As an Apple Mac user – I bought my first Mac in the early 1980’s – I followed the Steve Jobs’ story in a detached sort of way. I was having far too much fun on the computers to want to know the how and why. I was never an Apple fanatic, just an absorbed and enthusiastic user.
Being an Apple follower has meant a lot of mirth, ridicule and disbelief from those who used PCs. However, Apple has won through, as most of us knew it would but have quietly got on with our easy to operate devices. And that’s the key. They are friendly, yes they may be expensive, yes they may be idiosyncratic, but they are joyful!
As an example of just how easy they are to operate I trialled Macs with students with severe learning difficulties. They had no difficulty using them – it took 10 minutes for them to use the Write program successfully, another five to use the Paint program. It was a huge success.
I haven’t bothered to read anything about Steve’s passing until today when I read Steve Jobs’ sister’s eulogy to her brother. I was moved to tears. The past thirty plus years have been a hugely joyful experience using my Macs. Thank you Steve is all I can think to say.
Val Reynolds, Editor
The importance of hand washing should never be under estimated. I wondered how many people picked up on it following Global Handwashing Day and was interested to see some feedback from the UK public.
Are we worried about hygiene?
It would seem we are, especially when visiting, and leaving, a public toilet. Some ingenious if rather ingenuous tactics are adopted by some people to avoid touching doors in the loo and on leaving. However, it’s all very well making sure you use a piece of toilet paper to hold the door handle, or wait until someone enters the toilet area to hold the door open for you, or failing that, keeping the door open with your foot and or elbow. But if, for instance in a pub, you go straight to the bar and eat a few peanuts from a bowl, just how many people have also taken some peanuts and did they wash their hands … Apparently e.coli has been found on nuts, crisps, even olives in open bowls on bars.
And what about cash machine keys, card readers in supermarkets, keyboards on computers, hand rails on buses and the Underground, the list goes on. You could say a ha’peth of dirt doesn’t do anyone any harm, but it isn’t just any old dirt we’re talking about. We’re concerned about campylobacter and salmonella bacteria both likely to cause a gastric infection and easily passed on through fecal contamination.
When out and about some people take a small container of antiseptic gel. It is a token gesture towards hygiene as it is not entirely effective. So it’s always wise to wash your hands before you get to eat anything. That’s a great restraint on your appetite – you would be off to wash your hands before you ate that luscious cake, cup of coffee and biscuit in the coffee shop of even the irresistible chocolate bar at the checkout! You would have to wait until you got home to wash your hands after touching the keypad in the supermarket and the trolley or basket handle!
Hand washing techniques
John Oxford professor of virology thinks people don’t wash thoroughly, or long, enough – singing two verses of Happy Birthday – to yourself – is a good guideline. Just rinsing your hands under water won’t wash the germs away. They need soap to slide off your skin.
And it isn’t just after visiting the toilet. It is important to wash your hands if you have been handling raw meat and poultry.
Increasingly public toilets have devices to avoid hands touching infected areas. For instance taps that operate when you waving your hand in front of a sensor, another sensor dispenses soap. The new blow driers from Dyson are becoming more common, so are ultraviolet light hand cleaners.
Did you know copper door handles kills MRSA?
Whether or not a recent study suggesting one in six mobile phones contaminated with fecal matter is statistically anomalous, the findings were interesting. Does it mean people use their phones in the loo? It wouldn’t surprise me. I remember a student who had been on work experience had transcribed an audio tape in which she distinctly heard the dictator using the loo. Luckily it was of the watery kind … Her experience had us in stitches!
So, while diarrhoeal disease remains one of the world’s biggest killers in developing countries and handwashing saves lives, here it will help prevent a nasty stomach bug. In the UK it is more likely that children pass on stomach bugs. They have a habit of constantly putting their hands in their mouth, and love to handle pets and all that entails.
Did you know there are wipes available that kill 99% of harmful bacteria?
The Global Handwashing Day website has a lot of very interesting statistics and background information.
So should we really be worried about hygiene? The consensus is yes, but keep it in proportion. Do you agree?
