Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Upfront & Personal’ Category


How to Get Money for Nothing!

New website iMember encourages UK consumers to ‘remember you’re a member’

We all have memberships of one sort or another - do you have a list?

We all have memberships of one sort or another – do you have a list?

The UK may have avoided a triple dip recession but in these tough economic times many of us are relying on cashback offers, online discounts and voucher codes to save money on everyday items. So why do so many membership offers and deals go unclaimed? It is simply because we don’t know they exist.

Remember you’re a member!
Motoring organisations, trade unions, gyms, clubs, alumni bodies, professional societies, and even newspapers and banks offer thousands of rewards and benefits that most of us never use.

“Only after paying for tickets and attending an exhibition at the Royal Academy, I found out that as a Barclays Premier customer I could have got in free,” said Richard Brown, Founder of iMember. “and as a member of so many other organisations, I realised that there was a whole world of benefits out there of which I had little or no knowledge at all.”

iMember is a revolutionary new website that makes it easier than ever for UK consumers to claim the many benefits to which they are legally entitled – and it’s completely free of charge!

Developed with the everyday consumer in mind, iMember changes the way people use the entitlements they have as members of clubs, societies, unions, and professional bodies, as well if they subscribe to motoring organisations, gyms, banks, newspapers and more. And if you were going to buy a product or service anyway – it makes sense to know how much money you could save.

iMember will help you get the most out of your subscriptions. It reminds you when you are entitled to a discount or a special offer because you have joined an organisation or subscribed to something great. Just tell iMember what you belong to and it’ll tell you what benefits you should be enjoying – simple as that.

Nero has a popular system of rewards using their stamp a card scheme - Seems this chap can't wait for his fix!

Nero has a popular system of rewards using their stamp a card scheme – Seems this chap can’t wait for his fix!

Using the service will become even easier this summer when the iMember app is launched for both iPhone and Android smartphones. Consumers can get the best deals whilst on the move and never again miss out on discounts that are rightfully theirs.

Membership deals offer money for nothing; you just have to remember you’re a member. And that’s where iMember comes in. Bear in mind  all these reductions reflect a lower profit margin for the organisations. Seemingly a good investment if they attract regular, faithful followers. Do you have coffee shop cards? I do!

Currently in Beta mode the website is free to register … have a look you might have a lot of fun!

Val Reynolds, Editor


Facelift Gone Wrong? Bodged Botox? Lumpy Liposuction?

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 21.00.31

Should I tell her? Part of the frieze round The Meeting at St Pancras

I would guess most women have thought about having a beauty enhancementat some time in their lives. Certainly when my throat started to look a bit turkey like it occurred to me. But the idea of something going wrong has kept me from venturing into that land of uncertainty.

However, with people like Katherine Whitehorn advocating it and most celebrities looking unnaturally young, I do occasionally yearn to join them.

Then there are the naysayers – it will make you look stretched, your mouth will look odd, your eyes will go awry, all kinds of warnings. Did you watch Last Chance Salon? The unbearable results of procedures that went wrong are miraculously righted by experts in the field.

A second series is in the making and the search for suitable disastrous case studies is on.

image001Have you had disastrous plastic surgery or a beauty treatment you need help fixing for free?  Maverick TV are making “Last Chance Salon” with world renowned experts in beauty for the face, hair or body and we can help you put it right.  Has your plastic surgery left you physically and emotionally scarred?  Do you have a terrible trout pout or bodged botox?  Or did a trip to the hairdressers leave you with the hairstyle from hell?  Maybe it’s a DIY beauty fix which has left you unhappy and wishing you’d gone to the professionals?  Our world renowned cosmetic surgeon, award winning hairdresser and skin doctor to the stars are waiting to hear from you. This is one beauty appointment you can’t afford to miss.

Email or call 0121 224 8439 for a confidential and no obligation informal chat.

Val Reynolds, Editor


Preparing to Move House

deposit letter IMG_0636 - Version 2Moving house is a traumatic event, or at least it has been for us, and we haven’t even moved yet!

First stage was to have the house assessed by a surveyor of our choice. He reassured us our concerns were nothing to worry about and gave us advice about what he thought we could do to make the most of the best features of the house. So all those little things we kept putting off like settlement cracks were dug out and filled, the chimney was repointed, the conservatory roof cleaned, plasterwork repaired, decorating throughout, carpet cleaning and, best of all … an oven clean! Yes, I recommend it to anyone who has let their oven become an overwhelming task. I only wish I had had it done earlier, the new house owner will benefit from it more than me.

So now we have an exceptionally clean, bright, and rather attractive house to sell. Ah, but what about clearing out all that stuff we have accumulated over the years – there are even boxes of stuff we brought with us that have never been opened since we moved in and there are some from previous houses! That’s where I found some 70’s clothes I couldn’t bring myself to throw away.

deposit letter IMG_2521We heard of an organisation called Freegle. We just announced on the website items we would like to give away, chose whoever we thought would benefit best from them. The items were collected and lo and behold our garage, loft and cupboards were cleared in just a few weeks. So all is now neat, clean and tidy … a bit of a job to keep it that way.

