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What is it about chilli that polarises opinion?

Supermarket chillies

Supermarket chillies

A quick survey of friends and colleagues showed that more men than women like chilli.

Some men were quite adventurous and consumed meat dishes containing large amounts of chilli. We wondered whether there would be any taste in the dish apart from chilli, so why such a volume?

We guessed it might be the endorphins that are stimulated, so chilli gives a kick, or perhaps it’s something else …

Another question is what positive benefits are there to be gained?

Searching Google with chilli+stomach we found:

  • Chili stomach ache
  • Chili stomach cancer
  • Chili stomach ulcer
  • Ghost chili stomach pain
  • Chilli and stomach ulcerts
  • Stomach pain from chilli
  • Stomach pain after chilli
  • Chilli burning stomach
  • Chilli and stomach cancer

We didn’t go any further.

We then entered chilli+stomach+healthy and found many websites with advice for all kinds of ills, including cancer, from all kinds of self-appointed experts.

So, what should the discerning enquirer do?

Our advice is to follow the old adage of a little of everything does you good and, if you like chilli make sure you which find out which are the most reliable websites to refer to.

Websites providing reliable health information we recommend are: is a website where you can pay to talk to a doctor direct

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Love and Loss – Winnie and Claire Part



Winnie’s Woes  Written from Winnie’s point of view

I really enjoyed the walk we went on yesterday, it was so lovely going out in the snow, the hill looked really pretty and everything smelled so different!

Oh, we’re going out again – yay. Hope it’s a nice walk.

Oh, my bed and bowls are coming, that must mean we’re going away somewhere for the night – how exciting! Off we go.

We must be here already. I wonder where we are, it seems familiar somehow … I can smell dogs – lots of other dogs!

Hello hello, nice lady. Let me in, I can smell lots of dogs here. Where am I? Ah, she’s making a nice fuss of me. And Claire seems to know her well. I do kind of remember this place but I don’t know why.  They’re letting me into the back room – my goodness so many dog beds. Who do these belong to? They all smell so nice, and they look comfy. Where does this go? An outside door, I can hear dogs the other side! Wait, where has Claire gone? The lady is back, great she’s letting me out into the garden. Hello dogs! Yes, I am very friendly and so are all of you!  And you all look like me!  If Claire were here it would be perfect. I must be here on holiday or something. It’s so much fun being with the other dogs.

Claire takes over the story:
This day was one of the hardest of my life. Giving my dog up after five happy years together was a heart wrenching decision to come to and even harder to carry out. After I dropped her at Pat’s, I cried for about three days. My beautiful little daughter Anna, kept me going but even now, years later I still miss Winnie.

I’d bought Winnie as a puppy from Pat, she had the most beautiful temperament right from the off. A gregarious, fun loving dog who always thought everyone was her friend and should love her as much as she loved them!

I loved the outdoors and going out for long walks together with Anna in the back carrier. You couldn’t wear Winnie out, she would happily keep walking as long as you could keep going. Over time, things started to get harder with Winnie. She needed a lot of exercise and thrived being in company. I was living alone with my then 2 year old daughter and  was having to work almost full time to ensure I had enough money coming in to support us.

I started off by taking Winnie to work, but that was difficult to manage. Then I organised for a walker to come in and spend time with her each day, but the costs mounted up and I also had to put her into kennels whenever we went over to France to visit my parents. I felt increasingly bad about poor Winnie, such a sweet natured dog who just wanted to be outdoors and spend time with people, I was worried she was becoming stressed.

I decided that I had to put her first after a long and upsetting conversation with my sister in law. She’d had to give up her two little dogs after moving to London so knew what it was like, but you can’t selfishly keep a dog when you can’t be with them all day, especially one like Winnie who was so clearly at her happiest in company.

Winnie also reacted badly to a tantrum Anna had, shaking and putting her tail between her legs. Although she’d always loved Anna, now Anna was finding her voice, Winnie wasn’t so happy about the racket! So I contacted Pat to ask her advice about Winnie. Together we decided that it would be best for Winnie to go, and Pat said she would love to have her back.

