Why Walkactive?

It’s been quite a while since I did my first introductory course at Champneys and I was asked to write a piece about my Joanna Hall Walkactive experience.  I thought you might like to know what I think and why I’ve carried on with it.

The period following my diagnosis with a rare cancer, Phyllodes, I was consumed with appointments, scans, surgeries and just plain coping. Exercise and fitness had taken 2nd or perhaps 7th place and the further down the list it slipped, the harder it felt to regain it or any control over it.

 

We read and hear daily from the media about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise. We also hear a great deal about it being critical in recovery from illness. However translating the knowledge into action, particularly when you’re feeling unwell, fatigued or in pain is another thing entirely.

 

I had needed the impetus and encouragement to regain my fitness. I found this with Joanna Hall. It made ‘exercise’ less of a chore and more of an enjoyment. I’ve discovered new parks, new parts of parks, different routes to the shops and even when it’s windy and rainy, a wonderful sense of being alive.

 

My first foray was at a spa break where I learnt the technique and was introduced to Joanna Hall. I then refined it by sporadically taking other courses as I feel it helps motivate me, kick starts a new phase, eliminate any bad habits and also brush up on my technique.

Walking is a fabulous free accessible activity that can be done at any time of day or night! Add the Joanna Hall technique and scientific methodology and you can increase your well-being and fitness whilst also reshaping your waistline, tums, bums and thighs.

 

I have found that instead of jumping in my car to visit friends, post a letter or buy a pint of milk, I now put on my trainers and “Joanna Hall” it out of the front door.

Over the past 18 months I’ve completed most of the courses and trips too! They’ve all been fun and beneficial but perhaps in different ways and meeting different needs at different times.

 

WOW – Being measured at the start and end of the 4 week course motivated me to stick to the nutritional aspects of the course as well as the walks. There’s no better motivation than ‘literally’ seeing the inches disappear and be replaced by a waist!
WOWI – A 2week version of the WOW. Intensive, needs commitment to dedicate the time but a great way to kickstart.
WalkFit – 4 week course concentrating on technique and increasing pace.
WalkFirm – 4 week course which incorporates not only the Joanna Hall technique but also utilising park equipment for additional exercises such as benches, stairways and fences.
Spa breaks – A gentle(r) introduction to the Joanna Hall technique with workshops on nutrition and fitness balanced with walks and spa treatments.
La Manga Training Camp – A comprehensive timetable of techniques, improvement time trials, mountain challenge, yoga, stretches, nutrition workshop and sunshine.

 

Sometimes ‘life’ gets in the way of being good and doing exercise. I’m pleased to say that it’s mostly ‘life’ rather than ‘cancer’ these days. But despite not currently doing any courses (life is a bit busy), I hope you can still see the ‘open ankles’, longer strides and incorporated ‘J’s as I dash for the bus!

Launch of Penny Brohn’s National ‘Living Well’ courses

A few months ago I was invited to write a small piece to appear in the Sunday Telegraph. The focus was to be nutritional information following a cancer diagnosis.  A hot topic and one that can be confusing.

Specific nutritional advice should, of course, be sought from your medical teams and indeed is tailored to each person and their specific cancer diagnosis.  For example advice given to a bowel cancer survivor would be different to that given to a lymphoma survivor, at least in part.  In addition, some treatments and particularly some chemotherapy drugs are extremely sensitive to some foods and incorrect advice could be very damaging.

My piece therefore was written on the basis of an overview and enabled me to signpost to some smaller specialist charities and also to organisations that offer nutritional workshops for cancer survivors.  Often these smaller organisations don’t have large media or marketing budgets and rely on word of mouth referrals or editorial similar to that which I was asked to write.  The submitted piece with links is below:

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Submitted to the Telegraph:

As a cancer patient diagnosed with a rare soft tissue sarcoma, Phyllodes, in 2009, I am always seeking information and guidance with regard to lifestyle, health and wellbeing. There is often information that appears to contradictory or conflicting in the media and also an overwhelming amount of ‘advice’ from well meaning friends, colleagues and acquaintances. What I have learnt with regard to balancing and increasing my intake of fruit and vegetables is actually quite simple.

