Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Can ageing be reversed? Why DO we grow old and die?

Trees outlive humans by hundreds of years 

Currently, ageing is a remorseless, unrelenting and inevitable process from which nobody seems able to escape. Yet finding a cure for this condition, maybe even for death itself, has been the ultimate goal for humans since time began. 

In ancient China, for example, Taoist priests led
 people to neglect their labour to search for “the elixir of life” or “fountain of youth”. Alchemists in medieval Europe and Arabia used noxious ingredients such as arsenic, sulphur and mercury to create their supposed life-preserving potions - though how long anyone actually lived after taking them is anybody’s guess! 

One African legend is that God send a chameleon to deliver immortality to mankind, but it moved so slowly that another lizard got there first and persuaded people to accept a message of death instead.

As far back as the 4th century BCE, the Greek philosopher Aristotle attempted to explain just why we die, concluding that life hinged on the human body’s ability to balance heat and cold, observing: “It is always to some lack of heat that death is due.” Another philosopher, Plato, taught that man has an immortal soul that survives the death of the body.

Today, little has changed and it isn’t just women who yearn to turn back the clock, nor is it just the rich who pay handsomely to have their bodies frozen via cyronics, hoping for a revival once a cure for their terminal condition has been discovered. Every day, dubious and sometimes highly unethical therapies are being lined up as the only way to achieve that everlastingly flawless complexion and perfectly toned muscles. One stomach-churning report by a national newspaper exposed the use of desiccated foetuses in tablet form which are thought to preserve youth.

Are ageing and death natural?

For many people, the idea of living forever seems too far-fetched, even absurd. But is it? If we were only meant to live for just three score years and ten (or longer if we have exceptional genes), why do we fear death so much? Why do people undergo painful and unpleasant treatment to defeat life-threatening disease, or grieve so much when a loved one dies? And, if old age is as natural as we’re led to believe, why do so many invest heavily in creams, fillers, and cosmetic surgery to hold back the years?

The sad fact is, even a tree can last ten times longer than we do - which seems an awful waste of our incredible brains, described by molecular biologist James Watson as “the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe.” Just as we learn how to use it, we're too old to care!

Superficially, looks matter too. One photographer who specialises in cosmetics and skin care products believes a model is over the hill at 17, as, by then, the complexion has lost its dewy glow!!

But were we actually meant to grow old? According to the Bible, the first human couple were designed to live indefinitely - and would have done had they not rebelled and become both spiritually and physically imperfect as a result. As it was, they still lived a great deal longer than their descendants today.* 

And science bears this out. Whereas, at one time gerontologists believed human bodies were programmed to grow, to reach their peak and then to rapidly decline into old age and, eventually, death, some experts of ageing have now modified that view, largely due to the miraculous way the human body functions. 

Biologist Jared Diamond, for example, noted how we “replace the cells lining our intestine once every few days, those lining the urinary bladder once every two months, and our red blood cells once every four months,” adding: “Nature is taking us apart and putting us back together every day.” 

This means that our physical bodies don’t really age at all but, according to one scientist: “In a year, approximately 98% of the atoms in us now will be replaced by other atoms that we take in through our air, food and drink.” 

And, as other experts admit they don’t know why ageing should occur, we have to wonder whether we really should live forever. In his book, Conquest of Death, Alvin Silverstein wrote of his desire to “unravel the essence of life” and to understand how a person ages.” He was convinced that one day there will be no more old people, “for the knowledge that will permit the conquest of death will also bring eternal youth.” 


Recent scientific findings:

The Telomere and the Flatworm

Forget the Botox, cancel your facelift – according to researchers at Nottingham University, the Fountain of Youth may lie with the humble flatworm.

From just one member of this innocuous species, a team led by Molecular Biologist Dr Aziz Aboobaker have created over 20,000 worms which, when divided, simply grow back again - i.e. the head bit grows another tail while the tail portion grows a replacement head, producing two worms for the price of one. And the more they are cut up, the more parts there are to regenerate into complete new worms, each identical to the first, with bodies and organs that never seem to deteriorate.

