Category Archives: Health and Fitness

A walk in the woods not a day on the DS

Just outside Corby, Northants

This evening, as I was driving Boy the Elder to his Scout meeting(in a field, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere) we saw a barn owl, a muntjack, a weasel, endless rabbits and something small and very fast which flew right in front of the car.  It was wonderful, particularly the barn owl whose ghostly white wings described delicate and silent patterns in the air, like a pale and feral angel.

I was gratified to witness the excitement of the boys at seeing these creatures and pleased that, despite living in the country, wild creatures are still wonderful to them.  As a child brought up on the outskirts of London, I remember reading nature books that would cite certain insects or birds that were apparently ‘common’ throughout England.  Not in bloody Stanwell they weren’t and I remember wondering where all these creatures could be living?  Actually they were probably there for the finding, but I didn’t know where to look.

Of late, I haven’t spent enough time taking the boys on walks in the countryside. The last few years have caught up with me a bit, and on the rare occasions when I sit still I fall asleep.  They play sports at school and spend time outside, but there is no substitute for just being in the woods or the park, taking time to see the detail, making up games that involve trees, sticks and mud, listening to the trees, the birds and the tiny sounds.


A couple of weekends ago, I sent the two of them off into the woods and told them not to come back for at least two hours.  Their mission was to explore their surroundings, get the lie of the land, see what was beyond the Co-op and the fish and chip shop, find out where the railway line went, discover the best climbing trees and viewpoints.

They came back tired and delighted.  They had found footpaths and a tree swing, a circular walk all round the town and the track bed of an old railway line.  They were particularly pleased with a concrete lookout point on which someone had sprayed the word ‘cock’ in large red letters.  This is now known as The Cockpit and is the focal point of many games and rendezvous.


Children need to connect with nature.  They need to have unstructured time in which to get bored, thus giving them the brain space to get really creative.  Separation from the natural world takes away their freedom, their peace of mind and their independence.  Some parents are terrified to let their children go to parks or open spaces unsupervised because they have become obsessed with the idea that there are perverts and kidnappers round every corner.  Those same children may not have been taught to cross the road properly and yet the fear of them being run over takes second place to the threat of paedophiles.

Children’s time has become too structured, outdoors has become a facility not a place to be enjoyed on its own merit.  Children are taught about nature in schools through eco-disaster, floods, famines, global warming and whilst these things need to be taught, I wonder if this encourages them to really connect with nature or whether it persuades them that nature is an enemy to be overcome?  How many people became passionate naturalists without actually experiencing nature at first hand?

Where have the nature tables gone, with their birds’ nests, conkers, multi-hued leaves and shells?  When do the nature walks happen when children can feel the ground beneath their feet, smell the leaf mould, discover wild flowers and learn the difference between moths and butterflies?

We don’t have to live in the middle of nowhere to find these things, any tiny wild area will have something of interest and we need to find them, enjoy them and then pass on our enjoyment.  Note the difference in someone after a day in the fresh air to a day in front of the TV or a computer screen.

Let’s reclaim our natural spaces and in return find some space for ourselves.

How deep?


Filed under Children, Health and Fitness, Leisure, Outdoor Activities, Slider

The body knows what it needs

One of my very own lymphocytes taken using a Box Brownie. Incidentally I was delighted to discover that when I downloaded this image my computer 'scanned it for viruses'

I do think that often our bodies know what food they need and sometimes crave something that will rectify a deficiency.  A yearning for milk or nuts or oranges can be an instinctive way of topping up our minerals, Vitamin C, salt or protein.  A craving for chocolate and Richard Armitage is a sure sign of the body’s need for endorphins. I expect.

Last week both the boys had three days off school with diarrhoea and vomiting. Boy the Elder vomited occasionally but loitered palely on the sofa with a volume of Keats and a lace handkerchief, whilst Boy the Younger positioned himself on the lavatory with a bucket between his knees.

I rarely get actual symptoms of anything, but feel like death as my body goes into battle with whichever primordial set of viruses the boys bring home, probably generously donated by the parents who refuse to let their children stay at home when they’re poorly.

This week, I was clearly not only awash with lymphocytes but I had also run out of my migraine tablets.  This resulted in my spending all of Sunday night, and most of Monday, moaning in pain as the rainbow triangles darted in front of my eyes whilst trying to decide whether I was going to vomit because of the virus or the migraine and whether the stomach cramps were going to confine me to the bathroom indefinitely.

As it was, I was spared the bog and bucket fandango, and the application of boiling hot water bottles to the back of my neck and head alleviated the migraine sufficiently for me to drive the boys to school.

