their teen years when they started to be interested in the opposite sex. ‘I’d only tell the girl after the third or fourth date and only if I was keen,’ one man told me. ‘I took a girl to the cinema but lost her during the interval when we got up for ice creams. It was too dark and I couldn’t find her so I sat alone for the rest of the film and never saw her again.’

Some could only see light and dark while a few had some peripheral or tunnel vision. One man told me that his parents and teachers didn’t pick up his declining eyesight when he was a child. ‘It was the seventies. Things were different back then and as for my parents they were always out of it, not interested and drunk on Bacardi. Ironic really,’ he added, ‘that I’m going to visit the place where rum is made.’

Several people had a rare genetic condition called RP ( Retinitis Pigmentosa) and this ran in their families. And another person was born prematurely, at around twenty-four weeks without any sight all. We were with a different visually impaired person each day and I’d always ask, ‘How do you cope with life?’ Several had guide dogs and one man joked that his dog was a ‘bate magnet,’ and he’d made many friends and acquaintances out with the dog. They had assistance in getting them to work via taxi or public transport. One man interestingly told me that his house was filled with colour. It was important to him to fill his life with colour. He hated the idea of beige walls and beige carpets and replaced them with bright walls, bright paintings and red and white striped carpet and bright coloured cars. Even though he couldn’t see colour he needed to know it was there. Another man told me ‘I don’t give it much thought, I just get on with life but being blind has its advantages. It saves on the electricity bill. I only have the lights on once a week when my chiropodist visits.’

The thing that these people all had in common was an incredible drive and determination to live life to the full. ‘I’ve had a great life’ was a statement I heard many times from each of them. Between them they had achieved more than any of my sighted friends. They had PHDs, they ran successful businesses and had gained awards for their outstanding success – and one man, in his seventies with other health conditions on top of his visual impairment was still running his business as well as doing lots of travelling. They had taught, they could speak several languages and they had been skiing, paragliding, cycling, swimming with the dolphins and they had travelled the world over. Nothing deterred them, they were courageous and didn’t let their disability affect their enjoyment of life and if they did feel vulnerable and apprehensive this didn’t come across. Positivity and a zest for life shone through and by the end of the holiday their energy and excitement had certainly rubbed off onto us sighted ones.

There were so many funny things that happened on the trip, too many for a short blog but enough material to fill a Bernard Manning comedy night. On arrival at our hotel a group of us waited on a settee for the tour guide to register us in. There was a TV screen on the wall and the channel suddenly changed to a lesbian sex scene. The sighted people were horrified and gasped but the blind people sat in a row totally oblivious!

Smoking may be going out of fashion but in Havana they love their cigars and the bigger the better. One afternoon two blind men were in the bar trying to light cigars. I’ve no idea where their guides were but they couldn’t see to light their cigars and the cigars were black market and didn’t light very easily. A series of hand gestures and frantic waving eventually got the attention of the waiters. Later and drunk on rum, they made their way to the lift to return to their rooms but getting into the lift they couldn’t see the numbers. They pressed all the buttons, went to each floor, in the hope that somebody would get in to help them.

Some of the humour surrounded the white cane and the blind people referred to them as ‘the staff,’ ‘Harry Potter’s Quidditch’ (I’ve not learned to fly on it yet, one commented) and talked about the ‘power of the stick.’ The lift doors were closing and one man put his stick in the gap, ‘Moses commands these doors to open,’ he barked ‘and the lady’s legs.’ Out on the street I was always focused on looking for good photographs and there were several occasions when I wasn’t concentrating on guiding my blind traveller. ‘Joanna just leaves me and goes off,’ one man said and another said ‘it’s like being with bloody David Bailey,’ ‘but I know she’ll come back eventually.’ On one occasion I was busy looking up at the buildings and didn’t notice that my blind man had his stick wedged between a lady’s legs. And then there were many restaurant incidents of blind people sitting at the wrong tables and eating the wrong peoples’ food.

Of course I wouldn’t be performing my role as a guide if I didn’t describe everything I saw. ‘There’s a woman with huge knockers over there’ I said to the blind men or ‘just for your information the woman in front is wearing tight white trousers and thongs.’ My comments were always appreciated!