As a result of his research, Molecular Biologist Dr Aziz Aboobaker believes flatworms are immortal thanks to telomeres which keep their cells dividing and renewing perpetually, unlike humans.

Telomerase research has now become one of the hottest fields in molecular biology, boosted by results from Dr Aboobaker’s recent study.  

Every cell contains a nucleus, a complex control centre, providing instructions for all the cell’s activities. This set code is stored in the chromosomes, a mix of protein and deoxyribonucleic acid, now commonly known as DNA. Although discovered in the 1860’s, DNA’s molecular structure was not fully understood until a century later when biologists began to realise its primary role – to convey genetic information.

At the tip of each chromosome is a short snippet of DNA called a telomere - from the Greek te’los (end) and me’ros (part).  Acting as a protective shield, rather like the plastic cap at the end of a shoelace, the telomere helps to stabilise the chromosome, preventing it from fraying, breaking or sticking. Unfortunately, most telomeres shrink grow shorter with each cell division until they wear away to mere stumps and no longer prove effective. Without the telomere’s protection, the cell stops dividing and begins to die due to the Hayflick Limit, a process discovered by Dr Leonard Hayflick in the 1960’s whereby cells appear to have a finite number of divisions – around 50 during its life span.  

Because of this phenomenon, human cells eventually shrink with age, resulting in our inevitable decay. Not so with flatworms. Their telomeres remain exactly the same, so cells keep on dividing at the same rate. As a result, Dr Aboobaker and colleague Dr Thomas Tan claim to have already isolated the ‘immortality’ gene and feel confident that it may one day help scientists to grow new organs and develop treatments to keep old age at bay. The implication is that if biologists could use telomerase to stop telomeres shortening during normal cell division, perhaps ageing could be halted or at least delayed. According to Geron Corporation News experiments with telomerase have already shown that normal human cells can be modified with “an infinite replicative capacity.”

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

In this 'Post-Truth' world, how honest are you?

So 'Post-Truth' has been coined by Oxford Dictionaries, a term that pretty well sums up the world today.

How appropriate. And how very, very sad. 

When politicians, banks, newspaper chiefs, big businesses and even religious leaders can’t be trusted what chance is there for the rest of us? And, in the face of what must surely be the most corrupt, exploitative, money-obsessed period in human history, is honesty still the best policy? Is it actually possible to be 100% above board living in this woefully corrupt system?
On a personal level we all like to think we’re basically honest and truthful – but to what extent? Do we always fill in our tax details accurately, or do we ‘accidentally’ forget to include the occasional cash payment or perk. If we find a purse on the street, do we attempt to return it, or is it a case of ‘finders keepers’?
What often makes it hard to be honest is pressure from others.  One factory worker, for example, became extremely unpopular with his colleagues as, unlike them, he refused to take things easy when the manager wasn’t around.  Believing in the old adage, ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’,  he was determined to keep his side of the bargain and kept on working despite recriminations from his less industrious peers.
Equally honest was the financial director of a large corporation, a God-fearing man who could spot anomalies on an expense sheet from 50 metres away. So, naturally, after lunching with prospective clients at a star-rated restaurant, he was the obvious person to scrutinise the bill. One sweep of his eagle eye was all it took for him to see the mistake – the omission of a rather pricy bottle of wine which, to the horror of his fellow directors, he was at pains to point out. 
Was he a killjoy? Overly pedantic?  Depends how you view it. Getting away with a free bottle of plonk may be something of a coup for some folk, no matter if the hapless waiter lost his job.  But, would taking advantage of a simple human error have impressed the potential clients? And, let’s face it, what better qualification could there be for anyone in finance than sheer, straight-down-the-line, honest-to-goodness integrity? (Whether we see much of this virtue these days is another matter!)
Let’s look at the other side of the coin. For over a decade, an anaesthetist renowned for his pioneering pain relief fabricated research results which appeared in leading medical publications. But why compromise himself in this way?  According to a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, greed is certainly a factor:  “When researchers are beholden to [pharmaceutical] companies for much of their income, there is an incredible tendency to get results that are favourable to the company.”
Meanwhile, students are acquiring extra-curricular practices to ‘big up’ their skills. As highlighted by The New York Times, it seems many students will compromise ethics to achieve ambitions, intending to “follow a strict code of values” afterwards. For example, science students in Germany were discovered bribing their teachers in order to be recognised as Doctors.
Poor role models also play a part. Talking to The New York Times recently one professor states that high school students may be losing their moral compass: “It’s probably better to say that their teachers and mentors and the rest of society never helped them construct and internalize a moral compass in the first place.”
If supposedly respected individuals from government ministers to bishops fail to set a good example, little wonder younger people regard the rules as there to be broken, as demonstrated in a recent study. Out of nearly 30,000 students, 98 per cent believed honesty to be vital in personal relationships. Yet 8 out of 10 students said they’d lied to their parents, while 64 per cent admitted having cheated in an exam.
Be honest
Are you as trustworthy as you think you are? Ask yourself these questions:
·        You find a valuable piece of jewellery left on a washbasin in a public convenience. Would you hand it in at a police station or keep for yourself?
·        The cash machine is paying out more money than requested. Would you return the cash to the bank and report it, or go back for seconds?
·        At work or school, do you help yourself to pens, notepads and other stationery items to use at home, or do you ask permission first?
·        The newsagent gives you too much change. Do you take it back, or congratulate yourself on making a profit?
·        You’re out of work and claiming benefit. Then someone offers you £50 ($100) to paint their living room. Do you declare this to the benefit people, or keep it quiet?
·        Your boss asks you to lie about a product or service. Do you tell the truth and risk losing your job, or do you do as you are told?
·        You need to write an essay for college and time is running out. Do you find a piece online to copy and paste, or do you write the essay yourself even if it isn’t up to usual standard.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Cut those bullies down to size