Within days I was at Pat’s house, dropping Winnie off. At the time it all seemed alarmingly quick, but there didn’t seem any point in delaying and actually it was better to get it over with. I knew I’d made the right decision when I arrived and saw Winnie go into Pat’s house as if she was coming home!

Pat and I have kept in touch over the last few years and I’ve taken Winnie out for walks and been to Pat to meet Winnie’s puppies. It’s been lovely to see her so happy and content and she’s made a brilliant mum, bringing into the world more wonderful dogs to make more people happy. It really couldn’t have worked out better, although I still miss her so much and I often wish I could have her back! Pat has always kindly kept it open so if I was in a position to, Winnie could come home. Unfortunately for me, it hasn’t worked out that way, but for Winnie it’s all worked out perfectly.

This month, Winnie goes into retirement. She raised her last litter of puppies and is now moving on to live with a lady who’s other dog (another one of Pat’s!)is getting old. Winnie will make another person very happy, and that is something to be thankful for.


Winnie, a wonderful mother

Winnie, a wonderful mother

As a responsible breeder I always take back any puppies/adults who can no longer stay with their original owners.  Some reasons (as in Winnie’s case) are genuine – others, quite frankly, are frivolous.  One puppy was returned because she kept eating their daughter’s underwear!  Another because she pooed too much!  A third because she wouldn’t retrieve a tennis ball.  Can you believe it?

However, when Winnie arrived it soon became obvious that she would just have to stay.  She is so lovely to look at and her temperament second to none.  Winnie loved the other dogs and they happily accepted her.

Claire and I discussed breeding from Winnie and Claire felt she would make a lovely mother – she was right.  However, before breeding could be considered Winnie needed to have her eyes checked, her hips X-Rayed and her elbows as well.  All those tests came back with excellent results and we were good to go. Winnie has now had three litters and her breeding days are over.  She made THE best mother, not only to her own puppies, but to all puppies born here – as the photo shows.  These are not Winnie’s puppies, but their own mother was fed up with them.

Winnie now has one more good deed to do.  My good friend Christine is a very fit 70 year old and her present Golden Retriever is 14 years old.  As the inevitable is just around the corner, Winnie is going to live with Christine to help her through something that she is already dreading.  I’m sure Winnie’s endless supply of love and fun will help a lonely lady when the sad time comes.  Winnie will live out her days with Christine, who will return her devotion ten fold.


It’s marmalade making time!

Seville oranges

Seville oranges

Seville oranges you can use to make marmalade at home are in the shops now.

If you love marmalade, there is absolutely nothing like making your own. You can make it as sweet or as sharp, as thin or as thick as you desire. In the past I have used prepared tinned seville oranges which was good, but making it from scratch is a job that rewards you every time.

Equipment needed:

  • A preserving pan is ideal but not essential, a large saucepan that will take at least one and a half kilos of fruit and three kilos of sugar will do.
  • A long wooden spoon, essential to avoid hot spits of marmalade when coming up to a full rolling boil.

    Marmalade simmering

    Marmalade simmering

  • A sharp knife. This year I used one of my very sharp Novelli knives which did the job but after a while the handle slipped as my hands became wetter and wetter with juice. So I used my new Kitchen Devils Kitchen Scissors – see lefthand side of magnetic knife bar below. They did the job pretty well, the serrated blades really made quick work of slicing the peel, not quite as symmetrical as using a knife, but I didn’t develop aches nor sore fingers from the repetitive job. The handles have a soft touch grip, preventing slipping. The scissors are designed for both left and right handed users. They are dishwasher proof and guaranteed for 15 years.

    Magnetic knife bar

    Magnetic knife bar

  • A jam thermometer is useful but not essential but gives reassurance if you are worried about whether the marmalade is ready to pot. A temperature of 105C/220F is recommended in a recipe I found on the BBC website.