Several of the visually impaired travellers were regulars with Traveleyes. ‘What do you get out of these holidays?’ I asked each of them. ‘I’m in the moment, I’m living,’ one told me and ‘it takes me away from routine, the drudgery of everyday life. I can feel the sun on my back, the sound of different music, the routines are different and I meet interesting people.’ ‘Traveleyes is a great team. The people on these trips are non-judgmental and I get to go to places I wouldn’t otherwise be able to go to.’

They were the same reasons why we all go on holiday, but the unique Traveleyes experience makes dreams come true. For me I loved going with a big group of people, getting to know a different person each day and hearing about their life and I enjoyed the group banter and fun. When we visited museums it was helpful being with another person. I would describe what I was looking at and read out information and the other person would tell me what they knew and add to my knowledge.

Here is a link to Traveleyes:
A blog specifically about Cuba will follow!

The rise of sensitivity readers in the world of publishing

Any author will tell you that their words go through a rigorous process before they emerge into a published volume. We read our manuscript several times and we cut, cut, cut before it’s passed to the editor who will also cut, make suggestions, tidy up and point out grammar errors and typos. Then we read it through again, make the necessary changes and pass it to a proof reader who will give it a final polish.

Some publishers are now running material through what is called sensitivity readers. Sensitivity readers are a growing army and come to the industry with diverse backgrounds so that their unique knowledge, experience and awareness of potential issues can be applied to specific genre and story lines. They come with their own unique understanding of a particular social group or race and apply their understanding to the edit. They critique the work. For instance a black sensitivity reader might read a historical novel set in the Deep South of America during the time of slavery. They will be asking important questions as they read. Does the material ignore the harsh realities of slavery? Does it romantise slavery? Will it offend anybody? The idea is to look for potential sensitivity issues, to structure the material so that it’s considerate and respectful and authentic. There’s certainly any appetite now in the industry for readers with a different perspective to cast their eye over material before it enters the public arena. In this era of heavy litigation this has got to be a good thing. But what about the pitfalls?

This move towards sensitivity reading could deter authors from writing what they want to write. It’s about political correctness and censorship and ultimately could stifle creativity, imagination and impose the rule book on our work, which is not what we want. Fiction should reflect and challenge and be disturbing. Disturbing sells but at the same time we need to hold our pens lightly and be mindful of upsetting. I wouldn’t want to see an overly cautious publishing industry. This is political correctness on steroids and a band aid issue. In other words the reasons why sensitivity readers are needed is because certain marginalised groups are underrepresented in the book world. The way to be truly sensitive and to learn about black views, working class views, disabled views and so on is to pump Government and charity money into helping these groups write about their lives and their background. We writers can’t put on every hat we write about. We do as much research as we can and can’t always get things write. We all have a different way of looking at things. Life isn’t uniform and neither are opinions. My books all cover sensitive issues and all of them have given rise to criticism. That’s the nature of the beast. But I would much rather work closely with some of these underprivileged marginalised groups to help them write their story. That way the writing would be truly authentic. Better, after all to come direct from the horse’s mouth than pretend you can slip into somebody’s else’s shoes.

Loneliness in the teens

Loneliness is endemic in our society but there has always been a stigma associated with it. The damage to our health from feeling lonely over an extended period of time, we are told is equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

None of us like to admit to feeling lonely because of how others will perceive us. It’s not cool to be lonely. People will automatically assume we have no friends, that we’re weird and unpopular or that we make no effort to help ourselves and that we should go out more and mix with others. You can have a big family and a wide circle of friends and plenty of hobbies and a full time job and still feel the crushing pain of loneliness. You also don’t have to be elderly to feel lonely. Loneliness cuts across the generations. Like MP Jo Cox the most lonely period of my life was when I was at university, 300 miles from home and my long standing friends and everything that was comfortable and familiar. It was the first time in my life that I’d been away from home and I desperately missed my mum, my dog and my boyfriend and the arrival of letters in the pigeon hole each day just seemed to heighten my sense of isolation. You can have lots of fun at university, get drunk and go to plenty of parties but still feel alone and alienated from those around you.