       Think of a bully and you might picture a thick-necked yobo who’d last several rounds with Mohammed Ali in his heyday. But not all bullies use their fists. Truth be told, the typical bully relies on their tongue, using sarcasm, ridicule and insults to make their target feel small.
       They don’t even need to be in the same vicinity to threaten or upset their victims. Mobile phones and social network sites are rife with abusive messages and cruel jokes at other people’s expense – often sent anonymously.
       Age is no object, either. While still at primary school, Rebecca* received a nasty letter, full of lies and innuendo, supposedly sent by a fellow pupil who also received a similar letter, supposedly from Rebecca. Their parents took the letters to school where the form teacher recognised the handwriting as that of another pupil in the same class, who in turn had been pressured into writing it while her ‘friend’, an 8-year-old girl, told her exactly what to say. Cunning, manipulative and designed to cause the maximum distress.
       Gender doesn’t come into it, nor does class; a public school pupil has as much chance of being bullied and harassed as someone attending a local comprehensive. But just because a problem may be unavoidable doesn’t mean it can’t be solved.
       Let’s just examine one or two motives of a potential bully. Some who cause misery may not even mean to hurt their victims, viewing their taunts as simple banter or what passes for humour. This kind of behaviour is common in large families where children may compete to get a rise out of each other or even to gain attention from parents – even negative attention is better than none.
       Some people have been brought up to be plain spoken. The area where I was born can be a particularly challenging place to live for sensitive types, as many people pride themselves, not only on their gritty sense of humour but on being rude and overly free with blunt personal remarks. Whether any malice is intended or not, the best way to handle this situation is to simply laugh or shrug it off. This way, any unpleasantness is deflected, as the perpetrator realises his/her words have no effect. He or she may be testing you out, to ‘see what you’re made of’, and will soon tire of the game if you fail to play along.  On the other hand, trading insults will only make matters worse, like throwing petrol on a fire! Refuse to let the bully enrage you and the fire will just die out. You'll also prove to the bully that you're not influenced by anything they have to say - what he or she really wants is a reaction. Don't give them the satisfaction!  They're the ones who are pathetic, not you!
       Should the bully threaten to get physical, of course, the wisest course is simply to walk away - or run if necessary. And if, but only if, there’s no other way out, then of course you have the right to defend yourself as best you can. Yet, surprisingly, your most powerful weapon in almost any situation is ‘mildness’. Keeping your cool is always the best answer to a bully who will view your self-control as a sign of strength, while a kind word can literally stop them in their tracks. Remember, a bully may be frustrated, insecure and desperately unhappy, and the last thing they expect is for people to be nice to them. 
       Clever bullies are often quite intuitive about their intended victims; always seeking out the people they perceive to be weak, shy and easily intimidated.  That’s why it’s good to have ‘attitude’. People who seem poised, confident and assertive rarely get picked on - they’re more likely to stick up for themselves - so by cultivating a self-assured air you can deflect a lot of adverse attention. Basically, most bullies are cowards; preferring victims whom they feel would never fight back.
       Bear in mind that no one, no one has the right to harass you and make your life a misery. If you receive threats and ridicule on a regular basis, you should talk to your parents and listen to their advice. Other people you can turn to are teachers or counsellors, who are usually trained to deal with problems firmly and discreetly, with no comeback on you. Failing that, there are Helplines you can call, where experts can guide you through your problems.
       Some pupils, particularly girls may face sexual harassment, which is perhaps easier to avoid in advance rather than having to deal with when it arises. For instance, any form of flirting is not advisable, as your ‘admirer’ may get jump to the wrong conclusions. Nor should you hang around with girls who tend to be forward with the opposite sex, as you’ll be viewed in the same light. The way you dress may also be a factor - if you can see down it, up it or through it, then you’re bound to get noticed, for all the wrong reasons! How you dress is often how you get treated!
       Both genders can be targeted and propositioned, in which case a firm, direct and unequivocal ‘No’ should be your determined response. Giggling or simpering, even in embarrassment, can create a false impression. Make it clear from the start that you’re not interested and you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle.
       If, in spite of all objections, someone tries to touch you inappropriately, don’t be afraid to make a scene. Yell at your attacker; tell him not to touch you in that way and chances are he’ll be too embarrassed to continue, especially in front of his mates. Should he persist, walking or running away may be necessary and if that doesn’t work, a smart blow to anyone who grabs you should make your feelings clear!  And, same as with any other bully, you need to tell your parents!
       Remember, you deserve to be treated with respect. Be determined not to give into threats, crumple under ridicule or allow anyone to harass you. Before starting a fresh term at school, write down different scenarios which could apply to you. Then plan how you would deal with a given situation – what you could say, how you should conduct yourself and how to avoid the problem in the first place. Discuss your plans with your parents, ask their opinions and ask them to rehearse with you. That way, you can be prepared. 

