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A Bad Back is a Painful Thing

Orange tulips

© Pintail

Janet ruefully writes about her Back. A bad back. Something a lot of us suffer from. We are all in a search to soothe, relieve, strengthen, our back. The back is our weakest part of our structure and as Janet says, once it goes, there’s not going back. This is how it is for Janet.

The world is divided into two kinds of people; those with Backs, and those without. And before you sigh and turn to another feature, let me remind you that you could find yourself in the other camp at any time and without warning. And once you’re in that camp, you’re there for life.

For me, it all kicked off at the age of around 40 when I was slim and supple, and attended a weekly two hour yoga class taught by an inspiring teacher. I don’t know what mischievous yogic demon persuaded her to introduce her class of middle-aged mothers to the splits, but one fateful day this is what she did. To my great joy, and very short-lived sense of smugness, I was pretty successful and went home determined to keep practising, though quite what I thought mastering the splits would do for my life, I don’t know.  But sheer stupidity led me to think that I could safely attempt at 7.30 am the next day what I’d done previously at the end of a long series of stretches. The pain as I tried to sink into this extreme position was excruciating, and my 40 years of not having a Back had ended. I soon learnt to tell no one how I’d hurt it as the looks of incredulity followed by badly concealed amusement spoke volumes.

So from then on life changed, as it does for all Back sufferers. Because you, the owner of a Back, are constantly searching for the ultimate goal – a permanently painfree back – your antennae are always on the alert for some new and amazing therapy. Your address book is full of chiropractors and physios, while your postman is at risk of developing a Back himself due to the volume of books on Back Care that you’re ordering,

Then you discover a book called You Can Heal Your Life and find that the cause of your problems might not be physical at all, but a reflection of your financial anxiety, or of feeling unloved and unsupported. You pass some of this information onto your partner who takes instant offence and moves into the spare room – where he’d been thinking of going anyway as he’s fed up with falling over the arsenal of back support devices littering the bedroom (Tens machines, magnetic blankets, etc) and with the hour which you now need to prepare for bed every night; gentle yoga postures followed by a period of meditation while lying on the floor, aromatherapy oils burning to help your spine to absorb new energy.

Travelling is well nigh impossible unless accompanied by someone strong who can lift all your suitcases as well as their own, and who hasn’t by now lost all sympathy for you. And when/if you reach your destination, well, hotel beds! Almost without exception, hotel beds are soft enough for that neurotic princess with the pea phobia, and provide no support for aching joints. If you don’t have the nerve to ring beforehand to ask them to provide a stiff board to be placed under the mattress, resign yourself to sleeping on the floor. Don’t take offence if your partner appears to be delighted as this means he gets a nice bed all to himself after weeks of being condemned to the tatty old spare bed. After all, he’s resigned now to the total lack of sex since your Back injury. Oh, hadn’t I mentioned that?

Not only is your sex life non-existent but your social life dwindles. Shopping – of the recreational kind – becomes a challenge. How long will my Back hold out while I try on new clothes? More importantly, how will my best friend react when I have to leave her alone to try things on while I retreat to the coffee shop to rest? You could of course take a leaf from the book of another friend – also a Back sufferer – who simply looks for a quiet part of the store, and lies on the floor! This might just work in Liberty’s or Selfridges where they’re used to eccentrics, but I wouldn’t recommend trying it in Primark in Oxford Street.

Concerts and films? Forget about what’s on; what’s important is how good the seats are. People with proper backs don’t understand this. Their thinking is that if you’re sitting down then you’re resting and your Back is OK, but those of us in the other camp know a bad seat is worse than no seat at all. And sometimes it’s impossible to tell good from bad at first, but slowly the truth reveals itself, and you find you’re starting to wriggle, searching for support for the lower Back. You find it and relax, but several minutes later you’re wriggling again because now there’s no support for the upper part of your Back. Eventually you come upon a way of sitting that suits all your Back – bliss! – until you realise that a serious pain is developing in your buttock and down your leg. To alleviate this you slide your hand underneath your buttock to cushion it from the hardness of the seat and stretch out your leg and this works for a few minutes until your shoulder begins to hurt due to being twisted, and you’re contorting yourself in your seat as your calf muscle has developed cramp. By now you’ve thoroughly infuriated the people sitting next to you and behind you, and you have to annoy them still further because you can’t stand sitting for a moment longer and have to get out. But you can’t leave without your handbag which is somewhere on the floor, so you have to bend down to feel around for it which of course hurts your Back, so gasps and little groans are added to the rustling noises which you’re already making. Heads are now turning in all directions to identify the source of the disturbance, and a chorus of “tuts” and indignant mutters accompanies you as you limp along the row of seats, invariably tripping over outstretched feet. Your partner, unable to withstand the embarrassment, has remained in his seat pretending to be unaware of what’s going on, his face a picture of serious concentration.

Will I ever get better? you think to yourself after months of this. Well, I can say with some certainty that my days of doing the splits were over before they really started, and I’ll never be able to dig the garden again, but with care I can manage a fairly normal life, most of the time. You might be able to do almost everything you did before, but Backs have long memories. One day, probably when you least expect it, the Back will be, er, back.