Val Reynolds, Editor
The clocks may have just gone back and the world economy may still be teetering on the brink, but a positive mind and a healthy heart can beat the winter blues, according to Dame Kelly Holmes.
The Olympic legend has been sprinting between Manchester and Liverpool this weekend inspiring over 3,000 locals across four De Vere Village hotels with one clear message: ‘Positivity breeds success’.
A leading psychology academic also believes evidence suggests that winter-induced mood swings can be fixed with a bit of physical activity.
Dame Kelly, who designed De Vere Village’s fitness plans for all ages and fitness levels, believes that people shouldn’t give up on exercise just because the days are getting shorter.
Dame Kelly said: “Times are hard for many people right now, but fitness really is one thing that people should not give up on. It’s not just about the mental kick of looking good, it’s about the energy you have and the happiness you feel as a result. The better you feel, the better you’ll perform in whatever you do – whether it’s a day job or a sports event.
“Most important is a positive attitude. Despite all my injuries I still knew what I wanted to achieve.”
Dr Jason Halford, head of experimental psychology at University of Liverpool, said: “People who exercise are shown to be more motivated and this can help on many levels. Exercise is shown to produce a positive uplift in mood. Given that the ‘winter blues’ are just a bad mood, exercise can elate you to avoid that sense of feeling depressed.
“Obviously people over-consume food or alcohol if they are depressed or have a low mood, so one could argue that things like exercise could elevate people’s mood and make them less likely to indulge in unhealthy behaviours.
“Exercise is one means of reducing stress, it helps with sleep patterns by relieving nervous tension and reducing levels of cortisol – a hormone that can cause heart disease and psychological problems, such as anxiety and depression.”
Gary Davis, chief executive of De Vere Village, said: “Unlike regular hotels, we drive a third of our revenue through our full blown fitness centres with cardio gyms, fitness classes and pools with an average of 4,000 local members at each location. We believe that our clubs are a benefit to the local community and positive fitness for the family definitely improves lives and attitude.”
Dame Kelly added: “My work with De Vere Village is all about inspiring people and getting people in the right space so fitness can make a real difference to themselves. And with the Games less than a year away, there’s no better time. I think it’s absolutely vital that the North takes some of the glory too and doesn’t let London scoop up all the benefits. There are plenty of great things to do, so it’s essential we get sports fans up to Liverpool and Manchester too.”
“Although I grew up on a council estate in Kent, I always had a sense that anything was possible. My Saturdays were spent working in a sweetshop, so being able to spend my weekends inspiring people now and sharing some of the things I’ve learned along the way is fantastic.”
More information please see www.village-fit.com
Kate Campbell says: I have a love hate relationship with exercise. When I haven’t been active for a while the effort of restarting is so huge that it seems impossible to get going again. However, what works for me is to just do a minute one day! Then 2-3 minutes the next, and I generally find (because I am an on/off exercise person) that because I begin to feel better – clearer head, less aching in my limbs, I want to get on with longer sessions. The aim is an hour of course, that’s what I usually achieve – swimming, or walking, or cycling. At the moment it 5 minutes max! But I haven’t had a single headache in the last three days … so I’m off to work on the turbo trainer again today. Don’t know what a turban trainer is? It’s what serious cyclists use to warm up before racing events … I use the one my husband bought to keep exercised during the winter months. It’s the same as an exercise bike really, but I use mine outside in a covered way so I can imagine I’m outdoors! With my iPod I can listen to music, podcasts or best of all brush up on my French with a Teach Yourself French Course! It all works together, I promise you!
Kate Campbell, contributing author.
We jumped on Eurostar, off for a four day visit to Angers. Angers castle, a newly opened nearby botanical theme park, an organic vineyard in the Loire valley close by, and an intriguing oriental garden about an hour’s drive away, were on our must do list.
Angers has space, light and air, courtesy of the wide river Maine that runs through it with its six beautiful bridges.
The massive castle www.angers.monuments-nationaux.fr dominates the city and holds an impressive number of events throughout the year.
