Monday, 5 October 2015

Water. The best medicine ever?

“You’re not sick; You’re thirsty” – Dr F Batmanghelidj

       A warm and sunny Sunday afternoon and I should be tidying the garden. Instead, I’m sitting at my desk (or at least what passes for one) trying to summon up suitably refreshing words to share an astonishing discovery with my followers and friends.
       So here it is. ….cool, clear, totally transparent and straight out of the tap.

       That’s right. Water.
       A guy called Phil put me onto it – or, at least, reminded me how beneficial H2O can be. Phil is an alternative therapist who practices bio-resonance, harnessing electro-magnetic frequencies to attack and obliterate harmful parasites, viruses and bacteria. All quite painless, I assure you, having had this treatment myself, but not this time.        
       On this occasion, it is my 80+ friend Doreen who is being scanned. She’s lying on a very comfy chair and holding a short metal rod in each hand. These are conductors, designed to hunt down any unwelcome ‘squatters’ in her body so they can then be zapped into oblivion.
       Sitting behind a desk, Phil is monitoring his electro-magnetic machine. It seems Doreen has a water infection. “You’re also badly dehydrated,” he says, “need to drink more water.”
       “Ah, water!” I exclaim. As Doreen’s designated driver, I was allowed in to take notes of anything Doreen might not remember - though, truth be told, despite being older than me, her brain’s a lot sharper. But hey, two heads are better than one.
       “Yes, water,” says Phil, warming to his theme, “It’s the best therapy you can have. You’d be amazed how many conditions it can alleviate and even cure. There was a man in here a while ago with kidney problems…..shrunken like raisins they were.  Doctors had told him he’d need dialysis but all he really needed was water. I gave him a pint to drink, then another and another and, by the time he’d finished, his kidneys were working properly. The water plumped them up.”
       “Would that work on wrinkles?” I ask.
       “Oh yes,” Phil nods. “Water plumps up the skin like nothing else well as keeping you healthier. In Ireland, the word whiskey means ‘water of life’. Keeps the brain working too.” He then told us about an elderly relative who lived in a nursing home. “Alzheimers,” he explains. “When I go to see her she doesn’t recognise me at first, so I get a glass of water, stick in a straw and say, ‘Here’s the drink you asked for, Grandma’. She’ll have a few sips then push it away, and a minute later I’ll pass it back to her. ‘Here’s that drink you asked for’, and just keep giving her more.   Eventually she’ll look at me and say ‘Hello, love!’ It’s the water, you see? Without it, the brain shrinks.
       ‘Most people don’t realise how dehydrated they are. The brain doesn’t tell you when you need water, so by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dangerously dehydrated.
       ‘Do you know….” Phil leans forward earnestly. “…..more people die of drowning in the desert than from lack of water?  True! Most people found dead have water with them. And the older you are, the less thirsty you become, the less water you drink and the more the brain is impaired. Tea and coffee don’t help much…they’re diuretics and you just don’t get the same benefit. It has to be pure water to make any difference.”
       “So how much should you drink a day?” I ask.
       ‘For an adult - 3 pints per day - minimum. I have a good 8 pints myself, one before I even get out of bed and I keep drink water with every meal. It detoxes the system, sharpens your mind and helps you stay young.”
       That's convinced me! “Is there any more information on water?”
       “There’s a doctor with a strange first name….something like Doctor Batman*….anyway, he’s written a book about water and its many health benefits. Google it and you’ll find out why the Irish call it the water of life!”
       Which I do as soon as I get home. ‘Doctor Batman’ is Fereydoon Batmanghelidj (b.1931 - d.2004) an Iranian from a wealthy family who was imprisoned after the revolution in 1979. Though sentenced to death, he was spared in order to treat his fellow inmates at Evin Prison. During this incarceration he discovered the merits of water, having no other therapy available, and was so amazed by the results, he later wrote “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water” which claims that chronic dehydration is the root cause of many ailments. This controversial view has had its detractors, of course, but Dr Batmanghelidj stuck to his guns and his findings.
       In his opinion, a dry mouth is not one of the first symptoms of dehydration but one of the last. He further stated that people’s ability to recognise thirst decreases with age. As a result, they drink less and age even faster.
       Some medical conditions Dr Batmaghelidj claimed could be alleviated by water include:
Asthma, allergies, obesity, high blood cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, confusion, memory loss, depression, chronic fatigue, lack of energy, problems sleeping, addiction, osteoporosis, leukaemia, lymphoma, hot flushes, gout, kidney stones, attention deficit.
       Dr Batmanghelidj also asserted that dehydration could contribute to cancer and auto-immune disorders, including AIDS.
       How true these claims are is open to debate. For me, it makes sense that drinking more can, at the very least, cleanse and hydrate the body. At worst, it will certainly not do any harm.
       So have one on me….at least 3 times a day…..and see if it makes a difference!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Watch out Dads! The Runaway Children are in danger!