I did hold back some stuff I thought might sell on eBay. Being an eBay virgin it took me time to get into what seemed to be endless pages of How to Instructions.

I gradually eased my way in … by buying rather a lot of stuff! Oh well, I’ve now successfully sold a perfectly functioning camera, a kitchen shredder and some clothes. The clothes seem to go for peanuts, but the camera and shredder sold for decent amounts.

We’ll be writing more about eBay experiences in the near future.

In the meantime we’re off again to view more houses. Having had two refusals of our offers we are a bit sensitive to rejection, but ever travelling hopefully we will continue to offer what we think each house is worth to us.

Next step, sell our house.

Val Reynolds, Editor


Reading on the Gym Treadmill!

Having become rather bored with the MTV screen at the gym I tried reading while on the treadmill. Magazines printed on shiny paper reflected too much light for me to read very much and the type size meant I had to hold it to be able to read it.

Then I hit on the idea of getting large print books from the library. The choice was limited to several hundred in the usual classifications. I read all the biographies I liked the look of – many were excellent but most were not very well written. I went through the fiction fairly quickly too. However, reading as I exercised worked – on one occasion I had set the timer for an hour and I read an Agatha Christie thriller – at one point the machine seemed to judder and looking at the readout I had reached cool down. The hour and a half had passed very very quickly.

I was addicted! But then I ran out of books to read! I hit on the idea of music to listen to which I hoped would keep my speed up and make me smile! So I bought an ipod shuffle. A dinky little thing that I can transfer music from my cds/dvds, via my computer. I was set up with some of my favourite Elton John and Queen. Joy!

Then I discovered talking books. There are hundreds to choose from at the local library! But what to choose? The same problem I had choosing fiction surfaced again. Anyway I chose a book at random – short stories by Walter Mosley. Absolutely fantastic. So good that when I woke up in the middle of the night I continued to listen which sent me to sleep, eventually. The next problem to be solved was extraneous noise – the noise in the gym makes it difficult to hear all the recording, low notes especially so I looked for headphones to cut all that out.

Here are some of the books I found on the Naxos Spoken Word List:

O. Henry

  1. Classic American Short Stories (unabridged)
    More Classic American Short Stories (unabridged)
    Great Ghost Stories (unabridged)

Edward Ferrie
The Clumsy Ghost and Other Spooky Tales (unabridged)
Tales from the Greek Legends (unabridged)
More Tales from the Greek Legends (unabridged)
Tales from the Norse Legends (unabridged)

I’m a fan of Guy de Maupassant and was pleased to see Great Ghost Stories (unabridged) and Normandy Stories (selections)

Sadly there are no recordings of Somerset Maughan’s work, maybe in the near future, I think he is one of the most entertaining short story writers I have ever read.

Audio books are a really good ‘listen’ rather than printed versions, that help pass away that tedious time on the treadmill or other mechanical device in the gym when there is nothing to do but think about your problems, last night’s tv viewing and trying to avoid listening/watching some of the mindless stuff on the gym screens.

To help you choose a recording you can listen to short excerpts on the Naxos Spoken Word List before you buy. All the recordings are available on iTunes.

Peaches Lonsdale Contributing author


Buying a Bra … An amusing take on a simple(?) purchase

No man – unless he’s Gok Wan – can be expected to understand about bras. It seems that I’m not very good at it myself despite many years of experience. It all seems perfectly simple. You start with the measurement around your ribcage, and then add on to that various letters of the alphabet to indicate the volume of the breasts concerned. What’s hard about that?

Frankly, when you compare it to the identifying names and numbers of the different models of certain cars, it seems a doddle. The difference, I suppose, is that there’s no compulsion on men to get their heads around bra measurements whereas obviously if they’re thinking of investing in a new car, no amount of time is too great to be spent studying magazines and listening intently to the latest pronouncements by badly dressed men on BBC TV.

Some time, when I’ve nothing better to do, I might compile a list of The Things That Would Be Different If Men Had To Do Them. The trouble is that that list always starts with Having Babies, and every woman who’s ever given birth wants to be included in that discussion.