· The well known guidance of ‘5 a day’ is a good place to start.
· Divide your plate into imaginary slices so that 50% of the meal is fruit and vegetables.
· Balance the colour of fruit and vegetables you eat. If, for nothing else, it looks more attractive to eat and means you get less ‘bored’ with the healthier choice.
· Experiment and try new fruits and vegetables. Even the ‘oddest’ looking vegetable can taste scrummy and be good for you!
· Snack on fruit (strategically placed fruit bowls help with this).
· When chopping up vegetables for dinner, julienne an extra carrot, celery, pepper or similar. Pop them into a small foodbag. You can then take this out with you or have in the fridge ready for those ‘picking’ moments.

In my role as moderator for a Phyllodes Support Group and also my work with Living Beyond Diagnosis, I am often asked for advice regarding healthy eating or lifestyle choices. I know from conversation with others diagnosed with different cancers and at different stages of treatment or wellness, that some fruits and vegetables can have different effects on the person and therefore professional advice should be sought together with a sensible approach. I am cautious about giving any specific nutrition advice as I’m not qualified to do so but I signpost them to specific charities and organizations specializing in their cancer type and urge them to speak with their oncology consultant and/or cancer care specialist.

There are some fantastic charities and organisations offering dietary information online, nutrition workshops and even cookery classes. Why not make the discovery and incorporation of new fruits and vegetables fun and easy?

NHS Choices has a number of links to healthier eating. They also have a link to 5 a day on a budget.

The Teenage Cancer Trust  make the point ‘Young people with cancer often face rare and difficult to treat disease that requires aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Being as fit as they can and eating well is critical to helping them fight both the disease and the debilitating treatment. This can be particularly challenging with side effects like severe mouth ulcers, nausea and changes to taste and appetite. It is vital that health services focus on nutrition during treatment and research foods that can add value in a young persons fight against cancer’.  Simon Davies, CEO, Teenage Cancer Trust

The Haven, a national breast cancer charity, provides centres which offer free emotional support and healthy lifestyle advice to anyone before, during or after, breast cancer treatment. Their professional team include experts in nutrition, counselling, exercise and mindfulness to help anyone with and beyond breast cancer. Their research has proven the benefits of its in-depth programme.

The charity provides a healthy eating guide as well as DVDs and CDs to help people who can’t get to one of their centres.

Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres  offer free comprehensive support for anyone affected by cancer. In addition to the many support groups, emotional and psychological support, benefits advice and practical support, they also run Nutrition Workshops.

The sessions are aimed to promote a healthy, balanced and varied diet and comprise in an informal setting:

  • The importance of good nutrition to overall well-being
  • An overview of what is a healthy diet
  • The role of antioxidants, phytochemicals and essential fatty acids in the prevention and protection from cancer
  • Making the most of the diet in simple and easy to achieve ways

Many people who come to the workshops may have read books on nutrition or sourced information from the internet and the sessions can help to clarify what people have discovered, plus they are an opportunity to explore and share.

Beating Bowel Cancer  have produced a booklet entitled Living With Bowel Cancer: Eating Well which can be downloaded. The booklet outlines dietary advice specifically for bowel cancer patients following treatment or surgery.

Advice is also available via their specialist nurse helpline 08450 719301.

Penny Brohn Cancer Centre provides a unique combination of physical, emotional and spiritual support designed to help anyone affected by cancer at any stage of their illness. Information and advice on healthy eating is one of the many services we offer to support people to live well with the impact of cancer.

Our range of services, which are available to cancer patients and their supporters, include one to one sessions with a qualified Nutritional Therapist, residential courses and a choice of one day courses covering; healthy cooking options and demonstrations, menu planning, how to combine and cook foods and the theory and science behind our guidelines.

Penny Brohn have also produced a guide to maintain a healthy, balanced diet whilst living with cancer “The Bristol Approach to Healthy Eating

Further information can be found at www.pennybrohncancercare.org/eating-well

Anna Wallace
http://www.annawallace.co.uk
Founder of Living Beyond Diagnosis

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During my research and conversations with Penny Brohn Cancer Care for the Telegraph piece, I was told about a very exciting development in their programmes.  I was aware of the residential courses in Bristol from friends who have benefitted hugely from attending.  The new news is that they were launching their ‘Living Well’ programme nationally later this year.  It’s been hard not to tell you all before now, such wonderful news.

Tonight, I was honoured to have been invited to attend the launch at a reception hosted by The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP at the Houses of Parliament and hear in full about the exciting project.

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What does Penny Brohn Cancer Care do?

Penny Brohn Cancer Care supports people living with the impact of cancer through our unique combination of physical, emotional and spiritual support.  This is designed to support the individual and work alongside their medical treatment.