How to protect yourself: 
  • Cultivate self-respect and show confidence and poise
  • Refuse to respond to taunts or ridicule
  • Exercise self-control
  • Be firm and direct and make your ‘No’ mean ‘No’
  • Avoid associating with people who court attentions from the opposite sex
  • Don’t wear revealing clothes which send the wrong signals
  • Tell someone – especially parents and guardians

* See also "How to Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists"[search_id]=8a3fa79a-9b90-414d-b767-08f116828aaf&insight[search_result_index]=0

From Bullied to Brilliant by Karen Clarke

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Social media - avoiding the pitfalls

       It’s some years now since I posted my very first Tweet on Twitter and, following the advice of a best-selling online novelist, managed to get myself suspended on the very first day (must be a record!). The Twitter team thought I was a spammer; me, I put it down to enthusiasm.       

       Since then, I’ve become a little more circumspect and, on the whole, it’s been a positive experience; for me, Twitter works well. 

Proceed with caution

       Like any modern invention, there’s an upside and a downside. The ups are obvious – social networks are brilliant marketing tools, a great way to meet people from hugely diverse backgrounds, to keep in touch with friends, and to find out what’s happening around the world. Linking up can be exciting, refreshing and educational. 

       The downside? Well, one problem has already been mentioned; once logged into the site, it’s extremely hard to log out again, especially if you work from home as I do. When on Twitter, the hours just fly, the next chapter lies unfinished, and the dinner plates are still in the sink. How children with homework get on, I shudder to think. But there are more worrying factors which can affect all of us – and which can apply to virtually any use of the internet.