Meanwhile, returning to the subject of bras, does anyone out there find that she can just go into a shop, take what she thinks is the appropriately sized bra off the hanger, and go away happy? The last time I tried choosing bras off a hanger was in M&S and (with no disrespect intended to Marks as they’re no worse than any other retailer and do at least have a huge variety of styles), I took, in stages, ten bras, each one supposedly of about the same size, into the fitting room – and not one fitted. If anyone thinks I was being fussy, think again. When I say they didn’t fit, what I mean was that in many cases they couldn’t even be fastened around my ribcage while others were so loose they fell down to my waist. A few could be done up, but the accommodation for my breasts was about half what was needed so just a fraction of the essential me was contained inside the cup, the rest bulging out in all directions. Once, I put one on and sighed with pleasure as it felt so comfortable. This was the one! The band felt secure, my bosom fitted nicely inside the cup, this was perfect! I put my T shirt on over the top and looked in the mirror, and couldn’t see my bust! I looked like a rather podgy man. I looked down – no breasts in the place where they usually lived! When I took off the T shirt I realised they’d sidled around into my armpits where they sat, looking smug and comfortable but more like lumps of dough than objects of beauty.

Then there’s the question of the wires. Can you actually imagine any man wearing a garment containing wires? It just wouldn’t happen, would it? The fact is that wearing wires is doomed. It’s inevitably going to produce problems and discomfort, at the very least. I can almost feel sorry for the designers as the infinite variety of women’s figures makes it next to impossible to design a wire that will fit all comfortably. If it sits happily under the breast, you can be sure that the ends will poke sharply into the soft area between them, or into the flesh under the armpit.

But let’s suppose for a moment that you’ve found the perfect bra, which fits comfortably and just as the designer intended. What could go wrong now?

Well, for a start, let’s grapple with the vexed topic of nipples. Who was it that decreed that women should be assumed to be nipple-less in public? Men too have nipples. Are they bombarded with advice on how to avoid them being visible under their clothes? Are there little nipple-shields for men to be worn under T shirts? I think not. But women are programmed to believe that their nipples must lead a double life, rather like spies; invisible most of the time, before springing into action when the situation demands.

This means that a seam has to be inserted across the cup so as to conceal the nipple, but because no seam is ever going to be totally smooth like skin, any garment worn over the bra is going to reveal little lumps and puckers of fabric, each one looking from outside remarkably like – a nipple! This will attract an interested audience of men trying to decide which little lump is actually the nipple (no, I don’t know why either), or of women criticizing your choice of bra.

As if this wasn’t enough to spoil the appearance of your clothes, we next have the innate idiocy of some designers/buyers. Does a bra really need to be made more feminine? By its nature, it can’t be much else, but how many manufacturers insist on adding tiresome bows or miniature roses? You put on your slinky new top over your deliciously pretty and flattering new bra, but nobody is going to think how nice/sexy you look as their eyes will be drawn to the bizarre construction whose outline is deforming the fabric between your breasts. What has she got tucked down there? A hamster? A sandwich in case she feels a bit peckish later?

At least these days they make bras which mould the breasts into relatively normal, rounded shapes, unlike those of the 1950s which contorted the bosom into something which looked as if it should be contained in an armaments storeroom. The only exceptions nowadays are sports bras, which still produce a scarily aggressive silhouette. Whenever I drive to the gym I half expect the police to stop me for possessing offensive weapons!

So, is there an alternative? I don’t know how many women of the 60’s really did burn their bras, never to return to wearing one. I suspect very few did, because the average natural bosom, left unsupported, doesn’t produce an attractive shape underneath clothes, and certainly doesn’t help if you’re running for a train. Some women wear crop tops underneath loose and flowing clothes, but this won’t do if you work in a formal office, particularly if you work in the City where the attributes of female staff seem to require as much studying as the year-end results of multi-national companies. Is there an answer? I wish I knew.

Do get in touch if you have an answer!
Janet Hamer, Guest contributor
Imagery: © Pintail

Know the Strategies of a Rapist to Keep Safe

A group of serial rapists in prisons were interviewed to discover what they looked for in a potential victim:

Hairstyle  A woman with a ponytail, bun, braid or other hairstyle can be easily grabbed. Rapists are more likely to go after a woman with long hair. Women with short hair are not common targets.

Clothing Rapists look for a woman whose clothing is easy to remove quickly. Many carry scissors to cut clothing.

Mobile phones Women on their mobile ‘phone, searching through their handbag or doing other activities while walking because they are off guard, can be easily overpowered.

Favourite locations include car parks of shops and offices, blocks of garages and around public toilets and, as we know, wooded paths

Rapists are looking to grab a woman and quickly move her to a second location where they don’t have to worry about getting caught. If you put up any kind of a fight at all, they are likely to get discouraged, because it only takes a minute or two to realise that going after you isn’t worth it – it will be too time consuming

This group of rapists said they would not pick on women with umbrellas, or similar objects that can be used from a distance, in their hands. Keys are not a deterrent because you have to get really close to the attacker to use them as a weapon. So, the idea is to convince these men you’re not worth it.

Defence mechanisms

If someone is following behind you on a street or in a garage or are with you in an elevator or stairwell, look them in the face and ask them a question like What time is it? Or make general small talk about the weather. Now you’ve seen their face and could identify them in a line-up, you lose appeal as a target.

