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Posts from the ‘Upfront & Personal’ Category


The Day I Won, and Again, and Again, and Again, and Again, and Again!

Eating al fresco, Languedoc Roussilion in October

Eating al fresco, Languedoc Roussilion in October

I knew we were low on wine, in fact only a couple of bottles of rose cava which we usually only drink on special occasions, were loitering on the shelf. So I thought I would have another look at the Virgin Wine website where I had ordered a case of mixed white wines earlier in the year. Although my husband had sniffed at the absence of corks we rather liked the selection and they were drunk enthusiastically.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am most definitely not a wine connoisseur, I’m unable to tell one grape from another. However I have made wine over a period of more than 35 years with various ingredients, from potato to sultana, from peach to raspberry and also our own grapes grown in the garden, so I have a certain tolerance/experience of unusual/different flavours.

With wines conventionally made from grapes I know what I like the taste of and it is quite a range, but I always enjoy Chardonnay and Merlot, without always looking at the label. So looking at the Virgin Wine website I was interested to see what was on offer in their Auction section.

Wine tasting session

Wine tasting session

Several cases of really interesting mixes and bids were quite low. The bidding works like e-Bay, so I put some bids in and noticed the bidding increased as the time ran out, and I didn’t win any.

I decided then to place a fixed bid overall on eight different auctions running at the same time and watch how things went. The strategy worked … rather too well actually. Within a few minutes of the auctions closing I received an email telling me I had won one auction, then another, and another, and another, and another, and another. Six in all! I was breathless with surprise. I felt a bit like the sorcerer’s apprentice in the Disney film, they wouldn’t stop coming.

Although I was pleased my strategy had worked, how on earth would I explain this ‘success’ to my ever loving husband? I really hadn’t expected to win any actually, the bidding was quite fast towards the end and I couldn’t tell whether mine had been successful. I knew the auction conditions do not allow cancellation of bids, so six cases of wine were instantly winging their way to me. I decided to send him an email, much easier to explain the finer details than face to face explanation – no I’m not a coward, but he is profoundly deaf and all that entails …

Darling Good news, I have ‘won’ several Virgin wine auctions, average price £4.0729 a bottle. The bad news is we will have to find enough space as I have been rather more successful than I expected … Good news also, we won’t have to buy any wine for a few months … Just don’t be surprised when several boxes arrive … L/Kate, your rather too successful wine auction bidder!!!

I received what I thought was a fantastic reply:

We could ask the family to look after the excess. Well done!

Decanting red wine of any origin always improves it

Decanting red wine of any origin always improves it

How supportive is that? Actually I wouldn’t trust the family to look after the excess … too much of a temptation, so we will be finding space in the garage. I wonder whether I would be just as successful again … reluctantly I have given myself a six month ban before I have another go.  The Virgin Wines promise of a refund if you don’t like the wine  was very reassuring. I hope we like all the wines, but realistically there may well be some we don’t, in which case it will be interesting to see how the system works. One bonus that popped into my mind, with the cost of the cases being so reasonable we might consider giving some as Christmas presents, but then again …

Kate Campbell


Vet’s Receptionist – In charge of a rabbit!

Along with other diverse and mostly unsuccessful jobs, I once held the position of receptionist in a local veterinary clinic. Two months into the job, my experiences had been limited to the care of cats and dogs, and I’d been feeling on fairly safe ground.  This state of comparative complacency was soon to end, with the arrival of my first rabbit patient, and my introduction to the disturbing world of rabbits.

In my extreme youth, my acquaintance with rabbits was strictly limited. I usually met up with them after they had been casseroled with onions and carrots so knew little about their habits and hobbies, but I was also aware of a different breed which had been singled out for its unusually soft and fluffy fur.  This type we didn’t eat; instead we wore its fur, often dyed pale pink or blue and knitted into tiny cardigans to be worn on special occasions, such as birthday parties. So it was that my first real encounter found me woefully unprepared for the hazards involved in rearing a domestic rabbit.