Shopping List:

  •  1.5 kg bag of Seville oranges from Sainsburys
  • Granulated sugar 
  • Lemons – only use unwaxed fruit
  • A small piece of muslin and some string

There are many recipes on the web, from Delia to James Martin to Nigel Slater which look reliable. I  use a recipe I’ve had for years and which is now done by eye I’m so familiar with it. I made three batches to provide us with enough marmalade to last about a year plus some small jars to giveaway. I added 1-2 tbspns of brown sugar to one batch to give it a tawny look and slightly different flavour. Don’t add any more than that, on one occasion when I added a generous amount to a batch of rhubarb jam it tasted like chutney!

Control Kitchen Knife in use

Control Kitchen Knife in use

The Kitchen Devils Kitchen Scissors are available online at Amazon and at Asda, Lakeland, Morrisons, The Range and independent cook stores nationwide.

Kate Campbell, A self taught cook who loves preserving fruit and vegetables 


Alexander McCall Smith – Short Stories – Train Related

The Flying Scotsman

The Flying Scotsman

Long since a fan of Alexander McCall Smith and especially his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, we were delighted to find five short stories written on a promotional page of the East Coast train website.

Entitled The Flying Scotsman, Trainspotting, The way the world used to be, Classical Landscape with train, and Brief Encounter we consumed them slowly, savouring the turn of phrase and delectable irony. Hmm, more please!

Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith


Traces Remain

Anyone approaching this collection of twenty-five articles, spanning over twenty years, would do well to consider Nicholls’ own observation : “ … I have always found the details of History more interesting, or anyway more evocative, than the larger perspectives of History.” Nicholls writes of real historical evidence: primary evidence, bits and pieces of detail; the reports of eyewitnesses.

His reputation as an historical detective, established by his work on Christopher Marlowe, Leonardo da Vinci and Shakespeare, is further enhanced by this essay collection. The worlds he writes of are not just brought to life. They are entirely reconstructed through his imagination, using the very evidence he refers to: the traces that remain.

As with most collections, there are some pieces which absorb less than others.  There are articles which might well be classified as extended travel writing, for example.  However, at least half of the pieces show his forensic skills at their finest. Shakespeare and Ben Jonson re-emerge; Nicholl takes a fresh look at Jack the Ripper;  a “four in a bed” scandal, involving visiting Frenchmen, from 1613 is re-examined;  and he asks what really happened to the famous English alchemist who disappeared in Bohemia in the late sixteenth century.

Sometimes idiosyncratic, but always highly readable, the bulk of this collection both entertains and satisfies.

Traces Remain by Charles Nicholl Published by Allen Lane   ISBN : 978 0 713 99494 0

Reviewed by Les Tucker Les enjoyed a teaching career in Further and Higher Education, moving from English to leading a Drama and Performing Arts Department. He studied Spanish History at University and still lists History as one of his main interests. He has never stopped being a trainspotter and wears his anorak with pride. His other sources of pleasure, if not profit, are the Turf, the British brewing industry and experimental theatre. Les is a scriptwriter and drama examiner. He describes himself as an omnivore where books are concerned.


Vanished Kingdoms

This is an almost impossibly enjoyable volume, which purports to discuss fifteen past European states as the basis of a reflection on the impermanence of things, and the dangers of interpreting the past through the eyes of the present.

Such is the entertaining approach taken by Davies, showing no reluctance to quote from internet sites, guidebooks and secondary sources, that the central thesis becomes almost irrelevant  as he charges through a series of essays which are full of unexpected observations and stories.   How many spectators at an “Old Firm” football match in Glasgow would be aware of the Strathclyde Kingdom which founded their city ?  How many flag-wavers at this year’s Diamond Jubilee will reflect on the fortunes of the royal house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha?  The Windsors have successfully airbrushed their German origins.   Do wine-lovers know that there  were at least fifteen versions of Burgundy?  (And that is not counting the fictional state in “Passport to Pimlico”!).