The Jo Cox Commission is starting a national conversation about the scale and impact of loneliness in the UK and so I thought I’d write a blog about what I’ve observed about the crushing feeling of loneliness. I want to discuss another group of people who feel lonely, a group that gets ignored – teenagers. In these times of marital and relationship breakdown people go on to have more children with a new partner. I had two children with my husband and then went on to have a third child with a new partner. For a number of years they played together, grew up as siblings, had lots of fun together and went on holiday with us. And then suddenly that family unit was gone. My older children work and lives miles away and I don’t see them much. The relationship with my new partner broke down and now it’s just me and my youngest. She’s now in her teens and in effect is an only child. The times they had as three children together are over and this is a bereavement. Children in this situation are coping with a loss and might be feeling lonely as an only child. It’s different, I think when you’ve always been an only child from the start and you remain so. It’s all you’ve known. But what about the children whose siblings fly the nest and into adulthood? And the ones whose fathers leave and maybe never see them again? They are left behind and this must be a desperately lonely time for them and I don’t think secondary schools are equipped to address the social phenomenon of loneliness among students. The institution of school, let’s face it is a lonely one too and much is placed on the ability to make friends and socialise but schools are big places these days with different lunch periods. Students don’t necessarily have the same lunch periods as their friends or classes and the catchment areas are often spread over a big distance making it hard to meet up with friends at the weekend.

As the Jo Cox Commission shines the spotlight on loneliness think about all of the groups in our society who haven’t been considered and think about what can be done to help their plight. The loss of close relationships in a teenager’s life and readjusting to life as an only child can come as a big shock.Trying to make sense of what has happened within their family while learning to live a new way of life can be a massive thing.

Here’s a link to the Jo Cox Commission :

Death Musings

His name was on the crematorium board today
His slot was at the end
Below Hilda, Mavis and Constance
Half an hour is all these poor dears get
To celebrate a lifetime’s worth
of troubles and strife
for being a wife and somebody’s daughter
And maybe a sister too
Not knowing what life was ever about
We had to do a double take
The pallbearers, the verger, the crem’ gardener
and I
For his name was Booking Deferred.
May God keep him safe, Mr Booking Deferred.


My name’s not on the list today
Next to Reg and Alice
Or Maud or Sally
As long as my name’s not on that list
And as long as I’m behind the lectern
and not in that coffin
I’m alive and well
With a heart beat and blood
And a few more years
To wonder where my life is heading
But I know where it’s heading
To the grave of course
Same place you’re heading.

I saw him in the town today
Beard and baseball cap
and that familiar stoop
He died last year
The week after the boating party
A jolly celebration of his end it was
He sat upon the bank
Couldn’t eat the egg sandwiches and death cake
Frail, yellow knowing his end was near
He did not want to boat
He wanted to curl up and sleep in his coat
But I still see him up the town
Baseball cap and beard


Tributes to the life of Tony Dakin former journalism and public relations consultant

Tribute to Tony Dakin by long-standing friend Robin Foster

We are gathered here today partly to mourn a passing but I feel more importantly to celebrate a life. The life of Tony Dakin. And what a life he crammed into those 81 years.

Tony was born pre-war historically, into another world than that which we now know. He grew up not far from here in fairly modest circumstances but a happy environment, memory of which stayed with him all his life.

From the outset he was an intelligent young fellow evidenced by 11 plus success gaining entry to Loughborough Grammar. This was another lifelong attachment he enjoyed, attending Class of ’48 reunions until failing health did not allow.

I first met Tony when he was in his early 30s and his London career had really started to get going. In the 1960s Britain was ready to shake off the cobwebs and dust of post war austerity. Opportunities for bright young thrusters abounded and Tony too full advantage. Never lacking self confidence he launched himself into journalism and public relations.

He had a regular column on financial matters in the Evening News, one of the best selling London newspapers. I was working in Lombard Street at the time and heard the newsboy shout of “Star, News, Standard.” News please, I would say and happy in the knowledge that Tony’s article within would be accompanied by a picture of him, my old cricketing buddy.