The owners of this particular pet – a charming lady with two young children – brought in their charge in a cardboard carrying case. I was relieved to hear that Bunny was full of verve and vitality, but this was in fact at the heart of the problem.  Bunny was a red-blooded male, and was proving to be too much for his fellow male rabbit with whom it had been expected that he would live in close harmony. His owner, glancing briefly at the children, seemed reluctant to enter into details, but eventually I heard the word ‘castration’, so I presume that some very un-Beatrice Potter type behaviour had been observed, and that this radical step was being proposed to protect the sensitivity of his fellow rabbit.

One of the children, with a catch in her throat, asked about the risks involved in this operation.  I, expecting from the vet the response ‘Oh, almost none’ that was routine for cats and dogs undergoing similar surgery, was shocked and alarmed to hear the vet tell her that general anaesthetics for rabbits are generally regarded as really bad news, and that they have a disturbing tendency to react by turning their toes up. Both children turned white, but the situation at home appeared to be serious enough to warrant risking Bunny’s neck in this way, and an appointment was made for the following day.

Though doubtless sympathetic, you are probably a little vague as to why I was so concerned, so I must explain the procedure on days on which an operation was performed.  At the end of the morning consultation period the vet would go into surgical mode, which usually meant a fourth cup of coffee and the donning of yet another unattractive garment before disappearing into the theatre.  When the deed had been done, both vet and nurse would rush off – notionally to work at another branch but frequently to catch up on the latest fashion to arrive at the local factory outlet – leaving the receptionist to clear up after them, and to keep an eye on the recovering animal.  When it was a cat there was no problem.  Cats are sensible creatures and not given to histrionics, so the occasional ‘There, there’ accompanied by an attempt to stroke them through the bars of the cage usually met with approval, and sometimes quite an enjoyable working relationship could be struck up.  Dogs are all wimps, and lie huddled in a corner trembling and sighing and clearly convinced that their days are numbered, but can sometimes be heartened by being addressed briskly by name.  All animals, as they gradually recover and remember that their last meal was yesterday evening, seem to think it the height of bad manners for me to eat my tuna sandwich in front of them, and occasionally tears will come to their eyes, but I’ve learnt not to be too concerned.  Working in a vets’, you learn to eat when you can – postponing a meal for reasons of tact can result in having to gulp it down later in the day when some poor creature is being given an enema only a few feet away.

I had been happy to be left in charge of dogs and cats, in the knowledge that almost invariably they would recover and could be returned to their owners with great excitement and joy.  It looked as if it might be quite different though for rabbits, and certainly Bunny’s family were thinking along the same lines to judge from their demeanour when they brought him in the following morning.  There were tears in their eyes as they handed him over to me, saying ‘Please take great care of him – we’d be devastated if anything went wrong!’ Horribly aware that Bunny was going to be left in my sole care after the op, I made a final attempt to secure a reprieve for him, but his owner was adamant..

Bunny was duly settled in a cage to await operation time, and retreated to the back, trembling and gazing out with big, sad eyes.  I retreated to the other side of the room and tried to avoid eye contact, just in case my feelings of doom might be transmitted and affect his chances of recovery.  While the nurse was setting up the theatre, I thought I’d better adopt a more pro-active approach and ask the vet for more background information about rabbits.  More bad news followed as I learnt that, apart from their tendency to overreact when faced with anaesthetics, rabbits have to eat constantly and go into a speedy decline if they don’t.  Not for them the usual 12 hour fast, no, they are encouraged to keep putting it away right up to the vital moment, and to resume munching the instant they come round (if they come round!).

Being of a fairly squeamish disposition, and also keen to get my lunch before being compelled to face my responsibilities, I left the theatre, and tried to concentrate really hard on my other duties, such as beating my previous record at Solitaire.  Only too soon though I heard sounds of Bunny being returned to his cage, and of the others preparing to leave the premises.

Keen to show my willingness to face a challenge, I hurried out to catch the vet and press her for more detailed instructions on the care of Bunny, who was now all mine for the next four hours.  In what I thought was a callously offhand manner she replied ‘Oh, just keep him stimulated’ before disappearing out of the door and into her car.