We provide our services free of charge, thanks entirely to the charitable donationsl and voluntary contributions which fund our work.

Our services are open to everybody over the age of 18 with a cancer diagnosis and their supporters.

For information and support contact our Helpline on 0845 1232310 or email helpline@pennybrohn.org or visit http://www.pennybrohncancercare.org.

What is ‘Living Well’?

Led by experienced, trained facilitators, Penny Brohn Cancer Care’s Living Well course provides people with a tool kit of techniques that can help support physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Information is provided on healthy eating, exercise and understanding the impact of cancer on emotions and relationships.  In addition participants experience different methods of stress management.

People are encouraged to share their experiences with others in similar situations, and think about what future steps they could take to “live well”.

The Living Well course is part of a wider pathway of care at Penny Brohn Cancer Care.  This approach includes ongoing support and other courses are available.

How is ‘Living Well’ delivered?

We have a choice of delivery models:

  1. Partnership with NHS cancer services
  2. Partnership with charitable and independent organisations
  3. Delivery as an independent course

Living Well can be delivered in both residential and non-residential formats and can be tailored to the needs of individual client groups.

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Over the past years Penny Brohn have been refining the programme to ensure the content is current, required and flexible to the needs of those attending.

Penny Brohn have created the Living Well programme taking a holistic view of treating the whole person.  Supporting people living with the impact of cancer through a combination of physical, emotional and spiritual support.  They have conducted extensive (and continued) research and evaluations of attendees and supporters from attendance to date to see assess the impact and value of each aspect of the course.  This research and evaluations allow them to continue to support the individuals after attending the courses by keeping the dialogue open and a way to come back for further support or attend courses.

I have been truly encouraged by their approach that the impact of cancer can affect people at different times and in different ways.  I’m also encouraged that this is not only on the ‘heresay’ of a cancer patient but on substantiated research.  We hear a great deal about ‘survivorship’ but often this isn’t backed up with real hard evidence and research.  I’m concerned that when more budget cuts are made within NHS healthcare that cuts will be made in areas without substantiated research underpinning it.  Well done Penny Brohn and the University of Westminster for this continued research and evaluation of need.

I was also excited to hear that as a charity they wanted to share their expertise and work collaboratively with other charities to host Living Well courses around the UK.  Instead of setting up new Penny Brohn Cancer Care centres themselves, costing millions and then servicing people local to their new Centres, they acknowledged that by working with other organisations they can not only reach more people but can also educate and inform of the need for survivorship support of this kind.

In attendance tonight were a large number of representatives from other charities who, I’m pleased to say, seemed agreeable to working WITH Penny Brohn in the national launch of Living Well.

Already organised are a number of regional non-residential courses:

26-28 Nov 2012    National Star College     Cheltenham
3-5 Dec 2012        Willow Lodge      Sheffield
21-23 Jan 2013    The Octagon     Hull
21&28 Jan 2013    Norman Power Centre     Birmingham
4 Feb -18 Mar 2013   Cancerwise    Chichester
5-7 Feb 2013        Penny Brohn Cancer Care   Bristol
18-20 Feb 2013    Great Oaks Hospice    Forest of Dean
19-21 Feb 2013    The Octagon     Hull

Perhaps you know someone who might benefit from attending one of these non-residential courses or indeed a course in Bristol at their HQ.

Perhaps you know an organisation/charity that could co-host a course.

Perhaps you could fundraise for them or propose a corporate donation to your employer.  They run these courses free of charge with voluntary donations.

A link to the BBC news about the launch and services – click here

I did it!!

Wow.  Wow.  OMG Wow!  I did it!

This morning I was a touch apprehensive.  Why the blinkety blink was I getting up early, heading out into the cold with the intention of launching myself over the edge of a wall 100ft from the ground?

I think perhaps I was more worried than I thought… I managed to get off the train at Clapham Junction, a stop too early!  I could see Battersea Power Station from the platform as I waited for the next train… today instead of looking majestic, the towers looked exceptionally tall and imposing.

Although there’s a little bit of a November chill in the air, the light is beautiful and the sky an azure blue.  If we were dressed in T-shirts and shorts you might actually believe it was summer!

My lovely Godmother was there and was able to keep my mind off what I was about to do whilst I registered, swapped trainers for ‘sensible boots’, reflective jacket, hard hat and got strapped into a harness.