If someone is coming towards you, hold out your hands in front of you and yell ‘Stop’ or ‘Stay back’. Most of the rapists spoken to said they’d leave a woman alone if she yelled or showed that she would not be afraid to fight back. Again they are looking for an EASY target.

If someone grabs you, you can’t beat them with strength, but you can by outsmarting them. If you are grabbed around the waist from behind, pinch the attacker  in the upper inner thigh – HARD. If you are grabbed round the chest pinch under the arm between the elbow and armpit. Try pinching yourself in those places as hard as you can stand it; it hurts. After the initial hit, always go for the groin. You might think that you’ll anger the man and make him want to hurt you more, but the thing these rapists told the interviewers is that they want a woman who will not cause a lot of trouble. Start causing trouble and they’re out of there.

If the man puts his hand up to you, grab his first two fingers and bend them back as far as possible with as much pressure pushing down on them as possible.

Practice some of these defences with a girlfriend – it will give you both confidence.

In conclusion, always be aware of your surroundings, take someone with you if you can. If you see any odd behaviour, don’t dismiss it, go with your instincts. You may feel a bit silly at the time, but you’d feel much worse if the guy really was trouble.

Rape is something that you may think will never happen to you. We hope it never does. Don’t take chances. Obviously it is best never to put yourself in the situation where you could be attacked.

So ALWAYS be part of a group or at least have a companion with you

NEVER EVER walk alone in the dark in poorly lit areas

ALWAYS have emergency money kept separately from your purse for taxi fares or to contact friends or family

CHECK your mobile is charged and topped up before you leave home

NEVER accept a lift from someone you don’t know or only know slightly

STAY SOBER if you know you might get separated from companions at a popular event

Rape is: demeaning, confidence destroying, has long lasting effects, you could be infected with STDs, you may be injured

I Have Life

I Have Life

A chilling but compulsive read is I Have Life, The true story of Alison who was raped, stabbed and left for dead. A book most women would find an interesting and instructive read.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Beware Dr Google – The dangers of self diagnosis on the web

© Pintail Media

© Pintail Media

One in four British women has misdiagnosed themselves on the internet – then bought the wrong product in an attempt to cure themselves, a study revealed yesterday.

Researchers found Dr Google is now the first port of call for women with genuine health concerns who are almost twice as likely to check online before consulting a doctor or even talking to Mum. A trend towards trusting the internet over friends, family and medical professionals meant half of the 1,000 women studied would first try to treat an ailment themselves rather than risk embarrassment. But searching their symptoms online and self-medicating has led a tenth of the country’s women to endure unpleasant side effects as a result of their misdiagnosis.

The research, which was commissioned by feminine health brand Balanceactiv found a quarter of British women will trust the internet for advice on treatments if they find their symptoms embarrassing.

Penny McCormick, spokeswoman forBalance Activ said yesterday: ”There is an increasing trend towards using the internet to diagnose any irregularities or worries we have about our bodies.

”The web gives us a wealth of information that can be useful in reducing our worries until we’re able to gain proper advice from a medical authority if it’s needed, but the results show how easy it is to make mistakes when diagnosing ourselves.

”It’s important we learn which information to trust online and that we’re able to make the distinction between what can be self-diagnosed and easily treated, and what definitely requires the help of a medical professional.

“What can seem like a relatively harmless but embarrassing symptom could develop into something more serious so it is important for women to ensure they are asking the right questions and treating certain conditions effectively in the first instance.”

Carving on 15th century font  © Pintail Media

Carving on 15th century font © Pintail Media

The study was carried out to mark National BV Day on 18th April – which aims to raise awareness of Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) – a condition that is almost twice as prevalent as thrush that 2 out of 3 women are misdiagnosing. If left untreated BV has been linked to some serious health implications including an increased risk in contracting STIs, infertility and miscarriage if present during pregnancy. The report also found despite having diagnosed themselves online and decided on a high street treatment, 45 per cent never check they are buying the right thing with a pharmacist or counter staff.

The agonising wait for answers is what drives thirty per cent of women to look for help online, while one in ten hesitate to tell friends or family of any health problems because they don’t want the issue to be ‘made into a fuss’. Tellingly, three quarters of the 1,000 women said there are certain health issues they aren’t comfortable talking to friends and family about. Indeed, women are more likely to trust their own diagnosis when embarrassed by their symptoms – half of the study would always try to deal with the problem themselves before seeking help from others. Over a quarter of respondents dread talking to doctors about anything they are embarrassed about.

Most women had spent a few days worrying over symptoms before speaking to anyone, while a worry-stricken third of the sample had endured at least two weeks sweating over an ailment. Remarkably, one in twenty women said they had spent a number of years worrying a particular symptom was something serious before eventually getting it checked out. Because of waiting times, thirty per cent only visit the doctor as a last resort, while half of the women studied said they would always try all they can to cure themselves and only seek medical advice if the problem didn’t go away.