‘Keep him stimulated?’ I muttered to myself as I observed Bunny.  There seemed little scope for that at the moment as he was prostrate on the floor of the cage, doing a reasonable impression of a very dead rabbit, but he surely couldn’t have lost the heart to struggle on in the last couple of minutes?  Advancing a little nearer I was relieved to see some evidence of breathing, and, heartened by this small triumph, I returned to my desk to consider how best to stimulate a rabbit.

Clearly the playing of games was a non-starter, for which I was very relieved.  I reviewed my small repertoire of jokes, but found a surprising number of them began ‘A rabbit went into a bar’, so were probably intended for quite a different audience.  Should I try singing to him, perhaps? Or maybe he’d appreciate a story being read to him?

With a shock I realised that I’d been pondering on this dilemma for some twenty minutes, during which Bunny might have given up all hope.  With a rapidly beating heart I returned to his cage, but thankfully there were still unmistakeable signs of life. No one could have called him animated but at least he was now the right way up though showing no signs of getting to his feet and making for his lunch.  Uneasily I reflected that it must now be around three hours since he’d last eaten – for how much longer could he survive?

Clearly stimulation was the thing. Still with no clear idea of what form this might take I edged closer to his cage, and to my consternation saw Bunny react with obvious terror, backing as far as he could into the corner furthest from his food. I reversed out of the room, but dared not leave him for long in case fear pushed him over the edge while I wasn’t there to look after him.  The image of his stricken family appeared before me, and I could almost hear the recriminations. Could I live with myself if I allowed this poor Bunny to die in my care? The responsibility weighed very heavily on me (though actually that might have been partly the really huge baguette I’d had for lunch).

Again I peered around the door.  Still alive, still a long way away from his food bowl, and still trembling. What a quandary! How could I stimulate an animal who almost passed out with fright whenever I got within ten feet of his cage? The situation became almost farcical as I spent the next half hour alternately retreating from the room, then, bent double, creeping back in, just far enough for him to see me, but not close enough to strike terror into his little heart. It might perhaps have looked a little odd, but at least I felt that I was doing something constructive.  Certainly he was managing to cling to life, but still not a stalk had passed his lips.  How could I explain this to his family, those poor children? How would it affect them?  Would they no longer trust anyone, play truant from school, and wind up living in doorways in London all because of the trauma of losing a dear one?

I could stand the responsibility no longer. With a shaking hand I dialled our other branch, and to my relief it was answered by a nurse with years of experience. She of all people would know what to do.

‘This rabbit,’ I said, ‘I’m making no progress with him.  He never stops trembling and hasn’t eaten for hours!!’  I could hear my voice sounding hysterical.  ‘What can I do? I’ve tried everything I can think of!’

Gentle and reassuring she replied ‘Is he upright?’

I dashed over to have another look, risking another fit of the wobblies by Bunny.

‘Yes, but he’s not walking and he’s not eaten a thing and he has to keep eating or he’ll die!’

‘Oh, he’ll be alright, as long as he’s upright he’ll be alright now,’ she replied, ‘he’ll start eating again when he’s ready’.

‘But I was told I had to stimulate him to keep him alive?’

Her only reply was to collapse into waves of laughter, and I put the phone down.

A little later when the vet returned I met her at the doorway.

‘He’s OK!’ I said. ‘He’s still alive!’

‘Who?’ she said, walking past me and putting on the kettle.  ‘Hey, look at this Armani dress I got, for less than a third of the real price!’

My responsibilities over for the day, it was time for me to go home. I took a last look at Bunny.  Still he crouched in the corner of his cage, his food untouched, but he’d stopped trembling and his eyes –  calm, clear and bright – met mine. Bunny was absolutely fine, it seemed, but someone had been making a monkey out of me.

Janet Eaglestone, contributing author

Call The Midwife author, Jennifer Worth’s Fight with Eczema

Jennifer Worth, author of Call the Midwife – currently a hugely successful TV series – sadly died just before filming began in 2011.

