Wednesday, 16 April 2014

How to be a disciplined blogger

I've been blogging for a few years now, and I think I have it down to a fine art. I set aside dedicated time to blog, and have a running list of ideas for blog posts. I bookmark articles of interest, take notes of interesting news items and try to write at least one post a day. Of course, I fail miserably and end up with several posts in draft that will never see the light of day.

The fact is that I get periods of time when I have no motivation to write anything, or I have so many ideas I don't know where to start.

But generally, this is what a breakdown of my blogging activity at the moment.

Yep, I think that pretty much sums it up.   It's not just me is it?

Friday, 11 April 2014

This week we have been....

 ...enjoying the weather. It's been very mild and sunny, and definitely feels spring-like. It's great dog-walking weather of course, and not it's light enough take Tessie for a walk in the park when I get home from work. There are the tiniest new ducklings on the pond and blossom on the trees. I love this time of year.

Justin Timberlake. Photo by The Teenager.

...watching Justin Timberlake live in concert. We love a bit of Justin, oh yes we do, all three of us are big fans and his Justified CD is always on in the car whenever we're taking a long road-trip.

So this week, as a treat, I took my girls to see the man himself play in Manchester and my goodness he puts on a great show! I've seen a lot of live acts over the years and this one was very impressive.  He's such a fantastic performer, he's got it all really - great voice, a phenomenal dancer - he's like a little white Michael Jackson (said Louis Walsh stylee).

The whole show was great and we loved it when part of the stage came away from the main stage, was raised up above the crowd and travelled from one end of the arena to the other, and all the while Justin (we're on first name terms now) and his dancers performed on the moving stage. He came within touching distance of us *sigh*

...eating quesadillas. We were sent some El Paso goodies to try and we loved the quesadillas, which took about 5 minutes to prepare and were scoffed up in about the same time. Big hit in this house, which is amazing as The Teenager is notoriously fussy. We'll be buying more.

...using Instagram. Yes, I know I'm late to the party but I've being using BlackBerry phones for years (can't use in on BBs). This week I finally bought a new phone - a Samsung 3 bought on eBay for £80, brand new in the box - get in!  I've set up my account and started taking my first few pictures. Still finding my way around and I'd love to follow more people so if you're on there, please let me know and I'll follow you. You can see the link to my account on the top photo, along with a profile photo of me when I was 4.

...looking forward to 10 days off work. This morning was the first lazy morning, and instead of battling the M62 it was spent drinking tea, eating toast and watching Homes under the Hammer. Utter bliss. I'm looking forward to plenty of gardening, reading and spending time with my girls. I might even do a bit of blogging, I know I'm a wild woman!

So, what have you been up to?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Ridiculous arguments of our time, or how Harrison Ford played a small part in my divorce

A sachet

I read a discussion thread the other day on Mumsnet about the worst rows people had had with their partners, all over something ridiculous, and it got me thinking.

Years ago I was dating an Irishman and one day when he heard me use the word 'sachet', as in "I used a sachet of ketchup (or whatever)" he snorted derisively.  He said my pronunciation of 'sa-shay' was pretentious and I was affecting a French accent as it should be pronounced 'satch-ett'. Erm, right.

I pointed out that 'sachet' is a French word meaning little bag and is in common use in the English language, but he was having none of it.

The row quickly escalated to include several other French/Anglo words, the car brands Renault and Peugeot, and even newsreader John Suchet's name was dragged into it.

That row rambled on for hours. Hours. Over the pronunciation of one word. Seems crazy and I can laugh about it now (just) but at the time it was pretty bad. The relationship survived the row (at least until this happened) but even today the sight of John Suchet reading the news is enough to make me wince.

The other argument that immediately sprung to mind was when I watching the film Air Force One with my then husband.

In the film the President (played by Harrison Ford) his wife, daughter and his staff are travelling on the Presidential plane - Air Force One - when it's hijacked by terrorists.  In the film the presidential plane is fitted with a one-person escape pod, designed to jettison the President to safety. Harrison Ford and his wife - against the advice of his advisors - decide to use it to save their young daughter.

My husband immediately said "That's irresponsible of the President, he should have saved himself". His reckoning was that as the leader of the free world he was more important (more important!) than his wife and daughter. "I'd have used the pod and left you and (our then baby daughter) on the plane. Chances are you would have been saved by the special forces anyway."


Cue incredulity on my part, and the start of the mother-of-all rows about who would get to use the escape capsule if that issue ever came up. Of course, the fact that my ex-husband was not the President of America, and neither was I the First Lady, didn't even come into play during that argument. It was all about who would occupy the single seat of the escape pod. I was sending our precious new-born daughter to safety, he was saving himself.

Did I mention we divorced a few of years later? Funny that.