Anjou was controlled by the Plantagenets, rulers of England from the twelfth century, and the Hospital of Saint Jean was built in Angers by King Henry II. It currently houses a modern tapestry, Le chant du Monde by Jean Lurçat.
The Thursday market in Anger’s main boulevard had a wonderful selection of fresh fruit and veg without a vestige of plastic baggery in sight.
It was refreshing to meet with dedicated food producers, especially those from the local countryside with products from their own gardens.
We went on to visit a vineyard run on organic principles – see our feature
And then on to Parc Oriental de Maulévrier gardens in 29 hectares first established in 1899 in the grounds of Chateau Colbert where we wandered all afternoon and admired the precisely formed trees and shrubs, known as cloud pruning representing the path to heaven.
On then to the restaurant in the chateau in the grounds, for an excellent meal of a very high culinary standard with a price to match. It was the best meal we had had during our trip. We noticed a decline in the standard of food in French restaurants overall and wondered whether anyone else has. Let us have your comments.
Returning to the gardens after dark, we were given paper lanterns to light our way round the perimeter of the lake which took about an hour. Comprehensive details about the garden are on their website
We visited Terra Botanica, a theme park with natural history and travel at its heart. Opened in spring 2010 it is intended for children to experience the adventures of travellers to exotic places and gains insights into plants, which it does very well. However for the serious gardener it needs to mature, the plants are needing to establish themselves and become part of the landscape. At the moment it has an uncomfortable look of a park needing a lot of attention. Labelling needs to be more in evidence too. There are some quite surprisingly good dynamic events to experience – the most riveting being one devoted to the ‘life’ of a raindrop from its formation in the cloud to its entry into the earth. Be prepared for a ‘moving’ experience, belt yourself well into your seat!
We travelled to Angers via Eurostar to Lille and TGV to Angers. Accommodation and transport information is on the Angers city website.
If you intend hiring a car be sure to read the recent BBC news item regarding hire car scams – forewarned is forearmed.
Val Reynolds Brown Editor
All photography © Pintail Media
Roses planted at the top of each row of vines at Domaine aux Moines, monitor the health of the plants. Black spot and mildew attack roses and vines alike so if either are detected on the roses vineyard owners know it is time to spray – of course only chemicals approved by the French equivalent of our Soil Association
I had tasted some wine from a neighbouring vineyard at a restaurant in Angers a day or so earlier and I was startled by its fresh taste and particularly the aroma, or nose. (I hate using the word bouquet, it seems so affected. Anyway it reminds me of Hyacinth Bucket and all that she stood for!) I was very keen to visit the area where the wine came from and jumped at the chance to taste the Domaine aux Moines wines.
We tasted white wines from Chenin grapes, from several years. Fascinatingly each one differed in flavour and nose. I found them all quite, quite delicious.
To describe wine is difficult for me as I draw back from eulogising in terms of flowers and fruit, nuts etc, but the wine I chose to take away – Cuvee des Nonnes 2007 – did remind me of the scent of Christmas pudding. If you consider the ingredients of that pudding – raisins, nuts, dried fruit, and brandy of course – you may be able to understand my description. It is a mellow wine, reminiscent of a Muscadet, with less sweetness but enough to serve as an aperitif. The Domaine aux Moines website provides food and wine recommendations, very useful indeed.
I realise now I have drunk a lot of indifferent homogenous wines over the years and am really eager to learn more about the differences and the reasons for them. I have to say I think it has a lot to do with the constituents of the soil in which the vines grow. Some years ago now I produced about 100 litres of wine for a family wedding, made from concentrated grape juice of no particular origins other than red grape, and tap water ferried over from Correze. People found it hard to believe I had made it at home in Hertfordshire – it just tasted so ‘French’.
The Domaine aux Moines website gives you a great deal more information about their wines and its production. Much of it is exported to America and Canada, but is available from Les Cave de Pyrene in Guildford UK.
I’m planning another visit to the vineyard in the not so distant future and hope to visit others using the same agriculture biologique methods in the area. We will be encouraging friends and relatives to do the same – we know they will have a great time and be made most welcome.