Some seven years previously she had contacted me offering a feature about the severe eczema she had developed at the age of fifty five and her efforts to relieve it.

The first line was startling: Severe eczema doesn’t kill you; it just drives you insane.

Written in much the same style as her books the feature chronicles the development and relief of the eczema she experienced.

Jennifer Worth at the worst of her eczema

Jennifer Worth at the worst of her eczema

I developed eczema for the first time when I was fifty five. Within three short months two tiny patches of eczema on my legs had spread to cover my entire body. It is the itching that drives you mad. I would scratch the whole night long until I drew blood, then it would begin to hurt, but the pain was infinitely preferable to the itching.

Dermatologists could only offer steroids. These helped a little, but the itch came back worse than ever afterwards. I was in despair, until I happened to eat a Chinese meal, which gave me food poisoning and I did not eat for four days. During that time my eczema virtually cleared up. When I started eating again it came back. The cause was obvious – food allergy. 

The dermatologists told me it was coincidence, as in their view there was no connection between food and eczema. But I was not convinced and searched every path for the offending foods – with no success. Let me say here that most people fail if they try to identify food allergies alone. It is too complex for the layman and you need an allergy specialist, a qualified nutritionist or at least a reputable book to follow.

Eczema on Jennifer's arms

Eczema on Jennifer's arms

I was fortunate in finding the right specialist, who guided me through a strict elimination diet. Once we had found the right diet, my skin cleared within three weeks. Then he led me through the challenge/reintroduction phase of the diet, which was very difficult and troubled by many pitfalls. After about six months, my skin was completely clear and I felt wonderful. Incidentally a side effect of an elimination diet is a surge of good health. Eliminating dairy products, gluten, yeast, sugars and chemical additives from your body can only be beneficial. We all eat the wrong things and suffer for it.

My specialist advised me to have a course of Enzyme Potentiated Desensitisation (EPD) because, he told me new allergies would develop. I have had EPD – see below –  twice a year for nearly ten years and my skin remains perfect, for which I thank God every day of my life.

Clear of eczema

Clear of eczema

The charity Action Against Allergy asked me to write a book about my experiences detailing the elimination diet given me by my specialist. I was asked for this because there is so little information available on this subject. My book Eczema and Food Allergy was published in 1997 and featured in the Nursing Times, the Sunday Telegraph and the magazine Here’s Health. It sold out of two editions and last year they decided to republish online – see below. 

This is a very controversial subject. Doctors, dieticians and even the National Eczema Society will state that eczema is not connected to food. But I have proved that it is.

Jennifer after treatment

Jennifer after treatment

In this article, I have deliberately refrained from giving any advice to eczema sufferers about diet. It would be rash and irresponsible for me to do so, because the subject is far too complex for a short article. But my book contains all the details necessary for a successful elimination diet and includes many addresses for specialist treatment. My heart goes out to anyone afflicted with severe eczema. I know the suffering involved and it is beyond description. If my experience can be of help to anyone, I am well pleased.

Many people have asked me what EPD is; how does it work, where can you get it, and what does it cost? It is a very subtle and complex medical process, and I give below a brief summary of what it is about.

Enzyme Potentiated Desensitisation is a form of immunotherapy developed by Dr. L. M. McEwen in the 1960s and now used worldwide. It has the potential to desensitise anyone to the allergens to which they are allergic. This includes foods, dust, animals, birds, grasses, pollens, moulds, and many chemicals. An ultra-low dose of allergen is used – approximately 1/1000 part of a routine skin-prick test – combined with the natural enzyme beta-glucuronidase which enhances, or potentiates the desensitisation process (thus we get the rather curious name). It is particularly effective for the treatment of eczema, and will work quickly for children – the younger the child the quicker it will work. It takes about 2-5 years to be effective for an adult.

EPD is only available on the NHS at the Royal Homeopathic Hospital (60 Great Ormond Street, London W1N 3HR). Dr Michael Jenkins, Consultant Allergist will see patients via a referral from their GP. EPD has a ‘Specials’ licence. This means it is accessible only to suitably accredited doctors to supply on a ‘named’ patient basis. The doctor must be a qualified MD trained in allergies, and who is specially trained to hold a licence to administer EPD.