       He couldn’t have been more than 2 years old, a golden-haired cherub in a superman outfit, hopping, skipping, jumping and taking flight in his imagination. From our vantage point on a bench outside Morrisons, my friend and I watched his  antics with that soppy look certain women of a certain age tend to get when kittens, puppies or persons under 3ft tall drift into view.
       Within seconds, however, those ‘ahh how cute’ expressions disappeared and strangled cries of terror took their place!
       “Stop!” I cried, my eyes focused on the kerb to which the tot was hurtling. “Little boy, stop! STOP! STO-O-O-OP!” By now he was travelling at warp speed, oblivious to the traffic, and I leapt forward hoping against hope I could make the kerb in time. 
       Whether he heard me, or perhaps had a supersonic radar system built into his brain, the boy stopped - millimetres from a rapidly approaching Range Rover. I started breathing again and flopped back onto the bench just as Daddy sauntered by, with nothing to burden him besides his plastic Morrisons carrier bags. He turned towards me briefly with a bemused smile on his face, wondering no doubt why this strange woman had been shrieking at the top of her voice. By the time he joined his son at the kerb, he’d obviously forgotten the incident and strode purposefully across the road, leaving the boy to follow in his wake.
       Now, some Dads will wonder what I’m rabbiting on about. If that includes you, ask a Mum. No mother I’ve ever known would let a toddler either run ahead or lag behind. Even if loaded down with bags, trolleys or other youngsters, the average Mum will try to keep her children by her side, either by holding their hands, putting them  in reins, or gluing them to the pushchair.
       Take holidays, for instance. You rarely see Mum with her nose in a book, or snoozing on a sunbed, texting their friends or going for a solitary walk along the sands. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re on a beach, watch how Mums stay focused on their children. “Don’t go too far” she’ll warn if they’re paddling in the sea. “Don’t wander off” “Put your hat back on, you’ll burn” “You need more sunscreen” etcetera. Constantly on the alert. 
       Then watch the Dads. See how relaxed they are. It’s not that they don’t care, you understand, or that they’re not prepared to lend a hand when necessary. After all, who pumps up the rubber arm-bands? Or gets the gas-stove working? Or catches fish for tea?
       And, of course, Dads love their children. It’s just that, unlike Mums, they’ve no imagination. They never seem to see the DANGERS! (It’s the same when driving, but that’s another blog)
       Whenever I see a Dad out with his children, there’s always one who’ll be running ahead, out of sight, skipping on and off the pavement, wobbling perilously near busy main roads, tumbling down river banks, climbing up trees or over railings or balancing on walls. Activities that give Mums mental breakdowns are mere adventures where Dads are concerned. 
       So Dads, if you ever feel Mum is being over protective, just remember this proverb: “Shrewd is the one who has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself”. In other words, think ahead, assess the dangers and please, please, please keep an eye on the children!



Saturday, 11 July 2015

Locked-in stroke survivor helps others have hope

       Four years ago, I received a phone call from my nephew Dan. 'Please could I help his great friend Peter to publish a book on his experiences with - and recovery from - Locked-in syndrome?'

      Following a massive brain stem stroke which almost killed him, Peter Coghlan awoke from a coma totally paralysed, unable to move anything except for his eyes.  He was entombed by Locked-in syndrome (LIS), an extremely rare and little understood condition which may affect severe stroke or brain injury sufferers.

       Of course I would help. Who could refuse to share in such a remarkable story….that of a young man breaking free from his own body! Over the next few months of emailing, skyping and editing his writings, I came to know Peter very well – well enough to realise he was a very special person.

       But I didn’t appreciate just HOW special he was until I read the following email in response to a recent heartfelt plea from Peter – that his story be remembered for the benefit of other stroke and locked-in survivors. His refusal to accept that he would never walk or talk again resulted in the fastest known recovery from locked-in syndrome previously recorded, giving hope and inspiration to other survivors who, like Peter, refuse to lie down!

To All General and Neurological Practitioners, Hospitals, Stroke Specialists, Therapists and Stroke Support Groups worldwide:

“Peter Coghlan has done so much to inspire other stroke survivors.  He is a role model for "life after stroke" and must be the one in a million to live to tell the tale.