Loss of privacy

       Twitter has around 500 million followers, while Facebook subscribers total almost 1 billion. Every message sent has the potential to go viral within seconds and we have no control over who has access to personal information. Fraudsters, burglars, cynical marketers and even abusers can exploit such information to our detriment. On a local scale, many a teenager has posted details of a forthcoming party only to be swamped by unwanted guests looking to cause trouble.

       In her book, CyberSafe, Gwenn Schurgin O’Keefe points out that “large websites back up their databases. What we put on cyberspace never truly goes away. We have to consider it permanent because there is likely to be a copy somewhere; to think otherwise is foolish.”

Bad associates

       Young people are particularly vulnerable to online bullying, from schoolmates with a grievance to total strangers, sometimes with tragic consequences; reports of children being driven to despair, self-harm, anorexia and even suicide bear witness to the damage caused by haters and trolls.  Some children have arranged to meet ‘friends’ their own age, only to find the person waiting for them is neither a friend nor a day under 40! And every time they go online, there’s always the danger of inadvertently accessing websites featuring porn or violence. 

       These issues are – at least should be – obvious. But what about more subtle factors, such as:

Loss of reputation

       A recent article compared a person’s reputation with a shiny new car. Suppose you own the latest model with flawless paintwork; you take it for a spin but, due to a momentary lapse in concentration, you crash into a ditch, leaving the vehicle a total write-off?

       That’s what can happen to your reputation. A momentary lapse in discretion, a compromising photograph or a careless remark can quickly dent other people’s opinion of you. Families will forgive, true friends will understand, but what about potential employers? Often, the first thing they do on receiving an application is check out your Facebook account – would  that picture of you mooning or leering drunkenly into the camera mark you out as a suitable candidate? According to Dr B J Fogg, author of Facebook for Parents, the answer would be ‘No’. He’s just one of millions who checks Facebook pages as “part of my due diligence. If I can access an applicant’s Profile and see junky things, then I’m not impressed. I won’t hire that person.” Why? “Because people who work with me need excellent judgment.” 

       Certainly, people tend to be less inhibited on social networks, and that applies to your comments too. What may seem innocuous or hilarious to you may be a big turn-off for others. Bad language, off-colour jokes and insulting remarks may trip easily from your fingers as you type, but are they really impressing anybody? Are they as witty as you think, or simply sad? And if they’re suggestive, you may attract the wrong kind of followers. Remember too that others can post comments on your page. As one 19-year old says: “Sometimes people post comments with bad words or double meanings. Even though you’re not the one who said it, it reflects poorly on you because it’s your page.”

Avoid the pitfalls

       Before signing up for a social network, it’s good to set a few boundaries. Look at the potential dangers, decide how best to avoid them and create rules that will protect you from any fallout. Here are a few suggestions which I try to apply myself: 

1)   Be careful what you post and only do so when sober! If you wouldn’t like your parents to see those photographs or comments, why make them available to total strangers? Or worse – prospective employers! When texting, remember your manners. Try to ensure that every remark is gracious, ‘seasoned with salt’. 
2)   Check your privacy settings, as the default settings on the network site may let more people view your page than you imagine. It’s a good idea to customise your settings so only close friends can access your posts. Even then, you need to watch that you don’t give out more information than intended. 
3)   Should you receive a critical or negative response, don’t retaliate. If the criticism is well-meant, thank the sender for his/her interest. Ignore abusive comments and block them from your page along with any that make you feel uncomfortable. The same goes for dubious would-be followers or ‘friends’. Be selective and never open links from anyone you feel unsure of. Some may be pornographic or violent.
4)   Social websites are constantly buzzing with gossip, rumours and opinions about people in the public eye. Be determined never to write derogatory personal remarks about anyone, famous or not, even if they seem to deserve it – after all, who are we to judge? Failing to observe this rule may, at best make you seem spiteful, and at worst get you sued for libel! 
5)   Remember your details are accessible to millions of people, including some who know you, so guard your privacy. Don’t give out too much personal information such as home address, email address, where you attend school, work or college, when you’re at home, when and where you’re going, when you’re at home, when nobody is at home, your photos, opinions, likes, dislikes and hobbies and innermost thoughts. 