Back Books

Back Sense by Dr Ronald Siegel, Michael H Urdang and Dr Douglas R Johnson is a selfhelp programme that I can recommend. The cycle of Pain-Fear-Tension-Inactivity-Pain is explained clearly. I wouldn’t accept for some time that pain didn’t necessarily mean that I should rest, but gradually came to notice that after a day of resting, I usually had more pain. Dr Siegel was himself immobilised for some time with back pain, so understands what we go through.

The Body Control Pilates Back Book by Lynne Robinson is also good, though I’d suggest consulting a qualified Pilates instructor before embarking on some of the exercises.

Janet Hamer, Contributing author

We would like to hear of readers’ experiences of a bad back and anything they found gave them relief. Just email


Looking at Old Age … Nobody Told Me what to Expect

Diana, a fiesty lady at Speakers' Corner © Pintail Media

Diana, a fiesty lady at Speakers' Corner © Pintail Media

Nobody Told Me! … what I could expect when I reached 70 years of age
Nobody told me about the tiredness you feel when all you want to do is doze off for a short period especially after lunch.
Nobody told me that young men would ask my advice, in all seriousness. Gosh how flattering but what a terrifying responsibility.
Nobody told me that young mothers welcome a smile, and older folk than me also like one too.
Nobody told me that I would more often be given the best bit of the roast beef and the best crunchy crackling from the pork!
Nobody told me that young people in supermarkets would often treat me as mentally deficient when it came to sorting out coins!
Nobody told me how much I would enjoy sitting on a park bench watching the world go by.
Nobody told me how little notice I attract, which gives me unexpected opportunities to be outrageous!
Nobody told me that young children would take my hand and ask to help me across the zebra crossing!
Nobody told me how beautiful the sky is, I spend a lot of time watching clouds pass by.
Nobody told me my joints would start to ache and I would get stiff. But then there are lots of others with the same problem who have given me the remedies.
Nobody told me that the cloud of life’s complications slowly fade away and all becomes clear.
Which all adds up to being much more laid back than I have ever been and more tolerant of my fellow planet inhabitants.
Long live life!
I’m so glad I woke up today!
Kate Campbell, Contributing Author

My Scarf – An ironic short story

This story, written by Val Fief, a contributing author, has echoes of the kind of irony Roald Dahl included in many of his stories. 

I love my scarf. It is 72 years. I knitted it when I was 8. Those were very cold years and my mum gave me a woolly jumper to unravel so that I could have some wool to knit with. She taught me how to knit plain stitch, then purl stitch and how to pick up stitches that I had dropped.

I cut open all of the seams and set to work pulling out the curly wool and stretching it round the back of a chair. It was hard work undoing someone else’s carefully knitted work. I did this for a long time and when I had these big skeins of wool, I washed them hoping to straighten the wool out as they hung out on the line and I made balls of wool with them. At last I had something to knit with although the wool was still curly. We didn’t have washing machines and spin driers then – it was 1939 and the outbreak of war.

My mum taught me to cast on both with my thumb and with two needles. Metal knitting needles number 10s. I came home from school and knitted while listening to the wireless. I had finished by the end of November and was very thrilled to wear it to school. It was as tall as I am. I felt cosy and warm on the way to school. When it was very cold, I wore it over my nose.

As I wasn’t evacuated because we lived in Suffolk, we had other children come to live with us. We stayed friends with some of them throughout our lives. I was an early reader and read voraciously. In 1949 I went to University to study English. When I was a student I met another student, James. He was studying Maths. I was always baling him out with money. With the excitement of past war freedom, we got married. We had 7 children including twin girls. James studied and became a bank manager eventually but this made us move house often. Each time I had to find new schools and friends and houses. It was hard work but we managed with lots of challenges and laughter. We moved 14 times. I grew a garden everywhere we went. We managed it all and my scarf went with me to every location. It was like a baby’s comforter to me. A reminder of base. My original safe home.

The children grew up and had careers and interests. And we had a safe and permanent home and we would never have to move again. It was a lovely home in the middle of Cambridge with room for the children to come home. Until one day, James came home looking very serious. He said that it was time to leave home to be with a woman who always made him the most important person in her life. I was stunned. I blurted out “I suppose she has no children?”. “As a matter of fact, no”. He replied. “I will return tomorrow for my things” he said. “We will sell this house and you can have something small”. “You haven’t worked so you don’t deserve such a big house”.

Wow! He would simply return for his things, abandon me, and throw me out! I was shocked and unhappy and held tightly on to my scarf. Confused and frightened. I was distraught. Work? What does having seven children and moving 14 times to do with work? The next evening I took the bulbs out of the hall lights and left my scarf on the stairs and as he stormed out in great anger, he fell down the stairs and broke his neck. I retrieved my scarf, put the bulbs back in the sockets, and called 999 sobbing profusely.

That was all 20 years ago. My children come and see me in the house I love so much. My grandchildren too. There was accident insurance. I have had a wonderful life and I love my scarf.

Val Fieth, Contributing author

Knitting is becoming a more popular past time. John Lewis have kits for beginners on their website and a good range of funky wools to choose from. One of our favourite wools is Sirdar Squiggle Super Chunky Yarn, Pale Blue Mix at £3.80 per ball.