The symptoms most likely to prompt women to diagnose themselves are problems sleeping, headaches and depression, while muscle pain, itching and fatigue regularly cause women to consult Dr Google. A fifth of women had at some time suspected they had a serious disease – the most common false alarm came over breast cancer, while many women had wrongly diagnosed themselves as having thrush, high blood pressure or asthma.

Skating along Eastbourne promenade © Pintail Media

Skating along Eastbourne promenade © Pintail Media

Penny McCormick, spokeswoman for Balance Activ, continued: “With the resource the internet provides us, it makes sense that women now see this as the first place to consult, especially as they can do so in private.

“However women choose to get advice about their health, being embarrassed by symptoms should never lead to them making a quick or unsupported diagnosis on their own unless they are certain of the quality of the information.

“Worrying symptoms or anything relating to our intimate areas naturally makes it harder to deal with and often leads women to rush to a diagnosis or avoid the issue completely.

“Leaving symptoms untreated, particularly with BV, can lead to serious health implications including an increased risk in contracting STIs, infertility and miscarriage if present during pregnancy.

“That is why we have launched an online symptom checker so women with any health concerns relating to their intimate areas can diagnose themselves accurately to help treat it right.”



1.            Breast cancer
2.            Other forms of cancer
3.            Thrush
4.            High blood pressure
5.            Asthma
6.            Arthritis
7.            Depression
8.            Diabetes
9.            Sexual health problems
10.          Thyroid problems

Data provided by Balanceactiv to raise awareness of Bacterial Vaginosis Day 18 April 2012.


The Day I Sang at The Albert Hall

Well, me and 3,840 other people!

Armed Man at the Royal Albert Hall, July 2008I’d heard about the huge choirs of amateur singers that sometimes gather at the Albert Hall to sing together, but had never got further than thinking vaguely that it might be nice to join in. It took another member of my local choir to start the ball rolling and whip up some enthusiasm, and eventually tickets were  bought for “Messiah From Scratch” in November. It was unfortunate that all four members of our little group then did the same thing – put the tickets aside without checking to find out exactly what was involved – so it was just a few weeks before the date of the concert before we realised that when the organisers called it “From Scratch”, they really meant it.  We were to turn up at 6.15pm in order to be ready for the concert to start at 7pm, without even a few minutes in which to warm up, let alone actually practise the music!

At this stage, we had no way of knowing how many people would be singing with us, and therefore how exposed our own singing abilities and knowledge of the music would be. If we’d known then that nearly 4,000 people would be there to sing, we probably wouldn’t have worried so much, but even so, The Messiah isn’t especially easy music to sing and none of us had sung it all the way  through for years, if at all. Our first task obviously was to get hold of copies of the musical score, and even this wasn’t simple as the organisers specified the exact version to be used. Here, though, we were very lucky as our local library still had just enough copies left for us to borrow even though Christmas was approaching fast. Recordings of the work then had to be found/bought/borrowed, and our unfortunate families had to suffer the dreadful, dirge-like sound of amateur singers droning their own rather approximate version of Handel’s great work along to a professional recording. All four of our group are contraltos, which means we sing the lower of the two female parts, mainly to provide harmony, so we never get the good tunes. I have to confess that in our household, even the cat found pressing reasons to go out once I and/or my daughter started rehearsing!

Soloists at Messiah from Scratch, November 2009By the week before the date of the concert, we were all beginning to wonder why we’d volunteered for this event. Some friends and colleagues were incredulous. “You mean you have to pay in order to sing at the Albert Hall? You don’t get paid to do it?” And no, we don’t get paid, and we do have to pay (£20 for this performance) because this was a charity event, and the proceeds were going to the British Heart Foundation.

An added complication was the dress code. As ever, men got off lightly as they were only required to wear a dark suit, but ladies were requested to look elegant, with sopranos wearing blue, and the contraltos red. None of us had anything red which could remotely be described as “elegant” so several hours had to be spent in going around the shops in the search for red tops to be worn with black skirts or trousers, but eventually we managed to cobble together some respectable outfits, and by 4 pm on the day of the concert we were all dressed up and heading for the station for the trip to South Kensington.