This is a work of great scholarship and strong opinion.  It is full of insight and no little humour.  If it remains the sum of its parts, who will argue?  For, where else would we learn, for example, that it once looked as if the empire of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania would last for all time.  Norman Davies makes a convincing and thought provoking case for studying the fortunes of states which no longer feature in modern history.

Vanished Kingdoms written by Norman Davies
Published by Penguin – to read an extract go to the Penguin website

Reviewed by Les Tucker
Les enjoyed a teaching career in Further and Higher Education, moving from English to leading a Drama and Performing Arts Department. He studied Spanish History at University and still lists History as one of his main interests. He has never stopped being a trainspotter and wears his anorak with pride. His other sources of pleasure, if not profit, are the Turf, the British brewing industry and experimental theatre. Les is a scriptwriter and drama examiner. He describes himself as an omnivore where books are concerned.


The Girl on the Cliff

This is by no means lightweight romantic fiction.  The Girl on the Cliff  rumbles in at well over 500 pages, and what a well plotted piece of storytelling it is.

Novels, where the female characters sport names like “Aurora” and “Grania”,  and the man is known as “Matt”, usually carry built-in health warnings.  Lucinda Riley has, however, constructed an intricate plot, linking wartime London and contemporary Ireland.  The story largely revolves around a secret (which I may not reveal) from 1914, which is disguised until late in the novel.  Aurora, who is the narrator, has lost her mother, and Grania is a sculptor, and let us say that they discover a family connection.

There are familiar themes here: the triumph of hope over loss; romance; a foundling; a missing brother; but the writer skilfully steers her story between past and present with energy and freshness.

The narration is very occasionally irritating – it seems as if the reader is being told how to react or feel, but the only real weakness is some perfunctory characterisation of the minor players. Take the Russian dance teacher, for example.  Not only is she burdened with the title of Princess Astafieva, but she is also made to pronounce (a Sobranie to hand, of course): “Zen we shall put on some music and see how the leetle one respond.”    A minor criticism, I admit, and although the device of the past returning to invade the present may not be another Atonement, this novel is good, hearty storytelling.   If this is “Chick Lit” then count me in!

Girl on the Cliff is written by Lucinda Riley
Published by Penguin ISBN: 978 0 241 95497 3

Reviewed by Les Tucker
Les enjoyed a teaching career in Further and Higher Education, moving from English to leading a Drama and Performing Arts Department. He studied Spanish History at University and still lists History as one of his main interests. He has never stopped being a trainspotter and wears his anorak with pride. His other sources of pleasure, if not profit, are the Turf, the British brewing industry and experimental theatre. Les is a scriptwriter and drama examiner. He describes himself as an omnivore where books are concerned.


Black Shuck (The Devil’s Dog)

This is a very spooky tale about the North East coast of Norfolk, to be precise, the area round Blakeney and Cley. We know the area reasonably well, having spent many days wandering in the area, and can vouch for its spookiness in bad weather, though none as awful as described!

Nature film maker Harry Lambert, has just lost his best mate in a filming accident and returns home to find that his wife has left him for another man. Urgently needing peace and solitude, he books a cottage in Blakeney for a few days bird-watching, or so he thinks. While there, he gets to meet the locals and finds that they have a lot in common, such as a love of nature. From there he goes to see the seals on Blakeney Spit. He finds a strangely mauled seal and reports it to the warden. Since, by this time he has to leave the cottage he is staying in (his room is booked for someone else), and spots the lonely Customs watch house (currently used as a hostel) on the spit, which he thinks it could be the ideal spot for peace, solitude and reflection and moves in. Needless to say he gets only one of his expectations!

Well into the class of Stephen King and Conan Doyle (Hound of the Baskervilles); it seems strange that so many of this type of story involve mad dogs/wolves/rats! We never hear of mad horses for instance! I suppose these tales reflect our deepest fears, which could be why we like them!

Very good, but don’t read late at night!

Black Shuck (The Devil’s Dog) Written by Piers Warren  
Published by Wild Eye £7.99 ISBN 978-1-905843-01-5

Reviewed by John C Reynolds

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