I have read Jean-Dominique Bauby's book: 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' (but how many have?) and he never recovered his full mobility or lived long enough to jump hurdles and return to the workforce.* 

Peter's book: 'In the Blink of an Eye' is a true account of the devastation to the lives of all stroke survivors.  Our group has been touched by his story and his dedication to assist others on a voluntary basis at hospitals in Perth WA.

Invite him over to speak at your conferences.  Use living images so that others can marvel in the technology that saved his life.”

Sally Allen (Coordinator/Secretary/Founder Member)
The Northern Suburbs Stroke Support Group inc.

*Peter Coghlan is now a qualified health care worker, cycles, competes in marathons and plays the guitar! Not bad for a man few thought would ever walk, talk or do anything other than blink his eyes again!

“In the Blink of an Eye” by Peter Coghlan is available from Amazon and Smashwords


You can follow Peter's continuing progress by visiting his website

From complete helplessness........

To pumping iron!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Runaway Children join the jet set!

A typical narrow boat or barge moored along the Peak Canal 

"Quick!" cried Jo "Switch on the engine!" Miles ran to the back of the barge and slipped the key into the lock. As soon as he turned it, the barge set off at an amazingly spanking pace for such a heavy vessel. Roots had just untied the rope from its mooring and was now trotting alongside with it on the towpath.
"Hey! That's them!" bawled one of the trench coats and started running towards the Judith Rose.
 "They've seen us!" Roots yelled.  "Press the Booster, Miles!"  He was just about to hop on board as Miles touched the large red button. This caused the barge to lunge forward at such an incredible speed, it yanked the unfortunate Roots off the towpath. "Sack this!!" he hollered, clinging desperately to the rope, his feet wafting in the air behind him. "Sack this for a Kleenex full of bogies!"
"Supersonic!" whooped Miles and he waved his fist above his head as the barge blazed along the canal, sending ducks and fishermen diving for cover. "Wit woos!"
Meanwhile, Roots had recovered his balance sufficiently to press his heels into the water and lean backwards like a skier. "Look at me!" he cried, jubilantly. "I've joined the jet set!"

Sunday, 7 June 2015

A walk in the Peak: Hathersage

 Derbyshire High Peak is an area of contrasts:  From lush, leafy forests and verdant valleys to miles of rugged moorland and jagged rocky outcrops. In fact, the area where I live is one of the most popular places for tourists in the world! No wonder that, on her regular visits home, my ozone-depleted, London-based daughter insists on at least one lung-challenging walk every day.
Which means consulting the Green Book, a guide to local footpaths by a husband and wife rambling team.  Unfortunately, it has disappeared, much to my darling daughter’s disgust. We try consulting an Ordnance Survey map instead but, like Captain Catastrophe, a character from The Runaway Chil.dren, can make neither head nor tail of it!). So we decide to re-visit a favourite walk in Hathersage, a few miles from my home. Like so many quaint Derbyshire villages these days, free parking isn’t easy to find, but there’s a generously sized car parked not too far from the village centre.
View of Hathersage

“Why are you wearing those stupid sandals? Haven’t you brought your walking boots?” asks my darling daughter (DD for short). I explain that I have indeed brought my walking boots but have forgotten my socks and, as the fields are dry and relatively flat, I can’t foresee any problems, despite the rather high wedged heels I’m wearing. “And anyway,” I add, “you haven’t exactly dressed for a hike yourself in those flimsy trainers.” DD merely shrugs and links my arm. I sigh with relief. First objection tackled, argued and put to bed. (And we’re still talking.)
Having reached the village, we make our way past allotments and a small cricket ground until the path leads us into open fields. “Oh look!” says DD pointing to a tree stump halfway through the second field. “Someone’s lost their glasses!” Now this is what I like about Derbyshire folk; someone has very thoughtfully placed the spectacles on the stump in such a way they can be easily seen - so if the owner is reading this and wants to retrieve them, I’d bet my life on them still being there!
DD is now in full stride, racing ahead of me. The view is breathtaking, so I ask DD to turnaround while I take a photograph of her against the tree-lined hills. “I don’t like having my photo taken,” she replies, going all Diva-ish on me, so most of my shots are of her disappearing rear. She does, however, oblige me with her profile as she stops to chat with a newly-sheared sheep. “I wonder if she’ll let me pet her,” muses DD. 
Gini and sheep

