Gambling is in the news again

Gambling is in the news again and because I’ve just published a novel about a gambler, I’m interested in what’s going on. From April 1st rules around gambling ads in the UK, including a ban on the use of young celebrities and sports stars, will become stricter, especially online. Gambling operators will also have to ensure that the majority of the audience of any social media influencers they work with are over 18. This is to protect children from irresponsible ads in the light of a recent study suggesting that 450,000 11 to 16-year-olds regularly gamble.

When I told people I was writing a novel about a compulsive gambler reaction was mixed. Most people tutted and said, ‘they only have themselves to blame.’ I found little sympathy for gamblers, most of us can’t understand why somebody would want to pour money down the drain leaving themselves unable to buy food or pay rent. Worse than that were the parents struggling with teenage gamblers. The pain was etched across their faces. These were friends of mine and I had no idea about what they were going through as parents. Flummoxed as to what to do, this made me more determined than ever to bring this problem to the forefront of peoples’ minds through my novel. Most people seem to have an alcoholic in their family or friendship circle, but do you know somebody with a gambling addiction? We all know somebody who likes a flutter, but until a couple of years ago, when I began dating a compulsive gambler, I can honestly say that I had never met a compulsive gambler. Maybe I’ve led a very sheltered life or just mixed in different circles, but it just wasn’t something I’d given much thought to, despite it being all around us. You only have to read about the shutdown of Britain’s racetracks due to equine flu to see the importance of horseracing to the betting industry, because the damage has run into millions. Gambling, whether we like it or not is important to the economy, but sadly it blights lives. But with just one NHS clinic in the UK for problem gambling and an archaic 12 step programme run through Gamblers Anonymous that hasn’t been revised in decades, there’s little hope of us tackling this growing problem any time soon.

I hope that my new novel stirs something inside you. The story is fictional but the addiction is not. The dreadful highs and lows experienced by problem gamblers is based on one man’s tangled and complex emotions, the guy I dated – emotions which are typical of gamblers.

I hope you enjoy my new novel which is on Amazon:

Make Climate Change your New Year’s Resolution

It’s that time of year again. With Christmas out of the way we start to think about how we can change our lives in the year ahead and that involves making a list of resolutions. Somewhere in that list will be a diet plan, but diets are hopeless because we live in the western world where food is sugar and fat rich. There are too many temptations for us to stick to a diet.

Instead of dieting or cutting back on alcohol why not make climate goals your New Year’s Resolution? Climate change is upon us: a huge region of the Antarctic ice cap is breaking apart and melting. The Paris Climate Change talks set goals to limit the world’s temperature but this won’t happen unless we all play a part. Here’s what you can do. Make climate change your New Year’s Resolution!

  1. Stop wasting food. Buy only what you need. Walk to the supermarket if you can. Buy food grown locally when you can. That includes wine!
  2. We are wearing clothes for half the amount of time that we used to a decade ago, according to research quoted on Radio 4. Look through your wardrobe before you buy new clothes. Think twice before you throw clothes away. Mass produced fashion moves so fast these days, that a piece of clothing bought today is discarded several months later. Think before you throw away clothes. Don’t be a sucker for fashion. The fashion industry is a major source of the greenhouse gases – read this article:
  3. Change your eating habits. Become a vegetarian or at best give up red meat. This is the best thing you can do to help the environment.If you are not convinced, read this article:
  4. One shower a day is enough. And don’t take so long in the shower! Two minutes is long enough.
  5. Reduce the temperature on your boiler. Wear a jumper inside instead of putting the thermostat up.
  6. Use ecological domestic products. Change your washing powders and washing up liquid to environmentally friendly ones.
  7. Think before you drive. Each journey is bad for the environment. Think before you get in the car. Use the train. Walk to the pub or school. Move to the town so that you don’t need your car. Buy a small car. And please drivers, don’t let your engine run for ages while you defrost the windows. Scrape the windows instead or pour tepid kettle water on the windscreen.
  8. Stop using a tumble dryer. Dry clothes outside.
  9. Stop using a dishwasher. Get the kids to wash up instead. A survey by The Daily Telegraph motoring section revealed that one cycle of a kitchen dishwasher releases about 765g of CO2 – more than double that produced by a short drive in the Range Rover Turbo Diesel, which releases 299g per kilometre.
  10. Don’t drive to a gym. Exercise at home instead in front of a You Tube exercise tutorial or go for a run.