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
*Located near Savenniére, Domaine aux Moines is about 8 miles west of Angers, France
Autumn feels like it’s well and truly here, and for many, leisure time turns from the great outdoors and holidays to more cultural pursuits. But in an age of cutbacks and belt-tightening, the question is, are the supermarket price wars and the constant sales in the high streets mirrored in the world of the arts? The answer in the main is, I’m afraid, no.
True, the usual theatre discount outlets are still in place. The half-price ticket booth, tkts, in Leicester Square and also now at Brent Cross is a good source for some productions, as are the online sellers www.whatonstage.com and www.lastminute.com/theatre. But they generally only offer reductions on the top-price seats, plus a fairly hefty commission.
And as has been the case for the last few years, the West End is dominated with blockbuster musicals offering seats at eyewatering prices while providing the feel-good factor that comes with an escapist night out. But that feeling of elation is soon quashed when the credit card bill comes.
The top-price seats for mainstream drama in the West End are now also in some cases what I would call prohibitively expensive.
A Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill and starring David Suchet is scheduled to start well into 2012 with top-price seats at £68.50, and is, to my mind surprisingly, selling well already.
True, you don’t have to buy the top-price seats. But as I get older I find it difficult to hear anywhere but quite near the stage and face-on – dare I suggest others might be in the same boat. So we’re caught in a bit of a bind: is it worth paying less for a less than satisfactory night out? But it’s also true that you don’t have to go to the West End for your theatrical entertainment. As I’ve written in these pages before, the National Theatre probably offers the best value for money and the best theatrical content; with many of its plays still part of the wonderful Travelex season, you have the opportunity to see great drama for as little as £12.
Then there are the off-West End productions at theatres such as the Almeida in Islington and the Donmar in Covent Garden which offer seats at much lower prices. But here’s another grumble: both theatres are quite small and invite you to become a member at various levels, which entitles you to priority booking. The cheapest form of membership at the Almeida, for example, is £50. Suffice it to say that if you’re not a member of these theatres, by the time you’re allowed to make your booking many of the productions, especially at the Donmar, are completely sold out. You can’t win!
Luckily, the fringe usually offers wonderful value for money and generally a more unusual night out. Check out the fringe theatres near you, don’t forget the upstairs rooms of local pubs. And of course, there’s always the cinema. Many have now been refurbished and the quality of the image and sound has been greatly enhanced. But, and I’m sure you can guess at what’s coming next, the prices at some cinemas are really quite exhorbitant.
Please allow me just one more rant! My local cinema, the Swiss Cottage Odeon, was shut for a number of months for refurbishment and reopened in September with great fanfare as the new north London Imax venue. It still shows a good variety of films and I must say I was pleasantly surprised on going there during the first week to find that the ticket prices had only risen marginally. That, I’m afraid, didn’t last long – I checked online the other day and they have now nearly doubled less than a month later! They won’t be seeing me there much again. However, the Curzon cinema chain (including the Renoir, the Mayfair, the Soho and the Richmond Curzon) show the best films in London at a very reasonable price in a popcorn free environment. That’s for me!
Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic
A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.
I was inspired by a talk at a Royal Horticultural Show earlier this year about urban greening. We heard about the effect of concreting or bricking over drives and how it affects the movement of rain and how flooding can occur. In fact there are local authority regulations related to the maximum area of any front garden can be covered, you should look at your local county council’s website.
We were shown photographs of gardens before and after and were impressed at how much more interesting drives could look with just a little design and planting.
Being aware and taking action to reduce the risk of flooding to property may even bring insurance premiums down. To find out more about how you can prepare and protect your property from flooding, visit the Environment Agency ‘How can I be prepared?’ web page.
Could urban greening be an advantage to your property? The RHS have a website page with that information, it is in print form as well.
Our drive is paved with gravel between the paving and we have grown thyme from seed and planted it this autumn. Nothing much to see at the moment but we’ll add images next summer to show the difference. Other plants we could use are bugle, thyme serpyllum, creeping jenny.