However, it is now Tuesday night and, although I was fine this morning, I was obliged to lie down for an hour before Scouts to re-charge as the nausea had set in again.  My giblets were gurgling and rumbling like a dysfunctional lava lamp and I felt as though I needed to eat something to appease the God of Wind.

As I collected Boy the Elder from Scouts, I was handed a small piece of apple cake which they had made during the session.  The smell of freshly cooked apple called to me, the light, fragrant sponge sang to me and I knew that the only thing that would make me better was a piece of apple sponge and custard.

I ran into the Co-op, grabbed an Eve’s Pudding for One and a tin of Ambrosia Custard, shoved it into the microwave and chowed it down.

I am cured.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  You’re never alone with custard.


Filed under Food, Health and Fitness, Nutrition & Sensible Eating

The Wartime Housewife is washing her hair

Imagine this but blonde - how I wish she'd stop copying me!

Yes indeed.  Tonight I am washing my hair – well, slightly more than washing if I’m honest.   When I have washed my hair, I’m going to put it in rollers in the vain hope that, with enough ‘product’, it will not only look as I want it to, but will stay looking as I want it to for the rest of the day.

I have the straightest hair in Christendom and despite having plenty of hair, it is so fine that it always looks thin, which is a right royal bugger.  With the current trend for straight, sleek (oh how I hate that word) styles, everyone thinks I should be grateful.  Well I’m not.  All I have ever wanted is thick, wavy locks that I can style with ease.

I go to the hairdresser and she fiddles and farts about, producing handfuls of ‘product’ and hot brushes and I leave looking fabulous.  But by the time I have walked down the street, had a coffee and bought some shoes, it is already dropping and by the next day it can be safely said that my two hours spent in the ghastly salon with it’s punitive lighting were completely wasted.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want a perm.  I want curls in my hair that I can rough up and look messy, or style and wave so I look like a blonde Dita von Teese.  ALL DAY.  I love my hair when a perm is dropping – those loose waves that look as though they’re supposed to be there.

But can I get one?  My salon is full of young girls with geometric bobs and so much make-up they have to tip their heads back to get their eyes open.  Only two hairdressers in the place know how to do a perm and neither of them have heard of Dita von Teese or laugh when I try to describe a ‘just shagged’ look.

I will seek out one of these hairdressers and demand chemicals and several hours of their time.  I will demand that they don’t cut all my hair off (which I have been assiduously growing for the last two years) and I will leave with the curls I deserve.  Not only that, I will drink all their coffee, eat their Lotus biscuits and spurn their horrible magazines in favour of my own book.  Neither will I lure them into a conversation about holidays, weddings or body piercing.

I will let you know when the deed is done.


Filed under Hair, make up and stuff like that

Social Stereotypes: The Mothers who Cannot Win

The Telegraph Saturday magazine always has a Social Stereotype piece by Victoria Mather with an illustration by Sue Macartney-Snape.  This feature has been going for some years now and is becoming increasingly un-funny as, I suspect, she’s running out of ideas.

Last Saturday, the stereotype was ‘The Mother Hen’ and the description was of a dowdy woman who had let herself go and was neglecting her husband because she put all her energy into her children.

I know it was a tongue in cheek look at an extreme person, but for some reason my hackles went up.

Mothers really don’t seem to be able to win on any level.  If they go out to work and leave their children with child-minders, they’re vilified for not putting the work in with their children.  Even if no-one actually says anything, they still feel guilty because they want a career and a family.

If they manage to look glamorous, there is an assumption that they probably have no interests or hobbies if they manage to find that much time for personal grooming.

If they don’t look glamorous, then they’ve let themselves go, are almost certainly ignoring their husband’s needs and are clearly three types of hippy.

If they feed the family on ready meals they’re accused of  handing out a death sentence through heart disease, obesity, diabetes and probably St Vitus Dance and elephantiasis of the bollocks to boot.

But if they cook everything from scratch then they must be a crank and an obsessive who wouldn’t even let a fish finger or a French Fancy into the house without fainting.

Now.  I know that there are women out there who do take ‘parenting’ to extremes and who do ignore their partners and hover round their children, monitoring their every move, intervening at every turn and refusing to allow them any opportunity to take risks or develop independence.  Helicopter Parents I believe is the current expression.

But I’m sick to death of women who choose a more traditional template for raising their families being somehow looked down upon and having the piss taken out of them.

I could rant on for several hundred pages about how feminism has turned round and bitten women on the bum, but I will only say this.  The point of the feminist movement was to give women choices; choices about how they lived, worked, raised children, conducted relationships, to bake or not to bake.