Altos wearing something red Messiah from Scratch 2009We were in luck; the trains and tubes ran perfectly, and within an hour and a half we were outside the Royal Albert Hall, where people were gathering and chatting enthusiastically. After demolishing the sandwiches which we’d brought with us and paying a quick visit to the Ladies, we made our way to the seats which we’d been allocated, right up in the Circle. Already nervous and a little bit prone to vertigo, I found the steepness of the rake and the height above the main auditorium alarming and for a few minutes was wondering if I’d have to remain sitting for the whole of the performance, but I became acclimatized to it surprisingly soon and began to relax and take in the scene. We’d taken our seats quite early, so were able to watch the other singers gradually arriving and taking up their positions all around the Hall. Lots of people were greeting friends, while others were arriving on their own, clearly content just to be there and to sing. The majority of singers were probably in the middle-aged to mature bracket, but there was a substantial number of young people too. There was also considerable variation in dress. While a lot of women had opted for the safe combination of black bottoms with a red top of some kind, others had made only a minimal gesture towards the dress code with perhaps just a red flower or brooch pinned onto a black T shirt. A few had decided to take the light-hearted approach and were apparently wearing fancy dress, with one rather substantially built young woman happily wearing what looked like the costume of the Red Fairy, complete with frills and red sequins.

By the time we’d arrived at the Royal Albert Hall, it had felt as though we’d travelled quite a long way on a dark winter evening but when Don Monro, the man who had dreamt up The Really Big Chorus in 1974, stood up to speak, he welcomed singers from around the world! Singing alongside us would be singers from Australia, Canada, South Africa and many parts of Europe, so popular have these events become.

His short speech over, the soloists and the conductor, Brian Kay, took their places, and the orchestra struck up the overture. At this point, I noticed a really interesting phenomenon. Up until then all the people I’d been watching, far away on the other side of the hall, had been sitting relaxed in their seats, sometimes bending down to adjust their belongings, sometimes chatting to other singers beside them. But the moment that familiar music started it was if an electric current had passed through them all, or as if an order had been barked out. In an instant, everyone was sitting bolt upright, heads erect, their entire bodies looking alert and ready to sing.

After a beautifully sung aria from the young tenor (“Comfort Ye, My People”) the conductor signalled to singers on the ground floor of the auditorium to stand. It was really at this point that we became aware of how different it would be to sing in such a huge hall with so many other singers. We could see the conductor, but from our position high up in the Circle, he was just a tiny figure far below, and when we lifted our music to sing, he became invisible behind it! Instead of relying on him for cues as to when to come in, when to slow down, and all the other more subtle variations in the performance, we’d be dependent on hearing other voices singing our part in other areas of the auditorium, the singers who were much closer to the conductor and could therefore follow his directions.

I think it’s fair to say that the first few choruses were a little bit ragged, while the singers gradually got used to the acoustics. At one point, I could see the conductor frantically signalling to the huge mass of sopranos to sing more quickly, but, however distinguished and able he may be, it’s a brave man who takes on a thousand sopranos alone, and very wisely he  deferred to their group judgement and allowed the choir to find its own pace. Before very long, our little group had relaxed in the knowledge that any musical mistake we might make would be lost in the huge volume of sound being produced by so many singers.

One of the delights of singing with these big choirs at the RAH is being able to watch and listen to the soloists. For this performance, the soloists were all very young singers in training for professional careers, and to me at least their extreme youth added poignancy to the music.

Our position in the Circle meant that we were well placed to make a dash in the interval to the bar, so by the time the second half began and our gin/vodka’s were taking effect, we were feeling quite comfortable and ready to tackle the remaining choruses with enthusiasm. By now, the choir was (almost) singing as one, so that by the time we reached the famous Hallelujah Chorus, I think we produced a very creditable performance. Knowing that our audience would all have been eagerly anticipating this most famous of all choruses probably tipped the tension rates up a notch, and I think we all gave it all we’d got. It certainly got a rapturous reception from the audience! Many people think that the Hallelujah chorus is the final part of the Messiah but in fact there are more arias to follow, before the last chorus “Worthy is the Lamb”  leading into the final section known as the Amen chorus. This is a far more sombre and spiritual chorus, and I felt that the huge choir sang it with a surprising amount of sensitivity and feeling, perhaps aided by the knowledge that this marked the end of the occasion.

Discussion of the evening had to be postponed until we’d accomplished the journey back to the railway station, but, once on the homeward-bound train, we shared our thoughts. My daughter and I agreed that we hadn’t experienced the huge rush of emotion felt by a lot of singers, which was a surprise and a bit of a disappointment, but I suspect that this was due to our position in the Hall. Because we were so high up, the sound of the rest of the choir was coming to us almost as if we were listening to a recording, whereas I think that if we’d been seated downstairs in the main auditorium we’d have been far more aware of being part of a huge group of singers. We agreed that it was only towards the end of the concert that we’d really relaxed and enjoyed ourselves, so we’re all keen to have another go before too long. It was clear from the joy and sense of achievement on some of the faces around us that taking part in this event means a huge amount to many people and I suspect that like them, we’re already hooked and will be booking our places for the next big chorus. This time though we won’t get so stressed about our musical abilities (or lack of them) as all we need to do is relax and prepare to enjoy ourselves and let  the music and the other singers scoop us up and carry us along with them.