His pay was soaring to great heights at this time and our cricket teams scorer worked out that Tony’s payslip totaled more than all those of the rest of the team put together.

It was on the cricket field that our relationship developed. He had played better cricket in his 20s but now working long and unsocial hours he was content to help out Bidborough 2nd XJ in the village to which he, Cynthis, Joanna and Katie had moved.

Despite his city successes Tony was a good mixer socially and on the sports field. However, getting accustomed to the best wines money can buy Tony found the cricketers beer culture hard to take. I remember clearly a fantastically good catch he took on the boundary edge having stretched as high as possible and succeeded one handed whilst overstepping the boundary line. Mobbed by all us fielders his feat became legendary. Arriving late in the bar, as usual he offered to buy the opposition skipper a half pint. Immediately the cry went up jug, jug, jug! The Dakin wallet eventually emerged to riotous applause and a couple of jugs circulated.

About this time Tony began to get the property bug. Prices were just beginning to take off. Character houses were coming on the market and he liked the prospect of an old house with lots of space and land to go with it. He already had a pleasant family home but opportunity knocked. Being a busy younger banker myself I was able to persuade my boss to provide the necessary mortgage funds for Tony, Cynthia, Joanna and Katie to make the big upward move. Guess what clinched the deal – my boss remembered Tony from his earlier cricketing prowess when playing for Sevenoaks Vine Cricket Club.

Within a short while of the move Tony organized a Sunday house warming party to show off the posh new residence. As the guests arrived they were given a paintbrush or a scraper to get the redecoration underway. Only Tony could have had the refurb done for free. Only his charm could have carried that one off. In fact we all had a mot enjoyable day.
The three ladies who supported Tony over his time were Cynthia, Mary and Wendy who were wonderful in his care and attention of him.

He was immensely proud of all of his family, delighting in the company of Joanna and Katie when they were young. As the teenage scenarios gathered pace Katie and he hit some cataclysmic rows which took both Cynthia and Joanna to pour oil on the troubled waters.

Much later the arrival of Tom and Matthew caused Tony to take on a new lease of life challenged as he was by Tom intellectually and Mathew athletically.

Tony’s joy at the arrival of Joanna’s children was tempered by the grandfather status that was now his. Tony a granddad! That took some getting used to.

Of all the properties he acquired I liked ‘Old Swaylands’ at Penshurst the best although ‘The Old Parsonage’ at Frant was imposing. Its Bed and Breakfast income enabled Tony to play a lot more golf while Mary and her Polish helper got on with all the work. I am sure that this is a bit unfair but he and I regularly traded such insults in order to keep one another on our toes.

Tony had a wide circle of friends and connections. Seemingly ever cheerful, his company was always enjoyable. He travelled widely and was a wonderfully talented photographer. He was extremely well read and had a massive library of good books. He liked pictures of all kinds and generally had a good eye for all things artistic as coached by Cynthia.

Having enjoyed a great 80th birthday with family and friends all around sadly he had a terrible 2017 as his system gradually packed up bit by bit. So lucky he was to have great support and loyalty from Wendy through all the medical set backs. Maybe all of us here should in gratitude thank Wendy for all the care and attention that she has provided for him.

Tony you will be missed by all of us here and many others as well. Irreplaceable is the word that springs to mind. God bless old mate – you wont be forgotten.

Tony speaking about his life at his 80th birthday

Tribute to Tony Dakin by daughter Joanna

My dad was born in 1936 in East Leake. The world braced itself for war but on a lighter note Quality Street was first made. The family moved to a two-up two-down terraced house in Ashby Road Kegworth. His father Dennis worked in the local factory and his mother Phyllis was a cleaner. Peter came along in 1945 and during the bitter winter of 1947 his parents trudged Tony’s old pram through thick snow to steal coal from the yard six miles away. Times were hard and they struggled to make ends meet.