There are about twenty such doctors in the country, and their names and addresses can be obtained from the British Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, PO Box No. 7, Knighton LD7 1WT Phone: 01547 550378; Web site: This is a charity which will give you the address of your nearest medical practitioner of both EPD and Neutralisation. An adult course of EPD, lasting about five years, will cost around £2000, but far less for a child. This may seem a lot, but, believe me, EPD is worth a second mortgage.

In my book ‘Eczema and Food Allergy’ I devote two chapters to EPD, which gives far more detail than I can give here.

Eczema and Food Allergy is available in print from Merton Books

Jennifer Worth, born 25 September 1935 died 31 May 2011, was a nurse, midwife and ward sister from 1954-1973.

Her book Call the Midwife about her years as a district midwife in the slums of London’s East End is published by Orion Books There is an interview with Jennifer talking to Danuta Kean about writing her books on that web page.

Two more books Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End make up a trilogy. All three books have sold almost a million copies and stimulated a publishing subgenre of nostalgic true life stories.

You can watch a short video interview where she talks about her nursing career and working with the nuns in the East End of London.

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.


Puppy Problems Solved 5: Winnie’s friend Henry learns not to eat stones



Written from Winnie’s point of view

Ooh, was that the doorbell? I’d better go and see who it might be …

If I press my nose up against the glass like this I can almost see through. Looks like two people, and wait, I know that shape – it looks like my best friend Henry, the Labrador!

Ah, Claire, I’m so excited, hurry up and open the door!

Winnie, calm down, I can’t open the door if you’re pressed up against it. Get down girl …


Henry, Henry, Henry. I’m so pleased to see you. Let me chew your ear for a minute, no, I need to jump on you, oh I’m so pleased to see you!

Oh Winnie, you have to calm down, ouch, that hurts!

Blah blah blah, Henry’s a bit poorly, blah blah blah. Be careful Winnie …

Don’t send me to my basket Claire. I just want to see Henry, we usually play this rough, what’s different?

Henry, what’s up, why won’t they let us play like normal?

Oh, Winnie, it’s been awful. I’ve been so ill. Be gentle, I’ve got a poorly side.

Don’t look sad Henry. Sorry if I hurt you, I didn’t know you were ill.

I’ve been very ill – and in so much pain. I had to go the doggy hospital and everything!

Oh no, not the doggy hospital! Oh Henry, what happened?

I’ve been very silly. But you know how I like to eat stones!

Eat stones?! Oh Henry, you’re not still doing that are you?  I thought you’d stopped – remember all that fuss last time?

I know. I just love them – I don’t know why. Anyway, this time I had to go and have an operation at the doggy hospital.  It was awful, I was so scared – and Laura had to leave me there.  She was so upset. I felt awful. They put me to sleep and when I woke up I had such a pain in my side – it was better than the pain in my tummy before the operation, but now I just feel sore and I’m not allowed to go on long walks.  Winnie … they’d cut me open to get the stones out!

Poor Henry, you really should stop eating stones then shouldn’t  you?  Let’s just have a quiet cuddle then. I know you didn’t mean to upset Laura, and I’m sure she understands …

Yes, she’s been very good.  She looks after me so well. I was in such pain, I’m sure I’ll never eat stones again …

I hope so Henry. Really only very small puppies usually eat stones. I know I chewed a couple and Claire always caught me before I could swallow them.

Well, I snuck away from Laura and she didn’t see. She’d have given me a right telling off if she knew. After I ate this one, it was a bit big, I had this terrible pain in my tummy. It was unbelievable!

Do you feel better now?

I do, but I’ve just got to take it easy whilst my stitches heal.

Oh Henry, I’m just glad you’re okay.


I wish I knew the answer to this problem, but I don’t! I can make some suggestions and offer a word of warning, but why dogs do this I really don’t know.