Now, Derbyshire sheep are an unusual breed, not easily alarmed and rather bold when it comes to cadging food from unsuspecting picnickers. They are also rather stubborn and this particular sheep is no exception to the rule. Having settled herself onto a comfy patch of grass, she’s reluctant to give ground, even when DD leans towards her. It isn’t until DD’s hand comes in for the pat that the animal decides to budge - just in time to avoid contact.
Another photo. “Oh Mum, do stop it!” sighs DD, turning her back on me yet again. “You only want pictures for your stupid blog!”
After a mile or so we reach our first place of interest: North Lees Hall. This imposing Elizabethan manor was once home to the Eyre family and is thought to have inspired the fictitious Thornfield Hall where Mr Rochester wooed ‘Jane Eyre’ and where his mad wife jumped from the turreted tower. Apparently, author Charlotte Brontë stayed in Hathersage (her model for ‘Norton’) in 1845 with her friend Ellen Nussey, the vicar’s sister.
North Lees Hall

“It’s very small, isn’t it?” muses DD but I’m too busy taking photographs again. I particularly like the clog-worn steps leading up from the back of the hall to an ancient footpath which I’m certain Charlotte will have trod, and the views beyond are spectacular.
“Oh come on, Mum!” DD is now decidedly grumpy, so I put my phone/camera away and we look for a way back to the village via the parish church. We amble towards a path which seems vaguely to go in the right direction. Just as we reach the style, a lady appears, walking her dog.
“Will this take us to the church?” I ask.
“All paths lead to the church,” the lady replies, adding: “In the old days, there had to be a way for every farm to carry their coffins for burial.” Here follows a pleasant discussion about Hathersage and its various features, including a dam, the rock pools along the top of the crag, and a swimming pool. “Only it’s closed today for cleaning,” says our new friend. Due to hot sunshine the previous day, a large number of families had cooled off in the pool, but only after smothering themselves with sun-cream: “Which made the water extremely greasy, I can tell you!” (Not to mention all the other unmentionable substances which may have been lurking – but let’s not dwell on that!)
Walking with stile!

Minutes later, DD and I are walking through fields towards the parish church and by this time my feet are starting to hurt. A lot. DD has already removed her trainers and is walking unfettered through the luxurious grass, so I decide to follow suit - only the grass isn’t that pleasant. It’s soggy and spattered with sheep droppings. “Don’t think this is such a good idea,” I say. “People can catch Lyme Disease from sheep, you know.” “Oh Mum, you’re so negative!” “But it’s true!” I insist, “and if anyone’s allergic to ticks or spiders in the grass, it’s you!”
“Spiders!?” DD squeals and starts dancing on the spot like a cat on a kiln, toes curling with horror. “Better get your trainers on, Quick!” I yell, secretly enjoying her discombobulation, as she struggles to put on her trainers and keep both feet off the ground. Somehow, she manages to re-shoe herself and we both continue.
“Oh,” says DD. “Tourists!” Sure enough, a few yards further down the field is a party of Chinese teenagers who have stopped to ask the way from an elderly gentleman sitting by the fence eating sandwiches. He tells them how to get to their destination at which they promptly set off in the opposite direction. “Hoi,” he cries, pointing his finger, “That way!” This the youngsters understood and set off on the right track.
“Lovely day, isn’t it?” says the elderly man, cheerily. “My missus has gone to Wimbledon, so I’m having a picnic and a nice long walk.” Actually, I feel a bit sorry for him, even when he tells me his wife has made his lunch before setting off for the London train, but he seems happy enough and willing to pass the time of day – much to DD’s annoyance. She’s walked on a bit and is now gesticulating, grimacing and beckoning me furiously from behind a hedge.
“Why were you talking to that man?” she demands, “We’re SUPPOSED to be on a walk!”
“Just being friendly,” I explain. “Can’t cut people dead mid-sentence, can I?”
“But you were sooooo loooooong!”
In answer, I get my phone out again and start taking photographs. DD harrumphs, not for the first time, and stomps off ahead of me. Honestly, I do TRY to catch up but am beginning to feel rather tired. Left to my own devices, I’d be having a nap by now.
“Here we are then! St Michael’s & All Angel’s Church.”
St Michel's & All Angels Church

Though mostly built in Tudor times, the structure of this impressive parish church actually began in 1381, and there have been other churches on this site since the 12th century.
The graveyard is thought to house Little John, allegedly a Hathersage man. Whether or not this IS the burial place of Robin Hood’s legendary side-kick is open to dispute, yet whoever lies beneath the Yew Tree before the church’s main entrance is certainly a very tall; when opened in 1782, the grave contained a male skeleton measuring 7ft. (Our dog walking friend reckons it was over 8ft judging by one of the thigh bones!) Little John’s neighbours include Robert Eyre, a veteran from the battle of Agincourt whose descendants built the church extension along with North Lees Hall.
Little John's Grave

By this time, my feet are really hurting and I’m looking forward to tea and cake at Cintra’s in the village. This lovely café doesn’t disappoint – in the garden behind the café, we order moist lemon cake, a delicious toasted sandwich and a generous pot of steaming tea from the very pleasant owner and staff! Bliss!