Dad passed his eleven plus and went on to Loughborough Grammar. From a young age he had ambitions and sat in his attic room late into the night writing stories. He could have gone to university and this was one of his biggest life regrets but in those days working class lads went out to work. He joined Brush Electrical as a draughtsman but hated it and was frustrated and he really didn’t know where his career was heading. National Service provided respite and he was posted to Cyprus with the Royal Signals. Back from National Service he wrote an article for the local paper about his time in Cyprus and Jerusalem and this catapulted him into an illustrious career in journalism and eventually public relations.

Around this time our mum, Cynthia came on the scene. They married in 1963 and moved to Tonbridge where Katie and I born.

My first memory of dad goes back to when I was tiny. He would get me out of bed when he got home from work and delight in holding me to the window to show me the street lights. He loved taking Katie and I for walks in the woods and he enjoyed buying us matching clothes in British Home Stores.

Our parents always had a project on the go. They were creative and artistic people. Sunday lunch was too much trouble because there was a garden to redesign or a room to decorate and also dad was always on a diet and so we ate onion soup and Ryvita with goats cheese made from our goats Fanny and Emily, that Katie milked each morning. One day Fanny and Emily were carted off to the slaughter house in the Mini Clubman, returning in boxes to fill the freezer.

Dad loved to go to cafes and even in the care home he asked to go to the cafe in Matlock. He loved chatting up the waitresses and charming the customers and in our teens he’d take us to Baldwins in Tunbridge Wells, buy us a Danish pastry but sit there with a knife saying ‘come on just give me a corner.’

Several holidays stick out in my memory. We hired a boat on the Shannon in Ireland and it rained relentlessly and mum and dad didn’t stop arguing. Dad fell out of the boat and Katie was bitten by a dog. We got marooned on a rock and a fisherman rescued us in his small boat. We motored down to the south of France in Dad’s XJS but it kept breaking down on route. In Los Angeles on one trip a burly black guy tried to pass Dad a gun to shoot somebody with.

Dad loved cars and buying at auction. One memorable car was a Mini Moke. He drove one while on business in Trinidad and Tobago, came back and bought one. For years we drove this car, despite the broken canvas sides, which flapped in the wind. In the summer he collected us and a horde of other kids from primary school with everyone piled in and around the open sides.

When we had the house at Robertsbridge, E Sussex, we went to nearby Hastings at the weekends where mum painted the boats and dad photographed.

Late one evening in the early 80s Dad filled the car with petrol. A couple in the queue were asking for directions to the nearest hotel. Dad said they could stay with us, that was type of person he was and so began the beginnings of a successful bed and breakfast business and meeting many people from around the world. Dad also later ran a bed and breakfast with second wife Mary. He was John Cleese in the kitchen. Sweeping back into the kitchen balancing plates he said on one occasion, ‘those greedy Germans are asking for more sausages.’

Dad was over the moon when I got a place at university. I was the first in the family to go. He was also amazed at Katie for the way she helped with physical work around the house and her fantastic practical skills. And he was so pleased to go on to have two sons, Tom and Mathew and was amazed at how well both of them have done. Dad was also a grandad to Anna, Peter and Tinika. They called him Grumps. He always asked about them when I phoned. He had also recently become a great grandfather to Elsie although by then he was too ill to appreciate this grand accolade.

Dad remained until his dying day deeply proud and amazed at how far in life he’d come. He never forgot his roots and loved to reminisce about the past and so his decision to return to this area was about reconnecting with his roots.

Dad was very happy with Wendy during these later years. She was an absolute rock. They built a circle of friends and went on some great holidays around the world and weekends away in this country.

Sadly his cancer progressed and he needed care. I would like to thank the Willows Care Home for their fantastic care of dad. At first it was hard but he settled there and became quite mellow.

Gambling and advertising at sport events

Is the sport of football too close to gambling? Betting companies advertise on billboards and players’ t-shirts. It isn’t just the spectators who are at risk of developing a gambling addiction it’s the players too. According to midfielder Joey Barton half the premier league footballers are floating the rules by betting on football matches. The rules state that professional footballers are not allowed to place bets on matches, even matches that they aren’t involved in. ‘You’d have half the League out’ if the rules were were widely enforced, Joey says. Joey Barton was banned because he fell foul of the rules.