So, they are my two examples. What was your most ridiculous argument?

Saturday, 22 March 2014

How to impress your mum with Paperchase

I have a real soft spot for Paperchase. In fact, it's probably the only shop that me and my two girls can all agree on when we go shopping. Definitely a favourite to browse in and we always see something we like. I've lost count of the cards, glasses cases (lots of those) and stationery we've bought over the years and what with all the gorgeous notebooks, photo frames and wrapping paper I've always found it a great place for presents, particularly quirky little stocking fillers.

There's something for all ages, so the perfect place to find the right pressie for Mother's Day. And just in case I happen to be your Mum I quite like this and this. *Cough*

They also have a funny and actually quite touching ad campaign out for Mother's Day. Got to love the sight of the heavily tattooed hand applying glitter.

Disclosure: this is a featured post, but all words and opinions are my own.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Mother's Day presents plus win 2 tickets to the Country Living Spring Fair

I'm been sent a few items to review recently, and it occurred to me that they would all make lovely Mother's Day pressies.

First up, I was sent this gorgeous personalised mug from Emma Bridgewater pottery. People who know me will know that I can be extremely a bit fussy about my tea, it has to be just right and that includes choosing the right mug. I'm not a cup and saucer type of girl and I bet I'm not the only one who has a favourite mug for their tea, am I? From a practical point of view this one is just the right size and feels nice and robust, and most importantly the handle is perfectly shaped for holding the mug comfortably. It's my new favourite mug.

Emma Bridgewater personalised mug

The Cut Flower Patch by Louise Curley (published by Frances Lincoln) is a gorgeously illustrated book and perfect for anyone who loves having fresh flowers on display at home (don't we all?)

Learn how to make your own cut flower patch, as well as finding materials in your own garden and local hedgerows.

I keep dipping into it - it's bursting with beautiful photos, practical gardening advice, and hints and tips on how to have floral displays all year round.

The Cut Flower Patch book

Of course, it's takes time to get a cut flower patch going, so in the meantime we still need flower deliveries and who doesn't like seeing a florist's van pull up outside the house and realise they're delivering to you? I know I never tire of getting a bouquet. 

I must admit that I had a bit of fun with this one though, sent to me by the lovely people at Flowers UK, because they arrived just as I was getting home from work and my girls were intrigued. "Who are they from, Mum?"  "Can we read the card?" "Do you have an admirer?" I was a bit naughty and kept them guessing for a while before they realised the truth, but you never know, one day...

Designer Flowers
Tall Daughter with my lovely bouquet

Country Living MagazineAnd finally I have two complimentary tickets for the Country Living Magazine Spring Fair, which takes place from 19-23 March in the Business Design Centre, London which sounds like a lovely day out, and perfect to spend with your mum.

There will be plenty of ideas for your home and garden with an array of carefully selected exhibitors, from small producers to craftspeople from across the British Isles with jewellery and fashion collections, sample delicious regional fare and discover furniture, fabrics and accessories to add country style to your home.

If you'd like to win the two tickets please leave a comment saying so (along with your email address or twitter name) and I'll put your name in the hat! I'll choose a winner at 9am Friday 14th March and will get them in the post the same day. 
Country Living Magazine Spring Fair

Whatever you're doing for Mother's Day this year, I hope you all enjoy doing something special with your mum.

Disclosure: I was sent these items for review purposes, but words and opinions are my own. 

Friday, 28 February 2014

The garden in February: Signs of spring

And breathe....

I don't know where the time has gone, but I've neglected the blog over the past few months. Blame the new job, the long commute and the dark nights, but in the evening all I've wanted to do is to curl up on the sofa with a cup of tea and watch endless episodes of The Killing. I love a bit of Scandi Noir telly.

Anyway, after getting past the three month probationary period in the new job and them deciding they want me to stay (hurrah!) I decided to ask for a shorter week, so as of two weeks ago I'm now working four days a week and it feels much more manageable.

The winter is nearly over too, and that always makes a big difference. Everybody's mood seems to lift with the first signs of spring and this year is no exception.

But all of a sudden it's the last day of February and I can't put it off any longer....I have to try and repair some of the damage done in the garden over the winter. The strong winds and heavy rain has left it in a bit of a mess, but even though it's taken a battering I love the way there are already some signs of spring and splashes of colour around.

Rockery daffodils


Japanese quince


Hellebores and birdbath

And it's not just in the garden, there are signs everywhere: the sound of ducks back on the pond behind our garden; the nights are drawing out again and the birdsong has returned. I love this time of year, it always feels so full of promise.

There's a lot of pruning, tidying and planting to do over the next few weeks so I'm going to be busy. What are you doing in the garden?