A group of 8 anxious abseilers followed a Stroke Association volunteer into the Power Station.  From the outside of the building, although we know it’s crumbling, I sort of believed there was still a belly to the building but what we saw was a void, fallen pieces of masonry, trenches of mud and debris.   And a lot of light… there’s not much by way of a roof or top to it.  One of my fellow abseilers bought her camera with her and I’m hoping to be emailed pictures of the inside of the building, so will update this when/if I receive them. I’ve said before how I love this building and I truly truly hope that the new owners will be able to restore some of the building whilst finding and developing a new use and love for the site.

After quite a climb up the stairwell we reached the top.  We were ushered along and asked to walk close to interior wall (which apparently was safe to walk on!).  After a few minutes four of us stepped up to the scaffolding stations.  Final checks of our safety equipment were made.  I was asked my name (can’t remember what I said).  Introduced to the lovely man from the Mile End Climbing Wall who kindly said to keep looking into his eyes!  Every time I sneaked a look down (big mistake) he would remind me “Look into my eyes, look into my eyes”…

My carabiners were clipped on to some very thin looking ropes… one that was mine to pass through my hands in order to lower myself ‘gracefully’ to the ground.  The second was secured to my lovely Mile End man.  After reassuring me that I’d be OK, he told me to  step back!

I think it was at that point that my fear really kicked in.  Both feet were precariously balanced on the edge.  A wide stance but I was firmly staying on the top of the Power Station…  I remember saying “I can’t do this”…  I remember repeating it again.

Then in a split second decision I remembered why I was doing it.  I wasn’t doing it for me.  Well OK may be a little bit – after all I  hate heights.  I was thinking of all the amazingly generous people who have sponsored me.  Supported me.  Encouraged me.  Laughed at me.  I was thinking about all of you who have facebooked, messaged, texted, tweeted and called me to support me today and since I signed up for this stupidity!  I was also thinking about the incredible sum of over £600 that has been donated by you all.  I was thinking about how that money will be spent and the people who will benefit.

And I went over the edge….

Then it was fun.  It didn’t occur to me then that I was only attached by a thin rope nor that the ground was quite a distance below.  I loved it.

I did a few Tigger bounces (much to the admiration of “Look into my eyes” at the top, who shouted down to congratulate me on my technique!

Cleverly I had thought that apart from having a rather larger backside than many of the abseilers, it might be difficult to spot who was who on the descent and tied a fluorescent orange scarf around my hair!  No excuse for not spotting me now…

And the ‘official’ picture… forget me in the foreground… check out how far down the ambulance is!!!

Hey all I did was get up early (struggle), head out into the cold (struggle), look into a man’s eyes (weird), step off the top of a wall (crazy), bounce on the end of  a rope (no comment) and then remember to breathe when my feet were back on terra firma.

What you all did was support me, encourage me, donate your hard earned cash, the kids raided piggy banks and more importantly you believed that I could do it and that the cause I was doing it for was worth digging deep.

Thank you from The Stroke Association

Thank you from all the people affected by a stroke that your money will help.

And

THANK YOU from me.  xxx

World Stroke Day, 29 October 2012 + my crazy abseil!

Did you know that today is World Stroke Day?

Several months ago a friend forwarded an email from The Stroke Association.  They were  looking for volunteers to abseil down Battersea Power Station and raise some valuable funds for their organisation.  It piqued my interest for quite a number of reasons.  Moments later I had replied and signed up for the event.

Firstly, I’m not a fan of heights.  In fact, I get queasy going up in some lifts and can’t go to the edge of buildings with floor to ceiling glass.  However those of you who know me well, will also know that I’ll reframe this fear and create it into a challenge.  Scared of the sea, I learnt to scuba dive.  Fearful of being out of control, I did a skydive.  Logically, I can do this too – eeek!

Secondly, Battersea Power Station is an iconic building that has been part of my landscape for many years.  Since first moving to London 26 years ago, the silhouette has been a part of train or road journeys from North to South of the Thames.  Before much of the new London developments built over the last 26 years, it was always there unused and unloved but proud of his history and heritage.

The building was once a power station and decommissioned in 1983.  The building was Grade II protected against demolition and has been searching for a new owner and purpose ever since.  Wikipedia’s entry.

I understand the power station has been sold and that the new owners are working and reworking planning applications to redevelop the land.  I’m not sure what it will become or when the work will start.  There are many stories written of it crumbling.  I’ve no doubt however that the view that I’ve loved will change but am hoping that this ‘Cathedral of Industry’ will still retain much of it’s original character and beauty.