6)   Set limits for the time you spend on social networks and stick to them. Doing this will help you control your online activities instead of letting them control you. And if social networks start to take you over, and you find yourself thinking constantly about your tweets, blogs and profiles, then switch them off. Or simply take a break from them, like these teenagers: 

       “I deactivated my account, and I had heaps of time. I felt free! Recently, I reactivated my account, but I have complete control. I don’t check it for days at a time. Occasionally I even forget about it. If my social networking account becomes a problem again, I’ll just deactivate my account.” 

       “I have taken ‘networking breaks,’ where I deactivate my account for a couple of months and then reactivate it later. I do that whenever I realize that I’ve been spending too much time with it. Now I don’t feel as attached to it as I used to. I’ll use it for a purpose, but then I’m done.”  

      By taking sensible precautions and rationing the time we spend on social network, we can use it with confidence -without filching too much attention from more important activities.

       As for me, I feel quite an old hand now - in fact, it's a source of satisfaction to see some of my (very techie) website designer friends are only just getting started! And, of course, with time, I've become more atuned to potential problems and a lot more careful about whom I follow. 

       My personal  'no nos' include profiles with no tweets; tweets containing sexual references or bad language of any kind; profiles with no pictures or other personal touches; tweets which appear in one's timeline with no message -just a link; people with zillions of followers; direct messages (except for confidential info from a trusted contact); and anyone famous (who rarely write their own tweets!)

       And here's an apology to anyone who has kindly retweeted me but to whom I haven't yet returned the compliment. Some of you are obviously lovely people and I'll always try to RT if I possibly can - especially if you're a writer. However, there are certain things I will not promote, such as erotica or the occult. I also try to remain neutral with regard to race, nationalism and party politics.   

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Roots joins the jet set!

Extract from The Runaway Children, when the Hadwins, Laurel and Roots take to the water on a souped up narrow boat! 

"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!"

The Runaway Children by Jacy Brean is available to download from Amazon and other online booksellers

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Bring back courtship!

       Some years ago, my darling daughter (DD) came home from college in a strop! “That Joe Taylor!”
       From the tone of her voice, Joe Taylor had obviously done something despicable. “It’s so insulting!” she growled, “All the girls are fuming about it!”
       The ‘it’ in question was a list, drawn up by Joe, which rated each girl in his group according to ‘how fit she was’. This naturally caused quite a stir. Yet, despite my initial feminist sensibilities, I quite admired Joe Taylor. For the next few weeks, he became the focus of attention with every girl trying desperately (but unsuccessfully) to discover her score. Let’s be honest, not many guys can get so many girls so interested in their opinion.  
       Did the list even exist? If not, it wouldn't surprise me. Joe, who later went up to Oxford, was an extremely clever young man with his eye set on a political career – in which such tactics would doubtless prove useful.
       But would they work on any female over 16 with any self-esteem?  
       I'd like to think not!

Being top of the list is not enough.

       Being Number One infers there’s a Number Two and a Number Three and countless other numbers. A man with more than one woman in his sights is not ready for a serious relationship. A man with a list is STILL LOOKING. And a woman with any self-esteem wants to be NOT Number One but THE One, the One and Only.
       Sadly, an ever-widening choice of partners and the willingness of both sexes to hook up with whoever takes their fancy has made intimacy as meaningful in modern times as a trip to the public urinal. Sowing wild oats is a rite of passage, along with social diseases, unwanted pregnancies, broken marriages, loneliness, lovelessness, depression and heartbreak.
       So what’s the solution? Maybe we should all take a giant leap back into the past. True, previous generations saw injustice, poverty and exploitation (just like today), but they got at least one aspect of their life correct.


       Courtship wasn’t just for the upper and middle classes. Every level of society craved respectability, to have a good marriage with a good person.
       In Jane Austen’s day, young couples enjoyed chaste activities under the watchful eyes of their chaperones. Instead of rapidly shrinking hemlines and necklines, the hint of an ankle was as far as it went. Extreme, maybe, but many a strong marriage was formed by exercising self-control.
       Of course, in many ways women are better off these days, but the very fact they are no longer dependent on fathers and husbands makes it even easier to hold oneself worthy – to view oneself as more than a number on a checklist!