Perhaps they are bored, perhaps they are inquisitive, perhaps scraps of food from a barbecue have fallen on the ground? Whatever the reason, definitely they are being stupid! Unfortunately, they don’t make any connection between the sore tummy (and possible operation) with eating stones. Dogs live in the moment and would only learn if the undoubted agony happened immediately. However puppies will be puppies, so we must do our best to protect them. Some of the smaller pebbles can pass through, depending upon the breed. It might be a good idea to fence off gravelled areas, possibly spray with bitter apple or some such anti-chew preparation.

The word of warning concerns mulch. Please be sure to read the label as some mulch has been flavoured with Cocoa and (as I’m sure you know) chocolate – especially the darker chocolate – can be fatal to dogs. Even if the label states it is safe for dog, it isn’t if cocoa is listed. Greedy dogs can eat huge amounts of this and the consequences can be horrific. Sorry to end on such a glum note, but better safe than sorry.

Pat Thomas bred her first litter in 1971 and has bred Border Collies, Irish Setters, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Papillions, Labradors and, of course, Golden Retrievers.

Although Winnie is not yet in season most of her litter is booked. This is usually the case, although too many of one sex can be a problem. As a Kennel Club Accredited Breeder, Pat has free access to the K.C. website and if she have any puppies not sold, she puts them on there. However, mostly the pups are sold by word of mouth and families returning for a second, third and even a fourth puppy.

Winnie’s Woes Part 7 – Winnie Moves On
Winnie’s Woes Part 6 – Winnie Learns about Children
Winnie’s Woes Part 5 – Winnie’s friend Henry learns not to eat stones
Winnie’s Woes Part 4 – Winnie learns about other dogs
Winnie’s Woes Part 3 – Winnie Eats too much
Winnie’s Woes Part 2 – Winnie eats a shoe
Winnie’s Woes Part 1 – Winnie finds digging is not a popular activity!


Steve Jobs, giver of joy

My very first Mac, I used to carry it on my back in its made for purpose pack

My very first Mac, I used to carry it on my back in its made for purpose pack

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.

Here’s the link to the eulogy.

Val Reynolds, Editor


Washing Hands – Hygiene Matters

Washing hands

Washing hands

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?

National Handwashing Day logoThe 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


How to get rid of the winter blues – Positivity breeds success

Kelly Holmes at De Vere Village Wirral 30 Oct

Kelly Holmes at De Vere Village Wirral 30 Oct

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

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.


Finding a Suitable Care Home, a book to help

© Pintail Media

© Pintail Media

The time may come when we are faced, probably unwillingly, with the possibility of finding a suitable care home for a relative or family friend. With little or no experience of such places searching out an acceptable home can be daunting. One that at least I had had no experience of. As luck would have it I heard about the independent guide to choosing a care home in the south east of England, entitled The Care Homes Guide – South East England. One in a series, it proved to be a mine of information especially in relation to financial considerations.

For us it raised more questions than answers which needed a lot of time to understand and resolve. However the book has an extensive directory of approved homes, impartial and clear comparisons, and essential advice on choosing the right home, as well as useful contacts. We found it a reliable and very readable source of information and became our essential reference source.

Highly recommended, published by Crimson Publishing, £14.99,

You may also find our recent feature Care Homes: How to avoid being wrongly charged of interest.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Puppy Problems Solved 4: Winnie learns about other dogs

Winnie, left, in playful mood

Winnie, left, in playful mood

Written from Winnie’s point of view

We’re out in my favourite woods for a lovely walk. I love coming here, I never get tired of it, there’s so many interesting things to sniff at and play with.  Lots of rabbit trails to follow, other people to say hello to and loads of other dogs that are so friendly!

I like Claire’s other friend who has come with us today.  She likes playing with me too.

Ooh, what’s that amazing smell?! I’ll just follow it into these bushes. This is so much fun.

Hang on, I’d better go and find Claire again, she’ll get worried if I disappear – I don’t want to lose her!

Oh, there she is, she’s waiting for me.

Winnie! Here girl!