On the same website we noticed some cushion covers to knit, hmm with winter evenings coming up would be good to curl up in front of the fire and knit …

I welcome features to appear on the website. Do get in touch with me with your ideas.

Val Reynolds Brown Editor


Supporting the Family on the Final Journey

Fleur de Lys © Pintail Media

Fleur de Lys © Pintail Media

A family’s journey through life-limiting illness is very different from that of the patient’s. Isabel Hospice cares for the patient and all those around them. When someone in the family has a diagnosis of a serious illness, everybody is affected. It takes time to adjust and find ways of managing illness and treatment

Isabel Hospice cares for the patient and all those around them. The Family Support Team consists of staff specially trained in counselling and family work and a team of highly skilled and trained volunteers. These teams work closely with the nursing staff and Hospice Chaplain. They know that patients and families need not only physical support but also emotional, practical and spiritual care too.

Jeff’s wife, Cathy lost her fight against breast cancer four years ago. She was just 33 years old. About five months after she was diagnosed, Cathy’s consultant suggested they contact Isabel Hospice. Their initial reaction was typical of many patients and families who have not experienced hospice care before; that the Hospice is a place where people go to die and “she was not going to die yet.” Cathy was struggling at the time with the chemotherapy treatment she was undergoing and so they decided to make use of the care being offered by Isabel Hospice for just a short period. This was the beginning of a relationship between Jeff and the Hospice that still remains today. “They were superb and the care was fantastic. They looked after me as well as Cathy. Cathy would go in for a week or so and they would get everything under control with her medication, etc until she was ready to come home.”

“It would give me a break too. You don’t realise how things build up and up. You think you should be able to cope and you don’t realise things are getting on top of you or how the stress is building. The times when Cathy stayed in the Hospice would let me recover too. I could go and stay with her there whenever I wanted to, knowing that they were handling everything. When she came home I was stronger and in a better position to care for her myself.”

“I was there for her if she wanted to shout or as a shoulder to cry on but I couldn’t really help her. I would think I was coping and then something, usually something small, would just snap and I would find myself snapping back at her and saying things I really didn’t mean. There was one time when a bike show was on in London and Cathy wanted me to go. She was very poorly at home and I didn’t want to leave her. Helen our Hospice Nurse Specialist came and stayed with her and they both convinced me to go and even supplied me with a mobile phone so that I could keep in touch. I worried all afternoon but the break was wonderful and allowed me to feel so much better when I returned.”

“On those occasions when Cathy went into the In- patient hospice I felt a bit of a failure, I was her husband and I should be able to look after her I thought, but she was suffering with terrible pain and a week later she would come back home and it would be all under control again. I couldn’t do that for her, but it made it so that we could cope again for a period together as husband and wife.”

At Isabel Hospice everyone works together with families and carers, allowing them to dip in and out of the facilities, care and support on offer to them as it best suits their current needs. The Family Support Team is there throughout the illness and into bereavement and also specialises in support for the children and young people involved. Although a family’s journey through the illness of one of them is very different from that of the patient’s, their need for support, information and for feeling valued and respected are the same.

The Isabel Hospice team are specialists. They know how to approach families, how to assess and understand their needs. They have many years of experience about interventions that help and can offer holistic care that will ease the practical, physical, emotional, social and spiritual pain and suffering of the people who will go on living after a death in their family.

Isabel Hospice staff stand beside the family, ready to help when needed. This may be soon after bereavement or it may be years later. The support does not go away. Following bereavement Isabel Hospice support people in many ways such as giving information about the effects of grief and help to sort out finances and other practical worries. One to one or group support is on offer for adults and separately for children and young people.

Where children and young people are involved the Hospice has programmes which offer a group experience for grieving children and their parents. On these programmes children and young people share with others of the same age some of their worries and painful feelings. They are encouraged to express their emotions by using music, art, talking, physical activities and they also have some fun together. Parents are encouraged to accompany their children and meet together while their children are in the group. They take part in similar activities and this provides the basis for the children and adults to have a shared experience.

For adults Isabel Hospice offers one-to-one sessions. There is a team of trained visitors who can either meet with people at home or arrange to meet at one of Isabel Hospice’s bases. The service is confidential and concerned with helping people to cope with their feelings of loss. There are also different groups all over the area that meet to share feelings, experiences and friendship.

Many ill and bereaved people question why and what is the meaning of the illness. The Hospice Chaplain is available to support families whether they have particular religious and spiritual beliefs or none at all. “90% of our patient intake have no religious beliefs and do not attend a worship centre. Yet I have never met a patient without some form of spirituality. By listening and getting to know the patient, we, on the caring team, learn each patient’s spiritual language and so discover their spiritual needs. If a patient is in some kind of spiritual pain we work with them for control or release from the pain.” Geoffrey Brown (Chaplain)

“Some people feel bereavement is like an injury which you will recover from. It is of course not like that at all.

I found the staff at Isabel Hospice were prepared to let me talk to them about Cathy when I wanted to. Friends were very kind but there came a point where I felt guilty repeating myself over and over to them. The Hospice were and are always there and ready to listen when I needed or indeed need to talk.” Jeff.