Thirdly, The Stroke Association is an organisation close to my heart (pun intended!).  They do incredible work supporting people and their family who have been affected by stroke.  They believe strongly in survivorship and ‘Life after Stroke’.

Many people think that a stroke only happens to older generations or perhaps those with an unfit lifestyle or that they aren’t as bad as many other illnesses or diseases.  Sadly in many cases this isn’t true.  A few facts below:

• An estimated 150,000 people have a stroke in the UK each year
• Stroke accounts for around 53,000 deaths each year in the UK
• 10,000 people under the age of 30 will have a stroke each year
Stroke is the third most common cause of death in England and Wales, after heart disease and cancer
• Stroke accounts for 9 per cent of all deaths in men and 13 per cent of deaths in women in the UK
• Stroke has a greater disability impact than any other chronic disease. Over 300,000 people are living with moderate to severe disabilities as a result of stroke
Three times more women die from stroke than breast cancer

A few of the reasons why I feel passionate about raising some funds for the Stroke Association and why I’m abseiling this coming Saturday.

My friend’s father, a fit and active retiree, who passed away suddenly.

Rob who had a stroke earlier this year which led to the discovery of bowel cancer.

And two little munchkins who are both very close to my heart.  Both were born with different diagnoses but devastatingly both sets of parents were warned that they will probably be affected by strokes throughout their lives.  Sadly for one child the strokes have recently started.  She doesn’t understand them nor understand what they are or why they’re happening.  So far they’ve not been bad strokes.

This Saturday is the date of my abseil.  You can only imagine how my palms go sweaty at the very thought of launching myself over the edge.  Genuinely I feel sick.  Genuinely I’ve questioned why I’m doing such a crazy thing when I hate heights.  Genuinely I’ve thought of backing out.  Then I remember the faces of those I’m doing this for.

I set myself a target fundraising figure of £425.00 and I’m chuffed to say that I’ve exceeded that.  BUT I also know that any pounds and pennies that can be raised over and above my own fundraising figure are needed.  I’m also keen that you know exactly how the Stroke Association use donated funds.

For every £1 donated:
79p goes to directly to supporting their work to fight stroke.
20p is invested to generate future revenue.
AND only 1p goes toward running the charity.

Find out more about the Stroke Association here or donate directly to the charity.

AND if you want to sponsor me and my insanity on Saturday 3 November 2012 please donate via my justgiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/annagoanna

PS Any donations over £500 and we’ll use my bottom as an advertising hoarding – well let’s face it that’ll be in most of the pictures and it’s large enough!

 

Affordable Art Fair – Battersea

Today was ‘Free Friday’ in Battersea at the Affordable Art Fair. If you’re on their database they kindly tell you when the AAF is on and also, with a print out of their email, allow you free access on a Friday for you and a friend.

I love this show and have mentioned it before.  The concept of the AAF is that there is art affordable to everyone.  The most expensive item is £4,000 but there are plenty of pieces, sculptures, prints or pictures for much much less – I saw some today for £40.

The ‘arena’ in Battersea Park is set up with about 6 corridors with approximately 10 galleries on each side of the row.  Each gallery has an ever changing wallscape as items are purchased and taken away by admirers of art and art lovers looking for the new and upcoming artists.  Over the years I have seen some artists continue to exhibit there, the prices of their works increasing with every year as they obviously are becoming better known and appreciated.  I’ve also kicked myself on several occasions when I’ve seen something I’ve loved and not bought it, only to find that I’ve lusted after it all year and returned to discover the artist is twice as expensive the following year.

This year, as always, we wandered up and down the corridors.  We stopped and admired many items of work.  We also grimaced and commented to each other on a few that weren’t to our taste.  We longed to be as gifted as the artists displaying and, occasionally, we commented that we could do that (if only we put our minds and creative spirits into it!).

We listened to other attendees talking about the art work.  We agreed with some and not with others.

There are three main things I love about the AAF.

1/  It’s not pompous.  You can attend without knowing the first thing about a brushstroke or about the method of creating an acrylic effect.  You can stand in front of a piece of art and say “I love it” without having to justify why or needing a new language to appreciate art.

2/  You see people leaving with packages held closely.  Pictures and sculptures wrapped neatly up and and carried home.  Often you see people who don’t look like art collectors going home with something that’s affordable and that they simply love.  A joy to see artwork appreciated by everyone.