What has actually happened is that they now feel they have to do everything and often end up not doing anything very well.  I did have a period  as a full time, stay at home mother and I loved every minute of it.  Now that I’m a single parent, I no longer have that luxury but at least, most of the time, I work from home.  That’s my choice  and I couldn’t afford childcare in the holidays even if I wanted it.

Of course the woman in the piece is over the top and we all know women who, once they have their children, no longer require the services of a husband.  But I can’t help feeling that this is yet another mealy-mouthed attack on the mothers who believe that raising children is a full time job.

Guess what?  It is – however you choose to do it.

Reproduced without the permission of The Telegraph


Filed under Children, Family and Friends, Hair, make up and stuff like that, Life in general

Zinc and the Spotty, Listless Youth

Other people have written whole books about zinc and the implications of deficiency, inadequate dietary intake and those who have an increased need for this mineral.  I am going to concentrate on just one aspect of it, because it is topical for me.  Teenage boys.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral, present in all tissues,  and which occurs in the body in large amounts, second only to iron. It is well known for its important role in the immune system  and the body’s ability to heal and repair both internal and external wounds and also for the regulation of the skin’s oil gland function.

It is an essential component in the absorption of vitamins, particularly Vitamins A and B Complex and plays a major part in digestion and metabolism.  Vitamins A and B are also critical for the effective function of the liver; poor liver function causes chronic fatigue and poor utilisation of nutrients.  You see how it’s all linked?  Our bodies are constantly striving for stasis, which is why a balanced diet is so important.

Zinc is predominantly absorbed in the small intestine and the body only absorbs what it needs, the rest is excreted.  A diet which is too high in fibre will result in zinc deficiency as it binds the zinc and carries it away before it can be absorbed.

Zinc is essential for all growth, including sexual maturity.  It is also thought to increase male sex drive because of its ability to regulate testosterone in the prostate.

A deficiency of zinc can be at the root of much of the ghastliness of teenage boys.  How often have we been confronted with a spotty, greasy, lacklustre, lanky specimen of humanity who is constantly tired yet restless and unable to concentrate?  Teenage boys are particularly prone to growth spurts and the demands of this, coupled with the physical demands of puberty frequently deplete the body’s resources of zinc.  Boys also often seem to crave milk during their teenage years and, although calcium is also vital, large amounts of it can adversely affect the absorption of zinc.

Boy the Elder is showing signs of such ghastliness on all fronts, particularly the spots and the outrageous and expensive growing that he insists upon doing.  At 13, he is 5’7” and has size 9 feet and this all takes its toll on a chap.  He has a stupidly healthy and varied diet but there’re only so many herrings I can shovel into him during the average day.

I, too, suffer from acne which, in my case is definitely hormonal and I have to keep up a constant regime of skincare to keep it under control.  We may be at opposite ends of the chronological scale, but the causes are similar.  Hormones.  When Pandora opened that box, it wasn’t all the evils of the world that floated out, it was hormones, I’m convinced of it.

To this end, we have both started taking a zinc supplement in the form of a 15mg tablet (amino acid chelate), once a day.  Within a week, my skin has shown tremendous improvement.  Boy the Elder’s skin is slowly improving but we have found that the supplement has to be taken every day without fail for it to be effective.  Washing his face would also help, but that is much harder to do apparently.  He is also definitely more lively and less irritable towards his brother.  Result.

The recommended daily zinc intake according to the National Research Council is:-
Children aged 1-10   = 10mg
Males aged 11 upwards = 15mg
Women aged 11 upwards = 12mg

Good sources of zinc include:  fish (especially the oily varieties), shellfish, chicken,  meat, green leafy vegetables, green peas, pulses, nuts, egg yolks, and wholegrains.

Soil exhaustion and the processing of food negatively affect the presence of zinc in our food and organic, natural, unprocessed foods generally contain higher levels of zinc.

So, if you want your Neanderthal son to buck up, have a go at wacking up the zinc; you may be pleasantly surprised.

‘The Nutritional Almanac’ by Gayla J Kirschmann and John D Kirschmann.  Pub. McGraw-Hill, fourth ed. 1996

‘Nutritional Medicine’ by Dr Stephen Davies & Dr Alan Stewart. Pub. Pan 1987

The Complete A-Z of Common Ailments and their Natural Remedies’ by Judy Jacka.  Pub.Foulsham 1995

‘The Manual of Conventional Medicine for Alternative Practitioners’ by Stephen Gascoigne.  Pub. Jigme Press 1996


Filed under Children, Health and Fitness, Nutrition & Sensible Eating

Good night, sleep tight and mind the bugs, bacteria and dust mites don’t bite

Dust mites

In which the Wartime Housewife compares historical hygiene and the importance of airing bed linen.