More information about Isabel Hospice and the services offered free to the local community in eastern Hertfordshire can be found on the website: or by calling 01707 382500. It is an independent hospice funded mainly by charitable donations. The majority of the £3+ million running costs are generously raised by and through the local community to allow this service to continue to be provided free to local people.

Isabel Hospice care is based on the simple idea that our patients are ordinary people living with physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs. We are an independent Hospice funded mainly by charitable donations. We have developed our services to meet the needs of our local community in eastern Hertfordshire and rely on the help of a multitude of specially trained voluntary staff, highly trained nursing staff and specialist doctors to make the lives of patients and their families as good as they can possibly be.

The Hospice provides its services for free to local people. Around £2 million of the £3+ million it costs to run the service each year needs to be raised through charitable donations.


Cancer, Positive use of Raw Goat’s Milk

This feature, first published in 2002, was lost when an earlier version of  the In Balance Magazine website was irretrievably corrupted. We recently rediscovered the feature on an archive website and decided to republish.

Goat © Pintail

Goat © Pintail

A diagnosis of cancer and its subsequent remission were what made Natalia Markelova, a 49-year-old divorcee set out on the road to establishing her the goat farm in Togliatti, Russia, and ultimately receiving national accolades for her work as a businesswoman

When a friend organised a visit for me to someone whom I would end up referring to as ‘the goat woman’, I expected a tough wizened old goat farmer. Instead, I met a large, plump woman with friendly cornflower-blue eyes, a halo of silver-grey hair and a gentle smile.

Natalia explained that she had been diagnosed with uterine cancer and subsequently decided to refuse conventional chemotherapy. Instead, she embarked on an intense research programme concerning the medical benefits of drinking goat’s milk. Convinced she was on the right track, she doggedly stuck with her preferred self-treatment of drinking goat’s milk only to find that her cancer was in remission.

Inspired by her own self-cure, and because the only way to obtain goat’s milk in this city of almost a million people was to own a pet-goat, she vowed to set up a goat farm with a view to producing milk for fellow sufferers of cancer and other ailments.

Goat herd France © Pintail

Goat herd France © Pintail

Thirty eight of Natalia’s goats produce 110 litres of milk every day. This doughty woman has the help of four workers, two of whom work at a time on one of two shifts. Milk is sent to kindergartens, hospitals and orphanages. After a tour of her the barn where the female goats were separated from the male goats and the bleating kids, Natalia explained that once her illness had been diagnosed she cut out cow’s milk altogether and switched to goat’s milk. Since the day she was told that she had only six months to live, she has now extended her life by another seven years.

She believes that as a society we need to be closer to nature and more in tune with its benefits. Indeed, judging by her close companions: a nervy toy poodle, a sleepy black cat, a fluffy white cat, and the fact that she says she knows all her goats by name, it is evident that she practices as she preaches.

It took her three years to start the farm from scratch and fulfil the promise once given to her pet goat: “I will help others as you helped me”. Natalia has visited nine states in the USA to learn about goat farming and to import specific breeds that were superior to native stock. She has also visited goat farms in the UK. She has been elected the leader of the Russian Goat Farmers’ Association which she helped to found.

I asked her what her thoughts were on receiving a diagnosis of cancer. “I was afraid for three days at first, but then decided that I was not going to accept the diagnosis and that I would find some way to fight it,” she says, adding that her three children had been her main motivation for staying alive. “I wanted to prove to them that there is nothing in life that can take you out of life’s saddle, if you are not prepared to get out if it first, yourself.”

Natalia explained that scientific research showed that goat’s milk takes 15 minutes to be digested in contrast with cow’s milk which takes some 45 minutes. Goat milk is also said to be the only product that helps rid the body of metal products. She also believes that it helps to kill allergies in children, and helps to calm ulcers.

I asked her if when she received her diagnosis, she changed her diet in any other way. “I eat anything I want, in addition to all goat products including meat, milk and cheese.” Regarding other cases where goat’s milk cures cancer she referred me to the work of Dr Bernard Jensen PhD, an American physician who was diagnosed with cancer at age 35 but who went on to cure himself with goat’s milk and lived to the ripe old age of 96. She is a devotee of his book: ‘Goat milk magic’. (This book is still in print Ed.)

She then takes out a thick file filled with letters which she tells me are from people who say how they have been saved by goat’s milk. Natalia suggests that if someone has cancer, she would advise them to read up on the healing benefits of goat’s milk and then make their own decision about whether or not to use it.

Contributing authors: Martine Self and Anna Garmash,

Editor’s Note:

Growing interest in alternatives to cow’s milk is reflected in the availability of pasteurised goat’s milk now widely available in UK supermarkets.

There is a proliferation of goat’s cheese from France, especially sourced by Tesco. Some goat’s cheeses are made from unpasteurised milk.

A huge amount of information was discovered in a general search on Google using unpasteurised goats’ milk.

British Goat Society

British Goat Society

The British Goat Society has an interesting website – You can call them on 01626 833168

Other In Balance features relating to cancer:

Read more »


Living with an Alcoholic – follow up story

Alcoholism affects everyone in a family

Alcoholism affects everyone in a family

We have had several readers writing in following our feature Living with an Alcoholic published in May this year and here is another account we have received

When I heard about the death of the husband of a dear friend of mine I was shocked. Stewart was a charming, very active and creative man. He had suffered a massive heart attack. He was 70 years old.

Born in India to English parents he and his siblings were sent to what are referred to as lesser public schools when the family returned to England.

Stewart served in the British army in the Far East, he was caught and interned by the Japanese.

When he returned home the three children were away at school and his wife had become a well known architect.

Not unusually, Stewart was a drinker, which became heavier as time passed. He travelled to London three times a week by train from Gloucestershire. His behaviour was such that he used to be taken to Paddington station and put on the train by the taxi driver. He would be met by another taxi driver in deepest Gloucestershire who would drive him home and help him into the house.

He usually managed the stairs  but if not his wife would cover him with a blanket and leave him there, after all she couldn’t move him.

He had promised over and over to stop drinking, but his wife knew he hadn’t stopped as she found bottles hidden all over the house, even finding one in his dressing gown that hung on the bathroom door.

She often spoke of the stress of living with an alcoholic and said her doctor had warned that her her blood pressure was sky high. He told her if Stewart hadn’t died when he did, she wouldn’t have lived much longer.

As it was she lived for another 15 years but always felt guilty for not being able to help him stop drinking even though she did accept he alone was responsible for his behaviour.

Jean Jarvis, contributing author

Some websites offering support:

NHS Support
Support for Families and Friends

If you would like to send in an account of a personal experience that you feel might help others, do get in touch. I can assure you of complete confidentiality.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Christiane Kubrick Wife of the late Stanley Kubrick Exclusive Interview + Book Giveaway

Christiane Kubrick at her easel

Christiane Kubrick at her easel

Last century, there were a few film directors who rewrote cinema. Apart from London-born Alfred Hitchcock, geographically the closest to South East film buffs was Stanley Kubrick, New York born but happily settled in Childwickbury, just north of St Albans, for many years before his death.

Known as an obsessive who valued his own privacy and space above all else – his classic A Clockwork Orange was withdrawn from circulation for many years in the UK because he didn’t want to engage in discussion about its potential for social harm – it’s hardly surprising that this silent iceberg of a talent had the potential to overshadow his talented wife, German-born Christiane.

Life is always hard for the lesser-known partner in a well-known relationship. Whatever their achievement, they always face the danger of being just a footnote to a more famous life. However, Christiane Kubrick has always done her own thing and has gained an international reputation as an artist to boot.

Descended from a melange of theatre directors, actors, writers and musicians, Christiane’s parents were opera singers and encouraged her into a career in the theatre, although her impulse was always to paint. However, she found early success as a dancer and actress – this included leading roles in theatre, radio, TV and film productions, when she was seen by Stanley who cast her in the only female part in the film Paths of Glory.

But the desire to paint never left her. Despite family commitments, she continued painting, studying at UCLA, the Art Students League in New York and at St Martin’s School of Art in London.

Then, following a family move to the UK in the 1960s, she began to exhibit – the Cork Street Galleries the Grosvenor Gallery, the Drian Gallery and the Mercury Gallery. Later, Christiane was elected Chair of the Women’s International Art Club, founded with a legacy from suffragette and artist Sylvia Pankhurst to defy a law that prohibited women from exhibiting their paintings. And she was also chosen four times for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

At the same time, her work appeared in her husband’s films – in a curious mirror image of wardrobe designer Shirley Russell’s contribution to her husband Ken – as well as in works by Steven Spielberg, on a CD cover design for cellist Alexander Baillie and the cover for a novel by Gabriel García Márquez. Her paintings have been widely collected in the USA and Europe, with both prints and posters published, first by Athena Fine Art Posters and latterly by the Bentley Publishing Group. Many are reproduced in a series of fine art books in Japan and in 1990 a selection was published by Warner Books in a book Christiane Kubrick Paintings* selected as Art Book of the Year on American television.

Enough? No, there’s more! In keeping with the theatrical tradition in her family, she designed the sets for the Palace Opera’s successful production of Hansel and Gretel which was chosen by the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London to be its Christmas Show for two consecutive years.

That experience of theatre design led her to use an Apple Macintosh computer and the computer program ‘Painter’. She now uses these as a complement to her painting and also as a tool in her multimedia projects. Her recent activities include exhibitions for Art in Action at Waterperry (Oxon) and Open Studios (Herts).

She teaches regularly at workshops in Hertfordshire and Shropshire, as well as exhibiting and selling her work over the web.

Remembering Stanley

Remembering Stanley

So, that’s Christiane Kubrick – artist, creator, woman, mother. Ask her about Stanley and you get the stock response: “As and when the time comes that I feel I must say more, I will.” But that’s no problem – she’s a fascinating force in her own right. And she demands, in the nicest possible way, her own identity as an artist. “I don’t know whether Stanley wrote anything about my painting,” she says. “He might have mentioned it when he used my work in his films, but I’m afraid that’d be too long a search!”

Let us then take Christiane Kubrick as her own person, an artist of substance – ironic, humorous, whimsical but full of substance.

Here she is in conversation with In Balance magazine in 2007

IB: Have you always painted?
CK: I have painted all my life, I have painted professionally, from the age of 25 – before that I needed to learn how to draw. I come from an extremely theatrical family, so that’s all I ever really knew, opera and stuff. And I had a puppet theatre from day one it seems to me and I repainted the puppets and I learnt how to sew, I really learned painting, sculpture and sewing and all that in my wish to build the theatre and I made sets – sadly I don’t have them any more because the early ones must have been very funny.

IB: That was important to you?
CK: I know I gave it everything I had and I started to play with electric lights and water – nearly killed myself!

When I think hard, because the children have asked me about these things, I think it was when I had all the childhood diseases. When I had scarlet fever I remember just doing the theatre for weeks – that’s why I think I was better in class at drawing than the other children, just simply by doing it all the time.

Later I studied at St Martin’s School of Art and wherever I could in between babies and stuff!

IB: You’re German. What’s your background?
CK: I was born in 1932 in Braunschweig, a town in North Germany. I then lived in many different places as my parents were opera singers. Later, I was evacuated and I lived in my Nan’s relatives house in a brickworks, in the countryside. Then I lived with lots of other people after the war and went to boarding school.

I was 23 when I met Stanley and we got married a year or so later. I had been married before – criminally young – and had my eldest daughter, Katherine, in Germany before I went to the US. Stanley and I had Vivien who lives in California and Anya**.

IB: Moving to your paintings, the colours you use are very vivid, strong. Are they what you see or what you’d prefer them to be?
CK: I tend to see the world in bright colours, but now I’m longing to use more muted versions. I hope it comes not from growing older but from being more sensitive.

IB: So your style changes …
CK: Yes, it goes in phases. It’s a bit like handwriting – one day you write and it looks okay and another day you think how beautiful and neat it looks. Seems to be true of painting too.

IB: Do you sell most of your work?
CK: Well, it goes in waves, I sold very well at first on the Internet but that was because I was riding on Stanley’s coat tails and when he died lots more people looked me up, otherwise I think I wouldn’t be looked up that much. So that was good for sad reasons. It seems to have evened out. I sell at ‘Art in Action’, I sell to people who collect my work – overall I have sold a little over half my work. Of course, when I was young I sold them very cheap and I sold lots!

IB: Away from art, what makes you angry?
CK: The war in Iraq, but it’s not something I want to speak publicly about …

IB: What don’t you want to talk about when you’re asked for interviews?
CK: Some journalists are very clever and they surprise you. I hate that perplexed moment when you gush out the first thing that comes to your mind, or you are dumbfounded and you say nothing. Either way you look a fool.

IB: What sort of things?
CK: There were a lot questions about whether Stanley minded my being German – that kind of thing. People just assume that you’re a kiss and tell person – that’s insulting. I didn’t want to appear to be an idiot – it was that very thing that Stanley was afraid of with the press. He said that you do your very best, you work very hard and you only show the stuff you think is really good and then in an interview it’s undermined by nervous babble. He only wanted to talk about things he had considered carefully. He didn’t think he was quick witted enough to cope with intense interviews.

IB: Of course, you were married to Stanley and supported him. But what did you personally think of his films?
CK: I liked all his films, each one in its own way as they were very different from each other. As a painter I liked very much Barry Lyndon and 2001 – I liked the last one very much. Perhaps I felt the least connection with Full Metal Jacket where the topic was more alien, but I thought that was a good film as well.

So much time was spent on each one they represent whole periods of my life and I don’t have a favourite film. It depends on my mood at the time.

IB: He worked at home, though? So you were involved?
CK: He worked at home and prepared the film at home. It usually started when he read a story he really liked and he would talk about that particular story and how he could make it. Then, if it was really something he thought would work, he would make a budget and work out the casting. It took a long time to do it carefully and he enjoyed the preparation enormously. The driving force was a longing to see the story on screen.

IB: So you knew everything that was going on with his films while he was making them?
CK: Yes, because it happened at home.

IB: What did you learn from him?
CK: I learned from Stanley that you had to be thorough and patient, not self indulgent. He was good at putting different hats on. He was producer, business man, director. One instance I can remember was where he really liked a particularly long scene. He said “I think it’s particularly wonderful but it’s too long. It doesn’t help the whole enough for me to put it in.” And he whittled away at it. Often it was very painful to let go of something he thought was really good and he’d put it in, take it out, suffer in other words, but he also expected to do that. Paintings are slightly more protected because they will be there no matter what. The worst thing that could happen is I don’t sell but there are no other people pulled in, no one else suffers and the whole thing doesn’t collapse because I do a lousy painting. Film is different, it is so big and expensive. It needs ability and endurance to succeed, only a few people can do it, and Stanley did.

Val Reynolds Brown & Dave Reeder

1. Christiane Kubrick at her easel © Pintail Media
2. Remembering Stanley © Christiane Kubrick

** Died 1999

August 2011:
I met Christiane recently when she generously offered a copy of her book to give away to an In Balance reader

If you would like to enter the prize draw send an email to with Christiane Kubrick Paintings in the subject box and your full contact details in the text box.
Last day of entry 10 November 2011. One entry per household.


Care Home Fees: How to avoid being wrongly charged

None of us like the thought of our parents becoming frail and needing full-time care. For many families, though, it’s inevitable and it can put immense strain on everyone involved.

When Angela Sherman’s parents both developed Parkinson’s Disease in their early 50s, she could never have foreseen the nightmare journey they were all about to embark on. 20 years later her parents were in full-time nursing care with the added complications of dementia, stroke and cancer.

“My parents had some savings, and so I simply assumed they’d have to pay for their own care. No one told me otherwise. At that point the care fees were about £4,500 per month for both of them, and I knew that I’d have to think about selling the family home to pay for it. It was heartbreaking.”

Because Angela’s parents had savings, few people in any ‘authority’ seemed willing to help her with information or advice, and her parents’ local authority (local council) were keen to close all their files. When this happens it leaves families in a black hole, not knowing what to do or who to talk to – and that can often be the hardest thing.

It was only when Angela saw a TV programme about NHS funding for long-term care that she started researching what funding is actually available.

“Before you go into a care home,” says Angela, “the first thing you’re usually asked is how you’re going to pay for it. Social Services (your local council) will do a means test, and if you have savings or assets over about £23,000 (depending where you live in the UK), you’ll be told you have to pay all the costs of your care.

“This is the wrong way round. If you have significant health needs – and most people in a nursing home have health needs – it’s the NHS that should assess you for fully-funded NHS care, also known as NHS Continuing Healthcare. Social Services should not be making this decision. If you’re in a residential home, you may also require as assessment for NHS funding, depending on your health needs.”

The confusion arises with the difference between ‘social’ care and ‘health’ care. In the UK social care is means-tested, but health care is free at the point of use. Just because you’re elderly doesn’t mean the law has changed. We all pay tax to fund the NHS, and the NHS in return provides us with healthcare – no matter what our age.

“Most people are completely unaware of this,” states Angela, “and the various authorities involved don’t exactly publicise it. The devastating result is that tens of thousands of elderly people every year in the UK lose their homes and everything they’ve worked for, to pay for care they’ve already paid for through taxation.

“Being forced to pay for health care in the UK does not comply with the law. As my parents’ power of attorney, I decided to challenge the NHS on this and I pursued two cases against it – one on behalf of Mum and one on behalf of Dad. My point was that the NHS was illegally stripping my parents of all their assets to pay for care which they had a right to receive as UK taxpayers. It took me three years and a huge amount of time, tears and stamina – but eventually I won both cases.

“By that time my parents had paid out £160,000 on care fees. The NHS was forced to repay over £100,000 and pay all future fees. It can be hard to win a case like this. I am one of very few people to have done it – not just once, but twice – and at the same time. A solicitor friend was a welcome sounding board for me, but essentially I fought the battle myself – and other people can too.

“The whole process left me exhausted, but I feel glad to have had the stamina and drive to do it. Both my parents died at the end of 2009 and, after I’d taken some time to recover, I decided that my experience could help other families. That’s why I set up Care To Be Different.”

Care To Be Different makes available to families all the knowledge and insider insights Angela gained during her dealings with the NHS, and her guidance and advice now helps people step-by-step through the whole process. The website is packed with information and there’s also a range of practical guides people can purchase for a small fee. You can also book a telephone advice appointment with Angela to help you move forward with your own specific situation.

“I’ve ‘been there and done it’, as it were – and now I can save people huge amounts of time and stress and give them a much better chance of securing NHS funding for care fees. I wish I’d had all this information when my own parents first went into care!”

For information and advice about care fees and long-term care visit or call Angela Sherman on 01908 582231.


'On The Edge' TV interview about NHS Continuing HealthcareCare to be Different is led by Angela Sherman and it grew from her experience having two parents in full-time care for several years, learning the ins and outs of the care system and understanding how it really works in practice. She also challenged the NHS to provide free Fully-Funded NHS Care (known as NHS Continuing Healthcare) for both parents – and won. 

Watch her TV interview about NHS Continuing Healthcare on our YouTube channel.

Alternatively, read the interview transcript.

We have written a review of a book entitled The Care Homes Guide – South East England which you might find useful.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Puppy Training Problems Solved 2: Winnie Chews a Shoe …



Winnie’s Woes: The diary of a golden retriever learning about life

A Seven Part Series with a bittersweet final episode

What a lovely walk that was, I feel quite worn out. I’ll just flop here on the kitchen floor, it’s so lovely and cool.

I’d better have a drink. Oh great, Claire’s topped it up for me. What is she doing anyway? She’s going into the pantry, perhaps for some doggie treats …

Winnie, shoo. 

Oh, I don’t think I’m supposed to go in there. And she doesn’t have any treats either. Although she has left some toys out for me. I’ll have a sleep and then play.

Yaaaawwn. The house in quiet. I wonder where Claire is?

She’s shut me in the kitchen. That means she’s gone out. I think I’ll play with those toys she left out. Oh, hang on. What’s this?

