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Are you a Winner? Beauty Show Tickets

New You Beauty ShowThe New You Beauty Show will be held on Sunday 19th June 11am – 5pm
in the Hertford Theatre.

   There’ll be Raffles, Goody Bags, Makeovers, Competitions.

The winners of the pairs of entry tickets worth £10 are:

K Dilley, Langford
L Evans, Welwyn Garden City
A Woolveridge, Stevenage

Congratulations and enjoy your day!

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Grow your Own Veg in a Town Garden

Growing veg in a town garden - my mixture

Growing veg in a town garden - my mixture

It isn’t difficult to grow your own veg in a town garden but you do need to have a realistic expectation of success and ways of avoiding disaster. So where do you go to get really reliable information on how to grow veg?

I think tv programmes don’t always provide the real picture and give a false expectation to the whole subject. Do you remember Jo Swift transforming an allotment into a perfect vegetable plot on that top viewing show Gardeners’ World? What they didn’t tell you there was an army of helpers to clear and weed the plot. I reckon they must have used some kind of weed killer to destroy the horsetail, a plant that is usually very, very hard to eradicate. Then there was GroundForce – just how did they get rid of those serious weeds in such a short time before planting up? What I want is reality and how problems are overcome, not a smooth, problem free entertainment show with perfect results. Having said that I have found a whole load of excellent short BBC videos. The one about growing potatoes in bags on your patio is particularly good.

More realistic are books giving reliable advice from experience and two gardeners I both admire and respect are Carole Klein and Anna Pavord. Both write in a most accessible way.

The Edible Garden, Alys FowlerBut for me the most inspirational book is The Edible Garden by Alys Fowler. I find her down to earth approach to growing veg in her tv programmes and books very appealing and resonates with my own experience.

My failures include newly planted cabbage and lettuce seedlings decimated within a day of planting by voracious slugs. Yes I used organic slug pellets and the dreaded beer traps, but somehow there was always a wayward specimen on the prowl and we never did get to eat any lettuce or cabbage that wet summer. My husband used to collect the slugs and throw them into the hedge across the road reasoning that the hedge was better cover for them and if they did venture across the road the chances were they would be run over. Well that was the theory although the slug numbers didn’t seem to drop.

The only solution that has ever worked for me is to use self adhesive copper strip attached to plastic bottles with the tops and bottoms cut off. It does mean a lot of work to begin with, but the containers can be used for years if you use reasonably thick plastic. If mine break up I remove the copper strip and reuse it as it is fairly expensive.

I have had great success with brassicas for the first time ever. In the past I have given up on growing any kind of cabbage because pigeons systematically stripped the cabbage seedlings. So this year I covered the area with fleece. Then as the plants grew I removed that and put netting over them, which works. I forgot to cover this one.

Kale decimated by pigeon

Kale decimated by pigeon

What has worked well for me so far this year

Seeds that germinated easily, that is to say fast and profusely!

  • Leeks & Onions – not having sown these before I wasn’t sure what to expect. They germinated quite quickly and came up ‘broken’ but gradually straightened out. They were quite floppy though as seedlings.

    Leek seedlings

    Leek seedlings

  • Parsley – I add the leaves to veg/fruit when I use the juice extractor as parsley has such a good reputation for providing valuable vitamins. It is an annual though so be prepared to resow every year and don’t rely on seed from those plants, the growers are really good at making them sterile so you have to buy new every year. However I do let some plants go to seed and add them to stews for flavour in winter
  • Par-cel – a cross between parsley and celery, the plants are doing well, good to add to salads, stir fries, even stews

    Par-cel, excellent garnish and addition to veggie smoothies

    Par-cel, excellent garnish and addition to veggie smoothies

  • Mizuna, used in salads and stir fries

    Mizuna, used in salads and stir fries

    Mizuna – can be used in salads and stir fries

  • Kale – the purple leafy kind

The broad beans have been very successful. I received this advice from Sine Chesterman, our gardening guru:

Pinch off the tops once you see the first beans forming on the lower stem. This stops blackfly colonising the tops of the beans and hence working their way down and ruining the crop. We used to give the tops to our goats (who love the whole plant) but when our last goat died and we didn’t replenish, we ate the leaves ourselves. Boiled with a little salt, strained and warmed with a little pepper and butter – superb.

Another tip I received was to be sure to water the beans regularly – just at the base. I added mulch thickly round them as well to retain moisture and to keep the plants from going through the stress of drought which results in stunted/slow growth and poorer crops.