3/  By the time you reach the final corridor and final gallery you realise that you’ve seen a hugely diverse collection of artwork.  BUT you can go back to corridor A and start again… each gallery has now changed as artwork has been purchased and replaced – each gallery once again looks new.

The Affordable Art Fair is on in Battersea until Sunday 28th October.

The next one is in Hampstead, North London starting on 1 November.  Oh and if you can register and get an email, you may also be able to attend their ‘Free Friday’.

There are others now too… Bristol, Hong Kong, Stockholm etc etc… Join their mailing list

See in Hampstead on Friday.  I’m hoping that there are some works by David Mitchell for sale at a price I can afford… See you there.

Fonda Mexico, Southfields

Don’t you just love it when an empty shop is covered over and the anticipation of what will open up is discussed with your local friends. You stop to read planning notices and then are a little disappointed when it just tells you the building’s use!

Eventually it was revealed that a new mexican restaurant, Fonda Mexico, was opening in Southfields, SW London. Oooh the excitement to get somewhere new to eat. This particular location has changed hands a number of times in the past 10 years. Different food styles and certainly different ownership styles!

So, Michelle, who runs a local nursery, together with a couple of friends contacted the owner and suggested that they could tell some of the local community… in return for a little opening party! The owner thought this would be a wonderful idea and offered to do some some tasty canapes showcasing the ‘Mexican streetfood’ that was to be served in the restaurant. He also offered our first cocktail for free (always a winner!).

When over 80 locals turned up to the small restaurant for the opening I think the owner and his team were somewhat surprised (and pleased). Our party, as they arrived, were shown through to the bar area at the back of the restaurant and the barmen were challenged!  I’m quite sure babysitters in Southfields were cleaning up on Saturday night!

We sampled a few bite-size introductions to their menu – exceptionally flavoursome. However it would have been great to have a few more amongst the huge group of locals. The cocktails, although free, were predominantly foam and packed with ice.

So is it somewhere I’d return to or recommend?  The jury is out.

I’d like to go back to try more of the menu and to also look at the pricepoint of the dishes. The barmen would benefit from some cocktail training. The ‘bar’ at the back of the restaurant could do with the removal of the table football and replacing with either a big dining table or perhaps high bar tables.  There’s little room to stand and for the waiters to go through with food for the restaurant… or to put your glasses down!

The rumours are that they only have a short lease and are ‘trying’ out Southfields as a venue for a permanent branch… but perhaps the investment should be made in training staff to give it a fair crack at the whip.  It was clearly evident from the amount of people who turned up, arranged babysitters and the excited chatter that a new restaurant should do well in Southfields and is very much longed for in the area.

If you go, let me know what you think.

Too soon. Too young. Too early.

“To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
…” – The Byrds

Really?  Really?  Really?

“A time to die”… perhaps, but not too soon.  Not too young.  Not too early.

Is there a time to die?  Is there a ‘right’ age?  I’ve been fortunate to meet and count amongst my friends septuagenarians, octogenarians and nonagenarians that put me to shame.  Some play bridge better than I ever will.  Some go on walking holidays in Europe.  Some cross-country ski and in the summer climb mountains.  All of them can recall trips, adventures or stories to tell to entertain for hours.  They have an ever expanding number of friends and travel the world in style and with flair.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that some people might say that they’ve ‘had a good innings’ or ‘did well’… but for them their lives aren’t over, they haven’t finished yet (and you’d get a wallop for even suggesting it!).

For some people the time may be right.  Mum was ready to leave us.  The day she passed away peacefully at home with my brother and I at her side, a package arrived at my home from Dignitas in Switzerland that Mum had said I should get, just in case.  She didn’t want to suffer pain any more, she didn’t want to disappear further, she didn’t want to become yet more dependent, she feared losing the ability to communicate but she didn’t fear death.

Today a large group of family, friends, colleagues, employees, pub locals, school friends, band members etc etc gathered outside a crematorium in Berkshire.  The sun was shining and the skies were blue.  The congregation looked shocked and bewildered when the hearst came to a stop and there was silence as we filed in to the crematorium confused as to why we were all here… so soon, so early.

Only a few weeks ago Rob was diagnosed with bowel cancer.  He didn’t tell many people.  Once again he demonstrated how private he could be.  He believed that he’d have a little surgery and it’d be OK.  He knew he could overcome it.  So for most of us it was a shock to receive a call/email/text to tell us the news.  After all he was  young and wasn’t ill!