I'm joining up with the linky over on Mammasaurus' blog again, it's been a while, but there's always lots of garden gorgeousness to see over there, just click on the badge below.

Mammasaurus and How Does Your Garden Grow?

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Saatchi Bill: liberating doctors to innovate

Lord Saatchi
Maurice Saatchi
The Medical Innovation Bill - otherwise known as the Saatchi Bill - is designed to enable doctors to innovate new treatments and cures for cancer and other diseases.

I wrote about it last year and my reasons for supporting it, and if your life has been touched by cancer in any way please read on.

Since the death of his wife, Josephine Hart, to ovarian cancer, Lord Maurice Saatchi has campaigned to change the law so that, with consent, doctors can treat patients dying of cancer and other diseases with new and innovative treatments, instead of having to stick to failed standard procedures, as the law currently requires. The Government is asking patients what they think, and you can get involved 

Imagine this situation. Not a pleasant one, granted,  but one that is all too common.

You have been diagnosed with high grade pre-cancerous cervical cancer. Previous surgeries to remove the cancerous cells have not been successful and your doctor says the only option is a hysterectomy. But you still want to be able to have children so you ask if there is any possible alternatives.

The doctor tells you there is a drug, Lopinvir, that has proved successful with a 90% success rate in trials in Kenya. It is a small gel capsule, inserted like a pessary, and has no adverse effects and doesn't compromise fertility. The doctor says you can try it out for 4 weeks (which is called a 'window trial') while you wait for surgery, if it's successful you won't need the operation and if it doesn't work you've lost nothing.

What would you do? Would you choose to try the new treatment? I know I would, and I imagine most other women would too.

Dr Lynne Hampson and Dr Ian Hampson
Dr Lynne Hampson and Dr Ian Hampson, 
But as the law stands now, the doctor would stand the risk of being struck off, or sued,  for offering the new treatment.

That is what the Saatchi Bill wants to change.

A few days ago I was part of a group of bloggers invited to visit Dr Ian Hampson (a reader in viral oncology) at his labs at Manchester University. He is also head of the University of Manchester Gynaecological Oncology lab, based at St Mary’s Hospital and he and his wife Dr Lynne Hampson (Non Clinical Lecturer in Gynaecological Oncology) and his team are committed to finding a cure for cervical cancer.

Infection with high-risk forms of the human papilloma virus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer and it was whilst doing exploratory work on HPV that Ian started to look at Lopinivir, an approved HIV drug, as he had a hunch that the drug might work on early stage cervical disease. Taking an already approved drug and applying it elsewhere - that’s innovation.

Ian decided to trial the drug as a treatment for cervical cancer but couldn't afford to do the trials in the UK so he chose to carry them out in Kenya, partly because cervical cancer is the main cancer killer of women in Sub Saharan Africa. However, the standards in Kenya are exactly the same as in the UK – that is to say, the trial was run on UK lines and the women were supported to UK standards.

He had to beg and borrow equipment and money in order to make the trial work.  His work was funded by various cancer charities and philanthropists, and Hologic donated £250,000's worth of equipment. Interestingly, none of the trial was funded by the NHS.

The results of the trial were staggering. Out of 23 women who had tested for high grade HPV only 2 women still had it at the end of the 4 week trial, and Dr Hampson believes the unsuccessful ones just needed more treatments.

The Lopinvir soft gel capsule
The Lopinvir soft gel capsule

The trial in Kenya was a Phase 1 trial, which is designed to test the safety of the treatment. And there were no side affects (other than some women noted their pants were slightly stained from the colouring on the soft gel capsules).

This means that Ian’s treatment can be used again and again – with absolutely no risk of infertility – even if abnormal cells do reappear.

Phase 1 trials are there to test the safety of the treatment. Phases 2 and 3 are to test whether it is effective, although in this case Ian's trial has already shown it to be highly effective. It is too soon to say if Ian’s treatment will be a complete alternative to surgery, and it will still need to go through a Phase 3 trial which can take up to 12 years and millions of pounds before it can be used, but if the Saatchi Bill becomes law it would enable a patient to use the treatment now in a so-called 'window trial'.

We want cures. And we want better treatments. We want doctors to listen to patients and to respond to us, and here's how you can help.

The overwhelming public response to the Saatchi Bill has directly resulted in the Government agreeing to hold a public consultation. The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, released a statement in November to say that the Government is supportive of the Bill but it will become law ONLY if we, the public, demand it.

Ultimately you need to respond to the consultation. Tell the Government what you think.  It is really important that everybody has their say on this matter.  After all – it’s our NHS.

If you believe medical innovation is the way forward, please respond to the consultation via the widget below. You can also follow the conversation on twitter with the hashtag #SaatchiBill @SaatchiBill and on FacebookThank you.