One new herb I sowed from Suttons is Stevia. The seeds germinated quickly. Once the plants are about 4 inches high the leaves can be used to sweeten drinks – one leaf per cup. I will be experimenting with the leaves in baking and cooking. The seed packet came with recipes.

Copper strip used to deter slugs - it works

Copper strip used to deter slugs - it works

I put some wooden frames together and sowed carrots, beetroot, spring onions and large onions with a fleece cover, a system that has worked very well. I like the frames, they give protection from wind and put off insects. On the outside of the frame containing the salad stuff I’ve added copper strip to deter the slugs.

I’ve sown some climbing beans in the same way as from experience slugs absolutely love them. I like to see the flowers moving in the wind on the bamboo wigwams. When the beans were first introduced to Europe in the 1400s they were grown just for their flowers, I’m not sure how quickly the beans were found to be good to eat. A big advantage of purple beans I found is they are highly visible and quick to pick.

Poor results

The only real disappointment were the first purple dwarf french beans sown. Out of four rows only three beans germinated, I assume mice got the rest. To reduce the risk of mice getting the seed I sowed more beans in loo roll centres in the conservatory, like I did for the broad beans. They quickly germinated in the warm weather.

I have had a lot more success this year by spot targetting plants reusing milk containers with an adjustable tap. See article

To encourage germination of my fruit I deliberately sow seeds of plants attractive to bees and other pollinating insects throughout the garden:

  • borage
  • pot marigolds
  • love in the mist
  • cosmos
  • foxgloves
  • daises
  • violas
  • thyme
  • pansies
  • forget me nots

My seed suppliers:

By the way is the website we write about the ongoing renovation and care of a front garden in a garden city

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor





Positive Feedback for Young Car Drivers and Cheaper Car Insurance

Suburban Boy racer

Suburban Boy racer

With young car drivers aged 17-21 being the highest risk category for accidents it’s no surprise that cheaper car insurance is a top priority.

General advice on reducing car insurance premiums includes

    • Taking a Pass Plus course
    • Having a car alarm fitted
    • Parking the vehicle in an off road site

However we think the BEST SOLUTION is the nifty new technological system available from the “one-stop-shop” for young car drivers, Intelligent Marmalade, which provides the greatest chance of more affordable premiums as well as improving safety and skills on the road.

The system is installed in cars purchased on the revolutionary cashback-combined-with-insurance scheme offered by Young Marmalade. It monitors the driving skills of the young person behind the wheel in order to prove good driving practice.

Using the system young drivers are able to review their own driving proficiency. An added incentive to encourage the young driver to take care on the road is the insurance premium for the second year is fixed at the outset, eliminating the unpleasant prospect of increasing premiums.

Nick Moger, founder of Young Marmalade realises youngsters may initially be wary of Intelligent Marmalade because it could be seen as a spying eye – a sort of ‘black box’ which records their every move in the car. But he is certain sensible young people soon realise the benefits of using the system in reducing their risk assessment as far as insurance policies go.

The way Intelligent Marmalade works is that with the system installed in the car the scheme managers, young driver him/herself, and the parents are able to access the Ingenium Dynamics website to review records of journeys made, and thereby assess any risks that may arise, address possible hazardous driving techniques, and generally ensure the young driver is staying safe on the road. It all aids in improving the individual’s driving skills and reducing his/her risk profile as far as insurance goes. It goes a long way to reassure parents too which has to be a huge plus feature. It also adds to the debate on how to drive economically and reduce fuel usage.

This really is the most positive initiative we have ever seen to ensure reduced risk for youngsters on the road and reduced insurance costs.

We can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be made generally available – after all organisations with a mobile workforce are being encouraged to install the devices, why not the general public? I know a few drivers who would really benefit from having one in their vehicles … no names of course!

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Zumba! Zumba! Everybody’s Doing It!

Zumba! Zumba! Class in Welwyn Garden City, Gosling Sports Park

Zumba! Zumba! Class in Welwyn Garden City, Gosling Sports Park

Zumba, a fitness programme inspired by Latin dance, is the newest, hottest way to keep fit. You can attend zumba classes, buy zumba dvds, there’s even zumba on wii and of course there is a range of zumba clothing to choose from 

Janet Hamer writes about the Zumba class she attends in Hatfield to keep fit 

We baby-boomers never miss a trick to keep ahead of the game, always on the alert for something new to help maintain our ageless bodies. So, bored with the gym which had achieved little except provide me with something else to moan about, I turned up at the studio on Monday morning. Feeling quite nervous as well as excited, I must admit.