The opening sentences, the tributes, eulogies and farewells told a similar story.  Rob had been a private person but a hugely loyal friend.  He would never have let anyone go without and would, whenever he could, help a friend.  He had a crazy sense of humour, irreverent to the last and slightly ‘off-centre’ too!  His ‘style’ had always been the same since his teenage years – jeans, ankle boots, denim shirt, battered ‘smelly’ leather jacket and a baseball cap.  I’m not sure I ever saw him in anything else… well maybe the once when he was best man at Gav & Lou’s wedding.  He had a laugh like mutley and a grin that always seemed broader than his face.  He was always to be found in the kitchen at parties and the last one to retire to bed.  He’d bring his guitar, some beer, his mouthorgan would be in his top pocket and usually have some smokes in another pocket.

I think everyone has similar memories and stories that couldn’t be told in the crematorium but that filled the pub afterward with laughter and joy.

His place remained in the pub today.  His favourite chair draped with his ‘smelly’ leather jacket.  His Bacardi and coke poured out and ready for his arrival (usually at 10.20pm each day).

You shall be missed by so many.  Thank you Rob for being in our lives.

Cookery Demonstration at Crooked Billet

Did you know that if you crack an egg into a 50/50 split solution of water and white wine vinegar, the raw egg re-forms into a perfect egg shape?  Neither did I, until today.  Why might that be useful?  Well then you can spoon the raw egg out and poach to get the perfect ‘boiled egg’ shape with a runny yolk!

My step-mother loves cooking (as do I!) and today she treated us both to a Cookery Demonstration and Lunch at the Crooked Billet.  Paul Clerehugh and his very able assistant, Gordon were like whirling dervishes demonstrated how to prepare the perfect confit duck salad; make your own goats curd; salt code scotch eggs (with perfectly runny quail egg centre); salt beef; stuffed lamb; pomegranate molasses; lemon sole; flat bread; chocolate banana bread pudding; blackberry tart and a whole heap more.

Crooked Billet Demo October 2012

Watching and taking notes as new tips and tricks were divulged.  Both my step-mother and I were often to be heard with a ‘aaah’ or ‘oh that’s how it’s done’.

After seeing all the delights being prepared we were then able to enjoy tastings of the dishes and full sizes of some dishes for our lunch.  Each dish was washed down with some matching wines – equally well chosen and delicious.

The Crooked Billet is in a lovely secluded country location serving incredible fresh and delicious food.  Well worth a visit (if you can get a table).  Paul runs cookery demonstrations regularly – a wonderful way to spend a day or perhaps a gift for a foodie friend?

Hmmm… Now to put what I’ve learnt into practice.  I have the recipes from the day… who’s popping round to taste for me?

Food Writing Course

I can’t believe that it’s finally here.  A long time ago I was thinking about how I could combine a couple of my passions into something creative.  Food and writing came to mind so I sought a food writing course.  Not easy to come by and certainly not cheap!

logoEventually I found an evening course which was being hosted by Lulu Grimes at Leiths Cookery School in West London.  I booked and paid for it months and months ago so it’s sort of come as a nice surprise when it popped up in my calendar.  Below is  a description of the course and I hope it’s going to be fun as well as instructive:

This 8 week course is for all those wanting to explore the world of food journalism or to learn to write clear, professional recipes.

The course is run by Lulu Grimes, former Leiths Diploma student, Deputy editor of olive and BBC Good Food Magazine and author of numerous cookbooks.

Along with her special guest lecturers, Lulu will guide you through the language of recipe writing, writing restaurant reviews and food and travel journalism. You will also cover how to approach an editor and tips on how to get your work published.

Every week you will write alone or in groups while you learn how to bring your writing to a professional standard.

Lulu adds: “Food writing is increasingly popular, and these days the chance to write about something you love is open to all (though not necessarily for financial gain!). I’ve always thought that there are plenty of good writers who know about food, but that what they fail to do is understand who their reader is, and where their market lies. Whether you want to write a personal blog, a book or recipes or features for magazines, papers and websites it is vital to understand your audience. This is what I love to teach, how to best use your talents.”

A mixed group of participants.  Ranging in age, ability and why they are doing the course.  There are some who are keen to pursue a career in food journalism.  There are others who have food blogs and want to improve them.  There are more who have commissions for recipe books and also some who run cookery schools or a winery.

Let’s see if my writing improves.  Here goes…