Gambling machines are highly addictive

Yesterday as Sports Minister Tracey Crouch handed in her resignation, putting her principles over the government’s delays to a crack down on maximum stakes for fixed odds betting machines I trawled Brighton’s betting shops with a gambling addict because gambling is the theme of my next novel. Tracey Crouch lobbied for the change to be made earlier than the planned date of October 2019 and quit after ministers refused to budge.

The maximum stake is currently £100. It’s possible to gamble away £100 in just 20 seconds. I played on the machines but I was careful not to put in more than a tenner. I came home feeling energised by the lure of the sounds, the roll of the white ball as it skittles around the roulette wheel. I don’t have an addictive nature but I can see why so many are addicted. They have been dubbed the ‘crack cocaine’ of betting machines because they are highly addictive. This stake will be cut to £2, but not until next October. It should happen now, a year away is a disgusting delay when you consider the misery these machines are inflicting on thousands of people up and down the country. Betting shops are only allowed to have four of these terminals per shop and because of this betting shops have sprung up on virtually every shopping street across Britain in the past few years. The betting companies argue that the reduced stake will lead to thousands of job losses. Quite possibly, but this is a brutal industry with little concern for the plight of the punter who leaves their establishment with no money left to put food on the table, no money for Christmas presents for the kids, risking the roof over their heads, pouring benefit money into those evil machines. And it suits the government to delay the implementation of the reduced stake because of the millions it scoops in tax revenue from these machines. The reduced stake will leave a gaping hole in the budget, denying money to vital services.

I had a relationship with a man who was addicted to these machines. These machines have nearly destroyed his life. He’s been homeless, he’s gambled rent money and he’s nearly taken his life. Something needs to be done now, not in a years’ time. These machines are gas guzzlers and a very different experience to the other forms of gambling found in a betting shop where there is an element of delay involved, such as betting on the horses or a football machine.

My novel is due to come out in the Spring and will highlight in Ken Loach style the explosion of gambling in the UK and what it’s doing to families and individuals. We must do more to address this addiction on so many levels. It has to be taken as seriously as drugs and alcohol addiction. I hope my new novel will get you thinking…

Cliff Richard’s 60th anniversary tour


Yesterday wasn’t going well. A friend cancelled an evening out with half an hour notice. I sat glum into my Waitrose cuppa, watching the trains go by, feeling let down again. And so when the phone call came asking me to take my thalidomide lady to the Brighton Centre to see Cliff Richard I smiled. Every cloud has a silver lining. If the phone call had come twenty minutes earlier I would have said no and missed another opportunity of seeing Cliff, because the first time around, when I was 10, he came to my primary school but I was off school that day with a sick bug. Not that I was fussed. Cliff Richard has always epitomised the very drab, the very vanilla of the music industry and is most definitely for old fogeys, Mr One Hundred Tunes of Bland Shite, so I thought, along with the likes of singers like Jason Donovan and Daniel O’Connell. But with my advancing age, now over fifty, I guess I’ve reached old fogey territory and actually I revise my long standing opinion of Cliff – he was in fact bloody fantastic!

What an amazing guy Cliff Richard is. This year he celebrates an incredible 60 years in the music industry, an accolade few can claim. He brought tears to my eyes, there’s almost something God given, something divine about a guy who still manages to storm the stage, from one city to the next at the grand age of 78. At that age my dad had a walking stick, varicose veins and heart problems.