I should have taken my cue from the faces of the other women gradually filing in. Did they look excited? No, on the whole they looked more like people walking into the dentists’, resigned but tense. Then the instructor rushed in and we all sidled reluctantly into the centre of the room. After a cheery greeting, we were off – step, step, step, kick, step, step, step, kick. Wow! This looks simple, I thought, and relaxed a bit. The Latin-American rhythm started to work its way into my bones, and I began to dance for the first time for years. The routine seemed pretty simple, and the insistent beat lifted my mood. I became a bit more daring, actually waving my arms in the air, trying for a bit of “attitude” while my legs rushed this way and that. I even noticed some of the words of the song “And a cha cha cha, and a woo woo woo!”  I remember this – this is fun! I thought, and that was when I caught sight of my mother in the floor to ceiling mirror.

Face as red as an embarrassed tomato, her expression deeply worried, she was going through the motions of the dance, but the legs which had felt like Madonna’s bore more resemblance to the trunks of the trees outside, and while the arms were certainly waving enthusiastically to the beat, the bingo wings beneath were doing their own thing. Horrified by what I was seeing, my concentration went flying – and so did I, catching the sole of one trainer underneath the other, I tumbled less than gracefully onto the floor. I scrambled to my feet as fast as I could, desperate not only to avoid attracting attention, but also to reduce the chances of being trampled on by the sideways-moving hordes of women, all staring grimly ahead at the instructor for fear of losing their place in the routine.

With a fixed smile to show that I really didn’t care that I’d just made a fool of myself, I rejoined the class, at which point I became aware that something had happened to my legs, which were feeling as if someone had encased them in concrete. I glanced up at the clock, then stared incredulously as it surely couldn’t be right. Only 10 minutes into the class? Another 50 to go?

“Right, ladies, you’ve had your warm-up. Now we’re into the serious workout!” shouted the instructor. She turned on the next track, doubled the volume, and the serious stuff began. At this point genuine doubt set in as to whether I’d make it to the end of this class, or be carried out on a stretcher. Deceptively simple dance steps became a nightmare at four times a comfortable speed and I was reduced to walking through the motions, or even just shifting my weight from foot to foot. Occasionally we were told to shout out or sing, but all my breath was directed towards keeping me conscious, mouth opening and closing like a large cod singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

Just when I knew I couldn’t keep going any longer, it seemed we were into the home strait, ten minutes of slowing the heart-rate and stretching out our poor limbs. The relief of having actually survived was intense, and helped provide the momentum to get out of the building and to the car.

At home again, I checked my reflection for signs of imminent heart failure, unable to believe that exercise so extreme – by my standards – could have left me still intact. But by the evening I was still in the land of the living, and starting to feel just a little bit smug. And as I arranged my aching limbs in bed that night, a tune was replaying in my head, “And a cha cha cha, and a woo woo woo”….

Eight months later, and I’m a regular zumba-goer. Incredibly, I don’t seem to have lost any weight, but my glutes (that’s bottom muscles for those who aren’t au fait with these things) are firm and to the delight of my GP, my BP reading is down 20 points! If you feel like giving it a try, you won’t have to look far as zumba classes are starting up in gyms, healthclubs and school halls everywhere.

Just don’t look in the mirror.

Feature written by Janet Hamer, contributing author

What is zumba  

  • Zumba is a dance fitness program created by dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez in Colombia in the 1990s
  • Zumba music is based on salsa, merengue, cumbia, reggaeton and other international music styles and forms

Where can I learn?

  • Zumba classes are offered through licensed instructors in more than 110,000 locations in over 125 countries
  • Dvds are available for learning at home.

Do I need special clothing?

  • No, just wear loose fitting, comfortable casual clothing
  • Zumba shoes might be a consideration if you get serious – note heel feature
Zumba shoes

Zumba shoes

Photography by Pintail Media taken at Gosling Sports Centre, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

All images were taken at a Zumba class to illustrate this feature  It is not the class attended by the writer of this article

See video clips of the class:
and  on your mobile

or on You Tube

Contact Karen at or go to her website for details of classes

Zumba class at Gosling Sports Park, Hertfordshire

Zumba class, Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City


E.coli Worries – Prevention better than Cure

Use a sterilising solution to wash any salad to offset possible E.coli contamination

Use a sterilising solution to wash any salad to offset possible E.coli contamination

Practising food safety at a time when E.coli is a potential threat is common sense. Generally you are advised to thoroughly wash and rinse fresh fruit and vegetables.