Isn’t it interesting how concepts of hygiene change over the years?  Adverts tell us that there are more germs on our chopping boards than on our lavatory seats, that we will catch something nasty if we so much as touch the soap dispenser and hint that our spouses may abandon us if our houses smell of anything but ‘Evening Musk of Calibar’.  And yet we survive.

However, we fail to do simple things that could very well curb some of the allergies and respiratory problems which plague the modern family.  Things that our grandparents did as a matter of course.

A potentially lethal mug of cocoa

After two years, one third of the weight of a pillow consists of dust mites, dust mite faeces, dead skin, bacteria and saliva.  A duvet will be similar but with the addition of other body fluids.  Oh, and Ovaltine and cocoa in my case.

Dust mites are terribly fashionable these days and our beds are full of them.  The Victorians were most fastidious about bedrooms and bed linen, and at Spring Cleaning time, they would literally take beds to pieces and wash down ever single bit, then put them back together.  Bed linen was washed at high temperatures, aired and pressed with a hot iron.  Mattresses and pillows were regularly aired and exposed to sunlight.  Windows would be opened at night to let the fresh air in.

Dust mites hate heat and light, therefore washing at 60o or over and then airing in the sun will soon put a stop to them as the sunlight causes them to dry out and die.  Unfortunately, the prevalence of the dust mite has increased with our obsession with washing things at low temperatures.  Perhaps using less detergent but higher temperatures would be better for the environment?  Discuss.

Dust - for those of us who have never noticed it...

All pillows and duvets can be machine washed – even duck and goose down ones.  Pillows will fit into the domestic washing machine and most launderettes have big machines that will accommodate a duvet and have a large tumble dryer to finish them off.  I’m sorry to say that some people buy new duvets instead of washing them, their argument being that it is cheaper to buy a new one than to wash it.  This is missing the point and is wrong-headed; just think what will happen to that duvet when you’ve taken it to the tip.

Incidentally, it is thought that goose and duck down is less susceptible to microbial growth due to the density of the fibres.  Despite being asthmatic, I am not affected by feathers but for the people who are, washing and airing your synthetic pillows should have a high priority.

A bed bug

4 bed bugs infested with poorly manicured human fingers

Bed bugs had been practically eradicated by the 1940s but have increased in incidence since 1995. We’re not quite sure why this has happened, but it may have links to increased foreign travel or a greater focus on controlling other pests.  Spiders, cockroaches, ants and millipedes all predate on them, but I wouldn’t recommend using your bedroom as the pest control equivalent of companion planting.  Reputable insecticides and heat treatments are the answer.  It’s also a good idea to give any second hand furniture, that may be susceptible, a good hovering before first use.  Tight weave mattress protectors are also a good idea, both for suppressing bugs and for keeping mattresses free of ‘fluids’  (and I include Ovaltine and  cocoa in that as well).

Let the sun and air do the work and they cost nothing.  Sheets and pillow cases always feel and smell fresher and nicer when they’ve been hung outside in the fresh air to dry.  What a joy it is to have a bath, then get into a clean nightie and snuggle up between freshly washed sheets.
Wait for a hot, sunny day and peg out your pillows.  I feel a new slogan coming on.


Filed under Cleaning, Health and Fitness, Household Hints

Garra Rufa fish sighted in Leicester

Fish Fingers

Some weeks ago my sisters announced that they were going to have a fish pedicure.  “Of course you are” I replied in the world weary way of one who is surprised by nothing they do in their spare time.  I knew my nephew kept fish, but I thought one’s responsibilities ended with a regular cleaning of the tank and a ready supply of daphnia.  As usual, I had got the wrong end of the stick.

A little member of the carp family called Garra Rufa  is being used for pedicures.  They originate in the warm waters of Kangal in Turkey although they are also found in Syria, Iraq and Iran.  They thrive in water up to 43oC which is a highly specialised environment where nutrition is scarce; a bit of dead skin off an unsuspecting swimmer is therefore a lovely treat.  For hundreds of years, local people have used Garra Rufa fish for the treatment of skin disorders such as psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis. The nibbling action removes excess dead surface cells, calluses and bacteria, cleaning and opening the pores and stimulating circulation for smooth,  healthy skin.

The fish have no teeth and secrete a therapeutic enzyme called dithranol which  also reduces the excessive proliferation of skin cells, which therefore eases and prevents the symptoms of many skin conditions.   The fish are between ½  to about two inches long and they can live for up to 5 years.