Contributing Author: Janet Hamer

For more information about how The Really Big Chorus began, and how to get tickets, the website to go to is


Anyone for a Swim?

swimmerAm I the only woman to be deterred from all the benefits conferred by swimming by the sheer horrors awaiting me in the changing rooms?

When my six year old daughter managed to dry and dress herself more quickly than I did, I realised I was a slow-starter in certain organisational skills. And she even managed to dry between her toes! I’ve never found the time to do that. More than twenty years later -and she’s still watching me with a pitying eye as I struggle to get myself in a state fit to be seen in public after a visit to our local pool.

The problems begin even before the swim. I’ve now got the hang of my new swimming costume after two false starts when I first managed to put it on back to front, and then sideways. (I still don’t quite know how I managed that, but it was certainly an interesting look and worth consideration for next year’s London Fashion Week) So, there I am, costume on, towel tossed over shoulder, hat, goggles and earplugs clutched in one hand, leaving the other to carry everything else to the locker. Coat, scarf, boots, socks, jeans ….well, you can work out the rest, plus a large bag for carrying my swimming kit, and my handbag with money, keys, etc are all to be carried in one hand and fitted into this small space at ground level. Taking tiny steps on the slippery tiled floor, I progress at a snail’s pace but sadly without the snail’s self-contained house, leaving a trail of garments on the floor and watched with bemusement by a couple of sylphlike teenagers.

At last at the lockers, I try to think it all through logically. I open the door, stand sideways on so as to prop it open with my leg, but then realise I can’t bend in that position in order to put things into the locker as I’m facing in the wrong direction. By this stage most of what I’m still carrying is falling from my grasp, so I twist round and with a great heave hurl the rest into the locker, remembering too late that my glasses are among them. Now to retrieve the items I’ve dropped – but I daren’t leave my handbag behind while I do that, and my handbag is underneath all the stuff I’ve just crammed into the locker. I bend down to fish it out, and discover that the twisting and hurling has set off my back problem. Clutching my bag, I retrace my steps even more slowly now that my back is hurting, collect my belongings, return to the locker and stow everything away more neatly, slamming the door closed before everything falls out. Then I remember that I need a pound coin to lock the door, and the pound is in my handbag and my handbag has just been packed away at the bottom of the locker. Starting now to feel just a bit impatient, I tear everything out onto the floor, and extract the pound coin before piling everything back in, noting as I do so that most of my clothes are now wet due to the puddles of water on the floor which unfortunately I hadn’t noticed before.

Locker locked, all I now have to do is put on my swimming hat and that’s when I realise that I’ve thrown my hat and goggles into the locker along with everything else. Gritting my teeth I open the locker, yank out the missing items, and shut it again, before pausing for a moment to fasten onto my wrist the plastic wrist-strap holding the locker key. I say “for a moment” when what I actually mean is “for at least five minutes” as these things were never intended to be fastened with just one hand as they’re entirely rigid and therefore can’t be wrapped closely around the wrist without some pressure being applied. I brace my wrist against my knee, against the wall, and finally against the slatted seats – which involves kneeling sideways on the floor beside them, watched this time with concern by several small children.

My actual swim takes about ten minutes, since by now I am feeling exhausted. Sure that I’m being observed with scorn by all the regulars as they speed up and down the lanes, I creep away from the water and head for the showers. I hang my towel on the hook helpfully positioned on the back of the door, turn on the water and discover that I’ve brought with me the tube of body lotion rather than the matching shower gel. Never mind, I can at least rinse off the chlorine with plentiful hot water, which is fine until I realise that the hook can’t have been intended for towels as mine is now thoroughly soaked. Avoiding pitying glances as I shuffle  back to my locker wrapped in a dripping towel, I open the door but am not quick enough to prevent the contents hurling themselves onto the floor again. Bit by bit I pick them up and clutch them to my soaking bosom before beginning the return journey to the cubicle.

Here, in a space which seems somehow to have shrunk in the past fifteen minutes, I fumble among my possessions for the body lotion and talc as there’s no point in trying to dry myself with a wet towel. Retrieving the lotion with triumph, I start to apply it to my limbs before stopping to puzzle over the apparent bubbles forming. Then I remember that this must be the shower gel that I’m carefully spreading over myself. I have a go with the towel to get rid of it, then shake on some talc in an attempt to soak up the water. Big mistake as now I have a sort of thick paste on my legs. At this point I might perhaps be moaning a little as I retrieve my pants and struggle to get them over my encrusted thighs. Worse is to come with jeans, a close fit at the best of times.

Eventually the horror comes to an end, and I sidle through the changing rooms to the exit. On all sides are women wrapped in clean dry towels, their hair swaddled in yet more clean towels, or fully dressed in dry clothes, carefully renewing their makeup and blow-drying their hair at the mirrors. I catch sight of myself as I scuttle past, hair wet and plastered to my skull, skin red and blotchy from the chlorine, eyes even redder as I never did find my goggles again, clothes looking as if they’d just been dragged from the dirty washing basket before being left out in a storm.