You really wouldn’t guess Cliff’s years. He has the body and energy of a twenty year old, the face of a forty year old and the passion of a thirty something. He’s slim, dresses like a teenager. I loved his glittery trainers and tight black trousers. Very sexy for an old man! With an upward audience of sixty plus, mostly ladies, the blue rinse brigade dressed in comfy cardies, I found myself swaying in the aisles with them, soaking up this wonderful Christmasy atmosphere. Cliff has a way of making you feel good and in his words ‘I earn my living making ladies smile.’

Between songs he engaged with the audience telling stories about his life. He told us he’d recently travelled on London underground. ‘Paul McCartney went on the tube. And do you know how he got away with it? A woman on the train said I know who you are. Who am I? Paul replied. Paul McCartney. No way, Paul replied. Paul McCartney would never travel on the tube. So I did the same and a lady on the train said I know who you are. You’re Cliff Richard. No,I replied, I would never go on the tube.’

As incredible as Cliff was, so were the audience. We sat with several disabled people and one lady, wizened, probably in her 80s, in a wheelchair had travelled from the north by herself to see him and afterwards was staying in a hotel. She had booked every single one of Cliff’s concerts. How amazing is that? A real die-hard for you.

And now I shall be heading over to Amazon to buy his new album, ‘Rise Up,’ the title chosen because after the bad times of his life he’s risen up. What is his secret I wonder? Maybe it’s the impact of his Christian faith that keeps him going. Unlike many singers he’s not succumbed to drugs and alcohol, he leads a pure life, finding energy and faith within himself, a spirit that keeps him going.

Thank you for reading.

Loneliness and the lonely stages of our lives

The topic of loneliness is now receiving a great deal of attention and political prominence. The BBC has just published the findings of its survey into loneliness, the biggest of its kind to date.

Loneliness is the big scourge of modern life. Throughout my life I’ve felt desperately lonely. My candour on this fact makes me cringe. We aren’t supposed to be lonely. It suggests we are social misfits, weirdos and it’s embarrassing for us to admit how we feel. I used to think that it was mild depression and that’s the label I gave to my emotions but in recent months, as more commentators discuss the growing phenomenon I’ve come to realise that it’s loneliness not depression. There have been pockets of my life when these feelings have been intense. Growing up my parents had a poor marriage and were so consumed with their own problems that they argued a great deal. They were also focused on earning shed loads of money and didn’t come to my sporting events and we didn’t go out as a family much. Family life was isolating and my sister was always out with her friends. University life was lonely. That is the subject of my earlier blog. In my late twenties I married and had children. My husband worked abroad while the children were young. When he returned at weekends he was more interested in going to the pub than spending time with us. I made lots of friends when the children were little and there were coffee mornings and lunches out and toddler groups but when I was alone again the emotions kicked in and I felt desperately isolated. And when my marriage broke down I spent the next years in and out of relationships which created it’s own issues. My life was no longer stable. I couldn’t rely on any of these men and they all had their own issues to contend with. Internet dating is how many of us find partners these days but it’s a cold and soulless way to meet somebody and we are judged on how good our photos are. Internet dating brings its own loneliness into the mix.

There were incredibly happy moments during relationships and I think for me the least lonely time is when you are physically intimate with another person as long as it’s with the person you love. Sex has a wonderful way of sweeping away loneliness. Physical touch, cuddling, kissing, waking up to another person and the heights of pleasure bring joy and happiness – but remove all of that and the loneliness kicks in once again. They say that it’s better to be in a bad marriage than to be alone and I can certainly identify with that theory.

Thank you for reading. You may like my book ‘Holiday’ which highlights relationship problems and loneliness. Here is the link on Amazon:

Thank you for

The loneliest years of our lives

BBC Radio 4 has just announced the results of The Loneliness Experiment, a nationwide survey into loneliness. It’s the largest survey into loneliness and the results show that the age group 16 to 24 are the loneliest group. You may find this surprising. Let’s pick through the possible reasons for this.