Here I am! Don’t worry I didn’t go far! Scratch my ears … but wait, there’s something else to smell here … this is interesting …

What’s that coming towards me? It must be a friendly animal to play with.

Aaagghghg! Whine … ouch, that hurts, why is this dog biting me, I thought all dogs liked to play with me … ouch, ouch, whine …

Why won’t someone help me!? I can’t shake this dog off me at all, he’s biting into my neck!

Claire and her friend are helping now, I hope they don’t get bitten too! Oh and a man is helping, he’s pulled his dog off. Thank goodness, that hurt so much.

Claire, I need a cuddle, I’ll cower behind your legs. Please protect me! That was very frightening.

It’s okay Winnie.

A nice cuddle, thank you Claire. My heart is racing, I’m so scared – at least that horrible dog has gone. I didn’t realise some of them weren’t very friendly!  All the dogs I’ve met so far have been really nice to me and wanted to play, not attack me – and I didn’t even do anything, I was just walking along, minding my own business!

I don’t understand …

Claire’s putting my lead on and we’re heading back to the car.  Thank goodness. I hope that dog doesn’t come here very often, I’ve never seen him before, but it makes me a bit scared. Perhaps I should be more on my guard in future.

Comment from Owner Claire Price: Winnie was attacked by a bull dog, it seemed to appear from nowhere and just launched itself at her.  I had my small daughter on my back in a carrier at the time and the dog’s owner was walking with children too.  It was a very scary moment, the family were very apologetic and fortunately no harm was done, it was more frightening for Winnie. She’s always been a bit dense about other dogs until this incident, she was always very friendly and wanting to play, but from then on she learnt to be a bit more circumspect and give dogs a bit of a space.


Although moving away from my area of expertise (breeding) a few comments may be helpful.

  • Don’t put your own safety at risk or the safety of others, especially children.
  • Some breeds – usually “bull” breeds have an interlocking jaw. These breeds cannot be pulled off as their bite allows them to hold fast to whatever piece of the “prey” they are holding, i.e. flesh/ear tips/tail etc. One hopes that the owners of such dogs will walk them with a muzzle firmly in place.
  • Resist the temptation to smack the biting dog. This only serves to further increase the adrenalin.
  • Although it happened to Winnie, it is unusual for a dog to launch an attack without giving off signals – tail held erect, hackles rising, maybe a growl or snarl. This gives you a minute to put your dog on a lead and (if possible) change direction.
  • If puncture wounds are suffered – either to you or your dog – go to the appropriate medical centre. Dogs carry a huge amount of bacteria on their teeth and a puncture wound allows this bacteria to enter the blood stream. Usually (after bathing/stitching) it is antibiotics for dogs and a tetanus injection for people.
  • If the fight was serious, inform the Police. Although unlikely to act on a “dog-to-dog” fight, if enough people complain about a certain dog, then the Police may – at the very least – have a word with the owner. The Control of Dogs Act give the Police the authority to investigate.
  • The “attacked” dog may have various reactions ranging from couldn’t care less to extreme fear. It may be necessary to ensure that only friendly dogs are encountered on the next few walks, until confidence returns.
  • If problems remain, then contact a dog behavourist who should be able to help.

Pat Thomas bred her first litter in 1971 and has bred Border Collies, Irish Setters, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Papillions, Labradors and, of course, Golden Retrievers.

Although Winnie is not yet in season most of her litter is booked. This is usually the case, although too many of one sex can be a problem. As a Kennel Club Accredited Breeder, Pat has free access to the K.C. website and if she have any puppies not sold, she puts them on there. However, mostly the pups are sold by word of mouth and families returning for a second, third and even a fourth puppy.

Have you ever experienced a dog attack? How did you cope? Would you like to write about it. You can email me at

This feature is the fourth in a series of seven episodes entitled Winnie’s Woes 

Episode 1: Winnie finds Digging is not Popular
Episode 2: Winnie Chews a Shoe
Episode 3: Winnie Eats Too Much

Anythingdogz – an excellent website owned and run by Lisa Evans, an In Balance reader

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