Common Name: Creeping jenny
Skill Level: Beginner
Exposure: Full sun, Partial shade
Soil type: Well-drained/light, Moist, Boggy
Time to plant seeds: March to May
Time to divide plants: September to May
Flowering period: May to August
Creeping jenny is a useful plant all around the garden. The prostrate, creeping stems make excellent ground cover around pond margins and, being evergreen, are useful for concealing the edges of pond liners. They also infiltrate pondside plants or those growing in a damp border, filling gaps and providing winter interest after other perennials have died down
www.ourfrontgarden.com is an ongoing record of the renovation and care of a front garden in a garden city in the UK.
Val Reynolds, Editor
It has often been suggested that many people could benefit from a gluten-free diet for many reasons. Gluten is a sticky starch (gliadin) found in wheat and related cereals such as barley and rye but absent in rice and other related cereals. Most doctors agree that bowel problems are mainly genetic. Ancient Greeks gave its name, Coeliac.
The problem arises from an immune reaction to an enzyme in the starch, causing an inflammation in the small bowel, damaging the food absorption process.
Symptoms may range from extreme intolerance – excessive tiredness to extreme bowel problems (IBS) – to a barely noticeable effect.
Interestingly tennis player Novak Djokovitch claims his stamina has improved since switching to a gluten-free diet. Djokovitch has sworn off pasta, pizza, beer, French bread, Corn Flakes, pretzels, empanadas, Mallomars and Twizzlers — anything with gluten, since last year. And with the results he achieved in 2011 who’s to say he is wrong!!!
Choco Crispies made by The Groovy Food Company is one of our favourite gluten free breakfast foods. These really are crispy and yummylicious as they describe on the box! Specially made for coeliacs in a totally and utterly dedicated gluten free environment they are free from wheat, dairy, colourings, dodgy additives and sweetened with Agave Nectar.
Others in the range include Cornflakes, Frosted Flakes and Special Flakes made from a maize and rice mix.
We have tried them all and have to confess we liked the Choco Crispies best … we blame our chocolate addiction!
The Groovy Food Company cereal collection is available throughout major multiples and health food stores nationwide and online at: http://www.freefromandfinefoods.co.uk. More information on www.groovyfood.co.uk
The Coeliac UK website gives a great deal more valuable information.
Five years ago I decided to implement a plan that had been brewing in my mind for a long time – to take a group of In Balance readers on a city break and to experience Hungarian thermal spas.
We booked into Hotel Margitsziget on St Margaret’s Island which had its own thermal spa and a range of treatments – many only available with medical approval, although we had the choice of a range of massages and beauty treatments.
Only having three days to visit, we needed to get moving – and fast! For the group briefing we consulted our copies of the excellent Budapest City Guide, generously provided by Bradt travel guides. In constant use every day, the small size made it an ideal travelling companion in pocket or handbag. Update: It is now in its third edition. The maps fold out – great improvement with points of interest numbered and cross referenced. Physically it has doubled in size. Much improved and very, very informative.
One of the first things we learned is that the city is a misnomer. The reality is two cities – Buda and Pest, one each side of the river. With so much to see it was a smart move to arrange a coach tour with a guide. Driving around Buda, we were really very impressed: the historic city has been well restored and, at night, the main buildings are lit giving the city a fairytale backdrop. Great views and a real treat for the photographers.
Across the Danube, Pest was another story altogether. Flat and built up, many of its buildings have a stucco finish which was broken almost everywhere giving the city a tired and run down feel. Work on an extension to the Metro was causing traffic havoc.
Overall, the two cities had a melancholy beauty. Everywhere we saw cruelly pruned trees and piles of rubbish in the streets, awaiting collection.
The people were great though! In our hotel they were really helpful and friendly, although a little shy and slow to approach us at first. But we’d made a great choice for a relaxing base – for example, Lucia, one of the group, quickly forgot which day it was she was so chilled out! The thermal baths were excellent, clean and relaxing.
Interestingly Budapest had become a medical tourism centre, visited by many from the UK for the good value for money dental treatment. (You might like to read our later feature concerning dental treatment abroad). Around the hotel, we got chatting to several visitors from the UK with positive stories to tell about their experiences. Cosmetic surgery and laser eye treatment were popular.