Social media instantly springs to mind. Young people don’t seem to hang out with friends anymore, in each other’s bedrooms or in the local park. There is less face to face contact. They connect with friends via their phone screen instead, whether this is through Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. My own kids don’t sit down to watch soap operas with the family like we did when we were growing up and they are often so busy with activities that family meals aren’t possible. They remove themselves from the family area downstair and hide away in their bedrooms. My book ‘Every Family Has One’ addressed loneliness issues among teens and among the parents dealing with their depressed teens.

Loneliness isn’t something we freely admit to. There’s a social stigma attached to it. And young people I can imagine are least likely to admit to feeling lonely because at that age it’s all about popularity, how many friends you have on Snapchat and how many people are following you on Instagram. Young people scrutinise the photos of their peers. ‘He’s having an amazing time in Australia,’ ‘She looks happy with her twenty friends on the beach.’ A picture though only tells what the person wants you to see. A different story lurks behind those happy faces. To be lonely is weird. It’s embarrassing. You’re labelled a social misfit and nobody wants to be that. And so the natural tendency is to hide these feelings. But we’re human and being human means that we cannot always feel on top of the world. We will go through lonely patches. It’s inevitable no matter how much we go out or how many friends we have and whether we are in a romantic relationship or not.

The loneliest time of my life were the university years. I studied 300 miles from home and missed by mum and the friends I’d made in my home town and the social life I had. I tried everything I possibly could to adapt to university life but the sad truth was I couldn’t wait to graduate. Returning to Lancaster University several years ago, on route to the Lake District brought it all back to me. Walking round the campus sent a chill through me. I could have been returning to a prison after freedom. The emotions that shot through me were the same.

The only way to beat loneliness is to get out there and mix as much as you can, engaging with others face to face but when that doesn’t work the only thing is to accept that so many of us are lonely – it really is a natural state of being a human.

‘Every Family Has One’ is available on Amazon:

Three years flies by at university

It’s that time of year again when parents wave goodbye to their teens going off to university. Three years ago I stood in a queue at Gatwick with my daughter who was flying out to Belfast to start at Queen’s University. I was a nervous wreck, sniffing, fighting back tears as images flashed through my mind of her life – her first words – ‘what doing,’ first walk and picking up every leaf on the way, her tantrum in the middle of a shopping centre. How had we arrived here? Her childhood was gone. All those school runs, all of those school lunches I made each morning, that whole routine that I thought would go on forever had stopped and it seemed so abrupt. When your teen returns that first Christmas from university you’ll notice subtle changes in their behaviour and by the time they graduate they’re cock sure, ‘I know what I’m doing mum’ is a phase you’ll often hear. I can’t believe all of the things my daughter has done since that first queue at Gatwick. She’s achieved so much and I’m very proud of her. She’s travelled to Bali, she’s worked with elephants in Sri Lanka and completed a successful year’s work experience. Everything changes in those university years so mums, brace yourselves, because your child has now flown and reaching the heights of their abilities and talents. Out in the world they’re at last testing what they are capable of and for many it’s so much more than we ever achieved.

I attended a talk by the Jo Cox Loneliness Foundation. Former MP murdered a couple of years ago spearheaded the campaign because she had been desperately lonely at university. I was surprised to learn about this campaign because I didn’t imagine people would be lonely at university. I didn’t enjoy this period of my life and it was the loneliest time but thankfully my daughter is more outgoing and hasn’t experienced this. Many teenagers are too afraid to admit to be lonely and out of their depth in their new life and it’s important that we pick up the signs and that we make sure they are happy because while three years can fly by it’s also a long time to suffer.

Toastmasters humorous speech contest

The annual toastmasters humorous speech contest is upon us once again. This is my speech, entitled airports.

We live in dangerous times. We’re all on heightened alert for the next act of terrorism as we go about our daily lives. And nowhere is this more apparent than at the airport. It’s second nature to look out for strange suspicious behaviour.

But for most of us half of the fun of flying is the airport. I don’t know about you but I love to people watch. You see everybody at the airport. At Gatwick it’s the whole world compressed between Wetherspoons at one end and WHSmith at the other.

I write notes of all the people I see at airports. I shall read out the list from my last visit to Gatwick. Ten women in burkhas, Nike trainers poking out of the bottom. Group of middle aged Americans in check shirts with hearing aid beige trousers bunched around their pert bottoms going on a golfing holiday. Lads on tour with obscure nicknames on t shirts making witty comments. Girl with ripped jeans, more rip than jeans. Woman in Barbie pink dress and pink curlers in hair to match. Man with long yellow hair wearing a black gown. Man with orange hair and black hoop earrings. Man with film reel tattoed up arm.

Over the years I’ve come to realise though that the only suspicious, strange behaviour is my own. And the only suspicious package is about my own person. To avoid the luggage charge on EasyJet one year I put ten pairs of knickers on five bras and ten t shirts. The trouble was I arrived in Tenerife that year in a pool of sweat. When we pass the three holes for you to put sharp objects in I crack the same joke to the kids, kids lucky dip, put your hands in and I take at least 20 plastic bags for my liquids because they make great sandwich bags and I must confess being sad and single I enjoy a frisk and when they ask any sharp objects madam I tell them only my tongue.

No holiday would be complete without a scoot through Duty Free. I make a beeline for the pot of Dior Totale. At £150, I can’t afford to buy it so I check the assistant is nowhere to be seen before I scoop about £50 worth from the pot and slather it all over my face and neck hoping to look 10 years younger by the morning, before heading to the lip sticks and eye shadows. I try on so many testers I end up getting on the plane looking like a tiger.

On board you look forward to in-flight entertainment but what about the fun of in-flight flatulence? Fellow toastmasters have you ever wondered why you need to fart so much when you’re in the air? With the changes in altitude it’s a scientific fact that our bellies swell with added gas. It’s called jet bloat. I’ve always taken the attitude that nobody can hear you fart on a plane. With the engine rumbling like a tractor and the air conditioning blowing a gale from those nosils above your head and the added factor that they carry the smell away too you’re on to a winner. In fact half of the fun of flying is seeing how many bombs you can drop between Gatwick and Gadansk or between Heathrow and Helsinki.But on one occasion the lady in the seat next to me started waving her hands and flapping uncontrollably. Oh dear. I’d been rumbled.

So next time you travel and worry about suspicious behaviour take a good hard look at your own behaviour.

Relationship Intensive

Do you have relationship problems or a reoccurring theme that follows you in every relationship? I always realise, quite soon into a relationship that things aren’t right but instead of moving on I stick with the relationship, hoping that he’ll change, that things will improve or that I’ll change. I usually try to fit a round peg into a square hole. I’m very good at giving up what I enjoy doing in order to suit him and then I get frustrated. With those patterns of behaviours, formed over many years I decided to sign up for a one day relationship intensive course with relationship coach, Anna Garcia, in London. I found out about the course through a sponsored ad on Facebook. I hoped to get to the bottom of why I am as I am.

Anna strode onto the stage like a celebrity; confident, beautiful, sophisticated in a long flowing pink dress, before an audience of around two hundred. This was to be an Oprah Winfrey style show. She was dynamic, hard hitting, pulled no punches and throughout the day women from the audience, me included were invited to come up and tell our personal story. ‘When you are grounded and rooted,’ she began, ‘you blossom and the bee will come to you, so today is about learning to be confident, honouring yourself and loving yourself.’ ‘Be true to yourself, don’t live according to others expectations,’ she told the Asian woman who was experiencing family pressures not to marry a younger man because this wasn’t culturally acceptable. ‘The more comfortable you can be with you, the simpler your life will be,’ she told another woman. ‘You are the Chief Energy Officer of your life,’ she told us all. There were women from all walks of life, every background and every faith. I learned so much about different faiths and cultures and how culture can impact on relationships. This was a truly inspirational day, heartbreaking, heartfelt and deeply emotional for each of us as we explored the patterns of our behaviour. ‘Let go of the past, let go of missed opportunities,’ she told a black woman who had missed marrying her childhood sweetheart but still regretted it thirty years later. To the social rescuer, a Swedish lady, she said ‘don’t carry their problems, address your own. You are not responsible for someone else’s life.

Anna’s advice was common sense. Maybe we don’t need a coach to state the obvious: ‘be true to yourself,’you want to be loved…it doesn’t happen until it’s meant to happen,’don’t apologise for who you are, be who you are,’ but hearing such moving stories from other women, knowing that we are all in the same boat navigating our way through a minefield of relationships certainly helped. Relationships have changed, Anna argued. ‘You don’t see your mother in here do you? That’s because the average person now has three long term relationships across their life, no longer one.’ ‘Relationships can have a sell by date and that’s ok.’ ‘Humans have finally awoken. Today anything not authentic we let go of, it becomes painful to hold onto something that doesn’t work.’ And the biggest news Anna imparted was ‘ladies, I’ve news for you, Mr Right does not exist but Mr Right Now does.’ A relationship can end at any point and we need to grieve, we must let go. ‘What are you getting from holding onto him?’ she asked one woman. ‘Better to be on your own.’

The biggest statement for me was: ‘Whatever we choose in life – our jobs, house, holiday everything comes with a bag of problems and somehow we accept the pros and cons, the pain, the downside but when it comes to relationships suddenly we don’t want problems, we expect only perfection.’ In life pain is mandatory, suffering isn’t and that’s what we carry. We need to get back to our grounded centre.

Very often we don’t trust ourself in relationships and we become addicted to certain emotions. They become habit forming. With any addiction the advice is to just stop. It’s a choice that only we can make. We need to honour who we really are and stop our sabotaging habits. ‘We repeat what we don’t repair.’ Very true. We need to take an action we wouldn’t normally take, feel the fear. That’s scary. Addiction is a low vibration. When we are addicted to something we are holding onto a set of emotions. It’s those emotions we need to tackle.

‘Life biggest gifts come with the greatest pain. Don’t expect to get into a relationship and not get hurt.’

Anna stirred up a great feeling in the audience, a driver for change, ‘are you ready to peel off the layers,’ she shouted. ‘We need to take whatever it is that’s preventing you from finding love away.’ Now that’s where, to my mind the snag lay. It was towards the end of the day and Anna asked ‘who here would love to be loved?’ Shrieks of yes rang out across the audience. And how much is that worth to you? Put a price on it in your head. A screen then appeared with a picture of a yacht and a figure of £995 for a two day intensive programme. Food is not included in that price by the way or accommodation overnight! At that point I switched off because I found it a hard sell. We had shed tears, hugged shared intimate stories and now we were offered a solution but at a high price. ‘You can’t put a price on love,’ Anna shouted. ‘Are you ready to change?’

Did I find the course worthwhile? Yes. But will I change my behaviour patterns? I’ll try but it’s going to be hard.

Primark on a Saturday

Primark on Saturday is my idea of hell
Trip Advisor reviews of Primark Oxford Street
warn us not to go
for Primark it would seem
is everybody’s idea of hell

It’s Victoria Station in rush hour
People cutting across each other’s path
It’s the Ikea of the clothing world
Manic, daunting and where’s the exit?

A rugby scrum, a babble of different languages
Shopping carts on wheels
Children diving under racks
Clothes displayed too high to reach

People grabbing, reaching, queuing, stressing
Teens with headphones, bored and sulking husbands,
ladies in saris and bin bag burkhas
and wanton women scantily clad

Everything sold at bargain bucket prices,
shapeless crumpled garments
loose threads, hems hanging
Just think of who made them
On a dollar a day

I’m stressed, I’m sweating,
It’s as hot as an inferno
Where’s the escalator?
Where’s the changing room?
Where’s the God-damn exit?
Just get me out of here
I’m not a celebrity
And if I was I wouldn’t shop here