We were always advised to take precautions against e.coli when we travelled abroad on holiday and especially when camping because of contamination from mud picked up – remember Glastonbury a year or so ago, public toilets and shared facilities. So we always took sterilising tablets purchased from the chemist to wash fruit and vegetables, to sterilise drinking water and to wash our hands.

When I was on a trek in Nepal after a visit to the toilet tent we had to wash our hands in a bowl of water coloured red with added potassium permanganate that acted as a sterlising solution.

We used Milton sterilising tablets when babies’ health was a consideration – a recent feature in The Guardian mentions that to be good advice.

We also read about Veggi Wash, made from edible fruit compounds but powerful enough to wipe E.coli off the surface of a cucumber, tomato or other fruit and veg. Wash for two minutes and rinse off. You are advised to dry the vegetables and keep in the fridge.

Of course, nothing will work if you don’t practise basic hygiene which is washing your hands thoroughly – especially your thumbs – after going to the toilet. And washing your hands before you prepare and eat food is of course, absolutely imperative.

E.coli is too serious to risk.

Val Reynolds Brown Editor


Peace and Tranquility in County Durham

Durham Cathedral from the embankment of the River Wear

Durham Cathedral from the embankment of the River Wear

A surprisingly peaceful break from the rush and bustle of London at any time of year

Durham is just three hours from London on the train. There for the first time in September we were due to specifically experience some of the events arranged for Peace and Tranquillity Week and we were seduced by the city’s atmosphere and eclectic architecture. Small but perfectly formed was a description that sprang to mind.

We were bowled over by the centuries old city centre with its cobbled streets, mysterious alleys – referred to as vennels – home to quirky shops and off beat craftspeople. Beautiful bridges, the reflections of the cathedral in the river, a castle that has been in continuous use for 900 years.

View of Cathedral from Crook Hall, an architectural gem

View of Cathedral from Crook Hall, an architectural gem

One architectural gem we discovered in Durham was Crook Hall. A few minutes walk from the city centre this medieval building with eleven themed gardens in four acres, is perched on a hill overlooking the cathedral.

A popular venue for keen gardeners, the gardens are a joy. 300 year old pear trees grow on the southern walls of the oldest buildings, they were originally planted to ward off disease and have fruited for all that time. An ongoing programme of events at the Hall for all ages is listed on their website.

We wanted to see more of Durham but ran out of time and instead went onto Teesdale about 25 miles south west from Durham.

We stayed in Northside Farm Retreat near Barnard Castle. Northside Farm is in the process of developing as a centre for visitors to chill out and participate in courses such as tai chi, meditation, yoga. Access to a 14 metre swimming pool with sauna and steam room offers a relaxing environment.

There is a self-contained cottage that sleeps 6. Very well appointed, it had everything needed to make our stay very comfortable indeed, that included the dishwasher, which gave my husband a welcome rest from sink duty!

Gail and her husband Adrian have achieved a huge amount in the short time they have lived there and Gail’s ambition now is to grow lavender on the 100 acre farm.

Nearby was Barnard Castle once the ancient capital of Teesdale. Now a lively market town with a very long high street it has a weekly Wednesday market and the occasional farmers market on Saturdays.

The River Tees runs through Barnard Castle, Co Durham

The River Tees runs through Barnard Castle, Co Durham

Last inhabited in 1630 and much raided for materials to build in the area, Barnard Castle itself is now a beautiful ruin with wonderful views of the countryside and the river Tees. Turner was inspired to paint it.

On the edge of the town a most beautiful building in the style of a French chateau is Bowes Museum. Famous for one of the finest art collections in the country, it opened to the public in 1892 and has the most comprehensive collection of historic clothing and decorative arts in the UK.

Tai Chi in the grounds of Bowes Museum, Co Durham

Tai Chi in the grounds of Bowes Museum, Co Durham

One of the eighteen events in the Peace and Tranquility week on offer was Tai Chi tuition at Bowes Museum. Two groups worked in unison in front of the museum, a memorable experience in such beautiful surroundings. A couple of beginners were surprised and pleased to find they experienced a sense of wellbeing during the session. Our roast beef Sunday lunch at the restaurant was absolutely excellent with an excellent red wine. Followed by an absolutely fab creme brulee … we couldn’t ask for a better finish to our visit.