Many of the old state run services, like health, still worked extremely well. Transport was very reliable and easy, with frequent trams, double coach buses, taxis, metro, bikes and river boats, a single ticket system linked all public transport. We found the ticketing regulations complex and struggled at times to travel legally!
Apart from our own hotel, we spent some time in Hotel Gellert – a general cry for coffee and cakes break!
The hotel’s own thermal spa is available to the public with its main bathing hall renovated and opulent. However the women’s changing area was awful – run down and smelly, with unlockable cubicles for your belongings. Bathing in the women’s pool was naked – an experience not to be missed. Or repeated depending on your view! The hot water gushes straight out of the rock and was absolutely wonderful to stand under it and have a good, natural massage on the shoulders, and other parts if you wished of course!
On aspect of nude bathing is that it is a natural leveller and also an educational experience. Never knew there were so many different shapes of parts of the body. Luckily the mixed pool insisted on swimwear. Thank goodness.
But our visit wasn’t all about healthy living! We ate in traditional restaurants and experienced the dated atmosphere, where music was provided generally by violinists and guitar players. Much of the food we found to be overcooked, but the exceptions were the freshly cooked dishes like trout with almonds and the baked salmon we found in a fish restaurant. We also enjoyed Hungarian dishes including hortobagh palatsinta – chicken minced with cream and paprika.
As luck would have it we visited during the Spring Festival, a time of music, dance and theatre. One of our stops was at an outdoor craft market with food stalls – a chance to try some more local snacks! And I was rather taken by a flute seller who played his heart out for us.
Organisational problems were few except when a couple somehow got separated from the main group, twice. So I quickly learnt how it important it was to always check mobile phones will work in the country you are visiting!
Well that was six years ago. It would be interesting to revisit and compare experiences. We would go later in the year, probably early April when it would be a good deal warmer, brighter and more conducive to joining in the city’s famous cafe society habit of people watching.
We stayed at the Danubuis Hotel Margitsziget on St Margaret’s Island www.danubiushotels.com
An informative website is www.gotohungary.co.uk
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
This opportunity of supporting a charity and helping to save a rare vegetable variety under threat of extinction will appeal to many gardeners with a sense of history and future preservation of vegetable varieties, especially if they grow plants from seed.
Britain’s leading organic growing charity, Garden Organic, offers the perfect green gift by encouraging people to Adopt a Veg.
The organisation looks after over 800 varieties of rare and heirloom vegetables in its Heritage Seed Library (HSL), and is offering people the chance to adopt one of these vulnerable varieties through it’s Adopt a Veg scheme, preventing them from becoming extinct.
For over thirty years the charity has been campaigning to save Britain’s traditional vegetable varieties, which are threatened by commercial pressures and EU red tape, and argues that some of these varieties may save us from a world food shortage.
Garden Organic’s head of the Heritage Seed Library, Sandra Slack, explains: “Without maintaining a range of vegetable varieties there is a very real threat to our food supply. Diversity of varieties means crops are less likely to fall foul of pests and diseases on a massive scale, and with a changing climate this can only become more and more important.
“Believe it or not the Victorians once grew 120 different tall garden pea varieties, but today, due to a range of pressures, only one tall pea variety remains. Many rare vegetable species have unique characteristics that make them suitable for growing in a wide range of conditions. We need to ensure we are not relying on one or two main varieties for our food source.”
By Adopting a Veg you can contribute to protecting these varieties, you will also be helping to protect the biodiversity of our planet. It costs just £20 and will help to pay for seed handling, storage and propagation facilities, as well as the staff needed to look after the ever-expanding collection.
You will receive a certificate of adoption for one year, background information on your adopted variety and a gift card designed by artist-in-residence, Lesley Davis. Most importantly you will have the personal satisfaction that you are helping to keep alive part of the UK’s precious vegetable heritage.
To Adopt a Veg visit http://www.adoptaveg.org/or call 02476 308210 to choose from their extensive list.