The first spas opened in Japan in 2006 and they arrived in England in 2010.  The practice is banned in several American states and Canadian provinces on the grounds that it is insanitary.

Now, I think I’m becoming pitifully decadent if I remember to slap a bit of moisturiser on my legs after a bath, so questions needed to be asked.  I cruised in like a rooster and interrogated Sister the Second, who was the first of my siblings to answer the ‘phone:

Fish Supper

What made you choose to have a fish pedicure?

I like a bit of pampering  I had heard about it somewhere and I’m always willing to try new things.  Then I found a special offer on the internet and thought I’d give it a go.

Do you regularly have beauty treatments?

Yes – mainly facials and massages but I do love pedicures.  I don’t like feet and I admire people who are willing to do things to them.  In this case it’s fish!

What happened when you went in?

We went to ‘Finnishing Touches’ in Egham. The whole environment was spa-like and very beautifully and classically decorated with really interesting things to look at.  It was very calm and peaceful, but I believe some places are much funkier.

We filled in a health form which was on a little wooden tablet, then we sat down and had our feet bathed in a Grecian-style bowl.  The therapist  had a huge conche shell from which she poured water over our feet – I don’t think this served any purpose other than being aesthetically pleasing. Our feet were dried, we were given little slippers and taken into the treatment room.  There were four tanks full of fish, with a bench seat either side, then when you’re ready you put your feet in.
The fish immediately come over and start gumming your feet.  It was very, very strange to start with and one’s first reaction is to pull your feet out as it doesn’t feel natural to put bits of you into a bucketful of  fish!  Once you’re used to it though, it’s a very pleasant and relaxing thing.

We could sit in for increments of 10 minutes and we actually sat for ½ an hour.  The fish will nibble any bit of you that are in the water – some people put their hands in as well.  The water is constantly being pumped through and filtered because the fish are very susceptible to chlorine in the water.

Then what happened?

We took our feet out and had the rest of the pedicure – toenails, a bit of massage, moisturising cream etc.  You would probably need to have regular treatments if you had a problem with hard skin or corns or anything.  We deliberately didn’t pumice our feet before we went.  This treatment was about £1 a minute so you have to decide how long to stay in.

How did you feel afterwards?

Lovely!  We could both do with more treatments; our feet felt really soft and light afterwards and the sensation carried on for the rest of the day at least.  I would definitely go again.

* * *

The gauntlet was down.  I rang The Fish Pad in Leicester and booked an appointment.  The smart, attractive young woman who greeted me took me through to the treatment room to explain how it worked.  She was very knowledgeable about the fish and the treatment and made me feel very comfortable.

This salon was very different to the one visited by Sister the Second.  It could have been a physiotherapist’s room but with softer lighting and ambient music.  It was part of a beauty salon within a leisure centre and it felt like a down to earth place.  Men would feel very comfortable and at ease here and the therapist agreed that she gets many male clients.

There were two tanks with a bench seat behind them with large, soft cushions to relax against, and there were about a hundred fish per tank.  The first sensation of putting my feet in made me squeal and I couldn’t stop laughing.  After a couple of minutes the initial impact faded and it felt like tiny, powerful Jacuzzi jets or tiny electric charges all over my feet; think pins and needles but without the unpleasantness.

As I was doing an interview, the therapist stayed in the room talking, but normally I would have been left to relax and enjoy the treatment.  I was joined by another woman who gets hard, sore feet from doing Indian dancing in bare feet and they get a lot of people with eczema and psoriasis who benefit greatly from such a natural, gentle treatment.

When I had finished, I didn’t want to put my shoes on or even put my feet on the ground.  My feet felt really, really clean and light; the first thing that came to mind was Tom from The Water Babies when he was washed clean by the river.  I also felt very slightly light-headed and had a small headache of the short-lived type you often get after a massage.  But then the feet are powerful areas of the body – ask any Reflexologist and it felt like a health treatment rather than a beauty treatment.

I admit to having felt  a bit sceptical about it before I went in – it all seemed a bit faddy to me.  I was wrong – it’s lovely.  My feet feel and look softer and nicer and my whole body felt more relaxed and elevated.  Give it a go.  No really – try it, but be warned, you’ll want to go again… : Egham, Surrey – classical spa environment, works out about £1 a minute : Leicester –  £20 per half hour or £35 per hour – 15 min foot massage £10 extra : London – funky oriental theme in Soho or Kensington – 15 min of fish at £17 up to full package of 50 mins fish + 20 mins massage for £45

These prices were correct on 17th June 2011 and are subject to change

15 minutes of fish


Filed under Health and Fitness