Adrian Bevington, former FA executive says that these figures are high anecdotally and that it’s important the Football Association is aware of the vulnerability of players to gambling which is why the rules are in place. ‘There’s been a huge increase in gambling across the globe in recent years,’ Adrian says. ‘You have to protect the vulnerability of players, particularly the younger ones but also protect the integrity of the game from match fixing and keep it a clean sport.’ He supports the rule.

Davis Conn sport journalist says that while he supports the rules they are a side issue from the explosion of gambling and betting companies wrapping themselves into football and making football and football support a gambling experience. Since the relaxation of the law in 2005 there has been an explosion in gambling and the companies are taking between £13 and £14 billion from British people. The fact that players are also gambling is worrying. They are gambling to this extent despite the tough rules and that he says is a very worrying indication. Even with the rules and the risk of being banned the players still risk getting kicked out. And they aren’t actually the most vulnerable people and so what does this say about the addiction as a whole? The most vulnerable people, according to research are those with mental health issues, depression, drug issues and alcohol issues. The adverts are all over football and so many sports. These groups of people are very vulnerable. The adverts are dangerous.

Will things ever change? There is a moral debate here, a debate that this country had back in the 1970s and 1980s when cigarette advertising was banned. The government invested millions in ant-smoking campaigns and various campaigns concerning the dangers of alcohol addiction and drink driving campaigns. But I don’t see the same approach to the tackling of gambling addiction. Gambling addiction can lead to relationship break down, family breakdown, fraud, theft and contribute to the debt crisis this country is facing. Gambling brings in vast sums of money and that finds its way to the government in taxation. So there’s no incentive for the government to do anything about it. Unlike smoking and excessive drinking it doesn’t lead to cancer and heart attacks which is why, I believe the government don’t take it as seriously. But the fact is it ruins lives and leads to economic problems for the rest of us through bankruptcy and business failure. It’s time that the government started to take a tough line and a start would be to ban gambling companies from advertising at sporting events.

Do you have a gambling addiction? Visit Barry’s website at

Funeral Celebrancy in a crowded market place.

Funeral celebrant – in case you didn’t already know – a funeral celebrant is a person that officiates at funeral services by planning and overseeing funeral proceedings. Funeral celebrants conduct non-religious, semi-religious and spiritual funeral services. Many celebrants aim for the funeral service to be a ‘celebration of life’ that honours the person’s life and achievements. I trained with the Fellowship Of Professional Celebrants five years ago and I love what I do. I can’t imagine giving the career of my dreams up now that I have taken a lifetime to find it. And so when I heard about a friend who had recently given up the profession, after seven years of delivering high quality, professional services and well liked by quite a few funeral directors in the area I was more than a little curious to find out why.

My friend, who I’ll call Danny, was working like me in a crowded area of the country, the south-east where funeral celebrants are now ten-a-penny with more flooding the market each month. He said “Jo, there are too many of us.” Funeral directors across Sussex and Kent tell me they see on average three new celebrants every couple of weeks coming through their doors to introduce themselves. It’s a lucrative business for the training schools. They charge upwards of £400 for a three day course and some will charge over a £1000. They’re on to a good thing and who can blame them. They will say “the best will always get work” and I guess that’s true. Because it’s unregulated there’s nothing in theory to stop them training more people. It’s not like working in the NHS or the Justice system.

Danny was an excellent celebrant. He injects warm humour into his speeches, has a lovely rapport with people and is highly efficient. But like most of us he didn’t earn enough. He didn’t conduct enough funerals to make this his main job and couldn’t support his family on the income, sadly. When I first started I took on extra work – evening care work – while my funeral celebrant business was growing and I hoped that I would eventually drop the care work and concentrate on funerals. This hasn’t happened because it’s a crowded market. I continue to do care work but I do enjoy it. I wouldn’t like to do too many funerals because it might desensitise me and might lead to mistakes. My funeral work cannot support me as a sole income. My main income comes from renting property and taking in lodgers, but my funerals are in a way my hobby. I love meeting new people, I love writing and I love public speaking. They help me save for holidays and treats. They are an added bonus.