A few tips from Jane Austen

Don’t hold yourself cheap.

Never get ‘picked up’, accept a one-night stand or indulge in casual sex.

Make sure you know the person fairly well – make friends with him before dating.

For that first date, arrange to meet in a neutral environment where there are people.

Introduce him to family and friends - and expect him to do the same with you.

Avoid putting yourself in compromising situations – parked cars, empty apartments or lonely parks.

Remember, if he truly cares for and respects you, he’ll be prepared to wait.....

And want you for his One and Only!!!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Harewood House, home to the Lascelles

Front view of Harewood House
       This may come as a shock to some of you but, on a recent trip out, GG and I decided to forego our usual walks around the Peak in favour of a whole new world….well, county, anyway….somewhere our precious Green Book would not be required.
       As part of a planned agenda for her week’s holiday, GG wanted to revisit one of her favourite stately homes. Harewood House near Leeds, Yorkshire.

Rear view of Harewood House
Harewood House (pronounced Harwood) was commissioned in 1759 and completed in 1771 by Barbadian-born landowner Edwin Lascelles, whose father, Henry, had amassed a great fortune…not, as you might suppose, from the slave trade, but from other unscrupulous means – by exploiting his position as a customs collector and by supplying provisions for troops during the War of Jenkins’ Ear, which continued between Spain and France from 1739 to 1748, and throughout the Austrian Succession.
       His son, Edwin, put these apparently ill-gotten gains to good use, hiring only the best craftsmen to create the home of his dreams.  

Rocking chair in leather

            Designed by architect John Carr and with lavish interiors by Robert Adam, Harewood was furnished by Chippendale and boasted the finest china money could buy. Edwin certainly pulled out all the stops – even the gardens were spectacular and remain today just as jaw-dropping as their landscaper, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown intended.

One of the intricate ceilings by Robert Adam
Fabulous paintings litter this palace; landscapes and portraits by the most distinguished artists of the day – such as Reynolds and, Gainsborough - hang beside works from old masters such as El Greco and my own favourite, Titian.

Flower themed Coalport China
In the 20th century, Harewood came to prominence once more when the 6th Earl married Princess Mary, daughter of George V, bringing genuine blue-blood into the house.

A selection of Princess Mary's hats from the 1920s
My pictures in no way do justice to the fabulous treasures which Harewood contains, but I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I did!

Wonderful 4-Poster bed in State Bedroom
If you want to know more, please visit

Section of Harewood from the garden terrace

State Bedroom

View of terrace from rear window

Terrace garden designed by Capability Brown

Stunning Hydrangea bush in Hymalayan garden

A Walk in the Peak - Over Haddon, Bakewell

       Arriving ‘oop north’ for a week of Mum’s cooking and general 5-star service, my London-based daughter had already produced her bucket list:
       A trip to a stately home (see my post on Harewood House); the new Jason Bourne movie; and, of course, another mammoth walk from the now very well-thumbed Green Book.*
       My Gorgeous Girl (GG) had already pinpointed the most suitable place for our walk, one we considered during her last visit but rejected in favour of our Wormhill workout.~ Well, I’m only human - one marathon per visit is all I can manage!
       Over Haddon is a tiny, picturesque village in the White Peak, a couple of miles from Haddon Hall, Bakewell where "Elizabeth”, "Pride & Prejudice”, “The Other Boleyn Girl”, “The Princess Bride” and no less than THREE versions of Jane Eyre were filmed in recent years. 