Friday, 22 May 2015

Back in time with the Brontë family

       With the sun actually shining for once, a free day ahead of me, and the determination to achieve at least one of the zillion things ‘to do before I die’, I set off with a friend for Haworth and the famous Brontë Parsonage Museum an hour and a half’s drive away.

Haworth Village
       Situated in the glorious Yorkshire moors, Haworth is a tiny village with steep, cobbled streets and quaint little alleyways along which Ann, Emily and Charlotte used to trip in dainty little boots to post their latest manuscripts. On Sundays, the sisters and their brother Branwell would attend the church at the bottom of their garden to listen to their father’s sermons.
       Today, in this same small garden, furnished with plants popular in Victorian times, were crowds of people of all ages and nationalities. A whole class of (amazingly respectful) American teenagers were standing patiently in line with their tall, imposing teacher as a coach-load of pensioners, who’d obviously pre-booked, were allowed, ever so politely, to jump the queue. As for the rest of we itinerant tourists, there was little choice but to wait. But hey, the sun was shining and the camaraderie was warm.
The Parsonage
       At last we reached the entrance to the Parsonage, which is large, spacious and remarkably cosy - though whether this was down to residue vibes from the 19th century Brontës or from the 20th century radiators is open to debate. According to the free guide at the door, Patrick Brontë arrived with his wife and children in 1820 to take up his post of Perpetual Curate. This was their home for the rest of their lives; sadly, Mrs Brontë and the two eldest daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, died within a few years of arrival, while the remaining children were also survived by their father. Patrick reached the grand old age of 84 before expiring peacefully in 1861.

Mr Bronte's study
       His study was the first room we entered. This was where Mr Brontë conducted all the business of the parish, founded a Sunday school and campaigned vigorously on behalf of his flock. One of his missions was to improve Haworth’s sewage system which was apparently worse than that of London’s slums. Unfortunately, despite their prominent pews in church every Sunday, his wealthy neighbours refused to heed the parson’s call to action, so his plans were scuppered. In the corner of the study is a small wooden desk on which his magnifying glass still lies. This he used for reading when his sight grew dim due to cataracts, a condition alleviated by an operation.

Dining room

       Most of the furniture in the parsonage is original and still in situ, bringing the family vividly to life. In fact, you almost feel as though you’re trespassing. In the dining room, for instance, Ann Brontë’s writing slope is resting on the table and you can almost see her writing, sitting in her rocking chair by the fire, or ‘taking turns’ around the room with Emily and Charlotte as they chatted about each other’s work. After Emily and Ann died suddenly and within a tragically short time of each other, a family servant told how her heart ‘ached to hear Miss Brontë walking, walking on alone’.  The sofa where Emily is supposed to have died is also in the room, yet the atmosphere is far from melancholy.
Charlotte's room
       For me, the most poignant item is in Charlotte’s room upstairs. Sharing a display cabinet with the exquisite bonnet Charlotte wore for her wedding is a tiny little lace cap – a gift for the child she was expecting but which died with her only months into her happy but tragically short marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate. Her room also contains a plaid day-dress – or rather a bodice and skirt, beautifully tailored and finished.  What struck me was how petite she was - but then, most people were small in those primitive days before Big Macs and heavyweight carbs!
       Other personal items included jewellery (tiny, tiny rings), cuffs, boots and stockings, all in perfect condition, along with collars and nightcaps of delicate lace created by Charlotte herself. There was even a lock of her mid-brown hair, amazingly glossy and untouched by time.