How does everyone else do it all so easily? And why can’t I?

Contributing author: Janet Hamer


Seeing Double – Was I a Twin?

TwinsThis is the story of Althea Hayton, a counsellor from St Albans who, after many years of soul-searching, had come to the conclusion that she had shared the womb for part of the time with a twin. She discovered me over the internet, because she knew that talking therapies could not access the areas of her life that were pre-verbal, pre-birth. And indeed my approach, myth-a-drama, enabled her to not only to heal this issue, but as a result of that experience, she found her life work.

This is her story.

“It started with the insight that I may have once been a twin, and that was why so many tiny details about my life that had always puzzled me, were always on my mind. I was very concerned with the life of the unborn child, thought a lot about death and dying and was never happier than when I was with one other person engaged in deep intense conversation at an empathetic level.”

She took part in a nine month programme I offered, the Ritual Theatre Group, and as a result was able to re-experience being small, being angry and very powerful in that anger. About half way through the programme, and after much planning, she created a special ritual to release her lost twin.

She claims that “there has never been a more intensely emotional, cathartic and cleansing experience in my whole life than that day”.

Unable to function normally for some days as she planned the ritual, she planned every detail. Every day for two weeks before the day, she wore a chiffon turquoise scarf that she loved and had bought for herself – for her, turquoise is the colour of dreams. She also took up a wide beige Indian cotton and made that ready, with some white card labels with ideas – ‘strength’, ‘dreams’ and ‘creativity’ written on them – to hang about the necks of the other group members.

A special ritual about the lost twin 

She thought for a long time about music, then picked her favourite piece part of Bach’s Double Violin concerto. With a blindfold from a plane trip, a shallow meat tin and some matches, she was ready. The ritual, although involving other group members slightly, was a very personal thing. She sat inside a womb shape on the floor made with cloth, barefoot and blindfolded with the two scarves. One of the group members was nominated by the group to touch her gently from time to time – in the darkness of the womb, she was there with the tiny companion known only by touch.

The music played until, suddenly, the group made a terrible noise with percussion instruments – the catastrophe that took her brother away. She reached out, taking control, touching them one by one to make them quiet, in order to heal a sense of helplessness that had haunted her all her life. In the silence, the violin concerto played on. She stepped out of the womb and took off the blindfold, putting labels on group members to represent the gifts that her little companion had left. That didn’t work very well – she had to do this alone.

So to the strains of the music, she danced with the two scarves. As the music faded to silence, she came to the meat tin on the floor that contained a painting she had done of Kali, representing her negative anger, vengefulness and destructive power. She tore the picture into pieces but kissed every piece, forgiving and accepting all the negative qualities. Then placing the pieces back in the tin and covering them with the scarf, she carried it outside and set fire to it.

Later, she tipped the ash in the dustbin – they no longer had any power over her. Later, at home and still stunned by the experience, she knew that a final act of letting go was required. In a cleansing ritual, she gathered up the piles of papers she had accumulated over the previous twenty years about the unborn child, putting then into a black sack for recycling. Now, finally after more than fifty years, she has found peace.

She says: Since that amazing day, which has allowed me to put actions and images to a vague sense of something that had haunted me all my life, I have not looked back. I entered into a totally new phase of my life with ever rising energy and increasing focus. Within two years I had walked enough of my healing path to a point where I was ready for action. What happened was way beyond my expectations! I decided to write about womb twin survivors in 2002 and have since then created two anthologies of articles and stories about womb twin survivors and a major work detailing my eight year Womb Twin research project.

In 2007 I set up a non-profit organisation to help womb twin survivors and I now give seminars and workshops for womb twin survivors in various countries. Without that wonderful opportunity to express in the Ritual Theatre Group the grief and despair that had been within me all my life and say a loving farewell to my twin brother, many hundreds of womb twin survivors would not have been helped in the way they have. I didn’t know I had it in me, but myth-a-drama helped me to set it free.

Althea’s story will be featured in the book I am currently editing Ritual Theatre: Theatre of Healing to be published by Jessica Kingsley later this year in which I describe how I have helped hundreds of people like Althea heal issues that nothing else would work for. Most of my clients feel blocked, that some part of them is locked away. Myth-a-drama is based on drama therapy and brings together the healing power of drama and myth. It works for many reasons and enables participants to work directly with the unconscious patterns deeply buried within then. But most importantly it is enormous fun, and the fun aspect is why it is so accessible, liberating and enjoyable.

Guest Contributor: Claire Schrader

Web Links

For details of  Althea’s new book “WOMB TWIN SURVIVORS: the lost twin in the Dream of the Womb” published in March 2011 go to

%d bloggers like this: