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Puppy Training 1: Winnie Learns Digging is Not Popular

Winnie and Claire

Winnie and Claire

Winnie’s Woes: The diary of a golden retriever learning about life
A seven part series with a bittersweet final episode

Another beautiful day, the sun is shining, soon Claire will be down with my breakfast. What could be better? Actually, I could do with going outside; I really need to go to the toilet!

Oooh! Hurry up Claire! I can’t hold on much longer!

I’ll just settle down on my bed again and try and wait

Is that the alarm I hear? Thank goodness, I’m busting here!

Footsteps on the landing, down the stairs – better position myself in extra cute mode just behind the door. Ouch! By Dose! Why do I always sit so close to the door?

Claire! I’m so glad to see you! I’m so happy, my tail is wagging like crazy

Ooh, nearly forgot, need the toilet.

What’s she doing? Getting my breakfast!

Oh the indecision, should I wait or should I point my nose at the door to be let out? It’s a real shame she doesn’t understand dog – life would be so much easier.

Ah, she’s noticed, thank goodness. Ahhhhhh, that’s better and breakfast on its way too.

Ooh how exciting, dog biscuits! I love biscuits. Better eat these quickly just in case anyone tries to steal them.

Now for a cuddle. Ah, tickles behind the ear, love that. What’s she saying? Blah blah blah blah, good dog, blah blah blah blah.’

Oh, she’s off again. Maybe if I sit here looking adorable she won’t leave.

It didn’t work. Oh well.

Oh – she’s left the back door open. I’ll just have a little peak outside.

It’s such a lovely day, think I’ll stretch my paws a little.

Oh, a leaf, I’ll carry that around. Oh wow! A stick! Boring leaf, I’ll have the stick instead. OH WOW! A bit of soft dirt – oh that’s just calling out to be made into a hole.

(Dig, dig, dig)

This is so much fun, I love digging

(Dig, dig, dig)

Paws are filthy, but I don’t care – digging’s great!

(Dig, dig, dig)

WINNIE! Blah blah blah

Uh oh

BLAH BLAH BLAH, bad girl!

Oh, don’t call me that – what have I done? I was just digging a hole. Don’t make me go inside.

She must be really cross, even my most cute look hasn’t worked, lying on my back with my paws in the air isn’t working either … oh dear – what did I do wrong?

Claire Price, Winnie’s owner

Trainer’s Advice: 

Dogs dig for lots of different reasons; fun, stress relief, boredom, hunting (animals, roots, etc), to cool down or to escape.

If your dog digs for any other reason than cooling down or to escape, you can do the following to save your garden:

Dig a hole in your garden, where you will allow your dog to dig. Now take some meat bones/smelly treats/toys and layer with soil until you’ve covered up the hole. Let half a bone or some garlic sausage stick out through the top soil. Go and fetch your dog and show her to the digging pit. Pretend to dig in the pit yourself and praise her lavishly when she starts digging. If your treats in the hole are yummy enough and you keep it topped up with new interesting items, you should have a dog that will go to her pit to dig, rather than the garden, as it will be more rewarding to her.

Episode 2: Winnie learns not to chew up shoes!

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 LinkAnythingdogz – 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 holiday cottages website.

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!


Learning to Live with Asperger’s Syndrome: A Real Life Story

Look me in the EyeDoes it make you feel uneasy if someone you are talking to avoids looking at you, direct eye to eye contact?

Is that learned behaviour on your part, or instinctive? Most psychologists would say it was learned, that you had experienced it before and been puzzled and made some assumptions – they are uncomfortable with you, they are guilty of something and they don’t want to look at you for instance.

But what of the person who is avoiding the eye contact? Do they have something to hide, or are they simply not wanting to make any kind of contact with you? Are they painfully shy?

John Elder Robison has written an account of his life from when he realised he was different from other people. Unable to make eye contact or connect with other children and by the time he was a teenager his odd habits – an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, behave obsessively – and earned the label social deviant.

I found this book hard to put down and spent most of a day and evening reading it cover to cover. I have come across people who displayed some of the behaviours described by Robison, who was eventually identified as having Asperger’s syndrome at the age of 40 and who eventually was able to work hard to communicate and be able to socialise with greater ease.

This fascinating book, a New York Times bestseller, mixes ascerbic wit with painful honesty, wry humour and clarity. It should help to break down some barriers to understanding the behaviour of anyone within the autistic spectrum. More importantly I think it should help anyone with Asperger’s syndrome to manage their interactions with their peers and society in general better and be more able to successfully survive the slings and arrows that life throws at us all.

Published by Ebury Press, 2008, available from Amazon Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s


Life Modelling: Up Front and Personal

Dawn, sculpture, David Evans FRSBS, in Parkway, Welwyn Garden City

Dawn, sculpture, David Evans FRSBS, in Parkway, Welwyn Garden City

A lighthearted feature that manages to get under the skin of life modelling and provides a rare glimpse into the courage and humour of an experienced model

How do you think you’d feel if you woke up on the first day in a new job, knowing that one of the first things you’d have to do when you got there would be to take off all your clothes?

Well, I can tell you that I didn’t feel very well at all.

I couldn’t believe that I’d committed myself to something so unimaginably appalling. But there was no escape now; I had to go through with it.

Looking back at that day some ten years down the line, my reasons for applying to the local art college for work as a life model don’t look very convincing, but at the time it seemed like a good idea. Having been at home caring for children but otherwise master of my own time for many years I couldn’t face returning to office life; all the gossiping and office politics and having to wear tidy little suits and smart shoes – but a job of some kind was becoming a financial necessity. The idea of being an artist’s muse, spending time with a wild but profoundly fascinating being who would share his deepest thoughts with me as I posed, draped in silken cloths and lying on a velvet chaise longue, had an undeniable appeal. It certainly beat the hell out of the prospect of being on a till in Tesco.

What never entered my mind was that the average model spends his/her time mainly in front of classes of up to thirty strangers. And what I didn’t know was that the local art college, far from occupying the gracious old building I’d envisaged, had been rehoused in a semi-derelict office block, with icy draughts from broken window panes and the dust of ages still lying on the floor.

Sculpture in Vienna

Sculpture in Vienna

I was lucky. Taking pity I imagine on the pale and trembling middle-aged woman before him, the tutor in charge assigned me to a class of adults doing a part-time degree course, so at least I was spared the added horror of facing hordes of 18 year olds. The students couldn’t have been kinder, introducing themselves and having a friendly chat to help me relax, but the fateful moment couldn’t be put off indefinitely. I was shown the corner of the room, roughly screened with a tatty old piece of cloth, in which I was to undress. By this stage a sense of complete unreality had set in, but it wasn’t enough to calm my thundering heart. As I emerged clothed in my huge dressing gown, I still nursed the crazy hope that perhaps it was a mistake; that they didn’t really need all my clothes off. But they did. And I was shown to a rickety old wooden chair, and asked to sit down.

Nothing at all had prepared me for what came next, which was the total, unnerving silence of intense concentration as fifteen pairs of eyes zoomed in on me, and my cellulite. It was so quiet I was sure they could hear my heart thudding. As the morning wore on, and some kind soul brought me a cup of coffee, I slowly started to calm down a bit, though relaxation was short-lived once drawing after drawing began to be stuck up on the surrounding walls! Wherever I looked, there I was.

By mid-afternoon I was actually relaxed enough to start to feel a bit dozy at times. The sounds which were to become so familiar, the soft scratchings of charcoal on paper mingling with the background hum of traffic and the gentle drizzle outside, calmed my frazzled nerves and a sense of achievement began to creep in.

Feel like trying it for yourself?

Painting a model at Chelsea Flower Show

Painting a model at Chelsea Flower Show

Bear in mind that the myths about the pay really are myths, you’d be far better off financially working almost anywhere else. But there’s no doubt that it can give you a tremendous sense of empowerment, as well as a tiny stake in posterity. In just a few homes, my image will be gazing down from the wall for years to come. Cellulite included.

Keeping in Shape

Like most models I want to keep in shape, after all I need my body to earn money, so I joined a Zumba class as I find the gym boring and am too lazy to push myself very hard when I’m there. Zumba definitely helps with the modelling to be reasonably fit. However, for some classes a very slim and muscular model would be ideal so students can see clearly the skeleton and muscles. In others the more Rubenesque models are popular. I also practise yoga, which is popular with a lot of models as it helps keep the body flexible.

The Register of Artists’ Models is a useful starting point for anyone interested in this kind of work and gives a clear indication of rates of pay.

The author’s name has been withheld for personal reasons

Do you have a story you’d like to tell in all honesty but would prefer to remain anonymous? We can guarantee that anonymity … so do get in touch

All photography © Pintail Media

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Memory Loss for a Day – Associative Amnesia

Nothing is what it seems

Nothing is what it seems

Memory Loss is disconcerting. Unbelievable really, and I was unwilling to accept it. I kept on trying to remember, thinking about where I had been, visualising, but getting nothing in my mind’s eye.

What I can remember is sitting comfortably by the fire, sipping a welcome early morning cup of coffee and suddenly realising I should be at a press event in London for gardening journalists. An event I had been looking forward to for months.

I quickly got my stuff together and left for the station. After a few yards I ran back to the house to get my Nordic walking stick because my back has been playing up recently and the stick helps.

The next thing I can remember is walking back up the same street returning home. The period in between was blank and no matter how hard I tried I could not remember what I had been doing nor where I had been.

When I got indoors I looked through my handbag and found a train ticket and a taxi receipt.

Looking through my rollerbag I found a pile of paperwork, a pair of secateurs, gardening gloves, packets of seeds and the gardening event programme.

So it would seem I had visited the show, in Victoria, which meant I had taken the train, got off at Finsbury Park, taken the Victoria line to Victoria station and taken a taxi to the Royal Horticultural Halls.

The train ticket receipt showed it was bought at 10.42 and a taxi receipt (which is not something I usually take) showed 11.34 with a journey of 6 minutes, which seems to imply I took a taxi from Victoria to the RHS Horticultural Halls. In my notebook I found a short note about stevia, a natural sweetener and on a couple of business cards I had made other notes, so I must have spoken to at least a couple of people on stands.

I have no memory of signing into the event, meeting colleagues, visiting stands – all the kinds of things I would expect to happen. I have no memory of lunch, coffee, tea, water, visiting the loo, or leaving my jacket at, or even collecting it from, the cloakroom. I had taken no photographs, which is unusual for me.

Frankly the whole thing is a puzzle. Almost like the beginning of a mystery story, at least I didn’t find something sinister in my bag!

All night I tried in vain to remember something, anything, to convince myself I wasn’t going mad, or worse.

I went to the doctor the following morning who had no idea what had happened to me. He checked my reflexes and for signs pressure behind my eyes. Everything looked normal. The doctor said he had never experienced anything like this before and would get back to me after investigating it from a neurological perspective.

My symptoms were that I felt very tired and had occasional head pains, not a headache as such.

So it feels as if I have lost a day of my life and the feeling of bewilderment is strong. I’m also concerned that it may happen again and wonder whether I will be able to get back home. The doctor suggested I take my mobile with me at all times and put in an ICE – in case of emergency – number.

Do I go to a training course next week, or to Regent Street for a meeting?

The doctor did get back to me and confirmed it was a case of Associative Amnesia, sometimes referred to as fugue state. I have been assured it is unlikely to happen again. It affects about 2% of the population with a 5% chance of it happening again.

So what made it happen? No idea, except I have experienced a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for many months, mostly related to lost websites, lost email addresses with little understanding of how they happened.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

PS Four months later: I have experienced no further episodes. So, onward and upward!


A Positive Take on Cancer

The worst news

The worst news

Unfortunately these days, there can be hardly anyone who has not known someone, relative or friend, who has suffered from some type of cancer.  Or indeed has the disease themselves.  

What once was called ‘The Big C’, because no-one dared speak its name has now become so prevalent as to be almost a household word.  

Of course, over the decades, research and new forms of treatment have meant that it need not mean the end.  Just as we know of many sad cases where any treatment can only be palliative, so we know of others where cure, or at least lengthy periods of remission are now quite possible.
Nevertheless, being diagnosed with the illness still causes profound shock, particularly in the young.  When the daughter of a friend of mine, Dina, discovered she had cancer, she was in her thirties and totally devastated.  But two years on from diagnosis she did a brilliant thing.  On hearing that the hospital where she was being treated, UCLH, was opening a brand new cancer treatment centre and was looking to raise money for a tranquil winter garden for patients, she set about organising a charity auction.  I was privileged to be invited along to this and had an absolutely fantastic evening. Sheer hard work and chutzpah had meant that there were the most fantastic prizes on offer, and for such a good cause, no-one held back on the bids.  
The auction was jollied along by Brad as the auctioneer, with no former experience I was given to understand, but as an out-of-work actor he gave it his all!  Everyone did their bit, from Time Out, Dina’s former employers, to the staff at Foyles in whose gallery the auction was held, to the caterer who provided nibbles at cost price.  And many more I’m sure that I was unaware of.  The best thing of all was that by the end of the evening the hoped-for target of £10,000 was surpassed.  Dina’s smile said it all!
If you’d like to give a donation to this wonderful cause, just go to the website, read more about it along with Dina’s own story and click a few more pounds over.  
Cancer is a hugely scary thing.  A beautiful winter garden will go some way to calm those fears.
Jeannette Nelson, Contributing author

Zumba! Zumba! Everybody’s Doing It!

Zumba! Zumba! Class in Welwyn Garden City, Gosling Sports Park

Zumba! Zumba! Class in Welwyn Garden City, Gosling Sports Park

Zumba, a fitness programme inspired by Latin dance, is the newest, hottest way to keep fit. You can attend zumba classes, buy zumba dvds, there’s even zumba on wii and of course there is a range of zumba clothing to choose from 

Janet Hamer writes about the Zumba class she attends in Hatfield to keep fit 

We baby-boomers never miss a trick to keep ahead of the game, always on the alert for something new to help maintain our ageless bodies. So, bored with the gym which had achieved little except provide me with something else to moan about, I turned up at the studio on Monday morning. Feeling quite nervous as well as excited, I must admit.

I should have taken my cue from the faces of the other women gradually filing in. Did they look excited? No, on the whole they looked more like people walking into the dentists’, resigned but tense. Then the instructor rushed in and we all sidled reluctantly into the centre of the room. After a cheery greeting, we were off – step, step, step, kick, step, step, step, kick. Wow! This looks simple, I thought, and relaxed a bit. The Latin-American rhythm started to work its way into my bones, and I began to dance for the first time for years. The routine seemed pretty simple, and the insistent beat lifted my mood. I became a bit more daring, actually waving my arms in the air, trying for a bit of “attitude” while my legs rushed this way and that. I even noticed some of the words of the song “And a cha cha cha, and a woo woo woo!”  I remember this – this is fun! I thought, and that was when I caught sight of my mother in the floor to ceiling mirror.

Face as red as an embarrassed tomato, her expression deeply worried, she was going through the motions of the dance, but the legs which had felt like Madonna’s bore more resemblance to the trunks of the trees outside, and while the arms were certainly waving enthusiastically to the beat, the bingo wings beneath were doing their own thing. Horrified by what I was seeing, my concentration went flying – and so did I, catching the sole of one trainer underneath the other, I tumbled less than gracefully onto the floor. I scrambled to my feet as fast as I could, desperate not only to avoid attracting attention, but also to reduce the chances of being trampled on by the sideways-moving hordes of women, all staring grimly ahead at the instructor for fear of losing their place in the routine.

With a fixed smile to show that I really didn’t care that I’d just made a fool of myself, I rejoined the class, at which point I became aware that something had happened to my legs, which were feeling as if someone had encased them in concrete. I glanced up at the clock, then stared incredulously as it surely couldn’t be right. Only 10 minutes into the class? Another 50 to go?

“Right, ladies, you’ve had your warm-up. Now we’re into the serious workout!” shouted the instructor. She turned on the next track, doubled the volume, and the serious stuff began. At this point genuine doubt set in as to whether I’d make it to the end of this class, or be carried out on a stretcher. Deceptively simple dance steps became a nightmare at four times a comfortable speed and I was reduced to walking through the motions, or even just shifting my weight from foot to foot. Occasionally we were told to shout out or sing, but all my breath was directed towards keeping me conscious, mouth opening and closing like a large cod singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

Just when I knew I couldn’t keep going any longer, it seemed we were into the home strait, ten minutes of slowing the heart-rate and stretching out our poor limbs. The relief of having actually survived was intense, and helped provide the momentum to get out of the building and to the car.

At home again, I checked my reflection for signs of imminent heart failure, unable to believe that exercise so extreme – by my standards – could have left me still intact. But by the evening I was still in the land of the living, and starting to feel just a little bit smug. And as I arranged my aching limbs in bed that night, a tune was replaying in my head, “And a cha cha cha, and a woo woo woo”….

Eight months later, and I’m a regular zumba-goer. Incredibly, I don’t seem to have lost any weight, but my glutes (that’s bottom muscles for those who aren’t au fait with these things) are firm and to the delight of my GP, my BP reading is down 20 points! If you feel like giving it a try, you won’t have to look far as zumba classes are starting up in gyms, healthclubs and school halls everywhere.

Just don’t look in the mirror.

Feature written by Janet Hamer, contributing author

What is zumba  

  • Zumba is a dance fitness program created by dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez in Colombia in the 1990s
  • Zumba music is based on salsa, merengue, cumbia, reggaeton and other international music styles and forms

Where can I learn?

  • Zumba classes are offered through licensed instructors in more than 110,000 locations in over 125 countries
  • Dvds are available for learning at home.

Do I need special clothing?

  • No, just wear loose fitting, comfortable casual clothing
  • Zumba shoes might be a consideration if you get serious – note heel feature
Zumba shoes

Zumba shoes

Photography by Pintail Media taken at Gosling Sports Centre, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

All images were taken at a Zumba class to illustrate this feature  It is not the class attended by the writer of this article

See video clips of the class:
and  on your mobile

or on You Tube

Contact Karen at or go to her website for details of classes

Zumba class at Gosling Sports Park, Hertfordshire

Zumba class, Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City


Living with an Alcoholic

The effects of alcoholism affects family and friends

The effects of alcoholism affects family and friends

Alcoholism is an addiction and whether you suffer from the effects of alcohol yourself, or alcohol dependence, or you are living with an alcoholic, who is your husband or wife, or partner, your life can become a living hell 

The stress of living with alcoholics affects your close and extended family, friends and work colleagues Children are particularly badly stressed by parental behaviour  It takes time to learn how to live with an alcoholic Symptoms of alcoholism include irrational, unpredictable, erratic behaviour gradually becoming the norm

Wendy – not her real name – wrote this painful account of the years she spent living with an alcoholic husband

When your life falls apart, it isn’t always sudden

When you look back you realise that the process has been playing itself out over years, maybe decades, but the demands and familiar routines of daily life have blinded us to the subtle little changes. Few people who’ve been through it can say with certainty “Yes, that was when it all began”. And this is how it can happen that the brilliant, loving young man who was your best friend, constant companion and husband for years can become a bitter, self-obsessed alcoholic under your eyes, without your realising what’s going on until it’s far too late

My husband and I met at school, and married straight after he graduated from Cambridge, aged 21 and 19. He went on to complete a PhD, then took a job in the City – probably a mistake which was to determine the course of the rest of his life. His great passion was for History, but the lure of huge salaries and bonuses was irresistible to a young man who’d been brought up in a household where money was always very tight. Very naïve, neither of us appreciated that similarly huge pressures go along with huge salaries, nor did we know what harm is done when someone turns their back on something they love

Forced by lack of money to abandon my own degree so as to support Michael through his PhD, I took a low grade job in the Civil Service, but progressed up the career ladder there until we decided that it was now or never time to start a family. There was never any question in those days about whose job would be sacrificed to the care of the children

Glass of white wineCity life took over. By now working in merchant banking, notorious for its dramas and deadlines, Michael was swept up in the whole culture, where working days always included long lunches with wine and brandy and rarely finished before 7.00 in the evening. He was seldom home early in the evening and as the children got older it became the norm for me to be the sole parent at school events, parents’ evenings, etc. Gradually I came to welcome this, as it was much easier to cope with these events alone than with an unpredictable husband still reeking of wine and with an uncertain temper. This sparked frequent rows when I urged him to rethink his city career for the sake of the family, but the inevitable response was to attack me for enjoying the perks that came with his job. I began to dread his return from work

No doubt onlookers thought we had an idyllic life – large house in an affluent area, new cars, holiday house – but real life was a constant struggle to maintain normality as Michael’s drinking habits became more intrusive. Then his brilliant career came to an abrupt halt with a totally unexpected redundancy. Though he quickly found another job, it lasted less than two years. Unable to cope with the gradual loss of his professional identity, he must then have begun to resort to drinking secretly as he tried desperately to make a living from a variety of different enterprises, working from home

By then I was trying to get into the job market, but I was hampered by my lack of qualifications and by the lifestyle we’d built around us. Michael, who still maintained his public ‘persona’, resisted strongly any attempts to change the way we lived. Loans were negotiated to keep us afloat. By now his state of mind was clearly becoming unstable, and I was terrified of disturbing it even further by questioning his capabilities. I found part-time work to fit around school hours – a bit of money coming in but nothing compared with the huge monthly demands of mortgage, heating, etc

Though he was clearly drinking to some extent at home, he never appeared drunk but was becoming a Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde character. In the morning he was the Michael I’d known all my life, caring and rational. By lunchtime he was usually asleep, and when woken was hostile and abusive. Frequently he got into his car and disappeared for hours. Any hopes of asking him to take over responsibility for the children’s transport were clearly doomed as his mood swings and ability to drive worsened. When eventually persuaded to seek medical help, depression was diagnosed and Prozac prescribed

From then on the slide downhill to total chaos and nightmare was unstoppable. Fits, terrifying hallucinations when I and the children feared for our safety as well as his own, loss of our family home which had sheltered us for 21 years, and then loss of his driving licence which drove him further into despair. By then the doctors recognised alcoholism as being the main problem, but Michael paid only lip service to their attempts to help him. His hostility towards me deepened – presumably because I was still just about functioning normally as I struggled to hold the family together – and he played no part in the life of the family, sleeping most of the day, waking only to eat and to seek targets for his tongue. Frequently at our wits end, it was easy to see how easily such situations progress to violence. Friends couldn’t understand why I didn’t take over financial control, but how? He was still a rational person when he spoke to banks and solicitors; no one could remove from him his legal rights, his credit cards, without absolute proof that he was incapable of acting for himself. House, bank account, everything was in joint names. Everyone was powerless to help me

Over a year later, in complete desperation, I asked for a separation in the hope that it would drive him to try to sort himself out, but instead it drove him further into depression, for which his family never forgave me. Eighteen months later he died, alone

This was supposed to be an account of how I became a therapist, but I think and hope it will have served a better purpose if it helps others to understand the appalling difficulties faced by huge numbers of families worldwide. When I look back, it’s the fear and the loneliness that I remember. I can only imagine Michael’s thoughts

Author’s identity withheld. Readers’ communications will be passed on via the editor.

We found some websites offering support:

NHS Support
Support for Families and Friends

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

Two readers responded to Wendy’s article:

Your article Living with Alcoholism sent shivers up my spine. I could relate to it so well.  My late husband was sadly an alcoholic, and life was a living hell, I was so relieved there were no children involved.  However, when he died in January 2003 I felt so confused, as part of me felt a huge burden lifting and part of me grieved for the person I had loved.  It has taken me almost nine years to overcome this emotional turmoil.  Thank you for In Balance Magazine. B S.

Thank you for writing that sad story.  My daughter’s partner is an alcoholic and she and he and their lovely one year old daughter want to move in with me.  I have a good post code near good schools.  They want me to build a two storey extension. I spent a lot of time working in a voluntary capacity with alcoholics, drug addicts and homeless people and enjoyed everything I did, but I didn’t want to bring one home. In 1971 I brought a drug addict home for Christmas. It was very hard work and I am not sure who it helped. Having good memories is a wonderful thing. You are your poor children. The great god money lured him on. And the peer group pressure.  What a pity he didn’t dry out. I will not have an alcoholic living here. Good luck with your hard won freedom. I wish you happiness and joy. VF

A reader with an alcoholic husband of 11 years wrote in asking for help. Here is the advice received from the author of the article:

The only organisation I can recommend is called Al-Anon, and it’s the sister organisation to Alcoholics Anonymous. Their helpline number is 020 7403 0888 and should be open till 10pm at night. Email enquiries to

Al-Anon operates via regular meetings run by the relatives of alcoholics, and basically it works by reassuring people that they’re not on their own, and sharing experiences. It doesn’t sound like much but if you’re desperate, it helps just to know there’s somewhere you can go and get it all off your chest, knowing that everyone will understand. Also, other people in similar situations often come up with suggestions for coping with day to day problems. I think your reader should definitely give it a try, preferably a few tries as it takes a while to get used to the set-up and relax.


The Weakest Link – An Invitation to Appear

Anne Robinson publicity picture

When I was asked to appear on The Weakest Link my instant response was Thanks, but no thanks. Later I thought about that kneejerk reaction and tried to analyse my reasons.

I think it was all about not wanting to be humiliated. In public. With no way of retaliating because the reality of the programme is that anything that doesn’t fit into the humiliation scenario is edited out before the programme is aired. So there is no opportunity for clever irony or spontaneous wit in response to Anne Robinson the dominatrix persona.

It is a cruel programme. One that makes me cringe at its naked enjoyment of the humiliation. Embarrassment, indignation and toecurling makes me turn off, feeling ashamed for watching it.

Other cruelty on television can be seen when Alan Sugar brutally says You’re fired. When MasterChef contestants are told their food is inedible, or worse. When any contestant is laughed off the stage in some low level talent show. All this public brutality rubs off and trickles down through our society that sees it as OK to be a bully. We become inured to it. A bit like the brutality of boxing, after a while what we were at first disgusted by we see as the norm and gradually becomes acceptable.

So who will take over from Anne, a slightly built woman whose dysfunctional personality has brought her fame and fortune.  The answer is no one. The BBC programme will cease in Spring 2012. Not a minute too soon.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Evolution is what we need in politics – Change to the Alternative Vote

What is it that creates such anger and scaremongering in the press about the Alternative Vote?

We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to pass judgment on our current voting system and consider whether it might not be improved by allowing us to cast our votes more honestly.

It’s not a vote for a revolution; only for a small, evolutionary change. We hardly ever get consulted about these things, and it’s only thanks to producing a hung Parliament that we have the opportunity next week.

Alternative Voting means all MPs would have the support of a majority of their voters. Compare that with the 2010 election when two thirds of MPs lacked majority support, the highest figure in British political history. How can that be acceptable?

Alternative Voting System Explained:

  • There is no need to redraw constituency boundaries
  • It penalises extremist parties who are unlikely to gain many second-preference votes
  • It eliminates the need for tactical voting, so you can vote without fear of wasting your vote.
  • It encourages candidates to chase second- and third-preferences, which lessens the need for negative campaigning – don’t we all get fed up with that – as a candidate doesn’t want to alienate the supporters of another candidate whose second preferences they want.

AV is alive and active in many areas of our lives already:

  • Leadership elections for Labour and Liberal Democrats
  • Elections for UK parliamentary officials including Select Committee Chairs
  • Elections for the Academy Award for Best Picture
  • Australian House of Representatives
  • Millions of people in membership organisations, businesses and trade unions internal elections
  • Most Student Union elections
  • Irish Presidential election
  • Numerous American City, Mayoral and district elections

AV is the best system when you’re out to elect a single winner.

If you don’t bother to vote next week you should never again complain about the political system.  If you are swayed by the scaremongering of the No vote camp, we don’t deserve to think of ourselves as intelligent citizens.

So please, turn out and vote. Make your vote count. Decide on the facts, not the frenzy. Go for fairness, transparency and greater democracy.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

Mary Ann Sieghart, The i 25 April 2011
The Electoral Reform Society


It’s Mother’s Day – My Day of the Dead

What does that mean to you if you no longer have a mother, nor do you have any children. Nothing really but it does make me wonder whether we should have a Day of the Dead as they do in Mexico. The church does commemorate the dead on All Souls’ Day or Feast of all Souls on 2 November.

A specific date would give my siblings and I a chance to formally remember our mum together. Talk about her and share memories.  And a day I could use to come to terms with the hole having no children leaves in my heart.

And think about those I have so carelessly lost.  I say careless because yes people die and they may not have meant a lot to me then but they have become more important as the day they died moves further and further away.

I now really miss my dad. As time has passed I realise I didn’t ask him questions I really want to know now. I also realise we didn’t take the time to talk about how we felt about each other. He was a dear man who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, let his inner feelings show. I do wish he had. To some extent I resent it because it has left another hole in my heart that can never be healed. A continued ache that hurts more from time to time.

And then there are close friends who are so missed. Ones it is still difficult to believe have gone. Forever. Vibrant, fun people who gave us joy. And those who died unhappy, confused and sad. One friend lay down on a local railway track and it still haunts me whenever a train thunders through the station while I’m waiting to go to London, or worse in the other direction where she died. My toes curl at the thought. We did talk, lots of times, about her unhappiness. The last time we talked she was more optimistic than usual. I never thought she would take her life in such a terrible way.

There are people I really don’t miss at all. And that is a function of my relationship with them of course. Those people who I have never, ever been able to reach. Never been able to relax with, have fun with, my fault, their fault. Who knows. Why even use the word fault. That’s life which has to be got on with.

So Mother’s Day is a day for remembering. But on my own. It’s my Day of the Dead.

Elizabeth Bryant – contributing author

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