Mr Bronte's bedroom
      By far the spookiest room in the house is Mr Brontë’s bedroom where he moved after the death of his wife. It was here that Branwell also slept once his alcoholism had taken hold, endangering him and everyone else. The half-tester bed where Branwell took his last tortured breath is an exact replica of a sketch he drew, showing Death in the form of a skeleton summoning him to the grave. As I gazed at the copy of the drawing on display, a young Japanese man stood beside me to read Branwell’s inscription, written in spidery almost illegible letters. “Creepy!” he exclaimed, and shivered. No, he hadn’t read any of their works, but he’d certainly heard of the Brontës and travelled thousands of miles to pay homage.
       Actually, I felt a bit sorry for Branwell. Growing up as the only boy in a cultural hothouse with three geniuses for siblings must have been extremely tough. How is a simple guy to make his mark amidst such literary giants? His answer was to carve a career as an artist, and he certainly had plenty of illustrious patrons judging by the portraits in his studio. But while they are passable, his works could hardly match the towering achievements of his sisters – but whether his lack of talent stemmed from his drinking or was the catalyst which drove him to drink would be hard to fathom. There have, after all, been many hard-boozing artists (Van Gogh, Gauguin, Lautrec to name a few) whose gifts, unlike their livers, were scarcely touched by their excesses.
       Finally, in the Exhibition Room, amidst glass cases full of original letters, manuscripts, and other personal effects, is a huge wooden cupboard with 12 panels each depicting one of the Apostles. This impressive piece comes from the home of Charlotte’s dear friends, the Eyre family of Hathersage, Derbyshire. Their turreted house is thought to be the inspiration for Mr Rochester’s mansion, while the Apostles cupboard, which must be 8’ high, features in the scene where Jane Eyre is left alone with the mad-wife’s injured brother.
      I’ve actually been to the house in Hathersage on a recent mammoth walk with my daughter when we also visited the grave of Little John.....but that’s another story.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

An artist's mysterious legacy

Unknown Girl by Josie Berriman

       Almost a decade ago, I lost my good friend Josie, a talented artist who lived most of her life in the High Peak. Her death was sudden and rather shocking, as she’d always looked so healthy and very much younger than her 74 years.
       A vegetarian, she was an amazing cook. Everyone in her acquaintance would turn down an audience with the Queen to dine with Josie, who was a remarkably generous host. Lashings of homemade soup, caramelised vegetables and exquisite puddings were washed down with good wine and conversation. She also loved a nightcap… taste for malt whisky developed after many cosy chats, sitting on an ancient leather sofa by the fire, musing on art, life, friendships, hopes and dreams.  
       It was by this same fire I found her early one evening, lying with her head on a cushion as she usually did when taking her afternoon nap. Only there was nothing ‘usual’ about her breathing. She was completely unconscious, only her lungs working desperately to suck in oxygen with every gasp. The ambulance came, Josie left and we never shared another whisky again.
       Though twice married, Josie had no children of her own but was never short of young companions. Several children, including my own daughter, learned how to wield a paintbrush thanks to Josie. This waterfall sketch shown here was literally ‘dashed off’ – demonstrating how to paint water with a few deft strokes. Yet, hurriedly produced as it was, it sparkles with skill.

Brief sketch of a waterfall by Josie Berriman

       Of course, nothing Josie created professionally was ever hurried. Her landscapes were amazing, her portraits brought to life with consummate skill. She never exhibited, preferring to accept commissions from friends.  Josie’s specialty was children - which many Old Masters struggled to capture – and animals, especially cats!
      Her main source of income was illustrating fashion and children’s magazines, such as Twinkle, and a wide range of books – one of which, “Dear Dear Mary” by Jenny Melmoth, is featured here: **
       After her death, some of Josie’s work was distributed to friends, including the above portrait of a smiling, fresh-faced girl, whose identity has so far remained undiscovered. 
       If anyone reading this can solve the mystery, I’d love to hear from you!

       The portrait below is 'Elysha', the daughter of mutual friends - it's slightly reflective as I photographed in its glass frame!

** Published by Alfresco Books 2005



Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Runaway Children and the Purple Cave

Slowly and steadily, they continued along an underground river, the tunnel now so dark and narrow Odi began to hyperventilate again.
"Just what I need" he whined "another bout of close-to-phobia!"
"Claustrophobia." Alice corrected him. "Seems pretty close to me!" replied Odi, for once unable to think of anything clever to say. To his great relief, they soon reached another, bigger cavern. So big, in fact, it resembled a magnificent palace, adorned with shafts of sunlight from above. As the Judith Mary approached it's mooring, coming to rest on the banks of a crystal lagoon, all aboard gaped in astonishment.  Not only was the cavern wonderfully bright and airy, it was like no other they had ever seen before.
"It's purple!" Joe cried. "All purple and shiny!"
"We must be in the Blue John mines." Laurel suggested.
"But it's purple!" insisted Joe.
"Blue John IS purple, Silly". Alice tutted despairingly. "Don't you boys know anything?"
"Oh, so that's why it's called blue!" said Odi with a good dollop of sarcasm. "The stuff's purple, so naturally, you call it Blue. That's cool, and not at all confusing!" – Extract from “The Runaway Children Vol 1 – Flight from the Nunjas” (Currently being revised)
No wonder Odi was confused. Despite its name, Blue John – a semi-precious stone from Castleton in Derbyshire – is generously threaded by bands of purple which tend to predominate.*
However, there is also a yellow banded variety of this rare fluorite and one theory is that, during the reign of Louis XVI, it was exported for use by French ormolu workers who dubbed it ‘bleu-jaune’ (or ‘blue- yellow’ to Derbyshire folk like me!) Another source for the Blue John name may be miners drafted in from Cornwall. They referred to the stone as ‘bleujenn’, a Cornish term for a flower or blossom.

Samples of Blue John at the Heritage Centre, Castleton
According to “Gem of the Peak” by 19th century writer William Adam, Blue John was discovered by the Romans but, as no evidence has ever been found for such a claim, we might put it down to historical embroidery! What we DO know is that Blue John was a popular material for fireplace panels during the mid-18th century. A Blue John plaque dated around 1760 can be seen in the Friary Hotel in Derby, while Robert Adam, the famous architect and interior designer used it to decorate nearby Kedlestone Hall. 
At their 18th century peak, the Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern in Castleton (the only sites in the UK where Blue John is mined*) produced 20 tons per annum. By the late 19th century, 3 tons per annum was mined, a figure further reduced to a mere half a ton today. Castleton is highly protective over its unique resource which is why all items made from Blue John, such as boxes, pots, vases and distinctive jewellery, are created by local craftsmen.

Blue John jewellery in a variety of colours
*The only other place where Blue John can be found is the Deqing Fluorite mine in the Zhejiang Province of China.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Does Your Teenager Self-Injure? How Can You Help?

Even in the height of summer, Julia preferred long-sleeved, high-necked tops to the snappy, strappy, crops worn by her peers.  The reason? Pus-filled sores which covered her arms and shoulders along with  vivid red scars where Julia’s nails had dug repeatedly into her flesh. Not a pin-prick of uninfected skin remained - due to her incessant picking. 
Excoriation (or Dermatillomania) is just one type of self-injury. Others  - including cutting, bruising, head-banging, burning, scratching, eating disorders, stabbing with sharp objects and hair pulling – are used to create the same effect; temporary relief  from overwhelming feelings, anxiety and stress.

Julia had ‘issues’. Lack of self-esteem, even self-hatred, was certainly one of them, as was a plethora of repressed emotions. But there are several underlying factors: Mental disorders (such as depression), trauma (physical, emotional or sexual abuse), social factors (bullying, conflict within the home, or poor interpersonal skills), and additional stress (exams, bereavement and other distressing events). Whatever the cause, the sufferer may experience intense feelings of anger, hopelessness, an inability to communicate feelings and a complete lack of worth.

A self-injurer is “someone who has found that physical pain can be a cure for emotional pain” (Cutting* by mental health specialist Steven Levenkron)

Self-harmers are usually (though not always) adolescents who, by inflicting pain on themselves, attempt to regain a sense of control, or to break through emotional numbness. Of course, some may wish to manipulate others or it could be a plea for help but, usually, sufferers are ashamed of their compulsion and try to keep it hidden.

If you suspect your teenage son or daughter is self-injuring, what steps can you take to help them?

First of all, don’t blame yourself. Wondering whether faulty parenting has contributed to your child’s condition is a waste of time.  Look instead on how you can positively help him or her to recover.

Communication, of course, is key, and it’s important that, on discovering your teen’s secret, you stay calm. Reacting with horror or disgust will only make matters worse. So don’t yell. Be consoling, supportive and reassuring. Convince your son or daughter that you’re on their side.

Ask the right questions, and leave out the ones that could alienate, such as “How long has THIS been going on, then?!” Nonthreatening questions should encourage the child to express their viewpoint, “I know you find it hard to feel confident at times. What frustrates you the most?” “How can I help you when you’re worried or feeling low?” “What can I do for us to break down any barriers between us?”

So you’ve asked the questions. Now comes the difficult bit: Listen. Without interrupting. Without disagreeing. Without judging.

As adolescents tend to focus on their flaws, be positive. Point out his or her qualities, the ones you genuinely admire them for. Encourage your teen to write three or more things they like about themselves, so getting them to focus on their strengths.

An in-depth, one-to-one with your teen will work wonders. Glad to have got the problem off their chest, he or she will be happy that you’re prepare to share the burden with them, and relieved that they’re no longer alone.