Danny also cited other reasons for giving up. He said it was emotionally draining and there is absolutely no room for error in this role. I don’t find it emotionally draining. I find it emotionally rewarding. I love helping other people, listening to their wonderful life stories. Loss is all around us. It’s never far from our lives and so it feels as if we are all going through a range of emotions, day to day together. We are never alone even if it feels like it. I can remember how I felt when my mum died and this helps me emphasise with other people.

Danny is spot on when he says there is no room for error in this job. You cannot forget to attend the funeral you are conducting. It just cannot happen! You cannot be late either. You cannot forget your script or your jacket or slip up and say the wrong name or make a mistake on any detail about the person’s life. I have put in place all sorts of checks and balances to make sure mistakes don’t happen. I have heard of mistakes happening and this could, potentially mean the end of your career. I heard about a minister whose mobile phone started ringing in the service. Word got around. He’s not used anymore. I heard about a lady who dropped her glasses on the carpet during the service. The funeral director who told me this said it was sloppy and he wouldn’t be using her again. It’s sad I know and we are all human but we have to be as professional and perfect as we can be!

It’s a shame that Danny has given up. He was very good, but there is only room for a limited number of full time celebrants. Most of us have second jobs to support ourselves. I guess this is the way the economy is going in general. It’s the same in the retail sector but for very different reasons. In retailing employers now prefer temporary, part time staff so that they don’t have to pay for sick leave or holidays and other staff benefits. These are the times we live in.

Thank you for reading. Here is a link to my funeral celebrant website and the Fellowship Of Professional Celebrants who I trained with:

Mental health problems in pregnancy are less understood

Every Mother's Fear, by Joanna Warrington According to a new study by the British Journal of Psychiatry one in four women have mental health problems in pregnancy. The author of this study, Professor Louise Howard says that women are not protected from mental health problems in pregnancy and that problems developed during this vulnerable time can have a lasting impact both for themselves and for their babies. There may be triggers to depression. For instance an unwanted pregnancy, housing problems and lack of social support can all trigger depression. Pregnancy is a massive change in a woman’s life and this cannot be underestimated. Professor Howard wants midwives and support services to better identify cases, through more structured questions.

If mental health problems in pregnancy are little understood today think what it would have been like years ago, in the 1950s, when the NHS was in its infancy. My new novel, “Every Mother’s Fear” highlights some of the mental health issues women faced – a time when shame cowered from all mental conditions like a fearful plague and people shut the mental health box with a locked key. Sandy, in Every Mother’s Fear is unmarried and carries an unwanted baby. There’s no doubt that she’s suffering from mental illness and yet there is nobody to turn to, nobody who will understand, least of all her mother, who is more bothered about what the neighbours will think. And there’s no way out of the situation, no morning after pill or abortion pill. She has to go through with her pregnancy, shunned by family, hidden away to wait it out before having her baby is adopted. In the late 1950s there was a drug women were offered as a cure for all sorts of ailments, but mainly for depression, anxiety, worry and other mental health related problems.That drug was thalidomide. There’s a common misconception the drug was used for morning sickness alone. It was in fact used as a cure for so many things at a time when mental health was even less understood. And think how it would have been for mothers giving birth to babies damaged by the drug thalidomide. They had very little support. In those days there was no counselling or support.

I hope you will enjoy my book, which is perfect for fans of ‘Call The Midwife.’ The 1950s were a tough time for women. Our housing situation was in crisis. ‘Cathy Home Home’ perfectly highlights this. Inadequate accommodation adds to the stress of pregnancy. And on the other end of the social scale middle class women had never had it so good, according to the politicians. They didn’t have to work and life was more leisurely, but they were bored and unfulfilled. This situation is explained very well in Betty Friedan’s book ‘The Feminine Mystique.’ An explosion in women’s mental health problems was happening and women were turning to pills to help them through the day. Have we come any further on, in 2018 I wonder. Not if we are to believe the findings of Professor Howard.

Here is a link to ‘Every Mother’s Fear.’