One of the locations for our painting tuition, Co Durham

One of the locations for our painting tuition, Co Durham

Another group activity we joined was a two hour painting tuition session with Brian Brown who with a wry humour steered the event along with consummate ease and was able to coax interesting creative results from the group, each with different levels of expertise. He runs similar courses in Durham and France.

Stanhope Agricultural Show, Co Durham

Stanhope Agricultural Show, Co Durham

By sheer chance we came across an agricultural show in Stanhope. It was outstanding in what it offered in two days, from dog obedience, welsh ponies, donkeys and hunters, open sulky racing, cossack trick riding and much more on Saturday. Sunday included Clydesdale horses, side saddle, bale pulling competition, wife carrying competition … and on it went. Astoundingly these shows are held all over Teesdale and are enormously popular. We loved it, a very friendly and happy event.

About 15 miles north east of Durham we made a visit to Seaham Hall, the leading luxury hotel and spa resort in Northern England which culminated in a wonderful massage in its Serenity Spa. Linked to the hotel by an intriguing underground walkway, The Serenity Spa, designed by Jocelyn Maxfield, has won a string of international awards and has become one of the UK’s top destination spas as voted by Best Spa for Style by The Sunday Times and Best UK Spa Destination by Conde Nast Traveller.

African decorative art, Seaham Hall, Co Durham

African decorative art, Seaham Hall, Co Durham

The decor of the four star Michelin Hotel is a fusion of East and West and takes most visitors by surprise. We were quite taken with the airiness and space given to the whole property and the signature pieces of antique and artisan decorative art. In fact a very similar feel and style to the world famous Saxon Hotel in Johannesberg.

Afternoon tea was a magnificent end to our visit, finger sandwiches, good strong coffee, delicious tea, sausage rolls to die for and we won’t go on about the cakes except they were plentiful and delightful!

Seaham Beach, Co Durham

Seaham Beach, Co Durham

You can join the Durham Heritage Coastal Walk at Seaham where the beach is sandy, great for kids. The Coastal Walk goes from Sunderland to Hartlepool but you can leave your car in the car park at the end of Lord Byron’s Walk and meander south as far as you desire. The coast has had a lot of investment to restore its natural beauty from the devastation of industrial use throughout the twentieth century.

We seized the opportunity to join an hour of photographic tuition on Seaham beach with Graeme Peacock a well known photographer in the North, who was absolutely excellent – he runs similar courses throughout the year, full details are on his website.

Raby Castle was open free of charge on the Sunday we visited, as part of Heritage Open Day. The grounds were dotted with herds of deer, cattle and sheep and we were able to wander down the paths at will. The gardens were beautiful particularly the ponds and some ancient yew hedges. There is a splendid tearoom and shop. Events are arranged through the year, details on their website,

Magnificent Yew Hedge at Raby Castle, Co Durham

Magnificent Yew Hedge at Raby Castle, Co Durham

Our last evening was spent at Headlam Hall, a rather beautiful 17th century country house with beautiful gardens surrounded by rolling farmland. We crammed in a lot in the time we had and we really wanted to stay longer.

With substantial financial investment in the spa it attracts members both locally and further afield. Opened three years ago they have five full time therapists and one student trainee offer an impressive range of treatments. Membership includes access to the gym and swimming pool.

We loved the warm welcome and friendly atmosphere of the staff and stayed for dinner in the Orangery. The food was absolutely excellent, from the tiny appetizer cup of leek and potato soup, through to the chocolate creme brulee. Restraint flew out of the window and we toasted the meal with a glass of champagne! Very highly rated, it was a wonderful end to an excellent five day stay in County Durham.

There is so much to see and explore in County Durham but we particularly wanted to see much more of Teesdale. High Force, a waterfall with the highest unbroken fall of water, 21 metres, in England. Great practice for photographers! It’s the beginning of the wilder area of the Pennines and one we want to see on our next visit.

Of course events don’t just happen in the Peace and Tranquillity week, have look at the Visit County Durham website for programme details. Why not visit next year? Or before that if you can’t wait for a real treat – we can’t!


Visit County Durham
Crook Hall
Northside Farm Retreat
Raby Castle
Graeme Peacock
Seaham Hall and Spa
Durham Heritage Coast
Headlam Hall
Stanhope Agricultural Show

All photography copyright © Pintail Media

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