Most of all, your kindness and concern will assure them of your love – which may be all they really wanted all along!


Saturday, 7 February 2015


Coming up to an election, it’s remarkable how very nice many of the candidates appear to be. Approachable, generous, principled, passionate, caring and, above all, sincere. Being easy on the eye certainly helps, although once enthroned - either in politics or religion – people with power are automatically imbued with the charisma to match. An airbrush of fame works wonders for the complexion!

And because ordinary mortals desperately want leaders they can trust and admire, years may elapse before those feet of clay poke out from under the mantle.

Take Nero, for instance.

Believe it or not, before starting to barbecue Christians, Nero seemed a decent young cove, a promising ruler who would unite the people and help Rome to flourish. His first five years as emperor were marked by modesty, generosity, compassion, and help for the poor, enhanced by his strong sense of justice. In The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, historian C Suetonius Tranquillus described Nero as a man of good intentions who abolished or reduced taxes, gave the Praetorian guard a monthly allowance of free grain (on top of their wages, no doubt!) and subsidised senators of little means with an annual salary.

“He let slip no opportunity for acts of generosity and mercy, or even for displaying his affability

Nero was affable, greeting men of all walks of life, even remembering their names! So approachable; he allowed common people to watch him exercising in the Campus and to listen to his poetry recitals both in private or at the theatre. If he lived today, he'd probably be a boozer schmoozer; blokily propping up a bar, downing pints with the lads and slapping a few backs! 

He was a generous patron of the arts and provided plenty of distractions with drama, spectacle, sports, chariot races and gladiatorial combat, much to the delight of the bloodthirsty crowds. The populace also benefited from his generous hand-outs in times of need - bread and circuses kept them happy.

And, believe it or not, for a God-Emperor Nero was surprisingly modest. When the senate proposed thanks to him, he replied, "When I shall have deserved them." Merciful too: ‘When asked according to custom to sign the warrant for the execution of a man who had been condemned to death, he said: "How I wish I had never learned to write!"

Of his outrageous treatment towards Christians later in his reign, no more needs to be said. Yet despite his descent into paranoia and persecution, he remained popular with the poor until his suicide at the age of 31.



Gilded youth is a fair description of King David’s astonishingly handsome son who would stand at the gates of the city, hugging and empathising with every citizen nursing a grievance. He definitely had the 'Princess Diana' factor! 
A consummate politician, Absalom feigned deep concern for the people while inferring that his father was disinterested in them. In this way, he quickly won hearts and a formidable following which led to civil war.

Pride, ambition, murderous hatred and treachery were Absolom's hallmarks……and his undoing!

Herod the Great

Early in his rule, Herod rid Judea of robbers and set up remarkable building projects, including the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, along with theatres, amphitheatres and hippodromes. In common with Nero, he was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and instituted Greek and Roman games at the amphitheatre in Caesarea.

He must have had great charm and awesome diplomatic skills; having started as a supporter of Julius Caesar, he managed to align himself with the emperor’s assassin Cassius, yet later won over Caesar’s avowed avenger, Mark Antony. Switching allegiance yet again, he sided with and was forgiven by Antony’s enemy, Octavius (Augustus) Caesar and became his friend, likely with the aid of generous bribes!

He referred to the Jews as “my countrymen”, despite being a proselyte with no interest in the religion – in fact; he was hated by Jewish religious leaders. He did, however, manage to appease ordinary people by lowering their taxes, providing relief in times of famine, and persuading Augustus to grant privileges to Jews throughout the Roman Empire.

All in all, a solid, all-round politician. Had he not murdered his beautiful wife Mariamne, 3 of his sons, his brother-in-law, grandfather, several former friends and all the under-2-year-old boys in Bethlehem, he could have gone down in history as a rather ‘nice’ chap!

Henry VIII

Another ‘paragon’ who fell short of his early promise. Tall, handsome, athletic, artistically gifted, pious and charismatic, Henry could have had the world at his feet – well, England anyway. But his persecution of Catholics and abysmal marriage record went against him in the end. And, like so many privileged people who are continually fawned over and made to feel omnipotent, power went to his head - losing many people theirs in the process!


Hailed as a saviour, it seemed Adolf could turn Germany’s fortunes round, and be a real force for change. Sadly, it was another kind of ‘force’ he had in mind entirely!


With modern media and spin doctoring, politics in the 21st century is ever more reliant on outward show - the charisma, charm and graciousness of viable candidates. Let’s hope the next world leaders will truly be as ‘nice’ as they appear!