       The village itself has also had its drama. In the 17th century, for instance, a young lass called Martha Taylor starved herself to death. It took a while, mind: The “fasting Damsel” or “‘Mirabile Pecci” (whatever that means), swallowed nothing but a few drops of water with a little sugar and the occasional raisin for nearly two years, dying as a national celebrity at barely 20 years old.+  
       Centuries later, Over Haddon was again put on the map, being the birthplace of Sir Maurice Oldfield, a former head of MI6, who is now buried in the local churchyard. Another reason to spy out the land!  
       According to the Green Book, the walk is roughly 3 miles, although in our case it proved to be twice as long due to a (ahem!) little error of judgement!
       To start with, however, the omens were good. We managed to find somewhere to park, a public toilet block and - oh joy! - sunshine! So it was with high expectations we set off down a hill from the village car park for the first leg of our journey.
       “’At the bottom of the hill turn left along the riverside path,’” reads GG from the Green Book. She has obviously assumed the role of navigator and no one, least of all her Mum, can wrest the book from her grasp.
       We stride gamely along the narrow path. Looking down on Lathkill River to our right. An unusual river, it has a habit of disappearing underground when the weather is dry, a process that seems to turn the deepest part of the river a brilliant shade of blue, but whether this is due to the clarity of these ‘Blue Waters’, or to the limestone through which it passes is anyone’s guess.

       Strangely, for the school holidays the walk is really quiet. Except for two young families splashing about by the river edge, and a couple of solitary passers-by - gentlemen with back packs and spring-loaded walking sticks – we meet no one. I put it down to the weather forecast; the Beeb had given rain, a prediction backed up by threatening clouds as we left that morning. But now, the sun was out, the birds were singing their hearts out, and the scent of hedgerows and recent hay mowing lifted our spirits.

       Suddenly, the peace was shattered! Further along the river, we heard a dog yelping frantically! Either it was injured or barking to alert someone to its owner’s distress….just like Lassie!
       GG and I ran along the river and saw a collie in the corner of an inlet, jumping and yelping as though his life depended on it.

       “Maybe he’s stuck!” I said and was just about to paddle to the rescue when a lady called: “Don’t worry! He’s not hurt or anything! Hush now, Willow!”
       The lady owner and her companion had been following Willow from a distance when the dog raced ahead to dive in the river.
       “He’s always doing that,” the owner explained.            “Wherever there’s water, he just goes bananas! Here Willow! Fetch!” She threw in a stick for her pet to chase, no doubt hoping he’d stop once the object reached his mouth.

       After a short chat, we parted company: Willow and the ladies vanishing up the fields; Madam and I crossing the river “by a humped-back bridge and continuing uphill on a narrow path through a wood.”
       This was where it all went pear-shaped. Instead of “bearing left at the top of the path along a wide track”, GG decided to turn right. As I would never dare accuse my daughter of ‘erring’ in any way, there can only be one explanation: Whereas most of us have a dominant side, my daughter is totally ambidextrous, which means the concept of ‘right’ and ‘left’ has always been alien to her.

       Blissfully unaware of this false step, we continued across open fields to witness the most spectacular views I ca remember – and we’ve see many in the Peak. They were breath-taking!
       “I think this is my second most favourite walk,” declared GG.
       “Well, I think it’s my first most favourite walk.” I replied. It was downhill too, which is always a plus when you get to my age!

       We crossed a wide hayfield under a million acres of sky, now peppered with clusters of cloud, and followed a wall past a ploughed field and another where the hay had already been cut.

       As we descended, we could see the turrets of Haddon Hall, looking as magnificent as ever.

       “Strange,” I mused, “I never expected to come out here,” then stopped to take a photograph, much to GG’s displeasure.
       It was only when we reached the A6 that our problem came into view. We’d gone miles out of our way.
       “So which way from here?” said GG.
       “Let’s google for directions,” I suggested and took out my phone, only for GG to snatch it from my hand.
       “You’re too slow!” she said and began to pound the screen with her finger. Ten minutes later, she was still pounding, waiting and pounding, but help was at hand. A young man was running toward us, obviously in training. I leapt in front of him and, to my relief, he removed his earphones as I asked the way to Over Haddon.
       “It’s miles away!” he replied. “Best bet is to walk to Bakewell.”
       “But that’s along the main road!” moaned GG.       Then the awful truth hit us. We just had to go back the way we came.....and it was all uphill!
       ......and it started raining!
       BUT, we were rewarded by this beautiful sight!

*Short Walks in the Peak Park by William and Vera Parker