Oh, my, it smells amazing. It’s all chewy and leathery. What are these dangly things for? They chew up really well. And this bit at the bottom has mud and stuff on. It must be a new kind of toy – thank you Claire!

I’ll just chuck it around the kitchen a bit, this is so much fun!

What happens if I growl at it and pretend it’s an animal? Ha! this is brilliant. Grrr, gotcha.

Wo-ow, I-I-f I sh-sh-ake my he-ad li-ke th-thi-is it starts to fall apart … !

I’m taking this to my bed to give it a proper good chew. Now that the stringy bits have come out and the bottom is hanging off I can really get at it properly…

What’s that noise? Is Claire home? Yay! I’ll meet her at the back door and show her what I’ve done with the lovely new toy she gave me – she’ll be so proud of me!

Look Claire – I’ve chewed it all up!

WINNIE!!! Blah blah blah, naughty girl.

Oh no, I’m being told off again … she didn’t want me to eat that toy after all … why did she leave it in the kitchen for me then? And what’s a shoe…?

Claire Price, Winnie’s owner

Breeder’s advice:

The obvious comment is don’t leave anything that you don’t want chewed within reach of a puppy. Slippers, shoes and underwear smell strongly of YOU and will be very enticing to a little one. Be sure to provide toys which can be safely chewed and never chastise the puppy for something he did earlier. He can only associate the present moment, not the past.

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!

Have you read the bestseller The Puppy that came for Christmas …  A true story that has appealed to dog lovers and non-dog owners alike – it is both truly heart warming and heart wrenching.

Recommended Links:

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

Helpful Holidays offer holiday cottages in the West Country that welcome dogs.  See their Helpful Holidays website.


Step Families – The Trials & Tribulations of Stepparenting

Boy next to large branchFamilies are rarely easy. Parenting, as we all know, does not come with a comprehensive User Guide to cover all eventualities. And life moves on – “It wasn’t like this in my day”, we cry (a bit too often in my case!). Put all those factors together – plus add a big dollop of self-sacrifice, resentment and frustration – and ‘VOILA’, welcome to the world of Step-Parenting …

Okay, it’s not entirely doom and gloom. There are moments of loveliness, of joy even, times when the step-parent and the step-child(ren) are happy together, bonded. Happily running through gardenBut too often it feels like an impossible undertaking for all involved. I speak for myself, of course, and I’m sure there are plenty of Step-Mum’s and Step-Dad’s out there who skip through it all with relative ease. But I’ve read enough on the subject to know I’m not alone in my struggles. There are many (Step) voices in the wilderness, equally anguished. I’m also very aware that plenty have it far far tougher than I do; more complex family units, more animosity between ex-partners, etc, and so maybe I should stop the whingeing … but then this would be a very short article!

I have a son from a previous relationship who is almost six years old, and my husband has a daughter from his previous relationship, nine months younger than my son, who spends five days/nights out of every fortnight with us. We have been together since the children were very young, so they don’t remember the situation being any different. From what I’ve read, this all helps enormously. Our situation is ‘normal’ to the kids, they know no different. Yet, despite this, we struggle. Here are some of the classic battle scenes other stepfamilies may recognise:

“You’re not my real mummy”: I had hoped this would be reserved for The Teenage Years, but sadly not. I think it was first uttered (well, screamed) when my step-daughter was about 3. A whole decade early! That’s really bad form; I wasn’t prepared. She used to call me ‘Mummy Lisa’, but suddenly I was cruelly demoted to ‘Not My Real Mummy’. It shouldn’t hurt, but sometimes it just does… Needless to say, I avoid any fairy tales that have the archetypal Wicked Stepmother in – no need to fuel the fires!An ordinary mum

“I don’t want you, I want my daddy”: Typically, this one stings when it’s spat out amidst angry tears when my step-daughter has woken up in the early hours crying after a bad dream or suchlike. When ‘daddy’ is asleep. When ‘Not My Real Mummy’ is the only one available (though a bit bleary-eyed). I’m afraid I am guilty of replying ‘Well, tough, you’ve got me’ on occasion – I’m sure Supernanny would be appalled.

Turning awayI’m going to tell my mummy/daddy about you”: This one usually follows a telling off. It sometimes appears in its extended form ‘I’m going to tell my mummy/daddy about you being so horrible to me all the time’. Nothing shocking, but when you’ve picked said child up from school, played with her, fed and watered her, and have only told her off when she’d been incredibly rude/kicked the dog/thrown her jelly across the table (delete as appropriate) it does grate. Just a little.

Step-parenting can put even the strongest relationship under a huge amount of strain, and I’ve read of many step families that have fallen by the wayside when the tensions became unbearable. But I’ve also been cheered by the number of step families that have risen to the various challenges and stayed the course. With a bit of luck (and a lot of patience and devotion), we’ll be one of those!

Some of the resources that have kept me sane (ish) as a step-parent are:
The Step-Parents Parachute – Flora McEvedy
How To Be A Happy Step Mum – Dr Lisa Doodson

Forums can be good too – some of the discussions on Mumsnet were useful to me in the earlier stages

The author’s name has been withheld to protect the identities of the children. Any correspondence from readers will be forwarded via the editor.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

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